Previous Update: Kibu
by Wexiomatic and CupcakeTrap
From the fourth round of island explorations, taking place in early December, 24 CLE.
Resolution details and history, including poll links, available here.
The two clerks sat in a damp tent in Stormhaven, tallying match outcomes and sifting the raw results through the Institute’s political arithmetic. A Piltovian hexcast replay box was on the table between them. The recorded narration of a tournament match between Ionia and the Shadow Isles purred out from the dinged-up brass casing.
…you know, this definitely does help; even though Shadow Isles came out ahead in the early phase—
The other announcer cut in.
—Lee Sin going in on Dragon!
The tides of the match were just at that moment turning toward Ionia. Of course, the two clerks knew the outcome already; it was hard to avoid “spoilers” when you worked for the Institute. As for seeing the matches live, that was strangely difficult for the clerks stationed here in Nyroth itself. Unlike Summoners and Champions, who could use a teleportation circle to travel back to the Institute for a key match, a long and unpleasant voyage by ship separated these two from the shores of Valoran.
…Fiddlesticks is going to ult in on top of LightPhyxer…
“Here we go,” said one clerk, turning up the volume.
…Kawaii Asuna securing the kill onto Karthus…
“Who’s captaining for Ionia, again?”
“Twilight Shroud,” the other clerk answered.
“I thought it was Kawaii Asuna.”
“Aren’t they the same person?”
The clerk paused. It seemed like the sort of thing she should know. “Could be,” she answered judiciously.
“Well, anyway. Looks like Ionia’s finally getting right-of-exploration for one of these islands.”
“Took the Onions long enough.” The clerk stamped another form, and slid some markers on her abacus.
The other clerk continued. “We’re almost done with these match reports. I say we start prepping the call-for-pleadings on Scheria. We’d use a cross-pleading for Ionia, right? To the Council of Elders jointly, and to its members severally?”
The other clerk paused to look up and see if her co-worker had really just suggested they prep forms ahead of time. She knew Noxians were ambitious, but it was odd to see it extended to paperwork. “Well, we could,” she agreed diplomatically. “But they haven’t announced they’re going for Scheria yet, have they?”
“Well, how do you read those annotations on the map?”
The annotations. Right. The smiley face and the frowny face scribbled onto the map by a crazy person after being defrosted by a kooky Freljordian mystic. “What about them?”
“The Summoners say the island’s a focal point of balance.”
The clerk couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, come on. That doesn’t mean anything. I mean, sure, Ionian philosophy is all about ‘balance’, but that doesn’t mean we should just assume that Ionia would go for ‘Balance Island’. They’re not out to parody themselves. If there was an island full of pirates, would you be saying, oh, let’s get the pleadings ready for when Bilgewater inevitably goes to Pirate Island?”
The other clerk looked out the tent, and saw a flash of purple. “Hey! Summoner!”
The mage stopped, turned, and drew back his hood to reveal a face that was not frowning so much as making it extraordinarily clear that it was not smiling.
There was a pause as he apparently searched for something sufficiently acidic. In the end, the best he could do was, “Yes?”
The clerk looked down at her match results tabulation hexgrid. She tapped a silver wand to the registrar’s seal and leaned down to look very closely at the obviously reactive seal. She did not want to be associated with her Summoner-hassling colleague. Annoying Summoners was not usually a winning move.
“Ionia. Which island is it going for?”
The Summoner brought his hood forward again, concealing his face in shadow. “Scheria, I believe.” He promptly followed with, “Good day.” It sounded like he wished her nothing of the sort.
The Noxian clerk smirked back at her associate. “Looks like Ionia wants Balance Island after all. I’ll get the forms.”
“You had a one in three shot,” she muttered.
The clerk pressed her hands together and adopted a serene expression. “To a balanced mind, all is revealed.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Having placed second in the great Nyrothian tournament, Ionia had finally won the right to explore one of the islands of Nyroth. With few options left, Ionia chose to explore the island of Scheria, rumored to have some kind of obsession with duality and balance.
Ionia’s expedition encounters the Scherians, and through a cordial exchange learns of the floating city of Emor.
Coastal winds snapped through the silken sails of Ionia’s docked fleet as the creaking planks were lowered and the expeditionary force disembarked. The calligraphy on the flagship’s main sail read BALANCE. The Summoners and scholars followed along behind a rank of warriors in lacquered armor, but ahead of them all went Karma, her senses reaching out to test the ethereal landscape. Where she stopped, the warriors broke ranks to allow the Summoners to move through and join her.
The spongy air drenched them in lukewarm heat. As Karma and her chosen Summoners began a chanted meditation ritual, Irelia took in the surroundings with a soldier’s eye. Flat terrain, damp ground, turning to swamps and marshes within an hour’s march. The razor-thin steel of her blades angled into the air, catching the distant vibration of buzzing insects. She’d been right to insist on Summoners trained in the healing arts. The old texts, from the ancient days when Ionia had last encountered new lands, taught her that disease was often the most formidable defender of alien lands.
Though no mage herself, Irelia could read the faces of the Summoners with her. Magic flowed strangely here, as was to be expected of an island established atop a fractured nexus. The edges of her blades, forged in the Ionian arcanosphere, hissed and keened as the alien atmosphere slid over them like rough paper. She felt the urge to cut something.
A day’s march brought them through the marshes and out into verdant plains dotted with fresh water springs. Floating high above were gigantic bubbles that shimmered like gold. They seemed tethered to one another by tubes, creating an intricately latticed network in the sky. A telescope showed edged outlines within the bubbles, their shapes suggesting buildings.
A Summoner from the Shadow Isles waved a scepter through the air. There was a certain distinctive resonance in places where the spirits of the dead thronged without living souls to harrow. It was not so here. This was no necropolis; someone had survived the cataclysm.
Karma called her diplomats and scholars aside to discuss how contact might be established. Irelia ordered her soldiers to string their bows and fasten their armor.
A Summoner stepped forward, his eyes glowing. “They’ve sensed us.”
A glimmer of gold descended from the bubble-city above. It was a smaller sphere, the size of a horse-drawn carriage. It was coming down toward them.
Irelia signaled her troops into a defensive line between two springs, using the water to cover their flanks.
“At the ready!” she shouted. Blades and arrow-points flashed in the light of dusk.
“Their intentions may be peaceful,” Karma intoned.
“Then this will keep them that way,” Irelia retorted. Matters of diplomacy and spellcraft were Karma’s domain. Battle was not.
The bubble touched the ground.
Irelia cast an expectant glance at a Summoner by her side. The Summoner shrugged. “No mana-charge, no hex-forms.” His tone told her he considered it no immediate threat.
The bubble melted into the shape of a platform, and unarmed men and women stepped forward.
Irelia ordered weapons sheathed, and followed Karma as she approached the delegation. These visitors were unarmed, and she did not sense hostility in their bearing. But her time at the Institute had taught her that persons of slight stature dressed only in silk could in the space of a moment conjure spells that would split skulls as surely as a blade.
Their leader introduced himself as Rathtar, emissary of the city of Emor. He explained that the people of Emor had sensed a strange familiarity with the Ionians, and wished to learn more of them and the land whence they came. Karma ordered tea brewed and cushions laid out so that they might speak with their new friends. (As for Irelia, there were people she had known for years with whom she was still not interested in sharing tea. But she took Karma’s request that she sit beside her as an acknowledgement that she was far from convinced that her services would not be required sooner or later.) Rathtar seemed a pleasant and agreeable individual, always laughing at jokes, offering to help with the small chores attendant to the meal.
The conversation turned to the concept of “balance”. The Summoners carefully tuned the translation spell to convey the concept as accurately as possible. Rathtar appeared to understand.
The Scherians explained that their people believed that life was defined by balance: between hot and cold, dry and wet, heavy and light, out and in. This the Ionians were pleased to find quite familiar. If a completely separate civilization could develop these concepts in parallel, surely that spoke to their validity.
But the Scherians seemed to go further. They spoke also of the balance between calm and fear, good and evil. This, the Ionians found strange, even absurd, not unlike that shallow quip about “finding the balance between balance and imbalance”.
The Scherians confirmed what they had said. Even good and evil were but two modes of behavior, both intrinsically human, both life-affirming in their own ways, both necessary at certain times. The Ionians hesitated; perhaps this was a matter of translation. They defined the very words “good” and “evil” in terms of balance; the idea that doing evil could bring balance was almost ungrammatical. But the Scherians reaffirmed what they’d said: people were at various times drawn to help and hurt, to be selfless and to be selfish, and denying either of these was not only impossible but inhuman.
The Ionians asked, cautiously, about the presence of a nexus. Rathtar praised them for their insight and invited them to visit Emor, where they could meet with scholars and mages who could answer their questions in a mutual exchange of knowledge.
Rathtar promised to return in the morning with a delegation to bring them back to Emor.
As the Scherians departed, the Ionians contemplated the worrisome prospect of a friendly, generous, kind person who believed wholeheartedly that all actions must be cancelled out by an inverse action. Many did so while sharpening their swords, or practicing their offensive spells to get the hang of casting them in this peculiar thaumic environment.
The Sky-City of Emordnilap
The Ionians explore the floating city, and discover a crisis.
The next morning, Karma and four of her most trusted advisors waited for the Scherian ambassadors to arrive. Sure enough, the golden bubble descended from the city towards the Ionians’ small camp. The bubble opened to reveal Rathtar and a small group of guards, who beckoned the Ionians onto the platforms. As Karma greeted Rathtar, she sensed something different in the man. He was not smiling today, and barely shook her hand before pulling away abruptly and barking orders at the guards to take them back into the sky. Feigning surprise, she asked if she had given offense in some way, and assured him of their peaceful intentions. Rathtar’s commitment to his new bearing proved steadfast; each conciliatory remark Karma made was swiftly rebuffed with no more than a suspicious look and a noncommittal grunt.
As they ascended, a jostle of the sphere sent Summoner Ryu the First (born Sephora Argyris) stumbling almost into one of Rathtar’s guards. The guard sent him sprawling with a needlessly forceful shove, and his head missed the hard angle of a step by mere inches, landing instead on someone’s satchel.
Irelia closed the distance in an instant. After hearing Rathtar’s unhinged ramblings over so many cups of tea, she’d been waiting for something like this.
“Was that a challenge?” she demanded. Her voice turned incredulous. “Are you really that stupid?”
“I acted in balance! Only yesterday we—”
“Shut up!” Irelia snarled. “No more cultural exchange! Not another word, unless it’s to beg forgiveness for that insult.”
The guard appeared genuinely perplexed. “Perhaps later I will show him—”
“I’ve had enough of your insanity!” Irelia snapped.
The guard’s confusion spread through the entire Scherian delegation. A fluctuation in the thaumic current distorted the translation hex, and, as a Summoner would later explain to Irelia, from the guard’s perspective Irelia said something strangely formal, with the sense of, “I’ve had enough of your mercurial vacillations!”
The guard herself held the most confused expression of all, in the brief time between when Irelia’s voice reached her ear and when Irelia’s fist struck her jaw. She went down to the floor, with a full rotation as she fell.
Irelia’s eyes were already on the rest of the delegation. “Share all the culture you want,” she growled. “But these people are under my personal protection. Do you understand? Lay an unfriendly hand on any of them again, and the only balance you’ll get from me is thrust blade in, pull blade out.”
Irelia considered herself to have a knack for impressing others with her seriousness. But she was nonetheless surprised at how completely she seemed to have quelled their belligereance. Not a single Scherian grumbled or objected. It was only later that she realized that, from a Scherian perspective, following Karma’s diplomatic pleasantries with a punch to the face was merely polite.
The city of Emor was as wondrous as the Ionians had imagined. (The inscription on the entry gates indicated that the full historical name of the city was Emordnilap. None of them could pronounce the dn to the Scherians’ satisfaction.) Buildings floated on small platforms through the golden bubble network, kept elevated by a magic that the Summoners found quite novel. The strange golden resin that made up the bubbles was everywhere in the city, and seemed to be a major part of the construction of nearly every important structure. When Karma inquired about the material, Rathtar informed her (with aggressive pride) that it was a magical alloy of gold and iron, extremely malleable and quite strong even when stretched and hammered into paper-thin sheets. The effusive Rathtar went on to add that it could be easily melted down and reshaped with no loss of material, which he described as by far (“of course”) its most important trait. When Karma asked why the Scherians had such a need for reworkable material, Rathar’s eagerness swiftly cooled, and he declined to discuss it further.
Scattered throughout the splendid cityscape were ruins and construction projects. It seemed that perhaps half of all structures were in a state of demolition or rebuilding. (“Let me guess—exactly half,” muttered one Summoner.) Two symbols were much in evidence in the city, though never both on one structure. The first was a white outline of some kind of small bird against a black background. The other was the black outline of an utterly bizarre creature called a platypus, apparently some kind of beaver with a broad ducklike bill, against a white background. Karma, a skillful artist and calligrapher herself, paused to consider these images. The small bird was, it seemed, the emblem of the Republican Order of the Finch. The beaver, for its part, stood for the Celestial Court of the Platypus. The Finch was represented in an angular, geometric style such as could be readily machined, with a simple triangle for a beak and a perfectly round dot for an eye; the Platypus, in contrast, was drawn in a much more detailed and lifelike way.
The strangeness of the cityscape was unsurprising, given the manifest strangeness of the people. Upon reflection, Karma later wrote in a letter to an associate in Piltover, it seemed that people in Emor had an unusual tolerance for antagonistic or openly unkind acts—not precisely in the way of Noxians, who resent offenses as much or more than anyone else but also rely on retribution rather than moral reprobation in respoding, but rather in the way that others might view, for example, exercise and rest, or working a job and receiving wages. At times, it seemed to her that the Scherians recognized the coexistence of both forces not so much because this was necessarily good, but simply because it was necessary: Scherians reacted to ideas of the form, “Why not be benevolent all the time?” as a Valoranian might to the suggestion, “Why not always be awake?”
Rathtar led the Ionians to a large domed structure at the center of the city. He told them that this was the main government center for Emordnilap, and that the council wished to speak to them. He introduced them to a man named Zoz, who he said would take care of their needs until the parliament would see them. He then left with barely a goodbye, saying he had business to attend to before the meeting. Zoz was an exuberant young man, excited to meet strangers from another land. He asked Karma and the Ionians a nearly nonstop stream of questions, nearly jumping out of his skin with excitement. Karma also noticed that the young man would spontaneously nudge delicate vases toward the edges of tables, or tilt paintings off-center, as he passed them by. She considered these people and their philosophy. As they saw it, she wondered, what was the opposite of painting the image of a lake? Was it to destroy the painting, or to paint a desert? Was it the painting itself that was to be balanced, or the state of mind of the painter?
Zoz showed the Ionians around the building for nearly an hour before a guard approached the group and told them the council was ready to see them. Zoz ushered the Ionians into a cavernous and stately chamber, where men and women stared down at them from raised pews. Rathtar sat among them, now dressed in ceremonial robes marked with the duck-billed beaver symbol of the platypus. Zoz too took at seat in the pews, donning robes marked with the small bird. As Karma looked at the councilmen, she saw they were almost perfectly divided between the two symbols.
“Speak, entrants to our land,” said Rathtar, gruff and unkind. “Tell us of the Ionian way of life and of Ionian philosophy.”
“Yes, yes!” chirped up Zoz. “Tell us of balance. Tell us of what you believe!”
Karma scanned the faces of those gathered to receive them. It had been a very long time indeed since she felt genuine anxiety at the prospect of such a diplomatic interaction. She only barely understood the strange philosophy to which these people were so enthusiastically dedicated. She had fought and won many uphill battles in the halls of the Institute, but always with representatives whose motivations and ways of thinking she more or less understood. Here, she would have to rely greatly on her intuition to maintain the delicate balance that separated peace from conflict.
She approached the center of the room and spoke to the assembly. She spoke of the history of the Ionians, of how war and tradition and tragedy had shaped the Ionian belief in the necessity of balance. She spoke of her nation’s struggles with the other member-states of the League, of the Kinkou, of Ionian magic, of religion and philosophy, and of the tragedy of Shon-Xan. Karma spoke of it all, carefully neutral in her cadence, unsure of what the assembly was looking for in all this. She finished her speech, gave a slow and measured bow, and awaited the reaction.
The council murmured amongst themselves for several minutes before Rathtar called for order. He stood and gave Karma a wicked smile.
“The Celestial Court of the Platypus has heard the Ionian leader and wishes to endorse good relations with the Ionians, and to make them our allies and trade partners. We believe that with their support, we—”
“Now hold on!” shouted Zoz as he sprang to his feet, teeming with anger. “You stuffy ancients can’t claim the Ionians’ favor just like that! The People’s Republic of the Finch also wishes for the favor of the Ionians! If you think your outdated orthodox order can do what it always does and just assume it can take what it wants—”
“Watch your mouth, arrogant pup! It is only by the grace of this council that your heretical group of malcontents is allowed in these council halls. If I had my way—”
The parliament broke down into bickering; Karma intuitively knew that there would be no restoration of order until both sides had worn themselves out. Delegates shouted each other down, even jumped across seats to brawl with one another. Their actions were those of some exaggerated farce, like that humorous routine performed at the Institute that ended with the actress playing High Councilor Kolminye doing a flying elbow-drop onto King Jarvan III, but they performed them with deadly seriousness. Some tried to hold their compatriots back, desperately clinging to robes in an attempt to prevent a full out melee. As they struggled, Karma felt a surge of magic pulse through the city, imperceptible to the naked eye, yet so strong it made her head spin. And with it, the entire situation in the assembly changed. Those that had been holding their companions back suddenly were the ones leaping into battle, while the formerly aggressive members of this mad parliament were now trying to contain the violence. It was as though the entire room had been reflected through a mirror.
“Remarkable,” she murmured.
“These people are nuts,” Irelia muttered in reply. “We really got the short straw with this one.”
“Madness is conviction seen from another perspective.”
“The perspective I want on these people is the perspective from across a very deep ocean.”
Rathtar managed to scuttle down to the main floor where Karma and the Ionians stood in bewilderment. “Quickly!” He said in a voice that was once more soft and kind, “We need to leave here before you all are hurt. I’m so sorry about this, I promise I’ll explain everything as soon as we’re safe.” As they left the room, Rathtar handed Karma a small ring. “I stole this from you earlier today. I apologize for this; I was in my ‘other’ time.”
It took some effort for Karma not to react to Irelia’s expression of pop-eyed exasperation when she heard Rathtar talk about his other time.
Rathtar led the group to the courtyard where he beckoned them to sit down. As Rathtar was about to speak, Zoz emerged from a side hallway. He looked slightly bruised and had some scratches on his face, but what Karma noticed most was his demeanor.
Zoz turned to Rathtar. “If you’re going to explain the situation to the Ionians, old man, I plan to give them both sides of this story.”
“Both sides? Sounds like you’ve got at least two each,” Irelia observed, unhelpfully.
Rathtar ignored her, and spoke to Zoz. “Yes, of course. You’re right, of course. Forgive my attempt at duplicity. Let me explain…”
And so he and Zoz told the Ionians the tale of their civilization. While their society had always been about balance, it had been tempered with wisdom and restraint. That changed with the cataclysm, which disrupted the energies of the island’s subnexus. Over slow centuries, the subnexus had affected the people of Scheria more and more, to the point where their actions had become both overly extreme and morally divided. It had gotten to the point where approximately every 24 hours, the subnexus would ‘shift’ its magical polarity, shifting the morality of the citizens with it, with smaller localized fluctuations on an unpredictable and still more rapid schedule. It had caused the city’s people to live in a constant state of conflict and construction, always repairing and damaging their city and their relationships, trapped in a perpetual cycle of creation and destruction.
“I had wondered,” Karma remarked, “how your society had maintained such stability despite such marked contrasts in behavior.”
“In short,” Rathtar admitted, “it has not.”
About one hundred years ago, there had been a great schism in the religious order that governed Scheria and oversaw its practice of balance. Two factions arose. The ancient Convocation of the Platypus, symbolized by the strange duck-billed animal, whose versatile form allowed it to thrive both in the water and upon the land, pursued a kind of dynamic equilibrium, whereby actions cancelled one another out. In contrast, the progressive Republic of the Finch had seized control over several important territories and proclaimed a new ethic of true change, with action-reaction pairs driving the arc of history forward into new realms of possibility.
The magic of Scheria had allowed them to gain some understanding of Valoran over the years—not as to the concrete particulars, such as the lay of the land or the details of events transpiring thereon, but rather with regard to the dynamics of the philosophies and elemental forces that combined to give Valoran its unique character. They had sensed Ionia and its cultivated notion of balance, and now hoped that Karma and her advisors might have insight into their present difficulties. Perhaps, indeed, Valoranian magic might allow them to more deeply understand their nexus, and restore it to a healthy alignment, such as it was said to have possessed before the cataclysm.
Karma considered their explanation. She told the two Scherians that she would need to think on everything she heard today before making a decisions about any of this. The two agreed, but made it clear they wished for an answer soon. They politely escorted the Ionians back down to their camp, telling them they would return in two days. And when they did, they expected an answer if the Ionians ever hoped to have any interactions with the people of Emordnilap ever again. Karma watched the golden bubble rise back toward the city in the sky, then turned to the Champions and Summoners gathered there.
- Ionia declined to back either side, instead urging peace.
- Ionia directed its Summoners and Champions to focus on understanding Scheria, rather than altering it.
- Soraka was given authority to oversee Ionia’s efforts on Scheria, while Karma and the others returned to the mainland. Shen was sent to assist Soraka.
Karma and Irelia left Emor before night fell. They took their soldiers and scouts with them. The Scherian resonance was powerful, amplified somehow by the network of sphere-cities, and it seemed more likely than not that anyone without an extraordinarily resilient aura of their own would soon be pulled into the madness. Even the Summoners had to apply conscious effort toward diverting the nexus energies.
Summoners and Champions struggle with the mounting nexus distortion, as they prepare for the task ahead.
The sun shone down on the grassy plain. It was snowing on the mainland, but here, it was warm with a cool breeze. Summoners pledged for Ionia had congregated around one of the larger springs, most sitting on the gold-flecked gray rocks that jutted out from the ground here and there. Some were sparring a short distance away, clashing spells and swords to refresh their rather limited combat training. With the soldiers sent away, they would have to look out for themselves.
And in the center of it all, Soraka stood in the spring, flowing through meditative poses. She’d been here since the moon rose last night. She was a picture of tranquility, but still she stood out, in that way Champions always did—that way of being more real than everything else. You could call it aura resonance or ambient thaumic deflection or deploy any one of several explanatory schema, but it was in truth something that had to be felt. It was often one of the first things remarked upon by newly recruited Summoners, when they returned home from the Institute.
Soraka turned her staff over and swept it through a wide arc. The Scherian nexus resonance that suffused the island crackled as it was displaced. The Summoners could see a geyser of nexus energy erupting from the spring around her; speaking three-dimensionally, it was a column rising up beneath her feet. But it swept around her, unable to find any hold.
The Summoners were not so completely immune. For all their discipline, even Summoners—perhaps especially Summoners—had some conflict in them, clashing urges that pulled them in many directions at once. Scheria could magnify that, empower it, make it utterly captivating, even pleasant.
“It’s like an itch,” muttered Summoner Ryu the First, sitting on a rock with a sheaf of loose-bound journal articles from the Institute, some of the newest research on thaumadynamic equilibria.
“Hm,” responded Summoner Tempest, a handsome Noxian Summoner with an uncommonly fine robe of enchanted purple silk. The kind you got in the Ivory Ward in the Noxian capital, but only if you knew someone who would deign to give you the privilege of paying for it. He was quiet, careful, and deadly serious. Given the timing of his entry into the League, many suspected that he might have connections to one of the secret societies that lurked in the shadows of Swain’s regime. Then again, people said this about virtually every Noxian Summoner who spent much time with LeBlanc.
“Turn the page, and I want to turn it back. Read a book, and I want to get in a fight. I can feel it trying to get inside my head.”
“Mm,” Summoner Tempest agreed, as he cast a spark of indigo light from his fingertip and watched it drift. As it began to float toward the spring, he cast his wrist out with a flourish and snared the fleeing spark in heavy ribbons of dense golden light. Practice made perfect.
Summoner Ryu the First looked up from his papers. “It might also explain why I’m chatting with a Noxian.”
Summoner Tempest arched an eyebrow. He clasped the hem of his robe, which was highlighted in the orchid hues of Ionia, pursuant to his declaration in this dispute. He gave it a shake, so that it shimmered, and looked down at it, as though trying to remember what robe he had put on this morning. “And here I was thinking I was pledged for the Ionians.”
Summoner Ryu did not seem to much appreciate the gesture. “Yes, and we EEEyyohhniaaahns very much appreciate it,” he replied, caricaturing his Noxian accent.
“Mmhmm,” Summoner Tempest acknowledged, his eyes fixed on the spark of indigo light, now infused with that thick golden light of an Exhaust spell. He raised his other hand, watched the spark rotate, and made a spiraling motion with two fingers that ended in a clenched fist. An efficient flare of arcane fire enveloped the spark and consumed it, with not a drop of wasted energy.
Ryu smirked. There was so much reason to feud with Tempest, but also so much room for friendship. Both seemed quite appealing. He’d try one, he’d try the other. Maybe Scheria had it right.
A wave of astral magic tossed him back from his internal ruminations. The star-bright energy radiated out from the center of the spring, where Soraka stood with her staff raised high. Energy which would have conveyed an overwhelming sense of peace and safety anywhere else felt, here, like cold water splashed into a warm and cozy bed. Its sanity was inhuman, painful. But as he recoiled, he awoke from the spell Scheria had cast on him. The thoughts that had seemed so natural, even comfortable, under the influence of the Scherian nexus were suddenly alien and strange, a foreign presence that had insidiously slithered its way inside. Ryu reflected on his increasingly misshapen simile. A splash of cold water into a warm bed…followed by finding out that your pillow’s a live squid? That was the real sense of it.
Soraka walked onto the shore. Ryu watched the nexus energy slip around her. No wonder Karma chose her for this. Her spirit, purified nearly to the point of divinity, reforged in cosmic fire, could not be ensnared by the will of Scheria. She was pure that way, unconflicted. But he began to wonder—was that really any way to live? Trying to make yourself into some celestial being, without complication, without duality? What would it be like to lose the ability to change your mind? To never again be confused by emotions changing beyond your control?
Shen stepped out from behind a boulder, and bowed to Soraka.
“The Kinkou Order has sent me to aid you.”
Shen. Ryu had wondered when he’d arrive. When no one is looking, obviously, he quipped to himself. Ryu could see Scheria’s magic threading through Shen, and wondered at what thoughts it might be dredging up from his dark past. He’d heard about Zed.
Up above Shen and Soraka, he caught sight of a golden sphere descending from the sky.
Balance in all things?
Riots spread through Emor as the Ionians made their way to a central shrine that mediated the energy of the island’s nexus. In part, perhaps, the warring factions realized that the arrival of the Ionians meant a chance to win once and for all. And perhaps the presence of so many Summoners and Champions unbalanced the already eccentric local arcanosphere. Whatever the cause or causes, it proved a dangerous endeavor. They carried the authorization of the Parliament of Emor to pass freely through the city, but that golden plaque, officious as it was, seemed to little impress those who harried them. Nor were their assailants discouraged by the presence of Rathtar and Zoz, who had together pulled the lever to imprint that plaque with the Heavenly Press of State in the center of the Parliament chamber. But they did reach the shrine. The Scherians had vigorous but primitive spellcraft which broke apart when it clashed with Summoner magic, forged on Rune War battlefields and refined in the halls of the Institute. And it seemed that whenever their magic failed, or when they had not seen an assailant until too late, Shen would appear from the shadows to neutralize the threat.
As the Ionian Summoners layered fortification spells on top of one another to reinforce the shrine’s doors against the incoherent mob outside, Soraka faced the central altars with Rathtar and Zoz kneeling beside her. Their chanting rose to a serene plateau, and the magic within the altars glowed so brightly that Ryu could scarcely see the physical stone and metal any longer.
She’s going to do it, Ryu thought. And as much as he wanted the mob outside to calm down and stop shouting about how they were going to rip these Valoranian interlopers limb from limb—and, for that matter, as much as he wanted the other mob to stop brawling on his behalf—he was not entirely at peace with this. Here was a half-divine being, reworking the very soul of a civilization. Not in an abstract way, the way an illustrious composer of music might be said to inspire the soul of Demacia or something insipid like that, but in a very literal way. With one more flourish of her staff, Soraka was about to rewrite the thoughts and emotions of thousands of people, and unborn thousands yet to come. The goddess was going to fix these mortals. Objectively, this was sorely needed. But it made his skin crawl. In that moment, he silently pledged to think very long and hard about what if anything Ionians should do with all those automata they kept encountering. He had no more desire to see anyone’s operating logic rewritten.
The heavens opened. There was a ceiling above them, but this was an irrelevant detail of which Ryu had to remind himself. The heavens opened, and the stars called Soraka to wield their power. Her feet left the ground. She swept her arms out and seemed to embrace the universe. She had not become a goddess. She had not become anything other than what she was. But while everything else was consumed by the darkness between the stars, she was not. She still existed in this place. Ryu…was not sure that he did.
Ryu lost sense of perspective and size. He’d read similar accounts in the stories of the Battle of Shurima and the Void incursion: the concepts of distance and position no longer explained what he saw or felt. He no longer was anywhere in particular. In this place, he realized, she can do anything she wants. On many subsequent occasions in his life, he would think very hard about the truth or falsity of this epiphany, usually while staring at a wall. Rationally, he knew that her powers, though considerable, were far from limitless. But he couldn’t get himself to say that he had simply been wrong. At best, he could end up with something like, it was true, but it wasn’t real.
“I will not.”
It was Soraka’s voice. Her feet were back on the ground, and she looked so small. Everything looked so small.
Soraka turned her back to the altar, and placed her hands on the heads of Rathtar and Zoz, who stared up at her.
Her eyes glowed. “But you will. The storm is calmed. Now these waters are yours to voyage across. I cannot tell you where to go.”
The mob had fallen silent. When the doors were opened, the crowds parted to let them pass. The Scherians had expected one outcome and feared another. They had not anticipated having a real choice: not just the option to fight in one direction or another, or in both directions in absurd alternating succession, but to resolve this chaos and set a new equilibrium. None of them were ready for it, but they were, it seemed, beginning to see that this was going to be better.
Ryu looked at Summoner Tempest as they walked. “What was that? What did she do?”
Tempest shrugged. Ryu was astonished to see his aristocratic indifference intact even after such a display. “Impressive, wasn’t it? Only the third time I’ve experienced anything quite like it.”
Ryu waited for Tempest to explain. He resisted the urge to reply just yet. Ryu was the kind of person who never liked enabling the tellers of knock-knock jokes with a “Who’s there?”
But eventually he did. “You mean the Void invasion.” He waited to hear what part Tempest had played in that struggle.
Tempest feigned surprise. “The Void invasion? Oh, no. But there was this party in Zaun. Katarina was there. At this club downtown. And they had these rainbow cupcakes. And you could never finish one, not just because the frosting was so rich, but because a few bites in you stopped perceiving the difference between yourself, and the cupcake, and the universe. It’s hard to remember. But I do remember repeating to myself over and over, so that I would remember, that the colors are fake. I really am not quite sure what I meant by that.”
Ryu decided to get it over with. “That’s one time. What’s the second?”
Tempest shrugged. “We went back.”
Scheria was free. Its destiny was in its own hands, for better or worse. And the Ionians would surely be able to fill entire volumes with what they had learned of nexus dynamics. There was a general air of satisfaction among the Ionian delegation, the pleasant hum of dozens of ambitious career plans progressing forward ahead of schedule.
As they traveled back, Ryu sat in a seat across from Soraka. The congratulatory, good-job-all-around banter of his colleagues bubbled meaninglessly around him, and he could scarcely discern their words. He watched Soraka the entire way. One thought kept retracing itself in the grooves of his mind, which still rang from the impossible immensity of what he had seen in the shrine. For half an hour he stared at her, and while other thoughts flickered on the periphery of his consciousness, they quickly faded away beside that one central thought.
She was so small.
Next Update: Krocylea