Annie started crying. Her mournful wail cut loudly through the crackle of lightning and thunder, as the aftermath of Xerath's Arcane Barrage burned off of the floor like a thunderous carpet. There was no trace of Ahri. Only a blanket of light and thunder that clung to the spot of the chamber was left. And that, too, was rapidly melting away to reveal only a whitened patch of tile beneath. The Magus Ascendant stood facing the remnants of what was once his hated foe. He clenched his claws together in silent satisfaction.
"Ah…" Annie leaned her head back, bawling. "Wahhhh-!"
Pantheon put a hand on the child's head.
"Don't cry." The Rakkor turned to gaze elsewhere from the fading patch of light and thunder, a grin hidden in the depths of his helmet. He let out a small bark of laughter. "HA! I can't believe it. …She's alive."
Ahri looked about. She was in the Wu again. The Chamber of the Phoenix Sun shone a brilliant white, as in here; it seemed to be carved from the purest marble. Pillars guarded the outer ring of the circular room, giving way to a slow, sloping pit that ended in a proud altar housing the ultimate magical weapon. At the center, the Phoenix Sun blazed with an orange-red glow. Pantheon and Annie were crouched together off to the side, frozen in time as she walked through so many dimensions.
She turned to look at Xerath. She was almost not surprised at his appearance. Where in the real world, he was a being of pure energy, and near-infinite power, in the Wu, he was nothing. His frail arms supported delicate, withered hands; all attached to a wasted an emaciated body that was floating on small puffs of energy. His hair was long, bone-white, and unkempt, and his eyes sunken and dead. His body was nearly a skeleton. His legs were brittle sticks on a scarecrow. He was a pitiful sight.
She tore her eyes away from the breathing corpse in front of her, and turned to the Phoenix Sun seated on the altar. Where in the real world, it was just a dark stone, and trapped to the altar of black stone with heavy chains, here in the Wu, it was hovering off of the white stone altar, burning and shining with the light of a second sun. She was drawn to it. Ahri held her hand out to touch it.
With this… Ahri realized… she could defeat Xerath. Easily. She could save Grandpa. She could defeat the Dark Army, crush LeBlanc, punch that Heian in the face, and put everything back to normal. In her grasp was everything she ever needed.
Her mind started trailing. She could go back to Yi. She could help him rebuild his village in the mountains and the mist. She could live a happy life in their new village, hidden in the depths of the Ionian Mountains, forever next to that beautiful waterfall and in the midst of terraces of delicious harvest. She could learn Wuju from Wukong as Yi passed his mastership to his disciple. She could have children. She could have everything.
She drew closer.
Yet as she did, a harsh, resonating voice cut in. It was the voice of Xerath.
"Nothing will save you now, Mejai."
"I haven't forgotten you, Mejai."
"You will never imprison me again, Mejai."
"And now, Mejai…"
"Nothing will save you."
She pulled her hand back.
No, she realized. This was wrong.
Slowly, quietly, she let the Wu fold back from her, and she slipped back into the real world. She landed gently back down on the cool black stone, as her tails floated about her like wispy clouds. With a start, Xerath wheeled to face Ahri. He saw that she was only an arm's breadth away from the Phoenix Sun, and the cruel slits that were his eyes widened in horror.
"No." Ahri fixed Xerath with her coldest stare. The Magus shrunk back. Her hands were held clenched her sides, nowhere near the dark stone that was the Phoenix Sun. "I'm not Mejai, whoever he is."
She held up her hand, checking her nails. Slowly, she flexed each one of her fingers, running a wave through her digits. She could still move her wrists and fingers. She flexed them all out, then clenched them tightly into a fist. She brought her fist up to her face.
"I am…" She started to call forth the shimmering gold. "Ahri!"
Xerath seemed to fold into himself, as a bright glow shone from inside his arms. He opened the slits of light that formed his eyes, and then exploded outwards with lightning. A massive Arcanopulse, the width of nearly half of the entire chamber, cracked and smashed the stone floor of the chamber with its overwhelming power, carving a trench three feet deep into solid rock.
A split-second dive into the Wu saved her as she reappeared in another spot a few yards away.
Ahri slowly brought her hands down. She had crossed them in front of her before the explosion, and now, bits of scalding rock were dropping, one by one, off of her exposed forearms, leaving angry red marks where the burning stone rocketed into her flesh. If she hadn't lifted her arms in time, her wide eyes would be full of heated rock shards right then.
"I am Ahri, Nine Tails Fox!" She slipped into the Wu, passing through yet another Arcanopulse that rocked and shook the chamber in the real word.
"Demon of the Han-Gul Forest!" She slipped back into the real word, behind Xerath. She drew an enhanced fist back.
"Dragon of the Foxfire Desert!" Ahri socked a demigod in his ascendant face. The magically strengthened fist, combined with the penetration of her Spatial magic, left a hairline crack in the piece of sarcophagus that made up Xerath's face. Without pause, she jumped on the being of pure energy, and threw him to the ground, straddling him.
"I'm beautiful," She wrapped her fist in more magic, and smashed Xerath's face again, "Strong," The crack was starting to widen in Xerath's face. She brought her fist down like a hammer once more.
She held her arm back for a second, and smirked. "And smart, too—Achoo!"
She sneezed all over Xerath. The Magus, furious, screamed and flailed so violently that Ahri leapt up to bounce back a few yards. She crouched like a sprinter, ready for any danger.
"Snf!" She wiped the snot from her nose. "I'm not Mejai."
"I am a good person…" Getting up, Ahri slowly advanced on Xerath. "But I won't wait for heaven to gift me my good life. I'll prove that I deserve a good life by taking it myself, first."
"RAAGGH!" Xerath swung, and by his will, another Arcane Barrage formed above him, and slammed into Ahri in the blink of an eye. The room exploded with light as everything was swallowed up in the ultimate magic's radiance. Howling winds and scalding heat poured out of the center of impact, adding to the chaos that was unleashed in the chamber. The glow gradually faded from the room.
And Ahri still stood.
"You're strong," Ahri conceded. A swagger rose to her step, as she walked towards Xerath. He had completely whiffed her. She put her hands out by her sides like a dancer. She gave a little twitch of her hip, and a small smile wormed its way to her lips.
"But you missed!"
Xerath swung once more, but he was stopped short. Ahri popped into existence right in front of him, and stopped his massive claw with one hand.
She sighed. A small note of exasperation.
"Spatial magic..." Ahri placed her hand on the Magus' lightning-filled forehead. "…requires finesse and delicacy. You have none." Xerath swept his hand in an angry motion at Ahri, like he was a frustrated child. Only this childish movement had a wave of lightning behind it to back it up. Ahri casually dodged the blanket of thunder with a tilt of her head. She didn't even have to enter the Wu for that. She fought back the urge to fake a yawn. Xerath was starting to lose focus.
It would all be over soon.
She strengthened her fist once more, and smashed Xerath to the ground.
LeBlanc and her Black Rose operatives had come across a certain master of magic one fateful day. This master gifted to them a dark crystal that could corrupt anything it touched, and bind it to their will. At first, LeBlanc thought it to be the key to their return to power. Yet, to her frustration, LeBlanc found that the strongest of all souls, Champions from the League of Legends, required so much time and energy to bind them to the corruption's power that it was effectively impossible to restrain any Champion down long enough in secrecy to fully complete the ritual.
If that wasn't enough, once corrupted to their will, they would emit black smoke that could alert a potato with a charge running through it that something was wrong.
Thus, the only conceivable situation the damn crystal could be useful is if it no longer mattered if the black smoke was visible or not. Yet the League kept a watchful, fanatical eye over nearly everything. And they were so powerful. As long as they held power, the dark crystal would be meaningless. Yet… should the day arise that the League no longer held power in the world… the potential of the Dark Crystal would be limitless.
This… was that day.
A man stood behind the shield, sheltered from the heat of the Magma Chambers. On the other side of the shield sat Shen, Eye of the Twilight and leader of the Kinkou. The ninja still sat sweltering in the heat, facing away from the new arrival. Experimentally, the man raised the sword he was carrying, and thrust into the shield.
The razor-sharp edge glanced off of the barrier harmlessly. The man frowned a bit, and then raised his sword once more. It was ribbed and rippled, like the ocean waves, lining down a slight curve that gave the edge maximum slashing power. He drew the edge until it was perpendicular to the shield that separated him from Shen. A sliver of a rip in space and time wrapped about the edge of his blade, forming a sword that could cut through anything.
And with it, the man slashed twice into the shield.
The edges fell away, leaving an opening barely large enough for a man to fit through. Scalding hot air immediately started rushing from the rip in the shield, burning the places where the man's flesh was exposed. But he ignored the heat. Slowly he reached through the shield… to Shen.
His hand drew close.
"RAAAGH!" Shen twisted around— and Yi caught his Ki strike with a single arm. The Wuju Bladesman grunted as he slid a foot back on the rock floor, pushed by back Shen's brute strength. Yi had caught Shen's right forearm in a vice-like grip, stopping the ninja's ferocious blow instantly.
"AAAGH!" Shen folded his left hand into a point, and thrust at Yi's heart—who in turn caught the bare-handed blow easily, and pulled it behind him. Shen flew through the hole in the shield, and bounced off of the rock floor as Yi threw him. The ninja bounced back up, his mind gone, his eyes blank, and running completely on instinct. Shen drew a Ninjato, a ninja sword, leveled it at Yi, and charged him blindly, screaming.
Instinct was not enough to make up for the stamina lost from days wasting away in the Magma Chamber, and complete mindlessness of Shen's movements now. Yi sidestepped the sword, and knocked Shen out with a single punch to the head. The ninja kept on running past Yi, out cold, until he collided bodily with a wall, and tumbled into a heap on the ground. Yi turned to his companions behind him.
"It's done. I'm going." Black smoke tumbled out of every crevasse of Yi's clothes, and from the opening in his wicked, six-lensed helmet. The black smoke was tireless, endless, limitless. It haunted Yi like a virulent disease. Already, the corruption was edging its way to Shen's untouched form.
Rengar growled in frustration. Behind him, more figures stood moodily behind the Pridestalker in silence. They were the hunting party formed by LeBlanc.
"What are you talking about, fool!?" Rengar sniffed noisily, looking about. He gave a hungry grin. "I smell her. Your little fox. And that damn Rakkor. We'll have them bloodied and chained by sundown!"
"Not my job." Yi lifted Shen onto his shoulder, scattering his own smoke about the room. "My programming from LeBlanc is to retrieve Shen. That's what she ordered me to do when I was corrupted. So I'm going."
"Still rebelling against your orders? Damn this cursed smoke. And curse your stupid programming. Better to slit your throat and be done with it."
Yi shrugged, and starting walking back up.
He was stopped short.
"You know…" LeBlanc spoke up, as she stepped down the staircase, cooling herself with an Ionian fan. She planted herself in between Yi and the exit. "If it's just Rengar by himself, who knows what he might do to your precious Ahri?" Yi tried to step past her, only to be blocked once more.
"He'll go wild, for sure… And when you're in the heat of battle, you know… accidents happen. A trip, a slip of the blade…." LeBlanc licked her lips as drew closer to Yi's face. "A little fox. You care about. Just. Might. Die."
"…You! Damn you!"
"Oh, I will be. But in the meantime, do your best to capture the Nine-Tailed fox." LeBlanc lifted a dark crystal that was nestled in chains by her fingers. The crystal flooded over with the corrupting smoke, in a never-ending stream of blackness and evil.
"And do it well, or I'll change your programming to, 'Kill the love of your life, and drink her blood like the finest wine'" She lightly blew on Yi's stony face. "Got it? I'll take that."
LeBlanc took Shen, as Yi spun around on his heel, marching down to the Chamber of the Phoenix Sun. Behind them, trailed even more corrupted champions. These were the champions that would crush the last of the League's resistance. These were the champions that would complete their plan.
LeBlanc smiled, heaving the unconscious ninja on her shoulder into the arms of one of her subordinates, and then sauntered lustily back up the staircase.
Ahri placed her hand directly over Xerath's chest.
"Hold still. I want to show you something." A golden glow started to surround them both. Xerath in particular was shining brighter and brighter as his magic mixed and swirled with the Wu.
"Ahri!" Pantheon shouted, as the two started to disappear from the room "We don't have a lot of time!" Ahri looked up, and she gave him a sad smile. The shining gold was causing her to fade, as she vanished into the night.
"Ok. I'll be right back."
She was gone.
Yi padded his way stealthily down the staircase to the chamber of the Phoenix Sun. He held his Dragon Rising firmly in one hand, and held his arm-affixed claw out in the other. He could hear shouting and the song of battle ringing out from the entrance. The screams of rage and explosions echoed endlessly in the wide, dark stairwell they were climbing down. They were close. Yi slid up to the edge of the doorway, without a sound. His soft boots crunched softly as he trod over bits of exploded rock that had managed to fly all the way over to here. Yi leveled his sword gently, and swung open the door. Soft light poured in as the chamber was revealed.
Please, Ahri, Yi pleaded helplessly as he entered, his corrupted allies right behind him.
"Here is where your deepest, strongest desires are living, Xerath." Ahri stood in the middle of a ripening harvest, at the outskirts of a beautiful, mountain-embedded village hidden deep in the depths of Ionia. She was wearing a simple Cheongsam, and her hair fell simple and un-styled. Villagers worked hard in the fields around her, the men gathering the crops to store for the winter, the women weaving colorful tapestries and blankets to ward off the cold, and the children feasting on the delicious sweetness of the first picks of the harvest.
"This is the Wu, Xerath." Ahri held out a robe-sleeved arm to Xerath, who was lying on the ground. "What do you see?"
An ancient, decrepit man, looked back up at her. He was completely bald except for a thin shawl of bone-white hair that floated about his gaunt skull. His muscles were atrophied, and his bones nearly poked through his hips and shoulders. But his eyes remained alert and intelligent. Xerath of Shurmia slowly got up to look around. The ancient folded himself into a sitting position.
His deepest desire, eh?
He expected to see himself as a god, living in folds of space and time beyond mortal comprehension. Or perhaps he imagined himself still human, but with the knowledge of everything from the intricacies of magic to the basest physical law. But instead, he saw…
A woman stood before him. Her grab was ancient, completely unfitting to the Ionian décor of the village. Her face was handsome and beautiful, yet her eyes were soft when their gazes met.
It can't be… "Tabia?"
The old man sat in silence as he gazed upon the illusion.
"My god…" murmured Xerath. A frown spread onto his face. "I was wrong all of this time..?"
Ahri put a comforting, slight sarcastic hand on his shoulder.
Xerath tore his gaze from the illusion, and swiveled his withered head to face Ahri.
"Don't get uppity with me, girl." The man's voice still carried weight and power. "I am still eons older and wiser than you."
"Older," Ahri stuck out her tongue. "Sure."
Xerath sighed, and turned back to face Tabia. A "tsk!" escaped his mouth as he straightened up to fix his posture. He seemed to be waiting for something. His eyes were clenched tightly as if he were in pain, and he gripped the sharp points that were his knees until his hands shivered. He sat shivering for a few moments.
"Well?" the Magus snapped, impatience creeping into his voice, "Are you going kill me now or what?"
Ahri cocked her head. At first in confusion at the outburst... and then she chuckled softly. The old man grumbled at the tinkling laughter that was winding it way to his aged ears.
"No. I want you to live. You screwed up life once. We all have. But you get a second chance. Find your happiness, find your heart, and this illusion will disappear."
She bent down, and winked.
"But it's not all bad, old man. Because that illusion will be waiting for you… in the real world."
Xerath stared off into the distance as he contemplated. Wisps of wind curled its way from the golden sky, and rustled the scarlet red head of wheat ripening in the fields.
"Go. I want to think more."
Ahri frowned at this.
"…You sure, grandpa? Until you learn Spatial magic, you won't be able to leave. And that's not for a long, long…."
"I told you don't get uppity on me!" the senior snapped once more, grinding his teeth. A growl escaped his wrinkled mouth. "I've wasted away eons. I can wait here for a few decades while I figure out myself."
Ahri stood silently as the decrepit old man shooed her away with his eyes. The two stood standing for a few moments. Eventually, Ahri gave up. Nodding, She turned and left Alone with his ghosts, Xerath turned back to Tabia, and stared at her. He was going contemplate and figure out his life. No matter how long it took.
She stepped back just in time.
Just in to see a certain someone enter the room, standing tall, a sword held tightly in his grip. His six-lensed helm glowed evilly in the darkness of the outer edges of the chamber. His sword gleamed hungrily in the light. A tentacle rooted to the base of his skull writhed frantically as it cancelled out as much noise as possible, making him virtually silent as he slowly across the circumference of the chamber to get closer to her. Finally, a cruel, arm-mounted blade glinted in the low light, following the swinging of the man's left arm as he casually advanced.
She should have been overjoyed to see him. But he was wrapped in smoke and evil, and his step had a determined, fatal ring to it. Yi, followed by three other champions shrouded in the darkness behind him, leveled his sword at Ahri.
In response, Ahri took a single step to the Phoenix Sun. Her mind was totally blank. Her poise was clam.
She reached out to touch the dark stone for the first time. As her hand drew near, the black rock peeled away from the orb inside to reveal a blazing, burning, second sun. Slowly, lightly, the Phoenix Sun floated up in response to her will. It felt perfect. She thought that maybe there would have been more emotion, more feelings to having finally reached her goal.
In my hand is everything that I ever need, she tried to remind herself, but the words felt hollow in her head.
Blazing flames wormed their way around her as the Phoenix Sun ignited a fiery armor to protect her. She held the Phoenix Sun over her palm, as it hovered, ready for battle. Her tails were burning with flames as they wrapped about her protectively.
Yi raised his Dragon Rising until it towered in the air, its cruel point angled to the sky. Ahri recognized the form in an instant. That was his favorite fighting stance. She had seen it so many times on the Fields of Justice.
Her voice was a single cry, almost a plea.
Ahri spun her Phoenix Sun, spitting a blaze forwards as Yi cut his way through the flames to strike.