A/N: Yep, I'm still here. Anyway, this is an idea that's been rolling around in my head for a while, as well as a 5/1 Amumu story, but this one actually panned out, as you can see. I'm not all too certain about this story – in fact, I'm a little insecure about it.
Doesn't mean you can't criticize it, though. In fact, feel free, I think I have a thick enough skin. Like Rammus, I am. :D wait that's not a good analogy
Any lore screw-ups are obviously my fault. Pretend it's an AU or something. I mean, it is obviously, but. Like. More AU.
"Zed is dead."
No, Shen thinks, that can't be. That cannot be right.
It was the Golden Demon, they tell him, and that simultaneously makes perfect sense and no sense at all. That the murderer they had both helped put in a cell so many years ago would be the one to –
Zed shouldn't be anything to him anymore. He's long made a conscious decision to forget what the man (his friend, his brother) used to be to him, but all those years are not so easily dismissed, even if he fools himself into thinking otherwise.
The Golden Demon, and the irony hits Shen like a sledgehammer, though he finds it hard to appreciate.
He wants to laugh. He wants to cry.
He does neither.
It shouldn't be so heavy a blow. Zed is not deserving of this – this grief, Shen tells himself. Not after –
It doesn't help.
Zed's students – his army – are… in turmoil. Leaderless, they cannot sustain the perpetual attacks on Shen's order that were a fact of life before.
He should take the opportunity to strike back at them, perhaps finally retake the stolen temple. The shadow order has been an annoying inconvenience for too long, harrying his every move, a distraction he cannot afford. But it doesn't seem… right? Fair?
He justifies it to himself as, 'they are not attacking, so we should not be the ones to initiate', and doesn't think too hard about it.
But, Shen has other concerns. He's starting to see…things, in places containing nothing but darkness. He'll be training, when something flickers in the edge of his vision, in the shadows of the corner of the room. He'll be meditating in the forest, when the dark silhouettes of the trees seem to warp and move and he could swear someone's watching.
He tries to discreetly avoid dark areas.
He is not discreet enough.
Akali notices it first, but she doesn't confront him. Not until she sees him visibly hesitate before going outside at night.
"Shen," she says, "something is wrong. What is it?"
And this is Akali, a friend since childhood, but he is the Eye of Twilight and things like friends are not – and he cannot afford to look weak, the way he will if this issue comes to light.
"It is inconsequential," he says. He doesn't deny there's a problem, because lying is unacceptable as well, but he doesn't explain, either.
Akali frowns. "It's clearly not. This is affecting you, I can tell –"
"It is no business of yours," Shen cuts her off. His voice is cold.
Her expression becomes ice, and she walks away with measured steps.
He is in the beginning stages of regret, when he hears a laugh. It is familiar.
Shen looks around. A shadow seems to move, but it might just be a trick of the light, because no one is there.
It will pass soon, he tells himself.
It gets worse.
"Shen, are you alright?" the yordle asks, one day.
"Yes," he responds, but his eyes are fixed on a point far past his conversation partner, where the shadows are shifting and seem to be forming a shape –
Kennen gives him a look.
"My abilities are not impaired," Shen defends himself, even though he is the Eye of Twilight and has no need to defend himself.
"That's not what I mean," Kennen ways, exasperated. "You've been jumpy and distracted, and I haven't seen you asleep for more than three hours at a time."
Which is fine, because Shen doesn't feel tired. He doesn't feel much of anything, recently – it's as if he's been in a sort of daze –
Perhaps it is slightly concerning, then. But, still.
"I can handle myself," he says.
Kennen's eyes narrow, but he drops the subject. Which is good, because Shen is suddenly again distracted by the shadows, which have coalesced into the shape of what looks like a man.
A blink, and it is gone.
It's always worse when he is alone, but Shen refuses to spend more time around other people. Not only would that be a sort of – a kind of surrender to whatever this is, it does not sit well with him to know so acutely that no one else is seeing what he sees.
And it's not only a sense of something in the shadows anymore, either. Sometimes he'll look, and almost be convinced people are there – no, not people, a person. One person in particular, that he knows even after all this time trying to forget –
He wants to feel hope. He wants to feel horror. He tries to feel neither, and instead feels both.
Shen has slept two hours in the past three days, and perhaps that is why he's engaging in this insanity right now.
The shadow order has not broken the uneasy, unstated truce, instead finally mobilizing with a vengeance to hunt down the Golden Demon. Therefore, the stolen temple is nearly devoid of inhabitants, only manned by the minimum of people necessary to maintain it. It is good, and bad – good because it lets Shen do this, and bad because it lets Shen do this.
Zed doesn't – Zed isn't – after everything, there's no reason at all he should be –
But Shen knows he can't keep going like this, not only because yesterday he walked into a wall and stood there dumbly, wondering if it had run into him on purpose, until Akali asked him what was going on, but also because he has to know.
It is possible this will amount to nothing – it isn't dangerous unless he listens to it, this his father told him – and he will leave with naught to show for his efforts but hours of wasted time and unpleasant questions to answer later (though, to be fair, he'll have to face those questions no matter what). In fact, that is what should happen. And yet –
Shen is the Eye of Twilight, and he is a little boy searching for his friend, and he is a leader and a fool (and a best friend and a brother.
He hates Zed and he loves him still, even after his father – because he boxed up that wound so it couldn't heal and couldn't fester because he is the Eye of Twilight and that is something he can never afford to feel.)
Shen half expects the box to still be sealed up in that same vault. In retrospect, it was a ridiculous assumption. Of course it would be on a high pedestal in the main hall, sitting in a place of honor. This is Zed's shadow order.
No students are present in this part of the building, which is luck – good or bad, he's not sure. He has to do this now, lest someone find him, lest he… lose courage.
He reaches out to the box.
The shadows churn and flow and roil like a whirlpool, and he's being pulled under –
Shen picks himself up off the floor, which is strange, because he doesn't recall falling. Then –
"Still a fool, I see, Shen."