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Yeah, well. Yes. Uhm... Sure. I guess. But not really.
(How do you even reply to that?)
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Long overdue chapter that I had started before I even finished Ch14, and somehow managed to not finish writing before the Harrowing was over. I was told by some people (the kind that exist only in your head) that this chapter is a bit too frightening and should be rated PG15, but I told them to shut it because there is no way I'd write scary stuff. I mean, even Greg agrees with me, and he's only eight years old.
“So you wish to know more about the Harrowing, do you? Why, there is nothing extraordinary about it. It only so happens that this is the time of harvest, a time that marks the coming of winter. And there are many stories that would have you believe that it is also a time of darkness, when evil creatures lurk in the moonlight, preying on those foolish enough to be wandering outside alone.”
Karthus folded his hands in his lap and bowed his head, hiding his eyes under his grim reaper hood. In reality, he was still watching the group of children that were sitting on the floor in front of him, anxiously awaiting their reaction. He liked the idea of being a storyteller, even if the voice of his mortal body had been more suited for such purposes.
“But we want to hear something spooky!” said one of the children, who had come to the League for the annual festivities.
Karthus opened his eyes again. “Be warned, you may find that the stories I have are more terrifying then you expected. Oh, you're not afraid? Well then gather close, children, and listen to the Tale of Beatrice.”
It all begins on a gloomy morning in Noxus. A young man was making his way to the central marketplace, sent to fetch ingredients for the cooks of the Noxian military. He was not born to a noble family, nor did he have the physical prowess demanded of soldiers, but he had one advantage over everyone else: a brilliant mind capable of crafting plans and tactics so devious that none could foil them, and these plans always resulted with him on the winning side. And little did he know, he also had an affinity for powers beyond imagination.
After repeatedly failing to enter the military academy, the boy settled on slowly working his way up the High Command's hierarchy. He did not mind being sent on small errands for now; he knew that one day an opportunity would present itself, an opportunity he was not going to miss.
Lost in these thoughts, he never noticed that the people around him had stopped moving. They seemed frozen, some in mid-stride, others standing still, perfect statues that showed no signs of life. There was something else that the boy failed to observe, for there was another being beside him that made its way through the crowd. A small, dark bird was circling above his head, its red eyes staring right down at him. By the time the boy looked around, the people had returned to life, and the crow had vanished into thin air. He may not have suspected anything that moment, but he did once he returned to the academy.
There were no sounds coming from the lower corridors that lead to the kitchens, a most peculiar phenomenon, as the kitchens contained the loudest and most boisterous members of the military. When the young man tried to call out to the cooks, he found that all he could produce was a dry, throaty sound. He could feel that something was not right. His legs and arms were trembling as he walked down the long passage, down, down into the depths of Noxus. At last he reached the large door leading to the kitchens, and he peered around the corner to get a view of what was inside.
Nothing was inside. Or to be more accurate, nobody. The tables and stoves stood where they always did, same with the pots and pans. It was the knives, however, that caught his attention. They were everywhere they should not have been; lying on the floor, impaled in wooden utensils, some even stuck in the walls.
It was then that the boy saw the crow. The bird was sitting on a pile of rotting apples, picking at them lazily. “Shoo!” the boy hissed, stepping into the room. But the crow did not budge. It stared back with a malicious stare, the light of the torches on the walls reflecting in its dark red eyes. “Shoo!” the boy whispered, not sounding nearly as threatening as before as he approached the pile of apples carefully.
The crow remained silent, not taking its gaze off the boy. Slowly, with the movements of a hunter who turns away from his prey, it lifted its wings and flew into the corridor and out of sight.
The boy gulped as he caught sight of the of the blood on the birds beak. He dropped the bag containing the ingredients the same moment that the smell hit his nose.
The smell of fresh meat cooking.
He did not need to look into the pots, to see what was inside. Intuition told him what it was, and he felt a wave of nausea washing over him. He turned and fled, running up the long passage and into the outside world, away from the dungeons and away from the horrible smell. He kept running until it was dark, when all of a sudden he stepped into a mound on the ground and lost his balance. He fell, burying his leg under the weight of his body. He howled in pain, his leg having been twisted into an unnatural position, and he pressed his face into the dirt to muffle his voice. Gradually his consciousness slipped away, and he welcomed the darkness that spread over his eyes.
Flames licked the side of the house as it was burning to the ground. There was the sound of a woman screaming for help, but the boy only watched passively. This was a memory, after all, one that always haunted his dreams. The only one he could associate with his parents, whom he had never known, who had died when he was but a small child. He made his way into the house, manoeuvring past the falling objects and through the fires. He reached the door to the bedroom like he had done so many times before. This was the part when he would wake up. It made sense; you could not have a memory of something you could not remember, and he could not remember his parents.
The door was opened from the inside.
Lying face down on the floor was the body of a man. To the right, a woman stood in a corner, her hands covering her face in shock as the flames danced around her body.
But they were not what was the grabbing the boy's attention. With wide eyes he was looking at the back of a hunched figure that was draped in long green robes. The figure, sensing his presence, turned to face him.
The boy wanted to scream, but his lips were sealed, he wanted to run, but his legs were not responding. He had no choice but to keep looking at the giant crow, its six red eyes unblinking, as it slid over to where he stood. Tiny ravens sprouted from its body, hungrily attacking the woman and feasting on the man. There was a constant cawing, a clicking of beaks and the flutter of a dozen wings.
The boy shut his eyes, willing the images to leave his head, wishing that the crow would just disappear.
When he opened his eyes, he was in the forest again. It was dawning already. And he was not alone; the crow from the kitchens was perched on a nearby branch. Strangely, it did not look threatening or evil now. The boy reached out his arm, and the crow jumped down from the tree and landed on his shoulder. The boy stared into its many eyes, seeing his own reflection in them.
He found that the pain in his leg was gone, replaced with a curious numbness. He pulled himself into a standing position, realising that there was a previously non existent limp in his stride. “Where to now?” he mumbled softly. The crow jabbed its beak towards his left. “That way?” the boy asked, prompting the bird to nod.
He marched for several hours through the forest, then several more until he reached Noxus. He entered the first infirmary he spotted, ignoring the protests of the other patients as he walked purposefully to the doctor. Were this any other city-state, he would have had to come up with a reasonable excuse as to why his leg was broken, but this was Noxus. Certain questions did not need to be answered.
“Cause of injury?” the doctor asked as he inspected the leg, which was snapped in half.
“Unknown,” replied the boy.
“Time of injury?”
“Less than a day ago.”
The boy pondered for a moment, unable to recall it. “Jericho,” he said at last, not sure what made him do so. “Jericho Swain.”
Karthus breathed the last words mystically, expecting the children to be impressed and intimidated.
“That wasn't spooky at all,” sulked Greg, the boy who had requested the story.
“I thought it was,” muttered a girl who was clinging to her Teemo doll.
Karthus would have furrowed his brows if he had any. “I thought that it was quite scary myself.”
Greg tilted his head. “They should let someone else do this. Like Nocturne.”
Karthus became visibly upset. “Nocturne spends most of his time locked up in a cage, because otherwise he'd be going around getting rid of pesky little children while they sleep.”
“I bet that cage is scarier than you,” Greg said.
“Sure about that?”
“Alright then. Children, run along now,” Karthus smiled widely, which of course did not show on his skull. He pointed a finger at the boy. “You, however, are staying.”
The children scrambled out of the hall. By this time Greg was aware that it had been a terrible idea to get the Deathsinger all worked up, so he, too, tried to get away.
“Oh no you don't,” Karthus commanded, and two obelisks appeared on either end of the room, a wall of purple energy in between. Greg ran through it, and immediately felt three times heavier than before. He had trouble lifting his feet, but what was worse, he heard a soft humming behind him. A line of red energy shot down from the ceiling and connected with his head. Greg could hear Karthus and his humming getting closer. He had three seconds left. Now two. One.
“Boo!” the Deathsinger whispered into his ear, interrupting his spell.
Greg fainted, but not before making a sound like air escaping a balloon and toppling to the ground like a bag of flour.
With a loud bah! Swain spat on the polished Nexus wall.
“What?” LeBlanc demanded to know.
The Master Tactician snorted loudly. “Someone is telling stories about me behind my back.”
LeBlanc raised an eyebrow. “And how would you know that?”
“My butt tingles. It always does when people tell lies about me.” With those words he walked out of the Nexus, wiggling his bottom and trying to persuade Beatrice to scratch it for him.