|Title||The Crimson Reaper|
|Release Date||July 27th, 2010|
|537 (+ 96)|
|7 (+ 0.6)|
|55 (+ 3)|
|0.658 (+ 2%)|
|23 (+ 3.3)|
|30 (+ 0.5)|
Vladimir is a champion in League of Legends.
- For outdated and now non-canon lore entries, click here.
- Story #1
- Story #2
|A fiend with a thirst for mortal blood, Vladimir has influenced the affairs of Noxus since the empire’s earliest days. In addition to unnaturally extending his life, his mastery of hemomancy allows him to control the minds and bodies of others as easily as his own. In the flamboyant salons of the Noxian aristocracy, this enabled him to build a fanatical cult of personality around himself—while in the lowest back alleys, it allows him to bleed his enemies dry.
A master of ancient, forbidden sorcery, Vladimir is among the oldest enigmas of Noxus. He was present at the dawn of the empire, and has since woven his influence deep into its foundations… but he remembers little of those days. His mind is mortal, and so most of his unnaturally extended life endures not in his memory, but in his chronicles.
History has lost track of Vladimir on many occasions, though its pages are littered with figures suspected to have been him. Legend once told of a prince in a kingdom threatened by the infamous darkin, as their great war spilled into Valoran. With his father’s crown at stake, and many more heirs ahead of him in the line of succession, the unfortunate youth was traded to the fallen god-warriors as a hostage.
Mortals were little more than cattle under the tyranny of the darkin, their supremacy apparent in the sorceries they had conceived—the arts of crafting flesh and transmuting blood, granting them mastery over life itself.
Believing himself above other mortal vassals, and therefore worthy of such power, Vladimir was the first of his kind permitted to study this terrifying magic. His devotion earned him a place of favor in his patron’s warhost, and the right to practice hemomancy and enforce the darkin’s will on lesser beings. Over time, the god-warrior watched with amusement as Vladimir came to govern his subjects with as little mercy as the darkin themselves.
The fall of these cruel tyrants is, likewise, the stuff of legend. An account of it, written in the dead High Shuriman language, is kept hidden within the Immortal Bastion. It speculates that Vladimir’s master was not imprisoned like so many of his kin, but instead died at the hands of his own warhost. The few surviving mortals fled, taking what knowledge they had of blood magic with them.
Unknown to all but Vladimir himself, it was he who struck the killing blow. Scarred, blinded, driven mad by the radiance of a darkin’s undoing, he absorbed enough power to renew flesh that was never meant to last beyond a mortal lifespan.
And he has done this countless times since, through rituals too vile to speak of.
At the height of Mordekaiser’s dark reign, it was said that a mythic and bloodthirsty fiend haunted the coastal cliffs of eastern Valoran, demanding young lives and savage worship from the local tribes. Few were welcome in his lair, until the day a pale sorceress approached this barbarian god with an offer. The two feasted together as equals, weaving magic so dark that the wine at their table soured, and the roses withered, vibrant red turning to black.
Thus began the pact between Vladimir and LeBlanc, rife with disputes, and games of politics and war. Over the centuries, others joined them—powerful nobles, exalted masters of magic, and beings darker still. This cabal grew into the hidden power that would guide the throne of Noxus for more than a thousand years, orchestrating many of the empire’s most ambitious campaigns.
Uniquely among the leaders of the Black Rose, Vladimir has rarely limited himself to scheming from the shadows. In the past, he deigned to join the Noxian noble courts during the most interesting of times, only to fade into seclusion decades later, his extreme age—and the atrocities his sorcery could wreak—a well-kept secret. Even so, under Vladimir’s tutelage, the art of hemomancy has found a place in the military of Noxus, and among scions of the old aristocracy. Among these diverse practitioners is the Crimson Circle, a youthful cult dedicated as much to Vladimir’s personality as to blood magic itself.
With the death of the previous Grand General and the rise of Jericho Swain, the political landscape of the empire changed dramatically, and Vladimir has been forced to rouse himself once more.
Wearing the guise of a benevolent socialite, he has returned to the public eye as a vocal opponent of the ruling Trifarix council… much to the concern of more cautious members of the Black Rose. Indeed, his reappearance may have come too soon, as time has not yet washed away all the stains of his previous lifetime, and it seems likely that Swain himself has begun to grasp Vladimir’s true nature.
As a new and darker conflict approaches Noxus, Vladimir drinks deeply from the renewed vitality of the empire, reminding himself of his past glories. To him, this life is a mere revelry, a masquerade spanning centuries, and the prologue to greatness—for though the darkin eventually fought amongst themselves and lost their immortal grip on the world, Vladimir knows he is strongest alone.
|"Time has made me wiser, but no more patient."
Lyvia had nearly found sleep when the light appeared.
The first night in the orphanage carried strange emotions for her, unfamiliar yet close to a past that she had once held. Life had taken trust from Lyvia, like it had taken everything else, but habits of survival waned here, their edges dulled by the safety of a roof overhead. Her cot, though narrow and thin, was still far removed from the cold cobblestones of the capital. Sleep beckoned, warm and enveloping, tenderly lowering her eyelids with the promise of true rest.
Then the door opened.
“Wake, child.” Lyvia recognized the voice of Cynn, the headmistress. “Come.”
Afraid to lose what respite she had found from the streets, Lyvia obeyed and sat up. Her legs swung over the side to land on the cold floor, and she walked into the light of the hall.
Blinking, Lyvia took her place alongside the other children. All of them, ranging from eight to ten summers, had arrived there today, freshly collected from the streets of Noxus. A pair of brothers, three scrawny urchin boys who clutched each other’s hands in grubby unity, and Lyvia. Both groups shuffled away from her, retreating to the familiar.
“I know the hour is late,” said Cynn as she walked down the line of little faces, “but there are many demands upon the time of our patron. Still, he wishes to welcome the newly arrived.” There was something within Cynn’s words that Lyvia could not place. “It is an honor.”
It was then that the children noticed him with a start, as though he had appeared out of thin air. Tall, slender, clad in a wealth Lyvia had never known, the patron approached them. Cynn demurred into the background, her expression impassible.
Slowly, the man walked from orphan to orphan, his pale eyes casting them in an odd scrutiny. He passed the brothers without a thought. Lyvia felt her pulse quicken as he paused, the eyes falling upon her, and felt it slow again as he continued on. The trio of urchins bunched together, each defending the others, and the patron barely spared them a glance.
“Her,” the man said to Cynn, his voice low, silken.
Cynn’s arm was on her shoulder now, leading her to another room. It was empty, but for a single chair. “No harm will come to you,” Cynn said, an attempt to dispel Lyvia’s fear. “It is an honor,” she repeated, closing the door behind her.
Lyvia crossed to the chair, and sat in it. She watched the door intently, the sole means of entry into the room, only to notice a moment later the shadow stretching out from behind her.
“Please,” he said, raising his hands as she bolted to her feet.
Lyvia did her best to contain her fear, to remember what Cynn had told her.
“Think I am here to hurt you?” he asked, his voice languid, accent cultured.
Lyvia shook her head, but it was far from convincing.
He feigned puzzlement, laughing softly. “My dear, has life not done enough?” He circled around in front of her. “No, my child, I am only here to hear about your life, and what has brought you here.”
He gestured kindly to the chair, and slowly Lyvia took her seat.
“I’m from Drekan,” she began.
“Yes?” He nodded, urging that she continue.
“War took papa,” said Lyvia, trying to keep her voice level, to betray no weakness. “So we came to the city. Mama went out to find work, but after four days we stopped waiting for her to come back. It was just my sister Vira and I. I kept her safe.” She fought her voice but it faltered. “Then Vira took sick. I couldn’t protect her, and then I… I was...”
“Alone,” he said softly.
Lyvia’s chest swelled with a tide of pain. Of loss. “Alone,” she repeated, and a tear struck her cheek.
“There!” he breathed. She recoiled as he reached toward her.
“Close your eyes,” he said, his voice hypnotic. “Focus upon that feeling. The pain. It has mounted for you in this unforgiving world, nowhere to go but bottled up inside. Feel it rise up, above your neck, slipping up over your nose, your ears. It threatens to swallow you, but just at the precipice, it yields. Face it and feel it break against you. That fis strength. Turn your mind upon it, and allow it to drain from you.”
She let the pain flow out of her in sobs, feeling the cold of glass against her cheeks, softly touching beneath each eye. A torrent of despair, taking her breath, then it was gone.
Lyvia opened her eyes.
“Thank you,” said the man, and Lyvia noticed a vial in his hands, “for sharing.”
“You,” Lyvia dared to ask, seeing something she could recognize in her patron despite everything else about him. “You’re alone, too?”
He took his eyes from the vial, glanced at her. “I have seen much of this world, over many years—yes, almost all of it alone.”
Livia sniffed, looking up at him. “Will it get better?”
“For you?” He smiled gently, his eyes glimmering for a moment in a gentle show of sadness. “No.”
“She is unharmed?” Cynn asked as Vladimir stepped into the hall.
Vladimir arched an eyebrow. “Were you harmed, Cynn, all those years ago when it was you in that room?” He tilted his head, producing a thin ampoule in his long fingers.
Cynn’s eyes locked to the slender tube of glass, its frosted length dulling the contents to a soft ruby. Cynn snatched the ampoule, her eyes darting as she secreted it in the sleeve of her robe.
“Until next time, my dear,” Vladimir chuckled, then he turned and left.
The moon was full that night, bathing the Noxian streets in radiant silver hues. Vladimir stopped at the fountain in the orphanage’s empty courtyard, dipping a finger into the still water. Whorls of crimson bloomed from his touch, rushing across the shallow pool until it was a depthless claret. Stepping briskly up to the lip of the fountain, Vladimir dropped into it without sound or splash.
Vladimir rose from another pool within the dark halls of his manor, emerging dry, it was as though he had never touched the liquid. A chill wound through the yawning cavern of shadow and stone arches, brushing over shuttered windows and priceless artworks collected over a thousand lifetimes. His step was light across thick rugs, barely disturbing the layers of dust that caked them as he ascended a staircase.
For a moment his thoughts lingered on the child, Lyvia. Doubtless tonight had been a strange experience, but he had seen enough mortals to know this night would not define her life. She would live, and then die, like all the other little sparks around him. Her name, her face, their interaction would slip away from him, as they always did, to where he wondered if they had ever existed at all.
People. The creatures surrounded Vladimir yet stood upon the opposite side of an impossible gulf, tantalizing and impermanent. A thin, crooked smile came to him. He was melancholy tonight. He rolled the vial of tears in his fingers.
The studio beckoned.
Maudlin thoughts aside, of all the countless mortal lives he encountered, there were a select few Vladimir refused to forget, and so he labored to do what his mind could not. To remember them, those brief moments their lives touched, what felt like an eternity ago. In this case it was less than a millennium, the memory springing suddenly into his mind despite the vast time since last they met. For this one, he chose paint.
It was nearly finished, a work most would not find out of place alongside the masterworks adorning his lonely walls. He had certainly had the years to hone a craft. All the details were done: the gentle tumble of auburn hair, the tanned skin, features that alone were commonplace, but combined effected a demanding, regal aura. The expression, unthinkable loss. It was all there, save the whites of his eyes.
Vladimir opened the vial, tipping it into a pot. The innocent tears mingled with the paint, and with the touch of his brush, came alive when laid upon the canvas. Nothing else, in all his travels, could match the splendor it wrought.
What was his name?
He found he could not remember. The absence stabbed at him, a name gone, but at least the face preserved. The whites of his eyes would keep his memory here.
Like a lonesome soul, he sought me out from beyond, Vladimir mused with a smile. More melancholy, but fitting perhaps.
After all, there was nothing in the world as beautiful as sadness.
|ART IS LIFE
Nights in Noxus were never silent.
You couldn’t cram so many thousands of people from all across the empire into one place and expect quiet.
Desert marching songs from the Zagayah enclave drifted from their tented pavilions by the water, and the martial clashing of blades echoed from a nearby Reckoner’s arena. Drakehounds corralled in an iron-walled enclosure howled as they caught the scent of slaughtered livestock from the northern kill yards.
The cries of widowed spouses, grief-stricken mothers, or nightmare-wracked veterans were a nightly chorus to accompany the roars of drunken soldiers and the promises of street hawkers who plied their trade best in the darkness.
No, the nights in Noxus were never silent.
This part of Noxus was deathly quiet.
Maura held her pack of brushes, paints, and charcoals close to her chest as she felt the din of the Noxian night fade. The lack of sound was so sudden, so shocking, that she stopped in the middle of the street—never normally a good idea—and looked around.
The street was in an older, wealthier district of Noxus known as Mortoraa, or Iron Gate, but was otherwise unremarkable. The light of a full moon reflected from its paving of irregular cobbles like scores of watching eyes, and the buildings to either side were well built with stone blocks that spoke of an experienced hand, perhaps that of a warmason. Maura saw a tall shrine at the end of a side street, where three armored figures knelt before the obsidian wolf within its pillared vault. They looked up in unison, and Maura hurried on, knowing it was unwise to attract the notice of men who prayed in the dark with swords.
She shouldn’t be out here in the dark.
Tahvo had warned her not to go, but she’d seen the serpent in his eyes and knew it wasn’t fear for her safety that moved him, but envy. He had always believed himself to be the best painter in their little circle. That she had been selected for this commission instead of him cut deep. When the crisply folded and elegantly written letter had arrived at their shared studio, Cerise and Konrad had been elated, begging her to remember everything she could, while Zurka simply told her to be sure her brushes were clean.
“Do you think you’ll get to speak to him?” Cerise had asked as Maura opened the door to hear the drifting echoes of the night bell fading over the harbor. The idea of venturing out into the darkness filled Maura with equal parts dread and excitement.
“He’s sitting for a portrait, so I suppose I shall have to,” she’d answered, pointing to the darkened sky. “We’ll need to discuss what manner of painting he wants, especially since I won’t have natural light.”
“Strange that he wants his portrait done at night, eh?” said Konrad, wide awake and wearing his blanket like a cloak.
“I wonder what he sounds like,” added Cerise.
“Just like everyone else,” snapped Tahvo, rolling over and wadding his threadbare pillow. “He’s not a god, you know. He’s just a man. Now, will you all just shut up? I’m trying to sleep.”
Cerise ran over and kissed her. “Good luck,” she giggled. “Come back and tell us… everything, no matter how sordid.”
Maura’s smile had faltered, but she nodded. “I will. I promise.”
The directions to her new patron’s mansion were exceptionally specific. Not simply in her eventual destination, but in the precise route she must take to get there. Maura knew the geography of the capital well, having walked its streets for days when hunger gnawed her belly. Or when they couldn’t pool enough commission money, and the owner of their studio kicked them out until they’d earned enough to pay what was owed.
This part of town, though, was a growing mystery to her. She’d known the mansion was here, of course—everyone in Noxus knew where he lived, though few could recall ever going there. With every step she took, Maura felt like she’d wandered into a strange city in a newly-conquered land. The streets felt unfamiliar—narrower and more threatening, as if each twist and turn brought the walls closer and closer until they would eventually crush her. She hurried on through the unnerving quiet, craving a source of fresh light—a boundary lantern perhaps, or a low-burning candle in an upper window, set to guide a night-calling suitor.
But there was no illumination beyond that of the moon. Her heartbeat and pace quickened as she heard what could be a soft footfall behind her, or the sigh of an expectant breath.
Turning a sharp corner, Maura found herself in a circular plaza with a fountain gurgling at its center. In a city as cramped as this, where people lived cheek by jowl and space was at a premium, such extravagance was almost unheard of.
She circled the fountain’s pool, its water silver in the moonlight, admiring the sculpted realism of its carved centerpiece. Hammered from crude iron, it represented a headless warrior encased in thick war-plate, and bearing a spiked mace.
Water spilled from the neck of the statue, and Maura felt a chill as she realized who it was intended to represent.
She hurried past the fountain towards a double gate of seasoned silverbark set in a black wall of red-veined marble. As the letter had promised, it stood ajar, and Maura eased herself between its heavy leaves.
The mansion within the walls had been built from a pale stone of a kind she hadn’t seen before—imposing without being monolithic, as a great many grand structures of Noxus often were. Nor, the more she studied it, did it adhere to any one particular style, but rather a collection of architectural movements that had come and gone over the centuries.
Foremost among such oddities was a rough stone tower rising over the main building, and this portion alone appeared out of place. It gave the impression that the mansion had been built around some ancient shaman’s lair. The effect should have been jarring, but Maura rather liked it, as though every aspect of the mansion offered a glimpse into a bygone age of the empire. Its windows were shuttered and dark, and the only light she saw was a soft crimson glow at the tower’s summit.
She followed a graveled path through an exquisite garden of elaborate topiary, carefully directed waterways, and strange looking flowers with exotic scents and startlingly vivid colors. This, together with the spacious plaza outside, suggested fabulous wealth. The idea that she had been chosen for this task sent a frisson of pleasurable warmth through her limbs.
Hundreds of colorful butterflies with curiously patterned wings flitted to and fro between the flowers. Such light and fragile creatures, yet so beautiful and capable of the most miraculous transformation. Maura had never seen butterflies at night, and she laughed with joy as one alighted on her palm. The tapered shape of its body and the patterning on its outstretched wings was uncannily similar to the winged-blade heraldry she saw flying on every Noxian flag. The butterfly fluttered its wings and flew away. Maura watched it circle and swoop with the others, amazed to see so many rare and wonderful creatures.
She let her fingers brush the colorful leaves as she passed, savoring the scents clinging to her fingertips and drifting up in motes of dust that glittered in the moonlight. She paused by a particularly beautiful bloom, one with flame-red petals so bright they took her breath away.
No red she had ever mixed from Shuriman cinnabar or Piltovan ochre had achieved such luster. Even the ruinously expensive Ionian vermillions were dull by comparison. She chewed her bottom lip as she considered what she was about to do, then reached out to pluck a number of petals from the nearest plant. The flower’s remaining petals immediately curled inwards, and the stem bent away from her as if in fear. Maura felt terrible guilt and looked up at the mansion to see if she had been observed, but the shuttered windows remained closed and lightless.
The front door stood open, and she paused at its threshold. The letter had told her to enter, but now that she was here, Maura felt a curious reluctance. Was this some trap, a means to lure her to some unspeakable fate? If so, it seemed needlessly elaborate. The notion felt absurd, and Maura chided herself for letting fear get in the way of what was likely to be the greatest opportunity of her life.
She took a breath, stepped across the threshold, and entered the mansion.
The vestibule was vaulted by dark and heavy timbers, with faded murals of the empire’s early, bloody days painted in the spaces between. To Maura’s left and right, wide openings revealed long galleries draped in shadow, making it difficult to tell who or what might be displayed. A long, curving staircase climbed to an upper mezzanine and a wide archway, but what lay beyond was impossible to make out. The vestibule was all but empty, save for what looked like a large, sheet-draped canvas upon an easel. Maura tentatively approached the covered canvas, wondering if this was to be where she would paint.
She hoped not. The light in here was ill-suited to portraiture. Where moonlight pooled on the herringbone floor, the space was bright, but elsewhere it was entirely dark, as though the light refused to approach those corners.
“Hello?” she said, and her voice echoed throughout the vestibule. “I have a letter…”
Her words lingered, and Maura sought in vain for any sign she wasn’t entirely alone in this strange house in the middle of the night.
“Hello?” she said again. “Is anyone here?”
“I am here,” said a voice.
Maura jumped. The words were cultured, masculine, and redolent with age. They seemed to drift down from above and be breathlessly whispered in her ear at the same time. She turned on the spot, searching for the speaker.
She was alone.
“Are you Vladimir?” she asked.
“I am, yes,” he replied, his voice freighted with deep melancholy as if the name itself were a source of torment. “You are the painter.”
“Yes. That’s me. I’m the painter,” she said, adding, “My name is Maura Betzenia. I’m the painter.”
She cursed her clumsiness before realizing his last words had not been a question.
“Good. I have been waiting a long time for you.”
“Oh. My apologies, sir. The letter said I wasn’t to leave until the harbor bell rang.”
“Indeed it did, and you have arrived precisely when you were supposed to,” said Vladimir, and this time Maura thought she saw a sliver of deeper black in the shadows. “It is I who am at fault, for I have been delaying sending for someone like you much too long. Vanity makes fools of us all, does it not?”
“Is it vanity?” asked Maura, knowing the wealthier patrons liked to be flattered. “Or simply waiting for the right moment to capture the truth of your appearance?”
Laughter drifted down from above. Maura couldn’t decide if he thought she’d said something funny or was mocking her.
“I hear a variation of that every time,” said Vladimir. “And as to truth, well, that is a moveable feast. Tell me, did you like my garden?”
Maura sensed a trap in the question, and hesitated before answering.
“I did,” she said. “I had no idea you could grow anything that beautiful in Noxian soil.”
“You cannot,” said Vladimir with wry amusement. “Such thin soil produces only the hardiest specimens, ones that spread far and wide to drive out all others. But none of them could be called beautiful. The red flower you killed, it was a nightbloom.”
Maura felt her mouth go dry, but Vladimir appeared not to care what she had done.
“Nightblooms were once native to an island chain in the east, a blessed place of rare beauty and enlightenment,” he said. “I dwelled there for a time until it was destroyed, as all mortal endeavors ultimately must be. I took some seeds from a grove once tended by a temperamental nature spirit and brought them back to Valoran, where I was able to entice them to grow with a combination of blood and tears.”
“Don’t you mean blood, sweat, and tears?”
“My dear, what possible use would sweat be in growing a flower?”
Maura had no answer, but the musical cadence of his voice was seductive. She could listen to it all night. Maura shook off the velvet quality of Vladimir’s drifting voice and nodded towards the covered canvas.
“Is that where I am to paint?” she asked.
“No,” said Vladimir. “That was merely my first.”
“Your first what?”
“My first life,” he said as she lifted the edge of the sheet.
The painting had faded with the passage of time, its colors bleached by light, and the brushstrokes flattened. But the image was still powerful—a young man on the cusp of adulthood, armored in archaic-looking bronze plate and bearing a fluttering banner depicting a wickedly curved scythe blade. Much of the detail had been lost, but the boy’s blue eyes were still piercingly bright. The face was extraordinarily handsome, symmetrical and with a tilt of the head that captivated her gaze.
Maura leaned in and saw an army behind the young man, a host of hulking warriors too large to be human, too bestial to be real. Their outlines and features had faded with age, and Maura was thankful for that small mercy.
“This is you?” she asked, hoping he might appear to explain the portrait in person.
“Once, a long, long time ago,” said Vladimir, and Maura felt ice enter his words. “I was an unneeded heir of a long-vanished kingdom, in an age when gods made war on one another. Mortals were pawns in their world-spanning strife, and when the time came for my father to bend the knee to a living god, I was given up as a royal hostage. In theory, my father’s loyalty would be assured by the constant threat to my life. Should he break faith with his new master, I would be slain. But like all my father’s promises, it was empty. He cared nothing for me, and broke his oath within the year.”
The story Vladimir was telling was strange and fantastical, like the Shuriman myths Konrad told when they shared scare stories on the roof of the studio at night. Konrad’s tales were thinly veiled morality plays, but this… this had a weight of truth behind it, and felt uncontaminated by sentimentality.
“But instead of killing me, my new master had something altogether more amusing in mind. Amusing for him, at any rate. He offered me the chance to lead his armies against my father’s kingdom, an offer I gladly accepted. I destroyed my father’s city and presented his head to my master. I was a good and faithful hound on a leash.”
“You destroyed your own people? Why?”
Vladimir paused as though trying to decide if her question was serious.
“Because even if the god-warriors had not come, my father’s kingdom would never have been mine,” he said. “He had sons and heirs aplenty, and I would never have lived long enough to claim my birthright.”
“Why would your master make you do that?”
“I used to think it was because he saw a spark of greatness within me, or the potential to be something more than a mere mortal,” said Vladimir with a soft sigh that sent warm shivers down Maura’s spine. “But more likely he just thought it would be amusing to teach one of his mortal pets some tricks, as the mountebank teaches a monkey to dance around his stall, to attract the gullible.”
Maura looked back at the image of the young man in the picture, now seeing something dark lurking deeper in the eyes. A hint of cruelty perhaps, a glint of festering bitterness.
“What did he teach you?” asked Maura. As much as she wasn’t sure she wanted an answer, something in her needed to know.
“My master’s kind had the power to defy death—to sculpt flesh, blood, and bone into the most wondrous forms,” continued Vladimir. “He taught me something of their arts, magic he wielded as easily as breathing. But it took every scrap of my intellect and will to master even the simplest of cantrips. I was later to learn that teaching their secrets to mortals was forbidden under pain of death, but my master delighted in flaunting the mores of his kind.”
Vladimir’s sourceless laughter echoed around her, yet there was no mirth to the sound.
“He couldn’t help challenging convention, and in the end, it was his undoing.”
“He died?” she asked.
“Yes. When one of his kind betrayed them, their power over this world was broken. My master’s enemies united against him, and he looked to me to lead his armies in his defense. Instead, I killed him and drank in a measure of his power, for I had not forgotten the many cruelties he had inflicted upon me over the years. Taking his life was my first step on a road far longer than I ever could have imagined. A boon and a curse in one bloody gift.”
Maura heard the relish in Vladimir’s tone, but also sadness, as if the mark this murder had cut on his soul had never truly left him. Did he feel guilt at this killing, or was he simply trying to manipulate her emotions?
Not being able to see him made it that much harder to divine his intent.
“But enough of this painting,” said Vladimir. “It is vital, yes, but only one of my accumulated lives. If you are to immortalize this one, you must see the others I have experienced over the years before we can truly begin.”
Maura turned to the stairs as the shadows draping their length retreated like a soft, black tide. She licked her lips, conscious again that she was alone in this echoing mansion with Vladimir, a man who had just admitted to murdering his father and his monstrous mentor.
“Hesitation? Really?” he said. “You have come this far. And I have already bared so much of my soul to you.”
Maura knew he was goading her into climbing the stairs. That alone ought to make her leave and return to her friends. But as much as she knew she should be afraid, part of her thrilled to be the center of Vladimir’s attention, to feel the power of his gaze upon her.
“Come to me,” he continued. “See what it is I ask of you. And then, if you feel the task is too great and choose to leave, I will not stop you.”
“No,” she said. “I want to know it all.”
The archway atop the mezzanine led into a wide corridor of dark stone that was so shockingly cold, it took Maura’s breath away. Fixed to the dark walls were row upon row of lacquered wooden boards.
And pinned to these boards were many thousands of butterflies with spread wings.
Sadness touched Maura. “What is this?”
“One of my collections,” said Vladimir, his voice coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. It drew her onwards along the corridor.
“Why did you kill them?”
“To study them. Why else? These creatures live such short lives. To end them a moment sooner is no great loss.”
“The butterfly might disagree.”
“But look at what each death taught me.”
“What do you mean?”
“The butterflies you saw in the garden? They exist nowhere else in nature. They are unique because I made them so. With will and knowledge, I have wrought entire species into being.”
“How is that possible?”
“Because, like the gods, I choose which ones live and which ones die.”
Maura reached out to the nearest pinned butterfly, one with vivid crimson circles on the larger part of its wings. As soon as her finger brushed the insect’s body, its wings disintegrated and the rest of it crumbled like ancient, flaking paint.
A cold wind sighed past Maura, and she stepped back in alarm as a cascade of dissolution swept across the pinned specimens. Scores, then hundreds of butterflies crumbled to powder that spun in the air like ash and cinders stirred from a banked fire. She cried out and rushed down the corridor, frantically waving her hands to brush the dust from her face. It grazed the skin beneath her clothes, and she spat as she tasted the grit of insect bodies in her mouth, felt it gather in her ears.
She stopped and opened her eyes as she felt the quality of sound and light change. She rubbed dust from her face, seeing she had entered into a wide, circular chamber.
Maura took a moment to look around and regain her composure, brushing the last of the dust from her face and clothes. The walls of the chamber were primitively cut stone, and she guessed she stood within the base of the ancient tower. A rough-hewn staircase corkscrewed its way up the interior walls, and strange, ruby light fell in shimmering veils from somewhere high above. The air smelled of hot metal, like the iron winds carried from the bulk forges that fed the empire’s insatiable hunger for armor and weapons.
The circular walls were hung with portraits, and she moved cautiously around the gallery’s circumference, studying each painting in turn. No two were alike in their framing or style, ranging from crude abstracts to renderings so lifelike it was as if a real face were imprisoned within the warp and weft of the canvas. She recognized the styles of some, the work of masters of the craft who had lived centuries ago.
Where the painting in the vestibule was that of a young man in his prime, these were a mixture of the same individual, but at very different times in his life.
One showed him in his middle years, still fit and hearty, but with a bitter cast to his eyes. Another was a portrait of a man so aged and ravaged that Maura wasn’t even sure it had been painted while its subject was alive. Yet another depicted him bloodily wounded in the aftermath of a great battle before a titanic statue of ivory stone.
“How can these all be you?” she asked.
The answer drifted down in the veils of red light.
“I do not live as you do. The gift carried in my former master’s blood changed me forever. I thought you understood that?”
“I do. I mean, I think I do.”
“The paintings around you are moments of my many lives. Not all great moments, I have come to realize, and captured by journeymen for the most part. In the earliest days of my existence I was arrogant enough to believe my every deed was worthy of such commemoration, but now…”
“But now?” asked Maura, when he didn’t continue.
“Now I only commit the renewal of my life to canvas amid events that mark turning points in the affairs of the world. Climb the steps, and see what I mean.”
Maura found her circuit of the gallery had brought her to the base of the stairs, as though her every step had led her to this point. Not just tonight, but every moment since she had first picked up a brush and painted the animals on her mother’s farm in Krexor.
“Why me?” she asked. “Why am I here? There are other artists in Noxus better than me.”
A soft chuckle drifted around her.
“Such modesty. Yes, it is true there are artists more technically proficient than you,” said Vladimir. “Your jealous colleague, Tahvo, for example, understands perspective better than you ever will. Young Cerise’s use of color is outstanding, and the stoic Zurka has an eye for detail that makes his work endlessly fascinating. Konrad, however, will never be more than a dabbler, but you already know this.”
“You know my friends?” she said.
“Of course. Did you think I chose you at random?”
“I don’t know. How did you choose me?”
“To capture such a transformative moment, I required someone whose heart and soul goes into their work, an artist truly worthy of the name. That is why you are here, Maura Betzenia. Because every brushstroke is personal to you. Every mark on the canvas, every choice of color has meaning. You understand the heart of a painting, and willingly give something of your soul to capture the life it represents.”
Maura had heard the flattery of patrons and the empty praise of her fellow painters before, but Vladimir’s words were utterly sincere. He meant every word, and her heart lifted to hear such affirmation.
“Why now? What’s so special about this moment in time that you want your portrait painted? What was it you said? You only have a painting done at a turning point in the affairs of the world…”
Vladimir’s voice seemed to coil around her as he spoke.
“And such a moment is upon us. I have dwelled here for such a long time, Maura. Long enough to oust the Iron Revenant from his Immortal Bastion, long enough to see the many rulers who came after him claw their way to power over the corpses of their brothers before treacherous ambition brought them low. Long enough to know the canker that lurks at the empire’s heart—a midnight flower with roots in old and corrupt soil. We have danced, she and I—oh, how we have danced in blood over the centuries, but the tempo of the music has changed, and the dance nears its end. This parade of fools I walk among, this life… it is unsuited for what must come next.”
“I don’t understand. What is coming next?”
“At almost any other time before, I could have answered that with certainty,” continued Vladimir. “But now…? I do not know. All I know is that I must change to face it. I have been passive for too long, and allowed flunkies and hangers-on to fawn over my every whim. But now I am ready to take what is mine, that which was for so long denied me—a kingdom of my own. This is immortality, Maura. Mine and yours.”
“Of course. Is it not by the warriors’ deeds and artists’ craft that they achieve immortality? The legacy of their work lives on beyond the feeble span of mortal lives. Demacia reveres the warriors who founded it in the martial tenets to which they dogmatically cleave. Great works of literature set down thousands of years ago might still be performed, and sculptures freed from blocks of marble in the ages before the Rune Wars are still viewed with awe by those who can find them.”
Maura sensed with complete clarity that to climb these stairs would be committing to something irrevocable, something final. How many other artists had stood where she was right now? How many had lifted their foot and placed it on the first step?
How many had come back down?
How many had turned and walked away?
Maura could leave now, of that she was certain. Vladimir was not lying to her. If she chose to leave, she had no doubt she would arrive back at the studio unharmed. But how could she face each day from now until the Wolf or the Lamb came for her, knowing she had lacked the courage to take this one chance to create something incredible?
“Maura,” said Vladimir, and this time his silken voice was right before her.
She looked up, and there he was.
Silhouetted against the red light drifting down from above, his form slender and cursive. White hair streamed behind him, and swarms of crimson-winged butterflies filled the air above.
His eyes, once rendered in vivid blue, were now a smoldering red.
They pulsed in time with her heartbeat.
He reached out to her, and his slender fingers were elegantly tapered, with long nails like glittering talons.
“So, shall immortality be our legacy?” asked Vladimir.
“Yes,” she said. “It shall.”
Maura took his hand, and together they climbed the staircase into the veils of crimson.
- June 19th, Universal Recipient: Vladimir in pro play from LoL Esports
- Vladimir's Champion Page
- Universe of League of Legends Page
- Mid-Season Magic
- Champion Sneak Peek: Vladimir, the Crimson Reaper
Journal of Justice