“I guess we should check with the College of Techmaturgy first,” Lux said as she and Poppy wandered down a filthy street, stepping carefully to avoid treading in puddles of a liquid that was assuredly not water.
Lux had put away her Demacian armor and wore simple robes designed to help her blend into the crowd. Unfortunately, her efforts to wander incognito through Zaun were undercut by Poppy’s insistence on wearing her full armor.
“They’ll give away our visit to Noxians,” Lux had told Poppy, trying to get her to tone it down.
“No they won’t, not if they can sell it to them instead!” Poppy joked.
Lux realized now she was probably being a little overcautious. Zaun was proud of its amorality. It wasn’t a malicious city like Noxus was reputed to be. People in Zaun were free to live any way they liked. They were free to pursue their passions, their philosophies, and their research. They were also free to abuse each other and destroy themselves in a myriad of horrifying ways.
Zaun had provided aid to Noxus on several occasions, but had never actually directly taken action against Demacia. Lux and Poppy weren’t in any danger. Well, they weren’t in any more danger than anybody else on Zaun’s streets.
The College of Techmaturgy loomed like a clockwork colossus in the northeast side of the city, not too far from its dock district to allow easier transportation of any heavy materials students at the college might need for their experiments.
“What is that smell?” Lux asked.
“It’s probably best not to breathe too deeply,” Poppy said. Poppy was less concerned about Zaun than Lux. First of all, many yordles did make visits to Zaun for their research and studies. Most did not agree with Zaun’s lax safety attitudes, but there was no denying the city had a lot to teach an inventor. Second, she was not afraid to slam the stuffing out of anybody who tried to take advantage of her and Lux.
They weren’t sure what to expect when they entered the college. It was a bit of an anticlimax to find a perfectly normal foyer that you might see at the Institute of Magic in Demacia. The walls were steel instead of marble, but there was a notable lack of bubbling alchemy tables, clockwork beasts clattering around, and no cackling mad scientists.
It seems as though they weren’t the only ones caught by surprise. As they approached the receiving attendant’s desk, they noted she had a large sign posted on the wall behind her: “For visitors’ safety, we do not permit experiments to be exposed to the entry and receiving area.”
“See,” Poppy joked, “Zaun isn’t entirely without rules!”
The attendant was a prim young human woman, with dark hair and simple robes, not unlike Lux’s. She looked up from her desk work to greet them, and then did a quick double-take.
“How unexpected,” she said as she stood up. “We had no idea champions were coming to visit today.” She pressed a button on her desk and two were startled at what sounded like an alarm whistle blowing from behind the steel walls. They both steeped back from her desk and Poppy drew her hammer.
“Oh I’m sorry,” the woman said, waving her hands in front of her toward them. “That wasn’t an alarm. I’m just rousing the college’s staff that we have important visitors!” She gestured to a nearby overstuffed sofa. “Please, please, have a seat! Our porters will bring tea in just a minute.”
Lux and Poppy, looking a little confused, walked over to the sofa and sat down. The woman joined them in a nearby chair, after grabbing some parchment from her desk. On a nearby table was quill and ink. Apparently she had planned to take notes of their conversation. Poppy shrugged at Lux.
“Oh, I’m sorry, is this your first time here?” the woman asked. “I’m Ryene, one of the college’s attendants. We like to treat the League’s champions well when they visit. After all, Blitzcrank was born in our humble halls.” Blitzcrank was a golem, like Galio, but operated through a combination of steam technology and magic. He was not intended to be sentient, but somehow became so and just like Galio, was awarded his freedom and joined the League.
“I’m assuming you are here looking for our expertise to evaluate the nature of the attack on Demacia?” she asked.
“How did you … ?” Lux gasped. “It’s been less than a week!”
“We pay very well for any information connected to the implementation and deployment of anything techmaturgical,” she said. Lux frowned. This meant somebody in Demacia was selling information to Zaun. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, of course, but it’s always a little disconcerting to have it brought up so brazenly.
“You will be pleased to hear that we have already consulted with our staff and several professors have offered to provide their services on temporary retainer for what we believe to be a very reasonable fee,” she said as she scribbled on the parchment.
“What? Pay?” Poppy shouted. “This attack could be a precursor to an invasion of all of Valoran.”
“Yes, this is true,” Ryene said as she transcribed the conversation. “This would make our services very valuable indeed, shouldn’t you think?”
“We’re actually not here to ask for assistance in the investigation, yet,” Lux said. “But we appreciate your offer. If you have the rates in writing, I will bring it back to our king and council to review if we get to that point.”
“As you wish,” Ryene said. “So what does bring you here?”
“We’re looking for a yordle who might have connections to the university,” Lux said.
“Maybe, but more likely he would have been offering to take any failed experiments or unwanted scrap metal off the college’s hands.”
“Is this in connection with the attack on Demacia?” she asked.
“We’re not at liberty to say.”
“I see,” she scribbled notes for a few moments. “Individual professors make their own arrangements with scrappers. Do you have a name or description I could distribute?” Lux gave her Fitz’s name and description.
“And what is Demacia willing to offer for this information?” she asked.
“We will negotiate directly with any individual willing to come forward,” Poppy said.
“Which of your professors are involved with high-level artificing?” Lux asked.
“To what extent?”
“Sentient or near-sentient level.”
“That would be a violation of a directive from the Institute of War,” Ryene said, smoothly.
“That’s not a denial.”
“So the rumors that Galio was injured in the attack are true then,” Ryene said. The two women stared at her.
“Who are those notes for?” Lux demanded.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Ryene responded with a slick smile.
Poppy rose to her feet and clutched her hammer. Ryene rose with her and drew two fairly large blades from the curve of her robes.
“I would warn you not to do anything foolish,” Ryene said. Her stance was defensive, but there was a clear threat. She was no mere attendant.
Lux put her hand over her face in frustration. Their first interview and they had already been manipulated into giving up information.
“Poppy it’s okay,” Lux said. “This is all going to make its way out when Galio is no longer seen in matches anyway.”
Poppy lowered her hammer but didn’t sit back down.
“Can you tell us what this is all about, then?” Poppy said, waving at her blades. “Or do we have to pay for that information?”
“Some people who come to see our professors and students do not have your innocent intents,” Ryene explained as the blades disappeared back into her robes. “Their knowledge makes them targets for unsavory types who would like to press them into service through any means necessary. I’m paid well to make sure they don’t get ambushed and enslaved … or worse.”
Poppy nodded. “I can respect that.” But they would probably never know who she was actually taking notes for. They just assumed it was for the college.
“All right,” Lux said. “We appreciate the discussion, but we have more leads to pursue today.”
“Not staying for tea?” Ryene asked. “At least let me give you a scroll of our assistance offer to bring back to Demacia.” She returned to her desk with her notes.
“We’ll return tomorrow to see if anybody recalls Fitz,” Lux said to Poppy.
Ryene then returned with a scroll in a case for Lux.
“I would look over the terms to see if they’re amenable,” Ryene said. “We could always do some negotiating before you leave Zaun.”
“Thank you for your time,” Lux said. The woman smiled and bowed. Lux and Poppy then left the college back out to the smelly, filthy streets of Zaun.
“Open the scroll,” Poppy demanded right after they left.
“What? Why?” Lux asked.
“Diplomatic experience,” Poppy said. “She suggested you look at the scrolls first. She wouldn’t do that if there weren’t something there you needed to see.”
Lux fumbled over the case and pulled out the scroll. As Poppy predicted, there was another note curled within. Lux caught it as it fluttered to the ground. She folded it open.
Marsh Alley. Look for the door painted blue. Bring gold or you’ll get nowhere.
“Why is she helping us, I wonder,” Lux mused.
“The benefits of an invasion of bloodthirsty monsters to a city devoted to free invention and research is a bit limited,” Poppy said. “I’m more concerned that we don’t actually know which of our problems she is giving us help with.”
“Or if it’s a trap,” Lux said.