The top floor of the memorial was built inside the right shoulder of the statue. It was entirely dark, not a single window had been carved into the stone to let the light in. Sion’s Memorial had been left incomplete by the direct order of Boram Darkwill. Not a single floor was furnished, and the stairs either led nowhere or to walls that were so frail they could crumble at any moment. Entering the memorial was similar to penetrating a cave; moist, humid air clung to any visitor’s skin and the stench of mold was sickening.
General Darius paced around the coffin set in the middle of the room. He noted the five cracks on the floor that had been made around it, and he wondered whether it had been done voluntarily or not. His black eyes glanced at the Pale Woman who leaned against the far wall behind him, and he tapped his foot on the floor. The Grand General had yet to arrive.
Throwing his heavy axe engraved with the crest of Noxus over his shoulder, Darius said, “Unusual place to meet.”
LeBlanc smirked, running her fingernails over the straps of her leather dress. “Unusual, indeed. How long have you been at Swain’s service?” she asked curiously.
Darius gave her a defiant sniff. “I am not at his service.”
“Yet, you supported his claim as Grand General, while you and I both know that you were one of Noxus’ favorites.”
“It is called an alliance,” the General said with disdain.
LeBlanc left her spot to walk up to him, her golden staff brushing against his plated arm. “So, you were never interested in becoming Grand General yourself? Forgive me if I doubt it,” she immediately added, “but I always thought you were an ambitious man.”
Darius knew very well that the Pale Woman was sinking her claws into his flesh with every question she asked, refusing to let go. “Who wouldn’t want to be the most powerful and strongest figure in Noxus?” he rethorically asked. “I was born and raised in the streets,” he reminded her with a snarl. “Killed rats and fed them to my brother, telling him they were pigeons. There are barely any pigeons in Basilich,” he said in disgust. “When the Empire marched on our homeland, I saw the opportunity to get off the streets and I promised that I wouldn’t rest until we would have conquered the world.”
LeBlanc’s smile widened and she rested a hand on his forearm. “We,” she repeated. “You and your brother?”
He flinched at the feel of her touching him, and he glared down at her. “No.” Her light-brown eyes glinted with malice, and Darius felt oddly uncomfortable. “Why are we here?”
Licking her lips, LeBlanc hummed. “This memorial was never meant to be Sion’s grave,” she confessed. “Sion,” she repeated, “the one and only son of Noxus who was able to smash King Jarvan I’s head. Grand General Darkwill attempted to resurrect him many times, and failed. Swain thinks he can succeed.”
Darius frowned, lowering his axe to the ground. “Why?”
LeBlanc shook her head at his ignorance. “It takes a man such as Sion to bring down a Lightshield. I think Grand General Swain fancies Jarvan IV a bit too much,” she attempted to joke.
The General eyed the coffin at their feet once more, LeBlanc’s words cutting through his mind like a knife.
“You agreed with Swain’s alliance proposal,” LeBlanc drifted back to their first topic, “even when he already secured another alliance, with Invetia Varn. Everyone knows you despise her.”
“She killed her own mother.”
“You must have loved Quilleta a lot,” LeBlanc commented, the clicks of her heels echoing through the empty room as she paced around him.
Darius’ fist tightened around his weapon. “It was a long time ago.”
Clasping her hands together, LeBlanc stopped right in front of him. “I want to tell you a story, General Darius, since our Grand General seems to be late for Sion’s awakening.” They locked gazes, and the Pale Woman went on, “Nearly a decade ago, when the Noxian invasion in Ionia was failing, Jericho Swain suggested Boram Darkwill to let the Zaunite chemists intervene. Darkwill didn’t listen to Marcus Du Couteau, his oldest friend, when he told him not to. It wasn’t too long before we learned of entire villages being decimated by gas and poison, and even our own men were severely injured.
“Isn’t it around that time that Quilleta lost her arm?” LeBlanc asked innocently. Before Darius could answer, she continued, “Steward Quilleta Varn was known for her ideals of peace and independence; I wasn’t too surprised when I heard of the Basilich rebellion. Ionia changed her.”
“You didn’t know her,” Darius growled.
LeBlanc raised her eyebrows. “True,” she conceded. “But I do know Jericho Swain. Independence is not part of his vocabulary. Don’t you think it’s interesting that he and Invetia are on such good terms they immediately sealed a pact so that he would become Grand General with the Basilich’s support?”
Her light-brown eyes stared at him with interest, and Darius didn’t immediately realize the way his hands were shaking. Anger seized his chest to the point it caused him pain, and when the Pale Woman touched him again, bringing her hand to his scarred cheek, he nearly snapped at her.
“There is another person who hates Jericho Swain as much as you right now,” she whispered sultrily. “He thrives at the thought of putting daughters against fathers,” she added, laughing when Darius’ eyes widened at the meaning of her words. “Destroying families and legacies.”
Her nails were so long, it almost hurt her to trace the cracks in the stone walls of her room. The blinds of her windows were slightly open, and the faint light of day brushed against her pale skin. Dull green eyes stared at the dirt that had collected between her fingertips and her nails. Her breathing was slow and steady. She felt her feet getting cold, but she had yet to finish counting the cracks in the wall for the day. She wore only a white shirt that wasn’t even hers, but couldn’t be bothered to pull the covers up to warm herself. The smell of rotting food mixed with the stench of her oily hair, and she wondered how long it would take the guards outside to remove the tray they had thrown at her earlier that morning.
“What now,” Darius gulped, shoving the Pale Woman away. “Katarina Du Couteau is a shell of a woman. She doesn’t sleep and she doesn’t eat, from what I’ve heard.”
She lowered her right arm as she lied on her left side, her other arm curling around her waist. She had never felt so thin. She could feel her ribcage under her fingers, and she wished she had actually been left to die in that pit in Kalamanda. She wished Darius’ axe hit her, or that the roof of Kalamanda Hall crushed her head when the mine collapsed, because as much as she was trying to fight her current state, she couldn’t find the strength to get up from her bed and defy the guards that circled her mansion.
“Give her what she desires,
The distant sound of footsteps and heavy armor reached her ears, but Katarina didn’t budge. She was certain men were screaming outside the Manoir Du Couteau, and she still recognized the smell of steel meeting flesh. The footsteps drew closer, metal raking the polished floor of the long corridor that led to her room. A part of her wondered if she had finally lost her mind, and was imagining that Talon, Garen or her father even, eventually came to shake some sense into her. Katarina coughed, pushing herself up with her elbows, whipping her head around when her door was torn down.
“And you can conquer the world.”
General Darius stood in front of her, blood dripping from the sharp edges of his axe.
Rising from the highest hill in Demacia City, the Temple of the Lightbringers had gathered a crowd of grieving citizens. They kneeled at the entrance of the temple, right at the feet of the Lightbringer who brandished his shield, the crest of Demacia carved into the stone; twin wings of an azurite eagle. The massive statue shadowed the entire crowd, and if it wasn’t for the royal guards’ offensive stance, every single Demacian citizen would have tried to enter the temple. The weather was unforgiving as the snow kept falling, but neither the guards or the devoted citizens would leave their respective spots. Candles burned at every broadsword-shaped window when the sun would still hide behind thick, grey clouds.
At the center of the oval room, right under the cupola, King Jarvan III lied unmoving, a thin, golden and silver veil covering his relaxed face. His body was dressed in the finest silk and furs of the kingdom, as well as plated in sunsteel. The hextech lights above him casted cool hues that were in clear contrast with the colorful glass windows of the temple. The bells were still swinging, and the Maidens of the Light whispered prayers as they formed a circle around their former king. The rustle of their ivory robes as they circled the remains was the only sound that could be heard during the entire ceremony that preceeded the Lightbringing Prayer that would later be pronounced by the designated Lightbringer of the temple, a pluridecorate soldier of the Demacian army and High Priest of the Light Caster faith.
Jarvan IV sat on the highest seat of the front row of the temple, seneschal Xin Zhao at his side. His piercing blue eyes were solely focused on the ceremony that was taking place, while his mind went over thousands matters at the same time. The Royal Court sat behind him, occasionally whispering or shifting in their seats.
“Lady Sona Buvelle should arrive safely in Ionia by next month,” Xin Zhao whispered quietly.
Jarvan nodded, his eye twitching. “I want every accusation made towards her dropped as soon as possible,” he ordered. “She was never negligent when it came to my father’s death.”
“Your Grace,” the seneschal countered. “The Demacian Council deems—”
“The Demacian Council,” Jarvan cut in, “or Lilia Crownguard? Everyone knows she is the only one in charge in there.”
“Still,” Xin Zhao sighed, “the King didn’t receive his daily medication.”
“The King wanted to rest,” Jarvan replied with a dark stare.
Xin Zhao’s concerned expression shifted into one of disbelief, but the seneschal still nodded.
“I need your support now more than ever,” Jarvan confessed, lowering his gaze to the floor. “It seems that General Marcus Du Couteau was executed, and I have yet to hear from his daughter. If the alliance with Noxus cannot be maintained, the Kingdom of Demacia is exposed,” he explained, his voice shaky.
“Your Grace,” Xin Zhao immediately replied, resting his hand on Jarvan’s forearm. “I serve the Lightshields first. You will always have my support and uttermost loyalty,” he promised. “Your father was a fantastic monarch, but I believe your views on what Demacia can be will secure our future.”
Jarvan let out a sigh of relief upon hearing the seneschal’s words, and he turned around to scan the last row of seats. His lips softly curved up at the sight of a still recovering Shyvana who nodded at him. She sat next to Fiora Laurent, who scowled at the world. Jarvan rubbed the palms of his hands against his leather-covered thighs, and he looked back at his father. The former captain had requested a reexamination of her current rank the moment the news of the King’s death was made public. Jarvan had yet to answer her plea, strongly believing that Lady Laurent’s demotion was probably one of the wisest decisions his father had ever made.
Blue eyes scanned the seats behind him once more, and Jarvan frowned. “Where is Garen?” he whispered to his seneschal, who looked at him uneasily.
“I heard Captain Zelos say he was seen riding in the direction of the Institute of War,” Xin Zhao informed him. “He responded to no one’s orders, and only rode faster at the sight of other knights and soldiers going after him, sometimes threatening them with his own steel.”
They were coming full circle.
Locking the doors of his bedchambers, Grand General Jericho Swain rolled his shoulders pleasantly. It would be only a matter of hours before he could witness the success of his studies. Boram Darkwill had left behind over a hundred notes he kept secret regarding the art of necromancy, and all the experiments he conducted on himself as well as on others, summoning the hemomancer and his Matron every time. Darkwill had had in mind to bring back Sion from the dead ever since the soldier fell on the battlefield at the hands of King Jarvan III, but all he managed to do before the remains were stolen by the Dauntless Vanguard was to resurrect a mindless beast that only sought to devour the living.
It had taken him years to find the flaw of Darkwill’s plan, but eventually, he did; the right mixture, the right time, the right place. Vladimir had been insisting lately that the remaining blood of Jarvan IV was going to waste and that they had to act quickly. At a rather fast pace, Swain limped down the hallways of his private apartments. It was safe to assume that Darkwill reveled in his forever youthful looks given the number of mirrors that covered every wall and furniture.
The Grand General caught the glimpse of his reflection as he was about to push open the glass doors that led to the elevating platform of the Immortal Bastion. Pointy feathers started to pierce the fabric of his collar. Clawed fingers immediately snatched them. He couldn’t let anyone presume he was more than just a man well-versed in the arcane arts.
His hand fisted the door handle when a loud shrill erupted behind the opposite door. Narrowing his crimson eyes, Swain made his way towards the back entrance of the Iron Room. The sounds his cane made echoed through the hall. It seemed that the Iron Room was completely empty. He stared at the back of the Grand General’s chair, then walked past it.
Beatrice was perched on the windowsill. He was certain he had closed the window before retreating into his chambers, disliking the bright daylight that would otherwise illuminate the Iron Table.
The rustle of leather against a solid surface caused him to turn around. He raised both eyebrows at the person who sat on his chair, deep lines marking his forehead as he did so.
Her right knee was bent so that her foot would rest on the cushions of the seat. Her right elbow was propped up in a similar fashion, causing her to lean on the left. Her hand fisted the hilt of the dagger she had planted in the chair, and Swain found it extremely interesting to see that she wore shoulder, arm and shin plates adorned with spikes. Her tight bustier seemed slightly big for her skinny form, and it only added to her sunken cheeks and lopsided smile. The roots of her hair were a deep ebony color, and her eyes looked nearly as dark given the poor light.
Swain smiled under his collar, his neck itching right where he had brutally removed his growing feathers. “I would bend at your feet, Lady Du Couteau, if my knee would allow it,” he mocked.
Katarina’s red lips twitched, and she twirled a short blade in her right hand. “Are you not going to ask me how I got out?” she asked, hearing the sound of her own voice for the first time in days, or perhaps even weeks.
The Grand General shrugged, the rest of his body remaining perfectly still. “It doesn’t really matter, now that you’re here. The women of your family have always had trouble knowing their place.”
The assassin’s expression darkened at the mention of her family by the one man who had destroyed it.
“Have you ever heard of a certain Ecaterina Du Couteau?” Swain asked in a light tone. “Forget the stories everyone tells,” he added almost instantly. “She was the Headmistress of House Du Couteau, a very noble lady who conducted several successful missions as an infiltrator.
“But you see,” Swain went on, stepping closer to his chair, “the problem with being an infiltrator is that you have to put yourself into your enemy’s shoes and it might just happen that you find those shoes rather comfortable.”
Katarina stood her ground and held her chin up as he approached. “Demacia sieged Noxus Prime and she was killed,” she said.
“No,” Swain whispered, his fingers brushing her chin. “How do you think a primitive kingdom even managed to siege Noxus Prime during the Old Wars? Your ancestor sold our secrets,” he revealed with a nod. “She was locked away in the left wing of your house, where her private apartments were located, and her own brothers destroyed it. They buried her alive.”
Juniper-colored eyes bore into his, and Katarina curled her fingers around his wrist.
“You come from a family of traitors. Your great-great-grandmother was one, your father was one, your sister was one and you,” Swain chuckled darkly. “It’s embarrassing, really.”
She loosened her grip at the mention of Cassiopeia. “You did that to her,” she hissed.
Grand General Swain shook his head at the sudden realization. Limping away from the red-haired assassin, he rested the palm of his hand on the windowsill, right next to Beatrice, who crowed happily as he brushed the back of her head. “I would like to believe that you came here to kill me,” he whispered gently, his blood eyes examining the dark plumage of his companion. “But you and I both know you just came here to end your misery.
“I feel pity, I really do,” Swain confessed genuinely, glancing back at Katarina, who had just risen from her seat. “I can’t even bother to come up with a creative way of ending your pathetic existence. I ran out of ideas with your father and little brother.”
She tried hard not to drop to her knees at the idea of Talon being dead as well. The entire conversation only aimed at letting the mask crumble, she knew that much. Swain only wanted to see how she really felt, and her torturing herself not to let him was her punishment. Katarina bit her dry bottom lip, her right hand reaching behind her back to unsheath her other curved blade.
Swain shook his head again, tapping his cane against the floor three times. The doors of the Iron Room were flung open, and he didn’t need to turn around to recognize the person who just entered. His axe scratched the floor as he dragged it at a slow pace. The Grand General glanced at Beatrice, who tilted her head, her six eyes blinking at the same time.
“General Darius,” he spoke clearly. “Please show Lady Du Couteau what bleeding means.”
Katarina’s blank stare met Darius’ furious expression, and when she looked back at Swain, a satisfied smile appeared on her face. Silence fell inside the room, only to be shattered by the flapping of Beatrice’s wings. Grand General Swain dropped his cane, his back stiffening and the hairs at the back of his neck standing. He turned around only to see General Darius lift his axe, his hateful glare directed only at him. Air hit Swain in the face as Darius started lowering his weapon, and with a deafening shrill, Swain extended his hand towards the six-eyed raven who took flight. Their crimson stares connected for half a second, and his body was neatly cut in two. Black blood spilled on Darius’ face, chunks of skull and brain splashing against Katarina’s cheek. The Sinister Blade stood still, her smile unfaltering, and the General had to press the heel of his foot against the fallen ruler’s back to unsheathe his weapon.
Darius was breathing hard, his anger having not been sated by the simple act of killing Jericho Swain. He roared at the pool of blood forming at his feet, slamming his axe into the corpse again, and again, until only crumbles of human bones were left. Katarina placed a hand on his shoulder as he kneeled before the massacre, and she wiped away the fresh blood on his face.
His taupe eyes narrowed at her gesture but he soon found himself apologizing. “I shared this man’s ideals,” he told her, his voice deep and shattered. “The things I’ve said and done for him are—”
“They are who you are,” Katarina concluded for him in a cold tone. “And they made you Grand General today,” she added before parting ways.
“Where are you going?” Darius asked angrily at the sight of her leaving him covered in shame.
Katarina didn’t turn around, although she paused in her tracks. “There is nothing left for me here. There is only one place I could go,” she told him, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Rulers are dropping like flies,” her Petal whispered as he came unannounced.
LeBlanc unlocked the three windows of her bedchamber in silence, her fingernails tracing the handles softly. She had previously set the long, charcoal curtains on fire and tossed the candles that used to lighten her room in a can. Sliding out of her black and golden cape, the Matron of the Black Rose eyed the marquis who dared interrupt her, before looking back outside. The same old scenery offered nothing that would have been less boring than listening to Vladimir.
The Matron strutted to her vanity, sniffing in annoyance when she noticed she had yet to replace the broken mirror that once covered the entire wall. “Who told you that?” she eventually asked.
Petal chuckled, lifting his hand. An unsealed letter was tucked between his index and middle finger. “A raven,” he answered. “King Jarvan III is dead. And now Grand General Swain too. Should we worry?”
LeBlanc smiled at his false display of concern. “Isn’t it poetic,” she said, “killed by his one and only ally.”
Vladimir sighed dramatically, running a hand through his long blonde tresses. “Why? It was so sudden, and right before the ritual, too,” he commented. “And all his knowledge is gone too. Brutal.”
LeBlanc’s smile faded, her glare directed at the reflection of the woman she was so many centuries ago. The cracks in the mirror tainted the pure sight in front of her, and she scoffed. “You are clueless, Petal. I said I would absord everything there is to absorb.”
Short, repeated shrill calls caused the hemomancer to run to the closest window. Covering his head with both hands when a six-eyed raven nearly gored his eyes. Vladimir fell to the ground, gasping loudly, light grey eyes darting around to find the creature. The shrilling sounds turned into deep, rasping calls at the sight of LeBlanc, and Vladimir could only watch as Swain’s Beatrice flapped her wings above their heads. The raven’s talons grasped LeBlanc’s throat, clawing and tearing her flesh.
Vladimir rose to his feet, only to be chained to the wall behind him as LeBlanc pointed her staff at him. Beatrice crowed and sang as her beak plucked the Matron’s skin, spilling blood and shoving her talons in her eyes. LeBlanc let her staff fall to the ground, screaming when she felt her right eye roll out of its socket, the vibrations causing her already injured throat to tear. The deafening noise that the raven was making forced the hemomancer to cover his ears, and Beatrice tilted her head to blink at him. It wasn’t long until the bird resumed her attack, while LeBlanc clawed at the floor to reach out for her staff. The amethyst crystals that hovered above the tip stopped shining, their light becoming duller by the second, and a malicious brown eye beamed at Beatrice, whom she knew harbored the mind of the Grand General.
The raven didn’t have the time to react before LeBlanc fisted her talons in her hand, forcing her into the ground, while her other hand tried to prevent the blood from flowing freely from her throat. Hazel eyes quickly glanced back and forth from Beatrice to her staff, and LeBlanc relinquished her hold on her neck to grab the pointy end of her weapon, and shoved it into the raven’s chest.
Beatrice shrilled one last time, the blood that spurted from her tiny body rushing inside the Matron’s staff. It turned a deep, charcoal color, the once purple crystals on the tip turning a deep blue. Vladimir blinked uncontrollably at the sight of LeBlanc’s injuries disappearing as her skin regenerated by itself. Jet black hair turned silver, and night feathers grew on her shoulders and hips.
“Emilia?” the hemomancer whispered, catching his breath.
The Matron turned her head to look at him and when she opened her eyes, they were as purple as Beatrice’s plumage.