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Unstable Matters: the Journal of Zac

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Nielspeterdejong

Senior Member

05-10-2014

Please keep it up! These chapters are amazing!


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MSN00100

Recruiter

05-20-2014

Chapter 8: I.S.C.P. (Part 1)

There's an old word from some spoken language called schadenfreude, which roughly translates into the feeling that comes learning about the suffering of others. It's an elation accompanied by a twinge of guilt for feeling so good, followed by a quiet fervent prayer that something like that will never happen to you. Like when the enemy jungler tries to gank an ally in lane, only to watch their strategic process go to hell and back resulting in your teammate getting a double kill. Or when you manage to kill the Ancient Golem or Elder Lizard in the enemy jungle, and your yellow trinket lets you see the look on the enemy jungler's face when their buff camp is empty.

With only twenty-four hours to plan for stopping a civil war, I'm sure anyone watching me had a genuine schadenfreude in their laps.

I often wonder if Morgana and Kayle are communicating the events of our world back to their own kind. I can only imagine what they would think, arriving in a new dimension only to find all of the current occupants too busy whaling the tar out of each other to care about them.

Sometimes I feel that there is so much planning and fighting going on around me, that no one is actually thinking.


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I knew letting Shyvana go top while Jarvan was jungling would pay off some day.

Momentarily impressed by his own foresight, Zac tapped his own chin absent-mindedly as he stared down at a map of Valoran spread on the table in front of him.

At his request, Luxanna had gone and passed the papers Swain had given him to...whoever represented Demacian military in the Institute of War. After talking with a her a few times before and after matches, it seemed to him that Luxanna Crownguard knew just about everything. He had read about her past, and was impressed by how she was both a prodigy in magic and military tactics from a very young age. But what stood out the most, was that the young girl had managed to keep her sanity while being fully aware of the consistent idiosyncrasies around her. Because of this, she had unwittingly earned his undying respect as someone whom talking to was not a complete and utter waste of time.

He hoped that his reward for turning in the sensitive documents publicly handed to him would put him in the loop to be clued in on any inconsistencies against what other city-states knew. Specifically, the kind that would put his life, or anyone else's, in danger. There was always a catch when it came to everything Noxians did, and the best he could hope for was that the catch wasn't about catching him.

All of this was just one step of many he had to take before his official leave.

Speaking with Luxanna to get more information had been his first step. Politely ditching Ahri and not getting knocked down any flights of stairs would be the second. Notifying his Institute caretakers that everything was going as they had predicted would be the third.

Unfortunately for him, the second step was being very stubborn.

"Could you pass me that pencil?"

"This is all a trap, you know. It has to be."

Pinching the pencil handed to him between his large fingers, he began to scribble notes on the map of Valoran.

"I know."

"Some sort of evil plan to take over the world!"

Writing in silence, Zac reached over for the pencil sharpener on the table.

"Could be."

"But… Are they really selling weapons to the Order of the Shadow?"

Sharpening his pencil to a satisfactory point, he began writing where he had left off.

"Who knows."

"And the Institute approved it? I can't believe that!"

Scratching out a name here and there, he flipped the pencil over and erased some of his writing.

"It's not that surprising."

"I wish you would take this more seriously."

He stopped writing and looked up at her.

"I am."

"No you're not. I mean it."

Zac continued to stare at Ahri with a probing distrust, and she did the same right back but with a disapproving frown.

From the library's gardens she had followed him back to his apartment, attached to his hip the entire time like a leech. Walking back into the ruins of what had been his neat and orderly home, the first order of business had been to try to find some sort of surface he could write on. Preferably one that wasn't part of something that had been destroyed.

Ignoring the mystery trail of half eaten food leading to his kitchen from the front door, he found himself sitting back down on the couch across from where he had hosted Katarina earlier. Now, only a few hours later, he was playing host to an assassin of a very different nature.

"I mean it too."

"You say that, but you don't mean it."

Giving up, he went back to his writing.

"How do you know that?"

"I don't know how you can joke about this when innocent lives are at stake."

It was hard for him to tell if she was being serious or not, since the pouting face she always put on never seemed to change.

"Yeah, mine included."

"There you go again! How can you crack jokes about this?"

He gave her a dubious look, not sure if she was joking.

"You thought that was a joke?"

"I don't know. You always have such a serious face on that never changes."

He couldn't argue with that, Zac slowly realized. He had never bothered to check for himself, but it just seemed like one of those things his own hesitant reaction proved as true. Again, in the same night, he had been caught off guard at frank truth behind Ahri's stark observations.

Reaching over to the table between them, he picked up his half of the large sandwich on a small plate and took a large bite out of it. A rush of flavors hit him all at once, and he suppressed a groan in delight at the taste. The food served at the Institute itself was mediocre, but the restaurants and stores in the city surrounding it always had incredible things for sale. Without doing anything, the bread crumbs all along his lower jaw were slowly absorbed into his body. He was finally getting that snack he craved since early in the morning, and it had come from the most unexpected source.

When Ahri had handed him a small cloth wrapped box and told him to open it, he hadn't known what to expect. He had heard of the phrase "beware of Noxians bearing gifts" before, and it was safe to say that the phrase extended to nine-tailed foxes with soul draining magic powers too.

But a free meal was a free meal, and it was a really good-looking one at that. Even with all the craziness that constantly surrounded him, he still wasn't paranoid enough to look at a delicious sandwich like there was an evil plot planted between the bread too.

"Why do you want to come with me?"

Ahri blinked from the sudden question directed at her out of the blue.

"Do you have to ask? Ionia is my homeland!"

"...Is that why you're registered as an independent Champion with the League?"

"What!? No—! You—!"

He watched Ahri's face contort in frustration and from something...else. Something he couldn't read, and he felt a small twinge of guilt hit him. It seemed that he had accidentally hit a sore spot without meaning to. He remembered what Ahri had said earlier in the day, and her mood back then as well. He could imagine many of the Ionian Summoners and Champions wanting nothing to do with someone as...unique...as her. After all, she was probably one of the last Champions to fit the confirmed Ionian image of reserved modesty in everything.

For every one question answered, there were a hundred more unresolved.

"I'm sorry," he apologized quickly. "Look, I just need to know if you're being honest with me."

"What? Don't you trust me?" she asked indignantly, a tone very different from the playful one she teased newer Summoners with.

"No."

"Spoilsport." Ahri stuck her tongue out at him, closing her eyes as she did. "You're being so serious all of a sudden. Is our date over already?"

"In twenty-four hours I'm going to have a large fraction of the world on my shoulders. That gives me the right to be serious."

"As if you needed that before," she gave a loud snort, and rolled her eyes at him patronizingly.

"How can I trust you if you're not honest with me?" he continued, ignoring her contempt. "How do I know you're not a spy for LeBlanc or something like that?"

"Just because I'm taking lessons from her, doesn't mean I'm worshiping that old hag's feet." Ahri waved his concerns off. "I'll learn what I want from her, and then ditch her."

Zac felt himself frowning from listening to her carefree concerns. Now he was even more confused if she was being serious with him.

There was something about magic practitioners like LeBlanc that always put him on edge, and it wasn't because of her lofty goals. Putting it simply, she was a dark arts master who never hesitated to use her powers to get what she wanted. Not only that, but she was the leader of an ancient clandestine order made up of an unknown number of mages, some of which were comparable in talent to many Summoners in the League. What if LeBlanc had already asked Swain to promote members of the Black Rose to the magic ranks of the Noxian military?

Worse off, despite all the measures the Institute took to secure its grounds, it wasn't too uncommon for incidents involving black magics to come up from time to time. Like that strange withering virus that had infected certain Champions around two years ago. When it came to circumventing League rules through barely legal means, Champions like LeBlanc were the leading authority on the subject.

Hell, it wouldn't have surprised him if she could spy on them in his own home somehow.

"...I don't think I've said it yet. But...thank you."

"Hmm?" Ahri blinked at him, before laying down across the length of the couch. As she did, her nine tails spread themselves out like an open fan behind her. "What for?"

"For keeping me company. I know I'm not a very good host."

"Ooh, ho ho ho. That's rich. You don't have to be so polite, you know. I know what you're really thinking about me." She laughed loudly, her tone making no effort to hide her own mocking contempt for him.

"I doubt that."

"You probably think I'm a pest, don't you?"

Zac thought about her words, trying to remember if he had thought of that specific word throughout the day.

"No."

"You don't think I'm annoying?"

"No."

"You don't think I'm crazy?"

"No."

"...Then I can come with you?"

"No," Zac said, shooting her down flat for the last time. "I still don't trust you."

"I bet I can change that, if you give me a chance." Ahri batted her eyelashes at him while smiling faintly, like so many times before. "You don't have to be so cynical. Lighten up a little."

Before he could think of something more cynical to say, just to spite her, Zac felt a strange tingle run up his back and to the tip of the tentacle on his head. The static touch of a mental link being established through magic, similar to how Summoners made sure they were connected to their Champions before matches. It was a strange sensation to describe, almost as if someone were running ice up along his back and to his head.

"Sir. All of the members of the I.S.C.P. have been assembled. We are waiting for your arrival."

A strange monotone and emotionless voice spoke to him through the link. It reminded him of Orianna's voice, cold, mechanical, and indifferent, despite that the person behind it was undoubtedly human.

I'll be there, but I'm kind of stuck here. Can you do something about it? He thought to himself, which he hoped meant that he was actually saying it out loud to whoever was on the other end of the link. It was weird how certain magics worked in the Institute, and he was never sure that he was doing things right on his end.

"...Understood. Try to find a place where we can teleport you here discretely."

Alright. I think I have an idea. Give me a few minutes to get ready.

"...Are you listening to me!? Hello?"

Ahri's irritated voice pulled him from his thoughts. He looked up at her, noticing how her nostrils were flaring in a look of savage disdain from being ignored.

"I'm sorry, I've got a lot of my mind," Zac apologized, picking up his pencil and continuing to scratch out writings on the map from where he had left off. "What were you saying?"

"I asked, what have you been writing?"

Zac rubbed his own chin in thought, looking up and down between Ahri and his work.

"It's complicated."

"Then explain to me."

He continued to rub his own chin, looking up and down between Ahri and his work again.

"...It's really complicated."

"Then explain it to me slowly."

She was persistent, he had to admit with a bit of professional esteem. Even if she was spying just to try to score points with LeBlanc, maybe something had changed once she had learnt about what he was up against. Maybe out of pity? Or just sympathetic curiosity? That was the problems with Champions like her that were similar to himself; there were no loyalties to be had when you had no real responsibilities to anyone or any group. How long would it be before she lost interest in him, and pursued whatever shallow interests that caught her eye next?

Did she really have any potential like they had suggested?

"I'm writing out how I think other city-states will react once the news of this deal goes out," Zac explained, pointing to the center of the map of Valoran between them.

"There will be two official statements on the matter two days from now, on the afternoon I leave. One from the Institute, and the other from the Noxian High Command."

Ahri stayed silent, waiting patiently for him to continue.

Thinking for a second, he then moved his finger from the Institute of War over to the left side of the map.

"Demacia has tried to predict what direction Swain is going to take the High Command after the Crystal Scar incident. All of their predictions, I think, have been greatly exaggerated compared to what has actually happened. With this new deal being announced, I'm wondering if the crown will concern themselves with it since they've been unable to turn up anything time and time again. Or maybe it will just make them try harder. I don't know."

With his pencil in his other hand, he quickly wrote down the names Luxanna Crownguard and Jarvan Lightshield IV before drawing a line to the opposite side of the continent.

"Swain approved this deal because he is testing the capability of Noxus to fill a large-scale weapons order without outside assistance. This is part of a multi-step plan to reorganize the economic structure of his city-state, away from the aggressive model that required that Noxus be ready to make war on any location in Valoran at any time. In return for his political immunity as a Champion, Swain is forcibly curving future Noxian diplomacy to always involve the Institute of War."

Next to Noxus, he wrote down the words Du Couteau and Black Rose with question marks attached to each. Across from him he could feel the intensity of Ahri's stare as she listened to him in an apprehensive silence.

A little amused at how quickly he had managed to rein in her interest, he drew a line connecting Noxus and Zaun together.

"The biggest victim of this restructuring won't be anyone in Noxus, but probably the profiteers in Zaun who have made careers out of catering to the Noxian war machine. If it's true that up to half of Zaun's economy comes from research and development contracts tied with Noxus, a change in the High Command's spending habits could be devastating for them. I have the feeling that the authorities in Zaun aren't going to simply let us get on that freighter without some sort of trouble."

Immediately as he had finished, he drew a line across from Zaun and added a large question mark over it.

"Piltover is the unpredictable one out of this bunch. In the past Demacia and Piltover have worked together, but only because Piltover wants to snub Zaun for working so closely with Noxus. If it's true that Zaun might collapse economically in the foreseeable future, Piltover might resist Demacian requests to maintain their autonomy and pick up business from Zaun's ruins. A lot of Champions from Piltover probably wouldn't want anything to do with Noxus, but having good ethics doesn't pay bills."

He dropped his pencil on the map, and reached over for the rest of his sandwich off to the side. Greedily he stuffed the entire remains into his mouth, not even bothering to chew it and letting it slide whole down his throat and into his gullet.

"Last, but still very important, is what deal Swain will want to work out with Bilgewater. It's no secret that Bilgewater is the least stable city-state on Valoran, and calling anything built on Blue Flame Island a 'city' in a stretch. Gangplank and Sarah Fortune have plans to build up the island into a true city-state, but I'm not sure if that would fit into Swain's overarching vision for his future. The Guardian Sea is Noxus' own backyard pond, and dealing with a city-state full of disorganized pirates starved for gold is a lot safer than one with a dedicated naval fleet."

Stopping with an exhausted sigh of displeasure, he purposefully pressed the pencil down on the map after circling Bilgewater and snapped the sharpened tip with a small crack.

"And that's all I've got so far," he explained, getting up to leave. "So if you'll excuse me."

Watching him leave, Ahri snapped out of her complacent stupor with a shake of her head.

"Hey! Where are you going?" she called out to him.

"To the bathroom," Zac said, not bothering to stop. "Please don't follow me there too. Please."

"Don't even think about sneaking out the window, because we're not done here," Ahri called out to him, mercifully deciding to stay sprawled out on his furniture. He would never admit it to her, but the idea had crossed his mind. "And don't make me chase you! Because you know I will."

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered just loud enough for her to hear.

"I mean it! I'm not done with you! You're important to me, so powder your nose and come back."

That last part would have been more flattering if it weren't for the fact that she probably didn't give a damn about him. Or maybe she did, in her weird way of doing things. The weird unexplainable mind of a soul draining seductress, who never gave any damns except when she did, and who never gave any signs or cues about what she was thinking without meaning to.

Really though, none of that mattered. The unexpected bombardment of new information he had hit her with had the desired effect, and now he had a chance to be alone with no one else in the Institute watching him. No one except his faceless caretakers, who he hoped hadn't forgotten about him already.

Opening the bathroom door and closing it behind him, he didn't even bother turning on the lights or anything. Quietly focusing his inner voice, he took a deep breath and readied himself.

Alright Summoners. Whenever you're ready. And try to keep the noise—

Without warning Zac was hit with a thunderous whoosh, and surrounded by a purple light that was descending from the skies above piercing the roof of his home. Just like the Recall and Teleport spells used by Summoners on Summoner's Rift, he could feel himself being lifted into the air ever so slightly. And just like both spells, the effects of casting them were anything but subtle.

Even inside the bathroom with the dull roar of magic around him, he heard a loud crash followed by an equally loud cuss being shouted in pain. Then some very hasty footsteps, quickly heading his way.

He looked down at his feet, and saw the rings around him slowly expanding in number. Two. Three. Four. He knew that before Ahri could make it to the door to find out what was going on, he would be long gone with no trace that he was ever even there.

...But just for the hell of it, he reached out and locked the bathroom door anyway.

Deciding against shouting any sarcastic goodbyes he would regret later, he waited patiently as he was pulled into the sky with the world below him rapidly shrinking in size.

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"Outrageous! Truly, truly, truly outrageous."

Zac could hear voices speaking as the magic behind the teleport Summoner spell begin to wear off around him. It was weird being pulled across the Institute from magic power alone, almost as if he were being sucked into a magical vacuüm chute and dumped out somewhere else. And as expected of being dumped out like slime in a pipe, when he reached his destination he landed hard with a loud splat.

Traveling with magic was an amazing, yet, horrifying experience all at the same time. If one knew how many factors went into how such magic worked, then you inadvertently knew how many things could go wrong that would mean terrible things they did. Getting picked up and dropped off at a place you did not want to be at was the least of potential problems. Becoming trapped in the arcane flows that the Institute's nexus' powered where creatures like Nocturne spawned was another. Or, alternatively, being picked up and never coming out at all was another.

Looking around as he began to restructure himself, he recognized the room around him as a dimly lit Reflection Chamber.

For these meetings he attended the location never seemed to change. Maybe there was something symbolic about hosting it in one of the most notorious places Champions knew in the Institute, but it also seemed like a shallow and pointless thing to do.

Lined in up a row were twelve seats, all filled except his own. By some magic trick or otherwise, each seat was lit in a way that each occupant could see the others, but not much else in the Reflection Chamber. Again, whatever symbolic or artistic merit this design had was lost on him.

"I mean no offense, as it is an honor to be here with you all," Taric said, the blue jewels in the Gem Knight's armor shining radiantly even if the shadows of the Reflecting Chamber. "But there must be a better way than to simply demand we show up on someone's beck and call."

"Yes! They called us here, so what's the hold up?" Ryze closed his spell book with a loud thump. "I don't have all day for this to start."

"That's right. I have a patrol to complete tonight, and I have no time for these games." Shuana Vayne agreed, dressed in her normal bodysuit and attire she wore on and off the Fields of Justice. Fiddling with her arm-mounted crossbow, she pulled out one of her silver bolts from a waist quiver and began inspecting with a keen eye.

"On the contrary, we all have a lot of time." Zilean commented, stroking his beard as he did. "Actually, how many times have we done this already? I keep forgetting."

"Hey, does anyone know if drinks will be served?" Yasuo asked, holding his flask upside down and shaking it. Slouching back in his seat, the wind wielding samurai kicked his sandals feet up on the table in front of them all.

"Hey, I know a good place to get a drink," said Jax, his trademark brass lamppost leaning on the side of his seat just in reach. "We can hit it after this. I hear Gragas has a new flavor of Graggy Ice coming out."

"Grabbing the bull by the horns, huh? Let's not make plans before this even starts," Alistar adjusted himself in his seat, the Minotaur's massive frame causing his chair to creak and moan as it resettled his weight. "We don't even know why we're here yet."

"I agree. This clearly isn't a normal meeting, so does anyone know why we're here?" Lucian said, toying around with both of his Lightslinger pistols in each hand. "We all have things to do and places to be. This must be serious if they're calling us together like this."

"Ahem."

All heads turned to the sound calling their attention. Nasus continued to stare down at the book in his large hands, flipping the page once without care for their stares.

"I believe it has something to do with the green one," he said, not bothering to even look up from his reading. "I have noticed that he has become very...popular...as of late."

Walking up to take his seat, Zac shot Nasus a look, now feeling the inquisitive stares of everyone in the room save for the few that were polite enough to restrain themselves. He groaned out loud, not knowing what to say that could somehow pacify so many personalities with different expectations.

"It's complicated," he finally said, giving up on thinking of anything else. He shrugged and crossed his arms in frustration.

The only two members who hadn't said anything were Twisted Fate and Riven. Both sat unmoving and not speaking, maybe with something more pressing on their minds. He was thankful for that, not that the others in the room were renown for their outspoken personalities.

"You hate weapons, and the people who use them. Yet how can you hope to achieve your goals without them?"

Trying to settle down and not be overly self-conscious from the stares he was still getting, a sudden wave of nostalgia washed over him. It was the same thing he felt every time he sat down and waited for these meetings to begin. He could hear High Councilor Kolminye in his head, her voice repeating the same words she had said when they had first met.

It hurt to admit it, but she had his personality pegged from the start.

His time in the Reflection Chamber hadn't been like other Champions. He had read stories of Champions being forced to look back into their past, facing their inner demons, or something crazy stuff like that. Having their mind probed and read, recited back to them like someone was reading a manuscript. But the Institute of War already knew everything they needed to know about him, so making him look back into a past he didn't regret was redundant.

What they wanted to know was how useful he could be to them.

Not only that, but maybe if he could find it in himself to take pride in working for them.

"Look around you. Say what you want about their looks and personalities, but they are all very good at what they do. Could you beat them all with your bare hands? No. You would need a weapon."

He hadn't yet met any of the Champions that he would come to know one by one back then. All he had heard about were their stories in the news, or over hextech radio broadcasts played out and over the streets of the Institute's city. Wild stories of exotic adventures, beings wielding amazing powers, and incredible feats of skill. There were also stories of dangerous monsters, other worldly abominations, and other horrible things from the past.

Everything seemed to have a place in the League, from mages commanding incredible arcane powers, to dedicated soldiers fighting for their city-states. Hell, even mercenaries were there, always ready to fight for the highest bidder.

"You hate the idea of being a weapon, but could you give it up?"

Kolminye's words had hit their mark. It was something he hadn't put much thought into, maybe out of some unwarranted blind optimism that his exotic nature would cut it fighting in the League.

"No you can't. You may hate weapons more than anyone, but that doesn't matter in the end. You know better than anyone how necessary it is to be strong. You should put aside your self-loathing, and be true to your own potential."

Potential. Now there was a word that could be twisted and folded to fit anyone's needs.

"I'm not blind to the irony. Me telling you that we're trying to create peace by managing war."

The idea had seemed ludicrous at first. But the longer he lived in the Institute, and the more fights he fought in the League, it began to slowly make sense.

"Stick with us. We can teach you how to satiate your hate without giving up who you are."

But before his disgruntled trip down memory lane could continue, the same soft and mechanical voice that had called him earlier began speaking out loud to everyone.

"I confirm that all twelve members of the Institute's Special Champion Pool are now present. The seventh meeting of the I.S.C.P. can now begin."


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Nielspeterdejong

Senior Member

05-21-2014

I loved it! The interaction with all the characters is really something else! And I enjoyed the way you described them all


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MSN00100

Recruiter

06-27-2014

With every update, this story on fanfiction.net is updated as well.

Chapter 9: I.S.C.P. (Part 2)

Twelve seats, each filled with a Champion of the League of Legends.

A minotaur of incredible strength, and survivor of countless gladiatorial battles.

A mysterious mercenary with the longest undefeated streak in the League’s history.

An incredibly skilled pistol wielding exorcist, always keeping his eyes on the monsters hiding in the shadows.

An ancient guardian from another dimension, who works to maintain peace in his new home.

An ex-soldier walking her broken blade down a path toward redemption.

A mage protecting forbidden knowledge that could lead to the destruction of the world.

A noble gem-powered knight, who has dedicated himself to helping those in need.

A magic gypsy with a pair of skillful hands that could cheat the devil himself.

A dark knight, who relentlessly hunts the wicked abusers of black magic.

A samurai walking the lonely road of justice, only leaving the corpses of his pursuers in his wake.

A bio-weapon that has decided that he didn’t like being one.

And last but not least, the sole survivor of Urtistan, whose experimentations with temporal magic have accidentally blessed him with immortality.

All twelve of which were sitting before five elite Summoners of the Institute of War. Silent, idly waiting with a hint of impatience.

Hovering in the air like haunting specters, the Summoners chairing the meeting stood separated from the Champions. The room they were all in was perfectly divided in half by the large sterile table between them, made of something that was similar to Blitzcrank’s strange futuristically polished skin. Magical devices stored in the table hummed quietly, setting the stage for everything to begin.

Flanked by two of her juniors on each side, Vessaria Kolminye, one of the three members of the Council of Equity, stepped forward out from the shadows. She remained concealed by her robes through the use of some sort of magic, making it appear as if they were being worn by someone unseen.

“Champions, you have my thanks for coming immediately when asked,” Kolminye began, and the Summoners on both of her flanks bowed their heads along with her when she did. “As of a show of my respect for your time, let us skip the formalities and get straight to the issue at hand.”

She then pointed straight at Zac, motioning for him to get up and come over toward her.

“Secret Weapon. Please explain to everyone here what happened earlier this afternoon.”

Zac grimaced again, feeling the stares of nearly everyone on him. Standing up obediently, he shuffled over to the table between all of the Champions present and the Summoners looking down on them all.

“Uh… Right, well, if you remember from our last meeting,” Zac started off, waiting and watching as some sort of device unseen from the center of the table began casting an image for everyone to see. From a picture of the Institute of War, it changed to an view of Noxus from some balding hilltop outside of the city. All of the different districts could be seen to a varying degree, but what stood out the most was the human skull carved out into the stone mountain that was home to the High Command. One of the most infamous, if not the most, sights in all of Noxus for anyone visiting. Other than a tasteless display of gritty might, the height and size of it meant that anyone from any part of the city-state would have it looming over their heads their entire lives. An unsubtle reminder of how tied the military command was to the identities all Noxians.

“We were all talking about the changes being made to the High Command’s structure, now that the Darkwill lineage has been removed from power. There were some ideas about how Swain would remodel the hierarchy now that he’s Grand General, but we couldn’t be sure until he started actually making some moves toward anything.”

“And that’s what this is about?”

Zac turned to see Riven staring right at him, her eyes matching a completely humorless look on her normally soft features. For a second he felt a chill run down his spine, knowing that he was stepping on eggshells.

“It’s more than that,” Kolminye interrupted, outline still shadowed by magic. “Something has happened that runs contrary to many of the theories we predicted. Now please continue, Secret Weapon.”

He had turned to face Kolminye when she had started speaking, maybe in hopes that she would spare him from the scrutiny of his peers. But seeing how that wasn’t to be the case, he turned back around and waiting for the magic projection to change again.

“Right, well… This afternoon, I was ambushed by Katarina Du Couteau and Talon in my home—”

“Hold it. You said ‘in’ your home?” Vayne interrupted, an eyebrow raised in interest behind her red tinted glasses.

“Correct,” Kolminye boomed once again, and Zac turned around once more. If she was going to keep explaining things for him, then why not brief everyone herself? Or was it to just to play to the image that those managing the Institute of War knew everything? “Both assassins were able to bypass the defensive runes placed inside of the building. We are still investigating how.”

“Lovely,” Vayne said, the disgust dripping from her voice. “Have you no shame? When will this Institute stop underestimating Noxian devilry with dark magics?”

“The incident has yet to be confirmed as involving dark magic,” the Summoner to the right of Kolminye countered, with a hint of frustration in his voice from Vayne’s biting accusations. “Night Hunter, as much as your services have helped us strengthen the security of this Institution, not everything is something for you to be concerned with.”

“That has yet to be seen,” Vayne said, brushing him off. “Don’t expect me to clean up your mess wh—”

“Yeah! Great! So like I was saying!” Zac said, just loud enough to make his point clear. Choosing to stop herself, Vayne settled back down in her seat and put the attentive but silent mask she always wore. “...Katarina and Talon broke into my apartment with an offer from Swain,” he continued. “They’re asking me to act as a Champion escort for some deal they worked out with the Order of the Shadows.”

“Ninjas, huh?” Yasuo let out a groan from his seat. “Of course it’s ninjas. Ninjas are always trouble.”

“The deal has already been authorized by the Institute,” Kolminye said, taking over again. The images behind Zac changed, and he turned to look at them too. The wall was now painted with some kind of diagram or schematic, parts of some sort of complicated hextech sword weapon things he knew nothing about. Looking it over harder, he couldn’t tell how to hold the thing never mind how to use it. “Since this deal was negotiated through the Institute of War from Champion to Champion, the Ionian Council of Elders have no say in this matter.”

Well that explains that, Zac thought to himself. The question of why he hadn’t heard a single word from any of the primary Ionian Champions had been answered. His thoughts drifted back to Ahri, and he wondered if her sentiments had been more genuine than he originally thought.

“Seems to be that Ionia is part of our little game, but still needs to learn the rules,” Twisted Fate commented. “You have to hand it to that old dog. Using the Institute as a medium was downright clever.”

“And that is where the problem lays. Jericho Swain has gone through considerable lengths to make sure that every aspect of this deal was laid out to the Institute in advance.” With a wave of her hands more magical displays appeared, this time displaying some of the pictures Swain had included in the papers he had given Zac. Even the gigantic iron washtub ship from earlier was there, but with a much more detailed diagram of its insides.

“If there is some sort of subversive plan, then at the moment we have no way of proving what it will be.”

“What does this have to do with us?” Ryze asked bluntly. “Not all of us here care about the petty acts of city-states against each other. Aren’t there enough problems in this world?”

“But you said ‘proving,’ just now? Didn’t you?” Taric said, leaning forward in curiosity.

Kolminye nodded, as did the shadowed Summoners to her immediate sides. “Correct. We have no evidence of what Noxus is planning, but we believe we know what their aims are. This is why we have called you here tonight. We believe this is the beginning of a plot that could be devastating to the integrity of the Institute of War.”

“Hmm. How ominous,” Nasus said, the bored look on his canine features running counter to any concern in his voice. “Those are words not spoken lightly. I hope you will tell us more about this...unseen threat.”

“In due time, Champions. For now we must focus on our own preparations.”

Kolminye swept her arms out in a broad stroke, with everything that had revealed themselves returning to the shadows. Not waiting for an explanation, Zac walked back and took his seat.

“Secret Weapon has already accepted Swain’s offer. We know that Katarina, the Sinister Blade, will be the one heading the mission. As part of negotiations, he was given permission to pick two other League Champions that will join him on this journey. Although these events may seem unconnected to your own reasons for working with us, we expect every one of you to be ready and willing to aid another member of the I.S.C.P. if and when they need it.”

The still silence from his compatriots was so stagnant that he could hear the soft hums of the technomagical devices spread throughout the room. It was funny to think that the eleven Champions around him were sulking over the idea that their upcoming weekend plans could be ruined, as unlikely as that seemed. Hopefully, by some mercy, everyone around him would be as reliable outside of the Institute as they were on any Field of Justice. If not, then his trip was going to be either incredibly boring, or incredibly short.

“Every one of you understands how important this Institution is to the safety of our world. Just as the twelve of you have been granted special privileges that other Champions have not, when the time comes, we trust that you will act in the interest of preserving this Institution.”

Ten lights for ten teleporting Champions. In another brilliant cascade of arcane power, light suddenly flooded into the Reflection Chamber from the heavens above and engulfed the other members of the I.S.C.P. Some of them stood up in preparation to leave, while others remained seated, probably in the same position as they had been scooped up in.

Just as fast as they had all arrived, they were gone. At the same time, the Summoners that had accompanied Kolminye disappeared. Whatever devices or spells they had been using to attend the meeting, disconnected from their end. No parting words said; no sounds at all.

From up above them all where she had been chairing the meeting, Kolminye stood up and began descending down invisible steps toward him. Zac remained seating in his own large chair, rocking back and forth on its base absentmindedly.

Folding her slender hands into the long sleeves of her robes, Kolminye took the last step down and started walking toward him. Her robes carried in them some sort of magic veil that all elite council members wore. Every time he talked with her, it was as if he were conversing with a ghost in a robe.

“Secret Weapon, a word if you will?”

“Since I didn’t get a free ride out, I don’t think I have a choice,” Zac commented noting how quietly everyone had left despite their differences.

Instead of a reply, all he got was a raised open palm, before the same human hand pointed to the seat next to him. Zac looked at her quizzically, mouthing a silent question for an explanation her way, before looking back at the seats where the other Champions had been.

Sure enough, sitting with her arms crossed and a small frown on her face, Riven looked at them both with a hint of irritation from having not been noticed earlier.

“Do have something to say, Exile?” Kolminye ventured to ask, breaking the silence.

“I want to join him on this mission,” Riven said, stepping up to them both and pointing to Zac as she did.

“You can’t be serious,” Zac blurted without thinking.

“I am!” Riven spat back at him sharply, making him wince. She then turned to Kolminye, before continuing.

“You probably want another member of our group to join him, right? Well I volunteer myself!”

Zac and Kolminye exchanged looks, saying nothing as they did. They both stayed silent as seconds continued to tick past, and Riven wondered if they were now communicating telepathically with some sort of magic. She stood waiting in a silent defiance, the determined look on her face unwavering despite their unreceptive reactions.

“Are you sure, Exile?” Kolminye finally asked, in a much more gentle tone. “You would be coming face to face with many demons of your past.”

“I know, but this isn’t something I can just let go by.” Riven balled her sword hand into a fist, raising the clenched oversized gauntlet in a show of strength. “I’m done wandering. If I’m ever going to make amends for the past, I need to keep living in the present.”

Kolminye nodded sympathetically, and let slip a low hum in consideration. Still standing next to her, Zac felt himself glaring at her in disgust. He doubted she cared about any good intentions of Riven, misguided or otherwise, and was just thinking how she could be added into her plans. Maybe it was the fact that the more complicated things could get, the more he would have to rely on the Institute of War for guidance.

“We will consider your request,” Kolminye finally spoke, waving her hand to dismiss her. “I will contact you once we have decided. If you mean what you say, I expect you to be prepared by tomorrow morning.”

“I understand.” Riven get a curt nod back to her, but only glanced at Zac. “All I ask is that you take my request seriously.”

“We will have to see,” Kolminye said, in a much more neutral tone that he preferred. “Go enjoy your evening, Exile.”

For the second time a deep purple light broke through the ceiling, striking Riven and engulfing her as it hit the ground of the Reflection Chamber. Her white dress and tattered linens she always wore blew a bit from an unseen wind, before the spell finished and whisked her away. Through the spell’s casting time she had remained silent, but there was something about her insistent stare directed at him that unnerved him a little.


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MSN00100

Recruiter

06-27-2014

Chapter 9: I.S.C.P. (Part 2 Cont.)

“Did something happen between you two?” Kolminye suddenly asked him after she was gone, pulling Zac of his thoughts. “She was looking at you this entire meeting. Very intensely, at that.”

“Not that I remember,” he answered honestly, shrugging as he did. “Nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve tried to kill her, she’s killed me. Just the usual.”

“Tried?”

“Tried,” Zac repeated, not wanting to focus too much on the past. “Something weird happened in a match, and I ended up letting her live after I should have killed her. I played the whole thing off as a communication error between me and my Summoner, but now I’m wondering if I bruised her pride, or something.”

“...Is that all?”

Zac scratched the back of his head, letting out a low groan as he did.

“Well, there was one other thing…”

“Go on,” Kolminye said, not bothering to hide the piqued feminine interest in her voice. He knew immediately that he had spoken too much about something that would only cause stupid problems in the future.

“Someone got it in their heads to link us together in one of those fliers Summoners get about costume sales,” Zac said, reminiscing about the past. “They titled it, ‘Bunny and the Beast,’ or something cheesy like that. I didn’t even know about it until Riven confronted me. She kept going on about tabloids this and tabloids that, and how she didn’t want people getting the wrong idea from it.”

To his surprise, Kolminye let a small snicker slip before breaking out into a light laugh.

“Ooh, that poor thing. She takes everything so seriously, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yeah, well, it would be the pot calling—” Zac started, but then stopped when he remembered that he was speaking with someone who could find everything she ever wanted one way or another anyhow. “Hey, wait a damn minute. You’re not considering her request, right?” Zac said, her sudden silence acting as a warning sign that he was losing control of his own fate. “Bringing her along would be a terrible idea. A Noxian deserter joining me on a Noxian arms deal orchestrated by their High Command, into a country she fought a war against?”

“You underestimate her strength of character,” Kolminye said, waving a hand as if to waft away his statement. “She is famous across Valoran for unique sense of justice that runs contrary her upbringing and heritage. Riven is a shining example of an heroine with a muddied past in search for redemption, and the Ionian people will see that.”

Zac nodded understandingly as he mulled over her points.

“No, I’m sure it’s still a terrible idea. Did you remember that we’re stopping at Zaun first? Home to the people who ruined her life? What makes you think she’s even going to make it to Ionia?”

“Then who were you thinking about?”

“I was… Thinking about Yasuo, and someone else. You know, someone who knows the land?”

“Do you think he would fare any better?” Kolminye asked, and Zac wondered if she had pulled him away from his second point on purpose. “Do you know that the School of the Wind still seeks his head for the death of that Ionian Elder?”

He blinked at what she had said, slowly processing it in his head for a few seconds. He had heard everything that the League had published about Yasuo with his entry as a Champion; all part of the standard routine for combat with and against him on a Field of Justice. Ignoring the sympathetic aspects of the story, it was well known that all Champions were granted immunity from any looming problems in their past the moment they were accepted by the Institute of War. Had the people from Yasuo’s past actually petitioned the Institute to hand him back over to them, despite everything that was known to the world?

“Are you serious?” was all he could think to ask at the revelation.

“Quite.” Something about how Kolminye was acting made it seem to him as if she would be rolling her eyes right now. But with the magic veil that all elite council members wore, it still looked to him as if were conversing with a ghost in a robe.

“Do still they really think he did it? Killing that Elder with his wind techniques?”

“What? No, of course not. The entire chase is to save face for their school, so that the Council of Elders will continue to hire them as part of their security entourage.”

“What!? Are you serious?” he repeated again.

She nodded, knowingly. “It’s all politics, I’m sure you can imagine. The poor fool never had any chance to prove his innocents from the start.”

“You’re telling me that he killed his own brother for nothing?”

“Sad, isn’t it? But who knows? Maybe it’s better this way. He was probably jealous of Yasuo his entire life, anyway.”

Something about how casually Kolminye could explain a tragedy as if she explaining to a server how she liked her coffee prepared irked him a little. But maybe that was something that come with her position; the ability to distance yourself from every little or large tragedy that hit her desk every morning.

Maybe she was a victim of circumstance herself. There was always the possibility that she had never expected to come to power as she did. After the mysterious circumstance surrounding the disappearance of Reginald Ashram, Relivash had filled his position until evidence from the Crystal Scar incident at Kalamanda emerged. He had read the papers about it long before he had joined the League, and even in his youth Zac knew how the impact of events had shaken the continent to its core. Evidence that a member of the Council of Equity, the highest adjudications appeals court in the world, had taken steps to instigate a war between two city-states.

It was ironic really, to think that all of this had happened because the Institute of War was doing its job too well. So much so that one of its leaders had decided to try and spark an artificial war, just to remind the world how important the Institute was to keeping the peace on Valoran.

With unequivocal lightning speed, the Institute had made efforts to amend its shattered image. Vessaria Kolminye had been one of many sets of eyes and ears on the ground in Kalamanda, lending her power as both a mage and Summoner to the people. Perhaps it was her unexpected fame from being featured in the Journal of Justice that would lead to her replacing Relivash on the Equity Council. Or maybe like all wars it had been planned from the start, only for things to go awash as all plans inevitably do, and then the Institute had been forced to improvise in order to survive.

“...Does Yasuo know that his old family still wants him dead?”

“Yes, and no. Despite what you may think, we respect the privacy of Champions when it comes to their personal affairs. Perhaps you’ve noticed that he’s dropped his pursuit of a certain someone over the last months? Hmm?”

Zac frowned, and scratched his chin again. He knew exactly who and what Kolminye was referring, but the matter in its entirely had been something that he had wanted nothing to do with. There were enough problems in his world that didn’t include two convoluted pasts that happened to intertwine with each other.

“So let me get this straight. You don’t want Yasuo to come with me, because you think his old chums will try something. Instead, you want the person who may have been the real culprit to come in his stead?”

“Yes.” He could imagine the evil and devious face Kolminye was giving him underneath her magic mask. The face of someone with a master plan, and who had no interest including others in on it.

“Just making sure, do you remember the part where I said this was a terrible idea?”

“We have our reasons. Trust in us, Secret Weapon.”

Trust. Again, another word that could be twisted and folded to fit anyone’s needs.

Everything around him that kept the Institute of War functioning from day to day revolved around trust. The League trusted that city-state would continue to bring their business to them. City-states trusted that the Institute of War wouldn’t begin favoring one over the others. Champions trusted their Summoners not to get them killed on the Fields of Justice. And the world trusted the Institute not to dabble too heavily into things that would bring about the cataclysmic end of the world.

There was no reason for him to doubt her. There never had been. Despite her authority, Kolminye had never hesitated to help him in the past. Maybe it came with the territory of being a member of the I.S.C.P., but sometimes he could sense the maternal concern Kolminye gave off toward people she worked closely with. On eve of his virgin mission to the outside world, was he really going to start questioning her intentions now?

It was awfully difficult, Zac realized, to earnestly judge people by first impressions. Those who seemed pleasant at first in the Institute, usually were good people. Usually. Vessaria Kolminye wasn’t particularly pleasant, but the instant he had joined the I.S.C.P. she had become so friendly that it was uncanny. Perhaps, he thought, it was just another characteristic of someone with so much responsibility not on par with anyone else in the world.

“Alright, but I still need someone who knows the lay of the land,” Zac protested, trying not to seem like his points had been subdued. “You know that none of the Ionian Champions want anything to do with this deal. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already planning to sabotage it.”

“Well, you’re half correct,” Kolminye said, looking past him and at something unseen by him. “Irelia has already addressed the Council of Elders and tried to stop the deal from going through. But the Elders in the regions where the Order of the Shadows operate have refused to comply with her demands.”

This was a surprise to him, if what she was saying was true.

“I don’t understand. Does that means that the Council of Elders aren’t against this?”

“It’s complicated, like everything these days.”

“Oh, of course. How silly of me.”

“Think of it this way. How do so many different school teaching the killing arts manage to exist in a peace-loving land like Ionia? It is because they hire themselves out to government officials, or volunteer their ranks as a peacekeepers in their regions. Ever since the Kinkou Order was gutted by Zed and his followers, the Order of the Shadow has taken their place in these same roles.”

“So for some places, the Order of the Shadow is just the new group replacing the old?”

“Exactly,” Kolminye nodded. “I can’t say I know for certain, but I’ve been told that the Order of the Shadow takes a much more proactive approach than the Kinkou did. Despite their ideological differences with the masses, many people credit the Order of the Shadows from keeping the poorer regions of Ionia from breaking down into chaos years after the war.”

“I get what you’re saying, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like being a part of other people’s politics.”

“Then why did you come to the Institute?”

“To try and do the right thing,” Zac answered, suddenly aware of how stupid his own answer sounded.

“Everyone has a different idea of what is right and what is wrong. You’ve chosen our side, and you should stick with us. That means putting your trust in us. Trust that we know what we’re doing.”

“Isn’t that what everyone says?”

“If we didn’t have the confidence to say that, than we’d be fools for trying. Don’t you understand?”

“I don’t know. I’m not good at this. I’m only good at fighting.”

“And I’m sure there will be plenty of that where you’ll be going,” Kolminye remarked dryly, to which he groaned in despair. “I will say it once, and I will say it a hundred times; do not fear. We will be supporting you all of the way.”

“I hope so,” was all Zac could think to say back. From the ceiling, just as with Riven and the others Champions before them, a blinding light began to shine down on him. At his feet rings of light started to complete themselves, layering each other as they did.

“Honestly, I’m feeling kind of alone right now.”

“You are never alone, Secret Weapon,” Kolminye said with an unexpectedly sharp rebuking tone. “Now go make a friend, and look out for your other one.”

“Wait, what?”

Before he could ask another endless question, Zac was lifted off of his feet and sped away in a brilliant stream of luminescent flash. Whisked away with teleportation magic, like the other Champions before him.

Watching him go, and having gotten the last word in, Kolminye would leave the same way shortly after. But not before taking a few mental notes about the changing world around her, and some interesting things she learnt that day. Being a member of the Council of Equity wasn’t just pomp and circumstance, and there was a lot that needed to get done if everything was to go smoothly. With so many powers invested in the Institute of War, there was never any time where she could sit back and simply watch matters develop on their own.

It was a little surprising, though. Zac’s unexpectedly timid behavior around his fellow Champions. She hadn’t expected as much resistance from him. The entire time she could feel his hesitation, acting like he had some sort of nervous concern about being judged. Was it from the Exile? Or maybe something else?

Well, regardless; one of his greatest strengths was his flexibility, both physically and mentally. Zac would have to learn how to adapt, one way or another. What couldn’t kill him would just make him stronger, in more ways than she suspected he knew.

Tumbling about in a magical vortex, Zac opened his eyes only briefly and immediately regretted it. He could only imagine what kind of narcotics or hallucinogenic substances he would have to take to replicate what he had briefly glanced at. There was nothing beautiful about it, as far as he was concerned. It was terrifying to know that he was being teleported between two points using things he had no knowledge about and could not fix if something were to go terribly wrong.

Counting down in his head, he waited patiently before opening his eyes again. The forces pushing on his body were beginning to ease up, a sign that he was close to wherever his destination was going to be. Twisting his body as best he could, he braced himself to land feet first and try not to splatter all over the first surface he hit the moment the teleportation spell ended.

Being dropped out of thin air in a blinding flash of light, Zac hit the stone floors of the Institute and immediately rolled into a ball. Doing his best imitation of Rammus, he forcibly turned himself so that he would roll in a continuous circle, letting the momentum of the magic slowly decay until he came to a complete stop.

Satisfied with his own performance, he changed shape one more time and sprung to his feet. Leaping into the air, he put his arms out to steady himself before planting both feet down like a long jumping athlete with two loud wet slaps as he did.

Not bad, Zac thought to himself. I bet I could do better though. Maybe—

“Ahem.”

Still with his arms out holding his acrobatic pose, he turned around to see Riven staring at him.

“...****,” he muttered, again without thinking. The gears in his head were turning furiously, at the realization that he had been set up. But this time Riven ignored his reaction, and chose to take a step closer to him with her arms crossed firmly.

“I want to talk to you.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. Let me come with you.”

“No,” Zac said, shooting her down flat. Without a goodbye, he turn right around and started to head back to his home.

Before he could take a second step, he was broadsided from behind. Riven had slammed into him with a flying tackle, knocking them both down and onto the floor. Zac landed with a hard splat, partially cushioning her as she landed on top of him spraying green slime out in every direction.

“Let me come with you,” she repeated, after he had partially reformed himself. She showed no signs of remorse for her actions.

“Let me up,” he demanded with a cranky and irate tone. “I’m not talking to you on the floor.”

Riven crawled off of him slowly, standing up on her own and taking a step back. Zac began to reform the rest of his body, slowly building himself back up while keeping a wary eye on her the entire time. Despite being soaked head to toe in his green goo, she still wore a face of unnerving determination that seemed invincible to everything. After a little he was satisfied that he was completely back together, still wary of being attacked again, he looked her with the same exhausted concern from before.

“Alright. Why do you want to come with me so badly?”

“I have my own reasons.”

“Can’t you just wait like she told you to?”

“That’s not good enough,” Riven explained. She continued to follow behind him as he started walking off again. “You and I both know she’s made up her mind, whatever that may be. I want to hear it from you that I can come along.”

“I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

“Do you mean it?”

“Yes. I don’t know what I want yet.”

“...Do you really mean it?

“Yes!” Zac threw his arms up into the air in exasperation. “Is this going somewhere? Or are you just making an effort to be a complete a pain in the ass today!?”

After snapping at her, Riven stopped walking. Noticing this, so did he.

“Is it because you’re afraid?”

“...What?” was all Zac could think to say back to her.

“I asked, are you afraid?”

“I’m not—”

“You’re afraid, aren’t you? Are you afraid of actually meeting the people you’ve been fighting against?” Riven accused, staring him straight in his eyes with her own. “Everything here is so distant from the world. So far away from real people’s troubles, and the troubles you might have caused for them! That’s really why you don’t want me around isn’t it!?”

Even though her words stung, he knew the source of his frustration wasn’t her. Looking at his own palms, the undeniable facts of reality were back in full force. He wasn’t flesh and blood like her, and he wasn’t a machine either. He was a weapon. An artificial lifeform, birthed from test tubes and flasks for the sole purpose of taking orders. He yearned desperately refute the repulsive ideas of his own self reflections, and assert a higher purpose in his life for himself.

But the swirling undercurrent of self-doubt in his heart undermined his ability to do so. An undercurrent that wasn’t coming from any malicious or devious source, other than the straight plain truth being told to him.

“Oh come off it!” Zac shouted back at her. “This isn’t about your little crusade to do whatever your heart is telling you! Can’t you see how much of a liability you are!? Do you really believe that you’ll just fit quietly, and not stand out to everyone involved in this!?”

“That may be true, but I won’t just hide from the world. What about you? You’ve never hesitated to throw a punch on any Field of Justice! I’ve seen you kill people in more ways than anyone else, but you never volunteer to help with anything outside of the Institute!”

“Because this isn’t a damn game! The world outside isn’t some place where people who get killed will come back to life! The Institute can always revive us, but they don’t give two damns about anyone else out there!”

“That doesn’t mean you can just sit back and separate yourself from the world! You should stop hiding like a coward, and make yourself useful!”

“I don’t have to do a damn thing other than what the Institute wants me to!”

“And what is everyone in the world thought like that! What if everyone in the world never did anything other than what they were told to do!?”

“Then you would still say I’m a damn fool for doing different!” Zac shouted back at her, their argument having blown up into something very noisy. Around them the different personnel of the Institute were slowing filing away, not wanting to get involving themselves between the two Champions. “You’re one to talk! You deserted the Noxian legion the moment you realize how you were just a means for other’s ambitions! But now you’re here doing the same damn thing for someone else, just like the rest of us!”

“Because what else is there!?”

She hadn’t reacted at all like he had expected, with the exception of her sword arm that had been slowly heading toward her broken blade. But her words, as simple as they were, shocked him. He felt his energy draining from him, as if he were ready to melt into a puddle of sludge onto the ground at any moment.

Then he realized; what he was feeling was his own mortality. Not in the same way on or off a Field of Justice, but something completely different. Something that put him at a complete loss for words, despite his temperament before it. He felt like a fish in an ocean. Or like an ant crossing a desert. A wave of revulsion began to build up in his stomach, from his own painful realization about how quickly he had assumed his life was more valued than others. And from what? Just because he was more exotic in nature than his contemporaries?

“Because what else is there,” Zac repeated, the words barely audible.

“Because what else is there,” Riven repeated too, much quieter this time too.

What could he say to her? What could he say to comfort someone who had managed to escape the horrors of war, only to wind up working for a group promoting peace through perpetual conflicts? What could he, a weapon born in a laboratory as a replacement for everything she was, say to comfort her?

He looked down at her, and she looked up at him. Their eyes only met for a second, before they both couldn't stand what they saw and looked away.


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Shadows of Time

Junior Member

07-10-2014

I know this is the Vel'Koz main in me talking, but why not have him in the story? Tie the Void in, since, well, everyone seems to want the biggest shard of the Runeterra thats about to explode. And I'm sure Vel'Koz has... Analyzed Zac plenty of times out on the Fields.

EDIT: Well duh, forgot a thing: AMAZING story! *Throws cookies at author*


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MSN00100

Recruiter

07-30-2014

Chapter 10: I.S.C.P. (Part 3)

The first sounds Riven heard was that of someone chuckling. It seemed to continue forever, but he could make out the words, “You mean her?” She had no idea what was so funny, but in the process of trying to figure it out she began to regain consciousness. It helped, perhaps, that the voice distinctly belonged to someone she would never consider letting her guard down around. Despite that, it was infinitely more pleasant that the miserable and smiley tone of the man who interrupted her. His words were harder to make out, and seemed to be part of a whispered conversation being carried on without regard for her.

“Why not?” said the woman, giggling. “Don’t you think she’s beautiful?”

“Don’t go there.” The man seemed to be cautioning the woman against something.

Riven tried to open her eyes, and watched a hextech lights directly above her gradually come into focus. It was the type of light she’d been avoiding in the last years - a fluorescent bulb installed into a ceiling fan above her, the kind that decorated so many offices in the Institute of War.

Where am I? Is this one of those apartments? she thought, as her mind began to reassert itself. She had never liked the assigned housing the Institute provided to its Champions. There was something about it that just made her uncomfortable. Riven blinked several times. Aware of another presence, she felt very shy, but wanted to know what was going on. She tried moving her body for the first time, and winced at how stiffly her own body ached in turn.

“Are you awake? Can you hear me?” The voice that seemed a room away was far too bright and cheerful for how early it felt.

“Yes,” Riven answered, hoarsely, trying her best to be heard. Then she stopped. Why had she replied so readily? She had no way of even knowing where she was, never mind who she was speaking to. Thinking about it, her mind was completely muddied and clouded when she tried to recall anything that had happened a day ago.

“You slept through the entire night,” the voice called back, “but you should be all right now. If you’re feeling light headed, don’t strain yourself too much.”

Unable to sit up any longer, Riven slid back down into the bed with a light thump. The mattress underneath her was more comfortable than anything she had slept on in months, having shyed away from the luxuries the Institute wanted to force on her. Everything from the pillow under head to the sheets partially covering her felt wonderful.

Too wonderful to be normal.

What happened to me? Riven rolled over in the bed, pulling the sheets with her as she did. She rolled back again, in a vain attempt to clear her head and keep herself awake.

“Do you want coffee, or tea maybe?”

“Urmgph,” Riven answered back, mustering her willpower and forcing herself to sit upright again. Kicking the covers off of the bed, she forced her legs to move so that she could take her first steps to find out what was going on.

“Riven?” Dressed in a fluffy robe similar to her midnight costume, Ahri peeked her head around the doorframe to the bedroom. “I didn’t quite catch that. What did you say?”

Looking down, Riven lay sprawled out on the floor next to the bed as if someone had just killed her in lane. Her unpinned hair lay in a mess, with parts over her face and down her shoulders in a tangled mess. Dressed only in a lacey white chemise, her face had a pained frustration written all over it from her inability to control her own body.

“Ahri,” she said, in a way that she wasn’t friendly or hostile. Despite that, the look in her eyes showed that she didn’t trust her. Trying to stand up again, she let out a pitiful whimper before backing down onto one knee in vain. Not one to stand idle, Ahri walked over silently and gently helped Riven back up to a sitting position on the side of the bed.

“Where am I? How did I get here?” she asked, trying to shake free from the fog still plaguing her mind.

“You’re in my home, and you were sleeping in my bed,” Ahri answered, winking suggestively as she did. She then pointed to Riven, her eyes looking her over like a hungry fox eying a tasty rabbit. “I’m not used to having female humans in bed with me, but it was actually pretty fun. I’m still surprised how well you fit into my clothes, especially that—”

“Wait, w-what!?” Riven stammered in shock, hastily scooting away from her to get some distance between them. “You—!? T-this—!” she continued to stutter, finally realizing that she wasn’t even dressed in her own clothes. Her only protection from the entire world (and a devious fox) was the lacey white chemise, which was only made worse by the fact that it did not belong to her.

“...Really? I was kidding!” Ahri said, covering her own mouth to try and stop herself from laughing at her reaction. “Did you really think I meant it? Oh, that’s precious! You should see the look on your face.”

Riven’s shocked face quickly turned into a spiteful glare, as she closed her mouth slowly with her lips pursing into a miserable scowl. Why she trusted anything that Ahri had said, was a mystery. A stupid mistake that wouldn’t be repeated. Remembering the scandalizing garment she was still wearing, she quickly reached over and pulled the nearest sheet off of the bed before wrapping herself in it.

“Where are my clothes,” she asked in a deathly calm voice, glaring at Ahri as she did.

“Don’t give me that look. Those rags were filthy,” Ahri said, crossing her arms and matching the Exile’s moody look. “Where have you been living the last month? Under a rock?”

“That’s none of your business,” Riven bit back, somehow frowning deeper. “I want to know how I got here, and I want my clothes back. Now.”

“Tut, tut!” Ahri waggled a finger at his disapprovingly. “Is that how you speak to someone who took care of you? You should say ‘please’ when you ask for something.”

“Fine, please.”

“Please, what?”

Riven bit her lower lip, feeling her temper begin to rise at how smugly the nine-tailed fox was acting. Worse, was the fact that she still couldn’t remember how she had gotten dropped off into Ahri’s care. Everything about the previous night was a blurry haze. Something having to do with the Institute of War. Talking with the most lazy and cowardly weapon she had ever met in her life. Following him. Arguing with him. After that…

Riven sighed in defeat, rubbing her temples as she did.

“...Could you please tell me how I got here, and can I please have my clothes back?”

“No,” Ahri said, shooting her down without any remorse. With that said, she then turned back around and left the room with a disgustingly cheerful spring in her step.

Stopping herself from just taking off after her, Riven unwrapped the bed sheet from herself. She then took the time to tie it around herself more carefully, into something that didn’t scream that she was practically nude underneath it.

Taking a more careful first step, she slipped herself off of the bed once more and forced herself to stand. Slowly with baby-like steps, she made her way toward a large dresser with a mirror behind it across the room. Rummaging through the drawers, she eventually found something to pin her hair back behind her head. As strange as it sounded, she had never put any thought into something as simple as hair styles, until after she had deserted from Noxus.

Fumbling a bit with the unfamiliar hair clip, her eyes drifted down to the small piles of cosmetics lining the top of the dresser. Lotions, makeup, and perfumes. Now that she was the Exile, there were a lot of things she had to think about that had never been an option before. Personal things. Feminine things. Everything from her diet to her body had been subject to the regiments her city-state’s military. She was a legionnaire, groomed from her first day to her last to be one of their finest. But not any longer...

“You can take a shower after breakfast, if you want,” Ahri called out again, snapping Riven out of her drifting thoughts.

Breakfast. Even in her dilapidated state of mind, she could smell some wonderful aromas coming from somewhere else in the apartment. There were almost no limits to the services the Institute of War could provide its Champions, and meal catering (even with so many different cultures) was by far the easiest. But like so many other luxuries, it was something she had forcibly shunned herself from indulging in too much.

To be fair, she reasoned, there was no point in being miserable, confused, and hungry all at the same time. Her stomach gave an audible rumble in agreement, sealing the deal right then and there. Getting something to eat would be a good start to what could become another very long day.

“What’s on the menu?” Riven asked, walking out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. She continued down the hall, letting her ears and nose lead her to where she was supposed to go.

“Eggs, rice, and a little liver for me,” Ahri answered, turning away from something cooking on a stovetop in front of her. Riven resisted making a face, noticing the nearby cutting board that seemed very soaked in blood and some very fresh entrails. Wordlessly, she sat herself down at the table where it had been set up for her. “Since you’re not busy today,” Ahri continued, watching her guest fiddle with the silverware in front of her. “So would you mind coming with me on a little errand?”

“What kind of errand?” Riven asked, trying not to sound too wary as she did.

“Tag along with me into the city. I have to get a few things ready for our trip tomorrow.”

“Our trip!? What trip?” Riven felt a slight chill go down her spine after she asked. Some things had definitely happened between the time she had woken up and passed out from yesterday. Now she was out of the loop, and at the mercy of someone she didn’t really trust to bring her up to speed.

“What? You don’t remember?”

“No,” Riven growled in frustration. “I told you, I don’t even know how I got here. And every time I ask, you avoid telling me!”

Ahri reached out and took two plates out from a nearby cabinet, before setting them on the countertop gently. It was amusing how poorly her guest responded to simple teasing. As if shouting like a soldier would make the world bend to her demands. Was she afraid? Nervous about being in debt to someone? She had figured that being a military fugitive would have grown her a thicker skin to their harsh world, but maybe there was still something childish behind her independent warrior act. Something that would provide her with easy entertainment for a very long time.

She would have to thank Zac for breakfast and the show later…

“You’re not a soldier anymore, battle bunny.” Ahri waved the chopsticks in her hands, jabbing them in the air at her. “Shouting won’t get you anywhere with me. Try chocolates and flowers, first.”

Riven bit her lower lip, again, and Ahri could just picture steam coming out from both of her ears. There was something amusing about all of the soldier-types that were Champions in the League. Very few of them had any sense of humor, or manners for that matter, and the few that did would never even give her the time of day. So many people, running in circles for so many different causes, and each one believing themselves right over others. All part of a never ending cycle that seemed blissfully unaware of its own existence.

“Now, if you’re going to be civil with me,” Ahri offered, deciding to teasing on hold for a little. “I’ll answer your questions over breakfast, and afterward, I might be nice enough to give you something to wear other than my bed’s sheets. How does that sound?”

Riven muttered something under her breath (which Ahri assumed was a concession of defeat), and shifted about uncomfortably in her makeshift clothes. It was probably the best answer she was going to get, considering the circumstance.

Pride. Maybe she had underestimated how much pride Riven still had, considering that she lived as if she were under some religious vow of poverty. Was she dealing with an exile, or a reclusive hermit?

Sorting things out over both plates, Ahri divided what she had cooked between them both making sure to give a little more to Riven. Admiring her handiwork for a second, she took both plates and placed them onto their spots on the table.

“Moke ga,” Ahri said, noting how Riven was looking over her meal carefully as if it were poisoned. Reaching out, she pushed the salt and pepper shakers on the table over toward her. “They’re not going to kill you, okay? I bet you’ll want to chase after Zac, but that will have to wait for a little.”

“Wait, was Zac here?” Riven asked incredulously, momentarily forgetting about the free meal in front of her. Had the voice from before belonged to him?

“Was,” Ahri said, taking her time between bites of egg. She then picked up a piece of liver she had sliced up, before popping it into her mouth casually. Riven wrinkled her nose at the sight, noticing that the cut of meat seemed to be barely cooked. “He left after you woke up. He was saying something about wanting to get some fresh air. You know his type, he can’t do anything without worrying about it first. We can catch up with him later, if you’d like.”

“Yeah, I would like that.” Riven stabbed at the fried eggs on her plate with a little more force than needed. Taking her first bite, she decided right then and there that the eggs tasted too good to be a trap. “Any idea where he went?”

Thinking for a bit, and chewing her food some more, Ahri nodded.

“I think I know where he’s going, but you aren’t going to like it.”

“Try me,” Riven dared, with a mouthful of food.

Ahri arched an eyebrow her way, a coy smile tugging at her pursed lips. Riven swallowed what was left in her mouth. It may have been from the little dribble of meat juice on her lips, but despite everything that had happened so far, this was the first time she felt like she was being stared at by a hungry predator. One who had been waiting patiently for the right moment to strike. On the battlefield, she had learnt the hard way that even one second of carelessness could be the difference between life and death. Talking to Ahri, it seemed, was no different.

“How tempting. Since you owe me, as soon as breakfast is over, let’s have some real fun.”


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MSN00100

Recruiter

07-30-2014

Chapter 10: I.S.C.P. (Part 3 Cont.)

The Twin Dragon Sanctum was an official-sounding name, appropriate for how stepping into the Ionian section of the Institute was like entering a different world. Zac could only imagine how long it must have taken to completely mask the industrial and institutional architecture of the Institute of War with something much more organic, but they had done it. Stone gardens and tall grass fields, fish ponds and bending rivers, bamboo and reed forests as tall as three storey buildings. Everything had been completely redesigned with an Ionian flare, all of which was unique to the continent of Valoran.

Getting into the Ionian section hadn’t been too hard. All of the posted guards and League officials had just let him through, almost as if they had been expecting him. This, in his line of work, was a telltale sign that they had been.

Still, even if he was walking into someone else’s plans, it could be worse.

Zac almost laughed at the thought. The idea of being used by Ionia didn’t really sound as...scary, as it did with other city-states. It made sense why Ionia’s self-imposed isolation had originated from ideological differences from the rest of Runeterra. Maybe it was just a naive hope, but it was nice to think that there was some place in the world filled with humans who weren’t only out for themselves. Or maybe the island’s inhabitants were just going for some sort of long con, pretending to be peaceful when they were really preparing to build some sort of doomsday device that would be used to conquer the world.

“Secret Weapon, we are honored by your presence. What have you come for today?”

Two Summoners wearing their familiar deep purple robes bowed to him, their hands linked together and concealed underneath the overflowing sleeves of their outfits. There was neither suspicion nor hostility in their voices, but they had both purposefully stepped in front of him before he had gotten past the entrance to the inner gardens. The Institute of War forbade Summoners from altering the exterior of their robes, and giving telltale signals to their city-state loyalties. Judging by their behavior, perhaps they were acting as unofficial guards to the Ionian interior.

Zac raised a hand, waving off the over the top respect he got from Summoners all of the time. “I’m just here to deliver something,” he said, gesturing to the brown envelope in his hand. “I was invited by Karma too, by the way.”

“Ah, have you come for her mantra sessions?” the other Summoner asked. They both stepped aside together, giving him space to pass by between them. “She only started a few minutes ago. I’m sure she understands that you were busy.”

“Yes, actually, thank you. I hope she won’t mind that I’m late,” Zac lied, this time returning the bowing gesture from both Summoners before he walked past them and into the interior gardens.

The morning sun hadn’t yet reached its apex in the sky, and so he could still feel the cool chill of the early morning on the soft grass underneath his feet. There was a still, almost pristine sense to the land around him. The gardens seemed to be waking up too, preparing for what was to come later in the day.

“Sae eleisa tera vi phyla. Discover the meaning of tranquility. Feel the world around us, which is blooming into another day.”

The closer he got to the inner sanctum of the garden, he could make out the large statue of two twin dragons that represented the land of Ionia. At its base, Karma, the Duchess of Ionia, shifted into a different meditative stance. At her side was Irelia, Captain of the Ionian Guard, who was doing her best to mimic the same stance along with several other people in regular clothes in front of them. At their sides on the ground were the purple robes all veteran Summoners owned, identically folded separate into a neat and respectful shape.

“Lath rian oune vi saera. Weave the threads of magic,” Karma said, reciting one of the ancient Ionian mantras she always used on and off the rift. “We stand at one of many tips of our world. Feel the magic in the air around you.”

Zac tried not to smirk at Irelia struggling to match the awkward stance in her full armor, while Karma was able to switch poses effortlessly in her dress. The four blades on her back were probably much heavier than the twin dragons on Karma’s, although maybe that wasn’t true, considering how fluidly Irelia could fight with them on the fields of justice. Then again, he had never asked what the two dragons on Karma’s back weighed either.

Weighing his options, Zac stopped himself before he got too close where he would have to explain himself. Deviating off of the main pathway, his trudging steps lead him to a sand pit out of the way from the rest of the gardens. Polished granite squares rose out like monoliths from the golden sands, acting as platforms for anyone to use. In fact, three out of the six already had occupants on them.

Not saying a word, Zac raised his leg to step up onto a square before sitting down with a splat.

“I sense we have an unexpected guest.” Lee Sin turned to him, relaxing and relieving himself from the stance he had been holding. Somehow the Blind Monk had been balancing the entire weight of his body on one leg, crossing the other over in the same way as if he were sitting cross legged. Lowering himself down to the ground slowly, he crossed his legs and sat down in the same position as Zac next to him.

“Allow me to welcome you to our little part of the Institute of War. May I ask what you have come for today?”

“Perspective,” Zac decided, after thinking a bit.

Envelop still in hand, he threw it in the air at Lee Sin who caught it with no effort. Feeling it over with both of his hands for a second, he quietly slipped it into the front pocket of his training poom dobok. Still leading her group with their stances, Zac noted how Karma had glanced over at them both before going to back to her lecture.

“Karma had offered for me to come here in the past, but I didn’t think much of it. But now I have some thoughts on my mind, and this seemed like a good place to get a second opinion.”

“My thoughts? Hmm, well, I can certainly try,” Lee Sin nodded. He then gestured to Orianna and Blitzcrank who were still sitting together, as still as stones as if they had been both turned off. The only signs that either were still operational was the decorative key handle slowly turning in Orianna’s back, and the occasional puffs of steam rising out of the pipes of Blitzcrank’s smokestacks. “Perhaps our other guests would be willing to share their thoughts as well?”

“We too are here to observe,” Orianna explained, speaking (Zac assumed) for Blitzcrank and herself. “Many humans take time to reflect on their thoughts in the belief that it will better themselves. Though our bodies and minds are made from metal…”

“WE SEEK UNDERSTANDING,” Blitzcrank blared, remaining unmoving like a large yellow rock. “A GOOD ROBOT DOES NOT IDLE. THIS IS AN EXPERIMENT. OBJECTIVE: FIND MORE ABOUT THE CONCEPTS OF HUMANITY.”

Blitzcrank’s head slowly turned to look at him, as did Orianna in synch.

“WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS, NON-HUMAN LIFEFORM?”

Both of them stared at him intensely, with their cold steel faces incapable of showing that they were really thinking. Despite that, he couldn’t help but feel that there was an almost child-like curiosity behind the question being asked. There wasn’t anything malicious behind Blitz’s question, as far as he could tell. In fact, both the Steam Golem and Lady of Clockwork shared more in common with him than he had first realized. Whimsical creations of the most dominant species of their world, which had been later deemed independent, intelligent, and deserving of respect after some unique circumstances.

“I’m not sure how to say it.”

“QUERY: WHAT ARE YOU ARE UNSURE OF?”

Zac resisted the urge to give a sarcastic answer, simply because he didn’t know whether or not Orianna or Blitzcrank would understand it.

“I’ve been chosen to take part in something very...dangerous,” he continued. Hesitating, he began to think more about it. How much should he divulge? He suspected that Lee Sin already knew everything, as did Karma and Irelia who were still attending their own business. If they were going to be working against him, could he convince them to help him? Would he be able to somehow make them accept the Institute’s decision, and not resort to their own plans which were surely already being implemented long before the Garuda reached Ionian waters?

“It’s something that could get a lot of people killed. I’m afraid that I won’t be strong enough or smart enough to stop people from losing their lives in needless bloodshed.”

“Such thoughts are perfectly normal, for any rational individual,” Lee Sin commented. “I sense this is not just about protecting the innocent from the wicked. You hesitate because you want to remain true to your responsibilities, and the people who have placed their faith in you. Would you say that you have the courage to face their expectations?”

“I don’t know about that,” Zac said, more sure about that than anything else at that moment. “I don’t know if I have the courage or resolve, but I know that a lot of powerful people are choosing to believe in me. I don’t know if I can match those expectations.”

“I’m surprised to hear that. I did not think a Champion as strong as you would willingly confess to such things.”

“Yeah, well, we all have our moments of weakness,” Zac said neutrally. Something in the back of his head reminded him of the Blink Monk’s own past as a student of the Institute of War. One of the first, in fact, of a generation that had grown up smothered by the image the Institute promoted across the entire world. So maybe, like so many other Champions, there was more to his relations with the Institute than had been made public.

“Weakness? Hmph! The matters you speak of are matters of the mind and heart. You should not rely on the words of others when it comes to such things. A wise man looks at the world, and not what is just in front of him. Beware of those who lecture with unfounded confidence in their voices.”

“Does that include you?” Zac felt compelled to ask, after thinking on the blind monk’s words.

“Yes,” Lee Sin answered without any hesitation. So much so that it actually impressed him. “My words are only my own. It is my hope that you will find the good in yourself to do what is right."

Honest words, spoken by something with a clear conscious about why he had chosen the words he had. It was the advice Zac had been looking for, but there was something about it that made him uneasy. Something he couldn’t put in to words to describe.

The man next to him was one of the most famous men in the entire world. His own disability had been self-inflicted, as a form of protest against one of the most serious political strife in Valoran’s history. Word of his own unique form of protest had gathered so much notoriety, that it had actually influenced the Institute of War into giving Ionia a second chance to fight against Noxus on the Fields of Justice. Not content with Ionia’s victory, the moment he had recovered he immediately petitioned the Institute of War to be inducted as a Champion representing his home city-state. The Blind Monk. What was a crippling disability in the eyes of many was nothing but another character trait for him. To this very day, Lee Sin continued to be an extremely popular pick for every tier of Summoners throughout the League’s ladder system. As well as a frequent ban, despite there being over one hundred other choices beside him.

He was sitting and conversing with a man who was a saint. A pariah. A god amongst men. Someone who had devoted his entire life toward aiding others, supporting those in need, and investing in humanity’s potential for good in the miserable world they lived in.

But, despite knowing this, the feeling remained.

An animosity. A foreign distrust. A cold sensation, the seemed rooted in the core of his being.

Maybe, Zac wondered, what he was feeling was the origin of all conflicts in the world.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting against the ocean. Every wave that gets pushed back, good or bad, will just come back eventually until it’s too strong for anyone to do anything about.”

“You are talking about the Institute of War, and the League of Legends, yes? You know that it exists for a ‘greater good,’ but you are distrusting of such idealistic claims.”

Still sitting next to Blitzcrank, who remained silent, Orianna then spoke up.

“Human curiosity is limitless. Limitless, and dangerous. Imbued by hubris, humans seek knowledge they cannot use, and power they cannot control. Human greed has given birth to monsters like Nocturne and Fiddlesticks, and destroyed the lives of countless other intelligent life forms.”

Orianna stopped speaking, taking a moment to reach around her own back and wind the large kay handle sticking out of her. Once. Twice. Three times in total, before looking over to Blitzcrank next to her. Small wisps of steam continued to gently rise out of the steam golem’s twin smokestacks, as he remained silent and unmoving. As time continued to pass by, his mismatched eyes lit up with a dull glow.

“HUMANITY MUST LEARN CONTROL, IN ORDER TO REGAIN ITS DIGNITY.”

“I agree. Humans are different from animals,” Lee Sin said, standing up to retake the meditative stance he had held earlier as he spoke. “We are supposed to respect the lives of others, and yet, we are responsible for so much bloodshed. Directly and indirectly. Not only aggressors who pride themselves in their strength, but those who stand idle when forced to face the future.”

Again, the blind monk’s words stung ever so slightly. It wasn’t that Zac believed his words were directed at him, as relevant as they might have been, but it was that he agreed with him that pained him the most.

“For all we may experience, humans like me live tragically short lives. Since one's own experiences are their own, it is hard to pass lessons on in ways that they can understand without having to bear similar burdens. It is my belief that the Institute of War was created for that purpose,” Lee Sin continued, with no commentary toward Blitzcrank and Orianna’s own contributions to their discussion. “The Institute is responsible for uniting humanity under its own common history. In the end, it may be impossible to tame the natures of so many different peoples. A single organization cannot embody the will of all humanity; but perhaps, over time, humanity will learn to curb its own selfishness by living in closer company with each other.”

“Yeah. Sometimes I’m surprised that mankind has gotten as far as it has,” Zac said, thinking back to Morgana’s words a day ago.

If the things the fallen angel had said were all true, then short life spans and repeated mistakes were not as deeply linked as Lee Sin was implying. It made humanity’s survival in the present more impressive, but hope for any positive change in the future seemed very grim.

Or maybe not. There was no reason to believe that angels and humans were linked in development, just because one could understand the other. There was no proof that one was inherently superior to the other too. Both were capable of love, hate, and misunderstandings. Flaws that living short lives or immortal ones would not help fix.

Just as Blitzcrank and Orianna were the first generation of their own kind, so too maybe all of the people around him were on the threshold of a new potential. Something birthed from the countless generations before, that had been forced to endure all manner of threats and terrors their entire lives. A new generation of humans, who could appreciate the value of the world they were born into? Appreciate the safety and security that the Institute of War provided. Could it be possible? Was hoping for something like that foolish?

Maybe it was all just a delusion he was entertaining to keep his mind off of his own troubles...

“You’ve come at last. I sensed you were looking for something. Have you found what you were seeking?”

Zac jumped a little at the interruption, a single wiggly vibration running all of the way up from his legs to his head. Standing in front of him was Karma herself, who had somehow managed to sneak away from her students without him noticing. Behind her he could see Irelia leading the group now, altering between the different forms taken in her unique hiten style of sword fighting.

“No,” Zac mumbled, finding the uneasiness from before returning. The question she had asked him was simple and without hidden intent, but just the thought of it made him feel sick. “But… I’m trying. I think. I guess. I don’t know,” he stumbled, groaning as he did at his own clumsiness.

“SLOW ANSWER TO SIMPLE QUESTION. TAXED PROCESSORS DETECTED. SUGGESTION: RESTART TO CLEAR MEMORY?”

Zac shot Blitzcrank a glaring look for the stupid, but irritatingly accurate observation. Blitzcrank and Orianna said nothing, the pair finding nothing wrong with the steam golem’s assessment. Next to him Lee Sin cracked a small smile, and Karma laughed gently at the suggestion.

“If only it were that simple. We have much to envy of machines,” Karma said, turning back to look at Zac with the warm and gentle concern that was so off putting to him. “How about you two? Has your time here been enlightening?”

“This unit believes so. But, we will review the data of our observations later...together,” Orianna said, looking to her compatriot who nodded as well.

“CORRECT. BASE ALGORITHMS OF HUMANITY ARE COMPLEX. IT WILL TAKE TIME TO DECODE…TOGETHER.”

Oh boy. Understatement of the year, Zac thought to himself. Karma and Lee Sin both nodded in understanding, before turning back to him. For a brief second, he noticed Karma glance over at Lee Sin, as if to silently ask for him approval over something. If some message had been sent back, it was impossible to tell with the Blind Monk being who he was.

“Forgive me if this is too forward,” Karma began suddenly, after the moment had passed. “Perhaps you know what I am going to say, but… I want to speak with you about this weapons deal that you’ve become a part of.”

Oh boy, here it comes, Zac thought to himself again. Karma was still regarding him with a gentle concern that betrayed nothing of what she was really thinking. Maybe that was what made him so uncomfortable around her more than anything else. Being the duchess of Ionia meant more responsibilities and priorities than her quiet but willful demeanor ever let on. Calling her a snake seemed highly inappropriate, but at the same time, maybe it was just because he knew nothing about how far she would go as a leader for her people.

“Please excuse me for the interruption everyone. Secret Weapon?”

Without warning, a Summoner in his purple robes stepped out from the path and into the sand to join them. Zac looked at the Summoner, feeling a bead of sweat drip down his back as he recognized him as one of the two who had been posted to guard the entrance to the Twin Dragon Sanctum.

“Champion Ahri is waiting for you at the entrance with Champion Riven. She wants to speak with you about something.”

Zac almost laughed at the first thought that sprung into his head at the news. It seem that today, salvation had come in the form of a charming soul eating monster, in company with a moody ex-soldier. Ahri may have had nine beautifully white tails, but she was the only thing he needed to slip away back into the Institute’s protective halls.

“I guess I have to go then. I don’t want to keep her waiting,” Zac said to excuse himself. “I’m sorry we couldn’t talk more, but I’m on borrowed time right now.”

Repeating the same bowing gesture he had given the two Summoners before to both Karma and Lee Sin, he got up and hastily headed straight for the entrance where he could see Ahri was waiting for him. As he walked away, he knew that Karma was watching him go with a much steelier gaze than anything he had gotten before.

“Hey,” was the first thing Ahri said, as she leaned against the entrance way frame lazily. “Did you miss me?”

“More than you’d believe,” Zac said back, getting a deep smile out of her in return. “You’re a lifesaver, you know that?”

“I can’t say I get called that too much,” she shrugged, still smiling as she did. “Was it really that bad?”

“More than you would believe,” he said, realizing that what he had just said probably wasn’t true. “There’s something about her I can’t put into words. Karma, I mean. It’s just very off putting to me.”

“You said it before, remember?” Ahri poked his arm with a finger, her sharpened nail digging into his goo. She watched a small bit of stringy slime stretch out when she pulled finger out of him. With a childish fascination and mischievous glimmer in her eyes, she licked her finger to taste it when he wasn’t looking. “You told me you weren’t a fan of people who were overly confident in themselves. Karma is just like that, you know? She’s been through a lot in her life. It doesn’t mean that she’s secretly evil, or something.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Zac conceded, more satisfied that they had walked far enough away from the Twin Dragon Sanctuary to constitute an escape. “I just don’t think she understands people like me very well.”

“Oh? And what kind of person are you?”

“I just want to live forever, or die trying.”


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The Red Warden

Senior Member

08-01-2014

Great job on the story, a lot better than some of the pieces I see on these forums


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MSN00100

Recruiter

08-14-2014

Chapter 11: I.S.C.P. (Part 4)

“Why did they pick you?” Ahri asked Zac, for the tenth time since they had met up and escaped from the tranquil Twin Dragon Sanctum.

Not skipping a beat, Ahri had started barraging him with questions the moment they had left the Ionian Quarter of the Institute of War. Asking everything from what his plans were for the rest of the afternoon, what was his plan for their mission together, and whether he had eaten breakfast yet. In some respects it was an endearing display of concern he imagined Ahri rarely spared for anyone, yet, he couldn’t help but wonder if half of the questions being asked weren’t for her own satisfaction.

Following a few steps behind them both, Riven remained silent with a face that seemed distanced for everything else in the world. Zac’s thoughts went back to the night before, still unable to really think of anything that could be said to pick up from where they had left off. Not that he wanted to bring it up anyway. Maybe it was the cool summer weather that had the Exile deep in her own thoughts, and getting involved with the key figures of Noxus was bringing up some musty memories of her past life too. Or maybe it was the fact that Ahri had worked some sort of magic and gotten her dressed in an outfit similar to her dynasty costume, hair pins and all.

More likely the latter, he mused to himself. But before he could think about the subject further, he felt Ahri tug on his arm again.

“Tell me at least,” Ahri whispered, in a voice that wasn’t nearly quiet enough for Riven not to hear. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“There is no secret,” Zac responded in his own defense, feeling that Riven’s stare was intense enough to burn a hole in the back of his head. “There’s nothing underhanded, no sneaky reasons. As far as I know, they’re just exercising their judgment. I haven’t been promised anything, and I’m not being paid off by them. Why do you keep asking?”

“Don’t you get it? That’s what the problem is.”

Zac and Ahri both looked back over their shoulders at Riven, who had just spoken her first words since they had met up.

“Aren’t you concerned at all? Jericho Swain is a man who always picks and chooses his battles. If he chose you, than he has something in mind.”

“I know that much, at least. But the way we met was what got me thinking,” Zac said back, trying at least to sound a little assuring. The last thing he needed was Riven’s doubt hovering over them all when they would soon have masks to wear and roles to play out. “That’s why I’m heading over there today. I need to keep looking.”

“Looking for what?”

“Looking for what Swain thinks about his closest subordinates.”

Riven crossed her arms. “Do you really think they’ll reveal themselves to outsiders like us so easily?” she asked, doubtfully frowning as she did.

“I think you’ll be surprised at their complacency here at the Institute.”

“I’m not sure if you’re joking or not.”

“Neither am I. So let’s just wait,” he advised, continuing to walk with a confident stride in his step. “But if it makes you feel any better, I’ve got a few strings I can pull between them. If we can get them paranoid enough to fight each other, I think we’ll be safe.”

Ahri watched Riven let out a huff in resignation, before smiling devilishly to herself. Problems with a change in leadership? It would not be the first time.

Somewhere in their world there was waste. Destruction. Garbage. Pesticides. Toxic waste, magic radiation, and free enterprise to take advantage of it all. There were abominations roaming the land, dishing out wanton destruction without rhyme or reason. There was mediocrity in high governments, and self-interest too. There was trouble on the seas. There was trouble on the land. These were not mere delusions, and not something made up by some Institute of War clerk tasked with reinforcing the importance of the League of Legends in settling conflict in their world. The rune wars were over, and there was still no peace on their world. Nothing made sense and neither did everything else. Humans ran about doing things without knowing why and then tried to find out.

That’s why she had decided, in secret, to stick with him. For now, at least.

There was something incredibly...odd, about the Secret Weapon known as Zac.

To anyone else who didn’t know him as intimately as she had gotten to, Zac was as incredibly unique to Runeterra as his personality was incredibly boring. Aside from the adorable tough-guy attitude he always acted out on the Fields of Justice, outside of them there was no substance to him. No talents, no hobbies, and no particular interests to get a good reading on what he was thinking. He always spoke plainly; respective and diminutive, no matter whom he was talking to. Everyone got the same amount of respect, rationed out in a careful and clerical manner that made it clear that he could only stomach so much face to face interaction in one day. He was a show piece for the League’s collection of Champions. An oddity to be gawked at by the faceless masses, constantly fighting against all manner of mages, heroes, assassins, monsters, and more.

But… Ever since she had started attaching herself to him, he had shown hints of a deeper and more cynical outlook on things. Things she did not think about. Which, of course, were things that she did not think he would think about.

That was something that caught her interest. Years of seducing and using people for her own ends had transformed her into a very good judge of character. The first few words out of a person’s mouth were usually enough for her to get draw a picture of their character. Their depth and personality. Their potential value to her.

People who played the mysterious intellectual were a dime a dozen, just like those who pretended to be tough when they really weren’t. Masks covering more masks. By all accounts there wasn’t anything new or amazing about Zac, minus the fact that he was a giant green artificial life form.

That was all before a very peculiar thing had happened. Many peculiar things.

It had started with a case of mistaken identity. Really, aiming blindly had never been her strong suit. When she had heard him returning, an hour later in the dead of night, maybe she had let the anticipation of a little revenge dull her focus. Or maybe Zac had done the clever thing, and let Riven enter his apartment ahead of him suspecting a surprise attack. Regardless, the Charm spell cast into her essence orb had hit its mark. Albeit, the wrong mark standing in the doorway where her original target should have been.

Whisking away Riven’s delirious body to her own home (with Zac in tow), she had offered him her roof to sleep under for the night in return for his silence over what had happened. She also promised to not use her powers on him to pry secrets in the future, and he promised that he would not say anything to anyone about what had happened.

But then the unexpected had happened.

For the first time in weeks she had slept soundlessly through the entire night. Even though she was sharing a bed with someone who was particularly clingy when they slept, not once was she plagued by the any of the lucid dreams and nightmares that had been haunting her. The strange and deathly realistic visions she had been having over the last weeks, that had slowly been wearing her soul down. They were like clairvoyant glimpses into another world, with how real they seemed, and they always left her in a cold sweat afterward.

There were no answers to them, and there were no signs of their cause. She had spent a week in the Institute of War’s finest medical facilities, only for them to tell her that there was nothing wrong with her. She had insisted that they keep looking, but they were just as insistent that she was in perfect health. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her, except her lack of respect for professional esteem when she flirted with every male doctor and male orderly working there.

The Institute did not look kindly upon her salacious frivolity. Having the nerve to even complain that she should feel ashamed for pretended to be sick when she wasn’t. Prattling on in moral tirades, even going as far to point out how there were people elsewhere in the world less fortunate than herself. As if her being ejected from their care would change that.

There was no proof that he had helped her in any way with her nightmares. But in her experiences, there were no coincidences in the Institute of War. Things happened for reasons no one understood, and there was no time for indecision or hesitation. She had seen things pass people by so fast, with such blinding pace that it numbed the senses from doing anything about it. If he was the answer to a problem she couldn’t solve, then she would have to do took to make sure he stayed that way.

“Halt! State your name and business!”

Zac, Ahri, and Riven stopped themselves as a pair of Summoners approached them well beyond the first set of polished iron gates that lead deeper into the Noxian Quarter. The trio stopped too, and both looked and waited expectantly to see how Zac would respond in turn.

The Noxian Quarter of the Institute of War was, to put it simply, an entire military facility unto itself. Maybe it was to be expected, Ahri mused, since the supreme commander of the Noxian military resided there to both compete in the League of Legends and do...things...away from home.

The different quarters for each city-state had their unique charms pulled from each respective culture, but the Noxian Quarter was practically a military base inside of the Institute’s own fortress. Unlike the Twin Dragon Sanctum which had only covered over the existing space with an Ionian flare, the so-called Ivory Barracks was always under construction. It was no surprise that with every addition or change to it, Demacia made one to their own part of the Institute. This cycle had started from the first week of the Institute’s founding, and as a result, the two opposite sides of the Institute always seemed to have major and minor construction going on during all hours of the day and night. Just another something that added to the character of the Institute of War in general.

So too, the Summoners that worked in the Noxian Quarter were very different from the ones that staffed the Ionian section of the Institute of War. Ignoring the swords on their backs, sheathed but not with no effort made to conceal their existence, it was clear that they had been trained as soldiers first and mages second. An interesting but not unexpected take on things, Ahri mused.

“Independent Champion Zac, here to follow up on my recruitment for a job,” Zac responded with some degree of rehearsed authority. “I’m here to see Swain.”

“Did you schedule a meeting with the Grand General?”

“No, but he should be expecting me.”

Keeping an eye on them from where he stood, the Summoner that had stopped them looked back to his partner and nodded. The gesture was returned, and the other Summoner entered the gates of the Noxian Quarter to relay the message.

“He’ll return in a little. Until then, we ask that you wait here.”

“Understood,” Zac answered neutrally, taking a step back and folding his arms around his back carefully. Suddenly, he felt a slight tug on his antenna that ran back down his head as Riven whispered sharply into his ear.

“Do you really have a plan?” Riven asked, with a hint of aggravated embitterment that didn’t have to do with how Ahri had dressed her.

“Yes, trust me on this,” he whispered back, quietly enough so as to not seem too suspicious to the armed guard only a few steps in front of them.

“Are you telling me the truth?”

“To the best of my ability.”

“You’re not hiding anything?”

“Not as far as I can tell.”

“...Would you even tell me if you were?”

“I would tell you if I could. It would depend.”

“On what?”

“If I could tell you the truth or not,” Zac said, noting how the other Summoner stationed at the gate was already returning. He was not coming alone.

“Would you tell us the truth?” Ahri cut in, giving him an unnecessarily pouty face as she did.

“You’re both assuming I know what it is.”

“Would you lie to us?”

“I would have to know the truth first.”

“So you’re being honest with us?” Ahri beamed happily. Riven shot her a dirty look, probably for indulging Zac and stealing her interrogation away from her.

“That would probably be a good idea right now,” Zac confessed, recognizing the large walking hulk of spiked steel armor lumbering at them. He could hear him coming from a mile away, with his steel boots clanking against the stone floor along with the rest of his armor that fit together ergonomically despite its intimidating bulk.

Darius, the Hand of Noxus, pushed aside the heavy iron gates effortlessly, continuing his loud march toward them. The blood red cape that contrasted his armor trailed behind him, blowing on its own somehow and making him seem even more intimidating. The other Summoner at the gate took a step back and snapped off a salute, and Darius returned it quickly before waving him off and back to his post.

“You took your time, didn’t you?” Darius muttered, scowling in a reproachful way that reminded Zac a little too much of the battle bunny behind him. “Was your tardiness from your cowardice to come here?”

“That’s none of your business. I came in the end, like he predicted,” Zac answered, crossing his arms in front of himself and trying to match Darius’ own frown with his own. “Are you here to escort me to him?”

“You’re rather talkative knowing that you won’t be killed.” He watched Darius glance and Ahri and Riven briefly, moving his lips as if he had just gotten a disgusting taste in his mouth. “I’ve been ordered to escort you to the Grand General’s office. Come with me.”

“Hold it, I’m coming with him,” Riven demanded suddenly. Zac felt himself shooting her a glare for her unneeded interference. He watched Darius’ scowl only deepen.

“You?” Darius looked as if he getting sick at the sight of her. “You have no place here, deserter. The only place cowards like you deserve to be is on an executioner’s chopping block.”

“Cowardice!?” Riven hissed the word as she said it. The shock and dismay at the accusation was masked by her complete contempt and disgust for the word. Zac knew the situation was going to slip out of his control, unless he did something soon to stop the two from coming to blows.

“You would dare use that word with me!? I did not abandon those men! My men died because of our military's reliance on Zaunite lunatics and their toys!”

“The excuses of a beaten dog. You take what Noxus gave you, and use your talents like a ***** to fight for the highest bidder,” Darius said back, his voice cold and riddled with disgust that came from the core of his being. “Fighting here as an independent Champion! If you had any love for Noxus left in your heart, you would kill yourself to help us erase the shame of your failures.”

“Enough!” Zac interrupted, before Riven could escalate things further. He could only imagine Darius’ head being split open like an egg if Riven could not think of a proper answer that satisfied her as well. Someday he wouldn’t mind seeing it, but this was not the time.

“I don’t give a damn about either of your histories, or what you think about each other. Darius, you will take me to Swain. Now!”

At first he wasn’t sure whether or not giving a direct command to Darius would backfire and make the Noxian standoff worse. Worse, in that he would be on the receiving end of a steel fist or blade of a large war axe. Mercifully, whatever training his former superiors had instilled into the Hand of Noxus during his earlier years kicked into gear, breaking the mood of Darius and reminding him of his discipline and orders.

“Hmph,” Darius grunted, turning his back to them and marching back into the Noxian Quarter on his own.

“Riven… Just trust me. Trust me on this one thing.” Zac did not turn to face her when he spoke. He did not bother to look at how mad she was, either at him or Darius. He knew that Ahri would take care of her, help her calm down, without him having to ask.

“I’ll be back in a little.”

Not bothering to wait for an answer, Zac left to trail behind Darius to go deeper into the Noxian Quarter of the Institute of War.

It was an odd time to think about it, but it was almost fascinating how the man in front of him was capable of moving freely in steel armor that could measure to be several inches thick in certain places. All over his entire body, no less. On the Fields of Justice, there were many different Champions who fought and died from magic powers granted to them that they did not possess off of it. Zac had to wonder whether or not Darius was actually more threatening off of the Fields than he was on it.

Then again, the fact that he was wearing at least two hundred pounds of steel armor, but no helmet, would come to bite him harder in the real world too.

Together they passed through decorative gardens, monumental statues, and the like. Scenery that seemed less hardened than what he would have expected from some place for high ranking Noxian military members. Finally, after passing through several checkpoints, Darius stopped in front of a large set of double doors. The two Noxian soldiers posted gave a salute, before swiftly opening the door to them.