Previous Update: Kibu
Having placed second in the great Nyrothian tournament, Ionia has finally won the right to explore one of the islands of Nyroth. With few options left, Ionia opts to explore the island of Scheria, a place rumored to have some kind of obsession with duality and balance. Intrigued due to potentially similar philosophies, Ionia prepares a small expeditionary force to head to the island immediately. Despite protests from Irelia, Karma has decided to personally lead the group to this new land, with the hope of bringing peace and wisdom to whoever may inhibit this unknown place.
The Ionians arrive on Scheria with little difficulty. An hour’s exploration reveals flat terrain, the landscape sinking here and there into swamps and marshes. The air is humid and filled with the buzz of insects, but the temperature proves surprisingly comfortable to the Ionian travelers. After a day’s hike inland, the head scout reports a magnificent site. A series of fresh water springs, bubbling with life, were scattered throughout an open expanse of terrain. Floating far above the springs were what looked like giant bubbles of a shimmering golden substance. The bubbles seemed to be tethered to each other with tubes of the same shimmering substance, to create an intricate latticed network floating in the sky. The scouts could make out what looked like building-like structures within the bubbles, but the substance proved too opaque to make out any further details.
While Karma and the expedition leaders discussed this fantastic discovery, a small golden bubble detached from the floating network and floated towards the Ionian camp. The Ionians scrambled for combat, but Karma ordered her people to stand down and wait. The bubble, which was about as big as a large horse drawn cart, slowed its descent as it neared the ground. The bubble receded to reveal a floating platform with several individuals dressed in formal clothing. One of the men stepped forward and introduced himself as Rathtar, emissary of the city of Emor, the great city in the sky. The Ionian scouts had been seen by one of the city’s observation platforms, and the city had sent a group of representatives to talk to these strange visitors. They had sensed something familiar in the Ionians, and wished to learn more about them. Happily, Karma led the visitors into the camp to share dinner with her and her men, and they talked.
Karma found Rathtar to be a pleasant and generous individual. He seemed to laugh after every statement, and constantly asked if he could help out with the small chores of the meal. As their conversation progressed, Karma learned that the people of Scheria were indeed a people fascinated, governed even, by the idea of balance. Their people believed that every action mandated an appropriate reaction. If one donates to charity, one must then selfishly keep money for oneself on the next occasion. If one breaks an object, one must then fix something. Doing such things would help a person reach both a more complete spiritual balance within themselves, and thus bring the universe one step closer to true balance. Fascinated by the Scherians’ doctrine, which (despite its eccentricity) they seemed to wholeheartedly believe, Karma asked if the Ionians might visit the city and learn more. Rathtar agreed, saying that they and the Ionians seemed to share much philosophy in common and a relationship between the two could prove quite beneficial. The Scherians departed to bring the good word to their people, saying they would return in the morning to bring Karma and a small group of people to see the wonder of Emor.
The next morning, Karma and four of her most trusted advisors waited for the Scherian ambassadors to arrive. Sure enough, the golden bubble descended from the city towards the Ionians small camp. The bubbled opened to revealed Rathtar and a small group of guards, who beckoned the Ionians onto the platforms. As Karma greeted Rathtar, she sensed something different in the man. He was not smiling today, and barely shook her hand before pulling away abruptly and barking orders at the guards to take them back into the sky. She tried to soothe him with pleasantries, but each was rebuffed with a suspicious look and a noncommittal grunt. As they soared up to the golden city, Karma noticed that one of her rings was missing, from the same hand she just shook Rathtar’s with. She thought about bringing it up, as it seemed strange that such a jovial and giving man could turn out to be nothing be a petty thief, but decided that it be wisest to see what was happening in this strange city first.
The city was as wondrous as the Ionians had imagined. Buildings floated on small platforms through the golden bubble network, kept elevated by some unknown magics. The strange golden resin that made up the bubbles was everywhere in the city and seemed to be a major part of the construction of nearly every important structure. When Karma inquired about the material, Rathtar informed her (with aggressive pride) that it was a magical alloy of gold and iron, nearly as strong as steel and ten times as malleable. It was light enough to work with the magic that kept the city afloat, and could be reused without any loss of material, which was quite handy in their society. When Karma asked what he meant by that, Rathtar suddenly clammed up, only saying that all would be revealed soon.
As they proceeded through the city, Karma noticed several interesting details about the city and its people. While there were many beautiful structures throughout the city, there was also a large amount of collapsed buildings and buildings under construction. While every city has its construction projects, this city seemed to have an inordinate amount of it; nearly half the buildings were being rebuilt or demolished. There were also two prominent symbols displayed through the city on various banners, buildings, and even clothing. The first was a white outline of some kind of small bird against a black background. The other was the black outline of a strange duck-billed beaver against a white blackground. Karma wondered what was the significance of these strange symbols and what secrets they hinted at in this strange golden city.
Rathtar led the Ionians to a large domed structure at the center of the city. He told then this was the main government center for Emordnilap, and that the council wished to speak to them shortly. He introduced them to a man named Zoz, who he said would take care of their needs until the council would see them. He then left with barely a goodbye, saying he business to attend to before the meeting. Zoz was an exuberant young man, excited to meet strangers from another land. He asked Karma and the Ionians a nearly nonstop stream of questions, nearly jumping out of his skin with excitement. Karma also noticed that the young man would spontaneously break vases and tear holes in pictures as they walked, barely seeming to notice what he was doing. Once again, Karma remained silent on the strange behavior.
Zoz showed the Ionians around the building for nearly an hour before a guard approached the group and told them the council was ready to see them. Excitedly, Zoz led the Ionians into a large circular council chamber, where men and women stared down at them from raised pews. Rathtar sat there too, this time dressed in ceremonial robes marked with the duck-billed beaver symbol. Zoz too took at seat in the pews, donning robes marked with the small bird. As Karma looked at the councilmen, she saw they were almost perfectly divided between the two symbols.
“Speak, travelers” said Rathtar in a gruff unfriendly voice, “We wish to know of the Ionian way of life and of Ionian philosophy”.
“Yes Yes!” chirped up Zoz, “Tell us of balance. Tell us of what you believe!”
Slightly unnerved, Karma approached the center of the room and spoke to the assembly. She spoke of the history of the Ionians, of how war and tradition and tragedy had shaped the Ionian’s belief in the necessity of balance. She spoke of her nations struggles with the other nations, of the League, of the Kinkou, of Ionian magic, of religion and philosophy, and of the tragedy of Shon-Xan. Karma spoke of it all, carefully neutral in her cadence, unsure of what the assembly was looking for in all this. She finished her speech, politely bowed to the council, and waited patiently for a reaction.
The council murmered amongst themselves for several minutes before Rathtar called for order. He stood and gave Karma a wicked smile.
“The Sacred Order of the Playtpus has heard the Ionian leader and wishes to endorse good relations with the Ionians, and to make them our allies and trade partners. We believe that with their support, we—”
“Now hold on!” shouted Zoz as he sprang to his feet, teeming with anger. “You stuffy ancients can’t claim the Ionians’ favor just like that! The People’s Republic of the Finch also wishes for the favor of the Ionians! If you think your outdated orthodox order can do what it always does and just assume it can take what it wants-”
“Watch your mouth, arrogant pup! It is only by the grace of this council that your heretical group of malcontents is allowed in these council halls. If I had my way—”
The council broke down into bickering and arguments from there. Karma watched in shock as many council members shouted each other down, jumped across seats to engage in combat with one another. Still others tried to hold their compatriots back, desperately clinging to robes in attempt to prevent a full out melee. Suddenly, Karma felt a surge of magic pulse through the city, imperceptible to the naked eye, yet so strong it made her head spin. And with it, the entire situation in the assembly changed. Those that had been holding their companions back suddenly were the ones leaping into battle, while the formerly aggressive council members were now trying to prevent any more blood from being shed. It was like the entire room had been reflected through a mirror.
Rathtar managed to scuttle down to the main floor where Karma and the Ionians stood in bewilderment. “Quickly!” He said in a voice that was once more soft and kind, “We need to leave here before you all are hurt. I’m so sorry about this, I promise I’ll explain everything as soon as we’re safe.” As they left the room, Rathtar handed Karma a small ring. “I stole this from you earlier today. I apologize for this, I was in my ‘other’ time.”
Rathtar led the group to the courtyard where he beckoned them to sit down. As Rathtar was about to speak, Zoz emerged from a side hallway. He looked slightly bruised and had some scratches on his face, but what Karma noticed most was his demeanor. He was somber now, still and focused, his energy completely contained. As he walked towards them, he carefully readjusted a nearby statue that was slightly tilted, carefully brushing some dirt off it as he did so.
“If you’re going to explain the situation to the Ionians, old man, I plan to give them both sides of this story”. His tone was cold, without the empathy or compassion that had been in it not minutes ago.
“Yes of course. You’re right of course. Forgive my attempt at duplicity. Let me explain…”
And so he and Zoz told the Ionians the tale of their civilization. While their society had always been about balance, it had always been tempered with wisdom and restraint. That changed with the cataclysm, which disrupted the energies of the island’s subnexus. Slowly throughout the years, the subnexus had affected the people of Scheria more and more, to the point where their actions had become both overly extremely and morally divided. It had gotten to the point where every 24 hours, the subnexus would ‘shift’ it’s magical polarity, shifting the morality of the citizens with it. It had caused the city’s people to live in a constant state of conflict and construction, always repairing or damaging their city and their relationships, trapped in a perpetual cycle of creation and destruction.
In order to cope with these extreme changes, the people had sought greater clarity within their religious philosophies for answers to their destabilizing dilemma. Ironically, this had caused even more instability when the church of Yin-Yang had split into two different factions several years ago. The Sacred Order of the Platypus (the strange animal on their banner) had stuck to the ancient belief that the universe had been created as it is now, an eternal universe, where any changes were superficial at best. After all, how could anything but an intelligently designed universe ever create such an impossible creature as the platypus? They believed that keeping things as they were, maintaining the status quo, was the key to achieving balance and salvation.
The People’s Republic of the Finch thought the exact opposite way. They believed the universe was constantly changing and evolving, that the only way to achieve balance in it was to adapt and change with it. Their symbol, the finch, was well known amongst the Scherians for being able to adapt and change over generations to be better able to survive wherever they lived. The Finches wanted to move the Scherian society forward, believing that it was the strict adherence to the old ways that got the Scherians so deeply stuck in their current situation. Only through change could they find balance and freedom.
As they finished their story, Rathtar and Zoz turned to their attention to Karma. They told her one of the reasons they had welcomed her and the Ionians so openly was that they hoped the Ionians might be able to fix their situation. While the two groups barely agreed on anything, they both agreed that the Ionians had one of the truest and most complete understandings of universal balance they had ever seen. They felt it at some level, possibly due to their attunement to the subnexus. Both sides were hoping that the Ionians would see their philosophy as the correct one, and side with them over the other, thus breaking the stalemate. Perhaps they might even be able to fix the subnexus with their great knowledge of magic, although both Rathtar and Zoz made it very clear that neither side would give the Ionians access with complete support for their ideals.
Karma was silent for several moments. Finally she told the two Scherians that she would need to think on everything she heard today before making a decisions about any of this. The two agreed, but made it clear they wished for an answer soon. They politely escorted the Ionians back down to their camp, telling them they would return in two days. And when they did, they expected an answer if the Ionians ever hoped to have any interactions with the people of Emordnilap ever again. Karma watched the golden bubble rise back toward the city in the sky, unsure of how to proceed.
Karma and Irelia left Emor before night fell. They took their soldiers and scouts with them. The Scherian resonance was powerful, amplified somehow by the network of sphere-cities, and it seemed more likely than not that anyone without an extraordinarily resilient aura of their own would soon be pulled into the madness. Even the Summoners had to apply conscious effort toward diverting the nexus energies.
Summoners and Champions struggle with the mounting nexus distortion, as they prepare for the task ahead.
The sun shone down on the grassy plain. It was snowing on the mainland, but here, it was warm with a cool breeze. Summoners pledged for Ionia had congregated around one of the larger springs, most sitting on the gold-flecked gray rocks that jutted out from the ground here and there. Some were sparring a short distance away, clashing spells and swords to refresh their rather limited combat training. With the soldiers sent away, they would have to look out for themselves.
And in the center of it all, Soraka stood in the spring, flowing through meditative poses. She’d been here since the moon rose last night. She was a picture of tranquility, but still she stood out, in that way Champions always did—that way of being more real than everything else. You could call it aura resonance or ambient thaumic deflection or deploy any one of several explanatory schema, but it was in truth something that had to be felt. It was often one of the first things remarked upon by newly recruited Summoners, when they returned home from the Institute.
Soraka turned her staff over and swept it through a wide arc. The Scherian nexus resonance that suffused the island crackled as it was displaced. The Summoners could see a geyser of nexus energy erupting from the spring around her; speaking three-dimensionally, it was a column rising up beneath her feet. But it swept around her, unable to find any hold.
The Summoners were not so completely immune. For all their discipline, even Summoners—perhaps especially Summoners—had some conflict in them, clashing urges that pulled them in many directions at once. Scheria could magnify that, empower it, make it utterly captivating, even pleasant.
“It’s like an itch,” muttered Summoner Ryu the First, sitting on a rock with a sheaf of loose-bound journal articles from the Institute, some of the newest research on thaumadynamic equilibria.
“Hm,” responded Summoner Tempest, a handsome Noxian Summoner with an uncommonly fine robe of enchanted purple silk. The kind you got in the Ivory Ward in the Noxian capital, but only if you knew someone who would deign to give you the privilege of paying for it. He was quiet, careful, and deadly serious. Given the timing of his entry into the League, many suspected that he might have connections to one of the secret societies that lurked in the shadows of Swain’s regime. Then again, people said this about virtually every Noxian Summoner who spent much time with LeBlanc.
“Turn the page, and I want to turn it back. Read a book, and I want to get in a fight. I can feel it trying to get inside my head.”
“Mm,” Summoner Tempest agreed, as he cast a spark of indigo light from his fingertip and watched it drift. As it began to float toward the spring, he cast his wrist out with a flourish and snared the fleeing spark in heavy ribbons of dense golden light. Practice made perfect.
Summoner Ryu the First looked up from his papers. “It might also explain why I’m chatting with a Noxian.”
Summoner Tempest arched an eyebrow. He clasped the hem of his robe, which was highlighted in the orchid hues of Ionia, pursuant to his declaration in this dispute. He gave it a shake, so that it shimmered, and looked down at it, as though trying to remember what robe he had put on this morning. “And here I was thinking I was pledged for the Ionians.”
Summoner Ryu did not seem to much appreciate the gesture. “Yes, and we EEEyyohhniaaahns very much appreciate it,” he replied, caricaturing his Noxian accent.
“Mmhmm,” Summoner Tempest acknowledged, his eyes fixed on the spark of indigo light, now infused with that thick golden light of an Exhaust spell. He raised his other hand, watched the spark rotate, and made a spiraling motion with two fingers that ended in a clenched fist. An efficient flare of arcane fire enveloped the spark and consumed it, with not a drop of wasted energy.
Ryu smirked. There was so much reason to feud with Tempest, but also so much room for friendship. Both seemed quite appealing. He’d try one, he’d try the other. Maybe Scheria had it right.
A wave of astral magic tossed him back from his internal ruminations. The star-bright energy radiated out from the center of the spring, where Soraka stood with her staff raised high. Energy which would have conveyed an overwhelming sense of peace and safety anywhere else felt, here, like cold water splashed into a warm and cozy bed. Its sanity was inhuman, painful. But as he recoiled, he awoke from the spell Scheria had cast on him. The thoughts that had seemed so natural, even comfortable, under the influence of the Scherian nexus were suddenly alien and strange, a foreign presence that had insidiously slithered its way inside. Ryu reflected on his increasingly misshapen simile. A splash of cold water into a warm bed…followed by finding out that your pillow’s a live squid? That was the real sense of it.
Soraka walked onto the shore. Ryu watched the nexus energy slip around her. No wonder Karma chose her for this. Her spirit, purified nearly to the point of divinity, reforged in cosmic fire, could not be ensnared by the will of Scheria. She was pure that way, unconflicted. But he began to wonder—was that really any way to live? Trying to make yourself into some celestial being, without complication, without duality? What would it be like to lose the ability to change your mind? To never again be confused by emotions changing beyond your control?
Shen stepped out from behind a boulder, and bowed to Soraka.
“The Kinkou Order has sent me to aid you.”
Shen. Ryu had wondered when he’d arrive. When no one is looking, obviously, he quipped to himself. Ryu could see Scheria’s magic threading through Shen, and wondered at what thoughts it might be dredging up from his dark past. He’d heard about Zed.
Up above Shen and Soraka, he caught sight of a golden sphere descending from the sky.
Balance in all things?
Riots spread through Emor as the Ionians made their way to a central shrine that mediated the energy of the island’s nexus. In part, perhaps, the warring factions realized that the arrival of the Ionians meant a chance to win once and for all. And perhaps the presence of so many Summoners and Champions unbalanced the already eccentric local arcanosphere. Whatever the cause or causes, it proved a dangerous endeavor. They carried the authorization of the Parliament of Emor to pass freely through the city, but that golden plaque, officious as it was, seemed to little impress those who harried them. Nor were their assailants discouraged by the presence of Rathtar and Zoz, who had together pulled the lever to imprint that plaque with the Heavenly Press of State in the center of the Parliament chamber. But they did reach the shrine. The Scherians had vigorous but primitive spellcraft which broke apart when it clashed with Summoner magic, forged on Rune War battlefields and refined in the halls of the Institute. And it seemed that whenever their magic failed, or when they had not seen an assailant until too late, Shen would appear from the shadows to neutralize the threat.
As the Ionian Summoners layered fortification spells on top of one another to reinforce the shrine’s doors against the incoherent mob outside, Soraka faced the central altars with Rathtar and Zoz kneeling beside her. Their chanting rose to a serene plateau, and the magic within the altars glowed so brightly that Ryu could scarcely see the physical stone and metal any longer.
She’s going to do it, Ryu thought. And as much as he wanted the mob outside to calm down and stop shouting about how they were going to rip these Valoranian interlopers limb from limb—and, for that matter, as much as he wanted the other mob to stop brawling on his behalf—he was not entirely at peace with this. Here was a half-divine being, reworking the very soul of a civilization. Not in an abstract way, the way an illustrious composer of music might be said to inspire the soul of Demacia or something insipid like that, but in a very literal way. With one more flourish of her staff, Soraka was about to rewrite the thoughts and emotions of thousands of people, and unborn thousands yet to come. The goddess was going to fix these mortals. Objectively, this was sorely needed. But it made his skin crawl. In that moment, he silently pledged to think very long and hard about what if anything Ionians should do with all those automata they kept encountering. He had no more desire to see anyone’s operating logic rewritten.
The heavens opened. There was a ceiling above them, but this was an irrelevant detail of which Ryu had to remind himself. The heavens opened, and the stars called Soraka to wield their power. Her feet left the ground. She swept her arms out and seemed to embrace the universe. She had not become a goddess. She had not become anything other than what she was. But while everything else was consumed by the darkness between the stars, she was not. She still existed in this place. Ryu…was not sure that he did.
Ryu lost sense of perspective and size. He’d read similar accounts in the stories of the Battle of Shurima and the Void incursion: the concepts of distance and position no longer explained what he saw or felt. He no longer was anywhere in particular. In this place, he realized, she can do anything she wants. On many subsequent occasions in his life, he would think very hard about the truth or falsity of this epiphany, usually while staring at a wall. Rationally, he knew that her powers, though considerable, were far from limitless. But he couldn’t get himself to say that he had simply been wrong. At best, he could end up with something like, it was true, but it wasn’t real.
“I will not.”
It was Soraka’s voice. Her feet were back on the ground, and she looked so small. Everything looked so small.
Soraka turned her back to the altar, and placed her hands on the heads of Rathtar and Zoz, who stared up at her.
Her eyes glowed. “But you will. The storm is calmed. Now these waters are yours to voyage across. I cannot tell you where to go.”
The mob had fallen silent. When the doors were opened, the crowds parted to let them pass. The Scherians had expected one outcome and feared another. They had not anticipated having a real choice: not just the option to fight in one direction or another, or in both directions in absurd alternating succession, but to resolve this chaos and set a new equilibrium. None of them were ready for it, but they were, it seemed, beginning to see that this was going to be better.
Ryu looked at Summoner Tempest as they walked. “What was that? What did she do?”
Tempest shrugged. Ryu was astonished to see his aristocratic indifference intact even after such a display. “Impressive, wasn’t it? Only the third time I’ve experienced anything quite like it.”
Ryu waited for Tempest to explain. He resisted the urge to reply just yet. Ryu was the kind of person who never liked enabling the tellers of knock-knock jokes with a “Who’s there?”
But eventually he did. “You mean the Void invasion.” He waited to hear what part Tempest had played in that struggle.
Tempest feigned surprise. “The Void invasion? Oh, no. But there was this party in Zaun. Katarina was there. At this club downtown. And they had these rainbow cupcakes. And you could never finish one, not just because the frosting was so rich, but because a few bites in you stopped perceiving the difference between yourself, and the cupcake, and the universe. It’s hard to remember. But I do remember repeating to myself over and over, so that I would remember, that the colors are fake. I really am not quite sure what I meant by that.”
Ryu decided to get it over with. “That’s one time. What’s the second?”
Tempest shrugged. “We went back.”
Scheria was free. Its destiny was in its own hands, for better or worse. And the Ionians would surely be able to fill entire volumes with what they had learned of nexus dynamics. There was a general air of satisfaction among the Ionian delegation, the pleasant hum of dozens of ambitious career plans progressing forward ahead of schedule.
As they traveled back, Ryu sat in a seat across from Soraka. The congratulatory, good-job-all-around banter of his colleagues bubbled meaninglessly around him, and he could scarcely discern their words. He watched Soraka the entire way. One thought kept retracing itself in the grooves of his mind, which still rang from the impossible immensity of what he had seen in the shrine. For half an hour he stared at her, and while other thoughts flickered on the periphery of his consciousness, they quickly faded away beside that one central thought.
She was so small.
Next Update: Krocylea