The hollow clopping sound of Soraka’s hooves was the only sound to be heard in this grand hallway within the Institute of War. There wasn’t another soul to be seen. The floor tiles were arranged in the shapes of familiar magical runes, but they were symbolic – they held no actual power. The walls were smooth and simple in decoration. There were pillars every few lengths, but that was it. They obviously wanted the traveler to be taken in by the pure size and length of the hallway.
She stopped for a moment on her way to a set of double-doors at the end and spared a look around. She expected a lot more people. She actually expected to be stopped. She was here uninvited. But she was greeting with a kind smile by the porters and assistants who served the powerful summoners. She told them why she was here and High Councilor Reginald Ashram’s personal majordomo swept in from seemingly nowhere and directed her down this hall. But he didn’t follow her. She was alone.
“I think they want you to feel intimidated,” Soraka said out loud as she looked up at the hall ceiling. There were no ornate chandeliers, just simple globes glowing with yellow magical energy. No distractions to interfere with what may occupy the mind along the trip.
It was working. Ionia had some impressive architecture, but nothing as daunting as the Institute of War. Ionia loved the balance between simplicity and extreme detail, not such a massive, almost sterile environment.
It had been two years since she stepped out of the grove, her home for more time than most humans could fathom. But then, her blue skin, hooves and the lengthy horn growing from her forehead marked her as something else entirely.
This trip to central Valoran was her first journey from the islands of Ionia. She was, however, no wide-eyed tourist. Up until recently she was a creature of the cosmos. She saw much, though she never left the grove. She saw rune wars. She saw the destruction to Runeterra. She saw the human struggle for domination. She saw the development of the Institute of War and their efforts to create a way to contain the conflict. And she saw Noxus coming to claim Ionia for itself.
She turned back toward the double doors and approached. A plaque over the door read “The truest opponent lies within.” She frowned for a moment. It seemed a bit … trite … to say to the people they were asking to sacrifice much in order to try to bring peace to Valoran. But then, more power didn’t necessarily bring more understanding into human nature. Often it was the exact opposite. She wondered if the summoners even realized they were being condescending.
She pushed the doors and wondered if they would even open for her. Were they laughing at her in the vestibule for coming all this way, uninvited, thinking she could be a champion? After centuries of watching Runeterra nearly tear itself apart?
But the doors opened, smoothly, quietly. Beyond was a vibrant forest. The trees and plants were not the same as her beloved grove in Ionia, but it felt familiar. It also felt completely fake. Nevertheless, she walked down the forest trail as the doors swung shut behind her. When she turned to look back they were no longer visible.
She peered up at the trees and down at the shrubs and grass. The path approached a river crossing. At the edge of a river was a modest round table like she would find in an Ionian gazebo, and a couple of chairs. In one of the chairs sat a dark-haired, middle-aged man in violet robes. He stood up as she approached, smiled briefly and bowed to her.
“Soraka,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I have made Ionian tea. The recipe is from Galrin, I believe.”
“Were you expecting me?” she asked.
“I apologize. Where are my manners? I am High Councilor Reginald Ashram. Yes, we were expecting you.”
“But I was not invited. You had invited several Ionians, but not me.”
“And they have all ignored the invitation until now,” he said as he gestured to the table. “We had determined Ionia was simply not interested and moved on. But somebody with your unique history on Valoran cannot expect to travel without us catching word of it.”
“How much do you know of me?”
“We have records that go back centuries. Several summoners have met you long before now, though you may not have known it. You’ve even saved a few of their lives, some of these journals show.”
She nodded as she sipped her tea. It was very sweet, typical of what was preferred on Galrin. Very accurate, though it would have been considered extremely rude to mention if he had served it incorrectly anyway.
“So what do you think of this forest?” He asked her, gesturing to the trees.
“It’s very beautiful,” Soraka said. “This is where the battles will take place?”
“Once enough champions and city-states have agreed to our terms, yes. You can tell that it’s not real, can’t you?”
She nodded. At one time she could have banished the illusions with a gesture, but those days of power were long gone, likely never to return.
“It’s too … perfect,” she explained. “Everything fits just so. Real forests have all sorts of flaws or quirks. A burned tree trunk from a lightning strike. A bush covered with spider webs. And it’s too still, too quiet. Are there any insects at all?”
“Insects?” He laughed.
“Yes, I’ve noticed humans tend to look down on them,” she said. “Some are even afraid of them. But I see them on Runeterra as the foundation of life. Without them, other creatures cannot thrive. In areas of high damage due to the rune wars you will see this. No insects. And therefore nothing else.”
“Yes, the magic influence of the twin nexuses on the real Summoner’s Rift has driven away the insects. There are very few birds. But that makes it all the more important that we prevent future rune wars, yes?”
“Yes. That is why I have come,” she said.
“Is it really?” Reginald asked.
“Of course,” she said, cocking her head at him in confusion.
“I should explain something to you before you consider becoming a champion,” Reginald said. “There’s more than one reason we didn’t invite you.”
“What do you mean?”
“The champions will be controlled by the summoners on the field of battle. The champions make no decisions themselves. They are essentially game pieces in this fight.”
“Yes, I understand that. I’ve already accepted that.”
“But the power of a champion is directly related to bond he or she develops with the summoner. As they fight together the champion will grow stronger. But it’s very dependent on what mental connection they can establish.” Soraka nodded at him.
“You are not a creature of this world,” he continued. “I am very curious to find out how and why you came to Valoran, but that’s for another day. What I mean is that because your mind is so different from ours, there’s a likely chance the bond you develop with the summoner is not as strong.”
“Does that mean I may not serve?”
“It means your magic, your power, whatever you’re drawing from the cosmos, it won’t be as strong,” he said. “You will be much weaker on the Fields of Justice than you would be in your grove on Ionia.”
“I see.” Soraka was already significantly weaker than she once was. When she made the fateful decision to use her power to harm others, even though the men were violent and threatening, her connections to the cosmos faded, leaving her alone and weaker. She still drew power from the stars above and the cosmos, but she was now one of the “stars below” here on Runeterra. Her magic had limits.
“I still wish to fight,” she said.
“Why?” Reginald asked. “The Ionians have rejected us and insist on being neutral even as Noxus invades.”
“I am not an Ionian,” Soraka said. “No, that’s not true. I am. But I already chose assistance over isolation once. I chose to help rather than remain silent. There was a price, and I paid it. But I’ve come to realize that sometimes doing nothing carries a high price as well.”
Reginald nodded. He sipped for a moment, saying nothing. Then as he put the teacup down, a deep howl echoed through the woods. Soraka looked around, startled. She knew immediately.
“Warwick!” she yelled as she stood up, grasping at her moonstaff. “Another trap? Another betrayal?”
“It’s a test,” Reginald said as he backed away. “All champions face a test.”
Soraka could hear Warwick’s approach, bounding through the forest, rustling the bushes and grasses to the east. He wasn’t even trying to disguise his approach. He was out for blood, for her heart. She was the man she surrendered the cosmos for and he betrayed her. For the stupidest and most selfish of reasons.
He burst out of the woods just yards away from him, a seven-foot tall blue-furred wolfman with snarling fangs and glowing eyes. He was once a human. But he tricked Soraka into abandoning her life as a child of the cosmos and then stole some of her blood to arrange this transformation. All to be better at hunting down other humans for whomever would provide him the gold. It was disgusting. And he needed Soraka’s heart to stabilize the transformation or else he would eventually lose his human thoughts and become nothing more than a beast. Soraka considered this to be an appropriate punishment, but it marked her forever as Warwick’s prey.
He leaped in her direction and she gestured, drawing on her magic to summon a rain of glittering, burning stars. They weren’t real, of course – just symbols. But they burned ferociously. Warwick howled as he was struck but continued his approach.
“The stars won’t save you here, Little Goat,” Warwick snarled at her. “I will feast.”
Soraka gestured and more stars rained down. But she understood quickly Reginald’s warning. She was barely harming him. She backed away, but he was faster. She prepared a more powerful magic to burn him severely but there was no time. He howled and hurled himself at her, knocking her to the earthen path.
“No!” She screamed in terror as he aimed his muzzle at her shoulder. She felt the sharp pain as his teeth ripped into her. She immediately called upon her healing magic, but it was too weak. She tried to struggle as his teeth and claws tore into him. The pain overwhelmed. She was going to die. She couldn’t focus to heal herself. She was once immortal. Now she was going to die because a man wanted to harness the power of the beast. The world turned fuzzy. She felt the darkness coming. That place beyond the cosmos. The one mystery she never knew. The place she could never go before. She faded into darkness and total silence.
She opened her eyes to find herself still on the ground in the forest. Warwick was nowhere to be seen. Reginald stood over here. He bent and reached an arm out to help her to her feet. The pain was gone. The wounds were gone.
“An illusion,” Soraka said as she stood up. “I should have seen through it.”
“I suspect, like many mortal mages, your focus and emotions influence your sight in a way it didn’t used to.”
“Why did you do that?” Soraka demanded. She was not prone to anger, but she loathed manipulation.
“Two reasons,” Reginald said. “One, I wanted to make sure you understood how much more restricted your magics would be on the fields of justice. Two, I need you to understand that joining the League of Legends will prompt Warwick to come looking for you.”
“I know,” she said.
“And that,” Reginald said, “Is the real reason you wish to join, is it not?”
“I want to bring peace to Ionia.”
“That’s true, but that doesn’t contradict what I just said, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“And what will you do about Warwick once he comes?”
“That part, I have not figured out,” she said.