Hazardous Technology and the Minds Who Make It - ukulele_villian (2024)

Chapter 1: Prologue

Chapter Text

Heimerdinger was neither strict nor lax on his students. His expectations had a way of waning and snapping from passive to active like a belt looped over a pulley system. It was surprising to those who were just getting to know him, but it made those who understood him roll their eyes.

Viktor was in the second category; he had met the man when he was fourteen and eight years later he had found a way to juggle his mentor’s simultaneous wisdom and obliviousness.

It did not mean he did not ranckle under some of the odd demands. One week ago, Heimerdinger had made the off-color comment that Viktor had been ‘leaning into old habits’.The man could be so accidentally rude it was bewildering. Viktor had to give it to him; he had no idea when the usage of figurative idioms was appropriate despite being hundreds of years old.

Heimerdinger had actually meant ‘hiding’. Viktor expected his mentor to require some form of group study or one of the usual attempts to get Viktor out of his dormitory. It had happened before. On one occasion, Heimerdinger had even grouped Viktor with the four other students that had been adopted from the Fissures.
That had been a nice gathering…Nice in theory. All five of the nameless street children, sitting in one room as fledgling adults. They were all hoping to forget and were furious to be denied ignorance while the person sitting across from them had a knowledge that could not be entirely erased. Sky had been there; lovely, springy hair in a tight bun. She had been adopted by a small artisan with the last name Young. The group's jealousy at this had oozed and swam in the room’s air. Viktor had felt it in his leg like he could feel rainstorms with a pressure drop. “Congratulations, Miss Young.” Viktor had said it to her earnestly. He was happy for her, and only maybe a little happy to get under the other students’ skins.

Heimerdinger had not noticed at all. But, Heimerdingerhad noticed that Viktor remained cautious to spend time with others. Heimerdinger fancied himself a man able to crack hard cases. The ever inconsistent and consistent belt over a pulley.

Now, Viktor stood outside the doorstep of an apartment that was missing an entire outer section of its foundation, glass still littered the streets and stone masonry lay crumbling on the ground. The poor, ostentatious building was leaning on its side amid its fellow luxury apartments. Viktor had heard the enforcers’ alarms go off. He’d been topside long enough that enforcers shouldn’t have made him antsy anymore.

He’d only shook a little. And no one had seen, anyway.

Viktor had asked his mentor to not send him to the scene of an active crime, but Heimerdinger had insisted.

"You’re my assistant, Viktor. I not only trust you to do what the ethos of our Academy demands, but I depend on you to also represent me in matters that reflect upon our work poorly. Do you realize how this could put fear into Piltover’s population?” Heimerdinger had the oddest ways of getting results, but he got them.

Viktor bit his tongue when he realized Jayce Talis’ apartment was on the fourth floor. He bit harder when he showed the enforcers crowding the hallway his credentials, and he tasted blood in his mouth by the time he was examining the intricate workings on a chalkboard that had survived while so much of the building had not. It was a marvel of destruction. Where the wall alongside the balcony had been there was just a hole that a horse carriage could fit through.

Jayce Talis was two years older than Viktor, was well known on campus, beloved by everyone in his class, and rumored to be supported by Councilwoman Kiramman. If Viktor had anyone to gossip to, they’d have been shocked to hear that Jayce Talis was sitting atop a chair looking agitated and demanding enforcers stop touching his instruments. Talis had given Viktor a cursory glance, but had ignored him mostly.

The sheriff was trying to get answers out of Talis, letting Viktor meander. The older woman was equally confused by the destruction. He felt a little bad for her, knowing the Council would be demanding explanations she had no way of giving.

“Careful!” Talis snapped at a clumsy enforcer kicking rubble aside and inadvertently unlodging a golden spanner disk. “Be careful with those!”

Viktor interjected finally, “Someone should have said that earlier…What happened here?”

Jayce Talis had not taken much note of Viktor before, “Science? I guess.”

“I don’t remember science including illegal equipment,” the Sheriff said. She was correct. Jayce Talis had over twelve different Undercity, jury rigged devices and four banned books from the Noxus Empire.

Viktor took a mental note down that Jayce Talis was less eloquent than he’d expected for someone at the top of his class. Talis was smarter than he was wise. That had at least been expected. Most Academy students were and Viktor sometimes found himself questioning his own insights. “Who authorized your research?”

Talis sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “It was an independent study. Who are you anyway?!”

Of course it was.

“I’m assistant to the dean of the Academy,” Viktor could tell Talis was shocked. No one knew of Viktor and it was hard for an upper level graduate to see an underclassman being so bold. “Who it may serve you to remember is head of the Council. He sent me here to ensure anything dangerous is removed safely. Which, according to my list, includes you.”

“What?! I’m not dangerous!”

They were standing in rubble and a building that had partially fallen in on five people. “That’s for the Council to decide.” Viktor had never seen a council trial, but-

Viktor had not expected them to handcuff Talis. The Council must have been out for blood. If Talis kept his mouth shut, though, he’d be given a slap on the wrist and be allowed to return to his research within the end of the week. He might even become more popular as a result. Once news got out that Talis had actually gone to the Undercity for illegal tech, the strange disgust and fascination that certain Piltover students had for the Lanes, Fissures, and the Undercity as a whole would come to bloom.

Viktor collected the books first, runes and symbols of the Arcane strangely enough. He was realizing he’d have to make a second trip. A few enforcers stayed watch around the perimeter, but none aided him. Viktor passed at the hallway that had previously led to Jayce Talis’ bedroom, and if he had not paused to look he may have never heard what he had.The enforcers, on account of Viktor’s shouts, pulled the small girl from out under the rubble. Her injuries were not severe, in fact miracuously so she just seemed dazed. Viktor chided himself for not asking what had been in Talis’ room.

When the girl saw the enforcers, the fog over her mind cleared and she began to attempt a run. She was about to brutally lose that fight, they had batons and she almost certainly had injuries. Viktor cleared his throat loud enough that they all looked at him. The insanity of four grown men versus a twelve year old had to be dispelled by a reminder that he had been told by the head of the council to collect anything that could be deemed dangerous.

“With all due respect, we saw three children fleeing the scene-”

“Even more reason to bring her quietly to the Academy so Professor Heimerdinger can speak with her.”

It was ludicrous, but it worked. Viktor had no weight to throw, but that he was an assistant to the head of the Council, and that was enough to make the enforcers back away. That and the men were terrified of magic and of things they did not understand. He could capitalize on that if he needed to, lie and say the girl had been maybe infected with something from the scene.

The girl looked up at Viktor equally terrified. Telling her that he was part of the Council would not work. “I can tell you’re from across the river.”

She had home-spun clothing mixed with the satchels of odds and ends at her waist that were surely for collecting scraps and garbage. Any Fissure folk could leap, climb, and run by roofs or through dark, back alleyways. If she fled from him, he’d lose her and have to call for the enforcers’ help. That couldn’t happen. “I am too.”

That caught her attention. She looked skeptical; his clothes were too nice and children with limps and canes did not survive to his age in the Undercity. She was weighing her options, but then an enforcer laughed outside, probably at a crude and unrelated joke. It was enough to make her nod and follow him.

There was a day before the trial. He had time to learn more before hearing Talis’ testimony.

Viktor realized she wasn’t running because of her leg. There was a large gash at her heel, most likely from the rubble. It dribbled blood the entire way to the infirmary and wouldn’t let up even when the attendant began to put pressure on it. “She’s going to need stitches.”

Viktor pulled up a chair, an entire day on his feet starting to wear on him.

The attendant began to move towards a drawer, and at this moment the girl whipped her head towards Viktor in protest, with her mouth opening and closing like a beached fish.

He hated coming to this place after lab accidents too. “It’s going to be fine. It stings, but is nothing compared to having a wall collapse on you.”

The child glared at him.

“Maybe you could hold your sister’s hand?” The attendant asked, unaware of the look that passed between the blue haired child and Viktor. He did not correct the attendant, this was already a mess. He opened his calloused hand and held it out. Oddly enough, the girl reached over and squeezed like she was holding on for her life.

The attendant finished up with her leg, turned to Viktor and said: “You may need to get her a bath and new clothes if you’re taking her to the trial.”

This made the child throw Viktor’s hand away like it had burned her.

The attendant left and when Viktor turned back to the girl she had returned to glaring. Viktor sighed, “I know. I know.” The attendant had been right, though. When Viktor first came to Piltover his labmates couldn’t stop mentioning the smell that had seeped into his hair from the Fissures and their mines. “I heard about the three others who fled the scene. I won’t ask who they are or how you know them. I just need to know what they took. I think you understand very well how dangerous the materials are.”

She kicked one of her legs outward and winced. Finally she spoke, “If I just give them back will you let me go? You won’t come after me?”

Surprising…She knows where they took the stolen goods. It was not uncommon for organized crime in the Lanes and most of the Undercity to use children in their work. It was odd they’d relied on such a young child to steal destructive materials.

Unless they’d had no idea what they were stealing, just grabbing at the many beautiful things Talis had in his apartment. His apartment must have been dream-like to them and all of its contents were indiscriminately valuable.

She had been with other children. They had left her behind; he was not sure whether he wanted to know if they’d thought she was dead.

“I’m going to try,” he said. Piltover would want to see someone behind bars. It would not be Talis, but almost certainly it could not be her either. She would have to give up an older accomplice perhaps…Maybe the older leader of the gang she worked with instead of the children her age. She couldn’t be more than thirteen and he had the feeling she was fiercely loyal to those who had convinced her to come topside. “What is your name?”

Another glaring look from her before she very cautiously said, “Powder.”

It did not seem like a lie, maybe it was a nickname, but there was surely someone out there who called her Powder.

Or had called her Powder…

“I’m Viktor.” He had no surname either, a fact that he could tell she was mulling over. He hoped she was realizing that he had been equally truthful with her and had not lied about being from the Undercity. “Where exactly were your friends planning to take the materials?”

Powder shuffled around before quickly shoving her hands forwards into her side satchels, canisters falling all around the infirmary floor. She shoved four glowing stones towards him and a bronze crafted horse. “There! It’s all here! Except the one that blew up!”

The stones were beautiful, unrefined, and almost certainly magical. Arcane essence radiated off of them. He guessed she was giving him this to avoid the truth that her companions had taken more. “Are these how you survived the apartment cave in?” He asked, already knowing the answer.

“You’re going to laugh at me.”

“I promise I won’t.”

“They started glowing and like this big blue bubble surrounded me…” She spat the words out quickly.

You had to be born with Arcane talents to be able to use them… Why was Talis experimenting with this in his apartment?

“I think I will take those from you now, Powder.” Viktor let the girl hand them to him. They weren’t reacting to the motion from being transferred. It was still unclear how the explosion had occurred.

Viktor still had no proper way to store them. He stood to get gauze from a drawer and began to make a nest of sorts. He then reached for one of her dropped canisters, they seemed hollow and could perhaps store the stones if there was a gentle encasing.

“Be careful with Mouser!” Powder chastised him. He realized the canister had a face and a drawing of a mouse on it. It was irregularly shaped, but attached to a mechanism that allowed each layer of the canister to twist on a timer until releasing-

Powder swatted his hand away right before the canister erupted with a spurt of sad air. “You- You made this?” Viktor could hear metal clanking inside. It was incredibly intricate for her age, better than what he had been making then.

But I wasn’t making bombs.

“Yeah…It didn’t work. If it had, you would have lost an eye.”

He had no retort for that. All he dumbly said was, “Are you hungry?”

Heimerdinger looked past Viktor’s knee and into the dormitory suite. The short man was nervously twirling his long mustache. Powder was asleep, finally.

She’d gotten close to running away once. Viktor had seen it in her eye, the way she would look at the window or the door, and then back at him and his cane. The look would fade, though, as he asked her another question about her inventions. He began to consider that maybe she wasn’t only thinking of escape, maybe she was waiting for someone to find her. Powder had inhaled any food he gave her, and as the hours moved later into the night she could not stay awake.

Heimerdinger pinched his brow, “Viktor, I told you to bring back dangerous materials! Not a suspect!”

“Ah, well, a suspect can be considered dangerous…”

“You know that’s not what I meant!”

Viktor lowered his voice, “They have not found the others she was with?”

Heimerdinger shook his head, “I’m afraid not. They’re turning the entire Undercity upside down. I’m hoping to exonerate poor Jayce before the rest of the Council decides to take it out on him any further.”

“An interesting way to put it…” Viktor could not describe the emotion sitting in the concave where his ribs met. “If you could explain to the Council that it was an accidental vandalism, perhaps there could be leniency afforded to her as well? I believe a compromise can be made.”

“What are you considering, Viktor?”

“I know she is traditionally too young to enter the junior sector of the Academy, but if what I’ve seen is true then perhaps the Academy could take over her stewardship like it had for Sky and-”

“Viktor, you and I both know that could be difficult on account of her parents coming to claim her. We cannot just induce a child to Piltover.”

A poisonous thought entered Viktor’s mind for only a second. He’d always be grateful for the Professor finding him in the water wheel shaft. At that point he’d had no one to rely on and that was why it had been so easy to coax him across the river. The man meant well. The man had the wisdom of living hundreds of years. Heimerdinger had saved Viktor from destitution.

Viktor squashed the thought. He clutched at his cane, “No one has come for her and no one has claimed responsibility in the Undercity yet. Her engineering is crude and she’s had little formal education, but I don’t think that should matter.”

Heimerdinger let out a puff, but then raised his eyebrows almost happily, “I can see you’re willing to argue this point. Your morals and steadfast standards have always been something I have respected, Viktor. For that, you will take primary charge of her stewardship.”

“Wait- No, no, Professor. I’m only twenty-two. Professor, that’s typically your job to care for-”

“For the students I hand pick, Viktor! You have clearly found yourself in a similar position. I’m so proud of you! There is no greater reward than cultivating a young mind and finding family amidst a fellow inventor.”

She ran away, of course. The Council was furious and continued to turn their wrath to the Undercity. Viktor slinked away into the shadows at least. It was there that he found Jayce and the pair began to create the concept of Hextech.

What was strange was that she came back three days later.

Viktor wondered if a belt looped over a pulley wasn’t simply Heimerdinger’s personality, but just the way his own life functioned.

Viktor had returned to his dorm room after he and Jayce had-

There was no way to describe it. They had done something incredible, and they had done it together. Viktor had never imagined the egotistical upperclassmen and him could have built something, but they had. He’d felt seen, so absolutely seen and understood. And Jayce had been kinder and more familiar than a brother.

Viktor had approached his dormitory and realized the door had been forced open. He could have called for help, but he had not. He was glad later he hadn’t.

Powder had sat curled in his room and all he dumbly said was, “I didn’t think you were coming back.” He was amazed she had somehow snuck into the Academy. It was like the bomb she’d built, there was a level of power to this small girl that was shocking on all degrees.

“They’re dead.” It was all Powder said.

He was not shocked. The Undercity…People died often and easily and unfairly. He sat down near her, not saying anything, and she cried on the floor the entire night as he rested a hand atop her head.

Chapter 2: Part One: Three of Ten Progress Days

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The First

“Can you believe Councilwoman Medarda put an advance down on Hexgate construction?” Jayce asked, completely oblivious to the growing affection Piltover had for him and everything he made. He was a luminescent creature whose face was currently the most marketable thing in the city. Artists and propagandists were obsessed with the jawline.

Viktor simply responded, “She is a good advocate.” The rabble outside was beginning to grow, creeping through the laboratory windows. A similar excitement was echoing through the halls of the Academy. Progress Day had the tendency to encourage merry drinking and giddy celebration across Piltover. When he’d been small he had heard the music echoing far across the river, jaunty and rapid. The novelty had worn off on him and in the last year he’d even considered taking a trip back to the Undercity.

Jayce pulled a chair up beside Viktor and looked over the mass of blueprints they’d been perfecting for the day. “I don’t know how you get these calculations done so quickly,” Jayce tapped a section of the Hexgate’s core reactor. “Almost makes me think you’re a mage.”

“And I haven’t turned you into a frog? Shocking.” Viktor noticed the area where Jayce was pointing would have to be stabilized in the same way as the entirety of the machine. If one part was over burdened, the rest of the device would fall in around that section. It all returned to pressures and tensions–weight on one leg to alleviate the other.

“Great, the powder keg has started to rub off on you.”

The time of day struck Viktor across the face. “I have to go.” He grabbed his cane, he could get Sky to collect the paperwork later. sh*t, sh*t!

“You better hurry,” Jayce called as Viktor hurried to push through the gigantic double doors. “Last time she beat up that other kid-”

“I know! I know!” Viktor hoped she wasn’t too upset.

Academy halls were beginning to fill with shouts of uproar and joy. He had to go around students milling in the walkways, oblivious to him trying to get by them. It wasn’t even dark yet, how were they already drunk?

His stomach fell when he looked into Powder’s empty classroom. “Powder?” He knew better than anyone that if she wanted to not be found, then she got what she wanted. He helplessly looked out the windows, hoping she had climbed to the rafters and he would see her legs kicking back and forth while she stared at the blimps and wind sailors passing by.

“She’s in my office, Viktor.” Heimerdinger said from the doorway, nearly making Viktor jump out of his skin. The man sounded pinched and displeased when he added, “Did it ever occur to you that perhaps giving her a retractable grabber would be disruptive to the class?”

“I had hoped it would be less so than the smoke bombs.”

Heimerdinger’s forehead creased. “It is a lot to ask of the girl to attend a class where many of her peers are two, some three, years older than her.”

They’d had this discussion before. It was metamorphosing into an argument, “I understand, Professor, but her grades are fine and she’s advancing quickly. And she hasn’t been in a fight in months.” No fights and no weapons. That was all I asked of her.

The truth was Powder did not want to be far from Viktor. When he had found her she had the look of someone who wanted to run away. Now sometimes she looked at Viktor like she was terrified he was going to run away. In Piltover one could obtain their early education in three ways: through a personal tutor, through the Academy’s younger learners’ track, or by joining the enforcers and their line of schooling.

“Her quick advancement is what worries me. A child needs time to make mistakes, learn from them, and then grow at their own pace.”

When it was cold you had to find warmth or you would die. When you were hungry you had to find food or you would die. If you fell into the rivers you had to clean yourself quickly or you could die. If someone breaks your cane, maybe someone will help prop you against a wall. But you could die. The memories resurfaced, dancing in the back of his head like a puppeteered corpse.

“I will see what she thinks.”

“Good! You can talk to her yourself about the grabber incident then too. I have to prepare for my speech!”

Viktor remembered Heimerdinger’s incredulous look when it was revealed that Viktor had been helping Jayce continue his research illegally. No one had expected the assistant to do such a thing. He’d been up until then a demure creature found in a ditch known as the Undercity.

As a child he’d learned quickly that he was not allowed to want many things. He had only so much of himself he could expend to fight for the few dreams he was allowed. He had to wait, hiding his hand until the right moment.

It was the greatest difference between him and Jayce. Jayce believed he could have everything if only he used the right words. He believed everyone could be convinced, everyone could be turned. Perhaps, for Jayce Talis, that was true. For Viktor, the laws of dreams were different, like physics on different planets.

Viktor pushed open the door to Heimerdinger’s office, there was the familiar weight of Powder leaned against it, almost certainly eavesdropping. He did her a favor by taking his time to open the passage so she could leap away and feign sitting where she’d been told to.

She had shyly pulled her legs against her chest and was now crouched in a ball. “Hi, Vicky…Happy Progress Day?”

Powder’s awe was written all over her face. The machines, the games, the copious amounts of food. Viktor hoped he hadn’t been that visually dumbstruck on his first Progress Day. She snapped to attention then, turning to look up at him, “I’m not in trouble?”

“Do you think me taking you to a Progress Day Fair is a punishment?” She would be thirteen next year and he hoped she’d have friends in place of him. Powder could complain to them about him, make fun of the rules he’d set for her, a sense of normalcy.

“Loneliness is often the byproduct of a gifted mind.” An old friend and betrayer had once said that to him. If it were true, then he wouldn’t have been friends with Jayce. Powder could do the same. It would take time. Time was all that was needed.

Powder asked cautiously, “And you’re not mad?”

“Eeh, Not…exactly?” If Heimerdinger had been there he would have tutted with frustration at Viktor’s response. She’d made the other students laugh and she hadn’t hurt anyone. It was of little consequence in the grand scheme. Every day Jayce and Viktor were closer to changing the world fundamentally and Heimerdinger being worried over small behavioral issues from a child felt petty… “You’ve kept your promise to stop fighting. A practical joke here and there is fine, since I did not make that a condition. Don’t tell Professor Heimerdinger I said that.”

She bit her lip and hid a small grin.

Viktor wanted her to make friends. Jayce made rooms of financial donors laugh all the time. If Powder was going to get a patron she’d have to be respected or liked.

Viktor had been an outsider too, was still in many ways, but he’d never expected his caring for the girl would be the hill people wanted to shoot him down upon.

“I’d never won a fight before.” She would not tell him where she came from. He wouldn’t ask. Powder gave him a similar level of distance to their shared background. But these occasional slips still occurred. Hints and traces of the past everywhere. In their year of Viktor stumbling to remember to pick her up from class and Powder refraining from fighting the ‘annoying Pilties’ they’d found more common ground with their gadgetry and science talk. “I just wanted them to shut up about me smelling bad.”

“It will get better soon.” He hoped. Viktor had more practice contorting and shrugging off the passive slings of Piltover. Viktor changed the subject fluidly, “I recently saw a problem with the Hexgate blueprints-”

“Too much power going towards one area.” Powder said without a pause–she was already bored–with an uncanniness for someone so young. “I saw them over your shoulder at home. Sorry, was gonna say something earlier.”

Jayce would understand if he showed her a little of their work. Despite his partner’s reservations about Powder, he would understand results and expedience.

She’d turned her attention away from his question, clearly already feeling like she’d solved it, and to a booth with painted pop ups that had bullseye targets littering them. A mechanized prop gun with soft foam ammunition was in a case at the counter.

Powder was rooted to the spot, and she said hollowly and entranced, “I didn’t know they had that game topside.”

“You want to play?” Money, for the first time in his twenty-three years of life, was of no concern. The Hextech dream had made the most powerful force of nature in the Undercity a non-issue. That was true power. He’d been able to get multiple canes, new shoes, an apartment close to campus, and of course for Powder new clothes. She was getting tall and growing out of a lot of what he’d bought her a year ago. Viktor paid the booth operator. Powder swallowed, her throat bobbing as she nervously loaded the fake ammunition. “Remember to have fun, Powder.”

The game lasted all of fifteen seconds.

He only hit one.

She only missed one.

The booth operator looked over Powder with confusion and reluctantly slid over an intricate sky ship in a bottle. She took it in her shaking hands and haunted eyes. Viktor was nervous to touch her, terrified of waking her from where she was. Distantly, in the same way she’d spotted the game she said: “I want to go to the water wheel lab.”

It was no longer a secret lab because Heimerdinger had found Viktor as a boy in it; Powder had begged to be shown it; and Jayce had accidentally heard about it when Viktor had a little too much wine. It was not exactly in Piltover, nor was it in the Undercity.

The only true neutral place left in the entirety of the world.

The sounds of Progress Day revelry could still be heard, but faintly, a little muted, under the waterfall beneath the overlooking ledge. Heimerdinger called this place Viktor’s ‘steel oasis’. It had walking sticks he’d found on the Fissure shores, buckets of salvaged garbage, still growing purple cave flowers as an equally nostalgic and painful reminder.

Powder had not taken her eyes off the bottled sky ship. “I had this friend…” She said. Viktor had his breath held. Jayce and Heimerdinger often wondered how as a scientist, Viktor had not asked more of her life. Even Sky had begun to pry from the sidelines about Powder. It was like some of them wanted to dissect her. They had no understanding of the unsaid agreement between him and her. “And we called him Little Man, sometimes.”

They were inheritors of nothing. So they could not easily and readily share what burdens they dragged behind them. “He found a bunch of radiator coilings and made a big wheel, with a seat, and pedals, and we could get it going fast. It was so fast that we could flip-off enforcers and actually get away. We got away.”

She looked to him, expecting an equal exchange. He’d had parents for a brief time and they’d died in a mining collapse. The tragedy was mundane to the point of exhausting, but in the night he’d still startle awake, close to calling out in confusion for them. “You know Miss Young? Jayce and my assistant? She used to be from the Undercity too. We met in the Fissures. She liked to swim.”

It was a bit of a side-step, not entirely about him, but not entirely abstract. Powder was displeased.

She then asked a question that answered a few he had about her, “Did you ever have a sister?”

“No, never. Not until you.”

The Fifth

His brace wouldn’t contract as he moved. Something in the mechanism had locked up at the spine while he and Jayce had introduced the Taroist Nobility to the docking bay that would soon house their shipping vessels. The main hub of the Hextech ports was well lit, with plenty of places to sit, but no privacy for him to strip his vest and shirt off and alleviate the sharp pain that was crawling from his back to his leg. When his foot connected with any surface a spasm jittered through him.

Sky had been helping showcase the facility. Every so often she’d try to make eye contact with him, but Viktor knew the second she did she would know something was wrong.

The calming blue lights of the room were starting to wane in and out of focus as the pain increased and they had only presented to half of Piltover’s merchant clans. He’d have to be here for another two hours, maybe three. After that, Heimerdinger’s speech and most likely more merchant scions.

Jayce saddled up beside him after shaking the hands of another group of people. “How are we feeling?”

“Eh, I’ve only thrown up once. Good omens all around us, Jayce.” Viktor had to be present when the scientists from Kalstead arrived. It was the first time more than ten people were coming through the Hexgate. Add another hour to that. Six hours potentially before he could fix the brace.

“Hey, that’s the spirit.” Jayce's throat bobbed with tension, but he turned it into a smile and waved to a group of tourists who Sky had taken charge of.

Viktor looked towards the doorway again and tried to quickly turn back so Jayce would not see his longing for escape.

Jayce saw, though, and misinterpreted Viktor’s goal of looking towards the door and said, “Please don’t tell me the power keg is coming.” Jayce and Powder unfortunately had never seen in each other what Viktor saw in them both. “Did she get a haircut yet? She’s going to get a braid stuck in an engine at this rate.”

Loneliness is often the byproduct of a gifted mind.

“No, she did not want to come.”

This seemed to agitate Jayce as much as her being anywhere near the Hexgate’s openings. “You’ve been working on this project for years and she doesn’t want to even see it?”

Viktor’s leg was about to go numb, “Powder is busy with the Junior Inventors’ Presentation and the rifle competition.” When he’d first come to Piltover they’d fitted him with the brace, explaining that some of the pains were indicative of the mechanism self correcting his body. The screws in his spine latched to the device itself which needed frequent maintenance. If it hurt, then it meant it was working. “Remember, she did help me with a significant portion of my calculations. She’s already seen this from the inside and out.”

From the open entrance a voice called, “We talking about me?” Her hair, which matched the color of the Arcane gems, had grown comically long and swung about every step she took. Whereas Viktor did all he could to match the aesthetics of Piltover, his canes always having the colors of white and gold, Powder refused every little curbing of style the Academy put forward. A doctor had prescribed contact lenses, noticing she was farsighted, and she had blown the glass and molded the frames, proudly putting them on her face.

It was becoming clear that she wasn’t going to be receiving a patron, or any additional funding from the typical sources for continued study. Anytime Viktor brought this up with her, she’d laugh, point, and say at Viktor, ‘Duh, you’ll be my patron, gotta keep up now. I thought you were a mega genius’. “Hey, golden boy, catch!” Powder tossed a trophy to Jayce who grabbed it from the air reflexively. She jutted her lip out at not having caught him off guard.

She must have won. In the haze of his agony, Viktor felt a bloom of pride.

Jayce looked at the trophy and scoffed, “Who let you shoot a gun?”

“The Kirammans asked that too.” She then looked at Viktor, catching his eye before he could look away, and her face fell. She’d seen somehow, and now there was no way to hide from her that he was in pain. “Hey, Pilty, I gotta take Vicky for a second.” She was too quick for Jayce who was left behind yelling at her to bring Viktor back quickly for their next meeting with councilwoman Medarda. Powder had grown taller in a short time, reaching Viktor’s shoulder. She was strangely strong too, able now to throw her arms around his waist and lift him into the air. He was grateful for these facts, as he was leaning on her while she manhandled him to an alcove with stacked crates. In his first years at the Academy, no one had touched him, terrified almost of breaking him. Powder treated him sometimes like her best potato sack, to be punched in the arm and dragged about.

“I couldn’t find a good time to slip out-”

“Shut up.” Her tone did not match how she gently sat him down on a crate. Powder then hastily opened his vest and threw his shirt over his head to get to the brace. “I hate when you self-flagellate for the Pilties.”

He was in too much pain to respond, but when she finally eased the tension of the spinal lock he could have wept. “I thought you didn’t want to come…”

“That was before I got a trophy for beating a councilwoman’s daughter and a metric f*ckton of my classmates.”

The pain began to ebb away as Powder readjusted the strap around his shoulder. “Thank you…Thank you…Just next time, please, don’t call Jayce a Pilty to his face.”

“Yeah? Tell him to stop calling me powder keg behind my back.”

Viktor remembered the first time he introduced them. Powder had been small and sullen and Jayce had been supremely bad with children. After an awkward dinner, Powder had grabbed onto Viktor’s elbow and dug her nails into him.

He smells bad.

You don’t like his cologne?”

“No! He smells like- like he’s unreliable!”

“I’m sorry.”

He pulled his shirt back over his head as Powder slinked over to sit beside him. “I don’t want you to be sorry. I want him to be sorry.” Her voice was pinched and she was drumming her fingers over the crate’s side as she sat next to him. “I want them all to be sorry!”

They never would be.

“I take it the competition did not go as you’d hoped?”

“Gods, you should have seen their faces. Caitlyn’s parents almost popped a vein when their precious cupcake had to shake hands with me…” Her voice fell away. “How do you do it?”

Viktor waited for her to elaborate before she finally just spat out, “How do you just–” She moved her hands in irregular motions like she was casting a magical spell that she thought Viktor had control of, “–keep believing.”

He’d come here searching first for a better life and he had found it, but he was not finished. “I sometimes feel like I dreamed of Piltover from the Undercity. But, somehow, I did not wake up. Now I’m in my Hextech dreams, safe and comfortable, while the rest are painfully awake still. Hextech can not be a dream for some. I have to wake up.”

Powder snorted at him, but then, with a hint of tenderness that she hid with sarcasm, said, “Real pretty words, Vicky. Could you condense that into a potion for me? Preferably heavily fermented.”

They drank in the lab after Heimerdinger’s speech. It was something low shelf that burned and probably would be better suited to cleaning off chemical varnish. Powder after two glasses started to rant, “If we could take the Arcane crystals, stabilize them and refine them for shipment, we could have portable energy. Literal, portable energy.”

Viktor agreed, “It takes four weeks to build an Arcane stabilizer. It takes even more time for maintenance and repairs in the event the stabilizers don’t break.”

“You know how pissed the Chembarons would be? They would sh*t themselves if people started just having Hextech in their houses.” Powder had a way of turning it back to the Undercity. He could never exactly turn his back on the past with her around. “Vi, they’d lose it.”

“That’s a new nickname.” There was Vicky, and Vick, and a few times Vitya to make fun of his accent.

“Ye- Yeah!”

She never used it again.

The Tenth

The refined Arcane stones had none of the cracks or imperfections of the materials when mined. It was a marble of potential, perfect blue in nature and almost a little elegant. It was strange, the color as vibrant as it was. Nature was strange and powerful.

Leaned against his crutch, in the quiet of the lab, Viktor rolled it aimlessly back and forth across the table. It’s raw power had been tamed, allowing him to flick it across the desk like a child’s toy.

He’d had better Progress Days.

The presentation with Heimerdinger had failed, Jayce had been late enough to give him a heart attack when the program officials asked if Viktor could step in–

With my crutch and cough and the thousands of peering eyes–

And Powder. Powder’s weapons. Behind his back she’d been building explosives again.

“I can explain-”

“You promised…”

“Viktor, I think I saw my sister-”

He’d snapped. Ten years and only then was he learning a thing about her. Who even was she? She’d been pulled from rubble, brilliant and alone and he-

I won’t be around to see what she becomes.

In their argument, her face had turned wrathful and Powder had let a decade of her anger be heard by Viktor and everyone around him: he was weak for letting the Pilties take advantage of him, his face should have been on street corners and flags and rail-cars. He was a coward and a traitor and a liar and a fool.

She hadn’t understood. This was never about his image; it was for those across the river…This was repayment for the unspoken rule between them, the comfortable way they could look at The Undercity, but never talk or say how they’d been children of its endless world.

Powder, this is for everyone who has ever been like us or will be like us…But I’m running out of time…Ishould have told her. Why did I not tell her?

Now he had to find her. Viktor started to gather his things, coughing the whole way through. A heavy sound came from the doorway and he called out instantly during a pause in his fits, “Powder?”

There was no response, and that was how he knew something was wrong. Viktor looked to the documents on the table, to the refined Arcane gem, and then to a hallway that was approximately forty feet long and led to a fire exit. Three options.

He did not get the luxury for his mind to choose whether he was a coward or a hero, because heavy metal collided with him, wind was knocked from his lungs, and the last thing he heard was a gruff voice standing over him with a shock of violet hair, “You’re not the golden boy, but you’ll have to do…”

Notes:

Y'all asked for more, so I have delivered.

Chapter 3: Part One: Before and Now

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Before

“Powder, we need to go!”

Vi had taken Powder across the river again. The first time was to follow their parents, who did not return. The second, to rob a naive Piltover man, but then Powder had not returned. A terrible irony.

She’d been buried, dead to the world. Not to the Arcane gems, though. They’d caused the disaster, but also saved her. Those blue lights, shimmering and floating in the brief second between her existence and oblivion. The flip of the cosmic coin that came with their power had landed on sparing her. Lucky her. Powder was brought back to the world, in a limbo of sorts. Topside was the land of light, but it was guarded by terrifying creatures and seemed unreal, hostile in its fiction. It was strange seeing enforcers without their breathing masks on.

She’d made the mistake of eating the Piltover food and falling asleep there, so tired and exhausted and stupid.

If this had been a story Vi was reading to her, Powder would have squirmed and jumped up and down on their bunk bed, trying to yell at the girl in the book. Ekko used to roll his eyes at those characters, assumptions in his grin that they’d have done better. Ekko with his goofy smile that hid wise eyes from enforcers as he tightened screws with a spanner. The damning final prognosis from Ekko to Powder would be delivered with a wave of a screwdriver like a young king: ‘If she’d just turned around, she would’ve been fine.’

Powder had tried to run back home, but nothing could ever have been that easy. The way home was closed to her, the pathways made by Vander and her entire family shut right before she could pull her fingertips back without them being smashed. Death was a firm and closed door.

Back to the Underworld for Powder it seemed. Ironic that it was called Topside. The bright and shimmery land of death built right on top of her warm dark world of life.

At least Viktor was trapped too. He had made the most of it.Vi would have taken one look at him and said, ‘Poor bastard'.

Powder truly began to trust him a week into her resurrection, her new life it would seem, because his room was like a sibling to Ekko’s; it had matching oil stains on the desk and a tin can proudly on a windowsill. The treasures clashed heavily with everything else in the Academy. Ekko had been so excited by plants, "Powder I found some apple seeds! Once it gets big enough to move from under the lamp we can find a place with actual light."It was a small room, with an even smaller bed that was dwarfed by a bookshelf that must have been dragged from somewhere else too. Viktor had a fancy cane, and nice Pilty clothes. That might have been it, the rest was distinctly like her home, part of her old, messy world.

“Jayce told me you could keep this.” Viktor had held out the horse Powder had taken when they were robbing Viktor’s friend. “Honestly, I think he’d completely forgotten he’d had it.”

Powder wondered how much it could have been smelted down for back home. Any number more than one hundred combined with currency terms seemed astronomical to her.

Viktor let her stay there in his dorm, hidden, quiet, her metal horse and his books. She’d sink into the pillows and blankets, reading for the day. She never knew someone could have this many books. Time moved slowly and quickly and not at all.

Viktor, who had seemed invisible when she first met him, was now being…noticed. Pilties had been knocking on his door a lot, having him sign things and come talk to ‘Mr.Talis’. He seemed frazzled at this, apologizing to her every time he’d come back looking flabbergasted and pacing around the room, his cane clunking back and forth. On the ninth day, when she’d found a way to speak again, Viktor returned from another meeting with news, “I found a new place to live.”

“What’s wrong with your room?” It had been days since she’d spoken and her voice felt odd with disuse.

Viktor, who had been neither old like Vander nor young like Mylo, but instead that strange grey zone of ‘adult’, suddenly looked like he was Vi’s age. He seemed to falter for a moment before righting himself and responding, “It could be good to have a bigger desk to tinker on.”

Powder stood at the threshold of the door, certain for an instantaneous second that if she stepped out she’d fizzle from existence like the lights of the Arcane gems. A voice would shout, ‘Hey! Isn’t that girl from the Undercity who was supposed to die in that explosion?’

Yeah, that’s me. And she would melt; transform into a radioactive, blue puddle on the floor of the Academy. Either that, or the enforcers would grab her for daring to step foot on their streets, not hiding from rooftop to rooftop.

Viktor kept looking at her through the walk, and she kept either looking at him or her shoes. She had run away from him once, so she couldn’t lay too much fault at his feet. Powder could have told him that she’d only done that because a little over a week ago there had been people to run towards.

That thought had no way to be said, though. It was sitting on her chest and in her throat and in the sides of her head like a pinch.

Powder bumped into Viktor when he stopped at a smaller building, they were still in what she’d recently learned was called The Academy District. Despite knowing little of anything about the person who’d become her only living friend, she could tell he was excited. His hands fidgeted with the keys and too eagerly pushed open the door, almost letting his cane slip and clatter on the ground.

When they entered and realized there was no furniture; Powder laughed. It escaped her, uncontrolled and rough against the deep lassitude she hadn’t had the energy to fight. Viktor made a sound that was a mix of an ‘ah’, ‘eh’, and ‘oh’.

“Most of my possessions are actually the Academy’s.”

“That’s okay.” She had the clothes she was wearing, Mouser, and the metal horse. All of her crayons and paints were back in the bar. “That’s how I really know you’re not from here.”

“It wasn’t the accent?”

A woman arrived later. She was around Viktor’s age, with similar clothes and with dark skin and lots of hair in a bun. She had a box that she held out to Viktor who took it in the crook of his arm. Awkward conversation ensued as Powder stayed hidden behind a corner near what would be ‘her room’. She'd rebelled against the idea that she was about to have a space she wasn't sharing. “Is she nearby? I’d love to meet her, you know, help with the culture shock.”

Powder ducked back behind the corner, knowing she’d have to rejoin the living world soon. She’d have to leave her siblings and Vander behind. It was a mortifying thought that crawled up beside the dozens of other unarticulated ideas.

When the Pilty kids ask what your surname is, what will you tell them? I’m Powder of the Last Drop, Powder of the Fissures, Powder From Across the River?

“Powder?” Viktor said from the main room. The shifting of the box and cane followed footsteps where he found her semi-hiding. “My friend Sky brought some of my things. Blankets too, uh, you would never guess that I had been financed by the government…We’ll get real beds soon.”

“Viktor?” It was the first time she’d used his name. “Am I going to the jail island?” It had a name. It had to have a name. She was too tired to think and for an instant she could hear Mylo making fun of her for not knowing what the prison island was called. Impossible lethargy descended on her.

Viktor eased himself to the floor for the second time in their friendship. Powder could hear mechanical clicks as he did so. He pulled from the box a few journals and placed them next to her, “No, you are not going anywhere unless you want to. Look,” He opened to a page with sketches of the stones she’d grabbed from the apartment. “Your curiosity led to an incredible good.”He wasn’t lying to her. She could tell. The people in her life, and even Vi had practiced saying things they’d thought would make her feel better, but this was true. “These runes…They made magic. The stones you were drawn to were magic. Powder, without you, the good that will come of this would not exist.”

He was a scientist, but the fervor in which he believed in himself, in her, in Jayce, and Hextech...In the Undercity...It was almost religious. If he hadn't been so smart, she'd have considered him naive.

Viktor would go on later to describe Hextech like a dream. He never excluded her from that dream.

Now

Powder had one emotion running through her mind. That emotion was, to put it succidently, ‘being tired of everyones' bullsh*t’. It was the most universal emotion, inherited from her mother's side.

Probably.

Had she ever tried to make the best impression? No. But, had she worked to maintain the connections of those surrounding herself and Viktor?

Also no, but, Pilties had no right to be judging who burned and destroyed bridges.

She’d cleaned her glasses, through the entire meeting. Rubbing the lens between cloth, index finger, and thumb. Over and over and over and over and-

Oh, gods, they made me sit in Viktor's chair. She was placed next to Jayce while he detailed to the Council everything that was stolen: “...A stabilized Hex reactor, a series of our notes and research, my friend too. We believe Viktor was taken on account that he is intimately familiar with Hextech.” She’d agreed to come only because she had no idea what to do.

Heimerdinger was giving her that look too, all bushy faced and sad eyes. Little pitying offerings for an already sad girl it would seem.

Powder flung her chair away when they’d responded to the situation with a vote to give Jayce a seat on the Council. It was an action that had immense weight, but in reality was useless to her. The Council was built for the Topside world. The back hit the marble floor, chair legs upended like a scrambling horse. She now had less time to prepare, knowing the Pilties, they’d find a way to make getting to the Undercity difficult.

Whatever Chembaron had kidnapped Viktor just needed to be paid a handsome sum of coin. Or Powder could alleviate the guy of a few teeth. The second option had more meat to it, tangible and satisfying, and included Powder getting to tell people she had told them so.

It’s a Chembaron. It’s not her. You didn’t see her. She’s dead and dead people don’t kidnap living people. On Progress Day, Viktor had come home with a crutch instead of a cane…On Progress Day, Powder had gone to the sky docks to see the ships and a flash of pink hair had spooked her. Ghosts were everywhere.

“Powder!” Jayce was chasing after her. The Council's headquarters had the type of hallways where every step echoed, bounced, and told the poor bureaucrats on the fourth floor you were having an argument. The Academy had a similar layout, always letting Powder know when Viktor was close. “Powder, wait!”

“Very original, Jayce. Next you’ll say something like, ‘I’m so sorry’. I get it! Congrats on officially becoming god of Piltover. Let me know when it’s time for us to do our daily prostrating before your shrines!”

“Damn it, Powder–” He hissed and in two large strides he caught up to her with the audacity to grab her wrist and keep her from leaving. She could have elbowed him in the gut, throat, or face. Only old habits and the many looks Viktor had given her stopped any current violence. “Why won’t you let people help you!?”

He was such a moron, believing that help came freely because everyone around him would have given anything to be in his broad and beautiful shadow.

Please, he’s trying.”Viktor had an admiration for Jayce that gave his partner leeway in almost all things. It drove her frustration in speedy circles around her eyes, making her almost dizzy.

You say everyone is trying!”

Powder was close to escaping his grasp, but instead she sagged. It was acute how powerful Talis had become. It wasn’t just posters now, the man had been elected as a Council member less than thirty minutes ago and the shape of whatever reign he took would be decided swiftly.

If Jayce learned she was going to leave Piltover to find Viktor, he’d stop her. And if he didn’t, Heimerdinger would, or Caitlyn and Marcus’ lovely little enforcers. Powder wanted a time machine so she could go back and kick herself for wasting rebellion on every Pilty request like it was infinite.

I told Viktor he was a coward… It hadn’t been cowardice that made Viktor the way he was in Piltover. It had been strategic and wise, but Powder in contrast had f*cked herself years ago. Unintentionally, she’d let everyone see her frustration and wrath, before she’d realized there was a game of attrition being played.

Powder had cajoled Viktor once into telling her about the first night of Hextech. The memory now was a sharp stab: “I don’t think Heimerdinger ever thought I’d steal his keys; I just knew something I wanted to fight for and there was no time to ask permission to change the world.”

If she was to save him, to defy fate and place the ghosts to rest, she’d have to play a few Piltover games first.

Powder kept up the sagging, “Viktor and I had a fight before he was taken.”

“I’m sorry.” Jayce let go of her. “I’m going to get him back. And he’s strong, Powder. He’ll be okay.”

sh*t, that worked? Powder couldn’t say she’d ever been anything but a pestering weasel around Jayce. She couldn’t tell if the ease in which he believed she would open up to him was indicative of empathy, or indicative of Jayce Talis’ constant and undying belief in his own likeableness.

“Yeah, I thought he was off- He disappears a lot.” This was not a lie. Powder had waited for him, then searched on her own. “I kept checking the water wheel lab.”

Jayce gave her a participation trophy equivalent to a chuckle and started to rabble about a funny anecdote. Finally, when she thought she’d pass out from the fake normalcy Talis was pressing into her skull, he said, “My first order as Councilman is going to be setting a blockade on the bridge. I know you don’t trust me, Powder, but together we’re going to get him back.”

Powder couldn’t fake a smile, she pulled her glasses forward and began to rub them again against the cloth she’d brought. If a Chembaron had kidnapped Viktor, they wouldn’t kill him. They’d hurt him, though, and a blockade would agitate their tedious anger.

He’s clever and he’ll be damn grateful that you didn’t entirely stop making grenades.

Hearing Talis tell her about the blockade with such foolish happiness made the hidden wounds that littered her since she was eleven reopen. “When will that happen?”

“As soon as I talk to Marcus. I promise. He’s having a ceremony first for the fallen enforcers. I’m also thinking of asking Caitlyn on my staff, she’ll know what to do.” The new sheriff of Piltover had avoided Powder. A strange aura of sorts–like shame, but self pitying– clouded him every time they’d vaguely encountered one another at rifle competitions. It was uncanny and eerie and made Powder think the guy had probably loved an Undercity woman and lost her to chemical poisoning, blah, blah, blah. That undefinable look never amounted to much of anything, but he had extended an invitation to her multiple times to join the enforcers. She had laughed in his face–the only power she felt she had in Piltover– and reveled in the way he’d flinched, barely perceptible, but around the eyes she could see a fountain of unspoken sadness.

Caitlyn was another story. If Jayce was mildly uncomfortable and confused by Powder, then Caitlyn was baffled and very near detested her. It was a professional detestment, like a low simmering begrudge that came from a smart person who is too smart to not realize you're their equal.

Jayce would go to save Viktor, no matter how much Powder rolled her eyes at the man she knew he held an affection for the person who'd saved Hextech from never existing. But Jayce was not the one who was going into the belly of the monster. Jayce had been shackled to a Council job. It would be Caitlyn Kiramman and Sheriff Marcus at the helm, who only held attachments to Piltover’s safety.

If Viktor did not survive this debacle, it was unfortunate, but never as tragic as Piltover being inconvenienced.

Powder had approximately eight hours to get across the river. Jayce Talis was not known for going back on his word.

Her grenades had no nails, no shrapnel, nothing to maim with. Only to escape and disarm with smoke.

The small ferry she was on swayed in the waters between Piltover and the Undercity. She had time to ruminate, be haunted by her mistakes.

Getting a boat to go across had been easy, scarily so. Powder was ready to hear the shouts: ‘Hey, isn’t that the girl who has been pretending to be a Pilty! That’s the dead girl!’ She wasn’t pretending! She was just living, gods, could she not convince herself of that? Would there never be an allowance of her own existence?

“You promised me.” Powder loved him, it was something she’d accepted a while ago, but Viktor’s hypocrisy stung. She should have reminded him of the time he’d tried boiling water by ‘giving a little crank’ to their stove. Instead, she’d called him every degrading thing she could think of.

She wondered how much he hated lying in wait for dignity, for the opportunity he could build a little more belief in himself.

Powder roughly shoved him from her mind and returned to strategy. She had no firearms of her own either. She looked less Pilty at least with her hair, the overalls and work clothes she’d kept for getting messy. Powder pulled off her glasses and started to clean them.

Her sister had been lucky to only need her fists and kicks to succeed. Ekko and Powder had copied her moves over and over again in the alleyways after a presentation. Something deep in Powder’s heart knew she’d never be able to build muscle up like that.

I’ve got these,” Vi would flex. “And you’ve got those.” She would point at Mouser or Rat Race or Monkey Bomb. Vi, almost like Jayce, never realized that all of the creations in the world were emulating the powers they already possessed.

Powder disembarked and waited until the ferryman left. Counting back from ten and forcing her hands to put her glasses back on her nose.

Undercity was not entirely a metaphorical title. There were levels to it. No place was deeper than the Lanes. To go naively forward with hands that held no guns, it was a terrifying thought. Ekko’s ghost came back: ‘If she’d just turned back, she would have been fine.'

It smelled like the Fissures, a rotten egg here with a dash of sharp and heavy, sweet, rotting concoction there.

Only in the last five years had it been given a name, Shimmer, for the pretty, purple color and the way the substance, that was not only in the flowers, but also the deep mines, glowed.

A ticklish and uncomfortable sensation crawled across her knuckles, instantaneously Powder raised her hand to smack at the thing moving across her hand.

It was a firelight.

The small, green bug was coming out in preparation for the sunset. She held her hand aloft, a smack would make the bug a pulp smear against her wrist. The creature’s life was entirely and literally in her hands.

It flew towards the Lanes. Leaving her hand as fleetingly as it had arrived.

She made a wish, and followed it down into the depths.

Powder had come home.

Notes:

That's a wrap on Part One. I can't believe this story went from a one shot to a fully formed story idea and outline. Updates have been coming at a quick pace, but will slow down on account of me fleshing out the work and cleaning up for Part Two. Thank you to everyone who has shown excitement and attention so far.

Chapter 4: Intermission

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Intermission: Caitlyn

Five years ago, Caitlyn had approached Viktor’s teenage sister at the starting line of a rifle competition with a small overture of friendship, “You look very nice in your uniform, Powder.”

It had been innocuous enough.

“Really? I think we all look like douchebags.” The horn for the beginning of the competition had sounded off and had happily taken up space against Caitlyn’s shocked pause after Powder’s swift and merciless delivery.

Caitlyn still pondered that exchange and loss five years later. As an enforcer, if she asked herself what she was shooting for, the answer was always Piltover. What was Powder shooting for? Well, the girl had worn the competition’s uniform with her un-regulation hair tucked into the back of her shirt, never moved close to the refreshments table, and maintained the aloofness Jayce had said would be expected.

Caitlyn had hoped to extend an olive branch, a sense of solidarity for someone who was also an outsider like herself.

It was fair and understandable that Powder had pushed it away. The soon to be enforcer had assumed the young Academy girl was nervous to be competing against a group with better resources and more training.

Caitlyn had been told the girl and Viktor were orphans.

What are you shooting for?

Powder that day had run through the cultivated forests near Piltover with the silence of a ghost and the wrath of a demon. The only time Caitlyn and the other competitors had known she was nearby was the echoing thwack of a wooden target being blown to pieces. She was everywhere and nowhere all at once, the fog from the morning mist clung and blinded them all except for her. Her laughter had competitors next to Caitlyn cursing and shooting wildly, spooked like animals.

Powder was shooting like her life depended on it, and making the rest of them understand that dreadful feeling.

Of course, someone had immediately accused the cheeky Undercity girl of cheating when the fog cleared and they returned to the winners’ tent.

Powder had flinched, before her face had then gone cold, wary as an entire tent of people began to condemn her. And before Caitlyn could come to her defense, Powder had turned that chilled expression on her face into a smile like a shark’s hungry grin. Powder responded to the growing accusations, the whispers, with, “I asked if it was okay to climb the trees.”

Sheriff Marcus, who was overseeing the competition, had interjected, “You were encouraged not to; it would be difficult to perform-”

“I bet you tell your wife that every night.” She was digging the grave deeper–to hide and flee–to also almost certainly take a few people down with her.

The judges, and Caitlyn’s parents, were furious. The year after, a rule had to be added on account of the tree climbing incident.

Powder had accepted the trophy, the platform of glaring judges made no move to hide their disbelief. They were almost comically angry. Powder smirked and winked, but it was clear to Caitlyn the girl wanted nothing more than to run from them all. Her flamboyance couldn’t take back the flinch Caitlyn had seen.

As the previous winner, Caitlyn was required to congratulate Powder.

“Hey,” Caitlyn whispered. “Good job.” She meant it. The girl had not only climbed multiple trees, but had operated a cumbersome firearm in dense fog atop that. The sixteen year old girl was also three, almost four, years younger than the people she was competing against.

Powder flinched again. Her mask fell for a second and the most cautious grey eyes stared back at Caitlyn, “Th-Thanks…” Her face softened, an opportunity for parlay arrived–

And it was swiftly crushed.

From behind Caitlyn, her mother and father were unhappily watching. The audience in the tent had taken to whispering: ‘Poor Caitlyn’. There was no way to reach Powder when the history between Piltover and Powder made an impossible chasm with no bridge to cross. Powder snorted, bitterly, and threw Caitlyn’s hand away. She darted and disappeared from the tent, the noise and explosive controversy diffused when she left them all. She was almost a ghost. The only thing she took from the competition was a lackluster trophy, swinging from twitching and angry hands.

“Caitlyn, darling,” her mother had called, keeping her from chasing after Powder. “Darling, it's time to get ready.” Her mother could fluctuate between a doting parent to a councilwoman who had given commands she did not expect to be ignored.

Progress Day had a never ending litany of events, one of which was a gala.

Jayce at least had been there.

When Caitlyn asked about Powder, her childhood friend sighed and pinched his brow, “Heimerdinger didn’t want her; I don’t know. After she blew up my apartment–”

“That was her?” Caitlyn had assumed Viktor and her had actually been related. “If she’s having problems adjusting,” Caitlyn poignantly avoided saying anything about how Powder had been in Piltover for five years and was still struggling. “Maybe she’s not suited for the Academy. She’s an amazing shot, the enforcers corps could be better.”

It had been better for Caitlyn. Caitlyn, the daughter of a Council member, felt like an outsider in her own house, pushed powerlessly from one place to the next with no purpose besides being agreeable and a prized gem.

Princesses in towers eventually all fled, though. Caitlyn had found her escape in the pursuit and flight towards a justice that the enforcer corps offered.

Jayce had thrown back a glass of champagne in one swallow, his throat bobbing with the drink. He’d spent the last week preparing for Progress Day and the effortlessness he had with socializing had begun to wane. “I brought it up to Viktor once. He won’t hear anything about it.” Jayce shook his head, half amused and half confused by his Hextech partner. He was searching for the right words and the champagne was making it difficult. “She jumps into the lab through the windows, she literally climbed down the gutters after her detention, and he doesn’t even look up from his desk. She could set fire to the entire Academy and he’d ponder it like when he tightens a bolt. With how much of our work he shares, if she ever decided to sell it and reproduce it, we would have a nightmare on our hands.”

“You think she would do that?” You think she even could do that? Caitlyn couldn’t believe the sly girl had that much vindictive mischief in her. It was concerning that Jayce believed Powder at fifteen was able to recreate Hextech.

“Not to Viktor, but to me? Without hesitation.”

Caitlyn’s mother tried to catch her eye from across the ballroom. Caitlyn grabbed another glass of champagne. She had no time for her mother’s attempts to play match maker between her and Jayce. “What happened to the rest of the people who broke into your apartment? Does Powder know?”

“Viktor won’t ask her. I can guess, but it's not a happy story.” Jayce answered curtly, but his demeanor brightened and his frustration dropped when Councilwoman Medarda approached. They conversed, and through the night Caitlyn and Jayce talked and drank their way through Progress Day.

No part of their night stuck with her as much as the conversation they’d had about Viktor and Powder.

Afterwards, Caitlyn saw little of Powder, in the same way she saw little of Viktor. Jayce filled up the space before both other scientists and socialite spheres Caitlyn bounced between.

Her life moved mechanically, analogous to Piltover pushing towards the future. Blimps and airships were launched across the country; a new device that could capture colorless images was purchased by her mother; Caitlyn donned an enforcer’s cap despite the tight lipped responses of her family.

Another five years passed, and it came with a new Progress Day and four enforcers dead. Caitlyn awoke to a note delivered by one of Jayce’s assistants. The poor woman looked lost and when she handed the delivery to Caitlyn at the door (her mother was complaining the entire time) she seemed to try and run off the property. Caitlyn grabbed her by the steps of the estate, “Wait, what’s this?”

“Councilman Talis wants you on the investigation.”

“Councilman?”

Piltover cheered for the dawning of a new day, oblivious to what had happened in the night. Caitlyn felt that something had fundamentally shifted, or perhaps had laid in wait to reveal itself from long ago.

Intermission: Jayce

A decade ago, In the tedium of Hextech’s genesis–of paperwork and bureaucracy and hellish, never ending questions from Heimerdinger–there was the comfortable bond Jayce shared with Viktor.

Viktor had helped Jayce break into Heimerdinger’s lab and saved his life. Not at the same time, but in three days of collaboration Jayce had found someone he considered an actual friend. He’d never realized before, that all the peers and social bubbles he’d built up until Viktor were hollow.

Poetics tried to break into the event at the joints, but if Jayce could summarize what he liked most about his new partner, it was that Viktor was a believer. He believed in Jayce’s vision, he believed in persistence, in hard work, in a future.

He also believed in Powder, though. And while Viktor’s belief was refreshing and made the bond between the two inventors stronger than the mining cores below, it also made Viktor stubborn as an angry mule.

Jayce had broached each subject around Powder delicately, “Is Powder okay with you spending so much time in the lab?” He had no good way to say, ‘It’s unfair that Heimerdinger dropped this responsibility on your shoulders. It would be one thing if she behaved, but she needs someone more hands on than you. These projects should be classified and you’re sharing them with someone who we know used to have a fascination with destructive weapons.’

“Hm?” Viktor had his protective goggles on and was latching a levered crank onto a drill. He then began to turn the lever, powering the drill and creating a hole in the metal sheet. A loud droning screech bounced around the room and stabbed Jayce’s skull. “She loves the lab,” Viktor yelled over the sound. “She doesn’t mind.”

Jayce couldn’t hear himself over the whirring and screeching. “Viktor–” Jayce waited until Viktor had finished with the sheet, but when he tried to begin again, Viktor had already picked up a second sheet from a pile nearby. The screeching persisted.

You ass! Talk to me!

His friend, who kept mountains of mysteries close to his chest, could not be reasoned with. Most suggestions for how to better Powder’s life were met with a non-committal, ‘I’ll think on what you’ve said’ or an even more obtuse, ‘I’ll see’. Any broach of the subject was met with Viktor’s irritatingly civil responses or his weird avoidance tactics.

Only once had Viktor ever let anger come through. Jayce had seen his friend tease, and cajole, and calmly reason, and cleverly and joyfully analyze. It was almost frightening to see anger.

It was when Jayce had suggested the enforcer corps.

The brief flash of Viktor’s anger faded, though, and his co-creator and friend had suddenly been ashamed, “I don’t know what came over me.”

Jayce laughed dryly, “You don’t have to be formal with me on this. You’re my friend…I understand.” He hadn’t entirely understood, but Jayce loathed to push the subject any further.

And now, he wondered if he should have.

Powder was entering the era of adulthood, Hextech was at its prime, and Viktor had been kidnapped.

And Jayce had been thrust into a leadership role he realized he had no readiness for.

I could go into the Undercity myself. I could find him on my own-

He had not been back to the Undercity in a decade, not since he’d purchased goods that had led to a break in. Jayce considered, for a daunting and unholy second, of asking Powder to go with him. She’d been a kid when Viktor had taken her in, but she had known that labyrinth of the Lanes once.

It would be an investigation led by himself and they could have an official sanction from Caitlyn and the enforcers.

I wouldn’t need Powder. She’d be a loose cannon. Caitlyn’s sway as an enforcer would be enough. I could actually trust her not to screw me over.

Jayce immediately went to a new ally with his idea.

Mel Medarda listened to Jayce’s plan with calculating eyes. Even at the late hour of the night her hair was done up and the gold makeup she was fond of decorated her demeanor. She was always put together, always quick on the draw.

Jayce had found his affections growing for her at an alarming rate. She was also eerily similar to Viktor; she was a believer, like Jayce’s partner, and with her Jayce saw a horizon of limitless potential.

Her response, to his dismay, though, was like a delicate stab between his ribs, “You would get Viktor killed.” She continued after a pause, “You’re famous. Where you go, what you do, and who you support are all noticed by Piltover and Undercity alike. The blockade order has already started to be carried through.”

“I can take it back…” The blockade had been his first order to the enforcers and had felt like the only logical pathway. “Let me get my assistant, Sky-”

“Jayce, if you call off the blockade now you’ll risk making Piltover look vulnerable and you’ll inspire conspiracy against you from other members of the Council.” Mel wasn’t chastising him, she was almost trying to talk him down. He wanted to rebel against her, but when she spoke next he knew she was right, “As a councilor, you play up the illusion of being chained to bureaucracy's desk, but in truth you have more power here than any man running around the Lanes pretending to be a king or a vigilante lord. Going there now will put Viktor in a position where he may have to make decisions that aren’t his own. You could be harmed and that would push Viktor as well.”

“You’re right,” he said and then he kissed her. The situation and its many walls were closing in on Jayce and he could think of nothing more that he wanted and nothing better to do.

Jayce felt her freeze, and he was momentarily terrified until she softened and pulled him through her door.

Intermission: Marcus

“I had to bury four enforcers– four!” The audacity Marcus delivered these angry complaints with was backed by a decade of guilt and an ever encroaching fear. The cycle was about to begin again, what had killed the previous sherif, Grayson, would come for him.

I hoped I would have more time. He had a daughter now.

The heiress to Vander’s legacy had been under Silco’s thumb. The other one, the blue haired runt, was kept in line by a convenient accident in the form of one of Talis’ lackeys. Marcus had once tried to reign her in, recruit her to the enforcers to keep a better watch on her. It had failed, but it had proven she was fiercely loyal to her Academy keeper and had no intention of returning to the Undercity.

With the two sisters separated, there would be no reveal of his transgressions and the order of the world was stable. But that was uncertain territory.

His daughter could never know about how he’d gone to the Undercity and dealt with the devil. His daughter could never know he was still dealing with the devil.

Silco’s office smelled of that reeking, sweet and sickly Shimmer smell. Silco could mask it with a hundred other disgusting scents: alcohol, cigars, fine leather and fine wood furniture. It would never change what the Undercity really was: a mistake. Silco, the one-eyed freak, leaned forward and slowly let ash fall from his cigar. “Marcus, I don’t know why you’re coming to me. The problem is quite simple.” He responded with a smooth and lackadaisical tone. He was always entirely bored, or entirely unsurprised by what Marcus brought forward to their negotiations.

“She’s your right hand!”

Silco sighed, not from weariness or sadness. He was sighing like the last threads of his patience were being snipped from the loom of his time, “My second lieutenant is Sevika. Violet was an attack dog.”

“Was?” Marcus said like an idiot. He cursed himself silently.

“Violet has made it clear she no longer wishes to inherit benefits from being under my wing. The girl intends to start her own ‘gang’ to contend with the Chembarons and myself using what she stole from your treasure troves. You have your suspect, Marcus. Now use the opportunity. Or must I save your precious city myself?”

The bloody history that marked Vander’s daughter working for Silco could not so easily be ignored. Silco…seemed nonplussed, though. The industrialist lord who now ruled the Undercity did not take betrayal easily. Men who skimmed money from his coffers, bodyguards with loose lips, and crooked enforcers who were no longer sated by coin met unfortunate endings in the new world order after Vander, the Hound of the Underground, took his last stand. “You think your underlings are going to let a show of disrespect like that go unpunished.”

Silco co*cked his head to the side. The old man’s damaged eye, a pupil like a hunk of amber and the whites replaced with pitch blackness, bore into Marcus’ heart. His heart raced with a pitter-patter reserved for field mice watching a cat prowl. Silco responded, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

It’s not that easy. It’s never that easy with him. He’s furious at her, but he’s too smug as well. What are you planning, you snake?

Silco turned from Marcus and began to poignantly ignore him. This was the cue that meant Marcus should leave. Of course, as he stood, Silco spoke up again, “Another thing, Sheriff. Since you need a push in the right direction, why not find a way to strike down our mutual enemy, The Firelights, in this debacle?”

The Firelights have been undermining trade for a long time now… It was tempting, and Marcus was, not for the first time, begrudging following Silco’s plans.

The pathway already twisted and turned.

Intermission: Ekko

There was a time where Ekko wouldn’t stand up to Vi.

He’d been Benzo’s protégé and she had been Vander’s. It was simple: two leaders of the failed Zaun revolt securing a legacy for all of the Undercity. As a small child, he hadn’t been able to articulate this pattern he saw in the world, but he’d known it.

He’d seen that there were ridges and open areas for gears and mechanisms to be placed. The ecosystem of the Lanes was greased with sacrifice and the protections of The Hound of the Underground.

Yet, the Hound and Benzo knew they were getting older. Powder and Ekko had been drawing once on the roof when she’d asked, “How old do you think Vander is?”

“Like, maybe sixty?”

“What? No way, he’s fifty. He can’t be sixty. When I’m twenty he’ll be seven-ty and that’s too old!” Powder and Ekko had been able to spit number games at each like duelers with pistols. Powder was great with the multiples, going higher until they’d finally reached numbers that seemed made up. How could there be thousands of anything?

“Benzo told me Pilties can live to one hundred.”

“Vi said only vampires could do that.” Powder had said; stammered at the idea of a vampire.

Powder would run herself ragged thinking of monsters until she’d get Vi to show them a ‘punch that could kill a vampire’ or a ‘sidekick that could obliterate a dragon’.

There was a time where Ekko wouldn’t stand up to Vi. Now, he had to do it everyday.

The Progress Day raid against Silco had only partially succeeded. They’d destroyed over seventy barrels of Shimmer, but lost two friends in the process. Seventy barrels of Shimmer could be mined and manufactured in a month. He could not help but feel he had traded two’ lives away for something that could be easily regained in an ounce of time.

Seven-ty, seven-ty–’ Powder was haunting him again. Nostalgia was a more powerful substance than Shimmer. It was why Silco had put up a statue of Vander near The Last Drop. The hero who had been the face of the end of times, an end of times they’d had a say in.

You’re getting philosophical and sad, stop that. Stop that, right now.

Ekko’s workshop had an open door policy, but most of his friends knew to give him space after a raid. He realized space was the last thing he wanted. The mourning was necessary and honorable, and he couldn't stand the lofty ideology of it when he wanted proof of what he was fighting for near him.

That was another thing Benzo and Vander had never taught him; friends and comrades and family would blur together into one picture and it wouldn’t be a portrait of a sunny day.

Vi hadn’t learned that lesson either. She went through the Undercity with her gauntlets and the wrath of demons.

Ten years of paying for that tip he’d given Powder had come down hard. He remembered Vi returning to the Lanes, begging Vander to take us his own gauntlets and march into Piltover to go save her sister.Everyone had known Powder was dead, and the hammer of enforcers was going to come down hard on them for the explosion above. Vi welcomed it. Vi wanted to fight. Vi paid the price.

It was a tragedy delivered in three parts.

Ekko moved to leave the simmering solitude he was marinating in, there would be time for this later in the night. At the door was Tik, letting in a few beautiful and curious, green firelights from the tree-base. Tik cleared his throat and delivered what would be the first toll of a death knell, “Guys in the Last Drop say Vi’s gone rogue. She’s trying to gather forces, and says she’s stolen some Hextech and a scientist.”

Ekko and The Firelights had been fighting the war against Silco for so long that sometimes it was easy to forget that Piltover was still suffocating them with a pillow from above. Hextech had served to make the Pilties somehow more comfortable, and everyone behind them more resigned to death. If Vi had Hextech, and if she knew how to use it-

She’ll crush anyone who stands up to her. Burn us with fire from the gods of Piltover…

Tik continued, the second death knell came, “Brivie also says someone's already looking for the guy that got kidnapped.”

“An enforcer?”

“No, a girl with blue hair, braids; also big techy glasses. She's at Vander’s statue.”

Notes:

Intermission delivered by other characters to set up Part Two and to deliver a little bit of exposition and a sprinkle of other characters' biases. Point of view will return to Powder and Viktor next chapter.

Big thanks to everyone for the feedback and continued support!

Chapter 5: Part Two: Welcome Home

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Viktor

Viktor dreamt.

He was looking out the window of the lab, trees dotted the landscape instead of Piltover’s finer, urban jungle. Trees in fog and trees in snow were growing at an army’s marching pace.

He’d seen his first real tree when he was sixteen, the academy had brought them on a field excursion to witness the timber farms and understand how the technology created at the academy could be applied in real time to Piltover's industries.

A tree sprouted up from his desk, laying its branches across calculations and glass beakers. A fragile sprout with purple flowers brushed against his nose. Viktor was not worried, only curious.

Do trees have flowers? Not just fruit? His stomach lurched and he began to cough. A deep spasm went through his chest. He reached for his throat, scrambling and squabbling.

Jayce was there. He was running around the lab, trying to rip off each purple bloom before they could regrow. “Viktor! The trees aren’t meant to have flowers!” He yelled, confirming Viktor’s concern.

Viktor’s curiosity was plucked and crushed. “They’re not?” His botany skills were non-existent. “Heimerdinger will have our heads! ” Viktor's old mentor would go to the Council, accuse them of breaking the ethos or moving too fast in their work. Everything moved too quickly for Heimerdinger.

There were trees as tall as the ceiling now. Jayce had gone to grab the Hex Gauntlets. Viktor coughed again, the pollen in the room was suffocating, blood and fluid spewed from his mouth and across the tables that were turning into a mossy soil.Jayce dived and disappeared into the fog that was the lab–the forest– with heroics and unflinching intent. He yelled something back to Viktor that was lost as his partner leaned on his cane and looked to the ceiling of the lab.

It has been covered with tree branches.

Viktor heard rustling from above, his breath hitched and he coughed for a third time. A flash of blue hair and olive green overalls darted between the branches with a maniacal laugh. He knew it was her and had no hesitancy in calling out, “Tell me in what world this situation would be funny?! I would like to avoid that place at all costs, Powder!”

“You think it’s regulation to shoot the targets from up here?”It had been a cold day.

“Even if it wasn’t, I feel that you’d still be attempting it.” Viktor said, speaking over Powder’s shrugs and articulated sound effects (she had a litany of noises that sometimes could be articulated into a few variations of ‘Whaaat? Meeee? ’). The trees had grown so dense that there was no escape forward or backward.

The only way out was up.

“Viktor, what’s your favorite animal?”

He started to try and pick the flowers before Jayce returned, one hand on his cane and the other yanking at the invasive plants. They had an elongated petal that made them look like vases and purple powder colored his full hand. “A frog..or a salamander…butterflies are nice too.”

“You may be a great Hextech scientist, but you’re awful with grammar. I said animal, like singular, Vicky!

"Bah,” he was struggling to carry the flowers now, he’d had to switch the first cluster to his cane hand. Where was Jayce? Where was Heimerdinger? “Coming from you? The proud inventor of the term ‘Sextech’ and ‘Sex Claw’.”

“The fact the entire City of Progress signed off on ‘hex’ as the starting line for every portmanteau is horrifying. If Talis’ jaw wasn’t freakishly chiseled, you know the parodies would be intense. This is why beautiful people need to be stopped.”

“I-” We’ve been here before.

They’d been in the forests on the edges of Piltover, understanding the course before her competition.

That was five years ago. “Powder, what is your favorite animal?”

“A shark.”

That was the snap he needed.

Some described waking from unconsciousness like a slow climb to awareness. For him it was quick and-

“Easy, easy,” a refined accent, a hint of upper Piltover and raspiness said. Viktor immediately knew the man who was propping him into a chair before a gargantuan, circular window barred with thick, industrial metal frames and mullions. The transition from dream to reality was quick, but not entirely painless. Viktor hissed as a sharp pinch entered his neck and Singed inserted something into his veins. “I told the girl to be delicate, but when have these cycles of violence ever paid attention to detail. You’ve been coughing up a severe amount of blood across the lab floor.”

Viktor swallowed, the iron and heavy taste confirming what the man was saying. He tilted his head to Doctor Singed. The doctor, his old friend, and first mentor was balding, had more wrinkles around his mouth. He was shorter too?

No, you were small when you first met him. He was larger than life before everything.

Viktor kept his eyes half open. He was piecing together what had happened, unsure how much time had passed or what Singed had just inserted into him. He was careening into ideas and panic, pushing past it to get to one notion: where is my cane?

Other questions were still competing for his attention, though: I’m not restrained? There are so few people in this room? It’s not a warehouse? Carpets? Desk? Windows?

Something moved–flew–outside the window. Viktor was an instant away from asking where he was, a weakness that he would have begrudged showing to Singed, but the man answered for him, “This is an old lab of an even older associate. He loves the lake creatures. It’s one of the better spaces for business to be conducted. I gave you biotic fluids for your cough...That should keep your body from mutinying against you for a brief time.”

Viktor swallowed. They were deep somewhere, perhaps a refinery or a repurposed mining area in the Undercity. Enough of that; you’re asking the wrong questions. Find your cane.

Viktor watched Singed move closer and rest a hand on his shoulder. Viktor’s disgust must have been apparent because Singed sighed, saddened. Viktor hated him more for that; it would be simple to hate a mentor who had only used him and lied to him.

Singed was a cruel monster...who had once seen a crippled boy from the Undercity and shown him immense kindness, bordering on love. Another avenue of escape was closed to Viktor; with Singed present he could not pretend to be foolish or feeble when this man had used to champion Viktor's passions.

“If you needed money, you could have just written me.” Viktor threw out the line, hoping Singed’s pride would override Viktor’s poor deception.

Singed went to the desk, and came back with Viktor’s cane. He held it out. “Unfortunately, nothing as simple as money. And, to be frank, it is not me who is in need of you.”

Viktor took the cane and stared at the ground. He said a silent prayer to whatever gods could hear him or deigned to turn their eyes to him. Hewilled himself to not touch the second handle of his cane; it had to not exist. He rested the cane across his lap and decided to let Singed give him any more information.

Singed moved away from Viktor when heavy footfalls from a stairway behind them descended in determined rhythmic succession.

You would never guess they’d known one another. Viktor’s old mentor gave nothing away.

Another favor from a terrible man.

If Viktor lived, he knew Singed would have a tally to call upon.

My body is fading quickly… Hewas horrified to let himself think of it. For three months he’d been avoiding the signs, staying away from Powder’s keen glare… I’ll die before he can wring from me any opportunity and benefit. The grim satisfaction of denying someone who hurt him could only go so far, though.

He held onto the slip of smugness until the person from the top of the stairs arrived. She had steel-toed boots, a cropped cut of violet colored hair, and while Viktor could tell even from the dim light that she was almost certainly finely muscular, she moved with grace. A small tattoo was on her cheek: ‘VI’.

Too young. An ache went through him at her eyes: a soft grey that could turn mischievous and triumphant after shooting a paper ball into a wastebasket with a catapult she had built from magnets, weights, and spoons.

Viktor pushed Powder from his thoughts. She had no place in this scenario.

The woman dragged a chair across from Viktor, her back to the depths of the river. He was prepared for all manner of Undercity traditions of extortion.

“Sorry about bringing you across the river like this.” She was curt, but she meant it.

He had planned to keep quiet, but he was too stunned. She had to be a little younger than him. “I cannot say yet if I forgive you.”

Viktor took a small amount of satisfaction in watching the young woman mull over his answer, “Fair…Very fair…” She leaned forward on her knees, flexing her hands and looking him up and down. “That accent…Huh.”

Singed moved to leave the room, and left Viktor internally terrified like the boy of thirteen who’d thought the lonely chemist had hung the stars. Coughs erupted, ruining the demeanor he was using as a shield. The woman pulled a rag from her pocket and threw it at Viktor, “You can call me Vi, by the way.”

“You may call me Viktor...” Strange pleasantries between them were walls building an indiscernible maze. Viktor squeezed the top handle of his cane.Powder’s chidding voice popped into the back of his mind, sighing and whining that he should have lied and used the pseudonym surname that Powder had made for them both--Fisher! Like Fissures, Vicky!

The rag fell to the floor, forcing Viktor to lean to pick it up, wondering what she’d ask soon of him, Vi inquired casually, “You’re not actually from Topside?” He could tell she already knew the answer. She had the appearance of a brute fighter in her physique, but like her grace there was cleverness in her questions. He looked at her arms and hands, which were covered by a long cape like cowl. He wondered if she'd had augmentations done...

“The accent has always given it away.” Viktor’s mother had told him of her father, and the mother who had given birth to that father, and her mother before. There had been wars and their people had not been liked by any of the wars’ winners or losers. They’d fled until they’d found a place that would be called Zaun, but the name never stayed. Piltover had made sure of that with the canal built to separate them.

Piltover’s Undercity could not be given its own realname.

“And you’re happy there?” It was a challenge, insultingly familiar to conversations he and Powder tip-toed around. Her grey eyes flashed a deep purple in the dark. Viktor assured himself that his own stress and blood loss had made that little anomaly occur.

This isn’t the first person to demand you bow to them and their cruelty.

“I–” His temper, kept usually close to his chest, flared. His sympathies for her, for a fellow child of Zaun, were challenged in the face of the violences she'd done to him. This person held his already diminishing life in her hands, and incredulousness was overriding any self preservation. “Please, this small talk before you deliver the ultimatum is taxing.” He muttered the last part, swallowing a cough.

Vi rolled her eyes, like he was a child, “They flashed some fine, pompous sun into your eyes, aluminerd. There is no ultimatum; there is only the work you're going to do for Zaun for me.” She laughed at his alarmed look. It was warm, hearty, and relaxed at Viktor’s expense. Vi let her laughter fade before she turned to the window–porthole, really–and asked, “What do you think of them?”

A creature the size of a small carriage swam close by, enough that Viktor could see hundreds of teeth. He wondered how long they’d been here, and if they were trapped in an intersecting portion of the canal. They’d grown from nothing more than eggs, eating whatever runoff and sludge came their way…He knew Vi would make fun of him for it, this was probably a test of sorts. He could not bring himself to care, though. “They’re beautiful.”

Her small 'hm' sounded more bitter than genuine. “Really? I hate them. They’re the ugliest, sun-adverse sh*ts I’ve ever seen.” The overhanging, dim lights in the room cast a shadow over his strange captor's appearance. She had not taken him for money or to extort Jayce or Piltover, that much was certain. This was something…haunting. It terrified Viktor that he would recognize the ambition that was in Jayce and his own eyes in her’s. What throne would this woman mount? What bridges would she burn and armies would she conquer? Where would she go with that look, and how long would Viktor be chained to her side? “It doesn’t matter, they won’t survive if they keep sucking in Undercity river water.”

He had no notions if he'd passed whatever test had been put before him, an agitating fact. But, Vi stood back from her seat and motioned with her head towards what Viktor realized was a lift at the end of the room. She took a key out from inside the cloak she was wearing and unlocked a box with a switch.

He realized he’d have to follow her.

Your mistake. He’d been terrible with botany and plants, a mess at cooking or keeping the house clean, and overall he was baffled at anyone who could play an instrument.

He was an amazing architect, though, with an intense understanding of spatial distance and remembrance of room layout.Viktor kept his head down, leaned on his cane, and demurely followed Vi into the lift.

I’m sorry for the wounds this place has given you, but Singed and you don’t realize I’m going to bring whatever horrors you’re committing down around your f*cking ears.


Vi gave him a harsh pat on his back, "Welcome home, by the way."

Powder

Her eyes took an hour to adjust to the Lanes’ artificial lights. The sun was gone, or had it ever existed?

The roofs and highwired areas that had been terrifying to Powder as a girl of eleven were nothing after a decade. It was the same sensation of tinkering with an uncooperative machine, begging and pleading, before finally taking a step back. You’d return in twenty four hours and the problem’s solution that had evaded you was now clear. She leapt from roofs with an ease that had been missing as a child, and gone while atop the buildings in Piltover.

Powder had feared she wouldn’t be able to do it again. The rooftops of the academy, her and Viktor’s apartment, and the trees outside of Piltover were predictable. Fissure folk made their homes out of scrap, and sheets of material that had seen families struggle and grow, and flourish and struggle again.

The brothel was still in swing and vendors still littered the Lanes with exotic animals in crates and cages.Powder deluded herself into thinking that a pause button had been pressed, wholly ignoring that the smell of Shimmer was intoxicating and in the air stronger than the years of her childhood.

Then she saw his statue. She’d been subconsciously moving towards the Last Drop, despite her intentions to search everywhere else in the Lanes first. Her feet betrayed her and kept twisting towards it.

Powder almost missed a ledge and plummeted, but caught a gutter with her hands before befalling that fate. She scrambled up to the ledge on her stomach, checking herself for damage that was not there.

It could have been a life size statue, Vander had been big physically, a stern and booming voice that could be gentle to his allies and family. He never told Powder where he came from. That story was for Vi. Ekko and her used to make up adventures that Vander had gone on, based all around hearsay and the relics that decorated Vander’s bar.

Mylo had called them stupid; no one needed to know Vander's past to understand he was special.

Powder swung down to the cobblestone streets. There was a barren fountain around the statue, no coins, but the area was surprisingly clean and free of graffiti. Powder’s throat was closing up looking at. It would have fit in well even in Piltover.

The were too many gaudy statues of Professor Stanwick, apparently one of the guys who forged Piltover and didn’t for a second think, ‘Maybe this place is f*cked’. Heimerdinger once lectured to her class in front of the statues. Powder was exceptionally proud of herself for not curling her hand into a fist with a limp wristed motion and waving it back and forth in a pulling repetition.

Viktor had made a face when Powder told him about her day. “I used to think their eyes were following me. One time during finals I had a dream they were chasing me…”

“First rule of dreams, Vicky; if someone’s chasing you, turn around and go for the eyes.”

Focus! Focus, dipsh*t! Powder had hung about the Lanes for a few hours, listening to fill in gaps of information. Vander had been the Hound, guarding its underworld and keeping order…Despite the affections in the placing of the statue, the rise of the Chembarons was everywhere. They’d operated on their own before, not stepping on Vander’s toes as wolves kept in line by a stronger dog. As Powder had explored the Lanes, it was clear they were more unified in the decade since the death of Vander, their old king; shops had their symbols and their goods seemed more commonplace. That, and a term she’d heard twice as a kid popped up: ‘Zaun’.

One Chembaron (she had no clue even if it was a Chembaron insignia) symbol stood out from the rest: a single open eye with harsh stick carvings of eyelashes. After a while it felt less like eyelashes and more like pins, forcing the eye to watch over the Undercity eternally.

The eye of the gods…Even in the Undercity the gods only had one of something and they had to take turns with it.When Powder had climbed over the old fish and food stall, a place that had good gossip, she felt too ill to get close. The brothel was out of the question too; she was terrified of being recognized alongside the fact that her stomach kept clenching up at the thought of even being jokingly touched.

If someone touched her, if someone even said her name, she would crumble into the dust.

She leaned forward on her knees. I don’t want to go back…I can’t turn around. The way home was closed to me. I’m not meant to come back to–

Mylo and Claggor dead…Vi and Ekko gone. Vander had been like a god and even he’d not been able to survive. She’d run the scenarios over in her mind starring up at the ceiling at night, pathways like lining wires to smoke bombs. They all lead to nowhere and everywhere. Most lead to her death. If she had been there she would have died.

But what if– No!

Powder pressed the bottom of her palms against her eyes, holding them there and counting back from one hundred. She made a promise to herself that when she turned around she would brave the paths needed and she’d drag Viktor and herself back to Piltover with some sort of heroes' welcome–even if Piltover was the worst and would probably find a way to give someone else credit for Powder having to save her own family.

She turned, and ten feet away in his enforcers’ uniform and mechanized breathing apparatus was the Sheriff of Piltover, Marcus. He looked so supremely out of place in his fine clothes, how he hadn’t been jumped yet was insane. He was like a unicorn walking through haunted sewers.

“Can I help you, officer?” There was a fraction, of a sliver, of a thimble's worth of chance that he didn’t recognize her. Marcus pulled out a set of iron cuffs and charged forward.

f*ck.

The Undercity and Piltover had taught Powder many hard lessons: the world could be frighteningly unfair, everything had a price, beautiful people got through life easier than ugly people, and sometimes the best way to deal with things was to duck, weave, and leave bridges burned behind you.

Powder turned and hit the ground with wild and intensive leaps. Marcus was bigger than her, longer strides and such, but he had his breathing apparatus on. The heavy breaths he was taking through the mechanical filters would give Powder the advantage she needed.

She hoped.

Powder felt a rush of wind past her shoulder as Marcus threw an enforcers’ bolas towards her. The two metal weights, attached by a length of sharp metal cord that could wrap and rip flesh off of fleeing criminals and innocent Zaun residents alike, clattered against a steam pipe. Most enforcer’s carried two sets on them.

She thought to throw back a grenade, but she didn’t trust her aim and the detonation process to occur in time. Her options were drying up, her fear was increasing rapidly.

I need to get to a roof! Taking time to scramble up a ladder or scrap shed would give Marcus an opportunity to grab at her ankles, though. Powder was more flexible and nimble than she was strong, and if he wrestled her to the ground she had a feeling she would lose. There was no room to test it.

Powder’s fleeing feet, and that pestering awful part of her she could not kill, began to take her down alleyways and streets towards The Last Drop again.

The crowds thickened, giving her a lead. Marcus threw another bolas that went wide to the left. A pipe-salesman, a Chirean with wrinkles around his bat ears, started cursing at the chase between Undercity girl and enforcer. The action was drawing an amount of attention from old men playing cards to drunks getting kicked out of alleyways. The eyes made Powder’s arms itch. Every little hope she’d had to use subterfuge was ripped away. Every asshole in the Undercity would know she was here.

Vi would have turned around and hit the enforcer head on. Or, she would have had Mylo and Claggor jump to her aid.

The pinch of sadness gave birth to an idea in her time of need.

The Undercity was fierce, and favors required payment, but Vander had made one thing certain; enforcers would find the Undercity a multi-level hell on earth.Powder prayed that any of Vander’s love and devotion to her old home had remained as she shouted, “Pilty shilty !” It was an old one, classic nicknames for Piltover folks that could be painted on walls and bathroom stalls. The Undercity loved their chants, their humor, their insults. They had so little to share, but they had plenty of resentment to go around.

Marcus never stood a chance, the crowds began laughing and joining in the chant almost instantly–

Until he pulled out the symbol of a single, open eye, with either too many eyelashes or forced open by pins. It was like an Arcane rune, propelling every person on the street to move as far away from Marcus, giving him space and a perfect avenue to grab Powder.

No…

Powder kept running. Terrified by the knowledge that whoever owned that eye could control Piltover…The Undercity…Erase what little magic Vander had left in the world.

Marcus yelled, mockingly, Piltover’s faux politeness gone, “You think anyone here will help you?!”

She begged herself not to turn around, not to see Marcus putting fear into the people who’d always had enough will at least to grumble and fight the yoke that was inherited from above.

It would have made Vi sick.

Now Powder moved towards The Last Drop, uncaring if the truth would brutalize her. It had to be the last safe place left in the world. Vander wasn’t there, but some of him must have remained that wasn’t shallow symbolism in the form of a petrified, nostalgic statue.

Powder heard The Last Drop before she saw it. Her childhood home was pulsating bass and the smell of it–sickly, sweet, rotting–Shimmer aura everywhere.

The sun may have never existed until the new king of The Last Drop had put up their new sign. The Last Drop had been a bar who bragged of a warm, auburn lighting in the depths of their world. Vander had insisted on adding some candles to the whole of it.

They’d killed it. Like Vander.

Powder stood in a plaza in dizzying terror, the green eye built of fluorescent lights dominated The Last Drop’s storefront. When she was ten years old she’d tried to come back, and everything she’d seen had been a dream.

Exiting the crypt of Powder’s past was a woman she recognized, not by name or by any strong familiarity. No, she was hazy and part of Vander’s old cohort. Powder almost started crying. She hadn’t been there when Powder had originally come searching for her family, but she was here now. Powder remembered her name faintly, a memory locked away until she needed it, “Sevika!”

Powder took a risk, reaching out for that help that could only come from Vander or someone who had loved him.

The full force of Marcus slammed into Powder and knocked her to the cobblestone streets. She writhed and screamed from under him, “Sevika!"Jayce had asked Powder why she wouldn’t let people help her. She called out to Sevika a third and final time.

Powder’s blind faith in Vander choked her as Sevika looked to Marcus and said, “What is she doing here?!”

Marcus snapped cuffs onto Powder's wrists, responding with heavy breaths through his respirator, “It doesn’t matter. He won’t find out.”

Sevika looked at the gawking audience and then back to the eye symbol on The Last Drop, “Like hell he won’t. You’re a damned fool. Once she finds out her sister is back she’ll come for your head and Silco won’t stop her.”

Sister? Sister? Sister?

Powder gave up. She’d been a girl living on borrowed time, anyway. A depressing ending for an already dead woman seemed fitting. The truth hadn’t just brutalized her; it had kicked in her teeth and made the funeral a slow one. With her face against the ground, glasses smudged by sweat, a firelight landed just past her nose. The little bug crawled to brush its wings against her face.

There was no one in the world but her and this fragile creature who’d found a way to thrive in the Undercity.

And then Powder didn’t give up. She twisted her head and bit into the enforcer's fingers pressed against her face, retching her head backwards against the ground and screaming in tandem.

Marcus’ scream and another, third yell, broke through the crowd. Another batsh*t, crazy event on top of Powder’s spinning carousel of crazy-making events arrived in the form of four masked creatures on flying boards. Powder for the first time gave genuine thanks to whatever gods were pulling the strings.

Sevika cursed quietly, and from a holster on her side she pulled a blade that’s hilt warped and wrapped into her flesh. Her veins turned purple with the signs of Shimmer injection coursing through her and the almost mythic blade. She jumped into the fray of screaming people to do battle with the flying board riders.

Powder laughed hysterically; it was a miracle. Ekko would have loved this. Powder felt Marcus’ weight give a bit and she scrambled and kicked away. Her arms were cuffed behind her back, and with nothing, but pure adrenaline and half-disbelieving glee, was she able to flee in the screaming crowd.

Notes:

Fun fact: 'Aluminerd' is something Vi called Viktor in League canon. I cannot thank Arcane for letting these characters swear and call each other nicknames that extend past Saturday morning cartoon ideas.

I am amazed by the response to this story. Thank you all for the responses!

Chapter 6: Part Two: The Heir and the Spare

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Viktor

The lift had a single, lime green, lamp light that illuminated stains that had been there long enough to have seen the extent of all traffic in the strange place. Viktor listened to the mechanical breathing of the elevator rising, trying to count how many floors deep they were. Seven floors, eight seconds to rise.

The contraption stopped with a heavy clunk that Viktor noted could alert anyone else in the building that the lift had been used.

If his escape was a sack of grain, then it had many holes.

Vi went to open the gate, when her hand reached the mesh handle, Viktor saw the glint of augmentations. She had silver, almost like tattoos, woven into her knuckles that extended upwards, perhaps going to her elbow.

Viktor began to further characterize her identity, “May I ask you something?” Vi shrugged, but Viktor could tell this was a measured allowance of inquiry, “Are you the Atlas?”

Powder had accused Viktor of forgetting the Undercity. Perhaps he’d tried, but he still kept up with their gossip when he could. If asked, Viktor knew the names of four notable chembarons from when he was a boy, could tell you what gangs controlled what streets, and most of all he knew of the industrialist, Silco.

The man had been investigated by the Council, and the resources Viktor held from being Heimerdinger’s assistant had allowed Viktor to keep up with those investigations. They never amounted to anything substantial. The only result was Viktor’s throat tightening at the news and alarming rumors.

In the reports, sometimes, there was mention of a girl who worked with Silco; some derogatorily called her ‘pinky’. Those fools soon learned to avoid that moniker. There were anecdotes of iron fists, and intense bludgeonings, and swift justice. Nothing illegal, technically…

“Not anymore.” Vi opened the entrance with more force than necessary and kept her head forward. She moved with an energy that was fueled by undisguised frustration. Viktor noted that as an advantage; when he escaped he would not have to worry about Silco too.

They moved through three decaying rooms decorated by pictures of starfish and other quaint creatures, with Vi marching and Viktor only partially having to pretend to keep pace. Piltover and the Undercity looked at him and his cane with senses that underestimated him. He’d been like an alchemist, turning their pity and their thoughts into pathways forward to his success, though. With his slowed pace he could better understand the building’s layout.

They finally stopped at an alcove that led to a greater room with metallic catwalks overhead and a dozen people working the machinery.

Viktor took note of the dimensions, alongside an exit door that had tattooed men and women coming in and out of.

The barrels could be smelled from where they stood; the easily recognizable sweet and rotting stench of Shimmer left nothing to the imagination.

Over the rumble and rankle of Shimmer processing, Viktor heard a gull squawk. He was sure now that there was another smell–fish and mud–permeating the air, and with the evidence from the porthole seven floors below he could deduce they were somewhere close to the river.

Vi hoisted open a crate and threw a moth-eaten duster coat towards him, muttering to herself about how his uniform was nicer wrinkled than anything she’d ever seen on someone in the Lanes. Viktor was internally so bold as to think: ‘Why can you not just hand me the object?’ He instead said quietly, “Thank you.”

“Stay back here until I’m done.” There was an unsaid addendum to her thoughts that included not fleeing. Not that he could have at that moment. “I think you’ll learn something. You’re supposed to be a smart guy, apparently.” He poignantly avoided running his hands over the second handle of his cane. They’d snatch any lifeline away if they knew he had one.

Vi moved forward into a room that had started to fill with people, not heavy muscle per say, but average people. Some looked wary, many had soot stains still on their shoes and faces.

They all dressed like his parents had. They carried themselves like Powder had before Viktor brushed out the knots in her hair that first day she went to the Academy in her ill fitting uniform.

Viktor watched Vi move towards the growing crowd like a returning champion, they all turned to her with quick and easy reverence.

He'd seen this emotional garb many times before on Jayce; a gentle touch to someone’s arm, flawless eye-contact, easy smile, a calm laugh. She’d taken down her intimidating exterior like a coat and switched it for that of a beloved regent, a warrior king among her subjects.

Again, Viktor noticed Vi’s strange, arm augmentations as her hand reached out from her cloak to cradle a child’s face that was being presented to her. He tried to see more, but another Undercity acolyte moved in his line of sight and he could no longer examine it from the distance where he stood.

There had been no community gatherings like this when he was a child, at least none that he knew of. There had been a fighter from a failed revolt on the bridge who’d controlled the Lanes of the Undercity when Viktor had been a teenager, but the Fissures and the sections above had no face to their leadership. Silco the industrialist had taken over for the fighter, it was unknown to Viktor if it had been by force.

Of course it was by force. Don’t be so naive.

The Council of Piltover was technically the strong and long arm of organization and leadership, but if you asked anyone in the Undercity the names of who occupied the seats of that institution they’d probably laugh at you before going back to their day working to make enough to eat.

The people knew the more immediate lords who held power over them: chembarons, street gangs, and enforcers. Those names were etched into the grease of the entire Undercity.

Viktor had once asked Heimerdinger about what was to be done and if there was any way they could help…The Yordle had been happily handing him memos, shocked into pause when Viktor at fifteen had asked this of him.

Balance is unfortunately a fickle mistress who requires time and a slow evolution!” And that had been the end of that conversation. That accidental rudeness, eternal and consistent.

Some of the heavier muscle working in the refinery portion of the building moved past Viktor into the social scene with food and crates of clothes for the people who’d come to see Vi. He counted six guards. There was no fear of these men. There was ease.

He knew his home was broken, but he loved it. He’d built the water wheel lab to remember it and be close to it. Viktor had labored and loved Hextech as an extension of every time a firelight would dance around the windows of the shed he’d played in as a boy; for every Undercity worker who risked entering a mine just to come out singing old songs to their friends on the way home; or a child who jumped into the polluted waters to tag their friends and laugh while a younger boy sat on the shores watching them.

The room was filling more, and with no signs of stopping, Viktor found himself habitually leaning forward to join.

He stalled his feet, though.

The shape of devotion was clear; these people followed her. Viktor turned around to the refinery room that was only thirty feet away from the happy scene. There were barrels upon barrels of Shimmer. Further into the plant, he caught sight of Singed.

Singed’s eyes met his.

Do not swallow this sweetness. The smell of rot is not far behind. Nothing arrives into this world easily.

Singed set aside whatever horrors he was working on and came to Viktor’s side. “You still hold anger towards me?” The man didn’t sound exactly hurt, more curious if anything.

Viktor mentally tallied each answer:no, yes, always; in my nightmares I see a beautiful creature held down by coils delivering purple sludge to her body as she screams for help.

He chose a challenging response instead, “If this revolutionary wanted to convince me to her side, she shouldn’t have had the first thing I see be your face. I would love to believe that you’ve taken on humanitarian work, but I just cannot.”

Signed tutted, “I don’t think belief will be what sways you. I know the look of a doomed man. Alarming truths come when your back is pressed to the wall.” Singed pulled away from the alcove, not joining the rest of the Undercity. “When the time comes, do not blame yourself.”

Viktor’s composure hung on a ledge, ready to slip. He coughed, though, and as he wiped blood from his mouth the sound of applause led to Singed’s drawback further into the refinery. Vi had moved to the front of the room, the congregation before her, and she let them cheer. They settled, and she had the most carefree smile as she said, “I wish I could say I remembered these meetings when Vander was up here, but hey, I was a little kid.” The joke landed, but it was delivered with a wry sadness.

He had lost touch with the friends his parents had after their deaths. He’d never had many friends of his own while he lived here; Sky perhaps, but she was Topside.

His heart clenched a bit, and he swallowed a smaller cough. There was no reason for anyone to help him. Any of these people would see him as a traitor, a Pilty lapdog–

Powder had called him that while he’d waited for Jayce to arrive for the Progress Day speech.

It was the pulley system again. The line yanked back and forth and he was in the same situation; it made no difference whether it was Piltover or the Undercity.

Vi continued to discuss the past, the bridge rebellion and what had come after. Viktor was close to giving up on witnessing a familiar face, until he looked to the corner of the room.

He thought himself desperate, until she moved her mangy disguise, a cloak and hood subtly, to the left; Caitlyn. He knew little of the Kirammans outside of what Jayce had told him about the brief time he’d tutored their only daughter. A speck of hope, nevertheless…

Viktor realized the young enforcer’s confusion at Vi’s speech was turning into interest, then shifting into begrudging admiration. Caitlyn wasn’t enchanted, but she was engrossed and that would make the lies easy to eat.

Viktor turned his attention right to Vi as she articulated the first of many dramatic and wonderful narratives, “I stood with Silco when Vander wouldn’t protect us from Topside, I stood with Silco when he promised he’d stop enforcers from hurting our people– but I cannot stand by Silco after he stole Hextech for his own gain and the gain of the chembarons who he keeps leashed and then who chain us,” The audience clapped after each point. “He could have taken what he’d stolen and used it to protect Zaun, but instead he plans to recreate the Undercity in Topside’s image.”

The last thing Vi had said, before Viktor had passed out and she had snatched him from the lab, had been something about Jayce.

She could be trying to draw Piltover’s ire to remove competition in the form of Silco…Perhaps, but what does Singed get from this deal? What use am I and what does she plan to build now that her followers have someone to hate?

Viktor watched Caitlyn begin to teeter on the edge of believing. Vi was an average public speaker, but it was her fervent belief that came through. He remembered once, Jayce describing why Caitlyn had quit her Academy pursuits to become an enforcer, “ She was obsessed with doing things the right way.”

Vi swallowed, silence descended in the crowd. He could tell she was actually struggling now, “When I was sixteen, my siblings and I headed Topside. We were messing around like any Piltover kid would. We got in trouble and I had to leave my sister behind…” The sparks of genuine truths interwoven with lies worried Viktor the most. His feelings too were being torn between sympathy and worry for this woman. Vi’s voice became louder, “Powder, my sister, died in an explosion caused by Piltover’s carelessness, letting Academy students play with Arcane gems for fun, but who was punished? My sister was dead and they sent enforcers to come finish the rest of us! There was no time to grieve! And then, they took my brothers too!”

He was in freefall, head first. The universe had just let Viktor in on a terrible joke and he did not think it was f*cking funny.

A few of Vi’s closer followers pulled a tarp out, a well choreographed procession. It was painted, photography was a new science that would take years to reach the Undercity, with an image of doe-eyed Powder at the age of eleven or twelve. The exact time she’d been found by him. The artwork made her look a bit exaggerated, a bit more pathetic, a martyr.

Viktor wondered, in the tumbling panic he was experiencing, what they would think if they knew their child saint was now a young woman who often picked her nose and sucked on her braids in the lab, or cheered at her gadgets with a proud and declaratory, ‘now we’re neuken in de keuken!’

Powder had been trying to tell him that she’d seen her sister on Progress Day. He had not listened, consumed by his own fears. If only he could have gone back in time and beat himself with his own cane.

Caitlyn appeared shocked too. He desperately wished she would turn just a little. His invisibility, that he’d stitched around himself for protection and power, was rearing a dramatically ironic and sad disposition. The rest of Vi’s speech was simple: they’d band together when enforcers came for Silco, they’d stay vigilant, and when Silco inevitably toppled, they’d remain to pick up the pieces and ensure his second in command–a woman named Sevika–did not take his place. They believed her. And she allowed the crowd to disperse for their socialization.

Caitlyn melded with the crowd, Viktor still internally yelling. He watched a slow motion accident–a chemical spill in the form of the warrior of the Undercity, Vi, and a princess from Piltover, Caitlyn.

The Atlas approached the enforcer and there were unheard words exchanged. It was not unseen by the loyal attendants who served Vi. The two women exchanged intense looks, diffused when Vi chuckled a bit. Caitlyn pursed her lips after a shocked expression came and went from her countenance. Finally, Caitlyn said something that made Vi’s shoulders stiffen.

Caitlyn nodded once and to Viktor's horror, but not to his surprise, the two women began to move out of his line of sight. To an exit, perhaps.

The wonders of being charming and cunning. Oh, the misery for the rest of us.

Again, he was alone to save himself and his decaying body.

Powder

Before Powder lived in the beautiful room that Viktor gave her–with a gramophone, a work desk, and a tank inhabited by a lobster she’d saved from an Academy dinner–Powder, Vi, Mylo, and Claggor had lived in Vander’s bar.

And before that? Vi and Powder had lived with two people who Powder could only conceptually call parents. She’d seen them that day, lying with their eyes open on the bridge, but no light reaching through their irises. No matter how many times Vi had told her to keep her eyes closed, Powder had started her life ignoring sage advice and turning around to see the horrors that were just behind her.

In Piltover, on her first day pretending to belong, Viktor had overbrushed Powder’s hair and brought her to a small room with a pale, glaring man who would later become Powder’s favorite teacher to torment. Viktor had made a small, pinched face when Heimerdinger had happily introduced the man. Before she’d gone in for her aptitude test, Viktor had pulled her aside, “Don’t let him make you stumble. I’m right here. Keep going forward.”

The asshole had scared Viktor a lot when he was a teenager, apparently. Threw off-handed comments at him here and there– ’Trencher’ – that no one could do anything about and no one wanted to do anything about. All of Powder’s other teachers in contrast had loved Viktor. They gushed about him to her, lamenting that she was not as pliable. ‘So well behaved. So quiet’.

Yeah, and then he stole keys from the head of the Council and then perfected a new blend of magical science. So well behaved…So quiet, my ass.

Powder had never made friends, but she’d had a handful of peers who couldn’t help smirking along with her when Powder could give that one instructor a multi-level hell compiled of smoke bombs and an demonic army of boob sketches and genetalia doodles. In memory of Vi and Ekko and in defense of herself and Viktor and every trencher, Powder took up these rebellions with a major military ranking.

But as Powder ran through the very real streets of the Undercity with her hands cuffed behind her back, faced with the very real threat of enforcers, she realized that she was drowning.

And there’s no f*cking sight of land!

Her will was fading out, but she refused to turn around or let her mind conceptualize anything but the fight and flight running through her veins. The streets were different here, dusty and darker. The power lines that fueled Piltover’s lights were thicker, sturdy tree trunk coils that blocked out the sky as you crawled deeper into the maw of places you weren’t meant to go.

The air was heavy as she descended deeper, her breath coming out in heavy and hot pants that were fogging up her glasses. She threw her head back to better keep them up the bridge of her nose. Fury rose in her heart and throat enough to make her believe she could breathe fire.

She could hide in the south trash heap, a mountain of forgotten Piltover wares that were sold, exchanged, and then dumped in their skeleton, hand-me-down state to them. Powder would regroup, reevaluate, and scream or cry into her shirt for a second or two.

The cuffs need to come off first. In the quiet maze she’d found herself in, there was a recognizable pathway forward. What would be the odds that Mylo’s lock picking tools are still in our hideout? Mylo, she chastised herself, was dead, but he and Vi had left her. It was as good as confirmed, a mystery from when she was eleven gone cold and solved after years.

Had it been him who’d told Vi to not search the rubble for Powder? Vi had been their leader, though. If she’d wanted to rescue Powder she would have gone back to the rubble.

Old hideout. Go, foot in front of the other, dumbass. Common! She couldn’t even hold her head in her hands. The rickety buildings leaned closer inching to join hands and trap her. Every sound had her shaking, humming to herself to stay present. She wanted to whistle, but feared being heard. She wanted her hands back to hold herself, but had none at the moment.

She silenced most of the intrusions, the wiggling worm like intrusive thoughts that could weasel and dig up roots in her. One latched onto the lobe of her thoughts, teeth sinking in quick and mercilessly. Why didn’t Vi take me? The strange and sickening grief of it all. She was surely more keen with Hextech than Jayce Talis, who had been stumbling around with it in his pre-paid apartment thanks to the Kirammens and his parents. Powder was Viktor’s equal in nearly every way, having been by his side at the genesis of Hextech and the evolution into what it was today.

She’d waited a decade for her sister to come back to her, fought Piltover to be someone that her sister would recognize when she returned, turned down the Topsider’s shallow affections in hopes that her sister would come back.

All for nothing. Not even all for a dead woman, but all for someone who instead came and kidnapped the last person who thought she was worth a chance.

Why would she take you? If she was the heir, then you were the spare. Why risk jinxing-

She fell forward into the old hideout. The place where her two brothers, and she had thought also Vi, had met their end. The bullet casings were still there, like a talisman against anyone who would try to enter. The broken glass, which had once been a vibrant emerald green, lay on the floor long dusted over. The room, with its pinball games, mechanical boxing ring, foam target practice, and rotting comic books had the ultimate aura of depressing, childhood wonder that haunted and howled.

Vi, when she’d turned sixteen, had declared that they were no longer allowed to go in it; they were adults and Vander at their age had moved on to greater stages of metamorphosis. Mylo had been ecstatic, to him it was a true declaration of their maturity. Claggor was indifferent, but Powder and Ekko had felt the loss most harshly.

Vi had explained it away with the simple idea that it was time to move on; she wanted them to grow upward, instead of outward.

Powder was a deep sea diver with her hands cuffed behind her back, the sea was the past and she was running out of oxygen. Claggor had been slumped behind the counter where the pop up villains and ghouls ran on a track back and forth to test the players’ response time with shooting. Mylo had tried to hide near Vi’s boxing ring. The struggle between Vander and what had killed him had been in the Last Drop, and by the time Powder had found him she’d been ready to run back across the river.

Powder kicked at a portion of the wall near the entrance. She kicked with her imagination, the stone was an enforcer’s face, as her source of strength. A few times she stopped for deep inhales of breath. Sweat collected in beads on her forehead that she couldn’t wipe away. If she started crying she’d have snot run down her face too. And when the imagination took a seat, it came back with anger that finished the job.

Ekko, before Vi had initiated their childhood, playhouse exodus, had lacquered and created a secret between himself and Powder. She turned her back to it and awkwardly used her hands to pull out the hidden box. She fell forward on her face and cursed before spinning around to let the box spill open. It was all still there; the Undercity had changed and so had Powder, but the ghost of Ekko had left a sarcophagus of supplies in the mausoleum. There was a spanner, a wrench, twelve pieces of wire, blocks with holes drilled into them to attach other blocks by a small metal pipe, a set of old crayons, and an astrolabe that looked like a ‘v’ with a pencil attached to one side to chart the stars the few times a year Ekko and her had been able to see them. Powder picked up wire and astrolabe and stood with her back turned to a dingy golden frame near the foam shooting gallery. Her hands were sweaty and she dropped the wire multiple times. Each attempt led her closer to a screaming fit.

She sunk to the floor, the exhaustion was coming. Vi used to be able to break them, no begging and pleading with the machinery to work.

But where do you think the Arcane originates from?” Viktor and her had once been pouring over Jayce’s initial notes. Powder had not thought them very helpful, all speculative and too focused on the runes that channeled the Arcane and not the initial stones themselves.

She had to admit, though it pained her pride most of all, she sided with Talis’ invisible essence theory. “If it was only in the stones, then we wouldn’t get anything from them after their use. But we can still feel creepy, energy binding, galaxy bullsh*t afterwards.”

“Hexwaves-”

“Sexwaves!”

“...Eh, that joke has claw marks on it.” Powder hated the metaphors, so Viktor elaborated. “You don’t let go of anything until you’ve sated yourself; not even your puns or your jests escape before you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted from them.”

It’s over when I say it’s over…

Enforcer cuffs were more simplistic than the law enforcement of Piltover wanted the Undercity to believe. If you could get a good piece of wire into the bolt that held the two cuff, bracelet pieces together, you could loosen the cheap sh*t they used to produce the cursed devices and make yourself a nice set of bracelets.

It was why enforcers had other tools to take down their marks. The cuffs weren’t enough to keep trencher’s down. Now sitting, Powder could easily get the wire into the space between the cuffs latch, she let herself have the time she needed. Her glasses slid on and off her nose while she parried the device, until finally the give and break in the cuffs arrived and an angelic choir erupted in Powder’s headspace.

“f*cking brilliant!” She hissed. Powder wiped her face with her palms, she had no idea that she could ever be this grateful to have her hands. The sweat and snot and spit and tears then were rubbed off on her overalls.

It was time to leave the mausoleum and enter the trash heap. She could find an actual weapon there. Powder pocketed Ekko’s trove alongside a few of her smoke bombs. The items fit nicely in her overall pockets.

She refused to let herself believe he was alive too. Powder pressed her palms against her eyes. Vi had taken Viktor. Vi had taken Arcane gems. Vi was Vander’s favorite child and she’d survived what had killed him.

Each vine of logic was looking promising…If you were Caitlyn Kirammen who saw the world filled with sunshine, rainbows, and good enforcers.

“I’m going to go to the trash heap…I’m going now…I am leaving this sh*tty playhouse.” Everything seemed so small in comparison. Powder paused at the doorway. When they were kids, Vi had fought every monster that had come their way. Powder was already in the boxing ring, hitting the buttons to begin the simulation of the mechanical fists, before she realized what was happening.

The machine whirred to life. This mechanical death trap had outlived both of her brothers.

This couldn’t be that hard. She looked up at the scoreboard, decorated with Vi’s name.

Powder, as the first fist collided with her face and sent her glasses sprawling to the floor, must have looked exactly how she felt.

She tasted blood in her mouth as she stared at the ceiling like a moron.

Like the Last Drop, even the trash heap had a glowing eye to keep watch atop a rickety tower. It was the same symbol, except this one was purple, like the color of Shimmer.

The air was particularly stagnant here; Powder could have sworn that she could see the dust hanging in front of her eyes.

Powder swallowed more fear and considered that if she kept having to taste and consume her terror that it would fill her up and she’d die of an overdosage.

Whispers hung in the periphery of the trash heaps, noises and clatters of things bigger than rats. Vander had told them that some Fissure Folk who were homeless had squatter’s rights to the area, but never had there ever been this man.

They clung to the shadows, murmuring. A few reached out their hands, but either spooked by the fluorescent light of the eye, or by Powder’s growls and threats, they scampered away.

The sickly sweet smell had returned with a righteous and doubling down of its oppressive force. Powder pulled her shirt from under her overalls to cover her nose to begin rummaging.

She was not entirely out of practice with patchwork engineering. Dumpsters by the Academy had prizes by the dozen.

Powder found lighters, small swatches that could make quick combustions. A focus on invention and its necessity was only barely keeping guilt and worry stopped in a jar. “Don’t worry…He’ll only be mad about the weapons until you save his sorry ass. And Vi will see you didn’t become a spoiled bitch up-top…This is fine!” Her lip was swollen and she kept poking at it as a distraction.

Powder had been talking to herself since before her first death. It was a tick she’d tried to curb, only because it was no one’s business what was in her mind. She started to clean her glasses angrily. A small comfort came by putting the clear frames back on her nose.

You’re being watched… The sensation of eyes on her increased. She scratched her neck and paused to listen.

Heavy footfalls were approaching, their echo unmistakable.They’d been timing their movements to Powder’s foraging before and had abandoned that plane hastily. There was also a low whistle, like a bird swooping and cooing.

Powder froze, Marcus couldn’t have already found her. Except these two noises were unmistakable.

She quietly moved between the heaps of trash. Realizing that her pursuers were doing the same. It wasn’t a Topsider enforcer tailing her. This was someone from across the river.

Every good Trencher trash kid knew that if there was nowhere else to run, it was time to begin moving up.

Powder grabbed a hold of a beam on the rickety building and began to climb. She gritted her teeth midway, trying not to pant from exertion. This wasn’t a rifle competition in the controlled forests outside of Piltover.The sensation of time faded and all she had was the desire to continue upward. Powder rolled onto the flat roof of the tower and breathed with relief for exactly a second.

There was a chuckle across the chasm. She was eye level with a cliff’s ledge and an older man with a scarred face, elegant coat, salt and pepper hair. The most distinct feature was one of his eyes. It was…almost a sorcery of sorts, a forced open witness. A deep and dark abyss for an eye. How he’d found her was of no relevance and no mystery.

She knew immediately that the technicolor eyes all around the Lanes belonged to him.

“Vi’s little sister: the baby, blue martyr. I've regretted we've never had the opportunity to speak.” It was a smooth voice, a tinted glass tone with regal curiosity. Powder had wondered how death had come for Vander...This was the man currently on Vander's throne...This wouldn't be one of those situations where correlation doesn't equal causation...

Powder had no good retort, only her observations and weariness, “The guy with many eyes.”

She moved to stand, but on command the structure shifted violently. Powder lurched forward onto her knees, bowed before the stranger as her teeth and jaw rattled. Below her, she could see two large figures. They were taking turns ramming their shoulders into the structure's foundations. More fear, more terror, more panic. She’d had enough of these emotions to sustain herself for the rest of her life.

There’s not gonna be much life left! The fall wouldn’t kill her. No, it would shatter her into a pulp shaped person. She’d spend an agonizing moment writhing on the ground and judging from the world she’d seen already in the Lanes–the goons wouldn’t put her out of her misery.

Powder was staring down a true chthonic god.

He sighed, “Marcus failed to tell me you walked among the living, child. Be not afraid, this will be quick and painless. Your second death will cause your sister an immeasurable amount of grief and there is nothing more that I want.” He had a reckoning with Vi, so of course Powder had to pay the toll. More bitterness was the fuel to a fire growing high in her.

Powder pushed herself to a standing wobble, “She’s not my sister! My sister wouldn’t leave me!” They were all telling her Vi was alive and that Vi had been alive for a long time. And Powder needed them to be liars. Vi wouldn’t have kidnapped Viktor. Vi was…Well, Vi was good.And to be king of the Undercity after Vander you surely had to be a snake, venomous...

Vi was perfect before she died. The building groaned and Powder wanted to agree with its personified voice.

The goons struck the building again and Powder was now on her stomach. She’d heard about kids who’d been running from enforcers, leapt to grab the stars from the ceiling of the world and been cast back down to the cold depths of the Undercity. They were all forgotten smears on the tile.

The one-eyed king gave no sign of calling his men off, “I remember your sister used to call you something…A little nickname, Jinx. Children can be quite cruel.” He said it with easy cruelty for the sake of something within him that Powder wasn’t privy too. “Earnestly, before this ends, I want you to know that she did leave you, child, to rot in whatever domain you’ve been hiding in. She is truly Vander's heir in that regard.”

He doesn’t know about Piltover…Everything is spinning...Why does everyone know the entire story, but I don't?

“Sorry, not much of a kid anymore.” Powder almost stammered the last bit of her sentence. He'd verbally swiped at her, but she could keep it together. Piltover was full of snide remarks.

When she’d run to Topside she had been given one gift: a clean slate. Viktor knew nothing of failure and fleeing from fights. This new king of the Undercity, in all actuality, knew nothing about her either. He was only reveling in her pain because he wanted to hurt her sister. At the rate the men were shoving the structure, she had to make her next plea worth it. “Hey, if I get last words: tell Vi she took the wrong Hextech scientist.”

“Jokes are cheap here,” the new king said, disbelieving.

“I know, they’re expensive as all hell in the sunlight. No one has a good sense of humor up there.”

And like a magic spell, Powder had said something that had almost amused him.

He raised a slow hand and somehow the thugs at the bottom of the structure knew to stop the soon to be immediate demise of the girl atop. “You were raised in Piltover?”

“‘Raised’ doesn’t account for my years of sucking up to the Academy.” She gave him a wide, false-fearless smirk. “And if you think I’m lying, wait until you hear about all the stuff Vi stole. Yeesh, four dead enforcers and now a blockade by the savior, Councillor Jayce Talis? The details can't be exaggerated!” It was all new information to the king. He had tells, faint and near missable, but enough of a frown and a wrinkling of his nose for Powder to see and use.

“Bargaining for your life?”

“You know,” she looked down between the cracks in the wood. “This is the second time I’ve had to ask myself whether I’ve had enough. I guess the answer is still: not yet.” Faintly, somewhere in the walls of the cavernous area, a faint echo could be heard. If the king heard it, he gave no indication. Powder forced her face into indifference.

A buzzing cricket? No. That hum…Same as in front of The Last Drop…Those wackos on the flying boards… It could have been desperation. Or it could be the opportunity she needed.

“You would build Hextech machinery for Zaun?”

She listened again, multitasking the negotiation with an idea that was crazy enough that it might work, “I mean some of the big wigs of Hextech have been hoping to bring it down here for a while.” That was a lie, Viktor was the only one who’d been interested in that.

He asked slowly, “You’d betray Piltover?”

The answer, which should have been easy, was illusive.

Powder took a deep breath through her nose. She was sure she heard something from a runoff tube, wide enough for a human being to hide in, forty feet away.

With the speed in which their boards could fly, whoever was there would have to make a quick choice.

“I’ll sleep on it.” And then she threw herself off the ledge.

Her braids whipped in front of her face. Her stomach rose up to her throat. The Undercity had built her to be a gambler and she'd pushed all of her chips to the center of the table.

She screamed-

Powder wasn’t caught exactly, more so she slammed into the masked rider atop the strange board. The wind was knocked from her body as the person now holding her had enough armor to make her feel like she’d bodied a steel door. Powder was overcome with a stupid glee that made her smile through her almost certainly bruised ribs in addition to her aching lips.

The air was now filled with zipping riders who revealed themselves from their hidden area. The king cursed and more of his goons arrived to fight. Powder realized why they were called firelights…The energy powering their devices had that lime green glow reminiscent of the actual bugs.

She let herself laugh wildly, manically almost.

“Why did you jump?!” The person who’d caught her had a mask of an owl–disturbingly familiar in nature–and a voice that was distorted behind a modulator. It was mechanical and cold, but the anger was intense.

“I took a calculated risk!” She laughed and was sure over the howl of the wind she could be heard throughout the entire underground.

Notes:

That's a wrap for Part Two! I have an extra long chapter and a playlist for you all.

The next Intermission and the start of Part Three are in the works. The rest of the story has been outlined and only now needs to be articulated.

As always--thank you!

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0uhdGFTZ8lUSgaNhzJFCgD?si=e8ccd2edf5d54312

Chapter 7: Intermission

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Caitlyn

Caitlyn was almost twenty six years old and her feet had never touched the bridge that connected her home with its parallel reflection in the Undercity. Her soles, nor eyes, nor mind knew of Professor Heimerdinger and Professor Stanwick’s construction of those illustrious Sungates; who's guarding statues had not turned their eyes from the bloody sieges that greased their iron work.

Caitlyn did not cross into the Undercity through the Sungates, though. Jayce had barred the entrance and exit, causing an already early mass of citizens to loiter and argue with Sherif Marcus and his lieutenants.

It was odd to Caitlyn, so many enforcers insisted on wearing their full breathing apparatuses, even on the bridge. It was like they were afraid the Undercity goers would drag the air pollution up to the gates of Piltover itself.The blockade was technically still being built, so Caitlyn purchased a ticket on the bathysphere gondola and pulled her hood tight to her ears as the mechanical side structure began to descend from the locked port side of Piltover. These gondolas would also close soon. They were open because they were afforded the luck of a slow moving bureaucracy.

Before Caitlyn had left, she had gone to Viktor and Powder’s apartment.

An easy kick to the lower half of the entrance’s base and she’d found her way into the personality of their cluttered living domicile: Viktor liked to pile paper into towers that made a miniature city around his desk chair and Powder seemed to graffiti on everything, including the walls.

The clear accents of their relationship included evidence that they were both fans of having books stacked on the floor, instead of putting them back on a shelf; both prone to fires on the stovetop; and both very good at leaving nubs of chalk rolling around that crumbled under Caitlyn’s careful shoes.

An eerie silence had been in the house. Tasks left half done lead her from one area to another, and then a realization.

Caitlyn had slowly hypothesized the girl had run away from the lack of lights and the locked windows. The confirmation was that Powder's pet lobster–a stolen animal from a dinner anecdote Jayce had regaled Caitlyn with before–had its tank oversaturated with pellets and fish sprinkles.

Someone had clearly expected they would not be returning for an undisclosed amount of time.

Powder is too rash; like Jayce… It was stupid of them to have not put Powder under watch. Not arrest her, per say, but found a way to keep her close while they were investigating. She would have broken out. There’s no way anyone could have kept Powder by their side for long. She could have helped me...She's surely in the Undercity now. sh*t.

Jayce had asked Caitlyn to be the head of the operation to find his friend, but had also begged a few more large favors of her: go above Marcus’ authority on the matter, report strictly to Jayce as a councilor, ensure that she was disguised on the job.

She was an enforcer, not a spy! Her mother, who was furious with Jayce, had left her with the parting shouts and sage advice that Caitlyn was losing herself to grand visions of vigilantism. Caitlyn, of course, had years of practice and denied this shallow, emotional manipulation from her mother.

Yet, there was the happy twist in her chest when she saw the twitch in Marcus’ eye after she’d informed him simply that she was, ‘In the employ of House Talis and classified work’.Caitlyn found herself easily sipping this vintage of power–worse--Caitlyn found herself enjoying this vintage of power. Her mother drank it deeply and often, judgemental of Caitlyn’s choices all the while.

Another warm and giddy twitch ran through her at the thought that even her mother didn’t know the exact details or logistics of her mission. Jayce, though he’d always agreed with her mother on keeping Caitlyn safe in Piltover, was desperate to get his friend back and had helped with the secretive nature on his end.

She would now finally get to see the world for what it truly was. She would prove herself to Piltover.

It was...strange, these feelings and anxieties mixed with desires. Piltover needed healing, though. Piltover needed her...

I suspected there was a single mind behind the Undercity’s violence. I knew it and had no path towards proof. There was a single snake that had been eating the world and Caitlyn would smash its head against her heel. Jayce had only begun to believe her because something directly precious to him was at stake. She closed her eyes and pushed Jayce from her mind to look towards the Undercity and the Lanes.

She had one clue: a fight had broken out near the sky shipping docks on Progress Day. Data indicated a gang known as The Firelights was primarily responsible. Crystalogy gunpowder and bombs had lined the decks. Caitlyn suspected the attacks were connected to Viktor’s abduction. The fight or mutiny of sorts on the docks had signs that friendly fire had been exchanged as well.

Enforcer offices had cataloged hundreds of The Firelights dealings with Shimmer and body augmentations. Caitlyn could recognize their symbols and graffiti tags, and they were her prime suspects.

One leader. One gang. One face behind a mask and behind it all. Slice the head off the snake and the body shrivels.

Caitlyn turned to a window and feared that she would see a world that could breed crime and chaos.

It wasn’t beautiful, but it wasn’t the hell that her mother feared and warned her of. There was a whole world of neon colors, gray and mysterious steam, well worn and beloved contraptions and shops all descending deeper and deeper.

It was nothing like Piltover, it was unique and had clear signs of its own breathing culture.

She memorized each layer, knowing their name and only now being able to put visuals to names: she’d used a connector to the promenade level, which was made up of docks and seaside connections. The buildings bragged of barnacles on their sides and a heavy smell of fish. They went deeper, stopping for a woman and her son in the Entresol Level, also sometimes called the Fissures.

The woman and her son shared an Esophilter, taking in breaths from the apparatus. Caitlyn felt her lungs begin to squeeze as they finally arrived in the Sump Level. Neon lights advertised Pure Air, Fresh Air, and Pilty Air. She hadn’t brought her enforcer breathing apparatus because it would have given her away, but she now desperately wished for it while her lungs adjusted.

A tap on her shoulder interrupted her pathetic cough. The boy sitting across from her was offering the Esophilter shyly. Caitlyn hadn’t heard him approach. “Are you lost, miss?”

“What gave it away?” She tried to whisper. Caitlyn never wanted children of her own, but she went out of her way to be kind to them after years of diplomats sneering at her when she’d gently tug on her mother’s skirts.

“You smell weird.” He ran back to his mother leaving Caitlyn confused as the bathysphere gondola clunked to the floor of the valley. The woman's attention pricked Caitlyn and made the hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention.

The young enforcer nearly leapt out of her skin when the mother stood up, approached, and asked plainly, “Where is your stop?” Caitlyn had spent a good chunk of her childhood lying to her own mother. This interaction was already so outside of that realm that she was frozen. The woman sighed when Caitlyn stammered. “There’s a place one layer up, you should catch your breath there.” The woman noticed Caitlyn’s further confusion. “There’s no shame in falling from grace. It happens to all of us.” The boy was peering from behind his mother’s knee as she handed Caitlyn a scrap of cloth, tough in nature with little geometric patterns and a cross in a circle in the corner.

The mother must have thought Caitlyn was a Piltover exile. It happened enough that there was a name for those who were accursed and shunned from the City of Progress–The Runoffs. Criminals who’d done time in Stillwater and had no homecoming from Piltover came to the Undercity, those who defaulted on their debts, and Shimmer addicts alike; they all became Runoffs.

The family left the bathysphere and like ghosts they vanished into the busy streets. Caitlyn coughed into her elbow. The cloth wasn’t just a pretty pattern, the diagonal lines and odd circles were reminiscent of the maps she’d built for herself of Piltover and the strings of crime.

It could be an invitation to a gang. Perhaps a gang that held grudges against The Firelights or had rumors circulating about a kidnapped Hextech scientist.

The pathways, many of which required scaling buildings and sides of powerlines, were treacherous. It wasn’t exactly up that she was moving, just to the side. It was abundantly obvious now how Powder had learned to scale trees and the sides of the Academy’s buildings. Caitlyn was not alone while she scaled copper pipes in frustration. Children in their teens were doing similar actions at lightning speeds.

When Caitlyn showed one of the children the map, their eyes narrowed and they demanded coin payment. When they received a few loose pieces in her pocket, they looked reverently at her.

They could have conned her out of more, or taken her the wrong way. Instead, they lead her to a tunnel alongside the side of the canyon’s walls. She hesitated; only Jayce knew where she was. Boldly moving forward, with her hand held to the side of her waist, her pistol and unfoldable rifle hidden by a trench coat, Caitlyn let darkness swallow her.

The tunnel led to stairs of stone, a winding staircase that was like a long tongue that stopped at the back of a throat that was an iron door. To understand the Undercity’s architecture was a marvel and the task could boggle a fourth year Academy engineer.

Caitlyn cleared her throat and knocked on the door, feeling foolish and following a protocol anyway. Her mouth hung agape as the door swung open to do the same. A well tattooed man, with symbols of the Undercity’s favorite iconography of the paganus goddess Janna, all over his face and forearms, raised a thick eyebrow that pulled at his pale skin. He opened a hand and Caitlyn had just enough sense to hand the map over. She was surely being recruited for something. The man started moving into a hallway, expecting Caitlyn to follow. In a low voice he droned, “You know em–rules are the same as The Last Drop: keep your weapons, but if you draw 'em’ then you’re gonna find a whole lotta enemies.”

Caitlyn in fact knew none of that until he said so. It was at least easier to breathe. The smell of the sea's air was nearby. Had they already climbed this far? The bathysphere had been a foolish choice.

The room they arrived in was a retro nautical theme that had plastic flotations, paintings of fish and crabs on the walls, and factory catwalks painted a cheerful turquoise blue. It was not so much a gang meeting, no hardened knife wielders or their ilk, but an array of Undercity folk opening clothes and talking in hushed and happy tones.

Shame washed over her. Caitlyn had been fooled by her mother into expecting a hive of wretched scum and villainy. Unfortunately, it was her job to hunt down wretched scum and villainy and there was none of that present in what was certainly a ‘free to a good home’ style gathering.

As she’d moved to leave, a hush had gathered over the crowd. Gentle fervor entered the room and her hair was pink and she was Caitlyn’s age.

And immediately everything went wrong.

Jayce

Mel had been correct in her assurances; there was something like a miasma attached to the ability to stamp forms and have your wills enacted without moving from a desk.

It could not change–that at his core–he was not meant to pull that sword from stone and wield it.

His family’s forge was like a warm womb that he stepped into to forget the Council halls. He threw off his nobles' wear– the stainless white garb of houses on the Council–while in the heat of his father’s crucible and began to craft. Simple tools came to fruition from the work and slowly morphed and made a mind of their own.

The heat was increasing to dangerous levels as pistons screamed and begged for reprieve.

Jayce removed his shirt and leaned into the smoke and flames like a man takes a long inhale of fresh baked bread.

Jayce could hear and imagine Viktor making a joke at his expense, something about lung damage and something about the color gray. Something, something, something about how being a Councilor was cutting into their time.

He’ll come back. And when he does he’ll make a joke and pretend that he’s fine. The lab without him had the smudges of a violent silence and erasure.

Jayce reached for the chain that connected with the furnace’s bellows. He pulled three quick times to dispel the smoke.

No one had ever expected much of him. The Talis noble house was plain and their estates unassuming compared to the rest of Piltover. He remembered the first month of Hextech, that violent evolution where suddenly he was thrust into a new era with hundreds of eyes on him.

Around that time, when everyone was looking and asking Jayce for favors, and to sign documents, and to attend parties that were all crammed in a wave of adoration that was nearly suffocating, Viktor had asked him a strange question: “May I keep this?” It had been an iron horse statuette with exaggerated, filly’s legs.

Jayce had been confused, rightfully, having completely forgotten for a beat that it had been a trinket in his apartment. “I didn’t know you were such a good thief!” It had been Viktor who’d proudly held up Heimerdinger’s keys and suggested they break into the head of the Council’s laboratory.

Even though it was a joke, Viktor had to chuckle away a flinch that made Jayce feel like he’d stepped on toes. He’d found that while their Hextech dream had brought them close to each other's orbit, that Viktor still could surprise him. Viktor had steadily responded, “It’s for my friend.”

“Oh?” Jayce at that point hadn’t known Viktor had no surname. “Is it for Miss Young?” Jayce had then, and still now ten years into their friendship, had a hard time imagining Viktor not in the ecosystem that was the lab. It was like Viktor belonged there, with Hextech, everything else was vague and amorphous.

Viktor had immediately and forcefully shaken his head, “No, no, it’s for my-” Viktor had at the time struggled to find the right words. He’d swallowed and his free hand had moved in a circle like he was trying to grab the right word from the air. “A sister. Yes, for my sister…eh, the younger.” Viktor’s accent had warped the word into sounding like ‘sestre’.

“I didn’t know your family was around…” Jayce had swerved the sentence at the last second because he had almost said, ‘I didn’t know you still had family’. An entire day of smiling through Piltover nobility games had been making him shove his entire foot into his mouth and down his esophagus. He then tried to be helpful, “Wouldn’t she like a doll more?”

“I don’t know- I don’t think she would want a doll. Perhaps, but-”

“You don’t know what toys your sister likes?” He hadn’t meant it to sound judgemental. It had been the day stealing any modicum of insight from him. Jayce hadn’t realized it then, but he was already starting to feel the immense pressure that was going to be the rest of his life.

Viktor had then let out a long sigh, pulled Jayce aside, and came clean about it all: the girl had been found under some rubble, the Council had already put Jayce on trial, the Undercity had lost its sherif in the investigation for culprits, the new sheriff had closed the case, and Heimerdinger had entrusted him to care for the girl-

Jayce had come to his own conclusions, the ones that Viktor refused to say: Heimerdinger had carelessly placed an intense responsibility onto Viktor right before he had decided to move onto the next chapter of his life with Hextech.

Was it jealousy? Heimerdinger used to joke that I had corrupted his favorite student…

Jayce was thrown back to the present by the heat, he took a sledge hammer and began to aimlessly pull softened metal from the fire and shape it with heavy and precise hits.

“Hammer work is such a delicate art,” Mel’s smooth voice teased him and Jayce luckily had enough mind to not be spooked when she snuck in. He wasn’t angry at her intrusion, only bemused and surprised to find himself thinking that he should have shown her this place earlier. He turned and she was there in the doorway.

She and Viktor know me acutely and in totality, like binary stars circling me. They are perfect gears to fit into this dream’s mechanism. When did I get poetic? It had been a strange and brief set of time, enough to shake his resolve in the world. It had to be the Council rubbing off into and onto him. “How did you find me?” Jayce asked.

“As I said,” Mel in three slow, controlled movements was beside him and Jayce felt not an ounce of shame around her–a very rare and comfortable place to be in for him. “You’re famous. You’re a leader now too, and a beloved one at that. The blockade has caused a stir amidst the rest of the Council, of course, but more so because they cannot admit that the idea has been in volly between them for years. Councilor Kirammen had suggested something similar two years ago. You’ve caught their attention.”

“Are you sure?” He moved his shoulders in circles to release a tension that had been lying in wait for him since– he was unsure the genesis point for it. He had guesses (his trial before the Council, his sabbatical to the deserts for Crystalogy, the vacation in the snowy mining colony gone wrong), but no definite line of theory. Jayce heard the echo in his head that said he only wanted Mel’s attention. Instead, he said, “Marcus brought me reports on The Firelights Gang going back to an incident occurring close to sky shipping docks on Progress Day…They were already here in the city conspiring against us. First with Shimmer and now with calculated abductions. I thought putting magic into their hands would change everything, but now I think they’ll just squander everything I could give them.”

Mel spliced right to the issue, though, the real one that had him by the throat, “There is more that is bothering you…Is it Heimerdinger?”

It was not a question at all; truly it was something asked as a leading point or open door. Jayce envied her power and was supremely grateful he did not have to be brave enough to bridge the more difficult subjects.

“Does he even care ?” Jayce’s throat closed towards the end of the sentence. He was mortified with himself. Heimerdinger had mentored Viktor, but the Yordle seemed toxically and happily detached. Was it a maintaining of his prestige to keep the Council together? The Undercity had been festering beneath them and had literally stolen the father of Piltover’s apprentice. “It makes me sick knowing that any of us could be stolen, but that even my own partner means nothing to him.”

Mel–Jayce marveled that she’d once been Councilor Medarda, distant and unknown–looked into the forge. Her dangling earrings reflected the molten heat against her dark skin and she turned her deep, golden eyes to him. Her eyes were eerily similar to Viktor’s. “Heimerdinger’s inaction has brought us to a crossroads. Perhaps it’s time we take our own countermeasures.”

“Heimerdinger would never allow it.” The unsaid ‘it’ lingered. They both knew what he meant.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll never have to use them.” She sounded exhausted when she said it.

He’d never believed in luck. Like Viktor, Jayce had only ever believed in himself. But unlike Viktor, Jayce had still so desperately needed the rest of the world to believe in him too. “Viktor- He- He would say this wasn’t why we made Hextech.”

Mel’s eyes flickered, something unknowable there as she’d turned back to the fire. “I’m an exile from my family…Piltover is everything to me… It’s almost sad that I–” She paused. “I sometimes think I still would burn down the whole world to save them all, even if they’d hate me for it. Even if they wrote me as the villain…”

“I find it hard to believe anyone could hate you.”

She laughed at that, hearty, smooth like tinted glass, but utterly disbelieving. Mel left him with a simple assurance that she could handle the Council until they were ready.

The genesis was a hammer, like his father and his father’s father. Then followed gauntlets, and a prototype of a rifle.

It was strange, the way his hands moved on their own accord.

Silco

His eye was twitching, the colors fading from view as fuzzy floaters and red seeped into him. Carefully, and with a weary practice, Silco loaded the spring based syringe and pushed the needle into his wounded iris. Shimmer surged through the wound and he could see again through his eye in hectic and violent purple. It was never easier and it never became normalized.

His hands wouldn't stop shaking. But thecolors returned to normal, finally.

His second in command has pulled a decanter off the Last Drop’s high-shelf brands and was nervously pouring herself small shot after small shot, getting the fine goods dripping on his carpet like a dare for him to snap at her. If Sevika knew he was considering this tick of her’s a sign of nervousness, she’d rush to defend herself, all the more proving to Silco that the return of Vander’s youngest, powder blue, charity case had shaken her. Sevika hated weakness.

Creature comforts for all of us.

Sevika was calculating, brutal, and efficient. What kept them together was Zaun and a hatred for Piltover. They were both only human, a fact that both of them held at each other’s throats like sharpened daggers. It was loyalty in its strangest form.

He had no energy to push her so soon after failure for both of them. To test the cracks in her veneer was a gift for their victories; so instead he waited for her to almost gracefully inhale three of the glasses of fine liquor. She centered herself, “The Chembarons are calling for an assembly.” He appreciated her lack of flowery language or platitudes. “They got word of a border blockade and it has them in a panic…Not to mention Vander’s daughter.”

“Which one are you referring to?” The girl had escaped him. She was well practiced after having to elude death a decade ago. Both of them.

Violet had been named surely for the color of her hair. Funny, naming a daughter of Zaun after a flower that would never dare grow in the depths of the Lanes. Silco had given her the title of ‘Atlas’ a more fitting name for one who shoulders the future. Yet, like Vander, she’d buckled under the weight and sought to betray him.

“The little one, Powder Blue. Marcus went rogue on this. How the hell he hid her for a decade is what I’m most curious about.” It was a good question. He’d have to pay a visit to the darling daughter Marcus had. When Sevika had run into his office to explain the chaos that had erupted, stating that the sister had returned from the dead, Silco had assumed the ghost had come back for Violet.

More daughters. The sons died. The daughters lived. I tried to bring Vander back from the dead through the older one…Nostalgic loyalty, believing I could return to the past through the future. Oh,brother, even in deathyou ruin me. I was a fool, but what of the spare?

“Singed has Vander’s heir under control for the time being. We need to control the other.”

He had known Violet was growing restless. Ten years ago, she’d come to him with that bitter and destructive energy that Silco had once recognized in a broad chested, dark-haired man who had nothing to his name, but anger and resentment towards the sun and topside gods that rejected him and cast him deep into the tartarus pits that were the mines.

Unfortunately, that man had died for a cause that he’d forgotten how to fight for.

Vander, always thinking himself the hero of the story, never considered that when he put down his gauntlets that the rest of them were still begging for the scraps of runoff from Piltover.

So, Violet’s ‘betrayal’ was seen by Silco from miles down the mining car tracks. She was a mimic of Vander, a pantomime that he’d foolishly indulged for too long. Her dramatic mutiny on Progress Day was childish and even a little late to Silco’s estimates.

Silco had planned for every world and point that Vi would take. He’d placed Singed as a confidant in her sphere, and had eyes on the Shimmer refinery where she believed she was out of view. Silco had even prepared for the hellfire that would have come down if Vi had kidnapped Jayce Talis.

All moves were in wait for the opportunity to take the Hextech she was building for themselves and potentially ransom back the topsider the impulsive boxer had taken. Silco would then broker a deal of independence and necessity. It would have been bloody no matter what, a simply unavoidable element to the equation.

Had I not cared for her? Given her justice for her brothers? Had I not given her all that Vander had when we were brothers? Selfish brat, blind fool pretending to be Vander.

Vi was meant to enter the dark arms of the grave after all was said and done. With that, Vander’s chapter would finish and Silco could write the new story of Zaun. A glorious manuscript that included respect that had been denied for so long under Piltover.

The other sister, though, was a rogue piece rolling back and forth. In that rogue state, he’d witnessed many surprising avenues, some of which angered him, but many that gave him pause. He needed a smoke, and treated himself to one as Sevika waited on him to decide how to proceed with the Chembarons. “There was…a spark in Vander’s forgotten daughter. She offered to build Hextech in exchange for her life.”

Sevika shrugged, “Could’ve been her blowing smoke up our asses.”

And all the while this question lingers before you: ‘Have you had enough?’

This is the second time I’ve had to ask myself whether I’ve had enough. I guess the answer is still: not yet. That was what she’d said before letting herself go freefall. He’d met enemies who spat at him. He’d made enemies who called him insane. He'd battle with the foolishly brave and bravely foolish.

Vander, you narcissist, you chose the one who flattered your ego and missed the real prize that was always in your hands.

“If she’s here for the scientist that implies either a connection or a necessity between the pair. They do sometimes pluck children who flatter their ego and reassure their goodness.” Silco had seen the way her eyes had flashed. It was with a light that would leave all who cried over the dead little girl she’d once been flinching and screaming at who she was now. “I would have thought Topside could spoil any child, but apparently a child of Zaun is still only ever a creature to be harvested.”

Sevika articulated what he was thinking with a roll of her eyes and muffled curses, “We have to get her before Vi does. She’ll have two of them otherwise.”

“The first Hextech flowers of Zaun.” Silco let the smoke from his cigar fill his entire mouth before he continued. “I’ll send word to Singed to give us a better idea of the man Vi took. In the meantime, fill the vapor tanks for Finn and the rest of the parasites that call themselves barons. They need a little nostalgic reminder of the mines.”

Ekko

She crashed into his arms and it was not sweet like a novelized drama or a jukebox record-tick. Tangled limbs and her wild cackling had him spinning to keep them both airborne, atop his hoverboard. He wore his mask for anonymity, for power, for safety–but it was becoming claustrophobic as Powder held onto him and he could feel her breath close to his neck.

He and the Firelights had been hovering in waiting, watching Powder- The Pilty girl negotiate with Silco. Ekko was ashamed to say that he could hear his own heart thundering in his ears and blood moving through every artery in his body. Scar had been tilting his neck back and forth out of nervous habit.

And then the girl had f*cking rolled off the tower. The girl had thrown herself to death right after promising the world to Silco in the form of the forbidden fruit of Hextech.

“Why did you jump ?!” Ekko had not spent ten years dreaming of a reunion, because there was no reunion to be had. He’d been mulling over last words, phrases and shouts, all for the ghost of a girl he’d been inseparable from, but had ultimately been buried several layers above the Undercity in the land of sunlight.

“I took a calculated risk!” But it was her. Up close, she still had that rounded, diamond shaped face and chin. What had either been forgotten– no– what had grown from that nervous, shy child was a wicked, deep-sea monster’s grin that split her lips so wide that her glasses rubbed against her cheeks. And any doubt that she was here was dashed away on the rocks that were her pallas, gray eyes.

The Firelight hovercrafts were made to carry two for a short time in desperation, three for insane gambits and tense fights that had gone wrong. He signaled to Scar to retreat through the Piltover run-off tunnels. He could interpret hesitation in his second command as the Chirean warrior’s fists twitched.

Ekko kept his history’s details quiet. Only Scar knew what the appearance of this woman meant to him, but the man whistled for The Firelights to create a homing bundle formation anyway They flew close knit in the tunnels to ensure no board rider was left behind.

Ekko saw worry from the rest when they saw their leader moving in the opposite direction of them.

Silco’s men were trying to pelt them with shells from pistols that were better at close range, uselessly pinging iron pipes and scrap instead. Tik pulled a smoke flare from his pack and threw it towards the shooters. From the contraption, black smog thicker than anything Zaun or the Gray could spit hurried out and into the faces of the goons.

Silco looked right into Ekko before stepping back into the shadows; justice also vanished with another opportunity.

Does he know me? He must, after everything he’s siphoned from us. He must know. Another lesson Benzo and Vander never taught him; you’ll accumulate enemies who haunt your dreams and live in the space between your eyelids; they will lay their heads down and not think of you at all.

The Firelights knew secret tunnels and pathways only walked by the Fissure and Lanes folk, but so did Silco to an uncanny degree. The younger kids had rumors about him: deathless, eternal, omnipotent. The truth, which was not entirely devoid of myth, was that Silco had been not a child of the Fissures or Lanes, but deeper. Ekko had inherited these stories from Benzo’s belongings.

Benzo had left him one half of everything.

The other half, gifted from Vander under duress, had gone to Violet.

Powder (it felt strange to think of her in the present tense) and Ekko landed– really, they crashed –into a scrap heap near the Emberlifts. The smog and mists would hide them for the time being.

Ekko’s gift was that he could make time and demand it to be. He threw down a cystalology trap around her feet, green and orange rock sprang up as she swore heavily and tried to kick away at the fabricated stones he’d learned to contain in dust form and release when encountering oxygen. There was only panic and wild worry until she realized there was no escape. “sh*t, there goes my clever plan, Mister Owl! I wonder how many licks it would take to get to the center of these crystals…” This version of Powder slipped back into jokes like it was her shield.

He had five minutes before the crystals broke, enough time to ask, “Are you working for him?” Had Silco found a way to ruin Ekko further? Vi was a special kind of dead and rotting; Powder would be an easy second stab to Ekko in the danse macabre.

“I know a lot of ‘him’s’ and ‘them’s-”

“Do you work with Silco?!” He was weary of jokes and lies and questions that drove him in loops of mili-moments and years. If I hadn’t sold those gadgets to Jayce Talis when he stumbled into the Lanes. If I hadn’t followed him in his beautiful city. If I hadn't told Vi the way to the world of light. If I had been there when the enforcers opened fire on Mylo and Claggor- How dare she come back to destroy him and force the sarcophagus open with a joke.

Powder’s nose scrunched up, and eyebrows pinched together, “I don’t work with Silco yet , Mister Owl. That depends on my sweaty palms and what happens next.” She pushed off the ground and the crystals gave way like melted sugar, allowing her to leap forward with dangerous, acrobatic abandon.

Powder was on top of him now, an astrolabe pushed against Ekko’s neck that choked him. The begrudging respect for the only person who’d ever figured out his tricks was an annoying add on. She’d died, but had come back still smart and with a further cultivated cleverness.

The crystal dust he used could expand rapidly upon contact with oxygen. The dust would form into a heavy material that could solidify against the target. Usually, Silco’s goons struggled and fought against the trap until the material melted and could be easily broken after a five minute frame.

The secret to breaking out in advance, though, was moisture. While The Firelights had swarmed Silco’s illegal shipments in Piltover, watching men and women stronger and crueler than them struggle, Ekko had pondered how escape was so easy and required only an ounce of patience.

If you pressed a hand against a portion of the crystal and held it there for more than fifteen seconds, you could get them to concave. Same with your knees.

She must have done both. Even with the more pressing matter of the woman about to stab him– in his defense , it was an impressive feat; switching and flipping the game board like that–he was impressed by the play.

Oh, I’ve been playing this game longer, Powder. Watch me.

When Ekko had discovered that time was another resource of the world alongside wind and water, he’d then taught himself how to react and stockpile it; he’d been hoarding instantaneous seconds for this exact situation. Powder pushed the astrolabe further into his neck.

“How about this?” Ekko removed his mask, flinging it haphazardly across the ground, a move done in an eighth of a breath. His reflexes had been sharpened to abnormal speeds. Powder sat up in the same manner a frog jumps out of a boiling pot. He moved with her, using the space in between her propelling backwards to push up with his elbows.

She was still on top of him. He’d have to deliver threats half under someone. Phenomenal. Wonderful. Great. sh*t.

“You’re looking good for a dead girl, Powder.” Her face contorted and twisted. He made a mess of with a look like that; Ekko felt guilt and victory over the way she was left speechless. Without his mask, he could hear his own voice faltering too, “I’ll ask you again, do you work for Silco?!”

The astrolabe clattered next to his head and she slowly caved against him. He flinched, expecting violence. Her shoulders moved up and down in shuddering shakes, though. Powder, dead weight atop him, finally asked, “Is this real?”

Ekko shuddered too. He wasn’t the leader of The Firelights, or a hero, or anything at all while his formerly dead best friend cried on top of him. What could anyone be while that happened? “Yeah…Yeah, it is.”

Vi

Vi spent her days wondering what Vander would say if he could see her now. He might hate her. She was going to recreate the world and unfortunately that meant erasing the legacies of Silco, and unfortunately Vander too. Piltover and Zaun’s issues laid in the fact that they were trapped in an infinite spinning cycle.

Vi would destroy that cycle.

Or worse, the thing she dreaded considering the most, was that Vander might pity her. She was not a woman to be pitied. Those feelings were for her sister-

“Your sister…” The Pilty had stumbled over her posh and lilting accent with hungry stares. The woman, around Vi's age, had also stumbled into their meeting, drawing an inordinate amount of attention to herself and her ignorance on their procedures. Silco had taught Vi to mark the shapes of each person who entered and exited The Last Drop. The poor, young enforcer had wandered into the deep woods with a misguided attempt probably of saving the scientist. Enforcers came in two shades: unusually cruel or stupidly noble. Vi approached her after the speech, quietly and to not spook the woman. “I have information on your sister-” The enforcer had started to say again.

A hand and a shake to the head interrupted the enforcer, “You’re cute, but you think I haven’t heard any number of combinations of what you’re about to say?” It was either money, her time, or her wrath that the morons around her wanted when they tried to drag Powder’s corpse into negotiations and fights. “These are good people here. If you try to arrest me you’re going to cause a panic and I won’t allow that.”

Vi had made sure to invite as many of Vander’s old charity cases. Most enforcers couldn’t differentiate who was criminal and who was civilian, so Vi had mashed them all together into one setting. The enforcer was clearly saddened, “I know your sister.”

Powder, we need to go! It had been the last words Vi had said–shouted in panic–to her sister a lifetime ago.

The enforcer could have shot her and Vi would have been less angry. She would have been lying to herself if she didn't acknowledge the way her chest squeezed and the wind was sucked out of her blood and into the sentence. Vi laughed a little, an attempt to return to a higher ground. “Okay, let's take a walk.”

The guards she’d swayed to her side took a step back. The enforcer woman hesitated, and then followed. This one thought herself different from the rest.

The enforcer woman was probably smart–she’d found Vi already and climbed her way to the west deluge tunnel entrance–but smart not always equaled wise. Like most people in Piltover, they wanted and believed easy stories. An easy story had a damsel, a monster, a martyr, a knight, bandits, and a magician. If she told Vi a lie, or was using this as a segway for her own ends, then Vi would dump her body over the railing of the docks.

Pilties never had to consider who was writing their stories because their stories always went the way they wanted.

They never considered that one day Vi would be their writer–their maker.

The docks were quiet, say for the lap of waves against buoys and pillars. The enforcer looked around, realizing it was the pair of them. “Where do you live in Piltover?” Vi asked like she was an old friend.

The enforcer wasn’t having it, “I just told you your sister is alive.”

“You want me to start crying about it? Can I give you some advice?” The woman was now frightening Vi enough to make her hands itch, knuckles wanted to connect with flesh and bone. The Pilty wasn’t even trying to deny she was from Piltover.

The enforcer huffed angrily and in a manic disbelief, “I’m telling you, I know your-

“You’re smart, and you know how to make it seem like you have what people want,” Vi could go for the throat and watch the woman soar over the railing. It would be a cartoonish death and that would hurt the enforcers the most. “But, you’re so sure you’re the good guy that you don’t realize when your real enemy is right in front of you.”

“She loves smoke and glitter bombs.” The enforcer snapped back, eager to prove Vi wrong, and Vi felt the band of tension between them go tilting back and whip her in the face. She was no longer in control.

Vi hissed, “What’s her name?”

“Powder. She has no house surnames as is customary from Undercity children, so she went around with the pseudonym ‘Fisher’ occasionally.”

A lifetime ago, Powder and her had thrown concrete into fissure ponds. Powder had looked up at her and smiled, ‘Vi! I saw a fish!’

“Who’s her favorite inventor?!” She’d underestimated the enforcer’s ability to gather information. She must have heard her sister’s name from the muttering crowds. I should kill her now.

The enforcer bit her lip for a moment and if she’d waited a second longer Vi would have strangled her. “She had a few Valdiani music boxes on her desk…”

Powder had shown Vi the pictures, happily jumped and pointed at the diagrams in a book with the nerdiest loser on the front cover.

She learned to read before me and she and Ekko couldn’t shut up about the music boxes, the planetary maps, the clockwork toys, and the weird candle holders with eight stands. ‘Vi, did you know some people think Valdiani was from the Undercity? Did you know some people think he was a mage? Did you know? Did you know, did you know, did you-

The enforcer saw whatever cold and strange grief was rising in Vi and said, “I’m sorry.”

“What did you do to her?” Vi imagined an eleven year old girl in Stillwater. It wouldn’t matter how old she was if she was from Zaun.

The dust and rubble covered everything. Mylo and Claggor grabbed me. We were running and I kept turning around because I wanted her to be there. She had to be behind me. Why did I turn around?

The enforcer’s pity turned back to petulant anger. Vi liked that better, anyway. “We didn’t do anything to her. Powder’s a student at the Academy and she has a brother…”

Of course she had brothers… Mylo and Claggor were her brothers. “A topsider took her in?” It was the type of fantasy that some of the younger prostitutes in Babette’s brothel dreamed of. A prince charming from Piltover, almost certainly a carbon copy of Jayce Talis, would come down from heaven and whisk them off to the city of Progress where they’d realize that kindness was easy when you didn’t have to worry about eating or breathing clean air.

Why didn’t she run away?

“He’s not a top- He’s not from Piltover. He’s from the Undercity, like you. I’m looking for him and also Powder now.” The enforcer looked towards the water, lost for a second and confused, like she didn’t remember that her home could be so far away. Vi had been feeling that way for years now. “You were talking about Silco the Industrialist and Hextech in that meeting. I’m not supposed to, but I’ve wasted an entire day searching dead ends around the Firelights gang. I need your help, because that man Silco took, he means a lot to Powder. If Silco is dangerous, then Powder is going to be moving towards a trap.”

If there was a god, she must have thought this whole exchange was funny. But Vi was about to be f*cking hilarious. “I usually go on a date or two before letting a woman proposition me.”

The enforcer flushed red and then rolled her eyes, grumbling, “Your sister would say the same thing.”

Vi loathed the way people had turned her sister into a martyr. It had benefits, but stung in ways no one would understand. It had uses, though, like this woman, “Silco and the Firelights have a base of operations near The Last Drop.”

She was going to write the world anew. For the first time in a long time Vi felt hope.

The world would be born again, just like her sister.

Notes:

As always, the encouragement and engagement with this story has meant the world to me.

Chapter 8: Part Three: Underground Utopias

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Powder

Ten years ago, she’d fallen asleep in Piltover after a heist with her siblings gone awry.

Powder had awoken to an unfamiliar ceiling. It had not been the wood of her sister’s top bunk or the rafters of The Last Drop.

An abundance of memories had surfaced for her as she stared at the strange roof over her--her face being stuck to the cushy, laminated upholstery of bar booths after she and Vi would fall asleep listening to Vi’s favorite song.

It was the song with the cover art of the two girls in ribbons and dresses floating. The illustrated girls were fancily painted with closed eyes and smiling faces. They were blissfully unaware that they weren’t real girls and were only there to make a fun illusion as the record-tick spun in the machine, loudly proclaiming that, ‘love was a bubbling fountain that could even reach the sea’.

She’d hummed it for years after on the way to class, in the lavatory of her and Viktor’s house, on the rooftops with her legs kicking back and forth off the edge. It was a shame; she never remembered what the song was called. It had been an itch that would pop up from time to time and wrankle her until she scratched it by cleaning her glasses.

The ceiling of Viktor’s room had been stark white. So much of Piltover was the shiniest gold and the cleanest white.

Powder had run away from him, but not immediately.

After realizing that a night had passed–without her siblings coming back for her–she’d had the courtesy to poke the scientist in the nose to wake him and explain she would be departing back to her world.

She’d respected him–and she’d continued to after beginning to live at his side– for lying well enough to hide in plain sight in Piltover and commanding the enforcers to not attack her after her rescue from the rubble.

He’d startled awake, having slept in his chair and leaned over his desk. She’d then explained in a messy jumble that she was going home, thanking him again for not letting the enforcers kick her teeth in.

He’d listened until she’d run out of words and then lifted a leather bound notebook off his disorganized desk and asked her something she’d never forgotten, “Before you go, could you make a labyrinth for me?”

“You mean a maze?”

“Yes, one that I will have a hard time solving.” He’d then reached for his cane, closely leaned against the wall, and stood to allow her to sit at the desk.

Powder had loved to draw, and it had only seemed fair to oblige this simple request since he’d helped her out and given her something to eat.

Vander had drilled it into Vi’s head that they had to earn their way in the world, and Vi in turn had tasked her siblings with those lessons.

Powder had struggled to hold the mechanical pen being better used to chalk and charcoal. But she had not struggled to make the maze. She’d started with a circle, knowing that trick from Ekko. That way, it would be difficult to follow the walls. An odd angle here and there was sprinkled into her drawing.

Viktor had gone very quiet, eyes roaming over the labyrinth she’d drawn with an absence of emotion. He’d then opened a book that Powder would later confirm was Jayce Talis’ confiscated journal.

“You start the maze from the middle?” He’d asked.

“It’s harder to get out than in.”

He’d then ripped out a blank page, wrote down an equation and held it up to her. “Do you know this?”

She actually had recognized it; it was half the signs that meant plants were growing. Powder had never been to a school, but she’d had Benzo. Benzo was Vander’s older friend and a collector of fine tossed garbage and old books.

Ekko had also been obsessed with plants for a brief time, showing her images and symbols that stuck to her head, whereas the boxing routines Vi and Vander were keen to teach never stayed for long. “There’s supposed to be an arrow and then you’re supposed to write the rest of the symbols for the tiny things...The hidden chemicals…”

Viktor had been impressed. It had been rare for someone to be…’interested’ with her skills and the mechanical creatures she built.

Vi would smile and nod her head along to Powder explaining her new favorite book, but Mylo made it abundantly clear what most people thought of her and what the Undercity thought of her. There was no use for her tinkered objects.

She wasn’t a fighter. Vi always said she didn’t have to be, but once again, that was only because Vi was the best fighter in the Lanes and only second to Vander.

Ekko escaped the brunt of the Lanes’ disdain because he worked with Benzo. Working with Benzo meant knowing how to pawn objects, judge value from gemstones in mines, and understand how to scalp scavenged goods and resell them back to the Pilties who had lost them in the first place.

When Viktor then showed her the rest of Jayce’s journal, the runes and the symbols familiar to the glowing ones that had saved her, he added an invitation. It was a tentative one, “I want to speak to those you live with…I believe- I believe there’s a place for your mind and talents at the Academy. You’ve taught yourself so much already…”

“Like you?” Powder at the time hadn’t understood what Viktor was. He was from the Undercity, but he lived in a small– borrowed –room in Piltover. He was an exotic bird and an oddity living in a small space in between.

She had wondered if she wanted to be that.

Your differences make you strong, Powder.”

Because Vi’s differences made life easier for her. She wasn’t different, she was special!

Tick tock, Tick tock, Tick tock…

Gods, if only-

Powder startled awake to another unfamiliar ceiling. She was also flung into the present moment as an older, longer haired woman.

The noise, everywhere and everything, a slow hum of mechanisms and time pieces.

A scream was on the tip of her throat. She had been back to fleeing from Marcus, the dark eye of the new king of the Undercity following close by, and the masked board riders.

Ah, new nightmares.

This ceiling was…layered, like cords or snakes.

“They’re tree roots.”

She sat up and saw Ekko was sitting at a desk to her left. She rubbed her eyes. She rubbed them harder when he was still there. She acutely felt the absence too of her smoke bombs, the stinging gas tanks, and the astrolabe…But there was no absence from Ekko.No weapons between us.

She could tell he’d grown tall, with a chiseled jaw and infinitely clever, dark, brown eyes. His locks were longer too, hair whiter alongside the Undercity symbol forInfinitus painted in white ink on his dark skinned face. On the desk nearby was the mechanical owl face he wore. “You passed out.” He elaborated when she narrowed her eyes at him.

Powder ran a hand through her hair, her braids had come undone and she was laid out on a cot suspiciously near the trunk, or root, of the tree-like structure.

She’d had this dream before: in her room in Piltover, Vi mostly, but sometimes Ekko would be sitting in the corner watching while Powder desperately tried to move herself up from an awful, nightmarish paralysis. “I passed out?!” She hated to think he’d carried her anywhere like a Piltover damsel.

Her glasses were gone and she had no way to rub out the voices taunting at the weaknesses gained over time.

“You haven’t been back in years and you decided to run six blocks from an enforcer; and that was before you climbed a building and threw yourself off of a tower. You didn’t let yourself adjust.” Ekko was referring to the air, this much she remembered from playing games with him in the heavier, and denser zones of the valley where the Zaun Gray was soupy.

Ekko didn’t blink as he spoke to her. Like the mechanic–the scientist –he’d been as a small child, she wouldn’t be able to get anything past him. “Where did they take you?”

“Give me my glasses first, then maybe I’ll tell you.” I can lie and lie and lie-

Maybe ?” He said, like a man who hadn’t slept in months, potentially years. That made her ache a bit. He was in his twenties, and he’d clearly been to hell and back already.

“You should know better than anyone that if I just told you what I know, I’d have no leverage!” It was the same Topside as it was in the Undercity.

He blinked in shock. “I guess they didn’t change you up there.”

She’d pondered that question many, many times. It had rolled about her head every which way. “But they changed you down here.”

He leaned forward and she saw a resignation reserved for ancients, “Silco and Vi have a way of doing that.” A weary anger dressed the entire comment in the trappings of finer clothes. She could remember all the days Vi would take a hose and spray young Ekko and her down when they’d come back from scrap yarding. That boy was perhaps as dead as the Powder who’d left the Undercity.

Whether he was her friend or not, Powder needed answers from him, though.

“You won’t believe any of it and we’ll be back to the beginning.” Powder said.

“I can try.”

She liked that; when people at least tried.

Powder pushed herself to the edge of the cot and began with the stones in Jayce’s apartment, waking up under the rubble, and the enforcers who pulled her out. Ekko swallowed and turned to look at his shoes when she described how the enforcers nearly bludgeoned her in, but she’d gotten lucky.

Ekko interrupted when she arrived at Viktor’s offer of the Academy.

“So you chose to stay up there.” He asked her with no hint of anger or judgment. It was a distant observation, like the thesis students in the alchemical halls mixing mercury bases and seeing the colors change.

“I tried to come back-” Powder had been defending her choices to herself for so long that it felt surreal to be vomiting them aloud. “No one was in the Last Drop and I saw the glass and overturned tables. So, I ran to our hideout…I saw Mylo and Claggor, and I ran again.”

“I saw them too.” Ekko said. Her mouth went dry at his admission.

What had drawn them together when they were young? Forged their alliance of trinkets and books? It had been crying. Mylo called them the ‘wailers’. If they fell from a rooftop, or scraped their knee scaling a windowsill ledge they cried. And they never judged each other for those weaknesses.

She’d wanted more than anything for someone to come back for her in Piltover, but that hadn’t happened and she’d stopped crying around the first weeks at the Academy. She heard Viktor cry once, and it was scary enough that she dried her tear ducts post haste.

“I- I went back to the scientist, not Piltover.” Powder needed Ekko to know she wasn’t a traitor. She’d never been necessarily a good person. Decent at best was her modus operandi.It was the Undercity who’d shunned her, not the other way around. “He’d said I could stay and that there was a space for me at the Academy…It was probably Hextech and him lying, because I slipped into the system and no one tried to come after me.”

“You’ve come back for him?”

She’d never told Viktor this, but she’d forgotten where the Academy was after running up from Zaun. The world had been so much worse without Vi and Vander in it; everything had become infinitely bigger and the edges sharper. Across the bridge, where enforcers lived and dragons too, she’d wandered from street to street until she finally came across the Academy grounds.

Blue light shook and sparkled from the windows that night.

Powder chewed the inside of her mouth. “You’ve had enough questions. I’ve got my own.” She leapt off the cot, and circles swam in her eyes. She swayed on her feet and unceremoniously landed against him–again. He’d moved in approximately three motions to get to her and catch her. “How are you that fast?

“I make up the time.”

Infinitus…Interesting, like an echo…Ekko…

“I- I needed to leave, but I didn’t mean to leave you.” It felt like an insufficient explanation for everything that had happened. It sounded corny too, like a bad sorry and a bad goodbye wrapped into a doe-eyed poem.

Ekko gave her the best answer she could have asked for, though, “I know.”

Powder steadied herself. She could push herself to limits that she set and created. “That’s not my only question, Ekko.” There was that needle-sharp stab at her heel, and her throat, and really all over her. She was walking on them. She’d missed a dead man, but the dead man was not dead. And a childish part of her realized that she wanted this to be a new and better chapter of what could come. “Ekko, what happened to my sister?”

This could actually end well. It was a dangerous thought to have.

“I’ll show you.” Again, that raw wound–that showed itself in an older anger and a tired twitch of his lips–appeared on Ekko.

And he showed her a hidden garden, branches of a great tree that had found the will to survive in a completely forgotten area of the Undercity. Powder was amazed at the construction of a playground, a little library, and everything that a gaggle of children and teens needed. She was not amazed that it had been Ekko who made it. Everywhere there were kids on gliders and there were chalkboards with drawings and the signs of a calm world.

And he told her all that had happened in the small space and time where they’d believed Powder was dead.

Vi, Mylo, and Claggor had barely escaped the enforcers and ran back to Vander. Initially, a steady flow of enforcers entered the Lanes and leaked into the entirety of the Undercity. Usually, it was just the Lanes, but even the Fissures got a severe taste of Piltover boot on their throats. The situation was tense, not a single person could breath as Piltover mulled over what was to be done with them all. Nothing happened for twelve hours.

In those twelve hours, Vi begged for Vander to fight. Ekko lowered his voice at that juncture of the story. He was alert to ensure no one else heard them. Vander had gone to see Benzo. Then he whispered, “I was always nosey, couldn’t stand to be left out of Benzo’s work and business. For the second time that day I got someone killed…”

He refused to make eye contact with her. Ekko said he'd snuck into Benzo’s roof attic. She remembered it fondly. It was like the tree house where she stood now; it had been filled with wonders–like glass telescopes, games, and mechanical claws–of Ekko’s imagination and engineering. He’d spied Vander and Benzo talking, and then the curtain and rugs were all pulled away. An enforcer woman, clad in heavy metals and a pristine suit, had entered the building alone. She wasn’t a foot grunt and it hadn’t taken long for a young Ekko to realize why she was there.

While Ekko explained the deal made between former Sheriff Grayson and Vander, Powder grabbed a strand of her hair and tugged until chunks of blue strands came out in her hand.

“My daughter’s gone, Grayson. What more do you want from me?” Everything, Vander. They hate the idea of there being doors closed to them. They’ll never stop wanting. You were just like Viktor…Thinking that if you danced well enough to their songs that they’d even let you just live.

She’d be lying if she said that Piltover was all bad. But she’d also be lying if she said that it ever let her forget where she came from.

It was like the city couldn’t wait to remind her how charitable it had been by taking her and Viktor in. Don’t you realize we almost threw out our golden boy, Jayce Talis, when he didn’t serve our interests? Don’t you know how easy it will be to replace you in the City of Progress?

She’d also learned she wasn’t the only Undercity kid to be part of their programs. She was just one of the handful who had nothing to go back to. That first week in her classes, a boy had grabbed her wrist while no one was around and hissed that she wouldn’t ruin his opportunity. He had a family in the Fissures who’d given him up so he could return as their hero with technology and wealth at his heels.

He’d tried to scare her into submission, like so many others. She’d snapped.

That was the first fight she’d ever been in and won.

Ekko continued his tale and running his hands along the balconies they passed. It only got weirder from there. “I couldn’t keep a secret when I was little...Especially not from your sister. I told her what I saw and she gave me a look I’ll never forget, Powder.”

Powder stared blankly at her hands when Ekko told her that Vi tried to kill and fight the enforcers. One enforcer died and two kids alongside them. Vi became a spiral of herself.

“Silco was about to make his move against Vander and the Last Drop with Shimmer, but instead he found a lieutenant,” Ekko said. “Your sister was everything he needed: tough as Vander, smart as Vander, and trained by Vander. She was a mirror for his ego and his nostalgia.”

“Who is he?” He’d talked to Powder like he’d known her for years. He was another ghost to her past it seemed, but this one had been inherited by Vander.

Ekko looked her over. He then finally said, “Vander lied…Or at least he withheld secrets that he’d hoped were gone.”

The dead were rising all the time. “Nothing ever really stays dead.”

That answer pleased Ekko for some reason. Maybe he’d thought she’d crumble at the idea of Vander being less than perfect. Ekko must have not realized that deep down in her self anguish over being left in Piltover there also existed the childish resentment that Vander had never come for her. The question had always been in the back of her mind; if Vi had been left behind would Vander have come back for her? Was it because it was Powder? “Vander went after Silco to get your sister back…Benzo too…It was too late. I don’t know entirely what happened in the fisheries, but your sister wasn’t forced to serve Silco. She did it because she wanted to. The only reason she’s standing against him now is because she thinks she knows what's best for us without asking if anyone ever wanted her as king, anyway.”

“And what?” Powder grumbled at him. How had the world gone through such a metamorphosis? “You think they’d want you as their king, instead? Their boy savior? They seem real content and fine with the Shimmer in their veins and letting enforcers like Marcus grab them off the streets. What happens when Silco’s gone too, Ekko?”

Ekko went silent and proved to her that he was still the more mature one, the one who didn’t care if he lost one of their games. He was always able to avoid rising to Mylo’s or her bait.

Again, she was running the thread of thought through her head; she had missed him. He had always been close to her thoughts of school and frustrations growing up. She’d mourned him and waited for him like she’d waited for Vi. She was feeling…inarticulate and unfunny. She wondered if he’d missed her too. He’d said he regretted what had happened. Yet, regrets and missing someone felt separate in Powder’s busy mind

Powder began to rebraid her own hair, huffing when one of the younger, masked children ran by trying to snatch at it. They were out in the open now, a sea of leaves above them and a wonderland of a world under them.

There were too many street kids around, though. There was never a shortage of them before, but their numbers had tripled in ten years and it was like they’d all hustled over to Ekko’s hideout to whisper and point at her. When she snarled back at them they gave her a wide berth. Ekko rolled his eyes at her and ruined any fear she threw into the kids by nodding his head once or apologizing.

They weren’t just human orphans either. There was a chirean teenager with the widest and biggest bat ears Powder had ever seen. There was a yordle too, like Heimerdinger, but much younger and wearing oversized goggles. He stared, with his mouth wide open and his head co*cked to the side at Powder as they walked by. When Ekko waved to him, calling him ‘Ziggs’, he darted back into the shadows of the playground made of tubes and old distilling barrels.

“He’s had a hard time adjusting.” Ekko wasn’t exactly speaking to her, just speaking generally. The story had clearly drained him. He was now trying to make a point by showing her snapshots of the world he’d forged from the very same apocalypse she’d undergone.

Powder had known Ekko as happier than most kids in the Undercity; he’d been healthy and smart and quick on his feet. He’d also, and most importantly, had explicit protection and tutelage from Benzo.

Powder in Piltover had seen that the power of patronage was also not too dissimilar from how it was in the Undercity. If someone vouched for you, or believed in you, then your life was easier.

“Damn it Powder-” Jayce Talis never understood that everything had a price. “Why won’t you let people help you?!” Because they’ll want something in return! I have too many debts! Debts to dead men and women that aren’t actually dead at an alarming rate!

“You said she’s not working for Silco anymore.” Powder felt her heart leap to her throat. Her pulse was starting to go wild. Ideas everywhere.

“No, she took your scientist and we think she has a plan to reverse engineer Hextech in some way…Make a weapon that will make the Chembarons and Silco kneel to her.”

Then there’s still a chance…

“I’m getting dumb ideas.” Powder turned to a set of kids painting on the mechanical walls that held the tree’s trunk. By her estimates, over four hundred people could hide in the Firelights’ biosphere.

“Dumb ideas?”

“The usual ones.” Hextech would never come to the Undercity. Not willingly and not by Talis or the Council. On Progress Day she’d watched in secret from outside the laboratory window and seen Viktor’s shoulder hunch with defeat at Heimerdinger’s proclamation that in a decade their inventions could finally reach people in the Undercity. In her own frustrations, she’d decided to pitch a fit on a quiet corner of the Piltover sky docks. And then nothing had gone right for her since. “Hextech could give a bit of a boost to those boards.”

Heimerdinger would pitch a fit if he knew she was even considering what she was considering. She could distinctly hear: “Technology is not a toy! Though it can be a good gateway to introduce to inspiring young minds, there comes a time where you must recognize that these tools come with immense responsibility!”

Powder reasoned it was better than giving it to the cyclops, Silco. Ekko, though, surprised her again, “I don’t want anything to do with Jayce Talis.”

“That’s the first time I’ve literally ever heard anyone say that.”

He gestured towards a cylindrical, towering series of metal sheets. They were supporting one side of the tree. From the tree-branch balcony (Ekko must have found a magic way to slow down time, because the construction was surreal) Powder could see candles at the base of a mural. The mural had faces she didn’t recognize, but also ones she did. Benzo was there, Mylo, Claggor, Vander, herself, but also Violet

“Vi is gone, Powder. She’s not your sister anymore; she gave up being there for all of us to instead run a rat race working with Silco and then make a play against him to rule the Undercity. We don’t need kings of industrial might like Silco and Talis. We also don’t need patrimony from your sister.”

“No.” Powder said. Ekko’s eyes clouded with frustration. She kept talking, trying to talk away this strange new narrative. “Vi- She wasn’t like that.”

It was scary because Vi had been. Vi could not be.

Ekko turned his face to the sun filtered under the tree's leaves. “I’m sorry she left you. I’m sorry we all did, Powder.”

“Vi didn’t leave me.” When all the colors of the world had been black, there had been that hope on the back of her mind. Vander had left her, Mylo and Claggor too. Never, Vi, though. “Vi was always with me.”

She’d gone to the Academy, and very quickly she’d made enemies. What had been strange, though, was they came from an unexpectedly familiar world. Everytime Jayce Talis rolled his eyes at her, or enforcers jeered and catcalled her, Powder’s mind would go entirely blank and panicked until Vi’s voice punched down the fear.

Anytime anyone said anything about Viktor, I just imagined Vi telling me to knock them back on their asses. She’s a protector, not a villain.

“My sister wouldn’t hurt me, Ekko.”

“Not you, but she’ll hurt the scientist, Viktor–whether he does what she wants or not–is not safe from her wrath. No one is safe, Powder.”

Years ago it had been Vi who’d championed for them to stop pranking the shy chemist–Huck–who sometimes came to drink alone in Vander’s bar.

That had been with Vander, though.

Powder reached for her glasses, but they weren’t there. Ekko reached into his pocket like he’d read her mind and held them out to her. He was something else sometimes. In reality, he’d always been too special for her.

She snatched the frames from him and began to furiously clean, “I’m going back to Piltover…I have a plan and I’ll need your help. We’re going to save my sister and Viktor.”

Ekko’s eyes clouded, “Powder-”

“Help me at least try…And I’ll give you the world of Hextech on a silver platter and more, Ekko. I've been on the ground floor of this technology and I was its bloody genesis.”

The clouds in Ekko’s eyes did not clear. Instead they become thunder clouds. He was a leader who had people to take care of…And the technology Piltover had could turn the tides.

The part of her raised by Viktor felt bad for offering him what he couldn’t refuse. Yet, Vi’s voice approved.

Viktor

Viktor remembered that Powder used to like the story about a witch who lived in a moving house and would eat pretty women, but sometimes spare the clever girls. What the fairytale failed to mention, though, was that being clever and surviving did not always include being spared.

He knew he was going to die, but was nowhere close to accepting that. Viktor vowed he would be one of the clever ones.

He considered this as Vi lifted him off his feet and shoved him against a wall. She wasn’t exactly hurting him, not yet, this was surely for intimidation. He was more worried about his cane that had clattered to the floor and the fate of Caitlyn.

Focus...Focus...Focus...

This warrior for the Undercity had walked out with the girl from Piltover and came back alone and furious enough to yank him off his feet and into the air. He’d feebly kicked at her and realized that despite the room being filled with people, lackeys backstage, that no one was going to help him.

That wasn't too unfamiliar a feeling.

He tried to calculate words and ways to stay alive, but the lack of air was making him panic. Viktor was dragged back to being a small boy, hiding, trying to not hyperventilate after being chased. He had to bow to these creatures who took their strength for granted.

Violet noticed this distant response in his face, but she ignored the hissing admonishes of Singed as she yelled, “Where is she?!”

Viktor had seen her throw the banner of her sister forward as kindling for a bonfire she was building, but this emotion was genuine. He knew exactly who 'she' was. He came back to himself and sputtered out, “Powder is safe.” Viktor had often wondered if Powder was happy, though. Vi hands around his throat could move an inch and he’d lose what little breathing ability he had. “Your sister is safe.” He reiterated that point as boldly as he could. If Heimerdinger, or the enforcers, or any of Piltover that had been so keen on prosecuting wrongs done from the explosion that had come for her, then he would have still found a way to keep her safe.

“What did you do to her? Where are you keeping her?!” Vi hissed at him like she wasn’t holding his fragile life in her hands and wasn’t the one with the power in the situation. Again–against logic, and if Jayce could hear him, then Jayce would have lost it–he felt saddened for this woman. He couldn’t help it. What had started Hextech was watching Jayce go forward into the lion's den of the Council and stand bravely and defend what he loved.

Powder had once asked him why he ‘was so nice’. Viktor hadn’t felt very nice in his life. He’d tried to be, but complications arose at every turn.

Singed wasn’t getting close to the scene, but he was starting to raise his voice at Violet again.

Confusing, old monster.

A wheeze followed Viktor’s next words, “I’m sorry.” There was no way to defend himself from her anger. A tragedy tied them together and she wanted to paint him the villain of it. “I had no notions that she had family still.” Viktor remembered Heimerdinger’s chiding tone over the dangers of ‘inducing’ a child to Piltover, alongside that first conversation he had with Powder where he asked to meet who she was living with.

He was uncertain whether Violet realized through his wheezing and coughing that this interrogation wasn’t getting results or that he was telling the truth. She released the clasp of her hands and he hit the floor alongside his cane. Again, Singed did not put himself in danger, but instead moved carefully to offer a hand to Viktor.

Viktor looked at the old man’s hand and refused to take it as he picked up his cane and lifted himself off the floor. Violet breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth before saying, “I’m going to find her and I’m going to erase whatever f*cked up delusions you and Topside put in her head.”

She won't hear me...I'm invisible to her...Or am I just the villain in her mind?

The pink haired Atlas turned and began to walk back out to the crowd.

And if Viktor had more air going to his brain he’d have left well enough alone and let her have the last word. Viktor refused, “She’s not a child, nor is she a prisoner.” It was less than ten words, but his own venom came through. The same sentiments had been prescribed to him even in his adulthood. People in Piltover liked to ignore him entirely, or treat him like a fragile bird that they’d rescued for their own gain. People in the Undercity had seen him like a dead man and now they saw him like a misguided victim of Piltover sympathies. It was brave to wake everyday in the City of Progress as an outsider and demand to dream. Powder was unhappy most days in the Academy, but she’d stayed and she’d worked to prove them all wrong. They both had. “If you go after her–and you’re unhappy with your living martyr as she is now–do not be surprised when dragging her back by her braids doesn't work.”

The sister this woman was looking for had become a multi-dimensional inventor who detested authority and who would not easily bend.

He delivered his words to her while leaning on a cane and almost in a whisper. And this was still enough to make her pause at the alcove, back to the world where she was champion and hero. She remained with her back to him, “If she cares enough about you then she’ll come back with me. That’s all I need to make her see the truth; just one chance and she’ll see.”

Viktor was returned to the deep lab by Singed. They remained silent for the entire elevator ride and the old chemist let Viktor sit in a backed chair to view the strange ocean’s floor outside the portcullis.

Viktor squeezed the lower handle of his cane. He was going to escape and he was going to live. In the water’s depths, the gargantuan sharks moved, sinewy bodies that traveled the water easily and with a knowledge that there was no danger to them. He compartmentalized everything he’d learned of the facility and was already preparing.

I want to see what Powder becomes. I want to help Zaun. I want to live! Damn it! I want to live long enough to stop this woman and Silco and Singed from destroying this world!

Singed cleared his throat. Viktor would not turn to face him. “I know you do not want my help; so take my advice instead. I see a prisoner sitting on his own key.” Viktor continued to ignore him, keeping his eyes directly forward while Singed pulled a small table next to his chair. In the corner of his eye Viktor could see a tripod and an Arcane gem in its core. Under the tripod was a series of crumpled papers, some of which were Jayce’s work. A lot of the pages were Viktor and Powder’s. “There is a cot for you to rest on. I will be close by should your condition worsen.”

And the man left Viktor. They all expected him to be too afraid to run, perhaps. When he was sure Singed would not return, he slowly turned his gaze to what documents and tools Violet had stolen.

The Arcane could be dangerous. Powder knew that best from Jayce’s apartment cave in.

She also knew it well from the lab accident she’d saved Jayce from.

"Do you not think you're nice, Powder?"

"Me? Nice? What would the world come to ifI were nice?"

They’d been desperately trying to refine the Arcane gems into a less hostile and more manageable form. Powder had been for the idea, but she’d grown increasingly stressed and nervous each time the tests occurred. She refused to talk to him about it and would disappear into her room to blare the gramophone.

This had been shortly after she’d turned sixteen and begun to spend even more time in the laboratory proper. Jayce had been leaning too close and applying too much pressure via the control switches to a series of four crystals levitating in the testing cylinder.

Powder hadn’t phrased her warning at Jayce diplomatically–of course–her goal probably to get under his skin more than help. And Jayce has spit back angrily at her–of course–not noticing that the glowing blue lights around the crystals weren’t maintaining equidistant from the safety perimeter.

Viktor had only realized what was happening, looking up from his desk at the perfect moment, to see Powder scream, “Talis!” She’d leapt and slammed into Jayce an instant before the crystalogy had become unstable and the room, with its academy high walls, had flashed with an explosion that blew apart the windows and sent Viktor and Sky tumbling into one another.

It had been a mistake like that from the early days of their research. They’d all decided to not tell Heimerdinger. Powder had shouted at Jayce for the rest of the day.

Sky had been the one to ask Powder how she knew that the crystals would react like that. Powder had started to angrily rub her glasses and make a joke. Later that night, Powder had finally told Viktor the truth; she had seen that same effect when Jayce's apartment had exploded in her youth.

This magic can be dangerous, but it could save me…That had always been the risk with the Arcane.

Viktor's hands began to sort and read. Some of Sky’s work was also stolen and in the pile.

This is something older than me. Something that understands the tides of the world. Viktor stared into the Arcane. He coughed and felt blood dribble down his nose, the decaying process was worsening.

But the Arcane…

He began to sketch onto the pages of notes. He wasn't sure where he'd picked up the charcoal. A dodecahedron shape took form onto the page and a hope blossomed.

Notes:

Long time no see! Update schedule has been erratic on account of school, but I have not forgotten this project.

Thank you to everyone who has been patient with me. I miss Arcane so much and it's only been a few months since it came out.

Chapter 9: Part Three: Dynasties' Dystopias

Summary:

Warning: there are mentions of medical horror and some gore in this chapter.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Viktor

He’d had visions while working with Hextech before. Viktor had kept them quiet, using advice from his parents on what was deemed tolerable and what was deemed uncomfortable to those around him. When everyone deemed you physically unfit, you didn’t want them to also believe you were also mentally flawed.

The visions were just the products of his overactive imagination; fragments of mania and wistfulness from a boy who could not run across Fissure rooftops, so he found ways to make do inside of his head. He kept them under reigns mostly. Mostly.

Viktor could not deny that he had seen glimpses of things in the Arcane gems. They were…magnetic. They were still as awe inspiring as the first day that Jayce had boldly proclaimed the hope and good that magic could do.

There was risk, though. An ounce of fear over the dangers he would be facing with the Arcane; but a gallon of terror as the coughs wracked his body. To sail into uncharted waters, knowing little on how to swim, could be his downfall. Viktor had to remind himself that if he did nothing, though, that his lungs would be his downfall anyway.

Not could, definitely will and would.

Violet had taken a significant amount of equipment from his lab: three refined Hexgems, oscillator dampeners, tripod connectors, and a few of Jayce’s books. Viktor was suddenly feeling lucky. He’d never been particularly lucky before.

Normally Viktor and Jayce would start with a base of Arcane runes. Then, the runes would go through multiple translations until the template they once were were then no more. It was a very simplistic course of evolution. The runes–like a butterfly starting from caterpillar, transforming into chrysalis, and then ending the story with wings of its own–did not so much resemble their initial predecessors.

He was planning to take that process, and instead give it multiple pathways of evolution. These pathways could also be returned to. He took a bit of sheet metal and began to carve into it with a steel tipped stylus.Twelve runes to start with, like the twelve tribes that his mother said they were descended from.

Viktor carved in the runes a tad harder than necessary. He needed to ground himself. At one juncture, he realized that anything he built might be capitalized on by Violet.

He had to make himself myopic. He had to bypass that fear.

I’m already making concessions of self.

The work was like sleepwalking. His attention would wander to thoughts of Jayce; his first, real friend Topside…His first, real friend ever. The proximity of friendship and its concepts brought him to Sky and her diligence in the laboratory. Her achievements were similarly shadowed as Viktor’s. The City of Progress didn’t realize that Hextech was achieved through teamwork and multiple talented hands on the project.

Powder had traces of her fingerprints even in the Arcane screws they used to keep the panels together.

I have to believe she’s in Piltover. I have to believe she’s safe right now. He couldn’t help her if she wasn’t. Same with Jayce, and Sky, and Heimerdinger. His parents had lived off of belief and he had turned it inwards to survive. Viktor would do it again.

If night passed into day he could not tell. No natural light reached him in the dark underworld where he worked. Fish of the mundane and monstrous swam by the porthole to be spectators to his work.

The core eventually began to take life. It glowed dimly like a blue firelight and then started to brighten the dark room with its aura. When Viktor stopped attempting to harness the magic to do–to control the space, a conquest of sorts–the Arcane was allowed to simply be and learn.

Jayce would tease Viktor about the superstitions he let into his life and into their science, but the paranormal was fundamentally part of the Arcane. And to Viktor the paranormal was a relevant, and unknown limb to the entirety of his scientific pursuits. It was strange that for so long he’d been safeguarding and denying his more curious side and more spiritual…It was unfortunate that brutal necessity was bringing forward that introspection.

Viktor’s mother and father had believed in spirits, an omnipotent power, and the power of memory and history. He’d forgotten the Undercity. He’d forgotten the name of the nation that they once were.

It’s not entirely whimsy… His hands were bloody. Some of the bloody mess came from his throat and lungs, the rest was from the device and raw energy being handled. While he worked the creation into life with his hands he realized that it was nursing–for lack of better term–off of him. It thrived off of the organic matter and was energized by what went in.

The next step was figuring out how to make the device give organic energy back to a subject.

Singed interrupted him, the timing of Viktor completing the dodecahedron structure, aligning the Arcane core to send magic into stable, base runes, and attaching each panel to a two wire frame, was all too convenient.

“You’ve burned your hands.” The old man commented on Viktor’s appearance with something that might have been sympathy. As a child, Viktor had struggled to tell when the scientist was being curious or cruel. As a doomed adult he was still struggling to understand that.

“I don’t have the proper equipment.”Even if I did have all the equipment: there was no world where I’d get out of this without harming myself. Viktor wished the man would leave instead of being an active assistant as a jailer. Singed and his cryptic warning earlier also left a sharp taste in Viktor’s mouth; When the time comes, do not blame yourself.“ Even if I did, I worry about how much a living subject could take…”

“You won’t get far traveling the roads you’ve already explored.” It was an ironic thing for his former mentor to say. Singed had gotten older, but he’d stayed stagnant to Viktor. As a boy, Singed has been a mysterious and wise adult who gave the young Viktor the time of day that neither his mother or father could afford to give him after the tedium of the fissure mines, nor the light-hearted children of his age group.

Singed, about four months into their odd friendship, had given Viktor a small woven chain. The fibers were dyed the most beautiful purple he’d ever seen and had reminded him of the flowers Rio liked to eat. Viktor had asked what the chain was for. Singed had simply said it had once belonged to someone of Viktor’s age. Viktor had gotten older, but the person who’d once owned the chain before him had not. Viktor theorized that Singed was projecting someone onto him. “We are lucky to live in an era where we can change our nature.”

Singed reached into his pocket and from his outstretched hand he held out something similar to the woven chain. The purple colored flowers from the cave had once been so magical to a boy who spent his time scavenging wires and scraps thrown down from the top of Piltover. “This is Shimmer?” Viktor asked. He imagined there would be no chance to test his theories on the fish (he could have laughed a bit at the image of him fishing) outside the porthole.

Another debt owed to Singed. He was running out of options. The isolation of not having Jayce, Sky, or Powder had pushed him to his limits.

My chest hurts. It won’t stop hurting soon or ever.

Viktor needed to go through a metamorphosis. When he reached for the Shimmer, though, Singed pulled his hand away from Viktor’s. “Know that if you take this path, they’ll hate you. Right now you are invisible to them, but after this they’ll cast you aside. Legacy and love are the sacrifices you’ll have to make.”

“Jayce will understand.” His best friend always came through. Viktor just hoped Sky would never learn of these frightening details: the underwater laboratory, the hopeful and hungry followers, the Shimmer…Powder would understand too...But he wasn't sure how they would cope with the new found family in the form of her surprisingly, alive sister.

“And what about the sister?” Singed said it casually (like a mind reader) and Viktor’s face must have betrayed something because Singed repeated himself and then said, “The elder could use what happens here against that relationship.”

That was the confirmation Viktor needed that Singed was either working for himself or had other allegiances. He’d known, but confirmation was reassuring. Viktor took the Shimmer from Singed. The old man, like so many in Piltover, had their own false and skewed perceptions of his ability to raise the girl. “You speak of things you don’t know.”

“Perhaps.”

There was no shortage of syringes and chemical tools at their disposal. Singed had told the young Viktor that he was a doctor who had once worked in Piltover. Of course any questions as to why Singed was no longer in Piltover were met with a gentle silence that Viktor had turned over in his mind since growing older. When Viktor had risked helping Jayce with Hextech, Singed mentorship had lingered in the back of his brain.

Singed had been outed as monstrous already, but Viktor had feared that Piltover would cast him out and back to the depths of the Undercity…alone. Jayce’s mother had saved her son from any potential fate of that nature. Viktor’s mother was already dead. Having Singed mention Viktor's own fears was making the laboratory more claustrophobic.

Singed handed Viktor a series of papers and calculations relating to the drug known as, Shimmer. Piltover had rumors about the substance’s addictive quality and also evidence of its power to fuel body augmentations.

If the papers and calculations were coming from Jayce, Viktor would have seen it as generous. From Singed, it was only another move in a long game that he was surely trying to play against Violet.

Viktor could also tell Singed was holding back research. A skim of the biological mathematics and a surgery report made it painfully obvious. “This is…It is almost necromantic,” Viktor coughed and wiped his mouth. The Hexcore flickered towards the fresh gore, forcing him to turn away from it. “What happened to the subject who suffered–” Viktor struggled to say the graphic details without glossing over with the safety of terminology, “--optical globe laceration and infection from the river?”

“A full recovery and even return of partial vision in the eye with a small, daily usage of Shimmer. Though, the eyelid had to be-”

“I understand that, but what was their mental state after the procedure?” Viktor didn’t just want to live. He wanted to have some part of himself left over after this feast of self-exposure and moral conceding. I want to be able to look Jayce in the eye when I see him again; I must defend my choices without shame in my heart, but more importantly without a chemically, clouded mind.

“It was taxing. But the patient was undergoing additional mental agony at the hands of…Well, I’m not at liberty to say.”

Viktor’s throat was tightening from more than his coughs. “They returned? Still themselves, though?”

Singed refused to break eye-contact as he delivered his opinion. “He returned more himself than ever before. But do not place that responsibility on the concoctions I make; instead, remember where you were born and the places that built who we are.”

Viktor’s reminiscing was in full force as he recalled when he first taught Powder how to maneuver the latches on his spinal brace. She’d walked in on him having a particularly frustrating morning, and instead of being scared of his bony and half mechanical back, she’d bounded through the lavatory door he’d tried to keep shut and declared she wanted to help. She was thirteen or so and hadn’t lost a lot of her shameless curiosity in Piltover. Her ice cold and ungentle hands had started poking him and prodding, until he’d exasperatedly asked, “You’re not afraid?” It surely was not a pretty sight; his back would click and twist like the segments of an insect.

She’d shaken her head, determined, “Everyone in the Lanes and the Fissures has something like this. Don’t you remember?”

The Undercity had made her and so had Piltover. He’d been built by similar forces. “What will your employer think of this?” Viktor was referencing Violet.

“I was told to build things. This isn’t too dissimilar.” Singed was surely referencing someone else.

Viktor carved the Arcane sigils into his leg brace last. He had first traced the scalpel across his flesh. He had not needed a book, nor references to write in the language of magic. His desperation made everything much sharper; it was an odd sensation since fear usually drove individuals to spiral and panic.

Singed, while loading up a needle of Shimmer, assured Viktor that Powder’s sister would not interrupt the experiment. The doctor then placed the needle and shimmer into a larger, gun-like, plunger. The serum would have to go deep and be fast acting. Viktor allowed his coughs to cover up the sounds of clicking instruments about to be wielded on him.

There was also the…He had no idea what to call it. Hexcore? No, no whatever this dodecahedron is, it’s not entirely a thing of Hextech. It is wild and untamed Arcane.

Sounds familiar. Wild blue braids and a chuckling laugh.

The Arcane Core was animated and levitating above a gurney.

“Her sister…Were there once parents?” Viktor asked. The subterranean and nautical laboratory gave him chills as he sat on a table wearing nothing but his back brace and undergarments. “The woman, Violet, she is an orphan?” There were so many of them in the Undercity. There was no border between childhood and adulthood in the Lanes; in actuality the concept of coming of age was hazy and undetermined in the world of Zaun as a whole. Viktor’s mother had said her people had once had a ceremony for coming of age, but she had not taught it to him.

Singed looked up from preparing the Shimmer. “Hm?” He hadn’t been paying attention and this made Viktor bite the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. Another mystery was at play: the sisters. Violet and Powder…Viktor just happened to be a side of the shape unseen.

At times Viktor felt that way with Jayce. Jayce jumped between two worlds: his relationship with Viktor and his negotiations with the Council and Heimerdinger. Jayce often would return from a meeting, looking stressed and frazzled, before declaring: “I’m never doing that again!” Jayce would then fondly look to Viktor like an oasis. Yet, still separate and still another side of the coin that Jayce held his life on.

Viktor shifted on the table. There was no comfort to be had, “Violet won’t- She won’t harm Powder, right?”

Singed approached him with the heavy, gun-like syringe, “In my professional opinion? No.”

Viktor caught the device before the man could inject it into his neck. The doctor was shocked by the strength and will that flared up in Viktor. “No, we test first on my leg.” Viktor ignored the doctor’s consternation and with shaking hands he took hold of the top heavy contraption. The metal was painfully cold in his hands.

Treat me like you treated Rio–an expendable lab rat–and I’ll make you regret it. Somehow. His anger started to rear its ugly head. Please don’t let the Shimmer reveal that in me.

And there was a brief second between him shoving the needle into his thigh and pulling the trigger. It was ‘Then’ versus ‘Now’. Then was a world of uncomfortable needles and pangs in his chest, but the 'Now' was beyond explanation.

He threw his head back and screamed. There was only the taste of blood and sweetness. Viktor looked down for a moment and caught sight of the purple running heavily through his body. He was like the cave flowers, he was like a butterfly’s wing, and he was everything and anything.

Somewhere was the world of Jayce, of Piltover and the Undercity- No, of Zaun– of Sky, and Heimerdinger, the Council, and Singed. There was a world where Powder was too. Powder was an exception and had always been somehow able to dance between worlds. She had not lived in Zaun for a majority of her teenage years and her early adulthood. In Piltover she had been so painfully odd like him and strange like him, and what he must have thought had been her flaws were simply her ways of trying to maintain a co-existence in her mind.

Like the blue of the Arcane and the blue of her hair; I too will jump between worlds. I will achieve metamorphosis.

Viktor left that world of the living and he reached towards the world of the Arcane.

Powder

Ekko had pulled her into a workshop and they’d begun strategizing. The Chirean man, with a large scar across his face, had stared and hadn’t stopped. As Ekko had closed the door on the workshop, the man had sadly shaken his head at the pair.

“What’s his beef?” Powder was familiar with judgy on-lookers.

“He’s lost a lot of friends and family to your sister.” Ekko was analyzing her reactions at lightning speeds. She could tell from the way he pushed his locks out of his face, pulling them into a band so he could get a better look at her.

But Vi doesn’t hurt people who don’t deserve it. Vi only ever wanted to hurt enforcers…

Powder could remember her sister bringing her to one of the many rooftops that hid the sky from the Undercity. They were high above the Lanes and practically Fissures territory. They could see the glow of Piltover in the distance and Vi would take Powder’s face in her hands before beginning to tell her a story or a lesson second-hand from Vander: “Powder, you’re stronger than you think–” The glow from the city lights reflected in my sister’s gray eyes used to always make me wonder, but now I know. She wasn’t looking at me. “--And one day, this city’s gonna respect us.”

“Well, I’m going to help! So tell him to wipe off his mopey face,” Powder said and spun to face the world of the workshop; it was finally something she felt she could comprehend. The Firelights had given her a wide berth that she was used to back in Piltover and she wanted to leave reflection of that far behind. “Show me what’chu got, Little Man!”

His face flushed for a second and her chest happily clenched. Stop that! Stop that right now!

The workshop’s atmosphere snapped its metaphorical fingers in Powder’s face to distract from the literal, intangible feelings she had no time for. The setups of most tech were jury-rigged and customized, but there was a level of professionalism and love to the entire ensemble. A professional love, huh? Gods, you sound delusional. The workshop had an interface to recreate parts, dissect machines, and a seemingly never ending sphere of paper and notes.

Yet, it wasn’t entirely free of strife. Ekko’s weapons of choice included maces and bludgeoning tools. There was also a significant amount of shields and the crystalological disarmament-tech. He had used the same technology on her earlier. There were no guns anywhere; not a sling, nor an arrow in sight. When Powder asked why he hadn’t stolen any pistols, muskets, revolvers, or even swords. Ekko gave her a wry laugh and said something along the lines of ‘un-original’ and ‘we don’t need their tools’.

Powder in the corner of her eye also caught a bookshelf of tomes that appeared non-manuel oriented. The books’ spines were well done, printed and crafted to entice the reader to look a little closer. “These were- Were these printed in the Undercity?”

Ekko had a proud smile when he confirmed that Zaun writers had penned the works and the Firelights had anonymously begun to produce and print to send out into the world. “Not all of those are from Zaun. ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires’ is from the other side of the continent. I guess we can thank the Hexgates for that. Have you not heard of it?”

Powder shrugged, but she knew why it might never reach Piltover despite coming through the Hexgates–or she had an idea at least. To say that Piltover was dry on homegrown poets and musicians was an understatement. Sure, they had an opera house, but they had no music school and the nobility of Piltover were barons of industry and technology. When they desired new art it was imported from other nations outside the walls and then carefully filtered through a board that Heimerdinger ran. Worse than the board, though, was general social politics. If your book was too raunchy, a member or friend of the council might tell their friends not to support you. Powder had been sent to Heimerdinger’s office for pulp zines and dirty tabloids enough times to know Piltover was incredibly prudish.

At the core: Piltover was a specialized place. And they all wanted to be specialized in Hextech. They wanted one flavor of success and one flavor of Progress that was safe and assured them of their own national greatness. It was ironic, always painfully so to Powder. Hextech might as well have been imported as well to Topside. Jayce Talis, allegedly, had first encountered the Arcane from a wandering nomad in the mountains south of Piltover. His research had also taken him to the far deserts outside of the western reaches where crystals grew larger than buildings. Powder had learned this all from snooping in Jayce’s diaries and journals (“Powder! You’re not supposed to be here! Next time I catch you trespassing, I’m telling Viktor to ship you to Stillwater! I could have you arrested!”)

Councilor Medarda, who funded Talis, was rumored to have been a Noxian exile who first had to throw herself at the mercy of a Piltover noble house before she rose to immense wealth and prestige. Hextech’s integration into the city had been pushed forward, and the red tape that governed most Pilties hadn’t applied to her because at her core she was not a Topsider. She had been forged by a place that was rumored to cultivate magical dangers beyond human comprehension. Powder had never met her, but the woman seemed to have a solid prowess of power.

And of course, last and least in the eyes of Piltover when the story of Hextech's origin was written, there was Viktor and Sky. They were the flowers of Zaun, plucked from the caves and orphanages of the Undercity where so little grew. Even the Undercity’s name– Zaun, Zaun, Zaun –was washed away in mythology that only appeared when she had been small and Viktor had needed to tell her tall-tales to get her to sleep. It was unfair. It was all unfair and it was unfair that Powder found herself in opposition to her home...To her sister.

“Hey,” Ekko was gently shaking her shoulder. “Where’d you go just now?”

“I don’t know.” Powder’s mind wandered through long-hallways and angry and mournful feelings. I’m sorry, Viktor. I’m sorry Mylo and Claggor. I’m sorry to all my brothers. Powder shook the voices away and turned to the technology. She was the lord of that world, instead. “Alright, time for my own personal touch to come through.”

They barely talked while they worked. They had no need for words. A few times, Ekko would give her a cautious glance, but he let her build what she wanted and what she needed.

The knuckles of their hands kept knocking into one another. She crushed the tension with a sarcastic smirk. He rolled his eyes.

“Are you still double-jointed in all your fingers?” He’d ask.

“You know it,” She’d waggle her hands and he’d grimace and laugh. “They’re all calloused now too.”

Ekko’s dark toned hands were soft. Powder was close to beating herself up about that realization, but she let the moment rest…She let herself think it.

No one interrupted. Ekko failed to see her her twist the wires and tune some of his crystalogy bombs to her specifications. Power prayed she wouldn’t have to use them…He would be angry…Ekko and Viktor if they ever found out…

And soon that moment was over and they entered a new one. Ekko pulled off a tarp and Powder couldn’t hold back her gasp, “You f*cking fixed it?”

The chrono-cycle had been a long term project of theirs. It was a semi-flat metallic ring that was five feet higher than Powder. At the center of the ring there had been a ramshackled seat and pedals that she had helped him weld. It had originally been broken after she and Ekko had taken it for a spin, flipped off enforcers, and then had to watch as their favorite creation had been smashed and bent by said enforcers. It was the usual early years of childhood for an Undercity kid.

The bike, like Ekko, was refined and clearly reborn. Ekko against all the odds had resisted building weapons like Vander or Benzo. There was no usage of Shimmer in his world. He had resisted the normalcy of Hextech, as well. He was entirely and totally himself and that self included a love for technology and…a love for the Undercity.

He really is a boy savior…Yeesh. Just wild that he’s my age and he sometimes speaks like an old man.

The biggest question for her was, who watched over him? Who saved him when he finished saving everyone else? Almost certainly no one. The Firelights around her had that needy, protective, fanboy nature that was born of a love between the saved and the savior.

Ekko fluidly pulled a cord tied to the seat and engines embedded within the chrono-cycle. The bike hummed to life and a series of three green lights began to idle inside the wires of the single encompassing ring-wheel.

Powder felt that itch on her neck that said they weren’t entirely alone and in the span of a second she was reaching for a weapon. She pulled out the astrolabe she'd used to stab one of Silco's goons and was ready to fight.

It was just the shy yordle.

The fuzzy thing was lodged in the rafters of the garage where Ekko stored most of the vehicles. Ekko reminded her of his name as he called towards the kid, “Ziggs, common out,” Ekko softened his tone further. “You’re not in trouble.”

The yordle, with uncanny dexterity, jumped down. He was silent too. Powder could appreciate the finer acrobatics. Ziggs slowly walked over and looked up at Powder with intense eyes. He titled his head then, and Powder’s reflection was in his goggles. The yordle pointed towards her hands.

“He wants to give you something,” Ekko explained and then motioned with his head for Powder to open her hand. She reluctantly did so.

The yordle produced a cylindrical canister that had Powder’s throat closing up. Its colors had faded from time. The pink and purple from eras of wax crayons long past was still there, though. Over it was a palimpsest of green and pink. Powder was more willing to lean down when Ziggs gestured that he wanted to tell her something. The tiny figure’s breath was hot against her ear as he said, “It’ll only work once. Make it count.”

None of the Firelights gave her a goodbye like that. None of them gave her a goodbye at all. Powder watched their eyes eat up Ekko. They realized where their leader was going and there was a sense of agitated fear around them all. They hovered by the entrance to the massive sewer grate like a sad parade. Powder and Ekko would have to cross the Sun Gates eventually, but using Firelight hidden passages could get them there without Silco or Sevika finding them.

Powder slotted into the seat behind Ekko on the chrono-cycle and when they took off, she turned her head to watch the Firelights framed in the halo of the sewer system drain. The entire group was there, and they stayed until they were just small blips swallowed by darkness. Ekko never turned back. Powder's braids smacked her in the face at her own sentimentality as the bike sped ahead.

The chrono-cycle was miraculously quiet as it drove into the tunnels. Ekko activated the secondary light system on the wheel and it was the two of them again. Ekko broke the silence first, “I’m sorry. I promise they’re all not usually that weird. They’re just- You know.”

“It’s Vi again, right?”

Ekko cranked a lever and the chrono-cycle’s speed began to accelerate. Powder’s braids began to whip behind her like two jump ropes. “Last time I went up against her- I- I wasn’t exactly myself for a long time.”

“You? Must have been scary for your group’s savior to not be Mr.Perfect for a day…Heh…” She couldn’t clean her glasses while holding onto him as he turned through the maze of pipes.

She couldn’t see Ekko’s face from the back seat. His white locks, and heavy jacket with symbols of infinitus were all she was privy to. She noticed him shake his head a bit. “I don’t know, though.”

She avoided making a cheap joke at him not knowing. When they’d been kids he’d thought he’d known everything. Powder wanted knowledge instead of laughter, “Do you think she still loves me?”

“Yeah, I do.” This shocked Powder into speechlessness. “She’s changed and she’s not your sister, Powder. But, she never stopped rallying people around what happened to you and how Piltover responded.”

Powder snorted. A lot of help that rallying had done her when she’d come back to the Undercity and almost been arrested.

She wondered too if that rallying had been counteracted by Viktor keeping her out of view.

Viktor had kept her close to him until he could slip her into the academy as just another member of Heimerdinger’s Undercity-Orphan-Passion-Project. Heimerdinger, like Jayce, had never known how to interact with her. On the first Progress Day, Heimerdinger had pulled her into his office after a harmless prank and she’d flushed with shame when he’d obtusely proclaimed at her, “The concessions my former student and this city are making for you are numerous! You know, he was so mild-mannered and level headed before the Arcane entered his life.” He hadn’t said, ‘He was better before you.’ He hadn't needed to because Powder heard the message loud and clear at twelve and still at twenty-two.

Powder lost her reminiscing when Ekko reached for a switch and then the lights went dark. She swore profusely until he laughed–the happy sound filled the darkness and demanded a space–and the tunnel was filled with a twinkling green glow. Thousands of firelights had come to live in the secret tunnels that Ekko had cultivated. They seemed undaunted by the chrono-cycle. They danced like earthbound stars and Powder blew a strand of her hair out of her face, “You’re a real Johnny-on-the-spot, boy savior.”

“Okay, now I have two questions for you.” Ekko slowed the bike to better follow the drifting lights. “Was the scientist kind to you?”

“Yeah,” She was still fuming over their prior argument. But that hadn’t been their first and Powder’s whole mission was to ensure it wasn’t the last. “He reminded me a lot of a more trickstery and poetic Huck. You remember him from The Last Drop? Huck?”

“I remember Huck.”

Powder bit her lip at the distant way he said it. Silco, the industrialist, had taken a bloody bite out of the Undercity and maggots seemed to sprout everywhere. She at least hoped Huck, who used to adore Vander, had died quickly (painlessly was too much to ask for). “Okay, Mr.Ominous.”

Ekko slowed the chrono-cycle further, until it was at almost an idle, low rumble. Powder’s braids no longer whipped behind her head and back. “I used to have nightmares of the explosion you were in. It used to drive me crazy; I would run the day you guys went Topside over and over again.”

“Look, you could have never known I was going to do a grab and drop raw magic onto the floor.” Powder had grabbed five stones–her sister had been shouting from the other room urgently– and accidentally dropped two in quick succession. All she remembered was an incredible force and unseen pull, then unconsciousness, blue light, enforcers, then Viktor. What she more clearly remembered was Mylo and Claggor and not being there to help or save them. “And if it flatters your ego at all; everyday I’m in the lab I thought of you and how much fun I'd be having if you were there to help me. Glad you’re alive, Little Man. Those Firelights seem grateful you’re alive too.”

He stopped the chrono-cycle. “For a lot of them I was the first person to give them what they needed to survive and what they needed to live.”

And they sat in the darkness. Another moment just between them.

When they exited the tunnels, firelights were still in the air. But, so was the sound of enforcer’s mingling on the Sun Gates. Their heavy shoes and the click-clack of their pistols and bolases filled the atmosphere of the night. Ekko pulled the chrono-cycle to an alleyway and gestured for Powder to help him grab a tarp hidden in three, fish-smelling crates.

“Are we going to fly overhead with your board?” Powder wished they could bring the chrono-cycle with them. It ached to leave it so soon after being reunited.

“We can’t. Enforcers have their eyes to the skies right now and they’ve been putting pressure on us since we’re easier targets. If we fly over the barricade they’ll shoot us down. We need to climb sidelong or under the bridge.

Powder pulled on one of her braids. There were railings attached to thin side-plates on the rim of the Sun Gate Bridge. The side-plates that were only used for maintenance. For Fissure-folk it wasn’t difficult to move across them, though. That didn’t mean they were entirely free of risk, though. If an enforcer spotted them, they could take easy shots at the two sump rats crawling about. Worse, if either of them fell, there was water beneath them, but enforcers from the shores could fish them out. Also, the river was full of gargantuan beasts and microscopic river toxins. She switched which braid she pulled on and then settled on cleaning her glasses.

Ekko nudged her, “I’m more terrified of you leading me around Piltover than I am of us getting across the bridge.”

She couldn’t say a word back. Her snark and bravery was beginning to seep out of her at the borders of the two worlds. Powder had not felt this way earlier when she’d taken a ferry. Jumping head first into the Undercity had been ripping off the bandages of ancient wounds. She should have known the ancient wounds had grown infected with purple puss and acute blood poisoning.

From a distance, they slid down the artificial embankments alongside the meander of the river. There was plenty of ship-yard debris to cover them from the enforcers’ eyes. Ekko pulled ahead and began his steady climb up the abutment and then the bridge beam. Again, like on the chrono-cycle, his face was turned away from her’s. And again, she was grateful because he couldn’t see her twitching at the sounds of enforcers.

Ekko and Powder shuffled with their faces and bodies turned to the sides, cheeks and stomachs pressed against old iron and the miracle that is barnacles finding their way up so high. River water spray and the passing of ships brought brine to the under belly. You’d never know that the glossy and mechanical top was the first layer and that underneath there was an entirely different ecosystem.

“Almost there, almost there, almost there,” Ekko whispered ahead of her. He was moving with an ease that made her begrudgingly impressed.

Powder took another step and flood lights on the bridge came to life. The pair froze in tandem. Powder felt her hands prepare to push herself off the bridge. She decided being shot in the face was not the way to go out.

The lights were not pointed towards them, though, another pair of people had entered the bridge. A shout of ‘halt’ had not been directed towards Powder and Ekko, but towards two silhouettes in equal height.

"sh*t..." Ekko whispered.

One stranger on the bridge stood with a proud back and the other appeared to be built with large arms that were half mechanical and half raw muscle. The stranger with a proud stance immediately revealed herself through her voice as she pulled forwards an enforcer’s badge, “Sir! I have proof The Firelights are behind everything!” Caitlyn Kiramman’s posh accent was a bit panicky, but it was unmistakable. Powder had suspected that Jayce Talis’ would include his favorite, little, perfect, best enforcer. Powder was amazed she had made it that far without getting mugged, but not surprised that she was so sure of her (entirely wrong) case cracking.

“Under whose jurisdiction did you begin investigating the Undercity?” It was Marcus speaking and Powder could tell he was pissed. Powder was also equally pissed that she couldn’t revel in watching Caitlyn get a verbal lashing from her boss. The other figure had maintained their quiet. They were probably a hapless chump who’d been reeled into Detective Nancy-Screwball’s ass-hattery. “Do you know who the f*ck you’ve brought to the gates of Piltover?!”

So dramatic…f*cker…

“What the hell is this?” Ekko whispered.

“Just some lolly bimbo,” Powder hissed at Ekko. She moved to nudge him forward. “We need to keep going, don’t look back!” Caitlyn was going to ruin everything, of course. And Powder would have to keep Ekko from even more danger in Piltover now, of course.

A dry laugh had Powder freeze and a rush of a thousand memories coursed through her veins. The second figure then said, “I’m not a monster, buddy.” Memories of sharing a single cot in a deep pit that everyone had forgotten. It had quickly become too small for the sisters. Flashes of pretend monsters and dragons drawn on the walls of their grim home.

This was where they would be tested. Powder could feel that an ending of sorts was on the horizon. Viktor used to tut and empathize with her frustrations over endings.

Ekko had heard it too. “Powder…You can’t change her-”

“There’s a skylight entrance I leave propped open to the lab. The drop isn’t that bad and you have your board. I’ll meet you back in the Undercity with Viktor. Everything you need is there.” Powder watched Marcus reach for something at his side and more words were exchanged.

“Powder, wait-”

The sound of a gunshot, echoing across the entirety of the Sun Gates made the decision for her.

In a maelstrom of confusion– why did she choose Viktor over me and now this- this enforcer!-- Powder pulled herself up and over the railing of the bridge with one hand and with the other she pulled the pin of her modified bomb. When her feet hit the metal of the Sun Gates the sound of a clang rang out. Just like Ekko, use the time against them. She threw the grenade towards the farthest bridge column and then she flung her body and hit the floor of the bridge. She curled into a ball and held the back of her head against her knees.

Ekko’s crystals hadn’t been harmless; they hadn’t been permanent or sharp either. In the Winter when Powder had taken to training her aim and ability with a rifle, Viktor had warned her to also watch out for icicles. The inspirations he gave to her could only be furthered by her encounters with Ekko.

He was going to run back to Piltover and would get the materials. Everything would be fixed and (in the hellish moment she let herself imagine) he could convince Heimerdinger to give the Undercity access to Hextech. Something about him was special like that.

The explosion rocked the bridge, and the climbing of the crystals across the surfaces of the blockade and the sharp stalagmite like rock hit the organs of many a foe. Their bodies were pierced precariously upon the spines of crustal. Sickness rose in her throat. “V- Vi?” She called out like she was a little girl again witnessing the bodies across the bridge from the revolution of old.

Her sister had once told her to cover her eyes and sing a song. Cover her eyes from the world and Vi would save her.

In the middle of the bridge, surrounded by a halo of pink and green crystals was her sister like the heralding of another world. Powder began to run towards her, slipping on glass and wreckage the whole way. As she approached, though, she began to falter more. In her sister’s arms was the body of Caitlyn Kiramman. “Vi?”

Her sister looked up, distraught, and when she met Powder’s eyes she looked…different. Her arms were half muscle and half strange metallic contraption. Stranger, her eyes no longer exactly matched Powder’s, but instead had this strange purple gleam to them.

It’s just a trick of the light…

Vi began to stand. She was still holding Caitlyn, though. “Powder?”

Powder wanted her to stop holding Caitlyn so closely. She began to move closer to the ring of crystals. “Is this real?” Powder asked. But how could it be if Viktor was gone and if for some reason Caitlyn was being cradled by her dead sister? How could Ekko have been real? How was she even still alive after the explosion?

“Yes, Powder, please-” Vi began to meet her half way. “Powder we need to get out of here.”

“We?”

Vi shifted Caitlyn’s weight. “Yes, yes, it’s going to be okay. I’m here- I’m- I’m right here. Oh my gods, Powder.” Her sister was choking back tears.

It sounded so safe. Powder was seconds away from throwing herself at her sister’s feet and weeping.“I tried to come back-”

“I know. I know you did what you had to survive. I did too. Powder, we need to run now.” Vi was a foot away from Powder. Powder could tell she was trying to get to her to do something and failing due to the crystal world that Powder had bathed the entire bridge in. “Powder,” Vi looked around at the carnage. “I’m so proud of you…” If they’d been kids, this was where Vi would have wrapped her arms around Powder.

But how can she hug me if she’s holding- holding Caitlyn! Of course, of course she takes everyone but me! “Vi, why? Why are you doing this?” Powder was fighting to stay above the waterline of her intrusive thoughts. “Why do you have that- that enforcer with you?”

Vi looked down at Caitlyn. The woman was barely holding onto life and up close Powder could see she was shallowly breathing. “She’s an unexpected tool, Powder. I needed her. I still do. Powder, please, just let me explain after we-”

“No! Explain now! Explain why you have her! Explain why you have Viktor and why you hate Ekko! Explain why you f*cking left me! ” She was panting from yelling now and snot was coming down her nose. Caitlyn whimpered in Vi’s arms.

“Powder, I’ve never forgotten the day you were caught in that explosion. I promise, I’m going to make everything right. They’re going to pay, I promise.”

“Silco?”

“All of them.” Vi’s eyes flashed purple.

Ekko had been right. She was going to try and hurt Piltover…But she’d end up taking the Undercity down with her as well. A terrible weariness struck, but underneath it Powder dug. A new feeling was coming over her; it was like doors in an old house that had been long forgotten were now just being unlocked. “Why’d you hurt Viktor?” Powder needed to know. She needed to be sure.

Vi shook her head. “Don’t worry. You’ll never have to see him again.”

The air around Powder collapsed. She held strong despite it all, “But why?

“I had no choice, Pow-Pow…” It was the nickname of a dead girl.

“You’re a real class act, sister.” She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to use the gift that Ziggs had given her. That was how it always went: hoping, praying, thinking, day-dreaming. She momentarily turned back to Piltover; they’d never know how she saved their sorry asses or how she’d actually done it for Ekko and Viktor. “Sister, there’s always a choice.”

And she became a titan killing star.

Somewhere in the Lanes, after his meeting with the barons of the Undercity, the cyclops of Zaun and his right-hand looked towards the Sun Gates. With a gesture, Sevika was barrelling towards what was surely a new turn of events.

Silco looked up to the sky, “Brother, what have you left for me now?”

Notes:

Feels so good to update again. This is the end of Part Three! On Tumblr I talked about how I expect there to be four to five parts alongside two to three more intermission segments. My hard deadline to finish this story is November 2022. The soft and lofty deadline is September 2022.

Other things I talked about on Tumblr:
- The scene in chapter three where Powder considers killing the firelight bug crawling across her wrist, but instead lets it go, is parallel to the scene in Arcane where she sees a raven and pauses before deciding to senselessly shoot it. It was the first scene I wrote for the story too.

- There’s a scene that got cut where Viktor tries to get Powder to cut her hair for an Academy event. It doesn’t work and the whole scene was essentially me wanting to assert that I headcanon Viktor as Jewish and both of them as bisexual. It didn’t really fit in the tone of my story. Maybe one day I will edit it and release it as extra flavor.

Thank you all for the support and the readership on this story!

Chapter 10: Intermission

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Silco

His brother had tried to drown him. Silco reflected on this from passing second to passing second; it was the foundational bricks that laid the groundwork to the haunted body he inhabited. This house that was him was either a tomb or a god. As the current leader of the Lanes he felt like a chthonic being, so perhaps he lived in the form of both.

Him and Vander had not been brothers by blood; something stronger had tied them together. They’d been dreamers down in the mines that Piltover required they work in.

Not required exactly…No, just cajoled and left with no other opportunity.

There had never been enough to go around down among the orphans, and the whor*s, and the one’s Topside had abandoned. So, he and Vander had dreamed. There was no shortage of those old, phantasmagorical hopes when they were fueled by resentment and anger.

But after their initial failures, Vander had grown complacent–and sated –by Piltover promises. The dream of their own nation was a cost too much for him, but the placebo was acceptable if there was no visible sacrifice or uncomfortable losses.

Vander had ruled the Lanes from The Last Drop and kept a separation of the Topsiders and those in the trencher districts as a deal between the old sheriff Grayson. He pretended to be king and Silco was forced to walk the earth like a vagabond.

His brother, once a dreamer, had died and been replaced by a puppet who enjoyed the miniscule peace he’d constructed. Tying himself to a dying, colonial power had killed the true Vander. That was his true murderer.

And he’d adopted a quartet of children too. Two boys and two girls to flatter his ego and constantly prescribed wisdoms and platitudes.

Until, well, everything had come down around them. And apparently, one of the daughter’s deaths had been greatly exaggerated.

Silco shouted towards Sevika who was piloting the motorcade. Servika yelled something back at him that Silco barely perceived. They were moving over harsh potholes and barely constructed streets to get to Singed’s laboratory in the Shimmer plant. Vi believed herself clever and in control of the facility, but she had no idea how many tunnels led to her little hideout, or how many of her men were actually still working under the fear of death at his hands.

The motorcade they were in had been a gift from Chem Baron named Chross, an older Zaunite who claimed he was born only a century after the Sun Gates were built and who dressed like a strange rotary comm-device. Like most of the other barons, the man loved his luxurious and strange fashions.

Initially, Silco had scoffed at the technological bribe from the half-senial idiot in the form of a motorized carriage; he preferred to walk the streets he owned.

Now, he was grateful. They hadn’t much time before the girl laid out in the backseat–forcing Silco to kneel before her on the motorcade floor– expired from the world and took the hopes of Zaun with her.

Sevika was pushing the vehicle’s motor to the brink. Silco could imagine her taking out a lash and beating the side of it like an unruly stallion. Sevika had them moving faster than the devils of hell. “What if she’s there?” Sevika asked while making a one-eighty spin and taking them down a series of rock-like stairs. There was no way the vehicle was meant for these maneuvers, but under Seika's hand it persisted.

“She won’t be! She’s fled across the bridge,” Silco let the last part trail off as he stroked Vander's daughter’s forehead. The girl was suffering from explosive burns and a few times she began to try and speak. The second daughter was also flinching in agony and nightmarish pain while mumbling the whole time. “It appears that Violet has abandoned a winning hand for the second time.”

Violet, Violet, Violet…Exactly like Vander.

Silco, like most of Vander’s victories after their split, had allowed Violet to believe many wonderful, and easy lies. Yes, there were members of the Undercity who adored her. And yes, she had betrayed him. But Vander had taught her everything she knew.Silco had the exact same education. Violet was simply the host for Vander’s old soul and his old ways so of course Silco knew her better than she knew herself.

He looked down at the abandoned sister again: her braided hair was coming undone and the glasses perched on her nose were smashed beyond repair. She was an unlucky child with all the anger, but none of Vander’s touch. She again began to form words in the hazy half-life, “Vi…Vi-”

He stroked her head again. “It’s okay. She’s gone now, child.”

She wouldn’t settle, “Vi- Vik- Viktor! Viktor!” She gurgled the name, blood rising in her throat from internal damage. Silco cursed and turned her on her side. They rushed from the vehicle upon arrival. And when they located the elevator hatch reserved solely for dealings outside of Violet’s purvey, Silco had to carry the young scientist in his arms. She stopped shifting and became deathly still as the lift descended deep towards the cavern area under the river.

Sevika was eyeing him with her usual, disgruntled look. Silco snapped at her and Sevika responded curtly, “You’re really going to take in another of Vander’s kids?” Unsaid layed her other complaints before Silco: Vander’s death had left behind a curse upon them in the form of Hextech; therefore his children could only carry that curse in their lineage as well.

Powder- No, that’s not quite right. The children and Vander’s clients allegedly called her something else before they called her a martyr. She was a bit of a nuisance before death made her quiet. They called her the little Jinx. Yes, hexes and jinxes. The Arcane was everywhere.

The Jinx had none of Vander’s lessons or pride. The Jinx strangely only had a disgust for Piltover and a loyalty to the scientist that Violet had taken. Silco could use that. In fact, he could almost sympathize with that.

Stay alive, girl.

The lift opened to Singed’s strange laboratory glowing in an iridescent, green light. The place had every hallmark of the disgraced, Piltover chemist’s tastes and aesthetics. Glass beakers filled with bubbling liquids, strange open texts, and botanical flowers growing in the sanitized, safety of a miniature, coffin greenhouse. Silco had mixed feelings on the location. Here was where he’d been introduced to his dependency on Shimmer and where he’d found a love of the water that had once claimed his life. A story of contradictions at its core.

Singed was not alone either. That was somehow stranger to Silco than the otherworldly, levitating object on the workbench.The assistant to Jayce Talis, who’d inadvertently been the second domino pushed by Violet, was laid out on a medical slab like Silco had once been when he’d given up his eye for the sake of wisdom and Zaun. The man (really, to Silco, he was a boy) sat up and there was a moment of recognition.

Foolish child, don't try it!

The frail boy was not afraid, instead, he made a swift motion off the medical slab. His arm and leg had been modified–but not like Violet’s augmented arms–the sinewy, purple muscle interwoven with his flesh had grown from him. It was more like Silco’s eyes than the swords and slings built into his comrades.

The boy moved with brutal grace–perhaps to attack or perhaps not–whatever he intended he did not achieve. Sevika had been Silco’s guard for a decade, and before that she had also been Vander’s. The people of Zaun whispered of these mens’ wrath in the streets and Sevika was the woman who gave those ghost stories weight.

She easily grabbed the boy’s wrist, insistent like a dance partner, and maneuvered him backwards with a twist of his wrist and a kick to his other, unmodified leg. The knock back was enough to start the boy coughing up blood and Shimmer, but he still raised his head and was about to make a suicidal bid at the woman who had been brawling in the streets since she was a small girl.

“Viktor!” Singed did not yell. He instead snapped like a disappointed teacher. “They are on our side.”

Viktor was only focused on the rapidly fading woman in Silco’s arms. His eyes gleamed in the green light with purple Shimmer still freshly running through him.

Silco held tight to his patience. “My reputation precedes me, boy, but I promise this is not my doing.”

He took note of Singed as well. The boy before him could be used as a lever to control Singed and the Jinx. Silco doubted that saving the girl’s life would inspire any loyalty. It might even generate resentment. “She’s been calling your name. I simply brought her by her own request,” As he said it, the Jinx breathed out a cry. The modified, Zaun scientist was pierced at the hook of this moment. A look of pure agony crossed his features and he began to reach for the girl in Silco’s arms.

Silco pulled back from Viktor. “You’ve already wasted what little time she has left. Listen to your mentor, move aside.”

He then moved the girl to the medical slab where the boy had once been and Singed started to pull out the gurney, the one with the harsh, leather straps.

This made the boy angrier as he was now beside Silco, cradling the girl’s head in against his chest. Viktor looked at Singed, “Can you save her?”

“I can, but the process will be taxing. Her injuries are severe and she could be suffering from internal bleeding. Sometimes...death is a mercy.”

That’s what Vander had considered it–a mercy killing. All the angels and weak willed servants like Benzo the traitor had begged for Vander to either leash the devil that was Silco or kill him once and for all. How could an abrupt ending ever be a mercy?

Silco interjected, “The girl can take it. Candidly, you made her into something better, boy.”

Silco and Viktor shared a look; he realized that the Piltover charity case must have never been complimented before on his teachings of the girl. Of course not, Topside would never let him eat the fruits of his labor. He knew not his worth as her guardian or as a creator of Hextech.

But Viktor shook his head–breaking the connection–and Silco found himself disappointed. He simply wanted to awaken the children of Zaun, but they turned from him like he was a false prophet.

Silco grabbed the boy’s wrist, the one that had been modified by Singed, and shook it. “You think you can go back up there like this?! Look, look out towards the river where the monsters lay. You’ve learned an important lesson, but you still refuse to accept it–” That is why we will win. Power, real power, doesn’t come to those who are born the fastest, or the strongest, or the richest. “–you share more with us now than ever before. Let me free you both from Topside and from the fates they’ve prescribed to you.”

The boy must have been used and tricked too many times before. He turned away from Silco and continued to emotionally reach towards Singed who was like a distant planet.

“Singed, please, don’t hurt her.” Viktor asked and the old scientist flashed a bit of sympathy. “Or- If you cannot at least ease the pain, do not make a choice she does not consent to. I allowed what was done to me. She has no say. Please, Singed- Doctor-”

Singed paused, and for a second Silco thought he was about to be a good man. But he shook his head and then gestured at Sevika. Good, just like Marcus. People will surprise you, but mostly they’ll do exactly what you expect. The sun of hope had set; Viktor’s calls were being sent to the light of a star that had already died.Sevika raised an eyebrow, but somehow still understood what the disgraced doctor wanted from her, and the boy scientist was too obsessed with appealing to notice. He couldn’t react in time to Sevika grabbing him from behind and the second he was trapped he helplessly tried to thrash.

The doctor filled a syringe with a vicious looking, amber liquid that gleamed under the verdant hue of the laboratory. Viktor strained again against Sevika, certainly realizing what was about to happen.

“This is for your own sanity.” Singed ignored the boy's pleas and plunged the device into his neck. Viktor fought again, cursing them all as he slurred his words together. The older chemist only sighed at his apprentice’s limp form in Sevika’s arms.

The device…the strange glowing core…sparked to life right as the boy faded into unconsciousness. So, Singed hasn’t only been indulging in sentimentality. Always a purpose and a larger goal with this man.

They moved the girl to the gurney and the boy back to the slab. Singed brushed a lock of the boy’s hair out of his eyes. The gesture was not lost on Silco, “I remember you once telling me you had a daughter.” Singed only shrugged. Of course he did. “How long will it take? How changed will she be?”

Singed wheeled the device between the two, dying scientists. “As much as you were. Perhaps more.”

Silco had faced down the abyss and for that wisdom he had given his eye. The girl would have to travel to the world of death like he had. The similarities between them were intriguing: both betrayed as well. “Good, she must let Powder die to become what she was meant to be.”

Vi

She was running with a half-dead enforcer in her arms. Crystals protruded from her flesh and cyborg-like biceps. Which of these scenarios felt more surreal to her? Vi couldn’t articulate it, but the enforcer in her arms was probably the stranger of the two.

The enforcer groaned, revealing to Vi that she’d probably never been shot at in her life. Vi was struggling to swallow that this foolish enforcer had literally thrown herself in front of Vi to take a bullet for her.

“Hey, hey, common, Cupcake-” She’d started calling the up-tight, polished detective that as an insult. The hint of her stomach warming when she said it, mixed with the terror of her strange companion not hearing it, did not speak well for her plans or for the term (of endearment, unfortunately) still being an insult.

The needed reminders that this woman was a tool for an end game (one that would surely lead to the dissolution of their…Alliance ? Friendship? She took a bullet for me?! ) were more frequent in Vi’s head than she liked. “–you gotta tell me where to go! Caitlyn, common, tell me where I need to go.” She was sixteen again, running through the beautiful streets of Piltover and yelling to Mylo and Claggor that they had to turn back for Powder. The buildings were so high and everything was reaching for the stars and leaving her behind.

You left her behind again. That was the craziest part about it: her sister had lived. Claggor, Mylo, and Vi had watched the building concave, the walls exploding and rubble falling onto the hallway space where Powder had gone to explore. Vi had run back to the Undercity, in truth, to get Vander. A deep part of her had fantasized that Vander would march over the bridge and return with Powder or avenge Powder. Vi looked back to the Sun Gates, hoping that her sister had kept some of that magic in her, enough to survive another explosion. Enough that they’d get a second (technically third) chance to talk.

Caitlyn whimpered and then cried out. Vi had to cover the woman’s mouth and pull them into what she thought was an alley, but to her surprise it was a garden. It was manicured, a small patch of green in the empty sea of metal and gilded, gleaming, copper worlds.

The woman needed help that Vi couldn’t give, not without a cost. Shimmer was a freedom wrapped in shackles: it had stopped the river toxins from killing Silco, fueled the tattoo and joint cybernetics in her arms, and now it might give Vi the time to get this woman to someone in Piltover who could fix her quickly and without the crude pains that came with injury in the Undercity. Vi pulled a vial of refined Shimmer from her left boot. The forbidden fruit gleamed menacingly.

She gently laid the enforcer onto the grass, realizing that it wasn't real (nothing ever was in Piltover) and that Silco would be laughing if he knew where she was. The bastard had always snipped at her for the ironies she threw herself into.

Oh, Violet, always so quick to scream obscenities at me for how I kept Marcus, the enforcer, close to me. I’m almost flattered; you’re following in my footsteps. Or maybe in Vander’s? He worked so well with Sheriff Grayson. He had only saved Vi and taken her in for his own gain. Silco had never made that a secret, no, that was one courtesy he did her. Silco, if anything, wasn’t a liar. And she couldn’t wait to bring his bullsh*t empire down around him.

Vi uncapped the Shimmer and poured it between the woman’s lips. f*ck them all. She was going to recreate the world from the ashes of the entire city and her sister would be there. Her sister would finally be there with her after she saw the end of Vi’s gambit.

The Shimmer had barely left the bottle before Caitlyn started to weep. Vi knew from experience that it was going to hit her system with a shock that could awaken sleeping titans. Still, she started to shush the enforcer and even squeezed her hand reassuringly.

Vi had never had a partner before. She’d been a sidekick and groomed to inherit the role of protector, but she was never an equal and never a companion. Even her sister had been one of the many she’d had to protect.

Caitlyn’s eyes opened and the amount of relief Vi felt was sickening. “Where?” It was all the syllables and sounds that Caitlyn could force her mouth to form.

“Piltover,” Vi looked around at the garden and the quiet night air. She hadn’t been in the city proper since she was sixteen. Most of her work with Silco kept her near Stillwater Prison and the sky-skiff docks near Piltover edges. Vi wondered if this had been on purpose–if Silco had always known her sister was alive and had hired the scientist, Viktor, as a plant in Piltover and Powder’s jailer–or was fate spitting in her eye again? “We need to hurry to your Council friend, or whatever connections you said you had.” With anyone else, Vi would have added the addendum of, ‘...and if you were lying about your contacts then you’ve killed yourself’.

Caitlyn, forever full of surprises, said, “Carry me.”

The house–mansion–was magnificent, grander than the Slickjaws’ terrarium bar or the Vyx gang's secret apartments. Caitlyn directed her past an open hold in the golden fence and through a gravel walkway that was surrounded by hedges. “There’s no guards here?” Vi asked and Caitlyn shook her head in confusion, or maybe half-delirium from blood loss. The Shimmer would keep her body breathing and producing enough fluids, but she needed the bullet removed if she was going to survive.

Of course she’ll survive. We’re in Piltover. Another theory entered her mind: what if her sister had been brought back from the dead by Piltover? They’d taken Powder’s corpse and re-animated it, brain-washed it, and then made her their servant. “How is this supposed to help you from bleeding out onto my hands, Caitlyn?”

“Dad…” She coughed and failed to notice Vi’s face twisting in shock. The enforcer was desperate enough to not lie. “A medic...” Caitlyn looked to a servants’ door in the back of the house. Vi knew it was for the employed masses that made the house run because it looked like the brown, plain wood was tacked onto the bronze estate as an afterthought. People like Vi to people like this? Always an afterthought, always secondary. Vi shook her head (she was thinking like Silco again) and jogged, jostling Caitlyn who winced, towards the entrance.

Vi began to put the pieces together. “You didn’t tell me your dad was a servant for a Councilwoman-”

The door was flung open and for the hundredth time in her life, Vi was face to face with the end of a gun. At the helm of the weapon was an older woman, perhaps in her fifties or sixties. She was a Pilty in every regard: clean white blouse with a navy bow-tie at the collar, a full length skirt that was as dark as her graying hair probably used to be, white gloves, gold buttons, and blue gem-stone earrings.

Following at the woman's heels was a man with darker navy hair and a face that was distinctly Caitlyn-esque in nature. It suddenly clicked for Vi who these people were. The two parents looked at Vi like she was a lake monster who had their daughter in a bridal carry. They had no idea.

Vi rushed past the woman, who was too busy trying to co*ck the rifle and curse her out, into the kitchen. Instinct and Silco’s training took over as Vi yelled at the man, who she realized was Caitlyn’s father and the husband of one of the richest people in Piltover, to get his supplies and hurry. The father had some sense; he looked at his wife and then at his daughter. He made the right choice and ran up a set of stairs in the corner of the servants area. His wife looked wrathful.

“You Shimmer riddled, Undercity addict, what the hell have you done to my daughter?!” The woman kept trying to take Caitlyn out of Vi’s arms.

Vi could have killed her with a hit to the jugular, the stomach, or the back of the cranium. “Hello, nice to meet you too. Caitlyn had literally nothing to say about you, but I’m sure if she did, it would be vague and mildly pleasant.” Vi carried Caitlyn to a table in the (thankfully) empty servants’ quarters. It was too early for them to be here it seemed. The woman kept trying to block Vi and point a gun at her. “Can you move, bitch?!” Vi's pleasantries were fading fast.

“Excuse me?!”

“Mother!” Caitlyn groaned the admonishment out from on top of the table Vi had laid her on. Her dad was quickly there and telling her to hold on. Vi looked at her boots, tracing the lines of scuffs and scratches until she didn’t have to watch this moment between daughter and father. The Councilwoman finally turned her attention and wrath away from Vi when she realized that the Undercity woman wasn’t going to give her any information and that she needed to care for her daughter.

The woman must have cared about Caitlyn because her brow furrowed and she began to very quietly stroke her daughter's hair. She wasn’t as apparent in her affection as the father, but it was still there in the faint hints that Vi had been taught to spot and target. Silco would have been proud of her.

Vi pulled a chair out from somewhere, sat somewhere in the kitchen, and wished she was somewhere else. She looked towards the door and considered running, back to the bridge and back to her sister.

What if this time she didn’t make it? She had to have made it. Vi knew it. This wasn’t like the last time.

Caitlyn would make it and so would Powder. And the rest of the city will burn. Vi caught her own reflection in the floors of the kitchen as Caitlyn winced and made the pained noises of the brave attempting to hide their discomfort. A pink haired woman with strange arms and crystals sticking out of her glared back at Vi from the floor. Silco’s third and the perfect match to Sevika was there, still looking back as always. Just because she found herself attached to someone, didn't mean she had changed.

Eventually, someone came to stand by her. It was Caitlyn’s father, he must have been as brave or stupid as Caitlyn because he offered Vi a cloth with some herbal remedy on it. When she shook her head and tried to wave him away, unsure how to explain she’d been treating her own wounds for years now, he began to lay at her feet various medical instruments and gestured to his wife for them to leave Caitlyn and Vi.

Vi was as shocked as the mom, but the posh Councilor relented on the grounds that they’d be nearby if anything happened. Vi didn’t say to them that Caitlyn could be dead easily. If Vi willed it she could do it and nothing could stop it. She kept her mouth shut, though. When they were gone, she went to work getting the shards of crystal out of her body.

“How are you not in pain?” Caitlyn stared at the ceiling while she asked the question. Does she not remember the explosion?

“Eh,” Vi had been taking Shimmer since she was seventeen, her arm alterations had been a gift from Silco when she was eighteen. Like Silco and Sevika, she’d gained some benefits from the drug. The numbing power of Shimmer made every attack against her weaker and less potent. Unfortunately, it made every sensation less potent as well, like she was behind a wall of smog and could only faintly feel the other side. “I’m tough.”

“You should have let my father get those things out of you,” Caitlyn turned to her, laid out on the table still, but seemingly better and ignoring Vi’s joke. Her voice was fainter and there was still the evidence of Shimmer in her from the rheum substance at the corner of her eye, but she was alive. “I know it’s hard to ask for help, but this can only work if you trust me.” The truth was that it never worked. Topside always found a way to screw her over. Caitlyn couldn’t understand that. “I understand now, Topside has been the source of your problems.”

“Not all of my problems.” She had done a fine enough job of causing trouble and ruining everything herself. Vi could still see Mylo and Claggor’s starry-eyed, wistful faces. They jumped when she said jump, listened when she’d ordered them to listen, and they’d died when she said to fight.

“Vi?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. Thank you for showing me the Undercity. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for being…my partner.” Vi had taken her to spots where the Firelights would tag buildings with graffiti and then took her immediately to a neighborhood that was addicted to Shimmer: the perfect story and villain wrapped in one.

And in that moment of pure earnesty from Caitlyn, Vi knew that when she died she was going to the places where no soul wanted to be. The tartarus pits waited for her, not the fields of gold for heroes. At least Caitlyn might be there too. Hell cared not for intention, only deed and execution. And if that was true, then most of Piltover was headed towards the same dark pit as Vi.

“I’m surprised my sister didn’t show you.” Vi was lying through her teeth. She covered this falsehood by shifting her eyes towards the removal of explosive crystals lodged where they weren’t meant to be. Her sister had pulled the trigger and then thrown the bomb in the air. If Powder had really meant to kill all three of them she would have fallen on the sword and kept the device in her hands.

“Your sister had a hard time here,” Caitlyn began to say and Vi had to bore her attention into her injuries to not feel an age old resentment for Silco and Vander for ripping them apart. “I wish I had reached out to her sooner. She had Viktor, though, she wasn’t alone and now neither are you.”

Vi felt her throat clench and she could have breathed fire at that moment. How dare the universe try to forgive me, comfort me. Like a unicorn that comes to lay in the lap of the no longer pure virgin. “Caitlyn, I’m not a good person.”

“Vi-”

“No, listen,” Vi hadn’t talked about this in ten years. Technically, she’d never talked about it ever. “When I was sixteen, after Powder was caught in that explosion, people came after us.” Vi had looked into Vander’s kind eyes and he’d told them to hide in the Last Drop. She had been so sure: of him, of the Undercity, of monsters and heroes, and of vengeance and retribution. The hiding went on for three days and in that time her anger grew until it was a great plume that blocked out the sky.“My brothers and I moved hiding places a few times, but then we chose the wrong place.” Vander hadn’t known what to do. It had seemed that the man who’d saved her and Powder on the bridge from the enforcers had died alongside their parents. He’d hung the gauntlets, still stained in places with traces of enforcer blood, over the bar like windchimes; but they’d always been only for show.

“It was an old game hall. It had a bunch of silly arcade sports that Powder used to love, but up until then we hadn’t gone because I’d been trying to get us to be more like adults.” The plan had been simple in her mind: they’d lure the enforcers to the game hall and there they could catch them off guard with a tar concoction that Ekko had put together. Just like kids playing with slingshots, it had gone poorly and Marcus had started firing. Two bullets, one for each of her brothers. “When they came for us we tried to fight and of course we began to lose. I had these old gauntlets with me and there was this woman. I struck her once; I’m not sure if my punch killed her or the impact of the floor. That was all it took. Then I ran.”

“You were acting in self defense.” Caitlyn was sweet, in a sorta naive way.

“My sister was alive the whole time too; there was no reason for what I did, Caitlyn.” Vi hadn’t even known it was the sheriff.

“That was then, this is now.” Caitlyn sat up from the table and seemed to defy her pain. “You’ve worked to grow the Undercity and bring hope, despite Silco and the Firelights.”

The whole of the Undercity heard the story. Vi had killed an enforcer–Vi had killed the sheriff –and none of it mattered. She’d wandered the streets in a half delirium of guilt, the faces of her brothers gone eerily still and unblinking. Silco must have heard the over-inflated version of the events, but he’d still had his people find her. Vander and Benzo had followed and because of that she’d gotten them killed too. “You know, one time Marcus said that we were all just small men who should’ve died in the forgotten sump hole we were born in. I sometimes think he was right…”

“No,” Caitlyn moved to stand, ignoring Vi’s protests, all the way until she was kneeled beside her. “I’m going to talk to my- my mother. We are going before the Council, Vi, and we’ll get the help we need to find your sister and stop Silco.”

It was all falling into place. Vi pulled another crystal from her knee, “Promise?”

Ekko

Powder had given him the gift of time wrapped in the ribbon of bravery and an attempt at blowing her sister up. He was only able to realize that as he limped towards Piltover, trying to find a place where he could get some momentum for his board and escape the sound of the foghorn enforcers' alarm.

The blast had thrown Ekko off the railing where he was clinging for his life, and in slow motion he’d been surrounded by small motes of light and the carnage had not seemed so terrible.

He hadn’t hit the water, but instead was thrown far enough that he’d landed on hard concrete foundations near the shore. Scar was right, you’re attached to a girl who you thought was the blue fairy, but she’s more like a ship captain with a hook for a hand. This is what happens when you fancy yourself the boy who will never grow up.Before he’d left, Scar had pulled him aside and laid it out plainly: the daughters of the house of Silco and Vander were cursed by something as old as Piltover and the Undercity.

Ekko tried to not turn back, but he kept wincing and glancing over his shoulder towards the bridge and the land of his home. But, he’d kept reasoning that he’d be no use to her dead, ignoring the very reality that she was almost certainly gone.

But you’ve thought that before, and she’s come back. Ekko fell into an alleyway and laid still as the sound of thundering enforcer boots rushed towards the explosion. Even Piltover had its places to hide it seemed. How many lives can a poro have? Nine? She knew what she was doing. And yet, the memory of her suicidally throwing herself off the tower and into the hands of fate was a fresh memory.

An account of his body and injuries followed up with: shock, terror, fear, and one dislocated arm. To the gods, he was lucky. He was so lucky and so tired and he let himself curl up for a second, telling himself he had the time.

It felt like he had been alone for so long.

Beyond the Undercity–resting on paved streets and hills of copper buildings who’d unanimously nodded in architectural agreement–was Piltover’s primary science and technology college. The minds who made what went on there were said to have been the best and toughest. It began its preparatory work with students around the ages of sixteen. If you survived the metaphorical culling, you were then ushered to the first year of study in the upper college and university systems. You could tell the ages and ranks of students depending on uniform and tie color or skirt pleat type. Progress to Piltover meant following a codified dress code.

Ekko knew all of this because Benzo had once pulled him aside and delicately begun to describe the institution, how sometimes angels from topside came down to pluck hidden gems in the rough–but Ekko had been small enough to still whine out a disgusted argument. He knew the old man had been trying to push him into a world that he believed would be better for Ekko. Benzo had been kind to him for free, a rare thing in the Undercity…In Zaun.

Powder had said to go to the open skylight. Ekko listened and began to move through the infant rays of morning light across perfectly clean streets and warm street lamps. Enforcers were moving in the opposite direction of him and the city was either dead asleep or wilfully ignoring the commotion.

Where had Topside and Undercity begun? Before the Hexgates, and even before the airships and blimps, the seas and ports had been the dreams of the cliffside city. Ekko knew this from his own research into lost journals and tomes. It was first the building of the canal system: every piece of the path had led to the Undercity entrenched in debts made of blood and gold to Piltover.

There were guards patrolling the Academy, but even with a dislocated arm, Ekko only found them nominally a frustration. They were so full of themselves, and not even vaguely concerned with the fact that an explosion had just occurred near the Sun Gates.

He took a breath and brought himself back to his goal: the skylight. He clipped his left boot to the retractable locking mechanism on the surface of his board and started to get some momentum from pushing himself along. He then kicked off and started to hover enough to grab onto the second story window of what he assumed was a classroom. Immediately, as he began his ‘climb’ he realized that Powder wanted him to go for a glass dome at the apex of the building. He cursed and kept climbing, all the while ignoring the weird sensation in his arm. He was used to pain and powering through it, but that didn’t make it any more enjoyable or less frightening.

The gentle, early morning wind traced its hands against his brow and hair as he climbed higher. Legends in the Undercity said that a goddess of wind had come to protect them when the noxious fumes from Piltover’s construction. Ekko had seen graffiti tags of the goddess a few times (she was always dressed in really tight and revealing clothes that made him and Powder as little kids giggle and point). It was only him and the wind to watch over him at this great height. The Firelights were almost all entirely orphans, and Ekko wouldn’t say any of them were necessarily religious, but it felt nice to believe that something was watching out for you. It was just on the horizon, rooting for you and keeping your corner safe with fires alight.

If he lived, he made a promise to himself that he’d go and change the murals of the goddess, no more skimpy outfits for Zaun’s protector.

Ekko made it to the top of the dome (his arm had started to pulse angrily at him) and looked out to the city. Even in the morning, dewy darkness it was lit with crystalogical lighting. The Hexgates also glowed like a halo against the ports they were built for.

He didn’t have to search for long to find the secret place where Powder frequented. The metal framing around the unlocked skylight had silly doodles of monsters and purple dragons. There was no more time for guilt. If Ekko's estimations were right, he hadn’t seen the last of Vi or Powder. Life was fragile, but there was something destiny-like about the sisters. Scar was right. There was a curse on them. The sisters would die when the will of Zaun and Piltover let them. It was weird…the paths and traces of time and fate. He saw them clearly, as a scientist, and maybe a little as a dreamer.

Ekko hovered easily through the skylight, like Powder had been waiting for someone to share this secret with and had marked an ‘x’ on a treasure map. He kept expecting Hextech runes to suddenly glow and blast him out of the air, or Poster-Boy-Jayce Talis to arrive and order his arrest to Stillwater. None of that happened and he landed on the floor of a clean, sterile, blue and silver laboratory.

This was where issues arose: he needed Powder to help him in identifying necessary components. He could recognize objects of value and tools that could be good, but he wasn’t taking technology indiscriminately. He only had so much weight that could be carried on his board.

A click at the door interrupted his thoughts.Door unlocking, individual will be in room in less than two seconds–

He heard the footsteps (just in time) and ducked under a table. He brushed his arm against the leg of the furniture piece, though, and had to bite into his fist to not scream. It was times like this that he found himself resenting Vi the most. They’d had enough clashes for him to know that the Shimmer gave her advantages that the Firelights could only dream of. Pain couldn’t stop her and that was a terrifying thing to behold.

He watched the legs of the person enter. They were dressed in a lab and Academy uniform of sorts. As the figure moved further into the room Ekko saw it was just a dark skinned woman with her long and bouncy hair in a tight band. She was clearly stressed: rubbing her eyes and propping her glasses atop her forehead. She took a seat on a stool before a desk and Ekko felt the awkward sense that he was watching a very vulnerable scene that he had no right to.

Then, the woman looked up, right at the open skylight area. “Powder?” She called out. Ekko was frozen. “Powder? Powder are you there?”

Ekko weighed the odds that the scientist woman would find him: very likely. He then weighed his ability to bluff and lie: potentially equally as likely. “Hi,” Ekko said as he stepped out from under the table (sh*t) the woman almost fell from her chair when she saw him (double sh*t). Ekko decided to take a safe route, “I’m one of Powder’s friends from the Academy…” He stilled his shaking hands and tried to think how he would explain his clothes.

Even the safest route never worked with Powder, because the woman looked him up and down skeptically, but didn’t comment on his dress. Instead, she said, “Powder doesn’t have friends from the Academy.” She was wicked sharp for a Pilty. “Powder clearly trusted you enough to tell you about the skylight…If you’re her friend, then you need to tell her to get out of the Undercity now.”

“Typical,” Ekko should have known. He was disappointed, but not surprised.

She rubbed her forehead again, “I’m from the Undercity too!” And before Ekko could make another remark she opened her notebook and thrust it at him. In it were very clearly ripped pages and documents that had been hastily removed from their original place and thrust into her work book. On each page was a stamp of a hammer in the middle of a diamond. It was the nightmare that Ekko and even Silco had forewarned Zaun of: Hextech weapons. “Powder needs to return now! She’s never been a great negotiator, but she had an equal part in Hextech’s creation and the Council would listen to her!”

“Powder is as diplomatic as a rabid, tusked bantha,” Ekko, like an idiot, was compelled to have her on his mind taking space and causing fear and worry at all times now that she was alive again. It was like a switch had been flipped in him and he was twelve again and having foolish hope, despite the evidence and repeated experiments of his life revealing over and over again the dangers, that it would all work out. “Even if Powder got up there, they wouldn’t listen. You know they wouldn’t.” Not to mention that enforcers had been hunting the Firelights at Silco’s command for years. The system was never meant for them.

“Then why did she send you? Why are you here and not her?”

“She wanted me to help her find Viktor. She seemed to think there was something here we could use and in return I could keep the technology.” He hid the fact that part of the reason was to also stop Vi from whatever insane plan she was cooking up. Ekko saw the flash of realization in the woman’s eyes.

“Someone in the Undercity is building a weapon too.” Ekko said nothing, and the woman realized everything. She cursed under her breath, something about Powder and Viktor in her lament. “Whatever you take from this lab isn’t leaving my sight. I can help you collect what you need and then we’re going to stop some super weapons.” She trailed off towards the end of the sentence, hearing herself must have not inspired confidence.

He was skeptical. “How many years has it been since you were in the Fissures? The Lanes?” Her face scrunched. “That’s what I thought.”

“We all have to do our part.” The line had more weight to her than to Ekko. “Your arm…”

“Yeah, I know.”

She approached and he had no energy to fight her. “We could go to a doctor or I could…” It was half a question. This proved to him she had probably been an orphan in the Undercity. He nodded at her and pretended she was Scar, or Powder, or a version of Vi long dead in the past.

He only winced a little bit as she popped it back into place. It was shocking to see his pride not fail him when he needed it.Being from the Undercity didn’t automatically equal friendship or solidarity, but he was glad that she had found him here. “What’s your name?” It was a start. And unlike Powder, Ekko knew when he needed help.

“Sky,” she began to collect her things. Powder had pulled something similar on him, realizing that he needed something and finding a way to simultaneously give it to him and get something else. Ekko then watched her unlock a small safe under the desk, something Vi had missed when she had kidnapped Viktor. “How did you get past the blockade?” Sky asked.

“Powder took care of it, but also kicked-started seven more problems.” He had to laugh.

Sky’s deep brown eyes softened. “You really are her friend.”

Caitlyn

Her mother and her had these arguments often and always in the same place: the tea room. Above the fireplace was their family portrait, her mother’s parasoul took up a significant splotch of the canvas while Caitlyn and her father stood at either side, painted as pillars of family. Their most lavish chairs were here and any time they needed to talk as a family, or have her mother lecture them all, they came to the tea room. Sometimes her father would side with Caitlyn in the argument, but mostly he kept silent and only interjected sparingly. Caitlyn swore that she wouldn’t let this opportunity pass.

Every time she stood up for her choices, every tiny rebellion, and every little scrap of herself she could actualize had been leading up to this moment. The city needed healing and this was her best chance at starting that long and arduous process.

The first string of the Great Conspiracy had to be plucked first. That was Silco and his people. Then, those who allied with him or would seek to grab power would come next.

Caitlyn explained all of this to her skeptical mother and father who looked on in horror at their daughter as they sat together in the living room. Her mother’s immediate response was expected and still disappointing, though, “I’m removing you from the enforcer’s corp.”

“It’s too late,” Caitlyn had been threatened with this before. “I’m on Jayce’s staff.”

“You’re failing to comprehend me, Caitlyn, I’m not doing this as your mother. I am doing this as a Councilor. You and Jayce have endangered the whole of Piltover with this espionage attempt to rescue the assistant-”

“Viktor!”

Caitlyn was willing to give her mother an iota of credit; she did look repentant as she clenched her hands. “I understand Viktor means the world to Jayce. This rescue mission has evolved into more than that, though. There are reports that a weapon is being built in the Undercity and its usage is imminent. Things have escalated and we are on the precipice of war. Do you even realize that you were present for an explosion that killed dozens of enforcers? Your safety is paramount, Caitlyn!”

“My safety? I’ve never been safe a day in my life here! There are citizens and good people of this city living on the streets, being poisoned, having to choose between a kingpin who wants to exploit them and a government who doesn’t give a sh*t about them! Meanwhile, the Academy had custody of a child for a decade and never thought to look for her sister? Despite the fact that she was a primary Hextech engineer, no one considered her and the ties she had because Silco and Marcus are hiding and puppeteering us!”

Cassandra Kiramman had been on the Piltover Council even before Caitlyn was born. Caitlyn had grown up listening to stories of her mother’s prowess and her dealings with house Talis and Jayce’s father. Their family had their own mythology and Caitlyn was distinctly aware she was being punished for defying the path set by that story. “I want to speak to the Council, tell them of my findings and represent myself as part of House Talis’ staff.”

Her mother straightened her face. “I’ll schedule an audience.” Caitlyn tried to mimic her mother’s expression, but covering up the shock was difficult. “You and your– your friend can address the Council yourselves. I suggest you prepare accordingly. Sheriff Marcus is dead and the Council will want justice for the bridge massacre.” It sounded affectionate and condescending simultaneously to her. The true duality of her mother in all ways.

Good to know Vi didn’t say anything about him trying to shoot her and me taking the bullet instead.

“Thank you…” Caitlyn almost ran to her room to tell Vi. She half expected the woman to not be there, to have fled in the minutes Caitlyn was gone. In the brief time of their partnership she had learned that the Undercity revolutionaire had this ever present dark cloud over her head. It came in hints and brief exchanges: the signs of a lonely woman.

Vi was standing before the map Caitlyn had built, almost dwarfed by the size of the canopy bed and the pillars in her bedroom. “You did all of this?”

Caitlyn was still in shock that her mother had so readily agreed to let them present, but she mustered a response. “Yes, it was part of the reason I became an enforcer.”

“Huh, and I thought Powder could get obsessed.”

Caitlyn moved to stand by her. There was a childish thought at the back of her mind: what comes after this? Vi was an Undercity leader and Caitlyn was an enforcer. The notions of partnership and a continued mutual understanding were intoxicating. She had been alone for so long. “Your sister is brilliant. I don’t think the city would have the Hexgates without her or Viktor.”

“I left her.” And there it was: the dark cloud.

“No, what happened wasn’t your fault.” It was like Vi and her sister had simply been born unlucky. “Tonight we present our findings to the Council and then we can get the tools necessary to rescue Viktor from Silco and find your sister too. She has to be somewhere close by in the Lanes.”

Vi brushed her knuckles against Caitlyn’s hand and they rested until they were called for.

When Caitlyn and Vi walked in the Council Chambers, an imposing building that had a circular table arrangement with divots for the seats, they caught the tail end of the conversation between the Councilors. Marcus was dead via an explosion, blood on the bridge, Firelight crystalogical technology had advanced from a nuisance to a weapon. Jayce tried to get the last word in and made it clear exactly what he was thinking, “We need to act before anyone else gets killed or kidnapped!”

Councilor Salo, a reed thin man with slicked backed blonde hair, interrupted that attempt, “Ah, right, your assistant. And how do we know for certain he hasn’t gone rogue? The only person capable of creating a weapon like this would be him.” Jayce dropped an orange crystal he was running between his hands. Salo ignored the malicious glare Jayce threw at him.

Caitlyn hadn’t been able to see Jayce before she’d departed for the Undercity. In such a short time, the stress from his missing friend and now the deaths on the bridge, had touched his psyche. Caitlyn could see it, and its layers became apparent to her when she realized he had three sets of crystals before him that were similar to the ones that Vi had been removing from her arms.

Caitlyn could hardly remember the explosion, only the gunshot and then Vi. A Firelight rogue had jumped onto the bridge and– my memory goes fuzzy. I know it was a woman. I know she tried to attack us.

Vi hadn’t mentioned a word of it to Caitlyn and she wouldn’t make eye contact as they listened to the Council debate. Finally, Caitlyn’s mother called them to testify before another word could be said.

From the floor and balcony above, the great meeting desk looked like a gear with intensely sharp angels and wedges. When someone came before the Council, they walked down a narrow path and in between a small break in the circle’s band. That way they were in the center of the gear and effectively surrounded. Caitlyn turned to Jayce and a bit of relief passed between the two. Vi, who she knew to be good at speaking, had gone immensely quiet.

Caitlyn stepped forward for the both of them, dressed in her enforcer’s uniform to establish ethos, she began, “Councilors, this is Violet. She is known by her followers as Atlas and has lived in the Undercity her whole life. We have failed her and countless others. As a result, Vi is one of the many who have risen up against the industrialist Silco, but one of the few to truly become a needed leader among the Undercity.” The whispers that followed were not what she was expecting. The Councilors were ogling Vi’s cybernetic arms, whispering of Shimmer and the barbarity of it all. “She risked everything to show me the crimes of the Firelights, the ravigings of Shimmer, and the ploys of Silco.”

“What does this Silco even want?” Jayce looked to Councilor Medarda before turning his attention to Caitlyn.

Wait, where’s Heimerdinger? He was one of the more sympathetic persons on the Council to the Undercity. He’d started the program that had found Viktor and brought him to Piltover. Without him here, Caitlyn felt their chances of success dwindling.

“He…” This is where it became tricky. Caitlyn had to verbally convince them that a compromise could be made where Vi could be given official support from the Council to lead the Undercity. “Like Vi, he wants the Undercity to be independent. He calls it the Nation of Zaun. But unlike Vi, he’s a tyrant who would destroy both the Undercity and Piltover to get what he wants. In my short time there, and having the experience of a Councilor’s daughter, I realized there needs to be some form of representation for the other half of our city. If independence cannot be achieved, then an expansion of leadership can be found in the same way that Jayce sits on this Council to represent Hextech and the continual safeguarding of Hextech.”

They weren’t listening. Jayce sat forward, “Caitlyn, I asked you to find Viktor and the Hexgems. What conclusions have you made?” He wasn’t sounding like her childhood friend. They’ve changed him. In such a short time too. Maybe he was always like this, though.

“We believe Silco is holding him.” Caitlyn took a deep breath as she spoke.

“Good, then we go into the Undercity. I’m tired of us waiting.” Jayce began to stand. “We have the Hextech and we have the power to stop them. Being bystanders implicates us as culpable in all of this.”

Caitlyn could feel the negotiation slipping, they were going to storm the Undercity and good people down there would be hurt. “We also believe the Firelights have been forcing him to produce weapons. The modified crystal bomb on the bridge is evidence of that.”

Jayce shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t. He’s stronger than that. He would never build a weapon under coercion or force.”

Councilor Hoskel, a round man who was balding interjected, “Then who!? Who from the Undercity would have had the education or the mental means to create such a thing?”

The memory is so fragmented. All I feel is pain from the gunshot, but Vi protected me from the blast. Who was there…And why didn’t she tell me who she spoke to? Smoke and crystals were all she could sense and feel. In the sea of orange, and green, and yellow there had been one color that stood out: blue.

Sister, there’s always a choice. Caitlyn heard it clear and it rang true as her stomach fell out with the realization.

“Wait,” Vi, finally, spoke like a gentle roll of thunder. “Silco still owns half the Undercity. I want to help you, I do, but I have to take care of my people.” She was a rising star, truly. “What the people of the Undercity fear more than Silco is Hextech. If Silco is brought down by Hextech and the Council alone, it will spark a rebellion.”

She’s protecting Powder.

Vi continued, in her gentle and vibrant speech, “With the Council’s permission and Jayce Talis’ aid, I want to be deputized as an Undercity enforcer.”

Councilor Medarda narrowed her eyes, “Why?” It was the first time the normally prolific speaker had interjected.

“Caitlyn is a good– hells, she’s a great enforcer. Yet, the second she entered the city the people obstructed justice, not because they wanted to, but because they were afraid of her and afraid to be labeled as a traitor by Silco. I’ve established a face and a name. The people of the Lanes and the Fissures know me. With Councilor Talis at my side we could root out Shimmer and maintain peace between the Undercity and Piltover.”

The Council shared looks with one another. It was somehow a sound solution and played into everything they wanted. Only one of them shook their head. “The building of Hextech artillery and weapon sciences was to protect the city as a final recourse. The usage of it immediately is not, and was never, our intention,” said Mel Medarda.

Vi’s eyes flashed purple, “With all due respect, Councilor, weapons can’t be unmade. They’re almost always used and that’s what Silco is planning to do, immediately.” Something in the air had shifted and for the first time ever, Caitlyn saw one of the Council’s strongest members shaken. She looked at Jayce, but he was staring at the crystals on the table.

Jayce broke the silence, “She’s right. Heimerdinger’s inaction and the path we are on can’t be deviated from. I’d like to put forward a vote to give Vi–the Atlas–an official title and role as Undercity enforcer.”

They all began to nod. The speed in which everything was happening took Caitlyn’s breath away. A tug in her chest, unexpected and suddenly panicked, told her that this was wrong. Something was wrong. The lights went out and as each Councilor raised their hand a spotlight shone on them, illustrating their votes in favor of Vi.

Only Mel Medarda voted against the choice.

“Vi!” Caitlyn yelled after her. After the vote Vi had nodded to Jayce and then just began to just… leave . “Wait, Vi!” Caitlyn’s mother hadn’t looked directly at her when all was said and done. This was the sensation of a missing link in a case or a mystery that she now realized she hadn’t even known existed. A heavy rain had started in the time since they’d entered the Council’s quarters. “Where are you going?”

“To meet with Talis. It’s time to finish this.”

Caitlyn had only known this woman for a brief period of time and the truth of that stung, “What about Powder?!”

Vi froze, “What about my sister?” She turned back to Caitlyn and they were suddenly close enough to see each other’s fogs of breath in the cold rain. There was a threat between them–the first time Caitlyn felt a danger talking to her.

“I know she attacked us on the bridge. It was Firelight technology she was using too. Vi, please, you can’t make a deal with the Council with this still in the fray. If Jayce learned she was involved–”

“He won’t.” Vi continued walking away from her– from what they’d just accomplished together.

“Vi, I brought you here! You showed me the Undercity and I brought you to the Council like I promised! You can’t just leave me.”

“You need to go home, Caitlyn.” Vi looked down at her shoes. The rain left the sounds of the night drowned out. “You’re safe now.”

“I’m going to find you again.” Caitlyn had staked everything on this: her career, her dreams, her affections. “I found you once.” Caitlyn wasn’t a believer in the supernatural; it was hard to be even interested in the otherworldly in the City of Progress. Yet, it was something childish and foolish that kept her reaching for Vi, telling her it had relations to fate and more.

Vi, always suprisinging and a little terrifyingly, laughed. And then she cupped Caitlyn’s chin and knocked their lips together. It wasn’t chaste, sweet, or delicate like the many kisses Caitlyn had shared with other women in the years since she was a teenager. It almost hurt.

When they broke away they stood there in the rain like fools. But, Vi’s eyes flashed purple like a memory had come to the surface and she began to turn away again.

“You couldn’t even find Viktor, Cupcake.” Vi started to walk off again. She stopped, and she might as well have skewed Caitlyn through the chest, “Your mom talked to Pretty-Boy-Talis, you’re not an enforcer anymore, sorry. You were real good, champ, but I don’t want to see the end of that story.” Vi wouldn’t relent.“My recommendation to you? Things are about to change and you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire. Stay safe and stay away from me, you can afford it.”

Caitlyn could only watch her leave in the night.

Jayce

The first cast of the hammer needed nine arcane runes and a single Hexgem to power it. The hilt would have a steel core with three runes in the center. It was simple and gigantic, but the end result would function fantastically. The head of the hammer would be dubbed the Mercury Cannon. On the walls and workbenches rested the others: the Hexclaw, the Storm Grenade, the Atlas Gauntlets (to be wielded by the first Undercity enforcer and named after her), the Hextech Revolver, and the Hextech Gun blade.

The revolver had been built for Caitlyn, but unfortunately it would not see proper action with her. It was a shame, but Jayce agreed with Cassandra Kiramman: after the bridge incident it wasn’t safe for her anymore.

“So you’re off to play vigilante.” Mel had encouraged him, funded his work, and with her nothing had felt impossible. “Have you ever seen war, Jayce?” This wasn't right.

“This isn’t war, Mel; this is a rescue mission. And you heard the Council, they all believe in this strategy.”

Mel looked over the workshop and clasped her hands together, “When I was a young girl, my mother used to tell me a story of her father playing a game with her. After the battle of Hildana, he offered her a gold coin for every valuable piece of metal she retrieved from a fallen soldier, medic, or woman and child. Simultaneously, my brother used to lecture me that war was a failure of the state craft. From these stories I tried to make myself into a creature bold and clever. I dreamt of being both a wolf and a fox.” Mel moved towards the molten casting that was filing the Arcane runes. She looked upon his works, and instead of jubilation, he saw despair in her face. “That was not enough to save the many I have seen fall in my lifetime, though.”

“You asked me to make these.” He never wanted to see her look at him or his creations that way again. “We were doing this to save Piltover!”

“Are we still?” Mel could crumble his resolve with a single look. “Would your partner, Viktor–”

“He’s in captivity and being accused by the Council of treason!” The bomb on the bridge had left them all in shock. Yet, in his heart–he’d always known it would come to this–he knew that it was Powder. The traces of the engineering left behind, alongside her strange disappearance, and the reports that had been coming in from Marcus before his death. They painted a picture of deception and lies that all came back to that girl. It had always been her, really, the explosion in his apartment had been her, so why not this too? “An Undercity enforcer is what we need, even Heimerdinger had hoped we could safeguard Hextech somehow and I think this is the step.”

“You didn’t see what I saw in that woman’s eyes.”

“The Shimmer? She’s addicted, but–”

“No,” Mel appeared at a loss for words (a terrifying thing to behold). “She is playing a longer game with us. There is something too convenient about it all.”

A hand ran along the hanging wrenches by the door. Mel and Jayce both hadn’t realized that Vi was there and an awkward tension arose. “I’m sorry you think that.” Violet moved into the light and slipped her hands easily into the Atlas Gauntlets. She flexed the gargantuan fingers, testing them out. The blue light of the gauntlets shined against her face and eyes. She had the same expressions as Jayce had when he’d first worked with Viktor on Hextech: intoxicated and reverent. “This so people notice you when you raise your hand in the boardroom?”

Mel looked on at Violet with a distant and cold gaze. Jayce stepped forward with an explanation: “We’ll be ready to strike in twenty-four hours.”

Vi nodded, “Good, there’s a Shimmer refinement plant near the docks. If they’re holding your friend, Viktor, somewhere then that’s the place. I’ll head in first, wait for my signal and you and your crew can come in.” Vi looked right at Mel, “I’ll leave you two to your conversation.”

It wasn’t much more. Mel never wasted words, “Come back alive.” She left to go string the world together some other way. “I’ve come to-" Whatever she was going to say, she held herself aloof. "I wonder which of us is more the fool here.”

Mel words clung and haunted him as he and ten enforcers rode the armored train car to the Shimmer refinement plant. Vi had told him where to hide and had said that she and her people would be bringing in reinforcements. The second his boots were on the ground in the building of hundreds of catwalks and purple smog he was ready.

Mel’s voice was gone and all that mattered was the white Councilor’s uniform he wore and the weapon in his hands.

But power and control were only a light switch away.

The light source was pulled somewhere and either some or all had known they were coming, heavy footsteps began to flee from the enforcers as a stampede erupted in the facility. He heard enforcers’ screams and the swift breaking bones and piercing of flesh. The blue light of his Mercury Cannon only made it so he could see a foot in front of him and Jayce felt fear he’d never truly known until known. He swung randomly in the darkness and then when the panic hit a crescendo he activated the cannon and began to shoot. I will not be made a fool of!

You don’t understand what’s at stake! Heimerdinger and the Council had put him on trial and now they begged him for Hextech. The ethos is clear! He must be banished from Piltover!

My son has always chased an impossible dream. His own mother hadn’t believed in him.

Congrats on officially becoming god of Piltover. Let me know when it’s time for us to do our daily prostrating before your shrines! And then there was Powder. He had done everything to try and reach her, but she had rejected him and undermined him often enough that his relationship with Viktor had been strained. When he saw the blue lights of the Hexgem all he could see was her hair and her needling laughter running circles in his head.

Jayce screamed with each blast hitting targets indiscriminately. He fell to his knees as his strike hit a close combatant who fell backwards into darkness.

With a heavy knock, the lights came back on and he had to shield his eyes. Jayce panted with exertion, his vision clearing. Before him, life drained and gone, was a boy of no more than fourteen dressed in ratty construction and mining overalls. There was no clear source of injury except the steam rising off the boy. Jayce rose to his feet shakily and looked around at the other smoldering corpses. Bile rose to his throat and he began to retch.

“I guess this is the first time you’re seeing one of the trenchers you’ve killed.” Sliding down the railings and banisters of the plant, and landing with a heavy thud, Vi arrived. She was smug and immediately Jayce knew he had made a terrible mistake. “I know. Hey, hey, don’t look so sad, Pilty, you’ve been inadvertently the cause of probably hundreds of teenagers’ demises.”

“Mel was right…” He needed to get out now, but the lights had become painfully bright. He was like a bug under a microscope.

“Yeah, she was. It’s been a long time since someone has seen through my bullsh*t like that.” She began to circle him, the Atlas Gauntlets thrumming and whining on her hands. “Do you know what a hero cult is, Talis? It’s sorta the opposite of what happened to my sister. See, she died when she was no more than twelve because you saw nothing wrong with leaving hazardous technology laying around your apartment. She became a martyr after that, worshiped for the sole act of dying.” The spotlights came up and Jayce looked to see that the catwalks of the refinement factory were filled with people, people who had just watched him murder a boy and potentially some of their friends. He and Vi were on the lowest level of the plant, like a stadium or a colosseum arena. Bodies littered the battle field and Mel’s haunting words returned. Vi was getting closer, “After I killed Grayson, the Undercity started calling me Atlas, exalting my heroics. Sorta like Vander on the bridge, but you wouldn’t know him.”

“What the hell are you talking about?!” Jayce could tell she was rambling of ancient wounds.

“In a way, my sister can thank you for her martyrdom and soon I’ll have you to thank for the continued life of my hero cult. The world has forgotten Grayson, but they'll never forget the Man of Tomorrow who didn't live to see the dawn.” She rushed him then. The gauntlets struck the hilt of his hammer and through sheer luck and quick thinking he was able to knock off her fists and jump back. “Put on a good show for the crowd, Talis, you’re famous down here! Everyone knows the man who found yet another way to leave us behind!” Vi clanked the fists together, generating sparks of bright blue light. The crowd above cheered for blood.

She’s performing. It had been a long time since he was the underdog. He spun the Mecury Cannon twice, going for her legs. He struck once, but instead of knocking her down she used the inertia to spin in the air and land on the gauntlets’ hands. Nimble like an acrobat she propelled herself forward and tackled him to the ground. He never had a chance, having never been trained in fighting he was woefully underprepared. She had the audacity to flick him with the thumb and index finger of the gauntlets and it was enough to break something in his nose.

She was on top of him now, straddling him. “Sorry, Talis, I would love to make this more of a thing, but we don’t have the history for that.” She raised both her fists in the air, her intent clear to crush his skull, and the audience’s cheers were deafening.

He thought of Mel. He thought of Viktor. He thought of his mom. He thought of Heimerdinger. Shockingly, he even thought of Powder.

A loud boom stopped the descent of Vi’s gauntlets. She didn’t react, like the shot to her shoulder had done nothing. She only angrily looked into the darkness where the treachery had spawned. “Ten outta’ ten, toots.” Out of the shadows, blue braids and half cracked glasses that framed strange purple eyes, was Powder wielding a crude pepperbox pistol. “Hey, Jayce, sorry about my sister. And you thought I was crazy, huh?”

Notes:

Hey gang, so we are entering the end game of the narrative. It has been great writing for you all and I am diligently getting ready for potential future stories while I wrap this one up. Next chapter will open up with some backtracking technically. Fun fact, Arcane's timeline is all over the place. Who knows how long it takes to get anywhere in this city.

Chapter 11: Part Four: It's Never Over, Orpheus

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Powder

Just when she thought the biggest surprises were behind her, the universe got creative and malicious.

She’d thrown the bomb up, lessening the severity of the blast like a man who flinches in preparation for a punch. At the last second, she’d been unsure if martyrdom was her thing, and more importantly, terrified of surviving and Vi dying.

Powder refused to be the reason that there was a world without Vi.

Vi had once told her that she was stronger than she knew. She was in the house Piltover gave to her and Viktor. This was beyond strength: it was the agony of being forced back into her body, pulled from the underworld through each layer of grave dirt and thrown into the world of the living and then back again. She was graduating. After this she would be certified to even teach in the Academy. Not like they’d let her…Ouroboroses of agony over and over again.

If this was death, then she was in hell.

The world of the living hated her and wanted her exorcized. Fluorescent green lights swung back and forth in front of her eyes, having her beg for darkness. Someone was brushing her hair and all the colors were muted like old halo film-reels and gramophone stories.

The man, with large, calloused hands and a gentle touch, was putting her hair into the old updos because she had only just made it to adulthood. Making it to adulthood was a triumph, a rarity, and a gift all at once.

She must have looked silly–knew it to her core that she’d always looked a little silly–but this was a gentleness she’d felt undeserving of. Viktor would often tell her to take time, take breaks, let herself take nice things. This wasn’t a small kindness; this was the attention of The Hound of the Underground.

The calloused hands set the brush down at her side. Vander had tried doing her hair when she was younger and had accidentally chopped the strands off in different lengths and sizes. In the time since her departure from the Undercity and his departure from life, he had learned to use his hands for artistry instead of violence. It wasn’t only him, but also Benzo, Mylo, and Claggor. In the corner were the faintest traces of her parents. The afterlife welcome party was all here.

She could feel something traveling up her arm, her veins, her pulse. The slow climb of it through her body had her throwing back her head and screaming.

There was a knock at the door. Benzo was sitting in her favorite armchair, so he had to struggle to get up from the comfy seat; there was easy laughter here and no urgency. Benzo waved a hand at her and said he was going to get the door because her silver dress shouldn’t get dirty. She made a joke back at him: “I can hardly move in it.” Everything had the leisure to move slowly and the molasses march of it all soothed her.

She began to beg and plead. Powder (Powder? ) yesterday would have said that she preferred death to being made powerless again. Was there consolation in knowing anyone would have begged in her place? No one could withstand this. Her body tried to expel the otherworldly void that had wrapped around her organs, but it wouldn’t relent.

Benzo opened the door and he fell backwards. No, he was thrown backwards by a force. She didn’t hear the shot, but she knew it was there. Powder stood dumbly, the dangling earrings clanked against her neck. She was too well dressed to do much of anything for anyone; Piltover had made her weak.

Vander stepped towards the door and he received the same fate. She then watched each of her brothers follow him to their graves: Mylo, and Claggor too, gone in an instant.

Gloved hands were holding her face. No, someone was grabbing her face and forcing it back to get a look at her neck. The slow trickle becomes a rushing flood. The sting of the pinch to her jugular sent her rattling and spinning down corridors of spasms.

She ran and turned away from that darkened threshold. She screamed in the walls of her mind, ‘I don’t want to know’.

But all fools do eventually turn around and see what has been following them. At the doorway…She saw a ragged and raw version of herself. Her hair was still braided, but she was adorned with pistols and weapons that would make all of Piltover grimace and cry.

Despite her hair down and the elegance of a wish to wear to the grave, this aspect inside of her would not let go. No, this aspect was her, and trying to disassociate who she was currently from who she could be was naive.

Powder almost verbally greeted herself at the door. Luckily, she thought better of it. Any version of herself couldn’t resist the chance to mock and cajole. Jinx at the door held in her hands a beating core of blue potential, adorned with Arcane runes.

She shoved it towards herself.

Powder shook her head. The woman at the door shook her head at the same time. The Jinx at the door couldn’t cross the threshold and began to weep, ‘I only wanted to help! I only wanted to help! I only wanted to–’

“That’s enough, Singed!” An unexpected advocate, a voice unseen in the play she was putting on. Blissful darkness arrived and the pain somehow stopped. The house and stage began to crumble, and with it all the paper dolls of the past were shredded.

The dreams persisted alongside her sleep, not so easily deterred.

They came in heavy and deep waves: childhood drawings popped to life to eat the paper mache Jinx, her hair came further undone from the braids and she was lost under the rolling current.

Her sister (Powder knew it to the depths of her soul) held her under the waves. “Powder, you’re stronger than you think.”

The first day in the Academy, they handed her a worksheet of basic arithmetic, and the instructor made a face when she quickly passed it back completed, commenting that she shouldn’t doodle in the margins.

Viktor came for her that day and awkwardly chuckled as she flung herself around his torso for an embrace.

The second day they gave her the parts of a whale oil lamp and asked her to assemble it. Her hands were greasy with the material of the dead creature and her guilt was high when she’d returned the device in working condition. Then, they’d started to time her ability to complete the tasks they gave.

Viktor was familiar with the working conditions and gently reminded her not to swear at her teachers, at least not to their faces.

The third day, she’d helped her ‘lab partner’--a nice smelling girl four years older than her–with assembling wires and tracking them to their proper vestibules in a hand held device. The girl had given Powder three vials of perfume to help with the ‘smell’ that everyone said was on her. Powder happily took the vials and began to notice that on their own they smelled nice, but mixed together they made her eyes water.

When Powder asked if Viktor had come of age, he laughed a little. What cause of doubt had made her consider him not of age? Powder explained he had no tattoos. Nearly every adult in Zaun had ink they’d used to commemorate their life and that if he wanted to ever go back to the Undercity he should get a tattoo. Viktor had made a small face and mumbled something, looking down at his hands and lap, about it being against the word. Powder would learn to leave him alone when he got like that.

The fourth day, while the class moved away from calculus and pivoted towards geometry, a fact that pleased Powder, an older boy had started glaring, pushing past her, and subtly making himself known as an antagonist in the scenes she was cast in.

The older girls shooed him away and told Powder it was nothing to worry about, so Powder didn’t tell Viktor.

The fifth day, Powder received a tinder box from another girl who liked to ‘camp’ (sit in the backyard of her mother’s country house) and who had forgotten to do her equation translations. She complained about Powder’s handwriting while she copied the worksheet of the Undercity girl with no last name. Powder must have looked down at her shoes in just the right and pathetic way, because the girl apologized.

Piltover was full of snitches apparently, because when an instructor pulled them both aside, the tinder-box-gifter girl claimed that Powder had copied off of her . This was a competitive world, and the elder couldn’t live with the embarrassment that she’d needed the help of a twelve-year-old Undercity, sump rat.

Powder told Viktor none of this.

The sixth day, Powder loaded the vials of perfume into half an old bottle of cider with a half, chemical soaked rag. She had ambitions to blind the enforcers who liked to stand around the stone steps of Piltover’s theater atrium. It went off in class, instead (left it sitting under the sun at a window and the bottle magnified the heat onto the rag). It was nothing destructive enough to get her in trouble with the instructors.

It was enough to have her classmates let the watchful boy take his retribution on her.

The seventh day, classes started to challenge her with the introductions of axioms and advanced theorems. It didn’t help that her language arts were garbage: “The grass is greener on the other side? Grass can be green?” Even Viktor, patient and usually talented, stumbled over a language barrier that separated him from the metaphors. He told her she’d just have to memorize them until their repetition became a familiarity.

“Children should be seen and not…?”Viktor implored her to focus.

“Touched!” Powder implored him to realize this was a waste of her time.

He’d made such a sad face, a crumbled and shocked expression with a dumbstruck partially open mouth. For an hour he gently asked questions of her until she screamed at him that he was being weird. Finally he sighed and let her draw for the rest of the day. “You have to remember to be careful what you say here. Even a small joke can get you into trouble, Powder.”

The perfect, unhappy accident arrived on the eighth day wrapped in the prelude of Powder kicking scuffs on the floors outside of her classroom and waiting for Viktor. Cloying panic had created creative situations in the theater of Powder’s mind where he was dead from a lab explosion or an enforcer took his life when mistaking him for a lame, legged criminal.

The boy from class, nameless in her mind and nameless to this day, turned around the corner and they’d stared each other down. He’d come on the cue of her imagination getting brutal with itself.

They entered an understood agreement when Powder bolted for the exit, onto the lawn, and towards an outcropping of trees at the edge of the Academy. Piltover needed to farm timber and refused to debase themselves to foreign markets unless they were the one’s controlling the deals.

Everyday she was reminded of her limitations; heavy footfalls and curses had her hiding and praying.

“I’m not going to hurt you!” He yelled after her, now actively searching for her footprints in the muddy, dead leaves of the tree farm. “It’s just a little hazing! You’re a girl too, so it won’t be so bad. It happens to everyone who they take from the Undercity!” Powder could hear his agitation in the way his voice pinched. “ There’s not enough resources to go around, kid, and if you’re already doing better than me, they could send me back to the Lanes. I can’t go back, I have parents and I need this scholarship.” Powder held her breath and shook her head to herself. “That cripple who picks you up everyday took his lumps just like you’re going to have to.”

She could imagine it vividly (whereas for so long she’d struggled to pin Viktor’s age and the idea he’d ever been young); they’d probably taken Viktor’s cane–and of course he’d been as small as Powder–made it so he couldn’t do anything as the Piltover kids ordered the Undercity charity cases to establish a recreation of order and structure. All of Viktor’s advice to her had been based around days like this.

It was the snap she needed, a deep feeling and memory in her of Vi standing up to some kids who’d pinned the smaller Ekko to the pavement.

Her sister's voice had asked her an important question: You gonna let this asshole say that? Powder waited until right before the boy walked past the tree-trunk she’d plastered herself behind. She rushed his ankles, biting his achilles tendon and sending him sprawling in the mud. Powder couldn’t stay on top of him so she’d keep him down: she shoved leaves into his eyes and knew to dodge the hands that went to grab at her instead of pushing himself off the ground. She messily kicked his stomach, but it was enough to knock the wind out of him. Again, another kick that had him coughing and retching. They weren’t strong kicks, but they were placed in the spots that Powder calculated would hurt for weeks after: crotch, torso, hands.

It wasn’t her sister’s lesson in fighting, which studied the art of her own body and its inherent assailant abilities. Powder, to succeed on her own, had to understand her limitations and the limitations first of her opponent and work backwards.

She went too far, because before Powder realized she wasn’t in the tree farm anymore and she’d bitten a teacher who’d been alerted to drag her by the collar. There was a lot of shouting, the boy had just started being patronaged ( brainwashed ) by a middling merchant of clan Ferros and of course they would be pissed when their new Undercity investment came back looking like a brawler. It wasn’t even that he’d been hurt. It was that Powder had made him look momentarily unpretty.

Powder stared at the floor while four adults screamed at her. When a lull arrived, finally someone asked the questions that no one wanted to: “Why were they in the tree farm?” Viktor had been there the whole time; someone had finally found him and he’d been close to the doorway. Powder’s head had snapped up at his voice, quiet and accented. He was painted into the corner until asking that question: sharp and a point of the plot that painted Powder in a light that was more nuanced than ‘feral goblin from the Undercity’. Suddenly, they remembered she was twelve.

Just like when he’d found me under the rubble. Powder watched her life move through mistakes and Piltover. She reached until she felt herself coming apart at the seams.

In the darkness of her memory she saw a blue light and the potential to re-shape it all. The Arcane beckoned to her through the undertow of purple and pink waves. If she wanted to die, then clearly not enough because she was fighting to keep going.

She was smart, which interested Piltover. She was neither respectful or obedient, which angered Piltover.

Twenty-two years old and I still know nothing. I don’t know a damn thing.

Then learn. Try and learn. Arcane ruin and Arcane splendor were before her in the shape of a bisected dodecahedron. The gravitational pull of her curiosity and the item's power brought both her hands to its sides. It should have burned. It should have hurt. It did neither of those things.

She twisted the knob and the runes glowed happily. Purple tendrils twisted around her neck and arms and through wounds in her stomach and torso. She kept going.

Again, that new feeling was coming over her. It was like doors in an old house that had been long forgotten were now just being unlocked.

She teetered on the cliff's edge, simultaneously, Powder and someone else.

No, not someone else. She would always be her, always be Powder. Powder hadn’t fallen down a well or died; Powder would go through a glorious evolution. Powder and the girl at the threshold, Jinx, would be one in the same and there would be no feud between them.

She was breathing in more water (or something else entirely) than oxygen. Drunk on it was an understatement. Powder spun the device, hands burning, but without burns, purple. There was a smeared and borderless second where she enjoyed all that she was: potential, monster, inventor, and sister.

She floated to the bottom with the Arcane in tow and the world was momentarily okay. But only for a moment.

Powder wanted to not awaken.

But Powder awoke–she might as well have been kicking and screaming being dragged back, but nevertheless she did– in a musty room at a chair behind an imposing desk. It was like someone had done a crappy collage of the timeline of events: Powder deciding the story should end on the bridge mashed with her forced to return to the Undercity, and then melted into the present sensations beating against her skull. Alongside the pulsing in her skull, she felt dried tracks of snot and blood down her lips and chin.

Her torso was whole, but even brushing her hands against her stomach sent painful spasms up to her throat. She then looked down at her hands and winced. Purple lines traced her capillaries and she became acutely aware of how fragile she was: how easily her flesh and body could be sliced, destroyed, or mutilated. Her near death experience as a child had not inspired caution, the opposite in fact.

This event was different; there was no time to heal in the comfortable world Viktor had built around her as best he could against the onslaught of Piltover nonsense.

There were no windows, only one kerosene light, and a mountain of papers and ashtrays atop a leather desk. “I had a feeling you’d rather awaken in a place that wasn’t a laboratory. I don’t come here often, so excuse the mess.” Silco, the new ruler of Zaun, hadn’t handcuffed her to the chair.

Was this still a dream? Was it arrogance? Almost certainly both, and neither, and everything. She was still in hell and only slowly coming to a semblance of her usual verbal capabilities and characteristic snide remarks. “You’ll need some time to recover, so I wouldn’t recommend attacking me. The Shimmer must find a place to settle in your body.” The industrialist of Zaun had been clearly injecting himself with Shimmer before Powder’s return to consciousness. A filament syringe, the kind with the thin needles for reaching the most delicate arteries, was on the desk alongside everything else.

It must have been painful.

Powder wanted to retort at him, wanted to throw every swear and curse and calamity-promise, but there was a thick and fuzzy weight on the tip of her tongue. It tasted sweet and rotting, the high signs of Shimmer. She knew that if she opened her mouth she’d vomit all over the floor.

Powder then finally found a question she was willing to risk humiliating herself for the answer: “Where’s Viktor?”

She realized she'd made a mistake in asking. This cretin maybe already knew how much she cared about him. But by asking, Powder had confirmed it. It was like she had just entered the game with her cards face up on the table.

Silco furrowed his brow and turned his full attention to her. “You’ll be happy to know that he’s in another room, unconscious.” Silco wasn’t lying, at least that’s what Powder could gather, but she guessed the information was in no way free. “I believe you’re already aware that his condition is terminal: Gray Lung. It was what we, us chosen few survivors of the mines, used to call it.” Her glasses were gone so she had to squint angrily at her knees. “I imagine you thought you’d bring him back Topside, have a good doctor fix him just like they did with faulty back brace. What was the saying? Ah, yes, ‘If it hurts then it’s working’.”

“Stop.” Everything around her was cast in the colors of ache and exhaustion. “Vi’s already dead, so you don’t have to torture me with a hard-won speech or fable.” There it is. Her bite was still there, even when she was at the bottom of the gutter. She hadn’t been spared on the return voyage, but she still had some of her meddling persona. “And please , trying to intimidate me with a prognosis that any back-alley surgeon could give? Try harder; break my fingers or kill me like a normal person.”

His one good eye narrowed and the strange other eye flashed, “I only ask that you listen to an experience. After that, I’ll let you see the scientist.”

“I should have put that on the genre-ban-list too.” She had an idea what he wanted from her and needed every scrap of humor left in her arsenal to get through the reality that she didn’t get to escape into oblivion. The twitching and the sense of unease came and went and returned like the tides. She didn’t believe he’d let her see Viktor either. No, he was about to make her suffer. Surely? Right? That has to be it?

“Ever wonder what it’s like to drown? A story of opposites: there’s peace in water. It holds you, whispering that every problem will fade away.” He spoke quietly and she tried not to consider how she’d felt living through life on the border between existing and not. “But there’s something in you, lighting every nerve in your body and asking if you’ve truly had enough. Do you know who gifted me this– experience ?”

He had been wronged. They all had been in some way or another. Powder and her family had lived in a perpetual circle that went round and round, like the disc and record machine in Vander’s bar. Either they were wronging each other or wronging another or being wronged. “Was it Vi?”

He shook his head, “No, not your sister.” He seemed pleased by her answer, even if it was wrong. “It was her mentor, Vander. He wasn’t the man you thought he was; long ago he was my brother, and a leader of Zaun, and a dreamer. That was until he lost himself, and ultimately it was what killed him. Now, your sister has gone off a path worse than him, even I cannot condone the conclusion she’s landed on. The things the good doctor Singed has told me about her, they make even my associates blanch.”

Powder rubbed snot and blood away from her nose. “Why?” Powder ignored the eager part of her to know what Viktor had made for Vi.

“Because it’s saddening what happens when one fancies themselves a hero above all else.”

Powder grimaced. She’d figured, always assumed really, that Vander had gotten his hands dirty in the whispered rebellion that Vi had said killed their parents. It was so obvious: they played pretend heist games as kids that were all based around the stories they overheard at The Last Drop. What haunted her most of all were the memories: Powder could remember the heat from the fires of the bridge and Vi sobbing and making promises with hiccups and shaking hands. There had been the gargantuan silhouette of a man in the flames, striking the figure of an enforcer who couldn’t get out a full scream. Vander had emerged from the smoke and looked at the sisters with pity. When Vi had wordlessly asked where their mother and father were, and Vander had no good answer, their old lives were left on the bridge and they went to live with him. Powder hadn’t ever considered that maybe Vi had first started leaving pieces of herself behind that day.

I’m sorry, Vander. Powder would only ever know him as the gentle rebel, the man at the bar who’d pour her a little syrup and grenadine in her favorite cup, and the old king. In the same way she’d never imagined her sister could be alive and have twisted facets of carnage. She suddenly ached for Vi and wondered if her sister’s voice would still haunt her now that she was actually dead.

Powder felt a strange, jittery, sensation overtaking her. “So you took Vi in after you killed him. Nice revenge in the shape of loneliness. Bravo, bravo, bravo.” She’d brought something back with her from the depths of the abyss. Not just her sass, but also a trace of a feeling. Did she have power now? Unsure…It just hurt like hell and made her woozy.

“I built his statue too,” said Silco. “Vander, even before his death, left lingering ghosts throughout the Lanes.”

“Yeah, you’ve done a real bang-up job with the nation of Zaun and all this Shimmer technology. I’ve never seen Chembarons so proud to peddle their garbage or orphans so eager to hide in fish crates.”

Silco made a tutting noise, “Any different from your second-hand scientist? He worked to develop the very technology that has left much of your home behind, forcing us to turn to Shimmer. You both foolishly gave your lives and your work to Piltover instead of where you came from. Because of your short sightedness, your sister has put everyone at risk and believes that a total erasure of the world is in order.”

Powder chewed on her cheek until she could taste blood. She ignored Silco’s comment on Vi, “If he’s so second-hand, then how come everyone seems to want to take him from me?” It didn’t matter what happened now. Vi was dead and Powder was a murderer and she was exhausted.

Silco watched her, unblinking. They held each other’s stares. Her’s was weary and angry, and his was smug, but somehow still blank and distant. “Then take him back,” Silco reached into his coat and pulled out a crudely assembled, but clearly–and painstakingly–sharpened knife. He spun the knife on the table so that the handle was facing Powder and the blade was facing him. “See if this time you can actually take the life you’re aiming for instead of two unaffiliated enforcers. The look in your eyes is a mirror, child.” Powder almost missed what he’d said, determined to close the door on the second person threatening the few people she cared about. Her hands began to shake. “Your sister is still alive. You know it to be true. You also know that she is attempting to use the technology that you and your friend created for an end that could destroy everything. I admit, my teachings were not what your sister needed, but she seeks to turn this world into something it never was meant to be.”

Powder’s hand twitched, looking at the knife.

You couldn’t just hold the bomb in your hand and exit spectacularly? When she’d pulled the pin she’d become a god killing star, but a terrified and selfish one. Of course not. She’s my sister. I love her. It’s as simple and stupidly complicated as that. “Ransoming me off to her isn’t gonna work.” Maybe it would. Her sister had always been a bit crazier than her, more determined and more unstoppable. “Killing me will wreck her.” Would it? She’s already got a scientist in Viktor and a blue-haired side-kick in the shape of Caitlyn.

“My plans include neither option.” Silco spun the knife again. It made two rotations before returning to the place it had previously been. “Despite failing to eliminate your sister, you did successfully deal with the Sheriff and sent a statement to Topside in the form of destroying their blockade. Well done, I was considering how I would cut that loose end after his betrayal. Your sister originally impressed me with killing Marcus’ predecessor.”

I hadn’t meant– I disliked the Pilty, but I hadn’t meant to– And I used a Firelight bomb… They’d (mostly Jayce) all said that one of these days she was going to f*ck up so bad that she couldn’t hit the reset button, couldn’t run to Viktor, couldn’t hide away under her bed and wait for their neighbors to be done yelling through the door. Silco stepped his fingers together. “I do hope you remember the last conversation we had. Was that just another one of your deflections or do you mean to help the home that you’ve forgotten?”

“They’ll kill me if I go back to Piltover,” Powder said as the shape of the future adapted to a more solid stroke. She wasn’t dead, she needed a plan again.

“No, they’ll send you to Stillwater. Death would almost certainly be a mercy in that case.” Unsaid was the offer: work for us here and we’ll find someone else to blame. Powder could bet that Vi had been given those same options years ago. “You would be respected here, beloved even. Many in the Undercity know of the girl you once were and the negligence that drove your siblings.”

“And they ignored me then.” Benzo and Vander had been exceptions. Mylo was her brother, but he’d reminded Vi and anyone who would listen that Powder wasn’t his sister. Mylo had said it right to her face too; “ Vander’s great, but I’m unlucky enough. I don’t need some little jinx ruining my life.” He blamed enforcers for the death of his parents and then blamed Powder for everything else that went wrong for him. “They love Vi. I’m just an accessory– I’m barely her sister in their eyes.”

“I believe you’ll be able to show them, truly, what Vander missed when he chose Violet as his heir.” Silco pulled out a series of photos and ignored Powder’s snide comments on how much space he had down his bra. “When the weapons put their backs to the wall, they’ll want a champion.” Powder ran a finger over Jayce’s stupid hammer logo on the sheets of stolen or copied paper, ignoring the way the colors around and under her nails looked unnaturally purple.

The calculations were spotless; funny, that Jayce hadn’t any trouble making these weapons, but had always needed Sky or Viktor to correct engineering flaws in tools or buildings. It was so typical and disappointing. Powder shoved the papers angrily into the pocket of her ripped overalls, ignoring that they still had the circular tear from where the crystals had been lodged into her stomach.

“I have things I want,” said Powder as she twisted her back with a satisfying pop. Everything still hurt, but she almost had her body back in place. “No more of this bullsh*t for Viktor; he gets to go home and with whatever power you have over Piltover you use it to keep him from my messes.”

“Of course–”

“And peace with the Firelights. Leave them alone.”

This irked him beyond measure; his agitation was visible in the way his jaw clenched and how Silco took a deep breath through his nose. “The Firelights have cost the Barons and I through their meddling into Shimmer production.”

“You won’t need Shimmer.” She hoped that Hextech would be more addictive than the purple drug made and spread through the veins of the Undercity’s institutions. Arcane technology belonged to them as much as it did Piltover; it was technically the Undercity that had the mines where the resources could be skimmed off to acquire Arcane crystals. “Hextech is the language Topside speaks and if we learn it then we can write demands they’ll listen to. Right now they see Shimmer as a toxic sludge that belongs down here.”

“Irony, since it saved your life,” said Silco, not realizing that explaining why something was ironic was pedantic and annoying. “But you’re right. With our own weaponized Hextech, Topside will have no more power over us.”

Shimmer will have me pay a price that I don’t know yet. "And we won’t use those weapons on the Firelights or people in the Undercity. No more war among us, no more mob boss nonsense. If we’re burning the bridge behind us then we better build a better one ahead.” She reiterated her point, trying to figure out if she was doing any of this right. Was she asking for too much? Too little? This was the equivalent of selling her soul to the king of the Underworld for three times the retail value.

Silco paused and Powder could have sworn his other eye, the one that remained eternally open, was the one doing the appraising of the soul she was selling. “Fine, but understand their leader is Benzo’s heir, another contender for control of the Lanes. You’ll be leading unwilling horses to the drink of their salvation and the Chembarons will despise you.” Once again, the leniency Silco was affording her either spoke of some twisted nostalgia he had for Vander or the necessity of her mind and abilities.

It could have been both.

The unholy trinity of the Undercity reaches for the stars: Benzo, Vander– And now this guy.

“Cool! I don’t care!” She lied. In Piltover if you were an engineer or a chemist or an inventor of any kind you needed a patronage. Viktor had worked her through the motions of political and social ladder climbing, but she’d flipped the bird to them all in hopes she could pull a stunt like he had and rise above the thunder clouds that kept her earthbound. How all of that seemed so childish now.

This was not what Viktor had planned for her, but it was laughably on a beaten, sister, adjacent path. Vi’s face on the bridge popped up in the back of her mind. “Now show me where Viktor is so we can get him out of here.” Vi is coming back. It’s never going to be over. It’s going to circle for eternity.

“He was kind to you?” Silco asked for reasons unknown to Powder. The context of a man betrayed, wronged, and perpetually planning for the next fallout meant that any question he had came with the intention of gain. Gain for a stockpile of tricks tomorrow, or gain for the next second he breathed.

She could lie. He’d clearly out-maneuvered her somehow and was thinking of ways to betray the Firelights or her. Yet, Powder spectacularly failed to lie, “If he’d been anything but a nice idiot then the world wouldn’t have snatched him from me.”

It was how she felt about every scrap of good thing she’d had.

“He was quite distraught when we saved you.” Silco wasn’t being cruel, just observant.

She felt sick then. “He didn’t see- You didn’t show him what the doctor–”

“No, no, Singed has a tenderness for the boy. I trusted his–albeit sometimes ludicrous–judgment.”

This was equally as weird as having to see her sister become what she was now. In the reflection of the knife’s blade, Powder caught sight of her eyes. No more lambent gray-ish blue. They had gone the color of Vi’s hair after a long day of playing on the rooftops: a pink-ish fuchsia. Even scarier, she didn’t have to squint anymore. Her eyes were…clearing and sharpening.

Powder estimated that Vi had been using Shimmer and been fused with it to some degree for years. Powder’s own powers, the necrotic energy of the void, wasn’t going to be enough in a one to one fight.

“Do you intend to kill her?” Silco asked so casually, like Powder hadn’t flinched when he said it. f*cker must have read my mind. Silco was now lighting a cigar: seemingly content with the negotiations. To Powder this meant that she’d surely lost something without realizing it. “She would never raise a fist to the child you once were. But a snag to her plans? A jinx or hex upon her luck? I am not so sure. Someone who stands in opposition to her, like that beloved Firelight boy, must be unwound from the goal, cut out like a cancer. You’d no longer be her sister; you’d be a liability above all else.”

Powder ground her teeth together and remembered the woman on the bridge. “What did you do to her?”

“I tried to free her. I gave her power and safety. She chose this path, girl, don’t fool yourself into believing this revolution wasn’t a dream of hers. It’s why I have to repossess her toys; Singed told me what she plans to do with the hazardous technology that your desperate and dying mentor built. If I hadn’t intervened, saving you, then this ‘Arcane Core’ would have been used to destroy a majority of Piltover and most of Zaun. The event would have been apocalyptic.”

Powder felt her eye twitch from a memory half buried in a dream. She’d lived a thousand lives before she’d woken up and she could feel the pain of Shimmer and the pinch of understanding despite having just heard the name of the creation. “And how do you know that was her plan?” It wasn’t hard to cause the Arcane to go haywire. The volatility of the energy and magic’s latent extremes had been a roadblock to progress.

How did it reach out to me? How could I have dreamt something I’ve never seen?

“The enforcer girl on the bridge? Taking over a portion of my Shimmer refinery? Trying to enlist Singed to corrupt a scientist she took from Piltover? I could tell you of her deeds here, what she herself grew to do without my intervention and what she took from Vander’s tutelage if you’re still skeptical she isn’t the girl you once knew. Betrayal, that pain, can either break you or forge you into something greater. You need to accept that you’ve both changed.” Silco then gestured behind her.

Sevika walked forward from the shadows, ignoring the way Vander’s adopted daughter scoffed at her from a side-eye. Silco was ordering a babysitter for her already. As Powder started to make a quip, Sevika interrupted with a piece of information that she assumed Powder wouldn’t find interesting. She was wrong. “The Barons aren’t happy with the border.”

Silco saw Powder’s smirk (she wasn’t happy about the problems she’d caused for Ekko, but any day she could ruin for a Chembaron was a victory). Shockingly Silco, the man was full of contradictions that Powder couldn’t pin, turned his anger to Sevika, “They’ve waited for decades for freedom. They can wait an hour or two more as we move the scientists and core to the Last Drop. Violet should return soon and I imagine she has one more play she’s been planning.” He stared at Powder the entire time he spoke the last sentence.

Powder raised her hands in mock surrender and followed Sevika to the lift. Right before the doors closed, Powder watched him resheath the knife in his coat pocket.

Powder had played Piltover games and lost. She had tried Zaun games and lost too. Truly, she was the gods’ born loser. The Shimmer was still beating through her organs and making her nauseous, making the green lights of the elevator stab at the back of her skull.

Sevika gave her a silent glare. Powder, remembering how it had felt when Marcus had tackled her to the cobblestone and not feeling particularly forgiving, gave Sevika the finger.

Sevika had the audacity to chuckle. “You were dead.”

“Great observation skills.”

“I wonder what he’ll think when he sees you’re back,” Sevika said. Powder had to give it to her; it took skill to be this cruel. “I wonder if he’ll realize you stink of death and a deal with Silco.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Sevika struck again. “Good luck with your sister. I taught her everything Vander wouldn’t.” Sevika’s incredible arms were enhanced with Shimmer tattoos and the muscles were twice the width of Powder’s wrist.

Powder felt her cheeks flush with frustration. There was no way Sevika knew how she’d failed in the old arcade clubhouse. Paranoia stung, anyway. Powder looked down again at her hands, without strength and without proper guidance they were noodles attached to the torso.

Yet, when the elevator doors opened, she found strength enough to run to a corpse-like Viktor stuck in the thralls of sleep that would make women who pricked their fingers on defunct sewing devices jealous. Unlike a myth, it was actually him.

Powder could barely hear herself saying his name, white-noise drowned everything out and she didn’t care that Sevika was watching them. Powder had found him. He was sitting, leaned up in a chair like a bad prop. They were in a laboratory with a beautiful portcullis view to the depths of the rivers near Piltover and the Undercity. Powder went to her knees before him and began to fret that she’d come too late.

No creepy doctor and no weird glowing core…

He coughed as she shook a bit at his shoulders. Up close she could see the dark circles around his eyes, how he’d had no time to take care of his hair which was starting to stick up in pointy and long waves, and the bones that poked through thin skin. On that paper thin skin was also the alarming signs of Arcane runic work, like he was a piece of scrap arithmetic done by a careless student. “You idiot,” Powder wanted him to wake up and tell her to stop calling him that. His leg wasn’t even made of flesh anymore, but instead a sinewy metal that was simultaneously heavy and warm like flesh. She hugged him and started to feel her throat close. “You’ve become a real mythical scoundrel, Vicky.” She was about to start begging him to wake up until a gentle, but heavier than normal hand, came to rest on her back.

“You need to get out of here.”

“That’s really the first f*cking thing you say–”

He pulled her close, a brutally tight and affectionate hug under the shadow of desperate times. He squeezed her and she awkwardly chortled and started to cry under the intense love. He cradled her head and whispered in her ear: “There’s a knife in the lower handle of my crutch.” Powder couldn’t see Sevika and could only hope the woman couldn’t hear them. “You’ll need exactly eight seconds to get up to the main floor–”

“I know,” Powder pulled a bit away so he could see her. Viktor must have realized the change in her eyes, because he reached out with his bandaged hand and cradled her face. She pushed it away and lifted his other hand, the one that had been changed though Shimmer and had the weight of something ancient, paid for with a heavy price. “I need you to just– follow me, don’t look back, just follow me for a little bit. I’m gonna fix everything.”

He sighed, weary, but bewildered in an almost sweet way. “It’s not your job to fix everything, Powder.” She choked on anything to say and blinked her strange, unholy eyes at him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you speechless.”

Sevika ordered them both to the elevator, their reunion was abrupt and Viktor looked at her plainly. She looked back and tried to will every ounce of their friendship and the decade of knowing one another into some sort of helpful twitch of her nose or raise of her brow that told him that she had a plan. They just needed to play along a bit more and then he’d be free. Viktor stared back at her, and perhaps it was the most naive thing she’d ever done, but she believed he trusted her. As he slowly raised, making a meal of the performance of his assent, Powder flicked her eyes away from the quick way he twisted the second handle of his crutch.

If Powder needed it, she also had easy access, like grabbing a sword from an open sheath. Why does everyone keep wanting to give me knives? It was such a personal weapon.

The lift began to rise, flashes of green light began to move downward as the lift went up. There was enough space for Powder to lean forward on the rail to the side of the lift and begin to whistle.

Sevika took in a deep breath and leaned her neck against her shoulder, successive pops and twists of her shoulders were obnoxiously interrupting the tune Powder was trying to keep. Powder persisted with the tune. She used to beg Vi to play it in the Last Drop even though it was hard to dance to: The devil didn’t make me do-oo-iit. B-B-Beelzebub!

Sevika popped her knuckles and the Shimmer in Powder reacted like a nagging fly buzzing on her shoulder.

What was it that she said when she let Marcus grab me? Sevika caught her staring and the deja vu set in.

“I never understood why he was so obsessed with you and your sister,” Sevika said and Powder wasn’t sure if she meant Silco or Vander. Viktor twisted his hands in agitation against his crutch and only with a self control that she didn’t know she possessed was Powder able to shrug and keep whistling. The woman wanted to get under her skin, but it didn’t matter. Powder had been taken under the dragon, Silco’s, wing. “I always knew you two were a curse on your family… and our cause.”

Powder had made a deal with Silco… Not Sevika. Had her warning about the Chembarons been an indication of her alliance? Her fading loyalty? Her continual hatred for Vander’s children? Powder hadn’t failed in her negotiations with Silco, no, she’d just forgotten there were other enemies in the shadows.

The strain of Shimmer reached a breaking point, growing angry and alarmed at even her whistling: It seems inevitable! Here comes the sun, I open up my eyes–

It all happened in a span of fleeting micro-seconds that would have made even Ekko impressed.

Sevika had raised her fist, clenched, and as a blade had extended from her knuckles, Powder had already ducked and swerved out of the way. A purple distortion of light followed Powder into the ether. For the time it took Sevika’s to engage four actions (raise fist, clench fist, attempt to swing), Powder felt herself able to achieve more, go further.

The reaction time of most humans was a quarter of a second; Powder knew this from her work trying to engineer the Hexclaw to pitch a ball without taking off a person’s head. It was all a matter of how fast your nerves could send signals to the brain.

There were rumors of creatures in Runeterra that could react faster than humans, but Powder wasn’t a zoologist.

But at that moment, she could have been anything. The miasma of Shimmer hang-over parted and Powder felt like a god . She ducked under Sevika’s swing, then behind her, and then leapt to kick the backs of her knees. Sevika fell forward into the elevator doors in shock. Before the woman could stand and crush Powder into pulp, Powder had Viktor’s knife, grabbed from his cane, and sliced for the shoulder blade that was attached to the bone sword the woman had augmented into her physique.Sevika, a champion of Zaun and a survivor, spun on her side and caught the blade on her shoulder pads. She was about to push herself to standing.

Powder flinched back with raised fists in front of her face, expecting Sevika to rise and retaliate but–

A quick swing of a crutch was what stopped the heroic gladiator from twisting Powder into a pretzel. Her head fell to the side unconscious.

Powder turned to Viktor, mouth agape and staring at his hand and arm. Viktor looked at what he’d done and muttered something like an apology or a confession and suddenly it all made sense to Powder: the runes on his flesh, the strange device Silco was stealing from Vi, the dream she’d had.

Over their panting and fear, Viktor and Powder almost missed the lift door’s opening with a belated little ping.

The lyrics she’d forgotten popped into her head: Why stay clean? When the world loves a beautiful junkie? Powder threw back her head and howled with laughter.

Viktor

They dragged the concussed woman out of the elevator and into a broad catwalk area that had the sounds of heavy machinery to hide their movement. They were two floors away from the upper level exit according to the seconds he’d been counting.

.

Viktor used his arm–the new one, the strange and Arcane monstrosity–and Powder had to heave the dead weight with her spindly limbs. The Shimmer had given him strength and eased some of the pain in his leg; for Powder she’d gained an amount of time, quick reflexes, and powerful reactions . He’d watched, momentarily amazed and in awe at the way she’d sped through the world at an inhuman speed. If he hadn’t known what they’d done to her

A similar terror, but with more giddiness, had Powder marveling at him, swearing and cheerleading him as they dragged Silco’s guard into an alcove of crates. Deja vu struck Viktor. Were he and Powder escaping the eyes of the guests at the Hexgates? No, no, he had been taken from Piltover and Powder had come to save him.

And she died trying.

“She’s a f*cking loot crate!” Powder had begun to go through the woman’s pockets, pulling out a flask, deck of cards–and alarmingly–a pistol. Powder was gesturing to Viktor, but he found himself unable to move towards her. “Viktor– Viktor!”

He fell forward back into his body, “You’re alive.”

She wasn’t listening to him; her usual banter and sticky fingers were robbing the woman who’d Viktor had met the night (time had fused together) prior. “Silco just made my contract null and void so I don’t need to help him move the core anymore,” Viktor must have stammered out a fragment of his shock because Powder shook her head and tried to explain herself. “I don’t care if he didn’t mean for her to try and murk me in an elevator; I’m positive this is what he had planned for later.”

“Powder–”

“Sevika had my glasses?!” Powder lifted her crushed spectacles out of ‘Sevika’s’ pocket and examined them with the same quick impatience that he’d known so core to her. He’d hoped she would have stayed safe and away.

“Powder!” He shouted, not considering that someone might hear them, only that he wasn’t sure it was her. How could it be her? She had been filled with crystals and so frighteningly quiet. Something had taken her further down the tunnel into the depths of nothingness. And he’d let them use the core on her. His technology had done this to her. “I’m– I’m so sorry.”

They’d already had their argument in what felt like a lifetime ago. Progress Day had seemed like such a nuisance to him when he realized that time was limited. Soon. Later. After. It was all anyone in Piltover or the Undercity could say until it was too late. Why, he could never understand it, did it take a disaster to move an ounce of compassion into the setting?

Viktor had waited for Jayce, alongside an entire barrage of technicians and planners who’d placed their whole careers on Progress Day speeches being seen by other elites who needed glamours produced and up-done hair. When they’d asked him if he could do the speech instead of Jayce, instead of his beloved partner, he’d started to have a panic attack. There was no other way to describe the situation; his anxiety was simply a feature of his life. Powder had bounced towards him from behind and that was the last conversation they’d had before– It was his worst nightmare. His first time in Piltover he’d seen what a lab accident could do, an explosion or miss use of materials. And if his last words to her were not true, but just terrible accusations in the heat of anger and fear–

Powder blinked at him through her new eyes and he knew what they needed to do. “No matter what you promised, or what he told you, we must destroy the Arcane Core.” Viktor had seen a bit of what they’d done to her; he could trust neither Zaun nor Piltover to not use his creation for their evils. He accepted that he didn’t trust himself either. “Please, I don’t want this anymore.”

Her eyes went distant and a glaze came over them, “He built weapons.” Powder swayed on her feet. “While you, well we , were gone they built weapons to use on us.” Viktor had never seen her so uneager to argue. She materialized evidence, papers and such, and wearily waved it at him.

Any hope that Silco had made falsified claims to manipulate them died upon Viktor seeing his partner’s handwriting and the little details–that Viktor knew that Jayce’s enemies wouldn’t have been able to or cared to add–took the wind from his lungs. Jayce always signed his notes; at the bottom of each page was the looping ‘J’ and sharp ‘T’.

“He didn’t– He wouldn’t do this because of me…Because I was taken, would he?” Viktor began to feel his lungs constrict and body cry out.

Her hand reached out and without fear she clasped his modified wrist. She was not afraid of him and he felt shame at the fear he’d had of her moments prior. “This isn’t your fault. You had to build the core to survive. It’s not your fault!” Punctuating each word a certain way allowed Powder to pull him along. “My friend is on his way, we’ll meet up with him once he has our stuff and then we can put a stop to this all. All of it. We don’t need that creepy doctor, or Silco, or anyone–”

“Your sister?”

Powder squeezed his hand like she had all those years ago in a small med-bay of the Academy after the explosion in Jayce’s apartment.

Every moment and every choice had brought them here. For her acceptance of what he’d done to himself in the name of survival, and for the decade of their camaraderie, he would let her lead him.

No one stopped them as they went through the auditorium area. Without their champion, Violet, there was no reason for the adherents to show themselves. Silco and Singed must have been hiding in the other half of the tunnels, completely unaware . Viktor wondered how deep the pits of the Undercity went, how ancient the valley was. Arcane stones, the flowers that made Shimmer, and strange creatures like Rio dotted the world right beneath their feet. In the river there were monsters. He wondered how he was going to return to the world on the other side of the bridge after everything that had happened and what he’d done to himself.

When Powder would begin to go the wrong course, Viktor corrected her and took them to the pathway he had mapped out in his mind. It had been an unintentional, wise choice for Violet to knock him unconscious when she’d brought him to the Shimmer refinery and connected tunnels. Foolish to let him spend so much time with Singed, take him to the meeting place where all of her followers were, let him understand and listen to the hum of the elevators.

Powder froze when she saw the tarp with her illustrated image and only after some gentle cajoling and urging her to not break into hysterics did they walk past the immortal, sleeping youth that her sister had framed her in.

“She made me look prettier,” said Powder. “I never looked that sweet.”

Viktor disagreed, but Powder wouldn’t hear it.

They walked into the open air. This whole time Viktor had been so close and so far. The port and docks they were on were less than a mile away from the bridge. Powder took a deep breath. Viktor stepped out from the threshold before her and fate punished him.

A heavy sound came from behind them, deep in the Shimmer refinery and tunnels of the darkness. He turned to look at Powder, seeing in her mouth the syllables of her sister’s name. “Powder,” he called to her. For some reason he felt like she’d made this choice already before and been burned for it. “Please, come with me to the water wheel laboratory. Powder, please.”

“My friend and I tried to cross the bridge,” Powder placed her misshapen glasses atop her nose. “We were here before and I almost died. Most experiments require repetition to know if your results were accurate. I can try this again. I can do this right this time.”

“Don’t speak my lessons back to me.”

“There’s flares in the water wheel lab,” Powder was turned on her heel. Everyone demanded that Viktor control Powder. How was he meant to do that? She would make the laws of nature bend their knees on account of her love for her sister in the same way he had demanded heaven and hell give him more time on the planet. They truly were one in the same. “My friend, Ekko, will know what to do. You can’t miss him: dark skin, long hair, brilliant mind, intense martyrdom complex. He’s the whole package.”

“I wish I could have given you a better way to go through your life. You make light of everything and nothing.” Another force shook the area and attention began to draw towards the docks.

Powder had made this choice long before they’d met, years ago, with her sister in an apartment that belonged to Jayce Talis. Viktor could understand why she’d followed her sister and not looked back.

Now, she smiled and winked before running down the pathway to the tunnels beneath. He promised himself that he had not lost her again.

But he also had little faith; Powder would reach for her sister with the best approximation of an outstretched hand. Violet, to him, only had closed fists.

But you’ve been wrong before. She’s a person and a child of Zaun. Like you.

He needed to escape now, get to his laboratory and trust that Powder actually knew what she was doing.Viktor let his crutch fall to his side. This experiment needed to work on the first iteration.

His new leg and arm looked not too dissimilar to the night sky behind and before him. He let the Piltover crutch fall, taking small steps like the child he’d once been. The scientist of two worlds, his body modified with another place's magic,took a breath of the night air for good luck and ran. He’d paid for this in so much blood and he would reap the reward he from the Faustian bargain he’d turned to as a means to save himself.

While outpacing the ships in the river who couldn’t guess what was going on in the depths below them, Viktor let out a wild yell.

Notes:

One step closer to the end, folks. This chapter and the next are monsters in terms of word count. As a result, parts of Viktor's POV is shorter here, but will be longer next chapter. Thank you to everyone again for coming on this adventure with me! It has been incredible.

Chapter 12: Part Four: It's All Over, Baby Blue

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Powder

“Hey, Pow-Pow,” Vi said and for a moment the world was still, empty, and made for just them. Just the two sisters with the wreckage of the past biding its time at the edge of their vision.

“Hey, Vi,” Powder said. “Want to do me a favor?”

“Anything,” Vi sounded out of breath. The shot Powder had taken to her arm had left scorch marks of gunpowder, but she was unhurt. They could have been kids again, after rough housing and jumping over their bunk beds to make barricades and mischief in the world around them.

“Get off of Jayce,” and the whole world snapped back to the present. Their moments were the tragedy and the spectacle of the audience on the catwalk and the miles of city above them. Eyes above in the darkness judged with held breath and the sisters were mass consumed in the same way they were loathed and loved by the world around them. “You’re starting to hurt him, Vi.”

If Talis understood what was happening, he didn’t show it. His pupils were shot wide with fear and the glamor he’d worn as The Man of Tomorrow was a squashed firelight on a window. Powder had hated him; he was arrogant, annoying, pompous, naive, and spoiled rotten by Viktor and Councilor Medarda. But I don’t want to see what happens next if he’s not around.

If Vi killed him, then the way home to Powder would be permanently closed; Ekko would use this as proof that her sister was too far gone, and Viktor, his anguish would surely evolve into something terrible.

Vi rose, but maintained a foot on Jayce’s rapidly rising and falling chest. The gaudy hammer was still a foot or so away from Jayce, thrumming with unused power. “Powder, I can’t let him live. He’s the one, the reason why I lost you and why the Undercity is still lost in the darkness.” She voiced it loud enough that it was echoing through the facility.

“I know- Just, just get off of him for a second, Vi.” Powder tasted Shimmer at the back of her throat and wondered if she could use her new power. No, Vi has been augmenting herself with Shimmer for years. My bullet barely did anything to her. “Vi, if you kill him, Piltover won’t be merciful. They don’t love very much, but they love him, Vi. They love him and he’s just not yours to take.”

Vi’s eyes softened, but the next thing she said contradicted the gentleness, “Like Viktor?” She whispered it, so that only Powder and Jayce could hear.

Vi was always so good at saying the right thing; it was the thing that could punch you right under the ribs and shock you with how clever it was and how uncomfortable it made you. Jayce hadn’t been Vi’s sister--hadn’t lived through fights--so he rose to the bait and lifted his head to curse at her. “You took Viktor?!” Vi rolled her eyes as Jayce continued to raise his head off the ground to yell at her. “You’ll be in Stillwater until the heat death of the universe for this-”

Vi began to press a foot down onto his throat, ignoring the noises of protest that came from Powder. Vi’s actions were immensely popular with the audience surrounding them and was met with an array of cheers that bounced off the walls of the facility. “You can’t talk your way out of this, golden boy. Topside’s currency doesn’t amount to much here,” said Vi. “You’ve killed us and now we’ll dole out our own justice.”

The crowd above them erupted with noise and Powder hated their gazes, hated being looked at by so many people with their hungry emotions.

Jayce had always been a better speaker than Powder and Viktor. But he’d never realized Powder’s worth in other’s eyes. So Powder put Sevika’s gun to her temple and said, “Vi, get off of him.” And the crowd went silent, not at Powder’s actions, but the way Vi faltered. Her eyes went wide and she started to stammer before controlling herself to a whisper.

Her sister raised a gauntlet adorned hand, like she was calling back to Powder from a great chasm between them. “Not again-”

“This time I don’t think all the shimmer in the world could save me.” Powder was getting extremely good at slapping death and getting slapped back in turn. She wondered how far she could push it and how much she really had left in her. She had lost something the last time, but had also gained something. Something old and Something new. Something borrowed and something blue . “I’ll say it one final time: get off of him .”

It was reluctant, like when they’d been kids and Vi would take one arm of a toy and Powder the other. Vi could hold on for dear life; she was stronger, bigger, and equally as stubborn as Powder. Powder would wail as the toy’s arm left her grasp and then she’d suck in a bit of air and hold her breath, face turning red to blue until Vi would yell back at her and throw the toy at her chest. It was funny how nothing ever really changed.

Jayce was confused, not even trying to push himself upward this time. The audience had a similar reaction. They didn’t go silent, but instead murmured. They wanted to understand what was going on.

In the corner of Powder’s eye, she saw Jayce push to his knees. Vi watched him then stand; her face had gone still and motionless. Powder slinked between them and said, “Jayce, run.”

“But Viktor would want me-”

Go! Just go, Jayce!” Just listen to me, please! I’m trying to save you! I’m trying to save you! It would have been easy to let him die; he’d only ever been an obstacle for her. His tall shadow had cast far and been in the way of her ever feeling like she belonged in Piltover. The building blocks of her connection to Viktor and her work with Hextech were also wrapped in Jayce.

A long time ago, right at the start of nothing ever going right ever again, Jayce had arrived at Viktor and Powder’s flat with a live lobster and too much fine food. Powder had cried (and thrown up later from the parts of the meal she had been able to eat) for the lobster. Maybe in another world where that hadn't happened it would have been different between them. Or maybe not. Circ*mstances could not change that they both loved Viktor and were ambitious scientists with Piltover breathing down their necks.

They were similar in all ways that doomed them to clash with one another, but at least she could try and save him. She could pretend that if she ever saw him again then he’d owe her a debt, but what she could have ever wanted from Jayce Talis was unclear. He’d always had everything and nothing at the same time.

Vi caught Powder looking upwards to the audience watching hungrily, “All of those people were waiting for you, Powder.” Powder pushed the gun closer to her head in response and Vi’s eyes went half-lidded and sad. “He’s killed a kid here and inadvertently he’s done even more harm to ones like them. He’ll keep doing it too if you let him go. Turn that gun away from yourself and think about what you could do for the Undercity.”

Jayce was trying to back away. Finally, he lifted the hammer and broke out into a run towards the tunnels. Vi was still talking to Powder as his heavy footfalls thundered through the corridors. Vi looked nonplussed and called out, “Someone grab him. He won’t get far anyway.”

The noise of heavy footfalls on catwalks and corridors confused Powder as to who was running where. She wondered how many loyal followers Vi had.

Powder still had the gun to her head, but wondered if Vi was just humoring her now. “You can’t ever let anything just be…” She was feeling the momentary control she’d won slipping through her fingers. On the stage she wasn’t likable, not the star of the show, or even second-fiddle.

“I wasn’t going to kill him, Powder,” Vi spoke levelly, like she hadn’t just been using Jayce’s pride and face like a punching bag. “He can help with the Hextech in ways that your aluminerd friend can’t.” To Powder, there was a small victory in thinking that Vi was a terrible liar. “I’m sure you could outplay both of them if you wanted and we wouldn’t need them…Well, unless you wanted to keep them around. They’d be your assistants this time.”

Powder felt her anger flaring again, “Oh? Like how you’ve leashed up Caitlyn? Really, Vi?! Caitlyn?” Vi winced, but none of her lackeys heard what Powder had said, too busy now searching for the golden goose of Piltover that was Jayce, probably running crazily through the tunnels of Zaun. “And it doesn’t matter anyway! I won, sister! The Arcane Core is in Silco’s hands!”

The taunt had the opposite effect that Powder had aimed for; instead of disorienting her sister, Vi’s eyebrows raised and she was only momentarily shocked before her face steadied into something smug. Her sister then raised her chin up in challenge. “How about we see who gets to The Last Drop first, then?” It was barely a question and more of a demand.

Powder saw all the colors of red on the spectrum of wrath. “Another game? Grow up and talk to me!”

“Powder, you’re smart. You know this has always been a game.” Everything in their lives was a numbers quest, a game of survival, a trial of chance. Life in Zaun was a deadly push and pull: you traded and bartered and played by rules to obtain a modicum of life.Hadn’t she come home that way? Fooling Jayce in that one moment. It felt like a lifetime ago.

Vi saw her in conflict and capitalized it too, “It’ll give Talis enough time maybe. Just maybe,” she leaned in conspiratorially, “they’re good people, but you know sometimes snakes still slip through the cracks. If I'm gone he might escape.”

Powder ground into her molars and couldn’t believe that Vi was forcing her back to The Last Drop.

“I’ll give you a headstart,” Powder couldn’t shoot her, couldn’t talk to her with all of these onlookers, couldn’t even really shoot herself either. Vi took a running leap down an elevator shaft and as Powder raced after she was still considering how to turn the fight. “You’re slow with the gauntlets on!”

“Am I?” Vi was having fun. “Can you fix that for me later?” She dashed at a speed that would have awed the kid versions of themselves.

I need to a new scene; I need something new-

The Last Drop was old, though. The Last Drop may as well have been ancient.

Viktor

The Undercity was–

It was home. It was his jailer. It was his birthright. And for the first time in Viktor’s life he was able to use a series of stairs leading up to the lab he’d made in the once defunct water wheel. His new leg was heavier, but his spine still ached from the exertion; he was not miraculously cured and made into some mechanical superhero. Like most medicine’s this would come with a new set of issues that he would have to account for with the Arcane Core–

He shut the idea off, tapered it at the wound of ambition and put it to rest. The core would be destroyed. The core must be destroyed. The core must be–

Powder’s eyes had been a strange and all together new tint. They’d both been changed and what that meant for the future was still uncertain. He could still feel parts of his body rebelling and decaying, but when he looked down at his hands he saw color in his veins. Something was pumping through him, maybe not life. Just…potential.

Viktor pushed open the laboratory door and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. It still smelled like the world of rust and abandonment from his childhood. Chembarons who’d realized there was no profit to be made from free and clean water saw no reason to touch it from a practical standpoint. And from a superstitious standpoint, many of them treated it like it was haunted by their indifference. The scraps of their consciousness mustered better ghost stories than plans to make the Undercity anything greater.

He’d chosen this place for his dominion for all of those reasons, and a few more tied to the proximity of Sky and children he’d hoped to impress and befriend. And it had been where Heimerdinger had found him…

Viktor’s parents had died in a mining collapse. He was allowed no mourning period, though. He’d walked through the house with his small cane in manic confusion and then picked up objects of worth, value: a book, a blanket, some clothes, his cane, a cup. They owned very little else and soon the neighbors would realize that what was left could be pilfered.

There was not much law nor order to the Undercity. But there was a man…He’d kept mostly murders from happening, ran a bar where fights weren’t allowed, and was making a name for himself as their king with no crown, their sovereign unnamed.

But a man is only one man. And a man can’t watch everyone all of the time. Viktor had hidden himself in the water wheel facility, buying time.

Viktor ran a hand over the dust coated tables and benches that had been brought once he’d funded his project in Piltover to begin water restoration and maintenance.

Before Hextech, Viktor had been obsessed with the maintenance and the revitalization of the water-ways. The room was filled with the promise that with Hextech he’d be able to return. He moved towards the waterwheel’s central power lever and suddenly felt uncharacteristically shy.

He’d forgotten so much of Zaun in his work towards Hextech. He’d forgotten so much of the world in his quest to save himself. He’d forgotten so much. Viktor pulled the lever and the laboratory came to life with heavy breaths and clanks, churning water dyed strange colors by chemicals and toxins.

There was not much time left. He then went to the flares, pulling one at random from the box and standing by the ledge of an outcrop built into the side of the facility. It had a waterfall, and in real time Viktor watched the murky sludge running through the facility start to clear. It was a start.

He leaned his cane against the wall beside him; unsure when he’d need it again, but feeling like it was still his choice and decision to keep by his side. It was not his cane or crutch; it was his staff of power.

Viktor lit the flare; it surprisingly had little heat to it. He felt foolish for an instant, but really most of Powder’s ideas were a little foolish while being brilliant. He waited. And waited. And when the flare went out he felt the doubt creeping in.

“Am I interrupting?”

It was Jayce; his hair was ruffled and his clothes were disheveled like he was again sitting in a chair while enforcers searched his apartment after an explosion that had jettisoned fate into motion. But all of it was him plus some strange new accessories. He had a hextech tool in his hands: it was a hammer with its handle partially bent at a strange angle. The mechanism was sparking and lit up the space of Viktor’s lab.

Viktor stupidly said, “Your coat is very nice.” He couldn’t believe Jayce had come for him and he could not articulate why.

Jayce looked at it like he’d completely forgotten what he was wearing or what he had planned to do, “I’m-” He couldn’t finish his sentence because Viktor had hobbled over to throw his arms around his shoulders. Every bit of him seemed cut and dislodged from a once comfortable role. As Jayce moved closer, Viktor felt himself flinch. Was it not clear to Jayce what had happened to him?

Something enough happened to him that he does not see my arm, leg, or my illness.

Viktor had not been gone long, but he knew that this was the last moment before their relationship changed. Too much had happened. He would have to tell Jayce what he’d done to save himself and it was naive to assume anything could pause the on going track towards the catalyst they were on.

Give me this moment that I did not have with Powder.

Jayce returned the embrace, but then pulled away. And it was over. Now what may come would.

Viktor prepared for the next chapter of his life--surely a short one--after the end of the embrace. Jayce attempted to touch a puffy bruise on his face, “I’m sorry. I came to save you and nothing makes sense anymore.” He was apologizing in circles, distressed and clearly not all of himself.

Viktor realized that his friend was remorseful, “I am safe now.” For now. “Jayce, I am safe.” He could not bring the infallible Jayce back to the sphere that he occupied.

“No, Viktor, the Council was useless .” He was then at a loss for words; a rare and frightening thing to behold in how uncharacteristic it was of him. “I saw Powder with this woman. And the woman knew her and she’d planned all of this; all of it and the world in her hands of those gauntlets. These people down here are dangerous and the tunnels– gods –the tunnels. Viktor they go on and on forever. This whole time this world was brewing under us and we lost our way.”

He doesn’t realize it’s her sister. “Where is she now? Where is Powder?” I’m one of these people in the Undercity, but he’s amputated me from them in his mind.

“Viktor, I’m so sorry-” he began to repeat himself as Viktor went to reach for him again. An explosion rocked the walls and sent the waters below sprawling with waves.

It was the start of his new life.

Powder

Vi crashed into streetlights, swung from power lines and moved like she was punching holes into the world to use as shortcuts. With the strange gauntlets on her hands she could have held the entire Undercity in her hands.

Powder trailed behind--but for once in her life she realized there were benefits--and saw that the gauntlets were already faltering in some ways. For one: no human being should be subjected to raw Arcane energy at a constant rate. Viktor had been intensely strict in how much time they spent near the raw substances, and while that had been initially frustrating, Powder now realized that he was taking notes from workers in Zaun. If you spent too much time in the mines you could develop diseases in the same way a human could freckle under the energy of the sun.

Vi wasn’t considering any of those hazards, pushing the gauntlets to pulsating edges and risks.

Does she not care because- Powder knew why she threw herself off of tall buildings, held guns to her head, worked without safety goggles. It felt good, honestly, to hang so close to the edge. She’d grown obsessed with risk in the same way she’d shedded her fear of childhood. She’d been terrified of everything when small: pain and loss and loneliness. And when the walls had come tumbling down on her she’d just kept losing it.

But I had been afraid of hurting my sister on the bridge.

Powder jumped more nimbly, grateful that she’d practiced before having to see her sister again. And despite Vi’s bombastic righteousness, she still turned to make sure Powder was right behind her. It was clear that she was untrusting that her sister would follow the game set forth or that she could lead her to Silco.

But Powder wondered if she had ever trusted her to follow? It wasn’t entirely fair to her sister; Powder had been young and had fallen behind.

Now that was not the case, though; Powder wanted to catch up to her sister and stop her. Shove Vi away from The Last Drop and the Arcane and towards the proof that she had grown. She had lived.

Viktor would want her to turn around and stop following. Powder’s legs burned as she continued chasing after Vi. It was her sister. They’d be sisters until Powder said they weren’t.

I get to say when this is done. You don’t get to leave me!

The Last Drop flickered an insidious green. And then the rain came. Heavy drops hit the streets and if Powder was a dumb kid she would have titled her head up to drink the rain. But every adult in the Undercity knew that the rain was poisonous after years of pollution in their valley.

Vi failed to wait for her. Of course she had. Powder was now frozen before the establishment that had once been her home. Had Vander been a good father? Maybe. He had betrayed and wronged a man named Silco and so Vi and Powder had inherited that debt.

She wasn’t sure, nothing could be so simple. To Piltover’s standards the answer was no, Vander was a con-man and a cheat and neglectful.

Powder had never told anyone Topside of him or her family because they wouldn’t have understood; they’d have told her that she’d been groomed for crime or brainwashed by criminals.

But she had seen him--hallucinated him, really--in the space between life and death. And he would have wanted her to keep trying with Vi. He would have wanted her to reach his favorite daughter.

With her unanswered questions lingering, Powder pushed open the door to The Last Drop. Immediately, she realized it was much smaller than she remembered and that Vi had drawn the attention of the room.

There were twelve muscled and tattooed men that could have been Vander’s friends back in a past life. The way they were staring at Vi, and Powder by extension, meant they were certainly no Silco’s friends.

“Where’s Silco?” Vi waved her arms wide and the blue light of Arcane gems reflected onto faces that seemed to Powder older, less put together. Vander and these men had always been intimidating, but a decade hadn’t changed them at all. “Vander’s children are home and we’re here to take what’s ours.”

“What the f*ck, Vi-” Again, she was just another a piece in her sister’s story. “I’m here to get the Arcane core, none of this ever belonged to me–” the technology was her creation: hazardous, terrible, and from the minds of Viktor, Jayce, and herself. The Arcane was their terrible child that everyone demanded a piece of. That’s what Silco had failed to understand about her; Powder was never meant to be a piece of his grand ambitions of payback against Vander. That was always Vi because Vi had always been his heir.

The men fled up the stairs of The Last Drop as Powder grabbed her sister’s elbow. Vi barely registered it: she was so painfully numb from Shimmer that she didn’t turn. “Vi, I’m literally pulsating Shimmer right now and you’re exposing yourself to raw magic in some untested gloves. Please, we can leave. We can still run away together.”

Vi’s gaze never left the top of the stairs, “Where would we go?”

Powder had asked herself that same question many times. “We’ll figure it out; get the Arcane core thing and go. Viktor could help us.”

Vi’s eyes narrowed and the door of the upstairs office opened before Powder could argue with her further.

“I’m sorry this home-coming has been so difficult for you both. But, really, that is what is expected when we return from the dead.” Silco was at the top of the stairs, two steps below him was a lanky man that looked like his face was in perpetual sneer and mouth that was always forming the sounds, ‘ oh? You don’t realize what an ignorant hog you are’. The newcomer was holding the Arcane core suspended in a clear vat. He had to hold the device in metallic gauntlets that made the rest of his body look even thinner. “Let's have a drink.”

“Where’s Sevika?” Vi demanded it in a way that clearly meant she wanted nothing more than a fight. Jayce hadn’t given her an epic hill to forge ahead on and Powder had ruined the slaying of the dragon that was supposed to happened.

“Your sister dealt with her,” said Silco lazily. He seemed used to Vi’s temper and spoke at her like he’d had this conversation in the same place. “If you’re looking for a fight, then she’s right beside you. You’re sister’s here for the technology and scientist you’ve stolen. I’ve talked with her already before coming here. Again, you’ve never known your limits, child. It’s what got Vander killed and now you’re driving your sister away.”

Powder moved to speak, but was interrupted by Vi, “She came here to help me deal with you.”

“She did? How long before you realize she isn’t the girl she once was. Powder, even after our deal, you’ve come to align with your sister?”

“Deal?” Vi flexed the gauntlets.

Powder watched her sister grow more distant. “Sevika attacked me and Viktor in the elevator; any deal we made is nulled and voided by murder clause or whatever. Oldest rule of humanity and the Undercity, Silco.” Vi had turned to look at her with naked disbelief and scorn.

“You released him?” The synthetic around Vi’s arms were struggling to meld with the hextech. Everything was humming and squealing with energy. “Powder, why didn’t you just come to me? Talk to me?” Her sister was staring at her, eyes flickering and brimming with all the worst looks.

“Because she’s clever and knew you were going to destroy everything, including the ones she covets,” Silco had led them to this. He wasn’t strong, fast, or even the smartest among them. He’d just dreamed and believed more and through his belief he’d made the world bend the knee to his will. Just like Viktor. "Sevika attacked you against my orders. For that, I'm sorry. This is further proof to me that you are worthy of taking your sister's place in control of Zaun."

And a terrible part of Powder couldn't believe that someone actually wanted her over Vi, over Jayce, over Caitlyn and even Viktor.

Had Silco always wanted this grand scene? The two daughters of Vander vying for who would serve him? The timing of Vi’s arrival, the ways he’d known about this weird stickman scientist and then Viktor. He couldn’t know everything, but he’d flawlessly read Powder’s intentions and the look of Powder arriving here and now wasn’t flattering to Vi, “Your sister understands you’ve changed, Violet. You cannot let go of who she once was. That's why she tried to kill you on the bridge.”

Vi snarled, "They f*cked up her head! She doesn't know what she wants!"

Everything was wrong. Everything had fallen apart. And no one was truly to blame so nothing could be done; there was no dolling out of justice or retribution that she wanted. Powder looked to the stairs where Silco and his scientist stood. Silco co*cked his head at Powder, “You saved your scientist, but your sister is gone. What now? Will you take a world with me and your scientist or no world at all with your sister?”

I can’t win. I can never win. This is a circle going round and round. It was like the music record in The Last Drop with the two illustrated girls. Circling, Circling, Circling.

The anger gave her a flash of connection: she would break the circle. It was always when she was breathing smoke out of her lungs and fire consumed every inch of her that she pulled her best stunts. “I’m going to destroy the Arcane.” Had that not been what brought them all together in this terrible and warped way? An explosion, and a group of scientists, and a pair of sisters. Viktor was right; the core needed to go . “Sorry, Vi.” Powder couldn't't shoot Vi or herself, so she was going to shoot the Arcane.

Powder was already quick before the effects of shimmer; too fast for her sister, or Silco, or the scientist lakey on the stairs. Sevika’s gun blasted Powder back and The Last Drop was filled with motes of blue light.

The great energy of the world before man and much before that erupted into their family drama that felt so much bigger than Piltover and Zaun could ever be. The Hexcore took the shot full on, and like a dying star it folded in itself with great force. Powder’s head had hit the bar floor and a great weight rested on her chest.

“What did you do?!” Vi had tackled and grabbed onto Powder, shielding her from explosions going off in quick succession. Powder looked over her sister’s shoulder and saw Silco holding onto the banister as gravity tried to pull him into the fray. In the glow of blue light he looked furious, but also terrified . Powder had put the fear of the gods into the king’s heart and he was no more powerful than she or her sister.The only thing keeping Vi and Powder from flying into the pull of a blue monstrosity, an open maw of energy, was Vi forcing the Gauntlets to dig its fat and mechanical digits into the floor. “What did you do, Powder?!

Powder let out a cackle. How could no one else see how funny the world was when everyday all you were was terrified? “I’m helping! Vi!” How else could they win? This was what Vi had wanted from this technology: destruction. Was she not impressed? Was this not the goal her sister had yearned for?

Vi couldn’t understand. She shook her head as bar chairs, glasses, and everything not held down flew into the void of the Arcane. The scientist who’d been holding the Arcane Core was no more as well. Perhaps he’d never existed at all.

Powder had finally won this moment, “Vi! I love you! It’s going to be okay! This is my toast to the new us!” It was what she’d wanted to say to her sister for so long. Vi hadn’t abandoned her, and Powder wouldn’t do the same. They had changed, but they were always going to be sisters.

But then Vi caught sight of Silco, struggling and terrified, and when she looked back, Powder realized that despite the many ways she had changed, she was still very much Vi. And Vi always was the hero and always had the last word. Vi leaned her head against her sister’s and whispered, “You’re right; it’s going to be okay.” Vi crossed her elbows, latching the Hexgauntlets over Powder. “You did help me.” And then she unlatched her hands from the gauntlets and spread her arms wide as she began to float towards the abyss.

“No!” Powder screamed. It was a stupid thing to scream; who had ever cared what she’d wanted? What Vi wanted was to destroy Silco and save her sister. With this action she got both.

Vi always gets what she wants. Powder thought as she watched her sister grab the King of Zaun who’d taken Vander’s place and flew into the blue light with a smile.

Sky hadn’t trusted Ekko when he’d said the strobing lights and the floating remnants of The Last Drop were a sign from Powder. But he’d known.

He pulled her from the wreckage.

Notes:

And now to the epilogue.

Chapter 13: Epilogue

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Viktor

War found its way to their shores. It smelled the blood that Hextech weaponry churned in the water. Or maybe it was always meant to happen.

While Piltover and Zaun had swung and grappled with one another, another nation had taken aim towards them. It had waited beneath the waves, sat in the sea foam and cascaded towards them with naval technology the likes the world had never seen. But they'd used the Hexgates too, like Jayce Talis had invited them in and they’d put their feet up on the cushions, and then proceeded to unload a rifle into the ceiling of a metaphorical house. They’d sensed crisis; they’d taken that opportunity.Blue lights and levitating objects now polluted their world.

And Viktor was working with a series of cyber-revolutionaries, all the while missing Heimerdinger.

As he helped a masked sixteen year old clear away wreckage glowing with Arcane, he considered that his mentor would be so lucky to vanish after losing his seat on the Council. The world Heimerdinger had left behind did not resemble the one he’d built with Stanley Piddlewick. It would have terrified him how the era of magic had taken hold of them.

They still hadn't found him.

“Are you gonna eat the stuff now?” The sixteen year old asked, their voice made deeper by the modifier on the mask--it made them look like a wolf. This one surely had a name, but preferred to be called ‘Splatterdeck’.The Firelights made him feel ancient: the lack of fear in their hearts shone through their metallic animal masks and they jumped and leapt from flying board to flying board. The Noxian soldiers shot at them like they were annoying birds or pesky bugs, but they would not be downed. Ekko’s numbers had increased and Viktor didn’t think they would win, but they would survive and evolve into the new world.

“I don’t eat it, Splatterdeck,” Viktor noticed the way the child’s shoulders shifted as he used their nickname. The Firelights were still wary of him and Sky. They’d labeled the ‘other’ and their ‘enemy’ as ‘adults’. It was funny to Viktor, since Ekko was now nearly the same age Viktor had been when he’d first found Powder. “I absorb it into my Arcane Core.” He was not going to let the teenager know that it was technically a type of consumption. Viktor had felt alien enough in his life and the new era of his identity and form he had been fighting to be comfortable in. There was no need to continue the spurn of rumors.

So, he was no longer dying. Hooray. The levitating orbs of Arcane waste were pulled into the dodecahedron upon his walking stick. I must look like a mage. It covered the shape and seemed to wrestle with the circulating object. The Arcane Core was the bigger and more powerful of the two, and like a bigger biological cell inhaling a smaller mass it inhaled the pollutant and glowed a deeper blue. Ekko had suggested adding more tools to measure the ingestion and Viktor was considering the validity of the idea.

He felt his heavy limbs lighten. He was a titan creature at this point; his arm, his leg, and parts of his torso had lost their fleshy mass. “Let us leave this place-” he was cut off by the realization that Splatterdeck was no longer listening to him, and was instead readying a canister at his waist to toss into a darkened alleyway, “--wait, Splatterdeck-”

The Firelight foot-soldier’s crystal bomb left the tips of their fingers at the same time the creature from the alleyway lunged. It came forward screeching, enough time to latch to the teen’s face and begin to suffocate them. It was one of the smaller ones--all tangled and purple-ish-ichor and sludge limbs--but it was winning against the Firelight grunt. The calculations he needed to ensure he could blast the creature with his staff and not harm Splatterdeck demanded time that he did not have; Viktor was unfortunately not Ekko. He still was able to get only its leg, grazing the Firelight briefly; there were two pairs of screeches then and Viktor could not separate the Firelight’s from the monsters. It was a supremely lucky shot that struck what would be a hind leg if the thing had an anatomy not based around the abstract or the horrifying. There was no rhyme to it since it was neither spider, nor crab, nor octopus or bird. It was all of those things and none.

These nightmares were the spawn of a Noxian Grand General that they had only seen from a distance, he had no time or want to walk the streets of Zaun so he sent loudspeaker taunts that blared across the skies, his crows, and these nightmares of sludge and terror.

A silence came over the alleyway. Surely someone had heard them and now they would have to flee, “Splatterdeck,” he said and ran to their side. The teen was convulsing--alive, but barely. “I’m here- I’m here.” He lifted the boy into a bridal carry (clumsy while he balanced his staff in the other hand). He had traded his cane for a staff, but the new way of walking still grated at him alongside his new…more explosive abilities with his Arcane Core. Everything was new and he was failing and this person would die- I’ll never make it in time to Ekko…She is closer, but…Their last conversation had been forty-eight hours ago and it had been, well, explosive. He had meant to give her the space she begged of him even if he doubted that’s what she really needed.

Splatterdeck coughed behind their mask. Viktor made his choice then.

Singed had had a laboratory in a cave of purple flowers. Viktor had had the water wheel. She had the great propeller.

They both had no true notion of what it had originally been; the size of the turbine and the blades would have taken immense labor and resources that Zaun surely hadn’t possessed even before Stanely Piddlewick and Heimerdinger crippled trade through the building of the Sungates. It was an eldritch, technologically strange beast and in its corpse she had decorated the place with her workshop and trophies from Noxian battle fields.

Viktor called out her name as he walked the precarious pathway atop the propeller blade. If he still was using his crutch or cane he’d have fallen into the abyss below. He called her name again; still she was not there. “Please, they’re dying!”

“Everyone is dying, Vicky.” She’d stepped out from behind the central pillar that they had deduced was the turbine spinner. At the top of the laboratory--the roof--was a hub cap of sorts that spanned thirty feet across. “Except for you these days…And me…We seem to have found new, better, and different problems.” She’d stopped wearing her hair in braids; it now fell in great lengths across her face and body, down to the floor. No more glasses either.

“Powder-”

She held her hand up to stop him, making three ‘tsk’ like noises, and then said, “Not in the presence of company.” When she’d been small there had always been strange little rituals she’d abided by (spin in a circle three times before going to school or tap every prime numbered beaker in the lab before beginning a test run of Arcane crystals' responses to acidic materials). Now, she had made a new series of rules and restrictions that seemed to keep him and even Ekko at strange lengths; this was the one she held the fastest too.

Viktor looked down at the teen in his arms, “Jinx, they need help. They need help now.”

Powder’s eyes had gone to the teen’s face, where Viktor had removed their mask. Splatterdeck had pink hair.

“Then take him to the boy savior.” Powder spat back at him, but then rolled her eyes when she saw the flinch that Viktor couldn’t hide. Her face scrunched as she grappled with herself--she muttered a few things under her breath before shaking her head furiously, “Fine, but I expect a huge apology from you. A f*cking gargantuan apology, Viktor.”

He almost called her Powder again as they moved the nearly unconscious Firelight to a bench. Immediately as they propped the teen up, Powder retrieved a bottle of clear liquid, tilted Splatterdeck’s head back and poured the viscous liquid in. “You’re inducing vomiting already?” He asked. Powder momentarily ignored Viktor to pull out what appeared to be smelling salts.

Powder was casually violent with the Firelight’s body, “They’re still conscious; we need to get the sh*t out of them before they fall under, otherwise it won’t be safe to do this.” She was like a coach in the ring, keeping the groaning Firelight awake with slaps to the face and waving the salts around. “If they puke this sh*t up asleep they’ll die, but if they sleep with the stuff inside they’ll also die.”

Splatterdeck on cue sat forward with wide eyes; Powder, with her uncanny speed, dexterously kicked a bucket forward as a deluge of black, green, and brown puke went into the bucket.

Powder sighed, “You Firelights eat like you’re all still twelve years old. Would it kill ya’ to have one f*cking vegetable?”

After Splatterdeck had vomited through the course of the poison, they’d looked at Powder and Viktor with an eye that was reminiscent of times of old in Piltover; Viktor and Powder were again suspicious figures even when they were helping.

“I’m sorry,” Viktor and her had retired to her desk and couch. As he tried to apologize she shook her head and pointed at a cleared spot atop her workshop area. He knew the drill and removed his shirt for her to check up on his back brace, but also…the new additions he’d grown. “Powder, I’m sorry.”

“I know,” she said as she started to tinker with him. “I can’t believe you and Sky are running around with wannabe, street trash.” Her bedside manner was the opposite with him as it had been with Splatterdeck. She worked slowly on his back brace, avoiding touching the places where his torso had been replaced by metal as well. He looked less and less like a man as the days went by, but he found himself not minding. What was it to be a man? And why would it not be better to be something apart from that? Had he not been born apart from men his entire existence, anyway?

Viktor was faced away from her as he said, “Powder, he wants your help.” I want your help.

“Yeah, sure he does. Tell him to get in line; you’ll never believe who sent me a letter yesterday asking for my ‘esteemed aid in their fight against Noxus’. I have the boy savior and the golden boy of tomorrow knocking on my door, begging for my help. At this juncture someone should just put a ring on it and marry me. I'm such a hot commodity.”

“It has been a year.” They had all taken new roles. Jayce had fundamentally changed the Council of Piltover’s framework and established himself as emergency magistrate with control under extreme positions of crisis; he had even married a girl from the Giopara clan to further strengthen his legitimacy. The events between him, the Hextech thief, and Viktor’s kidnapper were re-framed in the propaganda of early Noxus aggression and Undercity collaboration with the enemy.

“I think I’ve done my fair share.” Powder was bitterly quiet again. If you had to label the players in the conflict--Jayce as emperor, Ekko as sun, Viktor as magician, Sky as chariot--then Powder was the foreboding tower. Her laboratory and her skills were feared and revered; she was no chemist like Singed, but she could make deals and had tricks up her sleeve. Ekko was her benevolent opposite these days. You went to him first, and if he couldn’t save you, then you turned to darker means through the Jinx. “Viktor, you’re beautiful, you know that, right?” He turned to see her as she said it.

“Will you at least consider coming to live with Sky and I?” He’d asked this already. He would keep asking. “He misses you too.”

“No, no I don’t think I will.” Powder picked up his hand, ignoring how heavy it was now with the augmented metal and magical coils, and held it against her cheek.

They stayed for the night because Splatterdeck was in no condition to travel and make the journey through Arcane wastes or warzones. It left time for Powder and Viktor to avoid all the topics they wanted and only discuss what they wanted to discuss. It was almost just like old times.

“How is your lobster?” Viktor usually started their talks this way.

“Eh, he’s fine. Hates the noisy neighbors, keeps asking me to take him on a long walk; have to keep explaining to him that the beach is covered in Arcane pollutants and hostile architecture.” This meant that Powder wanted him to ask another question. She was picky on what they discussed. “You and Sky finally-”

“We’re colleagues.” And he was struggling to continue that small hint of normalcy. The feelings he’d grown for Sky were of such a strange and complicated nature that he wished for a trio dynamic like they’d had with Jayce--anytime there had been a moment to develop those feelings it was quashed by Hextech or Piltover. While Ekko was the third in their group leading, working, inventing--he had none of the same demands of Jayce. In fact, he instead pushed for Viktor to interact with Sky in new light. It was all very frustrating and part of him felt supremely selfish for it.

In the middle of a war you have these trivial thoughts.

Powder blew air between her lips, “You almost died.”

“We almost died.” He still dreamed--even with the additions to his form and the mechanization of his person he had to sleep--of the burns and how frail she had looked in Silco’s arms.

“Yes, and now we keep living.” Her laboratory was not well lit, but even in the darkness he could make out the violet color of her eyes. There was such a supreme and horrific irony there. Ekko had tried purging the Shimmer from their systems, but it was interwoven with their bodies in such a violent and intimate way that it was simply there to stay for the time. “I’m beginning to think I’ve died at least three times.”

This was a crossroads for their conversation. Viktor could either remain quiet or ask. He boldly, but quietly asked, “When?”

This pleased her, she hated it if he or anyone asked, ‘what do you mean?’ Powder stuck out her hand, touching her index finger and thumb together so that her middle, ring, and pinky fingers formed three pillars. “First: Jayce’s apartment.” She put down her pinky finger. “Second: the explosion on the bridge.” She put down her ring finger. “The day everything went wrong at The Last Drop.” She was now making a rude gesture at him.

“Very mature,” Ekko had retrieved Powder from The Last Drop at great risk to his person and health; it was a beautiful wasteland of Arcane blues and floating rubble. The erasure of normalcy to the world order was the domain now of the Last Drop and the surrounding stores and pleasure houses. With Noxian monsters atop the legends brewed from painful memories, it was a real graveyard. “And how many times have I died?”

“Only one.”

He ducked his head, shamed, “When I created the first Arcane-”

The echo of her slamming her first onto her workbench fled into the abyss below them. “No, that was not a death. This is not a death, Viktor. This is an evolution. You first died when you let Piltover kill you.” She was insistent about this fact, about him not being guilty for what had happened to her…

Viktor chose silence afterwards.

Viktor took Splatterdeck back to the Firelight base. It has been ‘home’ for the last year, but he cannot help that he and Sky are strange new additions to the entourage. Powder grunted as they went for the exit, pretending to not watch him leave.

Splatterdeck tried to ride their board, but could barely stand and was forced to accept Viktor’s help. The teen is silent the entire tense walk back. It’s not leisurely the way they move through Zaun; there are soldiers, enforcers, Hextech droids who fire indiscriminately, Chembarons, and monsters…Monsters are everywhere now.

Silco was a terror on their world, but even with him gone there is no peace.

When they arrive at the Firelight hideout, there is not a moment of peace for either of them. Splatterdeck’s fellow Firelights want to hear of what happened, they sink their teeth into the plump fruit of gossip that is Viktor taking them to the Jinx--that strange woman who is neither their ally nor their enemy.

“He thinks he has it,” a Vastaya girl, who Viktor believed had a mask like a fish that she usually donned, delivered the news to him quietly. There is just a perfect opening for him to sneak away to Ekko’s laboratory in the base while Splatterdeck gets their moment of adoration and attention. “The other woman is already with him.” she said. Viktor assumed she was referring to Sky.

Ekko’s laboratory was the opposite of Powder’s; she worked in near darkness atop a great mechanical beast in a chasm and Ekko worked in a hidden valley of light and trees. There was a similar level of nostalgia present with the iron ingots and flying machines, but with a different hue of sadness from Powder’s.

Again, it was sometimes embarrassing how much he saw Ekko and Powder having in common, how much of the Jayce he’d known behind the new aura that was like them as well.

Memories of Jayce came unbidden even when he was focused on the realm of the present; Sky and Ekko were surrounding a medium sized, fat, cylindrical tube. Inside and hovering was some of the collected Arcane pollution Viktor had been collecting and that Ekko had been recycling into a project that had been hypothetical for months.

Before, when Viktor entered any room, the clack of his cane announced his arrival. His staff and limbs work similarly now. Ekko looks up from his work; he has saddened, brown eyes too old for his softer face. Viktor had worked with the very clever for years, but not the very wise. Ekko’s wisdom is off-putting in the same measure as it is his strongest trait.

“You took Splatterdeck to Jinx?” Ekko asked as Viktor entered the room with heavy foot-falls. A beautiful miracle is about to happen and of course he finds time to let his mind occupy his frustrations with Powder.

Early in the war, in the hazy and strange introductions and reunions that had been tense and too quick, Viktor had seen them arguing atop the deck of the treehouse. Powder animated, Ekko on the defense, and Viktor hiding while eavesdropping.

‘She’s gone this time.’

‘Then what’s stopping you from staying, Powder?!’

Viktor shouldn’t respond, should divert the attention to the schematics “You know she doesn’t mind if you call her Powder.”

“She wants Zaun to call her Jinx, so I’m doing as Zaun does.” Ekko delivered the last word and looked back to the canister. Viktor knows this process by now and moves his staff over the device, placing half of what he’s collected into Ekko’s machines and the other half into keeping himself running.

Sky cleared her throat then, “The Zero Drive currently has enough power to be operational for one attempt. I still recommend we test it outside of the base.”

Viktor said what surely Sky and Ekko were thinking, “What will happen to you, Ekko; what will happen if this is not enough?”

Powder

She laid hard-lines in the sand; only those who knew her before could call her Powder. Anyone afterwards--or really anyone she hated or saw as an asset--would call her Jinx.

Ekko had saved her of course, but none of that had mattered because Vi had already saved her. No one ever saved Violet, though. Or even Silco and Vander. No one came for them and they’d all died as they’d lived: trying to make something of Zaun.

Zaun was cursed. Piltover was cursed. They were all cursed and Powder would be the hag who lived in her darkened shack and laboratory. They’d weave stories about her as a weaver of hazardous and terrible technologies. She was the mind who could make it and deliver it to them for a price.

She had Viktor now, Jayce was off in his ivory tower, and even Sky now lived in Zaun.

‘Stay with us, Powder.’ Ekko had begged her. She’d made the actual, bona-fide hero and new lord of the Undercity beg her to stay with him and his Firelights. And she had wanted to so terribly. She really had.

‘I’m a jinx, Ekko.’ It sounded silly--supremely childish--in hindsight. Yet, she’d seen the lines of what he was made of; he was the inheritor of Zaun. Without Silco, Vander, or Violet, there was only Ekko. And she could not watch him die. She refused to see Noxus or Piltover, or whatever new force of evil that wanted to play the fools’ game of claiming and controlling Zaun, destroy Ekko.But now that she had removed herself from the game--every f*cker in the city wanted a piece of her.

A sound from the entrance of her laboratory gave her pause. Powder needed no security in her laboratory; it was precarious enough to get to the chasm where it rested, but anyone foolish enough to enter would have to face her. Powder knew the intruder wasn’t Viktor or Ekko, but instead two individuals clearly in over their heads.

Stumbling behind a masked and veiled woman was Piltover’s finest loser, Caitlyn Kiramman. She seemed older…and a badge on her chest made it clear that she had climbed over dead bodies on the ladder to get to where she was. She was also clearly nervous, even behind her stone gaze Powder could see cracks of what had happened.

“Are you Jinx?” the masked one walking in front of Caitlyn asked. This one was more regal than Caitlyn, and even with their cloaked disguise Powder could tell they were built of something finer.

“That’s me,” Powder accentuated the ‘e’ in ‘me’. A little performative madness mixed in with the actual madness never hurt. “Are you Caitlyn’s new squeeze? Or have we met already? Or maybe both.” She knew that her sister had only used Caitlyn--deep in her bones and body she knew that truth and coddled it close for comfort.

Caitlyn winced and turned to her companion, “I told you.” Powder could guess what Caitlyn had said already: dangerous, impertinent, Undercity Sump Rat.

The figure paused, and then after they’d let the air hang heavy, they removed their mask. Underneath the featureless metal they’d worn was dark brown skin, elegant locks of hair with golden beads, and olive colored eyes. She raised an eyebrow at Powder.

“Oh, sh*t.” Powder let her own mask, the one of wit and insanity, slip momentarily. “You could have just sent a letter like Jayce. I bet yours would have had glitter in it.”

Councillor Medarda gave her the barest hint of a smile that could have meant that either she planned to delicately kiss Powder, or strangle her slowly. “This requires discretion and mail is traditionally intercepted on the front lines. The letter Jayce sent to you was almost certainly passed onto other forces many times over; I also doubt that you would have responded to my letters.”

Powder hadn’t worn her glasses in a year, but she almost caught herself reaching up to clean them. Her braids were also gone, she found herself too often chewing on them. “Look, I’m not joining your little war. Thanks for the invitation, but I’m very happy here; I’m working on my memoir. It’s going to be called, ‘Get Jinxed: One Girl’s Journey Towards Selfishness’.” Caitlyn was reacting to everything with stony silence, or stares towards the ground. “Oh common, Kiramman, lighten up. Look at us; we’re exactly what everyone knew we’d be. You’re some cushy Piltover girl who inherited the role of sheriff without actually doing any hard work and I’m a bum living in a giant laboratory in the Undercity.”

“And that’s how you’re hiding The Firelights.” Councilor Medarda was speaking again. “You isolate yourself and have worked to generate the story of yourself as a lone wolf--unaffiliated--all in hopes that Piltover doesn’t realize that it was you who killed a major swath of our enforcer leadership and that your sister was the one who destabilized us with Hextech. Again, just as it was one year ago, you’re protecting those close to you.”

Powder suddenly hated Councillor Medarda and wanted to be her more than anything. “Woah, turns out you’ve got a big brain too. Shame…So, you two gonna try and arrest me? Torture information out of me? Caitlyn’s gonna fill a sock with coins? I hear comm-books don’t leave bruises.”

“No, Jinx…Powder, I have a task for you and Caitlyn that I believe will save both Piltover…and Zaun.” Councilor Medarda looked towards Caitlyn before continuing, “one week ago…a woman was spotted on a ferry to Stillwater Hold. She had pink hair, muscular, almost six-foot-”

“It’s not her.” You saw her die. You saw her die. You saw her die.

“Maybe not, but her arms had a strange glow to them…and even stranger was that she was accompanied by a hulking beast…Like a dog”

Hound of the Underground…That’s what they called Vander.

“That sounds like fairytale bullsh*t.” Powder turned away from them with the unbearable knowledge that she didn’t want to see them. Powder wanted them to be quiet, wanted them to leave, wanted them to stop existing. What right did Councilor Medarda have to destroy the narrative she’d built to protect herself and her friends? “It can’t happen.”

“We live in the era of magic and of man-made monstrosities that defy our expectations. You killed your sister and Silco, but you never recovered their bodies, nor did you ever discover what happened to Arthur Sigourney, a man we believe has been going by the alias, Singed.”

I shot the core and he- that doctor he- he- She tried to piece it all together, but the doctor had been too in the shadow of Silco and Violet. And that’s how he’s still around…Powder pulled her hair. Viktor had only one trait truly in common with that mad doctor who’d cursed them to their strange anti-death; he could fade into the background. He hid himself and struck when the time was right and never played for the crown.“So that bastard turned my sister into a zombie…And you want me to kill her…again. God, Pilties are f*cked up. Just get Jayce to do it, or literally any of your guards or drones or something."I can't lose this game if I don't play.

Somehow this made Medarda falter. She bit her lip, “I am no longer a Councillor.”

“Oh, f*ck.” Powder mentally kicked herself for feeling an iota of pity. “Wait…No way, did Jayce-”

“Magistrate Giopara-Talis cannot know about this operation, nor can he understand the deal I will make with you for Zaun’s independence and the future of both nations.” It was strange seeing even a hint of weakness from Councilor Medarda. There was no victory in it for Powder. It somehow made her feel worse, like the time she caught Viktor crying when she was a kid or how she once saw Vander sigh and lean his weary back against the wall of The Last Drop. There was something like a shadow hanging over Councilor Medarda. Again, Powder felt insane for feeling bad for her.

Maybe it’s because she’s like you…

“You got conned by the guy you were conning, huh?” Powder asked. “Jayce slipped his leash? Or is someone else pulling it?”

“Do you accept or do you not?” Her tone had become more openly hostile. Even if she had no official power, Powder knew this woman could do other things to make her life hard. Or she could make the lives of Ekko and Viktor hard.

If there was a world where this all went different, Powder was not in it. “I wonder if I could have ever said no.”

Councilor Medarda had an escape plan in the form of a very elegant and quiet flying machine. It looked suspiciously like one of the balloons that Powder had loved as a kid.

When Caitlyn asked Powder where she could sleep in the laboratory, Powder pointed towards the abyss below them. Eventually the other blue haired woman just went for the couch. There was a frosty silence between the two of them that Powder was determined to outlast. She did; Caitlyn right when Powder turned out the brighter lamps said, “Powder, are you really going to ignore me?” Caitlyn groaned when Powder said nothing from the pile of blankets and pillows on the other side of the turbine that she’d made for her bed. “Powder, please, please talk to me. I- I know your sister would have wanted us to talk.”

“This is the worst slumber party ever.”

Caitlyn whispered in the darkness again, “She loved you. Even if she made mistakes, she always did. And it’s not your fault what happened.”

Powder had enough. She stood and stomped towards an exit to the roof. Climbing the stairs two at a time she threw open the hatch and curled in on herself as her hair tangled and whipped around in the wind. She screamed into her hands again and again until her throat was raw as the lights from Piltover (even in war) were so painfully bright and beautiful from up top. Somewhere out there was a new war and a new villain. Nothing would ever compare to Vander and Silco, though. Violet and Powder. Jayce and Viktor. Ekko and…the world…

Powder was only there for what felt like a second when a hum permeated the noise of night. It was as if thinking of him summoned him.

“I hate your stupid mask,” Powder said.

“I know. And I hate all your guns,” Ekko said as he removed the mask. Now he would hover in place on his board and she would sit and they’d wait and wait until- “I’m going to test the Zero Drive tomorrow,” he was now deftly sitting atop his board, just letting it hang and sway in the air with him. “I don’t know what will happen afterwards and I wanted to tell you was all.”

Powder knew he wanted her to ask him about the amount of energy he’d collected, what type of stabilization methods he’d perfected, how long back he believed he could travel with the device. Instead she asked, “Are you scared?”

“Yeah, I am,” he was making a rare admission. “Are you scared?”

“Of what?” Everything.

“Of traveling with that Topside Sheriff girl.”

Powder pulled on her own hair, “No one knows how to keep secrets around here.” Of course someone had seen Caitlyn (barely disguised idiot).

He smiled a fraction, “Should I even ask what’s happening? Would you even tell me?”

Powder shook her head. She needed him away from her, Viktor too. They all needed to just…stay away. “You’d just barge in and try to save the day like you always do.”

“Are you going to at least tell Viktor?” And this was where Ekko and her always fought. “He’s stable for now, but his life is held on by tethers, Powder. What happens when he’s all metal and no man?”

“Then he’ll be all Viktor. Ekko, I can’t tell you how many of your Firelights have prosthetics. It’s the same f*cking thing! You know, all you ever do is meddle with people? You’re a total meddler, and a control freak, and your savior complex is going to get you killed. You know that, right?”

“My savior complex?” He laughed. Now it was a real argument. He opened his mouth to make another comeback, but an explosion miles away had both of them whipping their heads towards Piltover. A few of the beautiful lights had gone dark. Ekko then rubbed the back of his neck.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll tell him.”

"Powder," he flew close to her, hovered inches from your face. As Ekko opened his mouth to say something more, there was an instant where she could see the tiny lines that made up the corners of his lips. He repeated her name again, but never finished his sentence. He instead kissed her forehead before he then flew atop his board like the devil was chasing him.

She still almost didn’t tell Viktor. Caitlyn wanted to see the Firelight hideout and her insistence was almost enough of an excuse for Powder to escape. But Ekko meddled, and Ekko got his way, and now Powder and Viktor were sitting together in a f*cking treehouse. Surely their entire conversation was about to be recontextualized and broadcasted to every Firelight wackoo around.

“Do you believe it is her?” Viktor had listened diligently and silently the entire time.

“Yeah, I hate that I do, but I do.” Nothing ever truly dies. Powder had forced her hair into braids, had cropped her shirts and pants, but donned a cloak with it. “My ghosts won’t let me be. It’s like they know I’m one of them and they keep knocking on my door.”

“Very poetic,” Viktor flexed his hands.

“Oh, shut up. You’re such a hypocrite. Everyday you’re spouting poetics about the world; we’re supposed to be cold and unfeeling scientists.”

“You won’t let me follow.” He was now deadly serious.

“No, Viktor. I just- I just can’t-” I can’t keep losing people and jinxing everything. “I just can’t.”

He put his hand over her’s and said, “you will return.”

“You’re also too faithful for a scientist, Vicky.”

“This is to the new us. This is my toast; you will return.” And he embraced her.

Notes:

Thank you, everyone. See you all for season two.

Hazardous Technology and the Minds Who Make It - ukulele_villian (2024)

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