Posted 6 April, 26 CLE, as a bit of a teaser for Arc VIII. The story centers on Mauro, an uncommonly gifted Nyrothian mage from the floating city of Pteranthos who has traveled to Valoran and become a Summoner of the League of Legends. After a close call on the battlefields of Shurima, he has decided to acquire a suitably powerful weapon for someone of his lofty stature—and dangerous job description. He has therefore sought out the League’s old shopkeeper, now doing business in the Shuriman city of Bel’zhun, to find…
The Right Weapon
with comments from 501st Big Mike, masterpierround, ShadowKnight1224, TheMushroomWizar, XalkXolc, and others
Mauro drew the shimmering purple hood of his Summoner’s robe further up to shield him from the Shuriman sun. The purple silk was edged in the flashing gold of the Institute. If a dispute came, it would be replaced with the colors of whichever nation he pledged himself to. For now, it was gold: pure, bright gold. Valoran was at peace, and his only allegiance was to the Institute. Valoran was at peace, and his oath required no more than that he strive to keep it that way.
At least, for a little longer. A wry associate of his had encouraged him to join in a betting pool centered on the question of which factions would break that peace. He’d declined. His principled explanation had been that it was unseemly for a Summoner of the League to make a betting game out of the fragile peace to which they were solemnly dedicated, and that it would be a scandal should word get out. Besides, he had mused to himself, there’s not a nation in Valoran that doesn’t seem eager to go to war with at least one of the others.
His shoulder-blades lifted, subtly raising his wings. The old dry wind whispered through his wingfeathers. He looked around for the weapon shop.
Ninth ward, on the right hand side, going north down the main street…look for a little pink-stone building with a square roof…
The streets of Bel’zhun fluttered with humanoid figures wrapped in the flowing fabric of their local dress, intermixed with the corporate work uniforms of Zaunite miners. Years ago, before he had ever heard of Valoran, Bel’zhun was a lethargic watering-place for camels. The Hextech Revolution had changed all that.
Ah. Here we are.
He looked over the shop’s facade. The stone was distinctive, and probably expensive. The sign, which read “The Fountain”, was tastefully enchanted to radiate a subtle aura of intrigue and prestige.
He found the Keeper inside, reviewing his ledgers in the manner of a man busying himself while awaiting an appointment.
A pair of human clerks moved around the shop cataloguing and organizing items. The maintenance of such a dense collection of enchanted artifacts was a science unto itself; if neglected, they could become quite volatile.
“Summoner Mauro. Come in before I charge extra for use of the doorway.”
Mauro stepped inside. It was cooler in here. He looked to either side, taking in a breath of air scented with…well, he recognized cedar, and cinnamon. Somewhat old-fashioned choices for maintaining a stable thaumic environment, but then, these artifacts were on average rather older than those in most collections.
He looked back to the Keeper. He believed in cutting through awkwardness straight away, and thus he began by admitting he didn’t know the man’s name.
“I asked around, but nobody seems to actually know your name,” he said, apologetically.
“Sure they do. It’s the Keeper.”
“Is there another name you’d prefer?”
“What? And split my publicity between two names? Ha! As though it doesn’t cost me enough as it is.” The Keeper waggled a thick finger. “You handle the magic, Summoner, and I’ll mind the business, if it’s all the same to you.”
The Keeper paused there, and Mauro noticed a certain curiosity in his lingering gaze. As Mauro had come to expect, his eyes fixed on a point just over his shoulder. The wings. Valoranians were always impressed by the wings. For his part, seeing a figure without visible wings intuitively meant a person with their wings drawn tight and low behind their backs: a posture of fear and submission, as from a servant expecting a scolding.
“I’m used to some stares myself,” the Keeper rumbled pleasantly. “Not many Manbaconians around these days, eh?”
Mauro laughed awkwardly at hearing the Keeper use that archaic and (so he would assume) rather derogatory translation of homo susicus fumosus, the name given to his species by the Noxian explorers who “discovered” them. (It so happened that the juxtaposition of the words for “pig” and “smoke”, referring to their porcine appearance and the heavy smoke produced by their communal firepits, quickly resulted in some jokes about cured meats.) The modern term was Fumosian.
The Keeper considered him for a moment. “Le Blanc says you’re looking for a good weapon. And she’ll pay for the very best you can handle.”
Mauro nodded. “Very gracious of her. I’d like to have something to reach for when spells are not handy.” A few times during the recent Shuriman dispute, he’d learned the hard way—and almost the very hard, sharp, and lethal way—that spells were not always reliable in the middle of a battlefield crowded with mages and arcane distortions. It was on such a battlefield that he’d cut down a Demacian knight who’d been on the verge of running one of Le Blanc’s aristocratic allies through.
“I imagine the weapons business is slow at the moment. Valoran’s been at peace for almost a year.”
For all Valoran’s talk of peace, it had been their ancient wars that had ruined Nyroth, and it had been after he came to Valoran, and indeed after he pledged himself as an agent of peace through the League of Legends, that he’d first killed. He was glad that the knight’s helmet had hidden most of her face, but he was not sure he’d soon forget the horrible sounds that came out of her neck as she died.
Mauro had subsequently resolved himself on two key points.
First, that if he could help it, he’d never again take a life.
Second, that if he could help it, he’d never be stabbed through the throat.
He was at the weapons shop today to see to that latter (but by no means less important) point.
“Ah, so you want me to cut you a deal, then? I must be struggling to pay my servants, what with all this terrible peace sapping my profits.” The Keeper winked meatily. He had the eyelids for it. He laughed. The word meatily kept returning to Mauro’ mind. Maybe it was the bacon pun he’d been thinking about. Maybe it was…maybe it was something else as well. His hand twitched as he remembered the consistency of flesh and the way the blade had jerked through it.
“I wouldn’t mind a deal. I don’t want to impose on Le Blanc.”
The Keeper smiled. “You’re too modest. You saved Kyril Modane from an ignominous death at the hands of some Demacian foot soldier. I assure you, her gratitude suffices, even at full price.” He set those last few words forward with luxurious weight, as though pressing heavy gold coins into Mauro’ hand and closing his fingers around them.
“Besides,” he continued, “Peace is good for business.”
Before Mauro could say anything more, the Keeper gestured for him to follow, and used one of the golden keys around his neck to unlock an armored door plated with null-magic silver.
He looked back at the clerks. “Zura. Chiyan. If anyone comes in, I’ll be busy with the Summoner here for a while. Pour them some coffee, eh? And don’t cost me any customers.”
Chiyan bowed his head in acknowledgment.
Zura shrugged. “Gotcha, pour coffee on customers.”
The Keeper nodded. “And sugar if they want it.” He pushed down on the door handle. Mauro heard clunks and creaks from inside the door’s presumably gear-driven mechanisms, and the Keeper swung the vault door open for him.
The Keeper then showed him magical weapons from many lands. Each bore the spirit of its homeland, or some part of it.
- Bandle City
- the Shadow Isles
- the Freljord
and then he showed him one more.
The Keeper unlocked a drawer set inside a large central table, and drew it out to reveal a number of weapons lying side by side. Mauro couldn’t feel much of anything coming out from them.
The Keeper presented him with a rather elegant saber in a brass-capped charcoal-gray sheath.
Mauro slid it out from its sheath, and tested the balance…while waiting to see whether it would possess him, stab him, or somehow explode. It did none of these things, and the balance was exemplary.
He circled it into a rising cut, and a downstroke. It struck clean and true, with a neatly little snick as it swept through the air.
He brought it in to study the face of the blade. He began to feel its magic. Something great had been lost, and this sword was made to find it again. Not merely to find it, but to use it. To bring order to a broken world. It demanded a wielder who was courageous, who yearned to soar into new horizons and explore what lay beyond them. To see everything, to know everything, and to find an answer.
He practiced a turning parry. The sword’s energy flowed through him as he moved, lending strength to his wings and bringing him smoothly off the ground. He turned his wrist, and his wings turned with the marvelous weapon, spinning him into a diagonal cut that came from an angle no earthbound Valoranian would ever expect.
He let his feet touch down once more.
“Where…” He turned the blade in the light, searching for some hint as to its origins. “Where is this from?”
Before the Keeper could answer, he held up a hand. “Wait.” It seemed wrong to have to ask. Rude, even.
It strove to achieve a purpose greater than the wielder’s own life. Demacian?
It had a vicious cunning about it, a refusal to compromise. Noxian?
Balanced, graceful, subtle, reserved. Ionian?
Efficient, clean, elegant. Piltovian?
He stared at it. He felt tremendous magic running through it into him. Perhaps more than any other weapon he’d handled. Yet it had been stored in such close proximity to those other blades, and at least at first, he’d sensed absolutely nothing from it.
“I don’t know,” Mauro admitted. He looked up at the Keeper. “It’s intensely charged with magic, but I can’t recognize it.”
The Keeper grinned. “Well, Nyroth, I guess, would be where the magic comes from.”
Mauro raised an eyebrow. “This is from Nyroth?” He held up the distinctly Valoranian sword.
The Keeper shook his head. “No, no. That was forged in Piltover. Last week.”
The Keeper continued, visibly enjoying this. “But the magic? Yeah. Nyrothian, I’d think. Unless you stole those wings from someone else, heh heh.”
Mauro peered at the sword. “A Piltovian sword? Piltover isn’t exactly known for its swords.”
The Keeper nodded. “Exactly. And so there isn’t a lot of Piltover in that sword. And it’s never been owned before. Never even wielded seriously. Barely a trace of magic in it.” He grinned toothily. “Which…and maybe you can tell me if I’m wrong, Sir Learned Summoner…as I understand it, per Lidnall’s Second Theory, means it has much less resistance to imbued energy than an enchanted sword with a mind of its own.”
Mauro gave the weapon a twirl. It said nothing to him, though he felt its energy. Or rather, if the Keeper was right…his energy.
“It’s putting out what you’re putting in. It’s your sword.”
Mauro frowned uncertainly.
The Keeper held up his hands. “Maybe you think I’m cheating you on Le Blanc’s credit. So let me talk it up a little. There’s a null-magic weave inside the—”
Someone was knocking at the door. Pounding on it.
The Keeper frowned. “I told ‘em not to interrupt,” he muttered.
He continued. “A null-magic weave, along the back of the blade. Very tricky business aligning null-magic alloy with mundane steel. Very expensive. That swordsmith, who studied in Demacia, Ionia, Noxus…he went everywhere…he threw out a hundred swords before he got that one ri-”
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The Keeper stopped. He grunted irritably. “Alright, let’s go see which of my clerks I’m making scrub the grounding rails on the potion shelves.”
Together, they went to the vault door, and the Keeper operated a wall panel that released the lock.
The door swung open in front of Mauro as he watched the curious mechanism turn.
And out of the corner of his eye he saw a flash of steel coming straight at his throat.
His sword snapped up directly in line with the knife’s deadly path. His wings fanned and whirled him in a tight circle, deflecting the knife away. He leaned into a well drilled maneuver he’d learned from Master Yi, pressing the edge of his blade into the enemy’s wrist to stop a return stroke of the knife.
Blood sprayed from where the razor sharp edge touched the man’s wrist. It spattered Mauro’s face, but not his eyes.
He advanced, keeping the blade in contact with the wrist. The man struggled, but only cut himself deeper trying to get free. He screamed. Mauro pivoted the blade, which had now reached bone, against the man’s wrist. The man stumbled back, and Mauro followed in perfect sync. Leading with the tip of the sword. Which struck along the man’s neck, opening an artery.
The man fell. Mauro stared. The blood gushed so fast. So much blood.
He heard a crash, and looked up.
Chiyan, the scrawny Ionian clerk, his hands bound together, had somehow just thrown a thief over his shoulder into the front desk. Only after the thief had been tossed down did Mauro see the subtle spellforce building around them. Even if Chiyan’s adversary had been a mage, she’d likely not have seen it coming.
Chiyan the lowly clerk was a mage. Mauro was still in shock, but his unconscious mind seemed to be working all the faster. Not just any mage, it said. That feels like Summoner magic.
Any doubt that he was looking at an Institute-trained Summoner was banished when he saw Chiyan thrust a palm into the thief’s solar plexus. His hand moved quickly, but reached her without a sound; it was an enchantment, not a strike.
“DONMA,” he intoned, his voice much deeper than Mauro would have expected. The heavy round syllables resonated like a great temple bell.
The thief tried to raise her knife, but a deep amber glow enveloped her hand, and it shuddered to a halt. Her fingers twitched until every last bit of strength left them, and the knife clattered to the floor. Her head lolled back.
The other clerk, Zura, was bound, sitting on the floor with her back to the wall. A man towered over her brandishing a short sword. He began to strike down at her, when—
—a burst of golden light took Zura from the floor to her feet, now behind her assailant.
Neither carefully honed arcane senses nor an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure Institute spellcraft was necessary to recognize a Flash spell. There was scarcely a nation in Valoran where the kids didn’t play Champions in the streets, making their own “FWOOSH!” noises as they pretended to Flash around. (Often followed by protests such as, “Nuh uh! You just flashed! It’s on cooldown!” or “You’re a minion! You can’t Flash!”)
But this was not a game. The man’s sword drove half its length into the wall where Zura had been. She’d have been pinned like a butterfly in one of those macabre collections that Valoranian “natural philosophers” were so fond of, and which seemed to Mauro to be some abstracted expression of envy on the part of a tragically wingless species.
Zura’s eyes were narrowed, glaring with violent intensity at the space between the thief’s shoulder blades. Her bound hands were swiftly enveloped in darkness as she spoke in a spelltongue. “Umbra strixa!”
An unnatural pall of shadow fell over Zura and her adversary. She intertwined her fingers in an intricate pattern, and as they moved, dark ethereal chains snaked up his legs and cinched them together. He turned on her, and in so doing swiftly toppled himself over onto the floor, with a crack of a knee being rotated in an unhealthy way with more than unhealthy force. She planted a boot on his back while the binding spell brought his hands up above his head.
She looked over at Mauro and his blood-spattered robes, then down at the body of the thief he’d killed.
She seemed somewhat annoyed as she watched the thief for a few seconds and noticed no sign of breathing. Or even of a heartbeat to push more blood out of that ragged wound. “Well,” she announced petulantly, “looks like we’re not questioning him.” She turned her glare up to Mauro. “Unless someone wants to talk to the spooks about a seance interrogation. Maybe find a couple to play Good Necromancer, Bad Necromancer. We can do this the spooky way, or the scaaaaary way.”
Mauro just stared. He nodded dumbly. It didn’t matter if she was joking or serious. He was in shock and she was visibly in charge. She could have told him to summon Cho’gath from the depths of the Void and he’d have started the chants.
She looked down at her captive again. “For crimes of violence committed in my presence, which—”
The man, who had been seething in silence until now, roared defiance as he was addressed. He thrashed against the ethereal bonds holding him; his struggle wrenched his injured knee, which only made him roar louder.
A subtle turn of Zura’s hands brought a swath of shadow up to cover his mouth and silence him. For some reason, this also brought his thrashing to a stop.
“—FOR CRIMES OF VIOLENCE COMMITTED IN MY PRESENCE which materially affect the disposition of artifacts under Council jurisdiction, by my authority as a Summoner of the League of Legends, I hereby bind you and admonish you against flight or struggle.”
The other thief, meanwhile, seemed to have been drained to unconsciousness by Chiyan’s incantation. The slight-framed clerk methodically unbound himself, and began to tie the woman up with her own rope.
Zura turned back to Mauro and the dead body in front of him, while she spoke past him to Chiyan.
Chiyan responded, under silent protest made plain by his sour expression. He seemed to know what sort of thing was coming, and was disapproving in advance.
“Summoner ZapMouse88. How may I assist.”
Zura’s face barely twitched. The naming codex at the Institute was rather eccentric in its choice of formal spellnames for Summoners. It was how Mauro had ended up with the peculiar title of Summoner ProtuhGOnist92. The numbers were particularly strange; Mauro’s mentor told him it was something about the book’s creator being fascinated by numerology.
Summoner ZapMouse88, née Zura, answered this jab with professional concision. “Die in a fire, xBagelBiteSx.” Like most veteran Summoners, she could pronounce the ornamental xs.
She then proceeded with her statement. “So I was saying. I guess we’re done with the formal stuff. Your gal’s out cold. And looks to me like Wings here already admonished his guy pretty hard.”
Mauro’s adrenaline was draining out of him quite fast, and his body was collecting interest like a Slaughter Docks loanshark. Even if he’d had the presence of mind for a dignified retort, his clammy flesh would not have been up to the task of anything so sophisticated as a chiding scowl or an arched eyebrow.
“I just got this sword,” he mumbled. He looked at it, dripping blood onto the floor beside the body it came from. “I just got it. I wasn’t…”
Zura the “clerk” walked up to Mauro. Her hair was dark. She was shorter than him. She’d used a Noxian binding spell. And she seemed to maybe have a Noxian accent. Or perhaps Zaunite. He couldn’t remember these things.
“Hey. You got a pin?”
He stared at her. She met his widened eyes, saw nothing useful there, and looked down to his blood-splattered lapel at the gold-and-purple Institute pin he wore. She took hold of it, and ruffled the fabric behind it until she found its backing. She slipped it off, wiped the blood off its shimmering surface and onto another patch of Mauro’s robe, then pinned it to her own shirt, a cream-colored garment cut in the baggy Shuriman style.
“It’ll look better if I come out of here wearing an Institute pin,” she explained.
The Keeper walked past Mauro, and took a careful look around his shop. “Well. I guess you guys aren’t just a pain in my neck.” He saw the dark-haired woman glancing down at the dead thief’s opened neck, and frowned.
“Looks like Wings already gave him a…” she trailed off with what might have been a hint of guilt.
The Keeper frowned into the silence. “Hey. Come on. Give it a rest.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she agreed, and looked to Mauro. “Hey. It’s alright. That was a good thrust. Good clean death. More than a thief out to murder you for your stuff deserved. You did good.”
You…did…good. Mauro ran these words through his mind over and over. He could make no sense of them with a corpse at his feet. You did good.
“I…I didn’t know. The door opened. He was right there.”
The Keeper reached out to pat Mauro on the shoulder, but hesitated when he realized there was no place big enough for his hand that wasn’t covered in blood.
“You, uh. You should go clean that sword off before you sheathe it. Or else it’s liable to rust,” he advised.
Mauro nodded. It was something he could do. He could clean the sword. He let the Keeper steer him over to a workshop bench in an adjoining room.
He washed the sword blade with an economical Shuriman jug that held scarcely enough water to fill a teacup. And after he’d polished it mirror-bright for nearly an hour, it shone as though it had never been dirtied.
The Keeper had been watching.
“It’s up to you,” he said, “what kind of sword that one’s going to be.”