The air was humid.
Whenever he tried to breathe in, he felt as if thousands of micro-rocks pierced his lungs. He knew he wasn’t blindfolded; he couldn’t feel anything against his face. Yet, he couldn’t see anything. He tried hard to focus on something—a flicker of light, a shadow, anything. But the pure darkness surrounding him almost made him think that he was blind. But he wasn’t; oh no, he wasn’t. He couldn’t. No king from his family had ever been blind. Kings were leaders and strategists. They couldn’t be blind.
The heavy chains on his wrists and ankles completely cut his blood circulation and he almost felt amputated. He had not a single clue as to where he was. All he remembered was the endless shaming and beating he went through as he was led to the Immortal Bastion. How the citizens of Noxus Prime threw excrements at him and rotten food. How they wooed the generals that captured him.
How the rest of Valoran closed both eyes on this and waited for him to die.
The dramatic sound of clothes rustling made him squirm on top of the stone table he was chained to. This was it, he thought. They would publicly execute him, and deny his kingdom its rightful heir. They would rule all over Valoran, destroy the Institute of War if they had to. Once more, they would drum and sing Death To The King, or rename it into End of The Dynasty. His insides churned at the thought of an Empire of brutes ruling from East to West, but there was little he could do at that point.
“Shh,” someone soothed him. “You won’t feel a thing, my Lord.”
“I am not a lord,” he spat in return, his voice coming out croaked and weak.
He heard a rather old, masculine laugh. “I beg your pardon, my Prince. You see,” the man went on as he unsheathed what probably was either a dagger or a broader blade, “deep down I’ve always had this utter rejection for noble ranks.”
The man paced around the stone table, making appreciative sounds as he surely eyed the way he was held back.
“I never understood men who sat so high above everyone else because of their lineage rather than the sharpness of their mind. And, frankly,” he said as he came to a stop, leaning forward, “your mind is anything but sharp given your current predicament, Jarvan, Fourth of your name.”
The stranger grabbed his numb wrist and the prince could feel fingernails so long they had to be claws piercing the palm of his hand. He screamed as his back bent and his legs wiggled, the dagger his prison warden held embedding itself slowly in his ring finger. It was thin, so thin Jarvan figured it was a actually a nail, and it was scratching against his finger bone. He wailed and cried in the back of his throat as he felt his fingernail break and snap, but the clawed man wasn’t letting go of his hand.
“Why?” the old man asked when Jarvan’s vocal chords were too strained. “You have something,” he answered.
Bringing his lips closer to Jarvan’s ear, he breathed out, “Something I desperately want.
Blue eyes snapped open, and Jarvan coughed and choked, his lungs feeling oxygen-deprived. He could feel a bandage around his head, and he was surrounded by gold, white and blue. He blinked several times, his heart nearly jumping out of his chest, and only calmed down upon recognizing the lady that was trying to keep him still. She had gentle blue eyes and a porcelain face. Soft blue waves cascaded past her shoulders and down her back, and right next to her was a table full of supplies. Lady Sona Buvelle offered him a glass of what he thought was water, until he chugged the contents and realized it was honeyfruit juice, meant to dull his pain.
The moment he stopped coughing, Lady Buvelle ran to the door of his bedchambers, and Jarvan heard the voices of two women who were clearly disagreeing on something important. Their loud fight was already giving him a headache, but it could also have been the strong honeyfruit juice. Tired blue eyes glanced around, finding unusual comfort in his surroundings. The petricite walls were completely covered in gold, and endless blue curtains hung from the tallest windows ever built in Demacia. The canopy bed he lied in was five times his size, the sheets as white as a maiden’s pure soul, and the rugs around it softer than the clouds in the sky. There was a portrait of him hanging on the opposite wall, and Jarvan could barely recognize himself.
This wasn’t him, he tried to convince himself. He was not the prince that comfortably lied down while his people suffered.
“Let him rest,” a deep, female voice ordered as the Captain of the Royal Guards barged in, her heeled boots clicking loudly on the marble floor.
“I have reports,” the Captain said with disdain, her throaty r’s marking her words. “Your Highness,” she greeted, bowing.
“How many?” Jarvan asked in a whisper. “How many, Captain Laurent?”
Taking off her round and blue feathery hat and revealing the short, bob haircut Fiora Laurent sported, the captain nodded. “Three-hundred civilians. Two-hundred and fifty are dead, the other fifty are severely injured. Out of the hundred soldiers on patrol, only eleven survived the attack.”
Jarvan’s jaw tightened, his lips twitching. “The mausoleum?”
Fiora’s bright eyes darted to the side. “Completely destroyed. The Noxian soldier’s remains were stolen, we are sure about that,” she explained. “Villagers living in the outskirts of the capital reported having seen a small group of Noxians clad in iron follow a red-haired woman into the Howling Marsh. They were carrying a very large casket.”
Jarvan’s hands fisted the bedsheets, looking away from Fiora Laurent and out of the open window to his right side.
“Your Highness,” the brown-haired woman said as she bowed again and left his private chambers.
The large doors were closed and locked behind her, and Jarvan let out a deep breath, running his fingers through his jet-black hair. He felt the bed shift when the other woman that accompanied Fiora sat down next to him and remained silent, waiting for him to speak.
When he didn’t, she whispered. “Do you remember anything?”
He shook his head against the large, white pillows with gold broderie. “Only that I was trying to help the injured civilians. And then that nightmare, again.” He laughed bitterly. “Or should I say, memory.”
“I dragged you out from under a column that crumbled on top of you.”
He ignored her statement. “Shyvana,” he whispered, closing his eyes, “I just… I just don’t understand,” he confessed shamefully. His blue eyes stared at her purple face, taking in the look in her sunset eyes.
“The weaker the rulers,” she explained, “the more reasons the people have to stop trusting them. Noxus only wants Demacians to abandon the idea that the Lightshields are the rightful rulers.”
“I will rule unrightfully,” he said with a sarcastic laugh. “Look at me.” He coughed, waving a hand in front of him. “That is, if there will be anything left to rule by the time the High Command is done with us.”
The violet-haired female grunted, crossing her arms over her chest. “You know exactly what we have to do. Say the word, and I’ll do it.”
Jarvan’s expression hardened, and he quickly grabbed one of her hands, beckoning her to look at him. “Don’t. It was complicated enough to find a way to explain to everyone why your skin is purple and your eyes the color of fire. They wouldn’t understand.”
Shyvana glanced up at the majestic crystal chandelier above them and stood up, walking up to the window. Her amber eyes found comfort in the bright blue sky, the faint scales on her magical skin bristling slightly as the wind blew softly. “You are right then,” she told him, licking her dry lips. “There won’t be anything left to rule.”
The sun had long risen in the distant horizon but was still curtained by the large clouds of smoke caused by the explosion. The entire capital of Demacia was covered in dirt and debris, although most petricite monuments and houses were left untouched. It seemed as if the attack had been aimed only at the mausoleum that proudly stood at the back of the Grand Plaza. However, it was such a main area that the victims were too numerous and the consequences too important.
Talon didn’t care about any of those. Around him hundreds of injured civilians kicked and wailed like whimsical children in need of attention, but his focus was set on the young woman he carried in his arms. The dusty air made it almost impossible for him to breathe but he had to get moving. He couldn’t let anyone recognize the person he had dragged out of the place she lived and studied, and most importantly, he couldn’t let anyone see his face. Surely Demacians were all too busy with the current catastrophe, but the officers and the royal guards were definitely looking for the criminals who set fire to the tomb of King Jarvan I, and this wasn’t the right time to get captured.
Talon hurried his feet the more people were carried through the outskirts of Demacia City. The heart of the capital was not safe and civilians were fleeing. The hooded assassin faked a limp when he spotted a Demacian general dragging a cart full of dead bodies on the side of the road.
“Young man, do you need assistance?” the man with a dirtied blue cape asked him.
“No,” Talon answered bluntly, never looking at the general in the face.
Swiftly, he pulled on the fabric of Luxanna’s own hood, and made sure her face remained covered.
“Is your wife dead?” the general prodded again, eyeing the cart behind him as if to hint at a possible solution to Talon’s predicament.
Talon came to a halt, his fists tightening around Luxanna’s shoulders and legs, and he tilted his head to the side while pondering his options. He could hear the Demacian general walk up behind him, taking a couple slow steps and advancing very cautiously. On one hand, he couldn’t strike the nosey man without dropping Luxanna’s body to the ground, causing her more injuries. On the other hand, he couldn’t let this enforcer come any closer. He was positive every Demacian citizen knew what a Crownguard looked like, with their bright blue eyes and strong facial features. In addition, it wouldn’t take long until the general noticed the many blades shining inside his cloak.
“Look, the aid camp is in the opposite direction. If she isn’t dead, you might want to head this way,” the general explained quietly, probably pointing at the location of the camp he mentioned.
The assassin inhaled deeply through his nostrils, resuming his pace. “My wife,” he replied in a flat tone, “is none of your business.”
The winged sword shielded by two soldiers, the crest of Demacia and the Lightshields, was a dull symbol on torn flags and banners as Talon and Luxanna escaped the walls of the capital. The silence that surrounded them was a reminder that he hadn’t slept for the past three days, and his body was screaming. The blonde girl in his arms seemed to be gaining her consciousness back as she squirmed and groaned here and there. Talon decided to place her on the grassy ground, patting his left side and snatching the water flask he carried. There wasn’t much left sadly, but it had to be enough. He slapped Luxanna’s cheek with his gloved hand, forcing her to sit up when she coughed blood, and pressed the opening of the flask to her lips. The woman kept coughing and threw up half the contents of her stomach. Talon made a face, rolling his eyes, all the while patting her upper back. For a brief moment, Talon was reminded of the late night-outs he would spend with Marcus’ eldest daughter, but quickly rejected the comparison. A part of him did wonder where Katarina was, what she was doing, and when Luxanna gave him a sheepish smile, his lips twitched, nearly curving up.
“Where are we going?” she croaked out, massaging her throat. “What happened?”
“Someone blew up something in the capital,” he summarized, pulling her up. “I can’t go back there for now,” he explained, freeing his hair from the heavy hood that covered his head. “They’ll secure every single area.”
“What about me?” Luxanna asked, a worried look in her baby blue eyes.
Talon shrugged, stretching arms behind his back and cracking his neck. “I haven’t decided yet,” he confessed, “though I believe your tiny light tricks could be very useful.”
“They’re not ‘light tricks’,” she argued. “And I have to speak with the Crown Prince. Urgently.”
Talon eyed her with an aggravated frown, then stepped to the side, as if to let her pass. She hesitated, slowly moving away and glancing at the gates of the city.
“Go,” he ordered. “If you reach the gates before I do, you get in and I leave.” Leaning towards her from behind, he then added coldly, “But if you’re not fast enough, I will sever your head from your neck, tear away the flesh of your face, and burn it to warm myself tonight. Just to make sure no one recognizes you.”
Luxanna turned around, her big eyes swelling as she bit back angry and frightened tears, nearly daring him to do it right then and there.
“Take me to the nearest village,” he ordered in his usual bored voice.
“You will have to take that off,” she replied in an analogous way, pointing at his cloak. “When the kingdom faces an attack, everyone is under scrutiny. No tavern and no village guard will let you in while you carry unregistered weapons.”
The young blonde woman promptly led the way, ignoring any further threat from the Noxian outsider.
They traveled in silence, for the most part. Luxanna’s talkative and curious self was being repressed by the mixed feelings she had about her current situation—hostage by choice and companion by force. Several years had passed from the last time she left Demacia City to explore the kingdom. The last time she did, she was with her older brother and uncle, the only father figure they both ever had, and they left Demacia City to visit High Silvermere, and from then on, the hinterlands of Demacia. For that reason, the young woman recognized in a heartbeat the peaceful grassy roads before her. She figured Talon exited the city through the northeast gates. The Serpentine River was only a few days away, and from then on, the hinterlands were relatively easy to access. She wasn’t entirely sure the assassin that ordered her around would be interested in those places, but they were the only places she knew.
The bridge that merchants used to reach the rocky regions of the kingdom was called The Crossing, and several taverns and rest houses stood awkwardly in the middle of nowhere, welcoming the brave and the fool who had business to attend on the opposite side of the Serpentine River. Before they reached the largest tavern at the foot of The Crossing, Talon hopped on one of the tallest trees surrounding them, considering the young Crownguard’s advice and took of his cloak, leaving only his mounted blade under his vest. He neatly reordered his blades, folding his cloak and using its ties to secure it on the highest branch of the tree. He would take those back on his way home, and if he couldn’t, at least they weren’t irreplaceable, contrary to his main weapon.
As she watched him, Luxanna examined her light wand, brushing her fingers against the tips. It was the first gift she ever received for her identity, and she wasn’t ready to let go of it. The wand of the Radiant One, as the Master Elementalist called it, looked like an old piece of wood. She doubted anyone would ask questions about it. Deciding not to throw it deep into the Serpentine River, the blonde girl followed Talon into the busiest tavern that was named after the bridge that would have been lowered the next day to allow people to pass.
The two unlikely companions sat at the only table that was left. It was unstable and set against a very dirty window, and Luxanna flinched at the sight of her face. The purple broderie of her hood was so dirty it looked black, and several little cuts on her face made her look like a rogue. Her long blonde hair was sticky and oily. All in all, she looked exactly like the man sitting across from her: neglected and annoyed at the world.
A waiter served them two Graggy Ices, and once Talon gulped down the entire drink, he asked, “Isn’t Demacia against the use of magic?”
“What’s your point?” Luxanna asked back, wincing at the taste of alcohol.
“I want to know how a noblewoman ended up in a shady place with hovering crystals and invisible properties.”
The blue-eyed woman pursed her lips, staring at the cracks on the table they sat at as they waited for their meals. “In Demacia, when children turn into teenagers, their training begins. Some are meant to become soldiers, others are better at crafting, and others are better at tactics. My mother, Lilia, believed I was born a tactician,” she explained, forcing the Graggy Ice down her throat. “I wasn’t.
“I could stare at a candle and it would burn; I could touch the water and turn it into ice. Just by thinking of it. I once tried to tell my brother about it. He was almost a man already—ten years older than me. But he said that I had a very vivid imagination and that I thought that magic was a gift I wanted to have. He repeated several times that magic almost destroyed Valoran because it was beyond men’s control. And that whatever is beyond our control only brings destruction and desolation.
“So I sat in my bedroom, extracting the light of the candle I just lit and toying with it as I wondered why I was born with destruction in my hands.” Luxanna paused, frowning angrily at Talon, although the anger wasn’t directed to him. “That was when my mother found me. The following morning, I was taken away by the royal guards, who brought me outside of the walls of the city and threw me in a tower where there was no light. I was only thirteen.
“They said that my training would be starting soon but that first I had to get rid of my impurities. Holy servants of the temple visited me regularly but I couldn’t see or feel what they did. Everything was dark. I am not sure how many days or months I spent in that tower, but one day someone opened the door and one of the greatest ladies of Demacia was there. It was Lady Buvelle,” Luxanna said, with a smile, “and she came with her daughter who was barely older than me, a mute, foreign and lovely girl. She took me to the Circle of Illuminators—no one knows she is our main benefactor. The King himself probably doesn’t believe that order of mages still exists. But they know. They know magic can also protect Valoran, not only destroy it.”
Talon had long finished his drink, resting his chin in the palm of his hand as he took in all the information Luxanna just gave him. A part of his mind was still stuck on the fact that she didn’t remember how long she remained in the pure darkness of that secluded place, and the bitterness of that fact reminded him that he didn’t even remember who he was before Marcus, before Katarina, before the High Command. He assumed he was always surrounded by violence, since he came from the dirtiest streets of Noxus Prime, but as Luxanna went on with her story, he wondered what had life been before all of it. The mentions of childhood and early teenage years had him wondering, but his thoughts were interrupted by the waiter who brought them food, along with copies of the local journal and of the Journal of Justice.
His brown eyes lingered on the front page of the local Demacian journal that reported the events of the previous night. Talon’s heart began racing as he caught the words ‘mausoleum’, ‘General Sion’s remains’, and most importantly, ‘under the command of Katarina Du Couteau’. He had himself sent Marcus’ daughter to Kalamanda—there was absolutely no way she could have done it herself, especially when they both agreed on staying away from the Pale Woman and her requests. His brain was thinking of all the ways their plan could have gone wrong, when Luxanna placed the League’s Journal of Justice on top of the Demacian newspaper.
“Talon,” she whispered, the curiosity sparkling again in her eyes. “This is the person I must warn the Crown Prince about,” she revealed, pointing at a dangerous name that was printed on the front page.
Hunching over, Talon placed his own finger next to Luxanna’s. “This is the person I am looking for.”
The Journal of Justice
Formare Veneficius Est Formare Fatum
7 December, 20 CLE
The Noxian High Command recognizes Master Tactician Jericho Swain as the successor to General Du Couteau
Richor Ebony reporting from Noxus
His big, calloused hands brushed her skin so very softly, grabbing the roundest parts of her hips. On his right hand was a scar between his thumb and index finger. It was a bit jagged and a very old scar, one he had gotten during his training, at least twenty years ago. She had touched it earlier, silently asking the story behind every mark on his body—stories he refused to reveal to her. Most cuts had been caused by her or because of her anyway, and fighting wasn’t an option at that moment.
Her breathing was erratic, and her eyes shut so tight that tiny, faint wrinkles formed around the bridge of her nose. Her own hands were pushing against his chest, finding leverage, clawing wherever she found the hard muscles of his body, and although he was the one pulling her down with his hands, she was guiding him with every movement.
Rolling and grinding, she made sure that her hips allowed her to feel every inch of him, from the most sensitive and exposed parts of her womanhood to the deep and darkest secrets she held in her womb. There wasn’t a bit of him that wasn’t being sucked in completely, and Garen lost his mind, pushing himself up and sitting up, cradling the petite woman on top of him and trying to capture her lips with his.
She denied him every time, smiling against his lips as her pink appendage teased his parted lips. Her small hands held his face close to hers, their foreheads touching, her movements always restless. Her crimson hair was wild and tousled around her body, and she tilted her head backwards the moment one of his hands rested on the small of her back, pulling her forward and stretching her to the limits her body tolerated. She whined a bit, before regaining control of her senses and pushing against his shoulders to make sure he lied down again. Her hot mouth finally found his, and her entire weight fell on top of him. Her strong thighs tightened around his waist, and Garen circled her upper body with both arms, crushing her chest against his and kissing the side of her face when she arched her back and whispered something in his ear.
One of her hands fidgeted with the pillow under his head, and then he clearly felt her patting for something. She sat up, her hazel eyes peering down at him, her cheeks flushed and a wanton look of satisfaction adorning her features. The scar on her left eye was more visible than ever, and she whispered again.
“Assassination is premeditation.”
Garen felt the metallic taste of blood in his mouth, his stomach churning and his tongue lolling out as blood filled his mouth and quickly penetrated the back of his throat. He brought both hands to his neck, only to find out that they were covered in his own blood, and Katarina held her curved dagger in front of her. As his soul slowly left his body, the vision of her was become fainter by the second, and he could see himself lying on his bed, covered in blood from his lips to his upper chest.
Suffocating and rolling out of his bed, Garen held his throat with his right hand, looking for the death mark, but the moment he spotted his empty bedpan, his chest heaved and he spit out bile. His entire body shook as if he had a fever, and the dizziness prevented his mind from forming coherent thoughts.
“It’s not real,” he told himself, trying to pull himself together and stand up.
“It’s real,” another man whispered, and Garen’s eyes darted around, wondering if he was indeed going crazy. “I heard Thom say it himself.”
Upon realizing that two of his men were chatting right outside his tent, Garen grabbed the nearest flask of water he could find and emptied it on his face, waking up entirely and pushing away any twisted thought about the Sinister Blade who murdered him in his dreams. Among other things.
It was all beyond his control, Garen realized in shame. She had become a disease, even more for the past month she spent away from Kalamanda to return to the Institute of War for reasons unknown to him. Noxus had Ridley on their side anyway, and even though no contract had been signed, after the Zaun delegation had arrived and tempted to bribe the village council, minor city-states and kingdoms were not seen as worthy as the Empire. Katarina had left without even worrying about Noxus’ position, and miners started working, the Noxians hiring Demacians, Piltoverites and Zaunites with immense pleasure, since they could order everyone around. The tension in Kalamanda was growing every day, and Garen found himself wondering why he hadn’t been sent back to Demacia again and what he could do to avoid the upcoming disaster that this nexus campaign was.
The commander grabbed a piece of clothing to put on, while listening to the hushed conversation that would take his mind off things.
“Thom Garvin is an idiot,” the other soldier whispered back, and Garen recognized his squire Spiritmight’s voice. “There is no way.”
“You are an idiot,” the previous man spit back, “haven’t you heard what happened to King Jarvan I’s Mausoleum? Our Crown Prince could have indeed ordered Garvin to do what I told you.”
“What is going on?” the blue-eyed commander asked the two men in front of him, who were both incredibly shorter than him.
“We didn’t mean to wake you up, Sir,” Spiritmight apologized. “Night reports from Demacia alerted us about a group of Noxians blowing up the mausoleum in honor of King Jarvan I. They say it was the Sinister Blade.”
Garen felt even sicker.