“Fight me.”The old man slowly opened his eyes. In front of him stood a Vastaya, barely old enough to be wandering around Mount Wuju by himself. This was the first traveller the old man had seen in ten years, ever since he entered seclusion on the deserted mountain. The young lad was well-built and muscular. In a tight right-handed grip he held a black iron staff much taller than himself. The ends of the staff were rusty but not cracked, and the old man could tell it was a well-forged weapon that had seen plenty of battle.

“Who are you?” The old man asked. “What business do you have with me?”

The young lad’s brows furrowed, and he replied with a sneer. “My name is Kong of th’ Shimon tribe. Ya might’ve heard; th’ folks in this part call me th’ Rising Star of the Vastayas. An’ as for why I’m here…” he pointed his staff at the old man. “Spar with me.”

The old man couldn’t help but smile. Such foolhardy courage and bold attitude! It reminded him of his younger days. There was a time when he, too, travelled the land seeking the thrill of battle. But that was merely a foolish past, a time before the war. The lad standing in front of him was mistaken.

“I once may have been a warrior, but I am now a hermit living in seclusion. What could you possibly gain from sparring with me?” The old man asked and closed his eyes again. Then, in the voice of an elder chastising a junior, he added: “It is getting dark, young man. Go back or your family will worry.”

“I may be an orphan but I ain’t no fool, old man,” Kong replied in a sharp voice. “Any nutter living on Mount Wuju can’t be ordinary. Especially after th’ Noxians came an’ wrecked this place a decade ago.”

Upon hearing the word “Noxian”, the old man’s eyes flashed open with fiery fire. His cheerful smile was replaced by an expression of seething rage. In a voice dripping with venom, he slowly spoke. “Tell me, young Vastaya. It seems I have been isolated from the world for too long. Has the noble Shimon tribe surrendered to Noxus?”

Kong quickly took a few steps back and replied in a slightly quavering voice: “Hell no! Even if the Shimon tribe ain’t as strong as before, we Vastayas won’t ever give in to the enemy. I, Kong, will bring us glory.” He tightened the grip of his staff. “I’ll show ya!”

With a sigh that carried an indescribable heaviness, the old man lowered his head; the oppressive aura around him disappeared and his eyes returned to a look of pensive longing. He silently scolded himself. What was he doing, releasing killing intent at a foolish young lad who wished him no harm? But inside, he knew the answer.

The war against Noxus might have ended ten years ago, but the hatred towards those who invaded his beloved homeland had stuck with him since. Hatred that he, despite all these years of desperate seclusion, was unable to quell from his mind.

“Perhaps a light spar with this young lad may help,” the old man thought to himself.

The old man stood up, walked over to a nearby birch tree, and spoke to the young lad before him. “I have not touched a weapon in ten years, nor do I have one to fight with. But if you insist…” He snapped off a thin branch and pointed it at the young Vastaya. “Let us begin.”

Kong barely had time to react before the old man disappeared. Immediately, he felt something poking him in the back. He spun around, but the old man had disappeared again. This time, Kong felt a push and he hit the dirt face first.

That was it. The fight was over. There was no clashing of weapons or brutal injuries, plus or minus his throbbing nose. The old man’s swift, ghostlike movements alone had rendered him helpless. Lying there on the ground, Kong was too embarrassed to crawl back up. He, the challenger, who so arrogantly boasted of his strength and courage, had lost within a matter of seconds. To a tree branch.

“That was my defeat.” Kong mumbled. He tasted dirt, but it wasn’t as bad as the sour flavour of defeat. At the same time, a strange feeling had begun to build up in his chest. Was it… Reverence? Jealousy? Respect? Kong had never felt as much awe and guilt towards someone as he did now. Then again, he had never lost a fight so badly and gracefully before.

The young Vastaya shoved his pride away and raised his head.

“Tell me how to be strong.”

The old man was quiet in thought for a long time, and Kong didn’t dare interrupt him. Eventually, the former broke the silence and spoke with an inquiring voice. “Young lad, why do you wish to become strong?”

“Of course, it’s for protectin’ those I love and bringin’ honour to my clan.” Kong’s reply came from the heart without hesitation.

“Protection from what? The war against Noxus is over. Blood and sweat were exchanged by my generation for the peace we now live in. The annihilated village of Wuju, my home, is an example of such sacrifice. I do not wish for there to be more fighting.”

“Me neither.” Kong replied. Tears began to well up in his eyes. It was like a faucet had opened inside him, threatening an outpour of thoughts that had been suppressed for too long. Thoughts that were both his poison and drive. Thoughts that for some reason, he felt could be shared with this old stranger.

“Th’ fall of my tribe and th’ death of my parents are proof that disaster strikes when yer least prepared. I fight to protect those I love, so that history ain’t gonna repeat itself.”

Hearing this, the corners of the old man’s mouth curled into a small smile. “Be proud and remember your tears, young man. You fight for a noble cause, just as I once did.” He turned around and sat back down, suddenly looking so frail and broken. “But I cannot teach you how to protect, for I failed to do so.”

That’s when Kong realized the truth. The old man in front of him wasn’t just a soldier who fought in the war. He was a patriot who gave his youth to the country, a survivor who carried with him the remnants of his destroyed home, and a hermit who wished to spend his last days repenting in solitude. And for a moment, Kong could almost visualize the burden that the old man chose to bear. It blocked out the sun and plunged him into a momentary darkness.

“What a mountain you have on yer back! Sir, ya were only supposed to climb it, not carry it around.” Kong smiled. “I’d like to thank ya for yer service. You protected my future and the future of thousands more. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful.”

For a moment, he saw something close to warmth on the face of the tired old man – like a ray of sunshine peeking through a thick fog. Then Kong bowed and walked down the mountain.

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