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Short Story • 17 Minute Read

The Principles of Strength

By Anthony Reynolds Lenné

My name is Alyssa Roshka Gloriana val-Lokan. For almost two millennia, my ancestors ruled the Delverhold as kings.


My name is Alyssa Roshka Gloriana val-Lokan. For almost two millennia, my ancestors ruled the Delverhold as kings.

Warlords, nations and would-be empires sought to overthrow us, jealous of the wealth the Ironspike Mountains offered up to us, but none could breach our fastness. They broke against our walls like ocean waves, and fell back from the doom of our blades.

All of them failed... until Noxus came.

And then my family were kings no more.

She held her head high as they climbed the Stairs of Triumph. Liveried guards stood sentinel every twelve steps, but her flinty gaze was locked forward, unwavering. This might have been Alyssa's first time in the capital, but she refused to be overawed; she would not gawk like some provincial lowborn. She was of the Delverhold, and the blood of kings flowed through her veins.

The steps were flanked by guards clad in dark steel. The ore used in the forging of their armor came from the depths below her mountain home. All the best plate in Noxus started there, deep under the mountains. For five generations, ever since her realm had been conquered by Noxus and incorporated into the empire, it had been so.

Red banners rippled in the evening's dry wind as they ascended. The scent of coalfire and industry wafted upon that hot breeze. In Noxus, the forges rarely cooled.

The Immortal Bastion loomed before them, dark and threatening.

“They flaunt their wealth and decadence, while we live as paupers,” said her brother, Oram. She looked askance at him, striding beside her.

Oram Arkhan val-Lokan. Broad-shouldered, strong of arm, and undeniably skilled with a blade, he was also arrogant and limited of mind—in Alyssa's opinion—but she kept her disdain concealed behind an impassive, unexpressive mask. He was her elder, if only by a matter of minutes, and was only two steps removed from ruling the Delverhold himself. Alyssa was well aware of her place.

Outwardly, the fact they were twins was obvious. Both were tall and athletic in stature, and each had the cold eyes of the family line, as well as the proud demeanor of those born to nobility. Both wore their long, black hair bound artfully in tight braids, they each bore angular facial tattoos and wore shale-grey cloaks over their armor.

They reached the top of the stairs. There was a flutter of wings, and a raven flew low over their heads.

Alyssa almost flinched, but caught herself. “Should we consider that an ill omen, brother?”

She saw Oram's hands turn to fists.

“Too long have we filled the coffers of Noxus and armored its soldiers,' he snarled, making only the barest pretense in keeping his voice out of the earshot of the guards. “And for what?”

For survival, Alyssa thought, though she didn't speak it aloud.

A pair of warriors clad in full plate awaited them outside the great metal doors of the palace. They stood to attention, heavy axe-headed halberds gripped in their gauntlets. The three indentations in their breastplates and their dark red cloaks and tabards informed Alyssa these were no regular guards.

“Legionaries,” breathed Oram, his usual bluster and arrogance forgotten.

In a nation of killers, the elite Trifarian Legion was feared and respected above all—by both friend and foe alike. It was said that their mere presence had seen cities and nations take the knee, rather than face them in battle.

“They honor us,” Alyssa said. “Come brother. It's time we meet this so-called 'Council of Three' for ourselves.”

The first thing anyone saw as they entered the audience chamber was the throne of the old Noxian emperors. It was an immense thing, carved of obsidian, blunt and angular, and the innumerable hanging banners, sharply angled pillars, and the burning sconces all worked to direct the eye back toward it. It dominated the space entirely. The throne sat empty, however, as it had since the previous Grand General of Noxus had died.

Not died, Alyssa corrected herself. Been executed.

No emperor for Noxus, no tyrant upon the throne. Not any longer.

Before she'd left the Delverhold, Alyssa had been counselled regarding this new leadership.

“The Trifarix,” her father's chief advisor had named it. “Three together, each representing one of the core Principles of Strength—Vision, Might, and Guile. The theory is, where a single individual could doom Noxus through incompetence, madness or corruption, now there will always be two others to hold any rogue third accountable.”

To Alyssa, it was an intriguing concept, but one that remained untested in practice.

The chamber felt cavernous, large enough to house over a thousand petitioners, but at this moment it was empty, other than three figures sat at a simple table of marbled stone at the foot of the throne's raised platform.

The two grim, unspeaking warriors of the Trifarian Legion escorted Alyssa and her brother towards the trio, their footfalls echoing sharply upon the cold floor. The three were deep in discussion, but they ceased their talk as the siblings of the Delverhold came towards them. They were seated in a row, facing the approaching envoys like a silent panel of judgement.

Two of them she knew by reputation. Of the third… well, no one knew anything, really.

In the center, keen-eyed and unblinking, sat Jericho Swain Jericho Swain—the renowned visionary, the new Grand General. Some among the noble houses still called him usurper, since it was he who had dragged the madman Boram Darkwill from the throne of Noxus, but none of them said it to his face. His gaze, which seemed to see too much, bore first into Oram, then Alyssa. She resisted the urge to stare at the sleeve of his left arm, tucked within his dark coat. It was said he had lost the limb during the failed invasion of Ionia, severed by some blade-witch blade-witch of that fey archipelago.

To his right sat Darius Darius, the legendary Hand of Noxus, leader of the elite Trifarian Legion, and now commander of all the empire's armies. He was the embodiment of might itself; where Swain sat rigidly upright, Darius slouched back, the fingers of one gauntleted hand drumming a steady tattoo upon the wooden armrest of his chair. His arms were massive, his expression hard.

The third figure—only ever referred to as “the Faceless”— was a mystery. This individual sat unmoving, bedecked from head to toe in a many-layered, voluminous robe. They wore a blank, staring, glossy-black mask, and even the eye-holes were obscured with dark mesh, giving away nothing as to their identity. Their hands, too, were concealed, hidden in sleeves of thick fabric. Alyssa thought she perceived a vaguely feminine aspect to the mask, but that might simply have been the way it happened to catch the light.

A barely perceptible inclination of the chin from Darius dismissed the legionaries that had escorted them in. The two warriors slammed their armored fists to their breastplates in salute, and retreated a half dozen steps, leaving Alyssa and her brother alone before the Trifarix.

“Sit, please,” said Swain, indicating the chairs opposite.

“I prefer to stand, Grand General,” replied Oram.

“As you wish.”

There was something undeniably threatening and predatory about the Grand General, Alyssa decided… considering he was a cripple heading into his twilight years…

“Oram and Alyssa val-Lokan, third and fourth-born children of the Governor of the Delverhold,” he continued. “It's a long journey from the Ironspike Mountains. I take it this is not a social visit.”

“I come bearing the seal of my father,” said Oram, “to speak in his name.”

“Get on with it, then,” said Darius, his voice the warning growl of a murk-wolf murk-wolf. “No ceremony. This is Noxus, not some noble court.”

His accent was rough and earthy, not cultured like Swain's. The voice of a commoner. Alyssa could almost feel her brother's sneer.

“For decades, the Delverhold has served loyally,” Oram began, emphasizing the nobility of his own accent, perhaps in an unwise show of superiority. “Our gold feeds the campaigns of conquest. Our iron clads and arms the warbands of the empire. The Trifarian Legion too.”

Darius remained unimpressed. “Ironspike ore makes the best armor. I would not have the Legion protected in anything else. You should be proud.”

“We are proud, my lord,” said Alyssa.

“I am no lord. Especially not yours.”

Swain smiled, raising his hand. “What he means to say is—in Noxus, no man or woman is born superior to another. It is not by bloodline that one earns their place, but by their deeds.”

“Of course,” Alyssa demurred, cursing herself inwardly for her mistake.

“We toil likes slaves in the darkness of the deep-mines below the mountains,” Oram went on. “And every day we watch as the fruits of our labors are taken from us in great wagon trains that come back empty. We are scarcely able to feed our—”

“Oh, really?” Swain exclaimed, raising an eyebrow. “Please, show me your palms.”

“What?” said Oram, taken aback.

“Show us your hands, boy,” said Darius, leaning on the polished surface of the table between them. “Show us these hands that toil in the rock and dust and darkness beneath your mountain fortress.”

Oram squared his jaw, refusing to be drawn.

Darius scoffed. “Never struggled a day in his life, this one. Her neither. The only calluses you two possess certainly didn't come from hard work.”

“I will not be spoken to in such a manner by…” Oram began, but Alyssa placed a placating hand upon his shoulder. He angrily shrugged it off, but wisely chose not to finish the thought. “The mountains are being bled dry,” he said, his voice more measured. “It is unsustainable, and that is not good for anyone—not for us, and certainly not for the armies of Noxus. There must be concession.”

“Tell me, Oram Arkhan val-Lokan,” said Swain, “how many warriors does the Delverhold send out to fight for Noxus? Approximately. Annually.”

“None, sir. But that is by-the-by. Our people serve better working the mines and guarding the northern frontiers from barbarian attack. That is where our chief value to Noxus lies.”

Swain sighed. “Of all the provinces, city-states and nations that submit to Noxus, the Delverhold stands alone in providing no soldiers to join our warhosts. You do not bleed for Noxus. You have never bled for Noxus. Is that not concession enough?”

“It is not,” Oram replied, curtly. “We have come at our father's behest to renegotiate our tithes, or the Delverhold will have no option but to reconsider its place within the Noxian empire.”

The room had become very still. Even Darius had ceased the incessant tapping of his fingers.

Alyssa's face drained of color, and stared at her brother in horror. This was a turn she had not been privy to, and her mind reeled at its implications. The Faceless continued to gaze levelly at her, from behind that glossy mask.

“I see,” said Swain, finally. “I believe I know your father's real purpose in sending the two of you here, but the question is… do you?”

Oram nodded to Alyssa. “Show them,” he ordered, his eyes flashing in anger.

She took a deep breath, and brought forth a scroll case. Unhooking its end with trembling fingers, she slid free an old sheaf of parchment, covered in intricate, angular writing in Ur-Noxian. It bore both the seal of the Delverhold, and the blood-red crest of Noxus. She placed it upon the table, and smoothed it flat before standing back at her brother's side—although half a step behind, as was her place, according to Ironspike custom.

Darius appeared disinterested, but both Swain and the Faceless leaned forward to look upon the document. Once again, Alyssa found herself trying to get any sense of who it was that hid behind the mask.

“When the Delverhold submitted to Noxian rule, eighty-seven years ago,” said Oram, “our ancestors gave up their sovereign rights and bowed before the throne of Noxus—the very throne I see before me now, empty.”

Darius glowered at him. “And…?”

“The terms are clear, as you can see for yourself, as to where we pledged our allegiance. The last man to sit on that throne died a little over seven years ago,” said Oram, gesturing up at the dais. “As far as our father is concerned, this piece of paper is now worthless. The Delverhold is under no obligation to continue to pay any tithes at all, but has continued to do so as an act of good faith. However, if our concessions are not met, the Delverhold will be forced to extricate itself from the empire. The Ironspike region will no longer be under our immediate protection.”

Alyssa wanted to look away, wanted to run, but found herself rooted to the spot as she waited for the reaction of the council.

“History only remembers the victors,” Darius warned them. “Stand with Noxus, and be remembered forever. Stand against us, and you will be crushed and forgotten.”

“No army has ever breached the Delverhold,” said Oram. “Our forefathers opened the gates to Noxus willingly, remember. No blood was spilled.”

“You're playing a dangerous game, boy.” Darius pointed to the warriors standing a few paces behind Alyssa and Oram. “Just two of the Trifarian Legion could walk in and take your precious Delverhold. I wouldn't even trouble myself to go with them.”

As if to emphasize his point, the two legionaries slammed the butts of their halberds into the floor, the sound echoing like a thunderclap.

Oram scoffed at the display, but Darius's confidence struck Alyssa. He did not seem to be a man to make idle boasts.

“Enough,” said Swain, with a wave of his hand. “Let us hear what these concessions would entail.”

The silver moon had passed its zenith in the night sky overhead by the time Alyssa and Oram left the palace. They began making their way toward the nearby estate that served as their base of operations within the capital.

Alyssa was quiet and brooding, her stomach a tight knot of unease, but her brother seemed energized by the encounter with the rulers of Noxus.

“Swain will agree to our terms! I'm sure of it,” he gushed. “He knows the Delverhold is too important to the empire to allow father to close its gates.”

“This is madness,” Alyssa muttered. “We walk in there and you threaten them? That was your plan?”

“That was father's plan.”

“Why didn't you tell me?”

“Would you have agreed to it, had you known?”

“Of course not,” Alyssa replied. “This is a fool's errand. We may just as well have offered ourselves up for the next Fleshing…”

“If Swain is convinced, we only need one of the others to join him for them to concede to our terms,” said Oram, seeming not to hear her concerns. “That is how the Trifarix works. Their leadership cannot be deadlocked, when only two of them need agree on anything to get it done.”

“Darius will never agree.”

“Darius is an arrogant dog. He thinks he could send two men to take the Delverhold? Pah! But I fear you are right. While he objects, that leaves only the Faceless. Our future prosperity lies with the vote of whoever is behind that mask.”

“Then there is nothing more to do but wait to hear what our fates will be,” said Alyssa, a hint of bitterness in her voice.

Oram's eyes gleamed dangerously. “Not necessarily.”

The knot in Alyssa's stomach tightened a little more as he began to explain.

Dawn was still several hours away, but Alyssa was already uncomfortably warm as she made her way swiftly and quietly through the streets of the capital. At the head of a contingent of Delverguard, she wore a tight-fitting helmet of dark steel, and already she could feel her hair dampening with sweat beneath it.

There were a dozen of them in all, cloaked and hooded over their armor. All carried heavy crossbows, with blades strapped at their waists. In this city, it was not at all unusual to see armed warbands from all across the empire; if anyone saw them, their weapons would not raise alarm, and yet Alyssa could not shake the feeling they were being watched.

And, somehow, that the observer knew their intent.

The streets and alleys of Noxus were narrow and twisting, designed to stifle and frustrate any attacking force that managed to penetrate the city's outer defenses. The rooftops were flat and crenellated, like the battlements of a castle, allowing any soldiers above to dominate any enemy below. Alyssa eyed those dark rooftops warily. Anyone could be up there, marking their progress. They could well be walking into an ambush…

A flutter of black wings overhead made her skid to a halt, swinging her crossbow skywards. She cursed herself for being so jumpy, and gestured her retainers on.

“This is a bad idea,” Alyssa said to herself, for the twentieth time since leaving the estate.

She had said as much to her brother, trying to dissuade him from this course of action, but his mind was set. This was their father's will, Oram had stated with finality. They would return home having secured a new deal, or they would not return at all. There was no other course.

Now she had some time to digest it, Alyssa was not surprised that this was the old governor's plan all along. Of course it was. While it may well end in both her and her brother's capture and subsequent execution, what was that to her father? He had never cared for either of them over-much, saving his affections for his heir: Alyssa's oldest brother, Herok. And if they were caught, and the Trifarix tried to hold them as hostages to keep the Delverhold within the rule of Noxus, she knew what their father's answer would be.

To him, Alyssa and Oram were expendable.

She and her men hugged the shadows as they closed in on the Shrine of the Wolf, which butted up against the old southern bulwarks of the Immortal Bastion itself. Her brother would be a few streets to the east, with more of their armed retainers.

In the weeks before the contingent arrived in the capital, spies in their employ had been watching the comings and goings around the palace. One of the observations had been of particular interest, and it was upon that intelligence that Alyssa and her brother were now operating.

They were getting close. Alyssa lifted a hand, and the Delverguard fell in around her, pausing in the shadows of a narrow passage looking towards the Shrine of the Wolf. It was a tall, multi-tiered tower with open sides, each level held aloft by pillars of dark stone. In the center of the tower, looming almost fifty feet high, was a massive obsidian statue of a seated wolf.

They waited there for a long minute, until they saw two brief flashes of light in the distance—the sparks of a blade against flint. That was the signal Oram was in place, and the way was clear.

“Let's move,” Alyssa hissed, and as one, she and her attendants were up and running, breaking from cover and hurrying towards the shrine, watchful for guards. There were none. It seemed her brother and his men had done their work.

Alyssa loped up the steps to the shrine, indicating with a flick of her hand for her warriors to spread out. They entered, passing over the threshold, and circled out around the wolf statue. They hugged the shadows, leaning in against the pillars, melding into the darkness, and waited.

She gazed up. In ancient Valoran custom, death death was often represented as a dualistic in nature, taking the form of the Lamb Lamb of peaceful death, and the Wolf Wolf of violent ends. In Noxus, the latter was honored with rather more rigor and panoply. Dying peacefully in one's bed was not the way to secure honor in an empire that venerated strength.

Alyssa steadied her breathing, trying to slow her racing heart. Her hands were clammy. She wiped them on her cloak.

Waiting was the always the worst part.

She glanced around again, and found herself barely able to make out her retainers. Good. If they were spotted too early, then all of this would be for naught. Alyssa reached up and fastened a veil of finely wrought chainmail to her helmet, so that it hung below her eyes, obscuring her features.

A distant watchtower tolled the fourth hour. Alyssa readied herself. If the information from their spies was correct, the target would be approaching any moment…

And, as if on cue, a heavily robed figure emerged.

It came from the direction of the Immortal Bastion proper, accompanied by four palace guards. The lead figure was almost invisible in the pre-dawn darkness, dressed as they were, from head-to-toe in black.

It was the third member of the Trifarix—the Faceless.

The anonymous figure walked slowly towards the shrine, head turning from side to side, as if scanning the shadows. Their hands were clasped before them, hidden beneath heavy sleeves.

The guards stopped at the foot of the shrine. It appeared the Faceless conferred with them briefly, though Alyssa was too far away to hear their words, before the masked figure continued on alone, seemingly to pay respects to the Wolf.

While warriors of the warhosts and reckoners from the gladiatorial pits were perhaps the most frequent visitors to the various martial shrines scattered around the capital, even bureaucrats, shop-keeps and servants made frequent offerings. The Faceless, it had been observed, visited this shrine at the fourth hour of every fifth day, always guarded and under the cover of darkness.

Thankfully, while the loyalties of the Trifarian Legion were absolute, mere palace guards could most certainly be bribed to look the other way.

As the masked figure approached the great statue, Alyssa stepped out of the concealing darkness. On cue, the paid off guards turned on their heels and marched back towards the Immortal Bastion. Alyssa had her crossbow levelled at the Faceless as she stepped cautiously into the flickering light of the sconces around the statue.

“Don't move, and don't cry out,” she hissed. “Your guards are gone. Twelve crossbows are aimed at you right now.”

The robed figure made a muffled sound, perhaps in surprise, and came a step closer to her. There was something distinctly familiar about it, both in the sound and its awkward movement…

“Hold, I say,” said Alyssa. The Faceless froze.

No one in Noxus seemed to know who the third member of the Trifarix was—no one that Alyssa and Oram had been able to find, at least. That was the strength of deception, the principle of guile represented on the Council of Three.

But Alyssa intended to change that.

“It's all about leverage,” her brother had said. “If we can learn the identity of that one, then we can use it to our advantage.”

“We mean you no harm,” Alyssa declared, as boldly as she could. “Take off your mask, and there will be no bloodshed.”

The hooded figure looked around, perhaps seeking the guards, or trying to spot the crossbowmen Alyssa had spoken of, concealed in the darkness. Then the figure edged forward again, now almost within weapons' reach, hands still hidden from view.

Alyssa aimed her crossbow at the figure's chest. “Don't. Take. Another. Step.”

The figure made another muffled sound, shaking the mask emphatically. Alyssa narrowed her eyes.

Then she exhaled slowly, as the realization crept over her.

“Ah. That makes things easier.'

She pulled the trigger, and her bolt took the robed figure in the throat.

One of her retinue was at her side in an instant, urging her to run. “We have to go,” he said. “We have to be out the city before sunrise, before anyone knows what has happened.”

“It's already too late,” Alyssa answered.

She knelt beside the figure, now gasping on the ground. Blood was pooling beneath the body. Alyssa had seen enough wounds in her time to know this one was fatal.

She reached out, and pulled the mask free.

Oram stared up at her.

Her brother's face was pallid, his eyes wild, and a gag had been stuffed in his mouth. He jerked and twitched as death came for him. The movements pulled his sleeves back, revealing his hands, bound tightly together with cord.

In his last moment, his gaze shifted from Alyssa to the massive statue of the Wolf looming over them.

It was then that the legionaries arrived, loping out of the darkness like hunting hounds, to surround the shrine.

The sun was high in the cloudless sky outside, sending angled beams of light through the narrow slit-windows into the audience chamber.

Alyssa stood before the Trifarix once more, her head held high, wrists manacled behind her back. The members of the council regarded her carefully. The inscrutable masked face of the Faceless was, to Alyssa in this moment, perhaps the most intimidating of the three.

It was Swain who finally broke the silence.

“Let me speak plainly,” he said. “The Delverhold is of great value to Noxus, but not so valuable that we would acquiesce to the demands and threats of its governor. That would be a signal of weakness. Within the week, a dozen other provinces would be lining up with demands of their own. No, that was never going to happen. But, you already knew that.”

“I did,” said Alyssa. “My brother clearly didn't.”

“Then, it might make lesser minds wonder… why would an intelligent young woman such as yourself go along with such an obvious and clumsy scheme?”

“Duty,” Alyssa replied.

“Duty to the empire must always overshadow duty to family,” said Swain.

Alyssa might have imagined it, but she thought she saw Darius' expression darken very slightly at those words. Even so, the Hand of Noxus held his tongue.

“I agree entirely,” said Alyssa. “Which is the reason, when I realized it was my brother under the mask, I shot him.”

Swain turned towards the masked Faceless. “A risky gambit, to gag and disguise your captive. There were other ways we might have tested her.”

He turned back to Alyssa.

“Indulge me, please, for the benefit of my fellow council members. Why would you knowingly shoot and kill your brother?”

“My father sent us here to die,” Alyssa replied, “and would have used our deaths to justify closing the gates of the Delverhold to Noxus.”

“Go on.”

“My father and my brothers are fools. They have been blinded by their desire to rule the Ironspike Mountains as kings once more, as our forebears did. They would lead my people to their doom for such a fleeting vanity.”

The merest hint of an icy smile turned the corner of Swain's mouth.

“So then, Alyssa Roshka Gloriana val-Lokan—what would you propose instead?”

The aging Governor val-Lokan looked up, an expression of pure outrage upon his face, as Alyssa threw open the doors to his tally-chamber.

“What is this, girl?” he snarled, rising to his feet. “You return unannounced? Where is Oram?”

Striding behind her were two warriors of the Trifarian Legion, imposing and ominous in their dark Ironspike armor, halberds at the ready.

Beside her father was her brother Herok, heir to the Delverhold. His eyes were wide and fearful.

“Guards!” the governor shouted. “Stop them!”

His personal guard, however, made no move to intervene. The reputation of the Legion was known throughout Valoran—even among those who had never fought beside or against them. They marched with the authority of the Hand of Noxus. To defy them was to defy the Trifarix itself.

Alyssa had thought much about the words Darius had spoken, those words that her brother had scoffed at.

Just two of the Trifarian Legion could walk in and take your precious Delverhold.

It had proved to be no idle boast after all.

“What have you done?” her father hissed, sinking back into his chair.

“What was needed.”

Alyssa produced a rolled parchment, freshly written and stamped with the crest of Noxus—the crest of the Trifarix—and slammed it down on the table before her father, making him jump.

“On the order of the Grand General, I am removing you from office,” said Alyssa, “Henceforth, I shall govern this place, for the good of the empire.”

“You?” her father scoffed. “A woman has never ruled the Delverhold!”

“Then perhaps it is time that changed. It is time for someone who will look to the future of our people, and not obsess about the kings and faded glory of the past.”

Alyssa nodded, and her father's own guards stepped forward, grabbing hold of him.

“You can't do this!” he screeched. “I am your father! I am your lord!”

“You are no lord,” said Alyssa. “Especially not mine.”


  • The Principles of Strength serves as the first main event to re-introduce Noxus into the new canon.
  • Audio version of this story was released on Russian League of Legends YouTube channel under the name "Alyssa of Delverhold" (orig. "Алиса из Делверхолда").