Chapter 3, Part 1
The mood in the hastily erected, hot tent was palpable - the disdain from everyone inside apparent, and there were a great many people inside such a small area. Darius, the Hand of Noxus, had demanded communications with the Ionian command, though Irelia had forced him here, a mile behind the Ionian front, to prevent any unforeseen treachery.
“You willingly harbor Noxian deserters! By all laws of war, she should be given up as an irregular fighter. She is ours, by prize rules and precedence.” Darius sounded exasperated - clearly the argument had been going on for quite some time. Irelia, for her part, seemed amused, shaking her head as though in response to the tantrums of a child.
“If Noxus wishes to flaunt the rules of war, perhaps she should reconsider her reliance on Zaunite battleforces, Commander. With all due respect, I must refuse your demands. We will not surrender the Exile into Noxian hands, now or ever. We will not reconsider on this issue, and if I may be so bold as to suggest-” She broke off, interrupted by the long awaited League representative, arriving with a small entourage of three hooded Summoners. Irelia nodded respectfully, indicating with a wave of her hand that they should begin with anything they had to say.
The Representative flicked his gold-trimmed hood back, revealing stern eyes over an equally uncompromising expression. He cleared his throat before making his statement, glancing first at Darius before turning to give Irelia, the acting Commander of Ionian Forces, a tidy bow.
“The League wishes to express its agreement with the Commander of Ionia and will not under any circumstances comply with Noxian demands. Whatever she is to Noxus, Riven is still a Champion of the League, and therefore exempt from law of war. This point is not negotiable. The Exile will be taken to the Institute for her own protection and recovery until your war has reached its conclusion. How does Noxus reply?” For the first time, the Representative really turned to face Darius, hands clasped neatly at his belt.
Darius seemed unsurprised, shaking his head in disgust and turning for the exit without replying. The entire Noxian entourage followed suit in a single pivoting motion, paragons of martial order that they were. Several of them bore markings of the Second Fury Brigade, the new elite shock troopers of the revived Noxian Infantry Corps, modeled after Riven’s own men. In minutes, their half of the tent was simply gone, and Irelia breathed a silent sigh of relief. Still, she found her center in a few moments and gave the Representative her peculiar salute, fist over heart.
“You must of course be tired, Representative. One of the colonels will show you to your arrangements. If you will forgive me, I have prior engagements to attend to now, but I will be with you as soon as I can.” She nodded at a colonel, who seemed far too businesslike to actually appreciate being given escort duty at his rank. The colonel hesitated a moment before the slow, individual cracking of Irelia’s knuckles in one folded fist stirred him into much quicker duty.
“Of course, my Lady. I would not keep you from your martial duties in such dire times as these. May your luck hold.” The Representative and his Summoners left, sticking closely enough to the colonel for their nervousness to show. Irelia had a moment to reflect that however brave he had been with Darius, not even the League was prepared to deal with Noxus lightly these days. The thought made her nervous, and she had to shake her head to clear her thoughts.
“Clear my agenda. I’m going to find Kayle.” The surprised major to her left nodded his understanding, looking confused as the Will of the Blades left a few moments later.
Chapter 3, Part 2
“I told you she would be fine.” A smug smirk rested easily on Kayle’s face, her long blond hair pulled away from her blue eyes in a loose ponytail, her helmet comfortably in hand. The angel seemed pleased with herself. “You should have known better than to question my ability to mend such trifles as she suffered.” She tilted her head in a typically self-satisfied nod.
“Stronger women have died from lesser wounds, Kayle. I never questioned your abilities; I wasn’t sure of her willingness to recover.” Irelia’s formal tone came quick and blade-sharp; the Commander wasn’t used to sarcasm directed at her - or, for that matter, condescension. She tolerated it with a frown, changing the subject. “How is she?”
Irelia hadn’t thought any of Riven’s wounds minor. The angel had nearly gutted Riven, and then the gash over the swordswoman’s eye - ugly, ugly injuries. Surely there would be a scar left to remind Riven of the day’s events in years coming, if any of them made it that long; the way the battles were becoming more and more frenzied and desperate with every new theatre, it was beginning to seem like no one, Noxian or otherwise, would outlive the conflict this time.
“She’s resting, now. I would wake her, but I fear for the stability of her wounds should we do so prematurely.” Kayle sighed, running her free gauntleted hand through her bangs, mussing them somewhat. She either seemed to completely ignore or not notice the steel; she never seemed to remove her armor, anyway. “For the moment, she’s recovering, but…” A shrug was all the detail Irelia needed as to the severity of Riven’s situation.
Irelia took the pause in the conversation as an excuse to turn to Riven’s cot, looking at the bandages wrapped around her head especially, but also the edges of the fabric wrapped around her shoulders, too. The healers and Kayle had had more than their fair share of work to return Riven to the land of the semi-living. At least the medical tent was spacious - Irelia hadn’t had the capacity, even if she’d wanted to, to deny Soraka anything the healer asked for. Besides, how did one tell a demi-goddess no? Even if Irelia had denied her, the healer would simply have done it anyway. It struck Irelia that Riven’s frame was delicately thin for a fighter of her renown - Under sheets and bandaged, she looked vulnerable, too much so in Irelia’s opinion.
On impulse, Irelia reached forward to take Riven’s temperature, frowning. “She’s a little cold, Kayle. Get her an extra blanket tonight. I’ll not have her blood on my hands so soon after denying Noxus the pleasure.” Irelia, a little and tent, paused as a scratchy voice made itself known behind her.
“Dismissed, Kayle.” Irelia’s sharp bark responded immediately. The angel seemed unperturbed and remained entirely immobile. “I said dismissed, Kayle.” Maybe it was the set of Irelia’s eyes, or her floating blade that prompted Kayle to obey orders she was under to obligation to uphold - more likely, though, it was the surety of the mortal’s gaze.
“Of course, Commander. When you have need of me, do call. I‘m sure there are things you‘d both like to hear. I think you two have some catching up to do first.” Typically smug, Kayle took her leave with a nod, but not before she handed Irelia the wooden water bowl she‘d procured. Irelia turned again to Riven, deciding not to offer the bowl yet.
“Can you sit? It does you no good to try drinking by yourself unless you can.” Irelia forced herself from jumping down Riven’s throat and demanding explanations - She wasn’t even entirely sure that Riven knew who she was.
Riven struggled into a sitting position, her wounds making the effort worse than it really needed to be, and Irelia offered no helping hand in the matter. Supporting herself on one arm, her eyes began to clear. “So the game’s up then?” She smirked weakly, coughing once from the exertion of being upright.
“Something like that, yes. Drink.” Irelia held the bowl at her mouth while Riven did just that, then tried to swing her legs over the cot. The Commander stopped her by pressing down on Riven’s unwounded shoulder. “Lie down; you need rest yet. Do you know who I am and where you are? Kayle rescued you from the melters on the field. I‘ve never seen Kayle quite so…” The Commander searched for the proper word to convey her thoughts. “Introspective?” A short pause between them grew awkward. “Do you know where you are, and who I am?”
“Yeah, well, of course she‘s introspective. I’m a charmer. You’re Commander Irelia, Will of the Blades, Commander of the Ionian Front and hero of the Placidium. Good enough for you, or should I keep going?” Riven spat, though her voice was thick. She curled up into an awkward sitting position, refusing the order to lie back down. “I have to go. There’s work to do. Don’t you remember the first war? If we don’t wreck their artillery now, they’ll just surge again and we’ll all be easy marks for their rangefinders. We have to go now!” Despite her injuries and the thick, raspy voice, Riven’s eyes were clear now. For the first time in Irelia’s memory, the woman actually looked afraid.
Irelia tapped her chin lightly in response, looking far less concerned than Riven thought the situation called for; the wounded Riven’s temper began to flare up. “You’ll have us all killed if we don’t move aggressively!”
“We’ve already cleared the issue, Riven. Kayle routed them two days ago. You’ve been unconscious for three. Kayle and I had a running bet as to whether you’d even come to. I lost.”
"Then why let me live?" it jumped from Riven's mouth before she could stop herself, but she finally fell back on to the bed as Irelia had insisted. The woman seemed almost disappointed for a moment, but her mind quickly switched gears, considering the question more seriously. "Am I a prisoner, Irelia?" She questioned in a low, serious tone, turning her gaze to the wall opposite her bed. Her voice made it clear that imprisonment would be much, much harder on the Exile than execution.
"Actually..." The commander began, unperturbed, "You're a refugee. A representative from the institute has come to claim you as a league champion, and hopefully wipe your name off that horrid plaque at the front gates... Missing indeed."
"I'm not leaving." It was immediate, and the Noxian's gaze had shifted sidelong to Irelia. Moving her neck was still painful. "I'm not done, Noxus still ha-" She was cut off.
"Then argue it with Kayle." the Will of Blades pointed out helpfully. "I'm sure she'd love to hear you're railing against an Institute decision." It was plain she meant to force Riven's compliance; as much help as she'd been in battle, Riven was now the subject of a political maelstrom. Sending her back to the institute was a simple, elegant solution, though Irelia would be sorry to see her go. Riven’s acts had saved lives and played a large part in the Ionian victory.
"Find me Soraka, and I will." The response grated on the commander's nerves. It was unusual for anyone to openly challenge her decisions, and yet Riven had led the entire conversation, even thinking herself potentially a prisoner; she'd asked the questions and gotten what she wanted. It was hard not to admire her conviction, just a little.
"If she had the time to see you, she already would have. War is a taxing thing for her." She replied. It provoked a silent nod from Riven, who laid back in her bed and attempted to get comfortable despite her injuries. She knew that not everyone had escaped the melter barrages, during or after the battle. It simply wasn't possible, and it filled her with a potent mix of anger and guilt… Fuel for a future fire.
"Then I'll come back." She rasped tiredly, and closed her eyes. There was little point in further arguing that point, and both silently agreed to let it drop, knowing the other was immovable. Instead, Irelia took the opening to question her part-time-captive and fellow ex-champion.
"Why? The last time our nations went to war you were on the other side.", she found herself reminiscing of her time in the league. "You haven't changed. Not at all, Riven. You reek of the Noxian way. So, why risk so much to help your enemies?" she let her sight focus on the woman's face, scanning it intently. What she found was that her quarry's eyes fluttered open, looking back at her with sincerity.
"Noxus has changed, Irelia. And I'm paying my debts." With an almost imperceptible curl of her lips, she added, "Maybe you should see Kayle about doing the same..."
Irelia allowed herself a small grin in response as she, too, left Riven to her rest.
From within her tent, Riven counted several days' passage. It was hard to really tell with the ceaseless insistence that she rest. What sleep she could find was troubled, but for the most part she lay still with her eyes closed to humour them. Kayle would see her daily, using her magic to speed the woman's recovery. Irelia was seen much less frequently, and neither spoke much.
The war had them busy, she knew. She knew more than that, too; Kayle had something important to say, and wasn't speaking. She could only guess what it might be, but knowing the celestial, she guessed it must be serious to impact her the way it had. Still, she spent her days silently appeasing those around her, confident that it was the path to getting what she wanted. Answers, and freedom. Magical healing didn't hurt either.
Having lost count, she guessed it must have been four or five days since Irelia had come to question her and make sure she'd actually lost her bet, when she returned with purpose. The question of what exactly the commander owed to Kayle had been a source of speculation and amusement during her captivity. It was a thought easily stored away while more important things were on the table, however.
Riven looked in her direction expectantly, boredom and anxiety plainly stretched across her face. Her hair had been washed, and her wounds had mostly disappeared thanks to Kayle's aid, leaving only a shallow cut across her belly that would heal soon.
"Can I have a book?" She asked sarcastically. Her confinement to the tent grated on her. She knew it wasn't strictly out of concern for her, either - Riven had been able to walk almost as soon as she'd come to, and had often taken to stretching her legs and even exercising when no one was around. No, she knew that part of her confinement was to keep her secreted away from the soldiers and prevent further political hooplah.
"I didn't know they taught Noxians to read." Countered Irelia as she approached Riven's bedside. She was dressed formally and had a set of Ionian soldier's fatigues in her arms, complete with a large, metal helmet. With a sigh, she laid them flat on Riven's abdomen, and spoke again. "Get up, get dressed, and get your things." Her head swung about indicating the clothes, pack, and of course, overly large broadsword that had been retrieved for the woman during her lengthy convalescence. Riven looked quizzical.
"Do I get to-"
The Noxian rolled her eyes and sighed, but smirked just subtly as she pushed aside the blanket and attempted to get to her feet with as little sign of effort or discomfort was possible. She was convincing, perhaps not enough to fool Irelia into thinking she'd made a full recovery just yet, but the effort still caused her to ache terribly.
Studying the woman carefully for a moment, Irelia spoke evenly. "You're coming to the command tent with me. We're having a meeting." She'd plainly chosen her words carefully, and Riven expected nothing less. Neither was she fooled, by it.
"It's Kayle. She's finally talking."
"How d-" Irelia, for once, looked surprised.
"A Noxian deserter, war criminal, part time prisoner, part time refugee isn't likely to be invited to help plan a strategy to defend a country she once helped invade. They might not teach us to read, but the way Noxus works doesn't exactly breed gullible citizens."
"Well then. Put your uniform on and come with me." it was a thinly veiled concession. Pride made open ones difficult for the commander, but she tried as often as possible to favour her sense of reason.
"Hm." Sighed Riven with no small amount of satisfaction, before turning her back to the commander and immediately beginning to shed her clothes. The thin white cotton shirt she'd been supplied flew onto her cot in one motion the loose fitting pants fell shortly thereafter.
Irelia looked on for a moment, turned for the tent's door. Her earlier sentiment that for her strength, the Noxian was extremely lithe of figure was confirmed; still, Riven had nothing Irelia hadn't seen before. There was a short pause as she cleared her throat, glancing over her shoulder at her friend and sort-of-prisoner. "I was under the impression you wanted to leave." A smirk followed the statement.
"I'm coming, I'm coming. You don't give a girl time to do her hair - Tough standards you have here, Relly." The old nickname slid out Riven's lips before she could stop it; they both paused, each with a quick glance at the other. Riven took the time to very carefully adjust the dress buttons on her collar, glancing down at the oversized helmet in her hands.
"I... suppose so." Irelia's lame response tried to favor humor, but it fell flat against the tension in the air - too much had been said with the mention of her nickname. It filled the short space between them with old memories and dead friends, days long past.
It was Riven who finally broke the trance between them, holding up her much-too-large helmet with a sigh. "Really, though?" The only response Irelia gave was a quick burst of a relieved chuckle.
The command tent was a familiar sight, and one fairly welcome to Riven. Despite being hidden under her massive helmet - It was at least three inches too big, and sat heavy on her shoulders without the support of pauldrons beneath; still, she wasn't about to complain too hard about being allowed some scant illusion of freedom. The tent itself was much larger than the infantry tents surrounding it. Along the way she'd caught glimpses of company tents, with their banners out front proudly showing the emblem of the soldiers who resided there; Riven had to quelch the nostalgia that threatened to sweep through her mind; there would be time for memory. For now, she had work to do. Irelia held the flap aside for her, then followed inside.
"I cannot say that defending is a wise decision. The first fight was not decided only by the timely intervention of our dear friend Kayle, after all." Master Yi sat crosslegged on a cushion by the low table, upon which was laid out a map of the Ionian isles. Kayle seemed to frown momentarily, but her only reply was a small, negative shake of her head. Small statuettes represented the strength and location of both Ionian battleforces and known Noxian picket lines. He nodded respectfully at the pair as they entered, proceeded to outline his opinions on the continuance of war. "Noxian lines are condensed; Darius is confident of his position with the mountains at his back. Press his lines against them - where can he go?" The seven lenses on his peculiar helmet seemed to focus in on Riven, who, as always, felt a twinge of guilt for the crimes of her Noxian past.
"He can sally. And when he does, he won't hesitate to throw his artillery on his own lines. It won't be accurate at short range, but does it need to be?" Irelia spoke up in her formal tone. "A push on his lines is suicide, for us and for him. It's why he chooses to sit at the rocks. We all know why you want to push, Master, but aggression is not the answer here." The commander knew that the Wuju Master had a point - with his back to the wall, Darius could only push forward. It was an exceedingly Noxian style of warfare. "Kayle, you're the one who summoned us. I can only assume you have something to say?" It wasn't really a question, but not many things Irelia asked were.
The angel nodded, taking off her gold-gilded helmet with a flourish. Somehow, and Riven had never actually managed to replicate the effect - the angel's hair always seemed to come out of it perfectly settled. It was a small distraction, but having been alone most of the past few days, it was a welcome one. Still, she settled down as Kayle began to speak.
"Kind words being what they are, rescuing your forces from a battle was never my intention." She was only being honest, in typical Kayle style, but the smug aura the seraph usually exuded was gone, its void filled with angelic grace. "Faced with the choice twice, I would act the same, unquestionably, but it wasn't my objective. I come from the Institute as an emissary, bringing new information. You recall the exile of the du Couteaus immediately following the rise of Jericho Swain, of course - Cassiopeia's execution and Katarina du Couteau's flight to the Institute." She was filling in background they all knew, and Irelia somewhat impatiently indicated with a gesture of her hand that Kayle should get to her point.
Unperturbed, Kayle took a few moments to tuck her hair back behind her ears, then set her helmet on the table. A subtle smirk flickered across her face before she resumed. "It has come to the Institute's attention that there is proof of the illegitimacy of Swain's takeover of Noxus. It would normally not be the policy of the League to interfere with city policy, but in this case, he has acted specifically against the League treaties so signed by his predecessor, the General du Couteau. It is for this reason that I was dispatched to Ionia - The status of Riven happens to be somewhat tied to the issue."
Riven took this to be the signal to remove her helmet, which had up to now hidden her identity for the second time in a week. Tucking her hair back and ignoring Yi's small sigh of disdain, she stepped forward. "And what exactly is my status? I've been treated as a prisoner, a refugee and a political criminal the past week. I can understand Ionian frustration at my... actions, but I saved my company and was instrumental, along with Kayle's assistance," Riven added a nod in Kayle's direction. "...In turning the ti-."
Master Yi interrupted her quietly. "You charged without orders." Irelia nodded, but only slightly. The Will of the Blades had been conflicted on this point over the past several days, too, turning the situation over in her own mind.
"You'd let your men die for lack of initiative? Zaunite artillery fire was directed on the hill. Without orders, they would have stood there to die!" Riven looked at Kayle for support - the angel nodded in tacit agreement. Yes, Riven had saved lives; Master Yi shook his head a slow second time.
"You join our fight to clear yourself, Exile, not to assist us. I feel that this path is the wrong one for you. Noxus is beyond redemption, as are you. Did you think saving the lives of a single company exonerated your crimes?" There was a seething, cold hatred behind the calm facade of Yi's voice - he was striking for Riven's throat, since Irelia would certainly not allow him the chance to do so with his blade. Setting her jaw, she held her tongue, but the tense creak of metal giving way could be heard in her silence as her helmet began to fail under the strain of her grip. The noise spoke well enough for her, drawing the attention of her fellow champions, and causing Irelia to wince just slightly at the way it grated on her ears. Yi lowered his gaze and let his statement stand, but said no more.
The Exile's mind sorted briefly through a series of retorts, but she discarded each of them. The Ionian had every right to hate her after what had happened to his home, and what's more, he was right, mostly. So she'd let him have this, and her grip and posture loosened. After a short sigh, she broke the tension by finally speaking.
"No, I don't think that." She looked down at the damaged helmet before continueing, wishing to avoid meeting the gaze of anyone present. "What I think doesn't matter, that's not why I'm here. Kayle, what is my status?" With her question asked, she lifted her eyes to Kayle's face, finding smug approval in her features.
"Well, Exile, you're a refugee under protection from the Institute of War, where you're to receive political asylum. Noxus disagrees." She punctuated this statement with a sweeping Westward gesture. "They say you're a deserter, traitor, and of course..." She rolled her eyes as she emphasised the next words that come from her mouth; "War criminal." The irony of the accusation was lost on no one in the room. "They want you for execution. As I said, somewhat tied to the issue. It's a facade, and a plain one. Swain is in power, and your actions threaten his plans in Ionia, you're to be eliminated, nothing more nothing less. His plans happen to be at odds with the agenda of the Institute of War, to whom I am loyal." Riven found herself mentally adding 'for the next nine hundred and ninety five years...' to Kayle's sentence but kept this to herself.
"I came here on behalf of the Institute, because it seems that not only has Swain, and by extention Noxus, chosen to disregard the treaties signed at the Institute's inception, he's actively worked to sabotage us. In addition to the disappearance of the General Du Couteau, our old friend also engineered the demise of High Councilor Reginald Ashram." The angel fell silent after speaking these words, allowing them to sink in for her fellow champions. All eyes were on her, now, faces set in stern expressions. Riven felt a pang of disbelief, but it faded quickly. Swain's betrayal was complete, and she refused to put anything past him. In her eyes he was a sickness, killing the Noxian ideal.
Kayle broke the silence, after several long moments. "This war was decided in a sanctioned League judgement, and I came to uphold that judgement. Officially, so did you, but your unique situation as a former citizen of Noxus caused complications. Tomorrow I escort you and the commander to the institute headquarters." Riven felt herself shift her weight in surprise, looking sidelong to Irelia. She was coming, too, then? In her mind, that made the situation more acceptable, at least.
"I see." She said in quiet resignation, and fidgetted with her helmet. She considered replacing it on her head to stop herself, but felt she looked ridiculous in it, which she did. Instead she slung it under her arm and straightend her back. Feeling she'd learned everything she was going to, and wishing to leave the presence of Master Yi, she spoke once more to request her leave. "May I go?" Her companions nodded in unison, and she turned to exit the tent, reluctantly placing the dome shaped helm over her hair to conceal herself from the ordinary soldiery.
Chapter 4 Continued
Back in her tent, Riven gingerly slipped out of her clothing, mindful of the wound in her abdomen, before parting the sheets and sliding beneath them and blowing out her bedside candle. Her accomodations were spartan, but there was a certain comfort to be had from it. It was a soldier's bed, and that suited her. Her eyes closed, and she pulled the cover up over her chest before relaxing into the cot. Her mind was buzzing, and she knew sleep would be a long way off. Mostly she occupied herself with her thoughts, trying to latch on to the least troubling among them. As if on cue, Irelia pushed aside the flap that acted as a door and entered, striding by memory through the near pitch black tent to Riven's side.
"Hi." Murmurred the Noxian to the commander in a voice that was meant to sound sleep-soaked and fatigued. It mostly made her sound apathetic, and seemed to give the commander a slight pause before speaking, but with the tent dark and her back turned, she couldn't see the woman's face to be sure.
"We're leaving at dawn, you won't need the helmet." The commander announced matter of factly. Riven felt relieved that business had been what brought the woman to her after the meeting, but smiled at the remark about the helmet, and rolled onto her back to look for her face, finding only a silhouette. "Pack everything, you will not be coming back here for your things." Irelia added. It was her way of getting in the last word.
"You're coming with me to make sure I cooperate." Riven responded bluntly, but not without appreciation. "You don't trust I'd play by the rules. You could easily send an emissary to the Institute to handle the politics otherwise." Irelia opened her mouth to respond but settled for forming her lips into a thin line and shifting it slightly to one side. Her friend's habit of divining and speaking plain truths out of the blue was both impressive and very irksome.
Deciding to play Riven's talents to her own advantage she spoke again to goad the Noxian forward. Forward seemed to be the only direction she understood anyway. "What else?"
Riven grinned slyly at the perceived challenge but obliged. "You want a chance to speak with Kayle and I, or maybe just me, off the record, I think. You've been awfully reserved everytime I've spoken with you. You're holding back." The sleep was gone from her voice entirely now, replaced by a smug tone more at home coming from the lips of the judicator. "I think it's because you're uncertain." That was true. She'd seen it plain as day when Irelia's nick-name had slipped out of her mouth earlier that day.
Riven hummed low in her throat for a moment before shrugging just enough to visibly ruffle the blankets in the darkness. "I don't know. Uncertainty was never your thing, Relly. You don't wear it well." She bent her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, looking sidelong to Irelia. She'd reused the psuedonym from before with intent, and the result was apparent even in the darkness. Irelia's posture shifted and her muscles tensed, causing something almost like a fight or flight reaction in the woman who moved to speak, but Riven cut her off before she could, changing the topic at hand while maintaining the pressure. "What was at stake, if I died?" She asked bluntly.
Irelia felt herself freeze up. She didn't know what to say or feel in the face of such direct questioning. Really, she didn't even know if she understood what she was being asked, and unwelcome thoughts and ideas sprang up wherever she looked for something to say.
"Riven... No." Irelia groaned and balled her fist and contemplated striking her friend for even asking that. Just speaking her name reminded her that it had already been engraved once on that loathesome plaque at the institute of war. "I'd thought you dead before, and then you were delivered here, practically laid at my feet, and dying. Again." At her back, her blades began to shift unevenly and asymmetrically. In the dark it made her sillhouette seem unstable and threatening. "What the hell do you mean, what was at stake? Yi was right. Coming here and throwing your life away to aid us won't fix anything, and it certainly won't fix you. I don't know why I argued with hi-" Riven had jumped to her feet, and reached out to force her palm over the Ionian woman's mouth.
"The bet.", she clarified in the firmest voice she could manage. With her blanket at her feet it was apparent that she shook just slightly, Irelia could see it, and feel it through the hand over her lips. "If I let you go, are you going to yell at me again?" In the dark, Riven tilted her head slightly, a natural addition to the question. She took the heavy, annoyed sigh from Irelia as agreement and pulled her hand away.
"If Noxus was closer, I'd let them have you, just for that." Irelia grumbled, shaking her head with a frown. "Why do you care about that? It's nothing that matters." The commander was notably evasive, forcing a small chuckle out of Riven. "Are you fevered again? You're shak-" Riven interrupted her with a sigh and a negative shake of her head. Clearly, the Noxian wasn't about to let up on the topic of the bet so easily. "You really want to know?" Irelia seemed somewhat confused by Riven's insistance on the topic, though now that her eyes had become accustomed the the inky darkness inside the tent, there was enough light for her to make out Riven's trademark smirk; the other woman nodded in reply.
"...Kayle's forcing me to knit her mittens."
A long moment of silence fell between them as Riven absorbed the absolutely ridiculous notion of Irelia knitting anything. It started as a slow cackle she tried desperately to hold inside but now her failure was as spectactular as her conduct on the battlefield several days ago. A giggle became a snort and turned into a wonderful, stress-relieving (if short), bout of uncontrollable laughter. Irelia, at first irritated but after a moment allowing herself to enjoy the sheer silliness of the moment, grinned with her.
"M-m-...." Riven flopped herself on the bed, threw her head back in a brief howl. "It's almost as g-good as the time Kayle called Sarah a s-s-streetwalker!" Even Irelia allowed herself a quick chuckle at the memory of better times and the acknowledgement of Kayle's unsurpassed ability to call things exactly as she saw them. Riven's laughter trailed off after, though, as she shook her head. "I don't think Sarah really minded all that much, huh?" Irelia shook her head no, slowly.
"It was a good laugh. I'm sure Sarah enjoyed it, eventually." Irelia reached out and took Riven's hand in hers, gave it a small, if reassuring, squeeze before letting go. "We all did. You should rest now. Kayle and Rakka both'll have my head if you get sick so soon after your recovery." She lifted the abandoned blanket from the ground, handed it over. "I'll wake you at dawn. Get some rest."
Chapter 5, Part 1
The morning found Riven in a more serious mood than the night before, lying awake in her cot even before Irelia came to rouse her. Staring up at her tent canopy while lying still with a placid expression, she didn't even move to acknowledge the shifting of tent flap that announced the commander's entrance. Her motionless posture, along with the glazed way her eyes seemed not to focus on anything at all, made her look nearly dead. It was a passing resemblance betrayed by her steady breathing and the colour in her face, but an unsettling one none the less. She'd have remained that way, trying to ignore the immediate presence of her friend of a blade hadn't laid itself against her neck. That wasn't what provoked her to move, though. In fact, she was content to lay that way, but the flat of the weapon touched her beneath the chin, drawing her gaze toward Irelia's. It moved like a hand, gentle and respectful of the trust its position implied, and even seeming to shift against her skin reassuringly once its' owner was certain Riven was conscious and healthy.
"You're up early." She noted, but her manner and tone indicated concern. Still, the blade swept back behind her, leaving behind a cool sensation where it had touched Riven a moment before. "We're leaving right away. Ready?" Her head tilted, making her seem the light hearted counterpoint to Riven's dreary stillness that morning. The response was a slow nod from her friend, but she didn't move right away.
In her head, Riven's mind was mired in heavy thought and doubt. She didn't want to leave. She didn't want to return to the Institute and sit idle while the world around her changed without her intervention, while friends fought and died without her aid. It was like surrendering, but that only strengthened her resolve to return. Riven had spent time imagining herself tracking Irelia down after her friend returned to Ionia, in disguise, of course. That was off the table for the moment, though; Irelia was watching her expectantly, waiting for her to stir.
"Come on, get up." Turning her back to the cot, Irelia followed this suggestion up with a sweep of her blades to pull away Riven's covers, finally causing a jolt of movement from the lethargic Noxian as she became reacquainted with the cool morning air against her bare skin. "Now." Covering herself with folded arms and bent knees, Riven forced herself to push the weight of her thoughts aside and make a move, if only to keep Irelia's mind at ease. Uneasy minds ask pesky questions, after all. Rising to her feet, Riven hopped lightly from her bed and onto the dirt floor bare footed. From there she strode around the commander's left side, angling her body to the side to slip past the floating blades that accompanied her and step into her field of view.
"It's cold." She made the complaint while looking over her friend slowly from toe to head, examining her travelling clothes. Polished black boots, folded below the knee and fastened by belts, loose fitting grey pants, and a royal blue longcoat, with six pairs of shining buttons running upward above her waist. At her chest the jacket opened into neatly folded lapels with a deep collar that seemed to hold Riven's attention just a moment longer than she had intended. Her eyes moved higher, meeting Irelia's own and locking themselves there. "This is an awful lot of trouble to keep me out of the war... But you look nice."
For her part Irelia was unsure how to behave, looking back into Riven's eyes with a slightly off center expression, lips barely parted and brows raised. Her blades swung in closer to her body, as if they had a mind of their own, pressing into her coat, perhaps to hide whatever passed for their faces. Riven wondered for a moment if they were shy, and that seemed odd to her. To imagine a sword as shy, if it possessed a personality at all, was unusual, but she put that aside, and in fact laid a hand on Irelia's shoulder to run the fabric of her lapel between a thumb and forefinger.
At length, Irelia made the only suggestion she could think of. "...Get dressed, Riven. You'll catch cold." With a shrug, Riven spun on her heel and stepped away from Irelia to oblige her request, hand falling away from her friend almost without thought, brushing the coat as she pulled away.
Behind the commander she quickly and efficiently began to gear herself in the Ionian uniform she'd been given the day before, for lack of any other clothing. It was relieving at least that she didn't have to wear the helmet. She noted with a small smirk that her sharply dressed friend paused for a moment as she dressed before walking swiftly out of the tent. She hadn't looked behind her or spoken a word.
Outside Irelia bit lightly on her lip while standing pole straight outside the tent's entrance. For a moment she felt almost like she was standing a post, and quickly relaxed her posture, but found her hands opening and closing into fists quickly, as though she were nervous. Releasing her lip from between her teeth she wondered for a moment if she actually was. That thought was dismissed immediately from her attention, and she sighed as a way to reset the rhythm of her breathing, calming her thoughts and letting herself relax while she waited for Riven to 'do her hair'.
Sure enough, Riven emerged only moments later, sword and pack slung over her shoulder, with one hand at the back of her head mussing her hair, and a crooked smile for Irelia, who had to admit the bed-head look kind of suited her.
"What now?" The smirk on her face seemed to disappear, replaced by the stony look she'd displayed in her bed once she spoke. She looked directly into her friend's eyes again, and this time the other woman found herself unable to maintain the gaze, looking away. The response was a nod of her head to the side, and a step in the indicated direction, leaving the clear implication that Riven was to follow her.
The pair walked in silence away from the military encampment, to where Kayle and Yi waited with horses. The latter's presence unsettled Riven, somewhat. She'd known that Kayle would be accompanying them, but Yi was an unexpected addition to their travelling party, and she wondered why he'd come with them. It certainly did nothing to improve her mood. She didn't hate the man, or even resent his hatred for her. She hadn't been present at the eradication of his village, but she'd taken part in that war, and stained her hands with Noxus' other atrocities. Just being around him made Riven feel like she was nothing more than the sum of her crimes.
With the Noxian army in the West, the travellers were bound East toward a smaller port-town where they'd board a ship, a repurposed caravel. The journey was a short one, a detail for which Riven in particular was grateful, though it seemed none of them enjoyed riding along in awkward silence. Despite a stony expression, it was obvious who the silence weighed heaviest on, and the transparency of it did nothing to lessen the burden.
Worse yet, the silence left her alone with her thoughts. While outwardly still, internally the Exile was experiencing a familiar sense of turmoil. She had work to do, things to set right, and her chance was being taken away. She wasn't even certain why she went along with it, though she had her suppositions. It was Irelia, that was what kept her on the road, not necessarily in line, but willing to follow. She'd become caught up in the woman, and that wasn't unexpected. Her interest had begun years earlier, but in a completely different form. She'd feared meeting her.
When Riven had joined the League, she had known that meeting the Ionian champions would be a complicated affair. She knew what they saw in her, largely because she saw it in herself. She'd been met with hatred, and resentment, things she'd expected. The Ionians had every reason to loathe her, and she was unapologetic. After her experiences in the war, things like words seemed fleeting and weightless. She had no intention of telling them she was sorry, a few words couldn't repair the damage she'd done, it had have been insulting to suppose such a thing. Instead, she'd done her best to communicate her intentions through action.
Riven had fought on the Noxian side in the judgement that would decide the fate of a large portion of Ionian soil. To her it had seemed like the right way. For Noxus to win ground on the strength of their soldiers, or to lose, fairly, and they had lost. When it happened, Riven found herself conflicted, but pleased. She had fought hard, her hardest, and the Ionians had won. She was happy for them. After the match she took a moment aside to congratulate them, in earnest. That moment had been the start of the change in her interest.
They were polite to her, all of them. Some, as the Blind Monk, who had personally suffered to end the war, were even gracious, but all of them were skeptical - All of them, with the exception of Commander Irelia, who had turned things on their head by looking Riven in the eye and sincerely commending her. She knew that, for Riven, the fair fight had been a victory as well. One of principle, and the redemption of the Noxian way. Strangely, despite having fought on the opposite side in the war, Irelia seemed to understand.
Moored in her thoughts of the past, Riven hardly noticed the loveliness of the Ionian countryside she was passing through. Riven's moodiness wasn't lost on Irelia, who wasn't entirely sure what to make of it; before, there had always been an innate playfulness to her melancholy, a silver lining on a darker cloud. Her own dark cloud had almost descended on the Commander as an obnoxious, deep chuckle came from ahead of their little warband. Kayle reacted in typical Kayle fashion, with her sword bursting into angelic fire, which in Irelia's opinion certainly counted as 'fair warning.'
"Helloooooooooooooo there ladies and gent! May I divert your attention to stage le.... No, wait... Morgana? What was my opening again? Is it left or right?" Draven's full showman's baritone burst out from a copse of trees to the party's left, followed by a feminine, annoyed sigh. "Ha, whatever." His dismissive reply was almost immediate.
"LEFT. Idiot." Morgana made her stately way from the copse proper, followed by full ten man honor guard of the Second Fury Company, scowling under her long bangs. It was clear from her expression that the Fallen One had been dealing with Draven's theatrics for the past several hours. "What my incompetent cohort intends to emphasize is that you are all treading very closely to the possible end of the new Occupation of Ionia. We only invaded for Riven, as we all well know."
Chapter 5, completed
A small shockwave settled through Riven at Morgana's words. A more straightforward, bald-faced lie she'd never heard! Noxus had invaded Ionia a full month prior to her enlistment in the Infantry, relying on the label of 'mercenary' and her bucket helmet to protect her anonymity. Her weapon hadn't been a problem, either. She'd left the forty pound hilt in Noxus, where it had been taken as a trophy by Swain, the first of many signature items in his collection. It served, as did Gangplank's Bilgewater Cutlass and Miss Fortune's Shock and Awe pistols, as a visible reminder of Jericho Swain's, and by extension, Noxus', authority over his dominion.
"Lies! Had I more time, we could settle our business in the here and now, Morgana." Kayle's fury rang through the space between the two parties, empowering her already charismatic voice with the quiet undertones of majestic bells; Riven found herself momentarily enthralled under the seraphim's sway before the seriousness of the situation at hand and her natural force of will returned her to the present. Irelia seemed unmoved, her mouth set in a typically stoic expression, although her eyes blazed with some emotion the Exile couldn't immediately place. Morgana chuckled at Kayle's empty (though obviously enthusiastic) threat - No one had moved, Noxian or otherwise, and it was the quiet relative calm before a larger storm.
A long, uneasy silence settled between them, broken finally by Master Yi's somber monotone. "You imply that Noxus will remove herself from Ionian ground if we accede to your demands." He tilted his head thoughtfully on the roan he rode, glancing at Riven. "Perhaps her path has found her - Certainly she hasn't found it." A chill settled through Riven's bones; an echo of the previous night's conversation with Irelia rang in her head.
Does Irelia think I'm following the Way? So many dead, so many wounded because of me - It's a lie, but if I can stop all of this - is that redemption?
A soft snap of her reins sent her horse walking forward slowly. The Second Fury Company, whose insignia Riven hadn't noticed until now, and which only served to heighten her unease, were settled across the gently rolling field alternatively tensing into either formal postures of battle or laughing amongst themselves, a break in discipline which would never have been allowed under Riven's captaincy.
A quiet clicking came from somewhere behind her - Riven couldn't identify the source without looking back, and she was unwilling to take her attention off the Noxian detachment. She sensed her pinto's intentions a moment before the horse came to a stop, frowned. Peculiar - an Infantry captain, Riven hadn't had much training or use for cavalry, and didn't connect the clicking to her horse's actions. She flicked the reins a second time, curiously. Her mount still refused to advance, and Riven wasn't about to risk injuring the animal by forcing it.
"She stays under Ionian protection until such time as the League is capable of providing for such measures." Irelia used the clear, calm cadence she reserved for formal political speech, though Riven caught on to an undertone of anger in the other woman's voice. Ordinarily the sound of an annoyed Irelia would have had her at least apprenhensive; now it had her thrilled. Riven turned in her saddle, somehow both confused and elated - Irelia... didn't want her to leave? The Commander walked her mount forward in a slow, relaxed gait.
"The will of Noxus rests on her ability to fight, now as ever, and not on the quietly muttered threats she seems to prefer. This is the last consultation Ionia will hold with Noxus on the subject of Riven. Our stance is permanently non-negotiable. I suggest you and yours return quickly - Darius does not strike me as the kind to appreciate being kept waiting." A smirk played across Irelia's expression as she clicked twice at Riven's horse, which took calm steps backwards to rejoin its fellows. "Unless you feel that we can more adequately settle the issue here. I'm sure that your reputations precede you - What are four Champions of the League to your powerful presences? "
Even Master Yi chuckled at Irelia's speech and impromptu threat, dismounting and leaning against his horse; Riven adjusted her posture on her mount, clearly ready if Irelia called on her. Kayle's grip on her sword tightened so much that the metal pommel creaked under the force of her hand, eyes blazing within the shade of her helmet.
Morgana took the threat seriously, taking a step back to make room between herself and Kayle, notably also in the direction furthest from Yi. "It was, of course, a hypothetical. Noxus should never desire to find herself acting against the law of war. Noxus appreciates Ionia's will to hear her out." Shooting a withering look in Kayle's particular direction, the fallen angel turned, barking out orders in her commanding tone.
Draven chuckled with his usual empty grin, winked once each at Kayle, Irelia and Riven. "Next time, ladies." The Noxians scattered, refusing even in retreat to give up the paths they'd taken around the Ionian front lines.
Irelia stood at the bow of the merchant ship Illana, a three-masted caravel that had certainly, she thought, seen better days before the war. All ships with more than two masts had been commandeered by the Ionian navy (scant as it was to begin with) to help defend her shores against Bilgewater pirate raids. The defense had met with only marginal success in these early months of the war, but it was still better than simply leaving the small fishing villages to their own devices. Despite her unease, Irelia was forced to remind herself that though she despised sea travel, this was an evil borne of necessity - Riven had to be transferred into League custody - At least with Yi dispatched back to the command headquarters at the Ionian front, she had some space to think. He'd been pestering her with his desires for a massive, win-or-die fight with Darius' armies, something she simply wasn't willing to risk, not when the showdown with Morgana and Draven had demonstrated how easily her pickets could be bypassed. She'd left solidifying the lines against intrusion to Master Yi and continued onward with Riven and Kayle in tow.
The quiet of the evening served to help her gather her thoughts, reaching for the strains of cause-and-effect that had been lurking in the back of her mind since her arrival aboardship. Riven had been silent, of course, since Irelia had denied her offer of surrender; Irelia couldn't say she'd have been much different were she in the Noxian's position. With a sigh, she came around to finally admitting to herself what her real question was - Was she using the League's decision as a pretext to extend her time with the Noxian, and what exactly did that mean, if she was? Surely her priorities had changed with Riven's arrival. At first, she'd have been happy to have forced the Noxians off Ionian territories and push for more favorable terms than the last peace. Sacrificing Riven to the gods of peace was certainly the easiest method of achieving those goals - Why hadn't she accepted the obvious bait?
She cared too much for Riven. But what did that mean, exactly? And beyond that, how was it affecting her reactions to recent events?
Irelia leaned forward against the rails on deck, putting her weight more on her hands than her feet as she took a deep breath of the sea air. Admitting her emotions was easy, now that she had time to reflect on them. Now she had to decide what that meant for her position, and whether her judgement was being clouded by her emotions, a question that roiled through her mind and must have shown in her face, because the voice that roused Irelia from her daydreams was more concerned than curious.
"You look like Shaco just shivved your puppy." It was a mystery to Irelia how she'd managed to miss Riven's heavy step on deck, then decided it didn't matter; she had a tendency to block out most things external, especially under the burden of command and responsibility she held now. "I'm not sure what worries me more, that I don't know what you're thinking or the fact that I'm pretty sure you can't swim. I seriously doubt those things are any help in the water, right?" Riven mimicked her posture against the rails, shaking her head with a sad chuckle. "I thought you said Master Yi was right. Throwing my life away, and all that. Now you stop me from doing something right, for once. What do you want from me, Relly? I don't know what to think of all this any more." Riven turned on her heel, back to the sea. They faced opposite directions, though their elbows nearly touched.
It should have come as no surprise to Irelia that the straightforward Noxian had cut right to the heart of her own thoughts, but it did. "I'm sorry? I don't understand what y-"
Riven cut her off, annoyed. "Don't bull**** me, Irelia." Riven's expression switched from distant to that blank face that Irelia had, and would always, despise. It struck her as soulless, lost - only one of which she considered Riven to actually be. "Did you forget already? What are you really doing, throwing me off to the League? We both know they'll just lock me in a room and laugh about giving Noxus the finger. They don't care about me, they care about politics. Whose leash are you on?" Her voice was strained - Irelia wasn't sure who Riven was angriest with, the League for passing judgement on her, Noxus for making their demands or with Irelia herself.
"What am I supposed to have forgotten? That I thought you were dead once? That I've already grieved over you or that every time something happens, you run off to be a hero and die for someone else's problems? You have no right to question my loyalties in th..." Irelia felt herself being provoked - and the stunning realization that Riven was intentionally antagonizing her, trying to goad Irelia into responding. Worse, she realized, it had worked. "I don't understand what are you implying. That I chose this for you? Do you think I want to be in the position you've..." She took a moment to take a deep breath and to bite down on the temper that Riven was so accurately poking with her proverbial stick. "No, Riven. I won't fight with you over this. Not here, and not now. I suggest you get some rest and -"
Irelia had turned towards Riven to give her a lovely earful of 'if-Soraka-was-here' and ended up interrupted with Riven's lips against her own, a powerful sensation that was as conflicting as it was... pleasant. It lasted only a quarter of a second, just long enough to quite effectively shut the beginning of Irelia's tirade down into a hiss of sucked breath.
The pause lasted just long enough for Irelia to see that Riven was quite as surprised by this turn of events as she was. The pent-up well of emotions that Riven had so forcefully hurled against Irelia not even a minute ago was gone, apparently drained by their kiss and replaced by a cool, flat exterior that Irelia didn't understand, not that she felt like she understood anything right then. She could only stare at Riven's back as she walked away, looking, quite frankly, like Shaco had shived her puppy, confused and distressed.
Well, that was.... interesting.
Riven stared up at the ceiling of her cabin from her bunk, one arm draped comfortably across her forehead. She thought back over the events of the past fifteen minutes and grinned to herself. Worth it? Of course. The only problem that kept returning to her mind (her refugee situation notwithstanding; that was never far from her thoughts) was, what now?
She'd let her impulsive nature get the better of her, but that was nothing new. Even joining the Ionian front had been a spur of the moment plan, a flash of inspiration on hearing news of the Noxian invasion. There was, too, the fact that she'd enjoyed herself with Irelia - she felt like after what she'd been through recently, there wasn't any harm in indulging herself. Irelia had, for the first time in years, so far as Riven could remember, really been angry with her. Irelia had clamped down on her temper, but she'd still allowed herself to be provoked; knowing what buttons to push had let Riven let her own frustrations out against Irelia - it hadn't been fair, but effective... and the look on Relly's face was priceless, at first.
Riven's smile faded and she rolled over on her side, back to the door. She lay with her knees tucked up slightly, a comfortable position that made her feel a little better. The more she thought about Irelia's last look, the more a thick depression fell over her. She'd hurt Relly, pushed too hard and too deeply with her attack. Irelia had nothing but Riven's safety in mind, and Riven had used those emotions for her own benefit. Relly was on her own leash - of that, Riven was now sure, but the cost was too high.
Riven had never exactly hidden her attraction to the Ionian, but she'd never plainly acted on it either. Irelia had either pretended not to notice to ignored her implications. Being stoic sucked, she decided. There was no fun in being so rigid... but at the same time, Riven deeply envied Irelia's ability to compartmentalize, to act solely on her reason. It was something the Noxian had never quite mastered.
A gentle hand knocked on the door to her cabin, interrupting her thoughts. Irelia's voice was gentle, but audible through the entirety of her small room. "Riven? We should speak. May I come in?" A pause; Riven heard the clinking of Irelia's blades. It brought her a sad smile, but the Noxian willed herself not to stir and concentrated on listening. Irelia knocked again, and then it sounded like she might've placed her hand on the door, from the creak of pressure against the frame.
She covered her face with her pillow, tried to ignore Irelia's presence outside. "Riven, please." Riven knew Irelia wasn't begging; the proud Ionian commander would, as far as Riven was concerned, never stoop so low as to beg to anyone, for any reason. It was, actually, a play against Riven's curiosity, and it paid off. With an audible groan, she rolled off the bed and opened the door, leaning her head against the frame, putting on her best I-don't-care expression and ignoring the twinges of residual guilt she felt from throwing darts against Irelia earlier.
"Did you want something?"
Irelia looked tired, Riven couldn't help thinking. A little sad, too. Maybe the pressure was getting to her? Possibly, but that didn't seem likely. Irelia had always been reliable, rock-stable and that was one reason Riven's affection for her was so strong.
Irelia seemed to second-guess herself, shook her head with a sigh. "May I come in? This is a terrible place for a conversation." Her hands were clasped politely at her waist, a gesture of Ionian origin that suggested humility.
"You should go to bed. You look miserable."
Irelia sighed, shaking her head with a frown. She seemed to know that at the moment she was rather under the weather. "You are a mystery to me, Riven. I don't know what you want from me any longer - I cannot protect you under these circumstances. I will be relieving myself of your escort once I safely see you to Piltover." She paused, thinking over her next words. "If you'll just talk to me, I might be able to reconsider." Irelia's expression was mostly composed, but her eyes pleaded with Riven to say anything at all that might lead to civil discussion. Clearly, Irelia didn't want to order herself off Riven's escort - and it was only fair, what she was asking.
Riven couldn't do it. Relying on anyone, even Irelia, was something she wasn't willing to do. Her burden was her own, and Riven refused to share it.
A minute of what amounted to a staring contest ended when Riven shut the door in Irelia's face.
Chapter 6, part 1
For what remained of their voyage, Riven rarely left her room. It felt to her to be more of a prison then her tent had at the Ionian encampment had been, but it was all she had for refuge aboard the ship. Not that it protected her from much. Irelia was polite enough, or perhaps wounded enough, to leave space between them, but the worst of it came from Riven's own thoughts.
She knew what she'd done had put distance between herself and Irelia, taking away one of the only benefits of her situation, and worse, hurt someone she cared about. Merciful as it was not to have to exist under her friend's stare, she found herself wishing for her company. Conflicted, as it seemed only Irelia could leave her.
What she needed was a way forward, something concrete, something she could act on. Dwelling on her emotions was neither, and it was something she avoided whenever she could. In this case it proved difficult, the subject of it all had a pull for her that seemed to hook her interest and drag her consciousness back, kicking and screaming if need be. She wanted nothing more than a way out, the freedom to right the damage she'd done, and perhaps, to pursue a source of happiness at the end of it all. She knew what she wanted, at least. So what was the way forward?
Lying on her back, staring up at the dusty boards of the deck, Riven had no answer to that, and she doubted she would any time soon. She was going back to the league, to be made a political spectacle of. She'd be penned up there, contained and controlled, with her goals taken from her. So what was there left? She covered her face with her hands and rolled to her side.
If Irelia remained true to her threat? Nothing. Ofcourse she'd been angry with Irelia, the commander had to understand what she was doing to Riven by handing her over to the League for protection, she thought. She was taking away all that Riven had; her chance, at doing the right thing, redeeming herself, demonstrating that the Noxian way could still work. The real Noxian way. The way that had enthralled her, motivated her, shaped her, which had been rejected and spat upon by a self serving and deceptive leadership.
And all of that might've been tolerable with Irelia beside her. That was impossible too, though, and she knew it. Irelia had her duty and her country, Irelia would have to leave, whether from the institute or Piltover. The end was the same, it didn't matter, and that thought left Riven feeling a way she had not felt in a long time. Defeated.
Irelia found herself busy, almost irritatingly so, with constant attention from the crew. Most of it was professional, at least. Discussions about their route, schedule, risk of running afoul of the Noxian fleet. Some of it was more personal interest however. Attention from the sailors due to either her looks, station, or status as a champion. Everything from attempted small talk to subtle hints that they could show her the nicest places to drink and cavort on the mainland.
Normally such inane and unappreciated advances would quickly draw her ire, but for the time being they made the voyage feel mercifully short, even if they were somewhat irksome. Distractions were welcome, and Irelia had been provided with just enough activity with dismissing her admirers to keep Riven's behaviour in the back of her mind. It always came to the forefront when she was alone, however. In those moments she didn't know whether the trip could end quickly enough, or if she dreaded its' conclusion and the resulting departure.
She'd frequently found herself seeking out Kayle for any unrelated reason she could think of in those moments. Everything from discussion of tactics and logistics to a cup of tea or a game of 'Go'; a strange stone based game from Ionia which the celestial had taken an interest in. To Irelia's chagrin she was an apparent natural. She harboured no doubt that her friend knew she was troubled, she even suspected that Kayle knew the nature and source of it. It struck her tellingly that her normally smug companion said nothing at all about it, something the commander mentally credited her for. Even if she happened to be blessed with the most frustrating case of beginner's luck she'd ever witnessed.
Regardless of how she might have felt, their ship route concluded and Irelia found herself at staring out from a porthole, silent and stoic, but with a lead weight settling in her stomach. The gangplank was set, and their passage was finalized. The day was miserably cold and grey, spitting rain in a way that seemed noncommittal, as if even the weather had written the day off.
A sharp rapping on the wood of her cabin door grabbed her attention, forcing some colour back into her perception. "Enter." She called, turning to face the wooden frame with her hands folded behind her back. Her blades fanned out from behind her, resembling the display of a peacock. When the door was pushed open, and the silhouette of a silent, white haired Noxian girl greeted her, however, the fan of metal closed in, retreating behind the deep blue of her long coat.
Riven was wearing a loose fitting white cotton tunic, tied at her waist with a bit of spare rope and drawn up beneath a hooded green cloak, satchel slung over her left shoulder. She bore a blank expression, more a lack of one at all. Irelia had seen it from her before, her friend joined first joined the league she had rarely so much as blinked. The return of this particular mannerism gave her a cold pang; something she hoped her own expression had not betrayed.
From the doorway Riven turned back to the stairs that led to the deck while beckoning Irelia with a simple statement; "It's time to go." She disappeared up the steps then, leaving no room for a reply. Annoyed, her blades bristled up above her shoulders for a moment before settling. Without much choice in the matter, Irelia followed the Noxian topside, and into the damp weather.
She had a hard time being too angry with Riven. It was almost admirable that even with control taken from her she seemed to be leading the way to an outcome she hated, a line of thought that Irelia swept aside, she'd been over this with herself already. She understood Riven's anger, and it weighed on her. She felt however, that her obligations to her country and the league, particularly in such a precarious political state, necessitated her actions, and their cost.
On the deck Riven stood with Kayle, the pair waiting together for Irelia to join them so they could disembark. Reluctantly joining them she moved to lead them down the wooden ramp provided-but once again found Riven ahead of her. The Noxian always moved like she had something to prove, that day it seemed she could handle anything. Even shedding her purpose for the sake of politics she didn't trust. Irelia just shook her head and fell into step silently.
At least one of them was less than content with the quiet. Nary a word had been spoken on deck, and the tension was grating on her nerves. Kayle, deciding to liven things up, stepped in beside the Exile on the gangplank and casually gave her a solid outward shove. Riven found herself displaced, off of anything solid, and having only time to look back at her assailant in surprise, plummeted down into the frigid sea water.
"...KAYL-!" She'd managed to shout the beginning of what may well have been a threat before she struck the waves. The Judicator didn't seem to notice, and Irelia was certain the woman was strutting the rest of the way to the dock. It was an absurd thing to witness, and she brought her hand quickly to her mouth trying to fight the laugh she knew was coming. The effort barely helped, making it harder to contain, her own posture and the positioning of her blades loosened visibly and after a few seconds Irelia lost it. Completely and utterly, back hunched, tears in her eyes lost it.
Kayle stood at the edge of the docks, watching Riven scramble up the wooden structure to where the celestial stood with a furious look on her face. As she reached the edge and slung one arm up onto the planks to begin lifting herself, she twisted her head around to look at her friend. The sight and sound of Irelia holding her ribs and crying with laughter put out whatever ire she may have felt for Kayle. Turning back around the angel's gloved hand greeted her, and she accepted her help back onto the dock without complaint. In fact, she smiled a silent thanks to her. Even if she was soaked and it was cold out, she figured she could handle it.
"Come on, Relly." Her voice had softened for the request. "The sailors are giving us looks." Her arms crossed over her white tunic and she pulled her cloak more tightly around herself as she noted this, smiling wryly. "We wouldn't want any rumours." At length, Irelia obliged, stepping down to the dock and patting her once on the shoulder as they set off.
Her messy white bangs whipped against her cheeks and softly pointed ears, large aquamarine eyes held wide into the oncoming wind despite the gunner's goggles that rested unused, on her head. She sat in a sidecar attached to one of Piltover's wondrous transportation devices. A strange thing with two parallel wheels lined up beneath a frame with a seat. Next to the rear wheel her small seat rolled along on a set of smaller wheels of it's own. To the Megling, it seemed like great fun.
Tristana held her arms up over her head and grinned wide into the bright, cloudless sky as Sheriff Caitlyn lead them through the streets of the City of Progress. The sun against her face felt warm and liberating as it snuck between the towering buildings to shine on her and her companions. It seemed to her to be a beautiful day for the time of year; mid fall. Harrowing time was coming, and she'd found herself a date for the annual Piltover festivities.
The sidecar had been designed for use by a full sized human, and was large enough to seat not one, but two tiny humanoids. Leaning to her left and relaxing into the plush cushioning, Tristana sighed contentedly. "Teemo", she began, "I can't dance. You'll have to teach me." Now she'd drawn the gaze of Caitlyn, who just smiled at her and shook her head slightly. Tristana guessed the human thought her and Teemo were cute. That didn't bother her too much, Cait had been good to her since she'd come to Piltover.
After the destruction of Bandle City the little people who survived it ended up as refugees and nomads. Most had settled in Piltover; few other places would take them. For Tristana in particular this had worked out well enough. Caitlyn was an intelligent, tall woman, who Tristana could talk guns with, and also who could reach the top shelves when they went shopping together. She dearly missed Bandle City, but now she always had Teemo with her.
A stop and subtle forward jerk as her momentum dissipated pulled the small gunner from her reminisces and back into the bright, comfortable morning. They'd reached their destination, a short ways outside of the city they had a hill, topped with a gnarled old tree for shade, and in the lee of the hill a field with targets, large and small, near and distant. Caitlyn dismounted the bi-wheeled vehicle gracefully, and Tristana followed suit in her own way. It took a bit of doing for the smaller woman to hop over the edge of the sidecar and down into the grass while holding her cannon, but it was easier than firing it from the hip.
With a grin, she called over her shoulder; "Come on, Teemo!"
The wheels of her bi-wheel kicked up mud and splashed water over her and her passenger as she exited the city and the roads softened from stone to dirt. It was miserable outside. Cold, wet, foggy. Hardly a good day for shooting, and yet Tristana had insisted they go out to practice together, seeing no problem at all with the weather. That didn't surprise her.
"Teemo", said Tristana, "I can't dance. You'll have to teach me." Caitlyn looked back at her when she said this, and smiled sadly, shaking her head. The girl in the sidecar seemed not to care or notice. There was silence between them, and the human it felt tense. Thankfully they were approaching their destination.
In short order, Cait pulled to a sliding stop, kicking up mud and leaving a streak in the dirt path. She killed the engine and lifted her leg to stiffly come to a stand on the side opposite the decrepit, beaten up sidecar where Tristana and her gun sat on a shredded leather seat. The smaller woman grabbed her gun and made her way up the hill. She seemed impossibly cheery as she shouted for Teemo to follow her.
The sniper took her time, letting her friend go on ahead, she needed a moment to collect herself. Breathers like it were become a frequent necessity for her. Tristana was a good friend, and often the bright point of any dark day. Her value to Cait was inestimable. Still, she hadn't taken the destruction of Bandle City, or any of the aftermath of it, all that well, and the oddities it had aroused could become unsettling.
With a sigh she removed her helmet, shaking out her hair and revealing her features. Sharp, with an angular face, high but subtle cheekbones, and a black leather patch over where her left eye had been; another casualty of the war with Zaun. The loss at least seemed not to hinder her aim.
Stepping to the rear wheel and pulling her disassembled rifle from the saddlebags, she quickly put it back together, and ensured every possible adjustment was to her liking. For her it was a calming and therapeutic exercise, one she repeated often to keep herself steady.
In short order, with her breath even and her mind calm, Caitlyn shouldered her rifle and walked up the gentle slope of the nearby hill to take shelter underneath the tree. Tristana had already begun shooting, generating an astounding ruckus. Strange as the perpetually smiling little woman could be, Cait admired her way with that gun. Truthfully she admired her endless cheer, as well, even if she attained it a little differently.
Picking a target, a distant one Tristana had not yet annihilated, the brunette set her sight on a 'T' shaped straw man with a worried facial expression painted on the sack that served as his head. Raising her barrel to account for distance, and running the numbers in her head for the wind and rain, she decapitated the dummy at a range that would leave some straining to see.
"Huh. Still got it." It was spoken with utmost satisfaction.
Shivering, with her cloak pulled tightly around her, Riven's mood was oddly improved. It gave her something else to focus on. Every step closer to Piltover was a step closer to warmth, rather than a step further off of her path. Irelia had warmed to her, if only slightly, as well, seeming to sympathize with the freezing Noxian. All offers to wear her admittedly gorgeous coat went politely refused, however. Riven didn't want to get the fine garment wet.
Irelia didn't like it, but she found herself able to understand Riven's refusal. Without recourse she was obliged to simply let the stubborn woman suffer quietly. The experience wasn't without its charm, and Kayle didn't seem at all bothered by the misery she might have caused the Exile. There was something appealing about the normally rigid and stoic white haired soldier being forced to bundle herself into her clothes and shiver. Her humble stature and blood flushed cheeks completed the picture. She looked young and vulnerable; cute.
These were thoughts she didn't get to expand upon. An echoed gunshot met her ears, and the three of them went on the alert. Another, louder and lower sound followed it. Knowing they were closing on Piltover, it boded poorly to hear gunfire. In unison, the trio took off at a run toward the source of the sound. Kayle took flight after a few steps, and Irelia spread her blades our behind her like wings before craning them forward in a threat display.
Riven had no wings. She had no mystical weapon. Hers had been broken and stolen. Without the heft of her signature blade she was reminded where she was running to, and the temptation to veer off and leave her companions behind built in her gut. It was crushed quickly.
It was inherently against her to let her friends charge into potential danger without her, but more than that, the self disgust she felt in that moment gave her an important insight. With her stride growing in speed she overtook Irelia, who she knew she could not leave behind, not for any reason. Riven was going willingly. Through Piltover, over the Ironspike mountains, past Zaun, to the Institute of War. All of it on her own two feet. She didn't fully understand why she would allow her freedom to be taken from her, but the realization carried her forward, down the road and over a hill to the source of the noise, ahead of even Kayle.
Looking over her shoulder to the willful woman, she smiled bitterly. That would all change once she left. She wondered if, once that happened, she'd still go willingly, or whether she'd fight. It was a rare moment for her, but Riven let it pass in favor of the need for action. Thought would slow her down if they needed to act suddenly.
Riven and Irelia ran, with Kayle's quiet wings flapping overhead, up a short path to a hill. As they crested it, a familiar (if somewhat unexpected) pair turned to meet them, their expressions just as confused as Riven's felt - a soft gasp escaped her as she realized it was Tristana and Caitlyn. She didn't notice Cait's eyepatch for another second, and then had to look away with a slow, guilty frown.
Caitlyn slung her rifle under her shoulder after a quiet pause between the five of them, broken only by Tristana's excited giggle. She glanced between Riven and Irelia as Kayle descended nearby. "You look absolutely peaked! Never mind that it's excellent to see you all, but is everything quite all right?"
Irelia shook her head, relaxing as the pair seemed as confused about the ruckus as they were. "Well, that explains most of our worries. We heard you shooting and, well. Things the way they are, of course, we were concerned. Do you think we could get an escort into town?" Irelia noticed Riven's expression, giving Kayle a glance that the celestial returned with a silent nod. "We're on League business." Riven sulked at the edge of the hilltop, guilt for Noxian actions weighing on her conscience once more and in general unwilling to interrupt Irelia.
As Irelia spoke, Tristana gave a little squeal of excitement, clapping her hands together in anticipation and cutting off the Sheriff's reply. "Can we, Cait? It's been so long since we've all gotten to talk like friends! Please? Pleasepleaseplease?"
"I - yes, Trist, we can, but restrain yourself. We'll call for a more formal escort, and we'll give the people something to celebrate, hm?" Caitlyn favored Trist with the ghost of a smile before trying to resume a more normal mode of conversation with the other three. "It'll only take an hour or so, and she was adamant about target practice today, so two birds with one stone, don't you think?"
Riven nodded sullenly, apparently not caring one way or the other and walking away from the group to stand by Tristana, who had raced to the sidecar and called dibs several times already. Despite being a bit unnerved by the hyper Yordle, Riven didn't mind it too much. It was strange to be in such close proximity, though - Yordles were forbidden to live in Noxus proper and most had chosen to live in Bandle City prior to its destruction early in the war. Despite their time in the League, she'd never really gotten used to it.
"Teemo and I have dibs! Dibs on the sidecar, nyahh! Riven! Why do you look so sad? It's such a nice day outside! Look!" Tristana leaned against the sidecar, her cannon tossed inside. She made a grand gesture with her arms, encompassing the misty, wet day. "Cait says smiling makes you feel better. I dunno if that's true, but we're all friends and there's gonna be a big celebration when we get into Piltover!" She giggled, and her enthusiasm was enough to make even the dour Noxian chuckle. Despite the fact that Riven had yet to see Teemo, she decided to take the cheerful Trist at her word and enjoy her change in mood.
Riven stared out at the dismal 'party' with a more-thoughtful-than-usual frown - when Caitlyn had mentioned a celebration, this was almost, but not quite exactly, the opposite from what she'd imagined. Piltover had suffered greatly during the fight for the city, the strife only somewhat abating after a negotiated ceasefire that ceded most of the city to Noxian control. Many Piltoverians had lost businesses, families, life savings, homes. No wonder they didn't seem quite thrilled when champions of the League, who had not defended their rights when they needed to be defended most, came into town under formal escort with their Sheriff in tow.
It had been a hasty affair, small banners flying from streetside verandas, which Riven only noticed after taking a glance at the misty sky. If there was ever a day to have a party, she decided promptly, this wasn't it. The people seemed unhappy and tired, and nature refused to cooperate. The wind blew cold off the shores and rain fell in intermittent patters. There was a small formal dance holding in spite of everything, and the sight of such strained normalcy finally drove the Noxian to leave, seeking refuge in the privacy of an unihabited bridge. Riven leaned over the side, staring down at the murky river beneath.
A small voice calling her name roused Riven from her brooding silence along the bridge. Alerted and nervous in a strange city, she prepared herself for a trap - Half of Piltover was, after all, Noxian. She was surprised to see Tristana, looking slightly lost herself and calling Riven's name again.
"I'm here, Trist." Riven called out, waving her right arm just enough to signal the Yordle before settling down with her back to the bridge's guardrail, ignoring the wet, cold feeling of the cobbled street through her thin pants. She leaned her head back to look up at the sky so that she wouldn't have to watch Tristana's quick, stubby stride over.
"I can't find Teemo. He was supposed to dance with me! Have you seen him?" Trist sat down beside Riven, looking up at the sky intently after the Noxian refused to look at her. "What are you looking at?" Trist's happy voice grew somber as she tilted her head to get a better view of the dark clouds.
"I haven't." Riven scooted away from Trist, sighing at the questions. "I'm not looking at anything, I guess. I'm really not the kind of girl who likes parties. He didn't tell you where he was going?" She tilted her head down to gauge Tristana's expression, which gave her the impression that the Yordle was trying very hard to remember something important.
A sniffle broke through Trist's composure as she shook her head. "He said... I don't remember." She leaned her shoulder into Riven's chest, prompting an uncomfortable, slow draping of the Noxian's arm around her. She perked up at the touch, voice almost returning to normal. "Teemo's scouting ahead. He's scouting ahead to make sure it's sa-" Tristana's tiny voice trembled. "He was supposed to teach me how to dance." Her head shook slowly from side to side, giving Riven a terrible sensation of forboding. "Riven, Teemo's not coming back, is he?" She looked up slowly at Riven, expressive, overlarge eyes brimming with tears.
A sudden flash of intuition explained Caitlyn's strange behavior, Tristana's insistance that everything was absolutely perfect and why every time Tristana mentioned Teemo, the Sheriff gently deferred comment. Riven's eyes widened as she realized the truth about Teemo's demise and Tristana's eccentricities. Tristana, she knew, would accept Riven's next words as gospel truth, and that fact gave her pause. An idea formed, and she squeezed the Yordle in a miniature version of a one-armed hug.
"Uh, you know, I haven't seen Teemo, and I don't dance, but we can look dumb together if you want. I bet Irelia will dance with you, too. I bet she's good at that kind of thing." Riven gave Trist her best hopeful look, which under normal circumstances was rough and considering current circumstances, this one was particularly bad. Still, it managed to light up Trist's eyes for the time being, and that did indeed make the humiliation she was bound to suffer acceptable, as far as Riven was concerned. "Let's go before they come looking for us."
This is exactly the kind of league story I love to read. This is a novel, instead of a written version of a game match: there's nary a mention of the word "ultimate".
I love a Riven/Irelia pairing, and I love the pacing in this one so far—it's enthralling. They don't even understand the depths of what they are feeling towards each other yet, and that is something many stories fail to portray. The world they live in is inspiring, too, visually engaging and realistic. Every character has been rendered through a lens of realism that adds depth to the story.
I knew from Cait's reactions by the motorcycle what she saw when she looked at Tristana and Teemo. That right there was the hallmark of writing excellence; giving me information without telling me outright. It was a heart-wrenching moment, hitting all the emotional heartstrings.
All in all, this is an amazing start to a novel, and nothing saddens me more than seeing it lie dormant. I sincerely hope the authors will return to this story at some point in the future.
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