"A shadow fades before the light,” the girl repeated to herself.
The words were a mantra, one she often used to put herself at ease when she felt herself losing control. Though she was only thirteen, she had become adept at using tricks like this to ease the symptoms of her affliction. But today she found the words to be little help. Today, the girl needed to be alone.
She fought to hold in the tears, avoiding eye contact with passersby as she walked briskly toward the scrutinizing glare of the sentries at the city gates. If they stopped her, she felt she might break down and spill everything to them. At least then it would all be over, she thought.
But they paid her little mind as she walked through the archway, to the open lands outside the city.
Far off the main highway, the girl found a quiet nook in a wooded hillside. Once she was sure she wouldn't be seen, she removed a clean handkerchief from her pocket, placed it to her face, and sobbed.
The tears came fast and thick down her cheeks. If anyone had seen the girl like this, they probably would not recognize her. Everybody knew her as the fresh-faced optimist who cheerily bid them Good morning! and Nice to see you! everyday, regardless of circumstance.
The other side of her – this ugly and decidedly un-Demacian one – was a face the girl shared with nobody.
As she stanched the flow of tears with her thin linen cloth, her mind began to settle. She finally dared to recall the events that had led to the tears. She had been in the lecture room with her classmates when her gaze began to wander to an open window. The flock of fuchsia nectarflies outside were far more interesting than the drab lesson in field tactics their instructor was offering. The flies danced, not in unison at all, but in a vivacious chaos that was strangely beautiful. She had taken in their movement, feeling herself warming to the core with an intense happiness.
The warmth was familiar to her. Most of the time it could be tamed, stuffed back inside her like feathers that had leaked from a mattress. But today the warmth was... hot, with a life of its own. She felt it burning, in her teeth, threatening to explode into the world with a fan of iridescent hues as it had only done in privacy before.
For a brief moment, a thin trickle of white light leaked from her fingertips.
No! This is not for anyone to see! she thought, hoping to suppress the glow.
For the first time in her life, it felt too big. The girl had only one chance to save herself.
She needed to leave. She stood and gathered her belongings.
“Luxanna,” her instructor had said. “Are you-”
“A shadow fades before the light,” she had muttered, and ran from the room without explanation. “A shadow fades before the light. A shadow fades before the light.”
As she finished drying her eyes in the calm of the woods, her feet carried her farther and farther from the city. She began to assess the cost of the incident. Word would spread quickly across the citadel that a student had stormed out of class without leave. What punishment would she receive for that insubordination?
Whatever was to come, it would be better than the alternative. If she'd stayed, she would have erupted, filling the entire building in the brightest, purest light. Then everyone would know she was afflicted with magic.
That's when the annullers would come.
Once or twice, the girl had seen the annullers in the streets with their strange instruments, rooting out practitioners of magic. Once these afflicted people were found, they were forcibly relocated to slums outside the kingdom, never to take part in the grand society Lux's family knew so well.
That was the worst part, knowing her family would be shamed. And her brother... Oh, her brother. She shuddered to think what Garen would say. The girl often dreamed of living in a different part of the world, where people with arcane gifts were revered as heroes, and celebrated by their families. But the girl lived in Demacia, where people knew the destructive potential of magic, and treated it as such.
As she found her situation becoming increasingly hopeless, Lux realized she was standing within view of the Galio monument. The gargantuan statue had been made long ago as a battle standard for the military, accompanying them in their missions abroad.
Sculpted from petricite, Galio possessed magic-absorbing properties that had saved many lives from archmage attacks. If one believed the legends, he had even come to life at times, when enough mystical power had seeped into his mortar. At the moment, he stood still as a mountain, straddling the Memorial Road, far from the traffic of the main highway.
Lux cautiously approached the statue. Ever since she was a little girl, she had imagined the old titan keeping vigilant watch over all those who passed beneath him. It seemed to peer into her soul, judging her.
“You have no place here,” it would say accusingly.
Though it only spoke in her imagination, the girl knew it spoke true. She was different.
That was undeniable. Her constant smiles and exuberance stood out glaringly among Demacia's trademark austerity. Then there was the glow. Ever since she could remember, Lux felt it burning in her heart, longing to burst free. When she was small, the glow was weak, and she could easily conceal it. Now the power had become far too great to stay hidden.
Burdened with guilt, Lux lifted her eyes to the Colossus.
“Well, go on and say it!” she yelled.
It was uncharacteristic of Lux, but the day had not been kind, and it soothed her soul to vent. She expelled sharp breaths of air in relief, then immediately felt embarrassment at the outburst. Did I really just yell at a statue? she marveled, and looked around to make sure nobody had seen. At certain times of the year, this road was flooded with travelers making their pilgrimages to the colossus, paying tribute to the symbol of Demacian resolve. But presently, the Memorial Road was empty.
As Lux was searching for bystanders, she heard a gravelly racket in the air above her.
She whipped her head up – it had come from the top of the colossus. It was common for birds to take flight from their nests in the statue's crown, but this was no bird. It sounded like a heavy clay pot being dragged across cobblestones.
Lux stared for a long while, but nothing stirred about the statue. Perhaps this was her mind again, working through the trauma of the day's events. Even so, her eyes remained fixed on the colossus, daring whatever had moved to do so again.
And then it did: the eyes of the statue actually shifted. The large stone orbs physically swiveled in their sockets to find Lux in the grass below.
The girl's face blanched for a moment. She could feel the enormous stone figure studying her. This time, it was definitely not in her imagination. Lux found her legs and ran, away from the statue, as fast and as far as she could.
Later that night, Lux entered the alabaster arch of her family's city manor. She had walked many miles, all day long, all over the city, in the hope her parents would be asleep when she returned home. But one person was not.
Her mother Augatha sat in on a sofa in the corner of the grand foyer, glowering at the door with burning expectation. “Do you know what hour it is?” she demanded.
Lux did not respond. She knew it was past midnight, well beyond the hour when her family were typically asleep.
“The school has chosen not to expel you,” said Augatha. “It was not an easy mess to fix.”
Lux wanted to break down crying, but she had done nothing but weep all day, and she simply had no more tears. “They almost saw it,” she said.
“I figured. It's getting worse, isn't it?”
“What should I do?” said Lux, exhausted from worry.
“What we must,” her mother replied. “You've lost control of it. Eventually, someone will get hurt.”
Lux had heard of men dying in battle at the hands of sorcerers, bodies melted beyond recognition and souls torn in two. She felt wretched, knowing she harbored any power that might be used for such destruction. She wanted to hate herself, but found herself numbed by the constant torrent of emotions she'd experienced that day.
“I've enlisted the help of a professional,” said Augutha.
Lux's stomach turned. There was only one profession that dealt with her affliction. “An annuller?” she said, light of breath.
“He's a friend. Someone I should have called on a long time ago,” said Augatha. “You can trust him to be discreet.”
Lux nodded. She knew the shame that was imminent. Even if the man told no one, as her mother assured her, he would still know.
And the cures — she didn't want to think about those.
“He's coming for your consultation in the morning,” said Augutha, as she walked up the stairs toward her bedroom. “This will be our secret.”
The words were no comfort. Lux was not even a woman yet, and already her life was over. She wanted nothing more than to retire upstairs to a deep slumber that would bury all her troubles in darkness, but she knew her particular troubles would not disappear with the night. The light would still grow inside her, threatening to erupt again at any moment. The annuller would arrive in the morning to perform some dreadful treatment. Lux had heard rumors, horrible rumors, of petricite ground and swallowed in potions, followed by bouts of excruciating pain. True, the girl wanted to be rid of the affliction, but no part of her wanted to experience that.
Isn't there another way? she wondered.
The idea leapt into her head like lightning. All at once she was filled with dread and hope, unsure if the plan she'd just thought up would work, but knowing it was something she had to try.
Under the deepening night, Lux frantically retraced her steps, back through the alabaster archway, down the boulevard, sneaking her way past the guards at the gates. To the south, she found the Memorial Road, and followed it for miles before coming to Galio's resting spot. Her heart galloped in her chest.
“Hello?” the girl asked shakily, unsure if she wanted an answer.
Lux approached the plinth where the colossus stood, all alone in the stillness of night. She cautiously placed her hand on the cold petricite foundation. Wonder what it tastes like. I bet it's really bitter, she reckoned. She supposed she would find out soon enough, unless her plan worked.
“Well, they say you fix magic,” she said. “So fix me. I want to be Demacian.”
She gazed up at the colossus. It was as inert and unwavering as the Demacian way of life. Not even the bats were fluttering about it tonight. What she had heard before — what she thought she saw — was something she had imagined after all, then. She removed her hand from the plinth, pondering where else she could turn.
“Small girl person,” said a booming voice above.
Lux's head shot upward to see the statue tilting its enormous head down. Her mind raced. He knows. And he's not going to fix you. He's going to squash you like a bug.
“Can you... scratch my foot?” asked the colossus.
Galio watched in wonder as the girl ran away from him, her tiny head shrieking words he could not understand. Though he'd observed her for years, he never knew she could move so quickly, and loudly.
Ever since the girl was very small, Galio had seen her as she stopped by on yearly trips with her family. He would study her with fascination, straining to keep sight of her as she skipped in and out of his field of vision. Then, in the middle of play, she would suddenly remember him standing above her, and she would shy away behind her mother's skirt. When the colossus was dormant, everything seemed to move with a hazy distortion. The world was dull, people were but flickers before his eyes.
But even then, Galio could feel something profoundly special in the girl. It was a glow, but not just a visual luminescence. Time slowed with her, and the haze lifted as something strange stirred within his stone form.
It started small. When the girl was a toddler, Galio could feel her strange warmth tickling his toes. On her second visit, Galio could feel the glow tugging at his entire leg. By the time she was ten, the girl's warmth was so strong Galio could feel her approaching from a mile away, and would grow giddy with anticipation of her visit.
Now, here she was again, even though it was not her normal visiting day. Her power burned so intensely it had spread like wildfire across his cold innards. She had brought him life!
Now that Galio was awake, he saw her brilliance with stunning clarity. She shone like all the stars in the heavens.
And she was leaving again.
With every step the girl took, Galio felt his life evaporating, returning him to his cold, motionless state. If he went still, he would never know the girl. He had to follow.
His towering legs rumbled from the plinth, easily catching up to the girl with their enormous gait. Her eyes shot wide as she whirled toward the lumbering colossus. A concentrated beam of light fired from the girl's fingers into Galio's leg. The strange feeling within him intensified until he thought he might explode, scattering bits of himself all over Demacia.
But Galio did not break. Instead, he grew even warmer, and more alive. He bent down and gently scooped up the girl in his hands. She covered her face, as if to shield herself from some imminent harm.
The colossus began to laugh, like a child playing in a fountain.
“Small golden-head person,” he bellowed. “You are funny. Please, do not leave.”
The girl slowly overcame her trauma, and responded, “I... I can't. You're holding me.”
Realizing his offense, Galio carefully placed the girl back on the ground.
“I am sorry. I don't often meet small girl people. I only wake up to smash things,” he explained. “Do you have things to smash? Large things?”
“No,” said the girl meekly.
“Then let us find something to smash.” He walked a few booming steps, then turned to find the girl was not following. “Are you not coming, girl person?”
“No,” she replied, even more shakily, unsure if the answer would upset the giant. “I'm sort of trying not to be noticed right now.”
“Oh. Forgive me, girl person.”
“Well. I'm going to go now,” said Lux, in what she thought was a final parting word. “It was nice to meet you.”
Galio followed right behind her. “You are walking away from your city,” he observed. “Where are you going?”
“I don't know,” she responded. “Someplace I belong.”
The colossus tilted his head at her. “You are Demacian. You belong in Demacia.”
For the first time, the girl saw empathy in the giant, and she felt herself opening up.
“You wouldn't understand. You're a symbol of this kingdom. I'm just...” She searched for a word that would tell everything without telling too much. “I'm all wrong,” she said, at last.
“Wrong? You can't be wrong. You give me life,” boomed Galio, lowering his huge boulder of a face to her level.
“That's the problem,” said the girl. “You're not supposed to be moving. The only reason you are moving is me.”
Galio reacted in stunned silence for a moment, then erupted with joyful epiphany.
“You're a mage!” he thundered.
“Shhh! Please be quiet!” begged the girl. “People will hear you.”
“I crush mages!” he proclaimed. He then quickly added: “But not you. I like you. You are the first mage I've liked.”
Luxanna's fear began to fade, giving way to irritation. “Listen. Even though this is all wondrous and miraculous, I'd really prefer you leave me alone. Besides, people are going to notice you're gone.”
“I do not care,” insisted Galio. “Let them notice!”
“Don't!” said Lux, recoiling at the thought. “Please, just go back where you belong.”
Galio stop to reflect, then smiled as though he'd recalled something amusing. “Do that thing to me again. With your wonderful starlight!” he said, far too loudly for Lux's comfort.
“Shhh! Stop yelling!” she urged. “Are you referring to my affliction?”
“Yes,” said Galio, in a slightly quieter tone.
“I'm sorry. I can't always do it. And I shouldn't do it. You have to go,” she insisted.
“I can't go. If I leave you, I will sleep. And when I wake, you will be gone, small girl thing.”
Lux paused. Though she was mad from exhaustion, she found herself touched by the titan's words.
“If I can do it again, do you promise to go away?” she asked.
The colossus thought for a moment, then accepted the proposal.
“Okay,” said the girl. “I'll try.”
She screwed in her hands toward her body and thrust them forward toward Galio. To her disappointment, nothing but a tiny spark of light glinted from her fingers. She tried again, and again, getting less of a result each time.
“I must be tired,” she realized.
“Rest,” suggested Galio. “Then when you are refreshed you can give me your magic.”
“Hmm,” thought Lux, mulling the suggestion. “I can't get rid of you, and I have no place to go. Suppose I might as well bed down.”
She began feeling around the ground for a comfortable patch of grass. Once she'd found a suitable place, she lay down and wrapped her cloak snugly around herself.
“Well, I'm going to sleep now,” she said with a yawn. “You should too.”
“No. I sleep too much,” replied Galio.
“Can you just... I don't know, freeze yourself for a while, then?”
“I do not work that way,” said the colossus.
“Then be still and pretend you're not alive.”
“Yes. I will just stand here and watch you rest, girl person,” said Galio.
“Please don't,” insisted Lux. “I can't sleep with you staring at me. Can you... turn around?”
Galio honored the girl's wish, turning himself away from her, toward the distant lights of the Demacian capital. It was not as interesting as the girl, but it would suffice.
Making do with the modicum of privacy, Lux closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Once she was certain Galio would not turn around, she quietly got up and crept away into the night.
Luxanna walked quickly, knowing her first order of business was getting as far away as possible from the colossus. If she didn't, her magic would still empower him, and he would surely come looking for her. By morning, every patrol in the kingdom would be searching for the missing Crownguard girl who had vanished in the night. They'd surely notice the walking national monument following her, and they'd know the girl must be the magical source that had awakened it.
Lux's aching legs quickened to a sprint. She had only a vague idea of her surroundings. It was difficult to find any landmarks at this black hour of night. All she knew for sure was the Cloudwoods were nearby - their thick, towering redbarks forming the skyline to the south. It would be an ideal place to hide from any search parties, and a good foraging ground for breakfast. She could cross the forest in two days time and find shelter in one of the Vaskasian timber villages, where people were unlikely to recognize her. It was not a brilliant plan, by any stretch, but it was the best she had.
Lux could see the beginnings of the forest coming into view, its trees progressing in height like a pyramid, with the largest in the center. As she crossed the threshold of the woods, she paused a moment to grieve what she was abandoning. She would miss her brother Garen, and her beloved steed Starfire, and even her mother, but this was the way it had to be.
A shadow fades before the light, she reassured herself, and then stepped into the blackness of the dense evergreen woods.
After an hour of plowing her way through the barbed, resinous branches of the forest, Lux already found herself doubting her plan. Her stomach was growling, and any confidence she'd had in finding a clear path through the trees had vanished with the brightest moon behind the clouds. All around she could hear the snorts and rustles of nocturnal animals, and that made her nervous.
Just a little light, she thought. Surely just a little won't hurt, way out here.
She began to conjure a luminescent orb between her hands. For a brief moment, a flicker of light danced on her fingertips, causing an audible ruckus in the creatures around her.
But the light snuffed out as quickly as it came, returning all to blackness. Lux looked at the outlines of her hands, inspecting them for flaws. She wondered what could have hampered her from doing what had previously come so easily and unbidden.
It's the colossus, she realized. It must be.
She suddenly became aware of voices in the woodland murmur. Slow, purposeful footsteps, and whispers. They were-
An arm shot around Lux's throat and restrained her. She could sense the presence of at least two other men to her sides.
“Where are you headed tonight, miss?” asked one of the men.
Lux stammered, not quite formulating a response. The man restraining her tightened his grip.
“You're supposed to be in the annulment slums, yeah?” he said.
“No...” Lux gasped, the man's arm wedged firmly under her chin. “I'm not...”
“We aren't fools, miss,” said the third man. “Come on, let's take you back.”
Lux struggled to free her arms as the men tried to bind them with coarse rope. She concentrated, but still could not summon the magic that had apparently once been hers.
She freed one hand, struck one of the men squarely in the jaw, and heard the twigs on the ground crunch as he fell. The two other men angrily descended on her.
“You shouldn't have done that,” said one of them with a scowl. “You really shouldn't have done that.”
The men began to tighten her bindings. They were making a point to pull the knots as tightly and painfully as possible, when the ground began to vibrate with dull thunderous beat. The men paused in dread, searching for the source of the noise, as it slowly increased in frequency and volume.
It rumbled like an earthquake, only broken up into steady rhythmic booms... like gigantic footsteps.
And they were getting nearer.
“What is it?” asked one man, too frightened to move.
The ground shook more, and its quaking was joined by the crackling of great trees being broken apart. Whatever it was, it was now in the forest and almost upon them.
All looked up to see the monstrous Galio, striding toward them, a path of felled redbarks in his wake. The men ran, getting only a few steps through the trees before a giant petricite hand snatched them up high into the air. Galio glared with one enormous eye at the trembling wads of flesh held tight in his grip.
“Is it time for fighting?” said the colossus with a grin. “I will engage you!”
He opened his clenched fist, and raised the other hand as if to smash the men between his palms.
“No!” said a tiny voice. “Please stop!”
The colossus found Lux on the ground below, beating on his ankles with her bound arms.
“It isn't right!” she shouted.
Confused, Galio lowered the men to the ground and released them. Lux heard the quick patter of the men's feet, sprinting away from her with the urgency of hunted elk. As she wriggled out of her bindings, she gazed up at the colossus.
“I turned around and you were gone, girl person,” he said. “Why are you in the trees?”
“I- I don't know,” Luxanna managed.
Galio reclined on a hillside, gazing at the stars with the tiny yellow-headed girl he had befriended. Neither spoke, save for an occasional sigh - not the stressful gasps that Lux had previously known. These were the sounds of two beings that had found utter contentment in each other's company.
“I do not usually awaken for this long,” said the colossus.
“Me neither,” said the girl, with an enormous yawn.
“How do people spend time together without battle? Should we have a conversation?”
“No. This is nice,” said the girl. “I feel... calm.”
A frown crossed Galio's face. There was something different about the girl. Something missing. She no longer shone like the stars.
“Why are you sad? You've cured me,” said the girl. “As long as you're near me, I can return home and be normal.”
Galio did not brighten or look up. The girl continued her thought.
“I mean, maybe I can just come visit you every day to keep my affliction away—”
“No,” said the titan, finally locking eyes with her.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Young girl person, you are special. Since before you can remember, I have felt your gift. For so long, I wanted it near me. But now I see... I smash your gift.”
“But it gives you life.”
Galio pondered her words, but only for a moment. His mind was made up.
“Life to me is very valuable,” he said. “But your gift is everything. Never lose it.”
He got to his feet and gingerly placed the girl on his shoulder. Together, they began to trudge back toward the city to face what awaited.
The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon when Lux returned to her family manor. Outside the city walls, Galio was returning to stillness on his plinth beside the Memorial Road, leaving Lux to face her problems alone.
A shadow fades before the light, she thought, and she opened the latch to her front door.
She entered the house to find her mother sitting in the parlor with a balding middle-aged man, who held a case of exotic medical tinctures in his lap.
“Luxanna, so glad you decided to return home,” said Augatha, through clenched teeth.
Lux looked warily at the man on the couch.
“This is the man I was telling you about,” her mother whispered. “The one who's going to fix your... problem.”
Lux felt light-headed, as if her spirit was leaving her body to watch what she was about to say.
“You know what, mother?” she said, her voice trembling with words she'd been longing to say. “I don't think I want to see this man. In fact, I'd like you to send him away.”
The annuller looked offended. He stood and slung his bag over his shoulder.
“No, stay,” begged Augatha. She cornered Lux and began to speak with authority. “You do not know what you are saying. This man has risked everything to help you. It is the only way you're ever going to be Demacian. Have you forgotten your afflic-”
“I am not afflicted!” Lux cried out. “I am beautiful and valuable, and one day I will prove it to this kingdom! And if anyone has a problem with me, I've got a very large friend they can talk to.”
She strode upstairs to her room, leaving her mother alone with the annuller.
As Lux flopped onto her bed, she expelled a deep, easy breath. For the first time in years, her mind was as still as a pond in summer. The light that had once exploded from her unbidden was still there, but she could feel its beginning and its end, and knew that one day she could master it.
As she drifted off to sleep, she realized her mantra had always been wrong. No light could ever kill shadows.
A shadow thrives beside the light, she thought. It had a nice ring to it.
- For a detailed look, see Flesh and Stone.
- For Demacia serves as the second main event to re-introduce Demacia into the new canon.