A fine layer of ash sprinkled like rain over the battlefield. Disfigured lumps lay discarded on the grass, the faint steam from their bodies beginning to dissipate in the chill night air. In the centre of Valoran City Park, cracked fountains wept in silent lament, their tears turning to pink rivers on the shattered pavement. A cold wind sighed, carrying the last cries of battle into the void beyond.
All cries except one.
Sarah Fortune knelt on the churned ground, her knuckles tightened in a death grip on Ezreal’s jacket. Ezreal choked, the sound of his laboured breathing searing into her eardrums. Red bloomed in her vision, staining the white on her sleeves as his wounds opened once again. Red, there was so much red…
Beside her, Soraka cradled Ezreal’s head, a faint white glow emanating from her delicate fingers. Beads of sweat plastered her curls to her forehead, a faint line appearing between her brows as she channeled the healing power of the stars again and again.
Eyes burning, Sarah could only watch as that white light flickered and dimmed.
As Ezreal’s life slowly slipped away.
Choking back a sob Sarah cried out once more, her voice breaking on the apex of her desperation, “EZREAL!”
A single tear slipped down Soraka’s cheek.
“Damn it!” Sarah’s fist slammed into the pavement. Hot pain lanced through her hand, bleeding into the already burning sensation in her chest. “Please…not again.” she rasped. Cradling her injured hand against her chest, she rocked back and forth as the sobs consumed her.
Footsteps scuffed the earth and Syndra’s tall shadow fell over them.
“Is he…?” Syndra sounded breathless, her tone lifting at the last syllable.
Sarah stared at the ground, suddenly absorbed in the web of cracks in the footpath. “No,” she heard herself saying. Her voice sounded muffled, like she was speaking underwater. “He’s alive, barely. Soraka’s doing all she can, but those wounds...” Six, there were six cracks in the pavement. She took a shaky breath, “I’m not sure how much longer she can hold out.”
Six cracks rimmed with red.
A sigh then, “I see.”
Sarah finally lifted her head. Swiping her eyes furiously, she examined Syndra’s face. Other than a slight curl of her lip, the older girl’s expression was carefully blank, as if the passage of time had completely scrubbed her of emotion. Sarah’s blood boiled. Her fingers twitched. She wanted to shake Syndra, to yell at her. To slap that stone-cold face until she felt something like what Sarah was feeling.
Without thinking, her hand snapped around Syndra’s wrist. Syndra looked down in surprise. Frowning, she made to move away but Sarah held firm, crushing her in an iron grip. Syndra’s frown deepened.
_Why are you here, Syndra?_ Those words writhed at the end of Sarah’s tongue, itching to finally ask the question that had plagued her for so long.
But just as she opened her mouth, Ezreal coughed again, the feeble sound quickly lost to the breeze.
It was like being doused with a bucket of ice water. Sarah snapped back to reality, the awfulness of what she was about to do dawning on her. Shame heated her cheeks. Ezreal’s life was on the line. Now wasn’t the time to be fighting among themselves.
Syndra was still looking at her, eyebrows lifted in silent question. Sarah dropped her gaze, focusing instead on Ezreal’s limp form. “Ahri,” she breathed, “How is she coping?”
Syndra pulled herself from Sarah’s grip, massaging her wrist ruefully. Shaking her head, she pointed to the corner of the park. A lone figure sat beneath a set of dilapidated swings, the twisted metal frames casting her face in a web of shadows. The rusty old chains creaked as she swung slowly, her voluminous tails dragging in the dirt behind her.
Casting one more look at Syndra, Sarah hobbled over to Ahri, ignoring the screaming protest of her muscles.
The swing shifted almost imperceptibly as she neared.
“Do you remember them?” Ahri’s voice was a whisper in the dark.
Sarah collapsed onto the swing beside her. Panting heavily she said, “How could I not?” Blue, green, purple…they bloomed beneath her eyelids every time she closed her eyes.
“Sometimes I wonder what I could have done differently.” Ahri said, gaze locked on Ezreal. “Over time I’ve told myself it’s not my fault. That there is nothing I could’ve done to save them.”
“It’s true, Ahri. There’s no point blaming yourself for something out of your con—.”
“No, that’s where you’re wrong.” The ice in Ahri’s voice stopped Sarah cold. “Do you know how that makes me feel? That feeling of helplessness, of knowing my teammates are dying and thinking that there is nothing I can do to stop it? That somehow it’s ok because there is nothing I could have done? It makes me a coward, Sarah! A coward who hides behind excuses and lies to make up for my own failure!”
Sarah could only stare. Ahri’s cheeks were stained with pink, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Her usually impeccable hair was in shambles around her face, her uniform streaked with dirt and blood.
Slowly Ahri turned to face Sarah, her eyes as bright as she had ever seen them. “It is always someone’s fault, Sarah. And if we’re going to make it through this, we’re going to have to accept responsibility for everything that happens to us. There is no more room for error. Ezreal’s life depends on it.”
“That’s right, Ahri,” Syndra’s voice snaked out of the darkness. Sarah stiffened as she strode towards them, each step lined with purpose. “It’s time we learnt to recognise our faults, especially when it proves destructive to the team. We saw evidence of that today.” And though Syndra spoke to Ahri her eyes were pinned on Sarah.
Sarah bristled. “What are you saying?”
“What happened today to Ezreal was your fault, Sarah.” Syndra said, her voice cool and matter-of-fact.
Sarah felt the blood drain from her face.
Syndra merely plowed on, “You always charge in head-first, without regard to anyone but yourself. You never listen to us; you only care about what’s at the barrel-end of your gun. Your recklessness is what caused Ezreal to charge in after you. If he dies for it, just know that his death will rest on _your_ shoulders.”
The world was reeling beneath Sarah’s feet. “How-how could you say such a thing?” She turned to Ahri, desperately trying to catch her eye, to get her to pull Syndra back in line.
“She’s right, Sarah.”
The words hit her like a blow. Ahri, her best friend and leader for so many years, now refused to look at her. “Your mistakes nearly cost us a team member today. Perhaps its time you took a break, think some things through.”
“Ahri, please! How can you think that? Ahri? Ahri!” But all Sarah saw was the outline of Ahri’s back, receding further and further into the distance. And as her world collapsed around her, the cold light of the stars continued to shine mockingly bright overhead.
Syndra lay on the rooftop that night. Four shards rested in her palms, their soft _plink plink_ the only sound to be heard as she tossed them back and forth. The stars wheeled overhead in a glimmering arc, their expanse so large, so all-encompassing it made her head spin. She reached out, her fingertips impossibly far away. Yet in her minds eye she could see them.
_A cluster of stars, their fragile light vanishing within her grasp. _
_Her own dark power, so mighty that the universe trembled beneath it. Three black holes in her orbit, a devourer of stars that left nothing but destruction in her wake. _
_A bright light cleaved her vision. She was in a throne room. A Cosmic Queen gazed down upon her chained form, an arrow of pure starlight directed at her dark heart. _
_“For your crimes against the universe, I now curse you."_
The bow sang and Syndra snapped back into herself in a crash of blinding light.
She opened her eyes, the stars now winking overhead, safely out of reach.
Oh the irony. So clever, that Cosmic Queen. A devourer of worlds now charged with protecting the stars! She tipped her head back and laughed. Uncurling her fingers, she admired the four shattered star fragments in her palms. Her former Star Guardians, fated to shine so bright and beautifully. That is, until her memories had returned.
Syndra sighed. It had been so close with Ezreal today, if only the others hadn’t been watching so closely. Still, she allowed herself to smile. The seeds of discord had been sown. Their leader now stood alone, the rest of them in disarray. She pictured them one by one in her mind, each burning brighter than the stars in the sky.
Syndra crushed her palm into a fist, cutting off the _plinking_ with a violent crunch. It would be her pleasure to make them fall.