Back at the Institute of War, Galio drew on his deep well of patience as Kassadin, joined by Taric, the Gem Knight, fussed over him, again in the garden.
Like Soraka, Taric was a healer. However, Taric was an expert in drawing out the magical powers of gems and stones. Soraka suggested that Taric take a look at Galio and the man was happy to oblige.
“Did Durand ever tell you what kind of stone you were?” Taric asked.
“No. Granite of some sort, I believe,” Galio said.
“Yes, but your blue tint is unusual,” Taric said, holding a glowing amethyst while casting a spell. “And granite can’t store magic enchantment as thoroughly, permanently as you have on its own.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, I have yet to visit the bottoms of Runeterra’s oceans,” Taric said. “But it would not surprise me if there were beds of granite on the base of the ocean floor tinted with fossils of small sea creatures or algae that have been infused with magic. This world has a strong magical background, and it does get absorbed in plantlife and some wildlife, as we’ve seen from Maokai and Rammus.”
“I thought your expertise was in gems?” Galio asked.
“Gems are stones,” Talio said, shrugging. “But a bit more organized, so to speak. They handle enchantment much better than base stone, normally. You are a major exception. You may not be a gem in nature, but you certainly compare in brilliance and power.”
Kassadin regarded Galio stiffly as usual.
“Your visions sound nothing like anything I’ve seen or anything Malzahar has described in his ravings,” Kassadin said. “We have never seen visions of Valoran’s past from our exposure to the Void. This is very unusual.”
“Is it possible it wasn’t a portal to the Void after all?” Galio asked.
“What other possibilities are there?” Kassadin asked. Galio watched Taric casting spells at him to try to determine more about Galio’s nature. Taric was summoned to Runeterra from another world. He agreed to serve as a champion because he believed in the importance of restraining the wild magic that threatened to overwhelm them all and healing the damage to the earth itself.
“Could they have come from another world that had been invaded by the Void?” Galio asked.
Kassadin pondered the possibility silently while Taric looked concerned.
“It is possible I would imagine,” Kassadin said. “But that still wouldn’t explain why it has affected you.”
“I do sense some disruptions to your magical matrix,” Taric said. “But your enchantment is so complicated, I am not sure how long these disruptions have been there. They may have been there all along.”
“Can the Void disrupt magical flow?” Galio asked.
“Absolutely,” Kassadin said. “It stands in opposition to the natural order and innate magicks of Runeterra. Have you noticed how my magic and Malzahar’s magic creates strange warping effects on the fields of justice? The intrusion of the Void disrupts the very atmosphere of Runeterra.”
At this point, Luxana strode in to join them in their research.
“Any luck?” she asked.
“Well, I may soon be able to tell you what kind of stone Galio is made of,” Taric volunteered.
“That’s not what I was hoping to hear,” Lux said.
“The Institute banned further research on this high level of magical artificing,” Taric said. “A lot of potential knowledge has been lost.”
“Not necessarily,” Kassadin said.
“What do you mean?” Galio asked.
“What the law forbids does not destroy it,” Kassadin said, “It is just driven underground.”
“I don’t understand,” Galio said.
“In all likelihood, somebody somewhere is trying to carry on Durand’s studies,” Lux said. “But probably not in a place that would be friendly to our needs. And certainly not in a place where the Institute of War would catch it.”
“Someplace like Zaun or Noxus,” Galio said.
“Indeed,” Lux said. “It just so happens that I’m going to go to Zaun with Poppy to see if we can’t track down this yordle Rumble pointed us to.”
“I am going as well.”
“No you are not,” Lux ordered. “You have been compromised and you need to be kept safe.”
“I am a free man in Demacia. You cannot keep me from … .”
“Galio, please! I’m trying to help you. This disruption could make you a target, and Zaun’s already dangerous enough for us. We won’t be attacked directly. But who knows what sort of sinister manipulations people there might try to foist on us. Not knowing when you are going to have another vision could put us in a tough spot.”
“I don’t like it,” he muttered.
“We’ll, you’re really not going to like this,” she continued. “The League is suspending you from matches for the time being.”
“What?! They can’t!”
“Galio, you can’t adequately serve your team if your mind just disappears for minutes at a time! And we don’t know what sort of side effects might happen. Those fields of justice are infused with magic. Something terrible could happen!”
Galio roared in frustration.
“What am I to do when I am not of use to anybody?!” he cried out.
“Galio, I’m sure we’ll figure this all out,” Taric said. “We don’t even know for sure that this is dangerous. At the moment it’s an inconvenience, but you haven’t come to harm yet.”
“When I’m in Zaun I’m going to put out some feelers to see if I can’t find somebody doing some ‘forbidden’ artificing,” Lux said.
“They won’t help us,” Galio said. “The magic is forbidden and they certainly aren’t going to trust Demacians not to report the studies to the Institute.”
“We might not need their help actually, if I spy on them while they’re doing their work,” Lux said smiling.
Lux was a skilled infiltrator, trained by the Demacian military. She had earned Demacia’s adoration by sneaking into Noxus and uncovering valuable intelligence. Furthermore, with her skill in learning magic quickly, she had been able to mimic the magic of a fellow champion, Morgana, just by watching it in action.
“You are not considering learning artificing,” Galio said. “It is forbidden.” Taric and Kassadin watched the argument between the two Demacians. Neither were Demacians and neither had much concern about the very strict way they approached the law.
“If it will help you … ,” Taric tried to point out.
“The Institute will come down on you like a hammer,” Galio said.
“It’s not forbidden to learn the magic,” Lux said dismissively, “just to use it. Once I have my knowledge, we can figure out how to negotiate an exception.”
“Garen will be very disappointed in you,” Galio said. At this, Lux’s face darkened.
“He is my brother, not my master,” she said. “I do not answer to him. I will serve Demacia in my fashion, not his.”
“You should not be putting your future at risk for me,” Galio said. “You are alive. I am not. You are important. I am not. I am no longer even useful.”
“Will you stop it?” Lux shouted at him. “You are so depressing sometimes! You are a ward of Demacia. You are a citizen with all the rights and responsibilities. You have the right to ask for assistance with your problems. We do not abandon each other. Ever! Is that understood?”
“Yes,” Galio muttered, looking down.
“We will figure this out,” she declared, as though giving an order to the universe at large. Kassadin and Taric returned to studying Galio as she stomped back out of the garden.
“I would hate to be the summoner who tries to stops her if she finds what she’s looking for,” Taric commented with a quick smile. “Soul of a diamond, that one.”
“I guess we should check with the College of Techmaturgy first,” Lux said as she and Poppy wandered down a filthy street, stepping carefully to avoid treading in puddles of a liquid that was assuredly not water.
Lux had put away her Demacian armor and wore simple robes designed to help her blend into the crowd. Unfortunately, her efforts to wander incognito through Zaun were undercut by Poppy’s insistence on wearing her full armor.
“They’ll give away our visit to Noxians,” Lux had told Poppy, trying to get her to tone it down.
“No they won’t, not if they can sell it to them instead!” Poppy joked.
Lux realized now she was probably being a little overcautious. Zaun was proud of its amorality. It wasn’t a malicious city like Noxus was reputed to be. People in Zaun were free to live any way they liked. They were free to pursue their passions, their philosophies, and their research. They were also free to abuse each other and destroy themselves in a myriad of horrifying ways.
Zaun had provided aid to Noxus on several occasions, but had never actually directly taken action against Demacia. Lux and Poppy weren’t in any danger. Well, they weren’t in any more danger than anybody else on Zaun’s streets.
The College of Techmaturgy loomed like a clockwork colossus in the northeast side of the city, not too far from its dock district to allow easier transportation of any heavy materials students at the college might need for their experiments.
“What is that smell?” Lux asked.
“It’s probably best not to breathe too deeply,” Poppy said. Poppy was less concerned about Zaun than Lux. First of all, many yordles did make visits to Zaun for their research and studies. Most did not agree with Zaun’s lax safety attitudes, but there was no denying the city had a lot to teach an inventor. Second, she was not afraid to slam the stuffing out of anybody who tried to take advantage of her and Lux.
They weren’t sure what to expect when they entered the college. It was a bit of an anticlimax to find a perfectly normal foyer that you might see at the Institute of Magic in Demacia. The walls were steel instead of marble, but there was a notable lack of bubbling alchemy tables, clockwork beasts clattering around, and no cackling mad scientists.
It seems as though they weren’t the only ones caught by surprise. As they approached the receiving attendant’s desk, they noted she had a large sign posted on the wall behind her: “For visitors’ safety, we do not permit experiments to be exposed to the entry and receiving area.”
“See,” Poppy joked, “Zaun isn’t entirely without rules!”
The attendant was a prim young human woman, with dark hair and simple robes, not unlike Lux’s. She looked up from her desk work to greet them, and then did a quick double-take.
“How unexpected,” she said as she stood up. “We had no idea champions were coming to visit today.” She pressed a button on her desk and two were startled at what sounded like an alarm whistle blowing from behind the steel walls. They both steeped back from her desk and Poppy drew her hammer.
“Oh I’m sorry,” the woman said, waving her hands in front of her toward them. “That wasn’t an alarm. I’m just rousing the college’s staff that we have important visitors!” She gestured to a nearby overstuffed sofa. “Please, please, have a seat! Our porters will bring tea in just a minute.”
Lux and Poppy, looking a little confused, walked over to the sofa and sat down. The woman joined them in a nearby chair, after grabbing some parchment from her desk. On a nearby table was quill and ink. Apparently she had planned to take notes of their conversation. Poppy shrugged at Lux.
“Oh, I’m sorry, is this your first time here?” the woman asked. “I’m Ryene, one of the college’s attendants. We like to treat the League’s champions well when they visit. After all, Blitzcrank was born in our humble halls.” Blitzcrank was a golem, like Galio, but operated through a combination of steam technology and magic. He was not intended to be sentient, but somehow became so and just like Galio, was awarded his freedom and joined the League.
“I’m assuming you are here looking for our expertise to evaluate the nature of the attack on Demacia?” she asked.
“How did you … ?” Lux gasped. “It’s been less than a week!”
“We pay very well for any information connected to the implementation and deployment of anything techmaturgical,” she said. Lux frowned. This meant somebody in Demacia was selling information to Zaun. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, of course, but it’s always a little disconcerting to have it brought up so brazenly.
“You will be pleased to hear that we have already consulted with our staff and several professors have offered to provide their services on temporary retainer for what we believe to be a very reasonable fee,” she said as she scribbled on the parchment.
“What? Pay?” Poppy shouted. “This attack could be a precursor to an invasion of all of Valoran.”
“Yes, this is true,” Ryene said as she transcribed the conversation. “This would make our services very valuable indeed, shouldn’t you think?”
“We’re actually not here to ask for assistance in the investigation, yet,” Lux said. “But we appreciate your offer. If you have the rates in writing, I will bring it back to our king and council to review if we get to that point.”
“As you wish,” Ryene said. “So what does bring you here?”
“We’re looking for a yordle who might have connections to the university,” Lux said.
“Maybe, but more likely he would have been offering to take any failed experiments or unwanted scrap metal off the college’s hands.”
“Is this in connection with the attack on Demacia?” she asked.
“We’re not at liberty to say.”
“I see,” she scribbled notes for a few moments. “Individual professors make their own arrangements with scrappers. Do you have a name or description I could distribute?” Lux gave her Fitz’s name and description.
“And what is Demacia willing to offer for this information?” she asked.
“We will negotiate directly with any individual willing to come forward,” Poppy said.
“Which of your professors are involved with high-level artificing?” Lux asked.
“To what extent?”
“Sentient or near-sentient level.”
“That would be a violation of a directive from the Institute of War,” Ryene said, smoothly.
“That’s not a denial.”
“So the rumors that Galio was injured in the attack are true then,” Ryene said. The two women stared at her.
“Who are those notes for?” Lux demanded.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Ryene responded with a slick smile.
Poppy rose to her feet and clutched her hammer. Ryene rose with her and drew two fairly large blades from the curve of her robes.
“I would warn you not to do anything foolish,” Ryene said. Her stance was defensive, but there was a clear threat. She was no mere attendant.
Lux put her hand over her face in frustration. Their first interview and they had already been manipulated into giving up information.
“Poppy it’s okay,” Lux said. “This is all going to make its way out when Galio is no longer seen in matches anyway.”
Poppy lowered her hammer but didn’t sit back down.
“Can you tell us what this is all about, then?” Poppy said, waving at her blades. “Or do we have to pay for that information?”
“Some people who come to see our professors and students do not have your innocent intents,” Ryene explained as the blades disappeared back into her robes. “Their knowledge makes them targets for unsavory types who would like to press them into service through any means necessary. I’m paid well to make sure they don’t get ambushed and enslaved … or worse.”
Poppy nodded. “I can respect that.” But they would probably never know who she was actually taking notes for. They just assumed it was for the college.
“All right,” Lux said. “We appreciate the discussion, but we have more leads to pursue today.”
“Not staying for tea?” Ryene asked. “At least let me give you a scroll of our assistance offer to bring back to Demacia.” She returned to her desk with her notes.
“We’ll return tomorrow to see if anybody recalls Fitz,” Lux said to Poppy.
Ryene then returned with a scroll in a case for Lux.
“I would look over the terms to see if they’re amenable,” Ryene said. “We could always do some negotiating before you leave Zaun.”
“Thank you for your time,” Lux said. The woman smiled and bowed. Lux and Poppy then left the college back out to the smelly, filthy streets of Zaun.
“Open the scroll,” Poppy demanded right after they left.
“What? Why?” Lux asked.
“Diplomatic experience,” Poppy said. “She suggested you look at the scrolls first. She wouldn’t do that if there weren’t something there you needed to see.”
Lux fumbled over the case and pulled out the scroll. As Poppy predicted, there was another note curled within. Lux caught it as it fluttered to the ground. She folded it open.
Marsh Alley. Look for the door painted blue. Bring gold or you’ll get nowhere.
“Why is she helping us, I wonder,” Lux mused.
“The benefits of an invasion of bloodthirsty monsters to a city devoted to free invention and research is a bit limited,” Poppy said. “I’m more concerned that we don’t actually know which of our problems she is giving us help with.”
“Or if it’s a trap,” Lux said.
“I’m worried terribly that this is a bad idea,” Carowen said in Galio’s head.
Galio stood on one of a base dias in Summoner’s Rift, one of the other fields of justice used by the Institute to settle disputes. Kassadin and Taric were with him.
“We need to determine risk and with our minds connected, perhaps you can see what I’m seeing,” Galio said.
“With your enchantment affected, I’m worried that we might not be able to restore you if you are destroyed here the way we usually can.”
“We will be careful,” Galio said. “I have fought Kassadin on plenty of occasions. I know how much of his magic I can bear.”
“You don’t know if that’s the case anymore,” she said.
“Understood. Moving out.”
Kassadin, under the command of another summoner, flouted out onto the battlefield. Taric stuck with Galio to monitor his condition.
“Welcome to Summoner’s Rift,” a woman’s voice was magically broadcast over the forest where team battles would normally be planned. “This is a test session, not a formal League of Legends battle. Scrying has been blocked and no record of this session will be documented.”
“Let us take some time to build up our strength before we attempt a battle,” Kassadin said as he drifted off. Even though this wasn’t an official match, the champions and summoners were bound by the magical construct of the battlefield. It would take time and practice for Galio, Taric, and Kassadin to build up to their normal level of magical potential. The three wandered down separate paths through the forest growing on the rift to hone their skills on the magically-summoned minion creatures who participated in the battles as well.
“I’m going to build up your bulwark shield magic to its maximum potential,” Carowen said in his head. “We will make use of it to absorb some of his void magic.”
The three men fought independently from each other against the cloaked minion creatures of the battlefield for a good fifteen minutes. Then they were ordered to the central forest path leading between the two bases.
Galio and Kassadin stood facing each other next to the river cutting the battlefield in half. Taric stood a few feet away watching.
“I am ready,” Kassadin said. “Are you?”
“Yes,” Galio said. He summoned his bulwark, causing a glowing shield to surround him. It would weaken attacks against him and absorb magic to heal him. But thanks to the disruption of his enchantments, nobody was sure if it would hold now.
Kassadin gestured and a ball of purple light flew at him, tearing at the air it flew through. It struck Galio in the chest and dispersed. His jaw clenched as the magic was absorbed.
Just for a moment, he felt the temperature drop and the ground appeared to be covered with snow.
“I saw that!” Carowen said in Galio’s head. “Was that snow?”
“It worked,” Galio said. “But only a brief image. Another spell, please.” He reinforced his bulwark. This time Kassadin waved his arm and a large spray of violet void magic washed over him, rippling the air.
He ran through the woods through the snow, chasing a cloaked figure. His legs were freezing, but he couldn’t stop.
He had to stop him. He couldn’t report back about the boy.
“There was more that time,” Galio said. “A chase.”
“I saw it as well,” Carowen said. “What does it mean?”
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Galio said. “We still don’t have enough information. Kassadin, your nether blade, please.”
An otherworldly blade of purple energy protruded out from Kassadin’s armored right hand.
“Are you sure you want to take it this far?” Kassadin asked. “We both know this blade has demolished you in battle before.”
“Galio, please be careful,” Carowen chimed in.
“Taric, I’m relying on you to react if needed,” Galio said. The knight nodded. Galio summoned his bulwark again.
“Please, Kassadin,” the gargoyle said, gesturing for his approach. The void walker nodded and floated closer. He pulled back his arm and then stabbed forward, like he was going to punch Galio in the chest. The blade pierced right through him and the air rippled around them both. There was a loud tearing sound.
Through the woods they ran, dodging between the trees. The cloaked figure -- the Noxian assassin, his mind filled in -- never even spared a glance back. Escape was his only goal. The man could feel fire in his lungs he pushed himself as hard as he could. His breath trailed behind him as a frozen mist. He could hear himself growling in anger.
He lunged at the assassin. It was his only choice. His strength was waning, but if he missed he would hit the ground and the man would escape. He collided with the assassin’s back and they both tumbled to the ground.
The assassin was quick. He slashed his dagger across the guard’s forearm before he even had time to react. But he was prepared, too. He thrust forward with his own blade, puncturing the assassin’s side. The assassin howled with pain, but tried to continue fighting back as his blood flowed onto the snow.
“You will not have him,” the guard shouted as he overpowered the assassin and slammed him in the face with his fist. Then he took the assassin’s own dagger and slammed it down hard on his chest, stabbing him right in the heart. The assassin wheezed once before his heart gave, then slowly went limp.
The man climbed back up to his knees as blood trickled from his own wounded arm.
“You will not have him,” the guard said to the corpse. “The boy will be safe. He will not be your pawn.”
Galio gasped, then let out a deep bellow as he clutched his arm and crashed to the ground in Summoner’s Rift.
“My arm!” He yelled. “Is this … is this pain?”
“Galio!” Taric shouted. He ran to his side and immediately cast a healing spell on the gargoyle. Galio slowly climbed back to his hands and knees and stayed there.
“He looks like he’s panting,” Kassadin said as he floated over. “He doesn’t breathe, though, correct?”
“I don’t know what’s going on with him,” Taric said. “We need to end this test.”
“Test battle ending,” a woman’s voice announced across the battlefield. “Please stand by to be transported to the Institute of Justice.”
“My summoner just told me that Galio is not responding to Carowen’s attempts to communicate with him,” Taric said. “I hope we didn’t take this test too far.”
“Galio, can you hear us?” Kassadin asked.
Galio didn’t respond. As the two champions stared, it appeared to them that Galio was somehow breathing heavily, his torso expanding and contracting with each breath. But that was impossible, wasn’t it?
One of the disadvantages of trying to write an entire book in a month is that trying to set up mysteries where the outcome is somewhat surprising, but still makes sense, is very hard. It's either going to become pretty obvious eventually or make no sense whatsoever.
But I have more complications in store. I also realized today my larger plot also rips off a central concept from one of my favorite author's books. Though it's different enough to not really be the same thing.
Lux and Poppy had spent much of the day trudging back and forth across Zaun, talking to metalworkers, alchemists, and anybody else Fitz might have been recovering scrap from. Gold passed across quite a few palms in order to grease tongues.
They weren’t able to find the source of the metal yet, but they were able to calculate that he was last seen in Zaun about nine days before Galio saw him in Demacia. That was about enough time to make the trip on a fast ship. Unfortunately they weren’t able to determine what ship he traveled on.
“He might have been a stowaway,” Poppy said. “Poor yordles have been known to do that. We’re small enough to get away with it on a busy enough ship.”
“Well,” Lux said as they wandered back to the rooming house where they were boarding, “The college is still our most likely candidate as the source of the metal, so we’ll see what we get tomorrow. Do we still have enough gold to bribe our mystery source tonight?”
“I hope so,” Poppy said. “Every welder in Zaun is going to be eating well tonight, in any event.”
Collow’s Inn was the name of their rooming house. It was built and decorated for well-heeled yordles coming to Zaun for research or experiments. Lux was a little worried at first. She was small for a human, but certainly not yordle-sized. She needn’t have worried. The inn was so plush and opulent that the beds were perfectly comfortable for humans. Heimerdinger had suggested the inn as a relatively safe place from the mercenary attitudes of the city, and it knew how to treat champions well.
“What we need to be concerned about,” Poppy said as they rested their feet in her suite for a while, “is that the further this incident moves away from a government-sponsored act of terrorism, the less likely the Institute of War is going to take action.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Lux said, “Prince Jarvan seems to think the Institute bears some sort of grudge against Demacia, and we don’t know why.”
“They may withdraw their permission for summoners to assist us in the investigation.”
“But what about the effect on Galio?” Lux asked. “He’s a champion in the League!”
“They can’t afford to develop a reputation for assisting in every problem like this, or else they’ll get so occupied with the ‘little’ things that they won’t be able to manage the battles on the fields of justice.”
“Galio’s situation is not ‘little.’”
“Not to you and me,” Poppy said. “But to them it’s just a loose turnip. Who knows, they probably would feel more comfortable with Galio gone. They forbid the creation of other golems of his kind, after all.”
“I know,” Poppy said. “I’m trying to look at the situation as a diplomat. It’s not a pretty picture.”
The two women sat in silence for a time. Poppy poked at the fruit basket the hotel provided the room and munched on a pear. She watched Lux. Her shoulders were hunched in and her young face was creased with worry lines.
“How far are you willing to go with this, Lux?” Poppy asked finally.
“What do you mean?”
“We are getting into grayer and grayer areas here,” Poppy said. “It doesn’t bother me much. I’d do just about anything for Galio. But Demacia is not a fan of that particular color.”
Lux gave out a long, slow sigh.
“I was hoping that we would get some good, solid answers to what was going on before I had to really think about that,” Lux said. She looked around the room as though she were trying to find a distraction.
“Would you break Demacian law for Galio?” Poppy asked. Lux put her head and her hands and Poppy could hear her struggling to keep from crying.
“I don’t know,” Lux said. “It feels so clear to me that I should. But does that make me a good friend or a bad friend? Galio would not want me to break the law for him. I suspect the courts would show me mercy if it came down to it. But I would be considered a shame to the Crownguard name.
“But as I try to examine the situation for other possibilities, I can’t see anything. Of all of Galio’s friends, I am the best suited to learn the necessary artificer magic to restore him to his normal state.”
“What about Carowen?” Poppy asked. “She’s a summoner, more powerful than you are.” Lux shook her head fiercely.
“We cannot let Carowen get any further involved,” she said. “Demacian law is nothing compared the harshness summoners show each other if they violate the Institute’s laws. She could be executed! They can’t let summoners turn against their laws, because then more factionalism will develop. The Institute of War could descend into bickering and we could end up with another Rune War.”
Silence spun out again.
“I hesitate to even offer, but … ,” Poppy said, “I bet Bandle City would offer asylum to you if it came to that, diplomatic issues aside.” Lux looked at her in shock, but then clenched her jaw in determination.
“Thank you, Poppy,” she said, “But I’m a Demacian, through and through. I won’t leave my city.”
“But you’re going to see this through?”
“Yes,” Lux said. “Galio was granted his freedom and chose to serve the city-state of his master. What could be more Demacian than that? We never leave each other behind. Not on the battlefield. Not in the streets. Not in our hearts. If it comes down to it, that will be my defense.”
Well after dark, the champions made their way to Marsh Alley, as the note from Ryene described. Now Lux was glad Poppy was wearing her armor, in the event this excursion ended in an ambush. Lux’s wand was secured by her waist but inside of her robes where it couldn’t be seen.
The alley wasn’t lit, of course. Lux peered around carefully, then risked creating a small orb of magic light to help them see.
“I hope that doesn’t make us an even easier target,” Lux said.
“I don’t mind,” Poppy said. “Lots of walls here for me to slam fools into.”
The alley appeared to be empty. There were a number of doors leading into what appeared to be the back entrances of a number of shops and warehouses. They made their way down the alley as though they were creeping through a haunted crypt and found the designated blue door.
“Well, here we are,” Poppy said. “Now what? Do we knock?”
“No,” Lux said. “It will draw too much attention. They are no doubt expecting us.” She carefully checked the door handle. As expected, it wasn’t locked.
The door creaked open and Lux peered inside without entering. It was a large workroom or warehouse, mostly empty. Oil lanterns hung from rafters were lit near the center, but the sides of the room were filled with shadows. There were a couple of doorways in the dim light of the far side leading into other rooms.
She just stood at the half-open door to see what would happen. Would somebody give away his location from the shadows? Nothing happened .
“I may be about to mess everything up royally,” Lux said.
“That sound like fun,” Poppy said, as she drew her massive hammer.
Lux withdrew her wand from her robes and channeled her magic. A sphere of light pulsed from the wand and flew to the center of the room, illuminating it. It was not unlike Galio’s magical smiting grenades, but she could control the detonation.
“No assassins laying in wait,” Lux said. “There are several statues of dogs lined up by the walls though.”
“I think that means we’re in the right place,” Poppy said. “Durand invented those.”
The two women entered the room carefully. Poppy walked over to one of the dog statues and looked it over in the shadows.
“Galio told me these were an early creation of Durand’s,” she explained. “They only had temporary enchantments, and once Durand was gone, they could no longer be recharged.”
Poppy reached down as though she were going to pat the stone dog on its head. Suddenly she heard a low growl and immediately pulled her hand back.
“What? Lux, get back!” She ordered.
The dog’s eyes began to glow and it barked, threateningly. Poppy backed away, pulling up her hammer and her shield. She backed into Lux in the center of the room. All six dog statues had animated. Lux held up her wand, ready for a fight. The dogs stood up from their haunches and began to circle around them in the room, growling and barking.
“Well, at least we know we’ve found an artificer,” Poppy said. “I wonder if he’ll still talk to us when we destroy his dogs.”
They dragged the barbarian archer into the tower. She was bleeding badly, but still lived. Her face was covered with soot and ash to try to hide in the night. She failed.
“Why were you watching that house?” he demanded. She responded by spitting at him.
He grabbed her by the neck and slammed her against the wall by the fireplace. She squirmed and shrieked in pain.
“Why were you watching that house?”
“The boy … the boy is ours,” she whispered as she blacked out from blood loss. He dropped her to the floor.
“What’s going on?” One of the guards asked. “Why are the barbarians after the boy?”
“Not for anything good,” he said. “His mother was alone. We assumed she was abandoned. Maybe the truth is much worse. Maybe she escaped?”
“Magic is rare among these tribes. If they found a woman with talent, she could help one get the upper hand.”
“They wanted to take the boy from her?”
“A desperate beast seeks any weapon,” he snarled. “But they don’t know he’s here yet. We must keep him safe.”
“Percy’s wife is on her way to wet nurse him,” a guard said. “She’ll be here in two days.”
“We must prepare for them to discover we have the boy. It is bound to happen eventually. They will focus their assaults on us rather than their rivals. We have a much smaller crew, but we’re well reinforced.”
“What do we do with her?” a guard asked, pointing at the archer.
“She killed Koren. He was one of our best scouts,” he said. “She has declared herself to be an enemy of Demacia. Execute her and bury her body in the woods. No grave.”
Kassadin, Taric, Carowen and Soraka stared at Galio in the marble and linen-decorated infirmary at the Institute of War.
“Enemy of Demacia?” Soraka asked. “Is he talking about me?”
“We need more bulwarks to the southwest,” Galio went on. “If we buttress them with sharp stumps, we may be able to hold off a charge. Send three men to take down a few trees.”
“It’s the man from his visions,” Carowen said. “I saw him through Galio during the fight. He is obsessed with protecting this boy. This Dederick he has referred to.”
“He looks like he’s breathing, doesn’t he?” Taric asked.
“He’s not,” Soraka said. “He was designed to mimic some human movement patterns. Maybe that enchantment is breaking down?”
“Bring the boy to me once that archer is gone,” Galio said. “He needs to be fed and cleaned. I will take care of him for now.”
“Can he even see us?” Taric asked. Carowen closed her eyes and focused.
“No, he is still caught up in this vision,” she said.
“I am afraid I can be no use to your efforts,” Kassadin said. “He may have been exposed to the Void, but this reaction is not connected. I wish I could help you further, but I must continue my efforts to stop Malzahar.” He nodded at the group and then disappeared in a purple flash of light, using his void walking skills to blink away.
“Is there any danger?” Taric asked. “What if he starts using his magic?”
“I don’t know,” Soraka said. “I’m at a loss. Why don’t we both cast healing magic on him to see if it helps? He was designed to benefit from the same healing magic that helps humans.”
The two of them mumbled. Soraka called on the powers of the stars and Taric clutched at a rune-scribed ruby. They both gestured and Galio was bathed in a magical green light. The reaction was unusual. Galio’s body seemed to vibrate for a few seconds and he started to growl. His magic bulwark appeared, shielding him.
“Back away in case his magic erupts,” Carowen said.
Instead it felt as though Galio was drawing inward. The vibration stopped and he appeared to calm down. The Illusion of breathing stopped as well.
Galio looked over the three mages. He said nothing for a few moments.
“Things have gone … poorly,” he finally admitted.
“Well, he’s back with us,” Taric said.
“But for how long?” Carowen asked.
“I didn’t hurt anybody, did I?” Galio asked.
“No,” Soraka said. “But, I’m sure Taric and I could have managed it.”
“Now who has death blindness?” Galio half-joked. “None of us really know what might happen if Durand’s enchantments go fully awry.”
“Galio, the archivists at the College of Magic in Demacia are looking for information about this Dederick boy to see if there’s information that can help you,” Carowen said. “But they have so many records, it could take weeks! If you have a last name for the boy, that could help.”
Galio shook his head no.
“He might have taken the last name of the guard’s, or he may have been given a name by Demacia. I haven’t heard it in my visions,” Galio said. “I still have not heard that guard’s name at all.”
“The Demacian Council has ordered staff from the Hall of Records to assist the college in the search,” Carowen said. “Perhaps that could speed things up.”
“We don’t know how much time we have,” Soraka said. “Indeed, we still don’t even really know what could happen to Galio or he is a danger to others.”
“We should assume that is a possibility,” Galio said. “I don’t want anybody hurt because of me.”
“Galio, stop that,” Carowen said.
“The most logical scenario,” Galio said, ignoring Carowen, “Is that these visions will take up more and more of my mind. As Kassadin said, I may not have a brain, but I have a mind. It is possible that eventually I will believe that I am this man and I will see his memories rather than what is real.”
“That’s not the worst thing that could happen,” Taric said. “At least you will still be intact.”
“I’m more concerned about this man’s intent to do what it takes to keep the boy safe. I saw him kill. He ordered an execution. I’m afraid of what would happen if I were to mistake an innocent for one of these barbarians or assassins.”
“What would you like us to do, then?” Carowen asked.
“I’m going to have to be relieved of duty to Demacia as well as the League,” Galio said, sighing. “I will focus on this problem as long as I can still assist. If this mental degradation progresses to the point where I am no longer able to be … me … I am going to have to rely on you, Carowen, King Jarvan, and the Demacian Council to decide what is to be done to me.”
“Galio … ,” Carowen said.
“If there is any possibility that I might be a threat to others, you must dismantle me. Do you understand? I cannot bear the thought that I might bring harm to the innocent. I am supposed to protect.”
“I think you’re being a bit dramatic,” Carowen said.
“I need you to promise,” Galio said. “I will not become a danger or a burden”
“Very well, I promise,” Carowen said. “But only because I’m confident it won’t come to this.”
Galio nodded and thought to himself for a few moments. Then he nodded again as though he had made a decision.
“Soraka and Taric, I would ask of you another favor if I could,” he said.
“Of course,” Soraka said.
“I would like the two of you to try to consult with Zilean about this issue,” Galio said. “I know it is extremely difficult for the man to focus on one particular event in the past, but maybe your healing spells combined can calm his mind long to concentrate like you just did for me.”
“What are you going to do?” Taric asked.
“I have a task to perform nearby and then I need to return to Demacia,” Galio said. “I need to see if Durand’s bats have found any yordles near the city.”
“What task is this?” Carowen asked.
“It’s just a hunch,” Galio said. “I don’t want to make a big affair out of it. It could be nothing.”
Carowen narrowed her eyes at him slightly as he flew out of the room. It wasn’t like Galio to conceal things from her. She thought about sharing his mind again, but decided against it. She didn’t want him to think she couldn’t trust him with the struggle he was going through.
Galio left the Institute of War and flew slowly to the northwest, into the night. He was possibly going to get some fateful answers about the man now inhabiting his mind. Or he was going to get himself destroyed.
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