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Zeri The Unexpected Spark.jpg
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Short Story

The Unexpected Spark

By Michael Luo

"I can’t accept this,"

Lore

“I can’t accept this,” the shopkeeper said, pushing Zeri’s change back at her. “It’s just spare parts. You’ve done too much to help since the Mist.”

Restless, Zeri looked around. Familiar streets showed unfamiliar loss—homes and shops battered by wicked sorcery that nearly ended the world. People were missing. Families were hurting. But crowds still gathered at the Entresol markets. Zeri didn’t understand exactly what had happened, but she knew this: Zaun would rebuild, and she would help.

She frowned at the shopkeeper’s work-hardened hands and pushed her own forward. “Get some banana cues. For your girls.”

The shopkeeper sighed, then smiled.

Zeri continued through the market, recalling her grandma’s oft-repeated reminders. “Ignore old man Shay—his parts are always rusted! Line up early at Auntie Maria’s—her marinated chicken is divine!” Zeri admitted her grandma could sometimes seem annoying, but she couldn’t deny that the woman was right. Her grandma knew the market and its people inside out, like how Moe’s daughters loved caramelized bananas. And it was in moments like this where that intimacy proved helpful.

“C’mere, rat!”

Zeri spun toward the noise in time to see a boy scurrying through the crowd. Two men tailed him, one short and square, the other tall with lanky limbs. Their outfits were unmistakable. Chem-baron thugs.

As the boy darted by, Zeri snatched his arm. “There, quick,” she said, pointing with her lips at Moe’s shop. The shopkeeper nodded knowingly. The frightened boy stood still.

“Trust me—go!”

The boy sprinted over, ducking under a table that Moe quickly covered with cloth.

“Hoy! Looking for someone?” Zeri shouted at the lackeys as they approached.

The men shoved past the locals. “Yeah, a kid. Just ran through here. You see ‘im?” asked the stocky one.

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “Tell us. We won’t hurt you.”

“Doubt that. But let’s skip to the part where I hurt you instead.”

The man laughed. “With what?”

Zeri reached for where her gun was usually strapped, only to find nothing there. Crap. Must’ve left it at mom's workshop—again.

Well, time to improvise. She rubbed her hands together and started running in place.

The thugs straightened in surprise.

“Is she... dancing?” observed the lanky one.

“Who cares?” his partner squawked. “Nab her already!”

Zeri’s hands and feet became a blur. The gear on her jacket’s back, a limiter device she called the Sparkpack, spun with building electricity. In a blink, she zipped between the men, bowling them over in a trail of wild lightning. Stray currents bounced from her body onto nearby doors and awnings, leaving little embers.

“Woo!” Zeri skid to a screeching halt. The lackeys lay collapsed on the ground. Her jaw dropped as she noticed a blackened awning collapse and fall to the street. “Oh, sorry! I—”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Moe, gesturing under the table for the kid to come out.

“You’re amazing!” the boy blurted, arms stretched wide. “You gotta help me. They still have my parents.”

“What? Where?” Zeri asked.

“Corner of Brasscopper Alley! A factory. They... they took them there. And others. I saw it!”

“Got it,” Zeri nodded. “What’s your name?”

“Timik.”

“Timik, I’ll get your parents.” Zeri’s eyes met Moe’s. “Mind doing me another favor?”

“Sure thing.” Moe patted Timik’s head. “Hey, kiddo. Want some banana cues for dinner?”

Like its neighboring streets, Brasscopper Alley housed rows of chem-baron factories. Soot filled the air, heavy enough to taste. Who else but the barons would force people to work in these conditions?

On the corner, a few guards reeking of less-than-fine spirits played cards by a run-down building with rusted double doors. Just like Timik described. Zeri touched her belt, ensuring her gun was secure.

She looked for another way in, spotting a rickety air vent large enough to crawl through halfway up a nearby wall. She jumped for the opening, coming up inches short. Stepping back, Zeri ran, her feet catching sparks. She hopped higher this time, boosted by her electricity.

“You already played that card!” she heard a guard growl as her fingers gripped the vent’s edge.

“Did not!” snapped another. “And you woulda known too if yer head wasn’t buried in that bottle.”

Zeri exhaled in relief. Right again, Grandma. Guards are lazier at night.

She pulled herself into the vent and started crawling, eventually coming to a large grate in the floor. Below was a curious room where wide metal pipes lined every wall. The exit was closed off by the double doors she saw earlier.

In the middle, a group of people assembled parts as several thugs with hextech-powered spears watched on like jail guards. Every time something reached the end of the assembly line, a thug tested it. And every time, there’d be a flash of blue light followed by nothing. The guard captain smashed these apparent failures and demanded the people start over. “And they said you were the smart ones,” he said, spitting on the floor.

Zeri could tell these people were clearly being held against their will. Parents and spouses and friends, all suffering.

“Argh!” Without thinking, Zeri banged a fist charged with frustration and electricity against the grate, which rattled from the impact. Zeri scrambled to secure it, but as the heavy grate fell from its fixture, so did she. With a loud clang, she landed in the middle of the factory floor.

The room gasped and recoiled in surprise.

“Is it him him?” asked a thug, shaking off the shock.

“No,” snarled the captain. “Her face doesn’t have the painted hourglass.”

Zeri rushed to her feet. “Dunno who you’re expecting, but you can’t keep these people here like this.”

The captain scowled. “Says who?”

“Me.”

Zeri whipped out her gun, her right hand clutching its rusted crimson grip. Her mom had designed it without trigger or magazine, needing only her daughter’s innate electricity, which now swelled with anger. Static buzzed from Zeri’s hand into the gun’s conductive barrel. She took aim.

“Ultrashock laser!”

A thunderous beam struck the double doors behind the thugs, blasting the rusted metal apart.

“Run!” Zeri cried. “I’ll take care of the guards!”

The hostages scattered, guards in pursuit.

A woman grabbed Zeri’s arm. “Have you seen my son? He wasn’t taken with us!”

“Timik’s fine. He’s—”

“Timik? No, that’s not—”

More thugs swarmed close. Zeri yanked her gun to face them and fired, pushing them back and creating space for the worried woman to flee.

“We gotta go,” a man warned, pulling the woman away.

Zeri unleashed more electric bullets as coverfire. “When word of this gets out to your boss,” she yelled, “you’re gonna wish you’d killed me here.”

The frustrated guards turned their attention away from the fleeing hostages and toward Zeri.

Good. Come to me.

As they approached, she vaulted onto one of the wide interlocking pipes attached to the walls. It was made of brass and copper—natural conductors.

Zeri’s feet crackled with electricity. Fueled by her sparks, she skated along the web of pipes, unloading flurries of bullets at three of the onrushing guards. Their bodies twitched and flailed before falling over. Deftly, Zeri switched directions, dropping the next few who were climbing the side railings to surprise her from behind. Only a handful of her attackers were left. She could head home soon. Her family was probably worried sick...

A blast struck the pipe beneath Zeri, forcing her off balance. She crashed to the ground.

“Got you now,” the captain said, holding what looked like a hextech cannon, smoke billowing off its muzzle. His remaining troops rallied, spears ready.

Zeri struggled to her feet, head spinning, knees scraped and bleeding, electric currents flickering across her injured body. She lifted her gun to fire.

It fizzled.

The captain smirked.

Damn! Must’ve broken in the fall.

Her enemies closed in.

“Screw it!” Zeri chucked her gun aside and tore off her jacket. Freed of the Sparkpack, she felt her body surge with voltage. Leaping into the air, she punched her left fist up toward the ceiling.

“LIGHTNING CRASH!”

Bioelectric waves shot from her fist, then her chest, and then her entire body, ripping the space asunder. Like a lightning storm, the waves arced off conductive metals, crackling violently as they drowned the room with Zeri’s raw power. Bodies jolted before dropping in droves.

Zeri fell to her knees, her knuckles propping her up. Blinking sweat from her eyes, she felt searing pain from her wounds everywhere at once. “That better have worked.”

“You little shit.” The captain's voice cut through the room. Zeri saw him stumble to his feet, bleeding from his nose and ears.

Why?” Zeri roared. “Why hurt innocent people?”

The man scoffed, kicking the limp bodies around him in search of his weapon. “No one’s innocent in the baroness’s the baroness’s eyes.”

A hum filled the air as the captain lifted his cannon toward Zeri.

With what little force she could muster, Zeri tumbled to the side and slipped behind a large fallen pipe. The blast flung her and her cover into a wall. Zeri’s vision turned black. When her eyes opened, the captain was gone.

Staggering under moonlight, Zeri headed home through nearly empty streets. She was relieved the hostages were safe, but still gritted her teeth. The chem-barons—they always had more. More resources, more power. Their strength was the system they created with everyone under their reign, all contributing to a Zaun they controlled. Maybe the captain was right—no one’s innocent.

And everyone’s a victim.

A flash of blue light erupted behind her, stopping Zeri in her tracks.

“Hey, nice work.”

She turned to see a teenager with a painted face and a glowing bat in hand. Unsure if she’d been tailed, Zeri tried to ready herself once more, but struggled to stand up straight in the face of the stranger.

“Relax,” the young man said. “Timik told me about you.”

“And who are you?” Zeri asked.

“Name’s Ekko. Those goons from the warehouse were looking for me before you showed up. But man, you wrecked ‘em.”

Zeri sighed. If he’s against the barons, he’s alright.

“Look,” Ekko continued, “I know you’ve got questions—so do I. And I’ve gotta ask... why help folks you don’t know?”

Zeri shrugged. “I stand up for my community.”

Ekko smiled. “Then we should talk. Zaun needs people like you… and I oughta thank you for saving my parents tonight, too.”

Zeri smiled back. “Anytime.”

References

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