Chapter 4: Prism
The Measured Tread is by no means light reading. He is only half way through it when he is forced to go to sleep. By the time the morning bells stop tolling, he has already tucked it under his arm and walked out the door.
He briefly considers dropping by the dining hall for breakfast, as he had been too immersed in his reading to continue his experiments in human cuisine, but he decides against it after passing a window. The chance at getting to soak up some sunlight has him hurrying to the door to the gardens.
He pushes it open and a rumbling sigh fills his chest as he steps out into the warmth. The gardens are lovely, filled with color and the trilling of birds and the trickle of water. Trees shade the path of pebbles and sand, and he stoops under a branch as he strolls along, taking deep breaths of the hot air. There is water everywhere he looks: trickling in thin streams over stones that glitter in the morning light, dripping from the petals of the long stemmed roses, lying in pools that shine like mirrors. He stops by a pond and stares at it, heedless of the white blossoms of the lilies or the tiny frogs or the slender, darting shadows in its depths. He is mesmerized by the sheer quantity of the water, its abundance and its purity, its color and its sound and its smell. The smell of water is the smell of life.
He dips his hand in the pond and smiles as the fish dart away from the intrusion. There is a stone shelf on one edge that juts out into the water, and there he decides to sit, placing the book reverently on the grass by his side. He leans down and unbuckles his greaves, then removes his chest plate and helmet, laying them out in the sunlight as he eases himself onto the shelf and lets his legs dangle in the water.
His fur, dark and coarse on his chest, finer on his face and hands, is a rich, glistening brown in the sunlight and he chuckles in quiet delight as the wind ruffles it. He has not been without his armor in a very long time. It surprises him that he feels safe enough here to remove it. He smells humans in these gardens, after all. He must have more faith in the League’s rules than he thought.
He lays the book in his lap and delicately lifts a single page with his claw, turning to another wearisome measure of repetitive phrases. These sentences, each group separated by a finger’s breadth on the page, are all dreadfully similar, extolling honor, victory, loyalty, or death before defeat in any number of tiresome ways. The treatise had assured him that this was the handbook for any self-respecting Demacian, read again and again by the army’s recruits. He wonders how any of them could stomach re-reading such a boring work.
It is, in its way, actually disturbing. The words are those of a zealot, or a fanatic, devoted beyond all thought to his country…or her country. If it is the definitive text for all Demacian…such a single-minded focus could mold minds. He has read works intended for such a purpose before. The Black Sands Doctrine of the slave race his people had discovered, huddling in ancient, ruined cities comes to mind. We live to serve the Masters. Serving the Masters is an honor. We love to serve.
Victory for our allies, defeat for our enemies, and justice for all.
It makes sense that Luxanna Crownguard would have read the Measured Tread. The treatise said she had served in the military…
He frowns and slams the book shut. He has to think about this. His curiosity is leading him to unpleasant places. If a time comes that he knows the female well enough to ask the questions seething at the edges of his mind, then he will ask them and let all the winds take him if they will. He will lay this project aside.
Someone coughs behind him and he has to let his body return partway to stone to keep from yelping like a child. Why must they always sneak up on him, he fumes silently, why do these humans have such dreadfully quiet feet?
“Yes?” he asks after a bout of undignified coughing caused by his suddenly constricted airway.
Something shimmers at the edge of his eyesight, and as he watches, the light folds away to reveal Luxanna, sprawled on a bench, her golden hair spread out in waves. She smiles at him and he flushes, suddenly acutely aware of how ridiculous he must look.
He also prudently pushes the Measured Tread under a bush.
“Luxanna,” he greets her.
“Good morning, Nasus!” she says brightly. All hints of the strange episode she had in the match are gone. She beams at him as she pushes herself up.
Hesitantly, he smiles back at her. She is so filled with joy that he feels a little of it himself. She is so bright, this human, a beautiful prism caught in the light on a sunny day.
“You look well,” he says after a frantic moment where he scrambles for words.
“I just love sunny days,” she chirps, leaning back and staring up at the sky. Suddenly, her head snaps back towards him and he freezes.
“You should call me Lux,” she prompts him gently, her eyes dancing. He blinks at her words.
“That’s very informal,” he mutters disapprovingly.
“It’s supposed to be,” she says, suddenly hopping up. She runs up to him, and giggling, touches his shoulder. He feels her tiny fingers run through his fur, brushing lightly over his skin, and cannot move. Then, she darts off.
“I’ve got to get breakfast, but I’ll be back!” she yells over her shoulder, and Nasus stares after her, his jaw slack. Something had tightened in him when she touched him and now his shoulder is tingling, actually tingling.
((A little bit longer of an update than usual. Hope you enjoy!))
Chapter 5: Singularity
He pulls his legs out of the pond as the last sounds of her footsteps fades, sighing regretfully as he stands up and steps away from the water. His fur is perfectly dry an instant after it touches the air as his body sucks up the moisture, a desert-born trait this wet world renders unnecessary. He attempts to keep these gardens in the same place in his mind as the fountain paths outside his library; a luxury, permitted as long as it remains harmless.
He sighs and rolls his shoulder, his face heating as he glances back at the path. He quickly refastens his armor, shivering as he buckles the cold metal over his chest. It hums slightly as it readjusts to him, tightening itself in some places, loosening in others, warming quickly until it is the same temperature as his skin and as comfortable as a piece of apparel meant to protect vital organs can be. The jewels on his helm and chestplate glow briefly as dozing spells return to wakefulness. He checks over them idly, inspecting the runes that bloom briefly with a critical eye, and nods with satisfaction. He trusts his spellwork enough that he really shouldn’t need to check it every time he put his armor back on, but the habit remains.
He is fairly certain that Lux’s parting words have leashed him to the immediate area, but the energizing effect of the sunlight makes him crave the opportunity to stretch his muscles. He leaves the clearing as a brisk walk, his ears twitching as he listens for voices. He doesn’t have to go far before he can see figures between the gaps in the trees. The path splits and he takes the fork that heads towards them.
The trees open up into a fairly large field, the grass clipped short to flatten the surface. The Ionian blademaster from the match he fought the day before is there with a creature that he finds instantly familiar, a monkey the size of a human, armored in brilliant red and yellow and gesticulating with a slender staff. Standing off to the side is Soraka, and two human females he is unfamiliar with. One is so unassuming as to forgettable, dark-clothed and fanning herself in the shade. The other makes him stare in amazement. A ornate blade of four parts, centered around a glittering ball of energy, floats in front of her, idly changing shape as she talks with the Starchild. She seems little more than a child, a heartbeat in the life of his kind, but there is something in her eyes that chills him despite the sunshine.
All of them, of course, look up as he steps into the clearing.
“Good morning,” he says politely.
“Nasus,” Soraka says, smiling. “This is the volunteer for yesterday’s match I was telling you about, Irelia.”
The quiet female looks at him silently and snaps her fan shut with a quick motion before she holds out her hands to him. Unsure, he walks to her and grips her hands lightly. He feels the fan, smooth and hard, as it presses into his palm.
“You are a gentle one, Knower,” she says gently, craning her neck to look him in the face, “you have left your charges behind you and cannot use your wisdom to protect your people any longer, and your duty weighs upon your soul. Let this weight be lifted by what you do on this world, for there are wrongs to be righted and hurts to mend and innocents to guard a plenty.”
He is speechless as she squeezes his hands and lets go, her dark eyes deep as quicksand as they gaze into his. Relief washes over him, so strong it almost brings tears to his eyes, as he feels something he did not know was aching inside him relax at her words.
“Are you…Irelia?” he asks finally. She shakes her head, smiling slightly.
“No, Nasus. I am called Karma, the currency earned by good an evil deeds.”
The female in red chuckles off to his side. “Nah, I’m Irelia. Sorry about Karma. She tends to forget how discomfiting her insights are.”
He shakes his head, looking at Karma with new respect. “No, I would not say discomfiting. You see without sand in your eyes, registraneya, and I thank you for your wisdom.”
Karma flicks her fan open to hide her face as Irelia laughs, and he pauses his fascinated inspection of every minute detail of Karma’s features to glare at her.
“It is good to see you,” Soraka says earnestly after jabbing Irelia in the ribs with the hilt of her sickle, “but, surely, we can save the philosophy for another time…unless you did visit the sparring field to talk with the Enlightened One?”
He glances around his surroundings, making a note on his mental map of the gardens. Oh, he was going to be coming here often.
“I had hoped to come across such a place,” he says eagerly, nodding to the blademaster and the monkey as they approach, “but I thought I would be accosting other visitors to the gardens, rather than happening across a space built for such a purpose.”
“It’s really just a nice field,” the monkey says, thrusting his staff firmly into the ground and scampering up it to perch on the top, grinning madly.
“My indifferent student in the art of Wuju means that we champions have adapted this space for our purposes,” the blademaster explains, holding his sword lightly between his hands. “We all tend to get the urge to practice our skills and learn a little from each other. There is such an amazing variety of fighting styles here that there is much to adapt to, and a little practice with the champions outside the Fields tends to make you do better inside.”
He looks at the blademaster’s sword and it reminds him of the match, and when he thinks of the match he thinks of Luxanna, and then he remembers the touch and feels hot all over again. The blademaster is still talking, but his thoughts are already elsewhere. How could such a thing have rattled him so? It had been so…painfully odd to have a human touch him in such a personal fashion. If she had patted him on his armored back it would have been surprising but not as dreadfully strange.
He was not used to such a thing. He had been isolated in his library, surrounded and sustained by knowledge but separated from friends and family by his duty. His last, brief flirtation with idea of taking a mate had been almost a hundred years ago, a human lifetime. Not long enough for him to forget raven-headed T’sa’s taloned hands brushing his face as they watched the moons rise, but long enough for him to be unfamiliar with…touching.
And he had liked it, despite everything, and that bothers him. He frowns and looks up to catch the end of what the blademaster is saying.
“—which of us would you like to spar?” he finishes, what is visible of his mouth under his elaborate goggles smiling.
“Karma,” he says instantly, catching her hiding her face again in the corner of his eye. The monkey makes a noise of surprise echoed by both Irelia and the blademaster, who tilts his head in confusion.
“Unusual choice,” Soraka comments idyly.
“Oh, sparring!” he hears, and he sighs as Lux flickers into visibility, tapping her baton against a tree.
“Welcome back,” he growls at her, and she smiles at him. His exasperation melts like the cups of snow in the marketplace at Argent. There is something about her, he thinks again, watching the sunlight shimmer around her. She carries the light with her.
“Oh, I just wanted to see where Garen had run off to,” she says, “but you’re going to spar with Karma? I’ve never seen anyone pick her first, before.“
“She’s the most interesting,” he replies, and Irelia huffs, folding her arms.
“Well, you’ll want to watch out for the fans, of course,” Lux comments, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “She doesn’t need the wind for them, either, so don’t let still air fool you into thinking she can’t hit you.”
Tactical advice? Really? He gestures for her to go on.
“Really, I would think with all your physical prowess, it should be in your favor, but she’s exquisitely poised and has more discipline that even Master Yi, there,” Lux continues, waving at the Ionian blademaster as she mentions him. Master Yi looks disgruntled by her analysis, he thinks, but he is impressed. She reminds him, now, of how she was at the start of the match; incredibly well-informed, and precise as a knife.
“It’ll be good practice for you,” she concludes, smiling at him. “You’re a physical fighter, so you’ll need practice versus magic opponents.”
“The League cannot grasp the breadth of my knowledge,” he retorts, tightening his gauntlets with a thought, “on the Fields, I am restricted to a few, base techniques that they find familiar. I assure you, I have fought sorcerers’ duels before. Still, I enjoy improving without the power of the Scrolls to aid me, and, as I am to be limited in future matches, I wish to learn how to fight with my abilities restricted.”
Her eyes widen and he recognizes the look there. He knows the hunger for knowledge all too well.
“Let’s give them some room, then,” Soraka says to Lux, her voice warm. Startled, she breaks his gaze and nods.
He heads for the center of the field with Karma close behind. As he turns from Lux, he feels her hand touch the back of his arm in the space between his gauntlets and his breastplate, and warmth shoots through him, putting his emotions right back into turmoil.
"Good luck," she breathes, and he nods without looking back.
((Couple of notes after the chapter. This will probably continue from here on out.))
Chapter 6: Spirit Fire
He watches Karma curiously as they stop at the center of the field. She brings out another fan for her other hand and inspects it carefully before she looks back up at him. Perhaps she wonders where his jade staff is? He thinks he could snap her in half like a twig with his bare hands, so slender and frail she looks in her black dress. He sometimes finds it hard to believe that the humans survive without the ability to change their skin to spell-drinking stone. He can only be thankful that his soul still remains connected the desert sands, even a world apart.
He smiles at Karma and reaches out a hand to the empty space beside him.
“Echa,” he says, and the air thrums with the word as his staff appears in his hand, brilliantly green in the sunlight. The moment his fingers touch it the vibrations ceases, the deep note of his magic fading away into echoes and then silence. It is another few breaths before the birds resume their singing.
“Lovely,” Karma says softly. “Was that your language, then?”
“I suppose you could call it that,” he says, looking off into the distance as the echoes die out, at the green-gold light shining through the trees. He swallows down his thoughts until his throat stops burning.
“It means come,” he says, turning back to her, “it is not so difficult a thing to ask of one’s favorite weapon.”
He hears Irelia laugh and Soraka hisses, “Shush! We all know you’re special!” Humans. He doesn’t think it was funny.
He readies himself as Karma flicks open her fans and with a short, shared nod he calls power to the head of his staff and lunges for her. A flick of his wrist sends his staff twirling to catch her on her side. He hopes he won’t break all of her ribs, but he supposes that the Starchild can fix just about any injury.
Karma snaps one fan out to the side and the other towards him. His staff smashes into the thin handle of her fan and stops with a jolt that leaves his hand numb, and as he snarls and snatches it back to his side he hears a whistle. From her outstretched fan, between the folds of jet-colored paper, come a swarm of miniature knives, and he can barely jerk up his armored forearm fast enough to protect his eyes. There is a series of pings as her blades bounce off his armor, but a few find the same gap as Luxanna Crownguard and he grits his teeth against the wave of wracking energy that erupts when they pierce his skin. With a jerk of his own magic the blades drop from his arm and into the grass, and he growls as he shakes his head briskly. He raises his empty hand and pictures the grains of time, falling gently down on Karma’s head as she pulls her fans back to her chest.
The wind stirs the top of the grass and begins to swirl around Karma as she points her fans at him again. The glittering points of her knives have only just left her fans before sand surrounds her, whipping in a golden veil that catches her blades and leaves them hanging in midair. Her superhuman composure flickers and for a second he thinks he sees her mouth part in shock. A curl of her dark red hair escapes from the curling metal rings that hold it back from her face as she whips her fans around them, sudden gusts sending the sand flying. Her knives, released, drop to the ground. He grips the shaft of his staff with both hands and slashes at her with its pointed tip through the roaring wind. It catches her on the shoulder and he grits his teeth as he feels it tear through her skin. The air around her flickers as he brings his staff around for another blow and it smashes against a wall of force around her, the ruby teardrops painted under her eyes glowing as he feeds more energy into his staff and cracks it down on the barrier. Another wave of blades from her fans, passing through the shell without pause, forces him to draw back, the jeweled ankh on his chestplate glowing as it sends them spinning away.
Karma snaps her fans closed and points them at him, a brilliant white line extending from their tips to his chest. He stumbles, feeling the drain on his spirit as it is forced together with hers. He can see her will shining around her as he falters, holding his staff before him defensively as, unblinking, she stares at him and opens one fan to send yet more blades his way.
Her will is liquid silver, radiant in its purity and certainty, and its discipline is unbreakable. It batters against him and he finds himself unable to shield his eyes again. So inwards he looks, and his fur stands on end as stone covers him. The blades shatter on his cheeks and he smiles internally, focusing on their spiritual battle. He calls on experience rather than pure determination to fend her off, somewhat ashamed that his will is more fragile than that of a slip of a human female. He sends centuries of guardianship in an amber torrent and the bond shatters, leaving him gasping for breath, his muscles infinitely lightened, but filled with peculiar regret as he feels her essence slip away. It had been so beautiful.
He returns to flesh and watches the glowing teardrops on her face go dark. She smiles at him and tucks her extra fan back into her belt, bowing her head slightly. Her breathing is even, her clothes immaculate, her skin the same dark gold. Only the spreading wetness on her sleeve and the rip at her shoulder show any sign that she has been fighting.
“There is nothing I have ever seen that is as strong as your will,” he says quietly.
“You are not without conviction,” Karma replies, looking at him with a particular intensity, “but my duty to Ionia is my life. All of my life.”
“Have you no room for anything else?” he asks, stumbling a little over the words. They are…blunt. He hopes she is not offended.
A shadow of something passes over her face and her mouth twists as she shakes her head.
She walks away with her head held high and he follows silently, letting his staff slip through space back to his room as he goes. Irelia runs forwards to be the first to greet them, clasping her hands together as her sword spins giddily over her head.
“That was amazing! I’ve never seen anyone who could fight off her spirit bond the first time they experience it! You’re quite something, aren’t you?” she says merrily, but on her last words he thinks he catches a glimpse of the darkness he’d seen earlier in her. It didn’t sound like a compliment.
She looks him up and down and he wonders what she thinks.
“He’s a friend, Irelia,” Soraka murmurs behind the little red-armored girl, and her cheeks darken.
“Just want to be prepared,” she says shortly, then smiles at him again. He reaches out and cautiously grips her armored shoulder and squeezes it, hoping he gauged the pressure at friendly and not bone-breaking. She laughs and pats his hand.
Pressure was friendly! Good guess, there.
“I’m surprised you didn’t use your spirit fire to get past her shield,” the Ionian blademaster comments, scratching at his chin.
“I didn’t want to set the meadow on fire by accident,” he growls, and the monkey cackles.
“Hah! Didn’t want to hurt the pretty lady, he means!”
He blinks in confusion as Karma ducks behind her fan. Soraka raises her sickle purposefully and the monkey flees as brilliant strips of violet light fall out of the sky on top of him, scorching him through his armor. His yelps fade into the distance as Nasus chuckles. The Starchild huffs and lays a hand on Karma’s bleeding shoulder, which glows briefly before the bloodstains vanish and the rip knits itself back together.
He waves Soraka off when she tries to heal the pricks in his elbow.
“It’s nothing,” he insists after she puts her hands on her hips and glares at him.
“Men,” she snorts.
He decides against reminding her that is not, in fact, a human male. He moderately certain it won’t actually do him any good.
“I should go collect Wukong,” the blademaster sighs, nodding politely at the females and clasping his hand briefly.
“And I think I’ll be taking these two to lunch,” Soraka says firmly. Irelia grins and her blade splits into a thousand fragments, whizzing around her like a deadly swarm of butterflies.
Karma holds out her hands to him and he takes them briefly, his thumb rubbing against the hard handle of her fan once again. It looks so deceptively fragile. Much like her.
He can feel her will now, an impenetrable shell around her that moves with her like a second skin, and out of curiosity he reaches out with his own mind and nudges against the silver veil. It ripples and he distantly hears her gasp.
She rips her hands out of his and runs after Soraka and Irelia.
I have to admit, while I was writing this chapter...well, my thoughts went all over the place.
Karma is interesting to write, to be certain. Your thoughts on her and her interactions with Nasus in this chapter are appreciated xD
The story might end up taking a little bit of a different turn that I originally thought...
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