Viscero did not have a good night.
Sleep escaped him, and so he sat up in his bed and thought very hard on recent events. People had been acting strangely around him since he arrived in Noxus. Viscero had expected to be shunned by the populace when he arrived, and indeed he was... Until he met Ardis. Now the people on the street who had initially looked at him like he was a mutant animal that had climbed out of the sewer seemed to actually be afraid of him. They avoided his gaze, gave him a berth as he passed, and sped up their walking so they could be clear of his apparently formidable aura. Viscero had at first assumed that this behavior was caused by his new attire, coupled with his rugged good looks and roguish charm. He was now beginning to feel that this was not the case. Something else was at work here, and it was beginning to dawn on him what.
Viscero slid out of bed and walked across the room. His sword sat vertically in a leather reading chair. He picked it up, pulled it gently from its sheath, and returned to his bedside to study the blade in the light.
It had been awhile since Viscero actually looked at the blade itself. He’d examined it constantly when he’d first obtained it, studying its dark grey color of the blade, its faintly rusty edge, and the trio of unusual runes just above the hilt.
What he held now was not that sword.
The blade in his hand had turned a deep obsidian and the gleaming silver edge shone wickedly in the lamplight. The runic trio had been joined by several compatriots, and there was a strange, glossy texture to the weapon as if Viscero had failed to clean it of Burke’s blood. It looked like it had been forged that afternoon. It looked crueler, more wicked than the sword that had slain his father. It was lighter. It fit Viscero’s hand better.
Viscero gave the sword an experimental swing. It was a perfectly comfortable weight. It was balanced. It looked fearsome. Despite everything that this blade had caused, Viscero found he liked rather liked it. It felt like it was made for him.
But why was everyone so interested in it?
Bronze and Burke had known something about the sword, and Viscero was certain they weren’t the only ones. The strangest thing was the fact that Ardis had never once commented on the blade except in passing. There was only one explanation.
Ardis was hiding something.
Viscero would have to speak with him tomorrow... Which seemed to be days away. He couldn’t get any sleep, not with his thoughts churning the way they were. And so that night Viscero practiced his swordplay in the empty area his spacious room afforded him. With every swing his convictions grew. He would speak with Ardis... No, he would speak to Ardis and demand to know what he was hiding, what this sword was about, and the real reason he was being treated like royalty in a city he’d never been in before.
The next morning, Viscero was simultaneously disappointed and excited to find that he was sharing the breakfast table with Mrs. Blackburn, who had not yet prepared for the day. She looked tired, and her hair hung in ragged spirals down to her shoulders, and she’d not yet changed out of her thin silk nightgown, which Viscero was perfectly okay with. She was somewhat alarmed to see him when he’d entered the room, as though she’d forgotten that there was anyone else in the house.
“What are you doing here?” she asked Viscero pointedly.
Viscero stumbled on his words, “What-- I’m...Er, breakfast.”
She fired a white-hot glare at Bronze for allowing her to be caught without her makeup on, and he responded with an incredulous shrug as though it was unheard of for a butler to take care of an outsider. She sighed slowly and then regarded Viscero with the utmost disdain. “I thought you’d left with my son. You’re his friend, aren’t you?” Her tone was somehow accusatory.
“I wasn’t aware he’d left.” Viscero suppressed a faint urge to growl like an upset animal. There went his plans for the morning. “I apologize.” he added. Then, before he could stop himself, “You look quite lovely this morning, Mrs. Blackburn.” He said it, and he meant it.
Mrs. Blackburn’s eyes narrowed for a moment, and she prepared to verbally retaliate against the slight when it occurred to her that it wasn’t a slight at all.
“Oh.” she said. “Yes.”
“May I join you for breakfast?”
She looked at him for a moment, then gestured for Bronze to move his lazy ass and get the young man a plate of food. Bronze grudgingly acquiesced, and soon Viscero was hard at work sating his enormous appetite.
“So, Mr. Veruko...” she began.
“Viscero.” he corrected.
“Yes. How long exactly do you plan on staying in my house?” It was an uncomfortable question that made Viscero briefly choke on a piece of toast, and it was a question to which he didn’t actually have an answer.
“If I may, Mistress,” chimed in Bronze helpfully, “I believe your son intends to make him a permanent resident of Blackburn manor.”
Mrs. Blackburn scowled incredulously, “Permanent? When was I to be informed of this?” She looked at Bronze, and then at Viscero, who shrugged and began to feel like a much smaller person.
“Oh, I’m certain Master Viscero would have happily excused himself had you any opposition to his staying here. After all, he’s not from Noxus and merely needs a... ‘foothold.’ As it were.” Bronze assured her, smiling jovially and uncharacteristically.
“Not from around here?” she asked, and she looked at Viscero again. Yes... Now that he mentioned it, the young man did appear unusually tan for a Noxian. “Well good heavens, where are you from then?” she asked.
“Uhm. West.” said Viscero hesitantly.
“How west?” she asked in a way that made Viscero carefully consider his answer.
“About... a day’s travel north of Mogron Pass”
Mrs. Blackburn seemed satisfied that the young man was not a Demacian. “What could have ever persuaded you to come out here?”
Viscero thought back to his conversations with Ardis.
“I came to live the Noxian ideal.”
Mrs. Blackburn deadpanned. “The what?”
“The uhm.” Viscero looked at Bronze, who was similarly off-put by Viscero’s answer. “Getting what I want through power and force of will? Isn’t that why people come here?”
“Nobody ‘comes’ to Noxus,” said Mrs. Blackburn slowly, as if speaking to an idiot child. “If you are not born in Noxus, then you have no place in Noxus. Who put such a silly idea into your head?”
Viscero felt his cheeks reddening, “Erm. Well, I wanted to prove that I could.”
“And how exactly did you even make it past the outer gate?”
“I... snuck in.”
“Snuck in.” she repeated. “Mr. Bronze, why have you allowed a criminal into my home?”
Mr. Bronze made an expression of minor alarm, “What, but, I had no idea!” he protested. “A thousand pardons, I shall have him removed at once.”
Bronze started towards Viscero, who slipped out of his chair and backed away.
“There’s really no need for that, really. I can show myself out.”
Mr. Bronze disagreed, and he dropped into a combat stance that bespoke of numerous years of training and looked completely surreal when utilized by a butler. Viscero had a second to contemplate the humor in it all when Mr. Bronze lashed out with a blindingly fast strike. Viscero dodged it, barely, but in doing so opened himself up to the follow-up strike which struck him hard on the chest and knocked him to the floor. He scrambled to his feet and prepared to defend himself. Bronze swung his arm in a chopping arc that Viscero ducked under, and Viscero brought his fist up in an uppercut. It was a clumsy technique that had won him many battles in the past, but had failed against Burke and, now, failed against Bronze. Bronze stepped backwards to avoid the blow and struck Viscero again, who fell to the floor again and scrambled to his feet again. Viscero did not expect Bronze to be a fighter, and yet here he was, executing maneuvers that were both practiced and deadly.
Only now, Viscero was getting into his rhythm. Time seemed to slow as he and Bronze stared one another down, and when Bronze attacked next, Viscero was ready. Bronze lifted his leg in preparation for a kick that might have put another man down for the count, but Viscero could see the trajectory, and he was moving before Bronze was. When the kick came, the mark was no longer there. Viscero had ducked and threw his own leg out. It connected with Bronze’s leg and sent the elderly butler sprawling to the floor. Bronze righted himself with what almost looked like a breakdance, and he was standing against almost immediately, although he seemed rather nonplussed that Viscero had been able to knock him down in the first place. He stepped forward and thrust his fist toward Viscero in a brutal punch, which Viscero deflected with his forearm, and the two briefly traded blows before Bronze landed a glancing blow across the side of Viscero’s face, causing Viscero to stumble backwards. Bronze followed up with another strike, but this time his experience worked against him. He was clearly seasoned at fighting taller opponents, and so he overcompensated for his next strike leaving his torso exposed. Viscero demonstrated the folly of his oversight with a powerful right hook which slammed hard into the butler’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He jumped back, clutching one hand against the wounded area and breathing laboriously, glowering at Viscero who was proving to be quite the unwelcome houseguest.
“That’s quite enough.” said Mrs. Blackburn suddenly, who had been watching the fight with amusement.
Bronze looked at her quizzically, “What?”
“I said, that’s enough.”
Viscero was at a loss. He tried to look at Mrs. Blackburn while keeping Bronze in his peripheral vision.
“Well fought, young man.” she said, picking at the last of her breakfast. “Mr. Bronze is not the easiest of opponents.”
“What, was this a test, too?” asked Viscero.
“Mmm,” she confirmed with a forkful of egg in her mouth.
Viscero sighed. What was wrong with this city?
Bronze righted himself and fixed his uniform with a dismissive grunt. He seemed disappointed that he wasn’t going to be evicting Viscero after all.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?” she asked.
Viscero shrugged, “I grew up in a tough neighborhood.” said Viscero, and it was a lie. He grew up in one of the more peaceful area on Valoran. He just liked fighting.
Mrs. Blackburn sighed wistfully, “If only more of the lower class were like you. All they can do is wallow in their own filth and whine about their circumstances.”
“Yeah...” Viscero agreed, though he was insincere in doing so.
“Well, it’s clear how you’ve made a friend of my son,” she said.
“Speaking of which, do you know where he is? I need to talk to him about... things.”
Mrs. Blackburn shook her head, “No. My son is very private of his business. Imagine that, withholding these things from his own mother! The nerve of that child... I imagine he’ll return within the hour. In the meantime, would you care for a cup of tea?”
Viscero did, in fact, care for a cup of tea, and so Mrs. Blackburn commanded the grimacing butler to make some for the both of them. As they drank, Mrs. Blackburn gave Viscero a brief introduction to the city of Noxus, its founding, and its ruler Boram Darkwill, a man that every Noxian reveres as something of a living god. Viscero learned that her husband Mr. Blackburn was part of the high command, but was relieved to hear that he’d never once been dispatched to a small wooden cottage north of Mogron Pass for any reason and that all of his swords were still in his possession. It was around then that Mr. Bronze excused himself to address a laundry bell which Viscero had definitely not heard, and in his absence Mrs. Blackburn let Viscero in on the extremely interesting fact that Bronze too had once been a part of the Noxian High Command until a scandal involving murder and one of his superiors, which the public had never heard, had him stripped of his position, and it was only by the grace of his previous achievements and the questionable nature of the evidence against him that he was not put to death and was instead relegated to the less prestigious duty of butler to House Blackburn.
The two spoke for a very long time, but soon it came time for Mrs. Blackburn to prepare for the day’s events, and Ardis had not yet returned so Viscero thought he might take a stroll around the city. He’d made it as far as the front gate of Blackburn Estate when he realized the flaw in his plan, but on a hunch he tried the gate and it swung open happily for him.
Viscero had never really had the opportunity to explore Noxus, but his initial impression was that it was a pleasant, happy city full of kindly people and interesting stores. Viscero was quite happy to find that his initial impression held up. He’d walked for some time until he was drawn into a small cornerside store by the alluring scent of hot chocolate, a drink which Viscero had tasted only three times in his life and hated himself for not learning how it was made.
By now, he was used to feeling the stares of people watching him as he passed, but he could not ignore the reaction from the portly man behind the counter.
“Sir!” he boomed, “How gracious of you to grace my establishment!” He brought one arm up to fix the white chef’s cap on his head, then straightened his white apron. “What might I offer you?”
“Uhm. Hot chocolate, if you will.”
“Coming right up, sir!” he announced, and Viscero made a self-conscious glance over his shoulder. Yes, everyone was still staring at him. Okay, just making sure. He turned back to the man, who was filling the largest cup Viscero had ever seen with a dark, steaming liquid. That done, he set it on the counter, and that was when Viscero realized that he had no money.
“Erm. What do I owe you?” he asked.
“Owe me!” the man almost-shouted, “Such humility! You of all people sir, owe me nothing. Why, I should be paying you for this honor!” Viscero looked over his shoulder again, certain he was being made fun of. The cafeteria was still staring at him.
“Stop staring at me.” said Viscero, and every head turned back to their business hurriedly. Well, that was interesting.
“Ah, forgive them, your lordship!” said the man, “You really can’t blame them!”
Viscero turned back to the man to agree, but the man sputtered suddenly.
“Erm, or, you can, if you want to!” he said with a nervous chuckle, “Really, it’s up to you!”
“What’s your name?” asked Viscero, and the fat man gained such a look of appreciation that he appeared ready to burst into a monologue, and Viscero held up a hand to stop him, “Just your name, my good man.”
“Varrington, Curgood Varrington, at your service!” he doffed his hat.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Varrington.” said Viscero, testing the temperature of his cup and finding it still too hot to comfortably lift.
“Please sir, call me Curgood! Er, if you want, that is! You can, of course, call me what you wish!”
It was at this point that Viscero was certain that the man’s voice was just naturally thunderous, perhaps amplified slightly by his excitement to be serving the illustrious... Viscero... but it was likely that he did not understand the concept of indoor voices, which was why the seats nearest the serving counter were empty.
Viscero finally found that his cup had cooled enough for him to lift, and so he picked it up and found himself a seat at an unoccupied table with a comfortable buffer zone of empty tables between him and the rest of the establishment, and as he sipped at his hot chocolate (which he found was so delicious that it defied mortal comprehension) he had some time to think. Somewhere along the way he had picked up more questions than answers. He wanted sorely to ask Curgood why, exactly, he was such a celebrated figure in Noxus, but he couldn’t quite think of the right way to phrase it without possibly revealing to everyone that he wasn’t who they thought he was.
He finished his chocolate and returned the cup to Curgood, who began to sing the praises of the man who, despite his stature, always finds time to bus his own goblet, during which Viscero walked quickly to the door, keeping his eyes on the floor and waving farewell to everyone present.
Viscero returned to Blackburn estate to find that Ardis had still not returned. He did however, find Bronze in the library. Bronze was hard at work polishing one of the bookshelves when Viscero approached. He turned and regarded him with a great deal of mock cheer.
“Ah, Master Viscero. What brings you here? Come to interrupt my work?”
“What can you tell me about this sword?”
“Why, nothing you haven’t already heard.” he said.
“That isn’t true. You know something about it. I’d like an answer, if you please.”
“Master Viscero, I am but a humble butler. What could I possibly know of--”
“You were in the high command.” said Viscero, and Bronze was silent. “Which means, you know what this sword is. Why do I have it, and what does it do?”
“Master Viscero, I don’t know where you heard such an outrageous rumor, but I can assure you had I any ties whatsoever to the high command I most certainly wouldn’t be a butler for a family of stuck up, ungrateful... Ah, but I forget myself. If you’ll excuse me...”
Bronze turned to leave, but he was stopped when Viscero buried his sword into the bookshelf that Bronze had been polishing so that the blade was blocking his path.
“I see... Very well.” said Bronze with a sigh, “What do you wish to know?”