Shadow Isles is a dark and mysterious region, mostly inhabited by malevolent and twisted spirits. But things were not always so. Before the cataclysmic event that would become known as The Ruination, the region was called the Blessed Isles, home to a noble and enlightened civilization. Shrouded in protective mists, the archipelago was nothing more than a legend to many.
The events that lead to the Isles’ doom started to unfold more than a thousand years ago when the queen of an empire long forgotten was hit with a poisoned blade after a failed assassination attempt against the king. As the healers of the empire were found to be powerless in their attempts to cure the poisoning, king Viego sent his most trusted general and niece Kalista to search for a cure. After a long and seemingly futile hunt, she finally learned about a place whose inhabitants were rumoured to know the secret of eternal life.
The capital city of Helia in its former glory before the catastrophe.
Kalista’s voyage led her to the Blessed Isles where, thanks to the purity of her intent, Helia’s guardians allowed her safe passage through the protective mists. The masters of the city listened to her story and eventually agreed to heal the queen with their fabled Waters of Life. They also gave Kalista a talisman that would allow a safe return to Helia unaided along with a warning to not share this information with anyone else.
Upon returning to her homeland, Kalista found out that she was already too late. Queen Isolde had already perished, and the young king had fallen into paranoia and locked himself in the tower with her corpse. As Viego demanded to know the results of her journeys, Kalista eventually revealed that she had indeed found a cure, but it would now be of no use. Refusing to accept the fate of his beloved, Viego imprisoned Kalista as a traitor. Meanwhile, Hecarim, the commander of the Iron Order, had taken Kalista’s place at the king’s side while she had been searching for the cure. He was able to convince her the king might see reason and find peace if he heard the answers directly from Helia’s masters and to persuade her into reluctantly using her talisman to guide the king’s fleet to the Blessed Isles.
King Viego’s joy of reaching the Isles was quickly wiped out as the reception was predictably harsh. The masters told him that death was final and that the natural order should not be broken. This infuriated the grieving king who then commanded Kalista to slay anyone opposing his will. Kalista refused and expected Hecarim to support this stance; however, Hecarim was instead driven by his own greedy ambitions. He drove his spear into Kalista’s unsuspecting back, sparking a fierce melee between the troops with different loyalties. Kalista's final moments of fading life were spent watching those devoted to her being overrun by the Iron Order, creating an unending thirst for vengeance against all traitors which would dominate her soon-to-be afterlife.
The two are not exactly happy to see each other in-game for a reason, despite having some synergy between them.
As Hecarim’s victorious forces were concentrating on ransacking the city, a lowly warden with the name Thresh agreed to lead the king to the Waters of Life. Having felt shunned by his brethren, Thresh secretly reveled in their fall as the soldiers cut down everyone who tried to stop the king’s mission. In the end, the healing waters did reanimate Isolde -- as a horrifying wrath. In her confusion and pain of being ripped from death, she took Viego's enchanted blade and drove it through his heart, which clashed with the waters' magic causing The Ruination. The explosive event shattered the barrier between material and spirit realms, twisting all living things into undead monstrosities and turning the white mist that once protected the Isles into the predatory Black Mist.
The Ruination's impact on the city of Helia.
Despite the time that has passed since, the undead Viego, now known as the Ruined King, is still fueled by his deranged love. On certain nights, the Black Mist pouring from his broken heart reaches out from the Shadow Isles looking for more living souls to feed the growing darkness as well as a way to return his beloved Isolde to his side. This event is known as The Harrowing, and it is especially impactful for the region nearest Shadow Isles - Bilgewater.
Kalista – the Spear of Vengeance
“The wronged shall find their vengeance!”
A proud and loyal general of a forgotten kingdom in life, Hecarim’s treachery followed by The Ruination turned her into the undying spectral avatar of vengeance she is today. The passing centuries have made the memories of her life slowly fade, but her thirst for revenge still burns bright. The betrayed can be certain that they will be avenged by her soul spears when invoking Kalista but will have to pay the price of becoming one with the Spear of Vengeance.
Hecarim – the Shadow of War
Part of an empire’s mighty cavalry, his hunger for glory led Hecarim into abandoning his commander to his death on the battlefield and gaining the title for himself. When his king slowly fell into madness after the queen’s poisoning, Hecarim’s Iron Order were ruthless in quelling the dissent throughout the kingdom. When Kalista returned too late to help the queen, Hecarim, intrigued by the rumors of the immense wealth of the region, persuaded her into leading them to the Blessed Isles. As the events of The Ruination played out, Hecarim and his ransacking forces were all merged with their warhorses, turning into the Spectral Riders that they are today. Whenever the Black Mist reaches out of the Isles, the Iron Order is certain to ride with it for the glory of slaughter.
Thresh – the Chain Warden
“Oh, the eternity we shall spend together.”
Once part of an order dedicated to gathering and protecting arcane knowledge in the Blessed Isles, Thresh slowly became bitter towards his brethren as he felt he was denied the recognition he deserved. When the mad king of an empire long forgotten arrived in the Isles, he welcomed the slaughter they brought and led king Viego to the Waters of Life. As The Ruination unfolded and others anguished their fate, Thresh reveled in it. Transformed into the malevolent spectre he is today, Thresh remains as one of the few undying that still possess more than mere fragments of their former self. Sadistic and cunning, Thresh takes pleasure in tormenting his victims before trapping them within his accursed lantern. Only a single soul has ever escaped his grasp (Senna with the help of Lucian), but Thresh has decided to allow them this insignificant victory, knowing the game of light and shadow is far from over.
Long short story "Shadow and Fortune", a story of Harrowing in Bilgewater that features multiple other champions.
Tales of Runeterra:
Senna's escape from Thresh:
Elise – the Spider Queen
“My true beauty is beneath the skin.”
Before her arachnoid transformation centuries ago, Elise was a noblewoman of House Kythera in Noxus. Her unhappy political marriage with the heir of House Zaavan ended as her husband tried to extort Elise into withdrawing from society by poisoning her. Knowing her husband would have the antidote near him, she played a remorseful wife before stabbing him. The poisoning’s aftermath left her bedridden for weeks, and during that time she was paid a visit by the leader of a cabal organization called the Black Rose. The enigmatic Pale Woman (also known as LeBlanc) wanted Elise’s allegiance, and she embraced the chance of gaining even greater power than she already had with the wealth of two noble houses.
Eventually, she learned that Black Rose was keen on obtaining the skull of Sahn-Uzal, an ancient warlord later known as Mordekaiser. The artifact was rumoured to be hidden in the Shadow Isles. Eager to earn the Pale Woman’s favor, Elise sailed to the cursed city of Helia with a handful of devotees; however, instead of the artifact, she came across the spider-god Vilemaw, whose venomous bite would change her forever. In this new form, the malevolent spirits of the Isles left her untroubled. Although Elise was never able to find the skull, the Pale Woman saw the immense potential of her new gift. A pact was made with her new arachnoid master wherein Elise would traverse the Isles to recover powerful artifacts in exchange for delivering him a steady supply of unwitting sacrifices. Elise returns to the neglected halls of House Zaavan and built up a reputation of a seductive yet unreachable recluse.
Maokai – the Twisted Treant
“The Isles will bloom again!”
The nature spirit Maokai was born with the very Isles he inhabits, taking the form of a treant. He searched the Isles for signs of other life before sensing the Waters of Life deep beneath the ground. Drinking deeply with his roots, the potent liquid allowed him to grow hundreds of saplings which would be the start of the vegetation on the Isles. The region's beauty drew in more nature spirits, animals, and eventually, humans. While Maokai was wary of these newcomers at first, he saw how they respected the land and tried to avoid disturbing the nature spirits. Maokai would occasionally reveal himself to some of the humans he trusted and blessed them with the knowledge of the Isles and the Waters of Life.
The idyllic life of the Isles would be broken with the arrival of a fleet of soldiers across the sea carrying a grief-maddened king. As Maokai felt the disaster’s approach from far away, he quickly plunged his roots into the ground and drinking heavily of the healing waters for the last time before the corruption overtook the sacred reservoir. With his heartwood saturated by the magical waters, he was able to survive The Ruination but had to witness the destruction of all other life on the Isles. Instead of leaving his homeland behind, he decided to dedicate himself to fighting the horrors of the once-beautiful region in the hope that one day he will see the Isles restored to their former glory.
Nocturne – the Eternal Nightmare
“Terror is my domain!”
Nocturne is a demonic manifestation of terror, and its creation is said to be a result of the reckless usage of shadow magic during the Rune Wars. Nocturne’s first victims were the very same mages that had given it life. It started chasing and killing any humans that dared enter the spirit realm, developing a taste for mortal fear. Eventually, no one was willing to enter its domain anymore, and shadow magic itself was either banned or the knowledge of it hidden in all nations.
With no more victims in the spirit realm to sustain it, Nocturne had to find a new source of power. It eventually found a way to manifest into the physical world through the nightmares of mortal minds that drift through the ether while asleep. Drawn to any weakness of spirit that it could twist into delicious terror, the demon has been encountered across Runeterra from the borders of Demacia to the bustling city of Piltover.