Lines in the Sand Opener—For the Taking

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The Mushroom Wizard - Arc VII Banner Lines in the Sand

Lines in the Sand—For the Taking

by CupcakeTrap

This mini-scene centers on Noxian and Piltovian Champions doing some illicit artifact hunting in Shurima.
Note: The third part of this scene is still in progress.

Talon stood at the edge of the pyrikhos that surrounded the oasis. He felt the Void’s presence, the way you put the soft pat of footfall together with a glimpse of moving shadow to know where the nearest sentry was walking. In this case, it was a scent like you’d get from burning an orange peel on a tin platter, and an oscillating whine like a mosquito circling your head. From between these layers of human sensation oozed something more profoundly revolting. It was wrong. Even the most desperate Shuriman fleeing the Rune Wars would have turned from this. It was no wonder the place was deserted.

A cool wind swept over the contaminated water, which rippled with rainbow hues. He heard alien voices upon the breeze, whispering the kind of insanity which could rend reality itself, pull you through to some impossible hell in pieces, send some of those pieces back inside your skin.

This was the problem with scouting assignments. Too much time to think. A serious vulnerability, in a place like this.

His thoughts turned to the hollowness of these Shuriman sell-swords and petty merchants. Their crumbled ruins, their lost magic. Their dead eyes, their tepid ambitions.

He looked over his left shoulder at his comapnion. “Do you think a nation’s spirit can die?”

Katarina met his glance with an arched eyebrow, and spoke in a mocking tone. “I can’t say I’ve thought about it much, Talon.” She turned back to the Nyrothian tablet she held. It had been enchanted by Desmeya, the mind-twisting witch of Aeaea. Bright purple and blue lines spread across its black surface.

Katarina waved her hand over the tablet. The lines moved, swirling into a vortex in the center. She ran her thumb along a groove on the tablet’s side, and a peculiar symbol appeared in the corner. She looked up at him and nodded. “This is it.” She gestured at the symbol. “The thaumic resonance matches Yoroth’s nexus. The manashock traveled through the pyrikhos field here, and siphoned down into the oasis. And now, just as the dear shaman from Bel’zhun said, the portal inside the water has phased back into being, just enough for us to squeeze through.”

Her lips curved into a grin. “Time to find out what drank up all that energy.” She sounded pleased, as though she’d found a great prize. Her delight was beyond his understanding.

Shurima was dead, and this was a festering wound upon its carrion-corpse, pecked open by the black ravens of time. Hard beaks driving, sharp sharp sharp, like ticks of a clock.

He stared into the oasis, and spoke his thoughts aloud, because he preferred that to having them circle within his mind alone. “I saw a demonstration, once, in Zaun. During the Harrowing. They brought in the corpse of a slum-rat shot by corporate security. They rigged his body with electrodes, and sent a lightning bolt through him. He started shaking on the table, like he was living through his death throes one more time. I think he tried to say something. He thrashed so hard on the table that it dislodged one of the bullets they’d put into his chest. This grayish greenish ooze bubbled out of the putrified flesh. Then the lightning stopped, and he was dead again.”

And now, the thaumic shock from Nyroth’s violent restoration had flashed across the sea to Valoran, surging into this dead land. He gazed upon the Void-sickened oasis, its sickly shine of unnatural color, and saw the dead man’s wounds oozing on the examination table. The mumblings of the mystics they’d interrogated for the contents of their visions, their lips so very like those of the dead man, mumbling thoughtless voices from the abyss. Talon was not averse to robbing graves, but never had he plundered so vast a tomb.

Talon drew one of his blades and gestured at the oasis. No matter how much pure water crashed down from the waterfall above, it was beyond purification, or resurrection. A thing could twitch and still be dead. “I was reminded.”

“Thanks for sharing that, Talon.” Katarina slipped the tablet back into its null-magic metal case. “I went to a party, once, in Zaun.” She looked his way. “We ate liqueuered cupcakes off a supermodel’s back, drank foaming neon booze in one of those hot-tubs of theirs until we could barely haul ourselves out of the water, then passed out in our beautiful suites on top of what seemed like the softest beds in Valoran. We were so hungover the next morning that we completely missed the corpse reanimation.

Talon thumbed his blade and lowered his white hood. “It was midnight.”

How easy to be so glib, he thought, when one has grown up among the privileges of a noble house, rather than as a starving urchin upon the streets. Yet despite her frivolity, she was a fearsome swordsman. Perhaps her father’s equal. In a fair universe, perhaps all pampered aristocrats would be useless cowards. This was not a fair universe.

“Midnight. Of course it was midnight. With lightning. And a wolf howling in the distance. Wait, it was Zaun. So I guess a wolf coughing asthmatically in the distance.”

She drew a dagger into her left hand, and extended her right hand for him to take.

“Hold on. Running start, leap to the center, I’ll shunpo us through into the temple.”

He clasped her hand. Her fingers wrapped his, light but fearsomely strong. He looked to her face, but her eyes were gazing toward the oasis, with the soft focus of a predator.

“And if anyone should be inside…” She smiled. “Their blood for Noxus this day.”

Vi sat against the cool stone wall of the temple beneath the oasis. She’d picked one of the blank walls, because even though Ezreal had insisted the place was dead, she didn’t like the idea of putting her back up against spooky old Shuriman enchantments.

She gave her left gauntlet a twist, bending the plates apart slightly, and stuck a folding screwdriver inside to retune the intake. She watched the gauge until the needle did that subtle double-wobble that told her it was primed just right. She popped open the panel over the regulator, and checked the lights. Three green, two blue. Nice. Running at about 8x, with a 10 Strickler capacity in the shifter. That was almost as good as she’d get on the Fields on a good day.

She looked over at Ezreal, who was still tapping away at the sides of the altar with that dainty little hammer with null-magic plating on one side. His boots were in the flowing circle of water that wrapped around the stone platform.

“Sure’d be nice to have a Summoner here while you’re banging away at that.”

She stuffed the screwdriver back into her belt, and took out a packet of SpectriYum instead, pincered neatly between the very tips of her gauntlet’s fingers.

“Y’know. Someone who didn’t flunk out of magic school.” She ripped open the packet and shook a few of the squishy candies into her mouth. It tasted like she’d gotten dark green and purple. She liked purple.

Ezreal took out a magnifying glass and squinted through it while he tapped the stonework again. The hammer sparked a flash of light.

“I left,” he retorted. “And given that this isn’t really legal, it didn’t seem like a bright idea to bring a Summoner of the League along.”

“He says, to the cop,” she replied, with a mouthful of Zaunite confectionery.

Ezreal paused. “It’s a little weird,” he agreed. He eyed her warily, probably thinking seriously about whether or not she was going to turn him in. Which was pretty cute.

She shook her head. “Nothing in the Pilt Crim Code about looting Shuriman temples, and I ain’t a League cop.” She emptied the rest of the bag of SpectriYum into her mouth, and spoke while she chewed the rainbow of sugary goodness. “But if you try to bring any of this stuff,” she waved the empty bag, “back to Piltover, that’s a 449, unlicensed importation of Icathian derivative compounds.”

Ezreal wrinkled his nose. “Can’t believe you eat that stuff.”

She shrugged, whirring the actuators around her shoulders. “Yeah, I’m thinking all the pyrikhos packed around this cave is going to do me in a lot faster than the NoxiToxi candy.” She held the bag out. “Want some? Or, wait, sorry, guess that’d be an issue for your girl, yeah?” She did a little Lux voice. “Lips that touch NoxiToxis shall not touch mine!”

She finished the bag, and opened another. “Cait’s at some gala tonight. Maybe we can stop on over,” she twisted her voice into a scornful parody of a Northern accent, “have ourselves a right lovely spot o’tea, we will, guv’nah, cheerio til then.

She glanced inside the bag, then looked over at Ez. “But first, we need that scrying whatever.” She tilted the bag back, and got a red.

“Working on it,” he answered.

She kipped up to her feet and walked over. While she chewed, she waved the bag at the altar, and the weird claw-thing on top.

“You sure it’s in there?”

“Yeah. Look.” He waved his hand past the clawlike top of the altar. She saw a green-blue swirly aura that was pretty trippy, especially after a couple packets of SpectriYum. She’d seen all kinds of magical auras at the Institute, and had received the honor of smashing in the heads of many of Valoran’s most talented mages on the Fields, but never anything quite like that.

He conjured a faint energy wave from his gauntlet, and something streaked the spherical aura with purple. “It’s gonna take me a bit.”

She rolled her shoulders and cracked her neck. “Look, not to be too much the musclehead here, but I bet I could punch through it a lot faster than you can break the secret code or whatever.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I bet you could, and it might bring this whole cavern down on us.” His voice took on a know-it-all tone which made his face seem even more punchable than usual. “So let’s keep that as Plan B.”

She leaned over and peered at the grooves carved in the sides of the column. She had an intuitive hunch that there was some sort of mechanism inside. Like it could rotate, unlock. “Hey, Princess. Take a look over here. So I’m no archaeologist, but I’m a pretty good engineer, and this looks like it’s meant to turn and lift. Maybe it’s got some kinda—”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She heard a very familiar pop-swoosh sound, and barely had time to turn and step in front of Ezreal before a Noxian knife that would have skewered her dainty pal glanced off her chestplate.

Katarina grinned with homicidal glee. “Death to the enemies of Noxus.”

Talon was circling around the side. Ezreal threw a shot at him, but he turned mid-step, and the bolt impacted on the wall instead. When the arcane flash faded into shadow, Talon had vanished along with it.

“Alright! Plan B!” she snapped, before backhanding the altar with her fist. The stone burst, and the cavern filled with blue light.

“Grab and go, Ez!” She was not keen on the prospect of fighting two Noxian assassins in a dark cave. The adrenaline hit her system, and she started getting that creepy-crawly Void-sickness feeling, like ants crawling over the inside of her skin. All this pyrikhosian radiation must have been doing more of a number on her than she thought. Now she was feeling it.

Katarina dove into a roll toward her. Vi wound up to kick the psychotic redhead right in her teeth, and raised her gauntlet to clock the Noxian poster girl when she did whatever bendy-twisty move she was going to use to avoid the hexplated boot swinging for her.

She had a hunch that Talon would be coming around from her left, and thought she glimpsed something in her peripheral vision. And that’s about when she felt Talon’s knife plunge into the soft spot of her armor beneath her raised right arm.

She staggered and fell onto her knee, catching herself with her left glove. With Talon still twisting his knife inside her, she ground her teeth together and yanked her right fist up to block Katarina’s stab at her throat. The Noxian steel screeched over the hexproofed metal, and she smelled the black smoke of kill-curses burning off the edge.

She set her weight into the ground and lunged upright, rotating hard to throw a left uppercut that she really, really hoped would cave in Katarina’s chest. But Katarina twisted away into the shadows, and she struck only air. Talon had circled around behind, keeping his knife in. She screamed, and fought to turn it into words.

“GRAB! AND! GO!” she shouted. She felt the cold, tingly, creeping chill of Noxian poison, the one that made your skin go numb while your lungs felt like they were filling up with broken glass.

Ezreal was reaching into the broken altar. He was touching something inside. Energy was spiraling up his arm. His eyes glowed.

She whirled around, and a wild swing hit Talon in the chest. He went flying, but she didn’t see him hit the wall.

The poison was spreading. She forced a breath down her throat and flexed her gauntlets, forcing the black magic along the conductive strips lining her bodyglove and into the surge capacitors along her forearms. But it was in deep. Counterspelling was something she usually left to her Summoner, but at the moment she was solo.

She stumbled, maybe falling, vision blurring.

She steadied herself with effort. Then realized she wasn’t stumbling anymore because she was laying flat on her back.

She looked up. She saw Ezreal facing down both Talon and Kat. He had a bright blue-green aura swirling around him. Sometimes. Between her heartbeats, she could see it; when she heard the blood surge through her veins, her vision broke apart to a black and purple tableaux of blinking yellow eyes. Void psychosis.

She could shake this off. C’mon, Vi. Just like ganking Malzahar. Just like a match. Just shake it off. Before Princess Ezreal over there gets slashed to ribbons.

Kat brandished a knife in either hand. She feinted left, thrust right. Ezreal blinked aside, and hit her with…a jet of water? When’d he learn how to do that?

She tried to get up, but stopped when she felt herself falling deeper into the black. Her vision went. She heard water rushing around. She heard stone breaking. It’s coming down on us.

What convinced her she’d lost it was when she heard a snooty Piltovian voice she didn’t recognize.

“Lady Du Couteau, I am afraid I must ask you and your guest to leave.”

Vi passed out, with a half-lucid thought about how she’d feel much better after a rest.

[Third scene still in progress.]

Return to Lines in the Sand (Opener)
Next Update: Sand Hotter Than Blood

3 comments on “Lines in the Sand Opener—For the Taking
  1. […] Opener—For the Taking […]

  2. […] Opener—For the Taking […]

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