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Candidate: Tryndamere Date: 1 May, 19 CLE
The self proclaimed Barbarian King's footfalls echoed heavily through the empty entrance hall of the Institute of War. He took the whole room in as he walked, only briefly noting the grandiose ornamentation. His concern was more with the practical, identifying challengers that might approach. Angles of attack. Paths of escape. Freljord lacked the more traditional universities and colleges of the mainland, but there was no better land for teaching the simple rules of pragmatism. It was a lesson he had taken to like a Yordle to magitek. It was how he had lived through enough to be declared 'undying'. And it was what had brought him here, to this strange building in this strange land so far away from the home he sought to protect. He wasn't particularly fond of that last turn of events, but it did seem to be the best way to secure a future for his newly united people. His appraisal of the room came to a half as his eyes fell upon the grand double doorway before him and, more specifically, the plaque that was set above it.
"The truest enemy lies within."
He gave an undisguised snort of derision. Tell that to someone facing down a squad of Noxian Assassins, see how much they appreciate that pseudo-philosophy then. He pushed the doorway open with one hand, the other resting the sword over his shoulder.
The darkness within made him instantly suspicious. The whole of the institute up until now had been generously lit, even the gloomy underground caverns. He unconsciously lifted the sword from his shoulder, letting the heavy blade hang in the air as he tried to look through the darkness and discern any sort of features within the room. Was that... was that a fire? A bonfire?
A smile came to his face as he approached. Even before the fire drew back the darkness and revealed the rest of the scene to him, he already knew exactly where he was. He felt lighter on his feet as he approached, and a faint snow began to fall.
"Tryndamere! Get back here!" the voice came from behind him and brought him screeching to a halt. He turned, a familiar figure looming out from the night. His father towered over him, his already tall figure made even larger and more imposing by the ornately carved and horned helmet he wore. Across his back was the familiar longsword, big enough that most men would require two hands simply to lift it. Tryndamere had never seen his father have occasion to use it, young as he was, but if the stories were to be believed he could wield it in a single hand. At the moment, though, Tryndamere was more frightened of his disapproving frown than the brutal looking weapon.
"Your mother said she had already put you to bed. What are you doing out still?" His tone was even, and it was clear that he already knew the answer. Tryndamere summoned his best look of determination, though on his young face it came out rather goofy.
"I'm going to the Warrior's Fire, Dad! I'm going to listen to the stories of their battles and soon I'm going to be telling my own!" Despite being caught, he found it difficult to restrain his rising excitement, and as he finished he pantomimed slicing with a sword. "I'm old enough to be a warrior now! You said when I turned eleven I would be ready!"
The faint hint of a smile flitted across his father's features as he gazed down at his son, shaking his head slowly. "I told you that you would be ready to start training. No more than that." he sighed slightly at the crestfallen look that had overcome his son. "I promise, Tryn, you can come to the next Fire. But not tonight. Tonight is..." he trailed off slightly, and Tryndamere noticed him glance towards the flames hesitantly in the silence. There was a strange man standing before the fire, staring out into the darkness. Someone Tryndamere had never seen. His outfit was all black and Tryndamere noticed a skull emblem on his helmet before his father continued. "Tonight is different. There will be no stories for you to hear. We have a... guest, who has come to discuss the future of our tribe."
"But the Warrior's Fire has always been a time for stories of heroism and victory! You told me that it was our oldest tradition!" Tryndamere began to protest, crossing his arms over his chest. His father gave a low chuckle in response, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"As much as I enjoy the tradition myself, there are more important things. The path our tribe will tread in the coming years is uncertain, and securing a safe future is my job as the chieften. Someday, it'll be your job as well. If you're strong enough to wield my sword, of course."
Tryndamere opened his mouth to assure his father he was strong enough, but suddenly his father's hand was icy cold. Tryndamere's eyes widened in surprise. He was laying down in a snowdrift, a heavy weight on his chest. His father's hand still clung to his shoulder, gripping so tight it was uncomfortable. It was the smell that made him realize what this moment was. He could never forget that smell. The blood mixing with the snow as the scent of cinders hung on the wind. Tryndamere stayed frozen, not daring to move. He was hiding under his father's corpse, the village burning around him. He heard the soft crunch of the stranger's boots, black as the rest of his armor.
"Leave no building standing, but don't burn the bodies. Let them freeze here. The other tribes will come to see what has happened. Let the frozen corpses be a lesson on the price of refusing Noxus. I find such vivid experiences are excellent teachers." The man's rasping laugh was followed by a chorus of 'Ayes' and the smell of burning wood grew stronger. The village was burning around him. Again. This had all happened before, hadn't it? He had lain there as his whole world collapsed around him. This was his chance to set it right. He was strong now. He was fearsome. He was... terrified.
It was all he could do to keep from shaking and giving his position away. He was experiencing the shame of that day all over again and just like before, it was fear he felt in the place of rage. He hadn't yet learned to harness it, to use it against enemies as a tool just as it was used against him. He was still a quivering little boy hiding for his life. He lay there for what seemed like hours until it grew dark once more. Still he thought he could hear footfalls in the snow around him. Finally, when the sun had firmly set and the only light came from the embers that had once been his home, he dared to move. Or at least, he would have. The second he made to stand, his father's hands reached out and gripped his shoulders, his head turning. His beard was covered in frost and icicles, his eyes blank and dead, yet somehow a voice came from the corpse's throat.
"Why do you want to join the League, Tryndamere?"
The Not-Yet-Barbarian-King's eyes went wide and he froze once more. Then a fire began to burn in his chest. This was an image? An illusion? The summoners dared to tear this moment from his mind, to use it and make him vulnerable? He was no longer this sniveling child. He was no longer hiding. He brought both hands forward and reached up to grab the corpse's, standing as he did. The hands that latched around the illusion's throat were not a boy's hands, but hands that had seen hundreds of battles since. "You dare?" was all he could manage in a low growl.
"Why do you want to join the League?" the corpse of his father seemed remarkably unfazed by the fact that he was being held at least a foot off the ground now. Tryndamere met its eyes and narrowed his gaze.
"I want to do what my father could not. I want to protect my home and my people."
"Why do you want to join the League?" Tryndamere faltered a moment as he heard the question repeated once more. Was that answer not sufficient? What more did they want? He closed his eyes completely, letting the corpse drop. There was no thud and when he opened his eyes the room was dark again.
"Noxus will come again, I know it. And when they do I'm going to be ready, with a united Freljord. And with that might I am going to kill every. Last. One of them. Then no child in Freljord will ever have to spend a night beneath his parent's corpses."
"How does it feel, exposing your mind?"
The Barbarian King gave another snort, stepping forward. "We are done here, Summoner."
The doors opened before him and he strode out into the Institue of War once more.