Cognitive Dissonance @hexmage
Chapter One Jayce comes to in the worst possible place. Conversations ensue.

Jayce wakes up with a splitting headache. Well, at least that was an indicator that he wasn’t dead. He looks around warily, eyes skimming over blank walls and filled bookshelves. There’s some things that look like scrapped projects strewn about, and he becomes very aware of where he must be.

The deep Zaunite voice from behind him is just more proof. “You’re awake.”

Maybe he can pretend he’s not. Not out of some misguided notion that this whole situation will magically disappear - but maybe he can get Viktor to monologue like some sort of pulp villain… He squeezes his eyes shut.

Maybe he can pretend he’s not. Not out of some misguided notion that this whole situation will magically disappear - but maybe he can get Viktor to monologue like some sort of pulp villain… He squeezes his eyes shut.

There’s the clank of metal against hard flooring. “Are you photosensitive?”

“I bandaged your head wound. You may want it to be looked at by a doctor after this.”

“I bandaged your head wound. You may want it to be looked at by a doctor after this.”

“…I’m not following.”

Jayce watches in a mix of confusion and bleary interest as Viktor grabs a chair from a nearby worktable and flips it to face him. He sits down and immediately proceeds to stare at Jayce - Jayce assumes it’s staring, but he really can’t tell and the light from Viktor’s lenses is making his headache worse.

“Due to some… misunderstandings, you are here. I thought now may be an appropriate time for us to discuss the Glorious Evolution once more.”

“I wouldn’t call blunt force trauma a great way to start a conversation.”

“It wasn’t my intention for you to be brought here, much less after a fight,” Viktor explains. “But you are here now.”

“…Let me guess. Your whole evil plan thing I heard about isn’t real and this is entirely a set-up by you.”

“By my acolytes, specifically,” he pauses a bit longer than Jayce thinks is socially appropriate or necessary, “regardless: the Evolution.”

“Some Piltovian scholar once said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results,” Jayce quips. “I already gave you my answer.”

“That’s a commonly-misattributed quote - and in Zaun, that behavior is called perseverance.”

He’s really not getting the point, is he. “It doesn’t really matter who said it, or what we’re calling repetition. I said no two years ago, and I’m saying no again.”

“Because you’ve been operating under a misconception for those two years, partially due to our first meeting.”

“…I’m not really sure how ‘I think humanity would be better off as robots and I need the crystal your research lab gave to you to achieve my idea’ can be made any more clear.”

“I offered you a partnership that would have transcended our city-states’ rivalries. I offered you the chance to be part of the future.”

“And I have no interest in that future. Now: are you going to let me get up and go home, or will I need to add being held against my will to my report to Cait and the Institute?”

While Champions were afforded a great deal of what some might call legal leniency, Jayce was confident that that didn’t extend to charges of kidnapping… especially against another member of the League. Viktor had far overstepped any immunity he’d have as a representative of Zaunite interests in the Institute of War.

Viktor is silent for a length of time that goes well past uncomfortable and into downright unsettling. “You can’t leave.”

“…I’m sorry?” Is he going to die here?

“The ferries aren’t running anymore. You were unconscious for quite some time.”

Of course. Of course. So he was just… knocked out in a chair in Viktor’s… office… for hours. A quick glance at himself confirms that he’s still got all of his limbs - it was paranoia, yes, but well-deserved paranoia given Viktor’s reputation.

“Maybe I could hire someone to take me across,” he replies. You could get anything in Zaun for the right price, after all.

“They’ll charge more than what you have in your wallet. Or did you forget that you’re a Piltovian in Zaun?”

He hates that Viktor’s right - and being sarcastic about it, too. Pretty rich coming from the man that claims to have bested all his emotions. Well… if he can’t leave by boat… “You wouldn’t want me as a houseguest.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“So I should go.”

“…And get scammed by every hotel in the city, assuming they let you in. Simply because I do not want you as a guest does not mean that I will not offer you a room.”

“Out of the goodness of your robot heart,” another one-liner in true Hero fashion. If Viktor’s offering him a room, does this mean it’s his house that they’re in? The thought of him having an actual house is something Jayce hadn’t really… considered. But it makes sense. The man can’t live in his lab. Especially not now.

“I’m a cyborg. A robot is a machine that has never been organic. Take Orianna, for example - while she may have human memories, her chassis has never been organic.”

“Thanks for the lecture,” wait a second. “But you want to be a robot.”

“My goal is to have a non-organic form that contains my consciousness. There is not a term for the concept currently, so I suppose robot works for a layperson.”

Hearing it explained so casually really made Jayce want to go back to talking about housing arrangements. Viktor was talking about leaving his body behind as if he’d simply be changing out of a set of clothes… and he wondered why no one flocked to his cause.

“…Weren’t we talking about a guest bedroom.”

“Oh. Yes. It’s down the hall, as is a bathroom. The doors to them are open.”

If he weren’t living the situation, Jayce would laugh. Viktor had a house. A house with a guest bedroom and a guest bathroom… as if he were some sort of middle-aged homeowner in Piltover. What will he find in those rooms? Matching curtains? A complete set of bath towels? It was utterly bizarre. The idea of Viktor having wall decorations nearly sends him into a laughing fit - one that he covers up with a strategic cough. It’s not funny. The scenario he’s in is bordering on insanity, but he’d rather laugh about it than let the creeping dread engulf him. He gets to his feet.

“…Uh. Goodnight,” Jayce says on impulse.

Viktor is impassive.


Jayce, predictably, does not sleep. He lies awake in the uncomfortably stiff-sheeted bed instead - surely Viktor has some sort of plot, some machinations behind the scenes. Maybe this whole thing was a ruse! But for what?

He has some sleuthing to do.

 

Eventually, Jayce is pretty sure that it’s late enough for investigation. Viktor presumably sleeps, considering he had admitted that at least some parts of him were still organic, and with any luck he’d be asleep now. (Or staying up to catch Jayce in the act of looking around, but Jayce is willing to take that risk.) His first task is finding the Mercury Hammer. Not just for protection’s sake in case he needed it, but because he had no desire for Viktor to have it in his possession for any longer than necessary. The Hammer was his invention, and it being in someone else’s hands made Jayce feel profoundly uncomfortable.

It wasn’t in the lab. He’d not seen it in the hall. Another room, then. He could start at the ground floor and... well, hope he didn’t open the door to Viktor’s lair. (Calling it a bedroom doesn’t seem right.)

 

The first door he tries is the entrance to a small bathroom - the one Viktor had mentioned. Jayce hadn’t bothered to use it. There’s a pinkish ring in the sink. When was the last time Viktor cleaned? Or was Zaun’s tap water simply that bad?

The next door creaks loud enough to wake the dead when he opens it. There’s no angry Zaunite on the other side, fortunately for Jayce.

Or perhaps unfortunately, because this room makes no sense to him. It’s another bedroom, much larger than the one he was provided. And every surface in it is covered in enough dust to make his throat itch with each of his breaths. The air in the room is dead. Deader than the rest of the stagnant, stale air that Zaun has to offer. Jayce steps inside, taking in the bedroom with several sweeps of his eyes.

A king-sized bed, nightstands on either side.

A dresser with several photograph frames, although their contents are obscured by what has to be years of dust.

Two small... vases, almost? Placed carefully on another surface.

“Get out."

“Not somewhere for you to be. Leave.”

“Didn’t take you to be the type to hoard,” Jayce says nonchalantly, wiping away years of dust with his hand. A photograph stares up at him - one he doesn’t have time to process, however, as the Machine Herald makes a noise that his mask (gods, let it be a mask - he’d seen the straps, but it hardly felt like proof) twists into something almost primal. Viktor grabs him and practically drags him from the room.

“Not somewhere for you to be. Leave.”

“Didn’t take you to be the type to hoard,” Jayce says nonchalantly, wiping away years of dust with his hand. A photograph stares up at him - one he doesn’t have time to process, however, as the Machine Herald makes a noise that his mask (gods, let it be a mask - he’d seen the straps, but it hardly felt like proof) twists into something almost primal. Viktor grabs him and practically drags him from the room.

“You are testing my hospitality, Jayce. Don’t- never open that door.”

As if Jayce was ever going to come back to this madhouse, especially now.

“What, your big secret behind-“ the photograph’s vague subjects come into his mind. A man, a woman, and a young child - he knew that much from proportions. Couldn’t be...

“Are you usually this rude to your hosts, Defender? Must I lock you away in order to ensure a peaceful night’s rest for yourself?”

What did you do to your wife?”

That question stops the Herald in his tracks. “…What?”

“Or your kid. How long ago was that photo? What did you do to them?” Jayce knows he’s wading into dangerous waters, but he’s far too intrigued… and truthfully, worried. Viktor had a family. Viktor had a face. And neither of those are things he’d seen before now.

“What?” the question comes again, filled with even more confusion than previous. Viktor, emoting in something other than sarcasm? Jayce would’ve said it’d happen when Shurima froze over, before now.

“Your family. In the photo. They’re not here anymore - what did you do to them?

Viktor’s hands twitch. Jayce realizes with a start that the other man isn’t wearing a glove over his right hand - it’s… normal. Not even grotesquely scarred. Somehow, that’s even worse. His own gloved hands clench into fists.

“You were married, you… you… where are they?!” Thoughts are crashing into his head. Horrible ideas, atrocities, every evil thing Zaun could throw at him. The best answer was that they’d left him to his madness. The worst he did not allow himself to consider.

“I have never been married.”

The words hit Jayce like cold water. If that wasn’t Viktor’s wife and child, who was it? It had to be related to him, because Viktor was crazy - but not crazy enough to get defensive over someone else’s family photos…

“…You. You’re the kid,” and he wants desperately to sneak another glance at the photograph, as if seeing Viktor’s face in childhood would answer all the questions he has, “Where are they? What did you do to them?”

How old is that photograph? How old is this room? Does Viktor have blood from parricide on his hands?

You have no right to ask questions!” the other man responds, mask’s lenses blazing a sickly yellow. “You have destroyed my hospitality. Return to the guest room or I will kick you into the streets!”

Viktor’s anger - hot, like molten metal - catches Jayce by surprise. He wants to fight back, but he has no weapon to protect himself - so he acquiesces. “I- fine. I’ll be out of your hair with the first ferry. Just give me the Mercury-”

1. Prologue 511 0 0 2. Chapter One 2197 0 0 3. Chapter Two 3090 0 0 4. Chapter Three 2314 0 0 5. Chapter Four 2635 0 0 6. Chapter Five 2371 0 0 7. Chaper Six 1845 0 0 8. Chapter Seven 1291 0 0 9. Chapter Eight 1188 0 0 10. Chapter Nine 2996 0 0 11. Epilogue 667 0 0