Poppy was a well-traveled Yordle woman. She had seen Kumungu and its mysteriously grotesque fauna; she had touched Shurima’s diamond sand and watched it fall through her fingers; and yes—she had even participated in drinking contests in Bilgewater, a city of pirates with a wizardry all their own when it came to alcohol. But of all the things she was—she knew—extremely lucky to have ever seen, nothing was more empyreal to her than the rolling wheat hills behind the arches of Serrahn, the castle of Demacia.
She sat on a familiar bench that overlooked the western cliffs, and the sun was just starting to become the shade of orange that reminded her of her father. She watched invisible tendrils of wind splice through the fields of gold wheat, twisting in arabesque braids and then fanning out across the ocean beyond. She thought the water twinkled the way it only could do in the old paintings of Icathia.
The sun’s light spilled through a heavy cloud and everything glowed. She thought the dragonflies that danced at the water’s edge flickered like ashes, the warm ashes of her father’s forge, a place of heat and iron and the smell of raw metal—the smell of creation, she knew.
She remembered him, and she cried. She shed tears for the first time in ages, but they felt good. The wind stung her face and pulled the tears from her cheeks; in the blurry twilight, she could see the hungry wheat begging for her to cry more. So thirsty, she thought she heard something whisper on the edge of the wind.
A towering shadow appeared behind her, and it was enough to pull her from reverie. The fields of wheat swayed back and forth, back and forth, one of Valoran’s many pendulous clocks keeping track of the minutes, years, hours? that she had left.
“Did you feel the quake earlier?”
She wiped her tears and stood from the bench. She knew that voice well.
“Prince Jarvan,” she said.
“You might want to sit back down,” he said. He came around and took a seat in front of the bench on the ground, for Yordle were significantly shorter than common men, and it was seen in some circles as a gesture of disrespect to speak down at a Yordle (even if you were royalty). She knew that Jarvan could be a respectful man, but she found his demeanor unsettling now.
“What is it?” Poppy said. She sat again.
“Noxus is in flames. All the Demacian emissaries there are unreachable. Something is wrong…” his voice trailed off.
“Gone,” he said. “You didn’t feel it?”
She only shrugged.
“You know, sometimes I really pity your lack of remorse.”
“Remorse? Did your father feel remorse when I brought him his crown?”
The look in his bright-as-ice eyes changed. She watched something muddy move behind his pupils, something cold and bitter and full of emotions she did not like.
“Don’t bring him into this,” he said. He stood. The decaying sun cast bows of light on his shoulder armor, creating a false corona behind him. His hair, which fell to his shoulders and was brown as chestnut, was scrambling over his face in the wind.
“We go to Noxus then,” she said flatly.
“Not you. Valor is already in reconnaissance. You stay here.”
“You seem awfully calm about war.”
“War?” He snapped. “I didn’t do this! Demacians are dead. Noxus is dead. It’s time to do something.”
“Noxus, dead?” Poppy asked. “I expect better from a prince of your stature. Swain is Noxus, afterall,” she said with a smirk.
He laughed, but not the good kind of laugh—she thought it was nervous, even dangerous. “There will be counsel in one hour,” he said. “As a representative of Yordles everywhere, I expect you’ll relearn some tact by then.”
“I won’t be a part of it,” she said.
He only looked down at her, his face a cold mask that even the soft sun’s light would not touch. His armor glinted as he bent down and stared her right in the eyes.
“You already are,” he whispered.
She hopped off the bench and took her hammer and shield. She looked like a beautiful but deranged forest fairy: too short and stout to be an actual fairy, but just graceful and light on her feet enough to be one of the forest nymphs. Even though she held armor that most men fifty times her size could not wield, her poise was graceful and elegant, and she had an everlasting expression that people often described as bewitching.
Every Yordle was unique in his or her own way, but Poppy especially had attracted attention from a young age in Bandle City. Her unusually blue eyes and faded cobalt skin were a sharp contrast to the forge fire of her father’s shop. As it was customary for girls around hot flames to do (at least, that’s what her dad said), she always wore her hair in pigtails. It was a look that she kept as she got older, and after her father died it became a sort of homage. In political circles, however, it sometimes caused people to make weird faces. Not that she cared.
She followed Jarvan IV through the grand western foyer of Serrahn.
The two of them began the long journey up a spiral staircase wrought from vines. It formed a spine in the center of the castle. At every bend of the stairs there was a small window, a tiny glimpse into the world beyond. Neither of them said a word as they ascended, and neither of them stopped to look outside.
Below, she could hear the steady one-two of what she knew were boots: the boots of a hundred thousand soldiers, she guessed, probably preparing to march for Noxus. She began to feel dizzy and sick to her stomach as her mind unfurled, tracing all the alternate realities at once it seemed. What if? What if this is a trap? What if they want to lure the Royal Court into the heart of Noxus? What if I’m imprisoned here?
What if dad hadn’t died? a small voice inside her said. She tried to shake the thought away. The pulse of the soldiers’ boots gave her a thread back to reality, and she climbed the stairs to the beat. For the first time in all of her life, her hammer and shield felt heavy. She rounded the last bend of the staircase and took a deep breath.
At the top of the staircase was an enormous glass chamber. The ceiling was magically etched with the image of Solari, one of The Great Firebirds, and as the sunset dripped through the artwork it caused charades of light to prance on the pure diamond table and chairs in the room’s center.
Poppy had only been inside this chamber one other time: when she presented the King with the helm her dead father was ordered to deliver to Demacia. That artifact had since been reformed into the crown he wore today.
“This place,” she said softly. But Jarvan IV wasn’t listening. He was standing outside on the large balcony that encircled the chamber.
She stepped outside.
“Look,” he said plainly.
She followed his eyes. In the far-far away distance, above the spires and rooftops and hills of Demacia, across the will-o-wisps of the marshes beyond, and even further beyond the flatlands—she swore that she could see the mahogany death of Noxus. She squinted as the sun set, watching the sky take away the cooling remains of what, she was beginning to suspect, would be the last normal day of her life.