Chapter 1: Prologue: The Priestess, The River, and a Twist of Fate
The air is thick with the scent of the seas; salt and sand and the mold growing beneath the barnacles suckled to the wood ships at dock. The cries of gulls resonate in the ears of any passerby who happened to be up at this hour, mixing with the smell of the Guardian’s Sea to create the most authentic taste of Bilgewater a stranger could possibly find.
Illaoi, of course, is no stranger. The docks are now her home, where she sits between the ocean lapping at the wood beneath her and the temple, faintly reflecting the moonlight. Not too long ago had she decided she wanted to set up residency here, ready to preach to the cove of criminals the way of Nagakabouros. Though none had specifically come to seek her aid, she was not deterred; after all, sometimes one just needed to find people to teach rather than wait for people to come to her.
A whispering fills her ears, a language few know and even fewer understand. The voice of Nagakabouros is with her again — destiny awaits. Illaoi stands, and follows her instincts down the walk and onto the thick sand of the dirty beach. She continues to trudge forward, eyes and ears piqued to keep a watch out for whatever Nagakabouros had directed her to find. The landscape is dark and the night is quiet, save for the distant chortling of pirates in the nearest pub. This is not what She is calling Illaoi to. So she continues on this path, like a freight train with no brakes, as the whispering gets louder in her head. Her grip on the Eye of God tightens as the hissing of the Kraken grows, until finally it stops. Illaoi halts, as though snared, and peers around the dark setting. She can’t see anything — nothing is visible in the dim of twilight. Desperate to find her God’s word, she lifts the Eye of God to illuminate her surroundings.
A flinch catches out of her periphery, and she whirls around.
A boy — dark, lanky, hair done in thick braids — sits against the wall of a dilapidated brick house (an old style for Bilgewater, Illaoi ponders quickly. Most have not been built this way in many decades) with what looks to be a small purse in his arms. His eyes are wild, bright, and an alien shade of blue. Illaoi does not hesitate as she walks over to him. He tenses in response. She stops, if only to keep from scaring him, and chuckles at his defense.
“What have you got there?” She asks, her voice booming and echoing off the old surroundings.
He glances between her and the bag, and then back to her. His eyes are like that of a cornered viper’s, cold and ready to strike if he has to run.
The fool, Illaoi can clearly overpower him in any fight.
“What’s it to you, lady?” He spits, clutching the bag closer to his body.
“You stole that, did you not?”
Those viper eyes widen and give Illaoi the only answer she needs. She laughs again, shouldering the Eye of God.
“My child, do not hide your desires. I am not going to turn you in, rather I will congratulate you on your pursuits.”
Those snakelike irises stare at the priestess with a bright confusion. It’s a very stark change to how he appeared before, and Illaoi only continues to chortle. He’s like a small animal to her, despite being only about a decade or so younger.
“Boy,” She starts, and takes a knee to put herself at the frightened one’s eye line. At this level, she can smell the faded scent of fresh water. “The Deity of Bilgewater is one of wide acceptance. As long as one is following his desires, he is following the way of Nagakabouros.”
The boy blinks owlishly.
“Who?” He asks.
“You have never heard of Nagakabouros?” She isn’t taken aback, and rather her tone is like she’s tutoring a student. “The Bearded Lady? The Mother Below?”
With each prompting, he only shakes his head.
“We don’t really believe in the gods where I come from.” He admits, almost shamefully. It makes Illaoi raise an eyebrow. There were so few places in Runeterra that didn’t believe in a deity, those being Zaun and Piltover with their focuses on science rather than divinity. But looking at this boy — dark-skinned, hair braided, with a clothing style of dark greens, reds, and golds — she knows there is no possibility he is from there.
“Where are you from, then?”
“The Serpentine River.” The name is toxic on the boy’s tongue.
“Why do you say it so viciously?”
“...You wouldn’t want to hear it. It’s a really long story.”
“Life is short, stories are long, what difference does it make?”
Her immediate response makes the boy tilt his head, and Illaoi is reminded once again of how intelligent and sharp his eyes look.
“I mean… if you’re sure…”
“Child, I am never not sure. Go on.”
She lowers herself to the ground with a soft thud, allowing the cool grass poking through the uneven cobblestone prickle her hands. The Eye of God rests beside her, its warm gold catching the boy’s attention before he sighs and runs a hand over the purse in his hands. Before he can start, Illaoi interrupts him.
“What is your name?” She inquires.
“Tobias.” The boy replies. “Tobias Foxtrot.”
“Illaoi. Go on, Tobias.”
And he does; Tobias begins to weave a tale before Illaoi, the pain from his story evident in those crisp eyes.
He tells Illaoi, first, about his home on the river; he gets a little distracted in his nostalgia as he describes the rich foliage of the trees, the thick grass and the eerily clear water that he used to wade into and catch crawdads in. He tells her of his mother, father, sister, and grandmother, and the food his grandmother loved to cook. He stops himself as his voice cracks at the memory of his grandmother, eliciting a pang of sympathy from Illaoi.
“But, on the River, we have this… rule.” Tobias’ hands clutch the handbag now, as though the very memory of this rule is painful. “According to the code of the river spirits, any sort of violence is unlawful and unjustified.” His voice is stiff, like he’s been told to read these off of notecards. “And in the acts of violence against a man of the River or anyone else, the persecutor is banished for his crimes.”
He pauses, and looks to Illaoi as if to ask for permission to continue. A very timid child, he is. She nods at him.
“Well… the Riverfolk are peddlers, right? We— uh… They. They go to the city-states they can reach through the River and trade goods. They also host a lot of gambling events and that’s where a lot of the main income comes from. But they cheat. A lot. ‘Cos, see, we got this magic that’s basically illusions, it’s actually really cool, but they use it to make sure they get their money. And sometimes people come back angry and try to take their gold back. And a bunch of them came back at once, y’know, in a big group. I tried to help, but I couldn’t do anything to stop ‘em, so I grabbed one of their clubs and started swingin’. Dunno what else I could’ve done, but it worked. A lot of my family could have died that day.”
Tobias was fueled with a fire when he told this story; as though he desperately wanted Illaoi to believe him. And then he deflates, that fire dying down almost immediately.
“But… I broke the code.” Those lanky legs pull up closer to his chest, and like a dejected animal he looks away. “And they banished me. I had to follow the river for weeks to get here. I only stole this so I could afford to eat something.”
Illaoi feels a sense of frustration at his sudden weak will. Why would he not look her in the eye and claim that what he did was right? Why could he not see that, unlike his cowardly people, he had followed the correct path? With a snort, Illaoi shakes her head. This catches Tobias’ attention again.
“Why do you act as though you are in the wrong?” Her voice is now stern.
“B-..Because I was?”
“Hah!” Illaoi barks a laugh. “Tell me, what is wrong about defending your home and the family you love?”
“Tell me, Tobias Foxtrot. What is so wrong with wanting to keep the people you care about safe?” Illaoi persists. She is watching him with intensity, hard eyes the color of the green seas meeting the blues of a world unknown.
“...That’s not what the problem was.” Tobias grunts. Illaoi sucks her teeth. Stubborn teenager.
“The problem was that your destiny did not lie in their constraints, Tobias. The problem was not with you, but them.” She supplies. “Nagakabouros’ law is to follow your destiny, to get what you desire at any cost. In the eyes of Her, and in the eyes of Her priestess,” Illaoi directs a hand to herself. “You did the correct thing.”
Tobias is frozen by her words, as though processing them takes all of his energy. Illaoi reaches for him, her large hand finding his shoulder, and a shudder runs through him. Those eyes glow, and then they shine. Illaoi’s heart is warmed as Tobias quickly reaches up to wipe his face before the tears of relief can fall, and he clears his throat awkwardly.
“No one’s ever told me that before.” He says, trying to hide his emotions with a thick chuckle. “I never thought anyone really would.”
“It’s my duty as the priestess to spread the word and beliefs of Nagakabouros, my child.” That strong hand squeezes Tobias’ shoulder, and she feels the boy open up like a moonflower. His eyes alight, a small smile marks his face, and Illaoi has to say this is the first time he’s appeared young to her.
“Can you tell me more about Her?” He asks. “Your God, I mean. Like, are there any perimeters for those rules? Can you follow whatever you want?”
Illaoi laughs again, leaning closer to Tobias to share her mirth. Tobias’ own smile grows in her chuckle.
“In due time, Tobias Foxtrot. I have a proposition for you.” She says, voice full of warmth.
“What is it?” He replies, eagerly. Just one simple instance of validation, and Tobias has turned from a venomous and snakelike street rat to an excited child.
Illaoi stands, raising her mighty form over Tobias, casting a shadow over him and letting the moon’s glow reflect off of the God’s Eye. The hand on Tobias’ shoulder is turned, palm-up, offered for Tobias to take.
“Become a disciple of Nagakabouros.” She declares. “It is clear She has plans for you, if you have been brought here by your fate.”
Tobias’ eyes could not be wider as he stares, dumbfounded, at Illaoi.
“You- you’re asking me to-”
“Child, did you not hear? I asked you to be my disciple, my acolyte!” Illaoi cries. She gestures with her hand for him to take it, and he does — his hand is slender, long, a fair contrast to Illaoi’s large and strong ones. “I will do what your parents did not. I will teach you the ways of freedom and fulfillment through Nagakabouros.”
And those intelligent eyes glow — literally, they glow, and Illaoi must chalk it up to the magic he mentioned the Riverfolk possessing — at the proposition, and he simply faintly whispers a ‘yes’. Pleased by her recruitment, Illaoi hooks an arm around Tobias’ shoulders and pulls him to her side, her crooked smile focused out at the horizon over the Guardian’s Sea.
“Now, Tobias.” She says, breathing in that fresh sea-salt air. “Now, you can begin your life anew. First thing’s first, we will set you up with residency at the Temple. Then we can begin with your training in the ways of Nagakabouros, so that you may one day preach Her teachings as well.”
She begins a long stride in the direction of the Temple, which can be just barely seen over the wharf houses alongside the boardwalks. It is an eerie greenish gold in the night, but it beckons to her like home. Tobias is silent as he is half-dragged along by her, barely able to keep up with her pace and stride. But under her arm, his mind wanders; back to his first memories on the River, how they became special, intrinsic to his person and his life.
“Speak up, Tobias, what is it?”
“You said I can start a new life, right?”
Illaoi slows her roll, and turns a furrowed brow to the boy.
“I did that, yes.”
“Can I start all the way over?” He asks, sounding feeble in his question. “Like… new name, new me, new family?”
“Of course. I would like you to consider me and the rest of those working in the temple your family, but remaking yourself is your journey alone. Start with a name.”
He pauses, and Illaoi continues to walk — slower, this time. He thinks for a long time as they stroll down the beach, and Tobias reels in his mind. What could he call himself? Something new, something… symbolic of who he has become and who he will be, but also who he won’t let himself turn into. He worries his lip.
“I think I have one.” He chirps, remembering a turn of phrase Illaoi had reminded him of. “It’s a little silly, but-”
“Do not invalidate your desires, child. Tell me of this name, and I will give you my opinion, but I will not tell you not to choose it.”
“Twisted Fate.” The name feels right, even coming off of his tongue. It brings a smile to his face. And it does not go unnoticed in Illaoi’s eyes.
“It suits you, I believe. Defying your prescribed destiny to follow your own path… Poetic.” She hums, and picks up the pace once again.
Twisted Fate almost has to run to keep up with her, which is daunting. He’s not used to having to run alongside people, since the mud of the Serpentine River was so sticky it was only safer to walk. But as he’s jogging, he reminds himself to leave the River behind, as it has left him. The salty wind blows his braids back and fill his lungs with the sweet scent of the ocean. He always hated the smell of fresh water, anyway. The temple shimmers, shines in the moonlight and the very sight of it fills the boy with glee. A laugh floats out of him, though breathless from the running and his terrible lung capacity. Illaoi joins him in the laughter, and he glances up at her and then back to the temple.
Chapter 2: Acolytes, Pirates, and a Cabin Boy
The temple is never a quiet place to be. At all times of the day, and even most times at night, Nagakabouros acolytes are bustling around, roughhousing, guffawing at jokes and speaking in the special native tongue taught to all those following their God. With this energy, there is no hope for any tranquility or ‘peace’. Not that anyone in Bilgewater, let alone the Temple, is much for peace. The only time the disciples ever seemed to tame themselves was when their head Priestess strut by, confidence shown in her long stride and her high-held head.
Often in her wake was a young man, perhaps 22 or 23 years old, with eyes that glowed an eerie sea-foam green. Hardly was he ever not at her side as she made her rounds in the temple — the two seemed attached at the hip until the man left to go about his own business for the day. Emotionally, however, the two seemed nigh inseparable. The High Priestess teased the young man endlessly, but he always had a retort, quick as a bullet, to match her. She always laughed it off and slammed a hand into the man’s back, and eventually he stopped getting winded whenever she did. So few had gotten so close to Illaoi before. In fact many of the other disciples didn’t think it was possible. They regarded their oracle with such a high standard that they had a hard time approaching her.
Twisted Fate liked it that way. Illaoi had created a whole new world for him, and he enjoyed the exclusivity of it all. The long hours of just talking, learning about the Mother Below, joking around; it all felt so warm and familial. Illaoi and the other disciples had taken the place of the home that abandoned him, and the very thought made him swell with joy. He did have a place to go, he did belong! The Temple is his home, and nothing could ruin that.
Except maybe a pirate king.
The day had been going pleasantly enough — Illaoi sitting in the main room of the Temple while Twisted Fate sat in its records hall, going through the history of the Nagakabouros Acolytes for the second time. A fascinating history, really, and it only helped that he really enjoyed—
The main hall doors open with a crack and a boom, and instinctively Twisted Fate raises himself up off of the floor and begins to half-run towards the noise. If the Temple was under attack, there wouldn’t really be a problem. A lot of the disciples tended to come from rough Bilgewater backgrounds and knew how to keep themselves up in a fight. But Twisted Fate didn’t know how to fight, aside from the cards he’s readying in his hands at the moment. He turns the bowed corners of the Temple, mind racing to formulate a plan; if he strikes from behind, he might be quick enough to at least lend a helping hand to his fellow students. He turns down the emerald halls into the main hall with an arm poised to throw, but slows when the scene comes into view.
“Illaoi, my girl.” Calls a man about Illaoi’s age. He’s rough around the edges, with a full beard and complete seafaring garb. He’s followed by four other men, all of whom are burly and intimidating looking upon first glance. Twisted Fate halts, cautiously, as Illaoi meets the man with a bear-armed hug.
“Hello, love.” She says, and the words send a hard tingle up Twisted Fate’s spine. Who was this man? Why was he so close to Illaoi? He felt childish, suspicious of its mother’s significant other, but he couldn’t help it. Slowly he continues forward, curious to see this unfold.
“How’ve you been, my pearl?” The man asks. Twisted Fate wrinkles his nose a little — they weren’t that kind of couple, were they? Illaoi never seemed the romantic type, and that only prickles him more. Maybe he wasn’t as close as he thought.
“I’ve been alright,” Illaoi says. As she pulls out of the embrace, her hands find the man’s shoulders. She’s not gentle with him, but there is a tenderness between them. Fate continues to observe, quietly, but his feet do not stop moving forward. The two talk in low voices with their wide smiles until Twisted Fate enters Illaoi’s periphery, and she turns to him with an open gesture.
“You should meet my newest disciple.” She says, and at her beckon Twisted Fate moves forward and rolls his shoulders back proudly. “This is Twisted Fate, a promising child of our God.”
“Twisted Fate?” The man says, his smile turning crooked. “What sort of a name is that?”
“Mine.” Fate doesn’t try to hide his cold tone, but the pirate laughs and slaps a hand to Twisted Fate’s shoulder. He grits his teeth and barely represses a hiss of pain. He can see how he would get along with Illaoi.
“You’re right, Illaoi, he is a promisin’ child o’th’ Bearded Lady.” He outstretches a hand to Twisted Fate, and at this distance he can smell the sea on the pirate. Sea salt and oranges. A strange combination. Fate takes his hand with a short bow of his head.
“Th’ name is Gangplank, but tha’s Captain t’you, hear me?”
Twisted Fate is not a fan of this Gangplank. It is told in the distinct silence he gives him. Gangplank laughs, but it is cold and short this time. The two share two long beats of serrated quiet before Gangplank breaks it by turning pointedly to Illaoi.
“I’ve got lots’a tales t’tell you. A lot happened in the long period we been apart.” He says. A hand finds hers, and Illaoi’s grin only increases in coyness.
Gangplank leads her out of the temple, followed by his motley crew. Twisted Fate, baffled by his maternal figure’s relationship to this man, trails behind the group. His brow is knit in disgust. How could a man like that be with Illaoi? Her standards, clearly, did not match his own. He scoffs and leans against the temple doors, watching the duo begin a long walk to the beach. The crew is left standing on the docks to chat, and Twisted Fate sucks his teeth at the sight. Not only did this “captain” have the gall to romance the seemingly untouchable Truth Bearer, but he had to leave his leftovers on their doorstep. He crosses his arms, letting the cool marble of the support columns soothe him. He watches these men, and they are loud, aggressive. Not unlike the other disciples, but they seemed… listless in this roughhousing. While he had to admire how strong they looked, he decided they were inadequate simply because they acted like their captain; entitled.
The mass of meatheads then guffaws, circled around a particular man in the crowd. Twisted Fate couldn’t see who the center of attention was, but he immediately pitied him. It couldn’t be easy to be squished in the middle of a group of strong, burly men—
… Well, when worded that way, Twisted Fate supposed it wasn’t that bad of a situation.
The pirate shoves past the teasing men to freedom, his own voice carrying across the yard.
“Alright, alright!” He snaps. “You’ve had your fun, go on ‘bout your business! I got my own shit to do!”
The pirates continue to cackle and taunt for a moment. Most of it seems to focus on the fact that he was shorter than the rest — not by much, but enough. They do, eventually, back off and stride back onto the ship in the harbor. A magnificent piece of craftsmanship, that ship, but it’s not what Twisted Fate is focused on right now.
His eyes follow the stray pirate, and cannot seem to leave.
The straggler watches the others trudge onto the ship, and his arms swing by his side awkwardly. And then they cross over his chest, like Fate’s. And then they fall. Cross. Fall. Cross. Fall.
He doesn’t know what to do with himself, and neither does Twisted Fate. He thought the bodies of the men earlier were impressive, but watching this one’s biceps flex and relax with his actions was almost hypnotic. The pirate finds himself helpless, completely, and so he looks both ways down the beach. Almost like he feels he’s being watched.
Twisted Fate begins to walk forward, his steps careful. He lets his hands relax as he walks. The pirate’s hair is dark, short, but messy. He is bearded, but not overly so like Gangplank.
He continues to move until he is directly behind the man, and his height is now very much apparent — the pirate is a head shorter than him.
But Gods, he’s broad. Built strong, unlike Twisted Fate himself.
“You seem a little lost.”
The pirate turns, surprised. Did he not hear Fate approach? His eyes are a dark, murky blue, like the very sea that surrounds them. His eyebrows are thick and seem to be in a permanent scowl, and his jaw is as thick as his body. The two stare at each other for a moment, and Fate’s statement seems to apply to both of them.
“...Huh?” The man gawks, and it makes Twisted Fate snicker. “What?”
“I said you seemed lost.” He repeats.
“Well, what?” His tone is sharp, unpleasant, but it does not deter Fate. It only fuels him. A fighting spirit.
“Are you lost?”
“No, I’m not lost, my boat’s right here.”
“Yeah, well-” It catches the pirate off-guard, and Fate feels a sense of triumph. “You get my point.”
“What the hell’re you here for anyway?”
“Well, you’re standing on my property.”
“Cheeky, ain’t you.”
“I’d like to think of it as witty, myself.”
Another pause, lengthy, but the pirate punctuates it with a nod of acknowledgement. Fate grins, extending a hand towards him.
“As long as your… boss is here, might as well get friendly.” He says. “The name’s Twisted Fate.”
“Twisted Fate?” The man clarifies, in a tone all-too familiar of his captain’s. “...Interesting. Let me know your real name sometime.”
Though Fate twinges with that offer, he is comforted when the man’s hand hits his own and shakes it firmly.
“Malcolm Graves.” He says. “But you can just call me Graves.”
“Graves?” Fate parrots, with a tilt of his head. “Interesting.”
“Ha-ha. Cheeky and funny.”
“Again, I’m just witty. Funny, though, I’ll admit to.”
Graves sighs, but it’s a lighthearted one. He seems friendly enough, a good addition to his physical features.
Fate decides that maybe the coming and going of the Pirate King was not a completely negative event, after all.
And it turns out, he’s right.
Graves visits as often as Gangplank does, and while Illaoi’s disappearances with him tend to irk Fate to no end, seeing Graves walk off the ship with his wide-set stance brings him a thrill. He’d never met someone like him before — sure, he was exactly like the rest of the pirates and acolytes, but there were niche differences about him. Like he was not haughty like the Nakagabouros acolytes, nor was he nearly as dull to engage with as the swashbuckling lot. He was funny, charismatic. He listened to Fate, and Fate listened to him. Hearing Malcolm (the name Fate preferred to use when addressing Graves, for the most part) describe his high-flying adventures on the seas, battling monsters, fighting other pirates, surviving and brawling and singing shanties. All things Fate had heard about, thought about, dreamed of as he saw sailors and fishermen head out off the docks for the day’s work. The two occasionally went around and looted, bargained, betted, and gambled away the lives and savings of many a foolish Bilgewater resident. An amazing feeling that Fate learned to accept was the rush of a hoaxed gamble and the jingle of stolen serpents in his pockets.
Once or twice, Graves offers to take Fate seabound, invites him to come aboard. But Fate admits that he can’t swim, and gets seasick, and despises Gangplank. It makes Graves laugh, and he concedes to the weakness of his friend. And when he receives an indignant punch to the shoulder, he laughs harder — claims Fate hits like a sissy. It earns him an eye roll and a mention of how magic is better than brute force, anyway.
It’s the most fun Fate has had with a single person since he met Illaoi, and even then it was… a different sort of fun. From Illaoi, he wanted to learn, he wanted to grow under her watch and advice. She was basically a second mother to him, and he would be eternally grateful for that. But she didn’t feel like a future. She was present, she was around, but she was not ahead. She belonged in Bilgewater, so Bilgewater is where she would stay. But every time Graves asks Fate to join him on the Guardian’s Sea, the offer becomes more and more tempting. Graves was a look into more, what else is out there.
The problem was deciphering which made his heart soar into his throat and his stomach tie itself into shaking, unsteady knots; the promise of what Graves could bring, or Graves himself?
He was a little afraid to figure that out, so he simply didn’t.
He didn’t have to. Their relationship was simple, didn’t need words — they were a nice break from the annoyance and aggravation the two dealt with on a daily basis. And while Graves would only visit once a week or two, every meeting felt just as special as the other.
So when Graves approached Fate outside of the temple, the forlorn look weakening his typical scowl struck him as curious; why did he look so down? With a short laugh, he half-walks, half-jogs to Graves’ side.
“Hey, hotshot,” He chirps. “What’s got you so bummed? Finally gettin’ seasick?”
“Naw, it’s…” Graves stops, and his eyes search the cobblestone ground for an answer. Fate’s smile falters a little as he waits. “I’ve got bad news.”
“Well… We arrived not too long ago, yeah?”
“How could I not, Gangplank is a loud bastard, you always know where he is at all times.” Fate jokes, but Graves remains… well… grave.
“They’re not together anymore.” He says. “Illaoi and the captain. She just told him to leave.”
Fate ponders this news coldly — good. Of course they weren’t together anymore. Illaoi deserves better than some man who looked like a piece of chewed-up saltwater taffy. He almost opens his mouth to remark this, but Graves speaks first.
“When he got back on the ship he told us he wasn’t gonna come anywhere near the port anytime soon and that all trades and barters happen with the Red Caps or the Hooks.”
Fate is still as his body runs cold.
“You aren’t gonna visit anymore.” He says, and it would be a question if Fate weren’t a smarter man.
Graves’ lips press into a small line, and Fate muses to himself that he looks much better when he’s smiling. And he hopes for a millisecond Graves will say no.
Fate lets out a soft sigh that he must have been holding in. He looks away from Graves, out to the Dead Pool, and the fear begins to settle in. Unlike the cold shock, it is hot, sharp, searing. He didn’t realize Graves was a pro to having Gangplank around — he was too busy griping about his existence and far too busy enjoying Graves’ company to really link the two. And now he was going away. Fate feels sick.
“Any chance of you comin’ back?” He asks, able to keep his voice level.
Graves is not so lucky — he very obviously is upset and the way he puffs out his chest and rolls his shoulders to look tough does not hide it very well.
“Probably not.” He says. It sounds off-handed, and though Fate knows it’s fake, it still drives that hot iron of fear farther into his gullet. “There’s ways for the captain to get what he needs and rule the harbor without coming to this side of Bilgewater.”
Fate’s shoulders slack. It’s true — Gangplank’s hold on the port town was as iron as his hard stare.
“Steal a rowboat for me?” He attempts, and succeeds, at a joke.
“I still need a job, T.F.”
Twisted Fate grins, and it’s a slight relief in the voided pain, and Graves allows a grim smile back.
“I’ll…” Graves starts, but trails off. A noticeable red adds to Graves’ face, and he clenches his jaw. Fate raises an eyebrow.
Graves mumbles a reply.
“What was that?”
“Miss you.” He repeats, looking ashamed that his manly token has just been revoked at the admission of true emotion. And while it fills Fate with a bittersweet, blue-colored feeling, he reaches forward and runs a hand through Graves’ hair. It makes him sigh and relax just a little, giving into his melancholy.
“I know.” Fate says, and like Graves, his voice gives away his sadness. “I’ll miss you too, Malcolm.”
He was gone by the turn of the hour. Gangplank had run his men hard to pack up and seemingly evacuate the island, barking orders to the Red Cap and Hook leaders he was leaving behind in his place. Upset, bitter, angry, Fate had climbed back into the temple and situated himself in his quarters. Even when not near the round window facing the sea, he could hear Gangplank shouting abusively at his crew. His hands curl into fists as he tries so hard to focus on his reading, but all he can think about is how this foolish old man was essentially taking away the most important person in his life. It was selfish of him, wasn’t it? To demand his maternal figure’s attention for so long, and when he rightfully is stripped of it, he takes away someone so special to Fate? While it was childish, Fate couldn’t help but resent the petty king of pirates. How dare he, how dare he do this?
He would wish to never see that fucking man again, if his presence did not bode Graves’ as well.
So he sits in his room, surrounded by jade and emerald, channeling his magic into individual cards, and missing his cabin boy.
Chapter 3: A Rainstorm, A Rumor, and A Reunion
an update for you guys finally! I'm sorry this took so long, I recently found my muse for this story again and just had to continue. Are you ready for some INNOCENT & YOUNG LOVE because that's what this chapter is it's disgusting.
NOTE: The vast majority of the ideas for Graves' crew came from my girlfriend, who runs ask-cutsquad.tumblr.com. I've specifically asked her permission to use them in the story because they're just so gosh darned cute. Please check out the blog if you enjoy my stuff, since she's been an inspiration to me from the start!
The morning sun is nowhere to be seen, instead covered by thick clouds and dense rain. The sky seemed to have descended upon the ports, bringing not only heavy downpours but a fog thick enough to slice with a knife. The result of the past few days, surely — after a long time with no showers, it’d rained yesterday, much to the grievance of merchants porting in town and the glee of the Disciples of Buhru. It had been nice for Twisted Fate to watch his fellow votaries sing and dance and laugh their merry to Nagakabouros. A common practice during rain, as The Bearded Lady was sending them power and strength in her rawest form when storms brewed above Bilgewater. Standing atop one of the temple’s many balconies, Fate had observes a new sort of game starting between some of the lower ranked acolytes. They would try to see who was closest to predicting a thunder clap after lightning struck. The closer you were, the more in tune with Mother Below you were said to be. They don’t seem to mind (or notice, even) that the heavy rain had soaked into their clothes and hair, darkening their green clothes and almost blending them into the mold-covered cobblestones beneath their feet. Fate watches them with a distant smile on his face, safely dry just under the slim balcony overcast. He was told to stay out of the water for a while, left the new tattoo etched into his skin be faded before its time. This one matched Illaoi’s; a green mark under his left eye and stopping at his ear, tallied twice in bold strokes. It was a mark of pride, tasteful but bright. It contrasted to the typical portraits of tentacles adorning his arms and back, being clean and angular rather than loose and curved. He would hate to have it ruined already.
But oh, how he loved the rain — a symbol of Her strength and presence in their lives, encouraging Her people to show strength and determination no matter a situation. But it was peaceful, too. It calmed him. In a world that ran on tension and aggression, Fate lived for moments where he could be soothed. He lets out a long sigh. Perfect.
There was a ship he did not recognize at the docks today — it had come in late last night. And while Fate was always happy to have new, naive, foolish, or plain drunk patrons to gamble and trick, this ship carried a vague feeling of apprehension. Its black sails flapped in the wind like any other, just as its boards creaked like any other. And, like any other, the Disciples claim that the crew has holed up in the local tavern and had taken residence at the Inn. Fate’s long fingers run idly over the cards in his pockets. His magic had changed as he’d accepted Nagakabouros into his life. Taken a different meaning and power.
He was not afraid to use this newfound strength against violent intruders, if that is what it came to.
Fate peels himself away from open air and back towards the shelf-lined interiors of his private quarters. A pretty and small room that he’d spent the last decade decorating to suit his comforts, and yet it still felt… odd. Something he couldn’t put his finger on. He’d lived with Illaoi and her people for almost fifteen years, and he felt out of place in his own room. Was it too green? As petty as it seemed, it was the closest thing to a reason Fate could find. He chews on his tongue in thought, but he is dragged away from the strange discomfort by the sound of the guffawing acolytes outside in the rain. He turns once back to look out the window, and spots the black flag fluttering gracefully in the distance. The cards hum against his palm.
He might have to investigate the newcomer sailors, in case his apprehension had a basis.
The rumors were true. The Pub & Inn bustles with activity, and Twisted Fate feels a nervous tug in his stomach as he stares at the thin wooden door. The pub’s warm light streams through the cracks between the door and its frame, and music punctuated by talking, shouting, and movement seems to emanate from the very foundation of the building. The rain continues to pound outside, making the hominess of the saloon only intensify. While this wasn’t uncommon, what was unfamiliar was the younger man sitting on the pub’s porch, sewing what seemed to be patches into several coats and shirts. Twisted Fate slowly approaches, his heavy jewelry and the beads in his braids clinking in his ears despite the sounds coming from the interior. His uneasiness over the new pirates tuned him into every small detail — he could count how many footsteps happened in a second, how many times the boy on the porch pulled the needle and thread through the thick fabric, how many times he had to brush his long, dark hair out of his face. Fate stops just before the door, watching the boy quietly.
He stops his delicate work and looks up, meeting Fate with a very warm, innocent pair of brown eyes. Fate’s almost surprised; was this kid really a pirate? He seemed so gentle, so serene. He seemed more like an artisan than a swashbuckler. Those soft eyes stare at him and then widen, the glint of recognition in their mocha reflection. He knew Fate, but did not say anything. They simply stood there and stared. Feeling slightly chagrined by his puppy dog eyes, Fate offers a slow and graceful nod before opening the pub doors.
Only to immediately be met with a blast of sound and light. If someone more sensitive were to walk in without warning, they would surely be overwhelmed. The raw blast to the senses only invigorated Fate, the violent noise and pure hedonism in the room seemed to fill him to the brim. This is what Nagakabouros preached; the following of one’s own desire with no fear or hesitation. These people were on a path to enlightenment. An easy grin spreads over Fate’s face as the chaos rolls over his body like the rain outside. He squeezes the water out of his vest briefly out of courtesy — not that anyone in here would care if he trailed the entire Guardian Sea in through the door — before stepping past the threshold.
A group of people sat near the back, surrounded by emptied glasses trailed with beer froth. They chant to the man sitting with his back to the wall who has tipped a large beer mug over his face and seemed to be consuming large amounts of alcohol at a rapid pace. Surrounding him closest are a man who seemed too big for his own chair — hell, too big for the bar. The man was so broad he looked like he belonged in the stables with the steer and draft horses. — and a girl who looked almost identical to the boy outside. They must be the new pirates in town, Fate concludes, as the man center finishes the fistfull of booze. He slams the mug down on the table, wipes his face and thick beard free of dribble, and raises a thick arm to the air to celebrate downing another beer.
The crowd cheers. Or, they look like they’re cheering.
To Fate, the group has gone quiet. The pub is silent. The world seems to have turned off its sound and everything began running in slow motion. Fate’s fingers have gone numb and his throat is dry. Compelled by an unseen force, he walks forward to the group. He feels like he’s wading through molasses, slow and sticky but blindingly sweet. The crowd takes no notice of him as he approaches.
It couldn’t be true, could it? This— it couldn’t be, Fate is mistaken. His eyes might have fooled him. The smog of smoke and the smell of strong liquor must have tricked him. There was no way this could be happening. Fate had said goodbye so long ago, and maybe he’s changed so much by now that even if it were possible, he wouldn’t recognize him. There’s no way, even as Fate is close enough to the group to smell the cigar hanging from his teeth, he isn’t allowed to believe it. Even as those sea green eyes meet his and every sense floods back to him in a wave so strong it nearly bowls him over. Even as the cigar hangs loose because the jaw clenching around it has slackened.
Even as Graves says his name, he can’t believe it.
Fate breathes in because somewhere along the way he had forgotten to do so.
“Malcolm,” he says, and the assuredness in his tone scares him. And that is all he says.
Graves stands, equally awed by their discovery. The group around them has gone deathly quiet, but the rest of the world around continues to move. Not to Fate’s notice. Every organ in his body has turned to feather down, his head feeling more like the back of a swan than an actual functioning piece of him.
Graves looked good. So good. He’d always been broad and strong, but now he was built like a industrial-grade canon. He was still short, that hadn’t changed, but the age and maturity that grew in the form of frown lines, crow’s feet, and a fuller beard filled out his once fairly blank face. His hands were worn and calloused, one could tell even from a distance, and he stood with a sturdy gate and a determined glower. But his thick eyebrows were pulled back in honest shock, cigar long forgotten. Fate wanted to look at his eyes, but they would not meet him. They were examining, taking in Fate as though starving. Graves was never good at hiding his thoughts and actions, and Fate can tell he is drinking in Fate’s appearance. It makes him feel almost squeamish, but it takes the form of butterflies and excitement, as though his featherdown organs had been kicked up in a flurry in his body.
“It’s you,” Graves says finally, and Gods, did Fate miss his voice. “Fuckin’ hell, it’s actually you.”
Fate grins, and he can feel the crookedness of it under his burning face.
“Did you expect Prince Lightshield?” he jibes. It comes out smoother than how he feels. “I thought y’all and th’rest of Gangplank’s crew couldn’t come back here.”
Graves chuckles lightly, still dazed, and the duo at his sides stands beside him suspiciously. He waves them back and they seem to relax, but their eyes on Fate make him feel defensive. He holds his tongue for now.
“‘M not in Gangplank’s crew,” Graves boasts rolling his shoulders back — don’t stare, Fate, Gods. — in pride. “Got my own group now.”
Graves’ near-childlike bragging amused Fate, told by the way his smile had begun to hurt his cheeks. He hadn’t changed that much, then. Not a bit more mature. Fate liked it that way. Even after so long, so little had changed.
“You look-... different too,” Graves says, interrupting Fate’s reverie. Fate’s smile turns a little as he continues. “More tattoos. Got your own little legion of kraken goons now?”
“Not quite,” Fate laughs. “Still holding my same rank, just… loosened up a little ‘bout a colored needle bein’ put in my skin.”
“You didn’t need to loosen up, you were already as slippery and smooth as a—”
Graves is abruptly cut off by the girl to his left clearing her throat. The big guy seemed unfazed by this, but both Fate and Graves looked to her in surprise. They’d forgotten the rest of Graves’ crew had been standing there. Fate’s smile falls as he realizes the two next to them were staring at him.
“Mother Below, Kolt. Relax. We’re just catchin’ up.” Graves rolls his eyes. He gestures to the girl, whose eyes were a lot less gentle and welcoming than the boy’s outside.
“This’s Kolt. She’s first mate aboard the Trifecta.” The way Graves described her sounded less like her position was awarded and was more like she griped and refused to let anyone else navigate because we were all ‘blind fools who couldn’t find their ways outta a one-way road. Fate grins easily at her, but it’s not reciprocated immediately.
“So you’re Tobias?” Kolt asks, raising on dark eyebrow at him. Fate grits his teeth at the use of his birth name — a right, he thought, had been reserved for Graves. “We’ve heard lots ‘bout you .”
Her tone makes Fate want to ask what ‘lots’ meant, but Graves hastily moved on. Curious.
“‘N this is The Brick,” he gestures to the large blonde man to his right. “He’s our navigator and tracker.”Fate pauses. The Brick looks more Demacian than Bilgewater, as he’s paler than anyone present and is more built like a soldier than a pirate. But Fate smiles at him, and The Brick seems to appreciate it and grins faintly back. At least Graves had collected a crew of mostly polite people.
Graves didn’t begin naming the rest of the crew surrounding him, as they seemed to have lost interest in their reunion fairly early on. But most notably there was a younger girl (possibly younger than Kolt) with an enormous bird perched on her chair. A chill runs through Fate — he makes a mental note to stay away from that thing. It looked hungry.
For a while, Graves returns to drinking, inviting Fate to sit by him and join in. While Graves chugs, Fate introduces himself around. This included scary bird lady, a corsair named Quinn. The bird is Valor and Valor already does not like him, which was fine with Fate. He learns the tailor outside is Wallach, Kolt’s brother. A diverse group of people, with different backgrounds and accents and attitudes. But all of them had a two things in common; they wanted money, freedom, or an adventure; and they knew Fate as ‘Tobias’. A squirming emotion grew in the base of Fate’s stomach. What had Graves said? Had he described him warmly? Or humorously? Aggressively? Or just in passing?
He’s jostled from his wonder as Graves elbows him roughly in the side (Gods, what did pirates eat? Raw eagle eggs and nails?) and laughs at Fate wheezes slightly.
“You alright?” Graves asks, the smell of beer on his breath making Fate almost woozy. Graves laughs. “Y’look lost. You’ve barely had anythin’ to drink. Never took you for a lightweight.”
“I’m not,” Fate hums. He turns to Graves, and something about his gaze triggers a small change in Graves. Barely noticeable. Another mental note is made and Fate feels a surge of desire to be alone with his thoughts.
“I’m goin’ out for a breath of fresh air,” Fate lies, standing from his seat. “Too many damn cigars and loud pirates. Surely you understand.”
Graves rolls his eyes at Fate’s mocking tone, but he stands as well. Fate’s feathery stomach is kicked again as he steps forward. Fate walks towards the door, and Graves follows.
“I’ll come with, just in case Your Royal Highness catches the vapors and faints.” Graves teases. Fate offers a sarcastic ‘hardy-har-har’ as they head towards the exit. In his periphery, he almost swears he sees Kolt lean towards Quinn and whispering something to her as they leave. He thinks nothing of it.
The fresh air sweeps in as Graves opens the door with a joking flourish, as Fate steps outside with a comedic regality of a prince stepping down off of a ship.
“After you, princess.” Graves says.
“Why thank you, squire. ” Fate answers.
Wallach looks up from his work, having moved on from one coat to another. He sits up straight when Graves exits, and his smile is shyer than one Fate has ever seen before.
“Captain,” he says, handing a bundle to Graves. “Fixed it up for you.”
“Wallach, why ain’t you inside enjoyin’ yourself?” Graves jibes, taking the finished coat from Wallach’s outstretched hand. “Tobias, this is Wallach.”
“So I’ve heard,” Tobias says. “Nice to meet you. Sorry I didn’t say much when I walked in.”
“Oh, that’s alright.” Wallach says, turning back to the fabric in his hands. “Sorry I stared.”
“‘M goin’ for a walk, Wallach. If the crew decides to leave, don’t wait up.” Graves’ tone has little authority to it with how it stumbles over booze, but Wallach nods and returns to his concentration. Graves begins down the steps of the pub with Fate in toe. The coat is slung over Graves’ shoulders as they walk around the side of the pub. An intimate space to hide from the rain. Fate’s body heats up at just the thought of that. To disperse his internal tension, he speaks.
“You’ve got quite a following in there.” he says.
“Yeah, they’re alright.” is Graves’ nonchalant answer. “Don’t ask for too much, easy to pay. Get my clothes fixed for free.”
“Almost makes me wish I’d come aboard all those years ago.”
Graves chuckles. “Yeah, ain’t quite what you’d like, princess.”
“Oh, no,” Fate sighs, putting a hand to his forehead. “I- think I’m comin’ down with something!”
He clutches at his chest with his free hand and leans against Graves as though suddenly faint. He groans in a falsetto as Graves shouts in protest. A strong hand is put against the small of his back to try and push Fate off, to which Fate responds by becoming more of a dead weight.
“I’ve gotten those vapors you were talkin’ about!” Fate cries, going as far as to adopt an effeminate accent not unlike the belles of southern Demacia who visited Bilgewater with their merchant husbands. “Oh, catch me, Malcolm, lest I fall to the ground and lay in the dirt!”
“You fuckin’--” Graves growls, barely biting back a laugh. “Get off!”
“I can’t! I’m going to- I’m going to faint!” Fate’s improvisation is broken by a short bark of laughter as Graves manages to shove him off.
Despite his aggression, Graves is laughing too. They lean against the wall of the pub, letting their laughter fade into light titters before it becomes silence.
They stand there for what feels like millennia to Fate, just absorbing the feeling of their solidarity. The rain patters at their feet and above their heads on the pub’s awning like the metronome to some unheard melody, and the quiet was perfect. So, so perfect.
“I missed you,” Fate admits, and the warmth in his voice embarrasses him. Of course he missed Graves, they were friends. But there was no shaking that another deeper, scarier emotion lay underneath that statement. He can only hope Graves didn’t pick up on it through his haze.
In that bout of silence, Graves had pulled out and lit a cigar. If he did recognize the adoration in Fate’s voice, he made no mention of it. He exhales a cloud of stinky smog out and nods slowly.
“Missed you too. Kinda sucks to not have someone to bitch about the old captain with.” Graves says, and for a moment Fate ignores the words and just soaks up the mood of it all. He genuinely missed Fate.
He holds back a giddy smile and tilts his head to the side to address Graves again.
“Whatever happened with you ‘n him, anyway? Thought he was your boss for life or somethin’. Not that I know how pirates work.”
Graves grimaces as though the question is a thorn in the side. Fate doesn’t retract his statement, but there is an understanding in the air that lets Graves know he doesn’t need to answer if he doesn’t want to. Luckily, he complies and begins to explain.
“Fired me,” he starts, taking a long drag from his cigar. The smoke that curls out as he talks is almost hypnotic. “Spoke out too many times, got booted for havin’ a sassy mouth and bein’ too hard to break. So I got dropped off at the next port in Noxus. Made a few enemies there but I was able to round up Kolt and Wallach near the Targonian border. Raised a little money, stole a lot more, and bought that there ship.”
Graves points his half-consumed cigar towards the black-sailed boat in the distance. She still rocked and bobbed like any other, and Fate wishes he could verbally apologize to a damn heap of wood and fabric. He suspected she brought misfortune and danger, but she brought home the only friend he’d ever had. He turns back as Graves speaks again.
“Found The Brick in Demacia, and Quinn was hidin’ out just outside the Freljord. The rest of the crew is hired from ‘round those parts. Was lucky to find’em, otherwise the twins and I would’a been stuck and poor as shit.”
Fate finds himself examining Graves once again, and there is a certain tiredness to him now that he sits so close in the dark. His eyes tell tales of endless nights and navigating a huge and recognizable ship, of avoiding Noxian enemies and trying to repay debts and countless fights for honor. Graves has a story.
Fate wonders if he’s a part of it.
“So, what about you?” Graves asks. “What’s your life been like since we left?”
“As you can imagine it’s been uneventful without a shitter like you in my life.”
“I certainly thought so.” Fate quips, but recalls all that’s gone on. With a sickening realization, he finds it to be truly uneventful. Graves has been the most exciting thing to happen to him since he joined the acolytes. He was free to do what he liked, and what he liked was to read and learn and gamble. He didn’t fight, no one fought him, and he was hardly ever caught when he did steal. He briefly bites his lip in thought. He had nothing to report.
“So nothin’ really happened?” Graves prompts.
Fate shrugs. “Not really, I suppose.”
“Guess you should’a climbed aboard with us.”
Graves says it so quietly, Fate nearly misses it. But he does hear it. His heart swells and he has to clench his jaw in order to swallow his cheeky grin.
“You know I can’t swim,” Fate mumbles. “Dunno what you would’ve done if I’d fell overboard.”
“Still didn’t learn to swim?” Graves snorts.
“Nope,” he says, allowing a gentle smile. “Didn’t need to.”
“You didn’t need t’learn how to swim but you live in Bilgewater which is, y’know, an island.”
“There are boats.”
“But you just said that was your excuse for not comin’ aboard the Dead Pool.”
“D’you wanna learn how?”
“How to swim?” Fate snorts. “Hell no. I hate the water.”
There is a shift in the conversation that Fate can immediately sense, but cannot place. Graves sighs a little and goes quiet, focusing on chewing the end of his cigar.
Fate curses himself — what did he say?
He quickly decides it’s better to change the topic as soon as possible, so he stretches his back and lifts off the wall. The rain taps and runs down one arm as he stands just outside of the awning reach.
“Walk me home?”
Graves glances back at Fate, then to the rain as though pondering if the offer was serious and that Fate was actually ready to walk home in the downpour. He raises his boot to put out the light of his cigar and flicks the butt away with a final exhale of smoke. And he nods.
“Alright, lead the way.”
The walk home was pleasantly easy and plain. Graves told stories about how Kolt had old love letters stashed away in a box under her bunk; how Quinn refuses to say where she’s from but Valor suspiciously adores Demacian-brand bird food; how Wallach taught Brick to knit and before they knew it the whole crew had hats and mittens for the winter. Fate did not share his own stories because he didn’t think they were exciting or as attention-grabbing as Graves’. Then again, maybe he was simply desensitized to how his brethren acted because he was taught that anything someone does is within their right to do so. Nevertheless, he was content in just listening to Graves prattle on.
All too soon, they reached the steps to the Buhru Temple. The rain had stopped somewhere along their walk, letting the two men be somewhat dry. Fate feels the chill of the post-storm wash over him, and the slippery temple seems to glow emerald in the faint moonlight.
But it’s not home. The thought hits Fate quickly and sharply, like a bite. He forces it away, chalks it up to invasive thoughts and the excitement of seeing Malcolm again.
“This it?” Graves asks, cutting through the small panic. “Ain’t changed a bit, has it?”
“Not at all,” Fate mumbles, trying to swallow his dissatisfaction. “Not one bit.”
Graves crosses his arms awkwardly, and Fate meets his eyes for several long moments.
“Well, ah…” Graves starts, taking a step back. “See y’round.”
“You don’t leave for a while, do you?” Fate asks.
“No,” Graves says, almost hastily. “We’re here for a while before we start on another find. Regrouping, getting supplies, all’at.”
“Good,” Fate says. “Thanks for the walk in the rain.”
“Yeah, glad you liked it. Have fun catchin’ pneumonia, ‘cause I sure as hell won’t.”
Fate laughs faintly and begins his trek up the large steps.
An exciting night after many, many years of the same chaotic routine. All because he was anxious about a new set of pirates coming in. Turns out that survivor’s instinct ended up serving him well, despite what his brethren had said. Take that, Mikael!
Fate is almost through the enormous front doors when Graves calls out again. He stops and turns curiously.
“... Can I see you again?” he asks, and something about his body language seems fidgety and nervous. “Since it’s been so long.”
Another kick to the fluttery insides.
Fate smiles and waves.
“Come by whenever you like. I’ll be up.”
And with a matching wave from Graves, Fate closes the door to the temple.
After being outside and in the warm tavern, the green walls of stone and tile feel cold. Empty.
Enough for Fate to swear his heartbeat could be heard from everywhere in the temple as it echoed in tune with his footsteps.