The rich, wonderful, and unmistakable smell of blood filled Warwick's keen nose with its delicious scent and made his heart pound within his chest in a manner that seemed like it would burst with its vigor. His once yellow eyes now showed like red, hellish embers within the sockets of his skull. His black lips were raised, showing his bared fangs for all to see with his snarl. And this was all because he was nearing in on the one man he had spent so agonizing long hunting.
For the greatest while had the Blood Hunter tracked this particular chem-baron from outside the polluted and landscape that was the city of Zaun. Knowing the Howler was on his tail, the chem-baron had fled to Ionia; a peaceful, but by no means undefended island nation across the sea. He did so by boarding the first ship he could get on, leaving his would-be killer behind on dry land.
Not that it stopped Warwick from pursuing his prey.
For one whole day and one whole night Warwick swam across the choppy, salty ocean water that separated Ionia from the continent of Valoran. Without tire he broke through the coming waves and continued his chase; all for the want of sinking his sharpened fangs into that chem-baron's wretched throat. The occasional shark or other underwater predator would be drawn up to the surface by his partially-canid silhouette, hoping to make a meal of him. Their hunger and curiosity was met with a gruesome end at the chimera's struggling claws and jaws, or else fled to seek out other, less well-defended prey.
Warwick was nearing total exhaustion when he reached land, but the hunt, still on, beckoned him to continue. Shaking the saltwater off of himself, he left the shore in a swift few bounds and entered the forest dwelling beyond it without a care for his well being; the scent of his prey so near now, he could practically taste him. He traversed through the wilds of the foreign place, not stopping for even a second to gaze at any section of the beautiful, untouched landscape surrounding every step he took. Not stopping to realize just how different it was from the smoggy and befouled world he knew as Zaun. After another several hours of traveling without rest he finally located his prey calmly walking along a dirt path; unaware of his coming fate until a bloodcurdling howl erupted from Warwick's fanged maw.
The look of sheer, unexpected surprise and terror shining in his glassy eyes brought a rotten sense of pleasure to the chimera; but pleasure nonetheless. Even without the repugnant scent he left, Warwick would have known from sight alone that he was a Zaunite and definitely not an Ionian. His body was more a walking pile of whirring, perverted and dark machinery than flesh, and what little of it there was that wasn't metal was large, rippling muscle, lined with thick and exposed veins glowing a sickly green, indicating their strength was granted alone by the foul chemical steroids his kind were known and made infamous for producing.
Though he was caught off guard, the chem-baron was far from defenseless. Upon witnessing Warwick's coming lunge he had drawn his weapon; a great sword, electrically charged by a small generator running along its hilt. Small sparks crackled along its top, and soon over fur and flesh as the device pierced the Howler's thick, scar-covered hide with a huge swing that would have easily felled a normal man.
Alas for the chem-baron, Warwick was a man no longer. He was something more now, but also something less. And if there was anything he was made for, it was pure and simple slaughter. Though at first letting out a hurt whimper from the impact of the blow, the noise was swiftly replaced by a roar.
Warwick swiped and bit, clawed and bellowed. With his wicked talons of metal and natural making he tore open the chem-baron's steel body as thought it were tin, and with his powered sword the chem-baron cut a savage gash that wrenched off a hunk of flesh from Warwick's abdomen. The struggle was intense and fierce, and much blood, metal parts, and chem fluid was spilled upon the plants and ground of the once-tranquil area. In the end Warwick won the dispute by ripping open the cruel machine-man's throat with his fangs, finally spelling his deserved doom.
Seeing nothing but red from the amount of pain he had endured and blood he had smelled and tasted, the chimera was far from done with his foe. Even as the chem-baron was entering his helpless death throes, Warwick brutally assaulted his body with the tenacity of a maddened dog; ignoring his unbound exhaustion and the wretched wounds he had accrued in favor of taking his misery and wrath out upon it.
Warwick did not feel the true pain that the wounds themselves entailed until he finally finished beating, tearing, and gnawing at what little remained of the chem-baron. Finally regaining as much control of his bestial self as he could a great many minutes later, he spat out a chunk of twisted metal and gore in his teeth, wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his left arm, and stood up, panting hard and occasionally coughing up a wad of crimson saliva from his torn insides.
Placing a claw down to his lower side, he felt the gaping and bleeding wound ripped into his body. Not only was there the fiery agony, but also grogginess from the amount of stamina he had exerted throughout the beginning of the trek, all the way from Zaun's shore to this one. And yet, through it all, there was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that tickled his battered brain like a soft feather. The chem-baron tried so hard to escape him, but now he was as dead as a doornail.
Dead, dead, dead! Oh, how the gruesome words sounded so lovely to him now! One more rancid, ruling chem-baron taken permanently off the streets! One more criminal facing proper justice at his claws and teeth! One more hunt fulfilled, nice and neat!
Warwick repeated these words like a demented song, or at least words similar to it within his feverish mind as he began limping away. His injuries were grievous, but with all the rancid chemicals burning through his veins, he would heal from them. He just needed to find a place of as much comfort as he could experience. A place where he could rest and recuperate. And so, for nearly an hour afterward, he lurched forth through the woodland of Ionia, searching for a place to lay down and properly recover. As he entered one area that seemed nice and uninhabited, which to say was what appeared to be a grove of sorts, a strange noise suddenly came into his large ears.
It sounded like a... pipe-related instrument. Not the chiming of workplace machinery and factories that constantly made an awful, loathsome ruckus back in Zaun, but something soft. Soothing. It was some time later that he finally remembered what the name of the instrument possibly making it. A flute.
The melody took a hold of Warwick's mind, and before he knew it he was laying upon the grassy ground of the grove, struggling to stay awake. He quickly lost the battle with the music and his weary mind, and so, with a hint of reluctance in his lowering eyelids, he slowly faded into unconsciousness and knew no more.
* * * * *
The thick, metallic, and unmistakable smell of blood filled the clear air like a foul pollutant infecting the enchanted, precious and sacred grove one particular individual called her home. Lifting her head as soon as she detected the scent, Soraka took the lip plate of her wooden flute from her mouth and paused her performance; the choir of birds in the trees overhead suddenly going silent along with it. The horrid smell was thick and fresh, and somewhere close by. Her grove was a place of shelter and respite, and if she ever found herself with company, it was normally in the form of the wounded and sick whom sought her out to cure their terminal maladies.
Soraka stood from her log seat to her feet and began walking hurriedly through her grove to locate the source of this disturbance. The celestial being herself bore a form not unlike that of a human woman, possessing long, black, tied hair that fell from the back of her head, and light skin etched in tattoo-like markings that seemed to radiate with mystic power. Currently, she was cloaked in an extensive and dark blue dress at her base that hid her legs and feet completely away within its fold, while the manner of clothing around her upper body was covered in a light, and somewhat regal type of reddish Ionian regalia, with several symbols on it representing the stars from whence she came so long ago. In her hands, having picked it up as she left, was the celestial staff she owned that had the golden symbol of the moon at its tip, and served occasionally as a conduit for her magical skill when using her hands to process it wasn't enough. A mere minute had passed when she finally discovered who she was seeking, and when she laid her eyes upon it, they widened slightly in shock.
Breathing in ragged gasps that gave away how hurt it was, was a great beast far larger than she was, possessing dark fur all over its muscular and battered body. It had the basic form of a canid being, mixed with some form of humanoid, and had a variety of unnatural machinery augmented into itself, running mostly along its spine and actually within its right arm. From its rear, which was covered in the remains of an old and dreadfully worn pair of brown pants, extended a long, bushy tail, resembling that of a fox's. On either side of its head, its ears were exceptionally large and pointed, as a bat would have. He, as Soraka quickly assumed, was a creature the likes of which she had never seen.
And he was horribly, horribly wounded.
Soraka, without hesitation, approached the being and stared down at him with an expression of pity. Holding her staff close, she knelt to the ground to get a better view of the area on him that was bleeding the most. While descending to her knee, the base of her long, flowing dress settled over the terrain like water over a neighboring shore. It didn't take her long to locate the source of his worst laceration, which to say was a gaping, torn-open spot of flesh on his abdomen - clearly given in a fight and not gained by some form of accident. Without hesitation, her thin arms extended and her hands grew close to the wound; their still fingertips glowing in a greenish tint. The moment that she touched him, the beast let out a wicked snarl and unconsciously swiped his left claw forward, striking it across Soraka's shoulder.
But it did not harm her. Soraka was a Starchild - an immortal being, and one who had lived her life for the sole purpose of healing others. Lest she performed a deed that brought intentional harm to another, she would remain as she was. Enduring the blow that could effortlessly rend flesh from bone, instead of being sliced into bloody ribbons, her limb remained intact as it was and she felt nothing. She scarcely flinched from the lightning-quick reaction to her soft touch to begin with, and had on a face only showing sorrow for the creature's plight.
Soraka's fingers once more pressed forward until they again touched the bleeding edge of his wound. The beast snarled again as he felt something alien and soft come over him, but as a brief few seconds passed, his growling turned into a long, slow whine; a soothing sensation swirling through his otherwise inactive mind.
Focusing, Soraka closed her eyes and silently called upon the stars to aid her. Channeling her magic, she directed it out of her hands in a greenish stream and onto the body of the creature, restoring what was lost and sealing what had been torn and sundered. Within the span of a dozen seconds, the red trail of blood flowing from his body ceased and the mortal-looking injury was mended; restored in a way that left it looking like it hadn't been damaged to begin with. Not a single scar remained where there had once been a series of nasty gashes. Her work done and newest guest cured of his horrible ailments, Soraka was satisfied.
Picking up her celestial staff and using it to get back from her knees to her legs, she walked over to the front of the creature and sat down by his head. With hands moving as gentle as possible, she lifted his head and moved herself under it, then allowed it to fall over her warm lap. "You are not from here, are you?" she tenderly whispered to the being, leaning her staff over her shoulder with one hand as the other stroked the fur over his scarred face. "You poor creature. There is no need to fret now, for you are safe here. All who dwell within my grove are safe from injury, and you, even through such a fear-inspiring visage, are as well."
Sitting there the ground of her grove, with the beast's great head propped over her lap, Soraka let the once-ailing creature sleep peacefully, hoping only that his dreams were pleasant after the ordeal he must have gone through. To help him along with that, Soraka began to hum a song. It was a lullaby she had learned from a desperate mother nearly one-hundred years before, when she had brought forth her sick daughter to be cured by the Starchild.
In the end, Soraka spent a grand and long while singing to her visitor. She stayed with him through the entire day, even as the sun set and the moon, shaped in a thin white crescent, rose high in the black sky; a black sky riddled from one horizon to the other in glittering stars. Stars that seemed to shine down upon their child with a sense of pride.2: A Healer's Care
Unconsciousness only just beginning to leave him, the first thing Warwick could discern from reality and his dreamless slumber was a heavenly warmth that overcame every nerve in his body. It was a warmth that settled over him like a wonderful fleece draped over his hide. Comforting him in a manner longer and greater than he could ever hope to remember. His tongue rolled about within his closed, saliva-rich mouth, moving over his fangs and across the interior of his black lips.
He could detect something else. It was a sound. A voice. A song; a beautiful, beautiful song hung around his ears, filling his half-conscious mind with its grace. Filling it with images. Images of the past. Memories.
Warwick knew all too well of the only memories his mind was able to keep after his transformation. Fear and hatred took hold of his body at the idea of remembering those forsaken times. He wanted to forget them all. He wanted to forget his time spent on the operating table. Being carved and cut into, the metal augmentations that replaced many of his bones, being injected with every alchemical ingredient meant to cause pain and acting as nothing more than a guinea pig for that damned mad chemist who made him into this. At last, the images he so greatly loathed to reimagine faded before he could truly experience them.
The song, however, seemed to notice his growing tension. It grew in volume, replacing his anxiety. The hum of that angelic voice soothed every muscle in the chimera's mutated form. A moan left his mouth as he felt himself relax, the last of his worry leaving him like a departing storm.
His eyes opened at last, and a faint ray of sunlight was the first sight to greet them. Getting used to the gleam, he realized that there was a shape looming over him, cloaked in a dress of sorts. It looked female. It looked human. Her skin, pallid as snow, was highlighted in marks imprinted upon her that resembled curling celestial symbols. Smooth, raven-black hair fell finely from her head, and Warwick eventually came to the realization that one of her hands was stroking at the fur on the side of his neck in a tender motion. It accompanied the song that emerged from her lips in a fluent motion, matching it splendor in every fathomable way.
And her eyes... her eyes were something else entirely. Something inhuman; golden and beguiling. Half-open, they stared down at him, into his own. Compared to the rest of what he saw in her so far, they looked like a pair of glittering stars in a sky of infinite void and blackness. He found himself getting blissfully lost in them as she ran her wandering hand over his forehead until it ventured behind both of his ears, getting at the perfect spot where a scar lay which he often spent many an hour itching at. With her gentle touch, any ailment he possessed, major or minor, seemed to... vanish.
For a time, Warwick simply stared into her calm, otherworldly eyes and at the impossibly warm smile she possessed. He didn't know how to react to this sort of situation in the slightest. Was it fear that clenched at his mind as he gazed upon this unperturbed being? Anger? No... the alien feeling of all his negative emotions having left him was far, far too clear to ignore. Was it... pleasure? No, it couldn't have been that either. Were he to have ever felt something like that ever again without it being given during or after a rush of blood and violence, the unnatural chimera probably would have just sprung up onto his feet, unleashed a bellowing roar at her and then flee the scene. And yet, with the vexingly delightful sensation of her hand stroking the fur around his face and snout as the other cradled his head upon her lap... he felt heavily inclined to resist the action. And for a time he did.
After what seemed like an eternity of vacuous ecstasy, the strange individual who cared for Warwick so ungrudgingly stopped singing and instead spoke. "Those wounds you possessed were fairly gruesome to observe. I managed to mend them with my power, so you should feel as good as new now," she whispered in a tone as soft as down, and one that felt to Warwick like a wonderful, rare beam of sunlight falling upon his body on a cold day in Zaun's smog-infested streets. Still paralyzed by his conflicted mind, all he could do was emit a long and high pitched whine that ended in a sigh.
"How curious it is for someone like you to visit my grove, really," she came again. "You resemble a creature with great intelligence, but I do not know that for sure. I wonder, can you speak?"
"Sp-sp-speak?" Warwick found himself having to form enough willpower just to talk. His voice itself was low and guttural to the point that it sounded more like an animalistic growl, but still the being above him remained unmolested. "I... I can speak."
"So you can," she chuckled, the laugh itself mirthful and filled with nothing but happiness. Its insidious effects were like the enthralling song from before; it forced out a sense of gratification that burned within Warwick's chemical-infused blood to match the excruciating level of agony granted by fiery pitch. "How very interesting this is. And how very fortunate for you to have stumbled into my domain. You looked minutes away from meeting the Eternal Hunters, given those injuries you possessed. You were out of it for a day and a night."
However dulled his senses were, Warwick noticed at last that his physical pain was truly gone. It was either his biology's doing, or this being's mentioned magic that had done it. Either way, Warwick also noticed that for this he cared not. This place was not his own. He knew, for all the treatment he had received, that he had to leave. Of course, such an action had to start with him sitting up and getting a better grip on things.
When he finally gained the fortitude to perform the deed upon sucking in a deep breath of the fresh air around him, he did so, albeit sluggishly. He shut his eyes, clenching their lids together tightly against the sting of the dry rheum that had gathered between them while he slept. Grunting, he rolled himself off of her lap and landed upon his rump, inhaling a deep breath while his tail swished about where it extended behind him with new life.
The winsome healer slowly rose to her feet to join him, her shape still quite small compared to the creature simply sitting before her. "My name is Soraka. Who, or what, are you, if I may ask?" Her voice was innocently curious, and Warwick heard the question well enough. She went on, "Though I have a theory, I have never seen any creature with quite a resemblance to you before."
Warwick was quiet for a moment, as though thinking deeply on this query. "I... am a monster," he eventually growled. His eyes traveled down to the metal claws sticking from the flesh of his fingers on his right arm, and he stared at them long and hard; knowing just how far the metal within the bone there went. Knowing of the tortuous pain it constantly gave off that he had to get used to, after repeated attempts to violently rip the metal from his augmented limb manually proved futile. "That is what you should know me as. That is all I am. That was what I was created to be. And that is what I will die as."
Soraka's brow lowered skeptically, an easy smile snaking upon her lips. "Nobody is born a monster. Surely you were not." The bottom of her staff dug around in the soil below it as she twisted it around in her grasp. "Who were you before you so rashly declared yourself as such a twisted thing? A warrior? An artist? Surely you were not always what you claim to be..."
"Do not presume for a second that you even think you know who I was. I have no reason to tell you a single thing," he argued, snapping the words at her. "What I am now is a beast that stalks a place far from here. My prey is the corrupt and the vile. And I hunt them. That's all that matters to me."
"You only hunt those you see as cruel and foul?" Soraka inquired once more. "So, you see yourself as a being of vengeance, then?"
"One could... say that I am," he agreed, uneasy as it was with the character who had, thus far, refused to give off even a hint of intimidation by how he looked and sounded. He turned his shoulder to her, his left ear twitching twice in annoyance at her prying antics. "As I said, I am not from here. I live in a place ruled by scum. I am the only force there that... cares enough to do anything about it. To bring... justice to those who deserve it."
"Your 'justice' is to hunt them? Slaughter them?" Soraka's fingers wrapped a little tighter around her staff, a note of slight disturbance clinging to her words.
"It is better for the likes of them to bear the brunt of my savagery more than anyone else," Warwick responded, his hazy memory going back to the kills he committed in the not so distant past. "The only people I ever want to kill are them. I won't hurt the ones who have done nothing wrong, if I can help it. I lose myself the moment I smell the blood of the guilty. It's like... something gnawing at my brain, telling me to tear apart everything around me. Sometimes... sometimes I go into a frenzy."
Soraka processed all this with a hum, still seeing no reason to despise him. She tried to place her hand upon the chimera's shoulder in a friendly gesture, but he quickly pulled it away from her. Quietly sighing, she only looked his way with deep thoughts circulating in her mind until she released them.
"Even before you told me this, I knew you are not native to this place. Though your outward appearance is uncanny to theirs, I know you are not a member of the vastaya," she decided to speak next, making mention of the secretive people living in of Ionia whose ancestral ties left them with a mixture of animalistic features. "The truth is... that you were a man once, weren't you?" The second Warwick heard this question, his face snapped to his healer in a vicious glare and he snarled aloud. This instantly told Soraka that she was correct in her assumption, otherwise he might not have given off as upset of a visage as this.
His claws anxiously curling into his palms until they dug into the soft flesh there, the chimera stormed up to the Starchild with quick and purposeful steps while she in turn simply stood there unflinchingly. He stared down at her, teeth bared, a growl reverberating from within his throat and a look of red-eyed murder adorning his expression. In turn, she calmly looked up to him with no fear on hers. It was when Warwick's wrathful visage started to fade back into what it was before when he spoke once more. "I was a man. A man who did wretched things. A man who could never run from the sins he committed when he tried. And after that man became who I am, I killed him first!"
The sound of the roar he used to end his sentence was loud enough to startle several birds sitting in the tops of the green trees surrounding them from within the grove, and their little, colorful forms tweeted in panic as they fled from the area. Soraka watched them fly off with a lowered brow, keeping her composure and waited patiently for silence to return before speaking again. Warwick's heavy breathing was the only sound going out now, but it, too, soon halted.
"I will let you leave, if that is what you wish. Should you ever find yourself in Ionia again, hurt or otherwise, I will be here," she said to him. "I truly hope our pathways cross again. I would like to get to know a person like you more. I honestly do."
Warwick would have none of her blandishments. "Bah!" he could not help but puff, waving an uncaring claw her way from behind his back. "I'm not so much a person as I am an animal. Save your honeyed breath for another passerby who gives a damn for it..."
His tail flicking as he moved away from her the final time, Warwick began to depart. Quickly falling onto all fours and breaking into a bounding pace, he abandoned the grove and the strange, kind being who resided within it. Soraka watched him leave, unworried by his harsh words. As a matter of fact, that smile on her face seemed even more radiant than before. Knowing he was gone, and with the birds returning to their places in the trees they were once scared from, she began to return to the denser folds of her sacred territory. But as she left, a peculiar, hopeful thought tickled her brain.
Somehow, a part of her knew he would return. Somehow, that odd creature would come and visit her grove once again; his reasons for inevitably doing so unknown to the Starchild, but the truth all to clear to her. Somehow he would come back to her, and murmuring a chuckle to herself, she could hardly wait for it.
* * * * *
Upon arriving to the sand-laden beach and the glimmering blue ocean he once emerged from, Warwick took a final look at the land he traversed through. On his way back here he paid the Ionia's features some mind, but only just barely more than before. He thought to them for a few seconds, admiring them as well as he possibly could, and then entered the briny waters before him. With great and reinvigorated strokes, he began swimming. It took as long to traverse as when he crossed it in search for his prey, perhaps even longer due to lacking a quarry to pursue. Either way, the time it took to cross the sea paid off for him, for eventually, after a day and a night of treading water, the chimera reached the murky shores his home.
Quickly leaving the machinery-plagued coast, Warwick entered the thick city in its fullest. Lurking, leaping, and otherwise sneaking through its shadows, he could see that Zaun was still the infested cesspool he freshly remembered it being. Having clambered upon a tall-standing house to get a better view of his surroundings, he took in a deep breath of its fume-filled air. Its towers were tall and its streets were filled to their overcrowded brim with pedestrians; workers; marketeers, both honest and otherwise; cutthroats-for-hire and good-for-nothing scoundrels aplenty.
From its largest factory's tallest, purple smoke-spewing chimney stack, to its smallest and most lifeless (though at times lively) green puddle laying near the drainpipes of its most uninhabited district, it was Zaun. It was all its outside reputation was, and more. Ruled by the corrupt and given life by the downtrodden or ambitious, Zaun was a one of a kind place in the already wide and rough world of Runeterra. Had he not been the wrathful vigilante he was, it would not have been Warwick's first choice for locale. But its familiarity to him was... enough.
Eventually dropping down from the building and traveling further onward, Warwick soon reached the location that led to his home. It was a large, crusty, white-tinted pipeline that formed an entrance to the sewer, sitting in between one of the many local dumps and a bakery that had been built who-knows-how-many years back. With caution in his movement, he slunk inside before anyone could claim to have witnessed the dreaded 'Howler' - one of many great and terrible names he had been given since gaining notoriety for his deeds. A few dozen meters of walking through knee-high sludge later, he reached his den held within the sewer's labyrinthine depths. His home, if he dared even call it that.
Aside from being constructed on dry ground that went above the gunk his feet currently traipsed through, his abode was nothing special. Carved deep into the brick-laden wall, its quarters were rather cramped for a large creature such as he. Pieces of random scrap and junk he had collected over the long months, equally from his victims and the trash, littered the den at random like ruined trophies. He had enough intelligence to form a bed from the more comfortable parts he stole or gained from the scrap-pile, but that was its biggest feature by far.
Drying off his rear paws, he entered the lair, pushing aside that which was in his way until he reached and collapsed upon his bed. He felt weary from his travel from Ionia to here, and for right now, he wanted nothing more than to sleep. But no matter how weary he was, it just barely escaped his grasp. To aid him in it, he tried to imagine something pleasant. Something to soothe him. And the first image to pop up that matched that description was when he was under the care of the strange, magically-attuned woman from that odd, peaceful grove; Soraka, he delightfully remembered her name being.
His thoughts drifting to it, to that wondrous moment when he laid upon her lap as she sung to him, he soon and finally fell into a deep sleep.