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Runeheart - A Nine-tails Story

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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Updated 9/23


A young naive fox kit finds herself transformed into a girl after wandering into an odd magical portal. With no knowledge of human customs, technology, or even how to walk on two legs, she tries her best to find her way among a world dominated by humans, and to discover the mysteries behind her transformation. Contains some mature themes and violence.



These chapters are posted on FF.net, I am no longer posting them to forums so please follow the links for anything past ch. 10.

Chapter 1 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/1/Runeheart)

Chapter 2 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/2/Runeheart)

Chapter 3 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/3/Runeheart)

Chapter 4 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/4/Runeheart)

Chapter 5 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/5/Runeheart)

Chapter 6 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/6/Runeheart)

Chapter 7 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/7/Runeheart)

Chapter 8 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/8/Runeheart)

Chapter 9 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/9/Runeheart)

Chapter 10 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/10/Runeheart)

Chapter 11 (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8999520/11/Runeheart)






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Chapter 1, the forests near Piltover

The young female kit dashed out far ahead of her mother, eyes narrowed in concentration, intent on tracking down and killing her prey. Although worried, her mother let her wander off, watching her happily chase after the mouse into the forest. She had been born only months before, blind, deaf, and vulnerable. The babe had been dependent on her for everything the first few weeks, never leaving her side, until one day her little amber eyes finally opened and saw the world for the first time. Now she thought nothing of leaving her mother's side and chasing after the first thing that moved.

The kit chased the terrified mouse through the forest, dodging under logs and leaping over small creeks with child-like nimbleness, until the fleeing mouse came up against a natural barrier made of stacked boulders and entangled trees.

Finally, the kit saw that she had her prey cornered, and she eyed the mouse hungrily and bared her tiny little baby teeth at it. She watched as the mouse trembled in fear, and dug itself into the rocks behind him. The young kit readied to pounce, but then paused and turned her head sharply in response to the sounds of an epic struggle off in the distance.

When she looked back at her prey, she saw that it had run off in the direction of the noise. She heard a worried yelp off in the distance, and knew it was her mother calling for her to come back, but the young kit thought only of securing her new little prize, and swiftly chased after it, running through the forest at a furious pace.

The mouse ran under and disappeared into a thick growth of bushes, and the kit followed and burst through it, not wanting to lose track of her prey. She landed upon a large clearing in the forest. The kit sniffed the air expectantly, but there was no trace of the mouse. She scanned the forest floor, but was greeted with only the scene of what had been a ferocious battle. The mouse was nowhere in sight.

Looking around, the kit spied a number of strange bodies lying on the floor. One in particular laid in a pool of it's own black blood, and a magical vortex whirled and pulsated above it. The young kit felt an arcane force that seemed to call to her, begging her to come closer to the vortex. She approached it slowly, wondering innocently what secrets it held.

Without warning, the pulsating vortex suddenly erupted, and countless tendrils of energy appeared and engulfed the young kit, wrapping itself with whip-like force around the creature until it formed an ethereal cocoon-like structure. For what seemed like an eternity the cocoon seemed content to simply exist, pulsating and glowing with an unearthly purple light, but then it shuddered and untangled itself, and from within a human-like girl with two fox ears and nine beautiful tails burst forth and fell onto the earth, unconscious.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-
Upon waking up, the young fox-girl looked around at her surroundings, trying to remember what she had been doing.

...The mouse!

The girl attempted to scramble up on all fours, wanting to continue the pursuit of her prey, but was unable to – everything felt so strange! - and instead tumbled back towards the ground. Bewildered, she tried to get up again, and was met with the exact same result, this time slipping sideways and landing on her shoulder painfully as her limbs splayed out awkwardly. She cried out, but the voice that came out was not one that she recognized. Again she tried to crawl back towards the safety of the forest – her mother would surely be waiting there for her! – and this time managed to lurch forward clumsily a few feet before tumbling wildly back onto the ground. She did not try to get up again this time. Instead she sat there on all fours, panting heavily, and as her initial shock and confusion began to give way to rational thought she began to realize that something was horribly wrong. Her body was entirely unrecognizable to herself, and her paws had turned into long, skinny limbs with exposed skin that had a foreign hue of milky white cream. She looked at the bodies strewn about on the ground, and realized that her body now resembled those strange looking dead creatures.

The young fox-girl began to feel a stirring panic rise from within herself. Her childlike naivety and innocent curiosity succumbed to the creeping fear of the unknown and unfamiliar, and she felt desperately lonely. Her heart ached for the knowing touch and safety of a mother's embrace.

As the girl sat there and stared longingly towards a forest which now seemed impossibly far away, she saw a bush towards the far side rustle, and from it a fully grown vixen emerged. The girl tried to focus on this newcomer with eyes that felt unfamiliar to her, and in an instant her eyes widened in recognition and she instinctively kicked her legs and hands forward in a desperate effort to draw herself closer to the fox.
-o-o-o-
The mother fox saw the human struggling to get closer to her, but she held her ground. Her black eyes, which betrayed no emotion, remained fixated on the girl before her. She recognized what this creature was. It was a human child, that savage war-like creature that walked on two legs and who took from nature all they desired, using their frightening weapons and tools to ravage the land and it's inhabitants in their petty conflicts, leaving only destruction in their wake. She hated humans – despised them – and yet she could not turn her eyes away from the human girl in front of her. She felt – no, she knew that the girl before her shared her own blood, had begun her life inside of her as just a tiny unrecognizable being, and over months, had developed and grown in the safety of her own womb, and finally had been forcefully ejected out into a vast and unfamiliar world. She had been a miracle – her sisters and brothers had all been stillborn – and whether or not a mother even needed a reason to love her child, that tragedy had only strengthened her belief that her only daughter was special; that she was destined for something more. It was unfathomable to her that her destiny would be to live her life as one of the humans, and yet the girl was still her only daughter, her only legacy.

And so for all these reasons – or possibly for no reason at all except a mother's love – the mother fox bravely approached the human girl, looked knowingly into her eyes, and gave her a loving nudge, encouraging her daughter to get up, to crawl by her own power back into the safety of the forest. This was not an act unfamiliar to the mother – after all, she had gone through this before. Kits must learn to stand before they can walk, and they must learn to walk before they can run.

Looking at the human girl, the mother felt a pang of regret in her heart as she realized that she would no longer be able to raise and provide for her daughter like a true mother should. She was willing to lay down her own life for her without a second thought, but as she watched her daughter struggling to control her long and awkward human limbs, she wondered if that would be enough.
-o-o-o-
The fox-girl stared at those trees and shrubs which stood guard over the entrance to the forest, and – thinking more clearly and rationally now – began to carefully test her new longer limbs to see how they could properly hold her weight. Her mother purred softly to let her daughter know that she was there, and slowly the fox-girl began to put one hand forward, past the other, move one knee forward, and then the other, slowly but surely making forward progress along the forest clearing. As she crawled, the movements began to flow naturally to her, and she was able to now consistently coordinate her movements to crawl steadily forward, and in due time she reached the forest boundary. She saw her mother leap ahead of her and into the forest, and the girl cried out in protest, not wanting to be alone again. She shuffled forward into the forest furiously to keep up.

The sticks, rocks, and leaves littering the forest floor scratched and clawed at her soft human skin, especially at her hands and knees, and occasionally pierced it, causing tiny red droplets of blood to stain the forest floor. The girl was in terrible pain, but she struggled onwards in the direction her mother had disappeared into. She caught a glimpse of her mother darting past a tall oak tree in the distance, and crawled towards it, but when she reached it there was no sign of her. Panting heavily, she stopped and leaned her shoulder onto the tree to rest. Her knees and palms were half numb with pain from the abuse she had subjected them to. She started hoping that this was all a dream, that she would wake up and find herself sleeping next to her mother, back in her own fox body, and that she would once again be chasing insects and mice carelessly out into new parts of the forest.

There was a slight rustle next to her, and when the girl looked up, she saw her mother standing there, looking at her intently. She barked sharply at her, and the girl sensed that her mother was chastising her for stopping and giving up so quickly on the chase. The girl looked down at her scuffed and bloody hands, and tried to blink back tears that insisted on coming out anyway, the occasional teardrop flowing out from her eyes and down her cheeks, and dripping down onto the forest floor to mix with the bright red blood. The girl looked at her mother with pleading, tear filled eyes. She just wanted her to come and comfort her, tell her everything would be alright.

The girl watched her mother turn her eyes towards the setting sun, then dart back further into the forest, vanishing into a thick overgrowth of foliage. Wincing in pain, the fox-girl took a deep breath, steeled herself, grabbed onto the trunk of the oak tree she had been leaning on, and hoisted herself up so that she stood on her own two feet. Ignoring the pain emanating from her palms as she struggled to balance the weight of her entire body, she was able to stand upright, swaying precariously back and forth on her two long legs. The girl felt that she would be able to manage if she could only inch along, ever so slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, moving from tree to tree and grabbing onto them with her hands to keep from tumbling back down. Her hands throbbed, but she didn't care – she didn't want to fall behind this time, and so she continued to shuffle from tree to tree like this.

When she had finally made her way over to the thick foliage her mother had disappeared through, she saw that the line of trees had ended, and that she would have to make the rest of the way on her own. She stared at the mass of overgrown vines and shrubs, half hoping that her mother would once again burst out from them and reveal herself. She didn't.
The girl inched forward, keeping one hand on the tree, her other arm swaying out wildly in an attempt to balance herself. When she had finally reached her limit, with her arm extended fully and fingertips just barely still holding onto the tree, she gently pushed off with her fingers, and started stumbling forward towards the overgrowth, with no crutch to hold onto, balancing on just two skinny little legs. She took small, stilted steps, but made steady forward progress, and she found that this bipedal movement felt oddly natural to her, as if she had a natural talent for it and had been designed to walk like this all along. The girl became aware of her nine tails, which, while still short and undeveloped, served as a counterbalance which helped her keep herself upright.

Upon reaching the soft barrier of overgrowth, the girl lost her patience, and pushed forward with her legs, bursting through the foliage, and tumbled forward, reaching out with her hands to break the fall. A sharp flare of pain shot up from her palms in response, and the girl instantly regretted her rash action, and had to blink back new tears. The girl felt a gentle nudge to her right side, looked that way, and saw her mother there. In her jaws was a freshly killed rabbit, which she laid down next to her daughter. Scattered on the ground were a bunch of random berries. The girl looked at the rabbit, then at her mother doubtfully, and her mother understood and started tearing at the rabbit with her jaws and paw, ripping it's flesh into chunks. She watched as her mother laid out the chunks of flesh in front of her.

The chunks of flesh repulsed her for some reason, but realizing now that she hadn't eaten since that morning, the girl sat up, grabbed some blueberries instead, and stuffed them into her mouth. She had always loved blueberries, but these tasted especially sweet and delicious. She quickly devoured all of the sweet and ripe berries, pressing them delightedly onto the roof of her mouth while chewing to bring out even more of it’s tart juice. She wiped away her tears, leaving small smears of blood on her face. She could not help but grin in satisfaction as the emptiness in her stomach abated.

When the girl looked up from her meal, she saw the faint outline of her mother laying in a nearby patch of dirt, asleep. The sunlight was starting to fade rapidly, and the girl found that her eyes had difficulty discerning the gray outlines of the forest, her vision ill adapted to the blackness of the night. The girl crawled slowly next to where she thought her mother was napping, and laid down next to her. The rigors of that day caught up quickly to her young body, and though the girl did not want to, she quickly fell fast asleep, comforted by the presence of her mother beside her.
-o-o-o-
The girl was jarred awake early at dawn the next morning, forced out of her deep slumber by the pestering nudges and bites of her mother. When the girl finally sat up and composed herself, she saw her mother again dart out further into the forest, disappearing from sight. The girl looked at the wounds on her knees and hands, and found that they had scabbed over, and were healing slowly. The girl did not understand why her mother kept urging her to continue deeper into the forest, but her mind was still in that stage of life where a child would follow her mother's orders without question, and so she slowly picked herself up from her sitting position, and carefully stood up, swinging her arms and tails rapidly in circles to keep her delicate balance.

The girl thus was able to transfer herself after some struggle into a standing position, and she became amazed at how it almost seemed natural to her now to stand so high up on her legs like this, as if some part of her brain had always possessed the knowledge of how to walk upright and she was only now remembering that she knew how to do this all along. Still, the girl continued to nurse some doubts in the back of her mind, and she shuffled forward slowly towards the direction her mother had gone, reaching out an arm and grabbing onto every tree she approached in order to check her balance.

She continued on like this for what seemed like hours, her mother darting in and out of sight every few minutes, leading her child onwards on what seemed like a never-ending wild goose chase. As she walked, the girl slowly began to become surer of every footstep, and she fell into a steady – if somewhat odd feeling – rhythm, so that soon she found herself walking more and more by her own power, and electing not to pause at every tree.

As the day wore on, the girl began to wonder why they were traveling so fast and so far. It was not as if she were too tired to go on – the girl by now found that walking on two legs was taking less and less effort – but she had never remembered seeing her mother act so strangely, not even stopping for rest and food. The girl's ears picked up the sound of rushing water, and after walking a short distance she found herself staring at a creek. Her mother sat kneeling by the creek bed, lapping up water with her tongue, and the girl, realizing now that she was incredibly thirsty, kneeled beside her mother, lowered her head into the stream, and joyously slurped up the water.

It was during this time that her mother suddenly stood up, turned around, and let out a threatening growl. The girl heard a strange-sounding yell behind her, and she turned around to discern the source of the sound. She saw two creatures approaching quickly towards where she and her mother stood, and her eyes widened in fear as she remembered what these creatures were. They were of the same type she had seen in the clearing the other day! The girl noticed that the two men wore a distinctive symbol on them, that of a flaming blue sun.

The two men, upon reaching the stream, slowly approached the mother, and the taller one brought up a weird looking tool and pointed it at the fox. The girl saw clearly and vividly what happened next, and the scene would later burn itself into her psyche, becoming a part of her memory and self-identity that would stay with her for the rest of her life.
-o-o-o-
With a fierce rustling of leaves and foliage, the mother charged with determined speed and quickness at the taller man and, letting out a ferocious bark, leaped up towards the man and clamped her jaws into his arm as he brought it up to defend his body, causing the man to cry out in pain and surprise. In a flash, the man's partner responded by drawing out a long, razor-sharp blade and swiped it horizontally at the fox, cutting a deep, mortal gash across the length of her body that caused blood to gush out uncontrollably.

The vixen yelped pathetically, released her grip on the man's arm, and dropped to the ground, staying motionless. The shorter man raised his sword, then sliced it downwards at the fox's neck. In her last moments, the mother stared at the incoming blade, thought of her daughter who would now be alone against these two humans, and wished desperately that the world would look upon her child with pity and show her mercy.
-o-o-o-
The fox girl sat there next to the creek bed, and did not move her gaze from her mother. The swordman sheathed his blade, and then the two approached the girl. She did not know what to think, and instead looked up at the two men apathetically. She watched as the swordman drew up next to her, and reached for his blade, as if desiring to finish the job he had started with her mother. The taller man brought a hand up to stop him, and uttered a strange speech to his partner. His partner relented and drew back, and the taller man approached the girl, uttered some more strange speech, spit into her face, then drew his hand back and struck the girl's head violently, causing her to spin and fall backwards into the ground.

The man dragged the the still conscious girl to a tree, and propped her body up next to it's trunk. He kicked at the defenseless girl with his boot several times, then laughed and kneeled down, stared admiringly at the girl's body, and brought his hands up to her breasts and fondled them. He grabbed the girl's head and twisted it upwards, forcing the girl to look the man in the eyes. He brought his hand up to her battered face, and wiped off some of the blood while chuckling contentedly to himself. The innocent girl did not comprehend anything that happened after, and simply waited for death to come, so that she could join her mother once again. Was her mother really dead? She didn't want to think about it, but she already knew the answer to that question. As the man continued to abuse her, she found herself staring past his lustful eyes and into the lush forest canopy above, watching the bits of brilliant blue that burst through where the leaves parted, opening a tiny window into the tranquil skies beyond. She wondered whether she would see anything as beautiful when she was dead and with her mother in the afterlife.

A loud, unfamiliar voice suddenly resounded through the forest, and the tall man released his grip on the girl, stood up, and watched as a new third man approached the pair. He was dressed in a brown cloak that shrouded his face, and he carried a small hammer on his his back. He wore on his chest the same symbol of a flaming blue sun. The cloaked man uttered a few harsh words at the taller man, upon which they began arguing back and forth with each other for several seconds. The cloaked man suddenly yelled in anger, then strode forward and struck the taller man so violently that he lurched back and fell to the ground, half conscious.

The girl stared at the cloaked figure absently as he approached her, kneeled down, and looked at her. The girl thought his eyes looked so sad and regretful. He looked back at the corpse of her dead mother, uttered something incomprehensible to her, then looked down and drew out a long, sharp knife. He pointed the tip at her neck, then began to utter a few more words in a pitying tone. The girl was still in a stupor and stared at the man blankly, not caring what happened to her, but something stirred in the back of the girl's mind, and she thought she could almost understand what he was saying. She heard the word "mother", and her eyes widened as she finally understood what that word meant. She felt her throat tingle, and her mouth open, and heard a strange sound escape her throat.

"Mmmo...ther..."

The girl suddenly felt a fire fill her body from within, and an incredible energy grab control of her body. The cloaked man's eyes widened in fear. He looked past the girl, and saw the taller man standing there, his crossbow aimed at his heart. The girl felt a glow of energy from her hands, and she instinctively reached up and fired a ball of essence energy at the cloaked man. The man drew back and dodged to the side, narrowly avoiding both the ball of energy and the arrow that had been aimed at his heart.

The girl let out a rage-filled scream, then scrambled up with unholy vigor, leaped at the taller man next to her, and forcefully dug her fingers into the man's eye sockets. The tall man screamed in agony. She felt energy coursing through her arm and into her fingers, and the man's eyes began to steam and burn with a brilliant blue glow. The man let out one more hideous scream, then tumbled over backwards. She drew her fingers out from the man's eyes, and his body began to overheat and burst into flames. The man moaned in terror and struggled wildly, screaming and shouting obscenities as his body was consumed by the mysterious blue flames.

The girl whirled around, and leaped with blinding speed towards the sword man who was responsible for killing her mother. She bounced high into the air, looked down at her prey, and dived down, aiming to slice the man's throat open with her bare fingers. The man stared in terror at the fox-girl, then grabbed his scabbard desperately. Having no time to draw his sword out, he braced himself, then swung the scabbard at the girl as she crashed down on him. The impact sent them both tumbling backwards into the ground. The girl placed a hand around the man’s neck, and her hand began to emit a dull blue glow. The man, fueled by pure adrenaline, pushed himself back onto his knees, and battered his fists blindly at the girl in an attempt to free himself. The girl let out an angry growl, then pushed the man off her with frightening strength, sending him flying backwards several feet.

The man landed on a patch of soft earth, and, without even looking back at his foe, struggled onto his feet and began stumbling forward into the forest in a desperate attempt at escape. The girl was about to follow, but was cut off by the cloaked man, who had now drawn out his powerful hammer and moved in between the fleeing man and the fox-girl. Their eyes locked for a moment, and then the man grunted and swung his hammer downwards, emitting a thundering shockwave that tore the earth beneath it apart as it traveled towards the girl. With no time to react, the girl watched as the shockwave blew past her, barely missing her and instead hitting a tree behind her, tearing the outer bark of the tree apart and sending shattered shrapnel everywhere.

Terrified by the awesome display of power from the cloaked man, the girl suddenly felt the instinctive urge to call out for her mother, who she knew could no longer help or comfort her. The girl struggled to suppress those feelings, and instead turned and ran back into the forest as fast as she could. She heard the man call out from behind her, as if he wanted her to stop, but she ignored the call and kept running.

The girl leaped and ran through the forest rapidly, ignoring the burn in her muscles, thinking only of getting herself as far away from the three men and the memory of her mother as possible. She did not understand what had happened to her back there, and could only feel that some sort of repressed memory had awakened inside her, and that she now possessed strange new powers.

The girl continued to leap swiftly through the forest, traveling rapidly at an impossible speed, running away from things she did not understand. Wayward limbs and tree leaves slashed at her exposed skin as she dashed past the thick forest of trees, but she did not feel any pain - only terror and the surges of adrenaline that bade her to keep running until she could run no more. After a while, the trees slowly began to thin out and became more sparsely populated until it finally yielded to a plain country field covered with short green grasses that extended far into the horizon. The girl finally began to slow her furious pace. She did not know how long she had been running, but she could feel her body beginning to shut down from exhaustion.

Ahead of her, she spotted atop a gently sloped hill what looked like a large wooden structure with doors and windows, and fences, inside of which contained various strange animals she had never seen before. Standing a ways from the house were two humans, a male and a female, who stood there with their hands clasped together, seemingly staring in shock at the strange fox-girl approaching their home. The girl by now had spent the last remaining reserves of her strength running from whatever it was she was running from, and was covered in bruises, cuts and wounds. She looked at the two humans bitterly, and suddenly felt regretful that she had not stayed with her mother instead and accepted whatever fate awaited her back in the forest. For a moment she considered whether she had the strength left to either fight or flee - then, without warning, the world began to spin slowly, and the girl's knees began to buckle. The memories of all that had happened that day rushed up and and haunted her visions, and as her last reserves of strength drained away and she collapsed onto the earth, the shrill wail of a terrified and broken girl filled the air, followed by a chilling and sudden silence.

-o-o-o-

Henry and Margaret Walker, husband and wife, both walked up towards the naked and unconscious fox-girl, hands clasped together, unsure of what lay before them. The husband walked up next to the girl and kneeled down. He looked the girl over, then looked up at his wife, who had her hands over her mouth, taking pity on the broken girl that laid there before her. She nodded as if sending a silent communication to her husband of over 20 years, and the man looked out over the Piltover countryside, wondering how this fox-girl had made it to their home in this condition, and just what the heck his wife was thinking to want to bring her in. He bent over and picked the girl up with both hands, walked back to their humble country home on the outskirts of Piltover, and went in. His wife shut the door behind them.


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Ch. 2

The fox girl opened her eyes to darkness. Was she dead? She tried to open her mouth to utter something - anything - but nothing came out. She moved her eyes right, left, up and down. Not a single source of light to be found anywhere.

So this was what death felt like. No sight. No sound. Nothingness. There wasn't any afterlife, no shining sanctuary where the dead could wake up and rejoice at their discovery of an existence after death. This was oblivion, and this was what she and her mother had been condemned to for eternity.

Her Mother!

The girl reached out into the void with her arms, desperately searching for something.

No, not something. Someone.

Her mother was somewhere out there - she had to be. The girl refused to believe what her mind was telling her. But she could neither cry out nor feel anything. How would she ever find her in this darkness?

The girl could feel her thoughts begin to cloud. Where was she? Was she alive after all? A spark of blue light streaked across her vision, and for a fleeting moment the girl felt a power grow from within her. The same power she had felt earlier in the forest. It was as if a fire had sparked inside her belly, furiously growing larger and stronger as if afraid of being snuffed out by a gust of passing wind. It seemed to fill her chest with warmth, spurring the girl to take a sudden, deep gasp of air. Heavenly air! She could still breathe - she wasn't dead after all!

The blue streak appeared again, and the girl sensed a wave of euphoria and contentment wash over her. She felt one with the earth. Her loneliness seemed to fade away and she began to feel a connection with the earth, and every living being in it. Maybe she was the earth. That would be something interesting to tell her mother, indeed!

...Tell her what, exactly? The girl began to feel a little confused. Had she turned back into a fox? Or was she still one of those tall creatures with those long, spindly limbs? Maybe she was still dreaming? The girl brought her hands to her face and ran her fingers through its contours. No. She definitely wasn't a fox. She could feel her long arms, those weird fingers that seemed to move with such dexterity and precision. She was one of them.

In an instant, the girl recalled the bloody image of her mother's corpse, its body sliced open and twitching, the severed head falling with a thud onto the floor and staring at nothing with half closed, empty eyes. The image was so sharp and pristine in her mind. Was this how *they* thought? Her mind could recall every image and emotion of that day with a clarity she had never before experienced in her existence as a fox.

The girl's mind continued to race with images of anything and everything. The fire inside her that had filled her with warmth vanished, snuffed out by the demons inside her own mind - a flurry of strange human thoughts and emotions. The girl wanted to scream out, begging and pleading for that mysterious blue light to appear and fill her with comfort once again. But nothing came. The girl struggled to twist herself this way and that, desperately seeking to end this nightmare, or whatever it was.

If she was dead, just let her sleep in peace! Anything was better than this nothingness!

-o-o-o-

Margaret Walker sat quietly on a stool in her son's bedroom, staring intently at the little girl before her. Nine fox tails, and two fox ears. She was undoubtedly one the ferals.

Henry had warned against helping her. Gwylts - or in layman's terms, ferals - were known to be unpredictable. Especially in this case, the girl was obviously being hunted or chased by someone, or something, which could only mean trouble if the hunter was able to track the girl down to their home.

Margaret knew Henry was probably right, but she just couldn't find it in her heart to leave such a young girl to die, feral or not. When she had brought her in, the girl was a mess of blood, sweat, and tears. Her face had been battered and broken, her legs and feet covered in bloody gashes, and it looked like she hadn't eaten in days. Everything about it just looked wrong.

"Let me help her survive, at least," she had told him. "She's in no position to hurt anyone, and we can decide what to do once she's out of danger. Would you rather we cast her out and let her die to exposure?" Henry, being the secretly soft hearted man she knew him to be, had reluctantly agreed to her plea after some consideration. Thus Margaret had ended up becoming the temporary caretaker of the fox girl, trying to help her in any way she possibly could.

Although Margaret was no doctor, she knew enough from life and raising her son that wounds this extensive and exposed to the elements were liable to become infected. She had tried her best to clean and wrap the girl's wounds immediately after taking her in, but within a few hours the girl had begun to develop a strong fever. Margaret had spent an entire sleepless night watching over the girl, undressing infected wounds, cleaning the pus and dead material with water, and redressing them. The wounds by themselves did not look fatal, but in the girl's weakened state, the combination of infection, fever, and blood loss still posed a serious threat, and Margaret had been forced to keep the girl's temperature under control by constantly shedding the heat off with a bevy of wet towels that had been soaked in lukewarm water. These tasks had basically taken up the entire night, and part of the morning as well.

In her intense concentration Margaret barely noticed the sound of a door creaking open, and her husband walking in. She continued to dote over the girl, slowly lifting a patch of fabric she had ripped up that had been covering a nasty gash below the girl's left eye. The wound had scabbed, but was blood red and swollen.

"So how's it doing, Maggie?"

Her husband walked up behind her to take a peek at the girl's condition.

Margaret murmured something inaudibly in response. She picked up a pad of cotton dipped in alcohol and cleaned the wound under the girl's eye. She then ripped a fresh piece of fabric, applied some sticky ointment to it, and applied the makeshift bandage over the cut.

"I'll look after the feral for a bit, alright? You need to go get some rest," her husband said.

"I'm worried, Henry. Her wounds seem to be healing better now, though the cut on her face will likely leave a scar. But her fever doesn't seem to be getting any better."

"I know you're worried, Maggie, but there isn't much you can do for her now." Henry placed a hand on his wife's shoulder and squeezed, hoping to get her attention. "I'll make sure to re-wet the towels and try to keep the fever under control. I'm not a miracle worker, but I can do that, at least."

Margaret got up from her stool, and stared down at the girl. She seemed to be sleeping more quietly now, which reassured her somewhat. She felt a sudden wave of fatigue wash over her, and sighed to herself. "I suppose I'll go and get breakfast ready, then get some sleep after."

"There's no need. I already made some potatoes and eggs. I left some for you also."

"Thanks, Henry. Call me if she wakes up, ok?" Margaret gave her husband a kiss on the cheek, then started to head out of the room. She suddenly stopped by the doorway, however, and turned back. Something had been bothering her.

"Henry -"

"I've got it, Maggie. Just go eat already."

"No, it's just - I want to tell you about something weird I experienced last night. While I was trying my best to treat her wounds, the girl suddenly started thrashing about, and reaching out with her arms as if searching for something. I had thought she was just having a little nightmare, but then she started struggling for her breath, as if being suffocated by some unknown force. Not knowing what to do, I reached out and grabbed hold of her arms to keep her still, and whispered a little lullaby into her ear, hoping to calm her down. The girl responded by crying out - it sounded like the word 'mother' - and then she opened her eyes and looked right at me - her pupils had a color of amber and seemed to glow slightly."

Margaret paused for a bit, as if she were suddenly doubting her own words. "I could swear then that I saw a weird blue glow surround both of us, and then - I suddenly felt as if I had caught on fire. I felt as though I would burn up in a blaze of flames, so I let go of the girl and reached out for the water basin in panic. But as soon as I let her go, the feeling just vanished. I looked back at the girl, and she had gone back to sleeping peacefully, as if nothing had happened. It seems silly, but when I think back about it...perhaps I had just fallen asleep and had a nightmare without realizing it. But it felt frighteningly real to me."

Henry pondered Margaret's words for a moment, then chuckled to himself. "The guys would have loved to hear this one. Of course you've never experienced rune-fervor..."

Margaret gave her husband a puzzled look. "Rune-fervor? Why would that happen here? We don't use any quintessences, and the runes we do use are just tiny little flakes."

Her husband's tone and manner seemed to sour a little as he turned to look at her. "I've had to deal with a few ferals during my time as a Sentinel, Maggie. You may just see them as another species of humans, but they're entirely different from us."

"Stop it, Henry. We've already had this argument." Margaret shifted uncomfortably. Her husband's tone had changed so suddenly.

"I'll let the feral stay until it's able to walk. Then we make it leave, ok?"

"We'll decide that once she's awake and fully able to take care of herself, and not a moment sooner."

Margaret didn't stay to hear her husband's response, and hurriedly left the room. She went to the kitchen, found the plate of food waiting for her, and grabbed a few bites of the potatoes. She didn't bother to sit down, instead mulling over what her husband had just said.

Rune-fervor? Was that what she had experienced last night? It didn't make any sense. The tiny bit of rune energy they chose to use in the home were just little flakes embedded inside mechanistic devices, and certainly none of those flakes were used directly for organic-based magic. Rune crystals refined for use by humans were specifically called quintessences, but neither she nor Henry used them in the house - nor would they, even if they could afford those prohibitively expensive little crystals. Henry might have had exposure to them during his service with the Piltover Sentinels, but the Sentinels were primarily known for their use of mechanical devices - quintessences were more the realm of Piltover's sister city, Demacia, which had no shortage of talented quint mages like Luxanna Crownguard who could withstand the harsh effects of rune-fervor.

Margaret stabbed at some of the cold scrambled eggs with her fork, and jabbed them into her mouth absentmindedly. Henry could be so stubborn and mistrustful sometimes, but even she didn't understand his petty dislike for the ferals. Ferals were an uncommon minority in the human dominated cities of Valoran, and while they did often have odd and unpredictable behaviors, for the most part they were relatively mild mannered, and stayed out of most human affairs. She supposed the dislike was a trait shared among current and former members of the Sentinels - there had been very minor conflicts between the two groups in the past, but Henry had elected to take an early discharge from the Sentinels after attaining the rank of Captain. Regardless, she was not going to let the fox girl go until she was completely recovered and able to fend for herself. She resolved not to let henry bully her on this matter.

Feeling the fatigue of last night's rigors catching up to her, Margaret pushed the plate of eggs and potatoes away, got up, and headed towards her bedroom. She didn't bother to put on her nightgown, and simply plopped onto the bed. Her thoughts drifted to her son Roland, who was scheduled to come home later today. She started to wonder how he would react to the presence of the fox girl, but did not get to finish her thought as she drifted off into sleep.

-o-o-o-

The first thing the fox girl felt when she woke up was the dryness of her parched throat. She opened her eyes and was greeted with a blurry image of a plain, slightly mottled but smooth brown surface above her. Her right was blocked off by the same smooth surface. As she traced the two planes she could see that they connected on four points and extended to form a sort of square enclosure. In an instant it dawned on the girl that she was now inside the home of one of those tall creatures - the humans. The girl tried to get up from where she laid, but was stopped by a series of both sharp and dull aches throughout her entire body. Her muscles ached with that dull, burning sensation commonly experienced after bouts of extreme exertion.

The girl laid back down. Slowly she began to ascertain her surroundings. Parts of her body had been wrapped and bound in fabric, but they did not restrict her movement much. The girl spread the palm of her hand out in front of her face, and stared with muted acceptance at her long, delicate fingers, each of which she could move with uncanny dexterity. Fragments of memories began to take shape within her mind. She remembered her desperate flight through the forest, the throbbing pain she felt on her face, hands, feet, and body. She remembered ignoring the burn in her chest as she continued to run and leap through the forest beyond the limits of her endurance, ushered onwards by a strength she did not know she had.

The girl heard a strange noise from the far end of the room, and she turned her head in time to see a male figure enter the room. The girl widened her eyes in fear as the man took notice of her, and slowly walked towards her. She did not move from her resting spot, frozen by a combination of fatigue and fear.

The girl stared warily at the man as he approached closer, wondering what he was planning to do to her. She knew she had been unconscious and helpless for a period of time - though she did not know how long - so she was able to guess that this man was not here to kill her. She would have been dead already if that were the case. She nonetheless felt her heart begin to beat faster as the man walked up next to her. The man stared down at her with a sort of empty expression, then vocalized a series of strange sounds to her. She did not understand any of it, so she simply stared back at the man's face nervously and tried to gather some sort of emotion from his features. There were none. Then, to her amazement, the man simply backed off, turned around, and left the room, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

The girl turned her head back and gazed passively at the brown ceiling above her. With no one in the room and nothing for her to do except lay there, the slow realization of her current state began to creep up on her. All of her present memories were now of a life she no longer belonged to.

She recalled past mornings of her life as a fox, where she would wake up to the bittersweet smell of fresh honeysuckles blooming in the conifer forest. She would get up on all fours, arch her back, and lazily stretch out her muscles. When she felt ready, she would walk out of the cool, damp burrow in which she and her mother lived and out into the dusky forest, where beams of morning sunlight would penetrate through the canopy, forming small patches of heaven where she would sit and recline in while taking in the warmth of the sun's rays. The girl felt her chest throb with an unfamiliar pain as she envisioned her mother coming out of the burrow, coming to rest beside her, and giving her a loving nudge, prodding her on to whatever new adventure awaited them that day.

The girl tried to snap herself out of her little reverie. Although the memory was a happy one, it only made her sad, and the girl tried desperately to bury it inside herself. She did not want to think of her mother as it only filled her chest with pain and an empty longing. She tried to concentrate on the moment at hand instead. Was she a prisoner here? If she was, how would she escape her captors? Were these people related to the ones she had met in the forest earlier? She did not remember seeing on the man the distinctive blue circular symbol she had seen on the three men in the forest.

The fox girl heard more voices coming from outside her room. They were distinct - one female, one male. She turned her head towards the entrance, and saw a woman enter the room. In her right hand she held a tall, gray container. The woman flashed a reassuring gaze at the girl, walked up to where the girl lay, and knelt down beside her. Slowly she brought the tall, narrow container next to the girls lips. The girl drew back at first, unsure of what the woman wanted from her, but when she looked into the container she saw that it contained...

Water!

Remembering how dry and parched her throat was, the girl struggled onto her elbows, and gave the woman a hesitant glance. Oh, how she desperately hoped that the water was for her to drink! The woman gestured encouragingly at the girl and gave her a reassuring smile. Feeling a bit braver now, the girl leaned forward over the water container, stuck out her tongue, and lowered her head into the container, trying to lap up some of the water. To her dismay, she found that she could only slurp up precious few droplets, as the container was impossibly small. She found that she was unable to stick her tongue out far enough into the container. Growing a bit frustrated, the fox girl looked up at the woman, who had on her face a sort of amused expression. The woman gently grabbed hold of the girl's hand. The girl did not shrink back, but instead let the woman guide her hand onto the container. The container was placed below the girl's lips, and slowly tilted forward.

In a flash of realization, the girl proceeded to sit up a bit and placed both hands on the container. She opened her mouth wide, and eagerly tilted the container in so that the water gushed into her mouth. This method of drinking seemed immediately obvious to her now, but she had been so stuck in her previous frame of habit that she had not even considered other options. Now the girl drank the blissfully refreshing water with untold glee. Much of the water missed its mark and instead streamed haphazardly out of the girl's mouth and down her cheeks, but she did not care. The girl tilted the container further inward and gulped down the remaining water, and she felt a thrilling jolt run down her body as her intense thirst was finally sated.

With the water finally gone, the girl looked back up at the woman, who had been watching her with a sort of intrigued expression on her face, and sheepishly handed the now empty container back to the woman. The girl decided that she liked this woman. She didn't know how, but she felt that she knew this was the woman who had cared for her and helped her while she had been unconscious. What's more, she had this feeling of safety with this woman that reminded her of the happy memories of her mother.

The woman stood up from her chair, and began to turn around. The girl quickly realized that she was about to leave, so she let out a soft little cry, reached out with her arm, and grabbed hold of the woman's hand. Startled, the woman turned to look at the girl. The girl stared back with pleading eyes, begging silently for the woman to stay with her. She tightened her grip on the woman's hand, and tried to tug her back. With her mother gone, the girl had struggled to deal with and suppress her feelings of loneliness. Now that she had finally found someone who seemed to care for her, the girl was now terrified of losing her newfound friend. She did not want to be alone, to face those feelings of loss and loneliness again.

Looking into the girl's eyes, the woman decided to acquiesce to the girl's touching plea, and sat back down. The girl, still feeling weak and tired from her ordeals, laid down and closed her eyes. They stayed like this for awhile, the girl's hand happily latched onto the woman's, the woman looking on, until finally the girl's breathing began to rise and fall in a steady rhythm, and her grip began to relax. After making sure the girl was fast asleep, the woman carefully released the girl's hand and placed it onto the bed. She stood back up, but then hesitated for a moment. She then bent down, gave the girl a loving kiss on the cheek, and then quietly left the room.


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Ch 3

The fox girl slept through the rest of that day, and for most of the night as well. When she finally woke up, she found that she was alone. The girl got up slowly, carefully testing her limbs by stretching them out. She felt a dull ache in her face and hands, and her muscles still felt sore, but it seemed manageable now. The girl perked her fox ears and listened carefully for any trace of activity outside her room.

Nothing.

The inhabitants of the house must be asleep. Curious now about her surroundings, the girl gingerly stepped off the bed, testing her balance. Once she was sure of her footing, she let go of the bedpost she had been holding onto for support, and walked towards the door. She tried to push it open, but found that it would not budge. The girl let out an annoyed huff. Why did these humans like to lock themselves inside wooden containers? What were they scared of?

She grabbed a curved handle attached to the door, and jerked it up and down. She gave the handle a strong tug to no effect. Odd. It did not seem like the woman had spent much effort opening this the other day. The handle could be pulled up or down. She decided to pull it all the way up. She heard a distinct *click*. So that was the trick! She pulled on the handle again, but the door still would not budge. Grrr! She depressed the lever all the way down this time, then pulled on the door again. To her surprise, the door popped open with no resistance, sending her tumbling backwards. She landed on her butt, bracing the fall partially with her hands. This proved to be a horrible decision. Sharp stabs of pain shot up her hands and up her arm, making her jerk her hands up and away. Owww.

The girl shuffled back onto her knees, and crawled towards the door. Grabbing onto the doorway with her fingertips for support, she pulled herself back onto her feet, then stepped out into the hallway. The hall was dim and felt very closed off. Further down to her right were two more doors, which she guessed was where the man and woman slept. No need to disturb them for now - there was more exploring to do. Down the hall to her left was another door, and further on the wall ended, allowing an opening into another room which was where light seemed to spill in from. The girl sneaked past the two doors and down the hallway, and stepped through the opening, revealing a large, well-lit room with two windows, which let in the sunlight from outside giving the room a natural, soft glow. There was a counter on the far end of the room, on top of which laid a chaotic scene of various food items as well as boxes, pouches, plates, and utensils.

Realizing now that she probably hadn't eaten for a couple days, the girl shuffled over to the counter and gazed at the various food items available. There were an assortment of vegetables she was familiar with, but the other items seemed unrecognizable and foreign to her. Being aware that there were many things in the forest that were poisonous or otherwise inedible, the girl was hesitant to try the more odd looking items, and decided to stick to what she was familiar with. She picked up a plump, fleshy red tomato, and was about to bite into it when she heard a noise in the room next to her. The girl quickly turned around. The sound seemed to come from the room adjacent to the one she was in. A wall separated the two rooms, but there was an opening at the end that allowed one to walk between the rooms. The girl pressed herself up against the separating wall to minimize her profile, then slid over to where the wall ended. The sound of a door closing rang out. Maybe the man and woman weren't sleeping after all. Brimming with curiosity, she turned to peek around the corner, and came up face to face with another boy, slightly older than her, who widened his eyes in shock upon seeing the girl before him. What instantly caught the girl's attention, however, was the red tunic he was wearing, which bore a distinct symbol on the chest.

A flaming blue circle.

Recognizing it as the same symbol she had seen on the men in the forest, the girl let out a terrified scream, and chucked the tomato she had been holding at the boy with all the strength she could muster. It struck him squarely in the face and burst open, forcing him to reel back temporarily. The girl used this chance to run back towards her room. Before she could reach the hallway, she ran into the woman. In a full panic, the girl looked up at the woman with terrified eyes, motioned towards the boy, then tried desperately to cower behind her.

The boy, still reeling from the impact, let loose a few curses and stared at the girl with a highly annoyed look on his face.

"Mom? Wha - what the hell just happened? Who's that girl?"

Margaret put a hand on the girl's shoulder, and tried to comfort her. She looked over at her son.

"She's just a guest. Are you ok, Roland?"

Roland wiped a few scraps of tomato off his forehead, and held out his finger, stained red with tomato juice. "No mom, I think I'm gonna die."

"Oh shush, Roland. What did you do to scare the girl so much?"

"What did I do? Nothing! She just attacked me." The boy stole a glance at the girl, who was still cowering behind his mother. She looked around 13 years old, but her timid demeanor made it seem like she was younger. "A feral? Who the hell is she, ma? And, um, why is she walking around half naked?"

Margaret crouched down and gave the girl a reassuring glance, and tried to calm her down. "What's wrong?" Margaret said to the girl. "Roland is my son. There's nothing to be scared of."

The girl ignored her and continued to stare at the symbol on the boy's chest. She clung tightly to Margaret's arm and whimpered pitifully.

Trying to alleviate the situation, Roland stepped towards the girl slowly, and tried to give her a friendly smile. "Hey, umm...I'm sorry if I scared you. I should have made more noise - I was only trying to surprise my parents. It's totally my fault."

As the boy drew closer, the girl let out a small, scared yelp. She let go of Margaret's hand and dashed into the hallway. She scrambled down the hall and into her room, and slammed the door shut.

Roland walked up to his mom with an amused look on his face. "So - uh, mom, can you explain why we have a crazed feral in the house?"

Margaret frowned at her son upon hearing that word. "She's not crazed, Roland. We found her outside the house unconscious and barely alive, and I decided to help her. What did you do to scare her so much, Roland?"

"Really mom, I have no idea...maybe that's how a feral reacts when they see someone extremely handsome?"

"Yeah, you look positively charming with globs of tomato on your face. Here - let me wipe that off..hold still!"

"Ah - stop it mom, you don't have to. Mom! I'll do it myself - agh!" Roland yanked the towel from his mother. She could be so overbearing sometimes.

Margaret let out an exasperated sigh, but decided to relent. She looked her son up and down. He seemed to have grown a bit more muscular since he left for Sentinel training. "You're home early...how did it go in the city?"

"It went OK, I guess," Roland replied. "They assigned me to the Sentinel Scouts trainee division."

"You don't sound that excited. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Well..it's better than being assigned to Army, if that's what you meant..."

"Oh...I remember now. You said you wanted to be one of the Grenadiers? So you could get a chance to use all their 'mega-awesome' rune weapons and artillery, right?" Margaret mockingly pantomimed shooting a rune-bow at her son, who scoffed at her in response.

"The scouts get to use all sorts of neat weaponry too. Besides, they give all the cool missions to the scouts. When I took my leave they were sending out some of the trainees on a real search mission."

Margaret paused and stared at her son for a moment as she considered the implications of what she had just heard. "A search mission? Searching for what?"

Roland caught on quickly. "Mom.."

"What were they searching for, specifically?" Margaret interrupted. She started running through a hundred different scenarios and possibilities in her imagination.

"They didn't tell anyone not directly involved with the mission...but -"

"Roland...the girl...she wasn't scared of you - she was scared of that symbol on your chest. Your father told me when I took the girl in that he had suspected that someone or something was hunting for her..."

"And you think the person they're searching for is that feral girl?"

"Yes," Margaret replied flatly. "Roland, take off your tunic. I have to talk to her and find out her side of the story, and why the Sentinels are looking for her."

"Her side of the story? Mom - if the Sentinels really are looking for her - "

"Just do what I say, Roland. Go change, now." Margaret ignored her son's protest and headed into the hallway and down towards the guest bedroom where the girl had shut herself in. She slowly opened the door and peeked in. She found the fox girl huddled on the far corner of the room in front of her bed. She had droplets of tears in her eyes. Margaret kneeled down next to the girl and tried to comfort her. The girl shrank back and buried her face in one of her bushy fox tails.

"It'll be okay, honey. There's nothing to be afraid of..." Margaret patted the girl comfortingly. The girl looked up at her and sniffled, but remained silent. "Do you have a name? You don't have to give your real name if you don't want to. Just something I can call you."

The fox girl stared at Margaret's mouth, and narrowed her eyes in confusion.

"You don't want to tell me your name?" Margaret brushed the girl's messy and oiled hair back. As if on cue, the girl opened her mouth, seeming to want to say something.

"Ahh...ah -"

Margaret frowned at the girl. Was she incapable of verbalizing? Now that she thought about it, she had never heard the girl speak anything at all in her short time here. She must be so traumatized. Did the Sentinels do this to her?

The girl suddenly jerked in fear, tugging Margaret's arm and pointing at the doorway.

"Alright mom, I'm not a big scary Sentinel anymore." Roland, who had taken off his tunic, was standing by the doorway, looking at her and the fox girl.

Margaret turned to her son, and shooed him away. "Go away Roland! Can't you see the girl is still terrified of you?"

Roland sighed. Although he was a bit worried about what his mother was thinking just taking in a random feral girl, he still felt a bit annoyed at the fact that he and the girl seemed to have gotten off on the wrong foot. He walked into the room against his mother's protests.

"Let me talk to her. Maybe we're just getting the situation all wrong." He stopped short a couple feet from the girl, and knelt down, looking her in the eyes. The girl continued to stare at the boy in silence. Roland reached into his pockets, and took out a fresh, plump tomato he had taken from the kitchen counter. "Were you hungry? I didn't mean to interrupt your breakfast." Roland gently rolled the tomato over towards the girl. It came to a stop a few inches in front of her.

The girl reached out and picked up the fruit. She held it in her hands and stared down at it for awhile. She then looked up at the boy and, with a sudden motion, drew her hand back and flung the tomato at him.

"Hey!" Roland drew backwards in surprise but the tomato struck him square in the face, making him lose his balance and fall on his butt. The tomato bounced off his head and landed behind him with a splat. The girl let out a short, almost inaudible giggle, but quickly covered it up.

Margaret burst out laughing at her son. Roland was somewhat less amused, but he gave the girl a good natured grin. "Alright, I get it. You don't like tomatoes. I don't like them either, to be honest."

The girl seemed to have stopped crying, and was staring at Roland with a sort of apprehensive look on her face. "Roh," she managed to utter out. "Roh...lan."

"Did she just say my name?" Roland looked at his mother and raised an eyebrow.

Margaret furrowed her brow, and looked down at the girl. "Don't you know how to talk? Are you just scared?" she asked her.

The fox girl stared at Margaret's mouth with a mixed look of frustration and confusion. It seemed as if she could comprehend that they were trying to communicate with her, but it did not look like she understood anything they were saying.

"Mom...I don't think this girl knows how to speak." Roland said.

Margaret turned to her son with a worried expression on her face. "I think you may be right." Although many ferals were known to speak in the ancient, base language of Valoran, communication was still possible because the more advanced human languages were merely evolved dialects from the original language. That this girl did not seem to speak at all was extremely peculiar. Where were her parents? Had she been abandoned? Was she being hunted by the Sentinels? If so, what did they want with her? A variety of different possibilities and explanations flashed through Margaret's mind, but she was interrupted by a tug on her arm. The girl opened her mouth, and patted her lips. She was hungry.

Margaret helped the girl to her feet and led her back to the kitchen. She began preparing something simple for the girl - grilled toast with honey and mashed nut butter. The fox girl used this time to eagerly go through and examine the different types of food items laid out on the kitchen counter. When her son Roland opened a cupboard and took out a basket containing an assortment of summer berries, the girl gasped in delight and started stuffing her face with blueberries and blackberries. Margaret noted how the girl seemed to be much more at ease now, but still never talked, and only used gestures and facial expressions. At one point, the girl picked up a tomato, handed it to Roland, and smiled shyly, almost as if she wanted to apologize to him for her earlier rash actions.

When the toast was done, Margaret pulled up a chair for the girl and motioned for her to sit down. The girl sat there and jabbed her fingers at the toast as if she'd never seen a piece of bread before. It wasn't until she saw Margaret pick up and eat her own toast did she finally decide to take a small bite out of her own piece of bread. Margaret half expected the girl to spit it out, but she seemed to be good humoured about it. The girl picked up a few berries from the fruit basket, spread it over the toast, and then started eating, finally satisfied with the taste. The three of them sat there eating for awhile.

"So when is dad coming back? I'm guessing he's out on a supply run?" Roland said.

"He probably won't be back for a couple hours. We had a really large batch of orders yesterday." Her husband Henry's job was, in essence, a deliveryman - he delivered various fresh foods and supplies that they grew on the the farm to families living in the main city of Piltover. It brought in significantly more money than selling them to wholesale businesses, but was also more time consuming.

Roland's face grew a bit more serious. "Mom - have you thought what you're going to do with the girl? What if the Sentinels really are looking for her? Shouldn't we turn her in?"

"No. I wouldn't turn her in even if they were looking for her. Roland, when I found her, she was in an absolutely pitiful condition. The Sentinels aren't known to be very accommodating towards even the more civilized city-dwelling ferals. Imagine how they would treat this girl?"

"But you don't even know who this girl is, or what her circumstances are -"

"And that's exactly why I'm trying to help her, Roland. She has to have parents, or someone who cares for her. Though judging by her state, I'm not sure if she's even being cared for properly by whoever was raising her."

Roland remained silent after that. He knew his mom tended to be extremely stubborn about her ideals, and he really had no leeway on the matter. Besides, even though he was training to become part of the Sentinels, he too felt conflicted about turning the girl over to them - if they were even looking for her. There were so many mysteries surrounding this girl, and it made him nervous.

After they were finished eating, Margaret went out to tend to her farm duties. Roland decided to spend some more time with the fox girl. The girl was very receptive to him, and he spent some time trying to get the girl to talk. He would point at various things around the house and ask her what is was he was pointing at, but the girl would always just stare at the object and narrow her brow in confusion. When he finally said the object's name out loud, the girl would try to repeat what he had said, with some difficulty. Plate would became "prate", table was "tae-bal", oven sounded like "uff-en", and of course, Roland was "Roh-lan". It was almost cute in a way, like teaching a two-year old how to speak. Try as he might though, he couldn't get the girl to say her own name, even though he thought he had made it very obvious he wanted to know her name. He began to suspect that the girl did not know.

They went on like this for a couple of hours, until they had eventually identified almost everything in the house. The girl then tugged at Roland's hand and pointed towards things she saw outside the kitchen window. The girl desperately wanted to go outside and explore the farm further, and Roland, feeling the effects of the girl's enthusiasm, led her outside. He led her around the farm, exploring the surrounding areas and continuing their little naming game.

It was then that Henry, Roland's father, finally came back from his deliveries. Margaret had just finished tidying up and had locked the doors to the barn when she heard the familiar click-clacking of her husband's delivery cart approaching. She took off her gloves, dusted off her hands and walked towards him, giving him a casual wave. "How were the deliveries?" she called out.

Henry pulled his cart up to a stop next to his wife, then flicked his head back, motioning for her to check the cart. "I managed to sell everything, but most of it was on credit."

Margaret frowned. She knew Henry had been extending credit to his buyers, but it had been awhile since he had been able to bring back any tangible sum of money.

Henry saw the look on his wife's face and shook his head. "Maggie, I had no choice. People don't have money right now. It's because of that damned war those Demacians are fighting. All trade with Demacia is blocked, and you know how the Sentinels have been taxing the hell out of everyone, trying to build up their own army." Henry leaned back and stared up at the sky. "You know, sometimes I wonder if leaving the Sentinels was the right choice."

Margaret stared at her husband. She could sense how frustrated he was. "You don't need to worry about it, Henry. You did what you thought was best for us." She tapped him on the arm, and motioned for him to follow. "Come on inside. Roland's home from his stint with the Sentinels, you know that? He's even taken to the fox girl. They're out somewhere playing right now."

Henry sighed, and hopped off the cart. "You know that feral has to go sooner or later, right? I might have been a former Sentinel, but if they find out we've been harboring a feral I doubt they'd be too happy about it. Nor would anyone else, if they knew."

"Henry, we don't even live in the city. Why would it be an issue?"

"We're still under the jurisdiction of Piltover. It's always been an issue. The ferals brought this on themselves with that mess ten years ago."

"We don't even know if she has anywhere to go. At the very least, we wait until the fighting in Demacia calms down, then we find someone willing to take her and raise her there. She wouldn't have a future in Piltover, Henry. You know that."

"Damnit Maggie," Henry said. "I don't know what's gotten into you. Why did I have to marry someone so stubborn?"

Margaret stroked his shoulder softly, trying to calm him down. "Henry, I'll make it up to you, ok? I just really think this is what's best for the girl."

Henry didn't return the smile, and just walked back to the house in silence. Margaret wrinkled her brow in worry. She hadn't expected Henry to be so adamant about the girl, and began to suspect there might be something he wasn't telling her. She heard some distant laughter, and turned her head to see Roland showing the delighted fox girl one of the stallions they kept on the farm. She smiled, and walked back into the house, more sure of herself than ever that she was doing the right thing.


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

My father was a good king - a great king. I know you all want vengeance for his death, but understand that we must also consider the danger posed by the barbarians of Fjeljord, as well as invasions from the sea by the shadow kingdoms. I...we will send a tenth - no, I mean, a fifth of my army, and half of the Crownguard army to the front to fight Noxus. I will not be going with them - General Garen will lead in my stead. I know you want retribution, but we must tread carefully. Understand this - I am only doing what I think is right for Demacia.
- Jarvan VI, 18 years old, speech given on the eve of the death of Jarvan III

Ch 4 - Demacia - several weeks later

The T-shaped rune silos towered high above Demacia. They were a convincing testament to the city state’s wealth - each rose to a height of over 400 feet. Their metallic exterior shimmered brightly under the heat of the Demacian sun. Summers in western Valoran were almost always warm, breezy, and beautiful - which was a shame, Lux thought to herself, since she was stuck inside a stuffy little room.

She stared apathetically out the window, sorely wishing she were anywhere but here. There really wasn’t anything to see out the window except the flat tops of the silos and a few clouds, but she was trying her best to ignore her tutor Lilith Aubrey, who was quizzing her on light refraction questions. A female feral servant - a half-dog with an elongated face and tufts of hair on her skin - stood by the door in silence, head bowed, waiting impassively. A sharp tap on the desk brought her back to attention.

“Luxanna Crownguard, can you at least pay attention for one question? Now, when a light beam passes through a block of ice at -2 degrees celsius, given an index of refraction of 1.307 for ice, 1.003 for air, and the equation of refraction n1 sin of theta one = n2 sin of theta two, what is the angle of refraction theta two after it crosses the boundary, if the beam’s initial entry point is 37 degrees?”

Lux shrugged her shoulders and stared at Lilith from the corner of her eye. “Twelve?”

Lilith sighed, and flipped a tuft of dark, curly hair away from her eyes. “Lux, you know the answer to this. I know you’re leaving for military assignment tomorrow and it is hard to concentrate, but this is the last class you’re gonna have in awhile. So can you please just humour me?

“Why are you asking me if I already know what it is?” Lux turned and gave her tutor a coy little smile. She began doodling on her sheet of scratch paper.

“Because rune magic boils down to knowing how to manipulate the primal forces and elements nature provides us with. You have a natural talent for light magic, but knowing ‘why’ and ‘how’ it all works is just as important as the actual practice of magic. And in battle, a split second can mean the difference between...”

Lux furrowed her brow in concentration, and continued her doodling. She drew a stick figure adorned with a mess of black, curly hair and angry, stern eyes. When Lilith had finished her little monologue, Lux looked up. “Okay, the answer is three point five seven eight.”

Lilith frowned. “You’re not even trying.” She pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Lux. She glanced at the little doodle and rolled her eyes. “That drawing makes me look like a stern old schoolteacher.”

“That’s because you are a stern old schoolteacher.”

“And you’re a spoiled little brat Luxanna. How about acting your age for once, hmm?”

Lux put down her pencil and set the doodle aside. She wouldn’t have admitted it, but she liked Lilith, and in a way, looked up to her. Being the only daughter of the decorated Crownguard family, and having shown a talent for light magic at a young age, most people expected the world of her, including her parents. Lilith was one of the few who actually treated her like a person.

“And how do you expect a nineteen year old to act, Lilith?” Lux said.

“It isn’t just your age. You are a Crownguard, Lux. Why, when your brother Garen was the same age as you, he led his squad -”

“I don’t need to be told about my brother’s accomplishments,” Lux huffed. Why did everyone want to compare her to her brother? He was almost twelve years older than her - there was no way she could match his list of accolades.

“I did not mean to compare you to your brother, if that’s what you think I’m doing. That man is a physical specimen,” Lilith gushed. “Besides, they finally gave you an active command - it shows they are starting to have more faith in you. Who cares what your brother does?.”

Lux dismissed her remark with a wave of her hand. “Yeah, they have tons of faith in me. They assigned me to lead a squad of one hundred on the second relief battalion.”

Lilith giggled. “And what’s wrong with that? Did you expect them to give you command of an entire vanguard division and just march into battle, with thousands of lives on the line, when you can’t even pay attention for two hours in class?”

Lux opened her mouth to reply, but was left speechless. She had been trying to fish for some sympathy, but hearing Lilith mock her like that made her angry. She felt ready to lead, and Lilith was marginalizing her! She wanted to get up and storm out of the room. Instead she just lowered her head and sulked.

“Oh don’t pout like that, Lux. You have so much potential - you just need to start taking things seriously,” Lilith said. She smiled reassuringly. “Listen - I know you have to meet with Captain Roberts in a few hours, so I think it’s fair to let you out early so you can get some rest and prepare for tomorrow.”

“Well, it’s about time.” Lux got up, and motioned to her feral servant Anne. She obediently opened the door for her.

“Good luck,” Lilith called out.

“Bye Lil.” Lux walked out of the room and her servant closed the door behind her. “Anne, escort me to my room. And please fetch my summer clothes.” The servant complied without a word. As she followed her down the hall, she muttered silently to herself.

“Entry point 37 degrees...theta would equal .603, which means the angle of refraction is 27.5.” Lux smiled. “Easy.”

-o-o-o-


Lux was standing in front of the mirror in her room, fiddling absentmindedly with the pink quintessence dangling from her neck while Anne buttoned her dress from behind. It could barely be called a quint - just a tiny flake, the same size as a Demacian penny. It was really only useful for small light tricks. Despite that, she always carried it around with her wherever she went. It wasn’t always practical to lug a heavy wand everywhere, and she felt naked without a source of rune nearby.

She heard someone knock on the door, and Lux directed her servant to go open it. She stared at her blonde, shoulder length curled hair from the mirror and tried to fix it up as best she could. Anne could be slow in the head sometimes, but she was a spectacular hairdresser, if nothing else. She marveled at how Anne could turn her normally straight, limp hair into cascades of spritely little curls. She just hoped he would like it.

Still staring straight ahead at the mirror, Lux briefly touched her quint with two fingers, and focused on the mirror’s reflection. The light rays reflecting off the mirror shifted subtly, allowing her a full view of the door to her left. To a person unaccustomed to optical tricks, the altered view would have been disorienting, but not to her. She felt a tinge of excitement course throughout her body as she saw a young man walk in. She appraised him from head to toe. He had a lean but athletic build - not as tall or muscular as say, her brother Garen, for example - but that was a good thing. His conservative, cropped hair and stubbly beard belied a glint of mischief apparent in his dark eyes. Lux found him irresistible, but she continued to stare at him secretly from the mirror’s altered reflection, waiting for him to make the first move.

The young man gave a polite bow, then looked up and grinned. He side stepped quickly out of the line of view of the altered mirror. Caught by surprise, Lux twirled around. She found the young man right behind her.

“Justin -”

The man put his arms around Lux’s slender waist, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, silencing her. “Hello, my pretty little Luxanna,” the man said cheerily.

Lux smiled at him sweetly, her pale blue eyes twinkling. “I’ve missed you, Justin.”

Justin let out a short little laugh, then tugged on her hand, leading her towards the door. “Come on, I want to show you something amazing before we leave tomorrow.”

Lux followed him as he tugged her onwards, but was stopped by a touch on her shoulder.

“Miss...miss Lux...” Anne said in a halting, heavily accented voice.

Lux let go of Justin’s hand, and turned to look at her servant, slightly annoyed at her interruption. “Yes, Anne?”

“Miss Lux, you have meeting with soldier boss. Clock 7:00.” Anne bowed her head respectfully.

“Yes Anne, I’m aware of that. I will be back in time. You may do as you wish around the house until I return.” Lux turned again to leave, but the feral grabbed her hand forcefully.

“Please, Miss Lux. You leave, you always late come. Master Garen tell me, Miss Lux no leave. If leave, punish Anne. Anne no like punish.”

Lux angrily jerked her hand away. “How dare you restrain me, you stupid animal!” She raised her hand as if to slap her servant, but Justin stepped in between them.

“Wait, Lux.” Justin turned to the feral, who had not moved and was still staring down at the floor. “Anne, I only want to show her one last thing before we leave on assignment tomorrow. I promise you I’ll bring her back in time, okay? You don’t have to worry about being punished.”

Anne continued to stare at the floor, and remained silent. Justin reached into his pocket and took out a gold-plated pocket watch. He opened it, then grabbed the feral’s arm and placed the watch in her hand.

“The meeting with her Captain is at 7:00, right? You keep watch of the clock. If we come back and it’s past 6:00, I’ll let you keep the watch, no questions asked, ok?” He grinned reassuringly at Anne.

“Justin, you’re being ridiculous,” Lux complained.

“It’s alright, Lux. Let’s go.”

The pair left the room, leaving Anne alone with Justin’s pocket watch. The feral watched the seconds tick by as she admired its beautiful golden frame. She let herself pretend that she actually owned the valuable little accessory. Even if it was temporary, it was still the most valuable thing she had ever owned.

-o-o-o-

“Why did you give her your pocket watch, Justin? That was so silly,” Lux said. She and Justin were walking down one of the main streets of Demacia, which was bustling with carts, stores, and revelers who had come out to window shop and enjoy the beautiful sunny day.

“I was just trying not to make a mess,” Justin replied. “Why do you treat her so badly? Anne seems so loyal to you.”

“I wasn’t going to hit her, you know. I just..” Lux bit her lip in frustration. Why did Anne have to embarrass her like that? She didn’t mean to get so angry, but the stupid half-dog had kept provoking her.

“Just what? Anne was right, you know. You’re late to meetings a lot, and she often gets the punishment for letting you leave.”

“And who’s fault is that? You’re the one who insists on taking me out all the time,” Lux teased.

“Haha. You don’t even tell me about your appointments, so how would I know if you’re late for something?”

“Well, you never ask. Did you assume I just spend all of my time sitting at home with nothing to do, waiting for you to come?”

Justin chuckled. “Well then it’s a good thing Anne let me know about your meeting then. I’m gonna make sure you’re back by 6:00.”

Lux grabbed Justin’s hand. She was tired of thinking about Anne and the meeting with Captain Roberts. “You said you had something amazing to show me? Well, what was it?”

“You’ll see when we get there. Just follow me.”

Lux followed him as they walked down the busy street, passing storefronts hawking a variety of unique gadgets and trinkets, and others selling more basic items like breads and cheeses. Most of the commoners and revelers ignored the duo - the Western District of Demacia was known to be particularly high class - but a few bowed or curtsied out of respect for a member of the Crownguards.

Her boyfriend, Justin Altard, was from a relatively unknown family. They had met a little over a year ago, when Lux had received her commission and been assigned the rank of 2nd lieutenant in the Crownguard army. Justin had been assigned as her senior NCO.

Her superiors had initially expected much from her, but her lax discipline and immature behavior had tarnished her reputation severely. When she had sought out a relationship with her 2nd in command, it only cemented in her superior’s minds that giving her a commission at such a young age had been a mistake, despite her lineage. In truth, although she disparaged it, the fact that she had been assigned command of a hundred soldiers in a reserve battalion had been an act of extreme generosity - one which no doubt had been influenced by her brother, Garen.

Justin led her down a side street leading towards one of the massive Rune silos placed at various spots in Demacia, which mined the liquid magic deep beneath the earth that provided Valoran with it’s boundless energy and magic. When they reached the brick walls surrounding the silo, Justin motioned for Lux to stay silent, then led her around towards the back of the wall.

“Why did you lead me here? There’s nothing to see here,” Lux whispered.

Justin simply grunted, then took out a small dagger from his waist. He approached the wall and put his hand up to it, feeling for the small crack he had seen earlier. Once he found it, he stabbed the knife into it, pushing it in all the way to create a stable foothold at waist level. He took a few steps back, then rushed at the wall and jumped. Using his momentum, he placed a foot onto the hilt and pushed off it, propelling him upwards just enough so that he could grab onto the top of the wall. He lifted himself up, then looked back down expectantly at Lux.

Lux looked up at him and frowned. “It’s too high for me.”

“It’ll be ok. Come on, jump!”

Lux had her doubts, but she didn’t want to look like a coward in front of Justin, so she dashed towards the wall and jumped up. She stepped on the dagger’s hilt and pushed off, but the knife wobbled out slightly, causing her to slam her knee into the wall. She cried out in surprise, but Justin reached out and grabbed hold of her hand. With a sharp tug, he pulled her up onto the wall. Once safe, Lux sat back and rubbed her bruised knee, but heard Justin laughing at her.

“Who told you to step on the dagger? That was just for me to get up. You could have just jumped straight up and I would have reached down and grabbed you,” he said, still laughing.

“You’re an idiot Justin. I could have done it myself,” Lux said bitterly. She got up and walked past him, down along the wall.

“Hey wait up. Do you even know where you’re going?”

“Of course I do. I don’t need you to lead me anywhere. I’m your superior officer, remember?” she called back with a smirk.

Lux continued to ignore Justin and walked briskly along the wall. She stopped over a small storage container that had been placed up against the wall . She hopped down on top of the container, approached the edge and, ignoring the dull pain in her knee, jumped off and onto the ground. She turned and looked up at Justin.

“Well? Hurry up!” she said impatiently. She was still angry about Justin laughing at her.

She watched Justin hop onto the container and then leap off it onto the ground.

“Alright, lieutenant Lux, where do we go next?” Justin said.

“We’re going into the silo, sargeant. Try not to fall behind,” Lux retorted.

She walked quickly towards one of the entry points into the structure. She could hear the periodic hum that emitted from the silo as it siphoned liquid magic from deep inside the earth up into the large disc at the top, to eventually be cooled into crystal form.

“May I offer a suggestion, lieutenant?” Justin called out from behind.

“You may, and I might even consider it.”

“If we just barge in through the front door, we’re likely to be caught by the workers. I have an alternate route that can let us enter undetected, but since I’m just a lowly soldier, I’m willing to defer to your wise leadership.” Justin paused, then politely added, “Sir.”

Lux stopped, then spun around. She was indignant. “You know, as ‘impossible’ as it may seem, I’ve been inside a Rune silo before. They will permit a Crownguard inside, though I can’t say the same for -”

Justin rushed forward and put a hand over her mouth. Lux started protesting angrily, but he motioned for her to be silent.

“Shut up for a second, will you? Someone’s coming out.”

Lux bit her lip - she had quite a few choice words she still wanted to say - but she decided to put them aside for now. The door opened, and a gruff looking worker came out, whistling a happy little tune. Lux grabbed Justin’s hand. “Stay still,” she whispered.

Lux grabbed the quintessence she wore on her neck, and concentrated on the light reflecting off her and Justin. She knew that people saw, for example, a green object only because that object reflects green light off it while absorbing all other colors. She couldn’t just alter the angles of the light rays - if no light entered the eye, the result would make them appear as a human-shaped black stain in the air. Instead, she diverted the path of the light rays around them temporarily - kind of like how water flows around a rock in a river instead of through it. The result was that, when the worker turned his head and looked directly at where they were standing, he didn’t see them - he saw the object behind them, as if nothing was there. It was all just an optical illusion, of course, but one that couldn’t be sustained for long - the tiny rune flake started to shudder and grow dim. Lux pleaded for the man to hurry up and leave.

The worker squinted his eyes and stared hard at where the pair were standing. Something looked a little off - he could swear the supply container he saw over by the wall looked weird - almost as if it were slightly disjointed. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head.

God, he really needed to get home and get some rest. He made a promise to himself to stop working those double shifts - they were making him crazy! He walked forward, then stopped inches away from where the pair were standing. He took out a wrapped sandwich, unwrapped it, and started eating. He stared up at a couple songbirds nesting in a tree, and smiled. What a beautiful day, he thought to himself. It was a shame he still had six more hours until his shift was up. Six more hours of being cooped up in the stupid silo, stuck with the monotonous task of monitoring the temperature and conditions to make sure the raw liquid magic cooled properly to form usable rune crystals.

Will you please hurry up and eat your damn sandwich? I don’t know how much longer my quint will last! Lux stared at the man out of the corner of her eye. He smelled like musty old clothes and dried sweat.

Finally finished with his meal, the man turned and started walking back into the building. He discarded the wrapper nonchalantly behind him. It floated about in the wind, then got caught on Justin’s head. If the worker had bothered to turn around, he would have seen the wrapper just floating in mid air.

As the worker closed the door behind him, Lux’s quintessence vibrated slightly, then went still, spent of all it’s magic energy. It’s pink glow faded and turned into a dull, translucent blue. The pair re-appeared. Lux breathed a sigh of relief, then looked at Justin with a grin.

“That wrapper totally suits you,” she said.

Justin snatched the wrapper from his head and threw it away in disgust. “Wow. That was just nasty.” He turned to look at Lux. “So, lieutenant, what about my suggestion? Shall I lead you to the alternate route so we can avoid the evil sandwich man?”

“Oh, will you stop calling me that?” Lux was trying to be serious, but she couldn’t help but laugh.

“Sir yes sir. Whatever you say sir.” Justin started walking towards the side of the building.

“I hate you, Justin. I mean it.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I try everyday to be a better man.”

Justin walked over to a small protrusion on the side of the building, then opened up a small service door. It revealed a short passage leading into the building; at the end of the passage was a ladder leading up. The pair ducked into the passage and climbed up the ladder to the second level, which was just a small room containing a mechanical elevator. They entered the elevator, and Justin started turning the lever. The elevator started rising at a steady pace.

“How did you even know there was an elevator here?” Lux asked him.

Justin grinned. “My dad used to work as a mechanic. When I was sixteen, I used to go with my dad and help him perform maintenance repairs on all the silos. Most people have only seen the first floor of the silos, but this service elevator allowed us go up to the higher floors and perform whatever work needed to be done to keep everything working.”

Lux stared up, but could only see the occasional row of lights that highlighted the ground level of each floor, stretching infinitely up into the distance. Just how high did this elevator go? All the way to the top? Silos were massive structures - most rose up to a height of around 400 feet.

They passed floor after floor, until finally they reached the very top. Lux followed Justin out of the elevator and down a short, dark hallway, which led to another ladder. They climbed up to a small overhead door. When Justin reached up and opened it, a flood of blinding sunlight poured in, forcing Lux to squint her eyes as they tried to adjust to the sudden brightness.

“Come on, we’re almost there,” Justin called out. He climbed up and through the overhead door, and Lux followed him up.

They were outside. Lux gazed around at her surroundings. They were on top of a large circular platform. At the center were a stack of large, circular steam vents which let out the heat generated by the hot liquid magic inside. Justin walked over to the edge of the platform, and called out for Lux to come. She followed him. A few pigeons could be seen perching on the edges of the platform, cooing obnoxiously over the quiet hiss of the steam vents.

As Lux peered over the edge of the platform, she gasped, and instinctively reached out for Justin’s hand. They were on the roof of the silo, over 400 feet up into the air. She felt a thrilling chill run down her spine as she peered down over the gold and blue rooftops of Demacia, which stretched out for miles until it reached the coastline of the Conqueror's Ocean. The water gave off a deep blue shimmer, with streaks of glittering pink where the liquid magic rose up from natural vents deep beneath the ocean floor, crystallizing into random, natural formations as it floated up to the surface. As she gazed at the incredible sight before her, Lux could feel a certain pride in her place of birth, one of the mightiest cities in all of Valoran.

“This is amazing, Justin,” Lux cried out.

Justin smiled, and led her down to the edge. They both sat there with hands clasped, 400 feet up in the air, legs dangling perilously over the precipice. Lux pointed to a building she knew well, with it’s domed golden top crested with multiple flagpoles bearing the symbol of the Crownguards.

“There’s my home,” she said, smiling contentedly.

“It’s incredible, isn’t it? I used to go up here every few days to help my father clean out the steam vents, but I usually ended up spending hours just staring out at the Demacian skyline and the countryside beyond,” Justin said. “It got me thinking...what else was I missing out on? Did I want to spend the rest of my life as a silo mechanic, stuck inside one city until the day I die?”

Lux squeezed Justin’s hand, and grinned at him. “Is that why you decided to enlist in the Crownguard army?”

“Yep. I didn’t want to just be a nameless grunt in the King’s main army. The Crownguards are Demacia’s elite soldiers. If I worked hard enough, I knew it was possible with them to rise up in the ranks and make a name for myself.”

Lux looked down, and bit her lip. She thought about how she never took her duties seriously, how she always took her privilege for granted. If she hadn’t been born a Crownguard, she probably wouldn’t have even been considered for an officer’s commission. She thought of an incident Justin had told her about a few months back.

“I remember you turning down an offer to fight under my brother Garen’s command a few months ago. That was your chance to make officer,” Lux said. She felt a knot in her stomach as she began to realize what Justin had sacrificed for her.

Justin laughed, and squeezed her hand. “There’s gonna be other chances. I just didn’t want to make a choice I’ll regret later.”

Lux leaned in closer and placed her head on Justin’s shoulder. They sat there, cuddling each other while gazing out at the vast ocean and the beautiful, sparkling city before them. Lux promised herself that she would try to take her duties as an officer and Crownguard more seriously. In truth, she had been in a sort of denial when she heard of King Jarvan III’s death, but the reality was that Demacia was now at war with their longtime nemesis, Noxus. The general sentiment then had been that Jarvan VI was not ready to lead as Demacia’s king, and his indecisiveness had proven costly for Demacia in the early stretches of the war. It was up to its citizens to step up.

Justin stroked his hand gently through Lux’s hair, then got up.

“Come on Lux. It’s gonna be time for your officer’s meeting soon. I promised myself that I would get you back in time.”

“Can we stay just a little longer? It’s so lovely up here,” Lux said sadly. She got up, and took one last look at the ocean, and sighed. “You’re right, Justin. Lets go.”

Justin gave her a kiss on the cheeks. Lux smiled, and embraced him around his waist. They turned to leave. Behind them, the city continued the monotonous hustle and bustle of city life. Further on, a small line of heavily armed soldiers could be seen marching quickly towards the eastern gate of Demacia, their destination and fate uncertain as the ominous portent of war lingered in each of their minds.


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Ch 5

Dawn had just broke over the Piltover countryside, and the sliver of rising sun cast the entire Walker house in an eerie, dusky glow. All was silent inside, except for one intrepid fox girl walking down the hall, a tall glass of frothy, warm milk cupped in her tiny hands. Her eyes glowed a dull amber, a yellow resembling that of antique gold trinkets.

The fox girl opened the door to Roland’s room and, finding him still sleeping, walked up to where he lay and leaned over him, staring at his slumbering frame. He looked so peaceful, lying there face up with his mouth half open. She reached out and pinched his nose, held it shut, and waited.

Roland shot straight up and sputtered about, crying and cursing at the sudden awakening. He rubbed his eyes, then squinted groggily at the fox girl standing next to him.

“Ari, come on, really? What time is it?” he muttered. Margaret had decided to name the fox girl Ariel, but later decided to shorten it to Ari - the girl still had trouble forming certain syllables, and a short name was just easier for her.

The fox girl grinned and held out the glass of milk in front of her. “M..mil-k Roh-lan. Drin-k. Then fffow..est,” she said, with a glimmer of excitement in her eye.

Roland flopped back down and groaned. He wanted to go back to sleep. He remembered agreeing yesterday to take the fox girl out on one of his hunting trips in the Piltover forest, but he hadn’t expected her to wake him up this early.

“Ah!” A sharp poke on his belly button sent him jolting up again. “Fine, I’m up, just stop doing that.” He took the glass of milk from her outstretched hands and took in a big gulp. It was rich and warm, probably milked only minutes before. *

When he was done with the milk, he got up and started getting dressed. The fox girl had gone out to the kitchen to pick up some nuts and fruits to pack for their trip. Roland made sure not to wear anything that contained the Sentinel insignia. While the girl no longer became panicked and terrified whenever she saw the symbol, it still seemed to make her upset, so he thought it was best to just make sure she didn’t see them. He ran his hands through his short brown hair and ruffled it so it wouldn’t look like he had just woken up. Once he was ready, he went to check on the fox girl.

Ari was already packed and ready to go, her little backpack stuffed with snacks for the trip. She beamed excitedly at Roland. She was positively giddy - she had been cooped up in the farm since that day when the Walkers had taken her in. It had been frustrating for her the past four days, trying to learn all the new words and human customs, and at first she had been afraid that maybe they were going to cast her out and leave her to fend for herself, but it seemed as if they were beginning to trust her and accept her, and she was starting to feel the same way about them.

She had on Roland’s old clothes. They were a bit big on her, and the sleeves almost came up past her elbows, but they were comfortable enough, though she had found the tail placement awkward until she switched to a skirt Margaret had modified to fit her. The skirt was long enough to cover and hide her tails, which still had not grown to their full length.

She tugged Roland’s hand and pulled him towards the door, urging him to hurry up. They left the house and headed to the storage shed. Roland told Ari to wait outside. He came out with a couple of rods, traps, and a hunting rifle.

Ari stared at the rifle in admiration. Roland had shown her what the weapon was capable of a few days back. The thundering boom it made as it fired had reminded Ari of her first encounter with human technology back in the forest - the cloaked man with the hammer, who with a single blast from his weapon had caused so much destruction and had made her run in terror. Although Ari had decided then that humans were dangerous, chaotic creatures, in truth she was fascinated by the power they wielded, and had begun to embrace her life as a human. She wanted to learn and know more about...well, anything and everything - but she often felt discouraged and limited by her inability to learn quickly enough or communicate well enough.

She followed Roland to the barn, where they kept a small stable of three horses. There was only one horse inside - two had been taken by Henry for his deliveries. The remaining horse, Alto, was a large and experienced stallion. Roland saddled the horse and filled the saddle bag, then got on. Ari leaped up behind him and scooped her arms around his waist. The horse protested at the extra weight.

“Easy Alto. It’s just me and a friend.” Roland leaned over and stroked the stallion’s neck, calming it down.

They headed out of the farm at a steady walking pace, not too fast, but slow enough so that Ari wouldn’t have problems keeping her balance on the saddle. They headed west, away from the farm and towards the Piltover forest. As they travelled, Roland quizzed her on various things by pointing to them and asking her to name them. After awhile of travelling, Ahri began growing curious as to all the tools and devices he had brought.

“This?” Ari pointed to the long poles with strings attached to them.

“That’s a fishing pole. It’s what I use to catch and bring home the fish that we eat.”

Ari wondered how a silly little rod and string could ever catch a fish. As a fox, getting her hands on a fish was a special treat, but not something that was easily done. She remembered *one time skirting up and down a small river, lunging in vain at every fish, her mouth salivating as she thought of her delicious prize, only to come back hours later hungry and empty handed. Her mother had gathered a hoard of berries and insects, but refused to give her any - her way of punishing her for wasting so much time. Fishing was something to be saved for after the real work was done. Scavenging, gathering, hunting - those were what kept a fox alive in the forest. Her mother always knew best...

“Hey Ari, what gives? You don’t have to hug me so hard!”

In her reverie Ari hadn’t realized she had been gripping Roland tighter and tighter. She still missed her mother whenever she thought of her, but holding Roland tight made her feel safe and happy. She smiled and squeezed harder with her arms.

“Are you trying to kill me? Gosh!” Roland started wriggling around trying to free himself. He reached back with an arm aiming to pull some of Ari’s hair to annoy her, but Ari quickly loosened one arm and grabbed hold of his hair, pulling it this way and that.

“Ow! Damnit Ari, you’re lucky I have to keep Alto under control you stupid little punk!” Roland pulled on the reins to keep the horse from speeding up.

“Joke-ing, Rohlan!” Ahri let go of his hair and laughed cheerfully. This was one thing foxes and humans had in common, she thought - they both loved to play and joke with each other.

“Suffocating me in my sleep, pulling on my hair, bear hugging me to death...you sure have a weird way of joking,” Roland grumbled. “If you’re that comfortable already, we might as well go a bit faster.” He grinned, and spurred the horse lightly to make it speed up. “Hold on.”

The stallion transitioned into a faster, trotting gait, and Ari had to hold on tighter to keep from being bounced off. They continued on like this for what seemed like over an hour, until they reached the edge of the Piltover forest. As they neared the forest, Ari spotted two figures emerging from the trees, and Roland reigned in his horse.

The two figures approached them slowly. They looked like a couple - a slender, young woman and a large, muscled man. The man looked a bit weird, however...as if he had excess facial hair. Ari let out a surprised cry as she saw him whip around what looked like a lion’s tail around his body. This man was just like her!

The woman walked up to where Roland and Ari had stopped, a faint, unconvincing smile on her face. She had long, wavy dark hair that went down past her shoulders, and stared at the pair with an unsettling carelessness, as if she thought they were nothing but some trivial curiosity. Ari, on the other hand, stared in amazement at the woman and the half-lion, her mind racing with questions she did not know how to ask.

Roland cleared his throat, and greeted the two. “Hello, strangers. I was simply on my way to the forest to hunt and gather some food. Unless you have some business, I’d like to be on my way.”

“Oh, no, we don’t have any interest in you, boy,” the woman said casually. “The half-fox, however..” The woman turned to her half-lion companion. “Cyril, isn’t she simply adorable?”

Cyril stared at Ari with his golden colored eyes. She could feel her heart begin to throb and ache with the desire to connect with the man before her, and she struggled to find some words to say, but the only ones that came to her were trivial: tree, spoon, table, fork. She understood more than that, but could not form them into spoken words. It had taken her so much effort just to learn how to string two words together in a meaningful way. The half-lion smiled at her reassuringly.

“Yes, she is very pretty indeed,” Cyril remarked. “My name is Cyril. If you would care to tell me child, I would like to know your name.”

Ari could sense that this man wanted to know what her name was. She moistened her lips, and struggled to speak clearly. This man, who was just like her, seemed to be able to talk as fluently as any human. Were there others like him? She wanted desperately to impress him, or at least not make a fool of herself. “Ah - ah...wi..” She bit her lip in frustration. “Ah..ri.”

The woman let out a long laugh. It was a cruel and mocking laugh, one that sent a shiver of anger through Ari. Why couldn’t she talk as fluently as that half-lion, Cyril?

“Ahri is your name, is it?” The woman turned to Roland. “You’ll have to forgive me, boy. I did not know she was just a primitive. Cyril, lets be on our way. There is simply nothing interesting for us to see here.” She began walking off, and motioned for Cyril to follow.

Cyril turned to Ari and smiled at her. Ari struggled to hold back tears. The way that woman had seemed to mock her - did they think she was stupid? Was that what Roland and Margaret thought as well? She desperately wanted to talk to the half lion, to probe his mind and find out more about herself and those like her. “Ah...” She decided to remain quiet. She was making a fool of herself.

“Child, you will have to forgive my partner’s crass behavior. She means well, but she has had a rough day today.” He waved respectfully at Roland. “Treat the girl well, boy. She seems to like you.” He then turned and left without so much as a second look.

Roland spurred Alto further into the forest. He did not seem bothered by the encounter at all, which disturbed Ari. That word, primitive - she did not know what it meant, but the way that woman had said it, it made her feel as if she were nothing but some little plaything - some trinket that one would fiddle around with when amused only to discard it when something more interesting came along.

Roland whistled for Alto to stop, then motioned for Ari to get off. He jumped down from the horse, took a rope from the saddle bag, and tied it to a tree.

“You stay here for a bit, alright Alto? I’m gonna bring back some tasty morsels for you to eat later. Good boy.” He stroked its mane calmly and smoothly. Ahri watched this in silence, and couldn’t help but think to herself, did Roland view her in the same way he viewed the horse? She had assumed, or maybe wished, that she had found a new family, but in the end, wasn’t she just another animal to them? *Just some temporary curiosity?

“Hey Ari, what’s wrong? Don’t tell me you’ve had a sudden change of heart. Hurry up!”

Ari tried to put on a smile, and followed Roland deeper into the forest. She reached around into her backpack, took out two soft, juicy plums, and handed one to Roland. “Plum, eat-h,” she said cheerfully.

“Maybe later, I’m not hungry.”

Ari frowned and put the plums back into her pack. She was determined not to be just a burden to Roland. She perked her fox ears and probed the woods for any traces of sound - a crinkled leaf, a snapped branch, anything to indicate possible prey, or maybe even danger. Their walk was uneventful, to her disappointment, but after awhile they came upon a large lake. Roland sat down near the lake bed, took out two fishing poles and a small box from his bag, and set them aside. He then started rigging the poles with line.

Curious to see what was in the box, Ari opened it and peeked in. Inside were a bunch of live worms. Odd. Didn’t Roland just say he wasn’t hungry? Maybe he just didn’t like plums? In any case, it had been a while since she’d had one, so she picked up a worm and popped it in her mouth. Nutty and chewy, just like she remembered them. She felt almost...fuzzy - a bit nostalgic, perhaps, as she reminisced about her past. She hadn’t particularly liked worms as a fox, but food was food, and it had made up an important part of her daily diet. She casually picked up another worm, and was about to eat it, but Roland cried out and took her arm, stopping her.

“Holy **** Ari, did you just eat a worm? Those are supposed to be bait!”

Ari looked up at Roland, surprised. He had a horrible, disgusted look on his face. Did he not want to share his meal with her? She felt hurt, and started thinking that maybe he really did just view her as an animal. She remembered how Margaret and Roland seemed to treat the food meant for their farm animals as separate, and never “mixed” the food. She had tried to share her plum with him, and he refused - did he not even care about her enough to share his worms with her? Roland took the worm from her hand and tossed it away, upsetting her even more.

“Sssowy..Rohlan...” Ari muttered. She felt as if she had been fooling herself this entire time. What was she doing with humans anyway? She didn’t belong. Humans had been responsible for killing her mother...for ruining her life! She remembered the real reason why she had wanted to come with Roland - it wasn’t to go hunting. She took off running into the forest.

“H-hey, wait! Where are you going? Ari! It’s dangerous!” a voice called out from behind her. She ignored it, and kept running through the forest path. She didn’t want to stop, because she knew if she did she would start crying. She had tried her best to fit in with humans, to try and learn their language and manners, but everything about them was so complicated, so confusing. She wanted to just run away and be a fox again.

She burst through a strand of trees into a familiar clearing. There were no bodies or strange vortexes this time, nothing to indicate that anything out of the ordinary had happened. She tried to remember which bush her mother had come out of. She spotted it, and ran down that path, recognizing the tall oak tree she had used as support to help her stand up for the first time. She would have given up right here, if it had not been for her mother’s constant prodding. She clenched her jaw in muted frustration, and continued onwards.

She ran through the barrier of plants and vines - the ones she had tripped over that first time, and looked around. It formed a small glade that was partially hidden by the walls of overgrowth and dense shrubs. She remembered it as her last happy memory of her mother, the place where she had spent her last night sleeping beside her. Why couldn’t they have just stayed here? She heard a voice calling to her from the distance, begging her to come back. Was it her mother? Or was it...him? She ignored it - just like that day when she had ignored her mother’s calls - and continued down the path her mother had led her.

Go away Roland.

I just want to be alone!


She persevered onward, ignoring the increasingly desperate cries calling for her, and kept running until she finally reached the small stream where it had all happened. She came to a stop, and scanned the ground, struggling for breath as she tried to hold back the onrush of tears. She did not want to be that scared, crying little girl who had just sat by and watched in silence as her mother tried in vain to protect her. If only she had done something sooner...

!

Her glistening eyes froze as she saw the headless body of a small fox. The body was half eaten, and bits of fur were missing where animals and wildlife had scavenged and desecrated its body. She knelt down beside her mother. Was this all that was left of her? She began furiously digging into the ground with her bare hands, scratching and scooping away flecks and piles of dirt. She growled in anger.

She deserved better than this.

It was all my fault!


Unable to hold back her tears any longer, she let them gather up in her eyes until they formed small droplets that ran down her face and blurred her vision. It didn’t matter to her - she continued to scratch and paw away at the ground through the haze of tears, stopping for nothing.

She sensed another approaching her, but she ignored him. A hand reached out. To stop her? She wanted to swat it away, but instead those hands began digging with her. Slowly the hole in the ground grew bigger and deeper. Why was he helping her, Ari wondered? Why had Margaret and Roland even taken her in? She hadn’t done a thing to deserve their help, yet they fed her, took care of her like she was their own.

They continued digging for a long time. A few minutes? A few hours? She didn’t know how long. Her tears dried up and exhaustion took its place, but her frustration and anger continued. She didn’t know why Roland insisted on helping her. He had followed her all the way here, when he could have just abandoned her. Had she misunderstood his intentions? She didn’t know, and she didn’t care. Deep down she just felt glad that he was here with her. She couldn’t have done this alone.

Once the hole was deep enough, Ari got up and picked up her mother’s remains. She knelt down, and laid her mother to rest. She stared quietly.

I’m so sorry. It was all my fault.

I promise you I will make you proud.


She yanked out a single strand of her hair, and placed it into the grave. Then together with Roland, they filled the grave back up.

It was done. She finally felt she had some closure. Roland put his arms around her and hugged her, trying to comfort and reassure her. He didn’t know what this fox represented to her, but he sensed it was someone special.

There was no going back now, Ari told herself. She promised herself to embrace her life from here on out. It didn’t matter if it was as a human - she felt she had a purpose. Her mother had believed in her, given her life for her, and she did not have the right to throw that all away. She closed her eyes, and bit her lip. She wouldn’t cry. She was done crying. *

I love you, mother.

Goodbye.



-o-o-o-


Ari and Roland spent the rest of the day catching fish. Roland had led her back to the lake and shown her the worms, and how he had meant to bait them onto the hooks. Although Ari felt a bit sheepish after he showed her this, she just smiled and hugged him. It had just felt right - she had felt such a huge burden on herself the past four days, but now she finally felt like she could move on and embrace her new life.

Ari had a great time catching fish with Roland. Her first catch had been a big one - over a foot long. She had wanted to eat it then and there - but she knew Roland would freak out, so she decided to behave herself, and threw the fish into the storage box with a smirk. They ended up catching so many fish that they couldn’t keep them all, and had to throw most of them back into the river. There was no time to hunt - Roland wanted to get home before dark, so they packed the fish that they had already caught, and started for home.

They rode home the same way - Roland in front, Ari behind, her arms scooped around his waist. Along the way, Ari began to feel this strange urge to snuggle her nose in his face and lick it - it was how her mother used to show her affection as a fox - but she wasn’t sure he’d take it the right way. Besides, when she thought about doing it, she felt her face get all hot and red and uncomfortable, so she tried her best to put the idea out of her mind.

When they finally got back home, they found Henry and Margaret about to prepare dinner - perfect timing. Ari showed Margaret all the fish she had caught, and they picked out three different types of particularly tasty looking fish to cook and eat for dinner.

Roland went to bed early - he complained about how Ari had woken him up at five in the morning. Before Henry and Margaret could head into their room, however, Ari stopped them. She gave Margaret a big hug.

“Good nnight...Mar-gee,” Ari called out happily. She finally felt as if maybe, she was really a part of the Walker family. Margaret laughed and hugged her back. When Ari tried to hug Henry, however, he just held out a hand and pushed her away, then gruffly told Margaret to come into the room. Ari felt confused about this, but Margaret just told her to go to her room and sleep.

Lying in her bed, Ari heard Margaret and Henry arguing. She wondered if it was because of something she had done. She could hear them through the walls, yelling loudly, though the words were muffled and hard to hear. They stopped after awhile, but Ari couldn’t help but wonder if maybe she had done something wrong. Had she broken some human custom? Ari told herself that she would try her best tomorrow to learn as much as she could so she could fit in and stop upsetting Henry. Her eyelids began to grow heavy, and after a few minutes she drifted off into sleep.


-o-o-o-


Ari was jarred awake as a heavy, rough hand was placed over her mouth. A man picked her up, and started dragging her roughly out of her room. Ari struggled and tried to scream, but the man was much stronger than her, and began smothering her. She couldn’t breathe, and started to panic. Oh, please, let go! She needed air! She frantically scratched at the man’s hand in an effort to break free, but it was no use. Her lungs began to burn, and she felt herself getting dizzy. Her body convulsed in pain and fear.

Oh please, please just let go! I can’t breathe at all! Ari tried to kick at the man, but she felt so weak, so confused. Her hands flopped down limp at her sides, and her vision started to cloud. She needed air. She needed air so bad...air...p-please...

-o-o-o-

Henry placed a cloth sack over Ari’s head, tied it, then dragged her unconscious, limp body out of the house. He picked her up, then threw her in the back of his delivery wagon. He hitched up the horses, then headed north, towards Piltover.

He tried to ignore the guilt creeping up on him. He had told his wife repeatedly, after all, that he did not want to keep the feral in the house. That she was to stay only until she had recovered. The Piltover Sentinels had offered a reward of four hundred silver for the fox girl, and they could use the money.

Besides, ferals were considered dangerous. Although some rich families used the dumb, uneducated primeval types as house slaves, animosity between humans and ferals had been tense ever since the feral rebellion twenty years ago. Demacia, being the old fashioned, diversified immigrant city it was, still had a few free roaming ferals, but most of them lived in their own little pathetic villages and gatherings in the Valoran countryside. The Sentinels, for their part, made sure to keep their own Piltover territory free of the filth. There was a particular lion feral who still roamed the Piltover countryside causing trouble, but he was a minor nuisance for the most part.

Still, he couldn’t help but feel guilty about the fox girl. What had they named her? Ari. She seemed so innocent, but he knew she would be dangerous one day. She was particularly extraordinary because of her nine tails - from what little he knew of ferals from his past experiences fighting them as a former Sentinel, their tails seemed to serve as a sort of “anchor” or connection to the rune magic flowing beneath the earth, and it allowed them to access powers and magics without needing to use quintessences. That’s what made them dangerous. But it was also their weakness...

The dawn sun had begun to rise over the horizon, bringing light to the glorious city of Piltover off in the distance. It’s central cathedral, the Sentinel Stronghold, had been built atop an incredibly massive and wide rune extractor, so that it rose up high into the sky above the rest of Piltover. It served as a testament to mankind’s power and mastery over nature - mankind crafted and used rune magic for their own desires, and not the other way around.

Once inside the city, Henry maneuvered his wagon around the streets until he finally reached Pavel Heimer’s house. Pavel Heimer was the chief scientist of the Sentinel Army, and he was the one who had offered the reward. The man was standing outside, and Henry waved and greeted him. He had on an impressive, decorated suit of armor, but it was only an illusion - his actual figure was otherwise frail and weak. His oily, black hair hung in tired little clumps which draped down over his face like little crooked fingers.

“Hello, Heimer. I have the feral, as promised.”

“I knew I could count on you, Henry. You were always a good soldier.” Heimer bared his teeth at Henry in a demented looking smile. “Your boy, Roland - he shows the same skill with the Rune Bow as you did. He shows promise with rune-tech too. He will go far with the Sentinels - I will make sure to put in a good word with Paladin Leonard.”

Henry waved him off gruffly. “My boy doesn’t need your help. Leave him out of your scheming, Heimer. Just give me the money.”

Heimer quickly handed Henry the pouch of coins, then went over to examine the feral. He lifted her skirt to examine her tails, and gasped in glee.

“Nine tails. Amazing. Hee hee! She will teach us so, so much.”

The fox girl began to stir about inside the wagon, and moaned quietly. “Roh...lan,” she whimpered softly. “Roh..lan? Mar-gee...?”

Henry picked the fox girl up gently and led her off the wagon. The girl protested a bit, but complied with Henry’s handling. She was weak and disoriented, and the bag was still tied around her head, so she likely had no idea where she was, or where she was being led.

“Heimer, I don’t know what you plan to do with her, but you treat her humanely, ok? She’s a feral, but she’s still just a girl.”

“Hen...wy? Hen..wy....scared. Dark.” The fox girl seemed to recognize Henry’s voice, and started to struggle, but Henry just held her tighter, tried to calm her down. Heimer just bared his teeth and nodded in anticipation. Henry tried his best to suppress his guilt, and handed the girl over to Heimer, then turned to get back in his wagon.

“Henry, you’re a true patriot. Thanks for doing your part to keep Piltover strong and safe,” Heimer called out nonchalantly.

Henry ignored him, and just snapped the reins, urging his horses to drive the wagon away as quickly as possible. He gripped the pouch of coins tightly in his hand, and never looked back.

-o-o-o-


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Ch 6 - Demacia - Crownguard House


Lux fiddled with her steel chestpiece as she walked down the main hall of the Crownguard house towards the study. She was dressed in a light suit of armor adorned with the Crownguard’s trademark yellow and blue flairs. It had been tailor made for her by her family’s armory in preparation for her assignment.

She had requested this meeting herself. She was due to leave with the relief battalion in a few hours, and she thought this might be the best chance to see her father and mother again. As she approached the thick oaken doors to the study she drew in a deep breath. She remembered when, as a child, being summoned to the study was just about the worst thing that could ever happen to a Crownguard. It was where one would be sent, for example, after one were caught red handed holding her father’s fancy new ink pen after the completion of a veritable masterpiece on the walls of the dining room. Her parents never were one to appreciate the “fine arts”... more importantly, however, it was also where one was sent to when the Crownguards deemed one of their children ready to be “sent off”.

The Crownguards were one of the most pretigious military families in Demacia, and thus their children were expected to train to be soldiers and officers at an extremely young age. She had been just a young child, barely thirteen years of age when her parents had decided to send her away. She had been summoned to the study to find her parents waiting for her, bags packed with her clothes and supplies laid out on the floor. It was there that they introduced her to Anne, her new maidservant, and subsequently sent her off to live permanently in Demacia’s Royal Military Academy, to be trained in the arts of war, magic, and command. Though she had been their only daughter, her fate was no different from the boys.

Lux pushed the door in and peeked into the room, wondering how she should present herself. She really wished she had rehearsed what she planned to say a bit more. She saw her mother Lilia Crownguard, a slender, pretty woman with streaks of gray in her hair sitting on a desk, calmly writing on a piece of manuscript. Her father was absent.

“Hi mom,” Lux said.

Her mother looked up from her work and stared at Lux, an amused look on her face. “Hi mom? Really?”

Lux pursed her lips in disdain, but stood at attention, puffing her chest out and putting her hands to her sides in a formal military stance. “Good morning ma’am, Lieutenant Lux Crownguard requesting permission to enter.”

“Granted. You may enter,” her mother replied, a slight smile forming on her lips.

Lux relaxed her posture and sighed. “Did we really have to go through all that? I haven’t seen you in months, mother.”

“And yet you know how your father insists on it. And I agree with him,” her mother replied curtly. She got up from her desk and slowly approached her daughter, appraising her from head to toe.

Lux watched her mother from the corner of her eye. She hated how her mother always seemed to scrutinize her like this, like she were just another soldier under inspection. But she supposed this was how parents were supposed to behave. It didn’t help, though, that her mother attained her current military rank through academics - nearly two decades worth of experience teaching military history, strategy, and traditions to cadets and battle worn soldiers alike. In this way she rose in the ranks similarly to Lux’s magic instructor Lilith - the main difference being, of course, that Lilith taught quintessence and arcane theory while her mother, Lilia, concerned herself with more “practical” matters.

Her mother finally came to a stop in front of her. “That armor looks good on you, Lux. Almost like a real soldier. But I can’t help but wonder if you’re really ready for war?”

“If I’m ready?” Lux blurted out, feeling a bit indignant at her mother’s question. “Mother, they’re sending our battalion to Landus, a dingy little border town on the edge of the swamp. And what’s more, you and father didn’t do anything to protest it. With all your influence, you could have at least suggested they assign me to something a bit more important!”

“Oh, hush already, Lux. Every action taken in a war matters, whether it be the vanguard that charges into the depths of the enemy lines or the lone scout that maps out the supply routes for an army caravan. Your assignment was due to your merits and behavior, Lux, and nothing else.”

Lux bit her lip, feeling a bit frustrated. She wished she had more supportive parents. She wondered for a moment whether her father would agree with what her mother said. He probably wouldn’t even care...he seemed to dote more on her brothers than her anyway, she thought bitterly. “Where is father by the way? He couldn’t be bothered to meet me for just a few minutes?”

Her mother frowned, walked back to her desk, and stared at the manuscript she had been writing earlier. After a while she looked up at Lux, seeming to have finally decided on something. “I may as well tell you. I suppose you’re not a child anymore. Your father is with the queen. And do you know where the queen is, at this very moment?”

Lux was a bit surprised at her mother’s question. Demacia’s queen, Claudia Lightshield, had chosen to remain out of the public eye since the death of her husband and her son’s ascendancy to the throne. “The queen? Umm...at the palace, I assume?”

“Yes. That’s what everyone thinks. But in truth, she left the city weeks ago.”

“She’s left? What do you mean? There’s been no news of her leaving Demacia at all. Everyone would have known if she did.”

“That’s right,” her mother affirmed. “No one knows, because we were ordered to keep quiet about it. In fact, it was your father who was chosen to smuggle her out of the city. And how could he refuse? As a Crownguard, our family duty has always been to protect and serve the sovereign of Demacia.”

Lux puzzled over this. Why was her mother telling her this now? Why would the queen leave Demacia in secret? To seek assistance in the war? No...that didn’t make sense - she would have just sent an envoy. And then it hit her. The sovereign? That was Jarvan IV now, wasn’t it? “I thought that Jarvan took Demacia’s throne after his father’s death?”

“He did, but only as a ploy to appease the masses. A Jarvan has sat on the throne for over a hundred years, so that’s what the people expect. In truth, the royal succession falls to the queen, and then to the prince. In the past, the queens have always either voluntarily given up power, or their sons demanded it, and the nobility backed them. But that didn’t happen with Jarvan IV. He’s completely under the sway of his mother.” Her mother stared seriously at Lux. “The noble houses can’t do anything either, because Jarvan supports his mother’s rule.”

A chill ran down her spine as Lux suddenly understood why Demacia was having so much trouble in their current war. “So the nobles...they’re divided?”

Her mother nodded. “There are many nobles who do not believe in Claudia’s ability to lead - House Vayne and House Varretus in particular. And I can’t fault them. She has never fought in a single war, never even participated in Demacian politics up until the death of her husband. If they were to find out that she’s taken off on some foolhardy sojourn to who-knows-where in the middle of a war, it will cause absolute chaos among the houses.”

Lux slowly began to realize what was really happening in Demacia’s war with Noxus. Why they had suffered so many uncharacteristic defeats, why their armies were being pushed back. It was Claudia Lightshield - the real ruler of Demacia at the moment - who had been keeping most of the Royal Demacian Army inside the city - not to defend against threats from the barbarians of Fjeljord as had been claimed, but to keep order amongst the nobles and defend against a possible coup. With most of House Lightshield’s armies being kept in reserve, it fell to the Crownguards - the only other house capable of fielding a true wartime military - to bear the brunt of the war alone.

How could she have been so stupid? The thought had never occurred to her that Demacia could actually lose the war with Noxus, all because of something as asinine as politics. And what was her own role in this war? A “relief” battalion!

“You say you’re ready to lead, but you’re still as naive as any common soldier. Do you really think you could handle a burden as heavy as what your brother Garen is shouldering right now?” her mother said. “Garen proved himself long ago.”

“I...” Lux felt her fist tighten up in anger. Why did her parents always treat her like some stupid child? She couldn’t stand it anymore. She was tired of always hearing about how “heroic” and “amazing” her dumb brother was. And here she was, being sent to some border town to do what basically amounted to garrison duty.

“Screw Garen! I don’t care what he does!” Lux shouted. “It’ll always be like this with you, right mother? I didn’t ask to be born a Crownguard, but I’ve tried the best I could. But you and father, you’ll never believe in me, will you? If you’d only let me show you what I can really do!” Lux felt herself turn her body around, ready to storm out the door. And in fact, that’s what she did. She was too angry - at both herself and her mother - to really care what else her mother had to say. As she turned the handle and opened the door, she heard her mother cry out, a tinge of both frustration and desperation in her voice.

“Do you really think we’re sending a thousand men to Landus because it’s not important? You treat war as if it’s just some game. Lux! Don’t you dare walk out-!” The door slammed shut with a resounding thud, and the rest of her words fell upon empty air.

Lilia Crownguard leaned a tired hand on her chair, looked towards the door where her daughter had just been moments earlier, and sighed heavily. After all was said and done, she was nothing more than a mere teacher, wasn’t she? Only if she failed at her job, people died. People she cared about and loved. But there was nothing she could do. She had her duties to Demacia, and her children had theirs.

“Please be safe, Lux,” Lilia whispered to herself. “And...give those Noxians hell.”


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Ch 7 - Piltover

Pavel had been surprisingly gentle with her for most of the trip, though that didn’t mean much to Ahri, being as she was still being held captive. Tied up and blindfolded, she had been loaded onto yet another cart. She could not see where she was going nor who her handler was. She moaned quietly, and struggled to get a bearing on her situation. Her hands throbbed from the tightness of the ropes tying her hands together, and her throat, still sore from the earlier strangle, stung with pain every time she swallowed or uttered a little cry.

As she layed there in the cart, she tried to piece together what had happened. It had to have been Henry Walker who had turned her over to this man. That gruff, strong voice was unmistakable back there. Had she been wrong about the Walkers this whole time? Where had he taken her? Her mind drifted to Roland and Margaret, remembering how friendly and loving they had been. She could almost hear Roland’s infectious laughter all those times they had been playing around in the farm...and Margaret’s loving smile as she laid out breads and snacks for them afterwards. Had it all been a lie, like she suspected? Her heart wrenched with a sudden sickening feeling. She had grown to really like Roland, but what did he feel about her? She didn’t know anymore.

The cart pulled up to a stop, and a pair of hands grabbed her, pulling her off the cart.

“What an amazing day this will be!” Pavel said, giggling happily as he led Ahri along. I haven’t had a specimen like you in such a long time. Ever since Cyril.” Pavel continued leading her along. Ahri wasn’t sure, but it seemed as if they had entered a building. After awhile they slowed down and she heard a deep, mocking laughter - a new voice.

“Well, ****, what do we have here? Pavel, your pathetic self actually managed to do something productive eh?”

That voice. Sweet as honey, yet marred with the harsh tones of malice. Ahri recognized the voice, and a sick feeling of dread washed over her, choking out her pitiful attempt at a sob. The man that voice belonged to had a heavy, somewhat strained breathing, and she could hear and sense him as he approached. She felt a hand stroke her cheek, and she started struggling with the ropes, hoping she would be able to loosen them and free herself somehow.

“Take the hood off. I want her to see what she did to me.”

It couldn’t be! The sense of dread gave way to desperation, and Ahri jolted her body down and pushed back with all the strength she could muster, surprising Pavel and knocking him backwards as he released his grip on the girl. She turned to run, but a rough, strong hand clenched itself around her throat, stopping her. Dizzying stabs of pain radiated all along her neck and through her head. Ahri whimpered and fell to her knees. The hand released it’s grip, and her blindfold was ripped away.

Ahri knelt there with her head down, desperately gasping for air. She felt the hot breath of the man breathing down on her. The man grabbed her hair and yanked her head up, forcing her to look at him. Ahri’s eyes widened in disbelief.

The man’s face was burned almost beyond recognition. Lines and twisted lumps of flesh ran chaotically through the lengths of his face, marring what once could have been considered a handsome face, but was now just a terrifying mass of sickly-purple skin. One of his eye sockets was completely empty, the vitreous flesh of the eyeball having been burned away by fire. The other eye was bloodshot and hazy, still working yet permanently scarred, it’s charred pupil fixated on her and brimming with evil. Of course Ahri knew who it was. That lustful stare - the same stare he had given her in the forest - she could never forget it.

“Fortune has smiled on me this day, and brought you back to me,” the man said. His lips parted into a half-smile, his damaged flesh preventing it from moving any further. “And now you’ll be mine, forever.”

The man let go of her hair, and Ahri collapsed onto the floor, motionless. She wished she could be stronger, but he was right. There was no chance she would be able to get away this time. The power she felt in the forest - she had no idea how to summon it again. And what was the use even if she did get away? Where would she run to? To Roland and Margaret? Would they even help her? No, she had nothing waiting for her in this world. Filled with hopelessness, she laid on the floor and sobbed, and tried to block out the world, thinking of her mother and her happy life as a fox.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-

Pavel Heimer watched with annoyance as Merrick stooped over the sobbing fox girl and lovingly stroked her hair. For a moment, he began to regret his own hand in saving his life after his severe burns. The man was a callous brute, causing nothing but trouble. It was hard to believe he was the brother of Leonard Uthgard, the commander of the Piltover Sentinels. But he supposed it wasn’t too unusual for two brothers to be complete opposites of each other.

“Merrick, enough please. I don’t want you messing with her until I’ve studied her thoroughly. You understand the needs of the Hextech division, yes?” Pavel said. “Besides, don’t you already have that other girl? The cat feral, Lauryn?”

“Don’t ****ing lecture me, Pavel. I’ll do what I please,” Merrick replied. “You may have saved my life, but you sure did a ****ing ****ty job of it.” He looked at the fox girl, stooped down and gave her a kiss, then stood back up. He pulled his scarred lips back in a smile. “But for that, I’ll let you have her first.”

“Thank you, Merrick,” Pavel sneered. He turned to one of the low-ranking Sentinel guards who served his laboratory and beckoned him over. “Take this girl to the holding cells and lock her in. I will need time to set up my machines.” He paused, thinking for a bit. “Put her in cell B2.”

The guards picked up the fox girl and led her away. She did nothing to resist and only looked on with a blank, defeated expression. Another guard put the blindfold back on her head. Pavel turned and started walking towards his lab, but Merrick stepped in front of him, blocking his path.

“Look Pavel, you can have her first, but I swear if you disfigure that pretty face of hers, I will ****ing gut you like a fish, Leonard’s wishes be damned,” Merrick said. “And no pacification. I want all her tails intact.”

Pavel stared at Merrick blankly. “You’re mistaken if you think that I do this wantonly. But I assure you, she will be pristine for the first few studies.”

Satisfied, Merrick nodded in response. “Hope you can handle her. I won’t be there to save your pathetic ass the next time she tries to make a move.” He left, chuckling quietly to himself.

What an annoying little fool, Pavel thought as he walked along the hallway towards his lab. He hated people like Merrick - those who only followed their own base desires and didn’t give a damn for the welfare of others. He acted without considering the costs and benefits of a particular action. No better than an animal. The benefits that his own his hextech research had given to the Sentinels and the people of Piltover were immeasurable, yet the only thing that man could think of was the possession of some female feralborn for his own satisfaction.

To be fair, she was quite unique. That such a young girl could cause so much damage to a man as strong as Merrick was a testament to that. Merrick’s body had been almost completely incinerated, and he had not been sure that his own experimental hextech infusions would save him. He had injected the magic infusion into his blood fully expecting him to die instantly, just like all the other men he had tested it on. But Merrick had somehow pulled through and survived. It was, at the very least, a sign that his work on the feralborns had not been a waste. Burgeoned with that thought, he picked up his pace down the hall, eager to get back to his lab and start his research.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-

The guard opened the door to cell B2, removed her blindfold and pushed the fox girl roughly inside. Ahri fell to the floor and stared indifferently into space as she heard the click of the cell door locking and the guard walking away.

Merrick. So that was his name. It sounded so ordinary, so benign. All of these people, these so called Sentinels - they all wore that same blue sun emblazoned on their uniforms. The same uniform Roland wore. She didn’t understand what their motives were, but she hated them.

Ahri felt like crying again. She closed her eyes and tried in vain to empty her mind. Roland. She had almost been happy back at that farm. Had it really all been a lie? Or had Henry acted on his own? Well, it didn’t matter too much now. She decided she would just lay there and wait to die. Would one of those Sentinels kill her? Or maybe she’d die of thirst or hunger first. Maybe some horrible disease that caused her insides to rot away. It couldn’t be much worse than this. Whatever. As long as she died.

She heard a slight sniffling sound to her right, bringing her out of her self-pity fest. Were there others with her in this cell? A voice rang out, clear and silvery. A girl’s voice.

“Are you just going to lay there on the floor like that all day? It’s cold and dirty, you know.”

The voice sounded friendly, but Ahri ignored her. Her neck was still painfully sore, and she didn’t feel like moving.

“Alright, I guess you are. That’s fine, I’ll just eat this bread all by myself. You foxes sure are weird.”

Bread? Ahri remembered the delicious breads Margaret had made for her, spread with all kinds of tasty fruit jams. It had been one of her favorite meals. She picked herself up from the floor and sneaked a look at whoever had been talking to her. A young cat-girl sat across the cell from her, staring back with vibrant, green eyes.

She looked a few years older than Roland. Long, fine blond hair extended just past her shoulders, noticeably dirty and oily from a lack of washing. Ahri thought she was very pretty, but it was her tail, mottled with white and yellow alternating stripes that really caught her attention. It was long, sleek and lovely, not like Ahri’s own fox tails, which were still short and bushy. She held in her hands a small piece of plain bread, from which she occasionally picked off a little piece and popped in her mouth.

The cat girl stared at Ahri for a bit, then broke off a small chunk of her bread and held it out. “You look horribly hungry, little girl. Here, take some.”

Ahri stared back at the girl for a moment, unsure of whether she could trust her. But she hadn’t eaten since yesterday, and she just started to notice how hungry she was. Maybe dying of hunger wasn’t such a good idea after all. Ahri scooted over hesitantly, and grabbed the piece of bread from her hands. She put it in her mouth and chewed. A bit dry, but still nourishing after the ordeal she had been through. She swallowed it and winced sharply as her throat burned with pain.

The cat girl stared at Ahri’s neck and grimaced in empathy. “Wow, they really treated you roughly, didn’t they? I’ve seen worse though. You’ll be okay.” She broke off another little chunk of bread and offered it to Ahri, but she refused it, turning her head away. The girl shrugged and put the bread down on the floor next to her. “Well, it will probably hurt for a few days more. I wasn’t that hungry - just take the bread whenever you’re ready.” The girl pointed to herself. “My name’s Lauryn, by the way.” The girl looked at Ahri expectantly.

Ahri wasn’t sure how to respond. She thought back to the time with that Lion feral and how they had mocked her for her accent. Would she do the same? “Ahh...ri,” she said slowly. It was an improvement, at least.

Lauryn smiled, acting a bit surprised. “So you can understand what I’m saying? Most of the ones they bring in here - well - most of them were a bit wild. Didn’t understand anything I said to them. A lot of them didn’t even have names.”

Ahri simply smiled in response. She was still unsure of her speaking ability, and her throat hurt every time she tried to breathe or talk.

“Ah, well...it’s ok. You don’t have to talk, I understand. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to,” Lauryn said. She pointed a finger to the other corner of the cell. “Did you notice that little thing over there? It’s another fox, like you.”

Ahri looked at where she had been pointing, and she gasped in surprise. Hiding in the corner, so small and crumpled up so as to be almost invisible, lay a little fox boy. He stared at Lauryn and Ahri with distant, unfocused eyes, and he laid there motionless and unaware of his surroundings, his gray fox ears hanging down limp on his head. Ahri started to crawl towards the boy, but Lauryn held out a hand, stopping her.

“You can’t help him. He’s been ‘pacified’. It basically means they cut his tail off, and injected him with some sort of liquid. He’s been like that for days.”

Ahri stared at the little fox boy and bit her lip. She felt sick - why would they cut his tail off? Did the humans just do this for fun? She was just starting come to the realization that there were many other ferals just like her.

“I gave him a name - Ashy,” Lauryn said. “He used to have this ash-colored tail. Didn’t understand anything I said to him, but he seemed so sweet. I think he’s better off this way...happier, even.” Lauryn tried to force a smile. “I don’t know, it’s probably not true. But I guess telling a lie can be good - it makes people feel better.”

Lauryn didn’t talk much after that, which was fine with Ahri - she wasn’t in the mood either, and it was hard making sense of a lot of the words she said. She took the time to look around her cell. It was decently spaced, and there were several mats placed on the floor, presumably for sleeping, along with a simple sink and toilet in the far corner. The small hallway outside the cell led to a door, and that was all she could see of it, being as she had been blindfolded on the way in.

Ahri picked a small yellow mat on the far side of the room away from the door, a few feet from the little fox boy, and sat down. She stayed like this for awhile, thinking about all that had happened and what Lauryn had said to her. She wondered how long Lauryn and the boy had been here. She glanced at the fox boy. He was still in the exact same position he had been in earlier, eyes staring off lazily into space.

“Hey, little fox girl,” Lauryn called out, pointing to the piece of bread she had laid on the floor earlier. “If you like that boy so much, why don’t you feed him?”

They had been in the cell for several hours, and it seemed like a good idea to give the boy something to eat. Ahri crawled over to the bread and was about to pick it up, when she heard the creak of the hallway door opening.

She looked towards the hallway and froze as she saw Merrick walking in. What did he want now? She decided to just stay where she was. She could hear her heart pounding in her chest, but she had already decided not to resist him. As she stared at his scarred figure, the only thing she could feel inside her was fear.

Merrick walked over to the cell and grabbed the bars, staring at Ahri gleefully. “You know, I promised Pavel that I wouldn’t touch you, but then I got to thinking. How would he even know? To tell you the truth, I don’t think he even cares about his experiments. He just wants you for himself first.” Merrick laughed callously, smiling to himself. He looked over at Lauryn. “Hey there Lauryn. You look just as beautiful as ever.”

Lauryn flashed a cute smile at Merrick. “Hey Merrick. You’re looking pretty good yourself.”

Merrick motioned his head over to Ahri. “Can that fox feral over there talk? Did she tell you her name?”

“The fox girl? I can’t say,” Lauryn said, giving a quick glance at Ahri. “She never told me her name. Pretty sure she’s one of the dumb ones.”

“Don’t get sly with me. I can always find out for myself.” Merrick took out a key and opened the cell door. He walked in and crouched down next to Ahri.

Ahri stared down at the floor and closed her eyes. She felt a hand stroke her hair, and she cried out in pain as the hand caressed her neck. Ahri opened her eyes and looked up at Merrick, grinning down at her. She wanted to spit in his face.

"Don't be like that, Merrick," Lauryn said softly. "Why do you care about some stupid little fox girl? I've just missed you." She walked over behind Merrick and put her arms gently around his shoulders, bent down and kissed him on the neck. "It's been so long since you've been with me."

Merrick stood up, put a hand on Lauryn’s arm, and smiled. “You’ve always had such soft skin. Have I told you how beautiful you are?”

Lauryn giggled. “Many times, but I never get tired of hearing it.” She let go of Merrick, walked out towards the hallway and glanced back, smiling and batting her eyes at Merrick. “Come on, this place is so damp and dirty. Don’t you want to talk some more in your quarters?”

Merrick followed Lauryn outside the cell, moaning contentedly to himself. He locked the cell door, and the two of them left, laughing and sweet talking each other the whole way.

Ahri let out a sigh of relief, almost a half sob. She didn’t understand how Lauryn could be with a man like that. Did she really love him? It had really seemed like it. The thought made her insides turn in disgust. She stared at the piece of bread she had been getting before Merrick walked in and picked it up. She looked over to the fox boy, who was still in the exact same position in his little corner of the cell.

She walked over to him, broke the last of the bread in half, and held it out to the boy. “Bread. Eat.” The boy just stared blankly ahead, making no move towards the morsel of food. Ahri could see it wouldn’t be any use, so she put the bread down and examined the him closer. His eyes were hazy and glazed over, with specks of brown along his iris. He gave off a foul stench, and upon closer inspection, she found that the boy had been defecating and peeing in his clothes. Ahri lifted the boy’s pants and examined the feces. They were hard, small, and black. She recognized the composition of them from her earlier life as a fox, during the meager winter months. The boy was starving. And yet, he had shown no desire to eat. Ahri noticed the boy’s scarred knob of flesh - the place where his tail had been cut off.

Ahri walked up to the sink and grabbed a towel, wet it with the sparse stream of water that came out from the faucet, and walked over to clean the boy. It was obvious to her that Lauryn had given up the boy for a lost cause, but Ahri refused to believe that it was right to just let the fox-boy die. He couldn’t have been much younger than Ahri, maybe only a few years - far too young to die, in any case.

Ahri spent the rest of the day cleaning the boy and washing his clothes. When it was all done, the boy was still pretty dirty, all things considering - his hair still needed washing and his face and arms were caked in grime. She didn’t mind the work - it gave her something to do - but she was getting a bit tired and sleepy. She tried to feed the boy one more time, but to her dismay the boy still refused to make a single move. His face had been expressionless the entire time she had tended to him.

Feeling tired and discouraged, she decided to wait till tomorrow to try and get the boy to eat. There had to be a way to get through to him. He couldn’t have been born like this. Ahri grabbed one of the yellow mats strewn on the floor, pulled it up near the boy, and laid down. It was not long before she fell fast asleep.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-


The sound of the cell door opening woke Ahri from her sleep. She heard Lauryn’s voice talking sweetly, and then the clang of the hallway door as it was closed shut. Still pretending to be asleep, she watched Lauryn walk over to her corner of the cell and sit down. She sat there and leaned back, staring at the ceiling. She then grabbed a strand of her hair, twisted it around her finger, and forcefully pulled it out. She repeated this bizarre behavior over and over, until Ahri had finally had enough.

“Lor-win...stop please,” Ahri whispered quietly.

Lauryn started, surprised that Ahri was still awake. She took the few strands of her hair on the floor and quickly pushed them under the mat. “I..I didn’t know you were awake.”

“Your hair...so pretty. No more...pulling,” Ahri said again.

Lauryn just smiled at her and nodded. “Okay Ahri. It’s just a bad habit of mine. You don’t have to pay it any mind.” She laid down on the mat and stared back up at the ceiling. “I heard it was you that burned him so bad like that. Is that really true?”

Ahri didn’t respond. How would she react if she said yes?

Lauryn turned her head and faced Ahri, looking her in the eyes. “You know, Merrick is really not as bad as you think. He takes care of me. He can be really sweet sometimes.”

Ahri turned her back to Lauryn and closed her eyes, not wanting to hear any more. She was wrong, Ahri thought. Telling someone a lie - it didn’t make people feel better at all.

************************************************************

Thanks for reading, hope you're enjoying my chapters! Feedback is always appreciated .

Also, a little note. I added a few paragraphs to the end of chapter 3, to kind of smooth the transition over to Lux's storyline as well as add some more explanation and reasoning to Henry's actions so new readers won't be as confused. I also cleaned up some errors in the chapters as well. You don't have to re-read it - it only clarifies things I did not make clear earlier, but it's just a heads up for those curious. I know chapter 6 was a bit short and rushed, and I may add more to that chapter in the future as well.


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Chapter 8 - Demacian Battlefront, Kaladoun Flatlands near town of Messia

The Dauntless Vanguard were most definitely outnumbered. While they had the defensive advantage of being entrenched behind makeshift iron barricades, Garen doubted that it would hold for long against the onslaught of nine thousand Noxian soldiers, all screaming and barking like frenzied wolves. Their flagbearers spun their distinctive spiked bolas as they charged forward, filling the air with an unnerving jumble of high pitched shrieks.

That wasn’t Garen’s greatest concern, though. His rangers had spotted a fire mage among the assault forces, but they had been unable to ascertain his strength before they began their charge. The only way he would know, then, was to see it for himself. And see for himself he did.

“Everyone get down!” Garen shouted as he stared at the massive wave of roiling fire heading towards him. He dug his heels into the dirt and tried to make himself as small as possible behind the barricade, which was no easy feat for a man of his stature - clad in his full Demacian battle armor, he stood well over six feet tall. As he lowered his head and covered it with his hands he felt the massive plume of fire crash against the barrier. The flames lashed against his steel armor plating, making them uncomfortably warm. When he lifted his head back up he found the barrier still intact, if a little worse for wear, and the land scorched black with soot and ash.

We won’t last long if that mage isn’t taken care of, Garen thought to himself. He had been able to limit the casualties to his own army throughout the war, but only at the cost of significant stretches of Demacian controlled territory. He wasn’t sure how much more they could give up, and he’d be damned if he had to abandon another town to the Noxians. He glanced over at his flag officer. “Tell our men to hold steady! Raise the spears when they hit the barrier and take out as many Noxians as possible!”

Garen turned to face the charging Noxian army. He could see the fire mage readying another attack. There was nothing he could do about it now - except hope that his rangers would be able to carry out their job. He gripped his lance and prepared himself for the oncoming horde. While he preferred the use of his hand-forged Demacian greatsword, the lance offered far greater reach and killing power in a defensive position behind spiked barricades. He would save his greatsword for when the barricades were overrun.

If the Noxians wanted this town, they were paying for it in blood.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-


The cloaked ranger dashed quickly through the forest, a fleeting apparition among the trees. Hidden in the leaves, a noxian scout tracked the ranger in silence. He raised his bow and notched an arrow, taking aim at the cloaked figure. The Demacian ranger was fast, but he was one of Noxus’ elite. He pulled the drawstring back, waited for the right moment, then let loose the arrow. It flew swift and true, but landed with a thud into the bark of a tree. The ranger had disappeared! Yelling out a Noxian curse, the scout drew his sword, then swung it out wildly as the cloaked figure dropped down from above him. He parried the first hit, but it had only been a ruse to knock him off balance. As he tumbled backwards, he saw the ranger take aim with a small crossbow. The air shrieked as the bolt whizzed through the air, piercing his neck. He gurgled in agony, but his death was mercifully swift.

The ranger did not stop to appraise her kill. She stooped down to retrieve her bolt, shook off the sheen of blood, and continued running towards the forest’s edge. In the distance she heard the screams and bellows of warfare. Was she too late?

Reaching her destination, she picked out the tallest tree she could find and climbed up, leaping from branch to foothold to branch with the dexterity and skill of a Kumungu monkey. From her vantage point atop the tree she watched as the massive Noxian force surged towards the barriers the Dauntless Vanguard had set up near the town of Messia. Nine thousand against four thousand. The Vanguard were outnumbered more than two to one.

No use thinking about that now. She could only carry out her own duty. She unstrapped the large sniper’s crossbow from her back and took aim at the solitary mage towards the rear of the Noxian Horde, locked in concentration as plumes of fire circled his body.

The Demacian sniper crossbow was the pinnacle of traditional mechanical design. Made from a lighter variant of forged runesteel and with over 450 lbs of draw force, it was capable of piercing all but the toughest of plate armors at accuracies of over 2000 feet. It’s biggest drawback was that you only got one shot - crossbows of this power required complex loading mechanisms requiring multiple people.

As the ranger focused the sights on the mage and pulled the trigger, an ear-splitting boom resounded through the forest as steel levers and gears unlatched and propelled the bolt shrieking through the air at over 500 feet per second.

The bolt struck and pierced the mage clean through his chest, creating a two-inch hole where flesh, bone, and heart used to be. The mage looked down at the gap in his chest in shock, then fell in a crumpled heap as blood spew forth from his wound high into the air.

The ranger smiled as she admired her kill shot - even with such an advanced weapon accuracy was not guaranteed at such long distances. She latched the sniper crossbow onto her back, then dropped down to the forest ground below.

As she landed, she caught a flash of movement, and was suddenly laid low by a blow from behind. Before she could draw out her own blade, the figure pinned her down and brought a knife to her neck.

“Shall I stick a blade through your neck the same way you did to Jonas?,” the voice spat out. “Stupid Demacian cur!”

The ranger didn’t struggle. She stared into the man’s eyes and prepared for death. As the scout readied to plunge the blade into her neck, a powerful screech echoed through the forest, and a massive eagle swooped down from the canopy and scratched and clawed at the man’s face. The scout screamed in pain and started swiping wildly at the eagle. Taking advantage of the situation, the ranger drew her blade and sliced the man’s neck open. The man struggled and cried out, but soon fell to the ground motionless.

The eagle cooed softly and perched on a branch above the ranger. She looked up at the eagle and gave it an affectionate smirk.

“How many times is that now, Valor? I think I’ve lost track,” she called out to the eagle. Valor just stared back admonishingly and flapped her wings.

“I know, I know. Just gimme a minute, okay? I don’t think Garen will mind.” The ranger laid there for awhile, sighed, then picked herself up. She then dashed into the trees, disappearing silently into the forest.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-


“HYAHH!”

Garen swung his sword around and, lifting it high into the air, brought it down with crushing force on the Noxian soldier, nearly splitting him in two. Another soldier quickly replaced him, screaming in crazed shouts and swinging his sword violently at the Demacian General. With a grunt, Garen knocked aside the soldier’s strike with his thick reinforced bracer, and struck the man violently with hilt of his greatsword, crushing his flimsy steel helmet and sending him careening backwards.

He looked up and stared at the remaining onslaught of Noxian soldiers still climbing the barriers. So many. A small squad of Demacian soldiers surged forward onto the barricade and drove the climbers back, sticking them with spears and lances. More Noxians replaced those that were struck down.

He had lost over 400 men in the first initial moments of the fighting, and the Noxian forces were surging through the barriers in unrelenting waves. He watched in horror as a section of the barricades was overrun. Garen cursed and bellowed out a war cry, charging at the incoming horde of Noxians.

With blow after blow, Garen sliced through waves of men. The Noxian horde surged in relentlessly, overwhelming the Demacians that came to fortify the barricade. A heavy mace clanged forcefully against Garen’s chest plate, knocking him down. The Noxian soldiers swarmed around Garen and started pummeling at his armor. He swung his greatsword wildly, desperately trying to drive the soldiers back as parts of his armor failed and wicked Noxian blades drew blood from the flesh underneath. He would not die like this.

Screaming wildly, Garen summoned up the remaining reserves of his strength and pushed the mass of soldiers forcefully away. It was then that he felt a deep rumbling of the earth beneath him, and a thundering boom as the world seemed to explode all around him.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-


Adam Varretus watched through his binoculars from a distance as the array of artillery shells flew through their trajectory, then struck with terrifying force into the heart of the Noxian Army. He turned back to his men.

One hundred cannons and mortars had been lined up just north of the town of Messia, on a strategic hillside. It was slow, grueling work that took devotion and weeks of backbreaking labor pushing up thousands of pounds of metal through long distances, but it had been their only chance of stopping the Noxian incursion into Messia. As Adam gave the signal to launch another volley, those same cannons lurched and popped back violently as 60 pound cannonballs were ejected out of their rifled muzzles and into the air. The mortars fired fuel-laden bombs that landed and exploded into a furious sea of molten sticky lava, burning and incinerating the flesh and skin of anyone unlucky enough to come into contact with them. Five more volleys of unrelenting fire drove the Noxian army into chaos and disarray, and then into full on retreat.

Adam watched the chaos from afar, a huge, satisfied smile on his face. The battle of Messia had been won.

“Job well done, Thomas,” he said to his first officer. “Lets go down and meet those Crownguards we just saved, eh?” He walked off towards the town, glancing proudly at the chaos he had created.

-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-


Garen marched towards the artillery commander’s tent, waving away the guards who tried to stop him. When he saw him come out, greeting him casually, he threw himself upon the man. They struggled and rolled around on the ground as each tried to get an advantage over the other.

“Adam you bastard! Those were my ****ing men out there!” Garen shouted. The guards came in and forcefully pulled Garen away, restraining him as best they could.

“Come now Garen, you know I had no choice,” Adam said, laughing to himself.

“No choice? Your cannons wiped out over a thousand of my men. You think this is a laughing matter? They did not even get a chance to fall back!”

“You would have lost them all if I had not come in time. Think straight, Garen. We could not afford to lose Messia, and your men are replaceable,” Adam replied cooly.

Garen growled in anger, but elected not to struggle against the guards restraining him. His body ached from the wounds he had received, and he had barely managed to escape the havoc caused by the artillery bombardment. Most of his men had not been so lucky.

Adam’s attitude was common among the houses of Demacia. The Varretus family in particular had a military tradition similar to the Crownguards, but their cavalier view towards the lesser soldiers in their armies was one not shared by the Crownguards, especially not with Garen. His men did not deserve to die in agony, being burnt to cinders by the magically fueled fires used by House Varretus’ artillery.

“How many men did you bring with you?” Garen finally said through gritted teeth.

“Oh, around fourteen thousand, plus another hundred cannons. Being as the Crownguards can’t seem to keep from losing every single battle, I thought it prudent to reinforce our position in Messia, it being a key strategic entrypoint into the heart of Demacian lands.” He added, almost as an afterthought, “And how many men do you have left, General?”

“Enough,” Garen replied. That was an outright lie. He had left Demacia already undermanned. Without any reinforcements, and after the casualties of the last battle, he estimated that he had no more than 1700 men remaining in his command. However unappealing it may be, Adam Varretus would be the one in charge of Messia’s defense, at least for the time being.

“Enough huh? Oh, well I suppose you can spare a few men then? My scouts have reported a Noxian detachment heading towards the fort town of Landus, to our south.”

Garen’s ears perked upon hearing the name of the town. “How many?”

“They didn’t get a good number, though it was estimated to be around six to eight thousand. Nothing you can’t handle, right General?”

Garen didn’t bother to reply. It was already hard enough to keep from punching the bastard in the face. The guards released him, and he walked out of the tent.

Six to eight thousand. Why would Noxus send a division down to Landus? Taking Landus still meant they had to go through Messia to get into the key inner Demacian territories, and Landus was one of the more heavily fortified towns. Possibly as a way to flank their defensive position in Messia. Regardless, he couldn’t help but worry about his sister Luxanna, who he heard had been stationed there. Adam seemed to have the town of Messia adequately defended, so he resolved to move the remainder of his forces down south, to Landus. He would be able to resupply and gather more men there hopefully. He only hoped that he would be able to get there in time.
-o-o-o-
-o-o-o-

Authors note: I’m having a bit of a dilemma here, and I need some feedback from readers. How do you all feel about the multiple perspectives I’m introducing into these stories? Do they make sense? Do they feel relevant? I know most people just want to read about Ahri, and I’m wondering whether I should just scrap the different perspectives and just stick with one POV, and only deal with the other storylines when they become immediately relevant. All of my other stories have strictly been one POV, so I’m not exactly 100% comfortable doing this.

The problem here is that I personally flesh out backstories for all characters (major and minor) out of habit, if only to write more complete chapters.

Also, this is the first time I’ve tried writing an extended “action” scene. I would love feedback on whether the action was easy to follow, and whether they were, for lack of a better word, “actiony”.

And as a final note, I know the story is progressing a bit slow, mainly due to my lack of updates. I’ve decided to just stick with a slower schedule, with a chapter every 1/1.5 weeks or so. I’m taking it easy in the hopes that i’ll be able to sustain more chapters in the future . Rest assured though that this story will be finished, even if no one ever reads it. It’s one of my personal goals, and I intend to honor it, regardless of whatever happens.

Anyway thanks for reading and I hope it’s enjoyable to read .


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Chapter 9

Ahri sat there in her cell, staring at Lauryn and occasionally poking at a loaf of bread she held in her hands. She was hungry, but something was bothering her, and so she just poked the bread again.

The days spent inside the Sentinel prison had mostly been monotonous and uneventful, which left Ahri with a lot of time to ponder everything that happened. What did the Sentinels want with her - or Lauryn and Ashy, for that matter? These unanswered questions frustrated her, and so she had tried to pass the time by concentrating on other things - like Lauryn and Ashy.

She and Lauryn had managed to develop a sort of friendly rapport between them. The past few days, Lauryn had been obsessing over her new little "gadget" - a simple comb and tiny razor. They were luxuries afforded to her by her relationship with Merrick, and she had become insistent on using them on the furs of Ahri's tails and her hair, which she considered too long and tangled.

Grooming was something Margaret never used to bother much over during Ahri's time with the Walkers, because she would always fuss over how it hurt and how pointless it seemed. It was different with Lauryn, however.

"You're as messy as one of those wild baby yetis!" she would say as she forced the comb through her hair, while Ahri would wonder to herself what exactly a ye-ti was. Ahri had protested Lauryn's attempts at first, but she was so persistent that Ahri eventually relented and let her do as she pleased. She even started to enjoy it, kind of.

Beyond these activities, however, Ahri's thoughts and attention would always drift to Ashy. Lauryn never seemed to talk about him, and in fact treated him almost as if he didn't exist. But Ahri couldn't bear to watch the boy left in such condition, and besides, he was another fox feral, just like her. So she had resolved to give the boy a share of her food, and had scrubbed his dirty hands and feet - scrubbed him all over, so that he wouldn't be forced to lie in his own filth.

Despite all her efforts, Ahri could never get the boy to respond much. It was, in fact, a miracle that she had been able to get him to even eat anything at all. Everyday she had left morsels of food next to him and prodded him to eat, but the boy never responded much to anything she did. Eventually, Ahri had begun to worry that maybe the boy would starve himself to death. On one morning, however, Ahri woke to find that the bread she had left for him had a few bites taken out of it. When she shared this breakthrough excitedly with Lauryn, she did not seem to care and responded simply that it was "probably just a rat."

This angered Ahri, because she was convinced it was the boy, and she had stuck her tongue out at her to show her displeasure. Lauryn just shrugged and waved her off. Sure enough, however, these cases of "missing bites of food" occurred more often after this incident, though always when Ahri was either sleeping or wasn't looking, to her consternation.

Everything wasn't always so rosy however, especially when Merrick would come. While Ahri understood that Lauryn's relationship with Merrick was what kept them fed (the once-a-day meals served by the wardens were meager, to say the least), she couldn't help but find it repulsive. It was hard to tell if Lauryn actually truly loved the man.

On the evenings when he would come, Lauryn would always waste no time grabbing his attention, tenderly touching and kissing him all over. Ahri would huddle in the corner next to Ashy, stare down nervously at the floor and close her eyes, hoping Merrick would ignore her. Merrick would leave with Lauryn, and then a few hours later she would come back (Ahri would already be asleep by then), sit down in her corner by herself, and start twisting and pulling out strands of her hair again. Ahri only knew this because on some days she would wake and catch her doing this, but Lauryn would always smile and say it was nothing when she asked her to stop.

And so this was what Ahri was thinking about as she held the piece of bread in her hands. She felt guilty taking this food when she knew where it came from and how. She wished she could do something - anything, but she felt powerless. Why couldn't she be stronger? Braver? She felt angry with herself. Her mother had given her life for her, but what was she doing in return? Sitting inside a prison, cowering in a corner every time Merrick showed up, hoping he'd leave with Lauryn and not notice her.

Ahri let out a small grunt of frustration. She hated that man! She drew her arm back and threw the bread she had in her hands across the room with all her might. The loaf flew across the room and slammed into the other side of the wall, making a Plop! sound before bouncing off the wall and coming to rest right next to a surprised Lauryn.

"Oh!" Lauryn cried out, who until then had been sitting back and lazily munching on a plain muffin. She raised an eyebrow at Ahri. "What did the bread ever do to you to deserve such treatment?" She picked up the flattened loaf and examined it. "It's all smushed now," Lauryn lamented as she made a disgusted face. "Who wants to eat smushed bread?"

"Sor-ry," Ahri mumbled back, though her tone hardly sounded apologetic.

"It's okay, I was just teasing...but what's wrong? Why are you angry?" Lauryn responded.

Ahri stared at a small crack in the concrete floor and picked at it with her fingernails. She hadn't wanted to lose her temper like that, but she couldn't help it.

Lauryn walked over to Ahri, knelt down, and held out the bread to her. "I know it isn't exactly good bread...but it's better than the stale beans and leftover hog bones the wardens give out."

Ahri shook her head and continued to stare down at the small crack. Stale beans and pig bones? She'd gladly eat those if it meant not having to take another handout from Merrick. She felt so trapped and helpless here, and felt a pang of deep longing for her days in the forest, gathering and hunting for food, the joy of finally catching an elusive prey. They seemed like such distant memories now.

Lauryn put the bread down and looked thoughtfully at Ahri. "Are you thinking of home?" she said.

Ahri looked up at Lauryn. "Home..." she whispered. She thought of the little burrow she had lived in with her mother, and then of Margaret and Roland's cozy little cabin. Which was home now? To her, it seemed like she belonged in neither, especially not after what Henry had done.

"So you were thinking of home," Lauryn said. "It's just - I used to think of home a lot too, when they first put me here, and it's what kept me from losing hope." Lauryn sat back and stared wistfully upwards for few moments, then looked back down at Ahri and grinned. "I know what will make you feel better, Ahri. My father - well...there's this special prayer that he taught me to calm me down when I was upset. He had told me not to show it to others...but it's not like anybody's watching. Would you like me to show you?"

Ahri nodded tentatively, her curiosity piqued by the air of mystery in the cat feral's voice.

Lauryn smiled reassuringly at her. "Just watch, ok? I have a feeling you'll understand, even if you've never seen it." She drew in a long breath and sat up on her knees. She bent down and placed one hand down on the ground in front of her, the other hand over it, and lowered her head. She closed her eyes and started reciting what seemed like a poem, or maybe a prayer.

Oh Goddess Frelia

Radiant as winter's snow

Graceful as spring's wind

She blesses us with summer's glow

So come the darkness, we shan't fall

x

Oh Goddess Frelia, hear my plea

Light my path, and banish the shadows

With her flame, she sets aglow

So come the darkness, we shan't fall


Lauryn drew in a sharp breath, then exhaled, and for a moment it seemed as if that was all that would happen. But then Ahri glimpsed an ethereal glow coming from Lauryn's hands, a light that seemed to shimmer with the depth of deep blue oceans. Ahri reached out with a hand toward the blue light and, full of apprehension, gently touched Lauryn's hand. Instantly she felt a wave of euphoria and excitement wash over her. It felt as if her very soul had been awakened by being plunged into the freezing oceans, and for a split second she felt as if she were one with everything, that her loneliness and resentment were just trivial things in comparison to what she were feeling now. She had experienced this before, but where? And then just like that, the feeling disappeared, and she was jarred back into the Sentinel prison and it's forsaken walls.

Ahri gasped for breath, then looked up at Lauryn, eyes wide with astonishment. Whatever it was she had felt, it was amazing!

"Did you feel it? It's great, isnt it?" Lauryn said.

Ahri nodded, then pleaded with her eyes for more. "Again," Ahri said.

"Oh, it won't work again if you do it right away. It's supposed to be a reminder that the old ways are still relevant, before the great rune wars changed everything. And well...It gives me hope, too. At least for me it does, because it reminds me of my father." Lauryn paused for a moment. Her eyes grew misty, and she started fiddling with her hands. "When I was little, he used to carry me up on his shoulder, and give me piggyback rides. He'd charge forward with the speed and strength of a hundred bulls, and I'd close my eyes and cling onto his mane with all my strength just to keep from falling off. It was after one of these rides, while we were resting on a precipice overlooking the Mogron pass, that he taught me the prayer, and made a promise to me - that he would always protect me, no matter what." Lauryn wiped away a tear. "Those memories...they're all I have left, but it's enough."

Ahri thought of Lauryn's father - formed a picture of him in her mind as she listened to her. A mane...could it have been him? "Cy-ril," Ahri blurted out.

Lauryn's eyes widened in surprise. "That was...my father's name. But how do you know it? Have you met him?"

Ahri nodded, and she tried to describe him, using words she felt comfortable using. "Biig mane...strong...and golden eyes. Kind."

"So he's still alive," Lauryn said. "There were times I doubted whether he had survived that last battle at the Twin Spires...but now I know for sure." She looked at Ahri blankly, then suddenly seemed to brighten, and gave Ahri a hug. "I believe you, that you saw him alive and well. It makes me so glad. Thank you for that!"

Ahri hugged her back. She was glad that she could help Lauryn in some way, even if it was by random coincidence. Ahri began to feel as if maybe things would be alright. She thought Lauryn was so brave, managing to survive in this place all by herself, and wondered how long she had been imprisoned here. Was there a chance at hope? Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of one of the prison wardens approaching their cell.

The warden raised one of his leather-wrapped hands and tapped the cell, whistling to get their attention.

"Hey, feral! You there, the blond one. Get up here. Captain Merrick requests your company."

Lauryn got up to go, but Ahri held out a hand and stopped her.

"Please Lor-win...don't," Ahri said as she squeezed her hand and pulled on it. Ahri felt that they didn't need Merrick's help and resources, that they would be ok without him.

"Ahri...I have to," Lauryn said, pulling her hand away. "Listen - my father is alive. I know that for sure now, thanks to you. I believe he'll rescue us someday, but it's all the more reason we have to survive. Merrick is our best chance, so just stay here, and be quiet, ok? Let me deal with everything." Lauryn turned around without a second glance and walked up to the guard.

Ahri stared at her and clenched her fists. Sit here and be quiet? How could she? She wanted to stop her, but Lauryn had seemed adamant about it. She felt powerless to do anything - could only blink back tears as she watched Lauryn go.

"Heh. I don't know how the Captain can stand you ferals. It's disgusting," Ahri heard the guard mutter as he opened the cell and led Lauryn out.

The door slammed shut, leaving Ahri by herself again. She unclenched her fists and let out a deep breath, felt like throwing something again. But she resisted the urge. What was the use, anyway? It didn't change things.

She went back and sat down next to Ashy, and stared at the little fox boy. He seemed wholly oblivious to everything happening around him. Maybe that was for the best. She got up, retrieved the flattened loaf of bread, and set it down next to the boy.

Ahri had resolved not to accept anything that had come from Merrick - it was the only thing she felt she could do - but she supposed it wasn't right to let the boy starve when there was perfectly good food around. Well - a little smushed, but still good.

She sat back down next to the boy and went through his fur, absentmindedly picking out what remained of the dirt and dust that had collected from him being motionless all day. She hoped Laruyn would be ok. After awhile, she grew tired, laid down on her mat, said goodnight to Ashy, and fell asleep.

-o-o-o-

-o-o-o-

Ahri woke, sleepy and blurry eyed, and reached out a hand for the soft blanket Margaret had sewn for her. When she couldn't find it, she sat up and opened her eyes, and saw the cold empty walls of the prison cell. It was just a dream. For a moment, I thought...

She rubbed her eyes a bit, and looked over where Lauryn usually slept. "Lor-win..?" she said. There was no response. She wasn't there. She laid back down and tried to go back to sleep, but her mind raced with thoughts of home. Her mother...the little burrow they shared...she thought of Roland and Margaret too. Everything seemed so pleasant and happy in the dream. She wished she could just go back to sleep and dream again. She missed Margaret and Roland. They were really the only ones who she could really "talk" with, due to the time they had spent together. Margaret had taught her almost all of the language she knew, how to make some of her favorite foods, how to care for all of the animals...

A tear dropped onto the mat. Ahri was a bit taken aback - she hadn't realized she had been crying. She sat up and started trying to breathe slowly, tried to calm herself down. She felt something nudge up against her, and yelped in surprise. She looked down and remembered she had gone to sleep next to Ashy. Did he just move...?

"A-shy..." Ahri whispered. She picked up his hand and held it in her lap. She felt his hand squeeze her's just ever so slightly, and then go limp.

"Ashy..." she whispered again. But this time there was no response. She wasn't disappointed though. It seemed that maybe there was hope for the boy after all.

Tears started flowing down her face. Holding his hand like that - it had been awhile since she had felt such a connection. She thought again of how terribly she really missed Roland, and wondered if he cared about her at all - whether he cared that she was missing. Lauryn said that Cyril would have done anything to protect her. Ahri's mother would have done the same - and she did, but now she was dead, gone forever.

Ahri laid back down, and held the boy's hand in hers. She wiped some more tears from her eyes. She began to get sleepy again, and fell back asleep, and back to her dreams - of love, family, and whatever else a little fox girl could possibly hold dear.


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Dregen

Senior Member

10-07-2013

Ch 10

After seeing the fox boy finally move and respond last night, Ahri had wanted to tell Lauryn all about how she was wrong about Ashy, and that there was hope he could get better. The fox-boy still spent the majority of the time in his half-coma like state, but he was slowly but surely improving, becoming more responsive, even eating more regularly every day.

"You were wrong Lauryn, I told you so!" Ahri had imagined herself saying. Perhaps it was a bit smug, maybe even selfish, but didn't Lauryn deserve it, just a little? So she tried to wait patiently for her to come back, passing the time with whatever she could come up with. She choked down the slop the Wardens gave out, tended to the little fox boy, and stared out idly into space daydreaming about her days as a little fox kit, and her time with Roland and Margaret.

But Lauryn did not return that day, nor the next day, nor the day after that. Ahri tried to reassure herself - Lauryn knew how to handle herself, and she knew her way around the prison. And besides - Merrick, as vile as he was, would not let her come to harm, because maybe, just maybe, he did love her for real. But waiting like this, not knowing anything about what was happening, whether if Lauryn was ok or not - it just reminded Ahri of how powerless she was, and she couldn't help but feel frustrated again.

She wished she were strong like Lauryn's father, Cyril. Then maybe she could help Lauryn and Ashy escape this horrible place. Or if she had the wisdom of her mother...she would certainly know exactly what to do to make things better. But she didn't have any of those qualities.

Ahri sighed hopelessly, and picked up the small plate of pig bones beside her. She glanced over at Ashy, and saw that the last of the bread she had placed next to him earlier had vanished.

Ahri was glad that Ashy was finally eating regularly, but that was the last of the good quality bread Lauryn had received from Merrick, and now they were nearly out of food. She picked up a small scrap of bone and nibbled on it, trying to suck out the nutritious marrow trapped within. She was able to get just a sliver of the fatty substance out, which, while tasty, did little to take her mind off her hunger. As she lazily sucked on the ends of the bone she started fantasizing about eating a squirrel. Or, perhaps, biting into a juicy mouse leg. The wild mice in the forest were so fatty and tender. Oh, how she would love to bite into a delicious mouse right now!

The last of the marrow was sucked up dry, and she placed the remains down on the plate and picked up another. As she started sucking on the new set of bones, her mind drifted off to that day, when she had ignored her mother and gone off after that mouse. That stupid mouse! If only she had listened to her mother and had not run off...

Ahri was jarred from her thoughts by the sound of two prison wardens who had approached the cell while she had been daydreaming. One of guards, stocky and with a long, unkempt beard that seemed to poof out in all directions, rapped on the bars and let out a short, sharp whistle.

"Enjoying the food, feral? Because I certainly did," the beard-man said, chuckling slightly at his joke.

The other guard, clean-shaven and with hair that fell lazily around his shoulders, stared into the cell impassively and fiddled with his keys. He eventually inserted one into the cell lock, and with a click the door slid open.

Ahri dropped the pig bones down on the plate and stood up, unconsciously backing away from the guards as they entered the cell. She swallowed nervously and tried to calm herself. She wondered if perhaps they knew where Lauryn was, but she was too afraid to ask.

The beard man came over and grabbed Ahri by the shoulder, then pulled her roughly towards the other guard. He set his eyes on the fox-boy in the corner and smirked. "Why I'll be damned, it seems to be breathing. I can't believe it's still alive...haha!" he exclaimed. He bent down and picked up some of the leftover pig bones, then held it towards the boy's face. "Come on, you hungry? Eat, stupid feral." The boy did not respond at all, which seemed to annoy the man. "Why won't you eat?" The beard man started jamming the bones into the boy's face, trying to get him to respond.

"Leaff him alone!" Ahri cried out. As she started stepping towards Ashy the long-haired guard put a hand around her to restrain her. She saw him poking and kicking Ashy with his foot, and she screamed out again, pleading for the man to stop. She couldn't understand why the guard was treating Ashy like that. She had to do something to help him! But what?

Not knowing what else to do, Ahri scratched and bit at the guard's hand, causing him to release her for a split second. She rushed towards the beard man, who was still relentlessly tormenting the boy and slammed into him, pushing him away with all the strength she could muster. The beard man gave a short grunt of surprise as he stumbled towards the wall, but was able to catch himself quickly.

"Stop, please..." Ahri gasped in a low voice. She was terrified, and started to feel dizzy from the exertion and lack of proper food, but she tried to stand her ground. She saw the guard turn and glare at her furiously, and he started roaring obscenities at her. He drew out a baton and started swinging at her wildly. Ahri put her hands up and tried to defend herself, but a blow to the head sent her reeling. As the world started swirling wildly around her, she weakly muttered Ashy's name, and then collapsed.

-o-o-o-

-o-o-o-

Jason Adler, the long-haired guard, rubbed his sore hand and watched as the other guard raised his club for one more strike on the fox-girl. Before he could bring it down, Jason stepped forward quickly and took hold of the guard's weapon.

"Edgar, that's enough, you're going to kill her," Jason said.

The fox girl murmured weakly, and Edgar wiped some sweat from his forehead and flicked it towards the girl. "These ****ing animals. Why do you care if she dies?"

"I don't," Jason replied. "But Pavel ordered us to bring her to the lab for study, and I doubt he wants a dead feral."

Edgar put away his club and bent down over the girl. "Heh. If I had my way, they would all be killed on sight. These animals didn't show any mercy when my mother begged for her life."

Jason patted Edgar's shoulder to try to calm him down. "I know how you feel. But Pavel is going to be angry enough that you hurt her like this. And I kinda want to keep my job, so leave these ferals alone and lets go, alright?"

Jason bent down to check on the condition of the girl. Her eyes stared back at him with a blank, half-conscious expression. He gently helped her up, then lifted her onto his arms.

"Lock the cell behind me, and lets go. I'll carry the girl," Jason commanded. Edgar muttered a few phrases under his breath, but Jason ignored it, and they went on towards the lab.

-o-o-o-

-o-o-o-

Jason walked into the Sentinel Hextech lab with the fox girl in his arms. As he passed the doorway he felt her stir, the soft cushy furs of her tails tickling his forearms. He resisted the urge to brush them away. The lab, located inside the Sentinel fortress, starkly contrasted with the rest of the relatively dark and spartan building. Harsh lighting illuminated the various metallic hextech weapons and gadgets within the lab, many of which were fantastic but impractical prototypes destined for the scrap heap. A couple lab technicians could be seen tending to a young soldier lying on a gurney, with the scientist Pavel off to the side absorbed in what seemed to be, of all things, mundane paperwork.

"We've brought the feral, as requested," Jason said.

Pavel looked up from his work and squinted as he tried to focus on the fox girl. "She seems to be injured. Can't you guards do one simple task properly?"

"The girl proved to be vicious, like most ferals are. We had to restrain her for her own safety," Edgar said calmly.

"Restrain her? How ridiculous," Pavel said, clearly annoyed. "There aren't any rune sources in this fortress except for the conflux chamber." He walked up and examined the girl closely. He then looked up and grinned, cupping his hands together happily. "Ah well, no matter. The girl is injured, but conscious. We shall proceed with the experiment as planned. We are already behind schedule, and the progress of science cannot be stopped."

Pavel motioned for Jason to follow, and then walked on towards the far end of the lab, towards another room blocked by a bulky, reinforced door. The girl was starting to regain her senses, and she struggled in Jason's arms. Pavel retrieved a set of shackles and bound the girl's wrists and ankles. "Just a precaution," he said with a slight smirk. He turned and started unsealing the heavy steel door.

Jason glanced into the next room, viewing it through reinforced glass windows tinted pink from prolonged exposure to mana. Inside, he saw the conflux chamber, a small glass enclosure secured by techmaturgical machinery on both its top and bottom.

Jason noticed that the fox girl had stopped struggling so much, and was surprised to see her staring dreamily into the mana chamber - or was it, perhaps, at the pink tint of the windows? It was hard to tell for sure.

Once the door was unsealed, it made a sharp hiss, releasing the stored pressure inside as it swung open automatically. Jason followed Pavel inside as the scientist strode over to the conflux chamber and opened it. A slightly unsettling scent permeated the air inside the rune lab, a combination of rusting metal and saffron that indicated that there was toxic mana energy present. As he approached the chamber to place the girl inside, her shackles clinked together as she tried to break free of Jason's grip. "Ugh - don't struggle, it'll be okay," he whispered to her. He hoped he was telling her the truth as he pushed the girl inside. He closed the glass door and locked it, letting Pavel leave ahead of him. Jason could feel himself getting more nauseous, and he hurried to exit the chamber.

As he strode out of the conflux chamber and closed it behind him, he saw another man who had not been in the lab before. He recognized him as Leonard, the current commander of the Piltover Sentinels. Standing over six feet tall, he looked formidable, though his face was creased with wrinkles and lines caused by decades of war and conflict. He had come to check on the progress of Pavel's research, and the scientist was glad to oblige him.

Pavel picked up a spent rune crystal and walked over to the console next to the conflux chamber, and placed the crystal inside a slot. As he twisted a small black dial on the console, a faint hum resonated from inside the chamber, and the fox girl inside stiffened slightly, as if reacting to some unknown force.

Pavel stared into the chamber and smiled in glee as he observed the results. Random specks of blue energy could be seen flashing throughout the conflux chamber inside. Occasionally, a tendril of energy would shoot out through the small chamber and smack into the thickly reinforced window, condensing into a newly formed pink residue on the corners.

"Excellent! Commander Leonard, can you see this? Do you hear the hum? The fox girl is drawing a massive amount of mana into the chamber, far more than any man-made instrument could ever accomplish. And what's more, she suffers absolutely no ill-effects from it, even in her weakened condition. These ferals, like the Ursine and Yetis of the freljord, and the shadow bears beyond the great barrier...they were all born from one source - Mana."

Commander Leonard looked into the chamber and seemed to nod in approval. "So they are able to tolerate direct contact with Mana without injury just like the mages of Demacia and Noxus? Pavel, have you been able to figure out how this is possible? That is our highest priority."

"Of course, commander," Pavel replied. "My belief is that the ferals have a specific body organ - perhaps in their tails - that is able to channel mana and purify it so that it doesn't harm them. Since these ferals are so similar to us humans, it stands to reason that the resulting purified mana can be used by normal, non-mage humans as well."

"I see," Leonard said. "So can we assume that the mages of Demacia and Noxus use a similar process?"

"Not necessarily. It is hard to get actual data because of how rare it is for a human to be able to naturally tolerate mana. But a wild feral? No one will miss them if they disappear. I am confident I can build a machine that replicates the process more quickly and efficiently. Nothing is beyond science. Anything nature can provide, science can do better, with enough time and knowledge."

Pavel peered again into the chamber, and bared his teeth in an even wider grin. "The dissection of the fox-boy's tail provided much useful data. But we need more. And this girl...oh...nine tails, nine samples...how wonderful!"

As the conflux chamber's machinery churned, the spent rune crystal inside the console began to get brighter, and it's dull blue glow slowly changed into a pink one. Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen, and the faint pink hue grew brighter and more luminescent, until it began to overshadow even the harsh glare of the laboratory lights.

Pavel went back to the console and shut down the conflux machine, then retrieved the crystal from the slot.

"It is done," Pavel exclaimed. "All that's left is to insert the mana energy into Rayne's blood. If all goes as planned, we should see results similar to Merrick's."

Pavel motioned for everyone to follow, then walked over to the soldier lying on the gurney. The lab technicians began inserting needle lines into the soldier in several places while Pavel placed the rune crystal into a large transfusion machine.

"How do you feel, Rayne? Are you ready?" Pavel asked the soldier lying on the gurney.

"Yes sir," the soldier replied.

"Let us begin then. Richard, did you double check the needle locations? Good. Start it off slow. We don't know exactly how he will respond to the purified mana."

The transfusion machine whirred to life, and Jason watched in astonishment as the mana energy from the rune crystal mixed with a yellow fluid and began flowing into the soldier's body. The crystal began to grow dimmer, and before long had returned back to its dull blue coloring. Once the process was complete, the lab technicians removed the needle lines from the soldier.

"Stand up, Rayne, and tell us how you feel," Pavel said.

Rayne calmly got up from the gurney and gazed at Pavel and Leonard. "I...was that it? I don't feel any different. Am I...able to use magic now?"

Pavel let out a derisive laugh. "Don't be ridiculous. Magic requires an ability to use mana, which you now have, but it also requires years of learning and discipline to control it. Only Demacia and Noxus have that knowledge. But, as always, science provides us alternatives."

Pavel grabbed one of the blood lines from the transfusion machine and ran his hands along the line, which was flowing with the yellow liquid from earlier. "This yellow fluid, when mixed with the mana, gives it specific and enhanced properties. This one is the same mixture I used to save Captain Merrick from his burns."

Leonard stepped forward and casually observed the soldier, pacing around him slowly. After awhile, he stopped and looked at Edgar, who had been standing guard off to the side. "I want you to kill this man," Leonard commanded.

Edgar blinked, and seemed unsure whether he had heard the commander properly. "Excuse me sir?"

"Draw out your blade and kill him. Were my orders not clear?" Leonard responded.

Edgar stepped back, a mortified look on his face. "Sir, he's one of our own. You cannot be serious!"

Pavel held out a hand in protest. "Leonard," he interjected. "I need time to look at him. I cannot be certain - ah!"

Jason, ignoring Pavel's protests, quickly drew out his sabre and advanced on the soldier. The soldier's eyes widened in surprise for a moment before he instinctively drew up his hands to defend himself. Before the solider could draw his own weapon, Jason bent down low and ran his blade through the soldier's chest, then withdrew it cleanly from his body. The soldier gasped as he coughed up blood and collapsed.

"Jason, have you lost your mind?" Edgar shouted.

Jason sheathed his sabre and watched as Leonard bent down and observed the dying soldier. He was wheezing loudly and started to convulse. Leonard held the man down, drew out a short knife and cut the soldier's clothes to reveal the wound. There was a small gash on his chest, but it had already stopped bleeding, and the wound quickly growing smaller. Despite this, the soldier still struggled violently. "Agh...help me...please, make it - Ahh!"

The soldier screamed and started thrashing around, ripping into his skin as if it were being consumed by an army of biting ants. His eyes darted wildly around at the people surrounding him. After awhile, he let out a strained gasp of suffering, and then laid still. Pavel bent down to check on the soldier, placing two fingers on his neck. Jason noticed the wound on his chest had closed, leaving only a faint red line on the skin, but the soldier was still unresponsive.

"He's dead," Pavel said after some time.

"Disappointing," Leonard said. "It seems science has failed you this time."

Pavel stiffened and glared at the commander, appearing indignant. "This is your fault, Leonard. I told you I needed time to gather and study the results, but thanks to your impatience, we now have a dead soldier and an entire day of wasted effort!"

"I simply saved you time, did I not? The experiment was a failure." Leonard replied calmly.

Pavel looked down at the dead soldier, then looked up at Leonard. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but was interrupted by the commander.

"I don't want excuses, Pavel. Redouble your efforts. I am giving you all the time and resources you need, but I want results. There is so much more we have to do."

"Yes, commander Leonard," Pavel said, nodding in agreement. "We are getting closer, but there isn't much more we can do today until I can analyze the results and re-calibrate the machines. I suggest we put the fox girl back in her cell, but we need to make sure she receives proper rations and care. She needs to stay healthy if we want to obtain any meaningful data from her. The fox boy... was a wasted opportunity."

The commander turned to Jason and gave him a nod of approval. "You showed your loyalty and commitment today with your initiative. Your name was Jason, am I right? It is rare for a guard to wield such skill with a blade. I would like for you to take personal charge of the fox-girl's welfare."

"Yes, sir, commander Leonard," Jason replied, already understanding that this was tacit approval for an eventual promotion, perhaps to a commanding office.

"I will give orders for my brother Merrick to provide whatever you ask of him. He won't like it, but he will obey my command nonetheless."

"Understood. Thank you for your faith in me," Jason replied. He left to retrieve the fox girl while Leonard turned to leave. Pavel stood over the soldier's corpse and watched the commander as he made his exit. The scientist seemed to be lost in thought as he talked to himself.

"He seemed fine at first...It seems...ahh...it seems that the purified mana is still not fully compatible with non-mage humans. The near-fatal wound combined with the foreign mixture likely exceeded his body's tolerance level." Pavel looked down at the soldier with regret, and then towards the lab exit, but Leonard had already left by then.

Edgar turned to Pavel with a mystified look on his face. "Sir...I...I don't understand what just happened. The commander...killing ferals in one thing, but why..."

"He knew what he was signing up for," Pavel interrupted. "Piltover survived the Rune Wars not because it had the best soldiers, or the most mages...but through its science and technology. The Sentinels were created to protect Piltover, and it's leader would do anything to accomplish that goal. And that's why, for any who want to oppose him, well - let's just say that there will be hell to pay."

-o-o-o-

-o-o-o-

Chapter continued on next post


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