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Widely considered one of the most adept sorcerers on Runeterra, Ryze is an ancient, hard-bitten archmage with an impossibly heavy burden to bear. Armed with immense arcane power and a boundless constitution, he tirelessly hunts for World Runes - fragments of the raw magic that once shaped the world from nothingness. He must retrieve these glyphs before they fall into the wrong hands, for Ryze understands the horrors they could unleash on Runeterra.
Ryze was just a young man [ | when he first learned of the powerful arcane forces that lay hidden across the world. While on a diplomatic mission, Ryze overheard his master, Tyrus, in discussion with another wizened old mage. In hushed tones, they spoke of the potential danger of something called 'World Runes'. As Tyrus noticed his pupil, he abruptly ended the conversation, tightly clutching the scroll that never left his side.
Over the following decades, knowledge of the Runes began to spread as more were unearthed. The world's brightest minds studied the ancient glyphs, attempting to determine the powers they possessed. Few could even begin to understand the importance of their origins, or the sheer power held within them. Some surmised that the Runes were integral to the creation of Runeterra itself. The first use of these mysterious artifacts proved catastrophic, as they reshaped the landscape of entire nations. Mistrust quickly grew as those who knew of the Runes imagined such 'Makers' Might' being used as a weapon.
Ryze and Tyrus traveled between various nations, trying to quell paranoia and encourage restraint, but their missions became increasingly precarious. Relentlessly, they strove to avert multiple disasters, but Ryze could sense his master's growing desperation.
Tyrus' worst fears were realized when he and his student were mediating a standoff between two warring nations, not far from Ryze's boyhood village of Khom. Each army accused the other of plotting to use runic weapons against the other, and each was prepared to do the same in self-defense. As tensions grew out of control, Tyrus could see it was a conflict he could not mediate. With the two sides determined to go to war, he could do nothing but flee with his protégé.
They had escaped halfway across a mountain range before the battle erupted. Ryze suddenly felt the earth fall away beneath him. The ground seemed to retch and squeal, while the sky above them recoiled as if mortally wounded. Tyrus grabbed Ryze and screamed unheard commands, but the words were swallowed by the unnatural silence around them. For the first time, they were witnessing the effects of two World Runes at war.
Seconds later, reality settled. Ryze and Tyrus clambered to the ruins of a nearby peak and looked back upon the valley where the two armies previously stood. Below, they saw insanity - destruction so massive that it defied all physical sense. The armies, the people, the very land itself were gone. An ocean that was previously beyond a day's journey was now rushing to meet them. Ryze could only fall to his knees and stare into the great hole left in the world. The devastation was complete. Nothing remained. Not even the village he once called home.
Open warfare raged across Runeterra. The first horrors of the Rune Wars sparked fear and aggression among those who now realized the power at their command. Even Ryze felt the urge to join the conflict to prevent further devastation of the kind unleashed on his people. Tyrus was there to stay the hand of his pupil, counseling that the path of vengeance would lead only to more heartache. Ryze was initially vexed by his master's words, but he soon came to accept Tyrus' wisdom.
Traveling across the world to meet with those who held the Runes, Tyrus pleaded for sanity. To ensure the future of Runeterra, he asked that every World Rune be locked away beyond the reach of man. Deeply sobered by the imminent threat of annihilation, some agreed to turn over their World Runes to Tyrus, while others refused to cast aside their newfound power and influence.
Tyrus continued his work, attempting to remove all World Runes from the reach of humanity. Yet as hope for Runeterra grew, Tyrus seemed to unravel. Ryze saw his master grow more distant. While Tyrus dealt with the Runes, he began to send his student on missions that seemed to have little importance.
Ryze was on one such menial errand when he received word of a new cataclysm, this time to the southwest of Valoran, in Icathia. The mage rushed to the scene of the devastation, beset with concern for his master and friend, hoping that he had survived. Upon his arrival, Ryze was elated to find that Tyrus was indeed safe. But Ryze's relief was short-lived. Next to the scroll he had never been allowed to read, sat two World Runes.
The older mage explained that once the World Runes were in play, he had no choice but to use them himself. Ryze was horrified as he realized Tyrus had not just survived the disaster, he had caused it. He continued his bitter tirade, telling his student that humanity was a reckless child, playing with power it did not understand. Tyrus could no longer play the role of diplomat for ignorant power-mongers. He had to stop them.
Though Ryze tried to reason with Tyrus, it was no use. The infinitely wise paragon he'd looked up to since childhood was gone. Before him stood a flawed man, susceptible to the same temptations as the fools he decried. The Runes had corrupted him deeply, and he was sure to use them again and again, taking more of the world away each time.
Ryze had to act, even if it meant destroying his only true friend. He unleashed every ounce of arcane energy he could muster. Tyrus reached for the Runes, determined not to relinquish their power. In grasping for them, the corrupted mage had left himself momentarily defenseless to Ryze's onslaught. A moment later, Tyrus' corpse lay smoldering on the floor.
Ryze trembled with emotion as his mind struggled to process what he had done.
As he regained his senses, he found himself alone with the World Runes, their glow inviting him to possess them. Steeling himself, he picked up the strange symbols one by one, and immediately felt them transforming him into something greater, or more terrible, than he could ever otherwise be.
Shuddering, he dropped the Runes and backed away. If these glyphs could corrupt a mage with the strength and integrity of Tyrus, how was Ryze to handle them?
He then realized that if he walked away, someone else would find the Runes and use them. At that moment, Ryze understood the scale of his task. As long as any World Rune remained in play, the Rune Wars would continue and surely doom all Runeterra.
Unsure what possible next step to take, Ryze saw the scroll Tyrus always carried with him. Tentatively, Ryze unfurled the scroll and was illuminated by a radiant glow. Suddenly, Ryze knew what he must do.
Ever since that day, Ryze has wandered the world, driven by the same unseen beckoning that both guides and terrifies him. He constantly rejects the promise of power within each Rune, choosing instead to bind them in secret locations no one can access. He has spent centuries performing the task, his life abnormally prolonged by the magic he has absorbed carrying out his duty. Even after all this time, Ryze cannot afford to slow. The World Runes have begun to emerge once more, and the world has forgotten the price of wielding them.
An Old Friend
Ryze would have been cold if his body wasn't simmering with nervous energy. With all that weighed on him that day, the harsh Freljordian elements scarcely seemed to have an effect. Neither was he daunted by the distant howl of a hungry ice troll. He had come to do a job. Not one he relished, but one that had to be done, and one he could no longer avoid.
As he approached the gates, he could hear the rustling of fur cloaks over pine timber as the warriors of the tribe rushed to inspect him. In seconds, their spears were poised atop the gate, ready to kill, should he prove unwelcome.
"I've come to see Yago", said Ryze, pulling back the hood of his cloak just enough to reveal his violet skin. "It's urgent."
The stoic faces of the warriors atop the fence flashed with surprise at the sight of the Rune Mage. They climbed down and worked in unison to open the heavy hardwood gates, which seemed to croak apprehensively at the sight of the interloper. This was not a place that saw many visitors, and those it did see usually ended up on pikes as a deterrent to others. Ryze, on the other hand, had a reputation that granted him access to even the most hostile regions of Runeterra---
---For a few minutes, anyway, if no problems arise, he thought.
His face betrayed none of those uncertainties as he walked between the columns of fierce, wind-chapped faces that seemed to judge him, looking for any reason to try him. A young boy, no more than five, gaped at Ryze, bravely leaving his grandmother's side for a closer look.
"Are you a warlock?" asked the boy.
"Something like that", replied Ryze, barely glancing at the boy as he continued his stride.
He found the path that led toward the rear of the fortification. To his surprise, the village had hardly changed since he had last seen it, many years before. He made his way to an unmistakable structure of domed crystalline ice, its brilliant azure hue standing out among the dull surroundings of wood and earth.
He was always a wise man. Maybe he'll cooperate, thought Ryze as he entered the temple, steeling himself for whatever lay in wait.
Inside, an old frost mage was pouring wine into a dish on an altar. He turned to see Ryze approaching, and seemed to judge him silently. Ryze felt his heart sink in dread. After a moment, the man smiled, and embraced Ryze like a long-lost brother.
"You look thin", said the mage. "You should eat something."
"You shouldn't", replied Ryze, nodding to Yago's slightly sagging paunch.
The two friends laughed long and easily, as if they had never been apart. Ryze slowly felt his guard begin to drop. There were very few people in the world he would call friend, and it did his soul good to talk to one. He and Yago spent the next hour reminiscing, eating, and catching up. Ryze had forgotten how good it felt to converse with another human being. He could easily stay a fortnight with Yago, drinking wine and sharing tales of triumph and loss.
"What brings you so deep into the Freljord?" asked Yago at last.
The question jolted Ryze back to reality. He quickly recalled the words he'd carefully prepared for this point in the conversation. He told a story of his days in Shurima. He'd gone to investigate a tribe of nomads that had swelled in wealth and land, to the size of a small kingdom, almost overnight. On closer inspection, Ryze found a World Rune in their possession. They resisted, and...
Ryze lowered his tone to suit the silence of the room. He explained that sometimes awful things must be done for the world to remain intact. Sometimes those awful things are better than the horrible cataclysm that would otherwise unfold.
"They must be kept safe", said Ryze, finally coming to his point. "All of them."
Yago nodded grimly, and the warmth that had been rekindled between the two friends instantly evaporated.
"You would take it from us, knowing it is all that keeps the trolls away?" asked Yago.
"You knew this would come", said Ryze, offering no solution. "You've known for years."
"Give us more time. In the spring, we will head south. What chance do we have in winter?"
"You've said those words before", Ryze said coldly.
To his surprise, Yago took him by the hands, making a gentle plea.
"There are many children among us. And three of our women are swollen with child. You would doom us all?" asked Yago desperately.
"How many are in this village?" asked Ryze.
"Ninety-two", replied Yago.
"And how many are in the world?"
Yago fell silent.
"It can wait no longer. Dark forces gather to take it. It leaves with me today", Ryze demanded.
"You would use it for yourself", accused Yago, erupting in a jealous rage.
Ryze looked into Yago's face to see that it had been transfigured into a scowling visage - that of a fiend, no longer recognizable as the man Ryze had once known. Ryze started to explain that he had learned long ago not to use the Runes, that doing so would always come with too high a price. But he could tell this madman before him was not one to be reasoned with.
Suddenly, Ryze felt a severe pain, and found himself writhing on the floor, saliva dripping from his mouth. He looked up to see Yago in a casting stance, his fingers crackling with power that no mortal being should possess. Coming to his senses, Ryze rooted the frost mage in place with a ring of arcane power, giving himself just enough time to get to his feet.
Ryze and Yago circled each other, clashing with powers the world had not seen in ages. Yago seared Ryze's flesh with what felt like the power of twenty suns. Ryze countered with a potent series of arcane bursts. After what seemed like hours, the combined power of their attacks breached the walls of the temple, and brought the thick ice dome crumbling down upon them.
Badly wounded, Ryze dug himself out of the rubble and got to his knees. He saw a blurred image of Yago, battered, and fumbling to open a lockbox that he'd dug out of the debris. Ryze could tell by the lust in his eyes what he was reaching for, and what would surely happen once he had it.
With his magic energy drained, Ryze leapt on the back of his old friend and began to garrote him with the belt from his own robe. He felt nothing; the man who he had loved deeply just minutes ago was now merely a task in need of completion. Yago struggled mightily, his legs flailing, searching for a foothold. Then he fell dead.
Ryze pulled a key from Yago's necklace and unlocked the box. He removed the World Rune, its otherworldly pulse beating with a warm orange glow. Wrapping the Rune in a scrap of his dead comrade's robe, he gingerly placed it in his satchel and hobbled out of the temple, breathing a mournful sigh at the loss of another friend.
The Rune Mage limped toward the village gate, past the same wind-chapped faces that had watched him arrive. He looked askance at them, expecting an attack, but the villagers made no move to stop him. These were no longer fierce defenders; these were people who looked stunned to be facing their own end. They looked at Ryze with big, helpless eyes.
"What are we to do?" asked the grandmother, with the young boy still clutching her furs.
"I'd leave", said Ryze.
He knew if they stayed, the trolls would descend on the village come nightfall, leaving none alive. And outside the village, worse dangers lurked.
"Can't we come with you?" called the young boy.
Ryze paused. Part of him - a vestige of irrational compassion deep within - screamed. Take them. Protect them. Forget about the rest of the world.
But he knew he couldn't. Ryze trudged into the deep Freljordian snow, choosing not to look back at the faces of those he was leaving. For these were the faces of the dead, and his business was with those who could still be saved.