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Fragments from the Rift

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The first time it happened, it cost Blitzcrank a painful death under Tristana's gun, but he inexplicably could not turn his gaze from the graceful silver and gold figure dancing past him, fleeing the turret he guarded after a failed attempt to flank him. He spent the rest of the match hoping she might appear in his lane again, but he only caught glimpses of her amid the chaos as his team stormed the opposition's base.

He was behind the times, he learned once he left the Fields of Justice; he had seen the newest champion to join the League, a clockwork girl named Orianna. Her existence fascinated him. Her intricate mechanics intrigued him. She was, like him, an ultimate work, the very pinnacle of her creator's effort and brilliance. It took Blitzcrank a few days to sort out what he was feeling and several more days to finally categorise it as affection similar to what he had witnessed among fleshier types. Another week passed before he also understood that what he felt was not quite jealousy, though something akin to it – he envied her form, her economy of motion, the care and craftsmanship that had clearly gone into her construction.

Her maker loved her. Not the idea of her, but the Clockwork Lady herself. Blitzcrank envied her that love even as he gave her his, too.

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The next wave of reinforcements was still a turret behind them, but there was already another group of enemy minions bearing down on them. Annie was breathless and shaking with fatigue behind Mister Tibbers, whose flames had dimmed. Viktor sneered at her weakness, then turned to the incoming forces and targeted the siege minion in the lead. He tracked it as it shifted to his left to allow the rest of the minions to block the lane shoulder to shoulder. Annie made a noise and turned to flee.

"Inferior constructs," Viktor scoffed as he fired his Death Ray across the lane; those minions who didn't die outright flinched as they caught fire. He hurled out a Gravity Field as well, to keep them from running away before their smouldering robes finished them off. Annie peered out from behind Mister Tibbers with her wide eyes shining. Viktor glared back impassively, muttering, "Let's go," as his summoner cast Heal on both of them. Annie looked from him to the torn, smoking earth and the ashes of fallen minions, and she giggled.

"They smell like burning," she said cheerfully.

"They are obsolete," he corrected her. She just laughed – and then grabbed his hand and tugged at him as the minions swarmed past them.

"This way!" Her cry echoed from the rocks long after she'd let him go and gone skipping after the minions with Tibbers lumbering behind her. Viktor stared at her back, then at his hand. The temperature variation from her grasp still remained, leaving the metal warm in the shape of a tiny hand.

He decided, moving to catch up with the group, that he would look into more thermally resistant alloys after this match was done.

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When Viktor saw the opposing team's lineup for the next match, he told himself it didn't matter; Blitzcrank's presence on the field didn't matter to him. Any reasons he had for caring had long ago been cut from him, replaced by unyielding steel. He would fight unfazed, even knowing his stolen creation was out there. He was stronger than the petty human emotions he abandoned years ago. So he charged into the top lane with a clear conscience. Jax moved a few lengths ahead to close with the first wave of minions whilst Viktor launched a barrage of energy bolts towards the back ranks, hitting the siege minion with a quick Power Transfer as it rolled up behind the Grandmaster at Arms.

They were moving on the second tower with Darius looking to hold them off. Jax chuckled.

"Bring it on, rookie!" he challenged, surging forward with a Leap Strike. Darius answered him with a sneer, lip curling.

"Stay alert!" he called back mockingly at the same moment Blitzcrank came crashing from the high grasses behind Jax. It was reflex for Viktor; he threw the Gravity Field and Blitzcrank was caught in it. Darius swore as Jax smashed into him, but the cacophony was tinny and distant. Viktor froze when Blitzcrank did. He had only precious seconds to act but he couldn't move, and the time ticked by so slowly. Blitzcrank looked back at him dizzily, wheels uselessly churning the dirt with the gravity crushing him in place. For an instant – only an instant, even less than a beat of the heart he no longer possessed – something within him stirred. Something Viktor thought long dead. For an instant, he hoped.

It evaporated like ethanol when he realised there was nothing in Blitzcrank's wide-eyed stare. No recognition. No knowing. He realised Stanwick had truly stolen something precious from him. Briefly, that same grief that once consumed him stole at the edges of his mind, but it, too, vanished as the Gravity Field flickered. A burning like acid rushed in to fill its place; something hot and bitter and strong, so strong it made Viktor shake. He couldn't breathe. His third hand crackled.

"INFERIOR CONSTRUCT!" The words tore themselves from his throat without thought to guide them, a scream of blind rage as he pummelled Blitzcrank with energy bolts, then a Death Ray as the golem tried to flee back into the forest, then a second Gravity Field and a Chaos Storm that howled before him as he rushed after Blitzcrank. "YOU WILL BE OBLITERATED!" Both Jax and Darius paused briefly at the sight of the cold, emotionless Herald's wrath. It was the only thing that saved Darius a beheading by his own axe being pressed to his neck under the weight of Jax's lamppost; the burly brawler was stronger than he expected.

After the drain of the storm, all it took to finish off Blitzcrank – still trying desperately to get away from the mad mage – was a siphon of power, augmented by the blinding-bright yellow Hex Core in Viktor's staff. Blitzcrank crumpled into a heap of inert metal in the brush. Something heavy and metallic slammed into Viktor before he could complete the transfer, however; without his shield, he fell hard, knocked down and bowled over by the clockwork ball. The clockwork girl who commanded it emerged from the brush Blitzcrank had been rolling towards with something cold in her face.

"The Ball," Orianna murmured softly, "is angry."

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Even for someone with sharp eyes, it was easy to miss the quick, furtive movements amid the chaos of the fight, and Nautilus could hardly be called sharp-eyed. His blurry vision, further hampered by the enclosure of his helmet, rendered his shadow all but invisible to him. He focused on the fray, hauling Xin Zhao back into reach with his anchor at the same time his wrath boiled over, the swirling darkness around him knocking aside the Demacian's spear when Xin Zhao tried to jam the blade between his eyes.

"Fear the ocean's weight," Nautilus rumbled in a voice like a landslide. Xin Zhao tried again to retreat, but the earth rippled beneath his feet and exploded, following him as he ran and slowing him down. Nautilus smashed his anchor into the much smaller man's back and Xin Zhao fell to one knee.

The shadow darted out from behind Nautilus; Talon put a quick end to Xin Zhao's suffering with a knife between the ribs and wiped his blade clean on the flag of Xin Zhao's spear.

"Another body for the gutter," he murmured. Slowly, he looked over his shoulder at his towering cohort, who stared back, unblinking. "You're not entirely bad to have around." Rather than reply, Nautilus shifted his weight and shuffled past Talon with slow, ponderous steps.

"We must go," Nautilus intoned, sounding oddly weary, "forward… forward…." Talon watched him for a moment or two, then shrugged. Understanding what went on in that gigantic metal head was not his job.

"Very well. Let's finish this quickly," he said as he went back to shadowing the titan.

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"Play."

Sona blinked and peered up at what she had to assume, among the craggy planes and cracks, was Malphite's face. There were two bright spots she took for eyes there, at least. Malphite, realising that she had to crane her neck at an uncomfortable angle to look at him, obligingly eased himself to the floor. Even though he was careful, it still sounded like a rockslide. Sona did her best not to grimace and waited until the scrapes and rumbles settled to pluck an inquisitive note on her etwahl as she looked questioningly at him again.

"Play," he said again in that almost subsonic voice. It made the etwahl's strings vibrate softly. "…Please?"

A musician most of her life, Sona knew tone and pitch and inflection better than many speaking persons. Malphite's simple, direct words made the notes even clearer: he sounded wistful, hesitant. She supposed he thought she'd refuse him. She smiled softly; she had no idea what he wanted to hear, but she thought she knew what he needed to hear. Gently, she began a slow piece, all legato and lingering major chords, a variation on one of her favourite lullabies. She played and Malphite sat, listening, the stone of his body thrumming faintly in tune with the music. His deeply lined, fierce face seemed to smooth; his shoulders slumped, the spires jutting from them rounding off somewhat.

It wasn't quite home. Malphite had come to accept that he was now part of Runeterra, unique and lonely, but for the moment – for the brief space of a song or two – he found resonance again, and Sona found a fan who spoke her language.

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Something about the sound of the crows wheeling in their circles, screeching into the darkness that descended on the field as Nocturne ran Rengar down, was almost… musical this time. Fiddlesticks laughed while the bodies dropped around him, pecked and torn, faces frozen in a rictus of terror. He and Nocturne were allowed out together so rarely he'd almost forgotten what fun it was.

Even if he didn't clatter and scrape as he walked, dry wood rasping over burlap, he'd never have heard Nocturne glide up behind him. The blades that encircled him instilled no fear; he had neither mind nor soul for Nocturne to plunder, and no blood to wet the steel. He just leered as Nocturne slid over his shoulder, as heavy and insubstantial as fog.

"Just one left," the wraith purred at him.

"For now," Fiddlesticks snickered. Nocturne pressed him hard for a kiss, shadows dimming the eldritch glow, turning his burlap cold and damp. Then Nocturne was gone, vanished into the woods, leaving a pleasant numbness about the scarecrow's mouth.

A proper thank you was in order, Fiddlesticks decided, and heard his summoner swallow anxiously.

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Darius came down on Pantheon's shield and sundered it with a sound like a thunderclap. Pantheon buckled and fell, dead, while Draven limped to his feet, chuckling. He patted his brother gratefully on the shoulder, then chugged a potion and went back to slaughtering minions.

The rest of the match went in much the same fashion, with the enemy team hounding Draven simply to draw out Darius. It worked every time, but rarely did they get the results they wanted, as Darius amassed kill after kill to make them pay for their troubles. He left the fields in a quiet fury, hands clenched at his sides so tightly his knuckles popped, and spent the entire lonely trip home that way. Draven was staying the night in Piltover to celebrate with their teammates. It never seemed to bother Draven as much.

Luxanna was there when Darius arrived, however. He stopped in the doorway, surprised to see her. She had her own duties to attend, after all, and he'd expected her to be away for the night.

"I saw the match," she said and gently took his hand in both of hers. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up." He let himself be led inside, stripped, bathed. Nothing eased his headache, though he finally remembered how to smile over dinner. They settled in to watch a concert broadcast; Sona was playing at Ionia. Darius had tickets. He'd given them to Luxanna since he had no use for them and Sona was her friend, but he'd have lied to say he wasn't happier to have her here with him instead. He sighed, tired, and let Luxanna arrange him with his shoulders resting against her stomach. She sighed in turn; he was always like this after matches where his fear for Draven ran wild. She'd never seen the opposing team play on it so persistently before. Perhaps they'd caught on.

Darius worried too much sometimes, she thought, and pressed her nose into his hair and kissed the nape of his neck. He sighed again, deeper this time, and the tension at last began draining from his shoulders. Luxanna smiled into his skin and did it again.