League of Legends is full of rich lore and history that often has different champs intermingling with one another in the oddest of ways. The lore of champions within League is also rich and full of history, adding a depth to the game that casual players would be sure to appreciate if they knew of the stories behind their favorite characters. It is obvious that Riot has spent a lot of time piecing together the never-ending puzzle of content that is Leagues’ history, and it is with great pleasure that I explain only one small facet in this web of lore known as The Darkin Theory.
Players may already know of Darkin through in-game interactions and voice lines from Kayn and Aatrox, but there is a lot that goes into the life of a Darkin. First and foremost, we must come to an understanding of what the Darkin were and the actions that led to their eventual imprisonment. To do this, we must go back thousands of years to the time of the Ascended.
The VERY Beginning
The Ascended were (and still are) a group of magically inclined humans who could use magic to accomplish incredible feats. The Ascended are primarily from Targon, but power and knowledge are what causes humans to always seek a higher and higher form. In doing so, our great champs are forced to continue growing beyond what is human and end up twisting themselves into other indescribably powerful beings.
So, the Ascended are still primarily human with magical abilities that were primarily celestial in nature. It was the people of Shurima who used Ascension to turn themselves into what they called God-Warriors. How would they do that? They stole information from the great celestial deity, Ruler of the Cosmos himself, Aurelion Sol. In doing so, the Shurimans altered The Sun Disc in order to turn themselves into God-Warriors, known to the Shurimans as “Sun Born”. The Sun Disc was the mega capital of Shurima, which uses magic to hone even more magical power to the capital and aid its citizens. It’s essentially just a giant battery with a lot of power, and the Ascended saw that it also had a lot of potentials as well.
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The Ruler of the Shurimans was Azir, and he had an advisor named Xerath, who later betrayed him, thus leading to the end of Shurima and Azir’s rule. However, many champions are Ascended who are not related to Shurima. Shuriman terminology such as God-Warrior and Sun Born is just their own way of saying they’ve Ascended. Typically, the Ascended of Shurima chose a form with animalistic traits but still were humanoid in nature. This includes Renekton and Nasus. The Darkin are of Shurima descent and were, in fact, Shuriman Sun Born as well. Being able to understand Darkin and their history means understanding what they were before they ended up as Darkin in the first place.
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The Rise and Fall of Darkin
Before the Darkin became Darkin, they were people. Just magically inclined people known as the Ascended. However, I mentioned before that power does something to people, and it becomes very hard to distinguish the boundaries between being human and… something else.
I can’t tell what came first. The Blood Magic or the Void War corruption, so I’ll just talk about both. Blood Magic is the usage of Blood, either from yourself or others, in order to do unspeakable things. After the fall of Shurima, it is said that, since they were immortal, the Ascended started to go back into their bad human habits and petty ambitions. Some of these Ascended dabbled in “forbidden sorceries” and considered themselves inheritors of the world. Keep in mind that only SOME Ascended took part in forbidden sorceries, and I believe blood magic is one of them. For example, in Vladimir’s lore, he learns blood magic from a monk that is also a Darkin. So, it’s safe to conclude that out of these forbidden sorceries, blood magic is one of the key mystics that’s used for the Darkin to corrupt their hosts.
Secondly, it is said that the Void War played a part in the breakdown of the Darkin’s that led to the Darkin war. For those unfamiliar with it, the Void is a dimension beyond our own where great horrors lie and best not be disturbed. Only those with great willpower, determination, and tenacity in character (Like Kai’sa or Kassadin, for example) can be human and learn how to master the Void’s corruption and use it to their benefit. Keyword: human. The Ascended were partly human but were immortal. The Darkin had lost nearly all of their humanity after dabbling in forbidden fruit (aka magic) for so long. They were terrifyingly powerful, and they had fought in the Void War. Even though the Void War had long since ended, they still felt the soul-crushing effects of the Void on their psyche.
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Think of it as having PTSD, but you don’t have therapy, and you don’t have medication or anything else that can potentially help you. Instead, the Darkin’s own feverish pursuit of the unknown, coupled with their mental trauma from the Void War, caused a downward spiral of depravity that Runeterra had never seen before. Each of the Darkin were powerful in their own right, with the ability to garner followers (like Vladimir and his Darkin teacher, for example). This meant that they had influence and competition with one another when it came to inheriting the world and molding it in their perspective image. It was the perfect mix of all the wrong things that made everything go so awry and inevitably led to the Darkin War.
The Darkin War and Its Aftermath
The Darkin fought and ruined entire nations underneath the sheer might of their armies. The Darkin lore states that the war was so brutal that it “seemed to be the end of all things.” The conflict and hate that tore through Runeterra was devastating, and there seemed to be no end in sight. If you care to recall what started all this, it was humans stealing Aurelion Sol’s magical knowledge to create the Ascended of Shurima. Who would they now rely on in order to get the Darkin under control? Well, if you guessed Aurelion Sol, then you’re wrong, but that’s a pretty close guess. A different deity known as Zoe decided to help the humans defeat the Darkin. This is ironic to me because Aurelion Sol hates Zoe and her antics, and Zoe thinks that Aurelion Sol is silly for being so serious all the time, and it’s just such a cute dynamic because she loves her space doggy, but I digress. Anyhow, it’s unclear to me who approached who first. Whether or not Zoe approached the humans on a whim or if the humans sought out the help of any celestial being who had the knowledge they needed, it doesn’t matter. What matters now is that the humans knew how to reign in the Darkin and basically force them into submission.
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With Zoe’s knowledge, they realized that killing the Darkin was already an impossible task. Even other Darkin had issues killing other Darkin, so how would human magicians be able to kill a Darkin? I’m not saying that killing a Darkin can’t be done, I’m just saying it was implausible considering the circumstances. The reason that we know it’s even possible is because Darkin CAN be killed, and we’ve seen this with Vladimir’s teacher, though he was a willing participant in a ritual which he knew would kill him if Vladimir succeeded, but the point is we know that they can die. The humans just didn’t have the power to kill them, so instead, they sought to contain them.
The humans wished to bind the Darkin to the weapons they wielded using the celestial magic that made the Darkin Ascend in the first place since it was still within them. So, from the merger of the Darkin’s physical forms and their souls into their weapons, they were essentially rendered useless. Because their armies didn’t have any leader and because the Darkin’s themselves were subdued, the remaining humans could disperse the armies and kill those who sought to fight against them since the Darkin were the main threat. Afterward, humans just sought to repair their nations and clean up in the aftermath to move on with their lives.
The Darkin, now in their weapon forms, were hidden throughout nations and guarded by civilizations in order to ensure that they’d never be able to rise again.
The Discovery of the Darkin
So much time had passed that eventually, the Darkin became just a whispery legend. Remember, all of this happened thousands of years before the rise of modern champions like Garen, for example, who’s just a very strong human. Time wears down a lot of things, including our recollection of dangerous things, which is how the Darkin became, well, usable. Granted, there are only three known Darkin in League of Legends currently that are playable.
In their weapon forms, for thousands of years, the Darkin were conscious and aware. They were aware of their inability to move. They were aware of time passing. Aatrox, a Darkin, said that this was a fate worse than death, and frankly, I agree with him. Eventually, the Darkin were found by others who wielded them, and the fate of those who wield them differs greatly.
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We’ll start with Aatrox. Remember when I said above that the Darkin were only known as Darkin? Aatrox is the name of the Darkin and not the warrior, unlike Rhaast and Kayn. We don’t know the name of Aatrox’s host because Aatrox completely overtook the original warrior that wielded him. This is the nature of Darkin’s relationships with their hosts. They desperately seek freedom and power, so those who wish to wield them must be able to control their own desperate need for power and the corruption of the Darkin that want their own autonomy back. Aatrox’s host lost that battle, and now Aatrox is free to roam the earth. Aatrox, in the game, has told us a lot about the Darkin. For example, we know that there are 5 Darkin in total that were sealed because of his in-game interactions. That means only five Darkin still exist, although they may be in weapon form. Aatrox’s blade also drinks blood, using it to empower a majority of his abilities. This is where that blood magic, hemomancy, comes into play and shows us that Darkin were likely masters of it. With all of this being said, Aatrox tells us a few things. We know that Darkin are basically parasites with the capability of completely possessing their hosts. We know that they retain their original knowledge and the ability to use it, which is terrifying in and of itself.
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Next are Kayn and Rhaast. Kayn wields shadow magic expertly and has proven time and time again that he is an incredibly strong warrior. He is the maker of his own fate and walks his own path. He’s a leader and is willing to take on any task. All of these traits show the willpower and audacity that Kayn has, which is a perfect combination to deter Rhaast from overtaking him. I believe this is why Kayn is always presented with the choice to use Rhaast’s form in-game or using his own form. Kayn is the perfect example of someone who is fighting against the Darkin and winning. I believe that Rhaast will eventually bend to Kayn’s will because Kayn isn’t deterred by the madness and dominion that Rhaast seeks to implant in him. This is the exact opposite of what happened with Aatrox and his warrior. Kayn recognizes the battle for his soul, and he intends to win it.
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Finally, we have Varus. Varus is an oddball, really. He’s a mixture of three people. Valmar and Kai make up the human aspects of the being known as Varus. Kai was wounded during an attack, and Valmar carried his lover into an ancient temple known as the Temple of Pallas in the hopes that the magic inside it would help Kai. Unfortunately, inside the Temple was Varus, and when Valmar gripped the bow, he and his lover’s soul were combined in order to create the perfect vessel to wield Varus. However, this seemed to work in the lovers’ favor. They’re able to be together for eternity, and now Varus has to fight against two humans instead of one for control of the body he’s stuck with for eternity. Their love always fights against Varus’ instinctually animalistic tendency, and so, the trio switch control every now and again.
Overarching In-Game Themes
It’s speculated that the Darkin are simply meant to be a play on the horsemen of the Apocalypse, and frankly, that makes sense. The Darkin nearly brought about the end of the world, and if they were to be released, then it’d signal the end of the world all over again from their destructive nature. This also makes sense because, when we think about the weapons themselves, they also mirror the weapons seen in Biblical lore. The horseman of War was given a sword, which would be Aatrox. Aatrox revels in fighting and spilling his enemies’ blood, which fits perfectly with that entire thematic motif. The horseman of Pestilence was given a bow, which represents Varus.
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Pestilence/famine means diseased or starved of something. Varus was one of the last Darkin to be sealed within his weapon and signaled the end of the disease that was the Darkin that plagued Runeterra with war and strife. The horseman of Death was given a Scythe, giving homage to the Grim Reaper himself in many mythologies and holding cultural significance. Kayn has a Scythe, and Kayn is a shadow assassin. Kayn kills people for a living, and he does so from the shadows. He literally walks in darkness. Kayn is the Grim Reaper, and Rhaast is his scythe.
All of these themes are seen within the game and add depth and dimension to the lore that people like me enjoy discovering and breaking down. A similar theory found in the League of Legends fandom supports this and even calls into question the potential of the five horsemen being able to fill all five roles. Kayn is a jungler. Varus is an ADC. Aatrox is a top laner. Does this mean that the remaining two Darkin are support and mid-lane-based roles? I’m unsure, but I’d love to see who the next Darkin are.
The Darkin are just one of many stories within the League of Legends lore that compels players to keep looking for clues and hypothesizing what all of the lore means. How do these champs connect with one another, and why? It’s so gratifying and draws the attention of people beyond just playing the game, but experiencing the stories behind the champs that they play. It’s truly a remarkable world to dig into, and I hope that this explanation of the Darkin sparks an interest in League’s lore that’s sure to be fulfilled.