Katarina watched the last flickers of the sunset die out before resigning herself to her routine. It had been too many years to count by now, each evening bled into another, each drop of blood a continuous trail by her feet. Tonight, she leant against the quickly cooling walls of the barracks, the remnants of the sun clinging on while the dark set in. The evening made the zephyr that passed through Ionia as cruel as the generals gathering in the building not 50 metres from Katarina’s spot. A chill ran like electricity through her veins setting her on edge, every sound an alarm bell ringing in her head. It had been a long time since she had been nervous for a fight, the confidence that had been instilled in her was threatened by tonight’s target. Despite the unfamiliar curl of hesitation settling in her stomach, Katarina knew turning back wasn’t an option – not after she had slaughtered so many, not after she had turned her back on everything she knew, not after she had come so far.
She reached a hand into her pocket, the stored warmth momentarily chasing out the unforgiving chill. Her fingers brushed against the scrunched paper, the thin scrap fragile in her calloused hands. She read the name that had been written in a hurried scrawl. Information was scarce – few and far between – those who had it recognised her scar all too well, if she didn’t act on it now, she would never get another chance. Failure was not an option. Katarina’s fist closed on the paper, the crinkling sound heard only by the wind.
It shouldn’t be long now.
Right on time, the clicking of hooves on gravel cut through the reticent air. With one calculated movement, Katarina scaled the wall to her perch on the roof. The perfect vantage point to assess her targets. Xin Zhao, a prestigious warrior of Demacia, sat atop a grey speckled horse. He was immaculate despite his journey and the guards seemed cautious in his presence as they addressed his superior. An older man, greying hair, and a receding hairline, standing with the obvious training of a royal. Unlike Xin, King Jarvan III didn’t strike Katarina as someone she would struggle to eliminate.
Her attention hovered briefly on the conversation between Jarvan and the guards before her eyes flicked back to Xin. He stood with a stiffness Katarina had seen countless times before, a result of years of combat experience. Yet this stiffness held a strange familiarity that almost made her shiver. She couldn’t quite place her finger on it.
The breeze brushed her hair as its cold hands caressed her exposed skin. She sat still. As a dark shroud was pulled across the sky, Katarina listened for the first firework. Too far to hear the fizzle of the fuse, she would have to wait for the explosion itself. The low drumming in her chest felt like it was pulsing through her body. Every muscle – poised and ready to move. They were dead men walking. Xin’s eyes scanned the buildings where she crouched. Her breath caught and for the first time, a flicker of doubt crawled at the outer reaches of her mind.
Katarina knew those eyes.
Red poured across the skies, illuminating the world below for barely more than a second but it was enough. Katarina saw the man before her no longer as the servant warrior she had naively assumed him to be, but as the murderer lying beneath the surface. Crimson stained hair tied up in the arena and the ability to do whatever was necessary to survive – and as he ascended the first step, now only in the light of lanterns, she recognised his stiff poise from her training in Noxus. She had seen first-hand the brutality of home though it dulled in comparison to her own. She didn’t miss home, if she could call it that now, but something about seeing Xin… burned on her tongue. Metallic. Her teeth grit against each other as she rose from her position, no fireworks to light her form. She was no heroine after all. It was that singular fact that angered her the most. Xin Zhao and Katarina were the same, broken down and rebuilt as warriors. At least she embraced her darkness, Xin was nothing but a monster masquerading as a hero.
She was determined to execute her plan despite the loathing rearing its ugly head. Her fingers traced the indent around her eyes. One chance. She wouldn’t lose it.
The air carried Katarina across the gap between buildings as she jumped in a single, fluid motion. Practised and precise, she landed exactly as her target entered the well-lit archway. Tree roots wrapped the arch itself giving the illusion that nature was protecting anyone who entered. Her work would leave a scar on this building, much like her own. The thought of Jarvan’s head rolling out of those arches was sweeter than honey for Katarina, a cruel form of pleasure for someone as twisted as the roots Ionia was built from.
Her feet barely glazed over the roof as she eyed the lanterns strung to the final building. They swung lightly and the soft light cascaded on the ground below. A firework crackled through the encroaching night as Katarina resumed her run towards the execution. Each crunch of her feet on the rooftops was drowned out by the sounds of festivities coming from the town. Dropping down from the building, Katarina pulled her fringe over one half of her face – just enough to cover the dead giveaway. With her hair freshly dyed black and fact her whereabouts hadn’t been reported for months, she was confident she could fool the room as a low-rank Ionian guard late to the meeting.
Straightening her blouse with a sharp tug, Katarina adjusted before walking briskly up the steps into the arches. They quivered as she strode through them, despite her attention being focused directly ahead. Her interest piqued at the sounds of a heated discussion behind two wooden doors that stretched almost to the high ceiling of the main barracks. Katarina lifted a hand to open one of the doors, the wood smooth and almost soft on her palm.
“…both Demacia and Ionia have faced too much grief at the hands of Noxus, we need to band together if there is any way to end this before we face all-out war.” Jarvan stood with his back facing the door, turning to see who had entered.
“Apologies, Your Highness.” Katarina gave a slight curtsy and hurried to close the door. As her hand went to connect with the wood, she felt a hand on her arm. Her eyes jumped to his face as she allowed him to shut the door for her. Xin gave a nod as he turned to address the room.
“Azir wishes to form an alliance.” His voice carried authority and commanded the room’s attention. No one spoke as he made his way towards the Ionian diplomat sitting at the opposite end of the table. He reached into a pouch hanging by his side, producing a scroll with intricate golden lettering. Katarina slowly drew her blades while the attention was facing away from her, ready to pounce.
She surveyed the room while she waited. It was grand, an oval table placed in the centre and intricately woven chairs filling up the majority of the floor. A spear lay limp on the table.
There it was. An opening.
As Xin began to speak, her heart hummed in her chest, adrenaline making every move sharper. Faster.
One foot behind his and an elbow to the stomach pushed Jarvan onto his back. Her arm snaked into position, angling a blade towards his throat. She licked her lips, ready to taste the victory. Katarina went to use the other blade as the images of a slit throat coloured her thoughts…
…but she couldn’t. Xin held her arm in a fierce grip and as she turned to look at him. He was quicker than she anticipated, and he’d used it to his advantage. His eyes were shrouded but she could see the man underneath clearly as if she were looking in a mirror.
“Stand down.” The two guards in the room looked lost while Xin reached out towards her.
“Don’t move,” She hissed as she held her position, the tip of her sword pressed against Jarvan’s skin. His eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched, a steely expression sweeping over his face.
Her fist hit with a deafening crack. The sword clattered to the ground as Xin’s grip on her arm loosened. She took the chance. She twisted her arm to point the tip of her sword at Xin as her lips curled into a smirk. He backed away, stepping towards the table, and with a glance, Katarina knew she couldn’t let him grab his weapon, but the guards were closing in.
She had to decide, and fast.