“It is infinitely better to be useful than to be important,” he said to the boy as he helped oil the leather armor the guards wore for mounted patrol.
The boy’s name was Dederick. He shouldn’t be here anymore. He should have been in Demacia by now, learning at their orphanage, perhaps being tested for magic aptitude given his mother’s background.
But they had somehow gotten pinned in here at this outpost at the small village of Gorjic for nearly a decade, caught between two warring barbarian tribes to the north and south. While the barbarians didn’t directly assault their outpost, each side was looking to shore up their forces. Kidnapping or slaving was not out of the question and the boy would have been vulnerable in a trek to Demacia, even with an escort. It was best for him to stay here.
“Why is that?” Dederick asked.
“Sometimes people who are considered important don’t actually do anything useful,” he said. “But because somehow people have gotten it into their head that these people are important, they are able to get away without actually contributing. Do things that matter. Do things that help. Maybe you will become important. Maybe you won’t. But you will be useful to those around you, and therefore they will help care for you when you need them or when something happens and you can’t be useful anymore.”
He was a terrible teacher. He had little schooling. He could barely read. He knew enough to be a guard captain, but that would be it. He didn’t have a head for military strategy or politics. He was where he belonged, trying to be useful the best he could.
“You are important, aren’t you?” Dederick asked.
He laughed a little bit.
“I am important here because I am useful. Gorjic has no truck with those who aren’t useful. Life is too hard here. Without our guard post one of the barbarian tribes would have razed this village by now.”
“Why did you laugh?’
“In Demacia I am not important. Probably not all that useful there either. I am needed here. I will stay here.”
He had never planned to have children. He never even bothered with any courtships. He had drawn the eye of some village women when he was new here, but after he insisted on caring for the “cursed boy,” the interest ended. Villagers barely made eye contact with him, and he noticed they would make some sort of superstitious warding gesture when they thought he couldn’t see them.
“I want to be both,” Dederick said.
“Do you?” he said. “How do you plan to do that?”
“I want to learn magic. Like my mama knew.”
He nodded. He didn’t shy away from explaining to the boy what happened and how he ended up living at a guard post. He had collected the woman’s jewelry and saved it in a box for the boy’s keeping.
“Demacia is growing increasingly unhappy with the barbarian presence to the south,” he said. “After the next winter, it would not surprise me if they bring the military to bear. We have pushed back the Noxian threat from the east for now.”
“Will I get to go to Demacia then?” Dederick asked.
“I will come back and visit, I promise.”
“Yes, no matter how important I become. I swear.”
They both laughed.
Galio awoke with a start. He was standing in one of the halls at the Institute of War. Did anybody see him? Did anybody notice? He quickly swiveled his head around. The hall was quiet. He was lucky.
Something was wrong. He didn’t want to admit it, but it was true. There was nobody who could help him. Soraka meant well, but given that she couldn’t heal Kassadin or Malzahar of the effects of the Void, she most assuredly couldn’t do anything for him.
He slowly flapped along the hallway, looking to find the Demacian contingent. The most logical explanation of what was happening was that these were somebody’s memories. He was in the body of this guard captain. There were many skirmishes with the barbarian tribes in Demacia’s history. These conflicts have calmed quite a bit as King Tryndamere and Queen Ashe have worked to unite the Freljord and the northern tribes. Gorjic was one of the northernmost villages of the Demacian empire. It joined somewhere around 150 years ago.
But what did it mean? Why would he be seeing through this man’s eyes? Perhaps he had some sort of connection to the void. An accident, maybe? Perhaps he was exposed as well?
There was more, though. The idea that being useful was better than being important – that was something Durand used to say all the time. He didn’t care about his works making him famous. He wanted his works to help people above all things. Was there some connection here?
He heard yelling in a room off the hall and recognized Garen and Prince Jarvan’s voices. He peered in and saw them engaged in a fairly large argument with several robed summoners. Poppy and Lux were there as well. He recognized the raven-haired form of Carowen Aurum alongside the summoners. It looked as though she was trying to mediate, without much success. Eventually she threw up her hands in frustration and walked away. She noticed Galio at the door and headed in his direction, clutching her forehead like she was developing a migraine.
Galio reached out his hands to hold hers within. This was Galio’s version of a hug, given that he was made of stone and didn’t want to crush anybody.
“Is Demacia safe?” she asked, with a wan smile. As a summoner, she shared Galio’s mind. She understood his priorities. Demacia first.
“For now,” Galio said. “Though I suspect we’re about to hit some political issues.”
“Prince Jarvan is demanding that Malzahar be brought to Demacia to be interrogated regarding the attack,” she said. “He is demanding the Institute summon him. But his petition has been denied. There’s no actual evidence that Malzahar was directly involved. That the creatures are similar to the ones he summons is purely circumstantial. There’s nothing saying that somebody else could have the ability to summon them.”
“And given that you and I both saw him in a match at the same time … ,” Galio said.
“Yes,” Carowen said, nodding. “I’m in the unfortunate position of agreeing with the Institute against my prince.”
“I am sure he will understand, once he has calmed down,” Galio said. “As Demacians, we are tasked to make the decision that is morally correct, not the one that is politically expedient.”
“And now, how about you?” she asked.
“I am having some anomalous experiences,” he said. She chuckled at his phrasing.
“I hear you’re having dreams? Maybe next you’ll get hungry.”
“That would be awkward. I am not hollow.” She laughed again, but faded into seriousness.
“The other champions are very worried about you. I know it makes you uncomfortable sometimes when they treat you like you’re ‘alive,’ but they can’t help it. They see you as part of the family.”
“They seem to forget that I am here to protect them,” he said, nodding toward the other champions. “That’s why I was made.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Carowen said. “But given that you’re unique, it serves Demacia most that they protect you in return as best they can. We want to maximize your usefulness by making sure you remain intact. Perhaps it’s helpful to think of their efforts that way?”
“I suppose you’re right,” he admitted.
“Seven Demacians died in that invasion,” Prince Jarvan yelled at the summoners. “Our city demands justice!”
The “negotiations” were interrupted with the arrival of an Institute porter bearing a message from Demacia. Garen talked to the man for a few moments as Jarvan continued his argument for the time being.
“My liege, summoners, I’m sorry to interrupt, but we’ve determined who the warehouse belongs to,” Garen said. “It is storage for Piltover Customs. Heimerdinger owns it.”
That complicated matters. Heimerdinger was on excellent terms with the city of Demacia. He would have no reason to launch an attack. Nevertheless he would need to be brought in for questioning.
“Heimerdinger was also in our match,” Galio said.
“We have no reason to believe that Heimerdinger would deliberately launch an attack on Demacia,” Garen said. “Nevertheless, we must interview him, in the event some sort of hextech malfunction contributed to the incident. Poppy, even though he’s a resident of Piltover, not Bandle City, would you be willing to witness the interview as a yordle so that there would be accusations that he was mistreated.”
“Who would say that?” Poppy asked. “People can be so silly sometimes. Of course I’ll witness.”
In the rush of everything that had happened, the exchange brought back a piece of information that Galio had neglected to tell anybody about.
“Two yordles!” Galio said. The others looked at him in confusion. “I hadn’t had the chance to tell you. Prior to the attack, just before I was summoned to the Crystal Scar, I saw two yordles I didn’t recognize having a fight near the warehouse.”
“A fight?” Poppy asked. “In the streets?”
“Yes,” Galio said. “I found it odd, but I was summoned before I could get the chance to find out what was going on. They were gone when I returned from the fight.”
“Maybe Heimerdinger knows ‘em,” Poppy said. “He brings yordle assistants there for research or experiments sometimes.”
“But why would yordles open a portal to the void?” Lux asked. “It makes no sense.”
“True, but it’s all we have,” Garen said. “We have no choice but to pursue these leads.”
Heimerdinger stood in the wreckage of his warehouse in Demacia, rubbing his oversized head in confusion.
“Oh dear,” he chirped in his clipped voice. “What an awful mess. This will take months to clean up.”
“Sir, we would like to direct your attention to the rear office,” Garen said politely. Galio, Poppy and several guards stood nearby.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Heimerdinger said. “This is the least of our concerns. Take me to what is left of this portal you found.”
They escorted Heimerdinger to the back of the warehouse. The corpses of the voidlings had disappeared as if they had never existed in the first place, just as Malzahar’s did on the fields of justice.
“No matter what we find, gentlemen, I insist that Piltover Customs contribute to any fund that assists the families of those killed or hurt in this terrible attack,” the yordle said.
“You are kind, sir,” Garen said. “But our priority right now is to determine what happened, whether Piltover Customs was involved, and to make sure this won’t happen again.”
“Of course, of course,” Heimerdinger said. “Galio, could you show me what is left of the portal you destroyed?”
Galio directed Heimerdinger into the rear room and pointed to the twisted metal frame on the floor.
“Fascinating!” Heimerdinger said as he began looking over the material. He hummed to himself as he looked at the materials closely.
“Might be a bit before he actually says something that makes sense again,” Poppy said. “He gets into that inventor mode of his and it’s all ‘flux quantum’ and ‘theoretical resonance’ and stuff like that.”
“As I look this over,” Heimerdinger said, “I want to make it clear to you all, because I understand of course that this is an extremely serious investigation, that I am not engaged in any research of the Void or attempting to access it whatsoever. Runeterra has enough mysteries to plumb. And as we can see, the only thing the Void has to offer us is more violence.”
“I understand,” Garen said, “But the attack clearly originated from your warehouse.”
“Yes, yes. Am I correct that under Demacian law I will be held to answer for these crimes as the property owner should the real perpetrator not be found?”
Awkward silence fell over the room. Eventually Poppy responded in her more formal “ambassador” voice.
“Both Piltover and Bandle City have agreements with Demacia for its residents to be subject to its laws while within the city,” she said. “But it won’t come to that. We already have a couple of suspects!”
“The two yordles, Galio saw, yes?” Heimerdinger asked.
“Yes.” Galio described them in great detail.
“You have an amazing memory,” Heimerdinger said, looking up at the gargoyle. “I would love to figure out how to get that sort of memory into my turrets. They have trouble sticking to targets.”
“I do my best,” Galio said.
“I don’t recognize those two descriptions, and I don’t have any assistants currently here in Demacia,” he said. “We are all in Piltover working on upgrades to my own tools for the fields of justice.”
“We cannot find any record of them entering the city,” Garen said. “Your assistants are usually careful to register their visits with our records hall.”
Silence descended again as Heimerdinger continued looking at the frame. He adjusted his glasses to get closer looks at the metal and even pulled out a large magnifying glass.
“What I can tell you,” he said after a few minutes of humming, “and it pains me to say this, but this portal does indeed seem to be of yordle construction.”
“Could these pieces be of your manufacture?” Garen asked.
“You don’t have to answer that,” Poppy said quickly.
“I apologize,” Garen said. “I’m not trying to get you to incriminate yourself. I thought perhaps somebody might have broken into your warehouse in your absence and built the portal with your warehouse contents.”
“An intelligent theory,” Heimerdinger said. “But no, this is not my metal. I should be able to prove it from our inventory manifests given time.”
“You will have the time you need,” Garen said. “I’m going to have to ask that you not leave Demacia for the time being.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“No. Not yet,” Garen said. “But if we don’t put together that inventory list the Demacian Council will likely insist that we do. We cannot be seen as treating you differently because you are a yordle or a champion.”
“I understand completely, Garen,” Heimerdinger said. “Nor will I have the good name of Piltover Customs be associated with terrorism and murder! I have no intentions of going anywhere until this is sorted out.”
“The most reasonable explanation at the moment,” Galio said, “is that somebody wanted us to think Heimerdinger or Piltover Customs was responsible for the attack. But why?”
“Maybe to keep our attention so the real bad guys can get away?” Poppy suggested, folding her arms.
“Could the yordles have entered the city through our sewage system?” Galio asked. “They are smaller than humans, and one of them did appear to be quite filthy.”
“That makes perfect sense, Galio,” Garen said. After dealing with any number of infiltration attempts from Noxian agents, Demacia spent untold sums to reconstruct the sewage system so that it was as inhospitable to human travel as possible. But yordles, being much smaller, could probably navigate the tunnels, though it would still be a difficult and unpleasant experience.
“Why would they do this?” Heimerdinger asked in frustration. “What could any yordle possibly gain from doing this?”
“For now, let’s focus on which yordles would actually be capable of designing this device,” Garen said. “Once we’ve figured out who built this we can then attempt to figure out why.”
“Well, there’s Gumpter, he knows plenty about interdimensional theory, but he would have to outsource this sort of metalwork, not part of his expertise inventory … .” Heimerdinger began to drone on about the yordles he knew and their various scientific and inventing capacities. Galio watched as Garen’s eyes began to glaze over.
“Just let him go on,” Poppy said. “Once he works out a couple of likely candidates he’ll stop and work out an answer even our lesser minds can comprehend.” She gestured to Galio with her head to talk out in the hall. He joined her just outside the room while Heimerdinger’s chatter continued on.
“Heimerdinger has a bit of a blind spot,” Poppy said. “There’s somebody we’re going to have to think about. Heimerdinger does have enemies, though he doesn’t want to admit it.”
“Well, certainly his defensive thaumotechnology has been a thorn in the side of Noxus and Zaun,” Galio said.
“No, not them,” Poppy said. “I mean yordles. One in particular.”
“I thought they were friendly rivals,” Galio said. Poppy firmly shook her head no.
“It may seem like that to non-yordles,” she explained. “Rumble doesn’t like Heimerdinger. He’s jealous of his fame, and thinks he’s a race traitor for making yordle things so available to humans. He would love to humiliate Heimerdinger in front of Demacia.”
“But people were killed,” Galio said. “I know his behavior is a bit crude and he lacks manners, but there’s nothing I’ve seen on the fields of justice that would say to me he would kill people so casually.”
“Humans were killed,” Poppy said. “Not yordles.”
“Are you saying Rumble hates humans?”
“No … but they aren’t important to him. Yordles are important. He wouldn’t do anything like this in Bandle City or Piltover because yordles might have been hurt or worse. But Demacia … .”
“This is a difficult prospect,” Galio said. Rumble was another yordle champion, an inventor like Heimerdinger, young and just coming into his own. He was also much more hands-on. “Scrappy” would be the polite way a Demacian would describe him. He fought with the assistance of a large mechanical war machine. Galio would face him periodically in battles, because his defenses were a good match for the magic-powered flamethrower attached to Rumble’s machine. Rumble had a big mouth and taunted Galio throughout the matches, but it never seemed personal like the nasty comments from Noxian champions. Galio typically shrugged it off. He insulted everybody. He never thought of Rumble as potentially being a danger outside the fields.
“He has gotten a following of yordles just like him who are resentful at being treated like children by humans,” Poppy said.
Galio nodded. Some humans found yordle nature hard to grasp, and as a result treated them like children. Certainly they were child-sized and many of them seem to have childlike traits. But their minds were a little more complicated. Humans and yordles were indeed very similar as children. What Galio noticed, though, was while humans lost many childlike traits as they grew older, yordles didn’t. This didn’t mean yordles were still children, though. Instead of trading childish attitudes for mature ones, they added the mature traits and kept the child traits as well. Poppy was the helpful child, the one who sat at her father’s knee and helped him at his smith in Bandle City. As an adult she was still insistent on being constantly helpful, visiting Demacia’s citadel when she came to city, ignoring her role as ambassador and pitching in with the forging of weapons and armor. The men were baffled by her behavior at first, eventually coming to accept it. Her armor was very good, after all. But there was no mistaking that she was an adult, able to grasp the complex political differences between Demacia and Bandle City and navigate such complicated waters.
“Could those yordles have been Rumble’s friends?” Galio asked.
“I don’t know,” Poppy said. “But I know for a fac he keeps secrets about what he’s doing trying to surprise Heimerdinger with some big invention he can’t match. Heimerdinger thinks it’s just ‘youthful exuberance.’ I don’t agree. We don’t really know what Rumble is capable of, either as a yordle or as an inventor.”
“We need to interview Rumble,” Galio said.
“But the evidence right now is still circumstantial, just like with Malzahar,” Poppy said.
“We won’t get assistance from the Institute of War for this. We’re going to have to track him down in Bandle City and see if he’ll submit to questioning. It’s a good thing you guys are friends with the ambassador!”
“Let’s talk to Garen.”
They returned to the room as Heimerdinger continued to list every yordle inventor he knew and why they couldn’t have possibly created the portal. Garen was patiently staring at him, trying not to give any visual cues that he had no idea what Heimerdinger was talking about.
“Heimerdinger, sir,” Galio interrupted. “What about Rumble?”
“Him?” Heimerdinger said, “Oh … this doesn’t seem his style at all. He’s much more forward. A bit brash. I don’t see him sneaking about building a portal.”
“Is he capable of building a portal?” Garen asked.
“Well, I’m afraid to confess that I don’t know,” Heimerdinger. “He insists on being secretive about his research. But we all have our quirks.”
“Poppy has suggested to me we should treat Rumble as a possible suspect,” Galio said to Garen.
“Oh pish-posh,” Heimerdinger said. “I know he’s a bit loud and sometimes can’t control his temper, but I can’t imagine him doing anything this extreme.”
“He is obsessed with you,” Poppy said, folding his arms.
“Oh, that’s an exaggeration.”
“He joined the League to try to outshine you, Heimerdinger!”
“Competition is good! It keeps us both sharp.”
Poppy rubbed her forehead in frustration. She turned to Garen instead.
“We will need to interview Rumble,” she explained. “This presents a bit of an issue. Based on their response regarding Malzahar, we can expect that the Institute of War will not assist us.”
“Agreed,” Garen said.
“And I’m going to guest here that you’re going to insist that a representative from Demacia be present for any interrogation in connection with this attack.”
“Yes, of course,” Garen said.
“Unfortunately it would be seen as a bit of an aggressive act to send somebody with directly military connections like you,” Poppy said. “However, Galio here is not a member of the military, commands the respect of a champion and can represent Demacia without causing concern in Bandle City.”
“Me?” Galio asked. “I’m needed here to guard.”
“I agree, Galio,” Garen said. “You’re our best option right now. The Vanguard and the city are now on security footing. We won’t be surprised again if there’s a follow up attack.”
“I’m more concerned about somebody else being exposed to the Void, sir,” he said.
“We will be careful. You are also in the best position among us to deal with Rumble if he responds with violence.”
“Oh, I don’t think he would ever do that,” Heimerdinger said.
“Let’s hope you’re right,” Poppy said.
“Apprentice robes? They suit you well.”
They didn’t really. Dederick was 14 now, beginning those awkward teen years. He was gangly and struggled to keep from tripping over the hem of the robe when he walked. His blond hair seemed to have taken on a life of its own, sticking out in random directions, looking something like weeds growing on the edge of a pond.
“Soon I will be ready to cast my first spell,” Dederick said. “It’s amazing … it’s … .” He was surprised to see the boy start to tear up.
“Nothing! Nothing! I brought them mother’s jewelry and they’re teaching me one of the spells she taught herself as my first spell.” He beamed through tears. “It’s just a spell to clean water for drinking, but it was hers, she made it herself!”
“I am sorry I never got the chance to meet her so I could tell you more about her,” he said.
“I’m learning about her through her magic,” Dederick said.
“Cleaning water. Very useful,” he said. “None of that pointless flashy glowing orbs and such. I like that.”
“Useful, but not too important. Most of her magic was such that you couldn’t actually see she was using it.”
He nodded. “That makes sense. The village didn’t trust her. They called her a witch. If they had seen her using magic... .”
The boy looked him over as he sat at his chair by the fireplace.
“I heard you were wounded in a fight,” Dederick said. “Are you okay?”
He waved a dismissive hand.
“Stabbed in the leg by some worthless raider. Thought he could take my horse. I showed him good. I’m recovering fine.”
“I saw you limping a little bit.”
“I’ll be fine.”
The gargoyle shook his head to clear the vision away. He was standing at the base of a large stone tower next to a graveyard. Durand’s bat tower, about halfway between Northwatch and the Bubbling Bog. Poppy stood next to him, glaring.
“Are you back?” she demanded.
“I can’t believe I let you carry me out here! What if that happened while you were flying? Did you have another vision?”
“What is it?”
“I seem to be reliving parts of this guard’s life. I don’t know why. He helped raise a foundling who appears to be learning magic.”
“What’s his name? Maybe we can consult with Demacian historians?”
“The boy’s name was Dederick. I have yet to hear anybody say the guard’s name. It’s strange.”
“How many of these visions have you had?”
“I think you should stop flying. What would happen if a vision came when you were patrolling over Demacia?”
“I will try to stay low.”
“Anyway, so you insisted we come out here before heading to Bandle City. Why are we here? What is this tower and this graveyard?”
“This graveyard was where they used to bury village guards who died while protecting the northern villages … which is an interesting coincidence. The tower is Durand’s.”
Galio’s eyes flashed and a burst of light struck the center of the tower door. Rather than exploding as a magical grenade, the door absorbed the magic and a rune glowed in the center. Seconds later, it slowly swung open.
“I was also Durand’s key,” Galio explained. “When he realized that he was being targeted by Noxians, he was afraid they would use torture to get access to his laboratories if he were caught. Since torture didn’t work on me, he made it so my presence was necessary to open the door. I was programmed not to open the door in the presence of Noxians or if he were under any sort of duress.”
“This is Durand’s tower?”
“This is one of his towers. He had several.” High-pitched squeaks could be heard as they entered the tower. The top of the tower had some small holes, allowing weak sunlight in, but the inside of the tower was mostly dark.
“Bats?” Poppy asked. “Is this a bat tower?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Galio said. “Do bats bother you?”
“No. In the winter we would sometimes get a few in our forge. It was warm but dark, so they liked it. We got used to them. And learned to watch where we step.” She looked down. “Oh there’s no … .”
“No, there’s not. Watch and see.” Galio gave out series of sharp little whistles. Poppy heard the bats flutter into motion up in the tower. The squeaks grew louder as the bats fluttered down toward them.
“What’s going on?” Poppy asked.
Galio put his hands out in front of him, creating a bowl shape. In the dim light, Poppy saw three little bats land in them a squeak. He lowered his hands down so Poppy could get a better look at them.
“Are they … stone?!” Poppy asked in surprise. “These are golems! Tiny golems!” Galio chuckled.
“Yes, Durand created these,” he said. “He drew a lot of inspiration for his golems from nature. He recognized that animal forms had purpose and he strove to use his artificer’s skills to mimic those systems for his golems. Have you seen the stone dog statues at some of the wealthier homes in the northern villages? He made those.”
“Are they golems? I’ve never seen them move.”
“They used to be golems. They were Durand’s first success at creating golems that offered practical assistance to private citizens. They were not permanently enchanted. That was far too expensive. So they were infused with enough magic to remain active for about a month, and owners would bring them back to be recharged. Sadly, when Durand was killed, there was nobody who knew how to keep them active, and they reverted back to statues.”
“Look at the little underbites on these guys!” Poppy said as she picked up one of the stone bats in her own small hands. “They look like tiny versions of you!”
“It’s more accurate to say I’m a larger version of them,” Galio said. “They helped influence my own design.”
“What are they for?” she asked, as the bat squeaked and and began to crawl up her arm.
“They are scouts,” Galio said. “Noxian infiltrators and assassins would attempt to infiltrate our villages at night trying to avoid guards. These bats can see well in the dark, and have the magic ability retain a single image of something they’ve seen. They can magically ‘share’ that image with either Durand or with me.” Galio tapped the side of his head. “So we can see what they’ve seen. He used them to help protect the villages when the guards could not.”
“So they would go out every night and look for spies and such?”
“Yes,” Galio said. “Very few in the villages were active after dark. Even in times of peace, there are too many possible problems with beasts and raiders looking for easy targets. A person moving around the villages in the middle of the night was somebody to keep an eye on.”
“Is that why we’re here?”
“Yes.” Galio whistled what was obviously a complicated set of commands. Suddenly the bats took wing and started to fly around Poppy.
“What are they doing?”
“Hold still if you could,” Galio said. “I am teaching the bats to look for targets your size.”
“Oh, you’re programming them to look for yordles? Very clever!”
“I will send them to stay near Demacia. And I’ll have them keep an eye on sewer entrances near the docks as well. If they see any yordles in unusual areas or at unusual times, they will keep the image to share with me.”
“This will take a few minutes, unfortunately. So please stay still.”
“Not a problem,” She stood silently for a few moments. “So I hear the king asked you for an audience a few weeks ago.”
“That is true,” Galio said as he turned away to examine the walls of the tower to make sure everything was intact and that vandals hadn’t attempted to break in.
“What did he want?” she asked.
“He asked me if I was interested in adopting a child.” He fluttered up into the gloom to inspect the bats’ roosts.
“Yes. He was willing to give his blessing and assured me the Demacian Council would approve as well. Demacia does not want children to have to depend on city orphanages to raise them. It is not the moral thing to do.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him I didn’t think I would make a good parent,” Galio said.
“I think you’d make a great father!”
“A soothing voice is not all it takes to be a good father.”
“It’s more useful than you give it credit for, believe me”
“I do well enough with small children,” Galio said. “But as they grow older they go through that time where everything they feel is the most important thing in the world, and I cannot relate. What on earth would I tell a child the first time his or her heart was broken?”
“Don’t tell me you can’t relate to that,” Poppy said. “You may not have a literal heart to break, but your grief over Durand’s murder was as devastating as my response to my own father’s death.”
Galio said nothing. The two champions shared a bond they didn’t fully realize until they formally met at the Institute of War. His creator and her father were both murdered by Noxian assassins and they were left to try to carry on their good works. If Poppy hadn’t wandered into the field where Galio, paralyzed with grief and guilt, stood guard over the site of Durand’s murder, he would probably be there still. She was on a journey to complete the delivery of her father’s last creation, a helm for a Demacian general, after his murder. Her determination inspired Galio to shake off years of his lonely, pointless watch, and he eventually followed her to Demacia and the League of Legends. Even though she didn’t share his mind the way Carowen did, she understood him just as well.
“So what did he say when you declined?”
“He accepted, but told me that if I ever found a partner to make a home with in Demacia, he would insist that we abide by the city laws and adopt a child, as we probably wouldn’t be able to bear one of our own.”
“Really? Wow, they really see you as a true Demacian, don’t they?”
“Indeed.” Demacia could be remarkably free in some ways but also extremely strict in other ways that confused those who weren’t part of the city-state. Despite being a gargoyle, the city acknowledged Galio as a free being and would recognize and bless a relationship should he ever choose to marry another free adult.
But Demacia was also very concerned about creating moral, upstanding citizens and was not afraid to use the law to maintain civic values. A married couple was expected to start a family within three years of their wedding. Should they be unable to do so for whatever reason, they were required by law to adopt and raise an orphan. Everybody was expected to contribute to the needs of Demacia and their fellow Demacians.
Galio wondered if perhaps this conversation with King Jarvan might have influenced the content of these strange visions. It was an unusual coincidence to be finding himself in the body of a guard who had apparently adopted a lost child. Maybe he wasn’t exposed to the Void after all? Maybe this was some other kind of magic, maybe involving time? One of the league’s champions, Zilean, was an expert in magic related to time. Sadly, the poor old man’s mind had become unanchored from time as a consequence, making it difficult to have a coherent conversation with him.
He flapped back down to the floor as the bats fluttered away from Poppy and returned to their roosts.
“We are done here,” Galio said. “The bats are ready. Let us return to Demacia and call on Carowen to transport us to Bandle City.”
“Let’s go, then,” She said as she walked out into the sunlight. “And please, don’t make the mistake of underestimating Rumble. The boy is trouble. I can feel it.”
“I told you!” Poppy yelled over her shoulder as she chased after a fleeing Rumble.
She certainly had. Galio struggled to unhook a sparking harpoon from one of his wings so that he could chase after them. Though his wings were stone like the rest of him, the membranes were fairly thin and the massive electrocharged harpoons Rumble shot from his war machine – named Tristy – were able to crack them and get lodged within.
They had made their way to the extremely private workshop Rumble ran in Bandle city. The run-down building was completely surrounded by a ten-foot tall wall made of rusty sheets of scrap metal. Demacia’s Building Standards Commission would have fainted at the sight of it.
Galio could have flown over the wall, of course, but given the diplomatic situation, it would have been inadvisable. The large entry gate was closed and bolted from the inside. A sign on the door simply said “NO TRESPASSING.”
“Let me speak,” Poppy had said. She knocked loudly on the gate with her hammer, Whomper. “RUMBLE! ARE YOU IN THERE!”
There was no response for quite some time. Poppy beat on the door again.
“RUMBLE! WE NEED TO TALK TO YOU! THIS IS OFFICIAL BUSINESS!”
Eventually they heard the screech of metal bending against metal, the sound of something really heavy dropping to the ground, and a loud “boom,” followed by the sound of a yordle screeching every curse word he had ever heard.
“I don’t know what half of those words mean,” Galio said with a bit of amusement.
“They’d really make your wings curl if you did,” Poppy said.
Eventually they heard Rumble stamping over to the door, but he didn’t open it.
“I’m busy!” he yelled from the other side. “Go away!” They could smell smoke from the other side of the door.
“This is official business regarding Demacia, Bandle City, and the Institute of War. We need to ask you a few questions.”
“Poppy is that you?”
“Yes, I’m here with Galio.”
“Ugh, go away,” Rumble snarled. “I bet Jarvan needs his boots shined. Go give them a spit polish and leave me alone.”
“I’m everything that’s wrong with yordle society today,” Poppy stage-whispered to Galio. “Open up, Rumble. I represent the wishes of Bandle City’s Council on political matters, and there has been an attack in Demacia involving yordles.”
“What?” Finally, they heard metal sliding behind the door as Rumble unlocked it from his side. He pulled the door open far enough so that he could look at Poppy face-to-face, but not enough so they could see inside his compound.
“There was a terrorist attack on Demacia,” Poppy said. “Yordles were involved.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Most yordles can’t get enough of chasing after humans like stupid little puppies.” He looked up at Galio, then sneered at Poppy, “Machines are supposed to work for us, not the other way around.”
“Most yordles,” Poppy repeated back. Rumble stared at her. Even though Rumble’s fur was white and a pale green, he could see the yordle’s face starting to turn red.
“Oh, so I’m a suspect, am I?” he said. Galio noticed him squeeze his grip around the crowbar he was holding. “Why me and not those stupid Noxians?”
“Yordle technology was involved. They broke into Heimerdinger’s warehouse and let loose creatures from the Void.”
Rumble broke out into angry laughter.
“Serves him right, that tool. Get involved with humans and get dragged into their nonsense. I bet it was the Noxians. Go away. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“We need to examine your workshop,” Poppy said.
“Not a chance.”
“I am authorized to use force to gain entry,” Poppy said. Rumble stared at her coolly.
“Give me a moment,” he said. He slammed the door shut before she could respond.
Poppy shrugged at Galio. After a few moments they heard the whirring of heavy machinery inside the compound.
“Oh by my father, I am so stupid!” She yelled to herself. “Back away Galio he’s going to … .”
Rumble burst through the doors in his war machine, his flamethrower spitting fire at the pair of them. Poppy’s armor protected her from most of the heat while Galio raised his magic bulwark. Poppy started slamming his machine with her hammer.
“Stop, you’ll dent Tristy!” Rumble yelled. That’s when he shot the harpoon out, piercing Galio instead of Poppy. He then jerkily turned the machine around and activated his own technomagical shield, protecting him from her attacks while he fled down the remote trail leading away from his compound.
And that’s where things stood at the moment. Poppy chased after Rumble as Galio struggled. Fortunately, Galio was able to repair any damage by absorbing magical energy, so the hole in his wing didn’t bother him unduly. After wrestling out the harpoon, he tossed it to the ground and chased after them.
They hadn’t gone far. Rumble wasn’t actually running away; he just didn’t want the warehouse to be ruined. He wheeled back around on Poppy once he had lured her away and slammed her aside with the war armor’s massive arms. She climbed back to her feet though, shaking off the attack, and charged. Even though she was much smaller than the machine, her strength was huge, and she pushed both Rumble and Tristy along, slamming them into a nearby tree. The machine gave off some warning squeals and steam spurted out into Rumble’s face.
“Stop it, you little sellout!” He yelled at her. By that point Galio had arrived.
“You can’t possibly beat both of us,” Galio said as he hovered at eye level to Rumble. “If you had nothing to do with this like you say, it should be easy to prove with a search of your warehouse.”
“Hah, that’s what you think, Bathead!” Rumble said as he pressed a button on the console of his war machine. Galio knew what was about to happen and quickly summoned a wind to allow him to quickly soar to the left. The machine spit a series of technomagical missiles into the air. They crashed down across the ground between Rumble and Galio. Galio managed to reinforce his magic shield and actually absorbed some of the energy of the missiles, healing the wound Rumble had caused with his harpoon.
“That’s enough,” Galio growled. He focused his vision and launched a magic blast from his eyes. It struck at the legs of the machine and caused it tip over, sending Rumble tumbling out. “You could have killed somebody!”
“Hey! Ow!” Rumble yelled as he bounced out to the ground. “Stop being dramatic. You think I don’t know what you two creeps can handle?”
“People were killed in this attack!” Poppy yelled as he grabbed him by his grease-stained shirt.
“Any yordles?” he asked.
“See, I told you he wouldn’t care,” she said to Galio.
“Don’t act so superior,” Rumble said. “Besides, if your family hadn’t gotten involved with those stupid humans, your dad would still be alive!”
Poppy stopped and took a deep breath. Galio stared at her in worry. She didn’t have a hair-trigger temper like Rumble, but she certainly could be pushed too far.
But when she spoke, it was with her ambassador’s “voice”:
“Some of us have matured enough to realize we don’t walk on Runeterra alone and it is helpful to have friends with stout hearts and strong wills,” said carefully, not letting Rumble go. “We don’t need to be allies with Demacia for Noxus to turn its greedy eyes our way. We can do things that they can’t do. We know things that they don’t know. Even you, Rumble. They would kill to be able to make an army out of your war machines.”
“But … ,” Rumble tried to interrupt.
“No!” she snapped, putting a finger over his mouth, hushing him. “They will enslave you for your knowledge. They will torture you. And they will kill you once they have it.”
“We know that yordles are involved,” Galio said. “But that doesn’t mean they did what they did willingly. If you were not responsible for this attack, you might be able to help us figure out what happened.”
“Why should I?”
“Because you’re our main suspect and I can assure you that Bandle City will hand you over to Demacia if they believe that you orchestrated this incident to embarrass Heimerdinger. People died.”
“I didn’t do it,” Rumble whined.
“Then show us what you’ve been working on,” Galio said.
The inside of Rumble’s compound was a massive junkyard of twisted hunks of metal. It looks as though he had collected anything any other yordle inventor had tossed away in the event it might be of use.
“Oh, this might be a challenge,” Poppy muttered. “Do you have an inventory manifest for all of this stuff?”
“Don’t be stupid,” he said.
“We might have to bring in an expert to look this over to see if the metal frame could have come from here,” Galio said. He fluttered up about 15 feet so he could look over the yard to see if anything stood out. Nothing did.
“Over my dead body,” Rumble said. “I won’t have rivals picking over my stuff looking for ideas.”
“What on earth are you doing with all of this stuff?” Poppy asked.
“None of your business!” Rumble yelled as he made his way down a path through the junk to a building in the back. “You’re not getting any of my work secrets to go squealing back to Heimerdorkus.”
“Look,” Poppy said, trotting after him. “Right now you are the lead suspect. And attacking the two of us when we came here to interview you doesn’t help matters. The Institute of War doesn’t want yet another political conflict to break out, so if tossing you out of the League and behind bars could prevent yet another diplomatic crisis, believe me they’ll do so.”
“Well, then search!” Rumble said, waving his arms at the massive piles of detritus. “Let me know if you find anything interesting.”
“We can’t possibly search all this,” Galio said from above.
“Well I hope you weren’t expecting me to help,” Rumble said.
“Would you at least look at a sample of the metal frame we found at the crime scene?” Poppy asked. Rumble stood there and folded his arms.
“You know, it’s possible you might know more about it than Heimerdinger,” Galio said. “Imagine your reputation if you proved smarter than the alleged smartest yordle on Valoran.”
Rumble rolled his eyes at Galio’s clumsy attempt at flattery. But still, his bitter rivalry wouldn’t let him miss out on the chance to show up Heimerdinger.
“Fine, let me see it.”
Poppy pulled a six-inch tube of metal from a sack hanging from her belt. Rumble snatched it from her hand and looked it over for a few minutes.
Galio perched on the top of his workshop while they waited for Rumble to analyze.
“I can’t help but notice you don’t have any assistants here,” Galio said.
“I don’t have some sort of stuffy formal ‘arrangement’ like Heimerdinger does,” Rumble said as he pulled out a magnifying lens from his grubby overalls. “They come and go. I haven’t seen any of them for a couple of weeks.”
Poppy looked up at Galio meaningfully. Rumble’s assistants could have been in Demacia.
“I recognize this metal,” Rumble said. He tapped his lip in thought.
“Really?” Poppy asked.
“Come with me,” he said, heading into his work building. Galio fluttered back down to the ground and followed them in.
“Fitz had brought me some metal discards he found in Zaun a couple of months ago,” he said as he worked his way to some storage bins in the corner. “It’s a steel alloy, but it’s got some metal in it I didn’t recognize. None of us could figure it out, so I set it aside over here for now.”
He climbed into a storage bin that was chest-high to a human and started tossing out the contents. Galio and Poppy stepped back as large pieces of metal, some rusty, some inscribed with runes, some obviously belonging to some larger construction, were tossed out of the bin.
“So your assistants just ‘find’ this stuff?” Galio asked.
“Are you accusing us of stealing?” Rumble said, growing angry again.
“Don’t anger him again,” Poppy said. “He’s being cooperative.”
“You’re very resourceful is what I meant,” Galio said.
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you grow up with nothing,” Rumble said. After a few minutes of noises, the warehouse grew silent.
“Are you okay in there?” Poppy asked. Rumble eventually climbed his way back out of the bin.
“The metal is gone,” Rumble said.
“Could you have been mistaken about where you stored it?” Galio asked.
Rumble opened his mouth as though he were going to say no. But then perhaps he thought better of Galio and Poppy clawing through all his stuff.
“I’ll check the rest of the bins. This could take a while.” He climbed into the next bin and began sorting.
“What do you think?” Poppy whispered to Galio.
“I don’t think he has the temperament to lie,” Galio said. “He lacks the subtlety to put together this kind of stunt. He wants to take down Heimerdinger face-to-face.”
“They could be operating under somebody else’s orders,” he said. “They are not employees of Rumble’s like the yordles who work for Heimerdinger. They’re artisans who come and go.”
“I really don’t see why yordles would do this, if it weren’t somebody trying to embarrass Heimerdinger,” Poppy said.
“I hate to sound like I have a one-track mind of my own, but Noxus?”
“Why on earth would yordles work for Noxus?”
“They might feel as though they don’t have many options. Listen to what Rumble said about himself and the yordles who work with him.”
“Bandle City might not have the kind of regimented social structure that Demacia has, but it’s not like we leave yordles to die on the street like Zaun or Noxus would.”
“Every society has haves and have-nots, even Demacia,” Galio said. “Those who are sentenced to prison discover it can be hard to find a place they fit after they are released to society. Sometimes judgment can last a very long time.”
“So a Noxian pays these yordles … ,” Poppy said.
“Or blackmails them or threatens them,” Galio interrupted. “They might have caught one being ‘resourceful.’ Anything from ending up in prison.”
Poppy nodded. Yordles are extremely social creatures and excessive isolation (as what would frequently happen in prison) had a terrible effect on their minds, far more than a human in the same situation.
“And so these yordles set up this terrorist attack,” she continued. “And because yordles are involved on all sides, it makes it extremely hard to trace back to Noxus. Do you think Noxus would do something like that?”
“Absolutely, if they thought they could get away with it,” Galio said.
“I don’t know,” Poppy said. “If discovered, this would be a formal declaration of war. The Institute of War wouldn’t have to take serious action against Noxus. It seems like such a huge risk to gain so little.”
Galio said nothing for a moment. Noxus knew of Demacia’s champions. They had to have known that while these voidlings were dangerous, the attack would not have been successful against Demacia’s might. Even if Poppy hadn’t been present, he, Lux and Garen would have been more than capable of handling the beasts.
“Maybe you’re right,” Galio said.
“You know I’m right,” Dederick said. “It’s time for you to come back to Demacia.”
He looked at the boy … nearly a man now. He was an adept now. He knew all his mother’s spells. The fire crackled in the fireplace next to the captain, where he sat in his usual chair. His cane rested next to him. His leg never fully recovered after all.
“I am still needed here,” he said to the boy. Dederick threw up his hands in frustration.
“You have served Demacia well,” Dederick said. “More than any soldier, you have earned the right to retire. Gorjic is safe in the empire’s cradle now. People even talk to me now. I’m no longer the ‘cursed boy.’ You’ve won!”
“There are still threats from the north.”
“The guards can handle it! Jerun is ready for promotion to captain. Why can’t you come home and retire?”
“And what would I do there? I would be of no use to Demacia there.”
“No, you wouldn’t be important there,” the boy said, his eyes flashing with anger.
“Don’t you dare!” the man yelled, rising to his feet slowly while clinging to the arm of the chair to keep his balance. “Any ‘importance’ I’ve earned here is because I’ve been useful. Never forget that. Don’t you ever forget that!” The boy shrunk back.
“I’m sorry! It’s just … you’re all I have for family. I miss you. Too many mages live in their own heads. I have to sit and remember your lessons to keep grounded.”
The man fell back into his seat.
“I’m sorry, too,” the man said. “I care for you as though you were my own son. I really do. But I’m not going back. Here is where I will live out my days.”
“So somebody else doesn’t have to.”
Galio returned to consciousness with Poppy and Rumble staring at him.
“How long was I out?” he asked.
“A good 15 minutes,” Poppy said. “Another vision?”
“Yes. I still haven’t gotten the name of the man whose life I’m living,” he said. “But his adopted son, Dederick. He seems to have lasted as a mage. Maybe we can find records about him?”
“What’s going on?” Rumble asked.
“Might as well tell you since we’re all in over our heads,” Poppy said. “Galio was exposed to the Void through this portal. It’s causing him to have these visions.”
“What?” Rumble said. “That won’t do. We gotta fix him!”
“You actually care?” Poppy said. “But he’s not a yordle.”
“He’s much better than anything Heimerdinger ever made,” he said. “You gotta respect that!” He returned to his search of his storage bins while Poppy stared open-mouthed at Galio. Galio just held his hands up in submission. Rumble was helping. It was better than him trying to kill them.
Two hours later, a search of Rumble’s workshop did not uncover the metal Rumble was looking for.
“I guess maybe it was taken,” he said.
“Galio, could you describe the two yordles you saw fighting?” Poppy said. “Rumble, will you tell us if either of them sound like one of your helpers?” Rumble nodded and Galio rattled off a perfect description.
“The one with the russet fur sounds like it could be Fitz,” Rumble said. “I don’t recognize the other one.”
“Okay, that gives us a lead,” Poppy said. “Any idea where Fitz is or who else he might be working for?”
“Like I said, I haven’t seen him in weeks. He travels to Zaun looking for anything he can use to craft with. Sometimes I worry about him getting snatched by a slaver or to use in experiments, but he always comes back every couple of months.”
“Do you think he has the ability to create this portal?” Galio asked.
“Not on his own, no,” Rumble said. “He helps me with armaments. I’ve never seen him do anything using magic or runes to do anything more than make things explode.”
“If he brought this metal to somebody else and they crafted it and put the appropriate runes on it,” Poppy asked, “Could he have put the portal together?”
“Oh yeah, sure,” Rumble said.
“So now we need to find Fitz,” Galio said.
“And we need to get you help,” Poppy insisted.
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