The Heart of a Hunter: Small Condolences
Just another small tidbit I wrote up.. It wasn't what I intended to write, it just sort of came out. Either way, it's an illustration of the way I perceive and imagine my most well-loved Champion.
Goes along with the same themes as The Merging of Heart and Mind.
I couldn't help but notice that the forest was quieter than usual, no sounds rising to meet my ears other than the low shuffle of my own boots. The damp underbrush left sprinklings of dew across the durable fabric of my cloak, as well as over the matted fur of my companion. The musky twilight created a nearly smothering sense of foreboding, so much so that the events which were to occur over the next few hours would hardly be found surprising when I looked back at them in retrospect. I had hunted in these woods since I was a child, before and after the advent of Maokai's birth into reality, and never before had my grip upon my bow been so thick with nervous sweat.
Still, there was no room for hesitation, Warwick moved like a shadow only a few feet ahead of me and showed no signs of stopping. The way his ears flickered thoughtfully caused me to believe he knew as much or more than I did, yet he proceeded to shift through the brush with an uncanny grace, causing my own trained footsteps to look clumsy in comparison to his well mastered paws. It had been a slow week for us, both on the Fields of Justice and off, and this particular hunting trip had been my way of making up for the limited amount of time I had been able to offer to him. All the more reason why I felt more than obligated to proceed despite the way my psionics burned in the back of my consciousness. Despite the obvious discomfort brought on by the unseen, unknown variables lurking about the treeline we did not speak. It was unnecessary. In truth, to do so would almost have been demeaning to the both of us. Our relationship was that of brothers in arms, soldiers connected by a bond more pressing than words or emotions.
For men like us, simply having someone to trust was more than enough. Friendships were hard to come by when you were a full time soldier, part time summoner, and everything inbetween when the situation called for it... And I could only imagine that being a massive lycanthrope known for brutally effective exploits as a chemical and bio-weapons specialist was just as difficult in the social theater. Quite possibly even moreso, to be frank. Now, not many summoners chose to interact with their summons outside of the Nexus, often considering themselves too important or too busy. But for someone in my position, Warwick was more than just a weapon I controlled from time to time. We understood one another, and that was a comfort neither of us could afford to go without.
As the darkness of the forest deepened, I reached mentally into my reserves of mana, manipulating clairvoyance to give us visual of the surrounding area. There was still no movement, no sign of the large elk we had wounded. I knew we had to be gaining ground, my shot had made a clean connection behind the animal's front shoulder and would have undoubtedly slowed the equine down. I did not worry about the possibility of faulty directions, as one who had shared souls with the wolf infront of me countless times I knew full well that I could rely on his blood scent... No sooner than this thought had crossed my mind, however, did my companion stop in his tracks. His shift in posture gave revealed his state of confusion to me well before his deep, husky voice reverberated within my head.
"... I've lost the scent."
"How is that possible?"
I questioned, my mind already reaching for possible conclusions. The only one which seemed fathomable was that the animal had somehow managed to recover, but that seemed unrealistic. After all, elk didn't exactly run amok with health regeneration or lifesteal. I supposed that there was the potentiality that it had merely been put down by a stray wraith or some other denizen of the forest, but such creatures rarely left their dens unless specifically aggravated by something.
Knowing my inquiry was largely rhetorical, Warwick simply turned again and we proceeded to follow the trails of crimson which had been left across the forest floor. Too puzzled by the contingency of what could be happening to register the ominous green glow which soon came into view for what it was, we pressed forward at a sprint. The elk was there, the residual effects of some sort of neon green aura fading away from its hooves as I rushed to bring another arrow to bear. I had never missed a shot, (not since the dodge mechanic was taken away from the treeline anyhow) but my aim soon became the least of my worries as a sudden crashing from the canopy above tore my attention upwards.
My expletive was cut abruptly short as a pair of small meteors burst through the branches, and I was barely able to pull up a barrier in time to avoid being crushed. The blow staggered my lupine companion momentarily, leaving in a situation to provide some sort of cover. I sent my mind racing for the powers required to channel a good ignite somewhere into the brush, only to feel the mana in my veins erupt angrily as my casting was shut off.
"Wait! Don't cast, I'm sorry!"
It was a female voice, one I recognized immediately as Soraka stepped from her concealment. My eyes went wide as I realized that I had just been infused, and with an inaudible groan I looked down to where my collapsed veins were already creating patterns of bruises across my arms. The starchild seemed to take notice of this as well, and with an apologetic look the Ionian mended her mistakes with the ease of a wish.
"I apologize.. But you startled me. I..."
The way she stopped mid sentence could only mean one thing. Warwick had finally caught his wind and stepped out from the trees. The residual effects of infuse kept me forcibly in silence, unable to make any moderating statements in an attempt to referee the situation. All I could do was pray, pray that my companion didn't eat her. Pray that this didn't go south somehow, because if it did, this would be the end of me. As a summoner I was, more or less, a political crossing guard. This was no nexus here, no sanctioned match, people didn't just die and come back in a matter of sixty seconds.. If two of the league's oldest champions murdered one another infront of me, you could bet your ten gold that'd be the end of my career... If not a one-way ticket to pay a visit to fiddlesticks.
Warwick, however, did not move more than a tilt of his head. I looked from him, to Soraka, and back again. I knew my companion well enough to see that there was no offensive intentions in his stance, but by the female's trembling it was apparent she did not share my knowledge of wolven battle stance. For what could have been hours the two simply stared, leaving me to feel like little more than a spectator for a sanctioned match. Finally, and surprisingly to me, Soraka found the courage somewhere in her core to be the one who broke the stalemate.
"You....Are you not angry with me, Deathmaker?"
Instinctively I flinched at the use of Warwick's old Ionian title. Mainly because it seemed so untactful of Soraka to use it here and now. My eyes turned to my companion, and I found him to be looking at me. Once he seemed convinced that I had sustained no lasting damages, he offered a short nod of his canine head my way, which I returned. Only after our exchange did he respond to the starchild before us.
Well, it wasn't the most colourful of replies, but it was just about what I expected. Warwick's voice was rugged and powerful, the animalistic overtones never failed to strike me as heavily intimidating even when the wolf was at his most amiable. What I did not expect, was the way that Soraka's expression became twisted with confusion as if his single spoken word had been a novel's worth of cryptic text.
"I don't understand."
"I bear you no hatred, Ionian. What more is there to understand?"
"... Why would you not.. How.. Then why am I..?"
Soraka's mind seemed to be on overload, and as I felt the bindings on my casting finally ease away I legitimately considered using a forced teleport to transfer myself and Warwick out. I didn't know what was she was looking for or what didn't make sense, but I did know that I didn't care, and that every second we spent standing here was another second I risked being at the epicenter of an international disaster...
But there was something in the calm of my companion's eyes that caused me to stay my hand. I saw no malice in him, no fear, not a trace of any risk-oriented emotion at all. His armoured flanks rose and fell evenly with each breath, his heavy paws resting at his sides. He almost seemed expectant, amused even, the way he stared down unblinkingly at the one who had cursed him.
"Why are you what? Finish the thought."
The words were sharp enough to be a command more than a request, and they seemed to create the desired effects, urging Soraka to speak almost immediately after. A part of me found it amusing, and imagined many such statements being made once upon a time to a particular student of this wolf. If nothing else, the poise and attitude Warwick was displaying were certainly indicative of a man who cherished science as he gently tipped his head to one side whilst Soraka mumbled out her words.
"I cursed you, Deathmaker.. I made you what you are, and it cost me my grace. Know that I will never forgive you for the things you've done, but in time I have come to realize the error in my actions that night. Painful as it may have been, I have spent my time since that realization trying to fathom some way of seeking forgiveness from a man who I hate, so that I might again move forwards towards my unity with the stars." She paused, her voice waivering as she looked into the lycanthrope's amber eyes. "Yet.. You say that I am already forgiven.. and I don't.."
"Ionian, let me make something abundantly clear to you. Your forgiveness means little to me in the grand scheme of my life. I was a soldier, I did what soldiers are meant to do. My weapon may not have been a rifle or blade, but I sought the same goal as every combatant in the history of Runeterra... As did you, when you cursed me." There was a sharpness in his expression which could have cut through stone, the muscles of his jaw rippling beneath the fur of his muzzle. "I fought with knowledge, you with magic, and we both sought victory in our own ways. I did not blame you for this, nor will I ever. I accepted the consequences and ramifications of warfare long before I ever made the decision to create my first toxin. So if it is forgiveness which you seek, then turn to your so-called Gods... Because it was never my paws which judged you."
And with that, my hunter turned his back to the starchild and moved to my side. I felt his strong paws grip the back of my cloak, hefting me onto my feet and holding me aloft until I was steady. Thankfully, I looked upwards at the overbearing height of my companion, and offered as stoic a nod as I could manage after being thrown about like a ragdoll. Slinging my bow across my shoulders, I followed in Warwick's pawsteps.
"Deathma... Warwick..? ... Thank you..."
Soraka's voice followed at our backs, but the blood hunter did not turn. There was something else on the air, and his chest heaved with life as he took in the smell of our new target. There was a howl, the bloodcurdling, ruthless sound I knew so well. A grin pulled at the corners of my lips, and as Warwick broke off into a sprint through the brush I popped ghost to keep up with my one true friend. As we found our pace and my breaths fell into a steady rhythm, I let out a question which had been bothering me during the encounter. There was something that had been unsaid which my curiosity could not let slide.
"Do you think she understands how grateful you are to her?"
I was offered no reply... But if I wasn't mistaken, I could have sworn I saw the hints of a smirk flash across his face.
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