1 Descent into the Underworld

Kane's eyes snapped open, a violent cough sending clouds of dry dust swirling through the air.

Darkness enveloped him, the sun a forgotten concept, and yet his sight wasn't gone—he could just make out the outline of blood and earth caked upon his lashes.

"I thought I died in the earthquake. Where am I?"

His cracked lips moved hesitantly, and the panic-stricken cries and wails of men, women, and children echoed in his ears. Attempting to rise, a searing pain lanced through his chest, coiling and twisting like a serpent in his ribcage.

"Ah, it hurts... I'm bleeding from my head, and my lungs are..."

Dizziness assaulted him with the force of an exploding bomb, his eardrums buzzing from the pressure.

Fragments of memories from the body he now occupied began to merge—an alien soul dissolving into the boiling cauldron of this new existence as easily as sugar in hot water, forced and compressed by a formidable outer force.

He found himself in a world both strange and familiar—Runeterra.

In the most perilous stretch of the Shuriman continent lay Icathia.

The simple village folk, living generation after generation in the harsh desert, remained blissfully unaware of the creeping peril beneath their feet.

Countless void creatures lurked below, their hunger insatiable, ever-ready to devour all life.

Beneath the sands, ancient currents stirred, entire villages perched precariously as if upon the sands of an hourglass, and when those sands ran out, revealing the gaping maw of the abyss below, none could hope for escape.

The final reckoning shouldn't have come so soon, yet the careless prank of a child brought devastation in its wake.

Kane, the original soul of the body, a mere child of ten, found himself at an age of playful innocence.

Had he been older, he might have noticed the unusual events plaguing his village—strange wanderers demanding offerings daily, appeasing the dark forces beneath the earth.

The scorching desert days forced Kane and the other village children to seek the cool refuge of night for their games.

That fateful evening, they stumbled upon a goat, acquired from nomads for sacrifice.

Under the inexplicable whims of a child's mind, Kai'Sa, a girl in his company, cut the goat free, boasting about her unique and exquisitely crafted dagger to her friends.

Kane did not intervene, his gaze fixed on the blade.

It was a birthday gift from Kai'Sa's father when she turned eight—a prized possession in a village of scarcity, evoking envy among her peers.

But none could have foreseen the nightmare it would herald.

As the crescent moon rose, the cult, enraged by the lack of offering, awakened the void, substituting the ignorant lives for the intended sacrifice.

The earth trembled, searing flashes tore through the sky, and children fled in terror. The very bedrock split open, swallowing the entire village and its inhabitants, leaving behind nothing but twisted pillars of darkness, piercing through the desert sands.

In the ensuing collapse, Kane perished, a foreign soul overtaking the still intact body.

"Now, I am Kane. But..."

What Kane found hardest to accept wasn't his transportation to another world, nor his transformation into a ten-year-old child, but his entanglement in an affair with such slim chances of survival that he might not even qualify to continue living.

In this disaster, he was merely an unnamed bystander, and apart from Kai'Sa, none from his village lived to tell the tale.

Beneath the ruins, the survivors were buried alive, their lives flickering out over three harrowing days.

He raged against the cruel fate that offered hope only to snatch it away, his mind a chaotic maelstrom of fear and confusion. Yet a sliver of lucidity clung to him, presenting a chance for survival if he could but grasp it in the darkness.

"Wait! Kai'Sa... she must be trapped down here too."

"Could it be that following her is my only chance to live?"

The lifeline seemed within reach, yet hesitation stayed his hand.

"No, I cannot do this! We've only just fallen, and Kai'Sa hasn't yet bonded with the void. My presence could trigger a butterfly effect. If she doesn't bond successfully, she won't last long, and then neither will I..."

Kane ceased his struggle, his body slack with fatigue atop the debris.

He knew the first three days underground were the safest; the void creatures wouldn't find them so quickly.

The cries previously unintelligible now grew clearer.

"It hurts... help me! Please... help..."

"Mom, where are you? I'm so scared..."

Kane listened to the pleas, his heart wrenching with the recollection of the body's original parents, but he forced himself to push aside such thoughts, to not torment his already fragile psyche.

If he had known the true hopelessness of the underworld, he would never have entertained notions of mutual assistance and survival.

There was no food here, only monsters. A normal person with no special abilities couldn't last long.

Death would come, either by starvation or as prey to the creatures.

He could not be bound by morality or kinship; he had to make the most rational decisions.

Don't move! Change nothing!

A one-in-ten-thousand chance of survival lay before him, and any action might cause it to slip through his fingers.

Only by resting and conserving energy to heal his wounds could he seize the opportunity on the third day.

Though his thoughts bordered on callousness, his humanity urged him to action. However, the sharp pain in his chest upon attempting to rise nearly caused him to faint, allowing him a slight comfort in abandoning the notion.

"I'm sorry, I want to help, but... my body won't allow it..." Even breathing was agony. Kane resignedly conversed with his conscience and closed his eyes once more.

The survivors' cries continued to echo in the darkness, Kane lying amidst the rubble, silently enduring his pain as if already dead.

He vowed to remember this helplessness, the once peaceful soul now harboring a fierce desire for strength. Powerless to change his current fate, only strength could command his destiny.

Under the merciless laws of the void, the weak must become ruthless to survive, while mercy is a luxury afforded only by the strong.

"Is anyone there? Please, answer me..."

As Kane comforted himself, Kai'Sa's sobs drifted to his ears, her voice murmuring several names, one of which was his.

Trusting the familiarity in his memory, Kane knew this girl was Kai'Sa.

Footsteps crunched on gravel, growing closer, but Kane kept his eyes closed, unwilling to face her.

"Kane? Kane! Are you alive?"

Kai'Sa seemed to recognize her playmate, her dirty hand reaching out to touch Kane's face, gently shaking his head to and fro.

But Kane held his breath, not daring to exhale, his feigned "death" plunging Kai'Sa back into despair and fear.

He couldn't let her discover he was alive, at least not yet.

Kai'Sa must face everything alone to complete the symbiosis, to possess the means to survive underground. She must be resolute in adversity, for any sign of weakness would impair her transformation.

"Please talk to me, I'm so scared to be alone!"

"What should I do..."

The girl cried out heartrendingly, her tears falling on Kane's face, wrenching his heart.

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