East from the Howling Marsh, right at the vast borders that separated the Kingdom of Demacia and the Empire of Noxus, the only foliage that breathed life was of a haunting blue color. The sunrays that reached the forest turned the scenery into a painting of purple and dark coral hues. In between the secular trees that separated night from day and Noxus from Demacia, tall columns were erected into an M-shaped palace. Never-ending stairs led to the entrance, where an amethyst minotaur stood alert. Its red eyes scanned the empty surroundings, and it carried a record book that contained at least a thousand pages. The cover bore the crest of the institute the minotaur was guarding – a manuscript opening into a temple that was protected by a runic circle.
The Institute of War was the residence of many champions of the League of Legends, as well as a prison, for the most dangerous ones. It was also the one place where High Councilors met and discussed every crisis or political war that threatened Valoran. Over twenty years had passed since its creation, yet little had changed.
The heavy flapping of wings caught the minotaur’s attention, and he grunted. It wasn’t long before an immortal creature descended from the night skies and greeted him by taking off her golden helmet. The Angel of the Universe was clad in a golden and crimson armor, her holy sword carefully sheathed and strapped to her side.
“Sign me in, Alistar,” she ordered the minotaur, who simply did as she said, and scribbled her name under the ARRIVALS section.
20 April, 21 CLE: Kayle, The Judicator, League Champion.
She hovered into the Institute of War, her wide porcelain wings taking her to the top floor within minutes. The top floor was where every meeting of the High Council of Equity took place, while the other floors were mostly rooms intended to be used by summoners and champions fighting within the League of Legends created by the Institute. The undergrounds and caves were either cells or meditation rooms, but Kayle wasn’t concerned.
As she entered the only room on the top floor, her light blue eyes glanced at the glass ceiling above her head. The stars that burned bright enough illuminated the meeting room, and there was only another champion awaiting the start of the meeting – the Rogue Mage.
“Ryze,” she greeted, leaving her helmet on the crystal table in the middle of the room.
“Kayle,” the mage greeted back, never once lifting his gaze from the scrolls he was reading. His long, black beard contrasted his baldness, and his indigo skin wasn’t a sight Kayle found pleasing.
“Where war and magic are involved, we always seem to be under the spotlight,” she casually said.
“I know what you did,” Ryze whispered, fixing his goggles on his nose as he kept reading.
“And you certainly know why I did it.”
The mage’s black eyes finally looked up, and he sniffed. “When all of this is over,” he said, “what do you think will be left? Where will anyone find shelter, when the nexuses will be left in the open, and the World Runes at the mercy of whoever is able to find them?” Ryze asked her in a monotone.
“What are humans, Void Walkers, Marai, and Dragons to the Universe?” the angel asked him back. “Summoners believe that Judgment is when they pierce the soul of a future champion to see if they are worthy of the League of Legends,” Kayle elaborated with a faint smile on her rosy lips. “But the real Judgment is the one that awaits Runeterra. And it began a long time ago. Before the Reign of Iron, before The Stag and The Owl’s Rift, before Noxus and Demacia.”
Ryze didn’t reply, his night eyes going back to the scroll he was reading.
“Time may fly,” Kayle added in an even more serious tone, “but you will always feel human.”
The Rogue Mage smiled at that, grabbing another scroll. “Which is why I feel for the men who boarded the DSS Excursion.”
Before the angel could retort, the doors opened and the Institute’s Councilors rapidly took their respective seats around the table, but not even their silky golden, white and purple robes could cast a single shadow over Kayle and her perfectly symmetrical beauty. High Councilor Vessaria Kolminye and Editor-in-chief Ralston Farnsley shuffled some documents, worried looks on their faces. Reporter Richor Ebony quickly sat down next to Farnsley and it wasn’t long until High Councilor Kiersta Mandrake asked where their third and most important colleague was.
High Councilor Heywan Relivash hurried himself inside a good twenty minutes later, offering the others a polite smile before taking his seat at the head of the table. “My apologies,” he said, scratching his brown beard. “The ride back from Noxus took longer than expected.”
“Why were you in Noxus?” Ebony immediately asked. “I’m the one in charge of reporting from Noxus.”
Farnsley cleared his throat and shook his head at the young brown-haired reporter.
“It seems that Grand General Boram Darkwill intends on leaving for Kalamanda,” Relivash answered somewhat proudly. “I am glad he made that decision,” he promptly added. “The situation in Kalamanda is escalating too fast, and I believe that the Grand General should speak to King Jarvan III in person.”
“About Kalamanda,” Kolminye butted in, “most villagers have been fleeing for the past month. The growing troops inside and outside the village scared them.”
“If war breaks out in Kalamanda,” Mandrake added, “not only the nexuses will be at risk. The northern parts of Shurima will be devastated, and the League of Legends would prove to be a failure.”
Relivash shook his head at the other two councilors, his squinty grey eyes focusing on Farnsley. “Make sure the Journal of Justice reassures its readers,” he advised. “There is absolutely no reason to fear a major disaster. Ionia is stabilizing its political situation now, and Piltover and Zaun have little interest in fighting each other. Even the King of the Freljord sent us a statement – the Freljord will remain neutral.”
Ebony laughed at that, slamming one of his fists on the table. “The King of the Freljord, you say? There’s a queen in every corner of the Freljord,” the reporter reminded him. “How do you know who has some sort of authority over there?”
Kayle leaned forward, ending their banter. “We must prepare our own intervention. Two opposite leaders on the same territory will lead to war – it has always been like that.” The Judicator eyed the Rogue Mage who sat next to her, but didn’t wait for him to intervene. “In my humble opinion, it is about time we contact the Circle of the Illuminators and their time controllers.”
Vessaria Kolminye narrowed her mahogany brown eyes at the immortal creature, then turned to the Rogue Mage. “What is your advice, Protector of the World Runes?”
There was a moment of silence in the room during which the two League Champions exchanged a deep look.
Grunting, Ryze nodded. “The Judicator is right. We need the Chronokeeper.”
Luxanna was growing anxious.
She had woken up shortly after dawn only to realize she was alone in the ranger’s house. It wasn’t unusual since after several weeks in Uwendale she had memorized Quinn’s habits. She would wake up when it was still night, hunt with her azurite eagle companion Val, and then leave to patrol the hinterlands of Demacia. She would fly west, over High Silvermere and down Needlebrook, quickly scanning through Edessa. It was all very fast thanks to Val, while the average ranger would need weeks, perhaps even months to achieve the same results.
Then there was Talon. Her unlikely companion spent his days in the mountains, and Luxanna wasn’t even completely sure he was still looking for General Du Couteau. It seemed to her that sometimes he was looking for something that was completely different, and it worried her on many levels. First, they couldn’t stay in Uwendale forever. They had come to ask the rangers about some information they couldn’t provide, obviously. Secondly, she also had to travel back to Demacia City. The Masters of the Circle were probably worried about her but most importantly, she still had to warn the Crown Prince about her findings. She couldn’t wait on Talon forever, but there was also not really a way for her to escape Uwendale.
The young blonde woman quickly folded the furs she slept on, and ran into the adjacent room where she would clean up. The clothes she had washed were dry already, so after relieving herself and bathing in freezing water, Luxanna jumped into her clothes and let her now shoulder-length hair dry. Double-checking that no one was back, she sauntered into the kitchen and grabbed a piece of black bread, then retrieved the wand of the Radiant One from under the pile of dirty clothes that was Talon’s.
Luxanna was about to leave the house when she noticed that Quinn’s desk was, for once, very messy, and her personal journal had been left open. Her blue eyes immediately looked away, but the moment her hand touched the door handle, she sighed and turned heels. The initiate cautiously walked back into the main room, and made a turn for the desk. Her heart was thumping inside her chest, almost ready to jump out. It wasn’t very honorable to pry, she reminded herself. Quinn had been the best host she could have hoped for, and a part of her was getting used to living with Quinn, as well as Talon. It was the first time she felt at home with people who were more or less her age.
Her thin fingers brushed against the cover of her journal. She wanted to close it. There were mainly sketches of Val, and some lists of supplies the ranger needed.
“I should just go,” Luxanna whispered, a droplet of water falling from her hair down on the piece of paper she was holding.
1MCL – 125, she read, frowning. Flipping the page, she saw that Quinn had written on the back, too.
I found him on my way back from the northwestern coast of the Conqueror’s Sea. He looked like a beggar who was being escorted by a Demacian officer in a small boat, but Val and I decided to take a closer look. The Demacian officer wasn’t rowing at all. In fact, he was sitting there dead. We brought the suspect back here. He was armed under his dirty clothes and that day was the day the Crown Prince would be at the docks with Cpt. Crownguard. Val and I couldn’t risk it.
Luxanna gulped, dropping that piece of paper. The handwriting on the back was different from the one that was on the front. Shaking her head, she quickly flipped the pages of the journal, trying to find dates that were closer to her arrival with Talon.
Val watches him every night and every day, although there is no way he could escape. He sits deep inside the nest that Val built himself, so I know it’s the safest prison for the time being. I wish I could bring him back to Demacia City where he would be trialed, but I feel there is more to this. I searched him and aside from his weapons, he carried only a golden pendant. A pendant that is only donated to Spiritmight nobles. I still don’t understand his motives, and he’s unwilling to tell me the truth.
Luxanna’s chest was hurting with a mixture of excitement and fear. She flipped another page.
How long will I be able to keep up with this façade? Even Val can’t answer this question for me. Ever since he arrived, I feel like that man was right all along. Talon looks so much like Caleb, but I know that my brother is no longer alive. I saw him fall myself, after being gored by that beast – after he saved the Buvelles. No child can survive that, not in a land where wild beasts feast on human flesh. Still, Talon has his eyes, and that look. That proud, defiant look.
The young Crownguard gasped, nearly dropping the journal. The chair behind her cracked when she pushed it with her hip, and Luxanna jumped, almost cursing at herself for being so nervous. No one would be coming in, she repeated herself. No one.
Unkindness – 325. What does Marcus even mean? His pockets were filled with junk papers, and the pendant. So many questions are left unanswered. Why would a Du Couteau carry a Spiritmight token in his pocket? All of this makes no sense. I should simply send an audiopathic report to Demacia City, so that the guards could take both Marcus Du Couteau and Luxanna Crownguard to Demacia City. One needs to be trialed, and the other one court-martialed for abandoning the ranks she belonged to.
She was only reading past the dot when the door was slammed open. Luxanna screamed, dropping all the documents she was holding, and her blue eyes met Talon’s confused stare.
She immediately ran to him when she noticed he was about to remove his boots and forcefully dragged him outside. The assassin tried to stop her, but she was fumbling and stumbling, frantically looking around. Talon pulled on her arm, holding her by the shoulders while trying to make her look at him and stop panicking.
“What is wrong with you?” he shouted in her face.
“We must leave, now!” Luxanna shouted back, making a strangled noise. “Quinn will send the guards, and I’ll be court-martialed before I even get to warn the Crown Prince about what I read!” Catching her breath, she added, “Oh, and Quinn knows you. And Marcus Du Couteau. She will call the guards for him as well.”
“What—wait,” Talon reasoned, rubbing his eyes. “This doesn’t make any sense. First of all, General Du Couteau would never, and I mean never, get captured by a bird-riding woman. Second of all, because she is a bird-riding woman, how exactly do you plan on running away?”
Luxanna reached inside her short cloak, and pulled out her wand. She twirled it between her fingers and above their heads, before throwing it and bending the light around them.
As they vanished from everyone else’s sight, she whispered, “Like this.”
The silence in the tent was thicker than the tension between the people who were sitting inside. The Kalamandan weather had been less hostile for the past few months, but the heat was slowly coming back and it was unbearable given how crowded the village was. Armies marched and troops stomped the entire territory. Not a single inch of land had been spared. Most villagers had left, seeking refuge in the southern regions of Demacia and in the northern parts of Shurima. King Jarvan III had compared them to the rats that smelled the salty waters on a sinking ship.
There had been only one meeting with Mayor Anson Ridley and General Jericho Swain. It had been right after Garvin’s confession, and both sides had agreed on placing the young man in the custody of Kalamanda’s justice, but his cell was guarded by Demacian and Noxian soldiers at the same time. King Jarvan III had requested an official interrogation, but no progress had been made.
The King sat in his chair, shielded by the Captain of the King’s Guard and the Seneschal. The lines of his face were more pronounced than ever, and his grey hair framed his face in a way that made him look too old. Garen stood near the entrance of the tent, wondering why he had been summoned to begin with. Little could be done in the confines of the royal tent, especially when the Crown Prince refused to join them, preferring to ponder his options alone.
“Laurent,” the King finally spoke.
“Your Majesty?” the tall woman replied.
“Remind me again how many men marched with us.”
The captain glanced at Seneschal Xin Zhao beside her, then puckered her lips. “Two thousand, vassals and banner men included.”
“There are twenty Noxians for every Demacian soldier,” Xin Zhao reminded them all with a stern face.
The King rubbed his forehead, the rings on his fingers nearly denting his flesh.
“Your Majesty,” Garen intervened, “numbers were never in our favor, but Demacian forces never faltered in battle.”
“In battle,” the King emphasized. “But war is knocking at our doors. Besides, the Dauntless Vanguard stayed in the capital to protect our citizens. And the vanguard is the only contingent to have ever won against all odds.”
“Would they start a war without their Grand General?” Fiora asked, her gaze meeting Garen’s for a split second.
“Do you think Darkwill isn’t marching right as we speak?” the King retorted. “This is their biggest opportunity. If they were to win this war, they would end the entire dynasty with a sneeze. I will not risk my son’s life in this desolated place,” he roared. “You two,” he pointed at Fiora and Xin Zhao. “Guard Jarvan’s tent night and day. And if he ever tries to sneak out even to see if the sky is still blue, knock him out.”
The Lightshields’ steward nodded at Garen upon exiting the tent, while Fiora glared at him. Garen was about to ask for permission to excuse himself, when the King called his name, his eyes bloodshot and his stare menacing. “Come forward.”
The commander obeyed, his blue eyes never once looking away.
“How long have you been here in Kalamanda?” the King asked him, as if he didn’t know the answer.
“About eight months.”
“What do you know about Katarina Du Couteau?”
Taken aback, Garen didn’t answer straight away, his mind looking for the reasons that motivated the King to formulate such a question.
“I heard many tavern rumors since my arrival,” King Jarvan III added in a darker tone. “And believe me, Crownguard, as filthy as those rumors are, I still think highly of you. I don’t believe in what I heard.”
Garen felt out of breath. “Your Majesty? I—”
“But no matter what the truth is, don’t let that woman come face-to-face with my son under any circumstance,” the King commanded, raising from his seat and arching his eyebrows at Garen. “If she ever so stares at my son, look at him in the face or even talk to him, first I will have her head.
“And then I will end you personally.”
The wild flowers on the table were dry and their petals littered the tablecloth. A pile of clothes had been abandoned in a corner of the room, and the fireplace wasn’t lit. The entire house was icy and lifeless, the only sound that could be heard being the distant flapping of Val’s wings outside. The entire town was asleep, except for Quinn. The First Ranger sat at the dining table, hands folded and helmet down, her bright honey eyes staring at her desk and at the papers scattered all over the floor. Behind her, the rustling of clothes and light footsteps signaled the presence of another person. Quinn’s frown turned into a grim smile.
“You were right,” she whispered. “The girl read it all.”
“Even the journal?” a masculine voice asked.
“Especially the journal,” Quinn answered. “They left in a hurry, or so the baker told me. They disappeared inside a shield made of daylight, he said.”
“You sound disappointed.”
The Demacian ranger felt the built-up rage imploding from her chest. “I want the truth, Marcus. You kept saying that if I let you live and not bring you to justice right away, you would tell me the truth about Caleb. Talon isn’t my brother,” she spat. “You just made me play a silly game, didn’t you?”
The man standing behind her dragged a chair that was in the corner of the room and brought it right next to hers before sitting down, his emerald eyes searching hers. “Talon and the girl who was with him had to leave,” he answered calmly. “Your journal gave them answers they will work with, while I work with my own.”
Quinn’s honey eyes spoke volumes of anger. “You never even wanted to be found,” she realized.
The middle-aged man smiled softly. “You’re right,” he whispered. “But I did want Talon to come here.”
Furious tears threatened to spill. “Why?” She swallowed hard. “Even if he was Caleb, there’s not much left of him in Talon. So, why?”
Marcus sighed. “It’s a long story.”
“You made my guests leave. I have plenty of time.”
“Very well,” he conceded, leaning back into his chair. “When I was young, there was a woman that I loved a lot. Don’t look at me like that,” he said lightly, scratching his overgrown beard, “every story has a good start.
“The problem was that one of us was born into the wrong family. She was a dream, really. Long, dark hair, pale skin, eyes as blue as the sky, and a very stubborn and impulsive personality. I met her at a war council – negotiations on the creation of what would have turned out to be the Institute of War were already being organized, and she was to marry the ruler of a kingdom.
“It didn’t last very long. Her temper was a force to be reckoned with, but so was her family name. After two months, I convinced her to go home, but she was with child. Thankfully for us, her sister kept our secret, and took her to a safe place. The last time I saw her was the day she gifted me a daughter. I was at a loss,” Marcus confessed, a nostalgic smile gracing his lips. “She was identical. The same skin and almost the same hair. Only the eyes were mine, somewhat.
“My beloved married her ruler shortly after that, and two years later, I met my own wife. I believe Cassandra first fell in love with my daughter and then with me. We were happily married for seven years, until she died in childbirth, and left me with my second daughter, Cassiopeia, and a promise I had to keep. I had seen her love and raise my first daughter as if she had carried her in her womb, and those seven years were probably the happiest years in my firstborn’s life.
“So Cassandra made me promise her that one day I will return that love as well. A man is made of his well-kept promises, Quinn,” Marcus emphasized by looking back at her with an intense look. “And it wasn’t long before I heard that a brat was terrorizing the streets of Noxus.” Marcus chuckled. “Can you imagine? A boy who was not even ten years old, assassinating to survive, and uncatchable by the Raedsels, the best fighters in Noxus Prime. I looked for the boy myself, and only found a homeless wild cat. He tried to kill me as well, but I am the head of the Deathmasters in Noxus,” he said without a hint of arrogance. “I gave him a choice then; die or follow me.
“There wasn’t much he remembered about himself. He spoke in an accent that was clearly from the peaks of Uwendale, and all he could say to me was, ‘talons. So many talons’. His face was covered with scars, and whenever a raven would fly past him he would jump.”
Marcus glanced at the woman who sat beside him, and paused his story when he saw her cover her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking softly.
“I had to fight him very hard to convince him to join the League of Legends,” Marcus finally added, massaging his temples. “I figured the Judgment of the High Council would help him remember his past, but there was nothing he could see past the dark alleys of Noxus. But when you found me, it wasn’t hard to notice the similarities. You say that there isn’t much left of Caleb, but it isn’t true.”
Quinn wiped the tears she hadn’t been able to bite back, and stared at Marcus, a lost look adorning her features.
“Although he didn’t find anything about me here, he stayed for weeks. He climbed the mountains and the trees, he brought you wood and meat – he was among his peers. Perhaps he never even left Noxus Prime to find me. He could be looking for himself in the end.”
Quinn licked her lips, her eyes leaving Marcus’ face and staring at the stained tablecloth. “I wish,” she whispered, clearing her throat when she felt her vocal chords being sore, “I wish I could say I hoped he would be dead instead of raised by a Noxian. But the irony is that you have a half-Demacian daughter and you fathered them both.”
General Du Couteau chuckled at that, closing his eyes for a moment. “And she would enjoy knowing that, even though she would never admit it out loud.”
“Why would you say that?”
Emerald green eyes bore into her own eyes. “Because like her biological mother, she wants the things she cannot have.”
Marcus stood up, careful as to not make too much noise, and placed his large hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “Don’t let my story give you the impression that you were wrong about me. I made many mistakes when it comes to my children. And I still assassinated that Demacian officer, so bring me back to Demacia City.”
The ranger reached inside her pocket to grab her handkerchief and blew her nose before standing up, nodding. She didn’t know where she would go from there, nor if she would see Talon ever again. It was up to her to handle the truth she had been seeking for so long, she figured. She could only ask Marcus for knowledge. What she would do with it was completely up to her.