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In Karthus' first lore, he was a lich, all alone in his tower in the Howling Marsh. But he didn't seem like the stereotypical lich that was just hellbound to destroy everything. His story seemed tragic. In one of the JoJ, he said something very interesting, lore-wise:
"In life, there was one worth singing for forever. I have kept my promise, though to some now the song is not as lovely as it was once meant to be."
I know the old lore is no longer valid, given the retcon. But the old lore is what I think fits him most, and this song is what I think can be descriptive of that: Dark Tranquillity - Her Silent Language (http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/redirect.php?do=verify&redirect_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DyPb-dHQqpQo) (it's melodic death metal, so be warned~)
My interpretation of his old lore and the tidbits gained here and there, was that he was a mage who was extremely capable, a master of the arts. But his life was empty, till 'she' popped up. And since all good things end badly, she died, and he couldn't do anything about it. Be it disease, or murder, or anything else, he couldn't do anything, and no help was enough. So he started resenting life itself, and in undeath he found he could still hear 'her' voice, from the other side. He found a way to keep his promise, to always sing his Requiem. And blah blah blah .w.
Here's some referrence for a comparison between the lores: http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/showthread.php?t=2694261
Just to repost my post from a different thread, this is why Old Karthus' lore is not canon because of the new lore:
It is thought that Karthus was a mage who, in life, was foolish enough to enter the fetid waters seeking his fortune, and that he was forever transformed by whatever dark magic permeates the swamp. Karthus now rules over his swampy dominion with an iron (albeit skeletal) fist. Visitors are not welcome, and those who are not scared away by the lich's terrible power most likely end up as one of the undead themselves... skeletons and zombies in Karthus' growing army of eternal servants. On the darkest of nights, Karthus is said to sing the tales of those who have succumbed to the swamp, past and present.
Karthus' tenure in the League of Legends is one of the more unusual ones in the history of the League. First, it is highly unusual that a lich who was known for isolation and hatred of life would even be a willing part of an organization which promoted the preservation of life. Next, Karthus specifically eschews the accrual of power and influence gained through service to the League; he is essentially an unpaid volunteer. This behavior is completely different than what his life outside of the League would have onlookers believe. Karthus has never spoken about his intentions in being a champion of the League, and in fact becomes quite agitated when asked about it. In the interests of not aggravating a lich, most sensible people subsequently drop the issue.
*“In life, there was one worth singing for forever. I have kept my promise, though to some now the song is not as lovely as it was once meant to be.”*
*Remember this line, it is important!
Karthus is a terrible creature who was once a mortal so obsessed with death that he eagerly embraced the gift of undeath. Now in his unlife as a lich, Karthus is closer to his beloved grave than he ever imagined. He commands magic with oblivion as its source, and seeks to bring his grim truth to the rest of the world: only in death does life gain clarity and purpose.
Even as a boy, Karthus was different. There was a darkness within him that could not be denied. The young child clung to the shadows and shunned the company of others. He snuck into the funerals of strangers, and spoke to their tombstones in the cemetery. He sought out corpses of animals to preserve and memorialize them, creating a grim collection of morbid art. Karthus volunteered to tend to the sick and dying, though his intentions were not to help, but to closely witness the passing of those who were beyond help. Ultimately, he went so far as to elaborately stage his death, and he secretly observed his own funeral with intense fascination. When others discovered what Karthus had done, they were so shocked and disturbed that, in a way, he became truly dead to them. Karthus found himself fully rejected by the living.
His isolation only served to fuel his obsession. Karthus delved further into his exploration of death, and became fascinated by the legends of the Shadow Isles. There, it was said, the specters of the deceased continued on in unlife everlasting. Possessed by these tales, he knew he had to discover for himself if they were true. Journeying to those dreaded isles, Karthus soon found himself wandering through the mist, overcome by the surreal beauty of the place. He felt as if he had finally come home. He had always chased the elusive purity of the moment of death, when life passed and in a single instant achieved meaning. Karthus saw that undeath was like that moment, preserved in dread stillness forever.
''Come visit my home, and I shall sing a dirge of your life as it once was.''
"There is no sweeter song than the last breath of the dying."
These are two separate people. One is a mysterious figure while the other one became obsessed with death and the idea of it. One would sing outside of destruction and sang for someone he loved while the other cackles as he sings your death. One is ambiguously evil because he's a skeleton that shoots trespassers who don't listen to his warning while the other is undeniably evil because everyone needs to see that only in death do we gain clarity, so kill us all.
They do no coincide. New Karthus has nothing but death on the brain while the old Karthus was something more of a mysterious figure whose intentions were, gasp, ambiguous.