|Title||Empress of the Elements|
|Real Name||Qiyana Yunalai|
|Release Date||June 28, 2019|
|590 (+ 90)|
|9 (+ 0.9)|
|320 (+ 50)|
|8 (+ 0.7)|
|66 (+ 3.1)|
|0.625 (+ 2.1%)|
|28 (+ 3.5)|
|32 (+ 1.25)|
Qiyana is a champion in League of Legends.
- Story #1
- Story #2
|In the jungle city of Ixaocan, Qiyana plots her own ruthless path to the high seat of the Yun Tal. Last in line to succeed her parents, she faces those who stand in her way with brash confidence and unprecedented mastery over elemental magic. With the land itself obeying her every command, Qiyana sees herself as the greatest elementalist in the history of Ixaocan—and by that right, deserving of not only a city, but an empire.
The youngest child in a ruling family, Qiyana grew up believing she would never inherit the high seat of the Yun Tal. As her parents governed Ixaocan, a city-state hidden deep in the jungles of Ixtal, they raised their children to succeed them, schooling them in the proud traditions of their isolated nation. Primed to rule before her, Qiyana’s nine older sisters received most of the attention, and she often longed to find her own meaningful place in the family.
That place became clear the day young Qiyana began to learn the ancient elemental magic of Ixtal. Soon after she took up lessons, she realized she was blessed with extraordinary talent. Though Qiyana was only seven years old, she mastered advanced techniques within weeks, while some of her older sisters had yet to grasp the basics after years of study.
One by one, Qiyana surpassed her sisters in the elemental arts, and the more she progressed, the more resentful she became. Why did her parents waste so much effort grooming her inferior siblings? Each time they were chosen to preside over the grand rituals that shrouded Ixtal from the outside world, Qiyana lashed out in frustration, picking fights to prove her worth. It wasn’t long before Inessa, the eldest sister and immediate successor, became the target for Qiyana’s aggression.
Rather than defusing the conflict, Inessa bristled at the disrespect from her sister, who was twelve years her junior. As both grew older, their words became increasingly heated, culminating in physical threats from Inessa, and a challenge from Qiyana: they should decide who was strongest in ritual combat, for all of Ixaocan to see—and for the right to succeed their parents. Inessa accepted the challenge to teach her sister some much needed humility.
When the contest was over, Inessa was never to walk again, while Qiyana stood unscathed.
She was eager to take her place as the rightful heir, but Qiyana’s parents were furious at her actions. They denied her the prize—tradition decreed that Qiyana would always be tenth in line to inherit the high seat of the Yun Tal. Though the news was bitter, Qiyana soon discovered that the duel had made her elemental prowess known across all of Ixaocan. At last, she had found what had long eluded her: respect.
That respect quickly became an addiction. Qiyana felt a burning need to be recognized for her exceptional skill. In fact, all of Ixaocan should stand proud with her, and put the world in its place with their powerful elemental magic. Instead, they were hiding from foreign explorers, and miners who were uprooting the jungle on their borders.
In her parents’ court, Qiyana laid out her ambitions—to drive off the miners and restore the lands. Qiyana’s parents rejected the idea. Contact with the “outlanders” would bring hatred, war, and disease, jeopardizing what their dynasty had protected for centuries. Qiyana stewed, impatient to prove her strength to the world, and determined to prove her parents wrong.
Acting against their will, Qiyana raided the mining site, killing all the miners but one. As the man’s eyes shone brightly with fear, Qiyana knew he would spread her message—he would tell everyone in his Pilt-over about the grand elementalist who destroyed their mine.
In Ixaocan, Qiyana gladly took credit for the slaughter, infuriating her mother and father. They told her the Piltovan merchants were sending fresh miners and armsmen into the jungle. Qiyana’s parents would not risk their insubordinate daughter drawing even more outlanders toward their borders, and regretfully ordered her imprisoned for her crime.
Just as she was detained, several elementalists of the court came to Qiyana’s defense. The elemental talent displayed in the jungle was unheard of, and they convinced her parents that Qiyana should aid them in powering and defending the city. Qiyana was released, once she swore renewed fealty to her elders, and vowed to never cross paths with an outlander again.
As a growing number of admirers throw their support behind Qiyana, she has finally realized her true place in the world. She holds a power stronger than tradition, and she will climb the ladder of succession by any means necessary.
She is the greatest elementalist the world has ever seen. She is the inevitable ruler of Ixaocan, and the future empress of all Ixtal.
|"Some day, all this will be Ixaocan. A glorious empire, with an empress to fit."
|FIT TO RULE
“I’m starting to sweat, Bayal. Please, do not let me sweat.”
Qiyana’s servant fretted at the words. He mustered what little control he had over the elements, concentrating on forming a magical cloud of mist. In seconds, the mist surrounded Qiyana and grew cooler, dispelling the heat of the jungle.
“That’s better,” said Qiyana. “If I am to do this, I must be able to focus.”
She began to swivel her ohmlatl slowly around her body, causing the jungle thicket to bend and part with each rotation of the ring-blade. Roots and stems popped, tossing up bits of soil until, at last, a narrow trail revealed itself in the brush.
“Here it is,” Qiyana said, and promptly started down the winding path.
With each twist of her ohmlatl, the thick vines of the rainforest receded before her. Behind her, they slithered back across the path to conceal it. Bayal fell behind just long enough to be caught in the growth of the writhing plants.
“Keep up, Bayal,” said Qiyana. “Honestly, you have one task.”
The servant hurdled the freshly grown thicket, struggling to catch up to Qiyana, and to maintain the temperature of her mist cloud.
When the two finally emerged from the forest, the sun had sunk low in the sky, its golden dusklight shining on a small village. Qiyana took one last look behind her to see the secret path was now completely buried in jungle. Three village elders greeted her with a respectful Ixtali salute, arms held tightly across their chests, and led her into a plaza just inside the settlement.
At the far end of the plaza, a great Piltovan machine sat lifeless and defeated—spoils from a recent skirmish in the jungle. Qiyana paid it little mind as she took the seat presented to her at a small table, modestly set with fruits and nuts.
“To what do we owe this honor, Child of the Yun?” asked an elderly woman, leaning forward to get a better look at Qiyana.
“I have heard the news of your prefect’s passing. You have my condolences,” said Qiyana.
“Killed by the outlanders,” said an old man, pointing at the Piltovan machine to his rear. “Tried to stop one of those from felling trees for their mine.”
“So I was told,” said Qiyana. She sat perfectly upright as she arrived at the purpose of her visit.
“It seems that Tikras needs a more capable governor. One who is strong enough to stand up to the outlanders, and their toys,” said Qiyana with confidence. “Someone like me.”
The elders turned to each other, confusion showing through their weathered faces.
“But Yunalai, respectfully, we already have… someone like you,” said the old woman. “Your sister is here.”
“What?” fumed Qiyana.
As if on cue, a procession of local servants marched across the plaza toward Qiyana. Four of them carried a palanquin on their shoulders.
As the palanquin came closer, Qiyana could see a plush bed, several fine silk pillows, and her sister Mara, reclining with a goblet of wine in her hand. A silver tray of exquisite dishes rested beside her, and two servants cooled her with elemental magic far stronger than Bayal’s. As Qiyana wiped a bead of sweat from her brow, she glared bitterly at her servant.
“Qiyana. So… good to see you,” said Mara uneasily, as her palanquin came to rest on the ground.
“Mara. You seem to be enjoying yourself,” said Qiyana.
Mara squirmed under her sister’s penetrating stare, seemingly trying to retreat into the plush bedding.
“Would you care for some wine?” offered Mara, as she took a tense, joyless sip from her goblet.
“You’re supposed to protect this village, not empty its larders,” said Qiyana, declining the drink. “You should step down. Let me be prefect.”
Mara froze as she forced wine down her rigid throat.
“I cannot do that,” she said. “You know this. I am older than you.”
“A whole year older,” replied Qiyana. “Yet so far behind.”
She approached her sister’s bed, her smug expression slowly transforming into a scowl.
“I say this only as a statement of fact. You know it is true. What would happen if these miners discovered this village?”
“I would defend it,” said Mara meekly.
“You would die. So would everyone in this village. This we both know,” said Qiyana, for everyone in the plaza to hear. “I can protect them.”
A murmur spread about the plaza. Mara bit her bottom lip—something she had done since childhood, particularly when her younger sister had gotten the better of her.
“I… cannot give it to you. The Yun Tal will not allow it,” said Mara timidly.
“They will if you resign,” said Qiyana. “Go home to Ixaocan. Tend your water garden. I will assume your responsibilities here.”
She watched Mara’s eyes dart around at the elders, as if looking for some way to save face.
“The law is clear,” said Mara. “No one else may be prefect, as long as I am capable of governing.”
Clenching her jaw in anger, Qiyana turned toward the great machine resting at the far end of the plaza. She spun her ohmlatl around her body, startling the elders from their seats. Drawing elements from all around the plaza to the blade, she launched them toward the machine. In an instant, the great metal behemoth was entombed in ice, battered by rocks, and ripped apart by vines—all at the command of the young Yunalai.
The elders and servants in the plaza gave an audible gasp at the display of power.
“You think you already have ‘someone like me,’” said Qiyana. “But there is no one like me.”
The elders frowned at her, reaffirming the decision. “As long as Yunalai Mara is capable of governing, the position belongs to her.”
The words rang in Qiyana’s head as she turned and silently left the plaza, dejected. She led Bayal back to the edge of the village, where they were met by two elementalist wardens.
“No need to see us off,” said Qiyana. “I know the way, and what to do with it.”
With a turn of her ohmlatl, she parted the brush to reveal the path that lead back through the jungle. With her servant struggling to cool her, she walked back toward the grand arcologies of Ixaocan, uncovering the secret path, and re-covering it behind her.
As soon as they were out of sight of the village, Qiyana’s ohmlatl slowed. Behind them, the path was now unconcealed, laid bare in the late day sun.
“My Yunalai—you’ve forgotten to cover the path,” said Bayal.
“Bayal, does your one task have anything to do with tending the path?” asked Qiyana.
“No, my Yunalai. But… what if someone finds the village?”
“Not to worry. I’m sure the new prefect will defend it.” said Qiyana.
The following morning, Qiyana awoke in Ixaocan to the sound of sobs.
“Outlanders. They found Tikras!”
Her sister’s cries came from the hallway outside her bedroom. Qiyana put on her robe, and opened the bedroom door to find Mara, weeping in Bayal’s arms.
“Mara. What’s the matter?” asked Qiyana, making some effort to sound concerned.
Her sister turned to her, red-faced and trembling, covered in scratches from running through the jungle.
“The miners… they leveled the village. Half the people are dead. The other half are hiding. I barely escaped—”
Qiyana embraced her sister, suppressing a smile over her shoulder.
“Do you see now? I was only looking out for you,” said Qiyana. “Being a prefect is a dangerous responsibility.”
“I should’ve listened. You… You would have crushed the Piltovans,” lamented Mara.
“Yes. I would have,” said Qiyana. She beamed as she thought of the miners and mercenaries that had plundered the village—how easily she would slaughter them, and how the surviving elders would grovel in thanks to her as they came to the same realization her sister was now reaching.
“You should be prefect of Tikras,” said Mara.
I should, thought Qiyana. I deserve it.
The river brings memories from a dead world. I wonder if I’m the only one able to find them.
Across the water, I see the vines my father tends, curling protectively around Ixtal and its people, the last of Runeterra. Leaves and branches hang in ragged loops all up and downstream, disappearing into gloom past dawn’s limited reach. Each visit, I wonder if the dark hides serpent or jaguar, or some other danger. My mother hunts those beasts, providing meat and protecting our village of Semchul. My parents expected I would follow in their footsteps. That I would grow into Aliay the gardener, or Aliay the hunter.
I chose neither, but their lessons combined to shape my path.
I shrug off my robe and wrap my windcord’s braid of translucent silk once around each hand. Twenty-three years’ study of the Axiomata have done much to imprint them into my mind—with the cord as my focus, I wield the elements they describe. My studies have gifted me control, understanding, wisdom. But without the cord I possess no more mastery than any other Ixtali.
I step into the river, bare feet squelching in the mud, until the water rises to my exposed waist. I quest out with my foot, searching for the submerged tree roots that serve to capture my quarry. When I find them, I set to work with the cord.
Raising my hands, I trace the lines of the Fifth Axiom from memory, whipping the cord like a paintbrush across canvas. In turn, the water churns as a bubble of air slowly widens around me, from the river’s surface to its bed. Passing water rushes and pushes against my crafted currents, straining against unnatural displacement, but my work holds. The riverbed reveals mud and stone and gnarled roots. Debris catches in the tangle, objects from somewhere beyond Ixtal. These ancient reminders are all that remain of the lost world.
These civilizations must have been astounding, for often their craftsmanship remains untouched by time or tide. Such is the case today, as something shining and silver catches a feeble ray of sun. My studied concentration turns to joy at the sight. I grin and plop right into the mud, cross-legged before the roots. I dig, revealing a short-handled axe crafted from a single piece of steel. It’s beautiful.
I envision a battle, millennia ago. Some brave warrior standing against the monsters that consumed Runeterra, and I’m grateful for the chance to memorialize that noble, doomed struggle. I scoot forward and bury my fingers into the mud, searching for my waterproof treasure box.
I find it and touch the latch, which requires a certain measure of axiomatic mastery to move—an old precaution in case I were discovered. It is filled with everything I felt worth saving—and hiding—over the years. When I am Yun Tal, I will bring these treasures to Ixaocan, to register with our historians and share with other scholars. Mivasim, my dear mentor and one of Ixtal’s greatest natural elementalists, often chastises me for my interest in the Nasiana, the World Beyond, so I keep my secrets for now. I place the axe beside a bronze helmet, then shut the box with a flick of my wrist.
And then my heart leaps into my throat.
My windcord is gone.
I never imagined it was possible. I resealed the latch on my own, without a thought. Only the Yun Tal are capable—are worthy—of such action. I scramble in the mud, but it’s nowhere to be seen. Panic, joy, and fear war within me. Then I notice the river remains parted. I am in control.
I turn toward the vined wall, the borders of Ixtal, and think a manic thought: myself, wrapped in a cocoon of protective currents of my making, wandering a landscape that’s empty of life but full of answers.
I’ve taken two steps forward when a blast of water kicks into the air, filling the space around me with a thunderclap of sound. My eyes dart instinctively, scanning for threats. I expect the ripple of jaws in the water or a hawk overhead, when I see a figure, imposing from the riverbank. It’s Mivasim, my mentor, her Yun Tal robes dark even in shadow, her frame unbent by age. Her eyes gleam like lightning on jade, and my bubble of shaped air shrinks. The water roars as Mivasim, without so much as a wave of her hand, accelerates the river’s flow from a burble to a rush. I had thought myself clever, that I’d had a secret place of my own. Had she always known?
Water whooshes by as the currents protecting me weaken and shrink. Soon I’ll be swept away. But I feel no anger from her. She thrusts an open palm toward me, a gesture I’ve become familiar with. I may avoid punishment with a clever enough argument.
Wind and spray batter me, but I see the pattern. She’s traced the lines of an axiomatic extrapolation into the air between us.
This is no punishment. It’s a test. A puzzle, one I’ve trained for years to solve. I imagine myself walking a circuit around Semchul’s modest athenaeum, and set to work against my mentor.
When I reach her side, my spirit is buoyed by her triumphant smile, but my body is in tatters. She opens her arms just in time to catch my collapsing form.
“It is time, my student,” she whispers as my consciousness fades. “In Ixaocan, you will defend yourself beneath the Vidalion, and we will judge whether you are worthy of becoming Yun Tal.”
A week of walking has put us deeper into Ixtal’s interior than I’ve ever been, yet the villages we stop at for rest seem more provincial than my own.
“Do they truly have so much to fear?” I ask Mivasim, after we say farewell to our gracious hosts in Peslan. “My father tends the borders themselves, and he fears nothing.”
“A hunter shies not from the jaguar’s charge,” she responds, absently raising and lowering the pack that floats beside her as we walk, “but a roar in the distance sends even the boldest smith fleeing.”
A pair of children tumble into view along the path, racing back toward the village. “I suppose it’s that they fear the unknown. The potential for change.”
I could sense my teacher struggling with something. I push at the broad, waxy leaves hanging just over either side of our heads. “Our situation is unique in history,” she sighs. “Tell me again how your father describes the value of his work.”
My family’s faces swim into view, around the first fire of my memory. Their stories spurred my life’s pursuit. I put on a storyteller’s whisper. “In the years following the Final War, there was much chaos. The world boiled and churned with monsters and death.”
I let the last word linger in the air, but Mivasim is unmoved. I press on.
“We were pushed almost to extinction, when the wisest of us—the first of the Yun—turned the Axiomata of Ixaocan into a weapon, quelling every foe and sealing our borders. And so, this is the only land to have survived those cataclysmic days.
“The world that’s left is poisoned. Beneath Ixtal’s canopies, we are protected from the doom that consumed all else.” I grin, and thump the bottom of my ribcage with a fist. “And so, truly, it is the great gardeners of Semchul who now keep Ixtal from that same dark fate!”
Mivasim’s smile creases the soft lines that I and her other students helped etch over the years. “And for those gardeners, the dreaded machines that cut into our jungles are merely an extension of that poison, yes? Miasma with metal legs.”
The path before us turns and opens, pale sunlight gleaming unfiltered and warm on my face. “I suppose, yes,” I reply, “though the Yun Tal are far more equipped to fight them.”
“Still. A practical problem, with a practical solution.”
“And you are a scholar, trained to argue from a perspective that is not yours, to understand that which may be foreign to you?”
I beam. “Yes.”
“So a villager—a trader, perhaps—who has neither the pride nor experience of a border-gardener…”
“...Would see the problem as an abstract, to which their reaction is rooted in emotion.”
“Unless...” I draw out the word, gesturing with my hands at nothing in particular. “Unless we could describe the situation for them in a way which accounts for their various ignorances.”
Mivasim shakes her head. “The trader has energy to trade. Perhaps some for entertainment, the rest for family. All else is distraction.” A wryness creeps around her voice, signaling a return to more companionable chatter. “They do not have the benefit of decades at the feet of a wise and cunning master.”
I lack the words or wisdom to counter. “Nor the experience that might provide comfort. I understand. Thank you, Mivasim.”
We pass a moment in silence. “Ixtal is better for this distinction. I am glad you are not a hunter, my dear sumqa.”
My smile matches the sun.
Ixaocan is vast. It seems to span the sunlit horizon, the tallest arcologies polished and angular and sculpted above the trees. Each step toward the great capital of Ixtal reveals new vistas, new shapes.
And while the cardinal arcology imposes from a distance, it overwhelms in person.
Within minutes of striding through its proud northern gates, we are mobbed by color and noise. Youngsters rush this way and that, chased by caretakers, themselves hounded by peddlers, beauticians, scryers, and craftspeople. Mivasim’s black boots click against the stone road, more imposing here than when we were in the jungle. The crowd gives full deference to the rich blacks and purples of Mivasim’s Yun Tal weave. For all the differences between Ixaocan and Semchul, they share this: absolute respect for the Yun Tal.
“Miv? Miv!” A voice booms from ahead.
“Oh, pin’kan,” my teacher mutters, and in the same breath returns to the very picture of civility. Before us is a crossroads, canopied by a criss-crossing bridge where diners lounge in elegant chairs. A burly old man waves madly. Green eyes, no hair—and black Yun Tal robes. “Dearest Chiuq!” Mivasim calls out to him. “You’ve arrived ahead of schedule!”
Chiuq—whom I am careful not to address, without knowing his full name—lumbers toward us, trailed by a dozen bright-eyed aspirants wearing students’ robes like my own. “Aha, just as I always have, no? Taarqen is not half so far as the wilds of Semchul.”
He barrels in for an embrace, which she returns with practiced grace.
“Ah, Miv. Too long since we saw you last. Been training…” He trails off, searching undoubtedly for Mivasim’s stable of students. His eyes are slow to settle on me. “Been, uh, training?”
“And tending to Semchul, yes.” Mivasim takes an almost imperceptible step back, a signal Chiuq mirrors without seeming to notice. “Students have less time for study in the villages, and they soon leave for more achievable pursuits.”
“Ahh, to have been raised in the wilds. I’d have made the finest hunter!” He sweeps a broad arm out toward the gaggle of students in his wake. “But I’ve made a good enough teacher, if I say so myself.”
Mivasim eyes them as Chiuq laughs, and they, fawn-like, laugh after him. “The Vidalion will speak to that, I am certain,” she replies evenly.
A smallish aspirant with false-red hair flicks his elemental focus just as he trips on his too-large robes. A flame casts out and lights on a poor merchant's feather dusters. The merchant yelps, struggling to channel his own magic with an ornate jug of water. The flames only snap in response.
“Chiuqeslan!” Mivasim calls out sharply. A graceful curl of her hand draws the air from the flame.
The merchant approaches with hands clasped. “I am— Oh, dear. Bright Ones, a thousand pardons. Forgive the untidiness of my wares, it is… I mean—”
“Peace,” Mivasim says, as Chiuqeslan bellows “Hah!” and claps his student on the back.
“My boy here is gifted! See how quickly the flame consumed!” He ushers his students back, onward into the city. Over his shoulder, he calls back to me. “Good luck, student of Miv!”
The merchant stares, horrified, at Mivasim. “Apologies, honored merchant,” she says, pulling a pair of sweet papayas from her robes, a gift from the last village. She hands them to him, and then pulls me to her side.
“That man, that Chiuqeslan—” I begin, before Mivasim’s words cut into my own.
“—is Yun Tal, whatever else he may be. You have met only a handful in your life, sumqa.” She urges me down the crowded boulevard. “His is a cruel lesson, one you will learn shortly. Do not let him—nor Ixaocan itself—compel focus from your task.”
Chiuqeslan’s firestarting student fails. Tradition says he must depart Ixaocan in silence.
He had given his life to study. Perhaps he will become a merchant or a tailor or a storyteller. I hope he will be happy, but he will never be Yun Tal. His peers are hollow, their eyes sunken, their hearts torn. His example serves only to extinguish their spirit, though it steels my resolve.
Within days I am able to surmise which students will pass, which will fail, which will break. The understanding makes me want to weep for them.
But I think only of the trial ahead of me.
Finally, the moment comes. I step into the heart of Ixaocan, and see that the floor has been etched with thousands of curving lines. Hidden within this intricate geometry is the language of the elements. I feel myself growing lost amidst them, catching glimpses of one Axiom or another that I might recognize…
I focus my thoughts. The Yun Tal stand above me in the gallery around the massive space, their robes every shade and quality of night. Each a perfect philosopher. Each a master of their elemental discipline.
The arcology’s central chamber appears to be split in two. Below, the arena where I will defend myself. Above, a wide ring of the heaviest stone, its load borne more by thaumaturgy than engineering. Where the chamber splits swirls a wide ring of magic. I cannot see how deep it goes, how far it pushes into the earth.
Floating high above the circle is the Vidalion, the great loom, itself haloed by a band of some golden alloy, its threads spinning ceaselessly. I will defend myself beneath its warp and weft. If successful, it will weave a set of robes to mark me as Yun Tal.
I will master the currents, today. I step into the center of the pattern.
I’m blinded by the surge of power, the sheer elemental might focused by the Axiomata into this single spot. It’s overwhelming. I am a hummingbird, skimming a stormcloud. I blink, and the chamber returns.
Mivasim stands somewhere above. I cannot meet her gaze; my mind is a taut wire. Eyes bore into me from all directions. They are Yun Tal, the most-wise.
“Aliay Qunlan.” My name echoes across the chamber, perhaps across all Ixtal. “You stand at the heart of all things. You are watched through the eyes of all people. Defend yourself.”
The Vidalion spins, setting loose tendrils of fabric. I reach out and let a midnight thread fall to my grasp.
“You’ve cut off that secant,” a voice, firm and disapproving, floats into my consciousness, and a section of thread lights up. “Now it will affect temperature, not pressure.”
I ignore the voice, willing more thread into my grip and directing it along the next line. After seconds of intense concentration, I hear myself respond. “Pressure and temperature are sisters. While I control the space, this effect is more powerful.” I lift the ghostly light the Yun Tal shone upon my not-error and return to my work. Distantly, I’m horrified at the ease with which I dismiss a critique of my betters.
Presently, I discard the feeling.
Another voice. “I count eleven tangents in your Axiomata. Accepted practice is to give each tangent a parallel. Not doing so risks an imbalance when non-sequential patterns are joined.”
I think of Mivasim. This was an invention of her own, discovered with the aid of my youthful rebelliousness.
“Accepted practice is not mastery, but rhetoric,” I reply. “This connection complements the Third Axiom, and empowers the Fifth. Together, they negate the imbalance.”
Silence is the only response I receive, but a shift of cloth to my right catches my attention. A woman, robes of smoke and jade, eyes of fired steel. A member of the Yunalai, the revered new generation. Her appreciative smirk claws at my heart.
I press on.
The existing Axiomata are complete, and holding. My initial anxiety and fear are fading echoes in my mind, as I become much more than the confines of my form. I am Ixaocan itself, and I wield more power in this moment than I could ever have guessed lay in all the world. I follow the shape of my design, seeking the next—
—and stop. A heartbeat, a stutter in time. I lift my gaze to the mystical swirling in the chamber’s outer wall. It churns, like threads in a mad tapestry.
In the abstract snarl, something calls to me.
Without thinking, I reach out for it.
I am not in the cardinal arcology. I soar across the jungle, across Ixtal.
I look down, and I see the Axiomata. Not a pattern focused upon a single arcology, nor many—they are a pattern encompassing the whole world. I ride along one of the lines ringing Ixaocan, and it leads me home to Semchul in an instant. I smile as I see its familiar arches, the nooks where I stole naps, the—
Semchul is behind me. Something is wrong.
My eyes widen, heels dig into nothingness as I crash into the net of tended vines that separate death from life. I brace for obliteration, squinting against the end. Instead I soar past lush greenery. Creatures buck and sprint across a too-open field. I skim a river as wide as Ixtal itself.
I am mad, surely. Are these the spiraling thoughts of a mind’s final moments?
Have I failed the test?
I see mountains, valleys—people. I see people. I—
I’ve stopped, somewhere cold. White. Blinding, with gale-driven snow.
Behind it, there is power. Axiomata cross here. This should not be.
A group of men and women draped in fur and bone spar with one another. No—they war. A club caves a skull. I reach out. Clouds of powder swirl, and they flee the phenomenon, flee me. One, taller than the others, stares into my eyes. I can feel him twist, searching for me. He crafts a spear from frost.
This brute is not Ixtali. How is it that he taps the Axiomata?
His magic is different. It comes from elsewhere, and does not touch me. But where his spear misses the mark, his being strikes me down. His very existence is wrong.
There is nothing beyond Ixtal. There is noth—
The scene disappears in an instant, leaving a vacuum inside of me. The thunder of blood in my veins rushes to fill it, and a keening pierces my ears as my mind makes connections faster than I can keep up.
Of course. Of course the world isn’t dead. Of course Ixtal alone didn’t stave off apocalypse with a thin, illusory veil of vines. Of course I wasn’t going to be a lone adventurer, trekking across the world in a cocoon of air. Foolish. I think of my father, of the gardeners, so proud of the work they do. So ignorant of their true purpose.
I feel my eyes throbbing within my skull. Chills race over my skin as part of me delights in a new discovery, even as the rest revolts. The Yun Tal can surely hear my heart, hammering a tremulous staccato. But they remain motionless.
A sudden childhood memory steals whatever’s left of my mind. In it, I reverently present Mivasim with the first artifact I discovered in the river. I remember her hesitation; I thought her impressed with my relentless curiosity. She accepted me as a student that day. I had such fondness for sharing my little theories, was so excited to become Yun Tal and chart the uncharted with the likes of most-wise Mivasim.
I must have seemed so stupid.
Ixaocan’s power stills my shuddering frame. The chills settle, my heartbeat slows. But anger crashes into the empty space, and even Ixaocan cannot stop it. A river flooding with betrayal and embarrassment and grief.
Something ugly captures me. I hold the might of Ixaocan in my trembling fists. I’ll crush this chamber, and trap us all like insects in amber. Enmeshed in Ixtal’s ancient center of power, that feels like it would be the easiest thing in the world.
I’m saved by decades of rhetorical and philosophical debate. Simple, practiced reflex to an emotional appeal: what is the truth behind that emotion? I must credit Mivasim for how quickly I retreat from the edge of madness, and arrive at the only possible conclusion.
This is the test.
The Yun Tal have maintained this illusion for generations. The world cannot be simply explained or described; one must see it for themselves, must be wise enough to move past reaction and reach understanding. I internalize a helpless laugh as I realize the purpose for so many gathered Yun Tal. Surely together they would find it trivial to destroy or confound anyone who reached this point and fell prey to their emotion, even wielding Ixaocan’s power as their own.
My rage cools to determination. I scan the room, meet the gaze of each of the most-wise above me. My eyes have words: I have passed your test, the rest is ritual.
I won’t be crushed by this reality. I return to the pattern, and the unfinished extrusion.
The Yun Tal are silent as I work.
It is finished. The Axiomata mark my full understanding of—and control over—air, water, and all the ways they might be combined. I think of the man, of the World Beyond. Above, the Yun Tal roam the threads of my work, searching for error. They will find none.
Something shifts in the air as they make their decision. I rise up, spinning slowly, absurdly, free of the earth’s pull. I look, again, into my mentor’s eyes. I hope to see shame, or guilt, or sorrow for her decades of lies. But there is only pride.
I laugh. I can’t help it, even as the Vidalion spins faster, as the threads I laid upon the etched floor ensnare me now like prey in a spider’s cruel web.
Pain takes me as the magic bleeds from my body. The Yun Tal chant as one. I cannot understand their words, but threads of light trail and curl around me, and shimmering rainbows spin their way down my arms and legs.
I float, trapped between the Vidalion and the nascent fabric. I feel power creep back into me, like waking a sleeping limb.
As the threads resolve into cloth, I feel it. I am Yun Tal.
Their chant crescendos as I float to the ground. Impassive faces break into joyous smiles, but I cannot feel any warmth from them.
I dream of my treasure box, of ancient things.
My foolish passion. Decades spent imagining the World Beyond, eager to share with the Yun Tal things I thought I knew. I think of young, foolish Aliay, so eager to discover. Vengeance is the wrong name for what I wish for him, but it’s close.
“You’re awake,” comes a familiar voice, somewhere outside of time. I don’t feel awake, but there is a comfortable bed, a warming brazier, a concerned mentor. I want to ask her so much, but I fear I already know all the answers.
“I’m awake, Mivasim.” My voice is smoother than I expect, free of the choke of tears or the roughness of anger.
“Miv, now,” she responds. “We are peers.”
Silence follows. So many years together, and only today is she at a loss for words.
Finally, she speaks. “I was furious with my own teacher, you know. We didn't speak for days. I… I just wanted to be sure you were comfortable, but I can leave you to your rest.”
I don’t want rest. I want action.
But outwardly, I am calm. “You prepared me well.”
“Oh? Please, tell me your thoughts.” This is a question I’ve heard in study, but which now sounds strangely free of expectation. Peers after all.
I have not had the time to practice deception the way the other Yun Tal have, but I don’t need it. I understand the great lie of which I am now a part. I can provide the basic shape of it, and Mivasim’s relief and pride will fill in the details well enough to conclude this conversation.
“The Yun Tal preserve Ixtal,” I confirm. “Every Ixtali understands the finality of their decisions, once made.”
I feel more myself as I speak. The familiarity of rhetoric is comforting.
Still, I resent the feeling. Just a little.
“A million small threads comprise each decision, learned through argument, discovery, and new perspectives. If you understand the threads, you will make the perfect decision.”
It's hard for me not to look to Mivasim for approval, to suggest I'm on the right path, so I continue staring into the brazier’s fire even as it stings my eyes. “So the Yun Tal bear the burden of decision. To the Ixtali—to myself, until recently—our land is a closed realm. We reveal to each only those threads that they are capable of processing, as we discussed on the road. And…”
I turn, finally, to seek the brief but firm nod that signals the rightness of my thinking. “The early Yun were faced with this unimaginable dilemma. How best to protect their people from the world outside. They chose to cloister us. Anyone without sufficient wisdom might have misstepped, caused Ixtal’s end. Hence the distinction, the rigor of study that produces the Yun Tal.”
It’s a defensible argument. Still, I loathe it.
I conclude. “Which must mean that the Yun Tal have argued among themselves for countless centuries, and not a single one of them has brought forth a suggestion worthy of reversing that choice.”
A peaceful status quo, awaiting the brightest mind to ensure the next step is the right one. It’s wrong, somewhere, beyond its cruel deception.
I suppose I will have all my life to put words to that wrongness. To make the status quo my enemy.
Mivasim inclines her head toward me in a gesture of respect. “It took me rather longer to draw the same conclusion after I faced the Vidalion.” She stands, and offers me her hand. I take it, and limp to a standing position. “Come. Eat. We elders must celebrate with those who can stand to look the rest of us in the eye.”
I think again of my old treasure box.
I imagine myself lifting the lid, placing my anger within it, and sealing it away.
A tired smile forms on my face. “Let’s go.”
I watch from the mezzanine as noise fills the hall. Tables full of food drift between small groups entrenched in discussion, storytelling, and dancing. A few of the other new initiates seem as angry as I, but their frustration is soothed by camaraderie and assurances that this outrage is nothing new. Nowhere in Ixtal are the elements under such firm command, and most seem quick to embrace the opulence of their new lives.
We idolize the Yun Tal. Perfect philosophers, I once called them. Seekers of truth. I collected trinkets, eager to share in the study and exploration of another world. I studied, hoping to make myself worthy of debating with the brightest minds to grace Runeterra.
Now when I look at them, they seem… frail.
“Pah, you are right to brood.” I hear the clatter of metal as braceleted wrists drape against the balustrade. “I have seen better celebrations for the birth of mules.”
The Yunalai from my test. Her presence fills the narrow space despite her small stature, and her imperious tone demands a respect I don’t know how to give.
I opt for a simple bow. “I am happier to listen from here, honored Yunalai.”
Her laughter brings forth a small snort. “It is not my family bringing me honor.” She stares a moment, and when I fail to respond she says, “I do not mind saying, it pains me that you do not know of this. Of Qiyana.”
Qiyana. She speaks her own name with acerbic reverence, and my face burns with embarrassment. “Forgive me. I live far from Ixaocan.”
“Yes, well. Now you are aware. Come. May I call you Aya?”
It seemed to not be a question. I follow her to the balcony’s open doors and step into the night. Even now Ixaocan is bright with activity and firelight.
“During my test, Aya, I saw the most resplendent thing. An almost primal thing, clawing for the skies, and of such power as I have only seen in the arcologies! It is so far from us, and many people have warred for control of it.”
“I saw something similar,” I respond, and she nods enthusiastically.
“Yes! And I could think only, ‘This should not be so!’ For such a place to exist outside of Ixtal, with no Yun Tal to be its shepherd? Aya, it was horrible.”
I find kinship in her words.
Here is an enemy of the status quo.
“The Yun Tal, we are respected for our mastery of this world. Aya, how much more there is of the world than Ixtal! We lead, but we do not act. Maybe some are wise enough to recognize they can’t bear that decision alone. Maybe others are afraid?”
I listen, and I know Qiyana is not afraid. Whatever buoys her step, whatever fuels her unshaken confidence, it is unique among the Ixtali.
“It should not be so,” I murmur. The words feel heavy, significant.
She looks at me, the light of Ixaocan reflected in her eyes. “Well then. You and I, Aya, will be the ones to change it.”
My robes feel strange for the first time since I donned them, a year past. Perhaps it’s the other Yun Tal. Perhaps it’s the chamber. This is the first time I have returned since my test.
Magic still swirls in a ring along the walls, and in its depths I see what I know now to be the Freljord, from our oldest histories. I will walk its mountain paths in person one day.
A student strides through the doors. Her confident grin reminds me of my mother, who was so proud with her Yun Tal child so many months ago.
I want to weep for her.
The collected Yun Tal share silent affirmations. Mivasim, ahead and to my left across the gallery, nods at me, pride still sparking her gaze. I return the gesture, and look over to Qiyana. Her face betrays nothing, but her presence is a comfort. I am not alone in recognizing the failings of those assembled.
Thank you, Mivasim, for your lessons. I will use them to correct our mistakes. Alongside Qiyana, I will build the perfect argument, one that honors even the frustration of your first days among the Yun Tal.
I hope, when the time comes, you are prepared to hear it.
The student strides forward. The chamber stills.
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