Chapter 5: For Whom the Owl Calls
A real mattress felt even better than he had imagined. Twisted Fate reluctantly opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. The events of the past few days returned to him in a blur, and he closed his eyes again for a brief moment and wished it was all some stupid nightmare. But it wasn’t, and he had to get up and get out of town before Tryndamere or worse, Graves, showed up to further ruin things for him.
Fate heaved himself out of bed and stretched. He still ached from the events of the past few days, but time and rest were already helping them heal more quickly. What little he’d left out around the room was quickly picked up and tossed back into his bag; it didn’t pay to make a mess and delay yourself if you had to pick everything up in a hurry. A light brown shirt, dark blue jeans, and the same black boots that he had worn yesterday. He was about to put the mask on his face once again when his bedroom door was suddenly unlocked and opened.
The maid who stood in the doorway looked from Fate’s face to the mask and dashed back down the hall. He swore and hurled the mask into his bag even as the sound of heavy-booted feet bore down on his room from the direction the maid had fled. A resounding clatter sounded behind Twisted Fate as he opened his window.
“Halt!” the lead border guard as he and his two comrades raised their bows to fire.
There was little time, but Twisted Fate was able to spot a place he could jump to without injuring himself, on the roof of a woodshed almost directly below his window. Arrows sailed over his head and thudded into the windowsill as he jumped to the shed below. The landing was hard but resulted in no injuries, and Fate jumped for the ground even as another volley of arrows thudded into the patch of roof he had been standing on just moments before.
“There he goes!” a group of barbarians on the ground spotted him around the inn’s front corner and began to give chase.
Twisted Fate made a mad dash for the woods, where he would be better shielded from the arrows they were firing at him. Behind him, the heavy thump of a horse’s hooves thundered through the din of his pursuers; Tryndamere was closing in. The forest loomed massive and green before him, and Twisted Fate was just about to reach the trees when a dark figure lunged at him from along the treeline.
The barbarian hurled a weighted net so that it unfurled over Twisted Fate’s path. Fate threw himself to the side in an attempt to dodge the net, and it hooked on his right boot before he could get out of range. He drew a gold-tinted card from his breast pocket and hurled it at the ground between himself and Tryndamere, who was only a few feet away. The impact released the card’s magic in an eye-smartingly brilliant, loud explosion.
Tryndamere’s horse skidded to a halt and reared back suddenly enough to nearly unseat his rider. It was all Tryndamere could do just to hold on while as his horse dropped back to the ground and thrashed its head, dazed and still disoriented from the explosion. The enchantments in Tryndamere’s armor had again saved him from the majority of the magic contained in Twisted Fate’s card, though there was still an annoying off-colored spot from looking at the explosion when it took place. Fate was already free again by the time Tryndamere spotted him, and he went on ahead as the man who had thrown the net tried to regain his senses.
Though Fate had managed to get a lead on Tryndamere and the men who followed him, the Barbarian King was slowly but surely gaining as the chase dragged on. Where Twisted Fate was a good sprinter, Tryndamere had him beat on endurance, and would easily catch up once Fate was tired enough. Other members of Tryndamere’s party were no doubt circling ahead to cut him off as well, and he kept his eyes and ears as alert as possible as he continued his mad dash through the forest.
A grand old oak tree loomed ahead, Twisted Fate’s senses were peaked and waiting for even the slightest—
—he was running past the grand oak when it whistled in out of nowhere and hit him. One of Ashe’s massive magic-laden arrows struck him square on the right shoulder and shattered, its icy mass wrapping around his body and the tree behind him—
—a sudden wave of vertigo greeted Twisted Fate as his mind returned to the present. He stumbled and tried to regain his speed, then instinctively threw himself to the far left side of the tree. A high, brief whistle sounded from the other side, followed by a resounding crash as Ashe’s arrow struck the place where Twisted Fate should have been.
Frost crept around the trunk of the tree as Fate regained his feet and dashed off again. He was astounded that was able to predict the arrow’s path—he’d always thought his cards were needed for any sort of precognition, even in the short-term. The immediate downside of this new ability was that what little magic he’d been able to replenish overnight was now gone. It was that much less to be used in his own defense, but he would’ve been caught otherwise. Now he needed to get somewhere safe so he could set up a Gate before he was completely dry.
The rustle of leaves above his head drew Twisted Fate’s attention, and he looked up to find one of Ashe’s pet hawks keeping pace with him. It screeched at him just as a volley of arrows pierced the canopy above and thudded into the ground several feet behind him. Their hungering frost spread almost to his heels as he ran, sending up a flurry of crackles as it abruptly formed and began to thaw. So Ashe couldn’t see him directly, but she was somehow using her hawk to gauge his location. He would have to fix that before her aim via such an indirect method improved.
Twisted Fate did his best to be discreet as he thumbed the lining of his breast pocket and glanced down to see what cards would be easiest to get to. A few of the blues were closest to the front, but they weren’t quite as effective in the normal world as they were on the Fields of Justice. He slipped his fingers behind the blue cards and pulled out a red one. It wouldn’t get the hawk off his tail permanently, but at least it would slow the bird down.
When he looked up for the hawk again it seemed to know that he was up to something and watched him warily from its position above his left shoulder. Simply hurling the card at the hawk probably wouldn’t work; it was moving too quickly and could very well dodge anything he managed to throw at it. Twisted Fate’s eyes flicked ahead to an incoming branch that extended above his path and the hawk’s level of flight. He smirked; that would do nicely.
At the exact moment that Twisted Fate passed below the branch, his hand flicked up in a blur and sent the card sailing toward it. Once it connected with the branch above, the card’s slowing enchantment spread along its length and dropped deep red tendrils of magic to block the hawk’s path.
The hawk let out an annoyed shriek as the magic brushed its wings and caused its flight speed to slow. It flapped in a frenzy as it struggled to regain altitude, but the sudden reduction in speed caused it to stall and its flapping only served to lessen the severity of its fall. As the hawk sailed toward the ground, another hail of arrows whistled through the forest canopy, this time just a few feet in front of Twisted Fate.
Ashe stood a good chance of getting lucky even without the hawk at this point, and Twisted Fate made an abrupt left turn in order to deviate from the path she might still expect of him. The forest floor started to slope upward, and Twisted Fate hoped it might lead him to an open ridge where he would be able to conjure a sight-guided Gate. After all, Gating to a place you could see was easier and took less magic, since he had to set up fewer safety parameters in the process of casting the spell.
Large moss-covered boulders broke through the loam as Twisted Fate continued upward. They complicated things by forcing him to climb over or go around them, but it was a good sign as far as he was concerned; that ridge might be fairly close with so many rocks around. A welcoming breeze caressed his face, herald to the open air that lay beyond. He could see blue sky and sunlight beyond the tree trunks ahead of him now, just a little farther and he might be able to get away cleanly this time.
Twisted Fate emerged from the trees and scouted the surrounding terrain. A hillside several miles below and to the south caught his eye, from there he could get to the Noxian border and finally be rid of Tryndamere and Ashe. At least Noxus didn’t know exactly where he was at the moment. Or rather, he hoped they didn’t.
Unseen in the forest behind him, two of Ashe’s hawks perched on branches, one on either side while their mistress lined up her shot. Twisted Fate completed his Gate—kept as inconspicuous as possible now of course—and stepped through, unaware of the enchanted arrow that now sped toward his back. His boots crunched on the dry grass of the hillside, and Twisted Fate began to breathe a sigh of relief as the Gate began to dissipate directly behind him.
The arrow had reached the Gate just after Twisted Fate passed through and entered just before it could completely dissipate. Though it was shredded by the ride through the spent Gate, the arrow arrived as a chilling shower of sleet and hard snow that struck Twisted Fate square between the shoulder blades. The arrow’s momentum was enough to knock him off his feet, bruising his upper back and soaking his clothes clean through.
Twisted Fate gasped at the sudden chill and slowly got back to his feet. The ice and snow slid off his back as he straightened, but the fierce cold remained. He shook himself in an attempt to warm up a little and made his way toward the cover of trees beyond the hill. The hawks would be searching soon, he had to keep moving.
After the hill stood another large forest, and Twisted Fate breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he passed under its verdant canopy. He hoped that Ashe's sight-bound hawks would be unable to locate him before he was closer to the border; the Freljord champions would avoid going into Noxian territory, if only to lessen the likelihood of Noxus getting its hands on him. With the shade came a more severe chill, however, and Twisted Fate quickly changed his shirt to avoid hypothermia. The dark blue shirt felt good against his cold skin, and the absence of the enchanted meltwater allowed him to start warming up again.
Just ten minutes of walking found Twisted Fate within two miles of the Noxus-Freljord border, and his spirits raised considerably. Soon he would be away from the Freljordans and their frost and their rage, and he would be able to stop running... If only for a little while.
The forest was pleasant now that he was dry, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Then it hit him; everything was too quiet, no birds or animals in the brush. Something had scared them off before he arrived, and that same something could be lurking behind any tree he passed, just waiting to spring on him when he was most vulnerable.
Twisted Fate stopped and searched the surrounding forest. As far as he could see, there was nothing around but trees and shrubs. He was about to move on when he noticed that his breath was visible, and that the air had become as cold as the first frost of winter. As his pulse rose to match his growing anxiety, Twisted Fate cast around again and this time tried to consciously activate the precognition ability he'd accidentally used earlier.
The growing crackle of fast-spreading frost filled his ears, but he could hear nothing else. Twisted Fate's head began to hurt from the effort, and he turned again to search the forest—
—his back was turned when they arrived. A massive creature, stout and covered in coarse hair, charged past quickly enough to be seen as only a blur. A tusk or horn opened a gash on his left arm, and the pale rider on its back seized him by the throat with one large hand—
—Twisted Fate turned in time to spot the boar and rider as they thundered toward him. There was little time to react, but he managed to throw himself to the side just as they passed.
Sejuani whirled atop Bristle's back and swung at the ground he landed on with her mace, but she was unable to properly follow up her attack as her boar’s momentum carried them deeper into the forest. Frost erupted in an arc around the impact and clutched at Twisted Fate's boots as he scrambled away. He dashed off in the opposite direction as Sejuani and Bristle turned to chase him down.
The trees were annoying obstacles for Sejuani and her boar, but ultimately they only slightly slowed her progress. There, almost in range. Sejuani lifted her mace and took aim at her quarry.
Twisted Fate ducked off to the left and into a thicket of trees just before Sejuani could throw her mace. The Winter's Wrath scowled and nudged Bristle around to the thicket that Twisted Fate had disappeared into. It was almost too close for Bristle to walk through, but he managed to move easily through the trees with surprising grace for a giant boar. Sejuani searched the tree branches while Bristle kept his eyes on the ground and tree trunks.
The pair found Twisted Fate in the branches of the thicket's tallest tree, near the edge of its far side. Sejuani drew Bristle to a halt at the base of the tree and glowered up at Twisted Fate. "It's over, scum. Get down here before I hurt you."
"No," Twisted Fate paused to glare down at Sejuani before making his way further up the tree. "I don't feel like bein' manhandled by you today."
"Humph," Sejuani shrugged her shoulders and nudged Bristle into backing up. "Fine, we’ll do this the hard way, then," she raised her mace as Bristle gave her room to swing, frigid magic crackling along its spiked length and driving the summer warmth from the surrounding air. With a resounding battle cry Sejuani slammed her mace into the trunk of the tree Twisted Fate was hiding in with a loud crack. The sound of the impact was followed by the creak of splintering wood; Sejuani’s attack had hit hard, but it was the explosive freeze that ultimately did the most damage.
The tree fell with a thunderous crash. Leaves shaken loose from its neighbors rained down around Sejuani and her boar as the pair made their way toward the tree’s crown, where Twisted Fate would be. There was no sign of him among the debris, however, and Sejuani began to worry that he'd somehow been able to escape.
Bristle continued around the tree's broken crown as Sejuani scanned the surrounding trees, alert for any movement or disturbed shrub that might give away her quarry's location. She looked down at the sound of an explosion and a brief squeal of surprise from Bristle, who had just stepped on a hidden gold card.
Twisted Fate left the cover of the fallen tree's branches at the sound of the gold card's activation and ran as quickly as he could toward the border while the pair were distracted. It would be slower going now, unfortunately; he'd injured his lower right leg when the tree fell, and it was already hampering his ability to run. He would need another Gate to get beyond Sejuani's reach, a tall order now that he was using up magic to plant card traps to slow her down.
A blue card sat at the front of his pocket, and Twisted Fate pulled it out along with a red card from deeper within the stack. Hopefully there would be some good pockets of magic around, blue cards never worked as well out here as they did on the Fields of Justice. Twisted Fate chucked the red card at a nearby tree root and focused on the blue card. A sudden sense of clarity rushed through his mind, and he looked up at the forest. No pockets of magic that he could see in this area.
Cold sweat pricked Twisted Fate's forehead as he continued on, blue card still in hand as he searched for a build up of magic that he could use before the card's clarity effect wore off. He was about to give up when he glanced at the boughs of a nearby tree and noticed an odd opalescent shimmer—the telltale sign that a large amount of ambient magic was present. Twisted Fate breathed a sigh of relief and tossed the blue card at the pocket of magic, which rippled slightly and flowed back down the card's path and into his body. It wasn't a permanent fix for spent power since it would dissipate within ten minutes of using the card out here, but it was far better than nothing.
Twisted Fate checked his position as he came to the crest of a hill and noted that he was still bound for the Freljord-Noxus border. Good, it meant he wouldn't have to change course and risk running into Sejuani, who was likely enjoying the series of traps he'd left for her. In fact, a sight-aligned Gate wouldn't be completely out of the question at the moment, and it would put him within a mile of his destination.
The Gate required another blue card—there happened to be a pocket of magic nearby—and Twisted Fate was on his way. He figured he had enough of a head start now that he could walk, since his leg was hurting him anyway and caused him to limp slightly. These forests were more active than the ones Sejuani had been thundering through earlier, and Twisted Fate even spotted a few of Freljord's bolder bird species flitting among the trees.
A familiar streak of brown fluttered past as Twisted Fate entered a clearing, and he looked up to find one of Ashe's hawks circling him. His eyes widened with surprise and he hurried through the clearing, but not quickly enough to avoid the arrow that came from above. The massive enchanted arrow slammed into the earth just behind him, close enough to entrap him in the ice's cold, grasping fingers. Ashe had angled it upward, as she had done with her volleys before, to avoid being hampered by the surrounding trees.
Twisted Fate let out a ragged gasp as the chill took him again and struggled against the ice that held him. It cracked slightly, but other than that his movements had no effect on his prison. Panic flooded in as the chill became worse, and Twisted Fate thrashed as much as he could with his limbs bound as they were. The attempt only served to tire him more on top of the low temperature. He drooped against the ice, his energy spent for the moment.
Now all he could do was wait for the ice to thaw enough to break, and he had no idea how long that would take. One thing was sure, though; Twisted Fate would have to escape before Ashe and Tryndamere spotted him, otherwise there would be no hiding from the Frost Archer's superb aim.
The cold made Fate absolutely miserable as he waited. His thin body never did well in the cold, and soon his face became pale and his lips tinged with blue. He was about to try to break free again when Ashe's hawk began screeching in distress.
Sejuani had finally caught up.
"Well, lucky me," Sejuani's deep voice echoed through the clearing as she and Bristle emerged from the trees behind Twisted Fate.
Ashe's hawk was spread eagle on the trunk of a nearby tree, trapped against its trunk with Sejuani's frost magic. It screeched with displeasure, but was unable to move its head and look into the clearing to give Ashe a view of what was going on.
Twisted Fate surged against the ice again and cracked the part that held his torso. Ice shards clattered to the ground as he struggled now, even as Sejuani closed in behind him.
Bristle sauntered through the clearing, reflecting how pleased his mistress felt. Sejuani ordered him to halt just behind Twisted Fate and lifted her shield.
The shield hit Twisted Fate full in the back, knocking the wind out of him and shattering the ice that held him. It was powerful enough of a blow to knock him flying, and the landing was rough enough to further daze him on top of what he'd experienced from being struck. Twisted Fate attempted to rise, and slumped back to the forest floor as he was overcome by the lingering effects of Sejuani's blow.
Sejuani was just nudging Bristle to step over the remains of Twisted Fate's icy prison when a brief whistle shrilled through the air. A loud crash followed directly after the cessation of the whistle's sound, and Sejuani let out a howl of rage as Ashe's arrow hit her dead on and held her in its icy clutches. Even as the ice solidified, it began to weaken as a result of Sejuani's own magic and Bristle's efforts to get free. She glared down at Twisted Fate, who had regained his senses and was getting to his feet again.
Twisted Fate was still aching from Sejuani's last attack, but he wasn't about to let that slow him down. The border was within running distance, he just had to get there before Sejuani caught up with him and he'd be safe from her.
By the time Sejuani got loose, Twisted Fate was out of her sight and well away from where she and Bristle were. The last of the ice crumbled, and Bristle shook himself to scatter the last pieces as Sejuani nudged him toward the edge of the clearing. Hopefully that injured leg had held Twisted Fate up enough that she could catch him.
Sejuani searched along the trail Twisted Fate had left behind, but he was long gone. Rage that had blazed hot in her chest now turned icy as Sejuani cursed Ashe for getting in her way. She was about to leave the forest's edge when a familiar voice called out to her.
"Sejuani, halt!" it was Ashe, seated on her pale steed with Tryndamere mounted on his own horse beside her.
The Winter's Wrath gave Ashe her most venomous glare. "I would've had him if you hadn't gotten in the way," Sejuani gestured violently at Ashe with her mace at the word you, making it plainly obvious that she was downright furious with what the Frost Archer had done.
Ashe's cool expression didn't change as Sejuani thundered at her, and in fact it seemed the larger woman's anger had no effect on her whatsoever. "If you wanted me to aim better, you should not have incapacitated my hawk."
The two women locked eyes for a few moments, but it was Sejuani who looked away first; it was like having a staring match with a glacier, trying to argue with Ashe. "Regardless, I'm going on ahead," Sejuani nudged Bristle, and the two began to move toward the forest edge again.
"If you follow him into Noxian territory you'll only tip them off to where he might be," Ashe sounded a little too patient, and the tone only served to annoy Sejuani all the more. "You don't want the Noxians getting their hands on that favor, do you?"
Sejuani growled deep in her throat and avoided Ashe's gaze. "No, I don't," she turned back to Ashe. "So what do you suggest, highness?"
"Why not create a fake trail?" Tryndamere surprised both of them when he spoke up, as he had been silent for the first part of the conversation. "If they already know we've been chasing him, we could make it look like he doubled back into Freljord. And if they don't, we can make it look like he came down into a different part of Noxus's territory."
Ashe smiled. "Excellent idea, Tryndamere."
"It'll look suspicious if we cooperate," Sejuani grumbled. She turned Bristle back toward the forest. "But I'll drop in to hassle you if we cross paths again," with those parting words the pair disappeared into the forest, leaving Ashe and her company alone at the border.
High above and unnoticed by any below, a vulture cruised the rising air currents and watched as Ashe and Tryndamere left as well. It had been watching the borders for hours now, and had only just arrived in this area. Such a stroke of good fortune, to find three leaders of Freljord in such an odd place. Such a thing meant the man it was searching for must be some miles south, in Noxian territory.
The vulture wheeled and caught a current that carried it higher before turning southwards and leaving the forests of Freljord far behind.
(Continued in next post.)
Ezreal reined in his horse as he approached the edge of the Dragonrock Forest and jumped down. The plants and trees were noted as being much larger than usual the closer one came to the magical site, and he could see that the ground cover was much bigger even at this distance. He led Venture over to a secluded clearing and tethered him with a long lead. The dappled grey horse was a present from George and had incredibly strong nerves for a herd animal, just what an energetic rider like Ezreal needed in a mount.
Humans very rarely entered these woods nowadays, and as a result Ezreal had only the game trails to follow. Compared to some of the expeditions he'd been on in the past, traversing this lush forest was incredibly easy. It was finding the Drakestone itself that would be the hard part. It was said that this magical object would actively foil attempts by travelers to reach it if they were deemed "unworthy". Whether these criteria were determined by an inanimate spell or a thinking entity was part of what Ezreal hoped to find out.
After half an hour of light hiking, Ezreal reached his destination. Even after the amazing sights he'd witnessed through the years, Ezreal still found room for amazement and delight at the scene that greeted him when he arrived.
The massive trees that ringed this huge clearing gave it the feel of a grand cathedral, their trunks like towering pillars and the afternoon sunlight tinted green by their leaves. In the center of the clearing lay the Drakestone, its edges and dragon-like form worn from many years spent out in the elements. A crystal clear pool lined with gray stone surrounded the remarkable monument on all sides, requiring any who wished to reach it to either wade across or find a way over. Lush grass covered the clearing's floor with a thick, dark green carpet that dulled the sound of Ezreal's boots as he set foot on it.
As he entered the clearing itself, a glint of light from the shade of a nearby caught Ezreal’s eye and he turned to see what it might be. Ezreal stared at the tree trunk for a moment, and the glint came again, flashing briefly in front of the tree trunk and several feet off the ground. He smiled; the ambient magic levels in this area were definitely high if they could visibly manifest like this. Now that he knew what to look for, he could see dozens of these glints flashing in the shade all around the clearing.
Ezreal continued to admire the glints of magic as he made his way deeper in. It was a relatively even distribution in this area, but on the other side of the Drakestone... The glints seemed to be non-existent in that part of the clearing. An interesting observation for sure, one that Ezreal decided to follow up on with an immediate investigation.
One brief walk later and Ezreal was entering the area he'd noticed earlier. The familiar hum of the magic was much quieter here, on top of the absence of the absence of the glints. Ezreal scanned the surrounding grass and found that it had been tread on recently, and further investigation revealed that all tracks led to and from the Drakestone. He followed the tracks to the edge of the clearing and beyond, where an abandoned campsite was found.
It was odd to see that a whole group had been here, since the gypsies associated with it had been wiped out and the site was now supposed to be completely abandoned. The oddity made him genuinely curious. That, and the fact that these visitors had somehow drained much of the magic from this side of the clearing.
Ezreal inspected the former campsite in finer detail, checking for any clue that might reveal the identity of the visitors. He finally came to the long-cold fire pit and what ashes remained in it. There were thin slips of charred paper, withered and black from the fire they'd been destroyed in. Perhaps they were not merely kindling, and Ezreal sorted through the ash to see if any unburned pieces might remain.
The search turned up three pieces of paper. They were damaged and no longer whole, but the characters written on them were still legible once the ash was dusted off. Ezreal removed a magnifying glass from a belt pouch and held the first piece in a patch of sunlight. Yes, the characters were easily visible on the parts that weren't charred, and whoever had written this was definitely using one of the gypsy dialects.
Three paper fragments written in a language that he was not fluent in. To Ezreal it was no real cause for frustration; after all, where would the fun be if everything was easy. He was poised on the edge of the unknown once again, just the place he loved to be.
Ezreal removed his current research log from his belt pouch and placed the three pieces on a blank page to keep them from being damaged on the way home. He closed the book carefully to avoid blowing them away, and strapped it shut with the belt that had been sewn into its cover. With that done, Ezreal rose, dusted his knees, and returned to the clearing.
The clearing was empty and calm as ever when Ezreal re-entered it, and he decided to start his investigation with the heart itself. Ezreal jogged to the edge of the pool and focused on shifting himself to the other side. The back of his left hand tingled briefly as the amulet in his glove reacted to his whim, and in a flash of light he was standing directly before the stone.
Now that he stood directly before it, Ezreal could truly appreciate how large the stone was. The head of the Drakestone was big, coming up to mid-thigh height and longer than it was tall. The rest of the body was even bigger, and Ezreal could still make out the shapes of the dragon's horns, its wings, and the tail that curled back around its body like a sleeping cat. It was made from hard gray stone and seemed to be carved from a single massive boulder.
Ezreal made his way around to the Drakestone's left flank for a closer inspection. Immediately several rows of characters were visible as Ezreal came around, again written in one of the gypsy languages. They were similar to those he'd seen on the papers recovered earlier, and Ezreal pulled out his journal again to confirm. Yes, they were similar, though the characters on the papers seemed more refined. It meant those on the stone were likely part of a much earlier dialect that gave rise to the newer one.
To think such a discovery was hidden practically in Piltover's backyard this whole time. The fact that this had been ignored for the sake of prejudice frustrated Ezreal to no end, and he silently promised himself that he would do what he could to make it right. And the gypsies... All facts suggested that there had recently been gypsies in the area, but why had they come back after all these years? Had they always been quietly coming in here? And that, exactly, were they up to? Ezreal closed the journal again and prepared to take a rubbing of the characters on the Drakestone for later study. The right flank yielded characters for rubbing as well.
It was progress for sure, and Ezreal would have a lot to think about once he got back to Piltover. As for decoding the rubbings and charred papers... That would take time, if he found a way to decipher them at all. He doubted that he would be able to find the group who had been here earlier, as they were long gone now and as far as he knew, lived in a different part of Valoran entirely. The whole issue required more research.
The sun had sunk to the tips of the Ironspike Mountains by the time Ezreal left the clearing. Gypsies were ridiculously hard to find these days since they largely kept to themselves and tended to avoid leaving traces of their presence behind. He would talk to George, see if he knew of any way to contact someone who could decipher what he found. George claimed to have found the gypsies before, after all. It would be a start, at least.
The forests of Noxus were more sparse and grim than those in Freljord, and the lengthening shadows cast by the setting sun only served to make it even more intimidating. Twisted Fate paused beside a large tree to catch his breath. He was several miles from the border now and hoped that he would come across a town with an inn soon. Disguising himself would be a snap once he got there, since he’d been on the move since the Sejuani fight and hadn’t taken the time to prepare a new disguise. His injured leg throbbed painfully, and Twisted Fate seated himself to try to ease it.
Really, such a thing was nothing compared to pain he had experienced in the past, though the fact that it was slowing him down and might cause lasting damage did have him worried. Something rustled the leaves above his head, loudly enough to make Twisted Fate jump with surprise and get to his feet. He looked up to find a large horned owl staring down at him, its eyes reflecting the glow of the sunset like golden lanterns. It was odd to see one out this early, and he wondered why this bird was even awake.
As Twisted Fate watched, the bird unfurled its wings and screeched his name. “Twisted Fate!” the owl’s massive golden eyes seemed to bore into him as it repeated his name.
Twisted Fate’s blood ran cold at the horrible sound. It was an old gypsy superstition, that those for whom the owl called would soon die. He believed it. There was no way an owl could ever make the sounds required to say his name otherwise.
It was hard to breathe. Twisted Fate scrambled away from the base of the tree and turned to run. A large root tripped him and he fell flat on his face as the owl called for him again, pouring fresh panic onto his already-frayed nerves. He had to get away, maybe if he couldn’t hear it the omen wouldn’t come true.
The owl screeched for Twisted Fate until he had disappeared into the distance, at which point it folded its wings and sat quietly for a moment. A strange quiver seized the bird, as if it were trying to stifle laughter. It suddenly threw its head back to face the darkening sky and let out a long, human-like laugh.
Oh how satisfying, to see him scurry away like the vermin he was. It was so ridiculous to think he still believed that gypsy nonsense after being banished so long ago. The owl lowered its head again as the laughter faded, and its eyes narrowed as it stared in the direction Twisted Fate had gone. Now to find Graves and tell him where the little pest was.
With a loud shriek the owl leapt from the branch and flew away, to the northeast where the smog-ridden skies of Zaun would be found. The Outlaw had probably finished dealing with Dr. Rath by now, and the thought of handing Twisted Fate over to the unscrupulous scientist made the owl giddy all over again. It would serve him right for getting mixed up with her, and once Rath had him, there was little chance that the Card Master would ever see the light of day again.
Chapter 6: The Hunter's Shadow
Summer nights in Zaun tended to cling to the skin like a sticky blanket, a direct result of the permanent smog layer that covered the city. Graves set the half-empty tumbler on the table before him and leaned back in his chair. He was seated in a modestly furnished room with a large open window that displayed the smog-clouded skyline of Zaun, taking a few minutes to review the terms given to him by Dr. Rath just a few hours before. They were favorable, to say the least. Twisted Fate would be kept as the scientist's prime test subject—a position that guaranteed a large helping of pain and misery—and Graves would receive the satisfaction of seeing his enemy suffer on top of whatever prizes Dr. Rath felt like giving him in return.
The Outlaw was skeptical about the luck magic business, though he couldn't deny that Twisted Fate seemed to possess a good amount of natural luck most of the time. All the same, Graves would be getting what he wanted. And that shapeshifter would, too...
Graves paused in his musings at the sound of fluttering wings, and he swept up his shotgun in one smooth movement to aim it at the currently-empty window. A large shadow appeared on the windowsill and screeched at him. Graves sighed as he turned away and lowered his gun; speak of the devil. "What d'ya want, Chimera?" he set the gun against his chair again and took another swig of his drink, but didn't turn to face the bird when he spoke. "Got somethin' worthwhile to talk about this time?" How annoying, and he hadn’t even opened that window so Chimera could come in. The room had just gotten so damn stuffy, Graves forgot what else might blow in with a little “fresh” air.
The bird gave voice to a wicked chuckle and ruffled its wings. "Just that Twisted Fate has entered Noxus through their border with Freljord. Thought you ought to know," his voice dripped with false sweetness; the shapeshifter was well aware of Graves's dislike for him, which only made him all the more fun to prod.
"Well I'll be," Graves appreciated the tip, not that he'd let Chimera to know. The shapeshifter gave him the creeps. "Y'want a medal er somethin'?" he turned back to his drink just in time to miss Chimera changing his form.
"Now now, Malcolm," there was a dull thump as Chimera’s body slid off the windowsill, followed by quiet taps and the occasional scuffle as he got his limbs in order. "I can't imagine why you dislike me so much," Chimera wore the form of a large black wolf when he stepped into Graves’s view again. He gave the Outlaw a toothy grin, "We are partners, aren't we?"
Graves remained surprisingly cool, all things considered. Compared to creatures like Cho’Gath and Nocturne, Chimera wasn’t all that horrible. Still, it was only in comparison; Chimera out of context managed to be creepy in a special way all his own. "Hatin’ the same guy doesn't make us partners," he swirled the contents of his tumbler. "And your reason fer hatin’ him isn't anywhere near as decent as mine."
"Oh yes, it's more petty than revenge for a betrayal, certainly," Chimera sidled over to Graves and seated himself beside the Outlaw's shotgun, which was propped up against his chair. "But that doesn't change the fact that we are working together now, does it?"
A grunt was the only reply Graves gave him. Chimera was a clever thief, Graves would have never gotten his hands on the case files if the shapeshifter hadn't approached him with a proposal, but there was something distinctly wrong with him. It was like Graves could smell the crazy rolling off him in waves, and he found himself wondering just how much he might be able to trust Chimera down the line.
“You’re not getting cold feet after talking to Rath, are you?” Chimera got to his feet and circled the table, having taken Graves’s silence as possible doubt in what they planned to do. “You still want to see Twisted Fate suffer, probably more than I do.”
“Naw, it’s not that. I was jus’ wonderin’ how someone as bat**** as you can still be alive,” Graves took a swig of his drink and set the empty tumbler on the table. “Then I remembered that we’re in Zaun and the whole damn place is run by crazies.”
Chimera threw his head back and let out a laugh that matched Graves’s impression of him perfectly. "So, when will you be setting out for Noxus? I admit that I am eager to help you catch the little rat, if you would have me," he gave Graves a mock bow, head lowered and right foreleg tucked slightly beneath him.
"I'm gonna head over there in the mornin'," Graves got to his feet, relieved to have packing as an excuse to get away from the psychotic shapeshifter. "Got a town name I can go on rather than just some vague directions?"
"The closest town should have been Stornwick, you might be able to reach him before he can leave the area if you hurry," Chimera grinned and made his way to the window.
Graves averted his eyes from Chimera's transformation; the first time he'd seen it, the process had been disgusting enough to almost make him physically sick. "See you there," he hefted his shotgun in one hand and left the room by way of a side door.
Chimera had once again taken the shape of a large owl, and he lingered on the sill for a few moments before he turned and flew off into the city. Now that Graves was on the hunt, he wanted to see if his little trail of breadcrumbs had attracted the woman he was waiting for. He knew she would start at the newspaper that published the leak first and work her way backward, it was the most logical thing to do, after all.
The building that housed the Central Zaun Times was quiet at this hour, but a few late-shift workers still remained in case a story happened to take place. Chimera took the form of a minor reporter whose identity he'd created for a few previous jobs and walked inside. The night guard seated behind the front desk gave him one glance and waved him through, then returned to the magazine he was reading. Late-night calls weren't at all unusual for this particular reporter.
Sure enough, there was a note on his desk stating that a man claiming to be an aspiring reporter had visited and asked about the Twisted Fate story. Chimera smiled; so Caitlyn was going for the male disguises to better keep people off her tail. Her skill with undercover work was certainly something to be admired, but he knew her methods and habits all too well by now. Since she came through earlier that day, it was a sure bet that she had already found the address associated with this particular identity and scouted it out at the very least.
Out of the building and into the form of an owl once again; he wanted to get to the house before her scent faded, and flying was the fastest way to go in the tangled streets of Zaun. He lifted off, and the name of the city-state faded as if carried away on the wind from his wings. What was the name of this place...? He still knew where to go, what it looked like from the air, but the name eluded him. Chimera landed on the roof of the house, silent as a shadow, and peered into the street and alleys below.
All was still at this late hour, with the majority of the noise coming from the busier main streets. He dropped into one of the alleys beside his house, the deep shadows hiding his transformation into a sharp-nosed bloodhound. The name of the man he'd just spoken with dropped from his ear and faded into the grime-covered street. It was important, but what was the man's name...?
There were a myriad of scents in this alley, of refuse and the strays that passed through here. But there, the scent he was looking for. It was faint, masked by other smells, but it was her scent: gunpowder and tea, with the barest hint of cooking spices. Chimera's entire body shuddered, his canine lips loosened and hung from his lower jaw as he formed a maddened grin. Thin drool pooled behind his front teeth and trickled through the gaps between, further pushed on its way by the gust of his breath. Yes, she was here, he would see her again. His heartbeat quickened considerably as his hair stood on end. Everything would be better once he saw her.
Chimera kept to the shadows as he trailed the scent through the darkened streets. No need to allow himself to be readily noticed, after all. Dr. Mundo had been an annoyance several times in the past and he wasn't eager to deal with the purple behemoth at the moment. He followed the scent for several miles of street before finally coming to a halt before a seedy boarding house.
So Caitlyn was trying to keep to the shadows as much as possible, too. It was a good plan, since this kind of establishment didn’t ask many questions about its patrons as long as they could pay. Chimera slipped into a nearby alley where he shifted yet again, his body shrinking to the form of a cat. The name of the man he now hated slid from his eyes and dissolved into nothing as they fell. Well, the name didn’t matter anyway as long as the man was disposed of... He jumped lightly onto the fire escape and began checking the windows.
Caitlyn was in a room on the top floor, her back turned to the open window as she sat on the small bed and cleaned one of her handguns. Her window was open in a futile attempt to make her room a little cooler, which gave Chimera the perfect place to spy. She was quick, concise and tidy even in her movements, probably on high alert as well since she was deep in hostile—
The sniper whirled toward the window, a gun she had hidden under the sheets beside her in her hand and ready to fire. Caitlyn kept the gun trained on the empty windowsill for a few moments, then let out a small sigh and turned back to her work.
—territory. Chimera inched out of his hiding place, almost completely silent. Yes, she was more alert than usual at the moment. He kept to the edge of the windowsill as he settled back in to watch Caitlyn.
The faraway din of the inner city gradually faded from Chimera’s awareness as he watched Caitlyn. Clarity returned at the mere sight of her. It felt good, like he stood on stable ground once again after spending so much time wading through muck. Such stability seemed hard to come by these days, especially with Caitlyn so distracted with Twisted Fate. Yes, that was his name. Damn that man, he would pay for catching her eye, the little worm.
Hah, worm... That was what Chimera had been before he was gifted with this wonderful power. Dr. Rath was truly a genius even in what he didn't intend to do. Those super soldiers he was contracted to create were a complete failure, and the government hadn’t realized what a boon Chimera could be until after he escaped. The fools.
Chimera half-closed his eyes, the very picture of feline contentment as he watched Caitlyn reassemble the gun. The power was marvelous, but he kept... Losing pieces... Every day Chimera had felt his mind slipping further and further away, despite the ever-growing heists for his biggest client, and then she appeared. Caitlyn. The first opponent to ever keep up with him in the slightest sense, and the sole source of this wonderful clarity. It was only while he sparred with Caitlyn that he felt most alive.
Caitlyn snapped the last piece of the gun into place and set it on the bedside table. Chimera just managed to duck out of sight as she cast another glance toward the open window, and he listened to her close it with a loud creak of the hinges from his hiding place on the fire escape. She had gone from the main room by the time he returned to watch, probably to clean herself up after a long day in such a filthy city.
Yes, Caitlyn was key. It already felt harder to think while she was out of his sight. She was beautiful, strong, intelligent, deadly, all traits to be desired in a worthy opponent. He had kept up with smaller, random heists once his main contract was finished, and Caitlyn kept up with him, even managed to foil his attempt a few times. It was wonderful when he had her full attention, when she slaved over the clues he left behind long into the small hours of the night.
But then Twisted Fate came along, and suddenly Chimera became... Less important. Chimera couldn’t take being shoved aside like that, to see how interested she became in Twisted Fate. The shapeshifter lashed his tail in annoyance. Fate would have to be taken care of, so Caitlyn could get back to worrying about the things that mattered, like Chimera. He needed to come up with what he would steal next, but first...
Chimera cast his gaze toward the rooftops, the smog layer that reflected the city’s light. He wondered how far out of Zaun Graves might be at this point, and whether the Outlaw would be able to locate Twisted Fate before the Card Master moved on. One thing was certain, though. If things were to go back to the way they had been, Twisted Fate would have to be removed from the picture. Permanently.
Twisted Fate paused to lean against a tree after checking its branches thoroughly for any more owls. That damn bird still had him rattled, and he couldn't manage to convince himself that he somehow misheard it. He hadn't found a town that satisfied him, either, since he was still so on-edge. The one he passed about an hour ago seemed too busy, too many guards walking around. So here he was, still traipsing through the wilderness during the extreme early hours of the morning. Not that he would be able to sleep after the incident with the owl...
The light cast by the waning moon's imperfect circle was enough to walk by, but it robbed the landscape of color, made certain shapes indistinct. It did nothing to calm him down, and Twisted Fate often found himself doing double takes on shrubs and trees that looked suspicious due to the pale light. The various nocturnal creatures going about their usual business didn't help at all, either.
Something big shifted the underbrush just ten feet behind Twisted Fate, making him jump and whirl in an attempt to see what it might be. Even the creatures in the surrounding brush quieted down, as if watching to see what would happen next. Twisted Fate's heart pounded in his ears as he blindly drew a card and put his back to the tree he had been leaning against. Predator or enemy, either way it didn't sound good.
Silence hung around him like a suffocating fog, and Twisted Fate felt he might snap long before whatever else was out there made a move. His breaths were shallow, as quiet as possible to avoid giving himself away. Just as he considered hurling a few cards into the surrounding shrubs to startle whatever it was, the bushes to his right thrashed suddenly as something large moved through them.
Twisted Fate jumped at the sudden explosion of noise and hurled the card he held at the source of the noise. As his arm swung back to finish the arc of his throw, something whistled out of the darkness and pinned his forearm to the tree behind him. It was a crossbow bolt, but it didn't come from some no-name hunter's weapon. No, the horrible wracking ache that this type of ammo caused, it was due to its enchantments interfering with the magic that flowed through his body. That special pain pointed to one person, someone he'd faced several times before on the Fields of Justice.
Vayne. The Night Hunter was here, and she already had him snared. Twisted Fate’s free hand darted toward the bolt, but he only had the time to wrap his fingers around it before a second bolt pinned that arm to the tree as well. Escape was out of the question now, with both arms pinned and the bolts wreaking havoc with his magic. He tried tugging against the bolts, and stopped when he felt the tendons and muscles in his arm start to tear.
A large shadow burst out of the bushes to his left and rushed forward, and Twisted Fate’s head snapped up immediately at the flurry of movement. Pale moonlight glinted off red glass, played across frosted silver metal, and flashed around the edges of the massive bolt’s tip. Vayne’s control was uncanny, as she stopped directly in front of Twisted Fate without another movement, sticking the landing perfectly. The point of the crossbow bolt hovered mere inches from Fate’s face, firm and unmoving.
Twisted Fate stopped breathing, for fear that even the slightest movement might provoke Vayne into firing that lethal crossbow bolt. He stood transfixed by the glint of Vayne’s red glasses as his heart pounded painfully against his ribcage. There would be no escape, only whatever painful death Vayne had in mind for him.
Chapter 7: A Dark and Lonely Dream
This was it. His life was about to end, it would take only the breadth of a moment, the slightest twitch of Vayne's finger on that lethal crossbow. Twisted Fate wanted to close his eyes, but it was hard to move, hard to even breathe. It was difficult to comprehend, that soon he would see what lay on the other side of death, and he didn't even have the hope that most of his family might be waiting for him there.
Vayne's head tilted forward ever so slightly, and the moonlight fell through the right lense of her glasses to reveal her eye. It was fixed on Twisted Fate, steady and unmoving, as she slowly lowered her crossbow and straightened. Her movements were slow and smooth, as if she were working with a skittish animal. It was somewhat true.
With the imminent threat of having his head impaled by the crossbow removed, Twisted Fate slumped back against the tree he was pinned to and slid down until he was resting on his knees. Tonight had not been a good night for his nerves. Hell, it hadn't been a good day with Tryndamere and the rest chasing him earlier. He didn't know how many more surprises he would be able to take.
"You're not out of the woods yet," Vayne had sensed his relief and decided to be brutally honest with him. Her eyes remained fixed on Twisted Fate as she slipped her hand into a belt pouch, not that he was in any position to really do anything at the moment. The movements of her hand stopped as her fingers found whatever she was searching for. Something flashed pale gold in the moonlight as Vayne drew it from the pouch. It was an amulet, its chain made from finely-wrought gold, and the pendant created from dark blue stones set within the circle. She settled the amulet over Twisted Fate’s head and let it hang freely around his neck, then knelt down to eye level with him, arm-mounted crossbow at the ready. “Now, are you working with your brother?”
“No,” the word came too quickly to Twisted Fate’s lips, as if something were extracting the answer from him. So that was what the amulet was for...
“Are you working against him?”
“If you mean the animaturge, then yes,” a cold anger settled over the fear, numbing it and removing some of the apprehension over what Vayne might do to him. “My brother died before the massacre even took place, because that dark mage got him before going after the rest of us.”
Vayne nodded and got to her feet. “Let’s move to a more secure location before we speak any further,” she removed a small blade from a belt pouch, its surface engraved with faintly-glowing runes and symbols. "This will hurt, so bear with me," Vayne bent down and laid her free hand on Twisted Fate's left arm, which would have to be moved to free the other. She slid his forearm along the shaft of the bolt just enough to leave her room to use the knife.
Twisted Fate inhaled sharply at the renewed pain of the bolt pulling at his wound, but remained silent as Vayne did her work.
Once she had room, Vayne slid the dull blade of the knife over the exposed shaft of the bolt. The magic contained within the blade severed the bolt cleanly, and she lifted Twisted Fate's left arm away from the tree in order to get at his other arm. Soon Fate was free of the tree, but still unable to use his teleportation magic due to the bolt piece lodged in each forearm. He glanced at Vayne, which did not pass by her unnoticed.
"It's to keep you from running out on me," she straightened, bolt tips and shafts in one hand, and gestured for Twisted Fate to follow. "Plus, it will be easier to properly remove them when I have the necessary supplies."
"Right..." Twisted Fate let out a nearly silent sigh, but said no more. Vayne had a point. Hopefully this safe place would be close, at least. He got to his feet, legs still somewhat shaky from nerves and pain. The constant pull from being hung on the tree was gone, though the exposed flesh at the edges of his wounds was sensitive to the cold night air.
Vayne led the way just two feet ahead of him, glinting with silver in patches of moonlight and nearly invisible in pools of shadow. It was easy to see why any dark mage with even a speck of sense would be wary of her; just knowing she was there in the first place was a chore. He was lucky she'd chosen to interrogate him a bit first rather than just killing him outright. Or perhaps... It wasn't so much luck as it was Vayne having an agenda of her own in regards to him.
Exhaustion crept in and settled over his senses, drowning out all but the loudest noises and causing his vision to blur slightly. He lagged behind as the walk wore on, as the adrenaline from Vayne's ambush faded and the effects of the injuries he'd acquired that day piled up. His leg still gave him pain, he would need to look at it more closely once they got to this "secure location" Vayne spoke of, on top of bandaging his arms. Shooting him was excessive but not surprising considering it was Vayne he was dealing with. She took her job very seriously.
Twisted Fate nearly drifted into a tree and just managed to correct himself in time. Though he avoided walking right into it, he still got close enough to jostle his right arm on its trunk. He hissed at the renewed pain and knelt there to rest his legs a bit.
"Will you make it?"
The Card Master looked up to find Vayne standing over him. "Yeah..." he got slowly to his feet, careful to move his arms as little as possible. Just moving the fingers caused additional pain, with the bolt pieces stuck between the two bones in each forearm. "You didn't really make it easy..."
"It's not much longer," Vayne turned and began to lead the way again, head turned just enough to make sure he was following her.
Within a few minutes the two arrived at a thick copse of trees and Vayne halted in front of the foremost. She turned toward the rest of the forest, scanned the trees for any threats, and returned her attention to the tree. Vayne knelt briefly before the large oak, again lost in a deep shadow that prevented Fate or anyone else from seeing what she was doing. When she stood again, a large hole yawned at the tree's base.
Vayne took Twisted Fate by the elbow and carefully led him down the hole. She could feel the exhaustion that weighed on his body as soon as she touched him, from the slight tremors that ran through his arm to the weary sluggishness of his pace. The tunnel was pitch black, and Twisted Fate was forced to rely on Vayne to guide him. She moved as easily in the dark as most did in a well-lit room. It was uncanny, and Twisted Fate found himself wondering whether it was by some magical device, or whether she had somehow managed to attune her eyesight to the dark.
The darkness made it difficult to determine the passage of time. Pain and exhaustion made every moment stretch on for an eternity, but finally his boots met level ground. Vayne released Fate’s arm and moved further into the room, leaving him isolated in the inky abyss. He strained his ears in attempt to hear where Vayne was, only to be greeted with what he perceived to be silence. The Night Hunter moved so quietly that those with normal hearing could not detect her.
Lights flared above and before him, shockingly brilliant after the darkness he'd been immersed in. Twisted Fate raised an arm to shield his eyes, overcompensated and smacked himself in the eye with his right forearm. He scowled at the renewed pain and his own clumsiness as he dropped the arm and tried to see into the room, still squinting against the sudden change in lighting.
It was spacious, about half the size of the hideaway he'd hidden himself in almost a week ago. Almost a week... Has it really been that long already? Vayne herself stood beside a small panel sunken into the earth wall of the room. Furnishings consisted of several tables, chairs, various cupboards set into the walls and a few that formed counters with their tops, a stove and oven, and what appeared to be equipment for cleaning or repairing various types of weaponry. Five tunnels on the room's far side led off into darkness, probably for sleeping spaces or lavatory. The air was pleasantly warm, and the earth tones of the furniture and walls gave the chamber a certain cozy feel. Cozy... Now that was a word Twisted Fate never thought he would be associating with anything to do with Vayne.
"What is this place?" Twisted Fate made his way over to the nearest chair and took a seat, this time more careful to mind his injured arms.
“We call them haunts,” Vayne went through the cabinets, removing various medical supplies and setting them on the counters above before shutting them again. "We use them as safe havens to hide and rest while on hunts or journeys," she unlatched the bottom of a cabinet and removed a large cold pack from a hidden ice chest beneath, then gathered the supplies in her arms and strode over to the table Twisted Fate was seated beside.
Twisted Fate remained silent as he watched her. Finally he would be rid of the bolts, though he figured that was guaranteed to be a painful ordeal in and of itself. His leg was hurting even worse now too, with a horrible stabbing ache that burned right next to his shin bone. He felt tense despite the anticipation; he was in a strange place with arms shot through with a crossbow bolt each with a witch hunter who was famous for showing no mercy on her missions. Despite her relative friendliness, it was difficult to trust her just yet, and Twisted Fate didn't give trust easily to begin with.
Vayne set the supplies on the table: bandages, flasks of potions and medicine, bindings for sprains, the cold pack, and the loose pieces of the bolts that were now stuck in Twisted Fate's arms. She set a thick white cloth on the table and went to the sink, scrubbing her hands several times over to ensure that they were clean. Hands washed, Vayne returned to the table and held out her hand to Fate, who gave her his left arm. With Fate's hand held firmly in her own to keep him from doing any unnecessary squirming, Vayne picked up a bolt tip and aligned it with the piece in his arm. Nothing happened, and she let out a quiet "tsk" and picked up the other. This time the two pieces connected with a quiet “schnik” and became a single shaft again. At the same moment, the constant magical ache in Fate's arm faded until it was no longer outmatching the plain pain of having been impaled by a crossbow bolt. It was a cunning piece of magic, one that would ensure that the bolts could be removed and reused later.
With the pieces connected, Vayne dripped the contents of one of the flasks over the wound, which began to numb immediately after the liquid made contact with Fate's skin. She then carefully removed the bolt, which slid easily out of Twisted Fate’s arm. The Card Master shivered with discomfort as his tendons and muscles tried to slip back into proper alignment. Blood seeped from the now-exposed flesh and soaked into the cloth as Vayne picked up a deep red flask and poured some of its contents into the injury.
The flesh began to knit itself back together mere seconds after the potion made contact. Twisted Fate's fingers twitched as the tendons and muscles repaired themselves and slipped back into their proper place. It was a bit unnerving to look at, but the anesthetic Vayne had applied earlier kept it from hurting.
Vayne did the same with Fate's other arm, and soon enough he was well on his way to making a full recovery in regards to the crossbow bolt injuries. Neither said a word during all of this, though Fate did his fair share of grimacing before the anesthetic kicked in. Now there was just his leg injury to deal with.
"Thanks," Fate removed his arms from the table and bent down to get a better look at his leg. Swelling made it difficult to get his boot off, and the right side of his calf sported a long, ugly bruise where a tree branch had hit him. He looked up to find Vayne pushing the cold pack and a thick cloth binding toward him.
"I noticed you limping earlier," she said simply.
Twisted Fate accepted the cold pack and wrapped it in a thin cloth from the medical supplies as Vayne got to her feet. Cool relief followed the initial chill when he applied it to his leg, and the bindings ensured that it would stay on until he chose to remove it. With that done, he propped his leg up on a nearby chair and looked around to see what Vayne was doing.
The heavy, mouth-watering smell of cooking meat filled the room as Vayne prepared a meal. She was quick and efficient with her movements, as sharp now as she was on the hunt. Fate found that her poise and obvious physical strength were more than a little intimidating up close.
Vayne turned her head just enough for him to glimpse the corner of her right eye, "I know you’re weary, but could you tell me about the massacre in detail?" She put a lid on the pan to allow the food to cook further and returned to the table. “There may yet be valuable information to glean from it.”
"Well, if that's what you want," Fate placed his bag on the table and reached inside. The book came to his hand almost instantly as he thought of it, though it was so wide he was forced to use both hands to get it through the bag’s mouth. It was bound in black leather, completely unadorned on the outside, and at the moment, it would greet the potential reader with nothing more than blank pages. Twisted Fate flipped to the inside cover and retrieved a pen from his bag as well. As Vayne watched, he quickly jotted down a single word and sat back as the fresh ink sank into the page. The book twitched, and its pages briefly rustled as if someone were thumbing through them. Fate turned the page to reveal that the next was filled with information written in a concise, steady hand, with notes in the margins as well. "Here, this is everything I've got," Fate slid the book over to Vayne and sat back in his chair. "Just close it again once you're done."
Vayne ran a finger along the edge of the book's cover, scanning the page before her eyes flicked up to Twisted Fate's face. "These are very rare books, where did you get this?" there was an edge of warning to her voice; if he'd stolen it, he would regret it.
"Got it from an antique shop in Zaun," Twisted Fate held up his hands to show he had nothing to hide. "I didn't ask where it came from."
The Night Hunter's eyes flicked to the amulet that Twisted Fate still wore, then dropped back to the book. She believed him. "These books are typically made and used by witch hunters. I would be very interested to meet this antique shop owner once this is all over," Vayne left the book and got to her feet to tend to the food again.
Twisted Fate drifted between sleep and consciousness while Vayne was occupied. A confusion of images and sounds slipped past him until the hard snap of ceramic plate against tabletop brought him back to reality. The plate was filled with beef, carrots and potatoes, and thankfully it was a smaller portion than usual; Vayne had realized that Fate wanted to spend as little time on eating as possible and just get to sleep already. He felt as if he might nod off at any moment, even as he began to eat.
In the end, Twisted Fate was only able to finish two thirds of the food before his face started drifting dangerously close to the plate. He rubbed his face in an attempt to get himself to wake up a bit more, but Vayne interrupted him.
"Drink this and get some sleep," she poured a shot glass worth of dark green liquid from the final medicine flask and passed it to him. "This uses the body's energy as well as the magic stored within it to heal you, so at least you managed to eat something before resting for the night," Vayne almost seemed miffed that Twisted Fate had been unable to finish the meal, though he didn't immediately jump to the conclusion that it was because she liked cooking; if he had to guess, it would be the waste of food stores that she might very well have to replenish herself before she left the area.
"This tastes really bad, doesn't it?" Fate eyed the medicine with suspicion, then downed it in a single gulp. The awful flavor took a few moments to catch up with him, carrying with it the essence of moldy cheese drowned in pureed dead rat. Twisted Fate tried to keep himself from coughing for the sake of politeness and failed miserably.
The ghost of a smile hovered about Vayne's lips at the sight, "So what does it taste like for you?"
Fate coughed again and resisted the urge to wipe his tongue on the napkin beside his plate. "What you'd imagine Twitch would taste like," he winced as he did his best to shove any additional thoughts about the Plague Rat out of his head; the sentient rodent's smell was so unique and awful that just remembering his existence would conjure its phantom duplicate in your nose. “What does it taste like for you?”
Vayne looked up from the book again and regarded Fate very seriously. “Dog log,” she said, face straight as the crossbow bolts she dispatched her enemies with.
It took Twisted Fate a few moments to figure out what Vayne meant by that statement, and the sheer surprise at hearing such a thing from her made him burst out laughing. He tried to stifle himself incase Vayne took offense to his laughter, but when he looked up she seemed as unperturbed as ever. Fate decided to take a little chance, "So how do you know?"
"I don't, I'm trying to get you to relax," she paused. "A friend told me that it makes things a little easier when your ally isn't so intimidated by you."
Ally, huh? Well, at least he was in the clear in that respect... "Pretty good advice," he added, in the hopes that she might tell him who she considered a "friend". It was a word that seemed too close for someone like Vayne to use, and one she wouldn't use lightly.
"Yes, it is."
No dice, not that he was going to complain. Twisted Fate unwrapped his leg, which was feeling better for the time with the ice pack, and set the wrappings and thawed pack on the tabletop beside his plate. The laugh had gone a long way to relieving his tension over being around Vayne, and the pain from his injuries was at a pleasant minimum compared to what they were earlier. He got to his feet, boot in hand, and began to make his way over to the far wall with its five tunnels.
“You should take the amulet off, by the way,” Vayne looked up from the book again as Twisted Fate passed her on the other side of the table.
Fate stopped and looked down at his chest. He had honestly forgotten that the amulet was still on him, and he quickly slipped it up and over his head with his free hand and set it on the table. Vayne returned to the book once the amulet was on the table, and Fate continued on to the far wall without interruption. "So which one of these do I use?"
"The far right. The one just to the left of it is the lavatory," Vayne didn't look up when she spoke, already heavily absorbed in what she was reading.
Twisted Fate made his way down the passage, still limping slightly despite the reduced pain in his leg. The tunnel was dim and stretched on for about six feet before it ended in a solid wooden door, which opened into a fair-sized room with a bed, chest, and table and chair set. There was also a small sink set into its left-hand wall, where those staying in the room could wash up and clean their teeth. Fate prepared for bed as quickly as he could and gratefully slipped under the covers.
Sleep came quickly, leaving Twisted Fate only enough time to realise that he had only put off talking about the massacre for a single night. Vayne would still press for more information tomorrow, even with the journal to satiate her for now. A sharp pang of sadness arced through his mind as the medicine and his own exhaustion dragged him into a deep slumber.
(Continued in next post.)
This forest was familiar to him.
Fate brushed his fingers against the smooth, rolling bark of an aspen as he made his way forward. This aspen and its neighbors were strong, green, tall and proud, trees that would make any onlooker roll his or her head back just to appreciate their beauty. The tree dropped a few leaves on his hat, and the rustle of its branches sounded like a greeting to an old friend.
But something was wrong with the stretch of forest that lay before him.
The trees that rose here were dead or dying, shedding their brown, crackling leaves like a dark and malevolent rain. This wasn’t the natural near-death that the forest experienced in preparation for winter, no turning of a cycle. It was wretched, unnatural. Dead leaves crunched beneath his boots, almost deafening to his ears after the muffled loam of the forest behind him. Fate cast a glance behind himself, and saw that the aspen he had stood below just moments before was in the process of dying as well. Even the greener leaves that the tree had just shed on him were withering.
Whatever the source of this misery, it was spreading quickly. So just what lay at its center, exactly? Irresistible curiosity drove him forward, through the dying forest and the countless falling leaves. A low, quiet foreboding gnawed at the back of his mind, but it was just quiet enough to allow him to continue forward.
A thick hedge of dead bushes blocked his path, stretching endlessly off to either side as far as he could see. Even with all their leaves gone, the branches alone were enough to completely obscure the other side. Forward would do as well as any other path; Twisted Fate shoved his way through the bushes. They caught and scratched at him like animate creatures, drawing lines of burning fire along his cheeks and hands, even digging through his clothing to get at the skin beneath in some places.
The end of the hedge was abrupt, the sudden loss of resistance causing Fate to stumble as he reached the other side. What lay on the deadened leaves just before him now was enough to generate a shock so powerful it felt as if he’d been struck.
Honavir of Coyote, father of Twisted Fate and Shorokay. He lay sprawled on the forest floor where someone had carelessly thrown his body, blood from the vicious slash on his neck pooling around his dark head in a morbid halo. His skin had lost almost all color, the warm golden brown replaced by frigid ashen white. The precious heirloom coat he’d always worn was gone, taken by one of the attackers, and the four element staffs that could have saved his life left at home for this journey. That he not bring those staffs was part of the agreement, what Honavir stated would bring better times for them. And they killed him for it. He tried to make peace, and they killed him.
Grief pressed in on Twisted Fate’s throat, chest, the corners of his eyes like dozens of tiny knives. There were no words. His hands shook as he held them out toward his father’s body, as he drew closer in the hope that maybe, maybe he was still somehow alive.
But Honavir’s body was cold to the touch. Cold enough to drain the life from the surrounding forest. The deep red of his blood ran smoothly into the black of dead leaves. Honavir was long gone.
Fate knelt beside his father now, the blood that flowed slowly around his kneecaps so icy it was painful to the touch. He reached down, tried to get his hand behind his father’s head, through the long black hair soaked in freezing blood. If he could move him somewhere better, to a place where he could be given a proper burial, one worthy of their protector, his father... But Honavir was stuck fast, even his hair was immovable. Twisted Fate scratched at the earth just below the frozen locks, pushed against it. His left hand slipped, and suddenly he was up to his elbow in blood, as the ground dropped off sharply into a frigid, wet abyss just inches from Honavir’s head.
The cold burned ever more fiercely now, and Fate gasped at the pain as he whipped his arm out of the pool and cradled it against his chest. He curled his body around the forearm, trying to warm it as quickly as possible, to stop the horrible pain it gave him. His body heat did nothing to help, and the cold began to spread from his arm and knees, slow and excruciating as it wormed its way into every part of his body.
It was far colder than anything he had ever experienced before. His skin felt cracked in dozens of places, his body frigid enough that it might shatter if he made a wrong move. Breaths came in short, pained gasps as the biting chill continued to steal all heat from his body. He felt empty, like an abandoned shell. Lost. Sad beyond all imagining. And there was another feeling there, bubbling up to fill the void inside, but somehow leaving him more empty than before.
Outsiders. Twisted Fate raised his head slowly and grit his teeth in anger. It was their fault, every one of them was guilty for his father’s death. Those who carried out the murder. Those who sat by and let it happen. Those who stood ignorant, willing or not, of what had taken place. They would all pay for this.
A splash of color flitted through the bleak landscape, just at the edge of his vision. Deep brown, with patterned highlights of turquoise, bright red, golden yellow...
So that was where they’d gotten off to. Fate rose to his feet, breaths deepening in rage despite the constant pain. The shadow that held Honavir’s precious coat in its arms paused beside a dead tree and seemed to look back, then continued on at a run. His body still felt fragile from the cold, but he didn’t care anymore. He would break himself if that was what it took to kill them.
Twisted Fate dashed after the shadow, long strides eating up the distance between them with surprising speed. Swift, painful. Agony jolted up each leg as it made contact with the ground, each step felt like it might shatter him then and there, but it became easier and easier. Soon he could no longer feel the pain, and he was catching up. Only a few more strides and he would lay hands on the wretch who dared to even touch his father’s coat.
The figure suddenly rose in a flying leap, but Fate was going too fast to jump in time as well. A deep ravine yawned beneath his feet, and the momentum of his charge carried him headlong into it. His landing was painful, and it jolted him out of his train of thought, allowed despair to close in once again. The ravine seemed to grow darker around him as a deep ache filled his chest. He felt weak, the ravine walls were so steep... He would never get out now...
A familiar face appeared overhead at the rim of the ravine and smiled down at him. Sho. He was only sixteen when Twisted Fate last saw him, still in the process of growing into his adult face and with skin as dark as their father’s. Sho had come to help him up, just as he’d done so many times before...
Relief washed over Fate, though the darkness in the ravine continued to close in. He ignored it and reached for his brother’s hand. Just before their fingers could touch, something trickled from Sho’s hand and dripped onto Twisted Fate’s face.
It scalded him like boiling water, raising painful blisters the instant it touched his skin. He scrambled away as more fell from Sho’s hand and into the ravine. The liquid was deep red and steamed from its own heat, giving off the thick, coppery scent of fresh blood.
Sho’s smile remained frozen on his face as more of the scalding blood flowed over the side of the ravine like a stream. Twisted Fate pressed himself against the far wall in an attempt to escape it, but it rose too quickly and already came up to his knees. The wall was too steep to climb, and now it was so sheer that he couldn’t even get any hand holds to lift himself up.
The blood was up to the middles of his thighs as he broke for the area of the ravine that lay uphill. It was thicker than water, harder to move through. Fate struggled against the rising stream, tripped and was immersed up to his shoulders in the stuff before he managed to catch himself. Searing agony lanced through every part of his body and forced him to his feet again.
Despair was compounded by grief, shock and terror. He knew where the blood came from. Sho... The monster took Sho, killed their family, their mother... And now it was coming to get him, too.
Terror lent him additional speed as he cast about for a way to escape. He lifted his head and saw that the ravine walls were shorter ahead, where he would be able to jump and pull himself up to safety. The river of blood continued to rise around him, threatening to overwhelm him with pain at any moment.
Twisted Fate jumped, caught the ledge and pulled himself up. Steam still rose from the blood that clung to his clothes, and the heavy smell of it was stifling, but at last he was free of the scalding agony of the torrent that raged just below him. He pulled himself further away from the edge and collapsed. Sho had always been so strong, always been there to protect him or help when he needed it. The murder of their father left Sho weak from grief and anger, vulnerable to the intrigues of the animaturge, but Sho’s body wasn’t enough, and he came for the rest of the tribe soon after.
Hatred and anger flared again as the pain began to die down and the blisters faded. The outsiders again. It was their fault. If they had just left his father alone, kept their promise about the agreement, then none of this would have happened. Though the blisters were gone the pain lingered, sharp, pulsating, burning inside his bones and making it difficult to breathe from the intense heat.
A flutter of movement caught his eye, and Twisted Fate’s head snapped up. There stood the figure with his father’s coat, and there was another with it this time. It would be harder to fight two with just his bare hands— But then, he didn’t have just his bare hands anymore, did he?
No, he had magic now. Fate surged to his feet, and checked his belt for the pouch that held his cards, checked pockets for any he might have hidden away. The two figures dashed off at his sudden movement. Fine. He would get them sooner or later. It was only a matter of time.
There were cards in his vest pockets, but they were soaked through, completely useless. Something settled on one as he tried to find any that were still usable. It was black, and the shape... Like a spade. A withered aspen leaf.
Spades... His mind, his magic, liked the shapes and symbols associated with cards. Perhaps it came from the long years spent as a card shark and conman, maybe from some ironic connection with his luck, at the moment he didn’t care. All that mattered was the fact that he could use these.
Brilliant turquoise magic flared around the leaf, spread to the others that fell all around him. They stopped in the process of falling, shifted as the blue flame consumed them, and abruptly snapped into a rigid shape. There, dozens of tiny razor-sharp spades, just waiting to be thrown.
Twisted Fate tossed the spade in his hand up and caught it easily. It had good weight, though it was a bit small. It would be similar to throwing knives, ridiculously easy for someone who threw cards on a regular basis. Though these... They responded to his movements, followed him in the air like a living cloud. All the easier to use.
A fierce heat burned in his chest as he set off at a jog, the spades clustering around him and following like a swarm of glinting, razor-sharp flies. It made him feel stronger but... He still felt empty, like the fire was eating away at him from the inside, hollowing him out until there was nothing left. The thought vanished from his mind as he caught sight of the two shadows again.
They led him straight to another group of shadows. Hah. How fortunate. A group would be easier to take down in one shot with the spades. He allowed himself a grim smile and cast his right hand forward.
The cloud of spades instantly snapped their points toward the enemy and shot forward, shrieking as they cut through the air that separated them from the target. In an instant, it was over. The figures dropped as they were impaled by the spades and lay still as their blood stained the withered leaves of the forest floor.
Fate straightened and walked toward the crowd of bodies. No need to hurry now—
The heat was suddenly overwhelming, consuming any air he could get before it even reached his lungs. He fell to his knees and clutched at his chest, where this confounded heat was coming from. It was like trying to breathe boiling water. Twisted Fate fell forward and pressed his burning forehead against the ground in an attempt to cool himself. The heat subsided after a few moments and he could breathe again, though the burning pain still lingered.
Once the heat faded enough, Twisted Fate got to his feet and made his way to the bleeding shadows. Here, at the front, was the one who had his father's coat. At this distance he was able to see that they were wearing dark cloaks with hoods, which was why they appeared like shadows in the first place. Fate knelt and ripped the hood off the figure that even now clutched at the coat.
It was faceless. The face and head were a mass of indistinct shadow, too dark to make out any human features. Fine, at least it was dead now. He stood, kicked the body aside and picked up the coat, then moved on to the next.
Twisted Fate knelt beside the next shadow, removed its hood and recoiled in shock. This one did have a face, but... It was George's face, the face of the man who took him in and accepted him after his own kind turned him away. No, not George, he didn't mean to... George wasn't an enemy, he was a friend and now he...
The hungering cold began to close in again, accompanied by a choking tightness in his chest and throat. George treated him like a son, he was the closest thing Fate had to family after the massacre... Fear followed close behind as he looked at the other shadows that lay crumpled on the ground, where they had fallen as they died. Who else...?
He removed the hood of the next figure with hands that shook and found—Kera, a woman he loved in the past, who he'd wanted to settle down with before—
Something fluttered quietly behind him, like the wings of a hunting owl. It was followed by a near-silent creak...
The creak of a crossbow as it was being loaded.
"You said all of them were guilty."
Fate couldn't tell who said it. It didn't sound like his own voice, or like the voice of anyone he knew. But it was true, he'd thought that earlier, when it was his father's body he knelt beside. They were outsiders. They accepted him, loved him, did what his own people would not, and he killed them. He killed his friends along with the guilty, and that meant...
The creak of leather now as whoever it was standing behind him adjusted a boot or glove. He swallowed, and slowly turned.
Vayne stood over him, dark and imposing, like a patch of the night sky shot through with burning silver. The large crossbow she kept holstered on her back was now in her hands and aimed at his head. This again? It felt so familiar, but... Vayne’s red glasses were gone, and there was something wrong with her right eye. It was blind and clouded with blood, overflowing with it, the startling red hue brilliant against the pale skin of her cheek as it ran down her face.
The Night Hunter, shadow of vengeance, the dark arbiter who appeared out of nowhere to smite the wicked. She lowered the crossbow slightly, so that the bolt’s barbed tip hovered barely an inch from Twisted Fate’s right eye. Almost instantly the vision in the eye darkened until it was blind, and something wet seared its way down his face.
It startled him, and he raised a hand to his cheek to brush at the burning liquid before he realized what he was doing. The intense heat raised blisters on the tips of his fingers, as it was already doing on his face and his neck as it flowed through his beard. Vayne lowered the crossbow, this time aiming for his heart.
The blood of friend and enemy alike flowed cold around his knees, even as the blood that flowed from his blind eye and dripped from his face scalded the back of his right thigh. Such an extreme contrast was even more painful than either of the two sensations alone. Who knew how many others he cared about were among the bodies this time. Even if it were only one, it wouldn't be worth it...
Familiar, yes. And this time, he was the one who deserved it.
Twisted Fate closed his eyes and lowered his head as Vayne pulled the trigger...
...And woke to find himself in the dark little room he'd fallen asleep in just hours before. The bed sheets pressed on him with stifling heat, and he pushed them back to give himself a little air. His right leg felt stiff though completely free of pain, and Fate stretched it as he drew his legs out from under the mounded covers. Twisted Fate was dressed only in a pair of boxers, it being a warm night and the haunt having such a pleasant temperature, so he began to cool quickly. He tried not to think about the dream as he cooled off, though this proved almost impossible as its imagery quickly crept back into his mind the moment his attention lapsed.
It was so vivid, the sights and sensations came through so clearly even after he was awake, but he was sure that it wasn't a precognitive dream... Right? He could only glimpse the future through the use of his cards, not through dreams. Besides, it incorporated so much from his past, it didn't feel like something that was meant to tell him of the future. Fate told himself that it was a result of the deep anxieties he'd been feeling lately, on top of constant stress and maybe even the drug Vayne gave him before he went to sleep. Yes, that was it.
The events surrounding the massacre—and the murder of Twisted Fate's father just two months before—were naturally painful to think about, and he did his best to forget about them when he could. It had been easier to forget about his past in the old days, back when he had others to lean on... To have Caitlyn rip those old wounds open again during her investigations, on top of Vayne asking now, it was no surprise that he would be unable to escape thinking about it.
A light chill began to settle on Twisted Fate's body as he reached a more comfortable temperature. He slipped his feet under the mounded covers and rolled one of the sheets back up to his shoulders. Tomorrow he would have to face Vayne and her questions, and the inevitable pain of having to recall his suffering in detail.
Another thought struck Twisted Fate just as he was about to drift off to sleep again. He didn't always need his cards to get a glimpse of the future now. The short-term prediction he could do now, it didn’t require his cards, just a lot of magic and mental focus. What if he was developing other precognitive abilities he didn’t know about? The thought worried him, especially with how the dream ended... No, there was no way he would ever willingly turn on George and the others he truly cared about.
Was there...? No. No, stop thinking like that. Don't be ridiculous...
Yet another thought crept up to nip at him as he hovered on the edge of consciousness. Back in the day, he'd never thought he would have to betray Graves either...
A/N: Big thanks to Grand Viper for editing and helping me work out my ideas. This would not be possible without him!
I just found this story today and read the whole thing in one sitting!
It is simply wonderful. I don't know much about twisted fate and have never actually played the champion, but I am now so very attached to the character!
Amazing work KuzAnn, I look forward to future posts : )
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