Fanfiction.net URL: (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/9672554/...journal-of-Zac)
Did you know that Zac doesn't even have his name in the listed on the fan-fiction Champion directory of Riot's forums? For shame!
Well, time to fix that. It was suggested I try my hand at writing something, so here it is. New chapters will be prefaced with journal entries, in the same style as the prologue.
For your reading pleasure: enjoy.
Prologue: Unstable Matters
I'm writing this thing because a lot of people told me to. People who don't know how to mind their own business. I'm sure some of them mean well and are just looking out for me, but I'm also sure that some others want to steal it and use it against me.
Let's start with the basics, from the top.
I'm the "Secret Weapon," a.k.a. Zaun's Amorphous Combatant.
I'm not sure what's so "secret" about me, considering you can't possibly miss the bright green, humanoid, bio-jel man running around. Especially when I'm leaping over the jungle walls of Summoner's Rift to body slam into people. (And I never got around to being anybody's "weapon" for the record.)
Anyway; I find it funny that I would get the same advice from different people who would fervently deny having anything in common. The Grand General of one of the strongest armies in the world. A teenage espionage agent who can manipulate light into a deadly weapon. A barbarian king from the frozen lands up north. The duo of an assassin from the Shadow Isles, and a magic card wielding Gypsy. A reformed criminal who stops crime with overwhelming force. An expert in hexplosives with a habit of not waiting to get clear from his own work. Three ninjas tasked with preserving order and balance in all things, and their counterparts who carry enough emotional baggage to show that the former aren't good at their jobs. And last but not least, a little urchin from the ocean depths that routinely makes fools of men and monsters alike.
And that's just to name a few.
I guess the real reason I'm writing this is because I need to collect my thoughts from all the attention I've been getting. Really, I'm like the new kid at school, not that I ever had a chance to find out what that's like. Everyone is trying to get a feel for where I stand in the sum of all things, and figure out how they can use me to their own ends.
Neutrality is one of the hardest things to maintain in the League, especially when all of the city-states participating are only doing so to pull a fast one over the others. I've gotten everything from loving affections to death threats on the same day for simply speaking to people who are at odds with each other.
The only Champion that never questioned my intentions was Twitch, or as he's more infamously known, the "Plague Rat." When I first joined the League and was settling into my apartment, someone had already tipped him off that we shared similar backgrounds. Word travels fast in a city in the center of the world. I was worried at first that he had some ulterior motives I wanted nothing to do with, but it seems that his interest was more carefree than I could have imagined. You'd be surprised what kind of conversations you can have with a psychotic mutant rat when you don't have a sense of smell.
But enough of that.
Let me just say one thing clearly: the Institute and League are all about politics, and don't let anyone say otherwise.
The only reason they exist is to precariously balance of power, since we live in a world where people can raining death and destruction down over the land because someone sneezed the wrong way.
I knew what I was getting into from the day I first bounced through the reflection chamber and into the League. But at the same time, I didn't. What you imagine in your head is one thing, but actually experiencing it is another. It's hard to remain indifferent to others when you're pouring your heart and soul out fighting with four strangers against five others.
Especially when the five others on the opposing team are really, really hell bent on trying to kill you.
And it's even worse when your allies want to kill you after the match, and your attackers want to make friends with you.
Just a normal day for the "Secret Weapon" in the League of Legends, right?
I used to think that, but now I'm not so sure. All I know right now is that if I'm going to bother writing in this thing, I might as well bleed out my green guts out onto it. I'm not going to go as far as to claim that Zilean will want to use this as a reference to historical events, or that Ezreal might want to store it in the Institute's library for safe keeping. But I think people will be fairly surprised at my observations, considering the unwanted attention I've gotten over the last months.
Or at least they should be. I'm not just good at punching things, that's for sure. For all their history and intrigue, half of the Champions here are as subtle as Vi chasing bank robbers. ("Criminals can't hide if you just collapse their hideouts on top of them." Her words, not mine.)
I'm going to try and make sure that this doesn't melt down to a long collection of me whining about my gripes and peeves too. Because I don't think even I would want to read that. Trust me, you don't either.
So to start this off I might as well make it entertaining right?
I think… Yeah. Let's start off with the day I caught Noxus' Sinister Blades going through my belongings.
It was the first day I actually felt worried that being a loner could work against me.
Chapter 1: Let's Bounce (Part 1)
Now, I know I said that I was going to start off by explaining why Katarina Du Couteau was rummaging through my junk (like she'll find something of value), but let me ask something first.
Have you ever wondered what it's like in the Institute of War? A facility filled to the brim with the deadliest collection of arcane magics, smack dab in the middle of the two largest and prominent city-states. A place that anyone with a brain would stay away from, and not voluntarily join because of some delusions to contributing to a higher cause?
I know that somebody thought it was politically symbolic to place it geographically between the two nations, but I doubt the rapid success of the League as political intermediary will allow it to remain there for long. The ease in which the southern islands of Ionia got attacked from all different sides is proof of this. Anyone with a map can look and realize how the Institute just blocks Demacia's land routes to the rest of the city-states, while almost implying that Noxus has free reign behind the Institute's walls to do as it wishes.
Which it does, don't get me wrong. The League's responsibility is to stop all-out war being declared by major powers, not regulate some sort of international law about common decency. If the High Command of Noxus' military wants something, they're going to get it one way or another. You'd have to be a real idiot to think that a Noxus under Swain Jericho has lost its bite. I mean, I heard the guy actually said (during his League judgment) that his two reasons for joining the League were to gain control of Noxus and kill Prince Jarvan the fourth. And so far, if you're counting, he's one for two.
Although if fighting on Summoner's Rift counts, then he's two for two.
So basically, the history of Runeterra is violence. Oodles and oodles of flagrant uncontrolled violence, and the League was created to mediate that violence. So now you're probably asking why I'm bringing up history and geography into this.
When you look into a metaphorical "rabbit hole," you're supposed to be cautious about how deep it can go.
I didn't expect to catch "Kitty-Kat" (LeBlanc's words) going through my room would throw me into an adventure all the way from the Institute, to the streets of Piltover, and to the ports in Bilgewater just to get an answer I knew I wouldn't like.
Hell, sometimes I wonder if I had an actual brain, if I would have been smart enough to just pretend that I never saw her when I returned to the League that night.
I guess I've been running on gut instinct for so long that I just let it get the better of me.
Zac slid down with his back against the built up wall of the wraith pit, ignoring the angry looks from the ragged specters occupying it with him. Looking back on the path from where he came, it was understandable that the jungles of the Summoner's Rift could be intimidating to some. With their maze-like pathways, overgrown vegetation, and being filled with hostile monsters (and sometimes invading champions). But for someone who were used to running around it from lane to lane, it became like a second home. The jungle was a place to hide, a place to rest, and a place to beat up monsters for easy money.
But every now and then, you end up encountering something you don't expect.
Which, he lamented, was happening now.
"LEONA! Come out and face me!"
Ugh. Why are ninety-nine percent of women in the League so aggressive?
"You will not deny me!" he listened to Diana shout again, and as he peered over the walls of the wraith pit as discretely as possible. He grimaced automatically from seeing the Scorn of the Moon standing over a very ragged looking nine-tailed fox. Judging by the scrapes and bruises on both of them, the lunatic had managed to land her abilities faster.
"Come out and face me! Or I'll finish this damned vixen right here and now!"
Wonderful. A hostage situation, he inwardly sighed.
One of the biggest pains fighting for the League were how many of its champions had some sort of relationship to each other. More than a few matches he had fought in had boiled down to some member of the other team running around the map at random to hunt a single opponent. It should have been no surprise to him that some champions were willing to use other champions as bait to try and get what they wanted.
A groan of pain from Ahri made him cringe as he continued to watch warily. Her attacker was now shouting something about the sun and the moon while grinding the heel of her boots into her back. Since she hadn't been transported back to base from an automatic recall spell, he hoped meant that she still had some fight in her. Hardly enough to reverse her position with Diana, but maybe enough to…
No. Even if he had the element of surprise on his side, he needed more information. He couldn't risk getting one of his allies killed by rushing in on his own. Heaven forbid that the jungle on the enemy team decided to head toward the middle lane to see what was going on as well.
Giving the bruised gumiho one last glance of sympathy, he slid back down the walls of the wraith pit and focused his thoughts.
Summoners, can you hear me?
It took a few seconds for him to get an answer. Longer than it should take.
We are here. Ahri in the middle lane isn't answering our summons. Can you see what's happening?
Zac rolled his eyes at his guardian's cluelessness. He had never bothered to ask why, but on occasion he'd caught the summoners responsible for commanding his team completely unaware of what was actually happening on Summoner's Rift. He knew for a fact that whatever magic summoner's used let them see and hear what champions are experiencing, so was it really just human error that caused lapses in commands? The idea of risking his own neck against all manner of horrors while his caretakers were drinking coffee and chatting amongst themselves peeved him a bit.
Yeah. We have a bit of a problem here, was all he could really think of to say back. Take a look for yourselves.
He could hear their hushed whispers and accusations in his head. Not a good sign.
But before anything else, a sound jolted him out of his thoughts.
There were many sounds he had become accustomed to listening for since he had started fighting in the League. Champion specific sounds. All champions in the League made some sort of noises that were distinctive to their fighting styles, and this one was no different.
Zac jerked backward out of reflex, pushing himself as tight as he could go against the walls of the wraith pit as a whirlwind of red and sharpened steel descended almost cutting him in two. After deadly the maelstrom stopped, Katarina the Sinister Blade stood in front of him wiping the ichor of the slain wraiths off of a long dagger. She looked down briefly at her handiwork, before flashing him a wicked smile.
"What's going on?" she demanded in a forceful but casual way completely expected of her.
"See for yourself," he whispered, pointing a finger over the walls of the wraith pit. He watched her glance over the wall for half a second, and knew that she understood the situation. "I'm not getting an answer from our Summoners. Is Leona coming from bottom lane?"
"No. She and Draven are pushing on their second tower and I don't want them to stop."
"So they had you come instead?"
"As if I need their approval to do anything," Katarina scoffed, giving Zac a look of disdain for his insinuation. "I came because I could hear her all the way from the from the top lane. For a traumatized introvert, she sure knows how to call attention to herself."
"Yeah, you're telling me," he found himself agreeing, as Diana broke into a new rant about something he didn't understand. Around her minions from both sides of the map were engaged in combat with each other, oblivious to the situation between them. He turned back around and saw her staring at him expectantly.
"What?" he asked back intelligently.
"You look like you have something on your mind. Spit it out," she demanded once more, checking over the number of throwing knives attached to her belt and leggings as she spoke.
"Well, I was going to go with my own plan B."
"Grab a wraith and throw it in her face to distract her." He looked down at the shredded remains of the hostile monsters as they disappeared into thin air. The corpses of all creatures and minions on Summoner's Rift disappeared shortly after their deaths, probably from some magic beyond his understanding. "But I don't think that's going to work now."
Katarina rolled her eyes, before shooting him a wicked grin.
"Forget our Summoners. I have a better plan."
"Yeah, it's a classic. You distract her, and I'll stab her."
Without giving him a chance to retort, she disappeared from the pit just as fast as she had appeared.
"Yeah, sounds good. Because I just love testing out how durable I am," Zac grumbled before stretching his arms out. Staring at his own limbs a little apprehensively, he could feel the arcane magic of the items his summoner had purchased for him flowing through him.
Items bought at the shop were not carried on champions physically. Instead, they were used to empower them through the same magic their summoners used to assist them. The idea of someone running around fighting while carrying priceless magic relics amongst other strange items made it clear why it was better this way. (Not to mention how many champions wouldn't know how to use half the items sold at the store.) Hopefully the implied power of the magic set of armor known as the Spirit Visage he was "wearing" would keep him alive a little longer.
Well, here goes nothing.
"HEY! MOONLIGHTER!" Tossing himself over the high wall of the wraith pit, Zac landed with a splat and reformed himself parallel to the side lanes of the jungle outside of the river on his team's side of the map. He glanced around as quick at the bushes along the river, but could see no signs of where Katarina had disappeared to. "You think you're tough, huh!? Well try taking on someone like me!"
Diana turned to face him, a scowl on her painted face and her massive signature khopesh in hand. "I have no business with you, monster! Bring me the Solari I seek!" she demanded, lowering her weapon toward Ahri who still remained pinned underneath her. "Or is she afraid to challenge me in battle!?"
"Sorry kiddo, but Leona's a little busy. She doesn't have time to play with little girls who still paint their faces," Zac taunted. In his mind, however, he was starting to second guess how well the magic artifacts he had earned would save him from being cut into several hundred pieces by an enraged heritic with her own.
"You dare mock me!?" Diana thrust her weapon out threateningly, pointing it at him with a rising fury in her eyes. "What do you know of my struggles!? Who are you to take sides in my battle!?"
"Don't talk down to me like it's my fault!" Zac shot back. "You can just jog down to the bottom lane and yell at Leona all you want! You made this personal when you took someone on my team hostage!"
"Team!? Ridiculous!" Diana threw her head back and laughed, resting her weapon at her side and away from Ahri. "Half of the champions in this League of Legends are trying to kill each other the moment they step off the battlefield! And the other half are trying to do so while they're ON it! What teamwork is there to be had in that!?"
"I can't argue with that," Zac said, a little humbled by the blunt truth in her words. "But I'm a blob of action! I'm not going to sit and hide when an ally gets into trouble just because I don't know them!"
"Hmm. Brave words," Diana placed the handle under her arm, and gave him a slow clap in mock applause. "But I wonder how long you can entertain such naivety. Betrayal is the inevitable result of trust that will always hit you hardest when you least expect it."
"I'm guessing you would know, huh?" Zac said, finding his words to be more of a comment than a retort.
"Yes… but the battlefield is hardly the place for that." He watched as she stepped away from Ahri, but took the distinctive stance she positioned herself in before launching her magic Crescent Strike attack. "Now prepare yourself! The moon has no mercy for those who block my path!"
"Bring it on!" Zac shouted back, more to comfort himself at the prospect of facing a determined foe one on one.
Although he hadn't fought her many times before, he had watched a recording of the fighter/mage chaining her abilities together in rapid succession to do incredible amounts of damage at close distance. Fast and furious, just like any of the other sword fighters that were in the League's ranks. If he remembered correctly, she also had some sort of ability with lunar energy to attack with more damage every so often.
Could he get in closer and fight with his fists? No, that's what she would want. All of her abilities involved drawing her enemies closer to cut down with her lunar chops, and the natural durability of his unusual body wouldn't make any difference against a weapon like that. He had to wonder if getting a weapon of his own would be a good idea some day.
He could try to jump in and land the first hit. After all, she had to have taken some damage in her fight against their own middle laner before he had challenged her to fight. But what if she had used some items during the time they had been talking? What if she had been stalling him on purpose, and had never intended to use Ahri as a hostage from the start?
And what about Ahri? Hadn't this whole mess been centered around the fact that she had been taken hostage? He glanced at her quickly and could see that she was still on the ground after all this time. Was Diana going to leave her be after all? Or was there the risk of her going back and using her as a hostage again if he somehow got the edge in their fight?
And what about Katarina!? Was she still waiting in some shadow unseen, waiting for the right opportunity to present itself? Or had he taken too long, and she was already moving back to the top lane to fight her own counterpart? And thinking about counterparts, would the champion of the enemy team who was tasked with the position of jungler like himself come out to help their middle laner fight him!?
What felt like a small eternity passed, as both champions stared each other in the eyes. Diana with her moonsilver blade raised and ready to strike, and Zac with his arms held up in the air ready to ward off her first blow. An experimental weapon gone rogue facing a vengeful heretic who had slaughtered her elders. Neither champion moved nor spoke a word, the sounds of happenings elsewhere on Summoner's Rift reduced to dull echos coming in from the dried up river at their sides.
Without warning Diana broke the standoff, yelling a battle cry and swinging her weapon forward with tremendous force. Instantly a brilliant light radiated from the tip of her blade, curving toward his neck in a crescent arc. The brilliantly white shining burst of magic was more than capable of shreding and shearing through armor like paper, and his mind (or whatever made up his brain) screamed at the rest of his body to dodge it.
In a surprising burst of ingenuity he crouched down while pulling his head and neck down into his chest, shortening his height and allowing the slicing burst of magic to pass over his head harmlessly. In the same motion he threw both of his arms out, rooting his fingers into the ground and stretching his body out to slingshot himself forward. If she wanted to pick a fight, she was going to get one! One hundred percent of his muscles, with a flawless delivery right to the face!
But a red flash suddenly burst onto the middle lane behind both of them, and before either could react it transformed itself into a living whirlwind of sharpened steel that fired daggers out like a hextech machine-gun. Zac recognized it immediately as Katarina's (self-titled) ultimate technique infamously known as the "Death Lotus." A rapid barrage of enchanted armor piercing throwing daggers that also prevented the unfortunate targets from healing properly too.
Torn between her initial target and her new attacker, Diana swung her weapon back in a vain attempt at warding off the unexpected hail daggers heading her way. But the deadly projectiles still hit their mark, most of them striking her like a living pin cushioning along her back barely stopped by the armor she was wearing.
"Damn you!" she screamed at her new attacker, trying to turn and face the Noxian assassin. Refusing to fall from her injuries, she reached around her back in defiance and ripped one of the daggers out of her own flesh. She threw it into the ground back at Katarina, its tip a fresh red from landing on its mark. "Attacking from behind like a coward! Do you think that I will be killed so easily!?"
Katarina had stopped spinning from her attack, but didn't seem at all threatened by the words of her surviving target. As casually as if she were out of the Rift, she leaned back against one of the aged stone lanterns just outside of the brush that lead into the dried river.
Diana never got the chance to turn around again, before Zac landed on top of her with his full might. The weight of his body slamming into her back drove the daggers that Katarina had thrown further into her body, and with a loud splat she fell both skewered and crushed into the ground where they both landed.
Pulling himself back together after tackling her, Zac grimaced after realizing what he had done. The unintended combination of both their attacks had given their opponent a more grizzly death than he was used to seeing when fighting on the Rift. Even if Diana's body was already evaporating into moonlight, he couldn't help but pity her for what pain he must have brought upon her the moments before it. Katarina on the other hand, looked more entertained at the sight than discomforted.
"Too easy. Not bad Jumbo," she walked up over to him and hit him on the arm, hard enough that his entire frame jiggled. "We make a good team."
"Teamwork, huh? Is that what you call it?" Zac couldn't help but let out a rueful chuckle at her words. He looked at the ground where Diana had disappeared, noting the large blood stains that remained on the grass and soil.
"What?" Katarina's brow furrowed in irritation, and he knew that she knew what was on his mind. "Don't tell me that you regret killing her. It's not as if she's really dead. Normally she'd be back in a minute, good as new to get killed again."
"Yeah, well I still…" Zac started, but then stopped. Something about how she had said what she said as well as her persisting satisfied smirk stood out. "Wait, what do you mean 'normally'?"
"You didn't hear? Our Summoners are having connection issues with the primary nexus. The match was cancelled a few minutes ago."
"WHAT!?" he shouted in surprise and exasperation, his gelatinous jaw dropping out from under him. "Then why did you kill her!?"
"We. We kill her." Katarina corrected, still grinning like a cat with a mouse between its teeth. "And as for a reason why… do you think I like having to leave my lane when I'm killing creeps in peace? If I'm going to leave my lane, I should always have something to show for it."
"Really. You killed her just because of that?" Zac said flatly, give her as hard of a stare as he could muster.
"We. We killed her." She corrected again. Reaching down to the ground, she picked up the dagger Diana had pulled from her own body and thrown to the ground only moments ago. Inspecting it with a keen eye, she slipped it into an empty pocket with ease. "And if you really want to know, I killed her for insulting us both."
"Us both? Because she called me a monster before?"
"No, you idiot," she said scoldingly, walking back over and hitting him on the arm harder than before. "She had the nerve to behave like a spoiled child demanding whatever she wanted with complete disregard for us. Even if she joined the League just to get revenge against Leona, by demanding a personal fight in the middle of our match she insults us all by placing her personal vendetta above our time."
He hadn't thought of it that way. In fact, her point struck home in more ways than he was comfortable admitting to her. "Do you really think of it like that?" he felt compelled to ask. Around Katarina, Ahri (who had passed out), and himself, a dim blue light began to circle around them both forming several rings as it went. A Recall spell being cast by their Summoners, probably to bring them back to base so that they could be teleported with other magic and brought outside of Summoner's Rift.
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't." Katarina rolled her eyes, giving him a look that made it clear that she wasn't going to be answering any more questions. "But I do know that violence solves everything."
He wanted to answer her back. Give her a reason why she was wrong, or explain that the League was meant to symbolize something better than that. Something to show that even if he agreed with her, he wasn't anything like her. But what could he say to her? What could he say to someone who had built a successful life for themselves mastering the art of violence? Considering the circumstance, it was pointless to argue with her. And so Zac scratched his head, let out a sigh, and struck the heroic pose he always took before a complete Recall spell was cast.
"Yeah, I guess it does."
And with that said, all three Champions were pulled back to their base.
Chapter 2: Let's Bounce (Part 2)
Stepping out from the rune inscribed teleportation pad, Zac looked himself over to double check that he had returned in volume. The magical artifacts he advised to buy often increased his physical size, something he had noticed didn't happen with other champions. It was strange to return back to the Institute several sizes smaller than when he had left, but there was a small comfort knowing that he was still bigger than most other champions anyway. Sometimes size really did matter, especially with so many egos and clashing personalities living together in such a confined space.
He cringed from the sound of a shrill and feminine scream of anger coming from somewhere nearby in the Institute's teleportation chambers. Thankfully, not directed at him. It was always a good thing when someone wasn't screaming at him with a blood boiling level of fury in their voice the moment he stepped out of Summoner's Rift. It didn't seem to match the voices of Katarina, Ahri, or Leona as far as he could tell, nor anyone else who had been on the other team.
Hesitating for a second, he walked forward and gently pushed open the door of the chamber's exit and looked into the hall that connected all five teleportation chambers to the blue side. As a reward for his curiosity he was treated to the sight of Emilia LeBlanc, Matron of the Black Rose society, headbutting Draven and knocking the glorious execution right off of his feet.
"Of all the support you choose Leona!?" LeBlanc continued to yell, seemingly only growing more furious at Draven's unwillingness to take her seriously. "You knew that that lunatic was on the other team and you still choose her!"
With impressive agility Draven grabbed onto the handles of his spinning axes and pulled himself up onto his feet. "Geez! Lighten up grandma," he said, slinging both of his signature weapons onto his shoulders and forcefully pushing past her. "We totally dominated the bottom lane together. It's not my fault your nine-tailed pet couldn't keep up."
"What!? You insolent little—" LeBlanc raised her staff like a club, determined to drive his head down into his neck. But before she could she was grabbed from behind by two arms and nine tails.
"Don't do it!" Ahri shouted, catching the Deceiver just in time so that her swing fell short. "Ahri is right here, good as new! Don't kill mister mustache over me!"
Zac opened the door of his room and walked out to close it behind him. LeBlanc continued to spew profanities (while being restrained by Ahri) at Draven's backside, who seemed to be only amused at the attention. Both Katarina and Leona had exited from their own rooms, walking away in silence and wanting nothing to do with the scene in front of them. But before he could slip away as well, he could hear the footsteps of Draven walking up closer to him in the hall.
"Hey, you! Big guy!"
Still ignoring the furious cursing of LeBlanc behind him, Draven walked up to Zac and tapped him on the arm with the side of his axe. "I heard you worked pretty well with our beautiful assassin in the middle lane! Took care of Diana like she was nothing! Not bad, for a giant blob."
"Yeah, thanks." Zac said back, offput by just how much the rumors of Draven's eccentric behavior seemed to be true. "I do workout after all."
Draven laughed loudly and boldly, flashing his white teeth in an over the top grin. "Ha-ha! Not afraid to show that you've got strength? I like that! You look tough enough to take whatever gets thrown at you! Maybe you and I should split some heads in the bottom lane some time, huh?"
"Uh... yeah. I'll think about it," Zac said, scratching the back of his head. He forced down some mental imagines he didn't want to humor from rising in his mind. Draven for his part didn't seem offended from his hesitancy or even notice it for that matter, with Ahri still restraining LeBlanc behind them both.
"Well, you know what they say: got axes, will carry." Draven threw his head back and let out a glorious laugh one more time before he began to walk off. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got places to go so people can see me."
"Sure... You have fun with that." Zac watched him go, humming a tune and spinning his axes in both hands in a way that barely managed to avoid damaging the things he passed further down the hall. Noxians... Not as bad as people say when you stay on their good side, he thought to himself. But any further thoughts were cut off when LeBlanc pulled herself out of Ahri's grip and started marching right up to him.
"And you!" the Matron of the Black Rose society brought the end of her staff down onto the flooring with a loud crack. She looked up at him threateningly, a sight which would be comical to some given that he was a whole two heads taller than her. "Why did it take you and Katarina so long to kill Diana!?"
Zac felt himself wince from being in the caster's crosshairs, deserved or not. Behind LeBlanc he could see Ahri shooting him a sympathetic look, as if she were apologizing for the trouble he was now in. Not that it would help against a master magician who knew how to kill a person in a blink of an eye.
Sheesh, everyone's a critic today.
"Matron LeBlanc," Zac started off, trying his best to sound articulate and sincere. "I apologize for my lackluster performance on the Fields of Justice today. But you must understand, given Diana's mental state I was hesitant to act quickly for fear of getting Ahri killed if her attacker was confronted in haste. I hope you both will accept my apologies for not being able to resolve the situation faster."
With some satisfaction he watched the anger slowly drain from LeBlanc's face. He couldn't blame her, really. The League contained so many different monsters in it that you could never tell whether conversations with atypical champions were going to be normal or one-sided babblings of ravenous monsters. And in some cases you got both. How could she know that a green jelly monster had more tact and charisma than other living weapons like Urgot or Sion?
"Yes, well..." Realizing her own failure to keep her composure, LeBlanc cleared her throat before turning around to leave. "Apology accepted. See to it that it won't happen again."
Zac rolled his eyes, watching the sorceress leave as proud as a princess with her head held high. "Yes ma'am."
And with that settled, he finally began to leave in hopes of procuring a snack he had been dreaming of while farming in the jungle.
There was always something about fighting a massive ancient golem, fireball throwing lizard-men, and a small pack of angry wolves that made him hungry for something to eat. Although the magic used on Summoner's Rift allowed for endless deaths and revivals of the champions on it, the same magics never did anything to suspend or sustain the nutritional needs of his body. Something that he found peculiar, while other champions seemed to care less about such trivial things. (With the exception of Kog'maw, who probably obsessed about it day and night.)
Not that his body was like any other with a normal organ system. In fact, "snacking" for Zac was just gobbling down whatever he felt like and waiting for it to dissolve in wherever his stomach would exist around for that day. A simple chemical cocktail of proteins was all he needed to maintain his structure, but where was the fun in that?
With the match ended, technical cancellation or not, the rest of the afternoon was free for him to enjoy. There weren't many days where someone or some group wanted him to act as their jungler or top laner, so what free time he had was to be cherished. After all, now outside of the Rift there was nothing that could stop him now.
Her own steps were in perfect synchronization with his own, and the loud slaps made by his gelatinous feet against the floor were much louder than her petite feet in their slippers. The only real way he knew she was still behind him was the light rustle of nine tails flickering in the air as their owner walked, and the playful ringing of the bell she wore strapped around her waist.
"That was pretty slick, you know that?"
"You think so?" Zac asked, continuing without stopping to head toward the outer regions of the Institute.
"I do. You defended yourself and showed how her anger was misplaced. Very impressive," Ahri said, her body language making it clear that she still wanted to talk to him. Closing the distance between them she sneakily slipped her arm around his own to grab hold of him and slow him down a little. Now walking together he shot her a questioning look, but she shrugged it off with an innocent smile. A subtle way of saying that even if he leapt out a nearby window and onto the ground several stories below, she would catch him eventually.
"Walk with me?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Nope!" she answered chipperly, something that made his non-existent spine shiver. Tamed, reformed, or whatever you wanted to call it, there was still something about characters like Ahri that unnerved him a little. They were similar to himself in that they shouldn't be judged by their appearances, and yet…
Seeing his unconvinced face, she frowned and waggled a finger at him disapprovingly. "Tut, tut! Shame on you. Do you know how many men in Valoran would kill to be in your position?"
More like how many men in Valoran were killed in my position.
"As long as there aren't any champions here who will kill me for it."
"That's a little paranoid, you know. No one would try anything in the Institute with security as tight as it is."
"Then why do they shoot spells, swing weapons, and threaten me every day with all kinds of junk?"
"That's because they're trying to kill everyone." She ran a hand down his arm assuringly. "It's not personal, you know."
"...What difference does that make?"
Ahri puffed her cheeks out in a pout. "Fine. Then who are they? Who would want to kill you?"
"Every one of them," Zac told her just as firmly as when they had started.
"Every one of whom?"
"Every one of whom do you think?"
"I... Haven't any idea."
"Then how do you know they aren't?"
"W-well I-" Ahri spluttered, finding herself rendered momentarily speechless with frustration. "Then how do you know!?"
"Because to the best of my knowledge, I've never been wrong on purpose," Zac answered, solidifying his victory.
From her perspective and her own history Ahri really thought she was right, which he completed expected. But Zac had the proof on his side, since over a hundred strangers he didn't know routinely tried to kill him every time he walked out onto the battlefield to do the exact same thing to them. And if that wasn't good enough, there were plenty of other things that were just as dangerous about living in the Institute.
"Sigh. Alright, you win this time," she smiled happily as she said this, but the glimmer in her eyes told a different story. Something indicated that she was playing along with him for a reason, and not just for her amusement. Was it an illusion? Paranoia?
"Look, Ahri." He stopped himself and her in turn. There would be no beating around the bush if he ever wanted to get some peace for the rest of the afternoon. "Do you want something from me?"
"Well, I'd like for you to take me to lunch," Ahri answered without any hesitation or flirtations.
"You're asking me to take you on a date?"
"We could call it that if you'd like," she winked suggestively, gigging at the same time. He rolled his eyes again at her. "Hey, you said it first. Not me."
"Are we going to be doing this for the rest of the afternoon?"
Ahri stopped giggling and let go of his arm, taking a step back from him and placed her hands on her hips disapprovingly. She glowered at him with a face that had no interest in trading words and dancing in verbal duels. "Look, Zac," she said, mimicking his own tone. "I don't know about other champions, but I don't appreciate being treated like I'm waiting to put a knife in your back. Just because I'm a known liar and deceiver, doesn't mean you should treat me like like a disease."
I'm pretty sure that's EXACTLY the reason why I would, Zac thought to himself, noting how Ahri's tails would flicker about violently in time with her words.
"And another thing!" Ahri continued to chew him out. "It's not right for a gentleman to question the intentions of a lady with obnoxious scrutiny. Have some respect for my good intentions!"
No longer listening to her extended lecture, his thoughts wandered back to his musings about her predatory past. Buttering people up with sweet words of affection, or putting the effort into assuring the suspicions of more wary prey. A morbid curiosity that he would never ask, and not just because it wasn't proper etiquette. A blunt retort like that would probably result in more than a slap for his snark, and he had no interest in seeing how many of the nine tailed fox's powers were just as potent outside of the Rift.
But on the bright side of things, the fact that she hadn't just resorted to her seductive prowess to get whatever she wanted out of him meant that he still had some advantage over her. The only problem was that he didn't have a clue what that advantage was or how to use it to his favor.
Yielding to her with both hands in the air, he looked down at her as apologetically as possible for someone who wasn't in the slightest. Which was pretty good considering his face lacked any real defining features for Ahri to tell that he was lying to her about what he said next.
"Alright, I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
She took a moment to consider his offer, surveying him with a grim scornful satisfaction, before giving him the same seductive smile as before.
Grabbing onto his arm again when he didn't offer it, they began to walk together toward the exits of the Institute of War.
Officially on maps the Institute only consisted of a single red dot smack in the middle between the city-states of Demacia and Noxus, in a complete and utter deceptive portrayal of the elaborate facility that existed in reality. Not only did that single red dot contain a large city to house all of the essential personnel responsible for upkeeping the Institute, but lays upon other layers of housings for everything a person could imagine being attached to such an important organization. Merchants, tradesmen, laborers, tourists and students from all city-states; everything under the sun had a place to stay and do business somewhere around the Institute's surrounding city. In a sense, the Institute had become the center of the Valoran continent for more reasons than the League itself.
The primary buildings of the Institute itself were by no means unimpressive either. For the most part the outside of the Institute was designed to look as impressive as the possible, even more so if you were a Yordle. Large repeating columns of chiseled marble and granite, holding up larger architectural wonders. All purposefully decorated in ways that displayed the importance and authority of the Institute without ever being excessive. He had never stopped to inspect the designs in depth, but he knew that some portions of the Institute resembled the culture of other city-states on purpose.
"So, what do you eat anyway?" Ahri asked.
Zac waved at a group of novice summoners in green robes, being led around the Institute past them on a hybrid lecture tour by their seniors. Their mixed reactions were expected, given that they were taught from their introduction that champions were to be respected (and even feared) at all times. Having someone like Ahri attached to him like Viktor's robot arm to his body wasn't helping things.
"Just about anything, I guess." He shrugged with apathy.
"Do you mind Ionian?"
"Going with what you're comfortable with?" He couldn't help but smile a little when her ears wilted from being read so easily. "Fine by me. I'm flexible like that."
"Good! I know the perfect place for dessert too." She pulled him by his arm around a corner along a different direction than where they had been heading. "I bet you'll like this place! They have the best desserts in the Institute, and you'd never guess who they have working there."
"Let me guess... Sinful Succulence, right?"
"You mean you've heard about it!?"
"Yeah, I've heard about it," was the mildest thing he could think to say back. When a sadistic dark arts master from another world opens a bakery, it's kind of hard not to hear about it. The amount of unconfirmed rumors circulating about the origin of Morgana's new hobby weren't helping either. "Are you sure her baking is safe?"
"It's fine. Trust me," Ahri stroked his arm reassuringly. "She may lay the whole enjoying pain and suffering thing on a bit thick, but her baking is fine. She doesn't even burn most of her batches with her magic anymore! I bet all those nasty rumors were started by her older sister anyway."
"Uh-huh," Zac said unconvinced. Nasty rumors or a rational warning against a terrible idea? Well, we'll see soon.
Still walking through the main halls of the Institute of War, Zac and Ahri continued onward arm in arm. By now he was long accustomed to getting strange looks when people around him thought he wouldn't notice, but with Ahri wrapped around him it irritated him. It was a strange sensation, thinking about it. To be aggravated and even a little offended at something he paid little attention to, all because someone else was with him. Ahri probably got her own share of attention all of the time, but for different reasons.
He looked at her, noting how her hourglass curves swayed hypnotically back and forth when she walked. Her face reflected the mix of natural and magical lighting of the Institute's chambers, showing off the silky smooth complexion of her skin. All the while her eyes reflected a sharp and intelligent gaze that seemed to be thinking two steps ahead of whatever she was doing.
Yeah. Definitely different reasons.
What was it like being a Champion with a more primal background? Should he ask her? And if he did, would her answers be a lot like his own? Constantly having to deal with the fear of others? The scrutiny? Surely all of this was something very personal that was none of his business. So why was he even humoring the possibility of asking?
But before Zac could decide, Ahri broke the silence first.
"...Look, I'm sorry about LeBlanc."
"Sorry? What for?" he asked, wondering why she was bring up something that felt like it had already happened ages ago. It wasn't uncommon for Champions to vent their frustrations after matches at anything that could understand them.
He watched her expression turned serious as she began to scan the area around them. Not fearful like a child afraid of being caught over something embarrassing, but almost like a spy who was relieving themselves of the notion that they were being watched by forces unseen. The look of someone who was being hunted, hounded, and was prepared to do almost anything for it to stop. Satisfied after a dedicated minute, she pulled herself closer and leaned up to whisper where his ears would be if he had any.
"Can I tell you a secret?"
Zac simply nodded, not sure what else he could say to assure her after such a cold sober display.
"LeBlanc was supposed to take the middle lane today, but I volunteered to substitute for her after she didn't feel up to it. I think she was feeling guilty that I got hurt when it could have been her fighting."
"Huh... Is that it so?" he blinked and nodded, the question of why LeBlanc was there observing the match in the first place answered. "Did you volunteer as a favor to her? I never knew you were on friendly terms."
"I kind of owe her a favor... Or ten," Ahri admitted, her voice still in a low whisper. "When I first joined the League, I wasn't nearly as strong or as popular as I am now. LeBlanc taught me a lot about how to fight against other Champions were regulars to the middle lane."
"So you two are like master and apprentice?" He almost whistled in awe, finding himself for the first time genuinely impressed with her. "Wow. I wouldn't think that LeBlanc would take a student who wasn't Noxian."
"She was not the most gentle teacher," her tails twitched erratically as she spoke. "But I still feel obligated to her for how much she taught me. I don't know if she feels like I've been a good student, but I don't want to be seen as a waste of her time."
"Judging by her mood after the match, I'd say she cares about you."
Ahri looked up at with him with expectant eyes. The first time he was sure she was showing what she was genuinely thinking. "Really? Do you really think so?"
"Yeah, I'd say so." Zac laughed thinking back about it. "The leaders of shadowy clandestine orders don't go around headbutting people over trivial ****. Right?"
He watched her let out a sigh, not out of sadness but relief. She leaned her head against his arm, still locked around her own. "Thank you. You don't know what it means for me to hear that."
"Yeah, no problem." He scratched the back of his head with his free hand. Now he was starting to piece together why she had become so suddenly attached to him all this time. It wasn't about him, per say, but what he had seen. "I imagine that this isn't something you can talk to other champions from Ionia about."
"Yes," Ahri answered, in a way that made it clear she wouldn't be saying any more on the matter. The way her expression changed made it clear she had already gotten an earful from unnamed others about accepting LeBlanc's teachings. "Let's not talk about that. Please."
"Alright, fine. I get you," he said, waving his free hand in the air as if he were blowing away the touchy subject as a physical object. "But hey, sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, right?"
"The last omelette I made didn't threaten to banish me from ever returning to my homeland," she muttered in rueful disgust, rolling her eyes as she did. "All because I wanted to choose for myself who I wanted to become like."
"If it's any comfort, I kind of know what that's like." He looked around at their surroundings just as she did, trying to note every face of every person they passed. If a champion dedicated to stealth and subterfuge like members of the Ionia Kinkou were spying on them, there was no way he would ever notice their presence. Still, something in his mind pushed him to try anyway. "When I first joined the League, a lot of different people told me what I should be doing. Talking about living up to my potential, or trying to tell me why I was born into this world. It got old real fast."
Ahri said nothing as they continued walking, and Zac took it as a silent sign that he should continue. "Maybe it's just a cynical streak in me, but I find it hard to listen to people who preach about altruism through order and balance. How can they talk about that when they let so many of their countrymen die in a war? Do they want us to believe that all of the people killed in battles were part of any large picture to maintain a notion of balance?"
He pushed open a pair of double doors in front of him, and winced from the sudden sunlight that hit his eyes as they stepped outside together. Silently he cursed the Solari, having no clue why or how but undoubtedly sure that the harsh rays above were somehow their doing. Or maybe just Leona's. Maybe Diana was onto something after all.
Still linked together they descended down the large staircase the lead up to one of the Institute's many entrances. They were certainly impressive to look at, and he remembered the impression they made on him when he had first arrived under escort to head straight to the reflection chamber. A flight of long stairs with sharp steps that were as milky white as polished marble. There was nothing drilled into them either that could distract the eye from where they started and where they led to.
From its perch in the center of the city the Institute of War was above everything. The symbolic message was blunt: anyone climbing these stairs was entering a place dedicated to a higher cause. Higher than the surrounding city below where citizens of every nation-state could be found. Higher than the cultures each nation-state's citizens brought with them. Higher than their business, their concerns, and their squabbles.
"The Ionian elders who come to the Institute all talk like they're in possession of some absolute truth." Zac found himself speaking with a foreign conviction, letting his brain run on autopilot for a little. He watched his own steps carefully, making sure that he was keeping pace with Ahri. He could only imagine how painful it would be for someone with an actual bone structure to fall down such a steep flight of stairs. "But what does it mean to be more like nature? To be more worldly like they want us to believe is right? It might be good for your own soul, but it doesn't save the lives of others who need saving. It doesn't put gold in your pocket, or put food on a table. So what good is it?"
Ahri still remained silent, her face showing no interest of continuing any of the flirtatious behavior she had sent his way before. Was she angry at him? Maybe he had overstepped some invisible line with his comments.
"You know, I never pictured you to be a cynic."
"A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist," Zac remarked back, hiding his own surprise at how he had managed to think of something quirky to say in return. He watched her face contort with irritation for only a second, and wondered if he had actually managed to beat twice in their verbal dance.
"Hmph. Spoken like a living weapon."
Zac felt his own jaw drop out, completely caught off guard by her comment. But before he could say anything else or demand an explanation, Ahri let go of his arm and swatted him on his back with all nine of her tails. At the mercy of gravity he rolled all the way down the remaining stairs and landed with a wet splat at their base bellow.
Chapter 3: Instituting War (Part 1)
Human nature hates a lack of information.
Where we can't find it, we go looking for it. In some cases, we just outright invent it.
That was my case walking into the inner city of the Institute of War. I knew something was waiting for me. Someone. Some group. Something that involved me, others I liked, and others I didn't. Willfully ignorant, at the smell of adventure I charged into the hinterland looking for answers.
And then I remembered that I could be running into answers I didn't want to find.
It was stupid to assume that I would just be all right. It was stupid to walk in half-cocked. It was stupid to go in undergunned, underinformed, and misunderstood. What I did was comparable to walking into the enemy team's side of the jungle without a damn clue where any member of the opposing team was. It was something someone with a level head would never do, and foolhardy only begins to scratch the surface of it.
But since trouble was interested in finding me, maybe I never stood a chance in the first place.
War is something easy to understand when it's written down on paper. It seems so distant and academic printed in black on white pages. Even projection recordings about battles during the Rune Wars have a cool, detached narration to them that keeps any viewer from understanding how horrible it all really is.
This is nothing more than a sanity filter. Something to allow people to take in information and separate the numbers and accounts from the awful reality. It's why those who lead armies can do all sorts of terrible things to the enemy and their own that no sane man would think of if he had to look them in the eye before doing it. Which is the reason they don't, of course.
Except, that is, for a few unique cases who are a part of the League of Legends.
The idea of having so many different leaders of such tremendous character (and egos) within a weapon swing's distance of each other boggles my mind. To know that participation in the League carries such weight, that the three women contending for the rule over all of Freljord remain civil with each other when on League grounds. Or that Singed hasn't found dead one morning, the cause of death being noted as blunt force trauma and a million cuts from an oversized bladed weapon. Or that Vi and Caitlyn haven't ambushed and arrested Jinx the moment she steps on and off the Fields of Justice. Just to name a few.
Maybe that's what I was bidding on walking like a fool into the city. I was hoping, no, relying on the power of the League to keep me safe. The League that forced all of the political powers on Valoran to accept its authority. The League that has made the terrible events of two Rune Wars a thing of the past.
I didn't think the powers around me would wait patiently until I left the city before striking.
"Hey! Wake up! Loitering in a congested area comes with a steep fine, bud."
With the last major piece of himself slowly crawling back over to his main body, the large puddle of green slime on the ground (known as Zac) began to slowly form back into a humanoid shape. The natural cell division of his body made him more robust than people would imagine, and crippling impacts for any source were nothing but a nuisance. A little known fact was that the magic of the League made him lose small portions of himself every time he threw a punch while on Summoner's Rift. His body outside of the battlefield was considerably denser, and mostly immune to any kind of weapons like blades, bullets, and explosions. His creators really had created a robust bio-weapon of incredible potential, minus the fact that it didn't want to live as one.
Still a slick puddle at the base of the Institute's entrance stairs, Zac reformed his own head and looked up to see who was talking to him. He recognized her immediately by her short pink hair, unique style of dress, and twin massively oversized hextech gauntlets on both her hands. Looking down at him with narrowed eyes, Vi held some sort of notepad in the fingers of one hand and was filling it out with a pencil pinched between two fingers in the other.
"And here I thought you were better than that." Vi shook her head in disappointment as she continued scribbling onto the tiny ticket pad in between the two massive fingers of her hextech gauntlets. "But I guess everyone shows their true colors eventually."
"Hahaha. You're hilarious." Picking himself up off the ground, Zac stretched all of his arms and legs so that all of his goo was in the right places. Without the limitations of an internal circulation system or skin, it was possible some mornings to wake up with completely illogical body portions that needed to be fixed. "Where did Ahri go? How long was I out?"
"Don't know, don't care." She ripped off the ticket from her pad and thrust it at him, holding it in the air for him to take. When he made no motion to take it from her after a few seconds, she reached out and stuck it on him instead. "I hope this'll teach you a valuable lesson about respecting the law."
Taking the ticket out of his own body, he looked it over with scrutiny. It was nothing but a normal ticket, with a legal notice along the bottom noting the authority of the issuer as a representative of the sheriff's office in Piltover. The only thing he found strange about it was the neat handwriting on the form, something that shouldn't have been possible given how he had seen it being filled out.
"Hey officer, when did the sheriff's office of Piltover have jurisdiction in the Institute?"
"Like I said: don't know, don't care," Vi said, seemingly awfully smug about the whole nonsensical affair. "Oh yeah, and what's this I heard about you soliciting a prostitute in broad daylight? Do you have any shame!?"
"Prostitute!?" Zac could only stare at her like she had suddenly grown several new heads. "Who in the hell told you that!?"
"You just did," Vi grunted. "You said something about man-eating fox, right?"
Zac face-palmed with a loud wet slap. Standing up to his full height and volume, he glared at the Piltover sheriff's officer enforcer who was in the middle of writing him another ticket. "You can't be serious."
"I'm always serious about enforcing the law, bub." Tearing off his second ticket, she reached out and placed it into the palm of his hand before closing his own fist around it. "But I'll give you a chance to think about your actions. Come and see me later if you get a second."
"You can't be serious," Zac said again, pulling the wet ticket dripping his own green goo out from inside of his hand. But before Vi could answer, a loud shout interrupted them both.
"VI! Stop mucking about and hurry up! We've got a job to do!"
Looking over the pink haired officer, Zac could make out the familiar clothing of Piltover's sheriff waving to them both down the main street leading into the interior of the city. Still wearing her trademark goofily oversized hat, brown boots, and skimpy striped dress, his question had been answered as to whether or not Caitlyn actually went about patrolling and solving crimes in the same gear she wore on Summoner's Rift. He was in no position to talk since he never wore anything at all, but didn't it make any sense to wear something that provided little to no protection against so many other champions who often wore armor all of the time.
"Alright, alright! I'm coming!" Vi shouted back, waving a massive fist in the air before turning around at Zac again. "Whelp, duty calls. Don't let me catch you again, you hear me kid?"
"Yeah, sure," he muttered watching her go, "and I'll remember to steal your wraiths next time I see you."
Now alone once again, Zac felt his stomach grumble. A sore reminder of what could have been if he had just been a little kinder and kept his mouth shut. With the vast city in front of him and the Institute of War behind him, he sighed and sat back down on the base of the stairs he had descended from. In one afternoon he had killed someone unnecessarily, been solicited for the role of support, yelled at for not being a good enough jungler, received the flirtations one of the most popular champions in the League, and rejected by said champion before being abandoned like trash.
All and all, a pretty peaceful afternoon by normal standards.
He had long since realized that there were no coincidences to be had, not on Institue grounds where the leaders of every city state were in constant communication with their highest ranking subordinates. Part of his hostility toward Ahri, deserved or not, had been made worse after learning that she was friends with both the leadership of Ionia and the Matron of the Black Rose Society. Both groups were more than willing to use alternative methods to get what they wanted, which was a business he wanted nothing to do with at all. It was rare that champions were admitted into the League stayed neutral and unaffiliated with the participating city states, but his neutrality was something he was proud of and wanted to keep for as long as possible.
Doing the right thing didn't require the permission of any higher authority. At least not in his eyes it didn't.
"...Hey, is Fat Hands gone?"
Zac jumped to his feet, turning around to see one of the new terrors of the League skip down the stairs behind him heading his way. At her sides were her trusted hextech minigun ("Pow-Pow") and electro pistol, and over her shoulder her rocket launcher ("Fishbone") loaded and ready to go. Looking up at him innocently when she reached him, Jinx flashed him a smile in the same way she always did before giving other champions bellies full of hot lead.
"Where did you come from?" he asked in spite of himself.
"I dunno. Here and there, and a little bit of everywhere." Jinx laughed at her own response, before taking a step back from him in fear. "Wait, you're not gonna' go rat me out to Fat Hands and the Hat Lady, right!? Those jerks in the purple robes said I'm not allowed to leave the Institute without their permission! Can you believe that!?"
Zac almost laughed, not used to hearing the most senior Summoners in the Institute referred to in such a blunt manner. He scratched his head in thought, honestly considering her question. Normally someone like Jinx running around freely would be a concern, but it wasn't his job to oversee other Champions (and definitely not on an empty stomach).
After a tense moment of consideration, Zac put both of his thumbs into his mouth and began inflating his own arms. Her eyes widened in awe when both of his hands started to take the shape of Vi's own hextech gauntlets with gauges, steel plates, gears, and everything.
"Don't know, don't care," Zac said, imitating Vi's voice and tone from before. "Besides, the Institute is neutral ground, right? I don't think they can arrest you here."
Jinx broke out into a burst of laughter, rolling on the ground and kicking her legs wildly in the air from his ad-libbed impersonation. After a little she jumped up from the floor and wiped a tear from her eye.
"Hehe, haha! You know, you may be a hideous green crime against nature, but you're totally a bro on the inside! I knew it!" She clapped her hands together before beginning to rub them together behind a growing maniacal grin. "Hey, do you like shooting things? I LOVE shooting things. But you? You look like someone that could carry his weight in ammunition. Have you ever tried being a Support? I'll let you use Fishbone or Pow-Pow when I'm not!"
"Sorry, not my thing." Zac shook his head, a feeling of deja vu passing through him. "I don't like using weapons, and I'm pretty bad at babysitting."
"Yeah, I thought the same thing for a while." Jinx patted her minigun and rocket launcher lovingly. "But then I remembered that I can't blow up stuff with my fists, so I needed to improvise. Ya' get me?"
"Yeah, I get you," Zac said, not sure he was comfortable with getting to know the violent psychotic young woman next to him better. "Some days I wonder if I should start using something other than my fists on the Rift."
"Exactly! You and me, we're totally on the same wavelength here. You dig? I dig. I dig with hexplosives! Sooo... between you and me, do you know if there's any place around here a girl can get her hand on some destructive hardware? You know, bombs, bullets, shells, the whole shebang? All I can find are stupid blacksmith shops. And trust me, I've already thought of getting a gun that shoots swords. It won't work."
Thinking over her question, he rubbed his chin in thought
"Have you considered a gun that shoots smaller guns?"
"Yeah, but it didn't work either." Jinx crossed her arms in the shape of an X and shook her head. "It worked at first, but then people started picking up the guns I shot at them and started shooting back at me. That wasn't fun at all."
"Then have you considered a gun that shoots the cartridge and bullet?" he offered. "Your rocket launcher shoots the whole rocket. If Pow-Pow could do that, it would be something like sixty five percent more bullet per bullet."
"That," she gasped, her eyes growing as wide as dinner plates with the idea hitting her in full, "is genius! I MUST have it! YES! YESYESYESYES!"
With the same burst of energy he had seen her take off in after securing a kill, Jinx turned around and ran back into the Institute, almost breaking down the doors with a loud crash in her haste.
And that is my unsung good deed for the day, Zac thought to himself as he started walking to enter the city. But after taking a few steps, he stopped himself remembering the two tickets in his hand. He frowned at the thought of having to actually pay a fine to the city of Piltover for something he was pretty sure Vi had made up on the spot. Looking over the first ticket, he read over the fine print denoting the large amount of legal jargon backing issuer as a representative of the sheriff's office of Piltover.
But when he glanced over at the second ticket…
Go to Sinful Succulence. Ask for the baker's special. Then ask her why.
"What on Runeterra?" Zac mouthed out loud.
He looked the second ticket over again, remembering how Vi had written both of them from the same pad right in front of him. The first ticket given to him was definitely some kind of legal document printed and used by the sheriff's office of Piltover. The second didn't even match the dimensions of the first, coming from some other notepad or book, and it surprised him that he hadn't noticed earlier. Had the entire thing been some kind of ruse to hide this second message? And if so, why?
Yeah... this is a setup if I've ever seen one.
But in a blink of an eye the note Vi had written for him was gone. Snatched right out of his own hands by a diving feathered blue blur that immediately pulled up after and flew off into the city ahead of him.
"HEY!" Zac shook himself out his own stupor, and began chasing after Valor running into the city. But the blue Demacian eagle had more than a small head start from him, and he was quickly losing sight of him amongst the tall spiraling buildings of the inner city.
Stopping his chase to catch his breath from his own sudden sprint, he ran his hand over his face again and groaned. If there was a conspiracy involving him circulating around the Institute, it would now include the champions from Demacia as well. There was no way Quinn's partner would swoop down and steal something from him by coincidence, and more than likely she had probably ordered him to do so from some place unseen. And if some as high profile as Quinn had been given the task of spying on him, the original orders had likely come from the prince of Demacia himself.
Great, just what I need. Zac scratched his head, and looked up toward the heavens. The sky above remained beautifully clear, a teasing reminder of what had once been a promising afternoon away from the chaos of Summoner's Rift, the Twisted Treeline, Howling Abyss, and Crystal Scar.
Tired, frustrated, and a little confused, he threw his arms up in the air in aggravation.
"Alright! Fine! I'll go! Because why the hell not!"
It would only make things worse if he ignored it, he reasoned. But no matter what he told himself, he knew better that vague self-assurances weren't any assurance against League caliber trouble. Ignoring the stares of fear and curiosity that were coming his way from people all around him, he jammed his hands into his sides to make it look as if he had pockets to put them into. Hell, if trouble was going to find him at least he could try to avoid starting anything with anyone else who was looking for the same.
Alright, if I were champion on a special assignment to spy on someone, what would I do next?
For the second time in the same day he looked around himself as he kept walking. And for the second time also, he was reminded of how woefully under prepared he was to try and stand up to the champions of Valoran's city-states in something other than a straight fight. If a lifetime's worth of skills about the art of counter-espionage were condensed into a book, he couldn't even imagine what would the introduction would look like. Considering his repeated proximity to them on and off the Fields of Justice, it wouldn't make sense for them to be spying on him without the use of an elaborate disguise or advanced magics.
"Looking for someone?"
Or, they could be hiding in plain sight waiting for him to walk into them.
Kicking her blue-booted legs against the brick wall she was perched on, Luxanna Crownguard adjusted the oversized witch's cap on her head and looked down at him with a disarming smile. The eccentric blue sorceress costume may have been a comical sight to some, but he knew from personal experience that the costumes worn by many other champions didn't impede their ability to tear him limb from limb. Despite her young age and innocent appearance, the Lady of Luminosity was no exception.
"Were you expecting someone else?" she asked curiously, still smiling down at him.
"No, it's not that." Zac resisted the urge to facepalm for the second time in the afternoon, the irony of his situation hitting him. "Don’t ask. Just forget about it."
"Hmm, if you say so. Good afternoon to you, by the way."
"Yeah, same to you," Zac answered back politely. His mind drifted toward the differences between the blonde teenager and nine-tailed fox when they both gave him the same expression. A disarming smile from a scheming spy compared to a predatory seductress. "So, how long have you been following me?" he asked bluntly. Her disarming smile remained, his question less interrogative and threatening than what she was used to hearing as one of Demacia's top spies.
"Following?" She blinked in surprise at the accusation. "What makes you think that?"
"I noticed a little bit of sweat on your brow. That wouldn't be because you've been tailing me after I took off after Valor, right?"
As he expected of the professional teenage spy she didn't answer at first, choosing instead to simply laugh off his accusation with a shrill girlish giggle. He watched her smoothly run a hand over her face and push back some of her stray locks, cleverly wiping her forehead she did. "It's just a hot day out, that's all. You shouldn't be so paranoid."
"Well excuse me," Zac said with rueful dissatisfaction dripping from his voice. "Because my day, so far, has been one giant chain of champions messing around with me for unspoken reasons."
"Well in that case, shall I cut to the chase?" she offered suddenly.
Taken a little off guard by her sudden cooperation, he nodded appreciatively. "Uh... yeah. Please. If you don't mind."
Zac watched her hop off of the brick wall ledge, her iconic weapon catching her like a broomstick on the way down and dropping her off closer to the ground. Moving by some power unseen, the magic baton then circled around her before resting against her back in the same position he had seen many swordsmen carry their own weapons. Patting her skirt down from any dust or dirt picked up, she motioned for him to follow her as she began walking deeper into the city.
"Do you know why I'm here?"
He shrugged indifferently, deciding to follow after her. "Maybe. Is it the same reason Quinn and Valor are following me as well?"
"Not exactly," Lux shook her head, walking at a slow enough pace where they walk alongside each other and talk at the same time. "I'm here to ask a personal favor, actually."
"And that would be?"
"Demacia respects the independence of champions who choose to remain neutral in politics outside of the League," she began to explain. Listening to her go on, he couldn't help but wonder how much time someone had spent studying him and writing a speech tailored to convince him. Did Luxanna do it herself, or did someone from the Demacian military just give it to her? "As I'm sure you know, other city-states are not as respectful of personal boundaries."
"Let me guess. This has to do with Noxus," Zac said flatly, remembering the match from earlier in the day. His thoughts drifted to Ahri as well, but he pushed them aside to focus on the conversation he was holding. "I've fought alongside and against them plenty of times. Why is today any different?"
"I can't go into detail, but theres been a change in thought over their high command’s approach to the League."
"Well that sounds foreboding," he remarked dryly, trying to not let his imagination wander. But coming from a famous member of the Crownguard family, he had to wonder whether or not she was exaggerating. "But how does that affect me?"
"I'm sure you know that there are many champions in the League with a strong grudge against Noxus for their crimes across Runeterra," Lux continued to explain. "Until recently the high command of Noxus saw the League as a means to justify their conquests. The invasion of Ionia was only contested after the occupation, and the ongoing barbarian pacification campaign in the north secretly continues every day."
"I understand what you're saying, but I still don't see how it involves me," Zac stated bluntly. "Unless you're going to tell me that Noxus wants to recruit me into their champion pool?"
"That's what we would like to see not happen." Stopping for a moment in front of a shop stall along the road, he watched her pick two bright red apples out of a stacked pile and hand several gold pieces over to the shop's owner as payment. She took a large bite out of the first one, greedily sucking up any juice that leaked out from the tender flesh of the fruit as she did.
After a few more bites, she licked her lips clean and continued. "Most of the champions that come from Noxus have seen their popularity decline in recent months. Swain considers the success of Noxian champions in the League to be a crucial part of his influence over the high command back at his home. We're concerned that if he can't make his current roster more efficient, then he'll start looking outward for new help."
"And that involves me." Zac remained silent as they continued walking together, his mind processing all of the information that had been suddenly dumped on him. "I guess it's flattering that they would consider me, but I can't say I like the idea of being under a Noxian summoner."
"That's all I wanted to hear, really. In an ideal world, I'd love to know that you gave Swain and LeBlanc a piece of your mind about their character when you eventually meet them. With some very select words too, of course. But since we know that won't be happening, I would like your word that you won't be taken in by whatever they have to say."
"Do I really look like someone who would be fighting under a Noxian banner proudly?" he felt compelled to ask just from how serious she was being with him.
"Of course not, but a lot of people back in my home would never understand that." Lux sighed despondently, frowning as she did. "Please don't take it personally that we had to have this conversation. If it means anything, Prince Jarvan told them it was pointless."
"Yeah, well... don't worry about it," Zac said. "I've gotten used to a lot of people asking me things and making assumptions over the recent months. I appreciate you being upfront with me."
Noxians. If Ezreal were with him, he could only imagine the choice words the Prodigal Explorer would have come up with to describe them. Words that he probably didn't even know the meanings of. Thinking more about it, it wasn't bad news per say, but he doubted that it would be as simple as politely declining their offer to join their ranks if he were offered. After all, when Noxians focused its attention on something it wanted, he didn't envy those tasked with stopping them.
"Well, we're here."
Stopping and looking around, Zac realized to his own surprise that Luxanna had led him right to where he had wanted to go before he had started following her. Both of them were standing outside of a small bakery, with the words Sinful Succulence painted in regal black lettering onto a large front window. The same window was being blocked by a velvet curtain on the inside, which allowed limited viewing from the street into the interior of the shop. Looking it over with a careful eye, he found himself surprised at how humble the exterior of the shop was considering its infamous owner. He then wondered how many people from across Valoran had stopped by out of curiosity, not knowing what they were walking into.
"Sinful Succulence, right? Be sure to say hello to Ahri for me."
He groaned at the reminder of what could have been, wanting to put it as far behind him as possible. Even the slightest chance of running into the nine-tailed fox inside of the shop was completely killing his appetite for a snack.
"...Thanks. But how did you know I was looking for this place?"
"I have my ways." Luxanna continued walking on without him. "It also helps that you and Ahri were pretty loud back in the Institute. You should work on that, for the future."
"Oh. Right," he muttered. His suspicions from before about being tailed and spied on now confirmed. But standing outside of his destination, he felt a nudging tug on the tip of his mind. Almost as if he were forgetting something.
"Wait... aren't you forgetting something? What did you say before?"
"Hmm?" Lux turned around, her lips pursed together tightly.
"You said you had a personal favor to ask me, right? I would have thought that warning me about problems in my future is more of a favor for me."
"O-oh, well..." Lux turned back around and away from him, fidgeting a bit uncomfortably. Her first time she had done so while talking to him, which caught his attention. "I, um, have a bit of an appointment to keep later today, and I was told that I needed to keep tabs on you before and after you went inside. So... would you mind not doing anything drastic that would need to be reported right away?"
"An appointment, huh? Riiight." Zac rubbed his chin in thought, grinning in amusement at reading between the lines about her behavior. "So who's the lucky guy? Or gal?"
"NO! It's nothing like that!" Lux nearly shouted, before catching herself and lowering her voice. She pulled her hat tighter over her head, turning away from him in embarrassment when he chuckled at her reaction. "Oooh, wipe that stupid grin off of your face! It's not like that, really."
"Yeah, yeah." He laughed one more time, waving goodbye to her as he reached for the door handle to let himself in. "Say hello to Ezreal for me, will you?"
"It's not like that!" he heard her shout at him one more time, before disappearing into thin air in less than a second from her magic bending the light around her.
Taking a second to marvel at how effortlessly she had vanished, Zac shook his head and opened the door to walk inside. Middle lane ganks, irate leaders, flirtatious friends, two traffic tickets, a teenage spy, an impending evil job offer, all on an empty stomach in one afternoon.
But judging by the smells of what lay ahead, maybe things wouldn't be so bad after all.
Chapter 4: Instituting War (Part 2)
"Sister, there's a package for you."
Running a tower through her crimson hair, Katarina Du Couteau watched her younger sister slither past her dropping off a small booklet onto a nearby table as she did. Outside of the windows of their shared room the sun was beginning to peak, reflecting into the tinted windows and creating shadows that played tricks on amateur eyes. Shivering from the cool air tickling her skin after stepping out from the shower, she wrapped the wet towel around her neck loosely before walking over to pick up the pamphlet from where Cassiopeia had left it. Rolling up the sleeves of her bathrobe, Kat scanned the first few pages loosely before beginning to flip through the rest.
"From the High Command," Cassiopeia explained, before her elder sister asked. "There are some changes to summoner masteries and runes upcoming as well as their spells."
"I'm aware," Kat said, walking while still reading and sitting down onto the large couch in the center of their shared room. Allowing herself to relax for a moment, she sunk back into the plush cushions and crossed her legs absent mindedly. Even with her scheduled match on Summoner's Rift cancelled early, there were other duties she had to attend as part of being one of the highest ranking Noxian champions in the League. Now done for the day, her assigned room was one of the few places she could let her guard down and relax. The raw number of protective enchantments around her made their room a small fortress in the largest one on Runeterra.
"Do you remember what Swain asked you to do today?"
"Yes, I've already gone through the roster he sent me. All of them are worthless."
"Your standards are too high sister," Cass chastised, rolling her eyes in amusement as she did. "You can't expect Crimson Elite recruits to be as strong as you or Talon."
"No, Swain's are too low," Kat countered, her eyes still fixated on the papers in her hand. "It's bad enough that damned deserter is getting popular with Summoners. Now he has me digging through trash to find gold."
"Everyone has to start somewhere."
"Maybe. But the League is no place for new recruits."
Her conflicting body language; tense but relieved. A bite in her tone from no provocation. Words spoken with a touch of agitation, and the overzealous passion of their speaker. Cassiopeia's years of seducing and prying secrets from nobility and dignitaries alike had taught her a lot. In many ways she was a better judge of character than her elder sister, and for all of Katarina's years being an assassin on special assignments away from home, Cassiopeia could still read her like an open book. There was something more important on her mind than the busywork Swain sent her, and more haunting than the looming shadow of the Du Couteau estate passed down to her with their father's disappearance.
Even while resting at her home away from home in the Institute, she could feel a headache coming on just thinking about the Kalamanda incident. Real fighting between Demacian and Noxian forces. Swain's rise to power. The fall of the old Noxian military cabinet. The fallout alone had rocked the Institute of War in more ways than one, and the League found its autonomous authority under question for the first time since its founding. Not that the city-states on Valoran hadn't had their suspicions in the first place, but human paranoia could grow exponentially once given the smallest taste of confirmation bias.
If having to pick a side during a military upheaval weren't enough, the worst part had come with their father's disappearance and inheritance that followed. With no male heirs to the family name, it would be expected of both Du Couteau sisters to retire from their services and maintain their family line. But with both sisters working as champion representatives, removing them from their active duty was unthinkable. So too, the idea of an arranged marriage with another prominent Noxian house would only end in disaster. Swain had turned a blind eye to the aforementioned issues in return for their continued loyalty, but in her experience unspoken promises were fragile ones at best. The entire mess was something both sisters had been avoiding dealing with, maybe in the vain hope that their father would turn up alive when the time was right. Cassiopeia knew that it was a naive sentimentality to hold onto, and she knew better too than to assume her older sister was doing the same.
Still, for all of their time spent apart in their youth they had grown closer as kin. Sisters, and daughters of Noxus. In their youth they had looked at each other with disdain, like all siblings do when rivaling for the adoration and affection of a parent. But no longer. They were both part of something bigger, and more important than anything dreamt up in their youth.
The Sinister Blade was tough, but not infallible.
"Tea?" Cassiopeia offered, taking a small empty cup from a set on a silver tray on the table between them.
"No rest for the wicked, Cass," said Katarina, not even glancing at the empty cup offered to her by her sister. Cassiopeia frowned, her plan slightly derailed by her elder sister's coolly distanced attitude. But like a true Du Couteau, resistance only spurned her to try harder. She would find out what she wanted to know, one way or another.
"I heard that Swain is calling for another general meeting to discuss the developments in Freljord. Will you be attending?"
"No. It doesn't matter who comes out on top in their little civil war. All of Valoran will be ours in time."
"Hah hah," Cass couldn't help but laugh lightly. Although never short on patriotism, her sister was hardly the type to make such grandiose statements. Was it possible that she wanted to vent, and a more direct approach would work after all? "You sounded like the old buzzard for a moment. So tell me, what has you in such deep thought? Hmm?"
"It's that renegade bio-weapon from Zaun." She almost wanted to interrupt her sister and ask which one, considering the number of monstrosities originating from the mad science city-state seemed to climb every day. "The green one. Singed is interested in him, and I was told that Zaun hasn't been able to replicate whatever they did to create him."
"Ahh, yes. Boys and their toys," Cass remarked. With the increasing number of Noxian battlefronts, the amount of weapons projects from Zaun had increased as well. She had heard stories of the metal war machines and nightmarish creatures breed on commission for combat, but like everything in war and politics, she could imagine the few successes were being used to cover for countless failures. "Let me guess; has the prestigious honor of breaking and entering in his dorm like gutter trash been given to you?"
"Hardly," Kat scoffed, and Cass wondered if that meant she was going to convince Talon to do it for her. "They want me to spy on him and try to convince him to fight for us."
"They make it sound so easy, don't they?"
"He's an overgrown child in the body of a freakishly durable monster. Don't get me started on his narrow little views of the world."
"It can't be that bad, can it? How naive can you be when you're born into the world as a weapon?"
"I prefer my weapons mute." Reaching into the folded sleeves of her bathrobe, Katarina pulled one of her custom throwing daggers out. Cassiopeia almost rolled her eyes at the sight, since she often wondered if her older sister was truly paranoid enough to feel the need to have a weapon within reach at every moment in her life. "Silent. Obedient. Unquestioning."
"Don't forget sharp," Cass remarked dryly, knowing that Kat was imagining the dagger in her hand flying in the air and hitting some poor fool dead between the eyes. Once. Twice. Maybe a hundred times even.
Still clad only in her bathrobe, Cassiopeia watched her older sister lick her lips as she let an evil grin spread from ear to ear. Disappearing in a magic flash from one of her assassination techniques, she reappeared landing nimbly in front of a large wooden wardrobe. Pulling on both doors at the same time, she stepped back as the heavy doors swung open and revealed a cache collection of weapons of all kinds and shapes. A small sample of everything imaginable from custom forged blades to lethal hextech devices lay and hung on every drawer or panel within.
From behind her Cassiopeia simply sighed, pouring herself a cup of tea and taking a sip. Couldn't their father have enstilld little subtlety when honing her sister's killer instinct? Whatever she was thinking, it would probably take two teams of elite Noxian summoners to stop her now. One group to convince her to stop, and the other group to carry the bodies of the first that had failed.
Still smiling like a fiend, Katarina caressed the surface of a custom crafted Bilgewater cutlass with a delicate touch.
"Who wants to have some fun?"
Opening the door and stepping inside, Zac heard the sound of bells ringing hung above the door frame before he bumped his head into them from his own height. He hadn't been expecting too much, or rather, he hadn't known what to expect at all since rumors around the League were never trustworthy to begin with. But at a quick glance around the interior of Sinful Succulence was a lot casual than he had imagined. Simple interior furnishing like any other restaurant in the city surrounding the Institute of War, with nothing that would make it clear that the place was owned and managed by a powerful dark angel from another dimension.
But best of all, there were no other champions from the League in sight.
Except for the one that owned the place, of course.
"Come in and take a seat anywhere," Morgana said, her back turned to him as she continued to work behind the long serving counter placed between two glass refrigerator cases displaying her wares. "It doesn't matter where. I'll be with you in a moment."
Mustering up his courage to continue walking into the lioness' den, Zac silently walked in an seated himself on one of the fixed chairs barely managing to squeeze his large legs underneath the counter. The seat underneath was too small as well, making for an awkward picture for anyone who was going to walk into the bakery after him. Not that giant humanoid jelly monsters were common in the Institute anyway.
Go to Sinful Succulence. Ask for the baker's special. Then ask her why.
The note Vi had slipped him before repeated itself in his mind. It was expected that champions with different backgrounds but similar goals would collude with each other outside the Fields of Justice, but what connection could Morgana have with Piltover? Or was it something more secretive, and something that Caitlyn or any other Piltover champions knew about? Or maybe he was looking at it the wrong way, and this was just about something else?
His thoughts were interrupted suddenly by the gentle sound of a cup being placed down in front of him. Looking up, he met eyes with Morgana, who looked very different from her normal attire she donned when fighting in the League. Her outfit was almost identical to the strange baker's ensemble she sometimes wore, and even the iconic black lightning bolt tattoo over her left eye was gone with most of the black paint on her face.
"It's on the house, for a first time customer," she explained, after watching him look at the drink she had served him in confusion. "My special blend. I've yet to serve any mortal who can't appreciate its complexity and depth of flavor."
Zac resisted the urge to cringe at the substance before him, which had the color and texture of the ground after Morgana used her signature Tainted Soil spell. Not only that, but the dark brew seemed to be bubbling in its own with a consistency of soft asphalt.
"It tastes better than it looks," Morgana said, smirking in amusement from his hesitation. "Don't be a child."
"Don't push me," Zac muttered, looking down at the concoction with mixed feelings. Mustering up his courage after a few seconds, he pinched the cup's handles with his two fingers and brought it up to his jaw for a taste. To his pleasant surprise, whatever was going down his mouth and into his gullet was a lot more tolerable in taste than it was in appearance. After taking another sip, he placed the cup back down onto the white china saucer gently.
"Now that that's out of the way, I don't believe we've met before. Outside of the Rift, that is." Morgana inspected him from her side of the counter curiously. "And where are you from?"
"I don't represent any city-state, if that's what you mean." Zac took the last sip of his brew, setting the cup back down in its saucer gently. "I was created at Zaun, but I'm here fighting for my own reasons."
"From Zaun, hmm? You don't look or sound like anything from the Void. Yes... I see it now." Reaching out with the tea kettle in her hands, she slowly refilled his cup to the brim with another helping of the greasy mystery brew. With the kettle now empty, she then took the it and placed it back onto a nearby rune inscribed stone slab behind the counter. Pulling out a mixture of ingredients all foreign to him, she took a pinch of some and a handful of others and sprinkled them into the kettle after refilling it with water from a nearby sink. "But enough about that. You don't seem like the type who socializes a lot, so what brings you to my humble shop? Going around and exploring the Institute? Or did you hear the rumors and decided to investigate at your own peril?"
"Something like that," Zac said, pushing aside his memories of earlier events in the day. "I've been getting a lot of attention lately, and I can't say I like it."
"Welcome to the club." Morgana let out a rich laugh before taking the connoisseur cap off of her head and letting her deep black hair run down her back. Brushing some stray locks out from her face, she looked at him with an evil grin. "Anyone told you to look out for Morello yet?"
"You know that arcane tomb they sell in the shop? The morellonomicon?" He nodded dumbly, vaguely remembering the strange book since he rarely had any Summoners purchase items that enhanced the power of his abilities. "They say it's named after some high ranked official who works behind the scenes. The man who's responsible for measuring and 'balancing' what our powers do on Summoner's Rift. If you become too friendly with other champions, you'll be made useless to keep the League's roster balanced."
"Sorry, but I don't believe in ghost stories. Aren't there enough monsters in the League already?"
Morgana chuckled mirthfully. "That's what they all say. You'll see."
Zac said nothing, and absent-mindedly took a sip of the second cup she had served him. Taking it in much more slowly he could taste some vague flavors; some bitter and some sweet in the steaming self-bubbling brew. He looked up at the clock on the wall, unsure of what hours Morgana worked until or when he would have to politely leave himself. There wasn't anything he had to do per se, even if the bakery was empty, but he didn't want to overstay his welcome either. But seeing that they were alone, he wondered if this was the time meant for him to ask what had been on his mind ever since Ahri attached herself to him. Hell, maybe Morgana was even expecting it.
"...Can I ask you something personal?"
"That depends. Are you willing to pay a price in blood for being too nosey?"
"If you don't mind green goo instead, I guess so." Zac shrugged. Watching her continue to clean behind the small counter in silence, he swallowed his fears and looked down into what she had served him. He could see little bits and fragments of something floating in it, which he severely doubted were just regular herbs and spices for flavoring. In hindsight, maybe he had accepted her generosity a little too graciously trying to be polite. "I think you can see this one coming, but why a bakery?"
"Well, why not?" He saw her flash a wicked grin from the side of her face, but he decided to press on.
"Oh come on," he groaned. To his surprise, she laughed lightly at his reaction. "Ahri told me that you're not like what you want people to believe. So now I want to know why."
"Ahri, hmm? The mutant fox? She told you that much, did she?" Morgana's brow furrowed in annoyance as she turned back around to face him, putting down the cleaning rag in her hands onto the counter with a wet smack. "I'll have to remember to cut her loose tongue out sometime."
"Just as long as you don't tell her I told you."
"Now, now. That's not very gentlemanly, throwing her under a cart like that."
"Yeah, well, she hasn't exactly been kind to me either. And you still haven't answered my question."
"Hmph." Letting out a grunt, Morgana turned around and reached underneath the counter on her side. Pulling out a chair from a place unseen on his end, she placed it down across from him on her own end and sat down on it. Once sitting she patted down her apron and dress underneath it, and he watched an abundance of flour and other powdered residue come off in small smoky clouds. "Be warned; it's a long story, and I'll only warn you once. If I think you're getting bored in the middle of it, I'll send you back to the Institute's Summoners in four pieces."
He nodded silently, knowing that the Fallen Angel had all the powers needed to keep her promise. Seeing that he seemed content with waiting and listening, Morgana reached over and ran her fingers across the rune inscribed heating stones to deactivate the enchantment.
"Tell me, what do you think about the trade of being a baker? What a baker does? Has to live for? What comes to your mind first?"
"I don't know," Zac answered frankly, after thinking for a moment. The more he thought about it, sitting quietly in the cafe belonging to a dark immortal angel from another dimension, he didn't understand anything. He didn't understand what she was getting at, he didn't understand why he had been told to come to where he was, and he had no clue why he had even bothered to listen to any of the other champions he had met earlier in the day. Hell, he didn't even know what he was drinking and that was a concerning matter all to itself.
"It's simple; a baker is someone who is at the forefront of any civilization," Morgana said, gesturing to her store around her. "In any developed society or culture, you will always find people with a trade like the humble baker."
Without warning, several dark tendrils shot out from underneath her seat and began snapping and flailing around her like wild snakes. By some degree of self control he never knew he possessed, Zac remained in his seat without even uttering a word of surprise. He recognized the magical phenomenon as the same type of magic Morgana used in many of her spells and abilities, and after a few more seconds of wild flailing the arms settled down and began picking up the cleaning where their master had stopped.
"My generation was raised on stories from our grandfathers and grandmothers; stories about how terrible things were in the past compared to the present," Morgana continued. "In the time before my sister and I became figureheads in our respective factions, a great migration project was undertaken by our people to try and alleviate our burgeoning immortal population."
"A great migration? How big?"
"Bigger than anyone from Runeterra could ever imagine. You'll just have to take my word for it."
He watched two of the tendril arms pour a cup of tea for their master, gingerly placing it in her open palm a delicate touch.
"My sister will have you believe that the angels sent to live in their new world viewed their pilgrimage as a noble cause. Maybe some certainly did." He watched her eyes glaze over, the full weight of her tale resting on surface of her mind and on the tip of her tongue. Around them both, her magic continued to work on its own tidying up the areas around them with no visible effort of Morgana's to control it. "But in reality they were sent because others didn't want to go. Our ruling class didn't want to give up the comfortable lives they had scraped together over centuries."
"But it sounds like it all began out of good intentions," he ventured to suggest. To his surprise, she simply nodded silently in agreement.
"Perhaps. As time went on, my kind formed a new civilization out in the depths of a void. Over generations, we built an entirely separate world from our original homes, and with it a new culture with its own customs separate from our ancestors. But the angels from our original homeland, with their souls weighed down by archaic traditions, would not let my kin live free and independent from the old world. Seeing their plight, I refused to close my heart and accept my elder sister's offer to assist her as a Judicator governing over those angels."
Morgana looked outside, and he followed her gaze to the blazing sun in the sky that had reached its peak and was now descending. Then he noticed that the front sign that had caught his eye earlier had been turned around at some point, signaling to everyone walking past that the cafe was now closed.
"Eventually, as you've no doubt heard, war broke out. A war unlike any in our own history, never mind Runeterra's. It was so devastating and in such a short period of time, that it could only be considered fiction to the people of this world. Half our populations, from both sides, dead over the course of one year's time. Since then, we have been in an uneasy stalemate from the Institute of War's assistance," she finished simply.
Zac found himself looking down at his drink, his mind and body stiff with a numbing silence. Half dead? In only a year's time? When both sides had separated in the first place because of overpopulation issues larger than Runeterra could ever experience? He wanted to say something, but couldn't even begin to think of the words. Was it possible that she was just playing him for a fool, and spinning him a shocking tale for her own entertainment? The casual seriousness in which she had told her tale made him wonder, but then again, if she were a senior leader of her respective faction perhaps her heart had already become accustomed to devastating hardships.
"Death in my world is not the same as this one," she explained, as if she were reading his mind. "We angels cannot truly die. After our physical forms are destroyed, our souls repossess another body being born into the world. It is possible for some of us to have memories of our former lives, but the process of being raised in the delicate stages of infancy usually overwrites any previous memories."
"Then... how did your world become overpopulated?"
"Well, when two angels really love each other," she began, rolling her eyes as she did. He groaned, realizing his own gaff too late. Ignoring his response and only smirking from his reaction, she dropped her mocking behavior and decided to continue. "It is possible for angels to divide their souls during pregnancy, to form a new soul from two different angels. There was never a need for any laws or regulations regarding this until only very recently in our history."
He scratched his chin, taking in all of what she told him so far.
"I bet that Kayle doesn't agree with you on stuff like that too."
"You don't know the half of it." Morgana frowned, scowling bitterly and taking a sip of her tea. When one of the black tendrils reached over, she passed the cup back to it. "You know, you're asking some very interesting questions for a living weapon."
"I don't like to think of myself as one," he answered almost too readily. He was used to defying expectation his entire life, but it still didn't make it any less of an annoyance when he had to. "And even if I was, there are plenty of soldiers here who can listen and talk all the same."
"You overestimate them. They've joined the League to fight, not to negotiate." Laughing as if she were keeping a malicious secret from him, she stood up from her seat. "I wonder how much longer your precious League will last. How long will your city states participate in this farce before breaking down to total war?"
"Long enough that it will never happen," Zac said firmly with a strange unfounded confidence. "I don't know why those eggheads keep a lot of monsters locked up in the Institute. The way I see it; if monstrosities like Nocturne and Fiddlesticks can be kept under control, than a bunch of violent patriotic loons from Valoran can be too."
Morgana frowned disapprovingly at him. "Emotions are not something that can be so easily tamed, boy. Say what you want, but do not be so naive as to believe that sins can simply be attracted to a single point and suppressed."
"Yeah? Fine, and what would you get out of it?" he felt the need to ask in retort, trying to audibly match her own conviction with his own. "What would you do if the Institute just disappeared one night? What does it matter to you if our world goes to hell and back?"
"My kin has mastery of forces beyond human comprehension." To back her own words, he watched her begin to channel tiny wisps of magic in the palm of one of her hands. Like a master puppeteer a small smoky version of herself danced in a circle before vanishing in another puff of inky smoke. "It would not be so difficult a task to clean up the ruins of this world from the kind of damage it sustained during your fabled Rune Wars. Coincidentally with the death of this world, my own would probably find peace."
Zac swallowed the rest of his drink calmly.
"...You want me to believe that both you and your sister, if our world were to end, would invade the ruins our world and claim it for yourselves?"
"Believe what you want to believe." Morgana's answer was so neutral in emotion that he couldn't help but wonder if she was telling the truth. "You've no reason to worry about your future when you've so much to do in the present."
"And what do you know about that?" he dared to ask. The fear and anxiety from when he had stood outside of the hybrid bakery and cafe was suddenly coming back to haunt him with every answer she was giving him. The entire day so far had felt like he was being led from one place to another, and not by coincidence. The only irregularity that still made no sense was why so many different champions who had no relationship to each other would all want something from him on the same day.
"How long are you going to pretend that you're just here to fight for what you believe in? You're going to have to pick a side eventually. Everyone does."
"As long as I have the right to choose, I'll choose to do what I want for who I want. Even if I choose to do nothing."
"Threatening inaction in stubborn defiance? How naive. Some people may be off put by your appearance, but your motives are like any other good-intentioned soul."
Morgana stood up, her magic breaking down into into an inky mist and disappearing before his eyes. She took her hat from her lap and put it back on, a sign to him that their conversation was over whether he wanted it to be or not.
"Kalamanda and Freljord were just the beginning of a new age. There will be many conflicts to come, maybe even hundreds. Take my word for it; true peace in an illusion. The League is the closest thing to peace this world will ever know."
"It's not perfect, but if it's not broken, don't fix it. People aren't perfect Morgana, but I think they're worth betting on."
To his surprise, Morgana said nothing in return. She gave him a small smile before breaking the silence.
"That's a good stance to have. Because neither of us are human, and we shouldn't try to pretend we are."
Before he could think of anything else to say in retort, the door he had entered flung itself open with enough force that is slammed loudly into the baker wall, it's hinges groaning loudly from the stressed force they were under. He watched a shadow in the shape of a hand crawl along the wall, eventually reaching the door and holding it open on its own. Looking back to Morgana, she had already started walking off to somewhere unseen in the rear of Sinful Succulence.
"Now get out," she commanded, not even sparing him a parting glance. "I have cleaning to get to."
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