((A little bit longer of an update than usual. Hope you enjoy!))
Chapter 5: Singularity
He pulls his legs out of the pond as the last sounds of her footsteps fades, sighing regretfully as he stands up and steps away from the water. His fur is perfectly dry an instant after it touches the air as his body sucks up the moisture, a desert-born trait this wet world renders unnecessary. He attempts to keep these gardens in the same place in his mind as the fountain paths outside his library; a luxury, permitted as long as it remains harmless.
He sighs and rolls his shoulder, his face heating as he glances back at the path. He quickly refastens his armor, shivering as he buckles the cold metal over his chest. It hums slightly as it readjusts to him, tightening itself in some places, loosening in others, warming quickly until it is the same temperature as his skin and as comfortable as a piece of apparel meant to protect vital organs can be. The jewels on his helm and chestplate glow briefly as dozing spells return to wakefulness. He checks over them idly, inspecting the runes that bloom briefly with a critical eye, and nods with satisfaction. He trusts his spellwork enough that he really shouldn’t need to check it every time he put his armor back on, but the habit remains.
He is fairly certain that Lux’s parting words have leashed him to the immediate area, but the energizing effect of the sunlight makes him crave the opportunity to stretch his muscles. He leaves the clearing as a brisk walk, his ears twitching as he listens for voices. He doesn’t have to go far before he can see figures between the gaps in the trees. The path splits and he takes the fork that heads towards them.
The trees open up into a fairly large field, the grass clipped short to flatten the surface. The Ionian blademaster from the match he fought the day before is there with a creature that he finds instantly familiar, a monkey the size of a human, armored in brilliant red and yellow and gesticulating with a slender staff. Standing off to the side is Soraka, and two human females he is unfamiliar with. One is so unassuming as to forgettable, dark-clothed and fanning herself in the shade. The other makes him stare in amazement. A ornate blade of four parts, centered around a glittering ball of energy, floats in front of her, idly changing shape as she talks with the Starchild. She seems little more than a child, a heartbeat in the life of his kind, but there is something in her eyes that chills him despite the sunshine.
All of them, of course, look up as he steps into the clearing.
“Good morning,” he says politely.
“Nasus,” Soraka says, smiling. “This is the volunteer for yesterday’s match I was telling you about, Irelia.”
The quiet female looks at him silently and snaps her fan shut with a quick motion before she holds out her hands to him. Unsure, he walks to her and grips her hands lightly. He feels the fan, smooth and hard, as it presses into his palm.
“You are a gentle one, Knower,” she says gently, craning her neck to look him in the face, “you have left your charges behind you and cannot use your wisdom to protect your people any longer, and your duty weighs upon your soul. Let this weight be lifted by what you do on this world, for there are wrongs to be righted and hurts to mend and innocents to guard a plenty.”
He is speechless as she squeezes his hands and lets go, her dark eyes deep as quicksand as they gaze into his. Relief washes over him, so strong it almost brings tears to his eyes, as he feels something he did not know was aching inside him relax at her words.
“Are you…Irelia?” he asks finally. She shakes her head, smiling slightly.
“No, Nasus. I am called Karma, the currency earned by good an evil deeds.”
The female in red chuckles off to his side. “Nah, I’m Irelia. Sorry about Karma. She tends to forget how discomfiting her insights are.”
He shakes his head, looking at Karma with new respect. “No, I would not say discomfiting. You see without sand in your eyes, registraneya, and I thank you for your wisdom.”
Karma flicks her fan open to hide her face as Irelia laughs, and he pauses his fascinated inspection of every minute detail of Karma’s features to glare at her.
“It is good to see you,” Soraka says earnestly after jabbing Irelia in the ribs with the hilt of her sickle, “but, surely, we can save the philosophy for another time…unless you did visit the sparring field to talk with the Enlightened One?”
He glances around his surroundings, making a note on his mental map of the gardens. Oh, he was going to be coming here often.
“I had hoped to come across such a place,” he says eagerly, nodding to the blademaster and the monkey as they approach, “but I thought I would be accosting other visitors to the gardens, rather than happening across a space built for such a purpose.”
“It’s really just a nice field,” the monkey says, thrusting his staff firmly into the ground and scampering up it to perch on the top, grinning madly.
“My indifferent student in the art of Wuju means that we champions have adapted this space for our purposes,” the blademaster explains, holding his sword lightly between his hands. “We all tend to get the urge to practice our skills and learn a little from each other. There is such an amazing variety of fighting styles here that there is much to adapt to, and a little practice with the champions outside the Fields tends to make you do better inside.”
He looks at the blademaster’s sword and it reminds him of the match, and when he thinks of the match he thinks of Luxanna, and then he remembers the touch and feels hot all over again. The blademaster is still talking, but his thoughts are already elsewhere. How could such a thing have rattled him so? It had been so…painfully odd to have a human touch him in such a personal fashion. If she had patted him on his armored back it would have been surprising but not as dreadfully strange.
He was not used to such a thing. He had been isolated in his library, surrounded and sustained by knowledge but separated from friends and family by his duty. His last, brief flirtation with idea of taking a mate had been almost a hundred years ago, a human lifetime. Not long enough for him to forget raven-headed T’sa’s taloned hands brushing his face as they watched the moons rise, but long enough for him to be unfamiliar with…touching.
And he had liked it, despite everything, and that bothers him. He frowns and looks up to catch the end of what the blademaster is saying.
“—which of us would you like to spar?” he finishes, what is visible of his mouth under his elaborate goggles smiling.
“Karma,” he says instantly, catching her hiding her face again in the corner of his eye. The monkey makes a noise of surprise echoed by both Irelia and the blademaster, who tilts his head in confusion.
“Unusual choice,” Soraka comments idyly.
“Oh, sparring!” he hears, and he sighs as Lux flickers into visibility, tapping her baton against a tree.
“Welcome back,” he growls at her, and she smiles at him. His exasperation melts like the cups of snow in the marketplace at Argent. There is something about her, he thinks again, watching the sunlight shimmer around her. She carries the light with her.
“Oh, I just wanted to see where Garen had run off to,” she says, “but you’re going to spar with Karma? I’ve never seen anyone pick her first, before.“
“She’s the most interesting,” he replies, and Irelia huffs, folding her arms.
“Well, you’ll want to watch out for the fans, of course,” Lux comments, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “She doesn’t need the wind for them, either, so don’t let still air fool you into thinking she can’t hit you.”
Tactical advice? Really? He gestures for her to go on.
“Really, I would think with all your physical prowess, it should be in your favor, but she’s exquisitely poised and has more discipline that even Master Yi, there,” Lux continues, waving at the Ionian blademaster as she mentions him. Master Yi looks disgruntled by her analysis, he thinks, but he is impressed. She reminds him, now, of how she was at the start of the match; incredibly well-informed, and precise as a knife.
“It’ll be good practice for you,” she concludes, smiling at him. “You’re a physical fighter, so you’ll need practice versus magic opponents.”
“The League cannot grasp the breadth of my knowledge,” he retorts, tightening his gauntlets with a thought, “on the Fields, I am restricted to a few, base techniques that they find familiar. I assure you, I have fought sorcerers’ duels before. Still, I enjoy improving without the power of the Scrolls to aid me, and, as I am to be limited in future matches, I wish to learn how to fight with my abilities restricted.”
Her eyes widen and he recognizes the look there. He knows the hunger for knowledge all too well.
“Let’s give them some room, then,” Soraka says to Lux, her voice warm. Startled, she breaks his gaze and nods.
He heads for the center of the field with Karma close behind. As he turns from Lux, he feels her hand touch the back of his arm in the space between his gauntlets and his breastplate, and warmth shoots through him, putting his emotions right back into turmoil.
"Good luck," she breathes, and he nods without looking back.