Chapter 22: The Will of Blades
When I was young and felt the emptiness of an uncertain future, I wanted change and to know what lied ahead. When the future became clear and I could only see despair, all I wanted was what I used to have. Home, family, and friends, no matter how close or disconnected we become, we are never as close as we should. No one ever stops to think that the time we spend with them could be our last.
- Memoires of Luxanna Crownguard
Piltover Airship, High Altitude Flight Over the Voodoo Lands
Talon sat motionless in the corner of a room adjacent to the cockpit. To his side laid his armblade, a single gleaming crystal contrasting the otherwise weathered blade that reflects the mileage it had undergone over the years. It created a rattling sound against the dull iron floor underneath, corresponding to the random rumblings that accompanied the turbulent flight. He had sat there quietly since their departure from Icathia, going over the events of that day to try and make sense of what had happened. Hours had passed in isolation, yet he continued to sit there in silence, hoping for a revelation that never came.
A knock came from the door next to him, breaking the almost trance-like state he had been in since he boarded the airship.
“What do you want?” Talon snapped in a purposely rude tone as he had no desire to talk with anyone on that ship at this point. This was especially true in the case of Fiora, whom for some unknown reason, he had dreaded having to see again after what had happened.
“It’s me,” Ashram’s voice echoed from the other side of the door, followed by the sharp click of the door handle before swinging inwards. “We need answers.”
Talon stared silently at the former High Councilor before letting out a sigh, standing up to move towards a nearby seat. He knew it was inevitable that they would need to talk about what had happened in Icathia, only he wished that he would already have had an explanation of his own by now. He should have been happy that in the end, everyone made it through safely. After what he had seen and done, however, he knew that things were no longer black and white anymore, that the line between good and evil had been blurred beyond recognition.
“If you came here to ask what it was I did, don’t waste your breath. Your guess is as good as mine at this point.” Talon said as his gaze fixed upon the Summoner on the other side of the room. To say that he didn’t trust him at this point was an understatement. Though originally thankful for saving his life and the lives of his current companions, he began to wonder was it really the right path. After seeing Fiora being possessed by an evil so great that it made her unrecognizable, he began to accept that there are outcomes worse than death…and that was one of them.
“I came to tell you the truth…about what you saw. After you were able to save her when even I couldn’t, you deserve to know that what happened today only scratches the surface of her role in all of this.” Ashram replied, remaining motionless as he knew better than to provoke the assassin in a confined space.
He proceeded to explain everything that he knew about her, from his pledge to the Goddess to protect the Laurent family, the High Councilor’s scheme to corrupt her for years, and how Omen’s darkness that was intended to kill him only served to manifest the evil that had always been inside of her. As the assassin heard the details of everything that had transpired, he noticed the shift in the Summoner’s voice as he explained his role in all of this. He came to the conclusion that the man in front of him was stricken with guilt and blamed himself for the way things turned out. It was a type of guilt that only came with destroying the life of someone close to you, a guilt that he himself was all too familiar with.
“While it’s good and all to not be left in the dark any longer, it still doesn’t bring me any closer to finding an answer for what had happened.” Talon objected after pausing to analyze the overwhelming amount of information he had just received.
“I know. But I think the only one who can figure out what had happened is you. Somehow, it was you who sealed the darkness back inside and relinquished its control over her.” Ashram explained, noticing a change in the expression on the assassin’s face as he finished those last words.
“Sealed? You mean she’s-“ Talon began to say in horror, as a realization hit him.
“No, I can still sense the dark entity inside of her, only it’s contained somehow. Why? Does that mean something to you?”
“It may be nothing, but…” Talon began to say as he paced around the room, entranced deep in thought. “The moment my blade went through her, I felt regret…I lied when I said that I did it with the intention of killing her. In reality, I wanted nothing more than the power to cure her of whatever had taken ahold of her. Something told me that wasn’t possible…I knew that much, and instead I wanted just one other thing…to be able to see the girl I once knew…just one more time. That was when the light happened and she was back…just like that.”
“Hmm… then it may just be that your will was what saved her.”
“My will? That’s preposterous, I don’t possess an ounce of skill with magic and you expect me to believe that I somehow managed to do that by myself?” Talon snapped in disbelief.
“Do you have a better explanation? The altar underneath Icathia…I’ve said this once before. It grants us what we need in order to protect. This whole time, you were under the impression that it granted your blade the ability of holy magic to cut through the dark creatures of the Void, but what if that too was a reflection of your will?”
“Are you trying to suggest that…” Talon began to say before stopping himself, looking down to stare at his arm blade placed on the seat a few feet away from him.
“Is it so hard to believe? You’ve seen similar things haven’t you?” Ashram replied, causing Talon to recall his fights against Irelia in the Summoner’s Arenas, her blades seeming to move and bend to her will. “The altar granted you exactly what you needed to protect those around you. Though it appears there is a limit to its power, it gave you a blade that responds to your will. During your fight against du Couteau, you wanted to slay the darkness and it granted you holy magic; and when she became possessed by evil, it was your desire to see the real her again that gave you the power to seal away the darkness. In a way, the Goddess has granted you powers that surpasses even that of the Ionian Will of Blades.”
“If that’s true, then why?” Talon asked angrily, gritting his teeth together as he held his blade closer to his face, examining the large crystal embedded along its surface. “All my life I’ve been a murderer. Why would she grant me of all people this ability instead of you or any of the others, for that matter?”
“Because even if you don’t believe it, you aren’t without redemption. You chose to follow us, and made it your purpose to help save this world. Though I won’t ask why, even if it seems that you lug around a great burden, you’re faced with the one who carries a far greater guilt over what I’ve done than you can imagine. The Goddess saw you to be worthy and gave you this chance. Where you go from here is up to you.”
“And what about you?” Talon asked suddenly, taking the Summoner by surprise. “Where do you go from here?”
“I…” Ashram began, averting his gaze to look out the window over the blankets of clouds slowly passing by. After a long pause, he let out a sigh of resignation. “Wherever it is that she and the rest of you decide.”
Talon raised an eyebrow in response to his answer, one which he was not expecting. During the short time that he’s known the former High Councilor, the latter had always appeared in control of the situation, the coordinator of all of their efforts. The man that stood in front of him now appeared a different person, one which suffered a great defeat.
“As I look back on the decisions I’ve made in the past years, I wonder if I made even a single right choice. Right now, there are two options, we return to the Institute and prepare for the final fight, or we abandon this and see where things lead. This time, I’m afraid I no longer have any right to choose.” Ashram replied, pacing slowly to exit the room, leaving Talon standing motionlessly as he contemplated those last words.
Streaks of light penetrated the darkness behind her eyelids as she begun to awake, raising her right hand to the right side of her forehead. Feeling the remains of small cakes of blood over a cut that had largely been healed, Shauna Vayne let out a sigh as she rose from her lying position. Dizziness overcame her, as the results of her recent blood loss became more apparent. She closed her eyes, taking a moment to adjust before opening them again to catch the sight of Fiora lying in a bed a few feet away from hers.
She stood up and took a few steps closer, looking down to find the smaller crossbow still attached to her right arm. Raising her crossbow, she pointed it at the sleeping girl in front of her, the tip of the loaded bolt held just a few feet away from her chest. Her arm shook as she held her weapon in place, watching a loose fitting light blue shirt rising and falling with rhythmic breaths. To the night hunter, the person in front of her represented everything she hated in this world, someone possessed by dark magic so powerful that they have lost all control of themselves. She was the same as the witch who killed her parents and has to be stopped before she hurts anyone else.
As Vayne prepared to fire a bolt into the duelist’s heart and end the danger that she posed to everyone, the latter’s demeanor suddenly changed, her face now showing a struggled expression of agony. The look startled the night hunter for a moment, causing her to recall that same look on her own face many years ago. She was but a child at the time and all she could do was hide as she heard the screams and agony of her parents as they were tortured by a murderous witch. When she couldn’t bear to look through the cracks any longer, she stared back at herself in a mirror, her face held in one of terror and agony as she felt helpless to do anything. The image was one that was burned into her memory forever, like a scar that would never heal.
Seeing this same expression now on Fiora’s face caused her to see herself from a past long ago reflected in her eyes. Though a part of her hated everything about the person in front of her, she couldn’t help but feel like the roles had become reversed and she was the one who was intent on murdering an innocent child. She shook her head hard, trying to suffocate the thoughts of guilt and doubt that wouldn’t leave her alone, closing her eyes as she tried to force herself to pull the trigger.
Just retract my fingers…just a few centimeters and this will be all over. I could protect everyone from a danger far greater than anything we’ve encountered thus far. Vayne thought to herself as she bit down hard against her lower lip. Given what the duelist was capable of if she ever became possessed again, this was the only logical choice. So why is it so hard to do this? It’s not like she and I were ever close…why can’t I do it?
Letting out a breath that she had been holding, she swung her hand down, pointing the tip of her bow at the floor. Opening her eyes again, she held an expression of defeat as she continued to watch the figure in front of her continue to shift her head; her mouth opened slightly allowing strands of purple to become caught on her lips. Letting out a sigh, she turned to take a seat on the bed that she had woken up on, shifting her gaze to focus on the tip of her bow.
These bolts…sharp…quick…they strike from a distance. They allow me to attack first, ask questions later. They prevent me from having to get close, to see the faces of my enemies. Without seeing them up close, there is no room for hesitation. She recited to herself, closing her eyes angrily as thoughts flooded her mind. So why do I hesitate now? Life is fleeting, like the bolts of a crossbow, they quickly and surely disappear in an instant. No one life is worth more than another, so why…why is it that I hesitate to kill, knowing that when she wakes up, she could very well go on a rampage again and kill us all?
“Shauna?” A soft female voice said aloud, causing the night hunter to tense up as she her gaze shot towards the duelist, watching as she turned her head slowly to face her. Fiora’s voice was very soft and weak, contrasting the normally strong and obnoxiously arrogant tone that the night hunter was previously used to. A part of her instinctively wanted to defend herself, the muscles in her right arm tightening as she prepared to raise it towards the person in front of her. “Where…what happened?”
“You mean you don’t remem-“ Vayne began to reply flippantly, stopping herself as she she saw the look of despair appearing on the duelist’s face. It was clear from that reaction that it was not the case, that she likely remembered every detail of the devastation that she had caused.
“No…I remember.” She said, arched eyebrows flattening out as she lowered her eyelids towards her feet, letting out a long sigh. “I nearly killed all of you.”
Fiora slowly struggled to sit up, a wave of vertigo hitting her as she made it up, causing the all too familiar nausea to rise to the back of her throat. Planting both arms against her legs, she swallowed hard, barely managing to push the dry heaves back.
“So why am I still here?” Fiora continued, raising a hand to brush a few strands of hair aside and out of her mouth. “Especially you, you always hated me, so why didn’t you just kill me and put an end to it?”
“Trust me…the thought occurred to me.” Vayne replied bluntly, noticing the lack of surprise on the duelist’s face.
“Then why didn’t you? After what happened, I wouldn’t have even held a grudge. I don’t deserve to live.”
“I don’t know!” Vayne snapped, standing up suddenly in a way that made Fiora think that she was still vulnerable to being executed. “I guess…it’s because I would have been no better than the murderous witch that killed my parents…and tried to kill me.”
“Your parents?” Fiora asked, her voice weak and dry, with her face held in confusion.
“Yeah…contrary to what you may think, you’re not the only one who lost your parents. Mine was killed when I was still a young child…murdered in front of my eyes.” Vayne answered in an apprehensive tone, causing Fiora to gasp in surprise. “Unlike you, I kept news of this event hidden from the public. That’s why you never heard of it until now.”
“How…how are you able to live with something like that? I can’t… it…it tears away at me every time I think of the day I lost them, one after another.” Fiora asked, letting out a soft snort as her voice began to crack at the end.
“You move on with life.” Vayne replied simply, making her wonder how those words could come so easily. “The way I see it is you have two options…you can either sit around wallowing in self pity on the inside, or you make it a point to keep going and face your inner demons head on.”
Fiora lowered her head slightly, unable to push back the feeling that she was being scolded like a kid by the woman in front of her. Even though it was easier said than done, she couldn’t deny the validity of those words. With this newfound understanding of their similar backgrounds, she found herself giving a lot more credit to the night hunter than she had ever expected.
“I want you to understand something. You’re right to think that I hated associating with you, but it wasn’t simply because I found your attitude disdainful, though I won’t deny that definitely contributed.” If looks could kill, Fiora’s expression would have murdered the moment those words reached her ears. Even though she told herself she was going to hear the night hunter out, it took a lot of forcing to hold back the angry response that came almost instinctively. “It was because you live your life as a lie, consumed by self pity on the inside so you put up a front to hide your insecurities. The others may not realize it, but I do. Because as hard as both of us try to deny it, our childhoods almost mirror each others. Where our paths diverged was how we chose to handle our loss. I chose to accept it and move on with my life…I fought to keep others from having to suffer the same fate as myself. You, on the other hand, you hid your true self and instead fought aimlessly only to keep your insecurities from surfacing. It’s been too long…it’s time to grow up and move on.”
“Shauna...I…” Fiora began to say, her voice trailing off at the end. She stared intently at the window next to her, a dim reflection on its surface revealing a pathetic look on her face. Her eyes suddenly widened as she recalled her mother’s voice guiding her during her training process.
”It’s up to you from here on,” She recalled, coming to the realization of the double meaning behind it. This is what you meant, wasn’t it? You wanted me to move on, and stop dwelling in the past. So far, all I’ve done was hold onto the pieces connecting me to the days before you passed, to the point that I was reliant on them.
“Shauna,” She began after a long pause, causing the night hunter to look over in surprise. “Thank you.”
“Well those are two words I never expected to hear from you of all people. What gives?”
“All this time, I thought holding onto my memories and not letting go was what I was suppose to do.” Fiora answered, a little more strength behind her words as she slowly stood up to pace towards the window, staring out into the distance. Instead of feeling awkward about letting it all out to someone like Vayne, now that she had actually said it, it felt like weight had been lifted off of her shoulders, one that had been pulling at her from below. “I couldn’t bear to move on because…I just couldn’t. Knowing that you and I shared such a similar past, yet you emerged far more confident in yourself than I ever was, I now realize that it is possible. It helped me understand that moving on doesn’t mean insulting them, but rather is what they would have wanted.”
“No one wants to see their loved ones in despair. Had the roles been reversed, would you have wanted to see your mother and father forever stricken with grief?” Vayne responded, noticing the affect of the younger woman lightening as though a burden had been lifted.
“No…I wouldn’t and yet that’s all I’ve done. I let my grief get the best of me and that’s what almost got everyone killed.” Fiora answered, turning around to walk past the night hunter towards the door.
“So what’ll you do?”
“The same thing you’ve done, move on and make good on my goal to protect those around me. So far you’ve done well to hunt down users of dark magic that prey on the innocent, similar to the one who killed your parents. The ones responsible for the death of mine, however, are still at large and are the same ones that threaten to drag the whole world into darkness. This time, it’s my turn to look forward without hesitation…to protect others from having to know the despair of my past.”
Hmm…never thought I’d see the day that you and I would actually see eye to eye. Maybe there’s hope for you after all. Vayne thought to herself as the door opened with a prolonged squeak, getting to her feet to follow the duelist.
Lux shot up from her seated position as Fiora stepped into the main corridor, looking intently at her to notice softer facial features than she had previously remembered. After witnessing her rampage against Ashram, and the subsequent look that made her seem as though she was on the verge of death, the blonde had been unable to face her friend. She had expected for her to emerge from her room stricken with guilt or worse, but instead found her in a state that resembled relief.
“Fiorie, are you-“ Lux began until a hand on her shoulder caused her to stop in mid-sentence.
“It’s okay Lux…I think I’ll be okay.” She replied in a calm voice, lifting her hand from the blonde’s shoulder to continue on her way towards the bridge of the airship.
How odd… when your hand touched me, the feeling of your magic energy felt lighter… and the darkness seemed weaker. I’m glad, but…how? Lux thought to herself as Vayne emerged from the room.
“Get the others and have them meet in the bridge. There’s a lot we need to discuss.” Vayne said simply, causing Lux to tilt her head slightly before nodding in acknowledgement.
Fifteen minutes later, Reginald Ashram walked through the sliding door into the bridge of the airship, a look of disbelief on his face upon laying eyes on Fiora. He looked around to see the rest of his allies had gathered, meeting the gaze of everyone else with the exception of Ezreal, whose back was turned as he continued to monitor the ship’s flight mechanics.
“Thanks for coming so quickly.” Fiora began, standing up from her seated position in a gesture to address an audience. “It’s time we planned our attack.”
“No, no more.” Ashram objected, his sudden outburst surprising everyone, their heads reeling heads towards him. “This has become far too dangerous. We almost lost you earlier today because we were too focused on this quest to realize that we may not make it. I started this mess; I don’t want any of you involved in it any longer. It’s my responsibility to clean it up, not yours.”
“It became ours the moment it all began. Sure, it’s dangerous, more dangerous than anything we’ve done in the past, but that doesn’t mean we don’t owe it to everyone to try.” Fiora replied.
“Don’t you get it? We almost lost you once today…I can’t afford to risk losing you again. Every time you encounter the dark magic, you come closer to losing control again. I don’t know what will happen if it takes over a second time. The reason for this happening was because of me, I was the one who made you become in tune with magic and allowed it to awaken inside of you. The next time it happens again, you may die.”
“I know of the risk, but don’t you see? I don’t care.” She snapped, her fist clenched with the skin over her knuckles turning white from the tight stretching, catching the former High Councilor by surprise. “At the rate things are going, more and more Void spawn will enter this world and it’ll be a matter of time before I end up succumbing to it anyways. If that’s going to happen, then at least I’d go down fighting.”
“This isn’t your fight.”
“It became mine…no…it became all of ours. I think I understand now…you and I are the same.” She explained, causing the others to shoot her a look of surprise at that last statement. “In the same way that I’ve been stricken with grief for years, you’ve allowed your guilt to consume you…guilt that you brought me into all of this. Even if you hadn’t intervened, I might have ended up the same way, either killed in their mass sacrifice or worse.”
“As hard as it is to believe, I’m inclined to agree with her.” Vayne added, her arms crossed over her chest with her back leaned against the wall. “You came to me for help years ago because you couldn’t take on three High Councilors by yourself, didn’t you? What’s changed in that time to make you think you have better odds now?”
“Nothing, but even with all of us together, the chances are slim to none.”
“So what?” Fiora objected, causing Ashram to look upon her cerulean eyes intently. “You said it yourself once, there are some things you do because it has to be done. I’ve made my decision; I will fight with you to the end. As for everyone else, you know the risk of what is to come. If any of you wants to back out, I won’t hold it against you.”
Ashram wanted to object, but no words came to him. He knew that he had never met anyone more stubborn than her, and nothing he said would change her mind. He couldn’t help but notice, however, the subtle change in the look of her eyes. He had expected pain or sorrow after what had happened, but instead met orbs of softened determination. It was as though she was an entirely new person from the fragile, insecure girl he had watched over for years.
“I finally found a purpose that involves saving others rather than killing them. I’m not going to abandon it that easily. Count me in.” Talon answered, interrupting the brief silence as the others contemplated the situation.
“My blade is yours; I will see this through to the end.” Shen replied in a firm voice, nodding his head at the duelist in acknowledgement.
“Heh, when the world is falling apart, the hero always comes through!” Ezreal said enthusiastic, raising his fist into the air as he momentarily turned to face the others.
“I promised that I would never burden others because of my own weakness again. If I stopped now, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. Count me in!” Lux exclaimed, happy to see Fiora’s resilience despite everything she had been through.
“If they succeed, everything I’ve done to protect the innocent would have been for nothing.” Vayne said as she took a step forward, raising her smaller crossbow next to her head. “I will strike them down, just like all the evil I’ve encountered before.”
“Don’t you see now?” Fiora continued, blinking before letting out a satisfied smirk as she stared into the reddish-brown eyes of the former High Councilor. “For the first time, it doesn’t matter who we are, or where we came from. We’ve united for one purpose. In this rare instance, we only have each other to rely on. Alone, none of us stand a chance, but together we have hope. So what’s it going to be?”
“Hmm…Fine, we’ll do it your way.” Ashram replied hesitantly after a long pause. He knew that he would have had no chance going up against the other High Councilors by himself. Though he would never admit it publicly, his objections were selfish, based entirely on the premise that he didn’t want the guilt of losing the girl in front of him again.
“Where to then?” Ezreal asked from behind the pilot’s seat.
“Valley of the Magi, 100 miles directly north of the Institute. It’s where the portal will be.” Ashram ordered. “Get ready; this is what it all comes down to.”
Just like that, it was decided. To keep the light in this world from fading, we journeyed to where it all began. The place that was responsible for the evil that threatened the fate of our world was also the same place that brought us all together. Who’s to say that this alone wasn’t a miracle in its own way?