They walked into Hell.
“What…” Ahri murmured, as she stepped to the blue shield in front of her. She, Pantheon, and Annie, were standing at the entrance to the League’s secret arena. It was the battleground of Seven Blazes, a hidden testing ground designed to weed out the worst of the League’s rejects. It was the Magma Chamber. “What is this?” She brushed the shield that separated the world from the hellish pit before them.
Directly on the other side sat a man. He was thick and stocky, and wrapped from head to toe in jet-black clothes. Twin Ninjato, blades of the ninja, were strapped crossed over each other to his strong back. A mask shrouded his face, with only the slightest bit of sweat dripping down from the base of the faceguard. He sat facing away from the blue shield, waiting. Guarding. Fulfilling his solemn duty.
“…Shen!” Ahri pushed up against the shield, and called out, loudly, “SHEN!”
The Kinkou did not respond. Still he sat without moving a muscle, bathing in the murderous heat; motionless in the waves of fire and flame. Seeing him sit so stilly, Ahri feared the worst.
“SHENN!” She cried, pounding on the shield, “SHENNNN! SHENNN---”
Then a visceral roar cut her off.
Shen stood up, twisted about in the blink of the eye, drew his blade, and swung violently at the shield in one fluid motion. Even separated from Shen, Ahri could feel the force of his Ki Strike resonate the barrier. She stumbled back in surprise, away from the fierce man on the other side of the wall. She stumbled away from her friend. Annie started to cry. Pantheon raised his weapons. Shen slumped down, the point of his sword fruitlessly rammed into the shield. Even with all of his force, he did not even make a scratch. Shen seemed to almost fall back down. Somehow, he managed to clumsily fold his legs in a sitting position, and he turned back to the scorching heat of the Magma Chamber.
Ahri hung her head. There was nothing she could do. Yet.
“Pantheon, Annie. Let’s go.” She turned around sharply, waving her hand back into the stairwell. Her dumbfounded companions trudged after her without question.
Was this how Ahri treated her friends, Pantheon wondered, when she sees them like this? But the Rakkor had not a clue what had taken hold of Ahri then.
There was even less reason to wait now. And it was close. She could feel it. The proximity of the Pheonix Sun was like a weight over her heart. Every step in the right direction aggravated the sense of doom she had in her gut, everything inch closer felt like a death sentence. She could almost see the orb now. It was below the Magma Chamber, the perfect place to hide a weapon with a temperature like that. The Phoenix Sun could even be what was causing the murderous heat.
There were less than a hundred steps further down, before they reached the bottom of the stairwell. It was a dank, unassuming circle of floor. Unlike the floor above them, here the air was balmy and cool. The heat disappeared, only to be left with… nothing. Before them was a heavy iron door. It was flanked by two dimly lit torches, the first that the party had encountered on their journey downwards. This troubled Ahri deeply. For the torches to be still lit, someone must have started them… and recently.
Regardless, with effort, she pushed the door open.
The metal hinges swung open without a sound.
They stepped in.
Inside, a being stirred.
He did not normally sleep. Yet recent events had made it wise to him to spend some length of time conserving his energy. The Phoenix Sun was getting restless. It’s keeper, it’s wielder, it’s heir was drawing near. And he could never let that happen. Not again. Still, he remembered that moment, that single, awful moment so many eons ago in Shurmia.
[CENTER]Xerath thought back to that fateful day...[/CENTER]
He had been defeated. Only an instant after he had finally achieved everything.
Tabia… I’m sorry.
A tall, handsome Ionian man was standing over him, with a sickening grin plastered all over his face. He wore his hair long and unstyled, until it dropped to his waist like a woman’s. His head was crowned with a tall, black cap that only served to lengthen the man’s already long appearance. Thick, wide robes swamped his body in their embrace. In the palm of his hand, he cradled a blazing second sun, and perhaps the only source of magic in all of Runeterra that could rival Xerath’s own.
Xerath lay defeated, in his newly acquired body of light and thunder, wrapped in his foe’s seal like a dog.
“Finally,” the Ionian man chuckled, brushing his hair out of his eyes, “That was one hell of a fight you put up.”
An incredible understatement. Half the Shurmian mages brought in to detain him were now nothing more than blackened corpses on the stone floor. Of another quarter, there was no trace left. Singlehandedly, Xertah had crippled the Shurmia’s entire Court of Magicians. He could have brought down the entire kingdom if he wanted to. But… because of HIM, if only he had managed to kill HIM, the Acendant raged, that cursed-borne Sealmaster, then victory would have been his! He was chained to the floor by two monstrously huge, flaming chains. Even in his ascendant form, even in his body of pure energy, it was not enough to break the bonds placed by the almighty, famous Sealmaster Mejai.
“Mejai!” growled a man, out of view. “You f*cking screw-up! Finish it already! We have lost so many already!” Mejai rolled his eyes at his friend.
“Jeez, mother, fine.” Mejai turned back to the restrained Xerath, and raised his Phoenix Sun. With his other hand, he set it in front of his, two fingers raised.
“Fusion Seal: Yugo Shiru.”
An empty sarcophagus, lain strewn behind Xerath’s chained body started glowing. A casualty of their catastrophic battle in the Royal Tomb, it would now serve a much greater purpose. Xerath started struggling even more fiercely against his chains; lightning bolts shot from his body of pure energy as he screamed in anger, and thunder shook the Royal Tomb’s walls, but still Mejai’s chains did not break.
“MEJAI! DAMN YOU AND DO IT ALREADY!” Xerath screamed, his voice no longer human, but deep and resonating. His voice had the resonance of God’s. The Royal Tomb threatened to shake itself to pieces under Xerath’s distress. “KILL ME AND BE DONE!”
“No,” Mejai said, gathering up the energy for his seal. The Ionian’s face turned serious, for the very first time. A shadow passed over Mejai’s face, as his grin faded into a dark scowl. “You are far beyond death now, Xerath of Shurmia. Farewell.”
The Sarcophagus seemed to sweep up behind him, or perhaps he was dragged into the iron coffin, and then the most awful, terrifying pain overtook him. A whirlwind of metal and lightning and light and darkness flashed before what once were his eyes. It was like being thrown into a storm in a suit of armor. Then it was all over, and to Xerath, there was nothing but cold metal and chains upon chains on his magical energy. Nothing but utter blackness and the biting cold. For centuries. And centuries. And centuries.
He would never allow that again.
As soon as the heir of the Phoenix Sun came, as soon as the b*stard descendant of that Mejai came to unlock the Phoenix Sun, he would kill him. He would kill him and then turn him into ashes and scatter the ashes with magical explosions until there was nothing left of him but a whiff of soot and a settling of dust. He would then burn the air away for miles around until every living thing choked their last. Then he glass the entire area with thunder and flame. He would leave nothing of Mejai behind. This Xerath swore.
He would never allow it again.
She stepped into the Phoenix Sun’s chamber. The dark room was carved out of black stone, circular in shape, surrounding a high altar in the center. Seated on the altar’s mouth was a single, black stone the size of a beach ball. Thick metal chains strapped the stone down onto its chantry, giving the impression that the pedestal was imprisoning, not enshrining its occupant. Heat radiated off of the stone, but only a gentle breeze of it. It was soothing.
She set Annie down.
“Be careful,” She whispered to the child. Ahri herself did not know what would happen once she touched the stone. Annie gave her a tight hug, and swiftly let go. Ahri got up, and faced the Phoenix Sun.
She stepped towards the dark stone. She circled the rock for a second, before lifting her arm. Unconsciously, she reached for it.
The sound of a faint crackling drifted up to her ears. She smelt something like burnt hair in the air.
“Ahri MOVE!” From behind, Pantheon tackled her away from the dark stone and right after, the ground she was standing on exploded in a mortal path of thunder and lightning. Ahri could feel chunks of scalding hot rock tumble unto her legs as she and Pantheon went tumbling. In a flash, the two of them bounced back up.
“Mejai…” A hollow, artificial voice drifted in. “You come again. What the Ravages of Time have not killed yet, I WILL!”
A blue-white glow erupted from a shadowy corner of the Phoenix Sun chamber. And at the center of the corner, in the midst of the glow, floated something like a man. It was formed of light and lightning, with only chunks and shards of some ancient sarcophagus barely holding it together. Or back. Claws of lights wrapped about the ends of its “arms”, and a triangular chunk of coffin formed what could only be called its head. Narrow slits in that chunk formed its “eyes”.
It was the Ascendant Magus. It was Xerath.
This was bad, Ahri realized. There was an extremely short list on those champions who could be considered to potentially be called the strongest of the all, and Xerath was always on it. He was rumored to have traded his life and mortality for untold, infinite amounts of power at his disposal. Normal champions couldn’t even dream of ever achieving such strength.
She tried diplomacy first.
“Xerath…” She carefully tempered her tone as neutral as she could. Ahri raised her hand cautiously, and slowly edged towards the dark stone. “We’re not enemies. We just need the Phoenix Sun. Then we’ll go.”
“That…” Xerath rasped, “I will never allow happening.”
“You mean it?”
“You will never imprison me again, Mejai.” Lightning bolts started shooting out from Xerath’s body as he floated closer and closer. His body started glowing even brighter. “The Phoenix Sun will stay locked away forever, as I burn away ever trace of your being, until there is nothing left BUT DUST AND ASHES!”
Ahri spun to the dark stone, but not before Xerath unleashed another river of lightning that cut Ahri off from the Phoenix Sun and sent her skipping back. Another bolt of energy rocketed over her shoulder, singing her hair, and sending her back, clutching her face. The very air had turned scorching in less than a second.
Another beam of lightning shot towards her, and she was forced further and further back.
Every step was a mistake away from a fiery death.
“…think!” Ahri muttered to herself, “Xerath… he’s an invoker!”
“Invokers,” Zilean droned on, to the snoozing Ahri. He tapped a stick on the rocks of the Proving Grounds, punctuating every phrase with a sharp tap on the stone. “Are the most destructive of all mages, but they are in particular vulnerable to Manipulative magic.”
He glanced up, and saw that she was fast asleep, drooling all over a purple melee minion who was enjoying his situation perhaps a bit too much. He sighed, and closed his eyes in annoyance. His stick floated up, hovering to his side. He levitated the chunk of wood over Ahri’s dozing skull. The staff paused for a second, before tapping Ahri on the head .
Her eyes flickered open.
“Wh-Whoa!” Ahri scrambled up, and let loose a small blast of invocative magic from her hands at the drifting stick, but before the burst of energy could blow the stick away, it flipped over her head, over the blast of magic. The rod spun once in the air, before colliding bodily with the crown of her head. Ahri’s skull broke.
She crumpled as she clutched at the stick-shaped dent in her head.
“That is how. Invokers are only powerful in the area where they can project, which Manipulators can exploit. Manipulators naturally have more range on their abilities because they use a concrete, material vessel as their medium, and can use this, combined with their inherently high control to out-maneuver invokers with their magic.”
“Pantheon!” She called, crouching.
“Aye!” Pantheon drew his arm back, drawing all his strength. With a shout, and a ferocious swing, the spear leapt out of his hand, shooting towards Xerath like a bullet.
“Futile!” Xerath swept his arm in a backhand, letting loose a wave of thunder that burned the javelin down to ash in an instant. Yet behind the point of the spear, was something else. A whirling, swirling, spinning magical orb of death.
Ahri’s orb slammed into Xerath’s chest, pushing and driving the Magus Ascendant back.
“Raggh!” Xerath swept his arms at the orb, as if to swat away a persistent fly, but before Xerath could punish Ahri’s magical orb with another wave of lightning, Ahri swept her orb away, manipulating her weapon to a safe place. Yet again she drove her orb onto Xerath, sending it zipping about the magus, dodging wave after wave of lightning that thundered from his hands, and striking solid hits where ever she could. With each strike, a dull thud echoed through the hall, and past Xertah’s screams of frustration.
“Ha! Can’t hurt what you can’t hit, invoker!” Ahri recalled her orb, and, with her hands out to her side, spun it over the back of her arms and shoulders. She was practically showing off at this point. “I’ve got you figured out, Xerath!”
The Magus fell silent. Lightning crackled softly in the background.
The thunder ceased its roar. The lightning stopped crackling. The room fell silent. Pantheon looked about in apprehension as the room rapidly grew darker. Xerath’s body supplied most of the light in the chamber, and now the Magus Ascendant had dimmed to a dull glow. His helm swiveled to face Ahri.
“I know. We can’t get cocky.”
Ahri gathered all of her energy, focusing it into her orb. A high-pitched whirring replaced the snaps and cracks of lightning as her spirit orb shone brighter and brighter, filling the room once more with a blue-white light. “This’ll end it.”
She crouched low, cupping her orb with the palm of one hand. Blue smoke and cold fire sparked all over her, lighting Ahri in an inferno. This was her ultimate enhancement, Spirit Dash, condensed and stored in her body, until the magical pressure in her was so great, it burst out of her in uncontrolled gouts of fire and smoke and ice. Trembling with energy, she leaned forwards, her orb still cupped in her hands.
“This is the Spirit Orb and the Spirit Dash combined! Rashuanhan!”
She launched forwards, drawing her orb in front of her, flame and smoke and thunder licking her feet. Her Spirit dash accelerated her to ridiculous speeds, while the orb tore up everything in front of her, forcing the Magus Ascendant back with its enormous magical pressure. Right before the orb was to collide with his body, Xerath raised his claws, and held them in front of him, shielding him. It was no move of desperation. Xerath leaned forwards.
“You call that magic?” Xerath’s claws started glowing the slightest bit brighter. “I’ll show you true magic.”
She thrust her orb forwards, and into Xerath’s claws. The Magus’ hands shook and trembled violently, rattling as he fought to keep Ahri’s magic contained. If he were made of flesh and blood, his bones would have shattered long ago, and his meat turned to a soft, bloody stew.
But he was NO mortal! And this was no HUMAN’S body!
Xerath’s hands glowed brighter and brighter, until his hands managed to out-shine the brilliance of Ahri’s charged Spirit Orb. The fox shielded her eyes from the light as everything was engulfed in radiance. Xertah turned white, Pantheon turned white, the Pheonix Sun turned white; everything turned a pure and brilliant white, like blindness.
Then it was done.
Clutched in Xerath’s arms was Ahri’s orb. Her precious weapon, her magical medium, was no in Xerath’s clutches. Futilely, she tried to call her precious orb back. It refused her beckon; it simply spun obediently in the Magus Ascendant’s claws.
“Didn’t your teacher teach you anything? Enhancers are strong against manipulators.”
“Then… your body glowing dimmer…. the light fading...It was an enhancement? You’re an enhancer, too?”
Xerath lifted Ahri’s orb in his claws, until her precious item twisted and bent itself into a wicked, sharpened shape. Her poor orb seemed to scream as it was forced out of shape, and into Xerath's will. The wicked orb floated about Xerath in so many flips and patterns that Ahri quickly lost track of its movement. Such control… she realized, with a pit in her gut, could only be achieved by one with expert talent in Manipulative magic.
“Invocation, Manipulation, Enhancement,” Xerath, with his left arm, spun the wicked orb around his hand with virtuoso control. With his right arm, lightning and thunder crackled eagerly out of each of his fingertips, striking mini-craters in the hard rock with its buckling power. Finally, his entire body shone and rippled with the sort of level of enhancement energy that Zilean mentioned comes about perhaps once in a millennia. “…I master it all.”
“And now, Mejai,” Xerath’s eyes started glowing red, and every bit of his body writhed and trembled as if each separate piece of him came alive, “I will kill you.”