The Black Mist is setting in and the SHADOW AND FORTUNE page is up, including all four chapters a new Harrowing story centered around the fate of Bilgewater as the ominous Black Mist sets in!
"With the fall of Gangplank, Bilgewater descends into chaos as old rivalries are settled in blood while gang warfare threatens to tear the city apart. Miss Fortune counts the cost of her vengeance as the Black Mist rolls out of the Shadow Isles to engulf the city in a nightmare storm of restless dead."Continue reading for more information, including several updated champion bios and the entire Shadow and Fortune story (which includes mention of Illaoi, an upcoming champion) !
Table of Contents
- Landing Page
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- [NEW] Chapter Four
- Champion Bios
"SHADOW AND FORTUNE
A HARROWING STORY
With the fall of Gangplank, Bilgewater descends into chaos as old rivalries are settled in blood while gang warfare threatens to tear the city apart. Miss Fortune counts the cost of her vengeance as the Black Mist rolls out of the Shadow Isles to engulf the city in a nightmare storm of restless dead."
From here you can navigate the murky waters of this year's Harrowing story- including all four chapters of the SHADOW AND FORTUNE story and updated champion introductions & backgrounds for Hecarim, Kalista, Karthus, Mordekaiser, and Thresh.
The background art is a panorama of Bilgewater being consumed by the Black Mist!
Chapter One - Blood on the Streets, Glory in Death, Down to the Bearded LadyHere's chapter one of the Shadow and Fortune - Blood on the Streets, Glory in Death, Down to the Bearded Lady! Featured characters are Miss Fortune, Olaf, Lucian, and Illaoi!
NOTE: Chapter One Part III which also includes mention of ILLAOI, a currently unannounced upcoming who we recently saw a mysterious champion select quote for in the 5.21 PBE cycle!
The Butcher Blades had hung the Jackdaw from a rusted marlinspike through his jawbone and left him for the quayside scavengers. This was the seventeenth murdered ganger the hooded man had seen tonight.
A slow night by Bilgewater's standards.
At least since the Corsair King had fallen.
Red-fanged wharf rats had already eaten most of the hanged man's feet and were perched on stacked kreels to tear at the soft meat of his calves.
The hooded man kept on walking.
The words were wet, squeezed up through a throat clogged with blood. The hooded man spun, hands reaching towards the weapons slung on his wide belt.
Incredibly, the Jackdaw was still alive on the bone-handled spike. The Hooks stuck it deep into the wooden frame of a loading crane. No way to get the Jackdaw down without tearing his skull to splinters.
“Help. Me,” he said again.
The hooded man paused, considering the Jackdaw's request.
“What for?” he said at last. “Even if I get you down from there, you will be dead by morning.”
The Jackdaw carefully lifted his hand to a concealed pocket in his patchwork jerkin and removed a golden Kraken. Even in the dim light, the hooded man saw it was genuine.
The scavengers hissed and raised their hackles as he approached. Wharf rats weren't large, but meat as warm as this wasn't a prize to be surrendered lightly. They bared long, needle-like fangs, spitting diseased gobbets of saliva.
He kicked one rat out over the water. He crushed a second underfoot. They snapped and bit, but nimble footwork kept any from tasting his flesh, his every movement smooth and precise. He killed another three before the rest scattered to the shadows, sullen eyes glaring red in the darkness.
The hooded man stood beside the Jackdaw. His features were hidden, but the light of a rogue’s moon suggested a face that no longer smiled.
“Death is here for you,” he said. “Embrace it, safe in the knowledge I will ensure it is final.”
He reached into his coat and withdrew a glittering spike of silver. Two handspans long and engraved with curling symbols spiraling along its length, it resembled an ornate, leather-worker's awl. He placed the tip under the dying man's chin.
The man's eyes widened and his hand scrabbled at the hooded man's sleeve as he looked out over the vast expanse of ocean. The sea was a black mirror shimmering with the glow of myriad candles, quayside braziers and lamplight warped through salvaged glass from a thousand cliffside-hulks.
“You know what lurks over the horizon,” he said. “You know the horror it brings. And yet you tear at each other like rabid beasts. It makes no sense to me.”
He turned and hammered the heel of his palm against the flattened haft of the awl, driving the spike up into the man's brain. A last corpse rattle and the Jackdaw's pain ended. The gold coin fell from the dead man's fingers and rolled into the ocean with a soft splash.
The man withdrew the spike and wiped it clean on the Jackdaw's ragged shirt. He returned it to the sheath inside his coat and removed a golden needle and a length of silver thread dipped in waters drawn from an Ionian spring.
Working with the skill of one who had performed this service many times before, he sewed the man's eyes and lips shut. As he worked, he spoke words taught to him a lifetime ago, words first ill-spoken by a long dead king.
“Now the dead cannot claim you,” he said as he finished his work and replaced his implements.
“Maybe not, but we ain't leaving empty-handed, sure we ain't,” said a voice behind the hooded man.
He turned and pulled back his hood to reveal skin the color and texture of aged mahogany, cheekbones that were angular and patrician. His dark hair was bound in a long scalp-lock and eyes that had seen horror beyond measure surveyed the newcomers.
Six men. Dressed in aprons of blood-stiffened leather cut to display limbs of corded muscle wrapped with tattooed thorns. Each carried a serrated hook and wore belts hung with a variety of meat-workers’ knives. Petty thugs made bold by the fall of the tyrant who'd ruled Bilgewater with an iron fist. With him gone, the city was in chaos as rival gangs sought to carve out fresh territories.
Their approach hadn’t been stealthy. Hobnailed boots, offal-stench and muttered curses had announced their presence long before they'd revealed themselves.
“I don't mind a coin going to the Bearded Lady, sure I don't,” said the biggest of the Butchers, a man with a gut so prodigious it was a wonder he could get close enough to a carcass to gut it at all. “But one of ours killed Old Knock John there, fair and square, sure they did. So that gold serpent there was ours.”
“Do you want to die here?” asked the man.
The fat man laughed.
“You know who you're talking to?”
“No. Do you?”
“Go on then, tell me so I can carve it on the rock I'll use to sink your bones.”
“My name is Lucian,” he said, whipping back his long frock coat and drawing a pair of pistols wrought of knapped stone and burnished metals unknown to even the most reckless alchemists of Zaun. A bolt of coruscating light punched the fat Butcher from his feet with a scorched hole where his grotesquely swollen heart had been.
Lucian's second pistol was smaller, more finely crafted, and fired a searing line of yellow fire that cut another of the Butchers in half from collarbone to groin.
Like the wharf rats before, they fled, but Lucian picked them off one by one. Each burst of light was a killing shot. In the blink of an eye all six Butchers lay dead.
He sheathed his pistols and pulled the coat back around him. Others would be drawn by the sound and fury of his work, and he had no time to save these men’s souls from what was coming.
Lucian sighed. It had been a mistake to stop for the Jackdaw, but perhaps the man he had once been was not entirely lost. A memory threatened to surface and he shook his head.
“I cannot be him again,” said Lucian.
He isn't strong enough to kill the Chain Warden.
Olaf’s frostscale hauberk was covered in blood and viscera. He grunted as he swung his axe one-handed. Bone sheared and muscle parted before the weapon, its blade quenched on a bed of True Ice deep in the farthest reaches of the Freljord.
Bearing a spitting torch in one hand, he waded through the dripping innards of the Krakenwyrm, hewing deeper with every swing. It had taken him three hours to reach this far; cleaving through its enormous glistening organs and dense bones.
True, the beast was already dead, skewered a week ago after a month’s long chase down from the north. Over thirty harpoons cast by strong arms and broad backs from the deck of Winter's Kiss pierced its scaled hide, but it had been Olaf's spear that finally ended its fight.
Killing the beast in the heart of a churning storm outside Bilgewater had been exhilarating, and for one brief moment – as the ship heeled over and almost tossed him into the beast's maw – he'd thought this might be the moment he would achieve the glorious death he sought.
But then Svarfell the helmsman, curse his mighty shoulder, centered the rudder to right the ship.
And, sadly, Olaf had lived. Another day closer to the terror of dying peacefully in his bed as a greybearded ancient.
They'd berthed in Bilgewater, hoping to sell the carcass and strip it of battle trophies; vast teeth, black blood that burned like oil, and titanic rib-bones fit to roof his mother’s hall.
His fellow tribesmen, exhausted from the hunt, were sleeping aboard Winter's Kiss, but Olaf, ever impatient, could not rest. Instead, he took up his glittering axe and set to work in dismembering the colossal monster.
Finally he saw the beast’s inner maw, a ribbed gullet large enough to swallow a clan whole or crush a thirty-oar Longreaver in a single bite. Its teeth were chiseled fangs like obsidian boulders.
Olaf nodded. “Yah. Fit to ring a hearth circle of the wind-walkers and the readers of bones and ash.”
He jammed the spiked base of the torch into the meat of the Krakenwyrm’s flesh and set to work, hacking at the jawbone until a tooth came loose. Hooking the axe to his belt, Olaf lifted it clear and set it upon his shoulder, grunting at the enormous weight.
“Like a Frost Troll gathering ice for his lair,” he said, making his way out of the beast’s innards, wading knee-deep in blood and caustic digestive juices.
Eventually he emerged from the giant wound in the Krakenwyrm’s rear and drew in a lungful of slightly fresher air. Even after the innards of the beast, Bilgewater was a rank soup of smoke and sweat and dead things. Its air was heavy with the smell of too many people living packed together like swine in a midden.
He spat a rank mouthful and said, “The sooner I am in the north the better.”
The air of the Freljord was so sharp it could cut you to the bone. Every breath here tasted of rancid milk and spoiled meat.
“Hey!” shouted a voice over the water.
Olaf squinted through the gloom, seeing a lone fisherman rowing out to sea beyond a line of floating water markers hung with dead birds and bells.
“That beast just shit you out?” shouted the fisherman.
Olaf nodded and said, “I had no gold to pay passage on a ship, so I let it swallow me in the Freljord and bear me south.”
The fisherman grinned and drank from a cracked bottle of blue glass. “I’d sit and listen to that tall tale, right enough!”
“Come to the Winter’s Kiss and ask for Olaf,” he shouted. “We’ll share a keg of Gravöl and honor the beast with songs of doom.”
The air around the White Wharf usually smelled of gull-crap and rotten fish. Today it tasted of scorched meat and woodsmoke, a flavor with which Miss Fortune was coming to associate with ever more of Gangplank’s men dying. Ash darkened the sky and reeking fumes drifted westwards from burning vats of rendered leviathan blubber on the Slaughter Docks. Miss Fortune's mouth felt greasy, and she spat onto the crooked timbers of the wharf. The water below was scummed with residue expelled by the thousands of corpses sunk beneath the water over the years.
“You and your men had a busy night,” she said, nodding toward the smoke rising from the western cliffs.
“Aye, that we did,” agreed Rafen. “Plenty more of Gangplank’s men going under today.”
“How many did you get?” asked Miss Fortune.
“Another ten of his Cragside lads,” said Rafen. “And the Boneyard Scallys won’t be bothering us again.”
Miss Fortune nodded in approval and turned to look at the ornate bronze cannon laid on the quayside.
Jackknife Byrne lay inside the barrel, finally dead from the gutshot he'd taken on the day everything changed; the day the Dead Pool exploded in full view of Bilgewater.
A gunshot meant for her.
Now it was time for Byrne to go down among the dead men and she owed it to him to be there to see him go under. Around two hundred men and women had come to pay their respects; her own lieutenants, Byrne's old gang members, and strangers she thought might be former crewmen or curious gawkers hoping to see the woman who'd brought down Gangplank.
Byrne said he'd once run his own ship, a two-masted brigantine that was the terror of the Noxian coast, but she only had his word for that. Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn't, but in Bilgewater, more often than not the truth was far stranger than any tale spun by the city’s many chanty-men.
“I see you got them fighting each other out on the Slaughter Docks as well,” said Miss Fortune, brushing particles of ash from her lapels. Long red hair spilled from beneath a tricorn hat and gathered on the shoulders of her formal frock coat.
“Yeah, wasn’t hard to turn the Rat Town Dogs and Wharf Kings against each other,” said Rafen. “Ven Gallar's always had his eye on that patch. Says Travyn's boys took it from his old man a decade ago.”
“Who knows?” said Rafen. “Don’t matter, no-how. Gallar would say anything to get control of that part of the docks. I just helped him along.”
“Not much left to control over there now.”
“No,” agreed Rafen with a grin. “They pretty much killed the hell out of each other. Don't reckon we'll get trouble from either of them gangs any time soon.”
“Another week like this and there won't be any of Gangplank’s people left alive.”
Rafen gave her a strange look and Miss Fortune pretended not to notice.
“Come on, let's get Byrne sunk,” said Miss Fortune.
They walked over to the cannon, ready to roll it into the sea. A forest of wooden markers dotted the scummed surface of the water, ranging from simple wooden discs to elaborate sculptures of sea wyrms.
“Anyone want to say anything?” said Miss Fortune.
Nobody did, and she nodded to Rafen, but before they could tip the cannon into the water, a booming voice echoed over the wharf.
“I bring words for him.”
Miss Fortune turned to see a giant of a woman clad in colorful robes and acres of fabric striding down the docks towards them. A posse of tattooed menfolk accompanied her; a dozen youths armed with tooth-bladed spears, wide-mouthed pistols and hooked clubs. They swaggered like the cocksure gangers they were, standing with their priestess like they owned the docks.
“Seven hells, what's she doing here?”
“Did Illaoi know Byrne?”
“No. She knows me,” said Miss Fortune. “I heard that her and Gangplank used to...you know?”
“So the scuttlebutt goes.”
“By the Bearded Lady, no wonder Okao's men have been giving us such a hard time these last few weeks.”
Illaoi carried a heavy stone sphere that looked as if it weighed about as much as the Syren's anchor. The towering priestess carried it everywhere she went, and Miss Fortune assumed it was some kind of totem. What everyone else called the Bearded Lady, they called something virtually unpronounceable.
Illaoi produced a peeled mango from somewhere and took a bite. She noisily chewed the fruit with her mouth open and looked down the barrel of the cannon.
“A Bilgewater man deserves a blessing of Nagakabouros, yes?”
“Why not?” said Miss Fortune. “He's going down to meet the goddess, after all.”
“Nagakabouros doesn't live in the depths,” said Illaoi. “Only foolish paylangi think that. Nagakabouros is in everything we do that moves us along our path.”
“Yeah, how stupid of me,” said Miss Fortune.
Illaoi spat the fibrous mango pit into the water and swung the stone idol around like a giant cannonball, holding it up in front of Miss Fortune.
“You're not stupid, Sarah,” said Illaoi with a laugh. “But you don't even know what you are, what you've done.”
“Why are you really here, Illaoi? Is this about him?”
“Ha! Not even a little bit,” snorted Illaoi. “My life is for Nagakabouros. A god or a man? What choice is that?”
“None at all,” said Miss Fortune. “Bad luck for Gangplank.”
Illaoi grinned, exposing a mouthful of pulped mango.
“You're not wrong,” she said with a slow nod, “but you still don't hear. You let a razor-eel off the hook and you ought to stamp on its neck and walk away before it sinks its fangs into you. Then your motion will be gone forever.”
“What does that mean?”
“Come and see me when you figure it out,” said Illaoi, holding out her hand. Nestled in her palm was a pendant of pink coral arranged in a series of curves radiating from a central hub like a single, unblinking eye.
“Take it,” said Illaoi.
“What is it?”
“A token of Nagakabouros to guide you when you’re lost.”
“What is it really?”
“Nothing more than I say.”
Miss Fortune hesitated, but too many people were gathered for her to openly offend a priestess of the Bearded Lady by refusing her gift. She took the pendant and removed her tricorn to loop the leather thong around her neck.
Illaoi leaned in to whisper.
“I don’t think you're stupid,” she said. “Prove me right.”
“Why do I care what you think?” said Miss Fortune.
“Because a storm is coming,” said Illaoi, nodding at something over Miss Fortune's shoulder. “You know the one, so you best be ready to turn your prow into the waves.”
She turned and kicked Byrne's cannon from the dock. It splashed down hard and sank in a froth of bubbles before the fatty surface residue reformed, leaving only its bobbing marker cross to indicate who was below.
The priestess of the Bearded Lady marched back the way she had come, towards her temple in the cliff-crater, and Miss Fortune turned her gaze out to sea.
A storm was brewing way out in the deep ocean, but that wasn't where Illaoi had been looking.
She'd been looking towards the Shadow Isles.
Nobody ever fished Bilgewater Bay at night.
Piet knew why, of course; he’d known these waters all his life. The currents were treacherous, hull-splitting rocks lurked just below the surface, and the seabed was littered with the wrecks of ships whose captains had not accorded the sea its proper respect. But, more importantly, everyone knew the spirits of those drowned at sea were lonely and wanted others to join them.
Piet knew all this, but still needed to feed his family.
With Captain Jerimiad’s ship burned to cinders in the crossfire between Gangplank and Miss Fortune, Piet had no work and no coin to pay for food.
He’d drunk half a bottle of Scuttler’s Scrumpy just to pluck up the courage to push his boat out onto the water tonight, and the prospect of sharing a drink with the giant Freljordian helped steady his nerves.
Piet took another slug from the bottle, tugging the scruff of hair on his chin, then pouring a measure over the side to honor the Bearded Lady.
Warmed and numbed by the liquor, Piet rowed past the warning buoys and their dead birds until he came to a stretch of ocean where he’d had some luck the previous night. Jeremiad always said he had a nose for where the fish were biting, and he had a feeling they’d be gathering where the remains of the Dead Pool had drifted.
Piet pulled in the oars and stowed them before finishing off the Scrumpy. Then, making sure to leave a last mouthful in the bottle, he tossed it out to sea. With tired, drink-addled fingers he baited his hooks with grubs he’d scooped from a dead man’s eye and tied his lines to the gunwale cleats.
He closed his eyes and bent over the side of the boat, placing both hands in the water.
“Nagakabouros,” he said, hoping that using the natives’ name for the Bearded Lady might grant him a bit of luck, “I ain’t asking for much. Please help this poor fisherman and spare him a few morsels from your larder. Watch over me and keep me safe. And if I die in your embrace, keep me down among the dead men.”
Piet opened his eyes.
A pale face stared back at him, wavering just below the surface. It shimmered with cold, lifeless light.
He cried out and jerked back into his boat as, one by one, his fishing lines were pulled taut. They spun his boat around as thin coils of mist rose from the water. The mist thickened swiftly and soon the light from Bilgewater’s cliffs was lost to the darkness as coal-dark fog rolled in from the sea.
A cacophony of once-dead birds squawked from the warning markers, followed by the clamor of bells as their convulsing bodies swung the buoys back and forth.
The black mist...
Piet scrambled for his oars, fumbling in terror to fit them to the rowlocks. The mist was numbingly cold, and lines of necrotic black threaded his skin at its touch. He wept as the grave’s chill frosted his spine.
“Bearded Lady, Mother Below, Nagakabouros,” he sobbed. “Please guide me home. Please, this I beg of-”
Piet never finished his plea.
A pair of hook-headed chains erupted from his chest, droplets of vividly red blood streaming from their tips. A third hook punched through his belly, another his throat. A fifth and sixth gouged his palms and pulled them down hard, pinning Piet to his boat.
Agony surged through him and he screamed as a figure of purest malice emerged from the black mist. Emerald fire haloed its horned skull, and sockets gouged by vengeful spirits burned as they savored his pain.
The dead spirit was robed in ancient black vestments, and rusted keys scraped at its side. A chained corpse-lantern moaned and swayed with monstrous appetite from its clenched fist.
The glass of the infernal lantern opened to receive him, and Piet felt his spirit tear loose from the warmth of his flesh. The wails of tortured souls shrieked from its depths, maddened by their unending purgatory. Piet fought to keep his spirit within his body, but a spectral blade scythed and his time in the world was ended as the glass of the lantern snapped shut.
“A wretched soul you are,” said the reaper of his life, its voice like gravel on a tombstone. “But only the first to be claimed by Thresh this night.”
The black mist rippled, and the silhouettes of malefic spirits, howling wraiths and ghostly horsemen swelled within.
The darkness boiled across the sea and swept onto land.
And the lights in Bilgewater started to go out.
Chapter Two: Something Stupid, The Red Shroud, The Shadow of War[10/28 UPDATE: All six parts of Chapter two of SHADOW AND FORTUNE are now available!]
Miss Fortune snapped the barrels of her pistols shut and laid them down on the table next to her short-bladed sword. Scores of frantic bells and shouts of alarm echoed from the panicked city below; she knew well what they signified.
In defiance of the incoming storm, she’d kept the shuttered windows of her newly-acquired villa open, daring the dead to come for her. Muttering winds carried their hunger and a cold that settled bone-deep.
Perched high on Bilgewater’s eastern cliffs, the villa had once belonged to a hated gang leader. In the chaos of Gangplank’s fall, he’d been dragged from his bed and had his brains bashed out on the cobbles.
Now it belonged to Miss Fortune, and she’d be damned if she’d go the same way. She reached up and ran a fingertip around the curves of the pendant Illaoi had given her at Byrne’s sinking. The coral was warm to the touch, and though she didn’t truly believe in what it represented, it was a pretty enough bauble.
The door to her chamber opened and she let the pendant drop.
She knew who was behind her without turning. Only one man would dare enter without knocking.
“What are you doing?” asked Rafen.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Like you’re about to do something damned stupid.”
“Stupid?” said Miss Fortune, placing her hands on the table. “We shed blood and lost good people to bring down Gangplank. I’m not going to let the Harrowing just-”
“Take this place from me,” she snapped lifting her pistols and jamming them into their custom tooled hip-scabbards. “And you’re not going to stop me.”
“We’re not here to stop you.”
Miss Fortune turned to see Rafen at the threshold of her chambers. A score of her best fighters waited in the vestibule beyond, armed to the teeth with a mixture of muskets, wheel-lock pistols, clanking bundles of clay splinter-bombs and cutlasses that looked like they’d been looted from a museum.
“Looks like you’re about to do something damned stupid as well,” she said.
“Aye,” agreed Rafen, walking over to the open window and slamming the shutters closed. “You really think we’d let our captain go out to face that alone?”
“I almost died bringing Gangplank down, and I’m not done yet. I don’t expect you to go with me, not tonight,” said Miss Fortune coming to stand before her men and resting her hands on the carved walnut grips of her guns. “This isn’t your fight.”
“Course it bloody is,” said Rafen.
Miss Fortune took a breath and nodded.
“There’s every chance we won’t live to see morning,” she said, unable to keep the hint of a smile tugging at her lip.
“This ain’t our first Harrowing together, Captain,” said Rafen, tapping the skull pommel of his sword. “And I’ll be damned if it’s our last.”
Olaf was in sight of the Winter’s Kiss when he heard the screams. He ignored them at first – screams were nothing new in Bilgewater – but then he saw men and women running from the quayside in terror, and his interest was piqued.
They scrambled from their boats and fled for the crooked streets as fast as they could. They didn’t look back and they didn’t stop, not even when a shipmate tripped or fell into the water.
Olaf had seen men run from battle, but this was something else. This was naked terror, the kind he’d only ever seen etched on the frozen corpses spat out by glaciers where the Ice Witch was said to dwell.
Shutters were slamming shut all across the wharf and the strange symbols he’d seen on every door were frantically being dusted with white powder. Enormous winches were lifting timber structures formed from bolted-together hulls of ships high up the cliffs.
He recognized a tavern-keeper who ran a drinking den where the beer was only slightly stronger than troll piss and waved to him.
“What’s going on?” shouted Olaf.
The tavern-keeper shook his head and pointed to the ocean before slamming his door.
Olaf set the Krakenwyrm’s tooth on the stone wharf and turned to see what all the fuss was about.
At first he thought a storm was coming in, but it was just thick black sea fog, albeit fog that approached with unnatural speed and fluid motion.
“Ah, now,” he said, unhooking his axe from his belt. “This looks promising.”
The feel of the weapon’s battle-worn leather grip was pleasing in his callused palm as he passed it from hand to hand, rolling his shoulders to loosen the muscles.
The black mist swept over the farthest ships and Olaf’s eyes widened as he saw spirits plucked from the blackest nightmares writhing in the mist. A towering dreadknight, a monstrous chimera of warhorse and man, led them alongside a black-clad reaper limned in green fire. These lords of the dead left the spirit host to their sport on the quayside as they flew into Bilgewater proper with predatory speed.
Olaf had heard the natives speak in hushed whispers of something called the Harrowing, a time of doom and darkness, but hadn’t expected to be lucky enough to face it axe in hand.
The host of the dead tore into the wallowing galleys, merchantmen, and corsair ships with claw and fang, ripping them apart like an ursine with its snout in a fresh kill.
Sailcloth tore and rigging lines snapped as easily as rotten sinew. Heavy masts splintered as boats were tossed into one another and smashed to kindling.
A host of screaming wraiths flew into the Winter’s Kiss and Olaf roared in anger as the Longreaver’s keel heaved and split, its timbers freezing solid in a heartbeat. The boat sank as swiftly as if its hold were filled with rocks, and Olaf saw his fellow Freljordians dragged below the water by creatures with cadaverous limbs and fish-hooked mouths.
“Olaf will make you wish you had stayed dead!” he yelled as he charged along the wharf.
Spirits boiled up from the ocean, icy claws slashing towards him. Olaf’s axe sang out, cleaving a glittering arc through the host. The dead screeched as his blade sundered them, its True Ice edge more lethal than any enchantment.
They howled as they died a second time and Olaf sang the song he’d written for the moment of his death with lusty vigor. The words were simple, but the equal of any saga told by the wandering poets of the ice. How long had he waited to sing these words?
How often had he feared he might never get the chance?
A shimmering mist of snapping jaws swarmed him, specters and things of mist. Webs of frost patterned his hauberk and the deathly touch of voracious spirits burned his skin.
But Olaf’s heart was mighty and it fired his blood to heights of fury unknown to all but the berserker.
He shrugged off the pain of the wraith touch, feeling reason recede and fury build.
Crimson froth built at the corners of his mouth as he bit the inside of his cheeks raw. He roared and swung his axe like a madman, caring nothing for pain, only that he slew his enemies.
That they were dead already meant nothing to him.
Olaf drew his axe back, ready to strike another blow, when a deafening crash of splintering columns and roof beams erupted behind him. He spun to face this new foe as a blizzard of smashed wood and stone cascaded onto the quayside. Bladed shards sliced his face and fist-sized chunks of stone pummeled his arms raw. Rendered fats and animal fluids fell in a rank drizzle as a horrendous groaning issued from the black mist.
Then he saw it.
The spirit of the Krakenwyrm arose from the remains of the Slaughter Dock. Titanic and filled with fury, its ghostly tentacles lifted into the air and smashed down like thunderbolts hurled by a wrathful god. An entire street was smashed to ruin in the blink of an eye and Olaf’s berserker fury surged as he finally beheld a foe worthy of claiming his life.
Olaf raised his axe in salute of his killer.
“Ya beauty!” he yelled and charged to his doom.
The woman was beautiful, with wide, almond shaped eyes, full lips and the high cheekbones common to Demacia. The portrait in the locket was a miniature masterpiece, but it failed to capture the depth of Senna’s strength and determination.
He rarely looked at her picture, knowing that to carry his grief too close to his heart made him weak. Grief was a chink in his armor. Lucian could not allow himself to truly feel her loss, so he snapped the locket shut. He knew he should bury it in the sand of this cave beneath the cliffs, but could not put her memory below the earth as he had her body.
He would shut the grief away until Thresh was destroyed and Senna’s death avenged.
Then, and only then, would Lucian mourn his lost wife with tears and offerings to the Veiled Lady.
How long had it been since that terrible night?
He felt the bottomless abyss of sorrow lurking in ambush and viciously suppressed it as he had so many times before. He drew on the teachings of his order, repeating the mantras he and Senna had been taught to close themselves off from emotion. Only then could he reach a place of equilibrium that would allow him to face deathly horrors beyond imagining.
The grief ebbed slowly, but it remained.
He’d opened the locket only reluctantly, feeling a growing distance between himself and Senna’s memory. He found he could no longer recall the exact sweep of her jawline, the smoothness of her skin or the precise color of her eyes.
The longer his hunt went on, the further away she felt.
Lucian lifted his head, letting the breath ease from his lungs, forcing his heartbeat to slow.
The walls of the cave were pale limestone, gouged from the cliffs upon which Bilgewater was built. The motion of water and the stone picks of the natives had crafted a labyrinth beneath the city few knew of or even suspected existed. The pale rock walls were etched with looping spirals, rippling waves and things that might have been unblinking eyes.
He’d learned these were symbols of the native religion, but whoever had carved them had not visited this place in many years. He’d found it by following the secret symbols of his own order, symbols that would guide him to places of refuge and succor in any city of Valoran.
Only dim reflections of light shimmered on the roof of the cave, but as his eyes followed the spiral of carvings, a shimmering radiance spread from his palm.
Let me be your shield.
Lucian looked down, the memory of her words as clear as though she stood next to him.
The locket glistened with lambent green flame.
He looped the chain of the locket around his neck and swept up his twin relic pistols.
“Thresh,” he whispered.
Bilgewater’s streets were deserted. The bells from the ocean were still ringing and cries of terror echoed from below. Rat Town was completely covered by the Black Mist, and howling storms raged over Port Mourn’s desolation. Fires burned all along Butcher’s Bridge and a shimmering fog clung to the cliffs above the Grey Harbor.
The people in the upper reaches of the city hid in their homes and prayed to the Bearded Lady that the Harrowing would pass them by, that grief would fall upon some other poor unfortunate.
Warding candles of ambergris burned in every window, shimmering through bottle green sea-glass. Burning roots of Empress of the Dark Forest hung from doors, shutters and nailed up planks.
“People really believe in the Empress?” asked Miss Fortune.
Rafen shrugged, his mouth a thin line and the creases around his eyes pulled tight as he searched the gathering mist for threats. He pulled out a smoldering length of identical root from beneath his shirt.
“It’s all about where you place your faith, isn’t it?”
Miss Fortune drew her pistols.
“I have faith in these and in us,” she said. “What else are you carrying?”
“This cutlass has kept me safe through six Harrowings,” he said, tapping its pommel again. “I offered up a bottle of ten year old rum to the Bearded Lady and this knife here was sold to me by a man who swore its edge was purest sunsteel.”
Miss Fortune glanced at the scabbarded knife, certain without even seeing the blade that Rafen had been swindled. The workmanship around the quillons was too poor to be Demacian, but she wasn’t about to tell him that.
“What about you?” he asked.
Miss Fortune patted her pouch of pistol shot.
“Every one’s been dipped in Myron’s Dark,” she said, loud enough for every one of her thirty-strong company to hear. “If the dead want a fight, we’ll meet them with spirits of our own.”
The oppressive gloom made it hard to laugh, but she saw a few smiles and that was about as much as she could expect on a night like this.
She turned and pushed down into Bilgewater, descending crooked stairs cut into the rock of the cliffs, crossing secret bridges of half-rotted rope and threading forgotten alleys that hadn’t known the tread of feet in years.
She brought them out into a wide square on one of the floating wharf-shanties, where swaying dwellings leaned together as though their twisted eaves whispered to one another. Every façade was a mishmash of driftwood, and patterns of frost clung to the skewed timbers. Frozen winds blew through the patchwork dwellings, freighted with sobs and screams from afar. Flaming braziers hung from hundreds of mast-lines strung between buildings, smoking with strange herbs. Pools of water rippled with reflections of things that weren’t there.
Most days this was a thriving marketplace, packed to the gunwales with stalls, rattling meat-vendors, drink-hawkers, merchants, pirates, bounty hunters and surly flotsam washed in from every corner of the world. Just about everywhere in Bilgewater had a view of this place, which was just how Miss Fortune wanted it.
Mist clung to every outcropping of timber.
Discarded figureheads wept frozen tears.
Mist and shadows gathered.
“Cutpurse Square?” said Rafen. “How did we get here? I ran this place as a wharf-snipe. Thought I knew every way in and out like any good little thief.”
“Not every way,” said Miss Fortune.
The counting houses on either side were silent and dark, and she resisted the impulse to look through the torn sheets of flapping canvas nailed over porthole windows.
“How do you know these routes and I don’t?”
“Lady Bilgewater and I are two of a kind,” said Miss Fortune, her gaze narrowing as black mist seeped into the square. “She whispers her secrets to me like an old friend, so I know her every hidden wynd and jitty like you never will.”
Rafen grunted as they spread into the empty square.
“We wait,” said Miss Fortune as they reached the center of the square, feeling terribly exposed.
The black mist twitched with things moving in its depths.
A disembodied skull of ghostly light stretched from the darkness, empty-eyed and with sharpened teeth. Its jaw stretched wider than any natural bone structure would allow and a keening wail built in its gullet.
Miss Fortune’s bullets punched through each of its eye-sockets and the skull vanished with a shriek of frustration. She twisted the wheel-lock on each pistol and ingenious mechanisms within reloaded each one.
For a moment, all was silent.
Then the black mist erupted in a screeching howl as the spirits of the dead surged into the square.
For the second time this evening, Olaf cut his way inside the dead Krakenwyrm. He wielded his axe like a crazed woodsman, hewing left and right with gleeful abandon. The beast’s vast limbs were insubstantial as mist, yet the ice of his blade clove them like flesh.
Tentacles flailed and slammed down on the stone of the wharf, but Olaf was fast for a big man. Slow warriors didn’t survive in the Freljord. He rolled and slashed with his axe, severing a suckered length of limb that faded from existence as it was parted from the monster’s body.
Even in the grip of the red shroud, Olaf saw the creature’s skull in the thrashing chaos of phantom limbs surrounding him.
Its eyes were afire with the enraged spirit of its life.
A moment of sublime connection passed between them.
The beast’s soul knew him.
Olaf laughed with joy.
“You see the taker of your life and we are now bonded in death!” he roared. “Mayhap if you kill me, we shall battle forever in the realms beyond mortal ken.”
The prospect of eternal war against so mighty a foe poured fresh strength into Olaf’s aching muscles. He charged towards the creature’s maw, caring nothing for his pain as each brush with the Krakenwyrm’s tentacles burned his skin worse than the splinter-winds of the Lokfar coast.
He leapt into the air, axe aloft.
He looked glorious death in the face.
A tentacle whipped out and lashed around his thigh.
It swung him around in a dizzying arc, lifting him high into the air.
“Come then!” bellowed Olaf, punching his axe skyward in salute of their shared destiny.
A wraith-creature with grasping talons and a mouth of icy fangs lunged from the swirling mass of spirits. Miss Fortune put a bullet through its face and it vanished like smoke in a gale.
A second shot and another spirit vanished.
She grinned through her fear as she spun into cover behind a weather-worn stone bollard of the River King to reload. On impulse, she leaned over and gave his toothy grin a kiss.
It’s all about where you place your faith.
Gods, bullets or her own skill?
The grin fell from her face as one of the pistols jammed with a grinding crunch of metal.
Her mother’s admonishing words arose from the dark recesses of memory.
“That’s what you get when someone else mixes your powder, Sarah,” she said, holstering the gun and sliding her sword from its sheath. She’d looted it from the captain of a Demacian galiot running north up the Shuriman rust-coast, and it was as fine an example of the artificer’s art as any she’d seen.
Miss Fortune spun from cover, firing her loaded pistol and slashing her sword through the mist creatures. Her shot plucked another specter from the air and her sword’s edge bit as if cutting flesh and bone. Did the spirits of the dead have a physical component to them that could be hurt? It seemed unlikely, but she was wounding something inside them.
She didn’t have time to think too hard on the matter and suspected that whatever power she’d tapped into would be undone if she did.
Men and women screamed as the howling storm of dead spirits filled Cutpurse Square, slashing with claws that froze their blood or reached into chests and sundered hearts with terror. Seven were dead, maybe more, their souls wrenched from their fallen corpses to turn on their comrades. Her heroic band fought with blades and muskets, shouting the name of the Bearded Lady, their loved ones, and even heathen gods of faraway lands.
Whatever works, thought Miss Fortune.
Rafen was down on one knee, his face ashen, breathing like a wharfside doxy after a long shift. Scraps of mist clung to him like cobwebs and the smoldering root around his neck burned with a fierce cherry red glow.
“On your feet, this fight isn’t done!” she said.
“Don’t tell me the fight’s not done,” he snapped, pushing himself to his feet. “I’ve been through more Harrowings than you could wrap a dead rat’s tail around.”
Before Miss Fortune could ask exactly what that meant, he leaned to the side and fired his pistol at something behind her. A conjoined spirit of wolf and bat screeched as it was banished, and Miss Fortune returned the favor as a spirit form of grasping hooks and snapping fangs lunged at her second in command.
“Everyone down!” shouted Miss Fortune, plucking a pair of splinter bombs from her belt and lobbing them into the howling mist.
They detonated in a deafening explosion of fire and smoke. Wood splinters and fragments of stone ricocheted. Broken glass fell in a glittering rain of daggers. Acrid fog filled the square, but it was man-made and entirely bereft of spirits.
Rafen shook his head and worked a finger in his ear.
“What was in that bomb?”
“Black Powder mixed with essence of copal and rue,” said Miss Fortune. “One from my special stash.”
“And stuff like that works against the dead?”
“My mother believed in it,” she said.
“Good enough for me,” said Rafen. “You know, we might just make it through-”
“Don’t say it,” warned Miss Fortune.
The mist began coalescing throughout the square, first in thin tendrils and wisps, then in glowing outlines of monsters; things with conjoined legs, fang-filled jaws, and arms that ended in hooks or pincers. The spirits they thought they’d killed.
What was it folk said about plans and the contents of a privy?
“Turns out the dead are pretty hard to kill,” said Miss Fortune, trying not to let her fear show.
She’d been naïve to think petty trinkets and blind faith were enough to face the spirits of the dead. She’d wanted to show the people of Bilgewater they didn’t need Gangplank, that they could forge their own destiny.
Instead, she was going to get herself killed and leave the city to be torn apart.
A bass rumble rolled through the square. Then another.
Percussive thunder strikes, rising in a stalking storm.
It grew to become pounding hammerblows upon an anvil. Faster and louder until the ground shook with its violence.
“What in the nine deeps is that?” said Rafen.
“I don’t know,” said Miss Fortune as the outline of a spectral horseman in midnight plate emerged from the mist. He sat atop a strangely proportioned warhorse and his helm was worked in the form of a snarling demon.
“A dread knight,” said Miss Fortune.
Rafen shook his head, his face drained of color.
“That’s no knight,” he said. “That’s the Shadow of War…”
Chapter Three: The Purifier, City of the Dead, Sanctuary[10/29 UPDATE: All five parts of Chapter three of SHADOW AND FORTUNE are now available!]
Paralyzing terror rippled through Miss Fortune’s company at the mention of this eternal nightmare of killing rage and endless fury.
The Shadow of War.
His name was once Hecarim, but no one knew if that were true or some ancient taleteller’s invention. Only fools dared recite his dark legend around the hearthfire, and even then only after enough rum to sink a Noxian war-barque.
As the Shadow of War emerged further from the mist, Miss Fortune saw he was no mere horseman.
Cold dread settled upon her like a shroud at the sight of the monstrous creature.
Perhaps Hecarim had once been a knight, man and horse separate entities. But rider and mount were now one, a single, towering behemoth whose only purpose was destruction.
“They’re all around us,” said a voice.
Miss Fortune risked looking away from the armored centaur to see a whole host of ghostly knights, their outlines lambent with pellucid green radiance. They leveled lances or drew swords of dark radiance. Hecarim swept out a hooked and terrible glaive, its killing edge erupting with green fire.
“You know any secret ways out of here?” asked Rafen.
“No,” said Miss Fortune. “I want to fight that bastard.”
“You want to fight the Shadow of War?”
Before Miss Fortune could answer, a hooded figure leapt from the rooftop of a grain store and dropped into the square. He landed gracefully, a storm coat of worn leather splayed behind him. He carried two pistols, but they were like no weapons Miss Fortune had ever seen on her mother’s gun-table; bronzed metalwork braced around hunks of what looked like carved stone.
Light filled the square as he loosed searing bolts from each pistol in a fusillade that put the destruction of the Dead Pool to shame. The man turned in a tight spiral, marking targets and picking them off with whip-fast motion. The mist burned where his bolts struck, and the ghostly wraiths screeched as they were consumed.
The mist withdrew from Cutpurse Square, taking Hecarim and the death knights with it. Something told Miss Fortune this was but a temporary respite.
The man holstered his pistols and turned to look at Miss Fortune, throwing back his hood to reveal darkly handsome features with haunted eyes.
“The thing about shadows,” he said. “Bring enough light and they disappear.”
Olaf was not happy with this doom.
He hoped men would speak of his epic battle with the Krakenwyrm, not this ignoble fall to his death.
He hoped someone might have seen him charge the sea beast.
He prayed at least one observer had seen him lifted high into the air by its ghostly tentacle, then fled before seeing him hurled away like an unworthy morsel.
Olaf crashed down through the roof of a building bolted to the side of the cliff. Maybe it was a ship’s hull? He fell too fast to make it out. Crashing timbers and earthenware tumbled with him in his headlong plunge through the building. He glimpsed astonished, shouting faces flash past him.
Olaf smashed through a floor. A support beam drove the wind from him as he tumbled down Bilgewater’s cliffs. He bounced from an outcrop of rock and went headfirst through an open window, crashing out again through yet another floor.
Angry curses followed him down.
He spun out into a trailing forest of ropes and pulleys, flags and pennants. He thrashed as he fell, tangling his limbs and weapon. Fate was mocking him, wrapping him in a folded shroud of canvas sailcloth.
“Not like this, damn it!” he roared. “Not like this!”
“Who are you and where can I get a pair of guns like those?” said Miss Fortune, offering her hand to the new arrival.
“My name is Lucian,” he said, warily taking her hand.
“Damn glad to know you, friend,” said Rafen, clapping him on the back as if they were old shipmates. Miss Fortune saw Rafen’s familiarity made Lucian acutely uncomfortable, like he’d forgotten how to be around others.
His eyes scanned the edges of the square, his fingers dancing on the grips of his pistols.
“You’re a welcome sight, Lucian,” said Miss Fortune.
“We should move.” he said. “The Shadow of War will return.”
“He’s right,” said Rafen, giving her an imploring look. “It’s time to get inside, batten down the hatches.”
“No. We came out to fight.”
“Look, I get it, Sarah. We won Bilgewater and you need to fight to hold onto it, to show everyone you’re better than Gangplank. Well, you’ve done that. We went out into the Black Mist and we fought the dead. That’s more than he ever did. Anyone who risks lookin’ out a window is gonna know that. Hell, even the ones who ain’t looking will hear about it. What more do you want?”
“To fight for Bilgewater.”
“There’s fighting for Bilgewater and then there’s dying for Bilgewater,” said Rafen. “I’m all up for the first, not so much the second. These men and women followed you down into hell, but now it’s time to climb back out.”
Miss Fortune faced her company of fighters, every ragged, cutthroat one of them. None of them could be trusted not to sell their own mothers for a shiny trinket, but they’d done everything and more she’d asked of them. Venturing out into the Black Mist was just about the bravest thing any of them had ever done and she couldn’t repay that by leading them to their deaths for the sake of her vengeance.
“You’re right,” she said, taking a breath. “We’re done here.”
“Then may fortune follow you,” said Lucian, turning away and drawing his strange pistols once again.
“Wait,” said Miss Fortune. “Come with us.”
Lucian shook his head. “No, there is a mist wraith I need to destroy. The one they call Thresh, the Chain Warden. I owe him a death.”
Miss Fortune saw the lines around Lucian’s eyes deepen and recognized the expression she’d worn ever since her mother’s murder.
“He took someone from you, didn’t he?” she said.
Lucian nodded slowly, and said no more, but his very silence spoke volumes.
“This clearly isn’t your first tussle with the dead,” she said, “but you won’t survive the night if you stay out here alone. I’m guessing that might not mean much to you, but whoever this Thresh took from you, they wouldn’t want you to die here.”
Lucian’s eyes flicked downwards, and Miss Fortune saw a silver locket just visible round his neck.
Was it her imagination or a trick of the mist that made it shimmer in the moonlight?
“Come with us,” said Miss Fortune. “Find somewhere safe till morning and you’ll live to do it again.”
“Safe? Where is safe in this city?” said Lucian.
“I think I might know a place,” said Miss Fortune.
They left Cutpurse Square and were traveling west up towards the Serpent Bridge when they found the Freljordian. He hung from a crooked spar like a shrouded corpse on a gibbet. Unlike most corpses, however, this one was thrashing like a landed fish.
A splintered pile of debris lay scattered all around him, and Miss Fortune looked up to see how far he’d fallen through the cliffside dwellings.
A long way was the answer, and that he was still alive was nothing short of a miracle.
Lucian leveled his pistols, but she shook her head.
“No, this one’s actually on the right side of the grave.”
Muffled cries came from within the shroud, curses that would get a man beaten to death in a host of different lands, shouted in a thick, Freljordian accent.
She placed the tip of her sword against the canvas and sliced downwards. Like a newborn sea-calf pulled from a ruptured birth-sac, a hugely bearded man spilled onto the cobbles. The reek of fish guts and offal clung to him.
He climbed unsteadily to his feet, brandishing an axe with a blade like a shard of diamond ice.
“Which way to the Slaughter Docks?” he said, weaving like a drunk. He looked around, confused, his head a mass of lumps and bruises.
“Ordinarily I’d tell you to follow your nose,” said Miss Fortune, “but I’d be amazed if you’ve any sense of smell left.”
“I’ll kill that Krakenwyrm ten times over if I have to,” said the man. “I owe it a death.”
“Lot of that going around tonight,” said Miss Fortune.
The Freljordian named himself Olaf, a warrior of the rightful mistress of the ice, and, after shaking off his concussion, declared his intention to join them until he could fight the most dangerous spirit within the Black Mist.
“Do you want to die?” Lucian asked him.
“Of course,” said Olaf, as though the very question was the height of foolishness. “I seek an ending worthy of legend.”
Miss Fortune left the madman to his dreams of death. So long as he swung that axe in the right direction, he was welcome to join them as they pushed onwards.
Three times the mist closed in on them, and each time it took an unlucky soul from their company.
Spiteful laughter echoed from the sides of buildings, the sound of a whetstone over rusted steel.
Ranks of carrion birds cawed from rooftops in anticipation of a flesh banquet by the light of the moon.
Welcoming lights danced in the darkness of the mist, like beguiling corpse-candles over sucking marshland.
“Don’t look at them,” warned Lucian.
His warning came too late for one man and his wife. Miss Fortune didn’t know their names, but knew they had lost a son to ocean-ague less than a year ago. They walked from the cliffs following a vision in the lights only they could see.
Another man took his hooked hand to his throat before his friends could stop him.
Another simply vanished into the mist without anyone seeing him go.
By the time they reached Serpent Bridge, their company numbered less than a dozen.
Miss Fortune couldn’t feel sorry for them, she’d told them not to come with her. If they’d wanted to live forever, they should be shuttered behind closed doors and protective carvings, clutching spiral talismans of the Bearded Lady and praying to whatever gave them solace.
But against the Harrowing, even that was no guarantee of safety.
They’d passed countless homes smashed open with splintered shutters and doors hanging limply from leather hinges. Miss Fortune kept her eyes fixed forward, but it was impossible not to feel the accusing gazes from the frozen faces within or sense the terror of their last moments.
“The Black Mist will have its due,” said Rafen as they passed yet another charnel house, the families within cold and dead.
She wanted to be angry at such acceptance of horror, but what good would that do? After all, he was right.
Instead, she focused on the hazed outline of the structure across the bridge. It sat in the center of a gouged crater in the cliff, as if some mighty sea creature had taken a vast bite from the rock. Like most places in Bilgewater it was constructed from the ocean’s leavings. Its walls were driftwood and branches from faraway lands, its windows the scavenged remains of ships swept up from the seabed.
It had a peculiar quality of possessing not a single straight line anywhere in its construction. The curious angles gave it a sense of being somehow in motion, as if it might one day choose another place to set down temporary roots.
Its spire was likewise crooked, fluted like the horn of a narwhal and topped with the same spiral symbol Miss Fortune wore around her neck. A shimmering light wreathed the icon, and where it shone the darkness was held in abeyance.
“What is that place?” asked Lucian.
“The Temple of the Bearded Lady,” she said. “The House of Nagakabouros.”
“Is it safe?”
“It’s better than staying out here.”
Lucian nodded and they set off across the winding length of the bridge. Like the temple it approached, the bridge was an uneven thing, its cobbles undulant like something alive.
Rafen paused at the crumbling parapet and looked down.
“Getting higher every year,” he said.
Reluctantly, Miss Fortune joined him and looked over the edge.
The docks and Rat Town were smothered beneath the Black Mist, and even the web of gun’dolas was barely visible. Bilgewater was choking in the grip of the mist, its tendrils seeping ever deeper into the city. Screams of terror drifted upwards, each one a life ended and a fresh soul for the legion of the dead.
Rafen shrugged. “A few years from now there won’t be anywhere in Bilgewater beyond its reach.”
“A lot can happen in a few years,” said Miss Fortune.
“This happens every year?” asked Olaf, one foot perched on the parapet with a reckless disregard for the dizzying drop.
Miss Fortune nodded.
“Excellent,” said the Freljordian. “If I am fated not to die this night, I will return here when the Black Mist rises again.”
“It’s your funeral,” replied Rafen.
“Thank you,” said Olaf, slapping an enormous palm on Rafen’s back, almost knocking him from the bridge. The Freljordian’s eyes widened as a host of ghostly tentacles rose from the mist, uncoiling to smash down on the dwellings of Rat Town.
“The beast!” he cried.
And before anyone could stop him, he vaulted onto the parapet and hurled himself from the edge.
“Mad bastard,” said Rafen as Olaf’s dwindling form vanished into the mist below.
“All the ice-dwellers are mad,” said Miss Fortune. “But he was madder than most I’ve met.”
“Get everyone inside,” said Lucian.
She heard the urgency in his voice and turned to see him facing a towering figure in stitched black robes hung with hooked chains. Sickly green light wreathed the specter as it lifted a swaying lantern in one pallid hand. Fear touched Miss Fortune, fear like nothing she’d known since she’d watched her mother die and stared down the barrel of the killer’s gun.
Lucian drew his pistols. “Thresh is mine.”
“He’s all yours,” she said, and turned away.
Her gaze was drawn upwards as shadows closed around the temple. The breath caught in her throat as she saw Hecarim and his death knights at the crater’s ridge.
The Shadow of War raised his fiery glaive and the ghostly horsemen urged their hell-steeds downward. No mortal rider could make that descent, but these were riders of death.
“Run!” shouted Miss Fortune.
Chapter Four: She is not Dead, Strange Bedfellows, In Motion Again
The end of the bridge thickened with noxious green light. The Chain Warden hid his corpse features beneath a rotted hood, but the light of his lantern hinted at the remains of ravaged flesh, gaunt and drained of all emotion, save sadistic relish.
He moved softly, like all his kind, Pained moans sighed from his robes as he moved.
Thresh lifted his head a fraction, and Lucian saw the glint of too-sharp teeth widen in a grin of anticipation.
“Mortal,” said Thresh, rolling the word around his mouth like a sweetmeat.
Lucian knelt, reciting the mantra of clarity to steel his soul for the battle to come. He had prepared for this moment a thousand times, and now that it was here, his mouth was dry, his palms slick with sweat.
“You murdered Senna,” he said, standing and lifting his head. “The only person I had left in the world.”
“Senna...?” said Thresh, the sound wet and gurgling, as though squeezed from a throat once crushed by a hangman’s noose.
“My wife,” said Lucian, knowing he should not speak, that every word was a weapon the wraith would turn against him. Tears blurred his vision as grief washed away every preparation and every shred of logic. He lifted the silver locket from around his neck and snapped it open, needing the wraith to understand the depth of all he had lost.
Thresh grinned, his needle teeth glinting as he tapped the glass of the lantern with a yellowed nail.
“I remember her,” he said. “A vital soul. Not yet barren and cold. Ripe for torment. Hope for a new life. It bloomed in her, you know. Fresh, new, like a spring flower. All too easy to pluck and ruin those with dreams.”
Lucian lifted his pistols.
“If you remember her, then you will remember these,” he said.
The toothed grin never faltered beneath the ragged cowl.
“The weapons of light,” he said.
“And light is ever the bane of darkness,” said Lucian, channeling every scrap of hatred into his relic pistols.
“Wait,” said Thresh, but Lucian was done waiting.
He loosed a pair of blinding shots.
A conflagration of purifying fire engulfed the Chain Warden and his howls were music to Lucian’s ears.
Then the howls changed to gurgling laughter.
A nimbus of dark light faded around Thresh, drawn back into his lantern and leaving him utterly untouched by the fire.
Lucian fired again, a storm of radiant bolts, each perfectly aimed, but every one wasted.
Each shot dissipated harmlessly against a shimmering haze of dark energy from the lantern.
“Yes, I remember those weapons,” said the wraith. “I tore their secrets from her mind.”
“What did you just say?”
Thresh laughed, a wheezing, consumptive rasp.
“You don’t know? After all the reborn order learned of me, you never once suspected?”
Lucian felt cold dread settle in his belly. A horror he had never acknowledged for fear he would go insane.
“She did not die,” continued Thresh, holding up his lantern.
Lucian saw tortured spirits twisting in its depths.
Thresh grinned. “I ripped her soul out and kept it.”
“No...” said Lucian. “I saw her die.”
“She screams still inside my lantern,” said Thresh, drifting closer with every choked-out word. “Her every moment of existence is sweet agony. Listen...can you hear her?”
“No,” sobbed Lucian, his relic pistols falling to the stones of the bridge.
Thresh circled him, chains snaking from his leather belt and slithering over Lucian’s body. The hooks cut into his storm coat, seeking the soft flesh beneath.
“Hope was her weakness. Love her undoing.”
Lucian looked up into Thresh’s ravaged features.
His eyes were voids, dark holes into emptiness.
Whatever Thresh had been in life, nothing now remained. No compassion, no mercy and no humanity.
“All is death and suffering, mortal,” said the Chain Warden, reaching for Lucian’s neck.
“No matter where you run, your only true legacy is death. But before then, there is me.”
The breath hammered in Miss Fortune’s throat as she ran for the temple. Her lungs fought to draw breath, and her veins felt sluggish with ice. Coils of enervating mist reached up to the rock of the temple, drawn by the presence of the two lords of the unliving. Brilliant flashes of light flared behind her, but she didn’t look back. She heard the thunder of hoof beats on rock, seeing sparks above them in the darkness.
She imagined the breath of ghostly steeds on her neck.
The space between her shoulder blades burned hot where she expected the stabbing thrust of a spectral lance.
Wait, how can they make sparks when they’re ghosts?
The absurdity of the thought made her laugh, and she was still laughing as she slammed into the warped timber doors of the temple. Rafen and her ragged band were already there, hammering fists and palms against the door.
“In the name of the Bearded Lady, let us in!” he yelled.
He looked up as Miss Fortune joined him.
“The doors are shut,” he said.
“I noticed,” she gasped, wrenching the pendant Illaoi had given her. She placed her palm flat on door, with the coral pressed hard against the wood.
“Illaoi!” she shouted. “I’m ready to stamp on that damn eel’s neck. Now open the bloody door!”
“Eel?” said Rafen. “What eel? What are you talking about?”
“Never mind,” she snapped, battering her palm bloody against the wood. “I think it was a metaphor.”
The door swung outwards as if it had been unbarred the whole time. Miss Fortune stepped back to allow her fighters inside first, and finally turned around.
Hecarim reared up and swung his fiery glaive for her skull.
A hand grasped her collar and hauled her backward. The tip of the weapon sliced an inch from her throat.
She fell hard on her backside.
Illaoi stood in the doorway, holding her stone idol out before her like a shield. White mist clung to it like corposant.
“The dead are not welcome here,” she said.
Rafen and the others hauled the door shut and dropped a heavy spar of seasoned oak into place on the rusted anchors to either side. A huge impact slammed into the door.
Wood split and splinters flew.
Illaoi turned and walked past Miss Fortune, still sprawled on a mosaic floor of seashells and clay fragments.
“You took your sweet time, girl,” she said as Miss Fortune climbed to her feet. The temple was filled with at least two hundred people, maybe more. She saw a wide cross section of Bilgewater’s denizens: its native population, pirates, traders and assorted sea-scum, together with travellers unlucky or unwise enough to seek a berth so close to the Harrowing.
“Is that door going to hold?” she asked.
“It will or it won’t,” said Illaoi, heading towards a many-tentacled statue at the centre of the temple. Miss Fortune tried to make sense of it, but gave up when her eye kept getting lost in the many spirals and looping curves.
“That’s not an answer.”
“It’s the only one I have,” said Illaoi, setting her idol in a concave depression in the statue. She began moving in a circle around the statue, beating a rhythmic pattern on her thighs and chest with her fists. The people in the temple joined her circling, beating palms against bare skin, stamping their feet and speaking in a language she didn’t understand.
“What are they doing?”
“Giving some motion back to the world,” said Illaoi. “But we will need time.”
“You’ll have it,” promised Miss Fortune.
Lucian felt the spectral hooks bite deep into his flesh, colder than northern ice and twice as painful. The Chain Warden’s hand closed on his throat and his skin burned at the wraith’s touch. He felt his strength drawn from him, the beat of his heart slow.
Thresh lifted him from the ground and held his lantern aloft, ready to receive his soul.
The moaning lights within swirled in agitation, ghostly faces and hands pressing against the glass from within.
“Long I have sought your soul, shadow hunter,” said Thresh. “But only now is it ripe for the taking.”
Lucian’s vision greyed at the edges, feeling his soul peel away from his bones. He fought to hold on, but the Chain Warden had been harvesting souls for countless lifetimes and knew his craft better than any.
“Struggle harder,” said Thresh with monstrous appetite. “Your soul burns brighter when you fight.”
Lucian tried to speak, but no words came out, just a soft stream of warm breath that carried his soul.
A glittering scythe floated in the air above Lucian, a murder-soaked reaper of souls. Its blade shivered with anticipation.
That voice. Her voice.
The murder-edge of Thresh’s blade turned, angled to better part soul from flesh.
Lucian drew back his breath as he saw a face resolve in the glass of the lantern. One among countless thousands, but one with more reason than any to push herself to the fore.
Full lips, wide, almond shaped eyes, imploring him to live.
“Senna...” gasped Lucian.
Let me be your shield.
He knew what she meant in a heartbeat.
The link between them was as strong as it had been when they hunted the creatures of shadow side by side.
With the last of his strength, Lucian reached up and snapped the locket from around his neck. The chain glittered silver in the moonlight.
The Chain Warden saw something was amiss and hissed in anger.
Lucian was faster.
He spun the chain like a slingshot, but instead of loosing a lead bullet, he lashed it around the arm holding the lantern. Before Thresh could shake it off, Lucian drew the silver awl from its sheath in his long coat and plunged it into the specter’s wrist.
The Chain Warden screeched in pain, a sensation he had likely not felt in millennia. He dropped Lucian and thrashed in agony as the myriad souls trapped in his lantern suddenly found a means to strike back at their tormentor.
Lucian felt his soul snap back into his body and drew in heaving gulps of air, like a drowning man breaking the surface.
Hurry, my love. He is too strong...
His sight returned, clearer than ever before. Lucian snatched his pistols from the ground.
He caught the briefest glimpse of Senna’s face in the lantern and etched it on his heart.
Never again would her face grow dim in his memories.
“Thresh,” he said, aiming his twin pistols.
The Chain Warden looked up, the voids of his eyes alight with outrage at the defiance of his captive souls. He held Lucian’s gaze and extended his lantern, but the rebellious souls had dispelled whatever protection it once offered.
Lucian fired a blistering series of perfect shots.
They burned through the Chain Warden’s ghostly robes and ignited his spirit form in a searing inferno of light. Lucian marched towards Thresh, his twin weapons blazing.
Shrieking in agony, the Chain Warden retreated from Lucian’s unending barrage, his wraithform now powerless to resist these weapons of ancient power.
“Death is here for you,” said Lucian. “Embrace it, safe in the knowledge I will ensure it is final.”
Thresh gave one last howl before leaping from the bridge, falling like a burning comet to the city below.
Lucian watched him fall until the Black Mist swallowed him.
He slumped to his knees.
“Thank you, my love,” said Lucian. “My light.”
The temple walls shook with the violence of the assault. Black mist oozed between ill-fitting planks and through cracks in the scavenged glass of the windows. The door shuddered in its frame. Grasping claws of mist tore at the wood. Screams echoed as a howling gale battered the mismatched timbers of the roof.
“Over there!” shouted Miss Fortune as a host of mist-creatures with burning red eyes poured through a broken section of wall that had once been a series of tea-chests from Ionia.
She leapt into the midst of the wraiths. It felt like jumping naked into an ice hole cut in a glacier. Even the lightest touch of the dead leeched warmth and life.
The coral pendant burned hot against her skin.
She slashed her looted sword through the creatures and felt the same bite she’d felt before. Her bullets might be useless against the dead, but this Demacian blade hurt them.
They fell back from her, screeching and hissing.
Could the dead know fear?
It seemed they could, for they fled the sword’s glittering edge. She didn’t let them go, stabbing and slashing the mist wherever it poured in.
“That’s it! Run!” she yelled.
A child screamed and Miss Fortune sprinted over as the mist reached to claim him. She dived and snatched the boy in her arms before rolling to safety. Chill claws plunged into her back, and Miss Fortune gasped as numbing cold spread through her limbs.
She stabbed behind her and something dead howled.
A woman sheltering behind an overturned pew reached for the boy and Miss Fortune let him squirm to safety. She pushed herself to her feet, weakness spreading through her body like a raging infection.
Everywhere was gunfire and clashing steel, deathly howls and screams of terror.
“Sarah!” shouted Rafen.
She looked up to see the oaken locking bar securing the door split along its length. Rafen and a dozen men had their backs braced against the bludgeoning assault, but the doors were bulging inwards. Cracks spread and grasping hands of mist reached inside. A man was snatched backwards and his piteous screams were abruptly cut off as he vanished into the mist.
Another had his arm ripped off as he reached to help him.
Rafen spun and rammed his dagger through the gap.
Clawed hands tore the useless weapon from his hand.
A howling body pushed itself in through the disintegrating door and plunged its hands into Rafen’s chest. Her second in command roared in pain, his face draining of color.
She staggered over to him, her strength all but gone. Her blade hacked through spectral arms, and the creature shrieked as it vanished. Rafen fell into her, and they collapsed back into the nave together.
Rafen gasped for breath, his features as slack as hers.
“Don’t you die on me, Rafen!” she wheezed.
“It’ll take more than the dead to kill me,” he grunted. “Bastard thing just winded me.”
Glass broke somewhere up above. Coils of black mist coalesced overhead, a boiling mass of snapping teeth, claws and hungry eyes.
Miss Fortune tried to get to her feet, but her limbs burned with exhaustion. She ground her teeth in frustration. Barely a handful of her company remained, and the people sheltering in here weren’t fighters.
The dead were getting in.
Miss Fortune looked back at Illaoi.
The priestess was surrounded by her people, all of them still circling the statue and performing their fist-thumping, palm-slapping ritual. It didn’t appear to be achieving anything. The strange statue remained unmoving and impotent.
What had she expected, that it would come to life and drive the dead back like some clanking iron golem from Piltover?
“Whatever it is you’re doing, do it faster!” shouted Miss Fortune.
A section of the roof ripped loose and spun off into the tempest surrounding the temple.
A swirling column of spirits boiled inside and touched down like a tornado. Wraiths and things that defied understanding spun from the unliving vortex to fall upon the living.
Finally the door gave out and exploded inwards, the timbers dry and rotted by the touch of the dead. The skirling blast of a hunting horn filled the temple, and Miss Fortune’s hands flew to her ears at its deafening echoes.
Hecarim rode into the temple, crushing the men who’d been bracing the door with their bodies. Their souls were drawn up into the Shadow of War’s flaming glaive, and the cold fire of its edge illuminated the temple with loathsome radiance. His death knights rode at his back, and the spirits already within the temple drew back in recognition of Hecarim’s terrible glory.
“I said the dead are not welcome here,” boomed Illaoi.
Miss Fortune looked up to see the priestess towering over her, stout and majestic. Pale light clung to her limbs and sparkled on the stone tablet she held in trembling hands.
Veins stood out like hawsers on her neck, and her jawline was taut with effort. Sweat ran in runnels down her face.
Whatever Illaoi was doing was costing her greatly.
“These mortal souls are mine,” said Hecarim, and Miss Fortune felt herself recoil from the iron syllables of his voice.
“They are not,” said Illaoi. “This is the house of Nagakabouros, who stands in opposition to the dead.”
“The dead will have their due,” said Hecarim, lowering his glaive to point at Illaoi’s heart.
The priestess shook her head.
“Not today,” she said. “Not while I still move.”
“You cannot stop me.”
“Deaf as well as dead,” grinned Illaoi as a swelling radiance built behind her. “I didn’t say I was going to stop you.”
Miss Fortune turned and saw the spiraling statue bathed in blinding radiance. White light smoked from its surfaces, and shadows fled from its touch. She shielded her eyes as the light billowed outwards like writhing tentacles and where it met the Black Mist it stripped it bare, exposing the twisted souls within. The sinuous light pulled the dead onwards, purging the baleful magic that cursed them to undeath so very long ago.
She expected screams, but instead the unbound dead wept with joy as their souls were freed to move on. The light spread over the cracked walls of the temple, and as it touched her, Miss Fortune cried out as the deathly numbness in her flesh was banished in a rush of heat and life.
The light of Nagakabouros closed on Hecarim, and Miss Fortune saw his fear at the thought of what transformations it might work upon him.
What could be so awful that it was better to remain cursed?
“You can be free, Hecarim,” said Illaoi, her voice strained to the limits of endurance by what she had unleashed. “You can move on, live in the light as the man you always dreamed of being before his grief and folly remade you.”
Hecarim roared and swept his glaive at Illaoi’s neck.
Miss Fortune’s blade intercepted it in a clashing flare of sparks. She shook her head.
“Get out of my city,” she said.
Hecarim’s blade drew back for another strike, but before the blow could land, the light finally pieced his veil of darkness. He bellowed in pain and fell back from its burning touch. The dark rider’s outline shimmered, like two picture box images wavering in candlelight on the same backcloth.
Miss Fortune caught a fleeting glimpse of a tall rider, armored in silver and gold. A young man, handsome and proud with dark eyes and a future of glory ahead of him.
What happened to him?
Hecarim roared and galloped from the temple.
His death knights and the darkness went with him, a shrieking host of tattered spirits following in their wake.
The light of Nagakabouros spread over Bilgewater like the coming dawn. None who saw it could ever remember so sweet a sight; the first rays of sunlight after a storm, the first hint of warmth after a bitter winter.
The Black Mist withdrew before it, roiling in a churning maelstrom of panicked spirits.
The dead turned on one another in a frenzy, some fighting to return from whence they had come as others actively sought out the light’s release.
Silence fell as the Black Mist drew back over the ocean, drawn to the cursed island where it claimed dominion.
True dawn broke over the eastern horizon, and a cleansing wind blew through the city as the people of Bilgewater let out a collective breath.
The Harrowing was over.
Silence filled the temple; the utter lack of sound a stark contrast to the mayhem of moments ago.
“It’s done,” said Miss Fortune.
“Until the next time,” said Illaoi wearily. “The Black Mist’s hunger burns like a sickness.”
“What did you do?”
“What I had to.”
“Whatever it was, I thank you.”
Illaoi shook her head and put a powerful arm around Miss Fortune’s shoulder.
“Thank the goddess,” said Illaoi. “Make an offering. Something big.”
“I will,” said Miss Fortune.
“You better. My god dislikes empty promises.”
The veiled threat rankled, and for a moment she thought of putting a bullet through the priestess’ skull. Before she could do more than inch her hand to her pistols, Illaoi crumpled like a ripped topsail. Miss Fortune grabbed for her, but the priestess was too enormous to hold upright alone.
They went to the seashell floor together.
“Rafen, help me get her up,” she said.
Together they propped Illaoi up against a broken pew, grunting with the effort of shifting her colossal bulk.
“The Bearded Lady rose from the sea...” said Rafen.
“Don’t be stupid all your life,” said Illaoi. “I said Nagakabouros doesn’t live under the sea.”
“So where does she live?” asked Rafen. “In the sky?”
Illaoi shook her head and punched him in the heart. Rafen grunted and winced in pain.
“There is where you find her.”
Illaoi grinned at the obliqueness of her answer and her eyes drifted closed.
“Is she dead?” asked Rafen, rubbing his bruised chest.
Illaoi reached up and slapped him.
Then started snoring like a stevedore with lung-blight.
Lucian sat on the edge of the bridge and watched the city emerge from Black Mist. He’d hated Bilgewater on first sight, but there was a quality of beauty to it as the sunlight bathed its myriad clay-tiled roofs in a warm amber glow.
A city reborn, like it was every time the Harrowing receded.
An apt name for this dread moment, but one that carried only a fraction of the sorrow of its origins. Did anyone here really understand the real tragedy of the Shadow Isles?
And even if they did, would they care?
He turned as he heard footsteps approaching.
“It’s kind of pretty from up here,” said Miss Fortune.
“But only from up here.”
“Yes, it’s a viper’s nest alright,” said Miss Fortune. “There’s good people and bad people, but I’ve been making sure there’s a lot less of the bad.”
“The way I hear it, you started a war,” said Lucian. “Some might say that’s like burning down your house to kill a rat.”
He saw anger touch her, but it passed quickly.
“I thought I was making things better for everyone,” she said, straddling the parapet, “but they’re only getting worse. I need to do something about that, starting now.”
“Is that why you were out in the Black Mist?”
The woman thought for a moment.
“Maybe not at first,” she said. “I let a razor-eel off the hook when I killed Gangplank, and if I don’t take hold of it and get it back on, it’s going to bite a lot of the good people.”
“What I mean to say is that when I brought the Pirate King down, I had no idea what would happen when he was gone. I didn’t much care,” she said. “But I’ve seen what’s happening down there without someone in control. The city’s tearing its own throat out.
Bilgewater needs someone strong at the top. No reason that someone can’t be me. The war’s just starting, and the only way it’ll end quickly is if I win it.”
The silence between them stretched.
“My answer is no.”
“I didn’t ask anything.”
“You’re going to,” said Lucian. “You want me to stay and help you win your war, but I can’t. Your fight isn’t my fight.”
“It could be,” said Miss Fortune. “The pay’s good and you’d get to kill a lot of bad people. And save a lot of innocent souls.”
“There is only one soul I need to save,” said Lucian. “And I won’t save it in Bilgewater.”
Miss Fortune nodded and held out her hand.
“Then I’ll say farewell and good hunting,” she said, standing and dusting her britches. “I hope you find what you’re looking for. Just know that you can lose yourself to revenge.”
Lucian watched her limp back to the sagging ruins of the temple as the survivors within emerged, blinking, into the daylight. She thought she understood what drove him, but she hadn’t the first clue.
Vengeance? He was far beyond vengeance.
His beloved was held in torment by an undying wraith, a creature from ancient days that understood suffering like no other.
Miss Fortune did not understand even a fraction of his pain.
He rose and lifted his gaze out to sea.
The ocean was calm now, an emerald green expanse.
People were already moving down on the docks, repairing ships and rebuilding their homes. Bilgewater never stopped, even in the aftermath of the Harrowing. He scanned the forest of swaying masts, looking for a ship that wasn’t too badly damaged. Perhaps one desperate captain could be persuaded to take him where he needed to go.
“I am coming, my light,” he said. “And I will free you.”
The fisherman grunted as he worked the stern-windlass to haul the big man from the water and onto his boat. The rope was frayed and he sweated in the cold air as he worked the crank.
“By the bristles of her bearded chin, you’re a big bastard, right sure ye are,” he said, snagging the big man’s armor with a gaffing hook and pulling him around over the rolling deck. He kept a wary eye out for predators, above and below the surface.
No sooner had the Black Mist withdrawn over the horizon than scores of boats put out to sea. The waters were awash with plunder, and if you weren’t fast, you ended up with nothing.
He’d spotted the floating man first and had already fought off six sewer-jacks trying to reach him. Damned if wharf-scum like them were going to steal this ocean bounty from him.
The big man had been drifting on a bed of what looked like the remains of a giant Krakenwyrm. Its tentacles were pulped and bloated with noxious gasses, which was all that had kept the big man’s armored form afloat.
He dropped his catch to the deck and laid him out along the gunwale before casting an appraising eye over his body.
A heavy iron hauberk of ring and scale, rugged, fur-lined boots and, best of all, a magnificent axe tangled in the straps of his armor.
“Oh, yes, make a few Krakens out of you, me beauty,” he said, dancing a happy jig around his boat. “A few Krakens indeed!”
The big man coughed up brackish seawater.
“Am I still alive?” he asked.
The fisherman stopped his happy jig and slid a hand towards the long knife at his belt. He used it to open fish bellies. No reason he couldn’t use it to open a throat. Wouldn’t be the first time a salvager had helped someone on their way to the Bearded Lady to claim a prize.
The big man opened his eyes.
“Touch that knife again and I’ll cut you into more pieces than that damned Krakenwyrm.”
Champion BiosHecarim, Kalista, Karthus, Mordekaiser, and Thresh have all been updated. In addition to reading these stories on the event page, their LoL champion pages have also been updated.
“Break their ranks and ride them down without mercy. Crush the living and feast on their terror.”
Hecarim is an armored colossus who charges from the Shadow Isles at the head of a deathly host of spectral horsemen to hunt the living. A monstrous fusion of man and beast, cursed to ride for eternity, Hecarim revels in slaughter and crushing souls beneath his armored hooves.
Born into an empire long since gone to dust and forgotten, Hecarim was squired to a legendary company of knights known as the Iron Order, a brotherhood sworn to defend their king’s land. There he endured the harshest training imaginable, a punishing regime that schooled him to be a formidable warrior.
As Hecarim grew to manhood, he mastered every form of combat and war-stratagem with ease. He quickly outstripped his fellow squires in mounted warfare, and the Knight Commander of the Iron Order saw greatness within the young man and recognized a potential successor. But as the years passed and Hecarim won victory after victory from the back of his mighty warhorse, the Knight Commander finally recognized a growing darkness within his lieutenant. Hecarim’s thirst for wholesale slaughter and obsessive hunger for glory was eroding his honor and the Knight Commander knew the young knight must never become the master of the Iron Order. In his private chambers, he told Hecarim that he would not be his successor and though his lieutenant was furious, he bit back on his anger and returned to his duties.
When the Order next rode to war, the Knight Commander found himself surrounded by enemies and isolated from his fellow knights. Only Hecarim could ride to his aid, but in a moment of rancor, he turned his mount away and left the Knight Commander to die. At battle’s end, the surviving knights, oblivious to what Hecarim had done, knelt on the bloody ground and swore to follow him as their master.
Hecarim rode to the capital, and met with Kalista, the king’s general. Kalista recognized his exceptional nature, and when the king’s wife was wounded by the poisoned blade of an assassin, she tasked the Iron Order with staying at the king’s side while she sought a cure. Hecarim accepted, but being given what he perceived to be a menial task planted a seed of resentment.
Hecarim remained with the king as he descended into grief-induced madness. Gripped by paranoia, the king raged at those who sought to separate him from his dying wife and despatched the Iron Order to quell what he saw as dissent throughout his kingdom. Hecarim led the Iron Order in bloody suppressions of discontent, earning a dreadful reputation as a ruthless enforcer of the king’s will. Villages burned and the riders of the Iron Order put hundreds to the sword. The kingdom was in darkness, and when the queen died, Hecarim spun falsehoods around the king, speaking of how he had uncovered the truth behind her death, seeking sanction to lead the Iron Order to foreign lands and earn yet more dark renown.
Before he rode out, Kalista returned from her quest. She had found a cure for the queen’s malady upon the legendary Blessed Isles, but was too late to save her. Horrified at what had become of the kingdom, Kalista refused to share what she had discovered and was imprisoned for her defiance. Hecarim saw an opportunity to win yet more favor and visited Kalista’s cell. Promising to keep the king from any rash actions, Hecarim persuaded Kalista to reveal what she knew. Kalista reluctantly agreed and guided the king’s fleet through the glamours veiling the Blessed Isles from sight.
Hecarim led the ruined form of the king to the center of the magical island, where he met with its guardians and demanded their aid. The guardians offered their sympathies, but told the king his wife was beyond their help. Enraged, the king ordered Kalista to kill the guardians one by one until they relented. Kalista refused and stood between the king and the island’s inhabitants.
Hecarim recognized a crossroads in his life and made a decision that would damn him for eternity. Instead of supporting Kalista, he drove a spear through her back and commanded the Iron Order to slay the inhabitants of the Blessed Isles. Hecarim and his warriors slaughtered the guardians until a lantern-bearing wretch finally led the king to what he sought - the secret to resurrecting his wife.
But when the queen returned to life she was a horror of decayed meat and maggot-ridden flesh who begged to be allowed to die once more. Repulsed at what he had done to his beloved wife, the king enacted a spell to end their lives and bind them together for all eternity. His conjuration was successful, but unwittingly empowered by the many potent magical artifacts stored on the island, its power was increased a hundredfold.
A hurricane of black mist surrounded the king, spreading across the island and killing everything it touched. Hecarim abandoned the king to his doom and led the Iron Order back to their ships, killing all in their path as the spirits of those slain by the black mist arose as undying wraiths. One-by-one, the knights were dragged down into undeath until only Hecarim remained. As uncontrolled sorcery filled him, he and his mighty steed were fused together in a monstrous abomination that reflected the true darkness of his soul.
Howling in rage, the titanic beast known as the Shadow of War was wrought in an agonizing transformation, a brazen monster of fury and spite. The sins of his former life were heightened by the maelstrom of dark magic, birthing a creature of endless malice and terrifying power.
Now Hecarim is bound to the Shadow Isles, patrolling its nightmare shores and killing all before him in a mockery of his former duty. And when the Black Mist reaches beyond the Shadow Isles, he and the spectral host of the Iron Order ride with him to slaughter the living in the memory of glories long passed.
Icy waves crashed on the bleak shore, red with the blood of the menHecarim had already butchered. The mortals he had yet to kill were retreating over the beach in terror. Black rain doused them and stormcloudsboiled in from the mourning heart of the island. He heard them shouting to one another. The words were a guttural battle-cant he did not recognize, but the meaning was clear; they actually thought they might live to reach their ship. True, they had some skill. They moved as one, wooden shields interlocked. But they were mortal and Hecarim savored the meat-stink of their fear.
He circled them, threading crumbling ruins and unseen in the shadowed mist rising from the ashen sand. The echoing thunder of his hooves struck sparks from black rocks. It gnawed at their courage. He watched the mortals through the slitted visor of his helm. The weak light of their wretched spirits was flickering corposant in their flesh. It repulsed him even as he craved it.
“No-one lives,” he said.
His voice was muffled by the dread iron of his helm, like the corpse-rasp of a hanged man. The sound scraped along their nerves like rusted blades. He drank in their terror and grinned as one man threw down his shield and ran for the ship in desperation.
He bellowed as he gallopped from the weed-choked ruins, lowering his hooked glaive and feeling the old thrill of the charge. A memory flickered, riding at the head of a silver host. Winning glory and honor. The memory faded as the man reached the dark surf of cold breakers and looked over his shoulder.
“Please! No!” he cried.
Hecarim split him from collarbone to pelvis in one thunderous blow.
His ebon-bladed glaive pulsed as it bathed in blood. The fragile wisp of the man’s spirit sought to fly free, but the mist’s hunger would not be cheated.Hecarim watched as the soul was twisted into a dark reflection of the man’s life.
Hecarim drew the power of the island to him and the bloody surf churned with motion as a host of dark knights wreathed in shimmering light rose from the water. Sealed within archaic plates of ghostly iron, they drew black swords that glimmered with dark radiance. He should know these men. They had served him once and served him still, but he had no memory of them. He turned back towards the mortals on the beach. He parted the mists, revelling in their terror as they saw him clearly for the first time.
His colossal form was a nightmarish hybrid of man and horse, a chimeric juggernaut of brazen iron. The plates of his body were dark and stamped with etchings whose meanings he only vaguely recalled. Bale-fire smoulderedbehind his visor, the spirit within cold and dead yet hatefully vital.
Hecarim reared as forking traceries of lightning split the sky. He lowered his glaive and led his knights in the charge, throwing up giant clumps of blood-sodden sand and bone fragments as he went. The mortals screamed and brought up their shields, but the ghost-knights charge was unstoppable.Hecarim struck first as was his right as their master, and the thunderous impact splintered the shieldwall wide open. Men were trampled to bloody gruel beneath his iron-shod bulk. His glaive struck out left and right, killing with every strike. The ghost knights crushed all before them, slaughtering the living in a fury of thrashing hooves, stabbing lances and chopping blades. Bones cracked and blood sprayed as mortal spirits fled broken bodies, already trapped between life and death by the fell magic of the Ruined King.
The spirits of the dead circled Hecarim, beholden to him as their killer and he revelled in the surging joy of battle. He ignored the wailing spirits. He had no interest in enslaving them. Leave such petty cruelties to the Chain Warden.
All Hecarim cared for was killing.
“When wronged, we seek justice. When hurt, we strike back. When betrayed, the Spear of Vengeance strikes!”
A specter of wrath and retribution, Kalista is the undying spirit of vengeance, an armored nightmare summoned from the Shadow Isles to hunt deceivers and traitors. The betrayed may cry out in blood to be avenged, but Kalista only answers those whose cause she deems worthy of her skills. Woe betide those who become the focus of Kalista’s wrath, for any pact sealed with this grim hunter can only end on the cold fire of her soul-spears.
In life, Kalista was a proud general, niece to the powerful king of an empire none now recall. She lived by a strict code of honor and expected others to do the same, serving her king and queen with utmost loyalty. Her king had many enemies, and when the rulers of a conquered land sent an assassin to slay him, only the speed of Kalista’s sword arm averted disaster. But in saving the king, she damned the queen. The assassin’s deflected blade was envenomed and sliced the arm of the king’s wife. The greatest priests, surgeons and sorcerers were summoned, but none could draw the poison from the queen’s body. Even the king’s magic could only slow its progress. Wracked with grief, the king dispatched Kalista to quest for a cure. Before departing, she tasked Hecarim of the Iron Order to stand at the king’s side in her stead. He reluctantly accepted this task, bitter at being denied the chance to join Kalista.
Kalista traveled the world, seeking a cure from learned scholars, hermits and mystics, but always without success. Finally, she learned of a legendary island beyond the ken of mortal eyes, a place said to hold the key to eternal life – the Blessed Isles - and set sail on a last voyage of hope. The island’s inhabitants knew of her quest and, seeing the purity of her intent, drew her boat to the shores of their island. Kalista begged them to heal the queen, and the master of the order instructed Kalista to bring her to the island, where they would cleanse her body. As Kalista boarded her ship, she was given arcane words to pierce the glamours protecting the island, but was warned against sharing that knowledge. Kalista sailed for her homeland, but arrived too late; the queen was already dead.
The king had descended into grief-stricken madness, locking himself in his tower with the queen’s festering corpse. Her uncle learned of Kalista’s return and demanded she tell him what she had found. With heavy heart, for she had never before broken her oath to the king, Kalista refused, remembering the warning given to her and knowing there was no purpose in bringing a corpse to the island. The king named her a traitor and imprisoned her until such time she relented. There Kalista remained until Hecarim convinced her to tell the king what she knew. He urged her to let the king find peace, either in his wife returning to him or in finally accepting she was gone and allowing her to be buried on the Blessed Isles. Between them they could assuage the king’s madness and bring him back with no harm being done. Hesitantly, for she sensed something amiss in Hecarim, Kalista agreed.
And so the king sailed for the Blessed Isles with a flotilla of his fastest ships. Kalista spoke the mystic words to undo the veil shrouding their destination and the king cried out as its glittering coast was revealed. The king marched towards a distant white city at the centre of the island where he was met by the master of the island’s guardians. The king ordered the man to bring his wife back from the dead, but was told that trying to cheat death went against the natural order of the world. The king flew into a fevered rage and commanded Kalista to kill the guardian.
Kalista refused and spoke of the great man he had once been, but her appeals fell on deaf ears and he again ordered the guardian’s death. Kalista called on Hecarim to stand with her, but Hecarim now saw a chance to realize his long-simmering ambition of replacing Kalista as the king’s favorite. He stepped towards Kalista as if to stand at her side, but instead drove his spear through her back in a monstrous act of betrayal. The Iron Order joined him in treachery, their own spears plunging into Kalista’s body as she fell. A brutal melee erupted, with those devoted to Kalista fighting desperately against Hecarim and his knights. Despite their courage and skill, their numbers were too few and Hecarim’s men slew them to a man. As Kalista’s life faded and she watched her warriors die, she swore vengeance with her dying breath upon those who had betrayed her.
When next Kalista opened her eyes, they were filled with the dark power of unnatural magic. The Blessed Isles had been transformed into a twisted mockery of life and beauty, a place of darkness filled with howling spirits condemned for all eternity to the nightmare of undeath. She knew nothing of how this had happened, and even as she clung to her last memories of betrayal, they slowly faded until all that remained was a thirst for vengeance burning in her ruined chest.
A thirst that can only be slaked in the blood of traitors.
The sword-wife stood amid the burnt out ruin of her home. Everything and everyone that mattered to her was gone, and she was filled with fathomless grief... and hate. Hate was now all that compelled her.
She saw again the smile on his face as he gave the order. He was meant to be their protector, but he’d spat upon his vows. Hers was not the only family shattered by the oath-breaker.
The desire to go after him was strong. She wanted nothing more than to plant her sword in his chest and watch the life drain from his eyes... but she knew she would never be able to get close enough to him. He was guarded day and night, and she was but one warrior. She would never be able to fight her way through his battalion alone. Such a death would serve no purpose.
She took a shuddering breath, knowing there was no coming back.
A crude effigy of a man, formed of sticks and twine, lay upon a fire-blackened dresser. Its body was wrapped in a scrap of cloth torn from the cloak of the betrayer. She’d pried it from her husband’s dead grasp. Alongside it was a hammer and three rusted nails.
She gathered everything up and moved to the threshold. The door itself was gone, smashed to splinters in the attack. Beyond, lit by moonlight, lay the empty, darkened fields.
Reaching up, the sword-wife pressed the stick-effigy to the hardwood lintel.
“I invoke thee, Lady of Vengeance,” she said, her voice low, trembling with the depth of her fury. “From beyond the veil, hear my plea. Come forth. Let justice be done.”
She readied her hammer and the first of the nails.
“I name my betrayer once,” she said, and spoke his name aloud. As she did so, she placed the tip of the first nail to the chest of the stick-figure. With a single strike, she hammered it in deep, pinning it to the hardwood door frame.
The sword-wife shivered. The room had become markedly colder. Or had she imagined it?
“I name him twice,” she said, and she did so, hammering the second nail alongside the first.
Her gaze dropped, and she jolted in shock. A dark figure stood out in the moonlit field, a hundred yards in the distance. It was utterly motionless. Breathing quicker, the sword-wife returned her attention to the unfinished task.
“I name him thrice,” she said, speaking again the name of the murderer of her husband and children, before hammering home the final nail.
An ancient spirit of vengeance stood before her, filling the doorway, and the sword-wife staggered back, gasping involuntarily.
The otherworldly being was clad in archaic armor, her flesh translucent and glowing with spectral un-light. Black Mist coiled around her like a living shroud.
With a squeal of tortured metal, the spectral figure drew forth the blackened spear protruding from her breastplate — the ancient weapon that had ended her life.
She threw it to the ground before the sword-wife. No words were spoken; there was no need. The sword-wife knew what was being offered to her — vengeance — and knew its terrible cost: her soul.
The spirit watched on, her face impassive and her eyes burning with an unrelenting cold fury, as the sword-wife picked up the treacherous weapon.
“I pledge myself to vengeance,” said the sword-wife, her voice quivering. She reversed the spear, aiming the tip inward, towards her heart. “I pledge it with my blood. I pledge it with my soul.”
She paused. Her husband would have pleaded for her to turn away from this path. He would have begged her not to condemn her soul for theirs. A moment of doubt gnawed at her. The undying specter watched on.
The sword-wife’s eyes narrowed as she thought of her husband lying dead, cut down by swords and axes. She thought again of her children, sprawled upon the ground, and her resolve hardened like a cold stone in her heart. Her grip tightened upon the spear.
“Help me,” she implored, her decision made. “Please, help me kill him.”
She rammed the spear into her chest, driving it in deep.
The sword-wife’s eyes widened and she dropped to her knees. She tried to speak, but only blood bubbled from her lips.
The ghostly apparition watched her die, her expression impassive.
As the last of the lifeblood ran from her body, the shade of the sword-wife climbed to her feet. She looked down at her insubstantial hands in wonder, then at her own corpse lying dead-eyed in a growing pool of blood upon the floor. The shade’s expression hardened, and a ghostly sword appeared in her hand.
An ethereal tether, little more than a wisp of light, linked the newly formed shade to the avenging spirit she had summoned. Through their bond, the sword-wife saw her differently, glimpsing the noble warrior she had been in life: tall and proud, her armor gleaming. Her posture was confident, yet without arrogance; a born leader, a born soldier. This was a commander the sword-wife would have willingly bled for.
Behind the spirit’s anger, she sensed her empathy — recognition of their shared pain of betrayal.
“Your cause is our cause,” said Kalista, the Spear of Vengeance. Her voice was grave cold. “We walk the path of vengeance as one, now.”
The sword-wife nodded.
With that, the avenging spirit and the shade of the sword-wife stepped into the darkness and were gone.
“Death is not the end of the journey, it is just the beginning...”
The harbinger of oblivion, Karthus is an undying spirit whose haunting songs are a prelude to the horror of his nightmarish appearance. The living fear the eternity of undeath, but Karthus sees only beauty and purity in its embrace, a perfect union of life and death. When Karthus emerges from the Shadow Isles, it is to bring the joy of death to mortals as an apostle of the unliving.
Karthus was born into abject poverty in the sprawl of dwellings built beyond the walls of the Noxian capital. His mother died at the moment of his birth, leaving his father to raise him and his three sisters alone. They shared a crumbling, rat-infested almshouse with scores of other families, subsisting on a diet of rainwater and vermin. Of all the children, Karthus was the best ratter, and regularly brought gnawed corpses for the cook-pot.
Death was commonplace in the slums of Noxus, and many mornings began with the wailing of bereaved parents who woke to discover their child cold and lifeless beside them. Karthus learned to love these laments, and would watch, fascinated, as the tally-men of Kindred notched their staffs and bore the bodies from the almshouse. At night the young Karthus would sneak through the cramped rooms, seeking those whose lives hung by a thread, hoping to witness the moment their soul passed from life to death. For years, his nightly travels were fruitless, as it was impossible to predict exactly when a person would die. He was denied witnessing the moment of death until it reached his own family.
Outbreaks of disease were frequent in such cramped confines, and when Karthus’s sisters sickened with the plague, he watched over them intently. While his father drowned his grief, Karthus was the ever dutiful brother, caring for his sisters as the disease consumed them. He watched each of them as they died, and a sublime connection seemed to reach into him as the light faded from their eyes - a yearning to see what lay beyond death and unlock the secrets of eternity. When the tally-men came for the bodies, Karthus followed them back to their temple, asking them question after question about their order and the workings of death. Could a person exist at the moment where life ends, but before death begins? If such a liminal moment could be understood and held, might the wisdom of life be combined with the clarity of death?
The tally-men quickly recognized Karthus’s suitability for their order and he was inducted into their ranks, first as a digger of graves and pyre-builder, before ascending to the rank of corpse collector. Karthus guided his bone-cart around the streets of Noxus to gather the dead every day. His dirges quickly became known throughout Noxus, mournful laments that spoke to the beauty of death and the hope that what lay beyond was something to be embraced. Many a grieving family took solace in his songs, finding a measure of peace in his heartfelt elegies. Eventually, Karthus worked in the temple itself, tending to the sick in their final moments, watching as whatever death had laid its claim upon them took its due. Karthus would speak to each person laid before him, ushering their souls into death, in search of further wisdom in their fading eyes.
Eventually, Karthus reached the conclusion that he could learn no more from mortals, that only the dead themselves could answer his questions. None of the dying souls could tell of what lay beyond, but whispered rumors and tales told to frighten children echoed of a place where death was not the end - The Shadow Isles.
Karthus emptied the temple’s coffers and bought passage to Bilgewater, a city plagued by a strange black mist said to draw souls to a cursed island far out at sea. No captain was willing to take Karthus to the Shadow Isles, but eventually he came upon a rum-sodden fisherman with a mountain of debts and nothing to lose. The boat plied the ocean for many days and nights, until a storm drove them onto the rocks of an island that appeared on no charts. A black mist rolled out from a haunted landscape of gnarled trees and tumbled ruins. The fisherman freed his boat and turned its prow in terror for Bilgewater, but Karthus leapt into the sea and waded ashore. Steadying himself with his notched tally-staff, he proudly sang the lament he had prepared for the moment of his own death, and his words were carried on a cold wind to the heart of the island.
The black mist flowed through Karthus, ravaging his flesh and spirit with ancient sorcery, but such was the force of his desire to transcend mortality that it did not destroy him. Instead, it remade him, and Karthus was born anew in the waters of the island as a fleshless revenant.
Revelation filled Karthus as he became what he always believed he should have been; a being poised at the threshold of death and life. The beauty of this eternal moment filled him with wonder as the wretched spirits of the island rose to behold his transformation, drawn to his passion like predators scenting blood in the ocean. Finally, Karthus was where he belonged, surrounded by those who truly understood the boon undeath truly was. Filled with righteous zeal, he knew he had to return to Valoran and share his gift with the living, to free them from petty mortal concerns.
Karthus turned and the Black Mist bore him over the waves to the fisherman’s boat. The man fell to his knees before Karthus, begging for his life, and Karthus granted him the blessing of death, ending his mortal suffering and raising him up as an immortal spirit as he sang his lament for passing souls. The fisherman was the first of many such souls Karthus would free, and soon the Deathsinger would command a legion of unliving wraiths. To Karthus’s awakened senses, the Shadow Isles was in a state of apathetic limbo, where the blessings of death were squandered. He would galvanize the dead in a crusade to bring the beauty of oblivion to the living, to end the suffering of mortality and usher in a glorious age of undeath.
Karthus has become the emissary of the Shadow Isles, the herald of oblivion whose laments are paeans to the glory of death. His legions of unbound souls join with his funereal dirges, their haunting song reaching beyond the Black Mist to be heard on cold nights over graveyards and charnel houses all across Valoran.
The sea was mirror-smooth and dark. A pirate’s moon hung low on the horizon as it had for the last six nights. Not so much as a whisper of wind stirred the air, only that damned dirge carried from who knew where.Vionax had sailed the oceans around Noxus long enough to know that seas like this only ever presaged ill-fortune. She stood on the Darkwill’s foredeck, training her spyglass on the far ocean, searching for anything she could use to plot their position.
“Nothing but sea in all directions,” she said to the night. “No land in sight and no stars I recognize. Our sails are empty of wind. The oar decks have rowed for days, but no matter which way we turn, land never comes and the moon neither waxes nor wanes.”
She took a moment to rub the heels of her palms against her face. Thirst and hunger growled in her belly and the constant darkness had made it impossible to accurately gauge the passage of time. The Darkwill wasn’t even her ship. She’d been it’s first mate until a Freljordian reaver’s axe had split Captain Mettok’s skull and given her a sudden promotion. The captain and fifteen other Noxian warriors were laid within sewn-up hammocks on the main deck. The growing stench rising from the bodies was the only consistent measure of time’s passing.
She lifted her gaze to the open ocean and her eyes widened as she saw thick black mist rising from the water. Shapes moved in the mist, lambent suggestions of clawed arms and gaping mouths. That damned dirge rang out over the water again, louder now and accompanied by the dolorous peals of a funeral bell.
“The Black Mist,” she said. “All hands on deck!”
She turned and vaulted down to the main deck, running for the quarterdeck and the ship’s wheel. Not that she could do anything to move the ship, but she’d be damned if she’d be found anywhere else. A haunting lament for lost souls drifted over the ship as men stumbled from below decks, and even as terror shivered her spine, Vionax couldn’t deny the poetry in the sound. Tears pricked her eyes and ran down her cheeks, not in fear, but from infinite sadness.
“Let me end your grief.”
The voice in her head was cold and lifeless, the voice of a dead man. It conjured the image of iron-rimmed wheels on a corpse-heaped cart, a knife cutting yet another death mark on a staff. Vionax knew the tales of the Black Mist; she knew to avoid the islands brooding beneath the darkness in the east. She’d thought the ship was far from the Shadow Isles, but she was wrong.
She pulled up short as black mist boiled up over the gunwale, bringing with it howls and screeches of dead things. Wraiths spun overhead, a swirling chorus of the damned, and the Darkwill’s crew cried out in terror at the sight of them. Vionax drew her pistol and cocked the hammer as a figure loomed from the mist; towering and wide-shouldered, robed in tattered vestments like an ancient prelate, yet his shoulders and gaunt skull were armored as a warrior. A chained book hung at his waist and he carried a long staff with its haft notched by countless tally-marks. Spectral light shone at its tip and burned like a fallen star in the palm of his free hand.
“Why do you cry?” said the creature. “I am Karthus, and I bring you a great gift.”
“I don’t want your gift,” said Vionax, pulling the trigger. Her pistol boomed and fire exploded from the barrel. The shot struck the monstrous wraith, but passed through it without harm.
“You mortals,” said Karthus, shaking his helmeted head. “You fear what you do not understand and would turn away from a boon that is freely offered.”
The monster drifted closer, and the dark radiance of his staff bathed the ship’s deck in pale, sickly light. Vionax backed away from the wraith’s chill as her crew fell before the light, their souls drifting like steam from their bodies. Her heel caught on one of the laid out hammocks and she tripped, falling backwards onto her haunches. She pushed herself away from Karthus, scrambling over the bodies of her fellow sailors.
The hammock beneath her moved.
They were all moving, squirming and writhing like fresh-caught fish gasping for air at the bottom of a boat. Tendrils of mist rose from tears in the canvas and between the rough stitches the ship’s sailmaker had used to sew them shut. Faces moved in the mist, faces she’d sailed with for years, men and women she’d fought beside.
The wraith towered over her and the dead crew of the Darkwill stood beside him, their spirit forms limned in moonlight.
“Death is nothing to be feared, Mistress Vionax,” said Karthus. “It will free you from all your pain. It will lift your eyes from your mundane existence and show you the glory of life eternal. Embrace the beauty and wonder of death. Let go of your mortality. You do not need it.”
He held his hand out and the light there swelled to envelop her. She screamed as it pressed through her skin, into muscle, through bone, down to her very soul. The wraith clenched his fist and Vionax cried out as she felt herself being unwoven from the inside out.
“Let your soul fly free,” said Karthus, turning to carve another notch in his staff with a sharpened nail. “You shall feel no pain, no fear, no desire to feel anything but the beauty of what I have to show you. Miracles and wonders await, mortal. Why would you not crave such rapture...?”
“No,” she said with her last breath. “I don’t want to see.”
“It is already done,” said Karthus.
“All things must die… and yet I live on.”
The baleful revenant Mordekaiser is among the most terrifying and hateful spirits haunting the Shadow Isles. He has existed for countless centuries, shielded from true death by necromantic sorcery and the force of his own dark will. Those who dare face Mordekaiser in battle risk a horrific curse: he enslaves his victims’ souls to become instruments of destruction.
Mordekaiser was once mortal, a brutal warlord-king who ruled the lands of eastern Valoran long before the rise of Demacia or Noxus. He waded into battle bedecked in heavy iron armor and slaughtered all who opposed him, crushing them beneath his ensorcelled mace, Nightfall.
As hated as he was feared, his enemies finally rallied to end his dark reign. After a long and bloody day of battle, Mordekaiser met his fate standing atop a mountain of corpses, surrounded by his foes. He laughed even as he died, pierced by arrows, swords and spears, promising his killers that he would come back for them.
His body was hurled upon a immense pyre amid great celebration from his enemies. While the flames were unable to do more than blacken his armor, Mordekaiser’s body was reduced to charred bones.
The fires burned for days on end, but as they finally died down and the victors moved on, a coterie of sorcerers slunk forward and sifted through the ashes, gathering up Mordekaiser’s armor and bones. They bore them away in secret, and on a moonless night they laid the skeleton upon a rune-carved slab and enacted a spell of vile, necromantic sorcery. As their dark magicks reached a crescendo, a shadowy form appeared upon the slab. The deathly shade rose to its feet, leaving the skeleton behind.
It was a wraith formed of pure darkness, yet its eyes burned with malice. The fire-blackened pieces of armor slammed into place around the shadowy spirit, as if drawn to a powerful lodestone, and the sorcerers dropped to their knees before their risen master. They had been promised great power for their service, but had not foreseen how they were to be rewarded.
With newfound mastery over the necromantic arts, Mordekaiser gifted the sorcerers with undeath, trapping them between life and death. They became vile liches, living corpses cursed to serve him until the end of time.
Over the next decade Mordekaiser saw all those who had defied him slain. He cursed them into eternal servitude, drawing out their souls and forcing them to obey his undying will.
Having assumed the mantle of the Iron Revenant, Mordekaiser’s nightmarish reign of darkness lasted many centuries. Several times he was seemingly slain during this period, yet always he returned, brought back by the power of his soul-bound liches.
Mordekaiser’s bones were key to his unholy reincarnation, and as the centuries rolled on he became increasingly paranoid about their safety. He constructed a monolithic fortress at the heart of his empire that came to be known as the Immortal Bastion. Locked away at the core of this epic stronghold he hid his remains.
The Immortal Bastion was eventually besieged by a concentrated alliance of tribes and warbands. During the siege, an unknown thief infiltrated the mighty fortress, bypassing its fiendish defenses to steal Mordekaiser’s skull. His skeleton needed to be complete in order for his resurrection to be enacted, yet fearful of their master’s wrath, his enslaved liches kept the theft a secret.
On the walls of the Immortal Bastion, countless enemies fell before Mordekaiser, yet it was not enough to stave off defeat. His fortress was overrun and he was dragged down by sheer weight of numbers. His deadly mace was torn from his grasp and great chains wrapped around his limbs. The booming of his laughter echoed through the darkness – he had no reason not to believe he would be reborn anew, as he had been many times before. The chains binding him were hitched to hulking Basilisks, and with a barked order the immense scaled beasts ripped him apart.
Mordekaiser’s skull was taken across the sea to the Blessed Isles, a land hidden in mist and legend. The wise adepts of that land knew of Mordekaiser, and of his weakness. They had stolen his skull in order to rid the world of his unholy presence, placing it in a vault deep beneath the ground, secured behind locks and magical wards. Mordekaiser’s servants were scattered to the corners of the world, seeking his lost skull, but were always unable to locate it. It seemed Mordekaiser’s reign was truly over.
Years rolled into decades, decades to centuries, until a cataclysm was unleashed upon the Blessed Isles. A king whose mind had been ruined by grief and madness unleashed a terrible spell that condemned the isles to darkness, turning them into a twisted realm of the undying – the Shadow Isles. During that great sorcerous explosion, the vaults securing Mordekaiser’s skull were torn asunder.
Drawn like moths to a flame, Mordekaiser’s liches made their way to the newly born Shadow Isles. They bore with them their master’s bones, and digging his skull from the ruins, were finally able to unleash him upon the world once more.
Mordekaiser has since carved out his own empire upon the Shadow Isles, enslaving a growing army of the dead. He looks down upon these newly formed undying spirits as a lesser breed, for he chose his path freely, while these others are merely lost souls. Nevertheless, he sees their use; they will be his foot-soldiers in the conflicts to come.
Unlike the lesser spirits, Mordekaiser is not bound by the Black Mist – he is too powerful for that – yet its baleful energy grants him considerable power. For now at least, the Shadow Isles serves as the perfect place to build his strength.
While he consolidates his power, and constantly obsesses over making his bones ever-more secure, Mordekaiser has begun to look across the seas, towards Valoran. He has set his sights on the empires and civilizations that have risen since his absence. In particular, his attention is drawn to the Immortal Bastion, that mighty fortress that now acts as the capital city of the upstart empire called Noxus.
A new era of darkness beckons.
The Black Mist coiled and twisted like a living creature as it rolled forward to encircle the isolated, grey-stoned castle.
A massive, armored figure walked within the darkness of the Black Mist. His heavy warplate gleamed like oil, and orbs of cruel witchfire burned within his horned helm.
Grass withered underfoot as the armored revenant marched towards the castle’s gatehouse. He could see movement on the walls. They knew death had come for them. His own name drifted on the wind, whispered in fear:
Arrows sliced through the night. Several stuck Mordekaiser, ricocheting from his armor. One sank into the gap between his helm and gorget, but his inexorable approach did not slow.
A heavy iron portcullis barred Mordekaiser’s advance. The revenant extended a gauntleted hand and made a wrenching motion in the air. The lattice ironwork screamed in protest as it was twisted out of shape before being hurled contemptuously aside, revealing the heavy oak gate beyond.
White hot warding runes burst to life upon the gate, forcing Mordekaiser back half a step. The Black Mist roiled around him, and it was possible now for the defenders to see other forms within it - hateful, shadowy specters that hungered for living souls.
Mordekaiser stepped forward, brandishing his immense spiked mace, Nightfall. A weapon of dark renown, thousands had fallen before it. With a powerful swing, he slammed the weapon into the oak gate.
The runes exploded, Mordekaiser’s dark sorcery overcoming the petty protective spells of his enemies. The gate smashed inwards, ripped off its hinges.
The Black Mist flowed through the breach, Mordekaiser striding within it.
The garrisoned soldiers and men-at-arms waited for him in the courtyard beyond. Weaklings all. His gaze swept over them as he sought a foe worthy of his attention. His undying gaze settled on a silver-clad knight that stepped out to meet him, sword drawn.
“Begone, revenant, or I shall see you banished,” said the knight. “This hamlet and its people are under my protection.”
Rising to this threat, a host of specters and translucent warriors manifested in the Black Mist behind their master.
“This one’s soul is mine,” Mordekaiser said, holding the eager spirits at bay. His voice was deep and sepulchral, the timbre of death itself.
Mordekaiser pointed, and a cone of malignant unlife burst towards the knight.
The knight’s armor shone brightly for a second, then returned to its normal, mundane form, leaving him unharmed by Mordekaiser’s necromantic sorcery.
“Demacian steel,” sneered Mordekaiser. “It will not save you.”
He stepped forward and brought his spiked mace down toward the knight’s skull. The strike was met with a two-handed parry, though the power of it forced the knight to his knees. Mordekaiser towered over him.
The knight spun away, avoiding Nightfall as it swung toward him in a lethal arc. He sidestepped and sank his blade deep into Mordekaiser’s side, biting through the banded links and chain. To a living man, it would have been a mortal blow, but to the armored behemoth, it was as nothing. Mordekaiser backhanded the knight across the side of his head, sending him reeling.
The Iron Revenant stepped in to end the fight, but the knight turned aside his strike with exquisite skill, and rammed the point of his blade into Mordekaiser’s chest with all his strength and weight.
With a wrench of metal, the blade punched through the breastplate above the heart. There was no resistance from within, as if the suit were hollow.
Mordekaiser grabbed the knight by the throat in one giant hand and lifted him off the ground.
“You thought you could protect these mortals,” said Mordekaiser. “But know that it will be you who slays them.”
He squeezed, tightening his grip on the knight’s throat. The mortal’s feet kicked in the air.
Mordekaiser watched closely, eyes burning, as the life drained from the knight. Finally, he dropped the lifeless corpse to the floor.
Mordekaiser knelt and placed a hand upon the dead knight’s chest. When the armored giant rose, he drew forth the shade of the dead warrior.
The spirit of the knight looked around it, horror writ in its spectral eyes.
“Now,” commanded Mordekaiser, knowing that the shade was powerless to resist him.
“Kill them all.”
“The mind is a wondrous thing to tear apart.”
Sadistic and cunning, Thresh is a restless spirit who prides himself on tormenting mortals and breaking them with slow, excruciating inventiveness. His victims suffer far beyond the point of death, for Thresh wreaks agony upon their souls, imprisoning them in his lantern to torture for all eternity.
In an age history has all but forgotten, the man who would later be known as Thresh was once a member of an order devoted to gathering and protecting knowledge. The masters of this order tasked him with guarding a hidden underground vault filled with dangerous and corrupted magical artifacts. Thresh was incredibly strong-willed and methodical, which made him well-suited to such work.
The vault Thresh guarded was buried deep beneath the citadel at the center of an island chain and protected by runic sigils, arcane locks and potent wards. Spending such time in the presence of dark spells began to affect Thresh as the magic sought out his innate malice. For years the relics preyed on his insecurities, taunting him with his deepest fears and feeding his bitterness.
Thresh’s spite surfaced through wanton acts of cruelty, as his talent for exploiting vulnerability bloomed. He slowly tore pages out of a living book, binding it back together when it was all but spent. He scratched the glass of a mirror bound with the memory of an ancient mage until it was opaque, trapping the man in darkness, only to polish it anew and repeat. Just as a secret wants to be told, a spell wants nothing more than to be cast, and Thresh denied this each day. He would start to recite an incantation, then let the words trickle off his tongue, halting just before the last syllable.
He became exquisitely skilled at covering all evidence of his cruelty, such that no one in the order suspected he was anything other than a disciplined guard. The vault had grown so vast that no one knew its contents as completely as Thresh, and the lesser artifacts faded from the order’s memory, as did Thresh himself.
He resented that he had to hide his meticulous work. Everything under his watch was evil, or corrupted in some way - why shouldn’t he be free to do as he would?
The vault held many peculiar magical artifacts but no people, until one day when a chained man was dragged into the sunken catacombs. He was a warlock who had infused his body with raw sorcery, which gave him the power to regenerate his flesh, no matter how grievous the wound.
Thresh was delighted at his new ward - a being who could feel the full range of human suffering, but would not perish, a plaything he could torment for years to come. He started methodically separating the warlock’s skin from his flesh with a hook, and used his chains to lash and tear the open wound until it healed. He took to wearing the chains as he patrolled the vault, reveling in the warlock’s fear at the long, dragging sound of his approach.
With ample charges to torment in the vault, Thresh became even more distanced from the order above. He began to take his meals in his underground chamber lit by a single lantern, rarely emerging from the catacombs. His skin developed a pallid complexion from lack of sunlight, and his face became gaunt and hollow. Members of the order avoided him, and when a series of mysterious disappearances plagued the order, none thought to investigate Thresh’s lair.
When the disaster known as the Ruination struck, magical shockwaves claimed the lives of all who lived on the isles and transformed them into a state of undeath. While others screamed in anguish, Thresh reveled in the ruin. He rose from this cataclysm as a spectral abomination, but unlike many who have passed into the shadow world, Thresh did not lose his identity. Rather, his penchant for cruel torture and ability to discern weakness was only heightened.
He relished the chance to continue his cruelty without fear of reprisal, unfettered by the limits of mortality. As a wraith, Thresh could torment the living and the dead endlessly, delighting in their despair before claiming their soul for an eternity of suffering.
Thresh now seeks only particular victims: the most clever and resilient, and those with a strong will. His greatest joy comes from tormenting his victims until they lose any last glimmer of hope, before facing the inevitable hook of his chains.
A horrible scraping of metal chains drifted over the fields. Outside, an unnatural fog rendered the moon and stars all but invisible, and the regular hum of insects fell silent.
Thresh approached a ruined hovel. He raised his lantern, not to see his surroundings, but to look inside the glass. The interior of the lantern resembled a starry nightscape with its thousands of tiny green glowing orbs. They buzzed frantically as if trying to escape Thresh’s gaze. His mouth twisted in a grotesque grin, teeth glinting from the glow. Each of the lights was precious to him.
Behind the door, a man whimpered. Thresh sensed his pain, and was drawn to it. He knew the man’s suffering like an old friend.
Thresh had only appeared to the man once, decades ago, but since then the spectre had taken everyone the man held dear: from his favorite horse to his mother, brother, and recently a manservant who had become a close confidant. The specter made no pretence of natural deaths; he wanted the man to know who caused each loss.
The spirit passed through the door, scraping his chains as they dragged behind him. The walls were damp and ingrained with years of grime. The man looked even worse: his hair long and matted, his skin covered in scabs - angry and raw from clawing. He wore what had once been fine velvet clothes, but were now little more than torn, tattered rags.
The man shrank from the sudden green glow, covering his eyes. He shook violently, backing away into the corner.
“Please. Please, not you,” he whispered.
“Long ago, I claimed you as mine.” Thresh’s voice creaked and stretched, as if he had not spoken for an age. “It is time I collect...”
“I am dying,” the man said, his voice barely audible. “If you’re here to kill me, you’d best hurry.” He made an effort to look at Thresh directly.
Thresh stretched his mouth wide. “Your death is not my desire.”
He set the glass door of his lantern slightly ajar. Strange sounds came from within - a cacophony of screams.
The man did not react, not at first. So many screams emerged that they blended together like scraping glass shards. But his eyes widened in horror as he heard voices he recognized plead from Thresh’s lantern. He heard his mother, his brother, his friend, and finally the sound he dreaded most: his children, wailing as if being burned alive.
“What have you done?” he screamed. He scrambled for something to throw - a broken chair - and threw it at Thresh with all his strength. It passed through the spectre harmlessly, and Thresh laughed mirthlessly.
The man ran at Thresh, eyes wild with fury. The spectre’s hooked chains whipped out like striking snakes. The barbed hooks struck the mortal’s chest, cracking ribs and piercing his heart. The man fell to his knees, face twisted in delicious agony.
“I left them to keep them safe,” the man cried. Blood gurgled from his mouth.
Thresh wrenched his chains hard. For a moment, the man did not move. Then the ripping began. Like a rough-spun sheet being slowly torn, he was excruciatingly pulled from himself. His body convulsed violently, and blood sprayed along the walls.
“Now, we begin,” said Thresh. He pulled the captured soul, pulsing brightly from the end of the chain, and trapped him within the lantern. The man’s hollow corpse collapsed as Thresh departed.
Thresh followed the curling Black Mist away from the cottage with his glowing lantern held high. Only after Thresh was gone, and the fog dissipated, did the insects resume their nightly chorus and stars once again filled the night sky.
ArtScrolling down to the bottom of each champion page reveals a slice of art from the Shadow Isles:
imgur album of the art.
DownloadsWith all four chapters of the SHADOW AND FORTUNE story out, a PDF containing the entire story is now available!
[NOTE: It's coming up a lot but expect the returning seasonal legacy content and the new Zombie/Slayer skins & icons to be available sometime after 5.21 goes to live. While those are the seasonal content for this year, they are not related directly to this story!!]