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.