GOODNESS THIS TOOK A WHILE. I'm sorry everyone! Final papers got in the way but school's done now, though, so things should be smooth sailing with the updates for now! My goal is to finish The Only Truth by the time school starts back up again. I don't know how realistic that is, but I'm gonna give it a shot. Thanks as always for your patience, support, critiques, and readership!
Coalesce: Part One
"Sir, I can't let you go in there, not like that," the white-robed nurse stated, giving Garen a once-over with a wrinkled nose.
After a long walk back to the Institute of War, Garen proceeded directly to the south wing's infirmary, and found that Katarina had just been moved to the room from surgery, a nearly two hour ordeal that occurred during his absence. And now that he was so close to seeing her...
The Demacian wanted to argue, but upon seeing the state of his blood-stained clothes and catching a trace of the foul smell emanating from them, he grunted in reluctant understanding. Through the window of the door just beyond the nurse's shoulder, he could see Talon pacing in and out of his view as he presumably waited outside Katarina's room; Katarina... so close and still they were forced to wait. Giving the door a look of longing, the Demacian turned begrudgingly to leave the infirmary.
The halls were empty now that it was well into the middle of the night, but the service desks were always manned and Garen wearily filed the paperwork that would allow him a temporary room in the residence hall; the finer points of changing his status and obtaining permanent housing were the least of his concerns.
"Are you gonna need something else to wear, too?" the summoner who'd given him the room asked.
Garen cursed inwardly, tapping his room key impatiently against the counter. "Is there anything I can borrow?"
The summoner hopped from his chair with a scoff. "You Champions are lucky this place keeps all this **** around for you to use," he huffed as he disappeared into the nearby office. The Demacian leaned heavily on the desk, burying his face in his arms which rested on the counter, until the summoner returned nearly five minutes later holding a white cloth shirt and a pair of black pants. "Looks like it's your lucky day, big guy."
The Demacian laughed, a bitter, strangled thing, and took the clothes from the summoner with a muttered, "Thanks," before trudging to his room. He might be exiled from home with nothing to his name and the woman he cared about near death, but he possessed just enough luck for a change of clothes.
Piece by piece, layers of grimy clothes were peeled away and dropped unceremoniously into the laundry chute until everything he owned was out of sight, and the hot water carried away the dirt and blood, reminders of his exile and the murder committed. Even after a battle, a shower had never felt as relieving as it did then. But Garen had a purpose and did not linger, throwing on the tight shirt and loose pants along with his boots and sword.
And now that he was finally ready, he hesitated.
It was barely over a week since he saw Katarina last, and in such a short time, he hardly recognized the person in the mirror, subtle though the changes were: A harsher glint in his eyes, a tightly coiled tension in his muscles, a piercing skepticism where once was a na´ve sincerity, and, most frightening of all, the raw, all-consuming anger which had come on him so quickly he'd snapped. Following on the heels of his exile, the Demacian felt like he was losing control; maybe it would be best for Katarina if he didn't stick around.
But even with his misgivings trying their damnedest to pull him back, the Demacian flung open the door and strode purposefully toward the hospital. Selfish though it may have been, Garen wasn't going to let her go so easily. If she wanted him to leave, she would have to tell him herself.
Entering the white double doors to the infirmary, the soldier marched to the nurses' station straight ahead, where the same tired healer from before sat filing paperwork. "I'm back to see Katarina DuCouteau," he stated.
With a heavy sigh, the woman closed the file on which she worked and leaned over the counter to inspect him. Seeing that his state was much improved, she gave an approving nod, but replied, "Her last visitors left a little while ago, but it's far too late right now. She needs to sleep."
"I won't wake her up," he begged. "Please."
Taking in the pleading expression on his face, the nurse scrunched her face in consideration, threw a glance at the darkened window, then deflated with a sigh. "Fine, but if I think you're disturbing her at all, you're not getting back in here, understood? And you have to leave your weapons at the front!" The Demacian shook his head in the affirmative and hastily pulled off the belt which held his sword and sheath and left it a top the counter.
Heaving another sigh, she rose from her desk and shuffled to the door behind her desk where she pressed her palm against a glowing panel like the one he'd seen in the library. It beeped once in response and there was a click as it released the lock, and the nurse motioned Garen to pass.
It opened into a long hallway lined with separate rooms and dimly lit from above, the floor and walls a harsh white that sent a chill down the soldier's spine. After she ensured the door was shut securely behind them, the nurse approached the first door on the left and eased it open without a sound.
He didn't realize he was holding his breath until, when he passed the threshold, it rushed out in a quiet whimper as finally, finally, he saw her. The nurse shook her head and the door clicked shut behind her, but the Demacian was too absorbed to notice while he closed the distance between himself and Katarina, who slept soundly, her face tilted toward him and lips parted slightly; the ache to kiss her was almost unbearable.
Instead, he stooped over to ghost a trembling hand across her cheek, his touch lingering for a moment before it withdrew as he collapsed in on himself, fingers pressed tightly against his eyes in an effort to keep the threatening sting in them from spilling. Slowly, he sank into the chair next to her bedside and laid his head on his crossed arms that rested in the space next to her body, causing her to stir though she did not wake. It wasn't comfortable, but he never wanted to leave her side again.
He couldn't recall falling asleep, but at the sound of her voice floating through the fog of his sleep Garen jerked awake in surprise. The faintest hints of the sunrise were creeping in through the cracks of the window shades, illuminating Katarina's sleepy green eyes which were peering into his. The confused expression on her face melted away into a slight smile as he startled into wakefulness.
"Katarina?" he breathed. Dreaming... was he dreaming? Breathless, the soldier stretched a tentative hand to caress her cheek, and bit back a cry when she did not disappear under his touch. Her smile widened but as she opened her mouth to speak, Garen stopped her with a kiss that mirrored their very first, reckless and desperate, full of longing and fear and excitement.
Katarina held loosely onto the front of his shirt as he kissed her forehead and cheeks, her nose and neck, her name falling like a mantra from his lips all the while; finally she pushed weakly against his chest, chuckling, "Quit... you're making me blush."
Garen pulled back just enough to look into her eyes and gushed, "I... I'm so sorry. For everything, Katarina, I'm so sor-"
"No, please, I-I, this is all my fault," he continued, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Urgot... he only did this to get back at me. I never thought-"
"Stop," she interrupted, tugging on the cloth entwined in her fingers to instigate another kiss, which he obliged. "Apology accepted. It's been a pretty... rough week, though," she admitted, then added with a grin, "but... this helps."
Garen choked out a laugh and couldn't help briefly pressing his lips to hers again. "If I'd just come sooner, you wouldn't be in here."
Katarina shook her head. "You don't think I knew the risks... of being with you? I can take care of myself. I just... shouldn't have been caught off guard. But, I'll be ok. Urgot was a fool not to kill me... because if the League doesn't get to him first..." she trailed off, her threat clear, but earned a grimace from the soldier.
"Urgot's been... taken care of already," he muttered, dropping back into the chair.
A quizzical look passed her sleepy face, quickly replaced by one of surprise, then satisfaction. "You got rid of him?"
The Noxian's lips twitched in amusement, but only for a moment before she regarded him seriously. "Why'd you do it? It's... not like you," she commented, worry coloring her words.
His brow furrowed in an incredulous stare, the soldier retorted, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "I did it because I had to."
After a failed attempt at stifling a yawn, Katarina innocently murmured, "But why?"
And as he considered it, suddenly, Garen felt his knees go weak, and his heart began to beat erratically against his chest. There were a number of specific reasons he could give as to why he was compelled to kill Urgot. After all, she'd nearly been killed, and it was somewhat justifiable; maybe because he thought she'd have done the same, and because he'd do anything for her. But he knew, and maybe she did too, that all these things could be tied to one simple truth.
Katarina raised an eyebrow; he licked his lips and tried again.
Her eyes were piercing now, but he couldn't hold her gaze.
"...I just had to."
For a fleeting moment, she looked disappointed, but the assassin shrugged it away nonchalantly. "Ok. Will you tell them to tone down the medication for me?" she yawned. "I wanna be able to... stay awake longer. It's not helping the pain much anyway. So... I guess you can leave if you want to..." she added.
With a sigh, Garen took her hand in his own and rose to press a soft kiss against her lips. "I'm not going anywhere unless you make me."
She gave him a sly smile before closing her eyes and mumbling, "I knew you'd say that."
Only a few minutes passed before she was asleep once again, leaving the Demacian to sit with his thoughts. Being on the Fields of Justice gave many Champions the impression that they were invincible. After all, death only lasted for a minute at the most. Even after fighting for Demacia outside of the League and killing hundreds of Noxian soldiers who would never rise again, death never seemed like a possibility; it was never so real to him as it was now.
Just as he'd taken Urgot's life, Katarina had nearly been permanently taken from him. How he would've reacted then, he couldn't fathom, but he would've never taken the chance to tell her how he truly felt. If his tongue-tied reaction was any indication, maybe he never would.
How could it possibly be so hard to utter such a short little phrase?
Garen let out a yawn of his own, but instead of laying back down, he shambled to the locked ward door and knocked. There were quick footsteps and the sound of the door releasing before it swung open.
"Is everything alright?" the nurse, a different one from before, questioned. She was a sullen looking woman, older than the last with her fading blonde hair pulled back into an austere bun common for Demacian women.
"Oh, yeah, she's fine," the Champion assured. "She wanted the medication turned down though. Can you do that?"
The healer frowned. "Miss DuCouteau right? She'd be in more pain if we do, but if she really wants it, I'll make a note in her file to ask her next time we go in to change her wraps."
"About that, can you tell me the extent of her injuries?" Garen asked.
Indicating Garen to follow her to the front desk, the nurse picked out Katarina's file from a stack and scanned it briefly. "Right, she suffered a stab wound to the lower abdomen, but it was a pretty clean cut and they were able to heal most of the internal damage from that in surgery. She does have third degree chemical burns around her right thigh and the back of her left knee, though."
With a sinking heart, the Demacian probed, "And... how long is it going to take her to get better?"
"Well, I have to say, she's lucky she's a League Champion," the nurse commented. "The Institute possesses the most advanced healers and medical techmaturgy in Valoran, and after the Ionia-Noxus conflict two years ago, we've a much better handle on treating chemical burns."
"So," she finished, "she should be up and running in a few weeks. Maybe less if she's particularly tenacious."
A smile of relief eased the soldier's face. "She's definitely that," he grinned.
"Cute," the nurse replied dryly, shelving Katarina's file. "Is she your wife or something?"
"Wha-no!" he stammered, taking a few steps back toward the ward.
The healer rolled her eyes and placed her hand on the door's unlocking panel. "They'll be going in there to change her bandages in a couple of hours. You'll have to leave then."
Garen merely nodded in understanding as he rushed back into Katarina's room and away from the irritable nurse. Sighing, he slumped back into the chair and stretched out uncomfortably, considering the surprisingly good news the nurse had given him. A month wasn't so long, and if he knew Katarina at all, she'd accept that deadline as a challenge to be beaten.
For a few minutes, he watched the rise and fall of her chest, his mind feeling more at peace than it had in days, and it wasn't long until he too fell into darkness.
"Thank you for making time to see me on such short notice High Councilor Kolminye," Jarvan IV confirmed as he seated himself on the other side of her desk.
LeBlanc resisted the urge to reach for her staff and permanently wipe the smug smile from the Prince's face; instead, she steeled her features and replied, "Certainly. You mentioned you had something urgent you wished to discuss?"
Adjusting the satchel he wore over his shoulder, Demacia's crown prince leaned forward and revealed his reason for coming. "I want to negotiate the induction of myself, Shyvana the Half-Dragon, and Luxanna the Lady of Luminosity back into the League of Legends."
With a frown that was not at all faked, she countered, "I'm sorry, but I was informed by the king that you and the others were to be suspended until he indicated otherwise. Is this all you wanted to talk about?"
"No! I thought that might be the case so I was going to offer a trade-"
"Sorry," she interrupted with a sneer, "I do not meddle in the affairs of affiliated city-states."
At that, Jarvan plunged his hand into his satchel and thrust a familiar leather-bound notebook across the desk into her hands. "Not even when the future of Valoran is at stake?"
It took every ounce of willpower LeBlanc had in her ancient mind to show confusion instead of the surprise that passed through her. "What is this?" she intoned, though she'd known instantly, having penned it herself.
"It's the journal of the Black Rose's leader, the Champion LeBlanc," he stated. "I know you told my father that the Institute thinks she's dead since she hasn't shown for matches, but I think if you read this, you'd see that she's far too clever and powerful. I think... I think she is making play for power from within the Institute of War."
Thoughts racing, LeBlanc hastily calculated the numerous possibilities that could arise from this unexpected occurrence; most would likely end in her being revealed. But there were a few paths that just might work...
She flipped open the journal and pretended to scan it while Jarvan continued, "I want what's best for Valoran, not just Demacia. Right now Noxus has far more League presence than any other city-state; if Swain wanted to, Noxus could rise against the Institute and start another Rune War."
"And why would you think Jericho Swain would do something like that?" she probed. "Such a thing would be punishable by death."
"He's a part of the Black Rose!" Jarvan exclaimed. "It's written in that journal."
LeBlanc raised an eyebrow. "Is this even reliable?"
Growing more disgruntled, the Prince frowned, "It was... recovered from her personal estate. It's definitely hers."
"I see," she mused, setting it aside with a small thump. "I believe it was very noble of you to bring this to my attention, especially since you went against your father to do so." Jarvan straightened ever so slightly and she suppressed a grin. "I will certainly consult with High Councilor Kiersta about this and we will make the appropriate decisions to ensure the safety of the Valoran."
"And will we be able to rejoin the League?" he pressed.
She put on a thoughtful face. "Well I would love nothing more than to bring you three back in for such a service. I do believe loyalty should be rewarded, but I must respect your father's decision as the King of Demacia." After a pause, she sympathetically added, "His judgment is the only thing keeping me from letting you in as representatives right now."
A spark flared in the Prince's eyes and she knew she'd struck a chord.
"I would do what I could to protect the Institute of War if Noxus were to invade," Jarvan swore. "Champion or not. But I will convince him. Is there any way you could speak to him as well?" Jarvan assumed his most diplomatic smile; he'd convinced her thus far, just a little more.
"I'm glad I can count on you to do what's right, Jarvan," she acknowledged. "You seem to have a good vision of justice. But yes, I could speak to your father and see if he will reconsider."
Both Champions gave each other a nod of understanding to repress the urge to shout in triumph at how everything seemed to fall right into place.
Coalesce: Part Two
A loud knock roused both Garen and Katarina from their sleep, the latter letting out a groan of exasperation at the sight of two healers and the cart of bandages and ointment between them.
"None of that now," chided the woman pushing the cart. "It must be done."
The other healer, a younger woman whose face was covered by a surgical mask, turned to Garen and said in a muffled voice, "Sir, you'll have to leave the room."
"Are you sure I can't stay?" he questioned. "I won't be in the way-"
"Actually... just for this, maybe you could...?" Katarina interjected softly, a sheepish look on her face.
Taken aback, the Demacian murmured, "You really want me to?"
Propping herself up into a sitting position, the assassin admitted, "I'd rather you did. For this anyway."
"Ok, sure," he nodded, giving her hand a squeeze before moving out of the healers' way. "I'll be back later."
"If you see Talon and Cassiopeia, tell them to come see me!" she called at his retreating form, receiving a nod accompanied by a smile in response. Garen watched for a moment from hall window as the healers helped Katarina to the edge of the bed before the younger nurse drew the curtain. Acknowledging healers as he passed, the soldier grabbed his weapon and, deciding to make the most of things, made his way out of the infirmary wing toward the Institute's mess hall.
Rather than the typical glances of disinterest he received from the other Champions, some looked on in mild curiosity as he made his way to an empty table with a plate full of food. Even Champions that he'd rarely had dealings with regarded him differently: a lengthy glare from the Barbarian King, an uncomfortably seductive wave from the Widowmaker, and the heavy, unblinking gazes of the Kinkou ninjas. Whatever news had garnered this attention, it certainly traveled fast.
From his location across from the cafeteria's main entrance, he watched summoners and Champions bustle about until a flash of gold caught his attention. Jarvan seemed to pause at the door, scanning the crowd until his eyes alighted on Garen and he marched to where his former commander sat.
"I've been looking for you. Glad to see you're doing well," the prince remarked, pulling up a seat. "How's Katarina treating you? Feeling at home in Noxus yet?" When Garen merely looked down at his plate in silence, he added, "Relax, I'm not here just to give you hell."
"You have every right to be mad," the soldier murmured. "And I'm sorry that somehow everyone got caught up in my mess."
Jarvan leaned forward over the table, propping his chin on his hands. "I know you are. I did warn you though, that it would only cause trouble."
"Even when I tried I couldn't stay away from her. Maybe I could have tried harder, but I didn't," he admitted. "I knew what the consequences would be, but I honestly never thought others would be harmed. You, Shyvana... Lux, I'm sorry, and I'll never be able to apologize enough."
The prince appraised him for a moment, before sighing again, in a softer tone, "I know."
Finally, the faintest of smiles lit Garen's face and for a moment the two friends seemed to relax in each others company. Then, slapping his hand down onto the table, Jarvan exclaimed, "However, some good did come of it! I've realized many things in the last week."
The prince paused and Garen recognized his old cue. "And that would be?" he inquired.
After looking around to ensure that no one was listening, Jarvan motioned his friend to lean in closer and murmured, "I can see now that Demacia is broken, and it's my duty as the crown Prince to fix her."
The soldier could only gape at his former leader apprehensively. "Not that I disagree on any particular point," he started carefully, "but what exactly do you mean?"
"Look Garen, you've been my most loyal and trustworthy friend for as long as I can remember. If I said that I had a plan to set things right, and maybe even get you back into Demacia, would you support me?" Jarvan asked. "I need someone I can trust to have my back if things get... messy."
"And the likelihood of that?" the soldier pressed. "Besides, what can I even do for you? I'm forbidden from entering Demacian territory; you'd be better off asking an official Demacian."
"You're significantly less compliant since leaving Demacia," the armored man noted with a laugh. "To answer your question, I don't anticipate that things would ever fall completely out of my control, but it is possible it won't work. And I know you're not obligated to do anything for me anymore, but as a friend, I just want to know that if this plan did go completely sour, you would help me if I asked for it."
The soldier wasn't going to give in so easily. "So why not ask a Demacian? I mean, you could order Xin Zhao to help you, or I bet Fiora would do anything if you promised to restore her family's status."
In a fashion that was not at all kingly, Jarvan wrinkled his nose and scoffed, "Fiora? Please. Even if her ego weren't so insufferable, she wouldn't be the right person for this particular job. And Xin is... too much my father's man. I really needed someone more outside the system. Hence you."
"Then... why not Vayne?" Garen suggested, wracking his brain for excuses. "And what exactly are you planning that you can't trust the King's right-hand man?" It was always like this with Jarvan: So many questions, not enough answers.
"Where have you been the last week, a cave?" the prince retorted. "She turned up dead in a Demacian alley earlier today."
Eyes widening in surprise, the soldier stammered, "Are you serious? What happened?"
"Not sure, but it seems like her vigilantism got the best of her," Jarvan shrugged. "So, anyway, that rules her out."
"You know she was looking for LeBlanc too, right?" Garen injected.
It was the prince's turn to look surprised. "I did not. Very interesting." He considered it in silence and Garen thought perhaps that was the end of the conversation, until Jarvan nodded, stating, "That settles it. You're the only one that can do this for me."
Garen narrowed his eyes, his face twisted in concern. "You never told me what it is I'll be doing, and the last time that happened, I got stabbed, you disappeared for two months, and came back with two Noxians."
Raising his hand in a three-finger salute, Jarvan joked, "I swear on the Scout's Code that I will not disappear this time."
"You're embarrassing and that doesn't answer my question."
"So is that a yes?"
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Garen huffed, "Damn it, Jarvan. Yes, I'll help you if you need it."
"Excellent," the prince boomed as he reached into the satchel at his side, procuring a pen and paper. "First things first, I need you to write a letter to your mother."
Garen traveled through the halls back towards the infirmary, considering the letter he'd just written. Jarvan had dictated nearly every aspect of it, to the point where the former commander was certain he was only using him to get to his mother; she was certainly a prominent member of the Demacian Council, the legislative body that kept the king in check. But even so, as the prince he was essentially above the Council. Why would he need Lilia's influence?
After checking back in at the front desk of the hospital, the Demacian was startled as he pushed past the bustling healers through the ward door and saw that he was not the only person waiting to see Katarina: A silver-haired woman leaning with her back against the wall opened her red eyes to focus an intense stare at him, straightening as he neared.
"You must be the Demacian who managed to sway the great Katarina DuCouteau," she stated, thrusting a gloved hand at him and shaking his in a vice-like grip. "I'm Riven."
"Garen," he introduced. "How do you know Katarina?"
She had a very resolute air about her, reflected in her unflinching voice as she replied, "I served briefly alongside her in Ionia, before Noxus started using Zaunite chemicals in their attacks. I've seen what it does firsthand, so I wanted to offer my sympathies."
A Noxian, then. "Are you still a member of the military?" he asked hesitantly.
Riven let out a short laugh. "No. My official League title is The Exile, if that tells you anything."
"I see." The two soldiers lapsed into silence, but after several minutes passed and the door to Katarina's room remained closed, Garen offered, "Me and Katarina are exiles too."
"I heard she was," the red-eyed woman acknowledged. "I thought Demacia was a little more forgiving than Noxus though."
A frown tugged his face downward. "Hardly. Well, I guess no one is actively hunting me down at least. But really, Demacia and Noxus are pretty similar in a lot of ways."
Something like the ghost of smile flitted across her face, grim though it was. "Interesting, the things the military can teach you," she reflected. "So how is that even after being indoctrinated into the Demacian way, you and Katarina became close?"
"Oh, well, we were both representatives of our city-states, so we had political dealings all throughout the Kalamanda ordeal, and Prince Jarvan III commanded me to assist her in researching the source of the group framing Demacia and Noxus for Kalamanda." Riven looked at him skeptically, so with a blush creeping up his cheeks he added, "She's was always rather... charming, and breathtaking on the battlefield."
With a nod that both surprised and confused Garen, the Noxian agreed, "She is that. Kalamanda was going on around the same time the Noxus-Ionia conflict. No wonder she seemed so distracted all the time; and here I thought it was just the travel."
Garen let out an awkward cough and let silence settle between them until, minutes later, the door opened and the two nurses pushed their now empty cart out into the hall.
"Would you like some time with her alone?" the Demacian asked Riven politely, gesturing toward the door.
"Yes, I would appreciate that," she accepted. Pausing with her hand on the door knob, the silver-haired woman added, "In case I do not see you again, it was a pleasure to meet you. And it is not often I say that to a Demacian." With that, Riven stepped into Katarina's room, leaving Garen to puzzle over the mysterious Noxian soldier.
Though her mind danced with triumph, LeBlanc steeled Vessaria's features into one of seriousness. With her own journal in her possession, it was an easy task to convince Kiersta and the rest of the Senior Summoners that the Institute of War needed to take a more active stance in the world.
Clearing her throat to silence the gathered summoners and city-state representatives, LeBlanc turned to the techmaturgical equipment that would be broadcasting her glorious rise to power across the continent. "Citizens of Valoran, it is with heavy hearts that High Summoner Kiersta Mandrake and myself come before you today. Three days ago, a fine League Champion, Shauna Vayne the Night Hunter of Demacia, was killed, a tragedy which Demacian officials are still investigating.
"In addition, last night the League Champion Katarina the Sinister Blade was attacked by another Champion within the Institute itself." She paused for a moment at the collective gasp from the audience, and received a nod to go on from an uncharacteristically serious Kiersta.
"It is well known that fighting within the Institute's wall, and political fighting outside of the Fields of Justice, when discovered, are punishable crimes by Institute law by which every city-state represented has agreed to abide," LeBlanc continued. "From information the Institute has discovered, both attacks were the result of political plays by a particular city-state to undermine and destabilize the authority of the Institute, an act which could endanger all of Valoran."
"As always, the Institute of War makes all decisions with the best interests of Valoran at heart. Because of this blatant defiance of the Institute's authority and the immediate threat to our citizens, the High Council of Equity and the entire body of Senior Summoners have motioned to hereby restrict the rights of each city-state until further notice."
A small buzz of conversation rose but she pressed on, "We will dispatch groups of our most highly recognized summoners to each of the eight city-states to further elicit cooperation. Emissaries serving in the League Assembly will be consulted as soon as possible in order to disseminate information regarding the current situation, discuss the rights of their city-state, and begin negotiations."
The crowd was growing louder but LeBlanc let out a booming, "Silence!" and a hush settled over the assembly once again.
"Rest assured, we do not intend for this to last forever," she stated. "It is only until we can be sure that the citizens of Valoran are safe from harm, and offending city-states atone for their crimes. We value the support Valoran has given to the Institute of War, and we intend to fulfill our task of protecting you. We thank everyone for their time, and are eager to begin rectifying this terrible situation."
As she turned away, the assembly erupted into noise, questions and insults, support and threats; LeBlanc heard none of it. These fools, putting one organization in charge of the entirety of the continent. Yes, some city-states would be difficult to control, but it was nothing a little diplomatic force couldn't handle. With the power of the Institute behind her, Swain would have no choice but to support her now, and of course, she had an unwitting new ally in the form of Jarvan IV.
She couldn't be certain of her victory yet; the coming weeks promised a high degree of turmoil which would have to be weathered with the utmost caution. Still, she strode confidently back to her office, relishing the feeling of finally, after decades of waiting, scheming, and positioning, controlling the world.
"It's been a long time, Riven," Katarina greeted, much more energized after the bout of healing. "I wish I didn't look as pathetic as I do now."
The Exile held up a hand in deference. "You know as well as I the horror of chemical damage. Be proud that you look as well as you do."
"So formal," Katarina joked. "Forget about Ionia for one second and lighten up."
With a look that bordered between incredulity and amusement, the red-eyed Noxian visibly relaxed and murmured, "You know I cannot forget what happened there. But you... You've changed so much since we last talked. What exactly happened since then?"
It took a while, but Katarina recounted the entirety of her search for her father, the investigation into the League, and the Black Rose. The soldier listened intently, her solemn face unchanging as she took in the details, prompting for more details, until by the time Katarina was finished, she sat in a stunned silence.
"Unbelievable," she whispered.
"Tell me about it," Katarina scoffed. "But now I'm all laid up in the hospital for the next couple of weeks, and then I have to get back into training."
Riven shook her head and rested her bare hand on the assassin's. "You really shouldn't push it. What could possibly happen in the next two weeks?"
"Anything!" the red-head growled. "LeBlanc is too clever, and a High Councilor might be in league with her. So far, all we've done is barely kept up with her, played the victim. Not anymore. We need to act!"
A fire sparked in Riven's eyes. She believed wholeheartedly in the true Noxian vision that strength was the only thing that mattered in measuring the worth of a person. There was no honor in the underhanded political games that had been played with the lives of the Valoran citizens; LeBlanc, Swain, they didn't deserve the power they held.
"What do you suggest?" she asked.
Katarina grinned, "We need to get everyone together and form a plan of attack. No more hiding, no more political bull****. If they want to take over Valoran, they're gonna have to get through us first."
For the first time in over a year, Riven felt a pull toward a cause, a reason to fight. Rising to her feet with a determined look on her face, she smiled, "When do we start?"
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