Phase 1: In Which Young Master Kog'Maw Learns to Eat Soup and a Butler is Dismembered
The soup course arrived, and Kog'Maw promptly forgot everything he'd been taught. Cho'Gath had been very careful to point out which spoon was the soup spoon, but that now seemed a bit advanced for his young ward: Kog'Maw had devoured the soup, its Demacian china bowl, part of the table, and all of his available spoons in one gulp.
Cho'Gath sighed. Dressed in a custom-fitted silk shirt with red bowtie and cummerbund, Kog'Maw chewed through the glass, his mouth wide open, soup and caustic saliva splattering everywhere. This, Cho saw, would indeed be a challenge.
"More!" Kog shouted. Cho only folded his arms and stared in disapproval. Since the command failed to produce another of the tasty glass things, Kog considered what his error may have been. He thought back to his lessons, and it came to him: "Please!"
"Well, I'm glad you're at least learning something," Cho said. He took a moment to wipe a bit of saliva off his monocle before taking up his own soup spoon. "I'm afraid that business with the soup just won't do, though. Now – what do you think you did wrong?"
The void spawn gurgled in confusion. He'd been given food. The thing you did with food was eat it. He'd eaten it. Where could there possibly be room for error? Was there something else he'd neglected to eat? He stared at his mentor expectantly, hoping that he'd understand whatever the explanation was or, failing that, that he'd get to eat more.
Cho'Gath sighed again. "Milo?" A well-dressed butler standing at the end of the table walked up to Cho's side.
"Sir?" Milo asked.
"The young master will be having another bowl of soup. And another place setting, I should think."
Milo glanced with distaste at the disaster across the table, wrought by the unspeakable manifestation of hunger that the master of the house had taken under his wing. It was not his place to judge, Milo decided, repairing swiftly to the kitchen and returning swiftly with a new bowl and spoon.
Cho'Gath held up a grizzly talon as the butler approached; Milo stopped next to Kog, aware of the danger in holding food so close to an insatiable void monster, but aware also that duty comes first. Kog eyed the soup and the equally-appealing server greedily as Cho'Gath proceeded with the lesson.
"Now then, I – I say, are you watching? – now, it's considered poor form to eat the bowl itself. Instead, one avails oneself of a spoon…" Cho paused to indicate the spoon held daintily in one of his nightmarish claws. He dipped the silverware in the subtle vegetable bisque in front of him. "…and while you'll find you eat much slower, you'll also be happy to find this leaves ample time for conversation and…"
Cho'Gath raised his attention from the bisque to find that Kog'Maw had devoured the soup, the bowl, the spoon, and Milo's arms. Milo, who came from an old and hardy line of butlers, took the loss in stride.
"Terribly sorry for the mess, sir," Milo said. Blood gushed from his mangled elbows at an alarming rate.
"Quite all right, Milo. Just send Winston in when you go clean yourself up," Cho'Gath assured. Milo bowed and took his leave, leaking blood all the while as he left.
The two void abominations sat in silence for a moment, staring each other down as Cho's soup cooled and flecks of spittle ate holes in the wall and tablecloth. A solid minute passed before Kog'Maw, having forgotten why they were quiet, offered his input:
"That's not the important thing!" Cho'Gath shouted. He bet Milo was pretty tasty, frankly, but confound it, one did not eat one's butlers! Cho'Gath had worked beastly hard to overcome the ragamuffin days of his youth in the lightless, godless Void, and he wanted to be for his young protégé the helping, correcting hand that he'd wished he'd had. Still, Kog'Maw showed little desire to learn; Cho'Gath wondered if he'd ever make a gentleman out of the youngster.
"You…you started eating before he'd even put your food on the table! You ate your soup right out of the bowl without a spoon, you ate the bowl itself again, you upset the table, you made a mess, you permanently maimed Milo, you…you…!"
Kog'Maw, who was getting rather excited at this description of all the things he'd eaten and how much fun he'd had, nodded and danced up on to the table.
"Please!" he chirped.
Cho'Gath lost his temper. He shot up out of his chair, and the table ripped in two as hellish spines and gnarled fangs erupted out of the floor. These carried Kog'Maw up to the ceiling with him, where he presently found himself impaled horribly.
"It's just…you're not making any effort," Cho said. "It would be such a shame to just devour you." Kog'Maw didn't know what disappointment was yet, but the situation wasn't totally lost on him. Maybe it was something in the tone of Cho's voice, or maybe it was the way Cho had attacked with horrible hellteeth from the earth, but Kog'Maw was pretty sure he'd upset his elder. This meant his elder might eat him. This, at least, Kog knew would be bad.
The fangs retreated into the ground, leaving a gaping hole in the carpet, floor, and builing foundation. Cho'Gath took a seat and Kog followed suit, though his wounds left him weak enough for the moment to have little choice. One set of servants came through to sweep up the table fragments while another carried a new table in; within minutes, they were ready for Winston to bring in the fish course. Winston, whose constitution was at least as strong as Milo's, did not even bat an eyelash at the bloodstains on the wall and carpet, nor at the circular maw that faced him now, dripping with the same gore. He held his chin up, placed the covered plates in front of the two diners, and lifted the metal covers to reveal the steaming shellfish underneath.
"Mussels, in the style of Bilgewater. Bon apetit," Winston announced. Kog'Maw eyed the new butler. The obvious thing to do was to vomit digestive acid all over him and slurp him on down, but Kog'Maw was beginning to suspect that Cho'Gath did not want him to do the obvious thing. Also – and this was as close as Kog would get to a breakthrough that night – he realized that these walking tasty bits, these "Milos" and "Winstons," brought other tasty bits like the crunchy glass things, and that perhaps this "Winston" would bring more tasty bits if he didn't vomit digestive acid on him.
"Please!" Kog'Maw said happily. Cho'Gath shrugged at Winston, aware that this was probably the best he'd get, and the butler bowed and left.
"Good lad! You didn't so much as nibble on him," Cho'Gath said. He meant it, too; he'd always guessed Winston was the most delicious member of his staff. He was on the plump side, with red hair that probably tasted no different but anyway looked more flavorful, and Cho had the overall the impression that he'd go well with an earthy Noxian shiraz…anyway, what was he thinking about? Oh, yes. He was proud of his ward's restraint. "Yes, good lad. Now, avail yourself of your shellfish fork – that would be this one here – and I shall demonstrate how to properly."
At the first mention of this particular piece of silverware, Kog had spotted it out of his row of forks and devoured it. The other forks clinked to the ground; Cho considered it progress that he'd only eaten one bit of silverware this time.
"One step at a time," he reminded himself, helping himself to a mussel the proper way. "One…step…at a time."
Phase 2: In Which Goals are Set and Several Beloved Toys Broken
Cho'Gath lunged, but he knew that he was finished. His foe had toyed with him, forcing him to waste his energy, and now it was over; the ball bounced its second bounce, and with a futile dive and a fierce grunt, Cho'Gath lost the point, the game, and the match. Not that this surprised him: Rammus was a true squash master, and Cho expected to lose whenever they played together. Cho mainly hoped that he might learn something and that he wouldn't completely disgrace himself; as usual, though, he looked back at the past half hour and wondered what the hell had just happened.
"Good…show, then…old…boy," Cho said, still winded. Rammus hadn't even broken a sweat; he just stood smiling at the front of the court in a little white squash outfit, complete with headband and little sneakers. As the reader may easily surmise, he looked adorable.
"Uh huh," he muttered. They shook hands, and Rammus stayed up to await his next challenger while Cho'Gath lumbered back to the benches to collapse in exhaustion.
He took a swig of chicken blood from his water bottle and sighed. "Hoo…bit winded," he said.
"Yes, Mundo tired too," Mundo said. "Watching person suck at squash really take it out of Mundo."
Cho chuckled nervously at this. He never knew whether Mundo was joking with him or honestly insulting him. "Yes, it must be, uh…hard for you."
Mundo responded to this by sticking his tongue out and making a raspberry noise; he did this from time to time, and Cho never really knew how to take this, either. "Mundo frustrated! Mundo take frustrations out on court!" He rasped another raspberry, this one particularly wet, and he charged into the match. He brought forth a furious serve, terrible to behold, but Cho found he could not focus on the game.
"You can usually avoid embarrassing yourself out there," Vlad said, also dressed in a fashionable red work-out ensemble. "You didn't seem to be particularly 'in it,' though. Something on your mind?"
Cho'Gath sighed. "I'm that transparent, am I? Yes, yes, it's my protégé. Things…aren't working out very well."
"Mm," Vlad said. He smiled. "He didn't eat another butler, did he?"
"No, no, nothing so bad," Cho assured. "I mean, he did eat Milo's hands, but not a WHOLE butler."
"Mm," Vlad said again. They paused for a moment in contemplation of poor, tasty Milo, and if both of them licked their lips, well, who could blame them? "I'm sorry, what were we talking about?"
Cho'Gath, who had been wondering whether braising or roasting would bring out Milo's flavors better, found his way back to the conversation. "As I was saying, my young ward has had just terrible trouble adjusting. He has shown no appreciation for the finer things – why, everything is just violence and food to him! I try to teach him chess, and he vomits on the chess set! I try to recite Dalarhune’s poetry for him, and he vomits on the collection! I try to teach the harpsichord and…and…” Cho’Gath put his head in his talons and bawled; his horrible black tears dribbled down his face, and every time one hit the ground, a child’s favorite toy broke somewhere in the world.
Vlad patted Cho on his back. “He vomits on the harpsichord?”
“He…He…” But no, Cho wasn’t ready yet; he bawled a little more (and little Davy Sumpson, far off in Piltover, watched helplessly as his beloved wooden soldiers burst into flames for no apparent reason). “He…vomits on the harpsichord, yes. It’s just that…it's not that he can't learn, though it feels that way some days. It seems more that he doesn't even want to learn!"
"Pah!" Mundo shouted. He had lost the last point, and he now held the ball out angrily at Cho. "You know you problem, big crawly voidy thing? You crying about results, but you no think INCENTIVES!"
Rammus turned to Cho and Vlad, said "Yeah," and turned back to the game. Mundo served, and the volley resumed.
Cho sniffed and wiped his face (and little Tina of Ionia could do nothing for her rag doll, Bess, who inexplicably turned into sand). "No thought of incentives? Why, that's absurd! I make sure to congratulate him when he's done something well, and I…why, I even created a nice little chart that I can put gold stars on when he's shown some progress. I tell you, though, he's just not…"
"Aaah! Congrastinations not fill tummy!" Mundo shouted over his shoulder mid-volley. "Gold stars no got cash value!" Mundo was so incensed by Cho'Gath's cheap, amateur idea of incentives that his body erupted into flames. This did not impact the game.
"He does have a point there," Vlad said. "What reason have you given him to become civilized? It’s nice for you and me, but art, etiquette, and fancy dress are all we know.”
“Yeah?” Rammus asked; Mundo had lost the first game, and Rammus held the ball to serve.
“Well…that and slaughter,” Vlad admitted.
Rammus nodded, and the game resumed.
Cho’Gath thought about this for the first time, and he reigned himself in, wiping away his last tears (and little Annie, playing quietly in her room in the League, watched as her bear Tibbers ripped at his seams and started leaking maggots. Of course, weird stuff was always happening with Tibbers, so Annie barely noticed). How could he have missed something so simple? He himself had just decided one day he looked rather fetching in a monocle and, well, the rest happened from there; he’d always considered it a foregone conclusion that the low class wanted to be high class.
“Great Scott, I’ve been going about this all wrong! I need to be making him crave the life of a gentleman, not turning it into a chore!”
“Now you’re talking!” Vlad assured. “And people always crave those pleasures that are forbidden to them. Try to think of something in high society that would appeal to him, dangle it where he can see it, and refuse to let him take part in it.”
Cho tried to think of what gentlemanly pursuit he enjoyed most. “I suppose I could...discuss opera in front of him at length, until he’ll simply burst if I don’t let him go to one.”
Mundo missed a point, and turned to Cho, his skin smoldering with rage. “Opera is the suck! That best you can do?”
“Now, now, Mundo...though I don’t know, old boy. Opera probably isn’t the best place to start,” Vlad said. “I’ve got it! What about the Crownguard party?”
“Now that’s an idea!” Cho said. Lady Luxanna Crownguard was having her debut ball in a month; everyone who was anyone would be there, plus guest.“A party! Yes, a party is exactly what we need! What young voidspawn could resist all those lights and sounds, all those hors d’oeurves! It’s a perfect idea!”
Mundo snorted; the game had paused for discussion of this perfect idea. “Perfect if you want embarass yourself!” Rammus snickered; he exchanged knowing glances with Mundo and Vlad.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, old boy,” Vlad said. “You know everyone’s going to be there. Why, there’s sure to be Sir Garen Crownguard, and Lady Katarina duCouteau, and...” A short pause interrupted as the group shared a collective shudder.
“They so weird.” Mundo muttered.
“Yeah,” Rammus said.
“Anyway, everyone will be there - royalty, nobles, and weird couples included. It’s a wonderful incentive, certainly, but a terrific risk - if you can’t bring your boy in line by the party, he’s sure to get you laughed out of Valoran society until...well, at least next fall!”
Cho’Gath gasped. Summer was the big Valoran party season, and if he had to bow out, he would just die.
“Well then,” Cho announced. “It seems the game is on.”
Phase 3: In Which Fine Literature is Digested and a New Resolution Made
To be fair to Kog'Maw, he honestly did want to please his mentor. He just couldn't get his mind around the library. Cho'Gath seemed to love the musty old room, sometimes spending hours in silence amidst its shelves, and Kog couldn't see why. Heaven knows he'd tried, sampling a little here and there when the elder voidspawn wasn't around, but this only complicated the mystery – what would anyone want to do with snacks so dry and dusty? The texture was not so terrible, chewy and tough on the outside with hundreds of leafy layers in the middle. As for flavor, at best there was a vague smokiness in the older volumes or an acrid tang in the newest, but nothing special, nothing that would explain Cho's fascination with the room.
But Kog was determined to please Cho'Gath, and despite Cho's fears, the youngster had indeed been learning during his stay at Gath Manor. He had learned, for instance, that unappealing food can sometimes be made tasty with one of this world's more dazzling luxuries, a treasure unheard of in the Void, and it was this that Kog'Maw decided would unlock the secrets of the library:
Sauce. He didn't like the books because he hadn't found the right sauce for them. Once he'd thought it, it seemed so obvious.
So, while Cho'Gath was away at some stuffy gathering where no one would be eating and everyone would be standing around, all like "Oh, hum, yes" or whatever (Kog's social education was lagging a bit), Kog decided to surprise his mentor. By the time Cho came home, Kog meant to have an appreciation for fine literature.
He went to the kitchens first. The staff at Gath Manor had learned to give Kog'Maw a wide berth when possible and to give him whatever he wanted the rest of the time. The kitchens were nearly empty when Kog waddled in, only a human pot washer scrubbing away at the sink and a wizened old yordle, standing on a stepladder and fussing over a great simmering cauldron. The pot washer was new, and according to standard hazing procedure for new staff, no one had told him that they worked for void monsters. So when Kog scrabbled onto a countertop and started screeching "Sauce! Sauce!" with unearthly need, the poor man lost control of every part of himself that it is funny to lose control over: his legs became overcooked noodles as he stumbled back; his eyes gushed tears in spirited but futile self-defense; and the commerce of his bowels, usually strictly regulated, turned suddenly, disastrously laissez-faire.
"Sauce!" Kog demanded, unimpressed as the pot washer completed his retreat, cowering behind the elderly yordle as best as a six-foot man can possibly hide behind a two-foot halfling. The yordle hadn't even turned to acknowledge Kog yet. As his coworker's sanity frayed into ribbons behind him, the cook slowly, deliberately withdrew his wooden spoon from the pot and slowly, deliberately tasted it.
"Mm," said the yordle after careful deliberation. "Yes, sauce. At once." Slowly, deliberately, the yordle descended his step ladder, and after a number of other actions that his arthritis made slow and deliberate, he'd retrieved a rope, tied it to the handle of the cauldron, and handed the other end to the young master. Kog grabbed the rope excitedly and dragged the cauldron out of the kitchen with him while the old yordle retrieved some brandy for the potwasher.
The cauldron contained twenty gallons of a spicy red concoction from Shurima that Kog had taken a particular liking to, and it was not unusual for him to go through this amount in a day. It took him twenty minutes to drag the load where he was going, in which time random sloshing and reckless snack breaks had depleted his store and ruined several expensive rugs. Still, when he arrived at the heavy oak doors of the library, he had far more sauce left than you or I would know what to do with.
The great experiment was afoot.
Cho'Gath got home a few hours later. Milo was pacing frantically at the front door, waiting desperately to warn the master of the situation vis-à-vis his beloved library, but he of course tended to the master's hat and coat first. Cho might have noticed that the handless butler was a little distraught, but he had been scheming for the whole carriage ride home, and he was chuckling to himself now about how he would tempt his young ward into high society. This would be grand fun, such very grand f-
A cold chill ran up Cho's invertebrate back. Kog'Maw was currently dipping a rare first folio of Wimbliwam's Wudgy-Pudgy Cycle, widely considered the finest example of classical yordle tragedy. The smell of the red sauce filled Kog with delight, while the master of the house, still at the front door and ignorant of Kog's doings, could not understand where this sudden, inexplicable dread was coming from.
"Milo, I'll be meeting my charge in the parlor shortly," he told the butler.
"Of course, sir, I shall retrieve him immediately," Milo said, hoping to warn the master at this point of his imperiled books. "Though if I may, sir, you may wish to…"
At this moment, Kog was ripping out the first few pages of Wudgy-Pudgy in the Candy Forest, which had moved Cho'Gath to weeping openly when he'd first seen it. Cho shuddered inexplicably again as the young void spawn started swallowing the well-sauced pages in great handfuls. "Hm. And I think I should like a warm brandy, too. The night vapors are getting to me, I fear," Cho said.
"Of course, sir. Uh, about your charge, sir…" Milo said, but he was interrupted again as the master's hat and coat fell in a heap to the floor. Milo was none to complain about his injuries, heavens no, but navigating a coat hanger sans hands is a tricky proposition.
"Not to worry, Milo, I've been talking it over with the boys, and I think I've got just the thing to turn him around." Wudgy-Pudgy's act IV soliloquy hit Kog'Maw's digestive juices just then, and Cho cried out involuntarily. "Heavens. Do see about that brandy, would you, Milo? I might have a touch of the grip coming on."
Milo, fumbling no less with his words than with his stumpy arms, could say nothing to delay Cho as he repaired to the parlor.
The plan was simple: he just needed to convince Kog that he'd just come back from a huge party, that huge parties were fabulous things that Kog would want to go to, and that he'd only be allowed to go if he learned some proper etiquette. But when Kog'Maw finally waddled into the parlor twenty minutes later, Cho nearly despaired.
The young voidspawn was filthy. None of the stains exactly indicated that he'd been in the library, but he trailed red, saucy footprints on the floor as he padded in and, before Cho could stop him, left a big saucy smear on the back of the armchair that he flopped into. Cho could not fathom how condiments had gotten on the voidling's back, but he was not exactly surprised.
They sat in silence for a moment, both of them disappointed and frustrated, feeling as though their efforts had been pointless. Cho had poured weeks into this, and the little brute still couldn't even be bothered to wash up after apparently rolling around in his food; while Kog had spent the whole afternoon eating books and, still thinking they tasted yucky, didn't understand their appeal any more than he had before.
"Well," Cho'Gath finally said. He paused for effect, sipping his brandy. "Look at you. You haven't listened to a ****ed thing I've told you – I suppose you think you've got everything figured out pretty well already, so why should I even bother?"
Kog gurgled in confusion. He eventually responded, thinking they were talking about eating books, "No. Try to understand, but…no understand."
Cho nearly spilled his brandy. He'd been expecting silence or a glob of burning spit, but Kog actually sounded like he wanted to get it. Perhaps Kog had true motivation, after all. Perhaps…perhaps there was still hope…
He regained his composure, shaking off his uncertainty and looking his protégé in the eye, which was no mean feat when one's protégé has a multitude of eyes all over his head.
"This is where we find ourselves, then – Lady Luxana Crownguard is coming out one month hence."
Kog chuckled like my foolish readers, unaware as my stupid readers no doubt are that "coming out" refers in this case to a lady's debut as a grown, eligible woman, from which we derive the more familiar term "debutante," and not to her outing herself as a homosexual. He didn't have any access to literature growing up, at least, but what the hell is your excuse? No, no! Don't bother trying to explain yourself! I've wasted enough time already.
Cho sighed at Kog and my truly idiotic readers. "You'll be making your first formal appearance in high society then, too. You'll like it – there's food and drink and all sorts of amusements, but you have to know how to conduct yourself. If you don't have a firm grip on etiquette by then, you'll get us both laughed out of civilized company for the foreseeable future – do you understand?"
Kog considered this. There was food and drink, but he'd have to learn some things or he wouldn't be able to go. He nodded.
"Yes. Well, then, it shall be a grueling month for us both, then – I doubt I shall have time to set foot even once in my beloved library, but no matter," Cho conveniently said. "By my troth, my boy, one month hence you shall be a true gentleman!"