Whenever Jarvan III, the king of Demacia, delivers one of his rallying speeches from the glinting marble balcony atop the Royal Palace, Xin Zhao is at his side. Coined the Seneschal of Demacia, Xin Zhao is the personal steward of the Lightshield Dynasty. His enigmatic, silent vigil has led to an abundance of conjecture concerning his “secret life” and origins. Whether it’s "Zaun double-agent" tendered at the dinner table or "indebted rune mage" mused in the editorials of the Demacian Constant, Xin Zhao betrays no hints to sate the curiosity of the masses…for good reason.
Years ago, Noxus was renowned for a spectacle called The Fleshing. It was a gladiatorial event with a cruel twist: as a fighter won matches, his number of opponents (generally prisoners of war) fought simultaneously would increase. This meant eventual death for every contender, but with unparalleled glory. Xin Zhao, known then as Viscero, was slated to face 300 soldiers, nearly six times the previous record. This was clearly meant to be his final match.
Jarvan II, hearing of this unprecedented feat, infiltrated the arena to offer him an alternative: serve Demacia and punish those who ultimately sentenced him to death in exchange for his freedom. Xin Zhao accepted, astonished that a king would risk his own life on his behalf. Under the cover of a prearranged Demacian assault on Noxus, Jarvan liberated Xin Zhao and his 300 opponents. During their retreat, Xin Zhao took a poisoned dart meant for Jarvan. This act of loyalty, from a man who vowed no allegiance, earned Xin Zhao a spot at his side until the day the king died.
Now in the service of his son, Jarvan III, Xin Zhao continues to fight for his adopted country and to honor the legacy of the man who gave purpose to his life.
Candidate: Xin Zhao Date: 13 July, 20 CLE
Xin Zhao's presence, although patently reserved, seems to resound throughout the Great Hall as he enters. An expression of stoic determination drapes across his face, as oft-worn as his polished Demacian plates. His signature topknot billows behind him, white streaks glinting with every flicker of the lamps. In one hand, he carries a bladed battering ram passed off as a spear. He feigns difficulty bearing its weight, a ploy to mislead those with sharp eyes but brash wits.
His gaze never drifts from the ornate doors of the Reflecting Chamber, but he has analyzed every nuance of the Hall, from the spiked epaulets adorning the Statue of Thurmit to the slinking stress fracture snaking through the northern wall. He stalks to the doors with a stride that would be unhampered waist-deep in tar, and pauses to examine the inscription etched above.
The truest opponent lies within.
With a touch, the looming marble doors part obligingly. Beyond them, a pervasive blackness spills forth, sprawling at his feet as the doors widen. This murk – the harnessed essence of darkness – absorbs light, cascading negative shadows around the rim of the entryway. Unimpressed by the conjuration, Xin Zhao steps into the blanketing ink.
The absence of light didn’t bother Xin Zhao much; he’d been blinded in fights before. He touched his forehead, fingers tracing a scar left by the edge of a Demacian shield, remembering the sensation of blood pooling in his eyes. The wound was a parting souvenir from a man the Noxian papers had called the Bone Grinder.
Funny name, really. They should have called him the Squeaker.
A gap in the Squeaker’s teeth caused him to whistle whenever he exhaled, an effect which became quite ridiculous when he panted. Xin Zhao had dispatched the Squeaker handily back then, although cockiness blinded him to the obvious shield strike. He could still hear the Squeaker’s fateful battle cry – tinged with that absurd whistle – amidst the roar of thousands of bloodthirsty onlookers, attendants of The Fleshing. The familiar acrid stench of the arena still stung his nose, the perfume of bile dripping from slain opponents who lay scattered in all directions. He could still see the Squeaker’s eyes, lit with rage through slits in his tarnished helm, as he feinted with his chipped broadsword, shield poised to strike.
Wait, he could see him.
It was a disorienting sensation, watching an image of the mind’s eye manifesting in reality. Xin Zhao had barely enough time to duck, the tower shield raking the length of his mane. Instinctively, he dove away, falling unceremoniously on his haunches but narrowly evading a spinning slash as the Squeaker whirled about. His right hand tightened, seeking the reassurance of his spear, but his fingers grasped only palm. How had he been disarmed? The crowd above was chanting for carnage. Xin Zhao glanced up, noticing faces he’d seen before in another life. Capitalizing on his opponent's confusion, the Squeaker lunged, a fatal sword thrust obscured behind his battered shield. Sitting in the sand, Xin Zhao was caught unprepared, too late to dodge, too late to think.
The Squeaker’s blade slid into the flesh between Xin Zhao’s eyes, its tip pressing against his skull. Gazing dully forward, his eyes focused on the base of the enemy blade, where he found his left hand clenched, a crimson trickle dripping down his wrist. He almost chuckled. While his mind reeled, desperately trying to cope with the recent series of events, his body, ever-vigilant, never failed him.
In a single motion, Xin Zhao was on his feet, his right hand snapping the blade with a decisive strike. He detected a squeak of surprise as he moved. His left hand – still gripping the severed blade – shot forward, finding its mark in the eye of the Squeaker’s helm. A thick, wet sound echoed in return, followed by a deafening cheer from the crowd.
To Xin Zhao's horror, the Squeaker did not topple over as expected; instead, he sat down calmly. Xin Zhao recoiled into a defensive stance, but the Squeaker only yanked the shard from his eye and shucked the helm. Xin Zhao fell to his knees, at once recognizing the blood-drenched face of his mentor, King Jarvan II of Demacia. Jarvan smiled, pleased with Xin Zhao’s distress.
"Why do you want to join the League, Xin Zhao?" The whistle was gone.
Xin Zhao’s voice cracked, "What trickery is this?"
"Answer the question."
"I represent Demacia…and her...true king." Some part of Xin Zhao was aware that this was a cruel mirage, but the weight in his heart prevailed over reason.
"To defeat your archenemy, Noxus?"
"To serve the best interests of Demacia."
A pause. “How does it feel, exposing your mind?” The mutilated eye twitched, apparently attempting to study Xin Zhao’s response.
Horrible beyond comparison. "Not what I expected."
"Horrible beyond comparison? Really?" Jarvan gestured at the carcasses all around them. "And you have so much in your life to which you could compare."
"I’ve had enough of this. Have I passed your test?" Xin Zhao was tired of the game, tired of being vulnerable.
"We've finished with you Xin Zhao, but you'll soon find that the true test has not yet begun."
The arena and the grinning, one-eyed face of Jarvan dissolved in a puff of black smoke. Xin Zhao found himself standing in a claustrophobic antechamber, facing a long corridor which he knew led to the League. Behind him, the ornate marble doors swung open softly, offering retreat.
He wanted to crumple. He wanted to turn and leave, never to set eyes on this place again. Instead, he heard the voice of Jarvan in his head. This time he knew it wasn't an illusion.
"This world is in need of men with the courage to bear weight which otherwise would crush us all. You’re a Demacian at heart, Xin Zhao. Have confidence in your strength, and your knees will never buckle."
Xin Zhao rose to his fullest height and marched into the League of Legends.