The sun was already fading behind a black celestial body that slowly covered it. Honey orbs narrowed at the sight of it. It was that time of year again, Quinn realized as she sat at the peak of the hill where she and Valor had carved their respective homes into. Even from her perch, she could hear the heart of Uwendale buzzing with activities and loud talks. It wouldn’t be too long until the start of the solar eclipse, the one that marked the beginning of the Harrowing in Runeterra. Celebrating the celestial alignment was a longstanding tradition that rural people honored every year, believing it was a time of foreboding. Everyone else in Valoran only saw it as an opportunity to dress up and throw large costume parties, but in Uwendale, tales were still told and believed in when it came to the Harrowing and to the Black Mist that rolled over lands, seas, carrying the dead and capturing the living through feverish nightmares. It was known that the Black Mist emerged from the depths of faraway isles that no adventurer ever returned from.
Valor’s high-pitched whistle interrupted her thoughts and Quinn gave him an apologetic smile, brushing her fingers through the eagle’s feathers. She slowly went back to cleaning his feathers while scratching his head. Valor made a piping note, and closed his eyes as he rested his large body in her lap, his wide wings draped over Quinn’s legs.
Quinn had just finished removing some dry leaves from Valor’s plumage when the azurite eagle cracked his eyes open, flapping his wings. Her back stiffened, and she let her friend take flight.
“I didn’t think you’d come back,” she said to the silent figure that had cut her time with Valor short. Turning around, she spotted Talon’s scowling face.
“I’m not here for you,” he said, wanting to make things clear from the beginning.
“I know,” Quinn replied, not offended in the least. “You’re here for yourself. Where’s the girl?” she asked curiously.
Talon didn’t answer.
“You’d have a better chance with her if you acknowledged your heritage,” the ranger added with a dry smile.
Valor hovered above their heads, the flapping of his wings rustling Quinn’s short, dark blonde hair.
Talon arched an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Quinn scoffed, turning her back to him again and hugging her knees to her chest when the mountain wind blew colder. “As a child, you wouldn’t stop talking about the day you would become a Demacian knight. It’s all we both ever wanted,” she told him. “Our mother was a well-known ranger, and our father the best hunter of Uwendale. We were both ready to follow their footsteps, until King Jarvan III arrived as he inspected the East Wall of Demacia, the one that separates the kingdom from the wild lands beyond.
“You stood there gaping at the soldiers’ sunsteel plates. You wanted to become one of them and even more; you wanted to be knighted one day, so that you would protect the kingdom, its inhabitants, and the noble lady who would stand by your side,” Quinn recalled with a nostalgic smile. “And then the Buvelles decided to foolishly hunt a giant tuskvore in the northern mountain. Our father’s crossbows were not fast enough, and the tuskvore gored several youngsters of the Buvelle family, as well as you, while you saved Lady Lestara’s life,” she revealed. “I saw you all fall down that cliff, crying and shouting at the world.
“When we managed to climb down the mountain to bury the bodies, I was certain you were one of them,” the ranger whispered, letting a single tear roll down her left cheek. “So, I visited your grave every day, until the tuskvore approached again, and nearly killed me as well. When I saw Valor’s azurite wings, I thought I was dead too. Azurite eagles were said to be extinct, but Valor descended from the skies and saved me. If it wasn’t for him, we would have never seen each other again.”
Quinn heard him walk up to her, but Talon never sat down beside her, preferring to keep as much distance as possible. “Your brother is dead, Quinn,” he reminded her. “I am not Caleb. Not anymore, at least,” he replied without a hint of sympathy.
“Whether you want it or not,” she retorted, standing up, “this will always be your home. I saw the way you behaved when you were here,” Quinn went on, her light-brown eyes staring into his. “You helped everyone, in your own way.”
Talon tore his eyes away from her. “I wanted information – the kind of information you kept away from me,” he corrected.
“He’s not here,” Quinn told him plainly. “I brought him back to Demacia City a couple months ago. Justice speaks for itself.”
The Noxian assassin nearly laughed at that. “Really? Because if Marcus Du Couteau was able to send us clues from Demacia City, it means he was never really brought to justice.” Closing the gap between them, Talon asked, “Why is that?”
“It’s the pact we made,” the First Ranger replied softly. “He would give me answers and I would bring him wherever he wanted.”
Lifting his hand and bringing it between their bodies, Talon shoved a wrinkled paper in her face. “He left a map of the dungeons of the Citadel of Dawn. Your Crown Prince says the indications on it aren’t correct, because they lead nowhere.”
Quinn didn’t even grab the map to look at it. “There are specific isolated cells in the dungeons for Noxian outlaws,” she informed him with a smirk, her honey pools scanning every scar on his face. “Marcus was certainly placed in one of them.”
She whistled then, and before he knew it, Valor’s large talons curled around his shoulders. The sight of claws caused Talon’s heart to race uncontrollably, and he glared back at the ranger before him. “What are you doing?”
Quinn shrugged before leading the way. “I’ll show you.”
“Is this a joke?” Talon commented.
Several pairs of eyes glanced at the Uwendale ranger. Prince Jarvan IV had ordered the guards of the dungeons to leave their spots, and Quinn had led him, Talon and Katarina inside, specifying which cell had to have been Marcus’. The First Ranger couldn’t know for sure since she had left the Headmaster of House Du Couteau at the entrance of the dungeons and in the care of the royal guards, but the only isolated cell that respected the indications on the map Talon brought with him pointed at the hole before their eyes.
Katarina frowned at the sight of the cell that wasn’t big enough for one person. She herself could barely crawl inside; she couldn’t imagine her father managing to slide in and patiently wait in there. Coming to rest on all fours, she patted her way around, finding it hard not to empty her stomach right then and there. The stench of death and excrements was strong and nauseating. She figured Jarvan wasn’t lying when he said that Noxian prisoners were often left to rot in their own misery, away from the light of day, no matter the severity of their crimes. She heard Talon argue with both the ranger who had brought him back and Jarvan, but she didn’t bother listening to them. Katarina had been waiting for over a year to find out more about her father’s sudden disappearance. If he had been placed in that cell at some point, she had to see for herself.
The past weeks in Demacia had been everything but pleasant. Jarvan had confined her to his own private apartments and taken her weapons away from her. She had decent meals and clothing, but she was kept as a prisoner. The Crown Prince seemed too concerned with the royal guards’ behavior, and thought that if anyone saw her, the entire investigation would be compromised. Jarvan ordered only a few trusted members of the Dauntless Vanguard to protect her and guard her doors, knowing that if rumors spread, hot-headed soldiers would be tempted to break in and murder her on the spot. A part of her thought that Jarvan would have sent Garen himself to watch over her, but the last time she saw him was when she arrived at the Citadel. She hadn’t asked about him, and apparently neither had he.
“Stop blaming her,” Jarvan countered when Talon pointed fingers at Quinn. “You’re the one who said that the map was what we were looking for. And here we are, at a dead end.”
A strangled cry ended their banter, and the three of them rushed to the entrance of the narrow cell. They heard a loud thud, and a flow of curses.
“Kat?” Talon asked in a concerned tone.
“There was a hole,” the redhead muttered from under them.
The brown-haired assassin eyed the ranger who crouched beside him and he grabbed her by the collar. Quinn pressed her fist against his chest, trying to push him away, when he sent her stumbling forward.
“Ladies first,” Talon said as he heard her fall.
Jarvan shook his head, looking at him in disgust, before sliding down the cell himself, scrunching his nose at the smell.
The room beneath the cell was not what they expected. The four of them stood in silence as they took in their surroundings. The room was faintly illuminated by a murder-hole in the right corner, and the walls were covered in papers. A clean and empty desk sat in the left corner, opposite to the bed that was made. A large, wooden table had been thrown against the wall behind them, right where the light couldn’t reach the floor. From the furniture to the record books stored away, it seemed to be an old meeting room that had been turned into a personal study room.
Jarvan took a few steps closer to one of the walls that was covered in documents, his eyes widening at the nature of the information sprawled before their eyes. “This room is—”
“The Noxian infiltrators’ meeting room,” Katarina finished his sentence, crossing her arms under her chest. “I didn’t think it still existed.”
Talon sent her a questioning look.
“During the Old Wars,” she explained, “Noxian agents infiltrated the Demacian government to learn about their military plans and political strategy. Noxus was a fragile Empire, and Demacia was the first to contest the legitimacy of its existence.”
Quinn stepped forward, eyeing the record book that was left open on top of the desk. “Your father never mentioned this place.” Flipping the pages, she added. “Do you know any of these names?”
Katarina narrowed her eyes at the Demacian ranger, not feeling at ease with the knowledge of this woman’s involvement when it came to both her father and Talon. Her dark eyes scanned the pages before her, confusion marking her features. She did know the names written on it, to the point she could safely say that all Noxian infiltrators seemed to the be the headmasters or headmistresses of the oldest families of Noxus, as well as members of the Order of the Deathmasters.
“Du Couteau, Ecaterina,” Talon read, standing at her right. “Wasn’t she one of your ancestors?” he asked.
Katarina nodded, and Jarvan butted in, “Are all first daughters named the same in your family?”
“Says the fourth Jarvan,” she retorted, rolling her eyes.
Talon kept reading. “Kythera, Elise; Herrbel, Thom; X., Evaine,” he stopped, frowning. The last name was crossed out and replaced by another. “Black, Rose,” Talon whispered in disbelief, before flipping the pages and going back and forth. “These are records of the Old Wars,” he added.
“This can’t be true,” they heard Jarvan say to himself as he read the parchments left hanging on the walls. The Crown Prince swallowed loudly. “These are transactions related to the DSS Excursion.”
Katarina immediately walked up to him, her heartbeat racing. She remembered the accusations made towards Noxus the previous year, right after the cargo ship was declared lost at sea. “And?” she asked.
“They’re all fake,” Jarvan said, pointing at the scribbling Marcus Du Couteau had done in the corners of the documents. “Goods such as hedicila elastica are not made in Demacia, nor in the Freljord for that matter.”
“It can only be found in Fallgren,” Katarina agreed. “And Fallgren is a Noxian island.”
Jarvan’s blue eyes nearly bulged out as his fingers traced the name of the recipient of the transaction bills. “Look,” he told her, pointing at the anagram General Du Couteau deciphered.
“Who is Rahvae Newishly?” the redhead beside him wondered out loud.
“Heywan Relivash,” the Crown Prince read. “That bastard.”
Behind them, Talon dropped the record book he was reading, then shoved it into Quinn’s stomach. “The Institute of War was behind the DSS Excursion incident?”
“Not only that,” Katarina answered, quickly scanning through the next set of evidence. “This is an article of the Journal of Justice from last month,” she pointed out. “My father crossed out the destruction of the Ivory Ward marketplace, and circled the murder of Alowicious Chucat, the Master Artificer of the Institute of War. And this,” she pointed to another order signed by Rahvae Newishly, “is dated only a few days before the mine collapse in Kalamanda.”
“Relivash wanted Chucat to keep the secret,” Jarvan reasoned out loud. “And look,” he pointed at another bill. “This is proof of the purchase of Nyzer poison, only three days before Garvin’s death. The bill was sent to a company named Fraternally Sons.”
Quinn shook her head at their conclusion. “If the Institute of War is behind these events, why would the Journal of Justice, which is released by the Institute itself, relate absolutely everything?”
Unpinning the last bill, Jarvan pointed at another deciphered anagram and showed it to the ranger. “Because this company doesn’t exist. This is Ralston Farnsley, Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Justice.”
“The Journal is the way they communicate without having to meet,” Talon concluded.
“They wanted the last war to break out,” Katarina added in a whisper, her throat tightening with anger. “They wanted Noxus and Demacia to be at each other’s throats.” She laughed bitterly. “It makes sense, if you think about it,” she told the other three people in the room. “That’s how they managed to claim the nexuses for themselves, and they’re now building a new Field of Justice,” Katarina explained, her eyes drifting to the pinned article relating the aftermath of the battle.
They stood in silence as they let all the information slowly sink in, Jarvan’s uneasy stare often directed at Katarina. He felt as if he had been brought up inside a bubble made of lies, where everyone pointed at an enemy who wasn’t even the first in line to wish his misery. Noxian troops had invaded his lands many times, nothing would erase that, but the realization that the Empire had never wanted to start a war ever since the creation of the Institute was troubling, especially when those who forged peace treaties were the ones pushing old rivalries to the point of their mutual downfall.
From where he stood, Talon glanced one last time at the record book and at the crossed-out name on the list. “There is something I don’t understand,” he confessed quietly. “If all of this is true, then why did General Du Couteau not conduct the investigation for the High Command? He and Boram Darkwill were close, and well, nothing prevented him from letting us know what he was up to.”
“Thom Garvin,” Jarvan blurted out. “Thom Garvin was brought back to Kalamanda by Jericho Swain, who pretended to fight me during the battle.”
Quinn’s eyebrows shot up. “Pretended, Your Royal Highness?”
Jarvan nodded at the ranger. “General Swain was dueling someone who wore my armor and my face, but it wasn’t me,” he explained. “I wasn’t at the camp when the battle erupted, and I saw everything. And I am positive Swain himself knows it wasn’t me; the man isn’t a fool, and he’s the one who brought Garvin to confess I gave him orders to destroy the Demacian mine, which I didn’t.”
“But the other you did,” Katarina concluded. Glancing back at Talon, she added, “Father left the High Command because of him.”
Talon narrowed an eye at her. “Do you really think that Marcus Du Couteau, of all people, fears a limping old man and whatever tricks he could pull to steal someone’s face?” Coming to stand right in front of her, his body towering over hers, he added, “Do you think he would leave Darkwill’s side when such a threat is parading around Noxus Prime?”
“Yes,” Quinn’s voice answered instead of Katarina’s, and they all turned to look at her. “Marcus Du Couteau is a father,” the ranger told him. “If ignorance can keep his children safe, he would rather pretend to be dead, don’t you think?”
When Talon didn’t respond, Jarvan cleared his throat and began to reorganize all the evidence left behind by Katarina’s father. The tension inside the meeting room was too thick for his liking. “All of this must be made public,” he changed the topic. He exchanged a look of silent understanding with the red-haired assassin beside him and decided, “Stay by my side, Lady Du Couteau. I would appreciate it.”
Quinn stared at their interaction with curiosity and interest, but remained silent. Reaching inside her pocket, she retrieved the golden pendant Marcus carried around, and placed it in Talon’s palm.
“Marcus probably didn’t mean to leave this behind along with all this evidence. It was in Val’s nest.”
Fingers fisted the emerald sheets and light-brown eyes stared intently at the ceiling. She could hear from the deepest corners of the manor all the ruckus that was being made upstairs. It was a pleasantly sad melody to her ears. She had been waiting for several years and the moment had finally come. The man upstairs was cursing and pushing furniture away, crashing items and sending records flying across his room. Her blood red lips curved up in amusement, and her eyes slowly shut like the curtains of her room as they draped the tall windows.
The feeling of wet flesh caressing her intimate folds caused a moan to erupt from her lips, and LeBlanc sighed shortly after that. Long fingernails caressed the wild mane that had found home between her thighs, and her legs parted a bit more. Her lover thoroughly worked on achieving the desires she sought, and the Matron of the Black Rose was quick to tighten her legs around her.
“Lise,” she whispered.
Pointed teeth bit down the skin of her inner thigh and LeBlanc felt the blood spill and roll down her skin, droplets falling between the juncture of her legs. The Spider Queen licked it away, inching her tongue down her bottom and up to the hidden nub before wrapping her soft lips around it, tugging slightly. Her movements became faster and her claws embedded themselves deep inside LeBlanc’s flesh.
Three distinct knocks on her bedroom door caused her to groan loudly, but the Spider Queen didn’t stop her ministrations. One of her hands instead traveled up the Matron’s chest, forcefully pulling on her breast while she sucked on the sensitive nub, drawing mewls and juices by doing so.
The door was pushed open, and a pale blonde man cleared his throat, casually examining his fingernails when neither of the two women acknowledged his presence.
“Rose,” he spoke.
“Petal,” LeBlanc sighed, biting down on her lip while Elise rubbed her folds faster.
“Our friend seems distressed.” Sniffing the air, he added, “Your blood isn’t as sweet,” he commented. “I am guessing I should add more beet to your vials.”
“Lise,” she repeated, brushing the Spider Queen’s hair and pushing her away slowly. “I am afraid we will have to pause for now.”
Deep red eyes glared at her, then at the man who barged in a couple seconds later, pushing Petal away. His grey eyes spoke years of concern and sleepless nights. If he wasn’t already bald, he would probably be shedding his hair in front of them. His stare traveled from the blonde’s smirk to the two naked women on the large, emerald bed. His face was as sweaty as his palms, and the way his body shook made LeBlanc’s smile grow bigger.
The Matron stood up slowly, her nude body at the mercy of prying eyes. Her slender fingers reached for the finely embroidered robe she left on her chair, and she fastened it in silence, her lustful gaze never leaving the panicked man’s face.
“Seed,” she whispered in a suave voice that rivaled Petal’s. “What can I do for you?”
“Where is everything?” he shouted, feeling his knees give way. “Where is it? If it falls in the wrong hands, I am finished,” he yelled at the three other members of the Black Rose. “Everything is over – we will be trialed, executed, and everything we built will no longer exist!”
LeBlanc walked up to him, and traced his wrinkling face with fondness. “You don’t have to worry about us,” she reassured him. “We will not be trialed nor executed. But I understand that you feel unsafe now; you have every right to be.”
Grey eyes widened at her words.
“They will soon get you.”
“Traitors,” he spat, pointing his fingers at them. “All of you are just traitors! This wasn’t part of the pact we made,” he roared, feeling his heart falter.
LeBlanc pursed her lips, nodding and leaning into Petal’s side as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “The sloppiness of your actions wasn’t part of the plan either,” she reminded him. “The murder of the Master Artificer, the recorded purchase of Nyzer poison – you even let an Angel of the Universe join the High Council of Equity. That wasn’t smart, Relivash.”
The High Councilor felt his blood boil. “I am part of the Black Rose,” he raged, “just as much as you are. I conduct my part of the plan the way I see fit. I made all of you,” he reminded her. “I made you who you are; champions of the League of Legends and representatives of your Empire. Your names would mean nothing without me,” he spoke angrily. “LeBlanc, Elise, Vladimir and even that sorry excuse of a man, Swain; you are nothing without me.”
LeBlanc tilted her head the way an amused adult would do upon looking at a whimsical child. “We are the Black Rose,” she corrected. “The three of us. Anyone who isn’t us doesn’t mean anything. You don’t mean anything,” she whispered incisively. “We have been here before your existence and we will remain after your disappearance.” Bringing her face closer to Relivash’s, she added, “The Institute of War will crumble, the League will crumble, kingdoms and empires will be destroyed but we will still be here. And now go; perhaps there is still a chance for you to escape.”
Heywan Relivash stumbled over his own robes upon leaving the room, his coughing mixing with his sobs and angered cries.
Pushing a strand of jet black hair behind her ear, Vladimir asked the Matron, “Are you sure trading this man was worth it? Marcus Du Couteau is the head of the Deathmasters, and since the end of the Old Wars the Order of the Deathmasters and the Black Rose have parted ways.”
LeBlanc patted his chest before tearing herself away from his embrace. “Marcus serves the same purpose as us,” she replied, lying down on the bed once more and smiling at the hemomancer. “The safety of his own kin, and the prosperity of Noxus.”
The Spider Queen kneeled on the bed, raising an eyebrow at her. “And Swain will bring us prosperity?”
All she received in return was a loud laugh that echoed through the entire manor.