Shen and Zed are often seen as opposites and enemies but behind the masks that these two wear were two faces whom a lifetime ago were brothers. A lot of people have grown curious as to exactly is the relationship between these two and why they have evolved into enemies. Let’s go back to the beginning when we had two earnest boys training to become keepers of Ionia. A story of passion and dispassion would shape one of League of Legends’ biggest rivalries.
In the Beginning
In the beginning, Shen and Zed had been the greatest friends but they were not known as so back then. The story begins when the Great Master Kusho, who was the head of the prestigious Kinkou Order, once found a young boy named Govos in the steps of the order’s doorsteps. He took in the poor child to raise alongside his own son – Shen – to be members of the Kinkou. When Govos joined the order, he would take the name Usan.
Shen, as the child of the Great Master Kusho, knew of his destiny as soon as he could walk. He took it upon himself to study the culture and philosophies of the Kinkou, which would impress all of his teachers. He spent his youth studying and meditating upon what he had learned. He learned to balance his emotions, becoming just as his father is and set himself on a path towards becoming the next master of the Kinkou until his adopted brother came into the picture.
Shen and Usan quickly became the star pupils of the Kinkou order and all of the members knew that one of them would succeed Kusho one day. Shen was truly his father’s son, patient and unbiased, such is what would be expected of the order. Usan, on the other hand, was passionate about everything. Despite Usan being considered his brother’s equal, he still felt overshadowed by the fact that Shen held the temperament to become a true leader of the Kinkou.
Shen and Usan were equal in terms of martial prowess. Together, they would spar and attempt to overpower each other but they were simply the perfect match for each other. Through their rivalry, the brotherhood between these two transcended that of blood. They grew closer and Shen would even confide his visions and dreams to Usan whenever they had the chance to talk. They grew up making each other stronger through every bout until they became strong enough for Kusho to take them on missions.
The Kinkou Order
To better understand the relationship between these two, let’s take a look at the order in which they grew up. The Kinkou Order was an organization that only cared about keeping the balance between the physical world and the spiritual realm. If one or the other would try to cross between dimensions, it was the Kinkou who were tasked with keeping them in check. They didn’t care about the problems of the mortal realm unless it would threaten the balance between the two.
The Kinkou Order was indeed the most powerful organization in all of Ionia. They had influence over the land and the people respected them. This order also had the most power and disciplined fighters in all of the land, so much that the order might even be able to challenge the Noxian army. However, the order refuses to take part in any human event even if it threatens the life of their people since they would rather pour all of their attention into keeping the Human and Spirit Realm intact. This would later be the determining factor of the rift between Shen and Zed.
The Golden Demon
One of the famous stories involving Shen and Zed was the tale of the Golden Demon. In the province of Zhyun, the villagers would describe a series of murders that are so gruesome that can only be described as the work of a demon. The demon hunts travelers or even villagers, making sick displays of their corpses. The villagers would hire demon hunters and wuju warriors but every one of them would later be found murdered and arranged as if trying to create a sculpture of their flesh and organs.
The Kinkou Order couldn’t ignore the reports of the Golden Demon once more. And so, the Great Master Kusho himself would take care of the problem alongside the 2 best pupils of the order – Shen and Usan, who were now in their teenage years. Together, they set out to the province of Zhyun and investigated the murders, seeing the gruesome displays that the demon had left behind. Kusho and Shen remained unaffected by how the murders were done but Usan was absolutely disgusted and furious towards the creature responsible for this.
Shen and Zed (Usan) alongside Master Kusho would initiate their investigation but it would be for not. The beast would elude them and every time they would find a clue, the beast would simply become even more difficult to find. The weeks became years and the three are now older. Kusho would realize that the killer would have a pattern in his killings, causing him to realize that the beast they were hunting was merely a man with a sick passion for murder, which would cause him to give up the hunt since it did not threaten the balance between worlds.
Shen and Usan would not give up the hunt for the Golden Demon, seeing all of the murders that he had committed, they knew that the man must face justice. After convincing their father to continue the chase, they finally came up with a strategy to corner him. At last, they did. They had learned that the Golden Demon was a mere stagehand for a traveling theatre group and when Usan cornered him, he cowered in fear of his life to which Kusho immediately intervened.
Kusho reminded Usan that the Kinkou should not interfere with the balance of life in the material world. Taking one’s life would encourage others to do so, even if the life they were taking were that of a gruesome murderer. Kusho decided to imprison him instead for the rest of his life. Shen found wisdom in his father’s words and became content with the verdict while the passionate Usan could not accept that his master was willing to let a man who had committed so many atrocities continue living.
The Rise of the Shadow
Kusho’s decision had stuck with Usan, cursing the order’s philosophies for letting a man who had caused so much suffering live his life. Usan had been struggling with his studies even if he was still in par with Shen in terms of martial prowess. It was becoming increasingly clear that Shen would be the one to succeed his father as the head of the Kinkou Order. All of this would weigh upon Usan’s head and plague him with doubts about the direction of the order, knowing that Shen would be exactly the same as his father.
The Noxian Invasion of Ionia would further fuel Usan’s doubts since they didn’t care about the war nor do they have any interest in aiding their people. One day, Usan had ventured deep into the catacombs where he would find a black box that would increase his contempt and convert it into resentment. With the darkness feeding on his emotions, Usan walked up to Kusho and demanded that the Kinkou cease their passivity and contribute their forces to repelling the Noxian invaders.
Unsurprisingly, Kusho refused and in a fit of rage, Usan turned his back on the order with no plans to return. Shen remained with the Kinkou since it aligned with his vision of the future. Shen and Zed would walk a different path. Zed began to recruit soldiers to be trained in the ways of the shadows where they would kill Noxian invaders or enablers of injustice. They were essentially a force the worked in the shadows for the sake of eradicating evil from the world. There he would take the name “Zed” to fully release himself from the shackles of the Kinkou.
Zed realized that he had reached the limit of his capabilities and without the black box he had found in the Kinkou’s catacombs, he can’t hope to further his goal. And so, he came back to the Kinkou Temple where he was faced with Kusho who beseeched him to turn the darkness away. But Zed made his choice. And so, Zed walked out of the temple with the black box and a bloodied blade. The Kinkou terrified by what he had done scattered and were slaughtered by Zed’s men where they eventually took control of the temple to establish the Yanlei Order or Shadow Order.
The Twilight’s Choice
While Shen was out on a journey, he sensed a great imbalance from the Kinkou Temple. He rushed home only to find the Kinkou monks massacred on the field and his father murdered inside the temple. He witnessed his father lying dead and heard of his brother’s betrayal but before getting consumed by grief, he managed to stay composed and led the remainder of the Kinkou to safety deep within the mountains where the Shadow Order would not bother to pursue them. Shen and Zed did not meet that day but their destinies remained intertwined.
Shen took his father’s spirit blade and the Eye of the Twilight. With these in hand, he understood that his role was not to take revenge but to rebuild the Kinkou Order so that they can continue keeping the peace between the spirit and mortal realms. It was not that he did not feel the anguish of losing his loved ones, it was that his conviction steeled his heart to continue on his path despite what he had experienced on that day.
Such as the Kinkou once expected, Shen became the new master of the rebuilt Kinkou Order. He began training new recruits to follow the path of the Kinkou alongside some previous masters of the order. Even though most of the Kinkou veterans have now scattered around Ionia to follow their own path, there were still some loyalists that stayed behind. Out of the new recruits, Akali was a girl that showed great promise and so he focused his attention on her.
Despite his teachings, Akali would soon leave the order questioning the Kinkou’s teachings, as Zed once did. Shen and Zed walked different paths but Shen would question if his own was a righteous one. He has done a good job repressing his emotions to justify his beliefs. However, as the people around them have decided to walk their own paths, he has begun to wonder if it was time for the Kinkou to tread a different path from the one that tradition has dictated for them.
The Future For Shen and Zed
Shen and Zed worked together one more time when the Golden Demon, Khada Jhin escaped from his prison. Zed knew that only Shen and him could capture the man that spent years eluding them so he accepted. They allied themselves to capture him for the sake of the Ionia that they both swore to protect. Shen made Zed swear that he would not kill Jhin when they saw him and when they did, he allowed him to live to honor his promise with his former brother.
The timeline of Runeterra has paused for now but we know that the two have created an army for themselves and they are on a path to meet. However, that might all change once the Riot Games MMO comes out and their narrative is forced to be continued. Whether the Riot Games’ story development team will favor one of them the champion or find a way for both their paths to converge into a single one will depend on the state of the world during that time.