Where children once played and where men once fished, destruction engulfed the remaining lives in Kalamanda. The skies were already dark, touched by night’s veil, but the flames that roared within and around the village only added to the thick coat of darkness. Jarvan’s bright blue eyes stared at the scene before him without moving, without blinking and sometimes without breathing. He didn’t know how much time had passed since Katarina boldly ordered him not to enter the warring fields. It could have been minutes just like it could have been hours. But the screams that reached his ears were his people’s, and the stench of death emanated from their bodies. The lookalike who fought with his weapons wasn’t even doing him justice with the way he brashly poked and pulled at General Jericho Swain.
Deciding that it was time to leave his coward’s den, Jarvan took a deep breath before breaking into a sprint, his long black hair whipping at the back of his neck. It was in that moment that an exotic growl echoed through the night and caused him to slow his pace. The Crown Prince eyed the sky, furrowing his brow, turning and turning again, looking for the source of that sound. A powerful flame breath was unleashed in the outskirts of Kalamanda. The scorched ground exploded, and Jarvan’s eyes widened at the sight of Shyvana’s dragon form descending from the burnt clouds. Her glowing eyes stared intently at the Jarvan who was in the middle of a fight, and the Crown Prince yelled at the top of his lungs, hoping she would react before doing any unfortunate mistake.
Jarvan had just reached the entrance of the village when Shyvana’s strangled growl pierced his ears and he screamed in despair. Crimson silk spurted from the dried foliage around the half-dragon shadow, and Jarvan could only watch in horror as Shyvana’s wings were trapped into massive webs that forcefully pulled her down. She crashed into the earth at a speed that made the ground shake, but with the ongoing battle within Kalamanda, Jarvan was the only one to notice it. He dragged himself back up, breathless as he ran into his friend’s direction, but it was too late. The fall made her turn back into her human form, and her skull was bleeding.
“Shyvana,” he tried to shout her name. “Shyvana, I’m here!” Jarvan desperately cried out as the half-dragon was dragged by the crimson nets.
Unable to see who was pulling the strings, Jarvan felt his heart sink. The purple-skinned woman was slowly being engulfed into the biggest spider web he had ever seen, and it was happening so fast there was no way he would have reached her in time.
Jarvan ran with an extended arm, calling her name over and over again, when a hard pull on his mane caused him to fall backwards, and the last thing he saw was a hooded figure drawing his fist into his face. His jaw cracked with the impact and the back of his head hit the ground.
His assailant took off his hood, a mop of shoulder-length brown hair tangling as the hot wind blew harder. Talon brought two fingers to Jarvan’s neck, checking his pulse, before rolling his shoulders and walking around the man who just passed out. Bending at his feet, Talon hooked the Prince’s ankles around the crook of his elbows and with a groan, he began dragging the heavy, armored body away from the village. Jarvan’s hair collected all the sand in the process, and sweat began forming on the Noxian assassin’s forehead. Talon glanced at Jarvan a couple times, grunting, before he finally spotted his Silvermeran mount.
A woman’s body was already thrown over the saddle and Talon wasted no time in lifting Jarvan as well. The brown-haired assassin let out a groan as he cracked his back, mentally cursing the Demacian prince as well as his promise to Luxanna Crownguard. Patting the horse’s head, he grabbed the reins and walked in the direction of Sing-Stones.
It was going to be a long walk, and certainly not a pleasant one.
There were exactly three thousand and six hundred clocks in the Chrono Tower of the Circle of Illuminators. Each clock was set a second forward to the other, and the clicks that they all made in unison would have driven any man to insanity, but to the young mage who silently sat in the middle of the room, it resembled vividly to an orchestra. She closed her blue eyes to better examine the rhythm and to enjoy the peacefulness that each tick brought to her heart, and she smiled.
The Chrono Tower was beautiful to her, and it only brought her back to the day she had been saved from the bigotry of her kingdom. She remembered it perfectly. From the moment she entered, gaping at the gold and crimson colors of the Ionian water clocks, to the moment she left, twirling to the sound of the Demacian mechanical time bearers. The petricite walls were completely covered in clocks, some were tall and some hung from the glass windows, the tiny clock hands invisible to the human eye.
Luxanna Crownguard nearly lost herself in the symphony of nostalgia that grasped her soul when the Chronokeeper pushed the doors open and came to sit in front of her. His skin was more wrinkled than his old, turquoise robes held together by a round, golden belt. His hair and beard spoke centuries of existence, both grazing the ground. His eyes had lost their color, and only white could be seen. Luxanna knew of his blindness, but ironically enough, he was also the only human being able to see across the millennia.
“Master Zilean,” she greeted him with the happiest of smiles. “I haven’t seen you in… ten years,” she whispered.
The Chronokeeper didn’t react to that, his palms looking for her hands on the surface of the table. “Years,” he repeated. “Days, months, years – they are nothing to someone with chrono-dysplasia, Luxanna.”
The young woman lowered her gaze, letting the time controller trace her hands with his long nails. She had heard of the disease that affected him since the Ancient Times, since he lost himself in his visions of the future, leaving his homeland at the mercy of the Dark Knights. The other Masters of the Circle still weren’t able to find a cure for him, and as far as she knew not even the summoners of the Institute of War could help him. The Chronokeeper was left to search for answers alone, between the Institute and his ancient residence in Urtistan, and came to the headquarters of the Circle of Illuminators only to assess the importance of the newest initiates. However, Luxanna doubted he had come to examine her future role again. Years had passed since she joined the Circle.
“You left the Elemental Tower,” Zilean commented, his index finger brushing against the center of her palm. “Why?”
“I found information about our Crown Prince,” Luxanna answered. “I just wanted to warn him.”
“But you didn’t.”
She nodded. “I didn’t. I ended up helping someone else.” She paused, glancing at the old master who seemed to be thinking of something else entirely. “Are you here to expel me?”
“I don’t have such powers,” Zilean answered, patting the mahogany clock at the center of the table. “A time of penance has come for us and thousands of lives will be put at risk of chrono-dysplasia, but this was always inevitable,” he muttered. “You will not always be the Lady of Luminosity, Luxanna,” he told her with a saddened expression marking his features. “But today is not the day that title will be taken away from you.”
The young woman furrowed her brow, unable to understand the meaning of his words. “Then, why was I sent here?” she asked in a whisper.
“Do you know what the Arcanum Majoris is, Luxanna?” the old master asked, his lips trembling with every word he spoke. “When the Institute of War was founded, its High Councilors established an Arcanum Majoris, along with the League of Legends and its ranked officials—summoners whose importance was dictated by their level of knowledge when it came to manipulating nexuses, their magic, as well as League Champions.
“I refined the Arcanum Majoris’ techniques to end the war that is currently decimating the most powerful ranks of Valoran. Time will stop,” Zilean stated, all the clocks in the Chrono Tower falling silent. “And what once was the peaceful home of many will turn into uninhabitable lands. This will be my last duty for the League of Legends,” he confessed, licking his dry lips.
Luxanna shivered unpleasantly, casting an uncertain look at the time controller before her. “What about the people who are currently in Kalamanda?”
“Those who are still alive will be teleported to the Institute of War, before they can return to their respective homes. Scholars from the Arcanum Majoris retrieved a nexus within the Vault at the Institute of War that will help them in their task. Once this war is over, Luxanna,” Zilean said, his cold hands grasping hers once again, “You must find the next time controller, the next person who can turn back time and see the future of Runeterra. For what I see now is only destruction and bleeding newborns.”
Luxanna retracted her hands, her blue eyes scanning the several clocks that wouldn’t work anymore. “How can you see destruction when you anticipate the end of the war?” she questioned, a part of her hoping that it was only his chrono-dysplasia talking, and that he was confused as to what past and present were.
“Ride past the Serpentine River,” Zilean whispered, his throat sore. “Ride North and travel East, until you fall between the Ironspike Mountains, and underneath the Gray, you will find him.
“You will find him,” he repeated in a hushed tone.
The problem with scorching heat is that it only caused the fallen corpses to rot faster. The entire village of Kalamanda had turned into ashes, and the Demacians who had survived the night attack had retreated into the western outskirts, letting the black waters wash off the grime and to soothe their burns, while the Noxians commanders ordered their troops back to their original standpoints. They had more supplies and more healers in any case, and they would be ready to fight again at their first opportunity.
Garen’s boots were soaked in blood and sand, and with each step he took, his armor plates resounded distinctly through the empty battlefield. His face was nearly covered in mud and scratches. His bloodshot eyes scanned the area around him, and as he breathed he could only inhale smoke, the stench of death clinging to his clothes. Dim blue eyes looked at the pit before him and he kneeled, one of his gloved hands touching the shattered ground. It was bloody and empty; no trace of Katarina could be found. Garen stood up, looking around and searching for clues, when his eyes landed on what was left of Spiritmight. Most of his limbs hadn’t been spared; flies, worms and crows were feasting on him. With a feeling of emptiness inside him, the Demacian commander reached for the heap of straw he had dragged around. He wanted to feel relieved for not having to use it on Katarina, but his squire was dead, and there was nothing he could have done about it. Between the disappearance of the Crown Prince and the menacing General Darius, whom he had never fought before, Garen had had no time to run back to Spiritmight.
But the young boy knew, he realized. He had always known about his possible death, and about Katarina. Why dive and attack Darius otherwise, Garen reasoned as he lit the heap of straw that now covered Spiritmight’s remains. He could almost hear his voice. Do not stay here, Sir, he would have said. We are just a few minutes away from the Noxian camp. But Jory Spiritmight had been the last man of his House, and Garen couldn’t leave him to rot behind. The last Spiritmight heir deserved better, and Garen promised himself to speak with the boy’s mother himself. The Queen’s sister was known for being kind-hearted and generous with the people, and she needed to know how bravely her son fought until the end.
As the commander reached his own camp, a sullen mood took over him. He never felt more useless his entire life. He had lost his squire and friend, his wife was missing, and his Crown Prince was nowhere to be found either. Curses and cries interrupted his brooding and Garen narrowed his eyes at the healers’ tent, carefully making his way inside.
Fiora Laurent’s right arm was severely injured and burnt. A Maiden of the Light was trying to apply herbal balms on the woman’s wounds, but she wouldn’t stop moving and cursing at the follower of the Light Caster faith.
“Stupid religious people,” Fiora insulted the young woman. “All they can do is pray. As if prayers healed anyone.”
“Where is Lady Sona Buvelle?” Garen asked the poor girl, knowing that the noblewoman was the best healer in the entire kingdom.
“She is missing,” Fiora answered instead, shooing the faithful girl out of the tent. “And so is Xin Zhao. What do you want, Crownguard?”
Garen sighed and shook his head, not feeling in the mood to keep up with her daily anger. “I will let you rest now, Captain.”
He turned heels and was almost out when he heard Fiora whisper bitterly, “The King deprived me of that title. I am just a royal guard.”
Garen stayed right where he was. “Before I arrived in Kalamanda, he also discharged me from my duties as Captain of the Dauntless Vanguard,” he confessed.
There was a wooden stool next to the straw bed where Fiora sat. Garen didn’t know why, but upon seeing the bitter look in her eyes, he decided to take a few more minutes and sit next to her. He rubbed his face with one of his hands, trying not to let the fatigue take over his body.
“Maybe it’s better this way,” the short-haired woman said calmly. “Less titles, less reasons for us to marry.”
Garen smiled a bit at her. “You don’t have to worry about that. I took care of it.” When Fiora arched a thin eyebrow at him, he added, “I can’t marry anyone anymore. Not in this life, not in the next one.”
Fiora’s look softened, and her stare traced the hard lines of his face; from his square jaw to the bump on his nose. His blue eyes were more intense than hers, and the faint wrinkles forming on his forehead and neck suddenly made him look less stuck-up.
It was during that moment of silence that Garen’s words sunk in and she nodded. “You are already married,” she whispered, before shaking her head. “The Demacian Council won’t have any trouble with the annulment. The only flexible rules in Demacia are those that concern marriage.”
“No,” Garen retorted. “I married under Shuriman laws,” he whispered back.
“Everyone says that the Empire of Shurima fell because the Emperor was betrayed by his closest friend,” Fiora muttered, “but I believe that it was their strict marriage rules that slowly killed the entire population, leading them to mate with beasts they called gods, and thus having deformed offspring. Shuriman laws are absurd in that sense and only allow you to be with one person, even after this person dies,” she reminded him, rolling her eyes. “You must really hate your mother for doing something like marrying under Shuriman laws,” she concluded, the corners of her lips curving up.
The weight her words carried caused Garen to remain silent, turning his head to face away from her as he pretended to scratch his head.
“It is better this way,” he eventually spoke, standing up. “We would have been very unhappy.”
“You killed my father,” Fiora spat. “It doesn’t matter how much your family wants a union for our respective Houses; I will never accept. I’ll let one of my older brothers marry your sister, but I would rather starve in a cell rather than spend the rest of my life as a Crownguard,” she arrogantly promised, her eyes swelling with angry tears.
Garen’s nostrils flared, and he glared right back at her. “You were to marry one of my relatives. When you publicly shamed him with your refusal, your father tried to poison me before our duel—the duel that would have restored the honor of both families,” he reminded Fiora, taking a step forward with each sentence. “You were the one to execute your father in the Hall of Blades, figuring you would rather duel him yourself to remain in Demacia rather than being exiled, along with the entire House Laurent.
“Don’t you dare pin this on me,” he growled. “And believe me,” the commander added as he slowly made his way outside, “there is absolutely nothing I’ve done out of hate.”
“Your House dies with you, Crownguard,” Fiora stated, the hint of a smile on her lips.
Garen left her without uttering a single retort, and the former captain eyed the herbal balm that rested on the floor as she was now alone to mend her wounds. Fiora winced as she bent to pick up the medication the maiden had left behind and she was ready to lean back and treat her burnt arm when a bright blue flash blinded her and a devastating wind sent her tent flying halfway past the Demacian camp.
Fiora found herself blinking at the skies, and one of her knees was bent in such an awkward way it had to be broken. Right next to her, she spotted her King hanging in midair, half of his body covered in bandages. Right above her head, Garen’s bulky form floated past her, his arm extended and his mouth open, as if he was shouting at someone.
She found it incredibly difficult to turn her head and to breathe, but one last gasp escaped her lips as she took in her surroundings completely. The entire camp was surrounded by hundreds of summoners clad in purple robes. The glowing blue light that nearly blinded her slowly faded behind them, taking away her consciousness in the process.
The rain hammered against the thin glass of the window as the thunder roared from the skies. The entire village of Kalamanda was surrounded by a light veil that was so bright and so blue, it was easy to see it even from Sing-Stones. Worried blue eyes stared in the distance. Whatever was going on in the village certainly wasn’t war, and it couldn’t reach them.
Lady Sona Buvelle made sure that the window was indeed closed, and fixed the bucket that collected the raindrops that made their way through the roof cracks and inside the room. The young healer glanced at the woman who was having a restless sleep in the bed near the door, and she slowly came closer to press the back of her hand against the woman’s forehead. At least, the fever was gone, but her unlikely patient was still muttering inaudible words and occasionally sobbing.
“I-I can’t,” Sona heard her cry. “I don’t have them—my blades are gone—”
The Demacian noblewoman softly placed both hands on the woman’s shoulders and shook her lightly, beckoning her to wake up.
Dark green eyes shot open in panic, darting around and widening as they didn’t recognize her. Sona patted her shoulder, and motioned her to stay silent as she brushed her index finger against her lips. The healer grabbed the papers that rested on the one-legged nightstand, and showed one of her messages to the woman.
You are safe and healthy, Sona had written. Don’t worry.
The confused woman blinked at the piece of paper, then looked back at her.
I am Sona Buvelle, the noblewoman quickly scribbled. Daughter of Lady Lestara Buvelle, from Demacia.
The green-eyed woman tried to speak but ended up coughing. Sona immediately reached for the water flask on the nightstand and helped her patient drink before brushing a strand of azure hair behind her ear. The disoriented woman breathed heavily, placing a hand on her chest and closing her eyes as she waited for her heart to stop racing. Her other hand pushed away the red bangs on her forehead and the healer waited patiently as she sat next to her, wondering if she had any questions or if she only wanted to rest.
The red-haired woman suddenly sat up, pushing away the covers and staring at her lap. All she wore was a thin shirt that wasn’t even hers, and her legs were completely bare. At the sight of her thighs, the woman began shaking, and Sona immediately reacted by holding her hand and scribbling on another piece of paper.
I am really sorry. But you must know that at six weeks, miscarriages aren’t uncommon. Besides, your body was put through a lot of stress.
The redhead only stared at her blankly. Sona placed a hand on her cheek, nodding.
It will go differently next time, she tried to reassure the woman, only earning a strangled noise as the green-eyed woman shook her head. And you will have a healthy, big baby boy, she promised.
The door was thrown open, and Sona stood up as a man with brown hair tied in a half ponytail barged in, a deep scowl on his face. Upon recognizing him, the healer slowly walked away, but not before gathering her papers.
Her heart stopped beating and her entire body froze at the sound of his voice. Tilting her head, her green eyes, which seemed to be a shade darker as the room was barely lit, glared at him. “Talon,” she whispered, almost in disbelief.
Her adoptive brother closed the door behind him, the corners of his mouth curving down. Neither of them uttered another word as he came closer, the sound of each step causing shivers down her spine. He stood right in front of her, and their staring contest didn’t end until he brought his hand down, the palm of his hand hitting her cheek without a warning.
Katarina held the side of her face, feeling her ears becoming hotter as the blood rushed to her face, and she broke into tears before finding herself crying in Talon’s chest. He held her tight, running his fingers through her wild red hair, making hushing sounds in her ear. None of it helped. Sobs racked her chest and she coughed hard to the point where she thought she would throw up. She called her brother’s name several times, as if he wasn’t in the room to begin with, and it took a lot of willpower for Talon not to shed tears himself.
When he had found her covered in her own blood and with her pants completely torn, he had imagined the worst. His mind immediately created the most horrifying scenarios that involved those brutes from Bloodcliffs, as it was known to everyone that Bloodcliffs soldiers acted like beasts even when it came to their own allies. Even when the healer told him what happened to Katarina, he wasn’t entirely sure he wouldn’t eviscerate someone.
“It’s over, Kat,” Talon whispered, waiting for her sobs to die out. “It’s over.”
The redhead fisted his shirt, nearly scratching his skin through the material, before pulling away, rubbing her cheeks with the back of her hand to wipe away the tears.
“Where are we?” she whispered in such a tiny voice she was unrecognizable.
“Sing-Stones,” he replied, not noticing the way her lips trembled again at the mention of the village. “I had something to do, and ended up being followed by this healer and another Demacian official,” Talon added in an annoyed tone. “There is nothing to be worried about though; the entire location of Kalamanda was frozen by the Institute of War. No one will come for us here, and these guys downstairs have no interests in waving their arms at the High Councilors.”
When Katarina didn’t reply, Talon crossed his arms over his chest.
She kept staring at the rain outside. “What?”
“What the fuck happened?” he roared, and she winced, thinking he would slap her again. “I sent you here to be safe, to stay away from all these people who want you and your family dead, and after nearly a year I find you in a deserted battlefield, surrounded by spoils, with your pants off and bleeding to death because you were—?”
Saying it out loud didn’t help Talon process it, and he shook his head, biting at his lower lip as he leaned against the wall. He rested his hands on the windowsill, wondering if Katarina would even answer him.
“Who is he?” he asked in a calmer tone but still seething. “Who is he?” he repeated, his brown eyes glancing back at her.
Katarina sighed, looking away.
“Oh, no,” Talon whispered, covering his mouth with his right fist. “No, no, no,” he went on. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” His right leg was shaking, and when he couldn’t keep his anger in check anymore, he finally kicked the wooden wall, causing the window to shake and the glass to nearly break. “So, you’re what now,” he sighed, “in love, or something?”
“I am married,” Katarina said flatly.
“You’re—” Talon blinked at her, wondering if she had hit her head hard. “What is wrong with you?”
The redhead folded her hands in her lap, feeling the tears gathering in her eyes once more. “I didn’t think it was possible,” she said in a hush. “The first time we crossed paths, I didn’t kill him because my father ordered me to back off. I really wanted to, but I knew that he was still upset at me for failing with the Demacian officer and earning an eternal reminder,” she explained, her fingers brushing against the scar on her left eye. “But every time after that—” Katarina bit her lower lip, shrugging. “Nine years. How can anyone fail to kill someone for nine years?” she asked him curiously.
Talon frowned at her question, unable to answer.
“Gradually, I understood,” she went on, bringing her knees to her chest. “As I joined missions I didn’t belong to, and ran into enemy camps for a good spar or waited in abandoned wastelands for him to find me—I understood. He would always come back to me, as I would come back to him,” Katarina confessed, a remorseful stare directed at Talon. She licked her lips as the tears almost spilled from her eyes again shamefully, “All that I had,” she whispered, gulping. “Blossomed and died in Kalamanda.”
As Talon towered over her, his shadow hid her entire form. He sat back down cautiously, as if he was worried he would frighten her, and placed his hand behind her neck. His lips brushed against her forehead, and his thumb wiped away a lonely tear on her left cheek.
“I would have been happier believing it was only a game,” he confessed, knowing she was well aware of the fact that he sometimes followed her, especially since Marcus’ disappearance.
Katarina offered him a grim smile. “I would like to say that too,” she whispered. “But the happiest I have been was here.”
Talon smirked, shaking his head one last time. “I should’ve slapped you harder.”
She broke into a smile herself. “You should’ve,” she agreed, before hugging him once more.