Diana had only just sat down at the corner table when she heard the sniffling. It wasn't pleasant sniffling, either: it was that deep, thick, gurgling sound that allowed the mind to see the mucus and goop without the help of the eyes. Frowning, she turned to the window and left the cupcake untouched for now; hopefully, whoever was making the sound would move away from the window soon.
The next snuffle was followed by the choked sob of a little girl, and Diana sighed in resignation. Apparently she'd just sat beside someone's hidey-hole. Well, clearly the only options were to move to a different seat if she wanted to eat in peace, or wait for it to stop. Turn her eyes away, ignore what was going on, pretend she'd heard nothing, the problems of one little girl didn't make a difference to her...
The bell above the bakery door chimed once as she exited into the street with all of the belongings she'd brought with her to Ilena: a pouch crossed over her shoulder and under her left arm, a cupcake and a stack of extra napkins swinging in a bag from her left hand, and her crescent blade clipped across her back. Turning right, she found the entrance to the alley and peered through the shadows to the window she had been sitting at (most people probably didn't choose window seats with such a limited view, but the shopkeeper had set up some very lovely purple orchids that had lured Diana over). A tiny, dark figure sat beneath the flowers in the window, a child with her knees tucked up to her face. Diana paused for a moment, looking around to see if there was an impatient mother or father waiting for the child to stop with the temper tantrum; seeing none, she sighed heavily and took the first step into the alley.
As she approached, the girl's shape grew clearer, and it was very, very round. Well, that ruled out "starving orphan pleading for food," unless she was a starving orphan with a very convincing act. Well, she wouldn't be getting Diana's cupcake--the cupcakes of Ilena's local pastry shop might not have the same bite as the ones from Sinful Succulence, but not everyone put a hint of black magic in their cooking, and Diana had used her own money to buy it. If the girl was a decoy for some sort of robbery, any prospective thieves would sorely regret interrupting her vacation...but how quickly suspicion clouded her mind. It was also quite possible that this was just a girl who had been upset by something and had found a safe place to hide where no one could find her. Well, she'd picked a good spot, except for the window.
Diana actually made it to the girl's shoulder without alerting the sobbing lump to her presence, so she gave a soft "Hey" in greeting. The snorts and snuffles stopped in a sharp gasp, and the girl raised a shocked face. The girl's cheeks were as round as the rest of her body, though her russet skin was darkened further in places by dirt and slime. Balance was swiftly restored, though, as she dragged one arm across her eyes and then beneath her nose, staining the sleeve with sticky strands of mucus.
Diana kept her own face smooth with practiced ease and produced one of the many napkins from the bag on her arm. "Here, clean yourself up with this--don't want your mother worrying about your clothes."
That would have been a really stupid comment to make if it had turned out that the girl's mother was dead, but the child paid no mind; she simply took the proffered napkin with fumbling fingers (Diana whipped hers away as quickly and subtly as possible before there could be any contact) and began mopping at her face.
"Here's another." The warrior held out a second clean napkin, taking in the girl's full appearance: she may have been ten, or eleven, but probably weighed almost as much as Diana would (without armor...well, with clothes...a nightgown or bathrobe, no armor, yes, and no sword, either). Her clothes looked suitable, not upper-class, but she wasn't impoverished or an orphan. She was probably someone who could be a regular customer here at the bakery, with or without her parents' permission, and judging by her weight, the "regular customer" was probably more of a "daily customer". Her licorice hair was tied in two pigtails that curled around below her ears. "You know, though, sitting back here probably isn't going to be conducive to you getting clean."
"Cond...?" The girl sniffed. At least she was paying attention.
"You're going to be dirty if you stay back here too long," Diana simplified. "So I'll leave whenever you want me to."
"W-wait," the girl gulped, and Diana decided that since she hadn't begun to move away, the girl was clearly beginning to recognize who was standing there. Her eyes grew wider and wider as she took in the silver-clasped midnight boots and moved up the glinting armor Diana wore, and her jaw dropped completely as she focused on the circular mark of the Heretic beneath the warrior's quicksilver hairline. "You're...you're...."
Diana gave one slow blink and the slightest inclination of her head.
"Go on. Say who you think I am."
"You look like...like...Diana." Her mouth didn't close again as she found the blade across Diana's back and traced it with her eyes. "But you...you can't..."
"Can't I?" Diana put on a sardonic smile and spread her arms (her right arm didn't open the full distance in the confines of the alley). "Diana, Scorn of the Moon." She covered the awkward position of her arm by bending one knee gracefully. "At your service, Summoner...well, not today, actually, I'm on break. But may I ask what your name is?"
There was a loud snrrrk this time, followed by the honk of a blowing nose; Diana plucked out another napkin and offered it in turn. The girl took a corner, but Diana did not let go this time, instead tugging it gently back toward herself.
"M-Mara," the girl breathed, and the napkin was in her hand now, wiping beneath her eyes. "You're...you're...you're really Diana? From the League?"
Diana inclined her head again and widened her smile by a centimeter. "That's me, indeed. And you're Mara? That's a nice name."
A flush filled the girl's cheeks at the compliment and she clutched the napkin to her mouth; bent down on one knee in front of the girl and spoke. "Now, Mara...why are you back here all alone? What's wrong?"
Of course, Diana didn't buy that for a second. "There are a lot of things wrong in the world today, Mara, so you can't tell me a lie like that and expect me to believe it. Now, I've just given you three napkins and I've still got five more inside this bag, so I think you can give me a little explanation for why you're back here blubbering."
That was probably a very poor choice of words; Mara's face was immediately inside the napkin again, and Diana reluctantly produced a fourth. As Mara took it, Diana placed one hand across her upturned knee and waited patiently for the sounds to stop.
"I'm sorry about that, I can be rude sometimes," she admitted. "But...I'm also curious. What's got a girl like you crying?"
Diana would have bet a sightstone that it had something to do with the girl's weight. Ten years old, all by herself--someone had said something to her, or maybe looked at her, and driven her back to this place. She knew how to read the signs, and she'd seen it happen to older children, too. Approached the wrong way, it would be really difficult to get a confession, but she really didn't feel like making that the first guess, just in case it was something else...but when the girl didn't answer, she decided to try a different approach.
"Did the other children say something?" she asked. Diana was careful not to use the term "your friends," as actual "friends" would be here right now instead of a champion from the League of Legends itself. She was a war deterrent, not a guidance counselor. "Is it something they did?"
The rivers of water from Mara's eyes increased, and Diana let a successful smile tug her lips for one moment; she'd hit the right point, now she just needed to get the tears to turn into words.
"N-no...they didn't say anything...not this..."
Well, it was a start.
Diana reached out again and put her hand on the girl's shoulder this time; she squeezed gently and said, "Mara. I've only got a limited supply of napkins here...you're going to have to pull yourself together, and tell me what's going on...I'm want to know."
"R-right...I'm sorry..." She turned to look at Diana and gave an awkward smile, making a circle around her face with her hand. "It's just. Just this..."
Diana could almost see her own expressionless face in the girl's wet eyes. "I understand. It's a little overwhelming. A little much?"
Mara nodded. "Yeah." Another wet sniffle. "I've just...I've never..."
Yes, yes, of course she had never run into a League champion--Ilena was on the wrong side of the Great Barrier to get involved in any political drama, and the few champions that had come from anywhere remotely close to the city were unlikely to return here for nostalgic resons. But, still, champions were well-known here and respected, as with most Valoran villages.
"Well, if it's the other kids, you can tell them you met me and talked to me later," Diana offered. "I'm guessing they haven't run into many League champions themselves. So...it's not something they said?"
"No...well...not since...not since--yesterday." Mara sounded more coherent now, but she was definitely still reluctant to reveal anything. Diana's curiosity had encountered far more challenging obstacles.
"What did they say to you yesterday?" she asked softly.
"They said that for the c-costumes at the...the Harrowing this year..." She proceeded in this manner through the entirety of her story, stammering and trembling and almost sobbing at different points. It seemed that the children of Ilena dressed up for the Harrowing celebration every year, and that the League had become the most popular theme, with everyone dressing up as their favorite champions. And she, Mara, wanted to dress up as Irelia or Lux or Nidalee, but apparently the costume shops didn't sell those outfits in her size. She asked her friends if they could help her custom-make an outfit, or cut down an adult-sized one, but they had said that she would be better off as someone short and round, like a Yordle (Diana could see where they were coming from) or...
"G-Gragas!" She burst into sobs again, and this time Diana handed her the second-to-last napkin with a firmly flat mouth. Whoever had said that was clearly pushing the parameters of the "friend" definition.
"I don't think you'd be a good Gragas," Diana observed. "I don't think it would be very appropriate for a young lady like yourself to run around without a shirt...and I don't know if you could grow a beard by then." Her humor was once again unappreciated by her audience, though, as the girl shook her head.
"No, no...it's because they think I'm...they think I'm..."
Diana gave a low sigh, her patience finally snapping.
"They think you're fat?" she finished. Mara gave a little whimper, but Diana just folded her arms this time. The time for coddling and comfort was over.
"Well, you know what? They're right: you are fat. I'm not saying this to be mean. I'm saying this because I know you wouldn't be crying back here by yourself if you didn't believe they were right." Diana was mentally bracing herself for what would happen if the girl started blubbering again, but she was only trembling, and seemed to be listening. Regardless, Diana hurried up.
"I could say that they're wrong, and that you look just fine and you shouldn't listen to them, but there would be some part of you that wouldn't believe me. And that part of you that was filled with doubt would eventually question everything I'm about to say to you right now. So I'm not going to lie to you by telling you what you want to hear...and so now, you have no reason to doubt anything I say."
Mara's plump hands were balled into fists on top of her knees, but she didn't dare to take her gaze from the ground; it took pride to raise one's head, and Mara didn't have anything to be proud of at this particular point. Diana watched her quivering body for a moment more, giving her an opening to respond, to retaliate, to run...but she did nothing. And Diana knew that she had reached the point in Mara's mind she had wanted to--the incision was made, but there was more work to be done. Fortunately, she had already mapped out the next part of the plan.
Diana checked her surroundings and then swiveled her body, allowing the hilt of her sword to bump against the orchid-filled flowerpot in the window; it fell to the ground with a crash that forced Mara's head upward in alarm. It also drew an angry shout came from inside.
"Sorry!" Diana shouted quickly through the window. "Sorry, I'll clean this up in one minute--just stay there, I'll take care of it!" She turned her head back to the alley and growled, "Shadows...son of a...here." She reached up and grabbed the offending hilt, twisting it and pulling it free of its clip. "Can you hold this for a moment?"
Even through the tears, Diana could see the confusion in Mara's eyes at this sudden demand, and worried for a split second that Mara was going to refuse. But then she raised her arms slowly, and Diana gingerly set the weapon's handle down. "Careful, it's very sharp...and heavy...you'll only have to hold it for a minute." The girl's fingers closed around it, and it was all Diana could do to keep from wincing as she saw some of the mucus and filth stick to the handle--the sword was going to require an extra-long cleaning tonight. Maybe even two cleanings...but that wasn't important right now.
"Hold on to that for now, will you? I'll be right back."
She sidestepped back to the entrance of the alley, rounded the corner and dashed into the shop with another chime of the bell; one hasty apology, a few coins, another apology, and another handful of napkins later, she was back outside and returning to where she had left her weapon. The girl was still there, holding the sword so that blade nestled in the ground away from her; though she was shaking, she hadn't injured herself yet, that was good. She also had not stolen the blade, so she definitely wasn't a thief (that would have been a really stupid way to lose her sword...and a remarkable performance).
"Sorry about that," Diana greeted, pawing awkwardly at her hair. "Sometimes I don't mind my surroundings...ugh." She checked her fingers, then ran a napkin through her hair; it came away quite clean, but Diana sighed with frustration again. "Come on...did I...did I get anything in my hair?"
"What?" Mara croaked. The poor thing was probably still trying to process the fact that she was holding Diana's sword. The warrior sighed with frustration and turned around so that the girl had an unobscured view of the pale cascade.
"My hair," she repeated. "Is there something in my hair?"
"Really?" Diana snapped, filling her voice with irritation. "No dirt, no grime...nothing?"
"No, no, there's not..."
"Yes, I'm sure!" Mara squeaked. "Your hair is fine!"
And just like that, the jaws of the trap snapped shut.
"Really?" Diana faced Mara once more, looking down with a well-practiced skeptic's stare. "You think it looks fine?"
"Y-yes...?" The tears had stopped, but her voice was still thick.
"You don't think it looks like I spilled flour all over it?"
"Or that I walked under a ladder when a painter spilled his bucket?"
"What? No!" Now her eyes were starting to glisten again, but this time it was panic and fear.
"Come on, you can be honest," Diana goaded. "I just said you were fat two minutes ago, there's no need to be nice--don't you think I look like your grandmother? Or like I accidentally put on my grandmother's wig today?"
"No!" Mara squeaked. "No, who--who would say that?"
"Kids," Diana answered coolly, facing Mara squarely now and folding her arms across her chest again. "Kids your age. Kids older than you. Kids who are my age now, really. Or older." She let her arms fall again and walked toward Mara.
"When I was your age, that's what I heard. A lot. That's what they thought of me and my hair...all of the other kids I grew up with had black hair. Brown hair. Gold. Red...I was the only one with this particular shade." She reached up and brushed a lock forward. "Well. Some of the elders were close in hair color, but that was where they got a lot of their insults from. 'Diana, you're going to be an elder someday, right? You've already got the hair!' 'Diana, if you grew a beard, you'd make a great wizard!' They all had their jokes. Their games. Their thoughts...they found my hair ugly."
"But--but they were wrong!" Mara protested.
"Were they?" The corner of Diana's mouth curled upward as she leaned against the wall. "You're saying that you think my hair is beautiful?"
"Yes, it's...it's very..."
"That's your mouth speaking for your eyes," Diana's response was a statement of fact. "I know that there are people who feel I would look better with dark hair. Or dark skin. Or eyebrows." She traced the skin below the pale mark of the Heretic, above her shadowed eyes,; nudging her finger an inch higher, she tapped the mark itself. "And of course, there's this. Would I look better without this? Perhaps. It depends on who's talking. If you were to say that I would look better with dark hair, would you be wrong in your opinion?"
The girl hesitated, then said, "I...I don't...I wouldn't..."
"The point was that as much as I tried to convince myself that they were wrong and that they were just being mean, over time I came to realize that they were right. My hair looked strange. Ugly, even. People didn't like it, and I wondered if that was why so many people didn't like me, and why I had never found someone who did." Diana felt her fingernails dig into her sleeves. "Even when people didn't say things to my face, I could hear them whispering behind my back, sometimes. And when I stopped hearing whispers, I knew what they were thinking. And eventually, I believed that everyone thought that my hair looked ugly. Like I'd tripped and fallen in a snowdrift. Or that I was an old lady. It didn't matter if the person had never said something to me in my life...I began to think that it was normal for someone to find my hair repulsive.
"I tried covering it, of course, but rules forbade covering our heads in the daytime , so that was no option. I was afraid to try changing my hair color in any way, for fear that it would only look worse. So I decided, one day, that there was only one answer: I would have to cut it short enough that it wouldn't be noticed."
Mara gasped, the first sound she'd made since she had last attempted to speak, and her hands twisted on the sword hilt. Diana bowed her head and shut her eyes, allowing the moment to hang over the girl's head. Mara took the cue and whispered: "You didn't..."
"I was going to." Diana opened her eyes again and looked directly into Mara's. The girl did not look away. "I went to the lavatory, with a set of shears and a single purpose. I was staring at the mirror, silently promising myself that things would be better without my hair. But then..." She broke her stare and tilted her face skyward, gazing into the brilliant blue. "Then, someone stopped in for a moment. And spoke. There were no questions about what I was doing, there was no observation made, they simply said that in their opinion, my hair would look quite beautiful if it was tied back and shined up." Diana shut her eyes and realized that a smile had crept onto her face without invitation. She decided to let it stand. "That was it. And then they left."
Diana opened her eyes and tucked the smile away again, turning her attention back to the chubby girl holding her sword. "It was one comment. One. And I didn't put the shears down right away...but I realized, as I stood there, that I might disappoint this person if I cut off my hair and threw it away. I realized that there was someone who actually thought my hair could be beautiful as it was. And so I took her advice and pushed it back with a headband, letting it trail behind...I washed it more thoroughly than I had ever done in the past, and combed it out, and when I saw a smile the next day, I kept it that way. It took effort, of course, and I wasn't changing any minds, but what everyone else thought didn't matter to me anymore. One person said that I could look beautiful, and while I couldn't tell if they were being honest, I wasn't willing to risk upsetting them."
"Yes, but...but that was hair, and your hair is pretty!" Mara cried, finally speaking again, and apparently, making the connection between this story and her personal plight all on her own. "There's not...fat girls aren't pretty!"
"And who says that?" Diana challenged. "The same people who called me 'Granny' all the time? The people who said you couldn't be anything but a Yordle? Did I say that?"
"It's just...it's what everyone..."
"Everyone? Oh, I'm sorry, am I in the presence of the world's greatest explorer?" Diana snorted. "You've asked everyone in the world for their opinion?"
"No!" Mara's temper flared here, and Diana gave a wolfish grin. She'd done it. "But--"
"Well, if you haven't met everyone, I don't think you can speak for them, can you? Even if only most people say it, does that make it right?" She spread her arms and flexed her fingers into claws. "If a man says that bears aren't scary because he's killed ten of them with only his hands, does that mean that people should make fun of you because you're afraid of bears? Or is he lying when he says that bears aren't scary?" She closed her hands into fists, leaving just one finger to point squarely at Mara. "The only truth that matters is the one that you have explored and determined for yourself. Now, you've been crying here because you're upset at yourself and your appearance...if you genuinely want to become thinner and you truly believe that something is wrong with yourself, I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't try to change yourself. I will tell you, though, to think about what it is that you want."
She spread her arms and opened her hands, holding nothing back now.
"What matters is what you find important, and what you're willing to do for it. That's your decision, and no one else's."
Mara was quiet now; her hands were shaking on the sword, but as Diana watched, they grew steadier. And steadier. And finally, when they were almost completely still, Mara turned her head up again, and asked softly, "So...what do you want me to do?"
Diana smiled genuinely again. The question was aptly phrased.
"I won't say," she answered. "But..."
She reached into the pouch hanging from her right hip and almost immediately closed her fingers around a small leather wallet. The thought had entered her mind when she had been purchasing the flowers, and it was a good one. Gently inserting a nail, she popped a button and opened the wallet, then felt the smooth surface of paper. Pinching it between her two primary fingers, she drew it out and closed the wallet with her pinky and thumb; she then lifted the silver envelope out of the pouch and held it up for the girl to see.
"I'll trade you this for the sword," she offered. "Here. Take it...but don't open it."
The girl shoved the sword hilt upward, and Diana's left hand closed around the slightly sticky metal--she'd have to wash her hands, but that could wait. Mara took the envelope from her right hand: it was barely larger than a coin, too small even to hold one of the napkins Diana had offered the girl throughout the hour, folded up or not. Mara stared at the small rectangle in her hand, then turned it over--it was sealed near the top with a wax sigil identical to the mark on Diana's forehead. The girl stared at it for several seconds longer, possibly because it, too, seemed to glow faintly.
"What...what is it?" she asked, turning it over to peer at the unmarked side, attempting to discern its contents without breaking Diana's instructions. The white-haired woman attached the sword to her back before answering quietly.
Mara's brow furrowed and she looked up into Diana's eyes as if she'd told a joke. "Moonlight?"
Diana nodded. "Yes." She caressed the crescent-moon pommel of her weapon with one finger. "The light of a full moon, sealed and contained by my will, a mark that I can give to anyone I choose."
"You sealed...moonlight?" She held the packet up and waved it, as though trying to feel its weight. Diana rolled her eyes.
"You didn't think the moon only made my forehead glow in the dark, did you?" she sniffed. "It's a Mark of Moonlight: when the seal is broken, the light will shine into the sky with the brilliance of a full moon. It will cry out when opened, and I will hear it. And then, I will be able to go wherever this seal was broken."
Mara's eyes widened. "R-really?"
"How many lies have I told you so far?" Diana asked. "The range isn't unlimited, but I'm not leaving the village until tomorrow evening, so I should be able to reach you if you open it by then."
"But why would you?" Mara stood now, and tucked the item to her chest. "Why are you...?"
"You asked me what I want you to do," Diana answered serenely. "I want you to make a choice now. When you open the mark, I will come and join you. I would prefer if you opened it at one of two places: you can either gather your friends together, and then reveal that you met me, and I will come and talk to them, telling them not to bully you. Maybe frighten them a little. Who knows?"
Mara's eyes were sparkling with excitement now--the thought of this was clearly making sense to her...surely no one would tease her again if they knew that Diana, the Scorn of the Moon, had spoken to her and given her a gift...
"Or..." Diana raised a finger, calling Mara's attention once more. "You can take it to the costume shop. If I am summoned there, I will speak with the manager of the shop, and I will personally ensure that they outfit you with the champion costume of your choice. The League will cover the costs of any extra work, and you will have the costume you want at the time of this Harrowing celebration."
The girl was clutching the envelope tightly now, but the wax wasn't going to break unless she really tried; magicians had solved problems like exploding rune envelopes long before Diana had even started using them. The only thing that was torn here was the girl herself.
"These are the two choices I give you," Diana said. A look of intense excitement appeared on Mara's face, but it fell as Diana gave the correct response to wipe it away. "You can have one or the other--I'm not popping into a shop filled with children, and you don't get to have everything. This is a matter of choice and decision that I offer."
"I...I can't..." Mara stammered, looking down at the envelope. "I can't..."
"Shh." Diana knelt down and took the girl's hands in her own, closing them over the envelope and pushing it beneath her chin. "You can. And you will. Take your time--you have until tomorrow evening. If you make no choice, then you can simply let it be, and keep the seal unbroken--but the moonlight will fade after the next full moon, so try to use it before then."
"All right." Mara looked up at Diana, a smile dimpling her face for the first time--it was still dirty, but the smile was a definite improvement. "Diana...thank you."
Diana leaned forward and placed a kiss at the center of the girl's forehead, then stood up straight again; she didn't look at Mara, but turned and began to walk away, reminding herself that when she ate the cupcake, she needed to use only her right hand. If that mattered anymore--she'd touched the girl's hands with both of hers. Maybe she should wash them before eating the cupcake, period.
"Diana!" The woman stopped at the sound of her name, then turned her head slightly to the right.
"Your hair really is beautiful."
Diana gave a light, short laugh, one short luxury as she accepted the compliment.
Then she marched out into the sunlit streets.
There is absolutely no agenda to this fic at all.
Hopefully a parrot flies along to read this...
Also, someone was kind enough to draw a picture related to this. Find the source here: http://swan2swan.tumblr.com/post/422...rs-shed-unseen
Ok, it was written very well, but tbh I started getting bored towards the middle and started skimming it. My main gripe was, you reveal very early that the reason the girl was crying is because of a certain event where people suggested she was fat, right? But then the ensuing conversation takes up almost 3 paragraphs, and almost all of it was predictable. I found myself wanting to put my hands on the girl, shake her, and yell "JUST FREAKING TELL ME YOU'RE CRYING CUZ SOMEONE SAID YOU WERE FAT!" Diana basically tells the reader in her thoughts what will happen in the next few minutes, and then you write out exactly what most people would expect would happen, but you also drag the convo out.
It's a cute story, and you write well, but it never had me guessing, or asking what would happen next, and as a result I found it boring and started skimming it. Sorry .
just to clarify what I was talking about...go read Goau's story, Tide's of the Depths. The entire beginning part of the story instantly establishes a purpose, but also keeps the readers guessing about Nautilus' background, what is happening, because he reveals things slowly, but it's never 100% clear what is happening, so the reader is always left guessing.
Just my opinion though, it's a friendly constructive crit.
© 2014 Riot Games, Inc. All rights reserved. Riot Games, League of Legends and PvP.net are trademarks, services marks, or registered trademarks of Riot Games, Inc.