215 Athena’s Journey
Zoey and Max held on tight to Viridi's back as their transformed friend gracefully piloted them down towards the city. For Zoey, it was a surreal feeling to experience the sensation of true flight through her link with Viridi. She had felt this sensation when they had flown together before above the sinkhole in the wasteland, but now that Viridi had changed, and they could link their vision, the sensations they were experiencing together were incredible.
But despite the euphoric feeling, Zoey knew she had to focus. Her time on this city had opened her eyes to a lot of things. The experience inside the Mind Prison, almost falling into Cornelius's hands, the existence of the city itself and its connection to her Heritage… All of it was like a wakeup call for Zoey, telling her that she was part of something far bigger than just herself, and if she wanted to survive, she would have to be stronger. After they all got clear of this city, she would work on that. For now, she had to get to Athena and Baiken.
Viridi had now reached the outer edge of the city, and was sailing just above the Gothic themed metal spires and steeples that rose up from the structures below. Even from that height, the noise the city was producing was loud and raucous, a sign that the city was very much awake. Looking down, the three of them could see thousands upon thousands of androids roaming the streets and alleys while more of them continued to emerge from the walls themselves as the city's factories did what they were designed to do.
Zoey turned her eyes away from the scene and focused ahead. The sheer amount of machines was already ridiculous, and who knows how many more this place could produce. The danger they were in was increasing the longer they were here, so Zoey asked Viridi to fly a little faster.
Baiken, Markus, and Athena were located somewhere close to the center of the city, almost at the base of the volcano, and that was where Viridi was flying them to. Zoey was still apprehensive about Markus and his desire to see his sister. In his own words, he had told Zoey that she was a monster possessed by a demon, one that knew only destruction, and could not be reasoned with. With that in mind, and knowing that she was a force stronger than Cornelius had been, it made for a dangerous cocktail that threatened to blow up in their face if not handled carefully.
Minutes later, the three fliers were rapidly approaching their destination. The volcano loomed ahead, a prominent feature in the direct center of the flying city. It truly gave them a grand sense of scale seeing it rising out from the metal structures around it like an island mountain in a strange sea. They were close enough now that Zoey could see countless metal pipes and massive conduits drilled into the base of the volcano like veins and arteries, no doubt pumping whatever fueled the system into the volcano through their hollow interiors.
Zoey had already guessed that the magma that had once fueled the volcano was long gone. Whoever had built this place had repurposed the natural formation into the storm generating structure that they now witnessed. She could scarcely guess how it all worked and what incredible methods were used in the construction of it all. It made Zoey's engineering senses tingle thinking about it, but there was no time for that now, they had arrived at their destination.
Baiken was the only one aside from Markus that had seen Viridi's huge, draconic transformation before, and as a result was the only one with her jaw not on the floor as Viridi nimbly landed near where they had been waiting. Athena and Markus were both staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the sight, and Markus nearly passed out from shock when the huge dragon that had just landed suddenly transformed before their eyes into a sleek panther-like form with a swirl of shadows and mist. He was already terrified from the last encounter he had with Viridi!
Athena recovered first, her face transforming into a massive grin as she jumped forward to embrace Zoey in a familiar bear hug. Zoey laughed at her friend's enthusiastic welcome, and watched with a smile as Athena released her to smother Viridi with a copious amount of hugs and scratches that the big feline immensely appreciated.
"So are you gonna tell me how the hell you got up here?" Zoey asked after a moment. She was very curious as to how her friend had located her to begin with.
Athena stood up after giving Viridi one last scratch and grinned playfully at Zoey. "I had a hell of a time finding you sister!" She exclaimed. "After I came up from down south, I stopped in Brumau where you had been, but you had already gone off to the wasteland. Funny enough, the entire town was in chaos after you left because the beast waves had stopped coming for some reason, and an entire armada of noble Kreppelin warships showed up the very next day!"
Athena invited Zoey sit nearby while she continued her story. Baiken, busied herself with cleaning the very dirty Max like a mother hen while she passively listened to the story, and Markus was acutely aware of a hungry look he was receiving from a certain feline sitting off to the side. Strangely, he also seemed to sense a tinge of bloodlust anytime he so much as glanced at Zoey, so all he could do was stare straight ahead and lament his misfortune internally.
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"Anyway, I figured out very fast that the nobles were after you. It was the Rellens leading the mess after all, and only you could elicit that kind of response," Athena continued. "Since they were recruiting mercs from everywhere, I simply disguised myself and got hired onto one of the crews. Long story short, the armada was completely shredded by you and your ship, and then we all got pulled up here where I ran into Baiken and… him." Athena finished her tale and tilted her head towards Markus, her gaze questioning what Zoey was thinking keeping him around.
Zoey herself was second guessing her decision, and knew that whatever happened next with Markus and his sister would likely be the deciding factor in whether he would live, or if he would follow his brother's path.