Because it is easier to talk to people you don't know.
Zed unleashed the last of his shurikens, watching them fly and hit the designed targets. The shadow counterpart's projectiles behind him stabbed into the woods with a sharp noise. Five millimeters.
The silence after the workout usually calmed him. Today, it only served to make him feel empty.
He sat down, the soft, green grass fluttered under his boots, and let his thought wander. He'd never been a fan of traditional meditation. Sitting still and closing your eyes never felt right. He was always at utmost peace when his senses were overwhelmed – by the softness of the grass, the wetness of the dew on the leaves, the warmth of the sunshine streaming down the woods, and the sounds of nature. He'd once been able to derive calmness, harmony, lying down in the middle of the woods for hours on end. Though his mind would never be able to quiet down once more, he still secretly treasured his time in the woods, every time after training, like he used to. It'd become his personal ritual. This was where he could think… he was allowed to think.
Things had… been crazy.
If he were able to come back in time to warn his old self what would happen, that Zed would have laughed. Even now, it still seemed hard to believe, the idea that Jhin would someday escape… the idea that he could have companions.
He liked Lulu, plain and simple. There was no other way to get to it. That was why he never wanted her involved. And now he'd upset her…
Vladimir… was a different story. The man was, in a way, even more baffling than the Fae Sorceress.
Zed had never failed to chastise himself for his own weakness, how he was so easily fooled and trapped. It was his own doing. Had Vladimir not been there (damn), many people would have died. Well, more people than those he already failed to save.
The haunting images of the past resurfaced, and he pushed them down harshly. They could plague him in his sleep. At least let his mind stay clear when he was awake.
He could feel the Shadow sneering, but he could care less.
He had always failed.
Zed didn't notice another person's appearance until he was five feet strides away. But he had no mind to acknowledge the fact he was distracted.
"Vladimir," said Zed "stalking much?"
The Hemomancer shrugged.
"It gets boring staying inside after a while. I do like exploring new lands. You have beautiful woods."
At Zed's lack of reply, he continued, to the point.
"Besides, I figured you may want company."
"I'm sure that's what you want when you sneak into the woods." Zed said, sarcasm in his voice.
"Don't people hide to be found, Zed?"
The question stung more than he thought.
"I wouldn't say so." He replied.
Vladimir walked up and sat down next to him. He glanced around, taking in the aftermath of the training.
"How do you aim those ninja stars without seeing them?"
"Some simple calculations," said Zed "the shadow mimics my exact movements. With enough positioning and calculation, I can make it hit my desired target… with room for error five millimeters, if I don't have vision of the target."
"I'd hardly say simple calculations. That is amazing, actually." Vladimir said appreciatively "do you often train here?"
"Yeah, this is sort of my place."
"My apologies for the intrusion,"
A moment of silence passed by. Zed sighed.
"Actually, what do you want, Vladimir?"
"Ah, that is the ever baffling question, isn't it?"
"I'm serious. Why are you still here? Your quest is already covered. You have more than one might wish for. Just tell your mistress to ready her strings and wait for the right moment. You can be back at your own home right now…"
"…and attend long, boring council meetings that probably will go nowhere, read the latest books I ordered, kill some people… really, don't they sound fun?" Vladimir smirked "you assume everybody must do something for a particular gain."
"Can't I just be here because I feel like it?"
"Then why do you feel like it? From my experience, there's no such thing as 'feel like it'. Everyone has a motive they act on."
"Wow, tough world you're living in."
"You're a Noxian. Don't tell me your fellow Noxians do things because they 'feel like it'."
"Why no, of course, though you can make an exception out of Draven… anyway, the point is, I don't have one. That is, if you do not count the occasional racking-up-some-bodies thing a design."
"Forgive me if I don't believe you. People don't do things unless it benefits them."
"Of course, but what benefits are we talking about? Is it just exploitation? If you do something you like, is that a benefit or not? Say, I like talking to Lulu. That is an action in my 'benefit', isn't it?"
"So you're saying you like my company?"
"You should rebrand yourself Master of twisting one's words," Vladimir snorted "no, we're not there yet, sorry. Yet, I am interested in your wellbeing, for several reasons, mainly because you're an interesting man. And if you'd like to talk…"
"Why would I want to talk to you?"
"Because people like talking to strangers."
"What the hell are you drinking?"
"No, I'm serious…kinda. I am completely outside of your personal life. To you, I am simply someone cooperating with you because you can provide me what I want. I'm not someone you are attached to, so you're not scared of me getting hurt, or my hurting you."
"You're an insecure person, Zed. You're afraid of trusting people, even those you love, either because you hurt them or they hurt you. Or should I say a little bit of both?"
"Damn it, Vladimir, you're such a wiseass."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
Zed sighed. The mage did have a point.
"I guess you're right… at some part. Back then, it seemed like no one would listen. Everyone expected you to uphold balance and act like it without any due explanation…"
"I can imagine."
"I used to train here myself when I was younger," yes, he was digressing, but he didn't mind it "when I wasn't training, I study everything around me. I know the area as well as the former Master could, every tree, every flower, every stream…"
He closed his eyes, taking in the peaceful silence. For some reason, he was talking. Crazy, right?
"And occasionally, when I sought refuge here, sometimes Shen or his father would come. They were the only ones who could find me." A saddened smile crossed his lips. Master Kusho would greet him normally, as if his running off to be alone was routine (which it kinda was), asking after his studies and attentively listened to his own childish comments. Shen on the other hand would sit with him and did whatever he'd been doing together. If there was nothing to do, they would come up with activities on their own: rock climbing, fishing, swimming, playing go, with Shen occasionally throwing in some witty statements and they would both laugh. Many things happened in these, woods, the emotions accompanying them, he could recall them so easily, anytime he allowed himself to think of them.
How far away those times were.
He could hear Vladimir chuckle slightly.
"You asked what I actually wanted, Zed?"
"Oh, you are gonna tell me now?"
"You answered my question. It's only fair I tell you mine. I want to know what I actually want."
Zed turned to give him a confused look.
"I was raised in a typical middle class aristocrat family. My parents… I hardly remember them. I only knew that they gave me all I needed to live, and nothing more. I was fed, raised, taught by others, and I could hardly remember what took so much of their time. After I, well, killed two boys, I did what I had to survive. I ran. I studied blood magic. I housed the Hemomancer. All of that was for survival. But now that my survival is guaranteed, what's next? What do I expect out of this life?"
"You're a lucky person."
"You have everything you could have wanted. You're not bound by any regrets, wishes, or idiotic could-have-beens."
"They are not idiotic," said Vladimir firmly "they exist because you treasure what have been lost, because you truly loved them. If you do not know compassion, or love, you will never know fear, anger, hatred or regrets."
The mage smiled with a touch of melancholy.
"You should respect that. Not everyone has had the honor of having loved or being loved."
What had love done to him? Love was weakness. Without love, it could not have been that bad.
"If you don't, you can't be hurt."
"I've heard that before," Vladimir smiled "that is true, I suppose. But… I am as human as you are, Zed. at some point any human would ask that question: why am I here? So, I want to know what I want. Does that satisfy your inquiry?"
"Except it makes zero sense to me," Zed smirked.
"You've gotta have a motive, as you said, to act upon. Consider that mine. What about you?"
What did he want?
"Fuck you," he spoke, mostly to himself rather than the man next to him.
Vladimir laughed out in amusement.
"Don't worry, you'll figure it out."
"At the time, though, I want to stop Jhin. I must stop Jhin. At least that part is clear for me."
"You're being positive," said the caster with the slightest bit of sarcasm "that's encouraging."
The assassin took a deep breath, laying down onto the grass.
"Damn, why am I telling you all this?"
"I think I've already answered that. I am not someone you care about. It's easier to tell me things. Do you often lay down on the grass like that?"
"Haven't done it since I was fifteen or something," said Zed "it feels good. Wanna try?"
"Aren't you afraid of… insects, snakes, or dirt?"
"Ah. They won't bite."
"Okay… I would politely decline, I'm afraid."
"Are you seriously afraid of snakes and bugs, though? Just asking."
"Just asking is never just asking. And of course I am wary of those things. They make me uncomfortable. And I'm sure they do bite."
"There, now that is a topic we're all comfortable with. If you don't like talking about personal stuffs, we can discuss universally appealing topics. Humans like talking, after all, we are a social animal. As another reader, I am open to discussions."
"That I can relate," said Zed "sharing what you want is satisfying. It's a pity all the books at the Old Order had mostly been scavenged by Shen. I still have some scrolls there yet to finish."
"Bummer, isn't it?" said Vladimir, standing up "well, I'll be leaving you alone at "your place". Thank you for listening."
Swiftly, the Hemomancer removed himself from the scene and disappeared.
Zed relaxed, closing his eyes again. Strangely enough, he was feeling peaceful once more.
Thank you for the two kind guest reviews! I'm really glad you enjoyed what I put together while waiting for Rito to make a move.