“This… this is it?”
She stepped onto a bed of lush green wild rice, matted down by the travels of dozen of wild animals that lived in the depth of the mountain forest that surrounded Yi’s village. Or what was left of it. Ahri had been expecting blackened ruins, bones strewn about the ground, and blood-stained dirt. She had half-expecting the ghosts of Yi’s village to burst from the ground in mindless anger.
But she was completely, utterly wrong. It… it was beautiful.
The stone steps they had climbed had only a few weeds sprouting through their cracks. There was a gentle breeze, kissed with mist, as the wind picked up flecks of water from the waterfall that roared on the other side of a cliff, opposite of where the small cottages of Yi’s village used to stand proudly. The terraced fields still grew wild maize and rice on their numerous platforms. The crops were constantly watered by the mists of the waterfall across, and therefore grew bursting at the seams with a bountiful harvest.
Ahri reached down, and picked a small ear of maize. She peeled back part of the husk, and took a small bite.
Tears came to her eyes. It was so sweet. It was so good.
There were no blackened ruins. No fields of bones. The people of Ionia did their best to clean up the ghosts of the past. The blackened timbers were scattered, the dirt purified and turned over, and the bones matched back to their owners as best they could, and buried with blessings. No more cottages stood. No more farmers worked tirelessly in the fields. There was only a young meadow, fields of delicious wild harvest, and a small, solemn graveyard, with row after row of unmarked posts. Even that gentle reminder of death was beautiful in such a place.
“Welcome to home, Ahri.” Yi strode through the fields of rice, feeling the ripening heads with his right hand. In his left hand, he held the Dragon Rising with a loose grip. “What do you think?”
She opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out. Her mouth seemed to be filled with cotton, and her vision started to blur. Confused, she looked down, only to see fresh spots of tears fall from her eyes, and splash onto the ground at her feet. She realized then… she was weeping. She fell to her knees.
It… it was so beautiful… and…Singed destroyed it all…
“…I am so sorry.”
Yi sighed, and crouched. He put a comforting hand on Ahri’s shoulder.
“Come. Let’s go meet my wife.”
“I’m glad, though.” Ahri murmured as they walked. “Even Singed couldn’t destroy everything.”
They walked over to the graveyard. Hundreds of posts stood solemnly in a grid, each guarding their occupant until time would die. Yi stopped in front of one particular unmarked post. Ahri didn’t see why. There was nothing to distinguish it from the dozens of other posts in the ground around it. Yi kneeled down, and bowed to the post.
“How… do you know…”
Yi didn’t answer. He looked back up. He looked up at Ahri.
“I don’t know.” He gently gripped Ahri’s hand, and put another on the post. He slowly pulled the two together. “I feel. Ahri, this is Rixa. Rixa was my last wife from my village.” He placed his hand over Ahri’s and onto the post. “Rixa, this is Ahri.”
Ahri looked back down at the post. Did Yi really feel that this was her? But…
She hurriedly pushed back her doubts. She wanted to do this. Ahri closed her eyes, and tried to connect with the deceased woman. She closed her eyes, and let her hand feel the smooth, cool, white wood that was the essence of Rixa. She fell silent for a long, long time as she meditated. The wind grew colder, and she shivered a bit, but she stayed stock still, almost as if she was praying.
After a while, she let go. Yi turned to her.
“What did you say?”
Ahri turned to Yi. She gave a small smile.
“…I said, ‘Thank you’”
The lightning was growing stronger. She could feel the hairs on her skin raise in response to the energy Xerath had gathered above. Death was near. Yet, she didn’t seem to mind. She slowly got up on all fours, closer and closer to that ball of thunder above her. She could barely see Xerath through the sheet of black hair that hung in front of her eyes as she raised her head. Her hands balled into fists.
[CENTER]I am not afraid, she realized, I will not be afraid.[/CENTER]
“Come here, Ahri.” Yi held out his hands, both of them, palms upwards to the blue sky. Ahri gave it only a moment’s hesitation, before putting her hands in his. “I want to show you something else. Hold your breath.”
He seemed to be turning gold. Light shone through Yi as it seemed as if he was fading away into the sunlight. Then Ahri glanced down back at her arms in shock. She was disappearing, too! Ahri almost leaped back with surprise, but Yi held his grip firm.
“Don’t be afraid. Trust me.”
She inhaled sharply as the golden glow traveled up to her shoulder, but she kept his hands in hers. She wanted to do this. Her hands were fading away, her arms shifting and turning as clear as crystal. She instinctively craned her neck up as the glow collared her neck.
She needed an awful lot of that, she felt. It was extremely unnerving to see your body change, but to not feel a beat in difference. She took a deep breath as the golden glow reached her eyes… and then the whole world turned inside out. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight. The sun shone a brilliant black, the grass was scarlet red, and the waterfall poured out ink by the gallon from its maw. The air shone golden in contrast to a jet-black sky. Yi let go of her hands, to let Ahri explore.
“This…” Ahri exhaled, as she strode through the brilliant crops, and the multi-colored harvest, “This is…”
“This is the Wu,” Yi smiled, walked up behind her. “And there’s more. Look behind you.”
Ahri turned, and the sight made her heart stop once more.
The cottages of Yi’s village were built on terraces, like their fields. It lent their village a look as if they had built it onto the sides of the mountain itself. Smoke rose steadily from the dozens of chimneys that sprouted from the straw thatched roofs of the cottages, and eventually faded away into the cool breeze and the light. There were people, too. Farmers tilled merrily in their fields, breaking up the few clots of earth left on the ground with their hoes, as their children trotted behind trains of oxen trailing plows. The youngest of all scattered the seeds into the rows, to sow the next generation of fruits and plant; to prepare for the next harvest.
“They’re…. they’re all here!” Ahri turned excitedly to Yi. “Does this mean… they’re still alive, in the Wu?!”
Yi fell silent. He looked down, a small frown on his face.
“The Wu… it is only an illusion, Ahri. Everything in here is. The Wu is the polar opposite of our world, but it also mirrors our deepest and darkest desires.” Yi gazed out at the village. “This is my illusion. I dream of seeing my village once more, so this was born in the Wu.”
Yi turned back down, sadly, as the illusion-villagers started to stream out of their cottages to greet Yi.
“Because of my desires, I have trapped my kinsmen in this world. Their ghosts will not move on unless this place in the Wu disappears.”
“How do we do that?”
Yi did not miss Ahri’s choice of pronouns. He smiled again, as the first of the villagers came within shouting distance.
“By bringing this into the real world. I want this, Ahri. I want to live in my village again, with villagers and students and family. I want to pass on my Wuju school to Wukong, and watch him grow in his journey to master Wuju. I want to settle down here, and grow even older and die. And I want to do it with you.”
Yi glanced behind him.
“Ah, this is her, Ahri.”
Yi stepped to the side. Then Ahri saw her. Rixa. She approached the illusion, her hands trembling. The illusionary woman opened her mouth, and started speaking, but Ahri couldn’t hear what she was saying. Ahri drew closer.
She spoke again, and this time, Ahri could read her lips.
Thank you, too, Rixa said. She stretched out her hand to Ahri, but it never reached her.
Rixa started fading as Yi and Ahri shifted back into the real world. Black stripes swallowed up the village, replacing it once more with lush, wild green grass, bare platforms and foundations, and a rushing white waterfall. They woke up from their shared dream.
Pantheon started yelling, as Xerath’s ball started to descend. Ahri was still on all fours, gazing at something in the distance as her death rushed down on her from above. Her back glowed with light as the Arcane Barrage shone with its icy cold light. Ahri heard his yells, and glanced at the frantic Rakkor. She gave him a reassuring smile, from behind the sheet of black hair covering her face, and from behind the bolts of lightning that now engulfed her.
“Don’t be afraid. Trust me.”
She started to glow gold.