A big thank you to Cheruhime for the bumbs! I'm so sorry it's been taking this long!
Chapter 8: Old Memories
No more dreams troubled Twisted Fate that night, or at least none worth remembering. When he woke hours later, he felt completely refreshed and unable to sleep any longer. He was grateful to Vayne for letting him sleep in, though that decision was likely influenced by her still working through the book he gave her last night rather than any sort of courtesy.
Twisted Fate washed up and picked out a fresh set of clothes to wear: jeans, a dark green shirt, and a windcutter style hat made of rich brown leather. He retrieved the belt with his card pouch and put it on, then slipped the bag into his back pocket. Vayne would be a welcome travel companion sure enough, but he still wanted to make sure he had enough cards in case something went wrong. Having to suffice with the smaller collections he could put in his pockets just wasn't cutting it. Now he would be traveling with both.
The main room of the haunt was lit when Twisted Fate poked his head out of the tunnel that led to his sleeping quarters. Vayne sat at the table as she had the night before, but it wasn't Vayne that caught his attention—it was the two Kinkou ninjas who stood beside her. Shen, and a ninja he didn't recognize, a woman dressed in form-fitting blue clothing of a paler shade than what the Eye of Twilight wore. Adrenaline shot through Fate's body like flame, and he instinctively began to set up a Gate.
Where are the other two?
In the instant that Twisted Fate wondered about Akali and Kennen, someone attacked him from behind. The series of blows came so quickly that they felt nearly instantaneous, striking Fate in the middle back and between the shoulder blades on either side of his spine, ending with a strike from the assailant's palm to the back of his head. Dizziness overwhelmed him as his knees buckled, and what magic he'd gathered for the Gate flowed away like water between his spread fingers.
A pair of strong, slim arms caught Fate before he hit the ground. His head fell forward as the momentum of his fall caught up. The motion shook his hat loose, and it fell to the floor with a quiet thop.
"Do not try that again," a woman's dry, quiet voice rasped in his ear. "I will hit you harder next time."
Akali set Twisted Fate on the floor and stood back while he tried to regain control of his limbs. He was limp but still able to feel his arms and legs, though it took nearly a minute to get them moving again. The Kinkou agents waited silently as Fate got himself in order, Akali and Kennen flanking him while Shen and the other ninja returned their attention to Fate's journal for the time being.
Twisted Fate looked up at Vayne, who was still seated at the table and reading the journal as though nothing interesting had just happened. "Vayne, why'd you let them in?" He felt honestly betrayed by this, since he had a bad feeling about what the Kinkou had in mind for him. "I thought you said we were allies."
"We are," Vayne slid the book toward the center of the table and turned to him. "The Kinkou aren't here to hurt you. They're here for information."
"Vayne has shared the information you gave to her with us," Shen added. "However, we will still be conducting our own investigation in order to confirm what she has told us."
So they still didn't believe that he wasn't working with the animaturge despite Vayne vouching for his innocence. Twisted Fate scooped his hat up with a sigh and sat back again. "Well, it's not like I'm going anywhere now," he tried to keep the annoyed edge out of his voice. No use offending his captors, after all.
Shen turned to the woman who stood beside him and nodded, then returned his attention to Twisted Fate. "Make yourself comfortable while we prepare," his voice held no warmth, nor malice, as he gave the order.
Akali nudged Twisted Fate to move, as he was blocking a clear space of floor that they would need. He got to his feet and walked over to Vayne while the Kinkou began to construct their spell array. The ninja he didn't recognize retrieved a piece of white chalk from a fold of her jacket and began to mark out the circle as the triumvirate looked on.
Twisted Fate put his hat back on and took a seat next to Vayne, who was again reading through his journal. "You couldn't have warned me or something?" he asked after watching her read for a few moments. "It would've saved me the heart attack I had seein' two killer ninjas in front a' me."
"I was a bit busy sharing information with our guests," Vayne pushed the book away again and turned to him. "Had I the time to tell you I would have done it."
A quiet grumble was all she received in reply as Twisted Fate got to his feet and made his way toward the lavatory.
The unknown ninja paused in her preparation and silently fell in behind Twisted Fate as he passed the beginnings of the magic circle. Without a word, her hand shot out and slapped a strip of paper covered in Ionian characters onto his upper back.
"What the—hey!" Twisted Fate spun once as he tried to get a glimpse of what she put there and tried to reach behind himself for it. "The hell is this thing for?"
"It will keep you from using your magic," the ninja replied simply. "Do not bother trying to take it off, the seal will stick to you until I remove it myself."
Twisted Fate grunted in discomfort and rolled his shoulders. The seal's effect on his magic made it feel like he was being smothered by a thick, itchy towel. "D'ya have to make it so uncomfortable?" he grumbled.
The ninja did not reply and returned to preparing the spell array as Twisted Fate continued to the tunnel that led to the lavatory. By the time he returned, she was nearly finished with her work and looked up at him when he paused beside the circle.
"Think you could take this thing off now?" Twisted Fate turned his back to her and jerked a thumb at the seal from over his shoulder. "Feels like I'm wearing itchy winter finery on a hot day."
"Very well," quick as a flash, the ninja snatched the seal from where it was stuck to Twisted Fate's back and returned to her work.
Twisted Fate rolled his shoulders again as the unpleasant sensation of the seal faded. It was a relief to be free of such an irritating feeling, especially since it went beyond just making him physically uncomfortable and disrupted his magic as well. He returned to the table Vayne was seated at and took a seat himself. "What time is it?" the question was meant as much for himself as it was for Vayne, and Fate retrieved a pocket watch from his bag and looked at the time: it was thirty-two minutes after noon. "Thanks for lettin' me sleep in," he tucked the watch into an empty shirt pocket and glanced at the group of Kinkou again. "So exactly how long have they been here?"
Vayne looked up from watching the Kinkou prepare the circle as she recalled her meeting with them earlier that day. "We met around dawn, when I was out hunting. They've been here ever since I got back."
"Wow," Twisted Fate gave her a short, humorless chuckle and propped his head on his upturned right hand. "You couldn't've woken me up and told me about it?"
"Would you have been able to sleep knowing they were here?"
"No," Fate dropped the subject. He was just grumbling for the sake of it at this point, partly in an attempt to relieve some of his tension and mostly because he was genuinely displeased with the situation. It would've been hard enough just telling Vayne what happened, now he would be reliving his most painful moments in front of a group audience. He let out a quiet sigh and watched as the Kinkou finished the array.
Shen inspected the magic circle, checking for any broken lines or misdrawn shapes. Once he was satisfied with his associate's work, he turned and approached the table. "The investigation will take several hours. If you are hungry you should eat now."
"Nah, not feelin' hungry," Twisted Fate replied. Nerves had reduced what hunger he'd felt upon leaving his room to an unpleasant feeling of nausea; he wouldn't be able to eat until this ordeal was over. "Ready when you are."
"Take a seat in the center of the circle," Shen swept his hand toward the circle and led the way.
Twisted Fate had just gotten to his feet when Vayne interrupted them, "You need three to maintain the spell, right?"
Shen stopped and turned to her, "That is correct. I take it that you would like to help support Twisted Fate while we use the spell?"
Vayne nodded, "Yes."
The Eye of Twilight paused for a brief moment, then nodded, "Very well." He glanced at Akali, who dipped her head in reply and made her way toward the haunt's entrance. "Akali will patrol the area while we perform the spell."
"Thank you," Vayne nodded at Shen in respect and got to her feet, then turned to Twisted Fate and gestured for him to continue to the spell circle.
Despite her intimidating demeanor and general coldness, Twisted Fate was glad that it would be Vayne acting as the support in the spell rather than Akali. While not as emotionless as Shen, Akali tended to be dismissive toward Twisted Fate during the rare occasions they met at the Institute, and he didn't like the idea of her judging his memories over his shoulder. Vayne seemed more likely to be sympathetic toward what happened to him in the past. After all, it was similar to the misfortune that befell her own family many years ago, wasn't it?
Twisted Fate paused at the edge of the circle and allowed his eyes to wander over the various runes and symbols within it. "So what'm I gonna do for this spell?" he already sounded tired, though he'd just woken up less than an hour ago and the spell had not yet begun.
"You will simply allow us to see into your memory, and help point us to the correct areas if you are capable," Shen seated himself within a smaller circle set at the bottom right corner of a large triangle. He then gestured for Twisted Fate to take a seat within a circle set inside the triangle itself, facing toward the side he was seated along.
The memory scribe seated herself on the same side of the triangle as Shen, in her own circle at the left hand corner of the triangle's bottom edge. Fate carefully stepped into the circle and settled in at the triangle's center as Shen had indicated, heatbeat slightly elevated from dread. This left the remaining space behind Twisted Fate open for Vayne, who seated herself as gracefully as the two Kinkou had.
Aquamarine magic flowed through the circle as the spell was activated, and for a moment Twisted Fate felt as though his mind were drifting away from his body. When he was able to refocus, he found himself standing with Shen, the memory scribe, and Vayne in the temporary dimension the spell created for the viewing of memories. It was made up of an indistinct fog of gray shades that floated, silent and frozen, all around them.
"When you are ready, we will begin," Shen was cool, as always. He waited patiently before Twisted Fate, as if they had all the time in the world to examine the memories.
"Alright," Fate steeled himself, and waited for Shen's instructions. Apprehension made him feel as if he stood on the edge of a steep abyss, preparing to take a step off the edge to begin the long, painful way down. He just wanted this to be over and done.
"Show us what you remember of your brother before the animaturge, so we may see how much he changed. Just think of the memory, and it will appear before us," Shen gestured toward the gray fog, which would supposedly change once a memory was brought up. "We will take it from there."
Twisted Fate let out a short sigh and tried to concentrate. It was difficult to consciously remember the vast majority of those good memories; the massacre was his clearest memory of that time, which was only because it was burned so severely into his mind that much of it refused to fade. The wretched thing would even bubble up from the depths of his subconscious to haunt him every now and then. He cast his mind back, to the time before the massacre, and tried to catch a glimpse of those happier days. He was rewarded with a strange sensation, as if something were being drawn from deep within his mind.
The first memory began with the sound of children at play, their light voices chattering in a language that neither Vayne nor the two Kinkou would have understood had they heard it with their ears. Thanks to the nature of the spell, the meaning of the words still came through strong and clear as long as the owner of the memory understood the language that had been spoken, a handy feature for sidestepping the language barrier. Patches of the gray fog rippled and began to jerk into place as their colors shifted, some more quickly than others as the scene was reconstructed around them.
A southwestern forest materialized around them, its trees overflowing with the dense green foliage of early summer. But something was wrong. Some sections of the landscape refused to take their proper shape and color, instead forming into large, ugly splotches of black that seemed to pull at the scenery around them. The sounds too seemed... Frayed, incomplete as the group focused on them. Sounds would suddenly cut off, then pick back up as if nothing had interrupted them in the first place.
"Master Shen," the memory scribe called the Eye's attention to one of the closest black splotches. "Do not touch these. They are damage done to this memory by repression, agitating them within this spell will only cause more damage to the whole."
Shen nodded, and turned to the focus of the scene. A boy of eight sat on a fallen log just out of sight of the group at play, his knees drawn up against his chest as he listened to them. He was thin, his skin pale and his eyes blue, unlike those that most of his kind possessed. The closest similarity to many of the other children was his black hair, cut to a length that fell just below his ear lobes. His clothes were a bit worn, but well made and detailed with various embroideries and beadwork in several bright colors.
A shadow drifted toward the boy, passing through a black blotted area as it went. It solidified as it stooped to look the boy in the eye, though its own face remained fuzzy and indistinct. Shen turned to the memory scribe, who nodded. All action and sound in the memory froze as the scribe fiddled with various threads of the spell, trying to bring the older boy's face to full clarity. With her fingers she traced runes and symbols in the air before her in that same aquamarine light, then swept them on into the spell with her open palms.
Twisted Fate flinched from the spell's modification as the older boy's face snapped into full clarity. It was a face he was able to recognize almost immediately: Sho, at the age of twelve. And that meant, the boy seated on the log...
"Yes, it is surprising that the disassociation with your past self is so severe," the scribe noted, as Twisted Fate stared down at his younger self with an expression of dull shock. "Your true name seems to be lost as well, I cannot detect it even with this spell," she glanced at him. "Are you able to recall it yourself anymore?"
"No," Twisted Fate looked up, his face grim, and took a step back from the boy. "I got rid of it a long time ago."
The scribe did not press him for further details, and instead allowed the memory to continue. Sho said something to his little brother, but the first part was cut off, devoured by the memory damage, and the group only managed to catch the last part of his sentence.
"—why aren't you playing with the others?" Sho settled a hand on his little brother's shoulder as he spoke, his face reflecting the concern in his voice as he addressed the young Fate.
Though Sho stood there before him, the young Fate avoided his eyes and didn't answer immediately. "They say they don' wanna get sick," he said finally. "They think I'm sick cuz of my skin, one said I wouldn't..." the boy swallowed hard and tucked his chin deeper behind his knees. "Said I wouldn't live to visit Buffalo again."
Sho's frown deepened. The sound faded again as Sho spoke and gestured for his brother to remain where he was while he dealt with the problem. He started off toward the direction that the sounds of the group were coming from and soon disappeared behind a stand of trees.
The memory was feeling more familiar now, and it roused a series of memory fragments, facts from his old life that he could remember again. While the adults of Buffalo were polite enough to Twisted Fate and his mother while they were present, it was obvious that they held a different sentiment while alone with their own families. The parents minded what they said in public, but the children were brutally honest. The weakness, they said. It was evident in the mother and younger son's pale skin and eyes, the fact that they had not survived for generations hunted by the invaders who had settled their lands. They were certain the younger brother would die somewhere along Coyote's long trek across the continent, how fortunate that the older brother showed none of the weakness that plagued his mother and sibling. Future survival was assured because of Sho's strength, while young Fate was nothing more than a short-lived distraction.
Twisted Fate became abruptly aware of the fact that his audience could hear him thinking, which caused him to shudder a bit from the realization. It was at once familiar and alien, similar to the summoners' ability to overhear a champion's thoughts during a match, but different in that this group had strolled straight past the mental barriers in place around these deeper memories. He decided already that this feeling was far less comfortable, he felt naked before them without his usual mask to hide behind. Facing Vayne once this was over might not be as easy as he first thought...
A few minutes passed, and young Fate had just begun to be plagued by agitated boredom when a shadow fell over him. A hand came into view before he could look up, followed by a simple statement from his brother: "Let's go."
Young Fate took his brother's hand and allowed him to tug him to his feet. Sho was mad, young Fate could tell simply by the tension in the hand that held his own. They were halfway back to camp when he looked up at his brother's face. Sho's eye had been blackened and he sported a few other bruises on his face and arms. Apparently the talk had not gone well. "Sho?" he asked, as they passed the edge of the forest.
"Hmm?" Sho glanced down at his little brother and slowed slightly to make sure he could keep up.
"Where did you go?" It was a stupid question, young Fate knew, but he couldn't come up with a better way to find out whether Sho might be a little angry with him as well.
"Just had a talk with the Buffalo kids," Sho's voice remained calm as they continued on. "They're nasty, and foolish. I don't want you hanging around them, they're not worth your time." The tension eased from Sho's hand slightly, and young Fate breathed an inner sigh of relief. So Sho wasn't mad at him, just mad at the Buffalo kids for how they treated him. Good.
Yeah, Sho was always like that... Twisted Fate mused as the memory began to fade. He remembered noticing later that the Buffalo boy who led the play group sported more than his fair share of bumps and bruises as well. The thought of Sho giving the boy a run for his money even brought a slight smile to the Card Master's face.
Again the sharp, painful longing for what once was surfaced from the depths to nip at him. It was more severe than usual now, typically he could recall brief snippets of memory with only dulled sadness, but this was a biting pain, able to disrupt his line of thinking and pull him into the depths of grief once again. Fate realized with a start that the spell was already starting to undo the dissociation and repression he'd worked at over the years to spare himself. The more he recalled, the more pain he would feel.
(Continued in next post)
"It is not time to think of that," Shen's cool voice interrupted him, and in response the longing sank back into the abyss to bide its time. Twisted Fate knew it would be back, there would be no stopping it now. He looked to Shen, who was still standing in the same spot as when the first memory began, and waited for what the Eye would request next.
Shen gave Fate a slight nod, to acknowledge his willingness to go on despite the pain, and continued, "Show us what magic Shorokay possessed before he became an animaturge, if any."
"Before he was consumed," the correction came from Twisted Fate before he could stop himself. There was no doubt in his mind that Sho had been overcome, and whatever monster that had come to inhabit his brother's body had consumed Sho along with everyone else.
The glowing slits that were Shen's eyes narrowed slightly, but the Eye of Twilight did not speak and waited for Twisted Fate to continue.
Twisted Fate turned away from Shen and concentrated again. His brother's magic... A memory leaped readily to the front of his mind, and the forest began to shift in shape and color until it formed the inside of a tent. Dammit... He could already feel more connected with this one, and his eyes wandered to the place where his younger self sat on the floor as the scene solidified around them. A background memory bubbled up in response to what he saw, its details privy to both Vayne and the two Kinkou.
Contrary to what most outsiders thought, "gypsy" tents were neither small, dirty, nor primitive, and held many of the simple comforts of a regular house. They were specially crafted and spelled to be larger on the inside than they appeared on the outside, and were able to keep out all but the most severe weather. A few low beds piled with blankets, tables, chests for keeping clothes in, but again there were blots of inky darkness that hung in certain areas. He and his brother were seated on the floor and tending to various studies, the details of which he could no longer recall. Their mother was seated at one of the tables as she mended leather tack they used for the horses. His father was seated across from his mother, obscured by one of the blotches, so they would be unable to see his face or hear anything he said.
The fact dismayed Twisted Fate more than it should have. Some deeper, unheard part of him had been hoping he could see his father's face again, while he was still alive. Lovely. This would only make the memory of the day they found his body all the more painful.
Sho looked up at the blot that obscured their father and nodded. He closed his eyes and held his hands before him, palms facing each other as he summoned his magic. Motes of light appeared between his hands and solidified, forming the likeness of a life-sized coyote. The magical construct wobbled for a moment, then shook its ears and trotted over to young Fate and shoved its nose in his face.
Young Fate giggled and batted the conjured coyote away, temporarily distracted from his studies by the construct. As the coyote trotted over to their mother his eyes followed it, a longing frown on his face. "I wish I had magic," he watched as the coyote bumped his mother's arm with its nose.
What was visible of his father shifted slightly, and young Fate looked to him as he said something the group could not hear.
"Yeah, you'll get at least minor magic from your Binding," Sho threw an arm about young Fate's shoulders and gave him a playful shake. "It's just four years away, maybe you'll even get something special."
The Binding. It was a momentous ritual that was performed on a gypsy child at the age of fourteen, to solidify and strengthen the bond that connected them to the land and allow them to draw strength from it. Sho had undergone his own Binding just a few months before this memory took place, and his magic had increased greatly in power during the ceremony. Where he could once only conjure a construct the size of a cat, he could now manage and sustain one the size of a fully-grown coyote. It was an impressive development, and young Fate had hoped he would get something himself at his own Binding. But that day never came, because he was banished two years before he came of age for the event.
Twisted Fate grumbled silently at the thought, though he might as well have said it aloud for the fact that the others could hear him think. The grumble was followed with a surge of dread as he realized what was sure to come next. They would want to see what caused Sho's personality to change, the event that would lead to his interacting with the animaturge. Fate backed away from Shen and the others as the memory began to fade around them.
Shen watched Fate but did not move from where he stood. "We must continue," he said coolly. "Show us the day your brother began to change."
Though he'd wanted to get this ordeal over with as soon as possible just a few minutes ago, the dread of what he would recall next had formed a solid wall before Twisted Fate now. "I can't," he rasped, suddenly finding it difficult to speak. "I can't see it again," even as he thought of it the memory began to bubble up from the depths of his mind, causing the landscape to shift partially before he shoved it back down.
Vayne watched them in silence, unsure of how to help with Twisted Fate while he was in such a state. He was hurting and she figured she should do something to move things along, but she was terrible at mundane things like giving comfort or solace. Such was not the lot for most witch hunters; the vast majority focused solely on eliminating the entities that caused such tragedies, rather than comforting those who had lost loved ones to them. Vayne understood his pain, though, and she knew what was sure to come next thanks to what she read in his journal earlier.
"We would not ask you to do this if there was danger of permanent harm," Shen started after Twisted Fate as well, at a slow pace as he followed the Card Master's retreat. "It will be painful, but you will survive, and contribute to bringing an end to this threat," he stopped a foot from Twisted Fate, who stumbled over himself and sat down hard on the partially-faded floor.
Shen's words did nothing to improve Twisted Fate's mood. It wasn't like he could back out at this point, there was only forward, but even something as "simple" as that seemed impossible to him. The wall of dread towered before him, and the spell and his audience had him pinned up against it. He was trapped and there was nowhere to hide. Fate drew his knees up to his chest and tried to make himself as small as possible, tried to hide himself from their scrutiny and Shen's request that they see the memory of his father's dead body.
This was going nowhere, the longer he delayed the more pain Twisted Fate would be in. Vayne started forward, coming to a halt beside Shen as he looked down on Twisted Fate, who was busy trying to pretend everyone else didn't exist. She rocked back on her heels slightly, taken aback by Fate's current behavior; to think it really hurt him this much to remember what happened to his family. It was downright surreal to see the Card Master in such a state. He normally seemed withdrawn in his own way, but he never showed any emotion save for his typical amused, somewhat arrogant attitude. A smooth demeanor and a silver tongue, that was Twisted Fate. She'd heard of him drinking himself silly over being dumped by Evelynn, but that was still nowhere near the intensity of negative emotion he was showing here. Even seeing him scared half to death as he stared down the bolt of her crossbow felt more likely than what he was doing now.
Vayne glanced at Shen and briefly wondered if he or his scribe might somehow be forcing Twisted Fate to do this, then discarded the thought. The Kinkou wouldn't force Twisted Fate to do something so unproductive, especially with how important this information could be to their current mission. It was just so odd to see him like this. Vayne fidgeted again, and glanced at Shen. The Eye was still staring down at Twisted Fate, silent and impassive. Obviously he expected Twisted Fate to work through this pain himself, and wasn't expecting Vayne to do anything other than be present.
The gray fog slowly returned, eating up the remainder of the tent's interior as the spell idled, waiting for the next memory to display. Vayne could hear Twisted Fate struggling to move forward, making small progress only to flounder under the weight of his dread time and time again. Had he really not come to terms with all this yet, after all the years he'd had to deal with it?
No, you remember how hard it was for you. Vayne gave herself a mental swat for looking down on him like that, especially after what she ended up doing to the witch once she caught up... What few physical scars she's sustained from that final encounter faded quickly enough, but the invisible scars from the death of her family remained long after she had achieved her revenge.
Weary compliance echoed through the spell; Twisted Fate had finally managed to struggle through the wall, and was ready to move forward. He relaxed his hold on the unwanted memory, and a new landscape began to take shape. A northwestern forest appeared around them, its trees and shrubs vibrant with the green of early summer. The scene was centered around one clearing in particular, one that held a gruesome surprise that marred the forest's beauty.
Twisted Fate hoped that looking away might spare him from seeing it again, but the memory was fixed firmly in his mind, too. There was no escaping it now that it was at the surface. He saw again the body of his father sprawled on the forest floor, blood from the wound that killed him pooled on the loam around his head and shoulders. The pain felt almost as fresh as the day his father died, more severe than the still-fading dream Fate experienced just the night before. The dream... Twisted Fate stuffed it down before its entirety could be passed on to the group; he didn't want them to see how that one ended, especially Vayne.
Vayne caught the mention of herself in Fate's thoughts and was about to ask him what that meant when a small group of people shuffled into the clearing. She promised herself that she would ask him about it later as the memory continued.
The group was comprised of five Coyote warriors and Honavir's family, who had been brought to the clearing after the search party found his body. The family stood in stunned silence for a few moments, unable to believe the sight that greeted them in the clearing, then Fate's mother let out a heart-piercing wail and rushed over to her husband's body.
Pain pulsed through the spell at the sound, strong enough to stagger Vayne and the scribe when they felt it. Shen, as usual, seemed completely unaffected and watched the scene play out from where he stood before Twisted Fate.
Why didn't we follow him?
The question echoed through the spell as Fate's mother rushed to her husband's side and took him in her arms, weeping openly as she tried to find some life that might remain in his body. Her wails fell to near-silent weeping when this hope was dashed, and she slowly rocked back and forth as she cradled her husband in her arms. Sho and young Fate followed at a slower pace, still unable to believe that their father was dead. Even in a life that could become as hazardous as theirs, they never once thought that their father would be the one to die so early.
Young Fate stumbled over to his mother and dropped to his knees beside her, the numbness of his shock beginning to give way to horrible grief. He buried his face in his mother's sleeve and began to sob as well, his thin body shaking with every gasp of breath.
It was suddenly difficult to breathe, and Twisted Fate extended his legs in an attempt to make it easier. He clutched at his chest as pain continued to lance through it, driven by intense grief and stress. His free arm propped him up as he lay on the floor, trying to avoid watching the scene before him. It was a futile effort, in the end.
Sho was the last to move. The teen's face was a mask of grief, shock, and anger. A shower of smaller memories came at the sight of the anger on Sho's face, in the form of a few of the hate-filled words and vows he'd uttered in the weeks that followed:
"They should've been driven into the sea the moment they got here."
"We should just kill them all, let the gods sort them out after."
"We'll only be safe once they're all dead."
All outside their mother's range of hearing of course, but Sho found many sympathizers among Coyote whenever he spoke of this. Such things unnerved young Fate, however. Their mother had been an outsider, after all. Surely they weren't all the horrible demons Sho made them out to be... But it was easy to believe they were, and he understood Sho's rage. Their father was irreplaceable, there would be no getting him back. The loss left a gaping hole in his heart that their father once filled, and he was sure that Sho felt exactly the same way.
Vayne nodded. She remembered that, the "us vs. them" mentality. She still maintained it to this day in fact, though not to the violent degree of her younger years. It was easy to see how Sho's anger could explode out of control with no one reining him in.
Shen turned back to Twisted Fate and found that the Card Master had flipped himself over so that his face was to the ground, his body shaking visibly from the pain he was in. The wall Fate had been faced with previously was long broken and the rest would come in due time, so Shen allowed the Card Master to collect himself before making the next request. While he did not feel emotion himself, he still understood the necessity of working through it for other people and gave Twisted Fate his space.
"If you are ready," Shen began, once Twisted Fate had stopped shaking. "Show us when you think Shorokay may have started seeing the animaturge."
Twisted Fate didn't reply, and instead reached for the memory. It leaped to the front of his mind with little effort on his part; it seemed the reconnection was mostly complete now. So much for peace of mind for the next few weeks.
The darkened interior of his family tent materialized around them, and swam into full focus as young Fate woke from a light sleep and looked over at his brother's bed. Sho was gone. He snapped awake at the shock of finding that his brother was gone, and he searched around the tent for him. The element staffs, magical artifacts left to Sho by their father, were missing as well.
Fear surged through young Fate, and he fell out of bed in his hurry to find Sho. He couldn't lose his brother too, not now. The sound of him hitting the floor got a quiet mumble out of his mother. She wouldn't be able to take losing Sho on top of losing father. He had to bring Sho back for her, too.
Young Fate crept to the door as quietly as he could, grabbed his boots and stumbled into them after he got outside. The night was cool, all heat of the day having flowed away into the vast starlit sky hours ago. He cast about, trying to find any sign of his brother among the tents, and spotted someone making for the edge of camp.
Sho was surprised when someone grabbed the back of his jacket, and he turned to find his little brother standing behind him.
"Don't go," young Fate's tone came dangerously close to a whine as he pleaded with Sho. He tightened his grip on his brother's jacket, as if he could keep him there simply by hanging on.
"Hey," Sho turned and put his hands on Fate's shoulders. "Don't worry, I'm going to get help. I'll make sure we never lose anyone ever again," he gave his brother's shoulders a reassuring squeeze as he spoke, and waited patiently for the release of his jacket.
Young Fate stared up at his brother as he struggled between his trust for Sho, and his reluctance to let him go. His brother had always been there to help him if their father or mother could not. Sho was sixteen now, too. He would know what to do.
No... No! You're wrong, keep him here!
"Okay," young Fate slowly loosened his grip on Sho's jacket and let his hands fall away. "Jus', be sure to come back soon."
Sho smiled, and started off.
Don't let him leave!
"Wait!" young Fate stopped him again, just as he stepped beyond the camp boundary. "What do I tell mother?"
"Just tell her someone offered to help find the people who took father from us."
"From where?" the notion honestly confused young Fate for a moment—who around here would be willing to help? Surely not... "From Piltover?"
"Yeah, mom's family said they would help out," Sho ruffled his brother's hair, then gave him a little push back toward camp. "I'll be home before you know it."
Young Fate nodded, and watched his brother disappear into the forest before returning to the family tent. The next day his worried mother asked where Sho had gone, and young Fate told her exactly what Sho had told him. She was weary, still grieving for her dead husband, but it seemed to be something she was willing to believe.
Two days passed, and still no sign of Sho. Mother didn't seem worried, though. Something about what Sho said must have calmed her, though she still wept in the mornings, when she thought her young son couldn't hear. He did his best to comfort her, as he'd been doing in the weeks since his father's death.
Worry had begun to set in by the evening of the third day, and his mother seemed distracted as she mended clothing by the fire. Supper was done and everything had been cleaned up, so young Fate and his mother used the time before bed to relax or finish chores that still needed doing. Fate was writing in a small journal of his when something buzzed past his nose: a starback beetle, with a shell so blue it was nearly black and glinting silver flecks on its back that made it look like a stray piece of night sky. He'd always loved the little insects for how pretty they were, and he quickly put his quill and journal away so he could give chase. Maybe it would cheer mother up a bit too, if he showed it to her.
With a start Twisted Fate realized that the memory he'd first called had rolled smoothly into the inevitable disaster that followed. It was running too strong now, there would be no stopping it, and he was too tired to try anyway. The stress and pain had finally taken their toll, and all he could do was watch and brace himself for the fresh agony that was sure to come.
"Mom, I'm gonna go catch th' starback that just flew by," he pointed at the beetle, which was even now on its way toward the edge of the camp.
"Hmm?" his mother turned to look at him, and he was reminded again of how hard she'd taken everything. Wrinkles that weren't there before lined her mouth and eyes, with dark half circles beneath the later. She took a few moments to process what he'd said, then gave him a weary smile, "Just don't wander too far, alright?"
Young Fate was already grabbing a small insect box and net he'd gotten out earlier that day. "Be back in a bit!" he gave his mother a quick peck on the cheek and made after the beetle at a sprint to catch up with it.
No, wait... Take her with you. Take mother with you!
The edge of camp passed and and fell behind as young Fate continued his pursuit of the bug, happy to have his mind focused on something so simple and fun, at least for the time being. He closed on the starback, which had landed on a tree trunk, and slowly crept toward it.
Go back, there's still time! Take mother and run!
He struck with the net, but the beetle was on to him before he even moved. It opened its wings and buzzed off to the next trunk, just a few feet deeper into the forest. The light from camp still penetrated this far in, so he would be able to find his way back if he followed it. Young Fate crept up on it again, net at the ready.
A shrill scream cut through the night, followed by what sounded like an explosion. Fear edged with panic clutched at his chest, made it hard to breath and move. The sounds came from the camp, and the light it cast now seemed distorted... Mother! Young Fate stumbled as he tried to get his feet beneath him, box and net left forgotten on the forest floor as he rushed back toward the camp. He had to see if mother was okay.
Thoughts of harmless causes for the noise began to make their way into his head as he neared the camp's edge. Maybe it was just someone being startled by a loud noise, one of the wagons got knocked over or—
Young Fate skidded to a halt just before the edge of the forest, and looked out on a scene straight out of a nightmare. Tents, wagons, horses, people, all had been cut down by some tremendous force. The camp was awash with blood, its scent hung so thick that it would have suffocated the boy had shock not done the job first. Mother... In halting jerks he moved his head to search for the area his mother should have been sitting in. For a moment hope blossomed when he couldn't find her—maybe she came looking for him when he strayed too far, maybe she was out here too—
The wind picked up, and as if to purposely prove him wrong ruffled the hem of the dress she'd been wearing, now soaked and marred with blood. He could pick out the shape of her dead body in the moonlight, now that he'd noticed the hem. Even with all this before him it was still a struggle to believe it was real. This couldn't be happening, not now, not after he'd lost his father already. Sho... Where was Sho? Wasn't he supposed to get help? Why didn't he stop this?
Movement at the center of the camp drew his attention. It was too... Solid to be the wind blowing bloodied fabric about. Young Fate lifted his gaze, to look upon the source of this nightmare, and found—
Sho. His brother stood at the center of the destruction, but... No, this couldn't be him! Not Sho! His face was an unfeeling mask lit by the afterglow of some powerful magic spell, the hem of the dark robe he now wore spattered with glistening fresh blood. Sho could never do something like this! It can't be real—
Something deep within the boy snapped, and he stumbled back from the scene, still unable to completely accept what he saw as reality. Without a word young Fate fled into the forest, away from the ruined camp, and away from the monster that had devoured his brother. He disappeared into a black mass of ruined memory that stretched long into the distance as Shen and the scribe moved in to begin their in-depth examination.
Terror, grief, helplessness, anger... Vayne could easily recall the event that had caused such pain in her as well. The deaths of her family members had been a tremendous, nearly sanity-shattering blow for her, one that had taken years to recover from. Even now she still had the scars, hidden though they were from most.
Vayne closed her eyes for a brief moment, then opened them and turned to where Twisted Fate had been when the memories began. He rested on his shins, legs folded beneath him with his forehead touching the ground. His hands cradled his face, fingers just poking through the mass of black hair that had spread like a dark, shining halo around his head. The majority of the emotions conveyed to her through the spell were grief-related, but there were also undertones that echoed something she understood very well: the desire for vengeance.
Yes, vengeance had been sweet during the three days she had taken to exact it, but afterward the loss of her family still remained. That lingering grief was then coupled with the numb horror at what she was capable of when pushed, the lengths of cruelty she could so easily achieve in the name of revenge. She wondered if Twisted Fate's vengeance might fare any better than hers, whether he would feel better afterward. With her own experience to go by, the chances were slim.
For a moment Vayne entertained the thought of suggesting as much to Twisted Fate, then discarded it just as quickly. Twisted Fate would likely not listen to such advice, no matter how logical or well-meaning it was. Vayne knew she would not have listened, either. The wounds were too deep to ignore, and too severe to go without reprisal forever. However, she did hope that he might achieve more peace following its conclusion than she had.
Perhaps some comfort in the place of that advice would do. It was hard to sit back and watch someone suffer in such a similar way, and there was another feeling she recognized there, too: isolation, loneliness. They both had no one following the disasters that changed their lives so drastically, and had both fallen on people outside the family in their wake. Vayne to the witch hunters, to the man who had become her teacher and surrogate father. Twisted Fate to... Ah, well she didn't know who just yet, the journal made no mention of it. Probably the man or woman who helped Fate to become a conman.
Even now Vayne had someone to lean on at least. Whether Fate had anyone was a guess at best, and they had probably deserted him once news broke on the massacre. Vayne stopped herself and wondered at how much empathy she held toward Twisted Fate now. She had never related this deeply to any of her fellow witch hunters, but there was reason for that: most had not lost as much as she to the darkness. A child, a lover, a parent, a friend. Most witch hunters only lost one or two loved ones before turning to the hunt, while Vayne had endured the loss of everything she had ever held dear. The same was true of Twisted Fate.
Vayne took up a position next to Twisted Fate and slowly knelt beside him, her movements strangely clumsy given her outstanding natural agility. It felt awkward even before she tried anything, so she decided to settle on putting a hand on his shoulder at least. Something. She wanted to do something at least. Vayne's hand hovered over Twisted Fate for a moment, and she clenched her fingers from frustration at how strange this felt, then straightened them and dropped her hand on his shoulder.
A burst of surprise shuddered through the spell at Vayne's touch, followed by a flurry of memory fragments. They were too faint to be seen or heard clearly, but they seemed to carry a calmness with them that had not been present in the spell before. Vayne decided to press on and gave Twisted Fate's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, then an idea occurred to her. So far so good, but not enough to be satisfactory yet. She leaned in to speak quietly in his ear, her voice low and filled with understanding: "I know how you feel."
Akali paused in the shadow of a tree and checked the sky. An owl that she had noticed just a few minutes ago soared overhead, eyes on the ground as it hunted. She watched as it receded into the darkness again. A dusk owl, this far east? How... Odd. They normally lived in Demacian territories, and never strayed into the interior of the continent, let alone the territories belonging to Noxus.
The owl circled back, and flew over the shadows Akali had used to conceal herself a second time. Clearly this was no ordinary owl. It was trained, or magicked to be more intelligent than usual. Either way she didn't like the implication that someone had seen them in the area.
Once the bird had flown out of sight again she slipped into the next bit of shadow and waited. It flew past behind her, over the shadows she'd been in just moments before. So it hadn't noticed that she moved. That was good. She slipped away and made for the haunt as quickly as her legs could carry her.
A/N: An extremely difficult chapter to write this time around, many thanks to Grand Viper for helping me work through it! And a big thank you for everyone who has been following along as well. Without your support and kind words, this story probably wouldn't be around.
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