The night shrouded the entire Ivory Ward district. Cries were rising from the nearest district, the Morcef District, and the Noxians that usually spent their evenings bantering and brawling inside the taverns were crowding the streets. The Ivory Ward marketplace had become a forum where Keiran Darkwill’s supporters rejected every other candidate for the Grand General position. There weren’t as many supporters of Darkwill as there should have, given the fact that most heirs to the oldest families of Noxus had been gradually kept away from the High Command. In front of them, the people of Noxus, those who believed in one’s natural strength and talent to rise among the high military ranks, were shouting the names of General Jericho Swain and General Darius. As the merchants saw fit to sell their inebriating beverages during the political banter, three hooded figures hurried down the Opal Street and its narrowest alleyway.
Talon eyed the manor engulfed between firs and crimson roses. Glancing down at the coded indications he held in his hands, he nodded at the other two people who followed him.
“It should be here.”
Katarina took off her hood, scanning the gate that separated the manor from the cobbled street. Cold fingertips brushed against the number carved in the iron gate, frowning when she ended up removing the dust that covered a crest she had never seen before. It was a horizontal rose, and she was positive no noble house used a rose as their family crest.
“There’s no way we can get in,” Jarvan muttered, tugging on his cloak as if someone would spot him the moment he spoke.
“You don’t get in,” Talon corrected. “You stay here and make sure no one comes in or out.”
The Crown Prince of Demacia took a couple steps forward and grabbed the assassin by the collar. “Who said you’re the one in charge here?”
Katarina rolled her eyes at the pair and sighed. Ever since they managed to get past the red door of Manoir Du Couteau and retrieved the only document her father left behind before leaving, Jarvan and Talon had engaged into an endless banter. It was during one of their fights, while Talon tried to decipher Marcus’ message, that Jarvan revealed to them that those who impersonated him probably abducted his personal guard and friend as well, and that it was for that same reason that he decided to travel to Noxus and find out what exactly was going on. Katarina understood that he wanted to be proactive and not reactive to the entire situation, but at the same time, they couldn’t risk losing the Crown Prince of Demacia to whatever was inside the building her father told them to investigate.
“You stay right here,” she insisted. “We don’t even know what is inside. Talon and I are faster.”
Crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the gate, Jarvan finally kept quiet. He began tapping his foot, but the distant yelling at the Ivory Ward marketplace was louder than his own display of annoyance.
It didn’t take long to climb the iron gates and cross the gardens of the seemingly empty manor. Talon advanced slowly, his eyes glancing left and right to make sure no one saw them. His back was hunched and he carefully chose the path to the closest entrance; the main doors were a no-go for him, and he was already thinking of the safest way to climb up the last window on the right, the one that had been left open, when he spotted Katarina pushing the glass doors of what looked like a former fumoir.
“Kat,” he hissed, hurrying himself inside.
“There is absolutely no one,” she whispered back.
Talon was about to retort when she moved forward and her foot made a squishing noise. Katarina nearly yelped, but immediately covered her mouth, sticking out her tongue in disgust. Talon’s eyes narrowed at the sight of a dead spider that was the size of a small dog. Its legs were still twitching.
“Disgusting,” Katarina commented. “Someone needs to clean this place.”
Talon grabbed her by the elbow, urging her to get moving. They silently made their way out of the fumoir, only to walk down a corridor with walls covered in mirrors. Each was of a different shape, every time Talon and Katarina passed a door, they glanced at the number on it. The redhead whispered how this place gave her the creeps, but Talon was too busy looking for Room 703, the one that Marcus indicated in the letter he left behind the red door. A part of him still wondered whether the note was meant to be found or not, and how Cassiopeia, of all people, knew about it. The youngest Du Couteau had disappeared way before the General, and Talon was starting to doubt his current mission altogether.
A sharp tug on his sleeve brought him back to reality. “It’s here,” Katarina said, opening the door to Room 703.
“Why did they leave everything open?” Talon wondered out loud, following Marcus’ daughter inside.
Whoever Room 703 belonged to lived in the lap of luxury. Against the left wall was a wide canopy bed with crimson and golden sheets that were neatly made. The softest feather pillows were placed against the headboard, and tall candles had been set on each end table at the sides of the bed. An emerald rug that complimented the colors of the room had been placed at the side of the bed, and Talon was surprised to see that no piece of furniture was collecting dust, even though the place seemed uninhabited. Right next to the glass door that led to the back of the gardens stood an oval desk, with several papers scattered on it. The only quill pen was left to dry. The desk was missing its chair, which had been moved next to the unlit fireplace. Right above it, the portrait of a woman was hanging on the wall. Talon’s brown eyes narrowed and for a moment, he thought it was a portrait of Katarina, but then he quickly realized how blue the woman’s eyes were.
“These documents are irrelevant,” Katarina whispered, flipping the papers on the desk. “This feels like a joke.”
“Do you know this woman?” Talon asked, disregarding her words.
Dark green eyes glanced up, but Katarina quickly shrugged. “No.” Sighing, she added, “Would you mind helping?”
Once again, her words didn’t sink in his brain. The brown-eyed man took in the way the bed was made, how only the bare essentials were scattered around the room and the overall style that defined it. Everything was too familiar and he couldn’t understand why Katarina didn’t notice it as well. His ears caught the sound of the mattress bounce, and he glanced behind him, sighing at the sight of Katarina lying down and toying with a strand of red hair.
He wanted to ask her what she thought she was doing, when she came up with a question he didn’t expect. “Do you think that Riven is really dead?”
Scowling away, Talon shrugged. “How would I know?”
“She liked you, you know,” Katarina said plainly, turning her head to the side to stare at him. “And I know you liked her too, in a way, or at least respected her.”
Clicking his tongue against his teeth, Talon came to sit next to her, resting his elbows on his knees. “We had different views.”
One of his shoulders twitched. “She believed I could become a general myself, join the military ranks and forge my own path,” he said. “I disagreed. That was our last conversation.”
Leaning on one elbow, Katarina pursed her lips. “She isn’t—wasn’t entirely wrong, you know.”
Talon shook his head at that statement. “I am not a Noxian,” he whispered bitterly. Before she could interrupt him, he added, “I was in Demacia City when I found this ridiculous place that would appear and disappear depending on whether the light touched it or not. I was going to take a closer look and leave, when I stumbled upon Luxanna Crownguard. I thought that whatever it was that she was doing would be helpful.”
Katarina frowned, rolling closer. “What happened?”
“We traveled to Uwendale, a protectorate in the hinterlands of Demacia. They say that the best rangers live there and that they keep records of everyone they see. I thought it was a good place to start looking for the General,” he answered. “The woman who escorted us inside Uwendale, Quinn, said she never spotted anyone with the looks I described. She was lying.
“Luxanna found her journal one morning, and she did meet your father,” Talon revealed bitterly. “He told her that I was her lost brother, Caleb.”
“Talon,” Katarina halted him, sitting up and placing a hand on his shoulder. “You are Noxian,” she tried to reassure him. “It doesn’t matter where you were born or if this woman is indeed your biological sister. Your origins are right where your loyalty stands.”
“That isn’t even the point,” he angrily retorted, shrugging her hand off. “I spent so much time looking for Marcus Du Couteau and he didn’t even want to be found, don’t you understand?” he spat, turning his head to face her. “He was there all along, or at least knew that I would find a way to get closer to where he was, but he turned away and left me to find out about a past that I could easily live without.” Laughing to himself, he went on, “How can you assume it was Cassiopeia who sent us that letter?”
“It was her handwriting—”
“As if Marcus couldn’t forge it,” he cut in. Shaking his head and standing up, Talon ended their conversation. “All of this isn’t even real.”
His darkened stare lingered for another minute on the woman’s portrait that hung on the opposite wall. Her lips curved up in a mysterious smile, he noted. Her long, jet black hair were held together by a braided crown tucked inside an ivory veil. Her hands were folded on her lap, and she wore a refined dress of white and blue. The only jewelry she wore was a golden pendant around her neck. Talon slowly came closer, his body acting on its own when he tore the painting away, his eyebrows disappearing under his bangs when he noticed that a folded piece of paper had been tucked inside the frame, right on the back.
The moment his fingers touched it, a loud knock on the glass doors caused him to drop the portrait and brace himself. A wide-eyed Jarvan was waving at him and Katarina, pointing at the streets.
“We have to leave,” he panicked out loud as they exited the room. “Something is going on at the marketplace, and the authorities are gathering down the streets.”
“We have what we need,” Talon said calmly, leading the other two out of the manor.
“We do?” Katarina asked, sounding beyond confused.
Talon’s mind went over Luxanna’s words. Quinn’s journal, the golden pendant, the portrait—he didn’t need to check to know that what they were looking for was coded on that hidden paper.
Voices mingled with the faint popping of the fire as it burned in the corner of her hut. She wasn’t entirely sure where the voices came from, especially since she recalled the scene to be quite silent in her memories. It was only the two of them; he lied unconscious on the bed she had made for him as she nursed his wounds. The arrow that had pierced his side had caused an infection, but it was nothing she was unused to. The village where she lived underwent several attacks, courtesy of her own mother, so an arrow in the side wasn’t a wound she couldn’t treat.
Her sunset eyes scanned his relaxed face, the dark locks cascading down his shoulders. She realized that never before had she come this close to a human that wasn’t her father. Sitting back, the purple-skinned female began braiding her amethyst hair quite messily. She would have to hunt for dinner soon, assuming the human before her woke up.
“What do you see?” a raspy voice reached her ears.
“Her memories,” a suaver voice answered. “But I reckon she will be waking up soon.”
Blinking at the foggy scene, golden eyes spotted two figures towering over her. A terrible pain caused her to groan and pull at the chains that kept her wrists in place. She felt the cramps in her arms and she wondered how long she had been hanging from the ceiling.
“Exactly,” the suave voice said in a sigh. “You had to wake her up.”
“Watch your tongue, Petal,” the other man warned.
The sound of approaching footsteps made her shiver. It wasn’t long until claws raked down her neck, and she let out a growl. The man’s fingers lingered on the scales that covered her skin, and she heard him hum pleasantly.
“No creature is more beautiful that the one who is born from the mating of two distinct races,” he whispered, a crowing bird signaling its approval.
The man who had been searching her memories chuckled. “How exactly does a man mate with a dragon?”
“What is her name?”
“Shyvana,” a woman answered from one of the corners of the room. “You could hear the Crown Prince yell her name relentlessly as my children dragged her away from the skies and into the ground.”
Shyvana groaned, trying to speak but her throat felt dry and sore. Shaking her head and forcing her eyes open, she stared speechless at the figures in front of her. The woman who just spoke seemed to be a female in a spider body, and she was dangling from the ceiling, her thin legs wrapped inside a web. The man who was holding her head up was nearly bald and clad in emerald robes that hid his entire body, leaving only the upper part of his face visible. A six-eyed raven was perched on his shoulder and examining her. The other man she heard talk was caressing the skin of her forearm, his blonde hair curtaining his face. Shyvana swore there were two other figures in the right corner of the room, but she couldn’t clearly see them.
“What do you want?” she rasped out.
“We want to know how a half-dragon ended up serving Prince Jarvan IV,” the blonde casually answered. “But I am afraid that if I drain any more blood from you to know the truth, you will die.”
Shyvana’s golden orbs glared at the man that ran his claws down her neck. “You,” she spat, “you were fighting the Prince.”
“I am afraid he wasn’t,” another woman chimed in, emerging from the shadows and circling her arms around the balding man from behind. “Your Prince is here, though,” she added, her brown eyes sparkling with interest. “It seems we have guests upstairs.”
“Shyvana,” the man with the six-eyed raven interrupted. “Prince Jarvan IV will safely return home,” he promised. “He is, in fact, leaving the manor right as we speak. And we don’t plan on keeping you here either. I can’t afford a political mess now that the Grand General must be chosen.”
The half-dragon felt the dragonfyre boil in her chest. “You are Jericho Swain,” she growled, narrowing her eyes to try and see him clearly.
“Or is he,” someone else spoke in his own voice, and Shyvana furrowed her brow at the sight of two identical men standing in front of her.
The feeling of pointed canines embedding themselves deep in her wrist caused her to growl louder and cough a cloud of smoke. She fought against her restraints, screaming in rage when she felt the chains bite at her sore scaled skin. The blonde man licked his bloodied lips, closing his eyes.
“Oh, you will like this,” he said to the two identical men beside him, his teeth red with her blood as he smiled. “There cannot be a Reign of Dawn, you know,” he confided. “This half breed and the Crown Prince slayed her dragon mother in Wrenwall. Their hearts sympathize with humans, as it was to be expected.”
The Swain that held her by the neck fisted the hair at the back of her head, prompting her to look at him. Her golden eyes stared directly in his crimson orbs, and he tugged down his collar to bring his lips closer to her ear.
“How many eggs did your mother lay?”
“Countless,” Shyvana answered angrily. “Countless of purebreds that do not stain Yvva’s bloodline.”
A fifth voice caught her attention, and Shyvana’s eyes widened at the sight of a person she would have never expected to see under such circumstances. He was notorious in all Valoran, and his name alone spoke years of authority.
“Now, now, why don’t you stop tormenting such a beautiful creature? Her services would be welcome to the League.”
“Seed,” the spider lady hissed. “Are you insane?”
“Not at all,” the grey-eyed man retorted. “Dragons bear echoes inside them and those echoes can be tied to nexuses.”
Swain’s clawed fingers brushed Shyvana’s tresses, his lopsided smile entirely directed at her. “Your Crown Prince would certainly understand the priority of a dragon slayer force. With your kin tied to rifts and runic echoes,” he offered, “no villagers would ever be terrorized like the Wrenwall folk after your mother’s rage.”
Shyvana’s breath caught in her throat, her golden eyes still fixed on the man they all seemed to call Seed.
“Fly back to Demacia City,” Swain whispered, caressing the scales on her cheek. “As long as we have a deal, Rose here won’t have any reasons to impersonate your Prince anymore,” he stated while circling the brown-eyed woman’s waist once she reverted to her previous form.
The Peak looked mesmerizing in the far horizon. It seemed as if the night didn’t exist right where Demacia’s lands merged with the snowy hills of the Freljord. Mount Targon stood proudly at the borders of the two regions. The freezing wind that blew could wipe entire villages with its brutality, but the tribes that lived in those rocky lands knew better than to build outside of the mountain. The Peak was located far from those civilizations, and no one was said to have ever come back from the climb to the highest remote corner of Valoran. The main settlement at Mount Targon was the Rakkor Tribe, but the warrior tribe wasn’t welcoming towards those who sought a meaning greater than humanity.
“With such a sky, no wonder no one uses torches here.”
Deep blue eyes looked away from the transcendent scenery and glanced at the injured man that sat at the entrance of the cave. His nose was swollen and his face bruised.
“Who did a number on you, my friend?”
“It doesn’t really matter.”
A laugh. “Taric?”
The blue-eyed man kneeled in front of his guest, bringing his right hand closer to Marcus’ face, an azure light pulsating from his upper arm and shining through his palm. The two of them stared at each other in silence as the wounds healed slowly, skin patching and bones cracking back in place.
“I didn’t expect you to show up after so many years,” Taric confessed upon ending his task.
“And I didn’t think you’d survive the Crown of Stone,” Marcus said, his green eyes glancing back at The Peak. “Yet here you are; you ascended Mount Targon without turning into a lifeless human shell.”
“Oathbreakers are sentenced to misery,” the healer conceded. “I still do wonder why you tried to ascend it. I had to patch you up that time as well, when you reached the top and seemed surprised to see someone.”
Marcus laughed. “I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know the future,” he admitted. “I wanted to know if there was anything I could do for my younger daughter,” he whispered in a sadder tone.
Taric’s eyes softened, sitting cross-legged next to him. “The visions you see during the ascent are not necessarily the future. Sometimes, they’re just the representation of our innermost fears.”
“I will have to disagree.”
The Oathbreaker furrowed his brow at the man who sat beside him. He ran a hand through his long, deep brown hair, and fixed his blue tabard before extending an arm and letting the gems embedded in his shoulder plates hover above him.
“Why did you come here? You’re far away from home.”
Marcus reached behind him and grabbed his sheathed broadsword. Handing it to the Protector, he replied, “I want you to keep this. The only other place where my legacy would have been safe is with Boram Darkwill, but it seems that the Eternal General wasn’t as eternal as he pretended to be.”
Taric unsheathed the blade with ease, his eyes marveling at the sight of the carved sword and the ruby stones adorning the hilt. He was speechless for several minutes, as the starlight and the hues emanating from the sapphires of his shoulder plates made the blade shine in the darkness of the cave where he temporarily settled.
“Dread of Night, isn’t that its name?” he whispered in awe. “I heard many tales about this sword. It is said to have been forged by dragonfyre, and that the rubies on the hilt grant permanent vision of your foes in the dark.”
Marcus laughed, running a gloved hand through his short, trimmed hair. “Sounds like some farfetched tale my grandfather would tell to give himself some courage.”
Blue eyes looked at him in concern. “Why come all the way up here to leave this? Do you plan on dying?”
The Noxian general relaxed against the stone wall behind him. “Believe me, I wish for a peaceful death in my favorite chair, at home in the fumoir, with my grandchild bouncing on my lap, as boring as it may sound. But I know for sure that it won’t happen.”
“Why not? Whatever you saw at The Peak isn’t real, Marcus. Take your blade with you.”
“Look at it and tell me what we’ve seen isn’t real.”
Taric swallowed hard, looking once more at Dread of Night and at the curves carved into the steel. He had seen many glimpses of a supposed future upon ascending The Peak to fulfill the Crown of Stone. He had seen the Frostguard of the Freljord rise to power again, the Alabaster Library burn with the entire city of Demacia, and his dearest friend fall to the ground at the hands of a tall, crimson clad Grand General, his ruby sword shattering with the impact.
Dropping the broadsword, Taric shook his head. “It isn’t real.
“It is, my friend,” Marcus insisted, placing a hand on the Protector’s shoulder. “When my daughter will come here, you must not give her the sword. Keep it safe, until you know the right time to bring it to its new owner.”
Taric covered his mouth with both hands, refusing to acknowledge the fact that The Peak told the truth, although there weren’t many reasons not to believe it. The entire history of Runeterra was said to have started at Mount Targon, and he himself knew that all that was written in the skies was the reflection of past, present and future.
“Why would one of your daughters travel up here?” he whispered quietly, setting the broadsword aside.
Marcus’ emerald eyes smiled at him when his lips didn’t. “She will not have a choice,” he answered. “She will be brought here and will stay for a winter and a spring.” Standing up, the General dusted off his breeches. “Be careful, my friend. I’m leaving you with the future of an old house.”
Deep blue eyes stared at him in silence as he slowly made his way down the rocky side of the mountain, never once looking back. Taric sighed, finding only a faint sense of comfort in the illuminated sky above them.