Took a little longer than I thought it would, but here it is. Please enjoy.
Chapter Ten: Stopping the Spread
It was proving to be a very, very busy day as the fields were becoming a familiar place. The Summoner's Rift, the Crystal Scar, and the Twisted Treeline were all fresh in his mind as the battles went on, summons announced, and the occasional squabble from the Demacian and Noxian summoners. If this continued, he'd be pouncing just to get around, his legs forgetting how to walk or run. Thankfully, the mid-day break arrived, giving the champions a well-deserved rest for the time being. In addition to the break from fighting, meals would also be provided in the mess hall.
Rengar, just finishing a match, clasped arms and hands with his allies and enemies alike. Even if some of them he did not like, quite a few actually, they had put up a good fight. From the calm and collect Malphite to the unpredictable LeBlanc, they were his fellow champions. Some, such as the Void beasts, Volibear, and Jax, would make either fine trophies or great game. Others, such as Ahri, Blitzcrank, and Maokai, were simply oddities in their own regard. While he did not often gather or talk with many of them, they did prove to be useful in more ways than one.
Speaking of oddities, his mind flashed back to Nidalee, remembering their time together earlier in the day. He had to shake his head to clear his mind. He was a hunter, a predatory killer, with only one purpose: To hunt the greatest of game. Why was his mind suddenly flashing back to that woman, and at such a random time? It made no sense. Perhaps, he thought, it was because he wanted her for a trophy. There was the feeling of longing for her, to be able to look upon her each day. But for a different reason.
His spiraling thoughts were broken when he heard a soft, feminine giggle, then felt the static sensation of fur against his own. He had taken off his leather armor and left it with the Institution's handymen for repairs, so his arms and legs were more exposed save for the short sleeves of his leather breast plate and kilt. "Fallen for the charms of someone, have we? Care to give a hint?" Came the voice of only one champion. One of the oddities he had met.
As Rengar came back to reality, he realized he was standing at the door to the mess hall, just staring at it. He turned to the nine-tailed fox, swatting her tails away from his arms and head like they were flies. Just like flies, he mostly missed. "Indeed I have, fox." He said, confident and full of pride as he crossed his arms over his chest, stood straight, and smiled.
Ahri leaned closer, her face inches from his. She was so close his breathing caused her whiskers to move, bouncing up and down from the slight breeze. "Don't keep me in suspense, big boy. Who is your prey?" She whispered.
He smiled, mentally wondering what her reaction would be, before he opened his mouth. "I could introduce you to her, actually. She has a fine pelt, flawless skin, and the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen." He said, as though talking about the greatest thing he'd ever see in the world. Ahri was holding her breath, pleading to know. "I speak of Echidhna, the mother of monsters." He said, like his whole life had been dedicated to hunting this one beast.
Ahri, who had been the very image of bottled anticipation, stood frozen, a stupid smile on her face. After a few seconds, he waiting patiently for it all to sink in, she finally moved, like a statue knocked over. Rengar caught her before she hit the floor, then held her up by her shoulders. "Are you alright?" He asked simply, already knowing what may be going through her head.
The fox looked at him angrily, her face turning red either from anger or knowing she had been played. "You big meanie! I know she's not real! At least lie and say it was Cassiopeia!" She said, flailing her arms in small circles. She suddenly stopped, looking at him in horror. "Wait. Did you really kill her?" She asked timidly.
He shook his head, then let her go, seeing she had regained her footing. "No, I did not kill her. There are still plenty of trophies I have yet to collect. Trophies I cannot collect if I am dead or under arrest." He assured the crazy woman. Odd way of thinking of it considering what she use to do before coming to the League.
When she calmed herself down, Ahri put her hands behind her back, leaning toward him again like she was interrogating him. The cute face, bouncing whiskers, and fluttering tails made it difficult for him to take her seriously. "Then you've fallen for Cassiopeia? Shaw we see who is better, me or her?" She asked, giving him her best smile. A wink following that sent a tiny heart in his direction.
It hit him square in the face, but he just sneezed. Her charms would not work on him in such a small dose. The hunter derived his best pleasures from hunting and stalking those worthy to be his game. "The serpent's poisons keep me at a physical distance, and her mind at an emotional distance. Besides, she, too, seeks game to hunt. I am not the type she prefers to hunt." He reminded her.
Ahri was not convinced, and he was not surprised. "A fine pelt, flawless skin, and beautiful eyes." She said to herself, holding her chin in her hand as she thought.
Rengar did not want to wait around for her, so he turned and opened the door. He was hungry and wanted something to eat. As he walked, he heard footsteps, then the voice again. "Is it Sivir?" She asked. He shook his head, so she tried another guess. "Caitlyn? Evelynn? Fiora has pretty eyes, is it her? What about Vayne? She hunts too." She asked, picking out the names of other champions.
"No. No. She does, but no. Vayne hunts evil, not game." He answered to each of the names, going ahead and getting his food. He was lucky today as the Institution provided a more natural selection of fruit, wildlife meat, and fresh vegetables. Taking advantage of the feast, he picked out seasoned, baked turkey; a bowl of stew containing corn, small chunks of beef, green beans, and seasoned with spices he did not recall; two lightly butter bread rolls; and selected milk for his drink.
Ahri picked up a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower, bread squares, and a bottle of water. "Sejuani? Riven? No wait, she has scars." He shook his head at both names anyway. She smiled devilishly and handed her salad and drink to her tails. She closed the distance, leaning forward so her head was as close as possible to his head, and whispered in his head. "Can't you give a girl another hint? I'll even work for it." She offered, blowing a soft breeze into his ear.
Rengar didn't even shiver. Instead, he merely sat down one of the outdoor tables, looking up and watching the clouds as they passed by. He waited to see if she would leave or sit with him, hoping for the former. It was the latter, so he answered. "She's popular along her fans." He said.
Ahri held up her hand, smiling in triumph and shaking her arm in the air. "Sona! It's got to be Sona! Final answer!" She announced as her tails fluttered in excitement.
"Thanks for playing, but you're wrong." He let out. As she pouted, blowing up her cheeks and giving him a scowl, he picked up a piece of turkey and tore the meat from its bone. After he swallowed, he noticed she was still looking at him in that pout of hers. "What?" He asked, smiling at her.
Rather than answer, the fox took a forkful of her salad and stuffed into her mouth, then another and finally a third. She chew, thinking as her teeth crunched and ground up the food. He knew she was still thinking of who it could be. He leaned back, closing his eyes, and continued to eat. Even when the crunching stopped, he did not open his eyes or turn to her. "Fine pelt, flawless skin, beautiful eyes. Fine pelt, flawless skin, beautiful eyes..." She repeated to herself.
There were some whispers, his ears twitching slightly, and he knew people were talking about him and the nine-tailed fox eating together. By the feel of it, there were eyes watching them as well. Thankfully, a helpful scent came to his nose. By helpful, it gagged him. "You didn't kill her I see." Came the voice. Ahri turned her head to see Trundle, carrying his own plate of food. "So, what was her noble reason that kept you from killing her?" He asked, taking a seat at the table with the two of them.
Ahri, covering her nose with one hand, conjured her spell orb above her other hand. The orb glowed a faint, blue color, then white before finally settling in green with swirls of blue in it. She uncovered her nose and took a deep breath. The air around Trundle changed to that of fresh pine, rather than rot. "That's better. Now what is this about you wanting to kill me Rengar?" She asked, naively tilting her head with a small smile.
After he finished coughing, Rengar shook his head. He first looked to Trundle. "Sorry about that. Your scent will take some getting used to." He apologized. The troll, this time, nodded and accepted the apologize. He looked to Ahri. "No, it's not you either. I wouldn't even have to kill you for a trophy. Speaking of which, could I cut off those tails of yours? They would make a grand pillow." He asked.
Ahri moved one of the nine tails toward her face, rubbing it against her cheek. "No. They would take too long to grow back. And they add to my charm." She said, giving another wink. She let it go, then turned her attention to Trundle. Her smile and face changing to a pleading, beautiful look. "So, Trundle, what do you know about Rengar's mystery lover?" She asked, speaking loud enough for a few people around her to hear. There were gasps around them, then whispered, the rumor being passed along.
Trundle smiled at Ahri, acting like he had fallen for her charms. "Sure. How can I say no to such a pretty lady." He said. Ahri giggled at the compliment, several people leaning in to hear better. Some summoners, some officials, some of the staff members, and some fellow champions. "Rengar's lover is," even Ahri leaned forward at this. His expression suddenly turned cold and ruthless. "None of your damn business!" He said. Some of the ease droppers had fallen flat on their faces.
The fox pouted once more. Rengar fell out of his seat laughing. Trundle smiled and leaned back, chuckling. "Haha! Oh you should see the look on your face right now!" He said before bursting out in laughter as well.
Tired of their games, she rose, huffed at the both of them, and began walking away. She stopped by one of the summoners, a twinkle in her eyes, and helped him up. She whispered something into his ear as she helped him up, then the two of them started away. Everyone else, who had been listening in, went back to their meals. Nearly all of them looked disappointed, but whispers continued. Rengar caught the words "lover" and "pridestalker", meaning the rumor was still alive.
When he pulled himself up, he and Trundle high-fived. "Thanks for the help, but, I have to be honest, I wish she had left the orb." He said, then shook his head.
Trundle did not seem upset. "Tell me about it. I didn't even know her orb could do that." He said. The troll tore off a piece of his main meat, what looked like half a ham, and chewed, ignoring all table manners. "How did it go anyway? I take it it was a female you had this problem with, or was it a male? Whichever it was, I'd like to see the trophy, if it's on display." He requested, chewing with food in his mouth.
Rengar did not mind Trundle's lack of manners, he actually found some comfort in it because he could eat the same way. "It was a woman, yes, and we talked things out. I will still hunt her, but not when she is near her home." He answered before tearing off another piece of his turkey. "If I do kill her, then you may see her as a trophy." He added.
The troll shrugged his shoulders. "Depends who it is. If someone goes missing, I'll know." He said. Renger was relieved to know this one would not question him on the identity of his prey. "Did you hear about the trouble with Nidalee and Elise?" He asked.
So there was that rumor going around. He acted ignorant of it. "Not a word. Are Demacia and Noxus choosing who to throw their support with?" He asked, a chuckle coming from his throat.
Trundle shook his head. "Nope, at least not now. Apparently, the story is that Nidalee invaded Elise's home, wherever that is, killed some of the young Vilemaw spiders, and tried to kill her. Nidalee claims they attacked her, and even provided proof that she had killed them. Teemo and Tristana, who say they were with her that night, say they are the ones who caused the problem and that Nidalee had saved them from becoming spider food." He explained, going over the different versions of the rumor. "I don't see what the problem is. When it gets colder, those spiders are going to freeze to death." He added.
Rengar kept his surprise from showing, but he was surprised to hear the event was coming from three separate sources. "Which do you believe?" He asked.
Trundle shook his head. "Not sure. The Summoners haven't revealed the truth, and they're the ones who have been questioning the four. Personally, since it was in the Kumungu Jungle, I don't believe the first one, and am undecided on the other two." He informed.
So he wasn't in any of them. That was good, but it was also bad. The focus seemed to be on the two in question: Nidalee and Elise. He thought this over as he ate more of his food, drinking his stew rather than using a spoon. "This is the first I've heard of it." He responded.
"Heard of what?"
The voice caused both to jump, their knees knocking against the table, then both turned to see Nidalee standing there. She still wore her Pharaoh outfit, but she had bruises on her arms, waist, and legs from the battles earlier. Rengar could detect the scent of sweat and blood as well.
Both relaxed, and Trundle spoke. "Your fight with Elise. What did happen?" He asked.
She glanced to Rengar, seeing him shrug, before gesturing to the table. Both moved to let her sit. "I heard something the other night and went to investigate. Teemo and Tristana ran into me and drew me into the battle. I took one of the heads with me back to League. There's only one person who breeds giant spiders, after all." She said, keeping most of it hidden, and some important details out.
Trundle bit into an apple he had brought with him, chewing for a time before swallowing. He gestured with the apple toward the building. "Is that when you met Rengar? While carrying back the evidence?" He asked.
Nidalee and Rengar looked back at each, then turned away. Trundle took another bite of his apple. "Glad I could help the two of you, but I can't help in this. Try Ashe or Tryndamere, they'll big political powers. Or, if you think you're in for the long run, ask Karma or one of the three Kinkou. I hear Shen can just stare the Summoners into submission." He added.
Rengar looked around to see if anyone was listening, then turned back to Trundle. "Could you keep it a secret?" He whispered.
"Going to be busy anyway. Trying to get into the Kumungu Jungle with some of my tribesmen. Kinda hard without a guide or map, what with the crazy plants and numerous wildlife." Trundle said, more to Rengar than to Nidalee. It was a promise he had asked the hunter to request on his behalf. He did not know Rengar had already informed Nidalee of the deal.
Nidalee, who had been looking elsewhere to avoid eye contact, turned back to the troll. "I can leave a line of markers on the trucks of trees for you and your tribesmen." She offered. The troll brightened at this, his smile fading as his curse drove him to pain only for his healing to relieve it.
"We have a deal then. There may be some traps set, but we won't kill anything caught in them. Unless it's a bug. We hate bugs." He said, adding the last part with a dark smile.
With that said, the three of them ate in quiet. Nidalee had accepted Rengar's bread rolls with a polite "Thank you" and Trundle had offered her some of his ham. She accepted both, thankful for their kindness, and ate. All three showed a lack of manner, using their fingers and talking with their mouths full, but not a drop of grease touched anything but their plates. Trundle ate like a savage. Rengar ate more politely, but not by much. Nidalee ate with the most manners, refusing to talk with her mouth full and only taking small bites.
When the three of them finished, they said their farewells, Nidalee giving Trundle a time and location for him to meet her later on. He and his tribe had agreed help her protect her home, and, in exchange, she would let him explore her territory for a cure for his curse. She did not mind, but there were certain places she did not want him to go.
There was still time before the fields opened once more, so Nidalee and Rengar chose to stay with one another and talk. The hunter had a great many stories he was more than willing to share about his profession, and the huntress, equally, had a number of tales about her "interactions" with loggers and explorers. When they finally stopped, Nidalee realized where they were: the Institution's armory and shopping district.
This was the place where new items for the Fields of Justice were made and tested, where champions could have their armor and weapons repaired, some trainers instructed students in combat, and, most importantly, the unknown objects of magic were stored until they could be examined. Excluding the staff members, there were champions as well. Xerath, Syndra, Talon, Mordekaiser, Darius, Jax, and others were there, either having their weapons checked or aiding the staff with their investigation of the magical objects. Xerath and Syndra seemed practically engaged in one of the items the staff was keeping from them.
Nidalee, turning a frown to Rengar, watched as he took a few steps toward the leather-worker. He stopped, both in his strive and in his story, when he noticed she was not following. "Is there something wrong?" He asked.
She moved closer to him, whispering in his ear. "Other than Elise and Trundle, did you talk to anyone else earlier?" She asked. For some reason, she had the suspension she was being watched.
"Zyra. I asked her if she could help with your problem. She told me it would be best if I did not get involved." He said after a few seconds of quiet thought. He thought again, then shook his head. "No one else." He added.
Nidalee looked back to the others, she paid more attention to Syndra than the others. "I recall Syndra asking me a question earlier. I'll be right back." She said. She turned her head back to see if Rengar was following. Seeing that, instead, he was going toward the leather-worker, she smiled before turning back to her intended target.
"There is no need to fear for my life, initiates. I am beyond your physical ailments and needn't worry of death." Xerath reassured the staff, his voice crackling with the arcane power that made up his body. The three robed figures, clearly old enough to be expert summoners rather than initiates, did nothing to hide their annoyance at the master mage before them.
When the center one was about to retort, Syndra put a finger to her lips, bidding his silence. Rather than comply, it looked like his mouth clamped shut. "What my friend meant to say, is that, while we know all three of you are powerful and experienced, none of you have the power to control, much less understand, that object without risking harm to yourselves. Please, for your own safety and that of any who would try to examine it, let us save you the trouble of tending to the dead and dying, and do it ourselves." She requested, her tone, while that of a superior talking down to her underlings, was much kinder than her associate's.
The three did not budge. "The two of you are powerful, yes, and may have more experience with objects of power such as this, but we were given orders to not allow anyone, not even the Champions of the League, to touch this, among other objects." The left one said. The one at the center still appeared to have his mouth clamped shut by whatever Syndra had done. "If you would, please undo whatever you did to our friend and leave. Both of you." He requested.
Nidalee, seeing they were occupied, stepped around them to look at the object in question. As she did, she walked closer until she was only a foot from it. It looked familiar. "Who found this? And where did they find it?" She asked.
All five of them stopped arguing and looked at her, the three staff surprised to see her there. Syndra let out a dainty chuckled at their shock, as if they were children who had just seen a magic trick for the first time in their lives. Xerath, his being that of pure magic, appeared unconcerned. It was always hard to tell what emotion he showed, if any.
The center staff member, freed from the spell put on him, spoke. It was a female voice. "Ezreal found it within a ruined temple of a jungle." She answered. She reached toward Nidalee, grabbing her by the band at her arm, and gave it a tug. "Would you kindly step away?" She commanded.
Nidalee turned back to the object instead. She could feel the angry glares coming from the three. "If Ezreal found it, doesn't that mean it isn't dangerous to be touched?" She asked. The three did move, but Xerath and Syndra leaned forward to hear more. "He has magic, not an understanding of it, but the ability and an object to bring it out. So, if anything, it's harmless." She reasoned.
With that said, she reached toward it. The three staff, panicking, nearly lunged forward to stop her, but it was too late. All three crashed against one another onto the floor, wrestling with each for a moment before they realized Nidalee was not there. She had grabbed the object, flipped over the stand it had sat on, and stood away from them. She smiled triumphantly. "See? No harm done." She said.
Syndra and Xerath both floated toward her, eager to see the object. It looked like a simple rune stone, dark and covered with rough mold. Inscriptions were inscribed on its back and front in small, irregular places. Despite it looking rough with its edges and grooves, Nidalee did not seemed bothered by it as she rolled it in her palm. Whatever it was, it gave off a faint power that made her hair stand out, just like static.
Syndra extended her hand, and Nidalee gave it up willingly. She turned to Xerath, holding it between her and him. "What do you think it is?" She asked. Her hair did not stand out like Nidalee's had, but the fabrics of her clothes moved as though in a gale. She rolled the stone from one hand to another, testing it with a smile, like a child playing with her favorite ball. "It feels incredible! There must be some kind of power locked within it." She exclaimed.
Xerath only stared at it, his attention never once leaving the item even when she spoke to him. Finally, his static-like voice came out. "I do not know. Tests must be done! Calculations must be made! This could be something I've been searching for since before my ascension to this new body." He said. Despite his permanent facial expression, no one had trouble telling he was as excited as Syndra.
Syndra turned to look at Nidalee, a lovely and friendly smile gracing her features. "Thank you for your help in proving to these people we could examine this. I was beginning to think force would be needed." She said, shaking her head with a malicious chuckle. She looked back to Nidalee then. "You wish a favor?" She asked. Nidalee nodded her head. "Very well. I will grant you an audience to my fortress. Bring your friend along as well, if he is unafraid of heights."
Nidalee did not need to look to know who she meant. "Unafraid of heights? What is she talking about?" Rengar asked. He wore his leather armor once more, the straps and bands covering most of the fur on his body.
She shrugged her shoulder innocently. "Syndra has invited us to her floating fortress. You're not afraid of heights, are you?" Nidalee asked, lifting her eyebrow as though it were a game of shorts.