Eyes: A first-hand account of the Ionian Campaign

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Burt Jackson

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Originally Posted by Burt Jackson View Post
Undertaking another writing project. Table of Contents will be posted here when enough material is written. Feel bad leaving off on a cliffhanger prologue, but I'll get over it. Hopefully you will too.
Same deal. Work has been all uppity with my schedule, haven't had a ton of time to work on this. Hoping hoping hoping I can get another chapter of this beast done before the end of the week.

Original thread here: http://www.leagueoflegends.com/board...d.php?t=234027

Link to my Champion Evaluations here: http://www.leagueoflegends.com/board...60#post3251760

10/6/10 - I have decided this title sucks and have decreed henceforth this tale shall be known as Eyes: A Tale of the Blackheart Brigade.

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Burt Jackson

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Too many men and women depend on what their eyes tell them. Sight has always been the easiest sense to deprive and deceive. Tricksters and illusionists make their trade in bending one's sight to see what they want you to see, or to obscure what they do not. Magicians have long devoted study to an entire class of magic to confound and convolve the senses in a disorienting display of ethereal prowess. In battle, fighting styles have long been practiced and deployed meant to trick or goad the enemy into striking at nothing, only to leave himself open for attack the moment he does so.

Such is the same in war. Facts are shielded and distorted from the public view that are deemed 'unsatisfactory' or 'detrimental' to the current regime's influences. Deflated casualty reports, botched battles or skirmishes completely left off-record, demonization of the enemy combatants while simultaneously gorging your own public with flamboyant propaganda proudly displaying the might of your nation. Even soldiers are conveniently left unaware of the chance they have to make it back alive from a particular campaign. A euphoric sense of self-worth and pride never fails to intoxicate those men and women dragged off to a warzone, perpetuated by the best perjury that the upper eschlon can muster.

My name is Lichter Bronhilde. I am nearly fifty-two; I have no wife to share my secrets with, and have fathered no children to pass on my legacy. There are many powerful men and women backed with the full might of city states who would do anything in their power to keep these facts from reaching the surface, but I will not allow myself to simply grow old and drink myself into blissful stupor to shield myself from what is morally right and just. Demacians often forget the former exists.

The tale in which I wish to tell is true, despite how many times I have been called absolutely crazy by the few who have heard me speak of it. It is easier to label one mad and pretend you did not hear what he said, rather than contemplating one's words or even going to seek the truth yourself. I now know how former Senator Kassadin felt upon his arrival after many years in whichever godforsaken land he spoke of, bearing his urgent message only to be quietly stifled by backroom politics and blackmailed into service in the league. The Demacians often forget that the only thing they care about more than Justice is their own pervasive egos.

I ceased to be a Demacian when I made the trip to Zaun in search of work, but it would be equally correct to say I was never a Demacian to begin with. Demacians do not question; they do not challenge authority nor do they ponder the truth behind what their leaders say. Those that do not fit this mold are either killed, flee, or end up in positions of widespread power by employing their own crafty devices to rise up and take their own place controlling the populous. Though they champion the idea of Justice and Honor, it is clear from an outside perspective that they exist in a wide, spectacular polished marble cage.

However spiteful I may be towards my once-countrymen, this tale is not a mere rant about Demacian politics. The shroud I mean to lift is the heavy cloak draped over the Ionian Campaign carried out by Noxus and Zaun. Generalized detail on the campaign exists, as expected, but very few is known in great detail about the campaign even by the people whom took place or were affected by. Even the reason why Noxus felt it necessary to invade the far-away northern island remains guess-work. The 'official' statement dictates that Noxus was seeking to expand it's territory and influence beyond it's borders, but since when has that been a compelling reason to commit hundreds of thousands of troops to any given area? Rarely is it about the land itself than it is about the resources that land might provide.

So what was Noxus truly after? However convenient it may be to say "Noxus invaded Ionia to expand it's territory", that does not give any insight as to WHY Noxus wanted said territory in the first place. Such a simple fact has gone completely disregarded and un-noticed since the campaign's end, and stranger still not even the Ionian's themselves seem to know quite why Noxus came to their shores. Clouded by their asinine peaceable views, everyone beyond Ionia is a mindless brute bent on destruction and conquest; all the reason they feel a nation like Noxus would need.

Asking the troops that fought in the conflict yields the same problem. Soldiers do not need to know why they fight, only that they know how to fight and who. Everyone from the Noxian auxiliaries to their commanding officers; the specialized companies dealing in more advanced operations all the way to Noxus' own field generals seem completely oblivious to the deeper reasoning behind Ionia. On the surface it would seem only the Noxian High Command knows the real reason, and slightly possibly Zaun's city council assuming they wanted that reason first before helping Noxus on their conquest [Which is, frankly, laughable].

However, despite the overwhelming majority of uninformed or secretive individuals, there are a select few who know part or all of the truth. Usually they take the form of a current or former freelance soldiers that were employed by Zaun during the campaign to avoid sending their own personnel over, or the rare man or woman with enough steel in their nerves to get a look at the war for themselves. Many of these individuals are clinically insane by anyone's standards. Driven to madness or depression by the knowledge they hold, even fewer can give any sort of reliable statement about the war, let alone whether they are willing to share said information in the first place.

I fall into the former category. Sent over at the very beginning of the conflict with three other mercenaries under my 'command', we fought the entire duration of the campaign and even after it had ended. I had thought all three of them since disappeared until recently. Vogel remains at large, his brother Jax is apparently a part of the League now [though since heavily disfigured], and Diego [whom has also undergone heavy disfigurement]. As I understand it, Jax and Diego had a falling-out with each other after the war. They both wounded each other so heavily that residents of Zaun who witnessed the battle had to drag them to a doctor, and naturally doctors of Zaun will gladly trade payment for the opportunity to experiment on their patient. Diego hunted Jax for a time after until Jax joined the League, and now continues to stalk in the shadows after him, waiting until a time when he can get away with murder.

I do not personally know how much my comrades saw or noticed during the campaign. The war quickly degenerated into a primitive fight for survival if you were not an Ionian or a Noxian on your own side of the battlefield, leaving little leeway for taking time to notice what was not immediately obvious. Zaun could not have cared less if we returned and rarely if ever offered support; In fact it was in their best interest they did not for if we never returned, they would not have to pay us.

This is my, Lichter Bronhilde's, account of the Ionian conflict. This is what I witnessed with my own eyes.

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Great writing. What went on btw Noxus and Ionia during the war always interested me. =)

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K D Bonez

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Hrmp, Ionian, what so special about it other then it's land? <.<

(RPing as Noxus Summoner. Very well written mate)

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Burt Jackson

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Chapter 1
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"Oh come on, this is going to be a walk in the park and you know it." Diego boisterously proclaimed. "You know how much we could all use the money. Zaun always has money for the poor souls like us!" He slumped forward and smiled dumbly, his eyes squinting at Jax.

Diego was drunk and rambling, as always.

It all stated in a bar on the western edge of Piltover. Quaint little establishment, and the only one I've ever come across that possesses a bartender with the mental fortitude to put up with a very drunk Diego. We would always make at least one stop at this place whenever passing though to either take on or finish a contract in Piltover proper.

In this case, we had finished up a fruitless endeavor which entailed wandering the Howling Marsh looking for a flower. Why this particular yordel believed there was some mystical cure-all reagent that took the form of a brilliant flower in the middle of a dead wetland is beyond me. Despite his insistence that yes, "The Corpus Chrysanthemum is there, I know it!", it wasn't. Since it wasn't because such a plant does not exist, we only got the quarter of the contract we asked for up-front, meaning we were now on the verge of being broke thanks to Diego's monstrous drinking habits. This in-turn meant it was time for another contract.

Diego jerked his body in my direction, and pointed a mug at me. His drink spilled out over the top and blanketed his forearm on it's way to crashing onto the floor. Diego didn't seem to notice nor care.

"You! You're on my side, right?" Diego unceremoniously spat out.

Now in my defense, I disliked Zaun just as much as any other relatively sane individual. The roads were dirty, it smelled horrible, and it was difficult to breath. There wasn't anything good to look at because everything was infused with their warped version of science, the women included. The people with enough money on their hands to justify taking contracts there were all on the verge of insanity, and it was only by manipulating their eccentricities that we could manage to keep ourselves off an operating table or outside a test tube. Finally, the idea of Zaun taking any sort of military action beyond 'Study it from far away, for science!' was laughable.

But we needed the money.

"Yes, Domigo. We can take your Zaun contract. Please settle down now."

Jax huffed in disapproval, and ordered another drink. His brother Vogel didn't seem to care. Diego threw his hands up in the air and forgot he had a drink, because he seemed surprised as he dumped his beverage all over himself. Diego made his way outside, throwing more curses than a Bilgewater pirate the whole way.

"You know, he's so drunk he probably won't remember." Vogel began to speak, staring aimlessly at the far wall. Apparently he didn't like the idea of going to Zaun anymore than Jax and I. Vogel seemed to snap back to reality, and turned his head my way.

"Or we could just leave him here. He's a grown man; he'll be fine." Vogel chuckled. "Besides, he's the only man I know who can subsist on booze, and booze alone."

The three of us had a nice laugh. It was funny because it was true.

"That would be all nice and swell, but what happens when we need a big strong man to move big rocks, or fight bears with his fists? You two don't look like they types to run out to the wilds and fight bears."

More laughter. More truth.

We needed Diego. Diego performed the invaluable service of being impossibly strong, and impossibly slow-minded. He wasn't stupid on any account, don't get me wrong, but it took him far longer to understand some things that most people could grasp in a few minutes. Like math.

"Listen, I hate Zaun just as much as the next guy, but we really need the money to stay afloat, and according to Diego this contract makes our last one look like pocket change-"

They stared at me wordlessly.

"-which granted coming from Diego isn't all that reliable, but it can't hurt to head that way anyway. We're not finding anymore work here in Piltover, and it's not a far journey from here to Zaun."

Jax was hanging his head. Vogel opened his mouth to speak, but no words issued forth.

"Hey. Focus." I snapped my fingers a few times for effect. "Money."

"I swear to the spirits if you're wrong about this one..." Vogel threatened. He signaled the bartender over and asked for the tab. As it was presented to him, his face visibly deflated, obviously not happy with the number written on it.

"I swear to the spirits if you're wrong about this one you are paying the bar tab for the rest of eternity. Spirits, Diego."

Jax chuckled, and together we left the bar to go drag Diego out of whatever situation he had invariably gotten himself into. Vogel remained behind briefly to pay the tab, and then hurried to meet us. To our surprise, Diego was just sitting outside, staring up at the sky. In the middle of the road, no less, but it was more than any of us could have asked for. Jax trudged over and kicked at him with his foot.

"Hey, Boozy McSwerve n' Crash, time to go."

Diego was fixated on the sky. Jax turned to face us and shrugged.

"Where are we going?" Diego asked.

"Zaun." I replied. "You did say you knew about a few high-dollar contracts out there."

"Oh yeah." Diego slowly rose to his feet, stumbled sideways and almost fell over, then regained his balance and walked over to us. "Yeah."

Vogel shook his head, and Jax gave me 'the look'. It was going to be a much longer walk to Zaun than expected.

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Burt Jackson

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Chapter 2
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Zaun, to put it bluntly, is a terrible place to live. Its hinterlands are completely saturated in chemical filth; be it on the ground you walk on, the air you breathe, the water you drink, or the food you eat. In some areas these afflictions are mild and unnoticeable, and in others they are so bad as to warrant a re-breather in order to navigate safely. Even some areas of the city itself are nigh unlivable. On top of that, there is no knowing when one chemical pumped out of the city is going to react to one already out in the environment and cause something uncomfortable. I'm not sure there is a man alive anymore who can tell you the exact contents of any one mixture blanketing a given area. There are plenty of men, however, who can tell you tales of the Viscous Bay catching fire and burning like dry grass. Piltover is understandably concerned when such things happen; Zaun is not.

As we continued to walk through the streets, there appeared to be less and less people. Or in other words it began to look like how Zaun usually looked; desolate and filthy.

"Are you sure you remember where you're going, Diego?"

Diego spat on the ground. "'course I do."

I shrugged and walked on. Can't argue with the guy who grew up here. As we continued, the number of people on the street declined from the usual Zaun traffic into sparse pockets of people speaking in hushed whispers. The lack of anyone at all on the streets was usually a bad sign. As Diego rounded the corner and stopped abruptly, I soon found out the cause of this proverbial ghost town.

The infamous Doctor Mundo himself faced us down from the other side of the street.

When we arrived, Zaun was in a buzz. The bay was on fire yet again, but that wasn't known to cause a whole lot of commotion unless it began threatening the port. It took a moment to figure out having just come from Piltover, but eventually it hit me; There were considerably more people out and about than there usually was, and not only that, they were all armed. For the first time I'd ever seen it looked like Zaun was preparing for war. With whom, at the time, was anyone's guess. I turned to Diego, who grew up in Zaun, for answers.

"Holiday?" I asked sarcastically.

Diego looked at me with a puzzled expression. He couldn't tell if I was joking or honestly serious. It only took him a moment to shrug it off.

"Beats me."

"I'm not very partial to the idea of wandering around the streets of Zaun while every other able-bodied man has a weapon in his hands. The streets are bad enough when nobody's on them." Vogel commented dryly.

"Bah!" Diego scoffed, intentionally loud enough to draw everyone's attention. Diego gave a dismissive wave, and walked straight for the checkpoint at the entrance to town. "They're harmless."

Jax cracked his neck, and followed after wordlessly. Vogel and I exchanged glances before proceeding. Something wasn't right.

We approached the checkpoint, and the usual cadre of guards was assembled. While Zaun may be the city of unchecked scientific progress gone bad, Zaun still maintained a fairly stringent code of customs. Residents of Zaun were issued a simple permit and waved on through. Outsiders were subject to a brief screening and personal search. Individuals carrying weapons were logged by name. Individuals carrying equipment or alchemical supplies, including common potions and elixirs, were required to log the substance as well as the amount. As people left the city, they were cross-examined to log what substances were used or gained within the city itself. Individuals found carrying dangerous chemical supplies were hauled off somewhere; knowing Zaun that could be as much a good thing as it is a bad thing.

Diego flashed his residents passport to the guards at the checkpoint, who took a brief glance at the thing and merely nodded towards the door. Diego waved us three in, logged our names in the 'guestbook', as he calls it, and followed us into the streets.

"My my, you lot looks ready to take on an army!"

A small man dressed in gaudy, horrendously clashing clothing greeted us as we entered the town before we could react. Diego maneuvered himself to the front of the group.

"'Scuse me?"

The man ignored him. "Yes yes indeed! You four are perfect. Just what we're looking for!" He began to circle us uncomfortably close, giving us the up-and-down. "Mercenaries, perhaps? Even better! Yes, even better; I say, you certainly fill the bill 110%!"

Jax slapped a firm hand on the man's shoulder as he circled around behind him. "What do you want?"

The man flinched for a moment with an expression of severe distaste. Then just as quickly as it came, he was back to his jovial self; staring with beaming eyes right up at Jax.

"Want? Why, to help you, of course! You boys look like you came here looking for some easy money!" The man gently removed Jax's hand from his shoulder mid-sentence. "I've got just the job for you! Or rather my employer does, but it's all the same in practice, really."

Diego was smiling. I wasn't.

"What sort of job is this?" I inquired.

There was a flicker in the small man's eye that still unnerves me to this day. "Well take a look around you!" He gestured in a flamboyant sweep to the streets of Zaun. "See all of these fine men like yourselves? We're undertaking-" He paused, as if to find the right words. "A project! Yes, a project; one of grand proportions! We're gathering up only the best and the finest! It'll be a smash hit, a smash hit I say! We'll be rolling in money, gentlemen, rolling." He accented the word 'rolling' with his clenched fists.

Vogel wasn't buying it either.

"And you! Yes, you will get to be a part of it!" The man folded his arms, satisfied.

Diego was thoroughly sold on the matter. This was to be the first of many, many mistakes.

"You read my mind. Who do we talk to?"

"Diego, are you kidding me?" Vogel spoke up. He was definitely not happy with the matter. "You're going run off completely head-first without even stopping to talk to us first?"

The man smiled and raised his right index finder. "Not to worry; take all the time you need! You can find myself and my employer on the corner of 5th and Avery. I hope to see you there!"

And with that, he went bounding off through the streets out of sight.

Diego huffed. "Look. The guy's got money; see his clothes? What harm could he do?"
Diego snorted. "Guy couldn't even lift a weapon if he tried." Diego grunted. The pinnacle of a refined gentleman.

Vogel bapped Diego on the side of the head. "There's other people besides this guy. Are you really going to just take the very first opportunity that jumps at you, in the middle of the road for that matter? He didn't even say what this 'project' thing is. You think you can trust someone like that?"

Jax nodded. "Brother's right."

"Look." I stepped in. I thought I was doing the right thing by settling the issue before moving on. We could put Diego at ease, and find someone willing to tell us what we're doing up front. "Let's just go down there and see what it is. It's not going to hurt anyone to go check."

"You can't be serious about this. Not you of all people." Vogel observed.

"I never said I was serious about anything. All I'm saying is we give this guy the benefit of the doubt and see what he wants. That's as far as we go. If we like it, we can take it. If not, we can leave it." I replied. "That's fair."

Vogel growled; he knew I was right. The off-chance that this was to be our big break was too much to pass up, especially when so low on money.

"Fine." Vogel crossed his arms. "Lead the way, fearless leader Diego."

Vogel stooped over and swept his arms low in a graceful bow towards the streets ahead. Playing the part, Diego put on his best impression of a pompous nobleman; standing straight and proper, acknowledging Vogel's existence with a courteous nod, and striding down the street in that walk they must teach every prim and proper noble child because it seems every nobleman you encounter walks in the same awkward half-waddle that makes one look like their pants are too tight. Diego headed down the street in the direction the strange man had scampered off to, with us of course in tow behind him. We saw hundreds of rough-necked would-be soldiers, idly loitering around town or ambling through the streets as if looking for a destination they didn't know how to reach. None of them looked like the 'Best and Finest' that he had mentioned. To me, they looked like beggars and slum-runners who had a weapon shoved in their hand. Still, seeing them put my mind at ease about the strange man, as they seemed at the time to be evidence that his story was at least partially true. Something had to be drawing all these men here.

As we continued to walk through the streets of Zaun, I began to notice the throngs of people slowly dissipating. Mobs of men and women clamoring through bustling broadways gave way to more moderate traffic, which in turn began to give way to the sparse and almost empty-seeming streets that were characteristic to Zaun on a normal day.

"Are you sure you know how to get there, Diego?"

He spat on the ground. "'course I do."

I shrugged; can't argue with the man who grew up here.

By this time, the streets were completely empty. The last of the loitering groups of people speaking in hushed whispers clinging to the side of the road were gone. It was eerily silent. As we rounded a nearby corner, I found out why.

Diego may think nothing of it, but those on the outside hear stories. They aren't always good ones. The story in question today was of the infamous Doctor Mundo carrying off random people to 'experiment' with, due to the man himself standing almost right in front of us. Diego merely nodded in his direction and continued on. Jax ignored him. Vogel and I however were given pause. We stood at the corner for maybe a second and a half before coming to our senses and scurrying around the large man, whom for all intents and purposes seemed to pay no attention to us other than a similar nod to Diego. When we were a sufficient distance away, we confronted him about it.

"Are the stories about him false or are you just special?" I asked.

"What? About Mundo? Yeah, sort of. Guy's a nutjob but he's still fun to drink with from time to time." Diego responded.

This was too much. "Wait, what?" I was thoroughly confused.

Diego sighed. "Look, him and I have a mutual understanding. He stays out of my way, I stay out of his. It started when we were kids; Mundo was my neighbor. He killed my dog, so I broke his nose. Since then we've kept mostly to ourselves. Sometimes we'll catch up over drink; one time he started going off about Human Resources or something like that and wanting me to manage it. I told him he was drunk and that was that."

I don't think I'll ever understand that man. While I pondered the implications of Diego and this man called Mundo being friends, for lack of a better word, we arrived at our destination.

It was an unmarked warehouse.

"Still think this is fair?" Vogel called out with a sneer.

"Yeah, actually I do. In you go Diego." I replied.

I ushered Diego towards the door, who shoved it open and walked in. He didn't like he was ambushed or robbed or anything of that nasty sort, so I figured it safe for the time being and walked in myself. Sure enough the strange man was there, sitting atop a shipping crate.

"Oh splendid splendid! You came!" The man left off the storage crate with his arms outstretched.

Around us were about a dozen men armed with hand crossbows. They looked like professionals, unlike the men we saw rambling around on the street. Also around us were rabble that looked like they were drawn up from a Noxian slum, shifting boxes and crates around the warehouse. Others looked to be packing weapons away; still more appeared to be busting open crates and removing whatever contents were inside, usually clothing or other mundane items. A second set of people were re-packaging the crates with bags, canisters, and jars of weird looking substances. The whole place smelled like a hospital. Other than that, it seemed to be a regular warehouse.

Diego looped his index finger around in the air, taking in the sights of the warehouse. "What's all this?"

The strange man cocked his head to the side for a moment in confusion, but smiled shortly afterward.

"This, gentlemen, is my project."

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Burt Jackson

Senior Member


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Chapter 3
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While Diego struggled to grasp with what the strange man was talking about, Vogel took the initiative to say what the rest of us were thinking.

"Syndicated crime." Vogel crossed his arms and replied.

By the strange man's still-broadening smile, our suspicions were confirmed. Zaun has long been a haven for organized crime of all stripes; from smuggling rings, arms dealing, your garden-variety street rats, and even onto dirtier crimes. Human trafficking has become increasingly popular over the years; I speculate that fellows like Doctor Mundo may be inadvertently responsible, and espionage between competing 'academic professionals' and 'doctors' is fairly common. Those sorts of activities, unless sanctioned by the state, usually get one killed in Noxus or Demacia for different reasons. Out here in Zaun, where the only driving force behind development is pure and unabated progress, crime is often a plausible and sometimes even permissible means.

"In a manner of speaking, yes." The man commented, spinning on his heels to lift a jar filled with viscous fluid from a nearby crate. "Syndicated crime, while carrying with it a rather malignant reputation, is the method of delivery and therefore nonetheless accurate-" He turned to present the jar for everyone to see. "-however, I am not some gang lord or crime boss scouring the streets for coin. I am a scientist; a weapons scientist to be exact. I provide the means of execution for your bloody state wars, and speaking of that.."

The strange man set the jar down on a nearby table and straightened his overly gaudy coat. He picked up a clipboard with some papers haphazardly taped to it, gave it a once-over, and tossed it aside, sending clattering to the ground at our feet.

"What do you make of this?" He said.

I stooped down and snatched up to give the articles a look. Scrawled across the papers were logs recorded from meetings between Zaun and Noxian officials, probably lifted and copied from some councilman or secretaries' office or recorded by an unseen infiltrator. The documents themselves spoke at length about military arrangements, mainly about the state of the fledgling League of Legends, the nonaggression pact signed between the city states, and the lands that were not yet protected under League edict. They mentioned Ionia in several instances, especially in the later records where officials appeared to be drawing up battle plans for how best to go about an off-shore invasion of the city state.

I read each record thoroughly, cross-referenced records to others taken by either the same person or at the same time, and read each record thoroughly again. I handed the documents to Vogel, and from him to Jax. The looks on their faces were all the reaction I needed to see to confirm my suspicion.

"It looks like Noxus will be invading Ionia, and that Zaun is going to be the cleanup crew." I replied.

"Indeed. I reached that same conclusion." The strange man was giddy with excitement, hardly able to contain himself. "And you know what that means for a man like me, right? Wars mean more blood for the altar, so to speak, and to spill that blood there will be weapons-"

"And that's where you come in. You want to make as much a profit from this as possible." I replied coldly. His 'plan' was nothing less than sinister; lining your pockets with the death of untold thousands. However, you could not dispute the man's logic, nor his business sense.

And we really needed the money.

"Exactly! See, I knew you four weren't the same as the usual riff-raff that comes through here. You have that air of professionalism about you that makes businessmen like me calm and relaxed about their investments." He exclaimed, still shaking with excitement.

"So what does this have to do with us?" Vogel asked. To the point as always. Were we going to be serving as caravan guards? Escorts while this weird individual negotiates contracts? Smuggle weapons and supplies out of Zaun by ship to impoverished war camps on the beach-head?

While I ran the numbers in my head, so to speak, the man calmly gave his answer.

"I want you four to fight. Give them a live demonstration of my superior arms and armor in true, real combat." He spoke with a fervor that held no resemblance to the giddy and aloof man we had spoke to before. "Any weedy pencil-pushing snob with a degree can theorize, or construct simulations or re-enactments of their shoddy equipment. In a controlled environment your 'tests' mean utterly nothing!" He slammed his fists into the table, startling a few of the workers. His finger pointed contemptuously at the open air above him, as if accusing someone of a crime. "Just because you can make your projects all nice and shiny doesn't mean they work! I will not be out-done this time by theory and conjecture!" He looked up at us briefly, and in a flash angrily jabbed his finger towards the window.

"Look at this! Look at that hellhole outside that window! Do you know how that happened? Do you know why this place is a dump kept afloat only because the people living here don't know anywhere else to go? I know. I know why." He jerked his thumb toward his chest. "It's because would-be engineers, chemists, and architects in this city only know how to make stuff look good on paper! When it gets to actually making the blasted thing it always fails. 'Oops, there was a small oversight here' or 'It seems out calculations were off', then everything's swept under the rug and forgotten so the next screw-up can muck everything up even more!" He was fuming, prowling across the warehouse with a scowl on his face.

"That's why I want you. That's why I need you. You lot don't look like your given to screwing around, or cutting corners, or taking the easy way out. I need people willing to do hard work, like I do hard work. After the stuff's done we can all go home richer than a Noxian brothel, because we did things right." His finger jabbed the table to drive home his point.

Jax was unimpressed by the display.

"So you want us to be lab rats." He spoke dryly.

The man looked as if he was about to throw something, and then paused a moment to calm down. After a brief couple seconds, he gave his response, "Lab rats? No. I want you to be soldiers. I want you to be the best **** soldiers that Noxian rabble has ever seen. I want them eating out of the palm of your hand, begging you to share your secrets. I want their officers to beg you for formal enlistment, to beg me to hand over the stuff you four are wearing. I want you to be big **** heroes." He proclaimed loudly and proudly.

"But it doesn't stop there, no. If they want to play coy or string you, me, us along? Well, I want you to slam it back into their faces. Take our business to the Ionians; they'll need all the help they can get. If Noxus thinks they can extort us, bury them. If Zaun thinks they can take over our operation, torch them. I don't care one bit whose face you smash as long as someone's watching. When they see how much power you have they'll go running for people like me, and I'll be right at the front passing out fliers." He was smiling; a cruel, wicked smile that seemed to crescent his entire lower face.

Diego was smiling to. This must have seemed like an easy job for him; just go over to some foreign land and start wrecking everyone's day. "I think you and I are going to get along great."

The man stepped forward with his hand extended. Diego took the hand in his and shook it firmly, staring him right in the eyes.

The man spoke with the initial excitement that he had expressed previously. "Fantastic! I knew you were the ones, and I'm rarely wrong!"

Vogel shook his head and asked, "What's your name?"

The man turned to face Vogel, a look of contemplation plastered all over him. It was only there briefly, for in the next instant he spoke again. "You may call me Mikhael. Unassuming enough, and won't compromise anything."

Vogel didn't like the sound of that, and frowned.

Jax was growing impatient. "So when is this thing?"

Mikhael, having finished his introduction with Diego hurried back to the small desk behind him, fishing around in a crate at the top of a stack next to him. A moment later he turned, revealing four identical blades of remarkable craftsmanship about a meter in length. he carefully laid them to rest on a crate beside him, and gestured to them.

"As soon as you can. The Noxian military is brash and impatient, and despite their efforts at subterfuge will no doubt succumb to the suspense and charge in early. It's what happens when you raise a nation where power is the only true currency. These blades will be your first 'payment'; I hope they will be of to your liking. I ask you keep them on your person as often as possible, as they were very hard to make and will be even harder to replace.They will also serve as identification, as you will soon come to realize." Mikhael then rushed for the door to the warehouse.

"Now if you will excuse me, I must make arrangements as quick as possible. In the meantime feel free to do as you wish, except handling anything you don't know how to operate."

And before anyone could say anything further, he was gone.

Diego had already snatched his blade, holding it high in the air and observing it's workmanship. The blade was odd and irregular, bearing a slight curving crescent like a flattened sickle with serrations along one length of the blade. The hilt was an inky black color, with vein-like traces of a coppery red metal leading to a stone of the same color inlaid in the dead center. They were surprisingly well-balanced, and when swung whistled with a faint and haunting wail that sent chills up the spine when first heard. Jax and I clashed ours together to see how they held up, and despite their well-polished and almost ornate look, they were impossibly resilient, bearing no marks of any kind after repeated assault. Regardless of prior misgivings, this Mikhael looked to be exactly what he said he was.

The real problem, we later found out, was that he was what he said he was.