Although Noxus was by no means a model state, it had always maintained a ferocious inner beauty that came naturally from the ideals of honor and power. This was the kind of inner beauty that grows like the Darkflower, with serrated roots that destroy the soil just to fuel its alluring red petal dance.
In fact, he mused, Darkflower was native only to Noxus and was the inspiration for the state’s name: from the song the flowers sang as the high winds flushed over the northern hills. It was a small-known truth about Noxus that its most successful leaders kept guarded. After all, how strange indeed would it have been to know that their military order was named after a kind of rose?
Swain found this incredibly amusing as he shrugged off a piece of still-burning debris. CAW! CAW! CAW! Somewhere in the distance he could hear the guttural cries of a bird—his bird, he realized, as his consciousness slowly dripped back into his head like ink into a pen. He could hardly breathe under the smoking rubble, but that was no problem. He had been in worse situations before. Sort of.
His reflections on the beauty of Noxus gave way to a terrible reality of fire, muffled screams, and a disgusting smell that he knew was burning skin (please not my skin, he hoped). CAW!! CAW!! The bird was very angry now.
As he regained neural fire, he became aware of his toes, fingers, and arms, and he slowly began to claw his way upward. The smoke stung his eyes and made it difficult to see, but occasionally between the spaces in the debris he caught glimpses of what looked like people burning, moving through the streets like frantic candelabras. These images made him angry and sick at the same time. His stomach became a knot of heat and pain. He pushed pieces of metal and wood aside more quickly, getting closer and closer—CAW!!! CAW!!!
He exploded from the rubble pile and exhaled, then took in a sharp, gurgling breath that sent him into a fit of coughs. He hunched over the glowing rubble and vomited. He spat blood. He could feel a warm trickle down the side of his face, and suddenly each of his ribs felt shattered into a million pieces.
Behind him a second pile of rubble erupted and a large vulture crawled from the flames. It screeched wildly and flapped its wings in panic, fanning embers away from its body like fireworks.
“Come,” he muttered, regaining his posture.
The bird ruffled its feathers, took flight, and landed moodily on his right shoulder. He did not mind that her talons dug into his skin more deeply than normal; she was frightened.
Jericho Swain was the current Grand General of Noxus, a man respected and feared for his unusual grit and cunning magics. He was, for all purposes, the paragon Noxus Man: tall, with wide and weathered shoulders, a broad chest, and a stature that made him move like a glacier or a mountain. This stature was often mistaken as cumbrous, but Jericho Swain could move so fast, and so assuredly, that he left most people crippled before they had the chance to note that he had moved in the first place.
He had a jagged scar that ran down his left eye, which young Noxian boys often fantasized came from epic battles with beasts in the Kumungu jungle. His face was always full and aquiline, and he always wore the same militant crimson robes of bloodsilk, a fabric woven and sold only in the Shadow Isles.
Jericho Swain never wore armor in combat, either: he opted only for this particular fabric. Though amorless, he was a fierce and elusive god on the battlefield, and the way he moved in combat had earned him nicknames known in history books: The Master Tactician, and his personal favorite, The Nightraven.
It did not bother Swain that he felt naked and ungraceful as a wildfire waved through the remains of his city’s ancient gardens, for no one could see this emotion through the veil created by the bloodsilk. And besides, he thought, everyone who cares is probably dead. What happened?… As the wind gusted it picked up the long hems of fabric near his elbows, whipping them back and forth like long monsters.
He usually traveled with a cane, so he could only limp weakly down the burning trail that led from the gardens into the city. His bird clutched at his shoulder a little more tightly every time debris popped and spat cinders at them. By now, her talons were making him grind his teeth whenever they readjusted.
A quarter mile from the Constabulary’s gardens was the Noxian town square, once a center of commerce and revelry. It was nothing now but smoke and bones, and he had to pause for a moment to bide the rolling nausea he suddenly felt. The smell was unbearable. As his stomach turned and he bent over to vomit, he thought he heard something—calling, crying?—a few yards away.
He followed the voice through the glowing smoke. Although most of the buildings had been eaten alive by the fire and were now just ashes, a great tide of flames still moved through the city. He came upon a small, torched bench. Beneath it, a young boy looked up at him.
“Please don’t hurt me,” he said. “I’m already hurt. I don’t need to be hurt again.”
Swain’s bird snapped its beak at the boy as the General bent down to get a better look. “It looks bad,” Swain said.
“General? Oh—who would do this!” The boy started to cry.
Swain could see that the boy’s legs were badly mangled and that his wounds were fatal. He had already lost a lot of blood.
Swain stood again. He looked like a wintered tree against the starlight and smoke as he towered over the boy, his deep eyes lost in thought. “For every friend Noxus has, there are at least three enemies.”
“That’s not what they said in school,” the boy muttered.
“But it is the truth.” He bent down again, his eyes razor and focused—almost angry. “And Noxian boys do not cry,” he said. He slapped the boy across the face and then stood again. “Noxus was not built on tears. It was built on blood.”
The boy whimpered, but did not talk. He did not have the strength.
“So what does this mean for you, boy?” Swain began to pace. Somehow, he found his strength returning. “It means you will be a martyr, of course.” He opened his arms and spun in a half-circle. His bird did not expect this. She launched herself from his shoulder and took to the air, screeching.
“This—do you think this is the end of Noxus?” He laughed and it seemed to shake the ground beneath the wildfire. “You should have killed me,” he said quietly to the night sky.
“Rohhla,” he said deeper under his breath. The bird flew down from the sky and landed next to the boy. She spread her wings over him like a hen over her roost, and gently laid with him until he passed.
Afterwards, Swain and his bird walked back towards the ruins of the Constabulary. There was a small path that branched from the main walkway, and this time they took it. At the end was a stone wall with an overgrowth of Darkflowers. Since the moon was full tonight, they danced and flared their petals. The fire had not made it this deep into the foliage around the Constabulary.
He heard the flowers sing their song as a breeze swept up. It mixed the perfume of their nectar with the smell of burning souls. Noohhxussss, he heard them sing. Noxus, indeed.
He touched the stone wall and the Darkflower vines began to tear. Their cloying red petals retracted instantly into their shoots, leaving behind a fine scarlet mist. For a second, Swain thought he heard the flowers scream.
A piece of stone shifted and revealed a pitch black path in front of him. He entered.
The other beautiful secret about Noxus, which successful leaders also kept hidden from their subjects, was that the real heart and soul of the city was actually underground.
The wall closed behind him and the Darkflowers’ vines began to slowly re-entangle themselves in an embrace of thorns and decay. Throughout the city, the fires coughed burning ashes and slowly began to die away.
As he limped down the dark stone passage, he had only one thought: that to recover from something so drastic would require a swift—and probably brutal—recovery. He turned the familiar corner of the assassins’ cove, the magical energy coursing through his fingers ready to strike at the wispy predators he knew were lurking around him in the shadows.