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|Release Date||January 25th, 2019|
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Sylas is a champion in League of Legends.
- Story #1
- Story #2
|Raised in one of Demacia’s lesser quarters, Sylas of Dregbourne has come to symbolize the darker side of the Great City. As a boy, his ability to root out hidden sorcery caught the attention of the notorious mageseekers, who eventually imprisoned him for turning those same powers against them. Having now broken free, Sylas lives as a hardened revolutionary, using the magic of those around him to destroy the kingdom he once served… and his band of outcast mage followers seems to grow by the day.
As a mage born to a poor Demacian family, Sylas of Dregbourne was perhaps doomed from the start. Despite their low social standing, his parents were firm believers in their country’s ideals. So, when they discovered their son was “afflicted” with magical abilities, they convinced him to turn himself in to the kingdom’s mageseekers.
Noting the boy’s curious ability to sense magic, they used Sylas to identify other mages living among the citizenry. For the first time in his life he felt he had a future, a life in service to his country, and he performed these duties faithfully. He was proud, but lonely—forbidden from associating with anyone but his handlers.
Through his work, Sylas began to notice that magic was far more prevalent than Demacia cared to admit. He could sense glimmers of hidden power even among the wealthy and prominent… some of whom were the most outspoken decriers of mages. But while the poor were punished for their afflictions, the elite seemed above the law, and this hypocrisy planted the first seeds of doubt in Sylas’ mind.
Those doubts finally bloomed in one deadly, fateful event, when Sylas and his handlers encountered a mage living in hiding in the countryside. After discovering it was only a young girl, Sylas took pity on her. When he tried to shield the child from the mageseekers, he accidentally brushed against her skin. The girl’s magic rushed through Sylas’s body—but rather than killing him, it shot forth from his hands in raw, uncontrolled bursts. It was a talent he did not know he possessed, and it resulted in the deaths of three people, including his mageseeker mentor.
Knowing he would be called a murderer, Sylas went on the run, and quickly gained notoriety as one of the most dangerous mages in Demacia. Indeed, when the mageseekers found him, they showed no mercy.
Though he was still just a youth, Sylas was sentenced to life imprisonment.
He languished in the darkest depths of the mageseeker compound, forced to wear heavy shackles of magic-dampening petricite. Robbed of his arcane sight, his heart turned as hard as the stone that bound him, and he dreamed of vengeance on all who had put him there.
After fifteen wretched years, a young volunteer from the Illuminators named Luxanna began to visit him. Even with his shackles, Sylas recognized her as a singularly powerful mage, and over time the two forged an unusual and secretive bond. In exchange for Sylas’ knowledge of the control of magic, Lux educated him about the world outside his cell, and brought him whatever books he desired.
Eventually, through careful manipulation, he convinced the girl to smuggle a forbidden tome into his cell—the original writings of the great sculptor Durand, detailing his work with petricite.
The work revealed the secrets of the stone to Sylas. It was the foundation of Demacia’s defenses against harmful sorcery, but he came to see that it did not suppress magic, but absorb it.
And if the power was held within the petricite, Sylas wondered, could he release it…?
All he needed was a source of magic. A source like Lux.
But she never visited Sylas again. Her family, the immensely powerful Crownguards, had learned of their contact, and were furious that Lux had broken the law to help this vile criminal. Without explanation, it was arranged for Sylas to be hanged.
At the gallows, Lux pleaded for her friend’s life, but her cries fell on deaf ears. As the hangman pushed past her to tighten the noose, Sylas managed to touch against Lux with his chains. As he had predicted, her power surged into the petricite shackles, ready for him to unleash—and with that stolen magic, Sylas blasted his way free, sparing only the terrified young Crownguard.
He left the mageseeker compound not as an outcast, but as a new, defiant symbol of the broken and persecuted in Demacia. Traveling the kingdom in secret, he has amassed a following of exiled mages, all now aligned toward a common goal: to topple the throne, and demolish the oppressive system that has made them suffer for so long.
|"I am no traitor. I am the true Demacia."
The sun was at its peak, just high enough to illuminate the exiles’ camp hidden deep in the canyon. From the shade of his lean-to, Sylas of Dregbourne waited patiently for his scout to return. At last, he saw her rounding the stone spire at the mouth of the crevasse, leading a wide-eyed young stranger into the camp.
“This is Happ,” said the scout. “He wants to join.”
Sylas emerged from his shelter, eyeing the youth casually. “Does he now?”
“I know him from the underground. The seekers took his family. He made it out, by the hair on his hide.”
Sylas nodded, quietly assessing the young man. He could sense the boy was blessed with powerful magic—some black and deadly pall. As for the rest of his character, Sylas could see nothing.
“He’s a good kid,” assured the scout. “And he’s from Dregbourne.”
Sylas’ brow furrowed with pleasant surprise, as if meeting kin he never knew existed.
The youth stammered out an introduction. “I… I thought maybe… I could join your cause… sir.”
The entire camp of outlaws laughed. The boy’s eyes darted around the grinning faces, searching for some hint of what he had done wrong.
“There’s no ‘sir’ here,” chuckled Sylas. “Unless you want to address everyone of us that way.”
“Yes, si— …Yes,” the youth said, nearly repeating his mistake.
Abashed, the recruit seemed to wonder if he’d made the right choice in coming to the camp. Sylas placed a heavily shackled arm on the boy’s shoulder, hoping to quell his embarrassment.
“Be at ease, Happ. No one will judge you here. We’re a long way from Dregbourne.”
He felt the youth relax his posture.
“I know your struggle. They’re always watching you, hounding you, making you feel inferior. Well there’s none of that here. Here, you belong.”
Happ beamed, staring at his feet, as though he felt unworthy of his newfound joy.
“Do you know why I wear these chains?” asked Sylas.
The recruit shook his head, too timid to offer a guess.
“They’re not just weapons. They’re a reminder. Of where we come from. Of everything we’re capable of, and of our liberation to come. Are you with me?”
“Yes. Yes, I want to be liberated.”
“Good,” said Sylas. “Tonight, you will break your own chains.”
Dusk was falling, and the darkened brush on the side of the road was the perfect cover for an ambush. There, Sylas lay in wait with a dozen of his most trusted mages. Beside him, the recruit nervously picked at his fingernails.
“Don’t worry,” said Sylas, with a reassuring smile. “I was nervous for my first one. After a while, it becomes as natural as breathing.”
Before the recruit’s nerves could be assuaged, the thunder of hooves and wagon wheels rumbled in the distance like a coming storm. Within seconds, the carriage came barreling down the road before the lurking hijackers.
An instant before the horses arrived, Sylas signaled to his comrades, and the ambush began.
With a flick of his wrist, a scruffy old mage summoned a thick cord of ironvines that snapped across the road, catching the galloping horses at the knees. The racket was deafening, as the steeds fell neck-first into the dirt, the carriage careening over them.
The mages sprang from their cover, subduing the dazed crew of the carriage with various weapons and spells. Sylas leapt atop the overturned coach, eager to seize the passengers of the unprotected cabin.
“Let’s go, recruit,” he called to Happ, beckoning for the lad to join him.
Happ scampered atop the cabin and began to help pry the door. It cracked open, revealing a very battered nobleman. Sylas’ eyes flashed with a malicious gleam.
“Well… look who’s kneeling now, my lord,” said Sylas, extending his hand.
The nobleman bristled. Though he was gravely injured, his hatred for Sylas remained intact.
“I’ll not cower before the likes of you.”
“Good,” said Sylas. “Because I wouldn’t want you to miss this.”
In minutes, all of the nobleman’s guards and coachmen were lined up beside the road with their hands bound. Sylas paced the line, individually acknowledging each captive.
“I ache for you all. I do,” said Sylas. “You are merely cogs in their wheel.”
Sylas paused, his tone shifting harshly, as he gestured to the bound nobleman.
“But you chose to serve them… and thus, serve their cause.”
He turned to his band of outcasts, loudly offering a question.
“Brothers and sisters—these folk work in the service of swine. What does that make them?”
“Swine!” replied the outcasts.
“Should we allow them to go free?”
“No!” yelled the mages.
“What if they have a change of heart? Promise never to bother us again?” asked Sylas, with a coy smile creeping across the corners of his mouth.
“They’d be lying!” yelled the scruffy old mage from the brush.
“They can’t be trusted!” said another in the gang.
“Then what is to be done with them?” asked Sylas.
“They must die!” shouted a young mage, his hatred beyond his years.
Others yelled out in agreement, until the phrase echoed across the land: “Swine must die!”
Sylas nodded, as if he were slowly being persuaded by their words.
“So it must be.”
Softly, Sylas touched the shoulder of his recruit. His petricite shackles began to fume with a dark smoke. He closed his eyes, savoring the captured power.
The sight sent a quake of dread through the captives. Many fell to their knees and wept, pleading to be spared. Only the nobleman stood proud, defying his circumstances, as Sylas addressed his crew with somber finality.
“It pains me that I cannot show you the beautiful world to come.”
The words sent a chill through the recruit.
“Sylas, no,” Happ protested. “These are just… people.”
Ignoring the pleas, Sylas extended his arms and fingers, and unleashed the magic stored in his gauntlets. A thick black cloud billowed from his fingers and collected above the heads of the nobleman’s crew. Almost in unison, they began to claw at their throats in suffocation. Moments later, they fell to the ground dead.
A grave hush fell over the mages, having dutifully observed the execution. The nobleman wept silently, tears streaming over his clenched lips. The only sound came from the recruit.
“No… why?” said Happ, falling to his knees.
Sylas eased the boy back to his feet, consoling him with a fatherly hand.
“Happ, you wanted to help our cause. This is it! This is our liberation…”
He gently guided the recruit toward the nobleman, and urged him forward.
“…one dead lord at a time.”
Happ looked at the nobleman through tear-filled eyes. He held out a trembling hand, preparing to take the life before him. Then, he let his arm go limp.
Sylas’ tender patience began to slip away.
“This man is not your friend. His fortune is built on your suffering. He would sooner see you hang than show you any kindness.”
The recruit would not budge. At last, the nobleman found his voice.
“You’re a monster,” he said, his voice breaking.
“Yes,” replied Sylas. “That’s what your kind said when you locked me in the dark.”
Sylas held forth his hand, its shackle still faintly glowing. The magic he had taken from Happ mustered one last wisp of blackness. The small, dark cloud enveloped the nobleman’s face, drawing the breath from his lungs. As the man writhed, Sylas looked back at the recruit, not in anger, but mourning.
“I’m sorry, Happ. But you are not ready to be liberated. Go. Return to your chains.”
Sylas watched as Happ turned to leave, his eyes averted in shame. The recruit looked down at the wrecked carriage in front of him, and the long, dirt road that wound back to the capital. Sylas could almost feel the boy thinking, dreading the misery that awaited him in his old life.
Happ bent down, pried a dagger from the hand of the dead coachman, and returned to the nobleman, still struggling for breath on the ground.
As the youth raised the dagger above the nobleman, Sylas’ sorrow turned to unmitigated joy. No matter how many he liberated, it always made him smile.
|THE SHACKLES OF BELIEF
Thorva, Sister of Frost, hauled on her reins, dragging her hulking drüvask to a halt alongside Scarmother Vrynna of the Winter's Claw. The shaggy-furred beast snorted in protest, hot breath steaming the air.
“Hush, Ice-Tooth,” Thorva said. The bone charms and totems wrapped around her wrist rattled as she patted her ill-tempered mount.
A bone-chilling wind whipped across the desolate landscape, yet alone among the raiding party, Thorva did not wear heavy furs and leathers. Her arms, tattooed with swirling indigo ink, were bare to the elements, but she gave no indication of discomfort, for the cold had long relinquished its claim on her.
The imposing figure of Scarmother Vrynna sat astride another drüvask boar, a tusked behemoth even larger than the one Thorva rode. It snarled and stamped one massive, cloven hoof, eyeing Thorva balefully. A sharp kick from Vrynna silenced it.
The scarmother was a ruthless veteran, her victories many and bloody, but Thorva refused to be overawed. Her name was not yet known across the Freljord like the scarmother’s, but she was a shamanka, one who dreamed the will of the gods, and even the most powerful matriarchs in the Freljord were wise to respect the old faith.
The rest of the Winter’s Claw raiding party had reined in, awaiting their scarmother and shamanka. They’d been traveling at pace for much of the day, heading east, deep into Avarosan territory. This was their first stoppage in hours, and they took the opportunity to slide from their saddles, stretching their backs and shaking out numb legs.
The wind picked up, whipping Thorva with snow and ice.
“A storm is coming in,” she said.
Vrynna, her face riven with old scars, did not reply, and continued to stare southward. Vrynna’s right eye was clouded and blind, and there was a streak of white in her dark hair—whatever had caused her wounds had certainly left its mark. Among the Winter’s Claw, such scars were a source of pride and reverence—the mark of a survivor.
“You see something?” asked Thorva.
Vrynna nodded, and continued staring into the distance.
Thorva narrowed her gaze, but could see little through the worsening weather.
“I see nothing.”
“You have two good eyes, yet you are more blind than I am, girl,” snapped Vrynna.
Frost formed around Thorva’s knuckles as her hands clenched, and her irises turned ice-blue. Nevertheless, she reined in her anger, forcing herself to take a deep breath.
It was clear Scarmother Vrynna, like most of the Winter’s Claw, had little time for her or her beliefs. It likely didn’t help that Thorva had chosen to join this raiding party uninvited. No doubt she thought the shamanka joining them may distract those more inclined to superstition, undermining their purpose and her authority.
In truth, a vague but compelling instinct had urged Thorva to join the raid, despite the scarmother’s initial protests, and she had long ago learned to trust such impulses as a gift. The gods wanted her here, but for what purpose, she knew not.
“There, a mile to the south,” pointed Vrynna. “Near that rocky outcrop. See?”
Thorva nodded, finally. A lone figure could just be made out, little more than a shadow against the snow. How Vrynna had spotted it in the first place was beyond her. Thorva frowned as she felt an itching sensation prickle the back of her neck. There was something strange about whoever this was…
The wind billowed, and the figure was obscured once more, yet the persistent unease Thorva felt remained.
“An Avarosan scout?”
“No,” said Vrynna, shaking her head. “They are trudging straight through a deepening drift. Not even a child of the Freljord would make a mistake like that.”
“An outsider, then. But this far north?”
Scarmother Vrynna shrugged. “The Avarosans do not follow the old ways. They trade with southerners rather than simply taking from them. Perhaps this is one of those traders that has lost their way.”
Vrynna spat, dismissively, and hauled her drüvask around to continue on. The other warriors followed her cue, turning the heavy, tusked heads of their own mounts back along the ridgeline, to the east. Only Thorva remained, staring intently into the storm.
“They might have seen us. If they carry word of our presence, the Avarosans will be ready for us.”
“That fool won’t be telling anything to anyone, except perhaps whatever gods they worship in the Beyond,” Vrynna declared. “This storm is worsening. They will be dead by nightfall. Come, we have lingered long enough.”
Still, there was something that bothered Thorva, and she remained on the edge of the ridge, looking back toward the lone outsider, though she could see barely more than a dozen paces now, at best. Was this why she had been brought here?
“Girl!” snapped Vrynna. “Are you coming?”
Thorva looked at Vrynna, then back south.
With a nudge, Thorva directed her drüvask boar down the side of the ridge, allowing herself a satisfied smile as she heard Vrynna curse behind her.
“We go after her, yes?”
It was Brokvar Ironfist who spoke, the massive Iceborn warrior who had been her champion and sometime lover for almost a decade.
“The gods will bring ruin upon our tribe if anything happens to her,” Brokvar added.
If forced to pick just one person in the Freljord to fight at her side, Vrynna would choose Brokvar. Half a head taller than the next biggest warrior under her command, he was strong enough to lift a drüvask off the ground, and utterly dependable. He lived to fight—and he did it well—and he carried the broadsword Winter’s-Wail.
That blade was legend among the Winter’s Claw, and had been passed down between Iceborn for centuries. A shard of unmelting True Ice was embedded in the hilt of Winter’s-Wail, and crackling hoarfrost coated its edge. Anyone who wasn’t an Iceborn who tried to grasp it—Vrynna included—would suffer great pain, even death.
If he had one flaw, it was his superstition. He saw portents and prophecy in everything from the flight patterns of ravens to the splatter of blood in the snow, and much to her distaste, he practically worshipped the ground where the self-righteous shamanka walked. Worse, it seemed as if his overt reverence had rubbed off on the other warriors under her command. She saw several of them nodding agreement, and muttering under their breath.
Against her better judgment, Vrynna signaled, and the raiding party swung around, to follow the Sister of Frost.
Scarmother Vrynna was right about one thing: whoever the lone outsider was, they had less understanding of the Freljord than a child.
Watching their exhausted progress through the deep snow, Thorva knew they would be dead within the hour if she simply turned and rode away. In truth, it was a minor miracle they had made it this far, for they were plainly ill-prepared for the harshness of the tundra, and lacked even the most basic understanding of navigating it safely.
As she came closer, unaffected by the bitter wind whipping across the desolate landscape, she saw them stumble. Time and again the outsider struggled vainly back to their feet, but it was obvious their strength was all but spent.
The outsider seemed oblivious to Thorva’s approach. She was closing the distance from outside the periphery of their vision—coming at them from the flank, and slightly behind them—but not once did they turn.
Thorva scanned her surroundings. If there were any rimefangs or other beasts stalking this outsider, now would be the time to strike. Seeing nothing, she pushed on.
She was close enough now to make out more of the outlander’s appearance. It was a man, she saw now, garbed in leathers and furs, though he did not wear them in the Freljordian manner. Foolishly, he carried no spear, axe, sword, or bow. Thorva shook her head. In the Winter’s Claw, from the time one could walk, they were never without a blade. She herself had other more arcane weapons at her disposal, yet even she had three blades on her at all times.
Stranger still, the outsider dragged a pair of chains behind him, affixed to giant manacles of curious design clamped around his wrists…
It was far too late now, but Sylas of Dregbourne realized he had grossly underestimated the sheer, overwhelming hostility of the Freljordian landscape. He understood there was great magical power here, in the north—and now he was here, he could practically feel it in his bones—but it seemed now that it had been a mistake to come here.
A dozen hand-picked mages had set out with him into the frozen north, but each had fallen, one after another, claimed by blizzards, hidden ravines, and savage beasts. He thought the main threat would have come from the barbarian Freljordians themselves, but so far he had not seen a single living soul in the weeks of travel.
How anyone could live out here was beyond him.
He thought they had prepared well, layering themselves in furs and wool, and loading up the heavy, furred oxen with food, firewood, weapons, and coin to barter with; coin liberated from the coffers and chests of the tax-collectors and nobility of his homeland of Demacia.
Not even the oxen had survived this far, though, and now Sylas walked alone.
Sheer force of will and the burning desire to see the monarchy and noble houses of Demacia fall drove him on.
Already he had fomented considerable resistance within the boundaries of Demacia itself. He’d lit the fires of rebellion, but had realized he needed more fuel to see it truly burn. In his cell in Demacia he had consumed every book, chronicle, and tome he was able to get a hold of, and in several of them there had been references of the great and terrible sorcery and ancient magic far to the north. That was the power he needed. Even now, facing death, he believed the power he sought was close…
Nevertheless, not even his stubbornness was enough to overcome the relentless cold. His hands and toes were already turning black and had long gone numb, and a heavy lethargy hung upon him like a weight, dragging him down.
He thought he had seen a column of riders upon a distant ridge some time back, but he was not sure if that was real, or some fevered delusion brought on by exhaustion and the freezing temperature.
To stop was to die, though, he knew that well enough. He would find this power in the north, or he would be damned.
And so he slogged on, one foot in front of the other… but he made it only a dozen more steps before he fell face-first into the snow, and lay still.
Thorva shook her head as she saw the outsider fall, and urged Ice-Tooth forward. The man didn’t make any move to get up this time. For all she knew, he was dead, finally claimed by the unrelenting elements that she herself no longer felt.
Once she was close, Thorva slid from the saddle, sinking almost to her knees as she landed. She approached the face-down man warily, crunching through the snow.
Again she looked at his bonds, curiously.
If he was an escaped prisoner, where had he escaped from?
While the Winter’s Claw did not take prisoners, they did on occasion take thralls—though one that could not be tamed or beaten into service was just another mouth to feed. Thorva didn’t think even the Avarosans would chain someone in this manner. Could he have escaped from the southlands, over the distant mountains?
Grasping her staff in both hands, she prodded him. Getting no reaction, Thorva drove the base of her staff into the snow underneath the outsider, and tried to lever him onto his front. It was a difficult task, for the immense manacles the man wore covered most of his forearms and were incredibly heavy. Grunting with the effort, she finally managed to turn him over.
He flopped over lifelessly, and his furred hood fell back. His eyes were closed and sunken, and his lips tinged blue. Frost had formed on his brows, lashes, and his unshaven cheeks, and his dark hair, tied back in a loose ponytail, was similarly icy.
Thorva allowed her gaze to be drawn to the shackles around his wrists. The Sister of Frost had traveled widely, the duties of her faith taking her to many different tribes over the years, yet these restraints, made of some unknown pale stone, were unlike anything she had seen before. There was something deeply unsettling about them. It was vaguely uncomfortable even to look upon the chains, and they had clearly been made in such a manner that they were never intended to be removed. What had this stranger done to warrant having such things around his wrists? It must have been a terrible crime, she decided.
Kneeling in the snow at his side, Thorva tried to fathom why she had been guided here. The gods had clearly brought her here—just as they had directed her in the past—but why? The man was still unconscious, if not yet dead. Had she been brought here to save him? Or was it what he brought with him that was important?
Thorva’s gaze returned to the stranger’s bonds. Making her decision, she reached toward one of them.
Before she had even touched the pale stone, her fingertips began to tingle.
The man’s eyes snapped suddenly open.
Thorva jerked back in shock, but she was too slow. The man tore off one of his gloves and grabbed her by the arm, and even as Thorva tried to summon her gods-given power, she felt it ripped out of her, forcibly drained from the core of her being. Her body was stricken with a sudden, incapacitating coldness—a sensation she had not felt in years—and she fell, unable to breathe, unable to move, unable to do anything.
As the cold took her, she dimly registered color returning to the stranger’s face, as if he were suddenly being warmed by a hearth.
A hint of a smile curled his lips.
“Thank you,” he said.
Then he released his grip, and Thorva fell back into the snow with a gasp, empty, and drained.
Vrynna cursed as she saw the shamanka fall, and kicked her drüvask forward.
“With me!” she roared, and the rest of the raiding party lurched into motion. The ground shook beneath their thundering charge, the sound akin to an avalanche.
The outsider was kneeling alongside the Sister of Frost as the Winter’s Claw powered through the snow toward him. Curiously, she saw the man shrug off his fur coat and drape it over the fallen shamanka, the gesture almost tender.
He stood to face the earth-shaking approach of the Winter’s Claw, dragging his chains behind him. Vrynna tightened her grip on her spear.
Seeing the force bearing down on him, the stranger backed away from the fallen shamanka, who lay unmoving and pale upon the snow. He held his hands up to show he bore no weapon, but that didn’t matter to Vrynna. She had killed unarmed enemies in the past.
Without having to give the signal, Vrynna’s warriors fanned out wide to encircle him, cutting off any chance of escape. Wisely, he didn’t try to run. After all, there was nowhere to run to.
He turned on the spot, like the weakest of the herd, isolated by wolves. His gaze darted between the Freljordians arrayed against him. He was wary, yet he showed no sign of fear, which Vrynna could respect, at least.
Having taken off his coat, the outsider’s muscular arms were bare to the elements, but he appeared not to feel the cold at all.
Curious, thought Vrynna.
He was a tall man but he was hunched slightly, the weight of the massive shackles bound to his arms clearly pulling on him.
“See to the Sister,” she ordered, not taking her eyes off the stranger.
The stranger faced her, as one of the raiders slid from his saddle and moved to the shamanka’s side.
“I am Vrynna,” she declared. “Scarmother of the Winter’s Claw. Shieldbreaker. Woebringer. I am the Drüvask’s Howl. Who are you, and why are you here?”
The man cocked his head to one side, responding in a tongue she could not comprehend. Vrynna cursed.
“You don’t understand me, do you?”
Again the man gave her a quizzical look.
“Sylas,” he replied, tapping his chest.
“Sylas?” Vrynna repeated. “That’s your name, Sylas?”
The man simply repeated the word, tapping his chest again, and giving her a rakish smile.
The scarmother muttered under her breath. She glanced over to the shamanka, lying lifeless and pale upon the snow. One of Vrynna’s warriors knelt over Thorva, lowering his head to her chest to see if she was breathing.
“Is she dead?” she called.
“She’s half frozen, but she lives,” came the reply. “At least for now.”
The Freljordian warriors muttered under their breaths. Half frozen? It was known that the Sister of Frost was inured to the cold, claimed to be a gift of the old gods… but now she was freezing, and this stranger to the Freljord, Sylas, stood before them, his skin bare?
Vrynna frowned, considering her options. She didn’t put much faith in anything but steel, fire, and blood, but she knew her warriors—particularly Brokvar—would likely see this as some kind of omen.
“This is a waste of time,” she muttered.
Making her decision, she tightened her grip on her spear,and nudged her mount forward. The man, Sylas, raised a hand and yelled something in his weak,southerner’s tongue, but she ignored him. She would kill this fool, and be on her way.
“Let me do it,” growled Brokvar, riding at the scarmother’s side.
Vrynna’s brow raised.
“He did this to the revered sister,” Brokvar answered her silent question, stabbing a meaty finger toward the fallen shamanka. “It would be my honor to punish him, beneath the eyes of the gods.”
The outsider looked between Vrynna and Brokvar. Did he have any understanding that his fate was about to be determined?
Vrynna shrugged. “He’s yours.”
Brokvar dropped off his mount, rose to his full, towering height. The man, Sylas, was not small, but Brokvar made him look it. The Iceborn unsheathed Winter’s-Wail from the scabbard across his back, and began to walk grimly toward the outsider.
The last time Thorva had truly felt the cold had been when she was a child, not even six winters of age.
She had chased a snow hare out onto a frozen lake, laughing as she went. She had not realized the ice beneath her was so thin until the awful cracking sound, right before it gave way. With a strangled cry, she plunged into the icy, black depths. Such was the shocking suddenness of the bone-chilling cold that all the air was driven from her lungs, and her limbs instantly seized up, stiffening in agonizing cramps.
She’d been dead for long minutes before she was finally hauled out from under the ice and the tribe’s shaman breathed life back into her. She first manifested her gods-given power that night.
“Sometimes, when a person is brought back from the Realm Beyond, they return changed,” the shaman explained, shrugging. “The gods, in their inscrutable wisdom, have blessed you.”
In the days that followed, she had found herself impervious to cold, able to walk through freezing blizzards bare-skinned, with no ill effect.
Now, once again she was that scared little girl she’d been, sinking slowly as the hole in the ice above got further and further away… only this time she was staring up at the sky, unblinking.
Numb and breathless, Thorva lay on the ground, hearing nothing, feeling nothing. The cold infused her. It was her.
Was this the reason she had been brought here? To give her life to the outsider, that he may fulfill whatever it was the gods had decreed?
Nevertheless, an ineffable fear slowed her descent into oblivion.
Even if it were the gods’ will for her to die in the outsider’s place, Thorva knew in her heart that Vrynna would not let him live… and so, she began to fight back toward the surface.
Brokvar Ironfist went straight for the killing blow, charging forward, Winter’s-Wail hissing through the air and trailing icy fog in its wake.
That blow would have split an ice-troll in half had it landed, but the outsider was surprisingly quick given he was weighed down by restraints. He darted back from the lethal strike and whipped his chains around in a whirling arc. They swung passed Brokvar’s face, barely missing the Iceborn warrior as he snarled in fury.
Still, he didn’t reel back, as perhaps the outsider had expected. He was as tough as the mountains and was exceptionally fast for such a big man. He lashed out, striking his opponent across the side of the head with a powerful backhand punch, and Vrynna winced as the smaller man was sent flying.
The outsider struggled to pick himself off the ground as the Iceborn stalked toward him, but finally regained his footing. In truth, Vrynna was impressed that he was able to get up at all. Still, he merely prolonged the inevitable outcome.
His face set in grim resolve, Brokvar closed in for the kill.
Sylas’ gaze narrowed as he focused on the barbarian’s weapon.
The pale ice shard in its hilt was glowing brightly, and crackling hoarfrost covered the blade.
The magic that chunk of ice exuded was unlike anything Sylas had encountered before. It was primal, dangerous, and enfettered. Sylas could feel it on his skin, a frisson of power that was almost intoxicating.
The woman’s power had revived him, driving the cold from his limbs and the blackness from his fingers, but this was a power far older. If he could just get his hands on it…
With a roar, Sylas stepped forward to meet the Freljordian.
The outsider lashed at Brokvar, swinging his chains around in a flurry of arcs. The Iceborn was struck across his head, one chain from each side. The heavy links whipped around, and with a wrench, the Iceborn’s helmet was torn off.
Brokvar shook his long hair loose, spat blood into the snow, and continued his advance.
The chains came around at him again, but the massive warrior was ready this time. He avoided the first of the strikes, before stepping forward and lifting one arm, letting the chain whip around his massive forearm. Then he grabbed the metal links in his vice-like grip, and yanked the smaller man toward him, straight into a swinging elbow.
The blow crumpled the man, and he fell at Brokvar’s feet. The Iceborn towered over him, Winter’s-Wail raised to deliver the killing blow.
“Wait! Do not kill him!” came a shout, and Brokvar paused.
Vrynna whipped her head around, scowling, to see the Sister of Frost, Thorva, rising unsteadily to her feet. She was deathly pale, and her lips blue, but she stomped forward, leaning heavily on her staff of office.
“What madness is this?” Vrynna snarled.
“Not madness,” Thorva said, leaning heavily upon her staff of office. “It is the will of the gods.”
The giant barbarian was momentarily distracted, a look of confusion on his brutish face, and Sylas saw his chance.
Rising to a knee, he lashed out with one of his chains. It whipped around the blade of his opponent, and with a sharp tug, he tore it from the man’s grasp.
It landed in the snow nearby, and Sylas leapt upon it, eagerly.
Grinning, he picked up the broadsword… and agony seared through him.
Vrynna shook her head at the fool. Only an Iceborn could hold a True Ice weapon. For anyone else, it was a death sentence.
The outsider released Winter’s-Wail, roaring as the cold shot up his arm. He dropped to his knees, clutching his arm, even as it began to freeze. The killing power of the True Ice began at his hand, but was steadily working its way down his arm, toward his heart.
“The gods wanted this?” Vrynna scoffed, gesturing at the outsider.
The shamanka scowled, but said nothing.
“But then, the gods are nothing if not fickle and cruel,” added Vrynna, shrugging. “Perhaps they simply wanted him to suffer?”
Brokvar retrieved Winter’s-Wail, hefting it without harm. The outsider stared up at him, anguish and confusion written upon his face as the lethal power of the True Ice consumed him.
“Put him out of his misery,” ordered Vrynna.
Brokvar’s iron gaze shifted to the shamanka, looking for her approval. Anger surged within Vrynna.
“If the gods want him saved, then they can intervene,” she snapped.
Thorva served and venerated the old gods of the Freljord, but she did not claim to know their will. Nor had she often witnessed them intervene directly in mortal matters.
And yet, it seemed impossible that what happened next was purely coincidental.
The outsider was lying on the snowpack, shivering and convulsing. The True Ice had almost claimed him, but he continued to fight it, reaching out one shuddering hand toward the Iceborn warrior.
Thorva knew what the Demacian was capable of, how he had siphoned her power with but one brief touch. She could have warned the Iceborn veteran… but she did not.
Sylas was dying, but even in death his will to keep fighting was strong.
In desperation, he reached out toward the towering barbarian looming above him. He grabbed hold of the warrior’s boot, but the barbarian kicked his clawing hand away.
The bearded giant looked down at him piteously, as one would a wretched dog in the street. It was the same way the nobility looked down on the lesser-born in Demacia, and Sylas’ anger surged.
That anger fueled him, and with a last burst of his dying strength, he sprang off the ground and grasped the Freljordian giant around the throat. Ancient, raw, elemental magic instantly began to infuse him.
Sylas may have been unable to grasp the Freljordian ice-weapon, but he could still draw from its power… using the barbarian’s flesh as its conduit.
It took no more than a moment.
The barbarian staggered back, unsure what had just happened. Sylas smiled, and his eyes began to glow with icy-pale light.
He turned his attention to his frozen arm, holding it before him. With a surge of his newfound power, he made the ice reverse its direction. It crept back down his arm, and then was gone, leaving his flesh unharmed.
Then he turned his attention to the warrior standing aghast before him.
“Now then,” he said. “Where were we?”
Brokvar stepped back away from the outsider, gaping in wonder.
“What is he?” snarled Vrynna. “Iceborn?”
“No,” Thorva interjected, eyes blazing with faith. “He is something else…”
Vrynna had seen enough. In one smooth, well-practiced motion she reversed her grip on her spear, and standing in the saddle, hurled it at the stranger, putting all her might and weight behind it.
It hurtled straight toward him, but the man thrust a hand out, fingers splayed, and the ground before him erupted. Amid a grinding series of cracks, a protective wall of towering ice-spikes surged up from below. Vrynna’s spear slammed deep into the ice, but could not penetrate it. It was left shuddering in place, embedded a solid foot into the barrier, and leaving the outsider completely unharmed.
Vrynna gaped at the magical barrier, even as it collapsed a moment later, falling as quickly as it had appeared.
The outsider stood revealed, laughing and looking in wonder at his hands, now rimmed with frost and radiating pale blue light, like the underside of an iceberg. He looked up at Vrynna, frozen fog emanating from his eyes, and began to gather the primal, frozen power within him once more. A spinning orb of magic, like a self-contained blizzard, began to form between his hands.
The Winter’s Claw fingered their weapons uneasily, unsure of themselves in the face of what was clearly Freljordian magic.
Thorva called out something then, though the words made no sense to Vrynna. She glanced at the shamanka in surprise.
She spoke the outsider’s tongue?
There was much about the Sister of Frost that she did not know, it seemed, and her distrust deepened.
The shamanka and the stranger spoke for a time, while Vrynna watched on, gritting her teeth.
“What does the outsider say?” she snapped, finally losing patience.
“He says we share a common enemy,” Thorva explained. “He says we can help each other.”
Vrynna frowned. “Who? The Avarosans? We raid them, as we always have, but we are not at war.”
“I believe he means his own people. The Demacians, across the mountains.”
“He is a traitor, then?” Vrynna said, “Why would we trust one who would betray his own?”
“The mother of scars would know how you would aid our tribe,” Thorva said, addressing the outsider in his own tongue. “Make your offer, else your soul will journey to the Beyond, here and now.”
Sylas gave his answer, speaking directly to Vrynna. Thorva watched him carefully as he spoke, asking several times for clarifications of words she did not immediately understand.
“He says he knows hidden paths into his homelands, paths known only to him,” said Thorva. “He speaks of the vast riches there, waiting to be claimed. Fields untouched by snow and filled with fat cattle, streets that flow with gold and silver.”
The warriors of the Winter’s Claw smiled and laughed among themselves at her words, and even Vrynna’s eyes lit up. They lived a harsh existence, making the promise of easy pickings a tempting one.
But still some doubt lingered.
“How do we know he would not lead us into a trap?” challenged Vrynna. “We cannot trust him. Better to kill him, here and now, and not be led astray by his golden tongue.”
“He…” Thorva began, picking her lie carefully. “He says he had a vision. A dream that came to him, of three Freljordian sisters. It was they who urged him to come here.”
“The Three!” breathed Brokvar in reverence. “He speaks of Avarosa, Serylda, and Lissandra!”
The other Winter’s Claw warriors murmured in surprise and awe, many of them touching holy totems hanging around their necks.
The Three Sisters were legends, the greatest and most honored warriors of the Freljord. They were the first of the Iceborn, and had lived in the age of heroes, long ago. Across much of the frozen north, they had come to be regarded as chosen ones, and many invoked their wisdom in times of strife, or begged their favor before battle.
Vrynna glared, regarding Thorva sourly. Did the scarmother suspect her lie?
Seeing Brokvar’s rapturous wonder spread through the other gathered warriors, however, she realized it didn’t matter. Thorva had known Vrynna’s Iceborn champion would latch on to those words. That they would inspire his awe and his faith, and that his influence among the other warriors was strong. They would never allow the outsider to be killed out of hand now, no matter what order Vrynna gave.
She allowed herself a slight smile of victory, though she was careful not to let Vrynna see it as she considered the outsider.
It was the gods’ will that this one lived, Thorva felt certain of it. She felt no guilt for lying to ensure that happened.
“He must prove himself before we would even consider trusting him.”
“A wise move, scarmother,” nodded Thorva. “What do you suggest?”
“He will come with us on our raid,” declared Vrynna. “If he fights well, and makes a good account of himself, then perhaps we will hear more of what he proposes. More about these hidden paths into Demacia. But he will be your responsibility. It will be up to you to control him, and if he turns on us, it will be on your head.”
Thorva nodded, and turned to the outsider.
“Fight with us. Prove to the mother of scars your worth,” she said. “Fight strong and you may live to have your alliance.”
Those final words elicited a broad smile from the outsider.
Thorva appraised him, giving him a look from head to toe. He was handsome for a southerner. A little lean for her tastes, but he was clever, and there was power in him.
She leveled a finger at him.
“But never touch me again,” she warned.
The outsider smiled wryly.
“Not without your permission,” he replied, and Thorva turned away so he did not see her smile.
“What does he say?” demanded Vrynna.
“He agrees to your terms, scarmother,” called Thorva.
“Good. Then let us move,” said Vrynna. “We raid.”