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Short Story

Redeemed

By Phillip Vargas

Senna woke with a gasp, her breath pluming in the frigid night.

Lore

Senna woke with a gasp, her breath pluming in the frigid night. Slicked with sweat, her arms, legs, neck, and back were covered in a mantle of sand. A single thought tumbled through her mind.

You need to reach Bilgewater Crest icon.png Bilgewater.

She sat up, and saw the dark waters of the Holnek streaming past the lonely riverbank. Her instincts were pulling at her again, speaking to her as they had since childhood. She had learned long ago to trust those feelings and hunches—and now they were telling her to leave.

Lucian Lucian stirred in his sleep. He turned and pulled their bedroll away, leaving her bare. A gentle breeze chilled her skin even more, and she burrowed her toes in the sand, searching for warmth.

There was an unusual ebb in Harrowings, and so they had traveled north, to south-east Valoran, sailing upriver until they neared the Noxus Crest icon.png Noxian border. The pair had spent a short respite together in solitude, far from the storm that was their lives, a chance to rediscover one another after years of being apart. It was comfortable, like a well-worn cloak. Her instincts were ripping her away from the only refuge she and Lucian had known since they were reunited.

She swallowed the knot growing in her throat, and closed her eyes, searching her heart, hoping that she had misunderstood, that her instincts weren’t so cruel, that they could be bargained with.

But the feeling remained.

She stared at the vast darkness and felt the glare of countless stars—each one like a wretched soul waiting for deliverance, watching in silence as she lived the life they were denied. She had no right to squander salvation, these precious moments spent with Lucian.

He'll understand.

Lucian moaned softly in his sleep, head resting on a leather-bound tome. His breath quickened as he tossed beneath the bedroll, the moans growing louder. Senna shook his shoulder until he startled awake. He pushed himself up on his elbow, breathing heavily. As he readjusted to the waking world, he stared at her, through her, still seeing the woman from his nightmare, the one he failed to save from Thresh’s lantern, her years of imprisonment and torture. He took another deep breath, and relief settled in his eyes.

“Sorry,” he said, offering her the bedroll.

They watched the horizon. A radiant edge of purple and indigo heralded the approaching dawn.

You need to tell him.

Reluctantly, Senna turned to Lucian. “It’s time to go.”

“We were just getting settled in,” he said, still looking out across the water. He let out a heavy sigh. “Where to?”

“Bilgewater.”

He shook his head. “If there’s a Harrowing, it’ll be over before we ever reach port.”

There’s still time.

“If we leave now, we could be there in a few days,” Senna said.

“There’ll be nothing to do but bury the dead.”

Senna tensed at the bluntness of his words, the easy disregard of their duty as Sentinels of Light. But she knew it wasn’t that simple—his feelings ran deeper, and his lapse would be momentary. “There’s still a chance,” she insisted. “I can feel it.”

Lucian said nothing.

His heart is elsewhere.

She looked at the codex lying on the sand, its bronze clasp broken and pitted with age. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have come this far north,” she said. “It was careless.”

The ancient manuscript was Lucian’s latest acquisition, and the reason they had initially sailed to the region. He had procured it in Krexor, hoping it would reveal a way to end her curse, to free her of the Black Mist that had pursued her relentlessly since childhood—drawn to a spark of unnatural life that had infected her when she meddled with a force she didn’t understand. There were dozens of such volumes on their ship.

She’d often awoken at night, alone in their bedroll. She, shrouded in darkness. He, illuminated by candlelight, hunched over a tome, desperately seeking answers to questions she had long stopped asking.

Lucian finally turned to Senna. “There hasn’t been a Harrowing in months,” he said. The warmth had returned to his face, along with a tinge of remorse. “I wanted us to rest, if only for a while.”

A piece of Senna’s heart wanted nothing more. She longed to forget the horrors of the Black Mist, to look up at the night sky and see only stars.

“I know,” she said. “We both did.”

Lucian picked up the heavy codex and started to rise. Senna felt the chasm widen between them, leaving her alone on the other side. She took his hand, holding him fast. “We’ll start after dawn,” she said.

He sat back down on the sand, and they watched the sunrise.

They had broken camp shortly after dawn. Senna was hauling the last of their provisions up a narrow gangplank while Lucian untied the halyard, preparing to hoist the mainsail. They worked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts as the ship swayed in the calm waters of the Holnek.

She planted a wooden crate on the weathered deck, next to their other supplies. Their stores had dwindled during their stay. “We’ll need to resupply before heading to Bilgewater.”

Lucian nodded. “We can sail down the coast and provision in Holdrum, but we’ll also need to anchor at Mudtown.”

She gave him a curious look.

“There’s a weaponsmith in the Buhru Quarter that works with silver grenades,” he said.

“We’ll lose at least half a day in port.”

“If we’re headed into a Harrowing, Thresh Thresh will be there,” he said, eyes cold and flat.

Senna gazed at the deep waters of the river, its current flowing gently toward the sea. Her gut feelings were leading her to Bilgewater, but something didn’t seem quite right.

“The mist has been reaching out farther with each storm, like it’s searching for something,” she said. “Why return to Bilgewater?”

“Those islands are his favorite haunts.”

“This is bigger than Thresh,” she said, more sharply than she intended.

Lucian didn’t respond. Instead, he opened his canteen, took a long drink of water, and then slowly pushed the stopper back inside.

“He’s constantly scheming,” he finally said. “And all the other spirits are trapped in their suffering. Who knows what obsessions permeate what’s left of their minds?” He looked away, jaw clenched, lips pressed into a rigid line.

Senna thought of the chaotic patchwork of maps and lengths of twine that stretched across the walls in their cabin. Lucian had used them to track the Black Mist for years while she was imprisoned in the lantern.

He can’t see past his hatred.

Senna shook her head. It was more than just anger. Lucian viewed the mist as a horrific blight upon the world, a scourge of wraiths needing to be purified. But her time in the lantern had shown her a different way. She could use her powers to redeem those wretched souls, liberating them from suffering.

“The Ruined King Ruined King is behind these Harrowings. There’s longing there... an intelligence,” she said. “I can feel it. He’s—”

Something’s wrong!

A light flashed in the east.

Lucian opened his mouth to speak, but his words drowned before they reached Senna’s ears. Her legs weakened as an overwhelming weight pressed against her chest. She lunged for the ship’s railing but found Lucian’s hand instead.

Dark lightning slammed into Senna. The jolt sent her crashing against the deck, every limb contorted in searing pain, her body tensing and twisting as bones threatened to snap. A chorus of screams breached her mind. The anguished cries resounded and swelled until the world shattered in fragments of blinding light. She felt herself being torn away from Lucian and the boat and the shore, and the anchor that held her life in place.

Sadistic laughter ushered in the silence.

Ash fell gently on Senna’s face. She cracked open her eyes, flinching as she saw pinpricks of dark lightning crawling down her arms. Tortured screams still resonated in her mind. Slowly, her thoughts cleared, and the arcs of energy dissipated. Only the echo of laughter remained.

No. No. No... Something’s wrong... You need to get up.

She struggled to a knee, braced her arm on her leg, and rose in a scattering of ash and cinders. Air, thick and sweltering, rushed past her face like heat from an open furnace, the tang of a burning world on her tongue. She tottered on baked clay—the ship had disappeared, leaving her alone on a plain of sun-cracked mud that stretched across a desolate wasteland, veiled in a haze. A triad of mountains towered in the distance, their fiery crowns spewing smoke into the ruddy sky.

Senna was back in the lantern.

Dread rose in her chest, hammering her heart and hitching her breath. She clutched her hands to ease their trembling, and inhaled deeply.

You’re wrong. This can’t be the lantern.

But she had seen this before, or something similar: scorched wastelands, frozen tundras, bustling streets in chaotic cities. The landscape perpetually changed and warped in the spectral prison, as varied as its tortures.

No, this is something else.

Senna shook away the doubt and squeezed her eyes shut. “Do not deny this truth,” she whispered to herself. “Not again.”

In the early days of her imprisonment, she had wasted precious months, perhaps years, unable to accept her own death, trapped in a cycle of misery and loneliness. She wouldn’t repeat that mistake. She had escaped once—she would do so again. Her eyes opened, and she looked for a way out.

A scream sounded from somewhere far away.

Senna called to the Black Mist, but drew smoke and embers instead. The poor substitutes rushed in, transforming her into a wraith, shrouded by death. She moved, and the world blurred in a smear of color, hues shifting rapidly as the landscape changed.

She stopped with a jolt, and Bilgewater snapped into place. But it wasn’t the Bilgewater she knew. The harbor lay ruined, overrun by a massive Harrowing. Rotting timber, slime-coated stonework, the bones of decaying leviathans, all melded into twisted spires. The warped amalgamations floated in midair among the broken hulls of ravaged ships and hundreds of charnel coffins once submerged in the sea. A fortune in tithes drifted amid the debris, glittering like ghostly stars.

Senna released the darkness, and her body returned, the waterlogged planks of the boardwalk creaking beneath her weight. She walked along the causeway and came across the wreckage of a hunting vessel run aground, its copper-tipped prow skewering the remains of a seaside tavern.

A figure stood at the center of the destruction. It was a statue of a woman, its arms raised in supplication, mottled face frozen in terror. Senna felt a strange familiarity, like a half-remembered dream, and a deluge of sorrow poured over her. Hand quivering, she reached out and lightly brushed the statue’s cheek. The face collapsed, and the entire figure began to break apart. Slowly at first, and then all at once, the stone woman crumbled into a heap of ash.

He found her!

An unfamiliar fear swelled inside Senna, urging her to take flight. She pushed it away. Of course he had found her, whoever she was. There was no hiding from Thresh; this was his domain. She had witnessed countless tortures, each soul an endless opportunity for the Chain Warden to delight in their suffering. Senna regarded the pile of ash.

This isn’t Thresh.

It didn’t feel quite right. In all her years in the lantern, she had never encountered anything like this. Perhaps he had refined his technique. If there was one constant, it was his pursuit of perfecting misery.

She looked out at the dark waters of Bilgewater Bay. The fiery mountain range loomed from afar, spanning the horizon. She knew this to be untrue, a construct of the lantern. There were no mountains south of Bilgewater. She would have had to sail around—

A stray thought flitted through her mind. She reached for it, grabbed it, and turned it over. The vault unlocked, releasing a memory.

She had been going to Bilgewater—no, they had been going to Bilgewater. Lucian! He would be fighting out there, desperate to free her from the lantern, suffering alone, as he had for years. It had almost broken him.

Senna’s consciousness reached out across the great expanse. She smiled, feeling Lucian’s love nearby. But there was something else, profound and urgent. It was panic. She had felt it in Lucian only once before—when Thresh had killed her.

Pushing away her mounting dread, she narrowed her focus and spoke. “Lucian... I’m here.”

Silence.

She tried again, and again, and again, every attempt yielding the same result—Lucian remained unmoved by her call. In the past, she had been able to communicate with him from within the lantern, but Thresh must have found a way to suppress her voice.

Her body trembled in desperation and fury. She shut her eyes, whispering the mantras she’d learned long ago. “Carve away the unwanted. Keep only the stone. Carve away the unwanted. Keep only the stone.”

She opened her eyes with renewed determination. Thresh hadn’t beaten her yet.

The rules of nature didn’t apply in the lantern. The ancient relic was an ever-shifting realm crafted for suffering. It appeared infinitely vast, but Senna knew the truth—she had discovered the lantern’s terminus and pressed against its walls, feeling its seams.

As she studied the sky, her stomach quivered.

This isn’t the lantern.

She paused, reflecting again on those early days and the hard facts she had come to accept. She quelled the denials and continued searching. Dark plumes erupted from the fiery peaks, sending black tendrils of soot to mar the sky. She needed to pierce the cinereous veil.

Drawing smoke and embers into her, she transformed once again, and Bilgewater blurred away as she took to the heavens. Senna flew across the ocean, ascending ever higher. But the mountains rose up as well, rumbling and spewing vapor in her path. She veered to avoid the acrid clouds, but the blazing peaks altered course with her, ever present and unavoidable.

Darkness spread across the horizon—a great fog threatening to consume all in its path. Unable to evade the shifting billows, she plunged into the gloom. A storm roared around her, the wailing of countless souls pushing against her like a headwind.

This isn’t the way. You need to turn back.

Hand outstretched, she pressed even higher. A light flickered beyond her fingertips, and her doubts faded as she sought the edge of the lantern. The light sparked brighter and suddenly snapped at her fingers. She pulled back her hand, but the sting was already flaring into searing pain, stiffening her spectral form. Dark energy surged and leashed her in midair.

Senna fell from the sky.

She awoke on hard-packed dirt. Her human form had returned, an aching, knotted cord covered in a dusting of cinders and ash. She rolled onto her back, groaning and wincing as arcs of lightning crackled down her clammy flesh. They dissipated, leaving behind a stinging numbness.

Physical torture was foreign to the lantern. Thresh rarely resorted to such debased forms of suffering. The mind and soul were richer fields to plant seeds of torment. Perhaps this was her punishment for escaping. And yet, it still felt wrong.

You need to get up!

She staggered to a knee, but her leg gave under her weight, and she crumpled back to the ground. The world dimmed as clouds stretched across the sky, pushing away the last remaining color.

You need to fight... You’re dying!

Senna laughed at the absurdity of the thought. There were fates worse than death. She had endured them for years—she would bear them again.

But as the shadows grew, she began to fear what was in store for her this time. Her brief taste of freedom would make her captivity more desolate, her loneliness and torments greater than before.

And then, she had an even more sinister thought.

No! Don’t think that!

Perhaps she had never escaped. What if she had watched Lucian suffer defeat after defeat, and her broken mind had imagined a different outcome, one that lifted her from this pit of misery? Perhaps her escape had been nothing but a delusion.

As realization flared, Senna wailed, a primal sound filled with rage and despair. No. She hadn’t created this deception—it was made by Thresh.

It’s not true!

She shook her head, furious for clinging to false hope.

You need to get up!

“No,” she said, clutching her temples.

You need to fight!

“No, he’s won. This was his plan.”

If you stay here, you’ll die!

“I’m already dead!” she screamed. “I’m just a dead thing that’s cursed!” Her voice broke, along with something inside. She folded over, curling herself up to become small. Her cries of grief echoed through the great expanse.

It wasn’t meant to be a curse, Senna. What I gave you was a gift.

Senna bolted upright. The words had been heavy and sharp, piercing her mind like a dagger. They weren’t her own.

She swayed on her feet, ignoring the numbness in her legs. “Stay out of my head,” she said. “Do you hear me, Thresh?!”

No laughter. No admission. Nothing.

The mountains had receded, their fiery peaks muted in gray. Senna stood alone among the falling embers. Energy crackled on her skin, bolts raking down her body.

“Is that all you have, Chain Warden?” she asked through gritted teeth. “You’ve lost your touch.”

I’m not the Warden, sweet Senna. But I’ve also known his tortures.

The voice was melodious and sorrowful and resonated with fragile tenderness. Senna had met others in the lantern, communing with them over their shared loneliness and suffering. Perhaps...

“Who are you?”

Silence, and then...

A friend. Someone who can help you get back to Lucian.

Bitterness rose in Senna’s throat. “How do you know that name?”

I know your whole life. I’m here to help, but you’ll need to trust me.

“You’re here to offer hope?” She laughed, but there was no humor in it. “I was wrong. You haven’t lost your touch. It’s more refined.” Senna whirled around, searching for the specter. “Your games are done, Chain Warden,” she said. “The cycle is broken. Here and now. Show yourself!”

The world unfurled and changed, revealing clear skies over white sands and an emerald sea. Waves lapped at her feet, her ankles, her knees. She cast her gaze inland and gasped. Beyond a ridge of white dunes sat a dense grove, its wide-fronded trees native to her island. Senna was home.

She heard a soft melody coming from beneath the canopy, evoking memories of her mother singing by the fireside. Senna held her breath, watching as a young girl exited the treeline, humming the long-forgotten hymn.

She recognized the child—it was her.

The girl strolled toward the shore, probing dunes with a carved walking stick. A cold swell washed over Senna. This was the fateful morning. The day everything changed. By evening, her innocence would be lost. She took a step toward the girl.

It’s only a memory, Senna. You can’t change anything.

“Then why bring me here? Is this another trick?”

There’s something I need you to see.

The girl’s eyes brightened. She bent down and plucked a seashell from the sand. Plump fingers caressed the pink husk before placing it in a pocket—one of dozens on her pant legs, each sewn by her mother, in different fabrics and patterns, to hold the countless treasures she found. The girl turned toward Senna and smiled.

Senna hesitated, then offered a timid wave.

She can’t see you.

The girl dashed at Senna, but then at the last moment, she swerved and splashed into the water next to her. Senna whirled, and dread knotted her stomach.

A shipwreck was washing ashore.

The girl poked inside a dark hollow in the broken hull with her staff, declaring she had “rights of salvage”. She giggled at the words, convinced their power gave her claim to the ship’s bounty.

Hands slicked with sweat, Senna grappled with the urge to snatch the girl and run. From her vantage point, she saw the danger the child did not—a tendril of Black Mist stirring in the wreckage.

“She doesn’t know of the darkness she’s about to unleash on all the people she loves,” she said.

But Senna’s angle also revealed something she hadn’t seen before. As the mist uncoiled and sought to prey on the child, beneath the water, a glowing sphere approached, its filaments of light breaking the surface, searching. The sphere flitted toward the girl and seeped into her spine. The girl stiffened for a moment, eyes wide with fear and confusion.

Do you remember what happened next?

“I-I sensed the danger before I saw it... My mind was screaming... A voice was telling me to run.”

The girl flung her wooden staff at the dark tendril, and bolted into the woods.

Senna grew thoughtful, recalling the warning that saved her life. “But it wasn’t my voice. It was yours.”

The water stirred at Senna’s feet as a trio of luminous filaments rose from the sea. They turned and twisted, knitting together into a brilliant silhouette of hallowed light that gradually formed into the spirit of a young woman. The radiance washed away the details of her face, leaving only an impression of kindness and love. A rush of sorrow and joy overwhelmed Senna, like waters from a broken levee.

“The attack wasn’t your fault,” said the spirit. She spoke with her true voice and not through Senna’s mind. “You were alive. And that’s the one thing the Black Mist cannot abide, for it abhors all life.”

The words lifted a weight Senna had carried all her life. Unburdened, she was able to see the moment in a different way. “I should’ve died on that beach. I’d be another wraith, screaming in the mist, if you hadn’t warned me.” She paused to consider. “Why did you help me?

The spirit’s thoughts seemed to go far away, and although her face remained hazy behind the hallowed light, Senna saw the hint of a smile on her lips. “I was a girl once, playing with dolls, singing as I made believe.” She fixed her gaze on Senna. “Life should be preserved.”

“But you stayed afterward,” Senna said, her voice shaking. “All these years, the Black Mist wasn’t drawn to me—it was you. The unnatural life. You’re the curse.”

“If I could have spared you that pain... ripped myself out... I would have. I tried for years, but I didn’t know how.” The spirit turned and looked down at the water. “And then... to watch you grow, from that frightened girl into this fierce woman, a Sentinel of Light fighting back the mist—I had to see it through.”

Senna arranged the pieces. That first night. Her village. Her home. All those loves swept away in dark waves. The chasm between her and those who survived. The fear in their eyes. Years spent running in terror. Losing people who tried to protect her. Losing Urias, her mentor. The walls she’d built to guard against the horror and the guilt, believing she had brought the curse upon herself.

“I was a little girl—if I had known the truth...”

“It was best that I didn’t interfere,” the spirit said, wringing her ghostly hands. “To learn you were conjoined to some unwelcome passenger, it would have robbed you of your own heart.”

“But you did interfere,” Senna shot back. “The itch down my spine. The wrench of my gut. Even the whispers in my mind. It’s always been you!”

The spirit hung her head in shame. “I was only helping you... when it was necessary.”

Help? Is that what that was? All these years, you let me suffer alone!” Senna hardened, venom lacing her voice. “Why reveal yourself now?”

The spirit met Senna’s glare, her eyes tender but resolute. “You were never alone, Senna. I just couldn’t reach you through the veil, until now.”

The world shifted once again, as the white sands and emerald sea were blown away by a sulfurous wind. The pair remained on the island, but now the waters raged, and the mountains towered much closer than before. Ash rained down.

Senna thought about these new revelations, as well as the discoveries she had made in the lantern, secrets learned from other fallen Sentinels. This spirit’s presence had marked her, leading her down a path to death and captivity. But that unnatural life had also kept her alive in the lantern, empowering her to escape. And now, it was still helping her. She knew in her bones that her life was tied to this spirit.

Senna had many questions and lingering resentment, but she let them burn away like dying embers. Escape was the only thing that mattered.

“You’ve been warning me that this isn’t the lantern,” she said, watching the waves crash against the shore. “This is all in my mind, isn’t it?”

“Yes. But the threat is very real. It was Thresh’s powers that struck you down,” said the spirit. “His reach extends across the world, but Bilgewater is his goal for now.”

“Then he’s the key. Lucian was right.”

“The Warden is of consequence. But his cruelty only helped set things into motion... for him,” she said, motioning toward the horizon. Senna followed the spirit’s gesture to the mountain peaks. They rumbled across the ocean, pouring out thick gouts of darkness. “You’ve seen him in catacombs, and temples, and distant shores.” The spirit smiled wanly. “Trust your instincts.”

“What does he want?”

“To possess what is no longer his,” she said, the softness gone from her voice, the hallowed light flaring with her words. “He’s a child with a bitter heart, who would rather make the world share his misery than face it alone.”

“How do we stop him?”

“You’re the best hope. The years of training, the powers you wield, even your time in the lantern, all helped you become a formidable weapon.” The spirit looked away, eyes pooling with remorse. “I’ll be with you, every step of the way... Yet I fear, in the end, it may take all we have.”

Senna simply nodded. “I’ve lived. I’ve fought. I’ve died. And still, I feel the warmth of Lucian’s arms, even now,” she said. “This curse is a gift.” She had come to accept it, even if Lucian had not. Squaring her shoulders, she turned her attention back to the mission. “Can we make it to Bilgewater in time?”

The spirit seemed to ponder the question. “The attack is already under—”

Before she could finish, the spirit’s form tensed with fear.

Arcs of dark light spiked through Senna, driving her to one knee. She gasped for air as color drained from the sky. The heavens pressed in, and the world collapsed into a cavern of swirling ashfall. Every blistering jolt narrowed the cave even more—eventually it would become her tomb.

Senna twisted, fighting the contortions of her body, and looked to the spirit. The apparition was folded over, writhing, trembling, sharing in the misery. Lightning pulsed across her ghostly form, searing away her hallowed light.

“What... is... this?” Senna wheezed.

“Thresh... His attack is still destroying your body... You must drive out his power.”

Senna focused on the dark energy, bound it with her own light, and pushed it away as she would the Black Mist. It flowed out in a steady stream. But as it reached the tipping point, the power resisted and rushed back in, dousing her in pain. She crumpled to the ground.

Her strength was rapidly fading, but underneath her dwindling light, she felt an untapped reserve of radiant power. It belonged to the spirit.

“You say I’m never alone? Then prove it!” Senna grabbed the woman’s spectral hand. “Channel your light and add it to my own.”

She turned toward Senna, though it looked painful to do so. “I’ve never—”

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you,” she said, forcing a smile through the agony.

Together, they channeled their light and pushed against the dark energy. They met resistance, but only for a moment, and then the nightmare exploded in a blinding flash of white.

Senna woke with a gasp. She sat up, dark lightning still erupting from her chest. It dissipated in the cool morning air, and she collapsed in Lucian’s arms.

“No, Senna... Not again, please...” Lucian’s voice quavered, his body shuddering as he held fast.

“It’s—it’s passed... I’m okay.” She waited for a moment, feeling his heartbeat gradually slow, his trembling subside. Then she gently pulled away.

“What is that?” Lucian asked, confusion and fear in his eyes.

A faint light glowed in her chest. Senna remained perfectly still, until the light faded away. She waited, listening, feeling, hoping for the slightest hint. “Are you still there?” she finally asked, her voice tremulous.

Yes,” said Lucian and the spirit, in her mind and in her ear.

Senna exhaled and smiled.

Lucian was staring at her, nodding, searching for answers. She met his gaze, and said, “We need to get to Bilgewater—something terrible has happened.”

He was about to speak, to rattle off a litany of questions, but she reached for his hand. “I’ll explain what I can, but we need to leave, now.”

Lucian sighed, a heavy and reluctant sound, but he helped her to her feet and prepared to launch. The ship gently creaked and swayed on the river, tugging against its anchor, ready to set sail. Senna looked toward the east, breathing in the new day, sunlight shimmering off the water.

For the first time in a long time, she didn’t feel alone.

References