Something skitters away as she steps into the seemingly deserted area, an abandoned lower section of the city. Soft blue light bathes the ground before her as she turns her head, scanning this way and that, determining the most efficient route to take through this zone. From the map she’d been given, this place appears to be seemingly nothing, a forgettable waste of space.
She turns left, makes her way down an alleyway. The light tap of her feet is the only sound that she can sense. A labyrinth of twisting paths, yet not once does she falter - her system has already generated a path for her to follow that will guarantee she covers it all. Ashe pays no heed to the piles of refuse at her feet, picks her way through it and simply moves on, guided by what little light reaches to the bowels of this place, and her internal GPS.
From time to time her optical sensors pick up on something out of the corner of her eyes.
A heap of scrapped metal, vaguely draconian in shape. An old model, she concludes, after noting the faded triangular symbol etched into its side, even if it looks nothing like the newer, current models of this day and age. She moves on, stepping over it and slipping into yet another narrow pathway, it leads her to another series of branching paths.
A crushed component. It’s difficult to make out what it used to be, but Ashe assumes it was once a robotic part. The dent in it doesn't look like it was from the scrapping machine, however, the shape of it tells her it’s been stepped on. Hard. What could be down here that could flatten such a sturdy piece, she wonders, but soon forgets it, it is not her primary objective to think of such things.
Another pile of junk metal, this one’s form has been better preserved, compared to the ones she’s seen before. It actually looks like a Project model, at least. This time there's clearly parts missing from the body, the metal shell ripped open and hollowed by… what? Time has not yet begun to decay this one.
Onward she goes, a turn here, another loop back there. How long she has been down here is unclear. She halts in her tracks.
A wall is here where there should not be one.
Perhaps an error occurred. Ashe checks the map again, but it shows nothing. No matter. There are still alternative paths to follow from here. She backtracks, emerges from the dead-end, only for her sensors to lock onto something new, something that hadn’t been there before.
Footprints. Faint, but still visible to her augmented eyes.
Initiating heat scanning…
The tracks are still warm.
She is not alone.
Then she senses it. It’s barely audible until she switches her decibel tracker on, an oddly rhythmic thudding. Yet no animals or wild creatures reside here to create such noises; according to the map data, this area is supposed to be devoid of life.
1… 2… 3…
1.. 2.. 3..
1. 2. 3.
Wind acceleration increased, high-frequency noise detected, something is behind her and swinging something right towards her-
Ashe drops and tumbles under it, kicking up dust as she comes back up from her roll, gleaming arrow nocked and ready. Yet even before she can draw it back, the edge of his blade has found its way to her throat, hovering in place just millimeters above the steel. Her sensors identify him as a being of Project, the plasma blade he carries glows icy blue in the dim light.
“Not another step.”
Her eyes flick towards him, but otherwise, she is still. “Who are you?” She whispers, the sound echoing in the empty space.
“That’s none of your business.”
Ashe shakes her head, just imperceptibly. “I’m not here for a fight, whoever you are.”
The blade doesn’t budge. “I know you were sent by them. For what purpose? To eradicate what little remains of us?” She can feel him shaking, the tip of his blade trembles against her neck.
“There are more of you.” A statement, not a question.
“Answer the question,” he presses, this time Ashe can hear the urgency in his tone.
“I fled from them. This was the only place where they wouldn’t chase me.” A simple lie, but it was all she had to offer. Revealing her true identity as an agent of Project would be counterproductive now.
He eyes her disbelievingly. For a moment, Ashe is uncertain whether her ruse had worked, bracing herself in the event that he becomes hostile.
Her gaze switches to examine this newcomer instead. Battered, with chunks of metal missing, exposing live wires beneath. The familiar triangular logo on his chest, however, is what gives it away. Strange. Were older models not scrapped? How had one managed to stay active outside of Project’s laboratories, without a proper power source? Just beside her, Tryndamere bristles at the interruption, though he doesn’t so much as budge an inch, sword still at the ready.
Ashe can feel this stranger’s eyes scrutinizing her, weighing her words and their truth. She meets his stare evenly, unflinching despite the danger hovering just at her neck, and finally he puffs out a sigh.
“We won’t turn away strangers. If you ran away from Project, there must’ve been a good reason. You are welcome to join us back at the camp. This way.” Without further ado he turns his back on her and trudges off, not bothering to look over his shoulder to check if she will follow. After a moment’s hesitation Tryndamere reluctantly slides his sword away and backs up several paces, though Ashe can feel his eyes boring holes into her back as she follows the other dragon’s lead.
Whatever this place is, it is not marked on her map. That much she is sure of.
Lifeless eyes meet her at every corner, heads turn to stare in envy as she passes. She is a being of the modern times, a representation of what they could have been if Project hadn’t decided they were useless. Some of them are older models, others she cannot even begin to identify, a hodgepodge mixture of assorted robotic parts. Every one of them bears the mark of Project. What have those eyes of theirs seen to render them so empty?
So many. Each time they pass through this alleyway or that alcove, there are more of them, eyes all trained on their little entourage. Whoever this dragon is, it’s clear he is the one in charge of things here. A part of her programming is insisting that she turn back, to return to her primary investigative objective at once, the other half urges her to continue, tells her that there is something worth finding out here.
Another part of her soon regrets that sentiment.
They pass by countless dragons, all broken in some shape or form, some so gruesomely disfigured by the scrapping machine that it pains Ashe to even lay eyes on them. Even so, the sight is burned into her memory, forever seared into her mind. Some cannot even raise their heads to look at her, instead they lie paralyzed on the ground, twitching erratically. Others are completely lifeless, torn apart by roving scavengers eons ago, little more than skeletons and wires. These she has to take care not to trip on, their claws and limbs continuing to quiver and reach out blindly, grasping at things she cannot see.
They come in all shapes and sizes, from the better-maintained ones to those that are little more than hollow, lifeless metal shells, to those whose voiceboxes are glitched beyond repair and can barely speak, can only cry for mercy. Their bodies pile up high enough to form veritable mountains of nothing but metallic corpses, broken components strewn every which way and making the going treacherous. Ashe forces herself to stride past them, to ignore them, but their pitiful voices haunt her.
“You get used to it, after a time.”
The unexpected voice makes her start, Ashe glances back at the warrior behind her, whose expression has darkened significantly. “Used to-?”
They come to a halt in what she assumes is the center of the junkyard. As far as she can see, piles of scattered trash and refuse meet the eye, a stark contrast to the neat and spotless environment of Project’s laboratories.
She tries not to look too closely at those heaps. Not with their eyes drilling holes into her skull.
Yet somehow these survivors have made do with their surroundings. Sheets of corrugated metal line the makeshift huts, even the walls are built from whatever they can piece together. Flimsy at best, but Ashe supposes it’s the best they can do, given what they have. Standing in the midst of the slums, the stranger turns to her with an embarrassed shrug, but his expression is welcoming all the same.
A brief exploration of the area leaves her to conclude that the slums are always expanding. Each time a new batch of models gets scrapped, more often than not, this is where they end up.
Provided their bodies are not picked clean of components, that is.
“This is all we have, after being abandoned by Project.” The leader rumbles, sweeping an arm out to gesture at the wasteland they stand in. Beside her, Tryndamere shoots her a stony glare, still clearly doubtful of her intentions, but Ashe pays him no heed. This is a world she has never even imagined, a world she had not thought possible outside of Project’s walls, and yet here she is. It is dreary, despairingly bleak, but these dragons have made it their home nevertheless.
She wonders if they have lost loved ones here, their corpses buried in the trash piles along with so many others.
Here, they welcome her as a sister. One of their kind, they call her, reaching out to touch her almost reverently, run their claws across the burnished metal of her skin. It is Ashe’s first taste of companionship, of comradery, it lights a pleasant warmth in her chest. This, perhaps, she could get used to. She loses herself in their stories, the tales they tell of themselves and of those who came before them. Beware of Project, they warn, beware their endless ambitions and the means they take to realise those dreams. They tell her that she is lucky to have escaped their grasp before being scrapped like most of them.
“Did you know that Tryndamere was scrapped just after your line of models was created?”
The voice behind her makes Ashe start, she turns to face the kindly expression of the dragon who’d brought her here. His name, she had discovered, was simply X. “I had a proper name once, but that was when I served Project. Now they just call me X, and so can you,” he’d explained.
“How did you even -”
A low, rumbling chuckle emanates from him, the sound reverberates oddly from his metallic chest. “Anyone can see that Tryndamere is the only one who hasn’t welcomed you to our family. He has good reason not to, though.” For a moment, he shoots a glance over at said warrior - Ashe shivers at the chilly stare directed her way - before shrugging his shoulders. What he’d said, however, has piqued her interest.
“You said he was scrapped just after...I was made?”
“He sees you as Project’s replacement for his line. Because your series of models was better, more efficient. It’s not your fault,” X pauses to lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “but that’s just how he sees you - one of the many reasons why he was scrapped and left to die.”
Once you outlive your usefulness to Project, it’s the end of the line for you. All whom she comes across repeat the same grim warning, it rings in her ears like a mantra. Not once has Ashe deigned to truly ponder such troubling thoughts, but now it’s impossible to rid her mind of the voices that whisper to her, taunt her with the promise of being broken apart like so much trash.
After all, every creation of Project grows outdated at some point.
Ashe is no exception.
Is it too late to turn her back on Project? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But she knows that is she stays, sooner or later they will send someone else to take her place and investigate this area. If they were to find this hidden community, there is no doubt that they would be eradicated. After the trust and the friendship they have placed into her hands… who is she to betray them? No, Ashe decides, it is better to leave them now, let them live their lives in peace and go back to Project. They have suffered enough.
It pains her to see the resigned look in their eyes, the atrocities they have had to endure. Ashe steels herself, forces herself to act natural. When night falls, she is one with the shadows, slips away from their little camp to follow her own tracks back to the laboratory. It is for their own good, she repeats to herself, it is best that they live on in peace than be erased from existence.
Do I truly do this for them, or is it because I can’t bear to see them live like this?
It is a question Ashe does not care to contemplate.
It feels like almost an eternity ago that she emerged from these very doors, despite it having been less than 24 hours. Not very much time, compared to the lifespan of an artificially engineered dragon like herself, but it is enough to drastically alter her perspective on many things, including Project itself. Just outside the doors, Ashe pauses, an odd unwillingness to return tugs at her chest, must she truly go back?
She scans herself in at the doors anyway, palm trembling even as she presses it to the sensor to be identified. A last hasty glance back is all she can afford to indulge in before the doors slide open with a hiss, and she enters.
Behind her, hidden in the shadows, a pair of icy blue eyes watches the doors slide closed.
The chill in the air is bitingly familiar, Ashe exhales as she steps inside. White fluorescent lights greet her at every turn, the air carries faint traces of bitter anesthetic, covered up by sickly sweet air freshener. Her steps echo in the empty corridors as she makes her way to the central atrium, where she is halted by Project scientists, wrinkling their noses at the stench that clings to her from the junkyard.
“Mission report, Project Ashe?”
“Negative search findings. I have thoroughly investigated the area, but found no source of suspicious behavior.”
She keeps her voice as carefully neutral as possible, with zero traces of inflection in her words. They must not suspect the truth. Her claws flex slightly, watching as the scientists huddle together for a brief consultation, whispering to each other in hushed tones, every so often their eyes would flicker back to her and then away.
She does not like the look in their eyes.
“Describe the area’s layout for me, then.” It is the head scientist who speaks this time, having pulled up a digital copy of the map for reference, barely even bothering to look at Ashe. Here at last is a question she can safely answer, and Ashe proceeds to describe the zone - utterly rundown, deserted, a cryptic maze of branching pathways. The map had served her well in guiding her through it, but there had been that one section… had the map lied?
When she brings up the way the map had led her into an unexpected dead end, their discussions halt, all of them bearing the same expressions of bewilderment. Impossible, one of them mutters, the data was perfect.
“Are you absolutely sure there was nothing to be found?” Urgency is reflected in his voice, Ashe instinctively knows she’s made a mistake in even pointing out the fallacy. She should have kept it quiet. Now there’s a chance they will send other units to probe the area, and when those units return with news that Ashe did not deliver…
“It seems that it was a failure.” Her head lifts slightly at that, cocking to the side in puzzlement. Had it been a test of some sorts? Had they known all along just what - or who - resided in the depths of those wastes?
Searing agony bursts through her, a wildfire that rages rampant through her veins and threatens to burn her alive from the inside out. Ashe hits the floor with a crashing thud, but the impact is nowhere even near the worst of it. The raw power surging through her circuits completely fries them, her systems begin to lock down one after another in rapid succession even as she scrambles to regain control. Try as she might to thrash, to fight her way free of the crippling paralysis, her limbs will not respond to her mind’s call, they lie useless and twitching on the ground.
Her eyes are the only things that remain working, she can only watch in pure horror as they load her onto a cart, which trundles forward, zipping around corners, turning down hallways, until it comes to a screeching halt in front of a seemingly innocuous door. At most she can flex a claw or two, but that’s about it. With a beep, the door slides open, she is unceremoniously dumped onto the stone cold floor. A hiss escapes her clenched jaw as she struggles to even push herself upright, but every wire, every appendage is locked into place, she's trapped in her own metallic body and there's nothing she can do about it.. Every part of her screams that this is a place she should never be in, that she must escape before it's too late - but too late for what?
Still frozen in place, unable to even crane her head upwards to scan her surroundings, it is the robotic announcement ringing through the room that tells her just why she's been brought here.
“Subject failure. Commencing scrapping.”
The warning sirens wail their mournful cry, there is a metallic click, and something rips right through her very core and tears out what should be inside of her, except that she's staring at her own sparking circuits and her own components strewn across the spotless floor, can no longer even think through the gut-wrenching agony that assaults her senses and sets off countless internal alarms. The impact throws her back against the wall like a rag doll, dislodges something inside her and suddenly she's blind, dangling above a yawning abyss so deep that it threatens to swallow her whole -
And then finally, finally, she falls.
Pain. It is the first thing that assaults her senses, the first thing that jumpstarts her system like a jolt of electricity into her circuits. Dizzy, disoriented, Ashe reaches out blindly for something, anything she can grasp, her claws close around something cool and solid. Her world is a maelstrom of swirling colours, of strange twisting shapes and shadows, but eventually they coalesce into a familiar face hovering just above her.
“Hey, you. You're finally awake.”
Trying to sit up earns her a disapproving snort, she can hardly move an inch. Tryndamere peers at her closely, before nodding to himself and reaching down to reattach something just out of her sight - from the shape of the claw, it’s her leg. It takes what feels like eternity to get her jaw to work, struggling to form words, questions, but the moment she manages a gurgling croak she is silenced by Tryndamere.
“I’m trying to repair you. The scrapping machine made a wreck out of you, but I’ve managed to salvage most of your parts. Just stay still.”
It is oddly surreal, being conscious while someone tinkers with her mangled body, she can feel every click and every adjustment that he makes. Bit by bit her components are placed back in their proper positions, fitting together as if they’d never been separated. How long it takes, she does not know, time has no meaning when one is limited to staring at the ceiling. All she knows is that she is somewhere safe, and so Ashe contents herself with lying still, conserving what little energy she has left.
Her thoughts are sluggish, it takes too long, far too long for her to piece together that somehow, Tryndamere has saved her life, that Project had decided she was useless to them and had disposed of her like so much garbage.
Just like they did to him…
As if she had spoken the words aloud, she catches him studying her with an expression of… is that pity she sees in those eyes of his? Or is it empathy? He turns away as soon as their gazes meet, clearing his throat and screwing on the last bolt on her ankle. Ashe flexes it, pleased to note that she has control of her limbs again, pushes herself to her feet to test out the condition of her repaired body. For something - or someone - that had been ripped open, she’s surprisingly intact, she supposes that’s Tryndamere’s work.
Already Tryndamere is ahead of her, waiting in the doorway as if expecting her to follow. After a few moments of simply testing out her motor functions, Ashe strides over to him, countless questions on her lips, but only one emerges. “Why did you… save me?”
Silence. They continue walking like that, with no other sound than their footsteps echoing around them, the occasional metallic crunch of stepping on some discarded part. It is only when she stumbles for the third time, nearly goes sprawling face first into a heap of trash that Tryndamere faces her properly, helping her upright with a frown etched across his features. Something’s not quite right with her, Ashe knows that now, she’d been so glad to have her capacities back that she’d overlooked the loss of something far more important than just a limb or two. Her limbs may be attached, but coordinating their movements feels more exhausting and far more sluggish than it used to be.
“I’ve repaired everyone who’s come to us in pieces. You’re no different. Besides,” he pauses, his expression contorting slightly with some form of emotion unknown to Ashe, “X wanted to see you before he left.”
This time she does not get an answer.
Once again Ashe finds herself weaving her way through the depths of the maze, yet this time she has Tryndamere to guide her unsteady feet. Her optics are reacting strangely, she notes, at times they focus and defocus at the most irregular of timings, but for now she pays it no heed. The other dragons call out to her in welcome, some offer condolences for her broken state, it makes her chest warm for some reason that she can’t quite place. Yet despite the friendly reception, the air hangs heavy over them with a sense of despair, of grief and anguish so bitter she can almost taste it. Something is wrong here, but what?
Tryndamere leads her past the ramshackle huts into a slightly-better-constructed shack, though the lack of light forces her to squint as she steps inside. It’s only after her vision adjusts to the darkness that she sees him.
X utters a rusty chuckle, his breath wheezes in his mechanical lungs. Almost like a death-rattle, she realises, and then shoves the thought out of her mind - surely that can’t be it, and yet even so…
“I see they’ve abandoned you too, Ashe.”
“Yes.” The whisper is barely audible, a mere puff of air from her lips.
His eyes flicker over her battered body, linger for a moment on the empty hollow that resides in her chest cavity, the thing she knows she’s been missing but can’t put a name to. “This old one doesn’t have much time left. My parts… I’ve instructed the rest to take me apart and use my components if they need it. You…”
Before Ashe can even think to open her mouth Tryndamere is speaking for her, still not meeting her gaze. “She’s missing her actuator, X, I couldn’t salvage it. She’s not going to make it either.” What is that she can hear, wavering in his voice? Frustration? Fury? Sorrow? She cannot read him, it seems as if each passing moment renders her mind duller with every second.
“Then take mine.”
Both their heads snap up at X’s suggestion - Tryndamere instantly objects to the decision, begging him not to give it up, but X waves a dismissive claw at him. It’s so ludicrous that it takes her long moments to even register the possibility, by then X has already placed a hand over his own chest, right over where his core resides.
“Hush. The rest of my parts will go to the others, you may as well make good use of what remains of me.” His lips curve into a faint grin. “At least I’ll be of some use to you young ones even after I’ve stopped working, no, no, don’t argue with me, I’ve made up my mind.” Without a further word X reaches within his chest cavity to pull out the actuator from his body, a shudder courses through him as it slides out with a soft click, but he presses it into her claws all the same. Beside her, a miserable noise slips from Tryndamere, a sob, perhaps a cry of protest, but Ashe’s still staring dumbfounded at the pulsing actuator that rests in her palm - does she have the right to take such a thing?
“Use it, Ashe. Watch over Tryndamere for me.” X’s wavering croak stirs her from her stunned reverie, there are so many things left she has to ask, so many conversations yet to be had, yet this is where it ends? His eyes fix on her, Ashe can barely get the words out of her choked throat before the light in them dims, flickers faintly for just a heartbeat before going out completely. Tryndamere is at his side in an instant, kneeling beside the limp metallic shell, scrambling to shake him awake, but it’s useless when they both know nothing will bring those eyes back to life.
With trembling hands, Ashe presses the actuator to the hollow in her chest, for a horrible moment she fears it’s incompatible with her model type, but it slides in easily and locks in place. Her mind is flooded with a sudden, refreshing clarity, her body no longer seems as unresponsive to her call. This was what she’d been missing, what would keep her alive and running for many years to come, but at what cost?
It’s too much. Ashe stumbles backwards, out of the shack until she’s running, ignoring the startled cries of those she leaves in her wake - need to get away, need to get out of here, need to breathe…!
Once or twice she trips, crashes into the dirt in a tangle of scrabbling arms and legs, but Ashe doesn’t stop until she’s miles away, surrounded in nothing but the silence she craves. Eventually she’s forced to halt, her shaking legs give out beneath her as she collapses in a shivering heap, deep within the bowels of the snaking labyrinth. One hand gingerly reaches to touch the pulsating actuator now situated in her chest, is it really alright for her to be trusted with such a valuable gift?
“...make good use of what remains of me.”
What did he expect her to do? Prowl the junkyard like a predator, protect its inhabitants like what Tryndamere did? Wander the ends of this earth as a fugitive from Project, whose reach extended across the globe? For once, Ashe was left without any form of mission objective, no clear goal in sight - the lack of direction left her blind, fumbling, desperate for something to set her sights on. All her life she had always been programmed with some form of purpose in mind, whether it was to scout out assigned areas, to hunt down targets, or even performing the occasional self-maintenance. Yet now that Project had thrown her aside like this…
“I see they’ve abandoned you too, Ashe.”
That wouldn’t even begin to cover the depths of it. She’d grown up in the sterile, mechanical environment of Project’s laboratories, had seen the outside world through enhanced senses and filters, but to live in it? That was a different tale entirely.
Yet now that she’d seen for herself the brutal aftereffects of Project’s experiments, the cruelty with which they treated her kind… could she really claim to miss being back in the labs? Perhaps it was better that they had thrown her away, she reflected, otherwise she wouldn’t have ever escaped their grasp. It was the sense of security that she yearned for, the purpose with which she lived for that she needed, not Project.
Maybe she’s rushing into things. She has no home to return to, save the junkyard, and it isn’t as if she has anywhere else to go, anything else urgent to be doing. With a heavy sigh, Ashe curls up against the wall, forcing her wandering thoughts to be still. Somewhere in the back of her mind she’s aware that Tryndamere might come looking for her, but it hardly seems important in light of everything that’s happened so far. If X deemed her worthy of this artificial heart of hers, deemed her worthy of watching over such an accomplished warrior such as Tryndamere… surely there had to be a reason for it. Her lips curl upwards at the corners ever so slightly.
It can’t hurt to stay, she reasons. Just for a little while, until she can figure out what to do.
Life here has its own charms.
Scavenging through metallic remains of scrapped machines and waste isn’t what one would normally call a leisure activity, but she’s come to understand that it’s a natural part of life around these parts. Creatures like themselves require constant maintenance, their components inevitably break down from wear and tear. It’s macabre, if you think of those lifeless robots being alive once, but Ashe has gotten used to it. You do what you need to survive, take whatever’s necessary.
It’s another day at the junkyard, sifting through pieces of this and that, handing off whatever seems usable to those who need it. Ashe isn’t missing any other parts, not since X gave her his actuator, but there are countless others who cannot dig for themselves and procure what they need. There is a strange sense of peace, of contentment in occupying herself with such menial tasks.
So absorbed is she in her work that she jumps when a glowing dagger lands not three inches from her head, terrified shrieks split the air as dragons bolt for safety, scattering in all directions. Yet the moment she whips her head back to locate the source of the attack she's almost immediately bowled over by someone turning to flee - all she can make out amidst the horrified cries are the words “attack” and “Project”, but that is all it takes to send a chill through her spine.
Noise assaults her senses as fleeing dragons trample over anything in their way, whether dragon or machine, it doesn't matter, only escape. Her feet slide out from under her more than once, the piles of wreckage shifting with the abrupt displacement, more than once Ashe claws her way upright only to be knocked down again by a passing dragon. Once orderly piles of sorted parts are knocked over and crushed under countless feet, unluckier dragons lose their footing and are subjected to the same fate - the brutal sight makes Ashe flinch, but there's no time for that, not when she needs to find a way out of this impossible situation.
It's impossible to tell who has run where, the mob is so thick and the junkyard so vast that for moments Ashe is swept up in the stampeding crowd, she can hear nothing above the swelling roar of chaos - the noise is too overwhelming, it hurts her senses, she must get out-
Shoving her way free of the horde does little to ease her fears, the milling throng of dragons fighting to escape is blocking her vision - just what had Project sent? Another model like herself? An upgrade?
All she knows for certain is that they must be stopped.
A muttered command is all she needs to activate her personal drone - a utility item, part of her scouting toolkit, but she's never been so glad to send it soaring into the air high above the chaos. A flick of her claw brings her visor down, her eyes scanning the bird's eye view afforded to her by the drone - there, she sees it now, the source of the mayhem, two figures with Project's logo emblazoned on their chests, their weapons pulsing with the same light as her bow.
For a brief moment, Ashe wonders what to do with them, if they're capable of thought and emotions like herself, perhaps they could be spared - but that line of thought ends when she hits the ground hard, pinned underneath one of the Project androids - plasma dagger back in its grip - Ashe kicks out hard, dives into a roll as another plasma dagger streaks just above her, followed by another, and another, an endless hail of blades whistling toward her like bullets. One or two bounce off, the rest she deflects by sending an entire heap of trash tumbling down towards her assailant with a well-aimed shove, the android leaps out of the way with flawless grace and lands in a practiced crouch, almost immediately she is back in the air and lunging straight for Ashe's throat.
The time that it took the robot to reach her was all she needed to snatch her bow from her back and nock a pulsing arrow.
Don't think. Act.
She draws the arrow back.
It catches the android mid-leap, superheated plasma slicing through the metal chestplate and sending it crashing back to the ground. Wild sparks dance across the metallic surface, the paralytic charge from her arrow locking the android's servos down completely for several seconds. Not enough to kill it, Ashe realises, already it's twisting and thrashing in broken spasms, claws wrapped around the arrow in a vain attempt to yank it free. Before it manages to get back on its feet, however, she readies another arrow, sends it streaking with deadly accuracy towards the android's twitching head - one, two, three, the fourth arrow bites through the steel and sends the head flying, where it lands is none of her concern. The awful writhing ceases, the android collapses in a pile of gleaming metal and discarded daggers.
Warily, Ashe lowers her bow, about to step down from her perch to examine the now motionless body - but she's forgotten about the other one.
The faint whine of metal spinning through the air is her only warning before her eyes catch sight of the glowing shuriken inches from her neck, feels the heat of it skimming over the skin -
Something solid rams into her side and knocks her sprawling face-first into the dirt, she can feel the ground shaking with each thundering step Tryndamere makes while he charges at the second android. A hollow, mocking laugh reverberates throughout the now-empty junkyard, Ashe hauls herself upright just as Tryndamere’s blade slices through the android - whose silhouette blurs, flickers, it’s only then that she realises it was nothing more than a holographic projection.
To anyone with less keen sight, it would appear that the android had vanished into thin air. Tryndamere halts in his tracks, bewildered, but it is Ashe’s cry that alerts him - he ducks aside as a shuriken flashes out from the shadows, it scrapes across the side of his jaw with a shrill screech. He flashes her a triumphant grin, but it’s wiped off his face just as quickly as a metallic thunk sounds, the gleam of steel embedded in his back sparkles like a grim taunt - come catch me if you can, it seems to hiss. Tryndamere staggers, eyes darting across their surroundings in a desperate bid to locate the source of the blades, locking on to his target: who’s casually toying with one of the shuriken. With a feral growl, Tryndamere hefts his sword and launches himself into a vicious spinning attack, his outline blurring before her very eyes, only the flickering light from his sword is visible even to her enhanced vision, whipping straight towards the remaining android’s shadowy figure -
Yet somehow, the android dissipates into nothing more than smoke and glittering particle effects, Tryndamere’s spin cuts through nothing but air. Another taunting laugh echoes, everywhere yet nowhere at once, the shriek that tears from Ashe’s throat is never completed as twin slashes appear on his chest, carved so deeply that it seems he would surely be ripped open. The shadows break apart, coalescing into a trio of silhouettes around the fallen Tryndamere, she can see every visceral twitch and jerk as each one’s shuriken find their marks in his torn body. A shudder wracks him as his legs give way, hitting the ground on his knees, barely even holding onto the hilt of his sword - he falls still, too still for Ashe’s liking, surely he isn’t…?
The android merely gives a satisfied nod, turns its back on them to walk away.
A bestial roar explodes from Tryndamere, a sound that embodies pure rage, a howling promise of a swift and inevitable death. The markings across his battered body pulse once, twice, icy blue flaring into a fiery crimson that seems to be burned into his skin. When those eyes of his open once again, their cool glow has been replaced with an eerie blood-red glint.
Just looking at those eyes sends a chill down her spine.
Before the android can even finish turning around Tryndamere is upon him, a blazing whirlwind of flashing metal and pure brutality. The first swing shears right through the android’s body with such sheer ferocity that its lower half is flung halfway across the junkyard to land amidst one of the trash heaps, twitching erratically. The second swing cleaves the robot clear down the middle and sends sparks flying, the edges of the severed metal glowing white-hot from the heat of his blade. For a brief moment, it teeters unsteadily, before it falls facefirst to the ground with a dull thud.
Tryndamere studies the metallic corpse for several moments, before he shrugs, turning away - until Ashe nearly tackles him, though her light frame does little to even make him stumble. How he is still standing despite the grievous damage done to him, she does not know, yet with a reassuring smile he waves her concern off, gesturing for her to take another look at the dents in his body - even as she watches, the ominous crimson drains from his circuits and fades back into their familiar blue luminescence, the gruesome perforations suffusing with a similar glow and knitting back together with every passing second. Within several minutes it is as if he had never been wounded at all.
At least that’s one less problem to fret about, Ashe muses, glancing back at the utter wreckage the junkyard had been reduced to, the lifeless remnants of the dispatched androids from Project.
“They’ll only send more after this, you know.”
His gravelly voice breaks through her thoughts, Ashe grimaces at the mere implication of his words. She knows he’s right. If Project hadn’t already been keeping an eye on these androids, they will know soon enough that something is fishy when they fail to report back.
“I know, but what choice do we have?”
Their eyes meet, a sense of shared understanding dawns in them both. What other choice is there? They can flee this place, live as perpetual refugees just under Project’s radar, or they can strike back.
Days have passed. Project remains silent… for now.
Sooner or later, however, they will be forced to fight again. This time Project will know better, their opponents will be even better augmented, come in greater numbers than before. They have appealed to the remaining residents of the junkyard, but none wish to take up arms. They are too old, too tired of life to want to believe in a cause as ambitious as theirs - save your breath, you’ll only get yourself killed, they are told, the same old song and dance greets them wherever they go.
“Don’t you want to survive? They’ll destroy you, you know.”
“So? Our time was up when Project decided to abandon us. It doesn’t matter whether they destroy us or not.”
Ashe reels at that, shooting Tryndamere a pleading look - perhaps he can talk them out of it? His expression is inscrutable, a stony mask, eventually he shakes his head and simply turns his back on them, muttering something about “we have better things to do”. Casting another helpless glance back at the others, Ashe has no choice but to fall into step beside him, disappointment weighing heavy in her chest. They can’t fight this alone, yet who are willing to risk their lives in a war against one of the world’s biggest technological corporations?
Who will fly with them?
Their answer is made clear the next day.
A decapitated head rolls into the center of the slums, the clanking noise as it bounces draws horrified gasps from all who bear witness. Without thinking Ashe unslings her bow from her back, beside her, Tryndamere draws his blade as well. It was about time they showed up, she grimly notes, too bad they haven’t gained any manpower in the meantime. Her grip on the bow tightens, the familiar piercing chill of it spreads through her body - she welcomes the cold, the absolute focus it brings.
Like tall, hulking shadows they slink in, fanning out to cover the perimeter of the area. Those familiar with the surroundings will know where to run, the countless possible escape routes, Ashe muses, if only she can buy them enough time to do so. A brief glance towards her companion shows he’s thinking the same thing, but before they can exchange any other words between them the first android has already sprung forwards to attack -
Tryndamere meets it halfway with a bellowing roar that seems to shake the entire junkard, catches it with a backhand swing of his sword and sends it flying back into its own comrades. As if breaking some unspoken rule, they surge forwards in a tidal wave of swarming figures, but the first wave is repelled by a volley of plasma arrows streaking through the air to bury themselves in their bodies, Ashe hastily nocks another arrow and takes aim once more - her objective here is to take out as many of them as she can while covering the retreat of the others, as well as Tryndamere.
Arrow after arrow is loosened into the androids’ midst, yet they keep on coming regardless. Tryndamere whirls this way and that, hacking and slashing with bestial ferocity that seems to make them falter, but only for just a moment - soon enough he is overwhelmed by their sheer numbers and she can no longer see him between the tangle of limbs. Her bow is relentless, her aim true, every shot she fires hits their mark - yet it takes at least 5 such arrows to even come close to bringing one android down, and there are so many of them swarming Tryndamere that she fears her coverfire will not be enough. Two or three fall to her projectiles, sizzling plasma searing holes through their cores and shutting them down completely, but it’s not long before they turn their attention to her instead - Ashe shoots one squarely in the chest, but the second one crashes straight into her, they both go down in a writhing pile of thrashing limbs.
From where she lands, she can just barely make out Tryndamere’s silhouette in the middle of the fray, flashes of light emanating from his sword as he battles on. It’s impossible to see what’s really going on, but she has better things to be worrying about, such as the claws wrapping around her throat and squeezing down hard. Ashe chokes, her bow dropped and forgotten as she scrabbles to loosen her assailant’s grip, she can feel the metal giving way and her own strength draining away -
Right before her vision wavers and shuts down completely, something solid slams into the android hovering above her, the deathgrip on her throat vanishes like it was never there. Ashe forces herself to stand and snatch her bow up once more, fits another arrow to the string and fires it through the neck of the android - who is wrestling with another dragon, one of their kin from the junkyard, she realises with a start. The android drops like a deadweight, the dragon dips his head in thanks to her before launching himself at one of the many who surround Tryndamere.
Another dragon follows hot on his heels, and another one, until all have thrown themselves into the skirmish. The androids break apart in the face of this new threat, clearly bewildered by the appearance of ‘reinforcements’, and that is all the time it takes for Tryndamere to utter a frenzied battle cry and launch into another one of his whirlwind spins. Like chaff before the wind their foes are scattered - those who are not cut into pieces from the initial swing, that is - and sent hurtling away. The other dragons soon take up the cry as well, wasting no time in lunging right at the dazed androids en masse, woe to those who found themselves trapped between several enraged dragons with nowhere to run. Those androids who remain find themselves either trampled, ripped apart, cleaved into pieces, or bombarded by a hail of arrows.
None of them survive.
As the dust settles, her first thought is to check on her fighting companion - bruised, battered, but nothing he won’t recover from, he assures her. Tryndamere pauses, however, arching an amused eyebrow at something just behind her.
“It seems we’ve done it.”
Perplexed, Ashe opens her mouth to ask just what exactly he means, before he gently turns her around to see for herself the crowd that has gathered before them, their expressions ranging from triumphant to awestruck, but most of all she sees newfound hope in their eyes.
One of them steps forward to speak on behalf of them all, she recognises him as the one who had saved her life just minutes ago.
“I know that most of us rejected your idea of rebellion. We thought there was no way we could hope to fight against an enemy like Project, but… you’ve just proved us all wrong. We did it, and we’re all still alive, so,” he pauses to clear his throat, eyes shining.
“We will join you in your - no, our fight.”
They’ve done it.
Somehow she still can’t quite believe it. Just days ago they’d had these ideals tossed back in their faces, and now they are willing to follow, to lay down their lives for the cause? It’s almost enough to make her head spin, but Tryndamere is there to support her as she looks back at the crowd of hopeful faces, all awaiting her response.
“I...I cannot thank you enough.” Her voice wavers, cracks for just a second before she clears her throat. “Your sacrifices will be honoured, your efforts appreciated. Just know this - this is only the beginning.”
“Project has labs all over the world. No doubt that many of our kindred remain trapped, await inevitable scrapping, and eventually, death. We are lucky to be out of their control, but others are not as fortunate.” Her words are gathering momentum, gaining in confidence with each sentence she speaks.
“We will set them free. Just as we’ve freed ourselves. We will free them all, and we will make a world where none of us will ever have to suffer under Project again. A world where all of us can fly free in the skies, and live our lives the way we want to.”
“Come, my brethren, my brothers and sisters-in-arms.”
“Let us take flight.”
A triumphant, rousing cheer goes up from the crowd, drunk on the ecstacy of a freshly-won victory and hopes of a brighter future. They hail them as heroes, as the pioneers of something entirely new and unprecedented, but in the midst of the thunderous applause Tryndamere nudges her ever so slightly.
“So, where to next?”
“Well, I’ve heard that two others like us escaped from Project the other day…”
“Perhaps we should go find them.”