Freljordian elements scarcely seemed to have an effect. Neither was he daunted by the distant howl of a hungry ice troll. He had come to do a job. Not one he relished, but one that had to be done, and one he could no longer avoid.would have been cold if his body wasn't simmering with nervous energy. With all that weighed on him that day, the harsh
As he approached the gates, he could hear the rustling of fur cloaks over pine timber as the warriors of the tribe rushed to inspect him. In seconds, their spears were poised atop the gate, ready to kill, should he prove unwelcome.
"I've come to see Yago" said Ryze, pulling back the hood of his cloak just enough to reveal his violet skin. "It's urgent."
The stoic faces of the warriors atop the fence flashed with surprise at the sight of the Rune Mage. They climbed down and worked in unison to open the heavy hardwood gates, which seemed to croak apprehensively at the sight of the interloper. This was not a place that saw many visitors, and those it did see usually ended up on pikes as a deterrent to others. Ryze, on the other hand, had a reputation that granted him access to even the most hostile regions of Runeterra---
---For a few minutes, anyway, if no problems arise, he thought.
His face betrayed none of those uncertainties as he walked between the columns of fierce, wind-chapped faces that seemed to judge him, looking for any reason to try him. A young boy, no more than five, gaped at Ryze, bravely leaving his grandmother's side for a closer look.
"Are you a warlock?" asked the boy.
"Something like that" replied Ryze, barely glancing at the boy as he continued his stride.
He found the path that led toward the rear of the fortification. To his surprise, the village had hardly changed since he had last seen it, many years before. He made his way to an unmistakable structure of domed crystalline ice, its brilliant azure hue standing out among the dull surroundings of wood and earth.
He was always a wise man. Maybe he'll cooperate thought Ryze as he entered the temple, steeling himself for whatever lay in wait.
Inside, an old frost mage was pouring wine into a dish on an altar. He turned to see Ryze approaching, and seemed to judge him silently. Ryze felt his heart sink in dread. After a moment, the man smiled, and embraced Ryze like a long-lost brother.
"You look thin" said the mage. "You should eat something."
"You shouldn't" replied Ryze, nodding to Yago's slightly sagging paunch.
The two friends laughed long and easily, as if they had never been apart. Ryze slowly felt his guard begin to drop. There were very few people in the world he would call friend, and it did his soul good to talk to one. He and Yago spent the next hour reminiscing, eating, and catching up. Ryze had forgotten how good it felt to converse with another human being. He could easily stay a fortnight with Yago, drinking wine and sharing tales of triumph and loss.
"What brings you so deep into the Freljord?" asked Yago at last.
The question jolted Ryze back to reality. He quickly recalled the words he'd carefully prepared for this point in the conversation. He told a story of his days in Shurima. He'd gone to investigate a tribe of nomads that had swelled in wealth and land, to the size of a small kingdom, almost overnight. On closer inspection, Ryze found a World Rune in their possession. They resisted, and...
Ryze lowered his tone to suit the silence of the room. He explained that sometimes awful things must be done for the world to remain intact. Sometimes those awful things are better than the horrible cataclysm that would otherwise unfold.
"They must be kept safe" said Ryze, finally coming to his point. "All of them."
Yago nodded grimly, and the warmth that had been rekindled between the two friends instantly evaporated.
"You would take it from us, knowing it is all that keeps the trolls away?" asked Yago.
"You knew this would come" said Ryze, offering no solution. "You've known for years."
"Give us more time. In the spring, we will head south. What chance do we have in winter?"
"You've said those words before" Ryze said coldly.
To his surprise, Yago took him by the hands, making a gentle plea.
"There are many children among us. And three of our women are swollen with child. You would doom us all?" asked Yago desperately.
"How many are in this village?" asked Ryze.
"Ninety-two" replied Yago.
"And how many are in the world?"
Yago fell silent.
"It can wait no longer. Dark forces gather to take it. It leaves with me today" Ryze demanded.
"You would use it for yourself" accused Yago, erupting in a jealous rage.
Ryze looked into Yago's face to see that it had been transfigured into a scowling visage - that of a fiend, no longer recognizable as the man Ryze had once known. Ryze started to explain that he had learned long ago not to use the Runes, that doing so would always come with too high a price. But he could tell this madman before him was not one to be reasoned with.
Suddenly, Ryze felt a severe pain, and found himself writhing on the floor, saliva dripping from his mouth. He looked up to see Yago in a casting stance, his fingers crackling with power that no mortal being should possess. Coming to his senses, Ryze rooted the frost mage in place with aof arcane power, giving himself just enough time to get to his feet.
Ryze and Yago circled each other, clashing with powers the world had not seen in ages. Yago seared Ryze's flesh with what felt like the power of twenty suns. Ryze countered with a potent series of arcane. After what seemed like hours, the combined power of their attacks breached the walls of the temple, and brought the thick ice dome crumbling down upon them.
Badly wounded, Ryze dug himself out of the rubble and got to his knees. He saw a blurred image of Yago, battered, and fumbling to open a lockbox that he'd dug out of the debris. Ryze could tell by the lust in his eyes what he was reaching for, and what would surely happen once he had it.
With his magic energy drained, Ryze leapt on the back of his old friend and began to garrote him with the belt from his own robe. He felt nothing; the man who he had loved deeply just minutes ago was now merely a task in need of completion. Yago struggled mightily, his legs flailing, searching for a foothold. Then he fell dead.
Ryze pulled a key from Yago's necklace and unlocked the box. He removed the World Rune, its otherworldly pulse beating with a warm orange glow. Wrapping the Rune in a scrap of his dead comrade's robe, he gingerly placed it in his satchel and hobbled out of the temple, breathing a mournful sigh at the loss of another friend.
The Rune Mage limped toward the village gate, past the same wind-chapped faces that had watched him arrive. He looked askance at them, expecting an attack, but the villagers made no move to stop him. These were no longer fierce defenders; these were people who looked stunned to be facing their own end. They looked at Ryze with big, helpless eyes.
"What are we to do?" asked the grandmother, with the young boy still clutching her furs.
"I'd leave" said Ryze.
He knew if they stayed, the trolls would descend on the village come nightfall, leaving none alive. And outside the village, worse dangers lurked.
"Can't we come with you?" called the young boy.
Ryze paused. Part of him - a vestige of irrational compassion deep within - screamed. Take them. Protect them. Forget about the rest of the world.
But he knew he couldn't. Ryze trudged into the deep Freljordian snow, choosing not to look back at the faces of those he was leaving. For these were the faces of the dead, and his business was with those who could still be saved.