This was a land that had only just seen nature recover it’s full beauty from the Noxian invasion and Singed’s chemical bomardment of years past. It was a land that revered nature like no other. Hunt for food, but never for mere sport, and thank Nature for what she provided you. Everything from the trees to the soil to the creatures could speak to your spirit if only you took the time to listen closely enough. But now a swarm of otherworldly creatures thundered through the grasslands forging trails of death and wanton murder. They didn’t care about or respect the balanced cycle of life and death, nor were they interested in keeping the land habitable - much less beautiful - for future generations. These creatures were enemies of Nature, and so she would be okay with them being hunted down and destroyed as such.
Such were the thoughts of Irelia as she moved stealthily forward through the tall grass in preparation for more confrontation with the otherworldly creatures of the void. “Turn back! Retreat until you can get help,” the earth spoke to her.
“It’s ok,” she replied in the way Karma had taught her to commune with Nature. “I have friends with me this time… more than I’d ever imagined possible to gather in one spot.”
Stretched out in either direction, the Ionian skirmish line covered a 1.5 mi/2.4 km distance. Behind this a short distance followed a more closely grouped rank of shielded spears and other assortment of troops. They’d dealt with the scout forces sent out by the void better than most countries thanks largely to their painful lessons in guerrilla warfare vs the Noxians back when Irelia had been but a girl. That war had made her into a woman respected by those in her community and the elders had given her an honorary title as a defender of her village. This being the first major conflict since then, she didn’t quite know how she felt about being responsible for leading others now. Their lives in her hands left a cold knawing feel in her stomach; she didn’t want to let any of them down.
Grrrrwaaaaaah. Plwaah. Plwaah. Plwaah. The kog’mai skirmish line of the void army - while not yet visible to the mostly melee skirmishers of the Ionian force - gave their positions away as they used infra-red vision to spot and target the Ionians in the tall grass and begin lobbing off volleys to harass the enemy force. Thanks to being spread out, it was easier to dodge the fire for now as they closed the rest of the gap. Once closer, the kog’mai would undoubtedly switch to more bullet-like bursts of fire which had proven to be more difficult to avoid. Still Irelia wasn’t worried as she and most of the others in the skirmish line had martial skills or magic to help them close the gap.
“For Ionia,” she shouted - echoing the cry that could be heard all along the line as the formation of troops behind them rushed to close the gap. Breaking through the tall grass to a more open area of the plain, she saw the first of the enemy scout line. Surging and dashing with her blades from one to the next, she began dispatching enemies with ease. The kog’mai tried to track her with their bursts of acidic fire as she wove a dance of death among their ranks, but she was faster and more nimble than they could handle. This was almost too easy she thought to herself as her the troops behind her began to catch up and she could catch her breath while looking ahead for the bulk of the void army. It was only then she thought about how the kog’mai hadn’t targeted her after death but had all run past her as though escape were still meaningful after she’d already killed them. Oh no… they hadn’t been that afraid of her, they’d learned from their scouts and would now be charging the more densely packed shield formation a mere hundred meters behind her.
“Spread out,” Irelia turned to cry out. But it was too late. Even as she cried out a warning, potent chemicals from the cerebral region mixed with the potent stomach acid of the dead kog’mai as they charged to the wall of shields and spears. Horrifying explosions and screams could be heard as several of the first ranks either outright disintegrated from direct blasts or were fortunate enough to only be grazed and fall to the ground screaming as acid ate into their flesh. But there would be no rest here. The bulk of the void army was flying, charging, or lumbering at them. Thanks to some specialists Demacia had sent to help train them after the last conflict, the Ionians quickly moved to plug the three deep gaps that had been blown in their shield formation. Well… now the shield wall would only be 2 layers deep, but it would have to suffice. They hurried forwards at a quick march pace to begin closing the gap between themselves and the skirmish line. As they did so though, some sand down seemingly hewn at the thighs and the formation became an awkward tangle of shields, spears, and men all twisting about as they tried to untangle themselves from each other and stand up. Above the shouts of anger, howls of pain as spears accidentally found the backsides of allies as men tripped and fell, and the shouting of orders by captains came the horrifying howl of the xer’sai leaping from underground tunnels to swipe claws and fangs at men as they flew through the air only to disappear underground again.
Hidden in Shadows
“We must hurry,” spoke the Vader-y voice of his master. “I fear she will not survive this battle if I do not intervene. The Kinkou order is not interested in winning this battle, but only in using it to buy time for them to evacuate their secrets and treasures from Ionia. They know we don’t have enough soldiers to hold and they simply don’t care Kayn.”
“Let me put that to the test and I’ll prove I’m a worthy successor,” Kayn pleaded back.
“No,” Zed responded with just a bit of extra command in his voice. “I have a special task for you suited to your skills. You will infiltrate the Kinkou order boats and determine where they are going to rebuild. We have to expose their true nature. I will lead the rest of the order of shadows to the battlefield.”
Battle in Ionia
There couldn’t rightly be called a frontline anymore. They had stood a chance perhaps of holding off the more numerous void swarm thanks to their ranks of spears and shields that had received some Demacian training in recent years, but Dak’rui or rift heralds (yeah, who knew there was more than one of them) could simply lower their armored plating and charge. Spears either shattered or were deflected upwards off the plating on it’s upper back as it careened through the neat lines and left gaping holes. Gaping holes which kha’zai were quick to try to fill. The men’s training and Irelia’s leadership may have been enough to hold the lines if that were all, but it turned out that the void had burrowed shallow tunnels throughout the area too. As gaps were closed, men found themselves stepping onto collapsing tunnels (thanks to their denser formation than the skirmish line) just deep enough to make a shallow trench. And xer’sai popping up behind them from freshly-made exits to said tunnels.
In short, the Ionian force found themselves outnumbered and facing enemies from all directions. To make matters worse, key leaders of the Kinkou force forming what had been the center of the Ionian formation seem to have disappeared during the initial collision between the two armies. Without leadership, the soldiers and civilian volunteers here weren’t as quick to reorganize into proper formations and were being driven back. The casualty rate seemed higher too, although Irelia could only tell so much from her glimpses as she danced her way around the battlefield snipping a kha’zix’s wings here, blocking a leaping strike from a rek’sai there and shouting out orders to her men. It wasn’t going well. But at least if her force took the brunt of the enemy’s attack, they could probably muster a fighting retreat.
Well, that’s what she’d thought until the center broke and the Kinkou troops and civilian volunteers retreating in the center became a full blown rout. With none of them even attempting to maintain formation or guard each other’s backs as they ran full out, they became easy pickings. Worse though, it left the Vastayan force and Irelia’s force exposed. They were now outflanked on all sides with no room to retreat. As this dawned on her, she realized she’d let her dancing blades carry her a bit far from the chaotic mass of where the bulk of her remaining force was fighting desperately for it’s life. Continuing to dodge laser and artillery fire from kog’mai and vel’kai, she worked her way back to her troops. She gave orders to form walls with the carcasses of slain enemies and take cover from the vel’kai’s laser barrages in the shallow trenches. At least one good thing had come of the rek’sai’s tunneling. And with some quick thinking of her troops, the shells of the dak’rui gave shelter from the more ballistic shaped barrages of the kog’mai. It would buy them a bit of respite, but the shells wouldn’t hold forever. She looked around at the faces of the remaining soldiers and civilians who had answered Ionia’s call and trusted her to lead them. Grim-faced but determined, beleaguered, full of disbelief, downcast with reluctant acceptance that this would likely be their last day - such were the faces that looked at her. She did her best to project a combination of gravity for those lost, yet determination as though she were nearly done formulating a plan that would get the rest out alive - one she truthfully hadn’t even begun to come up with yet and which seemed less and less realistically possible as the hours ticked by towards darkness. Darkness… when the void would have all the advantages to hunt unseen except as a flash of purple light accompanied by an Ionian death.
Dusk was fast approaching as everyone sat down to eat what she supposed could be called supper. The void general - whomever he or she was - seemed to have realized what Irelia had concluded earlier about them having the advantage over the Ionians in the dark. As such, the mid to late afternoon had mostly consisted of sporadic volleys to remind the Ionians of their predicament and how hopelessly they were cut off from aid. Now that it was nearing dusk, the remaining rek’sai gathered with the other void troops in preparation for a final assault. No artillery fire in this one once the enemy closed in… it would be melee combat until the bitter end. It started as shadows began to fall and moonlight rose to offer some limited visibility to the remaining Ionians.
“Split off here,” ordered Zed.
Quickly and quietly, the bulk of his troops headed off to the west to create a breakout attempt for the pinned down Vastayan force. Zed led the remaining few towards Irelia’s forces. A flood of kha’zai, voidlings, and kog’mai were racing towards what appeared to be a makeshift barrier of carcasses. From what he’d counted as he spied them marching out for battle, and how many bodies he saw, a little more than one third of the Ionians remained. Reaching the edge of the makeshift barrier, Zed saw her locked in combat with a trio of enemies. Calling forth a shadow of himself, he slung a shuriken and as his shadow did the same. Both collided with their targets and Irelia was able to lower her spinning defensive barrier of blades and go on the offensive against her remaining foe.
Turning to see who had helped her, Irelia found no one there but shadows in the dark. Surveying the trench lines as best she could while waltzing around the battlefield with her blades to help first one flank, then another she did her best to keep a count on her men. Was it just her, or were her numbers dwindling more rapidly? No, there was definitely something new out there… she glimpsed it’s shadow every so often as a flicker of flame managed to illuminate some edge of it and then another of her troops would be gone. Whatever it was, it seemed to leave no trace behind and to kill quickly enough that none could even get off a scream. She tensed, readying herself for when she would become it’s target. Focusing deeper than perhaps she’d ever done before into her battle meditation and hearing the thoughts of the land as beings died and fought all around her, she felt a sense of the zig-zaggy approach of this shadow being and readied one of her blades. She’d feign ignorance and immobilize him with a flawless duet before finishing him off.
“Clever for one so young… she’s readied a trap for me and done an amazing job of tracking my relative location despite the dark,” thought Zed as he approached his last target of the night. “But not good enough for one so experienced as myself.” Swapping places with his shadow once again, he darted the remaining three paces to his target.
She sensed him reaching out to grab her shoulder. As he reached, she mentally slung her other blade out behind herself and pulled - calling forth an invisible string of magic between the two blades that would temporarily stun any enemy caught in its path. Only… even as she tightened the string, the man split apart into three shadows flying at her from different angles. His body could only be grounded at one of them, but it didn’t matter. He was too fast for her to guess which one and she’d guessed wrong anyways she realized as she felt herself lifted from behind. But rather than a mark of death as that technique were normally used for according to books she’d read, the shadows had only been used to dodge?... Every instant her view seemed to change. Not as though she were merely turning in circles, but as though she’d instantly teleported to another section of the battlefield - too fast for even her blade dancer’s mind to keep up with. Eventually it stopped.
“That’s the last one I can save,” Zed told his surviving followers as he returned to the established rally point to find them with many weary Vastayan troops, civilians, and soldiers that he and his group had been able to save from the slaughter wrapping up on the nearby plain. “We make for the great mountain south of here… and Summoner’s Rift. It’s the only place we might be able to make a stand. From what my spies and I have seen and heard, Demacia is already fallen and Noxus will not be far behind. The survivors are making for the Rift as we speak. If any of you object to heading there with us, you can join the rest of your comrades back there and die. You don’t have families to go home to or won’t soon enough if they don’t head where we’re going right now. Either they’ve already been taken by the Kinkou as slaves or they’ll soon be finished off by the void.”
“Why would we listen to you murdering demon,” shouted Irelia defiantly. “You’re an enemy of the Ionian people. An assassin. A murderer. Corrupted by darkness. You cut down the Kinkou’s leader to steal power for yourself.”
Tears?...? Falling from beneath his dark mask. A… sealed pouch bearing the Kinkou Order’s seal of greatest secrecy and inside an unsealed envelope. He held it out to her, not looking her way. She snatched it from his hand and read.
A list. The document listed… some known terrible assassins such as the notorious virtuoso Jhin. Under each assassin it listed targets including her mother?
The second document - sealed with a tamper proof seal that had not been touched until Irelia opened it - detailed plans and timeline for the capture and enslavement of much of the remaining Ionian people after she and her troops headed out for war.
“I’ll… I’ll kill them for this,” Irelia began to sputter. But as she stormed off towards the port the Kinkou leaders were preparing to sail from, a hand grabbed her by the shoulder and held her in place. “Let me go! You have no right to stop me and no idea how I’m feeling she argued. How could an unfeeling assassin filled with darkness possibly understand what I’m going through right now?”
“Believe me,” spoke a teary-eyed Zed, “I can imagine how you feel. I. Earlier this afternoon I just had to kill my best friends from the dojo. After I’d found out what they’d done to master back in the day… the mind control to turn him into their obedient little assassin I never thought I’d have to go through something so painful again. But I didn’t get strong enough fast enough. And Shen… my brother from the dojo suffered the same fate as his father - becoming a mind-controlled assassin for the true leaders of the Kinkou order. He was strong of mind though. Enough that in a moment of clarity during our battle, he recognized me and all the horrible things the order had made him do in secret when his mind was not his own. Do you know what it’s like to have your best friend beg you to kill him in order to save him? To actually do it because you know it’s too late to save him?,” Zed practically screamed in anguish of sorrow at this confession. “Believe me, I want to destroy them for what they’ve done and what they plan as much as anyone, but we must survive the void first. Value those around you whose lives also matter and seek their protection first. If we make the Rift, we stand a chance with everyone’s combined forces. And if we make our path obvious, we can decrease the number of void creatures that spread from the bulk of their Ionian invasion army thereby increasing the chances that our friends and family flee south like us without them running into any void creatures.”
The Vastayans having been rescued sooner than most of the others kept silent - their decision hidden from their faces yet clearly already made. The rest of the Ionians looked quietly to Irelia for what she would decide. Clearing her throat slightly she spoke, “We go south with the others. And we make our path clear while setting delaying traps where we can.”