When the war began, blood was spilled for Demacia's trumpets. Noxus sent an ambassador as a response. Katarina was only a girl then.
"You'll understand when you're older," her father had said. He had transcended the need to help her understand. A stranger's pen inked in blood was his way of goodbye. And stranger still was her sister's ailment, and her newfound power over the household.
Katarina tucked a scarf closer over her face, warding off foreign sands to preserve native thoughts. When the war continued, blood was spilled for Piltover's raiding parties against Zaun and the Noxian sailors in port. Ambassadors were sent. Katarina was patted on the head. Only the child could see what was happening under the table, it seemed.
She wasn't a child anymore. Her camel pulled to a temperamental stop, and Katarina hopped to the ground. Her clothing had been purchased recently: arcane silk for sex and death in desert conditions. She walked, and blades stirred on swaying hips like the dervishes around her. Oh, what misfortune had come to the subject of her interest.
Here, at a trader's crossroads, were two caravans arguing over a collision. She would have left them to waste water discussing it, but the wreckage was now blocking her path to vengeance. A Noxian and a Yordle were having an amicable discussion about how and who to compensate for what degree of damages.
How quickly her countrymen had forgotten. The war had carried onwards without a single soldier deployed by Noxus, and soon blood was spilled for Bandle City as their airfleets dotted the sky. Farmers were killed like dogs by dogs.
The Noxian trader had no appreciation for justice, and had to be recovered from a cowering position after the problem was solved. The Yordle mage had put up a good fight, but he would have no magic to call upon from within the prisons of Noxus- not even the light of day. She did not watch as her retinue carted him away. She pondered the Noxian trader as he shivered before her, unable to recognize an ally.
"Please! I'm just a trader!"
Oh, the homophones. She let him stare into emeralds no man could afford before leaving him in the desert.
The tempests of Ionia stirred in her mind, and their phantoms rose from the dust around her to dance once again. Her camel carried on like the war, and soon, she was seeing the Highlanders charge at her peacekeepers and shatter as their dust met her armor. The Summoners' League- The League of Legends now- had sanctioned Noxus' peacekeepers, and Noxus' alone. The anarchists had no care. Blood was shed for Ionia's gods, and that was all they needed to preserve their rituals.
Katarina's camel stopped with her thoughts at the tip of a buried sanctum. Noxus had never built fortresses underground before this. It was a lesson taught by the barbarian hordes. The war carried on, and soon there was blood for Freljord. Barbarians sacked outlying towns and took standing castles with flying creatures that were supposed to stay in myths.
The tip of this sanctum was not visible to the eyes of Noxus' enemies. A mere bump in the shifting Shurima sands, it stood to her knee to boast a keyhole no key could fit. Katarina held out her hand while her retinue brought forward a small box. She removed a ring from within, an onyx rose, and paused only to remove the finger of its previous owner. The fit was tighter than her father's. His had disappeared with him. The war carried on, and blood was spilled for the Black Rose. It fit the lock.
"On my honor, promise my doom,
Reveal to me a hidden room.
If your secrets exhume,
My blood shall spume,
And regardless, our rose shall bloom."
How that had become a nursery rhyme, she would never know. The lock clicked, releasing her finger and the sands. When the storm subsided, she was alone, standing on a marble floor before marble doors. The doors bore a relief in Onyx, panthers pointing inwards. And on the archway above was the inscription: The Truest Enemy Lies Within.
Noxus had not been struck down by its enemies. It had been paralyzed by the lethargy and uncertainty of good men and women. Noxus had been restrained by the enemies it trusted- by the lowest bidders in Zaun, by every idiot who wouldn't take up a sword to defend their homeland. Katarina could forgive them eventually. The truest enemy was not them. Boram Darkwill had said it himself right before he died.
"We are opposed in every breath by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covet means. The greed inherent in every man has been turned against us, against our brothers. In secret, in smoke, and in mirrors, until we are devouring ourselves."
The truest enemy was the Black Rose- an octopus with tentacles in every industry, expanding through the corporations of Zaun and the collectives of Piltover, into the diocese of Ionia. Katarina knew that enemy well. It had taken her father, her sister, and her nation.
The doors before her looked familiar. She couldn't say from where, but it seemed as if she had walked through them just a moment before. The panthers beckoned for her to enter. The door seemed open, even with its lock secured. She blinked over her interest, and was suddenly looking into the eyes of an old friend.
Flowing black hair and eyes that ended lives bobbed back her hello. Katarina couldn't see where she had entered from. But her voice ended the thought.
"Do you remember the beach head on Galrin, Katarina?"
Katarina had followed Sivir's side through Noxus' first fight in Ionia, and had carried on the battle when the mercenary found better contracts elsewhere. Sivir was not called Battle Mistress lightly.
"Of course," Katarina whispered.
"You knew I had a house in Ionia. You wanted to know why I would help Noxus invade. I said I had houses everywhere and no homes."
She waited for Katarina to nod before finishing.
"I never got to return the question."
She smiled and waited, her body rigid around the shoulders and loose around the hips. Sivir had lost her sanity before anyone knew her well. Her weapon would return to her from every throw, and kill her if she caught it wrong. She had no home in Ionia. She had a house, and lived wherever there was battle and the chance of death. So her shoulders were tense, and her organs were exposed without armor.
"Well? Why do you want to join the League, Katarina?"
She saw as Freljord drew blood from the North. Piltover had their blood on the seas. Bandle had their blood in the air. Ionia drew blood in the hills. Demacia drew blood in the fields. The Black Rose drew blood from her home.
"What about you?" Sivir was asking.
Katarina was sitting across from her in the hold of a ship bound for Galrin. She was standing in the fields, overlooking Demacia's carnage. She was holding Boram Darkwill's cooling body as the last of his assassins disappeared into the trees.
"Why do you want to join the league?"
Why had she traveled into the desert? Katarina had found a sanctum of the Black Rose. Talon had a friend who knew how to get in. She consulted no one about her intentions, and simply picked up a group of soldiers to follow her into the sands. And she had murdered everyone in that hidden fortress. She had left the door open so the shifting sands would hide that fortress forever.
She was standing in front of Sivir again, on a marble floor before two doors with panthers.
"Why did you do all of those things, Katarina? What do you want?"
Katarina felt her scar itch. She struggled to cut the tremble in her lip and the swirling rage in her body. She felt the sands of Shurima stir within her like a sheathed blade. She heard the cries of her people as Ionia and Piltover and Bandle and Freljord and Demacia allied against them. She smelled the blood.
"What do you want, Katarina?"
"Blood," she answered. "Blood for Noxus."