Previous Update: Shield of Light
by CupcakeTrap (edited by 501st Big Mike)
This continues the story of the Battle of Shurima, which took place during the Hextech Revolution. It began when the ocean spirit Ceruleana appeared to King Jarvan III and warned him that a Void rift within Zaun’s pyrikhos mines would soon burst apart and destroy Runeterra. The King has ordered Demacia’s armies into battle to seize the mines and exorcise the Void-touched “dark sand” within.
In Factions style, the outcome of this battle depended largely upon actual matches fought on the Fields of Justice.
There is a space between dimensions, between worlds. Now it began to shift, and as it swelled in some places it drained from others, leaving points where the dimensions pressed together.
There are patterns so strong that they echo through the multiverse. Now some of these patterns reverberated through the membrane between Runeterra’s home dimension and alien realities.
There are many such patterns, and the strongest are not always the ones you might expect. Now, as it stood on the brink of apocalypse, these alien echoes began to reshape Runeterra.
Dr. Yvania Tell glanced over the report. One new pyrikhos seam discovered. Four workers missing. One worker’s status updated from “active” to “ill; psych; thaumatox?” on the master personnel list.
She turned to her colleague, Dr. Davina Brekston, and asked a question that had been on her mind of late. “Are we the bad guys?”
Dr. Brekston turned a dial on her clicking thaumex reader, then looked up. She frowned in silence for a moment. “Are we what?”
“Zaun gained access to nearly limitless power. Enough power to change the world. What did we do? We built an army. Run by Viktor.”
Dr. Brekston lowered the thaumex. She frowned. “Everyone needs an army.”
“Its emblem is a skull, Davina.”
“I never really noticed it.”
“You ‘never really noticed’ that the giant death robot walking around the perimeter of this mining complex, which went berserk and vaporized a dozen people the other day, has an enormous metal skull painted on its chest?”
Dr. Brekston looked back at her thaumex and tried to resume her scans, but Dr. Tell could see she was distracted. “Those Piltovians were asking for it.”
“Yes, perhaps the titanic killing machine with nerve gas rockets and what I believe the blueprints officially call a ‘death ray’, the one with a menacing skull drawn on it, perhaps that should have been a warning! A warning that we’ve completely lost our minds and they’d better stay away! If the HexKorps gets much larger, the whole planet will be ‘asking for it’!”
Dr. Brekston ran the thaumex over a vial of purple sand. “Glitches happen.”
“When a clock pops a gear, usually nobody falls to the ground screaming about demons from beyond.”
“I was under a lot of stress, and I didn’t say it like that.”
Dr. Tell held up the report and flapped it noisily. “And speaking of demons, we just lost another five workers. One of them’s got thaumatoxic psychosis, and the other four just vanished.”
“Pyrikhos is magical. Things like that happen.”
“Yes, they do happen, in our underground mines where indentured Noxian refugees toil day and night to mine an absurdly large supply of Void-touched … Void-touched … ” she fumbled for a word.
“Sand. It’s sand,” Dr. Brekston said flatly.
“Well, okay, sand! To fuel our, our giant death robots! What I’m saying is, we’re not just scary. Everyone’s scary. I’m saying we’re starting to sound like the bad guys from a Captain Zeppelin comic. How long until we start threatening to unleash Rahhzilla with a mind control collar around his neck unless the Council pays us off with ten thousand ingots of gold?”
“Rahhzilla isn’t even from Captain Zeppelin; he’s from TekForce Six.” Dr. Brekston pushed her glasses onto the bridge of her nose. “I mean, there was a crossover issue, but—”
“Death robots, Davina! A mining complex where the workers sometimes just go insane and start hacking at each other with pickaxes because they have to spill ‘blood for the blood god’! Viktor and Singed managing our research grants! For heaven’s sake, your pen has a robot skull on it!”
Dr. Brekston paused. She clicked the pen. The skull’s eyes flashed red.
“Sick leave,” they agreed in tandem, then grabbed their facewraps and walked out into the sandstorm.
“Polly wanna rocket?”
Valor spread his wings and screeched an avian obscenity.
Quinn sighted along her crossbow. “Easy now, kid. We’re here to deliver a—”
“Bored now!” chirped Jinx, and clicked the trigger down.
Valor veered left. Quinn’s crossbow bolt intercepted the rocket and detonated it in midair, scattering smoking debris across the stretch of sand between them. She brought the sights back down and aimed right for Jinx’s heart.
“HALT! THESE HOSTILITIES ARE ILLEGAL.” Blitzcrank stomped forward, using his enormous metal body to block both lines of fire.
Jinx gave Blitz’s leg a kick. “Aw, c’mon! That chicken needs some roasting.” Her heart swelled — mostly with pride at her quip, though the copious amount of stimulants running through her system also played a role.
Quinn clipped a tight-wrapped scroll to the next bolt and fired it into the sand beside Blitzcrank. “Bring that to whoever’s in charge. We’re done here. Valor, away!”
The Demacian eagle snatched Quinn up by her shoulder guards and flew off into the distance before Jinx could take any parting shots, verbal or otherwise. She could just faintly hear the big bird squawking, and Quinn answering, “Yeah, Valor. Real sunburned, I hope.”
Jinx read over the scroll. “King Jarvan Fancypants blah blah blah Demacia, blah blah blah Void, blah blah blah apocalypse, blah blah blah demand, blah blah blah mines, blah blah blah seize by force.” She blinked in surprise, then smirked. “We’re havin’ some fun tonight.”
She hopped onto Blitzcrank’s shoulders, pointed back toward the mines, and clapped the steam golem on the head. Adopting a caricature of Quinn’s voice, she gave her orders.
The message had been delivered, albeit to a perhaps unreliable messenger. Demacia related Ceruleana’s prophecy, that unless the mines were destroyed at once all of Runeterra would be consumed by the Void. King Jarvan III demanded that Zaun surrender the mines immediately, or they would be seized by force.
They were convinced that it was true, although they had no real evidence other than their say-so. They had little hope their demands would be met—the destruction of these mines would bankrupt several influential Zaunite megacorporations—but there was no time for negotiation and investigation, and the corporate mining authority’s first instinct would be to stall them with lawyers and bureaucracy. There was no time for such things. The Void was coming, and Demacia would cleanse the mines of its contagion before it could break through. The aftermath with the League was of distantly secondary importance to averting an apocalypse.
As the sun set, Demacia’s army marched across the sands. In the distance, a warpgate portal flashed midnight purple for a split second before a hexplosive blast shut it down. The pyrikhos charges placed by Piltover’s secret agents had worked: no reinforcements would be coming from Zaun, at least not yet. But the fact that they had tried made it clear that they would not heed Demacia’s warning.
When the battle was met, it was as nothing Valoran had ever seen.
The HexKorps Third Armored Division’s battletanks lit up the night with scintillating purple and orange beams of volatile techmaturgic energy. Demacia’s mages projected arcane barriers to block them. Where they held, the air seethed with inhuman screams from beyond as the already-strained dimensional fabric stretched diaphanously thin. Where they failed, dozens fell dead, bodies trampled underfoot as the knights riding alongside them shouted orders to advance.
Demacia’s soldiers watched in horror as girthsome war zeppelins soared over the horizon toward them, bearing rockets loaded full of Singed’s gaseous toxins. Another volley of death ray fire swept through their ranks. They held their shields against the storm and whispered fervent prayers for protection. The zeppelins were passing over the hextanks now. They’d be firing any moment.
A voice came from the heavens, tinny and stern, speaking in a clipped Piltovian accent.
“Now comes swift justice for these Zaunite fiends, whose avarice knows no bounds, whose reckless greed and inhuman cruelty we shall tolerate no longer! You see before you the architects of the bombing of Piltover! The craven stooges of fallen Noxus, who would now rise up and take its place, who would destroy liberty from the helm of a machine empire spewing toxic death! But see now at your sides the brave soldiers of Demacia, the valiant men and women who defeated Noxus itself in defense of Ionia!”
A gleaming armada of silver airships appeared on the horizon, magnavox-enchanted loudspeakers blaring.
“They are depending upon you! We are all depending upon you! We face nothing short of apocalypse unless we succeed.”
There came a moment of silence. The voice spoke again.
“Piltover expects that every rifleman will do their duty.”
Red and white flashes illuminated the sand dunes to the east as Piltover’s Special Shuriman Expeditioneers opened fire on the flank of the HexKorps. The lead airship set the Zaunite zeppelin fleet ablaze with a single volley from its ultravelocity aircannons. A great cheer rose up from the Demacian ranks as Piltover seized the skies.
As the flaming hulks of Zaun’s war machines fell from the sky, Prince Jarvan IV ascended on his winged steed, forward of the Demacian ranks, beyond even the galloping Demacian cavalry, and looked down upon the Zaunite formation from the heavens. The desert night air was cold, thin, poisoned with the sick-sweet tang of the Void. He stood in the stirrups and raised the Demacian battle standard with both hands as the alien wind whipped the banner’s ensorceled silk. The golden threads shone with the hopes and prayers of a hundred thousand soldiers of Demacia marching into death that they might set the world right. Where he cast this standard, they would fight, and for some it would be their last battle. He was the lone vanguard, the crown prince, the exemplar of Demacia, he held their faith and trust in his hands. He knew the time had come, and jumped.
His focus never wavered, even as explosive gunfire and techmaturgic energy beams glanced off his gleaming golden armor. He fell, and the standard shone in the refracted light of the Zaunite ordnance. In the instant before he touched earth once more, he slammed the standard into the sand at the center of the HexKorps formation with a mighty heave. The cataclysm cast up great walls of stone, and the earth’s roaring ascent punched Viktor’s hextanks into the sky. They flipped and spun like the dainty playing pieces of an overturned game-board.
From the corner of his eye, he caught the crackling purple glow of the Void. A Zaunite psi-mage sneered, eyes burning the same hue. “I will split your thoughts open!”
Jarvan pivoted to thrust his lance through the fiend’s chest. The purple lightning around his hands guttered and died as torn arteries and Pharmakon push-tubes gushed red and purple into the sand.
“Such theatricality.” Jarvan shook the corpse from the end of his lance and rose to face alone a thousand machine-soldiers of Zaun. “Who wants some?”
The troopers fired. Jarvan gritted his teeth as the gunfire sang against his enchanted armor. His eyes sought a worthy foe. He saw a HexKorps Kommissar shouting orders and silenced him with a lethal strike.
The machine-men began to regain their bearings. Scrambling to the tops of their tanks, they aligned their rifles and opened fire. He struck three of the vermin from their nest atop a tank, but still the shots came faster and faster. His armor, forged to withstand dragonfire, grew hot. He heard an immense hollow thunk followed instantaneously by a deafeaning explosion; a bursting tank shell knocked him to one knee. He lifted his head in defiance, and saw the majestic banner of Demacia waving proudly in the wind.
The bursts of gunfire slowed in tempo, then subsided entirely. Jarvan saw the HexKorps troopers looking up over his head.
A roar shook the ground; not a machine’s roar but that of a great beast. Shyvana dove into the valley and landed at Jarvan’s side. As she enveloped him in her wings, he heard her fiery breath incinerating tank and trooper alike.
Knights flying the banner of House Lightshield galloped down the slope, followed only shortly thereafter by men-at-arms charging to join their Champions in battle. Piltovian riflemen lay prone around the rim of the dunes and sniped HexKorps troopers from their high vantage point.
“Fall back! FALL BACK!” shouted the HexKorps commander. He switched his tank to maximum speed and rushed toward the sand wall cast up by Jarvan’s aerial strike. Though it seemed utterly impassable, the pyrikhos-fueled tank smashed right through the raised terrain. The remnants of the Third Division hastened to follow.
Shyvana faded back to her humanoid form. Her skin and armor glowed with the residual heat of the fiery beast she had been only moments ago. “Orders, my prince?”
Jarvan barely heard her, fixated as he was on the breach in the wall. “They just went right through.” They always just go right through.
Her voice drew him back. “Will we pursue?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Let them run.” He took up the Demacian standard and leapt atop the smoking wreckage of a hextank. “Soldiers of Demacia! The mines are ours! We must hold them at all costs until the Void-sand within can be purified.”
He took his pegasus mount once more and pointed the way forward. “With me!”
Demacia charged toward the mines, and found their path blocked by five mechanical golems, each sixty feet high. Nerve gas rockets struck deep into the ranks of the men-at-arms of Houses Spiritmight and Vayne. Thousands of soldiers fell gasping to the sand as clerics struggled to save them.
Yordle pilots in their Reconaissance Operations Front-Line copters flew in and spattered the robots with gunfire, to little effect.
Corki’s tele-vox crackled on with the voice of his wingyordle. “That armor’s too strong for gatling guns!”
Corki flicked the switch to SEND. A strange idea came to his mind in the heat of battle. “Try using your harpoons and tow cables!”
A copter swerved low and fired a harpoon into the walker’s knee joint. An instant later, the robot yanked the cord out and used it to swing the copter down into the sand. It exploded in a glittering burst of phosphorus.
Corki hit the tele-vox again. “Abort! Abort!”
The failed attempt gave Lux a bright idea — she swung her staff and bound the walker’s legs with a luminescent snare. She tightened the bond, and the immense war machine came crashing down to the sand. Men-at-arms swarmed the fallen giant and forced their weapons through the gaps in its plating. The damaged robot broke the light binding and rose, staggering back as thick purple smoke poured from its joints. Its death ray sputtered sparks.
The yordles came around for another pass. Synchronizing their fire with a massive volley of scale-splitter arrows from enchanted Demacian longbows and a final burst from the Piltovian airships’ main guns, they pierced another mech’s plating and put it out of commission. The others fell back toward the warpgate.
The airship’s loudspeakers came on again as the immense craft hovered overhead.
“The mines are ours! Demacia’s mages and Summoners will purge the Void from within. But we must be prepared for a counter-assault. If Zaun comes, we shall fight them at the warpgate, whence they will march into the unerring aim of Piltovian riflemen; we shall fight them on the sand dunes, where they will die beneath the hooves of the knightly cavalry of Demacia; we shall fight them in the mines, where the narrow corridors will allow a dozen to fight back a thousand. We shall never surrender, the Void will never take our blessed world into its demonic maw, no longer shall we suffer Zaun’s mad imperium to persist. Today we fight not only for a brighter tomorrow: we fight that tomorrow may come!”
Ropes dropped from the airships’ hulls. Medics slid down and hastened to the stricken knights and men-at-arms, somewhat to the astonishment of the Demacians showing no particular priority for the health of the former or the latter. They opened up strange kits packed with crystals and herbs, prototype medication developed in the treatment of Noxian refugees sickened by Void contamination. Summoner Flan, an expert in the healing arts and an inductee to the Riotous Fists Clan, joined them in driving the lethal sickness out.
Once the medical personnel were on the ground, Champions and Summoners joined them, and the airships departed to reload and pick up more troops.
Ezreal landed beside Lux, who was drawing a map in the sand for the Summoners and mages beside her. She looked to him. Then at the map, then back up to him. There was a few moments’ pause.
Ezreal opened his mouth to say something snarky. She put her finger to his lips and ssh’d him. “Last, Summoner Kaiden. We’ll need you to help the troops set up a defensive position here. That’ll secure the main tunnel. Be on the lookout for Voidlings and whatever else might be in there.” She held up a white crystal. “If anything happens to me, someone needs to take this to the center of the disturbance and perform the exorcism. This matters more than any of us. Do you understand?”
She looked to Ezreal again.
He shrugged. “Sounds dangerous. I’m in.”
They stepped forward toward the mines, and a brilliant purple flash of light blocked their path.
“BOW BEFORE THE VOID!”
Malzahar clenched his fist. Tendrils of Void energy snaked out of the ground and wrapped themselves around Ezreal’s legs.
He swept his other hand to the side, and an extradimensional ribbon of purple light wove through the Champions, sapping their magic. A tide of Voidlings skittered forth from the mine entrance to devour them.
Only Lux appeared immune. She stood outlined in golden light as Kayle hovered behind her, sword drawn.
Kayle’s sword burst into flame. “You will burn here, fiend.” She swung her sword down, and a blaze engulfed Malzahar. His howl of pain brought an extradimensional gale that extinguished the fire in the Void’s vacuum, but not before Lux had seized upon the distraction. With the white crystal held in both palms, she poured her strength into an attack without reserve.
Malzahar saw the prismatic radiance explode from her palms and vanished before the beam struck. The Voidlings evaporated into wisps of foul purple smoke, as did the tendrils holding Ezreal. He fell to the ground, panting.
The Voidlings were destroyed. But they heard the skittering of hundreds, thousands more within the mines.
Summoner Kaiden looked to Lux. “We have to fall back!”
She nodded, frowning. “Tactical decision, Summoner.”
They moved aside as the men-at-arms of House Buvelle advanced and set their shields to repel the charge.
Lux looked to her companions. “Start setting up a spell circle. We’ll have to conduct the banishing from outside.” She slid the crystal back into a pouch at her hip. “We can do this! Just stay positive.”
She glanced aside as Garen and Galio moved to the fore of the men-at-arms holding the mine entrance. She saw the banner of House Buvelle fluttering in the air, and wondered if any scrap of it would be left by battle’s end.
She heard Sona strum her etwahl from the back ranks. Her mage’s eyes saw the currents of invigorating magic that followed the notes as they moved through the air.
She swallowed. “We can’t even think about losing.”
Swain addressed his troops as the HexKorps divisions moved through the warpgate to Shurima.
“How do you kill a hero? You kill everyone else first. Do not waste your time with Champions and Summoners. Your first target will be the Demacian men-at-arms. They are here because their lords have commanded it. They are slaves, and they are already tired. They obey because they are afraid not to. You must give them something more terrifying than the useless pony-riding aristocrats yelling at them not to run away when they set eyes on two veteran Noxian legions flanked by the Executioners and the Nightmare Cavalry.”
Swain stamped his cane into the floor of the gate complex. “I trust you are up to the task!”
Shouts of BLOOD FOR NOXUS and STRENGTH ABOVE ALL filled the room.
Swain looked over his troops. After a few moments, he raised his hand. The chanting stopped.
“The HexKorps will fire two volleys as you advance. They will already be on the verge of breaking. You only have to push them over the edge. With their slaves fleeing for their wretched lives, the knights and Champions will be helpless.”
His eyes searched the ranks. “Live or die, today you will win a place in history. Any one of you who is afraid to face Demacia, or the gadgeteers from Piltover, or a bunch of ridiculous cupcake-gobbling juice-swilling fuzzballs who worship a spaceship, step out of rank now and you may retire to your disgrace. I am no Demacian lord. There is no place for fear and slavery in the Noxian legions. But if you hunger for glory, yearn for revenge, and will fight to see the power of Noxus restored, then march with me through that gate!”
Without pause, he turned and walked toward the ramp leading to the portal. His cane struck the floor with his first step, but already was drowned out by a tide of marching footfall hastening to follow.
“Here come the tank-men!” shouted a Demacian knight to her troops. She drew her sword high. “Soldiers of House Lightshield, who are privileged to bear the King’s own banner into battle! The time draws near to—”
Viktor slammed his fist down on the firing control. A beam of light struck the knight, whose armor glowed white hot as she screamed and fell from her horse. He laughed through the mega-vox amplifier as her troops watched her burn alive.
“WE ARE ZAUN’S HEXKORPS! WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE!”
He gave the command to fire. A volley of techmaturgic weaponry ripped through the Demacian ranks. Blue and white flashes of light illuminated the desert as their magical barriers broke apart. As his calculations had predicted, and as his experiments had confirmed, their simple magic was powerless against the Void. It drew its strength from Runeterra’s arcane foundations, but those foundations were being churned apart by the Void energy in the sands beneath. The rules had changed. They could not adapt. They would be consumed.
He knew from his careful studies that Demacian magic drew power from faith and conviction. As their fighting resolve crumbled, so too did their magic. And without their magic, not merely the incantations and spellwork of their mages but the ambient magic that lent strength to their blows and protected their fragile meatsack bodies, they were merely savages with pointed sticks.
The HexKorps fired its second volley and veered off toward a flanking position at maximum speed, revealing the Noxian legions marching behind the tanks. They charged forward into the broken Demacian lines. From what Viktor could see, it was a slaughter in the making.
For now, his sights were set on those irksome mages surrounding the mines working their primitive spells.
He caught sight of Jayce just before a shock blast knocked him from his tank and sent him rolling across the sand.
He struck his chest to restart his primary actuators and came up to a kneeling position. Jayce was already standing over him, hammer raised, mammal jaw set with a look of simple chemical anger.
Viktor patiently measured the milliseconds as Jayce began his swing. At the moment of greatest structural weakness, he struck his shoulder with the end of his scepter and sent a massive shock through the human’s armor. Jayce stumbled back.
Viktor rose to his feet and twisted the end of his staff. He measured his position at approximately 43 meters from the boundary of the mines, with an angle of 57 degrees between himself and Jayce relative to the region’s principal leyline … he pressed a copper activation panel and slid his thumb down in an arcing motion. He heard a click as the resonance lock engaged.
A gravimetric distortion matrix formed below Jayce and pulled him down to the sand. Viktor saw his nemesis struggling to stand up.
“JAYCE’S ARMOR ALLOWS HIM TO RESIST A LEVEL NINE GRAVITIC FIELD: MYTH BROKEN!”
He charged his death ray and took aim.
As he fired, a flash of white light blinded him. He reset his optical filters and saw Lux channeling a protective sphere of light around Jayce.
She smirked and raised her staff to catch the luminescent beacon as it returned. “A death ray is a phenomenon of optics,” she explained cheerily. “Wanna see another?”
Before he could fix his aim, a burst of light knocked him back.
“I’LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, GADGETEER!” He shook his fist at Jayce, then ducked another shock blast and boarded a hextank circling around to retrieve him.
Ezreal looked out at the battlefield. This was not going well. The HexKorps was tearing through Demacia’s forces. He didn’t recognize most of the banners, other than those of House Crownguard, which he knew from the seal stamped onto the smooth parchment envelopes that contained Lux’s letters. Those guys were holding the eastern boundary of the mine. He could just barely make out the sight of Garen and Darius hacking at each other alongside their troops. A little more interesting out here than on the Fields, but still a pretty boring fight. Two big beefy dudes in plate armor that weighed more than he did smashing at each other with ridiculously large pieces of metal. Not far from them, Summoner Nhan and Summoner Naggarok were throwing spells at each other. Kind of interesting seeing two Summoners fight directly like that. Still, eh, they both seemed pretty good at knocking the kill-hexes aside.
Another symbol he did know was the crest of House Lightshield. It was pretty hard not to, seeing as it had been on pretty much everything in Demacia when he’d visited. That was King Jarvan’s own House, Lux had explained to him in those slightly weird reverent tones she’d adopt when talking about all that fancy royal stuff. Sometimes he thought she’d been put through hypnosis sessions as a child or something, but if so, then so had pretty much everyone from Demacia.
He knew that it had been a very bad sign when the knights carrying the banner of House Lightshield were blown to pieces by HexKorps artillery, and when those Noxian axe maniacs had fallen on the survivors and started lopping heads off. It didn’t seem like a whole lot of them got away.
Noxians. He really hated those guys.
Anyway, what this all meant was that he was running out of time. Right. Gotta focus up.
He peered at the arcane sigils the Summoners were carving into the rock around the mines. He tapped at his gauntlet and reached out to feel the energy field. A discordant buzz shot through his arm, and he winced. “That doesn’t sound good.” He waved to Lux, then cupped his hands around his mouth to shout to her. “Hey! We’ve got a problem over here!”
Lux turned to look his direction. Beside her, the men-at-arms of House Crownguard readied themselves to repel an assault by HexKorps shock troopers. Longbowmen behind the men-at-arms shot a hail of arrows into the charging troopers, but most of the hextech-augmented crazies just broke them off and kept running.
Lux glanced over her shoulder as the charge continued. Hextanks up high on the dunes opened fire on the Crownguard men-at-arms. Their enchanted shields deflected the beams down into the sand. The charging troopers fired their bolters, and they seemed to do more damage—several men-at-arms went down as the explosive bolts detonated inside them with a really nasty popping sound. Ezreal had heard of sickos stuffing fireworks into dogs and cats and setting them off; he figured it probably sounded like that. He made a note not to get shot by one of those guns.
Lux came running toward him to check out the sigils. She was usually all smiles, even in the most dire situations. “I never think about losing!” Now, though, she was looking pretty upset. While he waited for her to get to him, he caught a glimpse of a HexKorps heavy weapons team setting up a tripod-mounted death ray just behind a dune off to the side. The barrel hummed as Void energy surged up from the sands and hypercharged the deadly weapon. Maybe aiming for the Crownguard men-at-arms, he thought. This was getting pretty bad. He was no military expert, but it seemed like the troopers weren’t going to last much longer at this rate. They’d better work fast on these sigils.
He saw the gunner turn the weapon toward Lux. Reality ground to a halt, and then the wheels started turning one awful click at a time. He saw the instant of recognition in her eyes as she felt the thaumic surge. He watched her spin in place and raise her scepter to conjure a sphere of light. It had barely started to form when the gunner fired.
Her prismatic barrier shattered into glittering dust as the blast struck through and split the mail covering her side. She staggered, eyes wide with horror, and collapsed to the ground. He thought he had seen her fighting to gasp out a word in the last shuddering instant before she fell: Demacia.
The men-at-arms marching under the banner of House Crownguard rushed forward to defend their fallen Champion—or at least her body. Her body. Lux was a body now. And that still wasn’t enough for them. The HexKorps crashed into the Demacian formation with a sound like meathooks in a busy slaughterhouse.
One cold thought went through his mind. They want her head on a pike. They want a trophy.
A convulsion of rage twisted his stomach. These repulsive machine-men were digging through the Demacian soldiers, rooting around in the carnage and corpses for whatever was left of Lux, so they could hack her body into pieces and parade it around, laughing and jeering, slapping each other on the back for killing a Champion. The moment snared him, bound him across iron girders of reality, and the tension lasted only an instant before his mind broke.
He hurled mystic shot after mystic shot into the troopers’ flank. Each one killed a man. Each death howled to him for another. The metal frame of his gauntlet began to burn his skin. The pain was lost in a sea of rage. He watched their inhuman churning assault falter, saw the Demacians push them back. At least she’d go back home one last time. At least they’d have a body. At least—
He spun to see the same weapons team taking aim for him. He fired into the gun’s barrel; the explosion blasted the dune into a shower of sand and dark bloody mist. The dimensional fabric tore away from where it had stood. He heard demons screeching through the rift, the colors and sound piercing the air to slide slimy-bright around the spheres of his eyes. Their voices joined the building insanity inside his mind. The whole world was falling away, but he would maim and kill until the last moment. He was so sick that he almost was not.
A squad of shock troopers surged over the dunes. They wanted him, too; they wanted to kill another Champion today. Ezreal’s fractured mind bled delirious euphoria, pushing his face into a lunatic grin as he met their charge with an essence flux field that drove clean through the line. Their hextech implants overloaded with thaumic charge and exploded inside their bodies; he heard them scream, watched them fall, watched their half-machine guts tumble into the sand.
He sensed another threat, and greedily his eyes snapped to see what had come for him to destroy. A Kommissar of the HexKorps, raising his bolt pistol. He stared down the barrel and laughed. His arcane senses, flowing faster than they ever had before, followed his line of sight until he felt the sharp iron aura of the weapon’s hextech field collimator. He raised the smoking, burning gauntlet wrapped around his arm and bound himself to the metallic aura of the gun’s firing mechanism. When the Kommissar pulled the trigger, the bond snapped together, blinking Ezreal to his enemy’s side and out of the path of the explosive round. He saw the Kommissar’s side, his bare neck, his weakness and cruelty exposed to be destroyed. The gleeful rush of power left him as he saw Lux’s eyes in his memory, through the haze of the shattering barrier of rainbow light, watched her die and fall to the sand. She thought she’d failed.
Adrenaline crashed through Ezreal’s magically attuned blood. His overheating gauntlet sucked rough, raw magic from the air and into him, and the rising arcanochemical fury gave his slight form the strength of a hulking brute. He grabbed hold of the Kommissar, this nobody who had killed the Champion he loved and might have loved him. He howled wordless hate as he slammed the man’s head back into the sharp angled metal of his tank, again and again. He dropped the twitching body into the sand; broken hextech pumps inside the Zaunite’s wheezing chest forced his lifeblood out as he died. Ezreal leapt atop the tank and blasted the hatch open. He shot it full of arcane death before he even saw who or what was inside. He smelled burning flesh and hot metal, saw nothing but smoke.
This wasn’t a game. This wasn’t a League match. There were no stands of cheering fans. There was no scoreboard. This was the first time he’d tasted killing, and he knew it was driving him insane.
More. He needed more. There was no other direction for him to go.
The distorted metallic boom of Viktor’s laughter resonated across the battlefield. Ezreal turned to see him approaching on another hextank.
“AND NOW BLOND BOY SEEKS VENGEANCE FOR BLONDE GIRL! OR IS BLONDE GIRL SEEKS VENGEANCE FOR BLOND BOY? SO HARD TO TELL!”
Ezreal snarled. “I’ve come for vengeance for the Lady of Light!”
He swept his arms out through the dimensional winds snapping around the battlefield, fanned by the final screams of so many slain spirits. “So send your armies! There’s no man or machine that can stop me.”
Viktor laughed again. “I AM NEITHER MAN NOR MACHINE! I AM THE GLORIOUS EVOLUTION!”
He clenched his metal fist and shouted an attack order. “DOOM BOTS! DESTROY HIM!”
A black metal golem shaped like Blitzcrank clattered forward. It raised its three metal arms; an enormous gripping fist exploded from each, trailing steel cable. Ezreal dove beneath the oncoming metal hands, tumbled into a roll, and rose with a mystic shot that blew the robot’s metal chest apart. It fell. Ezreal jumped on top of the wreckage and fired another shot into its head.
He shouted to Viktor. “Is this the best you got?!” He blasted its still-spinning gears into scrap. “Is THIS your strongest machine?!”
He crouched to rip out its pyrikhos crystal power core. His gauntlet conducted the machine’s fading arcane signature into him. The drained core fell from his fingers as the thaumic imprint of the golem’s construction filled him with alien power. Somehow, he knew at once what it was, what it could do.
Another doom bot raised its arms. Ezreal braced his gauntlet with his right hand and projected the imprint outward. The shape of a fist outlined in radiant magical energy rocketed out from his gauntlet and ripped the doom bot’s head from its shoulders. The machine staggered, spun, and fell.
“This fight that Lux has fought—here, NOW, will end with ME!”
Ezreal shifted through arcane space, coming out of the blink high above the battlefield, looking down on the endless legions of Noxian soldiers and the mechanical monstrosities Zaun’s factories had churned out.
He looked down at them from the heights of the cloudless night sky. He looked down in judgment. Up here, above the hex-cursed sands, the magical energy was so strong, so clean, so pure. Pure like his hate, pure like his power. He pulled it all into him as he fell. A radiant vortex whirled around him, brighter and brighter.
He shouted to Viktor as the arcane vortex blazed sun-bright.
“I’ll show you what vengeance means!”
And with one trueshot barrage, he did.
The tidal wave of energy crashed through a swath of the clanking hextech army. Its undertow wrenched joined metal and flesh apart.
But the angle was too steep, and it only traveled a short distance before crashing into the sand. The pyrikhos began to burn. With the rage and strength drained out of him, two sober thoughts trickled into Ezreal’s mind as he fell.
I think I got shot.
The ground approached faster and faster. He looked down at himself and saw torn, burned flesh where explosions and death rays had struck him. Half-lucid, he wondered how many of his organs were intact, and tried to remember from all those science classes he’d daydreamed through which ones were really important to have.
With only a few seconds to go before he hit the sand, someone caught him. The impact was agony, even through the haze.
He heard a strange sound as his vision and mind spun off into blackness. Vi’s voice. But … kind? No, more like … understanding.
“Easy there, Princess. I gotcha.”
Black. Edged with voices. Yellow eyes. Demon voices. Black.
The broken remnants of the Demacian army fled from the mines. The Nightmare Cavalry rode down the slowest stragglers and came back to throw their heads into a pile.
Swain glanced over the heaps of corpses. They’d eliminated a few good Demacian officers. “Demacia just got a little dumber,” he muttered to himself. Not a bad take.
He looked to the gathered Zaunites: Summoners, Champions, those science-y types in the labcoats. “The League will be here in minutes. We want to squeeze as much out of this as we can. Not that it’ll be difficult.”
A lawyer from Zaun’s premier firm — Houndwether & Stagg — stepped forward with a dossier in hand. “Anyone not on this list is to refrain from comment.” One of his colleagues began handing out copies printed on tasteful off-white parchment. “Those on this list should ensure that their assigned attorney is present for any field deposition the League requests. Please disregard line nineteen, as Mr. Drocarius is unfortunately now deceased after an encounter with a Piltovian rifle company. We are investigating the admissibility of necromantically induced testimony in unusual circumstances.”
Swain looked down the list. He paused when a familiar sound, a sort of shrill warble, rippled through the aether.
Malzahar appeared above the entrance of the mine. He swept out his arms as the stars went out. Blinking yellow eyes, thousands of them, began to pierce the spread of midnight purple. He started laughing.
“You again,” Swain growled. “Didn’t we just have this conversation?”
LeBlanc folded her arms. “Yes, you did. Sometimes I think I ought to look up the plural of apocalypse.”
Malzahar looked down upon them. His laughter echoed on in the indistinct gibbers that radiated down from the sky.
“How long we have hungered for your souls. How pleased we are to feel the barrier fading away.”
The warpgate portal burst open. Voidlings and beasts more alien still flooded out, rushing toward them.
Swain turned to his legates. “Form up facing the mine. Ready troops for assault. Mages to the fore.”
Darius hefted his axe. He stepped forward to split Malzahar in half when a portal opened between them. Cho’gath stomped, Kog’maw pranced, Kha’zix buzzed, and Vel’koz hovered forth, chittering and growling. LeBlanc raised her staff and struck Cho’gath with a searing flash of light.
Cho’gath’s claws seized LeBlanc and fed her into his maw. She disintegrated into twinkling motes as the real LeBlanc peered out from behind Darius.
She looked at Swain. “I think a retreat is—”
Cho’gath stomped forward. “QUIET!!!”
As the battle began, Swain spared a glance to the side to see Demacia’s army regrouping and charging back toward the mines. Coming to help. Only a few units left in fighting condition. Still worth an ‘I told you so’ from Jarvan.
His orders given, and his strategem set in motion, Swain proceeded to morph into a giant bird. After that, as was usually the case, his recollection became a bit hazy.