- For other uses, see Judgment (disambiguation)
"Are we done in this reality yet? Hello? Hellooo?"
- This story is no longer considered to be main lore canon, but exists here for historical purposes.
"Frontier's whatever you want it to be."
|The truest opponent lies within|
|Ryze, the Rogue Mage|
|24 September, 10|
Ryze strides along the marbles halls: face deliberate, jaw set and determined; his eyes hold a sense of urgency and undeniable purpose that is mirrored in his gait. His simple traveler's clothes pose a stark contrast to the elaborate tattoos that snake their way across his wiry frame, marring every inch of his exposed flesh.
Slung over his powerful back hangs a scroll, precious cargo from how he cradles it: from the embossed spellbook in his grip to the lesser scraps of parchment at his side, nothing is borne with more reverence. He stops for a moment beneath an archway marked by a double door and an inscription: 'The truest opponent lies within'; the Rogue Mage extends a hand, parting the portal, before striding boldly inside.
Ryze stood for a moment in the dark, calm but alert. He sniffed the air: there was something here... a tangible presence.
"A visitor?" called a voice from the black. "How strange. I loathe uninvited guests!"
Every muscle in his body tightened like a coiled spring: out of the darkness strode a lithe, beautiful woman, dressed in a loose-fitting dress; from neck to fingertips, she was covered in tattoos.
"Lilith?" he gasped. "How did you find me?"
She reached out a slender hand, lightly drawing her long nails down Ryze's bare chest.
"Ryze", she purred. "You cannot hide from me." She drew in closer, catching him in her embrace. "I have a secret", she whispered, pulling herself close to his cheek. "I will never let you go!" she snarled, biting his earlobe suggestively. He shivered.
The pinch in his ear became a sharp sting. He heard an impact and fell reeling to the ground, catching himself on pure, unmarked hands; he recognized them as his own but that was impossible: he hadn't seen his bare flesh in years.
"Trespasser!" rasped Lilith's voice.
"Pardon, mistress", he started, climbing to his feet on the ramshackled porch of a lonely cabin. "I am weary and in search of shelter for the evening. The Howling Marsh is no place to be caught after dark."
"I do not shelter insufferable wayfarers", she replied, folding her arms implacably. A slight breeze caught her wild hair.
sneered. "I am not to be trifled with... "
She cut him off: "Trifled?!" she screeched, extending a finger; energy crackled along the patterns on her arm, racing across the distance between them. First, it was just the jolt; the breath rushed from his lungs and, for a moment, he blacked out; the next thing he knew, he was lying on his back in the mud, gasping: his body tingled and he shook from head to foot. Lilith stood over him, silhouetted in the setting sun, energy still coursing along the ink in her tattoos.
"You will learn respect, vagabond", she said, even-voiced once again.
"Please, mistress", Ryze gasped. "Spare my life."
She knelt over him, leaning in just inches from his nose, her hair falling into his face; she dug her fingernails into the shirt over his chest. "Why, pretty thing? Why should I spare your life?"
He inhaled sharply through the pain in his chest. "Because I have been searching for you for my entire life" he stammered. "And it would break my heart to die now."
Lilith sat up slightly; she smiled. "How interesting", she replied. Ryze's strength failed him and he passed out.
He awoke lying face down on a plush mattress, arms and legs spread wide; he tried to move but found himself bound tightly in place. Next to him, on the pillow, lay a series of razor-sharp thorns and a font of violet liquid.
"Awake so soon", Lilith muttered coyly, entering the room through a beaded curtain. She climbed onto the bed with him, straddling his lower back. "Tell me, wayfarer", she quipped, reaching for her implements. "What is it about me that is so fascinating?" She dipped a barb into the inkwell.
"I have studied magic since I was a boy", Ryze croaked into the pillow. He felt a twinge in the nape of his neck and he winced.
"Don't squirm!" Lilith shouted, bringing a hand down hard on his shoulder with an audible smack. Ryze gritted his teeth through the pain and continued. The burning sensation spread as she went about her bloody work.
"Always, my masters taught me patience, to remain in control, to never surrender to my passions." She changed needles. He could feel blood and ink pooling in his open wounds. "They called me a liability, refused to finish training me", he went on. "You know another way."
"Charlatans", Lilith spat, wiping the blood from his back with her dress. She bent low over him, her hot breath on his neck; she whispered: "But we know better, don't we? Magic is energy; all our enthusiasm, our rapture, our fury: they are conduits for our power." She licked her lips. "I can show you the way."
She freed his limbs. "Now, roll over", she snapped, another needle clutched lightly in her fingers. "I haven't finished."
Ryze grudgingly obeyed, though his body throbbed with pain. Above him, in the rafters, hung an elaborate scroll on stretched parchment, larger than a tapestry. "What is that?" he asked, remembering himself.
Lilith's face grew ashen. The room around him fell away to darkness. "You stole it from me!" she shrieked, arms flailing, tears streaming down her face. "How could you?! Betrayer! Betrayer!" She struck him a dozen times before he could restrain her.
"I had no choice!" he cried. "You wouldn't listen! You would bring ruin on us all!"
Lilith scoffed. "Why do you want to join the League, Ryze?"
Ryze released her and she pulled away; he adjusted the scroll on his back. "I must keep it safe."
She smiled. "How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Ryze determined countenance returned. "I will do what I must", he replied.
He raised a hand to shield his face as the doors to the League of Legends swung open and light came pouring in.
|Xin Zhao, the Seneschal of Demacia|
|13 July, 20 CLE|
Xin Zhao's presence, although patently reserved, seems to resound throughout the Great Hall as he enters. An expression of stoic determination drapes across his face, as oft-worn as his polished Demacian plates. His signature topknot billows behind him, white streaks glinting with every flicker of the lamps. In one hand, he carries a bladed battering ram passed off as a spear: he feigns difficulty bearing its weight, a ploy to mislead those with sharp eyes but brash wits.
His gaze never drifts from the ornate doors of the Reflecting Chamber but he has analyzed every nuance of the Hall, from the spiked epaulets adorning the Statue of Thurmit to the slinking stress fracture snaking through the northern wall. He stalks to the doors, with a stride that would be unhampered waist-deep in tar, and pauses to examine the inscription etched above.
'The truest opponent lies within.'
With a touch, the looming marble doors part obligingly: beyond them, a pervasive blackness spills forth, sprawling at his feet as the doors widen; this murk - the harnessed essence of darkness - absorbs light, cascading negative shadows around the rim of the entryway. Unimpressed by the conjuration, Xin Zhao steps into the blanketing ink.
The absence of light didn't bother Xin Zhao much: he'd been blinded in fights before. He touched his forehead, fingers tracing a scar left by the edge of a Demacian shield, remembering the sensation of blood pooling in his eyes: the wound was a parting souvenir from a man the Noxian papers had called the Bone Grinder.
Funny name, really. They should have called him the Squeaker.
A gap in the Squeaker's teeth caused him to whistle whenever he exhaled, an effect which became quite ridiculous when he panted. Xin Zhao had dispatched the Squeaker handily back then, although cockiness blinded him to the obvious shield strike; he could still hear the Squeaker's fateful battle cry - tinged with that absurd whistle - amidst the roar of thousands of bloodthirsty onlookers, attendants of the Fleshing; the familiar acrid stench of the arena still stung his nose, the perfume of bile dripping from slain opponents who lay scattered in all directions; he could still see the Squeaker's eyes, lit with rage through slits in his tarnished helm, as he feinted with his chipped broadsword, shield poised to strike.
Wait... he could see him.
It was a disorienting sensation, watching an image of the mind's eye manifesting in reality. Xin Zhao had barely enough time to duck, the tower shield raking the length of his mane: instinctively, he dove away, falling unceremoniously on his haunches but narrowly evading a spinning slash as the Squeaker whirled about. His right hand tightened, seeking the reassurance of his spear, but his fingers grasped only palm: how had he been disarmed? The crowd above was chanting for carnage: glanced up, noticing faces he'd seen before in another life. Capitalizing on his opponent's confusion, the Squeaker lunged, a fatal sword thrust obscured behind his battered shield: sitting in the sand, Xin Zhao was caught unprepared, too late to dodge, too late to think.
The Squeaker's blade slid into the flesh between Xin Zhao's eyes, its tip pressing against his skull. Gazing dully forward, his eyes focused on the base of the enemy blade, where he found his left hand clenched, a crimson trickle dripping down his wrist; he almost chuckled: while his mind reeled, desperately trying to cope with the recent series of events, his body, ever-vigilant, never failed him.
In a single motion, Xin Zhao was on his feet, his right hand snapping the blade with a decisive strike: he detected a squeak of surprise as he moved; his left hand - still gripping the severed blade - shot forward, finding its mark in the eye of the Squeaker's helm: a thick, wet sound echoed in return, followed by a deafening cheer from the crowd.
To Xin Zhao's horror, the Squeaker did not topple over as expected: instead, he sat down calmly. Xin Zhao recoiled into a defensive stance but the Squeaker only yanked the shard from his eye and shucked the helm: Xin Zhao fell to his knees, at once recognizing the blood-drenched face of his mentor, King Jarvan II of Demacia. Jarvan smiled, pleased with Xin Zhao's distress.
"Why do you want to join the League, Xin Zhao?" The whistle was gone.
Xin Zhao's voice cracked: "What trickery is this?"
"Answer the question."
"I represent Demacia... and her... true king." Some part of Xin Zhao was aware that this was a cruel mirage but the weight in his heart prevailed over reason.
"To defeat your archenemy, Noxus?"
"To serve the best interests of Demacia."
A pause. "How does it feel exposing your mind?" The mutilated eye twitched, apparently attempting to study Xin Zhao's response.
Horrible beyond comparison. "Not what I expected."
"Horrible beyond comparison? Really?" Jarvan gestured at the carcasses all around them. "And you have so much in your life to which you could compare."
"I've had enough of this. Have I passed your test?" Xin Zhao was tired of the game, tired of being vulnerable.
"We've finished with you, Xin Zhao, but you'll soon find that the true test has not yet begun."
The arena and the grinning, one-eyed face of Jarvan dissolved in a puff of black smoke. Xin Zhao found himself standing in a claustrophobic antechamber, facing a long corridor which he knew led to the League; behind him, the ornate marble doors swung open softly, offering retreat.
He wanted to crumple; he wanted to turn and leave, never to set eyes on this place again; instead, he heard the voice of Jarvan in his head: this time, he knew it wasn't an illusion.
"This world is in need of men with the courage to bear weight which otherwise would crush us all. You're a Demacian at heart, Xin Zhao. Have confidence in your strength and your knees will never buckle."
Xin Zhao rose to his fullest height and marched into the League of Legends.
|Vladimir, the Crimson Reaper|
|27 July, 20 CLE|
Vladimir moves with purpose, his long hair and robes flowing dramatically behind him as his deliberate strides carry him swiftly towards his goal; the heels of his polished boots ring out against the marble halls of the Institute of War, an unwelcome clamor in the otherwise oppressive silence. He spies his destination ahead: a great stone doorway.
The regal demeanor of our guest is a hoax, a trap for those foolish enough not to look beyond the surface; the perfectly groomed hair, the extravagant attire, the manicured fingernails... these marks of nobility are false; the truly perceptive will not be deceived by this charade; from his cruel, angular features to the vicious, yet regal, jewelry that adorns his fingertips, there is no doubt: this is a predator.
Vladimir pauses for a moment as he arrives, relishing the moment: he admires the craftsmanship with fickle, covetous eyes; a pair of panthers stand sentry in the relief of the marble archway, their lithe forms a tribute to their artisan's talent; an inscription above announces his destination: 'The truest opponent lies within'. He reaches out to caress the polished stone: the doors part at his touch, drifting silently open; beyond them lay blackness: Vladimir licks his thin lips and darts inside.
Vladimir stood in the darkness of the Reflecting Chamber. For a moment, there was only the silence and the expectant beating of his heart; then, there was a whisper.
"Vladimir, my child", called a voice from the black. He recognized it instantly and his hair stood on end: out of the darkness strode another figure, of similar stature but clothed in the simpler robes of a monk; his ashen hair was rivaled only by the sickly pallor of his skin; his eyes were pure crimson.
"Dmitri?" Vladimir inquired, incredulous. "But master, you are gone. I killed you."
The figure threw back his head, howling with laughter. "I cannot be gone, Vladimir. I am a part of you." As if in response, the monk's body dissolved into a fine red mist: the metallic smell of blood filled the air; Vladimir closed his eyes and breathed deeply, the warm vapor bathing him in its welcome embrace.
The sound of sharp, labored breaths woke him from his reverie. His eyes snapped open, revealing a clearing in a serene forest. His heart raced in an excited rhythm: at his feet lay two mangled forms - one still, the other gasping - both drenched in blood. Vladimir examined himself in wonder: he was a boy no older than fifteen; in his right hand, he clutched a hunting knife in a death grip - so hard, in fact, that the handle had cut him; his fine clothes were sullied everywhere with scarlet. He knew this moment: these were his playmates; these were his first.
The maimed figure crawled towards him, looking up with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment; the expression turned to hatred: a hand shot forward, gripping his boot. Vladimir recoiled, breaking free and stumbling backwards away from the dying child. The boy opened his mouth, as if to scream, but no words came out; instead, a torrent of blood spilled forth from his lips into the dirt; he extended an accusing finger at his murderer. Vladimir dropped his knife and the darkness took him.
A moment later, he was standing at the foot of a mountain trail in the shadow of a great structure; before him, propped on a spike, lay a blanched corpse; beneath that lay a font of blood, hewn into the rocks by primitive tools. He looked up, raising a hand to shield his wind-burned face: the trail before him contained perhaps a dozen such specimens, set at even intervals along the path. He felt the now familiar quickening of his pulse: the thrill overwhelming any sense of dread, he ascended.
Wandering through the halls of this ancient structure, the trail of drained bodies guiding his path, Vladimir's excitement grew. He came at last to a great hall: all about him hung the deceased, their lifeblood settling in pools below; at the front of the grisly scene stood a robed monk, white hair slicked back out of his face; his blood-red eyes shone menacingly on his pale, implacable face as he beckoned to the enraptured traveler.
Vladimir approached, unblinking: entranced by the spectacle, eyes locked on the man before him. The monk stared back curiously. "Have you no fear, boy?" he asked, interested. Vladimir shook his head wordlessly, never breaking his gaze.
"I see what you are", the monk continued. "You are a harbinger, my child. A Crimson Reaper, come to collect." He smiled grimly, a peal of laughter following. "What is your name, young one?"
"I am called Vladimir", stammered the bewildered youth.
"You are now my charge, Vladimir", replied the aging figure, smiling. "Do not disappoint me."
Vladimir stared deeply into his mentor's eyes. The sight made his veins run ice: he had killed this man; he had taken his blood; and Dmitri had asked him to do it: had threatened him with death if he refused. The room around him went dark once more, leaving him alone again with the phantom of his master. The monk folded his arms across his chest. "Why do you want to join the League, Vladimir?" asked Dmitri expectantly.
"I wish to bring honor to my noble house and to hone my craft", Vladimir answered immediately.
The apparition before cracked a bemused smiled. "Why do you want to join the League, Vladimir?" it repeated.
"To fight for the glory of Noxus, my homeland", Vladimir replied, hesitant.
Dimitri's amusement vanished. He looked displeased. "Why do you want to join the League, Vladimir?" he echoed.
Vladimir's face darkened; he answered slowly this time: "I must kill."
The old monk nodded. "How does it feel exposing your mind?" he asked.
Vladimir bared his teeth. "Liberating, really", came his retort; as if in response, the door behind flew open, bathing him in light. He was alone.
|Galio, the Sentinel's Sorrow|
|10 August, 20 CLE|
Galio wears a face as though he is lost in concentration: one may mistake this look to mean the great beast is dumbfounded; his facial features, especially his massive jaw with the exaggerated underbite, give the massive gargoyle the look of a simpleton: this look is intentionally deceptive, magically crafted to lull an opponent into thinking that Galio is mentally slow. The reality of the situation is that he is intently studying what lies before him: the double doors - and the sign above it - are all that matters.
'The truest opponent lies within.'
Galio nods knowingly but does not move afterwards: his form is literally statuesque.
After a lengthy pause, Galio springs to life, lumbering toward the door; broad, powerful wings spread wide and slowly beat against the stillness of the air, propelling the gargoyle forward with a not-so-gentle whoosh: he moves as gracefully as a being made of stone and metal can.
The doors swing open, revealing the inky blackness within. The engraved obsidian panthers that flank the doorway point the way inward for Galio; he obliges his stony brethren.
With a sudden flood of light, Galio knew where he was. There was never a chance of him forgetting this place: the clearing was surrounded by a thick copse of fruit trees; in the center of the clearing were Durand's bones, blanched from countless days of weathering; he could smell the peaches and cherries ripening on the branches.
Galio loathed that smell: the stench of sweet fruit growing, ripening, and rotting in a never-ending cycle reminded him of his failure to save Durand, his creator; he had failed to protect his master from the Noxian assassins who ambushed them and it was here that he kept a penitent vigil for years afterwards.
I wish they killed me instead. He thought it now as he did back then but, this time, he knew something was different: an unwelcome thought masquerading as his own edged its way into his consciousness.
No. I do not.
Galio shifted in place, trying to shake the invasive notion out of his head. He knew it was impossible for him to actually be here but everything felt real: the sickly-sweet scent of the fruit made him anxious. Was this still the Judgment?
Sitting on a nearby stump was a familiar face: he recognized the female yordle but she was not wearing what Galio remembered her wearing when they first met on this very spot; she wore the armor of a Demacian warrior. He now knew the yordle as ; though, when he first met her, he did not know her name; he never spoke to Poppy then; in fact, he never even let her know that he was aware of her presence: Poppy had seen Galio standing in the clearing but she never gave any indication that she thought he was anything more than an inanimate statue.
"You are Poppy." Galio spoke with words that were carefully chosen. "I know you. This was before you joined the League. I saw you. Here."
The yordle girl smiled, though she shook her head slightly. "Here... yes, you met Poppy here but, alas - I am not Poppy." The yordle girl stood and approached Galio, extending her hand. "You know this to be true." The girl smiled again. "It's okay if you want to keep calling me Poppy."
Galio had watched this place for years but, for the first time, he permitted himself an examination of the environment without analyzing for ambush points or areas of defensive weakness: a sudden slight breeze carried the scent of the trees away; he could hear leaves gently rustling; he noticed how the drifting blossoms twirled with each pulse of the wind.
Galio extended his talon-like paw and took the yordle girl's tiny hand into his own: he could feel the warmth of her flesh on his sculpted hide. "Thank you, Poppy."
She nodded. "Why do you want to join the League, Galio?"
The pungent fruit smell wafted back into the clearing, making Galio slightly jittery. "I must fight for Demacia. It was my creator's home."
Poppy clasped the gargoyle's remaining free hand; as she stood facing Galio, she looked up at him with kind, yet serious, eyes. "Why do you want to join the League, Galio?"
Galio thought carefully about Poppy's question: he knew this was not the real Poppy but he could surmise that her image was being used for a reason; he remembered that it was the sight of the determined yordle that broke him from his exile; he knew that she herself bore a tremendous burden: it was the same sort of burden that he too struggled to cope with - the burden of failure; Galio had later learned that Poppy lost her father in an ambush also perpetrated by Noxian assassins.
They had such a horrific event in common but they addressed it so differently: Poppy became even more resolute to complete her mission - to deliver a crown crafted by her father to a Demacian general; Galio chose... a different path. He now realized that it was his choice and his choice alone to stand vigil, not over the remains of his creator but, rather, over his own hubris.
He looked away from Poppy for a moment, ashamed: he now knew the answer. "I want to join because it is my choice. It is my own free will. I want to fight for my creator's... for my home."
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
The pungent odor had dissipated once more. Galio looked down upon Poppy, smiling a slightly fanged grin. "It is... familiar to me. I shared my mind with my creator. I am sharing my mind with you. I will share my mind with any summoner."
Another flood of light washed over Galio. He stood alone in front of a new set of double doors; there was no pause this time - Galio swung the doors wide and entered the League of Legends.
|Urgot, the Headsman's Pride|
|24 August, 20 CLE|
Urgot shambles along the great hall of the Institute of War, spider-like legs ferrying his bloated, bulbous body towards his ultimate goal. The scrape of metal against marble and the dull crackle of energy mark his passage as he moves with deceptive agility. His horrid, emotionless visage belies the conviction in his gaze.
From his right arm swings a wicked-looking blade, beginning where the hand should have been. His left arm terminates in a cannon, a similarly poor replacement for the extremity. He creaks to a halt before a pair of ornate marble doors: he lifts one of his segmented metal legs, extending it forward to deal with the blocking portal, which slides open easily at his touch. His scarred, patchwork skin - blanched in the eerie glow of the techmaturgical engine that sustains him - glistens with beads of sweat as he scuttles inside.
The darkness around him grew heavy and familiar. He could feel the dew on his scalp as a stiff breeze crossed over him. His whole body trembled but there was no fear in it: only the anticipation of what was to come. Urgot wrung his fingers around the shaft of his axe--- his fingers! He lifted a hand in front of his face: as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he stared in disbelief at the sight of his own, unspoiled digits; just beyond them, he recognized the dour face of Sion, his commanding officer, a whistle pinched between his lips.
An arc of lightning lit the sky, its brilliance revealing a distant silhouette; thunder followed a few seconds later. Could it be? Could he be here now?
The shrill squeal of his commander's whistle wrenched him from his contemplations: almost involuntarily, he broke into a charge, dashing headlong towards his distant adversary.
"Gatecrashers!" he heard someone cry. "Form up, men!"
Ahead, he could see the soldiers forming ranks, a wall of Demacian shields waiting to meet the charge; something was wrong: there were too many.
Without breaking stride be brought his greataxe around, sundering the lead enemy's shield and toppling him backward; Urgot waded in - oblivious to the danger - swinging the weapon in wide arcs to broaden the hole in his enemy's defenses. The sounds of combat filled the air as chaos erupted about him. For an instant, the Demacians were staggered, offering him a moment's reprieve.
A fresh wound leaked blood into his eyes and he smeared it away as he peered through the havoc: another bolt of lightning revealed a resolute, armored form to the rear of the vanguard who was shouting orders while steadying himself against an ancient oak. Urgot began moving once more, battleaxe leading the way.
He hacked his way to the back of the enemy force, the cries of his fellows lending urgency to his attack: the Demacians were rallying; his comrades were being overwhelmed; he lunged forward to intercept the enemy commander, axe held high, as he moved to rejoin the fray.
His opponent darted to the side and the axeblade bit firmly into the trunk of the tree. Urgot wrenched wildly, struggling to free the stubborn weapon, but it was too late: there was a flash of silver and everything fell silent; his vision blurred as he stumbled backward, arms extended before him; the ruined appendages - ending just below the wrist - burned white hot agony as they issued forth a torrent of gore.
"Do you remember, Urgot?" asked a familiar voice. Urgot turned to face who addressed him: the carnage around him had vanished and it was daybreak now; he was standing at a clearing in the woods; he could hear the birds chirping in the brisk morning air; Garen, the Might of Demacia, stood a few paces away, idly wiping the blood from his sword.
"I remember, Demacian", croaked the maimed warrior, stoically. "I remember what you have done to me."
A wicked smile curled at the edge of Garen's lips. "It is not over", he mocked.
In the blink of an eye, he was gone, replaced by a cheering crowd of Noxian warriors. Urgot's mutilated right arm now ended in a vicious-looking glaive, a gift from a field surgeon. He looked down: at his feet, bound prostrate in the dirt, was a handsome, raven-haired youth: , the Crown Prince of Demacia, stared up at him, piercing brown eyes locked on his executioner without fear: though he was defeated, the air of pride and dignity about him could not be tempered.
Urgot wore a self-satisfied grin as he raised his arm to strike the fatal stroke: an arrow caught him in the chest, staying his hand; he gasped in pain, looking up just in time to catch a glimpse of that same armored figure closing in on him with uncanny speed, weapon raised menacingly.
He plummeted to the earth, a warm puddle spreading rapidly beneath him with each slow, deafening beat of his heart; he felt to scream but could not find his breath: this could not be the end! Not like this! This was his moment. Not like this! Blackness closed in around him, leaving him alone with his killer.
"Why do you want to join the League, Urgot?" asked Garen, leaning heavily on his sword.
Urgot's labored gasps ceased: he was whole once more, his metal legs creaking as he quivered with rage; necromantic energy raced along his metallic spine. "Revenge!" he roared, eyes ablaze with hatred.
Garen nodded, taking a step closer. "How does it feel exposing your mind?"
In response, Urgot raised his mighty glaive over his head and brought it down furiously on the image of his nemesis: he found only the open air as the phantom dissolved into the dark. The great doors before him flew open: the League was waiting.
|Miss Fortune, the Bounty Hunter|
|31 August, 20 CLE|
Miss Fortune spills into the Great Hallway with the same tenacity that she spills into her silk blouse - both taxed to contain her. She is cramped inside any structure not bobbing across the salt ocean. Her eyes pan across the recessed ceiling's filigree with disdain, the toil of Valoran's finest artisans a pitiful substitute for the night sky's celestial collage. The disapproving shake of her head would be imperceptible, if not exaggerated, by the wag of her ornamented tricorne, the defining accessory of a captain; an avalanche of cherry locks tumbles from the hat, engulfing her shoulders in scarlet waves. Her every feature seduces attention, a weapon as - or perhaps more - potent than the enormous gilded muskets clinging to her hips.
She bounds across the tiles; the impact of every footfall ripples up the curves of her figure: the distraction of her beauty magnified in motion; one can practically see the hearts of those who've beheld her trailing in her wake.
An inscription looms overhead: 'The truest opponent lies within.'
The corner of her lips twitch, almost a smile. With uncanny grace, she plucks a musket from its holster, twirls it once round her finger and brings it to rest with the word 'opponent' in its crosshair: her lips mouth a silent pop and the firearm is re-holstered. She dawdles no longer.
Hands on her hips, Miss Fortune tapped her foot impatiently in the dark: this was a juvenile tactic; if the League resorted to gimmicks like black smoke for its trials, perhaps she never should have made landfall--- her foot sank mid-thought: she intended to recoil but a familiar sensation pressed her on all sides.
She didn't hear herself cry but she watched bubbles carry the sound away: Water? She flailed, her limbs searching for something solid. Yards above, she saw the surface's dancing prism of light. She paddled furiously but the light remained distant - something was wrong; more bubbles; the skin of her leg crawled, begging attention. Precious air waning, she risked a glance and found the problem: rooted seaweed clutched her ankle tightly, apparently aware of its catch; she tore at it but its slimy grip would not relent. Out of time, Sarah Fortune watched the last bubbles drift merrily upward, growing smaller and smaller, until salt stung her lungs; she felt strangely peaceful when her vision faded.
I'm on my way, mom.
Sarah's sides wrenched in misery. A torrent poured from her mouth: expecting entrails, she pried her eyes open; she grasped for focus: the escaping deluge lacked the visceral color she'd expected; blurry vines framing her field of vision coalesced into defeated strands of hair, dangling limply around her face; her hands dug into the sand. Her mind filled the gaps: she was kneeling on the beach and the puddle in front of her consisted of frothy seawater as opposed to innards. Her lungs, battling her stomach, forced an inhale before the next heave.
"A sure ugly sight ye be fer a young wench. Thought ye might be shark bait fer a turn."
A sputter of briny droplets was the best retort Sarah could articulate. Her eyes locked on the source, a garish boy, and she fell backward: his onyx hair and leering grin were unmistakable but he was too young.
"Ye be a lucky one. I was huntin' fer . Fancy me letdown when I spied yer kickers."
Her breath found rhythm. "They don't disappoint many."
"They got some shape, to be sure, but I seen better."
Sarah stumbled to her feet, wet clothes matted to her body. "There are none better."
The boy chortled. "So what be the reward fer fishin' ye from the drink?"
"A fine thanks, I'll wager, but no reward, I assure ye." He pointed at her head. "How bout 'at?"
She touched her hair and her fingers grasped a smooth object: she extracted a pearlescent comb fashioned from a conch. Mother's comb? She examined it dubiously: an epiphany clawed at the back of her mind; she opened her mouth but, before she could speak, the boy closed the distance and stole a lingering kiss. Her nagging subconscious burst, realization surging forth.
This beach, this boy... the day her mother died.
She'd wandered from her house, drenched in her mother's blood; wading into the surf, she was vaguely aware of the crimson wisps stretching from her garments; she dipped below the surface and screamed, attempting to shock her mind back to rationality; beneath the waves, her tears either joined or comprised the ocean around her: she couldn't tell.
That day, the boy was waiting on the banks. Under other circumstances, she'd have wondered how long he had been there; she may have even blushed. But she only stared, too exhausted to ponder his presence. His mouth moved but her ears denied the sound; then, he joined her amongst the waves and kissed her, a confounding loop added to the dizzying course of her emotions.
He pulled away with her mother's comb in hand, cackling... one day, he'd make a ruthless ; prize in tow, he sauntered off, jack boots stamping the sand; he turned once, comb held high, and bellowed: "Come an' get it!" He then laughed, disappearing beneath black sails which dotted the distant shoreline.
Strangely inspired, Sarah welled with newfound purpose: once she'd buried her mother and burned her house to the ground, she would enjoy getting her comb back.
As the memory receded, Miss Fortune jerked away from the boy's embrace.
"Who are you?!"
"Why do you want to join the League, Miss Fortune?" The seadog timbre was gone.
"Why do you want to join the League?"
"I... for power and plunder." She doubted her own words.
"Why do you want to join the League?" Frost bit every syllable.
Crashing waves filled the silence.
"I need to find him."
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Miss Fortune let his inquiry hang in the air; drowned and drained, questions brimming, she felt somehow revitalized.
Light filled her view and the hallway beckoned; the marble doors behind her offered retreat. She laughed at the thought: no matter what, Miss Fortune always gets her man.
|Sona, Maven of the Strings|
|21 September, 20 CLE|
Sona glides forward on harmonious winds, her elegant robe billowing softly behind her as she enters the Great Hall; her hair fans out on an invisible breeze, swaths of aqua dissolving into golden strands at the ends of her long ponytails. She could easily be a fair maiden of magic anywhere on Runeterra, if not for the strange instrument floating before her, appearing to simultaneously protect and guide her.
The building creaks ever so slightly, the foundations resettling themselves on the bonds of strong magic; she angles her ear towards the sound, holding still for a moment after the sound has long since faded: one can tell that the sound still resonates in her head, being analyzed for tonality, intent, and, above all, danger. She doesn't even bother to glance at her surroundings: the building's own internal symphony tells her all that she needs to know about this place.
With the faintest movement, she expertly plucks a single string on her instrument and the double doors in front of her blast open: she enters without hesitation.
The darkness unfurled around her, as deep as the endless chasm of silence that afflicted her. She felt no fear so long as the etwahl was in her grasp: her arms curled lovingly around the instrument, her fingers expertly trailing along the hammered brass and taut strings. Pressing it against her cheek, she closed her eyes and waited. It was at times like this that she could feel the instrument alive in her arms, taking slow and measured breaths as it guarded its master. She treasured these moments when she could be alone in the world with her beloved instrument, wrapped in its protective cocoon.
Suddenly, the etwahl stiffened. She caressed the smooth curve of metal questioningly. Before she could cull an answer, a husky voice rang out:
Sona's eyes flew open at the only sound she loved more than music itself: she found herself at the doorstep of a Demacian estate, staring into the open doorway with the same wonder on her face as on the day she was brought to her new home; Lestara Buvelle stood before her, adorned in a handsome velvet robe; dripping in jewels and her usual heavy perfume, Lestara moved forward, her round face bright with happiness.
"My darling, look at you! You are a grown woman, now, and you have made much of yourself."
Lestara embraced Sona and leaned back to appraise her.
"Truly, you have made me proud. My heart sings when I look upon you. Come in and sit with me awhile."
Lestara turned to walk down the long hallway, her footsteps clicking a staccato rhythm on the tile floor. Sona's heart swelled with happiness and she reached for her instrument's reassuring steel.
Her hands clutched nothing but air.
Sona turned, looking for the etwahl: had she mindlessly placed it aside just now? Suddenly, a chord rang out, piercingly askew: Sona spun around to see the etwahl drifting swiftly down the hallway; Sona called the instrument back to her but, for the first time, it paid no heed; the single note played over and over as it drew closer to Lestara's back.
It was out for blood.
Sona flew frantically into the hallway but she was too far away to reach Lestara in time; her only chance was to scream a warning: she strained her throat but no sound would come forth, just as it never had in her entire life.
The etwahl's strings strummed a terrible noise that would forever be embedded in her memory: a vibration trembled through the air and a rush of razor-thin air scythes tore through Lestara's body.
Sona reached Lestara's side in time to catch her as the body fell to the ground in a pool of blood; tears streamed down Sona's face as she tried to scream but no sound would come out.
The hallway dissolved into blackness, leaving Sona crumpled around Lestara's body, with the etwahl lying innocently at her side. Lestara's eyes rolled open and she asked weakly: "Why do you want to join the League?"
Sona's mind reeled, unable to comprehend what was happening. Suddenly, she felt the tingle of arcane magic in her throat, an overwhelming sensation that brought tears to her eyes; the breath passing in and out of her body tickled inside her, trying to draw sounds out with every exhale. Sona stared incredulously at Lestara, who nodded at her and bade her to speak.
Opening her mouth, she began to speak for the first time in her life: her breath caught in her throat, short of uttering her first sound, when a booming voice from the recesses of her dim memory resounded in her mind.
This instrument will be the key to unlocking the world. It will speak for you more truly than a voice ever could. Nothing else - not us, them, or any magic in this world - will ever own you again.
Almost of its own accord, her hand flung outwards and slammed down on the ethwahl next to her: dissonance erupted, deafeningly loud, drowning out any sounds that might have spilled forth from her lips; as the tones faded away, so did the foreign tingling in her throat: the enchantment was gone, never to return.
Lestara's voice grew loud, booming into the ether: "Why do you want to join the League, Sona?"
The etwahl's strings shivered and began to play on its own but Sona pressed down with her palm to silence the instrument: it resisted for a tense moment and fell quiet; slowly, her fingers began to trickle across the strings: hesitantly at first, testing her instrument's yield, she played a defiant progression in response to her question.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Her fingers danced across the strings, urging forth a melody of loneliness and isolation: it was the song of those who had lived their lives hidden in plain sight, always passed over despite trying desperately to be noticed; it began pensively, mournfully sad and, gradually, grew to a crashing, raging crescendo; the last notes echoed with a tone of quiet acceptance but, above all, catharsis.
A smile raked across Lestara's face. "Welcome to the League, Maven of the Strings."
Lestara disappeared and the darkness fell away to reveal Sona floating in front of ornate double doors: she knew they led to the League of Legends.
Her etwahl molded reassuringly to her hands, lying in wait for its master's command. Sona moved through the doors without a second glance.
|Swain, the Master Tactician|
|4 October, 20 CLE|
Swain arches his neck toward the words that hang over the massive double doors: 'The truest opponent lies within.'
Swain's voice sounds surprisingly robust for such a seemingly frail figure. His uniform - more robe than military dress - is wrapped tightly about him, especially around his face. He stands crookedly: he leans on a cane to support himself but not overly so. It does not seem out of place to see a strange-lookingperched on his shoulder: perhaps this is to whom Swain is speaking.
"Let's see who the League believes my truest opponent is, shall we?"
The raven nods its head in affirmation.
Swain deftly raps on the double doors with the head of his cane: they split, revealing blackness within; the engraved panthers along either side of the double doors point inward.
There is a slight smirk on his face as he enters.
The ink on the Noxian and Demacian armistice had been but a few years dry before the first 'incident' took place between the powerful city-states. It was right in the midst of that botched mission, at the moment of execution, where Swain now found himself at: he could see the platform where the young prince was standing, his back turned, oblivious to his plight; the poison-bolted hexbow felt heavy in Swain's hands.
"I am impressed. I didn't expect it to be so real."
He scanned the darkened balcony overlooking, where the Demacian royals were standing. The cold night air was brisk; Swain breathed, inhaling deeply. "And accurate. This is nearly intoxicating."
"What is, Swine?" A commanding voice mocked the Noxian: , the Exemplar of Demacia, Crown Prince of the same, now stood on the balcony; his presence lorded over Swain: Jarvan was no longer the thirteen-year old child prince that Swain had been sent to dispatch. "How's the leg?"
"You even know about that. Powerful", Swain commented, raising his cane to his chin. "But alas, not powerful enough for me, summoner. Enough."
Jarvan looked stunned and just a little bit confused.
"I do not play games - I make them. We are both aware of what I think happened during the mission you're recreating here. You know how I truly feel about my weaknesses. You clearly know who I am, seeing as how you're so blatantly ransacking my memories." Swain happily leered at Jarvan. "Unless I am mistaken, this should satisfy half of your prerequisite needs for a champion's entry into the League."
"It does?" a less-commanding Jarvan asked; his countenance was considerably less Demacian now; he paused for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, perhaps it does. We acknowledge your power, Swain of Noxus."
The Demacian prince was no longer standing before Swain: where he had stood, there was now an older, strikingly beautiful woman in a purple summoner's robe; the robe was highly ornate, unlike most of the other robes Swain had seen in his time. The female summoner bowed. "We would ask, however, that you please honor the League with a formal acknowledgement."
Swain chuckled and nodded. "High Councilor Vessaria Kolminye - I am honored. I was not aware that someone of your stature conducted screenings personally. Is there a chance I could expect you to personally summon me into a battle arena?" Swain was clearly enjoying this exchange.
"Charming as always, Master Tactician." The High Councilor smiled thinly. "Your formal acknowledgement, if you would be so kind."
Swain bowed deeply, kicking his cane out with a flourish. "Of course. With all due respect."
The Noxian clutched his cane to stand straight. "You would ask of me how it feels to share my mind with a summoner. As you can see, I face little challenge in managing such a relationship. While my secrets are laid bare to the summoner that calls upon me, I know that they would not be used against me by the League. Such a violation of trust is against everything the League stands for... especially in these most tense of times when the League needs the cooperation of its client city-states."
High Councilor Kolminye nodded approvingly. "Thank you and yes - the knowledge exchanged in the bond is private between champion and summoner. You have nothing to fear."
"Nor do you." Swain bowed again, keeping his eyes locked on the High Councilor.
A tense pause was broken by the High Councilor: "Why do you want to join the League, Jericho Swain?"
Swain took the question in: the slight smug look that he had worn throughout the entire Judgment was gone; he stared straight into High Councilor Kolminye's eyes. "To become the next of Noxus, of course." Swain pointed the head of his cane at the High Councilor. "The League will help me accomplish this."
"The League does not arbitrarily choose sides in the matters of the city-states of Valoran, nor does it--- "
Swain put his index finger to his lips. "You know what I mean... don't you, Vessaria?"
The High Councilor paused once more. "Yes, I do. But you'll have to earn the influence you need. It won't come easily." The High Councilor permitted herself the slightest of sneers. "Especially for you." Her eyes were as two red embers, flickering intensely. "But that is not all. Is it, Master Tactician?"
Swain nodded. "Indeed, it is not. Your Judgment... it is quite the ritual. It is more powerful than I had given you credit for." He leaned in to the High Councilor's left ear, a breath's distance away.
Swain's voice was soft but every word hung on the air as he spoke: "I want to kill Jarvan IV, the 'Exemplar' of Demacia." He smiled at the High Councilor, still close to her ear. "I will kill him too, Vessaria."
High Councilor Kolminye locked eyes with Swain for one last time; she raised her right hand to his cheek. "We shall see, Jericho."
A flood of light washed over them both and Swain found himself alone in the chamber; a new set of double doors were in front of him, already opened: the League had found its latest champion.
|Lux, the Lady of Luminosity|
|17 October, 20 CLE|
Lux runs briskly into the hallway, almost bursting with excitement. The light plays off of the young girl's golden hair, emitting a brightness that almost gives her an ethereal air. Her colorful attire and disarming smile would fool any ignorant passerby but the ease with which she wears her battle armor would give any seasoned warrior pause.
She pauses for a moment to take in the scenery, her intelligent eyes darting around. An intricate baton darts rapidly between her fingers, conveying her impatience.
'The truest opponent lies within.'
An unimpressed hmph spills out of her lips. Striding forward, she pushes firmly with a gloved hand to open the marble doors before her. With an effortless spin of her baton, her body is enveloped in a bright aura. She runs inside, undaunted by the complete darkness that swallows her up.
, the Might of Demacia, her long-lost brother, stood before her: his face was stern, yet kind, and exactly how she had imagined he would look in real life, having only seen him in the League match broadcasts since he had been taken away.
"Why do you want to join the League?"
Lux allowed herself a smile, trying to not seem smug: while anyone who had been subject to a League Judgment was forbidden to discuss the trial, Lux had done her research and she knew that they summoned illusions to extract their answers; it was mere child's play for her: she could see right through it and she knew what they wanted to hear.
She straightened and looked the illusion of her brother straight in the eye: "To fight for justice in the name of Demacia."
"What is the real reason, Luxanna?"
"Victory for our allies, defeat for our enemies, and justice for all." They were both quotes from the, the handbook that any self-respecting Demacian could recite on command, but they did not make them any less true for her own purposes.
Her brother frowned and that was the last thing Lux saw before an explosion of light consumed them.
It was happening again: sometimes, the light would bounce off the glass hall of the Demacian Royal Academy, casting a bewitching display of prisms in every direction; Lux's skin would shimmer as if composed from the dust of crystals; her mood lifted and she let the light envelop her, rendering her invisible in plain sight.
She hadn't yet gained control over the odd occurrence, which was unfortunate as it would happen at random intervals during the most inopportune of moments. Lux ran off in the direction of her home, heart racing in the hopes that the illusion would stick around long enough for her to show her parents; there was only a fleeting twinge of guilt that struck her for leaving school but her teacher would count her as absent, anyway.
Lux burst into the Crownguard residence: to her delight, she heard familiar voices speaking quietly in the kitchen; she found three military officials standing at attention, speaking to her parents; her heart skipped a beat as she started to retreat back into the living room: they were discussing important business and she had been taught better than to interrupt; she would have left the house entirely except, at that one dreadful moment, she heard her name.
"It is the greatest honor you could bestow upon our household to take Luxanna. She will serve you well, just as Garen has before her." A chair scraped along the floor as her mother stood.
"You are sure,? Your daughter is at the age where she needs her parents the most, especially after taking her older brother away."
"It is all in the King's name. You will provide all the parenting that she will need." Her father's tone was dismissive.
"Very well. It is done."
Lux fell to the ground, the repressed memories unforgivingly rushing back into her mind: her parents delivering the news; Lux barricading herself in her room; the pain in her arms as they forcibly dragged her away from her home; her hair draped across her face as she refused to look at her parents; the burn of her tears as she cried herself to sleep every night; the booming voices yelling at her to focus; her screams as she cursed her family for doing this to her.
Then: her own voice echoing back at her, reciting the Justice Pledge alongside her fellow recruits; the comfort of re-reading the Measured Tread cover-to-cover countless times; the indoctrination of the new incoming class, led by Lux herself; the pride swelling in her heart as she marched forth under Demacia's shining banner; the accolades in praise of her exemplary work; the absolute love for her country.
The emptiness of realization of what she had willingly grown to love.
The assault of memories subsided and she was left slumped in the darkness. She knew the League had retreated from her mind but the test wasn't over yet: someone was standing before her and she didn't even have to look up to know who it was.
"Will you admit the real reason why you want to join the League now?"
Her labored breaths caught in her throat just long enough for her to whisper: "Because I have nothing else... "
The darkness shattered around her, falling to the ground in shards: she crumpled to the ground, heaving sobs racking her body.
Garen remained standing, his normally kind face gruff and unreadable as the illusion dissolved around them. "You have just shared your mind with me. To become a champion of the League, you must allow others into your mind, and they will know your true conviction and purpose better than you yourself. If you are prepared, you know what you must do."
Her brother turned and strode through the hallway that stretched before them to another set of double doors; he did not stop to lend her a hand nor did he glance backwards to see if she would follow.
He didn't need to. Lux remained on the floor, composing herself: for a moment, she considered calling out to her brother or running back into the Great Hallway, out of the League's penetrative gaze; this was the first challenge that ever daunted her, even more so than when she was being tested by Demacia's top magicians or sneaking through Noxus' innermost tunnels; but she was a Crownguard and she knew that she would overcome this challenge, just as she had overcome all other challenges in her life.
She stood, clutching the baton deftly in her hand: she would prove that her dedication to her city-state was true and that she had not been lying when she first answered their question.
|LeBlanc, the Deceiver|
|29 October, 20 CLE|
LeBlanc's measured strides carry her along the polished marble with unparalleled grace and decorum. Her ornate magician's garb, stylish and well-kept, lends her a stately appearance seldom seen outside of a royal court. In her delicate hands, she clasps a long staff topped with a series of multi-faceted crystals suspended by an unknown force; pinned in lustrous her hair sits another such crystal, scattering the torchlight in all directions as she passes.
She comes to a halt in front of an ornate door, taking a moment to peruse the inscription. "The truest opponent lies within", she reads whimsically: the irony curls the edges of her lips to a brief smirk but only for an instant; a moment later, her face is implacable once more: an emotionless puzzle but still captivatingly beautiful. She reaches out a single, perfectly-manicured hand, easily parting the doors despite their obvious weight; she peers for a moment into the oppressive blackness before taking even strides into the murk.
The darkness grew cold: she pulled the robe close about her to ward off the chill, suppressing a slight shiver. A cowled figure shuffled by with a hooded lantern in its hands. In the dim lamplight, she could make out the stones and mortar on either side; water was dripping somewhere further off and the stink of mildew filled her nostrils.
Another shadowy figure shambled by her, part of a procession. Falling in behind the rest of her ilk, LeBlanc took a moment to examine herself: draped over her traditional court finery was a jet black cloak, bound with an onyx black rose; her staff was gone, as was the brooch in her hair. Ahead, the tunnel broadened into a chamber and she could see a crowd forming in the darkness; LeBlanc pushed her way through to the front: the crowd parted before her and she gasped: there, in the middle of the throng of onlookers, she stood face to face with herself... well, herself in a manner of speaking; the situation was instantly familiar and she waited patiently for her moment to come.
One of the hooded onlookers stepped forward, addressing the doppelganger. "LeBlanc", he rasped to the woman at the center of the circle. "Why have you summoned us? These are dangerous times for the Black Rose to meet in numbers."
The woman opened her mouth to speak but a sharp wheeze cut her short: she snatched an embroidered handkerchief, speckled in blood, from the folds of her dress and used it to stifle a cough; she cleared her throat. "Brothers and sisters", she spoke weakly. "I have summoned you because I am old and I have grown frail. I shall be one with the earth soon." She smiled. "The time has come for me to abdicate my position as Matron of the society." She coughed again, louder this time.
"There is one among you who has shown great promise and leadership", she continued. "One whose talents are outstripped only by her ambition and loyalty." She plucked the sparkling brooch from her hair and the illusion fell away: her porcelain skin turned ashen, her hair thin and stringy, and her eyes sunken; she extended a wrinkled hand towards LeBlanc. "Evaine, step forward and be recognized." LeBlanc stepped forward, accepting the bauble and nestling it into her neatly styled hair; her predecessor offered her the staff. "Strange", remarked the old woman. "It's like looking in the mirror." LeBlanc accepted the staff and the scene about her fell away.
A moment later, she was sitting in her study, the staff cradled delicately in the crook of her elbow as she sipped tea from an ornate cup. Across from her sat a decrepit figure, his fragile body enveloped in a tightly pulled military garb; a largesat perched on his shoulder.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visitation, ?" she asked. Swain's crooked hand curled around the handle of his teacup and he put the steaming hot beverage to his lips.
"Exquisite", he rasped. "Matron LeBlanc, you have always had impeccable taste."
"I have", she agreed with a smile... but there was only sadness in it; she stretched an arm across the table, clasping his scarred hand in hers. "But then, you already knew that. You knew it before you sold yourself."
Swain pressed a thorned onyx ring into her hand. "It is true. I have made sacrifices. But I made them for us. The Black Rose is yours, Matron, but I have become something greater." As if in agreement, the raven on his shoulder cawed. "The time has come. Join me in fellowship and we can restore what was taken from us by."
She gazed at the ring. "You have forsaken your identity to gain Darkwill's trust. The rest will not be so eager."
"Perhaps. But there are other ways", Swain continued.
A porter arrived in the doorway to announce an additional guest. "is here to see you, Matron."
LeBlanc shot Swain a curious glance. "Send him up", she replied. The porter exited the study. "Du Couteau is that vulgar General's lapdog", she spat. "He will be of no use to us, Jericho."
"Perhaps you're mistaken, Deceiver. He is of noble blood", said Swain.
LeBlanc held up the ring. "But he is not one of us!"
Swain nodded. "Why do you want to join the League, LeBlanc?"
"I mean to reclaim my people's birthright", she proclaimed, flames burning in her eyes. "And believe me, I shall succeed."
Jericho Swain got up from the table and gently caressed her face. "How does it feel exposing your mind?"
LeBlanc threw back her head and laughed. "You think that I'm exposed, summoner?" she jeered. "You will never know LeBlanc. She is far older than I. She is older than your precious League." Swain nodded; the doors before her flew open, leaving her alone in the light: the League of Legends awaited her.
|Irelia, the Will of the Blades|
|12 November, 20 CLE|
An enormous, four-pronged blade parts the air for Irelia as she enters the Great Hall; the unusual weapon, once owned by her father, hovers unaided two meters above the ground. Irelia follows it apathetically, her mind focused on the task at hand. Aside from her pristine armor, which is polished dutifully for presentation, Irelia puts no effort into her appearance: her face is seen only in glimpses behind her swaying hair; she's young, though the youthful spark in her eyes is tarnished with the blood of the battlefield.
She maintains a bold presence, fitting for the captain of the Ionian guard: despite bearing the responsibility of Ionia's safety, her shoulders are as square and resolute as her Mantle of Decorum - Ionia's highest decoration. The capricious sword darts ahead of her to the marble doors, halting beneath the inscription: there, it shivers imperceptibly, emitting a high-pitched whine: whether because of apprehension or excitement, it is unclear. Irelia, expressionless, passes it and walks into the blackness.
The darkness set Irelia on edge: this was an unsafe manner in which to conduct an interview. She felt the blade circling around her, probing for threats she couldn't see: she hoped the agents of the League had the wisdom to approach her with care, as a surprise assault would end unfortunately... for them.
Irelia had a knack for steel: it spoke to her; closing her eyes, she extended her senses - a meditative exercise her father taught her to perceive unseen threats. Air is the same as water, you simply must heed the ripples. His words echoed in her mind. What did he always say after---
Irelia flung herself into a backflip, the razor edge of a knife slicing through the space her head had just occupied; she landed in a crouch as a second knife raced through the air toward her; she beckoned to her father's blade but it was nowhere to be found; sensing danger, she managed to duck her head just enough to evade the point of the second projectile: she didn't flinch as the blade's edge slid through her cheek.
"... every ripple is the messenger of something yet to come."appeared from the darkness, frowning behind his blindfold; two more knives were clenched between the fingers of his left hand.
"I smell blood."
Irelia's jaw dropped. "Father?"
"Don't try to hide it, I can hear your blood pattering on the shingles."
Irelia looked down: the red clay tiles of the roof were unmistakable: this was her home; but she'd seen it succumb to the sickly-green flames of Zaunite hextorches years ago.
"You know what that means." Lito sheathed the blades in the blue folds of his robe; he inhaled sharply, his hands circling in front of him, channeling energy. Irelia did know what that meant: discipline.
"Father, wait--- ", she began to say. The protest was futile: a loud snap announced his attack; Irelia was too slow to dodge: though he stood twenty paces away, the long cloth from the sleeve of her father's training robe lanced out, lashing her squarely in the chest; she hurtled backward, sliding down the tiles; catching her balance, she rolled back up the roof. Tiles cracked as Lito's unrelenting strikes thundered after her; he paused for a moment.
"Messy. Your mind is clouded." Lito flicked his wrist and cloth gripped her neck from across the roof; with another flick, he brought Irelia soaring toward him, yanking her off her feet. She could faintly see her father's devastating roundhouse kick, coming to instill the day's final lesson, when a red blur appeared in front of it.
"I thought I heard someone getting disciplined. You having trouble, Irie?" A voice gloated.
"!" Irelia sputtered. Zelos was between them, his right arm blocking the roundhouse kick and his left hand holding his father's sleeve so she could extract herself; the fabric released her neck.
"Here, I brought something for you." He grinned at their father, who, though blindfolded, smiled back. "It's only fair."
Zelos hurled a saber to her but, before she could grab it, Lito's other sleeve plucked it from the sky; he leaped, spinning horizontally in the air, reeling the weapon in: the spinning motion knocked Zelos to the tiles.
"Alright, let's go!" Zelos brandished a sword of his own from a sheath strapped to his back and slashed at his father: the blow seemed to pass through Lito entirely. Irelia sprung to her feet, flipping forward with a devastating axe kick: her heel met the flat of the saber Lito had intercepted. Zelos directed his energy into his own reverse roundhouse and Lito was forced to block the blow with his arm: the saber clattered from the grip of his sleeve.
Irelia wasted no time diving for the weapon. Lito's sleeve arced out as she'd expected but, this time, she was ready: she landed on its cloth with her right hand, pinning it to the tiles; she twisted her body so that her foot could kick the hilt of the blade, bouncing it up in the air; her other foot swung around in mid-air to kick against the back edge of the blade, launching the steel straight at Lito.
He tore the blindfold from his face as the blade plunged into his stomach: his eyes were wide.
"Irelia, what have you done?!" Lito choked.
Irelia stared at him apathetically. "Had enough?"
"Irelia, dad's really hurt!" Zelos was incredulous.
She nodded. "Well, he does have a sword sticking out of him."
Lito's pained expression vanished, replaced with a wry grin. "Why do you want to join the League, Irelia?"
"My home was destroyed because I didn't have the strength to protect it. I will fight to the bitter death before I let something like that happen to Ionia again." Her tone was icy.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Irelia laughed heartily, a sound she'd almost forgotten. "I thank you for allowing me to set eyes on my family again but my father would never have let us land a blow. He joined the Elders by staying dry on this very roof during a rainstorm. According to the records, he never even moved. You can view the images in my mind all you like but you'll never appreciate their true nature."
Irelia found herself in the waiting alcove, doors closed in front of and behind her. Her father's blade bobbed complacently beside her; with a flash, it split into four blades, throwing all the doors open around her. She drew a great breath and strode into the League.
|Trundle, the Cursed Troll|
|26 November, 20 CLE|
A distinctly foul odor permeating the air announces the troll's arrival: the sounds of scraping nails, labored breathing, and dirty feet scrabbling across the pristine marble floors reach the Great Hall before Trundle does; he is frighteningly out of place in the halls of the Institute of War, surrounded by gleaming decor while barely discernible rags hang off his body in some semblance of modesty. He shifts his grip on a makeshift club, an unwieldy weapon that is as long as his entire body. His skin bubbles with sores and scars, sloughing off in chunks from his body: it is amazing that he still has any flesh at all.
Trundle's weary eyes pass over the Great Hall - he lingers not on the inscription above the door or the fine statues representing Valoran's greatest craftsmanship: these material objects mean nothing to him. A mangled tongue flicks over his unshapely lips and he reaches out to open the doors leading to the Reflecting Chamber: as if the doors themselves are afraid to come under his touch, they part before him; he shrugs, apparently used to this type of behavior, and slips inside.
Trundle's eyes flew open as something sharp pricked his hand: he was surprised to find himself strapped down to a makeshift altar, surrounded by a circle of runes; the shamans of his tribe stood hunched over him, ready to begin the ceremony that would change his life forever.
This time, he felt a distinct detachment from the entire scene - a far cry from the raging wave of excitement, fear, and pride that had consumed him the first time it happened: he had been so young then, freshly wounded from the daily ritual of being bullied by the younger trolls; looking back at his former self, he almost couldn't blame them - he had always been funny-looking, even by troll standards, and being the runt of the entire tribe didn't help the situation; had any other smaller or uglier troll been born into the tribe, Trundle was sure that he would have redirected the bullying to the new target and happily joined in himself.
What he distinctly remembered was the elders' whispered promises - that if he were to bear the weight of the entire tribe's curse onto himself, it would be the noblest sacrifice in the entire history of their race; they told him that he was the only one who could save them all when they beheld the innate regeneration that only he was born with. The young Trundle had gotten carried away with what they told him - he fantasized about the admiration in the eyes of those who had once ridiculed him, the adoration of his entire tribe, and the riches and comfort he would enjoy as they lauded his sacrifice.
Most importantly of all, he saw his life without all the bullying.
So he gave himself to the disease, letting it ravage his body. In many ways, it was a success - the Ruhgosk rejoiced in their newfound freedom and lavished their adoration on Trundle; but it was not to last - before long, his kin began to keep their distance from him: seeing his open sores and diseased flesh was apparently too much for even trolls to handle, despite having been similarly afflicted mere weeks earlier.
It was during these times that he sometimes thought that being bullied was better than being alone: at least, people could stand to be around him, even if it was just to make fun of him.
Someone spoke, snapping him out of his reverie: "Why do you want to join the League?"
Trundle turned, sitting up on the altar as the straps pinning him down disappeared: a summoner swathed in a blue robe stood behind him, towering over the troll; his face was hidden within the recesses of his cowl.
"To search for a cure for this disease", Trundle intoned wearily.
"And what if I told you that I already have your cure?"
"You're a dirty liar!"
"I've studied you, Trundle. The League knows everything about our candidates before they even pass through our doors. Your disease eats you alive but your incredible regenerative power prevents your disease from spreading to your tribe again."
Trundle snorted. "Tell me something new. Any idiot can see the flesh tumbling from my bones and smell the stink of rot. I may be a troll but I'm not stupid."
"True but what you don't know, Trundle, is that you bearing the disease of your brethren will also be their downfall. While the plague that your tribe bore was debilitating, eventually their bodies came to rely on the disease. Yes, it caused them immense pain and constant disease, but it became inextricably fused with your race's inherent ability to regenerate." The summoner's tone was clinical as he spoke. "Thus, when the plague was extracted from their bodies, it took along with it their regenerative capabilities. Now their bodies do not even know how to sustain themselves."
The summoner paused. "What they did to you did not cure them: it barely even prolongs the tribe's inevitable extinction."
Trundle closed his eyes, overwhelmed.
The summoner continued on, unrelenting: "So, I ask you, Trundle of the Ruhgosk tribe: do you want the League to restore the disease to your tribe?"
The images flashed unbidden before his eyes - his tribe once again plagued by the debilitating disease, all equally humbled by their affliction; he imagined telling them how this sacrifice saved them all from a potentially worse fate and his tribe finally seeing him for the savior that he was...
... and, suddenly, the sting of naiveté that caused him to make this same choice before shattered his train of thought: his decision to bear the burden of disease never changed the fact that he was the runt; nothing he ever did would change that.
A crooked smile snaked across his misshapen face. "Let them suffer. I'll keep what they so generously gave me."
"So it shall be. Then, I will ask you again: why do you want to join the League if not for a cure?"
"It seems this is the 'cure' I was looking for, after all."
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Trundle thought for a long moment. "For once, it felt like I wasn't alone anymore. Thank you for that."
The summoner nodded and disappeared. Trundle stood alone in a long corridor, with a trail of dirt and peeled skin marking the way he had entered; he shrugged, triggering another avalanche of shed flesh, and strode forward into the League of Legends.
|Cassiopeia, the Serpent's Embrace|
|10 December, 20 CLE|
Cassiopeia glides along the marvelous hallway with unnerving grace, the scrape of scale on marble announcing her passing to the empty corridor. Her elegant curves and stately posture combine to form an appalling juxtaposition to her serpentine body; the exquisite features of her face, wreathed in a cobra's hood, bear a look of chilling determination while a serpent's tail conveys her expediently onward towards her destination.
She pauses for a moment before a pair of grand double doors, the relief of a panther marking each one; above the doors, carved on the stone archway, is an inscription: 'The truest opponent lies within'; her eyes narrow as she reads the engraving.
Cassiopeia stretches a taloned finger towards the door: it parts effortlessly at her touch, swinging open into blackness; she peers hesitantly into the black for a moment before composing herself and gliding inside.
She found herself in her chambers in the Noxian estate she called home; an elegant curtain ran across the center of the room: a shroud against prying eyes; there, through the lace, stood the unmistakable figure of her father: General ; she stared at him longingly, admiring everything about him: from his stately military garb to his perfect soldier's posture.
He stepped forward, extending a hand towards the partition. There was moment of panic: no matter how many times she allowed her closest family to see her, she was always overwhelmed with anxiety and revulsion.
"Don't look at me!" Cassiopeia lamented.
The General froze for a moment; then, his voice took on a sterner character: "You are my daughter, Cassiopeia. And you are beautiful."
"Liar!" she hissed, turning away; she could hear the rustling of curtains as he approached.
"Daughter, look at me", he implored. Reluctantly, she complied, wiping away her tears with a viciously clawed hand; she did not speak.
"Cassiopeia", he went on, taking a step forward. "I have been summoned. It is a grave matter but one that I cannot refuse."
"Take sister with you. She can keep you safe", she sobbed.
Marcus shook his head. " cannot return. The matter with Ionia has not yet been settled and her duty to the League compels her to stay."
"Father, if you do not return, I will be alone", she stated.
The General reached out to touch his daughter's face and she recoiled, turning her back again; his voice turned colder than iron: "You are a Du Couteau, Cassiopeia. You have served Noxus and she cares for her children. You will never be alone." He paused. "One day, you will remember your duty."
General Du Couteau took her hand and pressed a sealed letter into her palm, crumpling it slightly. "Should I not return, Cassiopeia, this will guide you and Katarina."
Hearing her father turn to leave, Cassiopeia panicked: she spun about but found herself alone; she examined the letter in her hand: it was marked in a wax signet that she did not recognize but the seal was already broken; she unfolded the page.
In blood-red ink, someone had penned 'Transcendence Way, the Ivory Ward, 5:00 PM'; below it was a stamped image of a black rose.
The peals of a clock tower caught her attention, followed by the sounds of bedlam: all around her, the household abruptly became chaos: each passing footfall and gossiping whisper filled her with ire; there came a hesitant knock at the door: she already knew who to expect.
"Enter!" she commanded, her rage overcoming her revulsion at the thought of being seen. The door swung open, revealing one of her father's bodyguards; he entered slowly, staring intently at her silhouette on the other side of the curtains, his face a mixture of fear and shame.
"Mistress Cassiopeia", he began, "Your father has... "
She cut him off: "Spare me your excuses, fool! How did it happen?!
"We were in the market", he stammered. "Your father slipped away."
"And I ordered you to shadow him, did I not?" sneered Cassiopeia; she drew closer to the partition. The soldier looked away in shame; he did not answer. Cassiopeia sunk her talons into the hanging fabric, ripping it from its moorings in one swift motion and laying bare her monstrous body. "Speak, coward!" she commanded.
The bodyguard backed away in horror, blanching white in shock.
"What's wrong?" Cassiopeia teased, drawing one of her wicked hands to her face in feigned surprise. "Don't you find me beautiful?"
She advanced, fastening her claws securely around his neck: she lifted his worthless body and, suddenly, a shattered pocket watch fell out of his pocket; the watch's hands stopped dead at a quarter past five. "This was all we found", he croaked.
She caught her quarry's gaze in hers, his body shaking as she choked the life from him: his face was white as snow but, for some reason, there was no fear in his eyes; realization washed down the length of her serpentine body: Cassiopeia sneered. "Charlatan", she muttered, venom dripping from the words. "You force me to relive the moment I lost my father for your own sick pleasure?"
The bodyguard's face turned as implacable as his eyes. "Why do you want to join the League, Cassiopeia?" he inquired.
"My father is dead", she spat. "One of you knows something. And I will have justice."
The soldier nodded. "How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Cassiopeia's looked him dead in the eye. "Curse you", she muttered emotionlessly: the figure dissolved in her grip, leaving only the darkness; the doors to the League swung open.
|Caitlyn, the Sheriff of Piltover|
|31 December, 20 CLE|
Caitlyn enters the Great Hall with a series of whirs and clicks as the lenses extending down from her hat adjust to allow her to study the space in meticulous detail. She has a long rifle slung over her shoulder and she bears its weight so comfortably one would doubt she's ever without it. Her ensemble is as alive with the activity of gears as it is revealing, both facets competing for attention.
She takes the room in with the eye of an investigator, noting the placement of all objects; she scrutinizes the marble doors to the Reflecting Chamber with grim determination: satisfied that she could analyze a crime scene there later if necessary, she pushes through the doors.
The darkness weighed on her skin like dew after a long stakeout, cool and sobering. As if in response to the thought, she heard the light patter of rain on cobblestone behind her: startled, she spun around too quickly, banging her elbow against something solid; the 'something' was a grimy brick wall, on which a sinewy creature reminiscent of Demacians never to slacken the grip on their ethical reins; sadly ironic that the same tower allowed the fugitive, the mysterious , to escape when he was so nearly within her grasp.was graffitied in glorious detail. With conditioned skepticism, her eyes panned from the wall down the long alleyway next to her: she caught a gasp before it left her throat: Resilience Way; no matter how many hours she'd spent there, the place always gave her chills. Her gaze went to the sky, where she could see the spire of Constance Tower casting its familiar light out over the city, reminding
She could recall every detail of the day on a whim: it sat in her memory like a picture of a dead lover taped to a mirror, there to remind you of what you could have had. The pursuit began in the lobby of the Artificers Guild Hall in Demacia's crowded Honor Square; a student studying Advanced Techmaturgical Wafer Fabrication had, by chance, stopped at the Guild in order to speak with Moraj Wossit about her requirements for Guild entry. Wossit was some Average Joe paper-pusher who, unbeknownst to her and his superiors, had been ditching work early on Thursdays while he got, as he put it, 'elective stress therapy'. Caitlyn had heard that line enough to know that he meant 'something my wife and kids shouldn't know about'... so much for Demacia's bastion of morality; although, in retrospect, he could have just been watching a late League match with a brew for how tightly wound the city-state had its people. In any case, the student happened to barge into his office and found his desk in disarray with the window open; she retrieved a supervisor who, concerned, contacted the local authorities.
Caitlyn had been in town investigating the last enigmatic card that 'C' had left: it was the fourth in a series of roughly identical cards he'd left at the scenes of his heists; all of them bore only a single character: 'C'; this one was left in place of the Celestial Crystal stolen from Freljord's Dervish Crystal Hall. She'd determined that he chose paper stock in slightly different shades to let her know which part of Valoran he planned to hit next; there was some meaning to the ink and font he used but she hadn't cracked that yet at the time. Thanks to his earlier theft of the Greatsword of Milthorn from Demacia's Royal Palace, Caitlyn had deduced that he meant to show up there again, and she was speaking with the constable when the message came from Guild Hall; she accompanied the constable there on a hunch and, when they arrived, the lobby was rife with security goons.
The supervisor had been mindful enough to check the Senior Artificer's office, where Wossit had been provisioned with special access; when he got there, the office was in a similar state of chaos. Most importantly, the treasured Helm of the Protector, which had been carried to Demacia years before by League champion , was missing from an open safe; it had been entrusted to the Artificers Guild for some kind of magical tune-up and the guild monkeys had assured Caitlyn that the whole operation had been completely hush-hush; in the safe, another card waited, mocking her inability to decipher its clues.
Security locked the building down immediately. Caitlyn was listening to the Chief of Security's recounting when she noticed one security officer who kept depriving her of a square look at his face; it was incidental enough to seem unimportant but, after five minutes of distracted glances, she decided to strike up a conversation: she made it a solid four steps in his direction before he bolted for the stairs.
She chased him up ten flights of stairs, never breaking stride. She reached the roof just in time to see him swinging away on a line affixed to the top of Constance Tower; as he swung, it was clear that he'd calculated this escape to reach the roof of Gillson's Training Hall. This was too close to let him slip away so she leveled her rifle and took aim for a leg; her quarry had slipped up this time, as he could not deviate from his path, and timing her shots was what Caitlyn did best.
She pulled the trigger.
In a flash, the perpetrator fell from the line; Caitlyn didn't understand: the bullet shouldn't have hit so soon. Time slowed to a crawl as she watched him descend through the air; she watched until he disappeared between the buildings and dashed back down the stairs.
And here she was again: standing in Resilience Alley, where he fell; there were witnesses everywhere who saw him fall into the alley and, yet, it was empty: no body, no blood, no explanation for how he could have survived, and nobody saw him leave. That night, she sat there in that raining dump of an alley for hours, searching for an answer.
As though responding to the memory, a panel in the soaking cobblestone floor slid open.
Caitlyn leapt back, jerking her rifle off her shoulder in a practiced motion and training it on the hole: a low chuckle echoed out from the darkness.
"Tricky, aren't I?" A voice said.
Caitlyn couldn't come to grips with the situation quickly enough. "Step out slowly!"
"Nah, I'm not gonna do that." The voice was tinged with amusement.
"I'll give you till the count of three. If you aren't in plain sight with your hands up, I'm just going to use the muzzle flash from this rifle to light my way." Caitlyn was accustomed to overcoming obstacles. "One... "
"You won't do it, you don't have the--- "
"You know if you shoot me, you'll never find out how I--- "
"Three." Caitlyn pulled the trigger but the gun clicked hollowly.
"Why do you want to join the League, Caitlyn?" The voice was suddenly solemn.
"I'll ask the questions here! Who--- " She didn't like being interrogated.
"Why do you want to join the League, Caitlyn?" There was a level of control in the voice that caused a sense of dread to creep up her spine.
"You already know the answer to that question or you wouldn't have taken me here." She waited but no response came. "He's the only case I've had to leave open. I'll become better. I'm going to catch him and the League will be my tool to do just that."
"How does it feel exposing your mind?" The question came in a whisper from behind her ear and the trap door in the alley snapped shut: she whirled about but all she saw were the ornate marble doors of the Institute; behind her lay the path to becoming a champion.
"If you want a piece of my mind, just ask next time. I'll save you the song and dance." She smirked, knowing that she was being watched, before slinging her rifle over her shoulder and continuing into the League.
|Renekton, the Butcher of the Sands|
|14 January, 21 CLE|
The bestial creature charges into the hallway, his head turning erratically from side to side as he seeks his target. The scent that he has been relentlessly trailing all the way from Zaun has brought him to the Institute of War: the unmistakable musk saturates the Great Hall.
Erupting with fury, Renekton drops down to all fours, sending his enormous weapon crashing to the marble floor; he darts around the room to trace the origin of the scent: there is a frightening madness in his gaze and his every movement is explosive.
Suddenly, he straightens up, snatching up his blade in a single movement, and charges recklessly into double doors framed by a stone archway; the creature does not reach out to part the doors: they simply burst open from the sudden impact of his entire body; Renekton doesn't lose his stride - not with the promise of his prey so unbearably close.
The prey is none other than his brother .
What the creature does not know is that the unrefusable summons that took away his brother was actually meant to target Renekton.
Renekton stumbles as a wave of vertigo washes over him: the floor drops out under his feet and, after a sickening moment of freefall, he finds himself back on solid ground; the creature rapidly blinks his eyes to clear a filmy haze that swirls around him; taking a hesitant step forward, he emerges out of a pillar of light and finds himself on a raised stone platform overlooking an unfamiliar forest: the smells of trees, burning torches, and magic tinge the air; he surveys his surroundings, clearly puzzled by how he came to be there: the sounds of struggle can be heard far off in the distance.
Suddenly, his brother's unmistakable scent drifts near and curls around his nostrils: Renekton instinctively launches himself forward, his legs pumping wildly down an open path leading into the forest; his elongated jaw hangs open, exposing rows of wicked-looking teeth dripping with anticipation; the blood boils in his veins, bulging through his skin in spidery patterns that run up and down his massive arms.
The creature turns the corner to find Nasus towering over a pool of ineffectual minions. Clad in shining gold armor, his brother expertly spins a staff over his head, unleashing a towards the minions: the ground erupts with energy, the magic radiating in a brilliant shimmer as it consumes the small creatures.
But Renekton sees none of that: all he sees is his reckoning.
Renekton springs at Nasus, mowing down the minions who have the misfortune of being in his way. The sudden appearance of his long-lost brother barely registers in Nasus' mind before the enormous curved blade comes whistling through the air, aimed squarely at his neck; Nasus narrowly manages to dodge the attack, disappearing in aof light and re-emerging a safe distance away.
Renekton charges forward, slashing wildly with the giant blade: Nasus deflects the blows with his staff, slowly being knocked back with every attack.
"Brother, stop! What are you doing here?"
A grin snakes down the length of Renekton's face. "Carnage!"
Renekton crouches for a split second and then leaps upward with blinding speed; spinning in mid-air, he slashes his curved blade in a vicious arc: this time, the blade connects with flesh: Nasus' body falls to the ground and Renekton stands over him, savoring the final moments before he destroys his brother.
In aof light, his brother's body vanishes.
Renekton frantically tears at the ground where his brother's body had just been, his claws ripping the dirt path; he twists around furiously but the forest around him is deserted; a guttural roar erupts from the depths of his being.
The creature catches his brother's scent again and takes off in a dead sprint down the open path; in the distance, he sees Nasus appear on a platform similar to the one that had brought him here: a growl rumbles from his throat as he charges forward. Three defenders suddenly appear at the base of an intimidating tower at the top of the steps, outfitted with wicked weapons and grim expressions.
Renekton bowls through them, his blade deflecting bullets fired at point blank by a buxom ; a bulky the ground and a curiously large drops down on all fours to against the attack; but they are no match for the crocodile in bloodlust: the defenders are knocked aside in Renekton's mad dash for Nasus.
The creature charges up the steps, flying onto the platform with enormous momentum. Nasus reaches out to hold up his palm, as if to stop his brother, when, suddenly, a bright ray of light shoots out, engulfing him in an agonizing fire.
Renekton immediately succumbs to the darkness.
The creature awakens in a dark room, sprawled on a frigid stone floor; a group of cloaked magicians stand with their hands outstretched in a circle around him: they murmur strange words under their breath, ensnaring him in a glowing net of magic.
When Renekton's vision clears, he sees his brother staring dispassionately at him from across the room; Renekton snarls, throwing himself bodily towards Nasus, but the magical chains that bind him hold firm. Nasus gazes back for a long moment, his expression unreadable; then, he turns and steps into a lighted platform.
Before he disappears, Nasus speaks: "It seems that the time to settle our conflict is yet to be determined. Goodbye, brother."
Throwing his head back, Renekton lets loose a roar that shakes the foundations of the room: the violent rage caused by being so close to his brother and utterly unable to destroy him consumes him.
The summoners standing around the creature don't ask the standard questions: the League finally has its chosen brother.
|Karma, the Enlightened One|
|28 January, 21 CLE|
Karma emerges into sight on the wings of prestige: from the topmost tip of her mantle to the lowest hem of her gown, she is the perfect picture of Ionian class. She pauses, poised at the threshold, admiring the delicate ornamentation that League artisans crafted into the Great Hall: Karma has seen the Great Hall on numerous occasions but her eyes manage to well with appreciation in every instance; as she crosses the hall, grace drips from every movement and she wades in an air of distinction.
At the marble doors, she touches the frame delicately: they part gently for her, as if they were trying to match the elegance of her motion; she vanishes through the archway and the room left behind feels emptier than it had before she entered.
The meticulous artistry of the Institute always reminded Karma, by curious contrast, of the chaos of open war: every inset groove was, to her, the face of a lost friend. She imagined what her fallen comrades might have thought of this comparison when a horribly familiar, acrid stench stung her nose: she turned in time for a brilliant green explosion to fill her view; she swept her steel fans against the blast, piercing a hole in its expanding wave. Her reaction, though immediate, only diminished the force; she focused her senses inward as air whipped past: her form was steel while her hair and clothes swirled in the chaos. When the blast subsided, her once-immaculate locks hung in limp disarray and her dress was torn and caked with soil.
There was something unusual about the soil - a pungent smell. Blood. She looked up, bracing for the worst; nonetheless, she was unprepared for what she saw. No, no... not again. In front of her, as far as she could see, lay the strewn bodies of Ionian villagers; another green explosion in the distance sent cadavers arcing through the air. The taste of salt stung her lips: she didn't even notice the tears tracing down her cheeks. She saw a shoe, much too small for any adult, raised from the ground ahead of her: a small leg extended beneath it, disappearing into the soil.
Karma snapped upright, raking the air around her with both fans: tears and soil matted with blood flew away from her. When all settled, she was transformed: emotions absent, eyes dark but calm; she was powerful, noble, the picture of dignity against a backdrop of unimaginable horror.
She strode with purpose towards a cackling figure in the distance; its silhouette was one she could not forget: Zaun's insane chemist . He stood behind a glowing control panel atop an armored, beetle-shaped vehicle: he gesticulated with zeal as each explosion bit the Ionian landscape; he was human, although the lacking lycanthropy did not register with Karma; she was beyond thought, beyond emotion: ready to do what she must to stop what was happening in front of her.
Zaunite shock troops assembled before her, blocking her path: a wave of her fan and they were gone, their cries muted by the roaring gust. Warwick noticed her with glee: his fingers danced across the controls and a cannon extended from the transport beneath him; it fired a sickly-green stream of liquid into the air above her, where it burst like a liquid firecracker. She thrust one fan into the air above her head, blowing back a portion of the falling ooze, though far less than she'd expected. Drops rained down around her: where the drops touched her skin, they sizzled and burned through it; Karma cried out in agony.
"Delicious, isn't it, Duchess?" Warwick exclaimed. "I call it an Aerial Corrosive Mine. The acid is several times heavier than mercury, so your wind techniques won't protect you."
Karma crumpled to the ground, the acid boring into her flesh; she pushed herself up to a cross-legged meditative pose, blinked back the searing pain, and uttered a healing mantra: the pain lessened, although it still consumed her.
"It's not meant to be fired into the air that way: I just wanted you to savor the taste. I'm afraid, when I fire it directly at you, your delicate 'weapons' will be useless."
A tinny voice chirped something indiscernible from the control panel: Warwick listened for a moment and then nodded his head. "I would truly love to play with you some more, Duchess, but there are more Ionians in need of my services." Warwick fiddled with the controls and the cannon lowered, aimed squarely at her. "This ends now."
Karma blinked: her mind was sluggish, flooded with frantic damage reports from nerves all over her body; a single thought floated to the surface of her awareness:
Just as she consigned herself to join those scattered around her, a blinding ray of light descended from the heavens, landing squarely on Warwick: he screamed as his skin melted away; his body contorted, muscles bursting outward; his head and limbs stretched, yanking joints apart and forming new ones; long claws cut through the tips of his fingers and toes; he wrenched forward, then back and, when the spasms ceased, his spine was long and hunched; his high-pitched wail suddenly turned to gravel and blue hair stabbed out from every pore of his body; he fell to the ground in a heap. The light subsided.
Not far from him, a new form lay in the mud. Karma fought her way to her feet, acid still eating into her, and stumbled to the form: there, in front of her, laid , the spiritual icon of her people; the had lost the celestial radiance which characterized her transcendence; she lay staring upward, her expression vacant.
Reason overpowered remorse and, suddenly, Karma knew she was seeing an illusion.
Soraka's gaze turned to Karma, her eyes piercing her soul for answers. "Why do you want to join the League, Karma?" The voice was sad, resigned.
"Is this vision not enough?" Karma gestured all around them. The pain was suddenly gone. "This isn't really over. These things never really end. All we can do is remain vigilant and try to protect those we love."
"Always one for a speech." Soraka smirked. "How does it feel exposing your mind?"
"There is nothing on my mind that I wouldn't happily share with you. How does it feel knowing what we suffered? What you chose to ignore?"
Karma was suddenly alone in the antechamber of the Institute, the doors ahead opened to the League; she appraised her clothes, which were as pristine and spotless as when she entered; with an imperceptible shift, Karma summoned her composure and marched onward.
|Maokai, the Twisted Treant|
|14 February, 21 CLE|
A frenzy erupts on the Twisted Treeline: scurry in every direction, detonating in multicolored explosions of arcane energy; League champions and summoners alike rush onto the field to contain an uprooted tree that is not only moving but also attacking everything in sight. The tree is visibly confused over his violent birth into awareness and he involuntarily conjures an arcane storm of magic: the storm grows as it absorbs energy from the magical and physical attacks being directed at the verdant force until, suddenly, the torrent explodes with enough power to kill everyone present.
A bright orange light falls over the scene as appears, shielding the group from death. As the dust clears, the tree is contained in an earthen dome by League representatives and immediately whisked away to the Institute of War for further examination.
The room Maokai found himself in was cavernous, with a reflecting pool stretching across the entire expanse of the floor; a human adorned in flowing purple robes stood in the middle of the room, reflections of light from the pool dancing across her.
"An honor to make your acquaintance." The woman bowed deeply, admiration glowing in her eyes as she beheld the treant. "I shall be administering your Judgment for entry into the League."
Maokai exploded into a rage: "Judgment? You humans woke me and created this abomination of life and now you stand and judge me?"
The summoner did not respond: she raised her arms and muttered an incantation under her breath; the floor swam beneath him and, suddenly, the room dissolved away.
His roots tingled with familiarity as he found himself standing in a large expanse of trees: the forest around him stood tall, with strong trunks and leaves of every color - this was his home as it had existed eons ago; he ached for what was long passed.
Suddenly, the surrounding terrain exploded: the ground surrounding Maokai sunk and bubbled in grotesque ways; vegetation as far as the eye could see began to melt with a sickening hissing sound; humans were running panicked through the forest under a rain of bullets and chemicals. A boy fell to the ground, struck by a stray bullet: the summoner and Maokai were invisible to the chaos erupting around them but, somehow, the boy looked straight at them, the life in his bright eyes quickly fading.
The ground below Maokai changed again, accelerating until it became a blur; Maokai stood, trembling, as the scenery assaulted all his newfound senses: the acrid odor of trees melting in a pool of acid; a beautiful island the color of the sky splitting asunder into three; a beautiful,of white quartz twisting into itself in impossible ways, defying the laws of time and space.
Maokai closed his eyes, weary; the League must have assumed they were showing him something new but it was nothing he hadn't already known: he had stood for centuries, absorbing the pain and sorrow from the abuses wrought upon the land and the life in its soil.
The summoner spoke quietly, holding the scene that flashed before them in reverence: "We do not ask for any of this, yet it is brought upon us by those who would do evil. By joining the League, you can help us prevent these things from happening."
Maokai's disgust had not subsided: "You humans are the ones who are causing this. You ask me to feel for you when all I see is the hatred you bring onto yourselves. When you see your children being overrun with weapons, I see the fallen trees carved into your instruments of destruction. I see the land which has existed before you and which will continue to exist after you suffer for your petty squabbles."
"Knowing all this, would you still choose to go back?" She asked.
The treant hesitated, surprising himself.
"Or will you continue to stand, impassively, believing that you can affect none of this?"
Her accusatory tone snapped him from his momentary hesitation: "Your wars are no concern of mine. You deign to awaken me to the pain you humans suffer but, before you gave me this curse, I already knew your pain and suffering. When the earth absorbs the blood of your children, it cries. I have withstood this longer than you can even imagine. We of the earth do not feel and, thus, I am not of the conviction to change how you humans live or die."
The summoner's eyes darkened: it was not the response the League wanted but it was the only one they were going to get. "Then, what will you do?"
"I will walk this path until you can turn me back, as promised." He paused and one could swear that something akin to a smile twisted the tree's mouth. "Until then, I will punish you magic users with these hands you were kind enough to bestow upon me."
Composing herself, the summoner expelled the illusion with a sweep of her hands. "Very well. That is your answer." She turned on her heel and walked away without another word.
Maokai impassively watched her go: he noticed the young boy's blood from the illusion lingering in a puddle on the floor, though the body had been whisked away; the treant started to walk past it but suddenly stopped and turned.
With slow, deliberate movements, he yanked off a chunk of his roots and laid them gingerly in the pool of blood; the roots began to absorb the blood: slowly, at first, and then desperately, as if the blood could not be held back; the roots jumbled together into a mess of knots and then a sapling emerged: it looked up at him with innocent eyes.
Another chance at life; something inside the ancient tree moved: though what it was, he had no idea.
He knew that, someday, he would return to stillness but things would never be the same.
|Jarvan IV, the Exemplar of Demacia|
|2 March, 21 CLE|
The Demacian junior summoner who was initially appointed to greet Jarvan, alas, experienced an unfortunate accident. He needed to be replaced at the last minute by a young summoner from Bilgewater with an eye for both coin and advancement; it seems the new boy penciled Jarvan in for an early Judgment and judged he will be, though not by the League.
He approaches the Great Hall reeking of arrogance: he, like his father, struts as though others should feel privileged to behold him; his armor is flashy and impractical, adorned with bits of slain beasts, a braggart without uttering a word; he has the jutting countenance of all the Lightshield dogs, men better built to wield clubs than authority; he is spoiled, haughty, and altogether undeserving of the respect laid at his feet.
He marches to the chamber doors: a proud, strong beast in need of domestication; he steps through the portal, out of the light... and into the palm of my hand.
Welcome, Jarvan. I've waited a long time for this.
Royalty has its perks. The measured tones of his father, King Jarvan Lightshield the Third, interrupted Prince Jarvan's thoughts: despite his protests, the King had insisted that recount his League Judgment in detail so Jarvan would know what to expect; this was against the mandates of the League but, as his father put it, 'a necessary infraction'; the test seemed hardly worthy once one knew the gimmick: enter the room, be confronted by a disturbing vision of the past, and answer a couple questions. Jarvan was bitter about having his opportunity to fairly overcome the trial stolen. What worth is a Prince who cheats to best an obstacle surmounted by his subordinates? He frowned: it was an expression often denied to a leader of the public but one befitting the dark, silent surroundings.
Xin had described the Reflection Chamber as 'thick with abyssal murkiness', a depiction which had proven itself overdramatized: it was dark, yes, but altogether ordinary; the absence of light even failed to obfuscate some other person or entity present in the room; Jarvan was content to stand idle, letting him, her, or it carry on with the silly masquerade.
On the opposite side of the cramped antechamber, the figure stood in the shadows: it couldn't have been more than ten feet away from Jarvan; he paid it little attention, waiting for his vision to commence; however, instead of being swept into a fantastic mirage as he'd expected, Jarvan was left in the unremarkable blackness when the being attacked.
Jarvan was unprepared: the form in front of him spread broad, onyx wings and lurched forward: Jarvan attempted to back into a defensive stance but piercing talons dug up from the ground beneath him, stabbing into his legs and locking them in place. Black creatures swarmed through the air around him, pecking at his exposed flesh: pain jolted his senses. The shade was upon him now, bearing down with unmistakable purpose: six eyes burned redder than blood and hotter than embers above him, hatred sizzling the air around them.
Jarvan ripped his legs free of the talons, heedless of the pain as they cut through his skin. His lance plunged forward, thirsty for the heart of its target: it met the winged figure's chest, driving deeper and deeper. With a bloodcurdling cry, Jarvan lifted Swain into the air over his head and hurled him backward into the wall: the looming silhouette crashed against the cool stone surface and slid to the ground in a heap.
Jarvan turned, venom welling in his eyes. "If you wanted a demonstration, you picked the perfect opponent!" He charged, intent on removing Swain's head, illusion or not; he only managed to take one step before energy arced through the air, burning him through his armor: a charred smell filled the room as the beam rushed through him; he was enveloped in anguish and he could not hear himself screaming.
Torches lit around the room and Swain, now human, stood where he had been thrown: hishovered in the air next to him, the bolt of energy surging from its mouth; a deep crimson stain was spreading across Swain's chest.
"I need no demonstration, Prince." Swain spat the title as though it were a maggot in a bite of steak. "Your 'unfortunate' demise due to an oversight of the League will be quite satisfactory and, I have no doubt, you'll provide that. I wonder what your father will think of his treaty then... " He clenched his hands into fists and bright currents of magic appeared, flowing into them: he opened them and the magic burst forth, amplifying the raven's power; Jarvan's eyes went wide as the agony intensified: he fell to his knees.
"You are so painfully foolish, Demacian. No tact, no finesse: it sickens me to call you my rival. I can't wait to be rid of you, in hopes that a fitting opponent will rise to take your place." As he spoke, Swain's form began to shift: he was swelling, stretching, transforming hideously before Jarvan's eyes: ravens spawned from his body, descending on Jarvan and tearing him apart; as the birds swarmed, the torches in the room flickered, blinking out one by one: when the last torch was extinguished, all Jarvan could see were six bright, bloodthirsty dots on Swain's disfigured head; the dots blurred together as his vision failed him and, eventually, there was nothing left but blackness.
Jarvan was in a place he'd been before, far from the Institute, at the lonely crossroads of life and death: he stood at the precipice of eternal peace, the gateway of slumber; he reached out, as he had many times before, to feel its warmth on his skin. Someday... not yet.
Eyes shut, a sound grew from inside him, somewhere deeper than the body, deeper than the soul: it rippled outward, unfolding and cresting; it burst from his heart, burned through his veins, ignited his muscles; when it escaped his lips, it was a living thing, as formidable and furious as the ravens snipping at his flesh. The sound was filled with the voices of his ancestors: it was the battle cry of a Demacian warrior, the roar of a Prince; when the sound reached his ears, Jarvan's eyes snapped open: they were no longer the eyes of a man; they heralded with fire the arrival of a beast, the awakening of a King; they came to focus on Swain.
Jarvan leapt to his feet, snapping the grips of talons, shattering the clamps of beaks; he dove forward, abandoning his lance. Swain's eyes betrayed surprise as Jarvan gripped his neck with one hand and lifted him from his feet. Jarvan kept moving, slamming Swain bodily into the wall behind him; he tightened his grip against the soft sensation of air struggling for passage beneath his fingers; he grinned wickedly at every choked gasp.
"Tact? Finesse? In war, there is only the victor and the dead, Noxian!" Jarvan was loosely aware of ravens ripping chunks from his body, carrying his life-force to Swain; he felt death creeping at the edge of his vision: he poured all his remaining energy into the vise grip, determined to not die until he watched the life flee from Swain's bulging eyes; the two were locked together, blood pooling on the floor, both unwilling to die before the other.
"Enough!!!" A voice rang out, echoing down the stone corridors of the Institute. Jarvan suddenly rocketed away from Swain, propelled through the air by an unknown force: he stopped just before he would slam the opposite wall, suspended four feet above the ground. Swain dangled at the same height on the other side of the room, now human; save for his favorite pet, the ravens were all gone.
High Councilor Vessaria Kolminye removed her hood and glared, first at Jarvan, and then at Swain: "What do you think you're doing, Swain? This is a hallowed place. Your treacherous games will not be tolerated here." She turned to Jarvan: "You will be accepted into the League for obvious reasons but do not think your political ties will protect you against the League should you seek retaliation." She gritted her teeth. "Pray I do not discover you again in the midst of such disrespect or you will yearn for the fates you plotted against each other this day."
Vessaria flicked her wrist and Swain tore through the air, swept from the room as casually as a hurled doll; Vessaria stormed out after him, shaking her head with disgust. Jarvan clattered gracelessly to the floor, grunting as his wounds cried for attention: he leaned on his lance, struggling to his feet; the doors to the League seemed miles away: he contemplated dying; while he gathered the will to limp onward, his father's words echoed in his head: a weak smile played across his lips.
Royalty has its perks...
|Nocturne, the Eternal Nightmare|
|11 March, 21 CLE|
The Field Architect has had a long day: surveying the grounds for signs of degradation is no small task: taking readings every five feet is essential in order to detect even the slightest disturbances in the intricate energy fields; an overlooked spike in the surrounding forces could set off a chain reaction of destruction due to the rampant use of magic on the Fields of Justice. In his own little way, he liked to think that he was saving Runeterra one checkpoint at a time.
His work complete, the architect makes his way back to the summoning platform, where he passes a nexus that should have been dormant. An unbidden spark inside the nexus catches his eye: he turns to investigate, only to be struck by a wild burst of energy arcing out of the nexus; the architect collapses to the floor in a heap, sprawling on the unforgiving cobblestone.
His body shrivels as a noxious trail of thick smoke pours out of his open mouth: it is shivering with life and pulsing with horrors.
It is born of nightmares.
Nocturne had drifted through the minds of humans for endless expanses of time: he beheld the faces they yearned for, absorbed the desires that coursed through their veins, and inhabited the fantasies that set their hearts ablaze; he lingered within the despicably human illusions they conjured in the narrow expanse that was their puny brains.
From all of them, he consumed the magic that rippled through their souls.
Nocturne had only a moment to examine his newfound physical form before a circle of robed summoners appeared around him; he knew who they were before they even revealed themselves: these were the overlords whose faces consumed each mind of every summoner whose dreams he haunted; they were the voices that drenched lesser kinds with promises of great power; and they were the hands that directed the ebb and flow of the entire world. Nocturne knew what these humans wanted but they would not get him.
His shadowed form ghosted silently toward one of the humans, reaching out with the ethereal tendrils of his consciousness: the cloaked human spasmed as his hands rose to tear at his own head; a bloodcurdling scream ripped through the air, then choked off into silence as the human's mind collapsed into itself.
The other humans barely had a chance to react before Nocturne was on them: he reached out with his limbs as twin blades extended forth from his arms to rend human flesh from bone; the shadow darted low and slashed upwards with his blades, impaling an unfortunate summoner through the entire length of his body.
Nocturne felt a group of humans rush up from behind; for a second, his form pulsed: darkness smothered the entire field, an oppressive blackness that breathed and sighed; victims eternally trapped in the phantasm murmured in the summoners' ears, promising eternal torment and pleading for release; disembodied hands clawed at the living, desperate to rip any semblance of existence away for their own keeping.
The remaining summoners lashed out, flailing against the ghastly fingers that only disappeared long enough to reappear again in greater numbers; spell incantations decayed on their lips as the magical energies refused to heed their call; the darkness began to suffocate the humans and they clawed at their eyes in a wild attempt to regain their sight; devoured by terror, they didn't even sense Nocturne's approach, nor did they feel the blades that cleaved through their soft bodies and condemned their souls to an eternity in the darkness.
One summoner had stood apart from the others: he was decorated with gold chains draped over purple robes; unaffected by the blindness and horrors, he had chosen to observe impassively as the carnage unfurled: no expression flickered over his face as the pooled blood stained the hem of his robes, nor did his visage change when the dismembered head of his former comrade bumped up against his leg.
The summoner spoke: "Impressive. I see the eons you've spent leeching off of our minds have managed to serve some purpose."
"I know who you are." Nocturne returned.
"I'm flattered." The summoner sneered. "Then you should also know it is time you repay us for the horrors you have wrought upon our kind."
"And how do you plan to do that, human?" A monstrous howl echoed from the shadows, something akin to what those humans called a laugh.
"You are now in the world of our control. And you shall be in our service."
"You call this pitiful existence 'payment'?" A flick of Nocturne's hideous blade sent a pile of steaming entrails splattering across the ground; he readied the jagged edge for this last foolish one. "You may have conjured me into your world, somehow, but all you will receive is destruction."
With a roar, Nocturne heaved himself at the summoner: his blood-soaked blade came within a razor's width of carving that aggravating smirk off the human's face; metal circled around his wrists, clanging shut, and sent him flying backwards into a heap of metal chains.
""No. This is your reparation." The summoner's lips parted, wet with anticipation. "Welcome to the League."
The summoners, whose bodies lay in a pile around him, raised their heads: their arms shot out and clamped onto Nocturne with an iron grip: they dragged him downward, forcing his physical existence into submission; every part of him screamed out against the shackles as he involuntarily bowed to the towering head summoner: Nocturne was now in service to the League and it was his own eternal nightmare.
|Lee Sin, the Blind Monk|
|31 March, 21 CLE|
Lee Sin crosses the Great Hall with an aura of confidence unusual for a blind man: he seems to gather sensory information so efficiently it makes one wonder whether, for him, blindness is a weakness or a strength.
His physique is exceedingly understated, tuned only for practical use by years of martial study; what he lacks in size, he makes up for with presence: his conviction is absolute. He pads straight to the doors, then stomps the ground: his head moves up the door, tracking the resulting sound.
He chuckles at the inscription.
A damp echo trickled outward as the doors thud shut behind Lee Sin, painting the room's cramped dimensions in his mind; the sound was low and the air was stuffy, distorting the noise and accenting his mental image with a subtle blur; in the crannies of the musty stone, fading but distinct human scents lingered, the trace pheromones of violent emotion.
But Lee Sin was transfixed on the overwhelming stench of ready magic.
Arcane potential loomed in the air around him, more than he had ever sensed before: the Reflecting Chamber swelled with it; to most, it would be imperceptible, likely misinterpreted as jitters or dread; it had the quality of the calm before the storm: a pregnant stillness, a swindling serenity. Lee Sin knew that this room, in its current state, was an amplifier, an accelerant for sorcery; he could taste the magical anticipation, like a static charge waiting to be released.
The aroma of fresh pine was suddenly everywhere: he stepped back.
And fire engulfed him.
The sensation was familiar more than anything else: before the frantic damage reports arrived from nerves all over his body, he shut down part of his mind: he refused the pain access; now, there was only intensity and focus: here he was again, amidst the flames.
In a disturbing way, it felt like home.
Five months had passed since he began the protest of the Noxian occupation in Ionia: he lit, without any pretense of survival, the pyre that consumed his flesh for two months; in that time, with agony tugging at his sanity, Lee Sin discovered things which hid deep within the soul, inner truths that revealed themselves only in the face of certain annihilation; just before the lapping flames were to claim his final breath, his fellow monks arrived with the news that Ionia was free.
"It was a cleansing fire, wasn't it?" He recognized the bold timbre of his former mentor, Reginald Ashram, as acutely as the blaze surging around him; Ashram was one of the few people in Valoran privy to the secrets of past.
"Pain does not heal the heart. It only focuses the mind."
"In this case, it focused many minds, and led to Noxus' withdrawal from Ionian territory."
"A happy turn of events." Lee Sin smiled, although the flickering heat on his face made him wonder if Ashram could see it.
"But you still haven't forgiven yourself."
Lee Sin sank to a meditative pose and the fire billowed in return: this, ironically, was his sanctuary.
"The past remains. No act will undo it." His tongue knew these words like the grooves of his teeth.
"Why do you want to join the League, Lee Sin?"
"I have much yet to do."
Remaining seated, Lee Sin raised one hand to his chest, fire dancing upon it: he swept it forward so sharply that the pyre flickered and the flames on his arm were completely extinguished.
"A decisive strike may finish a battle... " He paused as flames crept back up his outstretched arm. "... but the evils of this world persist. To combat them, we must remain diligent." The fire reached his hand again and he closed it with such force that a shock wave rippled out, expunging the blaze that consumed him; the wave whipped across Ashram and he took a half-step back.
"How did you survive that fire?"
"I found the purpose I had lost so long ago."
"And what is that purpose? What is your ultimate goal?" There was an urgency in Ashram's voice, a hint of concern that puzzled Lee Sin: Ashram felt threatened.
"One does not need a destination to have direction. Is a drop of water finished when it flows from the brook to the ocean? Is it complete when it rises to join the clouds? Has it failed when it falls upon the land?" An obliging drop of sweat rolled down his forehead.
"What is your direction?"
"To do what is right. To protect the overlooked things which matter most." The drop of sweat hovered on the edge of his brow. "You can find them in the bubbling of the brook, the shade of the passing cloud, or the coolness of the rain." On cue, the drop fell to his waiting palm.
Ashram phrased his response carefully: "Your protest moved all of Valoran to action; nearly to military action. This is a tremendous amount of power for one man to wield. What happens if that one man's intentions become corrupt?"
"Then I hope other men find the good in themselves to do what is right."
The inquisitor reeked of frustration: he was unused to vulnerability, uncomfortable with all that Lee Sin could perceive.
"How does it feel to expose your mind?" The question was bitter and hollow, deprived of its usual gravitas.
"I would ask you the same question."
Lee Sin knew he was alone: the magical potency was gone, spent, and, in its place, sat an atmosphere of somber fatigue: this was the emotional residue of those who had completed the trial before him: its flavor was bittersweet.
In one graceful, fluid motion, Lee Sin was on his feet: his clothes and skin were intact, as though untouched by the flames; a fresh breeze swept through the room: Lee Sin could sense the shape of its current as it moved, like a serpent returning to coil in its nest.
Lee Sin lingered a moment, head bowed in appreciation of the champions who had passed this threshold before him.
One life past, one life ahead.
So the Blind Monk joined the League of Legends.
|Brand, the Burning Vengeance|
|8 April, 21 CLE|
The forest burns, blazing with the light of the sun; a lone figure stands amidst the conflagration, reveling in the blistering heat: it has been so long since he burned, so long since he watched the world fall to ashes under his power.
It is ecstasy.
He emerges from the flames; he can sense that nearby, over the next hill, there is life: people scramble, seeing the smoke from his inferno; soon, they too will receive his gift of renewal.
"Stop in the name of the Kingdom of Demacia!"
He turns: he is approached by a in armor; the knight levels his sword, ready to strike if needs be: this man will soon discover that needs be.
The man is followed by a : her armor has similarities to the man's; he can tell by her rod that she is a magician of some sort: he decides that she will have to be first.
Then, another presence steps from the shadows: this one wears a cloak, its face buried deep within the hood; the stitching is alien to him but he can recognize its arcane nature: he decides the girl will have to wait.
He turns and unleashes a jet of burning vengeance at the hooded figure: hands shoot up from inside the cloak, held in magical gestures: a shimmering shield blocks the flames, directing them harmlessly upward.
"This is my last warning: come peacefully or face punishment!"
He decides that the noises coming from the armored man's mouth do not contain enough searing agony; he turns and calls a pillar of flame to immolate the man: again, a magical shield thwarts his efforts.
He awakened: he lay in a pool of harsh light, descending from above; the floor was smooth but he couldn't tell if this was a room or some magical trap: at this, his mind vaulted through his memories to a very painful moment in the past.
They had somehow devised a way to shackle him: kneeling here on the snowy cave floor, the long-haired barbarians around him chanted words he barely understood; however, the icy cage ritualistically placed in the center of the cave told him everything he needed to know about his fate: he strained against the mystical chains that bound him but to no avail; he shouted, screamed, and bellowed, trying to disrupt the concentration of his captors but, also, to no avail.
He could only wait as they ripped him from his mortal shell and trapped him inside the cage; then, without words, the barbarians took their things and left: he was alone and would remain so for more than a thousand years.
He screamed in rage: his mind hurtled back to the present, once again encompassed by light.
"So... you can be contained more permanently."
He turned, immediately reaching out to burn the owner of the voice: however, his flames fizzled to nothing at the edge of the circle of light; he tried to leap toward the voice but a force blocked him: knocked back to the floor, he peered to see if his eyes could penetrate the darkness.
"That ritual is long-lost, sorcerer. Your power cannot hold me forever."
A figure stepped out from the darkness: the hooded magician from the forest.
"We both know that isn't true."
Again, his mind became dislodged from the moment, traveling back to a time before the ice barbarians imprisoned him: the body he wore was different, one of the simple herding folk of these farming lands; however, he still burned.
The scene before him would have looked like the apocalypse to any mortal observer; to him, it was an image of absolute beauty: the countryside had been reduced to blackened ash; the nearby wooded hills were now nothing more than incinerated stumps and trunks; the charred bones of farmers and animals dotted the landscape, accompanied by the armored remains of the warriors who had futilely hoped to stop his renewal.
The feeling that welled inside him could only be called one of profound satisfaction.
Again: the present, the light.
"You are a creature of destruction."
Knowing that violence was no longer an option, he sat cross-legged in the pool of light and willed the flames that played across his body to burn even more brightly.
"I am a creature of ever-lasting fire. I am a creature who burns away what needs to make way for what will be. I am a creature born to renew the world."
The sorcerer began to walk, circling his cage.
"You and I will have much time to talk in the days and weeks to come, so, for the moment, I will focus on the now. We cannot allow you to roam free: you are clearly far too dangerous for that. So, I offer you a choice."
Weary of the sorcerer's voice behind him, he stood to track the pacing figure. The sorcerer continued:
"You have two options: you may choose to be stripped from the body you wear and imprisoned indefinitely; or you may choose to remain under our control and fight in competitions where your abilities will be of use. That is the closest thing to freedom you will be afforded. These terms are not negotiable."
Neither option was palatable to him.
"These competitions, sorcerer. What are they?"
"You would fight in the League of Legends, battling champions to settle our conflicts in place of open warfare."
He mused for a moment before sitting on the floor again.
"I must think on your offer, sorcerer."
The hooded man faded back into the shadows.
"I am no sorcerer. You will address me by my proper title: Summoner. How shall I address you?"
"I am known by many names", he replied. "But in this time, in your League of Legends, I believe 'Brand' is fitting."
And then, he was alone, given space to think; however, there was no thinking to be done: a leash was far better than an eternity caged.
|Rumble, the Mechanized Menace|
|22 April, 21 CLE|
Rumble clanks into the Great Hall with the least grace shown by any candidate since ; He battles with the controls of his scraped-together battle-suit, peculiarly named 'Tristy': the suit lumbers forward, a marvel of unrefined construction; Rumble's movements are jerky, quick: he seems to enjoy the frantic micromanagement.
The great ball of spikes that is Tristy's left hand rears back in front of the doors: as though self-aware, they fling open abruptly and the Reflecting Chamber's impenetrable darkness unfurls into the Great Hall; Rumble snorts with derision before urging the machine forward.
Humans did love playing their games: Rumble doubted that important humans like Prince were dumped in a dark broom closet while some League goon got all fancied up for a beatdown.
Oh well, if the longlegs want to see what kind of champion I'll be, I'm happy to show 'em.
He was bubbling with anticipation: 'itchy-fist syndrome' someone once called it; except now, his 'fists' consisted of a pressurized, two-cylinder flame projection system and a pneumatic piston-mace assembly Rumble often referred to as 'the short hello'.
He was only worried for the guy they'd sent to test him.
"No need to worry", growled a gravelly, robotic voice behind him. "I will take it easy on you!"
Rumble hammered the control yoke, spinning Tristy's cockpit 180 degrees with nauseating speed; he half-pulled the trigger to launch his electro-harpoon before he realized he was staring at a wall.
"Over here now!" The voice was behind him again, amused.
Rumble punched one of the pedals when he spun back, whirling to face the owner of the voice: the instant the cockpit came to a stop, the harpoon misfired, hurtling straight for the poor League crony. Normally, Rumble preferred to look someone in the eye before he impaled them on an electrified javelin but he certainly wasn't one to stand on ceremony.
As his eyes came to rest on the target, his enthusiasm evaporated.
The harpoon plinked harmlessly off the shiny, finished exterior of a titanic battle-suit: it stood easily four times the height of Rumble's, supported by three multi-jointed legs thick enough to withstand mortar fire; above them, the chest - an almond-shaped slab inset with purple gems - was visibly generating some sort of arcano-magnetic deflection field; the glowing plate was flanked by confoundingly intricate arm appendages, which both suspended tactical, sixteen-cell missile arrays: Rumble knew by the heads of the missiles that each was outfitted with sorcerous motion tracking and remote guidance systems; the arms terminated in two ten-barrel rotary cannons nestled in exterior composite plating; the leering head of the behemoth was a fat bulb of tinted glass coated in sensory detection equipment, presumably housing the pilot; where its mouth would have been, a gleaming cylinder protruded, clearly the business end of a focused-energy charging plasma emitter - in other words, a death ray; worst of all, the armor of the colossus was anodized and decorated in flawless detail with blue flames, the exact pattern Rumble wanted to paint on his suit.
Someone ripped off his dream design.
Rumble's fury overtook his awe: with a howl, he pulled every trigger, punched every button, and kicked every pedal that would fire something at the hulking monstrosity: in response, his trusty suit Tristy sputtered and fell over.
Rumble tumbled from his seat, cursing: one of these days, he would install seat belts... right after he finished the designs for the Juicer; he rolled to his feet and gave Tristy a firm kick in the mace - the usual fix: Tristy shuddered back to life but she became suddenly obscured by a looming shadow.
When he opened his eyes, his vision was filled by one of the giant's tree-trunk legs; it twisted slightly and the wail of grinding alloys confirmed Rumble's worst fear.
Tristy had been stomped flat.
There have been times in Rumble's life when he's had lapses of memory: they usually occurred when he was being bullied or beaten badly enough that he didn't think he'd pull through; things just went dark: usually, when he'd come out of it, there would be a bunch of yordles either on the ground bloodied or looking at him like he had a wrench sticking out of his head (which was actually the case only once).
In this instance, he was clawing madly at the foot of the steel mammoth, throat hoarse and fur in disarray: the foot remained in good condition.
With a popping hiss, the head of the beast split open, revealing an unmistakable bushy blonde afro.
"!" Rumble bellowed. "You're gonna pay for this! Deserter! Traitor! Get down here!" His voice cracked more times than he'd have liked.
"That would be a poor strategy, indeed!" Heimerdinger exclaimed after brief consideration. "You can return to Bandle City. I'm sorry it didn't work out!"
"Return?!" Rumble laughed. "You think I'm done with you? This fight just got started! You already--- " He was airborne before he could finish his sentence: it looked like something shot out from the death machine and exploded in front of him but his vision was so blurry he couldn't confirm it; he soared almost casually through the air until the wall stopped him.
"The probability of your continued existence is rapidly approaching zero." Heimerdinger remarked absent-mindedly.
Rumble opened his eyes and coaxed his lungs to breathe: he was lying on his side facing Heimerdinger: neither the wall nor the floor did a good job cushioning his fall; he wasn't going to be able to take many more shots like these.
"You missed." He choked, managing a smirk. He wobbled to his feet, bracing himself against the wall.
"Why do you want to join the League, Rumble?" He thought Heimerdinger's voice sounded strange but it was difficult to tell through the ringing in his ears.
"Oh, now you want to chit-chat."
"Your machine is destroyed. You will be unable to compete without--- "
"Why's that? I'm too small? Too weak? Tell me a new one. I'm the one they invited here, not my machine, and I'm not leaving that easy. Bandle City needs more loyal champions and I'm not gonna back down from some big-haired Piltover lapdog." Broken and battered, Rumble's voice didn't lose any attitude; he brought his fists up: the motion was excruciating.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
"How does it--- what kind of question is that? Let's finish this! You're gonna pay for what you did to Trist--- "
Heimerdinger was gone: Rumble was sitting in the cockpit, looking at Tristy's instrument panel; the pain was gone: he was back in the broom closet but someone apparently turned the lights on; he couldn't suppress the smile that crept across his face: he hugged the dashboard.
"I thought I lost you for a second there, girl. But don't worry, I would've fixed you. Now, we gotta go pay someone back for this whole mess."
He took hold of the yokes and kicked the pedals: Tristy sprung to action, leaping forward...
... then, she sputtered and fell over.
|Vayne, the Night Hunter|
|6 May, 21 CLE|
She doesn't need to bend to examine the road: the witch's trail is obvious, even by moonlight: that last silver bolt had hit home if the blood is any indication; the prey is slowed.
The trail leads her past a public house: though a few of the patrons cast wary glances as she walks past, the ruckus will cover up any unwanted noise; she hopes none of them have the sense to call the constabulary before she's done.
The glow from the end of the alley reveals her prey: the witch is attempting to use hemomancy to close her wounds: from the looks of things, more than one of the silver bolts has landed. However, now, the witch sees her and the magic changes: droplets of blood fly towards her like a cloud of razors but she effortlessly tumbles over a barrel and out of the way; her crossbow is up before her feet even touch the ground and she fires: the bolt flies true, impaling the witch's casting hand and halting her vile spells.
"Haley Manner: you have fallen to the practice of the black arts; you have willingly harmed others; you are condemned."
She does not wait for the witch to respond with lies: she draws the great crossbow over her shoulder and unleashes its massive projectile: it strikes the witch with such force that it carries her back and into the wall of the public house, impaling her there, limp and silent, at last.
She can already hear the hue and cry: though she is an agent of justice - many would say vengeance - Vayne's activities are not sanctioned by Demacian law. Nimbly, she leaps up, grabs hold of a ledge, and flips herself on top of the building; leaping from rooftop to rooftop, she fades away into the darkness.
Such is the way of the Night Hunter.
The summoners stared at her uneasily: after all, few potential champions have ever broken into one of the inner sanctums of the Institute of War, startled powerful summoners, and plainly demanded to be allowed into the League of Legends; fortunately, Vayne's reputation had preceded her, so there was no need for violence.
The room in which she sat now was sparse - nothing more than a fireplace with a few chairs. Vayne reflexively adjusted the crossbow on her arm. "When do we begin?" she asked.
The summoner who seemed to be in charge of this process turned away from the fire: he was a gracefully-aging man, approaching middle-age, with a quiet authority borne of true power. "In moments. First, I want to ask you how you managed to get past our defenses to gain access to the deeper chambers of the Institute."
"The same way I know that you are Senior Summoner Ezekiel Montrose and that the woman with you is Summoner Lessa Carin; the same way I know that you take rose-hip tea every day, the route you walk to your home, and that you sleep on a very uncomfortable bed: I am the Night Hunter. Now, get on with it; I have already submitted to your authority."
After a moment of stunned silence, Senior Summoner Montrose finally spoke: "Since you are not one for pleasantries... "
In an instant, it was as if the world had exploded; then, as quickly as it came apart, it was back together again. However, it was many years ago, when Vayne was just a girl: she was back in the cupboard again.
"Come out, little girl; come out or I will do to mummy what I have already done to daddy." The suspended her mother above the floor of the moonlit kitchen, the poor woman's limbs painfully and helplessly outstretched; blood slowly dripped from her, dribbling from a hundred impossibly small cuts.
The young Shauna Vayne was too terrified to move: there she was, trapped, frozen, and forced to watch through a crack in the cupboard door as the twisted witch brutally tortured the woman she loved more than any other.
"I'll give you one last chance to come out, lassie." To punctuate, the crone made some mystical gesture that caused her mother to cry out in agony.
Even if she'd wanted to, Shauna couldn't even cry out: the vise-like grip of fear prevented that.
The crone cackled, the horrible sound echoing off the walls. "You are an awful child, girl, to make your mummy die this way."
With each more horrifying shriek of pain and suffering that issued from her mother, something warm and bright in Vayne died; however, in its grave were planted the first seeds of a searing, merciless, and never-ending hatred...
Disorientation, a blur of reality, and she was back in the Institute of War: Senior Summoner Montrose did his best to keep his composure while all the color had drained from Summoner Carin's face; he broke the silence first: "I'm sorry for your loss."
Vayne took several measured steps towards him. "Stay out of my head, summoner", she said in a surprisingly even tone. "You won't like what you find in the shadows."
"We must", replied Summoner Carin, whose tiny frame carried a core of inner strength. "It is the way of the Judgment. How does it feel exposing your mind?"
However, Senior Summoner Montrose raised his hand to stop her. "I think the answer to that is obvious, Lessa. Shauna Vayne, let me ask you one simple question: why do want to fight in the League of Legends?"
"To know my enemies. Though your magics keep them alive through defeat, I will learn more hunting those champions who are abominations than I would hunting their inferiors in the world."
Senior Summoner Montrose considered her for a moment. "You will be a part of the League of Legends, Night Hunter. However, you must never violate our trust again. Agreed?"
Vayne only nodded in assent; with that, she turned and walked from the room. Summoner Carin, confused for a moment, followed shortly behind her.
A voice spoke from the shadows: "I do not trust her: her mind is not an open book; she will only show us what she wants us to see." Emerging, as if one with the darkness around him, stepped Senior Summoner Sander Grieve: the intense-looking man was clad entirely in black, the Noxian cloak-clasp the only clue as to his heritage.
"Yes", replied Montrose. "But I would rather have her here, where we can watch her."
Grieve sighed. "This will end badly. Mark my words."
Montrose gave Grieve a piercing stare. "End badly for whom?"
|Orianna, the Lady of Clockwork|
|31 May, 21 CLE|
The workshop is a disaster: parts lay haphazardly among the fabrication equipment; mystical substances and materials are strewn everywhere; plates of half-eaten food grow mold in the corners.
If there were mirrors, Corin would probably be frightened by his own reflection: disheveled, wild-eyed, and manic, he puts what appear to be the finishing touches on his creation: it is beautiful and intricate, a facsimile of a girl in elegant clockwork.
All that remains is to give it life; however, the enchantment of an Infinity Gear is purely theoretical: Corin is the first to come this close to making it a reality. He gently removes the Gear from the catalyst fluid: it pulses with energy; he smiles a too-wide smile as he places it inside of his creation; the reaction is immediate.
The gears inside the clockwork girl begin to turn, slowly at first; his creation begins to jerk as life floods to every end of every limb: it is like watching a death spasm in reverse.
Corin clutches a picture of a pretty young girl to his chest as he watches, tears in his eyes.
The clockwork girl was not the first created being to have entered the halls of the Institute of War: the Great Steam Golem had done so years before; however, there was something noble about Blitzcrank, something alive in the way he moved and expressed himself.
This thing seemed dead inside: it seemed like an automaton trying to act like as if it was alive; the effect was unsettling.
Senior Summoner Montrose appraised the thing that had introduced itself as Orianna: she reached behind her back, unnaturally flexible, and wound the giant key in her back; it's not that she didn't have facial expressions - they were just wrong: there was something in everything she did that was just a little bit off, off enough to be just this side of completely alien.
Then, there was the Ball: one might assume that it was her pet but the relationship was deeper than that: it was as if the two were symbiotically linked; the Ball was just that - a floating ball, equal parts clockwork and some kind of electrical techmaturgy; from time to time, a strange eye on a stalk would emerge from within the sphere, examining the surroundings.
"I wish to be a champion. It will be fun", said Orianna in a voice that was some approximation of human.
Summoner Carin looked at Senior Summoner Montrose. "Is this even going to work?"
Orianna's body turned while her head stayed riveted on them. "Of course it will work. I will be a good champion."
Montrose responded: "Orianna, in order to admit you into the League of Legends, we must explore your mind. We are wondering if you have the kind of mind we can explore."
Back in the right orientation, the clockwork girl's skirt began to tick. "My father says yes. I have a mind. Do so. If the Ball is okay with it." The Ball chimes and clicks but makes no hostile move.
There was a rush of what felt like wind, and then darkness, and then light. There was a young girl dressed like a ballerina: she danced in front of an audience: she was quite gifted; however, this memory was muted, disconnected emotionally.
Colors blur: the Institute of War comes back into focus.
"Orianna, are those your memories?" asked Senior Summoner Montrose.
The clockwork girl laughed; it wasn't playful: it was cold and mechanical. "Those are Orianna's memories. I am Orianna. My father says so."
The younger summoner looked to Montrose for his cue: his composure unshaken, he nodded his head. "Then, we'll try again."
Shadows, lights, colors... someone had constructed what appeared to be a lane from Summoner's Rift. The young girl was much older, now, and quite agile: she seemed to be training as a champion; there was a tower and it appeared to be fully armed.
The one-eyed trainer coaxed her on with a gruff voice: "Come on, Orianna, time to learn how to tower dive. I've goosed the power down but it'll hurt if you get hit."
The girl smiled naïvely; she readied herself, the picture of agility and poise; she began the run as the tower fired bolts at her. It was immediately clear that something was wrong: the blasts from the tower did not seem benign, as they chewed up the ground around her; her natural grace kept her one step ahead for the moment, as they began to come more and more frequently. The trainer mashed his controls, trying desperately to turn it off, yelling at her the whole time; however, Orianna was too engrossed in her exercise to notice.
The first blast took her off her feet, knocking her into the ground: winded, she attempted to get up; the second blast wasn't far behind: she tried weakly to get up, blood trickling from the corners of her mouth; after the third, she didn't get up.
Colors blur: the Institute of War came back into focus.
"Yes, I died", offered Orianna.
Carin, ever the one for formality, replied: "We have entered your mind, Orianna. How did this make you feel?"
The clockwork girl giggled in an inhuman way. "It was fun. I like memories. Don't you?"
Senior Summoner Montrose cleared his throat. "Why do you want to be a part of the League of Legends?"
"Because it is what I have always wanted. Because my father designed me to do so. Because the Ball is impatient to play on the Fields of Justice." As if in answer, she turned to pet the Ball, which began to crackle with energy.
Montrose continued: "And you understand the conditions of such admission?"
"Yes", replied Orianna. "I will play by the rules of your Institute. I will be a good girl."
The Ball whirred and clicked. Orianna added: "And the Ball will, too. Be a good ball, that is."
Clearly uneasy by the experience, Summoner Carin remained silent; Senior Summoner Montrose, however unsettled himself, maintained his air of authority. "Then you shall be a champion, clockwork girl. The arrangements will be made."
Orianna made a sound that supposed to a girl's squeal of glee and hugged the Ball: while it might have been touching, it was, unfortunately, only horrifying.
|Yorick, the Gravedigger|
|17 June, 21 CLE|
Yorick finds the mountain's entrance after tireless searching; he has learned about the League in fragments: the unusual nature of death on the Fields of Justice intrigues him; he has no interest in games or politics but a selfish impulse compels him.
He is hunched, built to purpose, strong; he clutches a shovel, always - it is this grip that has held him to this world; he is at once terrifying and pitiful, an aged corpse which cannot rest; he ambles to the space designed for his Judgment: stone doors at the edge of the mountain; the darkness wraps around him as he enters: its color suits him.
Darkness didn't bother Yorick: he'd spent most of his life in darkness and, more significantly, countless lifetimes beyond.
A lifetime... hmph; warmskins have such narrow scopes.
Yorick could barely recall his early years in the Shadow Isles, diligently tallying the passing days, then months, then years. When the inner walls of his cave were nothing more than a maelstrom of crooked lines, he stopped: there was no more point to counting days in death than counting breaths in life; he wondered briefly how many lifetimes he might have tallied - another utterly useless exercise.
The chirp of crickets penetrated his thoughts: it was the kind of sound that softly framed deep contemplation but became piercing madness when focused upon; more life fretting its hour, grasping for purpose like flames dancing on their coals.
The smell of damp soil greeted him like an old friend, sprawling out around him: Yorick appraised his surroundings.
He stood amongst rows of gravestones, which stretched in all directions seemingly without end. There was a pregnant stillness in the air that characterized places that bridged life and death: it was a quality that permeated every inch of the Shadow Isles, though life had long since abandoned its shores. Yorick once mused that these gardens of fresh death were lumps caught in the throat of existence, stale with unease as they contemplated their crossroads.
Now, he merely wondered why there was a corpse here.
The body was laid out on a wagon next to a new but nameless tombstone. Bodies didn't bother him - quite the contrary: the prospect of ushering souls through the many rungs of death was one of the few thrills permitted to a gravedigger from the Shadow Isles; rather, it was the fact that dead bodies (not to be confused with undead bodies) rarely presented themselves so conveniently for burial.
There was a time when Yorick would have questioned this, when he would have tried to identify the cadaver, speak with its family, ensure its name and some pertinent trivia were etched into its tombstone; now, he simply plunged his shovel into the soil, happy to be done with the ghost of curiosity.
With each passing shovel-full, Yorick felt a growing sense of remorse; in some ways, he was enchanted by it: emotions were the liquor of the living. As one crosses his third or fourth century of undeath, the memory of emotions becomes so faded that one wonders why he cares to remember them at all. This is where the disconnect between warmskins and the undead occurs: a gravedigger has a schedule to maintain and warmskins are just so deliriously attached to their lives, even despite decades of preparation for the inevitable; it is, after all, the inevitable.
Yorick had tried to compromise once or twice, burying people alive so they could savor their precious lives to the very last moment, but that was generally twice the headache and nobody ever appreciated his efforts.
By the time he'd dug the plot, Yorick's mind swam with somber anticipation: for reasons he couldn't fathom, this burial meant something; he simultaneously wished it could last forever and that he could be done with it already.
The latter felt more practical: he heaved the body unceremoniously into its plot, then clambered down to refold the arms and arrange it with some semblance of dignity; there was something eerily familiar about it: all the faces he'd buried - the countless faces - bled into each other by this point; why was this one different?
He climbed out of the hole and stared down at it one last time: he hadn't wondered about the life of one of his wards in centuries but he couldn't help but feel a sense of unfulfilled purpose radiating from this one. Just as he was ready to pile the earth back atop the grave, he slipped: the shovel clattered into the hole.
Yorick hadn't lost grip of his shovel... ever. Panicked, he chased after it but he slipped again: the soil he'd mounded next to the grave started to slide in on its own, an unprovoked avalanche; Yorick tried frantically to hold it back but it flowed past him unhindered. He glanced down and it finally came to him.
The shovel rested neatly atop the body, clasped beneath its folded arms. The face - that face he should have known - was his own, it was the face of innocence, hope, sadness; it was a face so early on its journey, already convinced it had seen the end.
And Yorick didn't even recognize it.
The soil was falling in a torrent now: it had completely obscured the body and the last bits of the face were disappearing. Yorick dove into the hole and began tearing the dirt frantically; the motion was alien: he was completely lost without his shovel.
When the last grain of soil stopped, Yorick was buried to his elbows.
He hadn't felt anything - let alone this unyielding sadness - so acutely since he could remember.
"Why do you want to join the League, Yorick?"
He looked up: a man stood over him in a robe: some sort of mage; the face was concealed.
"Who are you?" Yorick asked.
"I'm employed by the League of Legends. That's all you need to know."
"I don't care about your League now. I just want that body."
"The body isn't real: it's forged from your memory. A mirage. Normally, I would stand here wearing the face of someone you once knew but, it seems, you've forgotten everyone."
Yorick thought about this: it could only be true.
"Why do you want to join the League?" The man persisted.
"I want to do... something else. I want to remember... and be remembered." Yorick felt like something was guiding his tongue. There was water on his face.
What is this? What's happening?
"We can provide that opportunity, Yorick, but we need to know some things from you." The voice never faltered.
"About where you come from."
"I don't remember."
"Not where you were born. I'm referring to the Shadow Isles." Yorick let the words hang in the air.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
The man was gone before Yorick could answer. Yorick felt truly alone, yet, somewhere on the fringe of his awareness, excited: this League of Legends would soon taste the allure of death.
|Leona, the Radiant Dawn|
|1 July, 21 CLE|
Leona's movements are smooth, calculated; her walk, though elegant, is not the trained gait of nobility: her steps are meant for war.
Although her armor and form lend her an air of sophistication, it's evident that she has never seen a place like the Institute of War: she runs a finger along the smooth etchings in the marble doors of the Reflection Chamber and starts when they glide open; overcoming reluctance, she steps into the tendrils of darkness reaching to embrace her.
Reflexively, Leona channeled energy into her shield, willing the sun's light to emanate from it: though she was sure of her technique, she remained swathed in darkness; no child of the Rakkor fears the shadows but Leona felt uncharacteristically vulnerable deprived of the sun's rays: had she become so reliant on its presence, already? The memory of her awakening still felt fresh, even though the sun had since completed nearly half its cycle.
A stiff wind called up familiar goose bumps on her skin and she was there again, on the snowy slopes of Mount Targon, the day of realization: Targon's wintery breeze carried with it the pungent stench of blood as lives of 'unworthy' teens were claimed by the Rite of Kor; it was a grisly ceremony, though, for Targon's limited food supply, a necessary one: until the solstice of their 16th year, every Rakkor child was trained and taught in preparation for their momentous battle.
Leona knew every boy and girl who had fallen that day; she tried to ignore the crippling concern that their deaths may have been her fault: she had, more than once, stood between them and the more aggressive children: she delighted in thwarting bullies. Had she been selfish? Her instructors insisted that every battle missed was a lesson lost, that she was doing more harm than good, but Leona couldn't sit idly by while her friends suffered.
Now, they were dead; maybe the instructors were right.
She searched the eyes of watching parents, wondering how they could allow their children to be slaughtered; she later realized that the Kor was as much a test for those observing as it was for the participants: it was a ritual about understanding and accepting the Rakkor way of life: to succeed was to earn your place amongst the tribe, to be trusted to wield the terrifying relic weapons of your ancestors, to be prepared for the sacrifices that would be expected of you; to fail was to enrich Rakkor soil with your body and blood: even in death, you would serve the tribe.
It was her turn now.
All around the pit, warriors beat their shields, screaming and cheering against the roar of the wind; the cold bit to the bone. Leona was given a small buckler and a short sword; her opponent, Molik, was armed with a spear and shield.
Molik was a poor fighter, all things considered: he was slow and he hadn't mastered his footing: a well-timed sweep never failed to topple him; he was one of the boys Leona defended before and, now, she would be his executioner. His parents stood out amongst the crowd, faces grim: they knew the failures of their son. Leona's own parents watched with anticipation: today, their concerns about her would be put to rest; her reluctance to conform would either be pushed aside or taken to the grave: compassion had no place with the Rakkor.
Leona didn't want to die.
She looked at Molik: his gaze was steel; in any other place or time, he would be wearing a goofy smile and confiding in Leona his passion for woodworking: his skill with a carving knife was enviable, though it didn't translate at all to the sword; now, he was a warrior of the Rakkor - emotionless and unmerciful.
With a cry from the leader, the combat commenced: Molik bellowed and lunged forward, spear aimed for her heart: she deflected the blow with the buckler and kicked him hard in the shins; Molik yelped and fell forward, managing to roll to a crouch; he swept the spear around, hoping to catch Leona off-balance, but she was far too fast for him.
She raised one leg and stomped hard, splintering the end of the spear beneath her bare foot: Molik reared up, swinging the shield in a broad arc; his movements were slow, predictable. Leona dove into the blow, ducking beneath his shield: inside his defenses, she struck him in the ribs with the flat of her blade: he doubled over, clutching his side with his shield arm; she leveled her sword in his face.
His defeat, though expected, was disappointing: she caught his father's gaze and all she could see was shame. Molik himself looked ready to cry: he knew this would be his final day but he'd hoped to die with more dignity; he'd hoped his parents would cheer at his final fight.
Leona couldn't stand it.
She hurled her sword and buckler to the ground and faced Jagen, the Kor leader.
"Finish it", he said, frowning.
She locked eyes with him: "No."
The crowd fell silent: she could make out her mother's horrified gasp: so much for her parents' day; at least, the shame of her actions would far overshadow Molik's poor performance. Jagen nodded to , who stood at his side, spattered in blood from his own Kor; he was beside her in a single leap: he leaned close.
"You need to do this, Leona." This would be her only warning.
She didn't break eye contact with Jagen: "I won't."
Jagen stepped down into the pit. "There is only one punishment for crimes against the tribe." He waved a hand and spearmen surrounded Leona. "As you well know."
Leona exhaled; she tried, in vain, to decide what she would like her last thought to be; instead, she just let her head loll back, the sun filling her view: she swore she could feel its warmth cutting through Targon's icy winds.
Then, her world became blinding light.
She opened her eyes, expecting to see Jagen and the others sprawled across the ground, as they had been that day; she expected to see the Rakkor gaping at her, their faces a mix of awe and terror: terror was something she'd never seen on the faces of her elders before that day.
Instead, Jagen stood in front of her: this wasn't how the memory was supposed to go; he clutched the base of a spear in his right hand: she followed it to her stomach, where the tip disappeared into a growing red pool.
Leona suddenly couldn't breathe.
"This was how it was meant to go, Leona." Jagen's voice lost its menace: now, it was oddly soothing, almost reassuring.
She sputtered: blood was pouring from her wound, her vision blurred.
"Is this what you are without the sun?" He pressed against the spear.
Until that moment, shock alone comprised her awareness; now, excruciating pain shot through her system: it was exactly what she needed.
Her eyes came to sharp focus; in the years since her awakening, she had always regretted forcing the sun to come to her aid: she was Leona, the Radiant Dawn, and she was the sun's avatar on Runeterra; it was her place to serve the sun, not vice versa.
With a swift chop of her right hand, she snapped the shaft of the spear: Jagen's eyes widened; her fingers tightened into a fist and she backhanded him hard across the temple: he stumbled.
"I am never without the sun." She caught him squarely in the chest with a front kick, sending him to the ground; then, she was over him, letting her blood drip on his face.
To her surprise, he laughed.
"Why do you want to join the League, Leona?"
She froze: he managed to take her completely by surprise.
"Come now, why do you want to join the League?" His tone was jovial, triumphant.
She took a long breath. "I am chosen of the sun. The League should feel privileged--- "
"I do believe that you've convinced yourself of that." He smiled. "But there's more to it."
Leona hesitated: truth lurked behind his words.
"You want to make it up to them", he said. "The Rakkor children you failed to protect."
Leona bit her tongue.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Jagen knew he wouldn't get a response: he vanished and she was in the Institute again, although she hardly noticed; she stood slumped for what felt like hours: her shield hung weakly at her side; a faint light suddenly glowed from it.
It hit her: perhaps the reason she had been spared was to do exactly as he said: she truly wanted to; her shoulders rose and the sun burned brightly from her shield: the League of Legends would indeed have the champion of the sun.
|Wukong, the Monkey King|
|22 July, 21 CLE|
Wukong charges into the Great Hall, bursting with anticipation: the promise of a challenge excites him; his movements seem frenzied and wild but, for all their apparent disorganization, he never seems to be off-balance; his head darts from side to side: it's unclear whether he is watching for threats or trying to take everything in at once - probably both.
When he is satisfied that he has seen or poked everything in the area, he proceeds to the doors: this moment has been too long in the waiting.
Wukong was still unaccustomed to the confining structures that humans liked to build around themselves: he could understand the need for shelter but, in a place where man's society dominated the landscape, there weren't many dangers left. had explained the concept of 'privacy' to him at length (mainly because Wukong's prying curiosity apparently often violated it) but he still didn't quite understand why people would willingly spend so much time cut off from the world around them: did they not enjoy the sun on their skin? Or the scents carried on the wind? Maybe it's just a fur thing, he mused.
In the Plague Jungles, Wukong would spend nights on the highest bough of the tallest tree, drifting asleep to the melody of thousands of creatures serenading the starlight: despite all the wonders man had achieved, nothing had quite the same simple elegance. It seemed the nature of people was to seek out and foster complications in their lives until even the most fundamental behaviors came with guidelines and instructions: table manners, bathroom etiquette, courting rituals, rules of engagement; to breach any rule was to invite further complications: it was exhausting and often pointless.
However, for all the quirks that humans had, they were truly remarkable and their warriors presented Wukong with challenges he couldn't find in the Plague Jungles - challenges he once worried might not exist: he recalled the feeling of desperation that day, right after his bout with the sea dragon, when his every goal had been realized, every opponent defeated; his frantic ambition gave him drive and purpose but consumed him when deprived an outlet: like him, it was a product of the Plague Jungles, where uneven concentrations of magic and life would well up until they burst - evolution in overdrive.
The nearby crunch of a crushed leaf jarred him from his thoughts.
Instinctively, Wukong bent backward, just in time to avoid the sweep of a familiar weapon: as it passed over him, he could make out Doran's distinctive craftsmanship - it was his own staff: had someone stolen it? His focus fell to his fingers and he was relieved to find it still clutched within them.
Wukong allowed his momentum to carry him into a backflip and he brought the weapon up defensively the second his feet touched the soil. Soil... where am I? He glanced at his surroundings and recognized the vibrant ferns, towering kopak trees, and sprawling vines in an instant.
How had he returned to the Plague Jungles? More importantly, who had just attacked him?
He scanned the immediate area but could find no sign of the aggressor: there was no way anyone could have gotten away so fast; he peered through the lush vegetation, looking for signs of someone's passing: he had the space of a gasp to notice a curious shadow before he was struck squarely in the chest by a jab from the impostor weapon; it came from nearly twenty feet away, stretching several times its normal length to reach him: knockoff or not, it apparently shared the unique qualities of the original.
The blow knocked the wind out of him and sent him sliding along the jungle's mossy floor: he stayed on his feet but struggled to maintain his composure as he coaxed air back into his lungs. A blur in the corner of his vision announced the next assault and Wukong was able to identify his assailant's glinting gold armor before he was beset by a flurry of attacks: the form was unmistakable.
On his heels, Wukong could barely keep upright as he parried the furious onslaught: the rogue clone was faster than he was and its strikes were well-chosen and well-placed. Wukong tried to control the clone as he would one of his own illusions, although he was unsurprised when that failed; this clone wasn't one of his tricks, it was something different entirely: had the jungle produced another, possibly better, monkey king? He was horrified by the thought.
Wukong saw an opening in the clone's barrage and he unleashed a powerful blow: he timed it perfectly - the clone had no time to react before Wukong's staff collided with its jaw.
When he made contact, the clone vanished in a puff of smoke.
Uh-oh. Wukong knew this tactic all too well. He tried to block the attack he knew would come from behind but he wasn't fast enough: bright pain filled his vision and he collapsed face-first into mud and ferns; as he tried to blink the world back into his eyes, the clone circled him slowly, savoring its advantage.
"Why do you want to join the League, Wukong?" The question, delivered in his own voice, rattled him.
"To be the best", he rasped, spitting dirt.
"You have a long way to go."
"That's the fun part." Wukong got to one knee. "When you're at the top, there's nowhere left to go." He eyed the clone curiously: perhaps things weren't as they seemed. "But I'm not as far away as you think."
He grinned mischievously and the clone lashed out with its staff, sensing danger: all it hit was a cloud of smoke; Wukong hurtled through the air behind it, one hand latched onto a vine, the other holding the staff out like a lance. The clone whirled around faster than the eye could see, its staff cutting a vicious arc for Wukong: it hit its mark perfectly, and just in time, but Wukong just burst into another cloud.
The trees were coming alive now: another Wukong swung down from a vine, then another, and another. The clone moved like a machine, barely intercepting every attack but slowly becoming obscured in fog as they all dispersed harmlessly in front of it; it tried to move, to find some better ground, but Wukongs poured from the trees, surrounding and suppressing it with unrelenting strikes. One Wukong stood outside the cloud, arms folded, watching as the clone struggled to resist being overwhelmed.
"You know, human, things are different in the Plague Jungles: we aren't provided for, we aren't protected; most creatures don't fight for fun, here - most fight to survive." He ducked as the clone's staff, shooting out from the cloud, sought to land a lucky strike. "But I fight to be the best: that's what makes me special; that's why I left to find your League; that's why I will be the greatest."
The clone was visibly losing steam. Wukong plucked a peach from a nearby tree and took a bite: it tasted divine.
"As a people, you have the world at your fingertips but, alone, most of you crumble in the face of true adversity", he slurped through a mouthful of peach.
Suddenly, before his eyes, the jungle dissolved: he dropped the peach but it was gone before it reached the ground; only the clone remained against a backdrop of darkness: its eyes burned brightly but its expression was pleased.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Wukong tapped the clone on the shoulder from behind: the Wukong it was facing vanished, leaving the same poof of smoke.
"I told you I wasn't as far as you thought", he said with a smile.
Scowling, the clone disappeared and, then, Wukong was back in the Institute: he chuckled. Humans and their rituals. Nonetheless: another trial passed, another obstacle overcome; now, it was time to put this League to the test.
|Skarner, the Crystal Vanguard|
|5 August, 21 CLE|
The silence is eerie: the village was once an endless flurry of activity, with the chorus of pickaxes, rolling mining carts, and shouts of laborers comprising the song of Kalamanda, audible during every moment of the day; now, it is deathly silent, lacking even the faraway cries of birds or the whispers of winds moving through the grass: a blue bubble shimmers overhead, enclosing all life inside without regard to the malice or innocence present in the hearts of the trapped.
Suddenly, the ground in the center of the village bursts upwards: the League recovery crew stationed in Kalamanda is unprepared, staring blankly as a wickedly sharp crystal rises out of the ground; it lingers for a moment, as if tasting the air, and suddenly shoots out towards the humans standing close by: they barely manage to dodge out of the way, stumbling over themselves as the rest of the body attached to the crystal surges through the dirt.
It is a massive creature, seemingly carved out of the earth's most precious gemstones; the light gleams off of each facet of its segmented body, a halo crowning the unnatural creature's birth into the world. Menacing claws lash out towards the humans, snapping at everything in its path: the League crew defend themselves the best that they can, yelling out hopelessly to yield.
The crystal scorpion lets out a guttural roar, one that is as full of anger as it is of sorrow.
Skarner scurried through the Institute of War, his limbs cramped from trying to avoid scraping his sides on the tiny hallways: it didn't help that humans kept cluttering the way, staring at him instead of making space for their unexpected visitor; an escort led him through an enormous set of double doors, where a human was waiting alone in a dark room: he was relieved to be away from prying eyes, though he knew that what was to come would pry into him far more deeply.
The human's honest demeanor betrayed his purpose before he even spoke.
"I am Bertrand Wordsworth, keeper of history in the Arcanum Majoris. It is an incredible honor to meet one of your kind. I have never found any mention of the Brackern in all my studies." Bertrand's eyes darted about, taking in Skarner's impressive form.
"So, it would seem that humans seek to eliminate not only our species but the knowledge that we ever existed at all as well." Skarner replied evenly.
The historian flushed. "I apologize for being so forward. I wasn't thinking."
"No. It is I who should be apologizing." Skarner's jaws clenched. "Forgive me. This new world is so very strange and the grievances of centuries past are still recent to my memory."
"So, shall we get on with your rituals of Judgment, then?" The Brackern was eager to be away.
"On the contrary: your little show back in the village, in addition to our conversations, has already answered all of our questions regarding your eligibility for entry into the League. Your commitment to fight for your kind to return is honorable. It is also a thrill for us to receive one as unique as yourself into the organization." He hesitated.
"But you want to know the story of the Brackern."
"Indeed." Bertrand raised a scroll in his hand. "I have a spell here: one that will take us back in time"
The crystal scorpion did not answer for a moment: the desire to see his brothers again was too strong to ignore but he knew the cost; he nodded his consent.
A swell of magic flared through the room: suddenly, Skarner was again seeing the world as it once was.
The cold dirt of the earth surrounded him, a comforting sensation on his tired limbs; he recognized the exhaustion and madness that consumed him as he was in the final moments of his life's quest: Skarner had not seen his kind for years, journeying into the depths of the mountains to find the one crystal in the world that would resonate with his life essence. Skarner's desperation threatened to consume him after unearthing crystal after crystal that was not meant to be his; with his last ounce of strength, he reached out with his claws through the dirt and finally found the Arachia that would bind to him for the rest of his life.
Skarner uncovered it carefully, relief and awe washing over him, leaving him breathless: the crystal was the largest of any that he had ever seen, let alone those that had responded to a Brackern; he pored over the intricate carvings sprawled across every gleaming facet, marveling at the residue from the earth weaving its knowledge into the gemstone for centuries. Skarner curled around the crystal as it began to pulse, soothing all his fears that he would die alone in disgrace if he hadn't found his Arachia.
He murmured the words of binding and felt his soul sing as it became one with the earth. His first meditation with the crystal left him paralyzed for days, the knowledge of eons past flooding into his mind: the voices of the natural world whispered to him, sharing the secrets of primal magic and the history of centuries past; in the decades that followed, Skarner communed with the crystal almost daily and, only barely, started to explore all of the knowledge imbued within it: Skarner passed on everything he had learned to his fellow Brackern and each creature, in turn, fed the knowledge back into his own Arachia for future Brackern.
Then, a devastating explosion rocked the land: Skarner knew what was coming next.
Seconds later, a noxious cloud engulfed the valley and the crystals vibrated with an alien glow; a piercing hum grew in volume to a deafening shriek: one by one, the crystals began to shatter, spraying glowing shrapnel in all directions; the Brackern that were bound to the crystals screamed, dropping to the ground in writhing agony.
Chaos erupted. The Brackern called healing magics upon their dying brothers and conjured up shields around the valley: but it was all to no avail - the Brackern continued to fall until their numbers dwindled; eventually, the Brackern's desperate pleas awoke the ancient magic in the Arachia crystals, who called them underground: the Brackern would fuse with the crystals, their mutual strength protecting each other until the world was safe again for both to exist.
Skarner was one of the last to remain awake, assisting the stragglers underground; his last view of the surface was another wave of unnatural energy rippling through the valley before he plunged into the ground and cast the spell of hibernation, a prayer for his kind on his tongue.
Sleep began to overtake him; suddenly, a piercing glow jolted him awake and his eyes flew open: his Arachia crystal was pulsing and the scorpion knew something was wrong: this had not happened before in his memory; Skarner reached towards the crystal and he was abruptly tossed backwards in time once again.
The Odyn Valley appeared as it had long ago but something was wrong: no Brackern were in sight and humans had overrun the gorge, engaged in war; robed humans surrounded numerous runes meticulously placed in the center of a circle; their voices rose in unison and, suddenly, the runes fractured and disappeared: in their place, an intense concentration of energy lingered for a second before winking out of existence; a second later, the entire valley shook violently as an entire city in the distance disappeared in a massive explosion.
The earth shuddered and reached out with fingers of magic for help: they found small creatures, fierce despite their own size, and called them to crystals hidden deep underground: there, the earth imbued the scorpions with power from the crystals and, from their union, the Brackern emerged.
The scene dissolved around them, bringing them back to the present: both Brackern and human remained silent as the gravity of revelation weighing down upon their hearts.
Human mistakes robbed them of life; human mistakes raised them out of nothingness.
Consumed with rage and sorrow, he roared, lashing his tail wildly around the room; the scorpion slammed the ground repeatedly with his claws, as if he could knock the vivid images of his dying brothers out of his mind. Bertrand barely managed to dive out of the way, cowering in the corner until Skarner's emotions subsided.
Bertrand eventually spoke:
"I'm so sorry to make you experience all of that. Yet, it was... necessary." The historian made an honorable, yet poorly-veiled, attempt to hide his excitement over such an amazing reveal of history.
The Brackern's voice was gruff and low, the weight of loss heavy on him: "To have the story of our kind told and remembered is worth reliving the sorrow a thousand times. Have you all the answers that you came for?"
"Far more than I ever expected." Bertrand was awestruck.
"Then we are done here."
Bertrand made a motion, as if to comfort the creature, but he knew no words that could bring any sort of relief; he bowed deeply, then turned, and fled from the room in a flurry of robes.
Skarner remained in the room, the bitter sting of realization lingering.
There was so much in this strange world yet to understand. Every breath, every moment, and every fight in this League of Legends would be a step closer to bringing the Brackern closer to living once again.
|Talon, the Blade's Shadow|
|23 August, 21 CLE|
Talon enters the Great Hall with wary anticipation, his gaze forward: the unknowing might consider him careless but, to his perceptive observers, it is apparent that Talon is infinitely aware of every detail in his surroundings.
While his focus is sharp, Talon's mind is elsewhere. He hastens towards the massive double doors at the end of the hall and regards them impassively: his purpose lies far beyond the Reflection Chamber; what lies within is a necessary distraction but hardly an obstacle. Blade in hand, he enters without pause.
Talon was on the ground, his face pressed to the dirt-ridden cracks between black cobblestones. The world came into focus around him one piece at a time - first, the stench of sewage; then, the muffled cries of 'stop, thief'; and, finally, the walls of the dead-end alleyway, its corners piled high with reeking decay.
He needed nothing else to identify his location: he knew this alleyway - and the slums of Noxus - all too well.
Talon rolled onto his hands and knees: his arms and legs, gangly and darkened with dirt, stung and bled from fresh scrapes. The cries grew closer, coming for him: "Find that boy!"
glanced about, quelling his panic: his eyes fell on what appeared to be a rotten plank of wood, half-covered in garbage and waste, in the shadowed corner of the alley; with what quickness he could muster, Talon scurried towards it, grabbing the rotten plank and tugging it aside: beneath it, a small opening led under the alley wall and deep into the darkness; in a swift and painful motion, Talon twisted to drop himself down into the opening and slid the plank back into place.
He pressed his back to a muddy dirt wall as the muted sounds of confusion came from outside his hiding place; he remained perfectly still until his pursuers dispersed, their footsteps retreating and grumbled voices fading.
Talon tried to catch his breath: the wet air he gasped into his lungs reeked of rats and sewage; as the rush of adrenaline left him, he found himself stricken, instead, by the dull pain of hunger and, more pointedly, anger.
"Where was Kavyn?" he growled to himself and looked down into the dark.
The plan had been simple: their target had been a fruit merchant whose cart stood at the edge of the marketplace; Kavyn was to give the signal and, as Talon took what he could, Kavyn would create a distraction so that he could escape; he'd seen the signal but, moments later, as he filled his satchel with Kumungu berries, he caught the attention of half the marketplace; and worse, he'd lost the bag in his frantic escape through the slums.
With nothing gained but a painfully-hungry stomach, Talon seethed with bitterness.
Talon turned and began to crawl down the passage: before long, his fingers and knees squelched as the ground beneath him became wet and cold - he'd reached the old and unused pipe that led into Noxus' underground chambers, most of them connected to the sewer network.
It isn't the first time that Kavyn has failed me like this, Talon thought as the passage sloped downward: with the pain in his stomach and the weakness in his limbs, he couldn't help but recall, instead, the times he'd succeeded alone, fending for himself without dependence on anyone else.
Finally, the pipe opened over a small chamber, its space filled with makeshift furniture and garbage scraps; far below the western edge of the chamber, where a sheer drop took the place of a wall, a foul river carried Noxian sewage out of the city; Talon twisted within the pipe's cramped space and dropped down.
"You made it back!"
Talon whirled: Kavyn stood against the wall below the pipe's mouth, lighting a match: the flickering flame revealed a boy hardly older than Talon himself and just as rough and dirty, his brown hair a matted mess on his head.
"Where were you?" Talon snarled.
"Nevermind that", Kavyn dropped the lit match onto a small pile of trash beneath him, which instantly caught and cast a wavering light about the chamber. "Did you get anything?"
"A bag of Kumungu berries", Talon's voice was cold. "I dropped it - while running."
He saw a twitch of unease in Kavyn's expression and his eyes flicked to a small and nearly-empty crate in one corner of the chamber, where they usually kept their stores of stolen food. "Oh."
"Where were you?"
The other boy held up his hands. "Just hold on", he said. "I've got something." Kavyn tugged at his tattered leather belt, revealing two sheaths at his side that Talon had never seen before: from within them, Kavyn withdrew a pair of short daggers: their blades shone like gold in the firelight and Talon's eyes widened.
"Listen", said Kavyn, tearing Talon's covetous gaze away. "We can sell them. It doesn't matter that you lost the food."
Talon bristled but the comment fazed him far less than it should have. He looked back to the daggers, which Kavyn held flat in his palm as though they'd slice him open if he wiggled a finger.
"I stole them from a drunk near the market tavern", Kavyn explained. "That's where I went. I thought... well, we'll make enough to eat for a few days with these, right? And... "
He continued to explain himself but Talon no longer heard him: he reached a hand forward for one of the blades; as he held it, Talon became immediately aware of its shoddy quality, its weight imbalance, the way the hilt splintered: it was hardly suited for cutting meat, let alone use in combat; the blade had three worn notches and Talon ran his finger gently against them, just enough to feel its sharpness - one, two, three: he was possessed by the feel of it in his hand: the blade empowered him.
Kavyn had stopped talking and turned to pull the remaining potatoes from their crate. I was nearly caught because of this foolish boy, Talon thought, the bitter, hateful fire lit again within him: he knew he'd have inevitably been killed, for such is the Noxian way.
Talon ran his fingers along the blade's notches again. The Noxian way... he'd heard that before, in whispers on the streets. The strongest find their way out of the gutter. Weapons were coveted things, weapons - even a simple pair of daggers - were the key to survival. Another whisper, one he'd heard again and again, echoed in his mind: The strong rely on no one but themselves.
Talon clenched the blade in his fist and dashed forward, reaching to put the dagger to Kavyn's throat...
... but the boy whirled around and caught Talon's wrist, blocking his attack: Talon stood shocked. This is wrong, he thought. He remembered the blood on his hands, he remembered dropping the body into the sewer - the first of many.
Kavyn spoke but the voice was not his own: "Why do you want to join the League, Talon?"
"For General Du Couteau", Talon said. The sewer chamber began to fade to darkness around them: Talon felt the weight of his bladed cloak returning to his shoulders, the illusion shattered. "My search has led me here."
"You fight for yourself", said the summoner imitating Kavyn's form. "You have no allies. You kill to survive, yet you follow at this vanished General's heels like a dog on a leash. Why?"
Talon tried to wrench his arm away, yet he found himself paralyzed, not by the summoner's physical strength, but by some magical intervention. "I am in his debt. The General spared my life... "
"Is your debt not paid? After you spilled the blood of the boy called Kavyn, you swore allegiance to no one. You killed without remorse and, while you killed for Du Couteau until the day he vanished, you may now have freedom if you wish it. Why do you want to join the League, Talon?"
"You misunderstand", Talon hissed. "In the slums of Noxus, I killed to survive. Under Du Couteau, I killed in his name but my life was my own. Now... I am nothing, yet I still have my blades. What other purpose can my blades serve?"
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
The summoner released him: Talon grasped his cloak and vanished into the dark, leaving the Reflecting Chamber in utter silence; the summoner glanced back and forth, scowling, and stiffened when Talon's blade appeared at his throat.
"Unpleasant", Talon growled into his ear. "Necessary."
And he was gone.
|Riven, the Exile|
|9 September, 21 CLE|
The weight Riven carries seems to hang in the air around her; the remnants of her Noxian armor are tarnished: they speak of her absence from duty; the broken sword she carries is in itself so massive that imagination falters to conceive of the blade's original size.
The echo of battle lingers with her: it smolders in her eyes, tenses in her grip, and coils in her step; it never leaves her: she is there now still, in the midst of it, as she enters the marble doors.
Riven's fingers played along the edges of her blade's runic inscription - an idle habit long deprived of meaning; her thoughts went where they often went in darkness: to dark memories; she gritted her teeth: there was nothing quite so cutting as the recollection of a guilty mind.
She twitched, involuntarily, as the scene of her death unraveled before her.
A damp fog yawned across the valley floor sheepishly, as though reluctant to conceal the horrors of the day; the gagging stench would have betrayed its effort, had not the smell so thoroughly permeated the Ionian countryside: death was, now, a permanent resident of the somber isle and its purchase grew with every passing hour; after so many similar fields, Riven no longer took account of it.
Dusk was settling as the company marched on, the stamp of their boots, thick and dull, crossing the grimy stretch. Riven's own boots were becoming stained a deep brown by the mud: she felt a pang of nausea as she realized it wasn't rainwater that dampened the soil.
She forced the thought out of her head: there would be more fields, more fogs, more harrowing muck - she could process it all later. "Focus is essential", her drill instructor used to bark. "A lot happens in the chaos of battle but you can only accomplish one thing at a time."
Now, it was marching.
Fury Company had trudged for days to catch up with the rest of the 42nd Standard and the dreary trail through the Zaunite Melters' aftermath was... messy: war was all about casualties but the rising number of civilian losses was staggering; the High Command had expected the peace-loving Ionians to roll over and surrender in the face of Noxus' military juggernaut; instead, the resistance was fierce and unrelenting: for a society that preached pacifism, the Ionians didn't hesitate to get their hands dirty.
Riven was impressed.
This was a particularly grim scene: the Coeur Valley was one of the few passageways through which the Melters could cross the foothills of northern Shon-Xan; the Ionians had made a desperate stand there that morning, hoping to stem or slow the pace of Zaun's death machines; it was a telling failure for Ionia: they hadn't even managed to scramble half the forces Noxian intelligence had predicted and ample countermeasures were taken long before the Melters attempted the pass; still, for such a meager resistance, Riven couldn't help but notice the abundance of Noxian uniforms littered amongst the dead.
A day or two behind, the Noxian clean-up effort was requesting reinforcements.
Riven's attention was drawn to the path by the sound of advancing footsteps: someone was approaching the group from the front; Riven raised her blade high, halting the company and eclipsing herself beneath it: it was a true Noxian weapon, built to instill fear at sight alone.
The figure emerged from the fog: it was a girl, a couple years older than Riven, stumbling as she walked; her clothes were torn and matted with blood; when she saw the company, her eyes went wide.
"No no no no no", she muttered. "No more, please." She fell to her knees and started weeping.
Riven ordered two men to retrieve the girl. Handling civilians was a chore that had wearied the men over the past several weeks: they'd been trained to kill soldiers in battle, not to dispatch helpless bystanders; Ionia didn't even have a standing military.
Only the strong survive, Riven reminded herself.
The two soldiers reached the girl and stood to either side, each silently hoping the other would take the lead. Riven was about to intervene when the girl made a quick motion and a thin red mist appeared in front of her: the two soldiers crumpled, dead before they hit the ground.
"Ambush!" Her warning was lost amongst the cries of her soldiers: on all sides of the company, corpses were rising, weapons in hand, and charging into their ranks; except they weren't dead: their eyes were very much alive with hateful resolve; Riven remembered the intelligence reports: less than half the expected opposition; it was a trap: the Ionians had planned this all along.
Already, the rear guard was overtaken: Riven screamed for the unit to collapse to a defensive formation; the army needed to be warned: she drew a distress flare from her belt and fired into the darkening sky; pale green light illuminated the entire valley.
One of the Ionians leapt out at Riven: she slashed upward, bisecting him lengthwise; the Ionians had the advantage but Riven wasn't one to surrender: if they could defeat her in combat, they deserved this victory: the strong would prevail.
The remaining Noxian soldiers tightened their ranks, backs to each other; nearly half the company was already dead or dying: the Ionians were taking their time now, savoring the growing Noxian despair.
They were surrounded and outnumbered: her men were tired, demoralized; the Ionians, by contrast, were fueled by their hate: she wondered how long they had lain there, amongst the bodies of fallen friends, waiting for this moment; she tightened her grip on the sword: one way or another, she would end this.
A blinding ball of light erupted thirty feet in front of her, sending Ionians flying: Riven spun, looking for a source, just as another explosion hit the edge of the Noxian circle; Riven's ears were ringing, all she could hear was her heartbeat: Noxian and Ionian soldiers were in chaos, some fighting, some running, some... clawing at their skin.
And then she realized it: the Melters had opened fire on them.
Only the strong survive, she repeated... but that was meaningless here: nobody would survive; by all rights, the Ionians should have won this fight but they, too, would die: how did this follow the Noxian way?
As she fled the cursed valley, explosions rocked the ground around her: soldiers on both sides were subjected to horrific, unspeakable deaths; something changed in her then: the conviction with which she charged boldly to war had evaporated and, without it, she was... lost.
The memory neared its conclusion: though she'd relived it a thousand times over, Riven never understood why that day went the way it did; she didn't know why Noxus depended on Zaun's horrific techmaturgy instead of its own military; she didn't know why she didn't see the ambush coming; she didn't know why she survived.
"Why do you want to join the League, Riven?" Behind her, the weeping girl stood, matted in blood, tears running down her cheeks; but the voice was out of place.
"This isn't right... " Riven started but the valley around her was melting away: this was some kind of trick.
"Why do you want to join the League, Riven?"
"What are you--- "
"Why do you want to join the League?" Impatience.
"I don't know!" Riven spat. She was stung by the invasion of her mind: she'd lived with this memory for years but it was something she wouldn't... couldn't share; she took a deep breath. "I fought for something, once, but it was a lie." Spoken in her own voice, the words hurt to hear. "I still love Noxus. I never stopped. But now... I want to fight on my own terms."
"How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Riven let the question turn in her mind: so many times, she wanted to confide in someone, to let someone else shoulder the burden; but telling the story - even watching it through her own eyes - didn't ease the pain: it was hers alone and some things could never be shared.
"Exposed or not, it changes nothing."
Then, the girl was gone and she was alone in the Institute: her broken sword glowed dimly at her side; the illusion was invasive but she'd almost forgotten the former heft of her sword: as if in response, a faint green outline played out from the shard, tracing the blade's former curve; she felt a sudden wash of reassurance: perhaps she wasn't so lost, after all.
|Xerath, the Magus Ascendant|
|4 October, 21 CLE|
Aside from the vaguely human shape within the shattered remnants of his sarcophagus, there is very little indication that the being called Xerath was ever a man: his presence is cold and unfeeling, with nothing to be read upon the iron mask one might call his face.
He does not pause to observe the hallway around him: Xerath approaches the massive doors to the Reflection Chamber and, with a sweep of his arm, they open before him.
The doors had only just closed behind Xerath when a sandstorm obscured his vision; violent, stinging wind surrounded him and he realized, in horror, that it began to eat away at his very form: the shattered pieces of his sarcophagus withered into wisps of sand; worse still, Xerath felt himself grow weak: as his prison disappeared into the storm, the arcane energy that made up his form faded with it, replaced by flesh and bone.
The sands of time had turned against him: he was human again.
Around him, the storm took shape in the darkness: he recognized the sandstone walls and the statues that rose from the floor to the ceiling; these regal figures clasped scepters to their chests and their eyes, plated in gold, gazed eternally down upon those below them: he was in the Temple of the , where all the mages of Shurima practiced their craft.
The peers of Xerath's youth sparred beneath their Magi ancestors: they threw fire and ice and twisted magic into the shapes of blades, honing the arcane into weaponry; such was the charge of mages: the greatest masters of magic would stand victorious over Shurima's conquered foes.
Xerath watched silently at the temple's wall, entranced by the light from their spells: nothing whetted his thirst for understanding as the pure arcane: its dull glow called to him and, in its depths, he knew there lay a thousand secrets.
"Why do you not join them, Xerath?"
The voice broke his focus: Tabia, one of his fellow mages, stood beside him; her sudden appearance and the look of her smile made him stumble with his words for a moment. "Ah... well... we have our differences."
"You are a mage of Shurima", Tabia said. She moved closer to him. "We have the same path. What differences do you mean?"
"The way they bend their magic", he replied, turning his gaze back to the other mages.
"They make weapons of it but they don't understand: the more you force your control over it, the more you lose your true connection to the arcane."
"Magic is chaotic. You know the lessons: without a mage's guiding hand, we can only hope to control what the arcane does and does not destroy."
"Yes, but, if it's pure power we want... " Xerath cupped his hand: in the curl of his slender fingers, a blue-violet flame sparked into existence; he knew he could shape it as he wished but he simply let it burn.
On its own, with only the slightest prodding, the flame grew: soon, it burned fiercely in his hand, its raw power coursing through him and warming his very core.
"All it needs is a vessel", he said.
He turned his gaze up from the flame to see Tabia looking at him, not his magic: she smiled again and her beauty drew his mind away from the arcane; between them, the flame grew stronger...
... and, then, reality blurred around him.
Sheer, limitless power set him aflame from the inside out: deep within, at his very core, he felt a searing agony where the fire burned too hot, threatening to burn its way to the surface, to consume and destroy him.
The arcane needed a vessel... but his frail human form could only hold so much.
Xerath grimaced. "I will not allow this mortal body to stop me." He held out his hand: arcane fire sprung from his fingertips, crackling with power as it formed runes that hung briefly in the air.
The burning, blinding-white magic quickly grew to a tumultuous wind around him: an ancestral statue shattered, its pieces crashing to the ground and shaking the foundation of the temple; it took all of his strength and will to hold the spell: even then, it swelled and flared, threatening to break free.
But a voice rose above the chaos: "Xerath! Stop!"
Xerath's hold over the ritual wavered as he turned towards her voice: she stood at the foot of a Magi ancestor, her dark hair a stark frame to her pale, beautiful face.
"You mustn't do this", she shouted, her eyes burning fearlessly. "It will consume you; it is killing you already and you would only let it do its work faster!"
"Tabia", Xerath pleaded, his voice hoarse and trembling. "Please, you don't understand... "
The spiraling arcane twisted and pulsed like a storm above them: Xerath felt it slip further from his grasp.
"You do not need this", she said, and there was pleading in her voice, too. "Stop it now and you can heal. You can have life again. I can help you", she paused. "Come home."
Xerath's will faltered: perhaps she was right; he imagined himself at home, away from the Magi and the arcane forever, and all the pain it had caused him: the way it had eaten at him from within, all gone; perhaps...
Tabia mouthed something but Xerath could not hear her: the statue above her shuddered and began to collapse.
At the sound of Tabia's scream, the rest of the statues and the Temple walls began to crumble with the force of Xerath's spell: he'd lost control; at its center, he covered his face with his hands, shouting her name in agony: his brief vision of home and escape from the arcane had been lost as soon as he'd found the strength to reach for it.
It was too late to stop the spell: it would consume him, too, and he trembled in terror at the prospect: all of his efforts for naught... everything he'd worked for, lost.
Unless he finished the ritual.
He hesitated: part of him wished to accept death but a greater part still remembered what he'd set out to do - to become something greater; to transcend the mortal body that held other mages back.
He had nothing left but this: though his whole body ached with weakness, Xerath steeled himself.
I will become eternal... or I will die.
He raised his arms and the writhing mass of magic above him, again, gained some semblance of form but, still, it expanded, destroying the remaining Magi statues and the temple's walls: Xerath pulled the spell inward with all the strength he could muster, blocking out what he could see of the temple collapsing around him.
For a moment, in the chaos of the arcane, he could see a reflection of himself: a pale, emaciated man, aged well beyond his years.
As the spell engulfed him, Xerath's eyes were full of fear: piece by piece, he saw himself torn apart.
In an instant, the chaos subsided: Xerath was back in the Reflection Chamber and a hooded summoner stood before him.
"All that power", said the summoner. "And now, you are a prisoner."
"An inconvenience", Xerath replied, his voice echoing through the chamber.
"Yet not what you envisioned when you took control of that spell. Do you have regret, Magus?"
"I do not."
The summoner scowled. "You sacrificed yourself, your people, and the woman you loved... all for power. Power you can no longer reach."
"As I said", Xerath continued. "An inconvenience. I will be free."
"Why do you want to join the League, Xerath?"
At this, Xerath paused. "The burden of my prison was brought about because the mages of Shurima could not comprehend what it was I pursued. I will not allow my goals to be misunderstood again. Consider my work with your League, summoner, a show of good faith."
The summoner regarded him quietly for a moment before giving a curt nod. "As you say. How does it feel exposing your mind?"
Xerath turned away. "I am no longer the naïve student you have exposed", he said. "My previous existence means nothing."
|Graves, the Outlaw|
|14 October, 21 CLE|
Malcolm Graves is the picture of resilience: his body, a checkerboard of scars and cracked calluses, remains fit despite his age; his expression is grim, determined. He carries an oversized shotgun in one hand: its weight is irrational for its function but it complements him well.
However, the real story lies in his eyes: they seem stubbornly fixed on something beyond his vision, something unachievable, some goal that has always remained slightly out of reach. Nothing will steer him from his course: it's as though he has pursued the carrot-on-a-stick for so long that, even though he learned the trick, it's all he knows how to do anymore.
Same old song and dance, Graves thought. Couple of big wigs trying to put on a show.
Graves wasn't one for theatrics: he preferred to keep most of his social interactions 12-gauge and below. Things hadn't always been this way: once upon a time, he genuinely delighted in the game, fleecing marks and skipping town before the chips could fall. Back then, he had a partner with a like-minded philosophy: the longer the con, the better.
Then, turned on him faster than a foal in a firepit.
Graves was no stranger to the double cross but, somehow, Fate managed to blindside him. Never again: he paid a fair chunk of his life for that oversight; it was a hard lesson but, then again, the most important ones tended to be.
Now, all that was left was to even the score.
The clank of crashing steel broke his thoughts: it was a tone of bitter finality, the chime of swindled life; he knew it well: he spun to find a familiar set of bars lined mockingly between him and the freedom he so recently won; behind them, the oily face of the man who incarcerated him, Dr. Aregor Priggs, sneered in victory. He raised his arm, happy to put a slug between Priggs' beady eyes, but his hand was empty.
He was trapped, again, in Priggs' privately-funded detention facility.
Well, this is a setback.
Priggs grinned broadly, gathering a froth of reeking spittle in the corners of his mouth; he was a bulbous, slimy man, whose only redeeming quality, as far as Graves was concerned, was that he had the stones to look his captives in the eye while he kept them holed up like dogs. Graves had worked out that Priggs used this little sanctuary primarily as a place to make high-profile competitors disappear but he had earned a special cell for taking two of Priggs' more fetching mistresses for a week-long excursion on the sleaze's dime; by the time Priggs' retinue of head-bobbing corporate flunkies tracked all the funds funneled, he and were already in Demacia, hustling vacationers on Conqueror Beach.
"I bet you thought you saw the last of me", Priggs wheezed. He always wheezed when he talked.
"The last I cared to", Graves said. "You looked a might improved with that pig face of yours spread across a wall." Every word carried a consequence so Graves chose to savor them.
"Aren't you curious how I did it?" Priggs was pleased with himself.
"I don't wonder why critters come crawling back. I just stomp harder next time."
"I hope you still have that spirit when I'm through with you", Priggs spat. Graves didn't flinch: he may as well have been a tick for how long he'd held on in that place, with few friends and fewer decencies, tended by whatever trash Priggs found to run the outfit; pain had, long ago, become a chore more than any kind of punishment.
"I hope you eat something lighter the next time I make you soil yourself", he returned.
"Why do you want to join the League, Graves?" The question was unusually direct for the wheezing oaf but, when the subject was the most powerful organization in Valoran, perhaps even his chaps got a little chafed.
"Don't know why you'd stop to wonder", he said. "You know my history as well as anyone."
"Miss me that much?" The new voice, a relic from the past, made Graves' blood boil: he grabbed the bars, knuckles white, as Twisted Fate strolled into view behind Priggs.
"Fate! I know you're crooked as a quarryman's spine but you got a real set of tires throwing in with this sack of stool again!" This wasn't the reunion Graves had planned all these years.
"Why, you--- " the fat man sputtered.
"Why do you want to join the League, Graves?" Twisted Fate's face was calm, unreadable.
"You let me out of this cage and I'll show you--- " Graves roared.
"Why do you want--- " Fate started again.
"I'm going to ruin your con, Fate! The world may buy that you're some kind of 'champion' but I'm gonna show them what you really are. I will take everything you have and, when I'm done, you'll be lucky to scam the heat off a campfire." Graves took a deep breath: he didn't realize how much Twisted Fate had gotten to him; he silently vowed never to give Fate the satisfaction of seeing him this angry again.
"How does it feel exposing your mind?" Fate smirked, a simple gesture that was acid in Graves' veins. He swallowed, determined not to lose his cool again.
"Feels like I just squatted with spurs on", he muttered.
Fate chuckled. "It's good to see you again, Malcolm."
With that, he strode out of sight, Priggs close on his heels. Graves sat in his cell, smoldering, until the bars suddenly opened; cautiously, he exited the cell...
... and found himself standing in the Institute of War, weapon in hand.
Always putting on a show.
Graves clenched his teeth and cocked his gun: he wasn't one for theatrics but, if it was a show they wanted...
|Varus, the Arrow of Retribution|
|7 March, 22 CLE|
He absorbs his bow, lest he be tempted to use it in the Institute of War: it slithers into his palm to rest. The polish of the chamber is immaculate so that, in its ornamental shields and blades, his form can be seen reflected. 'His' form, though he can never recognize it as his own: his arms disappear into black gauntlets of a liquid that can't entirely decide on a shape; brackish muck creeps from his toes nearly to his navel, scabbing over into plates.
What might seem purely black is, upon closer inspection, almost infinitely complex in color: it travels his surface like an oil. Varus wonders if it might have claimed more since yesterday, lapping as it does at what pure flesh remains; he decides that he is, on the whole, satisfied with their arrangement - even if mirrors show him a creature like this.
I am not broken, he tells himself. Not broken. I simply have a different shape.
Teaching is learning.
Showing Theshan where to hold the bow, how to draw, and how to remember his breath gave a better understanding of these things himself. His son would need to know these things for himself: his father had been anointed Temple Guardian, after all; he wouldn't always be there.
Varus wasn't there now, strictly speaking: none of this was real and his clever eyes knew it.
This was some game summoners played to amuse themselves with aspirants to the League; but here was his son, blessedly alive. He tousled the boy's warm hair: Varus knew what was coming and he took such blessings where he could; the two of them looked up the hill, up, until they saw the temple itself.
It was older than the village, much older: a statement from a bygone era of plenty, there was no pragmatism in its construction.
"A Pit of Pallas", said the son who was not his son. "There is a Pit of Pallas there."
"I did not know it at the time but yes", replied Varus.
"They left a single man in its defense?"
Much surprised him about his new role; the old prayers he'd said every day since he was a boy, it seemed, were missing a few grave syllables: the Elders had been holding out; tattoos of the clever Owl, applied to the face, chest, and arms, had altered his perception: this, too, was surprising; then, there was the Pit: round and just five feet across, it was hard to imagine that this featureless disc could be the source of so much concern.
He was most surprised, perhaps, when - on his first night's vigil - it began to speak.
Not with words, no - words would have been much easier to deflect. It spoke in moments, mostly: images, sensations; it knew of people, it could taste them in the air; it knew that they had a hive at the base of its hill, where they writhed in their nonsense bodies. Varus could sense its confusion and something like hurt: the isolation of the temple had accrued in it; it wanted to show him something he would like; it wanted to make something for him; its urge was to please.
This was not the 'implacable beast' he had been sworn to contain.
Once, as Varus entered the sanctum to perform the morning's Rite of Sealing, he was made to see himself surrounded by others of his village, standing with a young man's vigor while those around him withered like crops, their skins falling off like sacks; he could sense that it seemed somehow pleased with itself.
"Now?" it offered, confident in the reply.
"No", replied Varus.
When it spoke next, he ceased to exist in the present altogether: instead, he waded through ankle-high blood, the ripples he made growing and rising until they roared and crashed; he heard a voice, then, or the idea of a voice, which said, pleadingly: "Now?"
The bite of the incense, with its teeth of rosemary and oak, cut through the vision. He fell back on the palms of his hands, turning and scrambling to load the brazier: it tipped on its copper chain, spilling and searing his hands.
It crashed against his mind but the Owl asserted itself: it gave him will enough to pull himself along the maze-like walls to the doorway, where he could see the village burning; again, he had to see it all again.
He ran, though he didn't entirely know why: there was a part of him that thought if he took this path, slid down this face instead of that, maybe it would be different: perhaps he would not find his broken wife alongside his broken boy alongside his broken bow: perhaps he would not pick up that bow and bring it back to the temple.
He was wrong.
He was given a vision, then, of a thousand, thousand dead: it was a wedge pounded through his ribs and into his heart; he fell to his knees.
"Now?" It was almost a whisper.
"Now", Varus whispered back. "Now, fuck you."
And when he did so, it broke a dam deep in the earth so that the placid disc of the pool reached up from its heart and splashed out, leaving jags of hot black glass standing wherever it touched; it was flowing through the air, around the curling smoke until it struck Varus off his feet: it peeled his hand, digesting it, consuming the bow; it ate both arms and both legs, stopping out of... respect, if respect it may be called, for the Owl: it would not surpass the markings; in a moment of detached madness, Varus wondered how long that would last.
The Reflection wavered and a summoner panted with exertion: the images wrested themselves from their bindings, careening through a nightmarish series of scenes with an animal immediacy; the room solidified, rendered overbright by the alien senses which collected the last few years of Varus' grim past:
Only the tips of each of his toes touched the ground: Varus knew the force couldn't be far; when he overtook them, the cart at the head of the column had the wisdom to encourage its horses: those without wisdom, or those cursed by circumstance, began to die with terrible speed.
As Varus slowed, an apparatus with a bow's purpose, if not its shape, leaped to life for the first time at his wrist. He needed not be instructed in its use: a man was instantly pierced, burst like a wineskin; this proved a true inspiration to his fellows, who found within themselves a speed they never knew possible; though even at this speed, they were still beings of flesh and blood: insufficient.
Though what it fired wasn't an arrow, it behaved as one: it ruined as one, traveled through the Noxian insignia, out of one gasping soldier and into another, exploding with six thirsting tongues that gripped and snared. With every death, Varus shot faster until, by the end, there was no sense that each shot was discrete: the prey simply ran until it fell; it was elegant horror.
Time passed quickly; there were more hunts and more blood: mercies were promised but withheld. Darkness swirled with the scent of wet leaves, oddly sweet, the broken bodies of men and women rendered wholly abstract in the course of their annihilation; Varus knelt over a sundered cart to seize a communique, pierced through by one of his sharp tendrils: it revealed the names of yet a few more Noxian dogs, responsible for issuing the order...
The fucking order. What they took from him, he would repay a thousand-fold.
A summoner stepped forward, her mask of judgment impassive, her presence sweeping away the last threads of the vision. "Your purpose here is clear. You have discerned that, among our champions, there exist Noxian agents. This, all of this", she waved her hand, "is the prosecution of some vendetta."
"You understand, of course, that your vengeance is not the purpose of this League?" she said, eyes narrowed.
"By now, you surely realize", said Varus or the amalgam which stood before them cloaked in Varus, its tongue swollen and black.
"It is the only purpose I have left."