The Nexus exploded.
They had won.
The five summoners released the orbs binding their minds to their Champions, shook themselves to resettle in their own heads and stretched. It had been a long fight.
They milled around for a bit, shook hands, and chatted about the match.
Lance started vigorously scratching his ear before he remembered that he wasn’t sharing a body with Nasus anymore.
Mike pulled Alex aside and started lecturing him on his performance.
Amber and Danielle embraced.
After a few minutes the gong signaling the Champion’s return to the Nexus sounded, and the five descended the stairs to the prep rooms one at a time to meet with their Champions. Mike’s lecture kept him and Alex the longest.
“Well I think that about covers it, you’re improving well newbie but you’ve still got kinks to work out.”
“Yeah, yeah… and stop calling me newbie, I’m not new at this you know, I did my time running the practice bots as a student, and I even won a skirmish once.”
“Yes, I know, you keep telling all of us, and I checked the battle log and you know that two of the summoners you were guiding the bots against had attacks of explosive diarrhea and a third laughed himself into a coma as a result”
“Yeah, but we still won.”
Mike, the taller and broader summoner, waved him away and bent to pick up his summoning orb. When he straightened up he was surprised to see his younger companion headed towards the arched doorway leading to the steps leading out of the Nexus instead of the dark staircase to the Champion’s rooms.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m heading back to the summoner dormitories, we’re done aren’t we?”
“Aren’t you going to go talk with Lux?”
“W-, but I hardly know her!”
“No one does in the beginning; do you think it was easy approaching Tryndamere when I summoned him the first time; a titan of a man who hauls around a sword that five regular men probably couldn’t lift without hurting themselves?”
“Well how hard do you think it would be to talk to a beautiful woman about your age with dreamy eyes, perfect hair, and she can vaporize your head off with magic as soon as look at you?”
“Point taken, but regardless you have to be courteous.”
“Because she’s a beautiful young woman who can blow your head off, and besides that, you’ve been sharing her mind on the fields of justice and will likely continue to do so. I could have sworn they taught you this as a recruit at the Academy but the more familiar with the Champion you’re sharing minds with the smoother you connect and the faster you can react.”
“Yeah, but, what if she doesn’t like me?”
“She wouldn’t keep agreeing to be controlled by you if she didn’t like you, the summoning connection links the deepest parts of you, and so in a way she already knows you and respects you. The thing is, though, that you don’t know each other. You unconsciously comprehend the most intimate parts of each other’s minds, but the not the furniture, and you’d be surprised how important that is.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Take Tryndamere for example, his title is The Barbarian King, he could probably punch through my chest if he wanted to, I’d have to stand on tiptoes to touch the top of his head, and he totes around a sword that weighs as much as some carts like it was a lady’s handbag. Strength and power and rage are what he is, deep down that is his very essence; but surrounding that smoldering core is a surprisingly intelligent man with some excellent ideas about statecraft, a firm grasp and comprehension of philosophy accompanied by a talent for introspection, an extensive collection of oversized weapons a subject on which he is very probably the world authority, and he is a great lover of strong alcohol, strong opponents and… a strong woman. People see the fury and bloodlust, and in his mind it permeates everything like the heat from an open fire, but what few people see is the discipline, the blocks and restraints he applies to himself. The CONTROL he has, and all the depth behind it.”
Mike crossed his arms and pursed his lips in thought for a few seconds.
“And yet in spite of his superhuman soul and body he has his weaknesses. He is after all, still human, and when you understand that then you’ll know why you have to meet with Lux.”
“Points taken, but still…”
“Oh come on you *****.”
It turns out that loose fitting robes make grappling easy, much to Alex’s displeasure as he was dragged down the stairs by Mike.
“You’ve just got to remember newbie: Champions may be celebrities, heroes, gods, demons and monsters… kings… but every last one of them has enough human in them, and an accompanying desire to be treated as such. We summoners have to serve them as a glorified pit crew, but what they want and what they need are friends.”
Cassiopeia reclined on the modified couch designed to accommodate her Lamia body, Amber stood behind her on a small stool that gave her easy access to the hidden fastenings on the woman’s headdress. After her transformation from Noxian beauty into cursed monster she retained most of the parts of her old body from the waist up, and perhaps on account of some the curse that transformed her or simply some strange idiosyncrasy of her personality, she readily flaunted her usually bare torso but carefully guarded her lustrous hair.
“You know, I’m flattered that you let me do this Cass.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t have any other do this for me; it is such a personal task you know.”
Cassiopeia’s crimson hair flowed out from its container like a wave of blood. Amber handed the headdress to Cass while she pulled out a silver comb and began to run it through Cass’s hair. Cassiopeia’s bizarre new biology was still alien to the Summoners, and she refused to let herself be examined, even by Amber. Despite the exertion of battle, Cassiopeia’s hair remained smooth and dry, as her new body apparently lacked sweat glands. She seemed to simultaneously share endothermic and exothermic traits, when stressed her pulse would race, but when at rest her heartbeat would slow so much that she needed an external heat source. A large window had been installed in the far wall that let her sun herself when needed.
“I used to be beautiful you know.”
Amber knew what was coming next, she loved Cass, but the woman was perpetually insecure about her new Lamia body, and could get rather violent if you didn’t know her triggers. Luckily, Amber was an excellent consoler to begin with, and had plenty of time to get used to her charge.
“You still are Cass.”
“You really think so?”
“Of course I do!”
“You don’t think the tail is ugly?”
“Of course not! It makes you exotic, and beauty is mostly attitude anyway, and you have more attitude than anyone.”
Amber knew the steps.
“You used to court nobles didn’t you?”
“I used to court nobles you know… Noxians, Zaunites, Freljordian, Ionians… I wish my father was here.”
“I’m sorry sweetie, I really am.”
Amber finished combing out Cassiopeia’s hair and came around to sit beside her. She laid a comforting hand on her shoulder as the former Noxian stared blankly at the mirror in front of her.
“Thank you dear.”
“We did well today didn’t we?”
“We did very well.”
“I’m sorry about letting my sister escape early in the battle, it is a rather jarring transition going from river to land if you travel by slithering.”
“You’re sure my tail makes me exotic?”
“I’m sure Cass.”
The monster patted Amber on the head with almost motherly affection.
“I think I shall take a nap now, it was a long fight and I am tired. Thank you for being such a dear Amber.”
“I’ll open a window to let some sunlight in then.”
“That would be nice. When is the next match scheduled?”
“Not for a few days, another shipping lane dispute with Bilgewater. We have some time to relax until then.”
“We’ll have to do something to celebrate then, I hear that darling little yordle inventor is going to be demonstrating some new fireworks tomorrow night if you would be interested.”
“I wouldn’t say no.”
“It’s settled then… Oh, and before you go, last time I was in Noxus I bought another tin of those Sinful Succulence Chocolate-Gingerbread Angels for you that you love so much, in that package on the table there.”
Amber’s eyes brightened up and she approached the table, arms outstretched. But she knew how dangerously particular her partner was.
“For me? May I Cass?”
“Of course darling, only the best for my Summoner.”
Amber slowly unwrapped the package, savoring the anticipation, slid the top off of the plain tin case, lifted out one of the detailed little gingerbread angels, and slowly, lovingly, took a bite.
Lux looked up from the letter she was writing as Alex was thrown bodily into the room and the door was slammed behind him.
He remained completely still for a moment, pinned to the ground with fear, before he slowly looked up.
“Well that’s taken care of, I hope”
Mike turned a key in the lock to Lux’s door, the only way Alex was getting out was by talking Lux into giving him her key. Mike didn’t know her well enough to be certain, but he doubted she was the type to let him go easily.
He twirled the key around his finger and walked towards his Champion’s quarters. There was never a need for a key, fresh with the adrenaline of battle Tryndamere never really had the patience for doorknobs… or doors. As Mike stepped carefully over the splinters it occurred to him that The Barbarian King really had no need for a lock either. Though he kept plenty of valuables stored in his room any thief prepared to try to steal from Tryndamere would have to be very stupid indeed.
Mike turned his head around the walls of the room slowly. Thanks to a very complex and convenient bit of runework, no matter which Nexus Tryndamere worked out of his locker room would always be the same with its wallpaper of bladed objects. The oversized pieces of cutlery suspended on hooks and artfully arranged left probably a grand total of a handful of square feet of actual wall visible.
Mike had been in here enough to consider some of the older pieces good friends with familiar faces, and his surveying eyes were stopped short when they encountered an empty space between a gracefully curved Pistol-gripped Falchion (looted from its previous owner, who no longer needed it on account of not having limbs anymore), and an oversized but otherwise unremarkable singled bladed Buster Sword (a lucky find from the Academy’s Waste Heap, the dumping ground for all of the random odds and ends that drift in from other planes at random, this one was a bit small for its new owner). Mike gestured to the empty patch and turned to face the dressing gown clad herculean figure reclining in a large armchair covered with Mammoth hide (killed with by Tryndamere with his bare hands).
“What happened to the Ionian Di-Katana?”
Tryndamere shifted in his chair and glanced up from the letter he was reading, blinking in temporary confusion as if he hadn’t noticed Mike walk in.
“I loaned it to Yi, he said he might know the family who it originally belonged to. He promised he would have a new one especially forged for my collection if they wanted it back.”
Mike nodded, he knew how important family was to the orphaned barbarian. As Tryndamere looked back down at the letter, Mike saw the look in the giant man’s eyes and sighed. He took a seat in the smaller chair (polar bear fur, again killed with bare hands)
“Mail from Ashe again?”
Mike knew that there were very, very few people on all the planes who Tryndamere would confide in about his married life, and he was probably the only one who got to see the whole picture. The Champion’s image demanded he live with only one emotion, and it wasn’t love. He rubbed his eyes with one hand and bared his teeth in frustration.
“Yes. She hasn’t even bothered to write this one herself, her Summoner’s done it for her.”
“Too busy with matters of League and State to arrange a personal meeting again, huh?”
“And they wonder why I’m so full of rage all the time” he growled
Mike pulled out the folder of scheduled League matches. This was yet another part of why making friends was so important. On the day that Ashe had issued the official statement that her marriage was, “For political rather than romantic reasons”, Tryndamere had spent the entire subsequent battle lying on his back in the river, staring up at the sky and ignoring the battle around him. Mike had only been able to remedy that situation with a case of Gangplank’s finest homebrew reserve of tarblack spiced rum (traded for a stolen pair of Shen’s underwear, which spent the next day alongside the Jolly Roger atop the flagpole of the Dead Pool) and a late night talking about women.
“To be fair to her, according to the schedule she really is busy with League matters for the rest of this week, with the exception of Saturday which if memory serves is the day she has to spend arbitrating in Freljord.”
“I swear she requests placement in extra matches just to avoid me… she spends more time with that fool kid and his yeti than with her husband, how is that right?”
He rolled up the letter and put it aside.
“Maybe I could bring Amber in to give you some advice?”
With a surprisingly smooth motion despite his hulking form, Tryndamere stood up and began to inspect his blade collection.
“If you insist, but if she gives me more of the same then I’m going to be very disappointed in your judgment of character.”
“No threats of violence?”
“Would that be a very kingly thing to do?”
“… actually, yes.”
“…right. That aside, I’ve already tried talking to other women about it and it hasn’t helped any. Lux just suggested that I try to be more romantic, as if I can do that while she won’t talk to me face to face, and Cassiopeia just rolled her eyes and said that she obviously doesn’t love me and I should give up and pick a concubine already.”
Mike really needed to have a word with Amber about her damn snake***** after this, but for now he settled for hiding behind his chair as the Barbarian King pulled a Highland Claymore off the wall with such ferocity that the pegs supporting it flew away like shrapnel, and swung it at the wall with enough force to gouge out a cleft starting at the ceiling, cleaving an old Lokfarian Broadsword and ending about halfway down the wall where it had finally collided with the probably-indestructible Freljordian Adamantine Greatsword that Ashe herself had given to him as a wedding gift and stopped.
Tryndamere stared at this wonderfully ornate and symmetrical blade for a few minutes, and pulled it off the wall, gently this time. A flash of determination crossed his face, and he rammed the sword point down into the floor with one hand and tore off his dressing gown with the other (Mike had seen him naked before but averted his eyes anyway). He went to the small chest at the foot of the pile of furs taken from large, dangerous animals that he used as a bed (all killed with bare hands and occasionally feet) and pulled out his furred kings robes (snow leopard, Ashe had killed it with her bare hands) and the metal helm topped with golden spikes that served as his crown.
“Look, forget what Cass said, she’s just f-”
“Am I a Barbarian or am I a King?”
“Uh… you’re both I guess, first one then the other.”
“And when a King wants something what does do?”
“Ideally I suppose he asks for it and then his subjects deliver out of respect, in practice I guess he just demands and…”
“And a Barbarian?”
“Uh… a Barbarian takes… it…”
The line of reasoning hit home at last, punctuated by the King firmly affixing his crown on his head as he finished dressing. Mike checked the list.
“Her last match of the day started a half an hour ago, assuming average match time she should be finishing just about now, and it’ll be a good hour at the very least before she arranges for passage back to Freljord, and that’s assuming she doesn’t stop to rest.”
“Not that it matters, I’d march up there on foot right now if I had to. Come here.”
He picked up Mike by his robes and hoisted him over his shoulder, causing Mike to instantly karmatically regret having done so to Alex earlier.
“Uh… I’m coming with then, am I?”
Danielle sat alone in Ezreal’s room. As usual.
Her chin tilted in her hands as she surveyed the walls, now covered with her sketches of her chosen champion in various memorable positions of battle.
She knew what she was getting into when she chose a champion who was a reluctant participant in the League at best, but she didn’t expect to fall for him so easily…
Maybe one day he’ll actually stick around after a match so they could talk about stuff…
She sighed and reached for another blank sheet of paper. Time for another drawing…
There is a small rubber ball.
It is green.
“…stop looking at me like that!”
“Throw the ball Lance.”
“I’m about to go hide it if you don’t knock it off!”
“Throw the ball Lance.”
Lance rolled his eyes, such a… doglike request coming in the calm, echoing tones of the Curator of the Sands had been almost disturbingly out of character at first, and even now years later it was still disconcerting.
“I already threw it! I’m all tired from throwing it! We aren’t all anthropomorphic dog gods with limitless energy! Go eat or something.”
There was a loud grinding screech as Tryndamere hacked the wall separating the two rooms. Neither Lance nor Nasus flinched; it was a common enough occurrence.
“It seems like that sexy man hasn’t worked out all of his rage yet.”
“I think it is another problem that vexes him.”
“Throw the ball for me a few more times and I might tell you.”
“Gods dammit Nasus.”
“Fine, but tell first.”
“It is simple enough, Tryndamere is powerful, and he is human.”
“…I’m going to need a little more than that.”
“I can smell his loneliness. Few are on his level, in terms of raw physical power, intellect, ambition and vitality. When the Queen Ashe offered to marry him he knew that her proposal was primarily a political one, but the fact remained that she is one of the few who could match him, and he dared to allow himself to hope that there could be love as well. Hope makes a horrible noise as it dies.”
“Lance! Tell the rest of the team that I’ll be out for a bit! I don’t know when I’ll be back so don’t wa--”
Mike had just been carried past the door over Tryndamere’s shoulder and was cut off as he went out of earshot.
“Kay! So that’s the problem huh? That poor man.”
“Yes. Throw the ball Lance.”
“Oh, fine, but only for a few more minutes.”
Nasus wagged his tail.
(TO BE CONTINUED?)
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