Date: 1 July, 21 CLE
Leona’s movements are smooth, calculated. Her walk, though elegant, is not the trained gait of nobility. Her steps are meant for war.
Although her armor and form lend her an air of sophistication, it’s evident that she has never seen a place like the Institute of War. She runs a finger along the smooth etchings in the marble doors of the Reflection Chamber, and starts when they glide open. Overcoming reluctance, she steps into the tendrils of darkness reaching to embrace her.
Reflexively, Leona channeled energy into her shield, willing the sun’s light to emanate from it. Though she was sure of her technique, she remained swathed in darkness. No child of the Rakkor fears the shadows, but Leona felt uncharacteristically vulnerable deprived of the sun’s rays. Had she become so reliant on its presence already? The memory of her awakening still felt fresh, even though the sun had since completed nearly half its cycle.
A stiff wind called up familiar goose bumps on her skin, and she was there again, on the snowy slopes of Mount Targon, the day of realization. Targon’s wintery breeze carried with it the pungent stench of blood, as lives of “unworthy” teens were claimed by the Rite of Kor. It was a grisly ceremony, though for Targon’s limited food supply, a necessary one. Until the solstice of their 16th year, every Rakkor child was trained and taught in preparation for their momentous battle.
Leona knew every boy and girl who had fallen that day. She tried to ignore the crippling concern that their deaths may have been her fault. She had, more than once, stood between them and the more aggressive children. She delighted in thwarting bullies. Had she been selfish? Her instructors insisted that every battle missed was a lesson lost, that she was doing more harm than good. But Leona couldn’t sit idly by while her friends suffered.
Now they were dead. Maybe the instructors were right.
She searched the eyes of watching parents, wondering how they could allow their children to be slaughtered. She later realized that the Kor was as much a test for those observing as it was for the participants. It was a ritual about understanding and accepting the Rakkor way of life. To succeed was to earn your place amongst the tribe, to be trusted to wield the terrifying relic-weapons of your ancestors, to be prepared for the sacrifices that would be expected of you. To fail was to enrich Rakkor soil with your body and blood. Even in death, you would serve the tribe.
It was her turn now.
All around the pit, warriors beat their shields, screaming and cheering against the roar of the wind. The cold bit to the bone. Leona was given a small buckler and a short sword. Her opponent, Molik, was armed with a spear and shield.
Molik was a poor fighter, all things considered. He was slow and he hadn’t mastered his footing. A well-timed sweep never failed to topple him. He was one of the boys Leona defended before, and now she would be his executioner. His parents stood out amongst the crowd, faces grim. They knew the failures of their son. Leona’s own parents watched with anticipation. Today their concerns about her would be put to rest. Her reluctance to conform would either be pushed aside or taken to the grave. Compassion had no place with the Rakkor.
Leona didn’t want to die.
She looked at Molik. His gaze was steel. In any other place or time, he would be wearing a goofy smile and confiding in Leona his passion for woodworking. His skill with a carving knife was enviable, though it didn’t translate at all to the sword. Now, he was a warrior of the Rakkor – emotionless and unmerciful.
With a cry from the leader, the combat commenced. Molik bellowed and lunged forward, spear aimed for her heart. She deflected the blow with the buckler and kicked him hard in the shins. Molik yelped and fell forward, managing to roll to a crouch. He swept the spear around, hoping to catch Leona off balance, but she was far too fast for him.
She raised one leg and stomped hard, splintering the end of the spear beneath her bare foot. Molik reared up, swinging the shield in a broad arc. His movements were slow, predictable. Leona dove into the blow, ducking beneath his shield. Inside his defenses, she struck him in the ribs with the flat of her blade. He doubled over, clutching his side with his shield arm. She leveled her sword in his face.
His defeat, though expected, was disappointing. She caught his father’s gaze and all she could see was shame. Molik himself looked ready to cry. He knew this would be his final day, but he’d hoped to die with more dignity. He’d hoped his parents would cheer at his final fight.
Leona couldn’t stand it.
She hurled her sword and buckler to the ground and faced Jagen, the Kor leader.
“Finish it,” he said, frowning.
She locked eyes with him. “No.”
The crowd fell silent. She could make out her mother’s horrified gasp. So much for her parents’ day. At least the shame of her actions would far overshadow Molik’s poor performance. Jagen nodded to Pantheon, who stood at his side spattered in blood from his own Kor. He was beside her in a single leap. He leaned close.
"You need to do this, Leona.” This would be her only warning.
She didn’t break eye contact with Jagen. “I won’t.”
Jagen stepped down into the pit. “There is only one punishment for crimes against the tribe.” He waved a hand and spearmen surrounded Leona. “As you well know.”
Leona exhaled. She tried in vain to decide what she would like her last thought to be. Instead she just let her head loll back, the sun filling her view. She swore she could feel its warmth cutting through Targon’s icy winds.
Then her world became blinding light.
She opened her eyes, expecting to see Jagen and the others sprawled across the ground as they had been that day. She expected to see the Rakkor gaping at her, their faces a mix of awe and terror. Terror was something she’d never seen on the faces of her elders before that day.
Instead, Jagen stood in front of her. This wasn’t how the memory was supposed to go. He clutched the base of a spear in his right hand. She followed it to her stomach, where the tip disappeared into a growing red pool.
Leona suddenly couldn’t breathe.
“This was how it was meant to go, Leona.” Jagen’s voice lost its menace. Now it was oddly soothing, almost reassuring.
She sputtered. Blood was pouring from her wound, her vision blurred.
“Is this what you are without the sun?” He pressed against the spear.
Until that moment, shock alone comprised her awareness. Now excruciating pain shot through her system. It was exactly what she needed.
Her eyes came to sharp focus. In the years since her awakening, she had always regretted forcing the sun to come to her aid. She was Leona, the Radiant Dawn, and she was the sun’s avatar on Runeterra. It was her place to serve the sun, not vice versa.
With a swift chop of her right hand, she snapped the shaft of the spear. Jagen’s eyes widened. Her fingers tightened into a fist and she backhanded him hard across the temple. He stumbled.
“I am never without the sun.” She caught him squarely in the chest with a front kick, sending him to the ground. Then she was over him, letting her blood drip on his face.
To her surprise, he laughed.
“Why do you want to join the League, Leona?”
She froze. He managed to take her completely by surprise.
“Come now, why do you want to join the League?” His tone was jovial, triumphant.
She took a long breath. “I am chosen of the sun. The League should feel privileged-“
“I do believe that you’ve convinced yourself of that.” He smiled. “But there’s more to it.”
Leona hesitated. Truth lurked behind his words.
"You want to make it up to them,” he said. “The Rakkor children you failed to protect.”
Leona bit her tongue.
“How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
Jagen knew he wouldn’t get a response. He vanished and she was in the Institute again, although she hardly noticed. She stood slumped for what felt like hours. Her shield hung weakly at her side. A faint light suddenly glowed from it.
It hit her: perhaps the reason she had been spared was to do exactly as he said. She truly wanted to. Her shoulders rose, and the sun burned brightly from her shield. The League of Legends would indeed have the champion of the sun.