And Light be the Path to Home
Main pairings: Lux/Ezreal, Caitlyn/Jayce/Vi (for now). Most League champions will be mentioned in the story.
More of an Ezreal fic than anything else; aims to tell a story of Piltover, the continent of Valoran at the brink of destruction, of champions with homes to return to and champions without, and a young man who struggles with family, love, loyalty, faith and hope.
FF.net link: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/9362868/...e-Path-to-Home
This is my first League piece. I hope the story will entertain you.
Rated teens and up for language and theme; probably won't have much mature content. Not your typical fluff blonde story - I love melodrama and tragedy. You have been warned.
Another warning - this is supposed to be a freakishly long fic. If you barge in expecting Lux and Ezreal kissing on the first page, you'll be disappointed. If you barge in expecting characters developing throughout the story and contemplating life, you might eventually be rewarded.
So, without further ado, here's the beginning. I don't exactly write in chapters, so I'm going to call them update chunks.
Disclaimer: The format of this first chunk might sound similar to the beginning of a certain Homestuck fic by dellaluce. The contents have no overlap whatsoever, however.
He meets her for the first time outside the gates of Piltover, on a wide marsh field overlooking the Guardian's Sea.
She's dressed in the rich colors of her home, the dark blue, silver and gold hues shimmering in the late afternoon sun, and she glows with them, her light armor emanating a quiet power that reminds him of Janna. She's foreign here, her light ethereal and soft unlike the hard lasting radiance given off by the Piltoveran hextech star rods, but he finds himself comforted by it, his breathing slowing at an entity that smells of mystery and old magic instead of machinery and precision. (He seeks them for a living, but they are near impossible to find at home.)
She scouts around, her rod giving off sparkles in the air; he discreetly sits down on a dry spot, putting aside the coins to look at her.
Few things about her remind him of Garen. He had met Garen several years before, at a celebration banquet about his maps that he eventually ran away from three hours before schedule, and back then – if what he has seen of Garen on the Fields, even now – Garen had been a colossal pillar of muscle and sword that looms tall, stands firm, and never offers any ideological surprises. Garen is the perfect Demacian, all honor and battle cries, and he has never gotten the feeling that Garen knows anything about Valoran other than patriotic loyalty and his own instincts. Garen doesn't keep secrets; even his infatuation with Katarina is a joke all the way North in Piltover, but Garen doesn't care. Garen just spins and goes.
She's different. He senses secrets in her, layers upon layers of secrets that she hides and lives with in easy conscience. She knows how to use her rod to dance with the sun; she's like an old Shurima goddess, warping nature around her, her long, slender fingers gently wrapping around light rays to lock them into place. The excess light from her spell bends over to form dazzling rainbows over the water; although he knows the approximate mechanics of her working and the extent of her human power, the entire scene almost resembles a religious ritual, and she's at the center of it, as beautiful as any divine being on his artifacts.
She makes her observations and her recordings; he knows what she's doing (it's spying, it's her being in places she shouldn't be and trying to get more information about the defences of Piltover, but he can't fault her, just like he can't fault himself for disturbing the resting places of those dead millennia ago: he does it to make the world today understand the world years ago, he tells himself, and what she thinks are defense mechanisms are really just new energy generators anyway) but he doesn't interrupt it, keeping his silence. She works until the sky turns dark orange and the water is the color of blood; he watches, breaking into a smile when she finally turns around, the triumphant smile freezing on her face as she sees him.
'Why hello, Miss Crownguard. It's Ezreal, the Grandmaster Explorer of Piltover.'
He has made this introduction a thousand times; to friendly human champions, gnarling Icathian monsters, drunken sailors in caverns of Bilgewater and curious crowds in the city halls of Bandle City. In response, he has heard many things: muffled acknowledgements, incoherent fangirl screams, perfectly polite greetings and disdainful mock salutations.
He thinks he would be prepared.
She surprises him once again. Quickly breaking into a smile once more, she surveys him, examining him as if he's a student and she's the Head of the Piltover Academy. 'Good day, Explorer Ezreal. I was told not to wander outside Piltover on my visit, but I was just so curious about your city. I wanted to take a look at these amazing technological things, and being you, I'm sure you understand. Do me a favor, okay? Don't report me and I'll help you out next time you need something from Demacia. Anything from the libraries, archaeological sites, noble houses – just ask me. Deal?'
It's a golden opportunity for his career, but he realizes he doesn't want to just take it. He wants more from her. (Artifacts, treasures, everything of great value – no one ever lets go of them before finding out everything about them.) 'That and dinner with me?'
This time, per his predictions, she looks startled. 'Are you asking me out on a date?'
'If you wish,' he replies casually, making sure to put the extra dose of flirtiness in it before starting to walk away. He allows himself a smile as she hurries over; the expedition, with the invisibility belt find, was already a great success, but he loves surprises. 'You said you wanted to see more Piltover science – the best place in town floats above the city and is only open seven hours a day. Come on.'
Piltover never sleeps; the lights and commotion sharply reminded him of this fact as he steps out of the portal station, dressed in a suit and tie, fresh and crisp for the first time in months. The system has left the two of them right outside the center city skyscrapers, and he finds himself amazed again by how much the city always manages to transform and grow while he was away. The skylab lights did not glow like the summer fireflies of Kumungu the last time he stood here, eating a bun and waiting for the Grand Library to open, and the waters of the fountains flowed like rivers then, too, instead of shimmering like fine silk. Everything is new, brilliant and futuristic; it is almost as if he has aged twenty years in his five-month absence, and for once, he doesn’t mind it. Although the city doesn’t taste like him when he inhales deeply, he still knows that it is Piltover, and yes, it is home.
‘Wow, that statue of Dr. Heimerdinger is gorgeous!’
He smiles, turning back to Lux; she’s stunning in a semi-formal blue dress, her hair shining like moonlight under the flattering Piltoverian lights, her eyes large with wonder. ‘Him and the yordles did a lot for my city. The street lights, the repair bots, the energy turbines – the guy’s a genius. I wish I can understand him better, though; every time Jayce drags me to visit, they just go on and on about fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, and I usually end up watching Ziggs play with bombs.’
That got a laugh out of Lux. ‘But that sounds fun.’
‘It’s only fun when you’re not in the blast radius. If he hits you once, he’ll get so gleeful that he’ll want to do it another ten times. Now, Miss Crownguard, we are still League champions, so if you don’t want to just stand here and attract attention, shall we get food?’
She looks distinctively amused as she follows you through the revolving doors. ‘Explorer – ’
‘Just call me Ezreal.’
‘– Ezreal, I never thought you’re such a… straightforward Piltoverian. I always thought you were something different… thought you had more of an affinity for museums and old artifacts, not all these technological wonders and shining skylines. When I bumped into you, I thought if anything, you’d take me to the archaeology museums.’
Indeed. He presses the button to go to the 47th floor, patiently looking outside the transparent elevator as the machine takes them above the clamor of the streets. ‘Well, I definitely prefer nearly starving to death in Freljord and making maps of huge swamps, but this is still my home, after all. I don’t know or care about gear systems or differential equations, but I still think people do amazing things with science. The lights, the portal systems, the clean energy… you don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate those. Heimerdinger’s compasses and self-cleaning leather have been my lifesavers for years.’
The door opens; Lux gasps.
‘Plus, you asked, and frankly, I’m not sure why the diplomats haven’t taken you here yet.’
The restaurant flies above the city in a massive hot air balloon; it spills a splendid ray of light down upon the city, lighting up a neighborhood and drawing excited exclaims. The edges of the balloon make it appear like an island or a cradle; a woman is standing in the center of the balloon, singing a slow folk song, and her voice seems to carry over, making the entire city drown in a mist of relaxed blissfulness.
‘Come on. We’ve got a portal to go through.’
‘I guess I can kind of see why you don’t care much for the League, if you get to do what you love most of the time and this is just fallback,’ Lux says, and he thinks he can sense a trace of something in her voice – disdainfulness, wistfulness, maybe both. ‘Of course, there are more magnificent things in Demacia, but this is still pretty great.’
‘Oh?’ He teases. (He’s not sure what he’s doing, if he’s trying to impress her or if he’s showing off Piltover in order to gain a sense of city-state superiority. Either way, he’s enjoying this, and he thinks she is, too, although for a different reason. The air is still tense between them, but they’re both okay with it; he has secrets, too, after all.) ‘I guess I know what I’m going to do with your Demacian offer.’
She chuckles. ‘Well, you can only choose one of those things, so don’t mess up!’
He steps down the stairs, sends the obviously awed waitress away (‘Just come by when Miss Crownguard asks, please’), and finds himself a seat near the singer, deliberately ignoring Lux’s words. He’s going to keep that choice for later; he’ll only use it when he better understands the living paradox in front of him, a cocoon of cheerfulness and sobriety that doesn’t make any sense. ‘Want anything to drink?’
‘Spirits affect my ability to shoot lasers, so no, just water’s fine.’ She opens the menu, grinning; he smiles back, remembering the way her specialty ripped out soil and flesh on the Fields. ‘Bet you wouldn’t want me to miss one on the Field, since we’re generally on the same side.’
‘No, no. I hate Noxians too, you know.’ He, too, pours himself a glass of water, watching the clear liquid collide with ice cubes in a bit of dazed fascination. (It’s hard to go back to wines and sweet drinks after one had once spent days wandering just trying to find an oasis; it was his first time in Shurima and he had underestimated the sands, forgone Nasus’ grave advice in a moment of childish pride. He nearly paid for the mistake with his life, and after that, he started packing waterkilns before emeralds.)
‘Ever been to Noxus?’ She asks casually, her eyes following the motions of his hands as she delicately sticks a fork into her spiced rice.
His heart skips a beat at the question. (She’s spying again, listening to him just to get some useful information out of him, and he’s nothing but a book to her, a cryptic encyclopedia that doesn’t have feelings, but somehow it only fires him up, making him hope and making him desire more than anything to prove his worth and find the real Lux. There’s a tendril there, somewhere, and maybe he’s seeing things, but he feels like beneath Lux’s thick veil of secrecy, there’s a real glimmer of raw curiosity, and he trusts his instincts. He thinks of the Howling Marshes, of the mighty Sablestone Mountains that isolate Bandle City from the rest of Valoran, of the Solari’s Temple gleaming under the dawn; he can take her to so many places to make the glimmer matter, to turn that spark into a flame that will burn until it consumes everything, but he’s in a suit and he’s in Piltover and as much as he likes being here god ****ing dammit he can’t do ****.) ‘Two or three times, yeah. A couple times around the border, you know how it’s like, especially since the current borders are slightly undefined.’
‘How did you get in?’
He glances around. It’s just the two of them; the singer has finished and is packing up her belongings, seemingly ready to go home after a magnificent performance. ‘Good camouflage and a couple of shady deals here and there. A lady from a rich family is particularly fond of me, although I doubt that’d work for you, since she’s not a lesbian.’
That gets another laugh from Lux. ‘You never know.’
‘I guess. Maybe she has a thing for all blondes. But really, she lets me in because she thinks I give her everything that I end up finding. I do give her stuff; I’ve given her a dozen replicas. Another friend who manages the Noxus High Museum takes in everything I actually discover.’
‘In my defense, they are nice replicas. The Gauntlet can do things you wouldn’t believe.’
She giggles. ‘Yeah, I’m sure, Ezreal. I’m only the best illusionist in the world.’
He puts a piece of fruit in his mouth thoughtfully. ‘And LeBlanc…?’
‘Got nothing on me, trust me. I’ve never lost to a Noxian on matters of magic.’
That’s what Garen and Xin Zhao says about their jobs, too, and if that’s actually true, Demacia should have conquered Noxus long ago. ‘Then teach me, Miss Crownguard. In these troubled times, an explorer can always use good replicas.’ His memory flashes back to the cave in Kalamanda. ‘Illusion-dispelling spells would be great, too.’
‘And what’s in this for me? More useless replicas?’ She crosses her arms, her eyes dancing mischievously, and he can’t help but grin.
‘Oh, you get to become the heroine in one of Ezreal’s romanticized stories.’
‘Schedule-free visits to all seven of Ezreal’s Hidden Wonders of Valoran.’
‘Better, but still no.’
‘Access to this restaurant for a year… for free?’
‘You’re bull****ting me and you know it.’
They are both shaking with mirth; Lux has thrown herself on the table and he’s gripping the wooden rails, laughing until he’s out of breath. ‘Alright, alright. I’ve recently found a tomb in Shurima that apparently has quite the collection of elemental spells – light, air, water, fire, you name it. I can read Shuriman script, but I never graduated from Piltover’s Academy, so I don’t understand a thing about the spells. The Academy has already talked to Janna, and I can put in a nice word for you if you’d like. Deal?’
She’s quiet. And then:
‘You sure are something, Ezreal.’
He takes it as a yes, as she orders an ice cream and they banter for the rest of the night.
Jayce’s lab sits atop a small hill on the outskirts of Piltover, the shiny metallic outline barely visible between the trees. It always somehow reminds him of spring: maybe it’s the apple blossoms, maybe it’s the vibrant design of the building, maybe it’s the families that are always picnicking on the grounds outside, or maybe it’s just Jayce himself, always inventing, always working on something for the future.
Smiling, already wildly happy despite not even having done anything, he pulls down the hat and shuffles quietly towards the door, trying not to get seen. There’s always some kind of puzzle mechanism on the front entrance – Jayce likes to keep out random visitors, or at least, visitors who are not intelligent enough to solve his puzzle – and he’s going to try to get in without attracting a crowd.
‘Hey! Ez! Over here!’
Two dozen heads turn towards him; he grins ruefully, starting to sprint towards the source of the sound.
‘You COULD have made it more discreet, you know!’
‘Aw come on, you know you like the attention.’ Jayce appears in front of what appears to be a mechanical room door, his lab coat spotless as snow. Spotting his friend, the larger man happily pats the blonde on the hat. ‘Welcome back, Ez.’
A few parents are smiling in approval; he takes off his hat, pretending to be annoyed. ‘You know, I’m pretty sure you just like making the Academy guys flock to me as soon as I get back.’
‘Don’t worry guys, I’ll have open hours for kids in the af – awwww, Ez, that’s not nice.’
‘When were we ever nice to each other?’ He shakes his head mockingly as Jayce finishes waving to the families and closes the door behind them. ‘I mean, you did kind of turn me in to the Academy authorities as soon as you helped me map out the underground tunnels, all those years back.’
‘But you know, as well as I know, that I was just trying to make you famous. And hey, it worked.’ Jayce flashes his most suave smile. ‘You don’t know anything until you try.’
He laughs; he laughs heartily and he laughs blissfully and he knows he’s home, home with the only person closer to him than family. He throws his arms around Jayce, allowing his hat to slowly fall onto the ground. ‘I’m so glad to have you back, Jayce.’
‘Me too, Ez, me too.’ Jayce’s hugs are tight and reassuring; they spell safety and warmth and all the caring he ever needs in the world. ‘I’ve missed you, Ezreal.’
He was running; running how only an eight-year-old could, full of sweat, nervous energy and pride, oblivious to the stains on his shirt and the stink in his hair, knowing full well that the entire world was his and getting a new pen was the only thing that mattered. Several streets of machinery shops flashed by as he sprinted on, gasping for breath, intelligent bright eyes darting left and right as he assessed the shops for their pen potential. The sun was setting and the map in his hands was starting to soak through; he MUST get a pen soon, or else Lyte was going to be out for his blood again and he couldn’t –
‘Hey there, you!’
He nearly arcane shifted out of shock; as the world came to focus again, he saw that the person speaking was an older boy, probably fourteen or fifteen years old, his face curious and kind above an impeccable Academy uniform. ‘Sorry, I’m just passing thr –’
‘You looking for something, right?’
‘A pen. You’ve got a pen? I just need to borrow it for half an hour.’
‘Sure I do. You look like you’re doing something important all right, out of the Academy at this hour. My name is Jayce, what’s yours?’
‘Name’s Ezreal, and just you wait, your pen’s going to be famous! I’m nearly done mapping all the underground tunnels of Piltover!’
‘What are you waiting for, then? Go! Finish it and show me!’ He felt himself being pushed out of the way; by the time he spun around, the older boy had started walking off in the other direction, a cheeky smile on his face. ‘Good luck, Ez!’
That smile… it made him feel trusted and powerful. That was the first time anyone from the Academy - – or anyone really – has taken his quest seriously. If only he could get some more help, he might actually get to finish the map today –
‘Jayce, no, come back! Just one more thing… do you have a spelunker’s hat? Jayce? Jayce!’
‘You know,’ He says, staring a bit dazedly at the table as Jayce pours them two glasses of water, ‘I still use that spelunker’s hat from forever ago.’
Jayce laughs. ‘It fits you better now, no? It looked ridiculous when you first tried it on.’
‘Eh, it worked, and that’s all I cared about.’ He glances around, noting the new hammer prototypes on the wall and the pile of notes on the work table. Jayce seems to have acquired some new equipment, and something in the corner is noisily cranking out steam. ‘I would never have found one by myself.’
‘I doubt it. You’re good at finding stuff. You probably would have only found a broken one though, since that’s all you ever find.’
‘Just kidding. How did the expedition go?’
He has to drink deeply from the glass to wash away the flushed crimson on his face. ‘Didn’t get as much done as I wanted to, frankly. Found some paintings and an invisibility belt; had to give them a lot of gold to take the belt back here. The village was in trouble – there was a power struggle between the seer and the shaman. They both wanted me, they both wanted to lead, they both wanted the prettiest girl in the village… the seer actually knew what he was doing, so I helped him out a bit.’
‘You didn’t have to, did you?’ Jayce puts down his glass, his eyes quizzical. ‘I mean, don’t you operate on a neutrality code or something?’
He hesitates. ‘I… guess. I mean… I know archaeology is important and I should definitely keep doing it, but I also want to help people. Not everyone lives life the way we do in Piltover; I’m too old and have seen too many things to keep believing that. It makes me feel guilty, walking past children crying for food and shelter when I’ve dined with kings and beheld entire rooms of gold. This world is fragile – it’s beautiful, and we’re trying, but the way things are, we’d be hopeless if an evil god decides to wake up. I leave stuff at shelters and try to talk to people and do the best I can but… I feel useless, Jayce. People like you and Cait and Vi, you actually get things done. You saved the world from Viktor’s creations, and Cait and Vi made this city a better place… I feel like I can maybe help a family or two have a better week, and that’s it.’
Jayce’s eyes are both amused and sympathetic. ‘But you’re in the League, Ez. Again, I’d say you’re already doing more than your fair share for world peace.’
‘We’ve talked about this as well, though. You’re there because you care, but I’m not there by choice. The League… everything is so political there. I understand that it works out for everyone and we need it for stability and all that but… ugh. Just like the governments, it does nothing for the people, and all the conflicts it solves shouldn’t be issues to start with anyway. It stops Noxus and Demacia from ripping each other to shreds, but god dammit, every time I visit Stephen at the Noxian High Museum, I wish his government would give him more money. There was a time when Noxus thrived without war, but nobody ****ing knows that.’
‘You know. You are doing your best to tell your stories. Sometimes you’re just too hard on yourself, Ez.’ Jayce puts a hand on the blonde’s shoulder before shuffling away to examine one of the lab machines; he bites his lips, feeling uneasy. ‘You can’t just convince Swain to change his mind in one day, you know. Maybe you can convince Jarvan, but rumors say he hasn’t really been himself for a while. Plus, the Demacians are always on their high horse, we can’t convince them to do anything without promising that they’re saving the world and we’re just along for the scenery.’
‘I ran into Lux Crownguard on the way back.’
‘Yeah, took her to Braux’s too. She’s… different. She’s clever, way more intelligent than Garen, but weird too, like she simultaneously loves and hates what she does. I wish I can stop calculating everything I say when she’s around… it’s like dealing with foreign governments all over again, but all I really want is a friend.’
‘You’ve got friends. Cait, me, Vi, Janna, Heimer, Ziggs – don’t get too hung up on the Demacians. We’re doing business with them because we have the Steel Legion alliance, but past that, we don’t really have a lot in common.’
‘Sorry, Jayce. I didn’t mean to argue with you.’ He sighs hard. ‘You’re right, I guess. Are you still working on the Steel Legion?’
‘Nah. I got them done about a week ago – that’s why you saw Luxanna Crownguard, she was here to pick them up. She looked really happy about hers and said she’s probably going to wear it on the Fields.’
‘What are we getting out of it again?’
‘More mercury and uranium ore, I think. I mean, it’s not like they have much uses for them. The next time you’re free, please find some mercury ore around here. You did it in Ionia, you can do this much for your home city.’
He snorts. ‘That was an accident.’
‘I wish I can come across those kinds of accidents.’ Jayce winks and disappears into a long corridor. ‘Want something to eat, Ez?’
‘You got ramen? Braux’s was a little too rich for me.’
They eat in silence; he idly thinks of the ramen place in Ionia before deciding that Jayce’s still a better chef than most people give him credit for. The soup tastes like it can sustain him for days. ‘Hey, Jayce… have you been having nightmares?’
‘Some. Mostly silly ones, though, like Vi making Cait run a Heimer prototype into a wall or Cho’Gath eating the world. You’ve been sleeping badly?’
‘Cho’Gath eating the world… yeah. I’m not a seer or anything, but I dreamt of the Void too, and it scared me. In my dream, it wasn’t just Cho. It was Cho and Kog’Maw and Kha’Zix and everyone, monstrous things that had no name. They ate everything and melted down entire skyscrapers… Cho got as big as a skyscraper himself, and there were all kinds of flashing lights, lasers and cannons and guns but they weren’t doing anything.’ He turns to Jayce, his voice low and apologetic. ‘I’m really sorry I’m on such a rant. I’ve just been paranoid recently, and not being around you guys hasn’t been helping.’
‘I mean, the Summoners say that the Void is still contained. If you’re really that worried about it, talk to Kassadin – he actually hinted to me once on the Fields that he wants to talk to you.’
‘Sometime this month, I think. I try to forget the League too, you know. It’s not exactly fun dying and respawning again and again, even if I get to face off against Viktor.’
‘Try to get some more sleep. That helps. Maybe one day they’ll just do away with the stupid system.’
‘I’ll talk to Kassadin once I’m done with Shurima. I would find him right now, but I made a promise to Janna, and you don’t simply upset Janna – ’
‘Have you asked her out yet?’ Jayce’s wearing the biggest smirk on his face, and the younger man nearly chokes on the noodles.
‘God dammit, I told you that she’s like an older sister to me, okay?’
‘But the two of you would be adorable, young blondes and all –’
‘Stop that, you. You’re only allowed to ask about who I like once you figure out who you prefer out of Vi and Cait.’ He rolls his eyes at Jayce, who suddenly looks like a sad puppy. ‘Come on, is it really that hard?’
‘Do you want me to get smashed into pieces or get shot into a honeycomb?’
‘Hurry up, or they’re going to hook up with each other and you’re going to be forever alone.’
‘Shut up, Ez.’
He finishes the last strand of ramen cheerfully. ‘You started it. But really, hurry up. We’re not exactly the youngest anymore.’
‘How about,’ Jayce hisses from clenched teeth, ‘I drive you to the Academy? Or better yet, I tell Ziggs that you’re free for the rest of the day?’
‘I have a better idea. Why don’t you just show me the Full Metal Armor you’ve been working on? Just let me be for today. Aw come on, you don’t want to feed me to Ziggs, I’m only home like once every couple months… Jayce? Jayce!’
He meets her for the second time at Ironspike Pass, saying goodbye to her brother.
He never sees the large man’s face, but there’s no mistaking who the figure is; only one person in all of Runeterra can stand like Urtistan’s ancient pillars of truth and send off their only sister with merely a few gruff words of advice and caution. Garen leaves before his sister’s travel companions ever gets close enough to say hello, his brand-new Steel Legion armor shining under the sun; he would return to the Institute of War, to a life of sweat, battle and never-ending patriotic duty, and he would serve Demacia to the very end, never looking back, but never really looking forward, either.
‘They’re here, all right.’ Janna remarks, placing a hand above her brow to get a better look as she steers the chariot towards the Demacians. ‘Garen still looks the same as ever.’
‘He looks more rugged, I think.’ It’s not like Janna herself ever changes – her grey eyes still twinkled at him when he knocked on her door, but he understands the depth of her, the way she can tear a skyscraper to pieces without blinking an eye. Janna’s older than him, older than probably even Jayce and Heimerdinger, but she doesn’t show it, just like she doesn’t show most things about herself. She bestows peace and grace on those she deems worthy, but everything, in the end, sits at the eye of a storm, only seconds from destruction. ‘Janna?’
He fumbles – finds it only as Janna sends a wisp of wind through his backpack to make everything fall into place. He passes the drawing to Janna, his face embarrassed but slightly quizzical as the elfish woman murmurs a word of thanks and starts regarding the drawing fondly. ‘The place looked completely new. I couldn’t stay long, but the children appeared happy and taken care of. Why that specific street in Zaun, though?’
‘Once again, beautiful drawing skills, and oh, Ezreal, you must understand… It’s where I grew up. I don’t have a home to return to anymore, but I can at least build homes for those like me.’
‘I’m flattered you told me about this, but… why me?’
‘Because you care, Ezreal. Although a good number of champions in the league are decent people, you’re one of the very few who try to be kind.’
Janna’s smiling encouragingly; finding himself both touched and unworthy, he turns away, mumbling a word of thanks before shouting Lux’s name to get her attention.
As the last rays of daylight start to drain away, they stop by a village next to a small lake, the mountains not yet completely behind them. A wave of dizziness hits him as he tries to get off the chariot, and he falters in surprise, wondering if it was indeed a horrible idea to combine six hours of sleep with four hours of cardio just the day prior. It shouldn’t be. I’ve run this exact same schedule around six times. ‘I know a place right behind –’
He yelps as he feels himself get gripped by something firm – perhaps too firm for comfort. Several strands of long golden hair sweeps past his vision as the slightly accented voice rings right by his ears, steady and not at all anxious. ‘Don’t fall, Ezreal. We need you for Shurima, remember?’
He only has the time to get back to his feet to regain his dignity. That hurt. It shouldn’t have, but it did. I’m probably just spoiled, spending too much time with friends and people who like me. ‘Sorry, probably just sat still for too long. Janna?’
‘Right here.’ Janna throws a mildly judgmental look in Lux’s direction before landing gracefully on the ground. ‘You said you knew a place –’
‘Barliman’s, yeah.’ He flings a bag onto his shoulder, avoiding the faces of both women. ‘On the 3rd row of houses. He likes draining my purse, but he will give us food and a place to stay, so we’ll make do.’
‘NOT WITH YOUR CREW, PRODIGAL EXPLORER?’ Barliman yells from the opposite end of the inn, his voice both too familiar and too loud for the late night hour. ‘DID YOU NOT PAY THEM ENOUGH? I SWEAR, YOUR BAND OF -’
‘Ezreal,’ Janna tries to yell to make herself heard, ‘Can we pay him to make him shut up?’
‘No,’ he replies with a full mouthful of sour pork. ‘I wish. I’ve tried. He’s just ever so greedy. If you give him gold, he’ll be quiet for like an hour, and be really loud in the middle of our dreams. We need the sleep; it’s going to be a long trip.’
Janna frowns. ‘Just give him a coin or two now, I’ll – ’
Zolt. Something white and hot flashed right past his cheek, nearly startling him out of his chair; it landed several inches to the right of Barliman, blowing a perfect circular hole in his counter and inn wall. The infuriating voice immediately died; white as a sheet, the villager scrambled back to his feet and ran out of the building, followed by all the other patrons in the room.
Both he and Janna slowly turn their heads incredulously; Lux is still sitting in her chair, perfectly at ease, her baton lightly smoking but still lying flat on the stone table. When she registers the shock on both of their faces, she allows herself a tiny smile, picking up the spoon on the table and placing it against her lips.
‘That should shut him up for a while, right? Now while we’re at it… I think I’ll head into their kitchen and make some soup myself. This gruel is absolutely atrocious.’
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