The Redemption of Jericho Swain
by Ghosted Note
Chapter 1: Runeterra
Human. It was an odd word, with an odd meaning attached to it. It certainly was fascinating, to some degree, learning how to use a new body, but there was no getting around the strangeness inherent to the situation. Twilight Sparkle wasn’t quite sure how to react. After waking up in Runeterra, it hadn’t exactly been hard to extrapolate that a similar accident that had brought six aliens to Equestria had now brought up to six ponies to Runeterra, complete with a bizarre new form. It had been a stroke of luck that she’d landed nearby her two friends and comrades-in-arms, Nasus and Ryze, though they’d seemed rather awkward about the situation when she’d approached them, insisting that she put on a rather simplistic robe.
Twilight Sparkle prided herself on her scholarly outlook on life. She would identify a problem, research it, and solve it, coming out with a lesson learned to report to her mentor. She approached this situation with the same scholarly professionalism that she held so much pride in now, if only because thinking about how much danger her friends were in was the quickest way to go into a panic attack.
Seeing her two friends in their native forms had been a treat though. The tattoos that covered Ryze’s bluish-purple skin seemed even more intricate than they had when he had been transformed into a unicorn, and Nasus, now that he had reverted back to his own true form, seemed even more intimidating, though Twilight knew better than that. Even so, it was hard not to recoil a little from the huge, red-eyed behemoth.
At the present moment, Twilight Sparkle was pondering a completely different mystery though. As she brushed a lock of her (thankfully) unchanged mane out of her face, she picked up a nearby book. She’d never really given much thought as to why she could perfectly understand the speech of beings from an entirely different world, and now she was regretting it. Looking at the book in front of her, she knew the title was ‘A Brief History of Valoran’. What she didn’t know was how she knew this. The script was a jagged and swirling script unlike the smooth flow of her native Equestrian alphabet, and when she looked at it, it seemed like an incomprehensible scribble...when she read it though, she somehow knew the exact intent behind each word and sentence, and felt a strange tickle in the back of her head as she realized that she was reading a language that she didn’t know and still understanding it. It was baffling, and above all, it was a great way to occupy her thoughts while Nasus and Ryze conferred with representatives from the League of Legends to plead for help in determining if any of her Equestrian friends had been pulled into this world as well. The thought of a pony as gentle as Fluttershy landing in Noxus brought a nervous shudder to her.
Research could wait, though, and Twilight set aside the book as there was a click from the excessively ornate double doors that separated the library at the Institute of War from the rest of the building. The aforementioned tattoo-covered human greeted Twilight Sparkle with a neutral expression. “Good news and bad news. Good news is that the League has confirmed that your friends have been located and are unharmed, if a bit scattered. They’ve agreed to allocate some resources to retrieving them. The bad news... The League’s official position is that the resources required to research and create a spell to send you all home would not be a politically viable use of the funding it receives from its constituent city-states. Nasus is currently having some...strong words with them about that as we speak, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. We’ll have to gather our own support if we want to get your group home.” Twilight could tell that Ryze was trying to be positive, relatively speaking, but the gruff mage still ended up sounding like he was about to perform acts of gratuitous violence toward those who ran the League’s affairs.
“Well...at least we’re getting anything at all. I admit, I didn’t quite believe you when you said that the League almost never acted outside of its own interests.” Twilight Sparkle sighed. “Well, one thing at a time. At least we know where the girls are. We should focus on that problem first.”
Ryze nodded. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to accompany you. My work outside of the League keeps me from being as well-traveled as some of my fellow champions. I have, however, called in a favor from a friend though. You will not be without escort. He might be a bit dramatic at times, but Kassadin is still a good man, or something close enough to man, and you will remain safe in your travels with him by your side.”
“And from your descriptions, I thought nothing good ever came from the influence and favor-mongering that you said was endemic to the League.” It was a small jab, but still playful enough not to be taken as an insult to his occupation.
“Yes, I must admit, even the most taxing exercise that comprises politics within the League can be beneficial, when its components aren’t busy trying to assassinate each other. Now, come. Let’s see if Nasus has had any luck.” With that, the two departed, eager to see if Nasus’ calm and wise demeanor might be able to sway the hardened hearts of the League of Legends. As they walked, Twilight thought she felt the building shudder slightly.
- - - -
“This problem was directly caused by representatives of the League. I understand that you have already reprimanded the Summoners in question, but when I agreed to aid your organization in its infancy, I was under the impression that this was an institution of peace, justice, and fairness.” Nasus’ voice was calm, but crackling of magic in the air around him betrayed his frustration. “Or have the latter goals been betrayed for the sake of the former?”
The three Ambassadors of the League shifted nervously in their seats. They had years of experience dealing with angry champions, Summoners, and representatives from the various city-states for years, but that still didn’t prepare them for how terrifying the League’s immortal members could be at times, having had time untold to practice their intimidation skills, not that Nasus was actively trying to be intimidating; some things are unavoidable when one is an ancient anthropomorphic jackal that towers over every human around him. The bravest of the three cleared his throat nervously before responding. “I-We’re terribly sorry Nasus, but our hands are tied. We’re already processing your appeal, but you’ve been around long enough to know how slow paperwork moves around here. I promise we’ll do our best to make sure it gets taken care of as soon as possible, but until the date of your appeal, I can’t promise any more aid.”
“Very well. Please notify me immediately upon the completion of the appeal’s processing.” It was on days such as this that Nasus could almost excuse his brother’s psychotic rantings about how the evil inherent in civilization must be cut out. Speaking of which, it was about time that he payed Renekton a visit, as masochistic a ritual as it had been since his brother had been captured. As he exited the bland office, he caught sight of Ryze and Twilight Sparkle heading in his direction, and upon seeing their inquisitive expressions, he shook his head. “We will have to wait for the appeal to process before any more progress can be made.”
Twilight’s face fell slightly, but she otherwise maintained her composure. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait until then. I won’t be delaying my departure for too long. Ryze was just filling me in on some cultural gaps here and there. I’ll be getting some supplies and meeting up with the escort Ryze arranged, and then I’ll be leaving by tomorrow hopefully. I hope the Princesses aren’t too worried about us...”
“As much as you should act to change what would cause you worry, you should not worry about what you cannot change. Even so, one does not rule a civilization without some degree of mental durability. The best you can do is work toward returning home as quickly as possible. I would offer more help, but I’m afraid that I have matters of my own to attend to. I shall be more than happy to help with any necessary research afterward, though.” Nasus reached into a small bag resting against his gold-colored armor, and drew out a handful of coins. “This should see to most needs you might encounter that the League’s funding does not handle. Good luck, Twilight Sparkle.” Nasus wasted no time in departing. He had someone to visit, after all.
Ryze frowned knowingly at Nasus’ abrupt departure, leaving Twilight Sparkle puzzled and clueless. Nonetheless, she thanked Nasus as he left for his generosity, and followed Ryze toward the Institute of War’s library, where they were supposed to meet Kassadin, the mage who was to serve as Twilight’s help and bodyguard. From Ryze’s descriptions, Kassadin had some experience in interdimensional travel, but it had apparently left him a bit scarred. It seemed that most humans who delved into such things had come out either physically or mentally disfigured, or a combination thereof. Currently, Kassadin was one of two humans to be alive after delving into a dimension commonly referred to as ‘The Void’. The other had apparently been driven to insanity by the experience though. Twilight shuddered as Ryze mentioned the unfortunate seer’s newfound obsession with opening a stable portal to the Void so that the residents thereof might consume Valoran.
Meeting Kassadin was unsettling in its own right. At first glance, Twilight was inclined to ask Ryze again if he was sure that purple was not a natural skin color for humans, considering the apparent abundance of the skin color. The next thing to catch her attention was that past a bulky looking mask that contained some sort of breathing apparatus, Kassadin was extremely muscular, to the point of looking almost unnatural. Walking through the Institute of War had subjected Twilight to many interesting sights though, so she wasn’t very surprised at when she couldn’t hear the sound of footfalls from within the dark skirt-like piece of garb that adorned the mage. She wouldn’t say it aloud, but Twilight was swiftly getting the impression that magic-users here opted for as showy a demeanor as possible. Instead, Twilight smiled politely and made a slightly awkward and off-balance attempt at a curtsy. “Hello. My name is Twilight Sparkle. Ryze has told me so much about you. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Nothing too scarring, I would hope.” It was hard to describe his voice. The best Twilight could think of was that his mask made it sound like he was garbled, as if he was trying to speak while his mask was filled with water, or perhaps molasses. Despite this, she believed that she could understand what he said somewhat clearly. “Ryze has assisted me in my research in past times. I see it fitting to repay him now. I am glad to be able to assist you. Follow me, and we may begin preparations.”
- - - -
It was a well-lit, warmly furnished room. Nasus refused to let the League settle for anything less after the initial capture. His brother would at least be comfortable while a cure was sought for his madness. Reptilian eyes followed Nasus as he closed the reinforced iron door behind him, and chains rattled in futility as a being of similar stature to Nasus, but with the features of a crocodile, struggled and pulled, howling with bloodlust. Nasus tried to force a smile, with limited results. “Much has happened since we last spoke, brother. I recently had to traverse a different world, even, though it seems some of the trouble that we found there has followed us. It’s a pity that the League won’t devote any of its resources to helping us return our newfound companions to their home, though.”
As usual, Renekton wasn’t especially interested in his brother’s adventures. Death threats and guttural roars accompanied creative descriptions of what Renekton would do to Nasus and everyone around him when he was free again. Nasus was unphased, though, and continued his story while the figure in front of him thrashed and spasmed in rage. This had been the routine for months now, since Renekton had arrived in Runeterra. Nasus would visit, hoping to find some spark of what his brother used to be, and try to reassure Renekton that he was still working to help him, and that he would not make the same mistakes twice. “You know there is no cure, brother. Even now they use us both as tools to make the evil in their hearts real. The only cure is at the end of my blade. My rage will consume them all, and they shall be purged.” Nasus finally did manage a sad smile, as the brief moment of lucidity passed and Renekton resumed his ranting. That was two lucid moments within as many months. Progress was being made.
- - - -
It had taken Rainbow Dash a while to calm down after discovering her new form and even longer to stop fidgeting and experimenting long enough for Riven to have a serious dialogue with her, and Riven had been hard pressed not to show any of her building frustration. Keeping calm was the key here. “It’s logical to assume that since Twilight was the focal point of the spell, there’s a decent chance of her, and maybe your other friends being here too. I’ve already sent a letter to the Institute of War. Until they respond, it is probably best for you to stay here and avoid the streets. Noxus...is not the safest to roam around, and even though you still have your wings, there’s plenty of people here who could do you harm if they saw you, airborne or not. We will take no chances.”
Rainbow Dash understood, but couldn’t help being a little disheartened. “You mean I gotta stay cooped up in here for however long it takes them to respond? Who knows how long that could be! I didn’t even get to bring a book or anything.”
“Didn’t take you for the reading type,” Riven responded offhandedly. “The League is usually prompt when it comes to communicating with the champions, as long as no official paperwork is involved. It shouldn’t be too long. If it is, though, I’ll be sure to at least teach you some basic self-defence to keep that new body in one piece, though rest assured you won’t be wandering the streets ever without me with you.”
“Geez, you act as if I’ll burst into flames the moment I am seen. It’s like you have no faith in your homeland or something. Whatever happened to all of that fancy talk about being a meritocracy, and about how everyone here works to improve themselves?” Rainbow Dash inwardly flinched. She hadn’t meant to sound quite as harsh as she did.
If Riven was bothered, she didn’t show it, though, and responded with a calmness carefully constructed to withstand Rainbow Dash’s brash mannerisms and sideways insults to her homeland. “The Noxian ideal remains intact, for the most part. However, Noxus has never been much for...conventional morality. Many here are more concerned for the individual than the whole, and will do anything to advance themselves. In any case, you should be perfectly safe here. People know by now not to mess with me or my stuff.” Riven’s breath caught for a moment. ‘I should probably take down what’s left of the last thieves. I don’t really want to have to explain that to her...and maybe I slightly regret having to kill them when they attacked? That’s new.’
Riven’s internal dialogue passed unnoticed, though, and Rainbow Dash hopped to her feet, wobbling for a moment before regaining her balance. “Well, at least show me around your...house? Compound? Miniature fortress?” Riven nodded, trying not to feel like she was babysitting a hyperactive teen, and began to lead the way.
- - - -
Jericho Swain set aside the letter he had been reading, and turned to the man now struggling against the chains that bound him. “Your information has been very helpful, my good man. Keep it up, and I promise you, you’ll be out of Noxus within the week. A resigned sigh was the captured soldier’s response, along with the rattle of chains as he went limp. Swain was out of the room and out of earshot shortly.
One of his lieutenants had captured the Demacian soldier in Swain’s absence, and had given some new, useful information. It was this lieutenant that now waited on Swain’s orders as the Grand General of Noxus. Swain was happy to oblige. “Dispose of him as you see fit.” If there’s one thing Swain had no respect for, it was someone who cracked under pressure.
Of course, now, there were more pressing matters to attend to. Aside from being the most famous tactician in all of Valoran, Swain was also an accomplished magic-user, and it was now time to do some research. In the security of his own chambers, Swain examined the artifacts in front of him. These had once served to empower the leader of an attempted coup in Equestria. Perhaps now, the Nightmare’s Regalia could serve him as well.
Swain wasn’t the type to pass over an advantage, and it had been a simple affair to stow away the armor that apparently held enough power to allow Discord to break the seal that the ancient magics of the Elements of Harmony had placed on him. In Equestria, such power would only be of use to the most extreme residents of that happy world, but here, in Runeterra, Swain could think of one hundred easy uses for it. He’d been studying the armor in his spare time since he had returned to Runeterra, hoping to find a way to identify and extract whatever magical potential the armor held. It was his objective to have made tangible progress before his next visit to the Institute of War. He didn’t need his curiosity eating at him while he met with Riven, who had written to him to request a meeting shortly after they had returned to Runeterra.
The soft cooing of a raven drew Swain’s attention to his long-time companion. Swain had gotten the impression that the creature didn’t approve of Swain’s latest obsession in the least, though it made no move to stop him. Six eyes stared disapprovingly at Swain before looking toward the setting sun. The message was understood. Research would have to wait; Swain had politics to attend to.
- - - -
“Welcome to Summoner’s Rift!” It was a friendly christening for such a violent affair, and the magically recorded and repeated greeting had become a bit of a joke among the champions of the League for being seemingly ignorant of what was about to follow, though most agreed that it was more likely that the Summoners of the League were probably just that indifferent to violence by now. Of course, it wasn’t the Summoners that held the attention of the masses at the moment, though.
Ten champions now stood on the field, in two groups of five, each waiting for the unspoken communication from their respective Summoners. It only took a matter of minutes to establish the initial connection, though it took a bit longer for two minds to truly settle into one body.
Summoner’s Rift was a battlefield established in a forest bisected by a river. Three long pathways had been cut through the forest and over the river, terminating in two small fortresses on either side. Along each path stood a series of towering statues, each fitted with a glowing gem, and a large structure housing another gem, this one larger and magically suspended, stood at each end where the three paths came together. It was these so-called Nexus’ that comprised the main objective for these pitched battles.
It was in the shorter, center pathway that two champions now stood facing each other from behind two small armies of automatons commonly referred to as minions. The younger of the two, a blonde-haired explorer wearing a large gauntlet shimmering faintly with arcane power, regarded his opponent with a frown.
“Shouldn’t you be in the bottom lane, Ezreal?” Ryze idly pelted a nearby minion with a ball of electricity.
Ezreal rolled his eyes, and brushed his hair out of his face. “The Summoners down there are kinda new. They didn’t listen to reason before sending Evelynn and Teemo bottom. Any second now, it’s gonna be-”
“First blood! Double kill!” The ever-chipper tones of that unseen announcer rang out across the battlefield, and Ezreal sighed in defeat.
“Called it. Anyway, you’ll never guess who showed up at my pad in Piltover the other day.” Ezreal hopped over the broken form of a minion before tossing a bolt of magic toward Ryze, who effortlessly dodged it.
“Way ahead of you, boy. Twilight Sparkle is currently en route to Piltover now to meet with Fluttershy. I have Kassadin escorting her. Since he’s currently banned from all major battles, he shouldn’t have any matches interrupting the journey. You’ve got her somewhere safe, right?” Ryze continued dancing around all of Ezreal’s attempted attacks, and continued absentmindedly slaughtering minions. “You need to work on your aim, boy.”
“Having an off day. Anyway, Fluttershy’s safe and sound. Told her to stay at my place, but I’m not worried too much. You know Piltover has some pretty low crime rates.” Ezreal paused for a moment. “So...if Twilight Sparkle’s here, and Fluttershy’s here, does that mean the others are too?”
“You’re not quite as dumb as you look... Most of the time, anyway. Applejack and Rarity landed in Demacia, and Rainbow Dash is in Noxus with Riven. Pinkie Pie is in Bandle City. We’ve already sent word to Bandle City and Demacia to be on the lookout, but we’re having trouble finding Riven. She doesn’t exactly advertise her location.” Ezreal didn’t notice Ryze flipping a page in his spellbook as the latter continued to talk. “Also, boy, you’re a bit far away from your tower.”
Realization dawned on Ezreal a moment too late as one of Ryze’s allies bull-rushed him from the nearby brush, and as he turned to flee, an all-too-familiar magical cage surrounded him, and the last thing he saw was a veritable storm of electrical energy arcing toward him. “Well, fu-”
- - - -
There was a blinding light as Ezreal awoke on a large dais behind his team’s Nexus. With a groan, he stretched out his muscles and tried to shake off the feeling of having recently been fried by his mentor. Walking toward the nearby shopkeeper that dispensed the rewards for a champion’s efforts during a match, he couldn’t help but reflect upon how one never got used to the sensation of dying.
All in all, it was yet another glorious day in the life of a champion.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 2: Cities of Progress
Applejack may not have wanted to keep her new body, but she had to admit, these hands were useful. Zaun didn’t seem like an especially safe place to wander around in, but after some kind soul had given her some clothes, a tiny handful of coins, and directions to the League Embassy, she’d gotten a firsthand taste of how useful her new appendages could be with the proper application of force, though she still felt a little guilty about the cracking noise she’d heard after slugging a would-be thief in the jaw.
It hadn’t really taken much for Applejack to adjust to her new body. Part of being an earth pony was being naturally in tune with yourself and your environment, and even now, she felt just as connected to her body and the land around her as she had previously. The latter was a bit concerning though, as she couldn’t help but feel a pang of nausea every few minutes, which was likely related to the intense pollution and smog that dominated Zaun.
It was a colorful city, Zaun, and filled with wonder and amazement the likes of which Applejack had never been able to imagine in Equestria. Machinery clicked and whirred all around her, and strange devices whose purposes the farm girl couldn’t even begin to guess at seemed commonplace and perfectly normal. Overhead, huge zepplins listed through the air, trailing smoke and magical auras. On the streets, people and magically animated golems intermingled, and guards armed with bizarre weapons resembling hollowed sticks with machinery attached patrolled, ever vigilant for lawbreakers. It was a bit much for the countrified farmer to take in.
Nonetheless, Applejack was known by many a pony for being levelheaded and determined, if not a little stubborn, and she had already decided that she wasn’t going to let her situation get the best of her and panic. Thus armed with her resolution, she began her journey. Zaun’s streets were winding and complicated, and although she seemed capable of understanding the language here for some reason, she couldn’t help but feel like looking at the map she’d been given was giving her a headache. Strangely enough, the woman who had found her unconscious near a notable chemist’s home didn’t seem at all phased by Applejack claiming to be from another world, as if such occurrences weren’t uncommon in Valoran, and the woman had calmly directed Applejack to the League Embassy, where people trained to deal with bizarre interdimensional occurrences could help her.
The embassy seemed like the most normal, even boring place in all of Zaun. A tiny, bored-looking man sat behind a desk, shuffling papers around as if trying to pretend at productivity. Applejack took a deep breath. “Uh, excuse me, sir, but Ah was told y’all could help me here. Mah name’s Applejack, and Ah ain’t from this world.”
The man raised an eyebrow, and gave no other indication that he had heard her until his paper shuffling abruptly stopped. “Ah, yes, Applejack. We just received the paperwork authorizing a retrieval team to go fetch you. Seem you have people looking for you. A party of two, one Kassadin and one...Twilight Sparkle....will be here to escort you out of Zaun within a matter of days.” Applejack figured such a name probably sounded bizarre to the man, and was almost inclined to congratulate him on an admirable effort to keep his composure in the face of weirdness. Truthfully, the man had barely managed to keep from snorting at Twilight Sparkle’s name. “Please go sit at one of the chairs over there. Someone will be there to escort you to your room shortly.”
“Mah sincere thanks, sir. Have a good’un.” Applejack made her way to the group of chairs, most of which were occupied. Beside her, a small boy just sat, staring at her. “Uhh, can Ah help you?”
“You don’t look like League material. I guess I don’t either.” The boy was still staring, as if sizing her up.
“Ah ain’t here to join the...wait, ain’t you a bit young to be applying to something like this?” Applejack frowned. “From what Ah’ve heard, you could get seriously hurt. If they didn’t turn you down for being so young, that is.”
The child snorted in response. “They don’t have age limits in the League. As long as you are combat capable and capable of understanding what you’re doing, they’ll let you apply. Momma says I’m the best hydromancer this side of Valoran.”
“Hydrowhatnow? Uh, on second thought, nevermind. Ah think that mah escort is here to take me to my room anyway. Good luck, kid. Hope you get what’s best for ya.” Applejack was correct, as an intern approached her and signaled her to follow, she complied, grateful for the knowledge that Twilight was coming, though a bit concerned that she wasn’t the only one who had been pulled into this world. Celestia only knew how Fluttershy would get along in a city like this.
- - - -
Fortunately for Fluttershy, she was not in a city like Zaun. Piltover could best be described as the opposite approach to Zaun’s obsession with progress at all cost. Piltover was also a city of technological and magical wonder, but it showed considerably more restraint when it came to ethical boundaries. As Ezreal escorted Fluttershy around the city, she couldn’t help but stare in amazement as machines held aloft by rotary blades soared overhead. Flight wasn’t especially amazing or exciting to her, even if she was a relatively weak flier, but nobody else here had wings with which to fly. The fact that they had so easily bested gravity without any help from nature was astonishing by itself. She wasn’t even sure if she was going to be able to fly in her new form, especially when she still had trouble walking. It was as if her natural clumsiness had been multiplied tenfold, and she struggled to balance herself as she walked with her new legs. It had been a trying experience, but Fluttershy didn’t wish to complain to Ezreal, especially after he had been so kind and helpful, even volunteering to take her on a tour of the city while they waited for Twilight. She’d been able to see the Piltover University of Science and Progress, the large screens that displayed League matches to all of Piltover, and even meet some of the other sentient lifeforms of Runeterra, a short race of creatures called yordles, which averaged at about three feet in height, which exhibited the most extreme case of sexual dimorphism Fluttershy had ever seen in any species. The males were all furry and somewhat resembled oddly colored rodents, whilst the females were bereft of fur or hair except on their heads, and were covered in a pale blue skin. It was one of the most fascinating things the animal lover had ever seen in nature, and she felt inclined to mention it to Ezreal, who offhandedly mentioned that the reason for it wasn’t entirely certain, and that many even suspected that yordles weren’t originally native to Valoran, or perhaps even all of Runeterra.
Fluttershy was honestly surprised at how pleasant her time in Piltover had been thus far. She had never been one to deal with crowds very well, but overall, the populace of Piltover was extremely friendly, and if Fluttershy had to venture a guess, extremely well-educated. Yordles were naturally inventive and creative, and humans seemed to possess a strange stubborn nature that didn’t let the possibility of letting anything as petty as the limits of science stand in their way exist. The two natures had met and intermingled in what could possibly have been the best possible way, and the result was a hotbed of innovation and creation for all of Valoran. It was, in a way, heartwarming to witness, as the two species worked together on a day by day basis for the betterment of all.
“And here we have the League Embassy, possibly the most boring place in all of Piltover.” Ezreal rolled his eyes as he continued in an over-the-top, blatantly fake impression of excitement. “Home to paperwork, boring magicians, and every wannabe who doesn’t know how much it hurts to have Jarvan’s spear shoved up your-”
“Um, I don’t mean to interrupt...well, I do, but I’m sorry...but...” Ezreal stood with his arms crossed as he waited for Fluttershy to recompose herself after doing something so extreme as interrupting Ezreal’s rant. Predictably, it took a few minutes for Fluttershy to become audible again. “Um...how long exactly till Twilight gets here?”
“Should be tomorrow, actually. She’s being escorted by a guy named Kassadin. Kinda creepy, but Ryze trusts him. We’ll be meeting right here at the League Embassy. I’m actually kinda on a vacation from my non-League employment, so I’ll actually be free to join you all as we look for the rest of your friends.” Ezreal motioned for Fluttershy to begin following. “Come on, I’ll show you the Piltover Gardens. It’s the the largest self contained, artificially created and maintained biome in all of Valoran, home to all sorts of interesting creatures, and it’s also a sterling example of magically replicating ideal growing conditions for the flora.”
Most of the words went over Fluttershy’s head, but she looked forward to the prospect of seeing some of Valoran’s nature. “That sounds...nice.”
- - - -
“Your daughter? Really? That’s...horrible.” Twilight Sparkle flinched as Kassadin finished his story. “Well...I guess there are definitely worse reasons to be a wanted criminal in a city. Zaun doesn’t really sound like a great place anyway.”
Kassadin’s watery voice sighed wistfully. “Indeed. I only wish I could have stopped it in time. Even so, I cannot rest to grieve. We stand upon the precipice of disaster, and precious few are moving to stop it. The Void wishes to consume us all, and it has willing servants to aid it.”
“Sounds pretty serious...Has the League offered any help?” Twilight Sparkle found the tales of hideous monsters, sanity-shredding magic, and the never-ending hunger of the Void to be a little far-fetched, but she refrained from saying such to Kassadin. It wouldn’t be prudent to dismiss something without researching it, and she did not have the means to do said research at the time being.
“The League views my claims with...understandable skepticism. They refuse to commit resources to something that they see as hearsay and myth.” Kassadin sounded more than slightly frustrated. “I fear that by the time they see the threat, it will be too late. I digress, however. I am not sure how our conversation wandered so far from your friends.”
“Speaking of which...It concerns me that we were able to get specific locations for everypony but Pinkie Pie and Rarity, and even more that while most of us landed near one of the champions that came with us, they landed in completely random locations, it seems.” Twilight reached into the bag slung on her shoulder, and pulled out another book on interdimensional mechanics. “It doesn’t seem consistent.”
Kassadin shrugged, a motion that seemed slightly awkward with his unnatural physique and heavy garb. “It could be that Swain and Ryze were elsewhere on Runeterra when they arrived back, but used a magical method of rapid transit directly after returning. Applejack didn’t land in direct line of sight to Singed, so we know that there’s a possibility Swain and Ryze might not have seen the two others upon returning, and seeing as they would have likely been unconscious as the rest of you were, Pinkie Pie and Rarity would not have been able to stop them from leaving.”
“Reasonable enough,” Twilight said, before continuing, “That would explain it decently well, though there are still a host of other mysteries pertaining to our transportation to this world. At least we don’t have to go overseas to Ionia. Bandle City and Demacia sound like interesting places anyway.”
“Bandle City is stereotypical of the yordles: inventive, childish, at least by our standards, and maybe slightly insane. Demacia...They mean well, but perhaps they take their morality crusade a little too seriously. At times I fear that they value an arbitrary moral code more than the rights and freedoms of its citizens.”
Twilight Sparkle giggled dismissively. “Surely there’s nothing wrong with trying to make sure everypony acts nice to one another. I mean, Princess Celestia’s been doing that for thousands of years, and Equestria’s never been better.”
“I’ve never met your princess. If she’s managed to keep peace for that long without becoming a tyrant, then she truly must be something to behold. Here, though, things are different. Humans aren’t quite so long-lived, and they certainly aren’t beyond corruption. Demacia’s ideal is...noble, but perhaps they’ve strayed from their original covenant. It is run like a well-oiled machine, and like a well-oiled machine, there is no room for faulty parts. Every citizen must adhere to a strict set of rules and expectations, or they are punished severely. It isn’t necessarily lawbreaking either. One could be ostracized from Demacian society for simply presenting a dissenting view. They value their self-proclaimed righteousness so much, that they have long forsaken the happiness of its people.” Kassadin’s garbled voice didn’t mask his disdain. “One extreme or the other, both are unhealthy for a people. Demacia is no better than Noxus.”
“Oh.” Twilight stared awkwardly at the ground for a few minutes as they walked, occasionally stumbling as she still adjusted to her new body. “So, um, you’ve worked with Ryze, right? You must know a lot about magic.”
Kassadin let the change in subject pass without mention. “I am not nearly as well-versed in as many schools of magic as he is, but I have found my own niche as a magic-user. My exposure to the Void may have had some unintended physical consequences, such as my unusual coloration and physique, but it has also taught me more about the nature of magic.” Twilight immediately perked up as the conversation began to turn toward a more scholarly subject. “The subject has often been broached that magic is more like a flowing river of energy than anything else, but it is less discussed that like a river, magic can be redirected, repurposed, and even dammed.”
“So you can keep others from using magic? That sounds like it could be useful in this world, from what I’ve heard anyway.” Twilight fell silent once more, and looked hesitantly at Kassadin.
It was impossible to see Kassadin roll his eyes beneath his breathing mask. “I could show you some of what I know, if you wish.” What followed was probably the most excited series of giggles Kassadin had ever heard related to studying magic. “Oh, and you might want to drop the word ‘everypony’ for now. In Valoran, we use the term ‘everyone’. It covers all species.” Twilight was only moderately aware of the latter part of the response, though, as she was completely absorbed in her internal celebration of upcoming knowledge. Studying was the most enjoyable of all activities, after all.
- - - -
The creature had been traveling for a few hours now, following the distinct scent of the magic native only to its homeland, bristling against the form this world had constrained it to the entire time. As it skittered through the grasslands, it was grateful that it at least had a form at all, and that the wards keeping creatures like it from being here were weakened in places and broken in others. Still, it couldn’t help but look forward to an upcoming time when this world would behold its true form, in all of its glory.
The creature sensed that it was close to its target, and its four spider-like legs increased pace. It could sense now that this form would not remain intact for very much longer, but it almost had the information it needed. One of its three eyes finally found what it was looking for, and took in every detail about the purple-haired girl traveling with enemy sorcerer. It was none too soon, either, and the creature squeaked out a pathetic cry as it felt its exoskeleton withering, and its essence being ripped away from Valoran. It didn’t mind though. Soon it would be back, and it would be a lot less restrained.
- - - -
Riven groaned in frustration. “I knew this was a bad idea. It hasn’t even been five min-”
“Relax, it’s not like any of those guys have even touched us. But yeah, I didn’t quite believe you when you said that people in this place were so....violent.” Rainbow Dash fluttered her wings nervously. “But, yeah, I guess we’re too much awesome for them to touch, right?”
“All you did was fly around in circles while I incapacitated the thieves.” Riven rolled her eyes, and began collecting the weaponry of the unconscious thieves around her. “Maybe you can brag after you actually know how to fight.”
“Hey! I, uh, got into plenty of hoof-fights back in flight school. I mean, someone’s gotta teach those other ponies that I don’t care about what they think I do with other mares.” Rainbow Dash’s face burned at Riven’s flat statement. “You might have a bit more experience, I admit, but I’m no pushover.”
“A bloody nose isn’t a fight. Come back after you’ve broken a few bones, maybe been in actual danger while you’re at it. But hey, there’s no shame in being green. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.” Riven put her spoils in a bag. “Any chance we could dye your hair to something less...attention-grabbing?”
Rainbow Dash recoiled at the thought. “Hey, hey, nopony’s touching my awesome mane. It’s all I have left of my cool appearance. Also, on a completely separate note, why did you leave each of them one weapon? Isn’t that gonna allow them to keep attacking people?”
“They’re thieves, not murderers, which is exactly what I would be if I didn’t leave them a weapon. Only a fool or someone with a death wish travels the streets of Noxus without some means of defense. They wouldn’t last until sundown.” Riven motioned for her companion to follow. “Let’s sell this junk and buy you some gear. Tomorrow, after my meeting, I’ll start training you in some self-defense while we’re waiting for your friends to arrive.”
“Welcome to Geas’ Armaments, where all the wares are spellbi-” The shop they arrived in was a bit dank and worn down, and filled to the brim with armor and weapons of all shapes, sizes, and qualities. A muscular smith with arms almost as large as his girth stood behind a counter, and dropped the scowl he wore for most customers as soon as Riven entered. “Riven! It’s been too long. Last I heard, you’d joined the League. Didn’t think you’d be needing to come to my shop again. I thought that the League heavily regulated what equipment you could use. Who’s your pretty angel friend?”
“It’s good to see you too, Geas.” Riven gestured to Rainbow Dash. “I’m not shopping for me. This is Rainbow Dash, don’t ask about the name, and I was wondering if I could get you to craft a few pieces for a novice. Needs to be light enough for her to fly in. Also, I have some junk to sell you while I’m at it.”
“Taking on an apprentice finally?” Riven shook her head. “Well, I have, and you can talk to him about the aforementioned junk.” Geas turned to Rainbow Dash, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I’ll be, I ain’t seen a prettier rainbow since I looked at Zaun’s water supply. Of course, I got sick a week later from the pollution. I don’t think that’ll be a problem, though my heart might be feeling a little weak just lookin’ at you.” Geas winked, and Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but shudder. “Why don’t you step on over to my work room, and we’ll get you some nice Noxian leather. I’ll even throw in a free blade, too, for a friend of my favorite customer.”
It was about an hour later before they left the shop, with Rainbow Dash feeling slightly violated by the fitting process. She was also sporting a scimitar on her hip now, which Riven felt was an acceptable compromise between heft and agility. When they finally returned to Riven’s compound, it was dark, and Rainbow Dash was ready to sleep. Riven, on the other hand, found that sleep did not come easily, as her thoughts were preoccupied with a meeting she did not especially want to go to approaching.
- - - -
Nasus braced himself as he was slammed into the air by a living mass of rock, and with perfect form righted himself in the air, and landed, barely scratched. He was used to battles like this, against uneven odds. In a way, he thrived on it, as it gave him more targets to leech life force from. He had finally aligned himself fully with his Summoner, and the full extent of his abilities had been unleashed. Adding to it, the opposing team of champions and Summoners had left him to gather his strength, embedding the magical power that drove the automated minions he had dismantled within himself for the duration of the battle. His opponents had realized too late what their mistake was, and now they had to pay the price. An all-too-familiar sandstorm engulfed the forest that they had ambushed him in, and Nasus felt himself increase in stature and power as he began draining the life out of his attackers. The rock creature tried with all of its might to hold Nasus down, but his blows barely scratched against the armor covering Nasus. A sword-wielding human was next, and his blows were mighty and swift, but drawing blood against the behemoth had merely motivated Nasus to put his full force into a single swing, and the warrior was sent flying and retreating for his life.
Nasus was ready to pursue the swordsman, but found himself held in place as his eyesight blackened for a moment, and Nasus recoiled as visions of his own demise, and his brother’s unchecked rampaging as a result filled his mind. After a moment, Nasus was finally able to think clearly, and the first thing he saw was a human magician, clad in purple, with radiant eyes of the same color. The sorcerer laughed cruelly, and Nasus felt magic sapping away at his strength. The mage stood still for a moment, shouting as he unleashed his magic. “Gaze into the Void and be consumed!”
Nasus fell to his knees, unable to break his gaze away from that of his assailant as he was bombarded with magic. It was over after a few seconds, but the damage was done, and Nasus weakly stumbled toward as the mage sighed boredly. “I grow tired of these games that the Summoners play. Soon, this will all end. But first things first...”
The magic that was gathering in the palms of his enemy fizzled out as Nasus’ allies finally arrived, and a flash of light from a warrior’s gem-encrusted shield slammed into the sorcerer. Nasus saw the opening, and lifted his staff.
- - - -
Nasus walked away from the fight, toward the enemy base, where structures that he was directed to destroy waited for him. As he rubbed his arm where he felt the wounds healing rapidly, he wondered if Malzahar’s threats were any less empty and worthless as they usually were. The mage had been making claims about the Void since he had joined, but nothing had come of it. Nasus shrugged, and finished digesting Malzahar’s life force as he moved to end the latest battle in the League of Legends.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 3: Not So Bad
“Okay, very good, now would you be a dear and hand me that bolt of fabric?” The poor assistant scrambled to figure out which bolt of fabric that Rarity was referring to, before promptly being smacked in the face as Rarity’s magic levitated the aforementioned fabric through the air. Demacia had been good to her over the past few days. Like her companions, she had been quickly discovered by League officials, only to have her talent as a seamstress quickly catch the attention of those around her. Her fast work pace, which was assisted by magic, had already netted a substantial profit, and since she did most of her work via telekinesis, her trouble adapting to her new form did not affect her work’s quality in the slightest. Word of her talent had spread like wildfire through the city-state’s gleaming streets, and with her current workload, she had been forced to hire a temporary assistant.
Designing clothes for humans had been easier than Rarity expected. Though the humans she had met still had an eye for the flashy and extravagant, there was a pronounced love of practicality, and she had spent the entire previous day consulting with several armor-smiths regarding ceremonial wear. Twilight wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another week, and since her magic and unusual aptitude for multitasking allowed her to work on multiple projects at a time, Rarity figured she would have a sizable allowance of spending money amassed which could either be used to make their time in Valoran more comfortable, or converted to more solid assets that could be returned with them to Equestria. It never hurt to be prepared, after all, and there was definitely a market for her product, as the state of Demacia’s artistic world seemed to be sadly lacking, with most themes being rehashed time and time again as people stuck to what they knew would work instead of innovating.
Of course, more than anything, it was an excuse not to be idle more than anything. She may not have been as strong, but she was still just as married to her work as Applejack, and perhaps even a bit addicted to it. Rarity had almost always harbored an obsession with becoming well-known, though only Rarity and her parents remembered the harder times that had become the birth of a work addict. Life had been better for years now, but even now, Rarity was still driven as much by the subconscious urge to constantly earn money. It had been Rarity to singlehoofedly fund her parents’ early retirement, and her extravagant spending had always been considered a boon to Ponyville’s economy, not to mention her charitable contributions to help rebuild Ponyville after any of the myriad disasters that seemed to occur in the supposedly quiet village. Between Town Hall’s recent repairs, and two colts bringing an Ursa Minor into town, there was always something in need of repair. At any point in time, she could have also retired, but she could never bring herself to, still driven to work, though she had been getting better about it, between talks with her therapist and constant exposure to the carefree attitude of the party-obsessed Pinkie Pie.
There was no time to think about that now, though, nor was there time to think about why she was here, or the possibility that she might not be able to get home. She had work to do, and work precluded such thoughts. Work didn’t leave space for her to worry about such things as home, fear, friends, or family. Rarity huffed, and wiped her eyes. It would be unladylike to show her concerns here, in public. Perhaps later she could try some of that meditation her therapist had suggested. That wouldn’t be for a while though. After all, she had work to do.
- - - -
“They’re here!” Fluttershy perked up at Ezreal’s announcement, and hurriedly finished grooming herself, a task that she had found to be relatively relaxing and calm, which was an important thing for a po-a human as jumpy and easily stressed as Fluttershy. Ezreal poked his head in the room, causing Fluttershy to jump slightly. “Is your stuff packed? We probably should leave straight away so that we make better time.”
“Um...Yes. I’m ready.” Fluttershy picked up her bag, which now held a few changes of clothing Ezreal had bought for her, as well as a variety of minor comforts that would help on the journey. “Are they meeting us here or at the Embassy?”
“They’re at the Embassy now. We actually should have left a while ago, but the message was delivered while I was asleep. No harm done, though. Meet me downstairs and we’ll start walking to the Embassy.” Ezreal stumbled down the hallway, fiddling with a boot strap. Fluttershy flinched and blushed slightly as an audible thump accompanied by a few colorful swears reached her ears.
A few minutes later, the pair had begun their trek across the city. The walk passed in relative silence until they arrived. The lobby, as usual, was busy and nobody gave their presence a second glance, except a single secretary who greeted Ezreal in passing. It didn’t take long to spot Kassadin, and by extension, Twilight Sparkle, who greeted them, beaming. “Fluttershy, it’s so good to see you! Nice wings!”
“It’s good to see you too, Twilight. What happened to your horn? Can you still do magic?” Fluttershy was slightly concerned that the primary feature of a unicorn was missing from Twilight’s forehead.
“I’m fine, don’t worry. Not quite sure about the horn thing, but we’re working on an interdimensional translation theory. I can still do magic though. I just channel it through my hands instead of horn, though. Oh, and speaking of we, this is Kassadin. He’s providing us with escort as we travel.” Twilight gestured to Kassadin, who bowed in response.
Fluttershy found the man’s appearance to be more than a little intimidating, but it would have been impolite to cower in fear instead of greeting him. “Uhhhh...Nice to meet you, I-I’m Fluttershy.”
Kassadin’s voice caught Fluttershy off-guard, and it took all of her self-restraint not to back away. “The honor is mine. Twilight has regaled me with many tales of the exploits of you and your friends. Looking a dragon in the eye is no small feat. Greetings to you as well, Ezreal. I trust your lessons with Ryze are going well?”
Fluttershy visibly shrank. “Oh, uh, it was nothing. I just, ah...” Fluttershy trailed off, and Ezreal picked up the slack.
“Well enough, but Ryze can be a bit rough sometimes.” Ezreal rolled his eyes, thinking back to several painful, but intensely educating experiences about magic. “He knows what he’s doing, though. Ever since I started, though, I’ve noticed a few summoners taking me out of the lanes early more often. Not super common, but it’s been happening.”
Kassadin nodded, while Twilight and Fluttershy stared blankly, completely unsure of what they were talking about, thought Twilight suspected it had to do with the pitched battles that the League held. The topic didn’t last long, though, and Ezreal soon pointed out that it would be wise to grab a bite to eat before leaving. This idea seemed to sit well with the group, and Ezreal led the way toward one of Piltover’s many cafes.
- - - -
Swain laughed, a hollow and dead sound. “Meeting in an area isolated from my guards, amidst the turmoil of Noxus’ streets? How quaint. Is this some foolish assassination attempt, Riven?”
“If it were truly an option, I would strike you down where you stand. You’ve committed far too many crimes to be walking around freely. That’s not why I’m here, though.” Riven inhaled deeply before slowly letting the air out of her lungs. She hesitated a moment before continuing. “I need your help.”
“Really, now?” Swain was surprised, but it didn’t show. “I wouldn’t think that you would come to me for help under any circumstance, even if I was inclined to render assistance. You have me curious, though. What sort of endevour would require the likes of you and I to work in tandem?”
Riven bristled, barely containing her anger at having to turn to Swain for assistance. “I know you are an intelligent man, if indeed you can still be called that after whatever you sold your soul to was finished with you. You learn from your mistakes. That’s what makes you so potent. I have learned from one of my mistakes as well.
Swain’s expression remained calm and neutral. “The flattery is nice, but don’t think that it will influence my decision. Go on. What sort of mistake have you amended that you feel is so important for me to know about?”
“I know that the only thing that your loyalty to Noxus is second to is your loyalty to yourself. You probably know that I hold my own loyalty to Noxus in high regard, though we express it differently.” Riven shifted, still uncomfortable. “Your way to help Noxus has always been to dispatch the enemies of Noxus, and to use the mental strength of leadership to augment the physical strength of soldiers like myself. At times, your lack of concern for the well-being of your troops has caused my ideals to clash with yours, but you have always gotten results...” Swain petted his raven idly, still expressionless. “But your result haven’t been good enough! Neither have mine. You can no more completely fulfill your plans to make Noxus the only dominant power any more than I can give Noxus complete solidarity. Equestria taught me something though. There’s no war there, and no violence. It took a threat from another dimension to shake the natural order there. It was so stable, so strong a system, and yet soldiers and generals were barely even a concept. I also noted that it only took a matter of weeks for Ryze to train a suitable defense force. I talked with one of the Elements of Harmony extensively during my time there, and I think I know the answer. It’s reflected in those marks that appear on the flanks of Equestrians. Such a mark is a direct reflection of everyone’s strongest point, their ‘special talent.’ Most importantly, I did not see a single adult without one.
“I barely saw any soldiers there, but the ones that existed, though inexperienced, were all naturally suited to their position. There were no weak points in Equestrian society. We’ve been looking at this problem one-dimensionally. We have, hands-down, the most fearsome military on Valoran, but it isn’t enough to propel us to the level of prosperity that Equestria has. We need to change our approach. Our agriculture is almost nonexistent, and our culture is the laughingstock of all of Valoran. We are known for one thing alone, and that is war. I believe that if we shift our focus from being entirely a military state to making sure that all Noxian citizens are positioned according to their natural strengths, we will become untouchable. You have power. The more power Noxus has, the more power you will have, but you are the only one I know of with both the foresight to see the merit of what I am saying and the position to do something about it. This is a win-win situation for you. Your efforts will earn you and Noxus both respect from other entities on Valoran, and if you increase Noxus’ prosperity, your own status will naturally follow suit.” Riven was slightly out of breath as she finished, and looked at Swain for his reaction.
Swain held himself as one of the most intelligent residents of Noxus, but even he was, to some degree, bound by the way of thinking that he was raised into. It had always been his first instinct, upon seeing another society, to find ways to exploit it, looking for weaknesses instead of strengths. He had not dwelt for long upon the peace-loving ponies of Equestria, only seeing the lack of real threats and the complacency of its rulers causing military weakness. In truth, he could see the direction and reasoning behind Riven’s approach, and he knew that his recent appointment to Grand General of Noxus meant that he had one of the strongest positions on the continent. He decided to take the safe approach to responding. “I will take into consideration your words. If you are further needed, I will contact you regarding the matter.”
Swain needed time to think.
- - - -
Pinkie Pie loved this place. Bandle City seemed to be made of one giant party. Everypony was always laughing and smiling and doing something that looked fun. Even the scientists, who, if Twilight was any indicator, Celestia bless her boring heart, should normally be a bit dull and obsessive, were bright and chipper, as if every day was some sort of huge sciency party where the presents were all discoveries. The yordles, and the few humans who lived here, were all super-nice, and very helpful. Some of them even appreciated how urgent the need to press and pull exposed buttons and levers was, and didn’t even get mad at the accidental fires. Apparently it was a pretty common occurrence for yordle scientists. Everypony here had a hint of crazy to them, and Pinkie was loving every minute of it.
It was at one point while Pinkie was happily skipping around the city, looking for interesting things to do, and perhaps make a spare bit or two for a meal, that she witnessed one of the stranger things she had ever seen. A series of high pitched, almost-vaguely-evil laughs drew her attention to a yordle, standing on the apex of the local clock tower, dressed in a blue robe covered in metal spikes, with a hat that obscured his face, and a staff that was clearly too heavy for him. The threat that followed was equally as dissonant from the comically high pitched voice that delivered it. “FOOLISH PEASANTS! I have come to CONQUER this pathetic city, that I might have a suitable workforce to carry out my evil whims.”
Pinkie was understandably confused. Clearly this yordle was evil, or else he would not be able to have evil whims, but he didn’t look extremely capable. A passing yordle nudged her, and chuckled. “Don’t worry. Veigar does this almost every week. Comes in, threatens us with his ‘unimaginably destructive and evil power’, and all that. Guy makes more prophecies of destruction than Malzahar.”
Pinkie tilted her head, still slightly confused. “Is he just not that good at magic? Why does he keep trying if all he does is fail? That doesn’t seem fun...Maybe he just likes stirring things up?”
The yordle laughed. “Oh no, he’s probably one of the most skilled and powerful practitioners of black magic on all of Valoran, but he’s...not all there in the head. I know yordles might have a slight reputation for being inclined toward eccentricity, but he’s past eccentric and on to full blown ‘I’m so crazy that I can foil my own plans to take over the world despite actually being capable of leveling a city.’ The city guard will be here to chase him out in a moment, after he’s tripped over his robes or whatever. We’re kinda lucky that he’s so crazy. If he were just a little more sane, he could probably pull off half of what he promises.”
Pinkie looked mildly disappointed, and the yordle almost felt guilty for some reason. “Oh, well...I guess that’s a good thing? I guess that means I don’t get to panic... Oh, well! Say, you wouldn’t happen to know of any good bakeries that need help, would you?”
In the distance, there was the sound a drawn out ‘no’, followed by loud thump. Pinkie looked back, and saw the clocktower unoccupied.
- - - -
“How do you even eat with that mask on, anyway?” Ezreal poked at Kassadin’s breathing apparatus, only to have his hand promptly swatted away.
“The Void has taught me how to metabolize raw magical energy, and Valoran is inundated with power,” Kassadin explained.
“Mmmm! This stuff is good.” Twilight was enthusiastically stuffing her face with food as the four sat down at a table beside one of Piltover’s many eateries. “What is it?”
Ezreal laughed. “I know, right? The beef comes from the finest pastures in Ionia. I hear that they even massage the cattle to make sure the meat is tender.”
Twilight and Fluttershy both paled for a moment, before both spitting out their food. “You mean...we’ve been eating...meat?” Twilight said. “That’s horrible! I know cows! I talk to the ones on Applejack’s farm regularly! And I just...just...” Twilight trailed off, looking as if her brain might be shutting down.
Ezreal looked confused. “What? It’s not like the cows in our world are intelligent or anything.” Kassadin shot him a death glare, but unfortunately, due to his mask, it looked like every other expression Kassadin had made thus far.
Fluttershy seemed a bit more composed, oddly enough. “Um...what she means is, although we respect the fact that your species is omnivorous, I’m afraid that me and our friends will probably be sticking to a herbivorous diet. We don’t have anything against you, and we respect that different species have different needs, but I don’t think that either of us can stomach the thought of eating another animal. Don’t worry about Twilight. I’m sure she’ll be fine after a while. I’ll talk to her later.” Fluttershy patted Twilight gently on the shoulder, at some point during the explanation, had passed out.
Kassadin bowed his head. “Our sincere apologies. I am unfamiliar with your world, so I did not realize
Ezreal chuckled nervously. “Yeah, my bad, err, sorry. I’m gonna go talk to that waiter over there. I think someone needs to tell him that we aren’t pressing charges for food poisoning.”
- - - -
Rainbow Dash hit the floor again. Riven stood nearby, barking instructions. “Your stance was too wide. Get up and try again.” Rainbow Dash groaned, letting herself recover for a moment before standing. Riven’s training had been grueling and unrelenting since it had started earlier. Luckily, years of being one of Equestria’s most determined athletes had hardened her body, and that strength still remained in this world, making the physical demands of the training slightly less intense. Still, the animal defense classes she’d mastered hadn’t really prepared her for actual fighting. Scaring away animals from the Everfree Forest rarely involved violence, and when it did, it wasn’t quite so refined as what Rainbow Dash was being taught.
Riven had seemed a bit frustrated since her return from her meeting, and even without the slave-driving mentality of Riven’s training, Rainbow Dash found her concerned for her friend. Riven had been attempting to teach Rainbow Dash the basics of hand to hand combat since she had returned, and though she was willing to do everything she demanded of Rainbow Dash, the pace was a little fast even for Rainbow Dash, and she wasn’t sure if she was retaining much of the instruction. “You okay, Riven? You seem a bit off since you got back. Not to mention aggressive with your training.”
Riven sighed. “I suppose I’m being a bit transparent, aren’t I? Yeah, I’m worried.”
“Did your meeting not go well? Who did you talk to, anyway?” Rainbow Dash frowned, and with a flap of her wings, propelled herself to Riven’s side. “Each time I fail a tryout for the Wonderbolts, I know I’m kinda stressed, and maybe a bit sad. Always sucks when it doesn’t go like you want, but you just gotta keep your chin up and keep trying.”
“Urgh!” Riven put her hand to her face, groaning. “That’s the problem! I met with the Grand General of Noxus, and I asked for his help in changing what’s wrong with this place, and his response was ‘I’ll think on it’! I don’t even know if it went well, and this is the future of my homeland at stake! I just feel so...incapable. It’s out of my hands at this point, and I hate that. I have always made my way by trying my best, and being more skilled than those around me, but now, it doesn’t matter what I do until I get an answer. It’s infuriating.”
“Sounds like it.” Rainbow Dash nodded sagely. “A few months before you guys showed up, Twilight got a message from herself...from the future. She’d come to warn her past self about something, but Twilight’s eagerness over learning that time travel was real kept her future self from delivering the message.”
“Go on...” Riven wasn’t quite sure how time travel was related to her current situation, but she guessed that there must be some point to the anecdote.
Rainbow Dash chuckled softly. “Well, that egghead spent the next week completely flipping out over it. She went absolutely crazy trying to figure out what the warning was. She had us work to disaster-proof the entire country! Not sure if that’s actually within her authority as the Princess’ personal student, but whatever. Anyway, the point is, a week passed, and she hadn’t slept a wink, she was that obsessed. She even broke into one of the secure sections of the Canterlot archives trying to find a spell to stop time! Then the day of the disaster came...and nothing happened.”
Riven was confused. “Well that certainly was an interesting, if a little anticlimactic story, but how-”
“Not done yet. She realized that she’d been stressing over a future she didn’t know about and couldn’t change, and she resolved to let the future take care of itself...right after she went back in time to tell herself not to worry about anything.”
It took a moment for it to hit Riven. “Oh...Ohh! Haha...She caused a loop in time.” Riven gathered herself, and stopped laughing. “I guess I get what you’re saying though. Makes sense. If you can’t change something, don’t worry about it.”
The soldier smiled and patted Rainbow Dash on the shoulder. “Thanks. Now, let’s see about that training, the right way this time...”
- - - -
Malzahar floated slowly across the battlefield, kept aloft by his magic. The battle had been raging for roughly an hour now, and Malzahar was on the lookout for any engagements. Beside him, a huge, nightmarish creature, with a purplish-black carapace, and faintly glowing pale green eyes escorted him. The creature had six limbs. Two larger ones served as the beast’s means of locomotion, while a second set held a set of grasping claws aloft. The third and final set had two scythe-like protrusions at their ends. The creature turned to Malzahar, and rasped through a gravelly voice, “It is nearly time. We hunger.”
Malzahar nodded, deftly floating away from a huge, crystalline arrow that had been propelled in his general direction. “I have forseen it. Our victory is finally approaching, Cho’gath.
The creature known as Cho’gath nodded, stepping in front of another would be attacker, this one a small yordle dressed in camouflage, before promptly devouring him. As the creature’s bones shifted, and Cho’gath grew before Malzahar’s eyes, he laughed. “This world shall burn.”
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 4: Celestial Interlude
“There are two notable ways to go about shutting the flow of someone’s magic,” Kassadin said as he paced in front of the campfire. “The first, and easiest, is surging your own power within the target to create a sort of short-circuiting effect within the target.”
Twilight nodded, absentmindedly noting Ezreal and Fluttershy wandering about the campsite, the former pointing out various flora and fauna. “Okay...what’s a circuit? Do you mean an overload of magic or something? I know that when I try to channel too much magic for me to handle, sometimes my spells fizzle out.”
Fluttershy smiled as she held up what she perceived to be an adorable frog-like creature for Ezreal to see. “Oh, uh, like that time you almost leveled your room at the palace when-”
“Well sometimes more than a fizzle. But the point stands, right?” Twilight chuckled awkwardly.
Kassadin nodded. “Yes, though you’d be better asking Ezreal, at a later point in time, about what circuits are. Anyway, the second method is to actively block the release of magic from a being in the process of casting a spell. This method is more difficult, but generally has the effect of causing a minor feedback loop which can discharge violently onto the target’s body. There are other, more circumstantial methods, such as disrupting concentration, but those aren’t truly stopping the usage of magic, merely disrupting it.”
Twilight nodded eagerly, not noticing Ezreal desperately waving his hand around, trying to dislodge the not-so-innocent frog that had decided to reveal its teeth. Kassadin’s lecture had been going on for half an hour, not long after the four had made camp for the night, and Twilight Sparkle’s attention had not wavered once, though it hadn’t taken long for Fluttershy and Ezreal to become distracted with the now-hostile nature. Ever-enchanted by all things alive, Fluttershy hadn’t been inclined to take much heed of Ezreal’s distress every time that tiny creature or this plant turned out to be fanged, or venomous.
They had trekked for a few hours after leaving Piltover, watching as the lush forests that surrounded the city-state had slowly turned into plains. Their next destination was Zaun, and the plumes of smoke that floated up in huge, multi-colored puffs were already visible in the distance, setting a border of sickly purples and dull reds against the blazing orange sunset. Every few seconds, a bright flash of magical lightning arced from one skyscraper to another as factories discharged arcane pollution into the afternoon sky. Fluttershy couldn’t help but shudder as Ezreal had described the broken and desecrated landscape that was the result of Zaun’s unrestrained industry. She hoped Applejack was okay.
- - - -
Pinkie Pie couldn’t help but giggle with glee. She loved these new hands of hers, and the yordles were nothing if not receptive to the unstoppable energy that was Pinkie. The close-knit community hadn’t taken long to pick up the presence of a stranger as noticeable and interesting as Pinkie, and after hearing her story, she’d had several volunteer to help her out until her friends arrive. The League Embassy had already prepared a room for her, but the hospitality of the yordles wouldn’t allow those stuffy Summoners to ruin Pinkie’s first visit to Bandle City, and so Pinkie had happily bounced from home to home of various residents of the city, taking in the amazing, and often wonderfully eccentric creations of the tiny creatures. The mountains that surrounded the hill country that the city was built upon had protected the yordles as they had built up a peaceful and happy civilization, which was centered around a monolithic, and notably pointed structure the yordles simply referred to as the Mothership, a somewhat broken down and unexplainable relic that the once nomadic yordle race had settled around after wandering Valoran.
The most identifiable aspect of the yordle race was the sense of community. Every yordle depended upon interaction with their fellows to remain whole and balanced. Pinkie had even heard tales of yordles who had lived in other city-states and gone insane from lack of interaction with their kin. As a whole, they were a light-hearted and somewhat pranksterish populace, eager to meet new friends to learn and laugh with. Pinkie had been awarded a few of the gold pieces that served as currency in Valoran for a few of the recipes that her employers, Mr. and Mrs. Cake, had taught her when she had been hired at Ponyville’s bakery. Pinkie knew that the responsible thing to do would be to save the money for an emergency, or for helping out once Twilight finally arrived.
Naturally, it was time to throw a party.
- - - -
Applejack was also in a good mood. When she was a filly, she’d taken some time to participate in some self-defense courses. Not that crime was a significant problem in Equestria, but living next to the Everfree Forest was a reason all by itself. Staying at the Embassy in Zaun had given her more spare time than she could possibly want, though, and it had been less than an hour after arriving that she’d gotten bored, and sought out a way to keep herself busy in a constructive way.
She’d found the answer to her problem in the League’s sparring and workout rooms. It had only been a couple of days since she’d arrived, but she was already very familiar with both. Workouts were simple enough, with a little bit of help from a lean, over-enthusiastic trainer who oversaw the usage of the equipment, which was open to both League employees and any staying at the Embassy. Applejack had already worked up a pleasant burn in her new muscles when the other room caught her attention. Curiosity overwhelmed her. Fighting wasn’t a very refined art in Equestria, so the concept of beings working together to improve their skills in such a manner, without ill intent toward one another, seemed interesting.
As expected, sparring was a more difficult thing than simply pushing and pulling at weights, and though Applejack’s new body was just as strong as her old one, and she had more or less adjusted to movement with it, she lacked grace and knew nothing about combat with her new form except how to swing her fists in the general direction of an opponent. She was more than willing to learn the hard way though, and even though her posterior was beginning to hurt from being knocked to it so many times since she’d arrived in the late morning, she felt like she might honestly be making some progress. “Ah never thought Ah’d get whupped so bad in all my life, much less by someone who’s blind. No offense intended.”
Her sparring partner, a well-muscled man who had shown up a few minutes ago with a band of cloth over his eyes, laughed softly. “None taken. For one who has little experience in combat, you possess admirable strength. I believe you when you say that you are not of this world. Still, I warn you that though it may seem innocent enough in this room, knowledge of self-defense is a very important skill to possess in this land.” The man offered Applejack a hand to help her up. “I’m afraid I must be going now. I have business in this poor, despoiled city.”
“Y’all take care now, ya hear?” Applejack wiped her face with the towel she had placed next to the sparring mat. “Ah think it’s about time Ah took a break myself.”
After the man had exited the room, Applejack was surprised to be receiving praise. “Good job! I don’t think I’ve seen someone do so well against him, though, that’s not surprising, seeing as none of us are really fighters.” One of the Embassy employees patted her on the back. “Of course, secretaries aren’t known for being good at fighting.”
Applejack stared at him flatly. “What are you talking about? Ah just got my behind kicked from here to Equestria and back.”
“Well, yeah. That’s to be expected. That was Lee Sin, one of the champions from the League of Legends. He’s supposed to whip everyone he fights. It’s his job. You lasted a whole hour without complaining or collapsing or anything. Of course, he normally goes pretty easy on anyone he fights when he stops by here, but still, the point stands.”
Applejack blushed. “Aww, shucks. Ah guess that workin’ with my body all my life has made me tough enough to withstand getting tossed around.” With a groan, she gathered herself and headed back toward her suite. All in all, it was like a miniature vacation, and though she’d never admit it to Rarity, for fear of eternally recurring spa outings, a little bit of R&R was nice on occasion, especially after history-shaping battles. Of course, she’d not hesitate a second when Twilight arrived in two more days. She had work to do back on the farm, after all.
- - - -
Jericho Swain was getting frustrated. He was a patient man, always willing to wait as long as needed for a plan to come to fruition, but this armor, this so-called ‘Nightmare’s Regalia’, seemed to be toying with him. He knew there was power left in the armor, even after Discord had used it to free himself. Every time he came close to isolating and identifying whatever was the source of this power, though, something would go wrong. Misapplied magic would spark and consume his notes, or the armor would suddenly stop reacting to stimuli at all. It was enough to make even Swain lose his composure, pacing around his expensively decorated study with a scowl on his face.
Maybe it was time to take a break. Perhaps it would be best to take a step backward, clear his thoughts, and put some thought into something else, and come back later with a fresh perspective. Riven’s ideas did hold some merits, and he had meant it when he said he’d consider them. It was, now that Swain thought about it, a disgusting waste of resources to have every citizen of Noxus at least somewhat specialized in combat now that war was so highly regulated. Sure, it was a good way to instill a sense of nationalism in the citizenry, an essential quality for an unquestioning, obedient populace, but the time wasted on drills and swordplay could easily mean the loss of unthinkably large amounts of progress in other necessary fields. Noxus had always had a problem in that often disrespected minds of any industry that wasn’t related to war in some way tended to migrate away from Noxus. The only reason Zaun was as close an ally to Noxus as they were was because they provided all of the resources that Noxus had crippled itself too much to produce.
Noxus’ main export had always been war materials and mercenaries, but the presence of the League of Legends had devalued both of those significantly, and not even Swain was ambitious enough to challenge the powerful spellcasters who ran the Institute of War. No amount of power or political influence was worth engaging in direct combat with magicians who could probably sink the continent if they tried hard enough. This meant that Swain now had Noxus’ economy to deal with. The lack of demand for war would probably cause an economic depression that he and his contemporaries would be blamed for and then he’d probably have to order an invasion of-
‘For a moment I thought humans were going to be more interesting than ponies.’
-and after he took the Shadow Isles he’d... Swain was up in an instant, his speed defying his crippled leg. In seconds, he’d cast every simple warding spell he knew on the armor that was now sitting on a dais in the corner of the room, gleaming oh-so-innocently, and maybe a tad bit mockingly on top of it. Swain approached the armor slowly.
‘Seriously, you’re as bad as Luna was with bureaucracy. Do you think of nothing else?’ Swain couldn’t sense any more magic than usual coming from the armor, which he found rather disconcerting, as possessions almost always had some sort of magical resonance when the spirit was interacting with the world. ‘That’s because I’m not a spirit, O Master Tactician.’
“Cut to the point. I’ve no patience for circuitous conversation right now.” Swain pulled up a chair, allowing his raven, who had been watching the entire exchange silently, to take its place on his lap.
‘And here I thought that you always had time for schemes and machinations. I had gotten the impression you enjoyed acting like a B-grade villain in a child’s tale.’ The armor, or whatever was residing within, seemed to sigh. ‘Very well, if you’re that insistent on straightforwardness, I suppose I will have to deliver. My name is not very easily pronounced by your kind, so you can follow the lead of the ponies who I was first sent to assist, and call me Nightmare.’
“What is it you want, and how can you see into my mind?” Swain most definitely did not want any entity being able to comb his thoughts.
Nightmare laughed. ‘Don’t you worry a pretty blue hair on your head. I can only read surface thoughts and emotions. It is a nice color, by the way. Very uncommon on humans. Anyway, back to the point. As evidenced by your feathered companion, you are aware that not all Void entities serve the same overarching purpose, that is, the proliferation and subsequent consumption of worlds with magic. I am the agent of a more conservative faction, so to speak. We do not advocate the destruction of worlds, instead finding it more practical to consume magic in smaller doses, allowing it to replenish. A lot less messy for all involved, if you ask me.’
Swain’s earlier outburst had subsided, and he now wore his standard mask of placid indifference. “All reported Void inhabitants have physical substance. How did you become bound to this armor?”
‘Well, that’s an interesting story. I originally was sent to Equestria to work with the local demigods, who called themselves Celestia and Luna, in creating an experimental battery. This battery would be able to absorb the spare magic that all magical entities exude, and allow it to be transported to the Void, where it could be consumed without harming any living being.’ Nightmare paused for a moment, as if considering its unspoken words carefully. ‘We decided that since, at the time, the two demigods were so well traveled, we could imbue the appropriate enchantments into some of the personal items that the two wore, to help speed up the process. Every so often, they’d send us some form of communication, and we’d pick up the armor.
‘Unfortunately, something went wrong with the casting, and I ended up bound to a gem in Luna’s armor, along with the battery spell. Luna believed that with enough energy, we could channel the armor’s power to help free me. Unfortunately, Void magic can affect other lifeforms in unpredictable ways, and Luna wasn’t quite able to handle the amount of power she was dealing with. I’m sure you heard of the Nightmare Moon event while in Equestria. Unfortunately, she must have forgotten about me while spending a millenium as a raving lunatic, pun entirely intended. Lucky for me, you decided to bring the armor with you, and now I have a proposal.’ Another pause. ‘The Void is going to make its move on this world soon, and it’s going to use its agent, Malzahar, to facilitate the opening of a portal to the Void here in Valoran. This will destroy everything you’ve worked for, and just plain everything for that matter. Help me stop this from happening, and I will bestow upon you all of the magical power that I have stored.’
It certainly was a tempting offer, but it was too good to be true. He’d have to do some more research first. Perhaps it was time to turn a few spies onto Malzahar and his ilk. “I’m am afraid I will have to refuse your offer for the moment. Forgive me for not instantly trusting an enchanted set of armor last associated with an insane demigod.”
‘Oh, that’s okay. Just remember, the longer you wait, the stronger the Void gets...’
- - - -
- - - -
Celestia stood speechlessly where Twilight and her friends had been mere seconds ago. She could hear Luna and the Royal Guards asking if she was okay, and searching for any sign of the missing Elements of Harmony, as if there were a faint buzzing in her ear.
Twilight Sparkle. Celestia had seen talent in the mare, and then taken her as a personal student when she was but a filly. She had all but raised Twilight as her own child. In many ways, she had been more of a mother to the filly than her own mother had, teaching her magic, history, mathematics, and nurturing a love of learning that bordered on and often exceeded obsessive. It had been on Celestia’s orders that Twilight had moved to Ponyville and met the other Elements of Harmony. She had grown from an awkward, antisocial bookworm into a powerful sorceress who, more importantly, was happy and healthy. Celestia had been so proud of Twilight’s transformation. Her confidence in Twilight’s abilities had been so high, she’d sent her off to fight Discord...and she’d succeeded...twice! Twilight Sparkle had undone so many of Celestia’s mistakes in such a short time, saving the entirety of Equestria three times thus far.
And now, she was gone. The mare who had saved Celestia’s sister and defeated Discord was gone, and it was Celestia’s fault. Celestia, who had been using Twilight to do her dirty work this entire time, was now responsible for Twilight being dragged to a world full of violence and despair after winning another one of Celestia’s battles for her. At best, Twilight would return scarred and traumatized from her time among the violent, depraved humans. At worst... Well, the curse of immortality was being surrounded by death constantly. What was one more to the endless list of ponies that Celestia had seen come and go during her long, long life. What did it matter, in the long run, if Twilight Sparkle died...helpless and alone...in a world she couldn’t possibly understand or be prepared for... In the long run, it meant nothing. It meant absolutely nothing that the magic of the Elements might have one day transformed her into a friend that could last through the eternity Celestia was cursed to endure. It meant even less that the years that she had been raising Twilight had been her happiest in centuries. It was just one more pony to add to the list...
“We have to save them.” Celestia’s voice was calm, resolute, and regal, as always. “I want all of our researchers working to replicate that portal. All of them. I will personally scour my own personal library for any information that may help. We will not let Twi-national heroes be forgotten and abandoned in an unfamiliar world.” A chorus of assents let Celestia know that as always, her word was heard and heeded. As mental images of Twilight lying broken, battered, confused, and alone in a world of warring humans beset Celestia’s mind, her determination to save her daught-her pupil only hardened. She could recall in stark detail Nasus’ descriptions of what the humans were capable of when called to war, and she didn’t trust some enigmatic fight club to keep Twilight Sparkle safe from a violent and unstable race. If anything, being in the hooves of the League would only make it easier for Twilight to see things her young mind wasn’t ready to handle.
That couldn’t happen. Celestia would recreate the portal to Valoran, personally find and secure Twilight, and her friends of course, and from then on, Celestia would make sure that Twilight Sparkle would never have to endanger herself for any of Celestia’s causes again. Her resolution hardened, and her path decided, the Princess of the Sun set to work.
- - - -
Celestia was panicking. It wasn’t a site that was often seen by anypony, and all of those who interacted with her on a daily basis were set on edge by the distress of their normally unshakable ruler. It had already been days, and they’d made absolutely no progress. It was beginning to look like Twilight and her friends were doomed. Celestia had been working obsessively, often forsaking luxuries like food or sleep to research, while Luna had taken over most of her sister’s governmental responsibilities.
It seemed impossible without the power of the Elements that she had so often used as a crutch to solve the few problems that could worry an immortal being of her power. Even worse is that sometimes, Celestia had perceived somepony talking in the distance, but upon investigation, found nothing. She was beginning to wonder if the stress was getting to her. It would be unbearably ironic, if her worry for her student was the chain that kept her from helping Twilight. As painful as it was, it might be necessary for her to take a break and unwind, if she were to make any progress at all.
‘You won’t reach her in time.’
Celestia whipped around from the stack of books in front of her, frowning when she didn’t see anypony. That settled it, it was time to take a break. As Celestia stood though, she instantly stumbled back to the floor as her mind was overwhelmed with visions of her precious student. Twilight Sparkle was lying on her side, blood pouring from some unseen wound as she began to fade, mouthing Celestia’s name as she passed...
The visions were gone as suddenly as they had arrived, and Celestia found herself lying sideways on the floor of her personal library. There was no way she could stop now. Twilight needed her. She would reach her in time. There was no way she would fail her student again.
‘You won’t reach her in time. She will be broken and dead before you’ve even scratched the surface of the knowledge you need.’
Celestia didn’t bother pulling herself from the floor this time, opting instead to close her eyes and hope nopony else could hear her stifled sobs.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 5: Two-bit Villain
Swain’s lip curled in disgust at the crumpled, sobbing heap that was now shivering at his feet, begging for mercy. As the noise began to die down, he patiently waited for his guest to regather composure, idly tracing patterns with his walking stick along the floor of the ancient and equally filthy and dank Noxian prison, only turning his attention back downward when the room was silent again. “Speak. I may show you mercy, if I deem you both sincere and informative.”
“O-okay, okay.” The two guards picked up the battered man, and roughly set him down on the wooden chair opposite of the stool that Swain had been sitting on, eliciting a strained cry as the splintering wood chafed against open wounds. His raven flitted about through the air aimlessly for a few seconds before settling on Swain’s shoulder once more. “H-he wants us to keep a-an eye on Kassadin, as always, b-but he also wants us to try to ap-apprehend the travelers with him...the ones that are supposed to be from another world.”
Swain frowned. “I’m getting bored. Start entertaining me swiftly.” Each of the guards put a hand on their swords.
“Wait, please! I know m-more!” The prisoner was in a blind panic now, searching his brain desperately for any information that could save him. “H-he also has a plan for you! He thinks you will be a problem, so he’s hired a few assassins to take you out. They’ll be meeting outside High Command later this afternoon!”
“That’s certainly interesting news. I did not expect Malzahar to be so forward about things. Very well. You’ve been extremely helpful, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to leave this place.” Swain gestured toward the guards as he pushed himself to his feet. “Drop him off with all of the other outgoing prisoners. I have an assassination attempt to attend to.”
The prisoner sighed, and stared at the floor as Swain exited. He couldn’t help but smile as he heard the guards unsheath their weapons, and drag him to his feet. With a faint whisper, he eulogized himself. “I do this for the Void.”
- - - -
Swain moved quickly for a cripple, taking a few, less guarded shortcuts that he purposefully kept maintained for situations like these, where he had to pull a time advantage from nowhere. Thus, as he made his way through the crumbling side-streets of Noxus, he allowed himself a moment to consider this newest revelation. It was not unheard of for a champion to plot the death of another champion, though it was rather unlike Malzahar to be so blunt in his efforts to promote the Void’s entrance into Valoran. Assassination was far removed from the cult-building and slithery public speeches the so-called ‘Prophet of the Void’ liked to use. Something didn’t add up, but his instinct told him that he wasn’t going to get anything else from that half-delirious prisoner. Of course, Swain wasn’t afraid of some thug with a crossbow, not when he had the power imbued by the Void into his veins so long ago. The most logical thing to do would be to apprehend the fools, and save at least one of them for an interrogation and then do some research on the matter.
The clacking of a rock bouncing along the ground told him that he’d have to be slightly late, though. Swain sighed in mock despair as he turned to face the band of thieves that had thought to inconvenience him, and then frowned in sincerity. There were a lot of them. This might take a bit longer than he’d expected.
- - - -
Twilight Sparkle was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable, the closer they came to Zaun. What foliage had survived the pollution was twisted and definitely unwelcome. They had been on the road from Piltover for two days now, and every step had seen the trees become twisted and the grass turn from various shades of brown to outright black in some places. Adding to it, all of the excess magic in the air had been giving Twilight a headache like no other. All in all, the past few days had quickly turned from a neat little adventure to a baleful chore. None of them would be unhappy to leave Zaun behind once Applejack had been retrieved. Even Ezreal and Kassadin, both of whom had already been to Zaun multiple times, couldn’t help but express discomfort and distaste at the state of the landscape around Piltover’s rival. Of course, Ezreal was more than willing to admit that almost every citizen of Piltover held at least a minor bias against Zaun for its unethical uses of magic and industry to solve the same problems Piltover chose to take the slower, more responsible route on.
“The city is full of willing accomplices to the Void,” Kassadin scoffed in response when questioned about his own dislike of the city. “Malzahar gathers like-minded fools and mental invalids to his cause there, where the greedy and the insane walk the streets in equal measure. The Void will probably destroy that city first, just for love of irony. One way or another, Malzahar will suffer for his crimes. In his madness he cannot see that the only winning move in his little game is not to play. Or maybe he does, and plays anyway. His mind could not withstand the Void, and lies shattered at the feet of his otherworldly masters.”
Fluttershy had been silent the entire time, looking distressed to the point of illness as she continued to observe the gradual, and in places not so gradual, decay of the landscape. Even the dirt seemed to have taken an unsightly blue shade. Since they had entered the area, Fluttershy’s only words had been to repeatedly question the sanity of those who would choose to live in such a place. “I don’t think I can even see the sun anymore. All I see are grey clouds of smoke. Oh, Twilight, are we almost there yet? I want to leave this place.”
“Just bear with us a little longer Fluttershy. We should arrive in Zaun sometime today.” Twilight Sparkle coughed as her lungs faltered in their attempt to process what passed for air in Zaunite lands. “Believe me, I’m pretty sure all of us are in a hurry to get this over with.”
Twilight suppressed another cough. “I’m pretty sure Singed forgot to mention this aspect of his homeland.”
It was a few more laborious hours of trudging through the eerily silent forests before Ezreal broke the silence. “We’re almost out of the woods. We should definitely keep moving, though. We don’t want to be here come nightfall. Almost everything that lives here is nocturnal, simply due to less people churning out airborne toxins at night. Even so, you don’t live in or near Zaun without being affected, and I’d rather not have to deal with an animal attack right now. If we keep up this pace, we should be at the Embassy in time to meet Applejack and get some sleep before moving on. If we’re lucky, we can catch a zeppelin to Noxus, so we don’t have to navigate the Ironspike Mountains. That alone would double the amount of time it would take to complete our trip. Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for the forest’s end.”
- - - -
Swain wrinkled his nose in distaste as he used magic to draw out the blood now staining his clothing. This had taken far longer than he had wanted it to. He’d be lucky to even spot the would-be assassins at all now before they started executing whatever half-baked plan they had constructed to kill Swain, which would make dealing with them that much more annoying. The general sighed in disappointment. He had hoped to deal with this swiftly and relatively painlessly, without getting all of the annoying paperwork of the Noxian police involved, but it seemed that he would have no choice, if he wanted to make sure that security wasn’t compromised.
It was still several minutes before he arrived at the Offices of the Noxian High Command, a towering behemoth of black stone painted with red accents, which was, for practical purposes, a fortress built to house the upper echelons of Noxus’ governmental hierarchy. Shadows had begun to fall across the city-state as Swain entered the plaza in front of the building. As he suspected, he saw no signs of suspicious persons or activity...except an unusually large gathering of Noxus’ Elite Guard, a unit assigned to defend politically important areas in Noxus. Swain’s raven cooed softly, as if advising him to step carefully. Swain nodded, and silently melded into the shadows that already hugged a nearby wall. If they had somehow disguised themselves as guards, he would be ready for them.
As he inched closer, he couldn’t help but overhear one of the so-called ‘guards’ speak. “Our informant was wrong. Grand General Swain must have changed his plans. Continue searching the area for him. Don’t try to apprehend him alone if he resists. We’ll need a full squadron of guards supplemented by mage support to bring him down if he tries to escape. If he cooperates, bring him to the holding cell for questioning. High Command wants him on trial for Boram Darkwill’s murder tomorrow based on the evidence that we recovered today. Get to it.”
Swain’s blood ran cold. If evidence of how he had ascended to his position had been uncovered, this would be more than enough leverage for his rivals do render the same fate unto him, and his experience told him that the only justice he would receive would be dealt by bribed judges and tribunals, with a fair share of fabricated evidence to supplement whatever real facts they may have gathered. His best hope was to vacate Noxus until he could find whoever was responsible for this, manipulate them into taking a fall, and then frame them for framing him. The Noxian police would have blood to pay for the former Grand General’s, and Swain would be vindicated, probably with renewed support after he ‘confirmed’ to the masses that he had no hand in Darkwill’s death.
Of course, he’d not last five minutes without being adequately prepared for his temporary exile, so despite the obviousness of it being guarded, it was going to be necessary to stop by his quarters. There were a few side passages and secret tunnels that could make his journey safer, but there would likely be a sizable force guarding the entrance, but he had a plan for that problem already. Swain began to move toward the building.
Getting inside was simple enough. The guards had come to the conclusion that he was in hiding, and most of their forces were dedicated to sweeping through the city, which was a risky task by itself considering how dangerous the streets were in some places. It was likely a few guards wouldn’t be returning home tonight, and equally as likely some thug was going to be showing off his new sword to a few buddies at a bar. Of course, the few guards that had remained were all of the Elite Guard, so when Swain had accidentally made a little too much noise in opening a door that most believed to lead only to a dusty storage room, Swain had been hard pressed to silence the guard before he had made enough noise to attract attention. He would just have to hope that anyone who heard the muffled grunts of pain would pass it off as the distance sounds of Noxus’ ambience.
Swain was close now. There was only one phase remaining to his plan. One of the advantages of being a cripple was that there were certain tasks that nobody ever expected you to accomplish. He smiled as his body begin to morph and rearrange, a sick crack and a twinge of pain informing him of the two new appendages on his back. He would have laughed, but speaking was already somewhat painful and awkward in this mutated raven-like monstrosity of a body. Nobody would expect a cripple to come in through the window.
- - - -
The wolves weren’t the worst of the problems that the four had encountered since the sun had set. It hadn’t even been the savage, enormous lizards, or the strange, blue apparitions that seemed to make Kassadin and Ezreal very uncomfortable to be around. It was the forest itself that seemed the most determined to halt their passage. What had seemed relatively straightforward had taken a turn for the worse when they were forced from the path by the first animal attacks, which would have been a lot worse had Kassadin and Ezreal not been expecting such to happen. The magically tainted beasts seemed more bloodthirsty than was natural, and Fluttershy’s normal affinity for calming beasts seemed useless. When they finally stumbled out of the forest, they were tired and miserable. However, silence borne of exhaustion soon gave way to silence borne of amazement for Twilight and Fluttershy. They had reached Zaun.
“It’s...massive...” Twilight finally found it within herself to speak.
“It’s...wrong...” Fluttershy followed Twilight’s lead shortly thereafter.
The descriptions of the city hadn’t quite prepared the two for the sight in front of them. Specks of flame and magical light illuminated a sea of gray that blotted out the darker gray that was the sky. Buildings rose high into the air, and smokestacks adorned many of them as industry plodded on at a relatively leisurely pace. The streets were bustling with the collective nightlife of the city as a part Zaun rose from its slumber to revel in this monument to unbridled innovation, ambition, and greed, and another part prepared to sleep after a long day of creating some of the most advanced amalgamations of magic and science on Runeterra. Iridescent waste glimmered from poorly maintained gutters, occasionally catching flame for a few moments before dying down again. Steam rose from automatons following directives instilled by enchanters upon creation for the corporations that ran the city, providing a thin haze for the light to be diffused in, giving the entire scene a fuzzy, unreal look. There was one thing that the pair found even more unsettling, past everything. Neither of them saw any plants or greenery alive in the city.
Ezreal grimaced as his nose picked up the odors of industry, scrunching his face in distaste. “Let’s get this over with,” he commented as he led the way through the streets. “Applejack will be at the League Embassy. If I recall, there are also air filters in the building.”
- - - -
Twilight struggled in futility to breathe. The darkness had already begun to enclose her, and her vision had forsaken her in her time of need as she whimpered softly as her final act...which seemed to signal to Applejack that she might be crushing her friends with her mercilessly affectionate embrace. “Oh, sorry ‘bout that sugarcubes. Ah’m just so happy to see y’all. It ain’t been bad here, but Ah’ve been a bit bored, and lemme tell ya, the air outside smells mighty odd. Guess everypony here is already used to it, but Ah gotta spend most of my time indoors ‘cause of it. Ah already talked to the uh...secretary pon-person about y’all, and she showed me where y’all will be staying. Just follow me. Y’all can tell me about the trip on the way there.”
Twilight smiled, in significantly less distress now that she could breathe once more. “Well, I woke up at the head of where they run the League after being unconscious for a day. They said it was called the Institute of War. It was pretty amazing, to be honest. The architecture there is certainly a lot different from Ponyville or Canterlot. To be honest, it kinda reminded me of Cloudsdale, with the decorative pillars and all. The library there wasn’t quite as big as the Canterlot archives, but it was still pretty impressive. After the people there told me what was going on, Kassadin and I went to Piltover. The trip there took less than a day, but from Piltover to here took a bit longer as the terrain was a bit less hospitable, plus, Kassadin sweet-talked a few Summoners into using their magic to give us a head start on our way out. We didn’t stay in Piltover long, but it seemed pretty nice, barring an unfortunate incident with the eating habits of humans...” Twilight looked at the ground, suppressing a gag at the unpleasant memory of eating meat.
Fluttershy gave Twilight a gentle pat on the shoulder. “She didn’t realize that humans are omnivores, so the standard meals here involve consuming other animals. At least now that we know, we can know to avoid it.”
Applejack shuddered. “Ah can’t say that sits well with me, but Ah suppose there ain’t sense in looking down on somepony for their nature. We’re here, by the way. Me and the girls will be sleeping in my suite, and Ezreal and Kassadin will be in the suite beside ours. Nice ta meet you, by the way, Kassadin.” Kassadin, who along with Ezreal had been mostly silent while the friends talked to each other, gave a slight bow before heading to the indicated suite.
“Sleep well, we’ve got a big day ahead of us and we want to get an early start to leave here as soon as possible,” Ezreal commented offhandedly as he followed Kassadin.
Tired and worn out, it didn’t take long for Fluttershy and Twilight to fall asleep, with Applejack not far behind. None of them noticed the sound of a small creature skittering away from their rooms.
- - - -
If Swain wasn’t a fugitive before, he certainly was now. Pretty much the only thing working for him was that guards, even of the elite variety, were looked on as about twenty kinds of expendable due to the excess of citizens in Noxus who had military training. Of course, there wasn’t going to be any time for remorse, even if he was inclined to feel any. Swain would have to move quickly, as the two guards on the floor had made quite a bit of noise in their previous, and final, moments. Still, murder was a crime, and right now, his rivals certainly didn’t need any more evidence to condemn him with. Swain himself frowned upon needless killing, simply for the physical mess and the headache-inducing paperwork and publicity that tended to follow it more than any moral hindrance.
The first thing to attend to was funds, and Swain was glad that he had the foresight to keep currencies of every kind, just in case, and he was certainly not short on them. Being at the top of Noxus’ leading council had perks, after all. Some spare clothing, a few odds and ends for wilderness journeying, and...
Swain paused before the Nightmare’s Regalia. It seemed rather impractical to carry around the heavy pieces of metal, but he might need the Nightmare...who was inclined to agree. ‘Trust me, the payoff is more than worth it. Besides, I’d rather not be left in here to be confiscated and put in some rich snob’s treasury. Anyway, I’d-’
The door crashed into splinters as guards backed by sorcerers stormed into the room. “Grand General Jericho Swain, you are hereby placed under arrest for the murder of Grand General Boram Darkwill, members of the Noxian military, and several guards. Will you come with any dignity, General, or must we resort to violence?”
Time seemed to slow as Swain mentally cursed himself for taking too long deliberating. There were far too many to fight here, if they had mage support, and the path to the window was blocked. He couldn’t surrender, though, as that was almost certain death by execution. ‘Use me. We can win this. Just put on the collar section of the armor, and I’ll take care of the rest. Neither of us want it to end here.’
There wasn’t really a choice, and Swain moved decisively as he snatched up the oversized neck-piece of the armor and placed it on himself, bracing his shoulders against the heavy weight of the armor.
There was a flash of light, and Swain was assaulted with the sensation of raw power running through him. He felt the shape of the armor shift around to more adequately suit his form, and his right leg tingled strangely. His vision was almost fogged with intensity of the experience, and he took a step forward before realizing that he could walk unhindered. Swain laughed, and lifted his hand as the guards charged him, feeling drunk with power as magic began to swirl around him.
When Swain spoke, it was as if his voice was mixed with another, almost otherworldly voice. “Time for some fun.”
- - - -
Swain wiped the blood from his hands, and hurriedly gathered the rest of the armor and his belongings. It wouldn’t be long until reinforcements arrived, and he did not want to test the limits of his new abilities here. Shifting into his raven form, he prepared himself to glide out of the window with the goal of being out of Noxus before dawn.
- - - -
It was the next morning, and after a hearty, and completely vegetarian breakfast, the girls and their two escorts were ready to leave Noxus. The League had agreed to pay for a zeppelin to expedite their journey, and had sent one of their own guards to lead them to the shipyard.
“Sure is nice of them League folks to give us a ride,” Applejack commented idly as they walked through the streets, “And they even sent us an extra guard to keep us safe. Thought y’all always talked about the League like a group of some heartless bureaucrats.”
Ezreal, Kassadin, and even the accompanying guard snorted and chuckled in amusement, the latter of which was inclined to comment on the matter. “I mean no disrespect ma’am, but to be frank, this is pocket change for the League. They’re doing their best to say ‘we care about the happiness of our champions’ while not actually expending any real effort past what the public eye sees on them. They get free room and board, and some nice amenities, but the League could honestly care less about the problems and projects of any entity that isn’t furthering its own goals. Of course, world peace is an admirable goal, but even the most admirable of goals can be accomplished by self-centered bureaucrats sometimes. My own ability to guard you really means nothing next to having two champions in the same place, anyway. It’s just kinda symbolic handwave at the security of the matter.”
“Oh...well, Ah at least appreciate ya bein’ honest about it.” Applejack paused. “Say those fellas in the purple have been staring at us for a while now. Giving me the creeps.”
Ezreal frowned. “Come to think of it, I think they’ve been following us.”
“The perceptive capabilities of the Prodigal Explorer are as vast as the Shurima Desert.” A man in a purple hood and robe, with symbols none of them recognized stitched throughout the hemming stood before them, and several similarly dressed people were swiftly moving to surround the group. “Our master wishes to speak with you. Attendance is...mandatory.”
Fluttershy gulped loudly, and Ezreal and Kassadin took defensive stances. The guard laughed nervously. “Well, this is an awkward time to be explaining how useless I am.”
- - - -
‘You won’t save her in time’.
Celestia didn’t bother responding. She hadn’t for two days now. In the background, a faint buzzing resembling the worried pleadings of her sister struggled for her attention, but in vain. Celestia moved toward the next bookshelf in the Canterlot Archives with empty eyes.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 6: Band(s) on the Run
“Run to the zeppelin! I’ll meet you there. Escort them there Ezreal, and I will rejoin you laterl.” Kassadin unleashed a blast of violet magic from his fist, flinging a few of their purple-clad attackers aside to make a path. With a flick of his wrist and an unsettling hum, a blade erupted from Kassadin’s right bracer, and the surface thereof seemed to all present more like a rip in reality than steel, with the same dark purple hue that accompanied all of his magic coloring it as sizzled, filling the air with the scent of ozone. Their assailants seemed unfazed by the display, lighting up the area as they prepared their own magics. The unfortunate guard assigned to the group cursed under his breath, and after a moment of hesitation, drew his sword, an act that elicited a chorus of chuckles from many of the mages around him before he was promptly hoisted into the air and flung into the nearest wall, crumpling into unconsciousness. Kassadin rolled his eyes, and surveyed the roughly thirty mages surrounding him.
The leader, only visible by having slightly more ornate robes than his counterparts, pointed to a few of his men before stepping toward Kassadin. “Do not let the others escape. As for you, Voidwalker, we will give you one chance to surrender. The master does not require your presence or your safety, but concessions can be made for any who have gazed upon the Void.” A few of the mages broke away from the group to pursue the others, only to be blasted into a wall by Kassadin.
“Pitiful creatures. What you know of the Void is like a drop of water to the oceans I have traversed. Your ‘master’ must not be very attached to you, to send such disposable forces in such small quantity to attempt to hinder me.” Kassadin laughed disdainfully. “If it is knowledge of the Void you desire, I shall gladly be your teacher. Stand and fight, if you can.”
- - - -
Swain felt...odd. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt, but it wasn’t something he was used to. Looking down at the walking stick lying on the ground in front of him, he was forced to recall limping into a Noxian infirmary, refusing the magical treatments that would put him in debt for years, to have his shattered leg put in a splint. He hadn’t even flinched when the doctor had set his leg. Swain had been hearing the voices of the Void whispering to him since he was a small child, but he had never succumbed to the madness that seemed to flow from the interdimensional nexus. By the time he had reached the infirmary, he had already become hardened and jaded by the visions that his magic had occasionally shown him. If anything, the promises of doom had only destroyed his ability to give into despair. After a while, visions became communication, and years after, during his meteoric rise through the Noxian military, he had sealed the pact that assured his domination over Noxus, and gained, almost killing the crown prince of their eternal rival, Demacia, in the process. He had also gained the feathered companion that now sat on his shoulder now.
One thing that he had never regained, perhaps as a reminder of his origins and of his ability to overcome any weakness, was the use of his right leg. He could have had it magically repaired, being the Grand General of Noxus, but whatever sentimentality he possessed had stayed his hand. Now, he was healed. He felt young and invigorated. The armor, which seemed during his studies to be far too heavy to be practical in combat, felt light on him, having transformed to suit its new host more easily. It felt good. Swain smiled, an unnatural expression on his jaded face, and swept his blue locks back into his standard short ponytail before placing the Nightmare’s Helm, as he had learned to call it, back on his head. Nightmare stirred within his mind. ‘It’s nice to be back on your feet, isn’t it? You sure are an interesting fellow, Swain. I mean, most orphans in Noxus just grow up to be cutthroats and whatnot. Anyway, as nice as it is reminiscing about your childhood with you, I think it’s time we got moving. The plan is still the same, right? Go to Riven, convince her to help you somehow, maybe disguise one of your planned reforms as a bargaining chip or something. We can’t stay too much longer in Noxus, though.’
Swain nodded. ‘Agreed. The aliens from Equestria will be traveling to Noxus soon to pick up Rainbow Dash. It’d be the perfect opportunity to leave Noxus, with a little bit of extra firepower from the accompanying champions for extra protection. From there, we will gather information on Malzahar until we can better formulate a course of action to strike against him. We will also have to find a way to discredit those who are trying to bring me to trial. It would also be a convenient excuse to gather a bit more power to myself. After all, if you can’t trust the council of generals, perhaps it would be better to place your trust in the one person who has always pushed Noxus forward?’
‘You really are an ambitious thing, aren’t you. Humans are so delightfully determined when it comes to things they want. Let’s get moving.’ Nightmare chuckled, and Swain shouldered his pack, his bird casually shooting a stream of burning magical energy at a nearby would-be thief, who fell to the ground, writhing in agony.
Swain rolled his eyes. “Back in my day, thieves didn’t make so much noise when they were trying to rob someone. Noxus really does need reform.”
The walk through the slums of Noxus was relatively uneventful. News hadn’t spread of Swain’s status as a wanted man, and the armor made him both intimidating and hard to recognize, eschewing his normal browns for a silver and midnight blue motif. While Swain would normally be bothered by armor this showy, he couldn’t help but ignore it in favor of his unusually chipper mood. Of course, even if his face wasn’t covered, it still wouldn’t have shown a hint of his emotional state.
Swain was never quite sure why Riven chose to live in the more run-down section of Noxus. As a champion, she did bring a bit of glory to Noxus and thus, her disappearance from the Noxian military had been overlooked, so the miniature fortress she had built for herself in the midst of the seediest part seemed oddly humble for a person of her stature. The dwelling in question was almost entirely utilitarian in design. The windows were barred in front of the glass, and though Swain could only see one entrance, he was mostly certain that there were a few hidden passages that Riven would be able to use in times of need. Without hesitation, he knocked loudly upon reaching the reinforced iron door.
- - -
“Guys, look at this. Looks like Zaunite authorities are taking another crack at Kass.” Ezreal looked at the paper a guard had posted only a few minutes previously, frowning as he read it to the others. “Kassadin, also known as the Void Walker. Wanted in Zaun for vandalism, disturbing the peace, disruption of commerce, and murder. Reward for his capture or information regarding his whereabouts can be paid in any commonly used currency or in gold. That’s promising.”
“Kassadin’s wanted for murder?” Twilight Sparkle frowned. “He didn’t seem like he would do something like that when we spoke.”
Ezreal shook his head. “Only time Kassadin’s drawn blood is in self-defense, which is justifiable in courts not controlled by Zaun’s mega-corporations, which basically means that as long as we’re in Zaun, he’s pretty much out of luck. Hope he gets here soon.”
“...but he’s still killed people,” Fluttershy stated sadly, her hair hanging down in her eyes. “I mean... Riven talked about why people would ever kill others, but it just seems so...I don’t think I could ever think of it as justifiable.”
“Well, you see...this isn’t like your world.” Ezreal frowned, not really sure what to say. “Sometimes, you have a life-threatening situation, where the only course of action is to use lethal force. I mean, there’s almost always a way to end a situation without death, but sometimes you don’t know what it is...I’m not really the one to ask about this stuff. Nasus is good with words. Talk with him or Riven or someone. I’m just an archaeologist, not a philosopher. I mean, I’m not trying to say it’s ever a good thing to take someone’s life, but sometimes it’s you or the other guy. Don’t judge him for doing what he had to.”
Twilight’s impending response was cut short by Kassadin appearing in a burst of purple light. “We’re leaving. Now. I’ve already paid an airship captain to leave the moment we get on board. Quickly. Zaun’s authorities didn’t appreciate my handling of our pursuers.”
Ezreal nodded. “Yeah, we can talk more later. I think it’s best to leave before anyone comes looking for Zaun’s Most Wanted. Next stop, Noxus!”
- - - -
Riven paused her morning exercises as she heard a knock on her door. Turning to Rainbow Dash, who was struggling to cope with being awake at any time of day before noon, she said, “Continue with the stretches, and then move on to the arm exercises. I’ll be back shortly.”
Riven sidestepped a few haphazardly stacked pieces of armor and hopped over a similarly disorganized pile of blades on her floor. She had never been much for keeping a tidy home. She spent more of her time out and about than at her compound anyway, so she didn’t see the point of going out of her way to make it appear perfect. She could always find what she needed to, and she never had any guests anyway. Between her crusades for the purification of Noxus and her fights in the League, time spent cleaning seemed like time wasted most days. Tattered banners and Noxian standards were suspended across her walls, unmaintained and forgotten since their usage in the Noxian invasion of Ionia. A withered painting of some wretched battlefield was the only piece of art in her home, and a sickly looking asphodel languished in a pot by one of the barred windows.
The heavy iron door itself even spoke of Riven’s absence, being scarred and pockmarked on the outside, and slightly rusted on the inside. When Riven finally navigated the debris that littered her floor, and opened the door, she was greeted by a man covered head to toe in armor that alternated between silver and midnight blue. Recognition clicked in Riven’s mind as a familiar bird settled on the man’s shoulder. “Swain? By the gods, what happened to you?”
“There have been some new-” Swain paused as he heard his own voice, which seemed underlayed with the voice of Nightmare. After a brief mental debate, he resumed, his voice back to its normal gruff disdain. “There have been some new developments, and I have...adapted accordingly. I wish to speak with you regarding your request, and one of my own.”
Riven inwardly jumped. This could be her chance to finally make some progress with her reforms, though she’d have to be sure this snake wasn’t just trying to use her. “Okay. Come in, and excuse the mess. Being in another world can get you behind on cleaning when you don’t have servants to do it for you.”
“I’ve seen worse, I guarantee.” Swain followed Riven into the compound, stepping aside so that Riven could lock and bar it again. Sweeping the room for free space, he finally settled on a mostly-occupied table to set his helmet down on. “Your home is very...utilitarian.”
“Not all of us care about pomp and circumstance in our domiciles. Dash! We have company! You probably wanna get in here,” Riven responded before yelling at Rainbow Dash, pushing aside the aforementioned pile of armor into a corner, and taking a seat on top of a table otherwise occupied with scattered repair tools.
Rainbow Dash walked into the room, wiping sweat from her brow, thankful that a good portion of her athletic nature translated into her new form as well. It took her a few seconds before she realized who was in the room with them. “...Riven, what is he doing here?”
“Greetings, Rainbow Dash. I never got the chance to thank you for saving my life.” Swain smiled, his face the picture of sincerity. “I am here regarding business that I have with Riven. Oddly enough, it might concern you as well.”
Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes. “I saved you for Riven’s sake, not yours. All of the fancy smooth talk in the world doesn’t change that you’re a snake. Don’t think anypony trusts you here.”
“Never one to mince words, are you?” Swain cleared his throat. “I’ll get to the point then. Competitors of mine have found the resources to brand me a criminal, and as such, until their credibility is invalidated and their loyalty to Noxus put into severe question, for practical purposes I am no longer the Grand General of Noxus.”
“Our hearts bleed for you. Now leave if you have nothing else to say.” Dash snorted derisively, only stopping any further retorts when Riven held up her hand.
Swain continued. “As you might suspect, Riven, this might put your own projects in a precarious situation, as I am currently the only person anywhere near a position or a motivation to help you in your quest to ‘reform’ Noxus. As I said in our last meeting, I gave your points due consideration, and to some extent, agree, though for different reasons. My fellow Generals, though, are not so altruistic as you, though. You may attempt it, but your passionate pleas will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears. To put it frankly, unless I am in power, you have no chance to accomplish any of your political goals.”
“So you want help getting back in power? What could we possibly do to help in that?” Riven frowned at the prospect of her reforms becoming more impossible every second.
“No, I don’t. That isn’t your talent, and you’d probably not be able to do anything anyway,” Swain replied with a shake of his head. “I need a group to travel with. High Command is perfectly aware of most of my combat capabilities, and will be after me, dead or alive. I understand you and several other champions will be travelling to various places. I simply request to travel with you for safety in numbers, and a chance to use some of my contacts to put these power-mongering whelps in their places. You don’t even have to do anything besides assist me in fending off the occasional assassination attempt, which should be easy for several well-armed and well-trained champions of the League.”
“And in return...you help me get my reforms passed?” Riven was hesitant to trust Swain, but she couldn’t see any other route to her goal.
Swain nodded. “In our travels, I will set aside time for you and I to personally discuss your reforms, and I will assist you in clarifying and wording them in a manner that Noxus will not instinctively recoil from. What you wish to accomplish is broad and drastic, and will take time, planning, and a silver tongue.”
“How do we know that ‘silver tongue’ isn’t in action right now?” Rainbow Dash had been growing increasingly uncomfortable with how willingly Riven was going along with Swain’s ideas. “What’s to stop you from just pushing Riven to the side once you’re in power again?”
Swain was in his element now, easily batting aside Rainbow Dash’s concerns. “This sort of situation should seem familiar. My goals, once more, coincide with Riven’s. She wants an honorable, pure Noxus. I want a strong Noxus. We have been wasting a good portion of our resources sending into combat those who could be engineers or scientists. This is unacceptable. Riven’s reforms will allow Noxus to better spend the talent that we have to better our nation as a whole. An end result of a reformed Noxus will be an increase in my own popularity and thus the solidification of my power base, as well as decreased chances of my own assassination and the possibility of Noxus being an economic, social, and military powerhouse instead of just the latter. This arrangement benefits me, Riven, and the entirety of Noxus.”
Riven stared at the floor, deep in thought. “I honestly don’t see any other way.” Riven looked up, her hostile eyes piercing into Swain’s level gaze. “You even think of betraying us again, and you won’t have to worry about your power base because Rainbow Dash won’t stop me a second time. Are we understood?”
Swain flashed another smile. “Crystal.”
- - - -
“Is that...a giant skull? You’ve got to be joking. They built a city-state in a mountain that looks like a giant skull. I know Riven’s spoke a lot about how Noxus wasn’t all bad and everything, but seriously, you want people not to think you’re all bloodthirsty villains, and you live in a GIANT SKULL.” Twilight Sparkle seemed slightly flabbergasted at the initial sight of Noxus from the zeppelin, much to the amusement of Ezreal, Applejack, and Kassadin.
“Ah wouldn’t be so quick to presume. Maybe its some sort of cultural thing.” Applejack absentmindedly munched on her namesake, having been delighted to find out that apples seemed to exist here as well. “Ah mean, maybe in old times they needed some place easy to defend from predators and such. Mountains and hills can be some of the safest places to build settlements. Just cause it’s shaped like a skull doesn’t mean that it ain’t a good place to build.”
Ezreal chuckled. “Nope.Twilight’s right. Ninety percent of Noxians are murderous sociopaths, in my experience. We shouldn’t stay in Noxus any longer than we need to.”
“That seems a little judgmental,” Kassadin commented. “Perhaps they are simply products of their environment. It is hard to survive in Noxus without being a little cold and more than a little deadly.”
“Well, whose fault is that? I mean, it’s a nation of murderers raising a new generation of murderers by crushing anyone who isn’t psychotic underfoot,” Ezreal responded with a sneer.
Kassadin sighed in disapproval. “It’s a sad, self-perpetuating cycle, yes, but judging them for it accomplishes nothing. It is something to be pitied, if anything. It’s a wonder that Noxus has stayed so stable for so long. If anything, one could say that Noxus breeds an unusually hardy people.”
“Ah suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Anyway, Ah’m gonna go check on Fluttershy. For a pegasus, she sure does have problems with being in the air sometimes. Ah think this contraption makes her uncomfortable.” With that Applejack wandered deeper into the airship, leaving the three others to continue their conversation, which mostly consisted of Twilight trying to comprehend how anyone could live in Noxus, while Kassadin and Ezreal argued about the nature of the Noxian people. Meanwhile, the zeppelin started its descent.
- - - -
Rarity giggled as she completed another sale. The past few days had been a blast, really. The fashion industry in Demacia was ridiculously easy to break into, and with a few days, some flirtatious persuasion, and hard work, she’d started turning a profit after repaying those who had loaned her enough money to set up a small business. To her, the market in Demacia seemed simple to an almost archaic degree, as most of Demacian culture seemed centered around making sure everyone held the same, oddly self-righteous system of morality that seemed to run on disdain and shame more than anything else. Apparently, it had only been in recent times that the Demacian market had been stepping up to level of other city states in the realm of business and trade, shifting away from a primarily military and agricultural tradition. As such, the laws of ownership had been heavily relaxed, allowing her to rent a modest building to sell her increasingly popular wares in, as her often showy and extravagant creations seemed to fit into Demacian culture quite easily, and since the League Embassy had been giving her free room and board, her costs were at extremely low levels. If being in the fashion business in Equestria, which was often cutthroat and downright viscious, had taught Rarity anything, it was how to be a shrewd businessmare and how to make the most of small amounts of money. She had even made it a point of advertisement that she would only be in town for a short while, which had made her creations even more sought after. It was, overall, an arrangement that Rarity might have gone a month without going to the Ponyville spa for.
Of course, not all of her time had been spent on making and selling clothes, though her increasing exhaustion and coin purse might attest otherwise. In what few spare moments she had, Rarity had thought to ask her customers more about Demacia, and the history of Valoran, becoming more and more disconcerted at the descriptions of the Rune Wars that had once laid waste to the land. More interesting, though, were rumors that a cult local to Zaun had been seeking Rarity and her friends for some sort of worship of trans-dimenional entities that might or might not actually exist, but had not been officially acknowledged by the Institute of War, or any other city-state besides Noxus and Zaun. Apparently, at least one cultist had defected, trying to warn local media of the cult’s attempts to weaken the barriers between worlds, and that they had been plotting to kidnap six women from another world. Of course, most people dismissed it as hearsay, but Rarity found the rumor deeply disturbing. She’d have to talk to the others about it when they arrived, but apparently she was going to be the last one to be picked up as Twilight traveled the breadth and width of Valoran through various means to find her friends. Until then, Rarity decided that this rumor might bear more investigation.
- - - -
Celestia laughed, her voice cracking slightly, as she finally found the book on theoretical transportation magic that she had been searching for, and with desperation borne of grief and a lack of progress, she pored through the tome with fervor that most of her subjects had never seen her possess. Luna had long since taken over most of Celestia’s court duties as Celestia seemed to disappear into the Canterlot Archives for increasingly lengthy stretches of time.
Time seemed to wither away as she ripped knowledge from the book, and as she progressed through it, her heart began to sink again. Every book had been the same, theorizing and postulating but not giving any solid direction for Celestia to pursue, with that horrible voice in her ear, and a headache buzzing like a swarm of enraged bees.
‘You won’t save her in time.’ Celestia dropped the book, finally ready to let go of what little hope for her beloved student remained, only to suddenly perk up once more at a new addition to the voice’s verbal repitoire. ‘But we can help, if you let us.’
Celestia’s voice was barely above a strained whisper. “Show me how.”
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 7: Almost there
“So how exactly are we going to convince the others to let him come along?”
“We could use his armor to disguise him, and say he’s a friend of mine.”
“No dice. They’d recognize his voice...unless we had him gargle salt water for an hour straight!”
“But that would only be temporary...That’s why we gotta make him gargle salt water every few hours, so that his voice remains mangled and mutilated beyond recognition.”
Swain frowned as the debate between the two continued, becoming more and more far-fetched as Riven and Rainbow Dash tried to think of ways into tricking their friends into letting Swain come along. After the suggestion of disguising him as a giant suitcase came up for about the fifth time, he cleared his throat to gain the attention of the two in front of him. “I do not mean to sound contrary, but perhaps it would be best if we were truthful. I have already explained my reasons for being here to you. Surely with your assistance I can make the rest of your group see reason.”
“Still not quite sure if this counts as reason,” Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath as she rolled her eyes. “I think that he should probably stay here while we go to the shipyard though. At least that way we could have some time to talk with the others a little before having someone who almost got us killed shoved in their faces.”
Riven nodded. “Yeah, softening them up first will probably be a good idea. Your group doesn’t exactly seem like the grudge-holding type, anyway.”
Rainbow Dash shrugged. “It’s probably also a good thing that Rarity isn’t with them yet. She’s still a bit saddlesore about having to be in the middle of a fight. Complained for two days straight about having to wash the grime from her coat.”
Riven finished securing a pauldron to her shoulder and motioned toward the door. “We should get going. They should arrive not long after us, and we want to get them off the streets as fast as possible. Swain, wait here, and don’t touch any of my stuff.” Swain rolled his eyes as the pair exited, leaving him to his thoughts.
- - - -
An excited yordle gibbered in the background of the room Pinkie was waiting in. She didn’t understand even half of what he was saying, even with the weird translation thing going on in her head for some reason. The yordle’s companion, a relatively dour individual, at least by yordle standards, was trying to question the safety of using a live subject for their creation’s maiden run. The former was assuring him that he and his colleague in Demacia had run all of the appropriate equations already, and now that their kind visitor had found the source of their power problems(a wrench that someone had absentmindedly let fall into the machinery), it was only fair to repay her by helping her reunite with her friends. Pinkie turned to the pair, suppressing a faint twitch in her left hand. “Don’t worry guys, I have a good feeling about this one. Nothing’s going to go wrong with this one, I just know it.”
The more serious yordle sighed. “Very well, very well...If you’re sure you want to go through with this mutilation of the scientific method, it’s your choice. Maybe we’ll all be remembered as the ones who mechanized one of the most popular Summoner tricks after this. Start up the Portal-Opening Relocation Transmitter!”
Mechanics and engineers in the Yordle Academy of Science sprung into action. Pinkie had been wandering Bandle City the previous day, following a series of almost premonitory sensations in her limbs that felt like they were drawing her to the building, where she could happen to trip over a pipe and dislodge a misplaced wrench. At the very least, it was a good indicator that even here, her Pinkie Sense still functioned. Unlike a previously exasperated Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie had never tried to study or quantify the oddly helpful sensations that would often make sure that she was in the right place at the right time, though the most reasonable explanation that she had heard was some sort of genetic anomaly caused by a unicorn in the earth pony’s lineage. Pinkie just preferred to chalk it up to one of life’s little blessings. Life hadn’t been shy with blessing her in the past, so why should something like a little bit of premonition surprise her?
“Communication has been established with Demacia. Power is stable in the hextech converter. We’ll be ready in less than a minute, once the mana-powered containment barrier stabilizes.” More technobabble from the yordles. Pinkie couldn’t really understand anything that most yordles said, either being too scientific or full of so many odd turns of phrase and non-sequiturs that even Pinkie found herself baffled most of her time in Bandle City. Eccentricity seemed to be the trademark of the yordle species. Pinkie decided she would miss this place.
“You’re up, Pinkie. Remember, when it turns blue, step into the portal, and if all goes well, you’ll be talking with your friend in Demacia today.” Pinkie nodded, and spread a round of hugs and thank-yous to all of her new yordle friends, wishing them happiness and parties aplenty in their futures. With a hop, skip, and a jump, Pinkie bounded through the blue gateway in front of her.
- - - -
Swain was still human at heart, even if he did his best to conceal it, and like most humans he had a curious heart. It was for that reason that while he stayed true to Riven’s request not to touch any of her personal belongings, he still found himself compelled to wander about, taking note of the torn and faded decorations. Like most homes, this one told Riven’s life story in bits and pieces, from the broken pieces of war equipment to the Noxian flags that had been salvaged from various battlefields. Swain was already aware of Riven’s story of Noxus’ fall from what she termed as ‘honor’, and how her comrades-in-arms had died to the chemical weapons that Swain had authorized the chemist known as Singed to use. Perhaps it had been a miscalculation on his part. Usually, such a horrific and unthinkable fate would break the spirit of a people, ending their resistance soon after. Some people could not understand that one so-called ‘atrocity’ could actually save lives in the long run. Not even the Master Tactician himself could have predicted how staunch the Ionian resistance was, and how his efforts only galvanized the Ionians. Swain felt no guilt though. He knew that people like him were rare, able to do whatever it took to reach his goal. Labels like monster, betrayer, and murderer meant nothing to him. He’d become whatever it took to reach his future.
His future...and what a glorious future it would be. Noxus would reign supreme in an uncontested era of peace and prosperity. The road would be bloody and long, but Swain knew in his heart that it was quicker than the methods of world peace that others were pursuing, and by virtue of that, his method would eventually pay dividends in time saved in bringing about peace to Valoran. With him at Noxus’ helm, he’d be able to transition Noxus from the state of fighters to a more well-rounded entity when they no longer needed so many soldiers. The other city-states wouldn’t just go along with his plans, no. They had to have proof that Noxus was strong enough to lead them all into a better future. Riven’s reforms were necessary for this purpose, as Noxus needed to be strong in all ways, not just one. For Valoran’s sake as much as Noxus’ or his own, he’d have to break the world apart and remake it in a manner that wouldn’t fail as catastrophically as it had in the past.
Swain’s eyes passed over a crude portrait of Swain’s deceased friends. They didn’t realize how great the cause they died for was, and neither did Riven. Swain wanted peace as much as any of them, but he knew that only a lasting peace would do. History would forgive him for all that he had done if he succeeded. Monster was the label given to those who fell short after wagering the lives of others. Swain was better than that though. He would succeed, and he would be known as a bringer of peace. They would come in from all over the world to see Valoran’s harmony, and Swain would be there at the helm to show them the wonders he had wrought for his people.
Still...he couldn’t help but rest his eyes on the portrait a few minutes longer. Greatness didn’t have much time for camaraderie, and Swain had known since he was small that he was destined for greatness. A single-minded focus had guided him from the bottom to the top. By his own merits he had become Grand General. It wasn’t just for his sake though, it was for everyone, and it was for the good of everyone that he must forsake such petty bonds. It was for the greater good.
Swain gathered his composure, nothing that Nightmare had been oddly silent during his contemplations, and felt compelled to wonder how much of his thought process his guest could read. It wouldn’t do for Nightmare to catch him being this sentimental. Swain had to remain as cool and calm as ever. He would assist this group, and prove his worth. The goodwill garnered from such an endeavor might pay off in the long run, and there wasn’t really much risk to it. No reason not to. It was for the greater good, after all.
- - - -
Rainbow Dash really wasn’t the group-hug type. As such, she wasn’t prepared for the onslaught that fell upon her the moment her friends lunged off of the airship. Riven’s greeting was a little more subtle, consisting of a nod from Kassadin and a brief pat on the shoulder from Ezreal. After the former group took a moment to extricate themselves from the awkward pile that their hug had collapsed into, Riven cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention. “Welcome to Noxus. It isn’t much to look at, I know, but it has its own peculiar charm to it. That being said, we should get moving. The streets aren’t safe when it is dark.”
Rainbow Dash prodded at Applejack, Fluttershy, and Twilight in turn. “So what have you guys been up to? I haven’t heard a peep since I talked to that guy from the League Embassy the day that I got here.”
“Twi’s just been gathering all of us,” Applejack said. “Ah landed in this place called Zaun. Met some nice people there, if a little strange. The air was a bit off though. Ah didn’t really get to stay long enough to see much of it, to be honest.”
“Piltover was...nice...” Fluttershy nodded. “Ezreal was very helpful, and he showed me around Piltover. They have magic and machines here I never would have imagined... It was much better than Zaun.”
“Yeah, I have all sorts of ideas to tell Princess Celestia about when we get back!” Twilight smiled at the prospect of a long, detailed conversation with her mentor about the wonders of hextech and all that she had seen here. “Maybe I can even take a few books when we manage to get back.”
“...We do have a plan for getting back, right?” Rainbow Dash frowned. “I don’t wanna be stuck here forever.”
“Of course! Nasus is at the Institute of War right now lobbying for our cause. If he can’t persuade them, I don’t know who can.” Twilight gave Rainbow Dash her most assuring smile. “There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.” Ezreal and Kassadin pointedly said nothing, and Riven coughed as she muttered under her breath. “What did you say, Riven, I didn’t quite catch that?” Twilight Sparkle said, oblivious to the reactions of the three champions.
“Oh, uh, I was just gonna say that me and Rainbow Dash kinda have a guest waiting for us back home... You see, not long before you arrived, I got a knock on the door, and, uh, Swain was there. He wanted to travel with us due to a string of complicated circumstances, and in exchange for some help that only he could give, I kinda said yes. I know he’s got a bad record, but there’s really nobody el-”
Riven’s speech faltered and stopped as Twilight raised her hand. “Riven, he’s probably wronged you more than any of us, and if you find it, for whatever strange reason, a good idea to bring him along...well, I’m willing to trust your judgment after all that you’ve done for us. I’d be a pretty poor friend if I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt in circumstances that I don’t think I’m fully able to comprehend. Unless he does anything to hurt me or my friends, he’s free to come, right girls?” Fluttershy and Applejack nodded in agreement. “Of course, if he does happen to slip up, he’s out. We just can’t risk too much on him right now.”
Riven nodded. “Thank you for understanding. I hope that this is something that none of us will regret. To be honest, I’m still not sure of his motives, but he’s my best chance for reforming Noxus. Time will tell, I guess. Also, right before your zeppelin arrived, a League messenger reached us. Apparently, we’ll be skipping the trip to Bandle City.”
- - - -
“Hi Rarity!” Rarity squeaked in surprise, and tumbled into a rack of fabrics, causing Pinkie Pie to flinch. “Oooh, are you okay?”
Rarity sputtered and huffed for a moment before catching her breath. “I-what...I mean, I’m fine, Pinkie. What in Celestia’s name are you doing here? I thought you were across the continent!”
Pinkie took a deep breath, and Rarity instantaneously regretted her question the moment Pinkie’s barrage hit her. “Well you see I landed in this cool city full of short furry things called Yordles that were really nice and we had parties and everyone was happy but then I found a fancy university type thing where some of them were working and then I found a wrench with my face and accidentally fixed the portal thingy they’d been working on and they were so happy that they had to throw another party and offered to send me here with their portal thingy where I met another yordle with a complicated H-name and then he sent me to the League Embassy and then they sent me to you and now I’m here!” Pinkie finally stopped, winded.
It took a few moments for Rarity’s brain to catch up to Pinkie’s words. “So...you managed find some...yordles...who let you use their magical teleportation device...and now you’re here?”
Pinkie nodded excitedly. “Yep yep! Also my Pinkie Sense still works and you look really pretty as a human. I like having hands ‘cause they’re so great at grabbing things, I mean using my mouth was okay, but kinda icky. I mean, one time I grabbed a bucket of paint with my mouth while I was trying to help Applejack paint her barn...”
Rarity couldn’t help but tune Pinkie out as she went into full-rant mode. ‘Well, this makes a little part of our trip simpler. I hope the others are doing well though. The newspapers here say that one of the people they are travelling with is a criminal now. I hope they get here soon.’
“-and then the unicorn doctors pumped my stomach again!” Pinkie finished, completely unaware that she was being ignored.
“Yes, yes, that’s wonderful Pinkie.” Rarity inwardly flinched. ‘If only for my sanity, I hope they get here soon.’
- - - -
Nasus was frustrated as only one who has dealt with a true bureaucracy can be. He had already spent several days wrestling with the Institute of War on the matter of the six Equestrians who had been pulled from their homeworld, but the he had still made no progress on securing any further resources to send them home. Hours of paperwork to file his audience request with the Department of Champion Relations, a full day to sit waiting in a room only to be told he his request had to be transferred to their researchers, but only after he had to make an appointment with the High Council of Equity to authorize the usage of the Institute of War’s resources for a task completely unrelated to world peace. It was for the latter of those appointments that Nasus was waiting with rapidly thinning patience, though he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to hear their answer.
He hadn’t spoken to the High Council of Equity since had first been ripped from his homeworld, in the early days of the League of Legends. Back then, no city-states had placed much faith in the new construct, only bothering with it in the first place because it was backed by the most powerful magicians in Valoran. Even the High Council of Equity, composed of the three most powerful Summoners in existence, couldn’t convince city-states to devote their best fighters to the League’s cause though. Thus, until the League had proven itself in the eyes of its constituents, Summoners had looked across worlds to find fighters for their creation. Out of the original forty champions that had first gathered at the birth of the League, six had been drawn from other worlds to help pad the numbers. Nasus had been one of these, and it had been for the sake of creating a peace that had been so elusive on his homeworld that he had joined their cause. Although he could admire the League’s single-minded nature, at times like this, it was more of a hindrance than a help. Even so, it was Nasus’ hope that his history with the founding of the League of Legends that would give him enough pull to request help this once, as he had never asked for League intervention on any other matter besides that of his brother, Renekton.
A female voice sounded out into the lobby that Nasus was currently seated in. “Nasus, Curator of the Sands.” Nasus stood, and entered the adjoining room.
The office of the High Council of Equity was lavish enough to fit its membership. A thick, lush carpet painted the floor with a deep crimson, and the walls were decorated with expertly painted portraits of various important figures in the League’s history. A few hundred years ago, Nasus would have been uncomfortable with such a display of wealth, but now, understanding that like most of their displays, this was just another method of intimidation to draw attention away from how fragile peace really was, he could only feel a slight amount of pity for Valoran.
The High Council of Equity itself, composed of High Councilors Vessaria Kolminye, Kiersta Mandrake, and the relatively recent appointment that was Heywan Relivash, stood before him, trying their best to look important despite the fact that Nasus towered several feet over all of them. Each one had overly ornate robes and perfectly maintained appearances and composure, though they weren’t bothering with their hoods this time, he noted. The head of the council, Vessaria, stepped forward. “Welcome, Nasus. We haven’t had the pleasure of an audience since your brother was captured. I must say, your words in his defense were quite...stirring. We’ve read the paperwork, but would like to hear it directly from you. What brings you here?”
Nasus took a breath, and gathered his composure. “As you are aware of, due to the incompetence of a set of six Summoners who sought to perform an unauthorized variant of the standard ritual, myself and five others were pulled into another world. During the course of our stay in this world, we met and befriended some of the locals, who assisted us in returning to Runeterra. However, without any proper knowledge of the spell that sent us here, it appears that the locals who constructed the spell that returned us could not perfect it, and as a result, were pulled to Runeterra with us when we returned. Although we are eternally grateful that the Institute of War has seen fit to assist us in gathering the scattered locals, this still leaves the problem of their return home, as we no longer have access to the artifacts that powered their version of the spell. Upon the premise that the Institute of War is indirectly responsible for their predicament, I wish to appeal the decision not to devote any more of its resources to the safe return of these six to their proper location.”
Vessaria nodded. “Yes, this is what your written appeal stated. Unfortunately, we cannot accept your appeal. You’re perfectly aware of the petty politics that go on between the Summoners and Emissaries of the League. I could present your case to the General Assembly when we next gather, but I honestly doubt that it would have enough support to pass through, and as you’ve gone out of your way to avoid the more political aspects of the League, I just don’t think you have enough pull to sway enough people to your cause. I’m sorry, Nasus, I truly am. Unless you can gather enough support from the General Assembly, I can’ just go behind their backs and give you what you need.”
Nasus sighed. “I...understand.” There was a slight pause. “Among these locals is a magical prodigy, and a flyer capable of breaking the sound barrier in her natural form, among other talents. Appropriately prepared, they could prove potent on the Fields of Justice.”
Vessaria smiled. “There is no stipulation to how long a champion must retain their position. After judgment and approval, any champion is free to use their capabilities on the Fields of Justice to gather support for their causes in the General Assembly. Judgments are unbiased, of course, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as the last two magical prodigies we accepted weren’t combat trained at all. Is there anything else we can help you with, then?”
Nasus allowed himself a smile. “I believe that will be all, High Councilor. Thank you for your time.”
- - - -
Princess Luna’s voice boomed through the castle, resounding with authority but laced with urgency. Guards swarmed like ants through Canterlot Castle, each with one task embedded in their minds. “Search everywhere. Mobilize the entire Royal Guard! Find her! Search from Ponyville to Manehattan to the Everfree Forest if you have to!” Luna’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Please, just find her. Find my sister. Find Celestia.”
tThe Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 8: Reunited
Twilight’s glaring gaze only broke contact with Swain’s back when the zeppelin hit a patch of turbulence. Despite promising Rainbow Dash and Riven that she trusted their judgment, the resentment coursing through her was nauseatingly intense. Despite the differences in his appearance now, she still had the same memories of his duplicity, of being alone, tied down, and afraid, with only Singed and his needles and chemicals for company. Twilight Sparkle knew the value of friendship, and for the sake of friendship she had brushed aside what she truly felt toward Swain. Riven’s reforms could change the face of Noxus so that men like Swain would stop existing, and Rainbow Dash would never try to lead her friends astray. For what little comfort it was, even Swain himself could be relied upon to be as self-serving as possible, and thus far, he had made convincing arguments on the subject of how beneficial this arrangement was to him.
It still didn’t feel right though. Twilight Sparkle almost felt sick, and her shaking hands were barely enough to steady her against the rails of the zeppelin’s deck. She had always been an emotionally reserved individual, and she was in no way prepared for the sheer amount of feeling pouring through her.
As if sensing her searing eyes, Swain turned around, smirking arrogantly. “Shouldn’t you be below deck with all of your friends? Or did you just want my company that badly?”
Twilight found herself at a loss for words for a few seconds, before her halting response came. “I want...I want to understand. I know a lot of things, Swain. I’ve spent my entire life studying and learning. From the sleeping patterns of celestial beasts like the Ursa Major, to the physiology of changelings, I’ve memorized fact after fact. I’ve read the entire section of the Canterlot Archives dedicated to psychology, and I’m certified in multiple fields of engineering. I once built a machine that could study Pinkie’s brain activity, even, and my knowledge of astronomy could probably only be matched by the two Princesses themselves.” Twilight paused for a moment, staring at the wooden floor beneath her, before looking back up at Swain. “I don’t understand you though. You hurt and you break everything around you if it suits your goals. You associate with monsters who call abuse science. You...you are a monster yourself, even. You don’t care for anyone or anything but yourself, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill whatever twisted plans you make. We don’t have anything like you in Equestria. I don’t understand you at all, I don’t understand how you can even exist as you are. No guilt, no remorse. I don’t understand you at all! Being around you makes my stomach turn, and my head spin, and I feel more negative than I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. I look at you, and all I can think is the word ‘why’.”
“It’s called hate, little girl.” Swain rolled his eyes, and locked his stare with Twilight’s. “What you’re feeling is hate, born of a thousand petty and self-righteous judgments. Who are you, to tell me what is right and what is wrong? You know a lot of things, but none of them pertain to me or my world. Fools like you never understand, but I’ll be sporting and try to explain anyway.” Swain sneered, gathering himself to his full height from his leaning position on the rail. “You think you know so much? What do you know about having to fight every day to survive in a world that would rather discard you than offer the slightest bit of sympathy? What do you know of war and conflict, and the causes thereof? These myriad differences between this world and yours, between one city-state and another. We have no deities here who can keep us nice to each other. The only hope we’ve ever had of peace is in finding a unifying ideal. For now, the League seems to be doing that, but to be perfectly honest, the Institute of War is corrupt and impotent without the High Council of Equity. All it would take is one weak link in the leadership for the entire chain to collapse. Are we truly going to rely on that for our safety and the security of the generation after us? Of course not! You think I’m entirely self-serving, you shallow child. The truth is, you’re more selfish than I ever could be for trying to force your ideals into a world that couldn’t possibly contain them. It’s because of people like you that it falls to people like me to do the unthinkable, to make deals with devils and to put the many ahead of the few. Monsters, you call us. Monster is merely a word describing those willing to do whatever it takes to reach their goal, and my goal is an empire unlike any other, where peace and prosperity reign eternally, and the fighting that we have relied upon to refine and strengthen us so long will no longer be a staple in our lives. I’m willing to be a monster for that cause. I help myself by helping the entire continent of Valoran. Is that selfish? One day, every knee shall bow to a single throne, and then every man, woman, and child can rest easy at night knowing there will be no more war, and that peace can finally stand a chance. Is that so different from the rule of your vaunted Princesses? I am nothing but a man who knows what his world is, and what his place in it is. I will bring safety and happiness to my new empire, and we shall have...peace. So perhaps instead of coming to me with your accusations and your self-righteous condemnation, why don’t you take a moment to think before speaking, and maybe realize that I’m doing more for my people than you’re even capable of.”
Twilight was caught completely off-guard. She had wanted to confront him, to show him the evil of his ways, to resolve in her mind the conflict between them. She hadn’t expected the man to be so self-assured of his cause. Problems in Equestria had always been very easily divided between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’. Swain, though... He honestly believed in what he was doing. Can someone so assured that they were serving the greater good be a ‘bad guy’? Equestrian villains were Spirits of Chaos who just wanted to see the world burn, or changeling Queens who wanted power, or even something as simple as an arrogant showmare who wanted to show everypony else up. There hadn’t been much thinking about who was in the right and who was in the wrong, only how to stop them and what could be learned from the experience. Faced with a question she couldn’t answer, Twilight fell back to what seemed her only available recourse.
As she fled to her quarters, blinking back tears, Twilight heard Swain’s mocking laughter chasing her.
- - - -
Celestia blinked back tears of her own as the vision of her fleeing student faded. ‘What is a student without her teacher?’ She wasn’t really sure where her thoughts began and her guiding voice ended. As her hooves crunched across the desert sands, she left a trail of molten glass as sun-fire dripped from once-beautiful mane, which seemed to have faded from its soft, multi-colored palette to nothing more than a flickering trail of flame that flowed almost mournfully behind her. She couldn’t exactly recall when her coat had started to darken, but she knew that there was no longer a speck of white on it, having been replaced entirely by an unsightly, mottled looking mixture of ash-gray and black, though the black seemed to be winning lately. “We must not tarry. Our student will not last long against the vile influence of that world.” As Celestia spoke, her voice rang out with echoes of other, darker-sounding voices, creating an eerie echo to everything she said. “Fear not, dear student. We shall be with you soon.”
- - - -
Rarity smiled as she gave the last few bits of money due to the person who she had been renting her ad hoc dressmaking shop from. It hadn’t been a hard thing to set up the shop in the first place, due to a few friendly folks at the Embassy and an odd string of Demacian laws allowing loans from the royal treasury itself, on the condition of a few personal interviews and interest repaid in full, though for for a woman as down on her luck and attractive as Rarity, it hadn’t been especially hard to get a little reduction on the interest rates. Rarity smiled. Males were just too easy to predict sometimes, even in another dimension. Of course, now that she was done educating the Demacians on what fashion truly was, it was time to pack up in anticipation of her friends’ arrival. Pinkie had been spending most of her time exploring, so Rarity had used her time to finish up the last parts of the paperwork of her week-long stay in Demacia. It had been a fun diversion, though the rumors she’d been chasing were becoming increasingly worrisome, as it was becoming easy to hear whispers that this so-called Cult of the Void was becoming more active than ever with its recruiting. The fact that it had been brave enough to strike at her friends spoke volumes on the sort of people this group attracted, and even though nothing had come of it, Rarity couldn’t help but feel concerned that as the group grew, so would the power of the strikes against her and her friends. It was probably best to get to the Institute of War as quickly as possible. It was highly unlikely that anyone would attack them there.
It was about a half an hour’s walk to the shipyard that Rarity had told Pinkie to meet her at, but it wasn’t an unpleasant walk. Averse to physical exertion as she was, Rarity found walking through whatever city or village she happened to be in was an excellent source of artistic inspiration, and could be just as excellent for clearing her thoughts. Thus, it was no chore at all to trek to the shipyard. She even managed to arrive a little early and have a little time to marvel at the collection of both waterborne and airborne craft residing together at the massive port. So lost in thought was she that she was completely caught off guard when another person slammed into her, tackling her to the ground. With a panicked squeak, she looked up at her assailant before rolling her eyes. “Pinkie, dear, I’m glad to see you too, but you’re ruining a perfectly good dress.”
Pinkie deflated slightly. “Oh, sorry. I just saw you looking all thoughtful and stuff, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘She looks like she could use a surprise!’, so I got all sneaky and stuff and then BAM! I forgot about your dress though.”
Rarity laughed it off. “Think nothing of it, Pinkie. Just try to be a little more aware next time. I think the others will be arriving here in about half an hour, so we have a little time to wait. Care to take a look around? This place is truly nothing like home.”
Pinkie answered with a series of rapid nods. “That sounds super fun! Hot air balloons don’t hold a candle, torch, or any other potential source of lift-inducing hot-air to these zeppelin thingies. It’s a little slower than pegasus wings, though, but that’s okay, cause this place doesn’t have any pegasi, so the competition has already been eliminated...Unless...The different city-states themselves are the competition, and every year they host a super-duper flying contest to see who has the best aircraft.” Pinkie tapped her chin thoughtfully while Rarity merely rolled her eyes. “Of course, since this place has so many different types of magic, I best someone’s even thought of using time magic to make some of these things even faster.”
Rarity giggled. “Oh, Pinkie. Half the time I don’t know if your over-active imagination is endearing or if I should be going insane.”
Pinkie beamed. “Silly Rarity! Artists can’t go crazy. They just become eccentric. How are we gonna know when Twilight and the others get here, anyway?”
“They’ll be in on a zeppelin named Imminent Pursuit. It’s supposed to be one of the smaller ones, meaning they’ll probably be the only ones on it. Once we rendezvous with them, we’ll transfer to another private zeppelin named Sword of the Righteous. That will take us right to the Institute of War, where we will spend the remainder of our time on Valoran until we get home.” Rarity pointed to an empty docking bay and a small zeppelin in turn as they walked through the busy port.
“Those are silly names.” Pinkie paused for a moment. “What does rendezvous mean?” Rarity only sighed in response.
- - - -
‘Well aren’t you just a bottle of sunshine and daisies,’ Nightmare remarked lazily within Swain’s thoughts. ‘I’d gotten that impression from our interactions thus far, but wow, you really did a number on that poor girl’s self-confidence.’
Swain scowled. “You should know all about me by now. Don’t you reside within my thoughts?”
Nightmare chuckled. ‘Oh, no. That’d be a terrible invasion of privacy. I’m in your head, yes, but not your thoughts, per se. Really, the only thing your brain shares with me is sensory information. Didn’t you ever wonder why I only respond when you talk aloud? I’m surprised one such as you would overlook that detail.’
“I’m not too proud to admit a mistake. Just because I am one of the best tactical minds on Valoran does not make me incapable of making a mistake,” responded Swain dismissively, trying not to think of all of the years he’d wasted trying to exact petty revenge on the prince of Demacia. He had grown as a person since then. Nothing was going to distract him from his goal of ruling Valoran.
‘A very mature stance on the matter, yet still laced with your trademark arro-I mean confidence.’ Nightmare’s tone bore a slight condescension to it.
Swain growled. “You’re probably the most talkative Void-dweller I’ve ever encountered. Be silent, if you can. The zeppelin is about to land, and I do not wish for the others to hear me.”
As Swain predicted, as the zeppelin came in to land, the seven others came out to see if they could spot Pinkie Pie and Rarity. Deciding that it would be best to give the others a chance to explain his presence, he delayed his disembarkation until the teary reunion had time to bleed off its sappiness, though he noted with a cynical smile that Twilight seemed a little more reserved than she usually was. After waiting a few minutes, and seeing a few fingers pointed in his general vicinity, he decided to grace the two additions to their group with his presence.
Even Pinkie’s constant chatter wavered for a moment when Swain joined the group, and she tilted her head for a moment. “You look...different. Did you change your hair? No, wait! It’s your bird. Your bird changed its hair, or feathers, in this case.”
Nobody really blamed Swain for ignoring Pinkie. “We should get moving. From what I understand, I am not the only one with hostile attention centered on me. I also do not think that the powers that rule Demacia would take kindly to my presence in their lands.”
“What bird-boy said,” affirmed Ezreal. “Though, perhaps the part about Demacia hating him was a bit understated. Seriously, we should get out of here before someone gets a good look at his face.”
The Sword of the Righteous followed the standard blue and gold motif that most things Demacian favored, though it was a bit more lavish an example than the recently departed Imminent Pursuit, which had offered rather spartan accommodations to its passengers, though until they boarded its Demacian counterpart, the earth-bound Equestrians had simply delighted in the experience of being in the air at speeds faster than the hot air balloons that were currently novel in their homeland. Faced with the obvious increase in service quality, though, even the two former-pegasi had been forced to admit that it was a nice experience. It hadn’t taken long for the girls to find the room designated ‘Lounge’ amidst the cabins, and the majority of the passengers soon gravitated towards it for snacks, drinks, and the company of friends.
Two of the passengers did not follow suit, though, instead preferring the open-aired deck. For about an hour, Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle had sat in silence, with nothing but the sound of the wind and the zeppelin’s propulsion as the backdrop to a strange contest of wills. Twilight Sparkle knew that it was most unlike Pinkie to be in one place for very long, but she also knew that Pinkie could very easily get into the thoughts of those around her, and Twilight’s mind was a place that she definitely did not want company in.
Pinkie, though often hyperactive and unfocused, lived up to her title as the Element of Laughter, and it seemed an innate talent for her to know what to say, or in this case, what not to say, to bring peace and happiness to those around her. Thus, the standoff continued for what seemed to both to be an eternity.
Twilight broke first. “What’s the difference between a good guy and a bad guy? Discord was thoroughly destructive, but he was really just acting according to his nature. Faced with being the incarnation of chaos, would any of us acted better?”
Pinkie smiled gently at Twilight. “When I throw a party for somepony, it’s often a crazy, chaotic thing. Ponies say I’m really random and unpredictable, and occasionally say I have a mental disorder or something. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. It never mattered to me. No matter how I act, I act according to my personality...but...I could still act according to my personality if I was random and unpredictable in mean ways. What makes me Pinkie Pie though, more than anything else, is that I choose to make ponies smile. Being good or bad isn’t written into our brains like instructions. It’s a choice we make.”
Twilight frowned in response. “But what if we think the choices we make are good, but others don’t? If somepony says that I’m doing wrong, but I think I’m doing right, who is correct? We caused you a lot of hurt on your birthday when we hid it from you and you thought we hated you, but in the end it all worked out. Does that absolve us of the pain we accidentally brought to you? If it all works out in the end, does causing a little pain matter?”
“Well, were you trying to make me sad?” Pinkie put a hand on Twilight’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “I can make the best party in the world, but if I steal the ingredients for it, it isn’t a very good party after all. If I make the same party, and accidentally hurt someone’s feelings along the way, well, that’s no good, but I still have room to fix my mistake, make a new friend, and maybe add someone to the guest list.” Pinkie bit her lip for a moment, deep in thought. “I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that what we call good comes from inside you to start, a choice you make, and the way you see it is unique to you. Some might say that if it causes a net increase in joy, happiness, contentment, and other stuff like that, it’s good, but you can’t just judge something by the end result. If you cause pain and misery and unhappiness along the way, well that doesn’t really seem right to me. What are words like right and wrong good for if you are just willing to cast them aside and then pick them up once you’re done with whatever you’re doing? If you do that, you might as well not bother with them in the first place. That’s probably what that big ol’ bird-faced meanie doesn’t understand, so don’t worry about what he says. Oh, and Twi’? Try to cheer up, would ya?”
“Thanks Pinkie.” Twilight giggled for a moment before realization hit her. “What, what? How did you kn-”
“Come down to the lounge with me, Twi’! I wanna be there when they find out that the cider here is hard. It’ll be hilarious.” Pinkie skipped to the stairs, leaving a befuddled, but resoundingly less troubled Twilight in her wake.
- - - -
Nasus smiled weakly at Renekton, who was trying to reach out to throttle his brother. “The High Council of Equity wasn’t able to fulfil my request. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to. They did leave me with a little hope though. As soon as the young Equestrians get here, I’ll start working with the other champions to train them, so we can get them into the League as fast as possible. With our combined influence, it shouldn’t take too much lobbying to get the General Assembly on our side. Then, after that, maybe I can start dealing with Malzahar. He and his ilk have been getting out of hand lately. I think that they may be planning something big, with the recent attacks. It’s a pity I cannot just strike him down now, but you are well aware of the restrictions of the Institute of War.”
Renekton’s eyes sharpened in an instant. “Fool. Abandon your charges to protect them. Your shortsightedness was always a weakness, and now, tampering with dimensional boundaries amidst the ambitious snakes of this world and others is no different. They will all die...especially if I reach them first.” Nasus sighed, and walked out of the room, unsettled at the implications of his brother’s brief moment of lucidity. For the brief moment before the door was closed, Renekton’s enraged howls could be heard through several floors of the Institute.
‘On the brighter side, he is becoming lucid more often. Still, his rage will not abate.’ Nasus sighed. ‘I must think on his words, though. He was never one for misdirection.’
- - - -
Malzahar laughed as his eyes dimmed, the magic draining from them after he had just showed another fool the power of the Void. It was satisfying, even if the ‘death’ was only temporary. As he stood over a pile of bones covered in a robe, Malzahar turned to his eager teammate and Void dweller, who was currently dripping digestive juices over the corpse of yet another fallen champion. “Soon, my friend, we will leave behind these games. Soon.”
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 9: War as an Institution
Rainbow Dash groaned as she shifted in her bunk, trying her best to ignore the pounding headache that raged in her brain. As she struggled to get comfortable, her tossing and turning brought her too close to the edge of the narrow bunk, and with a loud thunk and an even louder, somewhat profane exclamation of pain, Rainbow Dash, along with Applejack and Rarity as collateral damage, were forced to dismiss the notion of sleeping any further. Rarity stifled a yawn in as ladylike a manner as she could manage. “Rainbow Dash, dear, what have I told you about using that kind of language? It’s completely uncouth.”
She received a groan and a muffled, incoherent dismissal that was either complaining about how loud Rarity was, telling her to do unspeakable acts with a cactus, or some combination thereof.
Applejack snorted and aimed a soft kick at the lump on the floor known as Rainbow Dash. “Ain’t no call to be rude, Dash, just cause you can’t handle your drink. Should’ve stopped when we told you to. Gotta admit, it was pretty funny seeing you trying to reenact Cadence and Twilight’s brother wedding adventure,” she finished with a snicker.
“Ugh, I can’t remember a thing, and I’m not sure I want to,” said Rainbow Dash as she crawled pitifully toward the chair and table that took up what little unoccupied space in the cabin was there. “Why are you two so peppy? Shouldn’t you at least have a headache or something?”
“A lady must always know her limits,” Rarity huffed. “Else one might make a fool of oneself. Of course, if you hadn’t indulged yourself to the point of not remembering, you’d know that lesson firsthand.”
“Earth pony fortitude,” said Applejack as Rainbow Dash turned to her. “The average earth pony will have twice the tolerance as any other pony. You shouldn’t be surprised, really. Pegasi are notorious lightweights, in pretty much every way. That same thing that lets you fly and run so fast also gives a weak constitution in return. Now, get up and come on. We’ll get you a glass of water, that’ll help with the hangover. If it makes you feel any better, you ain’t gonna be alone, Dash. Ah reckon Twi’s gonna be even worse off, ‘cause Ah’m willing to bet that she at least remembers some of last night.”
When the trio reached the dining room, Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy were already waiting. Pinkie was her usual self, happily, noisily, and messily devouring the raisin muffins on her plate. Fluttershy was speaking consolingly to Twilight, whose disheveled appearance and downcast face attested to the truth of what Applejack had previously said.
“Don’t feel bad, Twilight,” cooed Fluttershy. “Your dancing wasn’t that bad. Nobody minded. Everypo-I mean everyone had a wonderful time last night, and nobody will hold your behavior against you. I’m sure Riven’s forgotten all about your comments.” Fluttershy realized her mistake a moment too late.
“Comments?! What comments?!” Twilight’s shame and discomfort were rapidly transforming into panic. “What did I say, Fluttershy? What. Did. I. Say?” Of course, Fluttershy was having a hard time answering through Twilight’s frenzied shaking of her.
Fortunately for Fluttershy, and unfortunately for Twilight, Ezreal, Kassadin, and Riven decided to join them at that moment. Ezreal and Riven looked like they were trying to suppress smirks. “Morning everybody,” said Ezreal with a little too much pep. “Gotta admit, last night was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Being a champion can get so stuffy sometimes. Also, nice moves, Twi’,” he finished with a wink, causing Twilight to blush furiously while burning a hole in her untouched food with her gaze.
Riven smacked him in the arm. “Don’t tease the poor girl. Not everyone can dance as...gracefully as you, Ezreal. No wonder Taric likes being in your lane so much.” Riven placed a comforting hand on Twilight’s shoulder while Ezreal sputtered in indignation. “Don’t sweat it, Twilight. Alcohol does some funny things to people, but don’t feel bad. It wouldn’t have worked out between us anyway. You should probably have a long talk with Celestia when you get home though.” At that point, it became too much for Riven to bear, and she burst into hearty laughter, joined quickly by Ezreal.
“You two need to stop now. Twilight’s on the verge of tears.” The laughter stopped instantly when the pair met Fluttershy’s sharp glare, and both of the seasoned warriors felt inexplicably unnerved at the pair of daggers pointed in their direction. “You will apologize now. You will mean it.”
“Err, sorry Twilight,” said Ezreal sheepishly. “I guess we got a little carried away. You really were the life of the party last night though. I don’t get many chances to unwind like that between fighting with the League and my archeology work for Piltover. It was awesome, even if I’m going to be terribly backlogged with work when I go back home.”
Riven nodded. “Yeah, I apologize. I used to go drinking a lot with my comrades back before the Ionian War. We were pretty rowdy. I guess I expected everyone else to be that thick-skinned.”
“I-it’s okay,” Twilight managed as she regained her composure. “Where’s Swain? I haven’t seen him since before we started drinking.”
“He ate by himself and headed above deck again. He spends much of his time communing with the creature dressed as a bird. The stench of the Void on him is nearly unbearable.” Kassadin’s eyes narrowed. “I will be glad to be rid of him as soon as possible.”
“Geez, barely awake and already full of doom and Void prophecies. Maybe you should have joined us last night,” snarked Ezreal.
“Alcohol is a vile substance, and I have refused to partake of it since before I was touched by the Void,” Kassadin said flatly. “Even if I so desired, the complications of my respiration system make ingesting food and drink in the traditional method impossible. To keep myself alive, I must sustain myself via raw magic.”
Twilight perked up in sync with her curiosity. “If you don’t mind me asking...You talk a lot about how you’ve been ‘touched by the Void’, but you don’t really say much more. What happened, exactly?”
Kassadin was pensive for a few moments, his expression as unreadable as ever. Twilight began to worry that she had offended him with her curiosity. A few seconds later, though, her fears were assuaged as he responded. “I was once a scholar. I did have some magical ability, but nothing prodigious. What I did have, however, was an insatiable curiosity and a knack for finding out things I shouldn’t. My studies once led me to stumble across mention of a forgotten city named Icathia.”
Kassadin drew a deep, rattling breath through his mask, almost sounding as if he were in pain at the mere recollection of the experience. “I saw things that I cannot speak of there. Words cannot capture the fear and horror I felt when I gazed into the Void in that necropolis. At first, I tried to fight it as the power of the place began to seep into both my body and my mind. I knew I was not strong enough to save both, though, so I let my body be consumed and filled with the energies of the Void, draining me of what magical potential I had and replacing it with a new power capable of fending off the tendrils of the Void that ripped at my mind. When I finally escaped from Icathia, I vowed to do everything within my power to protect this world from the Void.” Kassadin sighed. “Unfortunately, playing politician within the halls of the Institute of War seems to be the only path to gather the support I need to seal this world from the Void once and for all.”
“What about Malzahar?,” quipped Rainbow Dash, who until then had been silently nursing her headache over a bowl of soup. “How does he fit into all of this?”
“Malzahar is the only other human to step foot into Icathia and survive, if you can call his existence that,” Kassadin growled. “From what I understand, he was once a talented seer from the Shurima Desert, who was drawn by visions from the Void into Icathia. His body survived, but his mind did not. He is nothing but a puppet for his Void masters now.”
- - - -
Swain’s thoughts flew with the unceasing breeze that often drew him to the airship’s deck. He hadn’t taken part in the revelry that had occurred the previous night, being well too aware of the risks of alcohol. He was also loathe to admit that Pinkie made him nervous. She always seemed to be looking right at him when Nightmare decided to make a comment. Adding to it, his feathered companion seemed unusually reticent lately. His bird seemed to dislike the Nightmare immensely, or so it seemed to convey the last time they had exchanged thoughts and feelings in the strange way the two communicated. It was through this method that the two long-time companions were having a silent argument. ‘Well at least tell me why you hate this Nightmare so much. His dislike of the way things work in the Void has been working greatly to our advantage.’
The bird blinked its six red eyes as if it were explaining something to an unusually dense child. ‘Names important.’ Swain felt the bird’s mistrust spike at this. ‘No names, only titles. Titles go to the recognized. False names taboo without real name. Kog’maw is false name for Mouth of the Void. Cho’gath is false name for Terror of the Void. Nightmare is false name for something.’
‘So he has a title that is also a name. What does that mean?,’ Swain queried with his thoughts.
The bird squawked derisively. ‘Losing brain? Void titles same as Runeterra titles. Cannot deal with child more. Hunting time.’ Swain sighed in defeat at the bird flew away.
‘That one doesn’t like me, I think. Always flies off when I want to talk. What do you two talk about anyway?’ Nightmare’s voice was considerably friendlier than the harshness of the birds thoughts against Swain’s mind.
“It was simply squawking about how it disliked one of my plans. Astounding that after all of these years, it hasn’t put much effort into learning manners or how to speak in Runeterran properly,” Swain snarked in response.
‘Sounds annoying. Why put up with it?,’ asked Nightmare flatly.
“Despite a lack of refinement, it has been my oldest traveling companion for years, and has offered insight, loyalty, and magical assistance to me. It would be foolish to send it away for its quirks.” Swain’s voice seemed artificially harsh and apathetic, and his conversation partner picked up on it.
‘...I get it,’ said Nightmare after a pointed delay. ‘I never expected someone as practical and ruthless as you to have such an obvious soft spot. You’re a strange one, Swain. You use your own kind like disposable tools, and a being that by almost anyone else around you would be considered an abomination is your only friend. You ever hear that saying in Equestria about pegasi of a feather fl-’
“Be silent, Nightmare. Whose company I keep is none of your concern, and there is a reason behind everything I do,” Swain snapped defensively. “On to a subject that has been on my mind for a while...you mentioned that you represented a group of Void creatures that wished for a different lifestyle?”
Nightmare laughed. ‘Whatever you say, boss. Okay, brief rundown of the Void. Take notes, human, you’re about to learn more than all but one sane man has. Runeterra used to have the troublesome habit of taking creatures from other worlds and dimensions to fight in its League, as you know.The Void exists as a nexus between those dimensions, so to speak. It has been the tradition in the Void to use the massive amounts of power at our disposal to seed worlds in the various dimensions with Void magic. The natural magic that a dimension produces and recycles would be drawn to the new world, paving the way for societies of supreme magic users who would eventually be drawn to their own destruction by the sheer amount of power at their disposal. At this point, the boundaries between dimensions would be as weak as they were when the world was first touched by the Void, and we would come in and rip the gathered magic from the world to consume and grow in power. After a brief hibernation, the invasion force would return to the Void and prepare for the next invasion while seeders looked for suitable worlds to groom.’
“Seeders, you say?” Swain pondered for a moment. “What goes into seeding a world?”
‘Well, really all it takes is finding a world with magic, creating a dimensional tether to the Void that can be used to open a portal later, and then making sure that the culture of the strongest magic users on the world advances far enough to destroy themselves when they go to war. You’d honestly be surprised at how often we find humans or variants thereof. It seems to be a favorite configuration of the worlds in this dimension,’ replied Nightmare casually.
“So you have a direct effect on the cultures you encounter? Are these ‘Seeders’ responsible for the odd similarities between various worlds and dimensions that we have seen?,” Swain asked, his mind ablaze with questions.
Nightmare seemed almost enthusiastic to explain his home to Swain.‘Oh, yeah. Seeders fancy themselves artists or something like that, but they’ve found certain...cultural formulae that almost always lead to war. For simplicity’s sake, most of the time a seeder will draw from a prefabricated template to influence a culture toward, and then cast some minor illusion spells to make certain cultural aspects appear comprehensible from one world to the next, so that they don’t have to keep up with one million dialects. It works for most human worlds, though Equestria was a rather messy lesson in not assuming every world works like human worlds do. The seeders underestimated the influence that those demigods would have on society after we left. They inherited a lot of the cultural similarities that you saw, but became a society too pacifistic for the world-shattering conflicts we rely upon to weaken the dimensional barriers to occur. Everyone pretty much decided they weren’t worth the effort after that, and the place was forgotten until my associates and I decided it would be a perfect place to refine our new way of life into something more sustainable in the long term. After all, eventually we’ll run out of targets, even if that is eons away. Eons don’t mean much in our society. After all, you of all people should know about sacrificing the easy way to improve the future, right?’
- - - -
Pinkie held her hand to stop the rapid shaking that had been rattling her arm for a minute, telling her that someone was hiding something. At the same time, an itch on her foot told her something bad was in the process of happening. It still baffled someone as scholarly as Twilight not to have a solid explanation for the so-called ‘Pinkie Sense’, a series of bodily sensations that Pinkie had learned to interpret over the years in a somewhat prophetic manner. After yet another night of exasperated research, the best Twilight had been able to explain it with was that there might be an bit of unicorn in her ancestry that may have caused a genetic anomaly with her native magic. Pinkie didn’t really know what that meant, but it seemed to keep Twilight from stressing too much about it. At this point, none of her friends questioned when she had the urge to randomly wander off, driven by her intuition-laden twitches and spasms.
What her body lead her to, however, left Pinkie even more confused. She knew she was watching something important, but whoever this ‘Nightmare person was didn’t actually seem to be there, despite Swain carrying on half of a conversation with ease. It was very puzzling that Swain seemed to talk to himself so often. When Pinkie had started imagining voices in her head after a huge misunderstanding regarding her birthday, Twilight had told Pinkie to get counseling. She never did go, but maybe Swain needed counseling too if he was hearing voices. She would have to do some thinking. Pinkie headed back down into the belly of the zeppelin, unnoticed by the one she was observing.
“Twitchy tail, itchy back,” commented Pinkie as she rejoined the others. “Hey everybody, I think we’re going to be landing soon.”
- - - -
The Institute of War was a breathtaking sight for those who hadn’t previously seen it. The massive architecture, carved out of the face of a mountain, was every bit as grandiose as its self-proclaimed intentions. Even Rainbow Dash, native to the relatively opulent city of Cloudsdale, was forced to admit that she had never seen anything like it before. “This has to be bigger than Canterlot Castle. What the hay do they even use all of this space for?,” she commented as she gazed at the huge, magnificently decorated doors that stood in front of the group.
Ezreal patted her on the shoulder. “Offices. Lots and lots of offices.”
Riven rolled her eyes. “To be fair, for a while they were working on that new Field of Justice somewhere in there. They were going to make a new battlefield near the magma flows inside, but the conflict in Kalamanda that created the new Field of Justice there sapped the funding, I think. Speaking of which, I heard that incident was orchestrated by a few Summoners.”
“Yeah,” responded Ezreal with a nod. “Half of the staff from the Journal of Justice got arrested. It’s a pity. I like that publication.”
“Or you just were infatuated with the idea of answering fan mail for a gossip column,” replied Riven with a derisive snort. “Nothing against the paper itself, though. People like to be entertained. It’s frustratingly typical of the League, though, to just make a few arrests and give no further reparation for the destroyed lives of the villagers who lived there. They’ll scapegoat a few Summoners for something that’s probably evidence of widespread corruption, and the continue to reap the benefits of a new Field of Justice. I’m beginning to view that name with a trace of irony.”
Nasus was waiting for them in the ornate lobby that they found just past the entrance. After a quick but friendly reunion, Nasus began to lead them to the suite that would house them, while Ezreal, Kassadin, Swain, and Riven went their separate ways to find their own suites. “Wow, this is really...who pays for all of this?,” asked Applejack as the group surveyed the lavish housing.
“I’ve got a better question.” Twilight looked hopeful as she spoke. “Is there any news on getting that appeal through?”
“There is good news and there is bad news,” Nasus began with a slow, measured pace of words. “I could not convince the High Council of Equity to direct more resources to us.” Six faces fell in unison. “There is still hope, however. If we manage to gain enough influence among the Summoners before the next General Assembly, where the Summoners and Emissaries gather to discuss issues that fall under the League’s jurisdiction, we may be able to get the resources we need.”
Twilight sighed, looking up a few seconds later with renewed determination. “Well girls, nopony said it would be easy getting home. Nasus, what do we have to do?”
Nasus took on an expression of unease. “Influence with the Summoners is gained by helping them. The most expedient way of gaining a Summoner’s favor is to represent their causes upon the Fields of Justice.”
Rarity’s jaw dropped. “You mean we have to...”
Fluttershy’s body hit the soft carpet with an equally soft thump as she fainted.
- - - -
Fluttershy awoke feeling well-rested. Seeing her companions around her with concerned looks filled her with both worry that something was wrong and happiness that they were so invested in her well-being. “Oh, my. What happened? All I remember is having the worst dream about Nasus saying we could only get home by fighting...girls?” Fluttershy felt increasingly uncomfortable as nobody said anything in response to her. Realization hit her. “Oh. It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
Rarity nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid so. Violence is our only path to get home, it seems.
Fluttershy felt the arms of panic closing around her chest again. “But I...I can’t...I don’t...” Fluttershy curled into a ball, her face hiding behind a lock of pink hair. “I don’t think I can fight.”
Twilight smiled reassuringly. “We know that some of us just aren’t cut out at all for what has to be done...That’s why you and Rarity are getting an equally important job that doesn’t involve fighting. We’re going to need you two to act as our representatives to the Summoners and anyone else we need to help us. Rarity knows how to make a pitch for us, and to be frank, Fluttershy, most ponies just have a hard time telling you no. The rest of us will undergo combat training, and then we will enter the League. Speaking of which, we were all about to go and spectate one of the battles to have an idea of what we’re going into. Would you care to join us?”
“That’s a relief,” replied Fluttershy with a sigh. “I suppose as long as I don’t have to fight, I can come watch. I still want to be there for you girls. I’m sorry that I just can’t-”
Rainbow Dash put a hand over Fluttershy’s mouth. “Listen. Don’t sweat it. We all know you wouldn’t swat a mosquito if it was biting you on the wing. It’s just who you are. We won’t be mad at you for that. Leave it to the more rough-and-tumble ponies to fight. I know I have some new moves to show Applejack out there.”
Applejack chuckled. “Ah might have learned a few new things myself, sugarcube. Come on now, we don’t wanna be late.”
- - - -
Nasus pointed to a thick cloth tunic and put a bag of gold coins in the hand of the new shopkeeper, a yordle whose name he wasn’t quite familiar with, and as he took hold of the armor, it vanished from his hands, becoming a wispy smoke that absorbed into his entire body. The League didn’t want the look of its poster-children tarnished by bulky armors and mismatched equipment, so a few enchantments had been made to allow a champion to buy a piece of equipment and wield its power without actually wielding it, resulting in odd situations where an archer might buy a comically oversized sword, or one of the beefier champions might buy multiple sets of the same suit of armor. It was a bizarre system, to be sure, but it worked. Nasus hoped that his observers would be able to learn as much as possible from the coming battle, as their training would have to be both rapid and unforgiving.
Nasus stepped off of the platform and readied himself for battle.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 10: The Death of Friends, the Birth of Champions
“Welcome to Summoner’s Rift!” The announcer, as always, sounded like she was trying to mask a mild disinterest in her occupation. Nasus was a seasoned veteran of both battle and the League of Legends, and rarely felt any pressure stemming from his occupation. Even so, the knowledge that Twilight Sparkle and her friends were watching added more weight than usual to what had become standard procedure for the ancient being. As the time before battle stretched into an eternity, Nasus filled his time by examining his opponent.
Across the lane was a muscular, spear-wielding human, whose body was mostly obscured by a combination of his helmet and a massive shield. Nasus had fought the one known as Pantheon countless times before, and with the reassuring voice of his Summoner, an old acquaintance who often called upon Nasus, he suspected that this would end the way it always did. His musings were interrupted by the taunting his opponent. “After all of this time, I still cannot tell the difference between a jackal and a common mutt. After all, like a mutt, you know I’ll be putting you down many times before this is over. I fight for the glory of my people, but even I will not object to the extra coin that you’ll be giving me shortly.”
Nasus would have rolled his eyes if he had pupils. Such taunting was an odd but pointless tradition for League champions, but the entertainment it provided drew the people of Valoran closer to the matches and further from war, so Nasus had always tolerated it. “Life is short for you, human. Even your fighting reflects it. You shine so brilliantly for such a short amount of time, but before we are done here, your blows will seem feeble and fading to me. I only grow stronger with time, though. Your time is precious, mine is unlimited. You should take the wise path after the requisite twenty minutes, and save what little of it you have.”
Pantheon laughed. “Just like a dog, your bark, however long-winded, is worse than your bite. Why ask for our surrender when you will be defeated long before you have gathered your strength?”
“Minions have spawned!” The voice of the announcer rang through the battlefield, and the two ceased their banter and waited for the soft padding of the two automated armies to draw closer. Controlled by the Junior Summoners of the League, the so-called minions were knee-high golems created for the sole purpose of maintaining constant battle on an active Field of Justice, to allow the champions an additional way of gaining the income needed to access the more powerful artifacts available for their use during a battle. It also had the added benefit of speeding along the slow process of a Summoner’s mind becoming fully in tune with their champion’s, which would allow for the two to unleash increasingly devastating shows of force together.
‘Slow and steady is the plan, just like always.’ The calm voice of his Summoner echoed inside his mind. ‘Watch for his early harassment, and take the minions where you can. You know as well as I do that his strength diminishes quickly.’ None of this was new to Nasus, but even such trivial communications helped to strengthen the bond between Summoner and summoned. Noticing that one of the minions belonging to the enemy had sustained heavy damage, Nasus weaved through his own forces, channeling energy into his staff, an heirloom of pure gold that was tipped with a depiction of a bird’s head, with a shimmering green emerald set in the place of an eye. Nasus barely had to touch the minion for it to fall, and as it fell, a small portion of the magic that powered it seeped into the gem attached to his weapon.
Nasus stood among precious few champions that had the ability to siphon away the energies of slain enemies to enhance themselves for the duration of a battle, and with every minion he felled, his strikes would in turn become more deadly.
Of course, this was a fact well known by all but the most recently promoted Summoners, and surely enough, as Nasus began to step towards a second minion, his opponent clipped his arm with a thrown spear, which shortly thereafter dissolved to reappear in its owner’s hand. “You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?,” sneered Pantheon, as he tossed the spear again.
- - - -
Twilight Sparkle flinched as Nasus stumbled, a crimson stain running down his leg. “This isn’t looking good,” she stated as she watched the magically powered screen that the battle was being displayed upon.
Riven, who had joined the group shortly after the match had begun, chuckled softly. “Indeed it isn’t. Pantheon is losing horribly.”
“Come again?,” asked Applejack with a raised eyebrow. “Uh, how can Nasus be winning if he’s getting torn up so bad out there? His weird healing trick is barely keeping him standing.”
“That’s commonly referred to as life stealing, Applejack,” replied Riven. “Most have to make use of magic to use the life force of enemies to heal, but that’s one trick that he’s had since before he joined. Anyway, looks can be deceiving. See how his staff glows every time he destroys a minion? Each time it does that, he gets stronger for the rest of the battle. Pantheon excels in battle, but in the end, he’s just a human with good training and good weaponry. Towards the end of the battle, his role will diminish. Nasus, on the other hand, only gets stronger. Some credit goes to his Summoner, though. A more inexperienced Summoner would have led Nasus to death by now against this kind of pressure.”
“How exactly does this connection between a Summoner and a champion work, anyway?” Twilight Sparkle had, as most expected her to, brought along materials to write an entire book’s worth of notes, as well as several reference guides.
Riven shrugged. “I’m not extremely educated on the subject of the magic they use here, but from what I understand, the ritual they use links the mind of the Summoner to the champion. As the link is strengthened, the two will become of one will, while preserving the two personalities inside. The Summoner’s knowledge of the entire battlefield enhances the champion’s performance, and the Summoner is allowed to bring a small portion of his own magic to occasionally assist his champion.”
Elsewhere on the battlefield, one of Nasus’ teammates, a woman wielding a strange device that shot deadly projectiles and an equally strange hat fell to the ground, clutching her wounds as the announcer proclaimed that first blood had been drawn. Rarity and Fluttershy both cringed simultaneously as they witnessed a regal-looking archer fall to the ground, clutching a strange blade in her chest as a showy-looking Noxian bowed to his unseen audience. “I understand the reason why the League exists,” began Rarity, who had paled slightly before the display. “I find myself questioning the people allowed to join.”
Ezreal shrugged. “They let a man in a diving suit join. This isn’t exactly the League of Pickiness. If you can fight, you can join, pretty much. There’s this creepy, but sweet little girl, Annie. She joined the League when she was eight. She’s just as potent as most of the other fighters here though, so the High Council of Equity was pretty much ‘sure, whatever’ about her joining the League. I don’t envy her parents when she hits her teen years though. Girl has a penchant for setting things she doesn’t like on fire.”
“They let children fight?!,” squeaked Rarity, only barely cognizant of the screen behind her, which now depicted the other team being ambushed while doing battle with a massive dragon. “That’s...that’s...”
“That’s the nature of the beast. The High Council of Equity will do anything and everything it can to draw interest in its sport. The more spectacular fighters they have, the more people will watch, and the more people watch, the more invested they become.” Riven frowned. “The only lasting damage to Annie will not be physical, and that’s a price the League is more than willing to pay. World peace in exchange for the suffering of a ragtag mixture of warriors, criminals, prodigies, and abominations. Looking at it from the ashes of the Rune Wars, it’s not a bad trade, as depressing as that sounds.”
“They feel everything, don’t they?,” asked Applejack with a worried glance at the screen, where Nasus was being depicted surrounded by several enemies.
- - - -
Nasus spared a glance at his tower, which seemed an eternity’s walk away. ‘You have teammates incoming from the river, but they aren’t going to be here for a few seconds. As injured as you are, you won’t be able to run away before they finish you off. Best to stand and fight it. Head to the brush at the river, and try to last until Xerath and Ashe arrive.’ Nasus immediately moved to comply with his Summoner. He felt a slight tickle as the concealment spell all brush was enchanted with covered him, and with a quick twirl of his staff, a vortex of purple light began to circle and swirl at his feet.
The foliage rustled, and Pantheon, not even flinching as the light left minor burns on his body where it touched. Knowing the concealment was broken the moment another enemy stepped into the plants, he threw himself at Pantheon without hesitation. His staff bounced harmlessly away from his opponent’s shield, and in retaliation Pantheon jumped toward Nasus, slamming the shield into him before following with a series of rapid jabs with his spear. Most of them missed, but a few found their mark, and Nasus staggered away, barely registering an explosion behind him. With a pained grunt, Nasus sent a wave of power into his weapon as he swung it, hearing a satisfying crunch as his overconfident opponent was caught off guard.
There was no time to celebrate though, as Nasus was barely able to dodge another bomb thrown from a manic-looking yordle. Beside the yordle was the very same man who Applejack had met in Zaun and sparred with. The three advanced, and Nasus waited for the sensation of death to flow through his body.
‘Arrow incoming.’ In an instant, Nasus regained focus and stretched his hand toward Pantheon, who swiftly felt himself becoming gradually more exhausted, barely able to move as the temporary aging spell rendered him nearly a cripple. The blind man that had been standing beside the yordle tilted his head for a moment before swiftly moving to block Nasus as the latter began stalking toward the now-retreating bomber. “A desperate ploy, ancient one, but doomed to failure.”
Nasus laughed softly as he continued forward. “Of all people, monk, you should know when to listen instead of talking.” Realization dawned on his opponent the moment he was able to distinguish a tell-tale whistle, but it was a moment too late. A crystalline arrow became visible only for a second before its graceful arc found conclusion at the man’s chest, the impact shattering the arrow into a million shards of ice that coated the fighter, freezing him in place.
In desperation, the now defenseless yordle fumbled with another bomb in his hands for several seconds before tossing it at Nasus, who moved out of the projectile’s path with speed that belied his intimidating size. A single strike from his gleaming staff slammed the yordle into the ground. Nasus heard the sound of ice cracking behind him, and knowing his time was running low, he raised his weapon again, and shortly after, a sickening crunch told him the fight was now two versus one. Nasus stretched his muscles as he turned to face his remaining opponents, who were trying to decide if fleeing was the right course of action. Nasus smiled a wolf’s grin at the two as his own wounds began to mend themselves as the yordle’s life force sank into his body. When the two finally decided it was time to retreat, they found their path blocked by the previously felled archer and a flickering humanoid comprised entirely of energy and metal. The cornered warriors barely had time to react as a hail of arrows and arcane energy ripped into them.
- - - -
Nasus waited patiently as the heavily damaged crystal in front of him began to spark and glow. A few seconds passed, and with a brilliant flash of azure, the crystal detonated, sending shards flying in every direction around the tired, but victorious warriors. Terse congratulations were exchanged between champions and Summoners alike before one by one, each champion on the battlefield flickered into nothing as they were recalled from Summoner’s Rift. ‘Good work, as usual. Prepare for recall.’ The voice of his own Summoner was the last thing Nasus heard before his world went white.
- - - -
“Wait, I think I missed something. What just happened? Nasus was about to get his flank kicked and then suddenly they win? What gives?” Rainbow Dash was thoroughly baffled.
Riven pointed at the screen. “The archer, Ashe, prepares a few arrows before each fight that are enchanted with a freezing spell. It takes about a minute for them to finish priming, due to regulations on magical weaponry, but once they do, they can turn a fight around. The monk, Lee Sin, took the full brunt of it and was frozen in place, and Pantheon was hit by a little of the frost too, after already being affected by Nasus’ withering spell. The bomber yordle, Ziggs, came to the fight injured, and took next to no effort for Nasus to finish off once he managed to close the distance. After that, Nasus’ teammates arrived and helped him clean up. Between that and another fight the other team botched on the other side of the field, there was no way to defend their base.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “So what you’re saying is that a single mistake can cost the entire fight, even if you’re winning?”
“Exactly.” Riven motioned for them to follow. “We can go congratulate Nasus on his victory, but after that you all should get some shuteye. Training starts tomorrow, and we’re bringing in some help to...accelerate it.” Riven couldn’t suppress a wicked grin, and the six friends were compelled to shiver at it.
- - - -
Rainbow Dash’s nervousness subsided for a moment as she donned her armor. She still wasn’t sure what it was made of, and Riven seemed reluctant to give away the secret, but it was comfortable, and, loathe as she was to admit it, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but feel somewhat...stylish. ‘Celestia forbid Rarity finding that out.’
Beside her, Twilight, Pinkie, and Applejack stood expectantly as Riven, Ryze, Nasus, and Ezreal talked amongst themselves. After a few more agonizing moments of staring at the unnaturally healthy grass below her, Rainbow Dash’s thoughts were disrupted as Riven stepped forward. “Welcome to Summoner’s Rift. Here’s where the fights happen, and here’s where your training begins. I’m going to warn you, it will be hard. Very, very hard. Lucky for us, we’ve arranged to have this little slice of heaven to ourselves for the entire day.” Rainbow Dash began pondering if she should have taken care of her last wishes beforehand. “Applejack, we’re guessing you’ll be more of a front-liner, so go with Nasus, and he’ll get you started. Twilight, your specialty is pretty obvious, so you’ll be working with Ryze and Ezreal. Uhh...Pinkie, we’re really not sure what to do with you, so just... just go from group to group until you see something that catches your eye. Rainbow Dash... I’ve already gotten started with you, so makes no sense to for you to go with someone else. You’re not all mine today though. You’re going to meet a coworker of mine too. It’ll be...fun.”
Rainbow Dash turned to her friends. “If I don’t make it, someone take care of my pet tortoise back home, please.”
- - - -
Applejack grunted as the blow shook her entire body, but she stood resolute nonetheless. The metal armor that she had been given was deliberately weighted against her natural strength as an earth pony, which remained significant even with her new body, and the other girls probably couldn’t even lift the warhammer she had chosen from the weapon’s rack that had been knocked over shortly after Nasus had begun teaching her to direct her strength into. A lifetime of nothing but physical activity began to pay off as her hardened body took blow after blow from her teacher. When Nasus held up a hand, she let her weapon fall to the ground, following shortly thereafter as she knelt to catch her breath.
“What do you believe is the most significant difference between yourself and your friends?” Nasus’ query shook Applejack from her daze.
“Uh...” Applejack was having trouble focusing after hours of nothing but exchanging blows and occasionally taking a sip of one of those funny red concoctions that made her feel less sore. “Ah guess Ah’m the only pony who is used to all sorts of heavy activity. Ah guess Rainbow has some experience, too, but to be perfectly honest, all of that trick flying and fancy acrobatics keeps her too lean to do heavy lifting. Why does it matter, though? We all got our strengths and weaknesses. Ah’m not trying to say Ah’m any better than them.”
“That is the entire reason it matters, Applejack. Your strengths are not their strengths.” Nasus pointed to the dents along his student’s armor. “Twilight would have been unconscious after one solid blow. Her magic is meaningless if she gets hit even once. This isn’t a slight against her, it simply is the way of things. You do not have her magic, but you can take hits far better than she ever will. As such, when you are fighting alongside her, you need to stand between her and those who would shatter a cannon made of glass.”
Applejack scratched her head. “Ah think Ah get it. Since Ah’m built a little tougher than folks like Twi’, Ah need to try and take the hits for them so they can keep doing what they’re good at.”
Nasus nodded in affirmation. “Do whatever it takes to make sure that you are the one in danger. Tackle someone who gets near your teammates. Aim your hammer at their knees. Resort to insults and name-calling if you must. The only thing that matters is that the attention is on you. This is my advice to you. Now, pick up your weapon. It is time for a much harsher lesson, I am afraid, but no less necessary.”
- - - -
‘This isn’t so bad,’ thought Twilight as Ryze showed her another of the myriad offensive uses for her naturally robust magical capabilities, much to Ezreal’s dismay, as the latter had been serving as a magical sparring partner for Twilight, which mostly consisted of Ryze directing Twilight to test out a new technique against Ezreal. The empty potion bottles scattered along the ground attested to the sheer amount of abuse that Ezreal had been on the receiving end of.
“Remember, Twilight, the best use of magic is to deal with your enemies before they get to you. To this end, do whatever it takes to keep the enemy away from you. You told me that you once tossed a bear the size of several buildings? That kind of thing. Keep them away from you.” Ryze demonstrated by encircling Ezreal in a glowing cylinder of magic, who cried out in surprise, and, Twilight judged by the popping of a potion bottle, pain. “Now you try. Ezreal, rush her.”
Twilight frowned. “I don’t really feel right about this. I mean, it’s bad enough that I have to fight, but I’m sitting here beating on a defen-” Twilight tumbled to the ground as a wave of searing pain slammed into her shoulder with a deceptively quiet, almost tinkling noise.
Ezreal stood above her. “Don’t feel bad. One of the most important lessons you can learn here is dealing with pain so that you can keep going. You have to power on through everythi-woah, what?”
Ryze laughed as Ezreal slammed into a nearby tree. “She learns more quickly than you, boy. Unfortunately, not all lessons are so easy to get used to.” Ryze’s hands began to crackle with electricity. “Sorry about this, kid, but we gotta get this out of the way eventually.”
- - - -
Pinkie snorted in laughter. She had been using an old rapier and a parrying dagger to spar with Riven, who seemed frustrated at the amount of trouble she had actually landing a blow on the girl, though no amount of twitches and itches could save Pinkie from her wrath entirely, ending in plenty of unreciprocated pain for the bubbly girl. This hadn’t dampened her spirits any, oddly enough, and wasn’t what had been amusing her the entire time. Every now and then, she could see Rainbow Dash being chased around by a strange, thickly built man in a purple garment that covered almost his entire body. Riven had decided that an ideal method of teaching Rainbow Dash how to convert her speed into something more useful for close combat was to have Jax, as he was called, chase her around with a bent and battered lamp post. Occasionally, Rainbow Dash would be tempted to break the rules that Riven had set regarding the area of combat by trying to fly out of Jax’s reach, only for him to jump up and smack her down with a speed that belied his sturdy build. Rainbow Dash’s pathetic attempts to fight back with her own sword had easily been dodged or batted aside by the professional, and Rainbow Dash was swiftly running out of energy. Before much longer though, Rainbow Dash collapsed on the ground, clutching her arm in pain. Pinkie, distracted by the spectacle and somewhat worried for her friend, soon found herself disarmed, with Riven’s broken blade at her throat.
Riven sighed. “Girls, I agreed with the others that we’d have to teach you this lesson early instead of late, to make sure your resolve never faltered when faced with it later. An inevitable part of the League of Legends is being defeated in battle.” Pinkie’s eyes widened in fear, and she began to back away, only to trip over her discarded weapons as Riven walked towards her. “I can’t hold back any, or you won’t be prepared. You need to know what this feels like so it won’t catch you off guard, and this won’t be the last time you have to feel this if you stick with the plan.” Riven knelt next to Pinkie and raised her blade. “Know that I don’t enjoy this.”
“NO!” Rainbow Dash instinctively tried to dive toward Pinkie as the blade sank into the latter’s abdomen with a sickening chink as it pierced the light armor Pinkie was wearing. After a moment of weak struggling, the party planner slowly fell limp. “How could you? I thought you were her friend!”
Riven sighed, and nodded to Jax, who turned to Rainbow Dash, his emotions unseen behind his masked face. “Sorry kid, it’s for your own good.” Rainbow Dash felt a sharp, terrible pain in her neck for only a moment before everything went black.
- - - -
When Rainbow Dash opened her eyes she was on a slightly raised dais. With a groan, she tried unsuccessfully to lift herself to her feet. Only after a few repeated attempts and failures did she notice three similarly stricken individuals surrounding her. A familiar lock of pink hair drew her attention first. “Pinkie?! I thought...I saw you...I...but...we just died, didn’t we?”
Pinkie groaned in response. “That was not very fun at all. My stomach feels like I baked too many cupcakes, set them on fire, and then ate them all.”
Rainbow Dash nodded. “Yeah, my neck is killing me. I swear, when I see Riven I’m going to shove that blade up her-”
“Girls, calm down,” Applejack interrupted. “Ah think it’s better we found out what this was like now before it caught us off guard next time. We knew this wasn’t gonna be easy when we started.”
“I’m afraid she’s right, girls.” Twilight looked a little more frazzled than normal. “This is something we need to be prepared for. I’m just glad that Fluttershy wasn’t around to see me get electrocuted to death. The poor dear would probably faint.”
“Nah, she’d just use The Stare on Ryze,” giggled Pinkie. “What about you, Applejack? Did Nasus lecture you to death on the fundamental truths of life, death, and the meaning of existence?”
“He beat me to death with his staff. With all of the armor Ah had on, it took a very, very long time,” stated Applejack flatly. “Ah’m pretty sure that both my arms, by back, and my face were broken by the time I finally bought the farm.”
The three other girls just stared for a few moments, unsure of what to say. “That sounds...painful,” Rainbow Dash ventured.
“Ah’ve never felt pain like that in my entire life, not even when that beam fell on my leg while we were putting up the new barn.” Applejack managed to pull herself up into a leaning position against an odd statue that sat at the back of the dais. “That’s why Ah think it’s important that we be prepared for this.” One by one, her friends slowly nodded in reluctant agreement.
Twilight laughed weakly. “It’s settled then. Not even death itself can stop us from getting home.”
- - - -
Celestia stopped at the base of the mountain. Her pristine coat was almost entirely black now, and the once vibrant rainbow of her mane and tail was nothing more than a trail of flame behind her. ‘We have been here before, in the time you were naught but a foal. You will begin preparations under our guidance, and then you will save your student.’ Celestia nodded without saying a word, and set to work.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 11: Judgment Interlude
[Credit goes to Equinox23 for the new cover image.]
Four months. Four grueling months of nonstop sweat, tears, and blood. The four champions-in-training had worked harder than they ever had before, and now all of their hard work would come to fruition. It was time to stand and be judged. Twilight Sparkle embraced her friends one last time, and tried to ignore the nervous churning of her stomach as she prepared for her judgment.
Elsewhere, a scribe hastily began writing as the first applicant approached.
- - - -
Candidate: Twilight Sparkle
Date: 14 June, 22 CLE
Twilight Sparkle moved with no small amount of reservation, but a quick glance toward the group of friends waiting for her outside gave her the strength of will to press onward. The hallway to where she will be judged is massive, and she couldn’t help but feel that the entire place was designed to intimidate would-be applicants. At the end of the hallway are two massive doors, monolithic but elegant in design. Twilight took a moment to read the words engraved into the top of the door’s frame. “The truest opponent lies within. Well, I suppose that makes sense, in a way.” Hearing her own voice did nothing to stabilize her rapidly disintegrating confidence. With a sigh and a heave, she pulled open one of the doors.
The room was dark and somewhat stifling, with a thick mist that swirled all about Twilight Sparkle, throwing off her depth perception as she tried to determine the size of the room. Raising a hand, she felt the beginnings of a spell twirl around it, and after a brief moment, a blast of wind and light pushed the mist and darkness away, and she could see clearly where she was. She barely stifled a gasp. “This can’t be...There’s no way this is real.”
“I assure you that this is a real, genuine dragon egg, Miss Sparkle. Now if you would be so kind as to hatch it, we may proceed with this examination.” The examiner loomed above Twilight, who once more found herself in the body of a scared filly in front of a panel of judges for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Being in her old body, especially at so young an age, was disconcerting and disorienting, and Twilight felt herself swept up in the illusion. “We do not have all day, Miss Sparkle.”
Twilight felt tears welling up in her eyes as she tried, unsuccessfully to summon her magic. Nothing happened, and the filly found her head hanging before the panel, and she gave a sad glance to her parents. “I can’t do it. I’m sorry for wasting your time.” As she began to walk back towards her parents, the explosion of light that was known as the Sonic Rainboom reached her as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had the first time. The shockwave of light, sound, and magic raced through her and a dam inside her mind broke. Twilight felt herself lifted off the ground as magic flowed through her body and out of it. The egg beside her exploded, and a gargantuan beast sat in its place, slightly dazed as its head broke through the ceiling. In the place of her parents stood two potted plants, and the judges looked on in panic as they began to levitate. Helpless to control the current flowing through her, Twilight was on the verge of surrendering entirely to the power that threatened to rip her apart at the seams.
An unseen force began to press upon Twilight’s magic as she her vision began to darken, and she felt herself begin to float slowly downwards as her magic funneled itself back into her tiny body. When her vision cleared, standing before her was the inspiration for all of Twilight’s efforts. Princess Celestia was as radiant and calm as ever, and Twilight found herself entranced. This was the pinnacle of what Twilight wanted to be. Calm, in control, with more knowledge of magic and the world than anypony else. ‘I want to be just like her,’ she thought as she glanced over at her parents, who seemed amazed that they no longer had roots. ‘I won’t ever lose control like this again, and hurt anypony else with my magic. I will learn everything there is to know about magic, and I’ll be just like the princess.’
The princess smiled benevolently at Twilight, and in a flash, Twilight was human again. “Why do you wish to join the League, Twilight Sparkle?” The form was Celestia’s, but the voice was not.
Twilight smiled fondly at the memory, a hint of sadness mixed in with the small grin. “I miss home. I miss my family... I miss Princess Celestia. I want to go home.”
Celestia nodded. “How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
Twilight laughed. “It was...nice to get a reminder of home. After all this time, it’s a little hard to keep sight of what my goal is. Honestly, I feel like my sense of purpose has been strengthened by this illusion.”
“Welcome to the League of Legends, Twilight Sparkle.” Twilight grinned, sadness replaced with determination.
- - - -
Candidate: Rainbow Dash
Date: 14 June, 22 CLE
Never one to sweat the fine details, Rainbow Dash blazed through the hallway, not bothering to read the words above the doorway, hurriedly yanking the doors in front of her open. The ornate, if somewhat cavernous design of the hallway that preceded the judgment room was wasted upon her, as Rainbow Dash was solidly embedded into the opinion that frou-frou activities such as style and interior design weren’t nearly cool enough for her. There was no hesitation from here as she strode toward her judgment.
Her mind was in a haze, and Rainbow Dash stumbled through the darkness of her own thoughts on clumsy hooves. Somewhere, far away, she registered that her body was on a strange sort of autopilot, and that she was fleeing from those she had sworn to never to abandon. A familiar, but far from comforting voice beckoned her on all sides. “Oh, my, poor Rainbow Dash forced to choose what loyalties mean the most to her.” Discord’s voice was like a mist snaking through her spirit, distorting what she was. “Save your home, or save your friends? It’s just too tough a choice, isn’t it?” The Spirit of Chaos manifested in front of her. “Why try? Give up, little pony. Give in. No matter what you do, you’ll betray those who depend upon you. You can’t-”
Rainbow felt as if she’d been hit with a hammer as Twilight’s spell cleared away the mist in her head, allowing her to think clearly once more as Discord’s influence ebbed. Memories of her experiences since meeting her new friends surged through her, and she opened her eyes. The five ponies in front of her waited expectantly, and Rainbow Dash knew they would need her help if they were to return Discord to his stony prison. She would never let them down again.
She followed her friends once more, and soon, they arrived at the throne that Discord had placed himself on as reality tore itself apart around them. Discord realized far too late that the Elements of Harmony were functional once again, and just like it had happened in the past, Rainbow Dash found herself staring at a statue where Discord used to be, his face contorted in terror and surprise for what was supposed to be an eternity. Of course, Rainbow Dash knew that wasn’t going to last. Rainbow Dash turned to leave the scene, only to hear the sound of stone cracking behind her.
“It could have been much worse, you know. I could have ripped the entire world apart, and destroyed everything you held dear, had you not come back.” Discord’s voice seemed a little off this time, and Rainbow Dash was beginning to suspect why.
“Yeah. I know. It’s my fault you got as far as you did, really.” Rainbow Dash didn’t bother turning around as she spoke, and instead sat on the ground, staring at the sky. “I heard you couldn’t trick Fluttershy or Twilight into turning the same way you did with the rest of us. I can see that for Rarity, Pinkie, and the others. Rarity’s always had a bit of a weakness for gems. Nopony really holds that against her. Applejack’s strong, but if you take away her assurance that right is right, and wrong is wrong, she falls apart. Pinkie’s never been held together by much other than string and friendship either. Me, on the other hoof...How was I the one to leave my friends behind? I’m supposed to be the living representative of loyalty, right? I know your mind tricks were partially to blame, but Fluttershy was the only one you used brute force on, and Twilight only fell because she relied on us... She relied on me. What excuse does the Element of Loyalty have for being disloyal?” Rainbow Dash stood, quickly whipping around to face Discord. “You guys want to make sure we have what it takes to be champions? That we have the determination to get home? I’ll tell you this: I don’t care a lick if I get home again, as long as my friends are safe. It’d be nice, yeah, but no matter what, I’m sticking with my friends and doing everything I can to make sure that they’re all right. No matter what, I’m doing the best I can to make sure that they all get home safe and sound, and I’ll stick with them to the end this time, and not you, or your League, or being in another world, or Discord himself will ever stop me from being there for them again!”
Discord nodded slowly. “How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
Rainbow Dash snorted, feeling an uncomfortable shift as her natural body deserted her again. “I know what I stand for, and I don’t care a bit if the League knows too. From everything I’ve heard though, maybe you people should start thinking about what it is you stand for. Didn’t I hear something about almost causing a war to break out just to get a new battlefield to play on?” Rainbow Dash heard the grinding of a heavy door opening behind her, and light spilled into the room, washing away the image of Discord.
- - - -
Date: 14 June, 22 CLE
Applejack walked through the hall with a steady, measured pace, noticing the lavish decorations around her, but not paying them much heed. She felt a twinge of impatience push her steps forward a little faster. Being the third one in line, she had already had to wait longer than she wanted to, and sitting around, doing nothing was not her style. Listening to Pinkie rant about a new recipe she’d learned hadn’t helped her nerves either. Eventually, she came to the end of the hall, and examined the words that were displayed above them. “The truest opponent lies within. All the fancy, self-important phrases in the world, and that’s the best y’all could come up with? Pinkie was more mystifying and thought provoking the time she decided to dress up as a fortune teller for a day.”
Applejack didn’t flinch when the darkness began to swirl around her, though she was a bit surprised to see her hooves again as the illusion encompassed her. The darkness receded, and she saw Discord in front of her, and the pair were encircled by a hedge maze. Before she could even begin to question it, though, the scene dissolved and she was in front of her friends in the desert, who were waiting for an explanation of why she had left Ponyville to work elsewhere for a time. Just as quickly as it had arrived though, the image faded and she was channelling the Element of Honesty to help seal Discord once more. Scene after scene shifted, and Applejack began to smile. “Y’all looking for something? Might make more progress if you just asked, you know.”
The illusion faded, and Applejack found herself standing before a hooded woman. “Greetings, Applejack. I am Vessaria Kolminye, head of the High Council of Equity. It is primarily my responsibility for ensuring that applicants have the right mental traits to be a champion. This is usually accomplished by finding significant memories within the applicant and exploring their thoughts and emotions, but it appears we’ll have to keep things a little nonstandard for you. Every memory that you’ve placed significance on, you’ve had almost the exact same mindset coming in and out, despite small changes here and there. We have yet to find a moment where you acquired the drive and determination needed to become a champion, even though your actions thus far have proven that you possess it. Still, the council requires understanding of each of its champions before we admit them, though in certain special circumstances there is a little leeway on this.”
Applejack laughed. “Y’all were expecting some kind of big moment where I suddenly discover my purpose in life, weren’t y’all? It don’t always work like that. Ah’ve been raised my entire life on the same principles and values that the rest of my family has, and Ah’ve come up with a few of my own to boot. Ah get up every day, get my work done, and do my best to make sure my friends and family are cared for. Ah’ve always done this, Ah always will. Hard work, honesty, and determination have been my family as much as my own brother. This is no different. Ah’ve had my fair share of blood, sweat, and tears, and Ah’ll continue to as long as it means doing right by those around me. Ah don’t need no sudden realizations for that, or some traumatic event to tell me right from wrong.” Applejack smiled at the woman in front of her. “Ah have all the motivation Ah’ll ever need in the form of my friends and family who are all waiting for me to get home. Dash might be Loyalty, but that doesn’t mean Ah’m gonna just go and leave them waiting, does it? Don’t y’all worry about if Ah got the grit to handle your fights. Ah ain’t going nowhere but home.”
Vessaria nodded. “That will be satisfactory, Applejack. Rest assured that this is most certainly not a reflection of our standards in professionalism. Now, this is just a formality, but we do need to be sure that you’re not going to be bothered too much by Summoners entering your thoughts. How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
“Ain’t nothing in my head Ah’m ashamed of,”she replied with a shrug. Applejack heard the sound of heavy doors opening in the distance, and light began to fill the room.
- - - -
Candidate: Pinkamena Diane Pie
Date: 14 June, 22 CLE
Pinkie bounced and skipped happily towards the doors at the end of the hallway, only slightly remorseful that she didn’t get to finish explaining her new Upside-down Triple Exploding Pineapple Yordle Cupcake to Rarity and Fluttershy, who seemed so extremely distressed that they wouldn’t get to hear the end of it. It was tragic, simply tragic. On the bright side, this place was so awesomely decorated, Pinkie couldn’t help but smile at it. As she neared the doors at the end of the hall, she wondered if she could convince the people running the League to let her host a party here. It seemed like a shame to let all of the fancy decorations go to waste. Like the others before her, she found herself staring at the lettering above her. “The truest opponent lies within.” Pinkie stopped to ponder this for a moment. “I have no idea why I just read that out loud! Still, it’s impressive that they built this place predicting that I’d have eaten twenty-five cupcakes before coming here. It must mean that I’ll have a stomach-ache later.”
Pinkie giggled and jumped through the mist, letting it swirl and shift around her. “This sure is a spooky place you guys have here! Also, I’m not sure if you can actually hear me right now, so speak up if you can. A conversation’s no fun by yourself, and I’m not really the monologuing type.”
Her frolic was interrupted when she began to feel her entire body tingle. Waiting a moment to see what other signals would come, she was caught completely off-guard when the tingling turned into a fire throughout her entire body. With a cry, she fell to the floor, her mind flooded with too many images for her to comprehend or distinguish. When she raised her head after several agonizing minutes, the world she saw around her was fuzzy and distant. She could barely recognize a unicorn doctor standing in front of her, and after a while could make out some voices. “-very sorry, ma’am, but we’re just not equipped to properly care for this kind of case. You’ll have to take her to Canterlot to get the best treatments.”
“But-but, we don’t have enough bits to hire any of the magical doctors in Canterlot.” Pinkie knew that voice, strained and grief-stricken as it was. She could never mistake the sound of her own mother’s voice. Pinkie looked downward for a moment, and saw that her form was that of a tiny pink filly. Her mother sounded very worried. “What do we do?”
The doctor sighed. “The best I can do is bind her natural magic for now. She’s not going to be able to grow up like a traditional earth pony. Nobody in the medical community is sure what causes things like this. The best you can hope for is to save up enough bits to get her better care. Her body, for all intents and purposes, thinks that it’s a unicorn, but without a horn, there’s no safe way to channel her magic. She’ll grow up completely without magic, earth pony or unicorn. This binding doesn’t last forever, though. In a few years it will wear out and she’ll start experiencing the effects of pent-up magic, and nopony can say how she’ll react to it...”
The image faded, and Pinkie was slightly older, laying despondently in the bedroom that nice couple, the Cakes, had offered to her when she’d first arrived in Ponyville. Her body was trembling and itched all over, and somewhere in the back of her mind she felt the stirrings of a few images tugging at her consciousness. With a dazed stumble, she walked into the bakery section of the house, where Mr. and Mrs. Cake were hard at work. “Uhmm...I kinda think you should turn off your left oven,” she stated weakly. A few awkward seconds later, fire began to spill out of the oven, and she collapsed to the floor.
The image shifted, and Pinkie recognized the image in front of her as one that had occurred several years after she had moved to Ponyville. By then she had begun to learn to interpret the odd sensations that occasionally traversed her body, and right now her ‘Pinkie Sense’ as she had dubbed it, had led her to Twilight Sparkle, one of her newest, but dearest friends. Twilight had recently, in her obsession to please Princess Celestia with her acquisition of knowledge, performed a spell that had eventually caused the entire town to start brawling over the possession of one of her childhood keepsakes. The Princess herself had come down from Canterlot at the behest of Twilight’s dragon assistant to undo the mess, and though it had all worked out in the end, it was clear that Celestia had been disappointed in Twilight. Now, after the incident, Twilight was by herself in the library that she called home, trying to stifle tears. Pinkie nuzzled Twilight affectionately. “What’s up, Twi’? You seem a little down.” Pinkie pulled her face into an exaggerated frown to emphasize.
“I know she forgives me, and that’s probably the worst part. I disappointed my mentor, and instead of getting mad and punishing me, she just comes in, sets everything right, and lightens my workload to keep it from getting out of hoof again.” Twilight sniffed. “I’m the worst student ever.”
“But Twilight, would the worst student ever stay up all night studying all the time, or move to an entirely new place to learn something new?” said Pinkie, prodding Twilight with a hoof. “Everypony makes mistakes, Twilight. It just means you get to try even harder next time!”
Twilight smiled. “You never give up, do you? Why do you do it Pinkie? You spend almost every waking moment trying to make somepony else smile. Don’t you ever take time for yourself?”
Pinkie shrugged happily. “Taking time for others, taking time for myself? What’s the difference? Seeing you all smile makes me feel better than any day all by myself could. I have more than enough happiness to go around. It’d be selfish not to share! I only want to see those around me happy, and if getting you home is what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do!”
Twilight tilted her head, looking slightly perplexed for a moment before regaining her composure. “How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
Pinkie giggled. “Most of us wear our hearts on our hooves anyway, but you probably know that by now. Ponies aren’t very keen on hiding their feelings. Also, I was gonna ask can I use that fancy hall for a party later?”
There was no response, and Twilight disappeared as light spilled into the room.
- - - -
“And they couldn’t figure out what memory to show me for the big test thing, so we just sat and talked.” Applejack couldn’t help but laugh at the dumbfounded councilor.
“Well, that’s lame. They made me rewatch Discord’s first attack on us,” replied Rainbow Dash as Pinkie entered the room. “Really, I thought this entire thing was gonna be some sort of huge fight or something to make sure we were good enough. I didn’t really expect some sort of headshrinker examination.”
“It’s impolite to refer to the field of psychiatry in that manner. I’ve met several good ponies whose only concern is helping others through their problems during my life that work as psychiatrists,” Twilight said, slightly indignantly.
“I bet. How much did-” Rainbow Dash’s retort was cut short by Pinkie sneaking up behind her and tackling her. “Pinkie!”
“So, we all passed, huh? Well...if this isn’t an excuse to party, I don’t know what is!” Pinkie rolled over freeing the pinned Rainbow Dash.
“I do, Pinkie.” Rarity and Fluttershy had entered the room shortly after Pinkie’s judgment had finished, and the former was holding a stack of papers. “Nasus, Fluttershy, and myself have arranged our first matches tomorrow. We’re about to take our first steps to getting home!” A round of cheers erupted from all present, except from Pinkie, who had already disappeared to find a bakery.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 12: Launching Point
“Grand General, the reports you requested are enclosed within,” said Swain’s subordinate as he handed a sealed scroll to Swain. “The witnesses we’ve found have been interrogated and are ready to be disposed of, unless you’ve found further use for them.”
“Very good, Darius. Send one of my best men to Emilia with the words ‘The sun seeks to wither the rose.’ You may dispo-” Swain paused mid-sentence, feeling a shred of hesitation. “Keep the prisoners alive and contained for now, I believe that I might have further use of them later. You are dismissed until I have further need of you.”
‘Getting soft, Grand General?’ Nightmare’s voice was calm and smooth in his head, but Swain still felt his temper flaring. ‘It’s not like you to leave loose ends.’’
Swain waited patiently for his minion to exit the room before responding. “Not in the least. These witnesses might have more information about those who have traced my connection to the Black Rose and figured out that the methods I used to dispose of Noxus’ former ruling line weren’t entirely within the bounds of traditional Noxian method.”
‘What does it matter? Dead is dead, and Noxian ideals state that if you aren’t good enough to keep yourself alive, you don’t deserve to live.’
“You do not know of what you speak,” responded Swain. “Noxus values shows of power, and the kind of subterfuge that the Black Rose and I share is regarded as weak, despite it merely being a different type of strength. If it comes to trial, my enemies could reveal that the fight between Darkwill’s whelp and myself was a set-up. If it is found that the Black Rose helped me win, it would shatter Noxus’ faith in my strength. Noxus was already very unhappy with how Boram Darkwill died. If his son’s own death was tied to the Black Rose, I’d have an entire army of assassins after my blood.”
Nightmare laughed. ‘Well, you know, dabbling with outcast secret societies can have downsides. Maybe you should have thought about that beforehand.’
“I did what I had to,” Swain said flatly, irritation beginning to seep into his voice. “Boram Darkwill was good, but his scope was pathetically limited. I know I alone can usher Noxus into a new era of prosperity.”
‘I bet Boram thought the same of his predecessor. What makes you any different?’ Nightmare was barely containing its amusement at Swain’s growing frustration.
“Darkwill was a brute. I know that it takes more to build a nation from a city-state. Despite her naivety, Riven was still right in that Noxus is wasting resources. I am different, Nightmare,” replied Swain, grinning wolfishly. “I am different because I understand that the strength of Noxus extends beyond its sword arm. What Darkwill did for our arms, I will do for our hearts and minds, that none may ever challenge us again! We will be the supreme power of Runeterra, and I will be at the helm to make sure that we remain supreme. I will end war, and hunger, and all of this waste. I will bring peace.”
‘And he’s humble too, this one. Swain, for someone who prides himself on seeing the big picture, I find it a little sad how blind you are to the fact that those six aliens have a type of strength you never will.’ Swain could hear the disdain dripping from Nightmare’s voice.
Swain rolled his eyes. “Spare me. I had enough of the so-called ‘magic of friendship’ when I was in Equestria. A few magical trinkets aren’t nearly enough incentive to show my back to anyone. The benefits do not outweigh the risks.”
‘Idiot. Your relationship with that thing wearing a bird’s face speaks otherwise.’ Swain had not ever seen Nightmare this confrontational, and was beginning to question it. ‘I am not talking about friendship, I’m talking about the ability to see the world from a perspective that is more than cynicism. Your great empire will crumble into the ground because you close yourself off to the full scope of human nature. You think Noxus will simply relinquish violence because you say so? No, they will not. Before peace can ever be achieved, peace has to be desired. You have a city-state of conquerors, not guardians. They won’t be content with defending your empire. They will want more, and when there is nothing more to conquer, they will turn on you and each other. You won’t get anywhere until you teach them how to want peace, and you don’t even know how to do that yourself! Despite your claims to the contrary, the only thing you intend to bring to this world is war of the likes that my kind uses to weaken your kind. As long as you don’t know how to value anything but yourself, you won’t be invested enough in this world to bring it peace. You have doomed yourself to failure.”
“Then why bother helping me, if you are so convinced that I am lost?” Swain said, his wariness masked beneath a layer of annoyance that was only partially sincere now.
‘As sad as it is, you’re still the best chance I have of thwarting my former comrades. My success hinges on yours,’ responded Nightmare, somewhat sadly. ‘It isn’t beyond recovery though. Look at Equestria; the fact that the entire nation stands united means that they have far too much power to invade, unless the Void wishes to expend a tremendous amount of power and effort that it might have trouble recovering from. This place is different, though. All it will take is a little tip before Runeterra is ripe for conquest. You need to bring Equestria into this place or everything here is doomed. Your salvation and mine lies within those six. If you want to survive long enough to see your empire bloom, you will learn from them, and I promise you, if we get through this in one piece, I will be sure that you live long and healthy enough to rule your empire as long as it stands and more, if you get my meaning.’
The last sentence hit Swain like a brick, and he had nothing to say in response. After a few moments, he recomposed himself, uttering but one word. “Immortality.”
In the distance, a certain six-eyed raven observed Swain’s portion of the dialogue. As Swain uttered the last word, it shook its head disdainfully and flew away.
- - - -
Rarity frowned as she shuffled the papers in front of her. Fluttershy was beside her, trying to make headway on analyzing a few profiles belonging to the next Summoners they were going to try and persuade to work with them. Of course, a new champion naturally brought out those curious to test his or her power level, but most of those Summoners didn’t have enough heft in the General Assembly to help them. Rarity’s task, however, was different.
Malzahar hadn’t made any attempt to strike at them since they had reached the Institute of War, but Rarity still needed to know why he attacked in the first place. Her research had told her that Malzahar had once been a prodigy of prophecy and divination, but that merely implied that he knew of some way in the future that these actions might benefit him. Rarity needed something more substantial. Kassadin had been more than willing to fill her ear for hours about Malzahar’s quest to bring about the end of Runeterra by unleashing the Void upon it, but, as Rarity noted dryly, Kassadin’s own zealotry on the subject made it hard to get a balanced perspective. Years of running her own business had taught her when a customer didn’t really know what they were talking about when describing something. Unfortunately, using her own creativity to fill in the gaps simply wasn’t an option in this case.
The sum of her information thus far was depressingly limited: Malzahar wanted to open a portal to the Void, and thought that Rarity and her friends might better serve his purposes captured or disposed of. “Fluttershy, dear, would you please pass me the coffee? I want to get through these newspaper articles before the match tomorrow.”
“Okay,” said Fluttershy. “You’ve been drinking an awful lot of this stuff since we’ve gotten here. Are you sure it’s healthy for you?” she added timidly, immediately dropping her gaze to the floor as soon as she had finished speaking.
Rarity sighed. “Of course it isn’t, dear. However, sometimes we must have other priorities. I feel that it is of the utmost importance that I find some sort of lead on Malzahar’s purposes. The League itself won’t help due to its neutrality and refusal to be involved in anything that doesn’t concern its rules and regulations. Every champion is basically under the protection of the League. Why, I’ve done some digging, and it seems like half of the people here are psychopaths or war criminals. Did you know that there is a champion here who was captured after slaughtering people in their dreams? It’s simply outrageous what people can get away with if they are champions.”
Fluttershy squeaked at the mention of murder, and shrank back further. Gathering what little courage she could muster, she managed to bring her voice above a whisper. “Well, uh, that’s... really, really bad, but I don’t think you’re going to make much progress if you’re not going to take care of yourself. You, uh, kind of have a habit of getting wrapped up in your projects sometimes.” Fluttershy looked as if she might wither away, sinking into her seat to avoid Rarity’s gaze. “Sorry.”
Rarity smiled and put a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder. She knew Fluttershy absolutely detested arguing or anything that even remotely resembled being contrary, and anything she was willing to contradict another person on to any degree tended to be important to her, even if her willpower tended to be rather lacking. “There’s absolutely nothing to be sorry about, Fluttershy. I know you mean well, and I promise that I’ll be done for the night in another hour or so. It would hardly be fitting if I were to fall asleep in the midst of our friends’ first battle. Go get some sleep. Both of us are rather tired, I know, and there’s no reason for you to stay up for my sake.” Fluttershy let out an almost inaudible sigh of defeat, and bidding Rarity a good night, left the room. Rarity waited until the door clicked shut before reaching for the coffee. “Now, where was I... Local cult suspected in the disappearance of a young couple...”
- - - -
Malzahar gasped, his eyes shooting open, inundating the room with a faint, somewhat sickly purple glow as light spilled from them. Looking out of the window, he could tell that it was probably midnight, or close to it. Once again, the visions that had long filled his head had awakened him. Images of death, destruction, and nightmarish creatures flowed seamlessly through his mind. He knew in his heart that everything his visions showed him was inescapable, and with it came a crushing despair that had long ago proven stronger than his sanity. Ghastly devils whispered to him in his waking hours, filling his mind with prophecies of the world’s end, and with it his own. Unshakably enraptured by the impending doom of everything around him, his mind only presented him with one possible mercy, and he gladly devoted himself to the task of making sure the world would end as quickly and painlessly as possible.
When he had returned from the lost city of Icathia after being drawn there by visions, he had been fully claimed as a tool for his new master, which called itself the Void. The horrific whispers became irrefusable commands, and the glimpses of a hopeless future were mixed with instructions for bringing it about.
Tonight had been no different. The Void had shown him more of the horror that he would be responsible for expediting, and then had told him what was needed of him. Both unwilling and unable to refuse, Malzahar set to work. His cultists were almost as fanatical as he was, their minds twisted by specious promises and dark magic, and there was always someone waiting to take any sudden orders that the Prophet of the Void would issue, who would never delay in enacting the will of his masters long enough for morning to come. Malzahar exited his room and coldly regarded the robed figure who hurriedly stood to bow. “The Void Walker is no longer of consequence. The Void brings sunset to two worlds, and as such requires us to render unto it a sacrificial Twilight. The Void commands the apprehension of the purple-haired alien, and has instructed me on how to fulfil its command. Prepare a small group of the devoted. Wipe them, and instill with them the directive to attack the aliens in a week’s time.”
The robed man nodded. “As you wish, Prophet. How will we reach them within the Institute? Shortsighted as they may be, the Summoners are too powerful to attack directly at this time.”
“Fate has decreed their demise. I will draw them out of their shell, that they might be exposed. Their weakness shall be as a fool drawn to a diamond in the lair of a dragon.” Malzahar felt an empty laugh escape his lips. Soon, there would be an end to his suffering. “Make sure that the aliens are aware of our next meeting in Zaun. Be sure that they are...interested.”
- - - -
It was another dull night in the hidden vaults beneath Canterlot. Not many ponies knew what was down in this series of dark, dank catacombs that had been repurposed for the sole purpose of housing Equestria’s most dangerous prisoner. Despite the inaction, the guards were anything but lax. A few of the more potent battlemages that had participated in the battle against Discord now stood as vigilant watchponies to ensure that he might never again escape to cause suffering in the nation of Equestria.
At the core of this prison, four unicorns waited, as always, for an intruder that they suspected might never come. “ So Princess Luna doesn’t want to devote any more resources to finding Princess Celestia. She’s pretty much given up on finding her. I don’t blame her. Somepony as powerful as that probably knows how to keep out of sight,” one of them commented.
“Understandable...” replied one of his comrades, “but if it were my own sister, I’d never give up. Maybe being immortal gives you some perspe-what was that?” A large crash resounded throughout the prison, and the group was immediately on alert. The large, enchanted steel door that barred the room from the rest of the world had a large dent in the center of it. Another large crash signaled the appearance of another dent, and various magical wards began to strain and crack, unleashing glowing tendrils of magic into the stale air.
As suddenly as it began, the assault on the door stopped, leaving several seconds of tense silence between the four unicorns. Cautiously, they began to advance toward the door, only to freeze in place as it began to glow red hot. The door fell to the ground with a huge clatter as the hinges that held it in place dissolved. The squad leader stepped forward to address the intruder. “By order of the Royal Pony Sisters, this section of the castle is restricted. You will accept magical restrictors and accompany us to be judged.”
As the dust settled, the intruder came more clearly into view. It was an alicorn, of that there was no doubt. Its black coat stood in stark contrast to the tendrils of flame that comprised its mane and tail, and a sickly purple glow emitted from its eyes. Upon the alicorn’s flank was the image of a sun, though streaks of black spider-webbed across it, creating the impression of a broken mosaic. Past the cracks, though, the image was one that resonated deeply through every heart in Equestria. The unicorn who had first spoken was once more the first to recover from his state of shock enough to whisper quietly. “By Faust’s wings...Princess...Celestia?”
Celestia’s eyes flared briefly at the mention of her name, and she stepped forward, wrapping them in a telekinetic vise that almost no creature in the world had the strength to break free of. “My loyal subjects,” she began, her voice echoing darkly, as if accompanied by a chorus of shadowy nightmares, “Your services are no longer required.” The squad barely had time to scream before they were slammed through the closest wall. Celestia didn’t pause, and walked briskly towards the statue that was once her enemy. Tendrils of purple magic slid across the surface, and stone became flesh. “Stand and be made whole, Discord.”
Discord couldn’t help but let out a maniacal laugh as he stretched his limbs. “Free again! And so soon too!” Discord paused to examine his savior. “Oh my, Celestia, is that you? Love the flames, they go simply lovely with your coat. Ah, but enough pleasantries, what do I owe the pleasure to?”
“Your services are required,” Celestia replied bluntly.
Discord laughed again. “As fun as that sounds, I think I’d much rather celebrate my return to Equestria with some good ol’ fashioned chaos.”
Celestia’s expression was unmoving as Discord became engulfed in her purple magical aura. “The choice is not yours. The Void demands your services, and you will answer.”
- - - -
By the time Luna arrived, the only sounds left in the room were the feeble groans of the guards. After getting the story from them, Luna withdrew to her quarters to meditate on the events. She wanted to know why Celestia’s appearance had changed so much. She wanted to know why Discord had been freed. Above all, though, she wanted to tell her sister that research had uncovered that the Elements of Harmony were still attuned and fully functional, meaning that Twilight and the others, at the very least, were alive and still able to draw strength from one another.
- - - -
“Today’s the day! Are you excited?! I know I aaaaaam!” Pinkie’s rambling hadn’t stopped since dawn had arrived, and she hadn’t hesitated to let her friends know how excited she was about their upcoming match. “I wonder how we’ll do? Will we make a good first impression? How often are we all gonna be in the same match? Or on the same team? Will we have to fight each other? That wouldn’t be fun at all.”
Rarity tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a yawn, earning a reproachful glance from Fluttershy. “Pinkie, dear, it was mostly luck that we managed to get you all on the same match and team. It’s more than likely at some point that you all will have to fight each other at some point. Just...try to think of it as friendly competition. Now, go out there, and do your best everypo-I mean everyone.” Rarity stifled grumblings about inconvenient Runeterran lingo, and the six friends exchanged hugs, and Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack went to the summoning chamber to wait for their first official match, while Fluttershy and Rarity accompanied Ezreal and Nasus to spectate the match.
Waiting for them in the chamber was a grizzled looking man, whose otherwise ordinary work clothes were accented by a short cape and several metal plates that were somewhat clumsily attached all over the entire getup. In his hands was a strange, glowing device with two cylinders that mystified the others on the team, who had never encountered a firearm previously. Pinkie was the first to strike. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie. Who are you? What’s that thing in your hand? Do you think we’re gonna win? Do you like parties? I love parties! We should have a party afterward. It could be our ‘We Won Our First Match’ celebration or our ‘We’ll Do Better Next Time’ party.”
The man slowly backed away from Pinkie, looking half-annoyed, half-mystified. When he spoke, his voice was reminiscent of Applejack, though significantly deeper and more gravelly. “Call me Graves. Actually, don’t. Ah’d rather you just shut up.”
“Eww, someone’s a grumpy-gus,” Pinkie huffed in response. “Maybe you need a p-”
“He doesn’t need a party, Pinkie,” Applejack said flatly, cutting off Pinkie. “He probably just needs time to adjust. Celestia knows some of us necessitate some very thorough adjusting to.”
“No need to be snide, Applejack. She’s probably just a little nervous about this. We all deal with it differently,” quipped Twilight. “Also, you know Celestia doesn’t like ponies using her name like she’s a goddess.”
“Sorry Pinkie,” Applejack conceded. “This just seems to be taking forever, and Ah can’t say that I can bring myself to be excited over the prospect of violence.”
Pinkie giggled. “I’m not excited about that part, I’m excited about finally making progress towards getting home, and I even get to do it with my friends! And this grumpy guy! Nice sideburns, by the way.”
“Okay, back on subject, everyone.” Rainbow Dash pulled out a small map of Summoner’s Rift, where the battle would be taking place. “Just like we practiced, I’ll be after the jungle minions. Pinkie, you’re in the top lane, Twilight’s in the middle, and Applejack will go bottom with Graves.”
“Why do they call it a jungle? That looks more like a forest to me,” noted Pinkie.
“Try to stay focused here, Pinks,” said Rainbow Dash, masking the frustration threatening to creep into her voice. “Once the link is established, I’ll help anyone who needs it as I’m able to, with instruction from my Summoner. Play it safe, play it cool, and we should have this done before too long.”
Another group hug erupted. Pinkie looked expectantly at Graves, who glared daggers back. “Ah’d just forget that idea if Ah were you.”
Before Pinkie could respond, a bright light erupted in the room, and everyone’s minds were flooded with a host of new thoughts and sensations. When the light ebbed, they were standing on a familiar platform overlooking a structure housing a huge crystal. Each champion heard a new voice as each mind was paired. A female voice boomed across the landscape. “Welcome to Summoner’s Rift!”
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 13: First Blood
One thing that Applejack still hadn’t gotten used to was the shop. She was pretty sure that the gold they used wasn’t real, since it didn’t weigh anything or take up more space than her coin purse could ever hold. The fact that it steadily increased without any visible interaction only reinforced this belief. More strange than that, though, were the items. At the insistent whispering of the Summoner linked to her, she had purchased a tiny necklace, some potions, and some small, totem-like items that were called wards, which would serve as an early warning against enemy ambushes. As soon as she had grabbed her purchases, though, they dissolved into tiny particles of yellow magic that trailed into a slotted bracer she had been given. Shortly afterward, four of the six slots filled with small portraits of her purchases.
Riven had explained it to her once. She was not purchasing the items. They merely served as representations of power based on various artifacts held in the vaults at the Institute of War. The League loved its picture-perfect champions, and telling an archer to buy a gigantic magical sword to increase her fighting ability seemed rather silly. So, to preserve the iconic imagery every champion evoked, each champion’s standard battle attire and weaponry were enchanted to never become permanently damaged, and instead of buying actual items to use in battle, the champions would buy representations of an item’s power. In this manner, they could reap the benefits of any enchantments on the weapons, as well as gain a predefined measure of the weapon’s killing ability, which was regulated by League officials. Even with all of the explanation though, buying five different sets of armor seemed ridiculous to Applejack, even if she could acknowledge the practicality of the set-up.
“You gonna sit there all day, or do Ah gotta drag you to lane?” snarked Graves, who had bought a pair of boots and some potions in the time it had taken Applejack to even find the right necklace that she was supposed to buy.
“Uh, Ah’m good now. Let’s go,” replied Applejack, trying to remain polite despite Graves’ obvious displeasure at being saddled with not one, but four newcomers on his team. Applejack just happened to be the one assigned to protect Graves, who had a reputation among other champions for being a deadly fighter once he had purchased some equipment.
“Ah heard all ‘bout your training and whatnot, hell, Ah’ve even watched you a time or two to see what you were made of,” Graves growled, beckoning her to follow as he began to walk down one of the large lanes to the side of the slightly smaller center lane. “Ah don’t care a lick how good you think you are, kid. In this lane, there are only two rules. Keep me safe, and don’t kill the minions while Ah’m there. You may be plenty tough, but you ain’t got no stopping power like this gun has. Ah don’t care to play babysitter to some new kid, but Ah’ll promise you fair and square, you keep me alive, and Ah’ll murder our enemies.”
As her Summoner affirmed the truth of what Graves had been saying in her head, Applejack nodded humbly. “That sounds fair enough to me. Ah ain’t very comfortable with killin’, even if it’s just this pretend fake kind. Ah’ll do what it takes to win though.”
“Good. Last time Ah had to deal with a first-timer, she couldn’t stop turning people into squirrels long enough to hear a thing Ah said,” replied Graves. “Speaking of which, we’re against her today. Watch out for her trickery and that damn fairy of hers. She’ll likely be constantly poking around for weakness. Smash in her nose in when she sticks it where it doesn’t belong.”
“Yessir.” Applejack hefted her warhammer, and readied herself mentally for battle.
- - - -
Meanwhile, across the battlefield, Twilight crouched patiently in patch brush. Across the trees, in more of the rampant undergrowth of the jungle that spanned the space in between the three lanes, two soft green outlines gently burned in her vision, telling her where Pinkie Pie and Rainbow were hidden. Twilight had been waiting in the brush since shortly after being transported to Summoner’s Rift, guarding Rainbow Dash as she prepared to hunt the various beasts that would be shortly appear throughout the jungle. It hadn’t taken her long to buy some potions and a pair of boots, as her overachieving instincts had long ago prompted her to note that the shopkeeper always laid out his wares in the same manner, and she had subsequently memorized the layout. In less than a minute now, she knew that the large, stone guardian called an ancient golem would soon appear. Despite the stony exterior of the beast, or perhaps because of it, the golem wasn’t especially intelligent, and would follow Twilight for several seconds after she grabbed its attention, oblivious to Rainbow Dash, who would be chipping away at it from behind. Shortly after Twilight returned to the middle lane that she would be guarding, Rainbow Dash would finish slaying the construct, and hopefully not long afterward, she would be ready to set up an ambush. Everything would go according to plan, like they had practiced.
Rainbow Dash was excited. Of course, Rainbow Dash had always been the most gung-ho of the group, having a naturally competitive spirit. She embraced nearly all forms of competition, even going so far as to spend a good portion of her foalhood practicing the Lightning Hoof style of martial arts, even though most of Equestria that wasn’t part of the Royal Guard ignored any manner of martial art. Though she had never found anything to equal her passion for racing and trick flying, Rainbow Dash easily devoted herself wholeheartedly to anything that was both athletic and competitive. This was no different, and she had been training hard. Many times, her friends had warned her against overconfidence. Rainbow Dash didn’t believe that was the case, though. Her confidence was hard earned, and she prided herself as one of the best athletes in Equestria because she knew for a fact that she was indeed one of the best, and no other pony alive could begin to match her speed in the air, not even her heroes, the Wonderbolts. Those famous flying stunt performers may be able to soundly trounce her in terms of agility and grace, but not one of them had ever gone supersonic in the air. She’d earned the right to a little of her brash and showy nature.
In front of her, a massive beast made entirely of stone suddenly materialized from nothing, its singular eye glazed over as it passively waited for any champion brave enough to face it. Hopping back and forth impatiently, Rainbow Dash waited for Twilight to make her move, while beside her, Pinkie wandered off to the last unoccupied lane.
After two seconds that seemed like an eternity to Rainbow Dash, a blast of violet magic slammed into the side of the golem. Rainbow Dash moved in, hacking away rapidly, swirling in the air around the oblivious beast as it charged after a long-absent Twilight Sparkle, who was already stepping carefully over the friendly minions that were passing by in their endless rush toward the many defensive towers that they were programmed to constantly assault.
Rainbow Dash was in the zone. She knew she could do this. The League wasn’t even half-ready for Rainbow Dash, fastest flier in Equestria and new best fighter in the League of Legends.
- - - -
“Executed!” Pinkie instinctively flinched as the announcer’s voice echoed through the battlefield, displaying a portrait of Rainbow Dash and one of the jungle monsters high in the air, where spectators and warriors alike could see it. Pinkie’s Summoner dryly noted that according to Rainbow Dash’s Summoner, the pegasus-turned-human had a larger grasp over creative language than either of them had predicted, as she had been swearing for two minutes straight after respawning on their team’s summoning platform.
“Eek. Hope she doesn’t beat herself up too much over it,” Pinkie commented to nobody in particular as she hopped over to another badly damaged minion, finishing it off.
“You should be more concerned about yourself, child,” Pantheon, her opponent, countered. The heavily armored warrior chuckled to himself as he readied his spear. “I have seen many newcomers to the League as of late, and by far you are not the most impressive. It’s almost insulting to have to put you down.”
Pinkie giggled as she dived under the spear, rolling past Pantheon, nicking him with her parrying dagger on the way. “You take things too seriously. I really like your outfit though! It’s like you’re trying to be all GRR and intimidating and stuff! And your legs look really strong too! I bet you could jump really high and-”
Pinkie was abruptly cut off as Pantheon bludgeoned her with his massive shield, dazing her slightly as he aimed several rapid jabs with his spear at her. “By the gods, child, please stop talking!”
Pinkie cried out and staggered back behind her minions, sporting several new cuts. Pantheon laughed cruelly as he pursued her, striking forward with his spear. Pinkie mock-growled as she parried it away, slashing rapidly at Pantheon with her rapier, never once losing her bubbly exterior. Pantheon sighed. He hated newcomers. This was going to a long match, he suspected.
- - - -
Twilight Sparkle winced as another bolt of fire managed to catch her off-guard as she squared off against her opponent, a man who appeared to be completely and permanently consumed by fire called Brand. He hadn’t bothered with the banter that Twilight had been told was common between champions, and had remained sullen and silent as Twilight introduced herself and tried to be sociable. The entire situation was bizarrely awkward to her, as she tried to make the acquaintance of a person possessed by a fire spirit while they both tried to kill each other. She hadn’t had much time to pity Rainbow Dash’s embarrassing jungle mishap, though she knew that her friend’s pride was probably sorely wounded, and though she used what little spare thinking time she had to try and talk to Brand, her Summoner had been bombarding her with information non-stop, informing her of weakened minions, the state of her allies, the state of her enemies, how long until he thought she might be able to get away from her lane long enough to lend some aid to her friends without being noticed in time. It would have been overwhelming, if Twilight hadn’t already made a habit of multitasking to an almost unhealthy degree while she studied. Even so, at times she found herself having difficulties processing all of the information given to her.
She’d been doing everything by the book. She’d waited for minions to be weak before she took them out for a bonus to her income, and she’d used every opportunity she could find to poke at Brand’s defenses. It had been several minutes, and nobody had died on either side except Rainbow Dash, but Twilight thought she might be ready to make a move soon. She just had to wait for the perfect opportunity, when her opponent over-extended slightly...
She saw her opportunity as Brand stepped a little too far towards her side. Quickly, she appeared behind him with a flashing shockwave, eliciting a grunt of pain from him as he turned to engage her. ‘Good,’ she thought, ‘He’s too badly beat up to win a one on one fight, but he’s doing it anyway. Hah! Why would he even try...oh, ponyfeathers.” She didn’t even have to look behind her to know that the roar that had suddenly erupted behind her belonged to that half-dragon hybrid that her Summoner had mentioned was on the other team.
- - - -
Things had been going downhill from near the start for Rainbow Dash. She’d killed the ancient golem without any problems, moving on to the nearby clearing where three wolves sat, waiting for a challenger. The first sign of trouble came when she had moved to the other side of the battlefield, in the section of jungle closer to Applejack and Graves than Pinkie Pie.
The monsters in the jungle weren’t actually alive, but were similar to the minions on the battlefield, automated fighters to help boost a champion’s gold accumulation, and to help synchronize a champion with a Summoner so that the pair could access the full scope of the champion’s fighting ability. Due to a colloquialism developed during the prototypical experiments that preceded the League, these groups of monsters were commonly called ‘creep camps’ by personnel at the Institute of War. When a creep camp was completely destroyed, a signal would be sent to the Junior Summoners that were responsible for creating and maintaining them, and they would begin the process of recreating the monsters. The catch was that unless every monster in a given camp was destroyed, the signal would not be sent, and the camp would not be remade. This had given rise to a tactic commonly referred to as counter-jungling. The jungler, a champion commonly designated to patrol the spaces in between the lanes, who would wander the battlefield unseen by any enemies, using the creep camps as a source of income, would instead venture into the territory closer to the enemy to hunt monsters, usually leaving a single monster alive at a camp to prevent the camp from resetting, thus denying the enemy jungler precious monster kills.
This very fate had befallen Rainbow Dash as she came to a camp that only had one of the four ghost-like apparitions that comprised it present. This had only been a minor annoyance at first, as she had preemptively consumed one of her health potions in anticipation of sustaining more injuries fighting the so-called wraiths. She had walked away from the camp uninjured, feeling the potion work its way through her system uselessly.
It hadn’t been much of a worry then, but afterward she came to another camp that held one of the more powerful monsters, a powerful lizard-beast that held a temporary magical enhancement similar to what she had gained from slaying the ancient golem. This beast was somewhat more deadly than the golem had been, striking noticeably faster. Rainbow Dash had taken many injuries as the fight progressed, and even with help from her Summoner in the form of a spell specifically created for damaging the various automatons on the battlefield, it was a losing fight. Too late she realized that one missing potion had cost her the battle, and she began to retreat. It hadn’t been in time though, and the world went black for her for a few seconds as she succumbed to her injuries.
“...Celestia damn it all to fiery destruction!” she said as she reawakened on the platform that she had first appeared on at the start of the match. For roughly two minutes afterward, her words were nothing but a series of curses that became increasingly vulgar, not ceasing until she had returned to the lizard elder, healed and ready for round two. As the beast finally fell, she spat on the ground. “Serves you right. You look like someone crossed a dragon with a diamond dog, you ugly piece of-”
“An ally has been slain!” The announcer’s speech was mostly automated, having been enchanted to give relevant messages to spectators and each team, though what each group heard was different. Twilight had gotten a little too eager to engage the fire mage on the enemy team, and subsequently, the same champion that had previously sabotaged Rainbow Dash’s wraith camp had now ambushed and killed her friend. Making things worse, Rainbow Dash’s Summoner had informed her that in Applejack and Graves’ lane, the two enemy champions, an archer named Ashe and a yordle mage named Lulu, were putting more pressure on the two than they could handle, and would need assistance. Rainbow Dash sighed as she began to head through the jungle towards them, knowing that her already stunted income was probably about to take another dive. If they were lucky, they might manage to take down one of the enemies, but Rainbow Dash’s confidence had taken a hit.
It took little time for Rainbow Dash to reach the lane commonly referred to as the bottom lane, where Applejack and Graves were being constantly harried by their opponents. Crouching silently in the reeds and long grass that grew rampant by the nearby stream, she tried to gather her willpower. ‘Gotta stay focused. If I let it get to me too much, I’ll just cripple myself. I can do this. I am speed. I...am...speed.’
- - - -
- - - -
“When you’re coming in for a fight, either commit or don’t,” growled Graves at Rainbow Dash as they both appeared on the summoning platform. “And get your damn head in the fight. If you keep letting that lizard kill you in your head all match, we’re already done for.”
Rainbow Dash was about to snap a response at her teammate when Applejack appeared beside them. Rainbow Dash turned to her. “You die too? I didn’t hear the announcer.”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Weren’t you paying attention when Twi’ was explaining all of this? Our Summoners can use magic to take us back here when we need to heal and buy.” Applejack frowned deeply as she continued speaking. “Gonna have to let the tower fall, Ah think. We can’t defend it and we’re only getting further behind trying to hold it.”
“Agreed. Ah’ll be fine by mahself for now, kid. Help your friend get back on her feet. That wizard girl’s having trouble too. Y’all should go relieve some pressure.” Graves began heading back toward his lane, leaving the two girls at the pad.
“Well, better get going. Twi’ needs our help,” said Applejack, tossing a few coins at the yordle tending the shop before heading back to the battlefield with her new equipment, Rainbow Dash following closely behind.
“Hey...Applejack. I’m kinda...” Rainbow Dash trailed off, hesitating a moment. “I’m not sure if I can do this. I’ve always known I’m one of Equestria’s best athletes, but this is different...I’ve screwed up so much already.”
“Don’t sweat it, sugarcube,” replied Applejack. “Ah know you, and Ah know there ain’t nothing you hate worse than leaving a friend hangin’, and that’s exactly what’ll happen if we can’t beat this little game they’ve put us in. All our friends and family and loved ones will just be hangin’, waiting for us to come back. Ah sure as hay wanna make sure Ah’m there if Discord or somepony like him ever comes back, so ain’t no way Ah’m letting this get to my head. Loyalty’s your Element. You gonna give up on protecting our home just cause you got a rough start?”
“No, no I won’t.” Rainbow Dash’s voice was serious, but a smile still graced her lips as the two stalked through the jungle until they came to Twilight’s lane, where Brand had her pinned down near her tower. The large structure, though powerful, was rather slow to respond to threats, and the fire mage darted in and out of its range, hurling fire at Twilight and stepping away before the defensive structure had a chance to discharge its deadly magical projectile at him.
Rainbow Dash’s Summoner confirmed that all parties were ready, and they began waiting for Brand to make another pass at Twilight. It didn’t take long, and Twilight barely had time to dodge as a pillar of fire erupted from the ground beneath her. As Twilight readied herself, she had a flash of inspiration. Charging at Brand, she unleashed a familiar burst of illusion magic.
The Want-It-Need-It spell was a magic that she hadn’t touched since she had almost wrecked Ponyville with it, but here, in the heat of battle, she had no such reservations, and her sense of control had improved vastly. To complete the illusion, she even decided to anchor it to a mirage of the same childhood toy that she had originally enchanted.
Brand caught site of the ragged doll on the ground, and the spell instantly took hold, and he staggered helplessly to it, enraptured. After a couple of seconds, he was able to easily shake off the effects, being far too experienced with such trickery to be affected for long, but the damage had already been done. Twilight appeared behind him in a flash, a magical shockwave erupting from her. Brand grunted in pain, and responded with a searing bolt of flame, which struck Twilight solidly in the chest.
Twilight cried out, but didn’t falter, raising her hand as she felt her power building up within her. The ground began to crumble beneath her opponent, and he stumbled for a moment as he extracted himself from the rift that had appeared in the ground below him.
It was at that moment that Rainbow Dash and Applejack exploded out of the bushes they had been. As Brand found himself surrounded, his Summoner transported him a few feet away in an act of desperation, and Brand immediately sprinted toward his tower, only to be stopped dead in his tracks as the weight of Applejack and her plate mail slammed into him from the side, bowling him over. As he tried to extract himself from Applejack’s grasp, Rainbow Dash caught up to him. Brand only had time to growl in defiance before he was impaled upon Rainbow Dash’s blade.
As her friends congratulated her on her kill, Rainbow Dash grinned, wiping the blood from her blade on the grass. “Good job everypony. Applejack, you wanna come with me and see if we can make something happen in Pinkie’s lane?”
Rainbow Dash looked up, and saw Pinkie’s beaming face as the announcer proclaimed her feat for all to hear. Rainbow Dash smiled. “On second thought, I think she’s fine.”
- - - -
Pinkie Pie giggled, stepping deftly over the body of Pantheon’s buddy, a weird half-dragon woman who had tried to catch Pinkie off guard. Of course, catching Pinkie by surprise was like catching...something very difficult to catch. Pinkie shrugged, abandoning the simile. That kind of thing had always been Twilight’s schtick anyway. On the other hand, a mixture of taunting and feigned weakness had been right up Pinkie’s alley. After all, if anyone knew about unbearably annoying when the occasion called for it, it was Pinkie, and these two had been no exception. Of course, Pinkie had, unlike her rainbow-haired friend, been paying attention when Twilight explained to them how towers would automatically attempt to attack anyone who injured an allied champion, and Pinkie had used that to her advantage, dancing around the base of her tower as the two enraged warrior tried to surround her. The dragon lady had fallen first, which Pinkie mildly regretted on account of not getting to ask her name, and Pantheon had tried to retreat. Of course, his tower-inflicted injuries had made him easy pickings for Pinkie, and she’d chased him down and secured the kill.
Violent as it may have been, Pinkie decided to look on the bright side of all of this pretend-killing. She’d get to meet all sorts of new people, and it was kinda fun matching wits with an opponent. She could deal with this.
- - - -
Celestia picked Discord up from the ground, ignoring that the blood dripping from various injuries was staining her coat. The fool had tried to break free from their new benefactors, and Celestia had been forced to show him the error of his ways. Of course, now their plans to save Twilight Sparkle from that cruel world would be delayed by weeks as he recovered. There was no way Discord could power the portal in his state. ‘Soon, my beloved student. Soon.’
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 14: Acceptance
Swain’s life had been complicated recently. Of course, it had never been especially simple, between maintaining ties with Noxus’ disgraced mage-aristocracy, the Black Rose, and plotting to take control of Runeterra, all without anyone realizing the full scope of his ambitions. He’d made deals with devils, both metaphorical and literal, and he’d been more than willing to sell the greater portion of his soul on one occasion, though that had eventually been remedied. Things lately had been even crazier than normal, though. He’d been ripped into another world in another dimension, had his physical form altered for an extended period of time, and now was entered into a symbiotic relationship from the very place that sought to destroy what he sought to rule. It was enough to give him a headache.
Swain was willing to recognize his limits, though, and it was due to this that he allowed himself a preordained time to relax in his study, reading and catching up on whatever personal projects he might have that were not directly related to his overarching ambition. It also served as a convenient way to isolate himself in case some of his less respected associates needed to contact him.
Emilia LeBlanc was an old associate of his. He had met the head of the Black Rose shortly after being promoted to General in the Noxian army, and the two had shortly made a pact. LeBlanc would use her network of spies, illusionists, assassins, and strategically placed politicians for Swain’s benefit, and Swain would return the Black Rose to political prominence in an age where martial prowess was looked upon favorably and deception and trickery was deemed cowardly. LeBlanc was the only member of the Black Rose that functioned in a public capacity, as the leader and champion of the organization, and it was with no small amount of discomfort that Noxian politics acknowledged her friendship with their most successful General. Thus, the pair preferred that most of their business-related meetings be in private. It was also a good excuse to exchange ill-gotten information that neither should have. Swain had abstained from wearing Nightmare’s armor.
“Your friends seem very interested in weeding, at the moment,” remarked LeBlanc. “It seems their efforts to replant in purple are obstructed by a few other transplanted flowers.”
Swain nodded, used to the rather obvious flower metaphors that LeBlanc seemed to favor. “That’s not particularly new information, but I assume that they’re planning something new?”
LeBlanc idly twirled a finger around her hair, her white painted face betraying no emotion. “It seems they wish to make a show of meeting in Zaun, to attract the attention of their overly-curious prey. The six, especially the prissy one, are conducting active investigations into their hunters, hoping to find motivation and weakness. Unfortunately for them, the Voidwalker spends more time preaching than actually giving them facts. The extent of their knowledge is that Malzahar is insane, and the Void is full of terrible things. Of course, they are unaware of your own Void connections. On that note, I would caution you to not endanger our plans by wholly committing yourself to your newest friend.”
Swain matched her lack of expression as he responded. “Worry not. You know very well that I only associate with those who stand to gain something I can understand. Back to business, though. My plans require the six aliens alive. I have need of their knowledge, especially that of their government.”
LeBlanc chuckled quietly, though for the sake of the exchange it was just as easily equivalent to uproarious laughter. “I didn’t take you for the sentimental type. I hope you are not getting soft. Though, I can certainly see the benefit of learning from a civilization that has stood uncontested for thousands of years. An impressive feat, considering what you’ve told me of their rather lacking military power. I suppose the appropriate question would be how to translate that into our arguably more dangerous world.”
“I have a few ideas.” Swain limped toward the mannequin that held the Nightmare’s Regalia, which was rather pointedly placed outside of the room. “Perhaps I should beware of getting too dependent on my new friend, though. I’ve become rather accustomed to full use of my legs. Emilia, I’d like you to keep an eye on Malzahar, and tell me when his plans in Zaun are about to come to fruition. I must set about the task of convincing Rarity to let me send someone in her friends’ stead. Saving them from the rather obvious ambush will help me to get in their good graces.”
His companion nodded. “It shall be done. I already have agents firmly entrenched within Malzahar’s organization. It is a pity we cannot kill him, but we cannot have a martyr on our hands.”
Swain smiled. “Changes are coming, LeBlanc. I believe that soon I shall finally have the means I need to secure our rightful places in the world. The sacrifices that must be made are quite different than what I expected, but you know better than any human the lengths that we are willing to go to. Take care until next we meet.”
- - - -
Rainbow Dash grunted, staggering backward as Pantheon lunged at her, bashing her with his massive shield. She recovered almost instantly, but it had still been long enough for her opponent to score several hits on her. Bleeding and only kept standing by the mental fortitude of her Summoner, she had already resigned herself to yet another death as Pantheon readied his spear to throw.
“SURPRISE!” Pantheon barely had time to turn around as Pinkie exploded out of the nearby brush, uninjured and enhanced by the various items her great success in her lane had purchased for her. Panicked at the sudden change in fortunes, Pantheon darted toward Rainbow Dash, determined to take at least one person with him, only to be tackled to the ground by a recently-arrived Applejack. Pinkie stepped backward from Pantheon after dealing several grave blows to the warrior as he vainly tried to escape. “You take this one, Dashie. You need the money more than I do.”
Rainbow Dash smiled as she caught up to Pantheon, ending his squirming with a slash of her blade. Her Summoner informed her of the increase in her gold stored. “Thanks, Pinkie. This is tougher than I thought it’d be.”
“As sweet as this is, y’all need to come with me to middle lane. Graves is pinned against the tower by that crazy yordle lady and that mouthy guy always throwing stuff,” interjected Applejack.
Rainbow Dash nodded, taking a swig from a health potion as the trio stepped into the waters of the rather overstated ‘river’ bisecting the battlefield, which barely reached above their ankles. “I think their names are Lulu and Ashe.
“Yeah! I wonder if they’d come to a party after this. They both seem so funny, and I can’t stop thinking about that Draven guy our friends fought earlier. His mustache is so funny!,” giggled Pinkie. “When I was being all sneaky to surprise Pantheon, I almost gave myself away when I started imagining everyone we’ve met with that mustache. It was so hard to stop laughing! I mean I-”
“Double kill!” As the three friends stepped into the middle lane, where Twilight Sparkle stood beside a heavily injured Graves, who was looking at the former with an extremely questioning expression. The enchantments on the battlefield were in the process of healing a rather conspicuous crater in front of Twilight, and Ashe and Lulu were notably absent.
“Hi girls!” called Twilight. “Graves says we should try to take down this tower while Lulu and Ashe are down, and I’m inclined to agree. We should hurry though. Pantheon is almost up.”
Applejack thought it was weird that hacking against the monolithic stone structure in front of them with a sword had any effect at all, but she was beginning to think it was simply better not to question the mechanics of this violent contest any more than she needed to, and with a blinding explosion, the tower fell.
- - - -
“Excuse me, friends,” said Rarity as she stood up. “I’m afraid that I have to make a trip to the little fillies’ room. Do fill me in on what happens when I return, please.”
“Sure thing!” called Ezreal, who was trying desperately to ignore Riven’s noisy attempts to extract Fluttershy from behind his chair, the latter having taken cover there when the action became too intense for her timid nature.
Rarity smiled, but a hint of insincerity was present as she turned away, concealing the letter that had just appeared in her hands. A frown forced its way onto her lips as she reread the letter. It was from Swain, who, in complete contrast to his normally villainous character, had offered up some information on Malzahar’s activities, specifically a meeting that was going to occur in Zaun that would likely yield valuable information on their hunter. The only catch on getting the full story was that Swain wished for a brief opportunity to meet with her.
Following the directions on the letter, she navigated the labyrinthine Institute of War until she came upon a door labeled as the personal suite of Grand General Jericho Swain. With a final breath to steady her nerves, she opened the door.
In the growingly obvious nature of the Institute, the suite was just as plush and luxurious as her own quarters, though it was apparent by the presents of personal belongings and furnishings that this suite had been occupied far longer. Ignoring the urge to look around, Rarity walked directly into the suite’s study, where Swain waited with a smug expression. “Rarity, my dear. I’m glad you came.”
“I could never resist such a gentlemanly invitation,” replied Rarity, her tone icey. “Pray tell, though, I find myself rather curious that you should still be taking such an interest in our group after you’ve reached the safety of the Institute of War.”
“Perhaps it was simply destiny that we should meet again.” Swain took a moment to pour a crimson-colored wine into an expensive-looking glass flute. “Would you like some, Miss Rarity? As detestable as they are, Demacians have an undeniable a gift when it comes to the art of distillation. This vintage is simply to die for.”
“I’m afraid that I must decline. It would be unseemly for me to appear before my friends in a state anywhere close to intoxication after so hurriedly excusing myself from their presence,” replied Rarity. “If you’ll forgive my rudeness, I must request that we get to the heart of this matter quickly for that very reason.”
Swain grinned wolfishly. “Of course, Miss Rarity. A time and a place for all things, after all.” In truth, Swain’s own magic made him nearly impervious to intoxication when he did not so choose to be, and he had hoped to soften Rarity by plying her with alcohol. That she had refused was no surprise, but there had been no harm in trying. “I’ve heard a whisper here and there about your investigations into Malzahar, and I wished to offer a bit of information, and, if you would accept it, assistance.”
Rarity suppressed a frown, noting that the effort of remaining polite to the monster in front of her was becoming more and more difficult with each word from his mouth. She had to persevere, though. She would not give Swain the satisfaction of forcing her to break her own standards. “As... lovely as that sounds, you must understand that any of us would be rather hesitant in accepting your word at face value. The circumstances under which we traveled previously were a unique occurrence, and considering your actions at Canterlot, it takes a lot more than your assurances that you have turned over a new leaf.”
Swain, as he was in most conversations, was currently fighting the urge to roll his eyes and condescendingly inform his conversation partner how much he loathed having to interact with her at all. Instead, he took another sip of his wine, and chuckled softly. “I’m afraid we’ve already had that particular discussion in the past, my dear. I have never claimed to turn over a new leaf, as you so put it. I act in the interests of Noxus.”
“And yourself,” added Rarity. “Make no mistake, we are fully aware of the type of being you are, and what you are capable of.” This sentence along nearly broke Swain’s composure as he struggled not to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. Rarity continued speaking, not noticing Swain’s growing amusement. “I do not trust you in the slightest, Jericho Swain, and I feel that my sentiments are shared by nearly every creature who knows about you in any capacity higher than a distant public figure. You gain something from this exchange, and for all I know that gain is facilitated through the misfortune of myself and my friends at your hands.”
“Dispensing with the pretenses, then? I can... respect that,” lied Swain. “Allow me to do the same. If at any point I wished harm upon your friends during our travels, you would all be dead. I am one of the most powerful men on the face of Runeterra, and when I want something to happen, it has a rather consistent tendency of happening. Malzahar represents a clear and notable threat to Noxus, and to the entirety of Runeterra, and it has become painfully obvious that the Institute of War is too mired in its petty politics and self-proclaimed neutrality to ever do anything besides enforce its own rules. Thus, it falls to the willing and capable to deal with him. It is also painfully obvious that for whatever reason, he has become rather attached to the thought of capturing you and your friends, probably due to your backgrounds in interdimensional travel. I cannot allow him to succeed, and unless you favor being captured, then forced to aid in a cross-dimensional invasion of Runeterra that will likely result in a global extinction event, you should give my words consideration.”
Rarity eyes were smoldering with hate, but for several seconds she said nothing. Just as Swain was about to resign his attempt to failure, she closed her eyes. “Speak.”
Swain smiled genuinely at his victory. “In roughly a week, Malzahar will stage a meeting at Zaun. The purpose of this meeting is to catch your attention, and when you go to investigate, capture whoever comes. As of now I do not have the exact location of the meeting. What I am offering is to send someone to attend the meeting in your stead to preempt the ambush and gather any information available. You do not have to answer at this moment, or at all. If you wish to accept my offer, simply forward the information to me once Malzahar’s followers ‘accidentally’ reveal it to you.”
Rarity took a deep, controlled breath. “We will consider your offer. If you will excuse me, I must return to my friends now.”
Swain smiled once more, taking a sip of his wine as Rarity hurriedly fled the room.
- - - -
“Get lost on the way, Rarity?” inquired Riven
“A true lady does not consider time a restraint when maintaining her appearance,” she answered with a glare.
“Makes me glad I enlisted, then,” Riven snarked in response. “Well, aside from the whole being betrayed by my superiors in the middle of the Ionian Wars part.”
Rarity chose to ignore that comment. “How have our friends been faring in my absence?”
- - - -
Rainbow Dash exhaled, kneeling to rest as the blue light of the recall spell prepared to take her back to her base to heal. The rest of her team had been ambushed while she had been fighting the dragon that inhabited a small den on the south side of the river. She had arrived too late to save them, but the enemy had been so weakened, mainly by the efforts of Graves and Pinkie, that Rainbow Dash had effortlessly plowed through the four surviving enemies.
With a flash of light, she was teleported to her team’s healing fountain, and approached the shop to spend the rewards of her labor. Shortly afterward, an odd, airy noise erupting behind her told her that one of her teammates had just respawned.
“Good job, kid,” said Graves. “Didn’t think you had it in you. We got an inhibitor during that fight, so Ah’ll reckon now’s our shot for the Baron, as soon as your friends are back up.”
A short trek through the jungle later, and they were standing in the north side of the river, where a much larger den was situated. Within it was Baron Nashor, a huge, wormlike construct modeled after a legendary beast that had once terrorized armies fighting near the Serpentine River so effectively that its roar was enough to send both sides retreating until the worm had passed. The recreation wasn’t quite as powerful, but for a mere five champions, it remained a force to be reckoned with. The reward for slaying Baron Nashor, though, was well worth it. In addition to giving the responsible team a huge bonus in gold, part of the magic animating the creature would attach itself to any surviving champions on that team, granting them massively increased combat capabilities for a time. It was for that reason that the mere act of being near Baron Nashor was enough to send the entire enemy team scrambling to prevent its slaying, or to intercept it, stealing its blessing for themselves. To safely engage Baron Nashor, the enemy team had to be accounted for, and with the enemy’s inhibitor temporarily destroyed, the resulting super minions that would spawn until it was reconstructed would force the enemy team to defend their towers, lest they risk being overrun.
Rainbow Dash appraised the beast as she waited for her teammates, noting its many eyes and the acidic venom dripping from multiple mouths. From what she understood, a relatively small portion of the creature was visible, the rest hidden beneath the waters, which became very noticeably deeper around Baron Nashor. Even so, the worm towered above her by at least three times her height. Baron Nashor, for its part, stared coldly back at Rainbow Dash, waiting patiently for an excuse to rip her limb from limb with its needle-like teeth, and Rainbow Dash fluttered her wings with barely suppressed nervousness, wishing that the enchantments placed upon the battlefield didn’t limit the altitude of airborne champions.
As soon as the last of her team arrived, it was time to engage. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie took turns darting in and out of Baron’s reach to distract it from Twilight and Graves, who were bombarding it from afar, though Applejack was undoubtedly the one who took the most hits as Baron whipped its massive body against them, hoping to crush and bludgeon them in the event the acid that it spewed from its mouth couldn’t finish them off. Even the waters themselves seemed to be working against the team, as seemingly random geysers endeavoured to toss Twilight and Graves about.
Rainbow Dash paused for a moment, her ears registering a very faint whistling sound, but she shortly returned her attention to Baron Nashor, who was finally beginning to flag and heave in the face of the injuries it had received. Of course, the three champions who had been taking most of Baron Nashor’s attacks were in no fine shape either, and Applejack looked like she was ready to collapse. Rainbow Dash tapped her friend lightly with her blade. “Hey, AJ, back off for now, Pinks and I can take it from here.”
“Thank ya kindly, Rainbow. Ah’m feelin’ a might woozy right now.” Applejack suddenly paused, and a worried expression took over her face. “Mah Summoner just said the enemy team ain’t defending their base. Ah think we might be in trouble.” At that exact moment, the whistling became unbearably loud and Rainbow Dash barely had time to register a huge projectile of swirling ice coming down from its impossible arc to strike Pinkie, who in an instant was completely encased in ice. Even worse, as the arrow impacted, shards of ice erupted everywhere, and as Baron Nashor fell with a roar and a sickening thud, the team knew it hadn’t been their strike to finish the creature off. “Everypony run!” yelled Applejack, uncaring of her linguistic slip.
Her request was more easily said than done, as the ice that had frozen Pinkie in place had spread to Applejack and Rainbow Dash, making their movements sluggish and clumsy. Graves and Twilight had already started back into the jungle, but hesitated upon seeing their teammates lagging behind. Applejack waved at them to run. “Y’all don’t wait up on-” She was interrupted by a whooshing noise and an audible, bone-shattering crunch as the mighty leap that Pantheon’s enchanted equipment made him capable of came to its terminus directly on top of Applejack. She didn’t stir, and after a moment, her body promptly dissolved as her heart stopped beating.
Pinkie had just managed to break free of the ice encasing her when she found herself completely surrounded as the four other enemy champions appeared in a series of bright flashes around her. She barely had time to react before the sensation of arrows perforating her body reached her brain. As her vision began to darken and swim, she managed a quiet chuckle. “Well, that was a surprise,” she said, before promptly collapsing, her body following Applejack’s lead and dissolving a few seconds later.
Rainbow Dash, Graves, and Twilight were in a panicked retreat by now, trying desperately to outrun Brand, Lulu, and Shyvana, the half-dragon who had been jungling. The trio did not stop until they were safely under their tower. Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. “That was close, but we’re still in deep-” Twilight never got to finish her sentence as Pantheon appeared beside her in the same flash of light that had preceded the arrival of his teammates previously. He wasted no time in bashing Twilight with his shield, stunning her. As Rainbow Dash and Graves moved to help, however, Shyvanna, sporting the form of a true, if somewhat small, dragon erupted out of the jungle, knocking them backward with the force of her charge. Rainbow Dash barely had time to see Twilight hoisted into the air by Pantheon’s spear before her friend’s corpse dissolved. The two survivors fled for their lives as Pantheon took the full fury of their tower so that his teammates could attack uninhibited. Just as Rainbow Dash thought they were out of range, though, a lance of magic from a grinning yordle pierced through them both, causing them to stumble.
By the time they regained their footing, the enemy team had caught up to them. Graves, who had already been heavily injured by fiery potshots from Brand during their retreat, stopped running. “Keep running and heal! Try to stall them until the others come back up!” With a grin, Graves loaded his weapon with his ‘rainy-day’ ammo, which was both incredibly hard to produce and incredibly illegal in every other context. As the enemy continued to charge, Pantheon in the lead, Graves’ grin became a full laugh as he stared Pantheon down. “Let’s see that shield block this. Oh, and before I forget, nice skirt.” With that last jab at the lower section of Pantheon’s armor, he fired, unleashing a massive explosion of shrapnel and gunpowder.
When the smoke cleared, Pantheon was nowhere to be seen, but Ashe and Brand had stepped forward to take advantage of his sacrifice, the former being shielded by Lulu’s magic as she stepped into the tower’s range to finish Graves off, leaving Rainbow Dash as the sole defender.
She wasn’t going to go down without a fight, though, and as she charged off of her team’s healing fountain, she gave her wings a mighty flap, and faster than any of her opponents could register, she was on Brand, slashing at him as fast as she was able before Brand’s struggling finally ceased. With a grin, she turned to Ashe, who was now heavily injured by the tower. Her team wasn’t out of the game yet!
At least, that’s what Rainbow Dash believed. As she lifted her blade to strike Ashe down, she felt a strange weight on top of her head as Lulu peeked down from her new perch, her staff glowing menacingly with the promise of arcane power. In a blaze of magic, Rainbow Dash suddenly found herself staring up at Ashe, chittering nervously. A sinking realization preceded her death. ‘She turned me... into a squirrel. Ponyfeathers.’
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 15: The Past, the Future
“We... lost?” Rainbow Dash asked incredulously. “But we were winning! We were killing them and winning fights and we messed up once and lost! That’s not fair!”
Graves rolled his eyes as he stepped off of the summoning platform that had taken them back to the Institute of War. “Get used to it, kid. Things like that happen all the time. You make a mistake at the wrong moment and you lose. You should be glad that the match went as well as it did. Makin’ a good impression is important if you want to gather any influence. Now, if y’all will excuse me, Ah could use something strong to take the edge off.”
Twilight put her hand on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder as Graves walked away. “He’s right. I think we did pretty well for our first time. We have plenty of time until the next General Assembly to get people on our side.”
As Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to reply, she was interrupted by Pinkie. “Ah-ah-ah! No pouting! We still have to meet our friends and later on we get to have a ‘We’ll Beat Them Next Time’ party. You think we can pry Ryze away from his dusty old books long enough to party? Because I really think that-” Pinkie carried on incomprehensibly as Rainbow Dash’s hand covered her mouth.
“Yeah, I suppose it could have been worse. I mean, I didn’t start off as the most awesome flyer in Equestria.” Rainbow Dash took a deep breath. “Yeah, give it a while. I’ll be the best champion in the League. They’ll be sorry to let me go.”
Applejack snorted. “Hopefully not too sorry. C’mon sugarcubes. Let’s go find our friends.”
After walking a short while through the opulent halls of the Institute of War, they reunited with Rarity, Fluttershy, Riven, and Ezreal at the girls’ suite. Ezreal was the first to greet them as they walked inside. “Good job out there, girls. Definitely not bad for your first time. Not as good as mine, but hey, that’s a tall order. It’s hard to match this baby.” Ezreal raised his gauntlet up, gently tapping the gemstone amulet that it was built around. “Wish my first glove hadn’t broken though. I mean, this one’s almost as good, but I can’t get it to do that nifty healing spell anymore.”
Riven rolled her eyes and shoved Ezreal to the side. “Ignore him, he’s just an idiot. Good job out there, though. I think you made a pretty good first impression, and nobody will blame you for those hiccups at the start. Everyone knows that was a low-profile match with inexperienced Summoners guiding you. We’ll see what you can really do once you get a team of professionals at your back. The best Summoners really know how to bring out the best in their champions. Oh, and we did manage to get Ryze and Nasus to commit to coming. Nasus will be a little late, though.”
Fluttershy offered her own congratulations, though the excitement and intensity of the violent sport had left its mark upon her, and her barely audible words were incomprehensible as she shrank to the back of the room to calm down. Rarity was the last to come, offering a hug to each of her friends in turn. “Congratulations, dears. We’re all quite proud of your performance, and I already have offers lining up from Summoners wanting to work with you all. Pinkie in particular has made quite the stir. I do believe you all have earned this celebration.
“You heard the mare-oops, I mean woman, LET’S PARTY!” With that final proclamation from Pinkie, the festivities began.
- - - -
“The travelers have made quite the stir with their first match, brother. They are all, in their own way, quite talented, and possess an enviably adaptable nature. I have no doubts in my mind that they will be able to gather enough support to find their way home,” Nasus said, a sad smile playing upon his muzzle. “In a way, even through all of this, they’ve managed to maintain some semblance of innocence. It is both refreshing and worrying.”
Renekton laughed cruelly. “Worry you should, dear brother. As surely as your scent drives me inevitably toward my prey, their scent carries the death of this world and their own with it!”
Nasus was surprised, but he did not let it show in his countenance. This level of lucidity was a major breakthrough, and he wished to learn all he could through it. “What do you mean?”
“An idiot brother, too blind to see his brother’s blade rising, too blind to see through a purple veil!” Renekton struggled against the chains binding him. “You don’t deserve to live! I swear it, I will rip the flesh from your bones and feast upon your entrails! As everything you ever cared about withers and dies around you, I will be there to end your struggling!”
Nasus sighed, knowing the moment had passed as his brother once more descended into incoherent growls and feral cries. It was progress, though, and Nasus would not ignore his brother’s words, knowing the wisdom that had once given Renekton unmatched clarity of judgment was still there, buried deep within. Still, there was a time and a place for such ruminations, and he had a party to attend.
Still, his mind could not help but wander back to the portent given to him by his brother. Renekton had as much time to ‘socialize’ on the battlefield as any other champion, and he might have had telling encounters with Malzahar or his Void allies, the creatures known as Kog’Maw, Cho’Gath, and more recently Kha’Zix. The creatures themselves, while all of them were very dangerous in their own right, and for the most part quite intelligent, they were merely a sign of a growing presence. A vanguard of the Void.
Still Malzahar was known to freely associate with them, and prefer their company when possible, and even the most basic of the creatures, Kog’Maw, often acted in a manner similar to a guard dog for him. It was entirely possible that one of them, if not Malzahar himself, had spoken to Renekton, possibly offering the bloodthirsty lunatic a chance at his brother in exchange for cooperation. If this was the case, then the mere fact that Renekton had warned him at all was ample cause for hope and rejoicing, as it showed that at the very least a remnant of his brother’s mind remained intact and friendly to Nasus.
Nasus ceased his ponderings when he reached the suite that the six aliens were residing in. As he stepped in, he noted that the party was in full swing, and even Ryze appeared at the very least to not be frowning.
Pinkie didn’t lose a second in bounding over to Nasus, wrapping her arms around him in a brief hug. “Hey everybody, our favorite immortal anthropomorphic jackal demigod person type thingy just arrived! I’m sorry, but I forgot what you said your species was called, and I don’t really how else to describe you and what kind of punch does your kind prefer? I made a bunch of different kinds and I even learned how to make a new kind of cupcake while I was in Bandle City. It’s supposed to be so good that some people can use it as bait for yordles, and I gotta say that wouldn’t surprise me because it’s absolutely delicious and you should totally try one. There aren’t many left though, since you arrived so late, so you better hurry up and get one before Ezreal eats them all. Where were you, anyway?”
Nasus awkwardly patted Pinkie on the back as she hugged him, noting that she didn’t seem to realize that being over twice her size made hugging rather difficult for him. When she finally paused to breathe, he let out a silent sigh of relief. “Thank you for the warm welcome, Pinkie. I’m afraid I had some personal business to attend to that kept me from arriving promptly. My kind are called soul eaters, by the way.”
“That’s a kind of scary name,” noted Pinkie. “Doesn’t really fit you at all. I mean, you’re really huge, and pretty intimidating, but you’re not straight up scary like a manticore or hydra.”
“Our creators had a lapse of creativity in naming us,” said Nasus flatly, resisting the urge to roll his eyes, despite the fact that his lack of pupils would have made it impossible to notice. Not wishing to offend Pinkie, Nasus picked up and silently took a bite from the cupcake. It was, as she had promised, exquisite, and despite his inability to take any notable nutrition from standard food, he was able to appreciate the effort put into the treat.
Sinking into the party, Nasus watched with a soft smile as the humans and former ponies enjoyed themselves. The six aliens were loudly and joyfully celebrating a solid entry into the League of Legends, while the humans, though with significantly less exuberance, were soaking in the disconcertingly innocent atmosphere of the party. Of the three humans, only Ezreal could be considered a regular party-goer, and even he was not quite sure how to react to the simple party games and non-alcoholic punch that stood in place of the pounding music and strong drinks that were more prevalent in Piltover’s celebrations. Riven felt even more out of place, being used to the violent tavern celebrations of her fellow soldiers in Noxus. In truth, she was more used to getting completely plastered with the strongest brew she could find, singing bawdy tavern songs with her comrades that would make a sailor blush, and the inevitable drunken brawls that would eventually follow. Ryze was the least perturbed, as he had been engaged in a debate on magical theory with Twilight since he had arrived.
Still, it was fun, and everyone found themselves relaxing and enjoying themselves like they hadn’t since before the battle at Canterlot.
- - - -
Several hours later, the party had begun to wind down, and most of the guests were gathered around Riven, Ezreal, and Ryze, who in turn were telling tales of their various exploits in the League. Nasus was still in a chair at the corner of the room, silently observing as he was wont to do in most social situations. The festivities were cut short, however, when Rarity stood, clearing her throat to get everyone’s attention. “It truly has been a wonderful soiree, but I’m afraid that while we are all gathered in one place, it would be prudent to share something that happened to me earlier today. During the course of your match, I found myself the recipient of a magically transported message from none other than Swain.”
The room fell dead silent. Various expressions of worry, anger, and distaste flashed across the partygoers’ faces, and after pregnant pause, it was Riven to speak. “What did he want?”
Rarity recounted the events of her meeting with Swain as accurately as possible, leaving out no detail. As she finished, she offered an apologetic glance to all present. “I truly am sorry to ruin the festivities with... this. However, being together like this isn’t going to consistently happen, and I feel that it is important that we are all here for this.”
“It’s okay, sugarcube,” responded Applejack. “You did the right thing by bringing this up. Ah can’t say that Ah trust Swain, though. How can we be sure this isn’t just some lie to butter us up for whatever plan he has?”
Riven nodded. “He has a point, but I don’t think that he would want to alienate the few potential allies he has left. If we were to turn against him, I doubt even the Institute could stop Noxus from reclaiming him.” When several expressions turned to horror, she quickly backpedaled. “Not that we’d actually turn him over to Noxus, but he doesn’t know that. He’s riding the dividing line between being the ruler of Noxus and being a political execution. The risks he can take right now are pretty limited.”
“Everything we’ve seen about Swain thus far has shown he is definitely not afraid to take risks to achieve his ends,” rebuked Twilight. “If that wasn’t the case, he would not have betrayed us and Discord in sequence.”
“That’s true, darling, but those were rather extreme circumstances, even for him. As far as he knew, Discord was the only creature powerful enough to restore his soul’s condition,” said Rarity. “Equestria has already proven comprehensively the negative effects of separating the body from the soul for extended periods of time. It was probably only due to his ability to magically siphon life force that kept his body from simply withering and dying without its anchor to the local ley lines.”
Twilight did a double take. “How would you even know what a ley line is, Rarity? For that matter why would you know about the effects of soul damage?”
Rarity shrugged. “I got curious about it after reading a most riveting tale of romance involving a stallion who had to rescue his true love’s soul from-”
“Yadda, yadda. That’s wonderful Rarity. You can tell everyone else here about your trashy romance novels some other time,” interrupted Rainbow Dash, eliciting a disgruntled huff from Rarity. Rainbow Dash continued, unphased. “See, the problem with everything your saying... is that I don’t understand a Celestia-damned thing you’re saying.”
Twilight’s expression flattened. “You raise a very valid point, Rainbow Dash, but if you use my teacher’s name as a swear again I’m going to hurl you through a wall. I don’t care how much you’ve been hanging around the humans here, that’s one thing I am not going to tolerate. Understand?” With an audible gulp, Rainbow Dash nodded.
Twilight’s demeanor instantly relaxed as she prepared to engage in one of her favorite activities: lecturing. “Now, as all of you should know, the property commonly known as magic is a representation of the ability to manipulate mana. Mana is an energy field that exists parallel to all of reality, linking the multiverse. Magical ability is a reflection of an individual’s capability of drawing mana from ley lines, places were mana is free to pass into our world, and manipulating it through that individual’s natural channelling points, which are akin to ley lines within our very bodies. Repeated exposure to gradually larger amounts of mana will expand these natural channels, allowing an individual to access more mana in turn. Life itself is an act of magic, as mana is also metabolized by the body in order to enable most of its chemical reactions Mana can also be stored within crystals and gemstones of exceeding purity and proper shape. Without access to mana, a body will eventually die. Overexposure to mana will cause a magical feedback due to buildup, which has the potential to forcibly discharge, potentially damaging the user or anything near the user.
“What is commonly known as the soul is actually a colloquial term for the body’s mana channels, and the points at which they intersect and pass through the brain. When a body dies, the soul normally is naturally absorbed back into the ley lines, where it is eventually recycled into new life. When the soul is damaged, the body loses access to its mana supply, and consequently it begins to shut down. It is possible, with highly advanced magic, to constrict or damage the soul in a manner that it cannot naturally heal. My best theory is that Swain allowed the Void to redirect his natural mana flow in exchange for the ability to take on his ‘bird’ form, which allows him to temporarily increase his rate of mana discharge while siphoning the energy from other nearby souls. The League of Legends provides Swain with ample opportunity to do this without consequences, as souls can naturally heal all but the most extreme damage. In exchange for his cooperation, Discord repaired the damage done to his soul by the Void without damaging Swain’s new abilities. Now, he is able to metabolize mana normally without relying on his bird form. This also explains why Nasus’ species does not need physical food, as they are able to drain nearby souls without damaging them permanently, and subsequently metabolize mana in the place of physical sustenance” Twilight sat back, looking very pleased with herself.
Rainbow Dash’s face was blank as she took several moments to process the information. “So... he needed Discord to be able to live without sucking other people’s life force? Does that mean he was a vampire or something?”
“More importantly, how does this change what we know of his motivations?” queried Applejack.
“It means that when Discord came along offering to heal him, he had a chance to free himself from the Void’s curse,” said Ezreal. “I’m not sure I would have done much differently in his shoes, though to be fair I wouldn’t be making deals with the Void in the first place. I definitely would have skipped over the torturing Twilight bit too.”
“...I appreciate the sentiment, but I’d rather not talk about that,” muttered Twilight. “Anyway, so do you all think we can trust him? Wait, scratch that, I know we can’t. Do you all think it’s a good idea to go along with him for now?”
“I just don’t know. It screams fishy to me,” said Rainbow Dash. “How can we be sure he isn’t just making up this whole ambush thing in the first place?”
“Because I will go to the meeting instead.” Every head turned to Nasus, who had thus far been silent. “If it truly is a trap, I am one of the most capable of dealing with such danger. If it is not a trap, then we will know Swain is being duplicitous.”
“That makes a lot of sense, actually,” replied Riven. “I’d volunteer to go with you, but me and Ezreal both have scheduled matches almost non-stop for the next few months. I know Ezreal’s been seeing a lot more action than usual lately. I’ve seen Ryze’s work schedule. Between the League, being a teacher, AND doing his research on interdimensional portals, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Don’t you girls worry, though. I’ve seen Nasus fight, and once he’s fully synched with his Summoner, there are few things as terrifying. Without a Summoner to wait on... well, it won’t be pretty for anyone trying to ambush him. The hardest part of the fight for him would be keeping collateral damage to a minimum if the fight gets too intense. Luckily, Nasus isn’t a citizen of any city-state, so while the law doesn’t protect him, he has a lot more wiggle room.”
“It’s settled, then,” said Twilight. “Rarity, can you take our response back to Swain? If he refuses, then we know he’s up to something. If not, it’s safe to cautiously keep moving forward with his assistance.”
Rarity nodded, and after a round of goodbyes, the party dispersed, leaving the girls to go to their rooms. As they left, Rarity held Twilight back by the shoulder. “Are you okay, Twilight? It must have been hard to have memories of what they did to you brought up. To be honest, none of us are quite sure what exactly happened there. Do you want to talk about it?”
“No!” snapped Twilight, who subsequently flinched as Rarity recoiled. “I-I’m sorry. It’s just hard to think about, and if we do need Swain’s help, I can’t... I can’t let the past get in the way. Princess Celestia says there’s good in everypony, but he makes me wonder if she’s wrong, and that hurts more than what Singed did to me ever could.”
Rarity nodded sympathetically as she escorted Twilight back to the latter’s room. “I know you think the world of her, and you’re probably closer to her than her own sister is. I can’t imagine having the one thing you could always rely upon shaken like that.”
Twilight’s eyes were downcast, and she was pointedly ignoring the tremors going through her hands. “I have to believe that he isn’t completely evil. If I don’t, then the Princess is wrong. I can understand Singed. He’s obviously damaged, insane. Whatever good is in him is probably trapped by whatever snapped his brain in two. But Swain? Swain is probably one of the most sane creatures I have ever met. Yet, he’s only shown himself to be a complete monster. Even Discord was once a friend to the princesses before he went mad. Swain is perfectly fine killing and hurting and destroying everything around him to get what he wants, and he doesn’t seem to care at all for those who he hurts. If there’s good in everypony, how can he exist, Rarity? He can’t. It goes in the face of one of the fundamental truths that I’ve always believed. There has to be good in him.”
Rarity put her arm around Twilight comfortingly. “Darling, I cannot begin to imagine what shaped Swain into what he is today, and for what it’s worth, I do think that somewhere within him is the good he so thoroughly ignores. Just be careful. Even if there is good in him, he might not ever let it out. Don’t get so caught up that you get burned by him again. I will not try to dissuade you from trying to find that good, but I worry for your safety. Remember that we’re always here for you.”
“Thanks, Rarity,” said Twilight with a smile. “It means a lot to me.”
After a moment, Rarity got up. “Sleep well, Twilight,” she said as she exited the room.
“You too,” said Twilight in response, settling down to sleep. Sleep swiftly overtook her, and her dreams that night were calm.
- - - -
Nasus’ dreams, however, were not.
- - - -
Four years ago...
Nasus let out a smile as the patrons of his library began to shuffle in. For time untold, he and his brother Renekton had watched over this grand collection of knowledge, preserving it and sharing it with the humans of their world. Many came from all corners of the world to browse the library, and hear Nasus teach secrets from times of antiquity. It was his pride and joy to be able to serve his charges in this manner, and he enjoyed every day of his work.
His brother was just as diligent, if not more so. Renekton was a judge of character unmatched by any soul, mortal or immortal, on the face of their world. A single glance would tell Renekton enough to fill books, and a few words would make his knowledge of your intentions undisputable. Thus, Renekton had taken on the sacred duty of guarding the doors of the library, expelling those of ill intent and letting the pure of heart pass by. This is the way it had been since the two brothers had been created with the rest of the soul eaters.
Despite being wholly and perfectly content with his lot in life, Nasus had been feeling some worry as of late. As word of the library spread, and the brothers became living legends among the mortal population, the amount of people who would come to the library had drastically increased. There was even a monastery built in front of it, dedicated to the teaching of the two brothers. With so many patrons to attend to, the two brothers rarely had time to see each other anymore. On the rare occasions that he had glimpsed his brother in the past one hundred years or so, something had seemed undeniably wrong about him. Disturbing rumors swirled around Renekton like a fog, and their ghostly tendrils had reached Nasus’ ears more and more lately.
The nature of the soul eaters was well known, and it had been an accepted and encouraged practice, upon finding a truly blackened heart that had found the audacity to seek entry into the library, for Renekton to simply drain the life completely out of the villain, tossing his empty husk aside to be buried in a traditionally small graveyard that sat beside the library. Lately, though, Nasus had been hearing rumors that the graveyard had been expanding rather rapidly, and that Renekton’s prompt executions of evil men had become brutal and bloody, filled with rage. These rumors had deeply disturbed Nasus.
Today, he finally had time set aside before his lectures to speak with his brother, and find out what was troubling his heart. Nasus told his class that he would attend them shortly, and encouraged them to meditate upon what they had already been taught. As Nasus made his way through the ramparts that encircled the building and lead to the many towers that held less commonly used passageways to the ground floor, he looked out over the wide deserts of his home. As he swept his gaze closer to home, though, he found the most disturbing sight his eyes had ever beheld.
In the distance, Renekton was stalking forward, malice flowing beside magical energy in equal measure out of his eyes. Behind him was an army, and while the presence of humans following Renekton was not especially surprising, Nasus lost his composure for the first time in centuries when he saw his own kind alongside them, letting out a gasp of surprise.
Renekton cried out in rage when he spotted his brother in the distance, doubling his pace. With a grim determination, Nasus hurried back inside the library, activating an alarm system that had not been used in over one thousand years. Within minutes, the soul eaters who had served under Nasus arrived, followed by his students, all in various states of panic. With the greatest solemnity he could muster, he addressed his crowd. “Renekton... my brother... has gone mad. He leads an army of humans and soul eaters alike toward the library. I fear that he has the worst of intentions. To my brothers and sisters, I ask that you stand beside me to defend the library, to the ultimate end if need be. To my dearest students, I ask that you barricade yourselves in the amphitheatre, and wait for me. If I do not come back, flee out of the delivery entrance in the east wing. Fear not, for this too, shall pass.”
As his comrades assembled, a meager one hundred and twenty six of his fellow custodians, Nasus felt strangely at peace. If it were truly Renekton’s intent to attack, there was no way they could win, despite the innate advantage they had in living in a center of knowledge of all things, including combat, for years untold. Renekton was a skilled fighter, perhaps more skilled than Nasus, even if Nasus’ knowledge of the arcane trumped his soundly. Soul eaters could never know true death, as their bodies, no matter how broken, would always be able to absorb nearby energy to restore themselves with eventually, unless their soul was consumed by another of their kind. It was very possible, however, to indefinitely delay that regeneration, which in all aspects was identical to death.
Donning armor he had not worn in as long as the alarm had been dormant, he stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the entrance. Renekton was there, a sick grin plastered on his reptilian features. Nasus looked down with a saddened expression to his brother. “What is the meaning of this, brother?”
Renekton laughed, a harsh and grating sound. “Brother! For time untold, we have tended to this most grand library. You have taught, and I have stood a vigilant guard against the evil that would seek to gain forbidden knowledge. Sequestered away amidst your books, you have not seen the transformation of man. Evil festers in their hearts from when they are but children! We are GODS, brother! It is within our power and our right to purge the evil from the land! It! Is! Our! Duty! This grand library opened my eyes to the evil within the hearts of man, and its presence burns at my heart like a legion of burning coals! I see more each day that I stand watch, and my restraint weakens each time. This burning must be made to cease. This library will be the nexus and catalyst of a grand new age, my brother. Join us, that we might purge the evil from this world in a blaze of fire and blood the likes the land has never seen and will never see again! We will sit atop the world as its rulers, and the world shall be pure.”
“Step away from this course to which you have chosen, brother. We were created as guardians, not rulers. In truth I have failed my duty to you, brother. Too blinded by contentment was I to see your pain, and how this darkness has twisted you so. Leave this path, dear brother, I beseech you, and I will help you fight the evil that has taken root within your own heart,” pleaded Nasus, knowing his pleas would fall on deaf ears.
“You have chosen your course, ‘dearest’ brother,” growled Renekton, “and I have chosen my own.” Renekton turned to his followers and cried out, “Leave not one standing! Cut them down!”
Nasus quickly departed the balcony to join his followers in the library’s antechamber. The area was a choke point, and would help lessen the advantage of numbers, at least stalling the army long enough to thin it out. If they could hold out long enough, Renekton’s army would be thinned out enough for the human survivors to slip out unnoticed. With a deadly cadence, Renekton’s army began pounding on the library’s grand doors with a battering ram.
Pieces of wood splintered off of the door as it began to shatter with each blow, and with one last shuddering heave, the door gave way, unleashing a flood onto the waiting defenders. In an instant, bolts of arcane energy flew through the air, and the dead fell in droves as they charged. Nasus waited patiently for the tidal wave to reach the melee defenders that he headed. Despite the best efforts of the wizards behind him, though, this barely took any time at all, and Nasus soon found himself amongst a whirlwind of blood and death. The humans were simple enough to kill, most not even able to withstand one mighty blow from Nasus’ staff as he struck in a rhythm just as steady and just as deadly as the ram that had destroyed the doors. Soul eaters by nature, though physically superior to any human, were peaceful and not extremely knowledgeable in the art of war, and though they took significantly more effort to disable than killing a human, their lack of expertise was a flaw that Nasus and his warriors exploited to the fullest.
For a while it seemed as if they might actually turn the tide back, but amidst the tide of destruction another hacked and slashed his way through the combat with the fury of a tornado, and equal discretion. Any who stood in Renekton’s path, friend or foe, were swiftly cut to ribbons as he steadily advanced to his target, becoming more incoherent with every moment of battle as rage began to completely consume him. Renekton became an avatar of war, indiscriminate and merciless, concerned only with sating his insatiable bloodlust. When he finally caught sight of his brother, he found himself overwhelmed by a drive to rip Nasus to pieces, and began to draw upon the ability that had made the mostly peaceful soul eaters unstoppable when they had to fight.
Every soul eater could focus what energy they had absorbed and release it at once in a brief but violent storm of magic that enhanced their own form and abilities while wreaking havoc upon their enemies. As the enlarged and enraged Renekton charged through his own forces, those he passed found themselves bombarded by a whirlwind of dark magic fueled by Renekton’s hatred. Seeing his brother, Nasus began to gather his own energies, and soon the two most powerful soul eaters clashed in a whirlwind of sand and darkness as their energies intermingled. Humans and enemy soul eaters caught in Nasus’ sandstorm felt their energy being ripped from their bodies to dissipate while Renekton’s own whirlwind of black magic attempted to simply rip the flesh from friend and foe alike.
It wasn’t enough, though. Nasus began to feel himself succumbing to his wounds, and what would have been the final blow was only interrupted by one of his subordinates throwing himself in front of Nasus, crying out for him to save the students. With that final cry, the few remaining defenders charged Renekton as Nasus stumbled away, occasionally stopping to wipe the blood from his eyes that he might see as it slid down from his brow. After an eternity of walking and a brief moment of sadness when he heard the fighting stop, he reached the hiding spot he had directed his students to.
“Dear students, it is I,” cried Nasus, leaning against the door. After a few moments, the door opened, sending Nasus stumbling forward as his students tried, unsuccessfully, to catch the behemoth. “Gather around me, students,” said Nasus gently, and his charges complied. “The time has come for you all to flee. My brother will find this place, and I will provide a final delay. Escape with this, and carry news of this tragedy to the others of my kind who have not gone mad.”
Some of the students were weeping, while others stood in mute shock. One of them, however, had a strangely calm expression as he began to speak. “The Curator of the Sands has thusly instructed his students in the ways of his kind: the soul eater is both blessed and cursed with the ability to steal the life from any living being around him in times of dire need. Though this is regarded as anathema and abomination, if a soul eater were to devour wholesale all life within his range, he would become empowered for a time taking the strength of those he slays into himself, of which a part will live forever. Any soul eater who feeds in more than a passive manner and allows this abomination is forever changed.” The student smiled at his teacher. “This library has been my home since the day I was admitted. I am glad to give myself so that others might benefit from your teachings. I offer myself and my energies for your consumption, to aid in your fight, Curator Nasus.” As he spoke, others began to nod in assent.
Nasus smiled back at his student, and with a fire in his eyes that only one bound to eternity can muster, he spoke. “I understand your gift, and I accept it with humility. Your names will never be forgotten. Death shall never have true victory over you. This I swear. My dearest students, gather around me for one final lesson. You shall become one with me and today both you and our enemy shall understand the fury of the sands. Let those who would bring despair to these halls learn of death.”
The change was subtle, at first. Every student was fully willing, and at the start, they only felt a strange wind about them. As the walls of the room began to age, flakes of stone became dust as they broke off and began to whirl around Nasus. Each student fell to their knees as their bodies began to wither like the stone around them, and they began to weaken.
To Nasus, the sight was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His eyes, able to perceive the movement and flow of magical energies in a way no human could, saw a bright light all around him as the life within each of his students was brought forth and ripped from their bodies, flowing into Nasus. One by one, each blazing torch that was a student began to wink out, leaving Nasus bathed only in the light he saw issuing forth from his own body.
The door shattered as the last student passed, and Renekton stormed in, flanked by the remaining soul eaters. Renekton blindly charged forward as a sinking realization settled over his followers.
There was no contest. The weak souls that followed Renekton were consumed in an instant, and Nasus felt them empower him. The fight that followed was swift and brutal. Around the library, what life survived in the desert began to wither and die as an avatar of death fought and failed to contain his power. Each death flowed into Nasus, and in a matter of minutes, he stood over his brother’s broken body.
Nasus prepared for one final consumption. As he raised his staff, a blinding light surrounded him.
- - - -
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 16: Weapons of Choice
Rarity passed out two folders to her audience before sitting down opposite of Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie at the coffee table in the middle of the room. “This one’s just you two. Twilight’s been contracted for a Dominion match, and Applejack’s with another team today. You’ll be fighting with Alistar, Anivia, and Vayne, and you’ll be against Caitlyn, Blitzcrank, Lee Sin, Malzahar, and Renekton. Now, this is a pretty physical team so be sure to buy-”
“Wait,” interrupted Pinkie, “Isn’t Renekton...?”
Rarity sighed. “Yes, Pinkie. I trust that won’t be a distraction from your objective? If Nasus can fight him without holding back, you can too, no matter how sad the story between them is. Of course, we’re already familiar with Malzahar, so that shouldn’t be a point of contention. I will be watching him very closely, though.” Pinkie nodded, but fidgeted uncomfortably, her hair drooping ever so slightly, in synch with her lips.
Rainbow Dash was more businesslike as she poured through the pages within the folder in her hands. “I’m not sure how well I’ll do against Lee Sin. That much mobility seems a little impossible for a blind man. I wouldn’t believe it if Applejack hadn’t already met him.”
Rarity nodded, and the trio continued to discuss the matchup for about an hour until it was time for the match to start.
- - - -
“I need a round trip ticket to Zaun, on the fastest airship you have. Money is no object.” Though his tone of voice was as calm and collected as always, the poor ticketmaster in the booth in front of Nasus was almost cowering in terror as he checked a nearby schedule for giant in front of him. The entire display would have annoyed Nasus fifty years ago, but he had long since been accustomed to the tendency of Runeterrans to perceive everything as a threat, and since his public appearances had been quite limited, most denizens of Valoran were more frightened of him than even the cutthroat champions of Noxus, who could at least be relied upon for being overly violent. Nasus was an unknown, however, and that was infinitely scarier..
“U-um, we have two clippers docked right now, scheduled to in ten minutes. The recently refitted Tailwind is the fastest we have, t-tickets for 119 silver, but for only twenty silver more, the Bounty of Zaun is designed for small quantities of discerning customers, and offers exquisite luxuries, including an all you can eat buffet,
p-private suites, and more. Considering the volume of champions travelling to and from the Institute of War, we’ve also recently installed a team of professional weapons and armor smiths, who will, for free, service your weapons and armor, and recharge any enchantments on your equipment. It is slower than the other ship by a fair margin, but most people agree that the services more th-”
“Tailwind, please.” Nasus counted out the coins and placed them on the ticketmaster’s counter, who, after looking at Nasus for a moment, decided not to continue his pitch, and handed over the ticket.
The ride itself was fairly uneventful, if a little rough. The scarred and repainted vessel had been refitted from being a racing ship to after being replaced by the latest model, and it showed through in the sheer speed of the vessel, as well as the limited comfort. Nasus settled in as best as he could in the undeniably human-sized accommodations, and closed his eyes to meditate.
Renekton had been having more and more moments of lucidity ever since the six girls had appeared on Valoran. Whether the two were related was currently unknowable, but Nasus suspected a connection between them. It was as if they brought a bit of Equestria with them. Even the grass on the Fields of Justice seemed more lively as of late. There seemed to be an aura of peace around them, and even stranger, when two or more of them were together, the signatures of their life force intermingled freely with each other, in a manner not unlike traditional blood pacts commonly made between soldiers to lend each other strength.That would have to wait for a while, though. More important to him at the moment was his brother’s strange behavior. He undoubtedly knew more than he was willing or able to let on, past his insanity and hatred. There had to be a way to encourage to encourage this growing sanity in his brother’s mind. “An aura of peace...” he said aloud, before a sudden, slight smile graced his otherwise placid features.
- - - -
Pinkie looked across the lane at the reptilian form on the other side of the lane. “You look nothing like him, you know,” she said, with a calmness unbefitting of her bubbly, cheerful personality. “I wouldn’t be able to tell that you two were brothers, if it weren’t for his words and your armor design.”
Renekton laughed harshly, running a clawed finger across his arc-shaped blade. “I thought the family resemblance would have been stronger! Then again, pathetic little creatures such as you are probably used to everyone around you looking similar. It matters not, little prey. You all look identical to my blade.”
“You don’t act like him though,” continued Pinkie, ignoring Renekton’s response. Frowning, she continued, “You act like one of Fluttershy’s animals, hurt and raging. I wonder what changed.”
“Keep talking, meat, even as I rip out your throat and drink your blood.” Renekton began stalking forward as minions passed by him. “It’s always so fun to spill the new blood.”
Pinkie’s smile return, though her look was more determined than cheerful. “I guess we’ll play the only game you know. Maybe I can teach you some others while we’re at it.”
- - - -
They were neck and neck again. Rainbow Dash found that she loved these matches most of all, as her limits were being tested. Beside her, a woman in an outfit that would give Rarity a seizure was attacking the large dragon in front of the pair. With a graceful leap, Rainbow Dash flew upward, and with a smirk, drove the final blow into the beast’s skull. “We got this in the bag, Vayne. Trust me, I can smell their fear from here.” Her teammate did nothing but roll her eyes as she returned to her laning partner.
‘Dash, you and Vayne need to get to the middle lane.’ The sudden sensation of her Summoner’s thoughts jarred Rainbow Dash out of the air, and she landed with an undignified and very muddy splash into the shallow waters of the Serpentine River. ‘Anivia’s dead and Pinkie will join her soon. Preserve the tower.’
Rainbow Dash snorted as she responded with her own thoughts. ‘Just preserve the tower?’ She was already rising into the air. ‘I think not.’ With that, she rose into the air until she was just a speck to the teammates below her.
- - - -
“Feeling weak, little girl?” Malzahar’s voice dripped with venom. “This pain? It is but a trifle of the price you pay for your foolishness. As always, you blindly run face first into your doom. Just like in Zaun, really. so busy running you cannot see the truth in front of your faces. When the time comes your pain will be made bitter by what you missed in your steps.” Malzahar laughed madly as he sent forth a burst of purple magical energy in Pinkie’s Direction.
Though she was barely standing, the Summoner guiding her was able to lend enough of his own willpower to get her to to move backwards, so that the magic that assaulted her from either side clashed uselessly against itself where she once stood. Though she was more than able to duel Renekton, Malzahar’s magic had been eating through both her strength and will. When she stepped forward to strike, the group would erupt beneath her into a glassy window, leaking the foulest of energies as dark shapes twisted and whirled, desperately looking for a weakness that they could break to gain access to the world. With a flick of his hand, lances of magic would slam into her, disrupting her focus so badly it was about all she could do to focus on walking and her sword hand.
Perhaps the worst had been the visions. Pinkie Pie had giggled with delight when, during a battle with him, a cloud of purple energy had appeared on a minion beside her. Calling him out on his ‘miss’, she hadn’t noticed the minion gradually being reduced to nothing beside her until with an odd, echoing sound, the minion had collapsed into nothing beside her and the malefic energies assaulting it suddenly jumped onto her own skin. Immediately, the landscape around her had turned nightmarish and deadly, and even the minions seemed warped and distorted. It had been her Summoner who guided her between reality and hallucination, even as they both shared the searing pain of this corruption as it seared Pinkie’s body.
When Renekton had arrived in the middle lane, it hadn’t taken an effort to push Pinkie back to her tower, where they continued to dart in and out of range, taking a little of Pinkie’s strength with them each time. She now stood, at the edge of death, waiting for the final blow to come.
Malzahar was only too happy to oblige. In a flash of light, he was suddenly just a few feet from Pinkie, smiling wickedly as his eyes suddenly flared in an almost hypnotic way. “Witness oblivion,” he said, and Pinkie’s world turned purple.
She felt herself floating in an endless space, an ocean of every shade of purple, decorated with constellations of black stars that seemed to suck the light out of everything near. In her ears, she could hear faint whispers in a tongue that she couldn’t understand, but sounded unnervingly familiar, and as each slinking syllable issued forth, she felt violated. In the distance, she thought she could see a silhouette shifting. As it skittered forward, the whispers became louder, and other silhouettes began stirring as well. Pinkie felt a sinking sensation of despair, and she became more and more overwhelmed by terror as the whispers became shouts, and the dark forms gathered closer and closer as she struggled with futility to move in this ethereal prison, until she could see starving eyes looking at her greedily. Pinkie could do nothing but scream as she felt claws begin ripping into her legs as she felt herself helplessly pulled towards the horde. Sobbing uncontrollably, Pinkie looked up one last time to see a scythe-like appendage slicing through space, straight towards her heart. With a cry, she closed her eyes and waited for the blow.
It never came, though, and Pinkie was brought back to reality as a maelstrom of light brought her back into her body. She was vaguely aware of Rainbow Dash in front of her, tossing aside Malzahar’s corpse before turning back to her with a wink. As she stumbled towards her friend, she idly slashed at enemy minions, sighing in relief as the items that she had purchased drew their life force into her, oblivious as Rainbow Dash’s expression twisted into a shout as she ran towards Pinkie. Barely coherent, Pinkie continued to walk forward until she noticed that she wasn’t moving. Looking down, she frowned at the steel protruding from her, obscuring her ability to look at her legs to figure out what the problem was. As her vision faded, she felt a hot breath on her neck. “Consider this mercy,” growled Renekton. “You don’t want to see what’s about to happen to your friend. Pinkie wasn’t able to hear it by then, though.
- - - -
Rarity turned to the other occupant of the observation room that she was in. “We have what we need. Message Nasus,” she said without emotion.
Swain laughed in his harsh, barking way. “You surprise me, my dear. Sending Pinkie against Malzahar to get the information you need? Nothing like drowning your Element of Laughter in a pool of insanity.”
Rarity glared at Swain coldly. “You know what I found most fascinating about the fact that our enemies are a cult worshiping extra-dimensional entities? Extra-dimensional. Malzahar’s consorts know how to move between dimensions. Ryze’s research is fruitless thus far, and we can’t rely on the General Assembly for help. Their capricious nature makes them an unknown factor. I had to make backup plans. For us to have a chance of manipulating these facts to our advantage, two things must happen. The first is that we must have utmost control of the situation, including when and where Malzahar leads us to his trap. The second... I am not a strong fighter, and I never shall be. When I am outside of my talent, my limitations are telekinesis and a gem-finding spell that Twilight learned in less than an hour. And Fluttershy? She is, quite literally, scared of her own shadow. The fact of the matter is that we need fighters, those who can do what I cannot. Pinkie is the softest of our four champions. All of this play-fighting she’s been doing hasn’t changed her mindset at all. She needs to be prepared for serious combat, and to reach that point I have placed her in more drastic circumstances. I’m going to do this to all of them, but especially her. They might never understand why, but the cost of this battle will first be payed in innocence. That is why I must do what I can, so they might do what I cannot.”
Swain couldn’t help but laugh again. “I wasn’t criticizing, my dearest Rarity. In fact, I more than approve. This little event allows the illusionist I’m sending to be even more convincing when imitating you six. Perhaps we’re more alike than you might think, Miss Generosity.”
Rarity immediately rose up and slapped Swain on the face. “Listen, you sad little monster playing at humanity, and listen well. I don’t enjoy this like you do. I just threw my friend into the fray to let her mind get picked apart. After all is said and done, I will confess every last thing I have done to my friends, and beg their forgiveness. If they choose to reject me for my actions, so be it. You think I’m not generous? I’m willing to give everything to make sure those girls get home safely, from my friendships with them to my very ideals. There’s more than a good chance I’ll be left with but a reputation as a monsters as vile as you are when this is over. Generosity isn’t just about helping others or giving to the needy. It’s being willing to sacrifice every part of your being for another. That’s where you and I differ, Jericho Swain. Send the message. I am about to go congratulate Rainbow Dash and Pinkie on serving as a distraction for Vayne’s split push to victory, and I’m going to smile every second for them, despite how much I despise what I’m going to do to them. I’m going to turn them into weapons, Swain, so that they might survive. If this means becoming their anathema, so be it.” With that, Rarity regained her composure, and calmly exited the room as a screen behind her displayed the bright detonation of the enemy nexus.
- - - -
“Well that wasn’t so fun,” Pinkie said shakily as she walked down the hallway with her friends, shivering slightly.
Rainbow Dash nodded. “You don’t have to tell me twice. I’m sore in places that shouldn’t even exist. Ugh, human bodies. At least we won, right?”
“You two did absolutely terrific, I think,” said Rarity with a soft smile. “I couldn’t believe you lasted as long as you did in that last battle in middle. The other team didn’t notice Vayne not showing up to the fight at all. At least, not until it was too late to stop her. You should proud, especially you, Pinkie. It couldn’t have been easy going face to face with Malzahar.”
“Eheh... I’d rather not talk about it,” said Pinkie nervously. “Uh, why don’t we go see how the other girls’ matches went? They should be back by now, right?”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Pinkie,” replied Rarity as she opened the door to their suite.
Applejack and Twilight were already there, talking amongst themselves when the trio entered the suite’s living room. The two immediately stopped talking and got up to greet them upon their arrival. “Hi girls!” said Twilight. “Your match finally over? Oh, wait, let me go fetch Fluttershy from her paperwork.” With an abrupt pop, Twilight vanished, leaving the four others in a sudden, awkward silence.
“Uh, yeah. Twi’ made some tea, if y’all want some. It’s on the coffee table,” said Applejack, breaking the ice as she hugged each of her friends in turn before returning to her seat. “So yeah, Ah won my match. Been working a lot with this creepy spider lady. Gives me jitters, but she knows her stuff.”
Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie each took seats before Rainbow Dash spoke up. “Yeah, we just got out of a real nasty victory. The other team was obsessed with pushing down mid lane, so we had one of ours steamroll bot. Me and Pinkie were kinda punching bags the entire time, though. We had to keep them busy so they wouldn’t stop our teammate. Pinkie got the worst of it though. She pretty much spend three fourths of the match fighting two against one. She actually managed quite a few kills before Malzahar floated on in. What a jerk. Spent the entire time messing with Pinkie’s head.”
Pinkie curled up in her seat, and Rarity patted her on the shoulder comfortingly while shooting Rainbow Dash a glare. “Despite somepony’s lack of tact, she’s right-Oops, I mean someone. Someone’s lack of tact.”
“Oh, that sounds just terrible,” said Fluttershy as she walked into the room with Twilight, carrying a stack of papers. “I finished looking over those Summoner requests. Apparently a group called the Consolidated League Garrison wants to contract Pinkie and Twilight for a match next week. They’re supposed to be some of the best Summoners active. Also, Rainbow Dash, a Noxian armor and weapon distributor by the name of Geas’ Armaments contacted us about a potential sponsorship deal with you. They’re offering to equip you for free if you exclusively use their weapons and armor. Oh, and Rarity, the High Council of Equity sent you a letter.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t expect you to get into this so quickly, Fluttershy. You’re definitely determined to pull more than your own weight, aren’t you?”
Fluttershy waved dismissively after she set down the stack of papers on the coffee table, and poured herself some tea. “It’s nothing, really. I went through more than this getting my veterinary degree and becoming a licensed handler of exotic animals. Even the wilderness survival and first aid classes were harder, really. Thanks to Rarity, I don’t really have to talk to people often, so I’m happy to help in any way I can.”
“I thought you dropped out after falling out of Cloudsdale,” commented Rainbow Dash confusedly.
“I dropped out of my flight classes, but I still continued my education. There were a lot of things I needed to know if I was going to help all the animals that come to me,” replied Fluttershy. “My parents were really worried about the workload, but they agreed to pay my way.” She paused a moment to smile before continuing. “I miss them. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it.” Her smile drooped slightly. “I haven’t written to them since the royal wedding. I hope they aren’t worried...”
- - - -
Luna sat anxiously, waiting on the last of the ponies she was expecting. Finally, the last couple walked into the audience chamber. Luna stood. “Mare and gentlecolts, I have summoned you here to bear testament to news both grim and hopeful.
“Not long ago, Canterlot came under another attack from Discord, and the six bearers of the Elements of Harmony once more came to the rescue of Equestria, along with some new allies from another world. Afterward, the Elements were sent to further train with my sister.
“This is the story told to the public, and only a few inside the castle know otherwise. What you are about to hear is a state secret, and I am only telling you because I feel that you deserve to know what has become of your children. I trust you will not repeat this to anypony, on penalty of royal retribution.” Luna paused, taking a breath to steady herself. “The day after the battle, we gathered once more to send the six aliens to their homeworld. Something went wrong, though. There was interference from an outside source of magic, though, and when our eyes were no longer blinded, all present opened them to see that not only were the six aliens gone, but the bearers as well. We later discovered that a set of armor from my days as Nightmare Moon was missing. This is what we believe caused the interference.” The various couples in the room began murmuring worriedly to each other.
“What happened to her!?” exclaimed a stallion by the name of Mad Dash, one of two who had come alone to the audience. “Where is my Rai-”
“Be still,” Luna’s voice rang out, laced with power so that none might question if it was a suggestion or a command. “Allow me to finish. We believe that the bearers are now on the world of the six aliens. The good news is that we know, by their connection to the Elements of Harmony, that they are alive and still attuned. The bad news is that the majority of our research disappears has disappeared with my sister.” As soon as the last sentence had been uttered, there was utter silence and stillness.
Luna bowed her head for a moment before continuing. “My sister was especially distraught by the disappearance of Twilight Sparkle. She requested that I take on her duties for a time so that she might fully devote herself to finding a way to recover the bearers. So consumed with our combined duties was I that I could not see traces of a magic most foul and unnatural slowly wrapping around her. Near the end, I heard her responding to voices that were not present, and she violently rebuffed any attempt to persuade her to rest. One day, she disappeared. I immediately dispatched our military forces to locate her at all costs. It mattered not, though, for after many days of absence, it was she who returned to us. A few weeks ago, she broke Discord out of his prison, and forcibly extracted him to an unknown location. We have not been able to locate them, but I have been sensing severe shifts in the channels of magic that naturally flow through our world. I fear that my sister has been most dangerously deceived. This is the truth of the matter. Do not lose hope for your children, though. We are devoting everything we can to this task. Thank you for coming.” Luna nodded to a guard, and the door to the audience chamber swung open.
- - - -
Celestia nodded slowly as she tweaked a stream of magic flowing out of Discord, whose voice had long ago shifted from incoherent ramblings, to pleas, to screams, and now to muted whimpers. “Be proud, Discord. For once, you’re finally doing something good with your power. We have done our part, for now, though. You can just sit there and think about how good it feels to do the right thing.” Celestia choked out a hollow, mirthless laugh. “We shall wait for our friends on the other side to open the way, so that I might save my student from further corruption by that detestable, violent world. All will be well, you shall see.”
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 17: For Him that Knoweth to do Good...
Fluttershy watched silently as her friend downed another cup of coffee. It was past midnight, and yet again, Fluttershy sat, watching Rarity with equal parts worry and sadness. Rarity had been going downhill since the matches had started, getting only a few hours of sleep each day, and relying on coffee and magic to keep herself going. Her room was a scattered mess of matchmaking contracts, dossiers, and empty cups. Fluttershy's meek protests at Rarity's abuse of her health had gone completely ignored.
With an almost silent knock with a wing on Rarity's open door, she made her presence known. Rarity turned away from her work, and jumped slightly at seeing Fluttershy holding a tray with two cups at her door. "Oh, Fluttershy, I didn't think anyone else was awake at this hour. What can I help you with, darling?"
Fluttershy cast down her eyes momentarily. "Oh, I, um, woke up after being startled in a dream, and since I knew how you liked to work late, I thought I'd brew us some tea, and maybe we could, uh, chat until I settled down enough to sleep again. Sorry if I'm interrupting or being a bother..." Fluttershy tilted her head downward, letting her hair fall over her face as if to hide it.
Rarity smiled softly in response as she floated a cup of tea over to her desk, letting it come to rest beside the latest empty cup. "Believe me, dear, it's no trouble at all. Celestia knows I could use the company. Requests for the girls have been coming from Summoners left and right, and I'm simply at my wit's end keeping up with them all." Rarity took a sip of the tea, barely stifling a yawn afterward. "In other news, Nasus touched down in Zaun yesterday, and met up with Swain's agent. Today, we're all going to be seen 'leaving' the Institute to travel there. Swain has a safe-house that we shall be hiding in until Nasus is done."
Fluttershy frowned, trying to ignore the instinctual panic that she was known for rising. "But what if he turns on us? We wouldn't be able to do anything..."
Rarity put a hand on Fluttershy's shoulder, patting it reassuringly. "We've got that base covered as well. Riven will be there with us, and Ezreal will speak out if anything should befall us. If Swain harms the League's rising stars, he will inevitably lose its diplomatic immunity, and he'll be extradited to Noxus. As it stands now, he cannot be legally deposed without a trial, which won't happen if he never comes back to Noxus, at least until he's dealt with the accusations. As far as the matches we have scheduled, the League uses a recall spell for champions that are on Valoran but not at the Institute. It will allow us to go about our business unhindered." Rarity's attempt to hide her yawn failed miserably this time.
"Oh, my," commented Fluttershy, "I think you might really need some sleep. Being too tired will make working pointless anyway, after all. You might miss something."
Rarity sighed in defeat. "I suppose you are right. I am quite tired. It's so easy getting too caught up in one's work, especially something this important. Good night, Fluttershy. Sleep well."
"Good night Rarity," she responded before walking out of the door. After a few moments, though, she returned. "Oh, Rarity, I forgot my tea..." Fluttershy trailed off as she realized Rarity was already asleep. Looking at the desk where she had placed her own cup beside Rarity's, her gaze fell to the papers Rarity had been working on. 'Well, it's been a while since we've really coordinated. It's probably a good idea to see where she's going. Maybe I should just take a peek, so that I don't step on her hooves, er, toes when I schedule things...
It wasn't what she had expected. There were the standard fights backed by respected Summoners, letters and correspondence with the League's infinite paper-pushing network and those on either side of it. Causes needed champions, and political disputes sat right beside little insults and land quarrels. Any Summoner who could be contracted or convinced to take an issue into trial by conflict was ready and waiting for them.
Further back, though, there were other fights. Inexperienced Summoners with reputations for failures. Causes that couldn't afford the best of the best. Fights in which victory was unattainable, and struggle was futile. These wouldn't be valiant battles where the heroism of the combatants could compensate for cause's loss with good publicity. These were one-sided in every sense of the word. Things that wouldn't speak well for the girls' reputation, and their influence and power within the League of Legends. These things wouldn't lead to the General Assembly taking their side. Summoners were commodities to be bought and sold in the currency of fights, and their votes would only come at a price. All of the high talk of justice, of winning the favor of the General Assembly so that the League would volunteer resources, Fluttershy and Rarity both had figured out early that was false, and that only buying Summoners, one way or another, would give them what they need. It was a challenge the two had privately accepted between themselves to keep the distraction of politics away from the others, and now Rarity was sabotaging it behind everyone's backs. The League wouldn't ever help them if they went forward with these.
Fluttershy was hurt, and feelings of confusion and betrayal flashed across her face as she continued ruffling quietly through the papers until she found a small, faux-leather-bound book. It didn't surprise Fluttershy in the slightest that her friend kept a journal, but what did is that she found herself reaching for it. It was an invasion of privacy, a breach of Rarity's trust in her. It was wrong, but Fluttershy had to know Rarity's reasons. If the stress of this world had gotten to her and she'd lost hope, or if she was in some sort of trouble, this was the only way to know without letting Rarity know, and potentially covering everything up with denials and sweet-talking, and Fluttershy was more than aware that a few smooth words could stop her in her tracks. Here, in silence, she could find the truth. Taking a breath, she opened to a random entry.
I'm not sure why I even bother sometimes. Ever since that conversation with Ryze, I feel like I've just been floundering about aimlessly. I had to admit I had trouble believing it when I was first told how duplicitous these humans could be, but not anymore. Maybe that's an unfair judgment, as we've met several good souls here. Strangely enough, though, none of them seem to be in positions of political power. I wonder if that's just a coincidence. I doubt it. Still, the girls have been through this much. I refuse to let all of this have been for nothing. We'll need Malzahar's knowledge to succeed. No, that's not it. We need his power. The girls haven't even questioned why we're not just playing this defensively, waiting for him to make a move. If they do, I can play it off as being proactive. After all, we can't expect that man to simply let us be. It's still yet another lie of omission, though. It isn't about stopping him anymore. Kassadin and Ryze's experiments have shown promise, but Kassadin can't channel enough of the Void's energies without succumbing to it like Malzahar already has. The only way is to capture him. I've been putting the girls through Tartarus getting them ready for that fight.
It's troubling, knowing just how useless I am. Fluttershy, the poor dear, doesn't realize just how little we're doing. Honestly, if it weren't my more clandestine intentions, she could handle the paperwork by herself, and I would focus on making contacts. Generosity has nothing to give, it seems. No, that's not true, now that I think about it. Dealing with that snake, Swain, has taught me otherwise. He'll probably be tickled pink to find out that I've been setting up my friends for failure. It sickens me to know that I'm sacrificing the innocence of my friends, but I won't let them go in unprepared. They will probably hate me for it, but I suppose that their friendship, however precious to me, is a small price compared to their lives.
Somehow, I expected that writing that down would make my words seem less hollow to myself.
I wonder how my sister is doing back home... I know that we will meet again one day, though, and this will all be worth it.
Fluttershy frowned, confused more than anything else, though it stung a bit that all of her work didn't mean as much as she thought. More concerning to her, though, were the mentions of Ryze and Kassadin, not to mention Rarity's concern that she would lose her friendships preparing her friends for a direct confrontation with Malzahar. Casting a quick glance back over to her sleeping friend, she flipped through the previous pages of the journal, scanning for anything that promised to explain what was going on. A feeling of dread overwhelmed her as she found what she was looking for.
I spoke to Ryze yesterday evening. I'm glad Fluttershy wasn't about afterward, because I'm pretty sure that I spent the next hour crying, and I woke up today feeling oddly drained. I must have looked rather unsightly to her, with my baggy eyes and my messy hair. Of course, she still insisted that I looked fine, but I could see the worry in her eyes. She thought that I had been staying up late setting up meetings. The truth is a bit worse, I'm afraid. Ryze had been asking around, and doing research. He told me that he'd been looking into the spell that Summoners used to pull beings from other worlds. He told me that the spell didn't interact with location at all, and that it merely searched for traits. Theoretically, we could search for the traits that perfectly define someone from our world, and use them as an anchor to transport ourselves to. That would take years, though. 'I could reverse engineer a teleportation network from this,' he said, 'but finding a single world that we're not even sure exists in the same plane that this one does... I'll keep trying, but don't hold your breath.' He almost sounded sorry, as much as you can tell past his rough demeanor. I guess this world makes you a little jaded after a while, but he just stood there after shattering everything we've been working for. I might have said some extremely unladylike things in response. I can't begin to justify how I behaved at that moment, but I suppose it worked, because he mentioned a long shot. Both Kassadin and Malzahar have attested in the past to the universality of the Void's presence across worlds. If this is true, and the Void has access to all of existence, then we might be able to use it as a bridge to home, if only we can figure out how to harness it. Ryze doesn't think we'll be able to pull it off without gleaning information from Malzahar though, and outside of the safety nets that the League gives us, neither of us think well of our chances in a battle against him and his lackeys. I have a plan, though. We'll have to see how well it works.
One thing is certain, though. The girls can't know. They need to stay focused, and not lose hope. There's no telling how they'd react, if they knew that they weren't going to get any real help from the League, no matter how well liked they are.
Fluttershy was on the verge of hyperventilating. The revelation that the League wasn't going to be of any help slammed into her like Rainbow Dash on a day of stunt flying. She heard a soft rustling noise behind her, and turned to see Rarity awake, eyes brimming with fear and regret. The two stared at each other for several minutes, Fluttershy's mind not certain how to react, and Rarity's mind afraid of that. After an eternity of silence, Fluttershy found the means to speak, though her voice only came out as a whisper. "...What do we do, Rarity?"
Rarity breathed a sigh of mixed relief and unresolved stress. "The same thing we've been doing all this time, Fluttershy. They have to be ready. They can't know, though. It would ruin everything. Please."
"I-I won't tell them. Cross my heart and hope to fly," replied Fluttershy. "They deserve to know, though."
Rarity nodded sadly. "Yes. They do. So did you. More than that, though, you all deserve to go home safely. The truth is, I'm not sure if this will end with 'They all lived happily ever after, The End'. I'm not even sure if it will end with 'They all lived.' If they knew what was going on, they might hesitate and lose focus. When you have to go out every day and feel what it's like to die, over and over again, you have to have strength of conviction to carry on. What do you think happens to that strength when they realize the League couldn't help them if it wanted to, and all of that effort hasn't been taking them where they want to go?"
"You should have more faith in them," reprimanded Fluttershy softly, before walking out of the room, her breathing still ragged and uneven. Rarity said nothing in response, and simply let her gaze fall downward.
- - - -
"We'll be meeting with Swain at his safe-house. Ezreal will be showing up later. Swain's taken the liberty of paying our airship to make a side stop, and several passengers under his command will be exiting at Zaun with tales of an engine mishap that delayed the ship for a short while." Riven paced in front of the group while she talked, occasionally stopping to take a drink of coffee from the flask at her hip. "Any questions?"
Rainbow Dash raised her hand. "Uh, yeah. If he's a wanted criminal, how is he managing to afford all of this?"
"Investments, I bet," replied Twilight. "If you were constantly competing with every other politician in a life-and-death struggle for supremacy, having a backup source of income would be needed in case your assets were frozen or seized. Did you know that here in Runeterra, people can buy portions of large companies as an investment, so that they have a say in the way the company is run, and in return the company gets more funds to work with? They call it stock trading. I bought a book about it, if you want to take a look." Twilight finished her explanation with a smile, obviously pleased with herself.
Rainbow Dash stared blankly at Twilight for a moment. "Sorry I asked. Anyway, I'm packed up."
The group got their breakfast to go, and before long, they were once more settled in an expensive-looking suite on what seemed to be an impractically large airship that somehow managed to fly anyway. Rarity, under Fluttershy's concerned urging, decided to nap for the duration of the trip, while Twilight, Applejack, and Pinkie roamed the ship. Fluttershy decided, after taking care of Rarity, to catch up on some of her own lost sleep as well, leaving Rainbow Dash and Riven to themselves in the ship's galley.
"So," began Rainbow Dash, "you really think Swain will keep up his end of the bargain with you?"
Riven took a swig of her Noxian ale before nodding. "Yeah, I do, actually. It'd be the perfect way to secure his power base. You take out all of the brutal competition in Noxian politics, it's a lot easier to stay at the top. Plus, if he doesn't, I'll kill him."
"Oh." Rainbow Dash looked to be at a loss for words for several moments before finally managing a reply. "I guess that's one way of being sure."
Riven's laughter almost caused her to choke on her ale. "You're too funny, you know that? You've gotten pretty good at fighting, but it still hasn't really sunk in, has it? All of this League stuff isn't real. I mean, it hurts like hell, but nobody ever dies permanently. This isn't a pretty, perfect little world like yours, Rainbow."
Rainbow Dash nodded, and signaled to a waitress. "One of what she has, please." She then turned back to Riven. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Its like a big game. A really painful game, but it's still a game. Even Pinkie's not getting depressed or anything, and you'd think that with how she can be, this would just break her in two. It isn't, though. I know I'm able to do all these things, that I could even kill if I wanted to, but if we ever get into a real fight, life and death... I dunno if I'll be able to, you know?"
Riven leaned back in her chair, sighing. "Yeah, I remember when I was like you. I mean, I was a lot younger, just because I lived in Noxus, but... the first time you kill someone, you lose something. It's just this thing inside you, that you never really get back. I've heard of people who can go back to being a farmer or a banker after being a soldier, but I can't imagine it. It used to bother me, back when I was climbing the ranks. Eventually it stopped really mattering, and I think that when I realized that I nearly quit the army on the spot. I guess I just got acclimated. That's what's wrong with Noxus. We're all soldiers who have gotten used to being soldiers. Honor stopped meaning anything, and then after that, life stopped meaning anything either. That's what I want to change. I don't want to copy Demacia or anything. With all their laws and restrictions and tyranny, they don't really know the value of life either. I'm thinking more along the lines of Piltover or Bandle City. Ever been to a yordle party? Crazy stuff, I tell you. Those little creatures know how to live. In fact, I'd say they know things we don't. Yordles who serve as soldiers don't really have much trouble readjusting after they come home, except for more extreme cases. It's like past all the blood and carnage, they stay innocent."
Rainbow Dash gratefully accepted her mug from the waitress, only to choke and sputter the moment the foul liquid touched her tongue, much to the amusement of her drinking partner. After several seconds of coughing and gagging, she managed to recompose herself. "I'm fine, I'm fine, just went down the wrong tube, that's all. But, yeah, I know what you're thinking. When we get back to Equestria, are we just gonna go back to the way we were? I've seen AJ break someone's neck with her bare hands. How do you do that and go back to being a farmer?" Rainbow Dash took a tentative sip of her ale once more, blanching heavily before swallowing. "Eh, this stuff's not so bad, once you get used to feeling like your tongue is dissolving."
"I know, right?" said Riven with a laugh. "You're doing it wrong, though. You gotta take it in swigs. Here, watch how I do it..."
- - - -
"So what'dya do after that, Twilight?" asked Pinkie as the trio stood on the deck of the airship, enjoying the feeling of the wind whipping her already untamed hair into a mesh of tangles that would make Rarity ill.
"Well, I actually figured out how to steal a bit of power from other champions, so after catching Veigar off-guard, I managed to unleash all the energy I stole on the rest of his team. Lee Sin still caught me from behind while I was running away, but my team came and cleaned up afterward," replied Twilight casually. "I actually got to talk to Lee Sin a bit after the match. You're right, Applejack, he's a pretty interesting individual."
"Ah told ya so," said Applejack. "Say, was it just me, or did Rarity look a little less primped than usual this morning?"
"She's been staying up late a lot lately, according to Fluttershy," said Pinkie with a frown. "It's not healthy. How's she supposed to stay all super-duper-fashiontastic if she's too tired? What if she get's so worn out she'll be too tired for our welcome home party?"
"Yeah... home..." Twilight trailed off, and the others couldn't help but stand in silence as they each thought back to all of the ponies waiting for them "Say, I have a spell I've been trying to create, and I need a volunteer. Think of it as a little slice of Equestria on Runeterra..."
- - - -
Swain sat, patiently watching the sky, trying to ignore the twinging pain in his leg, and the accompanying urge to put the armor back on. His bird sat on shoulder, staring at the sky alongside Swain. 'I've been thinking about what you said, about Nightmare.'
The bird turned to Swain. 'Finally stopped being stupid?'
'Let's hope,' replied Swain with his thoughts. 'At one point or another, Nightmare was important in Void society, else he wouldn't have taken a name, correct?'
'What would prompt someone of such importance to abandon the traditions of the Void? I doubt that it would simply be remorse, after so long of doing the same thing.' Swain paused for a moment. 'I believe that taking out Malzahar has suddenly become a much higher priority. Nightmare is not telling us everything. Best not to alert him, though. If he is still working with the Void, taking out Malzahar before he can react or plan for it is the best course, especially if we can do it with the power he is mistakenly trusting us to further his goals with.'
The conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in," said Swain gruffly, turning backward to look at the newcomer. "Oh, it's you. Think that vacation lasted long enough?"
"I assure you, it was a most excellent one. Ionia is wonderful at this time of year. Of course, I simply cannot stay away from my calling for too long, so all good things must come to an end. Speaking of which, I have made a bit of progress on your personal request." Singed smiled. "I must say, it's good to be back.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 18: Meetings
Swain had not even batted an eye when Nasus had told him he would be taking the girls' place for the mission to Zaun. Acting with a confidence that practically told the group that it had been his plan all along, Swain had gladly agreed, noting that the superior fighting experience that Nasus possessed and his nature as an extremely durable immortal being would make sending him much less risky.
Thus, Nasus found himself skulking stealthily along the streets of Zaun, a feat which did not come naturally to intimidatingly large creatures with golden armor and glowing red eyes, and even with a cloak, the cheap concealment charm Nasus had bought, and a sense of grace developed from years of walking in a world built for those smaller than he was, he had to step carefully to avoid being blindingly obvious. Still, he managed to keep a relatively low profile as he approached the ambush location.
The darkness wasn't much of an obstacle to Nasus, and he was easily able to see the life force radiating off of the lookouts who guarded the warehouse, allowing him to easily evade them, glad that not all bushes were as heavily enchanted as those on the Fields of Justice. Opening the warehouse's slightly rusted door ever-so-slowly, he was suddenly able to hear voices talking softly from within.
"How long till they get here? The Prophet said that they got the information, and that their new accomplice, Swain, had even paid their way onto a zeppelin," asked a husky-looking man dressed in purple robes who was seated at a table along with several other identically dressed people.
"I dunno, man. All this waiting is making me nervous. It's gonna be worth it, though, to be on the winning side of the upcoming war," answered a second male. "I hope we don't screw it up."
"Don't you guys worry, the Prophet must think we have potential if he's letting us do something so important on our first mission!" This voice was female, and incredibly enthusiastic for someone trying to talk quietly, Nasus noted as she continued to talk. "I mean, why else wouldn't he bother giving us some higher ranking babysitters?"
"Probably because this plan put the lot of you at risk," said Nasus with a sigh of annoyance as he stepped into the open, prompting the group to gasp in collective surprise, and one of the unfortunate cultists to fall out of his chair. "He most likely didn't want to risk anything of value during this ambush. Nonetheless," Nasus continued with a flat expression, "I shall have to see if anyone here knows anything of interest. Those who surrender will be spared the pain that shall shortly be delivered to those who do not. It is not unreasonable to think that those who were chosen to lie in wait might be more helpful."
"He's just one... I mean, I know that he's a champ-champion," stuttered one of the cultists, "He's just one guy."
Nasus chuckled quietly as he raised his staff. "And you have just one life. Shall we weigh the difference?"
- - - -
Swain's safehouse was covered by a deceptively humble potion shop run by a colleague of Singed. Magical emissions from the various arcane concoctions served to conceal the bunker built into the ground below, and many of the best spells money could buy were also dedicated to the same task.
Within the bunker, Riven and the six Equestrians were watching quietly as Swain let an identification spell pass over him. Shortly thereafter, a heavy steel door opened, and the group was able to get a clear look at where Swain hid in times of trouble.
"I thought the Institute of War was fancy...," commented Rainbow Dash as her foot sank into the lush crimson carpet that covered the floor.
Swain smirked briefly to himself as he eyed one of the masterfully painted landscapes that rested on the darkly finished wooden paneling covering the walls. "I occasionally host high value dignitaries and such here. Of course, I have to wipe their memories of this place afterward, but luxury makes them much more receptive to long periods in a bunker. Their complaining is a headache I would rather not deal with." Swain paused as they reached a lobby. Several glowing lines of color ran across the walls into different adjoining hallways. Swain pointed at a blue stripe and began to explain. "These lines of color serve as a navigational guide. Blue leads to the common living space, which adjoins to a series of private suites that you may make free use of. Red goes to the library, orange goes to the laboratory, and green goes to the kitchens. Pink leads to the gymnasium, which is stocked and prepared for the needs of a champion. All of those you are free to make use of, but the purple stripe goes to the section that you are not permitted to access. Take the rest of the day to familiarize yourself with these surroundings. We shall meet tomorrow at noon to discuss further moves against Malzahar and his ilk. Please note that we are not the only ones here. If you see one of my employees at work, please do not keep them from fulfilling their tasks. If you need to contact me for any reason, simply place your hand on the pad attached to any of the crystal screens scattered throughout the facility. If you would excuse me now, I have business to attend to."
His explanation complete, Swain exited the room, leaving the seven people to their own devices. Rarity chose to immediately retire to one of the bedroom, with Fluttershy not far on her heels, praying nobody noticed the worry on her face. To nobody's surprise, Pinkie immediately bolted for the kitchen, and with a shrug Applejack followed, muttering about keeping Pinkie from getting them kicked out. Riven and Rainbow Dash decided to explore the gymnasium, leaving a very indecisive Twilight Sparkle to try to weigh the merits of the library versus the laboratory.
It took several long minutes of agonized thinking, but she eventually settled on spending some time in the laboratory perfecting her latest spell, which Pinkie had promised to help her with once she could get it prepared. As she walked briskly towards the laboratory, she pondered her brilliant idea of using their links to the Elements to try and draw out some of their power. The reasoning she had given the others was that they might be able to use the magic to help Nasus' brother, but beneath that drawing power from the Elements would provide a trail of magic to follow back to their homeworld.
So caught up in her thinking was she that it barely dawned on her that she had reached her destination. The contents of the room where enough to make her squeak with delight, however. Her eyes darted from the rows upon rows of chemicals on myriad shelves, to the catalogue that explained them, to a large enchanting altar stocked with various chalks and powders and other tools for inscribing runes. Tucked away on one corner of the room were a series of glass containers and tubes used for distillation, along with a familiar figure which instantly captivated Twilight's attention.
Several emotions flashed through her mind. Confusion, followed by blinding panic, which was replaced by a brief moment of absolute calm before Twilight finally settled on what she felt was the most appropriate emotion. She summed up the absolute rage coursing through her with one word that promised the release of many nights of nightmares and pent-up wrath. "Singed."
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 19: Poison
"Singed," declared Twilight, her voice quivering.
Singed turned around, surprised at the intrusion into his work. "Ah, Twilight. Swain told me you'd be coming by with your friends. I must say, you look much different from the last time I saw you." Singed laughed casually, seemingly oblivious to the rage pouring from his conversational partner. "No hard feelings about that business on your world, right? Work is work, after all, and progress doesn't sit around waiting on ethical discussions, does it?"
Twilight's eyes flashed for a moment before dimming to a steady glow as magic began to coalesce around her. "You...," she whispered, her voice cracking slightly, "You don't feel anything, do you? Your heart is as numb as your body. You make these poisons, and then go out and laugh like you're just like everyone else."
Singed rolled his eyes in response, casually walking over to where he had deposited the giant bottle of poisonous gas he was famous for carrying, only to be surprised as he was yanked away from it by Twilight and left floating in the air in front of her.
Her voice escalated to a desperate yell, and her stomach felt like it was tying itself in knots. "You're just animal! How can you sit there like I'm some friendly acquaintance when not so long ago you were torturing me?!" Twilight took a deep breath, and when she spoke again, it was eerily calm. "You're just an animal. Nothing human is left in you, and you serve no function other than to spread suffering and death. There's only one cure for what you're sick with." A dry, humorless laugh escaped her lips. "What was it Discord said before you started pumping me full of chemicals? Ah, yes, I remember. Now, Mr. Singed, I'd like you to kick and scream as much as you want, because this will only hurt a lot.
With a feral scream, she hurled Singed into the wall, hearing a few sickeningly satisfying crunches as pieces of rubble fell to the floor. Twilight laughed again. "That was actually kinda therapeutic. I admit, I haven't talked to the girls about the nightmares I still have of being in that castle with you and your needles. They really wouldn't understand, so I just brush the subject away when it comes up. I'm not really sure you understand either, but hey, I heard therapists often just function as walls to bounce your feelings off of, and believe me, I have a LOT of feelings."
Singed didn't let out a sound as he pulled himself to his feet, only to barely dive aside in time to dodge a gout of concussive force rocketing towards him from Twilight's palms. This worked to his advantage, though, as dust filled the area, obscuring Twilight's aim. Seeing opportunity, Singed darted to the table full of chemicals he had set aside for his work, and hurriedly grabbed a few select vials before resuming his running. Twilight continued her rampage, sending waves of magic scattered throughout the dust cloud with progressively less restraint, only pausing when she heard the clinking of breaking glass and a whooshing noise as Singed's concoction set the laboratory's shelves ablaze, swiftly filling the room with a black, choking smoke as wood and various alchemical supplies caught fire.
Twilight began coughing and wheezing as the tainted air began to fill her lungs, and her vision darkened for a moment as Singed burst out of cloud of smoke, tackling her to the ground, causing her head to smack roughly against the floor. "I understand that you're my employer's pet project, so I'll try to leave you as unharmed as possible. I must warn you though, some damage will be sustained as I incapacitate you," he commented flatly as he rammed his relatively large fist into Twilight's cheek. Holding her down by her neck, he repeated this process several times until Twilight was at the edge of unconsciousness.
"NO!" yelled Twilight suddenly as an uncontrolled burst of magic radiated from her, flinging Singed backward and creating a clearing in the smoke. As she struggled to her feet, she spoke, her voice thrumming with power. "I will not be beaten some rabid beast. I am Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic and leader of the Elements of Harmony, something that withers and dies around you no matter what world you're on! For the good of everyone, you must be put down." With a strained grunt, Twilight lifted Singed with her magic and began to choke the life out of him. "Die, beast."
The moment was interrupted as the door was opened. "Singed? Twilight? What's going on here, and why is my incredibly expensive laboratory in ruins?" Swain growled as he walked into the room.
Singed shrugged weakly and managed to croak out a single word past Twilight's choke-hold. "Therapy."
"I have a practice arena attached to the gymnasium you could have used without damaging all of this valuable equipment," barked Swain as he activated the vents above where the alchemy station used to stand.
Singed suddenly fell to the ground, unconscious, as Twilight whipped around to face Swain. "You don't care that I was about to kill your henchman, whom you've known for years?"
Swain shrugged. "Worst comes to worst, I'll send him to the necromancy labs at Zaun and they'll reanimate him. He can still do his job as an undead. He'll probably be even tougher for it anyway. Besides, if this man, who has spent years honing his fighting ability against experienced magicians falls to the likes of you, he obviously wasn't fit to live anyway. It's one thing for a schoolteacher to be unfit to fight against someone like you, and it's something entirely different for a seasoned veteran like Singed. You beat him at one of his primary talents, so even with my slightly modified version of the Noxian way of life, you killing him proves he wasn't fit to live."
Twilight was left without words for almost a minute as Singed used a nearby communication screen to call in a maintenance crew, and her rage puttered out. As Swain began to exit the room, she finally regained speech. "You're worse than Singed. I... I don't even know why I was angry at him. I mean, I do, but now that I think about it, he really was just an animal. When an animal is rabid in Equestria, we isolate it and try to make it as comfortable as possible with magic and medicine until it goes. We don't... euthanize it. You, though, are perfectly capable of all of those emotional processes a sociopath like Singed can't manage. You just don't care. I would have been just like you had I killed him..."
Swain stopped walking and turned back to Twilight, snorting in derision. "My dear, you are nothing like me. Your rage was like kicking a table because it gave you a splinter once. You're as weak and flimsy as you've just shown your values to be, your willpower dropped just as quickly with the right stimulus. The only time I ever pursued vengeance was against a man whose death would have helped me anyway, and I gave that up when it became clear that it was taking too much investment to be practical. The crown prince of Demacia knows about the deal I once made with the Void, but now that I have been healed, that information is worthless, and so I have shuffled my vendetta against him away. No, you're nothing like me. You leave bits and pieces of yourself scattered wherever you go, with so many different directions that all of your vast magical power and the intelligence you so love to flaunt really mean nothing. I am a focused being. I have one objective, and all parts of myself are rivers flowing towards it. Noxus will be strong, and it will be mine. The key difference between you and me, Twilight Sparkle, is that I am a player, moving towards the endgame, while you are a piece, to be used and forgotten when nobody else at the board has a purpose for you." With that, Swain turned away and began walking, leaving Twilight to her thoughts.
- - - -
Nasus stood in front of the sole survivor of his encounter with the cultists, who was openly weeping and begging in front of him. "Do you truly think that one such as yourself could ever have a place in Malzahar's new world, assuming the Void simply didn't wipe out their Runeterran allies afterward? You are nothing more than fodder to a demented, twisted mind. You have a chance to live, though. Your overly zealous brethren died for their faith in one who had no faith in them. Shall you suffer the same fate? We shall see. I will ask, and you will answer."
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 20: Cultural Exchange
Swain's bird gave a disdainful caw as he entered the room, and he couldn't restrain a sigh as he took off the Nightmare's Regalia, feeling old pains seep back into his leg as the armor's magic left him. When he had first injured it, he had refused treatment on the basis of not wanting any debt that came with magical treatments, nor did he want any suspicion of the dark magics he had been experimenting with even in his youth. By the time he was an accomplished military veteran, the sheer amount of twisted magics that he had been a conduit for made it too risky to use magic to heal his limp. He hadn't needed it, though. Swain knew that he was the smartest, most adaptable, and most capable man in all of Valoran, with or without a limp. 'Still,' he thought to himself, 'It's... nice to be able to walk without a cane, even if it is merely for a ruse to keep Nightmare from being too suspicious.'
In truth, the armor's namesake was already quite displeased with Swain after his little chat with Twilight. Whatever motive propelled Nightmare, it required that Swain learn and understand the values that had allowed a pacifistic state with no standing military besides its royal guard to survive being in a world with dangerous magical creatures and rival nations. Apparently, giving a potentially traumatizing verbal beatdown was counterproductive, though satisfying in an admittedly petty way. Of course, such pettiness was beneath Swain, so he decided that Nightmare might be right after all. He had been getting far too emotional lately. It simply wasn't suitable for someone like him to get carried away like that.
His musings were interrupted by the sound of his door opening. Looking up, he saw Riven entering his study at about the same time that the smell of sweat and grime reached him. Curling his lip slightly, he made his way to his desk and sat down before regarding the intruder. "You don't have permission to be here, and I'm sure there are several places that would better serve your needs. I personally recommend a bathroom. Your suite will have one, complete with magical heating and such modern marvels as soap."
Riven rolled her eyes, and plopped down in a luxurious armchair. "Nice. Almost like sitting on a cloud. Trust me, I actually did that in Equestria. Sorry if the smell of physical labor offends you, I was busy helping Rainbow Dash train. I'm sure you couldn't relate. In any case, I'm here because we need to talk. Now that you're safe in your little bunker, how do I know you'll keep your end of the deal?"
The bird scoffed, and Swain couldn't resist a smirk. "Believe it or not, occasionally the truth does serve me. I meant it when I said that your reforms would help me. Conflict creates economic growth, but if kept up too long, it can result in dangerous situations like depression, plus, it simply can't do to keep all of our best teachers in the military when they could be educating our youth. What good is it to rule over a city-state of uneducated brawlers who teeter on the edge of economic collapse. The only things that have kept Noxus going over the years are our weapons exports and mercenaries, and since the League of Legends has all but eliminated true conflict, those have been in steady decline. Unless something is done soon, Noxus will begin experiencing the effects of a shrinking economy. If Noxus has a low income, I have a low income, and that simply won't do."
Riven sighed. "I'm not sure if I should be glad I can always count on your selfishness, or disappointed that Noxus' future has to be placed in the care of the likes of you. You may know about how to run a country, but as long as someone like you is in power, Noxus will always be a dishonorable and bloodthirsty land."
"What can I say?" said Swain with an almost inaudible chuckle, "Sentimentality simply has no place in my life. Make no mistake, though, I will tame Noxus. My will is the strongest, and I am the most capable, and thus, the most deserving."
"For someone with no sentimental attachments, it seems strange that you'd keep a pet bird," replied Riven. "I know you'd lie to me without qualms, but to yourself? Now I'm not worried about if you will help me change Noxus, but if you're even capable. How can someone so delusional hope to reign in Noxus. You can't even admit that you like your freaky little bird friend without feeling so nervous and insecure about your image that it really is more pathetic than anything else."
Swain glared at Riven in response. "I'm sorry you feel that way. By all means, if you want to fight Malzahar without any of my resources, if you want to reform Noxus by yourself, and if you want to alienate one of the ones most knowledgeable about the Void and how your friends might get home, then walk away now. I won't stop you. Malzahar will kill those six within a week or two. In any case I will get what I want. I will have Noxus, and I will change it according to my designs, which happen to match up with yours mostly. What company I keep is none of your concern, just know that I will get the job done. I have no reason to betray you, and I have explained multiple times why it would be counterproductive. The only trust I ask of you is to trust in my ability to get what I want. I don't need your second-guessing, or the aliens lecturing me on friendship, or Nightmare's insistence that I change the very fabric of who I am!"
"Nightmare?" Riven questioned.
Swain's face blanked, and without any emotion, he simply replied, "Get. Out."
After Riven had departed, looking a mix between disconcerted and curious, Swain allowed himself to sink into his chair, stroking a hand along his bird's head. "I think I might have made a mistake. This magic is affecting my mind. I don't know if it's due to the power the armor gives me, or Nightmare piggybacking off of my senses, but it has to stop. I will question Nightmare about it once more, and if he has no way to keep the armor from affecting my mind, weakening my mental control, then I will don it no more."
'So focused how you cut your finger, noted the bird, I wonder if your foot will suffer when the distraction causes you to drop the knife.
"What do you mean?" asked Swain. "Do not speak in riddles, you know it irritates me."
'Very well, stupid human. The one called RIven speaks truth. You show weakness to those closest to you by denying that you are human, It shows fear.' it responded. 'Self control is not the same as repression.'
"You seem eager to play therapist tonight," snarked Swain.
'We have been of one mind for years,' his companion replied. 'When something threatens us, I speak.
Swain sighed and nodded. "Speak then. I will listen."
- - - -
"Twilight dear, is something on your mind?" asked Rarity, taking her place beside the rest of the girls. "You look nervous."
"Oh, no, no," replied Twilight, self-consciously unclenching her fists, causing Ezreal, who was watching off to the side, to raise an eyebrow. "It's just a little bit of jitters from this new spell. I've never cast it before, but I can't test it without all of us here."
"But I thought that it was us who got nervous when you wanted to try a new spell, not you," said Rainbow Dash. "You're always sure of your spells, even when they backfire. Remember that one time where you turned us all into g-"
"Well maybe I've learned from those experiences and now know to be more cautious around new magic," snipped Twilight with an annoyed tone. "Let's just get this started. Can we, please?"
"Geez, fine," Rainbow Dash replied, sounding a little offended. "So what are we doing, anyway?"
Twilight sighed in relief. "Okay, so you five just need to sit there. We still have our connections to the Elements of Harmony, and I'm going to try and tap into it to see how functional it is. It'll go in several steps. First, I'll draw up magical power from myself and from my Element, and then I'll chain the magic to you five. From there, it'll travel through each of you and then back to me after it focuses through the magic of your respective Elements so that I can channel it back through mine. We won't actually be casting spells with any of the energy we channel, but we will be confirming that if we need to, we can. It won't be as strong as if the artifacts were here with us, but the hope is that while we may not be turning Discord to stone, we might be able to do something a little more mundane."
"I thought we had you for mundane stuff, though," noted Pinkie. "Who are we gonna use them on anyway? Swain? That meany-pants could certainly a little inner Harmony, if you know what I mean."
"Well," Twilight said, "I was thinking we could help Nasus' brother, Renekton. We might be able to heal his mind a little. Think of what it would mean to Nasus."
"That's a wonderful idea," said Fluttershy. "We'd love to help his brother regain his mind."
"Yeah!" "It sounds like a wonderful idea." "Let's do it!" One by one, the group affirmed their consent.
With a final nod, Twilight began to focus. Feeling the magic begin to stir within her, she began to let it flow throughout her body. This magic was entirely hers, and she was using it to reach out and sense her friends, feeling the magic of their Elements residing within them. She felt her magic pass through Applejack, feeling the magic of Honesty. It was calm and steady, wrapping around her own magic to provide structure to it. Next was Rarity, and Generosity joined in, a delicate but firm touch to precisely drive the magic forward. Loyalty exploded from Rainbow Dash like an unrestrained fire, amplifying all of the previous magics, only to be tempered by Fluttershy's Kindness reigning it in to controllable levels. Pinkie was the last stop of her friends, and as Laughter joined in, the strain of controlling the magic simply evaporated, and the magic of Harmony began to coalesce into a single thread as it awaited its final ingredient. Magic would seal the different Elements of Harmony into one presence, the final controlling Element that could direct it for the greater good. With a note of happy finality, Twilight let the other Elements flow into her, opening herself up so that Magic could join in... only for it not to come. As Twilight began to panic, her old on the Elements began to unravel, and the magic spiraled out of control, and with a thunderclap, she lost her last vestige of control and was flung backwards into a wall as the magic burst out of her.
Her friends rushed through her side in an instant, each asking if she was okay, and if she knew what had happened. Twilight slowly got back on her feet, feeling numb. She was vaguely aware of her friends, but was entirely distracted by a very apparent emptiness inside of her that she could now feel. "Twilight?" asked one of the distant voices that surrounded her. "Are you all right, darling?"
"What happened?" asked another. "You're starting to scare us," said yet another. They kept talking, but Twilight wasn't listening.
Finally, after an eternity of searching within herself with a numbing fear, and the voices of her friends escalating to a dull roar, she finally spoke. "I lost it."
"Pardon?" said Applejack.
Twilight began backing away from her friends, her eyes watering. "I can't feel it! I lost it! I made a mistake and now I can't feel it at all."
"What are you talking about, Twilight? You're not making any sense. What did you lose?" said Rainbow Dash, exasperated.
"I lost the Element of Magic." With that, her self-restraint withered away, and Twilight fled to her room, sobbing.
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 21: No Tears
"No tears, Jericho." As always, his mother's voice held a soft firmness that reminded Swain of a mountain, though today it was tainted by undertones of weariness. "He'd want you to stay true to the Noxian way, like he did, even in death." Jericho Swain, son of the late Joshua Swain, said nothing in response, merely wiping away what little moisture had gathered at the corners of his eyes. He was, like his father, and his grandfather before him, a true Noxian. Noxians would show no pain. Noxians would feel no pain. Strength above all else.
The proceedings were in accordance with a standard Noxian military funeral. Second Lieutenant Swain's body was cremated, and his family was slated to receive a modest pension. Noxian soldiers were celebrated in life, and in death their families were cared for by the government until such a point where it was deemed no longer necessary. Life would be harder for Jericho and his mother, but they'd get by.
- - -
Most who knew of Noxus knew of the giant mountain that it was built into, and the skull-like visage thereof. The truth, however, was that the visible part of Noxus was a relatively small section of the city. Tunnels riddled the mountain, and generations of residents had built atop the ruins of their predecessors, resulting in a layered hive of dark, labyrinthine structures that often expanded more vertically than horizontally. The more well-to-do lived closer to the sun, terminating in the surface-dwelling elite. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Noxian slums were where those without money or fame lived, and even with the pension Jericho and his mother found themselves forced to move downward into their depths.
Being a mostly lawless area, living in the slums of Noxus came with a certain set of inherent risks. Though it wasn't as toxic as in Zaun, being able to distill water was an essential skill for anyone who lived within those darkened tunnels. Finding food was often the main problem that the residents of Noxus concerned themselves with, since money was often scarce. One of the biggest threats besides that, though, came in the form of the competitive nature of Noxian society. Thieves and scoundrels were often ignored by the limited guard for more pressing matters, and to a degree were actively approved of as a mechanism for natural selection. It was within this mechanism that Jericho now found himself a cogwheel, though, an intelligent, physically fit young man such as himself had little to fear, as he swiftly determined to demonstrate to his attackers.
"Hold still, you little worm!" Jericho wasn't about to comply with the would-be cutpurse, and responded by ducking beneath his attacker's clumsily wielded dagger, and aiming a punch at the thief's stomach. He felt a bit of grim satisfaction as his punch connected, but it soured as he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder as a second attacker's blade found its mark. With an enraged cry, he let the familiar rush of magic flow through him. Jericho whirled about, planting his palm on the face of the second thief. Both Jericho and the thief screamed in agony as wisps of black magical energy erupted from the thief and siphoned into Jericho.
It was over in seconds. The first thief stared in horror as the withered husk of his comrade fell to the ground, crumbling into dust as it impacted the worn cobblestones of the Noxian slums. Jericho took advantage of the thief's stunned state to pick up the dagger that was now resting a few inches from his foot, casually working the kinks out of his now-healed shoulder. With a menacing grin, Jericho turned to the surviving thief, relishing the look of terror on his soon-to-be victim.
- - -
Killing thieves had proven quite profitable and guiltless the first time, so Jericho decided to make it a habit to help supplement the pension he and his mother lived off of, and to fuel his ever growing addiction to knowledge, especially of magic. His mother had never approved of Jericho's spells, but the results were too much to argue with, so pragmatism overruled superstitious fear. Despite the petty arguments and being constantly shadowed by the spectre of death, life in Noxus' dark underbelly would be what Jericho would later think of as his happiest days, or at least his simplest.
Jericho prowled quietly through the streets, looking for his prey. The most successful thieves were extremely dangerous, and honestly not worth the effort, but right below that link on the food chain were those thugs who were successful enough to have worthy loot, but not yet experienced enough to know the value of being completely unknown. Their pride would be their undoing, as they walked with confidence through the streets, demanding fear and respect from the denizens of Noxus that quietly skulked and slithered away, desperately hoping to avoid attention while treading in places that no guard ever would.
It took a few hours before opportunity presented itself. Organized crime wasn't uncommon in Noxus by any stretch, and it was generally pretty easy to prey upon the low ranking thugs who didn't realize how replaceable they were within their organizations. Jericho had been sniping at them for a while, and this one looked to be relatively well off. With an arrogant smirk, he followed silently until his target finally stopped in an alleyway, seemingly waiting for someone. Jericho decided to be that person. It was over in an instant, and a veritable treasure trove was his reward. This man had apparently been a courier for one of the various crime bosses. Confident that he had gotten away with his deed unnoticed, he allowed himself a moment of whispered triumph. "Take the name of Jericho Swain to your grave, simpleton. At this rate, I'll easily be able to leave this hellhole."
He didn't notice a shadow retreating into the darkness as he headed home.
- - -
Fire swirled around him as he searched desperately for his mother, wincing slightly as his treasured collection of books were set ablaze. "Mother! Where are you?"
The sound of pained coughing guided him to his mother's room, which had been barricaded from the outside, an obstacle that cost him several precious minutes. As he finally burst through the door, crying out in pain as the rush of hot air inside scorched the cloth protecting his face. The too-familiar scent of blood greeted him as he rushed to his mother, inspecting the red stain at her chest. She gave him a pained grin and a hollow laugh. "Jericho, my son, my stupid, loving son," she said, stopping a moment to cough the blood out of her lungs. "You need to leave. Don't let your emotions overtake you while you aren't safe."
"No," Jericho replied, confidently striding to his mother to lift her up. "We'll get out of here, and we'll make them pay. We'll show-" He was cut short as the roof finally began to give way, and a burning timber came crashing down on the both of them. By now, the smoke had started to fill his lungs, and he was beginning to get dizzy. With a detached realization, he looked to his pinned right leg, and saw with a sickening fascination that it had snapped completely in half, the jagged bone protruding from his skin.
He jerked his head back up towards his mother as he felt a hand on his. Jericho's mother, her strength ebbing, had grabbed hold of his hand and was slowly guiding it upward until it rested firmly on her forehead. Smiling sadly as she saw the horrified look of realization on her son's face, she whispered, "No tears, Jericho."
Anger, hatred, sadness, and regret bubbled up within him alongside the dark magic, and Jericho let out one final, feral scream as his mother's life force was sucked into his body.
- - -
Jericho finally collapsed in an alley as the last of his borrowed strength left him. He began to close his eyes, only to jerk them back open as he felt a light weight on his chest. Sitting atop his chest was a raven unlike any he had seen, with six glowing red eyes narrowed at him. Like a ton of bricks slammed into his head, he heard a voice within his mind. 'Potential noticed. Offer to be made. Your life. Your revenge. Your success. Collateral? Your soul, until our business is through.'
Jericho smiled weakly. "I'm listening."
A day later, a young adult named Jericho Swain baffled doctors at a Noxian clinic when, after showing up with a snapped leg, he refused all magical treatment. On his new friends' advice, he chose to avoid the kind of crippling medical debt that would entail, as well as have a new keepsake of what happens when arrogance and emotion overcomes cold reason. Equally baffling was the complete lack of any records on the youth, as if they had all mysteriously vanished. Still, his money was good, so Jericho departed shortly afterward sporting a splint and a crutch.
A month later, one of Noxus' most successful crime syndicates had collapsed as an unknown assailant left a trail of blood through their ranks, causing months of economic instability as the power vacuum caused a crime war. Of course, amidst the bloodshed, nobody noticed a few extra people disappearing for Jericho's 'lessons'.
A year later, the start of Noxus' most celebrated general's rise to power occurred as First Lieutenant Swain was inducted into the Noxian army.
- - -
Swain, despite his erudite tendencies, had never been much to sit in contemplation. After Riven had departed, he had spent more time than he had in years reminiscing about the past, and how he got to where he was. Now, having broken free of his debt to the Void, and ascended to the head of Noxian power, and in position to attain immortality itself, he was facing more success than ever. Yet, something was missing, and that frustrated him. He was still missing that final key that would make Noxus, and his rule over it, indefinite. It was something that he could only understand as an outside observer, something that he had forsaken in his bargain to become the man he was at that moment. Sifting through his memories like a drill sergeant sifting through recruits to see which ones were worth keeping, he felt like he might finally have some sort of vague perception of the things he had left behind though. It was worth meditating on further.
Much to his chagrin, though, his contemplations were interrupted with a loud pop. Twilight Sparkle stood before him, looking more than a little unhinged. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her expression consisted of an odd juxtaposition of fresh tears and a manic grin. "This your fault! I figured it out. You did this to me. Your corrupting influence, your scheming. Everything was fine before you came. Now I've tried to kill someone, and I can't tap into my Element, and my friends are probably sitting outside my door thinking I've lost it! Well, I have! Only someone who's turned to evil would try to kill someone else in cold blood. It's okay though, I can deal with this. I'll start my new life as being evil by killing you, Jericho Swain!"
Swain stared flatly at Twilight for a moment, not sure if he should burst into laughter or get up and walk out of the room. In the end though, he decided on neither. "Sit down, Twilight," he said in a completely deadpan voice, startling Twilight into submission.
"But aren't you going to fight back? Or run away? Or something?"
Swain sighed as he got up. "No, stupid little girl. I'm going to get some tea, and then I'm going to lecture one of the supposed moral icons of her world on motivation, intent, and how they factor into her own system of morality."
Twilight simply sat there for several seconds, unsure of what to do, before responding. "But I had this all planned out. It made perfect sense when I thought about it, and despite what my friends think I've gotten a lot better at thinking while under stress. I was supposed to teleport in, we would have a climactic battle, and while I was distracted all of my friends would subdue me, keep me sedated until we find a way home, and then Princess Celestia would banish me to the moon for being evil."
Swain rang a small bell by the doorway before sitting back down. "I admit it. You Equestrians are completely beyond my understanding. How a race like yours ever survived is beyond astonishing. You're all completely mentally unstable, prone to emotional extremes that would get you killed here. You were captured, tortured, forced into battle, and you feel... guilty? Just because some of that pent up trauma found its way out? I am a man of logic above all else, and this confounds me. Do your people really think that morality is that simple? You commit an action, and that action is good or evil independent of its circumstances?"
"...I guess you have a point, a little, but-," started Twilight, only to be interrupted by Swain.
"But nothing. Your ignorance is infuriating. No complete moral system is binary." Swain paused for a moment, catching himself as his emotions began to get the better of him, a problem that had been occurring more and more since he had been subjected to that strange world. It would be too easy to let his emotions get out of hand. Showing Twilight his confusion and frustration could lead to repercussions in the future by...
A wave of realization hit Swain. Humanizing himself could serve to endear himself to the aliens, and although he didn't trust Nightmare in the least, he wasn't about to risk missing out on Nightmare's promise of immortality when this one action had no foreseeable negative consequences, especially when he wasn't sure if Nightmare's motives were necessarily harmful to him. Adding to that, helping Twilight would only further his cause. "Okay, Twilight. Consider the circumstance from a little further back. I realize that you have probably thoroughly demonized my stance on anything concerning the issue, but cold logic has its place in life. You probably came here hoping that someone who has killed in cold blood could show you how to deal with your actions. Perhaps you thought fighting me might redeem you in some aspect, or give you a method of living without remorse.
"Understand that despite what you might think, I do live by a code of morality that I consider to be just as binding as you consider yours. I may always work for my own benefit, but I have also chosen to, whenever possible, work towards the benefit of my country, not simply for what it gives me as its head, but out of genuine loyalty to the concepts it represents. I am not ignorant of what it means to be bound by such artificial constraints. Now, consider your actions. You, after experiencing significant trauma, have had no time to deal with it, instead being ripped from your world into what is ostensibly the opposite. Your friends who you rely upon to support you have been going through the same trials you have, for the most part, and are often too busy to do much consideration of it. All of this in mind, now consider how you felt the moment you saw Singed. Obviously, you would not be in a fit mental state to make rational decisions. Does this mean that what you attempted did not clash with your chosen code of morality? No, it simply means you have justifiable cause, and thus can work to reconcile with your version of right and wrong without feeling like a monster. You have simply made a mistake that can be learned from."
Twilight deflated a little. "I... I hate to admit it, but I can't really find fault with what you're saying. It's just... Why are you doing this, Swain? Why are you trying to help me? You were one of the ones responsible for my problems in the first place. It's so confusing."
Swain took a moment to sip his tea before rubbing his temples. "Listen, Twilight. I am a man dedicated to self-improvement. I recognize that my own knowledge is incomplete, and I might have picked up a few things from you and your world. Don't misunderstand me, my values are still completely alien to you, but know that I am not a static creature. That being said, helping you helps me. It also makes Riven happy, and right now I need her on my side for reforming Noxus later."
"Okay... Um... Thank you? I think... I'm just gonna go assure the girls that I haven't completely snapped... yeah..." Twilight hastily began her retreat from the room.
Swain nodded his goodbye at her before commenting, "Remember, there'll come a time when you have to do things that go against your heart, but you know they're what you have to do. When that happens, just do it. No tears."
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 22: Corrupt
"Woah," said Rainbow Dash as Twilight finished her explanation, "That's heavy."
"That sound terribly stressful, dear," affirmed Rarity, hugging Twilight. "I don't blame you at all for losing your temper. With so much going on non-stop, none of us have had much time to deal with all of the emotional consequences of recent events, and you've been through more than any of us."
"I don't see what the big deal is," said Riven with a shrug. "You would have been ridding the world of Singed, the man whose research was responsible for the deaths of countless Noxians and Ionians, among which were all of my comrades. Adding to that, he tortured you and was intending to kill you. If it weren't for the fact that we need Swain's cooperation, I'd say to go back and finish the job."
Rainbow Dash scowled at Riven. "Riven, I understand things are different here, and that this place is dangerous, but none of us have ever had to kill before outside of that fake death that the League has. Murder happens like once in century or two back home, Killing is a big deal to us. Show some sensitivity."
Rarity nodded. "As odd as it is to hear Rainbow Dash pleading for tact, I must agree. What Twilight just went through was horrific, even traumatizing by Equestrian standards. The last thing she needs is to hear someone treating it like it's nothing."
"It's okay girls. I don't mind," said Twilight quietly. "That street goes both ways. She's only acting the way she knows. I think I could say the same for Singed and Swain, even. I really should have talked to all of you sooner. Some of the responsibility does fall on me for not trusting all of you with this. I mean, you're all my best friends, but I didn't trust you enough to help me. I was just scared. Everything's been happening so fast. We've been fighting non-stop for so long now. I was afraid that you'd think this place was changing me, and that you wouldn't want to be my friends anymore." She chuckled quietly before taking a brief sip from the cup of tea in her hands. "I guess all of this is just proof that this has changed me."
"Of course it's changed you, Twilight," Pinkie replied comfortingly. "Everything changes us. I mean, if I didn't change any when stuff happened to me, all of my parties would be the exact same as they were when I was a little filly! And they aren't! I've added more streamers and expanded my balloon color palette, and-" Pinkie continued trying to speak for a moment before realizing that Applejack's hand was in front of her mouth.
"We get the point, sugarcube," she said, before turning back to Twilight, "Ah understand what you're trying to say, Twilight, but it almost sounds like you're trying to say that you're no different from Singed or Swain. The fact that we're even talking about this says otherwise. Ah'll be honest with you. Ah don't think that there's any excusing trying to kill Singed when he's not attacking you. It ain't our place to dispense that kind of justice, and the moment we start thinking that, it opens up some very dark paths. That bein' said, it sounds like you've punished yourself plenty for this, and Ah don't think Singed is gonna hold a grudge. There's nothing more to gain from beating yourself up about it. You made the mistake. You owned up to it. You learned from it. Now, let it go."
Twilight nodded. "Yeah, I... Wait, where did Fluttershy go? She's been silent this entire time."
Rarity frowned, but otherwise kept her composure as she responded carefully. "Oh, the story was probably too much for her nerves. She's probably in her room calming down. You all know how she gets. If you all don't mind, though , I'll go check on her to make sure." After a chorus of assents, Rarity got up, and knocked on Fluttershy's door, bringing the beginnings of a soundproofing spell to bear when she was sure nobody else was watching.
- - - -
Swain put down his quill, and set a sealed envelope on the freshly drawn rune, letting the magic transport it away to his contact in Zaun. His bird had been watching silently since it had returned from its latest hunting trip, though how it got in and out of the compound was a mystery that Swain did not possess the temerity to pursue. The silence was not to last, though, and Swain soon felt the bird's thoughts pierce his own. 'You show discomfort.'
Swain let out a long sigh before regarding his companion. "This isn't my way. I understand the logic behind showing some weakness to garner trust, but I have always avoided it for its long term consequences. I am not comfortable with this."
'Necessity rarely brings comfort,' the bird retorted. 'You always hesitate before true risk. Not everything has guaranteed rewards, but the scent of immortality is strong in the air. Pursue it or don't. Your hesitation breeds more risk.'
"You're right, as usual," replied Swain, nodding wearily. "Care can't be forsaken, though. There are too many variables that cannot be controlled here."
The bird looked at him almost as if it wished it could move its beak into a sneer. 'No different than when we first met, except a lack of spine now. You weren't opposed to showing yourself if it meant getting your way. Getting old and scared?'
Swain let out a barking, gravelly laugh. "Not a chance. If anything, you're the one showing your age. You've only gotten snippier over the years. Didn't know the ageless could get crotchety."
'Forgive me for not having much patience with flighty little power-mongers and their scheming. Things are simpler in the Void. Find worlds with potential. Nurture them. Consume them.'
"You make it sound so much better, and yet here you are, beside me," said Swain, rolling his eyes.
The bird shrugged its wings. 'Simple, but repetitive. Boring. Not sustainable in the long term either. Fails to replenish consumed worlds. Individual agents can find plenty to sustain themselves. A horde cannot.'
Swain raised an eyebrow. "You sound like Nightmare."
'His cover is sensible. Back to business, though. What is our next course of action?'
Swain paused for a moment to think. "Nasus's airship will stop by here, we'll be joining him as he returns to the Instutute. Malzahar won't attack while we're there, but we won't be able to make much progress from there either, not while Malzahar is unable to move against us. We need him to think he has a way to press the attack. I doubt we'll get another opening like we did this time, and it'd be foolish to rely upon that anyway. The best thing, I think, is to give the illusion of vulnerability to the aliens, and use it to strike at Malzahar's cultists. If we can whittle away at his power base, we can make him more desperate. Desperate people make mistakes. The end goal is to force Malzahar himself to engage us outside of the safety of the Institute of War. Likely if that happens, we'll have to face the Void creatures that have already manifested here as well."
'Is it wise to tempt a madman?' inquired the bird.
"You said it yourself. No more hesitation."
- - - -
"No... Twilight, my beloved student," Celestia said softly as the vision faded, a multitude of alien voices echoing her, "I have failed you again. Since you first moved to Ponyville, your life has been nothing but dealing with an unending tide of my failures. You returned my sister to me when my blindness let her fall. You saw through the disguise of the changeling queen when I could not. You enabled the fall of King Sombra while I was safe in my throne room. Now, I am forced to watch your corruption by that worm, Swain, and the filthy world that he calls home, powerless to help you without aid.
"I am not without aid, though!" Celestia let out a hollow laugh as she glanced to where Discord was bound and writhing in agony. "We have harnessed the power of chaos itself to work towards your rescue, and even my dearest sister and several of our loyal subjects shall unknowingly contribute. Only one thing bars our triumph now, and I pray that catalyst finds its place soon. I will save you, Twilight Sparkle... If I am too late though, I shall give you the next best mercy. Rest assured I shall not condemn you to the pain of living corrupted in a world of purity, my student. I shall save you, or I shall end your suffering."
The Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 23: Resolutions
"Fluttershy, dear?" inquired Rarity as she entered into her friend's room. "Are you in here?" A quiet sniffle answered her question. Sighing, Rarity closed the door behind her and walked over to the four post bed that dominated the room and pulling its curtains aside. "Fluttershy..."
Fluttershy took a moment to wipe her eyes before looking up at Rarity. "This is what you wanted, right? Twilight almost killed Singed. One step closer to turning her into a great warrior."
"You're not seriously implying-" Rarity paused mid-sentence, reconsidering her choice of words. "I just want our friends to be able to survive when we have to fight Malzahar. I never wanted this. I had no idea that Twilight had been so affected by her time spent captured."
"What happens when we get back to Equestria?" Fluttershy asked softly. "If it comes down to ki- to dealing with Malzahar that way, how do they come back from that? How can we even be there for them? I can't even imagine doing anything like that. How am I supposed to comfort somepony who has had to? What if our friendship ends because we can't relate to each other after this?"
Rarity nodded and hugged Fluttershy comfortingly. "It won't come to that, I promise. We've already been through so much together. We won't let this break what all of our previous adventures couldn't."
Fluttershy nodded, and took a deep, nervous breath. "You're r-right. But friendship requires work and sacrifice, which is why I think that w-we should..." She trailed off, eyes downcast.
Rarity tilted her head for a moment. "We should what, darling? It's okay, say what's on your mind."
Fluttershy was silent for several seconds, eyeing the door as if considering making a run for it. After the tension proved too thick to make the dash through, she finally took a breath, letting out all of her words at once. "Ithinkweshouldlearntofight... I mean, that is... I think we should l-learn to fight too. I hope it won't come to that, b-but maybe at least having to go through similar training will give us a little more idea of what the other girls are going through."
Rarity was shocked. "Are you sure? This is a very big commitment, and no offense, darling, but you're not exactly the fighting sort. Neither am I, for that matter. That's why we were settled with the administrative work in the first place."
Fluttershy deflated a little. "I know... but I think it's the right thing to do. It can't be all bad. You have great precision with your magic, even if it isn't as strong as Twilight's, and I have the Stare. It's not like we'll be in the fray like them. I just want to be sure that this doesn't put too large a gap between us after all of this is done."
Rarity was silent for a few seconds, letting the myriad possibilities of how this could backfire play through her mind, before finally coming to her conclusion. "I understand, and as much as it pains me to say it, you're right, but I shall be volunteering for League matches, if they shall have me. It's only fair that I go through the same evils that I was wont to subject my closest friends to. 'Tis the noble thing to do. I do think we should wait for Nasus to arrive before making the announcement, to give everyone a chance to cool off after everything that has happened. Come now, Fluttershy. Twilight should be about done explaining herself to the others. Let's go see how that went, shall we?"
- - - -
Two Days Later
- - - -
Nasus closed his eyes for a moment, letting the wind caress him. Flying had always been a pleasant experience for him. The wind reminded him of his desert homeland, and the constantly changing view of the landscape felt like a comforting reminder of the shifting, swirling sands thereof. There hadn't been much time to appreciate such things as of late. The long days of meditation and introspection, of wandering the Shurima Desert that he now called home, had fallen by the wayside due to his new friends and the adventures they brought. It wasn't an unwelcome change entirely, but living as an immortal had made him a creature of habit. It was nice to have a few moments of peace and quiet to think.
Unfortunately, such moments rarely last long, and it seemed like far too short a time before the airship's horn sounded out, signalling that they had arrived at their destination. To the uninformed, it looked as if it was preparing to dock at an ordinary refueling station on the way back to the Institute of War. If one were to do a little research, the not at all surprising discovery might be made that this particular refueling station was owned by Jericho Swain, and the various businesses that tend to center around such facilities all paid dues to him. This in itself wasn't uncommon, as many League champions had side investments that ranged from ventures like Singed's pest control services and a series of breweries co-owned by one of his fellow champions to Swain's ventures into politics and the airship market. This particular refueling station had a secret, though, known only to a select few under Swain's management, as well as a certain set of friends. Thus, nobody suspected a thing as Nasus slipped into a rather vaguely named waiting room. When he asked the bored-looking secretary behind the room's solitary desk to see the supervisor, she simply nodded and pointed to the door behind her before turning the decorative crystal on her desk slightly to the left.
Nasus barely fit through the door, squeezing himself in a cramped room with a disturbingly wobbly floor. Shortly after he crammed himself into the room, he found himself standing straight with much less effort as the floor began to descend. The pace of the magical elevator picked up, and the crystals that had been enchanted to provide light along the tube created a slightly disorienting strobe effect as they zoomed in and out of sight. After about two minutes of this, the ride suddenly lurched to a stop as a door opened in front of him, causing him to stumble forward onto his knees into a lavishly decorated lobby, where Swain was standing with a slightly amused expression, offering a hand to Nasus. "My apologies, Nasus. A recent maintenance error threw off the calibration of the elevator."
Nasus ignored Swain's hand as he used his staff to hoist himself back to his feet. "You might consider getting that fixed. I suspect that if the ascent is similar, I might walk away with a head injury."
"Yes, of course. I'm afraid that this bunker wasn't designed for someone of your stature. It was actually made before Noxus opted into the League." Swain motioned with his cane for Nasus to walk. "Pleasantries aside, I trust your mission was successful?"
Nasus nodded and walked beside his host. "I extracted information on several other cells of Malzahar's cultists. In addition to this, I have discovered that he is searching for a massive source of magical energy and a way to store and channel it. There are plenty of powerful mages throughout Valoran, but combat expertise tends to be a common trait in them. Logically, it follows that Twilight Sparkle is an ideal combination of power and lack of combat experience. The second still bears investigation. Knowing how he plans to store this energy will better allow us to prevent him from doing so."
"Good work. Since we don't know the entirety of Malzahar's plan to open Valoran to the Void, I think it is best to harass these other cells. Not only will this increase our chances of learning more of his intentions and resources, it will frustrate him and increase the chance that he might make a mistake that will expose him." Swain halted his stride for a moment, turning to look at Nasus. "This comes with a caveat, though."
Nasus' face was expressionless for several seconds as he looked into Swain's eyes. "As long as Malzahar lives, there is a clear and persistent threat to the Equestrians. He must die. However, he will not show himself unless he sees a chance to get what he wants. Before all is said and done, the girls must be exposed to danger to be taken out of it."
Swain nodded, his expression grim. "Believe me when I say I don't want them to die or be compromised in any way. They're going to have to be ready for real fighting. Twilight recently had an outburst and almost killed Singed, but that was in a fit of passion. They need to learn how to be cold in battle if we want to increase their chances of survival. To this end, when we return to the Institute, I wish to take a more prominent role in their training. They would not hear of it from me, though. I need you to open them to the concept. Think on it. For now, your friends are waiting to greet you beyond this door. Meet me in the lobby whenever you all are ready to depart." Swain gestured to the door at the end of the hall they were in before excusing himself and walking away.
Nasus watched his retreating form for a few seconds before turning to open the door in front of him. The moment the door was halfway open he found himself tackled by a blur of pink hair and insanity. Of course, being several times the weight of his assailant, he was left to watch awkwardly as that blur bounced off of him in a comically exaggerated manner before zooming back to hug him. "Nasus!" yelled Pinkie, leaving her victim slightly deafened. "Did'ja have fun in Zaun? Bring back any souvenirs for us? Learn any world shattering secrets?"
"...Hello, Pinkie," Nasus said flatly, before surveying the various levels of mirth that played across the faces of the seven others in the room. "My mission was indeed a success. I shall tell you of the particulars when we are airborne again. How has your stay under Swain's hospitality been?"
Twilight laughed awkwardly. "A little bit too dramatic for my tastes, but we're all well. For all of his many, many faults, Swain is at least a good host. His library isn't bad either."
"Indeed," affirmed Rarity. "Aside from a few early hiccups, our stay has been relatively pleasant. However, now that we are all together, Fluttershy and I have an announcement to make. We-" She never got to finish her sentence, as Pinkie couldn't contain her excitement any longer.
"Oh! I'm so happy for you two I always thought you would make a cute- Mmrph!" Pinkie kept talking for a few moments before realizing her mouth had been covered by Rainbow Dash's hand.
"No, no, goodness no," replied Rarity in alarm. "No offense to Fluttershy of course, but I'd rather wait for my Prince Charming to come along. What we wanted to announce..." She paused for a moment, though if it was to take a nervous breath or for dramatic effect was anyone's guess. "We wish to learn how to fight, and I wish to join you all on the Fields of Justice."
The room was completely silent. Nobody moved a muscle or said a word as the tension built. Fluttershy looked as if she might pass out. It finally fell upon Rainbow Dash to break the tension. She chose to do so in a less-than-graceful manner. "BUAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Celestia, that's rich!" She continued to guffaw, only for her laughter to die in her mouth as she noted the serious expressions on everyone else's faces. "Wait, you're serious? Oh... wow... I didn't mean anything by... It's just, you two don't exactly seem like..."
Fluttershy sighed. "We know... We just need to do this. All of you are learning all of these things and fighting in the League now. I'm scared that when all of this is over, we won't know each other anymore."
"It won't come to that," said Applejack resolutely. "Ah know this'll change us in more ways than we'll probably realize, but we're your friends, and we're always gonna be. Ain't nobody gonna hold it against you that you're a bit more... uh, delicate than we are. It's just part of who you are."
"I know that we're not the most likely candidates," replied Rarity, "but I simply couldn't live with myself if I didn't do this with you all. Besides, I may not be as powerful as Twilight, but I certainly know enough magic to hold my own, and from what I understand the gems of this world are especially receptive to enchantment."
"If they want to try, let them," said Riven with a shrug. "In Noxus, everyone learns to fight, even the most 'delicate' of us. I doubt it's beyond their abilities, and from what you all have told me about the adventures you've been in before we met, it'd be a good skill set to have. All it takes is the right trainer. Don't expect it to be easy, though. Now, let's get to the lobby. Gilded as it may be, I'm eager to get out of Swain's little birdcage."
- - - -
An hour later, the airship departed, bound for the Institute of War. As it ascended, a woman in a purple cloak turned to her similarly-clad companion. "Alert the others. Our targets have departed."