A Blessing

The doors to the Temple of Nagakabouros were pushed open, the rain and storm of the evening. Even if it was bright as day and dry as the desert, the man who entered through the massive doors would not stop dripping. With cautious steps he lurched forward, moving past the benches and seating areas where the flock of Nagakabouros arrived to listen to sermons. He looked left and right, placing his dagger into his holster for the first time since he’d returned to Bilgewater.

Only one person occupied the room with him, surrounded by candles and sitting at the mighty statue’s feet in the back of the room. Rather than a pious stance on her knees in prayer, she sat relaxed, one thick arm resting on the massive brass idol. “Knew you’d be coming eventually,” she said, not having to guess who had entered.

As Illaoi stood and turned, her gaze fell upon the gangly man standing in the aisle. “Hm. You remember me…and I remember you…” he muttered, peering at her with his glowing eyes. In fact, she looked too familiar.

Pyke reached behind himself, pulling out the manifest of the ship he carried around. Could she have been there? It wasn’t uncommon for some ships to have kraken priests on board. As he scrolled down the list, he reached the bottom. Unlike every other name, however, this next one was smudged and ruined. Had the rain gotten on the list? Besides a small I at the end of the name, it was impossible to read. Grumbling to himself, Pyke placed it back. He’d sort it out later.

“What are you looking for anyways?” Illaoi asked. When she had gotten word that a drowned phantom had been moving towards her temple, she bid all other followers to leave for the time being. She would face him “alone”, Nagakabouros protecting her in this sacred house.

Pyke chuckled, shaking his head. “Your blessing.”

Illaoi cocked one eyebrow upwards, the idol resting over her shoulder as she glared at Pyke. “A blessing? For you?”

With one damp hand, Pyke ran it along the seat next to him. He had a vague recollection of coming here before his untimely death. “Mmm, yeah. I remember the sermons, you know. Always movin’ forward. Always pushin’ onward.” He turned to her, glowing eyes piercing into hers. “So I figured who better to ask for well wishes than you?”

It was a surprising statement, to be sure. She had expected Pyke to seek revenge. If anything, whatever foul spirits plagued the specter didn’t have as much power here as her own god. “Hm. Alright. I’ll humor you. That said, you have to answer a question.”

There was no shock or surprise in Pyke’s face as he moved to Illaoi, used to the tests and trials she often spoke of. His expression was hard to read as well, bandana hiding any emotion he could have been sporting. With a casual air, Pyke knelt at Illaoi’s feet, lowering his head as he readied himself. “Go on then, priestess. Show me whatever test you want me to accomplish.”

“How long is your list?”

Pyke froze. The list? It had to have gotten out, sure, but why was she interested? With careful consideration, the list was unfurled at Illaoi’s feet, showing the long manifest of names and scratch marks from those he’d taken down. “Lotta names to move through, priestess. Lotta time I’m gonna spend moving forward.”

A defeated sigh escaped Illaoi’s lips, seeing the parchment that answered all the questions she had. “So your list has no end?” The drowned spirit looked up at Illaoi, confused as to what she meant. “Your list? This thing is crap. You want to get through the list but look at it. It isn’t ever going to end.” Her expression turned sour as she looked down at the spirit at her feet.

Anger rose in Pyke’s body, fingers twitching. He wanted to reach for the knife but she wasn’t on the list. “Ain’t you the one who told me I should always be going forward?”

“And you’re not.” The stern expression of the priestess could crack stone. “You’re in a rut. A circle that’s never going to end. You think you’re moving forward but you’re just going to loop forever.” Lifting her idol, she raised it above the parchment at her feet. “No, you don’t need a blessing. You need a cleansing.”

As she dropped the idol, with full intent to smash the list, Pyke felt an emotion he hadn’t felt since his death: Panic. His fingers jutted out, even though crushing paper would do little than crumple it, as he wrapped his hand around it. The idol fell with crushing weight, snapping bones as Pyke’s arm was caught beneath the idol. “You…you LIAR!”

Illaoi lifted the idol, ready to bash Pyke in the skull and free the tormented spirit. Instead her idol swung wide, striking a watery apparition. Several feet away Pyke stood, clutching his list with a mangled hand. “Do you see now?” Illaoi waited for a response to see if he had come to his senses.

“Oh, I see alright. I see you for the fraud you are!” Pyke removed his dagger, ready to fight. His broken arm began to crack back into place, the spirit not even caring that he was healing at such a rate. “A priestess lying about her own damn sermons. A goddamn joke, that’s what you’re saying.”

Whatever spirit had its grip on Pyke was too strong to just release him. Illaoi set her idol on the ground, cracking her knuckles as she glared to the man across the room. “Get the hell out of my temple or I’ll throw you out.” In truth, she’d do much worse.

As strong as Pyke felt that he was, something told him no. That this fight wasn’t one he’d win. A gut instinct like when he’d hunted the sea behemoths? Maybe. Either way, he began to step backwards. Raising his knife, Pyke glared to Illaoi. “You best hope you never walk alone. I’ve got a special place for you on this damn list.”

“Three seconds. Then I’m breaking your spine.”

Pyke disappeared from view, seeming to vanish into nothingness. Even though she could not see him, Illaoi could very well feel that he had left the temple. Illaoi returned to the statue at the end of the temple, sitting down as she had been. She had tried to help him, yes, but that spirit was beyond help. Something had a grasp on him. Something Nagakabouros itself couldn’t easily get rid of. Her attempt had been a failure.

Despite this, a smirk ran across her face. Failure is, after all, one of the ways people moved forward.

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Of Paths Not Taken

Breath in. Breath out.

Irelia slowly moved one foot forward, watching as the blades around her spun and danced. The rhythm was unknown to all but herself, the melody in her head playing on. Her morning meditation was uninterrupted as she surveyed over the small hamlet of Shikama. It was one of many villages her army had visited. The thought gave Irelia pause: Her army. She was the leader of this band of Ionian defenders. That said, she did not lead alone.

 “Lady Irelia,” called a gruff voice. Turning her head, Irelia saw the approaching form. Towering over most Ionians, the man was clad head-to-toe in ceremonial armor. A mane of red hair flowed from the back of his helmet like a waterfall, a kanabō resting on his shoulder. “Was looking for you. My apologies for disturbing your meditation.”

 The blades that rotated around Irelia flowed to her back, forming a triangular shape that hovered just above her spine. “Lord Ryota…or should I say Shogun?” She responded with a devious smirk.

 Ryota grunted, placing his kanabō’s head flat to the earth. “I will never be used to such a title. Lord Diago should have been shogun, not I.”

 “You took the sword, did you not?” Irelia turned back to the valley as she spoke. Ryota’s free hand wandered to the large, sheathed sword against his waist. He was still hesitant to draw the weapon, even though he had inherited the title. “I’m sorry if I worried you. I was just…thinking.”

 Joining her on the overlooking mountain, Ryota nodded. He was quite a bit taller than Irelia, even though he had appointed himself her subordinate. “Thinking?”

 Irelia turned back to him, the sun resting just above the valley as the day was set to begin. “Do you ever wonder what would have happened? If life had taken a different path? I always seem to fall back to that day…”


 Several years ago.

 Blood stained stone as the blades that Irelia controlled swung through the air. The Placidium was a warzone, the band of Ionian warriors that made up the resistance fighting tooth and nail to reclaim the area. The sight of the young girl weaving and cutting through the crowd kept the morale of her people from shattering, albeit it was a fragile hold.

 “Hold the line!” she called, looking left and right. Her track of the battlefield wavered, the Noxians hesitant to approach her. She needed to find the leader. More importantly, she needed to find her own leader.

 In the chaos, Ryota had vanished. Irelia might have been great at holding morale together but she was not the strategist and leader that he was. Turning to one of her men, Irelia nodded. “Secure the courtyard. I’m heading inside to find the commander. Ionia stands!”

 The soldier slammed his fist to his chest, shouting “IONIA STANDS!” in response. With her command given, Irelia dashed past the crowd, cutting through any who moved to intercept her. Noxians fell before her, none able to stop the sprinting woman as she danced across the bloodsoaked stone.

 Through hallways she moved, the way to the council chamber unguarded and barren. It was suspicious to say the least. It became downright insidious when one considered that the council chamber was the center of the area and the point one needed to lay claim to for a successful siege.

 The door to the chamber was blasted open, Irelia having no time for locks. It was fortunate that she did, as she arrived in time. Among the numerous elite Noxians was Ryota, kneeling in a pool of his own blood. The enemy’s commander, an aging man with a black coat, brandished a sword. “It’s impressive that you’ve lasted this long…Shogun? Hm. I swore the Shogun of Ionia died in the first few bouts.” Swain removed a piece of cloth from his jacket, wiping the blood of his blade.

 In reckless anger, Ryota swung his weapon. “DON’T YOU DARE SPEAK HIS NAME!” The weakened state of the warrior was too great for a clean hit, Swain taking a single step back. In response to the aggression, one soldier placed a boot to Ryota’s back, sending him to the floor. The shogun lay on the ground, struggling to push himself up.

 “I admire your tenacity and your sheer resilience. I understand now why rumors of you have been spreading.” Swain lifted his eyes from the floor, spying Irelia in the doorway. “And it appears we have an audience. Speak up, girl. I’m curious what you think of your hero.”

 Irelia grit her teeth, clenching her fists. “Irelia…leave…” Ryota mumbled.

 Swain rolled his eyes, stepping forward. With a swift kick, the shogun’s helmet went sailing across the room to rest at Irelia’s feet. “Go on. Take it. Leave if you wish, in fact.” It was a display of power, to be sure. “Share this helmet with as many heads as you wish. Noxus will take each one.”

 “Xan.”

 All the soldiers turned to the girl in the doorway, bemused now that she had spoken. “I’m sorry?” Swain asked. “I don’t exactly understand your tongue so by all means, explain.”

 “Xan Irelia. That is my name. The name of a house you animals butchered. The name of my family that I’ll never see grow old…” Irelia’s eyes contained a fire hotter than any ember, the girl’s rage pouring out like a volcanic torrent in her words. “KNOW THAT XAN IRELIA IS THE ONE WHO WILL END YOU!”

 “Then try.” Swain asked.

 All at once the blades around Irelia reeled backwards. In traditional Ionian dance, it was one of the hardest movements to perform. Kicking off the ground, Irelia flipped backwards, the blades trailing behind her in perfect sync. As she landed, the hurricane of blades shot outward, spreading around the kneeling Ryota. The Noxians who had the misfortune of being right on the wall were skewered by the multiple blades stabbing into them. Those who were trapped inside the cage with Swain and Ryota stumbled back, suffering gashes as the wall cut into them. Those on the outside backed away, shocked by the sudden appearance.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Irelia moved like a divine wind, aiming for the first soldier on the outer rim of the wall. He was slow and sluggish, unable to stop Irelia as her blades cut through his chest. She didn’t pause, moving from this guard to the next in an instant. And the next. And yet another.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 She crossed the wall of blades, gathering more of the telekinetic shards as she struck the few who still stood. Time seemed to slow around her, giving Irelia more than enough chances to see the smug visage of Swain devolve into disgruntled surprise. From disgruntled surprise Swain’s expression turned into something he had never expressed before: Fear.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Swain realized he would be at a disadvantage with most of his elite guard dead. He would have to retreat, as much as he hated the prospect. Despite this, greed overtook his strategic sensibility for the briefest of moments: Killing Ryota would be a blow that was worth the risk. Left hand raised, his sword aimed to pierce through the skull of the Ionian shogun.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Swain and Ryota were gone. In their place was her father and the Duqal. Just like before, her father was going to die to Noxians for little reason other than proving a point. Unlike before, Irelia was here. Unlike before, she could fight back. This time would be different.

 Breath in. Breath out.

 Swain’s arm moved downward, aiming to strike. Irelia let her telekinesis break for a singular moment. Her hand wrapped around one of the kinetic blades, cutting into her palm. The pain was irrelevant, the young girl too focused on her goal. Swinging her arm, the blade met flesh. It sailed through bone and muscle alike, Irelia cutting through Swain’s arm with personal flair. The general’s expression turned to shock, his limb amputated before his own eyes.

 Swain’s hand fell to the floor, still clutching his personal weapon as he stumbled back. His free hand clutched the bloody stump, eyes wide in panic. “This…this isn’t over!” he cried. Swain turned to run, Irelia ready to chase him. Instead she winced, her hand releasing the blade she held. Blood was on her hands, this time her own, as she came back to the reality of her situation.

 Bodies were strewn around the room, her blades clattering to the floor as her concentration broke. “Lord Ryota?” She asked, turning to spy the man kneeling. “Are you going to be well?”

 The older man spat, stumbling upward. His face was mostly pristine, despite the body wounds he sported. “Aye. Noxian tactics. Shallow cuts all over my body. They wanted to make me suffer and prove a point. Instead they didn’t finish their goal.” He looked around the room, wiping his brow. “You defeated an elite Noxian troop, not to mention saved me, and mortally wounded their commander.”

 Irelia composed herself, blades converging around her body. “I acted as any soldier would to save our leader.”

 “No…no. I am no leader. Strategist, maybe, but I’m no leader.” Ryota moved to lift the helmet off the ground, staring at the curved horns adoring it. “They respect me, yes, but they fear me more than they believe in me. Not like you.” Ryota placed the helmet back atop his head, turning to Irelia. “You’re what Ionia needs, not I.”

 She blinked in surprise, the young girl surprised at how blunt Ryota was with his own status. “Shogun, I could never-“

 “You won’t replace me,” he said, shaking his head. “But you will lead them. I’m nothing but a soldier who guides the battle. You? You’ll be the light that guides Ionia to victory.” He looked to the ground. “Take the arm if you agree. Show it to our warriors, show everyone that you took the Placidium back. Leave it on the ground if you don’t. Not even the great spirits can force you to be a symbol. The choice is yours.”

 Irelia looked down at the severed arm. Conflicting emotions ran through her, the blades spinning in slow fashion as she considered her choices. She was a mere dancer with a decent weapon, not a leader. She was a warrior who saved the commander and brought victory when there would be defeat. She was a hero. She was just a girl. She was…

 The arm was lifted off the floor, still clutching the sword as the two fighters walked out the door to the waiting army.


 “And what about that day?” Ryota questioned.

 Irelia pressed her hands together, eyes shut. “Had I been a second late, you would be dead and I would be leading the army. Had I not attempted the Xianfeng zhi ren, I would have been unable to face all those soldiers.” Her eyes opened, a somber look on her face. “Had Noxus not invaded, we may have never met.”

 Arms crossed, Ryota hummed to himself. “I suppose it is in the nature of Ionians to consider what our lives would be…” He sighed, shaking his head. “Is the burden too great? Do you think you have the spirit and the body to carry on? Do you wish for an easier life?”

 At this, she pondered. Had none of this happened, she would not exist. The Xan Irelia of today would be nothing like the Xan Irelia of the alternate world. If she had a choice, would she go with what she had become or what she could have been? The sun crested over the mountains fully, the warmth of the morning washing over Irelia. In her heart, despite all the pain, she knew the answer.

 “I am grateful for everything that has led me to this point. Nothing more.” Clasping her hands together, Irelia looked over the village, prepared to move on to the next so that Ionia’s defending army could grow ever stronger. Her meditation, for today, would come to a close.

 Breath in. Breath out.

A Post-Mortem on Grand Heist of Zaun

Grand Heist of Zaun (or GHoZ as I’ll be referring to it) was my personal labor of love and the longest thing I’ve written to date. With the massive lore changes coming to Piltover/Zaun in official League lore, I wanted to look back on this fan fiction and look through both props and criticism given to me, as well as to look back on what I could do better in the future. (One word of warning: Spoilers! If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do!)

What Worked

The Piltover Side

From what I’ve been told, people seem to think that I had done a good job with the Piltover characters. Vi and Caitlyn felt realistic and were characters with real motivations. They didn’t act drastically out of character and felt like they were coming right out of the game. In addition, I’ve been told that Piltover felt like a real place. Snobby, uptight but a real, wonderful place. If I was to go back, I’d probably keep the Piltover side fairly the same.

Mach

I was surprised by this myself but apparently people very much warmed up to him. According to the feedback I got, Mach felt like a realistic addition to the League universe. He had great motivation, he wasn’t quite like other male characters in the League universe and he had a strength that was appropriate to the story. Most of all, he didn’t warp the story and make it all about him. I can’t say how truthful this is but, from the words of others, he was pretty great.

Viktor

Perhaps my greatest success according to those that read it was my portrayal of Viktor. He apparently came off as real. A man tortured by past failures and lies. Someone who does despicable things but a man who grapples with his oncoming humanity. His creation of Mach is less to add a character to the universe but to try to learn more about himself. Honestly, I could probably cut out every other part of the fan fic and still get a great story out of it simply because of Viktor.

Numerous Side Characters

GHoZ was loaded with side characters and, to be truthful, I can’t put them all in their own category. Despite this, feedback told me that people had all sorts of favorites from the short storylines. Whether it was Zac’s starry-eyed and humble nature, Orianna and Blitzcrank’s blossoming romance or the short dialogue between Swain, Singed and Mundo. It may not be perfect but these moments were good enough to warrant feedback apparently!

What I’m Not Sold On

Viktor’s Robots

As much as I like these characters, I think they were a bit…one-dimensional. Robot jokes beside, I don’t think I wrote these two to the best of my ability. Too much peaceful messiah-ness from Quantum and Omega was just “Cool robot doing cool things until he dies”. I think these two could still work but I really want to go back and take another crack at them to make them a little less flat and a little more human.

Jinx

While people told me Jinx was true to character and she was fun to read, I can’t shake the feeling that she was more plot lubricant than an earnest addition. She had foresight and capability perhaps a little too great for her character. More importantly, she served to move the plot and throw wrenches in everyone’s plans. While I definitely think Jinx is smarter than she lets on and that she is a formidable foe, giving her too much power for the sake of the story is just wrong. She can work, she just needs to be tuned.

C

Woah boy. If there was one character that had incredibly polarizing reception, it was C. Some told me he came off as a wounded soul with tons of backstory, just the right amount of fluff and backstory to make him a compelling anti-hero. Others told me he felt like a stupidly powerful get-out-of-jail free card with no danger associated with him. I can’t say I lean too far either way. All I can say is that if I’d ever revisit this story, I -really- want to try this again. There is a working character here, I just need to get it right.

What Didn’t Work

Janna

I royally ruined League’s mistress of wind. Looking back, I didn’t give her enough moments for her own. I defined her too much by her past connection and should have given her more power on her own. She felt more like Q from James Bond; the side character providing gadgets for Bond when she should be in the limelight in her own right. In revisiting this, I would give Janna her own spotlight and work more on making her story her own. Just with some interactions with others.

Jayce

Jayce wasn’t QUITE as ruined as Janna but I’d hardly say I did him justice. Frankly, my own bias shined through and Jayce came off as far more of an egotistical moron than he actually was. While I liked the idea of a fake hero, I neglected the actual real-hero aspects about him. I treated him as a joke when he was a far deeper, far more complex character than I gave him credit for. While he’d still serve a similar role in the story if I was to rewrite it, I’d give more honor and power to Jayce. I might still think he’s not as earnest as he appears but he still deserves more.

The Storytelling of the Climax

If I had to hit a single part in the story that most needs rewrites, it’d be the Zaun climax. What I HOPED would happen would be a rotating view with the events happening from the eyes of various characters. What ended up happening was the same events being rehashed over and over. The rest of the story was fine or workable in some way…but this writing was sloppy and prioritized what would be cool over what worked. Perhaps next time I’d focus more in putting it all in a single chapter than making each chapter separate.

Overall

To this day, I still love GHoZ. It’s even looped around to be noticed by others and I still occasionally get people telling me they love it. However, the story isn’t without its faults. Do I love it? Absolutely. Would I rewrite it? Again, absolutely. Not just because of new lore forcing me to alter major parts of it. No story is perfect in the first draft and GHoZ is no exception. I don’t really have time and have been working on an on-again-off-again story (That keeps getting pushed back with each lore rework!), but perhaps if there was enough desire I might rewrite it.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I wrote it and that it improved my writing…even if there are major parts I’d change.

 

 

Those Progress Leaves Behind

Special thanks to Tom Randby (@faeriefountain) for letting me use his art for this week’s story!

As Piltover moves further ahead, Caitlyn cannot shake the feel that she’s slowly becoming obsolete.


For weeks, she had been tracking a stolen shipment of augmented limbs. Supposedly they were powerful enough that one could blast a hole in a steel beam, among other things. If that actually fell into the hands of those who could use them with some degree of intelligence? Robbery would skyrocket. Mostly of more augmentation of this degree. That just would not suffice.

Perched carefully on the roof, Caitlyn watched with calm, focused eyes. In her most rookie of days, she might have had an elevated heart rate or overwhelming panic at the thought of being in a firefight. After all these years? Little more than boredom as she waited for the shipment to pass by. According to her investigation, it would be three men. Likely one or two chemically enhanced but nothing so dangerous that she couldn’t handle it.

Hidden in the alleyway that she was perched over were several traps, covered by thin layers of garbage. It was quite disgusting but they’d serve perfectly to snare anyone who tried to run. At this point they had to be on-foot, unable to get around with carriages. Not with the dangerous things they were carrying.

As the sun was covered by a small cloud, a trio of men appeared in the alleyway. All of them wearing long coats. All of them carrying massive boxes. The untrained citizen would likely assume they were just hired help, doing manual labor for coins. Caitlyn’s far more sophisticated gaze picked apart their awkward gait, the nervous looks and the boxes being shoddily handled for those who were supposed to be lugging around valuables.

Quietly unfurling her rifle, Caitlyn took aim with one of her lesser rounds. It wouldn’t be enough to kill, so long as she hit a leg or an arm, but it was surely enough to force them to bend the knee. A small smile crept across her face, the joy of finally trapping her enemies in a no-win situation. Days of watching, waiting and analyzing patterns were sure to pay off. In a way, she almost felt sorry for these poor goons.

A heavy footfall gave way to the loud snap of Caitlyn’s trap being set off. “Unlucky,” Caitlyn quietly said, taking aim and firing a round at the trapped target. The one of the trio who had set off the trap looked down, staring at where the trap had gone off. Considering the situation, even if the other two escaped Caitlyn would have an easy time tracking them down. Especially with a bargaining chip like one of their comrades.

Instead of a shriek of pain or the agonizing groan of a man stumbling to his knees, the ear-ringing plink of metal-striking-metal rang throughout the alleyway. Caitlyn’s face contorted into an expression of disapproval. The boxes were summarily dropped in the alleyway, Caitlyn ducking slightly behind the ledge of the roof to avoid being seen.

“Who the hell put this here!? Percy, you said we weren’t being followed!” the man growled, the sound of shaking metal as Caitlyn’s trap was being kicked off. It was more akin to stepping in gum for the man than a debilitating snare.

There was the hiss of someone silencing the other. “Boris, look around. See if you can get a vision on whose here.”

Caitlyn was completely safe, in this regard. At the angle they were looking, there was no visible way to see her. She’d have to loop around and-

“Upper left! Someone’s skulking around up there! Ain’t no other heat signatures around here except that one!”

Her teeth grit so hard Caitlyn might have cracked one of her teeth. She had expected them to start selling the wares. She hadn’t predicted they’d be so brash that they’d attempt to augment themselves. Much less that these augments would be workable to bumbling idiots and even less so that these untested prototypes would work with minimal error.

As she stood to move, the floor gave out from beneath her. A chunk of the roof seemingly vanished beneath her feet as Caitlyn slid. One hand clutching her gun, the other desperately grabbing at rubble. She found a handle to hang from, the sheriff silently cursing herself as she precariously hung over an alleyway with three crude criminals.

The trio looked up, whistling loudly. “You should wear the skirt again, sheriff. The view down here ain’t nearly as nice as it would be.”

Biting her tongue, Caitlyn held back some crude remarks of her own. The men waited for a retort that wouldn’t come, sighing to themselves. “Gave us quite a scare there,” another said. “We were worried for a second that it’d be your butch Zaunie girlfriend…or that side-piece you brought onto your payroll.”

Now she was getting frustrated. Yet with the position she was in, she had to take into account that these men could easily kill her. She’d have to buy her time and wait for them to make a mistake. They were underestimating her, which meant that when they did slip up she’d be able to do something drastic. What that something was, at the moment, wasn’t in place yet. Especially against those sporting top-of-the-line augments.

Looking down, Caitlyn surveyed what she was dealing with: Three thugs. One with an augmented eye and some manner of plasma gun for an arm. Another sporting two heavy legs and equally heavy arms, likely the muscle. Finally, the one in the center who had kept himself hidden. “Eh, she ain’t speaking. Don’t shoot her though, we can use her. Demitri, you wanna cut the good sheriff down from that dangerous place? We certainly don’t want to hurt Piltover’s finest.”

The one called Demitri, sporting his huge and lumbering augments, grabbed the wall. Scenarios ran through Caitlyn’s head. Hitting him with the electrostatic net would slow him down. He’d fall, maybe land on one of the other ones. Good, good, that would buy time. She could reaffirm her position from there. She was alone in this so-

Just as those thoughts ran through her head, Demitri’s arms separated from his body. Electricity flowed from his arms in arcing sparks as he stumbled from the wall. “W-what the hell happened!?” he cried in shock.

It was then that the one with the eye, likely “Boris”, had his own augmented limb sliced clean off. He clutched his arm, howling in terror as he hit the wall. The limb may be fake but the pain was indeed real. The remaining one in the center (Percy) looked back and forth, increasingly aggravated. “Little bastard! Think you’re so cleaver with your cloaking that you can just get by us!?”

Percy suddenly raised his arm, steel clashing with steel as a massive hextech arm caught the bladed edge of a spear on it. “I’m not invisible. You just can’t keep track of me when I move this fast. If you surrender now, you’ll only be charged with endangering an officer and trafficking stolen goods,” responded a metallic voice.

Sporting a flowing blue scarf, white sash around his waist and an equally blue coat, Mach stared down the thug. His one augmented eye whirled, a faint blue color with circuitry beneath his skin shimmering blue. The metal plates around his mouth parted, revealing a disappointed frown. “I don’t want to severely hurt anyone so please; Stop.” Without the faceplates, his voice sounded human.

Apparently the thug had other ideas. Knocking away Mach’s spear, his massive arm (Even larger than Vi’s gauntlets!) slammed into the building side, cracking stone. Caitlyn’s grip crumbled away as she began to fall with her back facing the ground. She looked with one eye, witnessing the criminal sprinting with one remaining box of augments. Sloppy work, sloppiest she’d ever done. Maybe if she adjusted her net to fire just before she hit the ground, she could minimize the impact.

Just as she thought this, a metal cable with a hand attached to the end fired past her head. Instead of hitting the ground she felt an arm grasp her waist, pulling her upwards instead of downwards. Soon, she was back on the roof, looking down at her shorter companion. Peering down the alley, he too cursed before turning back to Caitlyn. “Sorry, I had to help you before chasing him down. Vi’s on her way as well so maybe she can cut him off,” Mach said, looking upwards at Caitlyn. “You’re alright though, right?”


Caitlyn slammed a hand on her desk, glaring at Mach as he sat before her. “What were you THINKING!?”

Confused and terrified, Mach stammered where he sat. “I just- You didn’t tell us where you went even though you said you were doing something alone. So we got worried that-“

“That what!?” Caitlyn’s expression hardened, pulling back from her desk. “That you didn’t think I was capable of handling an assignment on my own?”

“That’s not what I meant at all! I was-“

Caitlyn angrily stamped over to him, getting in the young man’s face. “So you disobeyed my order and followed me even though I said I could handle this!? You, as fast as you were, let him ESCAPE?!?”

This time he didn’t respond, the color draining from his face. It only made the circuitry beneath his skin shine brighter. That hint of tech beneath his skin only served to infuriate Caitlyn more.

“Get out of my office. Don’t you EVER disobey direct orders I give you, are we clear!?” She yelled. It wasn’t like her to yell. Much less to yell at him. “Stay away from this case or so help me…” For a brief moment, Caitlyn almost said something unforgivable. Something that would have severed any relationship they had. He noticed it too, eyes going wide as Caitlyn held back the best she could. “Just get out of my office.”

He was far too quick to do so, almost sprinting from her sight. Taking off her hat, Caitlyn brushed a hand through her hair. A good cup of tea would do wonders but she didn’t want to interact with anyone, not yet. Sitting in her office and bottling up the anger she felt would likely be a good start.

The door to her office flung open, Caitlyn casting an eye to the door as it was shut behind the intruder. A pissed, pink-haired woman stared Caitlyn down. “Hey, real quick; The HELL is wrong with you?”

Taking this as a challenge, Caitlyn’s glare centered upon Vi. “What’s wrong with ME!? I specifically told you both-“

“No. Nu-uh. Not this time. You don’t get to threaten him like that. You KNOW he’s sensitive. You KNOW he’s trying his best for everyone. And so you go and drive him to tears!? Because he HELPED you!?” Vi yelled, jabbing a finger accusingly at Caitlyn.

“I didn’t ASK for his help. Nor did I ask you, Enforcer, for your opinions on how I discipline members of my group. Need I remind you of that!?” Caitlyn’s anger was simmering now, Vi not doing much for her nerves.

Vi’s glare shifted to something of pure rage. “And now you’re playing the goddamn rank card on me? What’s gotten into you, huh? Why the hell are you acting like a class-A jackass!?” Vi got right in her face, the height difference palpable as she looked down at Caitlyn. “So what is it? What’s got your panties in a twist? Did someone piss in your tea or are you just on your period?”

In a single, swift motion, Vi’s head was turned to the side from the force of Caitlyn’s slap. Her cheek turned red, the black-etched “Vi” on her face now resting in a sea of pink. She turned to Caitlyn, staring in shock as Caitlyn stepped away. Caitlyn, realizing how she’d briefly let her emotions get the best of her, turned away.

“…Seriously. What’s wrong?” Vi said, moving to stand beside her. “You’ve been acting weird for weeks now.”

A deep, shaky breath from Caitlyn as she cleared her mind. “Every day, it feels like there are more and more augmented individuals on the street. They can run faster, jump higher, see further. You name it.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back. “You have your gauntlets and you’re damn strong, sure, but neither of us…” She looked to the door.

Vi nodded a bit. She pushed Caitlyn, lazily, into her chair. Vi grabbed her own chair, sitting across from Caitlyn. “So you think we’re-“

“Not yet. We’re not…but there will come a point where we can’t do our job anymore. Either we’ll have to improve ourselves, our equipment or go into retirement.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair. “I thought I could handle this. It was a simple job. Three smarmy thugs. Instead I almost died and had to be rescued like-“

“Like a Demacian princess from the evil dragon?”

Caitlyn’s gaze could have crushed diamonds with how hard she was looking at Vi. “Yes. That. I’m not a damned damsel in need of rescuing from anyone.”

Sighing a bit, Vi crossed her arms. “So you felt obsolete today. So you got saved by Sparky. Big friggin’ deal.” Vi smirked a bit, leaning in close. “Haven’t I saved you before?”

Caitlyn begrudgingly nodded. “Those times don’t count. It wasn’t the same.”

“And haven’t both of us saved Sparky once or twice? I distinctly recall you kneeling in the rain, giving him CPR despite the fact that we were both sure he was dead,” Vi added.

This memory made Caitlyn bristle. Nobody ever died under her watch. Especially not someone as new to the job as he was. It didn’t help to remember that familiar feeling of uselessness when she sat there, slamming her hands on his chest even as his eyes went dark.

Vi placed her ungauntleted finger under Caitlyn’s chin, pushing her head up to look at her. “You and I aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many hopped-up morons they send at us. They get better gear? We’ll get better gear. If I remember right, your first few years were using a shoddy repeater rifle of some sort?”

Caitlyn murmured, smirking faintly. “And you used chem-tech gauntlets.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Point is, you need to quit this crap about fearing the future and acting like you’re replaceable. Last I checked, nobody catches criminals with the whole predatory queen-of-Piltover vibe you have going on,” Vi added.

Sighing a bit, Caitlyn rubbed her face. While the feelings weren’t completely gone, there was truth to what Vi said. Piltover was progress and progress was all about moving forward. She would get better tech, better weaponry. Even if it wasn’t enough, progress be damned she wouldn’t fade away. “I’m sorry. For hitting you.”

Vi reached over, flicking Caitlyn’s nose. The woman moved backward, rubbing the front of her face as Vi shook her head. “I’m not the one you need to say sorry to, Cupcake.”

The low, long groan from Caitlyn was more than enough to bring back Vi’s good mood. “Please STOP calling me that. For God’s sake, we’re in the office.”

The Cheshire grin of Vi only grew wider. “Last I recall, you have a pet name for Sparky AND me. What was it again?”

Rather than be subject to this abuse, Caitlyn shoved Vi and stood out of her seat. “Where did he run off to? If I am going to apologize.”

Vi’s grin suddenly turned into a blank expression. “Oh. Shit. We better get moving.”


Prove Caitlyn wrong. Make things right. He had wiped his face, clenched his spear and ran off to track down the last remaining thug. Case be damned, he’d do it and make right what he’d screwed up. He didn’t think he was better than Caitlyn but he just couldn’t bear to see her upset. Now here he was.

Metal hands were pressed to the floor, electricity arcing over his entire form. Organic-and-augment alike were shocked, the short man hunched on the ground. Percy whistled softly, watching as Mach writhed on the floor. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect an anti-augmentation tesla gun to be so…effective. Can you move?”

In response, a metal hand was fired from his wrist, cable crackling with energy as Percy stepped out of the way. “Oh, well damn. Guess so. But you made a good attempt.” To reward such an effort, Percy slowly raised the dial. Cries of agony echoed throughout the warehouse as he lay there, eyes wide in pure pain. “So general word-on-the-street is that your augmentation is the best in Piltover, aye? I’m sure you’ll fetch a nice price. Well, parts of you anyways.”

Looking up, Mach’s teeth were clenched as he glared at Percy. Even with warning signs blaring in his head and over his vision, it didn’t take an enhanced eye to see the small red dot moving up Percy’s form. It danced over his body, moving past the metal prosthetic and over his eye. Half of his head seemed to be metal, which made the red dot lingering on his false-eye invisible. “Eh? What are you staring at boy? If you’re hoping to beg, it’s a bit late.”

A soft, loud whistle rang through the air as the round fired directly into the warehouse, shattering a window. Percy, with his enhanced reflexes, flung an arm up to block the incoming bullet. Mid-air, microjets emerged from the bullets sides, angling around the raised arm. “Impossible…” was the last word Percy uttered as the bullet dove its way into his false eye. The giant, with all his numerous augments, toppled over as he breathed heavily. Half of his mechanical brain was likely destroyed.

With the tesla gun rolling to the ground, Mach lay there clenching the ground. Ragged breathing resounded as the door to the warehouse was literally torn off the hinges. Vi nudged her neck to the side, letting Caitlyn walk in first. She knelt beside him, rolling him over to cradle him. “Relax. You’re going to be alright. Do you need a medic?”

Sputtering, he looked up at Caitlyn. “How…the bullet…”

A sly smirk from the sheriff. “Automatic Criminal Eradication technology. Able to readjust mid-flight and always hit the mark, no matter what. I believe I called it the A.C.E. in the hole.” As she said this, her expression turned somber. “I’m sorry. For yelling. I should have let you-“ Caitlyn paused, looking up at Vi. “-both of you help me.”

With twitching limbs, Mach laughed softly. He stammered, body still processing the excess energy. “We’re…a team….I shouldn’t have….run off….thanks…for saving…me.” He reached up, a cold metal hand running over Caitlyn’s face. At first, she flinched. But she leaned into it, softly smiling down at her companion.

Squatting beside them, Vi smirked at both of them. “We’re all made up then? Don’t need to beat the piss out of either of you for doing dumb stuff?”

Mach looked over to Caitlyn. “Can’t…move much yet…please…hit her…”

“Oh c’mon Sparky. You look especially good when you twitch like that. Don’t even need batteries for this vi-“

With a single, swift motion, Caitlyn smacked Vi over the head. Sure, things would require change. None of them could be the best at their jobs forever. Piltover, however, was a city of progress. Be it with new weapons, stronger technology or even more powerful limbs to ensure that nobody would be above the law, they were going to move forward.

Their future, and Piltover’s, was sure to be bright.

Remembrance

Worried for her friend, Ana Amari reminisces with Soldier 76 to see if Jack Morrison is still there.


It might have been weeks ago but there were always clues to be had. Stuff the beat cops missed. That’s exactly why they had made the rough journey from the sands of Egypt to the snowy buildings of France. They might be undercover and they might not have a true home but with what was going on in the world, they would take any hints they could get.

Jack Morrison, the mystery man known as Solider 76, knelt inside the art gallery. Snow drifted in from the hole in the roof, his visor inspecting every element of the rubble. Normally, he would have had to knock the police out and add to an impressive resume of crimes as an unknown man. On the positive side, thanks to his new ally, things had become much easier. Said guards he would have beaten until they were unconscious were now quietly sleeping outside, propped on the wall so observers would be none the wiser.

The old woman with an eyepatch watched Morrison with a stern gaze, waiting to hear his findings. According to the news, a pair of famous and wanted Junkers had broken into the art gallery with intent to steal. What piqued the duo’s interest were how they were stopped: A familiar face coupled with an unfamiliar ally. Of course, questions piled on outside of that.

“No doubt about it. This had to be caused by one of Oxton’s pulse bombs,” Jack grumbled.

Ana raised a lone eyebrow. “And the other one?”

Jack shook his head. The assistance Tracer had received hadn’t been someone he recognized. “Some kid, from the look of the security tapes. Wore a hoodie. Had some special gloves on his hands, was punching the fat Junker and matching him blow-for-blow despite being half his size.”

Instantly, Ana grit her teeth. “Was it him?”

In response, Jack shook his head. “No way it could have been Doomfist. Kid fought like a boxer. Ducking. Bobbing. Weaving. Doomfist was more of a one-and-done guy, if we’re talking about the one we’re worried about.”

Sighing, Ana looked to the sky. “So what is it? Why are there Junkers in France? Otherwise we’re just here to figure out if Lena’s alright?”

Standing from the rubble, Jack moved over to Ana. “Same night, a munitions plant was robbed. Didn’t make the news because of the ties to Overwatch in this story. More importantly, there were rumors and reports that they Junkers got away in a black jet of sorts.”

Clenching her fist, Ana walked with Jack as the two moved to get out of the building. “Talon? Helping the Junkers?”

Nodding, Jack stepped into the cold. He quickly took his jacket off, placing it in a duffle bag alongside his visor and pulse rifle. From said bag he removed a large parka and thick hat, quickly disguising himself as a tourist. Ana did much of the same, albeit her clothing was a little longer and make-up was applied to hide her tattoo. Despite their fame, nobody would recognize the heroes of the Omnic Crisis when they were disguised as such.

From the alleyway the two began to walk onto the frigid and dark streets of Paris. Winter was setting in heavily and the evening was upon them as they carefully surveyed their surroundings. Even with disguises, the threat of being discovered was enough to put the two old soldiers on edge. “So what now?” Ana questioned. “Do we track them down? Heavens know that they’d be hiding out…”

Jack nodded in response. “We’ll get a plane. Still got the money from the Helix job. If I had to guess, Gibraltar.” Looking to his side, Jack’s eyes met with the disapproving face of Ana. “What?”

“You’re better than this, Jack. You know how I feel about such things,” Ana spoke, careful to disguise her words so that a passing couple couldn’t hear them or gleam information neither wanted to let leak. “At the very least, you’ll apologize?”

A grunt. “Provided I’m not dead at the end of this…fine. I’ll serve my time and do my service,” he muttered. It wasn’t a concrete promise but perhaps there was still hope for Morrison. Such a thing did tug at Amari’s heart however. To see a man she’d admired and loved as a leader, torn down to little more than a soldier.

The snow began to pick up, Ana checking her watch. “We find a place to stay for the night, before we freeze to death.”

“Quit being melodramatic. There are plenty of hotels and hostels to sleep at,” Jack muttered. A nearby bed and breakfast seemed to illuminate itself by luck, Jack nudging his neck to the side and beckoning Ana to follow. Quickly crossing the street, the two made it inside just in time to avoid the torrential snow that began to rain over Paris like a pale blanket.


Locking the door behind them and holding a steaming cup of coco, Ana moved to the desk. It was a small room and it was thankfully one of the few left for the night. She’d made sure to check if there were people on either side, allowing the two to talk freely about their situation. The room itself wasn’t anything special, two beds, a desk, a bathroom and a television. “Do you remember how we used to sleep in the most luxurious hotels? Speak at grand balls?”

Jack snorted, throwing his coat to the side. “You and I were the faces, what else did you expect? Dress up fancy, say a few words, dance in a ballroom, repeat until you want to shoot yourself.”

“And you say I’m melodramatic,” Ana chuckled, moving to sit across from Jack on the bed. “Do you know what today is?”

“Hmph. Wednesday. December twenty fourth,” Morrison mechanically repeated.

Ana nodded. “Christmas eve, you know.”

Jack’s gaze narrowed at Ana. “You don’t celebrate Christmas though.”

Ana rolled her eye, sipping her coco. “Fareeha and I would still attend the holiday parties however, remember?”

Grunting, Jack turned to the table. It was clear that he wasn’t willing to talk about it, keeping up the facade of the strong soldier. “No use talking about the past, you know. Can’t change anything. It happened, we move on.”

Not content to watch Jack be a Bastion unit, Ana smirked. “Don’t you remember how Reinhardt spent hours studying Ramadan to make sure Fareeha and I would feel welcome? The poor man worked himself to the bone. He didn’t even enjoy the party the first time he did it. Passed out on the sofa the moment we all came in.”

A faint twitch on the corner of Jack’s mouth, his rough mask broken momentarily. Ana smirked, pressing the attack: “How about when Torbjörn got drunk on spiked eggnog and started ranting about how omnics shouldn’t celebrate holidays?”

For a moment it looked like the prodding failed. That’s when the softest of smiles graced Jack’s face. He chuckled deeply, looking at the floor. “Winston tried to decorate the lights and ended up shorting out HQ. Spent the holidays in the dark that year.”

“Every year, Angela tried to bring heart healthy food and nobody ever touched it. She would get so frustrated when people would gorge themselves on sweets yet she’d go home with trays of leftovers,” Ana added.

Another laugh, although this one was more genuine and lighthearted, from Morrison. “First year Jesse joined up, he started drinking alcohol while underage. You remember how Gabe-“ Jack froze. The entire room turned to ice as he looked away from Ana. All the good feelings and all the positivity they had recalled for the holiday season had died the moment his name was brought up.

The two sat in silence, Ana frowning as she saw the brief glimpse at the old Jack Morrison vanish. Solider 76 was sitting with her now, the iron-faced vigilante who wanted nothing more than to bring Overwatch’s downfall to light. She briefly looked at her watch, blinking. “Hm, would you look at that.”

“Eh, something wrong?” Jack asked, peering at Ana.

Ana motioned to the alarm clock sitting on the nightstand. A red twelve, followed by a zero and a three, blinked at the two. “Seems that it’s December twenty-fifth.” Ana waited for Jack to say something, for him to do anything. Silence.

Reaching into her coat, Ana pulled out a peppermint candy cane. She handed it to Jack, who looked at her with an expression that could only be described as deadpan. “I was going to stir my drink with it, for festive reasons, but it seems like you deserve it more.” She placed the candy cane in his lap, nodding at him. “Merry Christmas, Jack.”

Jack stared at her. “You don’t celebrate Christmas.”

Ana’s gaze narrowed. “Take my damn gift.”

At this, Jack stopped. He stared at Ana for the longest time, neither person breaking their stern gazes. That’s when Ana’s lips quivered. Jack’s own expression struggled to remain stern. What began as a soft chuckle turned into a boisterous guffaw, the loud laughter resounding through the small hotel room as the two laughed. It was an idiotic thing to laugh at for two old veterans but by god, it was the best joke they’d heard in months. Wiping the corner of his eye, Jack smirked at Ana. He held the candy cane in his hand, nodding to her earnestly and lovingly.

“Merry Christmas, Ana.”

Creating Champions in League of Legends: Breaking Rules

It was around 2012 that I took my first stab at creating a champion concept for League of Legends. Suffice to say, I’ve been working on it and others ever since. Almost five years old I think? Either way, I learned very quickly on that making champion concepts for League of Legends forces players and creators to break unspoken rules related to OCs (Original Characters) in canonical universes.

The “Rules”

Generally, many of these rules are not explicitly enforced or stated.. However, play any MMO in an RP community (as I did for around ten or more years with World of Warcraft) and you’ll quickly see things that are OK or not-ok to common players. Some of these rules include:

  • Not being related or involved with canonical characters.
  • Your work or job being toned down. (You’re not the best warrior in Azeroth.)
  • Separating your character from the canonical events of the game, such as major raids.
  • Not directly affecting major events that occurred in the game.

There are always people who break these rules, sure, but I’ve often found them to be pushed to the side or ignored. Roleplay communities seem to thrive on original characters who are downplayed or are one of many, as any world would allow. Not everyone can be the heroic titan who stands head-and-shoulders above others.

Do be aware that these rules are quite often enforced in RP communities when they’re related to League but not directly related to champion creation or design. That said, when you put champion creation into the mix, things become increasingly messy and break further and further rules.

Breaking Conventional Rules

In every champion release or new character, regardless of if it’s League, DOTA, or otherwise, you have a character who has to compete with or excel against the best warriors, mages and assassins in their respective worlds. You can have normal soldiers but even then, they are above and beyond those who serve alongside them. We’ve already had to break one rule in giving that character the power to face a cavalcade of others.

A staple of these characters are being related or connected to others in some way. Be it rivalry, implied love interest or otherwise. Even if your character is completely unconnected, he/she/it will need lines in relation to encountering other characters in the game. This includes events in the story. After all, if your champion is important enough to be a champion, they likely did something of note.

These facts alone force you, if you want to create a champion, to create someone of major significance in the League universe and beyond. Which also might be why so many creators are looked down upon when it comes to these rules. Yes, you can be the greatest warrior the Freljord has ever known but many will shake their heads and be disappointed in how much importance you’re putting into your character. Same goes for any other major point of note be it romance, relationship or legendary weaponry.

Of course, you can make original characters separate from champion concepts but those characters cannot be heroes in the game itself. You have a clear divide between someone strong enough to be a hero/champion and someone who is merely strong enough to get by in the world they live in.

A Standout Crowd

The purpose of this wasn’t to make people go “Ugh yeah I hate those dumb people who do that” or to somehow get sympathy for character creators who want to be the greatest samurai Ionia has ever known. What I merely wish to point out is that League is a game where creating playable characters requires you to bend the rules of original character creation, even if they are unspoken.

It’s certainly not for everyone either. You will get people criticizing your character because they are far too important or far too powerful. There will be critiques made at how your character is related to or interacts with a character who is canonical. At the end of the day, everyone is vying for the same goal: Get their creation noticed and perhaps one day work at these studios to put their pride-and-joy in the game.

No matter what, these jobs are rife with critique and will always have someone questioning the character’s inclusion in the game unless they’re the first there ever was. All one can do is maintain an open mind when looking at champion concepts and to understand that players aren’t the cause of these characters: it’s the environment.

An Encounter with the Virtuoso

Khada Jhin. A ruthless killer who performs in the name of art. What lurks beneath his mask?

Khada Jhin. A ruthless killer who “performs” in the name of art. But the real question remains: What lurks beneath his mask and within his mind?


The door opened to the interrogation room. As this was a matter of Ionian security, it was Karma herself who stepped into the room. She walked over to the seat, moving it and placing herself in the seat. Following directly behind her was a mountainous man in ceremonial armor. Karma placed both hands on the table, taking a deep breath before she spoke. “You are Nila Rath, yes?”

The woman across the table nodded slowly. She looked to be a disheveled wreck of a person, with matted hair and a cold, broken expression. She nodded twice. Her voice stammered incessently, the woman shaking in her seat. “Yes. Yes I am.”

Karma smiled as best she could. These were hardly joyous circumstances but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try her best to soothe the woman and make her feel at ease. “I know this must be hard for you…”

“Hard!? Impossible more like it! You ask- you ask me to tell you!? To retell the horrors I witnessed!?” she howled. The man behind Karma moved slightly, quite close to restraining the hysterical woman. Karma raised a hand, stopping the man’s movement as Nila continued to speak. “You ask too much! You ask me the impossible. He could still be here. He was- I don’t know what he looks like, he could be right outside the door!” She repeated, over and over.

Reaching over, Karma offered a hand. Nila slowly and shakily took the offered hand. Karma closed her hand around the woman’s, stroking the back of her shaking hand with a thumb. “He can’t get you here. Even if he was here, Lord Ryota would never let anything happen to either of us nor would I let him assault you.”

It wasn’t much but Nila looked SLIGHTLY more comforted by this fact. Karma nodded once, letting her begin at her own pace. “Do…do you have to know?” Nila questioned. Karma nodded once. “I…ok, ok. I’ll tell…just…let me take my time. It’s…I…”

Karma placed her other hand atop the woman’s. “Please, take as long as you need. We’re both here for you.”


Nila would awaken to bright lights illuminating an old stage. There were holes in the ceiling and the seat she sat in was somewhat rotten. Attempting to stand, Nila would find herself tied to the chair. The lights were too bright, making the poor woman squint. Next to her she found two other people, two more on the far left. Five of them, all bound together and trapped in the decaying Ionian Playhouse. How had she gotten here? She was out at the market and someone offered her…something…and then she had gone down a path to somewhere….it was all a hazy mess.

A clap grew louder as the people next to Nila began to stir. “Good evening everyone! Up! Up I say, we’ve got a stellar performance to put on this night! I hope you’re all quite ready to begin!” The clapping wasn’t right. It seemed wrong. Like it was a hand slapping against iron rather than flesh-to-flesh contact. “It was ever so kind of you all to volunteer for this performance! It’s so very difficult to find good, strong, capable helpers!”

With her eyes finally adjusting to the light, Nila and those she sat with were greeted by the almost angelic figure. Beautiful white clothing, an elegant pose like a royal dancer, the lights illuminating the person from behind. Everything about him seemed….off. Much like the clapping being close to normal but just missing the mark, so too was the man’s body. He had an odd sort of hump, almost a second head if one weren’t looking straight. His limbs seemed too thin to support his body. His face was an elegantly carved mask, just human enough to hit the uncanny valley. It was like an apprentice drawing a person for the first time.

Clapping his hands together, the angelic-but-incorrect man hopped down into the front row of seats. “Now, all of you, you’re all so special! So elegant, so pretty! Are we all awake? Comfy? I apologize for the-”

The man to Nila’s right struggled. The figure took notice, canting his head to the man like a bird. “Excuse me, sir, is your binding uncomfortable? Is something amiss? What’s your name? I’ll be sure to take up any complaints you have with the utmost, sincerest care.”

In response, the bound man spit in the mask-face of the figure. “I am Jin Masoma! I know who you are, vile fiend!”

The figure was taken aback by the spit. He took a quick step back, as if he was utterly shocked that someone would do that. “You’re Jin? Jin Masoma?”

“Veteran of the Ionia-Noxus war, the Iron Swan himself, I-” With movements too quick to follow, the figure pulled out what seemed to be a gun. In a single shot, Jin’s voice was silenced as warm blood sprayed to Nila. The body twitched twice before going still. Normally, everyone would have begun screaming and sobbing, terrified. Yet at this moment everyone was reeling from the shock, the sheer gravity of the situation they all found themselves in. Those who were five were now four.

Nonchalantly the man pulled a beautiful handkerchief from beneath his cloak, dabbing the spit from his mask. “I apologize but there is only one Jhin here. I’m not a fan of those who try to upstage me. As such, let your inelegant death be the last mark you leave on the world.” Jhin turned to Nila, Nila’s blood running cold. Would he turn his gun on her? Was she next? She couldn’t die. She had left her son alone at home. He had nobody to care for him. Jhin slowly moved down to face her. His hand reached under his cloak once more, obviously ready to pull out something. Perhaps a knife to cut her, perhaps taunting her with his gun. Nila closed her eyes and turned away.

The sensation she instead felt was silken cloth on her cheek. Confused, she looked to Jhin with tear-filled eyes. Jhin was slowly, surely wiping the blood from her face and neck. “Please, my sincerest apologies. I should have been more mindful of you being right there. Oh would you look at this, such a beautiful face stained by the blood of a commoner.” Nila dare not move, her eyes locking with Jhin for the briefest of moments. They were beautiful eyes, crystal blue, but there was nothing behind them. No sparkle, no hint of a person, only darkness.

“There we are, MUCH better!” Jhin tapped his palm to her face twice before moving to sit on the stage. “Now, you four, I’ve decided that it’s been a while since I’ve shared my work and plans for the world. Unfortunately I have no designated media assistant to help me with this so I decided you all would be the perfect candidates. So, in about….let’s say four-hundred and words or less, tell me why I should hire you as my assistant.”

Jhin moved over to the far left of Nila and consulted the first person. She was an older woman, older than Nila at least, and seemed terrified. “Now, dear madam, would you tell me why you believe you can put my art into the mainstream? To share my work with the world?”

The old woman just struggled against the bindings. “Let me go! Please! Whatever you want! I have grandchildren, money, whatever you could desire!”

Pulling away from the old woman, Jhin gently stroked the chin of his mask. “Grandchildren WOULD be a wonderful way to connect with a fresh, younger audience….buuuuut….” Jhin sighed, shaking his head. Slowly, he leaned forward and wrapped both hands around the woman’s neck. He began to throttle her with agonizing slowness. Nila couldn’t see directly but there was an almost sickening care and love to how he did so. The woman choked and kicked, thrashing in the chair. “Sssssh. It’s ok, it’s ok. This is perfectly natural. Just…let….go….theeeeeeeeere we go.” After a good two minutes of strangulation, Jhin released the woman’s throat.

Rather than leave the body and move to the next person, Jhin took a small knife and cut the bonds. He began to re-position the elderly woman in a way that had made it seem like she had fallen asleep. Her hands were placed next to her head, her face was moved to that she looked at peace, all-in-all the woman looked like she had passed away in her sleep rather than die a horrid death. Save for the purple bruises on her neck that formed a lethal necklace around her windpipe.

Jhin moved to the next person, another woman in the chair. “Now, let’s have an exercise. Can you explain to me why I strangled her? What was the process? What was going through my mind? Why did I position the body as such?”

The poor lady who was the object of Jhin’s attraction was speechless. “Can. You. Explain?” he reiterated. The woman stammered, choking on her words. Sighing, Jhin just shook his head in disappointment. “No no no. That’s not…oh well, another reject. Thank you for your attempt, either way.” With his words spoken, the knife Jhin held to untie the woman went into the stammering person’s throat. She was dead within seconds, choking on her own lifeblood. Blood and sticky redness began to stain the floor by Jhin’s feet, Jhin pulling the knife and placing it within his pocket.

With two fingers, Jhin dipped them into the wound he had created. Blood was used as paint, dabbing his fingers against her face. The blood made “tear streaks” down her eyes, as if the woman was crying blood. “Now, friends, this speaks to the horrors that we witness. The blood symbolizes the pain we go through for our art and love. Yet at the same time it reminds us that suffering for what we believe is the most magnificent of all. Wouldn’t you agree? Yes? No? It’s ok if you don’t get it at first. Fine art requires a refined taste. I can help you both cultivate such a taste, however!”

Silence from Nila and the man to her right. Jhin dabbed his bloodstained fingers on his handkerchief, finished with his work, as he looked to the man to Nila’s left. “Right, let’s hope you’ve been paying attention. Your name, dear friend?”

The man, coldly, replied. “Xing.”

Jhin clapped his hands, kneeling down to be at eye level with Xing. “Now, Xing, why should I choose you over the woman to your right, hm? What do you think you can bring to my art that she cannot?” Jhin stepped over the chairs, standing behind the young man. Jhin knelt down, almost whispering in his ear. “Tell me why you should be a herald for my art and not a mere addition to it.”

Swallowing the spit in his throat, Xing looked to Nila. He turned back forward, breathing heavily. “I…I believe that…in time….we could…I could be your apprentice. If I learned from you, I could be an artist like you. W-we could even start with the woman next to me. She’s beautiful and the blood could make for a piece that compares the…the…” Xing shook his head. He couldn’t put it into words.

Jhin placed one hand on Xing’s shoulder. “There there, art is hard. I don’t blame you for your difficulty in grasping my work. In fact I applaud you for making an attempt, more than anyone before you has!”

Xing smiled. “Thank you, sir. I promise…”

A gunshot rang out as Xing’s head was slammed forward. A single bullet, delivered to the back of the skull, was more than enough to end him. “Unfortunately, I am only honing my art for the moment. Perhaps if you had visited me twenty years in the future I could have taught you but….oh well, sadly that is the pain of time.”

Without pause Jhin moved in front of Xing. He delicate combed the hair so the wound upon his forehead was displayed front and center. “I liken it to the third eye, don’t you think? Xing was trying so very, desperately hard to grasp the artistic vision and see through his own creative lens. Yet the grand scope was too great for him and he flew too close to the sun. Thus in opening his inner eye, he destroyed himself.”

Nila was speechless, now the only one left. She would be next. Jhin would slay her and toy with her body to pose her in a manner he saw fit. She was going to orphan her son and be little more than another body among five. Jhin leaned down, moving to her face as his hands grasped the ties around her arms. In a flash, they were…removed. Jhin knelt down, removing her leg ties as well. Nila stared at the kneeling Jhin, looking shocked. He looked up at her, tilting his head. “Don’t act so surprised! I know you felt it. When our eyes locked, you connected. I connected. We saw each other, our inner thoughts and emotions. You and I, for sure, had to be the pair!”

Stumbling to a standing position, Nila felt one hand wrapped around her free hand as Jhin beckoned her to follow. “A kindred spirit, here in this very playhouse. Oh it sets my soul alight just KNOWING I found the right person! Now, come come. You’re going to love this. A sneak peek, a secretive look into the future of a virtuoso himself! You must be the single luckiest woman in all of Runeterra right now,” Jhin boasted. Nila was merely dragged along onto the stage, moving behind the curtains and to a backroom.

Opening the door, Jhin waved her inside. Dim candles lit every picture on the wall…and pictures there were. Every famous warrior, every grand champion, every royal figure, splayed across the wall. Nila recognized some of them, Ionian warriors. She moved to one picture, being a grainy picture of Kusho with a bright red X crossed over him. “No, no don’t bother with him. Alas, he’s a canvas I’ll never work with,” Jhin lamented.

Nila’s eyes wandered to a corner. Gangplank’s bounty poster on the wall. “Ah, yes, him. The Saltwater Scourge would be magnificent if I could get to work with him and the bounty huntress. Together as one, unified in a bitter rivalry that even death cannot squelch.”

A picture of a propaganda poster, showing the grand figure of Garen Crownguard raising his sword aloft. “It’s easy to look at a charicature of a person and go “But Jhin, where is the value?”. I know there is more to him, there MUST be. No man can be so absolutely bland that he’s little more than a colorful toy for his nation,” Jhin informed.

Another picture, this one being of a maiden holding an odd-looking instrument. She played to what seemed like millions. “She’s an interesting one. A maven of the string, music so touching it can break your soul. I’d love to hear her play but I feel she’s, what’s the word, overhyped?”

A news article from Piltover, the picture being of a woman with greatly oversized gauntlets. “A woman out of touch with the world around her, confused of so many things. Her past, her lovers, a woman who disguises boorishness as strength.” He ran a finger, lovingly, over the curvature of her face.

For each picture, Jhin had a story. For every clipping or snipping, Jhin had a plan. Hundreds of people and Jhin had a plan for all of them. “Why…why are you showing me all of this…” Nila whimpered, looking to Jhin.

Jhin’s mask, ever unmoving, got right into her face. “I want you to tell the council of the sneak preview. I want Ionia to know that my portfolio, up to this point, has been child’s play. My magnum opus WILL come and it. will. be. Glorious.”


Wiping her eyes, Nila breathed deeply. “He let me go. Just…just let me go. I wandered the- it was the theater outside of town, by the wreckage. Sheng Wu village, do you remember?”

Karma turned to Ryota, who shook his head. “The theater there had been burned down several nights ago. If he was working outside of that base, he has since burned the evidence and left.

Frustrated at this lacking lead, Karma turned back to Nila. She smiled brightly, reaching over and placing a hand on Nila’s. “Thank you so much for your bravery and cooperation. We’ve got your son with us and we’ll be moving you to a secure location. I promise you, he’ll never find you.” Nila nodded softly, tears staining her face as she stood.”

With the interrogation over, Karma and Ryota personally escorted Nila to the courtyard of the Ionian Guardhouse. They were a far ways away from the Placidium but this matter couldn’t be handled over a letter. Nila took cautious steps out of the door and into the courtyard. Karma and Ryota stood away from her, the duo alone at the entrance. “We should have never pardoned him. Any of them.”

The gruff shogun crossed his arms. “Lady Karma, we were out of options. They roam free but Ionia is still standing.”

“And for what? The Order of Shadow roam free, the ronin of winds is a fugitive to this day, that sociopath wanders Ionia for fun and the sovereign…” Karma paused, regaining her composure. “We had our backs to the wall, yes, but on the day we had to forsake balance for victory, we damned ourselves and our people.”

Silence from her fellow council member. Karma sighed. “I am sorry to put that upon you. There….if we….balance is difficult. Complex. Even after this war we struggle with the true path.”

Nila was at the center of the courtyard now, walking slowly. Under the awning, flanked by two guards, was a young boy. The boy’s face was brightly lit as he saw his mother coming from the guard house. “Mother!” he cried, running from the guards as he ran to embrace her.

A bright smile finally crossed Nila’s face. She opened her arms, running to her son. Even throughout all the madness, throughout all the pain and suffering, she was able to see her son once more. “Kouga! I’m ok!” she called. Her face grew brightly, the tears seeming to evaporate away as she was finally able to see her son’s face once again.

Karma watched with a soft smile. Yet, despite the happiness of the reunion? Something was off. Deep down. She knew that there was a problem with the whole spectacle. Nila may have escaped but there was just something wrong about the whole situation. It wasn’t like Jhin to leave someone be. As he would say: “An artist’s block is an excuse for the untalented.”


Ionian guards had flanked Kouga and Nila as they returned to their home. It was not their normal home but one that would serve as a safe haven until Jhin had been apprehended. It finally seemed that things were looking in a positive manner. Sure, it may not be the most grand home but she’d take safety and security over any sort of luxury. The guards were positioned around the home strategically, seemingly unguarded unless one could see through the disguises.

Entering the small home, Nila pointed to the washroom. “You should go take a bath. I’ll start cooking dinner. Kouga, I’m- I’m sorry that you had to leave things behind.”

The boy brushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes, smiling brightly. “I’m just glad you’re safe, mother. We can always make new friends!” Kouga ran off to the bathroom, already throwing his shirt to the side as he scrambled out of his clothing. Perhaps she should lead by example, act as if nothing had changed.

As Nila entered the kitchen, she opened one of the cabinets to see what manner of food they had. Rice would be fine for dinner, especially if she could easy it correctly. She turned, placing the bag on the counter. That’s when it finally occurred to her that there was someone sitting at the table, watching her.

Her blood ran cold as Jhin sat there, scribbling a quill on a piece of parchment. “I’ll be honest, I would have thought they’d give you a far better residence. I’m frankly disgusted with the council’s treatment of someone as special as you.”

Nila looked to the door, running ideas through her head on how to escape. “No, no, don’t scream. That just won’t do,” Jhin warned, sighing to himself. “You’re such a damned anomaly.”

She dare not speak as Jhin stood up, pacing back and forth. “I just can’t get it right. I have a plan for everyone, everything in this world! Meticulously plotted! At first I was going to end your life as you hugged your son but it was so trite! So overdone!” As he paced, he looked increasingly unhinged, twitching and shaking angrily. “What is it about you!? What is it about dear, sweet Nila that doesn’t give her a RIGHTFUL END AS EVERYONE ELSE IN THE DAMNED WORLD HAS!?”

Jhin unfurled his gun, pointing it at the woman as she choked on her own spit. After a brief sigh, the inhuman marksman lowered his weapon. “I apologize, that was uncouth of me. Still, it’s true. You are a wonderful anomaly. You, dear Nila, hold a position over even the greatest figures in our world. You should be honored.”

Again, she tried to speak, but this time the sound of splashing water. The look in Jhin’s eyes was enough to cause the icy feeling in her veins to amplify. “No. No no no. Me. Please, take me instead,” Nila mewled weakly. She couldn’t stop him, even if she called the guards. Jhin cocked his head to the side as tears flowed down her face. “He doesn’t know better. He’s a boy.”

Lovingly, Jhin placed a finger under her chin, raising it so that she would look him in the eye. For a brief moment, Nila thought he’d listen to her. That he would leave Kouga be. That this demon would leave her life forever. “Dear, sweet, innocent Nila. Don’t you know that tragedy builds character?”

Releasing her chin, Nila stared as he walked away from her and toward the washroom. There was no way to stop him. He wasn’t human. He was a monster that was wearing human skin. Her eyes watched as the spindly, white-cloaked figure moved toward the washroom.

And the entire time, he spun his gun with one hand, humming a delighted tune.