Hi everyone - I'm the new head of marketing/publishing for Riot UK (just joined a few weeks ago) and I thought I'd introduce myself properly to the community with a bit of quick fan fiction of my own! Please note that I am NOT entering the competition - Riot Masantha has cruelly forbidden me from competing because I work here or something. I also broke the rules ever so slightly by clocking in at about a hundred words over budget. No one likes an overachiever. Please consider my entry a small measure of support for your amazing entries so far. It's been great reading through them. I think Bilgewater is one of the most interesting places in Runeterra, and it's been fun to poke around in its dark corners.
There’s a certain smell, when pitch takes to flame. It seemed to Maara like it skipped the nose entirely, stinging the back of the tongue and drifting straight to brain. Wet and hot all at once. Death and life. Darkness and light.
She squinted as the torch caught and threw a yellow glow into the ship’s hold. The sack at her hip squirmed, and she gave it a sharp thwack with the butt of the torch. The wriggling stopped, which was somehow more disquieting than the movement. It suggested a measure of thought.
Maara shivered and drew her thin skimmerskin cloak tighter around her shoulders. The weather had taken an icy turn in the handful of minutes since she’d boarded the River King. The floorboards creaked as she made her way aftward.
She tried to sound sure and strong, but the word slapped flat, like a fish on a chopping board. Her voice seemed to soak into the wood as she spoke, lost in layers of Bilgewater oil and sweat. Instead of her own echo, she heard only a throbbing hum. At first, it was so quiet it barely qualified as a sound at all.
Maara assumed she was hearing her own heart pounding in her ears, magnified by the quiet of the ship’s midnight silence. She stopped to listen. It was a low tone, stony and wet. The sack began to squirm again.
“Anyone there?” she ventured, holding the flickering torch high.
The hum was a tune now, lazy and rolling. Had it been so all along? She forced herself to keep moving, pushing her fear down deep as the sound became a song. The words rolled out slowly, like rum barrels heaving onto shore.
_Don’t you go round Rat Town way_
_When the moon is new_
_You’ll not see a flashing blade_
_Till it’s run you through_
_Two bits for the Lady grey_
_Two bits for your love_
_When you’ve gone to meet the deep_
_They’ll still dance above_
The singer was wrapped in shadow, but Maara could make out an irregular bulk occupying an alcove near the hold’s stern wall. She stepped forward and peered into the darkness.
“I’ve got something you’ll want,” she said with a gulp.
The responding laugh was a deep rumble, and it went on for what felt like ages.
“Do you now, child?” the voice asked, still lingering with laughter.
The shape shifted in the darkness, and the whole ship seemed to list along with it. Two yellow eyes caught the torchlight first as the figure heaved into Maara’s view. A mountain of glistening green skin followed. A leather waistcoat creaked, and bits of jewelry tinkled.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” he drawled, doffing a battered black top hat in a grotesque mimicry of gentlemanly greeting.
Maara fought the urge to drop the torch and run. Of course, she had heard the stories. But she had dismissed them as tall tales, dreamed up to scare children away from the Slaughter Docks. It had worked on her for a dozen years.
“What...who are you?” she stammered bravely.
The laugh again, louder now. It felt up close and hot.
“Call me king. Call me demon. Water forgets the names of the drowned.”
An arm reached out to light a cluster of candles on a nearby rail. Brass bracelets glinted on a wrist as big as Maara’s thigh.
“I believe you have something to offer me, wharf rat,” he drawled.
Maara suppressed a gasp when the candles took to flame. He was the size of field beast, but with the look of a river thing. His frog-like face was framed by two drooping barbels, and his smile was stacked with needle-sharp teeth. She took an involuntary step backward.
“I hear you’ve got a knack for dredging up delicacies,” he continued, ignoring his guest’s obvious discomfort.
Maara fumbled at her belt. Her sweaty hands struggled to unclasp the sack that held her precious cargo. She took a deep breath and steadied her hand. Securing its contents had cost her dearly. She’d come too far to turn back now. With a click the clasp gave way. She released the leather loop and tossed the sack in one smooth motion.
With a lash that sounded like the crack of a wet whip, the beast let fly the longest tongue Maara had ever seen. It struck the air over her right ear, stretching straight as a staff before curling gently to enfold the airborne parcel and lay it gently on the table beside her. All the while, those amber eyes were locked on hers.
“Mmmm, seems a smallish portion for an appetite such as mine.”
He sliced the sack open with a flick of his claw. Out tumbled a puff of fur, iceberg blue. The twitching ball rolled onto the table and opened a pair of moist black eyes. They were terrified.
Maara expected the creature to scamper away. But it seemed rooted in place, frozen in terror. She knew the feeling.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” the beast intoned. His eyes were still fixed on Maara, impassive and unreadable.
“They come from the cold lands. Folk say they have magic in them,” she said, raising her chin as she dug for pride. “It’s called a poro. There are… there are others where that one came from. I can get them.”
“Can you now?” he said, less a question than a subtle directive.
With a sweep of his huge hand, he pocketed the squeaking creature and pulled a plump pouch from his waistcoat. He tossed it to Maara, and she grunted when she felt its weight in her hands. Good coin, and a lot of it.
She was about to speak, but a breeze caught her breath. She shivered as the brisk winter wind caught her cloak and reached her skin. The torch flickered and finally guttered, leaving only a sliver of moon to light the ladder that lead abovedecks. She made her way toward it in the darkness, as quickly as she dared.
The sound of his song rung out again, low and rumbling, until she reached the open trap door in the ceiling. By the time she’d reached the deck, the tune had stopped, replaced by the sound of crunching bones. But as she ran across the docks toward the city’s golden glow, the tune still filled her ears, rolling in time to the rhythm of the fat new purse slapping at her hip.
There was something about it she just couldn’t shake.