It was a moonless night. The Crossing connected the hinterlands to the outskirts of Demacia City that were only a few days away, but it was still a long journey if they were to travel without a horse. Talon had spotted a farm uphill, and was now casually leaning against the trunk of a tree, his brown eyes scanning the calm, serene scenery to see if anyone was still awake. Luxanna was fidgeting next to him, worried since they left Uwendale, and occasionally glancing behind her.
It was starting to get on his nerves.
The two of them had barely talked to each other since the blonde initiate had forced him to leave Uwendale, without even giving him a proper explanation. He wasn’t entirely sure why he believed her right away, too.
“Wait here,” Talon said, fixing his hood so that it completely covered his head.
Luxanna grasped his sleeve. “Don’t. We don’t need any horse.”
The Noxian shrugged her arm off his elbow, and reached inside his pocket, throwing a bag of gold at her. “I’ll get a horse and you just leave this for whoever finds it tomorrow. You made us leave in such a hurry, it can only mean that we have to go back to the capital as soon as possible.”
“Oh,” she sighed in relief, her cheeks turning a deep shade of red. “Sorry. I just assumed—where did you get all that gold anyway?”
Looking away and rolling his eyes, Talon began walking towards the back of the farm. “I helped the baker in Uwendale fix his roof,” he muttered.
Big blue eyes brightened, and a toothy grin sneaked its way to Luxanna’s lips.
The sun was barely rising when they rode past The Crossing and deeper into the outskirts of Demacia City. The horse Talon had ‘bought’ was a robust Silvermeran, and the Noxian had hopped on right behind her, his large cloak protecting them both from the chilly wind that slapped their faces. The ride was as silent as the first half of their journey, and she felt uneasy about it. Generally, she would do all the talking, but her mind was going round and round, thinking and rethinking about everything she had found in Quinn’s journal. A part of her wondered if Quinn had actually wanted one of them to find her journal. It all seemed too sudden, but Luxanna figured the motives were less important than the contents.
The petricite walls surrounding Demacia City came into view shortly after dawn, and upon reaching the northeastern entrance, Luxanna frowned, one of her hands curling around Talon’s wrist, who was holding the reins.
The Noxian assassin pulled on them, and their horse slowed its pace, its hoofs stomping the grassy grounds as it came to a halt.
“Something is wrong,” Luxanna whispered, her blue eyes taking in the sight of the Dauntless Vanguard’s officers guarding the entrance. “The King and the Crown Prince must have left the capital if the Dauntless Vanguard is now in charge of the safety of the entire city.”
She was about to throw her leg over the saddle to dismount when Talon’s arm circled her small waist and prevented her from any further movement.
Luxanna’s back stiffened against his chest, and he ordered, “Tell me exactly what you read in Quinn’s journal.”
The young woman closed her eyes, shifting awkwardly when Talon wouldn’t remove his arm. “Quinn was patrolling when she found General Du Couteau,” she eventually answered, her voice small and her tone insecure. “She says that he was carrying a lot of papers where he scribbled keywords followed by numbers. He had his weapons with him, and also a golden pendant that belongs to Spiritmight family members,” Luxanna explained. “The Spiritmights are an ancient noble house here in Demacia. Our late Queen was a Spiritmight.”
Talon immediately let go of Luxanna, hopping off, as Katarina’s words came crawling back into his mind. Marcus Du Couteau had brought her to Demacia City the day the Queen was buried into the Hall of Valor. The assassin bit his lower lip, nearly drawing blood. Luxanna wasn’t making things up.
“I am not entirely sure but it seemed like Quinn was told by General Du Couteau that you are her lost brother, Caleb,” Luxanna added, putting more distance between them by dismounting and taking several steps back. “Her brother was attacked by a beast and fell down a cliff,” she whispered, her eyes staring at Talon’s back. “She thought he died.”
“And he probably did,” Talon spat, turning around to glare at her. “I was always in Noxus Prime.”
“Who were your parents?” Luxanna retorted with a glare of her own. “Who were you before you followed Marcus Du Couteau as if you were his shadow?”
He was unable to answer.
“Even ‘Talon’ isn’t a real name.”
The moment she said that, Talon was pulling at her arm, nearly breaking it as he dragged her to the entrance of the capital. Luxanna writhed and complained, sometimes even kicked, but he never relented, until he realized he was furious. He hadn’t felt so furious since Marcus first humiliated him in the dark alleys of Noxus Prime, demanding his loyalty and services unless he preferred death. Talon let go of Luxanna’s arm, bringing both his hands to his face. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, but they were close to the guarded entrance of Demacia City. The sun was already hitting his clothes and the steel of his blades, and Talon felt sweaty.
Glancing back at the blonde mage, he asked, “Did I hurt you?”
“A bit,” she answered grumpily.
“To be clear,” he finally spoke in his usual flat, bored tone, “Caleb is dead. It doesn’t matter whether Marcus and Quinn are right or not. I was raised in Noxus, and my family is Noxian. I will never be a patrolling ranger who farms in the mountains and hunts in the forests. The only sister I will ever have is in Kalamanda,” he added with a decisive stare, “and that’s where I should’ve been this entire time. And you,” Talon concluded with a pointed look, “should go home now.”
Luxanna’s stare fell to the ground, her throat tightening. “I understand,” she whispered back. “Although I have one request for you.”
The Noxian assassin raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for her to go on.
“Warn the Crown Prince for me. If I am correct and he left for Kalamanda to handle the nexus situation the Journal of Justice relates, then warn him,” she asked, walking up to him to look at him straight in the eyes.
“About what? You never told me about what you read in the first place.”
“Because you said you didn’t care,” she wanted to argue, but instead focused on the most vital facts. “I have reasons to believe our Crown Prince is the key to a prophecy that was written centuries ago by the first Master of Elements of the Circle of the Illuminators,” Luxanna confided. “When the blades will dance,
“And the Unholy Grail will be soiled,
“The ravens will take their stance,
“And the clashing steels will be oiled,
“The Quarter will whisper,
“And the Dragon will fire.
“So the Seed spoke, while Petal fell,
“As Thorn broke, Rose bid farewell.
“For Iron melted and the Reign of Dawn was erected.”
Talon remained silent, trying to pinpoint the meaning of her words. Luxanna tried to explain every verse to him, but he just shrugged it off and interrupted her, promising he will warn Jarvan IV and end it right there. Whatever explanation she had for her Crown Prince, she had to deliver herself.
The assassin readied the horse, and helped her hop on, while he pulled the reins and walked. It wasn’t long until they reached the gateways to Demacia City, and one of the Dauntless Vanguard’s leaders raised his hand at them, motioning them to stop and reveal their identities.
Much to Luxanna’s surprise, Talon removed his hood and let the commander examine his face, before turning to the young woman. She dismounted with ease and stated her name, the commander immediately bowing his head at the lady. He then turned to Talon, asking for his identity, but the assassin shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter,” he answered flatly. “I’m not going in. This girl was lost.”
The guard eyed him suspiciously, offering his arm to Luxanna Crownguard when he decided he was satisfied enough upon seeing the noblewoman unharmed. “If you will follow me, milady.”
The young woman extended an arm before quickly turning around to face Talon one last time, her eyes scanning his face, trying to remember every single feature. “Goodbye,” she whispered, fighting the urge to throw her arms around him.
Talon scoffed, bringing one hand to her face, brushing his thumb against her chin. Luxanna felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. “Stop reading too many children’s tales, Luxanna,” he whispered back, his index finger tracing her jaw line, before he abruptly turned around and left her in the care of the Dauntless Vanguard.
The temperature was so high even early in the morning that most Noxian soldiers had taken off their heavy armor and plated mail. The ranks were still neatly formed around Kalamanda and every commander nodded their appreciation at the organized soldiers. At the center of the camp, General Jericho Swain had long exited his tent, sitting between the drakehounds that had pulled his carriage into the village. The tall, wild beasts roared and flared their nostrils at any passerby, which caused Swain’s raven Beatrice to crow with pleasure.
Katarina stood only a few feet from the disturbing scene, clad in light crimson and golden clothes, a white veil covering her head to prevent the desert dust from dirtying her long, auburn hair. Her blades were secured against her sides, and her dark eyes glared back and forth at the other generals. Darius was polishing the ends of his axe with a whetstone, while General Raedsel seemed to be reviewing some of his men’s reports.
Katarina felt a heavy arm around her shoulders, and the stench of perfume mixed with sweat caused her to scrunch her nose.
“Been a while, Katja,” Darius’ younger brother greeted her, grinning from ear to ear. “Draven missed your angry face.”
The redhead pushed his arm away. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to any sort of banter with the Glorious Executioner of Noxus, another bastard child from Basilich. She had been feeling ill ever since she had woken up, the anxiety and the hot weather hitting her like a truck. Thom Garvin had been found dead in his cell some days prior, and it was only a matter of time before the Noxian and Demacian guards would start blaming each other to the point of starting a massive fight.
Katarina’s stomach churned, and she glanced back at General Swain, wondering why he had summoned all of them.
“My Generals,” Swain finally spoke while feeding Beatrice dried horse meat. “Thom Garvin’s sudden disappearance is the reason why our Grand General will arrive in Kalamanda before the end of the day. I don’t want any of you, or any of your men to leave our camp,” he ordered, standing up and leaning heavily on his pointed golden cane. “The more we stay calm, the more it will be apparent in the eyes of the Institute of War that Demacia sabotaged our only way to defend Noxus’ name after they claimed we caused the mine collapse.”
Swain limped his way closer to the commanders that held authority among the Noxian ranks and paused when his narrowed eyes caught Katarina’s glare.
“No one leaves the camp,” he repeated, Beatrice crowing menacingly on his shoulder and flapping her wings against his balding skull.
General Swain was quick to retire inside his tent, claiming that the hot weather wasn’t helping his aching limbs. The other leaders scattered as soon as he was out of sight, finding shelter for themselves as the sun burned their pale flesh. Katarina was about to walk away herself, when she felt the tip of a weapon poking her between the shoulder blades.
For the second time since he arrived, Katarina met the scorning face of General Darius. He advanced with a threatening glare, his tall figure casting a shadow over her, hiding her body from the sun and from anyone else’s view.
“Do you have something to tell me, Darius?” she asked calmly, never looking away.
“A quick reminder for the Sinister Blade of Noxus,” he spoke in a deep voice that echoed through her entire body. “When all of this is over, I will find you, and my axe will take a blood bath when I use it to slice your body in two,” he promised with a lopsided smile. “And if your father’s guard dog decides to ever step forward, I will cut off his balls as well, and feed them to that pet bird that Swain brings everywhere,” he added, pointing at Swain’s tent. “But it won’t be over until I finally get my hands on that whore you call your sister,” Darius went on, “and tie her to the highest pole of the Fleshing Arena.”
Katarina took a step forward, her chest pressing against Darius’ armor. “You will never lay a single hand on me, nor on Cassiopeia. Not even on our corpses,” she promised back, her throaty voice betraying her fear.
“You are a traitor, Du Couteau,” Darius reminded her. “You did not hesitate on killing one of our fiercest fighters from Bel’zhun. And for what?” he feigned to ask. “Because he had a sharp eye.”
The assassin smirked at that. “Not as sharp as my blade, apparently.”
“You are a dead woman,” Darius concluded. “And dead women shouldn’t speak.”
Katarina watched him retreat among his own men, and the moment he was out of sight, she rushed to her own tent, feeling dizzier than before. She stumbled over empty water buckets near the well she walked past, and fell to her knees as she emptied her stomach, chest heaving and sore lungs coughing. One of her hands held her tummy, feeling as if her insides were burning. Katarina groaned and moaned, nearly passing out under the blazing sun.
The clunking noise the heavy Demacian armor made as it was dropped to the ground didn’t help Garen’s headache. As he sat on his uncomfortable bed in light clothing, the commander felt like kicking the metallic pile and injuring his foot. His broadsword had also been discarded by the entrance of the tent and Garen felt the stress of several weeks spent listening to the King’s complaints seize his entire body. It didn’t help that Xin Zhao repeatedly came to him, telling him that the Crown Prince wanted to speak with him, but both knew the King wouldn’t allow it. The death of Thom Garvin had only made things worse, and the King was considering sending his son back to the capital, unbeknown to the entire Demacian army. Every day, something new pointed at Demacia’s bad faith and scheming against Noxus, and it was hard to deny such claims since a prisoner who had confessed obeying the Crown Prince’s orders was found dead in his cell.
Nyzer poisoning was the cause, or so Lady Buvelle said in her report. Nyzer was a bitter poison with a very distinct taste, Garen knew that much, since it was mostly used to euthanize ill animals. It was a common poison to purchase, and if Garvin hadn’t been stuck in a cell one would have thought he decided to put an end to his existence.
Rubbing his temples, Garen groaned when he heard his squire ask for permission to come in. “Yes?” he grumbled.
Spiritmight coughed, dropping a pile of documents on the unstable desk beside his commander’s bed. “The Dauntless Vanguard sends these from the capital.”
Closing his eyes, Garen simply nodded, a part of him wondering if the King would grant him the right to claim his role back. Otherwise, he wouldn’t know what instructions to give to the men he had previously formed.
“Spiritmight,” he called before the young officer left. “Patrol the ranks tonight, see if there is anyone in need of something before all hell breaks loose here.”
The commander stood up as he heard the officer leave, smoothing some wrinkles on his shirt. He had just begun flipping the pages of the report he received, when he heard light footsteps behind him. Cracking his neck, Garen sighed.
“I said patrol, not take a stroll.”
Dropping the documents in his hands, Garen turned around quickly, a deep frown marking his features. Katarina Du Couteau was inside his tent, her face pale and clad in an outfit he had never seen before. The bright veil curtaining her face made her eyes look lighter and stand out even more. Soft strands of red hair brushed against her high cheekbones. The only dagger she carried was safely tucked into her belt, and it took a lot of willpower to not stride forward and cradle the woman in his arms. He hadn’t seen her in weeks.
“What are you doing here?” he blurted out. “Did anyone see you?”
“No,” she replied in a bored tone. “What is the plan?” she asked him seriously, walking up to him. “You have to tell me. Grand General Darkwill will be in Kalamanda very soon, the sun already set. If there is a war—”
“I cannot tell you,” Garen growled back.
“Of course,” she said to herself sarcastically. “What is it that Demacian boys say again, when they kneel as soldiers and rise as men? Your heart and sword, always for Demacia?” she mocked him, crossing her arms under her chest and facing away from him.
“You know that isn’t true,” Garen countered, sounding more tired than he ever was. “Not anymore.”
“Well,” she swallowed hard. “I don’t believe you. I came to tell you what I knew, and you just feed me secrecy.”
The silence between them was thick and heavy, until Katarina jumped at the sound of Garen kicking his desk and send all his papers flying across the tent. “You don’t believe me?” he repeated with anger in his voice, something she hadn’t witnessed in months. “I made a promise to you that will cost me several conflicts of interests while I serve my King, and you don’t believe me?” he shouted, walking up behind her, his large hand closing around her neck. “I buried an innocent man under the sand for you, and I will leave my family behind for you as well,” he reminded her, pressing his forehead against the back of her head.
Unable to speak as his grasp tightened around her throat, Katarina let a couple tears escape her eyes, tilting her head to feel his lips on the side of her face. “I will die here,” she whispered, closing her eyes and her entire body shaking.
“No,” Garen promised, his left arm bringing her body closer. “No, you won’t. No one will.”
His lips captured hers firmly, his hands moving quickly as they tugged at the buckles of her belt and at the ties of her top. She kissed him back at first, running her tongue over his lips, until she felt him tug at the ivory veil around her hair and her clothes fell to the ground with a thud. She tried to push him off her then, clawing at his arms and wailing when she hit the bed face first.
“Stop,” she begged him, green eyes darting around. “Someone will come,” she worried out loud.
“No one will,” he repeated, as if he were an entire different person.
His eyes darkened with lust, brown hair covering his forehead, and he again brought a hand to her neck, forcing her down while he worked on taking off his own clothes. His shirt fell to the floor shortly after that, and Katarina hid her face in her forearms, chewing on her lips as she was quickly parted in two. Her eyes rolled in the back of her head at the feel of Garen ramming inside her most secret places, and her throat hurt when she couldn’t scream.
He pulled and tugged at her hips and hair, weeks of separation and stress taking over his mind. His pace was unrelenting, and Katarina felt her breasts swell with each thrust, her teeth drawing blood as they raked over her lips too many times. It wasn’t long until his body weight crushed her petite form against the hard mattress of the bed. One calloused hand pinched an erected nub and she finally cried out, while the other found its way between her parted legs.
Stop, she wanted to yell at him, but only desolated cries made their way past her lips. His fingers traced her thighs with such force she was positive he was leaving marks that could bruise, and he embedded himself so deep she squealed painfully for a moment, before she realized the rough treatment was leaving her body feverish and her insides wet.
“Are you in pain?” she heard her lover whisper in her ear, his breath scorching her skin.
“Yes,” Katarina whispered in a hiss. “Don’t stop,” she ordered him, never once hearing the flapping of the tent as someone scurried out.
The sun had set a couple hours prior to his patrol duty, and Spiritmight scribbled on a piece of paper all the requests the soldiers had made. His pencil was half broken, but he could still use it for the night. His commander had been on edge for the past few weeks, and he figured that was the reason why he stopped patrolling the ranks himself.
The Demacian camp was only a third of the Noxian camp, the young officer realized during his night shift. As much as he believed the odds didn’t matter, it was very intimidating to walk around in the darkness knowing that the Noxian sentinels were probably spying on him from their spots outside the village.
Kalamanda was deserted, he noted with a nostalgic stare. The Hasty Hammer Tavern had its lights turned off, and not a single hut was bubbling with life. In the far distance, Spiritmight’s bright eyes spotted what was left of the mines the First Loadstone Mining Consortium worked on before the earthquake disaster. The young man sighed and was about to return to Garen Crownguard’s tent when a shadow moved by the collapsed entrance of the mine.
The figure wore a long emerald coat, and limped between smoke and debris. Spiritmight shuffled closer, blinking and trying to adjust his eyesight.
The balding figure seemed to be analyzing the damage, until a feminine voice muttered a few words. Spiritmight’s breath caught in his throat, having never heard a man speak with a woman’s voice.
A purple raven with bright red eyes flew past the mysterious figure that Spiritmight guessed looked like General Jericho Swain, and he tilted his head, trying to hear what was being said.
“Shut it, you annoying bird,” the womanly voice spat as the raven crowed loudly, as if it was complaining. “It is good that he arrived already.”
The shadow figure shook before Spiritmight’s eyes, the long emerald coat turning into a cape of a deeper color. The pointed cane the mysterious person used to lean on acquired a more elongated shape, turning into a bright staff with glowing amethyst crystals. The balding skull was now a mop of black hair, and a beautiful woman glared at the purple raven that now rested on her shoulder, flapping its wings ferociously.
The woman turned around, her light brown eyes spotting Spiritmight in the darkness. Her bright red lips curved up.
The young officer-in-training stumbled back, rolling on the floor when he walked over his own feet, and then broke into a sprint inside the Demacian camp. The youngster completely forgot how to breathe, his report and his broken pencil were left behind but he had to warn his superior right away. Never before had he witnessed magic, but if anything supernatural was indeed behind the mine collapse, not only his commander had to know; the King had to know as well.
Breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of the still illuminated tent of Garen Crownguard, Spiritmight rushed inside, only to make a strangled noise and crawl back outside.
Bright green eyes stared at the nearly consumed candle on the bedside. Katarina was lying on her back, her body entirely crushed under Garen’s weight as he rested peacefully on top of her. One of his arms was still around her waist, and his face was tucked into her neck as she cradled his face, running her fingers through his chestnut hair. It wasn’t the first time he held her that way, she realized. It was as if he was afraid of her slipping away at some point.
Hugging his shoulders and sighing against his forehead, she contemplated the last few moments she was allowed to spend with him before she went back to the Noxian camp, waiting for Swain’s orders. Feeling the tiredness slowly taking over, Katarina forced her eyes open, even though her back was hurting.
The candlelight flickered, and Katarina spotted a shadow right outside the tent. Narrowing her eyes, she quickly dragged herself out of Garen’s embrace, and didn’t look at him as he shifted and turned on the bed, not even waking up. Her green eyes never left the shadow as she fixed her clothes, only wincing when she felt the soreness between her thighs. Every aftermath was painful, she thought, especially when the man in question was twice her size.
Katarina slid out of the tent in silence, unsheathing her dagger and shaking her head at the skinny figure who paced behind the tent. Swiftly, she shoved her shin into the back of the boys’ knees and his face hit the ground. Her fingers pulled at his short, dark hair, bringing him to stand in an awkward position, and her curved blade found his neck.
The boy whimpered, staring at her in horror. “M-milady…”
“Stick it out,” she growled.
“Wh—wha—I—” Spiritmight cried.
“Your tongue,” Katarina elaborated. “Stick it out, so I can cut it.”
“I will not tell—”
Solid footsteps interrupted the boy, and a third voice chimed in. “What is going on here?”
Both Katarina and Spiritmight turned their heads to meet the startled, angry stare of Prince Jarvan IV. He was barely wearing any armor, the two of them realized, but his golden attire was enough to draw attention. His long black hair fell over his shoulders, and the piercing blue color of his eyes intimidated the boy, who promptly looked at the ground.
“You – I know you. You are Katarina Du Couteau,” Jarvan spoke, never lowering his voice. “Spokesperson of Noxus at the Institute of War.” Turning to his younger cousin, the Crown Prince asked. “What is going on?”
Paling in front of his ruler, the young Spiritmight blubbered, “I stole from Lady Du Couteau. She wanted to punish me.”
Rolling her eyes at the ridiculous lie, Katarina nearly sheathed her dagger back into place, but then decided to shove the boy to the ground.
“You were born showering in gold, Jory,” Jarvan reasoned. “Don’t lie to me.”
Spiritmight sniffed, his eyes shamefully looking at the Noxian who stood next to him with a well-defined glare. As his lips parted, a sinking feeling in his chest, Spiritmight’s next words disappeared in the growing noise around them.
As far as the horizon went, the entire village of Kalamanda was surrounded in flames, the fire raging right where the main road curved between the desert hills. A loud horn echoed through the night, and Katarina let her dagger hit the sandy ground upon recognizing the sound.
Grand General Boram Darkwill was dead.