Date: 22 July, 21 CLE
Wukong charges into the Great Hall, bursting with anticipation. The promise of a challenge excites him. His movements seem frenzied and wild, but for all their apparent disorganization, he never seems to be off-balance. His head darts from side to side. It’s unclear whether he is watching for threats or trying to take everything in at once – probably both.
When he is satisfied that he has seen or poked everything in the area, he proceeds to the doors. This moment has been too long in the waiting.
Wukong was still unaccustomed to the confining structures that humans liked to build around themselves. He could understand the need for shelter, but in a place where man’s society dominated the landscape, there weren’t many dangers left. Master Yi had explained the concept of “privacy” to him at length (mainly because Wukong’s prying curiosity apparently often violated it), but he still didn’t quite understand why people would willingly spend so much time cut off from the world around them. Did they not enjoy the sun on their skin? Or the scents carried on the wind? Maybe it’s just a fur thing, he mused.
In the Plague Jungles, Wukong would spend nights on the highest bough of the tallest tree, drifting asleep to the melody of thousands of creatures serenading the starlight. Despite all the wonders man had achieved, nothing had quite the same simple elegance. It seemed the nature of people was to seek out and foster complications in their lives until even the most fundamental behaviors came with guidelines and instructions: table manners, bathroom etiquette, courting rituals, rules of engagement. To breach any rule was to invite further complications. It was exhausting and often pointless.
However, for all the quirks that humans had, they were truly remarkable, and their warriors presented Wukong with challenges he couldn’t find in the Plague Jungles – challenges he once worried might not exist. He recalled the feeling of desperation that day, right after his bout with the sea dragon, when his every goal had been realized, every opponent defeated. His frantic ambition gave him drive and purpose, but consumed him when deprived an outlet. Like him, it was a product of the Plague Jungles, where uneven concentrations of magic and life would well up until they burst – evolution in overdrive.
The nearby crunch of a crushed leaf jarred him from his thoughts.
Instinctively, Wukong bent backward, just in time to avoid the sweep of a familiar weapon. As it passed over him, he could make out Doran’s distinctive craftsmanship – it was his own staff. Had someone stolen it? His focus fell to his fingers and he was relieved to find it still clutched within them.
Wukong allowed his momentum to carry him into a backflip, and he brought the weapon up defensively the second his feet touched the soil. Soil…where am I? He glanced at his surroundings and recognized the vibrant ferns, towering kopak trees, and sprawling vines in an instant.
How had he returned to the Plague Jungles? More importantly, who had just attacked him?
He scanned the immediate area but could find no sign of the aggressor. There was no way anyone could have gotten away so fast. He peered through the lush vegetation, looking for signs of someone’s passing. He had the space of a gasp to notice a curious shadow before he was struck squarely in the chest by a jab from the imposter weapon. It came from nearly twenty feet away, stretching several times its normal length to reach him. Knockoff or not, it apparently shared the unique qualities of the original.
The blow knocked the wind out of him, and sent him sliding along the jungle’s mossy floor. He stayed on his feet, but struggled to maintain his composure as he coaxed air back into his lungs. A blur in the corner of his vision announced the next assault, and Wukong was able to identify his assailant’s glinting gold armor before he was beset by a flurry of attacks. The form was unmistakable.
On his heels, Wukong could barely keep upright as he parried the furious onslaught. The rogue clone was faster than he was, and its strikes were well-chosen and well-placed. Wukong tried to control the clone as he would one of his own illusions, although he was unsurprised when that failed. This clone wasn’t one of his tricks, it was something different entirely. Had the jungle produced another, possibly better monkey king? He was horrified by the thought.
Wukong saw an opening in the clone’s barrage, and he unleashed a powerful blow. He timed it perfectly – the clone had no time to react before Wukong’s staff collided with its jaw.
When he made contact, the clone vanished in a puff of smoke.
Uh oh. Wukong knew this tactic all too well. He tried to block the attack he knew would come from behind but he wasn’t fast enough. Bright pain filled his vision and he collapsed face-first into mud and ferns. As he tried to blink the world back into his eyes, the clone circled him slowly, savoring its advantage.
“Why do you want to join the League, Wukong?” The question, delivered in his own voice, rattled him.
“To be the best,” he rasped, spitting dirt.
“You have a long way to go.”
“That’s the fun part.” Wukong got to one knee. “When you’re at the top, there’s nowhere left to go.” He eyed the clone curiously, perhaps things weren’t as they seemed. “But I’m not as far away as you think.”
He grinned mischievously, and the clone lashed out with its staff, sensing danger. All it hit was a cloud of smoke. Wukong hurtled through the air behind it, one hand latched onto a vine, the other holding the staff out like a lance. The clone whirled around faster than the eye could see, its staff cutting a vicious arc for Wukong. It hit its mark perfectly, and just in time, but Wukong just burst into another cloud.
The trees were coming alive now. Another Wukong swung down from a vine, then another, and another. The clone moved like a machine, barely intercepting every attack but slowly becoming obscured in fog as they all dispersed harmlessly in front of it. It tried to move, to find some better ground, but Wukongs poured from the trees, surrounding and suppressing it with unrelenting strikes. One Wukong stood outside the cloud, arms folded, watching as the clone struggled to resist being overwhelmed.
“You know, human, things are different in the Plague Jungles. We aren’t provided for, we aren’t protected. Most creatures don’t fight for fun here – most fight to survive.” He ducked as the clone’s staff, shooting out from the cloud, sought to land a lucky strike. “But I fight to be the best. That’s what makes me special. That’s why I left to find your League. That’s why I will be the greatest.”
The clone was visibly losing steam. Wukong plucked a peach from a nearby tree and took a bite. It tasted divine.
“As a people, you have the world at your fingertips, but alone, most of you crumble in the face of true adversity,” he slurped through a mouthful of peach.
Suddenly, before his eyes, the jungle dissolved. He dropped the peach, but it was gone before it reached the ground. Only the clone remained against a backdrop of darkness. Its eyes burned brightly, but its expression was pleased.
“How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
Wukong tapped the clone on the shoulder from behind, the Wukong it was facing vanished, leaving the same poof of smoke.
“I told you I wasn’t as far as you thought,” he said with a smile.
Scowling, the clone disappeared and then Wukong was back in the Institute. He chuckled. Humans and their rituals. Nonetheless, another trial passed, another obstacle overcome. Now it was time to put this League to the test.