The vote to select Bilgewater’s ally in Arc VIII is closing today. If you haven’t voted yet, now is the time!
How to Vote to Select Bilgewater’s Ally for Arc VIII
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Ally Vote Lore Teaser
I’ve written up a two-scene teaser associated with this vote, in the style of the teaser written for Icathia’s ally vote earlier. (There’s also an independent new lore tidbit, a sort of post-epilogue to Nyroth, called The Right Weapon. I’m trying to make up for lost time, I guess. Loresplosion!) This teaser is meant to set the stage and help frame the choice: who is Bilgewater going to call in for help as things heat up with the Void? (Feel free to assume that the yordles have been especially obnoxious of late, if that helps.) Many thanks to commenters from the discussion thread.
I’ve now updated this page to reflect the final results of the ally selection vote.
(8 April, 26 CLE)
The guards crossed their gunpikes to bar Miss Fortune and her retinue of Summoners from passing through the gate leading to the Slaughter Docks. Of course they did. This was Gangplank’s territory, and Miss Fortune had not expected a warm welcome when she showed up with a League warrant.
Miss Fortune clucked her tongue, and tipped the brim of her hat down to hide her eyes. Leaving only the glow of her smile. “Now boys, did you really have to be so theatrical about it?”
She lifted her head, and met their gaze with that flash of her eyes that so reliably made people skip a breath.
With a lazy flourish of her wrist, she reached out and gripped the haft of one of the gunpikes near the tip. She glanced at the blade, its mounting, and the crude handcannon strapped alongside it, capable of firing one blast of canister shot. A stupid weapon, really; if you had to resort to a thing like that, it meant there was a mob rushing the gates, and in such a situation, firing off canister shot would only ensure that when the mob got to you, you’d be torn to chum. A stupid weapon, stupidly brutal, just what she expected from Gangplank’s men.
“Be careful how you cross these shoddy things,” she teased, tapping the corroded metal barrel, which pointed off into the sky. “If they go off, you’re just bound to ruin a seagull’s day.”
The two guards frowned uncertainly at her. She felt a distinct lack of laughter from the gathering crowd. Alright, I could have done better than a seagull joke.
Genuine annoyance crept into the edges of her smile, and took some of the mirth out of her eyes. “What’s the matter, boys? Is talking above your paygrade?” More brusque than she’d like, but it worked. It hit them right in their pride, and snapped out a backdrop of tension. A canvas she could work on.
Silence. Tension. She loved tension. You couldn’t do anything without tension.
Each moment they stayed silent stretched the tension a little tighter. She felt it in their grip through the pike shafts. She let it build just short of the point where it might break into something troublesome, like independent initiative, then gave a little shrug, almost apologetic. She smiled.
She just smiled. Like she was letting them in on a little joke. And the timbre of the pause began to shift. She saw their expressions begin to soften, until they wore bashful grins. It was like playing an instrument. Or conducting two little orchestras. The one on the right was even pretty cute. Which was a bonus.
She saw them glance at each other. Taking their eyes off her was the key break. She moved into it with timing that would have, should have, made Sona jealous. Or Fiora, for that matter. She stepped forward, into the space where the aura of intimidation from the crossed weapons was meant to be, and filled it with her. She let her weight shift to her right foot, cocking her hip in a way both of these boys noticed. Those pikes were just sticks now.
Their eyes came back to meet hers, and she struck the next note. First, she captured their full attention with a sly wink that said I’m about to tell you something good. And then she spoke into that perfectly prepared space.
“Don’t worry. Not here to purge anyone today. You all need to find yourselves some better bogeymen.”
The mention of last summer’s bloody purge struck a note of shock. The tension crystallized, and then shattered. They laughed, and uncrossed their pikes, nodding.
She snapped her fingers, and spoke to one of the Summoners without looking back at him. “Summoner Masterpierround. Be a doll and show these fine young men our credentials.” She made sure her eyes were on the cute one, the one on the right, when she said fine young men.
She heard a fluttering of silk behind her as Summoner Mat “Masterpierround” Redman strode forward in his flashing purple robes. He produced a sheet of parchment stamped with the Institute’s seal. Their attention began to scatter. Looking for their boss. And there he was.
A well-dressed man stepped out of the gatehouse. His clothes were tasteful, dark, even elegant, despite containing quite a fair proportion of hard leather and rivets. Even the axe worn audaciously at his side had the tone of a fashionable accoutrement, with its silver inlays and black leather bindings. The kind of axe one might wear to a dinner party. A certain kind of dinner party, at any rate.
This would be Dockmaster Lauro Blosse. She had, of course, taken care to time her visit so as to coincide with the personal presence of the highest-ranking of Gangplank’s minions. Blosse was competent, and ambitious, enough so that she doubted he would try anything stupid. Gangplank had hired him after Miss Fortune had personally put a bullet through the head of Ex-Dockmaster Vessa Torzolo while the flotsam from Gangplank’s ship was still smoking.
“Miss Sarah Fortune. Good afternoon.” His Noxian accent, with its proud vowels and sharp consonants, was quite refreshing.
“You’ll find our warrant is duly endorsed,” she said, gesturing to the parchment.
“I’m sure I would, if I looked,” Blosse answered, cool as a Freljord stream.
Miss Fortune arched an eyebrow. Now Blosse was the one building the tension. Very well. She enjoyed playing as well as conducting.
His eyes searched over her retinue, then returned to her, with a very slight grin. She knew this look, and liked it. It was the look of someone acknowledging the presence of someone greater, who might yet be surpassed some day. He was willing to admit that Miss Fortune, a major force within Bilgewater and a Champion of the League, was above him for now; he was not willing to concede that it would always be so.
He continued. “If it’s a valid warrant, then I have no power to stop a duly authorized delegate of the League, and you may pass.” The other side of the conditional phrase hung in the air, like a hand extended to a dance partner.
She played along, helping the tune forward. “And if I’m lying?”
He smiled appreciatively. “Then by all means,” he said, stepping aside and gesturing toward the pier, “I shall not prevent you further compounding your most grievous error.”
As Miss Fortune led her retinue into the Slaughter Docks, she gave Blosse a nod.
“If you ever come by the Institute,” she said, in a low voice that could stop hearts, “there’s a personal tour in it for you.”
He nodded, just the way she’d hoped he would.
The big cargo ships had already come and gone, and the docks were comparatively quiet. A small gang of dockworkers were eating their lunch around a battered hexcast transceiver, which was broadcasting the narration of a match between the Shadow Isles and Ionia.
While her Summoners and privateers interrogated the captains of the ships docked at the pier, she looked around and took in the bigger picture. The reign of the new “Reaver King” had done nothing to make the Slaughter Docks less of a cesspool, even if the treasure flowing in from Nyroth was making it a richer, thicker sort of slime. The purge she’d nearly completed in that happy interlude between the detonation of Gangplank’s ship and the bastard’s unfortunate return had wiped away the worst of the scum, but it was slowly growing back, as scum does.
She sensed a subtle psychic tingle, and glanced up to see Summoner Masterpierround’s eyes turned toward hers. She heard his voice in her mind.
Found something. Void energy signature on Xalk’s thaumex.
A mental ping guided her eyes to the ship furthest down the pier, where Summoner XalkXolc was taking readings with a blinking, beeping Zaunite thaumex.
Void energy? Icathian artifacts in his port? Is he really that stupid?
She grinned. Because I really hope so. Maybe the pox has finally found his brain. Or maybe he was throwing her exactly what she’d need to try to take him down in the League. Maybe he thought he was baiting her. If so, she’s take it, and teach him the last lesson in respect he’d ever get.
She gestured for the others to join her, and strode down the pier to the designated ship. Its captain was scowling on the dock, watching these interlopers with distaste.
She smiled. “Well. Let’s start here.” She bowed. “Sarah Fortune.”
He looked her up and down, and nodded back. “Captain Jumo Flanz of the Winning Hand.”
Summoner Masterpierround put the manifest into Miss Fortune’s hand. She glanced it over, and made a show of surprise at finding a Shuriman artifact on the list.
You’re carrying some very exotic cargo, Captain.” She arched an eyebrow, so as to induce a bit of bragging.
“You’re welcome to bid at the auction,” he replied, keeping his cool.
“I might at that.” She looked back. “Summoners, anything unusual?”
Summoner Janus “XalkXolc” Medlen stepped forward, picking up the cue. “Yes, I’d like to take a look at the hold.” He tapped the screen of his thaumex. “Strange readings. Might be a containment leak.” He looked up from the thaumex to the captain. “I say I’d like to, but even without the warrant, Shuriman cargo plus these readings would be cause for inspection.”
“You understand this is a League operation,” Miss Fortune said to the captain. “Someone has to keep an eye on things.” She tipped the brim of her hat, somewhat apologetically. “I assure you, it’s nothing personal.”
The captain arched an eyebrow. “Go right ahead.” He looked back at his first mate. “Open the hold for these fine Summoners.” She nodded, and led them off.
They soon returned with a trunk that took four to carry. The Summoners chalked a lattice into the planks of the dock, encircling the trunk with protective magics. A pulse from XalkXolc’s thaumex illuminated a contorting purplish mist snaking out from the seams.
The captain, for his part, seemed genuine in his surprise.
“It wasn’t doing that before,” was all he could manage to say.
Inside, they found a broad silver dish, a mirror, etched with Shuriman (or perhaps Icathian) glyphs, glowing an unmistakeable purple. The scent that drifted through the air was no less distinctive: a sort of cloying tang, almost citrus, almost metal. Made you think of sweet fruit on a cool steel spool while turning your stomach like a garbage heap in the sun.
She fixed the captain with a cold stare. “The Slaughter Docks are Gangplank’s. For the moment. But whether Gangplank calls himself the Reaver King, or the Pirate King, or the Birthday Boy, he will answer to the League if ships are bringing Icathian artifacts into his port without clearance. Now unless you have a few Archsummoners hidden in your hold, I very much doubt you have clearance to be transporting…”
She thrust a finger toward the mirror, greasily radiant in the hot sun.
“It’s not Icathian!” the Captain exclaimed. “It’s a mirror! It’s a Shuriman mirror!”
She took a step closer to him, and dropped her hand to the grip of the pistol on her right hip. “Lie to me again, Captain. It’ll give us a chance to write it down. Someone get a notepad.”
“It’s not. It’s from central Shurima. It has nothing to do with the Void! It’s from a temple!”
“I believe they do have temples in Icathia,” Xalk observed.
Miss Fortune didn’t take her eyes off the captain. “You should be very, very careful whose side you take right now, Captain.”
She felt a ping in her mind. Xalk. But she pushed it aside.
“Because it sounds like you’re taking his side. Well. I already told you. Whatever he calls himself, Gangplank answers to the League. And right now, that means the woman with the Summoners all around her and the parchment with the purple-and-gold seal.”
She looked to XalkXolc.
It’s not Icathian. It’s got no innate Void reading at all.
She grimaced. It’s glowing purple. What is it, then? Grape-flavored?
It’s radiating Void energy. But the energy has an ambient signature matching…matching the ocean. This ocean. Bilgewater. The docks. I think it’s just reflecting what’s around it.
The captain started to speak. “I’m not an idi—”
Miss Fortune raised a hand and silenced him. “Congratulations on that. Now what is this thing?”
Summoner XalkXolc was circling it, slowly, thaumex in hand. He paused, rechecking the screen as though doubting what it told him, then crouched beside the trunk, and subtly changed one of the sigils with a bit of blue chalk. His thaumex shot sparks from its copper antennae until he fiddled with the knobs.
Captain Jumo Flanz hesitated a moment. “It’s…a mirror. An enchanted mirror. From a temple. And not an Icathian one. Something about the moon. Look, I’m not a Summoner, alright? But it’s supposed to…it’s something only mages would care about. It’s not a weapon. It’s for research, and enchanting. It gathers mana and reflects it. Or it clarifies it. I don’t know what any of that means, but all I know is, it’s not Icathian. I’m not an idiot.”
Summoner XalkXolc spoke up. “It’s ancient Shuriman silver. Completely pure of innate Void energy signatures. It’s very similar to null-magic metal in some ways, actually. But…in short, it’s an extremely sensitive arcane receiver, and it’s also a condenser, and a clarifier, and a reflector.”
He waved his thaumex around the docks. “Other than what’s coming off this mirror, there’s no Void energy anywhere near.”
He stepped out past the containment circle, and nodded. “Once I’m outside the circle, nothing. No Void energy…that I can detect. Slightly elevated extradimensional readings in general, but, I believe that’s normal for Bilgewater. There was an article about it. But when I input the signature reflecting off the mirror…” He cranked some knobs and twisted a dial, and his thaumex chirped. “There’s…” He paused, and looked meaningfully at Miss Fortune. “There are some readings we should probably talk about.”
The captain eyed him. “You sure you should be standing in that circle? Void energy isn’t good for the health.”
The Summoner looked back at him. “No cause for concern on my account.” He paused. “But you and your crew should be examined. If you were exposed.”
Miss Fortune saw the gathered crew tense. They didn’t like the way he said exposed.
“We’ll take our chances,” the captain answered, firmly.
The Summoner balked. “I’m not sure you’re aware of the chance you’re taking.”
Miss Fortune glanced his way. We just accused him of carrying contraband, and now you want to take him to the Institute. Not everyone’s got such fond feelings about the League, Xalk.
Xalk relented. “Then we’ll send a medical team. It’s as much for Bilgewater’s protection as yours.”
Miss Fortune pointed at the trunk. “I want that locked up and loaded for transport back to the Institute. Under heavy guard.”
As her retinue began the slow and careful work of resealing the trunk and reinforcing it with new protective hexes, Miss Fortune took XalkXolc and Masterpierround aside.
Summoner XalkXolc didn’t need any prompting. He leaned in to murmur, “It’s entangled with a very peculiar transdimensional conduit, so it’s not causing any immediate effects, and it’s not easily detectable, but this whole region is teeming with Void energy.”
Miss Fortune frowned. “That’s not usually a good thing to hear.”
XalkXolc shook his head. “It’s probably nothing catastrophic. It’s not…a Void rift or anything like that.” He looked at Masterpierround for help. “It’s oscillating Void radiation, probably beta-type or, uh, I guess gamma-type, I’d have to take more readings and run an analysis.”
Masterpierround nodded. He took a few moments, then translated for Miss Fortune. “It’s weird. Nothing apocalyptic. But it could fuel some spooky happenings. We need to report it to the League.”
Miss Fortune looked between the two. “What’s causing it?”
XalkXolc shrugged. “We’ve never seen anything quite like it before, but that’s true of a lot of Void phenomena. I think they’ve seen some stuff like this on the yordle moonbase. Off in deep space.” He scratched his head. “There’s a theory that gamma oscillators are associated with movements within the extradimensional matrix…”
Masterpierround translated. “He doesn’t know.”
XalkXolc frowned a bit, but then apparently decided he had to nod his agreement.
Miss Fortune nodded. “Alright.” She pointed at XalkXolc. “Get back to the League with this, now.” She paused, taking a moment to make herself certain. “And while you’re there, I want you to take a message to a Summoner I know from—”
She smiled as the thought came to her. “From the Freljord. The Winter’s Claw. Sejuani’s crew. They’re always good for a fight.”
(11 April, 26 CLE)
The ancient lighthouse shone beneath a moonless night sky.
And if you looked very closely at the reflection, just at the corners of the glass tower, just where the metal bent the right way, and if you were trying to really see what you were looking at…
…you would see that it was shining purple.
Gangplank took a swig from his flask of citrus rum. People were saying that this business venture of his had been part of his elaborate scheme to play the role of the drunken backwater buffoon as he made his way through the League, downplaying suspicions as to his true ambition, to become Pirate King of Bilgewater. And it hadn’t hurt the effort.
But what not a lot of people realized was that he also thought it was a damn fine product, and that he still flipped through the papers to read reviews of his latest blends, written by everyone from Zaunite city-slickers to Bandle City fuzzballs. (The latter had little liking for human spirits, but some were beginning to appreciate the added bite they could give the customary juicebox.) He’d appointed that “Shonleigh Birchard” fellow as the new public face of the rum, while carefully concealing that the man did little more than write down Gangplank’s instructions month after month. It didn’t really suit his fearsome new image as Reaver King to be fiddling around with fruit-infused rum formulas. But he’d be damned to the depths before he let anyone else mix his rum.
Well. Shining purple. How about that.
“What’ve we got here, then.”
His crew looked around at each other, as they stood at the base of the lighthouse.
One spoke up. “We could call in the League. Let them deal with it.”
Gangplank turned a surly look on him. “And do ye suppose’d happen if a place like Bilgewater called the League for ‘help’, eh?”
“Then let’s do it ourselves,” another said.
Gangplank took a gulp of rum. He swallowed most of the mouthful in that showy gulp, though he kept a bit at the tip of his tongue to allow the aroma to develop more fully before letting it burn its way down his throat.
He replaced the flask inside his greatcoat, and drew cutlass and pistol.
“I ain’t bringing a bunch of seadogs in there with me. I ain’t looking to be stabbed in the back by a bunch of weak-kneed maniacs when the voices start callin’ to ye.”
He took a look down the narrow street that led up to the lighthouse. “Stand guard out here. Not a soul comes through those doors ‘til I say.”
He turned back to his crew. “And if I ain’t back within half an hour…”
He grinned. “…then I’m dead and Sarah Fortune’ll gut the lot of ye a’fore the week’s out.”
He chuckled grimly as he walked past them and, without slowing his stride, drove a boot into the lighthouse’s front door, ripping its hinges out of the wall and knocking it down flat. He strode across the fallen door like a…
…well, like a gangplank, ye might say. Har har har.
He felt the sick shiver of the Void the instant he crossed the threshold. It was dim, but not pitch black; the lamps on the walls were still burning, though he doubted very much he’d find breath in the bodies of those who’d lit them.
“Come on, then,” he snarled to the shadows. “I’ll deal with ye the kinder if ye don’t waste more of my time with your yellow-bellied skulking.”
He found the first body at the base of the spiral staircase leading up to the lantern room that crowned the ancient tower. The old woman had been slashed into ribbons, and the whole bloody mess flung into a glass statue of a kraken, which now lay in blood-stained shards. There was a loaded pistol lying at her side, but her hands were over her eyes. Gangplank wondered at the odds that, were you to pull them away, you’d find intact eyeballs underneath. It was not something he planned to find out. A man can have too many scars on his mind.
He looked over the shattered kraken statue. There was enough torchlight to see the bright redness of the blood splattered over it, and know the blood was fresh.
The dim light played over the broken, bloodied fragments of glass, and Gangplank could see each one becoming a mirror, showing things that were, or might be, or could have been. He saw his entrance to the League, he saw the whole of Nyroth ablaze, he saw Sarah Fortune dead by his hand, he saw his father…
He growled and started up the stairs.
“I’ll not watch yer puppetshow tonight, ye craven beasties. I’ve been in top lane with ye more ‘n enough.”
As he neared the second floor landing, he drew his pistol in close to his chest, out of range of any hand or tentacle that might grab for it, and cocked his cutlass over his shoulder, ready to snap down in a flash.
He heard whispers. But they seemed to be far off. Perhaps, he reflected, given the current situation, he was hearing whispers from a very long way off indeed.
The second floor came into view, and nothing moved to attack him. There was a shrine here, the heart of the lighthouse, and the source of its magic. There were no lamps here. There was no need. The light from the lantern room atop the lighthouse shone down through the stairway, and most brightly through a skylight positioned just over the altar.
For a thousand years, priests had brought offerings to this altar, a great curved altar hewn from dark green serpentstone marbled with ribbons of blue as dark and deep as the sea. The offerings might be slices of fruit, wedges of coin, tiny slips of silk…a sampling of whatever had come into the port by the lighthouse’s light. Priests would place them on a sheet of gold foil laid over the altar, and on each moonless night, they would fold the shimmering sheet around the dainty offerings, making a roughly spherical packet. The golden ball was then cast from the balcony into the sea below using an old leather sling. People said the sling was just as old as the lighthouse and the shrine. Gangplank had his doubts that a leather sling could last through centuries and millennia. However you enchanted it, leather was leather. Even his joints were starting to ache.
Two bodies had been carelessly tossed over the altar at cross-angles. Bloodied offering tokens littered the floor. Slumped at the base of the altar was a third body, that of the chief priest. His head was crudely wrapped in a swath of gold foil, and it lay a good few feet from the rest of him.
That’s when the soft laughter bubbled up from behind the altar.
“I was waiting for you, Gangplank…” the voice murmured. A human voice, though distorted.
Gangplank raised his pistol.
A priestess rose up from behind the altar, and turned to face him with a manic grin stretching her lips rather too far up her cheeks. She held a bloody sword, curved and cast in bronze, that looked like it had been taken from a museum, or a temple display, but had clearly been sufficient for a very practical task mere minutes ago.
Her eyes glowed the bottomless purple of the Void.
“We have feasted on your little gods, and now the hunter will take y—”
Gangplank pulled the trigger and blew her head into unrecognizable bits of gore.
He reloaded his gun. “Unlimited cosmic power, and ye still talk like a street-preacher with brainfever.” He cocked the pistol again, and began to walk toward the altar, to see what else might lay past it.
“Anyone else?” He shouted. “Any other Icathian splinterwits have anything to say? The Reaver King will hear yer pleas.” He grinned, and softened his voice, almost playfully, as he turned the weight of his pistol in his hand. “Or at least the start of ‘em.”
One of the bodies on the altar moved. Gangplank snapped his pistol up, and nearly fired.
The man’s eyes twitched open. His breath rasped. He stared at Gangplank as though looking upon a dreadful phantom, and then he died. There should have been a weak little rasp from his throat. But it was drowned out in a great WHUMPF from above.
The lantern at the crown of the lighthouse went out.
Light, and sound, vanished.
Then Gangplank heard a sniff. Or a hiss.
And a voice.
“Blood…in the air…”
Gangplank snapped around from the altar and fired his pistol toward the sound. The flash of black powder revealed nothing there.
He knew what was coming.
A flurry of stinging darts sank into his back, pumping Void venom into his veins.
He whirled around and slashed the air with his cutlass.
“Kha’Zix, ye bumbling pest!” he roared.
“Fear…delicious…but not as filling as flesh…”
“Show yer ugly mug and I’ll fill your gullet with shot!”
The whispers seemed to come from everywhere. Gangplank’s practiced fingers cocked his pistol without need for sight, or his other hand.
Light returned. But it was sick, distorted. It cast too many shadows. In the wrong places. In the wrong directions. Shadows that moved. Shadows half made of light. It was wrong.
It was, of course, tinted purple.
And eerie though it was, it illuminated Kha’Zix as he leapt for Gangplank. That was all the Pirate King needed to line up a shot and blast the twisted insect in the maw.
Of course, Void demons weren’t decent enough to die from being shot through the mouth, unlike even the most inconsiderate mortal folk Gangplank had encountered in his life’s long and eventful journey. But it did unbalance and disorient the creature, and Gangplank’s cutlass dealt him a stiff blow across the midsection as he ducked aside, taking only a slash to his arm in exchange.
Gangplank spared a glance up the stairway at the lantern room.
He saw a hovering creature like a great eyeball surrounded by tentacles, which insinuated their wormy lengths into the central lantern chamber.
He parried Kha’Zix’s next slash, and clubbed him across the head with the butt of his pistol. The Void demon wrapped its spiked limbs around Gangplank and wrestled him to the floor. Gangplank stopped its biting mandible with his cutlass, dropping his pistol to push back against the closing maw with both hands bracing the blade.
Above, he saw Vel’Koz squirm into the lantern chamber the way Gangplank had once seen a roaming octopus slither into an aquarium to devour the fish inside.
“No escape…” Kha’Zix hissed, his venom dribbling down onto Gangplank. His claws slid and scraped at Gangplank’s greatcoat, but could not cut through the armored lining.
Vel’Koz superimposed his central eye over the lantern with the Void’s typical disregard for spatial logic, and the eerie light shining down into the room intensified.
And then it faded to a dim glow.
Gangplank worked the edge of his cutlass against Kha’Zix’s maw, trying to find something to cut, something vulnerable.
Vel’Koz’s great eye blinked, and a tingling energy wave sank down through the lighthouse. It made Gangplank’s skin crawl.
When Vel’Koz’s eye opened again, an enormous beam of Void energy shot out, raking across the harbor. Gangplank could hear the sea boiling. He heard distant snapping sounds. They seemed faint, but to be heard even faintly from so far away…they must be entire ships breaking apart.
Gangplank gathered his strength and flung Kha’Zix off him. He retook his feet and raised his cutlass. There was no way he could reach the lantern room with this thing nipping at his heels all the way up.
“If’n ye be hungry still,” he said, waggling his cutlass, “come have another bite.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another figure up above. It was—
Summoner Flaadym had faced Vel’Koz on the Fields of Justice. Well, no. She had joined minds with Champions who had faced Vel’Koz on the Fields. He’d never seemed quite so big through their eyes as he did now.
His tentacled body had wriggled and wormed its way into the lantern chamber atop the lighthouse, calling to mind the image of an octopus invading a crab tank.
The resonance of his eyebeam, amplified by the ancient and sacred magic of the lighthouse, rattled her teeth and plucked her nerves like harpstrings.
With a blade, sharp and small are the same thing, Fiora had said. (Well, it was more like, ze sharpness and ze smallness, zey are ze same thing, non?) Light could be the sharpest blade.
She angled her body sideways and extended a single fingertip. The seeking light struck between two of Vel’Koz’s chitinous plates, and made the great best shake. His eyebeam flickered out. It began to reappear, but it would take precious seconds to coalesce.
Great. Now she had time to realize that she didn’t have a plan.
Human. Summoner-class entity. Auxiliary assets will suffice for disposal.
Without turning his central eye on her, he warped his tentacles around and lashed out at her. She struck one aside with a flash of light, but another grabbed her ankle and yanked her legs out from under her. The ground was hard, and she didn’t like the crack sound her head made when it hit. The smack filled her mind with cold bright whining numbness, like biting through an entire scoop of ice cream. Her vision darkened, but before it could close around her she seized on the last spark of light. Her sight returned.
Strange tactical maneuver. You will only be disassembled at my leisure. No mere Summoner poses greater than a trivial threat to me in this context. I will be intrigued to extract further information on your thought processes.
A tentacle reached for her face. She stung it back with a blast of light. Summoner though she may be, she was human beneath it all, and the terror of imminent death was overpowering.
But on the edge of her perception, she sensed something. Courage returned.
“You know the thing about us Summoners, though,” she said, feeling her powers returning as she spoke.
Soon I will know more things about one Summoner’s internal operations, correct.
She grit her teeth. “It’s that we summon things.”
She reached out and found the connection. Her awareness broadened, beyond the human with the head wound lying on her back atop a lighthouse with a Void monster about to start picking her apart.
She didn’t even consciously think the words. They spoke themselves through her.
And Volibear’s bounding stride accelerated as the Ghost spell gave him the swiftness of a specter. He barreled down the street, and hurled himself into the air toward the lighthouse. His claws struck stone nearly halfway up the tower, and on his clawtips he raced to its roof.
A lunge took him to Flaadym. A swipe of his claws tore the tentacles away and freed her. She scrambled to her feet and fell in behind him, their eyes glowing with the same light.
Volibear caught a tentacle with his vambraced arm.
“Do you hear it, Vel’Koz?!” he roared.
He gripped the metal cage enclosing Vel’Koz within the lantern housing. The air began to spark. Clouds gathered above. Warm spring rain pattered down on the rooftop, lifting scents of stone and wood. Within seconds, the shower became a driving downpour.
Volibear wrenched the metal apart, and sank his claws into Vel’Koz. The beast thrashed against his armored chestplate, but could not escape the vise grip of his arms, anchored by his deep-sunk claws.
The lightning bolt turned the lighthouse into one moment of light. Vel’Koz’s scream came from within that incandescent instant, but when it faded, all that remained of him was a twitching bit of tentacle, and a coil of oily purple smoke.
Summoner Flaadym stumbled as the link broke. She caught herself on a railing, and wiped the rain from her face. She laughed with the sheer stupid joy of being alive.
Volibear eyed the tentacle until it stopped squirming.
A hilarious thought occurred to Flaadym. “Don’t suppose,” the Summoner said, with a grin, “that I could get a ride back down the tower.”
The beam illuminated the ocean depths. It gouged through the seabed, and as the chasm shook apart, the Marai city began to collapse. Still, the Moonstone glowed overhead.
Illaoi caught a falling wall and held it over her head. “Go now!” she shouted at the Marai beside her.
And then it stopped.
Illaoi lobbed the section of wall aside. It fell through the water in a slow, heavy arc. She saw Nami staring out at where the beam had struck.
Nami held her trident out toward the chasm that had been blasted into the seabed.
“Something’s coming out,” she said.
And Illaoi watched as a great serpent uncoiled itself and rose from the ancient depths. She had never seen its like, save in the pages of the oldest texts.
The full size of the creature came into sharp relief when the clouds of sediment settled, and she saw a Marai down below the serpent, his arms spread out wide as though in prayer.
“I call to you, Great One, Hunger of the Stars, Devourer of Worlds!”
Illaoi did not like the sound of this.
“I beseech you, Sunderer of Armies, Breaker of Walls, Ruiner of Kingdoms!”
Nami was already swimming toward him. Illaoi charged after her, boots pounding into the sea floor.
“And I name you!”
Illaoi grabbed the spear from an awestruck Marai guard and raised it over her head. She lunged, and cast it forth.
It struck the chanter through the chest. He jerked forward, and his blood clouded the water around him. But somehow, the chant continued.
“I…name you…Terror of the Void…CHO’GATH!”
The Marai spasmed again, and the serpent’s body convulsed with him. He drifted into the current, and vanished in a shimmer of purple light. The serpent stretched and contorted, until its fins ripped away from its body and became legs that ended in curved spikes. Its jaw unhinged and protruded until it was a mouth of flashing teeth. Its eyes lit up like lanterns. A wondrous creature of ancient times, destroyed by this abomination.
Cho’Gath had torn his way out from inside the ancient serpent, and now stood, taller than the city’s walls, immense beyond comprehension. His foot slammed down onto the rock below, and the Coral Temple on the outskirts of the city collapsed into a ravine.
Nami, the Tidecaller, clasped her trident in both hands. “I call the—”
Whatever else she said was obliterated by Cho’Gath’s scream. The tides that Nami was, well, calling, suddenly lost their momentum and cohesion. She tumbled head over…tail…as they swept her aside.
Illaoi saw no way of defeating this thing. None that involved the city behind them still standing when it was over. But perhaps a way would be revealed to her.
She raised her idol and slammed it down. Ethereal tentacles shot up from the chasm that had imprisoned the great serpent, and wrapped around Cho’Gath as he lunged at Nami. His feet crashed into the ground, and Illaoi crouched to keep her balance.
“You think you can scare me, demon?” she bellowed. “You are barely even worth my anger!”
Nami had recovered her balance, and now thrust her trident at Cho’Gath. A spiral stream of water punched him across his sickle-fanged jaw. He recoiled, then charged forward, wrenching free of the tentacles.
Marai guards swam out and spread an enchanted net. Cho’Gath seized the net and yanked the hapless Marai into him. They were devoured in five quick snaps. Clouds of blood foamed out from his mouth.
“Great ocean waves, lend me your might!” Nami shouted. A tidal wave slammed into Cho’Gath from behind, and knocked him prone.
Illaoi raised the Eye of God high and charged forward. She brought it down on Cho’Gath’s head, and it struck with the weight of divine judgment, pinning him to the sea floor. For all his size, the demon felt hollow.
“Nami!” she barked. “Where are you?”
Hearing no reply, she spared a glance up, and saw her channeling a column of water, like a whirlpool, up toward the surface. A shape was shooting down through that column.
Cho’Gath writhed beneath the idol, and his serpentine contortions worked him loose. Illaoi’s idol slammed down into the sea floor below. And Cho’Gath’s jaws opened.
What closed them again was Volibear, diving down through the whirlpool and crashing into the back of Cho’Gath’s neck.
Illaoi jumped back. She saw Volibear had brought someone. A human woman. Her clothes were ordinary, but she sensed unmistakeable power—and saw the purple and gold flash of an Institute pin.
The Summoner was weaving some kind of spell. Illaoi didn’t understand the words.
Volibear’s claws were slashing and digging, relentless. Nami brought the weight of the ocean above fully down upon Cho’Gath.
So we give the Summoner more time, Illaoi thought to herself, recognizing this classic play. I can do that.
She looked down at Cho’Gath, struggling against Volibear’s assault and Nami’s spell. She could see the waters foaming and bubbling as they churned down into him, propelled with immense force by the Tidecaller’s magic.
Illaoi gathered her strength, and swam forward into the churn. The riptide snatched her up and hurled her down with it. She turned, arms wrapped around her idol, and drove her shoulder into Cho’Gath’s back. The impact nearly knocked her unconscious; from the daze that followed, she distinctly remembered the thought not every day you elbow-drop a Void demon.
And then there was a beam of light that illuminated the dark depths. Cho’Gath howled, and was seared away to nothing.
Illaoi peered up at the Summoner. “He was the size of a mountain,” she said.
“Huh?” the Summoner said, her eyes not moving from where Cho’Gath used to be.
“He was the size of a mountain,” Illaoi repeated. “How did you do that?”
The Summoner paused, as though translating from a foreign language. “A Void-thing like him is just a projection. Strong as he was, the link to this plane was weak. I just burned out the link. I, um. Guess you could say I de-summoned him.”
Volibear grunted, and twisted himself around as though shaking water off. He seemed annoyed when he realized the futility of this action, in his present circumstances.
He turned to Nami. “Sejuani has business with you, Tidecaller.”
Nami glowered past him, at the ruined city. For a few seconds, she was silent.
“I’m all ears.”