Slicing pain brought Yi to consciousness. His eyes flew open, and a rush of information, exactly 7.42 gigabytes of data - 1.6 of which were displayed on his HUD; 5.6 went to his body and the last 0.22 were generated since he woke up, inclusive of these words that were currently being created in his mind.
He closed his eyes from the agony. Or were those eyes? Was he simply shutting off his vision at the command, with the trigger words being “closing” and “eyes”?
Where had that thought come from? He realised. Something was very wrong. What was he, some kind of robot? A cyborg, a disjointed being of man and machine?
He felt pain. Was that an emotion? Did he still preserve his humanity? His other voice, the machine, with a search on the intergalactic public web, told him no. But happiness, sadness, anger - those were.
But was that anguish and confusion he...felt? He wanted it to be. He needed to know whether he was a human, or at least had the memories of one, and the heart of one.
I am still a human.
The cut stung again, causing Yi to flinch and hit his hand against something hard and constricting.
Warning. Epidermal injuries detected on left forearm. Blunt force injury detected on left wrist.
A hail of alarms resounded mechanically as an image of his body appeared and a red spot blinked at the wounded areas.
Yi tilted his head to look and found even that difficult. His neck felt stiff, as though someone had wired his neck muscles shut, or destroyed them. A scan of himself confirmed the latter. It creaked and groaned as he forced his now metal limbs to respond to his commands.
He was bleeding a strange substance from the cut, which was around - no, it was exactly 0.6 feet in length and had a depth of 2 inches. It was a surgical incision, he could tell. Without meaning to, he scanned the liquid and results came up as a compound of human blood and another combustible liquid with Hextech origins. A compound of oxygen and radon, however that worked.
All of that took 1.2 seconds to register. In the next 0.2 seconds he had noticed the reason why his arms couldn’t move, as well as the cause of his bruising. Two steel rings 1.2 inches thick trapped his hands, bolted to the chair he was sitting on.
He tried to speak. His voice box regulator awoke at the command. A tired, human yet robotic voice emerged from him. “Where…”
Something ahead of him, in the shadows, moved.
A crosshair on his HUD fixated itself on the irregularity.
Heat signature present. Hostility unknown.
“Who are you?” Yi verbalised another 3 words, which felt like torture.
“Ah, you’re awake. Perfect!” A high and reedy voice originated from the source of movement. He slowly crept into the light from Yi’s visor. Yi identified a lab coat stained with the same liquid that ran through his veins, cracked spectacles and unkempt white hair, but he wasn’t old. His face had little wrinkles.
The scientist studied Yi with wild eyes. He didn’t enjoy the feeling of those things looking at his entire cybernetic form, as though he were an experiment.
“You are an experiment.” The scientist grinned, flashing his rotten teeth.
“Your thoughts are all being exposed. Everything about - you? My masterpiece, my creation,” he leaned closer, until Yi could feel his hot breath on the side of his face. Even though it was metal, the nerves pricked at the heat. “I. Know. Everything.”
Yi closed his eyes. Anything but seeing that face, the face of the monster who made him into this. He slammed his hands against the cuffs, but they held strong. He drooped his head in supplication, a slave to the situation.
He drew back with a triumphant smile. “Easy, now. You’ll be free soon.”
Yi didn’t like how he said “free”, but he couldn’t tell what it meant. When he looked up, the scientist was gone, and he was alone, save for the flickering 5.0V fluorescent bulb of light that hung on the ceiling by a fraying wire, and even that would soon fall and break in 3 hours 23 minutes, leaving Yi in total darkness.
“Positive?” A voice whispered.
“Yes.” A second responded.
“Then let’s get him.” The first unsheathed a plasma blade which glowed pink, lending light to the air vents they were inside. With a careless swing, she cut through the steel - it would look careless to the untrained eye, but she made sure that there was enough depth to the blade to made a smooth cut, but not too much to have it jut out and alert anyone to the pink tip.
The second peeled the vent back enough for them to fit through, and leaped down, landing gracefully on his feet. The first followed after sheathing her blade.
“Always the performer with your bladework.” The man chuckled, but he wasn’t one to criticise one of the finest swordswoman in Runeterra.
“So? Where is he?” The woman ignored the remark, but still felt a sense of pride all the same.
With a start, the other spun around and was met with a sight too terrible and great to behold.
Another PROJECT, unconscious, shackled with iron cuffs and heart rate faint. There was a cut in his arm, and his wrists and heels were badly damaged, possibly from straining against the iron. Poor man, he was too new to understand his new body. She made a mental note to teach him later.
“It’s him, then? The last of his kind.”
The second nodded, stepping forward smartly. “And the last one to complete the team.” He put his arms akimbo and brought out two guns. Pointing each at one cuff, he fired. A bolt of brilliant plasma seared through the reinforced steel. He fired another to free the warrior’s legs.
As he toppled to the floor, the swordswoman dashed forward in a blink and caught him.
“Alright, let’s get out of here.” The gunslinger trained his weapons on the exit and unleashed a salvo of superheat which melted through the supposedly indestructible doors.
Stanwick made his laboratory immune to any outsiders but not his own experiments. Why?
With a burst of hyperspeed, the two blazed out of the laboratory, leaving a heap of melted steel in their heist. Not the most stealthy mission, but Lucian felt a glimmer of satisfaction from imagining Stanwick seeing their work in the morning. His own people obliterating his place.
The brute was nearing. It stomped the ground with raw ferocity, both arms wielding clubs the size of a grown man, racked with iron spikes that were already bloodied. It towered over Yi, four times his height.
Yi finished off the soldier he’d been fighting with a fatal cut to his neck and faced the mutated juggernaut which now stood a few feet away from him, giving Yi an unwanted view of the monstrosity.
The man, or half-man, was a living example of Noxian science and morals. It was a mix of unstable hextech and flesh, with vein-valves pumping a mixture of oil and blood, armour fused into the skin, eyes lifeless and agonized.
Killing you would be a mercy, Yi thought.
It gave a mechanized roar and swiped one of its clubs. Yi ducked and slashed at its wrist, but bounced off without so much as a dent. Yi felt his blade ripple with discord and protest. It did not want to touch that cursed abomination.
“Neither do I, Er-Sune.” Whispered Yi. “But we must.”
On the next blind smash, Yi leapt onto the brute’s arm and dashed up his armour. It gave a indignant bellow at this small man climbing on him and tried to swat him off with his club. Expecting this, Yi darted onto that hand and jumped off without another moment’s hesitation, straight into the face of the tormented man. He did a twirl, Er-Sune dead straight, blade gleaming with the warm embrace of the afterlife.
The brute closed its eyes and accepted it, but his body did not.
Crimson and dirty brown liquid spilled from the wound, covering Yi in a layer of filth as he dropped to the ground. Then he saw the corpse shake like a violent puppet. The valves on its body ruptured and glowed with intense heat.
A wave of fire exploded outwards, and Yi could only feel agony as his body ignited.
Human R.E.M simulation complete.
“Good, you’re up.” A voice sounded far away, even though Yi could sense that the source of the noise was right in front of him.
Yi’s vision slowly whirred to life, his HUD flickering to operation. He saw two figures in glowing outlines of orange and pink staring at him.
It was then he realised he was lying on something different, not the metal in the lab, but soft dirt.
“Who are you people?” Yi sat up.
“People like you.” The one in orange said. He was the one that had greeted him.
“What do you mean?”
The one in pink laughed in a more high-pitched voice. A female. “We’ll explain everything to you, but for now, we have to move. Just follow us.”
“How can I trust you?” Yi stood up and backed off slowly.
“Well, for one thing, if you scan us we’ll be displayed as passive. Another thing…” Orange tossed him a metal pole, which Yi caught, and when his fingers touched the pole, it expanded immediately into a 5 foot long blade with laser edges.
“That’s yours. We got it when we broke you out. Didn’t want Stanwick laying his grubby hands on a relic this good.”
“Stanwick…He’s that scientist?”
“Yi, we’re going to be here all day. Let’s move.”
“I still don’t know your names, if you do.”
The lady pointed at Orange. “Lucian.” Then she pointed at herself. “Fiora. Now, let’s go.”
As it turns out, whatever people like Yi were made out of, they could run fast.
Lucian and Fiora had taken off without giving Yi a chance to learn to move his legs. Before he could protest, he felt the motors the two limbs activate. A burning sensation grew in his knee joints, and he took off.
Somehow, he learnt to run before he could walk. He felt information automatically appear in his brain, from an unknown source. It could have been Lucian and Fiora’s work, but it felt as though it was a memory being unlocked.
Fundamental movement and bodily functions. 14.6 GB. Retrieving data: status 100%.
Was the message that appeared in his HUD. He dismissed it as he concentrating on keeping up with the two, which he could faintly detect through the crosshairs focusing on the blurry figures that tore through the empty plains.
Speed: 100 kilometres per hour. 125. 150.
Where were they going?
Yi discovered his answer as he suddenly noticed a looming shadow over him. It was a tower, and even though it was 6.782 km away, it was still visible.
After 1 minute and 48 seconds, they had reached. Yi slowed down to a complete stop instantly, much to his surprise.
Two large metal doors hissed and slid open. The three stepped through. Lucian stepped on a pressure plate, and circuit lights illuminated themselves, travelling up the walls, spreading across the entire room. Holograms and projections fired up, showing a multitude of diagrams, most of them unrecognizable, but Yi saw a 3D map of Stanwick’s base, including the room he was in. His HUD displayed a bunch of messages, but Yi ignored them.
“It’s small compared to our friend’s, but welcome to our humble abode.” Fiora gestured around with a hint of theatricality.
“We’ll be here a while. There’s a lot we have to talk about.” Lucian glanced at Yi as he snapped his finger. Three holes in the ground opened up and chairs rose from it. “Sit down. You’re going to want to.”
Lucian began. “A thousand years ago, there was a continent called Valoran, land to many empires and cities, all clumped up in a mismatch of technologies, cultures, beliefs and people. You were from Ionia, me and Fiora were from Demacia. Is this triggering anything in your head?”
Lucian shot Fiora a look Yi caught, but couldn’t decipher what it was. Then he continued, “Never mind. You can read up about it later. Anyway, aside from a couple of wars here and there, all Runeterrans somewhat lived in peace, until the Rune Wars happened. The Third one.”
“Suddenly, Valoran was thrown into chaos. The continent practically broke apart from both the sheer power of the Runes as well as the empires fighting for dominance. But the hundreds and thousands of soldiers could never match up to the destruction one Rune could unleash. After a decade of fighting, all empires were reduced to rubble. The survivors were few and far between, but they gathered together and signed a treaty, then they scoured Piltover, the City of Progress, for any technology they could utilise to rebuild the now shattered Valoran.”
Again, Lucian asked, “Anything now?”
Lucian rushed on to cover that blatant expression of surprise on his face. “Well, that’s where we come in. During the war, we were sort of hailed as champions, and I guess a few men couldn’t bear to lose their heroes. To preserve us, Professor Stanwick Piddly, a scientist from Piltover, gathered our corpses and injected us with some formula he devised and kept us in cryostasis. Meanwhile, he worked on a project to infuse man with machine, something which was common back then, but he worked on something far better, to make us immortal weapons, a perfect combination of flesh and metal, and thus, the PROJECT was born.”
“And we were the results. Living weapons. We didn’t like it, didn’t like the idea of serving masters. Stanwick hadn’t anticipated the humanity inside us to fight. He left us with a fragment of our memories, and that tiny percentage made us realise who we were in the past and now. So we escaped. A bunch of us.”
“Then why didn’t you take me?” Yi accused.
“We had no idea you were one of us. Stanwick created all of us at once, but for some reason made you last. Our intel that you were alive came in only yesterday, and we worked to break you out.”
“We? Just you and her, or are there more?”
“They’re not here, but we’ll introduce you to them later. For now, just listen.”
Fiora took up the explaining. “We know you’re feeling overwhelmed, not just from us speaking, but your new form. You have a lot of data locked in your mind, and you’ll slowly gain them over time. But you are now a half-robot, capable of calculating the exact amounts in anything, of discovering information on whatever you breathe, look, smell or taste. It’s confusing, but it’s ok. All of us have gone through this.”
“I hate it.” Yi agreed. “I don’t need this. It feels like there’s another me, the one giving all these numbers and words.”
“That’s your other. Trust me, you’ll need him soon, but you have to control him, or he will overpower you, and you’ll lose your humanity, and turn into–”
Lucian made a hiss to silence her, and Fiora did.
“Turn into what?”
“Nothing,” Lucian lied with a tone of conviction, and Yi could tell he wasn’t going to answer that. “Just know that you’ll be feeling conflicted over the next few days. Control the robot part of you, and you’ll flow perfectly. As much as we hate becoming the thing we were reborn for, it’s pretty darn helpful.”
“Okay.” Yi processed all the information, all 3.5 GB - No, don’t count it. He clenched his fists.
“I remember being human,” he said, “and now I’m this. A machine with no mouth, eyes, ears, with metal arms and legs.”
“A heart of a man still beats inside you, inside all of us.” Fiora sounded comforting.
Yi laid back on his chair and exhaled. “So what am I? I don’t even think I’m breathing. Was that just a sound of a sigh?”
Lucian nodded. “We don’t eat, breathe or rest, but we do it sometimes to feel human.”
“Speaking of rest, it seems like you need it. Sleeping quarters are over there. We’ll let you digest all of what we’ve said, and when you’re ready to be bombarded with another truckload of info, go to the Archive, and learn about yourself.” Fiora said.
“And you guys? What will you guys be doing?”
“We’re going to assemble the PROJECTS.”
Yi took a rest of an hour exactly before heading to the Archive, somehow knowing the way around the base. Feeling more rested and ready to uncover more about himself, he entered the room when his brain told him, “This is the place.”
It was a normal room, not unlike the other countless rooms that lined the corridor he walked through, with no unique features. When he stepped through, the door slid open. Inside, the room was empty, with plain metal walls similar to the walls of the base: blue, circuit-lit, plain. There was, however, one metal basin in the centre. Seeing no other option, Yi walked towards it and experimentally waved his hand over the top.
A flash of blue light emitted from the centre startled Yi back a few steps. It was a projection, showing an empty screen. Then, words typed themselves out on it.
“Please enter search.”
Yi took a cautious step forward. It wasn’t going to hurt him, the logical part of him said, but he still felt a bit unsettled. A digital keyboard appeared at his fingertips. Yi typed in a search, “PROJECT”
The screen expanded to the size of the room as words and paragraphs appeared suddenly. Yi stepped back to read them.
“PROJECTS are an evolutionary prodigy of man and machine, created to be the ultimate soldier, completely omitting all human limits and flaws so as to become the best a cybernetic human could be. However, this would result in a loss of human emotions and feelings for the being, and all subjects submitted to the experimentations have rejected this destruction of their humanity, hence rendering their transformation incomplete. Still, the new upgrades to their existing forms have granted them incredible superhuman abilities, including higher capabilities for muscles, a knowledge database of 1000 terabytes detailing about everything existing and not existing. They do not require basic human needs, such as sleep, energy from sustenances and others.”
Then why do I feel like I know so little?
Yi tapped the words “knowledge database”, and a small message popped up. “LOCKED.”, making Yi growl in frustration.
He waved at the image to dismiss it and typed in another search.
“Professor Stanwick Piddly, born 14 6A 82X, deceased 22 1A 150X. Hailing from Piltover, he was one of the most respected professors at the Piltover Academy. He was most well known for the creation of the Great Steam Golem, Blitzcrank, as well as the development of many inventions that pushed the boundaries of physics, biotics and cybernetic augmentations. Aptly given the nickname of “The Father Of The Cyborgs”, Piddly has contributed an astounding amount of knowledge, effort and research papers in the field, allowing Piltover to breakthrough in military improvements to their soldiers and combat machinery. He perished in the Third Rune War, assassinated by Zed, the Master Of Shadows.”
“You’re lying.” Yi said, “If Piddly’s dead, then who was that guy?”
No one responded, obviously. Yi wanted to kick the projection, but he steadied his anger, and typed in his last question.
There was no searching required, only one message in red displayed with zero delay.
“What?” Yi shouted. “Why is it locked?”
Then the message disappeared, replaced by a another message: “You do not have clearance”
“Clearance? I’m searching about myself! What the hell do you mean I don’t have clearance?”
The Archive didn’t answer, because the lights had died, and Yi detected one unknown heat signature entering from the roof.
Stealth mode engaged. Heat generation lowered to 10%.
Yi hadn’t planned for that, but the other him must have sensed what he wanted to do. Not be seen, because if he could see that person, chances were that person could see Yi’s heat signature.
It came with a cost, though. Yi’s movements suddenly felt sluggish. His energy output was drastically reduced.
Damn, Lucian and Fiora weren’t around. Whoever this person was, he’d have to face him or her on his own.
Yi headed to the third floor. The heat signature was now opposite him, and between him and the unknown were a stack of metal crates, pillars and total darkness. Yi also realised the lights on his body had turned off. He unsheathed his blade.
Stealth mode off.
Yi dashed forward, entering super speed for a quick blink, brandishing his sword at -
The heat signature was right in front of him, according to his sensors. His crosshair created an outline of the darkness. A shadow clone.
Yi spun around and saw a crimson blade flying towards him. He put up his blade to block it, then he counter attacked with a swing at the ninja’s stomach, who used his other blade to parry the strike.
As they fought, memories inside Yi unlocked themselves. He remembered his name.
The no-longer unknown blinked backwards into the darkness.
“Zed.” Yi said.
“Swordsman.” was all Zed said before going in for another bout. Yi recognised the Master’s fight pattern and could counter it with somewhat ease, locking the two in a stalemate, since Zed did the same, but soon Yi, with a shock, realised that Zed was far more used to his augmented form, while Yi was not. His motions were more fluid and his strength more apparent. Yi couldn’t keep it up for long.
One mistake, one quick movement that didn’t have enough strength or was angled just slightly off course, could be the end.
Zed went in for a strike, Yi blocked it with the hilt of his sword, but it skidded off and sliced into his shoulder - it was half a centimetre off centre.
Yi gasped in pain and fell back. Zed knocked his blade out of his hands and pointed his at his face.
Zed dove in for the kill, but from the side, a ray of light passed through Zed and like thunder following lightning, a large figure slammed into him, knocking him back. Yi scanned her. She was holding an electrified bulky metal shield, plated with condensed steel. In her other hand she held an iron sword with Solari markings and design. Her amour also sported similar traits.
A barrage of lightbolts came from behind Yi, burning into Zed. He gave a snarl and disappeared, leaving a faint shadow in the air that glared at the PROJECTS.
“You okay?” Lucian lifted Yi to his feet.
“Yeah, I think.” Yi touched his wound and found that it was healing up quickly. “Thanks for the assist.” He nodded at the lady with the shield.
“No problem, I’m Leona, by the way. I’ve heard about you.”
Yi felt slightly flattered. He scanned the room and found that there were an array of figures standing around. “Who are they?”
“We’ll get you acquainted, but first, tell us why Zed was in our base.”
Yi spent the next 5 minutes explaining in detail what happened when all 6 PROJECTS were in the living room seated, watching Yi in rapt attention. Yi didn’t like having 5 visors scanning him for his heart rate, level of anxiety, as well as his internal structure.
“Was he looking for something?” Lucian asked.
“I don’t know. We just started fighting. I only saw his Shadows.”
“Makes sense to fool you with his Shadows. He must have known you were a rookie.” One of the new PROJECTS said. The one in blue, Yi noted.
“Rookie?” Yi growled. She kept kicking her leg, unfazed by what she had said.
“Relax, we were all tricked at one point. Zed somehow managed to augment his shadow powers such that they became almost-perfect clones, able to generate their own heat signature, move about, all that.” Fiora said.
“Which means he knew Yi was revived and here.” Leona chimed in.
“Not surprised,” The green one spoke, “He has a knack for this stuff, you know?”
“We’ll figure this out later. For now, we’ll introduce you to the rest,” Lucian said. Pointing at the blue one, he said, “That’s Ashe. That’s Ekko, and you know Leona.” He pointed at the green one and the yellow one respectively. The three of them made mechanical waves of acknowledgment at him.
“This is what you called us back for, Lucian?” Ashe’s tone of boredom sparked some anger in Yi. “Just for a meet and greet? And your rookie doesn’t look happy to see me.” She smirked at Yi, who suddenly remembered she could scan him. He steeled himself to calm down.
“It’s not just that. Yi’s revival meant something. Stanwick must be up to something. We have to find out what.” Lucian replied.
“That’s your job, not ours. Recon is your speciality, hmm?” Ashe flexed her fingers.
“Just stick together. After Zed’s attack, something’s going on here. It’s not same for us to be alone.”
Ekko coughed. “Hi there, Ashe’s companion here. Nice to meet you.”
“For us to be split up.” Lucian exasperatedly corrected himself.
“Then where’s the Wanderer? I don’t see him with us.”
“Yasuo made his choice. He’s never coming back.” Fiora shot at her, clearly annoyed, which startled Ashe into silence.
“Alright,” Leona stepped in, “so what do we do now?”
“I need to do a check on the base, make sure Zed didn’t take anything. It’ll take me a while - we have a lot of stuff here.”
“That’s a hell lot of data.” Ekko whistled.
“I’ll try my best. Fiora, you go back to Piddly’s. See what he’s up to. Take Yi with you, he’s gotta learn.”
“Why do I have to learn? Can’t I just download more knowledge and learn this stuff instantly?”
Ashe snickered. “That’s not how learning works, kid.”
Yi wanted to say the opposite, considering that he’s been doing it all this while, but he decided to keep quiet.
“My bad,” he said lamely, dropping the subject.
“And you three? What will you guys be doing?” Lucian asked.
“We got our own stuff to do.” Ashe said.
“Alright then, I’ll leave now. Fiora and Yi, I’ll leave it to you. Stay safe.” Lucian started to walk up the stairs.
“We’ll leave at night.” Then she seemed to remember something. “Oh, we haven’t shown the place to you yet.”
“No, I know my way around.”
“Really?” She sounded curious. “How?”
“I…had a lot of time to look around,” he lied.
“Well, alright. Meet back here in 3 hours 22 minutes then.”