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Unstable Matters: the Journal of Zac

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Rekhyt26

Member

03-11-2014

Holy hell, never thought I'd see more to this story. Glad you picked it back up though!


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AbiwonKenabi

Senior Member

03-17-2014

Very entertaining! I like how you portrayed the Institute of War. Excited to see what's next! Although, Zac didn't ask for the special...


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MSN00100

Recruiter

04-13-2014

Chapter 5: Instituting War (Part 3)

Zac barely took his first step out onto the street, before getting shoved from behind by the door of the bakery slamming shut behind him. He watched the curtains on the front door’s window draw themselves closed along with the front display window, making it impossible to see inside from the street.

He was alone, hungry, and had lots of answers for questions he couldn’t remember.

“Don’t forget these.”

He turned around at the sudden sound of Morgana’s voice behind him, and without warning was hit in the face with a brown paper bag. The front door had opened only a tiny crack behind him, before being slammed shut once again. Waiting for a second to make sure nothing else was going to happen, he peeled the bag from his own face before opening it and taking a look inside.

“Poro-snax?” he said to himself, taking out one of the small circular biscuits with his fingers. He looked back into the brown paper bag and counted four more beside the one he was holding. “What the heck is this for?”

“HEY YOU!”

Zac jumped again from the sudden shout directed at him, nearly dropping the biscuit in his fingers as well. Coming out of a nearby alleyway, Vi waved one of her gigantic hextech gauntlets in the air at him as she came over.

“About time you got out! I’ve been waiting all damn--” Vi stopped herself in front of him, plucking the brown biscuit from his fingers with her own. “Wait, is this a poro-snax? Is this where the League gets these things?”


“Yeah, I guess so,” was all Zac could think to say back. He glanced over his shoulder at Sinful Succulence one last time, half expecting Morgana to be peering at them from the front window with a moody and sullen look on her face.

“That’s good! Just in time then!” Vi said, laughing as she slapped him on the back hard, nearly knocking him over as she did. “We’ll need those on the Howling Abyss. I like feeding those cute little fur balls.”

“Wait, what?” Zac felt his jaw run slack for the countless time in the day.

“Yeah, we gotta’ go fight in a match. Something between Ashe and Sejuani.” Vi shrugged apathetically. “I don’t know why, but they choose us. I was in the middle of an investigation with Cupcake, you know? But that’s how it is! The Summoners organizing the whole thing asked me to come get you, since I told them I knew where you were.”

The sun above continued to beat down on his head mercilessly with its searing rays, which would be in stark contrast to the goo-freezing gale-force winds that blew around the historic bridge in Freljord now commonly known as the Howling Abyss. Zac groaned, feeling the weight of reality start to press down on his shoulders. Secretly he resisted the urge to ditch Vi and make a break for the nearest sewer drain to slide into it and away from all of his problems. Nothing good ever came from fighting on the god-forsaken bridge in the middle of Freljord, where there was barely any room to dodge your enemy’s attacks never mind your own allies.

Looking down the street from where he had came, the expansive domes of the Institute of War could be clearly seen in the horizon. They stood above even the highest buildings in the city surrounding the Institute, forever shadowing the city as a constant reminder of its authority across the entire continent. He didn’t even know what he had to return for, other than the fact that there were going to be five others prepared to fight to the death against him.

But did it really matter? Hadn’t one of the first things he had been forced to learn was that not every fight would be one for peace, truth, or justice? Hadn’t he known that even before he had stepped through the Reflect Chamber and been judged by the League?

Zac was snapped out of his thoughts when he heard Vi asked him a question.

“Before we go, how’d it go? Did you talk to the old bat and get what I told you to?” she asked him, elbowing him where his ribs would be if he had any bones. “The baker’s special? Did you get the good stuff?”

“I got something,” Zac said, remembering the nasty looking substance Morgana had served him. Although the taste hadn’t been revolting or too disgusting, going down his gullet the black wash had the texture of a slime even slicker than his own. Worse than all of that, he had forgotten to order anything to eat while they had been talking. “Was it supposed to look and smell like molten tar?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” Vi nodded. “Trust me, now you’ll be good to go for the rest of the afternoon.”

“So… What was in it then?” he asked, noticing how Vi seemed oddly pleased over hearing him take her recommendation.

“What was in it?” Vi repeated. He watched her turn around immediately, trying to laugh off his concerns. “Ahh…erm… Well, that’s not important! The only thing that matters is that you drank it! It’s good for you, trust me on that.”

She turned back to him and laughed again, as he continued to stare down at her with a face of miserable betrayal and suspicion. Cringing guiltily a little at his irate face, she turned around and started walking back to the Institute of War without him.

“I said don’t worry about it! It’s good for you! Trust me!”

“Can you at least tell me if it was dangerous!?” Zac shouted, following behind her at his own pace.

“Don’t worry about it!”

“Should I be seeing a doctor!?”

“Trust me!”
________________________________________

“Oh take your time, I’m already dead!”

Zac rolled his eyes at the Greyor, the eternal spectral shopkeeper for the blue side of the Howling Abyss Field of Justice. Most of the ghostly viking’s quips and prattling could be tuned out, somedays. Maybe Avarosa had killed him to shut him up, and trusting him with being the first warning to the Watchers return was an afterthought.

Stepping out from the starting point on his end of the bridge, with his first step he had nearly slipped and fallen over on the icy stone bricks that made up the invincible bridge spanning the Howling Abyss. The icy new world he was in was a token example of the powerful magics the Institute utilized every day. Nothing any of the champions fighting on the bridge day in and day out could damage it. Almost every afternoon the ancient stone structure was subjected to magic, blades, and explosives. No matter how many times anyone fought on it, the bridge remained a time-frozen historical monument to the Freljord’s history.

Running one last mental checklist in his head, he looked down at his own two hands and tried to discern a difference from his regular size. Just like any other Field of Justice, the magic enchantment from items that increased his health also increased his physical size. With his starting gold his Summoner had decided to go with a more standard build route of a pair of Boots and a Giant’s Belt. But as far as he could tell there wasn’t too much of a difference to his size, or at least not yet. He felt a lot more confident and intimidating the larger he got, but the clear downside was that it was harder to dodge the countless things thrown his way with killing intent.


Out in the distance near their second tower he could see Vi holding out her own poro-snax to a small little white fur ball with a gigantic tongue. The poro in question looked very conflicted, having to decide whether or not to accept the tasty treat from a punch-happy cop with gigantic steel fists.

“Excuse me?”

Zac turned around, seeing Ashe behind him. There were magics in play that prevented the harsh conditions of the Howling Abyss from affecting the champions fighting on it, but there was something that always nagged him about many of the Champions from Freljord. Some dressed as someone would expect people (or creatures) coming from a fiercely cold region of the world, while others...did not. Then again, who was he to critique the fashion sense of others when he never wore clothes in the first place.

With Avarosa’s famous bow of ice in hand and a full quiver on her back, Ashe lowered the hood of her black and gold laced cloak letting the wind blow her silver hair back.

“I’m sorry to inconvenience you like this,” the frost archer said, bowing politely as she did. “I’m sure you had plans for today, but I was told there weren’t many champions available.”

“No, not really,” Zac said, nonchalantly shrugging as he did. In fact, the last thing he wanted to think about were the strange happening of the last few hours. “I’m surprised to hear that, though. I thought the only reason all of are here is to fight.”

“Some of us more than others,” Tryndamere said, walking up alongside his wife and shouldering his massive blade. “I can’t wait to put that bearded buffoon in his place! The Ursine leader might make a good challenge too.”

Zac nodded numbly at the barbarian king’s words, slowly remembering what he could about his opponents just out of sight on the other side of the bridge. Champions aligned or representing the tribe of the Winter’s Claw. For a short while the Institute had ran a competition between the three princesses contending for control of Freljord, allowing the grievances of each tribe to be fought over in the Fields of Justice. City-State leaders, Champions, hell, just about everyone from all of the different city-states had placed bets, organized closed-door deals, and formed alliances all for the sake of profiting between the civil war taking place far away from the home of the actual forces fighting.

Because of it, he had become painfully acquainted with Sejuani, the successor to Seryida’s spirit and the tribal leader of the Winter’s Claw. Remembering what Tryndamere had said, it meant that her two allies, Volibear the Ursine leader, and Olaf the berserker, would be fighting alongside her too. Together the three were not pushovers, both in reputation and strength.

“Getting cold feet?”

Zac turned around at a third all-too familiar voice behind him. On the opposite side behind him Morgana stood with a sour frown on her face, wearing a freshly laundered set of the same baking outfit he had seen her wearing when he had been in Sinful Succulence earlier. It was a sight to behold; one that was more comically out of place on the Howling Abyss than anything else he had seen save for Singed in his beach attire. He thought about asking what had happened or why she had decided to join them, but the expression on the fallen angel’s face made it clear that her own pun hadn’t been made in jest.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Morgana said, pulling him by the arm toward where Vi was patting the poro she had fed on the head. “I have a plan. For now you two stay here for a few minutes,” she commanded, walking ahead and leaving Ashe and Tryndamere behind before they could say anything.

“You said you have a plan?” Zac asked after waiting a moment, still being pulled by his arm into the brush near the middle of the bridge. Making some sort of hand gesture, Morgana caught Vi’s attention and they all entered the thick overgrown brush together.

“Yes. Give them a minute,” Morgana explained without explaining anything. “Vi, can you see where Sejuani is?”

“Yeah, there she is.” Vi immediately pointed a finger outward into the hailing rain and snow around them.

Zac focused his vision to the opposite side of the bridge as well. Standing in front of the enemy tower he could make out the outline of someone in thick armor riding a large animal. Unmistakably the inseparable duo of Sejuani and her giant boar Bristle.


“You don’t think she’s going to offer us a spot of tea, do you?” Vi said, doing her best to mimic Caitlyn with the ending part of her question.

“No, and I don’t think the Ursine or berserker will either,” Morgana said dryly, as Zac could make out two other figures standing strong next to Sejuani in the haze of the snow storm. “This could get ugly, and fast. I want nothing to do with all three of those brainless animals.”

“Alright, I’m counting three of them.” Zac looked around, peeking his head out of the overgrowth in the center of the Howling Abyss with Vi and Morgana still crouched down at his sides. “So who are the other two that should be with them?”

“They’re right next to us, you fool,” Morgana scoffed, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Who do you think we’re waiting for? Can’t you sense them?”

“Well I guess that’s our cue. Howdy folks.”

In a puff of smoke Twisted Fate and Evelynn suddenly appeared together, quickly crossing the small gap between the two brushes that evenly divided the center point of the Howling Abyss bridge. Both the Card Master and Widowmaker were wearing matching costumes, a combination of red and black that toppled Morgana’s bakers outfit as the most ridiculous thing to wear on a Field of Justice. But before he could ask any questions or even match Twisted Fate’s greeting, Vi jumped to her feet with a fist ready.


“EAT THIS!” Vi shouted, and threw her steel hextech fist forward with enough force to decapitate Twisted Fate right where he stood. In a flash Zac reached out and intercepted it, the gelatinous mass of his own large fists catching Vi’s and stopping it before it could reach its target.

Morgana rolled his eyes, letting out an audible huff. “Down, you police dog. They’re here to talk, not to fight.”

“Aww,” Vi groaned, throwing her arms up in the air. “Damn it Morg! If I can’t punch things, what am I doing here!?”

Seeing that he was safe for the moment, Twisted Fate breathed a sigh of relief.

“Woah now officer,” Twisted Fate said, raising both his hands defensively and standing to partially shield Evelynn as he did. “We’re not here to dance today. How about you hearin’ us out before we start dealin’ cards?”

“Yes, yes. But first things first. Hello Evelynn,” Morgana said, smiling and shoving Zac aside roughly to step in front of him. “It’s been far too long. How have you been?”

“Morgana,” Evelynn said, returning her friend’s greeting with her own evil smile. “Yes, it has been far too long hasn’t it? These pesky Summoners keep me busy all of the time these days. They have no consideration for a woman and her needs.”

“Oh tell me about it,” Morgana bemoaned. “First they tell me that I’m not cut out to fight in the middle lane, just as my older sister starts becoming popular again! But instead of giving me a well-deserved break, they send me to the bottom lane to play babysitter with those foolish marksmen. The nerve of this Institute and their Summoners some days!”

“Um,” Zac tried to interject, but felt himself being increasingly ignored as seconds ticked past. He looked over at Vi who was rolling her eyes and making a face like she were about to vomit. “Are we going to… Maybe we should… Uh…”

“Don’t even bother, son.” Twisted Fate patted his hand on Zac’s shoulders and flashed him a slim but knowing smile. “They’ll be in their own world for a little, so let’s talk about ours.”

“Fair enough.” Zac found himself agreeing, noticing that Tryndamere and Ashe were finally coming over the blue side of the bridge together. “I guess you have something in mind?”

“I think you can probably tell,” the card wielding gypsy said, pointing to himself as he spoke. “I was in the middle of something very important before I was summoned here. I’d like to get back to that as soon as possible, understand me?”

“Yeah, me too!” Vi added, starting to bounce in place out of boredom while stretching her arms. “But I want to smack Olaf around first. I owe him a good beating from a few days ago.”

“Then you can go have fun with the barbarian king and his queen,” Morgana interrupted, turning from her conversation with Evelynn. She made a shooing motion with her hand at Vi. “The adults are talking now. Go throw Sejuani off the side of the side of the bridge, or something.”

“Yeah!? Well maybe I will! Because it sounds fun, that’s why!” Vi blew a raspberry at the fallen angel and company, before exiting the overgrowth and walking over to Tryndamere and Ashe who were still approaching together behind them all. Morgana simply groaned aloud at the immature display of defiance, before going back to conversing with Evelynn in private.

Zac watched her go, making sure that she was far out of listening distance before he turned back to Twisted Fate.

“She’s gone. Did you find anything out?”

“Of course,” Twisted Fate grinned. “You’d be surprised how damn sloppy Noxian agents are when they think they’re in safe territory.”

Slipping a hand into his inner coat pocket, he pulled out a small slip of paper and discreetly handed it to him. Peeking his head out of the brush, Zac checked one more time that both Sejuani’s group and Ashe’s group were far enough away that it would be impossible for them to eavesdrop in on their conversation.


“You were right about Katarina making repeated trips to Bilgewater. Swain is claiming in public that she’s returning back to Noxus to train Crimson Elite recruits, but every leave of absence she takes, she never returns back to her home city-state.”

“Do you know what she’s doing there?”

“The same thing she was doing during the Ionian war; rounding up privateers and slipping them gold to raid merchants of other city-states.” Twisted Fate tipped his hat, frowning heavily. “Downright dirty business, if you ask me. A pretty poor use of one of their best assassins.”

“Yeah, you read my mind Fate.” Zac looked over what he had written, noting the names of ships and places visited. All of the names were unfamiliar to him. “Thanks for this.”

“Don’t thank me when you’re paying me. Speaking of which, can I ask for an advance on my next job?” Twisted Fate pointed back to Evelynn discretely. “I could use the gold for…personal reasons.”

“I’ll ask the head honchos for an advance on my allowance,” Zac said, handing the piece of paper back to him. He went over the names he had read in his head one more time, making sure to memorize them for the future. “Let me ask first, did you actually have a plan for this mess?”

Twisted Fate scratched his chin in thought.

“Well, I reckon we should do what we always do; go out and try our best not to get killed.”

“...Oh.”

Zac popped his head out of the brush, alerted to the sudden sounds of battle. But instead of the fierce exchange of blows he had been expecting, two figures from both sides were still standing on their own ends watching something happening in the middle of the bridge. Squinting so he could see over Ashe and Tryndamere, he could vaguely make out Vi holding Volibear in a literal steel headlock, and was giving him the most painful noogie he had ever seen.

Next to him Twisted Fate gave a low chuckled at seeing the ongoing antics for himself. From behind him he felt Morgana’s hand in her oven mitts pat him on the shoulder, and he turned to see the fallen angel giving him a sign that it was their time to leave.

“Are you ready?”

It was such a simple question. Really, it was. Was it the incredible past Morgana had gone through that made everything in the League so casual to her? Or had her experience in the League slowly affected her outlook on it? Would he be the same, if he remained fighting for the years to come?

No. Killing and being killed with such common frequency would never be normal for him.

And he would do everything in his power to keep it that way.

“Alright,” Zac sighed, watching Evelynn and Twisted Fate leave together.

“Let’s get this over with.”
________________________________________


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MSN00100

Recruiter

04-13-2014

Chapter 5: Instituting War (Part 3 Cont.)

“Have you found anything?”

Talon opened another drawer, pushing aside the contents inside and looking around for anything underneath hidden. Turning up nothing for the untold time, he closed the drawer and opened the next one beneath it.

“No.”

“Then keep searching,” Katarina commanded, casually turning the page of the book in her hands. She then kicked her legs up, and spread herself out over a lush sofa in the room.

Talon grumbled an obscenity under his breath, making sure it was just loud of enough for Katarina to know he had said it. But the elder Du Couteau sister remained seated; wearing an uncaring expression as she casually continued reading the book she had picked out from a shelf.

As a vassal of the late General Du Couteau, his fate had been left undecided with the precarious political position the family found itself in with the rise of Jericho Swain to the position of Grand General. He had been trained with enough wits to know that the Du Couteau family (along with other noble houses) had been in the sights of the master tactician as a political scapegoat for the mediocre campaign in Ionia. It was impossible to tell in such times whether or not the hostilities would extend outward toward the servants of the family as well.

After all, House Du Couteau had played a key role in the downfall of the Black Rose Society several centuries ago. The specifics as to what Katarina and Cassiopeia’s ancestors did were unknown, but something significant had happened. Something distasteful enough that the current matron of the Black Rose Society still held a personal grudge against House Du Couteau. It was hardly a secret to anyone with a brain and access to the Institute of War’s files on their Champion roster that Swain and LeBlanc shared some sort of clandestine relationship. How deep that relationship went, however, could only be left to one’s imagination.

But then a year later, without warning he was informed that he had been selected by the reformed High Command to join the Champions representing Noxus on the Fields of Justice. From the pawn of one general to another, he found himself plucked out of the bleak limbo of Noxian politics and into an entirely different world.

A strange world. A world where the people he killed never really died, and he in turn couldn’t be killed by them. A world where he was told ahead of time what every fight was for. A world where there were different opponents every single time, whose own fighting styles were as wild as his imagination. A world where the people above him knew everything about him; far more than he ever would have been comfortable with years before.

Maybe new his position was a sign of sorts. A message intended for both Katarina and Cassiopeia, that Swain wanted to bury the unspoken hatchet between them and focus on the success of Noxus in the League. Or maybe it was an unspoken agreement that if they cooperated with him when fighting in the League, he would not go through with whatever vengeful whisperings LeBlanc had in store.

Or maybe it was easier to keep track of the vengeful remnants of a dead House if they were in one place.

“What am I looking for?” Talon felt the need to ask again, after the search through another drawer filled with junk turned up nothing of value. He was used to have to take the occasional odd job, but acting like a petty thief was by far the lowest thing he had been tasked with.

“Information,” Katarina answered, still clutching the small book in her hands possessively.

“What kind?”

“Anything useful,” Katarina answered again, just as specific as the first time. “Keep on it.”

She could practically feel Talon’s blood boiling under the surface of his skin, as he turned back around and continued searching. It was always fun teasing the street rat who had been brought into their home so suddenly without warning. The quiet, mumbling, grumbling, angry little brother whose nose she could rub in the dirt. Maybe it was to just spite Cassiopeia, who clung to their bloodline too tightly as measurement of self-worth, but there was something nice about having someone in the house who could appreciate her lethal talents. And someone who she could use as a punching bag whenever she felt like it.

It was funny to think that the words of her late father about the gutter rat rung true even to today. Her old man had forced perspective into Talon’s mind with the threat of death. Pushed to the brink, he had given the youth the opportunity to use him and be used in turn. Live the life of a dog to learn as many tricks as he could from the master.

Thinking about it, maybe Swain had been forced to do the same since becoming a Champion too.

“I’ve found something.”

Distracted by the touch of nostalgia, Katarina shook herself out of it. “Show it to me,” she ordered.

She watched Talon pull a folded piece of paper out from a long striped sock, of all the things. Odd, considering she didn’t even know whether or not the owner was capable of wearing clothing with such a fluid body.

“What is it?” Katarina asked. Slowly he peeled whatever was in his hands apart, displaying how many times it had been folded over and over into a much more discrete size and shape. After what felt like a small eternity, Talon finished and spread the paper out onto the table in front of her.

“...A map?”

“Looks like it,” he commented, hovering over the table and scanning it with his eyes. Pulling back the hood of his cowl, he pointed to several points on the map that had been circled. “It looks like some part of Valoran.”

“No, it’s a map of the Institute,” Katarina breathed, slowly taking the realization in. She remained silent, eyes narrowed to meager slits scanning over the map carefully. Talon could see how hard she was thinking from her facial expressions alone, and he imagined maybe a hundred thoughts were passing through her mind all at once despite her silence.

But suddenly without another word spoken, she went back to relaxing and spread herself over the sofa as she had been before.

“Interesting. Very interesting.”

Talon raised an eyebrow, trying to translate the mixed signals she was sending him. There was something she could clearly see that he hadn’t noticed. Maybe something that came from being in the loop of the High Command, and it didn’t look like she was going to enlighten him any time soon. As much as he hated to admit it, after everything that had happened involving the Du Couteau estate, Katarina was still his superior in many ways. General Du Couteau may have been the only man alive to earn his respect, but his elder daughter was starting to eclipse his image faster than the old man would have even been comfortable admitting.

When she had approached him early in the day, she had only said that she needed his help with something. Granted, that alone was more information than he was used to getting when it came to his line of work. Assassins and spies knew better than to ask questions, since results were all that mattered. But when she had revealed to him that her plan was to break into the living quarters of another Champion in the Institute, that was when he knew something had changed. Something big.

Something worth his time, for once.

Or so he had thought.

One of the first things he had been forced to learn when becoming a Champion, was the raw volume of rules and regulations the Institute of War maintained. There were strict regulations for the apartments Champions resided in, and even their behavior for entering into the surrounding city. These layers and layers of rules were all laid out in advance, all to protect the integrity of the League from every city-state’s subtle or unsubtle attempts at sabotaging each other to get better results out of fights. The Institute of War was a fortress rivaling any other in the world, and the residences of its Champions were just the tip of an iceberg.

Summoners in the Institute had to have identifying papers kept on their persons at all times, and Summoners representing specific city-states were forbidden from interacting with Champions outside of controlling them on a Field of Justice. Random memory checks and scans were common, to keep track of the activities of Summoners who came and went from the Institute back to their homes. If those weren’t enough, the hextech security devices and magic spells lacing every square inch of the Institute prevented any breaches of security from ever happening.

Everyone knew that breaking the rules came with punishments ranging from exotic to downright cruel. All Champions were not exempt from these rules, no matter their standing in their home city-states.

So what did a green jelly-man who never interacted with anyone or showed any signs of caring for anything have that was worth getting caught for?

“Kat, what are--” he began, but was quickly cut off with a quickly hand gesture. A tight open palm directed at him, the universal sign for him to shut up. Katarina shot him a sharp look as well, but he ignored it by focusing his attention elsewhere.

Something was coming down the hall toward the room they were in. Two somethings.

A wet slapping sound set to the pace of an even walk.

And a loud clopping, the sound of someone walking in heavy boots matching the pace of the former.

“****,” Talon cursed audibly. Around him he knew that the room was still in disarray, and the signs that someone had been in it were too many to clean up in haste. If they fled quickly enough, it was possible that they would never be identified as the culprits. On the other hand, if word got out that the absolute defenses of the Institute had been broken, it would be a living hell in the future with what new rules the Institute would put in place. On top of that--

“Talon. Listen to me. Calm down,” Katarina ordered, as cool as she had been ever since they bypassed the lethal security runes around the apartment. “Stay put, and look respectable. Don’t do anything foolish.”

Only fools hesitate.

Of all the quips and proverbs he listened to Katarina spout from time to time, it was no coincidence that the most apropos one to his situation came to mind first. Maybe he had gotten rusty, being used to fighting the same opponents over and over again in a never changing world. Thinking about it, he had almost caved into the pressure of his assignment for the first time in a very, very long time. It was shameful to think about, and was made worse by the fact that he had done so right in front of his superior.

Something that Katarina would no doubt rub his nose in after the moment were done.

Assuming they both lived that long.

He could hear their voices growing louder. Two people approaching them at their own pace, unaware of who and what was waiting in store for them. It was a strange twist to fate, Talon then realized, that he had gotten ahead of his target in the most fortified city in the world, only for his mission to have no killing involved.

“I don’t think they’re happy with us, you know that right?”

“They never said it was against the rules! I mean, come on! She deserved it! Admit it!”

Zac loudly groaned for what had to have been the tenth time in the same day. The fight over the Howling Abyss had gone over well, all things considered. If you considered being frozen like a popsicle from an enchanted bolas, and getting clawed to death by an armored Ursine part of your routine. To top it off, the results of the match were being reviewed by Institute officials over calls of misconduct by Champions on both sides.

How was he supposed to know that dropkicking Sejuani off of Bristle before tossing her off the side of the bridge wasn’t allowed in a fight to the death?

...Or maybe it was that he had inspired Vi to do the exact same thing, mirroring him perfectly, when Sejuani rejoined the fight a minute later.

It was pretty funny, in a terribly morbid way. He shivered a little at the guilty pleasure running through him over thinking about it. He could never admit it of course, but the deed had been done with a disgusting sense of accomplishment. Sejuani cursing and threatening him before he threw her over into the abyss only added to his morally ambiguous mirth.

“That’s not the point, I think. I kno--” Zac began, but then stopped.

His bedroom door was open. It was a clear view from the hall that lead from the entrance foyer, and he almost did a double take from not noticing earlier. Not only that, but the magic lighting was on as well. Someone or something was in his house! Or had been, and had done a sloppy job of cleaning up after them.

“What? Did you leave the lights on or something?” Vi said, looking up ahead of them. “I do it all the time. No biggie.”

He couldn’t help but look at her like she was daft that time. It was no secret to anyone that the apartments of every Champion in the Institute lived on premise in small fortresses unto themselves. The countless layers of magic seals and runes inscribed into the very foundation of the building meant that it would be a monumental task to break in and out of one. It would be less time consuming for someone or some group to completely destroy the building and sift through the ruins if they had wanted something inside. And even then, it was no guarantee that the seals and runes leftover wouldn’t fry you like an egg by just coming close.


Allowing visitors in was a chore unto itself. The proper authorities had to be told that you would be having someone over, then they would have to check for approval from some other group is that person would be allowed to stay with you, even if it was for only a minute. It had taken nearly half an hour to get approval for Vi to come over to his apartment, all to just have a conversation that they could have had outside without any hassle.

Not wasting another second, Zac put a finger up over his lips and prayed that Vi would understand.

Mercifully the pink-haired enforcer got his meaning, and stayed silent following close behind him.

He tried stepping lightly at first, but it was hard to ignore the loud and wet slopping sound of his own feet every step he took. A painful reminder that stealth was not his forte. He would probably have a better chance sneaking up on anyone if he crawled like a living puddle across the ground, and what remained of his pride wouldn’t have him doing it any time soon.

You know what? Forget it, Zac thought to himself.

Giving up all pretenses of stealth, he just marched straight up to the door. But standing right outside its open frame, it suddenly closed without warning, slamming shut with a loud clap. When nothing happened after waiting a few second, he knew what he had to do.

Someone has a nasty sense of humor.

Lifting a hand and slapping it against the door’s frame, it made a loud enough noise suitable to pass as a knock.

“...Can I come in?” he asked through the door, trying to ignore the indignity of playing along with his mystery guest’s fun.

“It’s open. Come in,” came a disgusting casual answer from someone familiar on the other side.

Looking at Vi who just shrugged at him, Zac opened the door and stepped inside to his own bedroom.

Sitting as if she had just ordered a cup of coffee, Katarina sat on one of the large plush sofas he never had guests for in his room. Standing next to her was Talon, who appeared to be trying to hide his discomfort at being confronted by two other Champions. It was hard to tell with people like him who never showed any emotion even when they were pleased with themselves. But when contrasted to the Sinister Blade sitting idly by, the difference was highlighted much brighter.

He wanted to ask a question. A simple one. But since it probably would have come out sounding really dumb, he was glad that Katarina spoke first.

“Welcome back,” she started, doing the best not to smirk. “Come in an--”

“HEY!” Vi shouted, interrupting her and shoving her way past Zac and in through the door. She then pointed her gigantic steel fists at both intruders. “Wait a damn minute! This is breaking and entering! You’re both under arrest!”

“This isn’t Piltover you idiot,” Katarina gave Vi a flat stare. “You’re not in charge of anything here.”

“That hasn’t stopped me before!” Vi shouted back, undeterred. “Now come quietly! And don’t make me use lethal force!”

“What a pain,” Talon muttered, standing up. He pushed his cloak aside, the inside being covered with the throwing daggers he used in his signature Rake technique. He then switched his own stance so that they could be thrown out without a moment’s hesitation. “A weakling like you isn’t even a challenge.”

“So, you want to do this the hard way, eh?” Vi asked, holding up her own steel fist threateningly in response. “Fine by m--”

“Hold it!”

Both Vi and Talon stopped, and turned to Katarina who was still sitting collectedly despite her sudden outburst. Everyone in the room turned to her after the sudden interruption, waiting for what she would say next.

“Can’t you two do this another time?”

Talon and Vi looked at each other, before looking back to Katarina. Talon simply scowled, while Vi shook her head rapidly from side to side as her answer. Katarina looked back and them both, and groaned in exasperation. Finally after a moment, she caved in and sighed.

“Fine. But no weapons, okay?”

Talon and Vi exchanged glances, in what Zac could only think of some sort of silent agreement to her conditions. In a single swift movement, Talon removed his cloak and began working to take his signature bladed arm guards off of his self. Still standing next to Zac, Vi dropped her two hextech fists to the ground, letting them fall with a loud thud from their own weight.

“I know about you,” Vi cracked her knuckles on one hand before doing it to the other. “They say you’re one of Noxus’ best assassins, right? Well I bet you’re not so tough in a straight fight.”


“And you’re the cop who can’t catch a screaming, hyperactive child,” Talon retorted, and Zac watched Vi’s expression drop. “Pathetic.”

As far as Zac heard, Vi never even said a word.

It took her less than half a second to clear the distance between them, and tackle Talon to the ground. Talon to his credit reacted immediate, kicking his attacker in the gut and throwing her off of him. But Vi was more stubborn than he had given her credit, and the two rolled away, locked punching, kicking, and yelling into another room. All the while turning over and breaking things as they went.

“Where were we? Ah, yes. Welcome back,” said the crimson assassin smoothly to the bio-weapon still standing in the doorway. Behind her the fighting between Talon and Vi continued uninterrupted, the curses and shouts of both Champions echoing loud enough for anyone to hear outside of the apartment. Something loud and fragile sounding shattered, but was drowned out by the sound of something tougher breaking right after. “Come in and close the door. We need to talk.”

Zac continued to stare in disbelief, his jaw hanging slightly ajar under him. Talon and Vi were somewhere still in the mists of their fight, with both Champions going from one adjacent room to another grappling and throwing punches back and forth. From a room away he could hear very violent sounds, as well as more of his possessions being destroyed wherever they went.

Still in front of him, the red-haired instigator of everything remained seated just as calmly as she had probably been before he returned. Even with what was happening, she wore an expression of utter uncaring as if she were relaxing outside and watching the sunset in peace.

Looking at his unflattering expression, Katarina laughed lightly.

“Happy one year anniversary, by the way.”


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Rekhyt26

Member

04-16-2014

That was Hilarious. All I have to say, and all that needs to be said, other than well done.


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MSN00100

Recruiter

04-26-2014

Chapter 6: Anniversary

You may have noticed that the Institute of War has some strange policies.

I’m sure no one is going to argue with me on that one. Keeping monsters like Nocturne, Brand, and Fiddlesticks in the basement of the Institute, allowing more and more monsters from the Void into our dimension, regulating the sales of magic artifacts and weapons while banning others, and secretly instigating violent conflicts across the world to justify their existence.

When I told Morgana that the League wasn’t perfect, I meant it. I’m not stupid enough to believe that the old men and women in robes are these all-powerful saints with clean moral palettes and hearts of gold. Power. Prestige. Wealth. Fame. Infamy. All of these things can be earned by anyone with enough talent and the skill. There are a lot of downsides to this, but…

Well, the system we have isn’t perfect, but it’s worth fighting for.

I wonder from time to time if I’m becoming too short sighted. Too eager to defend something because it’s all I know. If a better system were to come along someday, would I even be able to see it for what it was? Because all I can think about some days are what we stand to lose if what we have fails.

At the time I’m writing this Valoran is more at peace than it has ever been in its history, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go back to the times during the Rune Wars. Living in a world that could be torn asunder by the reckless actions of others hundreds of miles away. A hellish landscape scarred by a violent, reckless abandon humanity always took toward inflicting harm on others. A world where you couldn’t even be sure if the sun was going to rise the next morning, or rain fireballs down on everything you know and love.

Or so I thought. I had been wrong before, and this wasn’t going to be the exception.

Anyway; the only policy that’s ever concerned me was my one-year anniversary.

It was on 29 March 2013 CLE that I walked through the reflecting room and into a new world.

And on 30 March 2014 CLE, I discovered that Katarina Du Couteau (with Talon) had broken into my apartment for the purpose of offering me a job.

The time difference between the two wasn’t coincidental. Neither was Luxanna Crownguard warning me of things to come earlier in the same day. In fact, I was a little surprised that Demacia didn’t act first if they knew that their Noxian counterparts were going to. Maybe the Noxian High Command isn’t the only structured military with red tape problems running up and down its structure.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I would bother involving myself in something so sketchy, since I was under no obligation to accept her request. Unfortunately, that’s a more complicated situation that I will have to save writing about for another time.

Instead, let me explain something related to that.

There are many things neutral Champions can do to promote their own image in the League. Fighting alongside Champions from other city-states for their causes is only one of many. There are a lot of perks to being renowned and popular outside of the Institute’s circles, but that same fame can quickly become a double edged sword. If a Champion unaffiliated with a city-state builds up a reputation, willingly or otherwise, it is not uncommon for the Institute to have said Champion take steps to maintain it. A price to be paid for not opting to take a more concrete stance in the politics of Valoran.

For some Champions, it’s as simple as letting newspapers and tabloids write columns about their daily lives. Or going on publicity campaigns about hot political topics. Something for the Institute to work with when it came to promoting their image, and remind the public of each city-state that there were more Champions in the League than their own.

All the kinds of things I wasn’t too keen on, basically.

Unfortunately for me, the idea of an artificial life form bred in a Zaun laboratory out of inanimate chemicals was cool to a lot of people. The fact that I could talk and think for myself was just gravy.

When they finally came for me, the Institute was lenient enough to cut me a deal after seeing my performance outside the Fields of Justice. A hand tailored deal, unlike any other, which was the best I could hope for given my own unique circumstances. I like what I got, and so did my new bosses.

Best of all, the details of our agreement were a secret between my contractors and myself.

But the way Champions from other city-states looked at me, I have to wonder if they knew.


________________________________________

When Zac had gotten up in the morning earlier in the day, he remembered hitting his waterproof alarm clock early. Stealthily getting out of bed despite living with no one else, it had been pitch black before sunrise with only the moon casting a dull glow over everything in his Institute home.

He tried to keep the place clean, just in case he ever had guests over. But it was impossible for someone of his age and disposition to keep his home anything resembling clean, not when he sometimes dripped while waking up in the morning. Try as he had, it was impossible to keep his residence spick and span as he would have liked. There were only so many things that could be lined with a rubber or plastic coating, and he didn’t want to stay in his assigned home with his free time.

Not that any of that mattered at the moment.

“Sorry if I don’t offer you anything to drink, but I don’t want to interrupt them.”

Katarina laughed loudly, throwing her head back in a surprising display of open emotion. She let out a deep sigh after, allowing herself to sink back down into the plush cushions of the sofa.

It was strange to be in the company of people (or sometimes non-humans) that had their faces and personas plastered everywhere, only to find how radically different they were in private. If you went by the material printed in tabloids like the now-defunct Journal of Justice, talking to Katarina carried a fifty-fifty chance of getting stabbed for no reason at all. But here he was, sitting in his own room and conversing with one of the world’s deadliest killers like casual acquaintances.

“You’re taking this rather well. It was a pain getting in here, you know.”

“I’ll let the architects of the Institute know they need to do better in the future. Does the Institute have carpenters on call too?”

“What? This?” She gestured at the trail of destruction left in the wake of her accomplice and the police. “I’m sure someone can fix it. If they can manipulate time with magic but can’t replace a few broken pieces of furniture, then I don’t know what they’re good for.”

“Yeah, but now I have to think of a cover story for why this all happened.”

“Good luck with that. They probably know what’s happening already. They’ll only give two damns if you lodge a formal complaint.”

“...Is that coming from experience?”

“Don’t push your luck.” She smiled, her way of saying that she could see through his methods. “We’re here to talk about you today, not me.”

“I’d prefer if we didn’t,” he said, trying to sound as inoffensive as possible. “Because I don’t think there’s anything to discuss.”

“Do you know why I’m here?”

Cutting straight to the chase, he noted sourly. It just went to show that polite manners were just another tool in the Noxian arsenal to get what they wanted. Not that many other city-states were all that different, probably. But coming from someone like Katarina, it just seemed to fit her deadly untouchable persona she flaunted all of the time.

“No,” he admitted with a half-truth. “But I think I have an idea.”

“I want your help with something delicate,” she explained. “You help me with my problem, and I’ll help out with yours.”

“My problems?” Zac felt himself sinking into his chair at the thought. What was she talking about? His problems weren’t all that serious, but he had to think and remember what other people thought his problems were. He doubted playing dumb would sway her, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play coy with me,” Katarina said, looking at him with sharp eyes. As much as he was trying to put up a brave front, there really was something unnerving about sitting across from the best assassin in all of Noxus. Not that he could be killed with knives or swords like a normal human being. Maybe it was her aggressively youthful attitude, or how she carried herself even when only sitting and talking calmly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was sitting across a bomb that could explode at any moment.

“You know as well as I do what your one-year anniversary to joining the League means. You’re going to have to drop the unassuming act, and join the rest of the world.”

“I’ll do what I want, thank you very much,” he bit back. “As long as the Institute approves of it, I don’t give two damns about whatever Swain is asking you to do.”

Without warning Katarina lifted a leg and brought it back down, slamming it hard onto the surface of the table between them. The sounds of Vi and Talon fighting stopped for a moment, maybe out of coincidence, but stared back up after the slight delay.

“Listen, I’m not here as Swain’s errand girl. I’m offering you something because I think you can fulfill my expectations,” she said, the subtle charm in her voice was gone and replaced with a hinting menace. “Don’t patronize me by playing stupid.”

Zac grunted, trying to seem unimpressed. He crossed his arms and lay back in his own seat to match her own pose. “Can you at least tell me what I’ll be doing? Or is this one of those need-to-know kind of things?”

“If you would stop being stubborn, I would have told you already.”

Katarina unzipped the top of her green leather jacket, slipping her fingers under her own top and pulling out a folded piece of paper. He looked at it with a bit of amusement before taking it, wondering if holding her mission near her heart was some sort of symbolic act or just a bit of lewd amusement for whoever she was supposed to deliver it to.

“What’s this about?” he asked, before starting to read it over.

“It’s simple,” Katarina said, crossing her arms and laid back just as she had been before. “We’re going to board a freighter docked in Zaun, and guard what’s on-board until we reach Bilgewater and Ionia.”

“Simple, huh?” He looked over the paper, skipping past the brief introduction and normal fluff written to try and coax the reader into forgetting the reputation of the writers. “So, what’s onboard that needs League Champions to guard it?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Zac muttered, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “How silly of me. If you just want hired muscle, why don’t you just pull soldiers from your incredible army?”

“If I could, I wouldn’t be wasting my time trying to sell this to you, now would I?” Katarina shot back, the menacing tone in her voice still present. “This is all you’re getting, so deal with it.”

It was no secret that catastrophes lurked everywhere in Valoran, too numerous to count. It was also no secret that the Institute of War (and the Champions that were part of it) was somehow responsible for most of them, in some way or another.

When he contemplated just how vague her proposal was, it was really astounding that he hadn’t told her to leave already before looking up a way to sending the repair bill for his home directly to Swain. Despite her reputation, all he could see was a bad-tempered brat being forced to go play with other kids she normally never did anything with, by the orders of an indifferent parent. Shallow and pathetic barely described it; it was actually as if she expected him to just blindly accept out of some undeserved appreciation for her offer.

But thinking about it, if that was the case, than it meant that she had been told to come to him by someone else. Someone higher. Someone whose orders she couldn’t just ignore, or go about fulfilling in some other way. Swain? Maybe. Darius? Also possible. Maybe her own sour behavior was from a sore ego. Sore from being forced to ask for the help of someone she considered beneath her.

It was only a jumble of observations, but maybe he could use them to his advantage.

“You know, I never got a chance to ask you a question I had before,” Zac began saying. Katarina frowned from the sudden and purposeful change of subject, but remained silent waiting for him to continue. “Before, you said that Diana didn’t respect us. When you killed her for no reason, isn’t that the same thing?”

He watched her chuckle evilly, probably from remembering her own actions earlier in the day.

“You’re looking at it too deep. The only reason we ever enter any Field of Justice is to kill the other five Champions on the other side. A swift and merciless death is the only thing any Champion can expect from another.”

“Then you should expect a swift and merciless decline from me, if you have no respect for my time by bringing me and offer and telling me nothing about it,” he said, mimicking her own tones when he spoke.

He crumpled the piece of paper detailing the mission, and threw it back at her uncaringly.

“If you want someone to play the role of a statue, go borrow Sion from Darius.”

Without another word spoken, Zac got up and strode out of his living room.

Heading for the door to leave his apartment, he couldn’t help but think about what he had done. How long would it take for Katarina to chase after him? And with several knives in hand? Five seconds? Ten? However long would it take his words to sink it? Or maybe it was his own ego talking, and the assassin didn’t give two damns about whatever he had said to her.

Reaching for the door handle, he stopped and waited.

And waited.

Nothing. Nothing other than sounds of Talon and Vi still fighting in his home.

Forget her. Who cares about her anyway, Zac thought to himself, and walked out of his home.

“It took you longer than I had guessed. How surprising.”

A raspy but firm voice, held together with an authoritative and assertive tone. Zac turned at the new source speaking to him, and looked up for its source. Perched on the lowest branch of a nearby tree and staring back down at him was a large black raven with six red eyes. Unmistakably Jericho Swain’s beloved Beatrice, if he remembered correctly.

“Before you even ask, yes, this is magic,” Swain said, his voice coming from Beatrice’s own presence. “I want to have a word with you. But before we do, let’s do this somewhere else.”

“I haven’t even said yes. What makes you think I care about any of this?” Zac said, crossing his arms.

“The fact that you’re speaking to me means you do. Don’t misunderstand; I never had any faith in Katarina to win you over. Leave this area so we can talk about this somewhere else.”

Without warning the six-eyed raven swooped down and landed on his shoulder, its small talons digging into him like a knife into gelatin. Zac looked over his shoulder, past Beatrice and at the open door behind them. From outside in the hall, he could still hear the sounds of Vi and Talon fighting somewhere unseen. There were no signs of Katarina either, and it didn’t sound like she would be breaking up the fight any time soon.

“You want me to just leave them?”

“Let them stew in their own mess,” Swain suggested, and Beatrice pointed a wing forward at the larger main spirals of the Institute. “They choose to do what they did. Let them explain to the Institute why they’re in your house beating the hell out of each other.”

“Abandoning your subordinates, huh?” Zac asked, starting to walk toward the main buildings of the Institute of War. “Some boss you are.”

“They’re not children,” Swain grunted, and Beatrice flapping her wings a few times before settling down. “I can’t rely on her to do anything other than take lives. Don’t talk about things you don’t know.”

“Fine, fine,” Zac conceded. “I won’t talk about what I don’t know if you don’t beat around the bush.”

“A Noxian does not dawdle.” Beatrice thrust a wing forward, commanding him to move. “Make haste to the Institute’s library. I will guide you there.”

Now under the command of someone else, Zac decided to go along with it for the last time. Regardless of what the Grand General had in store for him, that would be in for the day. No more distractions. No stupid hijinks. No more fights. There was only so much a blob could take in one day, and he was at his limit.

And maybe he would finally get that snack he had been craving.

Walking off in his own world, Zac failed to notice the sewer grating just outside of his home shaking from some sort of disturbance. Something inside of the waterways was working the lock over, the iron grating continued shaking and rattling as it did.

The sewers underneath the Institute of War were just as elaborate as the facilities themselves, not that many people would know. On record the rat ways were of labyrinth proportions, running as far as the Howling Marsh to the north, and all the way back down to the base of Mogron Pass. To many people this was, of course, something no one would ever bother to tour for themselves. Just another fact about the Institute of War that was better read off of paper, and never seen firsthand.

Except if you preferred to live in them.

“Gah! There! Finally!” Twitch shouted, unlocking the rusty metal grating and peeking his head up and out to check his surroundings. The blindingly harsh rays of the sun then hit him in full force, causing him to wince and let out a low feral hiss.

“I hate the sun,” he muttered, shielding his eyes with one paw and pulling on the straps of his broken goggles with the other. He slipped them off of his head and into a pocket, the broken lenses not helping him at all. He then looked around at the lush gardens and green trees surrounding Zac’s apartment, and cringed at the sight. “Everything is so fresh and healthy. Ugh, how does he stand it?”

Clicking his tongue in distaste, Twitch pulled his light frame out of the sewer before swinging the metal grating back on its hinges and letting it slam closed. Checking over the contents of the satchel over his side, he nodded to himself before waddling over to the front door.

Hmm. You know, I hope he’s home. I heard he had to fight today.

“Hey, Zac! Open up!” He knocked on the door with a grubby paw, barely managing to reach halfway up its height. “I got something for you! It’s this crazy cheese they sell in Piltover, and the stuff comes moldy! Can you believe it?”

But when he knocked on the door again, it slid open on its own in a haunting slow manner.

“...Oh, well that’s weird. Hello?” Twitch said hesitantly, peeking his head into the door cautiously. Waiting a second, since nothing painful had happened, it meant the security runes in the building were off. Odd. Was it caused by some sort of magic failure? Some crazy experiment the Institute was hosting? An alien invasion? Swamp gas?

Well that IS weird. I wonder what’s going on, Twitch thought to himself, stealthily tip-toeing his way into the home. Even though it seemed like he was alone, there was something unsettling about being able to just waltz into a place the Institute’s Summoners always said were off limits. Not that he cared too much, but sometimes he had to respect the requests of humans who were really good at blowing things up with arcane magical powers.

Well, as long as I’m here, I suppose he wouldn’t mind if I helped myself to a little snack.

Stepping over and around the toppled and broken furniture on his way to the kitchen, Twitch casually grabbed the handle and began rooting around inside.

“Let’s see here… Rotten? No. Stale yet? No.” Twitch picked up one thing after another, pushing some aside and tossing others out and away. “Oh come on, I know you’re just hiding the good stuff!”

“Really? Getting beaten up by that street brawler? Are you that weak?”

Twitch nearly jumped out of his skin, pulling himself out of the open refrigerator and hiding himself as best as possible. With a small trail of stolen food behind him, he peeked around a corner and could see someone with deep crimson hair supporting another person over her shoulders. Unmistakably the infamous Noxian assassins Katarina and Talon, but something had happened to Talon that had left him badly bruised and beaten. So much so that it seemed Katarina was carrying him because he was too exhausted to move.

“Shut up. I didn’t lose.” Twitch heard Talon say, his voice blocked by the swollen bruises all across his face.

“But you didn’t win, and that’s the same as losing,” Katarina said, stopping only for a moment to kick the front door of the apartment open with a loud slam. “Pathetic. You really are getting rusty.”

Talon grumbled another obscenity in protest, not directed at anyone but maybe himself. Watching them leave from his hiding spot, Twitch took a bite out of the cheese he had brought with him. He gobbled the rotting morsel down hastily, feeling his own blood running cold from such a close encounter.

What were they doing here? Were they fighting with someone?

“Hah! That’s right! I showed you! You’re not so tough after all.”

Twitch felt his jaw slipping again. Walking out from the same place where he assumed Talon and Katarina had come from, the punk cop from Piltover strode out casually despite looking like a living pile of bruises. If she and Talon had gotten into a fight, than they had both been trading blows for blows with no regards for blocking or defending. Despite all of that, Vi was carrying herself just as casually as she ever behaved. Was it possible to for a human to have a super human tolerance for getting beaten to a pulp?

Yikes, she’s even scarier than I thought, Twitch thought to himself, taking another bite out of the stolen food in his arms without thinking about it. I don’t want to fight her when she’s in the jungle.

But suddenly, Vi happened to turn and noticed him staring straight at her.

Twitch felt the fur on the back of his neck stand on end, being face to face with a human wearing giant steel fists who had just gotten beaten up from head to toe and was acting like it was no big deal. He was face to face with some kind of mutant monster, of a different kind of scary that Noxian assassins were.

On Vi’s end things were just as strange. After failing catching a pair of criminals in the act of breaking and entering, they had managed to both barely get away leaving her nothing to show for her bruises. And now there was a giant mutant rat staring at her. But not just any giant mutant rat, but a criminal one.

After all, there was a fresh crime scene right behind him.

The open refrigerator door behind Twitch was still open, and there was a trail of stolen food leading to him.

“HEY YOU!” Vi shouted, breaking the tense silence and thrusting a steel fist at him. “You’re stealing that, aren’t you!? You’re under arrest!”

“GAH! You’ll never catch me!” Twitch shrieked. He scampered out the front door at full speed, with a trail of half-eaten food falling out of his arms behind him.

“What!? Don’t run!” Vi shouted, chasing after him. “You’re supposed to resist first! Resist arrest damn it!”


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MSN00100

Recruiter

04-26-2014

Chapter 6: Anniversary (Cont.)

________________________________________

“What are you playing at!” LeBlanc hissed, her voice seething with anger. Her eyes narrowed into accusatory slits, and she leaned herself in closer to the large crystal ball in the center of a magical array carved into the face of the table.

“Who does he think he is, bringing an outsider into this!?”

Watching her teacher at fume from afar, Ahri snuck spying glances up over the top of the book she had been ordered to read. Learning how to silence the magic of her opponents with her own interested her greatly, but watching LeBlanc’s face contort with wide range of emotions while shouting at an inanimate object was much more interesting. Flustered, concerned, and even angry. Very angry at that, and Ahri wondered it LeBlanc would blow up the crystal ball in front of her at any second.

Whenever they had ever had their lessons together, LeBlanc had always kept herself composed like royalty. Authoritative. Commanding. Intelligent. Charismatic. Distanced. If Ahri listened and did not question her, then she would get what she wanted. That was their relation to each other. Nothing more, and nothing less.

But right now, she was getting a front row view to a show no one in the Institute ever got to see. Not even in the Reflection Chamber had LeBlanc shown this much emotion.

I guess mastering magic doesn’t come at the price of your youth, Ahri mused silently, quickly pulling the book up to cover her face when LeBlanc glanced past her without warning.

“He knows we don’t have the power to imitate him. Did he choose him on purpose?!”

“Master--” Ahri said hesitantly, waiting to see if LeBlanc was any calmer than before.

“Don’t call me that!” LeBlanc snapped, her venomous expression not changing.

Ahri’s ears wilted a little, as she bit her own tongue gently trying to think of what to say next. She was not off to a good start, that was for sure.

From across the room where she sat, she could vaguely make out what LeBlanc was seeing that had her on edge. Through the crystal ball she could make out the vague shape of Jericho Swain, dressed in his strange but normal attire. He was somewhere in a place like LeBlanc’s own quarters; dimly lit and surrounded by books on all sides. The Institute’s library, maybe?

But there was something else with Swain, who seemed to be what he was talking to. Someone unseen. As far as she could tell with her good hearing, there were no sounds coming out from the scrying orb. Did the magic LeBlanc was using allow her to listen in without being detected? Or was she doing something as hard as reading the lips of the parties involved?

“He always has to do things his way. He’s such a stubborn fool.”

LeBlanc backed away from the crystal ball, taking a calming deep breath to compose herself as she did. She then leaned down to blow out the burning candles on the corners of the table. As soon as the last flame was extinguished, the visions in the ball began to melt before vanishing as well.

“I knew it would go to his head the moment he became Grand General. Now he’s the king of fools, and he thinks he’s above me.”

Walking in circles, her eyes fell on the mannequin adorned with her cape and headdress she always wore when fighting on the Fields of Justice. Outside and in the privacy of her own alchemical workshop, she preferred to wear something more modest and less revealing. A simple royal purple robe with golden trim, very similar to the kind the elder Summoners wore.

There was very little comfort to be found in the Institute of War, no matter how many luxuries they could stack around her. The rarest ingredients for her alchemy. The oldest magic tomes for their knowledge. Access to ancient artifacts for their strange and exotic powers. Countless chances to experiment with her powers to grow stronger. The admiration and adoration of thousands on thousands from the faceless masses.

None of it mattered when Noxus, her beloved ancestral home, was still the plaything of corrupt politicians and weak generals. It was sickening to think that someone so close to her, who shared her ambitions, could rise so far in power only to become impotent right when it mattered.

He always spoke of patience, and increasingly of politics. Always politics.

Patience was for the LeBlanc before her, and the one before that. There was no time for waiting, especially if her fame in the League of Legends meant that she could do almost anything from the shadows without fear of death or reprisals. Having to spare the Du Couteau brats was unfortunate, but she would have to play by some rules if she expected her enemies to do the same. The Black Rose’s rise to prominence and power was only years away, when a generation ago it had all seemed like a faint dream. A hope. A prayer. An illusion.

“...LeBlanc, I could go find out.”

Interrupted from her thoughts, LeBlanc stared at Ahri with an insultingly doubtful look.

“...You?”

Ahri said nothing, wondering for a second if there was someone else in the room.

“...Yes!”

LeBlanc stayed silent, shaking herself free of remaining thoughts. She sat back down in her chair with a hard thump, crossing her legs as she did. Her face showed that she was still deep in thought, leaning heavily to one side and curling the edges of her hair around her finger.

Ahri suppressed a smile from forming on her lips. For a master magician who always had an air of mystery surrounding her, it hadn’t taken too long to understand some of the more common aspects of her body language. Curling her hair around her finger self-consciously meant that she was thinking favorably about something. Trying to figure out how to take what she was thinking and work it further to her advantage. It was a good sign.

After another mute minute, LeBlanc stopped and looked back at Ahri. All of the stress from before was gone, like magic.

“You would do that for me?”

“Yes!” Ahri answered immediately, hopping up from her seat and leaving the boring book on the table. “In fact, how about I go right now?”

“Don’t even think of using any magic on Swain,” LeBlanc warned, holding up a hand as a silent command for Ahri to wait until she was finished. “He’ll know why you did it. No matter what happens, you can’t let anyone else know you’re asking questions for me. This is important, do you understand?”

“I understand,” Ahri nodded repeatedly, happy for a chance to both please LeBlanc and ditch her studies for a little. “So… Who is it? Who do I have to charm my way into their heart?”

LeBlanc reached over for her staff still resting to the side, the multifaceted crystals always suspended by an unknown force and glowing with power. Slamming the butt of the long staff hard against the floor, Ahri jumped in surprise as the candles around the crystal ball reignited themselves in a flash of flame.

“Do you know him?” LeBlanc asked turning and looking at the crystal ball. A foggy image was beginning to develop in the center, and something large and green began to come into focus.

“What I don’t understand is why Swain is choosing him. Do you know anything about him?”

“Hmm… No,” Ahri said back, bending over to get a better look at the Secret Weapon for herself. Even from her distorted view, she could plainly see that Zac was not enjoying himself.

“But that’s never stopped me before. I bet I can turn that slimy frown upside down.”


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Esxiel

Junior Member

05-01-2014

This fan fic isn't getting the attention it deserves to get. It's simply marvelous !
I really had fun reading it, both from the awesomely crafted words and the super funny jokes that mirrors each champion you bring to the story board.
The Runeterra history lore digging was splendidly poured down into the fic as well !
Zac isn't my favorite champ, I've never used him more than once but reading this fic makes me respect him way more.

Splendid fic aside, ten points for your dedication into completing the fic, I await thy next chapter.


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MSN00100

Recruiter

05-06-2014

I would like to thank the people who left comments on my work. Although writing is just a hobby for me, it helps motivate me immensely knowing that people want to see this work continued.

That being said, let us continue on into chapter seven.


Chapter 7: Graceful Existence and Graceful Assault

Jericho Swain. That name is now synonymous across our continent with terror, cunning, betrayal, and violence. A living example of the Noxian credence that the strong will rise over the weak. A man who would never let anyone or anything get in the way of his ambitions.

And yet, he is also charming, tactful, and incredibly intelligent. When you’re in his presence, you feel that he is really listening to you, and that your opinions matter. You automatically become someone important (and of value) if he agrees with you.

It would be easy to declare that Jericho Swain was a master manipulator, which he was, and leave it at that. But it would be a mistake to deny all personal responsibility for falling into his web. Honeyed words or not, what he told me had made sense, and I found myself agreeing to his terms.

The height of my folly was trying to think that I was being told to go save Valoran by myself. You had the mindless horrors of the Void on one side, and the ageless phantoms of the Shadow Isles on the other. And in the middle you had the bureaucracy of the Institute of War, which was more than willing to allow its participants to try and destroy each other so long they could make a show out of it.

With the surplus of evils in our world, what did it matter if there was one more?


________________________________________

“Excuse me, Nasus?”

The library of the Institute of War was no simple housing for the collected works within. For someone seeking to learn more about the history of the world, it was more comparable to a haven of incredible proportions. Built into one of the largest spiraling towers of the entire facility, it contained an impressive collection of materials from all across Valoran.

To even call it a library undercut its depth and complexity. The archives, book stacks, hextech storage units, and magic artifacts were all housed in the towering spiral, that run underground too to house more sensitive material inside of large vaults. Factors such as temperature and humidity were controlled with magic, as were the attached arcades made up of gardening plots and squares. Some were paved like courtyards, orderly and secluded. Others were broad parks with dells and little hills, groves of trees, open lawns, and grassy glades sheltered by the hedges of flowering shrubs.

Topping this all off, the library was guarded every minute of every hour of every day by a select volunteer force that no one dared to challenge. A unique mix of personnel from the Institute, as well as Champions, both of which had decided to dedicate their time and presence to keeping the history of Valoran safe in these walls.

Nasus had sat like a towering sandstone statue, unmoving from his large circular desk that sat atop a plateau above the rest of the floor. Interrupted from his reading, the Curator of the Sands (and acting curator of the Institute’s archives) looked down at his guest, his ears both shooting up momentarily.

He closed the book he had been reading gently, and placed it aside in a separate pile from the others he had stacked on a nearby table.

“...Yes?”

“I’m looking for Elder Daewoo’s writings on the Kinkou Order. Volumes—”

“One and three, from the Changing Plains series,” Nasus finished, as if he were reading her mind. ”An interesting choice, human. And who are you stalking today?” he asked, giving her a cold, inquisitive stare.

The Lady of Luminosity said nothing, with the innocent look in her eyes and slim smile on her face being all he needed for an answer. Humans and their conspiracies were a never ending thing on Valoran, Nasus mused, with someone or some group trying to get the lead on their rivals. Which only spurned the efforts of the opposing party to do the exact same.

It was no different from the human clans from his home, but the irony that humans, from different worlds no less, still acted like humans was not lost on him.

Getting up from his seat, Nasus turned to one of the large shelves behind where he had been seated. Her request was a special one, since both volumes has been written by a former high ranked Summoner of the Institute of War. Whether it be biographies, stories, or otherwise, the works of people involved with the League of Legends were kept separate from the rest of the archives. They were not open for reading by anyone else but other persons involved with the League.

“There are many copies of these works, but these are still unique to the history of this world,” Nasus said, flashing his canines for just a second at her when he spoke. When her mask faltered for a second, he knew that his unsubtle message had gotten through.

Descending down the steps he passed the first book down to her, before turning around to search for the third volume.

“These will be returned by the time you leave, young Spell Thief.”

Luxanna shot him a hurt look, but Nasus ignored it and walked back to his desk after handing her the third book. Without so much as another word, he reopened his own book and went back to his studies.

“That was only once you know,” she mumbled, shooting him a halfhearted glare for his cold attitude. Warranted or not, she hadn’t expected such an unwelcoming attitude from him. Waiting to see if Nasus would say anything in response, which he did not, she sighed before turning to walk deeper into the Institute’s archives.

Opening up the first book as she continued walking, she skimmed the first pages for a table of contents.

The rise and fall of the Kinkou Order. A reference guide to the history and territory of the most influential ninja clan in Ionia.

Luxanna began taking down names and locations marked down on an unfolding map inside of the book. Looking back and forth between her small notepad and the map, she searched for her intended target.

What did Karma say again? Was it the island of Galrin?

She ran her finger on the map, tracing the different marking on the southern collection of islands of Ionia. South from Navori on the Ionian mainland, Galrin stood out historically as the home of many Ionian League Champions. More infamously, it was the first landfall of the invading Noxian army in what would eventually become a seven year occupation. From there Noxus had continued its warpath, invading the accompanying island of Shon-Xan, before taking large chunk of the Ionian southern mainland.

All of which had only happened because of Ionia’s refusal to commit themselves to the concepts behind the Institute of War. It was no mystery why a nation that had a distasteful outlook on all forms of violence would want nothing to do with an Institution that specialized in something as abhorrent as war. Luxanna could sympathize with such a mentality, yet, there was something to be said about those who were unwilling to confront evils hiding in plain sight.

Slowly but surely, like a sleeping dragon that been disturbed from its slumber, when Ionia had finally rallied to defend itself a political wildfire started against Noxus that nothing could extinguish. No longer in direct conflict with Noxus, Demacia had been able to throw its full weight behind its own secret services to assist the Ionia in any ways possible. Many of the secret missions that had qualified her to join the League had been completed during those years.

Eventually, with Noxus’ defeat in a rematch, one of the longest chapters in Ionian history had drawn to a close. Ionia and its allies celebrated their victory, and the offending invaders had been forced to withdraw.

It would have been nice if the world was run like a story book, Luxanna lamented, with the forces of good living the rest of their days in peace. But the reality of war and a near decade long rape and pillaging of the land would come knocking, and have a lot to say otherwise.

With the constant raids by pirates and the economic destruction left in the wake of the Noxian occupation, reconstruction effort of Galrin had stalled to a standstill. Like rubbing salt in an open wound, many of these pirate groups were known privateers hired by shadowy individuals, all for the purpose of stalling Ionia from returning to normalcy. This was only made worse by the fact that Noxus, Zaun, and Bilgewater were unwilling to take any responsibilities for such groups using their city-state as safe havens between raids.

Such is the way of things, Luxanna thought and sighed.

She had once traveled to the capital of Ionia, the Placidium, as part of an envoy with Prince Jarvan IV. The country was as beautiful as she had read about in her studies, but the priorities of the natives in placing philosophical pursuits over facing reality had been worrisome sometimes.

The obsessive drive for spiritual enlightenment had cost the lives of many Ionians, something conveniently forgotten by the majority of the populace. It was one of the main reasons why relations between Demacia and Ionia had decreased in recent years, since the Council of Elders seemed content believing that everything was back to being good and dandy in the world.

Even the most generous Demacians would think twice about pay gold out of their pockets to help someone who was unwilling to help themselves, or was too prideful to ask. There was a limit to generous virtues, even from the six noble houses that made up Demacia’s constitutional monarchy.

“Good of you to arrive. You have my thanks for not making me wait long.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not every day that one of the most powerful men in Valoran wants to talk to me.”

Luxanna felt her blood run cold at the sudden sound of voices speaking somewhere only a few shelves of books away. Startled out of her thoughts, she recognized the first gruff and hoarse voice as none other than Jericho Swain. And the second belonging to someone she distinctly remembered hearing from that he had no interest in talking to the first.

Without thinking she reached for her luminosity baton strapped to her back, and began to focus her power through it. In an instant the light around her began to bend like a shell around her; a simple and crude invisibility spell that would suit her current needs. Despite wearing her normal armor plating over her blue bodysuit, she swept through the towering shelves of books toward her target as silent as a shadow.

There were no rules in place against spying on Institute grounds, since it was only common sense that Champions and Summoners should keep to themselves about their own business. So why would the Grand General of Noxus greet someone in an area open to anyone’s prying eyes and sharp ears?

For any spy there was no business like business not their own, and creeping ever closer she decided to look into just that.

Unseen from her position, Swain chuckled and folded his hands over his cane. “You honor me, but I must reply that I am still a junior officer compared to some of my contemporaries. I may be the supreme leader of Noxus, but the Old Families before me who made it their mission to strengthen my home cast a very large shadow.”

His words washed over Luxanna like cold water. There was something about Swain that just screamed “politician” at every turn. Specifically, a politician with a deadly talent in dark magic. Here was a creature who had managed to fit in with the Noxian High Command in such a short period of time, that it completely dwarfed anything before him in Noxian history. Yet despite rising to the rank of Grand General, his behavior in and outside of the League remained the same from the time he had first been a mere Captain.

“There are a lot of people who would like to have a word with you,” Zac said, and Luxanna swallowed. She hoped that was merely a coincidence, and not that either one of them could tell that she was there.

“You among them, I hope? Let me be clear, young man. I make no apologies for the actions of Noxus. Spilling the blood of the weak is as natural to a Noxian as breathing the air around us.”

Swain paused for a moment, but Zac didn’t leap in to comment.

“Now, I know my reputation precedes me Zachary.” Swain stopped himself short. “Is that your full name? Or do you prefer something else?”

“Either is fine.”

“Very well then. As I was saying, my reputation is fully deserved. I am, by Demacian lights, a heartless demon against all that is good in the world. In the views of some of the Old Families of Noxus, I am a rogue agent of chaos that wishes to destroy everything my people have achieved in our history.”

“Riiight. Well now that that’s clear, is all of this—” Zac waved a the library around them, ”—just another interview opportunity to work for you?”

Again, another laugh. “No. There will be time for that later, when you return from your long journey and find the experience beneficial. Right now there are more pressing matters to be discussed.”

Swain reached into his green armored robes, fishing around for a moment. Finding what he was searching for, he threw a small bundle of papers down on the table separating them.

“What did Katarina tell you about the freighter we have in Zaun, that is destined for Bilgewater and Ionia?”

“She told me where it was heading, but nothing else.”

“The ship’s name is the Garuda. It is one of the newest designs for our aging fleet, part of a collaboration between our military engineers and those from Zaun,” Swain explained, lifting his cane using it to push the papers over to him. “It will be transporting spoils from the Ionian war back to Ionia. They are being returned as a gesture of goodwill between our city-states.”

Zac picked up the piece of paper, and felt his jaw drop out at the pictures on it. He knew next to nothing when it came to the designs of ships and the like, but what he was looking at seemed like something out of a fantasy story. The design of the Garuda looked nothing like the sleek wooden ships that he had seen pictures of docked in city-states like Bilgewater. Its construction appeared to be completely out of metal, resembling a massive floating washtub that kept most of its cargo stacked high on its long deck. There were no sails either, as far as he could tell, which raised more questions on whether or not it could even be called a ship.

“Included with the shipment is a large cache of weapons that will be delivered to the Order of the Shadow. It is my understanding that their leader wishes to go to war with the previous order, and destroy them once and for all.”

Swain had said this with such a casual ease that it had almost passed by his ears unheard. Luxanna, standing still like a stone statue in her hiding place, felt her eyes grow wide from what she had heard. She even pinched herself gently, to make sure that she wasn’t in some sort of dream. This news was more than just big!

But… Why was the Grand General of Noxus revealing the details of a military operation? And doing it so casually as if he were asking for someone to tell him the scores of a League match?

“I want you to make sure these weapons are delivered with any problems,” Swain continued, not caring about the shocked look he was getting from what he was saying. “But you must stop Ionia from being thrown into a civil war over them.”

Zac simply stared at Swain, feeling beside himself. He wanted to shout out the most obvious question, that if he did not want a war breaking out, then why was he selling weapons in the first place!? And more importantly, why was he asking him to do something about it?

“I am a man with great but not unlimited resources,” said Swain, suddenly with the intensity of a gathering storm. “The purchase of these weapons were made well within the rules and regulations set by the Institute of War, and I at the time had no reason to refuse. However, they have now become a burden to me in that they are being used by others to test my leadership over Noxus. I have plans in the making that I cannot be distracted from, and so, I want to stop this civil war before it starts.”

“...And that’s where I come in.”

“That is where you come in,” Swain repeated. “Your reputation precedes you as well, young man. You are a rare individual who does not shrink away from seeking the truth in things. You were born a weapon but choose to live the life of a man. I know that your concern for others is much greater than your disdain for people such as myself.”

“That’s a nice way of saying that you trust me to clean up your mess with care,” Zac said, finally finding his voice.

“I’m not one to make idle compliments,” Swain emphasized his words, with the same hinting menace that Katarina had shown earlier. “I know you will do everything in your power to prevent any violence from spreading.”

Swain paused again, and scratched his chin in thought.

“If you still hesitate, perhaps there’s something I can grant to persuade you further…?”

Zac frowned, trying to think of something. Anything that might give him some leverage. Because as things stood now, he would be on a cargo ship tomorrow alone against the world. Alone against a very big and dangerous world that owed him nothing in kindness and respect. Come to think of it, maybe Swain had already considered what he was going to ask.

“How many other Champions from the League are going to be part of this?”

“Four in total,” confirmed Swain. “If you want something, say it.”

“Katarina and I are two of them, right? I want to pick the other two.”

“Hmmm. Ask no small favors, eh?” Swain scratched his chin again, but from across the table Zac knew that the tactician had already made up his mind. “All right, but I won’t approve any Champions from Demacia. Don’t make me explain why.”

“That’s fine,” Zac answered, even though he wasn’t sure at all. “Oh, and I’ll need an extra day to make sure that my selections aren’t busy with anything.”

“That seems fair as well,” Swain conceded, before standing up. Beatrice, who had been perched on Zac’s shoulder for their conversation, finally took to the air and returned to the shoulder of her master. Raising a wrinkle and worn hand and petting the six-eyed raven affectionately, Swain gave one last confirming nod to Zac as he walked past to leave.

“I’ll give you one day to prepare. I expect you to be ready to leave the morning after that.”

“Understood,” Zac said, resisting to urge to give a mock salute to Swain as he walked past.

He watched Swain leave to making sure that the tactician was far enough away for comfort. The library around him that had been filled with the soft murmurs of its occupants now seemed dead silent. Perhaps, out of morbid respect for the trouble he had just willingly consigned himself to.

High Councilor Kolminye warned me, yet here I am.

Zac let out a deep breath. One much deeper than a mere sigh, and with enough force that he felt his entire body contract a little. There were some days where the Institute of War got a little smaller, which he hoped meant that he was becoming accustomed to his life there. Today was most definitely not one of those days.

Is this really going to be the end of my lazy life here?

What could he do about it?

He did have a morbid aversion to the idea of dying. Or being responsible for the deaths of others. He did mildly resent the fact that he was living a life that could get him killed at any moment, albeit in a different way that the same exact thing could happen outside a Field of Justice. Even if the magic of the Institute meant that he could never truly die, there was something unsettling about becoming used to such a thing.

But even so, doing the right thing was important to him.

It was a true conundrum; he was jeopardizing the reputation of an infallible Institution that gave no damns, by daring to exercise his Champion privilege to give a damn.

I guess it was fun while it lasted. So… What next?

He scratched his head, frowning again as he did. Where could he turn to? Who could he go to? One way or another time was ticking past, and he knew that time waited for no one except Zilean and a handful of powerful Summoners who probably abused their powers frequently.

Okay, think. Crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.

Zac looked to the papers outlining his assignment Swain had left him.

“Hey, Lux.”

He heard the sound of a few books being dropped on the other side of the towering shelves near him. This was quickly followed by even more, as if someone had smacked into the shelf and knocked over its contents onto the floor.

“I’m calling in a favor. You got a pencil on you?”
________________________________________


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MSN00100

Recruiter

05-06-2014

Chapter 7: Graceful Existence and Graceful Assault (Cont.)

Ahri walked down a dim night road, lit by a procession of torches that revealed a barren and desolate wasteland in front of her. Her hands, legs and body felt extremely heavy.

Where am I going? Why am I still walking? What is this? Her dull brain thought, and she saw people shuffling around with heavy footsteps.

Everyone’s wearing mourning clothes. Ahri thought as she noticed that she was dressed in black too. She brought her hands to her face, and she could not feel her face, which troubled her. However, she could not stop, and could only continue on in the darkness. The stretch finally ended, and an open landscape just as arid and barren appeared in front of her, littered with countless gravestones.

It was a stone cold graveyard. Ahri was amidst one of the rows of men and women lined beside the a coffin. The people looked exceptionally tall, and the coffin had someone important in it, but she could not see it, and could not get close at all. The coffin would soon be buried if she did not hurry up.

With every step she took, she could hear the loud pumping of a heart. It was like she was in the body of another animal altogether, and her breathing was rushed as the ripping-like pain caused her to twist her body. Ahri sensed that her body and mind were separated; she was forced out of the woman in mourning clothes, who moved into the crowd. The black hat was knocked off, and the girl did not care about the black hair that was scattered and tied as she jumped into grave, sticking onto it.

“Daddy…! Who did this to you!? Who killed you? I won’t forgive those people who killed you, those people who looked like they don’t know anything. If this is how the world is like, I’ll hate the world. I’ll use everything in my power to change the stupid world they created…!”

The girl stood at the bottom of the grave, clenching her fists till they were white as she looked at the adults looking down at her, cursing them. Who is that? Ahri stared at the girl, and at the next moment, she was grabbed from behind and restrained onto the floor.

Several hands were grabbing onto her limbs, and a hand that was reaching from above grabbed her mouth. In an instant she was exposed before she could even struggle, and then, the heavy warmth that entered her abdomen caused her to feel despair.

Ahh, it’s coming again. This filthy feeling! Ahri told herself in her mind. The shadowy specters fought against her, pinning her down with their numbers. Tried as she might, there were too many for her to wrestle free from.

Why they doing this to me? Why was I ever born? She asked herself.

“There’s no need for you to suffer.” LeBlanc’s voice spoke from behind the specters lunging at her. Ahri heard that voice as her body experienced the pain of being pulled in multiple directions.

“Resist them. You have this kind of power.”

"I can’t do that. It’s impossible for me." Ahri could not move her suppressed limbs as she gave LeBlanc a pleading look.

"Please help me, tell them to stop."

LeBlanc gave her a cold observer stare.

"No, you have to find an answer for yourself. I have no interests in the weak that forced themselves to submit. That kind of woman is only a mere tool for men."

The eyes that said this silently was dazzling beside the men’s shoulders. Ahri again tried to exert strength on her limbs.

"I can’t move. My joints feel like snapping if I try to move them now."

“No good, is it? Why do succumb to them? You might as well destroy everything instead of letting their rules bind you. You have the power to rebuild this world. I have the authority you need, and you have the power I want. Go and fight, fight those people restraining you! Let those men who destroy each other kneel in front of the power that brings life into this world!”

“Life” — the only life that existed in this evolved body was her own.

She exerted strength in her limbs. She pushed aside the hands clinging onto her, and grabbed the neck of the ghost reaching his hands at her. The force pushing at her waist got weaker, and as the man was forced to bend up, the fingers pressing into the throat felt something hard.

"Take them down. Make those people who steal life suffer!"

Ahri was prompted by the voice in her mind as she crushed that stiff feeling.

Crack.

A blunt sound could be heard from her fingertips as the man’s neck dropped weakly. Ahri got away from below the man before his spit and blood flowed out. Her shoulders were heaving up and down due to panting, and she looked for the other shadows. The phantoms who had restrained her and treated her violently unknowingly disappeared. There was nothing anymore except the darkness around her, the silence slowly defining her senses.

With nothing else left, she broke away from the deep darkness and ran about the place without knowing where was up and bottom. No matter how she ran, the darkness showed no signs of fading away, and only the sense of killing remained on her fingers, gradually intensifying with every step.


And then, too suddenly, she had woken up.

In hindsight it had felt like something out of a book; a character having a strange premonition or out of body experience in their sleep, only to wake up violently and deeply disturbed by what they had seen. Ahri had jumped out of her silken sheets with her tails on end like angry snakes, her complimenting night gown moist with a thin layer of sweat.

Immediately she had stripped herself before running to the bathroom attached to her room. Starting the shower, she nearly tripped over herself in her haste to get in. She didn’t care about the icy cold water hitting her body. Its sharp and prickly touch felt wonderful to her, and the more she began to wake up the more confident she felt that she was still alive.

Every miserably cold second she sat under the water was purifying her.

The suffocating heat and sweat from their touch being purged from her body, and running down the drain never to be seen again.

The concept of dreaming was not foreign to her. Humans dreamt while they slept, and animals dreamt too. After spending her time at the Institute, maybe even robots and ghoulish abominations did too.

But were dreams supposed to be so vivid? So lucid? So...disturbing?

Still heading to the Institute of War’s eternal archives, she paid no heed to the familiar faces she passed or the words they spoke. Fighting on Summoner’s Rift and her time with LeBlanc had let her push out the memories of that terrible dream, but now that she was free and alone the memories were coming back to haunt her without mercy.

“This is all Morgana’s fault,” Ahri muttered under her breath, crossing her arms under her chest in discomfort. “I knew that nasty tea she gave me wasn’t normal.”

In her hands she clutched a small tin box, wrapped tightly in a white cloth held together by a knot of twine. She had gone out of her way to get it after leaving LeBlanc’s company earlier. A secret weapon, she had told herself, just in case her target started to get a little too snippety.

The official title of the Institute’s archives were the Great Unmoving Library; perhaps someone’s strange idea to encourage the reputation the Institute had as an ancient hall of learning. Or maybe it was a tribute to the history collected in book volumes within. Such things hardly mattered to Ahri, since she usually had no business inside of it in the first place. As much as she liked to read, there was hardly any time for it with how busy her life had become.

Stepping up to the massive double doors that acted as the official entrance to the library, Ahri watched the invisible runes inscribed in them suddenly come to life at her presence. There were many parts of the Institute that had workings and systems invisible to the naked eye, and the library was no exception. The dull glow of the runes remained after a few seconds, eventually dimming out completely.

As they did, one of the jewels embedded in the ornately carved frame of the door began to glow. Without warning it cast a ray of light down on the ground in front of her, which slowly began to take shape of a human wearing Summoner’s robes with the hood over their head.

“Please state your name and purpose,” chimed the magic projection.

“Ahri,” she answered dutifully before giving it a smug look. “And my reasons are my own.”

The magic holograph stood still, the hooded face of the Summoner remaining unseen. Ahri tapped her foot impatiently, while drumming her fingers across her arm. Maybe sarcasm hadn’t been the best choice since she was on a busy schedule.

“League Champion Ahri has been confirmed,” the projection said after a few more seconds. “You may enter the Great Unmoving Library.”

“Why thank you,” Ahri said, her voice barely hiding her irritation at the delay.

As the doors of the library opened in a dramatically agonizing slow rate, Ahri waltzed into the Great Unmoving Library to continue her mission.

Now traipsing through with a skip in her step, she walked past Nasus without a word and gave him a friendly wave. At the sight of her, his usual sandstone gaze faltering uneasily into something marred between suspicion and unease.

Mildly amused at his reaction, Ahri continued on, heading for the back doors the lead to the outdoor gardens. If her intuition was right, which it usually was, her target would be outside and staring out at the setting sun with a miserable look on his face. Again she patted the cloth wrapped box in his arms tenderly, trying to suppress a devious smirk from crossing her lips. She was prepared with her own secret weapon for the Secret Weapon.

Alright, now where is he?

The light of the setting sun blinded her briefly as she stepped out, but didn’t deter her from continuing forward. If her intuition was right, he would be right where she wanted him; alone and exhausted from events earlier in the day. Easy prey for her seductive charms.

Bingo. Ahri smirked, taking longer than she would have liked to find the large green jelly-man standing out like a sore thumb.

“...Hey.”

Zac turned his head at her, before going back to looking at the sunset.

“Do you have a second?”

“Yeah, a lot of them,” he said, not turning away from the view. “You want to borrow some too?”

Ahri stayed silent, out of refusal to humor his cancerous snark. He listened to her walk up behind him, the small bell tied around her modern hanbok gently ringing as she did. She joined him by sitting next to him on the open space still left on the wooden bench, somehow slipping all nine of her tails in through the back space without any trouble.

Looking up at him, Zac continued to stare outward at nothing but the sunset and city in front of them, as if he were purposefully ignoring her now.

Not bothering to wait for an invitation, she decided then and there to strike first.

“When I called you a living weapon, I want to take what I said back. It seemed that I misunderstood you.”

“Misunderstood?”

“Misunderstood you for being a person trapped in your own little world.”

Such unrestrained words caused Zac to be stunned. He stared at Ahri’s face, who in turn looked like she didn’t say anything wrong, and again he felt unhappy for being hit on an unexpected sore point. He wanted to ask point out to her that everyone was like that on some level, but decided not to push it further.

“Is there something wrong about living comfortably in this city?”

“That’s not it. I apologize if my words do sound scathing…because I have never experienced living like this before. I’m still not used to it.”

That somewhat shocked look on her face looked to him like that she had never expected her words to hurt other people. Maybe on the inside she was still a strange human-like creature who was used to living in a completely different habitat. On their looks alone, it was obvious that she would be seen as more human than him. It was a strange coincidence that he would be privy to seeing her in a different light.

“How did you get involved in this?” Zac asked. This was the one question that appeared in his heart amongst a pile of questions.

“This?”

“This,” he gestured to the sprawling city in front of them. “This mess.”

“Because I wanted to be. I have my reasons.” The wind blew Ahri’s black braided hair as she casually spoke.

Now focused on her, Zac tentatively said, “Are you trying to become a mage?”

“A mage?”

“Yeah. Learn how to use magic and stuff like that from LeBlanc.”

“…Yes. That’s sort of true, but the real truth may be scarier than what you think.”

Still sitting together with him with the world in front of them, Ahri gave him a wry smile. He didn’t know whether that expression was either to mock his own nosey curiosity or herself. Thinking back, Zac thought about Morgana’s story from earlier and swallowed his saliva. The fact that the world around him could degrade into something so terrible made his body run cold.

“I heard you’re leaving soon for something big. Think you’ll be ready?”

He didn’t answer immediately; even though that was the only thing he was sure of.

“No.”

“Good. That makes two of us then, right?”

“Yeah, well I—… Wait, what!?”

Zac felt his jaw drop out from being caught off guard, as a feeling of nasty deja vu flowed through him.

Not saying a word, Ahri sneakily slipped her arm through his own and gave him a devilish smile.