|Title||The Lady of Luminosity|
|Real Name||Luxanna Crownguard|
|Release Date||October 19th, 2010|
|490 (+ 85)|
|5.5 (+ 0.55)|
|480 (+ 23.5)|
|8 (+ 0.8)|
|53.54 (+ 3.3)|
|0.625 (+ 7 (+1)%)|
|18.72 (+ 4)|
|30 (+ 0.5)|
- For outdated and now non-canon lore entries, click here.
- Story #1
- Story #2
- Story #3
|Luxanna Crownguard hails from Demacia, an insular realm where magical abilities are viewed with fear and suspicion. Able to bend light to her will, she grew up dreading discovery and exile, and was forced to keep her power secret in order to preserve her family’s noble status. Nonetheless, Lux’s optimism and resilience have led her to embrace her unique talents, and she now seeks to bring greater tolerance and understanding to her homeland.
Luxanna—or Lux, as she prefers to be called—grew up in the Demacian city of High Silvermere, along with her older brother Garen. They were born to the prestigious Crownguard family, which had served for generations as protectors of the kings of Demacia. Their grandfather saved the king’s life at the Battle of Storm’s Fang, and their aunt Tianna was named commander of the elite Dauntless Vanguard regiment before Lux was born.
Garen took to his family’s role with fervor, joining the military when he was still little more than a boy. Lux, in his absence, was expected to help run the family’s many estates—a task she resented, even as a young child. She wanted to explore the world, to see what lay beyond the walls and borders of Demacia. She idolized Garen, but railed against his insistence that she put her own ambitions aside.
To the endless frustration of Lux’s tutors, who sought to prepare her for a life of dutiful service to the Crownguard family, she would question their every teaching, examine differing perspectives, and seek out knowledge far beyond what they were prepared for. Even so, few could find it in themselves to stay angry at Lux, with her zest for life and intoxicating optimism.
Little did any of them know a time of change was approaching. Magic had once brought Runeterra to the brink of annihilation, and Demacia had been founded as a place where such powers were forbidden. Many of the kingdom’s folktales told of pure hearts turned dark by the lure of magic. Indeed, Lux and Garen’s uncle had been slain by a rogue mage some years earlier.
And there were fearful whispers, rumors from beyond the great mountains, that magic was rising once more in the world…
Riding home one fateful night, Lux and her horse were attacked by a ravenous sabrewulf pack. In a moment of fear and desperation, the young girl let loose a torrent of magical light from deep within her, routing the beasts but leaving her shivering in fear. Magic, the terror of Demacian myths, was as much a part of Lux as her Crownguard lineage.
Fear and doubt gnawed at her. Would she become evil? Was she an abomination, to be imprisoned or exiled? At the very least, if her powers were discovered, it would see the Crownguard name disgraced forever.
With Garen spending more time away from High Silvermere, Lux found herself alone in the halls of their family home. Still, over time, she became more familiar with her magic, and her sleepless nights—fists clenched, willing her inner light to fade—became fewer and fewer. She began experimenting in secret, playing with sunbeams in the courtyards, bending them into solid form, and even creating tiny, glowing figures in her palm. She resolved to keep it a secret, as much as she could.
When she was sixteen, Lux traveled with her parents Pieter and Augatha to their formal residence in the Great City of Demacia, to witness Garen’s investiture into the honored ranks of the Dauntless Vanguard.
The city dazzled Lux. It was a monument to the noble ideals of the kingdom, with every citizen protected and cared for; and it was there that Lux learned of the Illuminators, a charitable religious order working to help the sick and the poor. Between her family’s courtly engagements, she became close with a knight of the order named Kahina, who also taught Lux more martial skills, sparring and training with her in the gardens of the Crownguard manor.
Spending more time in the capital, Lux has finally begun to learn about the wider world—its diversity, and its history. She now understands that the Demacian way of life is not the only way, and with clear eyes she can see her love for her homeland standing alongside her desire to see it made more just… and perhaps a little more accepting of mages like her.
|The light inside is what makes me different, and I’m always careful where I shine it.
The earthquake had struck Terbisia at dawn, the earth bucking like an unbroken colt and splitting apart in gaping fissures. Lux rode Starfire through the toppled ruin of the defensive barbican, the thirty-foot high walls of sun-bleached stone looking like Noxian siege engines had bombarded them for weeks. She guided her horse carefully between fallen blocks of masonry, heading to where a makeshift infirmary had been set up within a blue and white market pavilion.
The scale of the devastation was unlike anything Lux had seen before. Terbisia’s buildings were crafted from hard mountain granite and Demacian oak, raised high by communal strength. And almost all of them had been completely destroyed. Dust-covered men and women dug through the shattered ruins with picks and shovels, hoping to find survivors, but instead, dragged corpses from the debris. Entire streets had simply vanished into the many smoking chasms now dividing the town’s districts.
Lux dismounted as she reached the pavilion, and pushed inside. She wasn’t a healer, but she could fetch and carry or simply sit with the wounded. She’d thought that seeing the scale of the devastation would prepare her for the suffering within the tent.
She was wrong.
Hundreds of survivors pulled from the wreckage lay on woolen blankets. Lux heard mothers and fathers crying for lost children, wives and husbands clinging to their dead loved ones, and, worst of all, bewildered, glassy-eyed orphans wandering lost and afraid. Lux saw a surgeon she recognized in a blood-stiffened apron washing his hands in a pewter bowl and made her way toward him.
“Surgeon Alzar,” she said. “Tell me how I can help.”
He turned, his eyes haunted and rheumy with tears. It took a moment for recognition to penetrate the fog of his grief.
“Lady Crownguard,” said Alzar, giving a short bow.
“Lux,” she said. “Please, what can I do?”
The physician sighed and said, “Truly you are a blessing, my lady, but I would spare you the horror of what has happened here.”
“Spare me nothing, Alzar,” snapped Lux. “I am Demacian, and Demacians help one another.”
“Of course, forgive me, my lady,” said Alzar, taking a fatigued breath. “Your presence will be a boon to the wounded.”
Alzar led her toward a young man lying stretched out on a low pallet bed near the back of the pavilion. Lux gasped to see the horror of his wounds. His body was broken, all but crushed by rubble, and his eyes were bound in bloody bandages. From his stoic refusal to show pain, she guessed he was a soldier.
“He dug a family from the rubble of their collapsed home,” said Alzar. “He rescued them, but kept looking for survivors. There was a second quake, and another building fell to ruin on top of him. The rubble crushed his lungs, and shards of glass put out his eyes.”
“How long does he have?” asked Lux, careful to keep her voice low.
“Only the gods know, but his time is short,” said Alzar. “If you would stay at his side, it would ease his passing into the arms of the Veiled Lady.”
Lux nodded and sat beside the dying man. She took his hand, feeling her heart break for him. Alzar smiled gratefully and turned back to helping those he could save.
“It’s so dark,” said the man, waking at her touch. “Gods, I can’t see!”
“Steady now, soldier. Tell me your name,” said Lux.
“It’s Dothan,” he said, wheezing with the effort.
“You’re named for the hero of Dawnhold?”
“Aye. You know the story? It’s an old tally against the savages.”
“Trust me, I know it well,” said Lux with a rueful smile. “My brother told it all the time when we were children. He always forced me to play the Freljordian corsairs while he played Dothan, defending the harbor single-handedly against the skinwalkers.”
“I tried to be like him,” said the young man, his breathing labored and his voice growing faint. A rivulet of blood leaked from beneath the bandage like a red tear. “I tried to live up to my namesake.”
Lux held his hand in both of hers.
“You did,” she said. “Alzar told me what happened. You’re a true Demacian hero.”
The lines on Dothan’s face eased a little, his breath rattling in his throat as his strength began to fail.
“Why can’t I see?”
“Your eyes,” said Lux slowly. “I’m so sorry.”
“What... what’s wrong with them?”
“Surgeon Alzar told me you have shards of glass in them.”
The man drew in a sharp breath.
“I’m dying,” he said. “I know that... but I should... have liked to behold the light of... Demacia... one last... time.”
Lux felt the magic stir within her, but whispered the mantra taught to her by the Illuminators to keep it from rising too close to the surface. Over the years, she’d learned to better control her power, but sometimes, when her emotions ran close to the surface, it was hard to keep the energies contained. She looked around and, satisfied no one was watching, placed her fingertips on the bloody bandage covering Dothan’s eyes. Lux eased the numinous radiance of her magic down through the man’s skull to the undamaged parts of his eyes.
“I can’t heal you,” she said, “but I can at least give you that.”
He squeezed her hand, his mouth falling open in wonder as Demacia’s light shone within him.
“It’s so beautiful...” he whispered.
|FLESH AND STONE
"A shadow fades before the light,” the girl repeated to herself.
The words were a mantra, one she often used to put herself at ease when she felt herself losing control. Though she was only thirteen, she had become adept at using tricks like this to ease the symptoms of her affliction. But today she found the words to be little help. Today, the girl needed to be alone.
She fought to hold in the tears, avoiding eye contact with passersby as she walked briskly toward the scrutinizing glare of the sentries at the city gates. If they stopped her, she felt she might break down and spill everything to them. At least then it would all be over, she thought.
But they paid her little mind as she walked through the archway, to the open lands outside the city.
Far off the main highway, the girl found a quiet nook in a wooded hillside. Once she was sure she wouldn’t be seen, she removed a clean handkerchief from her pocket, placed it to her face, and sobbed.
The tears came fast and thick down her cheeks. If anyone had seen the girl like this, they probably would not recognize her. Everybody knew her as the fresh-faced optimist who cheerily bid them Good morning! and Nice to see you! everyday, regardless of circumstance.
The other side of her – this ugly and decidedly un-Demacian one – was a face the girl shared with nobody.
As she stanched the flow of tears with her thin linen cloth, her mind began to settle. She finally dared to recall the events that had led to the tears. She had been in the lecture room with her classmates when her gaze began to wander to an open window. The flock of fuchsia nectarflies outside were far more interesting than the drab lesson in field tactics their instructor was offering. The flies danced, not in unison at all, but in a vivacious chaos that was strangely beautiful. She had taken in their movement, feeling herself warming to the core with an intense happiness.
The warmth was familiar to her. Most of the time it could be tamed, stuffed back inside her like feathers that had leaked from a mattress. But today the warmth was... hot, with a life of its own. She felt it burning, in her teeth, threatening to explode into the world with a fan of iridescent hues as it had only done in privacy before.
For a brief moment, a thin trickle of white light leaked from her fingertips.
No! This is not for anyone to see! she thought, hoping to suppress the glow.
For the first time in her life, it felt too big. The girl had only one chance to save herself. She needed to leave. She stood and gathered her belongings.
“Luxanna,” her instructor had said. “Are you-”
“A shadow fades before the light,” she had muttered, and ran from the room without explanation. “A shadow fades before the light. A shadow fades before the light.”
As she finished drying her eyes in the calm of the woods, her feet carried her farther and farther from the city. She began to assess the cost of the incident. Word would spread quickly across the citadel that a student had stormed out of class without leave. What punishment would she receive for that insubordination?
Whatever was to come, it would be better than the alternative. If she’d stayed, she would have erupted, filling the entire building in the brightest, purest light. Then everyone would know she was afflicted with magic.
That’s when the annullers would come.
Once or twice, the girl had seen the annullers in the streets with their strange instruments, rooting out practitioners of magic. Once these afflicted people were found, they were forcibly relocated to slums outside the kingdom, never to take part in the grand society Lux’s family knew so well.
That was the worst part, knowing her family would be shamed. And her brother... Oh, her brother. She shuddered to think what Garen would say. The girl often dreamed of living in a different part of the world, where people with arcane gifts were revered as heroes, and celebrated by their families. But the girl lived in Demacia, where people knew the destructive potential of magic, and treated it as such.
As she found her situation becoming increasingly hopeless, Lux realized she was standing within view of the Galio monument. The gargantuan statue had been made long ago as a battle standard for the military, accompanying them in their missions abroad. Sculpted from petricite, Galio possessed magic-absorbing properties that had saved many lives from archmage attacks. If one believed the legends, he had even come to life at times, when enough mystical power had seeped into his mortar. At the moment, he stood still as a mountain, straddling the Memorial Road, far from the traffic of the main highway.
Lux cautiously approached the statue. Ever since she was a little girl, she had imagined the old titan keeping vigilant watch over all those who passed beneath him. It seemed to peer into her soul, judging her.
“You have no place here,” it would say accusingly.
Though it only spoke in her imagination, the girl knew it spoke true. She was different. That was undeniable. Her constant smiles and exuberance stood out glaringly among Demacia’s trademark austerity.
Then there was the glow. Ever since she could remember, Lux felt it burning in her heart, longing to burst free. When she was small, the glow was weak, and she could easily conceal it. Now the power had become far too great to stay hidden.
Burdened with guilt, Lux lifted her eyes to the Colossus.
“Well, go on and say it!” she yelled.
It was uncharacteristic of Lux, but the day had not been kind, and it soothed her soul to vent. She expelled sharp breaths of air in relief, then immediately felt embarrassment at the outburst. Did I really just yell at a statue? she marveled, and looked around to make sure nobody had seen. At certain times of the year, this road was flooded with travelers making their pilgrimages to the colossus, paying tribute to the symbol of Demacian resolve. But presently, the Memorial Road was empty.
As Lux was searching for bystanders, she heard a gravelly racket in the air above her. She whipped her head up – it had come from the top of the colossus. It was common for birds to take flight from their nests in the statue’s crown, but this was no bird. It sounded like a heavy clay pot being dragged across cobblestones.
Lux stared for a long while, but nothing stirred about the statue. Perhaps this was her mind again, working through the trauma of the day’s events. Even so, her eyes remained fixed on the colossus, daring whatever had moved to do so again.
And then it did: the eyes of the statue actually shifted. The large stone orbs physically swiveled in their sockets to find Lux in the grass below.
The girl’s face blanched for a moment. She could feel the enormous stone figure studying her. This time, it was definitely not in her imagination. Lux found her legs and ran, away from the statue, as fast and as far as she could.
Later that night, Lux entered the alabaster arch of her family’s city manor. She had walked many miles, all day long, all over the city, in the hope her parents would be asleep when she returned home. But one person was not.
Her mother Augatha sat in on a sofa in the corner of the grand foyer, glowering at the door with burning expectation.
“Do you know what hour it is?” she demanded.
Lux did not respond. She knew it was past midnight, well beyond the hour when her family were typically asleep.
“The school has chosen not to expel you,” said Augatha. “It was not an easy mess to fix.”
Lux wanted to break down crying, but she had done nothing but weep all day, and she simply had no more tears. “They almost saw it,” she said.
“I figured. It’s getting worse, isn’t it?”
“What should I do?” said Lux, exhausted from worry.
“What we must,” her mother replied. “You’ve lost control of it. Eventually, someone will get hurt.”
Lux had heard of men dying in battle at the hands of sorcerers, bodies melted beyond recognition and souls torn in two. She felt wretched, knowing she harbored any power that might be used for such destruction. She wanted to hate herself, but found herself numbed by the constant torrent of emotions she’d experienced that day.
“I’ve enlisted the help of a professional,” said Augutha.
Lux’s stomach turned. There was only one profession that dealt with her affliction. “An annuller?” she said, light of breath.
“He’s a friend. Someone I should have called on a long time ago,” said Augatha. “You can trust him to be discreet.”
Lux nodded. She knew the shame that was imminent. Even if the man told no one, as her mother assured her, he would still know.
And the cures — she didn’t want to think about those.
“He’s coming for your consultation in the morning,” said Augutha, as she walked up the stairs toward her bedroom. “This will be our secret.”
The words were no comfort. Lux was not even a woman yet, and already her life was over. She wanted nothing more than to retire upstairs to a deep slumber that would bury all her troubles in darkness, but she knew her particular troubles would not disappear with the night. The light would still grow inside her, threatening to erupt again at any moment. The annuller would arrive in the morning to perform some dreadful treatment. Lux had heard rumors, horrible rumors, of petricite ground and swallowed in potions, followed by bouts of excruciating pain. True, the girl wanted to be rid of the affliction, but no part of her wanted to experience that.
Isn’t there another way? she wondered.
The idea leapt into her head like lightning. All at once she was filled with dread and hope, unsure if the plan she’d just thought up would work, but knowing it was something she had to try.
Under the deepening night, Lux frantically retraced her steps, back through the alabaster archway, down the boulevard, sneaking her way past the guards at the gates. To the south, she found the Memorial Road, and followed it for miles before coming to Galio’s resting spot. Her heart galloped in her chest.
“Hello?” the girl asked shakily, unsure if she wanted an answer.
Lux approached the plinth where the colossus stood, all alone in the stillness of night. She cautiously placed her hand on the cold petricite foundation. Wonder what it tastes like. I bet it’s really bitter, she reckoned. She supposed she would find out soon enough, unless her plan worked.
“Well, they say you fix magic,” she said. “So fix me. I want to be Demacian.”
She gazed up at the colossus. It was as inert and unwavering as the Demacian way of life. Not even the bats were fluttering about it tonight. What she had heard before — what she thought she saw — was something she had imagined after all, then. She removed her hand from the plinth, pondering where else she could turn.
“Small girl person,” said a booming voice above.
Lux’s head shot upward to see the statue tilting its enormous head down. Her mind raced. He knows. And he’s not going to fix you. He’s going to squash you like a bug.
“Can you... scratch my foot?” asked the colossus.
Galio watched in wonder as the girl ran away from him, her tiny head shrieking words he could not understand. Though he’d observed her for years, he never knew she could move so quickly, and loudly.
Ever since the girl was very small, Galio had seen her as she stopped by on yearly trips with her family. He would study her with fascination, straining to keep sight of her as she skipped in and out of his field of vision. Then, in the middle of play, she would suddenly remember him standing above her, and she would shy away behind her mother’s skirt. When the colossus was dormant, everything seemed to move with a hazy distortion. The world was dull, people were but flickers before his eyes.
But even then, Galio could feel something profoundly special in the girl. It was a glow, but not just a visual luminescence. Time slowed with her, and the haze lifted as something strange stirred within his stone form.
It started small. When the girl was a toddler, Galio could feel her strange warmth tickling his toes. On her second visit, Galio could feel the glow tugging at his entire leg. By the time she was ten, the girl’s warmth was so strong Galio could feel her approaching from a mile away, and would grow giddy with anticipation of her visit.
Now, here she was again, even though it was not her normal visiting day. Her power burned so intensely it had spread like wildfire across his cold innards. She had brought him life!
Now that Galio was awake, he saw her brilliance with stunning clarity. She shone like all the stars in the heavens.
And she was leaving again.
With every step the girl took, Galio felt his life evaporating, returning him to his cold, motionless state. If he went still, he would never know the girl. He had to follow.
His towering legs rumbled from the plinth, easily catching up to the girl with their enormous gait. Her eyes shot wide as she whirled toward the lumbering colossus. A concentrated beam of light fired from the girl’s fingers into Galio’s leg. The strange feeling within him intensified until he thought he might explode, scattering bits of himself all over Demacia.
But Galio did not break. Instead, he grew even warmer, and more alive. He bent down and gently scooped up the girl in his hands. She covered her face, as if to shield herself from some imminent harm.
The colossus began to laugh, like a child playing in a fountain.
“Small golden-head person,” he bellowed. “You are funny. Please, do not leave.”
The girl slowly overcame her trauma, and responded, “I... I can’t. You’re holding me.”
Realizing his offense, Galio carefully placed the girl back on the ground.
“I am sorry. I don’t often meet small girl people. I only wake up to smash things,” he explained. “Do you have things to smash? Large things?”
“No,” said the girl meekly.
“Then let us find something to smash.” He walked a few booming steps, then turned to find the girl was not following. “Are you not coming, girl person?”
“No,” she replied, even more shakily, unsure if the answer would upset the giant. “I’m sort of trying not to be noticed right now.”
“Oh. Forgive me, girl person.”
“Well. I’m going to go now,” said Lux, in what she thought was a final parting word. “It was nice to meet you.”
Galio followed right behind her. “You are walking away from your city,” he observed. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “Someplace I belong.”
The colossus tilted his head at her. “You are Demacian. You belong in Demacia.”
For the first time, the girl saw empathy in the giant, and she felt herself opening up.
“You wouldn’t understand. You’re a symbol of this kingdom. I’m just...” She searched for a word that would tell everything without telling too much. “I’m all wrong,” she said, at last.
“Wrong? You can’t be wrong. You give me life,” boomed Galio, lowering his huge boulder of a face to her level.
“That’s the problem,” said the girl. “You’re not supposed to be moving. The only reason you are moving is me.”
Galio reacted in stunned silence for a moment, then erupted with joyful epiphany.
“You’re a mage!” he thundered.
“Shhh! Please be quiet!” begged the girl. “People will hear you.”
“I crush mages!” he proclaimed. He then quickly added: “But not you. I like you. You are the first mage I’ve liked.”
Luxanna’s fear began to fade, giving way to irritation. “Listen. Even though this is all wondrous and miraculous, I’d really prefer you leave me alone. Besides, people are going to notice you’re gone.”
“I do not care,” insisted Galio. “Let them notice!”
“Don’t!” said Lux, recoiling at the thought. “Please, just go back where you belong.”
Galio stop to reflect, then smiled as though he’d recalled something amusing. “Do that thing to me again. With your wonderful starlight!” he said, far too loudly for Lux’s comfort.
“Shhh! Stop yelling!” she urged. “Are you referring to my affliction?”
“Yes,” said Galio, in a slightly quieter tone.
“I’m sorry. I can’t always do it. And I shouldn’t do it. You have to go,” she insisted.
“I can’t go. If I leave you, I will sleep. And when I wake, you will be gone, small girl thing.”
Lux paused. Though she was mad from exhaustion, she found herself touched by the titan’s words.
“If I can do it again, do you promise to go away?” she asked.
The colossus thought for a moment, then accepted the proposal.
“Okay,” said the girl. “I’ll try.”
She screwed in her hands toward her body and thrust them forward toward Galio. To her disappointment, nothing but a tiny spark of light glinted from her fingers. She tried again, and again, getting less of a result each time.
“I must be tired,” she realized.
“Rest,” suggested Galio. “Then when you are refreshed you can give me your magic.”
“Hmm,” thought Lux, mulling the suggestion. “I can’t get rid of you, and I have no place to go. Suppose I might as well bed down.”
She began feeling around the ground for a comfortable patch of grass. Once she’d found a suitable place, she lay down and wrapped her cloak snugly around herself.
“Well, I’m going to sleep now,” she said with a yawn. “You should too.”
“No. I sleep too much,” replied Galio.
“Can you just... I don’t know, freeze yourself for a while, then?”
“I do not work that way,” said the colossus.
“Then be still and pretend you’re not alive.”
“Yes. I will just stand here and watch you rest, girl person,” said Galio.
“Please don’t,” insisted Lux. “I can’t sleep with you staring at me. Can you... turn around?”
Galio honored the girl’s wish, turning himself away from her, toward the distant lights of the Demacian capital. It was not as interesting as the girl, but it would suffice.
Making due with the modicum of privacy, Lux closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Once she was certain Galio would not turn around, she quietly got up and crept away into the night.
Luxanna walked quickly, knowing her first order of business was getting as far away as possible from the colossus. If she didn’t, her magic would still empower him, and he would surely come looking for her. By morning, every patrol in the kingdom would be searching for the missing Crownguard girl who had vanished in the night. They’d surely notice the walking national monument following her, and they’d know the girl must be the magical source that had awakened it.
Lux’s aching legs quickened to a sprint. She had only a vague idea of her surroundings. It was difficult to find any landmarks at this black hour of night. All she knew for sure was the Cloudwoods were nearby - their thick, towering redbarks forming the skyline to the south. It would be an ideal place to hide from any search parties, and a good foraging ground for breakfast. She could cross the forest in two days time and find shelter in one of the Vaskasian timber villages, where people were unlikely to recognize her. It was not a brilliant plan, by any stretch, but it was the best she had.
Lux could see the beginnings of the forest coming into view, its trees progressing in height like a pyramid, with the largest in the center. As she crossed the threshold of the woods, she paused a moment to grieve what she was abandoning. She would miss her brother Garen, and her beloved steed Starfire, and even her mother, but this was the way it had to be.
A shadow fades before the light, she reassured herself, and then stepped into the blackness of the dense evergreen woods.
After an hour of plowing her way through the barbed, resinous branches of the forest, Lux already found herself doubting her plan. Her stomach was growling, and any confidence she’d had in finding a clear path through the trees had vanished with the brightest moon behind the clouds. All around she could hear the snorts and rustles of nocturnal animals, and that made her nervous.
Just a little light, she thought. Surely just a little won’t hurt, way out here.
She began to conjure a luminescent orb between her hands. For a brief moment, a flicker of light danced on her fingertips, causing an audible ruckus in the creatures around her. But the light snuffed out as quickly as it came, returning all to blackness. Lux looked at the outlines of her hands, inspecting them for flaws. She wondered what could have hampered her from doing what had previously come so easily and unbidden.
It’s the colossus, she realized. It must be.
She suddenly became aware of voices in the woodland murmur. Slow, purposeful footsteps, and whispers. They were-
An arm shot around Lux’s throat and restrained her. She could sense the presence of at least two other men to her sides.
“Where are you headed tonight, miss?” asked one of the men.
Lux stammered, not quite formulating a response. The man restraining her tightened his grip.
“You’re supposed to be in the annulment slums, yeah?” he said.
“No...” Lux gasped, the man’s arm wedged firmly under her chin. “I’m not...”
“We aren’t fools, miss,” said the third man. “Come on, let’s take you back.”
Lux struggled to free her arms as the men tried to bind them with coarse rope. She concentrated, but still could not summon the magic that had apparently once been hers. She freed one hand, struck one of the men squarely in the jaw, and heard the twigs on the ground crunch as he fell. The two other men angrily descended on her.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” said one of them with a scowl. “You really shouldn’t have done that.”
The men began to tighten her bindings. They were making a point to pull the knots as tightly and painfully as possible, when the ground began to vibrate with dull thunderous beat. The men paused in dread, searching for the source of the noise, as it slowly increased in frequency and volume.
It rumbled like an earthquake, only broken up into steady rhythmic booms... like gigantic footsteps.
And they were getting nearer.
“What is it?” asked one man, too frightened to move.
The ground shook more, and its quaking was joined by the crackling of great trees being broken apart. Whatever it was, it was now in the forest and almost upon them.
All looked up to see the monstrous Galio, striding toward them, a path of felled redbarks in his wake. The men ran, getting only a few steps through the trees before a giant petricite hand snatched them up high into the air. Galio glared with one enormous eye at the trembling wads of flesh held tight in his grip.
“Is it time for fighting?” said the colossus with a grin. “I will engage you!”
He opened his clenched fist, and raised the other hand as if to smash the men between his palms.
“No!” said a tiny voice. “Please stop!”
The colossus found Lux on the ground below, beating on his ankles with her bound arms.
“It isn’t right!” she shouted.
Confused, Galio lowered the men to the ground and released them. Lux heard the quick patter of the men’s feet, sprinting away from her with the urgency of hunted elk. As she wriggled out of her bindings, she gazed up at the colossus.
“I turned around and you were gone, girl person,” he said. “Why are you in the trees?”
“I- I don’t know,” Luxanna managed.
Galio reclined on a hillside, gazing at the stars with the tiny yellow-headed girl he had befriended. Neither spoke, save for an occasional sigh - not the stressful gasps that Lux had previously known. These were the sounds of two beings that had found utter contentment in each other’s company.
“I do not usually awaken for this long,” said the colossus.
“Me neither,” said the girl, with an enormous yawn.
“How do people spend time together without battle? Should we have a conversation?”
“No. This is nice,” said the girl. “I feel... calm.”
A frown crossed Galio’s face. There was something different about the girl. Something missing. She no longer shone like the stars.
“Why are you sad? You’ve cured me,” said the girl. “As long as you’re near me, I can return home and be normal.”
Galio did not brighten or look up. The girl continued her thought.
“I mean, maybe I can just come visit you every day to keep my affliction away—”
“No,” said the titan, finally locking eyes with her.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Young girl person, you are special. Since before you can remember, I have felt your gift. For so long, I wanted it near me. But now I see... I smash your gift.”
“But it gives you life.”
Galio pondered her words, but only for a moment. His mind was made up.
“Life to me is very valuable,” he said. “But your gift is everything. Never lose it.”
He got to his feet and gingerly placed the girl on his shoulder. Together, they began to trudge back toward the city to face what awaited.
The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon when Lux returned to her family manor. Outside the city walls, Galio was returning to stillness on his plinth beside the Memorial Road, leaving Lux to face her problems alone.
A shadow fades before the light, she thought, and she opened the latch to her front door.
She entered the house to find her mother sitting in the parlor with a balding middle-aged man, who held a case of exotic medical tinctures in his lap.
“Luxanna, so glad you decided to return home,” said Augatha, through clenched teeth.
Lux looked warily at the man on the couch.
“This is the man I was telling you about,” her mother whispered. “The one who’s going to fix your... problem.”
Lux felt light-headed, as if her spirit was leaving her body to watch what she was about to say.
“You know what, mother?” she said, her voice trembling with words she’d been longing to say. “I don’t think I want to see this man. In fact, I’d like you to send him away.”
The annuller looked offended. He stood and slung his bag over his shoulder.
“No, stay,” begged Augatha. She cornered Lux and began to speak with authority. “You do not know what you are saying. This man has risked everything to help you. It is the only way you’re ever going to be Demacian. Have you forgotten your afflic-”
“I am not afflicted!” Lux cried out. “I am beautiful and valuable, and one day I will prove it to this kingdom! And if anyone has a problem with me, I’ve got a very large friend they can talk to.”
She strode upstairs to her room, leaving her mother alone with the annuller.
As Lux flopped onto her bed, she expelled a deep, easy breath. For the first time in years, her mind was as still as a pond in summer. The light that had once exploded from her unbidden was still there, but she could feel its beginning and its end, and knew that one day she could master it.
As she drifted off to sleep, she realized her mantra had always been wrong. No light could ever kill shadows.
A shadow thrives beside the light, she thought. It had a nice ring to it.
How long had it been since Lux had come north to Fossbarrow?
She wasn’t sure, but guessed it was around seven years. Garen had just left to begin his training with the Dauntless Vanguard, and the rest of the family had come north to honor the tomb of great grandfather Fossian. Lux remembered complaining about the incessant rain as they made their way along winding paths through the crags and gullies of the forest to her ancestor’s tomb. She’d been expecting a marble mausoleum like the Hall of Valor, but was disappointed to learn it was little more than a grassy mound nestled at the foot of a soaring cliff face. A marble slab set into the base of the mound depicted the legend of her illustrious forebear; Fossian and the demon falling from the cliff, her great grandfather mortally wounded, the nightmarish entity with a Demacian blade piercing its black heart.
It had rained then, and it was raining now. An icy, northern deluge fresh off the dogtooth mountains that separated Demacia from the Freljord. A storm was brewing in that frozen realm, breaking on the far side of the peaks to fall on verdant swathes of Demacian pine bent by hostile winds. To the west and east, the mountains receded into an azure haze, the sky dark and threatening, like one of her brother’s saltier moods. North, the forested haunches of the highlands were craggy with cliffs and plunging chasms. Dangerous lands; home to fell creatures and wild beasts of all descriptions.
Lux had set off into the north two weeks ago; Demacia to Edessa, then to Pinara and on to Lissus. Lissus to Velorus, and finally to High Silvermere, the City of Raptors. A night with her family at their home at the foot of Knight’s Rock, then out into Demacia’s northwest marches. Almost immediately, the character of the people and villages began to change as the heartland of Demacia fell behind her like a pennant torn from the haft of a banner-pole.
Rolling, fertile plains gave way to windswept hinterlands dotted with gorse and thistle. Silverwing raptors screeched overhead, invisible as they dueled in the clouds. The air grew colder, freighted with the deep ice of the Freljord, and the walls of each settlement grew higher with every mile she rode. It had been a long and tiring journey to Fossbarrow, but she was here, and Lux allowed herself a small smile.
“We’ll be at the temple soon, Starfire,” she said, reaching down to rub her horse’s mane. “They’ll have grain and a warm stable for you, I promise.”
The horse shook its head and snorted, stamping its feet with impatience. Lux kicked back her heels and walked her tired mount along the rutted track leading to Fossbarrow’s main gate.
The town occupied the banks of the Serpentrion, a thundering river that rose in the mountains and snaked to the western coast. The town’s walls of polished granite followed the line of the hills, and the buildings within were wrought from stone, seasoned timber and bottle green roof tiles. The tower of a Lightbringer temple rose in the east, the brazier within its steeple a welcome light in the gathering dusk.
Lux pulled back the hood of her blue cloak and shook her hair free. Long and golden, it framed a youthful face of high cheekbones and ocean blue eyes that sparkled with determination. She unfastened the leather thong securing her staff to the saddle, and held its lacquered gold and ebony haft loosely at her side. Two men appeared on the tower above the iron-bound gate, each armed with a powerful longbow of ash and yew.
“Hold, traveler,” said one of the guards. “The gate’s closed until morning.”
“My name is Luxanna Crownguard,” she said. “As you say, it is late, but I’ve come a long way to pay my respects to my great grandfather. I’d be in your debt if you’d allow me entry.”
The man squinted through the gloom, his eyes widening as he recognized her. It had been years since she’d come to Fossbarrow, but Garen always said that once people laid eyes on Lux, they never forgot her.
“Lady Crownguard! Forgive me!” he cried, turning to address the men below. “Open the gates.”
Lux eased Starfire forward as the solid timbers of the gate lifted into the stone of the barbican with a clatter of heavy iron chains. As soon as it had risen enough, Lux rode under it to find a hastily assembled honor guard awaiting her – ten men in leather breastplates and blue cloaks secured with silver pins in the shape of winged swords. They were proud Demacian soldiers, though their shoulders were curiously slumped and their eyes haunted with exhaustion.
“Welcome to Fossbarrow,” said the same man who’d spoken to her from the tower. “This is a great honor, my lady. Magistrate Giselle will be relieved to know you are here. May I offer you a detachment of soldiers to escort you to her home?”
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary,” said Lux, wondering at the man’s choice of the word relieved. “I’ve arranged accommodation with Mistress Pernille at the Lightbringer temple.”
She made to ride on, but sensed the guard’s desire to say something and gently pulled Starfire’s reins.
“Lady Crownguard,” said the guard. “Are you here to end our nightmare?”
The Lightbringer temple was warm and dry, and with Starfire settled in the stables, she’d spoken at length with Mistress Pernille in the main hall. Rumors of dark magic in the forests and crags around Fossbarrow had reached the Lightbringers in the capital of Demacia, and Radiant Kahina had sent Lux to investigate.
Lux had sensed a dark undercurrent as soon as she’d entered the town, a creeping sensation of being watched from the shadows. The few townsfolk she’d seen on the streets walked with leaden steps, their bodies weary.
A pall of fear hung over Fossbarrow, but it was worse than Lux imagined.
“It’s Magistrate Giselle’s son, Luca,” explained Mistress Pernille, a flaxen-haired woman in the pale robes of a Lightbringer healer.
“What about him?” asked Lux.
“He went missing two days ago,” explained Pernille. “And people are certain he’s been taken by a dark mage for some terrible purpose.”
“Why do they think that?”
“Ask me again in the morning,” said Pernille.
Lux awoke with a scream, her heart hammering in her chest and her breath coming in wheezing spikes. Terror filled her mind; a nightmare of clawed hooks dragging her beneath the earth, of fetid mud filling her mouth and darkness smothering her light forever. Lux blinked away the last afterimages, glimpsing retreating shadows out of the corner of her eye. Her mouth was filled with the taste of rancid milk, a sure sign of lingering magic, and she let spectral radiance build in her palms. Light filled the room, and with it, the last remnants of the nightmare was banished. Warmth suffused her, her skin shimmering with a haze of familiar iridescence.
She heard voices downstairs and clenched her fists. The light faded, leaving only the wan traces of daylight from the shuttered window to illuminate the room. Lux pressed her hands to the side of her head, as if seeking to push the awful visions from her mind. She tried to recall specific moments from the nightmare, but all that came was the reek of sour breath and a faceless darkness pressing down upon her.
Her mouth dry, Lux quickly dressed and lifted her staff from the corner of the room. She descended to the temple kitchen, and though she had little in the way of appetite, prepared a breakfast of bread and cheese. At her first bite, the taste of grave earth filled her mouth and she put the food aside.
“Now do you see?” asked Pernille, entering the kitchen and joining her at the table. The skin below Pernille’s eyes was purple with lack of sleep, her skin sallow without firelight to color it. Only now did Lux notice just how bone-weary Pernille was.
“What did you dream?” asked Lux.
“Nothing I want to relive by saying it out loud.”
Lux nodded slowly, “There’s something very wrong with this town.”
Starfire whinnied at the sight of her, his ears pressed flat against his skull and his eyes wide. He nuzzled her and she stroked his pearl white neck and shoulders.
“You too?” she said, and the horse tossed its mane.
Lux quickly saddled her mount and rode toward Fossbarrow’s northern gate. Dawn was already an hour old, but the town was still to fully come to life. No smoke rose from the forges, no smell of fresh bread wafted from the bakeries and only a very few sullen-looking merchants had their doors open for business. Demacians were hard-working, disciplined and industrious, so to see a frontier town so late to begin the day’s work was highly unusual. But if Fossbarrow’s people had endured a night like hers, she couldn’t blame them for being slow to rise.
She passed through the gate into the open ground before the town and let Starfire run to work out the stiffness in his muscles before turning onto the muddy road. The stallion had broken his leg many years ago, but it hadn’t impaired the speed of his gallop.
“Easy, boy,” said Lux as they rode into the forest.
The scent of pine and wildflowers hung heavy in the air, and Lux savored the heady, natural aroma of the northern climes. Sunlight pierced the leafy canopy in angled spars of light and the smell of wet mud sent a shiver up her spine as her nightmare briefly surfaced. She rode deeper into the forest, following the track as it wound its way further north. Lux lifted a hand from the reins and reached for a glittering sunbeam, feeling the magic within her stir at its touch. She let it come, feeling the light at the center of her being spread through her body like an elixir.
Her world lit up as magic filled her senses, the colors of the forest unnaturally vivid and filled with life. She saw glittering motes of light drifting in the air, the breath of trees and the sighs of the earth. How incredible it was to see the world like this, alive to the energies flowing through every living thing. From blades of grass to the mighty ironbirch trees whose roots were said to reach the very heart of the world.
After an hour of riding through the iridescent forest, the road diverged at a crossroads, one path leading east; to a logging town if she remembered correctly, the other dropping west to a community built around a thriving silver mine. Her father owned a stake in the mine and her favorite cloak pin had been wrought from metal dug from its deep chasms. Between the two main routes lay a smaller pathway, all but invisible and suitable only for lone riders or those on foot.
Seven years ago she’d taken that path, and Lux wondered why she was reluctant to guide Starfire in that direction. She had no need to go that way, for her story of paying respects to her great grandfather was just that, a story. Lux closed her eyes and lifted her arms out to the side, letting the magic drift from her fingers and the glittering tip of her staff. She took a breath, filling her lungs with cold air and letting the light of the forest speak to her.
It spoke in contrasting hues of light and shadow, scintillating colors and vibrant illumination. She felt the light of distant stars drift down like mist, light that bathed other worlds and people. Where the light of Demacia fell into shadow, she flinched. Where it nourished something living, she was soothed. Lux turned in the saddle, her senses extended far beyond those of most other mortals, seeking the power that lay over the land like a curse. The sun was almost at its zenith, and she frowned as the quality of light in the forest trembled. She felt shadows where no shadows ought to dwell, hidden darkness where only light should exist. The breath caught in her throat, like a hand at her neck, and a sudden wave of dizziness swept over her. Her eyelids fluttered, drifting closed as if she were being pulled into a waking slumber.
The forest around her was suddenly silent. Not a breath of wind stirred the leaves of the trees, nor ruffled so much as a blade of grass. The silverwings were silent, the chatter of animals stilled. Lux heard the soft susurration of grave cloth being pulled tight.
“No,” she said, gripping her staff, but the unnatural weariness slipped over her like a comfortable blanket, warm and enfolding. Lux’s head dropped and she closed her eyes for the briefest instant.
The snapping sound of a breaking branch and the scrape of metal flicked Lux’s eyes open. She drew in a great draught of air, the cold in her lungs jolting her awake again. She blinked shadows from her eyes and let out an icy breath as she drew her magic back into herself. She heard men on horseback, the jingle of bridle and trace, the rasp of metal on metal. Riders, armored for war. At least four, perhaps more.
Lux wasn’t scared. Not yet, and certainly not of men. Whatever darkness was lurking somewhere in the forest was a more immediate threat. Its strength was uncertain, its abilities feeling like someone testing the limits of what they could do. She pulled Starfire’s reins, turning him around and setting him athwart the paths, ready to face whatever was coming. Freljordian raiders? She was too far inland for reavers from the sea, and she’d have heard if one of the great mountain forts had fallen. Outlaws? Perhaps. That, Lux could deal with. She let the magic simmer just beneath her fingertips, ready to unleash its power in destructive bolts of light.
The foliage in front of her parted, and five horsemen rode into view.
Powerful men, armored head to foot in gleaming warplate. They rode wide chested steeds of gray, none smaller than seventeen hands, and each caparisoned in cobalt blue. Four had their swords drawn, where the fifth had his golden-hilted blade sheathed in a lacquered blue scabbard across his back.
“Luxanna?” said this rider, his voice muffled by the visor of his helm.
Lux sighed as the knight removed his helmet to reveal dark hair and granite-hewn features that so embodied Demacia it was a wonder they weren’t yet on a coin.
“Garen,” sighed Lux.
Her brother had brought four of the Dauntless Vanguard.
Drawn from any other army, four warriors would be a paltry force, but every warrior of the Dauntless Vanguard was a hero, a legend with tales of valor etched into the metal of their swords. Their deeds were told and retold around tavern tables and hearthfires the length and breadth of Demacia.
Dark of hair and keen of eye was Diadoro, the bearded swordsman who’d held the Gates of Mourning against the armored host of the Trifarian Legion for an entire day. Flanking him was Sabator of Jandelle, the slayer of the hideous deepwyrm that woke every hundred years to feast, but which would now wake no more. Its fangs were hung in King Jarvan’s throne room, next to the newly-mounted dragon skull brought by his son and his enigmatic companion.
Slighter, though no less striking was Varya, she who led the charge onto the decks of the sea-wolf fleet at Dawnhold. She set their ships ablaze and even wounded nigh unto death, cut down their berserk leader. Rodian, her twin brother, had sailed north to Frostheld and burned the Freljordian harbor city to the ground, so that no others would dare sail south to wreak havoc again.
Lux knew them all, but rolled her eyes at the thought of hearing their legends around a table tonight. Yes, they were heroes of Demacia and entirely worthy of respect, but hearing about Sabator climbing down the deepwyrm’s gullet for the tenth time, or how Varya beat a Grelmorn to death with a splintered oar was too much for Lux.
Garen came alongside her as they followed the road back to Fossbarrow. They’d circled the town until the light began to fade in search of the magistrate’s son or any sign of nefarious goings on, but had found nothing. Though any servant of darkness would have had plenty of time to run and hide, given the noise Garen and the Dauntless Vanguard were making. Five warriors in heavy warplate weren’t exactly stealthy, and, without her magic to aid her, Lux hadn’t been able to sense the source of the dark power she’d felt at the crossroads.
“You’re really here to visit great grandfather Fossian’s tomb?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” replied Garen. “You did. I’m just surprised. I seem to recall mother saying you hated coming here last time.”
“I’m surprised she remembered.”
“Oh, she remembered,” said Garen without looking at her. “When young Luxanna Crownguard doesn’t enjoy something, the skies darken, rainclouds empty and forest animals hide.”
“You make me sound like a spoiled brat.”
“You kind of were,” said Garen, his easy grin only partially robbing the comment of its sting. “You got away with things I’d have had a skelped backside for doing. Mother was always telling me not to pay attention to the things you did.”
The words hung between them, and Lux looked away, remembering not to underestimate her brother. People knew him as honest and direct, with a sound grasp of tactics and war stratagems, but few ever thought of him as subtle or cunning.
That, knew Lux, was a mistake. Yes, Garen was a simple warrior, but simple didn’t mean stupid.
“So what do you think’s happened to the boy?” asked Lux.
Garen ran a hand through his hair.
“If I had to guess, I’d say he’s run away from home,” he said. “Or decided to have an adventure and gotten lost somewhere in the forest.”
“You don’t think a dark mage has taken him?”
“It’s certainly possible, but Varya and Rodian rode through this way only six months ago, and saw no evidence of unnatural magicks.”
Lux nodded and asked, “Have you spent a night in Fossbarrow?”
“No,” answered Garen, as they rode into sight of the town. “Why do you ask?”
“There’s something going on down there,” said Sabator, his hand shielding his eyes from the setting sun.
Garen’s eyes snapped to where his warrior was pointing, and all levity fell from his face. His entire posture changed, muscles taut and ready for action, his eyes utterly focused. The warriors of the Dauntless Vanguard formed up alongside him, ready to move in an instant.
“What it is?” said Lux.
An angry looking crowd was hounding a stumbling man through the streets toward the market square. She couldn’t hear what they were shouting, but she didn’t need to hear the words to feel their anger and fear.
“Vanguard! We ride,” said Garen, raking his spurs back.
Starfire was a fast horse, but even he was no match for a grain-fed Demacian war-steed. By the time Lux rode through the gates, the sound of yelling voices echoed through the town. Starfire’s flanks were lathered with sweat and his iron-shod hooves struck sparks from the cobbles. Lux hauled her mount to a halt as she entered the crowded market square and leapt from his back as she saw a scene she’d witnessed too many times throughout Demacia.
“No, no, no...” she muttered, seeing two guards drag a weeping man onto the auction platform normally used during the buying and selling of livestock. The man’s clothes were soaked in blood and he wailed piteously. A woman with the ermine-trimmed robes and bronze wings of a Demacian magistrate stood before him, presumably Magistrate Giselle. Hundreds of Fossbarrow’s townsfolk filled the square, yelling and screaming at the man. The intensity of their hate was palpable, and Lux felt her magic drawn to the surface of her skin. She quelled the rising light and pushed her way through the crowd, seeing Garen at the foot of the steps leading onto the auction platform.
“Aldo Dayan,” said Magistrate Giselle, her voice ragged with emotion. “I name thee murderer and consort of a dark mage!”
“No!” cried the man. “You don’t understand! They were monsters! I saw them, their real faces! Darkness. Only Darkness!”
“Confession!” cried Giselle.
The crowd screamed in response, a swelling lust for vengeance erupting from every throat. They looked set to rush the auction platform to tear Aldo Dayan limb from limb, and perhaps they would have but for the four warriors of the Dauntless Vanguard standing with their swords drawn at its edge.
“What’s going on? What happened?” asked Lux as she reached Garen’s side.
Garen didn’t look at her, his eyes fixed on the kneeling man.
“He murdered his wife and children in their beds, then ran out onto the streets and attacked his neighbors. He split three people with an axe before they were able to restrain him.”
“Why would he do that?”
Finally Garen turned to look at her. “Why do you think? There must be a mage nearby. A darkness holds sway here. Only the dark influence of a sorcerer could drive a loyal Demacian citizen to commit such heinous acts.”
Lux bit back an angry retort and pushed past Garen. She climbed the steps of the platform and marched over to the kneeling man.
“Lady Crownguard? What are you doing?” demanded Giselle.
Lux ignored her and lifted the man’s head. His face was bruised, one eye swollen shut from the heavy blow of a cudgel or fist. Blood and snot ran freely from his nose and ropes of drool hung from his split lip.
“Look at me,” she said, and the man’s good eye tried to focus on her. The white of his eye was bloodshot and purple edged, the eye of a man who had not slept in days.
“Goodman Dayan, tell me why you killed your family,” said Lux. “Why did you attack your neighbors?”
“Not them. No. I saw. Weren’t them, they was... monsters...” sobbed the man. “Darkness clothed in skin. Among us the whole time! I woke and I saw their true faces! So I killed them! I had to do it. I had to!”
She looked up as Magistrate Giselle appeared at Lux’s shoulder. Lux saw a soul-aching grief etched in the woman’s face. The last two days had aged her ten years. The magistrate stared down in disgust at Aldo Dayan, her fists clenched at her sides.
“Did you kill my Luca?” she said, her voice wracked with sorrow. “Did you kill my son? Just because he was different?”
Baying cries for vengeance rose from the crowd as the sun sank into the west and the shadows lengthened. Handfuls of mud and dung pelted Aldo Dayan as his former friends and neighbors called for his death. He thrashed in the grip of the guards, frothing at the mouth and spitting bloody saliva.
“I had to kill them!” he screamed, staring defiantly at his accusers. “It weren’t them. Just darkness, only darkness. It could be one of you too!”
Lux turned back to Magistrate Giselle.
“What did you mean when you said your son was different?”
Giselle’s grief was all-consuming, but Lux saw past it to a secret shame beneath. The magistrate’s eyes were bloodshot and ringed with dark smudges of exhaustion, yet even that couldn’t hide the same look she’d seen in her mother’s eyes whenever Lux’s powers had gotten the better of her as a youngster. It was the same look she sometimes saw in her brother’s eyes when he thought she wasn’t looking.
“What did you mean?” she asked again.
“Nothing,” said Giselle. “I didn’t mean anything.”
Lux had heard such deflections before, and suddenly knew exactly how the magistrate’s son was different.
“I’ve heard enough,” said Garen as he strode onto the platform, his long, sunsteel sword hissing from its scabbard. The blade glinted in the twilight, its edge unimaginably sharp.
“Garen, no,” said Lux. “There’s something more going on here. Let me speak with him.”
“He is a monster,” said Garen, spinning his sword up onto his shoulder. “Even if he is not a servant of evil, he is a murderer. There can be only one punishment. Magistrate?”
Giselle looked away from Lux, her eyes wet with tears. She nodded.
“Aldo Dayan, I declare you guilty, and call upon Garen Crownguard of the Dauntless Vanguard to dispense Demacian justice.”
The man lifted his head, and Lux’s eyes narrowed as she felt a prickling sensation of...something pass through him. A whisper of a lurking presence. It slithered away before she could be sure, but a breath of frigid air raised her hackles.
Dayan’s limbs spasmed, like a deranged roadside wanderer afflicted with the tremoring sickness. He whispered something, rasping and faint, as Garen lifted his warblade to deliver the executioner’s strike. Dayan’s last words were all but lost in the roars of approval coming from the crowd, but Lux finally pieced them together as Garen’s sword swept down.
The light is fading...
“Wait!” she cried.
Garen’s blade clove the man’s head from his body in one titanic blow to a roar of approval from the crowd. The body dropped to the platform, twin arcs of blood jetting from the stump of his neck. The head rolled to Giselle’s feet as coiling smoke poured from Aldo Dayan’s corpse like black bile oozing from a charnel pit. The magistrate recoiled in shock as a phantom form of wicked claws and searing eyes erupted from the dead man’s skull.
The spectral darkness launched itself at the magistrate with a cackle of spite. She screamed as it passed through her before dissipating like wind-scattered cinders. Lux felt the breath of the thing’s demise, an energy so vile, so hateful and so inhumanly evil, that it beggared belief. Magistrate Giselle collapsed, her flesh ashen, weeping in terror.
Lux dropped to one knee as myriad visions of horror arose within her; choking fears of being buried alive, of being driven from Demacia by her brother, of a thousand ways to die a slow and painful death. The light within her fought these terrible sights, and Lux’s breath shimmered with motes of light as she spat the taste of death from her mouth.
Garen spoke in a whisper, and it took her a moment to figure out how she could possibly have heard him over the cheering crowd. Lux turned from the sobbing magistrate, and felt magic race around her body in a surge tide.
The crowd stood utterly silent.
“Lux, what’s going on?” said Garen.
Lux blinked away the abhorrent images still searing her mind and followed Garen’s gaze as the warriors of the Dauntless Vanguard rushed to stand with their leader.
Then, one after another, the people of Fossbarrow fell to the ground, as if the life had simply fled their bodies.
Lux clenched her teeth and pushed herself to her feet.
The sun had all but vanished behind Fossbarrow’s western wall and her mouth fell open as she saw black, vaporous shapes lift from the town’s unconscious inhabitants. No two were alike, and Lux saw an assembling host of demons in Noxian armor, vast spiders, many-headed serpents, towering demon-warriors with frost axes, great drakes with teeth like obsidian daggers and scores of things that defied sane description.
“Sorcery,” declared Garen.
The shadow creatures closed on the platform, sliding through the air without a sound. An oncoming tide of nightmarish horrors.
“What are they?” asked Varya.
“The darkest nightmares of Fossbarrow’s people given form,” said Lux.
“How can you know that?” demanded Sabator.
“I just do,” said Lux, knowing she couldn’t stay here to fight. Her skills would be best employed elsewhere, and the Dauntless Vanguard could hold their own here. She placed her thumb and forefinger against her bottom lip and whistled a summoning note before turning to Garen.
“I know how to stop this,” she said.
“How?” said Garen, without taking his eyes off the approaching demon host.
“Never mind how,” said Lux. “Just... try not to die before I get back.”
Lux ran to the edge of the platform as Starfire galloped through the creatures. Her steed passed unmolested, its dreams and nightmares of no interest to the power now abroad in Fossbarrow. Lux leapt from the platform and grabbed Starfire’s mane, swinging onto his back in one smooth motion.
“Where are you going?” demanded Garen.
The horse reared and Lux twisted in the saddle to answer her brother.
“I told you,” she shouted. “I’m going to pay my respects to great grandfather Fossian!”
Garen watched his sister gallop through the dark host, carefully navigating a path through the town’s fallen inhabitants. Grasping claws of demon creatures reached for her, but she and Starfire evaded every attack. Lux rode clear of the monstrous host, and paused just long enough to lift her gold-topped staff to him.
“For Demacia!” she shouted.
The Dauntless Vanguard clashed their swords against their shields.
“For Demacia!” they answered as one.
Lux turned her horse and galloped from the town. Garen rolled his shoulders in anticipation of the rigor of close-quarters battle and lifted his sword.
“Lockstep!” he yelled, and his warriors took up their battle stance. Varya and Rodian stood to his left, Sabator and Diadoro to his right.
“We are the Dauntless Vanguard,” said Garen, lowering his sword so its quillons framed his piercing eyes. “Let courage and a keen eye guide your blades.”
Oil black demon-hounds were the first to reach the platform, leaping upward with tearing fangs and flashing teeth. Garen and the Dauntless Vanguard met them with shields locked and blades bared. A hammering wall of iron beat them back. Though their enemies were wrought from shadow and spite, they fought with ferocious strength and skill. Garen stepped in and thrust his blade into a writhing beast’s haunches, tearing through to where its spine ought to be. The monster’s form exploded into black dust with a shriek of anguish.
Garen spun his sword up and pulled back in an oblique turn. His sword deflected another beast’s snapping jaw. He rolled his wrists and lowered his shoulder into its attack. He pushed the thing back and down. He stamped its chest and the beast roared as it burst apart. Garen’s sword snapped back up to block a crushing blow from what looked like the silhouette of a towering Freljordian warrior. The impact drove him to his knees.
“I will fight as long as I stand!” he said through gritted teeth, straightening his legs with a roar and hammering his pommel into the savage warrior’s horned skull. Ashes burst from the demon and Garen spun to drive his sword into the belly of another beast.
Sabator decapitated a slavering hound as Diadoro slammed his shield down on a hissing serpent, severing its body in half. Varya hammered the hilt of her sword into the snapping fangs of a faceless demon warrior as Rodian drove his sword into his twin’s foe.
With every killing blow, the shadow creature burst into amber-limned ashes. Garen’s sword flashed and the silver blade plunged into the body of a scorpion-like monster.
A slash of dark talons came at Garen’s head. Sabator’s shield parried the attack. Varya chopped her blade through the monster’s legs and it burst apart. A hideous, limping creature hurled itself at Rodian, and he thrust his blade hard into its featureless face. It screeched as it died. But for every shadow they destroyed, more always took their place.
“Back to back!” roared Garen, and the pauldrons of the five warriors clashed together. They fought shoulder to shoulder in a circle of steel, a beacon of light against the darkness.
“Show them the strength of Demacia!”
Lux rode hard through the forest, trees flashing past to either side in a blur. Light shone from the splayed tip of her staff, illuminating her path with blazing radiance. It was reckless to gallop through the forest at such speed, even with her light as a guide, but the nightmares assailing Garen and the Dauntless Vanguard would keep coming. Human imaginations were a depthless well of nightmares; fear of death, fear of infirmity or fear of the loss of a loved one.
She followed the route she had taken only this morning, letting the power of her magic flow into Starfire to grant him sight beyond measure. Lux and her mount flew through the night, eventually reaching the crossroads where the roads diverged. Ignoring the roads east and west, Starfire leapt the overgrown bracken that all but obscured the path north.
The path to great-grandfather Fossian’s tomb.
Even with her light and her mount’s surefootedness, Lux was forced to slow her pace as the path wound its way through steep-sided gullies and up rocky glens. The closer she came to the tomb, the more the landscape began to change, taking on an altogether different character – like something from a tale told to frighten small children. The trees wept a sickly black sap, their branches gnarled and twisted into clawed hands that plucked at her hair and cloak. Gaps in the boles of trees resembled fanged mouths, and venomous spiders spun cloying webs in their high branches. The ground underfoot became spongy and damp with brackish pools of stagnant water – like a grove abandoned by one of the fae folk.
Starfire stopped before the entrance to a shadow-wreathed clearing and threw back his head, nostrils flaring in fear.
“Easy, boy,” she said. “Fossian’s tomb is just ahead. Only a few more steps.”
But the horse would not be cajoled into another inch forward.
“Fine,” said Lux. “I’ll go myself.”
She slid off the horse’s back and entered the clearing with her staff held high. Its light guttered like a lantern in a storm, but gave off just enough illumination for her to see.
The mound of Fossian’s tomb was a shallow hill of grass that looked black in the gloom, its summit crowned with a rough cairn of stacked stone. Dark smoke drifted into a sky that swirled with images of ancient horrors awaiting their time to claim the world. Dark lines snaked across the great stone slab telling of Fossian’s deeds.
A young boy, no more than twelve or thirteen sat cross-legged before it, his thin body swaying as if in a trance. Tendrils of black smoke coiled from the tomb, wrapped around his neck like strangling vines.
“Luca?” said Lux.
The boy’s swaying ceased at the sound of her voice.
He turned to face Lux, and she faltered at the sight of his soulless, black eyes. A cruel grin split his face.
“Not anymore,” he said.
A looming spider with hook-bladed legs reared over Garen, its bloated belly rippling with distended eyes and snapping jaws. He split its thorax and kicked the flailing creature from the platform even as its body disintegrated.
Legs braced, Garen felt a searing cold in the muscle of his shoulder as a black claw plunged through his pauldron. The metal did not buckle or crack. The claw passed through unimpeded, and Garen felt a sickening revulsion spread through him. He smelled rank grave dirt; the reek of fetid earth over a centuries-old sepulchre. He fought through the pain as he had always been trained to do.
Rodian fell as a hooking blade slid under his guard and plunged into his side. He cried out in pain, his shield lowering.
“Straighten up!” yelled Garen. “Shake the pain.”
Rodian straightened, chastened at his lapse, as the shadow creatures barged one another in their frenzy to reach the Dauntless Vanguard.
“They never stop coming!” cried Varya.
“Then we never stop fighting!” answered Garen.
Though she wanted nothing more than to flee this haunted clearing, Lux walked toward the young boy. His eyes rippled with darkness, nightmares waiting to be born from the rich loam of human frailty. She felt a cold, calculating intelligence appraise her.
Luca nodded and smoothly rose to his feet. Muttering shadows gathered at the edge of the clearing, monsters and terrors lurking just out of sight as they moved to surround her.
“You have nightmares aplenty,” he said. “I think I’ll crack your skull open with a rock to scoop them out.”
“Luca, this isn’t you,” she said.
“Tell me, who do you think it is?”
“The demon in that tomb,” said Lux. “I don’t think it was as dead as people thought when they buried Fossian.”
Luca grinned, his mouth spreading so wide the skin at the corners of his mouth tore. Rivulets of blood ran down his chin.
“Not dead at all,” he said. “Just sleeping. Healing. Renewing. Preparing.”
“Preparing for what?” said Lux, forcing herself to take another step forward.
The boy tutted and wagged an admonishing finger. Lux froze, unable to take another step.
“Now, now,” he said, bending to pick up a sharpened stone. “Let me cut out a nightmare first.”
“Luca,” said Lux, unable to move, but still able to speak. “You have to fight it. I know you can. You have magic within you. I know you have, that’s why you ran away isn’t it? That’s why you came here, to be next to someone who defeated a demon.”
The thing wearing the flesh of the boy laughed, and the grass withered around it at the sound.
“His tears were like water in a desert,” it said, coming forward and circling her as if seeing where best he might crack her skull open. “They woke me, nourished me. I had slept for so long I had forgotten just how sweet the suffering of mortals tasted.”
The boy reached out and stroked her cheek. His touch sent a cold spike of terror through Lux. He lifted his finger away, and a smoky thread followed. She gagged as the fear of drowning filled her. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“I made him sleep, and his dreams were ripe with horrors to be made real,” said the boy. “His power is slight, a glowing ember compared to the furnace that burns in your flesh. It gave me little in the way of real substance, but childish fears are a banquet after I had gone so long without. Demacia is a terror to his kind. To your kind.”
Lux felt her magic retreat from this creature, the darkness filling the clearing pressing her light down into little more than a spark. But even a single spark could begin a conflagration that would devour an entire forest.
“They hated him. Luca knew that. You mortals are always so quick to fear the things you don’t understand. So easy to fan those flames and draw forth the most exquisite visions of terror.”
Lux flexed her fingers, the motion painful. But pain meant she had control. She used it. She nursed the building spark within her, kept it apart from her terror, and let it seep slowly back into her body.
“Luca, please,” she said, forcing each word out. “You have to fight it. Don’t let it use you.”
The boy laughed. “He can’t hear you. And even if he could, you know he’s right to fear what his own people would do if they discovered the truth. That he is the very thing they hate. A mage. You of all people should know how that feels.”
Pain spread along Lux’s arms, and moved through her chest. The boy’s black eyes narrowed as he sensed the build up of magic.
“I know all too well,” she said. “But I do not let fear define me.”
Lux thrust her staff toward the boy with a scream of pain. Her limbs burned, and the blow was clumsy. The boy jumped back; too slow. The golden tip of the staff brushed the skin of his cheek.
The moment of connection was fleeting, but it was enough.
The Dauntless Vanguard fought with brutally efficient sword cuts and battering blows from their shields, but they could not fight forever.
Eventually, the shadows would drag them down.
A pack of squirming things with grasping arms attacked from the left, fouling Diadoro’s swings with their bodies. A blow glanced off his shield and hammered into his shoulder guard. He grunted and punched his sword into the belly of a dark-fleshed beast with the head of a dragon.
“Step in!” admonished Sabator. “Keep them at bay!”
Garen threw a sword cut into the writhing darkness, a backstroke to the guts and a thrust to the chest. In deep and twist. Don’t stop moving. Movement to the right, a howling insect-like skull with fangs like daggers. He slashed it in the eyes. It screamed and burst apart in smoke and cinders.
Two more came at him. No room to swing. Another pommel strike, stove in the first’s chest. Stab the other in the belly, blade out. The monsters withdrew. Garen stepped back, level with Varya and Rodian. Each was slathered from helm to greaves in ash.
“We hold the line,” said Garen.
“For how long?” asked Diadoro.
Garen looked to the north, where a distant light shone in the forest.
“As long as Lux needs,” said Garen with a warning glance.
And the shadows came at them again.
Lux poured her light into Luca, and blinding radiance exploded through the clearing. The monster within the young boy was torn loose from his flesh with a howling screech of fury and desperation. White fire enfolded her, becoming everything around them. The darkness fled before Lux’s awesome power, its shadow banished by the incandescence of her light. The growing radiance kept growing until the forest and the tomb were nowhere to be seen, only an endless expanse of pale nothingness. Sitting in front of her was a young boy with his knees drawn up to his chest. He looked up, and his eyes were those of a small, frightened child.
“Can you help me?” he said.
“I can,” said Lux, walking over and sitting next to him. “But you have to come back with me.”
He shook his head. “I can’t. I’m too scared. The nightmare-man is out there.”
“Yes he is, but together we can beat him,” she said. “I’ll help you.”
“If you’ll let me,” said Lux with a smile. “I know what you’re going through, how you’re afraid of what’ll happen if people know what you can do. Trust me, I’ve been through it as well. But you don’t have to be afraid. What’s inside you? It’s not evil. It’s not darkness. It’s light. It’s a light I can help you control.”
She held out her hand.
“You promise?” he said.
“I promise,” said Lux. “You’re not alone, Luca.”
The boy gripped her hand like a drowning man grasping a rope.
The light swelled again, impossibly bright, and when it faded, Lux saw the clearing was just as she remembered it from seven years ago. Green grass, a hillock with a stone cairn and a slab describing Fossian’s deeds. The darkness that had so transformed the forest was now absent. The clawed trees were nothing more than ordinary trees, the sky a midnight blue vault of twinkling stars. The sound of night-hunting birds echoed from the forest canopy.
Luca still held her hand and smiled up at her.
“Is he gone, the nightmare-man?”
“I think so,” she said, feeling the bitter taste of dark power diminish. “For now at least. I think maybe it’s not in the tomb anymore, but it’s gone from here. That’s what’s important right now.”
“Can we go home now?” asked Luca.
“Yes,” said Lux. “We can go home.”
Numbing cold filled Garen. His limbs were leaden, pierced through by shadow claws. Ice running in his veins chilled him to the very heart of his soul as his vision grayed.
Sabator and Diadoro were down, skin darkening. Rodian was on his knees, a clawed hand at his throat. Varya fought on, her shield arm hanging uselessly at her side, but her sword arm still strong.
Garen tasted ash and despair. He had never known defeat. Not like this. Even when he once believed Jarvan was dead, he’d found the will to continue. Now, his life was being sapped with every breath.
A towering figure reared up before him, a horned demon with an axe of darkness. It looked like a savage warrior he had slain many years ago. Garen raised his sword, ready to die with a Demacian war-cry on his lips.
A summer wind blew. The brightness in the northern sky shone like a new-risen sun.
The shadow creatures vanished, blown like scraps of charred leaves in a hurricane. The wind and the strange radiance spread across the town square like daybreak, and the shadows fled before it.
Garen let out a breath, barely able to believe he still could. Rodian sucked in a lungful of air as Sabator and Diadoro picked themselves up from the ground. They looked around, amazed, as the last remaining shadows were banished and the townsfolk began to stir.
“What happened?” gasped Varya.
“Lux,” said Garen.
With Luca reunited with his grateful mother and detailed instructions left with Mistress Pernille of the Lightbringers on his further education, Lux and Garen rode toward Fossbarrow’s south gate at the head of the Dauntless Vanguard. Their mood was subdued, and a palpable guilt hung over every person they passed on their way from the town. None of Fossbarrow’s inhabitants could remember anything after the execution, but all knew they had played a part in a man’s death.
“May the Veiled Lady welcome you to her breast,” said Lux as they passed Aldo Dayan’s burial procession.
“Do you really think he deserves such mercy?” said Garen. “He killed innocents.”
“That’s true,” agreed Lux, “but do you understand why?”
“Does it matter? He was guilty of a crime and paid the price.”
“Of course it matters. Aldo Dayan was their friend and neighbor,” said Lux. “They drank beer with him in the tavern, shared jokes with him on the street. Their sons and daughters played with his children. In their rush to judgement, any chance of understanding what caused his murderous acts was lost.”
Garen kept his gaze fixed on the road ahead.
“They don’t want understanding,” he said at last. “They don’t need it.”
“How can you say that?”
“We live in a world that does not allow for such nuances, Lux. Demacia is beset on all sides by terrible foes; savage tribes in the north, a rapacious empire in the east and the power of dark mages who threaten the very fabric of our realm. We deal in absolutes by necessity. Allowing doubt to cloud our judgement leaves us vulnerable. And I cannot allow us to become vulnerable.”
“Even at such a cost?”
“Even so,” agreed Garen. “It’s why I do what I do.”
“For Demacia,” said Garen.
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