Explosions in the Sky: Part Two
With the advantage of an overwhelming number of Champions on their side, they were gaining, albeit slowly. But if they were going to get anywhere, Garen knew they needed a push, something that would help them break the line.
He didn't even have time to rally the fighters, when the answer came suddenly in a blaze of light.
It started with a shadow, just beyond the front line of Garen's soldiers in the midst of a sea of disengaged Noxian soldiers, and cries of confusion as a razor thin beam of light materialized amongst them. The Demacian Champion looked up and comprehension dawned on him.
"SHIELD YOUR EYES!" he bellowed, echoed by those Champions with the same understanding.
It was over in seconds. The beam exploded into a fiery pillar of sunfire, followed by a thunderous crack as a blurred figure collided with the ground, the force of the impact launching surrounding enemy soldiers off their feet with dust and rock and screams of fear. Blinking away the spots in his vision, Garen looked to the center to see Pantheon removing Leona from his arms with a tenderness the stark opposite of his deadly arrival. The woman shook her wild mane of red hair from her face, then drew her ornate sword and shield from her back, nodding at her Rakkor companion.
Pantheon let out a ferocious cry and their dance of steel began; the Demacian didn't even have to command his troops to push against the disoriented enemy. Everyone was renewed by the Artisan of War's entrance from the sky, and between he and Leona alone, a score of soldiers were already fallen. But after looking to the empty space at his side, Garen could only worry about where Katarina had gone.
Talon had been weaving in and out of the enemy reserves for some time, scanning intently for General DuCouteau. It wasn't until frustration was eating away at his patience that he startled at the sudden presence of a hand on his back.
"Good thing I'm not trying to kill you," the figure commented, stepping up to his side. He wore a plain black mask over his face, showing only his dark green eyes, but Talon would have known that voice anywhere.
"Vessaria will probably be retreating soon. Her forces have nothing against Swain," Marcus rushed on without waiting for his ward to speak. "Now's the time we should strike; go-"
Before he could finish, a pillar of light, fire, and thunder bore down from the sky in the middle of the Noxian troops just South of them and Talon was knocked to the ground as the world went white...
Kiersta's eyes widened in shock and suddenly LeBlanc inhaled, sharp and sweet. "Vessaria is dead, you stupid girl," she rasped. Turning on trembling legs, the Noxian raised her staff, shooting sphere after sphere of magic at the summoner. "Gone for months and months and you've played right into my hand!"
Only by instinct did the High Councilor step back as the other woman descended her chariot, meeting each blast with an outstretched palm and sending them shooting harmlessly over the heads of the army. "W-why!" she finally cried, bumping into soldier after soldier as she wound her way back. "S-someone apprehend this imposter!" the Councilor shouted. Why would no one turn to help her?
LeBlanc laughed, a throaty, terrifying sound and Kiersta whirled around to run, only to stumble against one of the Institute's summoners, who startled and looked around for the source, seeing nothing.
"They only see what I want them to see," the Deceiver declared, and this time her mark hit, exploding against Kiersta's back and sending her to her knees. "It's always been this way, long before any of you sniveling humans began to populate Valoran." Another orb flashed out and this time it was the High Councilor who was chained to the ground. "You are the most pathetic excuse for a High Councilor I've ever seen," LeBlanc sneered. "More than Ashram and Relivash before you, and all the Summoners before them."
Tears jumped unbidden to Kiersta's eyes, but they weren't born out of fear. The pale woman raised her staff and opened her mouth to speak, but as the blinding light hurtled toward the High Councilor's chest, a soldier staggered into the unseen, knocking LeBlanc aside. The magic sank into Kiersta's chest, setting her blood on fire and she screamed, but her limbs were free and she didn't waste her chance; her own magic fled her palm to crash into the Deceiver's side, igniting the skin and cloth and drawing a shriek of pain from her lips.
Kiersta closed her eyes as the magic continued to scorch her veins, and LeBlanc stumbled, then blinked out of sight. The soldier who'd broken the illusion dropped to the High Councilor's side, and she could vaguely hear him calling for a healer. Wearily, she raised her hand, beckoning him to listen.
Though he hated the stifling air of the Noxian military and the relative lack of limelight associated with war, once a battle started Draven appreciated that he could kill with abandon. It was going well until his brother's courier had informed him that his presence was no longer required on the front lines and that he would be needed at the rear guard.
Draven. In the rear guard.
He'd almost wanted to lob an axe in his brother's grim face; he could see his hulking figure even from across the field. Instead he continued on as if he'd never heard. Vessaria's soldiers were starting to run away, he wasn't just going to let them go without a taste of his glorious steel.
Then his brother had come and dragged him by the back of his vest through the ranks like a child, shouting that he would go to the rear guard or he would personally take his head.
Draven was not pleased.
It turned out, however, an army of Demacians and League Champions were attacking the rear, which made the Noxian feel much better about his situation. Determined to make the most of the battle, Draven had been working his way up through the chaos to the front lines when he saw a flash of red hair and black steel cutting through soldiers like paper dolls. A feral grin spread across his face. "Hey there, Kitty Kat," he called, "why don't you come play with Draven?"
The woman stopped abruptly and turned, unsheathing her dagger from a soldier's gut, loathing clear on her face. "Shut the **** up, Draven."
The tattooed man laughed, then launched himself forward while throwing an axe which she calmly parried before whirling in, blade outstretched.
He blocked her strikes before lunging with one of his own, the double-headed axe snapping into place as it spun around his hand, forcing her to retreat as his reach doubled. "How's the acid healing up?" he grinned, pleased at the way her mouth tightened in anger. "Does the Demacian have to screw you with the lights off now?"
Katarina growled, and suddenly Draven lost her in the crowd of bodies. He scarcely avoided losing his kidneys as her daggers bit into the flesh on his back, and he saw the man beside him fall clutching his stomach. Before he or his allies could turn on her, she disappeared again. The Glorious Executioner could not repress the frown that animated his face; perhaps he shouldn't have picked a fight with an assassin...
Alarms were ringing in his head and he quickly dashed North past his soldiers to a more open area of the field where it would be more difficult for her to sneak around him. A knife grazed his arm right above the elbow and Katarina burst from the line, a wake of injured and dying enemies behind her.
"Well you're not as stupid as I thought," she smirked. "I thought since you were in the rear guard they were trying to get rid of you."
A stab of irritation passed through Draven. "I'm the leader of this group!" he lied hurling a spinning axe. "And I'll make sure all of you traitors are dead by the time Swain takes the Institute!" The assassin rolled and the rotating steel hit the ground before it ricocheted back into his hand.
Letting out a short laugh, she closed the gap between them, forcing the insufferable man to clumsily block her attacks with his weapons. "If you're the leader then we won't even have to try," she taunted. With a snarl, Draven snapped open both axes and heaved them at her, one opening a thin line of red across her stomach as she dodged a split-second too slow.
Frustration mounting, the executioner pressed his attack, keeping an axe in the air at all times to keep the Sinister Blade from demonstrating her namesake. Katarina dodged them all, until he unexpectedly threw both at once; she'd dodged the first not seeing the second until she realized she'd leapt directly into its path. Cursing, she crossed her blades in defense, but the impact jarred her, forcing her onto her heels. A grin sprung to his face and Draven hurled another, but salvation came to the assassin in a blinding flash of sunlight and thunder.
She'd been facing away and only saw her surroundings suddenly turn to black and white, the shadows of those left standing stretching further than she could see; but Draven only half-succeeded in raising his hand to shield his eyes. He took a few retreating steps and tried to blink away the blindness as the light receded.
The assassin did not wait; she leapt in blur of blades.
Frantically the executioner threw an axe at her silhouette, but it went wide and bounced off the dirt. He felt the first dagger cut through his side and the second follow through along the same line as the first, a perfect rotation. Draven stretched his hand toward his falling axe, turning mid-stumble with his other raised in defense-
His fingers never even came close and suddenly he was looking up at the sky.
He'd never once thought about dying, he realized, but he wouldn't have thought it would feel so cold. With a groan, he forced himself to roll and rise to his knees; Katarina's shadow fell over him as she patiently waited for him to stand.
Something akin to pity coursed through her, but she quashed the feeling immediately. "Not so tough when Darius isn't around to save you," she purred.
Soldiers were running toward him but he knew they wouldn't be fast enough. Hands shaking, Draven swung again, flicking his wrist to extend the blade, but he was too slow and the assassin swatted it away. For a moment, it seemed as though she held him in an embrace, her body warm against his chest. Then she pulled away, one dagger exiting his stomach while the other slid across his throat, letting him fall.
As the life blood pumped from his wounds, Draven thought about all the time he'd spent trying to make the crowds celebrate him. Of all those nameless, faceless people, there was only one who'd ever stood out in his mind; he wondered if Darius would notice he was gone at all.
"We saw LeBlanc!" Teemo shouted up at Garen; even the yordle scout had blood splattered across his pants and fur, an unsettling sight that contrasted sharply with his wide smile. "She's runnin' with the rest of 'em back to the Institute. Swain's followin', but leavin' a small group to distract us from the main group. Small but lotsa Champions."
Garen swore, glancing around in hopes of seeing Katarina or Talon, but neither assassin was anywhere to be found. "Teemo, go get me a summoner, Octavius if he's still..."
The scout sprinted away before he had even finished, so the Demacian turned toward Jarvan's Vanguard, who were falling back to allow Shyvana's refreshed Elite Guard take the lead. Even through the crowd of bodies, the Demacian Prince was distinct with his golden armor and crown, though it was quickly losing its sheen under dirt and blood.
"Jarvan!" Garen called. "Everyone's moving, I need you to take your group to follow while we cover you. Lux can mask your movement and take anyone else you think you need. LeBlanc is there; we can't let her get away!"
"You got it," the prince replied, shaking the blood from his lance as he signaled for his soldier's to prepare. Trusting Jarvan to organize his own, Garen went around the rear to where the summoners were healing the wounded, and the yordle summoner he'd sent for waddled up to meet him.
"You remember the Kinkou?" he asked, receiving a nod in response. "I need you to go to the Institute and alert them. Tell them LeBlanc is coming, Vessaria's retreating, and Swain is following."
If it were possible for the mousy faced summoner to look pale, he would be, but he only squeaked, "O-okay," before being engulfed in the blue light of the transportation spell.
It was all he could do. Already their numbers were dwindling; they probably wouldn't make it long enough to see the Institute fall, but they'd known that was a very real possibility when they'd agreed to defend Kalamanda. Looking out across the field, Garen finally drew his sword, and ran to join the fray.
The smell of her charred skin beneath her fingers was nauseating, but LeBlanc did not slow as she hurried down the stairs of the Institute of War to the basement. She passed the armory and the few empty residencies, continuing down another flight stairs, tucked away in the corner but just as large as those at the entrance. At the bottom of the stairwell were two massive stone doors locked with a glowing panel. For a moment, the Deceiver hesitated, unsure if it would work, but pressed her palm against it and was rewarded with a satisfying click.
Inside looked like another wing of the residencies, except for the rattle of chains, scratching stone, and whispers of nightmares. Even LeBlanc had to suppress a shiver as she strode to the first door, huge, metal, and four times as wide as a normal one, and opened it on creaking hinges.
The scratching on the floors stopped as the monster inside paused in its pacing to consider her. "Always interesting, the Deceiver's visits," Cho'Gath rasped, his guttural voice echoing about the plain stone room which served as his chambers. It's only furnishings were several large bookshelves, their contents well-worn as a result of being held in Cho'Gath's pincer-like hands. "You smell of death today, ugly creature."
"Is that any way to speak to your savior?" she retorted.
The Void monster laughed. "You save me? You are the one who will need saving when the Void comes."
LeBlanc sighed in mock irritation. "Must we go over this every time? No one fears you or the Void... yet. What I'm giving you today is a chance to show the humans what exactly they should be afraid of."
The Voidling was silent for a moment, then he let out another gravelly chuckle as he ducked past her into the hall. "What is the creature known as LeBlanc? What is she truly?" he questioned, talons scraping along the floor.
"That's for me to know," she smiled and moved to the next door. Cho'Gath was easy, reasonable and intelligent; this one was a touch unstable. Through the metal door she called, "Do you smell it? Your brother's blood?"
The creature within howled, a sound that shook the walls. "Yesssss I smell it! It calls to me!" he snarled, his voice harsh but surprisingly clear and full of anger.
Slowly, the Deceiver palmed open the door, and Renekton writhed in the glowing white chains which bound him to the floor at the sight of her. "You are not Nasus!" he bellowed.
"Your brother waits above," she cooed. "Why don't you pay him a visit?"
As she spoke, the reptilian Champion ceased his furious movements. "Let me out," he commanded, his body tensing.
She lowered her staff and in a blinding flash of light, the chains around him cracked and crumbled. Renekton jumped to his feet, a crazed grin revealing rows of short, sharp teeth. Speaking a word in language even LeBlanc could not recognize, he held out his scaled claws and from it grew his crescent-shaped blade, ornate and beautiful despite its purpose. In a blur of green scales, he bolted.
In the next cell, a cage of light whose origins the Deceiver recognized as belonging to Luxanna Crownguard. A wave of heat washed over her when she opened the door, and Brand, who sat cross-legged within the light, offered her a smile, flames dancing on his tongue and teeth. "I heard you let the first two free," his voice crackled.
"And you too, if you would destroy the world," she smirked.
Brand cracked his knuckles, the sound a fiery crack in the quiet room. "Not for you," he promised, "but I will see that the world ends in fire."
A spell of binding ready on her lips, LeBlanc easily dispelled the light cage, but unlike Renekton, Brand slowly stretched as he rose. Then, he turned to her and simply grinned, before sauntering through the door, leaving scorch marks where he stepped. The Noxian exhaled, as the room cooled.
Only two locked doors remained, but LeBlanc was not fool enough to bargain with their inhabitants. At the end of the hall was a door roped off and dusty; no noise came from behind it but she knew inside the Harbinger waited. From the other came faint whispers, incoherent but sinister, a pitch-black darkness seemingly sucking away the light through the crack under the door. She shuddered, raised her staff and focused the most powerful destructive spell at the two doors. Without waiting to see if they'd opened, LeBlanc distorted space around her until she was safely back in the Institute's main hall.
She had only made it around the corner when she heard a small tap; the Deceiver looked down in time to see a tiny pellet roll against her feet before it exploded into smoke.