Date: January 1, 20 CLE
(Work in progress)
From a distance, the small creature climbing the steps at the base of the Institute of War is barely a speck of color on the great marble staircase. At first, it is conceivable that it is not a would-be champion of the League that now struggles up each wide stair, but instead a large insect or marsupial from the forest that stumbled upon the entrance to the Institute.
Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that the figure is decidedly humanoid, bearing two short, stubby arms and a large head balanced on a miniature torso. Its stature suggests that it is a Yordle, a member of the diminutive race that hails from the southern reaches of Valoran, but if so, this is a Yordle unlike one ever seen before.
From head to toe, he is wrapped in wide, green bandages, leaving no patch of skin uncovered. A pair of brilliant oval gems sit where his eyes should be, just above two curved sections of bandage that suggest a small nose and mouth. The creature's short fingers are bound individually by the dressings, but each of his feet is swathed in one large lump of bandage.
With a small grunt, the Yordle lifts his cumbersome feet high and heaves himself over the edge of the last stair, tumbling ungracefully on the smooth floor and rolling to his feet. The soft ambient light strikes his yellow gemstone eyes and shines a glinting reflection onto the towering double-doors before him like two faint spotlights. The bandages around his eyes are warped in a remarkably animated expression, conveying a sadness so deep it has put permanent creases in the fabric of his face.
And yet, beneath his sordid appearance there seems to lay a veneer of hope glittering in the mirroring depths of his eyes, if such intricacies of emotion can be derived from the countenance of such a strange creature.
The mummified Yordle steps forward quietly, his eyes never wavering from their gaze upon the doors, his lips parted slightly in awe. For the first time in a very long time, his head does not droop towards the ground like a ragdoll's as he walks, but is instead held high in reverence of the fabled Institute of War. The silence of the scene is broken only by the gentle rustling of the ragged bandage-ends that fall from his hands and feet against the floor - the pounding of his heart and rasping of his breath are held in undead stillness.
Darkness sweeps across the forest as the last smidge of sun disappears beneath the horizon, bathing the Yordle in darkness. Immediately afterwards, a dim bubble of light grows into existence around him as the magic flowing through his swathed form staves of the night in a protective reflex. The Yordle seems not to notice, his attention stolen instead by the words imprinted in the marble above the doors of the Institute like an omen:
The truest opponent lies within.
He comes to a halt within arms reach of the doors, his neck craned back in order to see the inscription.
"The opponent within?" he thinks. He looks down at his chest, where ripped and tangled layers of interwoven bandage cover his chest. An imperfect circle of frayed fabric is centered over where his heart should be, the result of months of unsuccessful attempts to free himself from his cloth prison.
"I'm not sure if I even have a within..."
As if in response to this thought, fresh pangs of loneliness wash over him from inside, a painful ache that he knows too well. Despair wells up in him like water, a reminder that he is very far from hollow. Quite to the contrary, he is filled daily with an inner sadness, a seemingly contradictory emptiness that has plagued him since his awakening.
The irony is far from comforting, and a handful of tears slide down his wrapped cheek, procured from thin air by the magic that surrounds him.
"Nontheless," he thinks, mopping his face dry with the back of his hand, "that is why I am here."
Standing as tall as possible (though he is still dwarfed by the massive doors), he raises a bandaged fist high and knocks three times on the marble doors. The muffled sound echoes throughout the night like the ripples of a disturbed pond.
The doors do not budge.
The Yordle's expression furrows in confusion. He has heard tales of champion judgments - whispered rumors told by Summoners who had, while mentally linked with a champion on the fields of justice, seen glimpses of the event in the recesses of their mind. They were described to him as "terrifying ordeals of self-discovery," (he is reminded in particular of the judgment of Karthus), and he has mentally steeled himself, prepared for such a trial. However, there had been no mention of this obstacle in the Summoner's tales.
No one had mentioned what to do when the doors don't open.
"Perhaps they didn't hear me the first time," he thinks, and raises his hand again, straining to get as close to the great brass handles that hung at normal human height on the door.
Three more times he knocks, but still the doors refuse to budge.
His expression changes to frustration, his eyebrows angling considerably and his mouth tightening to single narrow seam. Murmuring angrily to himself, the Yordle steps back and raises both hands to as if to pummel at the doors.
"That will be unnecessary, little Yordle."
The voice booms in the still night air and startles the Yordle, who stops short, his clenched fists resting against the doors' cold surface. The speaker is nowhere to be seen, and indeed, the voice seemed to emanate from the doors themselves, and is unnervingly layered in pitches both high and low, as if many different persons were speaking at once.
With a start, the Yordle pulls his hands away from what he now fears may be a talking door. Stepping back even farther, he looks up at the doors, searching for a feature that might identify the speaker. He opens his mouth slowly, searching for words.
"I...w-why...who are-" he stammers, but is cut off as the voice booms once again.
"...You are the one called Amumu, are you not?"
Amumu wrings his hands nervously. My name...
"Ah, yes, I am Amumu. Uh, that is," he adds, "they call me Amumu."
The answering voice is so loud and immediate that his last words are practically drowned out by the response.
"Why did you choose to make that distinction?"
Amumu looks about, put off by the lack of a face with which to converse.
"Because...because...for no reason," He finishes quietly.
Because I don't know who I am.
"Because you don't know who you are," says the voice, echoing Amumu's thoughts perfectly. A look of shock and embarrassment covers the Yordle's face. For a moment he is at a loss for words, but the loneliness within him calls to him, reminding him of his purpose for being here, and some courage reenters his tone.
"Perhaps I don't, mysterious guardian, but I have come to make my home here at the Institute of War, and...and I...and that is what I will do," he concludes, his face a mask of faint confidence.
"That is unfortunate," booms the voice.
Amumu, taken aback, struggles for words as his confidence fades.
A moment passes in silence before the doors' reply, but when it comes, Amumu swears he can feel his cold heart burst with despair.
"Because you are unfit for the Fields of Justice."
Amumu was at a loss for words - had a mysterious voice just deemed him unworthy to compete for the League of Legends? Had a talking door just denied him refuge and a home after countless days and weeks of traveling over Valoran in loneliness?
Furthermore, wasn't a League Judgment supposed to be the event that determines his eligibility for the League? This last thought he voiced aloud.
"B-but," began Amumu, fresh tears poised to spill from his oval eyes, "shouldn't I be allowed a League Judgment first? Before you can turn me away?"
"Perhaps we spoke imprecisely," responded the towering doors, "We have already seen into your mind, have already delved into your conscious and subconscious memories, as we do with all those that desire a League Judgment, and have found nothing that would qualify you for such a trial. In short, you cannot have a Judgment."
Amumu's stare was incredulous, his face a portrait of shock and bewilderment. He looked so pathetic, so comical, that the doors' next reply sounded almost embarrassed, or as embarrassed as pitch-layered multi-voices can sound.
"Ah, um, let us put it this way," continued the doors, "you thought it yourself - you don't know who you are. You claim, or think to claim, that you come to us seeking refuge and a home. However, if asked why that is what you seek, if prompted to reveal why you are lonely and full of despair, you would respond again that you do not know. You are a mystery, Amumu, to yourself most of all. To receive a Judgment, you would have to know your past and the driving force for your current state, so that we could also know."
In the growing twilight, the double doors before Amumu seemed to glow ever so slightly, as if they, like the fungi and plants of the surrounding forest, also possessed phosphorescence.
"You cannot have any secrets from us," finished the doors, a deep solemnity having returned to its voices.
Amumu, despite the overwhelming sadness that weighed his spirits, felt himself becoming angry. He raised his tear-streaked face to the doors and spoke, for the first, time, without a single stutter.
"Well, if you can see into my memories, if you truly know what I've done to get here, than I don't know how you can be so cruel!"
There was no response from the doors - its implacability only angered Amumu more - he wanted these people, or whatever they are, to feel his pain.
"When I awoke, I awoke without a thought in my head that did not pertain to the suffering that fills me - not even the terrifying state of amnesia, of having no idea where I came from or who I was, could stand up next to that suffering." Amumu realized that he was shouting; he felt as though it were not him shouting, but the despair inside of him taking up its own voice, putting its pain into words through Amumu.
"In the months that followed, I obeyed that suffering like a slave, marching all over Valoran to try to find anything that could mollify it. No home, no family, no friends, no possessions - I have nothing and could find nothing that could buy me even a single day's respite from this grief!"
The doors continuing lack of expression was frustrating Amumu to no end - he realized ironically that he was, indeed, shouting at a wall - but he did not stop. He found himself stepping forward, raising a fist in anger and defiance as he continued.
"And now that I have found the League of Legends, the one place I can conceivably hope to find solace from my despair, the one place that may allow me to rest for the first time since my awakening, after having made the long trek up to the gates of the Institute of War - after all this, I am told that not only am I "unfit" for your Fields of so-called Justice, but that I am not even worthy of a League Judgment?"
Furious as he was, Amumu did not notice that he was beginning to glow as well; that, as he shouted, he was slowly rising off of the ground, bandaged feet hanging inches above the marble. Tendrils and loops of bandages begin lifting from the surface of his body and curling in rune-like patterns that blazed green-blue. Yellow inscriptions were forming in concentric circles on the floor beneath him like snaking sand-colored vines, some twisting up into the air as if to ensnare some unseen foe.
Amumu's gaze was stanch, his tears dry. The silence after his inferred question hung in the air like he did, but the doors attempted no response.
His voice dropped from a shout to a resolute whisper.
"If that is so," he said, "then curse you, and I shall be on my way."
With that, the small, mummified Yordle dropped to the ground, the magical anomalies around him abruptly ceasing as he returned to his normal bandaged state. He gazed up at the doors once more, gave a small "humph" followed by a sniffle, and turned to leave.
He was almost to the top step of the long staircase when the doors spoke again.
The Yordle stopped, and only half-turned when he spoke.
"And now you wish to mock me? P-please, let me go in peace."
Despite his indication to leave, he hesitated, hoping that the doors would speak again. His hesitation was rewarded.
"We wish not to mock - your magical capabilities, as well as your determination, are far greater that we imagined."
This time Amumu turned fully, his eyebrow-bandages raised in honest surprise.
"Perhaps, for the second time tonight, we have misspoken. Perhaps there is more we can do."
Amumu stepped forward cautiously, his eyes wide.
"W-what do you mean?" he asked.
"Combined with the powerful magic and willpower that runs through you, our divining magic may be able to uncover your history, the events that have led to your existence, through those memories that you do possess."
Amumu began walking back towards the doors, wringing his hands in anxious anticipation.
"In other words, we may be able to discover your past, so that you may have a League Judgment."
The Yordle's mouth dropped open as the great double doors slowly slid inward without a sound, opening to reveal the pitch-black within.
"All we ask is that you step inside, Amumu."
Without a word, the mummy moved forward towards the darkness. As the towering arch passed above him, the greedy portal of darkness swallowing the tiny Yordle, the corner of his bandaged mouth twitched up in a smile.
First, there had been the longing.
No conscious thought; only a deep, intense sense of loss, indescribable and infuriatingly without a cause.
It was like waking in the middle of dream - the emotions, fresh from the subconscious experience, were fresh and raw, but the memories were muddled and warped, slipping through his mind's fingers like filmy water.
His eyes fluttered open, or he thought his eyes fluttered open; they didn't feel like his eyes, nor did they feel like they fluttered.
Groggy and confused, he tried to raise his hands to wipe at his face, but his arms felt thick and heavy. With an effort, he lifted them off of the (ground? floor? he couldn't tell) and brought his hands up to his face.
Two unwieldy bundles of cloth hovered before him, digits like blocky columns protruding from round palms, all bound in strips of sickly green fabric.
"AAAAAGGGGHH!" he shouted, his small tinny voice echoing off of close walls that his eyes were still too unfocused to register. With a start, he struggled in vain to sit up, realizing in the attempt that his torso and legs also felt thick and heavy.
At this point, claustrophobia had fully set in, and he started thrashing and writhing from his prone position, tattered ends of cloth flailing about. His mind tried to get him to breath quickly, to hyperventilate and get oxygen to his brain, but found that it had no diaphragm to contract and no lungs to inflate. His mouth opened and closed, trying to draw in air, and when it could not, he panicked more.
It took him a few minutes of full-blown panic before he was exhausted enough to calm down and realize that, for some strange reason, he was not being asphyxiated.
And then it hit him - why was this strange?
Why was it strange that he should have bound hands and heavy feet?
Why should it be strange that he cannot breathe?
His instincts screamed at him that everything was wrong, that everything was not as it should be, but his memories couldn't reconcile these accusations. When he tried to remember what should be, what was prior to now, he was met with a blank wall. He could remember nothing before this.
(To understand fully the shock Amumu felt now, consider the natural birth of a human being. At the time of birth, the human child has practically no awareness and no cognizance, and only comes by his or her consciousness through the vague passing of time known as childhood. To be granted consciousness suddenly, to come into full awareness instantly like Amumu has, is distressing indeed.)
But something twitched in the back of his head, an itch of a memory that seemed to tell him that there was something he was supposed to remember...something important that was different...
"Here we are, Amumu. This is an illusion that we have constructed around your first existing memories."
The voice came from nowhere and everywhere at once, as if spoken in unison by a group of people that surrounded him and were also in his head...
Unison...many layered pitches...
The realization came upon him sleepily and slow, but soon it clicked, brought on by the unique and unforgettable voice from the Institute's Doors.
"This...is...this is an illusion?" he asked.
"That is correct," replied the doors, "If you are feeling disoriented or dazed, fear not - this is a common side effect of the memorial illusion. Take your time to get adjusted."
The illusion was all too real - everything was as he had remembered it, even down to details that were lost to his subconscious.
Amumu lay in a long sarcophagus, decorated on the interior with patterns inlaid with gold and silver, in a style that highly emphasized right angles and hinted at simple fractals. The top of the sarcophagus was missing.
Reaching up and grasping its sides, he heaved himself up to a standing position. The sarcophagus was perfectly designed for him, that is, perfectly designed for a Yordle, and lay only about 3 feet long. The room it lay in seemed almost absurdly big in comparison.
Tinted sunlight, filtered through a stained glass ceiling some thirty feet overhead, cast a slanting array of colored geometries over the veritable courtyard of a room before him. He stood at one end of the large rectangle, elevated on a small platform between two ancient unlit torches.
The rest of the room was filled wall-to-wall with treasure. Solid gold, solid silver, colorful shaped-glass and crystal treasure sparkled prismatically in the light, splashing color on the brown walls like paint.
Amumu's jaw went slack, his golden eyes drinking in the sight. It had been years since this memory had come to pass, and though he had thought of it often in his travels, his wildest dreams had never been able to fully recreate the spectacle.
Brilliantly sculpted vases and gemstone-studded rugs, burgundy wooden tables laced with brass, shimmering velvet cloaks slung over the mouths of silver water jugs...even the dismal sadness within him slowed its stirring in awe of the scene.
He stepped back in wonder, and bumped into something standing just behind the sarcophagus. He turned, and his inner turmoil ceased abruptly, quieting like a boisterous child who has reverently dropped to his knees in prayer.
Standing against the end of the room, centered on the dais behind the sarcophagus, was a tall, translucent throne, glowing in the light with an angelic aura. The throne was made completely of glass, and was shaped so perfectly that the bright red rug that hung on the wall behind it was clearly visible through its thickest portions. Though it seemed made for a Yordle (or at least, made too small for any other creature), the seat was at Amumu's chest level, and the throne's back reached another three or four feet in the air. Its only ornamentation was a single round Citrine, nestled in the wavy glass near the top of the throne, gleaming a soft sandy yellow.
The voice of the Doors shook him out of his prayer-like trance.
"This artifact...it seems to resonate with you, does it not?"
The words rang throughout his head with what seemed like a twinge of humor. Amumu closed his mouth, coughing slightly with embarrassment. In his appreciation of the throne, all thoughts of the purpose of the illusion had been put aside while he gawked at its splendor. His inner despair returned likewise.
"Ah, yes - I recall this...artifact...vividly from when I first awoke," he raised a hand and laid it gently against a glass armrest, "It has always entranced me with its beauty. More importantly," he added, letting his hand fall back to his side, "is its profound effect on my, ah, suffering."
"Intriguing," replied the voice, "it would seem we have already found a highly appropriate place to start. If you would ju-"
"...to start?" Amumu cut in, peering up awkwardly towards the ceiling. He found it uncomfortable to talk to a ubiquitous disembodied voice without assigning it some sort of focal point, so arbitrarily, he chose...up. "W-what do you mean, to start? Start what?"
"Forgive us, we were under the impression that you had understood the purpose of this illusion. It has been constructed so that we may use magically divination, channeled through your subconscious, on whatever we may find within your memor-"
"Channeled through my subconscious?" said Amumu in a strangled voice. "That hardly s-sounds...um...safe...t-to me!"
"Relax Amumu," came the voice in a reassuring, if impatient, tone. "This kind of magic is complicated, but completely safe. We require that you now focus your entire attention on the, ah, throne, as you will. You may make physical contact, if you think it will help you."
Amumu swallowed, his hands clasped near his throat. Hesitantly, he reached out to touch the throne, first with one finger, then one hand, and finally with both palms pressed against the glass.
"All r-right," he said, eyes focused on the Citrine, seemingly suspended in thin air against the red wall hanging, "I'm f-focused. I'm t-totally focused. Absolu-gaaaaahhhck!"
Amumu cried out as magically energy enveloped him, surging through his head and neck and out through his fingertips into the throne like electricity. He could feel himself and the throne pulsating in unison as the flood of energy grew stronger. A thick, colorless glow emitted from the seams in his bandages and from the reflective faces of the glass throne.
It felt as though he were going to burst. Energy pressed at the backs of his eyes, on the inside of his mouth, and down to the pit of his stomach. He tried to squirm, although he wasn't sure if he was successful, since his extremities had mostly gone numb.
"Please, Amumu," came the Doors' voice soothingly, "try to relax."
"Ghaack!" replied Amumu.