Chapter 25: Bridge to The Past

Wooden boxes littered the floor, filled with contents that used to be stored in the Vault of the Institute of War. Most of them were artifacts used on the Fields of Justice of the League, studied and sometimes even crafted by the Arcanum Majoris. Their place wasn’t the top floor of the Institute, but since the entire structure and everyone who served the purpose of the Institute were being investigated on, the empty meeting room was the only place where the items could be safely depositated.

A lonely candle burned in the middle of the round table, and Ryze found himself narrowing his eyes at the pages he was reading way too often, his fingers adjusting the goggles on his nose every two seconds. The ruckus that was being made downstairs and at the doors of the Institute didn’t distract him as he studied yet another manuscript, but the Rogue Mage still eyed the winged creature that rummaged through one of the boxes, placing some of the newest items the Vault had produced on top of the unlit fireplace.

“There was never enough light in this room,” the indigo-skinned mage commented, glancing at the glass ceiling above their heads. “But since they began confiscating literally everything, it’s even worse,” he said, flipping the page he was done reading.

The Angel who stood only a few feet away from him paused, running her slim fingers over a staff she just retrieved. It was rather thin and made of a material that seemed to be wood, only it was covered in blue stones that shone brighter than sapphires. “They are doing their jobs,” Kayle replied, before putting the staff back where she found it.

“You know,” Ryze said, gathering his manuscripts and quill pens, “I really don’t know who you side with, in the end.”

Kayle didn’t answer, finding every conversation with the Rogue Mage a pure waste of her time as he asked questions that common sense could answer.

“You served the Institute,” the black-bearded archmage went on, “yet suggested Relivash to let you handle the DSS Excursion, taking innocent lives. And now, you seem just fine with letting the Institute fall, and its knowledge go to waste.”

The Angel turned around, her symmetrical face set in a neutral expression. “You doubt my reasoning,” she stated plainly.

“Not your reasoning,” Ryze immediately countered, raising his left hand defensively. “Only your motives. Heywan Relivash was a fool, but you purposely let him believe he was in the right and seconded his actions.

“The only magic above maximum potency that could have ever been used to destroy a ship as huge as the DSS Excursion must have originated from that,” he elaborated, pointed at the holy, thin sword strapped to Kayle’s waist. “All you wanted was for the Institute to fail and be removed, ignoring the fact that this is still the home of several beings, as well as the only safe prison for destructive creatures.

“I would never doubt your logic,” Ryze said with a pointed stare. “I fervently hope that your plans succeed, otherwise we would have monsters from the Outside roaming freely across Valoran, and unguarded nexuses.”

“It is because the Institute locked these creatures away that I had to react,” Kayle explained to the Rogue Mage. “You are the Protector of the World Runes,” she reminded him, resting her hand on the surface of the table as she let her feet touch the ground. “And you believed that sealing them away would keep Runeterra safe from the Rune Wars.

“You killed your own master after he decimated the entire region of Icathia,” she went on, “but with destruction comes creation. The Outside, or the Void as some call it without even believing in its existence, deeming it to be another tale to scare children, is the new creation.”

Ryze let his books and manuscripts fall back on top of the table, shaking his head in disbelief. “Is that what the Universe wants,” he whispered. “Is that why its Angels let the Ancient Times crumble into despair, to let the new creation into this world?”

“Angels have no desires,” Kayle stated in a stern tone. “But as it always has been, the stronger species survives, while the weaker one withers. The Institute wouldn’t let nature decide.”

The two residents of the Institute of War stared at each other in silence, the Rogue Mage glancing down at his manuscripts. Centuries of studying, he realized, while all the answers were held by the cold, ivory-winged creature that stood right in front of him.

“Well,” he breathed out, “if anything they should stop calling you the Judicator,” Ryze said bluntly, “and rename you into the Wings of Justice since you intend on punishing whoever doesn’t let nature follow its course.”

“You should leave now,” the Angel eventually whispered before resuming her activities. “And find a new place to stay.”

***

The arrow-shaped peak of Mount Gargantuan was already in sight as Katarina halted her horse at the gates of the Institute of War. She expected a chaotic scene, but only witnessed authorities from all Valoran ordering summoners and League representatives around. Carts were being loaded with furniture, wooden boxes of varied sizes, and at the entrance of the Institute, the minotaur who once guarded the structure was taking notes of the inventory that was being taken away.

“Ma’am,” a League officer called, “if you are headed to the Mogron Pass, you must know that the toll tax has increased,” he informed her. “Road to Demacia is free of taxes, by order of King Jarvan IV.”

Pine-colored eyes glanced at the young officer whose body was plated from head to toe. “Excuse me?” she said. “King Jarvan IV?”

The League officer raised his eyebrows at the question. “Where are you going, ma’am?”

Katarina stared at the road behind him, the one that led straight to Demacia through the Marshes of Kaladoun. She was about to give the officer an answer, when she spotted a short, chubby summoner carrying his belongings to his cart, a female elemental spirit weeping at his side and holding a pale turquoise staff to her chest. Throwing her leg over the saddle, Katarina dismounted and took two long strides towards them. She recognized the summoner in a heartbeat, the many rings on his fat fingers a dead giveaway.

“Nashahago,” she greeted him. “What is going on?”

The balding summoner rested one of his hands on the spirit’s shoulder, hoping she would calm down soon. “It’s okay, Janna,” he whispered. “Lady Du Couteau,” Bob greeted back. “I haven’t had the pleasure since Kalamanda.” Saddened eyes glanced at the Institute of War, and he sighed loudly. “They’re investigating everything, and we cannot stay here. This was our residence,” he explained.

“They?” Katarina inquired.

“Authorities from Demacia, Noxus, Piltover, even from the Freljord—they can’t even agree on who is investigating what. I just hope that they know what they’re doing down in the cells. Some prisoners are not easy to handle,” the summoner ranted before smiling at a tiny creature that looked like a mole.

Katarina recognized the short manbacon hidden underneath a massive purple coat. He was one of the shopkeepers of the Fields of Justice.

“Good luck, Doran,” Nashahago whispered to the manbacon who simply sniffed in return.

Katarina pursed her lips, and watched in silence as Nashahago escorted both the manbacon and Janna to their respective carriages. Her gaze drifted back to the doors of the Institute of War, and noticed that Alistar was no longer there. Hugging her chest when a soft breeze chilled her skin, Katarina climbed the stairs of the Institute, letting herself in. The blue crystals that illuminated the corridors with hextech light still worked, and coral hues that tinted the columns and walls of the building still gave the Institute a mystical feeling.

Every corridor was empty, and the sight of every door being open on the floor that housed League Champions and summoners was desolating. Her own room had been emptied, and even though she rarely spent time at the Institute and never brought enough belongings to establish a secondary residence within the walls of the League, she still felt violated. Dejected, Katarina climbed the stairs to the top floor, nearly smiling at the glass ceiling when it let starlight in. She figured that the top floor was barely used anymore, since Heywan Relivash was apprehended, although she was certain that either Vessaria Kolminye or Kiersta Mandrake had been appointed to his position.

“You served the Institute,” she heard a male voice hiss behind the doors of the meeting room, “yet suggested Relivash to let you handle the DSS Excursion, taking innocent lives. And now, you seem just fine with letting the Institute fall, and its knowledge go to waste.”

***

Ryze’s hands balled into fists, and he abandoned his own belongings to stomp out of the room. His black eyes widened at the sight of another League Champion standing right behind the door. She glared at him for what seemed like an eternity until she shoved him aside and took long, decisive strides towards the Angel who didn’t look surprised in the least to see her.

Kayle unfolded her wings, hovering as she flapped them and flew closer to the two other occupants of the room. “The Institute is closed,” she informed Katarina.

“Do you have any idea,” the auburn-haired woman snarled, “just how much we all lost and suffered? And it was all you,” she spoke bitterly, her chest reddening as anger clouded her mind.

The Angel raised an eyebrow at her, her lips curving up. “What makes you think that you wouldn’t have lost and suffered even without my intervention? You humans have a knack for misery.”

Katarina’s shoulders spasmed when she bit back a sob. “If there was any way you could die, I wouldn’t hesitate to kill you myself,” she swore.

Kayle shook her head, hovering back to the fireplace. She reached out for one of the items that had been brought from the Vault, and tossed it at Katarina’s feet. It was a golden cup, rubies adorned the outside while the inside seemed stained in red. A furious tear escaped her right eye as she glanced down, and Katarina picked up the item. It looked slightly familiar, but then again, every artifact of the League looked familiar, as she had seen nearly all of them.

“You mean kill me in a cold-hearted way like you killed the Elder who used that,” the Angel commented, causing the redhead to drop the item and let it fall back to the ground.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Katarina whispered, refusing to look back at the immortal creature who floated closer.

“The Arcanum Majoris decided to name it the Unholy Grail,” Kayle informed her. “Piltoverite scientists who examined it at the Institute discovered traces of blood, some belonging to two League Champions judged for the Fields of Justice, and others belonging to a male of the human race, aged between sixty and eighty years old.

“One of Piltover’s most famous explorers retrieved this grail in the Shuriman desert after a recent sandstorm,” Kayle explained, her light blue eyes narrowing at Katarina when the woman wouldn’t look at her. “He is positive that in Shuriman tradition, such cups are used to gather the blood of a man and his wife on the day of their union. Do you deny killing the man who knew too much?”

Katarina bit hard on her bottom lip, fisting the hilt of the thin sword she carried around her waist and rarely ever used. Steel screeched against the metallic sheath, and Kayle merely scoffed, igniting her own blade and ignoring the Rogue Mage’s cries in the background. Swiftly, he tried to pull Katarina away, his black eyes darting around the messy room until his panicked gaze landed on a golden hourglass.

Blinding fire erupted within the meeting room, and the glass ceiling broke into pieces.

***

“So what is your motivation,” the mage kept asking, as he wouldn’t take silence for an answer. “What did they do to you? You had everything.”

Garen wanted to slam his hands on the table, but was afraid to break it and harm the body lying on top of it. Instead, he brushed soft strands of auburn hair away from her face. “They gave me everything,” he agreed. “It was never about me,” he whispered before backing off, giving some room to the mage.

The old man’s eyes softened at that statement, but Garen didn’t see it as he promptly turned around, cutting the conversation short.

“It was about Demacia,” the mage concluded for him.

It is always about Demacia, Garen thought angrily, limping towards the only hole that served as a window and staring at the dark, cloudy sky of Urtistan.

“You say that she wasn’t anyone close to me,” Garen added. “But it isn’t true,” he said in a fierce tone, recalling the events of the previous night.

He had barely reached the Institute of War on the road to Noxus Prime when he was met with the sight of Katarina Du Couteau being dragged out of the debris at the base of the building that had just been shattered brutally. The trees surrounding the area were on fire, and every summoner and League Champion who hadn’t left yet was covered in grime and coughing. League officers were trying to do their best in assisting literally everyone, but failed when the minotaur of the Institute covered Katarina’s body with a large, ivory linen sheet. Garen caught the glimpse of red hair before she was carried away, and ignoring every order or warning he was given as he elbowed his way through the chaos before him, he uncovered her face.

Her lips were parted and her face entirely relaxed, as if she had been sleeping. Her hands were curled around a broken hourglass and his hands tightened into fists as he cradled her body to the ground, not a single sound or sigh escaping his lips. Merely resting his forehead against hers, he remained frozen in place for nearly the entire evening, threatening whoever came close to sever their heads.

Only Jarvan’s voice forced him to stand up, Katarina’s body in his arms. The King had decided to follow him, demanding answers and ordering him to let her go as she was a Noxian citizen, and deserved to rest in her homeland. Jarvan reminded him his duties and promises the way his own father would have if he was still the King of Demacia, and Garen sent him a blank stare before nodding at Captain Zelos, who had escorted his ruler.

“You are a man of honor,” he had said. “Unstrap my sword and bring it to the King,” had been his last words before he made his choice and rode unrelentlessly south of Valoran.

“It isn’t true,” Garen repeated, while the Master of Time behind him kept fiddling with instruments he couldn’t even recognize.

“Because she won’t be close to you anymore,” Zilean simply answered. “Now,” he said as he turned around to dust off a large mahogany clock that didn’t seem to be working at all. “I want you to listen carefully to me.

“I don’t know what your sister Luxanna told you about me, but I can’t manipulate time to the point where I would turn it back completely. I can freeze it, as you saw yourself in Kalamanda, but some events can never be undone,” Zilean explained slowly, coughing and staring blankly into space. “There are places that will not be affected by this, and people who find themselves in such places won’t be affected either. Their memories will remain intact.

“Yours will as well, because we are in the Clock Tower of Urtistan. Places touched by runic magic will remain intact.”

Garen nodded before he said, “I thought war destroyed Urtistan.”

“Dark Knights from the Outside destroyed Urtistan,” the Master of Time corrected. “The Clock Tower, the Institute of War, anything that was in contact with a different dimension will stay as it is. If we had a Master of Space, everything would be easier,” Zilean conceded. “Give me a date,” he ordered, his trembling hands reaching for the hands of the clock.

Garen’s blue eyes glanced back at Katarina’s idle body, his right hand cupping the crown of her head. “July 1st, 21 CLE,” he whispered. “Boram Darkwill was assassinated that night. If she hadn’t visited me, perhaps she would have been able to save him, and now things would be different.”

Zilean sighed as he began pushing the hands of the clock backwards. “Some of us are meant to die either way,” he told Garen. “I want you to be aware of that.”

The Might of Demacia nodded, finding no comfort in the sound of the clock ticking backwards, slowly at first, then faster than ever, the numbers carved into the front disc blurring and eventually disappearing. The sun rose and set so many times that Garen felt his eyes burn at the flashing lights that pierced the room. Without being able to see either Zilean nor Katarina anymore, he felt isolated to the point he wondered if he himself, was still alive.

When the burning feeling faded, Garen found himself staring at a bunch of paperwork. He had just begun flipping the pages of the report he received, when he heard light footsteps behind him. Cracking his neck, Garen sighed.

“I said patrol, not take a stroll.”

“It’s me.”

Dropping the documents in his hands, Garen turned around quickly, a deep frown marking his features. Katarina Du Couteau was inside his tent, her face pale and clad in an outfit he had never seen before. The bright veil curtaining her face made her eyes look lighter and stand out even more. Soft strands of red hair brushed against her high cheekbones. The only dagger she carried was safely tucked into her belt, and it took a lot of willpower to not stride forward and cradle the woman in his arms. He hadn’t seen her in weeks.

“What are you doing here?” he blurted out. “Did anyone see you?”

“No,” she replied in a bored tone. “What is the plan?” she asked him seriously, walking up to him. “You have to tell me. Grand General Darkwill will be in Kalamanda very soon, the sun already set. If there is a war—”

“I cannot tell you,” Garen growled back.

“Of course,” she said to herself sarcastically. “What is it that Demacian boys say again, when they kneel as soldiers and rise as men? Your heart and sword, always for Demacia?” she mocked him, crossing her arms under her chest and facing away from him.

“You know that isn’t—” Garen’s answer died out, and he realized he was back in Kalamanda. His heart began racing at the sight of a perfectly alive Katarina, but the moment he was about to pull her into an embrace, he ran a hand over his face. “Leave,” he said bitterly. “There is no reason for you to be here.”

Katarina didn’t answer, but the way her shoulders slumped were a clear indication that his words stung.

“You should be with your people,” he added, wanting to punch himself when she hurried out of his tent before he could finish his sentence.

***

There was a large well behind what once was the house of Mayor Ridley, who had been evacuated from the village a long time ago. Jarvan looked around, expecting to see Shyvana appear at some point, knowing that she was always able to spot him when she was in the vicinity, but no one ever approached him. The Crown Prince paced around the well, occasionally sitting on the rim, and was about to head back inside his tent when he heard the distinct sound of steel. Blue eyes narrowed at the entrance of Ridley’s house, and right by the window, he spotted a very upset redhead.

“You following me or something,” Katarina asked, sheathing her daggers after cleaning them.

“Why are you here?” Jarvan whispered, furrowing his brow as he came closer.

“If I stay any closer to ‘my people’ my headache will get worse,” she commented dryly.

Jarvan shrugged and the two of them stared blankly in the distance. A part of him was starting to get worried when Shyvana breathed no sign of life, but maybe she didn’t come any closer because she knew he wasn’t alone. Deciding that he would look for the half-dragon himself, Jarvan was about to excuse himself when several torches began burning east of Kalamanda, right where the Noxian camp was.

Katarina immediately stood up, her swollen eyes scanning the scene, before the two of them sprinted in the direction of the camp, a smashing thunder making the ground shake. A good portion of the dried sands shattered in the heart of the Noxian camp, and a massive cataclysm burned deep within the earth.

The red-haired assassin blocked his path as he tried to come even closer, noticing that even the Demacian camp was now rising, and the sound of marching troops deafened them both. Inside the shattered grounds, General Swain raised his pointed cane at his opponent, his robes parting and large, emerald wings encased his body, protruding from his back.

“Who is that?” Katarina whispered, adjusting her eyesight.

Jarvan’s breath caught in his throat upon noticing that Swain’s opponent was charging with an extended silver lance, clad in golden armor from head to toe. “It’s me,” he whispered.

Katarina glanced back and forth between the Crown Prince that stood next to her and the one that was trying to kill General Swain, her mind immediately going back to the events that transpired in Demacia City, several months ago, right when she was accused of retrieving General Sion’s remains in such a brutal way that costed hundreds of civilians’ lives.

“Don’t go near them,” she ordered Jarvan.

“Are you insane?” he screamed in her face. “Someone is pretending to be me!”

Katarina turned her head so fast, hair whipped against her face. “And they’re pretty damn good at it. Stay away,” she repeated, raising her voice as well.

She was about to dash inside the camp, only to come to a halt when Garen’s words hammered through her mind once again. Jarvan sent her a puzzled look, ready to leave her behind and analyze the scene himself when she whipped her head around when the sound of rustling fabric reached her ears, and the two of them stared at the confused face of a hooded man.

Katarina’s eyes widened in sheer surprise. “Talon?”

***

The heart of the Noxian camp had dissolved into a cataclysm of sand where both Garen and Xin Zhao spotted their Crown Prince draw his lance through what looked like a gigantic raven that gored Jarvan’s face.

The seneschal was quick to react and immediately ran in Jarvan’s direction while Garen stood gaping at the scene before him. It was only Spiritmight’s sudden battle cry that shook him out of his reverie.

“Sir, behind you!”

Garen braced himself as one of Noxus’ warlords swung his death sentence at him, the edge of the massive axe aiming at his head. Spiritmight planted his spear in the gigantic man’s leg, only to receive a massive punch in the face. Garen’s eyes darted around at the sound of a spinning axe whipping closer, and he raised his broadsword before the blade embedded itself it his squire’s leg.

A man nearly as tall as the General who was about to decapitate Garen let out a loud sigh when his axe stopped spinning and fell to the sandy ground. “What a shame,” he acknowledged, “I wanted you to run fast.”

***

“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 she had the biggest eyebags in the entire room, probably due to the lack of sleep ever since they had all been escorted out of the war zone.

She grunted, rubbing her stomach. “I could eat greasy chicken now.”

***

“I don’t see anything,” Elim whispered, scratching his blonde beard.

“Amateur,” Zelos taunted, his small eyes scanning the area and his thin sword pointing at the far end of the corridor where empty cells lined up. “There’s a shadow over there,” he said, running a hand through his bangs to push them away from his eyes.

Garen didn’t need to hear more. As he was about to charge, Zelos ran to the shadow, shocking both his companions when he made absolutely no noise, the wood underneath his feet never once cracking. The Captain of the Royal Guards held his sword to the back of a figure’s head, but before he could utter a word, Zelos found himself thrown against the ceiling, causing a large hole before collapsing to the ground, unconscious. The faint sound of steel reached Garen’s ears and he marched decisively towards the intruder.

“Get him,” he ordered Elim, nodding at Zelos’ body.

The vanguard soldier rushed to the Captain’s side, failing to drag him outside when he noticed that Zelos passed out.

The shadow stood up, and Garen tried to adjust his eyesight. The hole in the ceiling made it easier to see the man who was standing up right in front of what used to be Thom Garvin’s cell since the blue light that emanated from the nexuses the summoners worked on lightened the entire village.

The intruder wasn’t as tall as him, he noted, but even the black cloak draping his unarmored body didn’t hide his strong, lean muscles. His hood fell halfway down his face, and Garen’s blue eyes narrowed at the sight of his five o’clock shadow.

“He’s unarmed!” a third voice chimed in, and Garen turned around, his lips parting at the sight of Spiritmight pointing at the intruder.

The cloaked figure seemed to react at that statement, lowering his gaze and patting the sides of his body. Before anyone could stutter a single word, he made a cracking sound, and vanished in the shadows of the prison.

***

“With such a sky, no wonder no one uses torches here.”

Deep blue eyes looked away from the transcendent scenery and glanced at man that sat at the entrance of the cave. Taric narrowed his eyes, immediately glancing at the weapon that still lied on the gemstone bed he had built himself.

“I didn’t expect you to come back, Marcus,” the Protector whispered in awe. “Last time we saw each other, you spoke as if you would never return to Mount Targon.”

Emerald eyes stared at him in confusion. “Last time?”

“You don’t remember?”

Marcus shook his head at him, a menacing expression marking his features. “I remember thinking of visiting you to leave that in your custody,” he spoke loudly, pointing at his broadsword. “Only to find myself in the corners of an abandoned prison, without my blade. What did you do?”

Taric raised his hands at him. “My friend, you left this a long time ago. Last summer, if I recall correctly.” Gulping when the angry Deathmaster didn’t reply, he asked, “What day is it today?”

“August 30th, 21 CLE,” Marcus answered, rolling his eyes.

“No,” Taric shook his head, his mind going over the events of the past few months, looking for a plausible reason why Marcus thought he had gone back in time. “Unless,” he whispered to himself. “We really went back in time,” he added, feeling the palms of his hands sweat as he sat down, his deep stare directed at the Peak.

“What are you mumbling about?”

“Marcus,” Taric spoke in a serious tone. “What did you see on top of Mount Targon?”

His friend shifted uncomfortably, sliding closer to the Protector. “Is it important?”

“Very.”

“I saw my own death at the hands of Jericho Swain,” he answered. “I saw my eldest daughter visit this place sometime afterwards and stay as you took care of her condition.”

Taric furrowed his brow. “Her condition?” Resting a hand on Marcus’ shoulder, he begged him to look at him. “It is possible that at least part of what you saw happened,” he quietly explained. “Because today is not August 30th, or at least it wasn’t.” Swallowing hard, Taric went on, “If you were right, and if what we see as we ascend Mount Targon is our future, then I have to go to Demacia, otherwise the city will be burned to the ground.”

Fisting the front of his tabard, Marcus shook the man a couple times to make sure he would get his point across. “You stay here for the day Katarina comes.”

“But the capital, and then the Frostguard in the Freljord—” Taric panicked, recalling his own visions.

Marcus released him and rose to his feet. “I’ll take care of it,” he promised. “The Protector of Mount Targon stays at Mount Targon.”

***

Ho-xallāh!”

He was leaning against one of the pillars that held the shelters of the plaza together. The clean leather of his clothes was of a mahogany color that complimented the golden crest embroidered on his long, crimson cape. He wore no armor, and even his heeled boots were free of spiky plates. Talon approached in silence, wondering why there was no trace of his broadsword, not even under the thick cape that draped his body. His hair was significantly shorter, he noted. The trimmed auburn hair was barely longer than his growing beard, but his emerald eyes still glinted with pride and malice.

Talon followed his gaze, which was entirely directed at the woman on the altar. Reaching inside his pocket, the assassin retrieved the pendant Quinn had given him previously. “You lost it,” he said, tossing the jewel at the man’s back.

He caught it perfectly in his hand, not even bothering to move.

Marcus eventually turned around to face him with a wide, sad smile on his face. From the scar on the bridge of his nose to the thick eyebrows, Talon recognized every bit of the man.

“Will you talk to her?” he asked, keeping a straight face to mask the way he really felt about the General.

Marcus’ smile only widened. “Not today,” he answered.

“Then why did you come here?” Talon prodded.

“To ask you something,” Marcus bluntly answered, earning himself a deep glare from Talon. “I have reasons to believe that something devastating will happen in the Freljord,” he explained. “And if it’s true, trust me, it’s way more dangerous than the Institute of War or Jericho Swain.”

Talon crossed his arms over his chest. “Haven’t you heard? The Institute is only dirt and debris now. Wiped from the face of Runeterra, as if it had never existed,” he informed the General. “The High Councilors will still be found and trialed, but I wouldn’t say the Institute is a threat to begin with.”

***

The corridor that connected Prince Jarvan IV’s private apartments to the Red Chambers was permanently empty, silent and brightly illuminated. Katarina walked in silence, her heels clicking on the floor with every step, and her deep stare was solely directed at the blue torches that lightened the path. For the past few weeks in Demacia City, she had been escorted to the Red Chambers by the King’s seneschal, following the Crown Prince’s direct order at the end of every day. The fact that Xin Zhao was not walking in front of her but instead, Garen was, made things less easy for her. The seneschal’s presence had been requested by the King himself, and Jarvan had simply shrugged it off by ordering Garen to escort her, preferring to be left alone to discuss confidential matters with Luxanna Crownguard. Katarina knew that Garen wanted to stay with them, with his sister, rather than acting as her personal guard.

The uneasiness and discomfort between them was new to her. She had felt many things for him—hatred, rivalry, affection, but dead silences were never a part of anything they shared. Katarina let out a sigh at the sight of the red doors of her bedchambers. At least, it was over, she figured.

“Captain Zelos informed me that Officer Karris isn’t on duty tonight,” Garen told her in a professional tone. “His daughter was born earlier today. Given the fact that Jarvan allows only a few soldiers to guard your door, it will be my duty tonight,” he added, opening the red doors and waiting for her to get in.

Katarina fixed the front of her High Command uniform, her forearms covering her stomach as she clasped her hands together. She nodded at him, refusing to look at him and hoping he wasn’t staring at her either. “Goodnight,” she whispered, before hurrying inside.

She slammed the doors and locked them behind her, her fingers covering her mouth as she tried not to empty her stomach right then and there. Convincing herself that she needed to rest, Katarina quickly got rid of her clothes and climbed inside the bed. She would be riding back to Noxus with Talon at dawn, although he had made it clear that they wouldn’t stay for long, not that she minded. The swelling of her lower belly was faint and barely visible, but she couldn’t afford to wait for anyone to notice it. The mere idea of traveling to Noxus Prime was dangerous, and perhaps there was still a way for her to avoid it. There was only one place she wanted to be at that moment, and it was past the Guardian’s Sea that separated Valoran from the Eastern Isles.

***

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.

Heels clicked on the floor, and Emilia LeBlanc strutted inside, her hips swaying as she came closer. Swain shifted in his seat, his crimson stare narrowing at the sight of her amethyst orbs.

“Grand General,” she greeted him. “I haven’t had the pleasure of your company for some time,” she told him in an overly sad tone. “Thankfully, Beatrice knows how to keep me company,” she added, turning her head to glance at the raven that flew outside the window, trying to get in, her once scarlet eyes now a dull peanut color.

Swain followed her gaze, his clawed fingers curling around the hilt of his cane upon realizing the meaning of her words. Emilia LeBlanc had collected his mind and secrets, which were once in custody of the six-eyed raven. Now that she bore his soul, she secured her existence and rooted the Black Rose within the Noxian High Command, for getting rid of her would only mean one thing; ending his own existence.

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