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Wilted leaves fall from shivering branches, as a gust of wind blows across the mountain slopes. Yi levitates a few inches above the ground, his eyes closed and hands folded, listening to the morning songs of Bahrl jays. The cool breeze touches his bare face, and tickles his brow.
Releasing a quiet sigh, he descends until his boots touch the dirt. He opens his eyes and smiles. Clear skies are a rare, friendly sight.
Yi dusts off his robe, noticing some loose, fallen hairs. Most are black, with a couple white, like wild silk.
How long has it been? he wonders.Swinging a twill bag over his shoulder, he continues his hike, leaving behind trees that once swayed with life, but now stand still.
Yi glances down the mountain to see how far he has come. The lands below are soft, fragile—treasures to be protected. He looks forward and resumes climbing. On the path ahead, lilies wither, their coral petals turning a sickly brown.
“Didn’t expect to see anyone up here,” a voice calls out.
He pauses to listen, his hand clutching the ringed sword by his waist.
“You also looking for your herd?” The voice grows closer. “Stupid beasts. They always get caught in this area.”
Yi sees an aging farmer approach, and loosens his grip. She wears a simple kirtle, sewn over with assorted scraps of cloth. He bows as she draws near.
“Bah, save your etiquette for the monks,” she says. “You don’t look like you work the land for a living, ‘cause those blades sure aren’t for cutting weeds. What brings you here?”
“Good day for a hike,” Yi replies, his voice feigning innocence.
“So you’re here to train, huh? Noxus coming back so soon?” she asks with a chuckle.
“Where the sun sets once, it will again.”
The farmer snorts, recognizing the old proverb. It is known by most in the southern provinces. “Well, you let me know when they return. That’ll be the day I sail off this island. But until then, why don’t you put those swords of yours to good use and help a frail, old lady?”
She beckons Yi to follow. He obliges.
They stop next to a wooded area. A baby takin whimpers in agony, its hind legs bound by thick, swollen vines that tighten as the creature struggles.
“That there is Lasa,” the farmer explains. “He’s young and dumb, but he’s more use to me in the field than stuck on this cursed mountain.”
“You think it’s cursed?” Yi asks, kneeling by the beast. He runs a palm over its woolly back, feeling its muscles twitch and spasm.
The farmer crosses her arms. “Well, something un-spiritual happened here,” she replies, nodding her head towards the summit. “And without natural magic, the land demands sustenance, even taking life if it has to. Were it my choice, whatever’s up there oughta be burned.”
Yi fixates on the vines. He did not expect to see them this far down the mountain.
“I’ll see what I can do.” He murmurs, drawing two blades from brass sheaths on his boots. As he edges the steel close to the constriction, the vines seem to cower.
The moment lingers. Beads of sweat prickle Yi’s bare face. He closes his eyes.
“Emai,” he whispers, in the tongue of his ancestors. “Fair.”
The takin leaps free, letting out a gleeful, high-pitched bleat. On the ground, the cut vines dangle like loose skin.
The beast springs downhill, reveling in its freedom as the farmer gives chase. She snatches it up in both hands, and hugs the takin close to her chest.
“Thank you!” she exclaims, not realizing Yi has already continued on his way. She calls after him. “Hey! I forgot to ask. What are you training for? The war is over, you know…”
He does not look back.Not for me.
After another hour, he reaches the barrens. The carcass of a village lies all around him, invaded by the very same vines.
This is Wuju. This was home.
Yi heads for the burial grounds, stepping past toppled beams and stonework, remnants of houses, schools, shrines—the shattered pieces all blend together. The ruins of his parents’ workshop are lost somewhere among the rubble. There is too much to grieve for, and not enough time.
The graves he visits are arranged in perfect symmetry, with gaps between the mounds for someone to pass through. Someone like Yi.
“Wuju honors your memory.”
He places a hand on every hilt of every sword piercing the earth. These are his memorials to warriors, teachers, and students. He does not skip a single one.
“May your name be remembered.”
“Rest. Find peace in the land.”
His voice soon grows tired.
As the sky becomes painted in shades of orange, three graves remain untouched. The closest is marked by a hammer, its head rusted from the mountain air. Yi pulls a peach out of his bag, setting it beside the mound.
“Master Doran, this is from. He couldn't make the journey with me, but he wanted me to bring you his favorite fruit. He loves his staff, almost as much as he loves making fun of the helmet you gave me.”
He moves toward the final two mounds, guarded by golden sheaths.
“Emai, the weather is forgiving today. Fair… I hope you are enjoying the warmth.”
Yi grasps his two short swords and slides them into the sheaths adorning his parents’ graves. The fit is perfect. He falls to his knees and bows his head.
“May your wisdom continue to guide me.”
Standing, he reaches into his bag to retrieve his helmet. The afternoon sun catches on its seven lenses, each reflection in a different hue. Holding the helmet close to his heart, he imagines the garden of lilies that once existed here.
That was before the screams. Before acid and poison twisted the land’s magic against itself.
He dons the helmet, and a kaleidoscope of his surroundings fills his view. Hands folded together, he closes his eyes and empties his mind. He thinks about nothing. Nothing at all. His feet lift off the earth, but he is unaware.
Opening his eyes, he sees everything. Death and decay, with little hints of life.
He sees spirits that dwell in the realm beyond his own. The vines here trap them as easily as the poor takin, weakening their essence. He knows any spirit strong enough to break free would have abandoned this accursed place. What remains is corrupted… or soon to be.
Pained, mournful cries haunt the air. Yi used to cry out in pain himself, but that was long ago—back when he thought tears might bring back the dead.
He blinks, and the physical world returns. For a moment, he pretends not to bear its weight upon his shoulders. Then, he blinks again.
The spirits continue to cry out. Yi draws his ringed blade.
He dashes in a blur, sweeping across the grounds like a change in season one realizes only after it has passed. In a flash, he is back where he started, perfectly still, his sword resting in its scabbard.
One by one, the vines crumple. Some spill from collapsed rooftops, others shrivel where they lie.
He sits cross-legged to take it all in. Now the spirits sing with joy, and he knows there is no greater sign of gratitude. As they melt away, the land echoes their bliss. Peach blossoms sprout where the overgrowth had held firm. Stalks of limp bamboo straighten, like students ordered to attention.
A fleeting smile softens Yi’s face. He removes his helmet and digs into his bag, shuffling past the other items he brought for the journey. Fruits, nuts… char, flint. Things for himself, and things to cleanse the land for good.
Not now. Not yet.
He retrieves a thin reed pen, and a crinkled scroll. The page is covered in marks.
Yi adds a few strokes by today. Below them are more words.
30 days between clearings.
He knows, soon enough, he will need to grant the farmer her wish, and send his home off in flames.But not now. Not yet.