"Strength was once the very backbone of Noxus," General Darius observed, "yet we have become plagued by weakness. In Jericho Swain I see a man with the Power to cull the weak from Noxus."
In the tumultuous aftermath of the Kalamanda mines and Boram Darkwill's death, Noxus is left in tatters. But through all the turmoil, one man has risen above the rest: Jericho Swain has returned to restore Noxus to glory. The master tactician has waited for years for his plan to be realized, and now, the time has come… romACTION Swain x LeBlanc
Link on Fanfiction.net https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9936573/1/Vici
*This fic is rated "T" for language, violence, and fluff. It will roughly follow the Journal of Justice events from December 6, 20 CLE (issue 11) until May 21, 22 CLE and beyond.
Please enjoy and review~
The sallow faced sun had begun to set, gradually choked out by the darkness of night. The last lights of the sun formed a halo about the harsh edged skyline of the city state Noxus; a waning sigil extinguished by the cruel fist of night.
But for the underworld of Noxus, darkness always pervaded, not in the sense of night and day, but through the cumulative poverty, starvation and unchecked violence. The people in this part of Noxus scuttled in the shadows and alleyways like rats, with sunken faces and lackluster eyes.
Jericho Swain was no stranger to this side of the city he held the position of general over. He strode through the labyrinth of crudely strung shacks with an air of confidence. He knew that not even the most desperate of thugs would dare challenge such a high ranking general as he. The squalor these destitute citizens lived in was mortifying by any standards. Swain knew this; he also knew that this was a result of the stringent military state. Those who weren't able to serve as an excellent soldier were left with next to nothing. Swain himself was an anomaly, and he had the fleeting thought every now and again about what might have become of him, a cripple, had it not been for his brilliantly tactical mind. Those thought always evaporated quickly as they came, but amidst the grime and rampant filth, it was difficult not to glimpse shadows of what could have been.
Swain slid out of the alleyway and approached a decrepit building. With his cane, he swept away clumps of refuse from the doorstep and, tapping it twice, he revealed a secluded passage way tucked in the side of the sagging structure. Without preamble, the tactician slipped into the pitch black niche. In the silence that followed, Beatrice, Swain's loyal bird ruffled her feathers as the passage spiraled downward. Now they were truly in the underworld: the cesspool of cults, covens, and cutthroats who thrived in the honeycomb maze beneath the very structure of Noxus. Lowlifes hung around every bend; that much was certain, but Swain was well accustomed to encountering them, though Beatrice was still uneasy.
"We're almost there, girl," Swain soothed to the miniature demon bird, gruffly patting her head.
They reached another doorway hewn into the stone of the labyrinth wall. Leaning heavily on his cane, Swain knocked on the door three times then two, in a syncopated pattern. A peephole scraped open and two beady eyes peered out demanding, "Who dares disturb the-" His eyes suddenly gaped in recognition, "g-general Swain! I-oh-I'm terribly sorry!" the man hastily slid open the rest of the door and Swain limped inside the dimly lit room.
"My apologies sir, I had no idea you were coming!"
Swain paid no heed to the doorman and walked confidently through the sparsely furnished room to the only other door directly across the way.
"Oh! Sir, general, sir, wait- she might not be ready-"
Still ignoring the doorman, Swain reached for the handle, but before his gnarled hand could grasp the knob, the door swung inward and revealed the presence of a breathtakingly elegant woman smirking in the doorframe. She wore exquisite purple robes, accented with jewels and a magnificent headdress. A faint smile seemed ever etched into her pale, painted features.
"LeBlanc." Swain greeted with a shallow bow.
"Jericho Swain." The deceiver nodded formally. "I've been expecting you. Do come in. And Jarvis," LeBlanc spared a glance at the mildly flabbergasted doorman, "You're services are no longer needed this evening."
Jarvis nodded and eased himself into the armchair, one of three furniture fixings of the antechamber.
The door swung shut behind LeBlanc and Swain, and the tactician breathed in the heady scent of incense, softly smoldering in the corner. The room was host to lavish furnishings: plush Ionian carpets matted the floor, intricate furniture dotted the space tastefully and elegant patterns adorned the myriad of other artifacts about the chamber. Over the years, the seemingly ageless LeBlanc had acquired an exquisite taste, and every inch of the chamber reflected those years of careful collecting.
Swain was already familiar with most of the décor, so he shuffled over to the furniture piece that interested him most: the ornate chair set at a small table. Precious porcelain dishes were set daintily on the lace table cloth; teacups, saucers, crème, sugar and even a steaming plate of scones. Swain settled stiffly into one of the chairs, propping his cane against the edge of the table while Beatrice lighted down on the back of another chair. She shut four of her six eyes contentedly and proceeded to preen herself. LeBlanc, who had disappeared for a moment, returned with a steaming kettle of tea. She set it in the center of the table and slipped gracefully in the third chair, opposite Swain. The deceiver straightened her cloak and headdress with a perfectly manicured hand before pouring tea for herself and for the tactician.
"How was your trip over here?" She asked, making small talk as she poured the steaming beverage.
Swain grunted, "Filthy, as usual." He grasped the delicate teacup- it looked somewhat out of place in his calloused grip - and pulled down his facemask before taking a swig of the scalding tea. He shuddered as it went down. "Ahh, impeccable taste as always. Ionian black tea."
LeBlanc smiled vaguely and sipped her own tea. "You'd think that after all these years, I'd at least know your favorite tea," she teased.
Swain chortled, "Indeed, yet I still have not an inkling of your tea preferences, other than the fact you patiently endure my choice tea at every visit."
"Jericho," the deceiver laughed, "you know far too much about me already. One must keep some things a secret!" She settled back into her chair, still smirking, "Did you make sure to close the door tight behind you? It let's in a terrible draft if not closed all the way."
"Of course," Swain replied offhandedly, "I'm certain it clicked shut, locking automatically, I presume?"
LeBlanc's eyes glittered, "then we shan't be disturbed." She took another sip and continued, "You surprised me, Swain, when you called such a sudden meeting. Are the state of affairs really so dreadful?"
"No worse than usual." Swain grunted.
"Cho'gath still kept in check?" Swain nodded, "And what about Shaco?"
"The usual mayhem. I've considered sending Darius or Draven to dispatch that nuisance."
"Hah! And lose your right hand man and best executioner? What a waste."
"I can tell you aren't here for idle gossip." LeBlanc observed shrewdly, fingering her teacup lazily.
"Since when have I ever come over solely for tea and gossip?" The general snorted.
"Ah, if only you were that sort of man Swain, if only!" LeBlanc laughed sardonically. "In all seriousness though, the fracas over the Kalamanda mines must be keeping you on your toes, especially considering you only recently returned from your 'vacation'."
"That blasted mine has been nothing but a headache." Swain grumbled, downing more tea.
"Or, perhaps it's those blasted Demacians who are the real headache?" The deceiver lilted.
"Those sniveling brats know not when to keep their necks out of that which doesn't concern them." Swain growled.
"And every interference is more tension and more needlessly shed Noxian blood." Leblanc finished gravely, "and what good is a dying soldier? Bleeding out his worth until he is spent. One cannot survive in such an abysmal state." She sent a pointed looked at Swain.
He nodded somberly, "Yet in many ways the fallen warrior is still better off than the field flowers under his near-lifeless form."
LeBlanc's golden eyes glinted, "Have you grown senile in your absence? You know as well as I that even the most wilted flower – wilted rose – will bloom again in the spring, when the warrior is long dead."
"So I suppose one must wait until 'springtime'." Swain purposely baited.
"If 'spring' would come! The rose will not bloom again unto the fields are no longer soaked in blood and the government is no wrought of the tyranny of a military state!" LeBlanc furiously gripped her teacup with more force than necessary, causing a crack to lace up the site. It betrayed the immense power hidden within her slim form.
"I do sympathize with your plight." Swain said evenly, in stark contrast to the violent emotions plaguing LeBlanc. "But you must know, in my position, what can I do but watch the 'warrior' die?"
"End him." LeBlanc snarled; she locked onto the tactician's blood red eyes fearlessly.
"It isn't that simple." Swain sighed wearily. For a moment, he looked truly old.
LeBlanc's expression softened, "But, perhaps the task is simpler now that General du Couteau is out of the picture." A small smirk worked its way onto her pale features.
"Indeed so." Swain allowed something like a smile to cross his stern features.
"It's a shame that the High Command wastes your talents as a mere general. You were always suited for greater." LeBlanc sighed airily.
"Have no fear M'lady LeBlanc, that seat of power you speak of? Attaining it is not a matter of if but when." Swain drunk down the rest of his tea and rose stiffly, "I do believe I should be returning home; it's quite late." LeBlanc rose too, all the violent emotion vanished and her former perfect porcelain visage returned.
Beatrice lighted back onto Swain's shoulder plate as the general spoke again, "I was pleased- and relieved- when you accepted my proposition to have tea today. I thought you would never forgive me for giving myself to the military high command."
"The mystic chains that bind us are deeper than any ephemeral quarrel; yet know this: I have not forgiven you." LeBlanc said bluntly, "Not for selling yourself over to the cause I thought you had allied against. But…perhaps if you were to do some good in your position, I may come to reconcile with you."
"M'lady LeBlanc, we've all had to make sacrifices. As for me, I've sold my soul far more times than the common man should…and you have made similar pacts. Greatness was never achieved nor constituted by the common. But you already know that, Matron of the Black Rose." Swain finished softly.
"How eloquent, Jericho, I'm simply charmed." LeBlanc's voice lilted with sarcasm.
"But of course." Swain's red eyes gleamed in amusement. "Thank you, Evaine," He took one of her graceful hands in his and pressed a rough, dry kiss to her knuckles, "for the tea; it was excellent." He picked up his cane and shuffled out of LeBlanc's chamber, leaving the deceiver grinning pertly in his wake.
Jarvis was sprawled sleeping in the armchair of the antechamber, but for once Swain opted not to harass the hapless doorman and slipped as silently out of the labyrinth as he had entered.
Outside, the night air was stagnant and little moonlight filtered through brooding clouds. All was silent save for the clacking of the general's cane against the cobblestones and the thudding of his uneven footsteps. Swain was painfully aware that his obviously limping gait would be a magnet for trouble.
He was right, for around the next bend, a shadow waited. as the tactician approached the shadow tensed and drew a blade, ready to lash out at Swain who was just…about…there-
Suddenly, Beatrice sensed the shadow's presence and squawked nervously. Swain halted to soothe his bird; all his senses were on edge, and he glanced around warily.
The assailant cursed vehemently and stepped off into deeper shadows. The assassination would have to wait until a different time. The assailant knew he would only have a chance at killing the general if he had the element of surprise, and that cursèd bird had ruined his plans. He pulled a hawk-like hood tightly over his head, and scampered away angrily.
Swain finally reached his estate and breathed a sigh of relief. Beatrice had not settled down until his gate and doors were locked and barred, and he wondered what could have vexed his favorite bird so. Little did he know that he owed the demon bird his life, for the assailant had been none other than the blade's shadow, Talon.
Until next time,
Link on Fanfiction.net: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9936573/2/Vici
A/N: Warning, giant wall of text ahead. This is basically a full chapter of Swain-monologuing – totally necessary nonetheless.
Into the late hours of the night, Swain sat at the cluttered desk in his study. He felt the exhaustion of a long day's work creeping into his bones, but sleep would not find him. The tactician had been pondering Matron LeBlanc's words for some time now. Since his return to Noxus after forced retirement Swain was beginning to understand the urgency of LeBlanc's subtle prompting.
Years ago, before Boram Darkwill had taken power, it was common knowledge that the Black Rose was the true force that drove the Noxian aristocracy, but under their ruthless warlord's command, the cult had sunk into desolation. Now, only a few vestiges remained.
The remaining Black Rose members lay in hiding, scattered about Noxus' underworld and unable to act without the fear of elimination. Many had thought the Black Rose was completely vanquished and it's had not been until LeBlanc herself had entered the League of Legends that remembrance of the long lost cult was resurfaced.
But the Black Rose was the least of Swain's problems; he had known Evaine for long enough – had been a part of the Black Rose as well – to know she would not double cross him. Or so he counted as much from the ruthless woman know as "the deceiver". Though in the past, he had been he who had done the betraying. The general absently rubbed the bare space where the heavy onyx ring, symbolic of the Black Rose, had once rested.
Swain stood stiffly, taking up his cane, and began to pace to and fro before his desk, "These mines have become troublesome, have they not, right Beatrice?" Swain posed wearily.
The bird squawked in agreement from her wrought iron perch in the corner of the study.
"More trouble than they are worth, eh?" Swain ceased pacing, "but, of course it's only natural with potential Nexuses to be found, Kalamanda inevitably is a magnet for political clashes between the swarming city states – all eager to stake their claim and greedily devour riches. Any fool should know that with Noxian and Demacian troops in such close proximity, it will only a matter of time before the two clash. Not even the iron fist of the League could survive – least of all cull – the force of irascible hatred between the city states."
Beatrice cawed knowingly.
Swain leaned up against a book case and reached a frail arm up to adjust the volume of his hex-tech record player, which thrummed with the flurrying chords of Sona's famed "Aria of Perseverance".
"I fear that in the near future, peace will be impossible. But I suppose one must deal with the tribulations of his own city-state."
Swain took a seat and rested his chin in his hands pensively. "Following the general's disappearance, a new face emerged from the shadows of the du Couteau household: Talon. That man has always been an enigma. The feared street fighter held no allegiances – until the day he came face to face with General du Couteau, who had been sent to dispatch him. Talon finally met his match, and du Couteau spared him in a rare show of mercy. The lad was forever dedicated to the general, and thus became his protégé. The general's disappearance shook Talon. I had caught glimpses of him, pacing about while Katarina organized search parties in the military headquarters all last week following du Couteau's disappearance. With each passing day gaining no leads, Talon appeared increasingly distraught… and obsessed. Natural, I suppose, to feel for a lost mentor.
Katarina and Talon's seeming alliance is a bit perturbing… and sudden. I had not gotten the indication du Couteau's protégé was in any way connected to the rest of the general's household. Though, Talon may see Katarina as one last link to her father, which brings one to wonder what would happen if the General's trail runs out – so too will Talon's alliance?" Swain looked over at Beatrice, who had more or less fallen asleep amidst her master's musings.
"Hmn, I bore even you Beatrice. I only ponder the state of the du Couteau household for they are major advocates of the Noxian military state, and therefore a potential threat to my plans, right girl?" He ruffled the bird's feathers and Beatrice cawed muzzily in agreement, "Which brings me back to the master plan, doesn't it?" The tactician sighed, "LeBlanc was right, this military state – this dying soldier – must be ended, and in its wake the Black Rose shall rise again. With the cult holding a stable government, Noxus could truly be a formidable foe – a deadly political and militaristic force. For true strength lies in the power of knowledge – wars of words are just as potent as those of steel and blood.
Du Couteau's vacant seat is a fortuitous opportunity indeed. Another dispatched worm is another step towards the top. The time has come for carrion crows to tear away at the decaying high command." Swain finished with a deep breath, full of anticipation. "I'm getting rather poetic in my age, eh Beatrice?"
The bird in question fluffed out her feathers and turned her back to Swain, showing her disdain and attempting to rest peacefully. The general chuckled vaguely and spread out a stack of papers on his desk. On top was an envelope from the high command. The General unfolded the invitation from within: it formally invited Swain to a clandestine ceremony in which his promotion would be made official. Though du Couteau's fate was still shrouded in mystery, political pressures coerced High General Boram Darkwill into appointing a man to fill his post. The letter also detailed a celebratory party honoring his promotion, which would occur after the ceremony tomorrow. It denoted along with times, dates, and proper dress attire that he could bring one guest of choice. Swain chortled, Evaine was his obvious choice, but he knew she would be indescribably cross with him for making her go to a military related event. Though, in a way, the celebration was a much hers as his. Swain set the invite aside and panned through the rest of the papers with little interest, until his keen eyes caught a news paper headline: "Jarvan IV Inspects Kalamanda Mines".
"So the prince is personally checking the mines." Swain muttered. A brief image flashed through his mind: his own ravenous form shredding the arrogant "exemplar" in the League's Judgment chamber. It had been pitifully simple to sabotage – and successful, if not for Vessaria Kolminye's interference. Swain looked again at the paper, envisioning a bit more macabre headline for the Demacians.
"This could be quite the opportunity." He whispered viciously, the mere thought of sinking vengeful talons into the arrogant fool once more made Swain clench his fists and shake in anticipation.
"Perhaps these mines are not such a hassle; perhaps they are a chance to kill two nemeses with one bird."
A/N: Quite literally the shortest chapter I've ever written.
Until next time~
The plot beings to progress...
Dawn in Noxus was not a celebrated affair. The sun peeked out every morning nervously, apprehensively, as if it were unsure it wise to show such a brilliant smile in the face of its dour, scowling recipient. There were no glorious structures to set sunlight dancing off luminescent domes and pearly armatures as in Demacia. Light reflected off brooding towers, making them seem more menacing if anything. For the Noxian people, sunrise slipped by unnoticed; drudge workers and military factions were awake long before the sun awoke the day, and besides, few held the sentiment to care.
Swain perhaps was one of the few to hold something like sentiment for the sunrise; he found it helped him sort out his thoughts as he watched the sky spangle with colors above his aviary. The birds he kept there would stir as instinct told them to wake.
On this day however, Jericho Swain slept through the sunrise and deep into mid-morning before rousing. As he had drifted off to sleep the previous day, rosy fingers of light were already caressing the horizon. Swain rose groggily and proceeded about his morning routine: feeding the birds, getting a bite to eat and putting on a fresh robe. Methodically working his way through, soon enough the tactician found himself back in his study to compose a letter for LeBlanc. He stared at a blank piece of parchment for a minute, pen in hand, unsure of how to start. Addressing her as "LeBlanc" seemed too formal, too unfamiliar, but to address her as "Evaine"… In recent years past, Swain had felt unsure if it were…within his bounds to address her as Evaine. After she assumed the title of LeBlanc and after he had left the Black Rose, her first name somehow seemed inappropriate, as if he were undeserving to address her so intimately.
Swain Settled for what he deemed sufficiently neutral:
I would be delighted if you would accompany me this evening at the reception party for my promotion. Send a reply back to my estate and I truly hope to accompany you there.
The general then strapped his completed letter to the leg of a reddish, long necked demon-bird and sent it on its way to deliver the note. When the bird was out of sight, Swain returned indoors and began to prepare for his promotion ceremony, now only a few hours away.
Swain dressed in his normal military garb, Beatrice taking her usual perch on his shoulder. The tactician had decided to save fancier robes for a bit more important promotion he felt sure to come.
As he was pulling up his facemask, someone began knocking at the door. Swain clacked slowly to the door, not in the mood for visitors but not rude enough to completely ignore the persistent guest. He slid open the peephole and found himself face to face with LeBlanc's glittering gold eyes. Swain hastily opened the door for her and commented, "You could just let yourself in."
LeBlanc retorted, "yes, but I prefer not to undermine the trust of those near to me."
Swain bit back a reply and let the deceiver stalk past.
Scathing, she always came back with a cutting rebuke, Swain sighed to himself, that woman would never let him forget any wronging of her. Her moods changed violently, like a sandstorm, lashing with stinging derision, and how could Swain detect if they shifted when her true feelings were buried beneath so much deceit.
LeBlanc marched through Swain's house to the living room, settling herself into a divan as if she were in her own home, and began to fiddle with the glowing, suspended charms in her staff. Swain remained in the doorway of the room.
"Hmm, this place hasn't changed a bit." She commented, "Come on, sit down Jericho."
Swain snorted, "It's my house, I can stand if I wish."
LeBlanc rolled her eyes and lounged back on the divan.
"I presume you are here in regard to my letter?" The tactician queried.
"I thought you'd never ask!" LeBlanc exclaimed, "Why in the world else would I visit you?" Sarcasm bubbled over in her voice.
"And?" Swain prompted, "Your response?"
"You see, that's the thing, I haven't' decided, and seeing as talking with a note is more than pointless, it seemed only proper to discuss the matter directly with you."
"What is there to discuss?" Swain asked with slight irritation.
"Why should I take part in anything related to the military? You know, the military some of us vowed to rally against." LeBlanc gave a cutting glare.
"If you don't want to come, then we have nothing more to discuss and I must be at the ceremony in less than an hour. Good day to you." Swain said with a bit more urgency, her jibes trying his patience.
"Oh, of course, your ceremony to be promoted to a slightly more decorated dog." LeBlanc cackled mockingly.
"Enough of your berating!" Swain snapped. "I need your support Evaine, more now than ever. You promised me."
LeBlanc spoke softly, "Are we not just using one another?"
The silence of unspoken words suffocated the chamber.
She exhaled deeply. "Alright then, this evening, I'll do your bidding. I'll meet you on the dais promptly at seven, you best not be late."
She curtsied pertly and made her way to the door, pausing long enough to say, "You had better be there when I need you." She swept away, but not before Swain noticed her subtly touch the onyx thorn ring on her finger – a gesture only he would catch. It made the tactician sigh deeply.
Before LeBlanc was out the door, Swain called out, "Evaine, where is my bird?"
"Mmm, thought you had forgotten." From the sash at her hip, she opened a hollow and pulled out the incredibly panicked, long-necked bird. It shrieked and cawed frantically until LeBlanc released it. The bird promptly scrambled over to Swain's shoulder, huddling terrified against his head. Beatrice, irritated that the bird had taken her perch, promptly cuffed the poor thing with her wing, scolding it for being a coward.
As if the bird wasn't already traumatized enough.
"I wish you would quit doing that to my birds," Swain sighed.
"Then speak to me directly – don't send a messenger." She chortled. An illusion shimmer over her body, and the next moment she was not LeBlanc but a Noxian soldier, who departed swiftly.
"It must pain her to be disguised so." Swain muttered, but he knew it would be dangerous for them to be seen consorting together at his estate, and a Noxian soldier made a bit more sense for one coming and going from his house.
Swain took the long-necked bird back to the aviary, deciding to keep it out, and gave it a two-day old hunk of meat, which he tore up greedily. Beatrice also snapped up a morsel, much to the other bird's distress. He haughtily flew up to rejoin his flock in their roosts.
Beatrice fluffed up, seeming to be pleased with her dominate status. The general petted her head and locked up the aviary, muttering all the while about how he didn't need any "bird drama" to top off all his other problems.
The ceremony, as he guessed, was swift and well hidden. Deep in the underbelly of Noxus, in a series of chambers Swain doubted even the Black Rose knew of, the Darkbourne Hold, Noxus' High Command gathered. Grand General Boram Darkwill stood at the head of the chamber upon a marble altar, masked and robed in impressive tyrannical gear. Kieran and Draythe Darkwill flanked him, along with Swain's ally, General Darius. Conspicuously empty was General du Couteau's seat, though the tactician could see the silhouette of this daughter, Katarina, observing on his behalf in the corner.
Boram Darkwill stepped forward, raising a hand to bring the ceremony to order. The tomb-like silence of the chamber was suffocating. Swain paid no heed to the pressure as Boram Darkwill began to speak. The Grand General's voice wavered, grinding harshly with age. The reclusive man was far older than Swain, and the tactician had a suspicion that his masked face hid a wickedly haggard visage.
"We gather here today to acknowledge this man, Lieutenant General Swain. His accomplishments both in and out of battle have long gone without recognition, and with a record as stunning as his own, it is high time he became a part of Noxus' High Command. We welcome you." Darkwill finished croakily.
Swain wondered if this impromptu flattery was a weak attempt to seal his loyalties. He also barely suppressed a smirk at the welcoming bit – his only ally in the room was Darius, and he felt certain neither Kieran nor Draythe would mind him dead. Certainly young Miss du Couteau in the corner would love nothing more than an opportunity to put a knife in his back. She never trusted him – smart girl – nor had Swain ever cared for her family.
Darkwill beckoned him forward, and Swain made his way to the foot of the altar.
"Do you, Lieutenant General Jericho Swain, swear to uphold the dignity, strength, and spirit of Noxus?"
"I swear." Swain vowed, his surprisingly powerful voice reverberating in the small chamber. Beatrice cawed in agreement.
"Do you also, Lieutenant General Jericho Swain, swear upon your grave to do everything in your power for Noxus, and the greater good thereof?"
The better question is, are all of you ready to do what is best for Noxus, Swain thought, but answered in the same authoritative tone, Beatrice cawed, echoing his words eerily.
Darkwill nodded gravely, "I, my generals, and Noxus welcome you to the High Command." He gave a curt nod and Swain reciprocated with a sweeping bow.
There were no awards, no medals, nothing tangible to be presented; Swain didn't need anything of the sort. He wore his title as if he'd had it for years – and in many ways, the tactician's commanding presence always had portrayed him as one far more powerful than his rank.
The generals filed out in coffin-like silence, following the winding path to the surface. So somber were the participants, Swain felt to be amid a funeral procession and wondered why he could not hear the haunting notes of a dirge. Once outside, the command parted, with Darkwill retreating once more into the confines of his chamber. Darius fell in stride with Swain, no doubt to discuss some matter when the others were out of earshot. Swain made sure to keep a distance behind, while still being in sight of Katarina. The steely-eyed girl had a reputation for cold-blooded murder, and Swain had no intention of letting her vengefulness ruin his day. She did not tarry, joining up with Talon outside by a pillar. Swain was a bit surprised to see her so openly consorting with the assassin. He wondered if they were sending a message. Katarina and Talon were too professional for slipups.
He didn't have long to ponder, for Darius prompted, "General Swain, sir, congratulations. If I may, do you have any order for me to execute right away?"
"At ease Darius, there is much work to be done, but it can wait. I intend to use my position to the zenith of its potential."
"Darkwill looked weary." Darius commented.
"More decrepit than I would have guessed. One wonders how long he will last." Swain said pointedly. Darius nodded. "A plan is beginning to converge, Darius, I know not when but is it ever intoxicating, like a rose in bloom."
"Of course, sir," Darius agreed. The great general seemed to be sorting out Swain's exact words in his mind, though he had long since given up on deciphering the encrypted messages in Swain's speeches.
"Is that all, sir?" Darius implored
"It is, and Darius, we're going to a party – relax and enjoy yourself."
"I'll do my best." A grin cracked onto his stern features.
"Good man," Swain chuckled, smiling wryly in return.
Though Noxus had a reputation for stringency, Swain knew before he stepped into the main square that they also had an odd propensity for throwing parties.
The square had somehow been transformed from its utilitarian balefulness into a splendid courtyard. Waning sun and paper lanterns filled the area with an uncommonly welcoming glow. The warm light scattered off the black stone and wrought iron building, which captured bits of luminance like embers. Vendor stations were set about conveniently, selling foods and beverages. Gragas was already camped out at the liquor stand, and by the volume of his voice, he was most likely on his second or third barrel. Making passersby cringe and gag were Urgot and Sion, who were apparently invited as well; partial decomposition not being a valid reason to miss the party. Raucous laughter from the foot of the fountain at the square's center came from none other than Draven. The glorious executioner had become the glorious entertainer; he juggled his axes, determined as always to be the center of attention. Much to egg on his limitless ego, a sizeable crowd had already gathered.
As Swain surveyed about further, he noticed with a twinge of irritation that Katarina and Talon hung on the outskirts of the revel; he also spotted a small pack of gossip-hungry Journal of Justice reporters. The tactician grumbled to himself; if this had truly been his party, not a military appointed one; he would have been more selective with the guests. His idea of a good party would be tea with LeBlanc, Beatrice, and maybe Darius (the general in question was standing at the edge of the carousing, still stoic, in full armor, and stubbornly hanging onto his axe, Darius looked mildly at ease. As if to prove it, a small flower was pinned to his chest plate). But, unfortunately, as a cause of his near-celebrity status, being a League champion, he would be hounded by the Journal of Justice dogs, and the festivities of this evening's celebration would doubtless bleed into the coming week.
"You're late." A wry voice teased, "But I expected that. And for your information, this little corner is not the dais."
Swain turned to find LeBlanc beside him. To his surprise she wore, instead of her normal clothes, a rich purple satin dress edged with gold and embroidered with lavender. It had a tapering hem, shorter in the front and flowing out into a train in the back. Her staff had been shifted into an elegant cane, and the jeweled headdress transformed into a fancy hair piece.
"You look nice." Swain commented. An understatement, really, he couldn't shake the thought of how lovely she looked.
"As do you; that sort of thing happens when you don't constantly wear a frown," She teased, "shall we go before the good spirits run out?"
"Agreed M'lady." Swain made a shallow bow and offered his elbow. LeBlanc tucked her hand into the crook and the two were off.
"This feels almost unreal Evaine," Swain murmured so only she could hear. They meandered through the throngs of people.
"It does, doesn't it?" She sounded nearly wistful, "But after anticipating this day for so long how could it not?"
They stopped on the dais. Out of the corner of his eyes, Swain caught sight of the Journal of Justice dogs that huddled in a pack nearby. One caught a glimpse of the general and his companion and none too subtly nudged his fellow man, whispering earnestly.
Swain growled under his breath, "those blasted journalists, must they leave nothing a secret?"
LeBlanc leaned closer to him and whispered a breath's distance from his ear, "this is the price you pay for fame, my dearest, enjoy it while it lasts." She nestled her head against his shoulder, making the Journal of Justice writers whisper and gossip amongst themselves. Their next issue would be fraught with scandalous tabloids, Swain thought irritably. But if it were inevitable, he would at least enjoy his evening with LeBlanc.
The two not impressed by the revel still watched contemptuously from their proper place in the shadows.
"Look at him," Katarina snarled, "gallivanting around as if her were already king."
"Mmhmm." Her companion, Talon, mumbled distractedly.
"Are you listening?" She snapped irritably.
"Yes," he fumbled with a scrap of paper he held.
"Is that a note you're reading?" Katarina craned her head to see.
"N-no! It's nothing," Talon hastily crammed the paper deep into the folds of his cloak.
"And what does he mean by being here with LeBlanc? It could be a publicity stunt – he likes putting on a show…"
Katarina's grumblings were interrupted by a foolishly brave Journal of Justice reporter.
"Excuse me, Ms du Couteau; I was wondering if I could ask a few questions about your search for your fa-"
"Don't talk to me!" Katarina eyed him icily, "I have important family matters to attend to." She jabbed one of her small daggers at the reporter for effect. The man attempted to reply, but found only gibberish dribbled from his flapping lips.
"Come Talon!" Katarina stormed off in uncharacteristic rage; the second assassin bobbed in her smoldering waking, looking quite like a bumbling lackey, though in reality both were forces to be reckoned with, and while Swain celebrated the night away, a plot brewed thick in the du Couteau household; baleful, baleful indeed.
Until next time~
And now to introduce the opposition...
Chapter 4: Discord
Two weeks after Swain's promotion…
Of all the families in Noxus, the du Couteau household was a paradigm of power and influence. But as of recent, to say that the du Couteau household exuded such prestige would be a sorely misplaced statement. Though Katarina ran herself ragged, the manor had been in incurable disarray since the disappearance of her father. Her inconsolable sister was like an infant again; Cassiopeia had, in grief, been demolishing servants with gross indifference. Talon, stone-faced and unreadable, even seemed more down than usual.
And to top it off, the sinister blade still had a thorn in her side – Jericho Swain. That old man was ever up to something. What? She hadn't an inkling. It was bad enough he couldn't have taken forced retirement to heart. Some old men just wouldn't take a hint. Katarina paced relentlessly in her chambers; try as she might, she could not decipher the general's plan. She knew near everything when it came to assassinating, but intense political schemes always swam above her head. Sure, she was generally the representative for Noxus, but that came from being a League champion – and for her overwhelming intimidation factor. She could handle the word trickery of most delegates, but Swain was simply out of her league.
Recently, before her father's disappearance, she'd been entirely preoccupied with the Ionia-Noxus rematch and unable to pay attention to Swain conniving. She huffed angrily and flopped onto her bed. Squeezing her eyes shut, Katarina hoped a moment of silence would clear her pulsating thoughts.
She would not even be afforded a second.
"Katarina!" One of her sisters screamed as she burst through the door. "Cassiopeia – she – she's at it again! The servants!" The girl fainted.
Katarina grumbled something about having a backbone and stepped over her sister's collapsed body, blades in hand.
"Talon!" Katarina called, "I need a hand!"
"M'kay." The assassin stepped out of seemingly nowhere – but Katarina was entirely unruffled; she'd grown quite accustomed to his stealth. The two scoured the halls for Cassiopeia, finding her at the source of the commotion.
The serpentine diva had already dispatched one servant, leaving a bloody mess on the floor. Three or four others had become flailing statues. Cassiopeia had on this rare occasion emerged from her chambers to wreak havoc. The rest of the servants who survive the initial barrage tried unsuccessfully to dash down the hallway to safety. Cassiopeia hissed and began to wind up for another round.
Katarina "tsked" unhappily under her breath and dove heedlessly at her sister.
"Cass! What are you doing?" Katarina grabbed her sister's shoulders and shook her, "Is this about father again?"
"Yesss!" Cassiopeia halted and started weeping as frustrated rage melted to tears. "You don't know what it's like to be c-cooped up in here without a-any way to t-t-try and find father!"
"I do Cass, I really do. I've tried everything to find him." Cassiopeia sobbed harder. "You – we – just have to trust that he'll return. He's not gone yet – and one of the most feared generals in Noxus won't be easy to beat." This seemed to calm Cassiopeia a bit. She wiped bleary eyes, catching sight of Talon, who was awkwardly standing at the edge of the fray, in the process.
"Don't look at me!" She lashed out, vainly attempting to hide her monstrous appearance.
Talon blinked and wordlessly shuffled around. Katarina rolled her eyes and lead the serpent girl back to her room.
"Cass – change the servants back."
"Fine." She huffed, the stone people snapped back to life and all the staff made a hasty exodus, "they tried to console me, but what do they know about suffering?"
Katarina bit back a rude "they deal with your moodiness on a daily basis, if that's not suffering, what is?"
Instead she reassured, "come and talk to me whenever you feel upset; I'd prefer if you don't kill anymore of the staff."
"Alright." Cassiopeia curled up on her bed.
"Dinner will be at six; I'll come and let you know, lest you be 'offended' by another servant." Katarina left briskly before her sister could reply.
Talon slunk off after Cassiopeia's episode, back to the only spot in the house he truly felt at home: General du Couteau's study. He sat cross-legged at the base of the general's desk and idly gazed at a framed photo of du Couteau. The one next to it was probably the last family portrait before Cassiopeia had changed, before the general had disappeared and life had become pure turmoil. Talon knew the pain of loss was unbearable for the du Couteau girls, but the keen ache was no less for him. He had no family, and no memory of one to speak of. Du Couteau had been his life; his mentor, his idol, his rival. Life without him was a cruel and meaningless existence.
Talon pulled out the photo of the general he always kept with him. It was slightly wrinkled from residing in his cloak pocket, but there it would stay, next to his heart. The blade's shadow set the picture aside and a frown transformed his face. Whoever had ambushed du Couteau would pay. The assassin had no qualms about that. He felt in his gut that Swain was the culprit. The old man was ceaselessly ambitious, and he had proven in the past that nothing would stand in his way, and survive. Rumor had it he'd made pacts with a host of demonic entities. Du Couteau had just been another obstruction in Swain's power struggle. It only made sense that the tactician would see fit to "remove" him. Without du Couteau to overshadow him, Swain then became the obvious replacement. The slick general took advantage of the unrest to seal his easy promotion. Talon was furious; with this step out of the way, what was stopping Swain from clawing his way to the top? Talon fully intended to make sure such an atrocity would never happen – why else would he have tried to assassinate the bastard? But Swain's abominable bird had saved his worthless hide. The blade's shadow wondered when the general's good fortune would run dry.
Footsteps padded down the hall – making Talon jump and quickly put the pictures back in place.
"Are you here?" Katarina asked. She swung open the door. "Why are you in my father's study?" Curiosity etched onto her scowling face.
"Looking for…evidence" Talon stammered. Silence hung heavy in the air. "Oh, um, do you think Cassiopeia needs checking on?" Talon half shoved – half herded Katarina out of his secret haven. Once the door had been shut Katarina growled, "I'm not checking on Cass, I've had enough of her angst. If you're so concerned, you check on her!"
Talon was unsure of what to do- Katarina was in a particularly dangerous mood, but checking on Cassiopeia wasn't exactly an appealing idea.
"Could you check on Cassiopeia?" Katarina looked weary under her frustration.
Talon stood awkwardly and nodded, wanting somehow to reassure or calm her, but knowing it was out of his bounds. Without a word, Talon slipped off once more to the serpentine diva's chambers – still befuddled how he got himself into such a hole. He hovered outside Cassiopeia's door, debating for several minutes if entry was really such a good idea. But Talon steeled himself, he had dealt with Cassiopeia on a daily basis and in retrospect, he'd been up against far worse than a hormonal serpent-woman. He knocked once, twice, and waited. Dimly, he could hear sounds of destruction rippling through the camber – they halted at the sound of his knocking.
Cassiopeia tore open the door, about to screech invectives at whoever had dared disturb her. She halted abruptly at the sight of Talon.
"Oh, it's you." She went from ragey to flirty in a heartbeat.
Talon stood stiffly and conveyed his message with mechanical indifference. "Katarina asked me to see if you were feeling better."
"Mmm but is that all you came here for? Or did you want to see me?" She smiled seductively.
"Are you better?" Talon replied uncomfortably.
"I'd feel better if you came with me." She darted out her clawed hand and clamped Talon's arm in a vice-like grip; dragging him into her chamber. Talon wondered if this was how a trapped wolf felt. Suddenly the idea of gnawing off one's arm didn't seem so bad…
The diva's room was trashed as Talon had suspected. All manner of fine items lay strewn and broken on the floor. He paused when he stepped on something that crunched. With a pang of revulsion, Talon realized it was a snake's skin.
"Hmm, yes, it's my molting time."
"Uh." Talon failed to form words.
"Don't you find me…beautiful?" She asked.
Talon thought this was a trick question, and declined replying in favor of not becoming a statue.
"Don't be coy." She batted her eyelashes. A few more patches of scales had begun to flake off her shoulders. "Look Talon, I'm shedding some scales." She purred and sidled up to the assassin.
Mild horror and outright disgust filled Talon as he suppressed violent out lash. With Cassiopeia still staring lecherously at him, the assassin reached his wit's end at last.
The blade's shadow vaulted past the serpentine diva, mad-dashing for the door. Cassiopeia was speechless for a moment as Talon half stumbled-half flew out her chamber. Until he ran into Katarina, Talon did not stop running.
"Hey!" she snapped, "What in the world are you doing?"
"Your sister is molting." Talon burst bluntly.
"She does that." Katarina said flatly.
"Oh." Katarina seemed just as appalled as her assassin counterpart. She swiftly composed herself, "I'm leaving – just got an urgent message from the Institute of War. They need me to help oversee the Ionia versus Noxus rematch."
"But you weren't of the selected champions?" Talon implored.
"No, I'm just representing. It should be interesting; I'm certain Karma will be giving me a piece of her mind. A perfect opportunity to beat that whiny Ionian back into submission." Katarina shouldered her pack "My carriage is waiting. Don't do anything foolish while I'm away." She said sternly.
"I won't guarantee that." Talon replied.
Katarina snorted knowingly and departed.
The ride to the Institute of War was uneventful to say the least. Outside the remarkable building Katarina was met with jeers from Ionian spectators and fervent cheers from Noxian spectators. She took her seat amongst the elites from both sides; sectioned off from each other, of course. The sinister blade was surrounded by stuffy officials from Noxus – the ones she tried to avoid.
High Counselor Vessaria Kolminye was the announcer of the match, which began promptly. The champions surged onto the field, and several minutes in, First Blood was drawn by Ashe for Ionia, much to Noxus' dismay. Katarina was confident Noxus would make a comeback though, and let her mind wander back to Swain, and the party. Why would he be with LeBlanc? She had an inkling they'd known each other in the past – but to work together for any other reason… She strained to think of a common purpose for the two – Swain was with the military and LeBlanc with the Black Rose – the two were natural opposites. And Swain wouldn't be drawn to the Black Rose; it wasn't even a viable source of power. Or was it? Until LeBlanc joined the League, Katarina had almost forgotten he cult from generations past – everyone had. But after near annihilation it was unthinkable that the Black Rose could regroup – was it? Katarina rubbed her temples in frustration. There were too many gaps in her knowledge to draw conclusions yet.
She peeked at the match, noting with disgust that the score was shifting in Ionia's favor.
When it was over, Katarina made her obligatory way to shake hands with the opponent. Karma waited in the announcer's box with Vessaria.
"Well played." Karma said stiffly as she shook the assassin's hand.
"Quite." Katarina growled. The tension nearly crackled in the air.
"I suppose you two should report the results back to your homeland." Vessaria broke the exchange gently.
Katarina, who was not in the mood to be ordered around, stalked away, fuming.
As she waited for her carriage, the unmistakable hulking figure of Garen meandered through the crowd. Katarina shrank back where she stood, not wanting to deal with the Demacian. But the vanguard missed nothing, and while Katarina attempted to dash to her carriage, he caught sight of her and stepped in her path.
"Hello Garen." She said icily.
"Katarina. I – I saw the match."
"A pity they didn't summon you; victory would have been all too easy."
"It would have. Now if you'll excuse me." Katarina squeezed by the vanguard, a growing discomfort filling her gut.
"Until next time; I suppose I'll be seeing you on the Fields of Justice."
"Indeed, I look forward to it." She surprised even herself as the words slipped out. She would be pleased to see a Demacian? Preposterous. Before she could blunder further, Katarina clambered into her carriage. From the back window, Garen was smiling. At her. His blue eyes twinkled – why would she, Katarina du Couteau, notice that? As the carriage pulled away, she wasn't willing to admit that a Demacian had set her heart aflutter.
A day later, Swain paced in his study as usual, humming to a Pentakill track he had acquired more or less legitimately. His spirits fell when the paper was delivered. He and all other Noxians felt the collective dismay at the sight of the headline:
"Ionia Defeats Noxus"
This marks the end of the introductory story arc.
*Note, the "flirtatious molting" was referenced in the Journal of Justice issue 30. It was so hilarious I couldn't help but include it.
Until next time~
A/N: This is the beginning of the Kalamanda story arc.
A/N: This chapter makes major time jumps – just following the Journal of Justice, it begins around January 26th and ends about March 25th. These things take time – so I'll try to keep the mundane and the awkward transitions to a dull roar.
Nearly a month later…
Darkness fell on Kalamanda. Bells rang, ushering the miners to return to their camps. The Noxian faction lumbered home, sitting in grim groups around campfires and cleaning off their tools. About an hour later, the overseer did a head count to find one man missing.
"Has anyone seen Gauger?" He growled.
"That ol' drunk? Who gives a yordle's arse?" One miner, deep into the bottle himself, ridiculed.
"He just better not lose any equipment." The overseer grumbled and dropped the subject.
The following day, the Demacian miners filed dutifully into the depths of Kalamanda. They picked, chipped, and panned away layers of sediment – finding plentiful veins of ore, but no trace of the ultimate prize: a Nexus.
Shortly after lunch, a rumbled trembled through the mines. Pebbles sprayed onto unsuspecting miners.
"The hell?" One complained, "There weren't supposed to be earthquakes 'ere."
"Probably nothing." Another snorted.
Surrounding miners scoffed at the prospect. Their skeptic choked in their throats as the shaking intensified. Without warning, great cracks lacerated the ceiling while chasms split the floor and a deluge of rocks pummeled the men.
When the dust settled, none were dead, several injured. The first miner tried to clear rubble from the exit tunnel, but met only solid boulders blocking both exits. He flung himself against the stones, futilely; they would not budge.
"Stop that! You'll bring the whole friggin' mine down!" Another miner restrained the desperate man.
The rest of the miners huddled together, the full realization of their predicament finally setting in.
"I s'pose we're trapped."
Word of the trapped miners spread like a conflagration – once the Demacian camp learned of their absence, Journal of Justice reporters around Kalamanda caught wind of the story and in no time all of Valoran knew of the miners' plight.
It was at the head of a training exercise that the news reached Swain. If his first thought was irritation for the mewlings of Demacian whelps, his second was to consult Darius. The two generals huddled together in the announcer's box at the top of the training arena.
"What do they expect us to do about it?" Darius grumbled.
"Nothing, I suppose. But that would reinforce their cause." Swain pondered.
"Think for a moment Darius, Demacia gets in trouble, who are they going to blame? Noxus of course, it's only natural we'll be pegged the scapegoat." Swain drummed his fingers. "Ionia and Piltover have already offered up aid, we shall do likewise."
"Are you – sir! Help them?!" Darius stammered.
"If Noxus had anything to do with this incident – which I assure you I know nothing of – Demacia will point fingers and Noxus might be punished by the League itself. Offering aid will send those doddering fools in circles, while projecting a positive image of Noxus to the rest of Valoran. At least so far as the League is concerned. Until we get to the bottom of the matter, keeping political mishaps at bay is crucial."
Darius nodded, "I see. Your orders?"
"Send the troops."
The carriage lurched yet again, sending Swain back against his seat. Several vehement oaths slipped out under his breath as he righted himself.
"So sure you want to see the mines yourself?" The soldier next to him implored.
"Hush, my public appearance is necessary." The general grumbled, "I was much more confused when you insisted upon coming as well, LeBlanc."
She sighed, "The underworld gets so boring once you know it tip to tail. The military rarely sends patrols to pick off wayward cult members, so there's no one to murder, and my subordinates are the ones who train recruits – I have nothing to do." She turned her head, masked with the soldier's uniform, "besides, I thought you may need someone to watch your back."
"I don't need to be coddled." Swain snorted.
"Perhaps you should be grateful to have someone who would." She fell silent and Swain followed suit.
They arrived in Kalamanda late afternoon. A soldier escort quickly encircled the carriage, but before the door was opened, LeBlanc slipped away to her own purposes.
As a result, the unlucky man to open the door was more than befuddled to find Swain alone.
"Sir, didn't you have a soldier accompanying you?" He stuttered.
"What are you talking about?" Swain said grumpily.
"You had a bodyguard!"
"You're not making a yordle of sense." Swain hobbled by him and ordered gruffly, "stop your dilly-dally."
The bemused soldier bumbled behind Swain and fell in step with the rest of the general's entourage.
Swain met briefly with Mayor Anson Ridley, a small balding man with a nervous manner. Perfunctory words were exchanged with little interest and Swain returned to a massive tent that had been prepared for him. The interior was sectioned off into three parts, one with a cot and dresser, another with a desk, upon which the general's trunk of battle plans, blueprints, books, stationary and other schematics had been placed. The third was equipped with a woodstove and a miniature cabinet set. Upon inspecting the kitchen, he was not in the least bit surprised to see LeBlanc already there, fixing herself a spot of tea and a sandwich.
"You're back." She commented, "hungry, dear?"
"Not in the least," Swain answered, "though I'd prefer if you didn't use the stove whilst I'm away. You'll raise suspicion."
"Ah, as always you underestimate me; I heated the tea with my magic."
"Then it must be dreadful," Swain grumbled.
LeBlanc took a sip and shuddered, "Bracing indeed, but I simply must have my tea." She drank more thoughtfully, "I'd much prefer something sweeter to your bitter brew."
Swain changed the subject for the serious. "I'm to inspect the mines before sundown. When my escort comes, you'd best make yourself scarce."
"I'm rather good at that," she chuckled. "Katarina made a statement earlier, extending her condolences to the Demacian miners."
"So I heard," Swain grumbled, "then she had to go ruin our case by making a jibe at Demacian mining techniques." The general rubbed his nose pensively, "from now on I'll be the one speaking on behalf of Noxus."
"Before the little assassin can wreck anything else?" LeBlanc chortled.
"Precisely," he stood and peered at the tent opening, "I do believe my escort is arriving, until later, LeBlanc."
"Of course," she curtsied mockingly. As the general exited she coyly voiced from the tent, "Don't fall into the mine."
Swain relinquished a retort and whatever pride such a rebuke held. At least she had forgiven him enough to tease.
Mayor Ridely headed the escort, flanked by ten or so of Swain's personal guard.
"You wished to see the mines?" He sniveled, clearly uncomfortable in the presence of Swain.
No, Swain didn't really want to, "Yes, of course." He answered with forced cordiality.
They walked to the mouth of the mine, the rocky terrain not conducive to Swain's limp. A gaping hole formed the mouth of the mine, and as the general looked into the pitch-black maw he could not banish a sense of foreboding - and empathy for the trapped civilians. Demacian or not, that was all the men were, and though Swain had never been fond of the city state, his main issues began and ended with Jarvan IV. The "exemplar" would do anything against Noxus to spite Swain; he wouldn't. Swain was wiser than that.
Ridley fidgeted as Swain pondered, "this is the Noxian mine opening, " the mayor explained, "I'd show you more, but the other city states have requested not to have other factions near their entrances.
"Understandable, though I hardly think a peek would harm anything." Swain chuckled.
"The Demacian group specifically voiced they didn't want any Noxians in the vicinity." Ridley relayed, "and sir, if you do have any control over the Zaun miners, please order them to limit the use of dangerous chemicals; it's ruining the environment!"
"I'll see what I can do." Swain replied reasonably, "until next time, Mayor."
"Yes General Swain," he seemed all too eager to distance himself from the tactician. Swain too was pleased to retire for the evening.
Back in his makeshift study, several hex-tech lanterns flickered with semi-bright luminance as he made note of the day's events. Swain sensed all the problems in Kalamanda were more than skin deep. Who all was involved was yet to be seen, but the general was content in waiting. He knew only time would tell its tale.
The weeks that followed were mostly uneventful. An excavation crew had begun the laborious task of unearthing the miners. Commodities like food, water, and clothing were fed down a lifeline to the miners. Swain mostly kept to himself; he oversaw what was completely necessary and let the mining experts their job. A small guard resided there as well; to break up fight, not instigate them. Unease amongst the citizens of Kalamanda seemed to grow as other factions, the largest being Demacia, began to bring troops as well. Though peace was promised to be paramount, such ideals wavered in the face of armed soldiers.
As winter melted into spring, geological experts among other scientists (Heimerdinger himself was rumored to be taking part) deemed the mine stable enough for major excavation to take way. Drilling commenced immediately, the grinding racked echoing throughout the town day and night, stopping only long enough the build scaffolding and to double check the fortitude of the mine walls.
Several days of break-neck work reaped promising results. Mere meters below where the workers drilled, the miners waited in cautious optimism. On the other end of the mine, another team drilled deep to the predicted source of the quake.
As the geologists claimed, the source of the seismic fault was not among the predicted boundaries. However, directly in the vicinity lay evidence of human tampering.
A day later though, great joy overtook the Demacian camp as all twelve minders, nearly a month later, resurfaced. Families and friends were reunited and the sound of good spirits lasted long past sundown. The celebration was only embittered by the finding at the other end of the excavation: evidence of Noxian sabotage.
The Noxian miners present at the event luckily left before any fights broke out – but the threat of violence immediately became a concern.
When the word reached Swain, he was furious. Then to top it off, he had about twenty people demanding an audience with him – Journal of Justice reporters, Demacian ambassadors, Noxian miners, and Kalamanda officials. Finally the general saw no end to the chaos, made and exit through the back, and ordered a soldier to announce that he'd moved his head quarters.
From his new command post, Swain received word that Katarina had been summoned to the front to remove all Noxians from the vicinity of the mines. Garen had been brought from Demacia for the purpose of doing the same with his city-state's miners. Both sides hung suspended in uneasy half-truce for the time being. All waited for a formal statement from the League.
Summoner Heywan Relivash gathered Ridely, Garen, Katarina, and Swain (for he insisted upon coming) as representatives for their respective city-states. After a terse exchange of words, Summoner Relivash decided to postpone any further decisions for the following days, lest rash thoughts come to dictate the solution. All departed in different directions, though equal heckling was distributed as they made their way from the meeting chamber.
Swain slouched wearily in his tent, which had been moved, pending his announcement, to a more quiet area. He rubbed his temples as a pervasive headache ebbed and flowed within his skull. Kalamanda was finally giving him literal headaches, aside from the metaphorical ones he always groused about. Sardonically, he thought, the headache was like a cherry on top of the Kalamanda-chaos sundae, just dripping with about a thousand things to peeve him.
A rustling noise alerted Swain, and the already cantankerous general wasted no time grabbing his cane to wreck havoc on whomever dared disturb him at this hour. He rent open the tent flap to revel the slim, black hooded figure that could only be LeBlanc.
She pursed her lips, "Surprised to see me?"
"Surprised you didn't think it necessary to disguise yourself." Swain grunted. He herded her inside with a light shove.
"Honestly though," she started, "its pitch black out there, no one saw me." She undid the black rose clasp on her cloak and draped it over one Swain's trunks, "I was a bit confused as to why your tent was in a different spot."
"You don't want to know." Swain growled.
"And I can tell by that look on your face you don't want to talk about the mining crisis. Word gets around, so I know all about it." Swain growled something unintelligible in response, "Perhaps you'd be interested in something a bit more secretive.
Swain's interest was piqued; LeBlanc led him over to his desk. He took the chair and she levitated on her staff.
"It's quite the tale. About a month ago I snuck into the Institute of War, disguised as a novice summoner. As such, no one questioned me and I could snoop to my heart's content. The Institute is vast; so I didn't have nearly enough time to see everything. I decided against disturbing their "sacred" Judgment chamber, and instead took a glance at what the Institute is holing away. They have three or four enormous store rooms – mostly filled with relics or miscellaneous garbage, but one of those rooms held something of interest; a fairly new looking shipment of explosives. Arcano-seismic charges, among others."
"Enough to keeps Ziggs happy for a day or two."
"A lot, then." Swain paused, "you're certain they were arcane-seismic charges?"
"I am. That same room also held a number of casks of Nyzer poisoning – enough to keep Singed busy for a few experiments. I snuck a bit of it." She pulled out a small flask that hung on a chain around her neck, "just in case," she added as Swain shook his head.
"As long as you're sure they won't notice it missing."
"They'd be more upset if I'd taken one of the Noxian military uniforms, though there's no shortage of them here."
"The what, pray tell?" Swain burst.
"Uniforms. It seems our precious League has acquired quite an armament of varying uniforms from each of the city-states. In other words…"
"Easy evidence to plant." Swain mulled over this revelation.
"Did it ever occur to you that the League may have had a hand in the chaos they now are so desperately trying to cull? Just think of it."
"I hardly think they'd risk such a maneuver…yet it makes perfect logic they would."
"Nexuses," LeBlanc breathed, "have there been any more confirmed findings?"
"No – but they're not taking any chances." Swain thought a moment, "if the League is involved, I don't believe all of it is part of this. I suppose I could ask Vessaria – she always enjoys my visits." Swain permitted a smirk.
A slight frown however manifested itself on Leblanc's face, though she bottled up the true extent of her emotions. "I'd rather you not." She said haughtily.
"And," Swain tapped the vial of Nyzer poison, "I'd rather you not masquerade in the Institute of War."
"It never stopped you," she snapped.
"That was different," Swain said defensively.
"Because it was Jarvan? Honestly, you're such a child sometimes."
Swain narrowed his eyes dangerously at her, and for a moment LeBlanc wondered if she'd truly overstepped her bounds.
"Have you… told me all you wished to say?" He asked with the forced pleasantry he always used to cover up some inner turmoil.
"Yes," LeBlanc spoke in a subdued manner, "I only wished to share that the League may have been involved."
"I hope you're right about this one – and that some wayward Noxian faction wasn't the culprit," Swain gave her a cold glare.
She held his gaze unblinkingly and murmured with much less sass than usual, "would I lie?" LeBlanc then slipped away to the adjacent room, the chamber had suddenly become stifling. The deceiver sank down onto the cot and cradled her head in her hands. She hadn't meant to anger Swain, but sometimes she forgot how her words could hurt.
The general sat had his desk for hours, scribbling down thoughts and ruminating over the chain of events from the past twenty four hours. He had been told Demacia was looking to make a private mining contract with Kalamanda – a contract for exclusive right that would most likely be shared with its allies, effectively bumping Noxus out of the picture. The supposed Noxian sabotage was just the leverage they needed for such an endeavor. Swain needed a counter attack – some way to turn the tide back on Demacia…but how… The tactician came up empty. He took a moment to rise and see where LeBlanc had gone – his anger had begun to soften.
In the adjoining room he found her curled up on his cot, fast asleep. Almost tenderly, Swain pulled a blanket over her, tucking it under her chin. He then reached forward to brush a few wayward strands of hair out off her face. But his hand stopped inches from her cheek. Swain couldn't, it wasn't his place…at one time it had been entirely his place, but now…not now.
He clenched his fist and clacked out of the room quickly. There was work to be done, and for now sleep was a luxury Swain could forgo.
When LeBlanc woke, Swain was sleeping soundly on his desk, face planted into a stack of papers. She contemplated waking him, but decided to wait until she'd brewed up some tea for the both of them.
Wafting a steamy mug in front of his face, she placed her other hand on his shoulder and shook him gently. Swain roused groggily, taking up the tea instantly and helping himself to a hearty swig before LeBlanc could forewarn, "It's hot"
"Quite," Swain choked, "I needed a wakeup call," He jumped right to the point, restacking some of the scattered papers, "I still see no solution in sight. You know about the proposed Kalamanda – Demacia mining contract?" LeBlanc nodded, "Personally, I couldn't care less about the mines. The only reason to challenge their contract is to prove a point – that Noxus won't be so easily removed. That's why we need to counteract fast. Keeping things chaotic will give us time."
"Time to manipulate the situation," LeBlanc grinned wickedly, "we can use the chaos to our advantage – and perhaps in the process we will both be able to get what we want." She cast an insinuative look at the general.
"I do believe it's time to return home, Matron, I need to see if there are any Demacian prisoners willing to play along."
Swain consulted Darius and the two devised a plan to have a prisoner testify that Demacia had attempted to frame Noxus – the alibi would suffice for the time being. As suspected, most of the prisoners refused to take part – there were only a handful of them left after the League required the return of all prisoners. A few, however, had slipped the League's notice – undoubtedly other city-states had done likewise. The newer inmates were completely adamant and would not cooperate. But, after much prompting, an older prisoner came forth, Swain wasn't even sure if he was a Demacian – but he went willingly.
Thom Garvin was his name – an average age, average height, average looking man. His cover story was simple: he'd been captured by Noxian forces after being caught near their mines without explicit permission. Then he would admit to murdering a Noxian to plant evidence so Demacia could finalize its contract. The only potential flaw in the logic held the question, why would Demacians put their own people in danger? Greed, of course, did terrible things to people, and, Swain grumbled to himself, maybe it's about time the rest of the world lost its misconception that Demacia, "the shining beacon of justice" wouldn't ever engage in corrupt practices.
With Garvin ready, Swain merely had to wait until Demacia was on the verge of making a contract and then leak the news. What he learned shortly thereafter drastically changed his plans. Demacia was arranging exclusive privileges with the mine – in other words, Kalamanda would receive a percent of the profit, but they were basically handing the mines over. In Kalamanda, a meeting was scheduled to take place mere days away. Tryndamere represented Freljord, Ridley for Kalamanda, and Jarvan IV himself for Demacia. Noxus' invitation had been conveniently forgotten – more likely ignored all together. The tactician deemed a tactless approach to this situation appropriate. At this point in the game, a little flamboyancy wouldn't hurt.
Darius must have had similar sentiments, for he didn't question when Swain set off with Garvin and about twenty soldiers to Kalamanda.
With a commanding aura, Swain marched into the meeting, causing immediate uproar. Jarvan IV leapt out of his seat and bellowed, "What do you think you're doing, Noxian?" The prince looked like he wanted nothing more than to rip Swain to shreds.
Swain's thoughts mirrored the Demacian's, but he was controlled enough to quell his emotions beneath the surface. He instead spoke evenly, "This man has confessed to the murder of the Noxian citizen in the mines, and the attempted framing of Noxus."
A cacophonous murmur shook the crowd. Jarvan IV started to rage at Swain and Garvin, to which the tactician replied calmly, seeming to be unruffled. The tense ambience began to shift towards outright conflict – and it wasn't until Jarvan III and his Royal Party arrived that the verbal sparring came to a halt.
Garvin refused to speak until Jarvan III prompted, "What is your name."
"Thom Garvin," he replied.
"Is what General Swain said true?"
Garvin looked greatly distressed in the presence of his king and spluttered, "I obeyed the commands of your son, the Prince."
A/N: Drama Bomb!
Until next time~
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