Phase 4: In Which Grave News Falls Upon Unhappy Ears and In Which the Party Is On
Say what you will about war and peace – perhaps conflict truly is the great motivator, perhaps civilization would stagnate in an entirely gentle world – but this is a fact: people throw better parties in peacetime.
Timmer Timmerson had been a servant for the Lightshield family all his life, overseeing any major social function that the Lightshields were hosting. He was an old and respected figure in Demacian high society, however common, and he wore a particularly nice red suit that the king had gifted to him. When the Rune Wars shook the very air and cracked the very sky, Timmer liked to think he'd cemented several alliances for Demacia with his especially tasteful flower arrangements. When the Summoners decreed that magical war should no longer be waged, and King Jarvan III told the nobles of Demacia of the new League, Timmer's generous selection of wine and snacks at the summit had helped preserve unity. Only now, though, in the days of the League of Legends, did Timmer feel he had truly come into his own; ever since the end of the wars, it had grown harder and harder to host the increasingly odd guests that you were suddenly obliged to invite.
As Timmer walked into the White Terrace of Demacia, he smiled to himself. Lady Luxanna's ball would be the event of the year in Valoran society, and nervous as he was, he was confident that there were few in the world with the experience and cosmopolitan sensibility to host such an eclectic bunch. The royal family was paying for everything as a show of their favor for the Crownguards, and Timmer had accordingly spared no expense. The food represented tastes from every corner of Runeterra, the wine cellars had been bolstered with a variety of Noxian and Bandle vintages, and the musicians included a Demacian string quartet, a number of wizened Freljord bards, and a group specializing in a variety of guitar concerto known in Piltover as "Death Metal." There would also be a dancing bear, because in accordance with Demacian law, screw you if you don't like dancing bears.
It hadn't been easy, but Timmer Timmerson had nearly pulled it off. He strolled through the White Terrace, looking for any irregularities. There were none.
"Perfect," Timmerson said to himself, nearly tearing up at the sight of the perfect bunting, the pristine tiled ground, the vomit buckets hidden just of sight with utmost taste. "Just…perfect. Demacia."
To Demacians, the word "Demacia" can have a lot of different meanings in context. It's an "aloha" kind of thing. Timmerson was using it as an expression of sentimentality, though it is also common to use it for "hello," "yes," "beware," or "I have indigestion."
"Is that you, sir?" asked a voice from the shrubs. Timmerson looked and saw Hendricks the shrubber, dressed in white cap and white overalls, stand up from behind one, sheers in hand.
"Ah, Hendricks. Demacia," Timmerson greeted. "I don't mean to blow my own horn, but this might just be the finest party ever in the history of everything, don't you agree?"
"Demacia," Hendricks said. "It was a good decision having it outside like this. All that power, all those extra-big champions – just wouldn't have been healthy for any hall I know of, no sir."
"Demacia," Timmerson said, readily accepting the little compliment.
"But Demacia, sir – I just hope the little one doesn’t mess it all up," Hendricks said.
Timmerson cocked an eyebrow. "Little one?"
"You haven't heard, sir? Mister Gath is bringing his young ward, Mister, um…Gaw?"
"Oh dear…" Timmerson felt cold sweat beading on his forehead. He took out a handkerchief and dabbed himself, stumbling about for a chair or a post. He needed to lean on something. "Maw. Mister Kog'Maw. I…oh, dear."
Word had spread of Cho'Gath's mission. Any caller at Gath Manor left with some horror story, some harrowing tale in which large quantities of inedible goods were usually consumed or some item of great personal value vomited on. And now the little terror was coming here?
"Gods preserve us, Hendricks, I…" Suddenly his dinner wasn’t agreeing with him. His stomach roiled, and he felt a great surge of heartburn. "Oh, dear. Demacia."
But what could he do? Timmerson was merely a party planner of low birth, however successful, and it was not his place to question the guest list. He instead tried to lose himself in his work as he oversaw the last few preparations. Hors d’oeuvres were readied on platters; the dancing bear was squeezed into his unitard; and eight stout men brought forth a mighty oaken table, engraved with the scenes of Demacian glory through the ages, on which cups and balls were laid out for the playing of Shurima. Named for no clear reason after the desert, Shurima is a game in which two teams try to throw tiny balls into cups filled with mead arranged on the other side of the table, at which point the owner of said cup is obligated to drink its contents. Denizens of Valoran often confuse it with the traditional Piltover sport of Mead Pong, but where Shurima involves throwing the balls, Mead Pong is played with paddles.
"And if you don't know what I'm referring to here, then make sure you keep those grades up. College is great," Timmer Timmerson said. He clapped a hand on his mouth. On top of everything, he had forgotten to take his antipsychotics that morning, and he had no idea why he'd said that.
Despairing, groaning, and more than a little crazy, Timmerson retired to his quarters for a quick nap or a stiff drink, whichever came quicker.
Cho’Gath checked his pocket watch. It was thirty-two seconds past 7:48, and while he did not do this math himself, this meant he’d last checked it forty seconds ago. They were close to the White Terrace now, and Cho had no good reason to be fussing over the time. The party had officially begun at 7:00, but as Cho had correctly advised Kog, it was best to wait a little while. Only Veigar the Black ever went to parties right on time, and unless you wanted to be stuck hearing Veigar the Black talk about himself for half an hour, you aimed to get there at least a half hour late.
Their arrival time would be perfect. That wasn’t what worried Cho. Everything seemed to be going perfectly, in fact. Kog had cleaned up remarkably well. His tailor had sewn the voidspawn a fine, fitted tuxedo, black with green cummerbund and scarlet buttons. It would have looked garish and clashing on a human of standard coloring, but Cho had decided that if Kog’s lolling tongue and caustic spittle could not be wholly tamed, at least they could be complemented. Kog’s antennae were slicked back smoothly and tied off with a green bow into a short ponytail. His mouth – and this was the greatest sign of progress – was closed.
Everything was perfect. They had worked so hard for so long to reach this level of success, but more than anything this made Cho aware of the razor’s edge that everything rested on now. Their work had not brought them further from disaster so much as it had made the possible disaster that much more terrible.
But he couldn’t turn back now. He’d worked for months to reform Kog, placed his reputation on the line, and bet Rammus five dollars that this would all work out. He refused to give up faith in his charge now. He refused to be known as a coward and a quitter. He refused to give Rammus five dollars.
Just as Cho was beginning to build up his nerve again, the carriage slowed. Cho's driver Jennings called out, "Here we are, then, sir."
"Oh, dear," Cho said, wringing his talons. Jennings opened the carriage door for them, placing a step stool underneath it because Kog was very short, and handing his employer a flask because life is very hard.
Cho took the flask eagerly, raising it in respect and taking a swig. Like Jennings himself, the brandy was not very fine, but it did its job well. "Cheers, Jennings," he said, handing the flask back and descending the carriage.
"Please," Kog said in gratitude, nodding to Jennings. Cho burried his head in one claw, nearly saying "No, 'thank you,' not 'please'! It's 'THANK YOU'! 'PLEASE' and 'THANK YOU' are not the same thing! How can you not understand that! We spent a whole afternoon, a WHOLE AFTERNOON, going over that! AAH! AAAAAAAAH!!" and then killing himself, but he suppressed this urge and merely sighed. However much or little Kog had learned, Cho had learned a lot about restraint.
And then there they were. Jennings drove off, and Cho was alone with his young ward at the entrance to the biggest party of the year. No way out but through. Cho adjusted his tie, and Kog fidgeted. Before them, past a few hedges and a great marble arch, the White Terrace of Demacia awaited.
As they approached the arch, Cho's spirits lifted a bit. Lightshield Palace sat ahead in the distance, a bulwark of pristine white stone with golden banners streaming from every wall and tower. The castle sat on the highest hill of the capital city, and trailing out behind it, flowing out of the palace like the white train of a wedding dress, was a series of decks and balconies built into the hillside, ten in all, each jutting out a little further from the hillside as if a giant had built a very pretty staircase up to the castle. And though the terrace was made of the same glistening limestone as the palace, it overflowed with banners, flowers, and gaily bedecked guests of every color. It was easy for Cho to see why the White Terrace won so many awards.
If Kog cared about this beauty or the guests or the music drifting down from the Terrace, he did not show it. If he cared about the servants mulling about with trays of champagne glasses or Cho stopping one of these to say "Yes, give me one of those, no, two, just – just, here, let me have the tray," he did not care. What he cared about were the servants mulling about with trays of skymoose tartare and rune oysters and little sausages with toothpicks.
Cho grabbed the voidling firmly by the back of his neck. He thrust a champagne class at him with a free talon, and they locked eyes.
"Take that," Cho said. Kog looked at his mentor for some visual hint of how, exactly, he was supposed to take the glass. Much of this etiquette business remained a blur for Kog, but to his reckoning, politeness was about doing exactly the opposite of whatever your first impulse was. So…well, this one looked straightforward. Kog grabbed the glass of bubbly liquid and threw it in his mouth. Now, he was supposed to savor it, he'd gathered, and talk about specific things he liked about it, as Cho'Gath had taught him.
"Hmm," Kog said, spitting flecks of glass and drops of champagne out as he spoke. "Crunch. Bubbly. Um. Good."
"Quite," Cho said, disappointed. His mistake entirely, he realized. He should have been clearer. He gave Kog another glass. "Here, though. You're only supposed to drink the liquid; it is not polite to…"
Enlightened, Kog drained the contents of the second glass. He smiled up at Cho, tail wagging, eager for approval.
Cho sighed again. "Do you know what, my boy? That will do." He patted Kog's head, then, looking ahead at the party with terrified eyes, drained his own glass.
"All right, my boy," he said with a gulp. "Let's get to it."