"Are you sure that this is entirely prudent? Admitting her to the League could cause some unrest, both within the League itself and without."
"I think you will agree that we are dealing with extraordinary circumstances – practically the purpose for which the League was created. And besides, she did hand herself in: there is no doubt that she is genuinely penitent."
He sighed heavily and glanced at some paperwork on his desk. "To date, she has murdered, by her own admission, one hundred and thirty-two men and... one woman. The grieving families, not to mention the authorities – mostly the Ionians – may accuse us of sweeping those lives under the carpet – legitimately so, I believe."
"They're the ones to whom she handed herself in – and the ones who asked us to take her off their hands. They saw that she herself was not aware of the full extent of what she was doing and that she wished to change for the better."
"So, what, the Ionians want us to rehabilitate her?"
"They'd probably say something about allowing her to discover the full extent of her burgeoning inner humanity, but, in a word, yes."
He sat back in his high-backed chair and took a few deep breaths.
"...And besides," she added, "there's no telling what she might do if we bar her."
He nodded wearily. "I am aware of that. I just loathe the growing feeling that the Institute of War and the League of Legends exist for the sole purpose of rehabilitating or otherwise restricting the power of mass-murderers. And not only do we house them in quantity, we also stock them in a wide range of flavours: homocidal assassins, genocidal war criminals, omnicidal monsters from beyond the veil of time and space..."
She smiled wryly. "And this latest troubles you more than them?"
"Well... yes." He shifted uneasily. "None of the others made me feel like getting into bed with them."
Her smile turned into a grin. "Even I must admit, her ass is to die for."
"Don't even joke about that."
Ahri stared at a point on the ceiling, absentmindedly draining a tall glass of a wonderfully frothy strawberry milkshake through a straw. Her gaze was unfocused, and Nidalee could tell that she was deep in thought from the way her ears (that is to say, the ones up top) twitched periodically, her tails gently swaying from side to side.
"Something on your mind?" asked Nidalee, spearing another lump of meat. (She didn't do salads.)
"Mmm... have you ever been with anyone... romantically?" asked Ahri, her gaze descending from the heavens to rest on her feline friend.
Nidalee paused and blinked at this question a few times, much as her mother had the first time she'd come across a mewling human infant in the depths of the Kumungu Jungle: she didn't know what to make of it.
"You mean... been in a relationship with someone?" Nidalee asked by way of clarification, casting the word 'relationship' out there like a novice fisherman on the sea of touchy-feely conversation.
"Yes. It seems to be the way humans approach sexual attraction," said Ahri thoughtfully, playing idly with her straw.
Nidalee laid aside her fork for a moment: this conversation obviously required all of her attention. The shared animalistic polymorphic nature which allowed Ahri and Nidalee to get along so well (and which had resulted in the cat/dogfight to end all fights the first time they'd met, to the point where the Summoners had had to intervene and separate them) was the exact same reason why Nidalee felt she was entirely the wrong person to ask about this kind of stuff, but she was loath to leave her friend without an answer of any kind.
"I've tried it a few times, but I still don't understand what the point is... or maybe I'm just choosing the wrong men. Most of the humans around here are too timid to be worth my time, but that Udyr looks as though he may be exciting," Nidalee added, smiling to herself. "I don't yet know what it would be like to twist tails with a tiger..."
Ahri could see that Nidalee didn't have any conclusive answers (and was likely engrossed in the depths of some fantasy involving Udyr, if the look on her face was any kind of evidence), and so went back to pondering the issue on her own. She returned to her straw, but was dismayed to find that sucking produced only the uniquely irritating sound of the dregs of a drink evading extradition at the bottom of the glass, and so pushed it away in dissatisfaction. There had to be someone else here she could ask; someone who would be more knowledgeable of human affairs... perhaps someone more spiritually inclined?
"I'll see you later Nidalee," said Ahri, rising from her seat.
"What?" Nidalee shook her head. "Oh! All right, see you later." Returning to her daydreaming, she grinned in a decidedly predatory fashion as she chewed on a hunk, when a shadow fell over her.
"Is this seat taken?" The one asking was wearing a bear skin, and he wasn't Tibbers or Volibear.
"Not even a little," said Nidalee, camouflaging her delight. This day had just got interesting.
After a bit of asking around, Ahri eventually tracked down the people she was looking for in the gardens – specifically, in the Ionian garden. She found the three of them meditating inside a pagoda-roofed gazebo in the centre of the garden, the only sound being the soft rustle of the wind through the flowering cherry blossom trees and the rushing water of the nearby stream. Ahri found a bench nearby on which to wait and absorb the atmosphere, which had a profoundly calming effect on her.
After less than a minute of this, she heard a voice from the gazebo. "Shall we conclude there for today, my ladies? I think someone awaits us." Ahri almost jumped out of her silky smooth skin – not only because she'd been content to wait until they were finished and therefore hadn't been expecting anyone to speak, but also because the one who had spoken was none other than the Blind Monk himself. The implications were disturbing to consider.
"Hello, Ahri," said Karma smoothly and with a pleasant smile, laying out another cushion and scooching around with Soraka to make space. "We were brewing tea, if you'd care to have some."
"I'm fine, thank you," said Ahri, ascending the few steps to the gazebo, feeling a bit discomfited by such unconditional civility. "Uhm... I was told Master Yi and Irelia might be here as well?"
"Alas, they do not join us for our regular meditations as often as we'd hoped," said Soraka while Karma went through the elaborate process of the tea ceremony. (Ahri watched Karma's movements curiously, feeling as though she was watching some exotic form of theatre.) "They tend to be more focused on honing their blades than their minds – not to mention that Yi now has his young apprentice to teach. I've heard he's quite a handful." Soraka and Lee Sin smiled knowingly at this, whereas Karma's face remained strictly impassive. "Also, Udyr seems to be strangely absent – he usually makes a point of joining us..."
Ahri took her cushion, sitting with her knees held close to her and her tails curled up around her. She wasn't yet familiar with her fellow Ionians in the League, having joined comparatively recently, and so felt just a little bit out of her depth. The fact that Soraka was apparently part animal (although unlike any animal Ahri had ever seen) did little to help.
"So," Lee Sin began. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?" He 'looked' at Ahri as he spoke – Ahri wasn't sure whether to look back at him.
"...I don't know how well you know me," said Ahri slowly. "Do you know why I joined the League?"
"We are aware, yes," said Soraka lightly.
"In fact, we were hoping you'd approach us sooner," said Karma distractedly, her attention focused on the process of pouring out a little earthenware teapot, her long, draping sleeves folded over.
"Really?" asked Ahri, her ears twitching in curiosity.
"Indeed," Soraka answered. "We'd heard that you were having trouble coming to terms with your new nature. If there is anything with which we can help you, it is that."
This heartened Ahri, but she still had her doubts. "Tell me: is it... natural... for humans to feel guilt?"
"But of course," said Lee Sin. "The mere fact that you are capable of feeling guilt is proof of your humanity. May I use us as examples, Lady Soraka?" Soraka nodded. "We ourselves have committed crimes for which we seek to atone. I was – and still am – responsible for the deaths of one small boy and his entire village. For my crime, I set myself alight in the demonstration which ultimately cost me my eyes. Soraka, whose purity of spirit would have ensured her a place among the stars, was barred from this destiny when the evils of war inflamed her hatred, causing her to change a man into the monster he'd always been. She seeks to redeem herself to this very day."
Ahri listened to all of this in silence, and remained so after Lee Sin had finished. Karma handed out the cups of tea to her fellow meditators, who received them gratefully. There were the subtle sounds of three people enjoying tea and one person being deep in thought.
"...But I don't see how I can make up for what I've done," said Ahri eventually. "All those people whose essences I've stolen... I can't return them. And a part of me doesn't want to, even if I could." Ahri looked up at her fellows earnestly. "I want to be human, I know it's what I'm meant to be, but I know I can't be human and a murderer at the same time. It... doesn't feel right," said Ahri, frowning.
"You were originally a fox, yes?" asked Karma.
"Yes, I was – and back then, I would've thought nothing about killing one of my kind. I mean, I wouldn't have done it without reason, but it wouldn't have made me feel guilty. But you humans... why do you have to make everything so complex?" Ahri huffed, hunching her shoulders and pouting.
"It does not do to become fixated on your past mistakes," said Soraka smoothly, leaning forward to try and gain Ahri's eye contact. "You are going through a lot of changes that you find difficult to understand, but change you must, if you really feel that becoming fully human is your destiny."
"If I may," Karma interjected, "I feel that there is more here to discuss than we could ever explain. Experience must be her teacher. Ahri." The disconsolate foxgirl looked up at Karma. "I take it you are having a difficult time understanding the good side of being a human, yes?"
"Definitely," Ahri sighed. "Things were so much simpler as a fox: if you liked a guy, you had sex with him, but when I started doing that with whatever human men I wanted people got upset... and then, of course, the essence stealing..." Ahri looked sideways awkwardly.
"Then I recommend that you open yourself up to your more positive feelings," Karma continued. "Perhaps you will be able to discover that there is more to attraction than lust."
Ahri blinked and frowned. "Like what?"
"That is for you to find out," said Karma, smiling with a hint of playfulness as she took another sip.
"Hm." Ahri thought for a while longer, and then stood up. "Thank you. All of you. You've given me a lot to think about." She walked away, her tails gently swaying with the motion of her hips.
Lee Sin sighed nostalgically, facing in the direction of Ahri's retreating behind. "What I wouldn't give to have my eyes back right now."
"Shut up, you," said Soraka, grinning into her cup.