The lifeless body hung from the arch, the wrists held together by a knotted rope. Skin clung to bones, as if the corpse was several months old, but the way the face and throat was swollen was a clear indication of the brutal poison that had taken away the man’s life. All around them, the crowd cheered and screamed that justice had been made, but LeBlanc’s wide brown eyes focused on the Grand General who waved his hands at the people. She saw Katarina Du Couteau faint in the arms of her father’s ward, only to be tossed to the ground when several guards grabbed Talon and dragged him away. The Pale Woman pursed her lips, glancing one last time at Marcus Du Couteau, and with two long strides she reached Swain, tugging on his elbow.
“What did you do?” she hissed, trying to keep her voice low.
Blood eyes glared down at her. “It was all you, Evaine.” Nodding at the Hand of Noxus, he pointed at the two prisoners who had been brought before him. “To me,” he ordered.
Relivash’s entire body was shaking uncontrollably and sweat rolled down his face as he couldn’t tear his eyes away from what was left of Marcus Du Couteau, while Farnsley had to be kicked into consciousness. Swain stumbled closer, grunting as he bent forward.
The High Councilor whimpered. “Sir—General—You-Your Grace,” he fumbled with words.
Swain raised an eyebrow, then exchanged amused looks with General Darius. “Did you hear that?” Laughing, he whispered, “You did an astounding job, both of you.” Praising them more, he added, “Pretending to be fleeing the capital, baiting two of the vilest traitors of Noxus – is there something you would like to ask in return?”
Relivash swallowed hard. “I-I—please, let us go. We won’t say a word.” Beside him, Farnsley nodded frantically.
Swain tilted his head, examining the request, before raising a clawed finger at them. “I could,” he acknowledged. “But Relivash, we had an agreement. You gain control of the Institute of War and the League’s nexuses, and I bring you the dragons to tie to the Fields. Now, the Institute is lost, the nexuses are lost, and the dragons?” He hummed briefly. “They will melt this,” he pointed at the Immortal Bastion behind him, “to the ground. There will be no Empire left, only dawn over wasted remains.”
The High Councilor shook his head, his chubby hands grabbing at the hem of Swain’s robes. “It was her,” he cried, pointing at the Pale Woman who stood close. “Sh-she gave all the evidence to that man and now—”
Swatting his hands away, Swain interrupted his rant, “I will have to go through a lot of trouble to fix your mistakes, not that I won’t be able to, in the end.” Straightening his back and rolling his shoulders, he ordered the Raedsels, “Unlock the cages.”
Relivash’s grey eyes widened to inhuman proportions at the sight of two large drakehounds crawling closer. Taller than horses with black scales covering their bodies, the beasts were not a common sight. Relivash had heard stories about noble Noxian families foolishly keeping drakehounds as pets, thinking such creatures brought them closer to the once glory of the noble houses of the Reign of Iron. He had seen these two beasts before as they dragged Swain’s carriage around in Kalamanda, although feeling their smoky breath against his flesh wasn’t something he had been looking forward to.
Swain placed a clawed hand on one of the drakehounds’ back, and the next thing he knew, Farnsley screamed right beside him. Relivash fell backwards as his once colleague was gored to the point his insides were showing. His throat was ripped off first, silencing the cries and pleas for forgiveness, then the scaled creature planted its talons inside Farnsley’s stomach. Nostrils flared and the drakehound coughed a cloud of smoke, burning the poor man’s flesh before feasting on it. Relivash remained frozen in place, not even feeling the Grand General’s hand on his shoulder.
“They are very hungry,” Swain whispered. “I will make sure that they are fed three times a day, otherwise they might not like me anymore. Thankfully, our dungeons are filled with war prisoners and thieves. I will make sure you have a first-row seat for this,” he explained, rubbing the High Councilor’s shoulder.
Grand General Swain limped back to the entrance of the Immortal Bastion, his gaze never leaving LeBlanc’s face as he ordered General Darius. “Escort Lady Du Couteau to her mansion. Ten of our best soldiers will guard the entrance.”
“What about the other one?” Darius asked, glancing at a very restrained Talon, whose arms were bent at an awkward and painful angle behind his back.
Swain looked back at Relivash, then smiled at the General. “He is in line for Relivash’s personal show.”
The sound of shallow breathing was the only noise that could be heard in the Crown Prince’s bedchambers. Short breaths signaled the pain the half-dragon who rested between satin sheets was going through. Her amethyst tresses weren’t braided for once but sprawled over the soft pillows. Cuts marred the light, purple skin of her face, and she was missing several scales on her arms. The moment she crashed inside the palace, Jarvan had ordered every healer of the Citadel to clean her entire body and nurse her wounds, and he had decided that his own chambers would be hers for the time being. He had barely been able to rest himself, spending most of his time by her side. He knew that the healers had noticed not only the extent of her wounds but also the nature of her skin. Dragon scales and searing hot blood gave away the fact that she wasn’t entirely human, but Jarvan didn’t care in the least.
Shyvana had woken up the previous night, and he had been there for her. She had coughed and held his forearm, ranting about dragons, slayers, and the Institute of War, but he had been too focused on asking her what happened, all the while apologizing for not coming to her rescue earlier. Shyvana had disgregarded all of that, repeating that she didn’t need him to come after her, but he still felt guilty for the way she was injured. Apparently, she had been held hostage in Noxus, inside a manor visited by General Swain and High Councilor Relivash, and other people she had never seen before. Jarvan had carefully explained the ongoing situation at the Institute and the aggravating evidence left behind by Katarina’s father. There was nothing to worry about, he said, but he knew that Shyvana didn’t agree.
The half-dragon had grabbed his hand forcefully, begging him to listen to her and to help her slay the remaining dragons in Valoran, the children of her mother, Yvva, and to bring their carcasses to the League. The strongest creatures wouldn’t be easy to kill, but by tying them to the nexuses they wouldn’t be able to destroy villages or even Demacia City if they happened to sense her presence there. Prince Jarvan IV couldn’t understand the urgency of the entire matter, but he wouldn’t question her motives. Shyvana had saved his life, and deep down he firmly believed that defending her village at the feet of Wrenwall by slaying Yvva wasn’t enough to repay her loyalty. He had promised her that Demacia would be her home, and he intended on keeping that promise.
He brushed his knuckles against the side of her face, and Jarvan didn’t move from his spot until he heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” he ordered.
Xin Zhao quietly walked in, his brown eyes glancing at the woman who still rested. “The King requests to see you, Your Royal Highness.”
Jarvan wanted to roll his eyes, but he simply stood up, fixing his deep blue vest and the collar of his golden cape. “Are the decrees ready?”
Xin Zhao bowed his head. “Yes, Your Royal Highness. Demacian citizens have been informed of the Circle of the Illuminators’ official status as the Wardens of the Kingdom, and several volunteers answered your call for a dragonslayer force.”
“Who are they?”
“Some are champions of the League of Legends, Your Royal Highness. They come from Demacia, the Freljord, and even from Mount Targon.” Clearing his throat, the Seneschal added, “If that is alright, I would like to enroll as well, Your Royal Highness.”
Jarvan smiled softly, nodding. “You are more than welcome. Shyvana said that on her way back she scouted the Ironspike Mountains, and the Fyrone Flats, in the southern territories of Urtistan. It will not be easy.”
Xin Zhao held his stare, knowing that it could only mean one thing. Many of them would die trying to accomplish this mission. Not fazed in the least, the Seneschal of Demacia informed the Crown Prince, “Bandle City of Yordle Land didn’t answer positively to this. The little felines state they have a tradition of dragon-training.”
The Crown Prince frowned at that, trying not to laugh. “You mean that one-meter tall creatures train dragons? Have you ever seen a dragon, Xin Zhao?”
The graying steward licked his lips. “It is not my place to judge.”
Jarvan nodded, cutting their conversation short. “Thank you, for everything. I will now visit my father.”
The King hadn’t left his private apartments ever since he returned from Kalamanda. The Demacian Council had been put in charge of governing the kingdom, and healers from across Valoran had been summoned to the Court, all of them working day and night to find a cure for the King’s condition. Jarvan had visited his father only once, shortly after his own return, but he quickly realized that his father didn’t want to be disturbed most of the time. He lied in bed, stared outside as he kept the windows always open, and his decaying figure worried the entire kingdom. Jarvan figured that the only reason his presence was requested was related to his recent actions. The King might have been confined to his bed, he always had guards and his own steward for reports.
The guards who stood proudly in the corridor saluted the Crown Prince by lowering their lances and spears at the sight of him. His golden cape flew behind him, the sun lighting the path as its rays hit the marble floors through the cracks of the old petricite walls. Captain Zelos bowed his head as Jarvan reached the doors to his father’s chambers, and let the Crown Prince in. Jarvan walked past the trophies his father kept in the opulent living room, and took long strides until he reached the King’s bedchambers.
Blue eyes caught the sight of King Jarvan III lying with his eyes closed, deep breaths causing his chest to heave. Jarvan noted that his sheets had yet to be changed, and it seemed that his father had less hair than the last time they saw each other.
“Father,” he greeted.
The King’s eyes cracked open, and he coughed before he was able to speak. Rushing to his side, Jarvan poured him some water, and his father winced as he tried to sit up.
“Better?” Jarvan asked, helping the King rest his back against the headboard.
“Keep quiet, you fool,” the older man said through gritted teeth. “Do you think I don’t know what you did?” His head lolled to the side as he tried to shake it in disapproval. “The Wardens of the Kingdom,” he muttered. “You gave power and recognition to a bunch of fanatics.”
Jarvan’s stare darkened. “You knew they existed.”
“I know everything that happens in this forsaken place,” the King corrected. “An alliance with Katarina Du Couteau, a Noxian assassin,” he emphasized. “An official cult for arcane arts,” he went on. “And now a dragonslayer expedition?” The King began to laugh bitterly. “Do you want to be a hero, Jarvan?” he asked with a pointed look. “Do you think that you will secure an alliance with an Empire who has been trying to crush us for centuries? That winged creatures will bend before you, and that mages will help you whisper in their ears?
“You are an idiot.” The King coughed again, closing his eyes and resting a wrinkled hand on his stomach. “You were born as a Lightbringer – as Lightshields, we are the designated rulers under the guidance of the Light Caster faith. There is a reason we left magic and runes in the hands of the Institute of War, but you were eager to destroy them along with your common sense.”
The Crown Prince’s hands balled into fists, refusing to keep listening. “They killed our men on the DSS Excursion, pretended to work in the best interest for Valoran, only to instigate a war between nations who didn’t want it!”
The King rewarded his outburst with a cold stare. “Sometimes tension between nations is what keeps a continent together,” he said. “You are angry, Jarvan, but what did you even lose in Kalamanda?” he asked seriously. “Nothing,” he answered himself. “You are alive, healthy, with perfectly strong legs.
“What the Institute of War did was for our best interest. The nexuses cannot fall into anyone’s hands. But you were never on the verge of witnessing a Rune War yourself to understand that, were you?” King Jarvan III chuckled bitterly. “Putting Demacia against Noxus to prevent the two most powerful city-states from mining one of the sources of magic – does it really sound that terrible, Jarvan?
“Tension and conflict remind the people what their ideals are and what they stand for. It is called patriotism,” he spat, his dark eyes looking down at his own son. “And you,” the King concluded, “are not a ruler. With what right do you bypass the Demacian Council, and your own King?”
Jarvan’s face reddened, feeling the tips of his ears burn as he refrained from answering his father’s provocation.
“Go now,” the King ordered. “Lady Buvelle will soon bring me my daily dose of Draught of Lies. She says that without the vial the pain could kill me, and I’ve had enough of your face.”
Jarvan stood up abruptly, his narrowed eyes never leaving his father’s face as the old man shifted comfortably in his bed, both his hands resting on his chest as if to feel his own heartbeat. The Crown Prince stomped out of the King’s bedchambers, stopping only when he spotted his reflection in one of the colorful glass windows. The bags under his eyes made him look older than he was, and it was in that moment that he noted that from the neat, low ponytail, to the way his golden cape draped half of his body, he was unconsciously mimicking his father in every way. His hands grabbed the ties around his collar, and he tugged, letting the royal garment fall to the ground.
Upon exiting the bedchambers, Jarvan’s blue eyes looked for Captain Zelos, but he only found Lady Sona Buvelle with a tray full of medicinal herbs and a vial. The young healer bent her knees as she bowed, and Jarvan nodded at her, although his stare lingered on the tray.
“Young Lady Buvelle,” he spoke in a gentle tone. “My father would like to rest today. You can go.”
Sona frowned at that, her big blue eyes looking at the contents on the tray. She lifted it, trying to let the Crown Prince understand how important her daily visit was.
“You can go,” Jarvan repeated in a lower tone, the coldness of his own stare freezing her in place.
It wasn’t until sunset, as she sat on a dusty wooden box on the deck of ship that sailed for Ionia, sobs racking her chest as the bells of the Temple of the Lightbringers rang, that she understood the severity of her actions.
A single snowflake fell in the palm of her hand, and Luxanna tugged on her hood, her blue eyes eyeing the skies. Snow rarely fell in Demacia, and the weather wasn’t even cold enough to cause an early winter. Hugging her chest, she hurried herself inside the Crownguard Palace, her brother holding the doors for her rather than having the guards do it.
The two siblings walked down the hallways in silence, occasionally greeting the maids who would be working on cleaning the windows and whispering about the unusual weather. Garen escorted his sister to her bedchambers, a scowl marking his features and his steps heavier than ever. After the Crown Prince decreeted that the Circle of the Illuminators had become an official organization that studied the arcane arts, Luxanna had left the Citadel of Dawn to gather some of her belongings at the headquarters of the Circle. Garen had accompanied her in silence. Upon returning, she tried her best to explain where she had been and what she had been doing, and he was still getting used to the idea that he had been wrong when he didn’t listen to her years ago. His mind was still processing the fact that she was not only a mage, but a future Master, and their mother had meant to rip her powers away from her, in the most brutal way one could imagine. And it all happened because he didn’t listen.
Luxanna fought back the tears that threatened to spill from the corners of her eyes as she pushed the doors of her bedroom open. Her combs were still on the vanity, full of blonde hair, and her closet was open, the messy clothes she wore as a teenager scattered on the floor. Her small fingers traced the edges of the elegant bed she used to sleep in and she smiled when her eyes caught the glimpse of a book on the end table.
“There’s still the last book I read,” she said.
Garen stared at her and folded his arms behind his back. “I ordered the maids to leave everything intact even as they cleaned.”
His sister’s smile widened as she flipped the pages of the faerytale book. “You ordered,” she repeated. “I keep forgetting that you’re now Lord Crownguard. I always hear about the Captain of the Dauntless Vanguard, but you’re more than that.” Setting the book down, she asked, “How did he die, our father? I just heard about it at the Circle. I was very young so they didn’t share any detail. They didn’t know I barely knew him.”
Garen walked up to her, circling her shoulders with one arm. “He was ill,” he answered. “He was injured in a battle at Fossbarrow,” he explained. “His wounds never healed completely and he often suffered from heavy fever and eventually, one day, he didn’t wake up.”
Luxanna looked at her brother’s face, frowning. “You don’t know much yourself, do you?”
He shrugged. “I know what our mother lets me know.”
Sighing, the short blonde caressed his cheek before parting from his embrace. “I know you want me to stay here, I would want that too,” she said, changing the topic. “But Master Zilean wants me to fulfill a request and now that the Circle’s missions have been officialized, I must hurry.”
“This Master cannot do it himself?” Garen grumpily retorted, crossing his arms over his chest.
Luxanna chuckled. “He retired in the Clock Tower, in Urtistan,” she replied. “Master Zilean suffers from chrono-dysplasia; he cannot see the difference between past, present and future anymore. I need to help him.”
Garen shook his head. “But why?”
“Garen,” she said seriously. “That man manipulates time. His knowledge is important and he needs to be able to pass it on. I know that you feel hesitant about the Circle and magic in general, but trust me. This is really important.”
They stood in silence, the only sound that could be heard being the howling wind outside and the windows shaking. The snow fell hard, covering the gardens and freezing the leaves on the trees and the flowers in the bushes. Garen eventually nodded, admitting to himself that there was no way for his sister to change her mind. The cracking of the door snapped them back to reality and an old maid bowed when two pairs of blue eyes stared at her.
“Young lady,” the maid greeted. “Lady Crownguard requests your presence in the Fossian Hall.”
The siblings exchanged a look, but quietly made their way downstairs. The Fossian Hall had been built shortly after the death of Fossian Crownguard I, one of Demacia’s heroes. The Hall was supposed to harbor a pedestal where Fossian’s ashes would be displayed, but eventually his children demanded that their father was buried in the town that would be renamed after him, Fossbarrow. Garen always thought it was rather pitiful that the Crownguard Palace held so many memories of their ancestors, when none of them ever lived there. Everything was for show, as Luxanna used to put it as a child; from the portraits to the ancient weapons, nothing would ever surpass the greatness of King’s Rock in High Silvermere, the homeland of the Crownguard family. The family mansion had been left in charge of a minor branch of the family, since Lord Crownguard’s presence was requested at the Citadel of Dawn.
Lilia Crownguard looked at her children without a hint of a smile, not even when she saw her daughter for the first time in years. She stood next to the largest table of the Fossian Hall, the burning fireplace casting shadows at her feet. She threw the newspaper she was reading on the otherwise empty table and placed a hand on her stomach, her fingers brushing against the silken fabric of her dress.
“Luxanna,” she spoke.
The young girl licked her lips, her blue eyes staring right into Lilia’s amethyst orbs, and she bowed. “Lady Crownguard.”
Years of nevrosity were showing on Lilia’s face, her lips twitching with every breath she took. She broke into a loud sigh, opening her arms and throwing them around her daughter’s shoulders, hugging her close and running a hand up and down Luxanna’s back, before quickly stepping back, her other hand caressing the blonde’s chin. Lilia took another deep breath as she began pacing in front of the tall window that was nearly covered in snow.
“My children,” she said with a strangled voice. “One of them married in secret and the other one is a mage, out of all the things she could have become.”
Luxanna’s head whipped around. “You’re married?” she asked Garen, who promptly nudged her with an elbow and sending her a look that clearly meant that wasn’t the right time to ask questions.
Lilia pressed the palm of her hand against the crown of her head, then let her fingers trace her long braid. “I requested your presence for one simple reason,” she said calmly. “I think the time has come to discuss the future of this family. Clearly none of your actions can be undone.
“I will allow the woman you chose within these walls,” Lilia stated, earning a deep frown from Garen. “She will be allowed to stay until she gives birth to a boy. And even after that,” she added, “she will be allowed to raise him under my personal guidance.”
“What makes you think she wants any of that?” Garen countered defensively.
“I didn’t ask for her permission. She married into this family,” Lilia reminded him before shifting her gaze to her daughter. “And you,” she went on. “You are allowed to keep practicing what you’ve been practicing all these years, under one condition,” their mother spoke harshly. “You will no longer live with other—” She swallowed. “With other mages.”
Garen stepped forward, letting his fist hit the table. “By Demacian laws, you were never allowed to dictate our lives the moment Pieter Crownguard died,” he hissed, the two women gasping at his behavior. “If I am not mistaken,” he went on, narrowing his blue eyes at his mother. “When our father died, I became the rightful lord, and you cannot tell me what I should do, what my bride should do and what my sister should do,” he repeated slowly.
Lilia’s growing anger matched his. “I am your mother and a senior representative of the Demacian Council,” she reminded him bitterly.
Garen shook his head at the woman, diverting his gaze from her and staring at his fist. He wanted to slam it against the table repeatedly, until the wood would crack and he could throw what would be left of it in the fireplace. His jaw tightened, and he glanced at the newspaper his mother had previously discarded. The urge to scrunch up the papers to release some tension was tempting and surely less violent than destroying furniture.
Behind him, Luxanna agreed to her mother’s conditions as she tried to soothe their respective feelings, and Garen bit his tongue before he would offend his mother once again. His blue eyes glanced at the newspaper once more, his face relaxing and the rage he felt dissipating as he read the side article on the front page. Grand General Jericho Swain’s coronation and the Crown of Feathers sentence, he read silently. Kaldera Carnadine reports from Noxus news of the public execution of Lord Marcus Du Couteau, former General of the High Command.
Garen strode out of the Fossian Hall, ignoring both his mother and sister as they called his name. The snow that covered the grounds outside the palace made it hard for him to run to the stables to find his horse, so he settled for one of the mounts that had just dragged a cart of supplies near the back entrance of the gardens. Garen tossed a bag of gold at the merchant who had just sold goods to the servants who lived at the Crownguard Palace, and threw his leg over the saddle.
Kicking the horse into a fast strut, Garen let the frozen snow soak his face as he rode in the direction of the Marshes of Kaladoun, where he would find the main road to Noxus. He had just left the Crownguard Palace when the Temple of the Lightbringers rang its bells. When it rang more than eight times, Garen halted his horse, staring at the peak of the Citadel of Dawn that was still visible in the distance. The bells weren’t ringing to inform the citizens of the time. They were swinging endlessly, signaling the death of King Jarvan III.
Garen stared down at the reins of his horse, ready to ride back and into the direction of the royal palace, when he cursed loudly and resumed his pace, his darkened blue eyes focusing on the road to the Demacian borders.