The sound of shattering glass was covered by the laughter and bellowing of middle-aged Noxians. The tavern she just entered wasn’t exactly her favorite place to visit in the capital. It was hidden in an alley that led to the entrance of the Ivory Ward, and foreign merchants who had been lucky at the marketplace used to spend all their gold in that stinky hole. Katarina bit her nail as she walked past groups of drunken men before rolling her shoulders and leaning against the bar counter. She was a bit short compared to the average Noxian woman, so she had to raise her elbows.
Before she managed to order anything, a fat, bald soldier yelled from a corner, “Yar ale tastes of horse piss!”
The red-haired assassin rolled her eyes at the man’s Ur-Noxian accent. The bartender ignored him, glancing at his new customer instead. “What you want,” he asked in a flat tone.
“Horse piss,” Katarina replied, keeping her dark green eyes on the bartender’s face. She swore his lips curved up.
The young man wiped his grimy hands on his stained yellow shirt and proceeded with the order. He kept glancing at the woman before him, hesitant to speak up until Katarina snatched the drink from his hands and glared at him.
“This isn’t a proper place for a lady,” the bartender muttered, scratching his chin.
“Do you know any other tavern in Noxus Prime that stays open all night these days? This capital is turning into a lost countryside,” the redhead retorted before swallowing half the contents of her large glass.
The stranger arched an eyebrow at her, noticing her bloodshot eyes. Throwing the rag he was using the dry the clean glasses over his shoulder, he leaned in, whispering, “Take my advice, milady. Finish your drink and leave this place. Nobles aren’t welcome given the regulars of this rat hole.”
Katarina was about to snap at him when the doors were slung open and the men started clapping and cheering the group that just entered. She didn’t need to turn around to figure out who it was. Chugging the rest of her drink, the Headmistress of House Du Couteau was ready to sneak out of the tavern when a low whistle reached her ears.
“Katarina,” a deep, cocky voice greeted her.
She felt sick already. “Draven,” she greeted back, a fake smile plastered on her face.
As per usual, he wasn’t wearing his executioner uniform and his large axes were strapped to his back. His chest was bare despite the chilly weather, and his arms and legs were covered in tight pieces of leather held together by the torn front of a cloak. The purpose of his life was to share himself with the world, quite literally, and he made sure he achieved that goal every single day. His wild brown hair was held up by a custom crown and a moustache framed the contours of his mouth.
Disgusting, Katarina thought to herself.
“Draven was hoping to see you in the Fleshing Arena today,” the executioner stated with false disappointment in his voice. “For once the prisoner was in decent shape,” he told her, looking away dreamily. “Fast as the wind, until…” He blew some air trying to imitate the sound of his whirling axes and wiped the bar with his hand. “You know. Dead.”
“I was busy.”
Katarina ran one of her hands through her messy mane, turning around to leave, when Draven began laughing like a madman.
“Of course. Katarina Du Couteau is always so busy all around Runeterra,” he mocked her, grabbing a stool and signaling the bartender to serve him. “Draven didn’t think you would ever come back to Noxus.”
The assassin scoffed. “And why is that?” she asked, placing her hands on her hips.
“Well, you come from a family of cowards after all,” the executioner replied nonchalantly. “Your sister went for the longest walk of shame, then your father couldn’t handle the humiliation and fled. And Talon – oh, he’s not even family, right?” Draven taunted, wagging his eyebrows at her.
Katarina stood still for several seconds until she kicked the stool Draven sat on, causing him to lose balance and hit his jaw on the counter. She grabbed the drink he just ordered and let it pour down his face, fisting his hair in her right hand.
“Don’t you ever mention my family ever again,” she spat into his ear.
The tavern fell silent around them and Katarina left before Draven could even realize what just happened.
The streets were cold outside and the wind blew fiercely. Katarina hugged herself, finding little warm in her leather jacket, and stomped down the main road that would lead her home. As the first sunrays lightened the path, the young woman stopped in her tracks, glancing at the peak of the Immortal Bastion. Her father used to tell her that if she looked carefully, she would see the shape of a skull, but she never did. That day wasn’t any different. Shaking her head, she left the main road to crawl under the shadows of the capital. Shortcuts would save her from the cold.
Manoir Du Couteau was built high into the side of Noxus Prime. The manor was once a castle carved into the side of the mountain that rose high up in the skies, but after the capital was faced with a siege by Demacian forces centuries ago, the bigger half of the castle had turned into debris that fell on top of the lower, poorer areas of the city, decimating numerous Noxian citizens who hoped to survive by hiding in the undergrounds. Katarina recalled the stories she heard of those ancient times, and one of her great-grandmothers was apparently abducted during that siege. Possibly the Demacian forces hoped for a ransom, but the Du Couteau men never fell for it, deeming it a mere trap and that their countess had been killed already. A statue of her was erected in the neglected gardens of the manor, and every time the assassin walked past it, she would glance at the saddened expression her ancestor was given.
“Ecaterina wasn’t the person everyone thought she was,” she could hear her father tell her younger self. “You can be born as a Noxian, yet behave as traitor. Her brothers locked her inside the palace, knowing very well that the Demacian soldiers would strike the noble fortresses first.”
Marcus Du Couteau had been holding her by the shoulders when he asked his seven-year-old daughter, “What do you think, Kæty?”
“Her brothers betrayed her.”
Her father had nodded, a soft smile on his lips. “Or did she?”
The wind howled through the trees and Katarina rubbed her forehead. She had to get inside. This wasn’t the right time for sweet memories.
The moment she slammed the doors behind her, the young woman removed the straps that held her daggers together and let her weapons fall to the ground. The ruckus echoed through the halls of the manor, but Katarina didn’t care. The house was always empty. After he father disappeared, she had made sure to fire every maid who worked for her family. No one could be trusted, and if there were clues on her father’s whereabouts within the house, then she sure wouldn’t want a maid to find them. The red-haired assassin threw her jacket somewhere behind her, when her senses tingled and she rolled on the ground.
One of her daggers was sent flying over her head and embedded itself on the nearest wall.
Groaning, Katarina rose to her feet and dusted off her pants, stomping her way to the fumoir. “What do you want, Talon?”
Emerging from the shadows, her father’s ward merely addressed her with a bored look. He wasn’t wearing his hooded cloak for once, so his long chestnut hair fell over his shoulders. “Where have you been?” Before Katarina could even answer, he added, “You need to stop drinking. And lying to me.”
She scoffed, crossing her arms under her bust. “Excuse me?”
“You said you were assigned to the Howling Marsh mission. I was told the opposite,” he stated bluntly, grabbing a box that was left open on the messy table of the smoking room. Knowing very well that Du Couteau’s daughter would never explain anything, he threw the box at her. “Ignore me if you want, like you ignored Smik, Dauvin’s son, some guy with a terrible handwriting, Draven, and Darkwill’s nephew,” he listed casually cracking his fingers and leaning against the tall windows.
The green-eyed woman stared in horror at the box, and then at the younger adult standing in front of her, before throwing the contents at him. “Don’t read my mail!”
“Since you won’t tell me where you go, I have to figure it out by myself. Although I’d be very disappointed if I were to find out that you were with one of those drakehound excrements.”
She would have cut off his tongue if she still had her daggers, or so she told herself. Narrowing her eyes at him, Katarina lashed out. “You were supposed to find my father, yet in six months you only managed to stalk me and chase Cass away. It is clear that you are unable to do anything without my father, so why don’t you just go back to stealing money in the streets like the rat that you are?”
Talon shook his head at her, stepping closer. “Oh no,” he said, laughing softly. “You were the one to chase Cassiopeia away, because like the bigot that you are, you were ashamed of her.”
The next thing he knew, his left cheek was burning and his ears were ringing. Quick to recover, Talon grabbed his master’s daughter by the forearm as she tried to walk past him.
“You have to listen to me, Kat.”
She tried to shrug him off. “Leave me al—“
“You are in danger,” he whispered, trying not to sound as worried as he really was.
She froze on the spot, furrowing her brow and looking at him with a confused expression. “What are you on about?”
She shoved him and he finally let go of her arm. Feeling slightly uneasy, he scratched his head and let out a loud sigh. “This city is… on the verge of a major disaster,” he told her, looking at the floor to avoid looking at her face.
Katarina was beyond confused. “Talon…?”
“Someone assassinated Steward Arron’s grandson today,” he confessed, grabbing her by the shoulders in a fashion that resembled her father’s. “Believe me when I say that the nobles will be hunted down in Noxus Prime. First Darkwill’s distant relatives had an ‘accident’, then your father disappeared, and now other noble houses have their heirs missing. It is not a coincidence.”
She repeatedly shook her head at him, refusing to believe any of it. “No – my father wouldn’t simply run away and the Grand General is a noble—“
“Ah,” Talon disregarded her arguments, waving his hand in front of him. “Darkwill is ill. And all he does is listen daily to that Pale Woman whispering things into his ear. There is someone who wants the nobles out of the High Command, Kat, and you’re not safe here.”
When the woman didn’t reply, he sighed loudly, closing his eyes. “A Noxian spy in Piltover told me today that two nexuses were found in Kalamanda,” he added. “Obviously, the League already sent their summoners and the news wasn’t made public for now. But trust me, the High Command knows and tomorrow,” he emphasized by pointing his index finger at her, “you will do whatever you have to in order to be assigned to any diplomatic nonsense that will be needed once everyone starts fighting over mining rights.”
“And promise me,” he interrupted her once more, “that no matter what happens in Kalamanda, you will not return to Noxus Prime. I already sent a letter to Cassiopeia. She cannot return either. Not until I find out more.”
Katarina suppressed a shiver as Talon’s words sank in. She understood where he was coming from and what he said did make perfect sense, yet she couldn’t just promise him that she would listen. “You don’t understand,” she whispered with resolve, “I have to find him. I can’t leave this house – or the city for that matter, when there could be something, somewhere…”
Fisting strands of her hair to make her look at him, Talon repeated, “Promise me you will do as I said. You must stay safe. And I will find Marcus,” he swore, his brown eyes staring right back at her.
Katarina remained silent for what felt like an eternity, before she slid her arms around his midsection. She nodded weakly, glaring silently. “After all this time, you still refuse to call him your father.”
Talon stiffened at that and awkwardly patted her back before stepping back. Marcus Du Couteau would never be his father, no matter how much he respected the man. However, that didn’t mean he would let anyone harm Du Couteau’s daughters. He grew up with the two women, even though General Du Couteau raised each kid differently, depending on their talents. The Du Couteau sisters were his family. It didn’t matter that it all originated from the order to keep an eye on them.
Shortly after promising she would try and be safe, Katarina went upstairs to wash up and get ready for the High Command meeting that would take place later in the morning. The sun was already up, and she had to ensure her position among the Noxian diplomats, if what Talon told her was true. As she buttoned her uniform, Katarina couldn’t help but think about her missing father. She was starting to believe that he had simply left them. There was simply no trace of him. His study room was neat and empty, only some books and meaningless documents were left behind. His personal chambers were just the same. It was as if Marcus Du Couteau never really existed.
Katarina stared at her reflection for a couple minutes. She looked like a mess. Her bloodshot eyes didn’t compliment the scar on the left side of her face. From the spiky collared, black bustier to the tip of her thigh-length, heeled boots, she looked like the perfect High Command agent. Her twin daggers were strapped to her back, and the Noxian Skull-Axe adorned her kneecaps, belt and necklace. That was when she remembered. The day her father disappeared, he had to attend a High Command meeting. Frowning, Katarina placed a gloved hand over her necklace. What if Talon is right, she wondered, and they’re after me too?
Although she was only allowed to take visible weapons to the Immortal Bastion, Katarina strapped a blade to her wrist and hid it under her large, golden bracelet. Fully clothed in black and amethyst clothes, the assassin left her dark, messy room, hoping that day wouldn’t be her last.
“Captain! Captain Crownguard! Any news on the potential causes of the DSS Excursion’s mysterious disappearance?”
Garen wanted to roll his eyes at the mere sound of Nashahago’s voice. “There is nothing mysterious about this,” he answered the League’s journalist. “Pirates attacked the cargo ship. Debris was found and all we need to do now is find out who did it,” he said in a bored tone, disregarding any other question the short, chubby man had for him.
He thought he was supposed to meet Jarvan at the harbor. Instead, he only found Nashahago and a lot of curious Demacians who were not supposed to be there. This was a chore for him; he had many qualities but no talent for investigation whatsoever. He found it difficult to look for information on a ship that did mysteriously disappear. It was true that he had been organizing several trades with the Freljord, but he wasn’t behind every operation when it came to the DSS Excursion. He wasn’t even entirely sure about the traded goods.
“Garen,” a familiar voice called his name, “I will handle Nashahago, you go ahead.”
The captain bowed before the Crown Prince who just arrived with only a few guards escorting him – like the man of the people that he wanted to be, and nodded at his orders. “I don’t even know why the League is interested in this case,” he whispered to the royal he was friends with since training days. “The ship is lost at sea because of pirates, if we want to be logical,” he added, arching an eyebrow when Jarvan cleared his throat.
“Because there is obviously more to it,” a potent voice interrupted him.
Garen turned around immediately, his left eye twitching as he saw a fully armored angel hovering over the ground. The unmasked creature was a female League Champion who went by the name of Kayle. He had heard about her, but this was undoubtedly the first time he saw her in person. The wind was messing her long blonde hair but she kept her bright eyes on him, scrutinizing his every move.
“We know for a fact that magic was used during the attack.”
Grunting, Garen crossed his arms over his chest. “For a fact? Did you hover over the Conqueror’s Sea to find that out?” he croaked out, trying not to stare at the magical being.
Kayle glanced back and forth between the two Demacians, not quite sure she understood his question. “I hope this isn’t what you humans call ‘sense of humor’.”
Jarvan IV chuckled beside him and Garen elbowed his side. Patting his friend’s shoulder, the Demacian prince decided to leave the two investigators at their jobs, his silver and gold armor clicking with every step he took and his long black mane cascading past his shoulders, the straight hair kept firmly in place by a helmet that could have easily been mistaken for a crown. Garen hated this situation, but he had to remind himself to act professional. The veteran soldier absolutely loathed anything that was remotely related to magic, but he had no choice. Nodding at the angel, he disclosed the poor information he had gathered so far, hoping she would do the same with him.
Kayle led him away from the crowd that was slowly gathering around them and the journalists. “Necromancy was used right where the DSS Excursion was attacked. And for that reason,” she leaned in, “we won’t find anything.”
Garen was taken aback. Anger was slowly building up inside him. “Excuse me?” he snapped at the angel who seemed uninterested in the fact that a Demacian ship and the men aboard had just been swallowed into the nothingness. “Are you trying to tell me that we – that the League is here only to pretend they care about what happened?”
Kayle gave him a look that matched his own anger. “The League and its ambassadors are neutral. I am trying to tell you that only the Empire of Noxus and the city-state of Zaun are known for necromancy as of today. If you are unable to tell me what goods were shipped from the Freljord to Demacia, there is no way of knowing exactly how the events unfolded. Anything could have happened.”
Jaw locked, the Demacian captain fisted the hilt of his sword and wasn’t surprised to see that the divine creature was quick to react as she placed her own hand over the hilt of her weapon. “I may not find the truth today, nor in the next few days while we fake an investigation. But trust me; I won’t rest until I find out who murdered my men and compromised Demacia’s reconciliation with the Freljord.”
As he left the port, Kayle watched him with unblinking eyes.
Katarina drummed her fingernails on the Iron Table as the meeting went on and on and no information was disclosed about the two nexuses found in Kalamanda. She found it odd that Boram Darkwill didn’t even comment on the fact that half the High Command was missing, namely the nobility. She was the only one left, along with General Raedsel, the founder and leader of the most ruthless contingent of the Noxian army. One of the chairs was always empty, as it was reserved for the pluridecorated soldier Kled, a feline, tiny creature of the yordle race who allegedly resided in the Northern Plains and despised the Noxian government. Not that she minded. She didn’t need more people to dislike her for her origins.
The Grand General coughed and held his throat in the middle of Raedsel’s report and the Pale Woman who advised Darkwill quickly handed him a vial containing a purple liquid. The Noxian leader emptied it in its glass of wine, and drank to soothe his pain. No one dared to comment on that.
“Go ahead, General. Please finish,” he ordered, his voice hoarse.
The man seemed hesitant, but he complied. “That would be all, Sir. The Noxian troops safely departed for Ionia this morning. But…”
“But what, General?” Darkwill barked.
“Our men in Shurima heard commoners talk about nexuses being found in the village of Kalamanda, Sir. These could be speculations, but I figured this information was worth mentioning, in case it was true.”
“It is true,” the Pale Woman confirmed, emerging once again from the shadows. “Our spies in Piltover referred the same information this morning.”
The Grand General held up his hand to prevent her from talking. “LeBlanc,” he warned her, saying her name in public for the first time.
“Sir,” Katarina finally spoke, straightening her back. “If such information is indeed true then not only will the League take over but city-states will also fight tooth and nail to gain the Mayor of Kalamanda’s trust so they can send their own miners. We all know that Kalamanda is a fishermen’s village.”
Darkwill nodded at her, rubbing his hands together. “Lady Du Couteau is right,” he admitted in front of the High Command. “We cannot let Piltover or even Demacia mine those lands. Noxus stays strong as long as it has solid connections within the Institute of War and its League of Legends. You will leave as soon as possible, Katarina.”
“Pardon me, Sir,” the General of the Vanguard interrupted their exchange, frowning when he noticed the pleased look on LeBlanc’s face after Darkwill’s decision. “I think we should vote on this. Miss Du Couteau is an assassin, not a diplomat.”
Katarina narrowed her emerald eyes at him. The bulky male was glaring at her and holding his greataxe close to his side. His pitch-black hair was plastered back, some greying strands falling over his forehead. His left eye was scarred just like hers. She had never trusted the man and after his intervention, she was positive she never would. He oozed hatred and disgust, but most importantly, he had killed his own superior and predecessor in battle, General Cyrus.
“Sir, maybe I should remind General Darius that I am already in charge when it comes to handling our connections within the League and speaking in the name of Noxus when in presence of journalists,” the noblewoman defended herself. “I can surely negotiate a mining contract.”
Grand General Darkwill waved his hands. “Nonsense, Darius. Lady Du Couteau has this under control, the way her father would. This meeting is over,” he concluded, dismissing the members of the High Command.
Katarina smirked at Darius, savoring her small victory. He came up behind her as everyone was rushed out of the room and whispered in her ear, “Only visible weapons are allowed in here, Lady Du Couteau.”
She swallowed hard, convincing herself that she wasn’t scared of him in any way. But she had to admit one thing. Talon could have been right. Nobility was no longer welcome in Noxus.