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Chapter 13: Escape from Utopia
Rise up against the chaos will the First,
Guided by the Second and Third.
When all that’s left are sands of darkness and sorrow,
Bring forth will they hope for a new tomorrow.
- Unknown Scrolls
“Reginald…Ashram,” Fiora echoed aloud with a look of horror on her face, one which quickly turned to a scowl of anger. “What the hell are you trying to pull? If you really are Ashram, then is all of this some sick joke with me as the subject? Don’t quit whatever your day job is these days…no one is laughing.”
Under normal circumstances, logic would have dictated that a person should be honored to be in the presence of a High Councilor, as they were all but worshipped by citizens of Valoran as being the most powerful people in existence. In addition to being powerful summoners, the High Councilors also possessed the greatest influence, their words almost absolute within the continent. Unfortunately for him and everyone else in her presence, logic had never been the duelist’s best attribute during situations of stress.
“I withheld that information from you and everyone else because it would only serve to raise more questions, rather than answer them. Until recently, you knowing more about what was going on would only serve to put your life in danger. Look at your friend Ezreal, one call from Luxanna was all it took to turn his life upside down, from having absolutely nothing to do with any of this to being hunted and almost killed.”
“So all those times you told me to be honest with myself and to trust you, you neglected to inform me that you were a former High Councilor of the League? When were you planning on bringing up that little piece of information and did you really think that I would be okay with that revelation? Wishful thinking you sure have.” Fiora snapped, crossing her arms under her chest before turning to face away from him, seething in anger.
Shen averted his gaze to look out the window, keeping silent to remain neutral despite the clear annoyance caused by the bickering taking place next to him. Although he held no reservations about the duelist, a part of him could not hold back his bitterness towards her new companion, a former High Councilor, the same people responsible for trying to throw the world into chaos and killing his closest friends in the process. Even if something had happened that caused him to switch sides, this was still the same person who at one point was the leader of the enemy. Were it not for all of his past willpower training and the thought that he would likely be killed before delivering the first blow, he wouldn’t have hesitated to attack the powerful Summoner.
“Forgive me for being rude, but can you save your couple’s argument for later?” The night hunter interrupted, a satisfied smirk appearing on her face as those last words caused the image of Fiora’s eyes to twitch angrily on the rearview mirror. “Right now, I don’t know where to go next, we’re running low on gas, and I don’t think there are any places to refuel in the state this city is in right now. How should we proceed?”
“Head towards West Point. There’s two more people we need to rendezvous with before we can figure everything out.” Ashram replied before closing his eyes and crossing his arms. “It seems that Ezreal was able to find out what we needed to know.”
“You should have just asked me to research that information. I could have done it myself. At least then you wouldn’t have gotten more innocent people involved.” Vayne objected as she made a series of turns to redirect them in the right direction.
“You were already being watched too closely. They’ve always been suspicious of you and the sudden interest in doing research on such a topic would have gotten you killed long before you found what you needed.”
Fiora remained silent for the rest of their journey towards the rendezvous point. Despite having countless questions, she couldn’t get over the initial shock and anger of the truth about her mentor. The mere presence of the night hunter and her flippant attitude towards her only served to make things worse. She didn’t want anything more to do with the former High Councilor, but a part of her knew that was no longer an option anymore. Above all else, the only thing she wanted more than to abandon this predicament was to learn the truth about it.
She spent what seemed like hours in the car quietly reflecting on the events of the past few days and came to realize that things finally began to make more sense in light of this most recent news. She understood why it was that this mysterious person who had called himself Leon was more powerful than any other Summoner she had ever met. It explained his understanding of the inner workings of Valoran and his great knowledge of the Summoner’s magic in the League. Even though she still didn’t understand the series of events leading up to this, the mystery surrounding the dark haired mage next to her began to make more sense. The only exception to this was the question that had been bothering her since all of this began, one that was made even more apparent with the revelation of his identity: why would the former High Councilor put in the effort to train her to use magic?
The sound of a mechanical rumbling accompanied by the slowing of the car they had been sitting in snapped the duelist out of her thoughts. As the car came to a grinding halt in the street, Shauna Vayne attempted to restart the car, only for it to respond with a few struggling grinds followed by silence.
“**** it,” Vayne cursed under her breath before turning around. “We’re out of luck. We’ll have to go by foot from here.”
“I told you we should have filled up before coming to this city; but hey, what does the killer from Noxus know?” Talon mumbled to himself, just loud enough for the night hunter to shoot him an angry glare in response.
As they abandoned the car in the middle of the road, Fiora quickly stepped away from the rest of the crowd, standing with her arms crossed under her chest as she looked around to scout the dark metropolitan street. The sound of sirens in the distance filled the nighttime air as the silhouette of the city skyline imposed on an encompassing orange haze reflected off of her aqua blue eyes.
“Lady Laurent,” Talon’s voice said from behind her, causing her to shift her gaze towards him momentarily before looking away again. “Didn’t expect to see you again.”
“Save it,” She snapped in an annoyed tone. “I already have enough problems to deal with right now, I don’t need your antics to make things worse.”
“My antics? If I recall correctly, you were the one who was all too willing to prove that your refined style with blades was superior to mine. All I wanted was to knock you down a few notches.” The Noxian responded.
Fiora closed her eyes and thought back two months ago, not long after she had joined the League. During a match in the Summoner’s Arena, she faced off against Talon for the first time and abhorred everything about his fighting style. Relying on sneak attacks and underhanded techniques, it was a fighting style that was without honor. Her disgust with him carried over outside of the Arenas, where she proceeded to slander his name repeatedly until he challenged her to a duel during an upcoming Arena match. To raise the stakes, the Noxian created the condition that if she had lost, the duelist would agree to go on a date with him.
The very thought of a date with such an unrefined Noxian assassin disgusted her, but she agreed to the terms for the sole purpose of proving that her honorable skills would be superior to his underhanded tactics. Agreeing to meet at a prearranged location within the Summoner’s Rift, they engaged in a duel that would have given no tactical advantage to either side in the match. Though Fiora had hoped that she would gain a quick victory over the assassin, things didn’t go the way she had planned when each of them delivered a fatal blow to the other simultaneously. Even though it was not technically a defeat on her end, she hated herself for having not come out victorious in that duel. The results were only made worse by the constant harassment from the Noxian, who had become obsessed with her after their duel, repeatedly insisting for alone time with her.
“And we both saw how that went, didn’t we? Both of us nearly killing each other for no reason in the Summoner’s Arena. It was stupid and reckless of me to even agree to such a challenge, and it could have gotten us both in trouble with the Institute. There’s nothing for us to talk about.” Fiora replied angrily, keeping her back turned to the assassin.
“Now wait just a minute, will you just listen-“ Talon objected before being cut off by the duelist.
“No, you listen to me. I don’t owe you anything so don’t try to act like I’m obliged to you in any way. There’s nothing for us to talk about. Just…just leave me alone.” She snapped, grabbing a hold of his collar angrily for a moment before letting go, her voice trailing off at the end before walking away from the Noxian assassin.
“It seems that even when you’re hunted by the world, some things never change.” Talon said under his breath as he stood motionless, making no indications to go after the duelist.
“Talon, stop staring stupidly off into space and get your stuff from the car. We need to get moving…we don’t have much time.” Vayne ordered, ignoring the exchange of words that he had just been involved in.
The houses that lined the bordering districts of Piltover became increasingly sparse, eventually ceasing as they reached the West Point, moving along side streets that paralleled the main road out of the city. Ahead of them laid what appeared to be miles of swamp lands, gases intermittently rising from the ground to be lit up by the moonlight.
“Let’s rest for a while and wait for them here.” Ashram said, walking to the side of the road towards a clearing in the swamp lands.
As the rest of her party set their equipment down on the ground to rest their worn out muscles, Fiora took a few steps back towards Piltover, staring towards the dark cityscape in the distance. The haze of orange caused by flaming structures had disappeared, but plumes of smoke continued to rise, albeit at a much slower rate.
The peaceful city, whose people I had envied just hours ago…this is what has become of it? Why…why is it that in these past few days, everywhere I go, death and destruction seems to follow? She thought to herself before a set of footsteps approaching her interrupted her thoughts.
She turned her head slightly to see Reginald Ashram approaching her. Though his presence as a High Councilor preceded her time in the League, she had heard much about the former leader of the Institute of War. He was a very powerful Rune Mage during the last Rune War, and attained his position as a result of this. Though he had disappeared from the League long before her entry as a champion, she had expected the former High Councilor to be an older appearing person, not a dark haired mage that looked to be around her own age.
“What do you want?” Fiora asked in an impassive tone, managing to suppress the anger she held towards the Summoner.
“It’s not so much of what I want, but more of what you want.” Ashram responded, causing the duelist to turn the rest of her body around to face him. “The truth.”
“The truth? Why are you singling me out for this? The others have a right to know too.” She replied as she stared intently at her mentor.
“They already know…Shauna Vayne has told them the truth. Now it’s your turn…you deserve to know the truth about everything, including your role in all of this.”
“My role? “ Fiora asked with apprehension in her voice. “What do I have to do with any of this?”
“Allow me to explain from the beginning.” He began to say before stopping to take a deep breath. “Twenty years ago, on the Day of Subversion…the last day of the Fifth Rune War…the world trembled in fear as natural disasters appeared all over the continent of Valoran. Reckless use of magic by Rune Mages, including myself, caused the destabilization of the flow of magic, resulting in the occurrence of those natural disasters.”
“I was really small at the time, but I remember my mother used to tell me stories about it. Why is that relevant?”
“Do you remember what I had told you before, about the events of that day opening a rift in the barrier that protected this world from the Void?” He explained, pausing for a moment as the purple haired girl nodded in acknowledgement. “More than just those Void spawn in the League came through into our world on that day. In the few moments that the rift opened, a powerful dark force reached into our world and targeted the most powerful of the Rune Mages. I was one of them.”
“A dark force? What was it?”
“At the time, I had no idea what it was. It spoke to me, promised me a greater power than anything I could possibly have imagined…immortality. After all, what good was learning everything about magic and mastering it if it would all be for naught when I died?” He answered as his voice lowered to give off a hint of self-pity. “All I had to do in exchange was to agree to help it by setting up a ritual to free it from its confines in the Void. I was hesitant, but after going through all of the bloodshed during the Rune War, I felt weak. I wanted power, and the moment I agreed to help, it filled me with dark powers of chaos and knowledge of dark rituals that had no place in this world. I was corrupted by its power and joined with two other very powerful Rune Mages to put its plan into action. Those two other Rune Mages were none other than Kiersta Mandrake and Vessaria Kolminye.”
“The other…High Councilors?” Fiora uttered in horror at the sound of those names.
“Correct. With me as their leader, we created the Institute of War, using it as a front for peace. Claiming that the Summoner’s Arenas would settle disputes between the different nations using controlled battles, the world applauded as we implemented a dark ritual that would tear open a second gateway into the Void.”
“A ritual…you mean all of the Summoner’s Arena battles that I had participated in…” The duelist exclaimed, her voice trailing off in disbelief towards the end.
“Simply paved the way for the success of the ritual.” Ashram affirmed, causing the duelist’s eyes to open wide in horror as she felt her heart racing. “You see, the opening of such a gate required the sacrifice of large amounts of blood, particularly that of Valoran’s greatest warriors. What better way to scar specific parts of the world with large amounts of blood than to create an arena for this purpose…one where every champion involved would spill enough blood to kill even the strongest, only to be revived again by a Summoner to continue fighting? The Arenas essentially provided an infinite amount of blood for the ritual.”
“Why are you telling me all of this? Why are you even helping us if you were the leader in this conspiracy?” Fiora asked apprehensively with arched eyes of confusion.
“An intervention…by the Goddess herself.”
“The Goddess?” The duelist exclaimed. “You…you’re kidding me right? She’s a deity figure in theology…she’s not rea-“
“What proof do you have otherwise?” Ashram interjected, interrupting her words as he walked past to stare off at the dark metropolitan in the distance. “Eight years ago, she came to me in a vision. Why she chose me of the three of us remains a mystery to me even to this day. She told me the truth, that on the Day of Subversion, she intervened and created a seal to stop the Void spawn from entering into this world. She, however, failed to do it in time before this darkness had successfully corrupted our very beings. Even after she had closed the rift into the Void, the darkness continued to speak to me, intermittently giving instructions as time passed. By that time, my soul had become so dark and corrupted that none of what the Goddess had told me meant anything, to the point that I had wanted to somehow kill her myself. So she did the only thing she could to get through to me…she split off the corrupted part of my soul from the one who stands in front of you now.”
”Yell all you want. Not even the Goddess herself will hear you down here. Farewell, Lady Laurent. You will die here a pathetic, lonely young woman.” Fiora thought to herself, a chill running down her spine as she relived the fear she felt when she was trapped by the High Councilor just two days ago. That dark, sinister side…so this is why you played the role perfectly.
“So…all this time you’ve been working with Vayne…it’s why you helped us fight off those Void Walkers.” She mused aloud.
“Right. It was only after that when I was able to understand the Goddess for the first time. The dark force that called out to me had no intentions of granting us immortality. Its only goal was to be free of its bounds to the Void and cross into our world, bringing chaos and destruction with it. She sought my help to stop the darkness and in exchange, halted my aging process. It was then that I changed my appearance and disappeared from the Institute of War, hoping that without my presence, the plan would fail. When Heywan Relivash took over the vacancy I had left, however, it was clear that I was mistaken. I knew what I had to do…I had to stop them from succeeding, but I alone could not possibly win a direct confrontation against three High Councilors. And so, I recruited the help of Shauna Vayne, a person who was used to fighting for the good cause but like me, was willing to do it away from the public eye. She became my eyes and ears in the Institute.”
“She’s been…your mole in the League all along?” Fiora asked in disbelief, turning back to shoot the night hunter a glare.
“That was her true purpose for joining the League to begin with. Relivash turned Kalamanda into a wasteland of unstable magic that was reshaped into the Crystal Scar arena. I knew then that the chaos was fast approaching and the final step was about to happen, one which took place three days ago.”
“Three days ago? What are you talking about, I was with you three days ago.” Fiora asked with a perplexed look on her face.
“While you were in Demacia training, a fourth Summoner’s Arena was revealed called the Valley of the Magi. All champions of the League were ordered to attend this arena simultaneously as a mandatory trial run. In reality, all champions that arrived by teleportation were executed by the High Councilors the instant they entered the Arena. This was the final preparation for the ritual, a set of three massive blood sacrifices scarring the earth followed by the final sacrifice of the souls of the greatest warriors of Valoran.”
“Executed? Sacrifice of the souls? You mean to tell me-“ Fiora asked frantically as she realized the meaning of these words immediately.
“All of the League champions that were present in the Institute of War are dead…sacrificed by the High Councilors.”
“No…impossible.” Fiora managed to utter, a look of horror on her face as she became filled with dread, causing a shiver to run down her spine. “Everyone is…dead? And the only reason I’m still alive is because of…sheer luck?”
“Not sheer luck, but rather far from it. I said that Shauna Vayne was my mole in the League. She did more than simply act as my eyes and ears in the Institute. When the completion of the final arena was nearing, I had her manipulate the inner workings of the League to allow for a select few people that would become useful in the upcoming chaos to be excused from the Institute. Luxanna and yourself were two such people. Miraculously, the other two that accompanied Shauna here somehow made it out as well.”
“I survived because…you arranged for my departure?” Fiora asked, lowering her eyes deep in thought. “Lux I can understand, she has the power of light to be useful in a war against the Void spawn…but why me? You still haven’t told me why I’m so important that you arranged for me to be away from the League when there are others of far greater importance in the event of war exists…or for that matter, why you felt it was so important to personally train me to use magic.”
“I was told by the Goddess specifically to watch over your family as its guardian.”
“The Goddess…told you to watch over us? Why?” She asked, a mix of shock and disbelief running through her.
“That was something I was never told. I only figured that someone within your family would play an important role in this, and so I carried out the Goddess’ will.” He answered, averting his gaze from the duelist as he felt helpless to provide her with a better answer. “Do you understand now? There are no coincidences. Everything that has happened up until now took place for a reason, and I believe that the abilities you’ve developed are ones that you were intended to have from the very beginning.”
“From the very beginning?” Fiora said aloud, extending her hands out in front of her with palms open as she stared at them intently. “But wait. If you knew this all along, why did you get Ezreal involved in all of this? He nearly died because of you!”
“I didn’t know enough about the darkness that had corrupted the High Councilors, and I still don’t. When the Goddess expunged the corrupted part of my soul, I no longer heard its voice and didn’t even know what was to happen next. The Goddess told me but one thing about the darkness that was waiting to be set free, a name…Genesis. I tried researching everywhere I could think of, but with the exception of a few scribbled lines by Malzahar and Kassadin in their texts, I found no references to Genesis anywhere outside of the Institute. That led me to believe that Genesis might be an entity that predates any of the societies of modern day Valoran. The only place in the world that has ancient texts dating back to the society of Atlas is the Institute of War. If there was any place that would have information on Genesis, it would be there…that’s why he had to be involved.” He explained, stopping to allow the purple haired girl to process everything she had just heard.
“Ashram…Thank you.” Fiora finally said in a low voice, causing the Summoner to let out a surprised groan. “All of this time…death and destruction followed me everywhere I went these past few days. I thought I was responsible for it all. Now I know in reality, it was the fault of the people who lied to us, the people whom we all trusted to maintain stability in Valoran. All of the attacks on me and those around me...all of it was because the High Councilors wanted me dead, wasn’t it?”
“Yes…unfortunately, that is the case.” Ashram answered in a rather apologetic tone.
“Fine. They’ve gone so far as to kill off this world’s greatest champions for the purpose of personal gain. They took advantage of our trust in them, forcing every person in this world to live a lie that’s been going on for years. That…I will not accept.” Fiora announced, her voice now brimming with confidence as a look of determination appeared on her face, causing her mentor to look back at her in surprise. “I’ve made my decision. If it’s me they want, then they got their wish…I will take the fight to them.”
“If that is your wish, then I will fight alongside you…and so will they.” Ashram responded, causing the duelist to look at him with arched eyes. “You know, when you put aside your differences, you and Shauna have a lot in common.”
“Tch…Don’t push your luck.” Fiora snapped at his last comment as she quickly paced past her mentor to rejoin the rest of the group.
A series of hard knocking sounds filled the air as the duelist’s greaves collided against the ground as she approached the rest of her companions. She closed her eyes for a moment to take a deep breath as she felt the ground brush underneath her feet. Opening them again, she looked in time to see Vayne and Talon snickering at the scene between her and Ashram, causing her to bite down on her lower lip in anger.
I swear, I’m going to kill them one of these days. Fiora thought to herself bitterly as she shot them an icy glare in response.
As she paced within a few feet of the rest of the champions, Talon’s face turned from one of devious amusement to one of absolute horror. Though Fiora thought it was out of fear of retaliation from her for what they had likely said behind her back, she perished the thought when he lunged towards her unexpectedly. His hands wrapped around her mid back an instant later as she felt herself falling backwards, the weight of his momentum causing her to lose her balance from the ground.
“Wha-,” The duelist managed to utter out in a perplexed state in mid-fall before the high pitched whistle of multiple rapidly moving projectile flying past her filled her ears.
Fiora felt the ground slam into her back, her head jolting back from inertia to bang against the hard earth under her. A ringing from the trauma filled her ears, muffling the sound of a loud explosion that shook the ground of the open landscape under her. As she pushed herself off of the ground, she looked around to find that the world was spinning slightly. It took her a few moments to recover from the vertigo that accompanied the dissipating ringing in her ears.
Talon let out a groan as the duelist grabbed a hold of him, lifting his weight off of her own to prop him into a sitting position. Ahead of her, she saw plumes of smoke rise from a large area of conflagration, the silhouette of Shauna Vayne and Shen slowly rising from their ducked position imposed on the flames.
“You...saved me. Why, after all I’ve done?” Fiora asked in a dazed state as Talon managed to sit up without her support, as the feeling of guilt managed to overcome her shock at the situation.
“Doesn’t matter for now,” Talon yelled out as he quickly got to his feet, recomposing his balance before turning to look past the rest of his party. “What the hell is that?”
Fiora took a few deep breaths as she adjusted her eyes slightly to look in the direction where the assassin’s eyes were fixed. A chill ran down her spine, causing her to take a step back with her right foot as her vision focused on a set of creatures emerging from the flames. Two large creatures whose features were blurred by what appeared to be a shroud of smoke walked on two large legs, causing a rumbling of the floor with every step they took. Surrounding them were numerous canine-like creatures that moved on all four limbs, kicking up dust from their stampede through the sandy hills.
No…not these again…not now! The duelist thought to herself in horror as she instantly recognized the outlines of the Void Walkers that had plagued her nightmares on multiple occasions since her initial run-in with them.
It wasn’t long before Fiora realized that the large Void spawn were not alone this time, as she fixed her gaze on multiple canine-like creatures that walked on all four limbs. It had been almost a week since she had first laid eyes on these shadowy beasts. It only took one look at the approaching monsters for every harsh memory of that day to come rushing back. She brought her hand towards her Highwind before realizing that they were shaking, the memories that she had repressed came flooding back as though the protective dam had broken open, drowning her in fear.
Help me! I can’t… I don’t know if I can… She thought to herself as she quickly swung her left arm over her abdomen, grabbing her trembling right arm with her other hand. She averted her gaze to look towards the ground, locks of her hair drooping forward to obscure her face from view.
“What’re you doing?” The sound of Reginald Ashram’s voice asked, causing the purple haired girl to suddenly look to her right to see him staring back at her. “What’s wrong, Fiora?”
“It’s…it’s nothing.” She answered weakly, causing him to cast an obvious look of disbelief at her answer.
The duelist bit down hard on her lower lip, causing a slight metallic taste on her tongue as it drew a small amount of blood, causing her to recompose herself. Taking a deep breath, she took a few steps forward before steadying her hands enough to grasp the hilt of her Mageblade firmly. She stopped as she stood a few feet to the right of Shauna Vayne and Shen, drawing her blade out with a smooth motion before swinging it to her right.
Ashram knew that something was wrong, as he had not seen her act this way before. It was clear, however, that this was not the time to push the issue, as he knew the appearance of the Void creatures in front of them could only mean one thing. Drawing out his Blazing Edge with his right hand, he paced quickly to rejoin the others ahead of him.
Talon stood frozen, contemplating what had just transpired. Like the former High Councilor, he had quickly caught on that something was wrong with Fiora. Every interaction he had with her in the past usually ended with her arrogance, anger, or in most cases, a combination of the above. This was the first time he had seen her vulnerable, almost afraid of something that he was not aware of. He knew it couldn’t have been a coincidence that this sudden shift in her demeanor came with the appearance of the creatures in front of them. He took one last look at the duelist’s face, which had reverted back to her usual icy cold look before raising his armblade into a defensive position.
“What in hell are those things?” He burst out as his eyes became focused on the outline of the approaching hostile creatures.
“The Void… they’ve come.” Ashram responded in a low voice as he knew that his worst fears were coming true.
Chapter 14: A Heart Of Fear
Burdened are the hearts of man with fear,
When the spawn of the Void approach and draw near.
Amplify and feed do they on those who are afraid,
Fall shall they to the bravery of a noble blade.
- Unknown Scrolls
West Point, Piltover
“The Void?” Shen asked, turning to face the former High Councilor as those last words filled his very being with shock.
“Yeah…it seems the ritual to break the Goddess’ Seal came far earlier than I had hoped. We don’t have much time.” Ashram replied quickly before proceeding to explain the abilities of the Void Walkers and Hellhounds that were fast approaching.
Unlike the void walkers, the hellhounds that accompanied them were vulnerable to normal attacks, and did not require the use of light or holy magic to defeat them. Despite their vulnerabilities, however, the hellhounds possessed far greater agility than their larger counterparts and were numerous in number. Like all creatures of the Void, they were predators that could sense fear, but also can amplify it and use it to become more powerful by feeding off of it.
“Stand firm, do not waiver.” Ashram commanded before turning slightly to look at the rest of his party. “Shauna, take Talon and Shen with you to focus on the Hellhounds. Make quick, precise strikes to take them out. Leave the large ones to us.”
“Right!” The night hunter acknowledged without objections, turning her face to each side to get a nod of acknowledgement from her allies.
The approaching Hellhounds suddenly stopped their movements before letting out a series of loud howls, piercing the calm night air to cause a chill to run down Vayne’s spine. As the howls ended, the creatures suddenly increased their speed of approach as though the howls resembled a series of battle commands to each other for the deformed canines.
The night hunter was the first to react, drawing out her Ultima Weapon that had been mounted on her back. With a quick, smooth flip of the weapon, it landed firmly in striking position on her left arm, allowing her to instantaneously raise it into aiming position. Drawing the string back, streaks of sky blue energy gathered in front of the bowstring to form two large blue arrows. She watched the approach of the two Hellhounds in the lead, closing the distance between them and her party with rapid movements.
As they neared, their facial features came into view, revealing distorted appearing hyena-like faces, their mouths open with a row of razor sharp fangs that drooled with every step they took. A pair of segmented horns protruded from the angle of their jaws, curving upwards slightly to terminate just behind the tip of their mouths. A third, longer horn curved downwards from the middle of their forehead, extending a few inches in front of their noses before terminating in a sharp point.
As she caught view of the eyes of the creatures, glowing a crimson red color in the dark night, she let out a smooth exhale, pulling the trigger on her crossbow to discharge the two energy arrows from her bow. A high pitched whirling noise filled the air as the arrows launched forward, leaving a streak of sky blue in its wake as they approached their target. A loud pop rang through the air as the arrows met their target, causing a fiery explosion in upon contact. Bloodcurdling roars filled the air before the first two Hellhounds fell to the ground with a thud.
“Time to die!” Talon yelled out as he rushed forward from the rest of the group.
A flurry of daggers was sent flying towards the approaching Hellhounds. A pair connected with the flesh of a Hellhound, causing it to fall swiftly to the ground. The rest of the projectiles were deflected as the remaining beasts swung their heads downwards, using their horns as a shield against steel. Dashing forward rapidly, Talon swung his armblade at the nearest creature, feeling steel clash against a solidhorn. Drawing out a dagger, he simultaneously rotated his body around to free his blade from the grasp of the beast, momentarily facing it head on to see snarling fangs that hungered for flesh before plunging the smaller blade into its eyes.
As the Hellhound flung its head wildly in response to the pain of the assassin’s last attack, he quickly leapt onto large canine, mounting it momentarily before grabbing a hold of its upper horn to pull its head upwards. Despite its struggles, its strength was not enough to prevent the Noxian from positioning his armblade to its throat, delivering a quick sideways slash that gave him the satisfying feeling of steel ripping through flesh and bone. Seeing the fast approach of a third Hellhound that intended to impale him on its horns, he quickly leapt off of his feet, grabbing a hold of the creature’s upper horn to force his body into a circular spin. Landing on top of the canine, he quickly delivered a downward stab with his armblade into the back of its neck, feeling a crunching sensation as steel pierced the vertebrae, sending it to the ground motionlessly.
As the Noxian engaged in bloodshed against the creatures, Shen drew both of his katana from his back. He remained stationary as two Hellhounds approached him rapidly, showing no signs of relenting. As they leapt into the air with a loud howl, revealing a set of sharp nails protruding from each of its paws, the ninja suddenly dashed into the air, both swords held firmly outwards as he flew past the beasts. Green colored mist flew from the beasts as the two deep slashes he delivered widened during their fall to the ground.
Shen quickly spun around as a third Hellhound leapt towards him, the steel of the katana in his left hand meeting the tough horns of the creature, the weight of which sent him back a few steps. Increasing the strength of his push with his left arm, sent the canine backwards before delivering an upwards stab with his free blade, connecting with the jaw of the creature to impale its skull. Quickly delivering a kick to the creature as he lowered his blade, he threw the motionless creature to the ground.
The rumbling of two more hounds caught his attention, causing him to cross his blades in front of his head. Focusing natural energy into them,a purple aura began to flow along the sharp edge of the blades. He stood still for the next few seconds, waiting until the canines were within striking distance.
“Ionian Strike!” He announced as he swung both of his blades outwards simultaneously, sending the aura of energy outwards in the form of two purple crescents.
All that was heard was silence as the two attacks passed through the approaching beasts. To an observer, it was as though the attacks had no effect, as there was no destructive force behind the apparent energy attacks. It wasn’t until moments later when the creatures suddenly let out a pained howl that it was apparent the attacks had any effect. A large mist of green fluid suddenly flew from a delicate cut that caused the creature to slowly separate into two segments as they fell to the ground. As Shen began to prepare for his next strike against another pair of approaching Hellhounds, two blue arrows flew past him, filling the air with a loud pop as they connected with the beasts, impaling them to the ground.
As the rest of their teammates engaged in ferocious battle against the waves of Hellhounds, Ashram and Fiora stood behind, their gaze focused on the approaching Void Walkers. Though she had managed to put up a cold front, a part of her still felt fear piercing her heart upon setting eyes on the large lumbering demons. She had seen death countless times, personally delivering the fatal blow to those who had been foolish enough to challenge her on multiple occasions. She knew it was illogical, but couldn’t explain why she kept reliving the moments of her previous encounter with them.
“Fiora,” Ashram said, pausing for a moment when he realized that she failed to respond. “Fiora? Fiora!”
“Huh?” The duelist suddenly exclaimed, startled as his third call finally broke the fear flowing through her mind.
“It’s time, we need to attack now.” He answered simply, pushing aside the concern he had over her current state.
“Right…let’s go!” She replied as she took off on a sprint towards the approaching Void Walkers with Ashram in pursuit.
Weaving between the legions of Hellhounds currently engaged in an active battle against her allies, they stopped in a defensive stance as they neared the two large shadowy creatures. Fiora instantly conjured a Valor’s Blitz spell, using her free left hand to cast it on herself and her partner. A large shadowy scythe swung in a forward arc from the first Void Walker, forcing both of them to leap upwards at rapid speeds to avoid being impaled. Fiora channeled a lightning spell in her free hand as she simultaneously performed a back flip in mid air, landing a few feet away from the creature as she swung her hand downwards to send jagged streaks of electricity at the creature. A popping sound surrounded them as the creature was launched backwards by the force of the attack.
As the creature struggled to recompose its balance, four spheres of white energy flew towards the creature as Ashram took advantage of the distraction to conjure up a series of Blitz spells. A series of loud explosions followed by a roar of pain rang through the area as the spells connected with its target. As the smoke cleared to reveal islands of exposed red flesh interspersed in a sea of shadowy clouds. Fiora lunged forward without hesitation, channeling her energy into her blade to increase its cutting power before delivering a series of deep slashes to the vulnerable areas.
A bloodcurdling scream of pain came from the creature as it fell to its wounds, sending a chill of fear down the duelist’s spine. The sound of its cries resounded in her mind, causing her to open her eyes wide in apprehension. What disturbed her more was the sight of her own blade, previously surrounded by a brilliant white aura that had now shifted to a crimson red color.
”Because of you, she died. Now it’s your turn to do the same.”
No… Stop… Don’t…
Don’t come any closer….
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” Fiora suddenly screamed aloud as she fell to the ground in a kneeled position, dropping her blade onto the ground as she raised both hands to cover her ears.
“Fiora! What are you doing? Watch out!” Ashram yelled out in horror at the sight the purple haired girl dropping helplessly to the ground as the second Void Walker came within striking distance.
Those words forced the duelist to open her eyes again, looking behind her in time to see a shadowy scythe raised above the lumbering creature’s head in striking position.
“Sh-“ She gasped as a large beam of bright light crossed her vision, causing her to shield her eyes from its intensity.
A second bloodcurdling roar of pain filled the air as the creature staggered around, the dark aura surrounding it now completely disappeared.
“HAAAAAAAHHHH!” A male voice yelled out from a distance before a large crescent shaped wave of yellow energy flew past her, slicing cleanly through the Void Walker.
Its cries of pain became cut off by silence as the creature quickly fell to the ground, large amounts of green blood oozing profusely from its abdomen where the Trueshot Barrage passed through. Quickly turning around, she saw the approach of two blonde figures in the distance.
“In comes the hero to save the day!” Ezreal announced smugly, a grin on his face.
“Hm?” The duelist looked in disbelief before recomposing her demeanor and turning away. “Tch, as if.”
The sound of a snarl from the remaining Hellhound filled the area as an arrow from Vayne’s crossbow collided with its target, eliminating the last hostile in the area. Corpses of Void creatures littered the area before they gradually began to be surrounded by an eerie green light. As the lights faded, the corpses were replaced by piles of ash that began to rise with the blowing wind.
“Fiorie, are you all right?” Lux asked loudly with clear concern in her voice as she sprinted towards the purple haired girl.
“I’m fine…just got caught off guard.” Fiora replied impassively, knowing full well that this was not the case.
Retrieving up her sword from the ground, she reached up to touch her face with her free hand, coursing it along her cheeks to find it covered in a glistening layer of cold sweat. As she stood up from her kneeled position, a sense of lightheadedness and nausea overtook the duelist. She desperately wanted to lean forward and vomit, but swallowed hard to push the nausea back from her throat. It was bad enough that she had to be saved by Lux and Ezreal, getting them concerned about her sudden breakdown was the last thing she had wanted.
What just happened to me? She thought to herself in shock as images of herself falling in fear moments ago flashed through her mind. She searched the corridors of her mind for an answer but nothing revealed itself.
“Everyone okay?” Vayne asked aloud, looking around intently at her allies nodding in acknowledgement before turning towards the former High Councilor. “Good, where do we go next?”
“We head west and commandeer an airship. Piltover has three airstrips, two of which are in the city and the third is 10 miles west of here in the Kalidorum Woods. The two in the city are likely in an emergency lockdown state right now, so our best bet will be to try to find a ship in the auxiliary airstrip. For the moment, it’s late. We head west for a bit on foot and set up camp once we find a safe area.” Ashram ordered, causing Lux and Ezreal to give each other confused looks.
“Umm… Sir Leon, you know Vayne and the others?” Lux asked shyly.
“Luxanna, Ezreal…let’s get moving. I’ll explain things on the way, there’s a lot you need to know.” He replied after pausing a moment, turning his head momentarily towards the duelist before narrowing his eyelids in suspicion.
The Kalidorum Woods
After hours of walking passed, they entered the heavily wooded Kalidorum Woods. Finding a clearing amongst the dense foliage, they created a small campfire while Talon was sent to hunt for animals, returning with a triumphant grin on his face as he had managed to locate and hunt down several edible wild game. After satisfying the hunger that had plagued every member of their party, Ezreal stood up from his seated position, taking a few steps forward to look into the fire before speaking.
“There’s more to the story than what you know so far.” He suddenly said, catching the others off guard. “About what’s going on, that is.”
“Hmm?” Talon muttered as he picked the last remaining scraps of meat off of the mutton leg he had been working on.
“There’s a lot more pertaining what is going on with the Institute of War, and the appearance of the creatures from the Void.” He answered, causing the others to fall silent as they listened intently. “No record of any of this exists outside of the Institute of War because the tomes outside of that place do not go back that far.”
“So it’s true then,” Ashram interjected with a look of deep contemplation on his face, curling his fingers into his ball held in front of his chin. “It all started with an ancient civilization that existed on Valoran many millennia ago known as…Atlas.”
“Atlas?” Vayne asked, as it was her first time hearing that term.
“Indeed. Atlas, an ancient but highly advanced civilization that once existed on Valoran. Their society was enormous, its cities spanning the entire width of the continent above the Great Barrier. It was a peaceful society that flourished as the only outside threat to them was the city of Icathia. The advancements of this society was nearly infinite, developing technology of immense power including the Crystalis that had powered all of Piltover. It seemed like a utopian society that would flourish forever until…they came.”
“The Void?” Fiora asked in horror, as the thought of the utopia-like city of Piltover collapsing instantly crossed her mind.
“No, something far more terrifying and deadly,” Ezreal replied in a low voice before pacing away, turning his back against the others in his party to stare into the night sky. “The Aesirs.”
“Aesirs? What are they?” Lux asked, a slight tremble in her voice as the thought of something more terrifying than the Void existing in this world.
“Untamed creatures of raw energy… ‘It came to pass that fire rained from the skies. From the ashes of those flames, rose the bringers of great power, untamed and capable of great protection…and destruction.’” Ashram recited, his eyes closed with a focused look on his face. “A verse from mysterious ancient scrolls that you yourself had discovered years ago…they are the Aesirs, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” Ezreal acknowledged in surprise as he turned towards the former High Councilor. “Many millennia ago, ten meteors fell onto this world and scarred Valoran, and from the ashes of those craters rose untamed beasts with immeasurable power. No one knew where they came from, but the instant they landed on this world, these creatures ran rampant and destroyed everything in sight. Atlas declared war on the creatures but all of the magic and technology they had couldn’t even leave a mark on the wild Aesirs. The Seers of Icathia saw the approaching destruction brought on by the Aesirs and worshipped them as Gods.”
“How are we still alive then?” Vayne asked in an unconvinced tone, pushing her glasses against her nose using the tip of her finger before crossing her arms.
“In less than a month’s time, the entire civilization of Atlas was destroyed, and its survivors hunted down gradually. The Goddess saw the destruction but could do nothing to stop it, as without a physical body to enter this realm, she only possessed the powers to create, not destroy. All hope seemed lost and this world was fated to become a barren wasteland until…Genesis.” He continued, stopping at the mention of the word that began all of his troubles.
“Genesis… the darkness that started all of this…what is it?” Ashram asked, the name striking a chord through his mind.
“A low powered Aesir that came to Valoran with the others. For whatever reason, his power was far less than those of his other breathrens, but in exchange he was sentient and was born with the ability to reason. He had seen the fall of many worlds at the hands of his kind, who went from planet to planet destroying its native creatures and absorbing the natural energy of the planet itself, leaving it a barren wasteland. He saw potential in the humans of Atlas for greatness and felt sympathy for their plight. Powerless to stop his brethren, he was, he prayed for a miracle to save the people of this world. From that prayer came the Goddess’ blessing, answering his call from her throne in Edenrealm. A deal was struck; in exchange for imbuing him with the Goddess’ power, he would tame the other Aesirs and bring an end to the destruction of Runeterra. And so he did, using the powers granted to him by the Goddess, Genesis engaged in a ferocious battle against his fellow brethrens. Using his cunningness in battle rather than the pure feral instinct of the other Aesirs, he successfully subdued them one by one and sealed them into crystals. From then on, forever would the other Aesirs be tamed in those crystals, contained until they are called upon. Of the nine sealed Aesirs, five were given to the Goddess and the remaining four were kept by Genesis.”
“It…almost sounds like Genesis is helping us. So why would he cause all of this?” Lux asked, pouting slightly with arched eyes filled with questions. For her and everyone else, his explanation so far had only raised more questions than answers.
“His sympathy grew over time when he was allowed to continue exist in Edenrealm, occasionally returning to Runeterra using the powers granted to him by the Goddess to restore the natural resources for man to rebuild their society. In Edenrealm, however, all he saw was the endless cycle of life and death. Generation after generation, humans were born only to die in what seemed like a fleeting moment to him. Unlike the utopian society of Atlas, the societies built by the surviving humans were barbaric, forgetting the ordered life from which they descended. His sympathy towards humans gradually turned into obsession, entering Runeterra and intervening in the World of the Living more and more frequently. He came to the conclusion that death was the cause of all chaos amongst humans in Runeterra, and made it his purpose to stop this cycle of life and death. He implored the Goddess to grant him the power of immortality to share with humans, but she refused as she knew that the balance of life and death was the very thing that kept Runeterra from being consumed by darkness.”
“And this was the beginning of his descent into darkness, wasn’t it?” Ashram asked as the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together in his head. “Sympathy and obsession are divided by a very fine line. Like many good intentions, some turn into malice without even realizing it.”
“Indeed. Furious at the Goddess’ reluctance to act, he left Edenrealm to look for his own way of providing the fruit of immortality to humans. That path led him to the Undying Realm that we call the Void. It was there that he was offered the power he had been looking for, the promise of the power of immortality for himself and all humans who desired it. In exchange, all he needed was to create a gateway between Runeterra and the Void, through which he could channel that energy into this world.”
“A corrupting lie by the Void. Even its own creatures are not immortal, why would it be willing to share such a power with us if death exists in its own realm?” Ashram mused as he looked intently at Ezreal, who had paced closer towards the campfire in the middle of the clearing.
“Yes, the Goddess knew that the Void couldn’t bring immortality to this world, only darkness. But Genesis disagreed with her reluctance. He became arrogant and his vision tunneled by his obsession over humans that he clung to the false promises of power. When he decided to take matters into his own hands, a war broke out between the Goddess Terras and Genesis, using the Aesirs under her control as her warriors and protectors on Runeterra. In the end, Genesis was defeated, but because the Goddess did not have the power to destroy, she did the only thing she could…to seal him away into the Void so that his influence over this world would cease. It is there that he lies today, waiting to be released. The power outage in Piltover was likely the final step needed to open the gate into the Void, as something like that would require an immense amount of energy to initiate…the power of the Crystalis. I’m afraid it’s too late…we couldn’t stop the gate from opening.” Ezreal concluded, his voice lowering into a serious, somber tone towards the end.
“And after all these millennia trapped in the Void, it’s no surprise that the once noble and sympathetic Aesir no longer exists, but rather has been twisted and consumed by the chaos around him.” The former High Councilor interjected in a stern voice. “The influence that Genesis had instilled into my soul back then was filled corruption. There was no longer any remnant of light in his being…only darkness.”
“So how do you propose we stop something like this?” Vayne asked, causing the rest of the group to turn their attention towards her. “We assume that the ultimate end game is for Genesis to be freed into this world. Last time, it took the Goddess herself to stop him and this was before he became corrupted by the chaos of the Void. What do you think he’s going to do to us if he is released into this world? The fact that we just got attacked by an army of Void spawn doesn’t work in our favor.”
“It doesn’t matter. We already know what the worst case scenario is if the High Councilors succeed with their plan. We just have to do what we can to prevent their end game. There are some things in life you just do because it has to be done.” Ashram answered, causing Fiora to recall those same words he had said to her once before.
“And what is it that you propose we even do at this point? The loss of power to Piltover and the appearance of that many Void spawn at one time means the gate has been opened. They won already, it’s just a matter of time.” The night hunter snapped, irritation filling her voice towards the end. “I’ve been helping you for three years, hoping to stop this from happening, yet in the end it was to no avail. When I acted alone, at least I saw results, no matter how insignificant they were in the grand scheme of things. With you and the League…all of my efforts meant nothing.”
“So what?” Talon suddenly interjected, his sudden words catching the others off by surprise as he stood up to face the night hunter. “You said it the other day, from here on we decide our own fate. So what if it seems hopeless, does that mean we give up and sit on our hands while we wait for the Void to consume us all? We already took the first step and declared our intentions against the High Councilors. Now all we do is follow through with whatever we can do. Even if in the end, it amounts to nothing, I’d say it’s still better than sitting around without trying.”
A slight smirk crossed Ezreal’s lips as the Noxian finished those last words. Though he had always hated the assassin during their fights in the League, he couldn’t help but feel pleasantly surprised that he thought this way. Seeing him of all people working alongside honorable heroes of Demacia and Ionia on their quest had already surprised him earlier, but his involvement on such a personal level was something he had never expected from an assassin of his type.
“That’s right!” Lux exclaimed, rising from her seated position next to the explorer to catch him off guard. “Even if we are outnumbered, we just have to believe and keep our hopes up. After all, in war, morale is half the battle. Genesis…he’s been stopped once before, that means he’s not completely invincible and can be stopped a second time. If the Goddess believed in Sir Ashram to intervene like that, it means she has faith that we can do this. This time, lets become the agents to create a miracle!”
“Everyone,” Vayne said aloud to herself as she looked around at her allies, a look of optimism beaming from their faces despite the despondent circumstances, before letting out a chuckle under her breath. “And I thought was stubborn about things. Very well, we’ll keep going and see where things lead us.”
“Then it’s settled. It’s been a long day and I’m sure everyone is fatigued. We’ll need to rest up if we’re to keep moving tomorrow, but we’ll need one person up at all times to keep watch in case more Void spawn attack. We’ll rotate shifts through the night; just wake one of us when you find yourself getting tired.” Ashram instructed.
“I’ll take the first shift.” Fiora said impassively as she stood up, barely giving time for the Summoner to finish his last words. She took a few steps away from the fire, pausing as she stopped next to Talon. “Thanks…for saving me earlier.”
“Just repaying the favor.” He answered, causing strands of purple hair to swing wildly as the duelist turned to face him in surprise.
“Favor? What favor?”
“You really don’t remember? At the end of our duel that time, do you remember what you said to me?” He asked, causing Fiora to raise her eyebrows in an arch as she tried to recall her words.
”Why…” Talon asked angrily as he kneeled to the floor, streaks of crimson flowing along his purple uniform as he struggled to breathe. “First Marcus Du Couteau and now you…How come you can outwit me in a clash of blades?”
“What is your purpose for killing?” Fiora asked, panting hard as she struggled to stay in an upright kneeled position a few feet away from the assassin, numerous cuts covering her body.
“I have none. One does not need a purpose to kill, just an order.”
“I guess then,” Fiora replied with struggled breaths. “That’s the difference between us. I fight for my honor. You, on the other hand, fight for nothing. Without a purpose, there is no motivation to become strong, only pointless lingering. That is why you couldn’t win.”
“You were right. I never had any purpose in life and that realization never even occurred to me until you spoke those words. All those times I insisted on spending some alone time with you after our duel wasn’t specifically because I had wanted a date out of it, though that would have been a bonus.” He continued, a smirk appearing on his face towards the end of those words causing a muscle over Fiora’s eyes to twitch slightly. “It was because I wanted to thank you in private for opening my eyes to the truth. Had that never happened, I would have continued to act as a mindless lapdog for the Institute of War and would never have made it out alive. So thank you… for saving my life as well.”
“Huh…” She gasped as the Noxian finished his explanation, surprised that her prior words of contempt had taken on an unintended positive meaning. “Yeah… I guess we’re even then.”
Fiora walked away, averting her gaze from the assassin as she didn’t know what else to say in that circumstance. She wanted to act more appreciative of her ally’s praise, but all that filled the corridors of her mind was confusion over what had happened in their battle earlier that day. It disturbed her and was the reason she volunteered to keep watch. She knew that in her current state, sleep would evade her no matter how hard she tried. At least if she stayed awake and stood guard, she would have time alone to try and make sense of everything.
Chapter 15: Corrupted Soul
”We journeyed forward, not knowing what awaited us on the horizon. It didn’t matter what dangers laid ahead of us, though, when we knew that we would be facing it together. When the fate of the world hung in the balance, we decided that praying for a miracle was no longer enough. Only one option remained: we had to become the instruments of that miracle.”
- Memoirs of Luxanna Crownguard
Two hours passed and her shift to keep watch had ended long ago. Propping her back against a large tree, Fiora leaned her head backwards, her hair padding her scalp from the tough bark, making evident of its years of weathering the harsh northern winters. She listened to rhythmic chirping of crickets that filled the cool nighttime air, their continuous songs reminding her of a time when life seemed so much simpler. The confusion over what had happened earlier remained, almost suffocating her even as she tried to keep her mind off of it.
The sound of nearby footsteps quickly snapped her out of this dazed state as her hand went straight for her mageblade, relaxing only when she saw Reginald Ashram walking slowly towards her. Letting out a deep breath, she removed her hand from her sword, keeping her gaze focused on a small dark colored gravel in front of her.
“You were supposed to have me replace you a while ago.” Ashram said as he sat down next to the duelist.
“I’m not tired.” She said simply, hoping to avoid the conversation that she knew was inevitable.
“Fiora… what happened earlier?”
Fiora remained silent, keeping her gaze focused on the ground in front of her rather than at the former High Councilor. She didn’t know how to answer him because she didn’t know how to answer that same question to herself.
“Nothing…I was…I was just caught off guard.” She lied, hoping to avoid the topic.
“That wasn’t what it looked like. If something is wrong, you need to let us know. We can help.” He suggested, reddish-brown eyes meeting glimpses of the aqua blue orbs hidden behind strands of purple hair.
“It’s…it’s none of your business.” Fiora rebuked, grinding her teeth together as she desperately wanted to avoid burdening their journey with her personal problems.
Ashram eyed her warily, wondering if it was a good idea to push her any further. She had become much more stable compared to the first time they had met and he didn’t want to lose the progress she had made. However, he had to proceed, as leaving her in her current state was far too dangerous if his suspicions proved to be correct.
“Must be hard then, dealing with the overwhelming fear by yourself.” He said in an almost nonchalant tone, eliciting a shocked response from the duelist as her face shot up to reveal eyes that looked as though they had seen a ghost.
“What…?” She managed to utter, unable finish the sentence as her voice cracked at the end.
“It’s as I feared then.” Ashram said after letting out a sigh. “They’ve done it.”
“What the hell is that suppose to mean?” She snapped. “Who is ‘they’? And what are you on about anyways?”
“The High Councilors…they’ve corrupted your soul.” He answered, lowering his voice towards the end as his face began to show signs of sorrow on it.
“My soul…corrupted? Is this your idea of a joke?” She asked with frustration, standing up from her seated position to look down upon the Summoner.
“Unfortunately, this is anything but a joke. When you saw the shadowy aura of the Void Walkers, you felt an overwhelming fear taking over your body, chilling every bone in your body until you could no longer move. You lost all control of the muscles in your body and collapsed to the ground. That was what happened earlier, wasn’t it?”
Fiora turned around to face away from the mage, remaining silent despite knowing that he had described exactly what had happened in fine detail.
Why does it matter to him anyways? My soul is corrupted…that’s absurd. It was a one-time fluke. She thought to herself angrily.
“But that’s not all, is it?” He continued, breaking the tense silence in the air after the girl failed to respond. “Almost every day since the first time you encountered those Void Walkers in Demacia, you’ve been haunted by vivid nightmares almost every night, haven’t you?”
“Wha…how do you...” She began to exclaim as she spun around on her heels to face Ashram again.
“I don’t know if you remembered it or not, but during your time training at my house in Demacia, I was woken up almost on a nightly basis by your screams. You would wake up after that, gasping for breath before returning to sleep. Or am I wrong?” He asked, knowing that he had hit his mark perfectly when the duelist looked around wildly, biting down on her lips as she struggled to make sense of what he had said.
“How do you…what do you know about this?” She finally asked with reluctance, deciding to test the waters of what he knew.
“I know that it’s been going on for a long time. Your exposure to the dark aura of the Void Walkers only served to catalyze it into an increasingly violent reaction.” He answered simply before pausing, examining the duelist as he contemplated how to approach this. “This didn’t just start today or even on that day in Demacia. It likely began years ago, on that day in the hospital…when your mother passed away.”
Shock ran through the duelist the instant he spoke those words, striking a chord meant to be left alone as memories of that fated day flooded her mind. She shifted her position to face the Summoner with a mixed expression of rage and confusion, as this was one topic she had hoped would be buried in the deepest recesses of her mind forever. She stood silently, grinding her teeth for a moment before turning away.
“Why the hell do you know about tha-“ She began to ask angrily before stopping as she recalled her nightmare a few days ago and Ashram’s presence in it. “No…it can’t be…you were there, weren’t you?”
Ashram simply nodded in response to her question as he continued to hold a look of suspicion towards the duelist. He kicked a small object on the ground in front of him, revealing it to be a nut partially nibbled on by rodents making their presence known, sending it rolling in an uneven motion towards her. He knew that he would inevitably have to reveal everything about his involvement in her life. With everyone else asleep, there was no better circumstance to proceed.
“Why were you there?” She asked as the anger across her face became replaced with one of genuine confusion.
“For forgiveness,” He answered, his voice suddenly shifting to a somber tone.
“Forgiveness for what?”
“Failing my duty,” He began to explain, pausing to look at the duelist before continuing. “I was told by the Goddess to become the guardian over your family. That pendant that hangs in front of your heart is one of two that were given to me by the Goddess. I gave it to Alissa to protect her. It was designed to react to its bearer’s heart. If she was attacked, I would have known immediately and teleported to her location to save her. That held true until two days before she died.”
“Two days before she died… that was when.” Fiora began to say before stopping in mid sentence, moving her right hand to her chest to form a fist that pressed against her shirt, feeling the hard contours of the pendant that hung from her neck. She opened her mouth to speak again, stopping as her voice cracked.
“When she did something that I didn’t foresee, but should have expected knowing her kind-hearted nature. Knowing that she would eventually be targeted, she chose to sacrifice herself to ensure that you would remain safe.”
“Targeted? She passed away because she was caught in a building fire!” She snapped.
“The fire was no accident. She was murdered, likely by a Void spawn or even the High Councilors themselves. She was likely on the brink of death before the fire even took place, used to cover up what had really happened.”
“That’s impossible! She was alive and spoke to us at the hospital. She never said anything about this.”
“That’s because she didn’t want you to get involved in any of this. She wanted you to have a normal life. That was why she gave you the pendant under the guise of a good luck charm…so that I would protect you if you were ever to be attacked. That way you wouldn’t have to live the life that she did, constantly watching over her shoulders, being chased by shadows.”
“So that day in Demacia…that’s why you showed up when we were about to be killed by the Void Walker…” She mused deep in thought, her gaze fixed into the distance to yield an almost blank expression on her face.
“And in the process, it seems I failed to oblige with her other wish; I got you involved in all of this and made her sacrifice all for nothing.” He replied bitterly, a look of self loathe apparent on his face as he stood up to walk away, letting out a loud sigh of defeat.
“And you thought that I would have been happy with that alternative?” Fiora suddenly snapped, causing Ashram to stop in his tracks. “You think that if the roles had been reversed and it was me who died years ago instead of my mother, that she would have been satisfied with letting those responsible go without incident? No…from day one, even before I knew the extent of what was going on, I knew how dangerous the path ahead of me was, but I chose to fight. I chose to fight because I wanted to…I wanted to atone for the way I’ve treated everyone all these years.”
“That was when I still believed that the death of my mother, which started all of this, was still an accident.” She continued, her fingers tightening as she curled them into a fist, swinging it against the tree to let out a series of cracks as shards of rotting bark broke off. “Now you’re telling me that she was murdered, and the people responsible for it are the same ones who are out to destroy this world. To me, that only makes it all easier. I’ve made my decision, I will see this through to the end.”
“Fiora, you’re not listening to me.” He insisted, frustration becoming apparent in his voice. “When your mother was killed, it also served to plant the seeds of darkness inside of you. They knew that I would interfere if they tried to attack you directly and so they used your circumstances to corrupt your soul.”
“My soul…corrupted…why do you keep saying that?” Fiora asked angrily as she gradually began to feel her control slipping away, her fist tightening even more as though she was trying to cling to the remaining delicate strands of sanity left in her life.
“Is it not true? After your mother died, you fell into darkness, isolating yourself from others. You ran and hid in the shadows, leaving you vulnerable to corruption by the Void. To make matters worse, your father betrayed your trust, thereby further throwing you into isolation and despair.”
“My father,” She interrupted, pausing after those words as her face suddenly in shock as a realization occurred to her. “Could it be?”
“What is it?”
“My whole life I looked up to him as an honorable man, as he was the one who taught me everything I knew about using a sword. I was proud to have him as my father until two years ago. He accepted a duel of swords, only to be arrested after being caught poisoning his opponent.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. What about it?” Ashram asked.
“The night before, I remember seeing him leave the house. He acted…really strange. I don’t know what it was, but something about him scared me at the time. Do you think it’s possible that even that-“ She began to wonder out loud before being interrupted by the Summoner.
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all.” Ashram replied, anticipating what she was implying. “In fact, in retrospect, if anything I would actually be surprised if the High Councilors weren’t involved with it.”
“Why do you say that?” Her fist loosening as she closely examined his facial features to gauge his reaction.
“I don’t know if you realize it by now, but your father’s betrayal of your trust actually served two purposes. It caused you to lose the only remaining positive influence in your life, to the point that after he was arrested and committed suicide, you even moved away from the rest of your family. The memories being too painful to bear, you isolated yourself even further and drowned yourself in despair, the darkness inside your heart growing exponentially faster.”
“And the other purpose?” She asked, crossing her arms under her chest as an expression of disbelief began to appear on her face.
“It caused you to join the League.” He replied in a stern voice.
“Wha…but that…” She began to object, unknotting her arms to hold them outwards in confusion before pausing as she began to process his words.
“Was it not the case? Wasn’t your reason for joining the League because you wanted to prove to the world that you were honorable, to defend yourself against the accusations after your father tarnished the family’s reputation?” He continued after a short pause, taking a few steps away from her to stare into the night sky, examining the countless shimmering stars normally shrouded by the polluting lights of a metropolitan city. “They set a trap for you and you fell right into it, ending up right in the palm of their hands so they could keep a close eye on you, and when the time is right, kill you along with the others. I don’t know what the reason is, but somehow you’re a key part in thwarting their plans.”
“Me a key part in all of this…” Fiora said, closing her eyes as she pinched the bridge of her nose with her fingers. “Why are you so certain of this?”
“Because out of all of us, they chose to focus on you, throwing your heart into chaos. That’s the reason why only you felt that unbearable fear that froze you in your place earlier today. For years you have been living a life of darkness and despair, the seeds of darkness planted by the Void maturing, waiting for something to catalyze the violent reaction that would cause the corrupt in your soul to overwhelm you. The first time you encountered the Void Walkers in Demacia, the effects weren’t instantaneous, but they lingered in the form of vivid nightmares. Today, it came on almost immediately, and it’s only going to get worse.”
“So what do you expect me to do?” Fiora snapped as she opened her eyes again, swinging her raised arm downward in anger, her fingers held tightly straightened. “Just give up and let the people who took everything from me get away with it?”
“I’d say yes, but knowing you that would be meaningless.” He replied, the duelist’s left eyelid to twitch in anger. “Honestly…I don’t know. At this point, you know about as much as I do in regards to your condition. All I can think of is, you fight the fear. When you feel it coming on, you have to not let it consume you. Fight it, think about why it is you’re with us, and who it is you want to protect.”
“What if…what if I can’t?” She asked as a feeling of vulnerability began to overtake her.
“If you can’t…it will only get worse. Think of it like a chemical reaction, each time you come in contact with a Void Walker, it’s like a catalyst that causes your soul to become corrupted at a much faster rate. I don’t know what the end results of their corruption are but it’s safe to say that neither of us wants to find out the answer to that question.”
Fiora crossed her arms as she let out a long sigh, the fatigue of the past day beginning to overwhelm her despite the anxiety she felt over her current predicatment. She focused her gaze at the ground, averting her gaze of the world around her. Even in the open expanse of Valoran’s wooded forest, she suddenly felt claustrophobic, the world closing around her, determined to bury her into the ground itself.
“There’s one more thing.” Ashram said as she began to walk towards an open spot on the ground to lie down. “I need you to promise me something. The moment you feel that sensation of fear gripping you again…do not use magic of any sort.”
“Why?” She asked, suddenly stopping in her tracks as she turned to reveal a shocked expression on her face.
“The reason I figured this out was not because of you collapsing in the battlefield, but rather the change in the way your magic felt.” He explained, a look of grave concern on his face as he took a few steps towards the duelist. “For a brief moment, your magic energy didn’t feel like your own, but rather felt as dark as the Void Walkers themselves.”
Fiora opened her mouth to object but stopped herself as she recalled the flowing aura of crimson energy that she had channeled into her blade earlier that evening.
“You noticed it too, didn’t you? You must never use that power in battle. Using the power of darkness will only accelerate its hold on your soul. The more you use it, the more it becomes a part of you until eventually you may become one and the same as that which you have tried so hard to fight against.”
Fiora looked at Ashram in apprehension. She couldn’t deny that what he was saying was the truth. Her only consolation was that she had fought without magic for years. Even without the use of spells, she knew she could still contribute in battle.
“What about the others? Will you tell them?” She finally asked.
“That decision is yours to make. I won’t tell them if that is your wish.”
“Good…leave them out of this. There’s no need to burden them with my problems.” She answered after a pause before walking away, lying down uncomfortably on the ground in hopes of getting some rest.
Sleep, however, would not come for her. Though it was the first time that she ever had to experience such horrendous and unrefined sleeping conditions, its discomfort paled compared to the thoughts that plagued her mind. Slowly, but surely, everything she knew about her life was beginning to crumble like the roads in Piltover. She felt the warm, protective environment of her past slipping away from her hands, replaced by a harsh reality that she had never known was looming in the distance; a reality which threatened to pull her into its grasps and choke her out of existence.
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