Chapter 22: Crown of Feathers

The Lightshield Library was located in the northern wing of the Citadel of Dawn, and it was nothing like Luxanna imagined it. It was very different from the one in the Crownguard Palace, not round and built under a typical Demacian cupola. The room was an endless corridor, with rows of shelves on each side. Only a dozen windows let the light in, and the many chandeliers that hung from the high ceilings didn’t hold a single candle. Bright blue crystals generated a sizzling light inside glass globes, and the young Crownguard found herself staring at it in pure delight.

“Hextech light,” the Crown Prince said beside her, leading her to the rectangular marble table at the center of the library. “We ordered some of these globes for the Temple of the Lightbringers, but Piltover ended up sending too many.”

“How do they work? Can you turn it off?” Luxanna asked, her blue eyes never leaving the chandelier above her head.

Jarvan laughed. “I have no idea. This way,” he motioned.

Luxanna sat across from the Crown Prince, resting her hands on her lap. She had managed to change into her old military uniform that consisted in tight blue leather and a breast plate. Light, transparent fabric adorned her shoulders and hips, and a part of her sighed at the realization that something she wore at thirteen years old still fitted. Her wand was strapped to her back, the golden tips emanating only a faint light. The Crown Prince smiled at her, and she noticed it was the first time she saw him not wearing his heavy, gold and silver armor. His black hair was neatly tucked into a low ponytail, and the way he sat with confidence made him look like a king rather than a prince.

“From what I understood,” he began, “you were looking forward to speaking with me.”

She nodded. “What did Talon say?”

“Not much,” Jarvan sighed out. “How exactly did you end up on a first-name basis with that guy anyway?”

Luxanna tried to fight back the smile that appeared on her lips. “It’s a long story. He’s not the person everyone else thinks he is,” she confided.

Jarvan hummed, and he leaned back into his chair. “Fair enough. Does your brother know about what you want to tell me?”

“No.”

“Good. I’d rather be the only one informed for now,” the Crown Prince told her bluntly. “It must be something serious if you abandoned the place you studied at to try and find me.”

Luxanna nodded, “It is.” Resting her trembling hands on the cold surface of the table, she went on, “Your Highness, I wasn’t simply studying all these years. When Lady Lestara brought me to the Circle of Illuminators, I was raised under the guidance of Master Babajan. She was a tribe leader in Shurima, and a scholar of the Great Weaver.” At Jarvan’s confused look, she added, “She studies the art of stone weaving. She lost her granddaughter several years ago, and hopes that her studies will help her find the girl.

“Master Babajan was impressed with my own use of magic, and so my heavy training began. I had to read absolutely everything that was left behind by other Masters of Elements.”

Jarvan scratched his head, raising his hands and asking her to slow down. “Masters of Elements?”

“The Circle of Illuminators is kept in place by three Masters; the Master of Time, Zilean, who is also a representative of the League at the Institute of War, and the Master of Elements, Babajan.”

“You said three Masters, Luxanna.”

“There was never a Master of Space ever since the third founder of the Circle was expelled,” she explained. “And this is where it all starts, Your Highness.”

Jarvan frowned, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table.

“Shortly after the Circle of Illuminators was created, during the Reign of Iron, the Masters of Time and Elements tried to hinder the powers of the Master of Space, a mage named Rose. She was a powerful woman who could bend every dimension, blink from one place to another, and every time she would appear you would wonder whether it was really her, or just another illusion. The other Masters saw there a threat, and took her staff from her to study the crystals on it and renamed the female mage the Black Rose for her questionable use of magic.

“In short, Rose managed to kill both of them and retrieve the staff that channeled her powers. The Master of Elements died, but he left behind a series of manuscripts written in Ancient Demacian and I managed to translate all of them,” Luxanna beamed.

The Crown Prince was having a hard time processing all the information. He had never imagined that the arcane arts were still studied by anyone in Demacia, especially since his father, and his father before him, forbid any type of magical practice. “Go on,” he whispered.

“The Master of Elements reports visions that the Master of Time had during the Reign of Iron, and based on those, he drafted a prophecy that should be taking place very soon,” Luxanna spoke quietly. “The dates were incorrect, and that is probably because the Masters didn’t foresee the creation of the League and the Current League Era we use to count the years.

“The Master of Elements wrote of a Reign of Dawn that would melt the Iron with the help of a Quarter and a Dragon,” Luxanna spoke slowly, hoping that the Crown Prince was still following. “The Iron is a clear reference to Noxus,” she said. “While the Reign of Dawn can be related to the Citadel.

“In his notes, the Master said that the Quarter is the fourth son of a royal.”

Jarvan immediately interrupted her. “But I am the third son,” he corrected.

“Forgive me for this question, Your Highness,” Luxanna apologized, “but is there any way that one of your parents could have had an illegitimate son?”

His only answer was a scowl. “I-I don’t know. I mean, my mother was very weak, I doubt she had any other child during her reign, and my father…” Shrugging, he concluded, “I wouldn’t know.”

The blonde nodded. “You’re still the fourth Jarvan of Demacia,” she said.

“What else did the Masters predict?” Jarvan asked in a worried tone.

“The involvement of the Black Rose,” Luxanna replied in a matching tone. “Rose is mentioned but there is one part that I cannot understand and that seems to point at the fact that she doesn’t act alone. However, she doesn’t seem to be an obstacle to the Reign of Dawn.”

He nearly let out a sigh of relief. “Then, there is nothing to worry about, right?”

Luxanna raised her eyebrows at him. “Prophecies are dangerous, Your Highness. And there are many things that I wasn’t able to decipher. I don’t know if the Dragon is a metaphor for something, and there are mentions of a soiled, Unholy Grail. The one thing that I know for sure,” she said in a resolute voice, “is that General Jericho Swain will not let you build the Reign of Dawn.

“It is said that the ‘birds will take their stance’, and I heard that that man is able to turn into a monstrous raven.”

Jarvan swallowed hard, his mind going back to the events in Kalamanda. “He can,” he confirmed, “I saw it with my own eyes. I saw a spear pierce his chest and he didn’t even flinch.”

The two of them sat in silence, and Jarvan didn’t know whether it was safe or not to tell Luxanna about Shyvana. His friend’s true nature was only known to a couple of close friends. He remembered telling his younger cousin and Garen, and one of them was dead. Garen wouldn’t tell a soul, and Jarvan was positive that Luxanna wouldn’t either, but he slowly realized that he didn’t want Shyvana to be a part of all this. All he wished for her was a peaceful life, not war and certainly not prophecies written by old men centuries ago.

“Your Highness, maybe we should—”

A loud roar erupted from the roof, and a massive body crushed the ceiling over their heads. Luxanna immediately slid under the marble table to shelter herself, while Jarvan coughed. The petricite walls shook with the impact, and his blue eyes narrowed when dust and dirt hit his face. The massive figure that fell from the sky reverted to a humanoid form upon hitting the ground.

Jarvan stumbled forward, waving his hand in front of him in an attempt to see through the smoke. Severely injured and completely unconscious, Shyvana lied at his feet.

***

The faster way to get into Noxus was through the Marshes of Kaladoun and past the Institute of War. The main road that connected the two city-states through neutral grounds allowed anyone to travel across Valoran in a matter of weeks, but with the ongoing investitation at the Institute of War, crossing it would have made things more complicated than they should have. Talon glanced at Katarina, perfectly aware that her presence at the Institute would be less than welcome after she publicly accused them all with the help of Jarvan.

They had traveled from the Marshes of Kaladoun down to the borders of the Tempest Flats, some of the rockiest mountains in all Valoran. It had taken a lot of time, and crossing the southern gateways of Noxus was less than pleasing given the heat and dusty wind in those wasted regions, but there had been no other choice. Katarina remained silent for nearly the entire trip, and as much as he enjoyed the silence, it was very unusual of her.

The Noxtoraa was already in sight when Talon cleared his throat. “If you wanted to stay in Demacia, you could have told me.”

The redhead blinked, her green eyes eyeing him curiously. “What?” she whispered. “No, I wanted to come here.”

Talon halted both their horses, and he gave her a pointed look. “Then why are you so silent?”

“I was just wondering,” Katarina answered, looking away, “why my father left us with a bunch of proof but never reappeared. Don’t you think it’s odd?”

Nostrils flaring, Talon angrily retorted, “Forget about him.” He grabbed her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. “You are the Headmistress of House Du Couteau,” he said. “Do you hear me? Marcus lost that title the moment he started playing this stupid game.”

She would have contested his words if at least a part of her didn’t agree with him. Her father didn’t seem to be willing to return to Noxus, and if he was still alive, the fact that he never contacted her directly was a clear indication that he had no interest into seeing her again. Katarina couldn’t quite pinpoint the reasons behind her father’s logic. They didn’t fight or argue about anything prior to his disappearance, she recalled that much. He vanished on a cloudy day, just like that day, and nothing negative had transpired between them.

Katarina was about to speak when Talon’s back stiffened, and he turned around, dismounting swiftly and listening carefully to something only he could hear.

“What’s wrong?” she asked with a frown.

Talon flicked his wrist, a dagger sliding down his sleeve, and he abruptly spun on his heel to throw it in the dried bushes behind them. A loud yelp erupted, and Katarina leaned forward to stare as Talon retrieved two individuals from the dead foliage. His dagger was embedded into a man’s thigh, and when he kicked the cowards at Katarina’s feet, he scoffed.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered, pulling their respective hoods down.

Katarina herself blinked at the two men who kneeled and whined at the rough treatment, immediately recognizing them. Under their dirtied cloaks, they still wore their refined purple robes. The brown beard was gone, but the squinty grey eyes gave away his identity even more than his garments. Heywan Relivash squirmed as Talon retrieved his dagger, but not before twisting it inside Relivash’s thigh.

“You must be Farnsley,” the hooded assassin said to the other man whose greasy black hair clung to his scalp.

The sound of hoofs hammering into the ground at full speed diverted his attention to the two Noxian guards who had left their respective spots at the Noxtoraa to apprehend them. They both held Noxian flags, as if to remind them that they were past the Tempest Flats borders, and it wasn’t long until one of the guards lifted his helmet.

“What is going on here?” he asked in a serious tone, narrowing his eyes first at Katarina, then at the other three people who were so much shorter than his mount.

“These two traitors should be handed to the authorities,” Talon replied, lifting his chin. “Heywan Relivash and Ralston Farnsley here were trying to escape, probably to the Eastern region of Icathia.”

“We will take the prisoners to the Immortal Bastion,” the guard declared, nodding at the other guard to have the High Councilor and the editor-in-chief chained to the horses.

“Since when is Noxus in charge of investigating League matters?” Katarina inquired, lifting an eyebrow.

“Since the two of them were found on our terrirory,” the guard retorted disdainfully. His horse strutted around hers, and he added, “Follow me, Lady Du Couteau. Today is the day of General Jericho Swain’s coronation.”

Katarina felt her throat tighten, and she and Talon exchanged a spiteful look that was meant to be directed at the two presumptious guards who dragged Relivash and Farnsley past the Noxtoraa as if they were stray dogs, and who pointed their weapons at the two assassins’ backs, leaving them no other choice than to ride in the direction of the Immortal Bastion.

The two remaining members of House Du Couteau crossed the outskirts of Noxus Prime feeling the weight of their own actions and the consequences crushing them. Katarina doubted that Swain would be thrilled to see them and if he was, the thrill would entirely be due to their upcoming executions. It was a risk both she and Talon had decided to take when they marched back to Noxus, but they certainly didn’t expect to arrive on the day of Swain’s coronation.

Every district of Noxus Prime was empty. The Ivory Ward marketplace had been left in a state of destruction, and it seemed that every inhabitant of the capital had gathered around the Immortal Bastion. The people were incredibly cheerful, Katarina noted. The sight of Noxians drumming and celebrating at the sight of Jericho Swain limping at the entrance of the Immortal Bastion to greet them was not only disturbing, but also frightening.

The Noxtoraa guards nudged the two assassins with the hilt of their spears and they dismounted, only to witness their horses being butchered in the middle of the crowd. Blood and bowels spilled on the ground, tainting Katarina’s boots and earning several cries from Relivash and Farnsley, the latter fainting at the sight. The guards exchanged lopsided smiles, muttering something about Silvermeran meat for dinner. Katarina took a deep breath, her green eyes glaring at the new Grand General of Noxus as he shook hands and brushed the cheeky faces of children who already admired him. Swain himself was smiling, his crimson stare occasionally catching hers.

Talon tilted his head at the sight of Swain’s attire. Breaking the tradition, Swain wore no armor, nothing that displayed his military power. His long, forest robes where neatly embroidered with gold and opal, the crest of Noxus visible on the back of his cape, which touched the ground and was entirely made of feathers. At his sides, the Blood Brothers of Noxus stood in front of the first row of Raedsel guards, and Talon silently wondered where their captain was. Katarina spotted the Pale Woman lean towards General Darius, whispering something as they both looked at Swain, who had just raised his hands to request the people’s attention.

Noxtorii,” he greeted them, earning himself another set of cheers. “Today marks the beginning of the most prosperous era Noxus has ever seen,” Swain declared, his voice clearly audible as he lowered his collar, his wrinkled chin and saggy throat a rare sight for everyone. “I promise you that Noxus will know no rivals, and will no longer be a victim of conspiracies that taint the Empire’s name.”

“What about cunts that taint the Empire’s name?” the guard that had escorted Katarina and Talon inside chimed in, his smirk growing. “We found Katarina Du Couteau at the southern gates of Noxus Prime, clearly escorting Heywan Relivash and Ralston Farnsley.”

Talon readied his mounted blade, only to feel Katarina’s hand clench around his wrist. “Don’t,” she whispered, her gaze connecting with Swain’s.

“Today is also the day we forgive daughters for the crimes of their fathers,” Grand General Swain declared, causing the entire crowd to fall silent.

The lying guard frowned at the statement, and his ruler limped at the entrance of the Immortal Bastion. He lifted his cane until the tip touched the red banners that hung on the side of the arch, and planted it, piercing the fabric. With a grunt, he pulled hard, letting the Noxian flag fall to the ground.

Katarina’s green eyes widened as her heart stopped beating.

“I heard that in Demacia, traitors are sentenced to the Crown of Stone,” Swain said as he paced under his own display of justice. “Correct me if I am wrong, Lady Du Couteau,” he added in a detached tone. “But it was surely an inspiration. I realized that during all these years, serving as the Eternal General, Boram Darkwill never sentenced traitors in a different way he would sentence street criminals, which is a shame really.

“How are the people supposed to know the difference between a felony, and crimes against the Empire?” the balding man wondered out loud. Pointing his cane above him, he scanned the crowd with his tiny ruby eyes. “This,” he roared, “is the Crown of Feathers.”

Katarina’s eyes drifted from the scene before her eyes to the cheering crowd that had gathered at the doors of the Immortal Bastion. Her brain blocked out every single sound, and she barely heard the insults thrown at her or the words Talon hissed in her ear. Her throat tightened to the point she couldn’t breathe, and she screamed, or at least she thought she did, before she let her mind drift into unconsciousness.

***

His new chair wasn’t comfortable at all. Tapping the end of his cane against the floor, Swain wondered how Boram Darkwill managed to sit there all day. The unlikely throne had no armrest, and the cushions were spiky, poking his back every time he tried to lean into the chair. The two statues at each side were dusty and not clear representations of the two pillars of Noxus. A hooded mage and a minotaur were certainly not the founders of an Empire that would never be brought down under his rule. There were better figures to represent knowledge and power than a mage and a minotaur.

General Jericho Swain examined the Iron Table before him. He would soon have to order the stewards to reforge it and update the Valoran map that had been carved into the iron, but a part of him wanted to wait for the day the Kingdom of Demacia would be annexed. With the Institute of War out of the picture, the task was an easy one. All he needed was to wait for the half-dragon to follow his indications, which she would do, Swain was convinced. He had let her believe that otherwise her Crown Prince wouldn’t be safe, as if he ever was to begin with.

There was a loud knock on the doors of the Iron Room, and Swain cleared his throat. “Come in.”

Marquis Vladimir of the Tempest Flats silently made his way inside. “Grand General,” he greeted.

“Not yet,” Swain corrected. “The ceremony is in an hour.”

The pale blonde smiled, bowing his head. “The remains are ready. I suggest we complete the ritual tonight. The Quarter’s blood doesn’t smell so good anymore.”

Swain narrowed his eyes before nodding. The hemomancer bowed his head again, before letting someone else in. “As you requested,” he whispered almost seductively.

Heeled boots clicked on the floor, the sound echoing through the vast room. Swain rose from his seat, leaning against his cane as he approached the man who just entered the Iron Room. He was unarmed, he noted, although his High Command suit gleamed with armor plates and noble crests. The two men stared at each other in silence, until the taller man bowed his head in respect.

“General Swain.”

“And so, you let us find you,” the new ruler of Noxus commented dryly. “Why is that?”

Emerald eyes looked back at him. “Well,” he said with a shrug, “I would never reject a call from the Noxian High Command.”

Swain raised an eyebrow at him, before he began laughing, patting the man’s shoulder. “Right,” he whispered, catching his breath. “Yet you ignored every desperate call from Boram Darkwill, Marcus.”

“Darkwill was a lost cause,” the Headmaster of House Du Couteau retorted.

The crimson-eyed ruler nodded silently, walking away from the General in front of him and pouring black rum for himself and his visitor after opening the crystal bottle that sat in the middle of the Iron Table. A clawed hand offered Marcus his favorite drink, and the General obliged.

Swain’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he drank, and he sighed in pleasure at the taste. “Why are you here, Marcus? Let’s be honest, shall we?” he said, setting his empty glass on the table. “Darkwill was a dear friend of yours and you and I were never on friendly terms.”

Marcus took a sip of his own drink, taking a seat when Swain offered him to. “You and I had different opinions ever since you suggested the Zaunite intervention in Ionia. That doesn’t mean I have no respect for you as a tactician and a general.”

Swain hummed, drumming his claws on the table. “You are many things, Marcus Du Couteau,” he conceded, “but you were never a good liar.”

The two of them exchanged a deep look, and Swain’s crimson stare never faltered. “I know you deem me responsible for what happened to your younger daughter,” he whispered hoarsely. “I was the one to suggest she seduced the diplomat from the Freljord, and you couldn’t suggest the opposite since you agreed with me that we needed the information for the Pacification Campaigns.”

Marcus’ cheek twitched. “So, you deny the fact that you knew the diplomat carried a sword cursed by Serpentine Waters?”

The older man shook his head. “I don’t. But we got the information, didn’t we?”

The auburn-haired General was about to answer, when he coughed, feeling a knot in his throat. He began massaging it as Swain went on.

“You know, there aren’t a lot of things I am not aware of,” he confessed, standing up to pace calmly, rubbing his chin. “And what I don’t know, Beatrice tells me,” Swain added, glancing at the six-eyed raven that flew around the closed window, trying to find a way to enter. “I know that you came here to die,” he said with a grim smile. “To allow your daughter to come back to the capital, maybe?” Swain wondered out loud. “Or is it because either you or Evaine had to pay for ratting out Relivash and letting the nexuses of the League at the mercy of every other fool?

“No,” Swain corrected himself, shaking his head. “You came here to kill me, didn’t you?”

Marcus coughed, feeling his throat swell and the side of his head pulsate as his heart beated faster and pumped more blood through his veins.

“You came to die trying,” Swain concluded happily, bending and inching his face closer to Marcus’. “I wonder where you intended to kill me,” he went on, rubbing the General’s shoulder as he coughed harder, blood spilling from his lips as his vocal chords shattered. “Here? At the gates of the Bastion?

“Today? Or tomorrow, after I allowed you back into the High Command as a sign of gratitude for unmasking the traitors of the Institute and letting me rule over Noxus after you betrayed Darkwill?” Swain leaned forward again, pretending he couldn’t hear. “What is it? Having trouble answering?”

His crimson eyes traced the lines of Marcus’ swollen face and throat. His skin had turned a purple color, the blood vessels in his eyes imploding, the red liquid rimming his irises. The General held the collar of his uniform, pulling at it as if it would help him breathe, but his hands were thinning, the liquids of his body and the blood draining as they collected inside his chest.

Swain picked up the bottle of rum, eyeing the contents. “Shuriman Elders call this poison the Newborn’s Cry. It is supposed to concentrate the pain that a newborn feels when air fills his lungs for the first time.”

Marcus fell forward, resting on all fours as the blood that had collected in his chest poured through his mouth and nostrils.

“Preparing this kind of poison takes so long,” Swain said, sighing tiredly. “Months of brewing—and don’t get me started on the ingredients, Marcus. A bunch of plants that barely grow anymore at the North of Shurima.

“See, this poison was traditionally intended to be the punishment for unfaithful wives who drowned their bastard children in the rivers the moment they were born. So, the Elders would have the criminals raped and impregnated, and when their child was born, they would brew it alive.” Clawed fingers fisted Marcus’ auburn hair forcing him to look at him. “But where do I find a newborn?” he hissed in his face, his rum-tainted breath caressing Marcus’ tortured face. Lifting the bottle between their bodies, Swain elaborated, “I had to settle for what was left of a six-week fetus, which is probably why it is taking so long for you to die.

“Did you know,” he laughed, “that your daughter was pregnant? I didn’t,” Swain revealed, taking a sip straight from the bottle, causing Marcus to emit more strangled noises as he stared at his executioner in horror. “Beatrice smelled it the moment it happened, right when that little being whose face was just beginning to take shape turned into a puddle of blood at your daughter’s feet. Thankfully some parts were still intact.”

Swain let go of Marcus’ hair, letting the man fall face first on the floor, his body twitching slowly as the life was choked out of him. Before the traces left of him grazed Swain’s boots, the Grand General who had yet to be crowned limped back to his uncomfortable chair, tapping his cane on the floor loudly. The doors of the Iron Room were flung open, and his least favorite marquis escorted some Raedsel guards inside. The men exchanged befuddled and frightened looks, while Vladimir sniffed the air, nodding in approval.

“We have a new flag to hang,” Swain stated plainly. “Or so it seems.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s