There existed, among the multitude of disgusting Bilgewater shipping warehouses filled with rusted knives and arms-length carnivorous rats, one Bilgewater shipping warehouse devoid of such things. Owned by a Piltovan arms dealer whose relative was recently murdered (and skinned and stuffed into a dockside horror house), it was primarily used to ship large quantities of high explosives—both powder and hex—to various enemies of peace across the continent. Most notably, the Noxians in Ionia, the Noxians in Shurima, the Noxians in Demacia, and, very occasionally, the Noxians in Noxus—the latter having recently sent a letter threatening to murder “the cheap bastard who was gouging them with their bomb prices.”
Said Piltovan owner-slash-bastard, deciding it was no longer safe to be the consigliere of colonial evil, therefore employed a group of heavily armed Azure Way mercenaries to guard his warehouse while simultaneously hiring a different group of heavily armed mercenaries to steal the entire hoard from under the first group’s noses. A great sum of coin was spent insuring this hoard so that in the event of a colossal chain explosion during a violent, hypothetical gunfight, the owner would walk away an ever-so-slightly wealthier arms dealer. A forward-thinking business decision, considering his heist crew consisted of notorious con artistCollateral damage was intended. , and notorious bath-avoider .
“What the blue hells is this? Some kinda setup?” Malcolm Graves correctly guessed from behind a second-floor catwalk, his large, meaty body only barely concealed by a double-wide pillar. Gunfire rained upward all around him, chewing away thick pieces of his cover and punching holes into nearby shipping containers—many of which displayed prominent illustrations of a frowning cartoon man being blown apart.
“Seems that way,” Twisted Fate replied, crouched nearby as he flipped a playing card over in his fingers. With each turn, its hues shifted from blue, to red, to gold—though when he got especially nervous, he couldn’t get the order right. This was a problem, considering the red ones caused large flaming explosions, the gold ones caused large glittering explosions, and the blue ones were not really that useful right now.
“Why aren’t you doing anything, ya jackass? I can’t even take a shot!” yelled Graves, his finger twitching over the trigger of his human-sized shotgun. He didn’t mind being shot at as long as he could return the favor.
“They’re set up behind a crate of gunpowder,” Fate snapped back, motioning around the room that was stacked floor to ceiling with volatile dry-pack explosives. “Unless you want to go down like the Dead Pool, we might need to figure out a plan B.”
“I don’t wanna do that!” whinged Graves, not specifying whether he meant dying or thinking. “This sucks! Why do we always gotta pick the weird jobs?”
“Because they pay the best,” replied Fate, perhaps more nonchalantly than the moment called for. “Ain’t a reflection on us.”
“Huh. Makes sense when you say it like that.” Graves pondered their predicament, wondering if his smoke bombs would cause the pair to immediately die by igniting some stray black powder on the warehouse floor, or if they’d die half a second later when one of the blinded fish-men accidentally fired his gun into a crate of dynamite. The second option sounded good. Really good. Really, really good.
“I’ve got a really, really, really good plan!” Graves announced, confidently holding out a live grenade. He glanced at the tiny frowning cartoon man on the boxes in front of him. “Don’t judge me,” he told him.
“What are you doin’?” Fate protested, his eyes widening in horror as Graves’ arm arced back for the throw. In his mind, he saw the two of them disintegrating along with a good portion of the Slaughter Docks—or at least Graves disintegrating, which would be inconvenient at best. “Malcolm, what are you doin’?”
“Wait!” boomed a voice from below. “Do not throw that!”
Graves, somewhat disheartened by the order, but equally grateful the gunfire had suddenly ebbed, lowered his smoke bomb. Fate, who in a state of panic had forgotten the color of the card he held, gripped a red one, which would have accidentally killed everyone if he’d mistakenly activated it to try and escape the warehouse.
The partners locked eyes for a moment, looked at their respective explosives, then back at each other.
“Mine was better,” gloated Graves. “Safer.”
The voice from below, now near hysterical, busied itself commanding the other mercenaries to stop firing wildly into a warehouse stuffed with bombs, specifically lambasting someone named Kouign who “should know better after last time.” The gunmen grumbled in turn. Or burbled, or blubbed, depending on the size and configuration of their prominently fishy heads.
As the unseen voice in charge moved about, Fate leaned over to Graves, pointing at his interior coat pocket. “You still got that blue card I gave you?” he whispered.
“What, the one from the Sentinels? Yeah, I still got it,” Graves answered at a normal volume.
“Quiet. Now what say we pop that sucker and get out of here? These guys are distracted. They’ll never know we left.”
“Nuh-uh, you already told me what all this is worth. You think I’m just gonna leave a score that big on the table? I got a mouth to feed: mine.”
“We shoulda died at least a hundred times already. Now’s the chance to cut our losses.”
“I’ll never die, because I’m the handsome protagonist. Everyone knows that.”
“Everyone knows squat. One stray bullet, and we’re all portraits at a funeral.”
“Your funeral, maybe. I beat. That makes me the male lead.”
“The male lead? I am so tired of this damn story!” yelled Fate, immediately attracting the attention of everybody in the room.
“See? That’s your fault. Real deuteragonist behavior,” Graves gloated, about forty percent sure he used the word “deuteragonist” right.
Everyone collectively hesitated, each glancing around nervously as the realization of where they were and what, exactly, they had gotten themselves into began to sink in. Yet neither the pair of bumblers nor the rank and file Azure Way castoffs had the authority to end this standoff... Or really any standoff, as immediate and violent escalation is a rich Bilgewater tradition.
The tall hammerhead-shark man with a menacing harpoon gun and no shirt was also unable to end this standoff, but he did not know it yet. His name was Bombolini, and the two things he knew best were how to project an understated elegance for a creature of his stature, and how to know exactly what to say to command a room.
“What are you doing, you buncha ding dongs?” he shouted toward the catwalk. “You tryna vaporize half of Bilgewater? What kind of heist crew brings live ammunition to a powder job?”
Malcolm Graves and Twisted Fate both (unwisely) poked their heads out from their cover, each looking into a different monocular eye of their newfound opponent. His steely gaze, his muscular figure, his mean-looking weapon that was clearly intended to skewer sea serpents. A second of recognition passed. Two seconds. And then, for some reason, three.
“Bombolini?” Graves asked.
“Malcolm?” Bombolini asked back. “Malcolm Graves? Is that you? Are... Are you robbing me?”
Graves let out a sigh of relief, relaxing his shoulders. This wasn’t just any dumb fish. This was a dumb fish friend.
“I’m not robbing you. I’m robbing the guy who hired you,” Graves explained. “I think he hired us, too. Which makes what we’re doin’ up here morally sound.”
“Hey, Bombolini,” Fate waved. “I’m robbing you, too.”
“Wha—” protested Bombolini. “Now wait a damn minute! You two blew me up! You blew me up on my own ship! We were partners, and you double-crossed me for the worst score this city has ever seen!”
“It wasn’t the worst,” retorted Graves.
“One jewel,” Fate corrected. “Ended up being glass.”
“Nah, that’s not right,” Graves said. “Had to be more.”
But it wasn’t.
Many years prior, Bombolini had been the unappreciated third member of the Graves & Fate crime duo back when they pulled small jobs for bad pay, and their posters were somewhat... unfortunately worded.
“Two men who will do anything (and we mean anything) to anybody (and we mean anybody) for the right price (any price),” the leaflets used to say, which, in addition to Bombolini’s complete erasure from the group, led to a number of rather avoidable miscommunications with prospective clientele. And thanks to Bilgewater’s rich tradition of violent escalation, these mishaps tended to end in bloodshed or minor dock explosions—ironically drawing enough attention to the upstart criminals that they became a popular mercenary outfit.
The leaflets remained unchanged for years, which made a young Bombolini deeply bitter. He eventually used his portion of the group’s earnings to buy a modest schooner, retire from criminality, and start a solo wreck-diving operation in the Blue Flame Isles that paid much better than robbery and coincidentally did not bill itself as some sort of pirate flesh carnival in bar flyers.
Also coincidentally, success tends to draw eyes, and two of those eyes eventually hired Malcolm Graves and Twisted Fate to rob their former companion at a dive site near a Buhru ruin. Lacking any moral fiber whatsoever, the pair immediately accepted. The robbery instantly led to a small oil fire, then a large oil fire, then bloodshed followed by a minor schooner explosion. All the treasure sank with the ship... save, of course, for a single piece of sea glass.
Bombolini was assumed dead, the client was furious, and nobody got paid. All in all, it was one of the duo’s more successful heists.
“Didn’t you die?” asked Fate. “I’m pretty sure you died.”
Bombolini tilted his head, unable to see any part of himself thanks to the wide setting of his predatory eyes—though the attempt was quite valiant. “Does it look like I’m dead?”
“I dunno,” replied Graves. “Maybe.”
“Are we going to kill them, boss?” asked a fishman impatiently, this one a spotter resembling a large, bipedal goby.
“I second Goby,” said his partner, a hunched-over humanoid pistol shrimp with a rather impressive long gun. “You said these guys double-crossed you before, right? What’s their deal?”
Bombolini blinked, his walnut-sized brain chugging along as he attempted to remember what exactly their deal had been. After a few decades, one tends to forget the intricacies of their archnemeses.
Graves. Fate. Graves... but also... Fate. What is their deal?
He had arrived at something interesting. Something he could use. Something that would turn the entire confrontation on its head.
“They’re together,” he guessed confidently.
“We know that,” replied Goby.
“No, they’re together,” Bombolini repeated, even more confidently. “I knew they’d end up with each other. Graves always had the worst taste in men, and Fate is the worst man I’ve ever met. It all makes sense!”
Goby shrugged. Shrimp sighed and turned back toward the pair of thieves above, adjusting the sight on his gun as he wondered why, exactly, he’d agreed to any of this in the first place.
Up on the catwalk, however, the mood was decidedly different.
“He thinks we’re together,” whispered Fate. “Like, together-together. A couple. Romantically.”
“I know what ‘together’ means, Tobias,” Graves whispered back, now decidedly more discreet than before. “But how do we use it? What’s the play? And why was he so mean?”
Fate stroked his chin with his free hand, flipping the errant red card into a gold card as he turned the question over in his head. The chance of everyone dying in a colossal fireball was still higher than he liked, but with Bombolini and his men off guard, now was the time for bold action. He needed something big. Something dumb. Something that would turn the entire confrontation on its head. He needed...
“I cannot believe you got us into this mess again!” Fate shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at Graves while making sure most of his body remained hidden from the sniper. “This is just like you, never thinking before you show up! You’re too big, you have no finesse, and you packed hex-shots and grenades for a powder job! My ma was right, we shouldn’t have stayed together!”
Graves was taken aback for several reasons. The first of which is that he had never met Fate’s mother, and, up until this point, had not been sure she even existed. The second was that Fate had not explained the plan to him and was now making jabs at Graves’ rugged burliness and masterful heist preparation—both of which made him a statuesque prince among thieves.
“Hey, what are you sayin’? You’re the one always goin’ on about how you’re so clever, and yet here we are, pullin’ another garbage job where you’re gonna die and I gotta save you! If it were up to me, we’d be doin’ easy jobs, like individual murders and light-to-heavy extortion!”
“Yeah, because you have no vision!” Fate continued, emphasizing the word “vision” while winking prominently.
Graves did not register this right away, and continued to bluster about his partner’s many shortcomings.
“That’s why we always fight,” Fate winked again. This one broke through.
Down below, Bombolini was ecstatic among an otherwise bored or confused crew.
When one is double-crossed by an old friend, their emotional chemistry is irreversibly altered. It makes them paranoid, delusional, and most importantly, occasionally taken with intricate revenge fantasies.
Bombolini embodied all of this. He often liked to entertain one of these fantasies wherein his two most hated enemies had an immediate falling out in front of his steely shark eyes. This falling out would take place in some sort of room or vessel with a heavy explosive payload that would, at the apex of the argument, burst into flames and detonate, killing them both as the smoke spelled out “We’re sorry, Bombolini.” Then everyone would cheer, and he would be given a crown and a sash. Possibly a scepter.
It was a very intricate fantasy.
What was not part of the fantasy was being hit squarely in the chest by a well-aimed gold card and flying out of the shipping door into the sea.
“Now!” said Fate, dashing out from his cover and into an adjoining office as he splashed the bare walls with gold cards wherever the explosives weren’t stacked high enough to ignite. Each card burst with a dazzling spray of golden filament, temporarily stunning Bombolini’s mercenaries who then immediately began firing in all directions.
As Graves followed Fate through the suite and into the guts of the larger warehouse, a stray bullet buried itself in the crate Goby and Shrimp were using for cover, and the two fish-men froze. With bullets whizzing through the air, Goby looked at Shrimp, and Shrimp looked at Goby. What felt like an eternity passed between them.
“I think we’re sa—” said Goby, exploding.
The first blast rocked the entire structure as Fate and Graves stumbled along a flimsy metal suspension bridge over far more crates of black powder than their client had originally described.
“That’s not good,” said Fate with a glance below.
“It really isn’t,” replied Graves. “I know we was doing a bit, but on a personal and professional level, I am not happy with you right now.”
“You’re never happy with me, anyway! We gotta move!” exclaimed Fate as several armed mercenaries looked up from the gloom, suddenly noticing the two distinctly non-fishlike criminals above them.
Graves, now more emotionally wounded than he wanted to let on, tossed a smoke grenade over the side of the catwalk, enveloping the first floor in a thick cloud of caustic fog. “That’s usually fun, but my heart’s just not in it right now,” he explained over the sound of dry-heaving mercenaries.
“Why are you being such a big baby? You’re a grown man!” shouted Fate, attempting to move the action along as stray shots rang out across the powder storage floor.
“Stop calling me a big baby! You’re always taking shots at my size. I’m the muscle that saves the day every time you get your goose cooked. You’re ungrateful as hell, Fate!”
“I’m ungrateful? I’m not the one who disappeared for months to go fight some Camavor ghost prince, then rolled back into town one night like he owned the place.”
“He was a ghost king, and you’re lucky I fought him or we’d all be ghosts! You’d be a ghost, I’d be a ghost. Everyone would be a ghost!”
“You weren’t even there! You think I don’t readletters? Graves, I’m a con man, you can’t trick me. They left you outside while and the saved the day.”
“That ain’t how it went down, Fate,” said Graves darkly. “That’s just the story. We don’t talk about what really happened.”
“Oh, please! Your delusions of grandeur were annoying decades before you became Valoran’s number-one hero.”
“Is this still a fake fight or are we having a real fight? Because if it’s a real fight, I will punch that stupid hat through your mouth.”
“I think it’s a real fight! And you know what else? You do stink, and you don’t think things through, and live grenades were not the best call here!”
“Yeah, well, this is why we stopped working together the first damn time! Because you think you’re better than me, and you think you’re better than this!”
“And what if I am?” yelled Fate, only realizing what he’d said after he had said it.
From the burning, rupturing front of the warehouse, Bombolini’s surviving mercenaries poured through the service door and onto the catwalk, its bolts decoupling from the walls under their combined weight. Many of the gunmen were badly singed and filled with a roiling anger fit to match their newfound crispiness.
“We can fight later, dammit! Get yer behind out that door!” Graves commanded as he and Fate dropped their argument and made a run for the exit with a rapidly sinking catwalk buckling underfoot.
Six strides from the doorway, another blast tore upward from the powder floor, consuming the Azure Way mercenaries in a pillar of raging flame as the crates beneath them began to blow one by one. The smoke from Graves’ grenade, a highly flammable mix of stinging, blinding, and stinking components deployed for tactical measures, immediately caught fire—something Graves did not account for, despite his supplier telling him several dozen times that the smoke was flammable. This, of course, ignited and exploded even more crates of black powder, launching both the slick card-sharp and the daring bath-avoider through a crumbling brick wall, down one floor, and into a grimy foyer—also filled wall-to-wall with explosives.
Among their heists, it still counted as one of the more successful ones.
“Ugh,” groaned Graves. “That sucked.”
Fate fumbled above his head to make sure his hat was still there, and only when he confirmed its safety did he hold his screaming ribs. “Yeah, it did.”
“Tobias, if we don’t make it out of this... I just wanna say one thing.”
“What is it, friend?” smiled Fate.
“I hope you die first,” Graves cough-laughed.
“Aw, shucks, that’s sweet.”
The warehouse shook again as debris and chunks of roof smacked hard against the floor, smoke poured through the gaping second-story hole in the wall, and flames licked tightly packed boxes of hexplosives—these emblazoned with a different frowning cartoon man in the process of blowing up.
“Did no one notice how wildly unsafe this was?” asked Graves, hobbling toward what appeared to be a service exit.
“It’s Bilgewater, Malcolm. Nobody notices anything.”
“Nobody... except for me!” said a familiar, if slightly raspier, voice.
Bombolini, now sporting a thick purple bruise in the center of his torso, stepped theatrically before the duo, his harpoon gun primed as his large, sharky shape stood between Bilgewater’s most-noticed mercenaries and the only way out. Graves caught sight of a damp, shark-shaped spot on the dock outside. Bombolini had likely been hiding there, waiting minutes for this reveal.
“Gods, not this donut again,” Fate muttered.
“And yet, it is!” Bombolini exclaimed, stifling a cough. “Do you know what I thought when I saw you two after all these years? After all that time, all that—”“Not interested,” said Graves, pointing his massive shotgun at a container of explosives directly next to the shark-man. Graves pulled the trigger, the gun fired, and everything went up in smoke.
Several hundred arm spans from the rupturing warehouse once filled with far too many explosives to actually steal, Malcolm Graves and Twisted Fate suddenly appeared in the air a length and a half above a quaint little fishing pier... along with some residual smoke and flame, as Fate’s teleportation timing had not been perfect. The two crashed onto the ground with Graves’ gun landing squarely on his stomach. The sound he made was a bit like “uhbloof,” though it could have been any number of other expletives.
“Those blue cards sure are useful,” Fate bragged from flat on his newly injured back, dusting off his hat with the arm that wasn’t cradling his possibly broken ribs. It had been a long day.
“Yeah, but they’re never useful in the beginning,” wheezed Graves, a little toasty and bruised, but otherwise none the worse for wear. “We should use them before a gunfight breaks out. For stealing and whatnot.”
“That takes the artistry out of it. You don’t build a name for yourself by sticking to the shadows—you have to give the people a show!” Fate replied as the warehouse’s frame sagged in the distance and flames erupted furiously from still-unexploded payloads. He theatrically twirled his hand a bit, as if to underline the point.
“Fair,” said Graves, unconvinced.
The pair sat up in their blackened clothes, watching everything explode and then explode some more. It was almost romantic. If one considered that sort of thing romantic. Which, interestingly enough, they did.
“So, uh... what now?” Fate said, breaking the silence as quickly as possible. “Double-cross our dirty client? Dig a grave for whatever’s left of Bombolini?”
Graves chuckled. “Oh, we’re definitely doing that first thing. Nobody tries to blow me up without me blowing them up. As for Bombolini... I’d bet good money the shark is still out there. He’s like me. Too dumb to explode.”
“My friend, you’re the most brilliant dummy I ever did meet,” smiled Fate. “You’ll never explode. And I mean that sincerely.”
“Damn right,” puffed Graves. “Though, now that we’ve had it out... you and I need to have a conversation.”
“Right,” Fate sighed. He was tired of looking for ways to avoid apologizing, and all the adrenaline made him feel better about breaking his cardinal rule of never doing it for any reason.
He still wouldn’t say the word “sorry,” though. That was a bridge too far.
“Malcolm, I did not mean to imply that I was better than you. When we dissolved the business—”
“Stop, stop, stop,” said Graves, laying his shotgun behind himself as he dangled his legs over the water. “I already hate this. Apology accepted—next round’s on you.”
“Good man,” replied Fate thankfully, gazing across the sea as the sun began to set.
Graves looked over at his partner to add another quip, but noticed, perhaps for the first time, that there was a certain angularity to Tobias’ features that he had thus far failed to appreciate. A strong jaw, a shockingly unbroken nose, a bold choice in semi-fashionable hats. He was an objectively terrible person, but maybe the right kind of terrible for...
Uh-oh, he thought.
Malcolm Graves, now much older, only somewhat wiser, but infinitely more worldly, measured his next words more carefully than most things he did or said on any given day. Which was especially surprising to him, since navigating the complex relationship between two criminal masterminds such as themselves was not really his strong suit, nor had he ever given it much thought. He wondered... Why worry so much about Tobias’ opinion of him? It wasn’t like it mattered. They had their roles, after all, and—
“Malcolm,” Fate interrupted. “Do you have a concussion?”
“It’s possible,” Graves sighed, but not in a sad or tired way. More of a concussed way.
“Alright, let me look,” said the very injured Fate, brushing Graves’ hair aside as he looked for signs of a bruise. “We both know you’re a durable fella, but neither of us is invincible.”
“Not like Bombolini,” said Graves, confused by the welling excitement over Fate playing with his hair.
“I am legitimately dumbfounded by that,” Fate offered. “I remember that boat heist. Our old friend was caught in the middle of a deeply vicious detonation.”
“Deserved it, though. I do not have terrible taste in men. I have good taste in terrible men, and there is absolutely a difference.”
Fate finished inspecting his partner’s head, which didn’t exactly produce any new information, as he didn’t know what a concussion was supposed to look like. He gazed at Graves’ rugged features as the setting sun danced across his boyishly unkempt hair, and then considered all of those words together in a sentence, and then immediately recoiled at the complete thought. “Your taste isn’t terrible, Malcolm. It’s catastrophic.”
“Catastrophic?” Graves fired back. “Name one example. You can’t.”
“The Northman,” Fate said almost instantly. “The trader with the cockroach tattoo. That Buhru cultist—”
“Not a cultist.”
“Tried to sacrifice us both, but sure, not a cultist. The whale guy. The octopus guy. The second whale guy.”
“An orca is a kind of whale. The monk. The vastaya. The Noxian.”
Graves winced. “Alright, he was bad.”
“A Noxian, Malcolm. From Noxus. People talked about that one.”
“More racist than I would have preferred in a man, in hindsight,” Graves allowed. “But it ain’t like you’re bringing home the greatest lovers in history. You ain’t that slick.”
“Excuse me, I am very slick,” Fate protested. “No matter the size, shape, make, or model, none can resist the charms of Tobias Felix. I have conned hundreds—nay, thousands—of dew-eyed tourists across the whole of this vast and gullible land.”
“Not this one,” laughed Graves, a little too forcefully. “Or, uh... you know.”
“Y... yes, of course, I am aware,” Fate responded, not making eye contact as he fiddled with his hat.
The two sat in silence for a while. Or relative silence, considering the towering flames and brutal detonations and screaming and shouting in the distance.
“Sweet, look at that sucker burn,” said Graves, still dangling his legs off the pier like the world’s grungiest adult child. “Tobias, I’ve been thinking. And don’t get me wrong, I do love a crime or twenty, and you’ll be there for literally all of them—”
“What about Shauna? Or thatwith the laughing jar?” asked Fate with a tinge of poorly concealed jealousy, despite Graves having been gay for the better part of four decades.
“,” Graves corrected, more deliberately than was necessary for such a normal and casual conversation between platonic business associates, “is a good friend. But she’ll only help if we’re killing monsters. And for the love of all that’s sacred, never call her ‘Shauna.’ She will break your neck by looking at it. As for the other one... I don’t even want to deal with that right now.”
“She’s scary,” said Fate. “Never seen clothes like that before. So many hands.”
“She’s very scary,” Graves agreed. “I’m afraid she’s gonna kick me through a wall or something.
“Point is, I’m meeting new people. I’m seeing the world. Piltover. The Shadow Isles. I saw Camavor, Tobias. I’m expanding my horizons. I might even want to expand ‘em more. Hear Ixtal’s opening up. Could be good money out there... you know... if you wanted to come along for the ride.”
He rustled through his coat, producing a familiar blue playing card. “In which case, I probably wouldn’t need this anymore. Since you’d be around.”
Fate chuckled. “Why don’t you hold onto that for now? Think of it as... a souvenir.”
Graves grinned, slipping it back into his pocket. “I do like the sound of that.”
The partners smiled foolishly at this, each imagining various swashbuckling criminal misadventures while sitting at an awkward physical distance apart.
“But, you know, as, uh... partners,” Graves specified.
“Yes, obviously. Partners. In crime,” Fate added.
They concluded this exchange with a simultaneous fake cough. Graves looked unblinking at the water, and Fate looked at the underside of his hat. Far off in the distance, the warehouse burned and burned.
It was, all in all, one of their better heists.
- Graves' Blue Card references death animation.