Poppy struggled to relax in the stiff wooden seating of the carriage. Many hours had passed since their departure from Bandle City, yet she couldn't bring herself to sleep thanks to the clattering of hooves and the ever-present jostling of every minor divot and pot-hole in the path.
Another source of discomfort was the nondescript iron box that rested at her feet. It was a part of the reason her father had made her abandon their home. He was a renown smith, matched by no other. He forged priceless enchanted weapons, armor, and trinkets for those who had the wealth to buy them. That was, until the Minotaur genocide, the Barbarian upheaval, and the war for Ionia. Disgusted with the war mongering of Noxus, her father had privately pledged allegiance to Demacia and promised to forge weapons and armor solely for them.
Such a high value asset could not remain in the neutral Bandle City, so they were given a manor in the heart of Demacia, and were being escorted there by an elite honor guard. They had gone through Mogron pass a few days ago, and were now trudging along the side of the Great Barrier mountain range.
And in that little box at her feet rested the first weapon her father forged for the Demacian war effort. An enchanted hammer, every bit as powerful and terrifying as his previous works. She eyed it warily, as if it was liable to disappear.
Apparently she wasn't the only one. A guard rode his horse up alongside the carriage.
"Are you certain you don't want one of us to hold onto it? It doesn't seem that... secure in a simple carrying case."
Blomgrun awoke from his pre-nap stupor next to her and snorted into his beard. "Tha simple carrying case is me own design. Nigh impregnable, indestructible, an' indomitable. Tha only way to open it is the key."
He tapped his breast plate and nodded.
"And the key is kept where me heart is, the safest place in Valoran as long as I draw breath."
The guard seemed ready to press the matter further, but wisely decided against it.
And so the small break in monotony was quickly surpassed by the sounds of horse shoes and loose cart wheels. Poppy lied back, content to gaze at the small patches of grey sky that managed to poke through the forest canopy.
In the next moment, a hooded man stood in the front seat of the carriage, facing her. The drivers head lolled backwards, still attached to his body by a film of sinew and skin. The face still had a look of boredom, as there was no chance for surprise to register.
In a span of several heart beats, everything seemed frozen in time. In the next, thunder shattered the sky amidst the screams of guards and horses. Men dropped from hidden places among boughs, stabbing and slashing. Her father drew his axe from his belt, and leaped at the assailant.
"Run, Poppy! Take it and run!" he bellowed as he grappled with the hooded figure.
She snatched the surprisingly light case - leapt from the cart and hit the ground running. Assassins not distracted by the combat saw her departing with their objective and moved to stop her.
But years of working the forge had made her body hard and strong, and many a cocksure attacker found his legs knocked out from under him by the stocky Yordle as she sprinted into the woods.
The one glance she spared for her father witnessed a searching blade finding a joint in his armor - and a well spring of blood gushing forth. The clouds broke, and a torrent of rain fell with her tears.
She had never run for so long before in her life. Every time she felt that she must stop, her mind wandered to the face of the driver and the hooded man and his knives.
So she ran.
By chance, she came upon a lone clearing in the dense woods. A statue stood in the center, a horned gargoyle covered in lichen and vines. Even weather worn, Poppy could tell just by looking that the sculptor had been a master. It reminded her of home, and of her father.
Her heart panged with pain, and it was grief that drove her to collapse under the marble wings of the statue. She wept and wailed then, for all that she had lost.
"Where is it?"
Her eyes shot up. The voice had been so soft it barely carried over the sound of the rain.
The hooded man stood at the edge of the clearing. She saw that even his cloak held blades, gleaming wicked silver. The large one strapped to his forearm was slick with crimson blood.
"Where is it?" he asked again. His voice was so casual, so nonchalant, that it made Poppy shake with fury. He had slaughtered those men, killed her father, and intended to kill her too.
And he didn't care about what he did or the lives he destroyed. It would have been better if he had cursed her, because then at least it was clear that some ill grudge was driving him.
But no, he treated murder as if it was a boring yet necessary chore.
Poppy reached into her pocket, and drew forth the key. The case opened with a soft click, and she grasped the golden hammer that lay within.
It shone like a star in her hand, as if feeding its power from her rage and indignation. The light banished her fear and sorrow, along with the fatigue from her exhausted limbs. She flexed fingers that were a mere moment ago completely numb. A shimmering aura embraced her, and Poppy noticed that she no longer felt the rain drops striking her head.
She felt unstoppable.
"Come, dog of Noxus!" she challenged, holding the hammer aloft.
The assassin swept forth like liquid shadow. A hail of daggers left his cloak, but they were swept off course by the howling wind or deflected by her golden aura.
Suddenly, the clearing was illuminated by a blinding white light. She first thought lightning, but soon saw the source as a spinning orange disc of energy. It arced forth, and smote a swathe of land where the assassin once stood. The shock wave sent him flying back into the trunk of a tree. Poppy felt heat on her back, and spun around in surprise.
Twin trails of smoke plumed from the charred vines around the gargoyles eyes, which now glowed like embers. It shifted, and there was a sharp tearing as the statue tore through earth and root to lift its limbs free.
It stood on hind legs and roared, and the wind screamed with it.
Poppy remembered the assassin, and turned to the tree that he had struck. But he had vanished.
"Thank you?" she whispered to the living stone, unsure if it even understood.
A voice ancient and slow like shifting gravel answered: "No, it is I who thank you.... you have given my life new purpose. Come child, I will bear you the rest of the way."
Despite her apprehension, she crawled onto the gargoyles back and was amazed when it launched into the air and held. Together they climbed, up and above the clouds. A beautiful vista stretched forth, the sun shining on a white sea. But the clouds soon parted, and instead Poppy beheld crystal blue rivers dividing sprawling verdant farms.
They flew to the city of Demacia, a flawless ivory-gold beacon dominating both the land and heavens. The sun was setting behind the city, and it glowed in the amber twilight. At that moment, Poppy knew in her heart the task she would devote her life too.
Like her strange companion, she had found purpose.
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