The Passage of Twin Disciplines
Oath's End – Part One
One day East then two days North. That was what Garen had told them before departing, but Akali had to wonder if he had known that the forest was so full of prying eyes. If it weren't for Nidalee's superior hearing and sense of smell, Akali doubted very much if they would have made it even this far undetected.
Just as the Knight had said, after a full days march in the soft underbrush, with Nidalee spending most of it in her human form, picking her way along in bare feet with enough grace to once again make Akali wonder if the woods were in fact, parting ways for her, the ground began to part into a thousand tiny streams. Their feet began to sink into the muck if they stood still for too long, or took too heavy of a step, but it seemed only Akali was having any real difficulty.
Along with the terrain change, Akali could make out the mountains that signalled that they were getting close to the East coast which housed Noxus. It seemed that most of the beings they passed were either soldiers or those who had gone mad and were left to wander the wilderness, mumbling to themselves as they padded along.
Akali couldn't help but wonder as she crouched low behind a bush, Nidalee crouched beside her, if it was a side effect of some sort of toxin.
The guards they passed Akali assumed to be some sort of patrol. Although what they were doing this far away from their homeland with no foreseeable outposts, the Kinkou was unsure.
It was slow going, feet sinking into muck and rain spotting from the overcast clouds as they went but eventually, in the early morning of the second day, Nidalee crooned low, a nervous hum vibrating through their bond as she took in the first whiff of the Summoner's magic.
Over the course of the passing day, Nidalee only became more agitated as they continued onto the Summoner's tower. By noon the huntress was snapping at the tall grass that would brush her legs, jumping at every noise, and it wasn't long after that she had reverted into her cougar form to try and find some comfort.
However even the presence of her fangs and claws were not enough to lower her hackles or soothe the raised, coarse hair along her spine.
Akali watched the horizon nervously, attempting to suggest that Nidalee should shift back into her human form but only receiving a snarl in reply. From that point on, the Kinkou allowed her companion to remain in her furred form, deciding they were close enough to the tower filled with magic users that it wouldn't matter much which form they were caught in.
Afterall, Lux had figured out what Nidalee was easy enough, and if what the sorceress has told them was correct, she was only an apprentice. A gifted apprentice, but an apprentice none the less.
Besides that point, the likely hood that any who had heard of the Demacian's bounty upon herself and Nidalee's cougar form was next to none. Not only would trackers be deterred by the encroaching Noxian patrol, but the proximity of the Summoner's tower would be enough protection to rest easy. From the trackers and bounty hunters at least.
By nightfall the tower loomed overhead, its presence a dark spear in the cloudy night. The outer walls were a dark grey, damp from the moist terrain with moss and ivy clinging and climbing up the outside walls. The green growth was thick at the bottom, clawing its way up the stone, becoming more sparse the higher it went, only the most desperate reaching the half way point of the tower.
A point Akali found most curious was that there were no visible openings of windows going up the tower with its base spanning easily three or four times as wide as the gates into Demacia. Additional to the lack of windows was also the lack of guards, as far as the Kinkou could tell, there was no possible way for the Summoner's to tell what was outside of their home. It was either extreme arrogance or perhaps they had simply set all their trust on the fact that they believed no one would have any reason to attack them. Simply choosing to let their reputation keep them safe instead of any form of physical defence.
The entire structure was both breathtaking and terrifying.
Peering out from under the cover of the leaves of a low hanging tree, Akali looked up towards where the top of the tower should be visible but only found it to be hidden within the cloud cover, reaching up towards the very heavens. No matter how she tried, the heiress could not make out any discernible top of the structure.
Nidalee growled, her paws shifting in the underbrush, mud rising up past her ankles as her tail swished. There were so many emotions running through the huntress, the first to hit Akali was the fear and deep discomfort that the huntress had been feeling since she had gotten the first whiff of the Summoners. Her fur pricked and stood on end, ears back and fangs bared as she tried to challenge the unseen threat that had her so on edge.
The second roiling emotion that hit Akali was worry. Worry for the cubs, for herself as well as for the Kinkou herself. This was a foe that had taken down her mother, father and brother and sisters. A foe that had taken down her entire family, the fiercest hunters in the Kumungu forest. Hunters that had often fought with the river wolf pack for territory and sent them running and yelping on many occasions. All the while they had not managed to make a single kill of their own or even wet their fangs upon the enemies flesh.
Now it was just herself and her mind-mirror. While it was true that her human was a fierce hunter that was terrifying as she slashed the air with her fangs and claws, now there were many more where before there was only a few.
How many snake strikers would she have to fight this time? How they had torn her pelt and left her gasping and drained her life blood from her. It was true that her mind-mirror had done her best to train her in the hunting techniques of the shiny-skins, but would that be enough for this kill?
Then there was the massive alligator that they had fought before the wolf-man had intervened. The large, scaled beast had crushed the shiny-skin's caves with only his paw and torn the ground with his claws, brandishing fangs as long as her legs. How could they fight something like that?
Even when she had lunged and landed upon his neck, she had been unable to rend the warm flow from his neck. Her claws and fans had bounced off his rock exterior, shattering as she had tried to find a hold.
Nidalee was still uncertain how she had survived his swipe during that fight, but had a deep feeling it had been her mind-mirror's doing. Even if it was a hunt story not to be told. It was one of the memories that even now, her human kept carefully locked away in a dark corner of her mind that Nidalee was not allowed to enter.
Finally, here was one other emotion that seemed to shadow everything else, a focused edge that seemed to push down all of Nidalee's fears of uncertainty until they cowered under the sheer pressure that it was exuding, determination. No matter how much fear she felt, how much her instincts were screaming to run instead of fight, Nidalee was determined to save the cubs. She was now the hunt leader and it was her duty to protect those she was charged to lead.
No matter what happened, or how foolish it seemed once analyzed, Nidalee was determined to climb the massive structure before her and send it toppling to the ground in order to find the cubs. The last members of her family and of her home.
Akali listened silently, allowing the huntress to sort through her thoughts and feelings without interruption. As Nidalee's mind quieted and became focused on the task ahead Akali smiled slightly, silently checking all of her weapons and tightening her gear, making sure everything was as it should be.
Once she finished, the Kinkou took a deep breath and closed her eyes, closing her mind to all outside distractions as she let out a slow breath and focused inward.
This was a fight that in all honesty, she was not seasoned enough for. Nidalee had been right, this was not a fight that would be easy, far from it. Purhaps one with as much skill as Shen or Kennen would be able to accomplish what they were setting out to do, but she was not ready. Nor was she too proud to admit that there was a very real chance she would die within the tower before her, it was a fate she would have to resign herself to if she meant to keep her oath.
So instead of focusing on herself, or that which she could not change, Akali quieted her mind and on a different objective: To rescue the cubs and make sure they and Nidalee escaped alive. That much at least, should be possible to accomplish.
She had already passed on everything she knew to Garen, and even if he should fail, there were others as well. The Night Hunter, the man with the three pointed hat, even Nidalee would be able to pass on her mission to another. To let the Kinkou know what had happened and that she had not meant to shame her mother or her clan.
No, that was wrong. Not Nidalee, it was not the huntresses duty. Her mission ended with the cubs retrieval. Afterwards, she would not longer have any reason to travel with the Kinkou and could once again return to her home. Afterwards she would have no more ties to hold onto, she would be free to return to her home and live, once again, happily and in peace.
The Kinkou hesitated at that thought, the idea of Nidalee leaving to return home and no longer being near her, no longer being able to feel the mental presence of the huntress, it... hurt. It was an unreasonable reaction, she should be happy that Nidalee would finally have the chance to return home, return to her family. Even then, besides that fact, why should she feel anything for this green mage? If anything Akali knew she should feel nothing, except perhaps, contentment in completing her oath. She should be content to rid herself of the huntress, being able to finally put some much needed distance between them so she could once again quiet her mind.
Akali knew this all logically, she knew that the huntress had done nothing but confuse her and bring up emotions and feelings that she should not feel. She knew all of this, but no matter how much she steeled herself, told herself that it was the natural course of things, it was what was expected to happen after completing her duty.
Even knowing all that, the thought of saying good bye to her companion, it left her feeling empty.
Beside her, Nidalee growled, low and deep. Her paws began to shift as her tail flicked with more force. Something was coming.
Akali crouched lower, resigning herself to whatever was to happen and thinking no further as a doorway appeared on the right of the tower, a flickering light barely visible within. Slowly, a figure stepped into the light of the setting sun and Akali's skin prickled, carefully raising her hand to slide her mask up and flipping the grip of her weapons in her hands.
The black-cloaked figure seemed to pause, raising its arms and stretching tall, as they did their sleeves slid down their forearms, revealing circular, black, tattoos that seemed to ring their forearms in set intervals.
As Akali watched the Summoner, perfectly still with even her breathing silent, the door in the tower disappeared. It seemed to the Kinkou that the doors were created by the Summoners but didn't seem to last long. That would explain the lack of openings, it was not that there were none, it was that they were only accessible by a select few.
Perhaps they would be able to sneak in when the Summoner went to return, assuming they had simply stepped out for fresh air – which seemed unlikely. Moreover, Akali had a sinking feeling that they would have to somehow suppress the Summoner and force them to open the doorway without alerting anyone else to their presence. However, it didn't seem very likely that their battle with a planes-walking, spell-caster would be very quiet, or quick for that matter.
Akali's eyes lingered on the black, ringed tattoos as she began to rake her mind for any other instance she had seen such markings on any other Summoners when her target's disposition suddenly changed.
Her face slowly became visible as she looked back at the tower and seemed to mumble to herself. White-blonde hair ran down to frame her face which featured soft brown eyes and a mischievous smile. Whatever she was up to, it seemed to be going well and she began to untie her hood, taking great care with the knots that held the fabric in place.
Without hesitation, Akali began to creep through the underbrush, closer to her target while she was distracted, Nidalee close at her heels.
By the time the duo had made her way to her target, hidden no more than ten feet away, she steadied herself and waited for her moment. Her mother had always said that a moment was not something that could be taught to find, it was a feeling in your gut, a natural instinct. An instinct that her mother had also said, Akali either lacked or chose to ignore.
The fabric of the Summoner's cowl came loose and she opened the front of her robe at the neck, pulling it away from her body and whispering quietly.
"Here we are, Pix." From within her robes, a butterfly flew, sparkling dust falling with each flap of its rainbowed wings. The small creature seemed to be happy as it danced in the air, spinning before seeming to kiss the Summoner's nose in thanks.
"You're very welcome, little one. Now go back to your master, quick now."
With one last twirl, the butterfly took off to the south, seeming very intent on doing just that.
The mysterious Summoner watched the insect for another moment, a soft, sad smile tugging at the corner of her lips before she sighed and pulled her hood back up, turning to return.
Akali had watched the entire interaction curiously, and hesitated when the Summoner turned her back. What if this Summoner was not like the rest? If she had let the butterfly go... Perhaps-
Before she could finish her train of thought, Nidalee burst from the brush beside her and charged the retreating woman. She had heard her mind-mirror's thoughts. This snake-striker would open the cave wall. She would, if she were made to fear death by her fangs and claws.
The cubs were in that cave, the snake-striker would cry red.
Muscles bunched, Nidalee surged forward, claws tearing at the soft ground, spraying grass and mud behind her. As her back legs tensed, her body lowered and she prepared to spring upon her target, she was thrown airborne, the wind crushed out of her as she tumbled over the ground.
The Summoner turned, surprised and seemed to slowly take in what was happening.
Gently, a large calloused hand pushed her behind him as Alistar towered in front of her, chest heaving and horns lowered, tuffs of golden fur clinging to the small outlayers.
Nidalee rolled to her feet, small cuts and gouges littering her chest and legs as she growled, tail flicking back and forth.
"A cougar, what is a cougar doing this far North?" The Summoner whispered.
"That is not a cougar, Elliane. That is one of the green mages." Alistar replied, cringing that he would have to fight something so close to his kin. Green mages were originally solely minotaurs. With their deep connection to Runeterra and nature, a few had been chosen by the spirits and were able to transform into mighty beasts when the time was right.
Over the years, a few humans and yordles, along with other various races showed one or two who possessed the ability as well.
However, that was in the past. A green mage had not been sited for decades, and it pained the warrior to have to fight the first to appear in so long. There was no doubt in his mind, those eyes did not belong to a beast.
"A green mage? But-" Elliane breathed in wonder as Nidalee circled around, watching as Alistar shifted with her movements to keep his Summoner carefully behind him.
"She is not alone. Do not lower your guard, make for the tower, I will be able to hold them off for at least that long." Alistar replied, patting her back with his fingers.
"Why are they here?" Elliane breathed, ignoring Alistar's prompts and instead stepping up right behind him to peer under his arm, studying the huntresses movements as she seemed to grow only more agitated, shaking her head as if to clear it.
"Does it matter? They mean you harm! Leave, before her companion deems it worthy to join the fight." The minotaur pressed, his voice becoming more gruff as Nidalee's actions seemed to become more sporadic. She seemed to be fighting with something, throwing her head back and forth and snarling as her claws dug up the earth, her pacing becoming more a sign of frustration than stalking.
"I do not think her companion means to fight us. Watch the cougar." Elliane pointed out. "I wonder..." Carefully, Elliane slipped out from behind her guardian, raising a hand when Alistar once again reached out for her, and stepped into clear view.
"I do not know why you've come," She spoke towards the trees, "But I think that if you had wished a fight you would have presented one already. What is it that you want?"
Akali crouched lower, watching the Summoner from her hiding spot while using most of her attention to hold Nidalee back. She understood her friend's frustration, they were so close. But they could not attack a Champion, which this creature so obviously was. He had appeared out of nothing, stepping into reality through a portal of shimmering blue just in time to knock Nidalee out of the air when she had lunged for the Summoner.
If they attacked the Champion, they would be put to death. That was the law for anyone who harmed a Champion knowingly. Sometimes, if you allowed the Summoners to scour your mind and they found that you had no previous knowledge they would let the offender off with a severe punishment.
But the moment the portal had appeared, Akali had known and via their link, so did Nidalee.
They had no choice now. If they attacked, they would be killed, if not by this Summoner's hands, another. They would lose their chance to rescue the cubs.
Akali's mother had always told her to follow her instincts, and this time, they were telling her to trust this Summoner. Even has her mind was telling her that they should run, while they still had a chance.
Much to the Summoner's surprise, as well as the Kinkou presenting herself, Akali stepped out of hiding and stood with weapons in hand.
Alistar seemed to flinch, looking at the young fighter who's eyes shone with much more battle experience than one of her age should, unable to put himself between both threats.
"Greetings heiress, I had heard you were in Demacia." Elliane greeted, a gentle smile presented as Akali seemed shocked at the way she was addressed. "I'm sorry, I did not mean to startle you. It's just that many of my colleagues have been watching your progress eagerly, so word of your whereabouts is a common topic among the Summoners I'm afraid."
Akali clenched her jaw, unable to figure out what gain the Summoner could possibly have from telling her all of this. Was it a threat? Was the Summoner saying that the entire tower already knew that she was standing at their doorstep, or was she taunting her, letting her know that she already knew every step she had planned to make?
"Then you already know why we're here?" Akali asked, suddenly afraid that they Summoner had already figure out what Nidalee was as well. The Summoner had been whispering to her Champion after he had appeared, it would be a big problem if they had found out what Nidalee was.
Something that rare would be the target of many contracts if the news spread.
Ellaine blinked and tilted her head, seeming curious about Akali's remark. "No, you have surprised me. Like I said, I had heard you were in Demacia, I don't think anyone knows you are this far North."
Akali rocked back on her heels slightly, she had not expected the admission. Additionally, the heiress found herself put off with how relaxed the Summoner was. The way she smiled, how soft her eyes were. It was hard to believe that someone who was aligned to the Summoners would be this... gentle.
"But if I may ask, why are you here?" Elliance enquired, behind her Alistar snorted and shook his head, all the while keeping a steady lock on Nidalee who seemed to become more agitated with each passing moment.
Before she replied, Akali steadied herself and silently decided how she would answer that question.
It was frustrating, being forced to play this Summoner's game, when they were so close. However with the minotaur's massive bulk as well as the disappearing door to contend with, Akali found herself with little choice but to go along with it, for now at least.
"I've come to retrieve something that was taken from my friend." She replied. The Kinkou did not want to tell her what it was, exactly, that they had come for. If things went wrong, or if her gamble turned sour, she did not want to put the cubs into further jeopardy.
"Retrieve something?" Elliane seemed to ponder her newest piece of information. "That isn't a lot to go on, can't you tell me more?"
Akali scowled, her grip tightening around the handles of her weapons.
"Hmm, no I suppose not. Well lets see, it isn't something from the Kinkou. I don't know anyone who would dare to steal something from them and risk losing the contracts with two of our most prominent champions. Besides that, I find it curious that you called this person a friend. From all of our research on the Kinkou, we had concluded that they did not have friends, or other bonds that could be exploited over any given member. Even family held no further meaning that carrying on a name."
Akali started at that admission, her scowl deepening having made such a careless slip up. The Summoner was right, it was not customary for the Kinkou to have friends or any bonds beside fellow ninja.
"Although, then again friend could simply be a cover for employer, but then the Kinkou also fight to preserve balance, not for profit. So I can cross that off my list, even if you seem to be different from the others I've encountered.
"Now lets see, the heir to the Kinkou dynasty has come to my door step to retrieve something for a 'friend' which most likely also relates to keeping some semblance of balance." Elliane sighed and turned to say something to Alistar when her eyes settled on Nidalee.
They stood, locked together before Elliane turned back with a start. "The cougar cubs. That is why you're here."
Akali balked, thrown off her guard that she had figured it out so easily. As she watched, the Summoner closed her eyes and took a deep breath, when she opened them next, all the gentle playfulness that was there before had disappeared, her expression hard as she spoke. Her voice barely above a whisper. "That is right, isn't it? Why else would a cougar be this far north? You are trying to return the hunters to the jungle?"
Akali froze, unwilling to confirm the assumption however also unable to deny its truth when she had no other explanation for Nidalee's presence and fury.
"I had told Estwald that he needed to stop meddling in the affairs of the living creatures of this world." Ellaine shook her head sadly, reaching up to tug on the strings from her hood that she had never retied. "I'm afraid it has become a hobby of his, to abduct creatures he finds curious and research them. My small friend from earlier was another such creature. I will help you, but I cannot do much more than allow you to follow me through the door and then point you in the right direction.
"You see, while I may not agree with what he does, I can also not outwardly oppose him. I cannot lose my position within the Summoner's ranks yet, and I do not have the power to challenge him. However the one thing I can do is apologize."
Her white hair shifted as Ellaine turned and locked her soft brown eyes with Nidalee's green ones, and to Akali's complete surprise, the Summoner tilted her chin up, exposing her throat. She did not speak, but to the huntress she did not need to. To submit so fully in such a primal way was, to the huntress, far more of an acceptable apology than any words ever would be.
The female Summoner was offering her life, leaving herself exposed as she fell to her knees, all the while keeping her chin up.
Nidalee snapped her jaws, snarling as her tail twitched. Watching curiously, she took a step closer only to have Alistar instantly try to intervene before Ellaine's hand snapped out, stopping him where he stood.
"No." She commanded, breathing deeply as Nidalee continued to prowl closer.
As Akali watched the approach she reached out to Nidalee's mind, to try to foresee what it was that the cougar planned on doing, instead she found her mind enclosed within thick walls that she could not breach, and for the first time, Akali found herself locked out of the cougar's conscious.
This time, it was her turn to step closer to the Summoner, stopping when Nidalee paused and snarled at her, fangs bared and eyes cold.
When Akali stopped, Nidalee once again turned to the waiting Summoner, closing the final stretch between them and opening her maw, tilting her head so that her fangs grazed the side of the smaller woman's neck.
No one moved in those next few moments, as Ellaine accepted whatever fate would befall her as the huntress's warm breath bathed her skin.
'Their hunt was not yours, moon-mane. But, if I find their blood shed, I will return to drink from the river of yours.' Nidalee's voice thrummed within Akali's mind as she watched the huntress step back and lower her head. The Kinkou was unsure if the Summoner could hear her words but it didn't seem to matter as the message seemed to pass regardless.
"You are far kinder than my colleagues, mighty hunter." Ellaine dipped her head once the cougar had backed away an acceptable distance. Confident the matter had been resolved for now, she once again turned to Akali, "Once you step through that door I will be unable to help you, but before you do, I want to tell you something: The rules of your world do not apply to ours. What you see is not necessarily what is there. Stay hidden and find the cubs, and once you do, leave. Do not look back, do not try for anything more.
"My colleagues are not the same as me, they will not show you mercy, or pause to talk before they strike. So I will ask you this only once, are you ready?"
Chapter end! Well, I hope you enjoyed it. And yes, I did add Pix for one certain reader and I hope he enjoyed it as much as I think he will.
Anywho! Thank you for reading, drop a review if you feel like it.