Chapter 2: Dark Child, Dark Sovereign; Pyromanic Transcendence
The Dark Child raised her burning flame, illuminating Syndra's smug face. Annie didn't buy into Syndra's lie. On the Fields of Justice, Syndra loved to talk her way into her enemies' minds, as she had done to Annie once, and even then she never said anything about being Annie's "future self" to deter her. This was just another one of Syndra's tricks.
"You think I'm lying," Syndra said, pinpointing Annie's exact thoughts. "I know what you're thinking, because that was what I thought back then, when I faced the great and powerful Syndra before me. Although, my circumstances were different. You don't seem to have changed at all; now, tell me, what is Zilean playing at?"
None of this made sense to Annie, so she didn't know how to respond. Her first instinct was to fight. Syndra made a big, fast slashing motion with her crooked fingers, swiping Tibbers out of Annie's hand with her mind. The bear went tumbling off into the darkened room somewhere.
"Again," Syndra said impatiently, "I know what you're thinking, and I know what you're going to do. I am many things, child-self, but I am not suicidal. Would you like me to recount your future history to you?
"In a few years, you will realize how foolish the League of Legends is, and you will inspire an exodus of Champions. The Institute of War will fall into disarray under the rebellion. You will lose your precious bear in the chaos, and that will herald the beginning of your change. Filled with anger and misery, your connection with the powers of flame will falter, and you will become enamored with darker arts. You will flee to Ionia, where you will be lied to, lured in by false promises of teachers. They will fool you into believing you could become even stronger, and while they have you fooled, they will attempt to smother you to nothing.
"You will kill them all and make the temple your home. You lift the temple into the sky, and there you will live until order at the League of Legends is restored, and the Champions have fallen under summoner control again. Then, you will return under a new name: Syndra."
Annie didn't give a damn about Syndra's "history". She just wanted to get Syndra back for hurting Tibbers. She poured her heightening anger into the flame burning in her hand; the flame grew into a swirling, hissing fireball ready to explode.
Syndra sighed. "I was such a fool then... obsessed with a toy, easy to anger, no control. It's pointless to fight here, child. You and I both know neither of us can win, if we're not summoned in the Fields of Justice. Put away your flames."
Syndra was the last person Annie was going to listen to. Against Syndra's commands, the Dark Child shot the fireball, casting the destroyed lobby of the Institute in fiery gold light. Syndra lazily lifted her hand and caught the fireball with ease. Closing her fist around the fireball, she dispelled the magic, darkening the place once more.
"I," Syndra went on, "single-handedly brought the League of Legends down! You! You're nothing, yet! Understand, you can have it all, easily! This is not a time for fighting, child! Why has Zilean sent you?!"
"He didn't send me." Annie's hands sparked, giving birth to two more flames. "I fell asleep and he disappeared."
Syndra mulled over what Annie told her. "You fell asleep... odd. That isn't how I was sent here back then. What did Zilean tell you?"
"Nothin'. He didn't even see me."
"Was he in his study?"
"And you didn't get his attention?"
"I see," Syndra said. "When I was sent here, it was to stop myself from making the biggest mistake of my life, one that led to my own demise: killing Zilean. I was successful in thwarting my future self. Zilean was here, too, and he used his magic and made her disappear, before he sent me back."
"And you still blew up everything?"
"Yes... it was my destiny. My future self brought the League of Legends crashing down, and Zilean said nothing ill of her actions. I assumed it was only right that I followed the road of history."
All of this made Annie's brain hurt, and listening to Syndra drone on about this and that made Annie want to fall asleep and go back to the way things were. The flames in Annie's hands died. Syndra watched her go find Tibbers and come back, Tibbers in hand.
"This time, I made sure to spare Zilean. I killed most of those so-called 'Champions': The Demacian Siblings, Garen and Lux... Caitlyn... Vi... Urgot – he was happy to fall to me – that wretched clown, Shaco... even Kayle. Yes, Kayle! Morgana offered to help me kill Kayle, and once Kayle was gone, I took Morgana as my right-hand servant. I killed so many more... but I spared my favorites. Zilean still roams free, but I've got Ezreal... Jayce... Talon... Taric... they're all mine. I am their summoner. They do my bidding, they fulfill my every wish.
"I am in control of this future. Your appearance, however, is surprising. You weren't supposed to be here until you were older."
"...I wanna go back home," Annie said, boredom turning her brain to jelly. She felt a little sad, too. She didn't want to grow up and talk this much about all this stupid stuff, if Syndra really was her future self.
"Yes," Syndra agreed, "you should go back. Go back, and grow up. Start the exodus, and return to me, as history dictates. Let us find Zilean; I want to have a word with him about this."
"No need," Zilean said from the shadows. Annie and Syndra both looked to the ruined doors of the Institute. Zilean walked in – it was rare to see his two feet on the ground – with the big time-machine on his back. "I am here. Ah... there you are, Annie. Er... young Annie. My, my, I've gotten a little slower in my old age. I expected you sooner. Now, eh, we should get started."
Syndra snapped, "What are you planning, old man? What is the meaning of this?"
Smiling, the Chronokeeper responded, "I've finally devised the perfect ... what was it? Oh-oh, right. I have finally devised the perfect method to fixing this mess I've created. I should have left it alone in the first place, but I... I couldn't let it go."
Let what go? These two grown-ups were being stupid. "Can I go home yet?" Annie whined. "This is boooring!"
Syndra snatched ahold of the Chronokeeper's wrist and jerked it violently. "I refuse to let you go through with this 'method' until you tell me what it is you plan to do, Zilean. This was not part of the deal."
"I know," Zilean said, smiling. "Come." His voice was gentle, but his motion was just as violent when he overpowered Syndra; he swung his arm in a circle, pulling his wrist free of Syndra's grasp. "Time's a-wasting."
Zilean led Syndra outside, and following in the rear was Annie, sighing. "I wanna go home..."
Chapter 3: A Little Piece of a Maddened Heart
"You're a collector, yes?" Zilean asked Syndra inconspicuously.
"You know the answer to that, old man," Syndra replied. "Do you want to see them?"
Outside of the ruined Institute of War, the moonlight glimmered over Zilean's grey hair and attire. He stroked his beard. "Yes, this, eh, method is going to require a sacrifice, unfortunately."
"You stopped your future self from killing me, yes, but... she wasn't as, eh, caring as you. You'll have to kill your darlings, I'm afraid."
Annie half-knew what they were talking about. Syndra apparently collected the other Champions and played with them, like she did with Tibbers. Right?
"Why?" Syndra said in an audible whisper. "Why must you ask difficult things of me? I nearly had to kill myselfto help you fix your mistake, which was really my mistake, according to you."
"Time's a-wasting," Zilean reminded her. Syndra cringed.
"Very well." Annie's future, elder self turned her back on Annie and the Chronokeeper, and addressed the empty night with a mystical chant. "O hear me, my playthings, your mistress summons you."
Vorpal magic in the form of shadowy, sinister particles floated down from nowhere and encircled four patches of the crumbled stone ground before Syndra like silent butterflies. In each of the four shadow prisms, four men appeared, half-dressed, if dressed at all: Ezreal, Jayce, Talon, and Taric. Their containment shadows reformed into black energy chains, which rattled and wrapped themselves around the four men's muscle-bound chests, binding their arms behind their backs. Syndra marveled at the sight of her "playthings", Zilean looked like he didn't give two sh... one way or another, and Annie gagged at the whole thing.
"Ewww!" the Dark Child exclaimed. "Gross! That's gross!" She covered her eyes; the sight of these men's skin offended her greatly, almost as much as the idea that she was going to grow up to become a wickedly powerful pervert.
The four men were fearless in the eyes of their captor. Ezereal was the first talk.
"What do you plan to do with us now?" he asked, sounding irritable.
"Silence." Syndra reached out and clenched her fist. Shadow energy covered Ezreal's mouth and wrapped itself around his head like a gag. "Well. It looks like you all get to go free."
"Eh, wai-wait a minute," Zilean interjected, thinking aloud. "You don't have to get rid of all of them, just hold on a moment."
Losing her thunder in her attempt to impose herself as a matron of chaos, Syndra gritted her teeth at the old man. "Do not interrupt me! Don't make me regret saving your life." She crossed her arms and looked away, falling awkwardly silent in front of her... "playthings".
Why in Annie's right mind would she refer to someone as a plaything? She wondered what she – her future self – had to have gone through to become that messed up.
"We just have to get rid of two of them. It's the course of history, after all. But which ones were they, I wonder?"
Syndra threw Zilean a look of incredularity, her jaw going slack. "You... cannot be serious. How can you forget your own plan in the middle of execution?! How?!"
Annie was sure the two of them were going to start fighting. She hoped they would. But her hopes were dashed when Zilean, like before, smiled annoyingly.
"All in due time."
Syndra rounded on the Chronokeeper, unfolding her arms. "If you make... one more... one more time-related quip..."
"Ah, now I remember! Eh-yes, eh... undo... undo Ezreal, would you?"
Groaning, Syndra said, "Come on, not Ezreal! He's my favorite."
"Gross!" Annie threw in.
"What're you planning to do to us?" Jayce demanded, struggling against the chains binding his arms. "Why don't you fight us head-on, scum?"
Annie was sure Syndra would lose her temper at being spoken to that way, but Syndra's mouth twisted into an evil grin. She walked up to Jayce and cupped his chin in her hand.
"Jayce, Jayce, Jayce," she said gently. She then repositioned her hand and squeezed the corners of Jayce's mouth inward, growling, "Shut... up." And away she shoved his head. The man outweighed Syndra immensely with muscle alone, but she handled him as though he were nothing.
Annie started to like her future self, after that display. But still....
Pleased with how she handled Jayce's little outburst just now, Syndra chuckled and returned her attention to Zilean. "Now, then. I must clarify: Did you just suggest that I kill Ezreal?"
Ezreal would have said, "What?!" but his mouth was covered by Syndra's magic, so it sounded more like, "Whmmmt?!"
"Eh-yes." Zilean left it at that.
Syndra sighed. Annie didn't think she was going to do it. If Annie were in Syndra's position, though, she would've—
Syndra extended her arm behind her and blasted Ezreal in the face with a loud, crackling burst of shadow magic, killing him instantly.
The other three men watched Ezreal's body crumple with mixed reactions. Jayce was outraged, Talon didn't care, and Taric closed his eyes, uttering a silent prayer.
"Next?" Syndra ushered, as Zilean racked his brain.
"Let's see... who else? I believe Taric was also a victim of your future self's rampage."
"You believe it, or you know it?" Syndra pressed. "I can't be doing this based off hunches, old man, if your method involves more timework. Come on!"
"I believe you said, once, that I was the only one you ever trusted?" Zilean posed that question not to Syndra, but to Annie. Caught off-guard, Annie replied with a wordless nod. He was speaking to Syndra again. "So, you, eh, should trust me. I'm doing this to ease your pain."
"My pain?" repeated Syndra, amused. "I'm not in pain, Zilean. At least, not as much as you're about to be, unless you stop dawdling and give me a decisive instruction, and not your 'I believe' garbage."
"That wasn't so hard, now, was it?"
Talon watched Syndra like a hawk. Jayce was about ready to start fighting her without the use of his arms. Taric didn't open his eyes, he was still in prayer for Ezreal. Syndra relocated herself before Taric, and with a wave of her hand, she used her magic to effortlessly take the former Gem Knight's life. Like Ezreal, Taric's body fell, still wrapped in chains.
The last thing Annie knew, a summer breeze blew through the ruins of the League of Legends, when the whole world went up in a blinding white light, and Annie's feet fell away from the ground as the world disappeared. She couldn't see Zilean, her future self, or the bound men anymore; Annie was suspended in a void of warm light.
The worst of her strange situation was over... or perhaps it was just beginning.
Chapter 4: Ten Years and On Her Way to Glory
Flashback, Zilean's study, Annie was on the floor, Tibbers under her arm. She woke up from the strange glimpse of her future. Zilean was levitating, still in meditation, as if he didn't go anywhere. "Zilean?" Annie managed, groggy from her loss of consciousness. The Chronokeeper looked down over his shoulder at Annie sitting up.
"Yes, eh, sorry, child. There was an emergency, and I had to act quickly."
Zilean ended his meditation and, still floating, rotated to face Annie. "I am in the midst of unmaking a tragic future. The League of Legends must survive, or else all of Runeterra will fall under your shadow."
Great, Annie thought, he was still talking like he did in the future. "Syndra—"
"—should be no more. If all is well, no one, with the exception of you and I, will remember her. Child, there is something I must tell you. Come closer, come closer." Zilean floated down and sat criss-cross on the floor. "I want you to make a promise. On your tenth birthday, promise me you'll fake illness, stay in bed and sleep, and do not answer any summons to the Fields of Justice, no matter, eh, how strong you'll be feeling that day."
"The day you turn ten is the day your future as Syndra begins. After countless trials and errors, I've finally, eh, pinpointed the cause of our dark future; it all began with you, Annabeth. It began when you started the exodus."
"Whats a exogus?"
Zilean stroked his beard. "You talked a lot of us into leaving the League of Legends. You might not know it, child, but you are quite well-known among summoner and Champion alike. And one more thing..." The old Chronokeeper accentuated his statement by pointing his long, gnarled finger at Annie. "When your tenth birthday approaches, do all that you can to avoid Veigar at all costs."
Veigar was a mad and self-proclaimed "evil" yordle whose magic might've been even more dangerous than Annie's fire. Annie fought him many times.
Annie asked, "Why was Syndra here before?"
"I put her here," Zilean said. "She was a product of the future, and a dangerous one. I, eh, had to be careful in unmaking her. I wanted her to see her past self, in hopes that she would mentally weaken. I've traversed the roads of time again and again. I believe that, now, I've finally fixed what was broken. The rest is up to you, Annabeth. Promise me you'll do as I asked, when the time comes."
Time went on, as the seasons cycled from summer to fall, to winter, to spring, and back to summer again. A lot happened in the League of Legends since the day Annie was thrown into the future by Zilean. Looking back on the last few years, it all seemed like a blur to the Dark Child. Still, she remembered what Zilean made her promise.
Annie grew tall for her age, and she didn't dress as girly anymore. Forsaking the cutesy pink backpack, cat-eared hairband, and school attire, Annie became more tomboyish, preferring to wear pants instead of skirts, and t-shirts instead of blouses. She let her violet hair grow past her shoulders. The last remaining vestage of her early childhood was Tibbers, which she still carried around with her. Now that she was older, she didn't talk about Tibbers as much, and she even hid him when in the presence of certain Champions. Annie's control over her fire magic grew with her. She wasn't as popular among the summoners now as she was a few years ago, but that didn't make her any less a preferrable Champion to rally to the Fields of Justice. If anything, she became more dangerous.
Annie warped back into the Institute of War after a long, hard match against a group of Noxian Champions down in the Summoner's Rift. Annie didn't perform as well as she would have liked, but she managed to incinerate all of them at least once. Ironically, Ezreal, Jayce, and Taric were three of her allies. Her fourth was someone who she (thankfully) didn't see half-naked three, four years ago: a dark-skinned Demacian man who wielded two relic guns, Lucian.
Annie's team warped in behind her as she set off through the halls of the Institute of War at a slow pace. Ezreal was celebrating their victory.
"Yeah! Woo! Eat that, Noxus! Ha ha ha ha!"
Energetic, the Prodigal Explorer ran past Annie, who rolled her eyes. Taric's brisk walk carried him past Annie as well, as he fawned over the gems in his shield and armor. Jayce passed the Dark Child by with his big hammer resting upon his shoulder. "Another battle well-fought," he said. Last came Lucian, who spared concern for Annie.
"Are you alright? I didn't see the fire in your eyes this time." They walked side-by-side at equal pace.
"Yeah," Annie said. "Just thinking about a promise I made to someone."
Lucian nodded. He wasn't the kind of man to pry at someone's secrets, unless it benefitted both parties. He decided to make conversation. "So, I heard a new Champion joined the League. From what I hear, she can summon the dead. I hope she ain't like a certain someone." Thresh, Annie thought. "Heard she's a real saint, too. I can't wait to meet her." His tone was neutral; Annie didn't know if Lucian wanted to kill the newbie, or be friends with her. And honestly? Annie didn't care.
She had a promise to fulfill.
The day drew to a close, and Annie was on her way to the dormitories. When she opened the door to her room, a pair of golden eyes gleamed at her from the dark corner, near her bed. The radiance of those eyes revealed the underside of the brim of a big, dark hat.
"Veigar!" Annie shouted, powering up and throwing a fireball at the yordle. The fireball burst on contact, setting Annie's bed and dorm wall on fire.
"Yeowch! Hey! Stop attacking me, I just want to talk!"
"Get out!" Annie threw another fireball, even bigger than the first. Veigar dived aside, as the fireball demolished the wall separating Annie's room from Akali's. The Ionian woman was in the middle of changing out of her battle vestments when the wall was blasted open. The scene distracted Veigar enough for Annie to land a third shot, blowing the hat off his enshadowed, featureless head. Coughing up a plume of smoke, Veigar raised his hand peacefully.
"Wait! Annie, stop! I just—"
Annie didn't want to hear it. Zilean told her to stay away from Veigar, and away from Veigar she was hellbent to stay. Ripping Tibbers out of a swatch of fire, Annie hurled her stuffed bear at Veigar. A little "Uh-oh" escaped Veigar's throat when the bear broke free of its home inside the toy. Towering over Veigar and Annie, Tibbers' head scraped along the ceiling. The fire on Annie's wall, and the fire roaring off Tibbers' huge body, turned the Dark Child's bedroom into a hell pit.
"Kill him, Tibbers!"
"Bah! Forget this!" Veigar made a run for Annie's door, in the way of which Annie stood. Tibbers swatted Veigar with his fiery paw, and the yordle went flying out of Annie's room, leaving a trail of smoke in his wake. Hitting the wall out in the hallway, Veigar landed upside-down on his black, shadowy orb of a head. Annie touched Tibbers' arm, turning the shadow bear back into the stuffed toy she carried around. Unbothered by the flames in her room, Annie gathered Veigar's lost hat, and threw it out of her room. The hat landed on the tiny dark mage. He got back up, rammed his hat down over his head, and cursed at Annie. "Just for that, I'm not gonna give you your birthday present! I'll have my revenge! You'll see!"
Her temper flaring hotter than the flames in her room, Annie stormed out after Veigar. In her rage, her own body caught fire. The flames didn't hurt Annie, but they threatened to burn Veigar. "I'LL KILL YOU!"
"Yipe!" Veigar zoomed off comically to avoid getting roasted.
That was when an angry Akali came down the hall (dressed now), with a group of robed, hooded law enforcement members in tow. The fire on Annie's body died out, but the flames in her dorm room were spreading to Akali's. The law enforcers came and grabbed Annie's wrists. She didn't resist them, she knew she was in trouble. While two stayed behind and worked to extinguish the fire Annie created, the others escorted Annie to the Confinement Ward, where lawbreakers, Champion or no, stayed to reflect on whatever crimes they committed.
Annie wasn't sleeping in her own room tonight. What these idiots didn't understand was Veigar wasn't the type of person to listen to words. The only way to get your point across to him was to fight him, and win. It was a shame that Veigar didn't get incarcerated. He snuck into the women's dormitories – he even hid inside Annie's room! For all Annie knew, he might've tried to kill her in her sleep.
The thought of showing these idiots what was what crossed Annie's mind. She didn't deserve to be in this confinement cell. But at least she was away from Veigar. She would suffer any adversity if it meant fulfilling Zilean's wishes. Veigar was already suspicious enough as was, now Annie had even more of a reason to avoid him.
Two of the robed men who arrested Annie escorted Zilean inside Confinement Ward. He was there to visit Annie.
"When you did it the first time," Zilean said, "Veigar came back for you the next day. Tomorrow is your chance to save not only the League of Legends, but yourself, and all of Runeterra. I advise you to run, when Veigar approaches you again."
"Run?" Annie said. "I'm not running from that shrimp."
"Annabeth," Zilean said warningly.
"Don't Annabeth me, Zilean. I'm not afraid of Veigar."
"It does not matter if you're not afraid of him. What matters is that you do not suffer what he has in store for you."
"You will lose your power. Veigar wants followers, child, he wants a cult, a legion, an army of his own. Your future self didn't remember, no matter how many times I tried to remind her, so I'll tell you straight-up: Veigar's magic will change you. It will change you, Annabeth, and you'll never be the same again. Don't – let – him – come near you."
"...Fine. Good night." Annie retired to the terrible bed that awaited her, and wrapped herself up in the blankets, so she couldn't see anything anymore.
Zilean let out a sigh. He had more to say, but the summoners standing by told him his time was up, and escorted him out.
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