The village of Kalamanda was bubbling with activities. For the first time ever, it was as if the village never slept. The few taverns in the village were open day and night, the children ran around the wells and the women danced together at the Hall Square. Men drank and played cards at night, and fished early in the morning. By the time the sun was up, the entire village smelled of trout and eggs. The people of Kalamanda were never happier.
A week had passed since the Noxian delegation’s arrival, quickly followed by the Demacians. Slowly but surely, Piltover and Ionia send their own men to negotiate mining contracts, but neither Noxus nor Demacia was concerned about them. It was well-known that Demacia and Piltover were allies, so whoever won the Mayor over would then regulate a secondary contract. As for Ionia, their representatives stood alone and were mostly looked at as curious outsiders. The League had suggested their presence though, but everyone was surprised not to see at least a League Champion in charge of the Ionian delegation.
It was a dull Friday night when Mayor Ridley finished listening to the conditions Demacia and Piltover had to offer. Only the representatives sat with him at the table of negotiations, but the room at Kalamanda Hall was heavily guarded by Noxian, Demacian and Piltoveran high-ranking officers. The Ionian delegation was protected by the League of Legends itself, but no summoners and no guards were placed at the entrance of the room.
Ridley was mostly impressed with what he heard so far. The Kingdom of Demacia offered protection, safety and half the mined gold in exchange for mining contracts. Piltover’s request and conditions were quite similar, except that they boasted about their impressive knowledge of nexuses and techmaturgy that would make them the best candidates for such a mission. Ridley looked skeptical only when he listened to Ionia’s motives—to strengthen their relationship with Valoran and the League of Legends—but he nodded his approval at the mention of their practical use of magic that would be of great help in the presence of rare nexuses.
Katarina was leaning comfortably into her chair, legs crossed and fingertips tapping at her chin. Her olive eyes glanced back and forth from Garen to Ridley, waiting patiently for her turn. She hadn’t discussed this proposal with anyone from Noxus as she was used to presenting enticing solutions to the High Command by then. When Ridley nodded at her and thanked her for letting the representatives of minor regions speak first, Katarina knew she had won these negotiations before they even started.
“My Lords, dear Anson,” she began, politely smirking at everyone around her. “It is an honor for me to be sitting at this table with you all.”
She saw Garen Crownguard’s eyeroll the moment she finished her sentence.
“Noxus would like to remind the Mayor that we only care about the best interests of the village and to prove that,” she quickly added when she noticed how the other representatives shifted in their seats and smiled, “here is our offer.
“Kalamanda will sell all the mining contracts to Noxus. All of them. Whether they concern the gold or the nexuses. In return, all the mined gold will go straight to Kalamanda’s Council, with detailed reports to the League.”
Katarina reveled in the collective gasps.
“Once the gold is converted into valors,” she went on, “the miners will receive their payment in proportion to the time they spent in the caves. But because we believe that Noxians and Kalamandans truly get along, we ask the Mayor and his Council to grant the Noxian workers the right to establish themselves in Kalamanda if they so desire, as a sign of friendship, so that they can help rebuild the village, open it to new activities and we all shall prosper.”
Katarina had barely finished talking when Garen slammed his fists on the table and glared at her. “You offer them occupation,” he accused her. “You are trying to fool these people with gold and pretend you won’t destroy everything to turn it into another territory of Noxus. Very clever, too. Kalamanda is where Shurima begins.”
The red-haired woman scoffed, shaking her head at the commander. “Someone offers innovation and it’s called occupation just because they’re more powerful in terms of military forces and government? We are giving them a choice,” she pointed out, crossing her arms under her chest. “Occupation doesn’t give anyone a choice. Besides, workers that may or may not decide to live here are not soldiers.”
“So, no soldier will stay in Kalamanda?” Garen roared.
“I didn’t say that. Clearly it depends on whether Kalamanda needs help with law enforcement due to its growing population or not. It depends on the League as well.”
Neither of them blinked. Disgust was written all over Garen’s face, but Katarina didn’t flinch.
“Bullshit,” he whispered.
Growing anxious, Ridley quickly cleared his throat and clapped his hands to end the meeting. “Now, now,” he said with an uneasy smile, “let us rest for now. We’ve all been working a lot this week and tensions are bound to arise. I would like to thank you all for your offers and I will let you know the Council’s decision.”
The Ionian and Piltoveran representatives were the first to leave in a hurry, while Anson Ridley pretended to organize some files scattered here and there on the table. Katarina never once blinked away. She was already outside the room when Garen grabbed her upper arm and shoved her into the nearest wall, earning himself startled looks from the Demacian and Noxian officers standing in the corridor, waiting for their superiors’ orders.
“You had better leave those villagers alone,” he whispered into her face.
She shouldered his chest, getting rid of his hand on her arm. “Growing protective, Garen?” she whispered back in a playful tone. “Pfft,” she grew annoyed, “do you really think Noxus is interested into making Kalamanda part of the Empire? I mean, sure, they have gold and nexuses for now but the League set their eyes on both things before anyone else.” Leaning in closer, she elaborated, her breath tickling Garen’s lips, “Kalamanda will stay a village of fishermen where stinky old men emptying Valoran trout bowels are the ones making decisions at their village council,” she spat, all the while glaring at the man in front of her.
He didn’t answer, as he couldn’t deny she was telling the truth.
Taking advantage of his silence and of the fact that his mind was probably still processing her words, Katarina licked her lips, and Garen defensively took a step back, frowning down at the woman.
“Grab my arm again and I will cut off your fingers,” she said in a very light tone before walking down the corridor, followed by Noxian men who glanced at him through their helmets.
The commander slammed his fist into the wall, cursing under his breath when he nearly pierced a hole through it. Behind him, Ridley cleared his throat and shook his head, reminding Garen that there was no petricite in Kalamanda, and that that punch alone could have made the entire structure crumble.
“Oh, and Garen,” Ridley added while walking down the corridor himself, “that wasn’t a very gentleman-like behavior.”
“She’s an assassin,” he told no one in particular.
“That’s not a very gentleman-like behavior, you know,” Luxanna complained out loud as Talon dragged her from rooftop to rooftop, nearly dislocating one of her shoulders in the process. “And there is also no point in doing this. No one will benefit from my kidnapping.”
“I will,” the rugged assassin answered plainly, forcing her head down while he peered over the nearest tree. “That stealth thing you did can be useful.”
Luxanna rolled her big blue eyes. “I told you already. I can’t make you go stealth. I can’t even do that to myself. There’s no moonlight. No sunlight. No light whatsoever.”
Talon slowly turned around with a blank stare. “I should just kill you then,” he said calmly, showcasing the mounted blade on his right arm.
That statement alone drained the color from Luxanna’s face, and she remained dead silent for a couple minutes, her eyes analyzing the assassin’s pointed blade. She could clearly see him have no remorse for killing a woman who asked nothing but only chatted a lot.
“Glad you stopped talking,” Talon eventually muttered.
The blonde looked around, sighing when she realized they were in the outskirts of the city already. She was very far from the headquarters of the Circle, and even farther from home. Luxanna hugged her upper body, shivering in the wintry-like night and fixed her hood over her head. Her wand was safely tucked in her cloak but she figured it would be of no use without any source of light above her. Besides, the assassin sitting cross-legged before her would be faster than her. He would slice her throat in a heartbeat if she tried any funny stuff against him.
“Are we staying on this rooftop until dawn?” she dared ask.
Talon didn’t answer.
“Can you at least tell me your name? I told you mine.”
“It’s Talon,” he eventually answered, freeing his brown hair from his hood.
Luxanna stared at the way his shoulder-length hair brushed against his shoulders. His brown eyes looked lighter without the hood shadowing his face, and from where she stood he looked like a peaceful person. However, the look in his eyes was stormy and uncertain. For a brief moment, the young woman wanted to brush away the strands of hair that grazed his face, but she feared enough for her own safety. She wasn’t entirely sure why he had abducted her and carried her around like a bag of potatoes. Perhaps he expected a ransom if he wrote to her family, or maybe he wanted her to help him get to a place he was looking for. Luxanna couldn’t tell for sure.
“Why were you running away?” he asked, never looking at her face.
He sighed, stretching the arm on which the blade was mounted on. “You were up past the curfew, and you were all cloaked up near the window, hiding with your little magic tricks.”
Luxanna blushed like a teenager who had been caught climbing out of her bed in sweet company. “I have been reading.”
Talon finally looked at her, raising both eyebrows at her answer. “And?”
“Why would you care,” she whispered to herself, biting her nails. “I have reason to believe that our Crown Prince is in great danger. There are scrolls at the headquarters that have been written by Illuminators centuries ago and if we convert the timelines to our current calendar then—“
“You’re right,” Talon interrupter her, stretching his legs. “I don’t care.”
“You’re a douche,” Luxanna commented, forgetting that she was arguing with a well-trained assassin.
“No, I am a smart person,” he contested. “The only reason you’re not dead is because the murder of a noblewoman attracts too much attention,” he explained as he lied down, staring at the dark skies above them.
“I reckon you killed other people as you came to the capital, people who didn’t drag any form of attention?”
“A fisherman,” Talon said.
Caramel eyes started counting the few stars that were shining high in the sky. “He saw my face,” he whispered.
Luxanna tilted her head to the side, sadness filling her baby blue eyes. She stared intently at him, at the way his chest heaved with each breath, at the many blades mounted inside his cloak. The lines of his jaw were strongly defined, and everything about him was intimidating to say the least. Only the stormy look called out for compassion and the words flew past her lips before she even realized it.
“I think you have a beautiful face,” she said with the innocent voice of a child that had only been used to seeing the same people, the same expressions for years.
Talon frowned at the skies, the silence between them growing thicker by the second. He slowly straightened up, sitting in front of her. His lips parted and she tried to listen carefully, but the next sound came directly from her mouth.
Luxanna yelped and screamed as she was thrown off the rooftop, a giant explosion in the middle of Demacia City resonating through the entire land. The buildings shook harder than they would have with an earthquake. She felt Talon grabbing her wrist and heard him yell something at her.
She couldn’t breathe. Thousands of Demacians screamed within the capital and the Temple of the Lightbringers was ringing its bell to alert the entire city. The deafening staccato made it impossible for Luxanna to understand anything Talon was telling her to do.
The next thing she felt was her fall.
The last words she said were echoing through her brain.
A beautiful face.
The Hasty Hammer Tavern was so crowded on the first Saturday that followed the arrival of the many delegations that most people were forced to stand next to the tables where others sat comfortably. The first workers and officers who had arrived at the tavern had taken the best tables and corners, and by the time the night fell upon the village, many Demacians and Noxians had to share the same tables.
From his spot at the counter, Summoner Bob Nashahago took notes of his surroundings, a pleased smile on his face. He put down his quill pen as he was served more beet wine, and decided to work on his article for the League’s Journal of Justice later.
“Get the fuck out of here,” the summoner heard a gruff man tell another right behind him.
Nashahago wiped his sweaty hands on his long, purple robes and glanced at the two officers. The bald journalist toyed with the emerald ring on his little finger as he tried to recognize them. One was most definitely Steward Dorrik, the Noxian in charge of ruling over Bel’zhun, the biggest city in the north of Shurima. The other was a low-ranking Demacian soldier Nashahago had never seen before. He could have been a simple miner too.
“I was here first,” the Demacian retorted.
Dorrik smirked at the two bulky men behind him, amused. “Kid, you could have sucked on your mother’s tits first; it still doesn’t mean I can’t fuck her,” he taunted, his men guffawing at the low blow.
Nashahago studied the scene that was taking place right beside him, fidgeting with the quill that was back in his hands.
“As I said, get the fuck out of here,” Dorrik repeated. He had fought alongside General Darius and sailed with Chancellor Hawkmoon before; he wasn’t going to let a young Demacian kid take his chair.
The young boy stood up defiantly, though he was half Dorrik’s size.
Before he could say anything to defend himself, a powerful voice called out to him. “Spiritmight. What’s going on here?”
The black-haired youngster bowed his head. “Commander Crownguard. I was on my way,” he replied quietly before leaving the Hasty Hammer, blocking out the laughter of the Noxian men.
Garen shook his head at the entire situation. There was a time where he would have tried to share some piece of advice with the young Spiritmight, but he figured he was getting a little old. His patience was running out faster than a Piltover train and he could barely eat anything. If he had to be completely honest, he would have to admit to himself that the Noxian offer was probably the best Kalamanda could ever ask for. And this would only mean one thing; he would lose at the negotiation table and he would never be the Captain of the Dauntless Vanguard ever again. If only demotion would mean that his mother would drop the whole ‘engagement’ argument…
If only. Lilia Crownguard would probably use it as another valid reason for him to work on restoring the prestige of the family and its pure, noble lineage.
The blue-eyed soldier spotted Nashahago at the counter, and nodded at the man. Garen’s blue cape grazed the dusty floor as he went straight for the table that was usually Ridley’s, hoping to see the Mayor and convince him not to take Noxus up on their offer.
Garen brushed away the hair that was falling over his eyes, half-wondering why he still hadn’t cut it. As he spotted Katarina Du Couteau drinking Graggy Ice alone and no Ridley in sight, anxiety started eating at him. He tugged at the collar of his cape, his throat feeling dry. Garen clumsily tossed a couple valors at the bartender, enough for two pints, and slowly approached the woman who stared at the other patrons from her corner, a bored look plastered on her face. The Demacian scratched his head and cleared his throat to get her attention.
It didn’t work.
“I saw you buy me a drink,” Katarina stated. “What if I don’t want it?”
Garen rested his chin in his hand, feeling the fatigue the more the crowd elbowed and yelled. “I wish to apologize for my behavior, yesterday.”
“Do you, now?” she laughed.
“Katarina,” he said in a serious tone, “I do not wish to play any games. I am here to get these contracts going and that is all I should be focusing on. My behavior was inappropriate and I apologize for it,” he clarified, taking off his gloves as he felt his palms sweat the more time he spent at that table.
“You just can’t handle politics,” she summarized, finally looking at him. Her expression was dull and she folded her hands on top of her drink, making her look older than she actually was. “You were trained to train men who are dumber than you and to lead them into battle, may it rain or may it storm,” the olive-eyed woman said as she brushed her index finger against the rim of her drink. “Your parents are probably well-versed in politics but they sent you off to be a commander, a captain—a man who draws his sword before words even start forming in his mouth.”
“Don’t you do that too?” he asked with a frown, disliking the way he was being judged by someone who knew nothing about him or his family.
Katarina smiled, shifting in her seat and clearly crossing her legs as he suddenly felt her boot against his shin. Garen jumped in his chair, and then pretended he was just shivering from the icy drink.
“No,” she answered. “Assassination is premeditation.”
Garen didn’t have the chance to reply. The drunken crowd was suddenly gathered around a group of soldiers and stewards from Noxus and Demacia, right at each other’s throats. Katarina immediately leaped over the table she was sitting at, grabbing the bigger man by the shoulder. He was one of Steward Dorrik’s henchmen, an efficient soldier but a brainless one at the same time. The bulky male ignored her, pointing his finger at the bearded Demacian in front of him. That was when Katarina, and soon enough Garen as well, noticed his broken nose.
“This little piece of shit,” he cursed in Ur-Noxian.
Garen quickly grabbed his own men by the throat, pushing them away and coming to stand between them and the Noxian beasts that were already brandishing their weapons.
“Cease this stupidity!” he ordered his men, his voice so deep and loud the walls of the tavern nearly shook.
His men, however, didn’t calm down quickly enough. Sadly, the Noxian executioner snatched the lance another man was holding and kept on threatening the Demacian man who had assaulted him—or defended himself, it was hard to tell at that point—in a language Garen didn’t understand.
It was in that moment that Katarina kneeled the furious and sweaty Noxian in the stomach forcing him to look at her straight in the eyes.
“Drop it,” she ordered in a voice that didn’t even sound like hers. Katarina eyed the lance, and silently defied the executioner to disobey her.
The dark-skinned man grinned at Steward Dorrik who stood right behind him, in the finest leather clothes of Bel’zhun and his black hair framing his face. He looked like the painting of the next Grand General and he was making fun of her. Over six feet tall, Dorrik walked up closer to the Du Couteau heiress, grinning left and right to the men that followed him around. He was very well-known in the northern lands of Shurima, and he wasn’t going to receive orders from an assassin who came all the way from Noxus Prime, Katarina figured.
Still, she dared him. She was the representative of Noxus, not him.
Dorrik raised his hands up in the air, nodding at her, until he finally looked at her, eyeing her from head to toe and licking his upper lip at the fine woman in front of her.
“You see, Du Couteau,” he said in a suave voice, “that man,” he told her, pointing at the Demacian that Garen was holding back, “started telling me what I could and couldn’t do.”
“Do as she said,” Garen commanded him from where he stood.
Dorrik smiled, and the men behind started snickering as well. Katarina’s heart raced. It was faint, but she could hear the sound of steel from miles away, so there was no way she was wrong. She had to think fast.
“The thing is,” Dorrik went on, his smile disappearing and his grey eyes piercing through Katarina’s. “I don’t take orders from Demacian horseshit.”
He paused, drawing his twin swords that were attached to his large belt.
“Or from their whores,” he punctuated, spitting at Katarina’s feet.
Katarina swiftly bent backwards to avoid getting sliced in two. She never got back to her feet, not in everyone else’s eyes at least. The Demacian men stood there in awe, while Kalamanda villagers were running away and leaving the tavern. Noxian officers and commanders pushed each other aside and elbowed their way through the crowd to see what was happening. One moment she lied at Dorrik’s feet, the next she was falling on top of his back. It happened in the blink of an eye, enough for the blades strapped at her thighs to bounce from Dorrik to the two stray dogs that served as bodyguards.
It was all a blur from Katarina’s point of view. She heard the bartender yell at someone, and some summoner mention the Institute of War, but it was too late. When she reappeared in front of Dorrik, her curved blade had found its way into his left eye and she pushed slowly, licking her lower lip as she heard his skull crack. His brain was turning into red soup, she figured, and he was groaning in the back of his throat as his other eye rolled inside his skull.
Steward Dorrik fell to the ground with a loud thump, and Katarina had to press her feet on his chest to retract her blade without damaging it.
The Hasty Hammer Tavern fell silent as a large pool of blood soiled the floors. Garen watched her with eyes wide open as she walked up to the summoner with a quill pen in hand and a terrified expression, her bloody blades in hands. Nashahago eyed the weapons soaked in blood, gulping down what was left of his wine to find some courage in front of the Sinister Blade of Noxus.
“There was a brawl,” she whispered, “and six people were injured. The League must know how their champions bravely broke up the fight.”
Bob Nashahago nodded away, the silent agreement to that statement being all too clear to him.
The Journal of Justice
Formare Veneficius Est Formare Fatum
28 September, 20 CLE
Demacia/Noxus tavern brawl injures six, raises concerns
Bob Nashahago reporting from Kalamanda