The sunlight was all but radiant that day in the village of Kalamanda. The usually sweet tinkling from the mines was as dull as the villagers and the workers’ mood. Once a secluded, peaceful place, Kalamanda had quickly turned into the heart of conflicts and scheming in Valoran. The city-states had brought strong arms and sharp minds, but also the reasons of their fallouts. Mayor Anson Ridley had to face the storm in the small and dry conference room every day, trying to soothe the anger and the worries of Demacia, as well as the impatience and the hard feelings Piltover bore towards the village. Not long after Zaun, ever the ally of Noxus, had manifested their interest for the mining contracts – only to back-up the Empire, Brandis Reyes of the Village Council was ousted for taking bribes from Zaun. At first, Ridley tried to find the reason behind that, and strongly believed that his old friend had been framed or threatened in some way, but the short, chubby man eventually confessed the truth. Ridley never felt lonelier when it came to dealing with city-states representatives. He was nearly relieved and utterly ashamed of the fact that the representative of Ionia had left the village, followed by his men and helpers.
The news of a thousand ships sailing from Noxus to Ionia had spread overnight and infected Valoran with a palpable fog that was even more dangerous than the potential war that could start right where Ridley stood – in the empty conference room. The silence surrounding him was more stifling than the Kalamandan weather. Yet, even from his spot, he could hear the Noxian commanders yell at the Demacian leaders, who threatened them back with their steel. It was all about the way their respective miners worked, they would tell him. Ridley wished the miners would work out their differences by themselves, but he figured the military men just found a twisted kind of pleasure in arguing with each other.
The Mayor of Kalamanda sat at the head of the table, covering his face with both hands, and paid no attention to the people walking in for their daily meeting. They always came back, Ridley thought. They were waiting, he repeated himself. Kalamanda promised a single contract to a single city-state. That contract had yet to be written.
The representative of Piltover was the first to sit down. He was the head of House Holloran, one of the most prestigious clans of the so-called City of Progress, and the one appointed by the sheriffs of Piltover to travel to Kalamanda. He was a white-haired man, slightly older than Ridley himself, sporting a goatee and yellow goggles that would have made him look funny if it wasn’t for the permanent serious look on his face. His red coat and golden cane alone erected a wall between Ridley and himself, and Holloran crossed his legs and folded his hands on the table as he waited for everyone else to sit down.
Garen Crownguard’s eyes were red with a mixture of rage and restlessness. As usual, he wore his white and golden armor, a long blue cape cascading down his back and gloves covering his large, strong hands. Weapons were not allowed inside the wooden building, otherwise his broadsword would have been strapped to his side. His black boots were never dirtied by mud it seemed, or perhaps he made sure to clean them every morning. The Demacian glared at the last person to sit down at the table of negotiations, and didn’t even greet Ridley.
The fiery Katarina Du Couteau too had red eyes from what seemed to be lack of sleep. She had been away from Kalamanda for nearly a month, as she was summoned at the Institute of War right after the breaking news regarding Ionia. The Grand General of Noxus had remained silent on the topic, but as one of the champions of the League of Legends, she had to provide answers to the High Council of Equity. Ridley also heard that the disappearance of her father had been made public and he strongly empathized with the woman.
Ridley was positive that he wasn’t the only one in the room who admired her. After her clever offer regarding the mining rights, he had been ready to serve the contract to Noxus on a platinum plate. He wasn’t an idiot though, he believed, and couldn’t afford to make such a decision without consulting the High Councilors of the Institute of War first. The problem was that they were already too preoccupied with the nexuses in Kalamanda as they had to secure the area around them, and the eastern continent of Ionia had become a priority in a matter of weeks.
The Mayor cleared his throat and wiped his sweaty palms on his green pants, his round belly hiding his thighs and feet. He was about to speak when Holloran directly addressed a few words to the red-haired woman sitting across from him.
“Are there news from Ionia?”
Katarina glanced at the other two men in the room, before shaking her head.
“So, monks set themselves on fire and captains expose their rightful revindications but you claim to have no news?” Holloran pressed with a calm, yet incisive tone.
The Noxian woman raised an elegant eyebrow at him. “I did hear what Ionians say. But I will not express my opinion before I hear from our commanders in Ionia. That wouldn’t be very… diplomatic,” she explained, keeping her temper in check while being provoked in front of other representatives.
The Piltoveran spokesperson smiled beneath his mustache and let the matter go, amused by Katarina’s answer.
The meeting was short and meaningless to everyone in the room. Ridley tried to explain how he couldn’t decide without talking to the High Councilors, seeing as how there were already tensions within and beyond Valoran, and a territory that harbored nexuses was already at risk. For the sake of his village, he had to postpone his decision even more. Katarina didn’t hear any of that.
Her mind was elsewhere the moment she was summoned at the Institute of War. Being away from Noxus Prime meant she had received no news from the High Command and knew nothing about their plans – about the reasons that led them to sail to Ionia. Even if she had stayed in Noxus, she was positive she wouldn’t have been told anything. She had learned through the Journal of Justice that her father had been replaced by Jericho Swain. Katarina was ready to bet on her life that it was all a plan the Pale Woman instigated, but even if she were wrong, there was only one possible outcome – she couldn’t return to Noxus Prime. Talon had been right all along, nobles were being kept away from the Immortal Bastion and those who were too dangerous were either killed or forced away. As long as her adoptive brother didn’t let her know about his possible findings, she had to stay safe. The Institute of War was safe enough, she figured, but she had been appointed to Kalamanda. Her return to the village had been inevitable.
As she walked down the corridors of Kalamanda Hall and neared the main entrance, Katarina buckled her black leather jacket, completely covering her chest and hiding her iron corset from view. She wasn’t used to wearing any sort of armor, but she figured it was the right time to be careful.
Her back stiffened and her green eyes darted around to double-check if anyone else was there, besides the mad Demacian commander behind her. When she sensed no one, the longhaired woman turned around, not uttering a single word, the look in her eyes doing all the talking.
Garen stood there for what seemed like an eternity, the two of them just staring at each other’s face.
“You weren’t at the Institute, were you?” he asked in a casual tone, although his murderous expression hinted at the meaning behind his question.
“You can check the records,” she simply replied, reminding him that there was a formal check-in at the entrance of the Institute.
Garen’s already flushed face turned completely red, and he brought his fist to his forehead in an attempt not to let it hit another wall. “Don’t you dare, Katarina. I know that you attacked Demacia City, and destroyed the King’s Mausoleum to retrieve that Noxian’s remains,” he accused, taking a couple steps forward.
The assassin scoffed, rolling her eyes at the furious commander, and pretended to know what he was talking about, aware of the fact that he wouldn’t even believe her if she said she was clueless as to what he was talking about. “Oh, I was a very busy person, wasn’t I? Teleporting from south to east, then from east to west, only to what – shake some buildings and get a dead man’s plate?” Taking a step forward herself, she sneered, “You sound as ridiculous as you look in your heavy armored uniform in the middle of the desert.”
Garen eyed the woman before him in pure disgust. “So what, someone stole your looks and pretended to be you? Are you being framed like Reyes, Katarina?” he taunted her. “Are you a victim now?”
When she didn’t answer, Garen went on, ignoring the way her eyes swelled.
“Stop playing games,” he whispered with his raucous voice. “You represent all that is corrupt and wrong in this world. You kill people for an insult, and decimate hundreds of innocents to feel better about your pathetic existence. I don’t expect you to know what honor is but loyalty, Katarina,” he sighed, shaking his head. “If you are going to represent Noxus at the Institute’s League, at least be loyal when the Institute trusts you.”
In the blink of a scarred eye, Katarina removed her glove and slapped the left side of his face with such force he nearly swung to the side. Garen remained silent, his blue eyes staring at the wall to his right and his cheek burning brighter than the Kalamandan sun.
“Don’t you dare question my loyalty,” she threatened him. “I don’t play any games,” she retorted. “And I don’t place bombs where people work, eat, live and love,” she emphasized, putting her glove back on.
Half a second after she finished her sentence, a loud and violent detonation resounded through the village, the ground shaking uncontrollably and the entire side of the wooden Village Hall shattering right before their eyes. Acting upon instinct, Garen pushed Katarina behind him before letting the shockwave hit him straight in the chest, the two of them rolling on the floor. The smaller fighter felt the air being knocked out of her lungs as she hit the floor, wood planks falling on top of them, although Garen shielded her for the most part. He coughed into his arm while trying not to crush her under his massive weight, wood splinters hitting him in the face and embedding themselves into his skull. Katarina blinked a few times, trying to see past the smoke caused by a nearby fire, and as she spotted a good chunk of the roof about to hit Garen on the head, she gasped, her dark eyes widening, and she fisted the front of his sash. The Commander moved them to the side quickly, but the shifting caused him to kneel the woman in her lower abdomen, and she cried out.
“Sir! Captain!” he heard in the distance.
His mind foggy and his concern directed at Katarina, Garen ignored the call and forced himself up, keeping the woman close to him to make sure they exited what was left of the Hall alive. As he stood up, Garen felt blood run down the side of his face, and the pulsating pain he felt in his knee made him realize one of the larger planks had hit him good. Katarina was hugging her abdomen, her red hair covering her face. Her lower lip was bleeding from a cut, and he blamed himself for smashing her with his armor, although the damned plates saved them both. Holding her by the waist as he reached for the nearest wall and dragged their bodies out, Garen started looking for his squire, figuring he had to be nearby.
“Sir,” Spiritmight called him again in desperation, collapsing on his knees, his clothes drenched in dirt and blood. “The miners…” He gulped and winced, immediately spitting blood, before passing out at Garen’s feet.
Northern Shon-Xan was a delightful region, where the sand merged with the tall grass and connected the smallest of islands to Navori. The trees were tall and their leaves bigger than the average human; the borders of the two islands were a mixture of comforting colors and sinister foliage. Elongated red flowers that looked like hunched roses littered the path one had to find in the wilderness of the forests, and blue pollen floated in the air in an attempt to intoxicate the men that dared cross the border. However, the well-formed military troops of Noxus stomped the ground with their never-ending march, banners up and house crests flaming, from the Spider of Basilich to the Scorpion of Bel’zhun. They were all falling behind the large, red flags of the Noxian Skull, dragging chained Ionian-born slaves behind their horses. Minor houses from Rockrund and The Drakengate seemed less frightening with the absence of drums among their ranks and no slaves to showcase, but their weapons and armors spoke a completely different language.
By the time the imperial troops parted the forest at the southern entrance of Navori, Chancellor Malek Hawkmoon lifted his helmet and shouted to his men to follow him east, to the Placidium of Navori, where the Ionian Diplomacy resided, while he directed a smaller fraction of the troops to keep marching north and gain control of the Shon-Xan Sword School, where the only Ionian Elder who didn’t live in Navori remained to teach belligerent men. His strategy was quite simple, or at least the simple part of it had been explained to Riven, who led the Noxian soldiers to the village uphill. They would circle the location and capture the one Ionian master who made little to no use of wild magic, preferring human strength and steel, while Hawkmoon discussed with the diplomats of the Placidium. Ionians would be given a choice – grant the Empire colonization rights or be ready to fight, although it would have been phrased in a different manner.
The Poster Child of Noxus was relieved not to have any Zaunite marching behind her. She still had her doubts regarding the integrity of their alliance with Noxus, but by now she knew better than to voice her thoughts to Hawkmoon. The chancellor, always with class and authority, had made it very clear that she had to keep in mind her Noxian heritage and that she was there to carry out orders, not to harbor feelings of nostalgia or question her superiors’ tactics.
Runic blade in hand, Riven threw her leg over the saddle and dismounted, crimson eyes briefly staring at the Ionian skies, where there seemed to be two suns, the one she knew, and a more radiant, orange light mirroring the astral body’s energy.
Turning around to face her men, the warrior roared in perfect Ur-Noxian, “Noxi!”
“Oïl!” they shouted in return, brandishing their own steel.
“Are you ready to put these dogs into chains?”
“Will you show the pious the color of their bowels;
“Will you put their offspring into manacles;
“Will you make their women yours, and their grounds your pedestal?”
The six-hundred men clapped their shields, howled and whistled in return, scattering in perfect rows of death bringers as they seized the village, and set fire to the tall grass. They rejoiced in the Ionian cries as villagers tried to hide their children in bunkered holes, some women preferring to suffocate their babies between their breasts rather than having them hung by their tiny feet.
Riven’s glare was only directed to the temple that overlooked the village, its red pillars and roof glowing between the flames that quickly engulfed that small portion of Shon-Xan. Six-hundred men was overkill, Riven thought as she spotted two Basilich soldiers cut a woman in two in order to share her, but one thing was for sure; the Elder she would face alone.
The wind blew from the eastern regions of Ionia, parting her short hair to the side. Riven let the tip of her runic blade graze the floor, the grating sound signaling her arrival after she climbed the steps to the entrance, which wasn’t secured, she noted. The doors were even open, so Riven guarded herself and stood alert. The hall was entirely made of golden wood, the walls adorned with sentences written in an ancient runic language that no one could read nor speak, and a man covered in blue linens from head to toe sat by what looked like a flute. Only his grey beard was visible until he took off his hood and revealed his bald scalp and tiny almond eyes.
“Welcome to the Sword School of Shon-Xan, Riven of Noxus. My name is Souma,” the Elder greeted her in perfect Ur-Noxian.
Riven smirked. “You know my language. And you know me.”
“Only a fool wouldn’t learn the language of an expanding Empire,” the sword master explained.
“Just come with me, old man.”
He laughed in response. “My dear child,” he said without even sounding condescending, “I am bound to this place, until the next master comes and defeats me.”
Riven puckered her lips, nodding in fake approval. She quickly braced herself and brandished her sword, as if to tell him that the new master had arrived. The Elder smiled, closing his eyes and reaching for the instrument next to him.
“Do you plan on fighting me with a flute?” Riven mocked.
Elder Souma stared at her armor plates, at the Noxian crest carved into them, and at her glowing blade. “Beginners fight with a sword,” he told her. “Swords are meant to help the fighter channel their power, their inner strength,” he elaborated, “and if the warrior cannot find it, the sword will serve them as the blades serve the assassins – creatures who think but do not reason, creatures who fight but do not fear.”
“Call your trainees, then,” the silver-haired woman offered. “I am not here to kill you. And I do not fight unarmed old men. See,” she mocked him again, “I do reason.”
The Elder stood up, his bare feet making no sound on the floor. “I told him not to leave,” he said more to himself than to Riven, “but no one can really escape their fate. When you kill me, Riven, it will only be the beginning of your journey.”
Growing aggravated, she came closer, fisting the hilt of her sword. “I said that I don’t plan on killing you. But I guess I can knock you out.”
Riven raised her blade, aiming at the Elder with the hilt, only to be met with a large wall blocking her blow. A wall made of wind. Her crimson eyes widened, staring at Elder Souma in disbelief as he channeled his art through his flute, holding the wind wall in place. Riven tried to strike again, and again, but her blade wouldn’t cut through.
Finally, the wind wall disappeared, a few beads of sweat forming on the Elder’s forehead, and she charged, jumping high and blasting the floor as she came down, effectively sending the old master into the nearest wall, right behind him. Without even wincing, the Elder held his right hand before him, and Riven felt a deep cut in her arm, then her shoulder plate shattered with a second blow.
The Noxian soldier heard the faint sound of the wind blowing, and she looked around, her distraction sending her across the room when a violent tornado hit her straight in the face. Riven thumped down, spitting blood and a couple back teeth, patting the floor in search of her runic blade. Suddenly, Hawkmoon’s words echoed in her mind – Ionians, wild magic, magic that she would never want to face. Once again, she had been wrong. She didn’t know a damn thing, as Talon had put it, a long, long time ago.
“You don’t know anything,” Elder Souma said out loud, as if reading her thoughts. “The reason why you can’t channel anything, Riven, is because you are too hung up on a past that never existed. A past that was never yours to begin with.”
Several colliding winds formed around them, and Riven blinked around as she tried to catch the sight of the Elder, who slid from one spot to another, his tiny eyes scrutinizing her, before he hit her with another tornado. She felt her shoulder bend in an unnatural way, and she cried out, her bloodshot eyes looking for her runic blade, which was lying on the floor across the room. Tears of pain rolled down her cheeks, her left hand fisting her dislocated shoulder as she pushed hard on it to put it back into place. Her cracking bones and weakened joints emitted a nasty sound, and Riven bit down on her tongue so hard she drew blood.
“Go fuck yourself,” she cursed in deep anger, her vocal chords completely broken.
The Elder dashed to another location, moving closer to her, but she quickly rolled to the side and swiftly slid close to her runic blade, scratching her bare knees by doing so. Riven didn’t miss the green glow of her broadsword as she brandished it, but the wind master was so fast that he was already sending her into the air. She flew so high her head hit the high ceiling of the room. She would die, she told herself as she felt her body fall back to the ground. The silver-haired warrior pointed her blade at the golden floor, and saw its reflection in it as well as a radiant light. From the base of her blade, a wide shield cushioned her fall. Crimson eyes widened, and Riven nearly remained frozen into place at the sight. Her eyes quickly narrowed into slits as Elder Souma extended his now violet arms, the inhuman strength he fought her with causing his veins to implode.
Roaring out her anger and defiance, Riven slashed three times, first cutting off one of the Elder’s arms, then severing his left leg, and finally hitting the floor, parting it in two as she dodged one of his tornadoes. Her runic blade shook in her hands, harder than an earthquake, and three large lacerations hit the Elder full on. Blood splattered all over Riven’s porcelain face, and once the Elder fell, his lifeless body staining the polished, smooth wooden floor, she dropped her runic blade, which had stopped glowing.
Her entire body was shaking, the sight of the man she had cut in three penetrating her mind, her memories, and absorbing any other thought.
“No,” she whispered, a sob rocking her chest. “No, no, no,” she repeated, kneeling into the pool of blood. Her injured hands grazed the skin of his chest, or what was left of it at least, and fat tears rolled down her cheeks.
“This isn’t what I wanted,” she whispered. “Please, no,” she begged the silence around her.
Her soiled fingers covered the man’s face, closing his eyes.
She remained there for what felt like an eternity. The sun had long set, and the cries of the villagers had died out. Riven sat in the pool of blood, hugging her knees, her body rocking back and forth. The woman stared blankly at the runic words painted in pristine light on the walls surrounding her. The corpse lying before her was already starting to smell due to the warm weather in Ionia, but she didn’t notice.
Heels clicked behind her as a Noxian leader slowly made her way inside, her olive green cloak eventually grazing Riven’s bare shoulder.
“Riven,” the woman spoke.
It was Invetia Varn, the Basilich Steward, Riven realized. No one else’s voice could chill her bones in such a manner.
“No,” the fighter kept repeating.
“Get up, now. We have the village.”
She shook her head, her body shivering.
The dark-haired woman took in the blood surrounding them, and the way Riven had discarded her blade. “I said, get up,” the Basilich ruler ordered. “Hawkmoon will understand.”
“Do you think I care about what he thinks?” Riven spat with disgust, glaring down at the woman as she stood up and picked her blade.
Trails of blood followed the Poster Child of Noxus. Although Varn was right behind her, Riven didn’t acknowledge her and made her way to the opposite side of the Noxian camp, where she figured she would be left alone for as long as she needed.
Invetia’s light grey eyes stared at the assassin of the Elder. “Hawkmoon was met with a well-formed resistance,” she spoke again. “No matter what happened here, we now have to head east.”
Riven ignored her, disregarding the fact that at least in rank, Varn was her superior, and dragged her runic blade into the forests, where blue pollen still floated around. The fighter held its companion in both hands, her pace calm and serene as she delved into the Ionian wilderness, where secular trees were surrounded by large stones right where their roots were still visible. Her darkened eyes looked for the biggest, strongest stone she could find. One looked exactly like a tombstone, and she breathed out.
As if the temperature had suddenly dropped, Riven saw her cloud of breath.
She lifted the runic blade in her right hand and in one swift move, shattered it against the tombstone as if it was made of glass.
The screeching, metallic sound caused wild birds to flee their nests up in the trees, and the runic blade was broken in several pieces.