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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.