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Steps measured

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Lux flitted through a dirty street, the staccato of her heart beat in sync with her deep breathing. She kept track of the sounds of heavy footsteps and rattling of armor, mixed with the occasional curse. She sidestepped into a small alley, hoping to get rid of her pursuers. They were not trained in stealth, she could hear them two streets down. Hastily, she moved the papers she had obtained from her satchel into a pocket of her cloak. She was much more soft-footed than those who chased her, but she was running, something that always attracted the attention in the lower streets of the city. Probably the only reason the thugs someone had labeled as guards were still able to follow her.
After doing such a splendid job in the borderlands, this here was her first mission in the heart of Noxus, the capital of evil, Noxus Prime. She had no backup and her superiors had made very clear that she'd have to stay a long time. Everything in Noxus Prime was so very different from her home country, different than anything she had ever experienced before. Sure, there had been tries to educate her on the culture that awaited her, but the available knowledge had been sparse and just enough to let her know to expect everything in the melting pot of different, often opposing cultures that melted in Noxus' capital. Nothing unexpected.
Lux had spent the last two months with getting familiar with her new surroundings and learning her ways around a small part of the undercity. Noxus Prime was nothing like she had expected, the sheer diversity in people, in appearance, fighting styles and surveillance techniques enough to send her head spinning with ideas and new possibilities. Thus, during her first mission, she had gotten caught. Well, not caught, but seen, so she had to take a hasty leave through said undercity to avoid captivity.
She cautiously passed two more crossroads, bringing distance between her and the unfriendly sounds of the so-called guards she had alarmed.

She turned into an even smaller road, its windings would make it hard for anyone to keep her in their line of vision. Another plus: no people occupied this way, which meant nobody would be able to point out the direction she had taken. The absence of other people didn't disturb Lux. A silent 'thump' as if something large and wet hit the ground was the only noise in front of her. Nothing as obviously dangerous as what chased behind her. Cautiously, she slowed her advance, peeked around the corner - and flinched back.
The two bodies littering the alley in front of her where not that unusual per se, but a third, hooded person, a wicked-looking blade strapped to their arm, gripping around a fourth person's throat, most certainly was. The reason nobody wanted to be in this alley, Lux concluded. Curse her luck to run into what looked like a crime scene. The same wet sound as before resonated in the otherwise empty street, and Lux connected the noise to the body which had just been dropped to the ground. She had barely time to think before the only other living person vanished into thin air. Lux' instincts kicked in and she threw a quickly formed ball of light into the direction where she had last seen the shadow. The detonation revealed a figure emerging through the shadows in front of her, not from her side as she had expected. How fast was that guy? Using his temporary distraction due to the sudden brightness, Lux casted and threw a quick binding which interrupted his advance, sealing him on the spot.

Guessing from the three dead bodies, this person seemed not to be one to mess with. Cold, golden eyes glinted from under the hood as he tested out his range of motion, and Lux knew that she would not be able to hold her binding for terribly much longer. Plus, she could hear her followers already. The detonation had not went unheard. Damn. She needed de-escalation - and a way to convey that she couldn't care less about the corpse-littered street. "Hey Golden Eye, sorry for interrupting your party. Don't you need to tend to your friends?" She chirmed in the lightest tone she was able to muster, pulling her light tighter against his struggling.

The answer was cold and hissed. "This party is already dead."

Lux was not sure if he was taking on her joke or not. Probably not. Noxians and humor was a whole different topic, one she hadn't even begin to approach.

The sounds of armored boots torturing cobblestones drew closer, combined with a barked "There was something!"

Lux took a deep breath, smile unwavering. "Sad, the night is still so young. Want an invitation to mine?" She winked and stepped backwards, towards another, presumably unoccupied alleyway.

He leaned against the tendrils of light. Lux did not let the effort it took to hold him show on her face. "Can't be more fatigued than my guests." He hissed while eyeing her baton and her composure, clearly trying to place her and her abilities. Luckily this face would get him nothing, it was just a manipulation of light to look like someone else.

Four men clad in different, black armor jogged around the corner, halting at the sight of her. Lux dropped her binding and just went with it. The hooded man now stood between her and the other four, looking back and forth between her and the group. In typical Noxian fashion they fanned out, giving each individual the chance to fight the way they preferred. The hooded man stepped backwards and tilted his head to the side, getting the wall in his back so he was still able to observe all five people. Lux noted how his right, bladed hand tightened into a fist while his face stayed void of expression.

"You!" The group's leader lifted his heavy sword and pointed to the dark figure separating him from his designated prey, "move quick enough and maybe we let you live." A cruel grin split his scarred face.

The man in question took a moment to regard the four persons standing in front of him, fist relaxing, before glancing back at Lux. "I take back what I said. More boring." He seemingly relaxed and straightened himself.

She lifted her shoulders and smiled apologetically. "Maybe I mixed up the invitations?"

He snorted, turning his back to Lux' pursuers. An insult in Noxus, she had learned, and slowly sauntered back the alley he had emerged from, picking at his arm-blade. Lux did not allow herself to exhale loudly. One of the more favorable outcomes, one of her problems just leaving. When the guards where not to…"Hey, Hoodie!" do something stupid.
The man in question continued moving, slowly enough to add to his former insult. Did she see blades attached to his cloak? That was either completely over the top, or she had encountered someone who did not belong to the lower districts of Noxus Prime.

"We are to grab her…" Another guard tried to intervene, for Lux had already sneaked a few more steps backwards. "We can finish him off afterwards."

The leader spat on the street, turning to Lux. He didn't see the dark figure halting his steps. "Shoot him now, get him later. Can't waste time on an insigi… isini… unimportance like that." The head of the man in question whipped around and Lux caught a glance of his emotionless face.

"Need vocabulary lessons?" Lux offered sympathetically and as she heard the familiar 'click' of a crossbow, not directed at her, she dashed around the corner and ran as if the Seven Sentinels were after her. Not a second later she heard the sharp sounds of a blade being dragged over soft skin, wet smacking and the gurgling of a man drowning on his own blood.

Her pursuers would not bother her anymore, she concluded, not without horror about how quickly the situation had escalated. She dashed around some more corners before abruptly changing directions, heart thundering in her chest. She needed a place to hide and change…A shabby tavern was just what she searched for and she slid to a stop, took a deep breath to calm herself, pulled her cowl over her head and stepped inside.

She calculated how long the stranger would have needed to kill her party, he had seemed confident enough, and hoped she had reached this tavern before he had caught on her trail. If he was trailing her now. There was a possibility he'd want to repay her for the trouble he went through, so she took no chances.

At the moment she looked unassuming. Shaggy, black hair, brown eyes, slightly tan, rugged clothes, so nobody paid her much attention. She was nothing more than another stranger. After ordering one of those disgusting fermented root-liquids the Noxian underclass dared to call beer she had analyzed the level of drunkenness in this room. She took the mug with her beer and, walking to the backside of the tavern, swept away the uneven chair leg of the most drunk, biggest and dangerously looking man in this tavern, so he bumped into another quiet drinker and, as expected, started to curse loudly. Lux resumed her way as quickly as possible, listening to the unfolding insults and the sounds of a starting tavern-brawl.

When she arrived at the back of the locality nobody paid her any attention, so she averted her face into the shadows of her cowl and changed. Eyes more muddy, hair to a mousy grey, more wrinkles of a spent life. Her clothes where nothing to be changed easily, but it would have to make due.

She waited for the first batch of people leaving through the backdoor to mingle and get out on the street again.

She exercised even more caution than usual on the way to her apartment, but no one seemed to follow her.

And when nothing happened with the following days staying quiet, she relaxed again.

At the second meeting, she wore a different face and different colors.

Lux shuffled through the notes of the mage she had been keeping her eyes on since a few weeks. He had appeared at the edge of her attention, just a side-note in papers she had stolen, but he had struck her as odd. The eastern parts of Demacia had experienced an unusual plaque of insects, Argoth, locusts and other creatures with too many legs to be comfortable with. They seemed to concentrate on strategically valuable basic commodities, and people started blaming witches. The annulment-slums had been searched through one time already, Lux had heard about several casualties, so she needed to find the real cause of the insect attacks - hopefully there was someone else to blame - and stop them.

The shrine she stood next to was an indicator she was indeed on the right path. Papers in hand, she examined the figure of a twisted, eight legged, eight eyed monstrosity that resembled a spider. Were that teeth instead of the usual mandibles? Very inaccurate, Lux decided, and put the figurine down again.

Then she noticed something missing. It was not the tug at her conscience she had anticipated. She had tried something new, two thin strings of light lain out and tied to her mind, so anything breaking the light should warn her. In theory. But it hadn't, the light had simply vanished. Most likely an ordinary malfunction, but Lux wouldn't be taking chances, so she spelled herself invisible and stilled her motions.

Two beats of her heart later, a shadow moved to the center of the room before solidifying into a person who turned their head first and body second to inspect the room.
A hood pulled down casted the face into darkness, but he wore the same colors and the same, unique blade strapped to his arm - it was clearly the man she had encountered a few weeks prior.

He moved effortlessly soundless, had made his appearance without Lux catching on the slightest whisper, so she was sure he had to use some special kind of magic. Their last encounter, especially the fact that he was here, alive and breathing, confirmed her initial suspect: this man was not one to mess with. An advice she'd gladly follow, so she opened her mouth to silence her breathing.

The man spun around a second time, the gold in his eyes flashed in reflection as they darted over where Lux hid in plain sight. After another moment of absolute silence, the man vanished as soundlessly as he had appeared.

Lux waited, motionless and as quiet as she could be, until she heard footsteps approaching from the hallway.

A small man clad in dark robes entered the room, closed the door behind him and shambled to his desk. Lux looked at the papers in her hands. Oh no. He'd probably miss these.

"What…" The presumed owner of this room exhaled, rummaging through the contents of his desk before he looked around carefully and lifted his hand. "In the name of the great swarm…" He didn't get to finish his sentence, for Golden Eyes appeared behind him, grabbed the long hair to pull it back, and drew a blade over his throat. Blood spurted out of the wound, over the desk and the notes Lux wasn't holding. Lux watched in horror while the other man tried to mutter something, but his sliced windpipe made that impossible. The assassin held the other man's head until the stream of blood run dry, before he took another look through the room. His expression was still hardly readable due to the shadows of his hood, but he didn't looked moved. Nothing indicated that he had just killed another human being in cold blood.
Lux continued to exercise her stillness, not daring to blink, not daring to move a single muscle.
After what felt like hours, the darkly clad man pushed the corpse into the office chair where it collapsed lifelessly, before he vanished again.
Keeping her powers up began to hurt her head. Lux counted her accelerated heartbeat and let 200 beats pass before she allowed herself to move. She didn't let out a breath, she didn't lower her invisibility, she just tiptoed to the closed door and listened. It was quiet outside, so she pushed the handle down.
With a 'thwack' a dagger embedded itself into the wood of the doorframe, grazing the skin of her hand. A glance backwards revealed the cloaked form she had expected to be gone. Her hitching breath must've provided enough of a target for another blade, thrown accurately ten centimeters below her mouth. Lux had barely enough time to lift her hand, yanking up her shield, to deflect the weapon. She had hoped not to expose more of her abilities than she already had, but scratch that now. The whisper of a cloak gave her a direction to throw another binding, the light chinking noise told her it had hit home.

"Fool me once…" She heard the quiet whisper, barely audible above the crescending sounds of footsteps from outside. At least two more men were on their way to this study.

"It looks like our party is cut short again." Lux, still invisible, pulled the dagger out of the doorframe and collected the one her shield had repelled. She heard one tendril of light snap, a reminder that one trick seldomly worked twice with intelligent people. "Patience is not your true virtue, right?" She walked to the window and placed the blades on the windowsill. Maybe that counted as a Noxian peace offering?

Another snort answered her as another tendril snapped.

The footsteps halted in front of the closed door and a sharp knock resonated in the study. Lux positioned herself next to the door and let her binding fade. He glanced at where he guessed she was - very accurate, the glare went directly to her eyes - before he averted his face to the blades she had lain out. He shook his head and vanished right before the door flung open.

The anger surging through the interrupter manifested in a loud yell as he stepped into the room, gaze fixing on the corpse. A shudder ran through Lux as she looked at the discarded body, laying in a pool of its own blood. She quickly averted her eyes and slipped behind the back of the newcomer, taking her leave before the yell of alarm could attract even more attention.

This time, she was even more careful while leaving, keeping her invisibility up until she found a crowded tavern, where she was able to mingle with people.

With the sigil she had spotted on one of his blades, it was not hard to figure out who the man was. The crest belonged to family du Couteau, famous assassins connected with the Noxian High Command since nearly forever. The most prominent member was the head of the house, Marcus du Couteau, followed by his eldest daughter, Katarina. She was a special kind of pain and Lux was sure she had heard Garen talk about the woman more than one time. What had been concealed from Demacian intelligence was that General Marcus du Couteau, Blade of Noxus, had brought a skilled boy from the streets into the family who now, years later, acted as his extended blade, his agent and probably many more things, guessing from the heavy silence everybody fell into when asked about the man. From her contacts Lux had heard not only his title, 'the Blade's Shadow', but also a name, Talon, and the notion that a surefire way to get on top of the Blade's blacklist was to call his Shadow a street rat, gutter trash and similar demeaning names.

Rumors said he extended the control of the Du Couteau's far beyond the borders of Noxus. 'Talon' seemed to be a fitting name for the single-person task force of a legendary family.

Altogether not a person she would voluntarily mess with. And, if she had a say in it, would love to never meet again.

Yet here she was, a wickedly formed blade pressed to her throat and something wet at her back, the whisper of a cloak not enough to act as a proper warning.

"I propose a truce." She sputtered out, pressing herself into the fabric clad body behind her, while spreading her fingers out in a universal gesture, letting the device she had held fall to the ground with a heavy 'clink'.

"And you are in a position to... how?" A rough voice hissed in her ear.

"You are leaking on my back." It was a shot in the dark, but it couldn't get worse, she thought. And there was the coppery smell of blood in the air.

The blade in her neck drew blood. The stinging pain followed seconds later, the blade sharp enough as to not hurt at first contact. It could get worse.

"You would likely get out of here alone, but finishing your job?" She replenished, refusing to feel fear. Fear never helped. Especially not in Noxus. She would make it out here alive. Her baton was tucked safely into her belt, close enough so she could probably sneak her shield in between the offending knife. If it would only disconnect from her skin just the slightest…She waited some more painful moments in which she felt blood trickling down her collar bone, before adding "I can do something about that leaking."
The tip of the blade pressed into her skin for a second longer, then it was gone. He must've been much worse for wear than he looked like. Still, Lux didn't dare to use her magic yet, for the glow that always accompanied it.

"Turn around." Her pursuer ordered.

Lux obeyed, blade millimeters above her skin, while her blood stained her collar. Luckily the fabric was dark. A distant part of her mind noted that she hadn't been this close to another human being since... Since when? Close enough to smell sweat and blood and the specific scent of the man in front of her.

She glanced upwards, into the shadows of his hood, where she was met with the cold, golden shimmer of his demanding glance. "You got yourself a deal." He hissed, glance flickering to the door before it returned to her, restlessly checking and rechecking her stance, her posture and her movements.

Very slow she grabbed the hem of his tunic, shoving it up at the same pace, to take a look at the nasty, deep gash, twelve centimeters long, across his lower abdomen. According to his state of training there wasn't much dermis to cover the slashed through musculus rectus abdominis, under which the obliqual muscles looked also torn. The cut possibly went deeper. In that case his intestines could be damaged as well.
A potentially fatal wound, unless healed magically. Did they have magical healers in Noxus? Or did they use magic only to destroy? Lux didn't know. It had to be extremely painful as well, but his movements were perfectly controlled, his face giving away nothing but cold determination.

She spared herself the compassionate whimper and placed her fingers at the sides of the wound to press the edges together. He showed no acknowledgement of pain, just observed her fingers tensely. She adjusted the size of her binding spell and wove it through muscles and skin before pulling it together. The bleeding stopped and the edges of the wound adapted, so she disconnected the spell from herself and attached it on his person. The skin stayed knit together as she released her hold on it.
"This will open again if I fade." She smiled apologetically, innocently blinking upwards, and was surprised to see something tugging his lips upwards for a second. She seemingly played this well enough, for the blade left her neck and the man took a step back. Lux also retreated until she saw him vanishing. Only then she dared to turn and get on her way.

She wasn't surprised by the dead bodies littering the ground on her way to the library. That would make information from out of here less valuable, but whatever.

She lived.

Chapter Text

The Lesker's estate wasn't located in one of the representative districts of Noxus Prime, for the family did not cover any important positions in the High Command…yet. But Elrik Lesker, currently trying to get a foot in various businesses, had displayed enough signs he was willing to step up the latter of hierarchy. So maybe the district he had chosen wasn't good by all means, but the estate for sure was representative, and it needed many servants to maintain the clean order Elrik favored so much.

Lux had found that a simple in and out job was not enough to extract the information she needed, and some of her Noxian buyers were willing to pay very good for, so she had taken a job in the ever changing workforce, doing their best to belong to a house that might ascend into nobility not too far in the future. As a stereotype cleaning maid, nobody paid too much attention to her, and she had more than one good excuse to sneak around the house.
One sign this family was not one to prevail: every paranoid noble knew how important trustworthy cleaning personnel was.

House Lesker had taken advantage of the Noxian invasion of Shurima, had obtained control over some ore mines and maybe, if she couldn't make out enough weak points, the margin as well as the contacts good steel brought would be enough to catapult them upwards. On the other hand: should Lux find enough weak points, she could bring at least three middle ranked houses to war with each other. And what attacked itself couldn't attack her homeland with their full force.

Lux blended into the staff quite well. The work was strenuous, but keeping the studies of Lesker and his wife clean was no popular labor, a job fairly easy to acquire.

The first shadows of doubt rose within her as she heard excited maids tittle-tattle about the famous guests their master would be hosting in the next week. General Marcus du Couteau himself wanted to take a look at the quality of said ore and the steel produced from it. Elrik Lesker had not wasted the opportunity to invite him to dinner. An excellent opportunity for Lux to listen to even more rumors about family du Couteau.

What stroke the staff as odd was that the General hadn't announced with how many people he'd arrive. What stroke Lux as odd was that everybody seemed to know much about Katarina, even more about her famous father, but words about other family-members didn't get around. There seemed to be two other daughters, Cassiopeia and Calliope were the names Lux was able to make out. One of them seemed to have vanished in Shurima, while the other one seemed to be more a disgrace than anything else, hidden away from the public eye, possibly already dead. Nobody dared to say so openly, but Lux was able to hear what was not spoken of. The Blade's Shadow was a whole different thing, the maids of the underclass knew plenty of rumors about him. That he was the General's shadow, filled with life to carry out his darkest demands, was just one of the more far-fetched rumors. Family du Couteau had seemingly outdone themselves to shroud their name with mystery and danger, Lux was impressed.

Lux cursed herself. She had chosen another female face as disguise, and she prayed for General du Couteau to arrive without his shadow. There was no need to hope the man she had met a few times already didn't excel at his job, a job consisting of finding and recognizing people, and Lux didn't like having to take chances.

Then the head of staff, a man called Brian, mustered all female maids, Lux included. As his scrunched up face regarded them, scanning faces and bodies alike, Lux cursed herself for not picking an uglier shell. She had known about better chances to get an employment with at least half a pretty face, but now it did her no good. Damn her pride. Brian beckoned her a step forward, along with five other maids. "You will be serving the table. Ivenne will instruct you about the evening's demands."

Lux inwardly pursed her lips. She didn't like uncalculatable risks. But maybe she could make something good out of this: she could overhear the talk at the table from that position.

So she bore the lessons about how to serve a table, noting how similar the set of silverware and the order of plates in relation to the different glasses where in Demacia. Interesting to know that a Demacian noble could eat at a Noxian noble's table and not get confused with the cutlery.

That the table decoration wasn't her biggest problem became clear when she positioned herself in the hallway, in a row with the other servants, to give General du Couteau an appropriate welcome. As she had been advised, she bowed deep and lifted her head only after he and his entourage had passed her.

Behind the man at the front, red hair and beard peppered with grey streaks, cut militarily short, walked two other people. One female with long hair, as red as her father's must've been at his youth, sauntering to the General's right with the grace of a dancer, and a male who was clad in a segmented cloak, face hidden under a purple hood, steps light despite the steel blades that weighed down his cloak.

Curse her luck. Or the lack of it.

Maybe the probability that he looked twice at a servant was low. Maybe, hopefully, he hadn't seen their encounters as significant. Lux hated taking chances. Especially when it meant that she had to believe someone else was less attentive, less good in their job than she was.

"I introduce General Marcus du Couteau of the High Command, Blade of Noxus" the newly appointed chamberlain intonated. In fact he was only appointed for today, soon again he'd be Brian, head of staff again, "with his children Commander Katarina du Couteau, the Sinister Blade and Talon du Couteau, the Blade's Shadow."

So he was introduced as a son of the house? A new piece of information. Which didn't make her situation any better. It was one thing to pick a quarrel with an agent of family du Couteau, a whole different thing to do so with an actual member of said family.

"Head of House Lesker, Elrik of the Kahleek Ore mines with his wife, Eldana." Brian finished his introduction and took several steps back. The courtly part of Lux' mind started to interpret what arriving with only three people, though they certainly where the elite of the house, meant. It could be everything from a show of peacefulness to disregard, depending on the course of the evening.

The host nearly tripped over himself in trying to make everyone feel comfortable and succeeded in tensing up the atmosphere. When he tried touching General du Couteau's shoulder, a hand of his Shadow slid to his belt and Eldana, clearly horrified by the lapse, pinched him and took lead in the conversation. It took a long moment for Talon to calm back down, and Lux seemingly was the only one to notice the gaze he and Katarina exchanged. They knew each other well, Lux concluded, well enough to communicate through barely visible shrugs.

The body language was more interesting than the spoken words, but Lux committed every sentence to memory regardless. Even the details about different mix ratios of good steel. More interesting was the fact that General Marcus didn't talk much, but confined himself to regarding the sample of ore. Katarina was the one who actually held the conversation and asked questions, while Talon's restless eyes swept over the present people while keeping the potential exits in the periphery of his vision. His gaze kept wandering until Elrik handed a sword to General du Couteau, and Lux was sure he tensed.

Typical for Noxian weaponry, the sword was rather big and intimidating.

The General passed it to his Shadow, who inspected the blade, expression hidden by the shadows of his hood. Almost gently, he ran his thumb over the edge of the sword, while Katarina continued talking and Marcus kept observing. A short fuss went through the staff as Talon pulled out another blade and used it to tap against the one he was given. Lux had to tear her eyes away from the careful motions, forcing her concentration back to the conversation.

The sword was handed back to its owner shortly after, the hopeful glance of the host ignored by his three visitors.

The dinner, too, went without any of them mentioning the blade or a potential trading deal. The du Couteau family orchestrated their staging pretty well.

Lux was very relieved when the dinner ended and nobody had blown her cover. She had behaved as low key as she could have, hadn't made a single mistake and hadn't dropped anything. She had been nothing but unobtrusive.

Unobtrusive and very, very glad when the dinner ended and the guests left the house.

The excitement of the staff subsided slowly and with clearing the table and washing the dishes, the usual calmness returned, at least to the staff. Elrik and his wife retreated to their chambers early, not wanting to be disturbed until the morning.

The feeling of calmness didn't reach to Lux. Before she did her last round of checking the house and cleaning the studies of Elrik and his wife, she grabbed something out of her belongings she had bought for an occasion exactly like this. The feeling in her neck would be called paranoia, had it been baseless.

The first rooms to clean and check were normal, like they were every evening.
That changed when she entered Eldana's study. The hair on the back of her neck rose, even though she had no physical evidence of something being off. It felt like something was off. Lux continued her routine, this time without looking through the new correspondences like she normally did. Maybe, if she behaved completely normal, it would prove to be paranoia, for there was no sound, no whispering breath, nothing to hear. Maybe she was passed on for a maid and left alone.

She turned to the door with one last look around that maybe, just maybe lingered longer than usually.

Elrik's room was next, and here she was sure that somebody had shuffled through his correspondences. Lux picked up the single paper lying on the floor and sorted it to the other ones. The feeling of uneasiness amplified, but she finished her cleaning round nonetheless. The stupid maid she depicted would surely blame a gust of wind. The light within her welled at her uneasiness.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the door slowly swinging close. Her heart rate picked up.
Hiding in this identity was of no more use, so Lux sneezed and searched her attire, pulling up a sheet of paper which she violently shook out of the knot it was in, timely with the door falling close. Dropping the picture of a phlegmatic maid, she pirouetted, right in time to dodge the dagger aimed in her direction. But the pollen of the Scryer's Bloom stuck to one particularly deep shadow that, now revealed and faintly glowing, jumped at her.

She yanked her shield up with all the force she could muster, just in time for it to clash with the attacking assassin, who was thrown back and collided with the wall. Lux summoned a binding she threw at him, only to see him rolling away from where her light had been aimed to.

The blue glowing pollen stuck to and illuminated a segmented cloak, gleaming off the menacing armblade.

"Looks good on you." She chirped and threw a singularity to the ground as another dagger collided with and broke her shining shield. Luckily the switchlights emanated enough light to work with, at least for the moment.

Talon circled the blindingly bright, sparkling spot she was standing in, blinking against the light. He indeed didn't dare to move into it closer.

"You can't keep this up forever." He growled.

"You hope so?" She chirped, and a low growl answered her, the rumble of a predator closing in on its prey. "Long enough - and strong enough - to take your eyesight with me." She replied lightly, turning with his movements.

He indeed stilled his circling and watched her with narrowed eyes. Him not liking the brightness was no surprise.

"What are you doing here?" He hissed.

"What are you doing here?" Lux not-answered.

"I asked first." He pulled his hood deeper into his face.

"What do you think I'm doing?" Lux jibed, still not letting her singularity fade. It felt so unbelievably good to bathe in her own light again.

"Not cleaning the room. You forgot to dust the cupboard in the left corner."

Lux snorted. "I'll take that into consideration for my next round." Talon took a few steps back. It felt more like a run-up than a retreat, making Lux' senses tingle with alarm. She calculated. "But you are right. Maybe some lesser houses are interested in the trading deal Elrik has forged with Bilgewater. Plus, he gathered every scavenger he could find to send them into war zones. Maybe I heard terrible rumors about the region around Sai Kahleek: a terrible, mindless plaque named Xer'Sai has made their home right there, which complicates mining to no end." Lux stilled her babbling and waited for her opponent to get what she was implying.

Now it was Talons turn to snort. But he neither attacked nor threw another dagger, continuing his restless circling around her light.

A good sign, Lux figured. "This information is worth a great amount of money, plus this family is much too low profile to be targeted by you, no need to soil your hands. Do you see a way for me to get this Intel out, sell it to the highest bidder while you just watch in glee as the little fish down here tear themselves apart?" She asked with a friendly smile. Hopefully she was right and he was no one to beat around the bush.

"Xer'Sai you say." He sounded deliberating, stepping away from her and the light, to the window. He gave her a last, scrutinizing once-over, paying special attention to her right hand, currently holding the broom, before opening it. A moment later, he was gone.

When no trace of Scryer's bloom pollen reappeared in the next moments, Lux let the singularity fade and took a deep, calming breath.

She allowed herself a moment of standing and gripping her broom. Then she started tidying and cleaning the room, giving the cupboard in the left corner an extra dash of polish.

"What did you find?" They met in the parlor, dimply lit by the fireplace. Talon's gaze flitted over the room, checking it visually for anything unusual.

The bookshelves were at their usual place, lining the room's walls. Katarina stretched out on one sofa, balancing the tip of one dagger on her index finger, mustering him with the half-smirk that seemed to be stuck on her face. Cassiopeia, her scales shimmering in the low light, had draped her enormous body around an armchair in a seemingly impossible matter, while Calliope, the middle daughter of General Marcus du Couteau, lounged on the thick carped in front of Marcus' settle, writing off numbers from one book into another. Marcus marked the side he was currently reading and closed his book. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

"Family Lesker runs shitty background checks of their servants. And tries to sell us used steel from scavengers and pirates, not from an actual mine." Talon explained and started to loosen the straps connecting his favorite blade to his arm.

"You make it sound like this information is connected." Cassiopeia stretched her body lasciviously, rolling on her stomach to watch the scene from her slit pupils like a snake would watch a mouse in a trap.

Talon picked the blade from his arm and abutted it against the wall. "I recognized a spy in their ranks. Getting and verifying this information was easy." He murmured, already dreading the reaction he would draw for that piece of information.

"How do you know a spy?" Calliope piped up from down below, interrupting her calculations.

"Met her at former assignments." Talon kept his voice steady, but the attention of the whole room shifted to him. He shuffled on his feet uneasily, gaze flickering to the windows. Even Marcus blinked in surprise.

Then, the three women started to talk all at once. "Assignments as in plural?" - "Is that Scryer's bloom pollen all over you?" - "is she alive?"

The last question stilled the others, and four people looked at him expectantly.

"Ahm…" Talon did not really know how to act on the sudden interest in his person. But the place against the wall didn't feel right for his arm-blade anymore, so he picked it up again. "I think so?" He answered, fidgeting with his blade.

Katarina's upper body shut up from her slouching position. "You left a witness?" She hissed as blood shot to her cheeks.

Talon rechecked the position of his other blades, just in case Katarina's temper would act up. "She didn't make it easy for me and wasn't my objective, so I left her be, yeah."He justified his actions, sauntering to the table and the filled bowl on its top.

"I'm more interested in information regarding the steel. Save your interrogation for later, okay?" Marcus intervened as Calliope picked up her pen again, her attention turning to her beloved numbers. Katarina and Cassiopeia weren't as easily distracted, but they at least shut their mouths.

Talon was relieved. "The ore mine is worthless, for some strange, gigantic predators live close by and make the area uninhabitable. They seem to prey on everything that moves. Locals won't work at the mines, that's why Lesker wants our men working there. When the beasts are half as strong as the rumors, we will suffer many casualties - and the Shuriman traders I talked to all confirmed their existence as well as their strength. The steel we were shown was recycled." He repeated what he had been able to gather.

Marcus stroke over his well trimmed, short beard. "You have a solution for this situation?"

Talon nodded sharply. "The spy who figured this out will sell said information to other, lesser houses. We can let them weed themselves out." He placed his arm-blade next to the sofa he usually occupied. Another glance revealed Katarina's sparkling eyes, not a good sign per se. This was definitely a better place for his arm-blade, close by and in reach.

A glimmer Talon couldn't quite place appeared in Marcus' eyes. He didn't feel well about all this attention on him. Not well at all.

"Is there a reason you left a witness?" Marcus asked, much calmer than his daughters.

Talon pulled at his hood, lips thinning to a line. It had been his carelessness after all, there was no beating around the bush. "First I underestimated her, and today I wanted information, so I couldn't stab her in surprise."

"Since when does that stop you?" Katarina taunted.

Calliope kicked her, which resulted in a dagger embedding itself between Calliope's head and Marcus' leg. "Do we have to pull every word out of your mouth?" Calliope asked, pulling the dagger out and throwing it back to Katarina. "I want to know everything, so spit it out."

Talon lifted his chin and summarized in short words what had happened, from the first meeting in a dark alley to the magic she surrounded herself with.

"My little brother got his first flower." Calliope summarized.

"An expensive one." Cassiopeia butted in.

"Get her by surprise!" Katarina barked, having jumped off her sofa.

"You need a valuable net of informants, Katarina." Marcus scolded lightly, which made her face redden even more.

"I'm older than you." Talon pointed out.

"Probably." Calliope smiled, ignoring the raging Katarina.

Talon also did, smile and ignore. "Most likely."

"That doesn't sound like a net, but like one single girl who tries to act important." Katarina hissed, slumping down at Marcus' stare.

"Time will tell," Marcus tried to appease all sides. "Talon will make sure of her demise as soon as she evolves into a threat."

Talon nodded confirmingly. He didn't quite understand why there was a need to voice as much.

Cassiopeia decided to add another aspect to the discussion. "And right now we can look if another noble house wants to take the trading deal, maybe we'll weaken the forces of another family." She pointed out, her forked tongue darting out to test the air.

Marcus nodded with a pleased smile. "That is my girl." Cassiopeia smiled at the praise.

For the conversation seemed to be over, Talon took off his bladed cloak, grasped a bar of marzipan and melted into his couch.

Chapter Text

The Ivory Ward District was definitely one of Noxus Prime's better districts. Located on the higher-up parts of the city, snuggling in between the massive walls spreading out from the Immortal Bastion, the houses looked older than any other part of the city. Ancient families who were able to uphold their greatness resided here, right next to new power strong enough to claim a place next to old influence. On any other time, Lux would have admired the architecture and the different structural designs melting into one another, how most of the newer looking houses didn't disturb the regality of clearly older ones through fences and walls which accentuated their distance. She would have loved to get a book and research the eras those nice and well-tended to houses were built in, maybe even learn how the residents had updated the in- and exterior to fit modern security measures, how the different architectural styles merging into each other indicated the origin of builder or purchaser. So many things to take into account when studying the playful arc of an Ionian-styled gable, their angle similar to those constructed in the Fa-dynasty, but combined with crafting materials and colors of the north. Sadly, Lux had no time to dwell on the question if those gargyles on the house she had just passed were crafted here, from the sandstone of the plains, or if they were imported from the Ironspike Mountains, where the granite of some quarries was naturally black. So many questions, but she had so little time.

The neatly paved streets were clean and neither thugs nor whores or other people of questionable repute occupied them, a great difference to the districts Lux hid herself in. The only people walking around here were guards and private security of the richer families residing here.

Guards, in higher quantity than usual and, of course, Lux herself.

She pressed herself into a corner to evade another patrol, clutching a single flower tightly in her hand.

Lux of course wasn't here for the pleasure of being around fascinating culture, but because of a specific target. Family Blackclaw. Old blood, seats in the Noxian High Command since forever, and their family manor was right here, in the Ivory Ward District. Lux normally targeted much lower marks than this, but rumors told that the two remaining sons of Lady Blackclaw, current head of the house, would not uphold the family's greatness. Many people from aspirational houses were very, very interested in the truth content of those rumors. And were willing to pay enough gold to make Lux reconsider her decision to take it slow with higher-up targets. Thrillingly, the Blackclaws had guarded their mansion better than the houses Lux had already visited, making it much less boring to plan her assault.

Her first mission with high stakes, and it already seemed like she had not prepared well enough. She had managed to get into the house unnoticed, not getting too distracted by the Demacian cedar she found as a roof truss and she had obtained her share of information. Not about the strength of the Blackclaw's offspring, but something of much greater delicacy. While disengaging she had unfortunately met the honor-guard of said Noxian noble house, just as she had been crossing the rose garden of Lord Blackclaw. Never mind that it was seemingly okay for a cruel general to cultivate delicately beautiful flowers, doing so with pride nonetheless. In her attempt to flee she had accidentally broken off one of the prized blossoms, and since then it had went downhill. The first scream of a ward Lux had not detected, repeating the screeched warning "ROSETHIEF!", had nearly set the whole house on fire. At least, if she was regarded as such, nobody would know about the information she had managed to extract: family Blackclaw's personal mage-forming program in the northern Shuriman desert. Needless to say, she had taken the rose with her.

Still, the Blackclaw guard was significant in their number, plus they controlled the gates, which were already closing even though she had sprinted there at top speed.

Lux cursed silently, that complicated her departure. She had her invisibility up for quite some time now and would not be able to hold it for much longer, most certainly not until dawn, neither did she dare to copy the face of a noble residing here. Noxian nobles where cautious to the level of paranoia, so Lux was sure there were some hidden safety protocols she didn't know about. The only way out of the Ivory Ward was through the gates, since three other sides were guarded by the high walls of the Immortal Bastion.

A good thing that she was always quick in making up a backup-plan. Well, 'plan' might be an exaggerated term for the idea growing in her mind, but it was better than nothing, so her feet carried her to her new location as the idea shaped in her mind. She just had to tiptoe around another group of guards and then cross the few hundred yards that parted her from her destination.

She carefully eyed the impressive mansion in front of her, protected by a high wall as well as iron-spiked gates, the building itself noticeable in how functionality and grace united seamlessly. It was old, well-kempt, the manifest of old money, power and influence set in stone and glass. The Du Couteau-mansion. Maybe she was doing something really, really stupid, she contemplated before continuing her path, the strain of keeping her invisibility up slowly seeping into her head. Well, at least she had a lead, so it wasn't all bad.

She had verified the location of the man she kept bumping into through a maid who liked to drink and had found out that nobody asked questions about the Du Couteaus, lest they desired a visit by the Blade's Shadow or another agent of the house, so she had been forced to investigate herself to find out in which room he lived – upper floor, the last room in the east wing with a good view over the street as well as to a part of the garden, with most likely access to the roof. Lux listened to the streets. She heard a leash-like crackle as a barrier rose around the gates, without doubt stopping any unauthorized trespassing to this part of town. Holding this barrier surely costed much energy to maintain, Lux figured, which meant she played on time. How obsessed with stupid roses could one person be? She took another deep breath and tucked the rose she had stolen into her belt.

Well, her plan was set and with the guards still checking the streets there was no room for stalling. Up with her. No fear.

Forming the light around her to hide from optical-based traps, she made it over the stonewall and onto the property. Who knew which kind of defenses the Du Couteaus had installed in their garden, so she took the neatly graveled access road. Who would expect an assault coming as directly as this?

After carefully rounding some well-hidden seals and some equally well-concealed hextech devices, she had reached the mansion's outer wall. The stone was different here, under the window she had identified as his. Just a bit rougher, a bit better to climb…and, as far as she was able to sense, much less guarded than the other windows. On top of that, his window was open. Interesting, but understandable, if she took into account who lived behind it. Who would willingly break into that? She contemplated this question while climbing up the stone, scrapping her palms and nearly breaking her nails while doing so. In Noxus, hope and trust were much rarer than fear, she pitied as she slipped through the window, into the unlit room behind, quite as a mouse, listening to any sound a human would make.

It was… quiet, safe for the soft rustling of Lux' own clothes.
It was dark as well.
Lux took a deep breath - the room smelled like he did, so there was a good chance she was at the right place after all. Breaking into Talon Du Couteau's bedroom was bad enough, but it didn't bear contemplating what would happen should she meet another member of this household. A good thing she never thought about losing. For there was no blade in any of her body parts, she estimated nobody was at home.
She had made it.
First, she discarded her invisibility and the strain in her head dissipated. What now?
She stood by the window in indecision, not really daring to explore the room any further. She placed the rose onto the windowsill, her reminder of this evening. Should she make her presence known? As to not to look like a threat? Surprising this special Noxian seemed like a surefire way to find a knife in one's throat, so she lit a small ball of light to brighten her way. Carefully she crossed the clinically tidy room to turn on the Piltovan switchlights – or…was it something zaunite? Anyway, there was a switch, and after turning it there was light, reflecting on the many different kinds and shapes of enough bladed weapons to rig out at least half an army, hanging on the walls like other people would display expensive art. This should be enough of an announcement, she thought while retreating back to the window, away from the two doors, for she wasn't able to tell which one lead to where.

Lux had enough time to lay out several courses of action for what could happen if she wouldn't leave right now - and maybe even when she left. Most likely even then, she took Talon Du Couteau neither for the type to not notice an intruder, nor for someone who'd let a challenge like that go unanswered. Plus, she could still hear the guards roaming the streets, and the distant flicker of air indicated that the barrier was still up, so getting away was no option.

It felt like eternity passed with only her thoughts to keep her company, for Lux did not dare to move anywhere in the room. Maybe it was paranoid, but better safe than sorry. Today, she had crossed one noble family already and adding a second one, one with much more influence and power and deadliness, was nowhere near her wish-list. Still, her curiosity hadn't vanished, and right now she was in the supposedly personal bedroom of a regretless murderer. Said murderer was seemingly in the possession of plum-colored bed sheets and a large, four-poster bed, but that was not the only equipment that made this room look not only inhabited, but thoughtfully, practically furnished as well. An undecorated floor-to-ceiling wardrobe with closed doors occupied the parts of the wall not hung with blades. Lux was able to see beauty in nearly everything, and the shiny weapons of all colors and shapes sure looked impressive, forming a flow pattern on the walls. On closer examination they all looked used but cared for, sharp enough to be used. A little bookshelf standing next to a small leather sofa completed the picture of a room only used for personal reasons. It was unusual to have a seating accommodation in one's bedroom, at least it had been different in every richer Noxian household she had infiltrated as of yet, so this had to be another personal preference. In a house like this, Lux had awaited a sitting-room, intertwined with the other rooms in a way that would make defending it easy and attacking it hard. All of sudden, Lux felt like an intruder even more.

She did not hear him coming. No footsteps from outside announced the arrival of another person, but the door swinging open without a sound was more than Lux needed. There was no one standing in the door, making it look like it had opened by itself, but Lux knew better.

She took a deep breath, steadying her tone while keeping her body completely motionless. "You keep a lady waiting forever." She chimed to the seemingly empty room with a bright smile, searching for any sign of life. There was no visible movement. Where was he…where was he….

"A lady visits a man's bedroom uninvited?" A dark, menacing voice answered. The hooded man she had encountered a few times over the last weeks stepped out of the shadows on the opposite of the open door, clad in the purple clothes she knew, minus the giant arm-blade and the armored boots. He indeed was as silent as a shadow.

Lux took in his posture. Even without any visible weapons he looked dangerous, like a bird of prey with talons invisible, but clearly hidden somewhere. And this particular bird of prey was currently surrounded by his weapons. "A lady marvels at nicely colored bed sheets." Lux kept her tone light and her smile untarnished. "Do they really match your attire?" Her attempt to joke came out a little weak.

His head whipped to the window, listening to the sounds outside. "You came here to marvel at the superior interior design?" He scoffed.

She spared the blades on the walls a mocking glance. "One reason. But I haven't seen you in quite some time, I thought it would be a splendid idea to pay you a visit."

He listened another moment, gaze switching between her pose and the window. "Splendid idea…" He repeated tunelessly. Then, he seemed to decide something, seemingly in her favor, for she was still alive and well. Yet. "You already get clingy?" He rasped. His words sounded almost taunting, at least lighter than his previous words as he stepped to another window, far enough away from her, to observe the street and the guards bustling around at this late hour.

"Can you hold it against me?" Lux batted her eyelashes, leaving him enough time to comprehend why she had invaded his privacy.

If he was surprised, he didn't show it. His face was as blank as always as he inspected her from head to toe, for the first time taking in her whole appearance, gaze halting at key points of her physique. She had dropped the greatest parts of her illusions, for keeping them up after the long time she had spent invisible was too draining, but she wasn't prepared for the open evaluation of her physical assets. Her darker hair and eyes seemed to intricate Talon much less than the rest of her body, especially her hands. With his indifferent expression never wavering, it started to feel dangerous in another way than trying to keep her throat not-slit.

"And the personal guard of house Blackclaw is your idea of an entourage." His gaze flickered from the street to her, the fingers of his right hand fondling the handle of a dagger. Lux wasn't able to place if that was an unconscious gesture or a warning.

She decided for the former and smiled warmly. "I thought of bringing more flowers, but Alois seems to be quite possessive about his. I had to improvise." She nodded to the blossom on the windowsill.

Another moment in silence passed as Talon's gaze switched between the street outside, the rose and her. Then he seemed to shrug. "Where you even trying?" He asked, pushing his hood out of his face. An intrigued glimmer appeared as his eyes became visible and for the first time Lux was able to look at his unconcealed face. Her heart-rate picked up even more. Maybe she was the first Demacian to ever be able to do as much.
His face were all sharp, angular lines, the skin a bit darker than expected for someone who spent the whole day under cover. His eyes like molten gold she already knew, but his dark hair was longer than expected, bound together by a hairband, but still curling at the nape of his neck. Were they wet? His forehead looked a little sweaty, with little dark curls clinging to the skin.

Lux decided to just keep it going while shutting out the too Demacian thoughts, locking them for later. She shook her head in feigned exasperation and showed the sting a rose had given her, opting to continue their banter. "I received an injury acquiring this rose, you are quite hard to please." At least he had not openly drawn a knife on her. Not that it meant anything. Maybe this was how Noxians flirted, maybe a game before the sharper reality would stab in, she had no idea.

"You already think so?" The brief flash of his teeth was openly predatory, sending a shiver down Lux' spine. Turning to her, he tugged at the curtain which fell to cover the window.

Oh. Did he mean… Oh. Lux didn't let her confusion show. This was no progression of events she had anticipated, but she had always excelled at improvising. "A visit in a moonlit night with a personal guard of honor…" With a shift in the air pressure, the warding barrier around the Blackclaw estate flicked into power. Much too late, she thought disparagingly. "Special effects while I speak…" She blinked at him innocently.

He held her gaze and unwrapped the fastening of his cloak, still regarding her with a certain level of cautiousness, as if she was a riddle he was not able to solve. "You spared no trouble." In contrast to his stern expression his tone still was almost light, although his hands hovered over a spot where she knew at least one blade was hidden. Contrary, the movements of his hands where deliberately slow. His wary gaze flickered to her hands ever so often, so she copied this behavior, keeping her hands visible and only moving them really slow.

"Looks like you are expecting someone" Lux tilted her head to the cleanly made bed. "I wouldn't want to crush a date." She lifted her chin with a smirk that showed more confidence than she actually possessed.

His eyes danced between the bed and her, otherwise he stood as unmoving as a statue. "I had a date with the shower, you definitely cut into that one." He murmured.

"Sounds like something you shouldn't miss." Lux pouted in fake disappointment, averting her eyes a little. Not enough to miss his movements though, that would have been impolite. And dangerous.

Again, there was a considering silence. It was broken by the bright clinging of metal as he shrugged the cloak from his shoulders, hanging it over the weapons rack she had noticed prior.

What should she think of that? Was losing at least some of his weapons a show of something akin to good faith? She wished there was a guide to this part of Noxian behavior. Even if his relatively relaxed posture and the taken-off cloak indicated that she didn't completely fail. And the back and forth was entertaining for her as well, the nicest interaction she had had in quite a while.

"Wanna turn my date into a threesome?" Now his eyes shimmered like the blades displayed on his walls.

And it was her turn to consider, as he had turned this to her. Not bad, not bad. Showing caution was acceptable, so Lux weighted her options. She wailed inside for the only outcome this game of hers would provide, the only comfort being that it wouldn't cost her too much. And, focused as ever, Lux shifted her attention to the task at hand. She would take what she could get, as always, to an acceptable price. Getting caught by family Blackclaw was definitely the worse alternative. "I love being the third wheel." She decided, beaming at him with the sweetest smile she could muster. Even though she didn't. She really, really much wanted a shower, none of her own hideouts had one, but not with another person. A stranger. A dangerous murderer from an infamous family, who looked at her with appreciation, a healthy bit of caution and a little confusion.

"Oh, I won't make you feel like that." Talon rasped as another expression Lux couldn't quite place set his eyes ablaze. His fingers wandered to his waist, as slowly as all of his movements were, to fumble with his belt-buckle. Lux observed the metal coming loose, falling to the ground with a heavy 'chink' as the weapons strapped to it hit the floor. Only now did she notice the dark stains on his shirt. Sweat, not blood, she figured by the lack of irony smell. There was no hesitation in his movements as he pulled the sweated through shirt up, minimizing the time it covered his eyes as he tugged it over his head.

"Words are shallow..." She teased while trying to copy his body language and taking his body in, willing herself to relax, to pretend this was completely normal for her. He was slim but well-muscled, and his torso looked different than anyone she had ever seen. Not that she had much reference. The scars crisscrossing his upper body where quite impressive, some torn and faded from time, others silvery lines of well-tended blade wounds. The freshest scar, the one she remembered first aiding, still had a tint of pink to it. Not red enough for how little time had passed though, so there had to be magical healing involved. Handily, Noxus had arcane healers were Demacia had none. Lux refrained from shaking her head, forcing her thoughts back to the present. Getting distracted in this situation would surely kill her.

So, back to the task at hand. Losing her weapons first? That seemed like a good idea, so she let go of her baton, which landed on the floor with a 'clonk'. Lux' fingers twitched, instantly missing the safety it provided her with. Even though, in fact, neither of them were unarmed. He was fast enough to reach one of the many blades and was most likely trained in hand to hand combat, she could unleash the more unrefined parts of her power.

She continued with losing her own cowl and the belts around chest and waist. Freeing herself from her shirt was another tense moment, and the moment Lux chose to relax. She was in the more vulnerable position here, and nothing she heard indicated Talon Du Couteau liked toying with his food. Sadly having heard as much, but not really knowing were two things, and that kept her on the edge.

Even though it was hard to assume that someone whose eyes roamed over newly exposed skin like he did right now, would jump and kill her any moment. Lux decided that she liked his expression as well as the appreciation she saw in his face. Her pants where next, and getting out of them left her in her underwear. "Like what you see?" Lux drawled playfully, directing her hand to her hip. Where should she place her other hand? Light, this was complicated.

Talon seemed to snap out of his trance. "Worth a personal guard of honor." He answered, sounding more serious than moments ago.

Lux giggled, trying to hide her tension as well as the blush creeping up her face with a small turn of her head so her hair fell over her face. She bent her arms behind her back to open her bra.

By now she had identified the expression in his eyes as hunger and awakening lust, so she shrugged the first strap off her shoulder, before she did the same with the second one.

Talon's eyes followed her movements for a few more moments before his hands got into motion, fumbling with his pants, removing his underwear in the same, slow motion and stretching his now naked body.

The light-mage regarded his unconcealed frame. He did not have the body type that passed as beautiful in Demacia, where bulky and muscled men with arms wider than her thighs, thighs wider than her hip and as tall as possible were favored. Talon was slightly taller than herself, although not nearly as tall as Garen or Jarvan, and displayed long, slim muscles, obviously well worked for agility and speed rather than for brute force, with nearly no visible body fat. A comparison between him and the Demacian beauty standard was like contesting an ox against a panther.

Lux decided that she liked felines more than cattle. Some of the scars continuing their path down his lower extremities, one particularly twisted one, carved in between two muscle bellies, didn't look like an accident…his body looked intriguing, making Lux' fingers twitch with the urge to explore.
At least the part of physical attraction wouldn't be hard, she thought with relief.

Still, she hadn't expected that a naked person could still look dangerous. Well, not naked, she pondered. Talon seemed like the type to be just nude, dangerous even without any clothes on.

The assassin broke the tense silence. "Like what you see?" He drawled, imitating her tone.

Lux snickered again. "Indeed worth an entourage. And a moonlight visit." She nodded, her eyes twitching to his face again.

She noticed his gaze faltering for just the blink of an eye. She hadn't expected a sign of uncertainty, regardless how small. It somehow helped to calm her down. Maybe he wasn't as sure as he acted. Which, in turn, meant she was doing good. Lux combed her hair back in a way she hoped was alluring before she tucked her thumb under the band of her panties and pushed them down with a sway of her hips.

For a moment his eyes flickered down over her body, then up just as fast before reaching her eyes once more. Lux held his gaze and had to force herself to keep on breathing as she stared into pools of molten gold. Her heart pounded like a drum, it seemed like a wonder that he had not heard it by now.

Then Talon took a step sideways and reached backwards to one of the two doors in the left wall of his room, pushing it wide open. Lux only hesitated for a moment, gathering her courage, before she moved closer. Talon kept his distance by retreating through the door backwards, not taking his eyes off of her.

Lux followed into the other room and the texture under her feet changed. She looked down and caught sight of a dark mosaic, decorating the ground in intricate patterns. At the sound of a shower spray being turned on, her head snapped back up to the assassin whose attention was still fixed on her as he went under the shower first. Water blurred the sharp lines of his face and straightened his hair, changing its already dark color to inky black, hiding the scars on his skin.

Lux closed in on the shower slowly while Talon turned his palms up in the universal gesture for 'I mean no harm'. He indeed looked almost harmless like this. She took one last breath before she followed him under the warm spray.

It felt heavenly, pouring on her in a way she now realized had missed dearly. Not that she forgot about the second person in the shower, but it took a moment to remind herself that she was not in a safe environment. She raked her fingers through her hair once as water limited her sight.

Lux looked up to Talon, trying to figure out what she had to expect.

What would happen now? What was expected of her? Where to start? Where should she even start touching? Did Noxians kiss?

This had been a rather stupid idea, Lux reevaluated, shortly before Talon raised his hand at glacial pace, moving towards her. She refrained from flinching away and let his fingertips connect with the skin of her upper arm, where she could still see it. He kept it there for a long moment before he let it glide down her arm, just the barest whisper of contact. A shiver ran down Lux' spine.

Of course she had heard what Demacians rumored about Noxian intimacy. A land obsessed with power and dominance, how couldn't that extend to the bedroom? Or the bathroom, for that matter? There were enough speculations on how Noxian men treated their women, even more speculations how Noxian females surely liked to be treated harsh and would reciprocate in the same way. Looking at women like Katarina Du Couteau on the battlefield had left no one thinking Noxian bedrooms were nice places. Lux had hardly spared a second thought to it but, at that time, it had sounded reasonable.

And here Lux stood, under her first shower in ages, with - measured by Demacian standards - a soulless murderer she had encountered again and again over the last months. Encounters she had survived. She had had minimal time for readying herself, but she had prepared for a short, painful experience she somehow had to express was okay and not disturbing at all.

The gentle caress of fingertips on her shoulder, down her arm, paired with the unobtrusive distance the nude man in front of her kept, spoke another language. A much nicer one.

His gaze never left her hands completely and he looked tense as well. Most likely he still expected an assault. The thought that someone like him saw her as a potential threat excited her unexpectedly. She lifted her hands as slowly as he had, showing her palms before spreading them over his toned chest and taking another, small step closer, tracing a rather long, slightly bulgy scar that looked like a close call down to his abdomen. Noxians got what they were strong enough to get, she reminded herself. At the moment, she had all the liberties she dared to take.

"Do you have soap?" Lux purred in a way she hoped was seductive, as she had figured that as the most effective way to, quite literally, get in touch with this body. Without really waiting for his answer she grasped behind him for the white bar she had spotted, his head slightly turning to keep her hand in his peripheral vision.

She carefully foamed the soap in between her hands, a movement he watched with fascination, before she opened her palms again to rub it on his body.

Lux quickly noted how his muscles tensed when her hands left his skin, so she changed her approach and didn't let the contact break anymore, kneading the tense muscles of his shoulders and arms in an attempt to soothe him. The strong wires felt nice, firm and soft at the same time. Lux had never touched someone like she did now. It was not unpleasant. The thought that he was just as tense as she was, reassured her.

Talon seemingly decided he was soaped thoroughly enough, for he took the bar out of her hands and reciprocated the gentle washing, starting with her hair. He took his time caressing her arms and stomach, and Lux felt she easily leaned into the soft touch as her tension slowly abated. Getting touched felt nicer than expected, regardless of who she shared her time with.

The fastest of his movements was a flicker of his eyes to hers - had he hesitated? - before he rubbed the soap over her chest in small, circular motions. Lux' breath hitched as his padded thumbs glided over the peak of her chest, sending a wavelet of pleasure through her, while his other hand continued to stroke her shoulder.

Lux pulled her lower lip between her teeth, unsure how to proceed for a moment. She looked up into his face, hoping to get a hint. She found all of the assassin's attention fixed on her and her reactions. He was tense, there was no denying it. She refrained from swallowing visibly but let her fingers wander over his shoulders, down his toned chest as his hand slid down her abdomen, thumb following the line down to her navel. Lux allowed herself a more shallow breath before she forced it even once more, exploring his skin, following the different lines of marks teasing her fingertips with their differing texture, daring to lower her gaze from his face to his toned body. Not low enough to really take a full-on glance at the very male parts of his physique, though, she did not feel confident enough to do as much just yet. She had expected him to… to what? At least to do something, but after the first, rather bold grasp to her chest he seemed to recoil to stroking her skin, varying speed and pressure until she was nearly shivering with an anticipation she had never experienced before. There was still at least forty centimeters of space between them, and Talon did not seem inclined to breach the distance. Lux continued nagging on her lower lip as her fingertips drew a sinuous curve around his bellybutton, hesitating if she should go further. He seemed to wait for something. Sadly Lux had no idea what that 'something' might be. Hesitatingly, she spread her hands over his bigger ones and pulled slightly, taking a few steps backwards until her back touched cold tiles. She leaned against the wall, guiding his hand up her abdomen and to her chests once more. He seemed to know what to do where she didn't, and this touch had felt good. A distant part of her writhed in sudden weariness, wanting to get it over with already, this game she did not understand to end so she could go home.

His concentration was still fixed on her, her movements and reactions as he cupped one of her breasts with his hand, thumb rubbing gingerly over her soft flesh. Now Lux gasped as it felt like a spark striking, ready to ignite to more. Just the barest hint of a smile grazed Talons lips as he repeated the motion, evenly soft, on her other breast. He didn't seem to share Lux' sudden willingness to speed things up a notch, so she let her hands wander up his torso once more until she reached his shoulders, where she rubbed a soothing circle before pulling him, the unmistakable signal for closer.

He complied with a small twitch of his lips, following the tug. Something poked her hip, and Lux forcefully evaded every thought in that direction. As much as she had wanted this to be over, now she'd need a few moments to become accustomed to the idea what getting it over with would entail. Lux slid her hand down over the skin of his waist and then, with a small step even closer towards him, to his back which made him twitch just the slightest bit. Lux wasn't able to differentiate if that was discomfort or not, but for he did not display any signs for her to stop, she used her thumb to massage the muscles next to his spine with a long, slow stroke up and down before she had gathered enough courage to let her hand follow the curve of his spine. She lost her courage in the last possible moment, not feeling for his butt like she had originally intended, but the outlines of his hip. Another shiver went through Talon's body, minor enough to be dismissed as a figment of imagination. He had yet to do anything with his lips…and Lux was rather glad that she did not have to think about breathing and coordinating another body part of hers. She breathed in and let her hands slide over the protrusion of his hipbone, following the V-shape of his lower abdominal muscles. As uneasy she felt losing sight of Talon's face, her anticipation won as her eyes were faster than her hands and she blinked down his body before her hands caught up, getting a glance of what awaited her.

He seemingly enjoyed what they did, the logical part of her brain concluded, suddenly eager to tactically explore what she had felt poking her. Lux' fingertips skimmed over Talon's pubic region to the base of his…With a sharp inhale too little to act as a warning, Lux was pushed against the tiles, a thigh pressing between her legs making her gasp as searing lips latched on her neck, right behind her pulse-point. An unexpected wave of pleasure and hunger washed over her, lighting up the smoldering spark to full-flame fire.

Lux gripped his hips firmer even as she was surrounded by the assassin's muscular body, grinding herself against the hard body in front of her with an embarrassingly surprised moan as the heat rising within her body pooled between her legs.

Talon kept her pinned to the wall, his flying breath a good indicator he was not completely unaffected by this all, even though him pausing, taking the time to calm his breath, made it seem like he was ignorant of the increasing urgency in her movements. What was this? Lux wound her head free of the shoulder keeping her in check but Talon caught her a moment later, spread his fingers over her cheek and combed his hand back into her hair before he used the leverage to pull her head to the side, pecking and grazing her skin with his sharp teeth. A new wave of hotness ran down Lux' spine, but Talon was already so close, too close for her to be able to simply rub herself against him in order to relieve the building tension within her. He was too close to her throat…

Lux let out something close to a whimper before she shoved him, creating the little space she needed to finally cup his erection with her palm. It felt like velvet covered steel, an interesting feeling, and she started rubbing experimentally. A hiss against her ear acted as the only warning before Talon twisted her around so now not her back, but her front was pushed against the cool stone of the shower wall. Talon's hand fanned out over her abdomen where they stayed visible, pausing his actions long enough for Lux to catch sight of them once more, to realize what his intent was. Her thoughts went into overdrive as his fingers dipped lower and, with much more haste than before, grazed over her outer folds.

Now it was most definitely a whimper that left Lux' throat. Knowing that a notorious backstabber stood in her back was suddenly much less important than his hips grinding against her, not nearly as catching as his fingers, lingering just over the spot where she wanted him most. She almost caught fire as he caressed her soft skin testingly, his teeth reclaiming the skin of her shoulder while his hard length pressed against her backside.

She wanted…something of him so bad right now, the fire burning inside of her flaring to new heights. She had only a vague idea what that something was though, but hoped he knew.

Lux' hand fumbled to his hip again. This time she encircled the base of his cock with her fist, trying to get an angle that would allow her to explore more. Another deep growl and him pressing himself flush against her back was her answer. At this angle she wasn't able to stroke him, so she pushed her butt against him to get more room to maneuver. A deep, somewhat breathless chuckle echoed in her ear and resonated in her chest as his finger finally- finally!- slipped beneath her folds. It took longer than when her own fingers rushed there, her anticipation skyrocketing, but eventually, he found the sensitive nub hidden there. Nothing could have prepared Lux for the hot wave of ecstasy that hit her as Talon rubbed her clitoris experimentally, much softer than she did herself, while he pressed the tip of his cock between her legs. Lux squirmed, wanted to turn around, to regain control over the rapidly out of her control spinning situation, but felt herself pressed harder against the now warmed tiles, the wrist of her hand that was not trying to get a grasp around him secured against the wall.

"Stop teasing already." She gasped breathlessly, trying and failing again to generate more friction.

"You insist?" His lips were on her ear, sucking at her sensitive lobe while he fixated her with his bodyweight and continued to rub maddeningly slow circles on her clit.

For a moment she wasn't able to answer, and his fingers wandered to her opening, circling it before dipping inside. Oh light. "This is me insisting, you got it." Lux' voice trembled while trying and failing to keep it calm and even. His digit slid out again, returning to Lux' pleasure point as the pressure on her core increased. Bot her hands flew against the tiles as she felt the tip of his cock gliding into her. This…This was what she wanted, even though she had not known before. Combined with the finger still worrying her sensitive nub and his ragged breath in her ear, it nearly overwhelmed her. The smooth surface of the wall was nothing to grab, nothing to dig her nails into like she wanted to do right now, it only sufficed to brace her arm against it. His hard length pressed forward slowly and pain mixed into the pleasure, sharp and unexpected. Lux barely had enough time to grit her teeth to force gasp down as another, much more pleasurable pressure eased the pain, leaving her weak on her feet and gasping heavily as Talon ever so slowly pushed his entire length into her, opening her up on his way. His breath was hot against her ear until he had buried himself fully inside her. Then he stopped moving, increasing the pressure on her clitoris. His other hand slipped up her abdomen, to her chest where he squeezed the soft flesh. Lux bucked in his tight grip- it was too much restriction, his grip not strong enough, the pressure between her thighs too much. She moaned ecstatically as she bucked against him again, not knowing if she wanted more of less room to move, but the pleasure had set her nerves on fire, and it wasn't enough.

Talon seemed to notice as he started to grind inside of her, pushing her harder against the tiles, let go of her breast to press his hand above hers. She spread her fingers to catch his, getting at least something to hold on during his maddening touch, hardly realizing the sounds echoing in the bathroom emitted from herself. She tried to keep herself together, to not surrender against the excitement building within her, but at his whispered "come on, let go" into her ear, somehow Lux' body complied, her pleasure peaked and came crushing down onto her, body convulsing and her voice hitching breathlessly in her throat.
For a moment she was caught between the unyielding wall and the assassin's steeled body. For a moment breathing was the only thing she was able to, her rapture slowly receding, concentrating in wave-like pulses around his still very hard length.

The separation from his warm body and the wall was abrupt, unexpected and entirely unpleasant as he pulled out of her and spun her around. In a daze, she blinked and her hand clasped around his, indecisive if she needed to defend herself or if she could follow the urge to lean into his strong frame.

His eyes were widened, probably with bewilderment, a notion Lux didn't understand but filed as non-threatening nonetheless, so, without much thinking, she cupped his face, only distantly noting him freezing as well as the hand flying to her throat before her lips landed on his. For a moment it felt like he was fighting her, trying to shake his head free. Lux had neither thought about this move, nor placed no expectations in this kiss and was still much too caught in the moment to realize how Talon ceased every movement as she huddled into him. She leaned even closer, moving her lips against his warm, rigid ones, relishing the last pleasant shivers coursing through her.

The moment of him not responding stretched, enough for Lux to notice even through the haze. She let him go, startled by his lack of reaction. Before she got more than a glimpse of his eyes, set ablaze by a dark firestorm, his lips crashed back on hers, the impact of her head hitting the bathroom's wall pillowed by his hand closing around the back of her head. The warm water was turned off as Talon took hold of her upper arms and pushed her right out of the shower cabin.

He didn't give her enough time to regain her footing as he pushed her backwards, nearly slipping twice on the wet floor, stumbling out of the bathroom and into his bedroom.

A few unstable steps later, something hit the hollow of Lux' knees, throwing her out of balance. With a yelp she dug her nails into Talon's back, tumbling on his bed. He followed swiftly, pouncing on her and pinning her to the bed with his body. She instantly took hold of his face once more, placing another open mouthed kiss on his lips. This time he seemed eager enough, reciprocating the kiss with equal fervor. Then he grabbed her wrists and pinned them over her head with one hand, the other one running down the curve of her waist. Lux was left breathless by his unabashed desire as he pushed himself inside of her again. Lux' head flew back against the mattress, her eyes closing shut as she tried to determine whether this started to hurt or pleased her more. Before she had decided, he pulled out of almost completely, coaxing her to open her eyes. She had never felt as bare as she did right now, Talon's attention fixed on her in the same way when he closed in on a target. He readjusted just the slightest and his next thrust, angled only slightly different than before, made her see stars. Then he pushed into her again, reigniting the pleasure that had slowly calmed. It felt good, oh so good, but completely different than it had before. Her hitched gasps found their answers in his ragged grunts and his expression became more interesting than the rest of her surroundings. The sweat on his forehead, the way his usually sharp gaze started to waver as his thrusts became more and more erratic, his grip around her wrists tightening almost painfully, his other hand digging in Lux' waist as his hip bucked against her. Lux observed this in a detached, post-bliss fascination; the moment one of the most dangerous men in Valoran came apart over her. Golden eyes loosing focus before squeezing shut, Talon clutched her wrists even tighter, his member twitching deep inside of her with his groin shoving against her until he shuddered with a strangled sound and stilled his motions.

Lux gasped, now pinned by his body as much as with his hands.

He hovered over her for a long moment with eyes closed, regaining his breath and his focus before he rolled to the side, releasing her wrists.

She felt his fingers curling against her lower arm, not bothering to break contact there and where their legs still touched.

She allowed herself a moment to enjoy the tingling in her body as well as the warmth. He had stopped bothering about keeping his breath even as it seemed, for he breathed just as heavy as she did. A sudden urge to turn into the warmth just the length of an arm away from her, forced her to dip her toes into reality once again.
She was not with a friend.
The warmth inside of her died down to something manageable. How should being close like this not feel personal?

The bed was damp, they hadn't bothered to dry before changing locations, and Lux felt fatigue creeping into her bones. How much she wanted to just close her eyes and sleep now. Maybe after another shower, and preferably covered with one of those soft-looking blankets they had ruffled.

Lux pulled her fingers back slowly and gently, to refrain from running them over the nearby arm. The turn of his head indicated he still tracked the movements of her hands. Otherwise he did not move anymore, so Lux decided to copy this behavior.
At least until she caught her breath.

It had become quite outside, maybe the searching for her had already stopped. She steeled herself. It was time to pack up and go.
The mage rolled onto her stomach to lift herself up, all the while feeling Talon's gaze following her. Especially the movements of her boobs seemed to be to his liking.

Getting into her clothes was tense again, even though the assassin chose to stay in his bed, stock-still safe for the movements of his eyes.

Before leaving through the window, Lux changed her mind and slowly returned to the bed and the motionless man inside of it.
Palms showing, she lowered her head to place a kiss on his lower arm, now returning to trace his movements for signs of aggression. Currently, there were none. "That was nice." She told him quietly.

He hummed in response, but said and did nothing else. Which was probably good, for he did not intercept her way as she moved to the window. He stayed motionless until she had taken her leave.

In the safety of her apartment, she activated her guarding spells and slumped on the bed, allowing herself to empathize the Demacian she still was.

She felt sore between her thighs. Sore and tender.

Lux recollected the things her mother had once said to her. She still remembered how, after one of her greater 'outbursts', a composed Augatha had told her she would never be like other girls, never be able to marry or let herself be courted by a honorable man, for some parts of her were hideous. She had observed older girls getting courted and eventually getting married, and the thought of never having to endure that herself had set her free. No ties to a home she would be forced to watch over, nobody who would forbade her to see the world, no one to completely take over, and from whom she'd have to hide for the rest of her life. Even now this thought didn't fail to make her feel better.
She hadn't wasted anything, for she would never have some things in her life. She didn't want some things, had decided so when rejecting to do nothing more with her life than managing the Crownguard estates. She could do everything she wanted to because of what she was, she was able to achieve her dreams because of it. She nourished that thought until it heated her innards.
She would do what she wanted, she had no worth in the dynastic games of her home country, and nobody would ever notice what had happened in Noxus. That most definitely made her feel better. Even better was the anger rising within her.
How did her mother dare to think her work here, or in Piltover or the lands between Demacia and Noxus was less valuable than reducing herself to the level of a pretty watchdog?

Chapter Text

Twenty-three days went by.

Lux had changed the location of her operational base. She followed her own advice to masquerade into a man, used better security and followed a rigid safety protocol which had taken some time to plan out.
It had been a lot of work, but now she was fairly sure she had done a decent job in sufficiently hiding herself. Plus, she had sworn to herself to stay away from family du Couteau as far as possible. The previous encounters had been too much already, and she should not rely on her luck more than she already had.

It was challenging to her powers to uphold her illusions for such great lengths, but it proved to be a good training for her magic as well as for her creativity, imagining new faces to create, new body types to adapt. It gave her something to do in the hours in between the hits and the negotiations with the people willing to pay for her services, giving her thoughts a productive direction.

So the nude man, lower half barely covered by her bed sheets, hands behind his head and seemingly waiting for her, came as a surprise.

Luckily she was professional enough to not show her emotions. Light, not a month prior she had… "What are you doing here?" She interrupted her own thoughts with the best male voice she could imitate, grabbing her baton, which she had disguised as a club. Lux had bound her breasts and wore the sharp face of a middle-aged man, so his lack of disturbance was astounding. He stretched his athletic body, reviving a whole new set of Lux' memories, a small grin forming on his lips.

How had he found her? How much about her powers did he know by now? He really excelled in finding people, Lux acknowledged with worry. There was no turning back now, though, for she had chosen the path she now went down on. She checked the room via sight first. Except for a pile of clothes, and most likely weapons underneath, nothing had visibly changed, so she stepped into her hideout and eyed the man on her bed. He had barely moved, his hands unmoving. A distant part of Lux' brain recognized this as a copy of her own stillness while waiting for him to move, waiting to decide how to go on.

"Like what you see?" He drawled, arms behind his head, eyes half closed. At the moment, he did not look like a threat. Dangerous, yes, but in a thrilling, approachable way, nothing compared to when she had met him on missions.

Lux smiled and dropped her demeanor as well as the manly features. There was no need in holding on to a blown cover. Oh light, she had no idea how to deal with this situation. "You didn't bring the guard of honor, yet still worth a moonlight visit." Maybe this was just a payback for breaking into his house, to remind her whom she picked as an opponent? Maybe he would leave her alone after this encounter? She was able to ignore her interest, the growing satisfaction that someone had taken the time to see through her illusions, to make the effort and find her.

Chapter Text

Lux had been wrong. That alone was no problem, she was flexible enough to reevaluate her decisions and choices, and honest enough to admit when she had chosen a wrong path. Being wrong like she was now, though, would inevitably get her into great trouble. Despite what she had hoped, the dark assassin whose attention she had attracted had not left her alone after their first two more personal encounters. Meetings in unlit hallways and dark alleys were sparse but passed without injury, for Lux made a point in walking in the other direction as soon as she caught as much as a feeling of him being anywhere close by. He, on the other hand, had started to appear in her bedrooms, regardless of how low a profile she kept. His visits were far from regular, but he didn't threaten her, didn't try to hurt her, and he made her feel better than she would have ever imagined. With him being her only non-professional contact, things were bound to slip out of her control.

Needless to say that Lux had established mechanisms to identify such a state, namely a rather intricate questionnaire to evaluate her psychological state, to assure herself of her mental stability.

At her weekly self-assigned assessment, Lux realized she might have a problem. While asking the questions and while comparing her answers to the written down notes from her last assessments. When comparing them, she noticed a slight, but undeniably shift in a few answers. She had always prouded herself of her routines, because they were what kept her remotely safe in Noxus. And this specific routine indicated she had a problem, even though it did not feel like one.

She wanted to answer the question 'Do you feel you have made any acquaintances in Noxus?' with 'yes'. She had designed those question not to represent the reality, but to check the shifts and the development of her mind, so there was no point in lying to herself. She knew that allying oneself too closely with the enemies could blur the lines between what was right and wrong.
More disturbing was the question 'In a good or in a bad way'. It felt unbelievably good what they did, and they had not tried to kill each other since...when? She reached up to her neck, touching the barely visible, pink scar from where he had nearly slit her throat. It should act as a reminder how dangerous Talon du Couteau was, how unpredictable and unstable. Yet the question 'Do you believe the person is going to kill you without a good reason?' was much worse, she thought this as a 'No'-answer. She knew he probably would, could explain on a purely logical level that he would not spare a second thought to her, but it did not feel incalculable when she was being with him, and hadn't for the past weeks since their entanglement had started. It was hard to take someone for dangerous to oneself while he kept eliciting the most joyous bodily reactions out of her.
First she had thought it was only a short fling, but the assassin kept returning, even though she was by no means steady. Her place of residence changed and her security improved, but the assassin was still able to find her. And she was not only not minding him coming back, but anticipating his visits.
Her reaching out was no surprise by any means, because even though his visits were infrequent, he still posed the steadiest contact she had here in Noxus Prime. And to stay sane, one needed human contact. Friendly human contact at best. Noxians weren't friendly, though, and she should know as much.

Another problem was that her assignment in Noxus Prime wasn't over. She could not call herself compromised, for her weekly assessments weren't even part of any bigger plan. She had worked them out for herself, and she had nobody to directly report such things to. Lux doubted that anyone before had been sent to Noxus for such an extended period of time, so the lack of established protocols were no surprise. Another point was the reaction of her superiors. She already was considered a danger due to her powers, but if she admitted what had happened here, between her and a dangerous enemy agent? There would be no room for explanations, no understanding.

She had no idea if she would be able to work around this particular problem alone, though.

The question 'name the differences between Demacia and Noxus' got increasingly more complicate to answer as well. At her first small assignments in the borderlands, she had answered the question with a simple 'They are bad, we are good', now she answered this question only once a month, because it got more and more elaborate. The ratings 'good' and 'bad' had completely vanished. As much as the 'we' and 'they'-part. She knew she was getting lost, even if it did not felt like that.
It felt more like growing above the restricted minds of her peer Demacians, more like comparing two systems with their respective insufficiencies, something that triggered Lux to make out where the similarities, the differences were and which structures would work better if they adapted mechanisms from the other system.
Where was the line between merely accommodating like she had to be a good spy, evolving as an open-minded individual and adapting too much Noxian traits? Was open-mindness even something Demacian? Lux looked to the small light she used as a lamp. She knew the answer to that question all too well.

No wonder that even someone like her felt alone and craved company sometimes, it was normal to grasp at any steady contact she could have, Lux rationalized. Maybe it would help to add some specific questions about Talon into her weekly assessment. Maybe something like 'pick apart your cognitive dissonance'.

Lux bit her lip. She already knew that it would not help.
Knowing something sometimes didn't help at all, talking didn't necessarily solved problems, sometimes it only added to feel more miserable.
Her established protocol pointed out that this was all her own head trying to make her feel comfortable in a strange and dangerous and isolated position, but it didn't provide a solution.
She could not ask for backup, and getting close to another human being was the only resolution she could think of. Nobody was able to live without feeling at least a little safe.

Of how much use was a compromised spy? Were the information she extracted worth her life? Because she would lose her head if she could not get it up somehow.

She heard the silent 'click' of her window.

Now of all times.

He had found her again.

This time, she had made a special effort to hide her traces, obscure her face and change her behavioral patterns. Lux closed her eyes for a second before she grabbed her baton, got up and hastily activated the sigils she had painted all over the floor just in case, before she obscured the stacks of important papers.

She still felt vulnerable and craved company. Not a good mix. Not a mood in which she should fraternize with the enemy. How to make him leave without showing any weakness, even though she did not want him to go?

Probably not at all.

She conjured her most menacing smile as he announced his arrival with the opening of the window. Seconds passed before a cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows a few feet away from the opening.

"Fourteen days this time? Your performance subsides." She mocked. Frightening that a skilled enough person would need no more than fourteen days to find her. Surely less, if enough effort or full-time attention was put to the task. At least it should be frightening, not arousing while thinking about not if, but when she was going to be caught. And the shiver running down her back also shouldn't be pleasant.
Sadly it was exactly that.

A barely perceptible smile appeared in the shadows of his hood. "Did I keep you waiting?" He rasped.

She could not help the building anticipation. And she would never fight herself when there was a much greater threat nearby. Damn, she wanted some decent human contact. Or what passed for it since this mess started.
So she smiled. "It felt like forever."

Katarina glared at Talon who, unfazed, indulged in his breakfast, making a show of ignoring her pointed stare.
Everybody who did not know better probably assumed Talon ate raw meat for breakfast and every other meal to satisfy his bloodlust, but the amount of honey on his bread slice was as ridiculous as his sweet tooth. Cassiopeia picked on her egg gently, ignoring both her siblings, safe for the occasional darting out of her tongue. Their other sister, Calliope, had excused herself early, there had been a problem within the staff she needed to solve.

"Where did you go last night?" Katarina asked briskly.

Talon, still not impressed, savored his treat in delight, not inclined to answer.

Cassiopeia darted her tongue in his direction. "Was there a time my gustatory sense was as bad as yours?" She mocked and discarded the torn remains of her egg.

Katarina sent her as well as her brother a glare. "This bitch of yours? Again?"

Reading Talon's expression was hard to read on an ordinary day, mostly because he was not giving any and hid the rest under his ever-present hood. This time was no different as he pretended not to hear her.

"She broke in our house! She was able to bypass your security! How can you still search her out and let her live?" Katarina spat, shoving her clean plate away.

He kept on chewing on his bread and grasped for the honey pot. "I closed some gaps. She pointed out flaws to improve." A shrug followed, as if such an occurrence was completely normal.

Katarina jumped up and banged her hands on the table. "How can you take this so calm? You should eliminate every threat to our house, not go and fuck it like there is no tomorrow!"

Talon's eyes flashed as he looked up to her while he remained seated. "You think a girl like her is a threat to the likes of us?" He sounded as collected as ever, annihilating the rest of his bread with lightning speed.

"Geez Kat, can't you let him have some fun?" Cassiopeia tried to intervene. "His expenses for prostitutes dropped significantly, that is something!"

Talon's head snapped up and he scanned the mood in the room, not sure if it was normal to talk about such things at the breakfast-table. Nobody took an offense, so it was probably okay. He lowered his gaze to the honey glass once more. Cassiopeia had at least tried to calm Katarina down.

Cassiopeia had not succeeded though, the redhead's face darkened to a deep crimson with more and more anger. "Talon can't afford the distraction. I don't care for common whores, they are different!" Her eyes narrowed in another attempt to rouse a reaction. "If you cannot dispatch of that girl, I will." She hissed malignantly.

Talon nodded, vocally confirming with an "I won't hold you back", while he layered his second slice of bread until it started dripping from the sides.

"Isn't it better to have one mouth you know to distrust than…" Cassie's brow ceased, looking to Talon. "How many were it last month?"

The assassin opened his mouth to answer, but Katarina shot up with an outraged cry and vanished from the table.

The serpent shook her head. "Seems like your toy is going to be broken." She voiced sympathetically and offered him a pat on the back.

"You think so?" Talon allowed himself a small smirk, shaking her touch off with a twitch of his shoulder.

"You don't think so?" Cass countered, poking his shoulder blade just to make a point.

Talon shook his head and savored his honey bread, his thoughts wandering to the woman he occupied his free time with.

Cassiopeia seemed to be intrigued. "Why not?"

He pondered the question carefully before answering. "As soon as she changes locations, it takes me four to twelve days to locate her, fourteen when she gears to hide. And I know what to look for. She improves her stealth every time. Meeting her on missions around the city is pure chance." He kept every hint of the growing fascination he started to feel out of his voice. There was no need to set his second sister, who had much more time and patience than the first, on the woman's heels as well.

Cassiopeia snickered, seemingly oblivious to his thoughts. "Not exactly Katarina's span of attention." Then her face contorted. "But she took great pleasure in destroying my dolls." She warned.

Talon shrugged. "Good thing she is no doll then."

He was regarded with a calculating stare out of snake-like, yellow eyes, a stare that made Talon seen through. "Then what is she?" Cassiopeia hissed, her tongue darting in his direction.

Talons stare back was as emotionless as always. Cassiopeia was not able to read thoughts, he knew as much. "You told me to get a hobby. And you red-flagged almost every-"

Cassiopeia interrupted. "Hunting down a girl who tries to conceal herself with ever new methods of stealth is not entirely what I expected, but..." She tipped a claw-like nail against her lower lip, "if you put it that way…it sounds okay, I think." She shrugged once more.

Talon picked at his hood, deciding that his breakfast was not over yet. "Splendid."

Katarina tried to stare her father down. She had an unsuccessful day behind her, and his summoning was just the fucking tip of the stupid iceberg that was the reasons for her foul mood. She hadn't had an assignment in forever, the last one had been interesting enough to live off until now, but she was getting restless. Then there was that unresolved matter with Talon's whore…

"What do you want?" She bawled, pulling a dagger out of a sheath and began cleaning her nails. She didn't dare to place her feet on her father's desk though, something she would have done with every other general that dared to summon her.

Marcus lifted an eyebrow and shook his head at her behavior. "Time for lessons in tactical decision-making."

Katarina's head perked up. She loved lessons from her father. She loved them even more when they involved stabbing things, but decision-making was also okay, she figured and twirled her dagger between her fingers before stashing it away.

Marcus steepled his fingers, regarding her over the edge of his digits. "About your little fallout at breakfast two days ago." He stated calmly.

Katarina growled. "I will find the bitch, be sure of that." Her dagger, drawn in a fast motion, pierced a wall.

Marcus followed the ballistic trajectory with his eyes. "You haven't yet?" He asked.

Katarina's mouth tilted downwards to a scowl, making a verbal answer redundant.

Marcus took a deep breath. "Imagine this, Kat…."

Katarina came out of her father's study with ears as red as beet. She avoided Cassiopeia and Talon for the next two weeks.
After that, she did not bother Talon about women again.

Chapter Text

The cold morning air on Lux' face felt refreshing and the whisper of the morning wind encouraged her to chase the tumbling grass stalks. She nudged her heels into Starfire's flanks, emboldening him to speed up to an easy trot.
She had missed being out in the open nearly as much as she had missed her white stallion, who had spent his time on a farm outside of Noxus Prime. She had missed the unfiltered daylight on her face, filling her with power and a sense of her surroundings. She only needed to close her eyes, to concentrate and a whole new world opened up in front of her inner eye, bright and full of wonders.

"Come on, my boy." Lux cheered and pressed her thighs into his flanks. Starfire snorted vigorously at her energy, kicking his hind legs back and jumped to gallop. His white and her blonde hair fluttered in the wind, both of them eager to get fresh air and exercise.

Lux' heart fluttered. They were heading home. Home to Demacia.

A dispatch with her marching order, as well as the demand for an interim report had arrived yesterday, right before Talon had paid her a very pleasant visit. Before she had been able to decide whether she'd inform him about her absence or not, he had let her known that he would leave the city for an extended period of time. However 'extended period of time' was defined had been left open, and she hadn't dared to ask. Neither had she asked about his destination. His goodbye had been much appreciated nonetheless.

After Starfire had galloped off his excess energy, he fell into an easy walk, a pace the stallion could maintain for hours. They followed the route west, crossing Noxtoraa after Noxtoraa into the neutral lands in between the states. The food changed with the landscape, from the spicy cuisine that was preferred in the capital to plants and vegetables of the north. Soon there were no tacos to enrich her diet, something she really missed. The nature became greener, water more abundant, the plants less defensive, changing to the flora and fauna of her homeland.

Luckily nearly every village they passed had a tavern, so she didn't need to sleep under the stars. What Lux reached was no fixed border, but a cluster of unclaimed villages which were able to survive the constant friction between Noxus and Demacia. A steady apple of discord. Lux remembered her first assignment well, it had led her to those small towns. At the moment no war bands resided here, for the Noxian forces concentrated on the north-eastern coast and on the south.

In a particularly small inn, she dropped the illusions around her appearance, changed into the blue and silver of her Demacian attire, carefully folding her Noxian clothes and hiding them at the bottom of her saddlebags. The armor she put on was heavier and well worn. It felt good to look like a Demacian for a change. Instantly, she started smiling, greeting the merchants, especially the ones she knew from her former assignments. It felt good to smile, to greet and be nice to people without getting suspicious glances.

She gave the Great Capital a slight berth, not yet willing to subjugate to the suffocating powers of the Walls and headed north first, following the serpentine river, to visit her family estate, her ancestor's grave and possibly her brother. Maybe she'd have gathered enough courage to visit the capital after that.

The meeting with her brother went completely different than she had expected. The city, the nightmare, the shadow – and a small boy in the middle, frightened to the bone. She could relate, even though she had long left the fear behind.

'Allowing doubt to cloud our judgment leaves us vulnerable. And I cannot allow us to become vulnerable.'

Garen had changed so much since she had last seen him. The warm-hearted boy who had let her ride on his shoulders was molded in steel and had hardened in battle, with scars she didn't remember and words she didn't understand. All of his carefree attitude was gone, replaced by the constant reserve he had formerly only treated her with after witnessing one of her 'outbursts'. Now, he looked at her like someone would look at a beloved, but poisonous pet.

Lux mourned the loss while she rode next to him, close to the four members of the Dauntless Vanguard he had taken with him, for they accompanied her to the capital. Nobody took notice of her heavy heart. What they seemed to notice, though, was the silence between the siblings that lasted until Velorus.

Rodian, always happy and with a voice loud enough to quicken the death, was the first one to break down, just after passing Lissus. "Tell your sister about our great fights! You haven't seen each other for a while now, right?" He boomed, leading his mount next to Garen's to slap his shoulder. "Maybe she'll decide to eat up, do something noteworthy and join us in the Dauntless Vanguard." He winked at her.

Lux smiled sheepishly. Rodian might have slain barbarians to no end and set a city aflame, but he wasn't the brightest candle on the cake. But he was loyal until self-abandonment, thus he lined up perfectly with the rest of the Dauntless Vanguard.

"She defeated the darkness, didn't she? How did you do that, Lux?" Varya cut short what would otherwise surely have become a long boasting about his own achievements. The outward semblance between her and her twin-brother Rodian was astonishing. Looking at her tall, muscled form, Lux had no trouble discerning why Rodian questioned her own physical fitness. Not that Lux was particularly small herself, but she lacked the bulkiness of Varya, who looked like she was able to tear a tree out with her bare hands. She probably not only looked that way. Diadoro, bearded and darker than the other four fighters, stayed quiet behind Sabator of Jandelle, clearly used to Rodian's storytelling. Not that they both would not boast to no end given half the chance, but for now it seemed to be Rodian's stage.

"Oh, you are right." Rodian 'tzz'ked derogatorily and waved his hand. "But you should have seen how we defeated the demons in the village! That was a real fight, with dangerous swords and demons…" He continued to gloat, making his horse stagger with his sweeping gestures.

Lux giggled and led Starfire out of the dancing horse's way. "Didn't you want to tell me something about Garen?" She didn't really want to tell them what she had done specifically. She neither wanted to hear about their cruelties, but if she had to choose, she'd choose the gloating.

Rodian's chest puffed up and he rose his fist, the ears of his stallion folding back at the yank on the reigns. Lux felt sorry for the animal, but this time it was Varya who had to stop her horse in order to avoid a crash. "Oh yes. He almost slew that red-haired she-demon of Noxus!" Rodian bragged as if he had been the one fighting.

This time, Lux didn't even had to fake interest, her heart rate spiked. Only a limited amount of women fitted this description. "That indeed sounds like a story worth telling." She finished weakly.

Rodian searched for his water-skin for show and took a deep gulp of water. He wetted his lips before he leaned forward, making his horse stumble sideways with his weight. He caught Lux' eyes with his as he began talking in a fake-low, conspiratorial voice which probably carried over the whole mountain nonetheless. "We had just obtained the carcass of the gruesome Kingslayer, which the Noxians prepared for some abominable ritual. Their blood-mages protecting him weren't able to withstand the strength of our steel." He clenched his fist skywards. "Everything looked clear and we began hoping that they were too afraid of us, but then we encountered their counterstrike commando." Lux noticed how her brother's ears reddened in shame. Rodian did not notice, but kept on talking with wide gestures, poised enough to not throw his hose off-balance once more. "The Sinister Blade was their leader, and they engaged us fearlessly. She is just a tad taller than you, Luxanna", he padded her head diminishingly, "but that woman knows how to fight. One moment you see her engaging our captain, and you think: 'boy, that's gonna be another dead Noxian whore-' "

"Rodian!" Garen interrupted boomingly, "not in front of my sister!" His horse was seasoned enough to not dance at the sound.

The reprimanded man pulled back his head in shame. "I mean, another dead…. Ahm…." He stuttered.

"Body for the gutter?" Lux helped out, feeling strangely defiant for her choice of words.

"There was no gutter, but yeah, something like that. So, there you are, watching Garen's back and feeling pity for such a vile but beautiful creature, and the next time you look her head isn't smashed in, but she is fighting back our captain in a deadly dance. A sight to behold, I tell you. Almost got me a knife in my back looking at the both of them. I wasn't able to watch them the whole time, but in the end we fought them off and they had to retreat. Right, Captain?" He looked at Garen, obviously proud.

Garen shook his head. It was most definitely shame in his eyes. "They were no heavy fighters, but assassins. We lost the objective, the carcass. They got what they wanted with minimal casualties." He assessed.

Lux grasped for his arm sympathetically, but found she couldn't make contact due to the pauldron he wore. The material sucked the warmth out of her fingertips and she snatched her hand back, earning a warning gaze from Garen.

"Still, it was a duel worth talking about!" Rodian lifted his water-skin in a toast.

Garen looked at him wistfully. "Next time I'll get her." It sounded like a promise and lacked the hate Lux normally heard from her fellow Demacians. He joined in raising his fist. Lux had seen Katarina Du Couteau in person once, and she had carried out the negotiations with the air of superior arrogance, had exchanged brief glances with Talon. Lux was able to picture the woman described here next to the other assassin quite well. Suddenly her throat dried out as, with all the clarity, she realized that she'd be sentenced a traitor should transpire to her home country with whom she fraternized in Noxus.

She shook her head. She wasn't in Noxus, she was in Demacia, and thoughts about Talon and his family were reserved for Noxus. And maybe for lonely nights. Right now was neither.

"To all the next times we'll get!" She smiled sweetly and raised her fist as well.

"To the next times!" The others repeated without questioning.

Garen and his subordinates did a salute in front of the Great Colossus, whom they passed on their way to the white stone walls of the capital. The petricite was already nagging at her powers, dimming her light and smothering her energy. She sighed heavily, having almost forgotten how bad some parts of being home felt. Out of habit, Lux spread her hand over Galio's cold, smooth petricite and gently nudged some light into the stone. Her hand lit up in a flash and Lux yelped, the four men and the woman swirling on their heels to look at her.

"What is it, Lux?" Garen asked alarmed.

She panted heavily, looking at the Colossus with wide eyes.

"What was that light?" Sabator asked, hand on the hilt of his great sword.

Fear lit up Garen's eyes as he looked Lux up and down warily, before he shook his head and looked around.

Lux didn't try to provide an answer, she had learnt long ago that people would make up their own excuses much better than she was able to. "Did something happen to Galio?" She asked instead, ignoring her brother's reaction.

"What should have happened to him?" Varya patted the smooth surface of the Colossus, looking from Lux to the stone and back.

"I don't know, any special treatments? Does petricite decompose?" She looked at her hand and felt the same amount of light inside of her as before, dim, but not sucked out like she was used to.

Diadoro snorted. "He is almost as old as our nation. He looks fine to me." The dark-haired man stated, stroking the hilt of his sword nervously, so Lux shook her head, clearing it and regaining her breath.

"He indeed looks fine." Lux muttered. What had she been thinking? There was nothing to notice for the people around her. "Maybe I was just gone for a long time."

Rodian laughed, shaking the tense mood off first. "And you still need to tell us about the great heroic deeds you did, little lady." He ruffled Lux' hair, earning another sheepish smile from the mage. He did not sounding serious. He did not expect Lux to do anything noteworthy. She looked around into the calming faces of the men and woman she had known for almost all her life, calming down after their little shock. Nobody here would expect her to do anything noteworthy, at least nothing that would hold up against their heroic deeds. She smiled. For now, that was okay.

The capital shone bright with its white stone walls, the golden lined memorials of long gone war heroes and the sounds of people following their daily routine. The difference to Noxus Prime was enormous. The people didn't look over their shoulders in fear, Lux saw many happy faces and she couldn't fight the bright smile that lit her own face. Despite the fact that she had been away for a long time, her people recognized and greeted her. Friendliness like this would never exist in Noxus. Then she remembered the horror in Garen's eyes at the flash of light as well as his words. This friendliness had a price, she could feel it in the numbness of her fingers, the hollowness of her thoughts. She felt drained, close to asphyxiation. Had it always been this bad?

"How was it, fighting Katarina du Couteau?" Lux asked Garen after separating from the other members of the Dauntless Vanguard. She tried to reach out for him, for the cold statue he had become.

Garen looked to the sky, a smile forming on his lips. "Finally a worthy opponent." he stated. "I'll hopefully meet her on the battlefield again."

Lux noted how his eyes lit up and felt unwell. What Garen announced didn't sound like fighting and pain and dying, but like the invitation to a dance. They spent the rest of the way in silence.

Their family's residence greeted them with its age-old, polished, white stones and the familiar, bright door made from Demacian pines of the north. Chased ornaments wound around windows and balconies to repeat their pattern in the carvings of the wooden doors. A perfect place for any assassin to hide.

Augatha, their mother, was not at home, she attended a meeting of the Council and would arrive in the late afternoon, so Lux decided to follow her marching order and search out Kahina. She had a full report of her actions in Noxus Prime to give. She swallowed soundlessly. Well, no full report. Garen vanished to his wing with a short goodbye, he seemed to steel himself before being able to look at her. Lux waved with a smile, and Garen nodded after a second of looking at her, breathing out, nodding to himself and smiled back. Finally. She flitted upstairs in her own room, unpacking her saddle-bag slightly uneasy. It had been quite a while since she had occupied her own room without meticulously securing it beforehand. Some things were neither needed nor possible in Demacia, she reassured herself. There were no people trying to harm her, not as long as she kept her powers down.

She left her house lighthearted, anticipation the reunion with her mother, after all that time. She had experienced so much, and even though she wasn't able to share much of her travels, maybe Augatha would care for the smaller things.

The streets to the Citadel of Light were clean and invitingly broad. By the time she had reached her goal, she had almost convinced herself that the walls weren't so bad. The guards, solemn as the statues inside the citadel, stood to attention as she entered the residence of the Lightbringers. A shiver ran through her as she thought about the mages in secret service of the crown.

Lux found Kahina in her office, going through the newest list of recruits. The older woman looked up, a friendly smile rose to her lips. "Lux. I hope your travel went well?"

Lux nodded. "I was able to travel fast. There were no interruptions." She sat down on the chair across from Kahina, looking at her expectantly. "Did anything change while I was away?" She chirped.

Kahina took a deep breath, briefing her about the newest decisions of the Council, only revealing what Lux had already expected: nothing had changed. The clocks went different in Demacia. Change was slow, and their people liked steadiness above all else. Her heart sank. Should she name the greatest problem in dealing with Noxus and its expansionist tendencies, she would point to their ability to include and hone new ideas as well as all kinds of strength, where most Demacians were tangled up in traditions. Still, until now, her home-country had fought off the other empire quite well. Still, the existence of mages and their service to king and country would be denied, the humans rotting away in the Annulment slums only wasted lives.

Lux' heart sank as Kahina asked for her report. She had already filled out her written form, but her superior always liked to talk to her – something that Lux usually liked. So she filled the other woman in on her findings in Noxus Prime, about hidden relationships in between the houses, connections they could use to their advantage. She had only scratched the surface, they both knew as much, but Kahina seemed satisfied nonetheless. Then, she added her adventure in Fossbarrow, something that made Kahina's nose turn up in disgust.

After she had ended, both of them took a deep breath.

Kahina nodded. "Is there more?" She asked.

Lux had given almost a full report - of course she had left her personal entanglements out. "Actually, yes." Lux smiled brightly. "I met a young mage at Fossbarrow. He will make a great apprentice." She changed the topic.

"The boy who awakened the shadow?" Kahina sounded doubtful.

"The boy who overcame the shadow." Lux corrected.

Kahina pursed her lips and tapped her pen against her lower lip. "I will take a look at him." She promised. "How long do you plan to extend your stay in Demacia?"

Lux knew why she asked. Her position in Noxus was more than valuable, and every day of absence hurt her business, even though it had been Kahina who had summoned her back. Most likely because she wanted to check on Lux' mental wellbeing. And now, reassured that everything was fine, she was free to go again. "Not for too long. I positioned myself too well to be gone for long. But there is still one more thing I want to discuss." She brought up.

Kahina urged her on with a motion of her hand.

Lux leaned forward. "I think that Galio might not work anymore." She said worriedly.

Kahina was silent for a moment. "What do you mean?"

"I wanted to give him a proper greeting, but nothing happened. He didn't answer." Lux explained hesitantly.

Kahina lifted her eyebrow. She didn't look like she was buying the story of a walking giant. "Aren't those stories and fairytales told by grandmothers to scare their children? The only times Galio actually moved were in fables and stories of drunk men."

Lux straightened herself. "I awoke him once and was able to make him listen ever since, so I'm pretty sure something changed."

Kahina tapped her pen against her lower lip in consideration. "We will see to that. Don't worry too much. Maybe your work with us Illuminators has purged your magic from evil?"

Lux didn't know what to say for a moment. Galio had told her it was something good inside of her, not something in need to be purged, so that was no possible explanation. She had hoped for at least Kahina to be less fanatic, even though she, by now, should know better. Maybe at least Kahina would change her view on magic in general with Lux' work. "No, I actually never thought about that." Her smile was weak, but because she used it so rarely, her sarcasm was misinterpreted.

Kahina nodded once more and repeated "Don't you worry about it. We will see to Galio."

Lux nodded again and, after a formal dismissal, stood up and left the room, walked through the regal hallways, admired the play of light through the big windows before she greeted the bustling city once more.

No, the walls definitely weren't so bad, at least not bad enough for her to endure the slight upressure against her head. In fact, it felt good to walk in the capital again. Starfire trotted behind her patiently, not at all disturbed by the many people. She held her head up high, was greeted by most and greeted everyone with a bright smile in return. She loved Demacia and its people, and she could bear a little headache. Her way through the city led her as far as the grand city-gates. She remembered the gatekeepers, Anselm and Gebrald, and stopped to chat with them, getting information about how the harvest was going, how Anselm's first grandchild was just starting to talk and how Gebrald had won the archery contest of the lower ranks.

Outside of the city she mounted Starfire and headed to the Great Colossus again.

Luckily nobody was here, as the national memorial day had already passed, so she let her stallion free and walked to the giant mass of petricite.

"Hello my friend." Lux greeted lowly and placed her hand on the surface. Starfire whinnied at her, seemingly feeling addressed. She felt…nothing at the touch. Just the cold surface of another rock. She tried to channel her magic into the stone, which resulted in the same faint glow of her hand she had witnessed earlier that day. It felt not like she was being drained, it just felt like it always did when she was casting. Not worse than the walls already made her feel.

She walked around the great statue, eyeing every hitch and dent. From down here, she wasn't able to make out any differences. But he was huge. Maybe she could climb…

"Isn't it a bit late for you to be out here?" A dark voice made Lux jump and squeal in surprise.

Wide-eyed she looked around - that would have never happened in Noxus, someone sneaking up on her that easily. When she finally spotted the person talking to her, she inhaled sharply. A tall figure, black hair with a blue glow to it, dark clothes, a nasty looking crossbow on her back and glasses tinted orange.
Lux gulped heavily. The heir and only survivor of the massacre of house Vayne, Shauna Vayne, in all her spooky glory. Rumors told that she was not only hunting down the wielders and creatures of dark magic, but held a special hate against all mages in her heart, because she measured them with the same yardstick. Like every Demacian did. Rumors told she wasn't exactly obeying the law while doing so, too. Lux let go of the statue and smiled, although possibly a bit weaker than usual. "Hi Miss Vayne, nice to meet you." It was impossible to read the other woman's expression through the tinted glasses. Hastily, Lux strode to Starfire, who raised his head and nudged his nose against her shoulder.

"Paying the Colossus your regards?" Miss Vayne sounded predatorous, and Lux wasn't able to distinguish if that was her normal vocal range or if she should be extra-careful.

"As a protector of the realm he deserves as much." Lux stated with more confidence than she actually felt. How much had the Night Hunter seen? Lux scolded herself for being that careless. She was about as safe in Demacia as she was in Noxus, just for different reasons, and she should never forget as much.

"A protector indeed." Vayne emphasized the sentence in a way that let it sound sinister.

Maybe it was just her normal vocal range. "What are you doing here? Can I help you with something?" Lux chirped and grabbed her horse's reins.

"Not today, little Crownguard, not today." She stated, mustering her for another long moment before turning away.

Lux forcefully relaxed the hand that had clutched into Starfire's reins. "You may call me Lux." She shouted after the leaving noble. Much more silent she added to Starfire: "that was strange." And her reminder to go. She didn't dare to climb the Colossus when somebody might be watching.

The Illuminators would look into this.

She had her assignments elsewhere, there was no need to worry.

No need to worry indeed.

Sleeping in a safely guarded featherbed, covered with fine down bed sheets after a hot shower felt better than it should have. Yet sleep didn't came. And Lux was able to see why. In the rhythm she had settled to in Noxus a nightly visit from a man who'd surely fail to find her here was long, long overdue. The hustle of her travel had been enough to let her fall into the bed at the evenings, but now she had time to think, to wait, to miss the routine she had established. At least some parts of her routine. But there was no Talon in Demacia. Hopefully.

Her dreams were not Demacia, though.

The time with her family was good, even though they disappointed her hopes for an advance in their behavior. Seeing no change in her relatives while she was constantly evolving and improving herself, turned out to be a test of resolve. Garen still looked away when she meditated in the sunlit garden, and her mother didn't protest when she, after a short stay, announced that her duties called her away from home again. Maybe at her next visit, she told herself. Maybe then they would be ready to face her, to face the truth that had always been right in front of their faces.

On her way back, she had enough time to think about the paper chase she had prepared. Before her departure, she had completely stroke camp and now, after three months of absence, she'd rebuild a new base with all carefulness she could muster.

A pleasant shiver rolled down her spine. Hopefully Talon would like it.

Chapter Text

Four months. His absence from Noxus Prime had been shorter than he had anticipated. He had carried out all of Marcus' orders to the last detail, doing his part in being as fast and as efficient as he always was, and his reward: he was back in the city. Normally, he liked to prolong his travels when he knew that no follow-up job would await him, but this time, he had done none of that.

Marcus seemingly was surprised to see him so soon, but he didn't question, just accepted his report, dismissing him after the debriefing. Talon evaded the women of the house, slipped outside again before one of them would get their hold on him, and began his search. Right now, he had time to spare and, as he experienced while shuffling through her old apartment: he needed time.
After half a day, he knew that the spy had outdone herself in welcoming him back. She had set up three sidetracks, completed with fake apartments she didn't live in, and had vanished off the radar.
Had he been a different person, he might have taken that as a sign she wanted to discontinue their affair. Luckily those kind of doubts never rose in him. The hunter inside of him growled at the challenge she provided, at her ever-new ways to hide herself. This was going to be fun, and the reward at the end all the more satisfying.

For she had left no paper-trail, no people who knew anything of her, he tried a different approach and learned about the horse she kept at a farm outside of Noxus Prime. Whyever she needed a mount. It only confirmed his suspicions about her being either the disgraced daughter of a noble house, or the daughter of a once noble, now disgraced house. A deserted servant had been a possibility too, but with such an animal? Rather unlikely.
Not that he wanted to pry into her past too deeply, he just picked up what he couldn't oversee. And her behavior towards other people as well as her manners were nothing to be overlooked.

Following the tracks she had left set him on the edge of anticipation, and for he did not find her at the first day, he was forced to return to his home. His only prize: one of her hair-bands, seemingly forgotten in one of the empty apartments. He stashed the piece of cloth away before crossing the doorstep to the old manor.

This time, he wasn't lucky enough to avoid his sisters, running into all three of them in the hallway, while they argued over something he didn't catch. He tried sneaking around them but, of course, Katarina noticed him. He faltered in his advance, not really sure how the redhead would react, but she only looked as if she had bitten in a lemon and disappeared, leaving Cassiopeia and Calliope behind. How long could she hold a grudge? Talon shook his head and planned on retiring to his room, but Cassiopeia, sadly, didn't give him the courtesy of leaving him alone.

"Where do you come from?" She asked suspiciously.

"Undercity." Talon answered briefly and tried to make it past her.

She whipped her long tail at him, blocking his path, her tongue darting out of her mouth. "You haven't met your girl…?" She assumed and, as always, Talon hated how she perceived the world. He liked to have some things to himself.

"Still searching." He said as sparsely as before, making another attempt to make it to the stairs.

She pulled her tail back, allowing him as much, but not without another comment. "This is the weirdest kind of foreplay I've ever seen." She remarked, sweeping her tail over the stone floor.

Calliope lifted her eyebrows. "Really?" She asked in disbelief.

Cassiopeia looked up, a smile revealing her fangs as her tongue darted in Talon's direction once more. "Maybe not, you are right. You may continue." She allowed, and Talon chose to get away from the women as fast as possible.

Cassiopeia did not leave him alone the next days. As soon as he was home, she was as well, pestering him with her presence as well as with her words. Luckily, Katarina was less obtrusive, leaving him in peace, safe for their training sessions.

As he finally, finally crouched on a rooftop, scouting yet another lodging, his considerable amount of patience had been pushed to its limits. Four days of full-time effort, he was ready to burst into that room and make the work worth his wile. But first he had to be sure.
The person inhabiting this apartment had returned about ten minutes ago. A middle-aged man, face withered old past his years, about the height he was looking for.

Right before the person pulled the shutter close, Talon noticed the light twitch in 'his' right hand, as well as a twirl of index and middle finger.

The angles of his mouth tilted upwards in a dark smile. He had found her.
Hunger and want incinerated his stomach.

Still, he took the time, observing the surroundings for five more minutes, before he vaulted over the gap in between the houses and climbed down to the closed window, circling around two well-hidden wards. For a moment he considered getting in without announcing himself, but doffed the idea in contemplation of the possible nasty surprise, so instead he stuck a needle-like device into the last ward above her window.

He tapped against the shutter before he picked the lock it was closed with. The window swung open. A quick glance showed him that it was indeed her, stripped of the greater parts of her illusions and of her cloak. He kept himself in check and gave the room a once-over. Nothing suspicious, so far, her usual sigils on the ground…had she learned a new one? What did that new, intricate circle mean?

She surprised him yet again with lifting her chin, her empty hands rising to present her palms as she waited for him to emerge from of the shadows. "Truce?" She asked before he had done so.

"Truce." He answered, stepping into her sight.

A moment later, she catapulted herself into his chest, threw her arms around him, kissing him while he stumbled backwards, grasping for her waist before her feet could touch the ground again, kissing back and groping her with all the want and heat and hunger that had pent up over the last long weeks. His back hit the wall, the hand not locking her body to his roaming over the curve of her ass, gripping tight. Her lips broke free in a guttural moan and she hitched her leg around his waist to support her. Talon pushed her up and spun around to press her against the wall, tasting her lips and grinding his groin against hers. It was a special kind of agony to grind against her with all the layers of clothes between them, but right now he lacked the patience to properly acknowledge it. His fingers rushed to her belt buckle, fumbling with the device.

She sighed heavily and lowered her legs to the ground to stand, grabbed the clasp of his cloak first while he opened her pants and yanked them down over the perfect curve of her hips. His hands rushed up again, appreciating her beautiful curves and then his cloak landed on the ground and her hands busied themselves with opening his belt buckle. He pushed her shirt up, but the woman delved her hands down his pants to his crotch, and Talon had to close his eyes with a suppressed hiss. She gave him a twist down and a strong shove against his chest which made him almost slip on his cloak but then, after a few stumbled steps backwards, he fell backwards on her bed.
The protesting screech of the material was lost in her "Light, just fuck me already". He had never wanted to obey so badly, so he lifted his hips for her to pull his pants down and set his throbbing, hard member free. She licked her lips and grabbed his cock while her free and both of his hands worked together to get him out of his pants. The up and down-motion of her hand nearly got him off. It had been a while.
Her pants had been lost somewhere on the way. Talon was far beyond caring that neither he nor she were completely undressed, but grasped for her waist and pushed her down onto him, both of them groaning in response to the sensation. The woman rose in an attempt to straddle him, but he pulled her down on him again and turned her on her back with himself between her thighs. The bed creaked in agony, as if it wanted to surrender already.

Then he was inside of her again, and Talon wasn't sure if it had ever felt this good.

His first thrust was slow, testing the waters. It was enough to leave the spy gasping and stretching her body against his with closed eyes. He pushed up her shirt, palming her breast hungrily and began sucking on her neck while she grabbed his ass to answer his movements with a deep groan and thrusts of her own. Her hand roamed up, pulled on his hair until he let go of her skin to seal her lips in another kiss. His pleasure seared up, concentrating on his crotch and he could do nothing but speed up his thrusts and groan at the burning, all-consuming flame flaring up, warming his insides. As her breath hitched in between ecstatic moans, he felt her walls around him constricting and like a sudden wave his pleasure also peaked, washing over him, leaving him panting against her cheek.

She continued to hold him tight, breath as labored as his own. Slowly now, much slower than before, her hands slipped under his shirt to gently stroke his side.

After another moment he dropped on the bed next to her, half on his side, hand spread out over her stomach.

They didn't talk for a long time, and Talon found that he could relax even though she still wasn't naked. Maybe because he also wasn't, which meant he had a few blades within reach. He took a deep breath.

"I planned on rewarding you for finding me again." Her smile danced on the edge of her light, in reach of the shadows, almost dark and full of promises. She lifted his hand to her face and kissed the knuckles one by one, following the lines of some thicker scars with her lips.

"Felt pretty much like that." He muttered lowly, but the glint in her eyes had him instantly interested.

"Already tired?" She taunted and spun her leg around his waist, gyrating against him, kissing his chin first before following the line of his jaw to his throat.
Talon shivered, but didn't bat her away. He let her lift the hem of his shirt to pull it over his head. She continued her path downwards with fingertips lightly caressing him, down his chest over his ribcage and his abdomen. As her tongue delved into his navel, it dawned what she was heading for. His heart rate sped up.

Instead of following that thought, he rather tugged at her shirt until she lifted her hands, so he was able to discard the last part of her attire. He placed his hands in her hair, letting the soft strands caress his scarred fingers. They were dark, currently, but her pale complexion told him that it wasn't her natural hair-color.

"Relax", she whispered against his lower abdomen, but her eyes were asking, not demanding.

She continued to kiss her path down, tongue slithering down the V-shape of his lower abdominal muscles. Talon was hardly able to hold still. She had never done this - and he wasn't sure if he felt well with sharp teeth so close to very sensitive parts of his physique. But her touch felt amazing and he was already really, really getting into it again. His head flew back on the cushion as her hand made contact with his cock, slower than the hasty groping a few moments ago, wrapping around him and giving him an encouraging squeeze. Talon wasn't able to fend off the need to look down at her again, observing her actions.

"Is this okay for you?" She asked, hesitation in her voice. She had to feel how tense he was, how unsure if her approach was okay for him. But the sight of her between his legs, her mouth sucking on the sensitive skin on his abdomen, was something to behold. She looked more beautiful than anything he had ever seen before. Apart from the picture she presented, her mouth felt wonderful.

"You may tell me to stop." She clarified when no verbal answer came. As her lips came into contact with the tip of his cock, his head flew back again, and he couldn't imagine why he should want her to stop. He felt her tongue slowly swirling around his tip, eliciting the need to look once more. Her eyes, chatoyant violet now, observed him. Talon noticed the tip of her tongue slipping out of pale lips before she looked down again, slowly pushing him past her lips. An undefined sound leaving his mouth made her close her eyes with as much of a smile as she could muster with his dick in her mouth. Opening her eyes, her head slowly bobbed back up while her tongue swirled around his tip again.

Involuntarily, he pushed his hips up in an attempt to shove himself back into her mouth, which resulted in a hand flying to his hip and an indignant glare from her. She kept on suckling his tip until he forced himself back onto the mattress, struggling to accept her being in control right now, in this new situation. He only placed his hand in her hair, a light reassurance, twirling the soft tresses in between his fingers. As her lips glided down, enveloping him with tight, warm wetness, drawing out a new wave of pleasure, it felt worth the loss of control.
He watched her head coming up and down, occasionally making eye contact until he was ready to burst again.

"Let me fuck you." He half-asked, half demanded and her lips twitched upwards in a smile.

As soon as her lips disconnected from him, he yanked her upwards to seal her lips in another kiss, pressing her body against his. She still held him in her hand, teasing his member against her hot, slick core.

His hand slid down her abdomen to where their bodies met, stroking her once before pressing his index finger through her wet folds, searching and finding the little nub that made her gasp. With an undefined, but clearly impatient noise she guided his member past her folds. As she threw her head back, sweat glistening on her body, he could not keep his other hand, the one not working between her legs, from roaming upwards to her soft breasts and down again to the dip above her hipbone. She lifted herself from him before lowering again, slowly searching an angle that worked for her. A low gasp told him she found it, and he could do nothing more than watch in fascination as she rode him.
He realized that he had missed this, missed her, her witty comments and snarky remarks and her smile but, as her throaty moans increased in urgency, the transcendence of the moment passed away. He trusted into her from below while he continued to thumb her clitoris until her shivering intensified, caught in between holding on and letting go. The fingers of Talon's left hand dug into her hip, grinding her down on him once more. She inhaled sharply, squeezing her eyes shut and her upper body hinged forward, her core constricting around him with a new string of hitched gasps. The sight and the feeling, the tightness, her soundswere enough, Talon felt himself bursting as well.
She stayed on top of him, arms trembling, rapidly breathing against his ear, her whole body shuddering against his. He took a shaky breath and placed his hand on her back, gingerly stroking up and down. Once again, he was amazed by how soft her skin was.

After regaining her breath, Lux dared to close the little distance between them instead of moving away, letting her head fall on his shoulder. She was utterly satisfied, her nerves humming with pleasure. "How was the Frejlord?" She purred, reveling at the feeling of skin on skin. Hers was still tingling pleasantly.

He didn't ask how she knew where he had been, but countered with a "how is your horse?"

It felt like a cold bucket had been emptied over Lux' head and she suddenly had a hard time controlling her heart rate. He knew of Starfire. Of course this little game of hers, planned simply to distract her, to challenge him, to overcome the loneliness in the weeks before his return, would backfire terribly. She placed her hand above his heart and looked up, into his face. He lifted his eyebrow at her reaction, but nothing more. No hand to her throat, no blade biting her skin…She breathed out. Of course. She was alive, he didn't know where she had gone. That thought was as calming as his still-gentle touch, his whole demeanor everything but a threat.

Lux took a deep breath, her suspicion waning like fresh snow in the desert. On closer examination, she wanted to tell him what she had experienced, but sadly that was no option. She'd like to tell him how her journey had been, that she had met her brother in a village plagued by a demon of nightmares, and how one tiny boy had been responsible for that - a boy she had saved and included in the Illuminator's work, where he otherwise would have been killed. But she couldn't, so she fell back to what she knew worked between them. "I asked first." Her smile at him was soft, though.

He pulled her even closer, dragging his fingers over the soft skin on her side, intensifying the pleasure. "Cold and snowy." Was his clipped, but by no means unfriendly answer.

She closed her eyes, acknowledging that this had been no conversation-ender. "It's almost as if I was there myself." She teased and got a snort in return.

The stroking on her back continued. "What do you want to know specifically?" He clarified, averting his eyes to the ceiling.

A land she had never visited before, despite it sharing a border with Demacia? She wanted to know everything. Because that was a bad answer, she opted for the second-best. "How are the people?"

"Because I have contacted so many of them." He said, his stern face emphasizing the sarcasm his voice dripped with.

Lux dared to poke his side with her finger. "That is not what I meant. You are an observer. But fine, don't tell." She turned so she faced him, pressed her curves to his side and spread her fingers over his chest. The first two rounds had taken the edge off her hunger, but maybe she could sell him the tenderness she craved now as a third go. The gentleness he evinced at the moment was a good indicator that she'd get what she wanted.

He gazed at the ceiling in abstraction, continuing to stroke her back, surprising her with continuing to speak. "I was able to make out two rivaling, bigger alliances. Formerly three, but the barbarians formed an alliance with a much more peaceful tribe. The barbarians are as hard as the nature around them, ferocious warriors who gladly split the skulls of one another. The tribes sit around the campfire often, tell each other stories and sing. In fact, they sing all the time. When charging into battle, when cooking...They have songs for every occasion, I think." It sounded hesitating, as if Talon tested what she wanted to hear.

"A song for that here, too?" She dared, placing a soft kiss on his chest.

The low rumble of his laugh vibrated on her lips. "I totally intruded on that." He wound his arm around her midsection. "I tell you, those bulky barbarian women..." She tried poking him once more, but he caught her wrist and pulled her back on top of him, chuckling before growing serious. "But they do sing to each other."

"Where people sing thou shalst thy settle, no music takes shelter in hearts that hold evil." She intonated, stroking over his cheek.

Talon snorted. "Sounds wicked."

"I heard it from an Ionian trader." She lied smoothly. "Don't ask me why they use all those fancy words just to mess up the meter."

Talon looked at her strangely. "You like poetry?" He asked.

Lux nodded. "But I never heard a Frejlordian one."

The assassin leaned back, closing his eyes. "It didn't sound very elaborate."

Lux shrugged. "That is not the point. Other countries have different approaches to poetry. Beauty forms in the eye of the beholder. Or in the ear, for that matter." She placed her chin atop of her hands on his chest and looked at his face from this position.

Talon pondered how to answer that - and opted for the option easiest for him. It took a few moments for Lux to realize that the low tune came out of Talon's throat, the deep tune reverberating in his chest. Then he started chanting something akin to a song about a cold, beautiful country, a journey and the pleasantry of welcoming arms.

Lux listened in attentive silence, enjoying the sound echoing in her own chest. The romantic, Demacian girl inside of her sighed with pleasure, even though the words were plain and easy, not like the elaborated minnesang of her home country. There was a handsome man who had just sang to her, she could overlook the other circumstances.

After the song had ended, she kept her ear on his chest for a moment longer, until she had regained control over her fluttering heart. "Different from anything I heard before. Where did you hear it?" She inquired.

Talon looked down on her. "Some man sang it to his woman." He withhold that it had been at a wedding. And that the father of the groom's throat had been slit by him in the wedding night. Minor details. The newly-wed boy hopefully had a better taste for his allies than his father had.

"Did she answer something?" Lux inquired.

Talon drew his palm over her back once more. "Yeah, she had a dirty mouth and used some pretty nice euphemisms for what she'd do to him that night. I was a little impressed." The corner of his lip twitched upwards in an almost smile, while Lux snickered. "Can you imagine what she called an ice pick?"

The mage continued to giggle." I'll make sure to remember if I ever meet a Frejlordian." She promised.

Talons brow crinkled in sudden distaste. "So you rather want a Frejlordian right now?" For the first time in months, she was not able to decide if he was joking or not.

"I tell you, those bulky barbarian men…" she copied his emphasis and wiggled her eyebrows.

He slowly grabbed her wrists, lifting them from his chest above her head, flipping her on her backside, hovering above her. "Maybe I need to remind you with whom you are sharing your bed right now." He placed a long kiss on her mouth before dragging his lips down the side of her chin, over her throat, down her body, hands slowly following the path his lips had marked.

As he let go of her hands she placed them evenly slow on his shoulders, letting him know where they were, before breathing a quiet "maybe?" in the air.

"I really hope I never see you with that Frejlordian." He murmured against the soft flesh of her belly, his low tune vibrating on her lower abdomen.

"I can't imagine why." Lux was almost sure she didn't sound as serious as she actually was. The best part of sarcasm was when people believed you were joking when you were not. This conversation was stirring up things in her mind she was sure to have dissociated from herself.
When his lips had almost reached her core, she was already panting heavily, ready to grab his hair and push his face where he could do something to soothe the fire he had ignited. This was the kind of stirring up that worked for them, safer than singing and cuddling and having fun with each other. She did grab his hair, but only grazed his scalp with her nails.
Instead of going straight to the point once more, he only breathed against her vulva and started kissing and nipping at her inner upper thigh. She tried tugging at his hair lightly, which made him sink his teeth into her soft flesh. Lux yelped and refrained from further trying to speed him up. He lightly snorted against her thigh and sucked the point he had just bitten. She tried to hold still, but the sensations he brought were too good to keep from writhing. His fingers, stroking over her abdomen and the other thigh suggestively, added to her arousal until she was drenched. All the while she felt Talon's attentive gaze on her face, but he didn't make a move to go further than this maddening tease.

It felt like eternity with him not moving on, focusing his attention on spots that felt good, but not good enough, exploring until Lux wasn't able to take it anymore. "Oh come on", she moaned lowly, gyrating her hip only to be held back by his strong grip.

His lips broke the contact to her skin to be able to look at her with almost glowing eyes. "Come on…what?" He growled lowly, undeniably satisfied at her caving first.

Lux' breath hitched. She only needed a moment to overcome the raising shyness. "Lick me - or fuck me, but stop teasing." She finally half ordered, half pleaded.

She wasn't able to see his smile. "As you wish." With those words he moved his head up, and his tongue slowly stroked over her outer folds. Lux emitted a throaty moan, removing her hands from his hair in advance to grip the bed sheets instead, the roll of her hips the only movement she couldn't suppress. She looked down to see golden orbs observing her. She already was stark naked, but his piercing stare made her feel stripped off more than just her clothes. His hand drew a slow circle over the sensitive inner thigh he had abused previously, a motion his tongue on her core mirrored, finally delving deeper to lightly graze her clitoris. Her hips bucked against the gentle touch, just the right, light pressure after the last two encounters. He continued the agonizingly light circles with his tongue, hands stroking her inner thighs, proceeding to her abdomen and her sides. It took her no time to writhe against his lips, hands flying to his hair once more. She felt her third orgasm for today slowly building at the base of her spine, filling her with fire and light.
Then it crashed over her, washed her away, and she held onto his hair for dear life.

After her spasms had subsided, she needed a moment to regain her senses. The assassin neither moved, nor loosened the tight grip on her waist.
As soon she caught her breath a little, he slipped up again, kissing her mouth, giving her a taste of their mingled fluids. She closed her eyes and swirled her tongue around his, pulling him closer. After this treatment, she felt divine, electricity running up and down her exposed skin.

"Still thinking about that Frejlordian?" He grumbled against her mouth.

"Right now I don't want to think of any other ice pick than yours." She answered, wrapping one leg around his waist, building the pressure, one hand at the back of his head to pull him to her, stealing a deep kiss.

He murmured something against her lips that distinctly sounded like "goal achieved", but it was lost in his low growl as Lux pressed her still-heated core against his hardness. Sometimes, Lux wondered how someone whose main occupation seemed to be to fill Noxus' sewers with ever-new corpses could get turned on by bringing her pleasure; but she usually tried to shove those thoughts away as fast as they came. As she did now, rather focusing on his touches, his taste, the desire she could feel growing under her inquiring fingertips.

It wasn't hard for her to roll him on his back so she could straddle and grind against him until his fingers bore into her hip in a way that would leave bruises. Lux relished the fascinated expression on his face, which exchanged for a much rawer one as she slowly lifted herself up, grasping for the base of his cock, guiding them back together.

Talon was mesmerized by her gyrating, his hand splayed over her hip to add more pressure to her grinding. He couldn't help but ask himself what had changed. He had never before left a mark on someone that wouldn't fade in few hours time, yet he could already see the angry red bruise forming on the inside of her left thigh, promising to grow purple over the course of the next days.

The trembling of her thighs and the hitching of her breath told him she was close once more, but the forming crinkle in her forehead and the growing frustration in the noises she made indicated that this wasn't enough, that she needed a little more help. No wonder, given their past activities. He let his hand glide over her back into her hair to coax her face down to him for a breathless, wet kiss before he shoved her thighs back and flipped her on her back.
Then he started moving his hips, bringing one hand down between them to thumb the little nub that sat where their bodies connected. The sight of her, sprawled out on the sheets, strands of dark hair fanned out, her breasts bouncing in the rhythm of his thrusts, was nearly enough for him.
"Let go. I want to watch you come." He whispered into her ear. He continued stroking her clitoris while pounding into her with a steady rhythm. Her voice grew louder with his ministrations, hips raising to meet his thrusts with growing urgency. Then he felt her shuddering and clenching around him, eyes fluttering shut. His own movements grew erratic, his suppressed moans ended in a strangled cry. The woman bucked against him again and she pulled his face down so she was able to initiate another kiss while they both rode out the last waves of their orgasms. Then she sagged back, wiping her eyes with her thumbs. Talon savored the last spasms of ecstasy before he rolled from her, in order to not crush her with his weight. He took a deep breath, stretching in the small bed.

He extended his hand to lightly stroke the inside of her arm. She didn't pull back, but rolled against his chest.

Talon enjoyed the silence, soft as the skin under his fingertips.

Chapter Text

Lux knew something was not right. She felt strangely detached, as if blurring in and out of sleep. First, she anchored the illusion of her outer appearance deep at a point in her mind where it didn't need much attention, then traced back her steps of the day.

Cleaning the house, meanwhile searching for evidence of the existence of a mage acquiring program in the east shuriman desert which would interest some of the high bidder at the market here. Dinner with the maids since she had disguised herself as one again, something to drink... She had seen the heir of the house around. The fluttery feeling in her stomach intensified as she walked to the maidens quarters. Her field of vision narrowed down and the hallway stretched unnaturally as a shadow fell over her.

She needed a few seconds to discern who was standing in her way. A person smiling dangerously, upper face contorted and twisted.

She had been drugged, the only explanation for what was going on.

"Sarah, there you are." A voice, contoured as the face, spoke to her. All her senses started tingling in warning. A strong hand grabbed her shoulder and started shoving her in a direction she hadn't chosen.

She shook her head and tried to dig her heels into the floor. That was not how things should proceed. But for the life of her, she couldn't remember how things ought to be going right now. A low chuckle and the hold on her shoulder got stronger, wandering to her neck. Her own hand flew up, wandering weakly over skin. "You seem all tired, how about you come with me?"

The shaking of her head was nothing more than a shiver. Panic began to rise within her. A shallow breath wasn't enough to calm he as she was dragged by the hold on her neck like a kitten. Her thoughts where tumbling, frantically searching for the spot reserved for her baton. It lay beneath her bedroll, but as the called for it- or at least tried to- it didn't move. She grasped for her light instead, but it felt as if she was grasping through fog, like the sun hidden behind thick clouds of smog and the higher her panic rose, the thicker the barrier grew.

"You forgot to clean something this morning. I show you."

Another strangled sound came out of her throat as she breathed in deeply. It was only met with another chuckle.



Talon knew many kinds of silences. In fact, he understood more of silence than of loudness, for his field of work usually required him to clad himself in quietness, to interpret weaknesses that weren't spoken, to find what wasn't shown off.

And he was good in it. One of the best.

This house here was silent. Not the calm kind of silence every occupied building sets to at night time, a sleepy one with the occasional crackle of alertness, but a more anxious one, tense to the point of breaking into a shrill wailing. A silence that veiled darker things lurking underneath.

No noise emanated from the staff quarters, no giggling from servants, as if they were afraid of the sound this silence would spout if broken.

And for the staff usually knew best, Talon fitted in with making no noise. He was quiet during cataloguing the layout of the house and during breaking into the study of Amaro Anselm, branch of a rather small noble family line of Noxus . He didn't want to disturb whatever was stretching above the inhabitants of this domicile, for he had an objective to obtain.

The general's middle daughter had excused herself to an activity she hadn't want to elaborate with him, but now she continued to fail in reporting back, something that didn't seem right. Since Cassiopeia's accident in Shurima Calliope had always sent her reports, especially because she wasn't one for frequent missions and rather managed the various properties and the human resources of the family.

The study, normally something very telling about any person, was untidy to the degree of messy with countless papers, important and insignificant alike, strewn around the desk. Still, after picking everything apart he found nothing of value. A few trading points that could be interesting to know, a report about sightings of a strong mage in some nomadic shuriman tribe, but otherwise fruitless. He had traced Calliopes steps back to this house and this family. And Talon hadn't made a mistake while tracking in a long time.

So, he moved on to search through the other rooms he had mapped as important, carefully evading any contact with the nightly guards.
Here, too, nothing.

The firstborn was next to investigate and Talon moved on to the wing he inhabitated. It was dark safe for some nightlights on the walls and for even the guard he saw appeared as if he tried to be as silent as he could be. The door Talon opened was well oiled and the room behind it, something that should connect corridor to the study was dark safe for a faint glow on the floor that reflected in the glass of vitrines lining the walls. Checking for other guarding devices he stepped to the dim light, trying to discern if it posed a ward. Despite being one of the families involved with magic he had yet to find more elaborated wards. Maybe he was just spoiled regarding safety.
The heap on the floor surely didn't look like a ward, more like a pile of clothes that didn't t quite fit into this neatly cared for room.

Nevertheless he carefully picked through the pile to see what caused the unnecessary illumination.
It was a finely-wrought, metallic staff whose chased tip emanated a soft light.

He knew that thing.

It belonged to the spy.

Talon took a closer look to the objects in the glass cabinets.
A dagger, looking well-used with dents from use, several rings, a locket, glasses, some other weapons that looked used. If not for the way they were exhibited they looked like random items people carried around. Talon even saw a shoe.
His head flipped back.

It was a shoe he knew, because he remembered one of the times Cassiopeia and Calliope had forced him to go shopping with them- which had resulted in another new wardrobe for him, at least two for the girls and a bigger load in his arms than he had felt comfortable with. Plus a fit from Cassiopeia as she tore the hem of a new blouse on his cloak.

But this shoe was most definitely one of the things Calliope had bought. He pulled it out of the cabinet. A ring fell to the ground, and with that Talon was a hundred percent sure.
That was Calliopes seal ring. He took it, the shoe and the glowing staff and stuffed it into his cloak.

He had heard of places like this and the persons building them.
Normally they were filled with remains of dangerous or rare animals.

This was a trophy room.

He felt something cold grasp at his chest.


A slitted throat later he knew where he was heading to. The basement, of course. Down here he saw no guards and no servants to shape up the house while the more important inhabitants slept.

Finding the hidden door was no challenge, as opening the following locks weren't. He followed a hallway that looked -for all he could say-nice. Crème- colored walls, warm parquet, soft to the soundless touch of his armored boots.

The noises, formerly hidden by thick walls and increasing in volume displayed a direct opposite to that. A static crackle, a pained roar and a hard slap, followed by a female cry. He had to give everything not to start running at this point. But he didn't, he continued to be careful and observant and the time it took to round the last corner was unnatural.
A male voice roaring "you will burn for that!" and the following strangled choking didn't help at all. The baton in his cloak seemed to increase its temperature.

The smell of blood and something sharp intensified with every step. A peek through a half opened door revealed an evenly crème-colored room lain our with dark tiles and cupboards lining the walls. Talon didn't inspect further. His gaze was drawn to a something he couldn't see completely for the massive bare back of a bald man, an angry burn stinging into his right side, hovering over and concealing something like a desk. Or- someone, as Talon could see bared legs flailing under the bulky form. A cold fury seared up in his chest. This had to be Aidan Anselm, firstborn to Amaro. And, guessing from the baton he had found, he was on his woman.

Lifting his arm blade he took a step forward. The man didn't react and continued to evoke the choking sounds of the woman beneath him.
Another step, no reaction. Talon aimed and pierced his blade into the other man's right axilla, through the brachial plexus. Instantly it lost its hold and Aidan spun around, roaring like a broached boar.
Talon took two steps back, evading the messily thrown left fist and sized his weaponless opponent up- no challenge. He lifted his gaze to Aidan's brown eyes, tilting his head, daring him to come closer. The massive man grabbed for a knife on the table besides him, still howling undefined sounds.

Talon took another step back, feinting an attack to his torso before sidestepping the thrown knife, circling against his opponent's movement, bending down and slicing his blade forceful over two Achilles tendons.
Swiftly he circled out of the falling radius as the massive man fell to the ground with a roar and a loud clash. No danger to him anymore.

Now he dared to spare a glance to the dark haired woman laying on something akin to a table. Topless, pants torn and angry bruises forming on the left side of her face as well as around her neck, blood splattered over her form. She choked, nostrils quivering. Her movements were too slow, her blink uneven and the fact that she lifted her head just to nearly immediately let it fall back, eyes closing, not trying to cover herself up, was utterly wrong.

Talon crouched beneath the reduced man, regarding the fresh burn which stretched from the side of his face over his chest and right shoulder before sparing the cause of this mark another glance. The woman didn't move now, breathing labored and loud. A glance to the fallen Aidan who sounded like a strangled bull, choking on his blood. Maybe he hit his head.

The assassin rose and checked the woman's pulse. It was fluttering, soft and fast, but palpable. A once-over, cataloguing outer injuries (a dagger pinned her right arm to the table, pierced between radius and ulna, twisted just enough to inflict pain on the joints without popping them- but her fingers twitched slightly, so most likely no nerve was injured. A gash on her inner thigh had slashed across an older bruise he remembered placing there himself and what looked like at least two broken ribs) sent his blood boiling again in an unfamiliar emotion as his vision tinted red.

A moment later he found himself on top of a screaming man whose head repeatedly smashed against the tiles on the floor before he was able to stop himself. With the remaining rage he pierced a longer blade through his opponents shoulder, pinning him to the ground before he lifted himself up again, taking a deep breath. "What do you want from me?" the man roared deeply.
He didn't receive an answer. The short, breathless gasps of the half naked woman echoed in Talons ears. He took another breath and turned to the spy, trying to shove away the thought of what he had interrupted- and what that meant for the general's middle daughter. That bastard still had his pants on, and Talon realized that following this train of thoughts would make him unfit for what he was up to do.

So he carefully moved his finger to the pulse-point on her right lower arm and pulled the dagger out of flesh and wood. She made another sound between choking and sobbing and curled around the injured extremity. If tilting to the side and pulling up one's legs a few centimeters counted as curling.

Aidan tried to pull the blade out of his shoulder, using his still functioning arm, so Talon kicked him in the face, emitting a satisfying 'crunch' before returning to the barely conscious mage. Opening one of her eyes revealed dilated pupils, almost as big as the iris. Another glance to Aidan's burn marks. How much of a coward had one big man to be to need drugs for a small girl?
Talon convinced himself it was loathing that rose bile-like in his throat.

He felt the flutter under his hands, shifting his attention again. A small hand placed itself on his arm and wide, unseeing eyes with giant pupils looked behind him, not able to focus. He felt her hand becoming warm- purely on instinct he janked his arm free and dropped to the ground right before she exploded in a ball of searing light.
He didn't need to look, he felt what had to be a hand-shaped scorch on his arm and couldn't help to feel somewhat like impressed.
She was still strong. Some weakling like this ball of meat had no chance against a fully conscious her.
Even whatever she had in her system wasn't enough to bring her down.

The wood on the floor had started to smolder during the outburst, Aidan's already useless left hand had burned to the flesh, but the woman lay still again. In a rare moment of compassion Talon took off his cloak and covered her with its weight after checking her more carefully. Yes, she was still breathing.

So he crouched beneath Aidan again, stepping on his burnt hand, tapping his nose with the shoe he had acquired in the trophy room.

"Let's talk about Calliope." He hissed.

The reduced man spat out a coagulum of blood. "My father..." Talon pulled out another short blade and pressed the tip against the tip of Aidan's nose, slowly increasing the pressure until cursing stopped in favor of holding his head still. "Who is Calliope?" He wailed, breaking.

"The owner of this shoe." Talon hissed back.

Aidan looked at the shoe, recognition lighting his eyes, a short moment of lust, then, staring at the hooded person in front of him, rising horror. Talons heart sank. Anyway what Aidan's mouth would spill, Calliope was either dead or had been left dying a while ago. Aidan's rapidly twitching eyes told him as much. "I... Let her go, ali..." Before he could finish the word Talon lifted his blade and slowly, carefully punctuated his torso between two ribs, tilting the blade upwards on its way until the resistance of flesh vanished with an audible pop.
The screams soothed the roaring in Talon's ears.

He watched the screaming stop and Aidan's lips tinting blue as air influxed the room between his pleura and his lungs with each breath, not being able to exit it again, suffocating the lungs with each breath. Normally Talon preferred a clean kill, but that here was the least he could do. After another moment of contemplating he moved Aidan's left hand over a smoldering floorboard.
"You wanted to tell me she is alive." He growled and put a finger on the valve he had created with his blade. "I hate liars. Maybe tell me the truth now."

Aidan's chest heaved in a mostly useless try to fill his lungs with air. But at least with his finger there no more air could influx into the wrong room and take even more breathing volume. "I dunno who she was- I obtained her, but she wasn't for me! They put her body in the sewers, I think."

"Wasn't for you?" Talon snarled.

Aidan gasped in more breaths. "She was one for the sewers." He repeated.

That wouldn't get Talon anywhere. "Who brought her there?"

"Majordomo Reubs."

Talon removed his finger and left the other person to his choking. He additionally went out of his way to find more cloth to light the embers to a fire, toppling them over the broken body and watching the growing fire eat away cloth first. The scent of burning flesh started to permeate the room in accordance to the screams.

Another glance to the still not-moving person in this room, then to his burnt arm. It hurt, but nothing major.

He couldn't leave her here. She had fought and, with that explosion, had probably made it on her own, he rationalized. He had gotten in her way. She was strong, witty and didn't deserve to die like this, he decided, and shook her shoulder. She flared to life again, eyes unfocussed, a much weaker glow appearing in the palm he now avoided purposefully.
"I propose a truce." He whispered in her ear, still keeping his voice down, avoiding any contact that could trigger another explosion.

She seemed to melt back into his coat, closing her eyes again. "'N you are in a 'sition…." She failed to end the sentence. She remembered. That was good, right?

"I am, shut up and don't struggle." He growled. She indeed shut up, which took him by surprise and did not feel good at all.

Then it got worse.

Her eyes started leaking.
Silently, without any movement in her face, water started to trickle down her cheeks, causing the illusion to alter where the fluid ran over skin. Talon nearly panicked.

He grabbed her shoulder harder than necessary, fastened his cloak around her shoulders and pulled her to a standing position. Her hand sneaked to his shoulder hesitatingly to steady herself. The leaking didn't stop, but she made no sound.

A distinct part of Talons brain noticed that under the blood and smoke she still smelled like herself, even if she looked completely different.

"Where you found it?" She slurred, fingers clutching around the shaft of her baton.

Talon chose not to answer. "Don't cut yourself" he said instead and lifted his blade to open Aidan's carotids with a quick slash, effectively stopping the screaming.

With someone drifting in and out of consciousness whom he had to drag half of the way it took much more time to reach the hidden door through which he had entered this torture chamber.

Reaching it she mumbled something.
"Better be quite." Talon answered, sounding harsher than intended.

She stood uptight more, tugging on the shoulder she was supporting herself on. "His study." She managed to say louder as Talon opened the door and peeked through the gap.

"You serious?" But she had closed her eyes again, leaning her face against his shoulder, clearly fighting the fog in her brain. Going through his options Talon realized it was the most logical thing to do. He hadn't been thinking of more than getting them out of here and then trying to find Calliope through majordomo Reubs, wrecking havoc on his way, but maybe there was something important in the study.

So he dragged her to the room he had already identified and dropped her unceremoniously on the chair behind the desk. He looked around- a clean, tidy study, a complete opposite to what his fathers. Which made searching for something much easier.

Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the woman producing a key from who knew were and the barest hint of a smile. The terrible trickling of water had finally stopped. The face it had left was unnaturally clean of debris and grime, most likely because her magic covered the true features of her face.

"You are such a good girl." Talon praised mockingly, and the fact that she not only didn't react, but needed three tries to put the key into the fitting lock grounded him down again. He pulled the drawer open- to reveal papers. Again. Her fingers fluttered over the material as he took it out to go over it. It looked like various reports. shuffling though the papers he was forced to look at a painted version of Calliope's face.

"Wait here." Talon ordered again- not that he expected her to go anyway as he slipped out of the room.

Finding the majordomo was not hard. Getting him to talk even less so. Leaving him pinned on the outer wall above the entrance, arms outstretched like a bizarre bird was oddly satisfying.

At his way back to where he had left the changeling he noticed the smoke was already thicker than it should have been. Even more surprised he was to see someone in his cloak appearing on the top of the stairs he was about to ascend.

Someone with a bag twisted around the shoulder.

The smoke billowed behind the figure like a second cloak.
He was next to her in the blink of an eye and grabbed her neck to prevent her from breaking it while falling down the stairs. "Didn't I order you to wait?" He murmured, a glance back revealed that she indeed must've managed to start a fire. And to pack more papers, judging from the weight of the bag. She had more stamina than even he gave her credit for.

People like her reminded him why a clean kill was always preferable to messing around and letting someone dying and not actually dead.

It was concerning how she- again- didn't answer, but slumped against his form, this time without any bright surprises. She felt clammy, her hair wet from cold sweat, altering the color she had created to an unnatural shade of dark blue.

Getting out of the building was fairly easy now, even though he had to drag her most of the way. She was heavy. Luckily she didn't try to blow them up again.

After he had maneuvered them into the alleys of Noxus prime, the body of the young woman went completely limb and her eyes closed. With gritted teeth he steadied his grip around her, checking her pulse and breath frantically. The movement of her chest was more shallow than before. The rush had kept her upright seemingly wore off.

He wasn't far from home. Even if it wasn't the most intelligent thing to bring this girl to a house where Katarina most likely was still pissed, he contemplated.

On the other hand- he needed to get on his track fast, and if he left her completely alone there was a possibility her state went downhill. Who knew with what she had been drugged.

He pinched his nose first and threw her over his shoulder second which failed to wake her.


He knocked against the door to the room with increasing vigor until she janked it open, showing her teeth with a screeched "What?", poison dripping from her fangs, yellow eyes almost burning.

Out of reflex he raised his arm over his eyes and took a step backwards. She didn't react to this gesture, eyes widening at the unusual amount of blood splattered over him.
"Do something for me." He requested before she could say anything.

"Who is that?" Clawed fingers pointed to the woman he still had thrown over his shoulder.

"The spy Kat is so overly excited about. Or was, whatever." It would be over faster when he answered. He turned on his heels, marching to his room. As expected, Cassiopeia slithered to follow.

"Has your hobby taken you this far?" She hissed disapprovingly, nodding to the burn at his arm.

Cass closed the door behind them, Talon lay the still unconscious woman atop of his bed carefully.
"She has been drugged. You know about this shit, right?" He fidgeted with his armblade, as the rough movement had again failed to wake her.

Cass slithered to his left side, giving the mage a once-over. She looked interested. "This seems to be a good story. Tell me and I'll do my best."

"I need to go." He stated.

"And leave me alone with your p… hobby?" She screeched.

Talon hovered over his bed, reaching to get his cloak back. This time the blond flinched, eyes opening and fingers reaching for his hand weakly. Not so weak was the forming glow between her fingers.

"Oh stop this crap already." Talon muttered, taking a step back.

Cassiopeia seemed to notice the urgency of this situation, she chewed on her lip. "Ok, tell me the outlines of this story now and I will do whatever I can. And please include in which way this thing here is dangerous. And your word you will tell me every detail later."

The glowing ceased, the woman closed her eyes again, sweat on her forehead.

"Aidan Anselm likes women drugged, weak and deadly injured after. I happened to be in the cellar…" he hesitated. He had gone after Calliope at his own free will, and before he wasn't a hundred percent sure it wasn't something he wanted to talk about.

Cass misinterpreted his hesitation, her pupils constricted to slits. "She was raped?" the venom in her voice cooled to ice.

Talon gulped dryly and shook his head. "I think I interrupted." his hand twitched, as Cassiopeia's words truly let sink in what scene he had witnessed. He shoved the thought away with all his might, he didn't need that kind of distraction right now.

Cassio's claw-like hand gripped his shoulder, she let out an undefined hiss. "If you left that feeble excuse for a human live I skinned you."

Talon spared the dried blood on his armblade a glance.
Cassiopeia nodded. "You have other cloaks." She stated, changing the topic back.

Talon retreated to his dresser. "She likes burning things. Don't spook her." He not-touched the wound on his arm.

Cass laughed hissingly. "Fuck you. At least it is your room that will end in flames."

He spared her an irritated glance and turned his back to stuff some of his blades to the cloak he chose.

"Hey, what's her name?"

"I never asked."

Cassiopeia looked like another insult formed on the tip of her forked tongue, so he vanished.


The sewers.

The chance finding someone not familiar with the environment there after more than a week was nearly nonexistent.

Still, he had to try.

Chapter Text

The faint rasping of hard scales against well-kept stone tiles accompanied Cassiopeia's descent into the maiden quarters. The occasional employee spotting her in this hastily bowed down and she slithered past and ignored them until she reached her destination.

"You." She spoke to an elderly maid, valued high enough to have received a room for her own.

The maid stood up as fast as she was expected to, letting the piece of embroidery she was working on sink to her hip.

She curtsied with a "Milady?"

"You will assist me." The serpent hissed and turned to slither away from the room again. She was sure the maid followed. "We have a guest, and you will be assigned to her wellbeing." Cassiopeia clarified. She didn't expect an answer and didn't get one, so she moved to Talon's room in silence. She heard the faltering of steps as the maid comprehended where she was heading, but she didn't let the smile she felt bloom to the outside. Talon scared the living daylight out of most people, there was hardly anyone working for them who wasn't holding a healthy amount of fear for her brother.

Needless to say she entered the room without hesitation and as expected the maid soon followed, head now bowed down. Talon never allowed anyone to clean his room save he was there himself. A glance to the bed revealed what most likely was the woman Talon had dropped there before, even though her hair color had changed from the disturbing shade of violet to golden blond, her features had paled visibly, softened out but contorted in a distressed expression. Maybe not all that bad to look at if not for the waxy, unhealthy paleness, Cassiopeia decided.

"This is our guest." She introduced the girl to the maid who still had her eyes glued to the ground. "You are relieved off your other duties until this one is done. You are to feed her, take care of her and give her three drops of that" she played with a flask in her hands, " every four hours for twenty-six hours. Understood?" She noticed the small expression of horror on the maiden's face despite the obvious nod she gave- taking care of someone meant having to stay here. Somehow it made Cassiopeia feel good to make at least one other person in this household miserable with this task she had been given.

She had already thought of how much she'd tell the maid. The acute stage of intoxication needed constant supervising, nothing she'd surprise a non medical with. "This woman has been poisoned, so if she starts seizing, if her temperature goes up, if her heart rate goes up or down too much, frankly if anything unexpected happens to her you are to call me. Understood?"

She got another nod and flicked her tongue in satisfaction. She was totally fulfilling her end of the bargain. After another glance to the assigned maid and the knocked out woman, now totally still, and she left the room satisfied.


Lux was beyond terrified.

She felt sick and disoriented and weak, plus she was sure she was hallucinating. On a logical level she knew her old wet nurse Brenna couldn't be here to care for her, regardless of the lullaby that lingered in the back of her skull. And the human-sized snake appearing in her peripheral vision could also not be real. She suspected that burning everything down would not chase these ghosts away, but as the faces of her parents appeared behind the snake, chastising what had become of her the irrational fears overwhelmed her.
Luckily she found enough light to flash and sustain a blindingly bright light around her that shrouded the faces beyond.
Holding on to that brightness she could rest.


As Lux woke from serene whiteness, feeling somewhat like herself again, she did the routine she always did when something felt off while waking.

What she remembered last? Lux forced her breath to stay calm and even, as if still sleeping.
Anselm's household, her cover, and the moment it went downhill. Not because her cover was blown or because she was stupid, but because she was unlucky enough to catch the wrongest kind of attention. She also remembered using more of her powers than she had in a long time. Before she had used the destructive parts of her magic to protect others- her horse, the villagers, but this time she had fought for herself. And she couldn't even remember it all.
As far as she knew things had stopped before... She cut that thought out for later tending. What she remembered was the appearance of an assassin she knew very well by now- or was that a hallucination also?
No, his face shone through the disturbing images, and it didn't vanish like the alps.

Which could provide an explanation for his scent permeating the fabric under her face.

So second question: where was she?
If he had decided not to let her die right then and had dragged her along this- for it was most definitely not her apartment- could be a hideout of him (unlikely, for he didn't strike her as someone easily giving his secrets away) could only be the Du Couteau- household. By the smell most likely his room.

Next: her body felt weak, exhausted, but no major broken bones. A few broken ribs. She could go on like this.

She felt more clean than she should. Her clothes were gone also and soft sheets covered her from neck to toe.

Her baton was nearby, she could feel it.

Last: was she alone?
She heard no sounds, no breath, no whisper of clothing.
Alone most likely.

Lux opened her eyes, examined her surroundings.

Indeed, not much had changed in Talons room.
The best: nobody was here.
Lux tried to discern how long she had been out, but she couldn't.

Instead of focusing what she had lost she got up and strode to the dresser in the room, pulling out a loose shirt, a pullover and the softest pants she could find.

Better dressed than before she contemplated how to proceed to the next step, getting on familiar ground. In Demacia she'd have waited to properly express her thanks, but even though she had spent a considerable amount of time in Noxus she had no idea what was appropriate in such a case. Or if it even was okay to express the huge amount of gratitude she felt.

She remembered a name he had muttered. Calliope. The middle daughter of general Du Couteau. Another thing for when she had time to think.

Waiting here was out of the question.

She struggled with herself as became aware of a bag that tugged on her memory. A quick glance into it revealed the papers from Anselm's office she had deemed important, suspicious or both. Shuffling through them she brought a few reports about different young women to light, including a folder with a 'Calliope Du Couteau' on the front, a black symbol under the name and a seal ring inside. Lux was sure she didn't want to think about what that meant.
At least not now. She threw the whole bag over her shoulder before she thought better and left the folder in question along with the ring plainly visible on the floor.
Maybe someone would get the message.

After that she spelled herself invisible and retreated.


It had taken Talon nearly three days.
Three days of tremendously circling, grasping at information, asking, threatening and bribing. And here he was, with the tingly overalertness lack of sleep brought for him, following a dark-clad middle aged man deep into segments of the sewers he had never visited before. Of course the man didn't know of his shadow, and Talon intended to keep it that way.

Soon the duct widened to somewhat akin to a hall with dim torches sooting the already dirty walls. Spider webs stretched at the corners of the room and a monument towered in the middle of it. The floor looked and felt well-trodden from decades of use and the smell of decay possessed a different quality than outside in the sewers.
More dry and a bit sweeter. Talon only needed to spare half a glance to know he had encountered yet another stupid cult of some imaginary creature- even though he had seldom seen something quite as ugly as this shrine.

As if eight legs weren't enough it presented with a huge arachnid body, only half formed out of the rags it was made of which made it hard to look at, like something peeling itself out of a web.

He kept to the walls of the hall while crossing it to its back were a great, wooden door blocked his view. The eight eyes of the monument seemed to follow him- but as long as it's followers minded their own business it didn't bother him.

At the back of the hall, supervised by the giant spider-like creature was a simple elevation of the ground.

Before Talon could continue his way clattering of feet reached his ears and got louder. Turning his head Talon saw eight people approaching through the entrance, surrounding a ninth in their middle. It was a young woman, clad in red and black clothes which looked distinctively formal. He wrinkled his nose and assessed the upcoming people.
He didn't know the woman, which was probably not good.

They approached his hiding spot, so Talon retreated deeper into the shadows. As the woman was led to the middle of the elevation and fell to her knees with minimal encouragement of her companions Talon realized what he was watching.

The assassin kept still as the man who had walked in the front started intonating.

"And with this little swarmling or numbers grow. Let us continue until we all merge in the great swarm and once again take over what is rightfully ours." In between the babbling he turned to the statue and took something from between its legs and lifted it. Something at these words rang a bell, but Talon couldn't quite place it. Where had he heard something like that before?

He identified the object as something probably as big as both his fists. As he looked more closely he saw probably legs twitching- too many legs. Was that man holding a giant spider?

It seemed like not only that, but he also placed it at the neck of the woman and gave it an encouraging nudge.

Then the woman started shifting uncomfortably first, then shrieked before she tried to suppress the scream that rose from her lips.

Talon watched the whole scene until the end- even though there was not much to be seen. As the woman crumbled to the ground, foam on her lips four men grabbed her twitching limbs and pulled her up, the other four positioned themselves at her sides.

"Oh great guardian, devourer of the worlds, unifier of gods, take this lowly person and include it into your great swarm. Take this humble sacrifice and allow her to join your ranks." The leader continued his babbling to end it with a strange, tuneless humming noise at which his companions joined in.

They slowly marched towards the door at the back, opened it and went through.

Talon followed with a little safety distance.

The sewer he entered now disturbed him even more. Spider webs everywhere except for a small passage, thicker convolutes indicated were something was caught in said webs. Some expansions looked far bigger than the ordinary rat, but Talon didn't want to look closely enough to identify what was caught in there.

Soon enough the webs at the sides got thicker and the passage widened to another large chamber. He saw the backs of the people he followed and scurried into the room, trying to keep enough space between him and the webs while staying in the shadows.

The eight persons continued their seemingly ritualistic murmuring, bowed to the now violently twitching woman in their middle and- to Talons surprise- threw her into the thick web in front of them.

Now the murmuring seemed to hasten and very soon the eight people left the room, noticeably faster than before.
Soon Talon experienced the reason for their accelerated pace.

The webs started moving, slowly at first, then it exploded with the motions of spiders too many to count. Different shapes, different colors, but they all seemed to converge around the body that was thrown into the net.

Standing perfectly still he looked around more thoroughly.
There were big convolutes of nets in here also, considerably bigger than the ones outside of the room.

He stood motionless and watched the spiders cocoon the still twitching body efficiently.

He gulped and took the other convolutes in. At parts they were translucent enough to see through.

This would not be pleasant.

Chapter Text

Nearly three days of tremendously circling, grasping at information, asking, threatening, bribing and- at the end- cutting through sticky webs, evading spiders and humans alike. And all it got him was the heavy weight in his arms, another body wrapped in another cloak of his. But this one held no promise of warmth.

The maid who opened the door looked at him strangely before averting her eyes and stepped aside. He rarely entered through the main door.

The entrance hall was empty safe for the maids- who all but vanished at his clouded expression.

Cassiopeia slithered through the door of the accommodation wing, tongue darting out of her mouth to test the air. "There you are!" She hissed, "I thought you'd let me..." She stilled at something in his face and regarded the unmoving package in his arms, tongue darting out again. "Don't tell me you have another whore." Her voice died, eyes widening, switching between his face and the bundle he was carrying, slithering closer and lifting her hand to the strap of cloak that hid the face.
Talon nearly backed away. Nearly.
Cassis pull revealed dirty hair and an unnatural white face she knew very well. She gulped, her hand started to tremble. "You", she pointed to the door-maid, "get daddy."

The girl scrambled away.

It felt like hours until Marcus Du Couteau appeared with a whisper of his cloak. It wasn't nearly enough time for Talon to prepare. He didn't know where to look, surely not in the older assassin's eyes, not at the bundle in his arms, not at Cassiopeia. The ground?

He risked a glance at his surroundings as Marcus lifted the same cloak strap Cassi had moved.

Talon had never before heard the generals breath hitch.

"Into my study" Marcus ordered after a moment.

In there he pointed to his desk so Talon placed his burden there, gently, and took two steps back. He didn't really know what to expect. Maybe a dagger on his neck. Instead the patron of the house turned to the corpse and peeled the first layer of his cloak away from Calliope's face. Or from what was left of it. The right half looked as normal as any too white, too waxy face could, but the left- not so much.

With a more audible sound and the sharp whisper of steel Katarina jumped out of the shadows and bumped against Talons shoulder. "What's the hassle?" She asked loudly, giving herself an overview. Nobody really looked at her, and Talon didn't even try to evade her provocative touch as she picked at the rests of a web on his hood before she looked at the sticky thing irritated. "You hiding something?" Displeased at being ignored she peeked around Talons side. And froze.

"Report." Marcus ordered with unwavering voice while uncovering more of Calliopes body. He stopped at the neck which showed broken-up, dark, torn wounds.

Talon needed two tries to find his voice. "I got on her trail, found her shoe and ring in a trophy-collection of Aidan Anselm, killed him, tracked the path of her body and found it in a strange constellation in the sewers." He wasn't sure if he could condense it any more.

"You were gone for nearly three days." Cassiopeia hissed.
He didn't react.

Marcus moved his head. "Strange constellation?"

Talons forced his voice even. "It looked like a cult who sacrifices women to a spider-like god."

"What the fuck does that mean?" Katarina chose this moment to recover from her initial shock.

"Calliope was murdered." Her father simply answered, as if he couldn't match the picture of this rotting corpse to the fresh armful of woman that had been his daughter. "What else, Talon?"

He took a deep breath. "There was a journal about Calliope in Anselm's study. More papers I didn't look through yet and a spy." he darted a look at Katarina.

Cassiopeia produced a folder and the ring. "You mean this? Your girl left that behind."

Talons head whipped around. "You let her go?" a hint of emotion washed its way into his voice.

Marcus took the papers and ring and pulled back to read through the information he had obtained.

Katarina's cheeks colored up. "She was here again?" She asked, surprisingly calm, despite the red in her face.

"I'm no babysitter- she just went away!" Cassiopeia hissed angrily, ignoring her sister. "You should have told me why you needed to leave!"

Talon took a step back. "I needed to be fast." It was as much a defense with words as anyone had ever heard from him. "Why didn't you get her a babysitter?" He repeated the word, even though he had never heard it before, even though it didn't seem fitting in any way.

Cassiopeia scoffed. "I did, she is probably still blind."

Suddenly Marcus spoke again, knuckles white from clutching the ring. "Anything else?" He rustled the papers to emphasize what he meant.

"I took a bag filled with papers…" Talon repeated.

Cassiopeia interrupted him again. "There was only this", she pointed at Marcus' hands, "left."

The redhead sucked in a breath and her calmness flooded away. "The bitch stole important intel? Is she responsible for that?" a dark flame sparked her green eyes as she pointed to the corpse.

"No Kat, she was drugged and Talon pulled her out of a cellar he was searching through…" Cassiopeia at least tried to rectify the situation.

Katarina looked like she was trying to hold something back, her eyes closing briefly and her head turning scarlet in the process before it burst out of her mouth. "I said you were getting distracted!" She hollered, eyes opening wide with rage. "Can't you let someone too weak to live just die?"

Now heat rose to Talons cheeks also. "She still burned the fucking house to cinder and nearly roasted me, don't jell weakness- you have no idea what happened!" He rarely raised his voice so when he did it was rather impressive- but Katarina was not one to back down.
She snarled at Talon who responded to the challenge likewise, finally giving the redhead what she desired, sending a kick to her feet she easily evaded.

Marcus and Cassiopeia watched the conflagrating fight silently.
t was the most brutal they had ever fought and it ended with a shelf toppled over, a broken window, both of them bloodied, bruised and out of breath, Talon locking Katarina to the floor with his lower arm pressed against her throat, his blood dripping on her face from a split lip and a cut on his right temple.

"You are leaving for Kalamanda in two weeks", Marcus who had positioned himself in front of Cassiopeia stated to the panting Katarina before turning his gaze to likewise winded Talon, "and you will go to sleep now and find me every piece of information there is about everything regarding this. Understood?" he looked at the two.

A 'no' was no option, they both nodded.

To call her angry would have been an understatement.

Katarina was livid.

She threw a dagger which embedded itself in a heavy wooden chair.

Marcus had yet to call her on her snap, but this might have been what he warned her about. She had lost control and had followed her loose mouth.

The aftertaste of his last telling-off still lingered not too far from the surface. Katarina snarled at the memory.

Marcus let Katarina stand in front of him for good five minutes before he chose to raise his gaze from paperwork.

"Tell me, Kat. What do you want to achieve with that?" Marcus gestured at his door and, most likely meaning the third in-house assassin who was probably somewhere behind it.

"Get him to concentrate on our family's goals, not on fucking someone we already know sells secrets to the highest bidder!" Katarina answered heatedly.

Her father leaned back and folded his fingers. "You think sex is enough to keep him interested?"

Katarina didn't answer.

"Katarina." Marcus scolded. "Remember what he said about the woman."

Katarina remembered the breakfast-encounter. "You weren't there." She mumbled. She knew that didn't stop him from knowing everything.

Marcus only shifted in his seat at that and waited.

Katarina uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. "He sat there, fucking unmoved and urged me on." She clenched her fists.

Her father continued to state her down. He seemed to expect her to find some deeper meaning in Talon's actions- was that even possible?

What could Talon possibly have meant with that?
Katarina clenched her teeth. "He didn't expect I can kill her." She stood up. She'd find that woman and make it slow and painful, just to prove a point.

"We are not finished." Marcus pointed out and Katarina plummeted back down. "Remember what he said about that spy. Not only at breakfast. And try to place what he didn't say." Katarina couldn't place the gleam in her father's eyes, but he looked expectant as ever.

"He said she was hard to kill." Katarina closed her eyes and tried to grasp what that could mean for the silent, observing Talon. For one of the best killers there was. "Sounds like he holds some kind of respect for her." Spoken out loud it sounded even more ridiculous, but Marcus nodded again. Katarina made another diminutive gesture. "Then he gives that away easily." She swung her hair out of her eyes with a pointed gesture.

Marcus hold her gaze, as if he was trying to convert something important."Kat. I needed to smash his chest in, break his right arm to splinters, break one collarbone and his leg three times, beat at least eight of his teeth out and nearly drowned him in the sewers in order to make him follow me. "
Katarina run her tongue over her own teeth. Regrowing them was never a nice procedure.
Marcus didn't falter in his lecture. "His liver was torn, one of his lungs collapsed, his spleen ruptured and bleeding out. The healer needed a week to assemble him back together. In other words, I needed to beat the living daylight out of him to earn his respect and make him follow me willingly. Do you even remember what you did to each other until you got along?"

For sure Katarina remembered, and it was not pleasant. Of course she, twelve years old, had heard about the infamous assassin that called himself Talon. She remembered the excitement at her father's announcement that it was time to put that guy to a test and how disappointed she had been to see little more than a bloody mass, clothes in rags and smelling like something dead pulled out of the sewers.

She remembered Cassiopeia's scorn and Calliopes glee. And she remembered their first fight, after he had healed, and how he had beaten the shit out of her.
From that day on she had held a grudging kind of respect for him, something he hadn't reciprocated until she managed to sneak up and blink on him without him noticing and without hurting him much.
He had agreed to go shopping with her and her sisters for the first time after that. The day had actually turned out to be quite funny, even though Talon had possessed even less humor than he showed now. After that he had also started sleeping in his room rather than on the roof. "What do you want to say?" She growled.

"You think he'd respect some 'weak ass bloody stupid useless whore'?" He quoted.

"He's had whores before, I don't think he respected them..."

"Do you know what a whore is, Katarina?" He didn't await an answer. "It's someone you pay for certain services- someone you don't meet on missions. I don't think a prostitute ever got in Talons way."

That silenced Katarina only for a moment. She didn't know what her father wanted to transport to her. "Like I told you- she's getting in our way!" She tried again.

Marcus sighted. "You will be head of the house one day." He tried a different approach.

Katarina nodded proudly.

"That means you will continue the family line." Now Katarina's jaw tightened. "Or you force Calli to do that for you, because Cass is pretty much out of that one. But you are the strongest of my daughters, my heir and we have a duty towards Noxus, which includes ensuring there will be a next generation. And you are not the only one with that duty. Talon may not think of that... actually I'm absolutely sure he never thinks about that... and I don't want to frighten him through telling, but I'd be glad if he finds someone for himself so I don't need to force him into something."

"I don't want some weak ass partner!" Katarina's temper flared up as this turned to be about her and about what her father was implying.

"And neither does Talon! So let him chose for himself. Give that spy a bit time, let's see if she tries to use him, if they get along and were it develops. Maybe I'll have to worry about one thing less. And as soon as you start testing instead of fucking around I'll give you the same courtesy, okay?"

Katarina's face took on the color of her hair due to shame mixed with anger and embarrassment.

"You can leave this 'testing' to Talon. Be sure, he is a handful to manage." The last sentence was muttered much more silently before he returned to his normal volume. "Did I make myself clear?"

Katarina nodded.

Marcus pinched the bridge of his nose.
This wasn't over yet, Katarina groaned inwards.
"You know how he grew up. He utilized that to become strong in important parts, but he still doesn't understand many things concerning social interactions the way you or Cass do. I figured it'd be a lot easier to let him grasp at some things at his own speed. Do you get what and why I tell you this?" Marcus gaze told Katarina that he thought her head way too deep in her ass to do so.

Contrary to what he believed Katarina nodded. Just because she often chose to behave differently didn't mean she was dull. "You want me to stop being petty, think about what's best for the family and remember the special needs and abilities of its members." She muttered under her breath.

Marcus nodded, obviously relieved.

"Am I dismissed?" She asked with still flaming red face, sounding much more silent than minutes earlier.

"Sure you are." Marcus confirmed and Katarina scuttered away to lick the wounds on her pride.

But that was different, right? The situation had changed. Talon had messed up- his bitch had betrayed him. Had betrayed them all. Talon hadn't decide right in whom to put his trust. Or whatever he put wherever.

Hopefully he'd tidy up behind himself. Otherwise Katarina would gladly do the job.
Another dagger found its way into the desk.

The sound of her door opening softly made Katarina threw a dagger in that direction also. With a heavy 'thunk' it bore into the wood, right above a clawed hand. Cassiopeia didn't flinch, but "Tssk"ed and slithered to her, sat on the bed and fixated one of Katarina's daggers which she had embedded into her desk.

Her tongue darted out two times before she started to speak. "Don't blame him, Kat." the serpent said unusually soft.

"Whaddaya mean?" She growled back.

Again Cassiopeia needed some time to answer, as if she hadn't rehearsed this at least a dozen times- which she had, Katarina was sure of that. "We started this. It's not his fault." She looked at her folded hands as if her words had deeper meaning, as if she meant more than the current situation.

Katarina snorted. Cassiopeia always knew what to say, how to convince others to do what she wanted. But Katarina knew that. And this time Katarina knew she was right. "I don't know what you are talking about. He fucked up greatly."

Cassiopeia looked up, still not directly into the redhead's eyes. This wasn't the tone she used when she was working, not like balm on the brain and velvet in the ears. It sounded more unsure, which made it sound strangely honest. "We taught him that looking out for each other, as in strong individuals taking care of each other will make him, and ultimately us, even stronger. We taught him about different kinds of strength." Her tongue darted out in Katarina's direction.

Katarina sent her a glare that might've killed a lesser person.
Luckily Cassiopeia was hardly a person anymore.

"You can't blame him for extending his attitude to another powerful individual." Cass lifted herself up again, seemingly restless and slithered around Katarina to embrace her from behind, tail coiling around her leg. "You can complain as much as you want to, but he believes that woman is strong enough to match him at least in some points. That has never happened before. And he trusts you." She paused again as if she expected her to say something, but Katarina didn't know what. "Have you even cared enough to ask him about that girl?" Cassiopeia forehead wrinkled.

She waited for a response again, but Katarina had fallen silent. She hadn't. Would he even answer if she asked? Talon normally listened and seldomly talked. He actually was a brilliant listener, never giving his opinion if not asked- which was awesome if she needed to let off stream without having to think about getting inconvenient questions.
Maybe he indeed hadn't said anything because she had never shown any interest.

Cassiopeia shook her head. "I thought so. But you are to be head of the house, and it'll help you a lot to know about the current state of mind of its members." It sounded less like a lecture than it should. "And I warn you. If you keep this petty act of whatever it is you are doing up and get rid of someone daddy sees as a future acquaintance just because of minor reasons you will have to answer to me."

Katarina gritted her teeth as Cassiopeia brushed back her red hair in a tender gesture.

"You are my sister, and I'll do everything to protect you. But Talon is my brother, and I'll do everything to keep harm from him, too. You should remember what it means to be head of the house, better suit yourself to the responsibilities."

Katarina knew why hardly anyone had challenged house Du Couteau in the past. It wasn't only sharp blades. Cassi had given her the courtesy of a warning, her enemies didn't get as much. "Don't you think he'll just go nuts when father leaves?" She pressed out between gritted teeth. Because that would eventually evolve to be a problem. Not that she expected him to leave, but he'd hardly follow her orders like he did with Marcus' as she wasn't able to best him on a regular basis.

"I told you we changed him. He is no one to look back and glorify his past. He will not change back to who he was." Was her cryptic answer.

Strangely that thought was soothing. Cassiopeia was able to measure people correctly on a regular basis, and she implied that Talon wouldn't completely flip his shit should things go downhill. Katarina normally believed in what Cassiopeia said

Katarina grabbed the scaly hands of her sister, trying to convert what she couldn't say out loud. She didn't feel like head of the house. She didn't have the oversight Marcus had. Without Cassiopeia's tactical guidance and the silent threat of Talons blades she would never be able to uphold the greatness of the house. Calliope, who had taken care of the estates and pretty much everything within, would already leave a great gap.
There was Marcus, talking more and more about her taking over his duties, which disturbed her deeply.
And now her sibling was dead, and someone was responsible. Someone had dared to lay hand on her family- and she was sent away.

She was a sword master, one of the greatest in Valoran, but that wasn't enough. One kind of strength wasn't enough. And, as Cassiopeia proved over and over again it sometimes wasn't only violence that solved everything. Most likely the biggest reason she was sent to a most likely diplomatic mission in Kalamanda. Another opportunity of training while someone else did the dirty work of tidying up here at home.
Power was shifting, and she'd had to adapt, if she liked it or not.

Cassiopeia looked into her face one last time, nodded and left the room.
Katarina retreated to the training facility.

After destroying some dummies she still didn't feel calm. What Cassiopeia said sounded too familiar what her father had told.

But maybe, just maybe when they both said basically the same things- maybe it was true.

Chapter Text

Lux knew she only did it half right. Dealing with a trauma included reviewing the memory until it lost the sharp edges, but doing so in clothes she had stolen from someone else was not part of any protocol. She did so anyway, the scent calmed her nerves.

And that she needed while shuffling through the stack of paper she had obtained, scribbling notes, marking paragraphs and feeling herself into this case. It was not as easy as she had thought it would be. The dossiers about other girls had revealed a few names that continued to pop out, names she had seen in some other papers, too. She scribbled everything down, every conclusion, every possible connection, every end she would follow had she the resources to do so.

It took a lot of work- and still her summary threw up more questions than it answered. It looked like Aidan hadn't been acting alone, but was tolerated by a superior who got to keep a very specific type of woman. Sadly Aidan didn't seem to be the coordinator, so there were few information about the structures Aidan had been acting in.

Many loose ends she'd never be able to follow alone.

At the end she was sure she had extracted every detail she copied her notes- neat and tidy this time and in order so her different trains of thought could be followed more easily.

This would most likely catapult her into the structures she tried to stay away from for quite some time now. Strangely enough she wanted to be part of this, wanted to go on a hunt, delve deeper into the secrets she had only tipped her toes into while piecing together the information about this case. It was personal. Aidan made it personal.
On the other hand she knew that one fickle assassin was enough and she honestly didn't want to associate with the rest of the flock, but still. She couldn't bring herself to do nothing.
For the first time in a long time what she did felt right, regardless of the entanglements it would eventually bring.

Talon stared into the flames of the pyre.
Calliope hadn't been a known war hero. In fact hardly anybody outside the family recognized her.
She wasn't as infamous as Katarina, Cassiopeia and himself, so she would never get a memorial or a public obituary. Her body would just be burned and the ashes placed inside the family tomb.

He spared the other participants of the ceremony a glance.
Cassiopeia looked into the flames, lost in thoughts just like himself.
Katarina's forehead laid in angry lines. He hadn't talked to her since their fallout the day before. He wasn't sure what he'd make out of that and how long she'd be angry. Possibly until he brought another dead body. He sighted quietly.

Marcus looked like he was miles away, probably planning on how to wipe out the people responsible down to the last generation. Talon was already greedy after the hitlist he'd receive. He hadn't yet fulfilled his last assignment, though. He'd have to find the spy. An unfamiliar uneasiness rose inside of him. The things she had left behind were a message, seemingly a clear one, but Katarina's call made him question if he thought too highly of the woman. Maybe he was just seeing what he wanted to see.
Anyway- message or not, he had an order. An order that didn't include a dead spy, but information.

Some logs collapsed and sent sparks flying upwards, and his thoughts wandered to the dead girl.

Calliope had been the first one of the younger generation to accept him as more than a simple vassal.
She had been twelve years old as he joined the family and Talon had hated her instantly. Katarina at least knew how to fight, Cassiopeia had been slightly younger- too young to be of any interest for him and very direct in her disdain, but Calliope had been friendly and had followed him around until he had lost it and tried to scare her away. Violently.
She had shown tendencies to go for more than she was capable of already- for she had kept her distance, but continued to make an effort to find out things about him. Her constant presence had nearly driven him crazy.

Since she found out he liked sweets there had always been a filled honeypot in the kitchen. This gesture had made him feel too exposed and he had refrained from showing his face to anyone but Marcus for quite some time after- and as he found a bar of chocolate in front of his assigned room he had nearly lost it again, thinking someone wanted to poison him.

Normally he didn't remember the first few months in the family because until the worst parts of his paranoia had worn off- thanks to Katarina and one of her reckless blinks into his side- he had felt exposed and trapped.
Now his memories were the last place he could meet up with Calliope, so he remembered. The first one to call him brother. But because she hadn't been a great warrior she'd be quickly forgotten by everyone but them.

Talon was angry though- she had had her strengths elsewhere, why did she went out to solve the problem by herself? Violence had never been her pint of beer.
By now Talon knew she had found irregularities at one of their estates, and instead on reporting back about the possible problem she had tried to investigate herself. Something which, according to the journal about her, had made Anselm notice her.

She had been stupid, had acted way outside of her skillset, and that was the reason her remains burned to ashes and all that would be left of her were memories. He clenched his fingers to a fist. Why hadn't she just reported back and let him do the dirty work? That was his job, after all. Or the job of any other agent of the house. Even Katarina's, if she needed a low profile job to occupy her thoughts.

How much he anticipated that hit-list.

It took hours for the pyre to burn down and the remaining four Du Couteau waited until the last flame was extinguished before they let the mortician do his work and left in different directions. Talon felt Cassiopeia's piercing gaze on his back, but he didn't manage to turn to her.
It still felt like he had failed.

And he had another unpleasant job: Finding that spy not for fun.

But not today.

Normally he never delayed a task, but this time he just needed another day.

The messenger stood in front of the iron gates of the Du Couteau manor and looked at the guards pleadingly.

"The Blade's Shadow expected this message, it is urgent." He lifted the satchel he was carrying in emphasizing.

They inspected his rugged, too-big clothes, shared a look, then grinned cruelly. "You may deliver it, boy."

With a satisfied noise he flitted the way up to the main entrance where the notification of the recipient of his message brought a look of terror to the face of the maid behind the door.
She hummed and hawed before finding an answer. "Go on, his room is on the first floor, left wing, door at the end of the corridor."

"Ahm. Don't you want to give it to him yourself?" The boy asked timidly.

The maid shook her head. "No no, maybe he has an answer for your master directly?" She looked relieved at this lie, and the boy entered the house with hesitating steps.

The maid showed him the way upstairs, pointed at the door of the young masters study and retreated fast as lightning.

Timidly the boy knocked at the door, waited for the impatient "Yes!" to open it. Like a mouse testing for a cat he looked right and left before he discovered the dark figure on a chair in front of a desk.

"I have a message." He declared, entering the room, trying to look as small as he could.

"From whom?" A snarl answered.

The boy looked up shortly, met a cold stare from golden eyes and looked to the floor again. "Miss Bluewill?" He asked hopefully. A silence answered him as the bag was snatched from his shoulder. He shrieked back-how could anybody be as fast as this?

He retreated to the door, where a cold "stay" rooted him in place.

The sound of a clasp being opened, a heavy stack of cheap paper slapped on a desk, the whisper of paper being shuffled, all the while he stared at his feet.

"Bluewill." He felt eyes boring into his forehead and tried to stare a hole in the ground himself. "You think it's clever to come back."

"What?" The boy squeaked, looking up again.

"I don't have nerves for this bullshit right now." The shadow hissed.

"I... Ahm... Can I deliver an answer...?" He pressed himself into the doorframe. A peek from under his bangs and under the hood of the man in front of him showed deep shadows under the piercing eyes.

A moment of silence passed before the cloaked man spoke again. "Cassi says your hair is golden."

The messenger shuffled his feet, looked left and right and pulled herself into a more confident standing position, no longer evading his gaze. Her voice pitched to a higher, smoother tone. "I didn't mean to intrude. Your maids insisted." She did not really know how to act on the atmosphere. He seemed - if that was even possible- less approachable than usual.

He wiped the statement away with a gesture and half-turned his back to her, pulling his hood deeper into his face so he could watch her from the corners of his eyes.

Maybe this here hadn't been enough.
It certainly didn't feel like enough anymore - looking at the shadows not only under, but also in his eyes which spoke of anger and pain. Rumors about the sudden decease of the Du Couteau's middle daughter had already sparked gossip on the streets- the most popular voice said she had been killed by the Blade's Shadow himself, for she had been too weak to be a part of the glorious family.
The Du Couteau's had done nothing to oppose those rumors, but Lux had been able to paint her own picture. And the expression on Talon's face spoke for itself.
He looked horrible.

And she had absolutely no idea what to do.

But he had taken away her chance to leave easily.

So instead of going she walked to the table in a semi-circle as not to fall in his back, like she would approach a spooked horse, leaned against the edge of his table and unwound the threads of her illusion, shaking her hair out from where she had tucked it into her shirt. "Cassiopeia is right." while holding the half-attentive eye-contact that was deemed polite.
She could look under his hood now. He had a new, fresh looking cut at his temple, his lip looked bruised.

He faltered first, closing his eyes for too long, mouth twitching the slightest, before pulling himself up again and staring at her even more angry than before.

But Lux had seen.
Really slow she lifted her hand to place it on top of his bigger one tentatively. His fingers twitched, but he didn't pull away. So Lux squeezed softly, averting her gaze from his face to his hand.

She heard his exhale, like a countdown.

The next things happened fast. With only as much as the whisper of his cloak she was toppled over and pressed into the desk by the assassin's larger frame. Hot breath on her lips before he pressed her down in a fierce kiss, one hand pinning her wrist to the table, the other spreading out over her chest before roaming down.

Lux rode the wave of pleasure it brought- she had settled for tenderness, but right now this was more than okay- until it was not.
He bore his fingers into the part of her thigh she had had healed recently, bringing back unwanted memories from meatier hands and a sturdier man in that position.

"Stop" she gasped and folded up like a jack knife. Hotness flooded her veins like lava as her powers rose to defend her.

The warmth on top of her vanished instantly without her physical push, leaving her with the heat that longed to explode from within her. She choked down the overbearing need to protect herself with a beam of light, panting "Sorry, sorry that.." before choking that also down. But it was out.

She peeked up, taking a deep breath. Talon watched her from the opposite wall with his fingers spreat in the universal gesture for 'I mean no harm'.
She couldn't suppress a snort at how unnatural that looked. Especially when his fingers hovered centimeters above where she knew at least one dagger hid. The ridicule She needed to remember that she was not with a friend. She needed to convert that to her brain and to stay composed.

They stared at each other, sizing the other one up, and to Lux it felt like this could only end in violence.
The thought of losing her only steady contact made Lux' stomach turn. But this was the moment, inevitably so. She had never heard an apology in Noxus, plus she told herself on a weekly basis that nothing would ever grow of this relationship.
Because noxians were different and she couldn't confuse her believe system with the character of a completely different person.

The silence stretched nearly to its breaking point. Until he was the one to actually break it.
"Did he hurt you... Very bad?" Lux was almost sure she heard a quiver in his voice as he nodded to her thigh.

"Nothing I can't live with." She answered shortly, purposefully loosening the arm she had wound defensively around her body.

He did not look satisfied. "That's not what I meant."

Her jaw tightened. "Care to clarify?"

The look he shot at her was dark and held an angry flame. "He raped my sister- I am asking if he did that to you."

Count on a noxian to never back away from a challenge.

He had won and Lux breathing grew labored. "No" She whispered as the blurred memory collided with her again. She hopped from the table before the terror could bent her knees.

"Look, I really only wanted to give that papers to you. I really, really just want to go home", she choked the thought of what home really was down, "now and lick my wounds until I feel okay again."

"How do you do so?" He glared at her angrily, but this time Lux had the feeling this anger was not directed at her.

She opted to take this as a real question. She shrugged. "Maybe going over some of my protocols." The cold logic in that thought began to calm her again.

"Sounds horrible." He commented.

She shrugged again. "If I were you I probably did something with the people around me. Don't you have two other sisters?" He visibly cringed at the last word. "I bet they don't feel all too well too."

She did not allow more than one image of Garen to rise in her mind. Soon, in the safety of her own room, she would sort it all out. She came here too early. She should've told the maid to suck it up, deliver the message herself and simply left.
But the thought of just sparing him a look to see how he was doing had been overwhelmingly strong.

Talon just glared at her more, no sign of another action towards her, so she decided to take her chances and retreat to the door backwards, fumbling with the handle. He didn't make a move as she turned it, so she made another backward step out of his room, closed the door while keeping him in her eyesight as long as possible and then turned tails and ran as if the seven sentinels where on her heels, rising her illusion while doing so.
She noticed two maids looking after her, but no one tried to stop her.

Talon had never before read through something as detailed as the woman's dossier. He only flipped through lines of neat handwriting that filled page after page, but this seemed like something bigger than he had anticipated.

The general needed to know of this, but he wasn't in his study, not at the training ground and not in his private rooms.

So it had to wait until later. Talon left the papers on the general's desk, right with another item his master had requested.

Talon had another task to do.

Hopefully the woman was right.

He watched the door in front of him for solid eight minutes before he had gathered the courage to knock. It took another minute before he heard the hissed "come in". He opened the door and peeked into the dimly lit room.
t was pure chaos. Furniture was thrown all over the room, marks of long claws on them. In between stuck a few daggers. As he surveyed the room he was surprised to not only see Cassiopeia lounging on her giant bed, but also Katarina perched between the masses of cushions.
He almost chickened out. This was a stupid idea. They surely blamed him for not going after their sister earlier.

The repeated "come in!" from Cassiopeia stopped him mid-turn.

Deciding he wasn't one to back away anyway he walked into the room and closed the door behind him.
Now what. He fidgeted with his hands as both women looked at him. This had been a stupid idea.
To his surprise Cassio's clawed hand patted on the mattress next to her. Before he could revisit his decision he slowly got in motion.
"I thought you'd never come." She hissed, caught his hand and pulled him down into a scaly embrace, then pushed until he laid flat on his back and cradled the Lamia to his chest. Her hair was coarse like usual, her rough skin rubbed over his. Very slowly he lifted his arms to reciprocate the tight hug.

He was startled when Katarina left her cushioned throne slowly, carefully placed the side of her head on his shoulder and wrapped her legs around Cassio's serpentine body. Equally slow he lifted his elbow to include her in the embrace. The warmth and sadness that rushed over him where equally unfamiliar as the touch.

"I didn't want you to leave that girl behind, okay? I don't think you'd spend your time with someone unworthy. I didn't mean… It was…" the closest thing he had ever heard out of Katarina's mouth. Talon nodded and shut her up with a twitch of his shoulder. Katarina indeed closed her mouth and buried her face against his shoulder.

"You promised me a story." Cassiopeia whispered after an eternity of shared silence.

So Talon began to talk.

Chapter Text

"This is from your spy." Marcus tapped on the dossier on his desk, one inquisitive eyebrow lifted.

Talon nodded. He appreciated that Marcus never called her whore or one of the other demeaning names Katarina used so frequently.

"I need to speak with her." Marcus stated.

Talon twisted his mouth. Not that he would ever deny one of Marcus' request- for up till now it was a request instead of an order- but he decided he didn't have to like it. For she most definitely wouldn't.

Marcus face had visibly aged over the last days, but despite the dark circles under his eyes he looked sharp as always. He briefly looked to the door. "Know that I don't want to meddle with whatever you are doing." He brushed his hand over his face, rubbing his eyes in the process, breaking the picture- perfect self control he presented. "It just seems like she has a considerable amount of information gathered, filtered and sorted in a short time."

"You don't have to explain yourself to me." Talon interrupted and shifted on his feet awkwardly.

Marcus scoffed. "I know. But I want to. After this is over…" he let out a sharp breath, "as soon as this is as over as it can be I will likely not bother you about that woman again. Right now I want every thinking brain on our side, and I intend to ensure this brain here", he tapped on the papers again, "works for us and not for anybody else. Offer her a generous payment, whatever, and make sure she doesn't sell information about us."

Talon fought down the words that rose naturally to his tongue- that she would not dare to cross him, but out of what did he take that? Would she?
Anyway, for now he had a new order to fulfill. Or a request, whatever.

"What's her name?" Marcus asked the already turning Talon.

"I don't know."

The older assassin rubbed his temples again. He had been curious about Talons spy, but he could have imagined better circumstances to pay that woman a solid once-over.

Talon had never before broken their carefully established protocol- so she was suspicious, holding the paper bag she carried with one hand in front of her like a shield.
"Not here for some bodily attention?" She twirled her baton in her other hand, speaking to the shadows behind her curtain.

He stepped out of the darkness in his usual attire, but he also was more tense than usual. Normally he at least lost the arm-blade before showing himself. "I am to bring you to General Du Couteau..."

Talon had a second to decode the change of her expression to panic before he saw something snap in her eyes.
He dove to the side to evade the bright binding she threw at him- he had approached it wrongly. He rose up on his knees again only to stop at the cry that rose from her lips and in a split second Talon threw himself face first to the ground and covered his eyes as she burst in a bright ball of light.

Surprisingly enough the scorching heat he expected didn't wash over him despite the brightness that shone through not only his eyelids, but also through the layers of dark clothes in front of his face. That had most likely cost his eyesight without protection.
With another silent curse he could do nothing but wait for the light to disappear as her hastened footsteps faded- but he couldn't oversee that she hadn't even tried to hurt him, she had merely created a distraction.
Even though she should and probably did know she couldn't outrun him if she didn't hit him full force first.

He cursed inwardly and waited for the brightness to fade- which took longer than he expected.

He rose and looked around- she had left everything in her room behind, including what looked like balls of thread and a few books piling up beneath the bed. Which was not too much, but nonetheless.
He'd probably just have to wait here and see if she was willing to leave her belongings behind- but maybe the balls of wool and the knitting needles stuck through what looked like an unfinished sock were not exactly what someone was compelled to retrieve, so, with her rotation, it could take weeks.

He resisted the urge to ruffle through her things, stepped outside the apartment and used a picklock to lock the door. Normally she was a long time search, he had never acutely tried to follow her.
There was a first for everything.

From the lengths of her strides and the cadence of her steps plus her stamina counted in there was only a very limited radius she could be located at the moment- she had broken into a sprint initially, nobody could hold that tempo for long.

Previously she had hidden in taverns to change her face, but since that was a pattern of hers he'd doubted she'd use that anymore.

She had carried a bag with her, something that looked like taken from one of the many cook-shops of Noxus Prime. He followed the corridor outside the building and jumped the next person he saw, blade on the other's throat.
"Where did the woman went? She had a bag in hand, ran out of this building and she was fast." The man he threatened lifted his hand and pointed to a small alley- Talon shoved him aside and followed the indicated direction quickly. He stopped two more passersby in a similar manner, both of them confirmed the general direction.
He found the carelessly dropped paper-bag around the next corner and picked it up with his left hand to stow it in the depths of his cloak. Definitely the right direction.

Now he needed overview- he was faster than her, but she probably knew this area better than he did. He took a run-up, stepped against the wall of a house and used the gained momentum to catapult himself upwards, grip the edge of a windowsill and to pull himself up. A few more leaps and he had reached the roof, following the way she had most likely taken.
Measured by the panic in her eyes she probably hadn't thought as she initially blinded him, so the first steps of her escape had been thoughtless. But by now she'd probably regained her senses, so she'd go into hiding somewhere. He had at least two more of her hiding spots in mind, but she would not likely approach one directly.
Before going into hiding she needed an unoccupied place to turn invisible, for doing so in plain sight would spark the interest of every onlooker here and stir a turmoil, which in turn would draw his attention. And for he didn't hear anything resembling that she surely was still searching an unoccupied alleyway or backyard.

Still, he couldn't help but curse at his inadequacy when it came to words- something which had never bothered him before.
She had told him to stop days ago and despite that warning, despite the fact that he had searched her out yet again and broken their protocol she had stayed and waited for him to voice his wish. Which had come out terribly wrong. She had been willing to listen and maybe, most likely he could have made her follow him without resisting, but after his careless words she had lost it.

He hoped it wasn't too late to correct his mistake. Using his usual diplomacy while she fought back was not on his wish list for today.

He vaulted over a gap between two houses and slid along a rain pipe, looking left and right for an unoccupied, easily reachable place, keeping an eye out for people who looked like their eyes were following a running person.
Running always attracted attention down here. One darkly clad man crouching on the streets, holding his eyes confirmed that he was still on the right track. Most likely someone stupid enough to have tried (and failed) to stop her.
He let the first suitable empty spot that came in his eyesight behind- normally he hadn't spared the second one another thought, too, but she had to know that he was faster than her. So the second one it was, for it looked just right. At least it did so from above.

It was unoccupied.

But his intuition told him that this was the right place.

He transitioned downwards to a protruding windowsill and dropped to the ground, catching the impact by crouching deeply to his knees. His cloak billowed around his form and he was sure he heard a sharp inhale from somewhere.
So this really was the right place.

"What I said came out wrong." He rose and spoke into the empty space, scanning the walls while he did so. "Hear me out?"

Only silence answered him, but again- being here now, four blocks away from her residence, meant she had traversed this distance in a short time, mostly in sprint, which meant she was at least out of breath now. And for she knew of his excellent hearing she could not hope to sneak around him.

"The General wants to hire you. He finds the information you provided valuable enough to buy your assistance in our case." That sounded slightly better. At least it sounded as formal as he had ever said anything. At the same time it sounded utterly wrong, even apart from the fact that he was talking to a seemingly empty alleyway.
Still, nothing happened for some more long moments.
"I'm not here to bring harm on you." He muttered into the thin air, but he didn't dare to reintroduce words of their protocol- because he forced her if she didn't follow voluntarily. And he was here for professional reasons.

More tense moments passed by before he heard a deep sigh and a person appeared in the middle of the street.

She looked at him doubtfully. "I'm listening." She told him while her baton twirled around her fingers easily. He saw the increased rhythm of her breathing as her eyes darted behind him.

He had the feeling that this was his last chance before she'd pull out more painful ammunition. But he didn't want to hurt her, which was the only possible outcome if his words failed him. That would make her expression, already showing how betrayed she felt, even worse and harder to bear.
To accentuate his de-escalating words he extended his hands by his side, pointing the blade strapped to his right away from her. Her silence was deafening. "Could you just come with me and listen to his offer? It will surely not be to your disadvantage." He tried again.

She closed her eyes for a moment longer than necessary before she opened them again, looked up with a sigh, before an acerbic smile appeared on her face. "That sounds more like a friendly invitation."

Talon didn't let the relief he felt show on his face, but he tilted his head in agreement.

"I'll need to change." She stated and made a first step towards him before she stopped again. At the distrust in her eyes he turned and walked ahead as a sign of his good will while he listened to her following steps.
They made the way back to her apartment in silence.

At the door he stepped aside as to give her enough room, but stretched out his hands with the bag he had picked up in it. She regarded it with incomprehension before her expression softened for a moment and she picked it up with a long arm.

She didn't comment on the fact that her door was locked again, but opened it and stepped fully into the room, dropping the bag on one of her tables. "Give me a minute." She not- really- requested.

Lux discarded the clothes she currently wore, ignoring how Talons eyes followed her movements as she undressed. She did it at least a bit to unnerve him, even though she didn't turn to check on his face.

"You knit?" Talon broke the silence, even though he didn't quite know why. It was obvious she did.

She chose a new set of clothes, bound a wrap tightly around her torso to change her silhouette and positioned herself in front of the mirror, carefully changing her hair-color to dark brown and her eyes to a rusty, reddish brown before she contorted her face in order to hide behind the sharper, slightly older features of another person.

"I knit." She confirmed.

The forceful knock on his door clearly belonged to Talon.

After he voiced his permission a rather unassuming woman entered his study in front of Talon who held the door open.
Not that this face meant anything, for Talon already told she could change it, but Marcus interpreted it as a lack of vanity to not chose the prettiest face for a meeting. Her eyes flickered to the windows, identifying the typical spots to place warding spells and hextech.

Marcus noted how she faltered just the tiniest bit and how she didn't quite touched shoulders with his son as he strode past her to take his usual spot at the short side of his desk. Her eyes followed his movements until she was seemingly distracted by something on his wooden table- the figurine? and shot Talon a glance with slightly knitted forehead. He lifted an eyebrow and tilted his head ever so slightly at which she relocated her attention to himself.
It was just a short exchange, and not one hard to be decoded.

"This tells you something?" Marcus asked without introduction, and the woman's back straightened in a way he only knew from higher up military and nobility. He picked up the statue, a small replica of the idol Talon had seen in that ceremony hall.

"I've seen something like that before, yes." She answered warily, keeping Talon at the edge of her sight. As he blended to the side, leaned against the bookshelf and folded his arms a bit of tension eased away from her shoulders. He only did that when he didn't expect any immediate danger- and a longer conversation. She seemed to sense- or know- as much.

"General Du Couteau." He finally introduced himself, pointing to a chair in front of his desk.

She strode towards it, nodding towards him without reciprocating the introduction while her eyes flickered to his hands. Someone who at least expected to be greeted with a handshake.

"Do you have a name?" Marcus forced an answer.

She showed a small smile. "If you are satisfied with a false one?"

Talon tensed up which had her tighten the grasp around the metal staff she held. Marcus snorted. She had guts, a trait he could appreciate when it came with enough skill to back it up.
"For now, I am."

"Then it is Anna." She told with a bright smile. Her whole face lit up while Talon tilted his head in a way that shrouded his upper face in the shadows of his hood.

"Very ordinary." He commented, not faltering in his distant attitude. For that kind of games she should have picked a more beautiful face. Even though it was a smile anybody could feel comfortable around, bright and friendly, like she was easily taken advantage off. Not someone to be taken seriously, as Katarina would say. Though maybe he was so used to be given that kind of smile that he misinterpreted the purpose of the one presented to him right now wrongly?

"Want to pick me another one?" her smile stayed the same, friendly and bright. Definitely not one to seduce.

With a "Maybe later" he ended the chit chat. Her nod revealed her still tensed up neck- she surely wasn't as carefree as she depicted. "Your report indicates that we deal with several persons, what we found hints to an organization. I want to find and trench whatever it is. Questions so far?"

Maybe she had noticed that her demeanor wouldn't get her far with him, for her smiled dimmed significantly and she became serious. "With whom will I work?"

Interesting point for a first question. "Talon, maybe Cassiopeia." If she was curious why Katarina wasn't part in this she didn't show it.

"Any regulations how I shall work?"

"Coordinated with Talon. Reports will be handed to me or to Talon as he may act as a contact." She did not seem too eager in being associated with anyone else. "As long as you work for me you will have reasonable access to resources you require. I don't care about your methods, I want results. Any more questions?" Marcus waited for the inevitable bargaining for money, contacts, a chance to rise, whatever. Otherwise she seemed to know her leeway in decision-making was quite limited right now.

"You want me to start following one specific lead?" A predatory gleam had appeared in her eyes and he was sure he saw their color change just the tiniest bit.

"Plan that out with Talon. I give you free rein as long as you report back regularly."

The contortion of her mouth showed she didn't buy it. She spared another glance to his shadow in front of the bookshelf.

"Anything more?"

She shook her head.

"Good." From this short insight Marcus figured there was more than a certain intimacy between the two of them, and he remembered the talk he had with Katarina. It seemed ages ago. He had feared that Talon had landed on some hook and would jump free if startled too early, but now, after a few minutes with the girl, he wasn't so sure anymore who was the hooked one and who'd retreat faster.
On the other hand- how long were they fooling around already? A year? Longer? Marcus' expectations for them to work together wasn't rushed.
"Talon will escort you to wherever you want to start working. Our library has detailed maps of the upper city you may use" he suggested.

At the word 'library' her face lit up shortly before her harmless smile took that place again.

Then something unexpected happened.

"You remember the great swarm?" Talon rose his voice. He never did that on his own during business meetings.
There was a first for everything.

The woman tilted her head and from the way her gaze flickered to the statuette Marcus saw she did. "Fill me in?" It sounded like a question and the hint of a mischievous smile brushed her lips before it reached her eyes. Not the bright one she flashed to blind an unprepared onlooker. It looked much more personal and suddenly Marcus felt like an intruder.

Talons lips tilted upwards just the slightest. "You first." Marcus wasn't sure he imagined things. Talon hardly ever smiled.

"You don't remember?" The woman teased, as if she'd forgotten his presence.

This time Talon moved his head in indifference.

"Our second meeting, the mage obsessed with insects. He had one of that", she pointed to the figurine, "at an altar. And he called upon the great swarm, if I remember correctly."
Marcus didn't doubt she did.

Talon glanced at Marcus who have him a nod.

"I found a bigger altar with a giant statue of this", He pointed to the statue also, "and a cult who seemed to worship it. They sacrifice people to spiders."

Marcus observed the rest of her smile vanish from her face.

The gaze she shot to him, just the slightest bit of insecurity, stroke Marcus as odd, even though she did not verbally express any condolences, just before she glanced at Talon.
And then Marcus knew what she was doing. She checked and adjusted her reactions ever so slightly based on the barely noticeable reactions Talon gave. Marcus couldn't think of many reasons why anybody would pick Talon of all people as an appropriate assessor of social situations. On the other hand- this was anything but an ordinary situation. Probably nothing she had encountered in the past, and, based on her behavior, nothing she could handle with just her education.
Maybe she was a former noble of an incorporated state? For how she behaved spoke for a good upbringing, and her orientation by the behavior of the person she knew best was not the most stupid thing someone could do, as much was clear to the older assassin's eyes.

She squirmed in her seat as if she suspected the direction his thoughts took.

"I need a word with my son." As always when he called him that Talon tensed slightly.

She managed to retreat to the door without turning her back on him.

After the door closed silence befell the room.

Lux looked left and right, seeing no one- so she laid her ear on the door, trying to catch what was spoken in there. Sadly the ancient wood was too thick to make out even muffled sounds. Maybe that was on purpose.

So she stepped back and leaned against the wall opposite to the door. She couldn't yet let our her breath.
An assignment from the greatest assassin she had ever heard of. A great judge of character, ruthless killer and the Hand and Blade of Noxus. Father of two other deadly blademasters, one of which happened to be her lover.

And she, a demacian spy with no backup and no real backup plan would work for him.

Oh light.

What had she gotten herself in to?

Talon strode out shortly after, a piece of paper vanishing from his fingers.

Wordlessly he beckoned her to follow.

The library almost brought tears to Lux' eyes and eased the quailing of her heart. How long had it been since she was around so many books? She spared a side-glance to Talon who had withdrawn into his usual broody self.
At the moment she was something akin to an employer of house Du Couteau, which meant at least a certain safeness in this house.
She strolled alongside the first shelf, letting her fingers glide over the spines of the books. A deep inhale filled her nostrils with the dusty scent of old paper and ink. A giddy feeling rose in her chest, chasing the uneasiness away and she didn't want to suppress the smile that broadened her mouth.
She couldn't have home, but this was closer than anything she had in the past months. How long had it been since she had read just for leisure?

"You like books?" Talon's voice broke the silence.

"You don't?"

"Most of my life I didn't even know how to read."

"Oh." She stroke another book spine which was embossed with a stylized dagger. "When did you learn?"

"Ten years ago. When did you?" He continued their ping-pong of questions.

"When I was four." She replied and pulled a thick tome out of the shelf.

"From whom?"

"My brother. And you?" Lux didn't want to break the verbal exchange. It was a bit clipped, as always when they started to actually ask questions, but human contact was better than no human contact.

"Cassiopeia. You have a brother?"

"Hopefully." Lux turned away again, opening the tome. She hadn't heard from Garen since she last left Demacia, which had been months ago. Thoughts of him where normally reserved for nights in which she knew she would not find sleep.

"You hope?"

"He joined the military when he was twelve. I haven't heard from him in a long time. So jeah, hopefully I still have one." Lux was glad she didn't have to lie. It became increasingly hard to remember whom she told which lie, so she normally refrained from doing so. Getting tangled up in her stories was the last thing she could use. She was just letting out major details. Luckily things like military were exactly the same in Noxus.

"Oh." The sound when somebody didn't know how to continue a conversation were also the same. The difference was that his filler word didn't sound like a conversation- ender.

"But no message is a good message, I think. I had heard if something happened." At least she hoped that was true. Was Garen important enough to be announced if defeated? She'd expected he was.

Talon tilted his head noncommittally. "You are hard to find. Having someone knowing your location contradicted the whole hiding-thing, right?"

Did he sound unsure? Almost as if he was trying to comfort her and felt unwell on unknown territory. It was a nice thought, regardless if he meant it that way or not.
A small smile crept on her face as she answered with a confirming "hm-m". She heard the whisper of clothing, he was shuffling on his feet. She had her back turned to him for more than a few seconds. She corrected that by turning his side to him while flipping through the tome's pages carefully. "So… where are those plans of the city?" she changed the topic before it could reach even more sensitive spots.
One step at a time.

Chapter Text

Over the course of the next days Lux built her base in the Du Couteau library.
She ordered the different topics in her head and internalized the order the books were put into.
Here, in between paper and parchment with plans lain out, paths to be followed and books over books she hadn't read yet she felt at ease.
Theoretical knowledge had always been her strong side.

She had received a guest room near the library, a maid to care for her physical needs (and maybe hold her in check to not roam the house freely- which she didn't, for if her cover was blown under this circumstances Lux doubted even she could make it out alive).

The only thing that was missing was Talon.

Not in the kind of way that he wasn't present- he checked in with her often enough to go over details and often provided a new, valuable point of view. He even shared some of his paths with her if she pointed out parts of the city he was rather familiar with, but he didn't touch her, not even the slightest, and he didn't visit her at nights.

Lux found herself to be rather concerned with that development.

"You do realize this is just a fictional piece of work, right?" Talon asked, sparing the dark book in the mage's hands a doubt-filled glance.

She nodded, seemingly not taken aback a single bit by his statement. "But you do realize that most legends originate from actual history? I found the oldest version of this tale. The name Zaavan does not appear in any current genealogy, but the heraldic sign mentioned in the tale recurs in just one other tale." Her eyes sparkled as if that really was something special.

Talon didn't know, tales and such weren't something he was particularly firm in.
"Oh please, tell me a story." He rolled his eyes, but the woman smirked and started intonating.

"There once was a beautiful woman with a face that could melt stones and for whose smiles men would offer their last breath to see. She utilized her assets well and for a time her house flourished. But underneath her pulchritude festered a cowardice, weak heart like a plaque-spot so her husband, once prideful of the cunning beauty he wedded, clashed in battle with her for who would lead the future of their house. The man perished to his wife's magic, but the woman sacrificed her beautiful appearance in the gruesome battle and envenomed her great palace. Unable to overcome the loss of her ravishing beauty, robbed of the thing she deemed most important she failed to uphold the ideals she once held high and allowed her family to perish into insignificance. Yet her curse prevails and house Zaavan awaits the one who can lift the peacock's curse and raise the family to its former greatness."

Talon shifted uncomfortably and looked around, but he hadn't heard the sound of scales against floor. This sounded like one of those stories that would make Cassiopeia go on a rampage- although the extreme moodiness that had followed her turning had evened out quite a bit.
Instead on dwelling on that thought he commented: "Curse of the peacock. Frightening."

The woman batted her hand at him with hesitation in her eyes.

"What?" He asked. It just didn't sound like something particularly frightening.

"Is that… a regular tale for children?" She asked, suddenly shy.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

The silence stretched.

"How should I know?" Talon shrugged his shoulders.

She hesitated again.
"Ahm… You are from Noxus Prime, aren't you?"

A cease formed between his brows, he was not getting her point. "Yes…?"

She needed a moment to comprehend what he said.
"Nobody ever told you tales?" It seemed she carefully smoothed her face out into indifference.

Talon was caught off-guard. It didn't hit any sour spots within him, but nobody had ever asked him such a question.
"No." He said with another shrug, feeling rather uncomfortable at how she looked to the ground. Who should have told him such tales in the first place? And when? "But shouldn't you know about such things?" He made an indistinct gesture with his left hand to change the topic and pulled his hood deeper into his face.

"I… grew up with different stories." She still looked to the ground.

Talon could only nod. He didn't understand what had triggered this sudden change of mood, but he couldn't think of something to reverse it.

But, as always, the woman had plans of her own.
She bridged the distance between them with a deliberately slow step. He unfolded his arms and took a step backwards himself.
Then her hand gently cupped his upper arm and stroke over his biceps. He didn't really know what to make of this, so he took another step back- and then, with a swift motion her face leaned into his shoulder and her arms circled around his chest. The scent of her hair reached his nostrils and he took a deep breath while he spreat out his arms in order to not touch her anywhere she didn't initiate the contract first. She pressed her body against his and hold on tight, but not in the seducing way she had in the past.
This felt different.

"I'm sorry." She suddenly sounded hoarse and muffled by his shawl in which she was digging her face into.

His heart rate shot up and his throat suddenly felt dry. "For what?" He croaked, not knowing what to do with his hands.
He wanted to thread his fingers through her soft hair, pull her head back, look into her eyes to see why she was not in as a good mood anymore as she had been moments ago, so he closed his hands to fists in order to hold himself back.
It seemed like a déjà vu. Her 'Stop!' still rang in his ears, so this time he didn't move and hardly breathed.

"For your sister, for your pain, for..." She gulped and he picked up how her breathing against his shoulder became labored as she pressed her face even deeper in his clothes.
He didn't know what to do or say. The mention of Calliope reminded him why she was here in the first place and he closed his eyes against the storm those words unleashed. He desperately thought of the halfway worked through list on his desk. It brought little soothing.
Something told him that getting a strong hold of her and pressing her against him would feel better than the hit-list, but seemingly he could only have one thing.
He stood rigid as a statue until she let go of him, gaze switching from what she could see of his face to the floor. After a few glances to his shock-frozen face the floor seemed to be of greater interest.

She took a step back and wiped a hand across her face.

The silence stretched in a way that was even worse than her clinging to him while he couldn't touch.

She started fidgeting with her hands and unsurprisingly it was her again who, after an eternity, broke the silence. "Could you ask Cassiopeia?" She hemmed. "If...if that is a common tale for children of Noxus Prime?"

He was relieved she directed the conversation back to the previous topic. He cleared his throat. "I don't know if she will take the mention of such a story too kindly." A story about a beauty lost? Most definitely not.

"Oh." She twirled a strand of her hair around her finger and looked at his chest rather than in his face. "But shouldn't this tale teach how one needs to overcome one's condition for the greater glory of… Noxus?" Her stumble over the last word didn't escape his ears.

"Those stories are meant to teach you something?" He lifted his eyebrow, mildly confused.

Now she looked at him in disbelief before she regained control over her features. He felt his level of discomfort rise again and picked at the hem of his hood.

Then she shrugged, as if it wasn't that important at all. "Most tales have a moral, yes. Some nations use the form of tales to pass knowledge, morals, traditions and such down from generation to generation." Her eyes lit up as she looked at him again. "Like the songs the barbarian tribes of the Frejlord sing."

Now it was his turn to voice an "oh". Most likely Cassiopeia knew as much - which wouldn't improve her mood on hearing such a story, even though she held herself fairly well at the moment, even going out on nightly trips through the city to reacquaintance herself with the life outside after she had spent nearly one and a half year indoors. "But anyway, how are you even interested in a child's tale, may it be common or not?" As much as he didn't want to go back to that topic.

"As you already pointed out…", the gleam in her eyes returned, "the peacock is a rather uncommon heraldic sign. I found hints of that symbol in another tale which tells about a haunted palace, inhabited by insects and spiders which guard great riches and the secrets of immortality."

"That seems meager." Even though many insects posed a swarm. This discussion seemed to ease the tense mood, so Talon would continue it.

As expected her cheeks colored up. "Peacocks originate from Ionia and are not the picture of might, so why would a noxian house chose it as a sigil? 'Curse of the peacock' doesn't strike me as particularly frightening, too."

"Why would that necessarily point to a sigil?" He leaned back against a bookshelf and folded his arms.

As expected, she was eager to explain. "I analyzed other, more recent stories. 'Curse of the willow' for example refers to House Mordai." She waited for recognition in his eyes, which didn't came. He distantly remembered having stabbed somebody with that name a long time ago. "Another extinct house which carried a willow in their sigil." She explained.

The amount of research she had put into that was impressing.

Luckily she didn't wait for an answer this time, but carried on. "I tried to identify the names of every fallen house that once resided within the immortal bastion, but was unable to- most of them aren't mentioned anywhere. What I managed to is dating both stories to about the same time of origin and made out the part of the immortal bastion that was inhabited during that period. Additionally I was able to identify the pattern in which the family's houses were located. The peacock points to something ionian, which means…" She stopped herself and looked at Talon with a ceased brow and an expression of uncertainty.

He nodded assertively to show he was listening and interested, and her cheeks colored up again, this time in embarrassment. Talon didn't understand why, he liked hearing how she thought and how she solved problems that came up during her research. That explained the questions about architecture she had posed.

"Ahm…I… was able to narrow the building we search to the seventeenth's floor, northern block, relatively in the center."
She made it sound easy now, and she had only needed about eight days to collect that information. How intelligent was she? Who would even look into tales for that matter and map them over a long gone habitation?
Why was she even operating alone? Unlike him she was hardly the type to stay on her own. She most likely didn't even like being alone.
The woman carried on, unimpressed by the course his thoughts had taken. "Most of the older parts of the immortal bastion should be scavenged through anyway. I really want to take a look into that house. If it exists."

"And you are sure." Talon asked, not sure how else he could keep her talking.

The woman dared to roll her eyes. "It is as much of a good lead as any. I didn't found anything that remotely resembled a 'great swarm' but those dubious guarding insects. And I searched thoroughly." The seriousness on her face amazed the assassin. "Your father wanted to follow another link himself, so it is a child's tale for us. House Zavaan, if that even is the real name of a house and no metaphor, is long gone with no descendant to carry on the name, but maybe the house that hints to the great swarm will enlighten us." She stroke an old tome on the desk nearby like a friend. A close one. "This will be more of a surveillance mission. If we found nothing we went back."

"Have you ever been to the immortal bastion?"


"It is a labyrinth at best, even for someone like me. Especially the older parts."

"Are you doubting my abilities? Besides, I reconstructed every information you have in your library. Still incomplete, but this here", she pulled out something that looked like a city-plan, "will at least provide us with the biggest routes. Don't tell me you are afraid of the high command? I mean, we want to explore the deeper parts of it, those are currently uninhabited, so why should there be a problem?"

Before she could take a breath and carry on babbling Talon Interrupted. "A simple 'I know, I have precautions' would have been enough, but I'm always keen on listening." He rolled his eyes almost playfully.

The woman batted her hand at him. "One of the features I appreciate so much."

As always for the last days when the mood started to lighten up Talon took a step back and pulled his hood into his face.
Lux' smile died down to a frown.
He had done that over the course of the last days. Right before any contact he pulled back and retreated. One of the reasons that set her on edge and maybe, just maybe let her talk too much.

Lux summoned a small ball of light, just enough for her to see properly. She knew Talon had to be nearby, even though she could neither see not hear him. Another look at the plan she had made (and had charted enroute), then to the two stone columns, withered with age and overgrown with a slimy substance. She took a step back and raised her gaze to the lintel- but this too was covered with the indefinable substance.

The door itself was fairly well preserved, so she shoved against it- locked. Some old carvings, floral and something that looked like birds, definitely not noxian, had been preserved as well.

"Is this no area for raiders?" She muttered into the darkness, holding her light right in front of the lock.

The materializing shadow inspected the door, too. "There are rumors of dark things creeping about. But there are always people desperate or bold enough." His non-bladed hand disappeared in his cloak, bringing a crowbar to the dim light.

"I wonder why this is still intact." She murmured. Talon gave a confirming nod.

A few surprisingly silent movements later the door opened without a sound, whirling up a cloud of mustiness. Lux raised an eyebrow, sending Talon a look he returned with an equally alerted expression. After a period of disuse no door should be as silent. He nodded into the darkness behind the door and disappeared.

Lux stretched out her hand with the small light, let it float in grunt of her and entered the entrance hall. She stopped dead in her tracks, next to a likewise frozen Talon.


The whole hall was covered in it, wall to wall.

And spiders.

Small ones, bigger ones and frighteningly huge crawling, scuttling, eight- legged arachnids in their nets in which too many eyes her light reflected. She hardly suppressed a curse.
"Pay up." she whispered silently.

"We bet?"

"Let's say... Yes?" She smiled into the dark and directed her light above her head to minimize shadowing. She took another step inside and saw how Talon closed the door as silently as he had opened it.

He was by her side moments later. "Any idea besides fire? Some of that bastards look poisonous." He glanced at the insects that scurried away from the light.

"Do you, by any chance, have a rabbit in that glorious cloak of yours? Or another animal about that size?" One angle of his mouth tilted upwards. That probably meant no. "I rather not set stuff on fire while I am still in here."

"Since when do you care about that?" he teased, and it started to feel normal again.

"Since I can easily walk away without risking smoke intoxication." She answered in the same tone, but noticed the upcoming change in his behavior and the alert appearing on his mien.

So instead of another answer she stretched her hand out. "The crowbar?"

He gave it to her with only a little hesitation. And without their fingers touching.

She poked it into the net nearest the door, farthest away from the way she wanted to pass and shook it slightly in a certain frequency. "Let's hope great swarm-freak was at least right with his knowledge…" She hadn't ended her sentences before spiders of all sizes began scrambling into her direction. "Oh light" she hissed and let go of the metal, turning and flitting to the corridor she had wanted to explore from the beginning on, now with considerably less spiders in her way. As always she ignored the irritated glance Talon spared her

"You got a spare one?" She asked, pointing back to where his crowbar had attracted a whole ball of arachnids.

She couldn't see it in the dark, but she imagined he rolled his eyes.

It looked like there were at least sometimes non-spiders visiting this halls for behind the entrance hall was a passage between the nets.

They traversed through it to reach another hall with a grand staircase. Everything had the semblance of something once great, but now all grandness decayed and bore home to still too many spiders. Instead of tapestry only old, dusty webs fluttered in barely noticeable air draft.

For any private rooms were most likely located Lux decided to ascend the ruinous stairs. Talon stretched out his index- and middle finger in a motion that meant 'split' in the demacian military, most likely to tell that he was going elsewhere now, and melted to the shadows and out of sight after hitting the first step.

His steps were soundless- in fact Lux couldn't pinpoint where he was anymore- but her own noises seemed unnaturally loud in the eerie quietness.
Lux couldn't be completely sure she wasn't all alone. The distinct feeling that someone was watching her crept up her back, but she couldn't discriminate if it was her imagination, Talon, or something completely different.

It took about an hour to comb through the empty hallways and equally deserted rooms with nothing in it but more rubble and debris, so Lux wasn't satisfied.
During her search she hadn't been able to see Talon despite for a flicker of cloak here and there- even though that could have been one of those omnipresent webs, she wasn't too certain.

"The ground plan doesn't fit." Lux murmured into no particular direction, just in case. There had to be something hidden behind those thick curtains.
Lux called her light back and spun it over her fingertips while she thought about his to find a hidden door without having to sear through all the nets. That would be much too draining. Luckily she had another idea.
She ordered to glowing ball to the palm of her hand and threw it through the nets at the wall. Her eyes fluttered shut as she tried to catch the reflections of her now significantly dimmed light, expanding her sense of spatiality. With hand stretched out she guided the glowing ball alongside the wall, measuring the reflected light and translating it to a relief of the wall behind the nets.

A much wider corridor manifested itself in front of Lux' inner eye. It worked. She followed the halfway around a corner and some steps more, and then she saw an irregularity of the wall.
"A door." She stated, because she still felt like she was not alone. She opened her real eyes and increased the temperature of her former cold light to burn through the spider silk in front of what she had just discovered. It glowed before falling to the ground to reveal a surprisingly well-preserved wooden door.

A triumphant smile lit Lux' face up as she stretched out her hand to open it. Her light flitted into the room as if it was as eager to explore what was in it as she was.
The warm light shone over pale stones on the ground, reflecting on the even curves. Lux kneeled down with a frown to pick up one particularly smooth looking one.
With a small cry she let it fall from her hands.
It was the ever- smiling grimace of a skull, long dead and void of every single piece of flesh. Her eyes shot to what she had mistook for stones.

The room was covered in bones. Pale bones of all shapes and sizes. Guessing from the skull, human ones.

Something hit her back with a wet noise and suddenly Lux wasn't able to move, so she fell face first into the dusty human remnants. While she scrambled to at least turn around a silky voice seeped through the webs.
"What do we have here..." it drawled, Lux felt a sharp sting at her back and she was turned around.

Turned around to look at an agelessly beautiful face with red eyes and equally red hair, violet skin glowing in Lux' light. The smile that stretched her opponents lips rendered the mage speechless. It was alluring and inviting, promising much more than Lux was yet able to comprehend. Lux' eyes checked the rest of the woman's appearance and were caught by barely concealed, voluptuous curves. Heat rose to her cheeks which was met by a low, sultry chuckle.
"There is nothing to fear, young one." The woman whispered with a voice like honey and let her tongue slowly run over her red lips.

Lux' light flickered and a cold hand with sharper claws than humanly possible closed around her neck, caressing her like a long lost lover. Her breath hitched as she saw the woman's lips descend nearer and nearer to her face.

'This is wrong', Lux thought distantly and struggled.

Hunger lit the strange woman's eyes.

Chapter Text

"It will all be over soon." The woman intonated as her red eyes lit up and she lifted her claw to a lazy strike. Lux saw something shimmering behind her, like long limbs lit at by her flickering light. She tried to focus.
There was something else moving behind the woman- and then Lux heard the sharp whisper of steel and a purple ball rammed the creature's side, knocking it away to tumble down in a tangle of fleshy and chitinic limbs, hissing and screeching.

The thing's claw, rapidly changing into something longer, pointer, less human, gashed over Talons chest, gripping his bladed arm as he used the proximity to thrust a dagger into the creatures exposed biceps- except for there was no biceps anymore, just a slender, black leg.
Two appendages, most definitely more than a human should have, rose at the creatures back as the thing screeched and jabbed them at the assassin.

The woman with now too many extremities leveraged his second push on the blade's hilt to jump back at deviate speed as Talon rolled back and on his feet.

Lux chanted the cleansing spell she had memorized after the last incident and felt herself rapidly returning to her body. Because of that she was fairly sure she saw what she thought she saw- Lux' eyes widened in horror as she saw dark limbs contorting, changing its form with ugly cracks that sounded like bones breaking.

She shook her head to chase away the small spiders from her hair. Lux' small light was enough to burn through the net she was caught in, arachnids of all sizes shrieked away from the brightness.
After freeing her gaze she rolled on her stomach and got up.

Talon lifted his arm to deflect a vicious strike with the backside of his arm-blade, but another limb pierced right through his defenses into his abdomen- Lux transformed her light with an unrefined cry and threw a binding at the spider, with a clinging sound it hit home and sealed the beast on the spot. Talon staggered back, looking down seemingly surprised. The spider screeched and threw herself against the tendrils of light. Lux took a step to him, but the spiders around her, formerly held back by her light, swashed at her like a black wave.

Then, in one movement with the bowing of his head, Talon pirouetted at the same time as Lux threw up her shield around herself, the blades at the end of his cloak flew up and rotated in the air while the man they were formerly connected with was gone.

The spider backed off- maybe it was as surprised as Lux was. With her shield up Lux hadn't enough light to maintain the binding, and with a violent attack the bright chains broke, brightness dimming and enhancing shadowing, Lux' shield now the only source of light. The spider looked around as frantically as Lux did, spitting a batch of sticky substance to the middle of the spinning blades.
With another sharp sound Talon reappeared in a swirl of clothes and steel, ramming his blade into the bloated abdomen of the arachnid. As if that had been a signal the rotating blades whirled to their master, converging at the other side of the monster. It hissed and recoiled, lifting its front legs in what looked like a undirected defensive gesture, directly followed up by the assassin and his sharp blade. Just as his arm arched upwards with another strike the creature leaped forwards with a screech. Talon barely managed to rise his vambrace to deflect the attack, but two smaller spiders- still as big as Lux' lower arm- leaped into his back, another one jumped at his non-bladed arm. Lux was battle-tested enough to know when she was outnumbered, badly so, and that pure strength wouldn't let them get out here alive. Something inside her ignited at the sight of Talon, battling in the shadows even though he probably couldn't win.
She reformed her shield and threw it at the creature with a loud yell. She felt it hitting home, even though her attack had used up the last bit of light down here, now faintly illuminating the spider, making it look even more gruesome. In the sudden darkness around Lux was able to hear the triumphant clicking of thousands of chitinic limbs before she felt their touches at her feet, in her hair, up her arms and at the exposed parts of her skin. She couldn't suppress the shriek, shortly before she shut her mouth and covered her nostrils against the bustling creatures.

The faintly glowing, gigantic spider disappeared behind a crawling, scratching blanket of abound bodies. She squeezed her eyes shut, sounds of the other fight dimming behind the living coverage. With the hand not holding her nostrils somewhat free she grabbed her baton, frantically searching within her. The thought of the Illuminators, of all the good she wanted to bring, normally enough to lighten her mood and spark her inner light, set her up in even more panic.
She had fraternized with the enemy, even more so over the course of the last weeks, without trying to extract any valuable information. She was acting on her own, personal whims, had done so without even trying to evade it and had forced this outcome with her actions. She had let this whole affair become personal and had lost the objectivity she prided herself with.
She felt the illumination in the distance fading.
Was that spider crawling in her ear?
Lux frantically shook her head, even though it didn't do her any good.

Hesitatingly she touched the other secret in her heart which she had yet to use to spark her light.

A sharp face, mocking eyes, soft touches and warm embraces. He had to be only a few meters away- maybe her spell had gotten him enough time to finish at least the giant spider. She let other bright moments with him flow through her mind, whispered words and a song in her ears, finding the ease she needed. Along with the bubbly feeling in her stomach she felt the warmth seething up and brimming over, searing free in a radiant burst, burning the spiders on her to ashes.

Finally, her mouth free, she was able to screech in disgust and bat the last ashy remnants away, turning to the end of the room where two dark figures danced in the semi-darkness, throwing daggers and nets, occasionally crossing blade with chitinic leg. Talon was favoring his left leg, the creature leaked a black substance out of several holes and both were considerably slower than at the start of the fight. Talon was in the defense undeniably, barely managing to outmaneuver the growing number of smaller spiders that blocked his way, jumped into his blades and tried to make him trip.

Lux didn't waste time to admire his sublime footwork, rather focused on the fist-sized spider that had crawled above the assassin heads and, as he blocked another attack from the creature, jumped into his back and exploded. He was thrown off balance, a step forward and met the punctuating ends of the werspider's front leg.

Lux gritted her teeth and touched the now upwelling light she had always hidden and only let out in small doses. She felt it pounding under her fingertips as Talon sank down to a knee, his blade in front of his body in defense. The smaller spiders scuttled back and rose their segmented bodies in anticipation as the creature lifted another front leg.

Lux focused on the flowing light within her and tore down everything around it. Glowing balls formed at her fingertips to culminate and her palms. "No more holding back!" She screamed, breaking the walls she had erected within herself and a beam of light pulsed forward, burning the monster, smaller spiders and net alike.

The arachnid creature was clashed back into the nets violently, ripping through them and leaving a smoking pile behind. In the blink of an eye Lux was by the still kneeling Talon's side, spreading her hand over his torso, feeling his rapid breath under her fingers.

"You didn't get burned, right?" Her fingers flew to where his clothes were torn over his chest.

He looked at her with an unreadable expression before checking the surroundings as her fingers prodded at his front.
"You glow." he stated before he looked up to the ceiling. Lux just needed to see the frown between his brows forming to throw herself over him, bringing him down with flailing arms in the process, yank the reinforced part of his hood down and his shawl up over his eyes and spark her light to blazing brightness.

She heard hissing from above and beneath, hissing and scuttling of too many limps. She looked up- the light didn't hurt in her eyes, she had learned that first- and she could see the many teeming bodies around a large one.

"We're leaving" she panted out, keeping the blinding brightness steady while she stumbled up and caught his arm- his left hand was already in front of his face, wrapping his shawl around his face. Somehow he managed to get on his feet also. Lux redirected her hold to his elbow and guided him to the door. He neither struggled nor answered.

They managed to traverse the first corridor without incident, shadows and spiders alike withdrew from the sudden brightness, but the effort to maintain it left Lux panting. Soon her grip on Talon's elbow weakened and it was no longer she who guided him, but the assassin who linked arms with her and pulled her along. The comfort his steady touch provided bloomed in her chest, strengthened the flow of brightness that shone into every corner of this room, swashing ahead into the next.

Luckily Talon seemingly didn't need to see to navigate, because soon enough all Lux could focus on was maintaining the light while she was dragged along to who knew where. Senses extended by the light she could feel the movements everywhere now, scrambling in fear at the edges of her control, waiting for the light to vanish.

Then she lost her footing and for a moment it felt like falling, but the grip around her arm strengthened and relocated itself around her waist.

"Stairs." A rough voice hissed into her ear and she pressed her face into soft cloth, allowing the warmth she felt at the contact to flow through her. She took a deep breath, inhaling his scent and exhaling the fear she felt. With the scent came feelings Lux let flow freely only occasionally- but now she embraced them, let them bubble up inside and warm her inside and out. She thought of warm, adoring glances and transitioned the bright, giddy happiness into light while her nose searched contact to warm skin.
Her enhanced senses printed a picture of how the hall looked without webs everywhere- stuc at the walls, wooden vermiculated wainscoting, a once great chandelier fallen to the ground and home to a nest of finger sized spiders.
None of that was able to touch her, as long as she was in Talon's arms.
And nothing could bring the assassin down, not as long as she had an ounce of power left inside of her.
Nonetheless her body was at the end of its rope, even if her mind maintained the blissful stage of happiness and determination that nourished the brightness.

"We're almost out" his voice reached her ear and she braced her other arm against him to stay upright. She heard a hiss in his throat as she felt an arm behind her knee pits before she was swept up. The feeling of being carried overwhelmed everything else.
Pressed to his chest she felt something pulsing beneath the clothing, underneath his skin, something like a spark. It was fascinating to feel, vigorous and warm and alive.
Intrigued she reached out with her own light. A violent ripple coursed through his body and Lux shrunk back at the hiss that vibrated through him- and suddenly she became aware of the rest of her environment again.

Talon panted, but seemingly kicked the door open and she felt her light pouring over the threshold and then, at the sudden widening of space, expanding beyond her capabilities. Lux whined as her skull felt like it might crack to let her brain ooze out. She tried to raise her hands to her head to hold it together, but suddenly her limbs felt so heavy, all the levity from before gone. Then her vision became static.

As she regained her senses the feeling of being carried had yet to fade. It felt safe, warm and content.
She opened her eyes.
It was dark, a soft shine whose source she couldn't identify wasn't enough to see anything in the dark.
With her awakening the headache returned full force, as if someone tried to utilize a cobblestone to remove her brain from her skull.

"You okay?" Talons gruff voice whispered into her ear.

She wanted to give a positive replay, but only a hoarse noise left her throat. She cleared it before she tried again. "Alive", she confirmed with wavering voice. After another moment she added "and able to walk." Even though she wasn't entirely sure on that part. She felt wobbly, but he stopped and set her feet to the ground gently before releasing the rest of her. Lux swayed as her blood sagged in her legs and used Talons arm to stabilize herself, but the assassin himself made no move to do so.
She looked around. It was too dark. She wasn't able to see anything.

"Where are we?" she whispered.

"Still inside the immortal bastion. Nothing seems to be following so far." She could hear the rest of the sentence: But he'd rather get out here first.
Slowly Lux' sight returned and she didn't question what illuminated Talon's back, even though said man studied her for a long moment before he set into motion again.

They made the ascent into the still used parts in silence. Lux still felt weak like a kitten and her head didn't stop pounding, she just wanted to lay her head into the crook of his neck again with his arms closed around her, but the assassin didn't even turn before they reached the unused, small entrance they had gotten in through.

She saw him pulling his hood lower over his face, for the sun still shone-not brightly, it's rays already tinted clouds and sky red, but it was still better than nothing.

In the dark cold of the immortal bastion she had forgotten, but outside was the colorful ending of a beautiful day which couldn't care less about what happened in Valoran. She felt her strength slowly returning with the sun's rays, almost as if the external light charged her up like some piltovian plaything.

She noticed that she had stopped when Talon turned to her, examining her with that sharp gaze of his. "You glow." He noted. Something Lux had no answer for.

He didn't wait for one though and used a different route than the one they used to come here. Lux honestly felt too tired to really care, more focused on setting one foot in front of the other, so she followed him.

Talon stopped at some plateau at the side of the building where the sunlight had nearly nothing to cast shadows at. He adjusted his cloak, slumped down at the only shady place in a way that was a lot less graceful than his usual movements and planted his back against a stele of stone, closing his eyes.
He apparently needed a moment too.

The mage simply collapsed at the brightest spot and held her face into the orange light. She might have fallen asleep, because as she blinked it had darkened considerably and the moon had already appeared at the red sky.

Her headache had diminished to a tolerable level and Lux took the time to assess her status. Body check first- completely normal. She had a few scratches and the skin of both her elbows was torn, but no broken bones and no physical pain.
New was how… raw… she felt. As if she had peeled all the callus of her feet away and tried to walk on raw flesh. Only that it wasn't her foot that felt that way, but her mind. Lux remembered how she had broken down every wall that sealed her power inside, which provided a good reason for the steady flow she felt under her fingertips now. Then her thoughts wandered to Talon and she jerked her head around. He still leaned against the stone column, watching her and the surroundings with half-closed eyes.

Lux felt content watching him. She remembered the spark inside of him, directly under her fingertips and the memory warmed her more than the sunlight. Until she noticed his torn clothes and remembered the fight.

She was upright in moments and at his side a second later.

"How are you?" she asked anxiously, scanning over his form more closely, narrowing down the points where he looked worst: his left leg and abdomen. Looking more closely she saw the darker spots on his clothing where blood had stained it and dried.

"You glow." Talon repeated.

Lux stroke over one of his blade's hilt questioningly. He gave no reaction, so she pulled the blade free and extended the preexisting tear in his shirt. He had thrown himself into that monster's side at the beginning to earn this in response, she was pretty sure.

"Light, why did you do that?" the mage hissed, pressing her hand against the gash in his torso in order to weave her binding through the edges of the wound, but the spell felt heavy, lifeless in her mind and the light within her obeyed only slow and under immense intensification of her headache. Lux winced against the pain and instantly felt hands hovering over hers, but they were pulled back as fast as they had appeared.

Talon didn't vocalize any sign of distress, even though it had to hurt really bad.
"Can't have you whining like a cat for the next weeks to come." he muttered back, allowing her touch.

"I don't whine." Lux objected.

Hesitatingly he pointed to her left thigh.

Lux tensed up. She had the physical wound healed, so not even a fading scar was left. "That's hardly the same." She finished the spell and pulled the edges of the wound together. No distortions of the skin, it would scar evenly.

His noncommittal grunt and how he avoided her eyes made her realize that she had deeply unsettled him with the outburst a few days ago.
"That why you don't touch me anymore?" And squeeze, hug, pinch, kiss?

Now it was him who tensed up. "You told me to stop…" his voice wavered just the tiniest bit.

"Oh." She indeed had not told him to start again. "This here needs real stitching soon." She nodded to the wound she had just tended to.

"Woman, you are glowing." He repeated once more.

"How is your leg?" Lux decided to pass over his astonishment again. She wasn't sure which kind of side effects her broken walls would have.

"Fine enough."

Lux lifted her hand to inspect it. It indeed still emanated light and she wasn't quite sure how she could bring the freely flowing glow inside of her under control again. It felt too good to bathe in the steady stream, a power directly under her fingertips where the spell had felt cold and lifeless.

Talon's hand twitched before he set it against the cool stone, still looking at her with a puzzled expression.

Lux leaned against the sunlit part of the column he was supporting himself on and closed her eyes. "We should leave before it gets completely dark, right?" she murmured.

"We have another moment." He seemingly also needed to catch his breath a little longer.
He let several moments pass before he rose his voice again. "What did you do down there?"

Lux shook her head. "Later, okay?"

The corner of his mouth twisted in distaste, but he didn't protest.

She looked around, only now noticing that this spot provided quite a nice view over the city. "How do you know of this place?" she continued the quiet conversation, observing the smog over the lower parts of the city turn to golden mist in the low light.

"It is the best to watch the sun set." Talon muttered and picked his hood even deeper into his face. He heard the shuffling of clothes and took a sneak peek at the one causing the noises. The woman took a deep breath and with her exhale the tension seemed to fall off of her. She made letting go look easy.
The pain in his body faded into the background.

The illusions under which she hid herself had been gone since he had been able to see again, so nothing covered her delicate features and actual colors.

The glowing orange of the setting sun set her golden hair aflame and colored her cheeks as she closed her eyes in appreciation.

"It feels marvelous" she whispered, and Talon admired how the light flattered her beautiful face. He could accept that she needed a moment longer. Nonetheless he would not let that topic rest forever. It had felt like something touched something so deep inside of him that he didn't have a word for it. It hadn't hurt, had felt like a curious, expectant touch at something that could not be touched, and the sheer intimacy had crept the shit out of him.
But she looked so peaceful now. A stark opposite to what he had seen on her face before. This expression looked much better on her.

After a moment of him watching and her relishing she opened her eyes again and tilted her head to him so one side of her face fell into shadows. As much shadows as the soft glow of her skin allowed.
She regarded him with an expression he had problems placing.
He noticed the faint glow of her skin amplifying as a shy smile lit her face. His heartbeat quickened in reaction.
Talon wanted to stretch out his arm to pull her to him, as close as he could get her, but simultaneously he wanted to stay exactly where he was, taking in the light in her eyes, the faint shadows dancing under her cheekbone, savor her soft smile and indulge in the tranquility of the moment. The pounding in his chest intensified as she closed her eyes with a content sigh, stretching her legs to bathe in the light of a fading day.
She was so beautiful it hurt.
Beautiful, intricate, absorbing and so much more things Talon knew no words for.

He understood why she hid her pretty features- they didn't belong to the undercity of Noxus Prime and surely didn't derive from there. A woman with a face like hers had multiple possibilities- a woman with her face and her wit had every door open. There had to be a reason she chose to hide herself, but he didn't follow the thought. Not now.

As she stretched like a cat in the rays of sunshine he felt something creep over his skin, like a barely noticeable, hesitant touch- like the one down in the dark, but much more gentle and not as demanding.

He shivered at the contract and it disappeared faster than it had come with a slight twitch of the woman's head, briefly disturbing the peaceful image she provided. So she was responsible for that sensation, like the apologetic smile on her face confirmed.

She stretched out her hand to cover his own, and with the soft touch he ceased to move once more. She blinked at him, before she straightened against the stone.
He couldn't help but lean over her, watching the shadow he cast darken the orange of the sun until only her light brightened the dark that crept over her form. His fingertips barely grazed against her cheeks before he withdrew, brought his legs under his body and pushed himself up.
The light hung low, they needed to get into motion again. Who knew what would happen by nightfall? As long as he had no body as prove he didn't believe the spider-thing was dead.

"Do we have anything useful?" At the sudden opening of her eyes and the appearing cease in her brow he knew he had ruined whatever made her look so placid.

She slowly descended onto her fee, a motion Talon mimicked.
"We maybe angered something ancient," She cleared her throat, "discovered the peacock's curse" He noticed that she was joking on his expense, which was good for it meant her good mood hadn't faded yet, "the engraving above the door memorized, and a lot of spider bites."

"The lintel was covered in slime..."

"The stone beneath broke the light in a different way than the soft substance..." She paused at his expression, cheeks heating up, light dimming.

Talon shook his head.

"What?" She hissed, angrily now, clenching her fists.

"You are stunning." He stated, gaze wandering over her form to fix onto her eyes.

The raw expression in it let Lux slowly, slowly lift her hand to his face, barely grazing his cheeks with her fingertips, holding his gaze with held breath.
Then his head snapped to the horizon on which the sun was taking her leave before he turned the way they came.

She was on his left side a moment later, falling into his strides easily.
After two steps even Lux did not notice him limp anymore.

Lux had expected to make the journey back in silence. But Talon surprised her yet again by starting and maintaining a conversation. Nothing serious though that made her feel too uncomfortable.

"Can't you wield fire-magic?" he asked. After leaving the sun's glow her skin didn't stop shining and she didn't have it in her to recreate an illusion, so she pulled her cowl deep over her head and her shawl over her lower face. A bone-deep exhaustion seeped into her.

"It's not that easy." She sounded tired even to her own ears.

"Then explain." It sounded more like a request than a demand.

Lux hesitated before she searched for words. "In fact I could use other types of control magic. Light is one of many paths. But... Most mages are born with an affinity for a very specific streak of magic of which mine happened to be light. The thing why hardly anybody tempers with the naturally given kind of magic is that the type of power you use influences your character." She spared him a glance, but he walked slightly in front of her and his hood casted the rest of his features into shadows.

"So if you used fire you turned all fiery-headed?"

"Probably not if I did it one time. But if I did what I did down there", she waved vaguely to the direction they came from, "often enough, if I let the essence of fire flow as freely as the light it would change my matrix, thus ultimately me. And in order to master a certain steak of magic you need to let it flow through you." She took a deep breath. "In fact, even in order to unleash a strong pulse of the element you try to control you need to let it flow through you. Only small portions can be cast around your matrix, like a smaller ball of fire, but in order to release a firestorm that purges the whole house..." She shook her head, "I don't know what that would make of me."

He needed a moment to process the information. "What do you define as elements?" He finally asked.

His questions were good. "A very broad definition. Everything a control mage can get his hold on. Light, fire, water, earth, darkness, nature, ice…." She listed- and probably would have went on if he didn't interrupt.

"And how you are now is heavily influenced by the light?"

She smiled brightly. "I am. But light is very versatile."

His look converted that he didn't understand.

"Light can be warm, cold, searingly hot, concealing, revealing, blinding, it makes rainbows and casts shadows." She shrugged her shoulders. "Light is not the worst choice."

"I see." He turned his face to the front. "But you could wield a small bit of fire without... Turning?" He pressed on.

"I would need a book or something to teach myself the essentials, but yes, I could conjure a fireball."

Again Talon was silent for some time. "Is there no way to bypass this influencing-thing?"

"My baton is one way. Not perfect, but it helps a bit. Crafted spells are another, and rune-users normally just get paranoid, nothing else. But through all these ways one sacrifices other benefits."


"Creativity, spontaneity, speed and power."

"Could you turn into an animal?"

"No, that's transmutation."

Chapter Text

Lux and Talon entered the mansion through the backdoor which led to the large kitchen.

To Lux' surprise General Du Couteau sat at the counter, a pot with steaming liquid in front of him.
A bit too late she simultaneously tried to shrink back into her shawl and straighten up to greet him properly, but the general's gaze pierced through the shadows she tried to hide herself in- she just wasn't able to use darkness as well as other members of this household.

Well. Attack was the best defense, especially in Noxus. "Do you have a healer on standby?" Lux bubbled out before anybody could say anything else. No chance to hide, so she better faced this head on.

Talon tried to interrupt her. "That can wait..."

Lux poked her finger into the wound in his thigh. She was aghast to see her whole finger disappearing and retracted the now bloodied extremity quickly, eyes widening at his still stoic expression. The wound was deeper than she had anticipated.
He shut his mouth though.

The general scanned her first, then proceeding to Talon, lifting an eyebrow after doing so.

"Cisi, the healer." He commanded and a maid which had escaped Lux' notice slipped away silently. "Report shortly", he continued after the kitchen was cleared of any attendants.

Lux obeyed, for it was obviously directed at her. "The name Zaavan was traceable only in tales. From what we know now it was an ancient high house of Noxus with a lineage that has long died. We located…"

"You." Talon corrected. He withdrew into his hood as the attention of the two other persons shifted to him.

Lux blinked, but resumed talking. "However… I located their old residence in the guts of the immortal bastion. We found a fairly well preserved building whose insides were covered in webs, a giant, poisonous, aggressive werspider..."

"Come again?" The general interrupted her clinical enumeration, looking back and forth from Lux to Talon.

Lux frowned at being interrupted again, but digressed from her report. "There was a woman which transmuted into a giant spider and tried to eat him." She tilted her head to Talon. "She said something to me, so she surely was intelligent. I felt something ancient and dangerous." The blonde faltered shortly. "She felt hungry."

"Continue the report." Marcus ordered once more, stroking his neatly cut beard in thought.

Lux' lip twitched in distaste, but she obeyed to the letter, starting exactly where she had left off. "... Accompanied by thousands of smaller spiders. We couldn't fight them off without risking casualties, but were able to identify the symbols of the house. And I found this ring in the dirt beneath many human bones, so it could belong to a person who died there."

She let the ring fall into the outstretched hand of the Blade of Noxus.

He nodded, looking at the item in his hands. "A werspider accompanied by thousands of smaller spiders?" He repeated.

Talon and Lux nodded in unisono. Their ability to marvel at a triviality like that was at its end for today.

His lips thinned as he turned the ring, as if extracting an answer out of it. Then something in his face changed, as if he checked something off to inspect later.
"How are you?" He asked Talon, tone changing from professional to personal.

"Just a few scratches." Was the answer at which Marcus lifted an eyebrow to.

"Get patched up, don't hurt the healer, I await your full report tomorrow." He glared at the younger assassin, who nodded. "After a full night's rest" Marcus clarified. When he got another reluctant nod he turned and left the kitchen.

A few moments passed in silence before Talon discarded his arm blade, helped himself to a shelf, took out a jar and searched through another drawer for a spoon.

"What did you do to a healer?" It was the first question that came to Lux' mind.

Talon shook his head. "Another time." It was not a final dismissal.

So Lux changed the topic. "I will never be able to not-shriek while seeing anything with more than six legs." She stated, sagging on a chair.

"I really think of going back with a shitload of oil, alcohol and a matchstick." He answered, also sitting down heavily in front of her and opening the jar, sticking the spoon in.

"A friendly arson never hurts." She let her mood lighten up, which was easier than expected, watching how Talon pulled a spoonful of honey out of the jar and began devouring it with astonishing speed and precision, trying not to show her fascination. She had never seen him eat anything, but her own stomach growled in response, even though it was only a sweet treat he was eating. She stretched her hand demandingly in the direction of honeypot and spoon.

Talon quizzically regarded her hand first, her face second, before he stuck the spoon into the jar and gave it a shove in her direction.

The sugary cream tasted heavenly.
Lux hugged the jar playfully as Talon demanded it back, getting an evenly playful snarl out of him, at which she conceded and shoved the treat back to him.

Half the jar later Lux broke the companionable silence. "You don't have, by any chance, any chocolate somewhere?"

Talons eyes narrowed slightly. "I do."

Lux' eyes shot up, full of hope.

He continued after a thoughtful silence which was only broken by smacking sounds. "In my room."

She grabbed for the sweet again, suddenly feeling nervous. "To where will the healer come?" She asked, licking her sticky lips. Golden eyes followed the movement of her tongue.

"Most likely my study." The assassin leaned over the table to get the spoon. "Anything else you want?" He asked teasingly.

"If you ask... A hot bath, clean clothes and the mentioned chocolate?" Lux decided to push her luck, regarding her dusty clothing to which rests of spider webs clung.

He snorted and discarded the now empty honey jar on the counter, carefully standing up and testing his leg before he exited the kitchen. "Always a woman of simple tastes." He commented.

Lux jumped to her feet, following him. She'd hardly call Talon du Couteau simple. "If I can get away with it", she chirped anyway.

They didn't meet anyone on their silent ascension to Talons study. No surprise to Lux, she had spent nearly two weeks in the basement of the manor and hadn't seen the sisters Talon claimed to have.

His study looked as neat and clean as the last time she had seen it.

Lux decided that the silence had lost its carefreeness. She also decided she didn't like awkwardness.
"Can I take a look first?" She pointed to his torn clothing.

"I thought you wanted a bath, clean clothes and chocolate?" He counted on three fingers.

"I'll get cranky if I don't get that later, promise." She blinked at him innocently.

His posture changed the slightest, opened up and somehow he looked more inviting, so Lux approached him slowly with spread fingers. A glance to her extremities brought an amused twitch to his face.

Her fingers fumbled with the clasp of his cloak until it fell to the ground with a heavy 'clonk'. Evenly careful she removed his lone pauldron and the bracer before she gestured for him to sit on the table, proceeding to loosen poleyn and greaves before she could pull his boots off. The right poleyn showed a fresh dent where something sharp had obviously skid up and pierced through his inner upper thigh.

Another glance to his face revealed that he followed her moves in a relaxed way, displaying no sign for her to stop.
"I better cut you out of these." She lightly tipped against his destroyed pants, getting only a huff in response. So she nudged his legs apart for better access, slowly grabbed for one of his shorter blades to cut his left pant leg open before she started to pick at the layers of clothing, caked together by dried blood. Plainly pulling everything away would make it start bleeding again.
"Any alcohol?" She suggested.

"You need a drink on that scratch?" He sounded as mocking as always.

She rolled her eyes. "I need to wet this", Lux tugged at a strap of clothing that had caked into the wound. Talon didn't flinch at all but looked at her strangely. "If it has to hurt it better disinfects while doing so, don't you think?" She explained.

He made a noncommittal gesture with his head, but leaned back to reach behind his desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle.

Lux uncorked the flask with a pop- it smelled high-proof enough- and poured the clear liquid onto the fabric. Again Talon didn't even tense up. The mage let the disinfectant soak in and extended the rip over his chest. The binding still glowed softly from under dried blood and skin. She dabbed a generous amount of alcohol on this place too, more for good measure than for anything else before she began picking the scraps of fabric out of his thigh.
Cleaning a wound was necessary before a healing, otherwise dirt might grow into the wound- a potential source for inflammation if the healer was not exceptionally careful. Not that she expected the Du Couteau- healer to be anything less than the best, but regardless…. No need to take any risks.

When she was satisfied with the state of cleanness she gave another shot of alcohol into the remaining hole. "Pierced cleanly through your adductors, but missed the femoral artery and the nerves, as it seems." She declared. Something that, if the muscles weren't knit together properly, left a great hematoma with the possibility of impairing his range of motion in the future.
Magical healing was a bliss.

Talon nodded silently, fingers flexing around the edges of his desk.

Getting him out of his shirt and really cleaning the first-aided wound was much easier, although blood had already dried.
A few centimeters further down his abdomen was the scar of the first wound she had knit together with her light. It had healed well, only a slightly crooked line she followed with her thumb now, slightly brighter than the surrounding skin.

Lux still stood between his spreat legs, hands suddenly wandering over the numerous scars on his abdomen, gaze climbing up to his neck, following the shadows under his chin upwards over thin lips to a pair of golden eyes.

He had watched her the whole time, still as a statue, with an unreadable expression on his face. But most definitely no discomfort, even though that would have been the most acceptable reaction to a pierced through thigh at which someone poked and prodded.

But if he didn't make a fuss about it Lux also wasn't. The pattern on his skin was much too intriguing to dwell on the thought of pain if he didn't voice any.

Lux hesitantly let her hands wander upwards, over his shoulders and back to his shoulder blades, not daring to actually touch his neck with more than her fingertips, but letting her hands glide back down his chest, spreading out over his abdomen and finally placing them atop his upper thighs.
She took a small step closer.
He didn't lean back.
In fact he didn't move at all, so his breath brushed against her cheek.

Lux tilted her head slightly, looked in his eyes from under her lashes before she regarded his mouth, drawing closer slowly, finger stroking lightly over the outline of his quadriceps. She inched her face closer to his. Talons lids fluttered half shut.

"Touch me." Lux ordered breathlessly, voice hitching. She felt the slow movement of his hand, letting go of the desk to spread his fingers over her hip, caressing the dip between bone and flesh with his thumb. His other hand grazed against the curtain of her hair, pushing it out of her face. His gaze flickered between her eyes and lips as he slowly cupped her cheek and pulled her closer, enough to nudge their noses together.

Lux' breath hitched as she lifted a hand onto his shoulder. She looked into his eyes once more before her own fluttered shut and she closed the short distance between them to a kiss.

This kiss was different than the ones they had shared before, softer, with less urgency. When Talons lips started to move against hers Lux hand wandered to the nape of his neck, caressing the dark hair while he circled his arms around her back, pulling her in an even deeper embrace. It was easy to lose herself in those soft lips, the gentle touches and the tranquil expression Talon wore. His eyes opened slowly, hold weakening but not letting go.

A sharp knock made her shy back as if burnt. She drew a shuddering breath, looking at Talon with wide eyes who had also jumped to his feet and drawn another blade.

"The healer." He muttered under his breath. The blade disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

Lux let out a breathless laughter before she took another step back.
"I'm taking the promised bath." She turned to the door to his room and sauntered away, a bright smile on her face.

Ten minutes later she was rinsed and sautéed in the tub. It had been much too long since she was able to enjoy that much water. Lux stretched her legs and leaned back against the cool edge of the bathtub, letting the hot water warm her tense muscles.

Chapter Text

Talon entered the steamy bathroom to an indeed filled bathtub in which the woman floated. From the motionlessness she displayed he'd guess she was asleep. He didn't dare to take a step closer, fearing she'd wake startled, so he unclothed at the other end of the room and stepped into the shower to wash the grime he was covered in away.

The sound of the shower woke Lux from dozing. She crooked her head- the outlines of Talon's form under the water wasn't the worst image to awake to, so she took in this sight she missed for too long. The play of his muscles, now free from physical impairment, was tantalizing.

"Like what you see?" His dark voice stirred up the quietness.

She took a moment to let her gaze waver up and down his body as he stepped out of the shower before a lazy smile lit her features and she looked up to his face. "What gave me away?"

An angle of his mouth tilted upwards as she stood up to leave the water as well. "No need to end your bath." He grumbled while drying himself with a dark towel. It was purple. Lux noted that for later teasing.

"You promised me chocolate." She stated with the most innocent batting of her eyelashes she could muster, wringing the water out of her hair before catching the towel that was thrown at her and stepping out of the water. She didn't miss the hungry gaze that raked over her body before he closed into indifference again.
She dried herself.

But now Lux knew what had been his issue- he didn't cease to surprise her with unexpected behavior. Be it how gentle he treated her body usually over how much he slowed his movements down to how absolute he complied with a simple 'stop'.

She made no effort to quieten her steps for he rubbed his hair dry. No wonder it looked so messy sometimes.

A nude Talon was almost more familiar to her than a clothed one, so she hadn't had restrictions to pull the towel on his head up and to occupy his space before she dove under the cloth also, cupping his face with her hands and sealing his lips with hers. He rested his hands against her hips, thumbs following the outline of the bones. She tried to convert how much she had missed his touch through the movements of her mouth, and as her lips parted slightly for a silent gasp his tongue slipped inside her and she welcomed him with her own. The strokes and nudges reminded her of his tongue on other parts of her physique, a thought that had her blood rushing centralwards in moments.

With a sudden impatience she pushed against him and barely noticed the small smirk that flitted over his face.

"Eager for your treat?" He teased.

"Don't diminish yourself. You are a whole meal." She declared with a bright smile and pushed him backwards through the door. Now the second angle of his mouth tilted up and he was actually smiling. It was something so rare that Lux fixed her gaze upon it in awe until he suddenly stopped so Lux collided with him in another breathtaking kiss. He closed his arms around her and fell backwards on the bed, pulling the squealing mage with him.

For a moment it felt like falling, until she landed on his chest with a 'huff', but his hand was already on her neck to pull her face back to his.

Lux let her hands wander over his shoulders to his arms where she gave his muscles a squeeze before she followed the outline of a long scar down to his left underarm- where she felt something rough. She peeked down at what looked like scabbed-over superficial wound.
A wound that looked similar to her hand next to it.

She faltered, getting a questioning hum out of Talon's throat as she inspected the nearly healed wound more closely.

"What's that?" She asked, harsher than she wanted to sound and raised her upper body to gain a better overview.

His brows furrowed as he also looked down to what might have turned the atmosphere.
"You don't remember?"

Lux carefully placed her hand above the mark to compare. "That's... My hand." She assessed.

Talon pulled it away much too late and covered it with his own, bigger hand. "Yes?" He looked like caught unaware- a rare thing in itself- and Lux could see he was waiting for an outburst.

"You... You should have had it healed." She sounded as timidly as she felt as another puzzle piece of what happened during that damned night fell into place. She still wasn't a hundred percent sure what had really happened. Equally unsure she was about staying on his lap.

He shrugged in indifference and muttered "cauterized wounds cannot be healed properly."

She shifted on him, feeling a new kind of uneasiness creep up her skin. Hesitatingly she touched the intact akin around the eschar. "That wasn't meant for you." She finally said, not sure what else she could say.

He scoffed and lifted an eyebrow mockingly, shaking his uneasiness off as easily as a dog shook off water. "I fucking hope so, everything else would be extremely rude." And with that it was his usual taunting while his hand on her hip gave Lux a light, reassuring squeeze.

A giggle rose in her chest which grew to light laughter by the time it reached her lips and it made the assassin sag back relieved- she wasn't mad and everything was fine.

"Want me to kiss it better?" She asked, accepting the out he presented her, looking at him from under her long lashes. He could (and most likely would) take it as a joke.

"Your kisses have healing abilities?" Talon's voice sounded as dry as the shuriman desert.

The mage let out more amused laughter, shaking her head. "You are so precious" she stated, trapped between emotions herself and caught him unaware yet again. Lux didn't give him time to feel uncomfortable, but cupped his face in her hands and kissed him, with more fervor and more demanding than before.
Interestingly her lips made him feel better indeed, healing abilities or not. Her blond hair fell around his face like a curtain and he let his hands wander up her body yet again, over the curve of her waist to her ribcage and in small circles down her back again.

Lux pressed kisses along his jaw line and down his throat while her hands explored ahead, squeezing his pectorals and finding a nice way over his toned stomach to the V-shaped muscles that pointed downwards.

"Maybe not healing. But they'll hopefully make you feel really good." She shot him a mischievous smile and drew her tongue down the rim between his pectorals while her fingertips grazed over his half erect cock which grew to full attention on that promise. Lux' smile widened, nose brushing down his abdomen, inhaling his dark scent deeply.

Talon didn't really know where his response came from. "As long as that's the outcome I'll remind you regularly on how badly you burned..." The rest of his sentences was drowned in a strangled noise as her lips closed around his member, sending his mind reeling and his eyes rolling back.
She gave him an experimenting swirl with her tongue, sucking on his tip before she relaxed her throat and eased him deeper into her wet mouth.

He tasted clean and like himself, but different than his mouth. Talon trembled, his hands flew to her hair and a low grunt erupted from deep inside his chest, a dark, unrefined sound, like the higher functions of his brain shut down with the movements of her oropharynx.

The sound and the suppressed movements of his hip sent an expectant tingle down her spine. She closed her right hand around his base to a tight grip and drew her lips up along his shaft, tongue drawing slow circles around his hardness until she reached his tip. She felt blunt nails scrape against her scalp, the restraint arch of his back and looked up into irises black from dilated pupils.
The animalistic expression resonated within her and she winced, giving him a long suck before her head bobbed down again.

She let her other hand wander down her own stomach, fingers dipping in her wet heat to rub against her pleasure point while she continued to move her head up and down in sync with her swirling tongue.
The moan she made translated to vibrations deep in her throat and she felt his cock twitch and his testicles tighten.
Neglecting herself she cupped his balls with her other hand, softly massaging the sensitive appendages. She watched the ripple of his abdominal muscles as he refrained from pushing himself deeper into her throat. Lux relished in the primal expression, his fixation on the movements of her mouth only leaving her when his head flew back at an especially good flick of her tongue.

Then his hold on her hair tightened as he tried to still her movements- a futile attempt, for Lux had found a nice rhythm that shot shivers up his whole body, toned muscles moving fascinatingly in the low light.

As he didn't manage to stop her actions something more comprehensible formed from his guttural groans. "Wait, I'm... I'm..." Another vigorous swirl of her tongue against the underside of his shaft twisted his words to a growl. She searched his gaze to let him see the smile in her eyes- her mouth was severely occupied by another part of his body. Talon's eyes nearly bulged out at the implication as she closed her eyes in appreciation and rubbed the tip of her tongue against the ridge were his tip met with his shaft.
His hands left her hair.

The sounds ensuing from deep inside his chest increased in volume as his balls started to twitch, a motion that continued to his cock and with an involuntary thrust inside the wet heat of her throat. Lux' hand followed the up and down-motion of her head until the tension on his muscles made them bulge out and his fingers coiled in the sheets. She unclawed his hand and guided it to her hair, where he obviously wanted it to be. Instantly he wound his hand through her locks and followed the movement of her head sparsely with his hip.
Lux was amazed by the restraint power just under her fingertips. She longed to unleash what was just quaking inside of him. It was admirable how she was able to do so with the movements of her hands, lips and tongue.
She gave him another long suck before she relaxed her throat to glide down his whole length.
With an upward jerk of his hips he gave in, a hot gush of fluid erupted into Lux' mouth as Talon's back arched up from the bed and she swallowed the spurts of his seed until he collapsed back onto the bed, panting heavily. Salty, a bit bitter, and thick.

Lux gulped more audible and wiped the back of her hand over her smiling mouth before she rose, shook her hair back and lifted herself up to her knees, stretching high up in satisfaction.
She was surprised as she felt hands on her hip, caressing the skin before giving her a strong pull. With a yelp she fell forward against his muscled chest and was enveloped in strong arms. She lifted her face to meet his lips in a wet, messy kiss.

"Liked that?" Lux asked as they parted, more breathless than she wanted it to sound.

She got a deep, evenly breathless chuckle as reply. "You may burn me again."

Lux smiled at him, brightly so- she didn't notice the light that started to emanate from her skin. "Don't tempt me." She whispered against his skin before she kissed him again, hand searching for the almost healed scar to stroke over it apologetically.

"Did you touch yourself while sucking me?" His hand wandered down her body, appreciating her unblemished skin until he reached her core, wet and waiting.
Just transcend to sleep was no option.
He gave her a light, teasing stroke, not able to discern why the redness on her cheek traveled down her neck to dust her breasts. It looked appetizingly attractive and he found himself growing interested again, despite the fact that he should be tired.
"Answer me." He demanded, playing with her sensitive skin to get a desperate gasp in return.

"Yes, I did." She whimpered, closing her eyes in embarrassment and rolled her hips against his hand. Damn, he knew what to do with his hands.

"Turn." He ordered with a familiar gleam in his eyes. Images settled within the light mage's mind- what did he mean? He moved his hands to her back and guided her on her side, next to him, before he coaxed her to turn her back to him. / With brief uneasiness she complied. As soon as he pressed his front against her back his hands were on her core again, this time delving through her folds to find the little bud of nerves, giving her a slow, warming up rub.

She ground her ass against his growing hardness and the low growl in her ear was a nice cheer to the increasing, tense pleasure that welled up in her body at the constant, circling pressure of his fingers.

His left hand stroke firmly over her breast and rolled one sensitive nipple between thumb and forefinger and Lux nearly lost her mind, voicing her distress in an elongated whining sound. She felt the hand leaving her chest, fumbling with himself and the tip of his newly erect cock pressed against her. She lifted her leg to stretch it out backwards, draping it over his upper thigh so he had room to move, room to push into her while he didn't cease to caress her pleasure point to the point Lux felt the bliss in her stomach explode with a hardly suppressed moan as he buried himself completely in her, snapping his hip forward with deep grunts, resonating within her to keep her rapture up, making her quiver with helpless anticipation as she felt a giant wave building within her.
His hands were everywhere, making her skin burn at the contact and dispelling every thought in her mind that wasn't connected to the gorgeous man behind her and the roaring inside.

As Talon's deep thrusts grew erratic and his cock started twitching deep inside of her Lux felt herself pushed over the edge once more, announcing her completion with an unrestrained cry that found its answer in his deep groan.

He collapsed next to her, breathing heavily, spent as she was, making no effort to move his limbs away but stretching against her twitching body.

Lux lifted her fist to wipe away the tears that had formed in the corner of her eyes and leaked down her face.

"You alright?" Talon murmured, slower than before, hesitantly starting to stroke her side with his fingertips. He remembered the last (and first) time he had seen water in her eyes, but failed to see a connection.

Lux broke in a tired laugh. "Oh yeah, more than alright" she reassured heartily, savoring the tingly feeling of her skin and the warmth in her belly as she twisted herself into his embrace.

He readjusted his hold before pulling her flush against his chest to resume caressing her side. "That's great" he answered relieved, sounding just as tired as Lux felt.

She surprised him again with pulling his right hand to her face and pressing a tender kiss on the knuckles before pulling it over her shoulder, across her chest, snuggling against the warmth and closing her eyes.

Lux was exhausted to the core, but warm inside and out. She knew what she should be doing right now, but in the last few years she had seldom felt this safe and content.

She nudged her nose against his arm and inhaled deeply. The same scent that permeated the clothes she had taken (and failed to return), rich and calming and more in a way she wasn't able to define yet. She felt him taking a breath against her hair also.
Just a moment longer to gather her strength, before she had to go.

"Stay." he muttered silently, more a question than an order, and closed his arms tighter around her.

So, for the first time in one and a half years, she stopped caring for the voice in her head that called her biased, listened to her body, closed her eyes and fell into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Talon woke as something moved besides him. It took him a second to realize his weapons were not at hand- and that the soft body pressing to his chest was no immediate threat to be stabbed, but the sleep-warm curves of his bed partner.

The course of past night flashed to his mind. After realizing that her evened out breath, slowing heartbeat and closed eyes really meant she had fallen asleep he had watched her for several minutes, not daring to move one tangled limb.
He hadn't began to hope she'd take on his offer and actually stay.
Exhausted himself he had chosen to close his eyes for just a bit. Seemingly he had fallen asleep shortly after her.

Now he laid half on his side, half tilted on his stomach in his usual sleeping position, blanket spreat out over them both. What differed from his usual comfortable position he was able to get up from in no time was the woman, still as naked as he himself, back curled into his chest to replace the cushion he normally huddled up against. She had moved slightly, maybe because he suffocated her with his tight grip, which had in turn woken him.
He slowly shifted his weight off of her, getting a low murmur in return as she rolled on her back as if she was following his warmth. He pulled the blanket up where it had slid down her shoulder.

From this angle he had a good view to her face.
He seldom had the chance to look at her real features, really take her in- but now was the chance of doing so without being taken for the fascinated man he was.
Her pale face was relaxed, the lines of tension around her eyes had vanished, making her look years younger.
How old was she? Talon could only guess. To his surprise she still hadn't rose her illusions yet, so her golden hair fanned around her head like a shining halo, accentuating her finely chiseled features perfectly. Her real face didn't cease to amaze him, almost translucent, as if she broke at a too harsh touch. It was even better with her beautiful eyes open, but then he wouldn't be free to stare at his leisure.
What a contrast her fragile look posed to the fierce strength slumbering within her.

His gaze strolled down her body, over the different spots he knew she liked to be touched, licked, grabbed and pinched. The tantalizing rise and fall of her pale breasts captured his attention fairly long- he had often admired how perfectly they fitted in his hands. Without much thinking his fingertips ghosted over the soft flesh of her boobs.

How much would it take to wake her up?
He felt rising excitement at the thought of her not just leaving his bed, but making the waking up before worth the wile. They hadn't established a protocol for this specific case, for neither of them had ever slept in the company of the other, but this felt like a situation Talon wouldn't mind doing such for.
Now, after thinking about it a bit more, Talon wouldn't mind at all for this situation occur often enough to justify the establishment of certain rules.

Always a man of action he lowered his head to her cheek and spreat his fingers over the softness of her breast, stroking over the hardening nipple. With his other hand he gently tugged on her hair to pull her head to the side. Her soft sigh indicated he wasn't acting too fast, wasn't risking a fiery outcome.

Her eyelids fluttered, revealing the slightest hint of blue.
"Good morning", she muttered and turned lazily in his arms, coming closer in the process, wrapping her leg around his and slowly rubbing it up and down.

"Good morning", he also said, reveling in the gentle pressure of her silky legs. She didn't seem aversed to waking up like this, too.

"Were you able to rest?" She put her hand over his, strengthening his hold before hooking her upper leg around his hip and, with a push, flipped him on his back, rose her body up to stretch her arms and body upwards.
Talon's gaze followed the teasing bounce of her breasts, the movement of her arms and the ripple of her stretching abdominal muscles before he spreat out his hand over her stomach to feel the movement under his hands.

He let his hands wander idly over her hipbones, followed the narrowing of her slim waist up her ribs to her fascinating breasts. Talon lifted his torso up from the bed to bury his nose in the valley between her soft mounds. She laughed, already a bit breathless and closed her arms around his neck to place a kiss at the top of his head. He heard her inhaling deeply.

He cupped her boob and turned his head, lifting it from its comfortable pillow to close his mouth around her areola, eliciting a gasp as he sucked first, then teased the peak with his tongue. She reactively tightened her grasp around him, fingers digging into his back and grinded her body against him with another hitched sound, something that took the direct route down to his groin where his cock hardened instantly, igniting his hunger and catapulting him into the reality of having a horny, beautiful woman in his arms. He palmed her other breast while lavishing the one already in his mouth, encouraged by the low whines that leaked from her lips and the nails in his back. Slowly he relocated his hands to her upper thighs to caress the pale skin, then gave her a strong push which made her loose balance with a suppressed squeal. With another quick, adjusting push of his body she laid on her back and he was above her, catching her parted lips with his own as well as her wrists to pin her down onto his bed.
She circled her leg around his waist again and undulated against him before she slipped her tongue into his mouth, closing her eyes.

Her wetness made it easy to shove himself up her tight heat and soon he lost himself in her taste, scent, her soft moans and the heavenly constriction around his throbbing erection.

The increasing urgency in her gasps echoed sweetly in his ears and as her breath hitched while she constricted around him his own orgasm washed over him with a sudden intensity that left him shuddering with rapture, pumping into her artlessly until he was spent and panting against her.

Warm arms circled around his back, keeping him on his place atop of her as she sighed into his ear.

Talon needed a moment to regain his breath.
"Hungry?" He mumbled against her shoulder after he had done so.

"I'm starving!" She blurted out without thinking twice.

He chuckled lightly and made an effort to rise, but she stopped that movement by rolling over his arm, pushing him on his back, taking his face into her hands and planting a long kiss on his mouth.

"Breakfast's in the kitchen." He murmured against her lips just before he rolled them around and pushed her on her back, nestling between her legs once more.

Her hands wandered to his back as she stuck her nose under his chin and placed a kiss on his throat.

Talon was ready to get lost in her again, the sight of her sprawled all over his rumpled bed sheets, still very much naked and, guessing from her slightly clouded expression, not completely aversed to postpone the breakfast for a bit longer.

His fingers moved on their own accord, flooded over her flat stomach until they dipped into the wet heat of her core. She sighed against the column of his throat on which she had latched on.

Then a few things happened at once.

The door flung open with a loud pang and the assassin's head snapped to the door.

"Talon!" A redheaded female clad in leather which revealed more than it concealed charged into the room, stopping dead in her tracks at the sight. With a surprised gasp the spy closed her arms around Talon's neck and a static sound sizzled up as brightness erupted from her.
Talon closed his eyes in preparation to be hit by her shield spell- instead he felt it brushing over his skin before he found himself encapsulated by the shimmering shield.
Lux' head snapped to the side to conceal her face- and with lightning speed Talon practically jumped out of the bed to the middle of the room, still very much naked.
He didn't dwell on the fact that he was able to pass her barrier without harm.

"Get out of here!" He shouted, every trace of the former levity gone and replaced by tension as the light in his back faded away with her alarm.

Katarina waved a hand over Talons side, not in the least abiding to his order. "Hi, Talon's lover." She threw a mocking grin at the inhabitant of the bed before she turned her attention to the still unclothed man, not the least intimidated by neither his state of nudeness nor his closeness. "I need your opinion, so get dressed and… better come to my room." She spared his bed another grin where the woman with her newly put on face had thrown the blanket over herself.

"Kat…" Talon's low growl sounded warning as well as enervated, something that didn't got better with hearing the rasping sound of scales against tiles. He tried to shoo his sister out of the room before the second one could arrive, but Katarina's attempt to sidestep him made him retreat a step in order to stay between her and his bed.
The redhead seemed in a playful mood, which meant she wasn't lusting for blood- not for much at least- but that meant she would be a giant pain in his ass until she had enough from whatever it was she wanted.
Which could take much, much time.

Cassiopeia's torso appeared over Katarina's head as the serpent rose her impressive form upwards curiously, stabilizing herself on the rearmost parts of her tail as well as on the door with one hand to take a look behind her siblings into Talon's room. She hold her tongue inside her mouth in the way she did when she desperately didn't want to smell something.

Talon let out an exasperated groan as Cassiopeia started talking. "Let him at least shower- or finish what he…"

"It's enough!" Talon gave Katarina a shove- or he tried to, because the redhead blinked into his back and gave him a firm push with her boot. Combined with his own movement he stumbled into Cassiopeia who, reared up as high as she was, lost her balance with a hiss of displeasure and grasped for Talon in an attempt to stabilize herself. The assassin threw his hands up in defense, but Cassio's sharp claws won and pierced themselves into his unprotected skin, adding her considerable, instable weight to his front. They went to the ground in a tangle of limps and shrieks.

Lux watched dumbstruck as Katarina walked to Talon's dresser, pulled out two dark pieces of clothing and threw them on top of the heap of skin and scales.
She couldn't help but stare at the redhead, the woman that gave Garen a hard time fighting. A tattoo wound itself up from Katarina's hip to under the leather of her armor.
Like all noxians her appearance, her armor- or the lack of it- as well as her weapons looked to intimidate. The scar that parted her left eyebrow added to that impression nicely. It was the first time Lux actually saw the Sinister Blade close up, and from what she could say stories about her weren't exaggerated. Her movements were similar to Talon's, effortlessly soundless, graceful and subtlety radiating danger.

"I bring him right back, amuse yourself in the meantime." Katarina blew a strand of hair out of her face and winked at Lux with a superior smirk who reflexively rose her hand in farewell.

The last thing Lux could hear before the door closed was a screeched "Don't touch me with that fingers!" Which set her face ablaze, followed by a "you stick", both from Cassiopeia. After clicking shut she was able to make out Talon vociferating his grievance.

She let herself fall back and rubbed her palm over her eyes. She hadn't seen one of Talon's sisters at her entire stay.
And now this.
What a strange encounter.
Strange, even more so because it was the most domestic scene Lux had witnessed in… forever. Garen most certainly had never been that way to her, and she would never dare to do to him whatever Katarina did to Talon.
They seemed to get along well, despite the clamor she could hear through the door.
The way in which they expressed that stroke Lux as odd, but she was the last person on Runeterra to judge.

"Fuck you Katarina, Marcus wants to debrief me, I need to shower and I hadn't even had breakfast yet!" Talon brisked up while Cassiopeia detangled herself from him without his assistance. He merely spreat his arms to comply to her wish not to be touched by him.

The serpent rose, somewhat lacking her usual grace, and pushed her hair back. "Knowing what you were having for breakfast we agree on the shower…" she winked and her tongue darted out- judging by the change of her expression and the fast retraction of the organ she rued the intuitive motion. "Gods Katarina, just because you don't have sex doesn't mean…"

"I want to talk to him, not you, so get lost." Katarina snarled at her sister who rose her body up high, above Katarina's height.

The younger sister couldn't let her have the last word and turned to Talon. "Good to know you are not a selfish lover. Can't you work that on her awful temper? Looks like she needs it." Cassiopeia spared Katarina another angry hiss, carefully keeping her tongue inside her mouth this time, patted Talon's back and slithered away with an indignant huff.

Talon likewise stood and slipped into the pants and shirt Katarina had thrown at him. He wasn't sure why Katarina hadn't thrown a violent outbreak into his woman's face, but he didn't question it. For now he had more pressing matters to discuss.
"Your timing is awful." He commented sourly.

"Imagine what had happened if I had come ten minutes later." Her smile grew wider. "Or earlier." Katarina blew a strand of her hair away from her face. "Oh wait, I was here ten minutes earlier!" Her green eyes widened in mock surprise. "I mean, I let you finish… breakfast or whatever you call it, so don't whine like a bitch."

Talon shook his head and followed her. "Just in case you have forgotten: There is someone in my room."

"Afraid she'll have fun without you or what?" She kicked open the door to her own study and slouched on her desk, arms folding across her chest.

Talon shut the door and leaned against it, reciprocating the glare she sent him.

Katarina continued to glare daggers at him.

Talon played along for what felt like several minutes.
Until it was too much even for him. "You interrupted what was going to be a really great start in the day to..." He made a gesture at her eyes.

"Have you been... selfish... During your first encounter with her?" Katarina still glared at him, but now he got the feeling that her anger wasn't directed at him. Which was good, because standing at the receiving end of her wrath tended to be painful, humiliating or both. Not scaring enough to avoid it at all costs, though.

"Why is my sexlife important to you?" He tried to deflect the question on grounds he was at least able to stand.

Now her anger relocated itself to him. Wrong approach.
"Because you are the only one I can talk about stuff like that!"
He raised an eyebrow and as always Katarina answered to his thoughts as if he had spoken out loud.
"Cass always gives me hell when I try to, so suck it up."

Talon groaned inwards. Normally Katarina just wanted him to listen- which was easy- but when she really wanted to start a conversation there was hardly a backing out of it. And answering her was always faster than not doing so. Maybe, just maybe this would be over soon. So he played along for now and answered. "No."

"Can you be sure?"

"Positive." He folded his arms and looked at her, miffed, but not seeing another out.

"How?" She continued her clipped questions.

He rubbed his face, not entirely sure why he was here, asked about sex instead of doing it with a beautiful young woman who happened to be present and willing in his room. "Doesn't need a mind reader to notice when someone has a good time."

"Why didn't you just... Had fun and left?" A deep crease appeared between her eyebrows.

"Cassi would have had my head." Hopefully she'd buy that. Cassiopeia had been a seductress, and such things absolutely belonged to her field of operation.

The dagger thrown into his direction was a clear enough answer. He pulled his hand back before the steel could connect.

He examined Katarina's face. That was mostly anger in it, mixed with something he wasn't able to identify. "Has someone left you high and dry or what?" He reinforced his taunt with a telling smirk and the lifting of an eyebrow. He surely didn't want to continue this conversation, but sadly he hadn't had a say in that.

"Just answer." She ordered again.

Her sudden, angry seriousness wiped the mocking half-smirk from his face and made him really consider. It had been a surprise to find the woman in his room that night, but after he had caught on what she offered it had needed minimal thinking on his side.
"I wanted to do it again. With her." He took a deep breath. "And ensuring she had fun also was the best way to get her to do that, so..." He shrugged.

"How did you knew?" The angry line in her forehead returned.

"Knew what?"

"That you wanted to have another go with her. Why? Why not anybody else?" She slapped her open hands against the wood of her desk and the fury in her eyes made him straighten against the door.

What had caused this wrath of hers? It was a little much, even for Katarina. After her apology he had not expected her to just jump the woman as soon as she caught sight of her, and luckily Katarina hadn't- but there was something else going on. But what that something could be was totally beyond him and his only option was enduring this uncomfortable questioning. "She is a challenge where hardly anybody else is." It only scratched the surface, but it probably was enough for his irate sister.

"That's all? Seriously?" She hissed at him.
Damn, it wasn't enough.
"Do you actually think she is a match for you? Is she a fling? How do you know if someone can be interesting for a long time? What happens if she somehow turns out to be not as strong as you thought?" Her green eyes drilled into his golden ones as if she could extract the answer directly from his brain.

Talon still had absolutely no idea what she wanted to hear and what he could say to make this go over faster.
"That's not stuff I put any thoughts in." He lastly voiced what came to his mind first.

Katarina bared her teeth. "How can you not?" She griped.

"Can't you ask me what you want to know or tell me what you want to hear and let me go?" It sounded too much like pleading in his own ears.

Katarina chew on her lip and Talon closed his eyes. How could this not be over yet?

"Do you believe you will be having someone at your side in the future?" The heat dwindled from her voice and she looked to the ceiling, almost as if she hesitated to ask this question.

"You will be. Cass will be. Marcus also." He emphasized without having to think about it twice.

Seemingly Katarina wasn't satisfied by that answer. "And that girl?" She continued to inquire.

"I never thought about that." He felt uncomfortable, as if she tried to rip something out of his chest that wasn't ready for existing anywhere else, but worth protecting where it was nonetheless.

"Do so now." She commanded.

He shrugged, evading every thought in the ordered direction. Instead he remembered what Cassiopeia said- maybe this was about a man?- and tried to picture someone next to Katarina.
He didn't like the thought and wasn't able to match the image of someone to her side. Anybody else would look like a douchebag next to her and that was just wrong.
Katarina occasionally had her share of fun with men who stroke her current mood, but usually Talon only had to endure her mocking them, and she had never talked about the same guy twice. It was just wrong for her to torment him like that.

"Why don't you just try out if the guy is worth your time? Or has he actually let you down? Because then he is not, I assure you." He made a suggestive movement with his head.

A dagger pierced the wood next to his head with a 'thwack'. It was the door and not his face because he had turned it away in time.

"There is no guy! Just Marcus!"

Talon tilted his head in question. This got more confusing and even more more uncomfortable with every passing second. "And that affects me… how?" Slowly her agitation spreat to him also, it was hard to keep his cool around Katarina when she set herself to break his reserve.

"I want to know how you were able to choose someone! I mean, how did you even find her? How did you make her stay? But how did you find her in the fucking first place?"

Talon didn't know how to answer. He had never thought about what Katarina questioned. He was just going with it, not asking too many questions because what they had felt much too fragile to be tied down with the weight of questions that could not be answered.

"How do you manage to find someone who matches you? How is that even possible?" She sounded increasingly frustrated.

Talon became more clueless what her point was as her agitation rose.

"Listen, that was just a coincidence." he tried to calm the redhead down through actually making an effort to answer at least a part of her questions. Sadly it didn't work.

"Yeah, but father keeps pestering me, so just tell me how you make something like that happen!" She clenched her fists beneath her body and took a menacing step towards him.

Not the gesture disturbed him, but the urgency in her words, for he had no answer. "I… I… I don't know, I just didn't manage to kill her and somehow she stuck, I don't know, really, I don't!" He didn't even know why he sounded like he defended himself, but Katarina's loud voice was so accusatory that defending was the only option. There was no way he'd just blurt out what was tickling the back of his skull right now, as if he had something to express, but not the words to do so. It might break at Katarina's aggression and that would be a terrible loss, Talon could sense as much. So he locked it away into the rearmost part of his brain and evaded every connection to it so he could talk to Katarina about whatever she was talking about without letting her words hit somewhere close to home. As long as Katarina didn't drill deep enough it would work.

"Sounds like a nasty case of the flu." Her words sounded much less mocking than they should, but rather like she really wanted to get a grasp on what he couldn't explain.

"Call it what you want, just stop asking." Talon actually begged.

"Not before I know how you manage something like that and I don't!" Katarina continued to screech while she jibed her index finger against his chest.

"I don't manage anything." He croaked, completely in defense.

"How long are you sleeping with that girl?" She snarled and narrowed her eyes to slits.

Talon counted. Finally a question he could answer. "About one and a half years. A bit longer, I think."

"Looks like managing to me, so spill your secret!"

"I don't have one!" Talon finally exclaimed as loudly as Katarina was the whole time. He was at the end of his considerable amount of patience. "If you have an actual problem with her just say so and…"

"No!" Katarina shouted loudly and her eyes widened. "I don't have a problem with her!" She actually raised her hands in a calming gesture as she took a step away from him. It looked wrong on her. Nonetheless Talon took a deep breath.

"Then what is it?" He composed himself with another breath and tried to piece the uncoordinated words of Katarina together. "What has Marcus told you?" He finally picked up on her words.

The other assassin shifted on her feet uncomfortably, but not aversed at all. Just uncomfortable. She wanted to talk about that? Oh gods.
"It's just with that girl constantly around father starts looking at me in a way I don't want him to look."

"Like what?" Talon asked, finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

"Like he expects me to also get someone like you found so easily."

"Easily?" Talon repeated. "Your definition of easy is strange, but okay." He mumbled silently to himself. "So Marcus looks at you strangely. Since when does that disturb you?"

Her brows knit together as she looked at him, with the anger that was formerly directed at nothing special now boring into him and making him believe this would never end. "Actually because of you."

"I don't feel guilty." Talon said hesitatingly.

"I know, and that is the worst part!" Katarina grumbled. "Because I have to endure this, and not you, even though you are the one who caused this!"

Talon just chose to be silent because it seemed to be pointless anyway. He didn't like to be the catalyst to anything for Katarina that she didn't want, but he also didn't understand why him spending time with a woman of his choosing was anyone's business but his own.
Maybe Katarina was just angry and needed to relieve that stress. And sadly, as it was sometimes, he was her punching bag. Even though he preferred to actually spar against her, that was usually the more pleasurable way to take her anger out. But her study was hardly the right place to let her take off steam. And if he was honest, he wasn't in the mood to let off steam with knifes and blades, too.
He simply wanted to go back to his room where an unattended, nosy woman hopefully didn't snug through his things.

"Just tell him what you always do." Talon suggested, as he seemingly couldn't provide her with a plan on how to find someone interesting enough to sleep with more than a few times. That seemed to be the greatest of her problems.

She looked at him and tiredness wove its way in her expression. "You are of no help for me, Talon." She declared.

He shrugged his shoulders and lifted his hands in a calming gesture. "Okay? I'm sorry?" And he really was, because if he were able to provide her with an answer that would satisfy her this torture was over.

Katarina pushed herself off of the desk and gave him a shove away from the door he was blocking.

"Was there any point in this?" He asked unsure, because he didn't find other words for the unsettlement in her actions.

"Just go finish your breakfast." She lifted her nose at him and turned through the door in displeasure, leaving him clueless what had gone wrong this time.

Chapter Text

General Marcus Du Couteau noted that the room brightened up as the woman who called herself Anna entered it. It was no cheesy line to describe a special kind of beauty for she hid her features behind a loosely woven face that wasn't her own- in fact, this one seemed to be significantly less well crafted as the one she had formerly worn- but an observation of the illumination of Marcus' study.
It just got a tad brighter as Talon's spy stepped inside and with a second look Marcus was sure the faint glow emanated from her skin.

A werspider, an organization older than Boram Darkwill himself, and a luminous woman in his own home.

Times were changing rapidly.

She wore a dark shirt that surely didn't originally belong to her while she seemed significantly more at ease than yesterday. Talon too displayed a relaxed posture he never showed when someone else was present. This time Marcus saw the barely noticeable touch of shoulders as Talon strode past her to take his usual spot at the short end of his desk to lean against the shelf, arms loosely folded as the woman sat down on a chair, looking at him expectantly.

The debriefing went as smoothly as he had expected with her displaying a growing levity at his choice of words and the accent he used.
Marcus was impressed by the amount of ingenuity she had shown during her search- she had found an organization to chase it through the time- and even more so on the actual hunt.

Talon didn't intervene to add things, following the conversation alert as always, either failing to notice or not caring about Marcus' altered emphasis of some words and of him using phrases not normally existing in his vocabulary.
More important: the woman seemingly also didn't notice consciously, but relaxed visibly over the course of the debriefing and continued to glow.

At the description and interpretation of their departure from the immortal bastion Talon flared to life though. She seemed reluctant to talk about her powers but his shadow, efficient as always, summarized what happened in short words.

"So the lintel depicted a rose and a peacock, you are sure?" Marcus voiced his last question.

She nodded at the parchment in front of her, where she had painted the symbols she had seen. Or felt through her light, Marcus didn't completely understand.

"Then I have to thank you greatly. This task is completed for now, you were a valuable ally. House Du Couteau thanks you for your collaboration."

He pushed his chair back and rounded his desk as the woman rose also. He stretched out his right hand, fingers put together to turn his palm upwards.

The Blade was sure the smile that appeared on her face as she laid her hand in his was honest.
"It has been a pleasure working with you, Miss…?" He continued with a bow to adumbrate a kiss on her knuckles.

Now he heard the fabric of Talon's coat whisper as he moved slightly, but the woman already curtsied and opened her mouth to a "Cr…" before she inhaled sharply.

Marcus straightened himself and let only the hint of a smile graze his lips while he waited and monitored her reaction.

The first and most understandable was clearly panic. Even though her mask concealed the true color of her face the blanching of her neck told him everything he needed to know.
He expected an explosion of the powers Talon had described so vividly as her hold on his hand tightened.

Instead he was surprised for he saw her nostrils flaring as she straightened to seemingly calm herself, fixating him with a suppressed anger and another expression he could only describe as hurt, looking straight into his eyes while she loosened her tight grasp around his hand.
She looked like she was preparing something, waiting for him to strike first.

She was an intelligent girl, he had to give her that, even in a situation like this.
Intelligent, and a tad too trusting.

He and probably she too knew that the one outnumbered increased the chances of a positive outcome if he waited for her opponent to strike first, so she did exactly that.

The rustling of clothes came from the side where Talon unfolded his arms and straightened himself, startled at the sudden change of atmosphere, looking from his father to where his hands were still joined with hers.

Defiance blended into her expression. As her eyes flickered between himself and Talon who looked like he didn't understand what was happening, but felt the uneasiness that grew in his girl nonetheless.

"Anything I can do to repay your services?" Marcus finally broke the silence.

The woman looked like she swallowed the first answer that came to her mind, but shook her head.

"Being in debt to someone is such a fickle thing." He continued as she didn't answer.

Her gaze switched between him and Talon who had replaced his relaxed posture with a tense one.

"No need. This was personal." She squeaked and inched a step backwards, sounding more nervous than she looked like.

"Fine. Talon?"

The assassin flexed his right hand in agitation as he nodded.

Marcus hold her gaze as he sunk back into his chair, folding his hands in front of his chest. "Would you escort Miss Anna to her home safely?"

"Sure." Was his reply before Talon grasped for the woman's elbow- she twitched away just the tiniest bit and the brightening up of the glow of her skin was an unmistakable warning, so the general waited for the light show he was sure to get.
Instead Talon paused his movement mid-air and spreat out his fingers until she spared his digits a look out of narrowed eyes. She blinked before her clouded expression dissipated and he continued his motion to touch her elbow with the tip of his fingers more softly than Marcus had ever seen him touch anything.

The general was fairly sure Talon didn't realize he covered the back of his girl as he guided her out of the room.

The door clicked shut behind them and the general was alone with his thoughts.

Marcus allowed himself to brace his head in his hands as he reflected the current situation in its entirety.

One of his daughters was dead. He had seen it coming as she always has been the weakest of his lot, but that didn't mean he had wanted her dead. He most definitely hadn't, but it was too late now. Regrets wouldn't help him the slightest.
Vengeance on the other hand was something he could do.
Calliope had been killed by a member of the black rose, a community he had few information about, but it seemed one of its members was a werspider. Who knew what kind of other legendary figures the pale woman had surrounded herself with?
Marcus himself had trenched up the name of their Master of Ceremonies- at least that one seemed ordinary enough, just another mage.
He regarded the piece of paper in front of him, already blackened with a few names written in his neat handwriting. Talons next hit- list. He took a pen and tipped its tip against the parchment.

That raid of Talon and his girl counted as a direct assault and he wasn't deluded enough to think they either hadn't been recognized or there wouldn't be a counterstrike.

Apart from the tumult in his family the High Command also was in turmoil.
A new general named Darius had seized power over a regiment through slaughtering his superior and continued his work with other higher ups through culling everyone he deemed weak.
Another newcomer called Swain had also gathered a lot of support for his ideas of reviving the expansion-campaign of the borders more forcefully while Darkwill choose to remain on the peaceful course he had maintained for the last years.
Well... Peaceful for a noxian.

Lastly there was the girl Talon had grown fond of. She had shown great wit and through something like a miracle she had found the only place where the black rose could be found. In tales and legends.
Sadly in synopsis of her whole behavior there was only one possibility what and who she was. The idioms she used were subtlety not noxian and as he had reciprocated with different words from different states, changing the emphasis to what he remembered from different lands she reacted most positively when he used phrases he remembered from Demacia.
Which noxian in their right mind would not at least be startled, least of all call upon the light himself?
She also wasn't acting like a character who was used to stay alone for an extended period of time and despite that she hold no close contacts exept for his son.
Plus, she had a formal training so strongly internalized that he was able to trigger it with a standard demacian bow and a hand kiss.
A demacian noble, no question.
He rubbed his hand over his face. He only knew of one noble family which name started with the letters 'Cr'. And as far as he knew that family had one daughter as well as a more famous son.

How had Talon managed not only to find, but to keep the sister of Garen Crownguard, captain of the Dauntless Vanguard?
From what he had experienced she was a more than competent spy and mage, even though magic was strictly prohibited and even more feared in her home country and a spy's work was nothing remotely honorful in Demacia. She had managed to fly under the radar for years, just to be uncovered because of a job that had nothing to do with her actual work.

Marcus moved his pen over his parchment but hesitated and its tip floated above the white spot.

He shook his head. What possessed a smart girl to maintain something as dangerous as what she had with his son? Was she arrogant enough to think she could keep her allegiances a secret?

He recalled her microexpressions.
Panic first, but she had regained her senses quickly. Determination and anger as she had grasped his hand stronger, clearly ready to fight her way out, then that look at Talon, like her world shattered before her eyes to defiance at last, ready to react.

Nothing remotely similar to arrogance, he suspected.

He recalled the interactions between her and Talon, the glances and the way she lined herself up with him.
Was there another conclusion he could reach?
Marcus thought about it for quite some time to exploit every other explanation.
He stuck with what he originally thought. In that case the girl didn't pose a threat to his family, least of all to his son. Marcus snorted.
How in hell had Talon made a woman like that fall for him?

He shortly entertained the different paths he could take. Removing her would mean a most likely sad Talon, for he seemed to like her a great deal. And if sadness meant what the man had shown over the last few weeks following Calliopes dead it was nothing Marcus would inflict upon him needlessly.
On the other hand was the happiness of one of his children worth more than the potential havoc a demacian spy could wreck in Noxus? He wasn't illusory. Up until now the woman had done nothing really bad against his country, but her persistence had shown what she was capable of if given enough time.
Just letting them continue? Would someone like her defect?
If there was no getting rid of her he had to use her, defected or not. The black rose was a problem that would spawn over to Demacia as well, so there was potential room for positive collaboration.
A Crownguard as hostage also wouldn't be the worst thing.

He cursed silently and pulled the quill back.

With the threat of the black rose not only over his house but over all of Noxus he needed his family in line. Noxus would change, and Marcus needed to make sure that his children were positioned in the best possible way for each and every outcome.

The woman he had experienced could have made a great addition, Talon definitely had a good taste. Still, she was an enemy in a time he was surrounded by them already.

He sighed once more and wrote a name onto the paper.

"What was that?" Talon asked.

She regarded his hand still connected to her elbow with a now tightening grip. After her stare he released her.

He was surprised by how high pitched her voice sounded as she answered, a stark contrast to her cool demeanor.
"Can I go?"

"After you told me what that was!" He hissed more insistently.

Her gaze heated up again. "What do you want me to say right now?" She hissed back. "You know there are things I can't tell you! As I know there are things not to ask you. It will be bad enough when your father tells. I seriously don't want to be anywhere nearby when that happens." She shook her head, expression dulling as the light seemed to leave her. She looked darker than ever before as she repeated: "Can I go?"

Talon retreated a step to give her space during the outburst. "Is it that bad?"

"Look Talon, you live and die by your blades as you put it so eloquently. I do that by my secrets. There will always be people who will want to kill me for them." And the upward twitch of her lips was more bitter than he had ever seen. She looked at him sad in a way as if she was meaning more than what she just converted with her words.

"Don't let them." He said without thinking about it.

The woman scoffed. "I don't intend to."

"I know."

The way she looked at him made clear that she thought he would belong to exactly that group of people soon enough. He wanted to reach out to her at that moment, but he found himself unable to. Because Sadly Talon didn't know himself that wouldn't prove to be true soon enough.

She surprised him again with lifting her hand to nudge her fingertips against his thumb. Hesitatingly he closed his fingers around hers and squeezed them, trying to read her expression, but she had averted her gaze down to their hands before she pulled hers back.

Talon gulped dryly. "Pack up, okay? I'll… I'll be right back. Just give me a second." He spreat out his fingers before he turned back to the door they just emerged from.

As expected it wasn't long until Marcus' door opened and closed with a click.

"What was that?" Talon had come back.

Marcus ended the word he just wrote and took a cloth to clean his pen. "What do you think that was?" He would never stop teaching his children, it seemed.

"I'm not here for ten questions." Talon was more agitated than Marcus had anticipated.

"It's twenty questions." He corrected the phrase.

Talon hissed as an answer, but Marcus, in opposition to Katarina, waited until he actually spoke.
Which he eventually did. "I want to know if I have to..." His voice faltered and his eyes closed shut for a moment longer than necessary as he searched for appropriate words. "If you see her as an enemy." He finished lamely.

Marcus watched him closely. Talon was a quiet person, staying unnoticed was essential for his survival. That also meant Talon could hold still for extended periods of time. In situations of stress he tended to freeze even more until he gained enough overview, but now he was visibly unsettled and fidgeting his fingers.

Marcus needed to make a decision.

He had seen this expression on Talons face once before. It had been while he stared at his daughters pyre, as if he saw something important floating away without being able to hold it back.

Marcus lips thinned before he shook his head. This expression didn't look well on his son. The older assassin adjusted some of his plans for the future. "She is your responsibility, remember? I said I'd not bother you about her after this."

There it was. Talon froze, abandoning his restless movements.
"What did she do?"

Marcus snorted. "I just know of an... Inconvenience."

From his look that wasn't enough for Talon. It was another staring contest until Talon voiced his desire with a "what kind of inconvenience?"

Okay. The lad wanted it.
Time to see if he had improved on that kind of games.
"She belongs to a noble house. But as you can see she acts alone and avoids every contact to the high command." With that Marcus stood up.

Normally Talon took that as a sign of being dismissed, but this time he lingered. "You can't do anything to her. If there was something... I'd do it. No one else. And I need to know now."

Sometimes Marcus was surprised by how young Talon occasionally sounded. Even though he had to be around his mid to late twenties. Looking into his eyes he found a vulnerability he had never seen there before.
Well shit.
How in hell had the woman made someone like Talon fall for her?

The older assassin remembered a talk he had with Katarina, even though it seemed to be ages ago. Well, his hopes seemingly came true- just not in the way he had foreseen.
Sadly the pace of the world had stepped up, for he remembered what he had said about Talon's own pace.
Fuck that.
The boy was too slow.
Still, he chose his next words and his tone as carefully as he would pick at a tender flesh wound, anticipating how fast Talon would back out if he sensed any form of assault. "She is important to you." It was a statement, but Marcus could see that this was the first time Talon consciously reflected thoughts about that.

At the doubtful look Talon shot him Marcus had his answer- and he also suspected that Katarina had tried to rip this from him. Luckily he knew better, so he stayed silent, averting his attention to some papers he put in the right order. Because sometimes it was important to say something out loud he waited, patiently and not forcing anything out of him too harshly.

Talon's answer was spoken very quietly as he averted his eyes to check the windows. "Yes."

Marcus grasped Talon's shoulder. "You could have made a worse choice. It is okay to go for more, you know?" Because Talon averted his gaze to the ground he shook his shoulder encouragingly. Talon's eyes twitched repeatedly to his, but he still wasn't able to hold his gaze.
The older assassin knew what disturbed him still. "I'll never order a hit on her and surely will never do one myself. I won't be meddling with your affairs if you don't want me to- but feel free to talk to me if the need or want arises."

He felt the tension leave Talon's shoulders.
Hopefully that decision would not backstab him.

Marcus sighted inwardly and decided to cut this short. "I agitated her a great deal. If you are clever you do something nice for her."

Talon's eyebrow shot up, but he didn't ask him to clarify. He also hadn't ask what kind of noble family. Talon still sucked at this kind of games.
That or he didn't really want to know.

"Something like... What?"
Marcus had never thought Talon was even able to sound shy. In that moment he decided that anyway what he promised- should that woman manage to hurt his son she'd be dead. He'd make it look like a fever.

"Flowers, dinner, weapons, a nice dress... You know her better than I do. Something that shows her she's important to you." Marcus advised and gave Talon an encouraging shove to the back.

And because Marcus could also be a man of great tract he didn't give Talon the newly finalized hit-list just yet.

Talon wasn't sure why he was even surprised to not find her in the room she had occupied over the last days. Her satchel was gone and she had never unpacked her things, so except for a neatly folded set of used clothes the room was empty. There was no reason to be surprised, for who in their right mind would think she'd resigned to her fate, awaiting her judgement after a threat like that?

The windows were closed and the door open.
Talon cursed under his breath.
She had made a run for it, again. But this time it wasn't as headless as the last.
One moment he contemplated if it was really a good thing to chase after her, but something told him, maybe the expression on her face as he turned to Marcus' study, that she would not come back this time nor would he able to find her anywhere remotely near this city if he gave her enough of a head start.

He looked around and pointed to the first maid he saw. "You. Where did she go?"

The maid stiffened up and stuttered "She just vanished, I don't know."

"Yeah. She vanished and then you saw what?" Talon pressed on, making a menacing step towards her.

"I saw a flash to the door which opened all by itself!" she whimpered, but remained on her spot.

"The front door?"

"The front door."

Talon swore again and looked around closer in her room. He didn't see any of the distortions she caused when she spelled herself invisible, so she surely wasn't here anymore.

He strode through the entrance hall to the door.

"Am I dismissed, sir?"
He made a waving gesture with his hand and quick as lightning the maid was gone.

As expected nothing was to see while he walked through the entrance door. He took a few steps outside.

If she wanted to flee she'd most likely be either on her way to one of her hideouts, but he doubted that she left anything valuable enough to come back for behind, so the only option was her horse.

She'd know that she could never escape him in Noxus if he really set his mind to it. And someone who kept a horse since childhood would not abandon it now, not even while rapidly fleeing the city

This reaction really made him want to know how bad the secret she had was, yet, if it drove her away so fast, he'd rather live without knowing it.

As soon as he left the ivory ward district he took the direct route over the rooftops. It was the fastest way to the city gate, and from there it wasn't too long to the farm the horse was residing.

The sound of someone clearing his throat shifted his attention to the other person who had appeared on the flat roof he just traversed.

Her figure appeared next to the chimney and Talon instantly converted his propulsive movement to a stop. Her gaze held no fear but something he could identify as a mixture of determination, sadness and... Hope?
Something clicked in his mind. Talon looked around. She had predicted his actions correctly where he hadn't predicted hers. That had never happened to him before.
She hadn't been fleeing, she had chosen a battlefield.

But she hadn't burst him down, so it was probably his choice what kind of battlefield.

He relaxed his muscles and spreat his fingers. "Are your familial afflictions that bad?" Maybe not the best conversation-starter, but he couldn't think of another one.

She faltered. "He didn't tell you." She assessed.

Talon shook his head.

"Why are you here?" Her baton twirled in her hand like it did when she was really tense.

"Securing my chance to find you in the future."

Her gaze twitched from the forcefully relaxed line of his shoulders to his weapons. He saw the working behind her eyes and decided to wait it out.

"You are not here for a mission", was the conclusion she lastly reached.

He shook his head. "Just on my own accord." He confirmed.

Her first step towards him was slow, as if she was waiting for something to hit her. The second step brought her out of the shadow of the chimney into the light. It complimented her well, as always, highlighted her features regardless of the mask she wore. The feeling of something washing over him was not completely unfamiliar by now. Something he could only describe as a touch sunk deeper than just his skin. She looked concentrated and had her eyes were almost shut.

"You really are alone." She sounded surprised. "Because I really prepared myself to settle this."

"No mission." He repeated and waited patiently for her to complete whatever she was doing.

Her next steps, equally slow, brought her in front of him where she crooked her head and looked around cautiously one last time before she invaded his space and slipped her arms around his back with a sigh.
Talon puffed his cloak up and circled his own arms around her shoulders, effectively enclosing her in the dark straps before he buried his hands in her hair to pull her head back and lowered his face to hers.

Her lips were soft and sweet and her curves felt so good against him, even through layers of fabric. Her nose wandered over his cheek and she buried her face in his shadowed neck as if she wanted to sink into his cloak.

"You chose this as a battlefield? On the rooftops?" He whispered in her ear silently.

"Too melodramatic?" She whispered back with a small smile in her voice.

"No." He closed his arms tighter around her.

She breathed into his embrace and tucked her nose under his ear. For a moment everything was okay and he felt as content as he rarely had before she took hold of his shoulders and brought distance between them, no sign of the smile he was sure to have heard in her voice.

She looked to the ground. Her voice wavered in a way he had never heard before. "Talon, I… I can't do this anymore."

For a moment he was dumbfounded. He was sure his heart stopped beating as something freezingly cold closed around it.
"What?" He managed to choke out.

She pulled her hands back, still not looking up into his face. "This is too dangerous. I ignored it for the last years, but your father knowing is like a sword over my head and..."

"He promised he wouldn't interfere." Talon interrupted before she could say anything else that would freeze his innards like the words she had already mouthed.

Now it was her turn to voice a confused "What?"

"He told me he would not interfere, he would do nothing against you, he would not order anything against you…" He didn't know where to look first. "So if that is what disturbs you…"

Her look was heavy with unspoken things lurking beneath.

"He said that, did he?"


She gulped and for the first time in their relationship he made a move on his own towards her after she had shown signs of rejection.
The first movement was just a flutter of his hand, but with the second one he grasped for her shoulders. She blinked and held her gaze on the ground before she looked to his hand. He saw her throat moving in a dry gulp, then he lightly pulled her towards him.

In the next moment she had buried her nose against his neck again and he was sure he heard the distinct sniffling noise of a woman on the verge of her tears before he felt her tremble against his frame. He tightened his hold, hid her in his cloak and stuck his nose into her hair while he felt his neck getting damp.

"I.. .I don't even know how long I am going to stay in Noxus Prime." She sobbed against his sensitive skin.

"He said he wouldn't do anything. And he won't. No reason to..."

"It is enough that he knows." She stuttered.

"Never took you for the fearful type, woman." He taunted mildly, giving her a gentle nudge with his shoulder.

She gave him a shove back with an unsteady laugh that died a moment later. "Lux." She said and her skin started to emit the faint glow, illuminating the inside of his cloak.


"My name is Lux, you may call me Lux."

He tested the word on his tongue before he pulled on her hair to make her look at him. "Lux."

Chapter Text

The noises of animals permeated the air just as their scent did. Rustling of hooves in straw, snorting as well as the occasional whinny.

The tall white stallion in a big, bright bay nibbled tenderly at the pocket of his visitor who laughed brightly and dug up a carrot. The horse puffed satisfied and chewed the vegetable, content with the world and his momentary place in it.

Lux stroked the eating animal before she pressed her face into the white of Starfire's mane. The stallion nickered and nibbled on her shoulder, coloring her shoulder orange with the remains of his carrot while she bathed in the warm comfort he provided.

"Time to stretch your legs again, big boy. We will make a great journey." She explained. Starfire pricked up his ears and snorted eagerly. "I'm sorry to take you from your friends, but you'll find new ones. I know you expected to stay longer, but there was a change of circumstances." A dry gulp suppressed ever other sound that could sneak out of her throat.

The horse shook his head and nudged her elbow. Lux gulped again and caressed the silky fur before she buried her face in it. She took some deep breaths, her mount nibbling at her back comfortingly while she regained her calmness enough to separate from his steady mass.

"Maybe we can go to Piltover again, would you like that?" She babbled as Starfire shook his head again. "Oh yeah, you don't like Piltover. What about Ionia? I heard it is a wonderful country, though you had to travel by ship. And I heard something about a noxian invasion, so maybe we should…" She wiped over her face while readying his saddlery. The stallion whinnied in anticipation and pawed the ground.

"You are fleeing."

Lux yelped and her light burst out from within, shielding her for the second as she spun around to press her back against Starfire who hoicked his head.

She didn't need long to discern who had disturbed her. "General Du Couteau." She greeted, voice pitched higher at least one octave. She stared at the man who stepped out of the shadow with a nod off his head. Starfire's warm breath snorted against her shoulder as he also took a look at who had disturbed them.

"Well timed departure." His voice was flat, as if he talked about the weather as he leaned against a barn door, arms crossed.

Lux bit her lip. It indeed was, Talon had excused himself for a longer mission just yesterday, and after he had searched contact quite often since the fallout last week it was her first chance to get away with a head start. "I don't know what else you expected, but..."

"You didn't even say goodbye." The older assassin crooked his head, expression not giving anything Lux could work with away.

She clenched her teeth and grasped Starfire's mane tighter until she trusted her voice enough not to break. She had said goodbye- to the important person here- with every kiss, every tenderness and every touch she had committed to memory. A special place in her mind, created and reserved only for him.
Reality would not change because of her wishes, though. She wasn't foolish enough to expect that.
The reason she was here, ready to run once more. Leaving was hard enough without someone blocking her path, so she had no patience left for beating around the bush. "What do you want?" She asked with as much respect she could muster. Which was, considerating the circumstances, pretty much for she didn't have to fake it.

A small smile twitched over his face. "Let's make a deal."

Lux didn't say anything. Starfire danced with ears set back at the tension of his owner.

"Something that will profit us both."

"Talon said you wouldn't interfere." She said tonelessly.

"I don't. I'm merely proposing a way for me to do as I promised and for you to stay useful for your contacts. You are free to go." He stepped out of the way emphasizingly.

Lux looked to the ceiling without letting the assassin out of her eyesight as she contemplated his proposition. Her whole situation was messing with her on a deeper level than the assessments of her psychological state could reveal.
Not that she had done so during the last weeks. Not even now, even though she had time to spare.

The general seemed to take the lack of a verbal answer as what it was- no refusal. "See this as negotiations for a peace treaty between us. My son delivered you my first offer: I will not order a hit against you."

"As long as I'm staying away from what's yours."

The general smiled in a way that looked too much like Katarina. "There might be a few people in the High Command who are not off limits for you."

Lux' interest peaked. The High Command was something of great interest for her and her superiors and something she had tried to built up to- until she had crossed paths with the Du Couteaus. "I'm listening." She said with a small smile.

Marcus started to shape his plans out before her. More precisely: What he wanted to share with her, Lux wasn't too self-deluding about that.

Anyway, his words attracted her curiosity and she could even excuse her eagerness with patriotism and the strategic value of the persons he was clearing. A glance revealed the perfectly calm face of General Du Couteau. For sure he knew what he was offering.
So what he had to gain in exchange most likely was far greater- if she played her cards right she might even get to know for what he was playing.
"I guess you wanted regular updates if I... If I took your offer?"

"Not necessarily. Feel free to extend your pillow-talk with Talon", blood shot into Lux' cheeks, "but I'll get what I need to hear."

With that the general vanished with the same ease Talon did, leaving Lux clutching to strands of white mane as Starfire rubbed his head against her side.

Lux took a few more minutes to look like she needed time to think about the offer. Not that she would stay, though. She needed a moment to come to terms that she would not leave that easily. This was a mess. A huge one. Starfire nudged her shoulder before he nibbled at the rests of the carrot he had spreat there.

Lu looked up and her mount did also, playing with his ears while looking her in the eyes.
"Our ride will not be as long as I promised, darling."

The white stallion turned his head and placed his muzzle against her shoulder and she pressed her forehead against his cheek.
She picked up the currycomb and started cleaning him, something that made him whicker in delight.

Noxus had gotten under her skin, deeply so. She had expected to find darkness- and there was plenty, of course- but she had also found a light bright enough to outshine the mindless bliss of following orders.
Another late insight- the Lightbringers wanted the same of her as her mother- blind compliance, being their eyes without getting involved too deeply. They were just able to give her a treat for obeying.
But they, too, seemingly didn't see what Demacia could be. Like Garen had said, the important people saw self-reflection as a danger and misjudged the risk of the status quo.

The temptation of the General's offer was too great, it improved her usefulness for Demacia while also serving her own, purely selfish interests.

Fraternization first, collaboration second and now... More than enough reasons to get her hanged back at home.
For that kind of heavy treason she wouldn't even receive the sword like it was her right as a noble.

Chapter Text

"You are walking down a risky path, Boram."

A dark huff was the answer. "My path was always risky."

"Dangerous, not downright reckless. You do realize that if there is anything to win Swain will gain the laurels for Ionia…"

"It got that Darius out of my sight." The Grand General's face stayed void of emotions.

His counterpart nodded equally cold. "Why didn't you let him continue? It is the noxian way after all."

"He already culled some of the Trusted, I couldn't let him continue…"

"They couldn't defend themselves. And the zaunite alchemysts in Ionia are not…"

"Don't tell me what is right and what is not." Darkwill's face closed up and the other man sighted.

"I'm simply telling you that Ionia isn't a battle for strength and regardless what you do: it will be a notch for Swain while Kalamanda will be on you. And on Katarina. We don't have enough forces for a fully blown war with Demacia and Ionia at the same time, but your order for a diplomatic mission will be seen as weakness."

"Katarina needs to learn that, too. Kitty had problems with…"

"She is not Kitty, Boram." The glint in the green eyes became hard.

A twitch of Darkwill's hand was the only reaction to that.
"You rather had her in Ionia? Or maybe we should send your ward?" The Grand General's gaze stayed cool and emotionless despite the obvious threat he had just voiced.

The General stayed cool and let the moment of anger pass before he answered. "As soon as the smogsmellers leave I'll gladly sail there myself and take my family with me."

Darkwill also took a breath. "I don't like everything they do there, too, Marcus…" he played down, only to be interrupted again.

"We already lost one member of the crimson elite to that unpredictable chemtech. It has to stop. But sending Katarina into the other direction, into something that is officially named as a diplomatic mission, plus calling her back like a dog on a leash already counts as…"

"I don't care what it counts as, she needs to learn. If things don't go our way I'll go there myself with another army."

The expression on his face made it clear that there indeed was no discussion for that, so Marcus conceded and took a swig of his glass to calm himself. "You know that is not the only thing I need to talk to you about." Marcus said, looking into his glass before fixating his Grand General's face again.

"Lately you are always complaining."

"I'm merely warning you, Boram." His gaze told that he was not nearly finished. "Is it true what I heard about the pale woman?"

Darkwill's face closed up. "Where do you know that from?" He asked brusquely.

"I made it my job to know everything. And I warn you. Don't trust the Black Rose, Boram."

"Because she might have killed your daughter?"

Marcus forcibly relaxed his hand before it could coil around one of his weapons. "Because she wants to subjugate Noxus once more. She doesn't fight openly and Swain is but the first…"

"She promised me Sion back, Marcus." A glint, something that Marcus could only interpret as longing appeared in the Grand General's eyes.

"You can't trust that witch, believe me. You are old enough to know- and you should be able to do this by yourself." Marcus gaze was hard as he gestured at Darkwill's towering form.

"I am old, you are right. But soon your daughter will be able to claim her place and with Sion by my side…"

"You miss them that much?" Marcus had known, but he needed something, anything to break the stupor Darkwill was currently caught in.

Darkwill's face hardened. Seemingly it had been the wrong approach. "I'd never dwell in such foolish notions. I'll do what I think is best for Noxus. Now leave me."

Marcus knew when he had lost. He bowed shortly, accepting his failure, and left the room.

"Another beer!" One more loud voice stirred up the bustling room that smelled like smoke, food and booze.

One particularly noisy group required especially much attention- They just returned from a skirmish in the borderlands and enjoyed the short time stationed in Noxus Prime, utilizing it to get as much alcohol into their bodies in as little time as possible.
It was a warband of young men, mostly hardly old enough to shave, but who could fight and kill and win could also claim a table in a tavern.

One young man stood out especially, measured by the amount of alcohol he consumed: Contrary to his comrades he nursed only his second beer and seemingly watched over his men with a thoughtful, sad expression in his gaze. He was at that age where guessing it posed a problem: Already tall and obviously well-worked with hints of his future size already starting to fill out his shoulders, a long scar over his right cheek that made it even harder to estimate his age.
The stripes on what noxians called uniform marked him as the commander of a small troop - most likely the bunch he was currently drinking with. Which meant he probably was the same age.

"Can I bring you another glass, sweetie?" A barmaid touched his shoulder and as he turned his head his nose almost connected with her chest.

He pulled his head back a little to look at the waitress. "No thanks, I'm fine with this one for now." He answered and regarded the full chest in front of him with a satisfied expression before he rapped the waitress's hip.

"I heard your mother returned from Ionia?"

Instantly the young man's face darkened and he turned back to his beer and his men who indulged in their drinks heavily, not realizing.

The barmaid laid her hand on his shoulder. She knew better than to ask one of her guests about something he didn't want to talk about- at least not with that little alcohol in their systems- and pointed to another barmaid instead. "She's from Ionia, too."

Instantly the man lifted his gaze to the other waitress- she had dark blond hair and her body looked like sixteen, maybe seventeen, but the unspent facial expression of someone who had not learned the depths of living as a noxian made her look really young. Unconsciously the man compared her expression to the one of his mother as he saw her first, after her return.

"Can you sent her over?" He asked suddenly, out of a half-formed wish.

"Sure, sweetie." The other maid slid around him, grazing his cheek with her bosom before she seemingly exchanged a few words with said other barmaid who looked at the young man in confusion before a smile rose to her lips and she made her way to his table.

"What can I help you with?" She asked with a smile that looked much too sincere to belong in the smoky air of this tavern and it reminded him sharply of what was waiting back at home.

"With your name, for starters." He rose his voice enough so she could hear him over the general bustling.

"I'm Mitsuko, and you are?"

Before he could answer the door swung open with a loud pang, making every head in the room jerk to the sudden gust of fresh air and the person who had caused it.

A strikingly beautiful, redheaded female who shook out her long hair stepped into the room confidently, taking in the attention of every single person in the tavern in a moment's notice with a wide, mocking smile and a wink. The scar over her left eye was as legendary as the woman herself.

She blew a strand of her hair out of her face, spotted an empty table and made her way through the crowd which swept out of her way like snow before the wildfire.

As great was the attention she pulled to her person that not the first, maybe the second or fourth glance revealed another person following her.
A darkly clad one, presumably male with a hood pulled deeply into his face. A wicked blade strapped to his right arm revealed him to be as legendary as the redheaded woman. The sighting of him silenced the voices that had murmured up at her entrance before they buzzed up again in an attempt to be heard by comrades and drinking partners, but not the two people who had entered the tavern.

"The Sinister Blade." - "And the Blade's Shadow." - "Did you hear what happened?" - "Yes, I heard he killed the general's second daughter." - "I heard he was weeding out weaknesses." - "I heard she tried to sell the family out to finally gain some power." – "I heard she was sent to Kalamanda to put out the Dauntless Vanguard as punishment." - "I heard he went out of Noxus Prime to…"

The pair seemingly ignored the humming and babbling- or maybe, unlikely, it hadn't heard.

Katarina sashayed to an unoccupied table where she seated herself with her back to the wall. Talon slumped down on the seat beside her. There was a short but fierce quarrel between the waitresses, and after a moment a dark-haired woman stepped to their table and asked them with a shaky smile: "Welcome at the Silver Arrow. How can I be of service for you?"

The redhead's smile widened. "A hawker's cover and a beer", she ordered while looking up and down the barmaid until she was squirming uncomfortably.

Talon sighted inwardly and wondered why he wasn't at home right now- for just half an hour ago everything had seemed to be fine. His assignment had made him chase after another part of the organization Marcus had still set his eyes on and Talon, to his great satisfaction, decimated efficiently.
He had taken extra special effort in making sure to let the mage (A ceremonial master, according to Marcus) know he was hunted down.

But now that part had been completed somewhere in the depths of Zaun, he had returned to Noxus Prime and to his home.
He had just answered the call of his bed- the luxury of having his own that belonged solely to himself and was waiting for him to come back to would never cease to amaze him. The soft cushions had practically cooed his name. They had seldom felt so soft against his face and Talon had wished for nothing more than to melt into the heavenly downiness to sleep for at least five hours straight, but then his door had bashed open, had startled him from his sleep to reveal a way too vibrant Katarina. She had blinked onto him and bounced on his back until he had found it in him to try and shoo her away.
Him being here in the tavern showed how well that had worked.

Not that his bed was the only thing he imagined being a nicer occupation for his time than trying to turn down his hardly earned paranoia to look over a soon-to-be-shitheaded Katarina - getting on the trail of a certain woman was also really high on his priority list.
Not as high as caching a snatch of sleep, for who knew what that little spitfire had prepared and what would happen if he ran into it without his full attention.
Now that he thought about her, she had been absolutely fidgety for the week that followed her clash with the General and he wasn't a hundred percent sure she would still reside in Noxus Prime. Not that he hadn't tried to dissipate her doubts, but trying that on his spy was like getting Katarina out of a stabbing frenzy.
Her distinctive need for safety was the reason she was still alive after all.

So he had gone away on his mission, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, as always.

During his assignment there had only been the blissful determination of the hunt.
Now was the first idle time he had in over a month and instead of sleeping first and checking if she still resided in this city second Katarina happened to have returned for the first interim report just now and, as she placed it, decided it was time for a little sibling bonding time.

Not that Talon didn't know it was hardly a euphemism for getting drunk in halfway decent company and normally he would never complain (not even internally like he did right now). Going out with Katarina used to be quite fun- in a very special kind of way- but there was stuff higher on his priority list than watching Kat get smashed.

Sadly there was hardly another option.
If that stupid woman was going to get drunk he at least wanted someone to watch over her. Especially after... Well. A drunk Katarina attracted all sorts of trouble, so he hadn't dared to refuse.

The result was he was getting nowhere while Katarina was getting drunk. He watched the surroundings, the course their drinks made and the people around as carefully as ever while he nipped at his own drink. The whispered rumors made him want to bash at least a few faces in, but that would be stupid, as Marcus had pointed out the advantages of them. Better let everyone think whatever they wanted.
At least the beer was decent.

Katarina downed her schnapps first, her beer second and poked the side of the darkly clad man at her side. "Come on, live a little." She prompted and signaled the waitress for two more drinks. She knew he normally didn't touch enough alcohol to dull his senses so she didn't try and force him to drink more.

From what it looked like Talon tried to convert the whole amount of loathing he felt towards her in one pointed glance.

Katarina was unimpressed at that and leaned back in her chair while she downed enough alcohol to get her where she wanted to be in a decent time.

It worked quite well, even though the patrons currently residing in this tavern didn't look like the kind of entertainment she searched for. Much too young. Even after an hour- maybe one and a half? of drinking and watching Talon almost dozing off at least three times- well hidden under his hood- no really interesting persons had found their way inside. Even though by now the news that the Sinister Blade was not only in the city again, but also drinking her head off should have made their way around. No one had even dared to come close to her, despite the amount of alcohol not only in her, but probably everybody else's system, too.

So Talon still was the only one to talk to.
Katarina sighted. He clearly wasn't in a talkative mood, which always proved to be a pain to reach through. Was there an issue they could safely discuss in public? Damn, why did she even want to go out?
She could have gotten wasted with him at home instead. Maybe Cassiopeia would have joined them then. But then she would have never been able to make him stay with her- the reason why she wanted to go out in the first place. Drinking alone with Cassiopeia was nerve-wrecking at the best. Although Talon also wasn't the picture of entertainment right now.

"So... Why do you never drink?" Katarina slurred after another pint, her body developing a heavy list towards her brother who provided her with enough counterbalance to stay upright.

He looked at his beer, still the first, which slowly lost its head. "First and only time I did didn't end well." He answered and as Katarina swayed to the other side he tugged at her belt so she didn't fall from her chair. "So", he changed the topic, "someone here catching your interest?" He looked around, for on this level of drunkenness Katarina usually searched for someone to bang bloody and then leave. Or she wanted to talk about something which was very awkward, but she only did that in private. So the first it had to be.

Kat indeed scanned the room, but slumped back into her chair with an unhappy snarl and knocked back another drink. "Nope."

She was actually angry for none of the present males looked quite like she could enjoy a little mindless fun with. At least not now- she was searching for a very specific body type.

A look back to Talon who had pulled his hood even deeper into his face showed her how exhausted he still was. She technically knew it was unfair how she got him to go out with her.
The ever-watchful Talon hadn't even woke at her first entrance to his room. He had just lain in his bed flatly, face down, arms spread out without disarming properly beforehand. Only the arm- blade had lain next to him, otherwise he had been fully clothed.
Him being that tired indicated his exit hadn't went too smooth and he had come back in a rush with little sleep, but being questioned by the High Command herself for much too long- Grand General Boram Darkwill had even ordered a private questioning which had taken forever, consuming the considerable amount of patience she possessed- had left her craving for decent company and alcohol.

After she had nearly bashed his door in he had finally woken and- of course- advised her to go fuck herself.
She had only needed to annotate that she would go get wasted and searching for someone else to do that job for her, which had him groaning in agony, rolling from the bed with a "you are paying" and some other words she would not repeat.

"Not high ranked enough or something else missing?" He asked in the same cold attitude he used to discuss which dagger to try.

"Something else." She confirmed, looking around once more.

"Not even that guy?" He nodded to the noisiest group in the middle of the room and to the young man amidst of it, seemingly their commander.

She eyed him up and down. A soldier, quite tall with typical broad shoulders, dark hair and a scar across his cheek, currently flirting with a barmaid. Not even old enough to grow a beard. What had happened to this tavern? "Still not tall enough. And much too young."

"How tall do you want him to be this time…? " Talon griped silently.

"As tall as possible, okay? Broad and muscled…" Katarina slurred, probably not as quiet as he had been, for the heads of the people around them turned rather noticeably.

"Want to go somewhere else? Maybe we'll find someone at the next place." Was his offer and she took it wordlessly, standing up with new vigor. The world tilted a bit and maybe she had drunk more than she thought, for only the steady contact of his shoulder kept her upright.

Without any more words she strutted out of the door, leaving some coins at the table.

The air outside was warm, indicating the impending summer. It was a good time for travelling, maybe she would even be able to do the second report Grand General Darkwill had ordered before winter set in and she would be prisoned in Kalamanda. She let out another exasperated groan.
Travelling took so much time and she hated being kept on a short leash. She had done nothing wrong so far.

"How about we head home and you tell me why your men suddenly can't get bulky enough? You never bitched that much…"

"I'm not bitching!" She griped and patted his shoulder in a way that made him flinch uncomfortably. "But you are a man also, right?"

His sharp look spoke louder than a thousand words.

She took a deep breath. "Talon, I need your ears, s' shut up and listen."

"Can't we head home first?" He asked while he looked around in a way that made her blow a strand of hair out of her face with a smirk, pojntedly not looking around.
His need for safety was unparalleled.

The street blurred before her eyes and maybe it was a good idea to get home, so she nodded. "But then I need your ears Talon, not your mouth, okay?"

She felt that he was rolling his eyes as his shoulder connected with hers. It was actually much more pleasant to walk like this. And more efficient than the wavy lines she'd have done alone.

The way to the mansion passed in a blur and Talon's armored shoulder was much too uncomfortable to let her head rest on it while they both walked. Maybe he was just too small, too.

Before she could tell him so her world tilted until she had no perpendicular, but a horizontal alignment in it. She recognized her bed, so this had to be her room. Out of instinct she grasped out and caught hold of something soft. With a strong tug and a surprised "Ouff" someone else fell on her bed and she gasped for Talon's hood as he struggled against her grip.
That bitch had tried to get away.

"You know, I'll just sleep here for all I care right now." He grunted before stilling his movements.

"I told you to shut up. Don't you dare to not listen to me complaining." Her voice was distinctively less slurry now where she didn't have to concentrate on staying upright.

"Great." He answered nonetheless and Katarina tugged at his hood to shut him up. This time he didn't answer.

Katarina also didn't talk as she gathered herself, but contrary to what he had threatened to do she didn't feel Talon relaxing enough to indicate he was falling asleep.

"Why are all men stupid?"
She imagined him only lifting an eyebrow- she had told him to shut up, and this time he kept his mouth shut. He normally did, luckily today wasn't an exception.

"I mean, how can a seemingly great man, good-looking, great fighter, good tactician, compassionate, humor, and everything else be stupid enough to not fuck me when I ask for it?"

Talon knew plenty of reasons, but he kept them to himself.

"I mean, I was so close in asking whoever to lose his pants at the moment, but it wouldn't have been as satisfying!" She looked at him in displeasure and he returned the gaze, still as clueless as before. He didn't dare to ask which moment she meant- or which man- she had told him to shut up after all.

"Talon, why are we not in another tavern searching for someone to lose his pants?"

He looked at her tentatively, not sure if that was an actual question or a rhetorical one. He opted to pat her shoulder wordlessly, that seemed to be the safest option.

She closed her eyes.

"Tomorrow?" She mumbled and Talon continued patting her shoulder with an agreeing noise. As he was sure she had fallen asleep he rose from her bed and cursed himself for that- Katarina's bed was just as comfortable as his own- and pulled her blanket over her.
Waking up next to the redhead tended to be uncomfortable. She was so loud and Talon was not sure who would wake first, so he didn't want to take any chances. Not that thit was his only reason. He checked her windows- all sealed safely- and exited her room.

The dark blonde barmaid stretched her back from a long day at work before she whistled a song as she laced her boots to walk out of the door.

"Hey bird."

She made a startled sound and spun around to see a boy on the verge to manhood, clad in armor, adorned with stripes to signify his rank, leaning next to the door. She knew that guy.

"M… may I help you?" Mitsuko asked and pulled her hair back into a ponytail.

"We didn't finish our talk." The young man stated with a reassuring smile.

"You didn't give me your name." The barmaid answered smiling.

He reciprocated the smile. "Decius. Decius Varn. What does a woman like you search in a place like that?" He nodded to the tavern.

"The obvious answer would be 'work', wouldn't it?" Mitsuko answered with another smile dancing across her face.

He didn't falter at the jab. "You are right, that was a stupid conversation-starter. But I thought the whole evening about how I could actually start talking to you, and now I think it was a rather stupid idea." He smiled sheepishly and Mitsuko laughed. "But what I actually meant is- why are you in Noxus Prime?" His brown eyes sparkled and the young woman could hardly oversee the forming line of tension around his mouth.

"Well… personal reasons." She evaded a direct answer and turned to lace her shoes completely. They too were of a different style than what was usually found in the capital where practicability stood above all. The shoes she was wearing had too much decorations on it to be of noxian origin. She looked like what his mother described form the last invasion- plus her name: She was ionian, no doubt.

"Your village surrendered to our troops?"

The lines in her face hardened as she said "yes, otherwise I wouldn't be here." In a way that meant 'no'.

Her fingers clasped together and the way she fumbled with a ring on her index finger shortly indicated why she had decided to leave her village behind. The ring was much too massive and all in all tasteless to be chosen by someone with her rather modest style, so the only reason she wore something like that was that it was a token from someone.

It wasn't easy to maintain a conversation with a woman who considered herself belonging to somebody, so Decius changed the topic slightly. "What did you do in Ionia? For a living?" He was met with a curious gaze.

The shrug of her shoulders was almost visible as she decided to answer. "I was the scribe and... Yeah." It probably meant she had been the hand of an important person.

Decius' eyes lit up. "How long have you been in Noxus Prime?"

"Just about three weeks." her gaze was still as open as to the beginning of their talk.

"May I show you around the city? Tomorrow?" He asked, hope betraying his tone as a plan formed in his mind.

That made her eyebrows knit together in doubt. "I... I don't know if..."

Decius decide to push his luck. "Did the man show himself? After he lured you over to here?" He pointed to the ring.

Her hands clenched to fists and her gaze dropped to the ground.

"So tomorrow." Decius clarified and the woman breathed in deeply before she nodded, still looking at the ground. She would have a hard time here if she didn't adapt quickly, Decius noted to himself. But for the first time since he had seen the face of his mother something akin to hope rose in him.

"I pick you up at four?" He not-really asked and she nodded again, slowly this time.

"Darkinsteps thirteen." She told him, looking up into his face again.

Decius nodded and waved her goodbye before he turned and made his way home. He needed to know more of Ionia.

Mitsuko fumbled with the keys to her apartment before she was able to turn them inside the lock. She left the door open just a crack and stretched her body, arms high above her head while making her way to the only room that contained her bed, a halfway comfortable chair and a desk. The day had been long and she was severely tired.

The door swung open just a bit more, nothing she paid too much mind to. She made her way to the windows, closing the shutters and securing them with a plain bar.

"You never change into blondes." A rough voice behind her noted. The soft click of a closing door was loud in the otherwise silent apartment.

The woman shook out her hair which brightened up a few grades while the features of her face altered, a bright smile lighting up her face.

She turned her head with an innocent smile to the shadows the voice had erupted from. "It is rather nice for a change." Lux stated, waiting for the inevitable answer- or the invitation into his close proximity.
After a few seconds of looking at his expressionless face she began to think she wouldn't get either and her smile faltered.
Now, squinting at it: that could be an angry line across his forehead. Plus dark circles under his eyes she had already noticed in the tavern.

Her own brow furrowed in confusion. She was rather jubilant about having him here now, especially after watching him the whole evening, but he seemingly did not reciprocate those feelings. He looked tired and severely irritated.
"Everything alright?" She asked, suddenly worried, and checked his stance and the rest of him as best as she could- which was not much, given the fact that his clothes concealed most of his appearance.
He didn't look hurt, though. And not aggressive, at least not in a way that required her to take immediate actions.

Something clearly wasn't right though and she took a small, hesitant step towards him.

He made no move, neither repelling nor inviting which made Lux pause and check her apartments and the potential exits. Everything looked normal.

He took a breath as if he wanted to say something before he stopped with a still irritated glance at her.
Then he opened his mouth again, this time to actually speak. "Who was that." He asked, voice flat.

Lux' wrinkled her forehead in confusion. "Who was what?" She moved to the window and peeked through a small slit in the shutter. Did somebody follow? Her security in this apartment was lacking for too much also could attract the wrong kind of attention. And Mitsuko the barmaid, former scribe, could never afford to guard her apartment the way Lux normally did.

Outside were no movements to be made out. She looked back at Talon who hadn't moved. He didn't look tense in the way that warned of acute danger to happen. The ceases in her forehead deepened.

"The boy." Talon clarified and his sharp gaze bored into her eyes.

Lux needed a few seconds to identify whom he was referring to.

"Oh!" That didn't chase her frown away. "I was sure you already listened. That was Decius Varn." She repeated what she had learned.

Talon swiped that away with a sharp movement of his left hand, clearly frustrated. "What are you planning, woman?" He asked darkly.

Lux rechecked the bars on the shutters before she turned to the shadow with a shrug. "Getting a tour across the city, I guess." Now his left hand started twitching and she took a step back, more a warning than a retreat. "Did something go wrong on your mission or why is your greeting so cold?" She asked bewildered. Lux had really missed his company, especially after she had decided to stay in Noxus Prime for the foreseeable future- something she hadn't been able to celebrate properly due to her only companion missing- and this most definitely wasn't what she had expected from him.

Talon closed his eyes at her words and the warning that went with it, folded his arms and took a deep breath. "What are you trying?" He finally pressed out, the dark circles under his eyes adding to the sharpness of his words.

Lux rose her hands in a calming gesture again. "Trying to get why you are so pissed."

"I'M NOT…" He took another deep breath. "Ok, I am pissed." He admitted.

Lux crooked her head. "Mind to tell me the reason?"

This time he thought better than to glare at her, instead he spared the ground a very dark look. "I'm just asking what I missed." A sharp, obviously angry nod of him made Lux look down on her finger.

It took her another moment to notice the ring that still clung to it. "Oh. Preparations to go in deep cover." Her smile returned. Whyever that made him so uneasy. Most likely he was just tired.

"You never did that before." Hadn't she known better- she had thought he sounded hurt.

Her brow furrowed again. "For sure I did..." She started but didn't finish at the blazing fury sparking in his eyes.

"You sleep with other men?" His time his voice was freezingly cold, a stark contrast to the fire in his eyes.

Lux' eyes widened as embarrassment colored her cheeks. "What? No!" She cried out, automatically going into the defensive at that vulgar not-really-accusation while her mind reeled back, retracing the course of their conversion.

Talon unfolded his arms in the same moment Lux hold up her hand, palm to him in the gesture for 'stop'. Her face burned as she tried to collect herself, banishing her demacian reaction to the back of her mind. As her face didn't stop burning she realized that for the first time in very long she wasn't able to suppress her reaction.
The implied accusation hurt her inherent honor and it was so absurd, except for... Except if…
"Do you sleep with other women?" She hissed, anger also rising within her- even though if... The rational part of her acted up. They didn't have an agreement, never talked about that thing between them, Lux had just assumed a certain exclusivity after the course of their relationship before his assignment. She realized her mistake. Which didn't calm her down. Her fingers clenched to fists.

"I'm not wearing rings and implying things..." He lifted his hands to show off their indeed ringless state, lifting his bladed hand in the process.

"Keep that down." Lux growled and pointed at the sharp object. "I want a 'yes' or 'no' answer."

"No, I'm not!" He responded angrily, pointing the tip of his blade away from her.

"Oh." Now it was Lux who took a breath, her wit slowly returning. "Do you want to?" She asked, much calmer than before as her mind ejected the most likely reason for his odd behavior.
Was he jealous? She herself had never before felt that surge of possessiveness towards another person she felt now. But she knew better than to ask him a word he most likely had no connection to.

Confusion tinted into his anger. "If I did I had." He dared to roll his eyes on her, somehow managing to keep his gaze sharp and angry through that motion. "No, I don't. Do you?"

Lux wasn't sure how her face managed to heat up even more. "No, I don't." To underline her statement she pulled the ring from her finger and dropped it onto the table. Rather weak, but that seemed to have set him off in the first place. "Some things of me are not for sale, okay?"

He blinked with an "oh" before the tension in his stance slowly eased away.

Lux let herself relax evenly slow and softened her tone while holding his gaze. She took a deep breath to further calm herself. "Anything else you want to know?"

His lips thinned as he looked away to check the windows and the door before he looked at her again in a way that told her there was.

"Care to keep it that way as long as we are involved?"

Lux needed a moment to process his words- and as she did her heart rate spiked and her mouth went dry. She tilted her head and her voice tuned down significantly to suppress its shaking. "When you likewise do?"

He gave a curt nod. "Sure."

"You got yourself a deal then." Lux mumbled.

With that the residual tension melted slowly like snow at the first warm rays of sun.
Lux actually dared to move towards Talon who also got into motion. A moment later she closed her arms around him as her eyes fluttered shut and she buried her face against his neck, melting inside his hood and against his frame. She heard him inhale deeply as his arms locked around her also. The blade now in her back didn't matter anymore.
Light, had she missed him.

His nose rubbed over her hair. "Notify me when you want to discontinue that arrangement." He whispered into her ear.

This sounded like nothing he would ever say- much too formal. On the other hand she had never expected him to voice anything like that. And she couldn't deny the glee that bubbled up in her stomach to manifest in a light giggle. Before awkwardness could take over she separated from him to pull his face against hers to finally, finally kiss him again.

He cupped her face with his non-bladed hand and underlined her cheekbones with his thumb.

Lux smiled at him and said: "Don't hold your breath."

His lips twitched upwards also and the glint in his eyes held nothing dangerous anymore.

Before she would cut herself Lux fumbled with the clasp of his cloak which fell to the ground with a heavy 'clink'. He pushed her a few steps backwards before he loosened the blade strapped to his arm before placing it on the table carefully and securing her face in another kiss.
That was much better than arguing.

They reacquainted to each other's bodies the way they both knew. It was touching, shoving clothes away and tasting skin, slowly making their way to the bed, shedding garments on the way until there was no more offending fabric between them, nothing that could stop Lux pushing him down onto her mattress and sate her initial need for close, close skin to skin- contact.

While doing so Lux searched for new scars and old alike, feeling how his body had changed, seeing if another person had etched a mark on him.
This time there wasn't something new at his front, and after she had met her demands and his alike, while she was still hovering over Talon whose eyes already fluttered shut Lux felt like more than just dragging her fingers over his taut, defined front.
Even if he knew the spot she was able to lower herself into was particularly comfortable.

"May I look at your back?" She asked and his dark brows pulled together and he looked at her through small slits between his lids.

"Why that?"

"I never really looked at it." She registered.

"Why do you suddenly want to?"

A moment of silence. With an "I just want to check" she dismissed the sudden want to see the scars she had felt so often.

He scoffed, but rolled onto his stomach reluctantly, turning his head to the side in the process.

Lux stroke over the muscles lining the curve of his spine. Many more scars adorned his body here, most of them faded and old. Scars she didn't know and had only glanced at before. In fact this was the first time she ever had his back presented to her like that, more than glimpse in the shower, him not flinching to turn around.
She rubbed over the muscles at his nape in a circular motion until she felt him relaxing once more.

There was one scar that didn't look like the others, no mark of a blade. Soft enough to indicate it had been burned upon a child's skin, round, just about four centimeters in diameter, edges blurred as if disturbed in the healing process many times. She stroke over the scar.

"Where did you get that from?" She asked and his eyes shot open again.

He turned his head and stretched, but for he wasn't able to turn his head a full 180 degrees he didn't catch what mark she was pointing at and reached out to rub over it, remembering by feel. "That one's old."

"How old?"

"More than fifteen years."

So it was before Marcus Du Couteau had taken him into the family. The before was nothing he had ever talked about so far and she, until now, had never dared to ask. But this time she felt especially bold. Or especially curious. Maybe both.
So what happened?"

His thumb stroke over the scar once more before he relaxed again with a sigh as she worked her fingers on the defined muscles of his shoulders.

"I got drunk."

Continuing the massage Lux waited, for the fluttering under his eyelids indicated he was thinking, searching for words, so she suppressed all sophistries that came to her mind and would make him close up.

It was still a surprise that he indeed continued talking after some time.
"I passed out and woke to a local drug lord. He burned his sigil into me to showcase to whom I belonged now."

Her touch wavered even though his tone was flat and emotionless before she continued her massage. "At the back counts as showcasing?"

He shrugged in a way that meant he would not explain further.

Still, her curiosity wasn't satisfied. "And what happened then?"

The angle of his lip she could see twitched upwards. "I killed some of his goons and went away. That happened."

"You didn't kill him?"

He shrugged again, as if it was just a minor nuisance. Maybe it was now. "A few years later."

She lowered her head and pressed kisses down his spine while her fingers continued moving.

"Looks like you tried to scratch that sign away."

She felt him tense up for a moment, something that normally counted as a stop signal. Still- it was just too tempting to get to know more about him.

Talon surprised her again with answering. "Looks that way because I did."

She made an indistinctive sound and pressed another kiss to where his spine curved downwards.

Involuntarily she tried to picture him as a child. About fifteen years ago- how old had he been? Ten? Twelve? Not terribly much older, otherwise the scar would have been more solid.
The picture of a dark haired child, sharp golden eyes cold like shards of true ice as he tried to wipe out the mark someone had burned into him rose to her inner eye.
Lux snuggled into his back and kissed his neck as she reached out for his left arm before tenderly stroking over the scar she had created.

"You got better at not scraping up."

She saw a smile tugging at his lips. "That one is my free ticket to…" he sighed at a particularly nice rub over a muscle.

"To what?" She smiled at him and nudged her nose against his cheek.

His smirk broadened, eyes still closed comfortably. "You burned me so bad."

Lux laughed. "You wanna turn around?" She offered while her thumbs circled down next to his spine.

He answered with a reluctant hum. "Can I get my reparation staying like this?" He placed his arms above his head and Lux used the opening to continue the massage on his shoulder blades with another light laugh.

"Just close your eyes." She whispered and he did so with a content sigh.

Lux continued the massage in silence for another five minutes.
"Can you tell me where you've been this time?" She asked as the stillness stretched on.

She didn't get an answer. A look into his completely relaxed face, combined with the steady motion of his breath under her fingers indicated he was asleep.

Lux let the massage ebb out to stroking while she studied Talon's face. Sleep smoothed out some of his sharp edges. He looked distinctly less dangerous with strands of dark hair all over his face and his sides open.

"Your absence was no pleasure for me." She told him silently before she slowly cuddled against his side with a smooth movement, circled her arm around his midsection and closed her eyes also.

Exactly two hours later Talon woke- he wasn't laying in his own bed and his internal clock proved again it worked quite fine, like it always had. Being able to wake at a time he set himself had contributed greatly to his survival, before and after his career as a Du Couteau started.

The shallow breath and the weight against his uncovered back was at least a bit familiar by now and the arm around his midsection didn't immediately make him want to lash out and free himself. He was still severely tired, and so he carefully turned around to reach a position he felt more comfortable in. The arm around his waist twitched, but the mouth, the only thing of her face not completely hidden by golden tresses stayed slightly agape, giving no indication that she was about to wake. She didn't move otherwise and so Talon found her nose against his chest after his twist.
He touched the bright strands with the tips of his fingers to brush them away as gently as he was able to, just to take a peek at her serene face.

Lux, Talon repeated in his head, something he seldom said out loud.

He pulled the blanket over them. She made a light noise and turned around also, seemingly still fast asleep before she snuggled her back into his chest, something tugging the angles of her lips upwards as she did. Her body was warm.

Despite his fatigue he watched her for several more moments before closing his arms around her, burying his nose in her hair and closing his eyes again.

Chapter Text

It was warm as Lux woke, warm and comfortable, even though her breathing was restricted due to something firm and heavy on her. Talon's familiar scent permeated her cushion and the arm on her side added to the feeling of being tucked away safely. A steady, silent tickle against her crown indicated were his mouth rested.
Safe to say Talon was still fast asleep.

They must have turned during the night, for she remembered curling against his back before falling asleep. Now his slow, steady heart beat tapped against her back soothingly, his warmth and steadiness surrounded her, more comfortable than a blanket.

In this position she might be able to wiggle her toes without disturbing him, but not much more.
So she didn't.
Lux half-closed her eyes, relishing the peacefulness of the moment as she watched the bright rays of sunlight wander over her wall. Finding the right mindset to mediate was easy like this. Very slowly she reached out with her light, feeling for the outlines of Talon's fabric-hidden body first to see if he would wake.
He didn't, so Lux continued her exploration until she felt the spark just underneath his skin, like a constant, calm source of energy. Lux didn't dare to delve deeper, she remembered how he had reacted every time she had made contact, so she just observed the surface.
Watching him sleep was mesmerizing and lulled her into a pleasant dozing.

He woke silent and subtle, like someone used to do so under less than ideal circumstances.
Not even a change in breathing, just the barest acceleration of his still slow heartbeat, a ripple of consciousness at which Lux retreated. He stayed still for two seconds longer, feigning sleep while he orientated himself.
Then his arms around her tightened and the firm body behind her felt just right.

"Good morning." Lux muttered as he stretched, pulling her even tighter to him in the process, the ripple of muscles directly on her skin. "Were you able to rest?"

A low grumble provided no real answer as a nose pushed aside the hair over her neck. An endeavor not really crowned by success, so he pressed his lips to the hollow of her neck and the blond strands still covering it as his fingers started roaming. Smaller kisses were placed along her neck to her throat before he rubbed over it with his nose, inhaling deeply.
As he pressed his hip against her bottom she was able to feel another part of his physique that also rose to attention. She responded with pressing her body against his.

Lux grasped for his hands and guided them to her breasts. He complied with a content sigh, palming before squeezing the soft flesh. Lux also sighed, she had missed this, and she undulated against him until one of his calloused hands abandoned her chest to slide lower, in lazy, zig-zaggy lines down her abdomen, following the outline of her hipbone and down her inner thighs. She could feel his lazy smirk forming at her sharp intake of breath and the expectant twitch of her hips.

Playful mood? This early in the morning?

She laughed breathlessly and turned in his arms. He gave her enough room to do so, his fingers bending so blunt nails dragged over her skin while she moved before he enclosed her in his arm again. Her hands rose to his sides and to his back she still found so tantalizing, moving from light strokes to light scratches until his hand followed the curve of her waist to press their hips together. Lux lifted her face to meet his lips and before he could shove her on her back she twined her leg around his waist and pushed until he was the one on his back and she above him, his face between her hands. She bathed in the warmth of his golden eyes while she wrapped her hands around his to pin them above his head. The motion made her stretch her torso into just the right position for Talon to lift his head and enclose the tip of one breast in his mouth. Lux followed his movement as his head fell back onto the cushion, the sensitive bud still between his lips, and a sigh wound its way up from deep within her as he gently started sucking. His tongue soon joined the pressure of his lips and the combined ministrations resonated much lower within the mage's body.

She slowly writhed against him and he let go of her breast. "You are quite controlling today." He perceived, murmuring lowly against her cleavage, following the path she indicated with her movements.

The vibrations sent goosebumps over her body. "You mind?" She asked breathlessly, rubbing against him while she kept the hold on his hands.

"Not at all." He answered before his tongue drew a slick path along her collarbone.

The first time Lux tried to dress she was interrupted by a warm hand around her midsection and soft lips at that point just below her ear where she couldn't help but sigh and postpone her start in the day a bit longer.

After that Talon seemed halfway satisfied, but as he wriggled himself in his pants Lux decided he looked much too good shirtless to not appreciate the physical perfection of his body a bit more intensely.

After that it was so late already that a bit more cuddling wouldn't disturb her plans for the day any more than it already had. Talon didn't seem to mind.

Somewhere in the middle of discriminating where Talon's body ended and her own began (not an easy feat, despite how sore most of her body felt by now) Talon, now much more awake than he had been, decided to begin a conversation.

"So tell me again. What are your plans with that Varn-boy?" He asked, still with that intimate low, whispering voice.

Lux laughed lightly, senses too tingly to be in anything but an exceptionally good mood.
She had pried yesterday, so it was his turn now. "It actually took some effort to dig his name up." Her eyes sparkled like they did when she was proud of something.
He laid on his back and she turned so she was able to curl into his side, draping one leg over his for comfort.

One arm snaked around Lux' waist and he pulled her even closer, turning slightly in her direction. "Want to share your brilliancy with me?" His hands wandered aimlessly over her body. Not to arouse, but to connect and to touch.

She pursed her lips while pretending she had to think about it. He didn't catch on but waited, eyes half closed with contentment.
"I am on that Darius-guy's heels." She outlined vaguely, testing if he really wanted to know.

"As in General Darius?" He replied, tracing ever-new patterns on her skin.

Lux nodded.

"Like two meters tall, two meters wide, axe-swinging, red cape…"

"Don't you think it's more a cloak than a cape?"

"I'll have to ask Cassiopeia." Talon shrugged and from the expression on his face Lux wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't go asking as the first thing after they got out of bed.

"As in that Darius, yes." She confirmed before her teasing stretched too long.

He made an approving noise. "You are stepping up your marks."

"Actually", she said gleefully, "I am."

He was much calmer than at the beginning of their relationship, letting her talk and accepting the occasional jabs in between.
Some time ago his stillness and short pauses in between his answers had shown Lux that he wasn't used to conversation with people just to exchange random things, but by now he had adjusted to the diversions, even creating some by himself (albeit seldom). He didn't seem to mind how it prolonged their banter-by now he knew he would get what he asked for, it only took more time than a formal debriefing and far less clothing.

"So Darius' heels. As far as I am concerned he is in Ionia now." Talon pointed out.

Lux turned in his hold and picked a pillow to cushion the harder parts on his body before she snuggled herself against him again. He shrugged to move her into a more comfortable position.
"He is", she confirmed, "but he comes from a small town called Basilich, seized by Noxus about eighteen years ago. He has a little brother who works besides Urgot in the arena, have you met him?"

Talon shook his head.

Lux was eager to continue. "I heard Draven, Darius' brother, makes an even greater show of executing criminals than Urgot does. But a woman also belonged to Darius' group, I heard she was always by his side at that time. For three years at least. It is not much of a secret that they were lovers, a long time ago."

He lifted an eyebrow and she adjusted her position to be able to meet his gaze.

She continued as if he had voiced the question out loud. "It seems that roughly fifteen years ago… if the military archives are correct…"

The corners of his lips tugged upwards in amusement. "You peeked into the military archives? What else did I expect from a sneaky little spy."

She giggled warmly and turned into him. "Hopefully nothing less." She said while caressing his cheek.

He stretched out his hand and let his thumb glide over her side. "Nothing less." He confirmed.

"So, like I said, the military archives state that they were assigned to different parts of the empire about fifteen years ago. I found a medical document describing that roughly seven months after their redeployment a soldier gave birth to twins, complication free." She looked at him expectantly.

"Darius' lover?"

Lux nodded. "It seems that she asked to be sent to assignments as far away from him as possible after that. His career route tells me they didn't meet again until a few years later when her children, a daughter named Invetia and a son…" she raised her eyebrows expectantly.

"Decius?" Talon concluded with a roll of his eyes.

"You are as sharp as one of your blades." She praised and he poked the side where he knew she was ticklish. As expected she started to giggle before she caught his hand in her much smaller ones. He pulled and she moved to him so he was able to place a deep kiss on her lips.

"As I said", she continued a bit breathlessly, "for Darius has not acknowledged the two children…I'm fairly sure he doesn't know they are his."

"And now you are planning to do something with his son."

"It took quite some time to locate him and I think Darius lover, Quiletta, was in Ionia until about two weeks ago." She stretched in his arms and the interested gaze over his torso told Talon that she might not be too aversed to stop talking and start moving. Something in her words had him intrigued, though.

"Ionia?" He asked, trying to continue the conversation against the distraction of her bare skin.

"Yes, together with Darius. That terrible chemsmog festered in her arm and nearly killed her." The line of her forehead became a frown, indicating she didn't think highly of that kind of warfare. "A nurse who talks and drinks too much announced that it was Darius who saved her life by letting her arm be cut off against her declared will. She wanted to die. He didn't. And now she has lost her right arm."

Talon scoffed. "That makes a fighter pretty much useless and her life devoid of meaning."

Something in her face twitched. "The point is, we all heard stories about General Darius. About how merciless he is. He culls the weak and the useless. He butchers every commander in his way but he left that woman alive. A fighter without her right arm. And why?"

"Okay, I'll bite. Why?" Talon urged on, not wanting to dwell in Darius' reasoning too deeply, if he had any to begin with.

"I don't know yet but she is my best opening to Darius."

"And you are posing as a scribe."

She nodded.

"To effectively replace her right arm."

Now a smile sparked over her face and Talon pulled her even closer to him, even though that made her huff out her breath.

"And you are moving in over her son because he cares?"

She nodded again.

"And her daughter?"

Lux shrugged. "She doesn't care as much. I observed them for quite some time now."

"You are better than a truffle dragon." said Talon and nodded in approval.

"That might be the nicest compliment I've ever gotten." She wiped fake tears out of her face and he shoved her with his shoulder.

"Complicated, but it could work." He adjusted his words.

"I hope so!" Lux cheered. "I'm not sure if it'll work, but researching and scheming it out was a lot of fun." She smiled at him broadly.
Lux had underestimated just how much contentment sharing ideas and thoughts brought. The assignment from his father had been another thing, even though that had also felt great personally. But that was her moving and acting alone, and having someone to share the fruits of her labor was very, very pleasant.

He pondered over her words. And then his gaze flickered like a spark snuffed out, discarding a certain thought as unimportant because he wasn't able to voice it properly enough to give it credibility.

"Tell me." Lux invited and intertwined her fingers with his before she kissed the scarred knuckles of his hand. "You found a flaw in my plan?"

His gaze shot away to the windows and over the door. "No, no actually…not. Directly. Uncertainties, possibilities, but that is a matter of fact." He said, a frown rising to his face.

"Then what is it?" She released his hand and he continued the stroking motion on her side.

His gaze flickered away once more, then to her eyes.

"Is there…any chance…" He started, but stopped.

Now she turned to him fully, his hesitation startling. Her attention seemingly startled him in turn. He looked like he had really big problems in finding the right tune.

Lux smile died to a frown. "What?" She asked softly and moved closer to thread her hand through his hair before she kissed his forehead. "Tell me." She repeated silently, placing her hands on the back of his neck.

"You are not breeding something, right?" He finally forced out of his mouth.

Lux blinked in confusion. "Breeding something?"

He nodded in the direction of her midsection.

She blinked one more time before it hit her. Blood shot into her face.
Lux felt blindsided. He had never expressed any care about that specific issue.

"No." She said flatly, regaining control over her flaming face. Where had this gone wrong?

"So you are taking care of it?" He didn't blush up like she did, but his uneasiness converted through the flicker of his gaze.

"Sure, like I did the last couple years we've been together. There is no need to worry." She muttered and looked to the ceiling before she huddled her face into his chest.

"Not exactly worrying." He tried to differentiate his concern and started stroking her hair. "Just never thought about that before. You'd…tell me if something happened, right?"

"Is this important to you?" Lux spoke into his messy hair, not really able to look him into the eyes.

"If it sent you running again, yes." His grip around her tightened.
Oh, Quiletta's actions had set him off. She hadn't anticipated that.

Warmth rose in her belly, and this time not of the uncomfortable kind. "Okay. If a…problem should arise I'll inform you." Lux promised while his hands moved down to her back. "But like I said, there is no need to worry."

He nodded and pulled on her hair until she tilted her head upwards.
"Good." He said and kissed her. Lux circled her arms around his neck and pressed her front to his. It was a nice contrast, her soft curves against his firm chest and as he pushed her on his back every other thought left mind.

In the end Lux felt the pleasant, dull ache between her legs that would remind her of their activities for at least three days to come and she wasn't exactly sure if Talon would get up at all. Her own legs felt wobbly, muscles sore at places she hadn't trained in weeks. She loved it.

"Want to stay?" She asked, only half in mocking while she picked her outfit for the day. She had spent longer in bed than planned and Decius would arrive shortly.

He sighed and rose to start dressing by putting his pants back on. He still looked good shirtless though. Lux bit her lower lip, the dull ache between her legs flaring up with each step convincing her to let him dress and arm completely.

She looked in the mirror, the only thing of value in this room, taking in the few bruises, imprints of fingers and marks of nails on her body, luckily far enough down to be covered by her clothes completely. Talon hardly ever left anything that pointed to his visits, but this time a variety of marks bloomed on Lux' skin. Bruises from his fingertips on her hips to bite marks on her chest, a red line from a nail across her back and a few hickeys at her thighs.
He also looked over the colorful marks he had imprinted temporarily on her skin, expression dimmed to indifference. His eyes said something entirely different though.

"Very thoroughly." She commented with a smile as she turned to look at her back.

He shrugged wordlessly while closing his cloak around his shoulders.

Talon observed her as she dressed for work, changing her face as carefully as her clothes.

"Something amiss?" She turned to him with an unobtrusive smile, hands fiddling as if she missed something between the fingers, different from the twitch she normally presented only when stressed. Most likely the nervous gesture Mitsuko had.

He stood wordlessly and strode to the small table, picking up the ring that was abandoned there yesterday and held it out for her.

"Oh, I almost forgot." Her eyebrows creased before she took it and threaded it on a light chain she fished from a pocket. Lux leveraged the proximity to press another kiss on Talon's lips, a movement he reciprocated.

He stroked over her hair before pulling at it lightly. "I'll be on my way." He murmured softly and kissed her cheek.
They let go of each other and he turned to the door.

"Have a safe trip." Lux wished and turned back to her mirror. She noticed something laying on her desk. Something that hadn't been there moments before.

"Talon?" She called him back.

The assassin turned with a questioning 'hm' and his usual, stoic expression.

Lux strode to the table and regarded the little booklet, taking it into her hands. "Traveler's Breviary" she read aloud and crooked her head at the dark man still hovering at her door. He nodded and lifted an eyebrow.

"Is that for me?" Lux asked as it didn't seem like he'd say anything else.

He nodded again and the movement of his brow asked if that wasn't obvious.

Her eyes lit up. "What is it?" She mused and opened it.

"A book." His answer was so dry that she was sure he was joking. If not-who cared, she chuckled in amusement anyway.

"Glad this is no brambleback in disguise" She smiled again and looked at him as if she expected him to say more.

"You like reading. And poetry. I don't know how you feel about pets." He said, as if that would explain everything.

Her expectant gaze told him it did not.

"Well..." He desperately tried to remember what his family told him while handing over presents. Damn, that was easier with Cass and Kat. Couldn't she just read the book? Or let him get away and notice later? "It is a collection of local poetry from Ionia. Found it in Zaun. I didn't know you would be posing as an Ionian in the near future, but…" He finally said with a shrug, not really sure how to end the sentence.

Her smile lit up even more as she bounced into his arms. His sisters had never reacted that way.
Well, Cassiopeia had one time, as he had brought her the skin of that crocodile-like walking reptile from the Kumungu. She had nearly chewed his ears off about it for weeks until he hadn't been able to take her constant whining anymore, but that was a completely different thing.
He had hoped the book was to Lux' liking, but this reaction surpassed his expectations by far.

"Thank you!" She beamed before she pulled his face down for a kiss. "It is wonderful. I love it."

He needed a moment to place the unfamiliar word, not noticing the telltale twitch of his brow as he did so. "You didn't even check if it strikes your fancy." He mumbled, uncomfortable by her unabashed glee as well as the unconversant words.

"Oh, it will. You picked it for me." She declared and kissed him again.

Maybe he could stall his return home a little longer. Besides, the cape or cloak debate could wait.

The appointed time came and Decius was punctual, knocking at her door. Mitsuko opened it with a friendly smile. Decius' gaze twitched to her throat where the ring hung on a filigree chain. Nothing that fitted the too big, tasteless thing, obviously something picked for her by someone else.

The trip through the city was rather unexciting, but the young man made an effort to show off the most beautiful places of Noxus Prime.

A visit to Sion's monument revealed that it was closed for the time being, something out of the ordinary.

Otherwise the boy tried to be sneaky in asking about her former profession, but he simply wasn't trained in that area. Lux noticed something like hope creeping into Decius' expression.
At the end of the day Decius asked if it was okay for him to take her up on a stroll tomorrow, too.

Mitsuko smiled happily but Lux was grinning wider on the inside.

Decius felt the familiar uneasiness as he entered the house of his mother. It was dark, shutters in front of the windows closed. He sighed deeply and made his way through the house, opening the shutters he crossed during his walk.

Since she came back from Ionia the dark wooden door to Quiletta's bedroom was closed, and he hesitated before he knocked.

Leaving her alone had proven not to work, it had neither gotten her out of the room nor made her do anything else besides lying in the bed, looking at the closed shutters while she grew thinner and thinner, her eyes and hair duller by the day. The only thing she managed to look at was that thrice-damned medallion she brought back from her trip, the only thing she glanced at nearly all the time. He had tried to take it away from her one time, but she had fought for it and Decius had feared he would break the now almost frail body and will of his mother.

Decius swallowed roughly. His strong, loving, caring mother who had provided him with safety for all of his life looked, and worse, felt, like she was dying. No, that wasn't right. She looked like she died back in Ionia and only an empty shell made it back over the sea.
She had told him what happened in Ionia, told him of gruesome deeds he could hardly believe the mighty Noxus could do-strength was something he believed in, but slaughtering children with poison was hardly proof of that. And using toxic gas to annihilate allies and enemies alike was nothing to his taste-it was cowardly.
Still, he couldn't understand why she voiced the wish to stay away from her fellow Noxians.

When giving her time to recover hadn't worked he had tried to drag her out of her bed. She was so thin already that she could hardly resist, but her resigned surrender to his strength had also not proven to help her.

Invetia, his sister, hadn't been of any help either. She had asked if he couldn't deliver their mother from her pain and end her suffering, something that had resulted in a very short, very violent fight which ended with Invetia, bruised and bleeding, leaving the house.

But that Ionian woman had stirred another hope inside of him: that maybe someone who wasn't Noxian could break through the hollowness that clouded Quiletta's eyes. She had always harbored as well as hidden a streak for romances, too, and at this point he was willing to take any chance that presented itself.

As expected she didn't answer at his knock, so he repeated the process and opened the door, stepping through it.

"Good evening, mother." He greeted and walked to the windows, opening the shutters to let the red-tinged sunlight into the room.

A movement made the silky sheets of the bed whisper and he could see dull strands of blonde hair show beneath the covers.

"I have news for you." He announced, knowing full well that bantering before cutting to the subject proved to be ineffective with her these days.

At least, he saw her blue eyes, too big for her small, soft face, turning to him. Maybe she would actually listen.

"Mother, you need to fulfill your duties. Invetia and I can't do everything for you while we are assigned elsewhere."

"Then just don't." Her voice was hoarse, as brittle as breaking twig, a world apart to the melodious sounds she used to make.

"You will be executed if you don't. Darius didn't save your life to…"

Her face hardened and Decius knew it was the wrong approach to mention him.
"He should have let me die." Quiletta said, voice seeping with hatred and poison, the same of which took her arm.

He took a deep breath. He had never been good at subtleties and couldn't bring himself to care about them now. "I found a scribe for you. She could take over some of your writing duties so you can train your left arm." The words sputtered out of his mouth and in spite of his mother's current condition he couldn't help the tiny hope tinging his words.

Quiletta turned away. "I don't want any person besides you and Invetia in my house."

"But… but she is no Noxian." Decius stuttered. It should have come out more confidently, a well-timed surprise even, but the sight of his broken mother disturbed him profoundly enough to make it come out as a weak plea instead.

Quiletta quietened before she looked at him again, a question in her eyes.

"She is from Ionia and arrived here in Noxus Prime two weeks ago."

"Ionia?" Quiletta shot up, suddenly sparked with life. "Why would an Ionian ever come to Noxus Prime?" She asked and Decius saw the dull veil over her eyes lifting. His legs almost gave out. He saw the opportunity and took it.

"She said she followed a man. He gave her a ring and asked her to come over…"

"Someone lured her here?" She suddenly sounded sharp and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Decius couldn't believe what he saw. His mouth opened and closed.

"Yes, and he didn't show his face…" He tried to kindle the flame that rose in her, a romantic at heart.

To his great wonder Quiletta stood up-only to fall back down. She gasped at the effort the small movement took and the feverous gleam in her eyes calmed down as she swiped her hand over her face as if to clear the cobwebs of misuse.

She took in a deep breath and Decius could see the fire dying. Despair flared up inside of him. "Mama…" He pleaded, but his voice broke, unable to say another word.

Quiletta cast her eyes to the ground, took a breath and looked through the window for the first time in weeks, blinking at the red rays that bled through it. Her lips tightened. "I want to meet that girl. Help me up now."

Decius' eyes widened before a smile spread to his lips. He practically jumped to his mother's side and reached for her arm. Hope, for once there was hope and he wasn't going to let her fall when she reached for it.

Chapter Text

The girl was small.
So small.
And blond.
Brown eyes, sparkling with nervous excitement and a real smile, albeit shy, on her lips.
Quiletta had rarely seen someone as clearly not-noxian as this girl, especially in the heart of Noxus itself.

The girl blinked and smiled, more sincere than anything Quiletta had ever seen before -Mitsuko was the name, right? Her eyes flitted over Quiletta's form, an expression of sadness and something else clouding her delicate features. Something the older woman hadn't seen in a very, very long time. It looked like…concern.
Quiletta knew how she looked, too thin and weak, nothing like the Noxian commander she used to be. She knew the look of scorn, expected the condescending looks of her fellow noxians. But she didn't expect something like compassion from a total stranger. Maybe she shouldn't have criticized the girl so quickly for being small when she could barely stand herself.
The second look over the girl made her notice the clothes she wore. Certainly not the attire of a simple barmaid. Stockings made of silk, good quality, not worn down. An Ionian pleated skirt and a simple blouse without nick-nack, but crafted of good-quality fabric. It fitted to what Decius had found out about her: solid education, solid income in Ionia and a very wrong turn that had led her to Noxus Prime.

Strangely enough the girl radiated an aura of contentment without the superiority complex and the falseness of her fellow noxians. Quiletta felt equally repelled and drawn because how could someone with traits like that exist without being crushed by the harsh world they lived in?
On the other hand, that girl worked as a barmaid, one of the lowest jobs Noxus Prime had to offer, despite her education. Sometimes the crushing just needed time, Quiletta herself was the best example of that. Just because that girl could look like that now, all big eyes and friendly smiles, didn't mean she could keep that hopeful, happy countenance through the humiliation that awaited her here.

The girl even stretched out her right hand in greeting. Quiletta looked at her sharply and the girl faltered, gaze twitching to her empty shoulder socket before something lit her features and she stretched out her left hand with another shy, hopeful smile.

Quiletta could do nothing against that smile, it was the most sincere thing she had seen in forever, so she lifted her remaining arm and shook hands with her.
It didn't feel as awkward as she first thought it would.
Maybe it was that warm smile.

"So you are Mitsuko." She assessed and the dark blond girl nodded.
With a movement of her hand, Quiletta ordered Decius away who bowed and obeyed, eyes casted down.
"Tell me why you are in Noxus."

The girl was hesitant at first, playing with a ring on a necklace. But the more Quiletta let her talk the more she opened up and again Quiletta was disgusted by how anybody would lure someone like the girl in front of her, obviously the complete opposite of a Noxian, into this hellish city.

Lux had been in deep cover for so long that even if she was blind, she could find her way through any part of the dirty Noxian undercity. She could avoid trouble altogether, circle around the most dangerous parts and was ready to remind everyone who still thought her easy prey that she was anything but.

Not in this disguise, though, and so she had not been able to fend off Quiletta's order for Decius to accompany her back to her apartment. At some point, she had accepted the offer for an escort with many thanks, and now she was home again.

The alertness that came with being in action slowly faded, but Lux still felt off. It was not only the fact that Decius had nearly hummed with life, the spark in his eyes he wasn't able to hide, chest puffed out with pride while he accompanied Lux down the dark streets of Noxus Prime. Neither were the glares he sent everyone so much as dared to look in their direction.
No. That was not the point, even though it was endearing how excited the boy was. Endearing in the way a young windraptor was; sweet until his teeth clamped around your finger and the claws went for your eyes.
The point was Quiletta. Lux had expected a raging woman of war, maybe someone bitter or consumed by grief because the position she held for a lifetime now would never be obtainable again without her arm.

Instead she had met a tall, but emaciated woman who looked like she was hanging by a thread, one weak pull and she would tear apart.

This first impression had made Lux uneasy. She wasn't used to see this sort of weakness displayed in Noxus and something inside her wanted to lash out at it. Lux feared it was the part that had spent too much time between minor noble houses, finding cracks in their exterior and shattering them to pieces. All in all no mindset Lux wanted to see within herself.

Quiletta had asked her many questions, but instead of focusing on her education, she showed interested in her personal reasons. A first in Noxus, someone asking about her life. And Lux couldn't even answer truthfully.
It was easy to see that Quiletta didn't calculate on being lied to and being deceived in the league Lux played in. Quiletta had even implied concern as Lux repeated the lie about a Noxian soldier who had lured her to Noxus and all the romantic details to make her look inferior and harmless. The older woman had seemingly taken the bait easily enough, her eyes held a steely gaze at the mention of impeded romance. Nothing directed against her though, Lux had figured with astonishment that she was targeting the offender.

Quiletta's expression had closed up during their exchange, but not in an unfriendly matter. It seemed more like she had pulled her edges together and started brooding.

Lux never felt good telling lies, but this time she had felt exceptionally bad. Like stepping on something already broken and taking no pleasure in seeing it ground to dust.
Lux had naturally taken a weaker position, and for the first time in Noxus Prime her opponent hadn't tried to abuse their position of power. Quiletta had been gentle, despite being badly hurt herself, and had even ordered her son to accompany Lux back to her apartment, not taking 'no' for an answer.

Lux figured herself quite skilled in reading people, and she hadn't needed long to discern that Quiletta was no bad person at heart, but one that believed in the ideals of Noxus. Or, after what happened in Ionia, maybe didn't anymore.
Whatever the case, both presented a crack and more than enough for Lux to affix a chisel and rip free whatever she would find hiding beneath.

Most likely a free-floating projectile, if she did it right.

But Lux couldn't get over the fact that the older woman, in contrast to most Noxians she had encountered before, didn't look like she wanted to take advantage of her intended weaknesses. The mage's first impression was that Quiletta wanted to…help.

And that made a new tingle of guilt shiver down her spine and leaden her heart.

Lux let out a breath and for the first time in a while she tried to assess just how compromised she was. Without her self-inflicted tests, a routine she had donned shortly before transferring into the Du Couteau household, there was hardly a way to quantify how much she had adjusted to her current position.

Her hands balled into fists. She didn't need a test to see that she was in over her head on this one. Had been since Talon had pulled her out of that basement, and maybe even before that.
It was artificial guilt that she summoned in herself at that thought, not the real, piercing feeling that swept over her when she thought of how Quiletta's empty arm-socket twitched as she tried to reach for a pen, right before she remembered there was no hand to grasp it anymore.

On the other hand, compassion was hardly a noxian trait. And she was still able to summon as much.

She had spent roughly three years in Noxus now, and at a logical level she knew that at some point she would have to leave. And she would be expected to turn the secrets she dug up over to Demacia. She wasn't even able to think about how she'd be able to leave Talon behind, but what if she kept surrounding herself with more people she'd consider allies? Could she expose them to Demacian intelligence?

Could she blame her momentarily sensitivity to deprivation from friendly human interaction?

The familiar sound of her door being opened pulled her from her brooding and made her almost groan, hadn't she been so happy to see him. Talon's calmness always provided comfort among other things.

Was this man a human seismograph? Sensing everything without a single word?

She turned to the door and even though he had visited her roughly four nights ago her heart leaped at his sight. Only four nights? Her smile was a bit unsteady. "You are early."

A stern frown rose to his face. "What happened?" He asked gruffly, closing the door behind him while visually checking her apartment. It was unusual to see him walking through the door instead of just appearing out of a shadow.

Lux shook her head. "Nothing of importance." She dismissed. "How are you?"

The frown stayed on his face as he closed the distance, cautiously, checking if she displayed any signs for him to stop.
She didn't, so he grabbed for shoulders and looked her up and down, rubbed his hands over her arms as if to check if something was amiss. "What's wrong?" He changed his question slightly, a sharp edge giving his words a dangerous twist.

Lux shook her head. Why did it even surprise her that one more Noxian proved to have a heart despite everything she had been taught in Demacia? It had been so much easier when she just sold people out, pitting them against each other without creating a personal connection to them. Maybe she was losing her edge, talking of a 'connection' after the first meeting.

He pulled at her shoulders until she could feel his warmth, his firm body against her softer one, and his familiar smell soothed her senses.

"Lux." He hissed urgently and shook her lightly.

Lux snaked her arms around his torso, expertly evading the blades attached to his cloak and placed her head against his neck, the cadence of his heartbeat a welcome distraction. "How was your childhood?" She suddenly asked, sound muffled by his shirt.

She felt his head move back, but he couldn't get a glance of her face from his position. "I asked first." He rasped, giving her head another shove with his shoulder, impatience showing.

"I like Quiletta." She truthfully answered before she repeated: "How was your childhood?"

For a moment it seemed that Talon was stunned by either her answer or her question. After an eternity she felt his fingers skimming over her back lightly. "Necessary." He answered equally short before he pushed her from him to look her up and down again, seemingly still not finding something off. "You are not hurt?"

"No." She confirmed and rubbed her face with her hands. "Just tired."

He nodded, still uneasy, before he shoved her away to check the windows. As always in this apartment the security didn't suffice for him, but that couldn't be helped.

"You liking Quiletta is a problem?" He asked as he peered out the windows, and she would have loved to tell him that liking any Noxian was a problem, but he might have taken that personally.
And there they were, her loyalties to Demacia, standing between what she craved as a woman and what her state said she should want.

"I… have the feeling that…" Lux stopped, but the tilt of Talon's head told her he was listening and interested, and nobody except him cared for her at the moment or was willing to listen. So Lux decided to throw hazard to the wind and say it. Not the whole truth, but at least a glimpse of it. "I met her only once, but I have the feeling that I could easily manipulate her to do what I want."

As expected the cease between his brows deepened. "That was your plan."

"Yes. And I love it when a plan comes together." His frown found a counterpart on her wrinkling forehead.

"So your problem is…?" He nudged on.

Lux chewed on her lower lip. "Seeing that she has compassion, love for her children and for ideals, and that she was betrayed…" She stopped with a sigh. "She is vulnerable and a nice person. I like her." That was probably too much gibberish for someone like him. Combined with the fact that he still didn't know that she didn't just work for herself. He probably didn't care about that, but the fact that she was technically working against his state was an entirely different matter. Maybe not his state, she reasoned. Talon had never displayed any sentiment towards Noxus as whole. In the end it came down to who worked against his family. And that was something Lux would not touch.

They shared the silence for another moment.
"She wasn't your goal." Talon reminded and Lux looked up into his face.

"What?" She asked, confused.

For a long moment he didn't say anything, just finished his check of her apartment before he returned to his place next to her, in the middle of the room. When he rose his voice it was hesitating, placing his words carefully. "You just want to use her to get access to Darius. You don't have to do anything to her if you don't want to."

Lux blinked.
She could maximize the outcome for her city-state by trying and giving Quiletta a spin, but…nobody would ever know if she didn't, would they?
"That…That could work." She sounded surprised and Talon placed his unbladed hand in her hair. This revelation made things easier and harder at the same time.

Talon still looked confused though, but refrained from asking another question, just tucked a stray blond strand behind her ear.

Lux closed her eyes briefly at the contact and spread her fingers on his back. "What do you mean by necessary?" She referred to her earlier question and his answer to that.

Talon snorted and he averted his gaze to the windows. "You are the nosiest person I know."

A hesitating smile rose to Lux' lips. "How many people do you know on such close basis?"

A soft tug on her hair made her look up, into Talon's face. He shook his head. "Not many." He admitted.

"So… you said necessary?" Lux pressed on.

He let out a long sigh. "Yes, necessary, Lux." He repeated. She blinked up into his face again and he braced himself for the next question.

"That doesn't sound good." She observed.

"I don't grade." He answered with a shrug.

Now it was Lux's turn to lift an eyebrow.

He rolled his eyes. "I survived until General Du Couteau gave me a place." He shrugged again. "There is not much more about it."

Lux decided to let it rest for now. He didn't seem particularly tender about that topic, so maybe she'd get him to talk in the future.

Lux grasped for a strand of dark hair and tugged softly until his gaze met hers. His hair had grown longer than she had ever seen it, she noticed. "I didn't greet you properly." She smiled and pulled Talon's face down to hers.

Compared to her job in the tavern being a scribe was fairly easy. Quiletta expected her to fill out her reports about troop movements in Ionia, sort through supply-lists organize her correspondences and answer in a timely fashion. The work in itself was no challenge.

What posed a challenge was the descriptions of the different theaters of war and what zaunite chemtech combined with Noxian ruthlessness had wrought.

Quiletta went to full detail in every report. If Lux hadn't known that Quiletta wanted to show her superiors how wrong it was what had happened on the island she would have assumed it was to reveal the terrible things Noxians had done to her supposed home country to Lux herself.

Even though it wasn't her native country Lux couldn't hide the horror at Quiletta's detailed descriptions of whole villages eradicated by gas, lands becoming arid by poisoned water, or the impact of a flying war machine called 'melter' to allied and hostile troops alike. The world 'melter' itself was hardly appropriate for the havoc those machines wrecked.

"You don't want to hear the jokes Emystan made about the name." Quiletta mumbled as Lux couldn't suppress a shiver anymore. That comment didn't make it any better.

The pictures of children killed with chemtech, invented by crazy zaunite scientists would surely haunt her dreams and she made sure to commit the names of every commander who worked together with them willingly to memory, Emystan was only one of them. The names of the zaunite alchemysts went onto the same list in her head.

Her insistence to stay in Noxus prime suddenly felt hollow.

She was still here because of this one, gorgeous, deadly man, but his country set the world on fire without caring for the costs on either side. And she hadn't lifted a finger to stop it, hadn't even known about what happened until now.

Barren fields and countless destroyed lives in Ionia while she gathered Intel for Demacian intelligence. Maybe she could have done something, anything to stop this. Maybe she could have sent a warning beforehand, but while she slowly strengthened her position here, the Noxian war machines kept turning, maiming the future of other countries.

Luckily Quiletta never mentioned the appall in Lux's expression that she wasn't able to cover up immediately.

"... A sum of seventeen children, twenty-nine elderly and four adults."

Lux swiped a hand over her face after finishing the report about the last cruelty Quiletta had witnessed.

No blood. Gas seemingly did the job and no blood was spilt.

Dead farmers, children and elderly. Killed cattle, destroyed crop. What would Noxus even gain through this invasion when they destroyed the livestock and land? The senselessness of it threatened to overwhelm Lux.

Quiletta stopped talking and was quiet for a moment while Lux tried to compose herself.

"Why do you want to work for someone who destroyed your home?" Quiletta asked, an unusual softness in her voice.

Lux gulped, searching for an out. She found herself unable and, more importantly, unwilling to. "I... Not all Noxians are like that." She looked into Quiletta's blue eyes intently and shook her head. "Why do you fight for Noxus?"

Quiletta's hand twitched in the direction of her neck, the medallion hanging there had attracted Lux's attention beforehand. Then a long moment of silence followed.
"There can only be peace when the whole world marches under one banner." Quiletta declared after the pause, but the words sounded hollow as if the meaning they once held had crumbled under the weight of reality.

"What are you going to do when there are no more cities to rob, when all livestock is destroyed?" Lux asked tuneless.
She saw it in Quiletta's face, the crack. And she had the chisel. She decided against ramming it in, but set it softly and apply strength gradually. "When the six years of military service leaves all young people either soldiers or dead or maimed and there are no more farmers because farmers are weak and the weak ones are killed first?"

Quiletta averted her gaze downwards, thinking about that for a moment. "How... How do you sustain yourself in Ionia?" This time hesitation colored the elder woman's voice.

Lux looked up. "We just..." She gulped. There was no rest for a spy, as it seemed. But she had talked to Ionian refugees a lot and she knew that Demacia also didn't rely on expansion. "We have farmers. They grow food and... We have more of them than soldiers. We put our resources into growing things, in building, not..." she gulped again. She had always wanted to visit Ionia, but now she was afraid of what would be left.

"But that leaves you vulnerable." Quiletta ceased her brow.

"Our military duty lasts only one year, not six like in Noxus. The sea always protected us. Not anymore. But... Before... We have people who can fight, whose job it is to do so, we just have enough other people to sustain them, too. We don't rely on other nations to…"

"Noxus doesn't rely on other nations." Quiletta instantly answered, but not in an aggressive way that would have made Lux stop.

"Where do you get most of your resources from?" Lux tilted her head and blinked up to Quiletta's face.

Quiletta didn't look angry, more considering. She pressed her lips together. "But what if somebody steals your cattle?"

"That's what the fighting people are for." Lux concluded, offering her brushed up knowledge about Ionian culture. Most likely it wasn't the whole truth, but it was a picture Lux liked to paint. She did feel bad for lying to Quiletta, but by now she could justify it just enough. She was advocating for people who wouldn't have a voice otherwise.

Quiletta continued to dictate the rest of her report without asking more questions, a thoughtful expression on her face.

Lux was still unsettled when she reached her home. The increasingly gory details of how the Ionian rural population was annihilated, the ability to sacrifice their own regiments and even elite soldiers to the chem-smog was the evil stereotype of what Demacian propaganda told about Noxian warfare.

If she hadn't she experienced real Noxians first-hand, she would give her all to tear apart the fabric of this realm without remorse. But spinning the screws on her would probably sacrifice Quiletta, something that Lux didn't want.

She wasn't able to think in black and white anymore, like her brother, like Demacia in general.

She wanted change, but not by destroying Noxus. Nothing came from destruction and war.

There had to be someone responsible for that terrible attacks on Ionia, for employing the chemtech…although there were responsible generals who used that warfare, too, there was someone pulling the strings and making the final decisions.

Her key clicked in the lock and she closed the door behind her.

"You are deeply…" Lux half-suppressed a scream as she spun around, hands rising in front of her body before she could match the fact that someone was in her room to the familiar voice of the darkly clad man lounging on her bed.

Lux let out a breath at his lifted palms.

Who else should be here?

"…in thought." He finished his sentence, more cautiously than before.

Lux regained control over her spiked heart rate. "It's been only two days. I wasn't expecting you." She half explained, half justified.
A look around her room revealed that one of her two chairs had been converted to a weapons rack. His neatly folded cloak hung over the backrest, pieces of his armor laid neatly on the seat and the jagged edge that was normally strapped to his right arm was placed across both armrests.

He lifted an eyebrow, righting himself up to a more sitting, less slouching position. "Want me to leave?"

"No!" She discarded her sling bag, took the small chapbook she now always carried with her out of her pocket and onto the nightstand before she fell down next to him, bumping shoulders. He eyed the book, gaze flitting over the new, differently colored ribbons that posed as bookmarks. "I am positively surprised as well as delighted to be able to enjoy your company so often these days." She closed her eyes and leaned her head against his shoulder. "I'm getting used to waking up with you."

He circled an arm around her and pulled her squarely against his chest, dipping his cheek against her hair. "And still you seem deeper in thought by day." He observed silently, his breath tickling her ear.

Lux bared her neck to him and embraced him. "I am horrified by what happens in Ionia." She confessed.

"Mind telling me?"

"Do you care?" She asked, turning slightly to get a glimpse of his face. His closeness as well as the light touch soothed her upset mind.

"I care about you." She saw the 'and you like to talk about things' in the tilt of his head.

Despite her fretfulness she couldn't help but smile at the warmth that bloomed in her chest. "That is nice to know." One person in this mess cared. The contact with him had been enough to dispel the loneliness of the last years. To know that he cared was much, much better.

"Seems like our troops use zaunite chemicals to undifferentiated kill large groups of people. Farmers, children, elderly. More than one regiment of noxian forces were also wiped out. Quiletta currently dictates her report about a theater of war where a village without a single fighter inside was wiped out with the deployment of toxic smog. And she described it…" a shiver ran down her spine, "rather explicitly."

Talon didn't comment on that, just continued to stroke her back.

Lux peeked upwards, but it was hard to interpret his expression while it laid in the shadows of his hood.

She didn't even know if she wanted him to say anything.

Talon had expressed on more than one occasion that he cared for himself and his, not for the rest of the world. Lux figured there were enough reasons for him to do so, but despite the length of their relationship she sparsely knew about his reasoning. Beyond the fact that he killed and would die for General Du Couteau. This was such a moment, his lack of compassion adding to her discomfort.

But she didn't want discomfort, she didn't want to judge, she wanted to understand.

"Tell me about your childhood." She repeated the question she had voiced prior.

Talon turned his face to her, the upper half of it shadowed. "You already asked that. I answered. Why are you changing the subject?"

Lux shrugged. "Honestly? It's enough if I have to think about Ionia again tomorrow. I'd like to take my mind off that topic for now."

The corners of his lips turned upwards in a suggestive smirk and Lux actually laughed at the implication. "After I got my mind off those mental images." She promised and nudged her nose into the fabric of his hood, inhaling deeply. How could anybody smell that good?

Talon pulled her closer and nodded.

"You could help me doing so…" The smile on her face gained the strength it usually held and Talon snorted, anticipating where this would go. "…by talking to me. How was growing up on the streets of Noxus Prime?"

"You can't just let it go, can you?"

"I could, but I don't want to."

"It was…different." He sounded a bit helpless.

"Different from what?" She persisted

"From how my life is now." Talon shrugged again.

"Tell me." Lux requested and Talon leaned back, looking at the ceiling as if he tried to convert his thoughts to words.

He grasped that he wouldn't get out of this easily. So after another sigh he started talking.
"Now I have a bed that will still be there when I come back. A room nobody enters when I am not there. Food in the kitchen that covers my current taste, and food that changes when my tastes change." That thought still seemed to amaze him, for his brow ceased in wonder. Lux urged him on with sliding her hand under his hood to stroke his neck. "There are people who observe what I like to eat and then that stuff is always available for me. Since the earliest times of my acceptance into the household there was always a jar of honey in the cupboard, plus a variety of other sweets." Lux had already witnessed his obsession with honey. Surely food was vital for a child on the streets, so it wasn't a surprise that food had made the greatest impact to him. Combined with the fact that somebody cared enough to observe his tastes. She tightened her hold on him. "My sister refilled the sweets and obtained more of the ones I ate most and discarded the things I didn't eat." A twitch of pain flitted through his face and Lux knew which sister he was talking about. "So, like I said, my life is different. And I don't think about the past."

She laid her head against his shoulder. "Why not?"

"Because it is over." He said with finality. "I survived, so it doesn't matter anymore."

"I'd really liked to know." She confessed, not satisfied with the last answer.

Talon's expression evened out again as he tried to remember. As he spoke his voice was calm and even, nothing like the echo of awe that had seeped through his descriptions of the food and of his own bed. "Every minute of every day consisted solely of fighting." He looked down at her, checking if that sufficed.

It didn't, her wide eyes conveyed attention.

He stroke her hair and continued. "There was hardly rest in between the different opponents. Rats, injuries, humans, my own body, the cold, hunger... Reflecting on the past or hoping for a future was something I couldn't afford. And I didn't. I hardly planned anything, because all my efforts were dedicated to live through the next segment."

"Segment?" Lux repeated.

His lips twitched upwards. "I measured time differently. On missions I still do so."

"In segments?"

He nodded.

"How long is a segment?"

He shrugged. "Varying. It's a situation from its beginning to the end. A segment meant finding shelter for the night, the time it took to get food, being faster than the next batch of people trying to kill me."

Lux nodded. It was practical and more flexible than minutes and hours. Also heart-wrenchingly sad, but that was beside the point.

"One segment to the next was all that I counted. And when it was over it was…over. Nothing to think about and nothing to discuss. Because the next segment began, requiring my whole attention." He shrugged again and Lux was on the verge of communicating that she felt sorry for him, sorry that his life obviously hadn't been kind at the beginning.
What he said sounded emotionless, but thinking what that meant to a child…She shook her head. As she looked into his face she saw no resurfacing pain, no anger, just blankness, as if he didn't talk about himself.
He had really told her because she had continued to ask, not because he put any mind to it.

Lux had often told herself that she understood how different Talon was from her.

She knew he thought and felt in different ways, diverted the world into different sections than herself which made him see unique perspectives. It had worked in her favor in the past and was still doing so now, because he accepted her in ways nobody else had. It was this moment though that she truly understood that it wasn't an emotional deficiency. Just as his past was no dark spot he wished to wipe out.
He didn't.
He had obviously clawed his way through hell and came out running to the other side. He had utilized everything in his life to become who he was now. All of that by himself, until he was strong enough to be acknowledged by a person he could respect. He had proven his strength over and over again, and now it was a source of pride to him. It had etched itself into the darkness of himself, the absolute certainty that he'd overcome each and every obstacle in his way. Every scar on his body was a reminder that he was stronger than what had tried to hurt him.
The stories behind those scars were partly forgotten as she had experienced while asking about them, but the message remained. And that was an admirable mindset, Lux found, most likely his greatest strength. He had fought tooth and nail for what he had now, and he'd do everything in his power to protect what was his.

She searched eye contact and smiled at him before she cupped his cheek with her hands. Katarina and her family could count themselves lucky.

His brow rose mockingly, obviously not as touched as she was. "Satisfied now?" He asked with a challenging half-smirk.

"Thank you for telling me." Lux whispered and kissed him.

He kissed back, but Lux felt his hand reaching for her nightstand. After they parted his attention shifted to the little book laying on top. He outlined the small parchments sticking out between the pages, and something made his movement seem like a question.

Lux smiled warmly at him and as always this smile attracted the attention of a part inside himself that Talon didn't understand yet. It was better than watching the golden red sun rising above the city, casting its warmth on a new day.

"I really, really like it. Thank you." She looked into his eyes like she wanted to convey more with her words. Seemingly this was just the right thing to divert her attention from his person.

"Could you read all of them?" Talon asked while he skimmed over the old pages carefully. She leaned her chin on his shoulder and watched the pages flip. Some of the poems had been written in a language he couldn't decipher, but he had been fairly sure she'd enjoy something to play with.

Her smile intensified and she was radiating in that way that told Talon that he definitely had found the right topic to avert her attention to.

"I needed to visit the archives, but yes, I decoded them all."

His lips twitched upwards. For someone who broke into the military archives the regular ones posed no problem, of course. "Which was your favorite one?" He asked out of a sudden peak of curiosity.

Her cheeks colored up and her eyes twitched between his and the wall while she dug her face deeper into his shoulder. Good that he had disarmed beforehand. "Listen, you didn't even know what was written down there..." She started.

His head whipped around at the sudden display of coyness. "Now you have to tell me." She had gotten quite the bit of him, so it was his turn to flip the tables on her.

"It will make you uncomfortable." She promised, displaying an uncertainty he hardly knew from her.

"Why don't you simply read something different if you don't want to tell me?" He mused, interpreting her dancing around the subject.

Her eyes widened and he knew he had offended her again. Then her expression softened and she shook her head. "I don't want to lie to you." She simply professed. "Just making sure you really want to know."

"Sounds more like it'd make you uncomfortable." Because Talon didn't expect anything in a traveler's book that could make him squirm just like she did now. Oh yes, now was his turn to ask questions she didn't want to answer.

She chuckled lightly. "Maybe it does?" She challenged with that alluring smile of hers.

The stare she got in return was sharp. "I answered your questions." He pointed out.

She made an approving noise. "I liked that very much." She purred and the corner of his lip tugged upwards.

Talon shrugged. "I'm waiting."

She laughed and swung her leg over his lap and straddled him. Her torso touched him and her skirt slid upwards in the process, revealing the Ionian silk stockings Mitsuko always wore. It was a first that Talon got to peel her out of those clothes, though. He enveloped her waist and slid into a more comfortable, upright position before he placed his hand on her thigh, stroking over the fabric.
It took a tremendous amount of strength to tear his gaze away from the cleavage right in front of his face, but somehow he managed to look upwards into her blue eyes. The way she looked down to him in this position made her hair fall into her face as much as the hairband allowed. While his right hand grasped more firmly for her leg his left one threaded itself into her hair before he pushed it back. She leaned into his touch and closed her eyes.

It was the perfect height for him to run his nose over her slender throat. He closed his eyes briefly to inhale deeply before he kissed the hollow of her throat, her pulse accelerating against his lips. He tightened his hold on her and she reciprocated likewise, pressing herself against him. Then he created a small distance to be able to follow the dip between muscle and collarbone with his lips. A small gasp broke away from her throat and her eyes fluttered shut.


He nipped at her skin and voiced "you are stalling" before he reclined to admire the picture she gave. He was decently sure he had never seen anything as beautiful as her.
Maybe he should really postpone the talking...his hand crept upwards until the pattern of the silk stockings changed. A peek down revealed something floral, still mostly hidden by her skirt, indicating where the stockings ended. He moved his fingers over the edge where soft, dark fabric turned to even softer, bright skin. He inched the skirt away to get a better look. Those stockings were a nice variation, even though he couldn't put his finger on why he liked them so much. His thumb wandered upwards, shoving her skirt away, following the dip just below her hipbone.

He felt more than saw the quickening in her breathing, but her smile was full of mirth. "I am stalling." She folded her hands behind his neck and leaned backwards also, giving him an even better view of her curves. The edges of her stockings peeked out teasingly from under her skirt. Yes. By far the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on.
His left hand stayed at her hip while his right continued its path upwards to stop under the swell of her chest.

"I'm still waiting." He murmured, halfway ready to get distracted by those unbelievably soft, gorgeous…

She interrupted his train of thoughts by laughing again.
"Okay. You asked for it. Some of the finer metrics got lost during the translation, but I'll give my best. She unfolded her hands to caress his neck until he looked into her face again. "Remember that I know you didn't know about the content, okay?"

This time Talon didn't answer, he just waited until Lux took a deep breath, leaned forward to embrace him and kiss his temple.
Without taking the book Lux started whispering in his ear.

"I don't love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance
from the earth lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don't know any other way to love,

except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams."


He was quiet for a moment.
Like she pretended, it made him uncomfortable. Maybe he should have listened.
The way she intonated and repeated words not in his usually present vocabulary indicated they had a special meaning which he was unable to grasp. And the way she was speaking in his ear, a very potent way to avoid his eyes, as well as her rapid heartbeat, indicated they meant something to her. Otherwise she wouldn't have made such a fuss beforehand. He stroked her arm.
He decided he didn't like being awkward with her. "Were there challenges in translating?" He deflected to grounds he was able to stand on.

"First paragraph." She latched on easily, snuggling her cheek against his ear. "The word which I translated with 'dark' is used the same way as 'obscure'."

"A reason why you chose this one over the other?"

He felt her smile against his scalp as well as another kiss. "Personal preferences."

He tugged at her hair softly until she looked into his eyes again. Now they displayed their natural shade of blue, much more lucid than the colors she hid behind. Maybe he would have chosen obscure instead of dark.

The hint of another smile rose to those eyes, and Talon found something new in there, something he had only seen sparkling in glances for short moments before it disappeared again. Now it didn't vanish, but shone at him with a warmth that lured him in, up to her face where he cupped it with his hands, thumbs underlining her high cheekbones shortly before he melted into her lips. Her hands tangled in his hair as her lids fluttered shut, effectively hiding the newly found spark.
He broke away, a bit worried that it would be gone as soon as she opened her eyes again, but when she blinked at him, lowering her hands to his neck to gently graze her nails over his skin, it was still there, bright and warm and new and reserved only for him. He had no name for what welled up inside of him, close to his heart and warm, but it made him seal her lips with his own once more, delve his tongue inside her mouth and, as she melted into his touch, never wanting to let go again. Or at least savor this moment to the fullest, for her slow, sensual movements against him indicated she wasn't inclined on staying in this position.

His hands wandered down her face, caressing her neck until he reached her collar, tugging until she opened her eyes again and he was able to see that still-present glint as well as her alluring smile.

Talon didn't look away as he undid the first button of her blouse, but then she broke eye contact to place her lips on his forehead. His hands skimmed over her front before he undid the second button, nose following the newly exposed skin downwards while he placed small kisses on her.

Lux' breath accelerated and she pressed herself more thoroughly against his front, nails digging into his shirt.

"Patience." He mumbled against her skin and proceeded to the third button, not quite ready to move on from the tenderness of the moment.

Her hands fumbled with the buttons on his front before she pushed his hood out of his face, caressing his hair in the process so he was forced to look up at her again. The smile on her face was nothing if not mischievous as her hand dipped below his waistband, her lips cutting off his next protest. "I think I already showed enough patience." She made her case and as her fingers wrapped around the base of his cock Talon found himself agreeing.

Still, the smile on her face stayed as daring as it was and Talon couldn't help but rise to the challenge. So he took a deep breath, steeled himself against her ministrations and continued unbuttoning her blouse, peppering the newly revealed skin with kisses.

Her breath against his temple acted as a warning before her lips tickled him lightly behind his ear and he bit at the tingling sensation, making her gasp. That would leave another impression of his teeth behind. He kissed the reddening spot while her one hand squirmed around him, the other finding a way to his neck. He didn't flinch away. If it was anyone but Lux Talon would have hated all the sensitive places to be touched, but when she touched him it added to his thundering heartbeat, made him squirm under his suddenly too-tight skin.

He shoved her blouse out of his way, over her shoulders and a glance confirmed that her black bra matched her stockings. A fact that peaked his curiosity.
Her fingers skidded over the gap in his sweatshirt but he was not inclined to let her continue just yet. The blouse landed on the ground and Talon was able to relocate his hands to the zipper of her skirt, which soon joined the blouse on the floor.

"Your underwear matches." He observed at the sight of her panties, black and adorned with the same floral pattern as the seams of her stockings and her bra.
He felt his heart rate accelerating.
It looked good. Really good.
His gaze wandered from her thighs over her panties, followed the curve of her waist to her nicely wrapped chest and up to her face.

They knew each other for quite some time now.
He had seen her in nearly every possible position, clothed and unclothed, knew how every spot of her felt and tasted. They had had sex on a variety of surfaces and he hadn't expected she'd still be flustered by anything they did. Considering where her right hand was right now-and how it moved-an accurate guess.

The widening of her eyes plus the blush creeping up her cheeks and down to color the pale skin of her face and cleavage proved him wrong.

"I…That…Ahm…" She stuttered and squirmed, casting her eyes down, her grip around him slackening.

Talon missed the contact instantly.

"Leave it on." He rasped and placed his hands on her waist.

The color on her cheeks darkened as the hint of a smile tugged the corners of her lips upwards. "You like it?" She dared, eyes opening in a way that nearly cost his sanity, cheeky despite her displayed embarrassment.

His gaze left her face to relish the sight some more. It was somehow hard to think straight with her on his lap looking like that. The only remaining thought left in his brain was how he'd fuck her with those stocking clad legs wrapped around his waist.
"Oh yes." He confirmed whisperingly, one hand roaming down to the silky material, the other pulling the cup of her bra down just enough to free a nipple.

She chuckled with renewed poise as he enclosed the pink bud with his lips and started to suck gently.

Talon felt her fingers on his stomach as she pushed his shirt upwards. Reluctantly he let go of her chest, let her pull the cloth over his head to discard it next to hers. He tugged at the other cup of her bra while her thighs tensed. She lifted herself up from his lap, the fumbling on his belt-buckle indicating why she had risen from the comfortable position. He tilted his head upwards, lifted a hand to her neck and pulled her down for a kiss. His tongue slipped between her parted lips to get more of her taste while her body melted against his as her arms surrounded him, crossing behind his back.
She squirmed against him, nails dragging over his skin without breaking it.

Talon secured Lux' head with one hand and somehow managed to bring his pants down his hips, underwear included. After that he kicked the fabric away from his legs and reached down between them, slipping under the silk of her underwear, pressing a firm thumb between her folds.
She broke free from his lips with a moan as a shudder ran through her body. Unsurprisingly she was already wet and as he stroked the sensitive nub between her legs her lips crashed against him, banging him against the wall with unexpected force.

Taking the initiative she grasped his not-occupied hand, splayed it over her chest and squeezed, conveying abundantly clear how she wanted to be touched right now.
Talon was eager to comply, the contrast of skin and silk heady under his palms.

She grasped for his cock again, giving him a long, firm stroke. As her thumb rubbed over his tip he was the one moaning into her mouth and bucking upwards as his nerves started burning. Her hand flew to his cheek, cupping it to hold their faces together. Talon's free hand slipped to her panties, shoving it out of the way as she simultaneously lowered herself onto him.

The sensation of her wet, heated core slipping over him was enough to make him lose what semblance of control he had left and he broke free from her face with a deep groan. Lux grasped for his shoulder and started to move, gyrating on top of him, and the sensation combined with the sight of her made it hard to remember his own name. Time seemed to slow down as she closed her eyes and threw her head back, exposing her throat and neck while he stared at her in sudden awe.

Then the transcendence of the moment passed as she opened her eyes and focused him with those blue orbs, darkened by arousal. Suddenly the world started spinning faster than before.

With a deep growl he clutched her legs and guided them around his waist. She complied, crossing her extremities behind his back, keeping her balance through her hands on his shoulders. Then he shifted himself to his knees and toppled her over backwards while he followed swiftly, eliciting a shriek from her the moment it felt like falling. The noise was short-lived though, and soon she was on her back, pressed into the mattress and he hovered over her, enveloped by her warmth and electrified by the feverish light in her eyes.

He cupped her cheek with his hand while the other secured her thigh around him.
Another moment passed as they looked into each other's slightly widened eyes, mouths agape to draw in shallow breaths.
Then Lux twitched and Talon's lips crashed down onto hers as his hips snapped forward, burying himself inside of her, kindling the flame that threatened to engulf his whole being. She met him with movements of her own, thighs spasming periodically. She gasped in sync with his thrusts, and he knew it would be over soon.

He reached down between them again, thumb finding and rubbing her clitoris. She cried out at the sensation and canted her hip upwards while Talon buried his face in the crook of her neck. She was so wet, so tight around him and he just wanted to explode, felt the sensation building low in his gut.

"Lux…" He felt himself starting to slip over the edge as she writhed under him with eyes half closed, red dusting her pale skin.

The gasped "Talon" was an equally frantic answer as he rubbed his thumb in circles, firmly, the way he knew she liked. His other hand held on to her trembling hip, and then he felt her shuddering and tightening around him with a pitched cry, nails burying into his back.
He let himself go, pumping artlessly into her as white-hot ecstasy blinded him as effectively as one of her spells, riding out the waves of fire that roared through him. He was left struggling for breath and struggling not to just tip over and close his eyes.

He needed a long moment to come back down, her spiked breath and half closed eyes indicating she also did. Talon let his head fall forward, his forehead bumping against hers and he captured her lips in a sloppy kiss, all teeth and tongue. Her arms clasped around him as she dragged him even closer.

Slow, very slow, his breathing returned to its normal rate and he opened his eyes.
Hers were still half-closed, but her lips curled upwards in a tired smile. Talon cupped her cheek with his hands, his former apprehension returning. But as she opened her eyes that new spark he had noticed before was there again, strong, warming him up from inside. Hopefully it would stay for him to marvel at. Because for now he was exhausted, a feeling he found mirrored as she yawned.

He pulled out, something that left her shuddering again, before he collapsed onto the mattress next to her.

Almost on their own his arms found their way around her waist and he pulled until Lux' side connected with his front. She turned her head just enough to set her nose against his, tilting her head to place a feather-light kiss on his lips. Talon pulled her even closer and buried his nose in her hair.

Before he slipped into blackness he felt her hands above his, strengthening his hold around her waist with a content sigh.

"You shouldn't let that Ionian girl get under your skin." Invetia's voice was cold, as always these days.

Quiletta's left arm burned from the physical training she had just completed. She drew in a deep breath and lowered her sword. She was still miles away from her former shape, but already better than when she had started.

"Does she disturb you?" Quiletta asked, turning to her child. Could she call Invetia a child any longer? The girl was almost fifteen now and she had begun her military training, but her actions were still so callow. Today her eyes lit with an unusual fervor.

"She is weak. She doesn't embody Noxian ideals. She belongs…" Quiletta lifted an eyebrow and Invetia caught herself. "She is nothing like General Darius says a soldier needs to be." Invetia ended the sentence, obviously different from what she had intended to at the beginning.

Quiletta leaned her sword against the wall. "Did Darius take over the training of new recruits?" She asked.
He had sent her a message. No, that wasn't true. He had summoned her, as briefly as usual, for a meeting. Had the situation been a little different-she had laughed about how little that part of him had changed over the years.

Invetia's cheeks colored up, admiration in her eyes. "He explained the principles for successful soldiers and leaders. Might, guile, vision." She repeated the lesson, head held up high.

"What has that to do with my new scribe?" Quiletta asked, suddenly startled by how much Invetia sounded like a young Darius, the one who had promised to conquer the world with her, before the army had taken all his passion and turned it into the steel-hard drive forward she was left with now.

"If she doesn't bend her knee to our ideals we should break her." Invetia declared with utter conviction. "Like we broke Ionia…"

Quiletta turned sharply. "Ionia was no show of strength, Invetia." She snapped. "You know what happens when Noxian troops are defeated?"

"They deserve to die." She spoke with the imperturbable certainty only a child could muster.

Four months. Only four months of military training had done this.

But counterforce had never worked with Darius, and it wouldn't work with Invetia either, so Quiletta softened her tone to something her bullheaded daughter might accept. "The chemtech in Ionia was undifferentiated butchering, unmindful of individual strength. How can you prove your strength when breathing in means death?"

Invetia opened her mouth before she closed it again, anger knitting her brows together.

"Those people didn't have the chance to fight. I saw the remains of a battlefield where Ionian forces won, but the Zaunite melters killed them as well as the Noxian survivors. They should have won that fight, but…"

"We want peace." Invetia interrupted, grasping for another lecture of her training, moving the goalpost in the process. "And we can only achieve that by conquering every single piece of land there is, so everybody can be judged by strength alone." The clenching of her fist didn't leave to imagination what kind of strength she meant.

"Did Darius tell you that?"

"He held a speech in front of us." The feverish glimmer shone in Invetia's eyes.

What had Darius done?

"Who will grow our food when everybody tries to overcome the other? When everybody who is just a bit too weak to defend themselves gets taken advantage of?" She asked softly, freely because Invetia might be angry now, but she would never betray her, that much Quiletta knew.

Invetia didn't have an answer to that, but she stubbornly pulled her head back. "Did that Ionian tell you that?" She hissed, angry despite Quiletta's efforts to calm her down.

"That Ionian has seen another society, darling. Sometimes it helps to get another perspective…"

"Not when it comes from a traitor!" Her daughter spat.

Seeing the glint in her daughter's eyes Quiletta knew she had lost this fight. Just as she had lost the fight for her arm with Darius, as she had lost him to the military beforehand. But her daughter was not lost to her, at least not now. Quiletta intended to fight tooth and nail for both of her children.
Darius had been right, her life belonged to Noxus and she was not done here yet.

She snaked her remaining hand to her neck, fumbling awkwardly with the small lock. "Take this." She said after she had loosened the medallion from its resting place before she laid it around Invetia's neck.

"What's that, mother?" Now she sounded clearly annoyed as well as cautious. Arguing any more would be fruitless from now on.

"I found it in Ionia. Everything has a price, Invetia, sometimes not worth paying. Don't repeat my mistakes, I want you to be better than me."

She felt more than heard her daughter sighing.

"Promise me you will wear it. Maybe you'll understand one day, when you have children of your own…"

Invetia turned sharply, repelling the hands of her mother in the process. "I have an appointment now, mother. You asked for Decius to be your second in command, right?" She lifted her head with another cold stare and the similarities to her father sent a new bolt of pain through Quiletta's heart.

"I did."

"That means he will accompany you to General Darius?" Invetia lifted her chin in a futile attempt to hide her hurt pride.

Quiletta heard the 'and not me?' as loud as if Invetia had screamed. She nodded again, cautious this time. Her daughter was intelligent, able to catch on things she shouldn't. Her making such a fuss over Darius was unlike her normally calm attitude.

Invetia pressed her lips together and now she looked like a child again, an impression she had hid so well during their conversation. "You and Decius share too many weaknesses, mother. You are not complimenting each other well."

"It was your spot. Make the right decisions and you may claim it again."

Invetia lifted the amulet she as now wearing to her eyes before she released it with a snort of frustration, turning away without another word.

Quiletta watched her retreating back.
Sometimes mistakes could be overcome if you were willing to accept your failures and defeats, other times, the mistakes made were worth the fall from grace, a hard lesson nonetheless. Quiletta had experienced both in spades but she wasn't willing to let them stop her. They had come close to killing her, both body and spirit, but there was still a Noxian's will to fight back and claim and protect what was hers and no one was going to stop her again. No one.

Chapter Text

To call her angry would have been an understatement.
Invetia was livid.
Something had changed within her mother, like a screw gone lose. No, that was hardly correct. More like something had been irrevocably broken.
Her brother had tried to take care of it in his own way but, needless to say, his way had proven to be deficient and sentimental. Who in their right mind would think of using a weak-hearted Ionian to pick up the shattered pieces of her mother and attempt to reform her? Invetia hissed in anger.

During the first weeks after her mother's return from Ionia, Invetia had kept her hopes up despite the initial news. A childish hope that everything would be like before, with her mother telling them stories of how she'd conquer the world for her children's future. How Ionia was but one more well-placed piece in one puzzle: to bring the world together under the hand of Noxus.
But Quiletta's behavior had not changed back to what Invetia remembered, and with that wretched Ionian in their household the cracks in her mother's fragile mind had spread further.
She snorted at herself. Her mother…fragile. A thought that would have never come to her mind before. But now, since her own military training had started, she was training with other commanders, other soldiers, other Noxians, and with that it was impossible to ignore Quiletta's changes as well as the weaknesses that were so obvious. They were an ugly mark on the empire, when would Decius finally see reason? When would Quiletta see for herself the damage she was causing? When would they both take appropriate steps to fix this disgraceful situation?
She repeated General Darius' words in her head. Might, guile, vision.
Then her mother's words. We will conquer the world.
Maybe Quiletta would fail to see the wrongness of the path she had started to explore now. And she would pull Decius right with her. Invetia looked down at her hand which was fumbling with the medallion Quiletta had gifted her. It came from a weak country, and yet Ionia had been strong enough to take her mother away, crush her spirit. Invetia's teeth clenched together. Maybe that was the lesson. She released the medallion and looked at her hand instead. She missed her mother, the strong woman she could trust in. A wave of hate against the isle in the Guardian's Sea surged through her as her hand flew to her weapon. Might, guile, vision. We will conquer the world.
Invetia took a deep breath. There was a difference now to the before. She wasn't alone. There was General Darius, and he seemed to share the same vision Invetia could see right before her eyes. One nation, united through strength.
Her mother might have lost their vision for the moment, but, in contrast to her brother, Invetia slowly started to accept that she could do nothing to reforge what was already broken. Quiletta might be able to repair herself, but trying to help her had proven to be ineffective. Her mother had proven unworthy, unwilling to fulfill their dream. And with that she had betrayed every promise she had ever made to her children. Invetia gulped the lump in her throat down and rekindled the fire in her heart. Might, guile, vision. We will conquer the world.

It was her turn now. She would not repeat the mistakes of her mother. She grasped for the medallion around her neck and rubbed over it again. She would conquer the world, with or without her family. Quiletta had promised, and Invetia would make that promise come true.

She stopped before turning the corner as she heard short footsteps, definitely not belonging to one of her family members. She took a calming breath before she bolted around, lashing out at the shrieking person who walked peacefully. A swift movement later she pressed the girl against the wall, her brown eyes widened in fear. The feeling of finally doing something heightened her senses.

Invetia sneered at Mitsuko's scared expression as her small hands grasped at Invetia's slightly larger ones without impact. "Quiet, Ionian." She hissed.

The blond girl obeyed and froze, breath flying. This felt like taking back the control that had rapidly spiraled away from her hands. Invetia's lips twitched upwards. It felt good. More than good. Powerful. Calming in a thrilling kind of way.
"You are going to listen very, very carefully now." She sneered and the girl nodded frantically. That was…too easy. How easy had it been to overrun her weak country? A plan formed in Invetia's mind and she pushed the girl harder against the wall, her lower arm against the girl's throat. The brown eyes, already wet with tears, stared into her own eyes. The girl was terrified. Invetia could almost smell it. Good. She should be. She better know her place. "You will soon be in a meeting with General Darius. I want to know everything that happened, up to the smallest detail. Understood?" She hissed, narrowing her eyes.

Mitsuko nodded without a word, maybe because she feared Invetia would crush her windpipe. Pathetic how she was trembling. Fear made people do what she wanted, Invetia knew. As long as she was stronger than them people were inclined to obey. And she was stronger than this pathetic excuse for a human being.

Invetia's lips twitched upwards to a cruel smile. "Good. Better not forget one single word they say. If you think of telling your employer about this: It would be bad for your health. Many a refuge goes missing in the darkness of Noxus Prime." She stared into the brown eyes for a moment longer to get her point across. As the scribe's lip started trembling, Invetia released her with another violent push before she turned away, her skirt flowing up for show. She did not look back. She would claim her place. The thrice-damned scribe was but the first piece in her plan.

Behind her Lux took a deep breath and shook her head while massaging her throat. Nothing serious, as it seemed, nothing that would bruise.
She shook her head. Noxian children definitely played rough.

"Don't look him in the eyes. Don't show fear. Fear gets you killed in Noxus, especially with Darius. Don't intentionally avoid his eyes, though. Better find something else to look at. His brother, Draven, will probably be there, just ignore him. If you are not sure how to react step behind me. You are not supposed to partake in any conversation, so it should be safe for you to be quiet. Understood?"

Mitsuko nodded with slightly widened eyes as she already followed the order to not to talk too much.

Quiletta gave her one last criticizing once-over, before she sighed. "Good. Follow me." She walked out of the room that had become a study over the course of the last days. Decius awaited them outside of the house and Lux could see Invetia, standing a few steps behind her twin. Mitsuko casted her eyes downwards. She still saw the satisfied expression on the girl's face.

Quiletta's often indifferent, sometimes friendly expression changed as soon as she walked over her doorstep. She hardened as determination etched into her features, her cloak billowing behind her. The missing arm hardly disturbed the determination that radiated off her. Lux wondered what she wanted, for Darius might have summoned her, but she was giving off the aura of a bull right before he charged. Mitsuko followed in the wake of her and Decius, who guarded his mother's right side, as they walked into an uncertain future.

Decius was not good in hiding his excitement, even though his gaze stayed sharp as he inspected the surroundings. Lux was surprised by the short distance to General Darius' quarters. Hardly a ten minute walk.
The building was hardly like Lux had expected it to be. She had heard how uncompromisingly practical General Darius was, and this building was the last thing she had expected him to reside in.
It was a three storey building, massive-yes, but with endless adornments. Gargoyles guarding the ornamented facade, a small garden protected by an equally sturdy but decorated wall, with spiked iron gates the only entrance to breach it.
Lux already pinpointed the lugs (?) she could use to gain access to the property should the guards, all clad in bulky, menacingly spiked armor with too big weapons on their sides, be less inclined to let her in.

Quiletta didn't look twice at those men who respectfully stepped out of her way. Lux took a moment to commit the small garden with its measures to memory. There were no windows on the ground floor, at least none she could see from here.
The statue of a man, holding his hands which carried two fancy-looking axes up, did not fit in the otherwise empty garden. No flowers, no trees. Decius drank in the sight eagerly, so Lux' staring wasn't out of the ordinary. Twelve steps to the statue, sixteen more to the facade of the house. No obvious traps, no signs of dogs. No trace of magic. Footsteps, most likely from guards, around the house.

The black, double-winged door opened without a sound as they reached the level of the statue. Draven, if Lux had to place a bet. The Glorious Executioner also lived here. That explained the rather extraordinary style the whole building presented itself with, for it surely did not fit into anything Lux had heard about the Noxian General.
Quiletta walked over the doorstep without hesitation, and Mitsuko followed her dutifully into the house.
The door closed behind them with a loud bang. Decius inched closer to his mother while he focused his gaze on her, expression hardening to a single-minded determination. Lux took the time to look around and adjust the ground-plan of the building in her head. Potential exits: None on the ground level, but there might be a door or a window in the kitchen. Except for if General Darius had placed the kitchen on one of the upper levels which would be unusual. Lux found her initial finding confirmed. No windows here, the light came from above, illuminating columns that showcased smaller statues, weapons (all axes, as far as Lux could tell) and golden objects. Trophies? Probably. She had clearly underestimated the size of Draven's ego.

The path Quiletta chose led up a fancy-looking, broad staircase. The thick, red carpet silenced Lux' steps the whole way from the door up to the top of the carved stairs.
How…utterly…tasteless the stylistic mixture of this hall was. Golden inlays at the dark, wooden handrail combined with colorful, expensive tapestries Lux only glanced over shortly. Maybe the carved, wooden faces of someone she'd by now easily identify as Draven was the greatest insipidity here, but it surely did not make the rest of the obscene decoration any less tacky and indulgent.
The whole entrance hall looked like someone had stuffed everything that was expensive into one room without any cohesion or balance.

Eighteen steps upstairs, Quiletta still led the group on. Twists and turns that made the building easily defendable if an attacker should come from the outside, an architectural defensive measure she had already noticed in the Du Couteau mansion.

The door she stopped in front of was dark, but significantly less decorated than those Lux had noticed on their way. Quiletta knocked once, a sharp noise in the otherwise silent house, before she pressed the handle down and opened the door to General Darius' study.

It was hardly a study to begin with, but who was Lux to judge.

Three people stood in the middle of the room, five by five meters wide she committed to memory, two of which leaned over a map table usually found in a tent in the middle of a warzone rather than a room seated at the center of Noxian might.

Lux could hardly suppress a shudder.
Something felt off. Something felt bad.
She wasn't able to pinpoint the feeling exactly, so she shoved it to the back of her mind for later examining.

Lux caught a first glance of the map and committed the outlines to memory.

Mitsuko stayed behind Quiletta, fishing her scroll and pen out of the satchel she was carrying before she sized up the other people in the room.

"Quill! Where have you been hiding?" A broad, tall man with tattoos all over his muscled arms boomed, his long mustache quivering. Judging from the similarities between him and the statues this had to be Draven, the Glorious Executioner. Constantly battling with Urgot about who had the bigger audience. A one-sided battle, for Urgot preferred a much less showy performance. He stretched out his arms in a half-welcoming gesture that made his biceps bulk out. The scars on his face hinted how he liked to fight.

"Draven." Quiletta's expression softened warily, like one would regard a particularly embosomed dragonhound.

"Who is that?" An even taller, bulkier man asked, clad in dark, spike-covered armor that looked like it had seen its fair share of fights. His scarred face gave off a similar expression as the armor, worn and marked by too many battles to count, but cold. The red cape-no wait, cloak-had tears at the hem, but looked clean.
A butcher, Garen had called him and it was easy to be intimidated by General Darius' pure massive form. The armor added to that impression so greatly that the third man in the room was left unassessed for several moments.

"That is Mitsuko Eto, my new scribe. And you know my son Decius." Quiletta introduced the woman behind as well as the young man besides her. Decius pressed his fist to his shoulder in a military salute. Lux instantly noticed the well-hidden anger of her employee towards this beast of a man.
Quiletta was not intimidated, rather scorning. And…Mitsuko took a step to the side, peeking up at Quiletta's face once more before she copied Decius' noxian salute as well as his "General" before she lowered her head, looking at the utensils she had brought. Lux was fairly sure one of the emotions she had seen in Quiletta's face was disappointment.

"Sure she can handle my presence?" Draven winked into Mitsuko's direction and twirled his mustache between two of his fingers, shamelessly eyeing the scribe up and down. The girl shifted uncomfortably, looked at Quiletta for reassurance before she pulled herself up and smiled at the younger Blood Brother. She looked harmless, blinking like an owl. Draven puffed up his chest, grinning pleased as her widened eyes flitted over his toned body. Much too broad, too bulky, she assessed, and much too tall, with scars that spoke more of recklessness than of finesse. Not at all to her tastes. Lux kept her appearance, looking to Quiletta flustered, who ignored Draven's antics as well as Mitsuko's response to it.

Decius eased into position of attention, expression closed up while he kept an eye on every movement, standing just a tiny bit in front of his mother so he'd be able to catch anything thrown at her first.
The similarities between him and Darius were quite obvious, Lux noticed, at least when it came to outer appearance. The fifteen-year-old was already just a head shorter than the General. But there was time for these thoughts later as she had committed Darius' face to memory and she had to focus on the mission.

Said General snorted from above. Nothing hard for him to do, he was just so tall, before he turned to the map again, talking quietly to the third man in the room. "Which means if Pallas falls the resistance will be broken." Lux peeked at the map more clearly, taking in as much as possible without looking suspicious. If this was a map of Ionia, the Noxian forces currently concentrated at Placidum. There were figures she hadn't seen before, cylindrical objects marked with the symbol of Zaun in a sickly, green color. Those had to represent the melters. A total of twelve melters, distributed over the country. The smaller green trail seemed to mark their supply line. Did the melters need some kind of fuel? If that supply line could be cut off…Lux had to force her gaze away from the map as she felt a piercing gaze at her forehead. She looked up, into the eerily red eyes of the third man in the room.

Had he looked at her the whole time? His pale face was completely closed up, his whole form covered up by black and red and steel. The piercing red of his eyes seemed to glow in the faint light and there was something…Lux sensed something from his left arm that made her want to cringe and furrow her nose in disgust. She could barely contain the desire to lash out. Swain's eyes caught hers and for a moment she could not look away. Something pulled at her, and she yanked her mental shields up to fend off whatever that was, but his eyes were so...
Quiletta cleared her throat and yanked Lux out of the trance. She smiled politely and bowed her head before she resumed her place behind Quiletta, who seemed distinctively less intimidated than Lux made herself look.

This had to be Jericho Swain, the Master Tactician, the brains behind the attack on Ionia and the mastermind of many other military missions. Not much information about him had surfaced, his background was still a mystery to Demacian intelligence.
Her first instinct had been to burst him down, to show the light within her, but her logical conclusion was that she did not want to rub him the wrong way. Not now, at least. If she could help it.
She also wanted to find out what triggered that reaction in her. The light never made her unreasonable, it cleared her mind, but this time it was different. She wanted to lash out. She wanted to purge. Why?

Mitsuko evaded the stares thrown her direction by rummaging through her satchel to prepare herself to take notes. She needed to calm down. She was but a mere scribe. In front of one of the most intelligent men in Runeterra. Whom she could not and would not try to hurt in the heart of Noxus.

"I called only for you, Quill." Darius' gaze strode over her two companions. Decius was bold enough to meet his cold stare. Darius arched an eyebrow, calmly returning the stare until Quiletta stepped around her son, effectively interrupting the contest.

"You are also not alone. What do you want, Darius?" Quiletta's answer was cold and hard.

Swain's eyes followed her movements, and as he rose his voice it sounded like a croak. "Are you sure your trust in an Ionian is not misplaced, Miss Varn?" His cloak bulged in the space where his left arm would be. Lux' hairs stood on end.

Quiletta arched an eyebrow. "She may prove her worth like everybody else" was her answer.

"Those Ionians are insidious. Have you ever thought of really questioning her?" Swain's voice was low and raspy, the twitch of his lip indicating he was suggesting something rather unpleasant.

Lux didn't show the jolt of excitement in her face as she cleaned her pen, carefully avoiding every look into the faces of the present people. He had challenged her. Indirectly, hopefully, but a challenge nonetheless. Maybe this job wouldn't be as dull as she first thought.

"I know enough to decide she is a good scribe for me." Quiletta said sharply and Decius clearly adapted the tense mood he sensed in his mother, fumbling with the handle of his sword. Both Blood Brother's attention riveted on him and he slowly ceased the nervous gesture, prying his hand away from the weapon.

"If you are so sure…let me put her to a test." Swain's red eyes glinted with even more caution than before. Lux kept every emotion besides careful attention out of her face.

"You will need a scribe." Darius interrupted.

Quiletta's nose twitched in distaste. "I already have one. You might remember what you did to cause such a need."
Lux saw Decius tensing up at something in his mother's posture, his hand twitching just the tiniest bit to his weapon. Darius looked at the movement first, into Decius' face second before he took a breath and looked to Quiletta again. His face was void of any emotion.

"You will commence duties as steward in Basilich." His words were cold and final.

Quiletta's eyes widened shortly before her gaze flitted to the other two persons in the room. She shot Draven a warning glance. Draven winked at her.
"A word with you, Darius." She half requested, half ordered and turned to the door without him giving a confirmation. Decius automatically turned before she stretched out her remaining hand at him. "You stay." She fully ordered and walked out of the door. Darius threw a last glance at the map on the table before he followed the blond woman. The door clicked shut behind them.

Draven clicked his tongue, daring to speak and not caring much of the outcome now that his brother was gone. "What's got your mother's panties in a twist, kiddo?" He asked while twirling his moustache.

The stare he got in return was murderous. "Don't talk that way about Commander Varn." Decius ordered coldly, but he was too smart to actually lay his hand on his weapon without his mother as a buffer. At least not yet. Lux noted how the atmosphere changed. Like a brewing storm. She glanced to Swain who seemed to be rather interested, eyes slightly narrowed, as he watched the two men. As if he had sensed Mitsuko's stare he turned to her. Lux casted her eyes to Decius again.

The Glorious Executioner laughed boomingly. "Or what?" He dared, setting his hand on his hip while he continued to abuse his mustache.

Lux knew enough of Noxian rituals by now that this posed an easily avoidable provocation. Decius also could have answered more defensive, but Lux doubted that the boy cared enough about appeasing tactics to know as much. Draven also did not aim to keep this calm. And Decius wasn't one to retreat.

"Watch me." Decius bid, hand slipping to the hilt of his sword as Draven patted his axes in answer.

"I think your brother as well as the boy's mother will be highly disturbed if you splatter him all over Darius' study." General Swain voiced calmly, but the glint in his eyes showed interest rather than the will to keep things calm.
Draven seemed to know as much, for his teeth-showing smile widened. His back turned to the Tactician did not feel like an insult. He seemed rather sure that the other man would not try and betray him.

Decius' face darkened even more, but before he was able to draw his sword Lux laid a hand on his lower arm in a calming gesture. She was an Ionian, she could at least try to interrupt what would quickly erupt into violence. It did not make her look any weaker than she pretended to be.

Draven laughed loudly, stretching out his arms before he interlaced his fingers behind the back of his head, muscles flexing provokingly. "I'm just messing with ya, kiddo. I know Quill since she was younger than you are now. How old were you again? Twelve?" His challenging smirk exposed the barely hidden jab.

Lux saw the red veil closing over Decius' eyes. Not that she thought he had a chance against the veteran, but the way Draven bared his teeth made it impossible for any prideful Noxian not to react in the way Decius did.
He bolted forward as Draven flipped one of those impossibly formed axes in his hand, withholding the throw as Decius crashed against him. They went to the ground in a tussle for superiority as Decius grasped for Draven's axe-holding hand, the older one smashing his elbow against Decius' chin. The two bodies hit the ground with a loud 'thump', a series of grunts erupted as the two started grappling. Draven was stronger though-and Decius relied too much on his physical advantages to stand a chance against the battle-hardened soldier. Draven's manic grin indicated he took a sick sort of pleasure out of this as he had the upper hand, even without his axes.
Mitsuko shrieked in alarm, the biggest thing she could to in this situation. This would not end well, she knew men like the Executioner.
Still, there was no fear in Decius' eyes as Draven held him down to gently caress another axe at his belt. Instead, Decius laid back, seemingly in acceptance, and as Draven pulled his axe free, an action that distracted him just the slightest bit, the younger man yanked his knee upwards, missing Draven's crotch but hitting the inside of his thigh.
Lux knew she had no chance of interfering. Swain seemed, after his rather weak try to calm the situation down, rather collected, watching the unfolding scene with his right index finger against his chin.
Draven cursed in pain as Decius locked his hands around his wrists and wrenched them to the side. Draven managed to snake one hand out of his grip and smacked it against Decius' throat, which left the boy coughing, angry, and twisting the wrist he still held tightly. The second punch from Draven's hand hit Decius' nose, red blood spraying from it painting the Executioner's face with fine droplets of blood. Decius didn't let go of the wrist, but in this position the older man was easily able to resist the pull that would've broken the bones of a weaker person. Draven twisted his arm, slipping out of Decius' grasp as he locked the younger man's wrist against the floor instead. A wicked glee started to shine out of Draven's eyes as he twirled the curved axe in his hand.
"Hear that? Death's knocking." He taunted and showed his teeth, eyes shining with sick pleasure. He was lost to bloodlust and reveled in gore and death, throwing his hair back, winking in Mitsuko's direction as he made a show of it.

The door burst open to reveal a wide-eyed Quiletta, Darius looking over her shoulder. "Draven!" She screamed before she bolted forward. A sharp 'huff' escaped her throat as Darius closed an arm around her waist with blazing speed, the air vanishing out of her lungs at her impact against his arm.

"Draven, stop that." Darius ordered, showing no sign that holding the one-armed Noxian commander back posed any struggle for him.

"He asked for it." Draven answered loudly, wiping over his face, holding the struggling teenager against the floor.

"Away." Darius ordered again, and this time Draven obeyed, scrambled to his feet and bringing distance between him and the still coughing, bleeding Decius.

Quiletta had stilled her movements the second she had assessed who held her and hissed a "let go" into Darius' direction who instantly obeyed as the situation seemed to be solved. Quiletta stomped over to Draven, a storm in her eyes that made her son scramble out of her way before his hand rose to his seeping nose. It looked worse than it was, Lux assessed, just a broken nose.
Draven looked surprised, his brows ceased as he watched Quiletta's hand rising. He seemed to be as confused by Quiletta's movements as he looked, for he did not dodge the hand that collided with his face with a loud smack. Quiletta grabbed Draven's mustache and pulled sharply, getting a pained wince out of the Executioner's mouth. She pulled his surprised face down to her level, her storm-clouded eyes meeting with his widened darker ones. "Don't you ever touch my family again. Understood?" She yanked at his mustache a second time.
Swain tilted his head to the side.

"You are pulling my hair out!" The Glorious Executioner winced, but he made no move to oppose the blond woman.

Quiletta yanked at the brown strands once more. "Understood?" She repeated and this time Draven nodded frantically, as much as he could with his mustache in her hands.

"It was just a little tussle, nothing serious!" Draven defended himself in a whiney tone Lux had never expected to come out from that man.

Quiletta kicked his shin, something that made Draven wince once more.

"He is right, mother." Decius intervened. "Just a little wrangling." The gaze he shot to Draven was murderous. Despite her long deployment in Noxus Prime, Lux did not understand this kind of behavior.

"We will talk later." Quiletta threatened without looking at her child. She was still staring Draven down.

"Look boy" Darius rose his emotionless voice. "If you are so eager to prove your strength you may accompany our troops to the Freljord."

Quiletta's gaze shot around to the other Blood Brother. Draven closed his fists around the parts of his mustache Quiletta was not holding, stabilizing and preventing it from getting ripped out. "Darius, he will be my second in command…"

"You hardly need a fighter strong as him by your side all the time. You are already planning our movement to the north, why not let him experience your accomplishment first hand with a victory for Noxus. What do you say, boy?" Darius hard gaze met the equally frozen one of Quiletta's son. Lux could hardly believe how similar they looked in this moment.

The young man straightened himself and dusted off his clothing. The blood on his face made him look feral. "They will witness true strength." Decius hissed at the taller man.

Draven's laugh was cut short by another sharp yank at his facial hair. Swain's eyes flitted between Decius and Darius. Lux noticed something dark at his shoulder, like a cloud. Lux thought she heard silent whispering. Swain tilted his head just the slightest and the thing vanished.

Quiletta's nose furrowed and Lux had the feeling she could hardly suppress a snarl. Then she released Draven who gasped in relief, gently stroking his hair into place. "None's gonna hurt 'cha now." He cooed softly and turned, shielding his face from Quiletta.

Darius turned to the blond woman. "The High Command must approve of you as the steward of Basilich, you have to face your questioning."

General Swain cleared his throat. "Bring your scribe with you." He ordered.

Quiletta nodded disapprovingly.

"We resume working now." Darius declared coldly. Lux took the opportunity to examine his face. If she squinted at it she could see Decius' jawline and the angle of his chin in Darius' face. Maybe the nose too, Quiletta's was so small compared to the one of her son. The color of their eyes were also similar.
All in all it was noticeable for an attentive observer.

Still, Darius treated Quiletta with a stern heed that didn't indicate any emotional affliction. Quiletta took a deep breath and ordered her son to her side with a sharp nod of her head. "Anything else?" She asked and Darius shook his head. Quiletta turned without a second glance. Lux hurried to follow her. She could feel the piercing gaze of red eyes boring into her back.

Since that first visit to Darius' estate Lux started to see things.

It was hardly 'seeing' to begin with, more like an itch at the back of her neck. She could not turn fast, for if something really observed her it would threaten her cover, but sometimes she saw dark things just in the corner of her eye. It put her on edge and she started keeping her mask up all the time. Especially during the nights.
She wanted nothing more than to tell Talon, discuss the things that happened and kept happening, but that posed another problem. A problem and an indicator that something had indeed changed.

Talon stopped visiting.

And that was, after the period of very close contact, seriously disturbing Lux' comfort. So much in fact that she was barely able to sleep through the fourth night alone. Did he notice the strange dark thing too or was there another reason for his absence? Not the first time she cursed at the fact that he got to decide when their meetings would happen. Her apartment was guarded too little to feel safe, and now, with Talon missing, her intuition screamed that she was in danger and that she should get into hiding as fast as possible.

Or was it possible that General Du Couteau had changed his mind about their agreement? The thought caused her stomach to flip, but that was highly unlikely. If that was the case, she was already dead as leaving a loose end could prove disastrous. She was being observed, and Talon was the personification of secrecy and shadows. Plus, he was considerate of her situation. Most likely he didn't want her cover being blown.

Needless to say that Lux kept on working.
At least now she did not have to fake her distress in front of Invetia anymore. The girl would never know the real reason for her worries.

She knew though that even if she could see Talon, she didn't have the time to. With the position Quiletta was nominated for, Mitsuko's workload had increased significantly, which meant long hours spent at her employer's house. The length of her stays were so long that Quiletta offered her a room at her residence. Lux declined as Invetia was already breathing down her neck for information, and Lux could not be too sure she wouldn't try something stupid to gain power. Until now Invetia was satisfied with the slightly altered versions of the meetings Quiletta and Darius held, giving Lux the opportunity to find out what the girl wanted and how she could manipulate her. Invetia's eyes lit up every time Lux put words in Darius' mouth and Lux didn't need long to figure that the girl held a rather unhealthy admiration for the Noxian General. A point which she could use in her favor later.

The most unnerving change was the feeling of being watched constantly. It was like something drilled into her head, trying to tear her identity apart and pick her to pieces like a carron bird feeding on its long dead prey. And as Talon stayed absent, the shadows of Noxus became long and suffocating as the very light inside of her dimmed with a sense of fear and encroaching doom.

Chapter Text

Cassiopeia laid sprawled out on her chaise longue. Today would-finally-be a relaxing evening without interruptions. Her tongue flicked lazily as she tested the air.
She could taste her scent, but no one else's. Especially no taste of thunderstorm, dark chocolate and steel reached her forked tongue. The serpent's smile widened. Finally alone.
Sadly with Katarina away on a mission in Kalamanda, Talon's girl indisposed doing who knows what, and Marcus being too occupied to tire him out sparing, left the assassin rather restless. Cassiopeia knew for a fact that her ever-watchful brother not only kept track of their father's whereabouts, but watched his girl from afar while he did his job as effectively as always. The serpent didn't want to be the maid who tidied the training hall after Talon left it in pieces. How he still found the time and energy to pester the living shit out of her was beyond Cassiopeia. Pestering was maybe too harsh a word. He tried to be discreet, melding into the shadows when he was too close to her current position, no matter how inconvenient the moment he had chosen was. It felt like being under constant surveillance, even though he checked her only about every hour. The worst thing was that Talon surely thought she didn't notice, but his taste in the air was hard to miss.
Tonight no more, though. She had taken the matter in her own clawed hands, had executed a meticulously planned scheme, which meant one night without the constant supervision…
The sharp whisper of steel interrupted her pleasant thoughts and she nearly cried out in exasperation.

"There is a woman in my study." Talon hissed before she could voice her dismay. He sounded upset, if she had to place a bet, and he was slightly louder than his usual quiet self.

Cassiopeia nodded. Talon was strange sometimes, maybe he needed an explanation?

Talon stared at her for a long moment before he understood that she would not speak out of herself. "Why is there a woman in my study?" He snarled lowly.

Cassiopeia rolled around to him lazily. Her tongue darted out. He tasted like burnt sugar and was definitely angry. "Because you don't like anyone in your room." She explained, proud of the amount of consideration she had put into this act. Surely he would understand now.

His look conveyed that he, in fact, didn't.

Cassiopeia rolled her eyes. It was so like Talon to not understand the simplest acts of sociality. Or, in this case, of self-defense, for if he continued to annoy the heck out of her…

"I prefer no one in my room OR my study." He hissed at her lack of providing a sufficient answer.

"Okay Talon dear, where do you want them then?" Desperation tinted her voice while her face fell.

Talon blinked in confusion and the movement of his eyes told Cassiopeia he really thought about that. "As far away from me as possible?" He finally said, hope betraying his cool exterior.

"But then the whole purpose of that woman would be for naught." Cassio's hiss became lower as she wavered between anger and despair. "I thought with Kat not here and your girl indisposed you might need another way to…let off steam." Cassiopeia blinked at his continue misinterpretation. "Tearing the training hall apart isn't enough, it seems."

Talon blinked back, confusion resolving. "You got me a whore?" He finally asked, disbelief tainting his voice as the taste of steel became stronger in Cassiopeia's mouth.

"Obviously." Cassiopeia drawled, her forked tongue darting out betraying her cool attitude.

Talon pinched the bridge if his nose, squeezing his eyes shut.

"She is blond." Cassiopeia went on, enthusiasm showing on her face.

Talon mumbled something to himself, trying to calm his anger.

"Speak louder." Cass invited softly, even though she had almost reached her limit for today. She just wanted some peace and quiet, not Talon making a fuss because of a friendly, sisterly gesture.

"I don't want a whore." Talon voiced, this time very loud.

Cassiopeia's face fell. "But...She even looks like your girl a bit! I searched a very long time..."

Talon's face contorted in disgust. "I don't want someone who looks like her, Cass, okay?"

Cassiopeia blinked in confusion. "Oh." She needed a second to process that piece of information before she understood. "You two are exclusive then?" She let the words hang in the air, and Talon responded by turning to the door to leave. Which was exactly what she wanted. Maybe asking him personal questions was the way to keep him away. She would give it a try instead of the whore. "Congratulations, I guess." She threw after him, hoping to speed his departure.

"Remove the whore from my study." He hissed before he vanished.

Cassiopeia felt guilty for a moment. Her brows furrowed. Thinking about it…she found no reason to and besides, she reached her goal. Her tongue tested the air once more. Talon was gone. With an indignant hiss she rose from her chaise longue and made her way to Talon's study. Some men were so hard to please.

It was the ninth raven she had noticed in her immediate proximity. Lux had never seen so many of the dark birds in Noxus Prime. There wasn't enough carrion in the upper parts of the city for them to feed on, and in the lower districts, if they weren't smart enough, they became the prey. Meat was never wasted by the poor.

Just like the others before it, this raven was cleaning its feathers innocently, looking like it sat on its branch by mere chance. Sometimes it had been just the rustling of feathers, a low croak, but the birds were definitely there. And something kept Talon away, a fact that affected Lux more than it should. It had been only two weeks, ridiculous, really. She had gone much longer without his presence but now, she desperately wanted to have him close again. Her nights were lonely, and waking up without feeling his weight next to her was…unpleasant. Days tended to be much better when started with a certain degree of tenderness.
Those dark birds were the only things out of the ordinary, even though Lux didn't know how they fit together. But she would find out. Lux kept her gaze glued to Quiletta's back while she connected with the light around her, slowly reaching for the particles that were in contact with the animal. Before she touched it there was…something…the hairs on the back of her neck rose in a sudden chill as something sticky, dirty, oily touched her through the light, tainting the surface of her sight. She pulled back immediately, barely managing to continue walking on, leaving her with the need to gag and scratch her skin until the revolting feeling was gone. It felt wrong. With uttermost self-control she managed to not cast a cleansing spell immediately.
That raven was most definitely no normal animal. She refrained from shaking in disgust. It didn't feel like a spell either. More like a connection to something far greater. She knew the feeling from somewhere…

"Never show fear, Mitsuko." Quiletta interrupted her thoughts, seemingly having noticed her faltering despite the attempt to hide it. Lux' attention whipped back to the situation currently at hand while she followed Quiletta through an open door. "The High Command will do nothing against you as long as you don't do something stupid." Quiletta's reprimand obviously due to her spacing out.

Mitsuko averted her gaze downwards and nodded, even though Quiletta could hardly see her while she walked behind her. Quiletta was right, she needed to be on top of her game right now. There was enough time to ponder over Talon's absence and abundance of ravens later. The one she had encountered hadn't felt like normal magic, but maybe she could… Quiletta stopped in front of a two-winged door and threw a last critical gaze to Mitsuko. Lux regained her focus. Time to concentrate. This was, after all, what Swain had warned her about in their first meeting.

And that specific warning stood in conflict with another deal that ensured, at least, a certain amount of safety here in Noxus Prime. She was caught between a rock and a hard place, both ready to crush her beneath their weight. As the door opened, Lux followed Quiletta inside the great room. The buzz of different voices filled the air as Quiletta walked inside without hesitation. Lux followed one and a half step behind, instantly feeling the attention of multiple eyes on her.

She took a deep breath and rose her own eyes to the giant throne Grand General Boram Darkwill sat on, even more elevated than the other members of the High Command. The Grand General was tall, even taller than Darius, but his hair had grown white with age. Rumors said that his longevity wasn't natural. Not hard to believe, he had fought against Jarvan the first, had been on the battlefield when Sion was slain by the Demacian king three generations ago. His imposing figure and the stories that lingered behind his long life somehow fitted the ancient throne, an immense thing carved of obsidian. Sharp angles and blackness, shimmering from within like a living thing itself.

She was within the very heart of Noxus: the audience chamber of the High Command. More precisely, of Grand General Boram Darkwill, for he controlled most actions here and he had the last word about every decision made in Noxus.

Lux gulped soundlessly. She had an agreement with one of the most dangerous men in Runeterra to stay away from the affairs of the High Command. Her gaze twitched to Darkwill's right side, where the man with grey streaks in his dark red hair shot her a blank glance. Lux wasn't sure how she could convert that she wasn't straying from their agreement deliberately, wasn't peeking in any other affairs than the ones he had cleared and that her appearance here was completely by accident. Her stomach flipped at the implication that he might see her appearance here as disobedience, and, regardless of the reasons, that was not a healthy thing for her.
Now, her fingers might have twitched, but the Blade of Noxus seemingly didn't plan on exposing her right at this moment, for he kept his mouth shut. She gulped again, not sure if that was really something to be glad about, before her gaze was distracted by a movement behind General Marcus Du Couteau. Under her mask the color of her face drained away as her heart wanted to reach out to the familiar, darkly clad figure that guarded his father's back.


Talon was here.

He glanced at her shortly before he averted his eyes to his arm-blade, inspecting the edge. Before anything but careful caution could appear on her face she tore her eyes away, to the next member of the High Command watching over Quiletta's trial. Maybe she would be able to get an eyeful of Talon later, when nobody would be watching. If his father decided to keep his quiet and if she made it out of here alive.

General Darius' sharp gaze, currently fixed on Quiletta, reminded Lux that she needed to be on top of her game, regardless of who was watching. Even though Talon's presence would most likely complicate a few things, she had to focus. Especially if Swain stood true to his announcement that she needed to be tested.

General Jericho Swain sat next to Darius, watching her with those eerily red eyes of his. She smiled at him shyly before averting her gaze to the next person. General Blackclaw and two new faces. One with dark skin and eyes of Shurima, the other with the pale complex of the north. They had replaced two former Generals who weren't able to withstand Darius' axe, she had heard. A few empty seats in between, for most of the members of the High Command were at war somewhere. Spread too thin, if rumors were anything to go by. General Emystan was still in Ionia, and General Korlak planned something highly classified which was as much as she could gather during her work with Quiletta.

"Miss Varn, present your concept for Basilich to stay a prosperous town for the greater glory of the empire."

By now Lux knew why Basilich needed a new steward. The old one hadn't been able to meet taxes. He had also tried to withhold young people from military service, which might have posed the bigger crime.

Lux had analyzed the economy of Basilich as well as the demands of surrounding cities, which was quite interesting as she knew the supply lines that sustained the war in Ionia ran through the city. Basilich and Drakengate were the main centers that Noxian forces used to launch their attacks on Ionia. And Lux had made damn sure she knew the content of every ship, the numbers of soldiers as well as the supply they carried with them. The chemtech used to sustain the melters was shipped from Basilich, for it lay closer to Zaun. She knew the numbers of the returning forces, although very few came back. What did come back were Ionian refugees who, paradoxically, searched for safety under the banner of the Noxian Empire, the very nation that tried to destroy them. Lux had acquired all this information under the guise that she required an overview of the potential Basilich held in order to devise a plan to optimize the economic situation of the city. Quiletta had been surprised by her in-depth knowledge on how to assess and handle what Lux placed as basic economic knowledge, but the older woman had trusted her input without question. She seemed to be torn between happiness that Lux did the work she obviously wasn't versed in, as well as guilt for she'd be sustaining the war against Ionia.
Through regular visits to Darius' estate, and the glimpses of the Ionian map, Lux had been able to construct a picture of the Ionian war. And soon she was to go to Basilich. She nearly hummed with anticipation. She would be able to contribute in ending that war, sooner or later, once she had survived tonight.

"…Piltovians are not only interested in spider gossamer cordage as a raw material, they buy cobweb paintings for a much higher price." Quiletta ended the speech Lux had prepared for her.

As expected, the members of the High Command weren't impressed at the implication that some Piltovians would spend money on what they placed as silly paintings from even more silly locals. Lux had expected as much and drawn her arc of suspense accordingly.
She banked on at least one of the Generals speaking up, and wasn't disappointed. "Those cordages are used to craft sails and strong ropes for our light ships, right?" A bored general drawled. Lady Blackclaw. Lux didn't smirk.

"Right" But Quiletta smirked. "To create those pictures only the waste of the production is used. The elderly and crippled can create them, as long as they have hands to use. Those pieces of art are already sold on a small scale. Establishing this as a regular product would create a second economical pillar as well as work for the returnees from Ionia."
The crippled returnees, Lux added silently.

Lux saw the distaste wandering over the faces of some of the Generals. Most of them had little love for the injured, but at least Darius seemed to be interested.

"With only using waste as well as otherwise useless people" by now Lux knew Quiletta well enough to see how much that label bothered her because she herself lost a limb, rendering her one of the useless in more eyes than not. "We could increase the profit of the cobweb-production by at least eighty percent. Plus, we could create a trading post in Piltover."

Now an interested rumble went through the High Command and Lux saw General Du Couteau's gaze flicker to her. His eyes were slightly narrowed and his hand rested on his chin. She had played a dangerous game by proposing this to Quiletta, she knew.

The trading post was even more attractive than the money earned from the sales of cobweb-pictures. Lux had picked up that Noxian warmasons already stalked Piltover, which meant war would spread there, sooner or later. Another interesting point: Lux had been able to gather the name of a warmason currently residing in Piltover. Tamara. She blinked innocently, even though her heartrate spiked at General Du Couteau's gaze. Oh light, she had overstepped her boundaries. But Tamara belonged to Darius, and Darius was free for her to target…She prayed General Du Couteau saw it as she did.
The Noxians around her were still captured by the idea to gain a venue on Piltovian soil, so information from those warmasons would be able to pass more quickly to the High Command.

"I am sure you did a first calculation." The ceremonial master was oblivious to all the thoughts running through Lux' head. The man stretched out a hand demandingly.

Lux fiddled with her fingers as she handed her calculations over. The ceremonial master looked over the numbers, obviously not getting what they said, before he passed the paper along to General Du Couteau. That gave Lux an excuse to study him more thoroughly. One red eyebrow twitched and his lips thinned. Lux suppressed a gulp and was, again, thankful for her mask that concealed the sick color of her face. He did not look happy at all. Maybe she had been able to find out more than he liked. Talon looked over the General's shoulder, and his expression Lux was able to read clear as day. He shot a short glance to her and the barely perceptible smile made a wave of proudness wash through her, leaving her stomach flipping.

General Du Couteau handed the papers back to the ceremonial master, nodding shortly.

"It seems that your estimations are correct, Miss Varn." The regal man continued to talk, almost as if he had checked the numbers himself. General Du Couteau leaned back, gaze switching from Lux to Quiletta.
It had costed Lux some persuasion to make Quiletta take the glory for Lux' work. Lux figured the other woman searched for a chance to show that even a weak Ionian like Mitsuko Eto could contribute to society, but luckily Lux had been able to fend at least that off. She did not want to shine. She wanted to stay hidden in plain sight, slowly working her magic until brightness could seep through the cracks she had created.

"Any more questions?" The interrogator looked around. Nobody rose their voice. He nodded. "Then we will proceed to the next item on the agenda." He looked down, most likely at said agenda for today.

Lux took a deep breath, a small smile curling her lips upwards. The questioning had gone well. Quiletta had done well.

"The meticulous questioning of Mitsuko Eto will take place now."

Lux froze and her head snapped up. Swain smiled slightly, eyes narrowed with interest. Darius looked as cold as ever. General Du Couteau looked indifferent and if she hadn't known Talon for so long she'd have thought he also looked indifferent. But the slight tilt of his head, casting his face into the shadow of his hood, transported that he was unhappy. Lux gulped, eager anticipation mixing with agitation.

Swain stood up slowly, his cloak rustled. "I have something to add." He announced and walked down the steps that lead to Lux. She didn't know where she should look. He had a thoughtful expression on his face as he tilted his head, as if he was listening to something.
Behind him, Talon shifted his weight and crossed his arms.
Lux blinked up to Swain, a gesture that made her look even smaller.

"Stretch out your hand, Miss Eto." Swain demanded.

Hesitatingly Lux did as ordered, eyes flickering between her hand and the Noxian General. Should she make her hand tremble? It didn't right now, but maybe…
She saw something gleaming in Swain's large left hand, and then she saw something red and repellingly dangerous where his left hand should be. Now a shiver was running down her body as that thing moved towards her. Lux needed every ounce of willpower to not shriek back and explode. Then the red of where his hand should be rustled under his cloak and left her field of sight. What did he hold in his hand? It looked like a bracelet… Then said bracelet closed around her wrist and the heat of a spell sunk beneath her skin. Like steel ropes climbing up her arm, winding around her throat and sinking into her head. Now Lux choked against the pressure of an age-old, finely woven spell while Swain observed her, now obvious struggling, with a satisfied twitch of his lip.
Lux closed her eyes, grasping for the flow of magic in her mind, and her panic lifted as logic returned with the steady glow of her light.

She could do this.

She would do this.

And she needed to view the spell first.
She opened her eyes, looking at Swain with her big, currently brown eyes while she carefully reached out for the spell that had sunken into her mind. It felt like tentacles made of steel, constricting around some of her thoughts lazily, shoving others away. She felt out for the bracelet itself and she could barely suppress her horror.
She had felt this kind of magic before. It felt like a slave ring. One of the more gruesome inventions of Noxian blood magic combined with tiny shards of hextech crystals. Currently very unstable experiments at best that should keep the person wearing it at check. The failure-rate was exorbitant, the result of a failure repulsive for watchers, deadly or mind-shattering for the poor people they were used on. Not that people who planned on using this kind of devices would care.

This specific bracelet seemed to be old, though, the magic in it slow, but steady like a stream of molten steel, latching on her thoughts. Some sort of mind control. That made things a lot harder than she had hoped.

"How does it feel?" Swain rasped, interrupting her analysis.

"Terrifying." Lux blurted out-the spell had closed its tendril around the thought and she had spilled it without thinking. Her eyes widened as Swain's smirk grew wider. Her heartbeat quickened and her senses sharpened. She was able to decipher what the spell had grasped for. It was weaved to make a person unable to lie.
She glanced over the watching generals. All of them had leaned forward now, as if Lux was a guinea pig and they waited for the show. She gulped heavily. General Marcus' attention was fixed on her, too. His face was void of any expression, and Talon, still standing behind him, looked completely still.

"Don't take it off." Swain warned and made his way back to his seat.

"Enough show for now. Let's put your plaything to its test." Lady Blackclaw showed her teeth in a cheap imitation of a smile.

Swain turned to the other general with a dark expression and a smile that was none. Lux sensed an older conflict. This kind of tension she knew well by now, it would easily erupt into violence. Which was good, because it would take the attention off her person.

General Du Couteau tapped his fingers against the wood of his table, breaking her concentration. "You are called Mitsuko Eto?" He interrupted the staring contest and Swain bowed his head before he returned to his seat.

Lux was hardly able to hide her relief as she analyzed the response of the spell as it suppressed the 'I am Mitsuko Eto' which she wanted to declare first. "Yes." She confirmed instead, "Mitsuko Eto." That was more than she could have hoped for. The spell could hinder a lie, but the truth was bendable and very, very subjective.

Now the ceremonial master cleared his throat and took over. "Why are you here, Miss Eto?"

The unpleasant feeling of something wringing around her thoughts nearly overwhelmed Lux with the need to spill out her real reasons, but to her luck there were so many, which let the spell hesitate. Long enough for Lux to twist the spell's tendril into the right direction. "I was brought before the High Command to verify my intentions." She repeated truthfully, looking at the man in front of her with big eyes. The spell quivered, sensing the twist she gave his words, but it didn't protest too harshly.

The official nodded, although it might not have been the answer he had expected. He could not risk losing face through indicating this big-eyed girl was able to twist his questions around, so he accepted the answer. Lux noticed the unhappy twitch in his brow, though. "Very well. From which Ionian town do you come from?" He continued.

Lux gulped, tracing the magic in her head. It felt like the spell was confused. "I was born in a rather small city." Lux answered and the spell quivered. High Silvermere was not small by normal measures, but it was compared to Noxus Prime and the Demacian capital. Good, this magical item could be confused. The 'so you would hardly know it' stuck in her throat as the spell protested. "But…" She frantically tried to evade the tightening around her thoughts. "But scribes in Ionia are often not resident to one city. They roam around." Nobody seemed to notice that she couldn't bring a 'we' over her lips, even as the spell protested against the incoherence of her words. For the spell didn't see the connection. "I traveled much and never stayed at one place for long." The thing in her head allowed her to add "and that means I have seen many beautiful, extraordinary places. Of which do you want to know?" She smiled shyly and she knew her eyes lit up, like in happy memory.

The ceremonial master shook his head at that display. "So you traveled around?" He asked, flipping a paper in front of him.

The spell relaxed around her mind and the compulsion to answer the question to its full extend lifted. "Yes." Lux confirmed, this time without a tremble in her voice.
This was more exhilarating than dancing on the top of an active volcano, but she could and she would do this. She hid the eager gleam in her eyes through looking to the ground before she had herself under control again.

Swain shifted in his seat, General Du Couteau stayed still.

The Interrogator continued. He was used to having a certain degree of nervousness in the people before him. "Do you have connections to the Ionian rebels?"

Lux' eyes widened. "Me? No. I don't." Luckily she had never been to Ionia. Otherwise…

The interrogator nodded. "Have you joined the resistance?"

Lux shook her head again, the spell silently milled its way to her thoughts without disturbing her at the moment. "No."

"Have you connections to Irelia Leto?" The man in front of her shot Swain a dirty grin. The General's expression darkened shortly and Lux, again, got the impression of something going on underneath.

"No." She answered silently, not willing to break what tension would lift the attention from her person.

The ceremonial master smiled satisfied and continued. "Karma?"


"Any leader of the resistance?"

"No." Lux shook her head again, this time asking herself if she maybe had a bit too less contact to important figures of the war. The only reason why she didn't point out that she had never met any of those important people: too much innocence drew attention as well.

"Would you join your fellow Ionians in the resistance?"

Lux gulped again and she nudged the spell against the word 'fellow Ionians' which calmed its initial blockade. She was already planning on joining the resistance, or at least in seriously disturbing the Noxian troops from within. "No." She said, not lying.

That made the ceremonial master furrow his brows. "You really would not?"

Lux pointed the spell towards the formerly asked question before she was able to answer. "No, I wouldn't." She repeated.

That quietened the ceremonial master, who pulled back to listen to a runner boy before he looked into the notebook in front of him. "Good, Miss Eto. Let's continue. Would you betray Noxus?"

That was a tough one. But again, an open question. Lux thought it might be on purpose, because open questions left more room to talk oneself into trouble. Mitsuko looked to the ground. This would be embarrassing, for the bracelet prevented her from fully pulling her well-crafted cover over her head and vanish into the thoughts of a different person. "I…" she began hesitatingly, not a hundred percent sure how she would finish. "I already wanted to leave a few times." She finally admitted, giving in and placing her hand above the pocket in which she carried her chapbook with her everywhere she went. Without Marcus Du Couteau here, it would have been so much easier. Without Talon here it would have been even more easy. She closed her eyes briefly. She didn't want to answer this, but nobody would know about what she'd be talking. Nobody except two persons who mattered.

This time the interrogator waited, for there was obviously something else fighting with her words.

Not with her words she fought, but with the spell, fighting about the definition of 'Noxus'. Luckily the thing in her mind was just a spell and wasn't intricate enough to really discern what Noxus was. A nation could not have any wants, thus it couldn't be betrayed. The people in it could, though, and that was something the magic grudgingly accepted.
"I love my home country and I wanted to go back so many times, or anywhere else, but there is this man and he is a Noxian and I don't want to leave. And I don't want to betray him. I can work here, too…" She didn't look into anywhere remotely near to General Du Couteau and the shadow that waited behind him.

She was interrupted with a clicking of a tongue. She took a deep breath and touched the bracelet. Loyalty to one person was a weak tie at last, but if Noxus was sure of one thing than of its own strength. And that could work in Lux' favor this time, her personal discomfort aside. Discomfort was expected of her, so she didn't have to play that part.

"Don't take that off." The Interrogator twanged, looking so smug that a lesser person than Lux would have punched him in the face. One of the messengers bent forward and whispered something in his ear. The ceremonial master nodded. "I heard the man gave you something?"

Involuntarily Lux' finger twitched against her pocket and the book in it before she reached to her throat in a much more considerate action. "Yes." She answered truthfully.

"Did he give you that ring?" He pointed to the chain at her neck.

Lux honestly didn't understand why everybody deemed this ring to be of such great importance, but one particular picture blinked up in her mind. "Yes, he gave me that ring." She nodded and clutched the item harder, looking to the ground intently. She did not want to see any familiar faces right now.

"And that man is more important than Ionia."

Lux closed her eyes briefly. This was starting to get even more humiliating with said man-and his father-listening. "Yes, he is."

She could practically feel the waves of contempt roll off every member of the High Command. Now she risked another glance. Marcus was completely still, she didn't dare to look at Talon behind him. Darius looked like he was bored out of his mind and Swain leaned to his table, fingertips pressed against each other as he listened intently.

"What's his name?" A cruel smile spread the speaker's lips.

Lux struggled against the spell before she could voice "The one whom I got this ring from?" She almost choked against the pressure of the magic. Not showing the fight inside was her hardest task today.

A nod was her answer.

She shoved the spell in the direction of the shop-owner she had bought the ring from, insisting that he was a man she got that stupid ring from and that the name Talon, which one tentacle pulled to the front of her mind, was completely unimportant. Luckily she had asked for the shopkeeper's name. After a moment of consideration the grip around her mind loosened, the important name slipping back into the darker parts of her mind.
"Merven." She answered relieved, now again not looking in the direction of General Du Couteau. If Talon got hold of the wrong end of the stick…She didn't want to imagine what would happen then.

"Does he have a last name?" The ceremonial master clearly enjoyed her discomfort.

"I didn't ask…" She let her voice die down and the magic in her brain hummed. She had not done so.

She could almost hear Lady Blackclaw's stifled laughter. In her mind she had, by now, most likely reached a lower status than a cockroach. She blinked at the desk of the interrogator. Being underestimated was the best that could happen to her.

The feeling of superiority had spread to the ceremonial master, too, as it seemed, for the smile on his lips widened. "What do you want to do here in Noxus Prime, Mitsuko Eto?"

Lux looked up again, into the barely concealed condescendence of the interrogator. "I want to work, to earn my place." She gulped, but the spell let her leave out everything she did not want to say, even though it stirred. That she didn't do it for Noxus' sake was a thing better left unsaid. "I want to be measured by my capabilities and I know that I can contribute to a greater cause." She met the ceremonial master's look with defiance.

"All that for a man?" The official had the small smirk on his face that told Lux just how low the position she held in his mind was. The bracelet dispersed every word that was not an answer, but anything else she could have said.

"Not everything, no. I'm here because of him. I know I'll have to leave Noxus Prime eventually, but…" she let the sentence ebb out and gave the bracelet another sharp look, as if she herself couldn't believe what she said. She couldn't, for…She would have to leave Noxus Prime if she went with Quiletta. Oh light.

Swain whispered something into a runner's ear who made his way to the ceremonial master. Said man listened, looked Lux up and down before he nodded.

"Do you have any allegiances here?"

"Besides that man?"

The interrogator nodded.

"No." Her gaze flitted over the faces in front of her, carefully not sparing Talon a glance, and she licked her lips nervously. What if he had misunderstood?

The interrogator smiled at her with the same superiority as before. "It is almost over, Miss Eto. But we want to really get to know you." Noxians hardly ever explained their behavior and for that Lux knew she was led to a merry dance now. Which was good, because that meant the hard part was over, but worse, for the humiliating part started now. Lady Blackclaw snickered, confirming her suspicions. "What is the most valuable thing you carry around?" The dark eyes of the man in front of her shimmered malignantly.

Lux wanted to point to the ring, but the spell intervened, blocking out the lie. "A chapbook." She answered truthfully, gaze switching from the ceremonial master to the ground with the same uneasiness she had displayed the whole time.

"You are carrying a book?" The interrogator's tone gained a mocking edge.

Lux nodded, not defending and not taking the bait.

"Show me." The man ordered.

Lux would rather not. Obediently she pulled the small book out of her pocket, rearranging the ribbons posing as bookmarks in the process. It was hard to keep her gaze soft, for she wanted to send a clear warning to the person who forced her to show one of her greatest treasures. A small part of her hoped in vain that Talon had left. This was nothing for him.

The interrogator stretched out his hand. Lux' grip around the book tightened. This was her line, she realized. No stranger would lay a hand on her book.

"Come on girl, let me see." Her opponent's tone gained an impatient edge.

Lux stayed on her seat and covered the book with her hands. Luckily the spell didn't force any actions out of her. Its effect seemed to be limited to the mind, not forcing the violent answer she felt rising within her out. "It's just a collection of poetry in an ancient language. It is of no importance for you." She voiced what she thought to be true.

"You are disobeying a direct order?" The man rose to the insubordination rather than continuing to ask about the book. The stretched out hand of his twitched impatiently and Lux extended her field of view in her mind so she wouldn't have to look around. She'd blow this room to pieces before letting go of her book.

"Do you need something to get your wife's blood flowing again?" Marcus Du Couteau blended into the interrogation, a jab not even partly concealed.

Amused snorting came from a few higher ups, indicating Marcus was abusing an insider joke.
The ceremonial master's face went red.
"Girl." General Du Couteau turned to Lux. "You were given an order. Either you hand over that book or..." He shrugged at the implication and leaned back.

Lux shoved her lip forward before she rose from her chair, took a few steps forward while pointedly ignoring Marcus' shadow, and placed the book on his desk. She didn't dare to say anything that he'd have to see as a challenge to his person, but she kept her eyes cast down. "That was not my intention. It will not happen again, Hand of Noxus." She promised, voice timid. For a second she was surprised that she was able to voice as much.

"Not being brazen anymore?" Marcus asked.

Lux bowed her head while averting her gaze downwards as she heard him taking the book, skimming through the pages. "Traveler's Breviary." He read loudly. "That are translations of ancient Ionian love poems." He mocked. "Oh that one's cute. You wanted to surprise your wife, Galiard, right? She will love this, I just know." Marcus' smirk thrown in the direction of the ceremonial master was wolfish. He stretched out his hand with the book inside to the other man, the same cocky smile on his face that Lux had seen on his daughter's. The laughter increased in volume and Lux wanted to know what this was about.

As expected the interrogator shrieked back, but he did not dare to focus his indignant glare on Marcus.

"Thank you for solving this, Blade of Noxus." He voiced, gulping down the sour tone of his voice, eliciting a new wave of snickers from the members of the High Command.

"You want me to read you one for you?" Marcus grin widened as he took a breath, eyes casted at the written words.
Approving noises mixed with laughter accompanied his first sentence. "Don't look down, don't look back…"

"Thank you very much, Hand and Blade, I think we all agree" The ceremonial master sent a dark glare around, "that this is of no importance. Thank you for checking."

General Du Couteau snorted and closed the book audibly. The back of her book appeared in Lux' field of vision as Marcus shoved it back to the edge of his desk. Without looking into his face, Lux snatched it and tucked it back into the safety of her pocket.

"Does anybody else have any questions?" The ceremonial master asked, now severely more bad-tempered than before, seemingly ready to cut Mitsuko's own humiliation short.

A wall of obnoxious smiles answered him and he turned to Lux, flustered. "You are dismissed now, Miss Eto. Miss Varn?"

Lux nodded. Swain beckoned her with her finger and hesitatingly she stepped to his desk, stretching out her hand. Swain looked her in the eyes. Shortly, because Lux broke away to look at the bracelet. If the Noxians were able to reproduce the old magic in this item…She felt the tendrils retreat from her brain and she was free again. Lux was barely able to suppress her gasp of relief.

"Leave the room. The High Command will counsel now."

Both women bowed, Lux deeper than Quiletta, and left the room.

Outside Lux was able to breathe freely again, a feeling she found mirrored in Quiletta as the older woman took a deep breath.

Lux caught her gaze and found an old, bittersweet sadness.

It took Quiletta a little time to break the silence that settled over the two women. "You like the man that much?" Her voice was gentle.

Lux was caught on the wrong foot again. Her pulse was still rapidly beating against her chest as she asked herself if she had really deceived them all and survived.
Quiletta had asked much about her cover before, but in the last weeks their schedule had been rather busy, thus the questioning had been cut short. Lux nodded, fumbling with the ring, not sure if Mitsuko or herself answered, but feeling guilty nonetheless. Quiletta was a good, intelligent woman, who thought of her family. Not bad at the core and seemingly starting to resent what Noxus did in order to win territory and add to the empire. She just needed some more coaxing, something that Lux was sure she would be able to provide.

Quiletta sighed and her expression steeled. "Don't bend too much for a man." She advised and grasped for Lux' shoulder.

"Did it…not end well for you?" She dared to ask, peeking up at the taller woman.

She was met with a surprised, wary glance at which she pulled her head back. "I didn't want to intrude, sorry, Miss Varn." She didn't have to feign her shying back. She already knew the important details, and making Quiletta talk would only result in her feeling bad.

"I am alive, so nothing ended yet." Quiletta said with finality. "But I once loved a man, too. Enough to bear his children. Sadly he was no one to keep for myself as his first love was his country, and I knew as much."

Lux' gaze wandered from her blue eyes to the ground. "Doesn't he care about his children?"

The distrust slowly faded from Quiletta's softening gaze as she looked to the ceiling. For a moment, the age-old silence of the Immortal Bastion was almost tangible. Then Quiletta's smile turned bitter. "He doesn't know they are his."

"Why?" Lux found herself asking without having to think about it twice.

"We were assigned to different locations and I didn't want to hold him back. We saw each other again five years later. It was a bit late telling him then, and…he just never asked." Disappointment flared up in her blue eyes. "Even though they were right in front if his eyes. I even named Decius after him..." The shrug of her shoulder indicated that it still stung, and that she placed it as lack of interest on his part. Maybe it was, she knew Darius better than Lux did. If she indeed didn't deliberately keep the children from him, there was hardly any other way to interpret his actions.

Lux allowed her compassion to flare up. "That must've been hard for you."

Quiletta looked at her in the weary way of someone who was used to trust no one. She searched for something in Lux' eyes before she blinked and resumed talking, voice low and quiet. "The decisions he made in Ionia told me it was better that way. I want my children to be different, to think different and make Noxus a better place…" She grasped at her missing arm in a way that left not much room for interpretation.

Lux was too professional to let this opportunity slip. Quiletta had given her enough hints by now. "Darius?" She whispered. Quiletta shot her a sharp gaze at which she wished she could take her words back. "Sorry, I didn't mean…" Lux automatically tried to soothe the mood, despite her starting it in the first place, but the other woman shook her head.

"Better keep that information for yourself." She advised, without the looming threat Lux was used to hear from Noxians by now. "Maybe if he had known, things would have been different..." She caught herself and looked at Lux again, a new distrust rising over her face. All Lux saw was another opening. An opening presented in front of the counsel room of the Noxian High Command.

"Do you think you can reform Noxus? Or your children can?" Maybe Lux really cared for the answer more than just for the sake of destabilizing Noxus-because where was the difference between changing Noxus or changing Demacia to something better, greater?

Quiletta's gaze turned sad. "Oh Mitsuko, why are you here?" She mumbled and placed her hand atop of her head, stroking the dark blond strands like one would with a child. "You should leave while you still can." It was real sadness shining through her blue eyes, something that made Lux' heart nearly crack. "Basilich's harbor is a transit to Ionia. When you accompany me…"

The iron doors opened again, silencing Quiletta's words.

Lux' gaze flitted over the blank faces of the Generals. Darius was eyeing Quiletta from half closed eyes while Swain was examining her rather openly. Lux looked down as if to control her clothes.

The ceremonial master started to talk. "Your interrogation revealed your intentions and therefore, Miss Varn, you will be placed as steward of Basilich, for the greater glory of Noxus. Your wish for your son as a second in command will be granted." He turned to Lux, and his expression immediately set off alarm bells in her head.

Lux quickly checked the faces of the Generals and the Grand General in front of her. They were still void of anything she could use.
If Lux had thought Talon had looked unhappy before it was no comparison to how deeply he had pulled his hood over his face now. The way his right wrist twitched made it clear as day that he was beyond furious.
The silence was deafening and she averted her eyes to the ground, ears sharp. Maybe she had misinterpreted General Du Couteau's actions. Maybe she had slipped too deep into his affairs, juggled too many identities, weaved too many stories. The light within her welled up at her uneasiness, ready to explode, ready to aide her as soon as she called.

"Miss Eto. Your application for the position of Miss Varn's scribe has been denied."

Chapter Text

Lux calculated the amount of energy she needed to blast the whole room to pieces. Too much, she assessed, well too much to make her escape any way. She needed a grand distraction if her cover was blown. Perhaps, creating a flash of light could blind enough people to…

The ceremonial master cleared his throat again. "General Swain wants a new secretary, thus he has demanded your assistance in this matter."

Lux blinked in confusion, tilting her head to the red-and-black figure who sat upright in his chair, attention fixed solely on her.

His stare was just like it had been at their first meeting, piercing and demanding, but something tugged the corner of his mouth upwards. Then his lips parted. "I await you in a week's time, seven o'clock in the morning. Give your work regarding Commander Varn to someone else. Bring your belongings, you will get a room in the servant's quarters. Don't be late." Swain shifted his attention to a parchment lying in front of him.

Lux felt dumbstruck. Out of habit she bowed her head obediently, her thoughts flying and ears ringing as her brain disentangled the meaning.
Oh light.

A position like this was certainly unexpected. At a first glance, more than she could have hoped for. Which was not necessarily a good thing for, at a second glance, there was hardly a reason for someone like her to be elevated into such a position.

General Marcus Du Couteau stood up and left the room, first to most of the other Noxian Generals. Talon followed him, silent as always. Darius, Swain and Grand General Darkwill stayed in their seats.

Marcus had enough self-control not to chew on his lower lip as he left the room. He always assumed the worst and never expected another experienced player to know less than he did. He had fared well with this tactic. House Swain had always proven a mighty rival and there was no reason to expect anything less from the current head of the house.

Jericho Swain's parents had always played against Marcus but, despite the other General's change in tactics, he didn't seem to take a different path. With what Talon's girl had pulled out today, she had revealed herself to be a rather useful pawn. Which wasn't necessarily a good thing, since she was supposed to be his pawn to play.

He kept his ears open, listening for eventual footsteps. His own as well as Talon's didn't disturb the eerie silence of the immortal Bastion. He did not hear any sounds. They were alone.

"You stayed surprisingly calm." Marcus observed silently, his praise barely concealed. He knew well enough from experience how a dagger to a blind side felt to know that Talon had just received one. Never a pleasant feeling, but his son had taken it fairly well, not showing he was able to bleed.

Talon shrugged. "Why shouldn't I?" His voice dripped with disinterest. Feigned disinterest, considering how he had almost lost it when Swain had announced the need for a personal secretary. Maybe the suggestive laughter of the other generals had been worse than the comment itself, who knew. Marcus had feared Talon would simply jump Swain, blade first. Luckily his son had been just as quick in calming himself down, however his blade had become the victim of his irritation.

Marcus didn't voice his first thought, but skipped to the second. "A potentially dangerous situation, your girl in the middle…" You are not accustomed to sharing, he added silently.

A small smirk tilted the corners of Talon's lips upwards. "She is good. I knew as much." His right hand flexed.

Marcus quietened at the implication. "You are no longer the only one that knows, and now others are vying for her." He warned, despite his promise which felt like he had given an eternity ago. This was helping, not interfering, so he did not break his oath. Talon was a very careful man, but he was completely disinterested in politics. A sad thing in itself given his potential, but a powder keg when combined with a girl who was politics from tip to toe.

As expected, Talon's gaze focused on him. The boy took his time contemplating what was said. Finally he broke the lingering silence, as if those words cost him greatly. "What does that mean?" They probably did. Talon's memory was quite good, so he surely had not forgotten the looming threat of his girl leaving.

"That means it is highly likely somebody else recognized that your woman is a bishop instead of a simple pawn." Marcus was quiet for a moment. "And that means a lot of tactical maneuvering for her, Talon." And for you too, if you don't want to die with her, he added mentally. Those words weren't what Talon needed though, so he kept them to himself. Maybe this was one of the rare opportunities where he could get him to look carefully to his left and right instead of simply down the edge of his blade and at his target.

Talon indeed did not care for politics. At all. But he knew enough chess to know Lux was really a queen, which meant she was still underestimated.

The silence between them stretched as Marcus waited patiently.

"So you think her cover has been blown?" His right wrist flexed once more.

Marcus shrugged. "It would be careless to assume he does not at least suspect something. Why would Swain take a seemingly weak Ionian into his entourage? He is hardly the resentful type, and I don't believe he wants to torment an Ionian simply because he can." Though that was what most of the other generals thought. Marcus rather planned with the more dangerous outcome. Sadism wasn't going to topple the grand schemes in play. "However, I don't know how deep Swain's knowledge reaches. Or what he wants exactly." Marcus had noticed the change in Swain's attitude, had observed not only his departure, but his return from Ionia as well. Marcus didn't like situations he wasn't able to measure correctly. The little Crownguard was always good for a surprise, maybe she'd force Swain's hand earlier than the tactician had planned. And Marcus would do his best to gain an advantage through that.

Talon followed him silently for another few moments, unrest in his eyes. His voice was as impassive as always, though. "Am I dismissed?"

"I promised not to interfere with you and your girl." Marcus held him back, even more quietly than before.

Talon didn't answer, but his sideway glance appeared to be a bit nervous.

"May I ask something regardless?" Marcus kept his gaze on the path, observing his son from the corner of his eyes.

A short, impatient nod was his answer. Surely Talon wanted to be elsewhere right now. Marcus understood his feelings, for if his girl was to go into Swain's household he wouldn't be able to meet her in the foreseeable future.

"You gave her a ring?" Marcus didn't know if he was just being curious or if he really needed that piece of information for future reference.

Talon shook his head, not alarmed at all. Marcus would have been surprised if he had known about the implication of a ring as a gift. Still, that implication…Marcus was fairly sure the little Crownguard didn't have another lover, one with the name she had voiced during her interrogation. He had checked her background himself before he had let her into his house. And he trusted that Talon would take care of any rival, should one cross his way. Marcus remembered the interactions between him and his girl. Most definitely no risk of someone making a threesome out of their affair. "Are you sure? You never bought one for her?"

Talon shook his head once more, his expression conveying the confusion as to why a ring could be important.

It should be impossible for someone to lie under the influence of that bracelet, however the girl was a mage…Still, if she had managed to create a counter spell that allowed her to lie that fast he'd be more than impressed. On the other hand, enough mages had been present to see such a spell being weaved.

"She bought that thing for herself. A part of her cover." He shrugged, apparently not as interested in this as Marcus was.

The general wasn't satisfied. Then an idea popped up in his mind. "Have you ever handed her that trinket?"

Talon thought about it for a moment before he nodded. "Yes. Is that important?"

Marcus snorted in amusement. "It is." Sadly, he wasn't the only one interested in the blond anymore. "Did the ravens ever see you with her?" He asked, even quieter than before.

Talon slowed his pace and shook his head. "Never." He confirmed, something that left Marcus room to hope. Still, hoping was not knowing, and he always planned for the worst case scenario. "Am I dismissed?" Talon asked again, almost coming to a halt.

Marcus snorted lowly. "You didn't have to come to start with." He stretched, earning an irritated glance from his son. Marcus rolled his eyes. In fact, Talon had done what counted as pestering for him until Marcus had finally asked if he wanted to come along instead of tracking him. "That means you are free to go." He spared them both the advice not to be seen. Talon was no fool. A bit clingy at times, but no fool.

Talon vanished instantly. Marcus sighed as he shook his head. He would have been more than interested to get more information about that girl, but he had promised. He knew the important facts, everything else was just professional curiosity at this point.

Still, he would take what he could get and this time he removed Talon from his heels. For the last couple weeks Talon had followed him very closely, which had not been a problem per se. Talon following meant Talon was learning from him in a way, but now Marcus needed to check into some things that required his constant shadow to depart. Katarina was away in Kalamanda, which meant she would not be tailing him either, and Cassiopeia hardly left the house, safe for her nightly hunts.
Marcus retreated to the shadows.

"Miss Eto, you are dismissed." The interrogator spoke.

Lux nodded and turned to Quiletta, expecting her to come with her.

The interrogator foiled that plan. "Commander Varn, since you are now the future steward of Basilich. There are some matters we need to discuss."

Quiletta's lips thinned to a line before she nodded, throwing Lux a warning glance. Her expression was steel.

In a trance, Lux left the room, blinking owlishly as the iron doors closed shut behind her with a loud bang. The noise startled her mind back into action.
That was simply too much, and too easy.
The person she had depicted over the last weeks was no one who deserved the position of a secretary to one noble born Noxian general. It was a position with potential influence, surely there were many ambitious people who could and probably had, killed for this job. Which meant Swain probably knew more than she could hope.

The ravens came to her mind, absent now, but present over the last weeks. Her uneasy feeling, the unnatural glow of his left arm…

She gulped dryly and looked around before she chose one path to follow, looking around like she didn't remember which way she came. The Immortal Bastion was ramified enough to make being lost believable. Sometimes movement helped with thinking. She normally expected the worst but hoped for the best, this way she was hardly ever disappointed. In this case, if she assumed the worst, Swain knew she was a spy. By now she had to expect as much, thinking anything else would be careless and could prove fatal.

She moved away from the upper, brighter parts, diving into the twilight of the deeper levels. A person looking like a guard crossed her path and she stuttered before addressing him. He turned away with a cruel smile, muttering something like how her employment would be short if she ended up in the bowels of the Immortal Bastion. It was like Swain's sigil was already pressed on her forehead. How had the message already made it to this place?
But that was not of importance right now.

General Du Couteau hadn't needed much time to discern what and who she was. For the other worst case scenario, which she deemed most likely, those ravens came from Swain and were following her for a reason.

There was something about him, something not natural, and what posed as his hand had deeply disturbed her. She had not dared to touch him with her light, but the contact with his skin had felt equally oily as those feathered animals. Revolting, she thought.

The corridor she followed forked into two ways as she felt another presence behind her.

A realization hit Lux. She had spent the better part of three years in Noxus Prime now, but she had always played with a safety net. Something going wrong at her former deployment had resulted in her simply burning the bridges and vanishing while wreaking as much havoc as possible. Even working with Quiletta had been working with all safety nets on, for the one-armed Commander was well-disposed towards her.

Lux knew magical abilities weren't everything. For now, she would have to make do without them. Not only that, but she would be working against someone who had at least the same amount of intelligence she possessed. One part of the safety net had consisted of Talon, since he had shown he had cared enough to get her out of potentially dangerous situations, but if she took this step, it would take her away from Talon's protective but comforting hold. She'd be entirely alone. At the mercy of someone who probably knew she was dealt in an underhanded manner.

Lux took a deep breath. Her former deployments had nothing against this. She looked around, the last natural light fading to darkness. She closed her eyes in contemplation. A great danger lay in underestimating the risk involved in this. The second greatest danger lay in not taking calculated risks. Should she leave Noxus Prime now? Be satisfied with the intel she had gathered about Piltover and Ionia? Did she have anything more to win here? Her eyes opened.

Then she started sprinting. Lux darted along the track until she reached a corner, threw herself around while spelling herself invisible, her breaths deep and measured. A few more forks flew past her and she followed them deeper into the Bastion, away from the inhabited parts, down into the darkness. Soon she ditched her invisibility in favor of a glowing ball of light, bending the rays so no glimpse of it would reach more than two meters behind her. She was not nearly as deep as Talon and she had been, but deep enough. She kept on running silently, listening for footsteps that weren't audible.

After two more corners she squeezed herself in a recess in the wall, snuffing out her light, taking a deep breath and pressing herself against the cold stone before she stilled completely. Lux calmed her flying breath while her heart raced.

For what felt like a small eternity, nothing happened. Not even the sound of breath in the pitch-blackness. She couldn't see a thing. Her heart rate didn't slow down and her lungs burned for air. Had that been the rustling of bugs?

Something warm materialized in front of her, catching her wrists as precisely as in broad daylight. Lux' breath hitched.

"Gotcha." A dark voice vibrated in Lux' ears before a warm body pushed her against the wall, just before warm lips occupied hers. She hadn't played tag or hide and seek in a long time. Lux shoved her hands under the familiar fabric of an equally familiar hood, closing her arms around Talon's neck.

For a moment nothing but his lips on hers, warm breath, a gloved hand at her cheek and the warm body that shoved her against cold stone mattered. The darkness seemed to enhance her senses, which made the tender fingertips against her jawline all the more pleasurable.
Her own hands wandered to his face, cupping it and underlining his sharp cheekbones with her thumbs.

He broke the kiss, lips wandering to her ear as he embraced her, tightly enough to make it hard to breathe. She didn't mind, but reciprocated the movement, pressing him to her with as much force as she was able to muster.

Talon's nose nudged against her ear. "Are you not afraid of the dark?" He growled lowly.

"Why would I be?" Lux answered breathlessly, burying her fingers in his hair.

"Shadows are my domain." She could feel the corner of his lips tugging upwards.

The playful threat made a shiver run down her spine. Lux laughed regardless. "A shadow thrives besides the light." She repeated a sentence that had guided her since childhood, and which slowly gained a whole new meaning because of their time together.

She felt Talon's nose move as his head twitched towards her, even though there was nothing to be seen. Then his nose nudged against her throat and he inhaled. "There is a bruise below your left collar bone." He informed her of his observation instead of continuing their banter.

Lux' hand rose to the indicated spot automatically. Invetia had found it necessary to apply more pressure than usual, yes. "Your eyes are excellent." She half praised, half mocked.

"Who did that?" He hissed tunelessly as his grip tightened shortly before his thumb stroke over her collar bone.

In the pitch blackness it was even harder to read Talon's thoughts. Guessing from his voice alone was not easy. Discerning that he was not happy was an easy feat, but everything beyond that…not so much.

"Child's play." Lux downplayed the very unpleasant sensation of being choked.

His hand wandered to her hair. "Does a child need a lesson?" He asked, rubbing his nose against hers.

Lux folded her hands behind his neck. The offer made warmth bubble up in the pit of her stomach, heating her up despite the coldness in her back. "That would contradict my whole 'appear as harmless as you can' strategy." She murmured.

"You play that part perfectly fine, be assured. Don't move now."

Lux laughed silently and stroke his neck. "As you wish." She purred in a seductive fashion, nothing the demure Mitsuko could ever muster. She felt his right arm move as he pulled her away from the wall. Something cold, most likely the steel of his arm-blade, grazed her skin and then she was able to lean against his lower arm without risking a cut. "I hope you know how to use that thing." She mocked lightly before she nudged her nose against his cheek.

He huffed, not dignifying that with an answer.

"I missed you." Lux whispered into the safety of his hood.

"I watched you." Was his quiet answer.

"The ravens did as well…"

"I noticed. Someone's following you." Talon grunted, pushing her even more against the slowly warming stone at her back.

"I know." Lux answered breathlessly.

"I don't like that." Talon accentuated while he took hold of her chin, like he wanted to look into her eyes, in spite of the pitch-black. "I don't like Swain keeping such a close eye on you." He repeated.

"You know it is him?" Lux' breath hitched and for a short moment she saw the gold of his eyes glinting with the particles of light she sent out, flashing over the angles of his face before darkness returned, veiling his features once more.

She felt his sharp nod.

"How?" She kissed the corner of his lips. 'Missing' was an inadequate expression how much she had craved for him to be close again.

"He came back from Ionia recently, crippled." Talon muttered.

"He is not crippled." Lux noted. "At least not completely…"

"He was." Talon interrupted. "Now not anymore. There was one raven with him before, now there are scorches of them. He changed. Something…changed."

She leaned her forehead against his before she kissed him once more. That was interesting. So the glowing-red, wrong limb didn't originally belong to Swain. "You are revealing much today." She whispered lowly. Talon was an observer, something which could make him a powerful player, should he chose to step up and be more than General Du Couteau's most prized agent.

Talon was silent for a moment, the soft rustling of clothes the only sound as he caressed her neck. "Our agreement still stands, right?" His voice had turned down even more, even Lux was barely able to hear it.

She took ahold of his face, instantly knowing what he meant. "I promised to inform you beforehand should I want to end our agreement right?"

He gave a curt nod.

The skin of his face was smooth, something Lux had rarely appreciated before, slight changes in texture indicating where past encounters had left barely visible scars. "I don't want to. And I can be really stubborn." His lips were back on hers as soon as she finished the sentence and she went on the tips of her toes, pressing her behind against the bladed arm in her back for leverage. Her mind was not that easily silenced, though. "Is it of importance right now?" She asked in between two kisses.

Talon paused, bridging the time he needed to form an answer with another deep kiss. Lux was inclined to let him get away with that, but the assassin didn't intend to dodge the question. "It is. More so than before."

Lux' brows knitted together. "Why?"

Talon underlined her cheekbone in an intimate gesture. "Because I will intervene should anyone try to take what's mine." His tone was as tender as his touch.

"I'm yours?" Her smile lit up his face shortly as her light longed to do much more than just lighting up his face enough to see the deadly seriousness within. Lux was hardly able to suppress the feeling of elation enough to let the world sink into darkness once more. Oh light, how could she leave him? Was Talon enough to tip the scale of risk-reward?

"As long as this agreement holds, yes." His voice was as serious as his face had been.

"That means you are mine." Her eyes lightened up shortly, before she got a grip on her powers. She hadn't used it for so long that it proved to be a strenuous effort to keep her light down. Especially where she felt more like bouncing up and down with joy than keeping her calm. The pressure of his body helped.

"Does that make a difference?" He whispered.

"Yes. It feels good to know." Lux breathed back. "But it felt so already."

Their lips met again and Lux almost forgot where she was. It was easy to pretend they were somewhere private instead of in the endless labyrinth of the Immortal Bastion.

"For your information." Talon whispered in her ear, "I had not allowed any interference before. You just gave me permission to do what I would have done anyway. "

Lux tilted her forehead against his. Sometimes his choice of wording was interesting. "No one can compete against you." She reinforced. How could she want anyone else? The warmth in her body threatened to overwhelm her with the need to be closer to him.

She felt his tuneless snort as a rush of air against her skin. "It is not necessarily something you will notice." She knew him well enough to hear the 'but I will' as loud as if he had spoken it.

"You are the only one that has my approval for..." She kissed him again and snaked her leg around his hip, stretching against his body in a suggestive way. His hand was there to secure her thigh instantly. Not that she planned to let go.

"Like I said. I might feel compelled to remind everyone who thinks of trying to convince you to think otherwise." Talon already didn't like the fact that someone he had claimed and marked as his would not only be out of his immediate reach, but part of another man's household for the foreseeable future. Not that he had to like it. It was her job, after all, and she was good at what she did. Which, confusingly, made him proud. Still, there was something else. He hated to spoil one of the few moments he was able to get, but "You considered Swain knowing who you truly are?" Maybe his voice quivered just the slightest. He couldn't bring himself to find out who she was. Marcus knew, and that was enough for him to know. Marcus was fine with whoever she was.

Lux tensed in his arms. "Did he say something?" She mumbled into the cloth of his hood, nails boring into the back of his neck.

"No." And as far as he was concerned that was enough.

He felt her exhale. "I put that into consideration, yes. I suppose he just assumes. But if he knew…" She swallowed heavily and his grasp around her tightened. Her hold strengthened as well, despair and the sudden realization hitting her at the same time. Hearing it out of Talon's mouth formed the thought she had distantly entertained to harsh reality. "I don't think I can stay."

The silence that followed was deafening.

Lux pressed her forehead against his shoulder with her chest aching, waiting for a reaction. Any reaction.

It came in form of his left hand under her jawline, tilting her head upwards before warm lips sealed her mouth and his lean body pressed her against the wall. The sudden, desperate need to touch almost overwhelmed her, and her fingers slipped under his shirt, contacting the scarred skin she knew so well.

His hand slid from her throat, down her body until it had reached the hem of her skirt, pushing it upwards. The pressure of his groin against hers wasn't enough. Her hands rushed to his belt-buckle, fumbling with it while the heel of his hand flattened on her stomach, fingers spreading over the soft flesh before they slipped under her panties.

Lux gasped as his fingers curled around her sex, a sound swallowed by his mouth as she tugged his pants and his underwear out of her way. His tongue slid in her mouth as his fingers parted her folds, eliciting a muffled groan. Lux closed her fingers around his growing erection, twisting her hand. Lux' head bumped against the wall with the sudden force of his lean body pushing against her. His lips left hers and wandered to her ear, the clipped breath tickling her ear.

"I don't wa…" Her sentence drowned in his mouth as he renewed their contact, interrupting everything she wanted to say. Losing herself in him was so much easier. Her hip rolled against his in a nonverbal gesture of surrender.

Their faces parted once more and Lux felt Talon's forehead against hers. "When?" He breathed through clenched teeth.

"Five days." Lux decided. That would give them a little more time.

His lips cut off everything else she wanted to say.

Hardly any sounds wavered through the darkness. The little information that passed through fell on eager ears.

The youth aimed so low these days, the listener thought at the bits she heard, barely audible in the age old silence of the Immortal Bastion.

The young couple seemingly didn't know how to have fun, or maybe what they did wasn't good enough to announce it more loudly. The listener tried and failed to remember her own youth. She surely had never been stupid enough to search for solitude in the Immortal Bastion. Bothering about fidelity, as if something so petty could turn the wheels of the world, and overlooking the grander schemes in the process. Pathetic. If she wanted to distract those two, she'd only throw another man into the ring. How…utterly…ordinary. It was almost funny how she had expected more from them. But those two were far away from her tracks as no words were exchanged indicating either even started to understand what was set in motion. And that, in turn, indicated how little Marcus Du Couteau had gathered. Which was much more important than the child's play in the next generation. The Blade's Shadow was tasked with the Blade's dirty work, and she hadn't seen him anywhere near her, which was a good sign.

She heard the lovers ending their tête-à-tête and recovering their breath before leaving her realm. Without any more whispered endearments and promises, she was a bit disappointed. Maybe it was just a short love affair? She would have clicked her tongue in disapprovement if not for the fact she was hiding. Maybe she should put that to the test. It could prove useful in the future and would hardly create any work to do so.

A lazy smile spread on her face. Oh, the delights the future held.

The first place to visit on Marcus' list was Sion's monument. He bypassed the prohibition sign that announced penalty of death should anyone enter. The first room, where the corpse of the former Noxian General had always lain, was now empty. Sounds from the back chamber indicated that Marcus wasn't the only one ignoring the sign. Clad in shadows, he followed the noises. What he saw there confirmed some of his worst suspicions. Darkwill had not listened. Of course he would not. He didn't stay long enough for anyone to notice him and slipped back into the dark.

Darkwill's house was second on his list. The meeting with the new steward of Basilich would cost the Grand General at least one and a half hour, depending on how long he would be occupied after the meeting, so Marcus had enough time to sneak around it. Darkwill had become increasingly paranoid by the day, most likely, at least in parts, due to the intervention of the pale woman. It had made going through the stuff Darkwill didn't show voluntarily a rather challenging affair, even for a man of his caliber.

But now Marcus was free to look. He knew the house by heart, so finding Darkwill's study was easy. Bypassing his security was a bit tricky, as always, but didn't stall him for too long. The drawers of his desk in the office were pulled out just slightly. Marcus knew Boram well enough to assume that he knew to the exact millimeter how much he had pulled them out. An easy way to try and fool someone less attentive than him, though. And most likely only the first trap to the darker secrets Darkwill kept hidden.

Two more minutes until he was sure all traps were disabled and he was able to shuffle through papers that were formerly concealed. What he found was worse than expected. Marcus was much too professional to make any sound during his investigation, but he asked himself how Darkwill had kept those things secret for so long and what that bastard thought he'd achieve by doing so.
The not-so-rational part of him wanted to go back and stab the Grand General in the back. The more rational part of him wanted to sneak inside of Darkwill's bedroom and wait until the Grand General came to rest. He'd arrange that he would never wake up again. But, taking the current turmoil in the High Command into consideration, such a rash action would be highly unwise. So the completely rational part of him won, copied the papers that affected his family and put them back before he left without a trace. That surely sped his plans up. He'd just have to be faster, as always. This was getting out of hand. Which was not a problem in itself, but taking on his family was not something Marcus took easily. No one came after his family and lived to breathe another day.

His third item on his list was a smaller house on the edge of Noxus Prime. This time he didn't simply phase into the house by way of shadows and stealth, but instead knocked.

A maid opened the door.

She regarded his hooded face with distrust, ready to throw the door back in his face. A voice of authority stated to "let him come in", which made her release the door and bow her head in silent obedience.

Marcus walked over the doorstep and found the man of the house smirking lightly at him, inviting him upstairs and into his study with a nod of his head. Inside, Marcus pushed the hood back before he checked the windows.

"About time you showed your face here." The other man said, not commenting on the hand sweeping over the glass and the window frame. "What took you so long?"

Marcus shrugged. "Always busy, you know how it works."

The other man nodded. "I do, in fact. Your appearance has nothing to do with the pale woman, by any chance?"

Marcus lifted his hands. The windows were clean and safely sealed, as he had expected. "I see you still cut all the pleasantries, Gregori, and get right down to business. It is one of your traits I value so much."

Gregori snorted. "Keep making fun of me and I throw you out."

"Your sense of humor has declined, old friend." Marcus noted.

Gregori pressed his lips to a thin line, expressing even less humor than seconds before. It looked like he was worried about something. His gaze was steady, though, but unsure. "The pale woman has approached my wife."

That explained his uneasiness and the lack of banter beforehand. Gregori was hardly that stern. "Again?" Marcus asked.

"Again." The other man confirmed, finally allowing himself to chew on his lip.

"What does she want this time?" And more importantly, why did she make an appearance so shortly after her first? The pale woman was a person only whispered about, hidden in the history of Noxus even before it had gained a name of its own. This woman acting in the open like this was disconcerting, if not alarming. On the other hand, Darkwill had already made a pact with the pale woman, maybe she saw her chance to continue her alliances while the Grand General was preoccupied with his own problems.

"She made an offer." Gregori said, cagey and sparse.

"And Amoline plans on taking it?" Marcus forced his hand. He had already lost Darkwill, but the Hashturs would be an even greater loss.

Gregori's head whipped around. Marcus knew how people looked when they had to make a difficult decision. Gregori certainly had more on his mind right now than he was letting on. "How is it, being a father?" The other man suddenly asked.

Marcus raised his eyebrows. "Are you going to be a father?" He inquired, and the other man nodded tensely. Marcus smiled and offered his hand. "Congratulations. I thought you didn't have it in you."

Gregori's nose furrowed in distaste as he looked at his outstretched hand before he took it, his lip twitching upwards in a short display of happiness before the expression died. "That's not exactly an answer." Gregori grasped Marcus' hand tighter.

The General huffed. "How it feels?" He thought about it for a moment, remembering the small bundle of Katarina in his arms, screaming loud enough to make him think his ears might burst. How tiny she had been, fragile and easily breakable, but screaming angrily and demandingly at everything that hadn't been to her taste. There had been much not to her taste. Until he had found that she was calmer around him. From then on, he had taken her with him as much as possible. Laying on his leg had been her favorite place before she had been able to sit, and he had found a position to be able to whet his blades with Katarina around. Cassiopeia had been completely different. "Terrifying, at first." He finally answered truthfully. Luckily, that fragility had been replaced with confidence and steel. At least with Katarina. And Cassiopeia had her own weapons. Talon had never been breakable in any sense. No, the fragile one of his children had shattered, now gone forever. He shut off his emotions for fear they'd overtake him. Weakness was not an option, only hard truth. "Then comes a time where you think you have everything under control, and then they surprise you by growing up and changing things for themselves. And after they've done everything they've wanted and you think everything is settled again, someone dies and it falls apart. That's being a father." That was the essence of his experience thus far. Frustrating to a degree, but at least the stronger of his children had survived. Better than nothing, he told himself. Maybe he would believe that someday.

"You really bolstered my confidence." Gregori mumbled.

Marcus shrugged. Having children often was frustrating. "You will find that every mistake you ever made in your life, every wrong decision, every dangerous thing and every disobedience you committed mirrored in your own children. Just hope they are worth their weight in gold when they grow up." There was no use in dwelling in the past, asking himself if losing the most obedient of his children was worth having three more.

Gregori's lips thinned in distaste. "So you tell me either my hair will grow as grey as yours or my child will be not useful for anything?"

Marcus laughed shortly, shoving the darker thoughts to the back of his head. "If you extract that from my words, I will not disagree. But that does not give you an answer about the pale woman."

Gregori pursed his lips before he answered. "Amoline declined."

"Was that wise?" Marcus tilted his head.

"We don't know how being pregnant will affect her powers. Maybe she'll be…unstable. Diving into a dangerous association headfirst with not only my wife, but my child on the line, as well? I think not." Gregori snorted in disgust and shook his head.

Marcus tilted his head noncommittally. He understood the fear that came with being responsible for a woman who, under different circumstances, could care for her own well-being very well. Especially when you were responsible for her altered circumstances in the first place. "You can't keep yourself out of everything so easily. Even though I understand what you are feeling right now."

Gregori observed his movements, folding his arms in front of his body. "She is one of Darkwill's arch-mages." He defended his wife's decision.

Marcus shook his head. "Soon that won't be worth a bulrush, be assured of that."

Gregori gulped heavily, eyes flitting around the room. "So you feel it too?" He mumbled silently.

Marcus shook his head. He was used to some mages over-mystifying simple observations. He was not. "I don't feel anything, old friend. I observe. Our troops are spread too thin, neither Ionia, Kalamanda nor the Freljord-campaign moves forward for that reason. Darkwill indulges in dubious activities…"

"So you are here to warn me, out of the goodness of your heart?" Gregori grasped for his chest. "I am seriously touched, Marcus!" He taunted, a hint of the former levity between them returning.

Marcus laughed heartily. "No, of course that goodness is not the reason for me being here. I need something from you, and something from Amoline. Please listen to my request."

He unpacked a stash of papers and put them on the desk. Gregori leaned over and took one neatly written page into his hand. A cocky smile spread on his lips, and he looked more like the youngling who loved to discover the secrets of an older man, heavy and tantalizing.

He laughed smugly. "No Marcus, that is not possible. Who gave you…" His eyes flitted to the end of the first page. A frown rose to his face, wiping the smile away, now heavy with concern. " actually…You know what you have here?" His grey eyes fixated on Marcus who merely shrugged. A gesture that Talon seemed to have picked up from his teachings.

He did not exactly know, but the other man did not need to know that. "I think so. But I hoped you could disperse my apprehension."

Gregori sat down, now looking at the third page, following the illustration with his fingers. "Get my wife. NOW."

Marcus refrained from rolling his eyes. Because he was the only other person in the room, he turned to the door to obey. Sometimes Gregori was so overly dramatic. He saw it with a little more professional distance.

A game of chess was in play and someone was rebuilding their knight, stealing a bishop from a rook and gambling on their queens, a black engulfed in shadows and a white shining in the light. Each piece meticulously moving of its own accord, for all it knows, but all for gain nonetheless. Until the very end, when a king appears and moves, one by one, to take the pieces down until one is left, alone. Let the real game begin.

Chapter Text

"Elise, how euphoric to finally be in your presence once more. I see your travel did you well?" The voice was the soft purr of a particularly pleased cat.

The Spider Queen smiled languidly. She did looked younger than before her departure. "Oh yes, dearest Deceiver. It exceeded my expectations." Her voice slid through the air like poisoned honey, sweet and tempting, inviting to come closer and get a taste. Her tongue gliding over her lips, shortly touching her sharp fangs.

"I am so glad to hear that." The other voice confirmed softly. "Was the last sacrifice enough to form what I asked for?"

Elise inspected her red nails. "I think I found something that…exceeds…your expectations." She chuckled in good humor. "Do you have what I want?"

LeBlanc averted her eyes in feigned hurt. "I promised. Would I lie to you?"

The red-eyed woman smiled and turned her hand. Something shimmered inside her palm, stone beads woven together with silver to form a thick chain.

The pale woman stretched out her hand and let her fingers glide over the smooth material. She refrained from flinching back at the angry feeling washing over her. "It still looks much bigger than I hoped." She chided gently, turning the necklace in her hand, trying to discern the magic written inside.

Elise shrugged. "We tried to form this for years, without success. Be happy my god is a gracious one." She winked in good humor. "Trying to make it smaller would cost even more time. Time, I assumed, you didn't have." Her lips curled in a smug smile, a jab LeBlanc ignored.

A small finger tipped against full lips. "It has to suffice then." A soft chortle. Oh, if the Demacians knew what they had at their disposal…It would make things so much more difficult. Luckily, they were as dumb as the bricks they hid behind. Those had protected them for centuries, but their time was running out. Darkwill was almost ready. LeBlanc stashed the chain away, right next to a plain dagger. Fun first, she decided. A little distraction would do her good.

Invetia was taller than her, which was an achievement for a fifteen year old girl, Lux assumed. Not by much, but the difference in height was accentuated, for Mitsuko had the habit of cowering before her superiors and glancing up at people who glared angrily at her. The black-haired girl converted her disdain through a pointed stare and her hand on Lux' throat. Again.

Mitsuko tried it with a friendly, slightly panicked smile. "May I help you?" She offered despite the offending hand, voice pitched.

"How have you managed…" The Noxian snarled before she was interrupted.

"Invetia. What are you doing?" Quiletta's voice cut through the air and Invetia receded instantly. This was the first time Quiletta saw her daughter assaulting her scribe.

Invetia sent her mother a cool glance. "Nothing." Before she looked at Mitsuko, arching an eyebrow.

"Nothing, Commander Varn." Lux reinforced with slightly shaking voice, looking at Invetia nervously.

"Then come. I need a word with you." Quiletta shot her daughter another sharp gaze. The girl looked at her nails in disinterest.

Lux gladly followed the woman into her study, closing the door behind them.

Quiletta took a long breath, squeezing her eyes shut and pinching the bridge of her nose. "What does she want from you?"

"I…Ahm…" Lux stuttered, caught in her role as the Ionian scribe.

"Out with it Mitsuko, you won't be here much longer, as we both know." The glint in Quiletta's eyes became hard.

"I'm sorry Commander Varn…" Lux tried.

"I don't need to hear that. What does Invetia want from you?"

Her gaze flitted from the ground to Quiletta's face. "She wants to know everything about General Darius."

The other woman froze dead in her tracks. She needed two tries before she found her voice. "Did you…"

"I didn't tell her anything about…" Lux stopped, not exactly knowing if Quiletta's daughter was trying to listen from outside.

Quiletta breathed relieved. "Did she threaten you?" She took a step closer to Lux, tilting her head up and inspecting her throat. Lux' heartbeat quickened. Had Talon left a bruise? No, he had been careful. He had never marked her in plain sight. "Is that a strangulation mark?"

Another one? Oh come on. "I didn't tell her anything of importance." Lux said defiantly, shrugging Quiletta's hand away. "But you have a very strong-willed daughter." That probably counted as a compliment in Noxus.

Quiletta seemingly didn't know what to say. For several moments they shared the quietness. "It is me who should be sorry, Mitsuko." Quiletta finally broke the silence.

Lux didn't know what to say. Quiletta seemingly didn't mean just her daughter. "No, I am sorry…" And she was, for the logical solution was that staying in Noxus Prime would not be beneficial. One member of the High Command knowing of her identity had been bad enough and had limited her range of motion, but a second one potentially knowing she was not what she depicted, one she shared no connection with, would break her neck sooner rather than later. She had gathered enough information about the inner structures, the Ionian war, a raid to the Freljord and about a warmason in Piltover to justify her extraction.

The events of the last afternoon, she and Talon's exchange, his lips on hers broke through her cold logic. She was not able to take his fast retreat as an offense, even though he had denied her the chance to look at his face, to check his reaction to her announcement. Lux wasn't even sure she would be able to see him one last time.

"No, Mitsuko." Quiletta interrupted her thoughts. "It is...Swain wanting you as a secretary has nothing to do with you being an Ionian." Her eyes closed briefly, as if in shame. "It is my fault. I told Darius who did the economic calculations as well as the strategic evaluation. He probably told Swain, who recognized your value."

Lux was left speechless. They had went through this, and Quiletta had agreed to not mention her contribution. "But…But…" Lux stuttered. That meant…Maybe Swain had not picked up on her being more than she looked like. Maybe he had seen through the first veil, the one that concealed her abilities, but not behind the one which shrouded her identity. Maybe Swain had only seen her accomplishments and wanted to use her wit for himself. Maybe her loyalties had nothing to do with this. Maybe there was no reason to leave, but one more opening to stay. He implied possibilities made Lux' heart race.

Quiletta misunderstood her stuttering, mistaking her excitement for terror. "I didn't intend on anyone using you against your country." It almost sounded like the other woman was defending her actions, despite the fact she wasn't accountable to Lux.

Lux took a deep breath. This changed a lot, turning out to be more chance than risk after all. "Maybe Swain will move on to another campaign. Ionia gave him quite a blow, right?" She blended into Mitsuko's soothing attitude seamlessly.

Quiletta shook her head, looking concerned. "Swain is different from me. Don't make the mistake of believing everything will work out just because you are intelligent and hard working. You need either more physical strength than that, or someone to protect you."

Lux tilted her head. "Shouldn't an employer provide as much?"

Quiletta's laugh was borderline desperate. "Swain is not like that." She repeated. "He was always…special." She seemingly fought with her words, and Lux knew she had to find out what happened to Swain. Especially with his arm. Whatever made him…special…made him dangerous as well. Investigating would be harder being under direct jurisdiction of the person she wanted to inquire into…Quiletta resumed talking, oblivious to her thoughts. "Draven is loyal to him. I still don't understand why, but you met Draven." She concluded a bit helplessly. "I would take every person he stands loyal to with a great bit of caution." She shook her head, and defiance lit up her eyes. "But you are smart. I offered you a way back to Ionia. If you manage to come to Basilich, I will..."

Lux was truly touched. That was one of the kindest acts she had received so far, someone who offered her a retour to her supposed home-country. An idea popped up in her mind. "I...could you..." She stopped herself. No, that would be too much.

Quiletta released her breath. "Out with it." She ordered, her tune softer than the command.

Lux took a deep breath and decided to stake everything on one card. "I want to write a letter to someone. The problem is, that someone resides in Ionia." She needed a moment to gather her courage and look up into Quiletta's face again.

The other blond woman froze. "You said you were not part is the resistance." She hissed, her voice suddenly cold.

Lux eyed her warily. Maybe smuggling an Ionian refugee back was a different thing than downright treason. "I am not." She defended herself. "And I don't know any of the leaders. But I remember every horrible detail you dictated about the melters..." Lux grasped for her temples, playing on the softness she had discovered within Quiletta. Maybe she had overestimated the notion, underestimated the still-present loyalty to Noxus?

Quiletta was watching her silently, turmoil in her blue eyes.

"They are Zaunite, not Noxian. If I could map out the supply line of those machines..." Lux pressed on.

Quiletta lifted a hand, palm opened to the universal sign for 'stop'. Lux quietened, watching her wide-eyed. The inner fight of the other woman was visible in her pinched face. Lux began hoping.

"I'll ensure that your letter makes it to Ionia. Don't tell me what's in it, so I won't have to lie."
She turned to the door brusquely, tearing it open. She looked into the corridor before she spoke, silently, back still turned to Lux. "I will miss you. And I am very sorry, for everything Noxus will continue doing to you. My offer still stands, should you choose to go back to Ionia." With that she closed the door behind her, leaving Lux alone.

Lux hoped with all her heart that Quiletta would never learn the depth of her treason. It would be enough if she'd vanish from Noxus in a few days. Hopefully, Quiletta would still deliver the letter.

Swain hardly faltered as he felt another presence entering his room. He dipped his filler into the inkwell to finalize the sentence he was writing. "LeBlanc. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?" He asked as he put his writing tool down before closing the inkwell carefully, looking up to the woman who had just entered his study. It was no surprise she had made it through his servants without being stopped.

A sultry chuckle vibrated in his ears, the expensive fabric she clad herself in rustling with every slow step she took. "Can't I drop by to say hello to an old companion?" Her wicked smile, full of dark promises, showed a perfect row of white teeth as she glanced down to his hand. His left one, with claws glowing red.

"Of course you may." Swain scoffed darkly, displaying the limp he had gained through outwitting not only the Black Rose, but a demon as well.

The woman stepped forward with swaying hips before she placed her hands on his desk, leaning forward, exposing her tightly wrapped cleavage in the process. "Don't you want to call me Evaine, darling?" Her smile widened as her eyes closed shortly, like a cat in front of a cornered mouse.

The jab didn't hurt anymore and hadn't in a long time. Swain kept his gaze on her face, for it was the most dangerous asset of hers. "We both know she never existed. But keep on pretending, my dear, if it pleases you." His voice dripped with disinterest as he folded the finalized letter.

"Oh, but she existed. We just were a split image before." She winked, as usual seeing the joke where he failed in doing so. "And now I'm everything that is left of her." Her tune was soft, almost gentle, as she stretched her body, waiting for him to widen the gap between his chair and the wooden surface for her.

"You are nothing but a split image of someone who has been dead for centuries, my dear." He rasped calmly, inspecting her face closely. "But still a sight for a sore eye." Beautiful and vile, like the soaking ivy he had encountered in Ionia. The demon inside of him stirred. The creature knew LeBlanc as well.

The pale woman pursed her lips. "You do realize it was you who executed her, not me?" Her perfectly manicured finger tipped against her lip as her eyes turned upwards in fake contemplation.

Of course Swain remembered, but by now it was just another point on an endlessly stretching list of atrocities he had committed. "As much as I do enjoy your presence, you surely did not come here to waste my time, LeBlanc."

LeBlanc chuckled. "It's refreshing to see you like this again." She whispered darkly, a sound that made the hair on Swain's neck stand to an end, lids fluttering shut while she nodded to his new limbs.

"What do you want?" He asked more bluntly. Apart from his lack of time and the amount of preparations he had to do, he had no interest in her games. He had played them long enough, a harsh lesson. Well learnt by now nonetheless.

"Oh. Don't tell me you don't know what I want." She purred and slid onto his desk, shoving the letter as well as the inkwell away in the process, her painted nails and golden eyes glinting in the low light of the lamps. Her eyes had changed the least over the years, they were the same as those of the woman he had once seen in her. From an impersonal view, he still admired how coldly she calculated, a thing he had venerated in the past, at a time he thought she worked for, not against him. Now, she was only one more mind which needed to be outmaneuvered. But the pretty face in front of said mind made the game that much more pleasant.

Her small hands left the edge of his desk as she placed them on his armored shoulder pads. "I heard you have a new secretary?" Her fingers wandered to his neck and now he moved, grasping her hands in interception to place them back onto her bare thighs. Her skin felt cool under his left hand, but warm and inviting under the right one.

"Nothing stays hidden from the matron of the Black Rose, it seems." His tone was sardonic.

"Oh, indeed nothing, dear Jericho." She turned her palms upwards and grasped both of his hands, moving them towards her center, while she canted her hip forward. "The darkness sometimes reveals more than ravens do."

Before his fingers reached a place he did not want to have them, Swain pulled them back. LeBlanc chuckled lowly as she stretched her body, flaunting the curves he had once admired. They were still gorgeous, but his mindless fascination had decreased. "So you are here to talk about another woman." He said and stood up, shoving his chair back in the process until he towered over her still half-sitting body.

She blinked upwards at him, her eyes glinting mischievously. "I am here to ask why you would take an...Ionian…secretary, all of sudden. I thought you might seek revenge, not..." Her tongue darted out as she wetted her lips. The gesture still held a promise.

"It wasn't Ionia that tried to break me." He took hold of her shoulder. She didn't resist. She never had. His own red eyes gleamed. "It was you." Swain clenched his left, glowing hand while his right, human one grasped LeBlanc's dark hair, tightened his grip. With a strong motion he pierced the demonic appendage through her body, a satisfying, wet sound as he broke through the skin of her chest.

She tried parting from him with a gasp and a horrified expression in her golden eyes, disbelief pouring out of every pore of her body. Swain watched her crumble, sure that just a few years ago this would have made his heart cry out in pain. But it no longer did. He was rather intrigued by the fact that she possessed a beating heart. His face showed nothing but the emptiness of his own heart and, as he pulled his hand back, now wet with blood, she crumpled over and hit the ground with a 'thump'. The demon inside of him hissed in discontent. As she started to squirm on the ground a flow of air behind him moved his hair. "Do you enjoy seeing me like that?" LeBlanc's voice resonated from his back. "Does it turn you on, seeing me crawling in front of you?" A second hand wandered from his side to his front as cool lips pressed against the nape of his neck. A softly curved body pressed against his back.

Swain watched the clone in front of him squirm around the deadly injury while a smooth hand slipped under his shirt. "It has its perks."

The hands stayed where they were as a third figure stalked around him, carefully stepping over the still squirming mirror-image. The two women looked exactly the same, not to his surprise. The one stepping around him placed her behind against his desk, just like the first one had done. He felt the sinuous wave going through the body in his back as the one before him stretched languidly.

"Then look very closely, Jericho dear." LeBlanc- or another mirror-image, Swain was not too sure- placed her heel on the crawling clone's side.

The demon inside of him snarled at the challenge, so a second later his right, clawed hand was on her throat. The clone in his back bit his ear as he choked the one in front of him, eliciting another delectable gasp as her eyes nearly popped out. It certainly made excitement flow through him. LeBlanc still knew her way around him.

"Oh yes, give me everything." The woman in his back whispered as she sunk her teeth in his neck.

She surely wanted something, otherwise she wouldn't have given him such a show. Wasting one clone, risking a second and potentially a third, this was no cheap sacrifice. His grip around her throat tightened.

"Sad that you are strangling her. She wanted to tell you something." The voice rasped in his ear before sucking his earlobe in between sharp teeth. There it was. He loosened his grip enough to allow the clone to breath. She looked at him, horror changing to a sultry grin without transition. "Your new secretary will compromise Ionia. Possibly jeopardize the whole mission."

Swain raised an eyebrow. It was the second time she spoke of the secretary. Seeing through her smoke and mirrors proved to be a challenge more times than not, but it was refreshing to have an opponent instead of a victim, for once.

The figure behind him kissed the hollow of his neck. "Ah." She breathed. "You want Ionia to fail."

Swain sighed, shaking his head. "Why would I want such, my dear?" His thumb followed the pulse of the clone's carotid artery.

LeBlanc chuckled. "Do you really think you can hide the girl long enough to save her from Darkwill's spies?"

"You are his greatest. So yes." He answered without hesitation. Degrading her to a simple spy was hardly a hidden insult, but she didn't seem to mind.

She chuckled against his skin, continuing her kissing and biting assault. "I am here, am I not?" The clone in front of him lolled against his hand on her throat before she placed her own hand on his cheek. "So what will she give you in exchange for Ionia?"

Swain wasn't surprised that she figured he'd get something in return, but the fact that LeBlanc asked was remarkable at all. There had to be a reason. He clamped down on her throat again while the figure to his feet finally stopped moving. Damn. Now he had missed the moment she had died. It was a pointless pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. "What could an Ionian girl give me that I don't already have?" He hissed, watching her golden eyes nearly pop out of her skull in asphyxiation, before he released her.

She gasped for air dramatically, an act he did not believe. "Maybe you are starting to get sentimental? I heard age does things to certain people." The voice at his back whispered.

"Oh, age certainly does." He looked her up and down suggestively, and for the first time he saw the corner of her eye twitch in irritation.

"Not too old to create something new with you, do you remember?" Her mask was back in place as she winked at him, a smile spreading on her lips.

Swain's lips thinned. It had been a long time since she had mentioned Beatrice. This, too, didn't hurt anymore, but it surely wasn't something he liked to talk about. Still, this was not the moment to withdraw. "And you wasted it all on the scaffold." He shook his head, expecting to have brought his point across. He'd just have to wait, and maybe she'd deliver him her desire with less of a show than she usually did. A hope in vain, he knew.

As expected she didn't bite, but copied him shaking her head, much more solemnly than he had done. Swain had the distinct feeling that this was where she had wanted to direct their conversation to from the beginning. "Remind me again who executed her, right next to the woman who gave birth to her?" LeBlanc's hand nudged against the one still clawing around her neck.

"Remind me again, who led her up the stairs to the scaffold?" Swain rasped.

"She was but a mere child." She chided gently, or at least what counted as 'gently' for her. "Don't tell me you don't remember her? The moment she was placed in your arms? Do you remember what you said to me?"

"You seem to care more today than you ever did then." Swain answered coolly. He easily avoided every misdirection and trigger she fired at him. The demon crooned in delight. She was his life once, now only a faint memory. A shadow whispered in his ear, reminding him of the raven that was named after his daughter. Swain was hardly able to discriminate her from the other demonic animals. It didn't matter anymore, for that all laid in the past.

"Oh come on, Jericho. Her first word. Her first steps. Don't you want to remember?" Her body pressed flush against him.

"Did you find some newly awakened maternal feelings?" He let his claw wander down the body in front of him, drawing a thin line of blood down her neck.

Her sultry smile never changed. "Yes, I am nostalgic. I never told you we had another child, right? Seeing that once again…" She sighed in feigned sadness.

Swain's brow creased. That was new. And she had surely planned this new revelation to detonate like a bomb, however Swain failed to feel the explosion. "You never did. And you don't have to now."

"Oh." Her movements ceased. "You do not care?"

Swain snorted. "Oh my dearest." Now he chided. "I had a daughter. You killed her. Another child is hardly important at this point."

"It was your arm swinging the sword at Beatrice that dealt the final blow." By now it somehow had become a rhythm, shifting the blame for her death between the two.

Swain shook his head. "She was my child. She deserved death by sword, not the slow decay you offered her."

LeBlanc clicked her tongue again, feigned excitement in her voice. "But what if I told you you had a son?"

Swain drew his hand back up, a second line of red on her pale skin. "You are mistaken, LeBlanc. I have no son. You might have created another tool, but I have no child."

The woman in front of him pouted. "Sad. I thought you would jump at the chance for House Swain to continue its lineage after your death."

Swain took a moment to really contemplate this idea. Did she really think a revelation like this would destroy his balance? He heard the dark crooning somewhere in the back of his mind. "It can and it will die for all I care. I have no need for another one of your puppets. You could try and gather him enough support so he'll be able to challenge me." He suggested calmly.

The clone in his back clicked its tongue while the one in front of him shook her head in exasperation. "Believe me, I played with that thought."

Swain snorted for he knew as much. If she had not run every thought through her head at least thrice, she would not have told him anything. Not that he cared. He found it rather amusing that she didn't know him well enough by now. It might have mattered years ago, but not anymore. Noxus would have other strong fighters, a name was nothing. His family was nothing. Another thousand warriors stood behind him, should he fall. Noxus would prevail, with or without him. And he most definitely didn't need a member of the Black Rose as an acknowledged descendent.

Her eyes widened in the best imitation of a purely joyful smile. "That's the best thing Jericho. He is not of the Black Rose."

"Oh. Now you have me hooked." Swain said dryly, rolling his eyes. Not even her beautiful face could cover up the fact that this encounter started to get boring.

"No, I mean it, Jericho. You would have loved the story." By the way her eyes glinted he was sure he would not. "Maybe, after you executed our dear Evaine…"

"You don't have to insist on calling her Evaine. We both know she was just one of your images."

LeBlanc sent him an indignant glare for interrupting, continuing as if he hadn't spoken at all. Maybe she was losing her patience. "...and our dear Beatrice with her, I might have thrown the boy out. Don't look at me that way." She said and Swain rolled his eyes again at this theatrical feat. "I invested much time in Beatrice, and you destroying her like that made me angry."

Swain wasn't sure she had as much feelings left inside of her. "It was you who made them both climb the scaffold in the first place." He automatically corrected. "I don't care about you or a child I never met. If you told me that you resurrected Beatrice…that would surely change a lot." It would not. Some parts of life ended, and wishing them back was a waste of time and energy. A point he found confirmed by looking at Darkwill's face every day.

LeBlanc sighed loudly and her mouth turned downwards as she blinked at him. It looked even more pathetic with his glowing red hand clawing at her shoulder, the claw of his thumb pressing into her fossa jugularis. "You don't even want to know his name?" Her lower lip pushed forward to a pout.

A smile tugged the angles of his mouth upwards. "Apparently not."

"Sad." She shook her head again. "But you have to see him, Jericho. He looks just…like…me." Now the gold of her eyes glimmered from the slit of her half-closed lids, the devious twitch of her lips vanishing fast enough to be barely perceptible.

Swain made an amused sound. "Seeing your beautiful face right now is more than I want to see, darling. What should I do with another mirror image?"

LeBlanc let out a breath. "I thought so. You might be interested that he is a disappointment on so many levels. With his heritage, he could have been everything but he chose to be average." Her tongue clicked.

"See? It is even better I don't know a thing about him." Not that he expected her to give him a real name. He wasn't even sure the child she mentioned existed. Lying was her main occupation, after all. But the truth was he simply didn't care. He had a child once, had raised and loved her more than he had ever thought possible. This daughter had soaked up his love like a flower the sunlight and he had given everything he had to her. After her death, there was simply nothing left for anyone else. Especially not for someone who was a complete stranger to him, no bonds or memories that were shared together. It was of no use trying to shape a Noxian, especially not if LeBlanc called him useless. Despite everything, her evaluation concerning other people was accurate most of the times.

Her shoulders twitched in a silent sigh. "I thought you might care." Swain was sure she did not. She had fired her shot for a specific reason. Only time would tell if it would hit what she had aimed for. Until then, it would be a pleasure to discern what her target was. Her smile was the copy of a hopeful one. "Perchance you could make him useful after all?"

"I am sure you will do so just fine." Swain rasped.

The clone in front of him grasped for his collar and pulled his face towards her, pressing her lips on his cheek while the other one's hands slipped around him, fiddling with the clasp of his cloak. "But it is so much more fun collaborating with you." Her hand wandered to his hip as she pressed her body against him. It was clear to him now which kind of collaboration she was suggesting.

His cloak fell to the ground with a heavy rustle. "Oh, you showed me what collaborating with you means." He closed his hand around her throat, throwing her down against his desk. His writing tools scattered from the surface, making room for the woman, smiling despite the hand around her neck. The clone in his back followed swift as he bowed to her, his demonic hand grasping for her collar and ripping the expensive fabric of her clothes to shreds.

Chapter Text

Katarina dismounted from her horse, throwing the reins into the hands of a waiting stable-boy. Finally home! She took the way to the entrance in long strides. The door opened before she reached it, the maid behind it stepped aside, head bowed down low, and Katarina took a deep breath. There was no place like home. A wide grin slowly spread on her face.

The silent whisper of steel posed as the only warning for her to duck to the side, evading the blade aimed at her chest. A moment later a body barreled against her, throwing her off balance, while she threw her leg between those of her offender to disrupt his stance, winding her other around a waist and twisting her body as a hand locked around her throat. They crashed to the ground with steel clashing, exchanging snarls and Katarina was actually glad to throw a punch at Talon's jaw.

"Not HERE!" The shrill voice of her sister screeched, freezing the body of their brother temporarily, and Katarina's under him. The sounds of a conflagrating fight lapsed into silence instantly.

Katarina fought against the curse of Cassiopeia's gaze until she could move again, even though Talon's still motionless weight nearly crushed her. She shoved him away with a kick for good measure.

"Damn, you are crabby." She taunted with a second kick against his shin, before she jumped to her feet.

He shook the last remnants of stiffness away before he jumped to his feet as well. "Are you opposing?" He said as he picked up the blade he had thrown as a distraction.

Katarina grinned cockily. "Absolutely not." She hadn't had a good fight in…forever! Talon looked riled up just enough to make things really interesting.

"Thank Noxus you are back." Cassiopeia hissed, rolling her eyes and keeping her tongue inside her mouth.

"Get a healer." Talon interrupted, grasping Katarina's wrist and pulling her behind him, down into the training hall.

Not that she fought back. "Someone's eager." Katarina smirked and winked at his back. Him calling for a healer meant this would get dirty and bloody. It meant a fight without limits. She bared her teeth in gleeful anticipation. Soon she caught up with him, not needing to be pulled at all.

They almost raced each other to the training hall. Which looked different than Katarina remembered. Had Talon redecorated it? That was new.

Before she could put the new interior design to question, Talon's grip around her wrist loosened and he spun into action.

Oh yes.

"Let's dance, Tally!" Katarina pirouetted, flicked a dagger into the air and started moving as letally graceful as her signature move. This was going to be fun.

The healer arrived precisely twenty-eight minutes after their little quarrel had started, but the training hall had already received another redecoration, a new wall color of bright red.
The first dagger which barely missed his eye and cut across his cheek convinced the healer to wait outside for about twenty more minutes, until the noises of destruction were reduced to heavy panting, lest they themselves become a casualty.

Katarina wasn't able to exactly pinpoint what ended it, she was locking Talon to the ground with her hands around his throat while he pierced a dagger between her fourth and fifth rib. She felt her left lung collapse as she twisted her hand, the bones of his fingers giving in with a satisfying 'crunch'. She gasped, face centimeters above his. He had injured her more gravely, but with severe losses himself. Her gaze caught his and she relocated her hand to his cheek, boring her nails into the already bloodied skin. His hand, formerly piercing the dagger in her chest, slid down the bloodied edge to stabilize it in her flesh. Her mouth descended close to his, her cocky grin answered by the raising warning in his face and...the loud cough of the healer interrupted, both of their heads snapping around.

"Come on Ilak, since when don't you know how to have fun anymore?" She panted with a wide smile. The blood she could taste in her mouth surely added to the effect.

Ilak's lips thinned as he assessed the damage they had done to each other. "Since I believed you were just fucking with me." The older man muttered.

Katarina laughed and rolled her hip against Talon's for emphasis. Instantly his hand was on her hip to still her movements, his lips curled back to show his bloodied teeth in an unmistakable advise to back off, something she commented with another chuckle. "Don't tell me you didn't enjoy the show back there, old man." She winked at him before she rolled away from her brother, who let go of the blade in her chest.

The gaze she got in return was more than sour, but Ilak went to work nonetheless, ordering them both to lie down and not move. His wooden case clicked on the ground and he snapped it open, spreading his utensils around them both.

Talon simply stayed in the position he already was in, his gaze wandering over the ground around them. "Shit. I lost another blade." He complained while the healer readjusted the bones of his broken nose, giving it the form and stability it had had before Katarina's fist had repeatedly collided with it. Katarina thought it was the healer's sadism to not cater to his broken wrist or the numerous, partly deep and bleeding gashes first.

"You notice that now?" Katarina panted, not moving her left hand. Probably every bone in it was broken and she didn't dare to move the blade sticking between her ribs. No tension pneumothorax, that was what counted. Talon knew how to use his blades.
Damn, the fight had felt good, and the pain wasn't bad enough to make up for the glee of finally having another face to smash in. Quite literally. Diplomacy wasn't for her. Kalamanda sucked. Her company in Kalamanda sucked even more. With a derisive snort, she decided to get some decent company for the night.

Talon threw a glance over the various blades scattered around them, seemingly counting. "Yes, one's definitely missing." He pursed his lips. "Now I need to trace back all my stabbings."

For a moment, Katarina almost felt sorry for his targets. Almost. Talon had hardly ever been in such a foul mood and she wasn't sure if that didn't affect the cold efficiency with which he normally eliminated his victims. "So, what happened?" She asked, trying to distract him from his anger.

The healer ignored Talon's other injuries and 'accidentally' bumped against the dagger in his biceps. He didn't get a vocal answer, but Talon's eyes narrowed at him. The healer stiffed. And rapidly turned to Katarina's chest, murmuring something while pulling the blade out of her. He had been at the wrong end of Talon's wrath more than once. Katarina remembered one particularly bad accident as Talon had still been fairly new to the family. Out of habit Katarina inhaled deeply: it would minimize the recovering time of her lung, while she ignored the sting. Healing hurt almost as much as the receiving of the damage had.

"Dunno. Must've lost it. I'm gonna search as soon as he's through." He nodded to the healer, but stayed flat on his back.

Katarina wasn't sure if he had misunderstood her question deliberately. She glanced at her brother, who seemed to be significantly calmer now. Maybe not. Talon just lacked every sense for subtlety. And he probably would not talk in front of a non-family member. Katarina closed her eyes and let the healer do his work.

"Accompany me to my debriefing." Katarina ordered as the healer relocated the bones of her middle hand before he chanted another spell.

"I don't want to." Talon muttered with discontent, stretching his newly assembled wrist carefully.

Katrina didn't exactly know why, but the prospect of meeting Grand General Boram Darkwill, alone for that reason, was nothing she looked forward to. "That was no question." She explained with an almost friendly smile.

"And I don't obey your orders, as we both know." Talon smirked at the sound of her bones chafing together. Until the healer cut him out of his shirt to pour a sweet-smelling substances over the deep gash on his abdomen.

"I'm going to help you find your blade after the meeting." Katrina promised. She most definitely didn't try to trade.

"Maybe I don't want that?" He asked, voice sounding sour.

"Maybe I don't care?" Katarina etched back.

He scoffed. Katarina was sure he didn't know about the message it would send to have him accompanying her. If he knew, he surely didn't care. What he did know was the Grand General's low opinion of him.

"Pull yourself together, come on. It will piss the old codger off." Now, it sounded distinctly less like an order, more like a question, but most definitely no plea. Katarina never pleaded.

Talon rolled his eyes, the corners of his mouth twitching downwards.

"Don't make me ask." Katarina growled, half at him and half at the healer who cut her pants open to pull a double-edged blade out of her thigh before he tended to the deep gash it had left.

A heavy sigh signaled his relenting.

"Great!" Katarina smiled and let the healer do his work in silence.
For a long moment there were only the sounds of breathing, rustling of clothes and the soft melody of half sung, half spoken incantations.

The sharp "I expect you to leave for Kalamanda again tomorrow, Katarina" made her turn her head half in displeasure, half in anticipation. Marcus looked stern, but not gravely angry.

What did he mean by that? "I just arrived." She half complained, half explained. Healer Ilak finished his work with a last, hummed spell on Talon's stomach before he nodded in contentment, wiping the sweat away from his brow while looking over their now rapidly disappearing wounds.

"That was no question." Marcus explained helpfully, without the hint of a smile in his face. Had he heard them talking?

Katarina entertained the thought of copying Talon's answer. Only for a moment, though. "Why? The journey was long, I am not even debriefed, there are surely more things to do for me here, right?" She tried to bargain. The journey had been a bitch, and as much as she would never admit it, she had missed her siblings. The other soldiers were dumb as piles of shit and the Demacians as stuck-up as they had been from the beginning, not even accepting…

"Because I say so, darling daughter." Now it was the hint of a smile on Marcus' face.

"Maybe the old geezer has another follow-up for me? Kalamanda is boring. It won't break into a skirmish if we don't start it." Her expression converted how much she resented that fact, her tone the implied question.

"Even if he had, you'd still go to Kalamanda. Without saying one single word to the old geezer, understood?"

Katarina's eyes narrowed. Her father didn't sound amused in the least.

"Want me to stir up the Demacians?" Talon offered, helpful as always.

"Since when do you ask to be sent away?" Katarina's brow raised to her hairline. Talon's mouth closed shut.

"Concentration, Katarina." Marcus chided. "The point is: you will leave, first thing tomorrow morning. You won't tell Darkwill, and Talon will accompany you tonight."

"I already established that." Katarina muttered silently.

Marcus shook his head. A small smile tugged at the edges of his mouth. "Keep on talking back to me." He mocked, seemingly finally ready to let the mood ease out.

Katarina's eyes lit up at the implication. She jumped to her feet. Talon watched her from the ground, barely concealed envy in his eyes.

Marcus' eyes wandered from his daughter to his son. "How about you both? Your last lesson in formation fight has been a while."

Now Talon's eyes lit up as well and he jumped to his feet.

"But…Master Du Couteau. Four restorations in one evening…" Healer Ilak tried to object, knowing from experience what was bound to happen with three keyed up assassins in one room.

Marcus silenced him with a movement of his hand. "You don't have much time to prepare." He advised. The healer reassembled his wooden case, accepting his fate.

Katarina gave Talon two signals with her hand and spun her dagger into the air. Her brother ducked and vanished.

Lux wrung her hands as she tried to ignore the urge to pace her floor. It had been four days since Swain had demanded her assistance, and she had told Talon she'd leave tomorrow. After much thought, and even more striving with herself, she had decided to stay in Noxus, putting her confidence in her powers and wit should things go wrong. Quiletta's revelation was simply too tempting. The ravens were still there, watching her every move. And Talon, again, had not visited her, so she hadn't been able to inform him of her decision.

With an exasperated sigh, she spelled herself invisible to both human and raven eyes before making her way through the shadows of the city. If Galio won't come to the mage, the mage must come to Galio.

Cassiopeia's tongue darted out as she crooked her head, cautiously looking at the woman in front of her. She looked unremarkable at first glance, but there was something underneath her skin...Something interesting. "You are Talon's girl." She observed.

Lux closed her mouth. Then she opened it again, brow creasing in puzzlement. "How…"

The serpent smiled widely, fangs protruding from under her full lips. It looked interesting. It was the first time Lux had the opportunity to really observe the appearance of the youngest Du Couteau. "You taste faintly like him. And you taste like he does when he comes home from you."

Lux' eyes widened. "You have a vomeronasal organ?" She asked enthusiastically, a smile brightening up her features.

Cassiopeia's face contorted in confusion. This was not the reaction she had banked on. "A what?"

"You taste and smell with your tongue?" Lux took a step forward and Cassiopeia moved back, eyes darting to the sides nervously. She obviously wasn't used to someone showing excitement towards her uniqueness. "May I look at your tongue? How do you perceive vibration? Can you see warmth?" Lux took another step towards her. "Do you shed?"

Cassiopeia's cheeks flushed in embarrassment and her tongue darted out. "Talon's not here!" She hissed, elongating the 's', while a sinuous wave went through her body, taking her a small distance backwards.

Lux' face fell, realizing she had just made the other woman uncomfortable. An apologetic smile rose to her face. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry, but that's really amazing." She stepped back to the door, not turning her back on the Noxian noble, it was custom to always be wary.

Cassiopeia found it hard to be mad at the honest smile. Her tongue darted out. Friendliness as a defense mechanism, she analyzed both their behavior, interesting. She had never before encountered such in Noxus. "What is a vomero….?" She asked hesitatingly, not sure if she wanted to sound illiterate, but maybe she'd understand something about herself and the girl. Being aroung Talon had been worse than catching the plague, especially the last four or five days. Knowledge was power after all.

The woman tilted her head to the side. "The vomeronasal organ is found within snakes. They are able to sample particles from the air with their forked tongue, giving them a sense of smell as well as a direction if prey is present." She made it sound like reciting a book she had read a hundred times.

Cassiopeia's tongue darted out, trying to discern where the feeling of smell, the feeling of her surroundings came from. She had never before questioned the origin of her new senses. "I…think I have that." She distinguished.

The woman's eyes lit up. "Are you able to feel vibrations through your body?"

The serpent gave the blonde another criticizing once-over. "You may come with me, if you dare." Cassiopeia knew her smile intimidated most people.

Surprisingly, Talon's girl didn't seem fazed in the least. On the contrary, she nodded with an "I'd love to!" that actually sounded honest, before she crossed the distance between them. Talon had a weird taste. Probably only surpassed by the taste of his girl, that is, when he came back after meeting her.

Katarina's debriefing had gone fairly well. She had had the distinct feeling Darkwill wasn't happy about Talon's presence though. If his constant requests for a report hadn't already roused her suspicion, this behavior surely had done so. Also, the Grand General had been alone and who in their right mind, especially someone as paranoid as Boram Darkwill, would be alone in a room with two of the three best assassins in Runeterra? Katarina huffed silently. Darkwill hadn't stayed alive for more than one lifetime because he took uncalculated risks.

Talon had held up his end of the bargain, sticking to her heels for the whole evening, so Katarina was holding up hers. That was the reason why she now followed the dark shadow of her brother's cloak from rooftop to rooftop.

"You sure this is the right place?" She drawled, intending to get on his nerves at least a bit.

She got an annoyed glance for disturbing the silence. He had gotten increasingly fidgety during her debriefing, and she wanted to know the reason. He most likely didn't suspect the real reason why she wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, and Katarina intended to keep it that way.

"Positive." Talon confirmed and leaped to an open window, catching the sill and pulling himself up, observing the room. Nothing seemed to disturb him, so he slipped through the window.

She decided to take the easy way, latched on to his aura and blinked towards him, right before he vanished from her visual field. Another blink brought her next to Talon's side on the ground. They both looked around, checking the room for saliences.

She saw the feet first, where there should not have been anything.

Talon had spent the last hours with her, had announced the loss of his blade in the late afternoon, so his visit couldn't have occurred less than six hours ago. A corpse should have been cleared by now. Except if the house was empty, which it wasn't since Katarina had noticed signs of inhabitation.
"You left it lying around like this?" Katarina whispered, more a mock than anything else. She knew Talon hardly cared about how he left his victims.

His frown hid under his hood, but she heard it in his answer. "I didn't." He stated. Katarina checked for any noises or disturbances as Talon looked around the corner cautiously, freezing dead in his tracks.
But since he didn't retreat Katarina rounded him as well as the corner.

She found the sight rather strange.

It was obviously a female laying on her back, golden locks sprawled around her head like a shining halo. The porcelain mask obscuring her face was delicately wrought, and the hilt protruding from her forehead splintered said mask in a disturbingly beautiful way. Only the second look revealed a pool of dark fluid under the woman, her body laying still in the absolute motionlessness of the dead.

Then the redhead recognized the rather bland hilt protruding from the woman's forehead. "Found your blade." She noted.

Only silence answered her, so she spared Talon a sideway glance. He was completely still, save for his widened eyes, which twitched from the broken mask to the golden hair.

Something was wrong. Katarina checked the surroundings again, not sensing any other presence. Talon's silent breath accelerated. Something was terribly wrong. Katarina looked back to the window, checking for hidden traps, for anything Talon hadn't disabled beforehand. She found nothing. Only silence behind the doors leading away. Everything seemed…okay. Everything, save for Talon. To be sure, she moved to the doors, doing a visual check. Nothing out of the ordinary.
"Drilling through a skull isn't easy." Katarina drawled to end his unnerving stillness, to find a point she could latch on to and decipher his sudden change in attitude.

She heard him gulping. "The angle of the blade's edge was..." His voice faltered.

Katarina spared him another perturbed glance. What was wrong with him? He looked and sounded deeply disturbed. Katarina herself wasn't sure if she liked what she saw. Killing was one thing, violence another, but this artistic display? Not that she had a particular problem with it, and Talon shouldn't have either, considering their line of work. On the other hand, he should not create something like this and leave it behind. "Since when do you do shit like that?" She whispered. Talon had never shown even the slightest hint of a creative vein.

"I don't." He hissed back and finally broke into motion, kneeling down next to the body.
Did his fingers tremble? Highly unlikely, Katarina decided first-but, as he gently touched the broken mask at its edges, she was sure she saw the tremor in his digits.

"And here I always thought you were joking about the things you find your lost blades in." Katarina deadpanned, stepping around the corpse to keep an eye on the corridor. A silent 'crack' told her the mask had been completely broken. "Just get the damn blade and let's get moving." She pressed. It was silent now, but who knew for how long?

"Leave if you want to, but shut up." Talon whispered tonelessly. He sounded different. Different as in not good, as in most definitely a tremble in his voice, which made Katarina turn to him fully.

Not that there was much to see, his hood had fallen into his face, concealing him wholly. His posture practically screamed tension, which made Katarina regard the corpse more thoroughly. Everything that disturbed Talon's equilibrium enough to show in his voice had to be a rather great threat.

Peeking through the cracked, blue lacquered mask with silver lines was a delicate face with high cheekbones, blue, unblinking eyes half closed, dark, too big clothes that appeared familiar somehow, and a metallic staff just next to the corpses upper thigh.

Wasn't that one of Talon's dark shirts? Cassiopeia had made fun of him and bought a whole stack of dark-plum colored shirts. Not that he had gotten the joke, he had worn those like the other pieces Cassiopeia had brought him over the time, without questioning.

Talon continued to pick at the sleeve of the woman, exposing her right lower arm to look at something. Then he picked up the hand, baring his own left lower arm and held the hand against a brighter patch of skin. A burn-mark, Katarina knew as much.

With that it hit her. "That's your spy?" Katarina hissed, at his side in an instant, lowering herself to the ground besides Talon, grabbing his shoulder.

He let the hand fall back to the ground where it landed in the coagulated blood with a splash. Talon threaded his fingers through a tuft of unbloodied hair, tilted the head back to inspect it before he bent down and...sniffed?

"I don't think so." He finally answered, sounding not sure at all. Now Katarina was able to look through the shadows of his hood, seeing the distress in his eyes.

Katarina looked around again. "You didn't do that." She drew the rather obvious conclusion.

Talon shook his head despite her words not exactly being a question.

That corrected the picture. Although she wasn't sure she got it right. "So someone looking like your mistress, dressed up in your clothes, killed with your blade lays somewhere you have been not a day ago." She summarized silently, agitation creeping up her spine. A direct threat to someone belonging to her family. Talon's expression did the rest to unwind her, signaling he was hit and wounded. It made something inside of her roar up with sudden intensity, made her want to rise to the challenge and eliminate whomever dared to even think of crossing her family.

Talon rose abruptly, a kindling flame in his eyes, murmuring something sounding distinctively like "this will be quick", before he vanished.

Katarina exhaled slowly to control herself. Talon was the last person on Runeterra not able to fend for himself. The knowledge didn't calm the demanding roar in her ears.

It costed more force than she had estimated to free the blade from brain and skull, the already broken mask falling completely off the face in the process. The edge of the blade was more acute, she noticed by drawing her thumb over it. An interesting idea. Something that might kill steel of lesser quality, but the steel their family used could seemingly take it. The changed angle would mean a high need for maintenance and a higher wear and tear as a result, but, as demonstrated, was rewarded with increased easiness to drill through bones.
The redhead looked at the corpse more closely. Without the mask, the body looked like just another dead girl with unusual coloring for Noxus. She decided to check the surroundings for people who might be observing them, Talon would need some time anyway.

The disturbing image of him smelling the corpses' hair would stick in her mind for awhile. She would not forget the torment in his eyes.

After she had cleared the block, she finally saw Talon striding out of the house, arm-blade tinted dark. If not for his chosen colors, she was sure she could have seen the blood splattered all over him, too. It wasn't like him to make such a mess, but the closer he came the better she was able to see the dark stains all over his attire. The part of his face not concealed by the hood looked like an upcoming thunderstorm, dark spots blotching his face. In that moment, Katarina began to comprehend how bad Talon had it for his spy.

"Nothing?" She asked, hoping for a different answer than the expression on his face belied his success.

"Nothing." He confirmed, not caring for his soiled exterior.

"Tactical approach?" Who but her could know better how a stabbing frenzy could clear one's mind.

He nodded.

Katarina handed the blade back as they turned to the direction of their home. He inspected it closely, as Katarina had cleaned it. He took it back with stealthy fingers, stashing it away underneath his cloak.

The journey back home was spent in silence, only broken by an irritated sound from him as they reached the surrounding area. He seemed to watch the streetlights before he hissed-angrily?-and sped up his pace. Katarina didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. Damn, so many feelings from him in one day, especially after excessively sparring with not only her, but their father as well, were nearly too much for her to take. She decided to let him go ahead.

Talon had noticed the lanterns: their light was brighter. Barely noticeable, but he was used to look out for signs like this by now. He checked the entrance hall first, no trace of Lux. Noises from inside of Cassiopeia's room were out of the usual, so he decided to check here second. The door to her room opened without a sound. What he had not expected to see was Lux, outstretched hands closed to fists, standing six meters away from his sister, whose tongue darted out.

She was alive. Alive, well, and with the sparkle in her eyes that indicated a new exciting discovery. With a sudden jolt, he despised the mask she hid her real face behind.

"He's angry." Cassiopeia stated and Lux' head spun around.

"How do you know?" She asked, eyeing him up and down, an expression of clinical interest sparked by genuine happiness on her face. He wasn't able to distinguish the mixed feelings tangling inside of him at the sight.

"He tastes like iron when he gets mad, plus he is soaked in blood. It is in your right hand, though." Talon was sure he saw something like satisfaction on Cassiopeia's face.

Lux' eyes lit up. "You are able to discriminate from six meters?" Her right hand opened to reveal an orange. Talon didn't get what they were talking about. "What do I smell like?" The light mage wanted to know.

Cassiopeia's tongue darted out once more.

"What is going on?" Talon interrupted, his voice a low hiss.

Lux failed to see his agitation, attention still focused on the serpent and their experiment. "We are trying to discern how good your sister's directional sense of smell works. Her tongue is longer than the average small snake, so maybe…"

"Don't even try." Cassiopeia cut in, slithering to Lux to take the orange from her hand. "I kept her busy for you." She winked suggestively. His anger boiled and Cassiopeia stopped, her tongue darting out, a frown rising to her face.

Color rose to Lux' cheeks. "But we didn't find out the interface distance. I'm sure there will be a formula to calculate…"

Cassiopeia stopped her with the wave of her hand, suddenly eager to move from his direct field of range. "I'm sure we'll have time for that eventually. Right, Talon?" Her tongue darted out once more.

Now Lux' brow creased. Maybe it was his frozen expression or maybe the specks of blood on his face, his blade, his clothes she finally noticed. The boiling in his stomach roared. He turned wordlessly and stormed out of the room, for the only other option would have been slamming her against the wall and…making that boiling stop.

For a short moment, his mind alternated between going to his room or searching for relief in the training hall. He decided for his room, taking the well-needed shower into account. His blade would need proper tending too. His door slammed shut and he opened the straps connecting his blade to his arm. He'd need a lot of oil to remove the dried blood. Following the thought, he went to his weapons closet.
A much softer click made his head snap up. Lux leaned against the door, head tilted to the side in silent concern. His blood swooshed in his ears loudly, drowning out every other noise. He could see her lips moving. She was okay, but someone had threatened to change that. She'd leave Noxus Prime tomorrow. He was barely able to place his blade on the oily cleaning cloth instead of throwing it across the room.
"Why are you here?" He snarled, his anger not directly aimed at her.

"I waited for you, obviously." Lux answered cautiously.

The playful jab rubbed him the wrong way and it made him want to act on her quick tongue. "And why's that?" He hissed, not friendly nor calm in the least. He opened the clasp of his cloak, hanging it over the weapons rack before he shoved his hood back, revealing his bloodied face to the light. He desperately needed to get out of his clothes, to move, anything to release the tension, to calm the seething rage.

A frown rose to her face as her gaze flickered over the remnants of his blowup. "I thought you might be interested by the fact that I chose to stay in Noxus Prime." Talon hardly noticed the change of her tune.

His right wrist flexed. It took an endless amount of self-control to stay at the spot he was occupying. "Did anybody, or a raven, see you?"

It irked him that she didn't dignify the question with an answer, obviously annoyed that Talon would think her an amateur.
"Why are you angry?" Her eyes softened as she didn't embark into a staring contest with him, but stretched her hands out next to her body in their universal gesture for 'I am unarmed'.

There had been no need to fall back to their old protocol in quite some time now, and the familiar gesture stirred something inside of him. Something besides the boiling hot rage, something he wasn't able to identify. He grit his teeth, regarding her posture.
"Truce." He growled, and before she could do as much as flinch he had crossed the distance, circling his arms around her before pushing her against a wall and burying his nose in her hair, oblivious to the stains he'd rub on her clothes.
Now, with her between the solid wall and himself, no side exposed to the world where someone had threatened to kill her, the sick feeling in his stomach began to ease away. Someone had threatened to take her away, more permanently than she herself had done. But right now she was still here, warm and breathing and alive. His ears roared like an inferno as passion began to replace the rage.

"Hey." She murmured weakly, her air supply cut short due to his restrictive hold.

He pulled at her hair, maybe a bit stronger than necessary, until she shook it out to the golden blond that was her natural color, her features easing into the soft lines of her real face. He regarded her for a long moment before tucking his nose under her ear, inhaling her sweetness.

Her hand slid around his neck, lightly stroking him, worry in her eyes. "What is wr…" He sunk his teeth into the soft skin of her neck, making her swallow the rest of her sentence in a sharp inhale. She bucked against him with a surprised gasp, taking hold of his shoulders. He gave her as much, but increased the pressure against her body, pinning her more tightly against the wall until she wasn't able to move anything else. Her physical strength was no match for his.

He could see the confused furrow of her brow as she tried to decode his actions, even though he himself could hardly decipher where those came from. Instead of dwelling on such fruitless thoughts, he proceeded in remapping her outlines with the hand he hadn't buried in her hair. Her skin was soft as always, and her sighs just as sweet. The cadence of her breath increased rapidly as his right hand delved down her flat stomach, slipping further down into the small gap between her skin and the waistband of her pants while he could hardly restrain himself from marking hermore permanently.

She shuddered at his first, careful stroke over the cloth of her panties, another question contorted by the deep, somewhat surprised moan that wound its way up her throat. Those were the sounds Talon needed to hear right now. No questions, just reassurances of her being alive and well. He guided his hand up to where cloth met skin, following her skin this time, stroking over the soft velvet of her sex. Her gasp spurred him on to spread her folds with thumb and middle finger, his index finger drawing searching circles over the revealed soft tissue.

With a pitched gasp her hands flew to his blood-stained shirt, pushing it up, out of the way. He didn't budge to let her take it off, but kept the pressure on her body, grazing his teeth over the edge of her trapezius muscle before he bit down. She answered with a throaty sound, equal whine and groan, a tune that intensified as his digit slipped in her core. Wet enough by now, she was ready for him like this. Now her hands clasped his neck for stability. He let go of her skin before it broke, turning his gaze sideways to her face. Her eyes were dazed, but fixed on him and slightly pinched as if she was still trying to figure out what was wrong. He didn't want that expression on her face right now. Talon's unoccupied hand cupped her face and he pressed his lips on hers, tilting her head up while tearing her pants down. She tasted like blood. Or maybe he did, Talon didn't care, for she didn't oppose. The pants didn't move fast enough and Talon had long lost every willingness to exercise any amount of patience. The blade was in his hand without conscious effort, so her pants as well as her undergarments tore under his efforts.

"Hey!" She complained weakly, but he silenced her with his lips, the knife clattering to the ground with a bright sound as he grasped for her thigh, lifting it and pressing himself into her with renewed vigor. Her half-hearted complain died to a moan as she closed her leg around his waist. Talon's now free hand started to work on his own pants, pushing them down unceremoniously. He grabbed his already hard cock and drew it over her wetness, feeling the shudder that went through her body before he plunged into her.

She inhaled sharply, closed her eyes and bucked against his still steady frame that immobilized her against the wall. His first thrust was slow, deliberately so, and as her eyes blinked open, veiled with lust. Talon stilled and stared into the blue depths. She didn't look away but placed one hand against his cheek, while the one on his neck started drawing calming circles. He had a long moment of her looking at him like he was the only other person in the world before her inquisitive expression resurfaced through the haze of ardor.
Before she could open her inquiring mouth he sealed it with his own, resuming the movements of his hip with a sharp snap forward. He drank her moan and repeated the thrust, setting a sharp pace that forced him to free his mouth in order to breathe properly. Her now unrestrained, growingly ecstatic moans added to the fire fueling his motions, setting his nerves alight with lust and rage alike. To never hear those sounds again…
Her fingers bore into his shoulders, holding on for dear life while he continued pounding into her softness. This fire creeping up his nerves was much more pleasurable than rage had been. His thumb wandered down to where her thighs met, applying pressure in a way he knew she liked while he shoved his hips forward, barely able to hold on to his self-control. Luckily she didn't share the same reservations, a drawn-out whine rising in her throat, preceding the violent shudder of her whole form as her walls clenched around him, body twitching against him with surprising strength. He forced his weight against her, keeping her pinned to the wall, before his own orgasm hit him with unexpected force, catapulting him into ecstasy. For a long moment he could do nothing else than lean against her, steadied by the wall. Without the steady stone to lean on, he might've just tipped over. Her rapidly beating heart thundered against his chest as she caught her breath.

He panted through the aftershocks until the white faded from the edges of his gaze. Now he felt calmer, able to turn his head and look at her.

She was still gasping with slightly opened mouth, hair tousled, eyes half-closed in content.

Smart and cunning and beautiful, alive and everything he could ever wish for in a woman.

His nostrils quivered as his rage resurfaced. Someone had threatened to take her away. Take her away like…He refused to think of her like that. He'd find and slice to pieces whoever dared to…Her hand was on his cheek again and her forehead briefly touched his.

"Hey." She tried again, weakly this time.

"You'll stay in Noxus Prime?" He noted, a thought that added to his ire. Suddenly, her presence was too much, making him feel like his control was rapidly spiraling out of his grasp. He took a few steps away from her to the middle of the room, pulling his pants up while gaining a little distance, before he pulled the bloodied shirt over his head to throw it away.

She maintained her place against the wall, blinking at him in confusion before she copied his motion, pulling her pants back up. Or what was left of them. The waistband of her pants had gained a new, clean cut at the side. "I…Yes." She said, stretching to regain her composure, ignoring the tear in her clothes. "Seems like Swain might not know who I am after all."

The action had helped to clear his thoughts at least a little bit, so now he was able to see the next steps he'd have to take more clearly. Keeping an eye out on her in deep cover while chasing whoever had threatened him and her would be taxing. With a plan forming in his head, his composure slowly returned. That would need a bit more preparation and information. The time for blissful ignorance seemed to be over.
He looked over her while she tried to fix her pants. A bit of blood had soiled her shirt and drawn a line across her cheek. Talon decided he didn't like the sight after all.

He allowed them both another moment to catch their breaths before he followed the plan forming in his mind. "Who are you?" He finally hissed, for that was one large part of the problem. How should he watch over her properly, detect possible enemies, when he didn't even know who she was?

Lux' eyes widened and she took a step backwards, caught unaware after the bliss of their short, but fierce interlude. "Is that really important right now?" She retorted, snapping back to reality instantly, scanning the room for possible escapes.

His answer was to righten himself up, a nonverbal threat for her not to try and leave this room, punctuated by his bare torso and the blood on his face. He nodded.

Lux bit her lip, blinking the last aftershocks away. "You've traveled all across Runeterra. Think about it for a bit, you will figure it out." She finally answered, taking a step closer to the door. "I'd rather go while you do so, your mood seems to be not the best anyway..."

Not the best might have been the grandest understatement he had ever heard. The slight shift in his weight distribution was just enough to tell her he would not let her leave that easily. "Another state." He stated and Lux' glance darted to the window. She had come in through one, years ago… "Stay." He ordered lowly, the fire in his gut now directed at her and her disobedience. She was in charge when their activities concerned research, libraries and puzzling, but the violent parts were his area of expertise. And this was a violent situation. Talon decided that she'd better accept that fact right now.

"I'd rather not." She chirped in an attempt to ease his mood.

"I'd rather yes." He growled.

Their eyes met with an equal amount of fire inside. "What is wrong?" Lux hissed, irritation welling up inside of her. Talon had never been like this before, especially not after having sex. He favored tenderness after the act, not…whatever this was. She slowly discerned that his armor was still up, despite being in his home, his own room. Why wasn't he feeling safe?

"First you threaten to leave, then you don't. People are doing…weird things, leaving masks and threats and-" He tried to explain. "What is wrong with you? Who are you?" He hissed back, now only a couple feet away from her and closing in. Suddenly her identity seemed to be of importance, one more clue to sort through the mess he had only begun to find himself in. "You look like you come from the north-west region or Piltover, but your accent is not Piltovian." He started, filing through the different nations he had encountered during the years. She had invited him to use his brain after all.

Lux' eyes widened. "People are doing weird things?" She tried to distract him. Oh no. What had happened?

Talon didn't accept the bait. "You frequently call upon the light…" The movements of his eyes told that he was piecing together the information she had given him over the years.

He stood between her and the windows, so the door it was. Lux retreated sideways while his eyes widened in sudden realization. For a moment nothing happened, and a small tendril of hope wound its way up Lux' chest while the professional part of her deduced the most likely path his thoughts would take.

Maybe it wasn't that bad, he had never shown sentiments towards Noxus...His brow furrowed in confusion. Maybe he wouldn't be mad?

Then his eyes narrowed to slits, another kind of suspect rising on his face. "What did you get out of Cass?"

Lux' eyes widened. "What?" She gasped. Oh no, please no.

His face contorted, showing rapidly off-spiraling anger. "I said…" Those first words sounded relatively calm. "What did you get out of Cassiopeia?" He didn't scream, but the snarl was far worse, possibly the most dangerous sound Lux had ever heard.

Her hands automatically spread out in front of her body in a calming gesture. This was not what she had hoped for, not like this. Time slowed down for Lux. "Nothing! I'd never..."

She saw his face darkening impossibly, his features twisting with a rage she had never seen before. "Don't lie." The muscles of his body were taut and ridged.

Lux didn't wait for him to attack. The unaimed binding thrown in his direction hit home, she felt the tendrils pulling taut around him and with a loud cry she exploded in blindingly bright light. Before he had a chance to react, Lux dashed to the door, yanking it open and running, faster than she had ever run in her life.

Talon was caught completely on the wrong foot. He was barely able to press his eyelids shut to preserve his eyesight, throwing his body against the restrains at the same time. But to no avail, as he heard her footsteps fade away in the distance. The strained immobilization forced the complex parts of his brain into action, starting to analyze the encounter meticulously.

It felt like the binding would hold forever. Agonizing minutes in which Talon thought he might remain blind. He heard the sound of quick footsteps and scales against the floor, seconds later his door crashed against the wall.

"The fuck is wrong, Talon?" Katarina hissed, dagger in hand and Cassiopeia in her wake, but both of them didn't dare to enter his still faintly lit room.

Talon blinked. Specks of darkness returned to the static white of his vision, a moment later he was able to make out the massive form of his sister in the doorframe.

He had no answer.

His wrath dissipated, leaving his knees feeling weak as he stumbled backwards, until he felt the edge of his bed. Dropping down on the soft surface, he covered his still impaired eyes with his hands to give them more shelter while he pieced the events of the evening together.

"Talon?" Cassiopeia hissed, nervousness showing through her strained anxious voice. "What is wrong?" The scratching of her scales came closer and he felt her hand on his shoulder.

He rubbed his eyes before opening them. His sight was still slightly blurred, but improving. His eyes would be fine. "The spy is a Demacian spy." He whispered, mostly to himself in disbelief.

Cassi's hand tensed on his shoulder, digging her claws into him before she relaxed again. "Oh."

Talon had nothing else to add. He heard the sharp exhale of Katarina's breath, like a whistle of pressurized steam through a leaky pipe, ready to blow. Everything else was quiet as if they all knew this was a turning point, that every second after this was something different, something incredibly dangerous.
He pressed his eyes shut again, letting the darkness take him in. All these years, her light, her scent, her taste…whatever this feeling was…had made him blind to her, to the chaos around him. No more. It was time to retreat to the shadows and do what he was best at, known for. Violence solves everything and everything ended, he knew that best of all. But after everything they'd been through together, why did it have to end up like this…"Fuck."

Chapter Text

"To his defense, Kat, daddy knew her and…" Cassiopeia tried to interrupt her sister, who was screaming at the top of her lungs.


"…TO SHUT UP!" Cassiopeia screamed back, "and I'll REPEAT IT if you don't FUCKING LISTEN TO ME!"

Talon gladly stayed out of the argument, his thoughts were reeling. Cassiopeia had slept with men to gather their secrets, before her change of course. He compared the cheerful blonde to his scaled sister, who had been a snake even before her tongue had forked.

Katarina bared her teeth. "She could have gathered everything…"

Cassiopeia knew her sister, and she knew how Katarina dealt with her anger. So she took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. "So you think daddy is that careless?"

Katarina's vision went red.

Cassiopeia continued. "Don't be jealous because he actually is fucking a…"

"Shut. Up." Katarina warned, her voice now dangerously low. "As soon as I am not here to…"

"This has nothing to do with you." Cassiopeia interrupted once more, her composure now successfully gathered.

Talon knew Marcus would allow any direct threat to reach them. But he wasn't delusional enough to think the older assassin didn't use every opportunity to educate those under his care. And, something Marcus had reinforced often enough was that Lux was his responsibility. Marcus had promised not to intervene and Talon had refrained from asking why, so now he was left to deal with the consequences of his choice. And it would be his duty to decide which actions he'd have to take in order to deal with the situation at hand.
Lux' affection had not felt fake. Talon had seen Cassiopeia at work, wrapping men around her little finger with the sway of her hips. Her calculated smiles, the timed glances had nothing in common with his cheerful ball of light. But each and every one of Cassiopeia's men had felt the same, felt like the one and only. Could somebody be so much better than his sister at her own game? Was he just an idiot for consorting with someone whose main occupation was to lie and deceive people? Should this aching feeling in his chest, the hurt that told him she had betrayed him, even be his first priority right now?

Katarina was oblivious to the thoughts running through his head. "This has everything to do with me! I am the one in Kalamanda, I am the one dealing with Demacians! I am supposed to fight against them, using the plans made by the High Command. And now one of them had the opportunity to roam our house and gather information to use against us? Has a direct connection to us? TO MY BROTHER? She knows Talon's ugly face, for fuck's sake! HOW HAS THIS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME?" Katarina tightened her hand to a fist. Talon wasn't sure why she had not drawn a dagger by now.

He looked at Cassiopeia, his vision fully returning. He hoped she had an answer for the fuming redhead, but the serpent, for once, seemed to be at loss of words. Talon closed his eyes again, remembering Marcus' words. Lots of tactical maneuvering, Talon. Marcus had warned him often enough, he was not to blame. Talon was self-aware enough to notice he was hoping for another explanation. He blindly hoped just like all the fools Cassiopeia had led on, despite all the signs pointing against them.

Katarina waited, her anger smoldering down to embers. "I have to leave tomorrow morning, Talon, so you are going to fix this. Don't you dare compromise my mission." She turned on her heels, preparing to storm out of the room.

"Tell me you don't feel set up." Talon hissed, the only conclusion his brain had spilled out. He wasn't able to decipher if it was hope or logic talking.

Katarina faltered, now with her anger vented. "What do you mean?" She snapped.

"Tell me you think the sequencing of events is just a little too convenient." Talon closed his eyes again, asking himself when he had turned off his brain enough to let blind rage dictate his next steps. That had never happened before. He had always kept a certain detachment, an overview that allowed him to stay out of the hassle everyone else tended to get caught up in. Right now he felt unable to see the bigger picture, today's blow had hit too close to home for that.

"That doesn't change one single thing, brother dear." Katarina answered, voice dripping with sarcasm. Then she turned with red hair flowing, slamming the door shut behind her.

Maybe it didn't, Talon thought. But maybe someone was trying to make him do their dirty work. And there was only one person's dirty work he did, Marcus'. He cursed again, loudly this time.

After the echo of Katarina's steps disappeared and silence took its place, Talon's mattress dipped under Cassiopeia's weight, before she stretched out next to him, folding her hands over her stomach and turning her gaze to the ceiling. "You really think father would have risked our safety just to teach you something?" Cassiopeia hissed quietly, contemplating.

Talon shrugged. The lessons were harsh sometimes. The question: which part was the lesson here and was it truly over? One thing Katarina was right about: compromising his family was out of question. He'd rather die before letting that happen. He'd rather live with the knowledge of having eliminated every possibility of that knowledge slipping to where it shouldn't.

Lux fled as fast as her feet could take her. Mindlessly first, throwing her invisibility up and getting out of the building as fast as possible was her only goal. Second, came the thought to get out of the ivory ward district. Halfway through the upper city, she noticed a distinct lack of someone chasing her, which made her pause, listening breathlessly like a doe after her predator had almost devoured her.

The usual noises of Noxus Prime disturbed the nocturne silence, it was neither too quiet nor too loud. Nothing indicated that anybody was following her. She looked around, checking where her headless escape had brought her. To her astonishment, it was the street of Quiletta's home. With a heavy gulp she looked around. No bystanders, no ravens. She discarded her invisibility and changed her face to the Ionian features of Mitsuko.

She knocked at Quiletta's door, her breathing labored. What had happened?
It took some time and more knocking, before she heard the sound of heavy locks being shoved out of place and a tousled looking Decius stood in the door.

"Mitsuko?" He asked and stepped aside, a sword, once hidden behind him, was in his right hand.

"Can I come in?" Lux asked with a sob, already taking a step towards him.

"Sure, what…" Decius pulled her inside and closed the door, closing the locks.

Lux leaned against the door and pressed the heels of her hands against her burning eyes. It didn't work. She felt the moisture on her skin.

She felt Decius' eyes roaming over her, only now remembering the blood on her disheveled, partly destroyed clothes.

"Mama!" Decius called loudly, clearly panicking before he started babbling. "Are you in pain? Did somebody hurt you? Are they still outside? Was it a group? Tell me the direction!" He almost tripped while he pulled his armored boots from the wardrobe. "MAMA!" He screamed louder as Lux didn't answer, but the first droplets trickled through her fingers, down her cheeks.

Seconds later, Quiletta swept into the room, armed with her sword. "What in the name of Noxus…" She hissed, head whipping to get an overview. The door was locked, check. No intruder inside. "Mitsuko?" She asked in surprise. "It is in the middle of the night. What in Noxus were you doing out there alone?" Quiletta looked through the peep hole in the door.

"I…I didn't know where else to go…" Lux sobbed, crumbling from the sharp pain in her chest. "I can go again, if…"

"No." Quiletta interrupted, checking her outer appearance, noticing the disarray. "What happened?"

"Did somebody attack you?" With his initial shock subsiding, Decius' voice became steady again.

Oh light, she had attacked Talon.

Quiletta's hands roamed over her arms for a superficial body check, steadying her in the process. She did not see any wounds, the old blood looked more like an abrasion to her. Her hand wandered to Lux' cheek. "Tell me." Her voice became soft.

Lux' heart clenched and suddenly she was unable to breath. Talon thought she had spied on his family. The words tumbled out before she could double-check them. "I…I…My beloved thinks I betrayed him." She choked out, heart clenching painfully at the memory of the look in his eyes.

Quiletta stilled her movements. For a moment it was quiet, save for Lux fighting for air. "Decius, good night." Quiletta's voice admitted no contradiction in her order. The young man, whose eyes had widened during Lux' confession, obeyed swiftly and not without relief, leaving the women alone. Then Quiletta's arm slid around Lux' shoulders. The mage buried her face against Quiletta's shoulder and started to cry.

If Talon thought her an enemy, she was as good as dead. He would never give her enough time to explain herself to him. Talon was fast, frighteningly fast and effective. And he had looked more furious than she had ever seen him. Her only chance was to move quicker than he did.

Quiletta, noticing her receding of tears finally asked. "Mind telling me what happened?" Her voice was soft while she continued stroking over her hair. It felt…unbelievably good to be held like this. Lux almost began to cry again. But she breathed through her last sobs. Quiletta's house was too obvious a target, she could not stay for long. What would happen to them if they were caught in her presence, as her accomplice?

But Quiletta earned an explanation. She had lied to her so much already…And Lux had not talked to anyone except Talon for years now. Not about something personal, and nothing true, at least. "He thinks I spied on his family." Lux explained, voice strained.

Quiletta let her go as she stopped sobbing, but continued the calming touch on her hair. "Did you?" She asked softly.

"NO!" Lux croaked out. "No, I would never." She swiped her hands over her eyes. "I never did. I never would." Who in their right mind would cross blades with the Du Couteau's, even if she took her feelings for Talon out of the equation?

Quiletta's silence was contemplating. "Is there any chance you can explain that to him?"

Lux sniffed, remembering the expression on his face. First the look of disbelieve, a short twitch of hurt before fury had flared up in his eyes as he had sensed a threat to his sister. There had been no room for negotiations besides his protective instinct for his family. "No. I…I need to leave." She concluded, shuddering at the memory of his eyes.

Quiletta's brow creased. "My offer still stands. We'll move in eight days."

Lux flinched. Eight days was much too long. "No, he'd find me by then. I'll need to go right now." She shook her head, clearing her thoughts. Her light felt far away right now, but the professional part of her mind was ready to start working again. There was absolutely no time to cry, not even over…Lux stopped herself, setting her every thought on the sole goal she had to accomplish. Fleeing from the best tracker she knew. "There is something more important though. Would you still deliver my letter?" Lux closed her eyes, pressing the heels of her hands against them. There was no rest for a spy, regardless how much she wanted to curl up in Quiletta's arms, confess all her sins and hope for a soothing pat on the back in return. There was no way for this scenario to become reality to her. Not now, not ever.

Quiletta's sympathy was honest, even though a short flicker of suspect flitted over her eyes. It didn't change her answer, though. "Yes, I will."

Lux almost sagged to the ground in relief. Helping the Ionians against the Noxian invasion was of greatest importance. With sudden clarity another thing jumped to her mind. "Can…Can you do me another favor?" She closed her eyes in shame. She wanted so much from Quiletta, it felt like she was using her. But right now her options were limited.

Quiletta let go of her hair. "Tell me what you need, Mitsuko. And tell me who that man is to throw you in such a state of panic."

Lux wiped her face. She had no energy left to craft another lie. Keeping information was hard enough right now. "He…he is an assassin." She confessed, the secret she had withheld for more than three years heavy on her tongue.

Quiletta's eyes widened. "Those men are dangerous." She hissed. "They do not search for honest battles, but…" She seemingly caught herself and took a deep breath, resuming to pat Lux' head.

"I know he is dangerous." Lux defended herself, hiding her face in her hands. "But to me he is…was…caring and gentle, he loves his family, and he is all the things nobody is! I knew…" Lux was not able to suppress the next burst of tears.

Quiletta sighed, her eyes softened as she coaxed Lux' face against her shoulder. "How can I help?"

Lux needed another moment to gather her voice. "I have a horse." The thought of leaving Starfire behind was not nearly as painful as leaving Talon, without the opportunity to try and talk this over. But Lux couldn't bear the thought of leaving her white stallion in Noxus Prime for too long. Sadly, returning to the stable was no option. "He is a good boy, but much too noticeable. Can you take him to Basilich? I can't stand the thought of him getting hurt…"

"Sure." Quiletta cut her short. "You are sure you have to leave right now? Decius may guide you…"

"No." Lux pressed out, eyes widening. She did not want to endanger one of the few persons watching out for her. If Quiletta suspected anything, she didn't voice it, but let go of Lux as she parted from her. There was no time to cry. She had too much to do.

The stable was silent save for the occasional snorting of a horse and the rustling of straw disturbing the silence of the night.
LeBlanc didn't like animals. They smelled, and by now her hunt was starting to get annoying. Swain's new secretary had vanished faster than she had thought possible. Her lackeys not able to detect and trace her anymore, she was left with doing the dirty work herself. LeBlanc had not anticipated the expanse of emotions she had stirred, had not anticipated the girl fleeing instead of cuddling up with the man she should feel safe with. The matron seemingly had misinterpreted their emotions, for every human searched contact when threatened.
Sad, but she had other ways to use the girl. She only had to get a hold of her first. Tomorrow morning, at seven o'clock, the girl had to be at Swain's disposal, and the Deceiver was not willing to let this opportunity slip through her fingers to plant a spy in his midst. So now she, in person, had combed through twelve taverns in the potential radius the girl could have lodged for the night.
Her results so far turned up nothing. No room was rented by her, and by now LeBlanc was getting severely irritated. Where could that brat hide? She had started searching through the stables, too, just in case the girl wouldn't behave like a normal woman. But here, too, nothing. Not even a stable boy slept in the hayloft, and nothing caught her eye despite this being already the second rotation through the nearest taverns.

LeBlanc halted. Not even a stable boy? She looked around, more carefully this time. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, as far as she was concerned. Still, servants normally slept with their animals, right? At least they had in the former taverns. Her eyes narrowed. Did the straw look different in that spot? LeBlanc tiptoed over the creaking floorboards. Well, would-be creaky, but her steps were as soundless as always.
Now, listening intently, LeBlanc heard the soft breathing of another person.
Finally. A sly smile stretched across her lips. I found you, she cooed in her thoughts.

Without a sound, she pulled her first item out and gently dropped it next to where she imagined the other person's head would be. The good thing about people in trusting relationships was they were always heavy sleepers, inclined, under certain circumstances, to tolerate slight touches without waking up. The girl was no exception and, interpreting the movement of the straw, she was curling around the shirt LeBlanc had dropped, giving the pale woman a sense of how her body was oriented.

LeBlanc drew a blade over her own arm, she had checked beforehand if this clone possessed blood, bent down to where the girl's head seemingly rested, fingers brushing under the back of her neck. "Hey." She whispered tunelessly as the girl's invisibility slowly faded, her eyes opening sluggishly, unseeing in the dark. With a slow, unobtrusive movement she closed the chain around her neck, letting her blood drip on the links.

The fingers of the other woman grasped to her neck. "What…" A suddenly very awake voice asked.

"Gotcha." LeBlanc cooed softly and she heard the flow of an indrawn in breath. Then she felt the flare-up of magic under her fingertips, a power she had seldom felt in this strength, gathering and... "No magic." She ordered, and something surged inside the collar before the girl's powers crashed against it like a tidal wave against a solid rock, lighting the chain with a sick, green glow and a static sizzle. The color amplified the anguish in the girl's face as she winced in pain, the uproar under LeBlanc's fingertips snuffed out like a candle. The Deceiver was suddenly very glad she had not taken that hit full force. For a moment, the girl panted through what had to feel like her head bursting, before she glimpsed up, blinking the tears of pain out of her eyes.

"Hello." The Deceiver whispered friendly. "Be quiet now. You will obey my every command. Understood?"

The girl's fingers wandered over the beads on her neck as her eyes closed, seemingly trying and failing to read the magic etched into the stone.

LeBlanc let her. It would be easier that way. It took the girl a solid five minutes before her eyes opened, a dangerous kind of calm radiating from her eyes. LeBlanc knew she had won this fight. Petricite was a wonderful material. By suppressing the girl's powers, she also took away her ability to read the magic as well. Sadly, the secrets of how to form petricite in this form were lost long ago. Had she only known sculptor Durand a few hundred years ago, she would have put his craftsmanship to much better use. Luckily she was able to work with what he had left.

"What do you want?" The girl whispered, grasp tightening around the collar.

LeBlanc allowed herself a wide smile. She did not underestimated people waiting before striking full force, as they weren't necessarily harmless. Luckily, there wasn't much a mage could do against petricite and with the little advances made to this particular piece, resistance should be impossible. "Oh, how nice of you to ask."

Inexperienced players underestimated the value of revealed cards. Jericho knew she planned something with the girl, but he wasn't able to discern the exact course she took. He might think that knowing a threat existed would save him from it, but LeBlanc knew this to be untrue. She had made one step openly, revealing her knowledge about the blonde girl, but Swain did not know of her capabilities. He, too, would get his fair share from what the girl had to offer. But the lion's share would be for her, and her alone. Hopefully she could get out a little bit of useful intel out of her before she outlived her usefulness.

"So, little one. How about we get started by talking about that lover of yours?"

She was gone.

Talon knew it by looking at the lights. First out of habit, then with a growing sense of unrest, he checked the areas she had previously resided in, combing through the undercity, checking Quiletta Varn's location as well as the district Swain lived in. Nothing. The flicker of lamps, the subtle brighter halo around lit torches, everything that had hinted at her presence, was nowhere to be found.

It was not that Talon hadn't known she would flee, but suspecting and seeing for himself that she was gone were two completely different things. The possibility of her having used him burned in his stomach while his chest ached with an emptiness he hadn't known before. But there was no use in wishing he could have a second chance to talk, to try to clarify things between them and find out if she had really chosen to betray him, if everything was a lie. They probably both knew he'd kill her for compromising his family. A hard realization to handle but he was now one more reason for her to not come back. Noxus Prime was a darker place after this revelation.

Maybe, if she was focused on hiding from him, she'd evade whatever had been, and probably still was, chasing after her.

Another part of him also dreaded his next visit to Demacia, whenever that might come. Regardless of what lay in front of him, Talon didn't want to hide in the shadows anymore, nothing more in mind than waiting for the next order. Now, he would seek out his own enlightenment and the truth that came with it. The question was, how war would he go to find out once and for all who she really was and what she meant to him. And if he did discover it, the truth, could he join her in the light or would he follow his path into darkness, alone.

As he looked out over the dark city, his chest tightened as uncertainty and doubt plagued him. If there was one thing Marcus had taught him, self-doubt was more deadly than any enemy and would cut deeper than any blade. "We live and die by the blade." The thought cleared his mind, giving him comfort to focus on what lied ahead. The only things he could rely on now were his blades and the skills that kept him alive this long. He would use them mercilessly to get what he needed.
Whatever that may be.

Chapter Text

Mitsuko's stallion was easy to find among all the other horses. Even Decius who had no knowledge about horses, could see he was a magnificent animal. His white coat was flawless and, after he saw Decius with a handful of oats, he nickered cheerfully, reminding him a bit of Mitsuko's friendly attitude. He had never spent time around horses being a mere footsoldier, but he already saw this one growing on him fast. The animal rubbed his head against him after taking the grains as a bribe, so he spent a few minutes simply stroking the soft ears. The horse seemed to enjoy it. Taking care of her beloved animal was the least he could do after what Mitsuko had done for him. She had single-handedly pulled his mother out of her melancholy, without breaking a sweat. Decius smiled. His plan had worked after all, contrary to his sister's complaints, and now they would leave for Basilich. His mother was finally doing her job, which meant he could leave her in her hometown without worrying, taking care of the raid in the Freljord like General Darius had assigned him to.

"Let's see where your things are…" He murmured, distantly remembering someone had said horses liked to be talked to. Starfire was his name, right? It sounded so girlish, so innocent…it fit perfectly. Starfire's ears turned to him, giving Decius the feeling of being listened to. It was…a very nice feeling. The same feeling Starfire's owner evoked. "I'm sure you'd like to stretch your legs, right?" He cooed. Not that he knew what the horse really thought, but they were bred to run and being caged was a feeling he could relate with.

Finding the stallion's saddlery was easy, it looked different from the Noxian style leather in the rest of the tack room. Starfire followed him out of the box willingly and didn't oppose to being saddled, but reciprocated the calming strokes on his nose with friendly nudges of his head. Decius really liked him. The affection felt honest, not like he was only fishing for the sugar cubes Decius had hidden in his pocket.

Then the stallion lifted his head suddenly, nostrils flaring, pulling at the harness. Before Decius could turn, something sharp slid over his throat. A long blade, he imagined, sharp enough to draw blood without putting pressure behind it. Decius instantly stilled his movements, going through his options. His sword was on his belt…

"No fast movements. Step around the horse." A hoarse voice whispered.

Professional enough not to waste breath on obvious commands. The stallion's ears were still steeply erect and he whinnied friendly, like in greeting. Traitorous animal. The blade left Decius not much room, so he followed the movements of the other man until he was positioned in the corner of the stable, facing away from the entrance. The stranger seemingly was a bit shorter than him, Decius guessed.

The hand on his shoulder grasped him tighter. "Stay here and I won't have to hurt you." The other man hissed, slowly dragging the blade away from his throat, but the hand on Decius shoulder remained, controlling, feeling for the tensing up of muscles.

Going through his options revealed he didn't have much leverage to fight back…the other man let go of him. Decius didn't hear a single step, no noise that would announce another human being, but as the stallion huffed softly he knew where the other man stood.

Decius turned in one swift motion, pulling his sword out of its sheath and charged. This was most definitely a robber, an experienced one, trying to get a saddled horse to flee. What Decius hadn't expected was the man, standing somewhere in the middle between the horse and Decius, turned to him in a way that told him he'd been waiting for him to make his move. His body was covered by a dark cloak, hood pulled deeply into his face, and a wicked-looking blade jutted from where his right arm would be, menacingly outstretched and ready for use. Starfire chewed a carrot Decius hadn't given him, looking at the men in his stable with curiosity. A small part of Decius' brain warned him that proceeding was no good idea, that he knew the figure was a trained assassin as not many people wielded such a signature weapon, but the bigger part of him steeled, ignoring the acknowledgement of a more experienced opponent. There was never room for retreat.

"The girl likes you." The dark figure hissed, but Decius already was in full charge. "I'd rather not."

Decius drew his sword back and cleaved it forward, a force that would have decapitated any enemy on the battlefield. But this was a much smaller battlefield than he was used to, his opponent different than the soldiers, robbers, and peasants he normally opposed. One moment the dark person was right in front of him, golden eyes glinting, an emotionless face sizing him up coolly before there…was nothing. His sword swooshed through the air, eliciting a nervous neighing from the white stallion who danced back, even though he wasn't in his line of the blow. Before Decius could orientate something collided with his right side, putting him off balance. Decius raised his sword to parry the attack. Unlike on the battlefield there was just the sting of a blade against his arm, but no person to catch the swing of his sword. While his body still twisted with the momentum of his parry, the stranger appeared on his other side and, while moving contrary to the turn of Decius' upper body, lightly guided the blade against his skin again, this time drawing a stinging circle of red around his throat. This was just a game, he could have easily killed him, Decius realized, before he felt a strong blow to the back of his head. The strike twice made his world go black and everything went silent.

Talon thought he might go mad. His woman missing was like a constant itch in the back his head, one he wasn't able to scratch. It was far worse than what he felt when one of his blades was lost. Beating up the Varn-boy to retrieve her horse had been too easy to distract him from this itch.
All he wanted to do was listen to his gut - which screamed at him to search for Lux, regardless of who she was, regardless of her less than clear intentions as a possible traitor to the family, to keep her by his side until he had eliminated each and every threat before releasing her again. He was the only one allowed to lay a hand on her, should the necessity arise. No one else.
But by now, he'd most likely have to search for her outside of Noxus Prime, probably on the road to Demacia. Or Piltover if she wanted to throw his trail. She had many possibilities, even though her travel speed should be limited until she found another mount. Which she would not steal as any trace of something amiss he'd find. Talon had already activated all his contacts and spies. He would hear of irregularities, even though he was sure she was too smart to leave a trail obvious enough for some peons to find. At least he hoped so because he still wasn't sure if he, should he get the chance to do so, would talk to her after all. Or, worst case scenario, she would be found first by someone else and then he would never see her again. She was good with words though, and could talk her way out of most situations. But he was good at tracking people. Still, the thought of never seeing her against was torturing him, but the possibility of being forced to kill her was even more excruciating. His workload made it impossible to leave for an extended period of time to search for her, so this would have to wait just a bit longer. It was conflicting for him not being able to check on her, to see for himself if everything was well. It made him feel... exposed and open for attack. A feeling entirely unfamiliar to the assassin, and he didn't like it one single bit.

The days flowed past slowly without the promise of her return and the itch continued to spread like fire.

Talon made an effort not to glare at Marcus. He knew he had no reason to do so, but the urge was nearly irresistible. The older assassin had never told him who Lux was because he had never dared to ask, and that was his own fault. Honestly, he didn't want to know or care so long as she was there. But now…

Marcus spared him a sideway glance, observing him silently before starting the conversation. "You know, Talon. Some things appear far worse if you merely overlook the obvious. Perhaps you should sleep on it and in the morning, things will be far clearer to you."

What an unsatisfying conversation starter. Talon had slept several times and nothing was clearer. If anything, things had gotten far murkier, the truth seeming further and further out of his grasp. "I doubt the solution still resides in Noxus." He was sure that by now, Marcus knew of the events of that fateful evening down to the last detail. Talon himself had told Cassiopeia everything, and nothing stayed hidden from the patriarch of House Du Couteau for very long.

Marcus was quiet for a moment, watching Talon's movements. "I saw her today. Swain attended a meeting and she followed in his wake like a good servant trailing her master."

Talon frowned, anger welling up inside of him. That was…unlikely. Scratch that, it was damn near impossible he hadn't discovered the mage when she was hiding. On the other hand, Marcus was never wrong. Which meant something had changed because there was no way she could be that stupid. The feeling of dread invaded his bones and his blood already boiled in anger. Neither would conquer the other but only feed his troubles, forced stalemate in any case.
Marcus studied his reactions, seemingly expecting him to say something about the development. Sadly, there wasn't much on Talon's mind right now. Not much, except for… "She asked things about Cassi's condition." He hissed between clenched teeth.

Marcus pursed his lips. "She is eager for knowledge. After all this time, do you really think she would backstab you that easily? Especially for such a small, trivial piece of information."

Talon sulked unhappily. The real problem was he didn't. He remembered how well they had worked together, how she had felt like someone to rely on. Her unabashed glee when finding the answer to a particularly hard riddle, the light in her eyes when she looked at him after he touched her. The way she reciprocated his affection, how dearly she held that stupid, small book he had given her. Those warm moments before tenderness ignited into passion…Talon shook his head. He should not…would not get past the fact that she had lied to him. Was there even a brother who had taught her how to read? Was there a family in conflict waiting for her in Demacia? How could she be loyal to her country when she had made herself a good life in Noxus? And then, there was him…there were too many contradictions he wasn't able to see past. He would have to clarify things between them, one way or another.

Marcus regarded him sternly, watching something Talon wasn't able to see. "You know how this works, Talon. If you don't control the pawns, you are one. And regardless of what you feel towards this particular pawn, she is not in control here. Unless, you let her be."

The younger assassin crossed his arms. He had gone over this so many times now, was it really worth examining again? Pawns were easily replaceable, but this one was irreplaceable. She was no pawn. She was even more than the queen he thought she was, changing positions with easy, making movements she shouldn't be able to pull in her position, she glided across the board and off it, she bent the rules and made own and for that, she was to him, priceless. Regardless of her status, her apparent resurfacing without him noticing was disturbing.
What was Marcus' fucking lesson? The temptation of simply asking was great. "You still don't see her as a threat?" Talon questioned. Who could blame him for hoping for a specific answer?

"Underestimating her would be stupid. She could be, if she chose so" Marcus corrected, "but this hardly looks like a situation resolvable with the sharp end of your blades."

Talon pursed his lips. He really tried to suppress his answer, but the words cut their way through his throat. "You told me it is okay to go for more than…" He wrinkled his nose and turned. It wasn't of importance anymore. So Marcus had seen Lux with Swain? He'd have to check that out for himself.

"Talon." Marcus called him back, and the addressed inclined his head. "I meant what I said back there."

Talon halted, his back turned to Marcus. The older assassin saw the tension despite the cloak his son was wearing. "She much…about me. Tell me I can simply let that knowledge slip, that I can ignore it until it evolves to a problem." Now, he half-turned his face and Marcus was able to see one of his eyes, cold like ice on the surface, but with something seething within.

Marcus laid the tips of his fingers against each other. "Your responsibility." He reminded. "You put yourself into a position not easily solvable. Just remember…you found something good in Noxus. Do you really want to throw that away without thinking twice?" He finally asked, something else flitting over his face before vanishing. "Sometimes there are no second chances, you should know as much."

Talon was silent for a moment, averting his gaze to the floor. Finally, the face that rose to meet Marcus' gaze, cloaked in shadows cast by his hood, was hardened with determination. "I never compromise." With that declaration, Talon strode out of the room to start his next mission. Seek and, if necessary, destroy.

She had changed not just her patterns, she had changed everything. Talon was hardly able to see Lux in the plain face of Mitsuko Eto, with the light gone from not only her eyes, but her…everything. It no longer complimented her features, she no longer evinced a reaction from the Zaunite street lamps. The second thing bothering him was her expression. She looked tense and confused. Not in the way anybody would notice if you didn't know the real person beneath, but the subtle way she held her chin just a tad higher while her eyelids fluttered nervously spoke volumes. Her right hand was the only thing convincing him it was Lux and not an impostor. Her finger twitched like it wanted to hold more than a pen, a nervous gesture she normally suppressed.

Something was wrong, terribly wrong. And, as he had told Marcus, he never compromised. Which meant he had to get at the bottom of whatever it was they had gotten themselves into, otherwise he would never have another peaceful minute in his life. All of his missions were thoroughly well-planned, and this would be no exception. He never made mistakes. He had wanted to delay their meeting to his next visit to Demacia, but by staying, she had made another choice. He'd have to live with that.

But the ravens were ever-watching, and breaking into the house of a General was nothing even Talon would do lightly or without preparing himself to the last detail. He wasted a few days following her, learning her routine only to notice she didn't even hazard to look as she used to. Maybe she hadn't noticed him in the shadows, but she did not even look around. With this lack of attention to her surroundings, it was only a matter of time before someone would try and claim her position at Swain's side for themselves. Maybe this was an impostor. He grit his teeth. Nobody would mimic Lux and live to tell the tale. This false light needed to be extinguished quickly.


The dancing flames of torches painted flickering shadows on the walls of Sion's monument. Grand General Boram Darkwill entered the great hall without hesitation and without an entourage. He was alone. Alone and eager.

No sounds were heard outside but, after closing the great, black doors to the world beyond, after stepping inside this sanctum, he heard the screams. High pitched ones as well as a darker, deeper one, more growl than scream. He didn't accelerate his steps but steadily continued to walk deeper into the building.

Another door opened and closed behind him before he reached his goal, the room formerly used to hold Sion's massive body.

Now it was painted red, smashed remains of what had once been humans thrown around without pattern or symmetry. Those only distracted Boram's gaze shortly, for a colossus instantly claimed all his attention. The inhuman screams previously heard were obviously originated from the mutilated creature before him. Men jumped around the raging beast in the middle of the room, who grasped after them with huge hands, ripping them apart without the use of weaponry as soon as they went within reach.

"We did it." A pleasant, calm voice rose from somewhere beneath and next to Boram. He averted his gaze down to the pale, tiny woman who looked at the slaughter right in front of her with a bored expression.

With another scream, what used to be Sion grabbed one arm and bashed the person attached to it through the remaining men trying to hold him back. The thrown man's screams ceased instantly as a new splash of red painted the walls.

"What is that?" Boram asked at the mindless, red glow in his former friend's eyes.

"Back off." The pale woman ordered, and her followers retreated - something that made the figure standing in the middle roar in anger.

LeBlanc smirked and winked. "Luckily he doesn't have his axe…yet." She patted the large weapon, leaning next to the door. The crying and dying of her followers didn't seem to phase her, she simply observed Sion's movements as well as the terror-stricken cries of her followers to get to safety.

Darkwill did not believe what he saw. "What did you do?" He asked in disbelief.

"Provided you with what you desired, nothing more." The woman purred and half-turned to him with a lazy smile, her golden eyes glinting in delight, while the monstrosity in the room turned to charge the group of men with an outraged scream.

"This is not what I desired." Boram said, looking at the mindless machine, wreaking havoc in the middle of the room that once was his grave.

"You sought to raise this corpse to do your bidding once again. In that, we have succeeded." Her playful smile never wavered.

"Look at him! This…thing has no place at the head of an army." He pointed at where Sion had gotten his hold onto another human being which he dragged by a leg and bashed against a wall until its screaming stopped.

"Not as a leader, no. But your friend was never so much a leader as a killer. And he has never been more perfectly suited to that role than he is now. He does not fear, he does not question - he does not die." LeBlanc seemed perfectly content with her result.

Boram was not. For a short moment, pure hate seeped out of the Grand General's eyes before he turned to the reanimated corpse again. "Leave." He ordered, and the woman at his side bowed her head before she whistled to her followers. The ones not cornered by the gigantic body of Sion were eager to comply, the rest…not so much.

The Grand General slammed the door shut after her, before the rest had a chance to escape the towering form of Sion. The heavy sound resonated with the screams of terror and Boram watched as Sion…or what was left of him…slaughtered the remaining humans, taking the appearance of the man he had missed for two generations. His jaw was replaced by the crown that had formerly rested on his chest, a testament to the king he slew. An unholy, red glow radiated through his core, gigantic clasps of metal held his torso together where it had been ripped apart. The killing blow that had taken him away from Boram.

After the last screeches ceased, the monstrosity panted heavily and looked around. It spotted him, a low growl rose from his chest.

Boram took ahold of the axe Sion had formerly used. "Hello, old friend." He greeted, shouldering the giant weapon which was almost too heavy, even for him. Sion had always been the stronger one of them, but Boram would manage one strike.

He didn't expect a reaction from the undead creature other than rage. From decaying vocal cords, the creature made a pained sound. "Boram…" A shudder ran through Sion's body and it made Boram's heart leap at a thought long dead and buried, that his friend would be by his side once more.

Sion didn't charge at him but stood still, eliciting sounds like a dying bull, chest heaving. Maybe, just maybe, there was a slight chance that his mind was still behind that bloody rage and decaying body.

Darkwill had been alive for generations now and he had spent the majority of them alone, with no one by his side. Sitting on his partners' tombstones had never provided solace, for it had reminded him of what he had lost. He had never been able to reanimate them like he did with himself, and the pale woman's offer had been too alluring, too promising…Many people had tried to deceive the Grand General in the past decades, but LeBlanc seemed to know of his heart's desire. And he had been foolish enough to accept, hoping despite reason that he'd somehow get back the people he loved most.

He knew he should not trust the roaring best in front of him, even though it clutched its head, wincing in a display of pain the real Sion would have never lowered himself into showing.

Darkwill knew. He was too old, too experienced for foolish things like…"Sion?" He dared to ask despite his knowledge, hope betraying his trembling voice.

The walking corpse looked up, confusion swirling in the red of his eyes as he stretched out his meaty, ashen hand before he took a step forward. Darkwill tried to remind himself that he was too old for hope, but there was this expression in Sion's inhumanely glowing eyes…

The thing opened its' mouth, at first only emitting a throaty roar. He snarled, shaking his head. Then he tried again. "Boram… " Another panting and the thing grasped its head. His head. Darkwill's heartbeat quickened. "Kitty?" Sion asked in the same, rasping voice, so unlike his former voice; a rich baritone.

Boram unfolded his arms. "She will awaken soon, Sion." He found himself saying as he took an involuntary step forward.

"What…happened." Sion looked at him, red eyes tinged with reason and confusion. With a few steps Boram had reached his former friend, grasping for his shoulder with the hand not holding the axe. Sion towered over him - Darkwill was no small man himself, but his friend had always dwarfed him. It provided an odd comfort.

A small voice of hope in his head told him that as soon Sion remembered, as soon as he'd see, everything would be okay again. They both needed Kitty back and everything would be as it was. Those two had never let Darkwill down, save for the moment they both died on the battlefield, leaving him alone to rule Noxus. But this was his chance to correct history. "I could not let you rest." Boram whispered. "Noxus needs us." The old Sion had seen through his lie. Boram needed him. He needed them both. He had spent enough time alone, and it was not getting easier.

His red eyes closed as Sion's bald head slumped forward. Boram grasped Sion's neck and laid his forehead against the cold, clammy undead one, closing his eyes as well. The moment of shared silence was different than it had been countless times before, a long time ago. It was hardly silent anymore. Now Sion sizzled and wheezed, he was cold, the skin under Boram's hand clammy like a corpse, but the warmth that spread through Boram was just the same. His grip around Sion's neck tightened. "We are in danger, there are so many people trying to kill me. I knew you'd rather be awake..."

"I'll… smash…. EVERYONE!" Sion pulled his head up, his grasp around Boram tightening as well, pulling the smaller man half behind him in a familiar motion. Sion was still about double his width, making the Grand General feeling small. Boram followed, even though there were no enemies Sion could protect him from. At least not right now. He looked up, into the blazing red depths scanning the room like spotlights, searching for the enemy Boram had mentioned.

"We will, Sion." He promised and stretched out the hand with Sion's great axe.

The monstrosity didn't flinch as it grasped for the weapon, pulling it to him. His movements were not as fluid they had been, maybe he needed more time to get rid of the rust. "KITTY!" Sion roared and looked to the door.

Boram nodded. "We will get her, Sion."

"NOW!" Sion blared and marched towards the door, while Boram grasped for his shoulder.

"Soon, my friend." Boram braced himself against Sion's considerable strength. For a moment, he thought Sion would run with his head through him first and the wall second, like he had done so so many times during their youth, like he had continued to do later.
Back then, Sion had laughed while charging. Now there was no laughter, no mocking arrogance. All that remained was this smoldering, reanimated corpse reeking of death and rage.
Still, it was all he had left, so Boram strengthened his hold until the corpse turned with a restrained roar, axe swinging. The Grand General braced himself against the strike, ready to duck under it if its intended target was himself. The axe smashed into the ground, making debris rain onto Boram's clothes, its wielder heavily panting.

"SOON." Sion repeated, breathing loudly, while holding Boram's gaze again, mindless rage fighting with reason.

"Soon." Boram promised, cupping Sion's metal jawline, tracing it until he got a hold of the too cold cheek. At least this piece of flesh and skin was left. How different it felt, compared to the old days. "Stay here, it won't be long. When we get her, we will be together again, and we will make Noxus rise above all. Like we always dreamt. Just a few more days, Sion." He promised and the thing nodded.

"WAIT. Here." He repeated and Boram stroke over the cold cheek one last time before he turned his back to what was left of one of the two most important people in the world. He didn't look back as he strode through the door, locking it behind him. One more; Kitty…and he could rebuild it all again and this time, there would be no room for error.

Chapter Text

Talon possessed a considerable amount of patience. He had spent a great amount of his lifetime waiting for the right moment, and, if that moment never came, he could always create it himself. But listening to the endless palaver of unimportant details the High Command discussed really got on his last nerves. In this case, there was no helping it, he simply hated politics but had to endure it for the sake of his mission. Politics, to him, were more than the spoken words, because every word could have a double meaning and each word could be just as deadly as the last.
The meetings of the High Command were seldom entertaining, utterly boring at most times. Still, it had been his own wish to follow Marcus to this one, and he had surely not taken this extreme step just to hear things he didn't care about. He was here for Swain. Specifically, for the woman following two strides behind him, a satchel in hand and a pen behind her ear, her currently brown eyes flitting over the present generals. It would have been easier for him to ambush her in a dark alley, or in her room, or anywhere he wouldn't have been forced to hear the summary of General Emystan's most recent reports from Ionia, who was leading the latest onslaught against the population. But, sadly, Lux had never been alone. She should count herself lucky that the ravens had found such a great interest in her, for there was not much Talon could do right now in front of almost every member of the High Command. All he could do now was nothing but watch and patiently wait. Observing why she was behaving so differently, and possibly discovering if this was not his Lux after all, but some…replacement.

Talon's attention switched to his master. The High Command was in uproar, and the discussion had somehow shifted from the newest slaughter somewhere in the middle of Ionia to Grand General Boram Darkwill's newest, cryptic announcement. As usual, the Grand General was late and this only agitated the already dissatisfied crowd, causing tensions to rise and anger to simmer and boil. The High Command indeed was in uproar, maybe it wasn't so bad that he chose to accompany Marcus tonight because if things deteriorated enough, they'd have to cut their way out.
Talon looked around at the other people surrounding them, his eyes hidden by his hood, estimating the probability of an attack as rather low before he looked at the Lux-lookalike once more. She had not even twitched as she had taken the participants of this meeting in, she had simply bowed her head respectfully and taken her place behind Swain. A stark difference to her behavior at her interrogation. Had that really been just five weeks ago? There she had casually caught his gaze at least a few times, and Marcus had been the one she had openly regarded with great caution. Now, there was nothing of the sort, no emotion besides the tension he wasn't used to see within her. Tension and a bit of confusion, as if she was trying to blink through a thin veil of smoke.

Grand General Boram Darkwill's entrance was the first thing that stirred Lux, for she briefly narrowed her eyes at him before she slightly shook her head, looking as if she tried to solve a particularly hard riddle, before Swain whispered something in her direction and she eagerly started writing.

The next minutes flew past him in his attempt to pinpoint exactly what was disturbing him so deeply. The twitch of her finger, stronger than it had ever been, was Lux' trademark movement, and for it only appeared when her pen stood still, Talon was decently sure it was nothing to fool him. What had happened to her to cause this shift?

"We will march to Kalamanda." Darkwill's declaration silenced the High Command and grabbed Talon's attention away from his brooding. What had he missed? He looked around from under his hood, glanced at Marcus, whose face had fallen still as marble. Okay, so he had missed something of vital importance.

It took a long moment before Lady Blackclaw managed to stand up, putting that point to discussion. "Didn't you personally label Kalamanda a diplomatic mission?" Her tone dripped with disdain, for she herself had been the greatest opponent of the mission.

Darkwill stayed seated, calm to the degree of disregard. "Yes, to lull the bluecoats into a false sense of security. But now my latest experiment is fully functional. I have already set my personal guard into motion, accompanied by the black axe-regiment." Another murmur stirred the generals. Marcus crossed his arms and leaned back. Darkwill continued talking, as if he had waited the whole meeting just to make this announcement, seemingly not caring about the impact of his words. "I will leave as well to lead the charge." Now the Grand General stood up, looking around the half circle of his subordinates, eyeing each and every one of them. "With General Sion by my side." He finished, an expression of satisfaction on his face.

The room fell completely silent. Talon noticed how Marcus' hand coiled into a fist briefly, while his face gave nothing away. Lux stood behind Swain, as she had the whole time, clutching her pen too tightly. Talon hated situations he didn't understand. Even though he could very well live without the surely well placed build-up Darkwill had engaged in the entire meeting.

The silence stretched until someone braved to break it.

"General Sion is long dead." Lady Blackclaw finally pointed out, seemingly not sure if she should give her words a mocking or patronizing twist.

The Grand General's lips twitched upwards. "For the greater glory of Noxus, I found a way to make him serve the empire once more. Kalamanda will be testament to my success. Not even death is a territory I can't conquer."

The murmuring roared up as Boram Darkwill threw Marcus a short glance. The assassin nodded to him, and a very short, barely noticeable smile twitched over the Grand General's face. A smile that made Talon want to smash his face in, for something else laid behind. No possibility to do so here, Talon knew as much, so Darkwill left the room unhindered, followed by his personal entourage.

The discussion among the remaining generals flared as soon as the heavy oaken door fell closed.

The words spoken didn't reach Talon's brain, for all he watched out for now in the growing tumult was signs of aggression towards him and his master. Lux held the same nervous uncertainty as she felt the tension in the room intensify. Talon barely registered a few of the generals discussing Ionia's fate now, with the Grand General pulling even more forces away. Talon also noted Marcus' silence. In fact, the older man's eyes scanned the room, cataloging each and every member of the High Command, seemingly labelling and classifying them for future reference.

There was the intense stare of a younger man that caught Talon's eye, clearly of Shuriman origin, looking at Marcus' form, gaze wandering over the badges on his uniform, stopping at the insignia marking him as the Hand of Noxus, right next to the sign of the Blade of Noxus. He was new to the High Command as Talon had never seen him before. He sat right next to Lady Blackclaw, indicating she didn't trust her sons enough to take over her place. Marcus ignored the young man, while Talon shifted his attention to him, ignoring discussions about how a full regiment of soldiers, originally assigned to the Freljord-campaign, should be replaced.

"You grow old, Marcus. The Grand General spins out of control. Noxus needs a new Hand and fresh blood." The young man finally stated loudly as he stood up. His weaponry indicated he was a duelist. Lady Blackclaw looked downwards, a small twitch of her lips showed her annoyance with the young man's ignorance. At least her sons would have known the Blade and held their tongues, keeping their heads in the process.

Hardly anybody noticed Talon vanishing from his master's side at a barely perceptible twitch of Marcus' head.

General Du Couteau remained seated as the room quietened once more. More people than not shifted their attention to the two Generals.

As he was sure the attention of everyone in the room was pointed towards him, Marcus leaned back and placed the tips of his fingers against each other. The silence stretched to its breaking point as the younger man's gaze twitched around, seemingly not having counted on creating so much attention. He licked his lips, a glint hardening in his eyes. His hand vanished towards his belt.

Marcus decided to deliver him from his tension.
"First", he started, and the young man yelped as his head was pulled back, his throat meeting the steel of a wicked looking sharp blade. "It is General Du Couteau, Hand and Blade of Noxus. You may apologize now for forgetting your manners."

The other man fought only for a second against Talon's grip, but as the steel of his blade dug deeper into his throat, nicking the skin, making blood trickle down his throat, he ceased struggling. His bodyguards didn't have time enough to blink, and now it was too late for them to react. Cretins, Talon assessed.

Marcus waited with his trademark smirk, a picture of collected calmness.

It seemed like an eternity before the assaulted croaked an "I…I am sorry, General Du Couteau."

Marcus nodded. "That was the first. The second…be careful who you call old."

He looked into the formerly rebellious eyes as Talon increased the pressure on his blade.

"I will never do it again, Hand and Blade…" The man started flailing, now fully realizing the consequences of his mistake, but resistance was futile against the assassin's tight grip.

With an almost gentle last push, Talon fully reclined the man's head, sweeping his blade over his target's exposed throat to let blood splutter out of his severed arteries. Marcus held the gaze of the dying man until the spark of life left him.

His victim's ceasing movements indicated he could take his attention elsewhere, he looked around, pushing the body off of him and onto the table before swiping the edge of his blade clean on the dead man's clothes. With a last deliberate glance towards Lady Blackclaw, he slowly turned his back to the guards and returned to his place at his General's side.

"Anybody else wants to challenge me?" Marcus looked around at the people who he knew wanted nothing more than for him to be dead, but everybody stayed silent.

Except for Darius. Darius laughed and gave him an approving nod. Even though Marcus didn't know if the nod was for him or for Talon.

Swain looked pleased as well. Marcus could only guess about the reason as the man played his cards close to his chest.

"If nobody else wants to provoke an honored member of this council, we may go back to the order of business." Lady Blackclaw declared.

Talon had already lost interest in the proceedings. He had made a small detour in his path to Marcus, slipping behind Swain's back, where he had been able to touch Lux lightly on her hand. She had barely turned her head when he was already at Marcus' side, looking confused at the light touch without anyone there to have delivered it.

The rest of the meeting was calmer and passed without any more accusations and challenges.

After the meeting ended, Talon followed Marcus home into his study. Talon had known Marcus long enough to see how upset he was by the recent turn of events. The older man didn't take a seat, but stopped in front of his desk, back turned to Talon.

For a moment, they simply stood there, until Marcus lowered his gaze to a few papers on his desk. Picking them up and flipping through them, the rustling was the only sound disturbing the silence.

"You know Talon, times are changing rapidly." Marcus finally broke the silence.

The younger assassin tilted his head. Marcus was probably right.

"Darius wasn't born into a great family. The sons of Lady Blackclaw will probably never be strong enough to claim a seat in the High Command. None of the newly appointed members come from old, renowned families, and this is one of Noxus' greatest strengths."

Talon shuffled his feet uncomfortably. "What's your point?" He rasped, crossing his arms.

"I'm saying you should reevaluate your loyalties." Marcus turned, facing Talon with a calm expression.

Talon's eyes went wide. He didn't like the implications of that. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Marcus was seemingly at a loss for words for a moment. "You carry my name without having my blood. The name still holds value but, as you heard in the discussion, my blood seemingly belongs to an old order. But yours doesn't."

Talon didn't understand. He should have followed the conversation more closely. He stared into Marcus' calm face and an awful thought crept into his mind. "Do you want to get rid of me?" He asked, voice tight in his throat.

"Noxus, no." Marcus calmed him. "Not now, not ever. I'm simply reminding you…again…that soon a time will come where you probably won't have the luxury to live without thinking of the political consequences. I'm advising you to get your priorities in line before then."

They stared at each other for a moment longer, both waiting.

"And?" Talon finally asked.

Marcus shook his head at something wrong with his answer. "You can decide. I know for certain that Swain is planning something, and Lady Blackclaw is intervening because she hates Swain's guts. Currently Swain has the support of the High Command's newer members, Darius included. Darkwill has things on his mind other than the High Command and its scheming. If you feel the need to reposition…"

"I am fine where I am right now. By your side." Talon interrupted, even though that was only partly true. He felt severely uncomfortable with Marcus talking like this. But, Talon figured, Marcus meant his position in general.

Marcus let out a breath. Was that…relief? "I hoped for as much."

Talon lifted an eyebrow questioningly. He had never before experienced Marcus in such a strange mood. "What do I need to do?"

"I have a bone to pick with Darkwill." Marcus produced a leather carrier, handing it over.

Talon opened it, pulling a few papers out. They were neatly inscribed with Marcus' handwriting, plus a few sketches in between the text. Talon didn't understand the language, and didn't get the message. Out of habit, he tried to translate it with a few of the codexes he knew, but without success. "A few, actually." He stated. Complicated formulas, difficult ciphers. He converted his confusion into a look. He thought of Lux when she had solved that puzzle, the joy and triumph on her glowing face. He tried to shove the picture out of his mind. She was great with languages and riddles but she wasn't an option right now. Maybe…

Marcus nodded. "It is quite confusing, but I need you to find out what it means. Then you will go to Kalamanda." He continued.

That got Talon's attention. "When?"

"I want you to be in Kalamanda before Darkwill is."

Talon nodded. Darkwill's entourage had left two days prior, so he could afford about two or three days for preparation in order to still surpass them. The thought of leaving Lux nudged at his consciousness, gnawing at his heart. "How sensitive is the data?" He finally relented to the nearly overwhelming itch.

"You may ask for help." The knowing stare told Talon that Marcus knew exactly whom he meant.

Talon nodded and averted his gaze. He refused to feel uncomfortable. Doing this was killing two birds with one stone, giving him the opportunity of simply forcing the hand of the Lux-lookalike without the subtlety he exercised at the moment. Still, why was Marcus so concerned? "Does he want something from Katarina?" He asked, piecing the little information he had gathered as well as the interactions he had witnessed over the last weeks together.

Marcus' jaw locked as he nodded once.

Talon's eyes narrowed. He hadn't anticipated an answer like this, because who was daft enough take on his sister? "Is he stupid?" He felt compelled to voice as much.

Marcus snorted. "Far from it. He has prepared his move for a long time, practiced with other people, and he thinks he is strong enough to take us on now."

Talon did not like this recent development, things were far worse than he'd imagined. "This is the political shit you warned me about?"

Marcus tilted his head, his calmness slowly returning. "A part of it, yes. I don't expect you to understand."

Talon shook his head sharply. "I don't need to understand in order to carry out your orders. Finding out what Darkwill plans, stopping him, securing Katarina. Right?"

Marcus caught his gaze and held it. "Don't let Darkwill get Katarina."

Talon nodded once more without question.

"I need you to do absolutely everything…" Marcus' teeth clenched in a display of emotion Talon had never seen. It unsettled him. Marcus rarely ever showed stress, but this expression on his face was far worse. "Everything, Talon…" The General's intense green eyes bore into his golden ones and he found himself nodding again, "to keep that dirty necromancer away from my daughter. I don't care what you have to do. Keep him away - or keep her away - and don't tell Katarina until it is over."

"Wouldn't it be easier if I killed him here, right now?" Talon suggested.

"No." Marcus closed his eyes and swiped over his face. "He is the Grand General for a reason. He expects me to do something, so I won't disappoint him. As much as I trust your skills, you hardly have a chance against Darkwill as he is now."

Talon disagreed, but he would not go against Marcus, not now. So instead of rebelling, he simply nodded again. However, he had to ask. "What are his abilities? I've never seen him fight."

His master shrugged. "He is a mage. But he hasn't let anyone see his abilities for a long, long time. He experimented with necromancy." Marcus' expression darkened. "Promise me you'll keep our family safe, including yourself."

Talon evaded his burning stare, looking at the ground before he had the courage to meet his master's gaze again. "I promise." He mumbled, turning to go.

He already touched the handle when the General took in another breath, indicating he had more to say. Talon half turned, already dreading the next words Marcus would speak. For a moment, Talon and Marcus looked at each other, Marcus seemingly fighting with something Talon wasn't able to see, before the older man shook his head and gave up, turning towards a letter, breaking the seal to busy his hands. Talon took this as a sign of being dismissed, so he left quickly. There was much to prepare for. There was only so much someone was able to plan, and he did not expect the mass of ravens to leave Noxus Prime anytime soon. Which meant approaching Lux…or someone looking like her…unseen, with both of them continuing their lives as if nothing had happened afterwards, was completely out of the question. His patience was nearing its breaking-point, so forcing her out of her current position wasn't the worst possible way to go. Especially not with the expression on her face. Spirits, he despised that expression. With the door closing behind him, he already had a half-formed plan in mind.

Marcus watched the door close before he glanced at his pocket watch. He poured himself a tumbler of whiskey and waited, going over his timetable one last time, checking if there was anything he had left to do, anything he missed. Inhaling the rich aroma, he found there was nothing to do anymore. At least not in this moment, for it was all laid out now. He busied himself for half an hour with his drink. As his son hadn't returned by then, Marcus began to hope that he had avoided involving Talon with what was to come. He let another bell pass as he relished in his whiskey, before a knock on his door disturbed the silence of his study.

"Enter." He ordered, putting his glass aside.

A messenger stepped in, bearing Darkwill's personal sigil as well as a respectful bow. The man was high ranked enough not to be an offense. He wasn't too stupid as well, as it seemed, for he didn't look Marcus into the eyes.

"I bring an urgent message, Hand of Noxus." He stated respectfully.

Marcus turned his palm upwards in a demanding gesture. The messenger stretched over his whole desk to hand him the heavy paper. It was sealed by dark wax, the intricate design of a personal signet stamped into it. He broke it, revealing the message, written in blood red ink: Transcendence Way, the Ivory Ward, 5:00 PM. Below was a stamped image of a black rose. He shook his head. Sometimes he asked himself how stupid the Grand General thought him to be. He had certainly managed to stir things up, but Boram was becoming sloppy in his blind determination. The time of his children would begin now, one way or another. For a moment, he allowed himself to wish he could be around to bear witness to it.

"Might I escort you, General Du Couteau?" The messenger asked with the same respect than before.

Marcus waved him away. "I'll find the way. Prepare for my arrival." He ordered.

The man hesitated. "General Darkwill ordered me to escort you directly…"

"I need an escort?" Marcus' tone was flat and this time the man made the mistake of looking into his green eyes.

Instantly, he straightened up, like a mouse in front of a cobra. "No Blade of Noxus, Hand of Noxus, General Du Couteau, Sir." He began to stutter.

Marcus lifted a suggestive eyebrow and nodded to the door. The messenger took a step back before he bowed deeply, retreating through the door.

Marcus sighed again. Talon would be on his way to Kalamanda in maybe one or two more days. Until then, his woman would surely provide a good enough distraction to make him keep his nose out of everything else. A good thing too, because Marcus had no idea how else he would have gotten the boy out of his hair for long enough to do what he had planned.

He'd never say it aloud, but Talon's tracking skills had improved significantly over the years, leading him into dangerous situations. Marcus had no intention of letting him run into a holdfast of the Black Rose just because he was searching for him. At least not without a serious amount of backup. Katarina was not here and would not return without a good reason. Even though Talon's girl would normally stick to Talon's side, she currently had things on her mind other than the future of Noxus. Cassiopeia, as useful as her new abilities were, was not enough and not as mobile as her assassin counterparts. They all needed more time and time was something they did not have. He rose from his seat.

The bright sun shone in spite of his dark thoughts as he traversed the house, before he came to halt in front of a door, knocking twice before entering.

Marcus only needed one glance to find what he had come for. His daughter's scales shone in the low light, shades of green and black painting intriguing patterns on her body. She turned to him with the same grace she had always possessed, even as a small, human child. Dried blood darkened the claws on her right hand, and a lazy smile spread on her face. "Daddy. What can I do for you?"

Marcus admired her for a moment, attempting to memorize every detail of her. "Cassiopeia, you look beautiful." He stated instead of answering. Bidding goodbye to her was far more easy than doing so to Talon, for he could simply tell her what was on his mind. Reminding Talon how he saw him as a son would probably result in suspicion, something he wanted to avoid at all costs. Talon ought to concentrate on getting in between Darkwill and Katarina and nothing else.

She tilted her head and her tongue darted out, testing the air. "What is wrong?" She asked, brows knitting together as she turned to him fully.

"I have been summoned. It is a grave matter, but one I cannot refuse."

A storm gathered in her eyes as she pieced together the information she had overheard. Contrary to Talon, she was not only able to pick up on small details, but was also interested in politics, and she had noticed much more than him. Her lack in participation was based on the shame she had for her appearance, nothing else. "Where is Talon?" She asked, alarmed.

Marcus shook his head. "He is tasked with another, very important affair that requires his whole concentration."

Cassiopeia's eyes went wide at his expression. "Will you return?" She hissed, suddenly understanding the point of his goodbye and what it meant.

The General reached out to touch his daughter's face, not providing an answer, but handing her the letter he had just received. Her fists coiled, crumpling the paper in the process. "Should I not return, Cassiopeia, this will guide you three in my absence."

She opened the letter, and he took the opportunity to leave before she had a chance to turn to him once more. She was much more level-headed than her siblings, which would do him good now.

If he had only more time… but, as he knew better than most, borrowed time was all an assassin had and, eventually, the sands would run out. The game was coming to a close and one pawn would decide the future of it all.

Chapter Text

"Mitsuko." The way Swain said her name made her skin crawl and she felt unwell, an all too common feeling as of late. "The world is fighting against multiple enemies the vast majority of mankind is unwilling to acknowledge." His prying red eyes noted her fidgeting hands, a gesture she wasn't able to explain but he found annoying nonetheless.

"I…Okay?" Lux answered, lacking another, real answer. Her world had been so easy during the last couple weeks, relaxingly easy. Just obey the voice and be happy fulfilling its every command. Be even happier when finding out things going through Swain's head. Fulfill his requests, talk to the voice every other day, and enjoy the goal-driven quietness of her thoughts. She had had so many things racing through her mind over the last couple of years, it was relaxing to finally have only one task, with everything else only lightly grazing her consciousness. So simple really, why would she not want this?

"Instead, we keep on fighting against each other, nation versus nation, oblivious to other worlds besides ours. It is all so trivial."

Lux blinked. "Don't you mean around us?" A disturbance, like a pebble skipping across the calm surface of a lake, shaking her mind free of the peace. A feeling of wrongness washed over her briefly. Something in those words attracted her curiosity and repelled her at the same time. Was it a secret he kept to himself or one of those secrets he would tell only her? Another part of her mind felt caged, like a bug bumping against an upturned glass.

A sinister smile exposed Swain's white teeth, distracting her from the stirring inside her mind. "No, Mitsuko. Humans have not yet evolved to see what exists right next to us. For you, as an Ionian, the existence of a world parallel to ours is common knowledge, disregarding it would pose a sacrilege."

The General looked at her, waiting, so Lux answered. "The spirit realm."

He lifted a mocking eyebrow. "You learned your lessons." His tune was even, but the tingling sensation down Lux' spine intensified. It was unpleasant, a stark contrast to the warm satisfaction surging through her when she did something right. Even though she knew her answer was correct, it still felt…strange. There was something…off, the ripple in her mind continuing endlessly, as if the stubborn bug was too stupid to give up on escaping its glass coffin. Lux hated bugs. Especially spiders, but spiders didn't fly against glass like this bug. Spiders…what about spiders… She gathered her fleeting thoughts and blinked at the man in front of her.

Swain continued talking, unaffected by the silence of his scribe. "The spirit realm doesn't care for our world. We, living things, blur in and out of their eternal consciousness, but they do not target us specifically as we pose no threat. However, there are other worlds though that are not as friendly as this." Lux gulped under his scrutinizing stare, sinking back in her chair while he continued talking. His words triggered something in the back of her mind, if only she could remember it… "They have attacked Runeterra before, and they will do so again. Maybe not in the immediate future, but if we indulge in our petty fights against each other, we will never be able to fend them off when the time comes."

He seemed to wait for a reaction, but Lux was confused. Her thoughts were interrupted by the voice, the order was clear: extract the emotions driving Swain.

After a moment of silence with no reaction from Lux, Swain continued talking. "I tried to let them get a glimpse of what I see. I let a Piltovian explorer deep into the bowels of this city, let him see for himself what evils lay beyond this world, but no one listens. Not to him, not to me. The only way to make people listen is to bow their knee and force them under your will. And we need to unite, Mitsuko." Another twitch went over his lips. "Great evils will descend upon this world and unfortunately, humans are ill equipped to fight against the monsters looming behind the veil."

There was intense smolder in Swain's red eyes as he spoke about a matter of heart. Fighting off terrors from behind the veil, the drive to unite…

Suddenly Swain stood up startling Lux as the need to get away from him pulsed up and waned, like the echo of a loud cry, as he walked away from her. Swain knew that he did not need to physically intimidate her when words had the same effect.

"I don't know what you are talking about, Sir." Lux stuttered.

Swain shook his head. "I know you don't, child." With those condescending words he slowly stepped between her and the door, bending down to face her.

Lux' heartbeat accelerated, uneasiness fighting with the will to obey the voice.

"I want us to be allies, Mitsuko, but you have to trust me first." As he leaned even closer, Lux could almost hear an angry hiss of warning, but from where it came from, she could not say. "We would be great together. You would help save lives and maybe, if you are really as good as you think you are…" The color rushed from Lux' face, her breathing accelerating even more than her heartbeat. "…You could even help save our whole world. Together, with me." He ignored her obvious discomfort, raising his glowing red claw to Lux' temple. Something welled up inside of Lux, something impossibly bright, struggling against a very strong restriction, before it capitulated, like an overused muscle trying to lift too much weight. Her head started to hurt, vision spinning. Swain's hand was warm on her skin, inhumanely so, hotter than darkfire.

She wasn't even able to pull her forehead back from his burning touch before her vision blackened.

For a moment it was pitch-black before her opened eyes.
Then a small spark of light flitted through the darkness, illuminating shiny, writhing masses of black carapaces. Her heart sank at the horrific vision. Things started to crawl at the edges of her vision, with chitinic limbs splayed out in impossible angles. Sharp, scratching, cracking and clattering noises sounded from the dark as the things became visible in the ever-increasing, dim light. Horrendous creatures, hunger beyond reason seeking with black, beady eyes a human carcass, sharp mandibles tearing apart flesh. Over it all, the voice. Not the voice, but another one, not calming. Unsettling, but clearing in a way Lux wasn't able to describe. "I saw them in Shurima, girl. The dead are voicing their fears. The void will swallow us whole. Perhaps not in ten years or even in twenty, but they will come and destroy existence as we know it."

A long, segmented body, shimmering with a sick shade of violet, turned to her, beady eyes unblinking. For a moment it seemed to watch her, then it unhinged its jaw and jumped.

With a scream, Lux tore her eyes open, meeting the emotionless red gaze of Jericho Swain. She gasped for air as the clarity his vision had brought her was something beyond her worst nightmares. The chain hung around her neck heavily, and its irritation about the disconnection surfaced as it tried to blanket Lux' thoughts once more.

"This vision awaits the world. They are right next to us, hiding in plain sight, and we are not prepared." Swain concluded, righting himself, taking a step away from her. "Are you ready to face this with me?" Swain offered his glowing, red hand to her. The chain rejoiced at the thought, but Lux almost vomited as the chain tried to choke her into submission once more. Her right hand lifted effortlessly, obeying to the need to do everything to stay in Swain's good graces and calm the voice. But something else inside of her fought just as hard. Those horrid pictures had nearly consumed her with fear of what lurked beneath, but Swain felt so…wrong. His words were too smooth, like those of any leader who inspired and enthralled instead of culled and enslaved, and therein lay the danger.

She held his gaze and the clarity her fear had brought, fighting against the lulling calmness of the chain. Whatever Swain had inside him, she had felt it before. But when? And why couldn't she remember, what was so important? There was…someone, a whole city cast in nightmares and the touch of darkness had felt similar somehow. The thought slipped through her mind without her being able to hold it back. What haunted her was the conviction she felt of how wrong Swain's way was. Was he tortured by these horrid images every day? Could someone keep his sanity through experiencing this? The evil was not only in the vision. Lux sensed it, tainting the very hand which was offered to her. She could not see further than that though. How far had the evil corrupted Swain? How far would it continue to go?

"I…Why not diplomacy?" She stuttered as the chain around her neck raged, leaving her visibly shaken at the discomfort.

Swain spread the clawed fingers of his glowing hand, demanding her allegiance. "I want your cooperation." He repeated, leaving no room for defiance.

Lux' hand rose to meet his, even though something within her screamed, begged, fought for her to get away.

Swain's lips tilted upwards into a triumphant smirk. "Come on, little girl. You could have gotten better conditions if you negotiated, but we both know you can't exactly say 'no' at the moment and I never turn down a gift horse. Even a Trojan one"

Lux watched the hand in front of her, an inhumanely red, glowing claw of a demon. The chain ordered her to take it, but she tried to refuse. Even though her hand was lifted, ready to grasp his claw, she pushed against the barriers in her head caught in a fight she didn't know how to win. Swain's expression was unreadable as he watched her internal fight patiently, her hand trembling in mid-air. The turmoil in her head intensified as something inside of her screamed in panic. She felt a part of her throwing itself against the restraints on her mind, desperately trying to reach for something bright, warm, soothing behind a thick wall of confusion and fear. Everything in her fought against the overwhelming compulsion to grasp for the hand, to do as she had been ordered, to obey without question. Lux took a deep breath, fighting the headless panic, she looked up at Swain and saw the twitch of his lip curling into a cruel sneer. Something inside of her fought back by compressing her whole being into a small ball of bright defiant light.

As soon as she stopped fighting, her hand lifted on its own, without the force of her will keeping it down. Lux was preoccupied with keeping the remnants of her light together against her inner uproar, against the overwhelming sense of something dangerous grasping for her, despite the necklace trying to take over control. She could already feel the warmth of Swain's claw against her skin.

She did not want to take his hand.

As she held Swain's gaze, she inhaled deeply and unleashed her pent up energy, pushing it out of every fiber of her being with a single, loud, agonizing scream.

Something encasing her mind shattered, like a mirror splintering to pieces, leaving only the comfortable brightness which filled every part of her being. Lux was overjoyed by the sudden connection to her surroundings, by the lucidity of her thoughts, by feeling almost whole again.

The impact shoved Swain violently over his desk, throwing him against the wall with a heavy 'thud' and an angry hiss. Without thinking, Lux turned to the window and jumped. Glass splintered as she catapulted herself right through it. Her landing on the ground was far from graceful, but without major injuries. Grateful, she started to run as to bring as much distance between herself and that monster. Behind her, she heard swooshing sounds, like the crescendo of a gathering storm, and she didn't need to look back to know that hundreds of black-winged birds soared up in the sky. The overcharged petricite chain scorched her skin like red-hot coal, but right now the pain felt minimal compared to the fear she felt before.
Much to her surprise, the atmosphere she found wasn't as dark and sinister as the one she had fled from, but a nice, bright and sunny day. A thing she cursed, for her powers always recharged faster when the sun stood high. And, calculating from the angry determination she could feel from around her neck, her powers weren't working in her favor this time.

She unwound the threads of illusion concealing the device while she gained speed, cursing her luck. Her idea of overcharging the necklace with enough power to render it useless proved to be ineffective as she felt the spell creeping over her mind like a fog, a thing which fed off every particle of light she absorbed, gaining strength by the second. She grasped the collar, trying to rip it off while she ran but with little effect. As she continued to run, the air seemed to come alive with the screeching of a hundred ravenous birds.

After his talk with the General, Talon was deep in thought as he traversed a rooftop. He was torn from his thoughts as he saw a white flash in the distance, visible even in broad daylight, extremely close to Swain's mansion. Before he knew it, his body started moving of its own accord, phasing through shadows cast by the midday sun, leaping over gaps in between rooftops towards the light. Then something, even darker than night itself blocked out the sun and clouded the sky, seemingly chasing the light.
He cursed silently to himself. Shit kept escalating quicker than anticipated. He sped up, shutting off all thoughts not directly connected to reaching his goal. After a short time, he heard hasty footsteps on the street below him, footsteps he knew too well by now. Talon measured the distance and decided to change his direction to cut her off, the alley between two houses to the east was his goal. Accelerating and pushing himself from the edge, for a moment it felt like flying as the wall of a house was rapidly closing in shortly before he took ahold of a familiar gargoyle, quickly letting go and dropping down to a small balcony two meters under him. Just one more drop and he had reached the street level, a low, short whistle escaped his lips, just enough to startle the person hastily running along the street. Without a sound, she spun around, blue eyes wide. She was blonde right now, he noticed. Was the skin around her neck…smoldering? Cassiopeia would call that necklace horrendous, Talon was sure, and Lux wasn't much for flashy things like that. An uncomfortable mixture of feelings made his stomach churn as Lux, unconcealed and without her mask, looked at him with a horror he had never seen on her face before.

"Hey…" Talon hesitantly started, not sure how he'd begin with everything that had happened between them, taking into account the cloud of ravens that was no doubt searching for her right now. There was not enough time to form a halfway decent plan, so he had to go with the flow and his instincts. When he got into a fight with Katarina or Cassiopeia, they didn't talk to each other until everything was okay, or they fought it out. But would that work with Lux, especially with time running out? This was, once more, going in a completely different direction than anticipated.

"Go away." She half hissed, half sobbed through clenched teeth, hand twitching and trembling while she flinched away from him. She looked bad, and now she moved backwards, blinking to the sun, to him, and to what would be many, many birds.

"I don't plan on hurting you." Talon explained, keeping his hands deliberately low. As if he had given her the chance to speak if he had wanted something else.

"Leave me alone and you won't get hurt." She answered, teeth still pressed together, pain and growing determination evident in her eyes.

As always, she surprised Talon. That was the only thing he could rely on, she always surprised him. But now wasn't the time for this, as he heard the loud rustling of wings approaching en masse. Lux winced again, this time turning her back without a care for whom she exposed it to and started to run.

Why didn't she put up her invisibility? Is she trying to get herself killed? Talon silently berated himself. He jumped into a sprint as well, the low caw from multiple beaks filling his ears. Without much thought he grabbed her arm and pushed her in the direction of a halfway hidden underpass, shoving her and following swiftly. A second later, he heard the rustling of wings as the feathered animals searched frantically for them. A glimpse of a black cloud was all he needed before kicking aside some old debris to reveal a black hole in the ground. Without questioning him, Lux slipped down and Talon followed.

He heard her landing, guessing from the two splashes she had landed on her feet first, on her knees second. His own drop was much smoother and soundless. It was pitch black, and Talon's senses sharpened.

A light flashed up at his right, illuminating the cowering form of Lux, who looked at him with more clarity in her eyes than she had during the last weeks, but also with more distrust and confusion, as if she was looking at a riddle she wasn't able to solve. Something was…missing. Talon wasn't able to determine what it was. She blinked and shook her head.

"I don't plan to hurt you." Talon repeated, stretching out his hands, much more carefully than before. Lux looked more like a cornered, wounded animal than the ever-smiling spark of her usual self.

She looked at him, blinking rapidly. Her next words came as a surprise. "What do you want?" She demanded, standing up without dusting her clothes off. She reached for the chain around her neck, pulling at it weakly before she took a step back, still eyeing him warily.

"What do you mean?" He asked, lacking a better, more elaborate answer. Why was she still playing this damn game?

"Why do you keep following me?" She almost screamed, and Talon saw a dull shimmer descending over her eyes. Her hand was trembling as she held the light, the other clenched into a fist as if she tried to reach for something that wasn't there. Come to think of it, where was her staff?

"Tell me what the fuck is wrong with you now." Talon hissed lowly, warning and threat in one, even though he felt something beyond his comprehension happened on more than one level.

The fading emotions in her opening eyes posed enough of a warning for him to quickly jump to the side, avoiding death but not another painful burn smoldering his right side, leaving a smoking hole in his shirt. A layer of brightness spread over his clothes, originating from the burn mark. "Damnit, I said I want to t…" A second ball of light formed in her hand, lighting the cold determination of her face as she took aim and threw it in his direction. With another silent curse he dodged this second, trying to connect what was wrong, trying to suppress his natural response to an attack. "Talk." He barely finished as Lux stretched out her hand in his direction and drew a circle in the air. Oh shit, that couldn't be good, glowing almost blue and... Talon retreated quickly before a searingly hot beam of light clashed into the wall where he had stood just a moment ago, shaking the whole section of the sewers, making debris fall down.
She wanted this? She'd get this, Talon decided. He'd play along for now and ask questions later.

The shadows engulfed him like a cloak. He heard a pained hiss and right before darkness could claim the sewer-segment once more, he saw Lux lowering her hands, barely above the sewage water, while she looked around in confusion, as if she didn't understand how he had vanished. The reaction of her magic was all the same though, concentrating to the same ball of light she had used the whole time. No new trick?

Talon knew something was wrong, but he wasn't able to figure out exactly what at this moment.
Why didn't she see through his tricks? She should know them by now.
He circled her until he stood in her back, waiting for her to turn, to interrupt the trick he knew she could, had seen and experienced quite a few times, but she didn't. Talon was alert, expecting a feint while lifting his bladed hand. Then he crossed the distance to her unguarded side in a flash, drawing his right arm in a wide circle to gain momentum. Her head turned slightly, but it was too late. The armored back of his lower arm collided with her temple, and she collapsed like a puppet cut from the strings. Talon caught her, and her light snuffed out. Clutching the motionless woman in his arms, he panted heavily, and for a moment he did nothing but catch his breath while the darkness returned.

What had that been?

He checked her pulse. Still beating. She was alive, he had just knocked her unconscious.

A sudden urge came over him to press her body against his, burying his nose into her hair and feeling the weight of her form against his. His eyes closed briefly as he inhaled her scent. His mind went blank. For a moment, he simply gathered his breath and his wits, trying to connect her odd behavior to her outburst.

He never dwelled on things that couldn't be, but sometimes he evaluated if a split-second decision had been the right one, if he could have acted differently to create an even better outcome.

Right now his reeling mind was hardly evaluating anything. For a short moment he allowed himself to wish he had not wasted their last intimate moment together with fucking her against his wall. He wasn't the type to regret but right now, with her limp body in his arms and with the confusion about her hostile behavior against him, he wished he had the memory of making her glow once more to console him.

His grip around her tightened as he drew his face back from her golden hair. He had made a different choice.

He lifted her up over his shoulder, and carried her towards higher ground and out of the water. Something was still terribly wrong, but with her in his arms, everything was a little bit better already. His hand found its way to her throat, where he was unexpectedly met with raw flesh. What was that? His hand slipped upwards though, caressing the barely visible white line, the marking of one of their first meetings. He had not cut her throat then, and hadn't done so now. Her confusion and mistrust, her miscalculated blows against him, her surprise to him vanishing... It was as if she had forgotten everything about him. He lowered her to the dry ground and grasped for her throat again. It faintly smelled like burnt skin, and his fingers drew over an unfamiliar structure as well as raw flesh underneath.
Lux only wore one necklace, the one supposedly from her Noxian suitor. This one felt much clunkier, bigger, and…warm. Very warm. Had the necklace burned her? He pieced her behavior together, trying to quench the thirst for an answer. What happened to you? He asked wordlessly, fingers gliding over the smooth stone around her neck.

Was this one of the fabled slave-rings in action? As far as he knew those were experiments, an idea born of the combination of Darkwill's ever-growing paranoia and megalomania, nothing that had been perfected.
A tingling sensation crept up his fingers as he took a few beads in between them. An unfriendly and threatening feeling.

One thing was clear: Lux would be a great addition to complete the task given by his master in time. Not the only reason why he wanted to take her with him and much more spontaneous than he had hoped, but he'd have to escalate his plans once more. Whatever was going on with Lux, Talon needed a mage to solve it. Sadly the one he trusted…had trusted? was unconscious in his arms, and letting her wake up didn't seem like the best option right now.
There was only one other mage he that he would risk asking for assistance. "Keep sleeping." He murmured soothingly, otherwise he'd have to knock her out again and that was something he'd rather avoid. He lifted her up, carefully shifting her weight before putting her over his shoulder. "You know, you really are a pain sometimes." He smirked to himself.
He'd have to go through the sewers to avoid those damned birds.

Chapter Text

The limp body in his arms was warm. He carefully balanced her on his shoulder as he looked through a small gap which served as an exit of the sewers. The cautious glance told him that nothing, no one was present, so he lifted himself and his precious cargo up. The house he searched for was very close.

Talon didn't bother knocking, but entered the house through an unlocked window. Not the easiest thing with a human weight on his shoulders, but he had successfully completed more difficult tasks. The charge he carried today was special though, so he carefully slipped her through without bumping her against anything.

Once inside, he carefully placed her on the kitchen table, spending some extra moments making sure she laid comfortably, before he pushed a few stray blonde strands out of her face. She laid absolutely still, the lights usually playing with the gold in her hair dim. A clear sign that she was still unconscious. Talon couldn't help himself but gently caress her cheek like he had done countless times before. The blood on her face didn't look good, but the scorch marks around her neck were even worse and concerned him the most. Someone had to be responsible for this. He made a mental note to add to his ever-growing list of things he had to take care of in the future. Luckily, he was a very patient man, and his personal vendettas could wait. But he'd never forget them and he'd make sure what he inflicted was tenfold worse than anything they ever did.

With a reluctant sigh he left to search for the owner of the house, for there was no one advancing the kitchen.
However, he did not need to search long as the sounds of footsteps announced the approach of another human being while he cleared the parlor. He phased back to the staircase.

A man past his prime appeared atop of the stairs, one hand hidden behind his back, a stern expression on his face, before he recognized who had entered his house.
"Young Master Talon." Ilak sounded surprised.

"I need your assistance." Talon hissed, skipping the greeting.

The healer looked him up and down, a healthy dose of suspicion in his gaze as he noticed the scorch mark at his side. "You don't usually come here with scratches this small." Needless to say that Talon had never before sought the healer out voluntarily.

Talon crossed the distance in a blink of the eye, grasping his arm impatiently as he pulled him down the stairs towards the kitchen. There was not much resistance as Ilak scrambled not to fall at Talon's hard tug, his nightgown hindering his movements in the process. By the time they reached the kitchen, he had barely regained his balance as he saw the scene unfold before him.

The healer didn't bother to voice his reprimands and was fast in assessing the situation. "Oh sweet lamb." He muttered as he caught sight of the unconscious woman on his table, instantly crossing the bright tiles of his kitchen floor.

Talon did not intervene as he let him check her pulse and vitals, let him push her eyelids back to inspect her pupils, monitor her breathing. As soon as Ilak was sure she was in no immediate, life-threatening condition, he looked over the laceration on her right temple where dirt and dried blood caked, as well as the burn marks marring the skin of her neck. Her dirty clothes and sewer stench still clinging to her didn't evoke a reaction from the healer either.

Talon heard the healer's deep inhale. "What did you do?" Ilak asked calmly, turning his narrowed eyes to Talon.

"I knocked her out." The assassin answered truthfully without remorse.

Ilak looked at him with incomprehension, a stern wrinkle deepening between his eyebrows. "And you need my assistance for what?" He sounded alarmed, a new kind of suspicion creeping to his face.

"Something's wrong with her." Talon tried to explain without telling the healer any details that could complicate things.

Ilak fell silent before he found an obvious answer. "You beat her senseless. That usually results in people not feeling too well." He finally explained, like talking to a child.

Talon gritted his teeth. He knew why he didn't like man. Talking to him was so damn difficult. "She just…wouldn't hold still."

Ilak shook his head. "I can't imagine why." His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Talon tried to correct himself. "No! She normally does not oppose, but…"

Ilak cut him short. "H-hm, yes. Just this one time, she wouldn't listen, it was an accident…" The healer rattled out, rolling his eyes before rubbing them in a tired gesture. "Master Talon, please listen. I don't want to have any part in whatever you are doing."

Talon realized that this conversation was going the wrong way. "No!" He tried to fix the situation, making the healer realize he wasn't there to hurt her, thereby securing his cooperation. "Somebody else did something to her, not me."

Healer Ilak's eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "So somebody else did something to her, and you needed to knock her unconscious after that because she wouldn't obey you…"

Talon sighed in frustration. The Important parts were missing but he couldn't get him involved any further. If Ilak wanted to over-simplify things then…"Yes." He concluded.

Ilak's expression froze. A scowl deepening. "Get out of my house." He hissed in an unfamiliar show of defiance.

"No!" Talon retaliated. His patience with the other man was running thin. He was on a tight schedule after all and the healer was on a need-to-know basis; heal her and get that thing off her neck. Talon noticed Lux' hand twitching, she was starting to recover from his blow faster than anticipated. Maybe he needed some draughts to keep her sleeping. Her waking up, terrorizing him with all her might was nothing he wanted to happen at the healer's house. "No", he repeated, "you will listen. Somebody did something to her. The past couple weeks, she didn't behave like she normally does and she does not use her abilities like I know she can. She seemed to be fighting something within her. She doesn't remember my most simple tricks. She wears a chain she has never worn before, and the chain seems to have burnt her." Talon continued, hoping the healer would listen this time. Otherwise this would turn severely unpleasant for him very soon. "I know there should be no working slave rings in existence, but…" He crossed the space to be by Lux' side, noticing the tensing up of Ilak's body with a killer so close to his victim.
There were two types of healers. Most of the Noxian ones were bloodthirsty pricks who enjoyed inflicting pain on others. Those who felt compassion to their patients were rare. In fact, Ilak was the first and only healer with any compassion Talon had ever encountered. He still didn't know how Marcus had found Ilak in the first place. He cared enough about his patient's condition, but not enough to risk his own skin by showing weakness. He was too smart to step in between Talon and his supposed patient, so the assassin laid his hand on the chain around Lux' neck.

"Here. This. She won't let me take it off, and she nearly slipped away when I tried to force it." Those words were hardly adequate for the terror he had experienced as he had felt her internal scream, as if he was ripping the soul right out of her body. He had not tried a second time, for this seemed to be magic beyond his understanding. The main reason he was here now, demanding support.

"I am a healer." Ilak repeated, this eyes closing tightly as he tried to process the given information. "If what you say is true, this is…different."

Talon took a deep breath to calm himself. "You are a mage." He stated, Ilak nodded. "Aren't you supposed to read magic? At least tell me what I can try to do to get it off her."

Ilak sounded surprised. "Who told you about reading magic?"

Talon nodded to the unconscious Lux and Ilak instantly retracted his fingers as if he had burned them. "She does that. So, are you able to do what I want?"

The wheels in Ilak's head began to spin, visibly falling into place. "I am hardly an artifact mage."

Talon took another deep, calming breath. This was starting to get repetitive. Not my area of expertise here, not my area of specialization there. He didn't have a lot of time to work with. "Do you know an artifact mage?"

"I know someone who experiments with slave rings." Ilak slowly explained. "You really want to take this thing off?"

Talon rolled his eyes. Hadn't he established that much already? "Yes."

Ilak's eyes narrowed at him. "Why?"

Talon flashed his teeth at the unusual show of disobedience. Family business was nothing Ilak was allowed to meddle with, and his personal reasons were even less part of the healer's business. Ilak waited, so Talon settled with "she's not herself" and a withering glare.

Ilak pulled himself back at the warning, but his gaze stayed on Talon's hand, which was still possessively curled around the necklace. The healer's gaze switched to Lux' face and he finally decided to take action. "I could do a simple analyzation spell, but you'd have to do the rest."

Finally. "How long would that take?" Talon did not let his relief show.

"Not too long. Maybe half an hour." The healer calculated.

Talon nodded. "You have to keep her sleeping the whole time. Otherwise she'll blast you. She's already coming to."

Only now Ilak seemed to remember the charred ends of his cloak and the hole in his clothes. "That still doesn't explain why you would do something like…this." Ilak tilted his head in question.

Talon nodded confirmingly and hold Ilak's gaze, until the other man looked away.

The healer took a deep breath. "I have to get my spell book. But let me take a look at her first."

Reluctantly Talon let the healer move closer to inspect Lux a second time.

He looked over her face first, a frown rising between his brows before his eyes wandered lower. Talon was hardly able to contain himself as Ilak's hands stroke over the stony beads on Lux' neck and the silver chain holding them together. "Petricite?" Ilak stated in disbelief.

Talon's ears perked up. "The anti-magic stuff Demacians use to calm their paranoia?" He asked.

Ilak nodded, twirling the silvery chain in between his fingers in a much too familiar gesture while he studied Lux' motionless face. The blood really didn't look good on her. "If those scorch-marks are left unattended for much longer, they'll scar." He informed Talon.

"Well then heal her already." The assassin ordered. Each scar told a story, a lesson forged in blood and pain, staying behind even after the story of its creation had left the conscious memory. Lux' scars, albeit much less, were the same as his but this one…this one would pose a memory he would never be able to forget, and he would not allow it to stay. It would be a memory of enslavement, humiliation, the painful torture of her soul and spirit into this timid, disorientated creature writhing in Swain's grasp. This was not his Lux.

"Fine." That I can do better than do the impossible and remove the thing, Ilak added silently, preparing to go for the healing first.

Forty-five minutes later, the remnants of the burn marks were nothing more than light touches of pink which would fade with time. Ilak had to dose the young woman with a strong narcotic but Master Talon's apprehension seemed to be justified. Her magic shone through the restriction of the petricite, like the sun shining through the storm clouds. "As expected, the petricite blocks all magical attempts to read whatever is etched into it." He explained, well aware of how unhappy that would make the young master. An emotional state to be avoided. Talon had absentmindedly stroked a strand of the blonde hair. "Moon silver is normally used as a channeling agent, so my first guess would indeed be a first, working slave-ring." The healer concluded.

"What is the exact impact would it have on her?" Talon asked, calmer than expected.

"I don't know. It could do all kinds of things, but from what you told me, she might be under someone's control. Maybe she can think independently under that spell, but if that is really true, then her attack on you was out of the ordinary…" He stared at Talon, the silence spreading between them. Quietly, in his head, he could think of dozens of people who would love to give the young man more than just a good, hard slap upside the head, "…unless someone controls her powers as well." Even though Talon had been secretive about the extent of those powers.

"So basically you're telling me you have no idea. And nobody else will be able to tell me anything, because the petricite hinders all attempts at using magic against it." Talon summarized, frustration darkening his voice and eyes.

Ilak tilted his head, not satisfied at all by the simplification and the possible outburst it might bring. He decided it was better for his health, however, not to anger Talon further by pointing out, so he merely nodded.

Dissatisfaction spread on the assassin's face and Ilak tensed. He hated working with an angry Talon and had the scars to prove it. He had mostly worked with the assassin when he was hurt, and that had seldom been a pleasure.

"So…You cannot break whatever it is?" The assassin asked.

Ilak shook his head, knowing when silence was better than stammering for excuses and apologies.

Talon continued to twirl a strand of blonde hair in consideration, searching for new ins with his initial plan evaporating. "Can the ownership of this necklace be transferred to another person? Can a second device be created to overwrite the existing one?" As soon as Lux was awake and not murderous towards him, she would find a way to get it off which Talon was a hundred percent sure of.

Ilak thought about the idea for a moment. "Maybe by forming your own necklace of petricite and moon silver? I don't know if they experimented with those materials as well, but as far as I know, petricite only exists in Demacia." He threw a cautious look at his woman's face. Talon didn't like the look, for it now knew her real face. But he knew someone working with Demacians; Katarina. And he knew that Marcus had established a fast connection to Katarina who surely could obtain some petricite for him. Hopefully the material would not affect the hextech they used to enhance their messenger birds. "You said you knew an artifact-mage experimenting with these things." He tapped against the chain again, scraping off specks of dried blood in the process. Was it hers? He didn't remember spilling that much of it.

Ilak nodded once more. "Yes, and I don't like him. But there is something else you should know." The healer continued, waiting for Talon's complete attention. "Do you know what a person's matrix is?" He asked, in a tone which conveyed he didn't expect him to.

Talon remembered a conversation with Lux. "Something like the power-core of a person, influencing someone's personality." He repeated the summary of their conversation.

Ilak nodded, astonishment flickering over his features. "In short, yes. A mage specializing on analysis once told me to imagine it like a ball of power, deep inside a person's mind, stretching tendrils out over the whole body. As far as I can see, her matrix is in complete disarray. I am sure her magic is not meant to be bent in the way it currently is."

Talon had never heard something like this and wasn't able to completely understand because he wasn't a mage himself. He had no idea what Ilak struggled to say but it didn't sound good. "What does that mean?"

Ilak shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. But I am sure her matrix would break if anyone bent it any more than they already have."

Talon was silent for a moment. "What would that result in?"

Ilak tilted his head in resignation. "In a best case scenario, her going mad. Worst case…death"

Talon's fingers clenched around the necklace, stones pressing into his palm so hard he wished he could grind them to dust beneath his anger and growing frustration. Time to make a deal with a demon.

Cassiopeia had spent the last hour looking at the watch in her hands, a watch with a crack in the glass and the hands standing still. The statues of two guards stood still in her room, mouths agape, formerly blinking eyes now grey and dull. Her forked tongue darted out as she checked the time on the watch for the umpteenth time. Quarter past five. The letter her father had given her was tucked away safely, where none of her nosy siblings would ever find it. For the moment this place was safe, at least for as long as she could let Talon believe their father was still with them. She tasted the air once more, the dust of rubble combined with the freshness of magic still lingering on her palate.

Then she felt the vibrations of footsteps entering the house. She hid the broken watch next to Marcus' letter and ignored the stone that had once been two guards as she slithered out of her room.

It was not one, but three who returned. Talon, with what probably was his girl slung over his shoulder, Healer Ilak following behind.

Cassiopeia gritted her teeth and hissed lowly. Their father was missing and Talon was...his head whipped up, like he had heard her thoughts.

"Is everything alright?" He asked, his suspicion always bordering on paranoia, and Cassiopeia forcibly calmed herself.

If she told him right now what had presumably happened, he'd go after their father, pushing the duties Marcus had deemed more important than anything else to the end of the line. So it was her duty to keep Talon from Marcus' trail for as long as possible. Plus, if their father hadn't succeeded, Talon had no chance. Not without Katarina and not without preparation. Regardless of how cool Talon's demeanor was, Marcus vanishing would shatter his composure and in all likelihood make him do something really stupid. And, should he flip his shit and go crazy, she would be all alone. "Shouldn't I be the one asking that?" She easily replied, forcing her grief down with practiced ease. "Last thing I knew is that you two had a nasty lovers quarrel. Looks like you finally got the upper hand, hm?" Cassiopeia didn't understand Healer Ilak's expression of terror, even less Talon's warning gaze to the other man.

She'd eventually tell about their father when both he and Katarina were present and, until then, she needed new allies.

With Lux no longer in immediate danger, Talon's next stop was an unassuming house on the outskirts of Noxus Prime's middle district. Walking in made a shiver run down his spine, his senses told him something wasn't quite right and to be on guard for anything. He had had no time for an extended background-check, but the sparse information he was able to dig up about the man he was visiting was bad enough. Anything further would have only made the job more daunting. A mage who was entrusted by Boram Darkwill to research the possibilities of practicable mind-control and other forms of manipulation. All of Noxus' leaders were obsessed with strength, but creating something like this would change the foundations of Noxus' rule to something of weakness of will. Not that Talon cared, but it sounded like a contradiction to everything he ever learned and lived by.

He found the laboratory easily as all he had to do was follow the high pitched screams of terror.

Opening the door, he was greeted by the sight of a woman, struggling against her restraints as a collar closed around her neck. She shuddered and twitched before her bodies tension drained away and she sagged down onto the table.

"Yes! It's finally working…"

Suddenly, the woman gasped, foam welling up from her mouth as a seizure ran through her body. Talon watched her convulse on the table for a good minute, a man in grey robes scuttling around her, before she finally laid still. He hoped he was at the wrong address. Healer Ilak had been very specific, though…

"Shit! How can this be? This was fucking supposed to-"

Talon cleared his throat and the robed man spun around to face him. He blinked and readjusted the glasses on his nose. His eyes flitted over Talon's telltale weaponry, gaze halting at his arm blade.

"Oh. The Blade's Shadow? To what do I owe the honor?" A polite bow of his head followed the question.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, Talon thought. "You will do something for me. If you fuck up, I will make you regret the day your mother gave birth to you. If you succeed, I will reward you with a great advance which will benefit your inventions, if you are clever enough." He nodded to the dead woman.

The other man's eyes lit up at the proposition. Somethings were just too tempting to give up.

Katarina felt sorry for her blow-up with Talon. She knew he had been right as he pointed out the probability of a scheme behind the carefully arranged disaster of their last evening together. She knew that unlike her two siblings, the calm tempered Cassiopeia and Talon, she could be headstrong and hot tempered. An assassin should be calm and collected, and she knew far better than anyone else how far she was from achieving this. She expected more from herself and was constantly trying to improve and grow for the honor of her family. Now, with enough time to reflect on her actions, she was sure she had acted wrongly. The events of the day had been too much and Talon's bad mood had pushed her to the breaking point. Still, Talon had not been the one to deserve her wrath. It had been his girl.

Talon always acted from the shadows, so no one outside of the Du Couteau family expected the degree of loyalty Katarina had witnessed every day. He obviously felt loyal to his girl for there was no other reason she could imagine for him to butcher an entire household. And that girl, the one Talon had murdered for without question, had chosen to betray him and blind him in his own home before fleeing. What else should Katarina feel than anger? Talon had been the place holder for the person she really wanted to hit; that stupid blonde. Katarina's hand twitched. Oh, how she would have loved to strangle that Demacian woman's throat until she breathed her last breath. So maybe she had followed Talon's request a little faster, a little more eager than she would have normally done. He usually forgave her without making a fuss, but the last outburst had been particularly bad and she actually felt sorry for being nasty to him instead of taking her anger out on the woman who had bewitched her brother. In fact, Katarina should have followed Talon's woman instantly to make her pay for the obvious pain she had caused him, regardless of Marcus' words towards her. If someone had managed to earn her father's respect, which hardly anyone was able to, then she should trust in that judgement; but their talk had been years ago and things changed.

There was no point in reminiscing and regretting the past, what was done was done, she thought as she opened a window, trying to fulfill Talon's expressed wish. Why did he suddenly needed petricite so badly? Maybe he would not mention their fallout and everything would be alright again if she sent it to him. This was the first (and probably last) step of her apologizing for everything that had happened. Her brother hardly asked for anything, so this was a rare opportunity to mend fences between them.

The window's hinges were well-oiled, as if waiting for her. She allowed herself a smirk. How unintelligent. Inviting, but unintelligent. She crouched on the window sill, observing the room before she slipped inside. Soft snores indicated the man this room belonged to slept as soundly as a baby. She regarded his blanket-covered form, watching for signs he was waking. Sleep had eased out the lines on his forehead, the russet of his hair falling onto his face. Bare arms showed the silver scars of a fighter who had seen his share of battles, a big hand clutching the cushion. Very sound asleep, Katarina assessed. Before putting that to the test, she'd go for her objective. The open window let enough moonlight through to let her find the weapons rack easily.

He was a tidy man, as she had anticipated, and his neatly hung, well-polished armor was no exception. She looked over the pieces, identifying the clasps and buckles, asking herself what best fit Talon's needs. All the pieces on display were well-tended and oiled, as was right and proper.

Katarina decided for one of the clasps holding his blue scarf together, for they seemed to be made of the same material as the rest of his armor. With deft fingers, she removed her chosen piece from the rest before turning to the still snoring Demacian the armor belonged to.

The pale moonlight illuminated his face, highlighting his high cheekbones as well as his twice broken, now slightly hooked nose. The face of a warrior, cold and determined when awake, but now peaceful and calm. Curiosity irked her and she hazard a step closer, soundless as always. The cadence of his breath didn't change, so she took another step. And another, until she crouched to inspect his face close up, closer than she had ever been to him before, at least without trying to kill him. He mumbled something and huddled his face deeper into the cushion. If this was Talon, he would have attacked her by now. How did this man feel so safe in this environment? He knew of an assassin in the city, ready to pierce his back with a dagger. Why was he still sleeping soundlessly as a child? Without conscious effort, her fingertips grazed over his cheek, the day's stubble rubbing at her calloused skin. This was daring, she knew, and still she wasn't able to stop herself. A part of her wanted him to wake up, wanted him to find her in his bedroom, but that would contradict Talon's request.

Then she felt the sleeping man taking in a deep breath, slits of blue appearing between his slowly opening eyelids as he blinked at her drowsily. "Katarina?" He mumbled and, again, he did not react like her brother would; going for her throat first and finding out what she wanted second.

Her heartrate spiked, but she was too experienced to not know what to do. "Are you dreaming of me again?" She purred softly, curling her hand to stroke his face with the back of her fingers. He made a nondescript noise as his hand rose to cup hers. Katarina almost yanked it back, but he was not holding on strongly, just one stroke, soft like a butterfly but sending a spark of tingling electricity up her arm, before he muttered something incomprehensible, closing his eyes and drifting off into sleep again.

Katarina watched for several moments to be sure this was no feint. But it wasn't, the daft man really went to sleep again.


Her heart pounded like a drum. If that wasn't a divine sign for her to get out now, nothing was. She had already indulged in her fascination long enough, Talon was awaiting her message. Refraining from touching him again, she tiptoed to the windowsill. With one last look at the sleeping man, now twisting and turning in his sleep, she vanished into the night. She could have pierced his heart easily but her orders were clear. This was a diplomatic mission. If not for that, nothing would have protected the man from her blade, fascinating as he might be.

Chapter Text

Marcus was at ease in a way only people with their path lain out before them were. Relaxed, but determined nonetheless to face what laid before him, he politely nodded to the woman in front of him. Her golden eyes were like mirrors, giving away little of her agenda but drawing in the unsuspecting moth to a flame. He was bound to get signed but, at this stage of the game, if he could complete what he needed to, he'd walk through fire willingly.

"I must admit, I am a bit surprised you agreed to a meeting." The beautiful woman said with a smile sharp enough to cut glass.

He answered it with a nonchalant shrug. "I must admit, I expected more pleasantries beforehand." He flicked one of his bloodied blades onto the table.

The woman mirrored his shrug. "I thought that counted as a warm welcome for you, Blade of Noxus?" Her smile was alluring, inviting, tempting enough to draw a negligent, overconfident person in.

Marcus was neither. "You know how to make a man work for what he wants." He did not feel confident enough to regard his nails as she did, but his comment made her head snap. He leaned forward, a small smile splitting his face. "I think I identified one of your wants, pale woman."

Her smile was languid, the shimmer in her eyes hard as she regarded him coldly. "Don't all men think they know what women desire?" She drawled.

Marcus was still able to meet her gaze, which counted as something he supposed. She was not stupid enough to disregard the idea he knew something or that he possibly had an ace up his sleeve and he would use that doubt to his advantage. "I found out something interesting about certain old as well as newer friends of yours."

Now her gaze flickered from her nails to him and her cold glare bored into him. Marcus prided himself in being able to see what people so desperately tried to hide: their emotions and intentions. Here he saw…nothing. LeBlanc was simply better at hiding than he was at discovering.

"Oh. I am interested. Do tell me, Blade of Noxus." She purred as golden strings shot from her hands, grasping after him like soft ribbons. Before he was able to bat them away, they hardened to a steel-like clamp around him, forcing the air out of his lungs. "I already know of your daughter. I observed what you did in the depths of the immortal bastion. You should have never looked that deep." The last sentence was a malignant hiss.

Marcus expected that she would divulge what she knew and use this to his advantage, but he never expected to be incapacitated to the point where he wasn't able to inhale. Pain bloomed in his chest as his vision blurred. He hated to resort on phrases that were stale but, for the life of him, he could not think of anything else that would save him. "If you kill me now, Swain will get everything I know." He croaked out, the strange burning in his chest was taking his last breath away.

The woman tittered. "Please explain as to why that would be a problem?"

For a cruel, long moment she stared at him, demonstrating her superiority, before the pressure around his chest lifted if only slightly. Marcus was able to inhale, which he did in measured, slow breaths. "In the depths of the Immortal Bastion is a chamber, sealed by old spells which seem to be renewed once a decade. The crest on the seals is a rose. Second, there is a sect down the bowels of the sewers, sending regular ships with no captain listed. They are always sailing eastwards, into the mists that regularly appear all over Runeterra."
The pale woman's mouth closed. He had revealed more than he wanted to, but maybe she would not recognize his desperate act to seize control of the situation. His expression was, of course, unmoving with that mocking smile his eldest daughter seemed to have inherited from him.
There was no stopping now. He had put most of his cards on the table with very little left to play with, and he intended to make the most of it. "Imagine what would happen if someone broke the seals, if someone connected the existence of whatever lays sealed to the mist..."

The woman's mouth pinched. "I'd like to see when you unleash that above all of Noxus." She purred, perfectly controlled.

Marcus was unable to distinguish if she was bluffing or not. With all of his carefully laid plans at their end, it was time to gamble it all. "You hardly care about Noxus. But guess what would be unleashed upon you?"

LeBlanc laughed, a pleasant, sultry, dangerous sound. "Noxus means something to you. Are you willing to risk all of that on the mere hope that it would harm me?"

Marcus smiled, wide and dangerous, showing all of his teeth. "I have less left to lose than you think."

"Your family?" The woman tilted her head in disbelief.

Marcus thought about his children. Brash and brazen Katarina with her head held high, laughing daringly when she jumped into action, still eager to prove herself, too much like he had been in his younger years. Talon, silently observing from the sidelines, his thoughts impossible to read more often than not when he waited patiently for his entry. Cassiopeia, his scheming, smart little girl, would easily pick up the scent of deception and find the truth. Even though it was much too late to change anything, Marcus hoped he had placed them well enough to come out on top. He hoped that not telling them who was after them would not recoil too badly. Some things were out of his control now. "True strength will prevail. Will you also prevail with what is coming after you?"

She did not lose her composure. Not that Marcus had expected as much. He also hadn't expected the explosion of pain around his heart. "You should have let this rest, Blade of Noxus." The woman hissed as his breath was cut short once more. "Let's see how well you have guarded your own position."

He wasn't able to move. He wasn't able to breath. His children would have to do this alone, after all. He did not want to die, though, as he willed his brain to improvise another plan that would get him out of here.

He heard a low growl, accompanied by the screech of a raven.

Red eyes followed the gentle wave of red wine in the crystal glass, listening intently to the whispers in his head. As always there were new voices, added their funeral dirge to the chaotic symphony, bringing him a sense of his immediate surroundings as well as the world around him. One raven refused to simply hand over his secrets, but stared at him intently with something akin to annoyance.

Swain smelled his wine, returning the accusatory stare with a solemn one of his own. "You do realize I did not actively aspire for this outcome?" Anticipating, expecting and accepting were not the same. Du Couteau in his former position had been a valuable opponent. Dangerous, yes, but useful nonetheless. A high stake Swain had sacrificed.

A shadow materialized behind the raven. "Since when do you defend your actions?" A dark hiss answered him.

"Merely stating the obvious." Swain disregarded his wine glass, placing it on the table in front of him. "Until this is over, you would have been an endless enigma."

"If you say so." The shadow answered in a way that made it hard to distinct which emotions drove it. Not that that was necessary anymore.

A moment of quiet passed as the raven's red eyes continued to look at him, watching patiently for his next move.

"LeBlanc will not be able to interfere in Kalamanda." The shadow finally stated dutifully and Swain nodded, waiting for it to release even more. Now, he had all the time in the world. The shadow continued, much to Swain's amusement. "I propose an…adjustment to your current plans." The raven refrained from hopping onto his hand and handing over its knowledge.

"What makes you think you have any leverage left to bargain with?" Swain steepled his fingers, keeping shadow and raven in his sight, pulling ever so slightly at the raven's essence as a warning. Its wings flapped uncomfortably as it balanced on the back of the chair.

"I do have something you will not find through one of your birds, not even through this one. It is, however, tied to two conditions."

Swain leaned back into his chair, eyeing the bird. The current situation had been an opportunity too convenient to pass: remove a valuable token from the board, preferably wounding the Matron of the Black Rose in the process but, as always, the assassin had other plans. The Black Rose was beautiful in more ways than one and for that, was worth the pain of her thorns but Marcus du Couteau…that blade only cut one way – against him. Even when the chips were down, that assassin still won. He looked at the raven again. But, this much Swain had learned over the years, the Blade always made due on his promises. However, he did not make it this far on 'honor' and 'promises'. He made it on cunning and wit. "I am listening."

The raven hopped onto his outstretched hand, ready to divulge what it knew.

Katarina's answer, which consisted of half a page of insults, crumpled in Talon's fist as he was this close of hissing at the artifact-mage. The man's initial disbelief at Talon's story had grown into giddy enthusiasm as soon as he had been able to analyze the necklace around Lux' neck. What had followed was a complicated and annoying rant about how Lux' matrix looked like she had been in a nasty fight, how hard of a task it was to work around the fragile equilibrium she seemed to have established within her mind, and other stuff Talon didn't understand. The one thing he understood was that Lux was strong enough to pull through this and that Talon himself would skin the strange mage alive and watch the maggots devour him should he damage Lux in any way.

The second thing irking him was the mage's sureness of success and the smug arrogance with which he had disregarded Talon's observation of blood on the chain among other things.

"Do not underestimate her. She usually has at least two aces up her sleeve and one failsafe plan to be sure." His fingers twitched, inclined to touch the bright patch of skin where she had burned his lower arm as a steady reminder of this.

"Then why is she in a position like this?" The mage asked patronizingly, tinkering with the material Katarina had sent with her letter.

Talon looked down at Lux' face, choosing to ignore the jab for as long as he needed the artifact-mage. It was indeed hardly believable that this was her failsafe plan. "I warned you." The assassin shrugged. He did not trust the artifact-mage for the gleam in his eyes spoke for a cruel nature. It was someone Talon didn't want around Lux in rather defenseless state, but his choices right now were limited. Especially not because he had been the one to put her into such a state. Talon could only hope that the threat of his blades and the promised reward were enough to keep the man's avarice at bay. Still, his delighted laughter at Lux' unconscious form shook a primal part of himself, the urge to bare his teeth and go for the other man's throat in defense of his. He glanced at the silent third person in the room, Healer Ilak, who had turned his gaze downwards in disgust, unable to watch.

Watching how the newly formed stone beads weaved in between the preexisting ones was painfully mesmerizing. As the other man murmured his enchantments, Lux stirred despite the heavy dose of drugs inside her. Her first, pained groan clearly spurred the artifact-mage on, a feverish gleam in his eyes. Talon did not dare to move, for if he did, he had strangled the one making her whimper. There was something else inside of him though, something expectant. He had no interest in seeing someone fighting an already lost battle, but something told him, maybe the adamant belief in her abilities, that this was far from over. It was over though, Talon tried to tell himself. Not even Lux could do anything against the power of the necklace, the last weeks had proven as much.

"Now wake her up." The artifact-mage ordered and waved his hand behind him, towards Ilak. Talon still doubted this was a good idea, but the artifact-mage had been adamant about his claim. Lux had to be at least half-conscious, otherwise there was no way in trying to place anything over her mind.

Ilak uncorked a small flask, pouring the clear liquid into Lux' mouth.

After a few seconds nothing happened, and Talon took a deep, calming breath, bracing himself for the storm she might unleash upon them. Her lids fluttered and the expression on the artifact-mage's face became one of lust, clearly enjoying the position of power he was in. Talon inhaled once more, deeply, forcing down the low growl rising in his chest.

"Almost there." The artifact-mage rejoiced, then he closed his eyes and Talon felt the pulse going through him as the artifact-mage established what he had described as a magical bond between his mind and Lux'. Talon's left hand tightened into a fist.

Another look to Lux' face showed a tear running from her eye down her cheek. Talon's suspicions were on high alert. This was…too much.

The artifact-mage continued murmuring fragments of thoughts to no one in the room. "Come here you little…afraid are you…no fear. I will show you…" before he quietened, his concentration clearly tested. First, there was fear on Lux' face, more tears, before it suddenly ceased. The artifact-mage looked smug, sure of his victory, and then surprise marred his formerly superior face. An expression of pure shock overtook him as Talon knew Lux had tricked them again and now the man was the one in trouble. Unable to remove his hand from Lux' forehead to sever their connection, Lux bared her teeth briefly while the artifact- mage grew desperate. Foam seethed from his mouth and ran down his chin and with a strangled cry, he collapsed. Talon grasped for the other man's collar to stop him from touching Lux any more than he already had.

Talon heard the deep inhale of Lux as her expression evened out. Her hand twitched and slits of blue appeared between her lids. Oh no. She was waking. Then her necklace glowed up greenly and her face contorted with pain as she started wincing, struggling. Talon shoved the body out of the way, hissing in anger and frustration. How Lux had managed to defend herself, he had no idea. But now she was thrashing on his bed, groaning, grasping for the collar around her neck.

"What happened?" He hissed towards Ilak, who shrugged helplessly.

"Maybe she woke up enough to put up a fight? Maybe what controlled her beforehand tried to seize control once more? I don't know." The healer lifted his hands in defense against Talon's rapidly growing agitation.

Talon let out a snarl. Do it yourself or don't get it done at all, as it always had been. Remembering the blood on the device and hoping for the best possible outcome, Talon drew one of his daggers and cut his lower arm, splashing the blood on the device on her neck before he grasped for her forehead in the same way the mage had done. How to establish a connection between him, the necklace and her? Fuck, that was exactly the thing he had no idea about.
Magic is all about imagination! He remembered Lux' words spoken so long ago. He needed to calm down, despite the fight happening right next to him. With a little concentration he indeed started to feel something, like a raw, open wound, right under the skin of his fingertips.

He had the chain and neither an idea nor a plan as to what he was doing with it, but he had always been good at improvising. He concentrated on the feeling beneath his skin, feeling for the wound and let go of everything, like when the shadows pulled him into their embrace. As he fell in the abyss, his vision went white. For a moment, it felt like he was dragged into something, all sense of his surroundings lost, the sickening feeling of not knowing which way was up or down was making his head spin.
Suddenly, the spinning stopped and he felt different in a way he had never felt before. He opened something that was not really his eyes, but a sixth sense, confused but ready to face whatever he would find.
A glimpse at his surroundings revealed them to resemble a grey, dimly lit space without walls or borders, without anything that gave him a sense of direction. A void.

The reflexes of his mind were as sharp as his physical ones, otherwise the tug his mind interpreted as a quiet whisper would not have been warning enough to save him from the attack. Talon ducked and evaded something sharp as he adjusted to his surroundings, or the lack thereof. As he spun around to face the new threat, the short moment he faltered at the sight almost costed his life. He had done what he had told others not to; to underestimate her. He thought nothing Lux' mind could throw at him would bring him out of balance, but he had never thought to look at his trademark cloak, a face cast in shadows beneath a hood, a blade that looked exactly like his strapped to an arm which was not his. He had never expected to be staring at a blurred version of himself.

Talon tried to process what this was, but the thing didn't give it as it leaped forward, blade drawn in a deadly arc. Just as fast as his copy, Talon raised his right arm to block his doppelgänger's arm-blade crashing down against him.

Talon noted that it was a good copy as they clashed against each other, movements fluid and eerily similar. But at the was not the real thing. Talon phased behind it, sparing no mind to the fact that it was possible for him to do so in this void, ready to slice his blade over the dopplegänger's throat. Suddenly it vanished, forcing Talon to sweep to the side and go on the defensive. A subtle change in air was the only warning he had as an attackpierced the darkness in the form of circling blades, converging on him. He sent out a volley of his own blades to repel them right before he was able to locate the source of the attack. The shadow-Talon appeared right in front of him, blade stretched forward. Talon rolled away barely, evading whatever this creature was. What the blazes was this? A self-defense mechanism of her mind? Another dreadful question rose within him, what would happen if he managed to kill the thing? It was a part of Lux' mind after all. He felt for his surrounding and they were, lifeless, very much like an arena after the battle was over. Not anything Talon connected to his bright lady, who seemingly did not even recognized him but had formed a doppelgänger of himself to protect her. There had to be a connection buried within her that he could use. A life line to pull her out of whatever she had fallen into.

"Lux?" He asked the dopplegänger, resigning to the fact that he could not win this fight with his blades alone. The dark thing didn't answer, but turned with deadly gracefulness and stepped back. Talon knew his own moves well enough to parry another volley of blades thrown at him. His head started to throb. Maybe…fighting in this space had a different set of rules and restraints. The thing in front of him didn't emit the smallest portion of light, not indicating the slightest bit of Lux' presence.

"Lux," Talon urged, "you know me. Remember. You cannot beat me with my own…"

An angry hiss answered him, accompanied by a sharp blade as the doppelgänger leaped at him. It should have been easy to dodge, like it had been the first few times, but the dull ache in his head intensified as he stepped backwards, evading the blade's arc only by hair. He felt a growing mental tiredness and it seemed, in this world, that could kill him. The doppelgänger didn't need as much time as he did to recover and it closed the distance quickly swinging the arm-blade back, slicing over his chest. The wound didn't bleed but it hurt much more than any physical wound could.

"Fuck this Lux, you did enough for one day. Stop this or-" his meaningless veiled threat was cut short as the copy faltered for the tiniest moment before it leaped towards him, trying to plunge the blade into Talon's chest. Talon would have never done such a desperate move as it left him open and vulnerable for a counter-attack. It would have been easy to tilt his own arm-blade upwards at the perfect angle and the thing would impale itself…He lowered his weapon, realizing that she did not aim only to kill him but to kill herself in the process. The copy barreled into him, hissing in anger, knocking them both down in a tumble of cloaks and blades. Talon still wasn't able to make out a face under the hood, just shadowy contours roughly resembling a human with something casting a red glow within. He grasped the doppelgänger's wrist, barely averting the dagger aimed at his heart at the last possible second. His reaction-time was dwindling rapidly but somewhere, hidden by his fucking cloak and his damned blades was his woman, fighting desperately to either free herself or die in the process. With inhumanely effort he caught the dopplegänger's other wrist, spun them around and pinned its hands above its head, effectively immobilizing it. His head pounded like it might burst any second and the gash on his chest was burning even more. For a moment the doppelgänger under him laid still, giving into defeat.

Before Talon's mind could spit out anything that would make her listen, the thing under him twisted its left hand free as a long, slender blade materialized inside its palm. He realized with grim, detached clarity that trying to beat Lux in her own territory had been a terrible idea. A cornered animal, desperate and terrified, would do anything to escape. Even something suicidal. He had been wrong and now he would pay for his mistake. The blade's tip turned against his side, thrusting upwards, piercing through his ribs. The pain was excruciating, worse than all the pain he had ever endured in his entire life. It felt like something ripping through the cracks in his mind, searching and burrowing its way into his deepest fears and regrets, tearing him to pieces. His sight blurred as something else surfaced besides the pain, threatening to overwhelm him. It didn't feel like it belonged to him, it felt like sadness. He felt like laughing at the ironic contradiction. Lux was determined to kill him without knowing who he was, but her immense sadness threatened to engulf her. However, even that was not enough to stop her as the agonizing sensations echoing throughout his whole being intensified. Talon's hold on the copy weakened and the thing flipped them around. Now on his back, Talon tried desperately to understand what was happening but the sensations overtook him. Only when the red glow caught the sheen of a blade did Talon realize a second, shorter blade appearing in the thing's right hand. With his last breath, he tried to form words that would save them both. His speech slurred as his eyelids grew heavy and the darkness came for him.

Chapter Text

Gregori was fast. He was not in his twenties anymore but, if need be, he could still use his magic to cross distances faster than other people.

Amoline, as expected, awaited him, a hand on her still flat stomach. "What happened?" She asked, the hectic specks on her cheeks betraying her low tune.

"Swain had his own plans, as expected. He double-crossed us." He gasped, overlooking her preparations. Everything was ready.

"And how did you react?" She demanded to know.

Gregori shook his head. "Marcus already had his own plans, as expected. I have no idea what he did, but not what we agreed upon." His teeth clenched.

His wife stared at him, disbelief in her eyes.

"I...I...I think he failed." Gregori's voice almost broke, hands swiping over his face as he tried to realize what he had just witnessed. This was Marcus he was talking about, spy master of Noxus, puppeteer extraordinaire, but what was one mortal soul against the experience of eons?

He heard a long, indrawn breath. "The pale woman is busy now?" Amoline asked, voice like steel.

Gregori nodded. "Yes. Probably only because Marcus double-crossed me. You should have seen-"

"Swain is otherwise engaged as well?" She interrupted and, looking up, he didn't see his controlled wife, regal arch mage, first counselor of the Grey Order, but the fierce woman he had met in battle, aggressive and without any patience. The one who had rather burned her way through the lines of her enemies to rescue a captured fellow apprentice than report back, sacrificing him.

He found himself nodding.

"We leave Noxus Prime. Now. I already prepared everything." Amoline decided.

Gregori gritted his teeth. They had agreed upon that. He looked back, at the closed door, trying to process what he had witnessed. The old order was falling, and the people creating the new one planned to sacrifice him, his allies, his wife, his unborn child, to lure out their greatest enemy. Then, he crossed the distance to the woman he loved. Placing one hand over her stomach, the other on her cheek, he turned her around and kissed her. First she resisted, fighting against him. There was not enough time, he could already feel her temper flaring up. Then, with a hiss-like sound, she turned to him fully, throwing her arms around him.

Noxus would make due without them. "I always wanted to return to the wild lands." He breathed in her face.

For a short moment the determination in her face was breached by a smile. "To old magic?" She placed her hand atop of his, reinforcing his hold over the new life they had created.

"To old magic and new." He kissed her.



Talon hadn't felt defeat in a long time. Marcus Du Couteau who, through defeat, had given him a home and a purpose which had developed into a family, hat been the last one. And, despite his fatigue and the excruciating pain, Talon wasn't ready to admit defeat again, even though his vision swam and he seemed to detach from his body.
This was Lux, and fighting against the force that wound its way through the smallest cracks of himself, expanding, tearing, forcing him apart, seemed an impossible feat. He looked up into unforgiving, wavering shadows, trying to hold himself together. If he died here, right now, he would never have the chance…He gritted his teeth and fought against the blade which drilled mercilessly into more than just his chest.

He had given in just once in his life and he refused to add another. A dark hiss wound its way up his throat. Underneath the hood, hidden by those shadows was the woman he would chase to the ends of the world. She might be terrified, confused or even worse, forgotten his existence, forgotten them…but she was still there, and that was another reason not to yield.

With his resolve strengthening, he indeed saw a hint of blue shimmering through the shadows, a small light drowning in the darkness. Or were his eyes deceiving him? Talon snarled against the crippling pressure in his head. He had to break her concentration from within. There had to be something he could do, surroundings he could use...Them being somewhere in between her mind and his was as much as he could figure. Between the shadow and the soul, the words of Lux' favorite poem echoed in his mind as he growled and fought against the force that tried to rip him apart. As he remembered those words, it felt like a lifetime ago, a more peaceful time, when she had still been smiling, sitting on his lap, nuzzling his cheek while whispering those sweet nothings in his ear. Had it truly been nothings?
Between the shadow and the soul…now he noticed how the specks of blue in front of his eyes blinked, like eyes widening in surprise, the assault staggering. Maybe this was exactly where they were right now and her own words the most useful weapon against her mind. What else had she said? He remembered not only her every word, but her…everything, as if she had spoken them just yesterday. He felt something, he assumed it was concentration, faltering for the smallest of moments and the silhouette of Lux' face appeared behind the shrouding shadows, eyes wide with shock, right before she shrieked as something pulled her away. Talon didn't hesitate to jump after her, grasping for anything he was able to reach. There was something he could latch on, nothing physical, but she had not retreated fast enough. Something that didn't fight his grasp, but seemed to welcome him.

She, on the other hand, was still struggling against him, tried kicking him away without success as a weight tried to pull him back, away from her. He gritted his teeth and held on to her, but suddenly he felt like freed from the anchor, speeding up towards the unknown. It felt like resurfacing from an ice-cold lake after being underwater for much too long, like thousands of needles assaulting his mind. Involuntarily Talon gasped as he tried rolling onto his side before he was able to place his surroundings, to see if there was another attack. There was no water, nothing attacking him anymore, nothing drilling itself into his head. But he felt her shock reverb deep within himself.

It was…quiet. His head hadn't stopped aching, it was pounding in a way that made it hard to ignore. Something poked his side, not hard enough to be a blade...the edge of a book, Talon realized. He opened his eyes to look around, blinking in confusion, for this place looked like a…a library. And a destroyed one, for that matter.

A strangled sound to his left caught his attention, his vision swimming with the blurry moving shapes. As his sight cleared, he was met with an image that he had dared to hope was even real.

It was Lux, his glorious, cunning, beautiful woman, clearly alive and seemingly breathing, but bound by a silvery chain winding its way completely around her body, intersected by beads of stone, some violet, some gold, shimmering with a sickly green shine. The chain cut into her like barbed wire, restricting her movement and binding her hands to her body. Slowly he got up, his first steps towards her were involuntary, drawn by her presence like a moth to the flames. Then the atmosphere changed suddenly as he felt the intense pressure of...of everything shifting towards him; caution and anger and cold determination strengthening, as if he was caught within a living thing that had riveted every last fiber of its consciousness on him.

"Lux?" Talon asked as he took in his surroundings, tense at the nearly overwhelming presence crushing him. The library looked like a battlefield.

"Yes." His woman hissed, and it was the closest to angry Talon had heard from her in a long time.

He looked around, trying to make sense of this all. "Where are we?" He observed the violet beads around her neck pulsing. He hoped she wouldn't say the obvious. Shelves were upended with their books littered on the ground, jumbled and strewn about the room. The entire chaos was illuminated by something just slightly brighter than twilight and more ominous than darkness. It looked like a nasty fight had taken place here.

Her gaze burned into him before the fire in her eyes reduced to a smolder, replaced by the dangerous kind of calm that set him on the edge even more. "In my mind." She breathed out.

Talon looked around once more, cautious of her tone. She sounded like she admitted defeat, but by now, he knew her too well to hope she'd surrender without this much of a fight.
Her mind? It was vast to say the least. He wasn't able to see the ends of the room as every bookshelf led to another, corridors of books winding infinitely out of view. "How did this place get destroyed?" He asked.

The violet beads pulsed once more. "You broke in." She did not sound happy or relieved in her admission, no sign of recognition lighting her eyes.

Talon turned again towards her, this time with a sense of guilt. The destruction looked old, but who knew how time worked in here? "I did this? In the few seconds we fought?"

The angry spark returned to Lux' eyes and wisps of her hair started to smoke. The faint smell of burning hair reached Talon's nostrils. Oh no. What was she preparing now? A ring of orange around her blue pupils flared to life while the necklace pulsed in sync with his own heartbeat. "Of course not. As if you could do such a thing." She hissed, fixating him with those eerie eyes of hers.

The temperature in the room was increasing and he looked around the room for the source. Tendrils of light, dim and weak, seemed to connect the few still standing bookshelves, the origin of the remaining light. "Then, who did this?" He asked. If he really was in her mind, then the books most likely represented her knowledge and the reason she did not remember the most vital parts about him, about them, about everything, was because somehow said knowledge had been ripped out of her reach. Bound the same as her.

Her lips curled upwards in a snarl, an expression he had never and never wanted to see on her face. "I did this myself. Don't act as if you don't know."

Talon lifted his hands in what he hoped to be an appeasing gesture. He had no idea how to deal with this version of Lux. "I don't. Who imprisoned you here?" He altered his question, for that would be another really important detail he'd pursue later on.

"You!" She spat out, closing her eyes once more, tightening her hands into fists. The temperature continued to rise to stifling heat.

"I didn't!" Talon tried to reason with her, "Your memory is in disarray. Try to remember!" He hissed, watching the smoke billowing from her shackled form with unease. This was not good, his time was running out.

"Free me and see what happens!" Her eyes opened wide, and for the first time they knew each other, Talon was truly intimidated by the fiery orange and the cusps of red tainting her blonde hair.

"Okay!" He tried to appease her, "tell me how and I will free you!"

She hadn't expected this answer and a part of his Lux resurfaced, her hair losing its red tinge. "Shouldn't you know as much?" She asked as the demanding heat decreased as a softer, more curious inquiry left her lips. Suddenly she shook her head, as if she needed to free herself of this logic.

With sudden clarity he remembered another conversation, maybe the reason for the change he was witnessing. It dawned on him then, the fierce determination she gave off, hinting to what she had already done and what she would continue to do. She had told him that she lived and died by her secrets. Right now, she had gathered them around her like a pyre, and she would not hesitate to set them alight as soon as she got a chance. "Stop being so melodramatic, Lux!" Talon hissed in understanding. She tried to use fire instead of light. Fire to not only burn him, but herself as well. Not illumination, but destruction.

Lux seemed astounded by his outburst, but he knew he was losing against the walls she had erected between herself and him. Losing in a way that would make it more than uncomfortable for them both, even if they would make it out alive.

"You don't want that. You don't want fire, you are the fucking light." Talon emphasized. Without a conscious thought he was next to her, close enough to touch, hadn't there been this unrelenting heat inside of her, the anger, the hate, clearly aimed at him. In stark opposition to everything she had ever thrown in his direction previously, he didn't dare touch her now.

"You have no idea what I want." Lux hissed.

"Light is very versatile. Light can be warm, cold, searingly hot, concealing, revealing, blinding, it makes rainbows and casts shadows. It is not the worst choice, you said so yourself!" Talon spat angrily. He had seldom encountered a wall he wasn't able to overcome, but this was feeling desperately close to it.

Her eyes widened at his words, the temperature dropping instantly.

She seemed to remember her words. That was a good sign, right? "Listen, if you want to change then go ahead, but don't do it because of me. I am NOT your enemy. I will find and gut whoever did this to you, but first you have to remember what happened and tell me who it was." He emphasized heavily, answering fire with fire.

"It was YOU!" Lux howled, fighting against her pulsing restrains without success, anger turning to desperation.

Talon's hands closed into fists. "A more detailed description, please." He demanded, trying to restrain himself.

Her teeth clenched as the purple beads around her neck glowed fiercely. "The woman with golden eyes, the sweet voice and the smell of home." Now her stare regained its angry edge, she was working herself up at the thought.

Smell of home? What the hell did she mean? "I am no woman." Talon assessed.

Now, she looked genuinely surprised.

Talon shook his head. "Look at me, Lux, see me. Fucking remember!" He ordered in exasperation. This was getting him nowhere. She was much too stubborn to believe anyone she didn't remember and too smart to believe anyone but herself at this point.

She blinked, like someone trying to see through the haze, like she always did when she searched her memory for something she knew was there, somewhere in the recesses of her mind. Talon saw flashes of light flickering frantically over the few still standing bookshelves, jumping from book to book with lightning speed. The spark in her eyes accompanying the resurfacing of a memory failed to lighten up her face. "Who are you?" She asked.

"I am Talon!" He answered fiercely as the library lit up with the tiny arcs of light which seemingly searching the books for any hint of his name. The books on the floor stayed dark, he noted, removed from their home they seemed lost to her. As lost as he currently was.

His agitation spread to her in a matter of moments. "Never heard that before! Who are you?" She repeated, heat flaring up once more, Talon had to take a few steps back from her.

This was not only pointless, but also frustrating. "Why don't you remember anything? Why don't you remember me!" He glared at her.

"Because nobody steals from my mind!" She howled and thrashed against the chain in another futile attempt to escape, "and I am going to kill us both before you get anything out of me so leave or I am going to tear you to shreds!" Lux shrieked, her anger-contorted face was a far cry from anything he remembered.

Talon's thoughts reeled. He had upset her even more. She had shown signs of recognition towards her own words, but he himself seemed to be completely erased from her memory. This thought seemed like a real threat, that she might have forever forgotten him and their time together, a threat against which all of his blades were useless. His plans had changed rapidly, from making her untangle the web around her, eventually asking her to help him with his assignment, to simply getting her backalive. He would figure everything else out later but right now, she was irreplaceable. He looked around again. The books on the floor stayed dark, no lightning grazed their cover, confirming his suspicion that they represented the knowledge she had thrown out of her reach, if he could even believe her own words.

"I swear to you, I don't mean any harm." Talon tried to soothe her, only to feel a rumble under his feet that threw a few more books off the shelves. He needed to calm her somehow, to leverage enough time to form a backup plan. She did not trust his words, only her own it seemed. Lucky for him, she had always been the one to talk while he had been the listener. There was one thing she would surely remembered, at least it had stopped her from ripping him apart…It was worth a try.

"I don't love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations the fire shoots off."

She froze instantly, stopping her attempts to destroy the library, him and herself.
Talon nearly fainted in relief. She did remember.

"I love you as certain obscure things are to be loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul."

The aggression seeping out of her vanished as her eyes widened. He reached out for her cheek, like he had done countless times before, daring to touch her as she stared at him like a rabbit caught by a predator's gaze. He cupped her cheek and pressed his forehead against hers. She did not resist and, all of sudden, Talon felt his chest burning. The contact was so unbelievably soothing that he nearly faltered in his recitation. It felt like more than just physical contact, more like he felt her mind trembling, shivering, afraid, determined, desperately holding on to something that had lost all form, but was so important that she was willing to die for it.

"I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance
from the earth lives darkly in my body"

The lights around him went crazy before they stopped, and Talon felt the defenses of Lux' mind against his crumbling. This was her bending, like she always did, not breaking, right? She would not break under the weight of her favorite poem? He stopped his repetition, but the sudden sense of longing from her, a contact that felt like she tried to touch him through a barrier of glass, pulled the words out of his mouth before he had a chance to reconsider his actions.

"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don't know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams."

Lux looked at him, wide eyes filling with tears. He felt a shiver go through the library, concentrating into a point at his left, the same place where the lightning storm before had concentrated its attack. "I translated Iathura with dark, not obscure." She corrected, confusion and pain evident amidst the clutter of feelings around them.

"Personal preferences." Talon shrugged with a smug whisper, cautious but relieved at the speed of her recovery.

He felt vibrations rippling through her. She was still hostile, but much more confused now, and hurt as much as he had twisted a dagger between her ribs. Ironic that he, for once, was the one who had pierced her with words. "Who are you?" She echoed once more, this time with much less aggression, and with an ever growing need which he could hardly distance himself from.

She really had no clue. And it was pointless to repeat his answer over and over again. "Solve something for me." He requested, now that she wasn't trying to kill them both. He'd search and find every trace of himself in her memory, regardless how long it would take but right now, he would have to distract her for long enough to do such a thing. "I have a task for you. It has something to do with magic and I can't solve it alone." He felt a flicker of curiosity in her. "Look." He said, putting her lessons about magic to good use. He conjured the picture of Marcus' notes in front of his inner eye, causing a new wave of nausea course through him. His memory had always been good and he had committed this to his memory up to the very last detail, just in case the originals were destroyed. A few pages appeared in his hands. "Here. Look at this." He asked once more. The papers flew from his hands as the chain around her form flickered with their purplish glow.

Lux pursed her lips with half-confusion and half-excitement as the papers lifted to her face. Her gaze flitted over the lines and Talon felt a tremor go through the library again, sparks of light jumping through the bookshelves. He felt her resistance, her effort to try and guide her mind in another direction. Then he heard her telltale gasp, the one that told him she had made a captivating discovery, he saw her eyes widening with interest and felt her resistance washing away.

He watched her hair transition to golden blonde once more, her eyes regaining their blue color as another piece of paper appeared floating next to her, signs appearing on it instantly.

Talon let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding as his knees nearly buckled in relief.
She had nearly succeeded in killing herself and him, had gone through a range of emotions Talon had not thought anyone capable of and now, with only the promise of an unsolved mystery, she had started to take notes. She was herself again, if only temporary. Talon snorted in an attempt to regain his center. Some things seemingly did not change as easily as their enemies wanted them to. He waited another few agonizingly slow moments to make sure she was not only working, but getting more and more absorbed into a task that fascinated her, before he dared to take a closer look at the books clattered to the ground. Those immediately catching his attention was a scaled, green tome titled 'Cassiopeia Du Couteau', thick enough to make the serpent proud should she ever take a look at it. Another book clad in red, engraved leather laid right next to it, 'Katarina Du Couteau' embossed in dark letters. The now-empty bookshelf next to it seemingly was their original resting place. He touched the book with Cassiopeia's name on it, watching Lux. She didn't look as if she took any notice of his actions, seemingly absorbed in her work. Good.

He left the books where they were, not daring to place them back on their shelf, for he didn't expect to get more than one chance to do so. He would not waste one chance on anything else than her memories of himself. Somewhere here, a book with his name on it lay on the ground and he had to find it.

He took another look around and another suspicion arose to his mind. She had conjured this chaos to hide her knowledge about certain things, certain…secrets. Maybe even some about him? It was a wish, he knew. In which form would she even condense her knowledge about him? He started to go with the first thing that came to his mind and searched in the pile of books of his family. A black tome inscripted with Marcus' name, even a book about his home, about the inner structure of her hiding places, of the Ivory Ward District.

Okay, so she had not hidden his book among his family. He had guessed as much, for that would be the most obvious place. She was a genius, brilliant in hiding things in plain sight, so possibly she'd hide this in plain sight as well. He strode through the chaotic hallways where he had seen the lightning storm converging during his recitation of her favorite poem. Luckily, he still was the best finder he knew of and he knew her as well as she knew him. Time to put that knowledge to use. What would a book about him look like? He shifted through her reactions once more in his mind. The picture of the small chapbook came to mind, the one he had gifted her, was the closest thing he could associate with himself. Why not? It was the best lead he had. The book looked Ionian. He turned to the right, to where he had seen the light disappearing. After a short while, he had found another bookshelf, Ionian-looking books inside as well as strewn on the ground.

With a sudden small triumph, he laid eyes upon a small, unassuming book, entitled 'Travelers Breviary' with small ribbons posing as bookmarks. It leaned on a shelf and if Talon hadn't known what to look for, he had never assumed that all her knowledge about him fitted inside such a small book. But this was her mind, so maybe space wasn't as relative as he expected it to be.

As soon as he touched the worn leather cover, he felt his surroundings shiver in sudden terror, a gathering storm as her panicking mind prepared for something he could only assume was a very final, very bright spark.

"Nonononono Lux, just take it back." He pressed hectically, picking up the book and throwing it in her direction in the same motion.

She had let go of her notes and the papers with panic-contorted face, somehow managing to stop the small book mid-flight right before it hit her. A surge of warmth rushed through the library, different from the suffocating heat that had threatened to roast them both beforehand. This warmth was much more...comfortable. Her gaze flickered up to him and Talon immediately raised his hands in a calming gesture, stepping back as to appear as non-threatening as he was able to. The gesture they had used a lifetime ago, when they had still been uneasy allies.

She slowly, ever so slowly bent her head down as an invisible force skimmed through the pages.

She brought her head up after, meeting his eyes. "Who are you?" She repeated for the thousandth time, not demanding like before but heavy with growing knowledge. Then he felt the touch, this time it did not inflict pain, did not intend to kill and hurt. Her touch electrified him and it felt like she tried to feel deeper, not reaching his skin, but beneath, like she had done a few times beforehand. The only difference was that she didn't seem to be able to get to the point she so desperately searched. He withstood the urge to shake her off, but let her explore. The feeling of being watched, touched, increased as her consciousness poked and prodded at him, seemingly drawing her own conclusions. He seriously hoped she found what she was finally looking for.

Talon waited anxiously.

Finally, the small chapbook disappeared. Noteworthy enough it didn't sort itself onto the shelf where the books of his family belonged, but vanished without a trace.

"Talon" she finally whispered wide-eyed, watching him like someone seeing a ghost.

The relief flooding him was unexpected, nearly washing him away. Without a conscious thought he was next to her once more, wordlessly closing his arms around her. Even though he knew it wasn't a physical action, his mind projected the embrace to here. The comfortable warmth, the sudden contentment emanating from her heated him up to the deepest recesses of his mind. Still tied up by her chains, she buried her nose in the crook of his neck, a familiar and unbelievably soothing gesture, and for a moment everything that counted was that she finally, finally recognized him. She had been lost, not gone forever, and he would get her back. His eyes started burning at the unexpected lightness of all his culminated fears lifting for a blissful moment, only with them disappearing realizing how much the prospect of her being truly gone had terrified him. She sunk against him with a sigh of relief.

His hands glided over her back, halting at the chains which kept her tied up.
Right, there was still so much more for him to do and hardly time to waste cuddling. This was neither the time nor place to tell her how everything would be alright again, for that sounded more like a promise he longed to give himself.

He still hugged her tight for a long moment before he felt stable enough to speak, the alertness from their fight not completely gone. He was not in a safe environment, he had to remind himself. "How do I get the necklace away from your throat?" He whispered in her ear, pressing his lips at the tender skin just below. Right now the touch felt real, not like something only happening in his head, safe environment or not.

Her startling told him she still wasn't completely herself. No wonder, taking the destroyed library with all those books clattered to the ground into account, there was more on the ground and out of her reach than not.

"I don't know. Yet." She said hesitatingly, seemingly looking around for the first time as well.

Talon tucked her hair behind her hairband. "Can you bring this" he nodded towards the chaos around them, "into order again?"

She huddled deeper into his embrace. "I could. If you loosen this?" She struggled against her restrains for emphasis.

Talon was left speechless. Almost. "You tell me you cannot reach your memories like this?" He asked, dumbfounded.

She nodded confirmingly, seemingly content with the contact to him, a stark contrast to the emotions she had shown beforehand. From ruthless killer to pliant girl in a matter of seconds. Still, he couldn't help but admire the thoroughness with which she had guarded herself. With her tied up like this, she was deadly against the careless, suicidal against someone strong enough, and useless in a whole different way when defeated. Luckily he had at least convinced her that she actually liked him.

He touched a purple stone-bead, rolling it between his fingers. He felt something, a calm acceptance that came neither from himself not from Lux. This thing was the magic used to control her, right? He tried muttering orders to it, but the calm acceptance never wavered, the only change was that his headache increased. He had too much of this shit for one day. "Tell me how to loosen it, then."

"Imagine it. Use its magic." Lux purred, trying to snuggle even closer to him.

Talon scoffed, providing enough counter pressure so she could get all the contact she wanted.

Lux shivered at his wordless mockery. "Connect with it like you did before. You used it more than once already."

Had he? He sensed the incoming of an even worse headache, but tried with concentrating on the consciousness he could feel inside of the thing nonetheless, willing it to loosen its hold. It shivered and gave in, right before snapping tight around Lux once more, eliciting a pained yelp from her. He stroke her back apologetically. Right, he wasn't able to take it off completely, and a few physical rules seemed to limit his room to work with. So he tried it another way, bidding the thing to release her arms, winding around her thorax instead. The chain indeed shifted, accompanied by an increase of the dull ache in his head. The golden beads seemed to put on more of a fight but, after what felt like forever, her arms and legs were free.

Contrary to what he thought she'd do, she cupped his cheeks to press her forehead against his still aching one, nudging her nose against his.

His breath hitched as her lips caught his, flooding him with a bliss that wasn't solely his own. He returned the kiss with all the overwhelming relief he had no other way of expressing otherwise. Her hands wandered to his chest as his fingers tangled in her hair. Despite all the problems awaiting them both, in this moment Talon allowed himself to feel warm and glad. Everything would be alright. They would make everything alright again.

Then he felt her resolve strengthening, something that briefly irritated him, before he felt the shove with much more force than he had expected. It felt like slipping as he stumbled backwards, like falling as darkness engulfed him. A brief moment without air and then his head started to hurt like split in a half.

A shadow appeared in front of his eyes. Too close. Not Lux, he realized. Without a conscious thought, the knife was in his hand and on the offender's throat as Talon's sight became clear despite the pain. He recognized a familiar face and faltered, right in time to not bury his favorite pocket-knife in Healer Ilak's throat. Instead, he held the other man by the throat, trying to make a sense of his presence while he gasped like he had just run for his life. He knew he should not pierce this man's throat, but there was too much…agony in his head, and something that didn't belong there, strangely familiar, and…exploring, with growing unrest as his own agitation rose.


She was still in his head.

But now she wasn't angry, there was only a little apprehension. She finally seemed to be her usual calm, deliberate self, nudging against him. She wasn't roaming free in his mind, Talon realized now, it was like she was behind a barrier only he was able to pass, but she was trapped behind. Trapped and exploring her boundaries.

Ilak drew in a noisy breath, too smart to make any move while Talon was undecided if he should thrust his blade forward or not. Talon pulled his blade back without drawing blood, releasing the healer in the same motion, watching him retreat with a cough.

Evenly wary he felt how Lux stopped her exploring, retreating to herself and taking at least a bit of the headache with her. Her presence faded and with a tinge of panic Talon tugged at her consciousness, something that earned him a particularly bad spike of the nasty headache as well as the flicker of awareness from Lux returning. She felt…tired, Talon thought, so at her second try, he let her retreat into a glowing ball within the reach of his mind.
She had much to do. And he needed cold water, preferably a whole bucket to dip his head into. And his favorite chocolate to help him comprehend what had just happened.

"You are alive." Ilak coughed, and Talon wasn't sure if the other man was happy about that or not. So he simply stared him down. "Are you sane as well?" The Healer asked.

"Sure. Shouldn't I?" Talon answered gruffly, even though he couldn't help but placing his fingers on Lux' throat, reassuring himself with feeling the steady beat of her heart.

Ilak looked into the corner of his room, and Talon recognize the body lying there. The artifact-mage. "Dead?" Talon asked.

The Healer shrugged. "He breathes, but his mind seems to be gone."

Talon picked himself up and walked over, turning the man's head to look into the broken, dull eyes of a breathing corpse. Lux' determination, her cunning and her fighting spirit was really something to admire. Without further ado, Talon sliced a vertical line in the other man's throat, missing the major vessels, but opening his trachea. With his blade inside, he changed the direction of his weapon's tip enough to pierce the carotid artery, so the blood would run down into the other man's lung. A much slower dead, but without blood on his furniture and his attire. He'd instruct the maids to get rid of the body.

"May I... Check on her?" Ilak asked shyly, pointing to the still unmoving Lux.

Talon nodded, wiping his face with his hand as the healer went to work. The assassin chose not to reevaluate what had happened right now; he'd had time to think about that later. Talon felt Lux stirring, startled from her sorting through her memories by the Healer's touch. Her hand shot up with a gasp and the assassin was next to her instantly, ready to grasp for her, to avert her wrecking more destruction. But she only steered at the healer, who stared back at her just as wide-eyed, both breathing loudly. Her mind searched for something within herself, he could feel it...

"Sabator?" She finally asked, and Ilak's eyes became as wide as plates.

The Healer's grip around her head strengthened. "What do you know about Sabator?" He asked with sudden urgency. Talon was this short of slapping his hands away from her.

Lux mustered him for a moment, the dullness in her usually sparkling eyes a harsh shock. They looked like the broken eyes of the now-dead artifact-mage, without life even when he had still been breathing. Maybe she hadn't made it through unscattered. Talon felt the resistance of her mind rising as she seemingly noticed her error. She would not say anything to a stranger. But he himself was no stranger, as much she knew by now. "Who is Sabator?" Talon asked suspiciously, carefully loosening the hold of her fingers around Ilak's wrist. One never knew when she'd chose to show her light.

His words seemed to trigger something in her. Lux head twitched before she started speaking, her eyes twitching from left to right, as if she read something. "Member of the Dauntless Vanguard, slayer of the deepworm. Last confirmed action: assisted in freeing a village from a demon utilizing nightmares, return to the capital of Demacia afterwards. One hundred eighty nine centimeters tall, approximately two hundred eighteen pounds in weight. Dark-blond hair, grey eyes with four brown dots in the right iris and seldomly seen without a smug, confident expression on his face. Two scars visible on his face, one parting his right eyebrow, another, slightly deeper, at the right corner of his mouth. His hairline is a bit asymmetrical at the right side, just below his ear are some white hairs. Nose was broken twice, the slight crook is barely visible. Some spotted, white scars from a childhood disease, probably Zaun-Pox, on his neck, most likely on his chest, stomach and back as well. No noticeable long-term-damages, probably due to a good healer."

Talon watched her babbling inconsequential nonsense about the exterior of another man for about two minutes. Two minutes in which his mood plummeted further down with every new word of her. "Enough." He hissed, putting a stop to it as it didn't look like she would stop spontaneously.

Ilak, on the other hand, hang on Lux' every word. He let out a harsh laugh, but Talon noticed his trembling hands.

"You know someone of the Dauntless Vanguard." The assassin noted, not exactly knowing whom he addressed. He knew all their members, at least by name, and the only Sabator in their ranks was of family Jandelle. He remembered an encounter with people of that name during one of his assignments in Demacia.

Ilak shook his head, eyes never leaving Lux' still form. "I don't."

Lux piped up, eyes opening. "Your eyes have the same, rare shade of pearl grey as his. He has four brown dots in his right eye, you have three in your left one."

"Go back to sleep." Ilak murmured, gaze twitching from Lux to Talon.

Talon placed his hand in her hair. He did not like where this was going. He swallowed down the first, obvious question, the circumstances that led to her knowledge, for it would make him sound like a jealous fool. Not that he wouldn't ask later, when they'd be alone. Instead, he picked up the opening she had presented. "You are a Demacian." He summarized.

Ilak felt addressed. "It is not what you think, Master Talon." He stuttered, body going rigid.

"Tell me what I think, then." Talon hissed, asking himself if he was surrounded by those guys these days, not sure if he could talk himself into believing that his agitation resulted from Ilak being taken into the empire and not from Lux being able to describe the appearance of another man for solid six minutes, not looking like she'd stop anytime soon if left talking. She was an observer, the rational part of his mind told him, but the raging headache made it hard to hear the voice of reason. Talon took a deep breath. He had acted on his rage for long enough, and it had gotten him – no, not him, he reasoned, but her - nowhere he wanted her to be. She was a spy and, like in his own line of work, noticing small details kept her alive, regardless of where she was.

Ilak shook his head, oblivious to the turn Talon's thoughts had taken. "I am a Noxian now." He stated with finality, starting to pack his things together.

Talon was not inclined to let him leave that easily, especially not when he could sense the other man's fear. "But you were a Demacian, once."

Ilak looked to Lux, then to Talon, before he nodded shortly. "A long time ago."

"What brought you to Noxus?"

Ilak snorted. "Your father did, young master." And with his sharp glare this was probably a reprimand, meant to shut the topic.

Talon had long lost every will to exercise any amount of patience, so he ignored the hint. "I would advise you to better tell me everything about your heritage." He warned lowly, before the Healer's glare could count as a challenge. Talon was not inclined to let behavior like this towards his person slip. Ilak served the du Couteau-family longer than he himself, so the background-check had not been Talon's task.

Ilak closed his eyes briefly, seemingly acknowledging the mistake he made. "Listen young master. Mages are not welcomed in Demacia. But sometimes, if people know you help them, if there is not enough evidence and you have the luck to be born into a good family, things can be taken a bit less serious as long as you keep your head very, very low."

"You are a member of family Jandelle." Talon assessed the obvious.

"I was. I am not anymore." Ilak's case closed with a loud click.

"What happened?" Talon asked.

Ilak's lip twitched as he looked at his fingers curling around the cap of his case. "Augatha Crownguard happened." He finally answered.

Talon connected the name. It was probably a relative of Garen Crownguard, the guy Katarina was constantly bitching about. He nodded to signalize the Healer to go on.

Ilak gulped heavily, seemingly accepting that he would not get out of this easily. He needed two tries to find the right words, though. "I always tried to help my people." He glanced up at Talon, who kept a straight face. "My nephew fell very ill. I saved him. The problem was, he was old enough to talk, but not smart enough to comprehend the consequences of his words and my deeds. He had a friend about his age, who got bitten by an emerald-adder and because my nephew liked his friend very much, he told his mother I could help. But when the weeping mother with her child arrived, there was nothing I could do. The child died. His mother accused me of being a witcher, accused me of having taken her son's life. After that, it was easy to find proof for my powers and I was sentenced to be hanged for my crime. I managed to free myself." Now Ilak's shoulders twitched.

"Your nephew's name?" Talon demanded.

"Sabator." Ilak answered without hesitation, seemingly having resigned to his fate.

Talon contemplated this new set of information. "It was Augatha Crownguard who revealed you?" He clarified.

Ilak's gaze wandered to Lux' face. He nodded.

Talon tilted her head away, still not feeling all too well with the thought of anyone else looking at her unconcealed face. Even less with the information she had revealed. "And you didn't try to kill her?"

Ilak shrugged. "She was struck with grief. She was never a good person, but losing a child is never easy. Losing her first and to that time only child surely was a hard strike."

Talon shook his head. Whatever Marcus saw in this man, it was not his place to question his master's decision. "Is she uninjured?" He changed the topic rapidly, tapping Lux' shoulder to signalize that the interrogation was over.

Ilak looked at him thankfully. "As soon as she wakes up, I can say more about the state of her mind. This might take anything from hours to days, I can't exactly say." He answered the unspoken question.

Talon thought about that. He did not have a few days, regardless how much he'd like to give Lux more time to recover in safety. That was simply not on the plate, and no place was truly safe anymore. Who knew when the different parties searching for her would knock on his door? He wouldn't even dare to spend another day in Noxus Prime. He had already delayed his departure, but now the excuses to stay here were running thin and his time was running out. "Not what I asked." Talon pulled his hood deeper into his face.

The healer's gaze converted the word he didn't dare to voice. You cannot be serious. What he said was "no physical impairments, those present were already healed. Physically ready to travel immediately."

Talon nodded impatiently. "Leave us." He finally dismissed the Healer.

Ilak obeyed with a bow, leaving the room quietly. Talon felt Lux' mind sinking back in a rather calm state, presumably sorting through her memories. He twirled a strand of her hair between two fingers. Finally alone.
He pressed his lips on her forehead, stroking her cheek with his free hand. "I know I broke my promise to you" he whispered, "but, as long as you let me, that won't happen a second time."

Chapter Text

One last look to the bleeding woman on the ground: no longer a problem. A smirk formed on her lips. Traveling with her had been quite entertaining, but now she had outlived her usefulness. Poor thing, trusting money more than her instincts. No reason to complain, for her weapon had been of great use. She regarded the golden item in her hand, nose twitching in disgust. Just a glorified boomerang, she though before pressing it into the fitting hole in the wall.
A low rumble vibrated through the foundation of this ancient tomb, dust trickled from the vault as stone started to screech. She took a step back, cautious.
This couldn't be so easy, right? She listened to age-old mechanisms enfolding with tormented screams, loosening rubble in mechanisms she had not been able to identify beforehand. No really nasty traps so far, just like the mercenary had promised...
Under constant grumbling the doors in front of her opened slowly, surely revealing the ancient secrets she had done her best to turn up… She licked her dry lips. This was what she had worked for, had spent months and tons of gold to plan for. This secret she had found, hidden by oblivion more effectively than by the sand it was buried with, would catapult her up, grant her more powers than she could ever imagine...Her world became a blur of need, of excitement. So
much more, directly in her reach, she could practically smell it… The next step forward was hasty.
Pain exploded in her leg. She looked down to her pants, torn from the long descent into the tomb's darkness, seeing two all-too innocent punctures. Her skin started to discolor around them. A bite, clearly poisonous, she analyzed as agony waved up her leg, near-crippling in its sudden intensity. She needed to cut the blood-flow from her leg to the rest of her body. Her vision swam and a painful seizure swept her off her feet, cramped her lungs and she wasn't able to breath.

Cassiopeia forced her eyes open. The darkness of her room was a relief after the vivid pictures painted behind her eyelids. She inhaled deeply, counting to four before she exhaled evenly controlled, forcing the paralysis that came with sleep away.

Her forked tongue left her mouth, testing the air around her as the remaining pressure of the alp slowly unclamped her chest. It was quiet in the house and for a moment she concentrated on the calming, lingering taste of steel, black tea and a crispness that reminded her of mint rather than on the memories her dream had brought. That had been her the past, but her future currently was of much greater importance. How long would it take for her father's taste to air out? Katarina's taste was faded a little more already, steel, blood and a mouth-filling warmth like a potpourri of hot spices. When would she come back? Would she come back at all? Never had such doubts clouded Cassiopeia's mind. Katarina had always been tough, impossible to get rid of, but who was she to be sure, taken the recent turn of events into account?
Talon's taste was the most prominent one by now, steel like her other family members, chocolate and a tickling on her tongue like an upcoming thunderstorm. She knew from experience that his taste would linger, even after months of absence, so maybe the remnants of their father's would be conserved as well. She breathed the different aromas in, the familiar combination alleviating the loneliness she felt, even if just slightly. The normally faint undertone Talon used to bring in, like a freshly mowed meadow in the sunshine and the spring air after rain, was slightly stronger right now, for he had taken his girl away with him only shortly prior.

Cassiopeia's lips pursed as she lifted herself up. She would not find any more sleep anyway. Despite her tries to prevent as much, now she was all alone. Despite not having told Talon about the presumably dead Marcus. She had not wanted it, but she was left behind to deal with a whole bunch of problems by herself. Which would not have posed a problem if she had still looked like her old self, but like this? She huffed, forcing the negativity away. There was no use in crying about spilled blood, and she was anything but helpless.
Even if her reptilian eyes had still been able to shed any tears, she didn't know if she would have done so. How long would it take until the High Command noticed their father's absence, for he had not excused himself? What did his killer plan? What would happen in the High Command with both him and Darkwill absent? Her hands tightened to fists, her long claws threatening to tear her skin. If she had still looked human, she could have simply taken up Marcus' spot in High Command until Katarina returned, but like this? Nobody officially knew of her change, even though rumors had spread through the streets as soon as her scaled body had made it back to Noxus Prime. She could not simply go and take her father's seat like this…could she? Another hiss wound its way out up her throat. She had been absent from politics for much too long, and Marcus hadn't named her his deputy. That was Katarina's position. Plus, without Talon's blade there was not much of a physical threat to back up her claims, for she had long lost the favor of the men and women she had used to manipulate. For how long would her father's seat remain empty? How to install Katarina as a deputy in both her father's and Katarina's absence? Would that even be beneficial for them?

She left out another, hissing breath. Just because she had lost her appearance, she had not lost her skills. She had gained a whole new set of abilities, to be precise, adding to her impeccable instincts when it came to power. And she had quite a few ideas how someone strong enough to take on her father would spin their threads. Darkwill missing, her father missing, meant no one but Lady Blackclaw and her followers remained to maneuver against Swain, who had already seized control over the remaining, weaker houses. Urgot, installed to keep the order in Darkwill's absence, had been sent to Zaun. Cassiopeia didn't expect to see him again, the populace had already forgotten him in favor of Draven, a much flashier executioner, who had been installed as his replacement. The other political parties were much too tangled up in their own affairs or distributed in too many wars, simply not caring for the political affairs.

Someone knocked at her door, pulling her from her brooding. Guessing from the faint, barely noticeable taste, it was a servant.

"Come in." Cassiopeia ordered, lifting herself up. The feeling of having legs her dream had installed lingered. She shook it away.

"Mylady…" The maid stuttered, gaze turned downwards. Cassiopeia fixated her greenish yellow eyes on her. "You have a visitor."

"Who is it?" The serpent asked.

"He bears no crest and didn't name his master, but…" The maid stopped.

Cassiopeia hissed in dismay. Her visitor had seemingly done enough to frighten the maid into waking her at this early hour. She slithered to her dresser. "Invite him into the parlor." She ordered. She had not received any guests since her change. Marcus' killer acted faster than expected, they seemed to be very sure of themselves. That was bad. Her tongue slipped out of her mouth. Bad, but she was used to operate alone, to improvise. She would be able to get an advantage out of this, if she played her cards right. She slithered out of her room.

For a brief moment, Lux had the feeling of someone standing next to her, tall as a tree and bulky as an ox. Not intimidatingly so far… Who was that? She stared at the image, trying to grasp what it meant. She knew this aura from somewhere…and the knowledge was hidden here, in the space that had been safe until someone had tried to breach through. As helpful as the mayhem in her head had been, now it was nothing more than dangerous, even though she didn't remember the reasons. Lux turned her head, half expecting to find either the superior, cold golden eyes or the very real figure shielding her from it, but there was neither. She needed to find her way through this chaos.
She continued her sorting until, with sudden, aching clarity, she knew whom the image resembled. It felt like Garen towering over her, protectively, like he had before, before the light within her had started to well out, before the mistrust, before the knowledge that she'd have to hide some integral parts of herself forever. Like it had been when she was four, sick in her bed and he was ten, watching over her like a big brother should, preparing himself for enemies that would never come. But he had been convinced that a witch had sent her a curse, thus he had stayed with her, keeping watch. Before he had run away to come back with steel in his eyes and ice in his words. For a moment it was easy to grasp for the steady presence and calm the carefully nursed confusion, even though she knew there was no Garen anymore; at least not for her, and never would be again. The moment of calmness ended with her realizing that Garen would put her in the same shackles that bound her right now, if he knew such a possibility existed. He would not discriminate if he purged a murderer, a demon or his own sister.

Lux took a deep breath, pulling herself to order. She had so much to do. She was to sort her memories and get them back, not dwell in them. And this was an order she would obey under all circumstances.

There was no reason anymore to fight the orders she had received. The painful, cruel voice was gone, shut out by another presence, familiar, warm, calming. It had always been easy to do as the voice had ordered, the main reason for her resistance but now, obeying was not only easy but so very, very pleasurable, making her tingle to the very core of her being. Now, she desperately wanted to obey. The order was simple enough - to put everything she had destroyed back into order, and then there would be…-a tug commanded her to interrupt her work, to make the journey and dive up.
Lux obeyed.

She blinked, adjusting to the sheer muchness of the world outside of her own head.

Her gaze fixed on the silhouette in front of her, slowly taking shape with her sight returning. There he was. Lux' heart leaped as she scraped the little knowledge she had about the dark man in front of her together. It wasn't much, but the longing, yearning, the need for him resonated through her whole being, even if she was hardly able to recall his name. He was named after a bird of prey's weapon... Talon. Right. She knew there was more about him, safely hidden in the disarray of her memory, but the knowledge about him held enough danger to keep it tucked away until she would be able to defend it against anything trying to take it from her. She was sure to have done so once before, and she didn't know when she'd need to do so again. Right now, he looked at her tiredly, mouth twisted just enough to convey his unhappiness, shadows in his face unwavering. Now that she paid attention, she was able to feel his general dissatisfaction.his Her heart sank. She genuinely wanted this man to be content, to look at her with warmth and…without a second thought her hand was at his shoulder, but to her great discomfort he looked at her with irritation, ignoring the touch.

"You know what that is?" He asked and Lux looked in the direction he nodded to, taking her surroundings in for the first time. It was dark, for the sun had already sunk beneath the horizon, she was outside, the air was heavy with the smell of a big city. They were standing on a bridge, too thin to be built for regular traffic. She stiffened as she noticed the height she stood in, at least ten meters above the oily black surface of the water. Her grip around his shoulder tightened. She had no idea how she had gotten up here.

But that was of no importance right now. The dark man had nodded towards something specific. She needed a moment to comprehend what he meant, relief as she was able to answer the question flooding through her. "A two-mast brazzera. A fast cargo-ship, mostly used on open sea, the rig can be-"

The bliss at providing a sufficient answer was cut short by his annoyed glance and the frustration welling up inside of him. Her insides crumbled. Had she answered wrongly? "Can you get on this two-mast brazerra unnoticed?" He hissed, gaze wandering over the horizon while peeling her hand away from his body.

She looked around once more, realizing that the ship was already moving. And that it would pass the waterway below them. The masts were unrigged, and from what she saw in the low light of the moon, one guard stood right under the square sail, the second one under the fore-and-aft sail. Which meant she could not get down over the masts, which meant approximately six meters drop. She hesitated, the compulsion to provide a truthful answer not letting her overthink this. "Unseen yes, not sure if unheard. Or with bones intact. Not sure if that wouldn't be heard." She wanted to touch him so badly that her fingers shook but instead, she observed the ship, trying to make out the position of the guards, circling in their hearing range.

Talon looked at the advancing ship a moment longer. "I'll jump first. Follow me three seconds later. Understood?"

Lux nodded as the new order infested her mind. Everything else around retreated to a barely perceptible background-noise as she watched him preparing himself. Wait. Then he stepped over the edge, vanishing without a sound. How to exactly measure the seconds, she asked herself in sudden shock, freezing on the spot. Her heart-beat was no exact timekeeper. She was able to count to three, but that was inaccurate, she had no Piltovan Egg…five heart-beats had already passed, her despair grew as the pressure in her head increased, forcing her to step forward into the air. The implicated order locked her jaw as she fell, panic increasing at the inaccurate execution, the unplanned fall…Then she landed, spring-mounted by what could only be Talon's arms as they both went to the ground on the impact.

Lux' arms locked around Talon's neck as he absorbed the shock through rolling them forward, completely soundless. His cloak brushing over her, covering her, felt achingly familiar as his hand clamped around her mouth. Unnecessary, she would not have dared to spout a single squeak. Talon tilted his head to the side, clearly straining his ears and Lux was free to watch him with widened eyes, the closeness pleasant despite the shock of the fall. It was too dark to make out his exact features. Lux would have liked very much to see him in broad daylight, to make out if his face really was that sharp or if the shadows under his cheekbones belied her perception. Faster than she wanted, his scrutinizing stare was back on her. Nobody had noticed them. Talon started to free his limbs first, and for she did not know what to do besides staying unseen, Lux simply didn't move while he rolled to his feet as gracefully and silent as a feline predator. He made a commanding motion with his hand. She had not waited three seconds. The compulsion to be unseenwas stronger than the need to make up for the impreciseness, so she got up soundlessly, ignoring the pulsing between her eyes. She was to remain quiet now, so there was no way to alleviate her from the growing pain in her head.

Instead of a verbal command, Talon tugged at her arm, motioning her to follow. The ship's lanterns were unlit, hiding it from the prying eyes of nightly raiders. This hiding technique was a double-edged sword, for the two guards on deck had a limited vision as well. Tiptoeing around them and down in the direction of the cargo-space was easy enough, the door leading inside the ship's guts was not even locked and well-oiled. Lux watched the door closing behind her with unease, shutting the greater parts of moonlight out. Yet, she couldn't remain here, where at least a bit of light seeped through creaks in between wood. She was to follow the commanding tug at her arm where she was not able to see her feet, the planks blocking more starlight with every step down. Lux didn't like the darkness. The reassurance that had always come with broad daylight still lingered in her mind, even though it had long lost every actual power to her. But had the steady pulse within her still been there, the darkness would have been easier to stand. The pain starting to needle her brain didn't help, as well. She tried closing in on the man still holding her hand, but he was always too fast for her to get into contact with him. How she made it down the steps without stumbling, she didn't know. Lux faintly noted how the echo of her breathing changed the slightest, they must have reached a broader room. She had not thought it possible but here, it was pitch-black. And she had no possibility to spark even a candle, not even the certainty that she would be able tolight up the darkness, should she want to. She wasn't. Lux, bereft of her most important sense, followed the tug on her arm carefully until she bumped into Talon's back.

Rustling noises told her that he fumbled with his equipment and she halted, uneasily, her earlier failure still fresh in her mind, reminded by the constant, ugly, twinge pulsing off the necklace. It was even worse than the dark. The voice had punished her disobedience with brutal efficiency, at least until it had found out what Lux was able to do with the havoc an unanswered order wrecked, and cold sweat broke out at the idea that the familiar man could do something similar, even if it was unintentional. She wanted to please Talon, and that distinguished him from the voice. She had done her best to make the voice kill her, had been relatively successful until it had seen through her, but this goal had changed by now. Now, she'd do anything to stay close to this man. Another tug at her hand, now from down, told her that he had sat down.

"Are you hungry?" Talon muttered lowly as Lux lowered herself to the ground. Something soft was shoved against her leg.

"No." Lux answered quietly, opting to stay still otherwise. The poking of the soft fabric at her leg became more insistent. She didn't know what to make of that, but the pressure in her head became even stronger. He had talked, was this a permission for her to speak up as well?

A heavy sigh came from him and Lux had the uncomfortable feeling that she had done something wrong again. It added up to be really painful at this point. She was able to ignore physical pain to a degree, but this?

"When was the last time you ate?" He changed the question.

The stinging in Lux' head suddenly became unbearably strong. "I don't recall." She winced quietly, collapsing to take up as little room as possible, trying to hold her head together as it nearly burst with agony. She barely registered the arms around her shoulders, pulling her close to warmth.

"Don't answer then." His frantic voice was close to her ear. "I take my question back."

She nearly sobbed as the pain lifted at least a little. "I didn't wait three seconds." She blubbered out, "I had no possibility to measure the time exactly." The searing pain needled her head, the expectancy of his disappointment was almost too much to bear.

Talon inhaled sharply. "It is okay, no problem, you don't have to obey like this, forget everything I said." He uttered hastily.

For a moment she was still, right before the chain around her neck went in a frenzy. Every bit of body tension left her body as the dreadful realization, that this was impossible to perform, reached her brain. She nearly blacked out at the blowback.

Her senses returned to hectic whispers in her ear and she felt arms around her, pressing her face to a firm chest, warm breath on her forehead. "I take that back, I take back what I said, don't follow those orders anymore, please don't die on me" was what she was able to make out, the rest drowned in the roaring of her blood.

Lux had no idea how long she needed to regain her breath, to register the hands frantically touching, stroking, grasping her back. Her first conscious inhale was a shudder. The caressing of her back didn't stop and then she noticed the lips on her temple, anchoring her to reality.

Her second inhale was much more steady. "I…I don't think I'm going to die." She assessed, her voice sounding like a hoarse croak to her own ears. At least not without her actively trying to achieve such an outcome. A stark contrast to physical pain, the one she felt right now vanished without the long aftertaste. It was not like a sting that continued to burn, the unpleasant sensation in her head simply vanished without leaving behind more than terrible fatigue.

Talon buried his face in her hair, keeping her pressed to his chest. His breath flew, Lux absentmindedly noted, and it took a long moment for him to calm back down. She melted into the embrace he had withheld from her the whole day. She closed her eyes, the darkness was much less intimidating when she was wrapped in a dark cloak herself. She concentrated on Talon, the expanding of his chest, the periodical movement of his throat, the shy, reassuring strokes over her back.

"Do you have to do everything I say exactly the way I say it?" Talon finally broke the silence.

"I don't have to. Disobeying is unpleasant." Lux answered tunelessly, rubbing her nose at the soft cloth over his chest. The motion as well as the familiar scent calmed her, dispelled the last remnants of the ugly storm in her head. Talon was here, everything would be alright.

His motions froze for a second before he resumed the calming strokes on her back. "So if I said 'sleep', would you just go to sleep?"

Lux shook her head, trying to answer as best as she could. "No. I cannot force myself into sleep this instant, so it would become…unpleasant, I think."

"If I said 'try to sleep'?"

"Then I would try my best to sleep." Lux reassured eagerly.

It was silent for another, long moment. "How are you?" Talon whispered quietly, pressing her to him more tightly.

Lux assessed her physical state. "Functional." She stated.

"No, I mean…" Talon's exhale was frustrated, and the dread of having misunderstood another question rose a near-crippling fear. His hand flew to the back of her head. "How long-" he stopped himself, inhaling a few times to form a question that eventually came. "Do you know how long it will take you to get your memory back in order?"

Her anticipation dissipated. "Depends on how much time I get for sorting. A few days, probably, but I cannot be too sure."

His hands wandered to her throat, tapping against the chain. "Can I take this off?"

Lux went rigid as panic welled up in her. "No. Nononono, that's not possible, please don't-" Her hands flew to his as if he had already tried to open the lock. She did not want to take the necklace off. As long as she had it, there was a connection to this man, this Talon, like a promise that she would not have to go on alone.

"I wasn't going to do it right now." He murmured without moving his threatening hand away.

Lux swallowed heavily, prying his fingers away from her throat before kissing familiar knuckles. Suddenly, they felt like a threat. As soon as the chain would be gone, he'd have plenty reasons to leave, a terrifying prospect. Even more terrifying was the knowledge that other, important things lured in the depths of her memory, waiting to be unpacked, but they would inevitably tear her away from Talon. With the chain staying around her neck, everything would be so much easier, with much less decisions for her…

"You have to bear it a moment longer, then. Hold on, okay? Don't get lost." He whispered. The fingers pulled away from her reach. "Eat something. Let's see how we solve this when you are yourself again." It sounded like he had decided something, not like a question, so Lux took what he pressed into her hands.

After fifteen minutes only filled with the quiet sounds of eating, the man spoke again. "Try to sleep. And if you had enough, continue to bring your memories in order."

Lux felt tired already and leaned on his shoulder first, pulling her legs close to her body. It was an uncomfortable position, but his scent was calming. It made her feel utterly safe, his presence was tidying, made it easier to find what was lost, he calmed the aimless fluttering of her thoughts. She would have liked to have him above her, his reassuring weight something her body remembered all too well, but Lux was able to feel Talon's rejection already. He seemed to be waiting for something. Soon, Lux told herself. Soon she'd be what he wanted of her. Talon was tense as a bowstring, but Lux tried to relax anyway. Sleep.

Her lids became heavier and the first clouds dulled her thoughts as she heard a quiet, but clearly frustrated sound. A hand slipped under her head and she felt movement under her, then suddenly her head slid down until her body had reached a horizontal position. Now it was softer and felt even better. Talon continued to move and something spread over Lux' body. A blanket, her mind registered as she tried to push every thought out of her head. She was to sleep, not to think about blankets or comfortable laps. A hand placed itself atop of her head, stroking her lightly. She sighed, huddling in the warmth under her. There was still so much to do.

She could have sworn that she heard a barely audible whisper, quiet enough to be passed as a dream the next morning.

"I'm so sorry."

Chapter Text

Lux and him had left Noxus Prime veiled by the darkness of the night, stowing away to Drekan, so no passenger list would hold even a fake name of them. Lux had been eerily quiet after the first, disturbing episode on the ship, barely looking up, not doing anything besides following him and following his orders. Talon, not questioning the fact that it was even possible, had not yet adjusted to the other presence in his mind, even if she was anything but obtrusive. Magic was not his area of expertise, and he didn't even try to understand what had happened. Lux was distracting to a degree, but knowing that she was alive and working wasn't entirely unpleasant. The disturbing part was her still-missing light, ever-present since the day in the Immortal Bastion where she had sparked more light than the sun itself, and her behavior. She did what he told her to, but nothing more, except for her searching close body contact to him and her being delighted by the slightest touches. He usually enjoyed riling Lux up until she caught fire, but that was the point: the woman next to him neither looked nor felt like Lux. He had hoped for her to have regained all of her memories about him, but that was, as he had by now noticed, a wish in vain. She was a stranger who held barely any memories of him, but tried to fill the place that was occupied by a much more elaborate version of herself. All in all, Talon was repelled by her responsiveness. The part of him that relied on her wit had no trouble in believing that this was one of her acts. The horrid realization, that she did not play this time, was repulsive, but her eyes, empty and dull like a blind mirror, were more than enough to remind him of everything this version of Lux was not. She was not talking, she was not glowing, she had no idea where she was, she was not doing anything at all. Her blind obedience disturbed him deeply.

Right now, Talon refused to hold his breath. It was not that exciting. It was not exciting at all.

He had utilized the time the artifact-mage had needed to create and set up his gear to prepare their departure hastily but well, and their supply had indeed already been waiting for them here, in Drekan. He had managed to clear the apartment Lux had used before she had gone in deep cover, to retrieve what was now dangling at her hip; the metal staff she used as a focus for her magic. Talon had hoped to spark something inside of her, but when he had pressed the metal into her hand, there had been no reaction. Neither within her, nor within the staff, which had not regained the usual, subtle brightness emanating from its tip. Right now it mirrored the same lifelessness its owner showed.

She just needed more time, Talon had reassured himself over and over again, for the one thing he now always felt was the constant buzzing of Lux' mind, like a nest of angry hornets right next to his ears. As long as he did not concentrate too intensely on her, she would not get disturbed, as much he had already experienced.

Right now Lux was staring at her white stallion with the same stern frown she had regarded her staff with. Starfire winnied, nibbling at her shoulder. She did not even flinch and the horse snorted without comprehension, nudging his nose down against her hand. He looked confused at the lack of greeting; Talon could relate. His shoulders sank involuntarily. The horse was not helpful as well.

"Starfire…" Lux finally mumbled, placing one hand on the stallion's wide forehead, encasing a white ear with the other. The horse's answering snort sounded relieved and a little affronted, but maybe Talon was projecting. He closed his eyes briefly. She recognized the horse. "Shouldn't you be somewhere else?" Lux now cooed, softly rubbing Starfire's nostrils.

Now Talon held his breath. He had spared no further thought to the Varn-boy, whom she obviously had asked to take the animal. "Are you able to ride?" He asked, trying to distract her as the rising frown in her face indicated she did remember whom she charged with taking care of Starfire.

A nod answered him. "To Piltover?" She asked, mechanically setting herself to check the already cleaned coat and the hooves of her horse with practiced ease. There was no need to worry about that, Talon had made sure their three horses were ready to travel and freshly shoed.

Talon shook his head, starting to check his own riding horse first. A lightly built, dark bay mare, a color that would be unobtrusive in nearly every light, bound next to Lux' horse.

The third horse waiting to be saddled was of the same breed and of similar color as his riding horse, if only a bit more muscled and a few years older. A Light Drekanian as well, obviously an animal no one would use as a packing horse. But they needed to travel fast, thus Talon needed a fast packing-horse as well.

"Why not? There is something in Piltover..." Lux continued the conversation in the way that cost Talon's last nerves; with missing coherence, drifting off soon enough, not able to follow one thought thoroughly.

"I have business in Kalamanda." Talon explained, "And I need to get there before Grand General Darkwill does."

Lux neither arguing about their destination - even if she was blind to the fact that she would be accompanying him, regardless if she wanted or not - nor demanding more information was symptomatic of her current state. He felt her mind fluttering and he was sure she frantically searched for something. "What is Darkwill's travel route?" She asked instead, half-closed eyes even duller than before. Talon guessed that she had just reassembled her internal map of Runeterra, now determining the best travel route in response to the presumed task she was given. Were her skills in geography as great as the rest of her theoretical knowledge? He'd like to put that to a test.

Talon completed his checking on his riding horse, it was in good enough shape to make the journey. "He'll head to Variu's ridge, has probably already deployed ships and supplies at the Bloodsea's Breach, and from there he'll most likely take the sea route. Maybe he'll halt at the hourglass spit, there should still be a supply point of the army, but his ultimate goal should be Urzeris. From there he'll either take a ship or he will use a caravan to reach Kalamanda."

She looked at him with surprise. "You know geography that well?"

Talon snorted, not dignifying that with an answer. "I packed a halfway decent map, if you need visualization."

To Talon's great disappointment, Lux' eyes narrowed in concentration as she ignored the jab. Or, more likely, didn't get the challenge. "Isn't Kalamanda's haven closed for Noxian ships? Which route do you plan to take?"

"I plan on passing the Argent's Col, heading to Glorft and take the water route from there, changing boats on the Archipelago of the three sisters, get on a wave-skipper to the east end of Aurma's Archipel, and from there on to Kalamanda." He explained.

Lux chewed her lip with an intensity that made Talon wonder when there would be blood. "Wave-skippers cannot transport horses." She assessed.

Talon shrugged. That was a sacrifice he was willing to make, for nothing was as fast on the open water as the small, two-mast sailing ships. He would get a new horse in Kalamanda. They would find a solution for Starfire.

"Have you thought of staying on Noxian territory and pass the Variu mountains at the Noxian border? There are hardly any outposts that far in the wilderness." She finally proposed another route.

"You mean to head for Qualthala?" He clarified.

Lux looked at him with even more surprise before she nodded in agreement, inching closer to him and leaning her head against his shoulder. "I'd pass the mountains exactly there and take a boat conqueror's seawards, as close to Stonewall as we can get."

Talon looked at her head, not sure if he wanted to swat her away. "Stonewall is independent. The haven is small, no sailers land there. At least none big enough to make the route over the Great Gap. I am not sure they have wave-skippers there." He decided to let her have the contact for now. Stonewall not being all too keen on having Noxians in their city was only a minor problem.

Lux seemed content enough. "Stonewall trades with Piltover. I could sent word to a friend of mine, requesting a Piltovan Sailer to wait for us and take us to Kalamanda directly, without a halt in Urzeris or at the hourglass spit. Maybe they have something powered by hextech ready. The route by water should take about fifteen to twenty days, depending on the weather, and that would make up for the days lost in the mountains. Darkwill will lose some time while going through Bloodsea's Breach. He'll only be able to touch at Noxian havens, Kalamanda does not allow Noxian ships to berth. We should get ahead of him, as long as the autumn storms don't make the Pilt or the Great Gap unpassable."

Talon thought about it. "You could get us a boat from Piltover? How so?"

Lux looked confused for a moment, as if she didn't know herself. Then, a brief shudder ran through her. "A Noxian warmason is in Piltover, currently setting all her work to blow up a few techmaturges, maybe securing herself a spot in a clan after that. Too sensible information for a letter, enough to leverage someone coming for detailed information, if you don't want to make the detour over Piltover."

Talon's answer consisted of a snort. Of course he didn't, the route to Piltover was twice as long, no time that could be made up through a fast ship.

"I'll only need a fast messenger bird to Piltover. Or another fast transport." Lux said.

"I can provide that." Talon couldn't help the new hope rising within him. She was using her brain, that was more than she had done during the last days.

They both stared at each other, waiting.

"Do you need paper…?" Talon asked as she did not make another move.

Her brow furrowed. "If you want me to write…?"

With an exasperated sound Talon opened a saddleback. No progress here. He evaluated the route she had suggested. It was a more risky path than he would have chosen, for he had expected Lux to make him less flexible. At least until she remembered what a clever woman she originally was. "There should be a small path leading up the Variu mountains, around mount Campen's peak, but I never took that route. I am not sure if it is made for horses." He handed her a few sheets of light paper.

"Starfire is very sure-footed, he has done nastier paths with me. What is your horse's name?" She suddenly asked.

Talon faltered. He knew the animal had a name, the stable masters gave every thoroughbred horse one. He had not cared to ask. "I don't know."

"Do you think she can make the route? I would not want to break her legs." She welcomed the paper and cleared a spot for her to sit on, sweeping the stable's dust away.

Talon lifted his shoulders. It was the first time he rode the horse. At least he thought so. "We'll try out. She is a Light Drekanian, bred to be a messenger's horse, those are usually capable of taking every route you throw at them." If not, he had a second horse in the back of his hand.

"You should give her a name. You'll travel together for several weeks, that is a lot of time." She concluded and dipped her pen into the inkwell.

Talon snorted. "Feel free to do so." He had met up with Lux for one and a half year without knowing her name, what were a few weeks with a replaceable horse?

To his great astonishment, she chewed on her lip, looking at the horse in question, and started brooding. Of course she'd take this order of him very seriously, Talon mentally berated himself as the mare whinnied at her. A smile flitted over Lux' features.

"The message first." He reminded her. Instantly, her gaze flicked back down to the white sheet.

Looking into her lifeless eyes, Talon asked himself what he would do if she'd never again rise above being the capable, but mindless problem-solver she was right now. She tilted her head to look at him curiously, as if she tried to follow his train of thoughts. Talon placed his left hand on the top of her head. She would come back, he assured himself. And regardless how long it would take, months, years, decades, he would keep her safe until she found her way.

Decius wiped his nose with his sleeve. It was cold here in the north, much colder than he was used to. He looked over the outpost as he made his last round. They had traveled fast, but even after six weeks of travel, they hadn't reached their destination. Decius counted. Twenty men under his command, much more than he had expected. His mother and Darius had originally planned to assign him to the backline, securing and organizing the supply-lines, but Darius had promoted him unexpectedly, and now his assigned role was to lead the Spearhead, to scout the direct frontlines.

The thoughts of his mother warmed his heart. How she would rage as soon as she got wind of his new position…he could almost hear her screaming. With a sudden, desperate longing he wished to have her close again, the woman she had been the last weeks they had spent together. Awake, full of plans and determination, like she had been before Ionia. He wiped his nose again. And the girl who had been responsible for bringing her back to life? He had not even been able to fulfill her last request. The horse he had sworn to bring safely to Basilich had been stolen, the thin line around Decius' throat a steady reminder of the person who had taken it, using a very distinct weapon to bring him down. By now he was sure that it could have been no one less than Talon du Couteau, nearly fabled in his abilities and nearly as famous as his chosen family. Decius was no idiot, he had heard Mitsuko talking about a Noxian assassin as the man who had lured her to Noxus in the first place. It didn't need a genius to think further. His hands clenched to fists, hoping Mitsuko had been faster than the man she had tried to evade.

He looked over his men once more. The matter of Mitsuko would have to rest until he returned to Noxus Prime, his own situation needed his whole concentration. He knew that the Spearhead was rather a death sentence than a promotion, for scouting the frontlines was much more dangerous than staying behind the safety of the big army, but he promised to himself, to his mother, to Mitsuko and Darius alike that he would not only make it out alive, but he would do his best and show as many barbarians as possible the benefits of a united empire. He would follow his mother's dream, trying to inspire them, without slaughtering too many of them. He would show Darius that he was more than just sword fodder, that there was another way than with his axe through every obstacle. He would follow his mother's path, and would show everyone how right Quiletta was and how wrong everybody else. How right the little Ionian girl had been with her smart, tactical assessment of resources nobody else had ever thought about.

And then he'd come back and kick his sister's ass, for with this actions here, he would show her just how narrow-minded she had always been, how unable to think outside of the military training she loved so much. How much her mindset restricted her, weakened her, regardless how strong her sword-arm was.

He would come back to Noxus Prime in triumph, either alone or as a part of a bigger parade, but most importantly: he would find Mitsuko, regardless of how long he'd have to search, and then he would show her how a real man handled a woman as great as her. The last weeks alone had made him realize how much he missed the gleeful girl, who had shown great strength in a way he had never seen before. Invetia misinterpreted the Noxian ideals, completely forgetting there were two other principles than might. A trait enforced by her training, for Darius, her newly chosen role model, represented the aspect of might more than anyone else Decius had ever seen. Might was surely not Mitsuko's strength, but vision had been what she strived in, as she had shown during her exploits of Basilich's economic situation. Sadly, without the strength to protect it, every other virtue was meaningless in the end - Mitsuko, with all her genius, her friendliness and kindness, would be exploited mercilessly, possibly already was right now through General Swain, if she hadn't managed to get away, until she would have nothing to give anymore. He dispelled the thought of her rotting in the sewers with a slit throat. She couldn't be dead. Maybe she'd accept Decius' strength to support her cleverness. They would make a good team. Until he'd see her again, he'd hone his own physical strength as well as his skills to connect people. And if that du Couteau-assassin had dared to lay a hand on her, he would tear the family's foundations out of Noxus with his own, bare hands.

Talon felt warm and fuzzy as he woke. The soft, familiar body buried under him adding to his comfort.
No noise indicated an upcoming problem, no need to chase the cozy warmth blanketing his thoughts away, even though...He breathed in her scent, relishing the state of half-awareness for a moment longer as the flicker of doubt flew from his mind. His hands were closed around her midsection, but now they went into motion, stroking over her flat stomach as he buried his nose in her hair. She sighed and twitched, slowly waking at his ministrations. His right hand wandered aimlessly over her body, the left one drawing lazy circles on her smooth stomach. Her hand covered his wandering one, giving it a light shove down.

He obliged, his hand caressing the outline of her panties as her bottom pressed against his front. He breathed against her ear and, as she slowly started writhing against him, his other hand found the softness of her chest, much too inviting to not explore it just a little bit. Lux sighed with pleasure, a sound that ignited his interest instantly, and stroke over both of his hands. Talon started pecking feather light kisses on the exposed side of her neck, daring her to bare it even more to his tender ministrations. Both of his hands wandered to her hips to grind himself against her, eliciting a sweet gasp, before he let his hand wander back to where she had put it, slipping under her panties this time. He stroked her soft skin in tiny circles, searching his way downwards. The soft sway of her hips, still tightly pressed against him, was a more than clear indicator for him to keep going. The skin of her outer lips was soft as velvet and she pushed back against him as he established a first contact, just light strokes to tease her awake.

"Talon…" She gasped quietly as her hands left his, wandering to his sleeping pants. There was barely any room between them, so she gave up her fruitless try to get her hands in between, but stabilized herself against his hips, gaining enough leverage to rub her butt against him. Talon answered the sinuous waves of her body with his own movements, savoring the arousal rising within himself as well as the wetness he could feel under his provoking fingers. Her hands wandered to the waistband of his sleeping pants, expertly using the little room in between their movements to maneuver the cloth down his body. His already very hard length was exposed only shortly, for she took him in between her warm thighs with another shifting of her position. Talon experimentally pushed his hips forward, wetness meeting his tip. Lux gasped and he pressed the row of his teeth against her exposed neck, earning a few increasingly needy gasps. Lux pushed against him with a breathless moan as he started caressing her most sensitive spot, drawing circles in time with the suggestive movements of his hips. Her drowsy arousal ignited to full-flame passion in a matter of seconds and she expertly tilted her hip enough so he was no longer poking her folds, but her invitingly wet opening.

Talon continued to fondle her clitoris, breathing on her neck, for he already anticipated what she'd do. And, as always, Lux was no one to disappoint as she swayed her pelvis before she shoved herself back against him, just enough for his tip to slide inside her at agonizingly slow pace. Talon was patient though, the haze of the pleasant awakening not dissipating just yet. He sucked lightly on her slender throat and let her sheathe him at her own pace, revelling in the bliss of her tight wetness encompassing him. His breath accelerated as her rear met his groin and he used his free hand to still her motions, needing a second to accommodate to the rapture of being joined with her. It probably was his hand, continuing to rub her where she liked it, that urged Lux into motion again with a hitched moan, the tension of her body increasing in a way Talon knew very well. He resumed the movements of his hip, now truly enjoying her warmth, her tightness, the pressure around his cock. For a beautiful moment there were only the two of them, right before the peak. Then Lux pressed against him with a higher pitched sound, convulsing around him, against him, becoming rigid for a long moment. Her insides continued pulsating even as her body softened and Talon let his pleasure overwhelm him as well, formerly rhythmic thrusts becoming uneven, fingers boring into the softness of her thigh right before he emptied himself into her with a groan muffled by the skin he pressed his lips against.

He held her tight until the blissful spasms of them both receded. Only then he started running his hand over her side, eyes falling close. She turned around, shivered as he slipped out, but cupped his face and pressed her lips against his. Talon secured the back of her head with his own hand, the other at her back, to return the kiss with the same gentle pressure.

"Good morning." Lux whispered and Talon opened his eyes, staring at blunt, blue eyes.

It felt like cold bucket of water being emptied over his head, looking into the eyes of a stranger. His hand flew to her throat as his mind jumped into aggression-mode, ready to defend himself, before he was able to inspect the face in front of him more closely, pushing the fuzziness away. Memories rushed back to him as he realized that it was not his drowsiness, but hers that had blanketed his thoughts; neither had he been feeling remotely safe. That had been her.

He was not in Noxus Prime in one of her hide-outs, he was in an inn, on a mission, and Lux' body was technically present, but her mind was not, the missing light in her eyes, the absent glow of her skin and her hair evidence to that.

Lux ignored the threat of his hand on her throat. Her brow creased at his shocked expression, her hand flew to his cheek. "What is wrong?" She muttered, the words familiar, but the rest…not. There was no subtle glow pulling together around them in a way that made it feel like she closed out the world around them, no flicker of her magic. Only with all those little things missing, Talon realized how familiar, how normal all of that had become to him. And how devastating it was to see the shell of his woman with everything else missing. Only with greatest effort he managed to keep his breath even.

Lux roused, clearly disturbed by his reaction, but Talon was faster. "Bring your memories in order." He urged, grasping for her cheek, pressing his forehead against hers. Only now that he paid attention, he felt the formerly content, now distressed humming of her mind. After his words, he felt a tug and Lux closed her mouth, shaking her head and Talon felt how her mind tried to resist his order, before she sighed and closed her eyes, body growing slack.

Talon breathed out, slowly and controlled, rechecking the rented room. Everything was as it had been when they had gone to sleep.

He turned to Lux again, barely distinguishable feelings mixing inside of him. He threaded his fingers in her lightless hair, feeling like a condemned man. Hopefully that had been her, remembering the calmer mornings they had spent together. It had felt good and right for him, but the knowledge that she was hardly in a condition to resist anything he said or wanted washed the last remnants of well-being away, leaving him with the aching need for the woman who had been his companion for the last years. He pressed his face against her now unmoving neck, silently urging her on, wiling her to find her way back.

Until then, they still had to cross many more miles with no time to lose.

Chapter Text

Talon loosened the clasp of his cloak and hang it over a chair. The last six days of travel had gone fairly well, Lux and him had covered slightly more ground than he had scheduled. It would take them approximately two more days to reach the outskirts of the Variu Mountains. That meant they could spend two more nights in inns, there were hardly any houses in the wilderness and there would be even less population when the climb up the mountain would begin. He scheduled twelve to fifteen days to cross the Variu Mountains, depending on their horses' conditions. If there still was a path for horses to cross, about which Talon wasn't a hundred percent sure. The biggest variable here was his companion. He had to choose if he wanted her to be able to ride fast, for that needed her attention, or if he wanted her to continue bringing her memory in order. This was a whole new experience for Talon, trying to care for someone who would neither eat on her own accord nor tell him that she was hungry in the first place. He had expected her to be finished with regaining her memory by now, but…she wasn't. She was still nervous around him, very nervous, and the only thing she seemed to remember was that she wanted him close. Very close. As far as it concerned this point, her obedience proved to be an advantage for after the disturbing experience at their first inn, Talon wasn't inclined to get close to her in that way again. Cuddling up in the evening was okay, soothing even, for there was the possibility of her waking up with everything being as fine as it could ever be, but he'd tolerate nothing more. Lux did her part with stopping her advances as soon as he ordered her to keep still. Of course she did.

He secured the door first and checked the windows second before he proceeded to the bathroom. Lux' empty gaze would hardly ever stop to disturb him, more so when her lightless eyes followed his movements like an elaborate zaunite puppet would do. It was just a reflex though, no sign of attention, as much he had learned by now.
The bathroom was small, but with running water. Enough to wash the day's grime away. As he started to disarm, sure he wouldn't be disturbed by an unforeseen guest, he felt the tickle of consciousness from Lux that preceded her surfacing from her memory, giving her eyes at least a tiny bit more depth.

"What did you accomplish today?" Talon repeated the question that had dominated the previous five evenings.

Lux blinked, looking around, getting familiar with the outline of the room before she moved a muscle. "Much." She answered vaguely, gaze flickering to him. She seemed to be more awake today, even though Talon wasn't able to explain why it felt that way.

"Any news on how to remove your chain?" The second, repeating question he asked every evening.

This time, in contrast to the last evenings, she hesitated. "I evaluated every possibility and…I don't think that is possible anymore." She looked at him wide-eyed, waiting for his reaction.

Talon's brow shot up. "Explain." He requested, his brain not accepting a negative answer to his demand.

Lux took a deep breath, collecting herself. "Maybe there was a possibility before the original chain was altered with a second, much less elaborate spell…" she made an indistinct gesture with her hand, "before those two kinds of magic intertwined in a completely unforeseeable way…" Talon felt ashamed for a moment. "But I cannot decipher where the chain starts and where my own matrix begins. There is simply no difference anymore. I think its anti-magic merged with my magic. Tearing it away would most likely rip my own essence to pieces." She assessed with the same detached, clinical calmness she had shown the last days; as if she was interested because the task was of theoretical value, but not really affecting her. She even dared to look at him expectantly, like she awaited praise for her work.

How wrong she was. "What about trying to get inside of Demacia's walls?" He asked, refusing to accept her evaluation. The petricite dampened magic, and maybe…

She shook her head. "That won't separate what is already merged. The whole construction feels like a part of me now. It is simply too late." She repeated, a soothing smile on her face. Her fingers lifted a bit but she did not dare to touch the links around her neck. Then, before the silence became too heavy, she continued. "But without your meddling, the voice would still be in my head, so that's a progress."

Talon snorted derogatorily. It sounded like an attempt to ease his mind, but he surely was projecting. Lux was friendly to the inn-keepers she talked with, but she had not shown any sign of empathy, not since the thing around her neck had started bothering them. What was already done could not be changed anymore, though, so there was no point in asking himself if there had been a possibility to find the ominous voice she kept talking about instead of trying to overwrite the magic already etched into her. Keeping the chain around her neck was no possibility either. There would be another way. There was always another way. He placed his greaves and the poleyns next to his cloak, they were mostly clean and would not require tending today. Lux would find a way out. A few days simply weren't enough, not with all the other things she was tasked with. "Just…focus on your memory first, the rest will come later." He decided.

Lux cocked her head and pursed her lips. "Right now?"

The assassin shook his head. "Shower, sleep, then sorting." The same instructions as yesterday. And the day before. And the day before.

She looked to the bath shyly, to him after that, and to the ground at last before her eyes found his once more. "Might I join you?" She asked timidly, probably remembering the repeating, rather harsh rejections of the last days. Seemingly not enough to put her off.

Talon sighed soundlessly before he nodded once. A smile stretched her lips as she started to undress. With a sudden twinge, he missed the lighting up of her face that had used to come with her smile. Why did he allow this again? There was hardly any other way how this would play out. She wanted him, had expressed her desires more than clear. The only thing standing in her way was Talon himself, for he still wanted Lux, not this lightless shell. He could get a quick fuck from every whore in this country without having to step out of the safety of his clothes, but there was just one Lux. Currently no Lux, taken all things into account. Regardless, he had made a few promises to her that he intended to keep as best as possible. He took her familiar body in as she bent down, the flicker of his own interest igniting. Before it could heat up even more, he retreated to the bathroom, turned the faucet and stepped under the cool spray, not waiting for the water to warm. Soon enough, his personal enigma followed him with small steps, carrying a bar of soap with her. Water blurred her lines as he let it flow over his hair and face, washing away the road's dust. He felt her presence closing in, saw the hand touching his lower arm first, a non-threatening area, before her hand wandered up his arm, following the curve of an old scar winding its way up his biceps.

Sleeping with her, however involuntary on his part, had not brought her back, not sleeping with her had neither sped up the process of her returning, nor had it stopped her advances towards him. Normally he had no problems with waiting situations out but, in this case, he found his nerves tenser with every passing day.

She herself reminded him why he had chosen to keep her at arm's length. Her movements were too fast as she touched him, her hands wandering down to grasp his hip too desperate where he wasn't able to let go as quickly. He closed his fingers around her wrist, just as her hand wandered to his front with an easily predictable goal.
The fast ending she promised with a pleading sound wasn't enough. It had never been, and he wasn't inclined to fool himself into believing that it would suffice this time. He yearned for Lux to be with him now, to enjoy the sparse time before his duties would overshadow everything else, before the road would become harsh and his mind occupied by more than just following a more or less straight road. If she even wanted to be with him anymore, something he'd like to find out as well. Maybe it was just the thing around her neck forcing her to search him out. He could justify taking her with him with his need for a translation of Marcus' papers and would proceed on taking her along, regardless of their personal relationship, but letting his guard down with someone he wasn't able to judge?

She was eager though, and she kept invading his space as a testament to that. Talon had no chance of turning her around and shoving her out of the shower, not after he had consented to her joining him in the first place. He held her hands and pressed the bar of soap back into them. He needed at least a few minutes to get his mind into a halfway right setting to do something personal.

Hurt rose to her big, blue eyes. "Is there any chance-" she started.

Talon interrupted. He anticipated what she was going to say, and his answer hadn't changed since the first time she had asked. "Yes. And you know how. Do your part and this will get better." Somehow, he added silently.

Lux averted her eyes to the soap. Talon felt her resolve strengthening and he combed through his wet hair. What was she planning now? A question that was answered a few moments later as she foamed up the soap in between her hands, a gesture that triggered something in the back of his mind. As she, in a much slower pace than before, placed her hands on his chest and started soaping him up, he remembered a similar situation, having taken place about three years ago. Was that the beginning of a mischievous smile forming on her face?

He took the bar out of her hands, much like he had done at that time, and started to comb his soapy hands through her hair. She leaned into his touch and placed her hands on his shoulders, kneading his muscles. He stared at her face, saw the fixed intent on it. She was still so unbelievably beautiful. And not inclined to let this rest until she had her wits gathered, it seemed.

"Stay like this." He ordered hoarsely, shoving her back against the side wall of the shower so he'd be able to survey the room. Her hand snaked to his chin, tilting it down to a kiss. He averted his face so his lips grazed her cheeks instead. It had been a similar situation in which she had first kissed him on the lips, something that had completely taken him by surprise then, but now he expected as much. Come back and you may kiss me all you want - should you still want to, he silently urged her on as he felt her uneasiness grow. How he longed for her taste…

"Touch me." She ordered breathlessly, her accelerated breath brushing against his throat, her own hands stroking down his arms.

This was such an unfamiliar situation. Talon had seldom felt as much at loss as he did right now, so he embraced her tightly, pressing his lips to her temple. Her body stretched against him, clearly trying to coax out the natural answer of his body. There was no helping, this very physical part of Lux was here, the rest not. And this part demanded attention. There were…different ways to convey his longing, he figured, and she'd still be satisfied at the end.

His hands wandered over her skin, reacquainting himself with her alluring curves in the second best way possible. With his hands wandering to her behind, he grasped her romp, pressing her flush to him. She gasped against his neck, hips rolling forward. She gently sucked on his sensitive skin, making a shudder of want run through his body as his right hand grasped her chin and tilted her head just enough to get her away from his neck, enough for him to be able to peck a trail of kisses to the angle of her mouth. She sighed silently, just a flutter of movement against his controlling fingers as he immobilized her against the wall. His lips wandered over her throat, crossing her rapidly pulsing artery, down to her collar bone. He caught her wrists with one hand and pinned them above her head, just high enough so she had to stretch upwards, making it easier for his mouth to wander down the valley of her breasts. Here, he had to let go of her hands, which first stayed in the position he had put them. He slowly sank to his knees with his lips marking a path on her fair skin, further down where her ribcage ended and her smooth stomach began, heaving each time she took a shuddering breath. Other than her flying breath, she stayed completely still. At least her body hadn't changed with her mind, although she was thinner than he remembered. Her hands wandered to his shoulders, while his hands on her sides stabilized his way down as his knees hit the floor.

"May I?" Talon rasped, his