Silence reigned in the empty halls of the Institute of War.
It wasn't dark- even with no one to tend them, pale light shone from crystals bracketed in the walls. Their glow softly illuminated a thick layer of dust on the floor, tracing the veins in the marble of the soaring pillars.
Brighter lights leaked from the archway to the Grand Summoning Chamber, a round room whose massive dome was painted with the entire history of Runeterra since the first Rune Wars. At the center of the chamber, like a grotesque statue carved of living flesh, motionless, floated the heavily bearded figure of an old man, with some strange clock-like device strapped to his back. His eyes were wide with shock, hands outstretched to ward off waves of energy. He was wreathed in twisted fire and dark power, frozen as still as the Chronokeeper himself.
A movement disturbed the stillness. Cards, red, blue and yellow, spun in a whirl in the empty air. The air blurred with their speed for a moment, and then they were gone, leaving behind only a lean caped figure. Though he was not short, he was dwarfed by the enormity of towering stone around him; a tattered wide brimmed hat shaded his eyes as he looked about the chamber. There was a grim cast to his face, a look that was only enhanced by the unkempt beard that sprawled across his face. “Well then,” he said, his faintly drawling voice amplified by the lack of any other sound, “does the fact that you chose here to meet mean you've found a cure for our favorite timepiece?”
A shadow detached from one of the pillars, bringing the battle-scarred face of Xin Zhao into the light. He limped out into the open, using a long vicious looking spear as a cane. The source of his limp, a barely healed wound in his leg, was painfully apparent through a deep gash in his armor; still, there was strength there, no matter how gaunt and weary his face seemed. “I didn't have much of a choice. With Noxus controlling most of the remaining summoners...” The spearman shrugged, and tried to peer through the shadows hiding the other man's eyes. “This is one of the few places still protected by the old wards. Neither of us wants to be spotted by a stray Clairvoyance, now do we?” Abruptly, with a motion so fast that there was scarcely time to blink, the speartip was leveled an inch from the card master's throat. “Dangerous times call for caution, Fate. The code word, if you please- we'll take no chances with Leblanc still out there.”
“Let's see... You let Lulu pick last, right? Adoribus or dewdrop, was it?” The amusement in his voice was plain.
Xin shrugged uncomfortably, pulling back his spear to lean on. “Times have been hard on her. This war hasn't been kind on the fae...” Suddenly, the man sagged, the lines of worry and stress standing out on his face. “It's good you're here Fate. We're in a bad way. Do you have any good news for me?”
Twisted Fate pulled slipped a handful of cards from one sleeve, idly flipping through them as he spoke. “Bad news and worse. Nasus took Renekton and left. Anivia has returned to her home world. Ashe and Tryndamere were captured trying to treat with Sejuani... Leona was seriously injured in a duel with Diana, and the moon girl got away despite Pantheon's best efforts.” He hesitated, eyes locked on a gold card, weighing his words carefully. “...There's worse, though. I know you don't want to hear it, but it may be time to let Noxus have their victory.”
Xin's head snapped up, a look of pure malevolent hate in his eyes. “Let them win? Do you know what they do to people they conquer? Have you seen the atrocities committed daily in the Noxian prison camps? Do you even have the faintest clue what happens to those miserable souls who are sent on to Zaun for 'experimentation'?” He spat viciously over his shoulder. “I would sooner let every man woman and child in Demacia die then let Noxus have them.”
The cards disappeared as a slim hand reached up to push back the brim of the hat, revealing intense eyes that seemed to glow with an inner light. “That may be exactly the choice you're making, Zhao. The Shadow Isles are on the move.”
Xin swore softly, leaning a little harder on the shaft of his spear. There was silence for a moment, as he let the information sink in. “It hurts, Fate. Worse than you know. Jarvan is dead.”
A pause. “I didn't see him in the cards... But there's any number of reasons... Are you sure?”
The spearman's topknot swayed as he nodded wearily. “The battle was going well. Garen, Jarvan and I pushed straight down the middle, with Lux providing cover fire. We were unstoppable... Just like the old days.... We took them all down, Fate! Urgot, Sion, Darius, Draven... So many... We took so many wounds, but it was worth it, when we got to him! Grand General Swain himself! The root of this whole damn nightmare.”
The seneschal shook his head, slowly, what little color remained draining from his face. His voice dropped to almost a whisper, cold and emotionless. “They had a nexus, Fate. Gods only know how they found it, or how we didn't know... But they had a nexus. Every foe we cut down came right back at us, fresh and renewed. By the time we realized what was happening, it was too late. We were cut off and surrounded. I'm only here now because Jarvan held back the worst of them, sundering the very earth to keep us clear.... Lux and I made it out, but...” Silver tear lines were streaking down his scarred face, but his voice remained steady and calm. “He saved me. He saved me so many times. And when he needed me most... I...”
Fate placed a single hand on the older man's shoulder. “There was nothing you could have done. You brought Lux out. You saved his bloodline. It's the best anyone could have hoped for.”
“I should have died with him.” The hollowness in those words screamed of despair, and misery beyond speaking.
Twisted Fate gave him a single sympathetic look, then flung out a hand, hurling a fistful of cards into the air, where they began to whirl in a sphere encompassing both men. “Time to go, Zhao. We have a lot to discuss.” There was a brief blur, a flash of light, and the room was empty again, alone with the eternal surprise of Zilean as his world crumbled around him.
(Continued below! Whoooo!)
I thought this was a pretty good intro. You have a few things that annoyed me, like a few typos and extra commas (which a little editing can easily fix), and your description of J4's ultimate seemed kinda awkward.
I like your writing style though. Your descriptions don't detract from the flow of the story, and you say a lot without writing a lot, which is partially what kept my interest.
The story seems pretty interesting so far, but there's just not enough actual plot to say much about it. I love the future "apocalyptic" vibe though. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how this story progresses.
If you liked this review please return the favor by reading and commenting on one of my own series focused around Ahri and some other less-popular characters, located here: http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/....php?t=3027268
(Whewee, this post took meh a while... And is almost entirely unrelated to the last one. Almost. It comes together though, I promise.)
The mountain of a man with giant axe resting on his shoulder- Darius, she knew, though she had never met him personally- squinted sourly out across the broad grassy plain, and gave a dissatisfied grunt. Behind him, the rows of soldiers remained silent as they stood in front of the command tent. They knew better than to interrupt. "No sign of them for a week now. Might be we finally knocked the fight out of those damned Demacians. Can't be many of them left now anyways." He spat, wiped his mouth roughly with a heavily gauntleted hand, and turned towards the camp, his eyes sweeping over her without seeing. She was used to that- she did not look strong or particularly menacing, and was easily overlooked; a fact she often took advantage of in battle. "Alright, let's get it over with. What's first on our plate, Rostan?"
A thin man with a bookish look about him stepped forward, a scroll clasped tightly in his hand. He looked small next to the Hand of Noxus, but then, most men did. Still, to be the personal aid to the Grand General's right hand man was no small feat; positions of power had to be defended in Noxus. Rumor said poison was his game, but she noted bulges in his uniform suggesting at least four hidden knives, and his hand was continually caressing the hilt of a long dagger. He unrolled the scroll and began to read. "First item of the day- two officers were caught duelling behind the command tent yesterday; one of them was injured in the leg. The injured man claims that his oponnent stabbed him before the duel began."
Darius snorted. "And what did he expect?" The massive head shook desparagingly, but she saw destinct signs of amusement in the tilt of his thick eyebrows. "Cut off the loser's foot and send him to the cook. For being unprepared and starting a fight you can't win, he's lucky I don't take his head. Next."
A quill appeared flickered back and forth as Rostan made a note, and then he continued. "Lieutenant Thresh has returned with her scouting party, and is ready for debriefing." Here it comes, she thought grimly as she stepped forward, snapping a sharp salute.
That thick eyebrow raised as Darius gave her an appraising look. Show no fear, show no weakness. You are the rock, one with the earth. "Thresh, is it? I know that name. You're the kingslayer, hmm?" He walked over to her, crowding her space with his great bulk, looming tall over her. She was used to this, also- large men often made a point of their size around her. Trailing around him was the smell of battle and blood, with a faint hint of the oil he used to keep the blood from etching his blade. "When I heard someone finished of Jarvan, I expected someone larger." You knew exactly what to expect. Play no games with me, Hand. "Rostan, what family is she from?"
The aide shrugged. "Gutter born, sir."
Darius only grunted. Gutter born was not an insult here, as it was in many places; to have been born in the gutter and fought your way up was a mark of pride in Noxus, and even more so in the army. The Hand gave her one last speculative look, and then returned to the head of the column, gazing out into the plain. "Well, speak up then. Do tell us what you saw, oh mighty kingslayer." The mockery in his tone stung, but her face remained smooth and blank.
Show no weakness. I am stone. With her voice perfectly level, she began to recite. "We encountered nothing for the first three days of travel, though we saw many old trails, most heading east and south. The shape of the footprints and their patterning suggests that these were primarily civilian groups, with perhaps one or two armored men escorting. On the fourth day..." She hesitated, and then mentally cursed herself for doing so. Stone never hesitates. "On the fourth day we encountered a Demacian warband, clearly worn from conflict, fleeing east. I established contact and attempted to extract information."
At this, Darius turned around, mild surprise evident in his broad features. "Established contact? You said they were battle weary and worn down. Why didn't you eliminate them? Was their warband so much larger than your scouting party?"
Stone. "We might have destroyed them, but we would have taken heavy losses. My mission was to scout, not to hunt." His eyes met hers, tar black to ice blue, and she tensed, ready to reach for the slender sword at her side, but he simply nodded and waved for her to continue, returning his gaze to the plain. "Their leader told me that they had been part of a larger force of freshly trained soldiers from the capital, but they had surroundedby what he could only describe as a cloud of darkness; they got separated from the main army and fled into the woods."
"Undisciplined new recruits," Darius growled. "Frightened off by some glamour. Just as well for them they didn't make it this far to be slaughtered by true soldiers. However, it would be good to know who else has the destruction of Demacia in their plans.... Did you manage to find out that much, girl, or is all you have the mad concoctions of a cowardly enemy trying to save his hide?"
A flash of irritation escaped her before she could repress it. "It's Lieutenant Thresh, not girl. And the multiple soldiers described a figure riding through the fog that could only be Hecarim." The silence that followed that statement was sharp; the only sound was the faint whisper of a cool evening wind through the grass, and the soft clinks of the Hand's armor as he turned to glare at her. She dragged her anger back into control as she pushed on. "We followed their trail back to where they said the battle was; there we found a great many fallen Demacian soldiers, as well as a number of bodies far older than the reported time of the battle. Either the Demacians killed themselves in an old open grave, sir, or the Shadow Isles have joined the fray." She snapped a sharp salute and slid back into line, pointedly ignoring the acid look Darius was continuing to give her.
"You would do well," he told her, his voice full of soft menace, "to adress me with the respect my position deserves, kinglsayer, or we will see how you fare against a League Champion who hasn't been worn down by a full day of battle."
"And maybe," she retorted, ignoring the voice in her head saying stone has no pride, ignoring her common sense which was screaming at her to stop, "You'll see how the job should be done. He killed you- what, twice? Three times, before I had to bring him down for you?"
She slid back one foot and flexed one hand toward her sword as a look of pure rage twisted across the Hand's face, his huge gauntlets tightening around the haft of his axe. Part of her was uttering silent reprimands- You left him no choice, did you? That was as good as a challenge... - but part of her was tingling with excitement, guaging his reach, estimating his speed, analyzing the terrain for flaws. The axe was coming off the shoulder- faster than I thought- and the soldiers were backing away behind her. Her hand tightened on the sword, her mind filled with the image of a mountain, cold and hard, and-
"That is quite enough." She whirled to see the source of the rasping voice, and sank to one knee immediately, eyes on the ground, her mind racing like lightning as she saw the Grand General himself: Jericho Swain.
The general's signature tapped quietly in the soft earth as he walked past, ignoring her. Without a view of Darius, she had the paranoid feeling that there was an axe poised to swing at her back. But surely he wouldn't- not with Swain- yes... Yes he would. As soon as the general passed her, she did her best to turn herself around again to face the action while remaining on one knee.
"Your temper will be the death of you some day, Darius." His rasp was just loud enough that his words could not be mised, but at the same time, just quiet enough that you had to focus to hear. The bird on his shoulder ignored the object of it's master's attention and gave her a beady six eyed stare, ruffling feathers so black that they seemed to soak in the light. She stared boldly back. "You were in the League long enough to know that appearances can be decieving. I believe Annie taught you that lesson quite thoroughly."
The big man's head bowed at the chastisement, but she thought the red flush in his cheeks was not from shame. He gave her a sidelong look, cold and calculating, that conveyed a promise: We're not through yet, you and I.
"Lieutenant Thresh's information is quite correct, however." Without seeming to get any louder, Swain's voice now carried throughout the camp. Magic of some sort, or just clever voice usage? Neither would surprise me. "An army has landed from the Shadow Isles, and will most likely be coming for us when Demacia falls, which should not be long now. We will regroup at the Institute of War. Prepare to break camp- we move at dawn."
There was a sudden hubbub as the soldiers turned to go, quietly discussing the news as they retreated to their respective areas to clean up. She rose to go too, but a cane in her path held her in her tracks. "Not just yet, Lieutenant." The bird continued to stare at her unblinking as Swain turned back to his Hand. "I need both of you alive. You can kill each other when the war is done... and not a day sooner. Am I understood?" Darius nodded slowly, clearly still angry. As long as Swain lives, then, and the war goes on. She almost felt disappointed. "Darius, go see to the summoners. They can be most... uncooperative at times. It would be good to remind them what happened to the rest of them the last time they defied me, yes?" With that, Darius turned and left, axe scoring a trail in the dirt behind him as it hung loosely from his hand.
"As for you, Lieutenant..." She looked up to meet his gaze, and instantly regretted it- there was something distinctly unsettling about the sharp yellow of his eyes, and the way he held his head. "That was a bold play, but not a wise one. If you're going to play the Game with Noxian High Command, you would do well to learn the rules first." I'm not here to play games, General, she thought, trying to read the many wrinkles around his eyes. I am here to fight. I am the stone that never yields. "Darius may look a brute, but don't mistake that for stupidity. He has a keen mind and a long memory, and you would do well to watch your back. He knows as well as any that my protection extends to you only if he gets caught." Their eyes remained locked for a moment more, but she turned away. Those eyes... The power...
"Come," Swain said, gesturing. "There is much to prepare... And I have a special task waiting for you." As long as there is a battle at the end of it. Bring me the foes, and I will bring them down. No weakness. She gave a slight bow, and together they disappeared into the darkness of the tent.
(I would have written more, but quite frankly, I'm getting carried away as it is. I need to start getting to the main storyline! And that means Lieutenant Thresh! But first things first.)
Underneath the broad pink-blossomed limbs of the Gathering Tree, the cards whirled fitfully in the cool night air for almost a minute before pulling themselves together into the tight circle and familiar blur indicating the card master's arrival.
Two guards stationed at the Tree for exactly this purpose lept to attention at the first movement, one running off to alert the Ionian encampment, and the other to assist the incoming traveler. Fate staggered into the guards arms almost immediately upon appearing, winded and looking pained, and Xin dropped to his knees, retching on the ground.
The guard, a young beardless man in lacquered bamboo armor, held the champion steady with a look of concern. "Are you alright, Master Fate? That teleport took rather longer than usual... Should I go get Soraka, or Sona? Or-"
Fate gently pushed the young man away, standing somewhat unsteadily on his own. "No, kid, I'll be fine. Just not used to carrying dead weight, is all." He grimaced and glanced over to his traveling companion, who had slumped to his side, breathing heavily. "Not sure my friend here can say the same, though. Go on, then. Get the Maven." The guard gave a brief nod and sprinted away towards the lights of the camp, where Fate could see the stirrings of a welcome party coming together. "Master Fate," he said idly to the prone spearman. "Makes me feel old. I ain't old enough for folks to be callin' me Master yet."
A wheezing chuckle of response made Fate wince. "Maybe not... old..." There was a wracking cough. "...but not so young, either... Fah, is it always this bad when you travel?"
Fate grimaced again. It had been bad, even for two. "Let's just say that from here to the Institute is a mite trickier than a jump halfway across the Rift, shall we?"
Eventually, Xin's breathing evened, and he pulled himself up to a sitting position. They watched in silence as a column of torches set out from the village, a little trail of liquid fire creeping through the night. It was easy to forget, sometimes, traveling through the war-torn lands, that it was still spring. The night blooming stranglevines and soft singing of the moon beetles cared nothing for the wars of men, and the sweet scents of the darkness held a serene peace. Sometimes I wonder if Maokai had the right of it all along.
The serenity didn't last long. The approaching group was in a hurry, no doubt hastened along by the brisk sounds of Sona's Song of Celerity. The chorus of night insects quieted to a whisper as the tromp of boots, the rustle of clothes, and the clink of weapons drew nearer. The lithe muscled form of the blind monk took the head of the column, a few steps ahead of the light, his tread confident in the dark. Scattered between various guards and dignitaries, he also saw Karma, looking faintly worried, Sona, lost in concentration with her a fingers a delicately racing across her etwahl, and Irelia, her ever vigilant eyes scanning the vegetation to either side. No Yi. No Soraka. No Udyr. The Kinkou, he knew, were still struggling with Zed and the Order of Shadow; the others he expected would be here.
Xin had apperently noticed the absences too. "Yi I could see as an ambassador to Piltover, perhaps," he breathed, "and Udyr always scouts alone... But Soraka should be here."
"Don't you worry an that score, pardner." Fate gave an easy chuckle, but it seemed weak in the face of the unease they both felt. "And the Maven will fix that leg up just fine."
"Your concern may be more warranted than you think." The sound of Lee Sin's voice drifting from the distance caught them both by surprise; it was easy to forget how keen the blind man's sense of hearing really was. The monk pulled quickly ahead of the column with a few loping strides, to an easier speaking range. "Udyr has not been seen in weeks. Ordinarily, I would not worry... But there has been no sign of the Void beasts since the fall of the League. Unless you have see something?" A single questioning eyebrow raised over the leather band that covered the monk's eyes.
Fate began to shake his head, realized his mistake, and quietly said, "No."
A frown creased the other man's face. "I fear he is exactly the sort of prey Kha'Zix hungers for. We have warned him many times not to hunt alone, but the animal within him rarely heeds the reason of men."
"And Soraka? What of the Starchild?" Xin's voice, still hoarse from its ordeal in travel, was barely audible as the welcome part finally drew up in a circles, respectfully silent to the monk's dialogue.
"Soraka," cut in Karma's cool, refined voice, "has been captured by Syndra." Bad and worse, he thought, not for the first time. "She has made no demands, and we have had no easy way to assault her temple in the air." She continued to talk as she bent over to examine the wound in Xin's leg, tiny streaks of light reaching out and probing from the fan fluttering lightly in one hand. "We sent Master Yi to Piltover to acquire air support for our efforts; he spent some time there before the war, attempting to find a technological means to preserve his Wuju arts." Sona glided up to examine Xin as well; for a minute, the two women conferred silently, the only indication of communication being the faint silver beam of a soul bond. I need to learn me some telepathy one of these days....
Karma stepped away as Sona's fingers began to dance, slowly sending pulses of green light shivereing through the air. The torn flesh in Xin's leg slowly began to pull together- an awe inspiring sight, to be sure, but one quite familiar to Fate from countless years of battle in the League. He turned his attention back to Karma.
She fixed him with a concerned gaze, her dark eyes lined with the shared cares of a nation. "Terrible as the loss of the Starchild is, however, we have plans to deal with Syndra. That is not your concern, for the time being. The news you brought us of Shadow Isles forces are far more troubling. You are quite certain of what you saw?"
He snorted. "It's all in the cards. They may not tell me everything, but when they do talk, they ain't lied to me yet. It's the Shadow Isles, all right, with Hecarim and Thresh at the head. You can all thank your lucky stars Mordekaiser and Yorick weren't with them, but it's bad enough without... and all the worlds said thank you when the summoners put an end to Nocturne."
Karma and Irelia exchanged a glance. Irelia gave a nod, blades dancing. With a sigh, Karma turned back to him. "We have discussed the situation at some length, and we feel that it would be unwise to act without further information. We need someone more... intimately acquainted... with the area."
"Now," he said, tilting up his hat to give her the full benefit of his keen eyed stare, "unless you've come across some knowledge of Yorrick's whereabouts that I don't have, which I sincerely doubt, I'm not likin' the sound of what you're suggesting. Karthus?"
Karma nodded. "I don't like it any more than you do, but Karthus split from the Shadow Isles. We need to to know why, and we need his help if he'll give it and if not..." Her eyes glittered like black diamonds, cold and hard. "If not, we need him out of the way. I would prefer a diplomatic solution, but there is no peace to be had in undeath."
"And I will go with you." Irelia stepped forward, her blades snapping together behind her and settling into a transportable arrangement onto her back.
"Not that I don't appreciate the offer, darlin'," he drawled, " but me an' Zhao barely made it here as it was, and I hear tell Karthus has taken up in the far side of the Voodoo Lands. I don't think either of us wants to find out what happens if I don't quite make it to the other side."
Sona finished her work with Xiao, who had fallen into a fitful sleep under the healing magic's power. She caught Fate's eye as the other Ionians debated the change to their plans and the etwahls' strings gave a plaintive, concerned trill. He had to grin at that, there was something so childlike and innocent about the way she expressed herself in raw emotions... "Don't you worry about me, Sona. I've been handling that old lich for years, and I dare say I've come up with a few tricks that'll catch him with his bony skull on backwards."
The sound of Irelia's raised voice drew his eye back to the discussion at hand. "He can't go alone! There's too few of us left- we can't afford to lose another."
"Even less so can we afford to lose two," Lee replied softly. "To know one's self is to know one's limits. If Fate says he must go alone, then he must go alone."
Eveyone but Lee jumped slightly as Karma snapped her fan shut with a sharp click. "Enough. The choice is his. He bears no allegiance to Ionia, and yet goes anyway, because we ask it; he may do this thing however he sees best, and we will trust his judgement on the matter."
"Mighty kind of you, miss." He gave her a brief tip of his hat. "And on that note, I am certainly not leaving tonight, and I doubt Zhao would thank us in the morning if we let him sleep crooked on his back all night. Back to the village, hmm?" A wall of unreadable faces flickered in the torchlight, staring at him, unblinking. He sighed. "Point is, if I'm going out to the Voodoo lands, I want to be roaringly drunk beforehand. It's the type of place enjoyed best with a hangover."
Irelia let out a low chuckle and gave a big stretch. "Now you're talking sense, gambler. I think we can arrange that." With a strength that belied her size, she scooped up the gently snoring spearman, letting one of the guards take his weapon, and together the group traced their way back through the night.
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