Chapter 16: The Nostoi

Waking up that day had never been more painful. His scalp hurt, his face was bruised, and his back felt destroyed. He wasn’t entirely sure how his healer Sona Buvelle ended up nursing his wounds in a deserted hut, miles away from Kalamanda, but Jarvan wouldn’t complain about it. Lady Buvelle appeared as a blessing given the current state of everything.

The Prince limped his way around the small hut. A small bedroom had been crafted in a corner, and Lady Buvelle had left the injured Noxian inside in quite a hurry. Holding his side, Jarvan came closer to the door, frowning at the conversation the two assassins were having. He couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of everything, but there was little he could do aside from waiting for Lady Buvelle’s return and some well-deserved explanations. Anything that could take his mind off the fact that Shyvana had been abducted by an unknown creature was welcome.

“If you weren’t the Crown Prince, I would call out on you for snooping, Your Highness.”

Jarvan’s back stiffened, causing him pain, and he whipped his head around only to come face-to-face with the King’s seneschal. Jarvan grunted, returning to sit on the straw bed near the fireplace where the flames threatened to die out. The desert nights were colder than the Freljord winds.

“Any news from Kalamanda?” the heir to the Demacian throne asked, wincing when his back cracked.

Xin Zhao seemed hesitant. “The locals here in Sing-Stones say that the Institute of War ordered a time freeze. Hundreds of summoners were sent to secure the area and pacify the village—or what is left of it.”

Jarvan eyed the older man in front of him. “You don’t seem convinced.”

“Your Highness, a time freeze implies some heavy use of magic. Such practices never pacified anything.”

The blue-eyed Lightshield nodded at the sharpness of the seneschal’s mind. “We should get moving,” he decided, leaping out of his seat and immediately regretting it as more aching bones cracked. “There is someone out there who had great fun impersonating me and decimating half of our men before trapping Shyvana and taking her away.” With a decisive stare, Jarvan added, “We are riding back to Demacia City tonight.”

“Walk out the door and I break both your knees,” Talon’s menacing tone cut his enthusiasm short.

Xin Zhao readied his spear the moment he heard the threat, while Jarvan stuck out his chin at the sight of his abductor escorting Katarina Du Couteau out of the bedroom. She looked paler than usual, and for someone who had spent an entire day in bed, she had the biggest eyebags in the entire room.

“The one who impersonated you,” she spoke, her voice weak, “tried to frame me as well for the attack on King Jarvan I’s Mausoleum. I was never in Demacia City around that time,” Katarina elaborated. “Yet, several people are ready to swear on their lives that they saw me retrieve the remains that were inside.”

The King’s seneschal narrowed his almond-shaped eyes at her. “Why would we believe you?” he questioned. “This man hit and abducted the Crown Prince,” he said, pointing his spear at Talon. “For all we know, this could be a trap.”

Talon snorted. “I didn’t want to abduct him. He’s heavy.” Before they could retaliate, he went on, “Things get messy when war breaks out. I only had a message for him.”

“What message?” Jarvan asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Luxanna Crownguard, who is part of an order called the Circle of Illuminators and located in Demacia City, thinks you’re meant to fulfill a prophecy she read about, and that Jericho Swain is after you for that reason.”

Talon could feel Katarina’s stare and growing smirk without even looking at her. Never tearing his eyes away from the doubtful seneschal and the confused Crown Prince, Talon pretended she wasn’t in the room.

“No one has seen Luxanna Crownguard since her thirteenth birthday,” Xin Zhao pointed out, slowly retracting his spear.

“Someone saw a lot of her,” Katarina chimed in smugly.

Talon answered with a glare.

Jarvan’s piercing blue eyes glanced back and forth between Talon and Xin Zhao, his brain trying to process the information as well as his own thoughts regarding the entire situation. As much as he was never one to trust Noxians and their political speeches filled with double-meanings, there was no reason for someone such as Talon to try and abduct him instead of killing him, if he had any ill intention. Talon had had a golden opportunity, yet decided to bring him to Sing-Stones, and didn’t bat an eyelash when Xin Zhao spotted him and demanded to guard the injured Crown Prince before he fetched Sona Buvelle to tend to his wounds. No matter how hard he tried, there weren’t many reasons to doubt Talon and Katarina. His father would have let prejudice and history get the better of him, Jarvan knew that much, but he wasn’t his father and he had to find Shyvana. There was a good chance that the two Noxians wouldn’t help him with that task, but he would rather bet on them than on his father, at this point. The King’s tolerance for Shyvana didn’t mean his acceptance.

“Xin Zhao,” Jarvan spoke in a decisive tone. “Kindly escort Lady Buvelle to Demacia City tomorrow morning.”

The seneschal was taken aback. “Your Highness?”

“Tell the King you weren’t able to find me,” Jarvan added with a nod.

Xin Zhao bowed before his Crown Prince, his chopped hair falling over his face, but noted the way the two Noxians and Jarvan exchanged looks. It wasn’t his place to pry or judge, and if the Crown Prince decided to put his trust in two representatives of an Empire that had caused his kingdom grief and loss, Xin Zhao hoped that he knew exactly what he was doing.

***

Under normal circumstances, the Ivory Ward marketplace wasn’t too crowded at night, but normality was no longer a word to be considered given the turmoil in Noxus Prime. The people formed distinct groups that gathered inside and outside the district, proclaiming themselves supporters of the rightful Grand General, a title that would soon be contested by Keiran Darkwill and Jericho Swain. The most drunken men swore they would join the duel as well, that neither Boram Darkwill’s son or Jericho Swain were strong enough to lead and represent the vast and powerful Empire of Noxus.

The two main streets that connected the Ivory Ward marketplace to the heart of Noxus Prime were the Immortal’s Path, which led to the great ascend of the Immortal Bastion, and the Opal Street. On the right, a hidden street narrowed into an alley. There was only a manor at the very end of it, as large and tall as a noble’s palace, but also as silent as a temple. A tall gate prevented any intruder from getting in without being invited, and the gardens that surrounded the manor were well-kept and elegantly designed. Tall firs shadowed the roses that grew around the house and that clung to the dark stones of the walls.

The only light that signaled someone’s presence emanated from the largest window on the third floor. The candle was set on a vanity with a mirror that covered the entire wall. The two reflections that could be seen in the mirror with iron and opal ornaments were the most inaccurate representation of their owners’ true forms. Sitting at the vanity was a pale woman with ebony hair that touched the floor. Her light brown eyes were complimented by the deep red color of her lips, and she wore robes made of silver. Standing to her right was another pale woman with hair as dark as iron that was tied in an elaborated braid that crowned her head. Her crimson dress was straight and tight around the waist. Centuries had passed since dresses that covered women’s bodies from their toes up to their necks were produced.

“I don’t miss it one bit,” the woman who stood proudly said to the other.

She turned to face the sitting woman, and her elongated maroon nails traced the bruises on her companion’s face; bruises that the mirror wouldn’t show. Gone was the perfect midnight beauty in the mirror. Her fingertips caressed the traces of battle and abuse that marked the face that now belonged to Emilia LeBlanc. Some gashes were still bleeding, the short black hair clinging to the late Grand General’s advisor’s face.

“He didn’t go easy on you.”

LeBlanc’s eyes sparkled. There wasn’t much left of the woman in the mirror. The suppressing robes were completely replaced by black leather that clung to her body like a second layer of skin. A generous amount of cleavage was showing, but the womanly curves weren’t enough of a distraction to hide the fact that the woman’s legs were incredibly long and thinned into pointed feet.

Smiling at the sight of the woman’s short black hair, which wasn’t covered by a crown of spikes and a coat of silk, LeBlanc placed her hands on the creature’s hips. “He never goes easy on me, Elise.”

The altered woman licked her lips, bearing her fangs, before bending and running her tongue over one of LeBlanc’s wounds. The deceiving mage pushed her away, standing up herself. “You spend too much time with Petal,” she commented.

“Let me take care of you,” Elise changed the topic. “You are the Matron, and I’m here to serve you,” she taunted, following LeBlanc with silent steps.

The Deceiver smirked, resting her back against the closed window, the rails poking her almost bare skin. “Is that what you used to tell your husband, Lady Elise of House Zaavan?”

Elise’s own smirk turned into a scowl.

“Forgive me, Thorn,” LeBlanc offered with a regretful smile that wasn’t real. “I meant no offense.”

“You must admire the Master Tactician a great deal if you end up using your ally’s past as a manipulative tool.”

LeBlanc tilted her head to the side, bending one of her knees to press her feet against the wall behind her. Her dress parted in the process, and while her upper body was already bare except from her chest, the flesh of her thighs was a rare sight.

“I would never use your past against you, Thorn,” she corrected. “You came from a minor house no one even remembers today. House Kythera means nothing in Noxian history,” LeBlanc reminded her. “But Elise Kythera grew into the Mistress of House Zaavan, one of the most powerful noble houses up to this day. And even when your pathetic husband realized he was tired of your strength and tried to get rid of you, you didn’t hesitate. You tore his heart apart.”

“And you came to me,” Elise ended, her red stare drifting to the pale skin of the Matron’s legs.

“And I came to you,” LeBlanc repeated. “You are the Spider Queen, Elise. And you’re my strength.”

Elise walked up to her, her hips swaying as her pointed feet made no sound on the floor. “Then, why do you trust him?” she asked, cradling the Matron’s face in her dangerous hands.

LeBlanc smiled, curling her leg around Elise’s. “What makes a rose? Have you ever wondered?

“Once the seed is planted, and the flower blossoms, what makes a rose? She needs her petals to remain intact so she can display her beauty. But she also needs her thorns to defend herself from whoever tries to snatch her away.

“The rose also needs water and sun to grow,” she explained in a hushed tone. “The only way for us to grow lies in every move Jericho Swain makes,” LeBlanc whispered against Elise’s lips.

The Spider Queen placed a fervent kiss on her Matron’s lips, letting her fangs pierce the skin. “When the flower blossoms the seed dies, Evaine,” Elise corrected. “And in order to grow, the rose absorbs light and water.”

LeBlanc ran her tongue over her lower lip, tickling the altered woman’s mouth by doing so. “I have every intention to absorb what is there to absorb.”

Elise was about to crash her mouth against the Matron’s again, her left hand traveling down her chest, when a deep roar echoed through the manor. As the walls shook, the deceiving mirror in the room cracked. The Spider Queen’s eyes filled with excitement, and she kneeled, coming to rest on all fours. She arched her back, stretching it, before she emitted a shrilling hiss and turned into a drakehound-sized spider.

Emilia LeBlanc let out a sigh of satisfaction. “It seems that our half-dragon is awake,” she told Elise, who crawled on the walls before leaping out of the room and into the dark hallways of the Black Rose Manor.

***

A light blue shield that shone uncontrollably covered the entire area that was once called Kalamanda. The northern part of Shurima had been secured by hundreds of summoners, and after nearly a month, their intervention slowly came to an end. From above, the sight of the light bubble could attract anyone, but upon landing, it was less enticing. With one last flap of her wings, Kayle let her feet touch the sandy grounds. The faint quaking of the earth signaled the instability of the area and its surroundings. Various objects and debris still floated in the air, and Kayle walked past the ruins of the village to join High Councilor Kolminye, who was having a deep conversation with two former villagers and High Councilor Relivash.

The Judicator nodded at both representatives of the Institute of War before introducing herself to the two villagers.

“Kayle’s services to the Institute of War are precious,” Heywan Relivash commented with a pat on the League Champion’s shoulder.

The Angel winced at that, but directed her attention to the short, chubby fishermen in front of her. “It’s a pleasure.”

“My name is Anson Ridley,” the one with a brown beard greeted her. “I used to be the mayor. Forgive me, my dear, if I don’t gape at you and your wings, but after the events that transpired here in Kalamanda, I fail to feel surprised or shocked anymore,” the middle-aged man apologized sourly.

“No offense taken,” Kayle reassured him with another nod. “And you are?”

The other villager cleared his throat, his tiny eyes scrutinizing her face. “My name is Brandis Reyes. I was a councilman, once.”

Kayle’s blue eyes narrowed, a part of her wondering what a man who was bribed by Zaun during the negotiations of the mining contracts was doing in Kalamanda. The Institute of War was in the middle of drafting a treaty to settle the conflict, and the Noxian and Demacian delegations would travel as soon as they were well-rested and healed. Whatever would be decided, including a corrupted councilman wasn’t the brightest option for the Kalamandan refugees.

“Forgive me, Councilor Kolminye,” Ridley drifted back to their topic. “What were you saying about the mining grounds?”

“They are stable enough,” Vessaria reassured him, placing a hand on his shoulder with ease since she towered over him. Her dark eyes saw the way his face lightened up, and she quickly reacted. “I am afraid the same cannot be said about the rest of Kalamanda.”

Reyes immediately butted in. “Our villagers are currently living in the wastelands that separate Kalamanda from Sing-Stones. We can’t possibly bring all of them to Sing-Stones. There aren’t enough lands and even in if that was the case, we are fishermen, not farmers.”

Relivash’s squinty eyes glanced at Ridley’s paling face. “What about Bel’zhun? The city is big enough and always welcoming. I am sure they are already planning aid actions.”

Ridley shook his head, rubbing his hands nervously. “Bel’zhun and its population are divided since Steward Dorrik’s disappearance. Besides, Bel’zhun belongs to Noxus. We are Shuriman.”

“Does it really matter?” Kayle asked frankly. “Is it better to stay Shuriman and die in the desert rather than complying with Noxian laws?”

Ridley furrowed his brow at the eternal creature, then pointed with a shaky hand at the destroyed mill behind them. “My sons were born there. My wife was the miller’s daughter. This is where we all raised our children, treated our old people, and lived without having to worry about raids and battles, rapists and thieves. We believe in the Ancient Gods of Shurima, we marry under their laws and die as free men,” he reminded all of them. “We do not side with either Noxus or Demacia.”

“He sided with Zaun,” Kayle cut in, eyeing Reyes.

“Tell me the truth,” Ridley demanded, glaring at the High Councilors and the Angel. “What are your plans for Kalamanda?”

Vessaria Kolminye directed her serious gaze at Heywan Relivash, whose squinty eyes were filled with excitement. Brandis Reyes seemed more interested in the former mayor’s outburst than in the answer. No one spoke for what seemed like an eternity to Ridley, but eventually, Relivash raised his arms defensively.

“My dear friend,” he said, running his round hands down the front of his white and purple robes. “I am sure you don’t want Valoran to forget what happened here and the pain that your people went through.”

Ridley stared at the High Councilor’s beaming face. “It must never be forgotten,” he agreed.

“It is my intention to convince both General Swain and King Jarvan III to agree on building a Field of Justice. Right here,” he confessed, opening his arms and nearly twirling. “The nexuses are here, and the grounds are too unstable to not be taken care of by our most talented summoners. Besides,” he went on, throwing an arm around Ridley’s shoulders, “you must understand the importance of the League of Legends as an institution of peace. City-states need to be reminded of the fact that endangering populations will not earn them any profit.”

“Kalamanda will become a Field of Justice,” Ridley repeated in a croaky voice.

Wiping away the beads of sweat on his balding head with the back of his hand, Relivash nodded, the corners of his mouth curving up slightly as Ridley slowly walked away from them. “Rest for a bit, my friend,” he said in an overly kind tone. “Reyes here will keep you updated.”

Kayle let the two High Councilors walk away with Reyes so that they would further talk about the upcoming project of the Institute of War. With soundless steps, she followed the ex-mayor who wandered aimlessly through what was left of the village. After the intervention of the summoners, the village was even less recognizable. War left corpses and smoke but magic only left a sense of emptiness that swallowed any human soul who dared cross contaminated paths.

Ridley eventually crumbled at the base of an empty well and covered his face with his calloused hands. His palms rubbed against his forehead, and he wept silently. The Angel stared at him quietly, her wings carefully draped over her back. She wasn’t entirely sure he was aware of her presence until he spoke.

“I assume that once it becomes a Field of Justice, there won’t be any trace of Kalamanda on the maps of Valoran.”

The blonde immortal tilted her head to the side. “The Crystal Scar. That will be the name.”

Ridley nodded, scratching the back of his neck. “The Crystal Scar,” he whispered. “You see that pile of wood behind you? It used to be my house,” he said, pointing at the hut that was half destroyed. “I see that some planks are still up, but most of the roof is gone. I had fixed it earlier this year with my eldest son,” Ridley told her.

Kayle lowered her gaze for a bit. “There’s an end to everything.”

Ridley swallowed hard, bobbing his head before standing up. He walked past Kayle and inside his home. The few plates that were once piled on the counter of the cooking corner were shattered on the ground. The table he used to sit at with his family was thrown across the room, and his bed was missing. It used to be against the wall that had crumbled. Ridley lifted his head, the hole above his head leaving him to stare at the skies hidden by the blue light through cracked wooden bars.

Without even grunting, Anson Ridley reached for the wood logs he kept near the fireplace, untying the rope that kept them together, kicking the logs away with his boot. Kayle crossed her arms over her chest, but the noise her armor made was entirely covered by the sounds of Ridley standing on top of his dining table, securing the rope around one of the remaining bars of the roof.

His dark, tired eyes met hers for a second, silently asking if she would stop him.

Kayle’s only response was the turn of her heels as she left him alone, her blue eyes never glancing back even when she heard a distinct crack.

As Ridley’s body hung lifelessly within the shattered house, the Angel crossed the village at a peaceful pace and with a straight face, looking for the High Councilors and Reyes. They had work to do.

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