This story, Loco Buri, Debuted here: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/7800830/1/Loco_Buri
Edit: fixed the link.
Its popularity has lead me to post it here and on a blog: http://tormentedsoil.blogspot.com/
Chapter 1: Garen Crownguard
Garen gulped hard and readied himself. Rather, he held his breath and hoped that fear would not strike him. He could not prepare for it. And when it did, when Lilia Crownguard finally entered the foyer of her palatial home, diamonds and lace sparkling about her form, Garen shook in his skin. The Might of Demacia, Point Man of the Dauntless Vanguard, Paragon of Demacian Justice and Morality- yes, that Garen. He tried to not look too hard at his accolades. They were on the walls beside him, hidden partially in the shadow of the accumulated trophies and decorations of the entire Crownguard lineage.
Lilia glared, her silver hair and well-worn face striking him like no blade could. He wished she would speak just to break the power of her silence.
He wished she would never speak.
"It wasn't a question. I was merely expressing my disappointment. A proper man can attract a proper woman, or at least a woman."
She examined the stone on her ring, musing for a moment about Garen's noble father. The respite only lasted until she remembered her disappointment. The fear returned. "Jarvan tells me your latest assignment is dangerous."
Garen swallowed and learned to breathe. "Deep strike. Behind enemy lines. The extraction is complicated. I just came to say goodbye."
Garen shrugged. Lilia's grim smile had no definite meaning.
"Just in case," Garen mumbled.
"I will pass your worries on to Luxanna when she gets back, dear."
Garen glanced around the foyer, confirming her absence. "I thought... Where is she?"
Lilia's grim smile said it all, but her tongue lashed away. "Noxus. Behind enemy lines. The extraction is complicated- oh Garen, do try to keep up with your sister's accomplishments."
And just as he was about to protest, she added, "she's almost ten years younger than you, you know." He wished she would never speak.
Garen clenched his jaw. It never felt as masculine in his mother's presence. She sighed, her features softening. "Now tell me you love me and go be a good boy for your country."
Garen nodded, humbled. "I love you, mom."
She nodded, turned, and left for whatever a socialite's work entails, adding over her shoulder, "Kill as many Noxans as you can, darling. I hear they're outlawing war soon and I wouldn't want anyone thinking you didn't do your part."
Garen remained alone in the foyer, worried for his life, worried that he hadn't earned his mother's love, and worried for the fate of his sister. He didn't need another woman to worry about.
Protip: I'll upload the first 5 chapters here. More of the story is available at the fanfiction.net address. The blog will update twice a week and include commentary.
Chapter 2: Katarina Du Couteau
Katarina Du Couteau raised her arms from her thighs and waited. Poised awkwardly, with knees bent and feet crossed, she fidgeted against the unfamiliar clothing. Her instructor adjusted the pose of another young girl behind her, then stepped away and announced, "This is your first attempt girls, so please don't feel too worried about being successful. Who is better than whom does not matter yet."
Then, finally, "And... turn."
Pressing off of her hind foot, Katarina sprung into motion, pulling in her arms and swiveling with unnatural grace once, twice, three, four, five, six, seven times and ending with arms wide and posture erect- a perfect pirouette. Her instructor clapped, unable to contain her excitement.
"Oh, Colonel Du Couteau! Your daughter is- she's a natural! I've never seen anything like it in my life!"
Colonel Marcus Du Couteau, soon to be a general in the Noxian High command, only nodded from the bench across the room. Katarina turned to the girl behind her with a proud smile. Cassiopeia, and every other young woman in the room, glared. Life was good at the top.
"Colonel Couteau, if I may! One moment, girls!" The instructor waved a dismissive hand to the line of pre-teens and opened the door by the parent's bench.
"Could we speak outside, sir?"
Du Couteau nodded briefly to Katarina's praise and excused himself with her instructor, leaving mischievous girls to their own devices. The door had barely shut when Cassiopeia turned to the girl next to her and whispered, "Now, while the teacher's gone."
The third girl, a disposable friend, stepped out of line, tapped Katarina on the shoulder, and with her attention gained, stated, "I'd be a lot more impressed if you could actually pronounce Pirouette. Boys don't care how many Pirouette's you can do anyway. If you're too stupid to talk right then you'll never be a lady. Can you do that, dummy? Can you say 'I can do a Pirouette?'"
Katarina balked, her swollen ego pushing aside her better judgment.
"I can do a Piru-" she licked her lips. "Pyra... Piro-"
"Idiot! You're just a tomboy! No one likes you! You-"
Katarina's fist cracked loose lips against the teeth behind them, knocking the other girl to the ground. True to the insults, she did not punch like a lady. Cassiopeia remained in her sister's shadow, safe from retribution, while Katarina stood over her fallen opponent and yelled, "Can you say 'No boys will ever date my broken face?'"
Katarina's pride was shoveled into the fires of rage. She leaped, arm cocked for a second blow, and was met with a foot to her face. She regained her senses on her back at Cassiopeia's feet. The loud-mouthed girl was rising from the ground.
"I'm going to tell on you, stupid! You're getting kicked out, just you see. Mrs.-"
Katarina heard none of it. The solid rush of adrenaline had muffled her ears and turned the world around her red. She saw only the needle holding up Cassiopeia's hair, the clear trajectory from her hand to an exposed neck, and the opportunity for the perfect turn. By the time it was over, Katarina was frozen in latent guilt. No word of warning had been uttered. The other girl gripped at her throat, eyes bulging in shock as air bubbles popped blood around the wound. Sucking and gasping instead of calling for help, she only staggered toward the door, disoriented, falling to her knees just short of it.
The door opened into her face, cracking against her skull and knocking the now-corpse to its back. The adults' conversation finished with Du Couteau confiding, "-always wanted a so-"
Katarina had trouble moving from her follow through. Her throwing arm seemed frozen in space, extended in perfect form. Her shoulders back, chin held high, and feet planted in a form of beauty, she saw little reason to move. And looking into her father's eyes, she did not see the disappointment of two daughters. She saw Noxian Pride. He didn't need a boy. And neither did she.
Chapter 3: General Marcus Du Couteau
General Marcus Du Couteau's presence at the table was a thing of legend. He kept it that way, always hanging his portrait above the fireplace behind him. Always wearing his ring. Always having his daughters or wife in attendance. As the head of the Du Couteau family, as the face of the Noxian High Command, he held the fate of Noxus in his hands. And what he held, he gripped; A fine Shurima wine at the moment- the only Shurima wine. In attendance at his fine dinner table were Valoran's diplomats to Noxus. Ambassador Laurent, an old friend from Demacia, sat across from him. Piltover, Zaun, and Freljord were also sharing that side of the table. General Du Couteau was accompanied by the twin beauties Katarina and Cassiopeia, his wife "feeling ill." He had much to flaunt from the twins, none the less.
"And from that day onward," he intoned, "I never once doubted that my two daughters would bring me more pride than any son could." His daughters, seated on either side of him, nodded in unison, playing up the twin act. The dual beauties only added to the intimidation. "If it wasn't for Katarina, here, I would be the last great swordsman of my line." The Demacian ambassador smiled grimly. They had sparred in the past.
But General Du Couteau did not notice. He eyed the Piltover Diplomat for the third time that night. And for the third time her face beheld a mixture of guilt and shock, a brief flash before smiling and passing a tray to her right. Otherwise, she was silent and reserved, hiding her face under the brim of a large, purple hat.
General Du Couteau raised his upturned hand to present another topic for the night's dinner, a rehearsed signal that one of his daughters interrupted promptly. "For the record," Katarina monotoned, "I can Pirouette." The table erupted with earnest laughter at the story's conclusion, a perfect performance. He beamed at Katarina with pride, and she basked in his attention. "I could not have asked for a better child," he whispered. Katarina blinked her well adorned eyes at him, her symmetrical beauty and deadly grace laying bare for him. "You're too kind, father. I do only what you have taught me." He tried to parry and riposte the compliment, but again, the Piltover Ambassador caught his attention.
Her fervent manipulation of cutlery betrayed something that he couldn't immediately identify. Katarina caught notice and engaged her in a conversation about tracking, something he recalled the Sheriff/Ambassador was known for. It was then, when her eyes lifted from her plate, that he saw it. She had not eaten.
"Marcus, those golems you have in the hallway...?"
General Du Couteau turned to the speaker, Ambassador Laurent, and grinned.
"The small ones that light the room: where'd you get those?"
With a customary nod to another diplomat, Marcus answered, "A merchant in Zaun. You mean the statues with the torches that burn black and red, right?"
The Zaun diplomat chimed in, "We're very proud of our exports, by the way."
Zaun and Demacia nodded to each other. Freljord, meanwhile, was smiling lazily across the table at Cassiopeia, his abdomen gyrating lightly in his chair. Cassiopeia, a disinterested grin on her face, was pretending to listen in on Katarina and Caitlyn. Her footwork was perfect.
"Um... if it's alright... ?"
Several conversations stopped at once to address Caitlyn, the Sheriff of Piltover. She swallowed- fear, not food- and met eyes with General Du Couteau.
"If I might be excused..."
A perfect Piltover accent. He nodded graciously, "of course," and turned to Katarina.
The look in his eyes said everything he had told her before dinner. "She is not who she seems. You know what to do. Make me proud."
From his mouth, the guests only heard, "Would you be so kind as to escort the Madame of Piltover to our restroom?"
Katarina, her tongue like a dagger on silk, smiled. "My pleasure."
Protip: The story is inspired by Love Can Bloom. The Title Loco Buri comes from Love Can Blam, a parody, in which soldiers are forbidden from saying "Love Can Bloom." So instead they say LCB, which is "Lo Co Buri." And it will be the name of a Summoner in this story.
Chapter 4: Luxanna Crownguard
Katarina walked with terrifying grace, her hips swaying with the grace of a dancer and the poise of a sword fighter. Her black, leather dress was a second, sexier skin. Luxanna Crownguard eyed the needles holding up the bun of Katarina's hair and found difficulty breathing. Every part of her mind was trying to block out the fact that she was in Noxus, in the house of General Du Couteau, in the belly of the beast. And here, in front of her, was the Murderer, Katarina Du Couteau.
"I hear you've made quite a name for the Law in Piltover. Catherine, was it?"
Lux ignored her panic long enough to say, "Caitlyn." Her accent faltered.
"Now that Demacia and Noxus have stopped fighting..." Katarina's head bobbled "briefly, of course. I guess I'm saying it's just nice to have no wars raging on Runeterra for once."
Lux didn't answer, so Katarina dropped the subject to wave at one of the short golems lining the hallway. Their torches, black flames with red trimming, lit the corridor.
"Father demands that I brag about the lighting he bought from Zaun. He had to sell his summer home to pay for it. Several hundred thousand gold pieces."
Lux recognized a simple Rayleigh Scattering effect at first glance, a trick she had taught herself as a child. Du Couteau had paid too much. That knowledge was the reason for her conscription, and would do nothing to save her from Katarina's alleged hair-pin-spin-of-death.
"They're lovely," Lux lied, Piltover accent in place.
Katarina scoffed and rolled her eyes in perfect symmetry. Lux would envy the beauty if she wasn't so terrified. Their walk continued past the study, the target, and she felt her knees failing. A hidden room behind the third bookshelf was filled with documentation of Noxian military forces. "One task at a time," she thought. Lux had to get away from Katarina.
"The bathroom is just here." The blade mistress motioned to a doorway just past the study.
"Gentlemen on the left. Ladies on the right. We're too poor for signs."
Luxanna entered the door on the right, away from Katarina's prying eyes and stabbing sarcasm, and ran for the nearest stall. Inside, she pulled a summoning charm from her skirt pocket and attached it the the stall door's interior. The Demacian Ambassador had done the same in the men's room only hours before.
Lux ripped off her purple bodice and skirt, inverting them and activating their techmaturgical components. In a moment of spacial anomaly, the clothing unfolded into a male Noxian dress uniform. Her boots warped into military tread and faded to black. She slipped into the pants, refocusing her magic and hoping for the best. In a short few seconds, she felt the tingling around her subside, and the pressure on her ears increased. She opened the stall door and looked into the bathroom mirror. She was met with the image of a handsome young Noxian Lieutenant in a large, purple hat. It was quickly discarded to the floor. Satisfied, she closed the stall door and gripped the mounted charm. A jarring bolt of magic shot through her, and she felt herself flash through space, from one stall to another in the men's room. The process disagreed with her already knotted stomach, but she had nothing to puke. She only stood and retched for a moment, regaining herself with a verse from The Measured Tread.
"I am the iron constitution of Demacia. I bring justice from the solid foundation of moral righteousness."
The pain subsided. "So far, so good," she chimed. The mask of optimism fooled everyone but herself. Luxanna opened her stall door and exited quickly, outrunning her doubts, and brushed past an impatiently waiting Katarina. She tried not to think about what would happen if Katarina checked on her, and proceeded instead to slip in to the study.
Bookshelves and trinkets met nice furniture. A spinning globe of Runeterra hung from the ceiling in an orbit with worlds that Lux didn't recognize. She power-walked past these to a large, black tome on one of the shelves.
In Defense of the Ancients.
Lux tugged at it and stepped back, watching the bookshelf slide silently aside, granting her entry to another study, nearly identical. The same planets hung from the roof over a desk with a map of Valoran. Metal figurines on it gave away troop positions, while glowing arrows indicated movements. She recognized the line of the Noxus-Demacia border, more by the garrison positions than the line. Several ships were in the area of Bilgewater, fighting or committing piracy, or both. She pulled a small picture gem from her pocket and held it over the map. A flash from her hand copied the image and she moved on to the bookshelf. She paused, taking stock. Was that it? Was there nothing else to picture? The books around her seemed just as trivial as those outside:*Summoner's Code,*Ionian Fervor,*Tales from Freljord- Lux circled the desk and slid open its top drawer.
There, in the center, was a single envelope, already opened. She separated the broken Seal of Piltover and slipped out the letter, spreading it open to read.
Mr. Du Couteau,
I am insulted. Piltover is not a nation that concerns itself with war or politics. No, I am not a spy. Your sources are wrong. I am a Sheriff and an Ambassador. Rescinding your invitation is, quite frankly, a mistake. I hope that you can overcome your paranoia sometime in the future and allow our nations to continue a relationship that has been greatly beneficial to our people.
-Madame Sheriff Caitlyn
Luxanna stared, not comprehending the severity of her situation. Caitlyn, her disguise, had never been invited. The door shut in front of her, and her gaze shot up in time to see a puff of smoke in Katarina's form. Her scream was muffled by a hand and a dagger to the throat.
Luxanna gasped and trembled as a pair of lips, deadly and beautiful, pressed against her ear.
"Catherine, was it?"
Lux could still see the smoke dissipating in the doorway while Katarina's dagger graced her throat, and tongue graced her ear.
"We have something called 'pride' in Noxus. Do you know what that means?"
Luxanna closed her grip around the picture gem, only to have Katarina's free hand grab it and twist it behind her back. She lifted the hand until Luxanna was standing on her toes to avoid the pain.
"No. Please. I can't. I don-"
She shrieked as Katarina twisted her arm further, releasing the gem onto the floor.
"Noxian Pride means that when a Lieutenant passes his superior, he stops and salutes her."
Luxanna grunted through the pain in her shoulder as the door opened in front of her, admitting General Du Couteau. He swirled the ice in his glass and finished his drink, setting it on a nearby bookshelf.
"I thought that was a wonderful party, Katarina."
He glanced at Luxanna.
"I hope this hasn't spoiled*your*experience at the Du Couteau residence. I like the last impression to be the best."
Luxanna couldn't react. Paralyzed by Katarina's grip and her imminent death, she only shivered, wide-eyed.
General Du Couteau approached her and inspected her Noxian uniform, his light touch caressing the different fabrics involved.
"Did you steal this? Am I missing a lieutenant? Hm?"
He double-tapped her cheek, slapping Lux out of her fear.
"Come, now. Answer me."
"P-please. I don't know anything!"
Katarina twisted her arm again and dragged her over the desk, knocking the faux troop positions onto unmapped territories.
"Who sent you?" She screamed.
Luxanna shivered in silence, opening her mouth only to shriek when Katarina twisted her arm again. She couldn't answer. The Truth would kill her. And if she lied, they would still kill her. There was no light at the end of this tunnel. Her arm burned just like the day she was ripped from her home. Just as helpless now as she was then, on the day her parents had beamed and smiled as she thrashed in a soldier's grip. She had known this would happen.
"I'm not a soldier. Please-"
"You're a spy," the General answered. "Who sent you?"
"I'm a civilian."
At a signal from Marcus, Katarina twisted her arm again, this time without reservation. The sound of Lux's screams rattled through her own skull just enough to accentuate the grinding pop that split from her shoulder. And finally, in that moment of shock, her disguise faltered and left a shaking child, no older than a teen, sobbing in the uniform of a man. Katarina released her and stepped away in surprise. Du Couteau, the man with legendary presence, clipped and lit a Zaunian cigar.
"Light mage, or lite mage?"
The pun soared high over his company. "Fetch some rope, Kat."
He lifted Luxanna from the table with both arms, and set her roughly into the guest chair. Without warning, he grabbed and readjusted her shoulder, just for the pleasure of her pain.
"I'll be keeping this," he muttered. Lux thought he meant the picture gem until he tugged at her dress uniform.
It ripped from her body, reverting to the purple bodice and skirt in an arcane flash. Du Couteau grunted through his cigar. "You can buy anything in Zaun... as long as you pay ten times the price."
Luxanna hugged herself, trying to cover her shame, and could only watch with mounting fear as Du Couteau discarded the disguise to the ground and took his seat across from her, lifting his feet to his desk.
"What were you looking for?"
She shook, avoiding the truth and his gaze for more than the sake of honor. Quietly, in less than a whisper, she recited the Justice Pledge.
"Why are you here?"
For the honor of my family,
"Who do you represent?"
I swear to clash my sword in defense of every true-blooded Demacian.
"Why did you come here?"
I shall be a messenger from the saved to the fallen.
His mounting agitation turned a usually gravelly voice into a growl.
"What is your*purpose*in my*HOUSE?"
To deliver justice upon those who would do evil, and to defend the weak.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT?"
"I want to go home," she whispered. There was no hymn to comfort her. No slogan jumped from the Demacian Field Guide to her rescue. No line of the Justice Pledge allowed for such a disgraceful wish. No verse from The Measured Tread was there to console her. Lux did not want Demacian glory or righteous vengeance. Lux wanted home. General Du Couteau wanted answers.
"And where," his softer voice asked, "is that?"
Her gaze rose from the ground, up over the desk, to meet his eyes again. She shivered and hugged her naked form. She could not go home if she told the truth. He could never know that Demacia had sent her. He would never believe that Bilgewater or Zaun had sent a spy. He knew that Piltover had sent no one. She needed Plausible Deniability. Luxanna shivered, and told the lie that she had been told to rehearse. It slipped as if from Ambassador Laurent's own lips.
"I... Ionia. Ionia sent me."
I've always known that Garen and Katarina were meant for each other. I haven't had the time to get past chapter 4 yet, but I will. Your characterisation of Lux is intriguing to me, even though she's not the main character. :P
EDIT: Thought I should let you know that your link to fanfiction.net isn't quite right. It's trying to lead us to the story preview from your profile page, rather than the actual story. Might wanna fix that.
I fixed the link at the top of the page. Thank you, Cerubois.
Yes, Grand Viper. All of this is Hideo Kojima's fault. Shout out to Stofen and HybridF. Bro status.
I can post more chapters here, but HybridF's assertion that chapter 5 is where the greatness begins is true. This chapter, and chapter 11, are statistically significant in that they consistently show at least a 40 hit increase over their predecessors. Right now it's at 60. So here's chapter 5.
Chapter 5: The Death of Innocence
Katarina tugged again, pulling Luxanna's shivering body through the doorway and out to the grounds. Night had fallen long before, inviting Runeterra's lightning bugs to fill the air and the void above. Lux, blindfolded, was only aware of the grass, a wonderful contrast to the carpet on her naked back. Katarina tugged again at Lux's bound hands, dragging her face-up toward a crypt in the garden that connected to Noxus' sewers. Marcus Du Couteau had no mercy for spies.
"Please! I don't want to die."
Katarina tugged again, her dress preventing a full range of motion. She was dragging Lux farther along the yard, closer to the Du Couteau garden labyrinth, but her mind was still in the house. Her father's gaze was till piercing her.
"I don't understand," she was still saying.
Marcus' image seemed to hover beside her, murmuring, "Tie her up, take her down the crypt, and throw her into the sewer."
"But she'll drown."
Katarina tugged again. She couldn't think about it. She could do it as long as she focused on the image of her father setting down his drink and walking across the room to her. She could do it as long as she would "make me proud, Katarina."
Katarina had never thought that Noxian Pride meant killing a defenseless person. It didn't, she was sure. But she couldn't do it if she kept thinking that. Katarina tugged Luxanna past the first wall of brush, into the maze, ignoring her sobs. Katarina couldn't watch her. Were their fathers switched... She couldn't finish the thought.
Luxanna grunted as a boot struck her, but wouldn't stop crying. And so they moved, sobbing, grunting, and rustling the grass as they wound through the maze. Luxanna's shivers grew stronger when grass turned to stone and an iron gate swung shut behind her. The temperature dropped in the presence of the dead, and the stone stairs in the mausoleum jarred her shoulders and ribs. Katarina was panting now, the exertion and stress shaking her resolve. She stopped near the sound of water, dropping Lux at the sewer channel's edge so she would feel the current take the heat with it, like drawing blood from a wound. Gazing down, Katarina wondered what horrors had been dumped into the water that made it reflect so perfectly. The reflection of her flawless face, scared and unsure, looked up from the surface.
She turned away from it to remove Lux's blindfold. Lux squealed, trembling beyond control now, eyes flashing between daggers and water. Katarina waited for their eyes to meet, and in a sudden moment, couldn't tell who was more afraid.
Lux, with nothing to lose, spoke.
"I didn't have a choice."
Katarina only stared, searching for the resolve to do what she had to.
"They came to my home and took me. My mother and father let them. They took me! They told me it was for my family's honor. They told me I had to do it, that I was worthless if I had no honor. I just wanted to go home. I just want my brother back. I know you're a murderer, but I ju-"
Katarina grabbed Luxanna by her shoulders and dragged her to her feet against the stone wall. She leaned in close, demanding silent attention.
Luxanna had said her piece, and only gasped, hopeless, when Katarina drew her blade. With Katarina's hand gripping her bound wrists, she could not escape. Luxanna's tears streamed freely, her knees clacking against each other. Katarina breathed.
"I never meant to kill anyone."
The knife slipped forward between Lux's arms, against her wrists, and paused.
"I never wanted this."
The knife began sawing at her binds. She gasped, still trembling, and watched with growing hope as the first of the rope wraps split. She tried pulling her arms apart, only to have Katarina immobilize her angrily.
"Three-Cuts' Brig knot. Hold still."
She sawed at a second part, trying not to think about what she would tell her father. Lux gasped again as it split, no longer shaking. Having exited the fear of death and entered the light of hope, she was readying her escape. Oblivious, Katarina only sawed, thinking that she was doing the right thing. The final tie popped, a light flashed, and Katarina found herself blinded in the darkness. She heard a scraping sound and realized that she had dropped her dagger.
Lux swiped, and Katarina's face was perfect no more. She shrieked, tripping in her dress and falling to the stone floor. Lux was standing over her now, brandishing the dagger. Katarina clutched at her eye, feeling the blood pour from a vertical slash as she tried to crawl away in panic. Luxanna dropped the dagger and ran, sprinting down the waterway in a panic of her own, leaving Katarina gasping as her footsteps echoed away into nothing. It wasn't until much later that Katarina finally stood and collected her dagger, feeling the blood pour down her face. Her reflection peeked up from the water again, perfect no more, and Katarina realized that she would not be able to lie to her father. She gathered the rope as well and turned away from the reflection.
Hollow echoes from her feet seemed like the laughter of the dead as she ascended into the crypt. The entire lineage of Du Couteau awaited her, each buried with blades that had never shown mercy, and faces without scars, their sarcophagi graced by monoliths and statues in their honor. Katarina feared she would have no place among them now. But as her view crested the stairs, it was not the dead she feared most. Her father was waiting in the Crypt's entryway, his sword drawn and reflecting the shadow of his face to her.
"I inherited this sword from your grandfather."
Katarina stopped on the top step, rope and dagger limp at her sides.
"Do you know what I learned from him?"
Katarina swallowed, her saliva seeming thicker than necessary. "Fencing?"
Marcus Du Couteau's silhouette approached her, stopping as the light reached his waist, his face still in shadow.
"You showed her mercy."
Katarina swallowed again and nodded. Her sarcasm had been defeated by the scorn of no response.
"Your grandfather trained war dogs, Kat. He kept one for himself long into his retirement." Marcus Du Couteau approached another step, to the center of the tomb, where only his head was left in shadow. He planted the sword by its tip against the stone at his feet.
"He told me that he had found that dog in the wild, cold and starved, patches of hair missing where its scars had knotted the skin too much. Its teeth had been covered in infectious film, and its paws were calloused and scarred beyond usefulness, while its ears were filled with ticks. It had stopped in a hole and lain down to die when he found it. So he picked it up, took it home, and nursed it to health."
Katarina eyed the rope in her hands, realizing that her injured eye had swollen to be effectively useless.
"Not once did that dog ever bite him, or snap at him, or show him any hostility- not even on the day he slew it. No dog will bite the hand that feeds it."
Katarina dropped the rope, its three cuts and four pieces scattering on the floor.
"That is the difference between a dog and a man," he finished.
Katarina nodded, but raised her chin and held her ground.
"That girl was unarmed. She was only trying to bring honor to her family, just as I would have. And I would have wanted to live, even w-"
Her voice shook, and she stopped to steady it.
"Even without honor."
In the silence, the dead seemed to sigh. Marcus did not seem to breathe.
"You think killing her would have been evil," he answered.
Marcus drew his sword up from the ground and pointed it to the grave of Calipso Du Couteau.
"Evil is live spelled backwards. This is no coincidence."
His sword moved across the hall, cutting a menacing line level with her neck, to the grave of Charles Du Couteau.
"Mercy only applies to the guilty. There is no innocence.”
The sword shifted, crossing over Katarina again to the grave of her grandfather.
"Man is the only animal that will betray you, in all incidents."
And finally the sword fell to the only empty tomb, which had been prepared for Marcus Du Couteau.
"This is the foundation of all Jurisprudence: In this world, only the strong survive."
The sword returned to an upright position in his arms, tucked against his shoulder and ready to strike.
"I tell you this, my child, because I love you. And because your survival beyond my death will be proof of that love. Now go forth, your blood honored by your blade, and slay your enemies..."
He pointed his sword, finally, at Katarina. The expectant ending was for her. This mantra had been recited to her since her birth, and to Marcus since his.
"Without mercy," she finished.
The shadow of his face seemed content.
"Now arm yourself. If you have only one eye, it must be twice as proficient."
It's still being read, so it's still being written. Chapter 19 is up on fanfiction and on Tormented Soil.
Chapter 6: Deep Strike
Garen ran, men trailing behind him with heads low and hands ready at their swords as their bodies rustled through the thick Kalamanda Grass. High above and to the south- Garen's right- the summit of mount Targon was shining in the glory of the sun. The sun had set a full hour beforehand for Garen's altitude, and the night sky was brilliant with stars on the half not gleaming in Targon's range. The stones in the quarry behind him reflected its glint on one side, and deep shadow on the other.
Garen had no eye for beauty at the moment. With a map and direction fresh in his mind, the task at hand seemed all too easy.
Go there. Kill a man. Come home.
The woman ahead of him stopped, hand balled into a fist behind her. Garen's unit, The Dauntless Vanguard, slid to a halt in the bushes beside her, staying low in the darkness of their shadows, waiting for the Team Leader's command. Garen was still adjusting to the leader not being him.
"Patrol," she whispered. Two fingers rose from her fist and beckoned Garen forward. She pointed between the reeds for him to see. "There." Sporadic rock formations and patches of untamed grass hid most of the view, but a mass of Noxian men was making no effort to hide its presence as it marched along a path about ten meters ahead of the Vanguard.
"And there," she added.
Garen followed her fingers to a group of three soldiers standing under a lamppost. The patrol stopped at the post to trade three men before moving on. Gravel and sand crunched under the Noxans' boots louder than the quiet breathing of the Vanguard. Even their shifting weight in the bushes was disguised by the soft, warm winds.
"We're taking this route back," the Team Leader grumbled.
"I don't want them to still be here when we do that. You three-" She indicated Garen and two men.
"Move up and take the post while we cover you. I want a silent takedown."
Garen nodded and shimmied forward in the brush with the other two in tow. The rest of the vanguard, meanwhile, fanned out around them to cover more of the road. The distance was closed quickly, revealing the cobblestone roadway that roamed a large circle around its unmapped forest to the village.
The Noxans were chatting amongst themselves. No one really expected Demacian troops to cross through a demilitarized zone to break a ceasefire. Garen especially hadn't expected to do it under the command of a civilian- a woman. He reached the edge of the brush and waited for the pat to signal his team was ready.
"Man, it's not right!" One of the Noxans yelled. His mouth carried.
Another, equally loud, voice responded, "Everyone spies. I don't see what's so special about Ionia."
"You want a spy in*your*house?"
"No! I'm just saying I don't see what a war's going to accomplish."
The third soldier stepped in, "It's about respect! These colors don't run! You seen Ionia? You know anything about that place? Let me tell you. They got no schools. They got no sewers. They got no government healthcare. They got no respect! You know what kids in Ionia do? They don't go to school, they go to temples. They get sick? They go to the temple. They're old enough to make a fist? They go to the temple and learn to kill. And now they send a kid to spy? On us? You think we should just let them do that to kids?"
"I don't think it's comparab-"
"Hey, screw that noise, man! You telling me- if you- if you saw a guy keeping his kid out of school- what, you'd do nothing?"
"I don't think I'd invade his house."
"Yeah? And who helps his kid, huh? You just sit by? Do nothing? Even when he sends his kid to spy on you? You do nothing? Yeah. Yeah, real smart. We'll just wait 'till*they*attack*us."
Garen felt the tap on his shoulder and traded glances with his men. The patrol was too far from their bush for a melee takedown. They had no daggers. Garen rattled the bush.
"It's about respec-"
"It is not about respect, don't even try that. We spy on them too."
"Oh, you're on their side!"
"I am no-"
Garen coughed and rattled the bush harder. No reaction.
"Look, you know how this world works? Darkwill said it himself-"
"What, you an anarchist? You think we'd be better off without a king, like Ionia? It's anarchy, man!"
Three silent thwacks struck flesh in unison. Garen saw the patrol fall, dead as their conversation, and suddenly felt the Team Leader at his side, her leather body suit making something less than silence in the reeds.
"Garen, I remember explaining to you that this mission would be safe and easy-*only*if it happens*quickly." Vayne reloaded her wrist-bow. "And we're on the Noxus side of the line now."
She cocked the bow emphatically.
"We leave the patrol, and the road."
She rounded on Garen silently.
"Mam, the jungle's an unnecessary risk. We can take the road and the patrol."
She watched him, silently, before nodding.
"Quickly then. Take the other side of the road. At the next post, you'll get ahead of them and initiate on my signal."
Garen turned and picked three men with hand signals. They scurried from the cover, across the road, and paused only a moment in the far bush while Garen waited for the pat on his shoulder to confirm the team had made it. They surged forward, matching Vayne's team as they caught up to the Noxian column. The breeze had dropped to nothing, turning the enemy march into a deafening crunch and shuffle. Garen slowed his pace as his team overtook the back row of the patrol. More chatting. More inanity. Another post appeared from the darkness, and the column stopped. Garen took a knee and waited. He was a full eight strides from the closest Noxan. In the bushes opposite him, behind the column, Vayne's glasses reflected a light. She was nodding at him.
Garen's burst from the bush as his voice rang out. "DEMACIA!"
The cry of the first Noxan terrified the rest; his last word was screamed under the certainty of death- "NO" and a dull squish.
Five Noxans fell to Garen's Vanguards in the next instant. Vayne's bolts felled the sergeant and the one man fast enough to escape. A few breaths later the column was a pile.
"We stick to the road," Vayne conceded.
The rest of the Vanguard burst from the bush, following her point again down a trail into the heart of Noxus.
Garen was smirking inwardly.
Go here. Kill a man. Come back. Quickly.
Vayne dropped a halt again. Garen and the Vanguard took knees in a wedge formation around her. She pointed into the darkness ahead, where a giant stone spearman stood guard, one of the ancient road sentries that pocked Valoran's landscape. Garen nodded to her. "What?"
"It's active. Why is it active?"
Garen peered. The statue, a massive stone construct depicting an armor-clad spear man, was active. At this range it was barely visible, but a slight glow emanated from the eyes and the tip of his upturned spear.
Dive a Turret. Go there. Kill a man. Come home.
"Jungle?" Garen whispered.
Vayne thought, her mind rumbling through contingencies and maps. Kalamanda's forest "The Jungle" was not one of the wooded glades of Demacia. It wasn't actually mapped. And it would increase mission failure chance by a full twenty percent.
Stick to the plan; stick to the road.
Vayne motioned toward it.
"I want to get closer, first," she grumbled. "This is intel."
The Vanguard resumed motion, scurrying closer to something that was most certainly not in the plan. As shadows cleared and darkness receded, they saw for certain that the towering monolith's weapon was charged, ready to strike a deadly burst at any foe who threatened its road. It was powered for the first time in several hundred years. Vayne checked her shoulders when they stopped again, just out of range.
"Time." Vayne was a curt woman by habit and short on it at the moment.
A Vanguard to her left whispered, "10 minutes in."
Two milestones behind.
Mission failure chance up five percent.
Tables and charts flew through her mind. The Jungle was an option only if it saved six minutes. It would still cost a predicted two casualties. The plan dictated a mission abort at three casualties, eighteen minutes, or eighty percent failure chance.
Garen had seen the same tables and the same charts.
Survive Jungle. Go there. Kill man. Survive Jungle again. Come home.
And no one wanted to carry the brute through jungle.
Vayne pulled a sound-ward from her utility belt and clipped it to her ear. Ward silence would end at fifteen minutes, coinciding with the Demacian Military's strike on the town. Kalamanda Village would be Demacian territory when the sun rose.
The tower's glow died suddenly, an arcane hiccup natural to any complex machine that has been left idle for too long. Vayne, ever the opportunist, stood and sprinted toward it, legs and posture opening from stealth to speed. She reached the base and pointed at the fastest man to catch up. "Boost me." He took a knee and cupped his hands while she stepped up him, grabbing on to the stone spearman's knee and hoisting herself up to the statue's waist. Garen caught up to his men at the base and watched as Vayne swooped onto its arm. She scuttled from there up its shoulder, finally leaping onto the spear hand without losing any momentum. She drew the larger crossbow from her back, a two-inch thick steel bolt already loaded, and aimed it at the spear's center, where the shaft met the head. The stone sundered under the blow where the arrow lodged, and Vayne re-slung her crossbow. She jumped onto the bolt, leveraging it against the stone with her weight.
The eyes of the statue began to glow.
Vayne jumped and landed hard on the bolt. The crack echoed too far for comfort, but the stone was breaking. The eyes glowed brighter, gradually rising to their former luminescence. Vayne jumped, landing another blow and another crack, this time visible, along the spear. The spearhead flickered, only barely connected to its dying magical flow. With a final jam, she saw the crack split around the haft's circumference, separating the head and tumbling it to the road below. Garen dodged the falling missile just in time. If the cracks were loud, the thump was deafening.
Mission failure chance at fifty-five percent.
Vayne jumped down, landing in a tumble and coming up running. The need to move was obvious. Vanguard forming in around her, they took another hundred meters on the road before the sound of a Noxian patrol ahead sent them to a ditch on the south side. The Noxans passed in a hurry, twenty men strong, running to investigate the thump. Vayne was out of the bush as soon as they were gone. They would have to outmaneuver that patrol on the way back, which meant jungle.
Mission failure chance at seventy-five percent.
Vayne accelerated to a full sprint, Vanguard catching up behind her as they passed the remains of a destroyed turret, its platform reduced to the lifeless stone that used to hold magic. The road was still curving, the steady right handed motion bringing them around the jungle and towards the village. Less than a minute later they slid into brush. Garen kept his breath below a pant as he crept up to Vayne's side, peeking out onto the houses and tavern nearby.
"Welcome to Noxus," he heard her breathe. They were now ahead of schedule, no men down, with conditions back at only sixty percent against.
Garen smiled to his nine finest brothers-in-arms, noticing the path directly to their right. Where the brush ended, a mass of warning signs had been erected.
Jungle is forbidden to non-military!
Do not follow strange lights!
Disembodied voices lie!
And on each was a skull.
Vayne held up a hand with three fingers, the look on her face foreign to what the team had already seen. She waived forward at the houses and tavern, beckoning Garen and two men to follow her out of the bush, figures hunched low as they crossed the twenty meters to a pile of firewood, leapfrogging from there to the wall of the tavern. Otherwise, they were without cover. Pressing up against the rear wall, they saw it had no features. No windows or ventilation where another building would have had some. The houses down the row held the same anomalies, probably due to the jungle.
Vayne held up a hand for Garen, signaling something that he couldn't understand in the silence. She tapped her ear. Silence. Garen pressed his head against the tavern wall. Silence, in a Noxian tavern, at Noxian tea time. Vayne's fist told Garen to wait while she circled the building. Garen did not like waiting without orders or line of sight. Gripping his sword and breathing in the silent darkness, he whispered a verse from the Measured Tread. Repetition brought solace until Vayne returned, her perpetually upset face sterner than usual.
"The tavern's been commandeered," she whispered. "He's inside."
She paused a beat. "Along with the entire Noxian High Command. I saw Darkwill, Du Couteau, his daughter, and some monks. Ten Crimson Blades with them. We wait 'till wards go loud, then request orders."
The Vanguard had not been authorized to strike those targets, or engage in that much strength. Vayne nodded into the darkness. "And if that fox gets close enough, grab it and kill it. It's been giving away our position all night." Garen followed her gaze to two glowing eyes in the darkness. The fox stopped, a paw frozen in motion, and stared.
"Nine-tails are good luck, mam," Garen whispered back.
Vayne scowled. "It's a magical malady- a freak of nature. And it's giving away our position." Garen turned to signal one of the Vanguard in the bush by the road, but the fox had already disappeared. A slam toward the front of the tavern knocked silence out of the Vanguard.
"You've had too much, Sion," a female called.
A rolling, flatulent expletive rumbled from the throat of a brute. Target acquired.
"Just take the night off. You've done a lot of hard work," the female consoled.
Sion belched another expletive and mumbled something unintelligible.
"Now," the female threatened.
Sion belched more dishonest oaths and began thumping unsteadily toward the back of the tavern.
"Handle a piss, Kat. High arse 'mand," was grumbled.
Vayne caught on to his direction and signaled Garen and his men back to the bush. She made it half-way and slid into cover behind the firewood pile. Sion, the dumb, unlucky ******* that he was, shambled his way toward the jungle. The stench of alcohol seemed to be stalking him, but Vayne could only smell the magic in his blood. No longer human, no longer pure. Garen gaped when he finally saw his target. Sion, the backbone of Noxian morale, the brute of their forces, was impossibly large for a human. Muscles rippled over muscles as he staggered and slipped his way past the wood pile toward the jungle. A slip of his feet redirected him at the Vanguard's bush.
"Good place as any," he mumbled to no one in particular.
Vayne emerged from the wood pile behind him and gave him only the click of her crossbow as warning. Sion's head lifted in confusion, his hands still reaching for his pants, when the bolt pierced his neck and sent him forward into ten drawn blades. Sion the Brute was no more. Barring unfortunate incidents, the Vanguard would join the main force with his head on a pike before the hour was through. The color guard drew butcher's knives and made quick work discarding the brute's arm and legs. The head would go on a stick and the torso would go to Vayne for whatever she had wanted it for.
"Leave the limbs here," she whispered. "Wards up?"
The man with the chronometer nodded.
"Ten seconds, mam."
Vayne nodded back.
"Alright. Start moving."
The Dauntless Vanguard rose, corpse divided amongst four men and stowed away in their packs, and passed the warning signs into unmapped territory.
Target down and mid-extraction, outflanked and presence revealed, their failure chance was now at a comfortable sixty percent. And suddenly, in perfect time with wards lighting in the darkness around the town, Mount Targon gleamed its last light of the night, casting away the sun and blinding the town.
Vayne's headset ward finally whispered to life, arcane static humming tunes from other worlds while the device focused. Quiet murmurs began echoing just loud enough for the men to hear,
"This is Jarvan Lightshield the Third, your king. Your brothers stand ready at their posts to retake what it rightfully ours, to reclaim the honor of Demacia and to expel the foul presence of Noxus from this sacred place! To grant mercy is to pronounce guilt! Today, we bring only Justice! General Laurent will guide you now. I go to the front."
Vayne signaled another halt and dropped to the ground, spreading out a map from her pack. She keyed her ear-ward. "Command, this is Pincushion, reporting mission success. Extracting to way point Lima. Additional for artillery: Tertiary Targets One, Five, and Seven are concentrated at grid squares..." Her finger drew a bead on the map. "Coco four and Buri four. Low collateral."
Garen spotted the mutant fox's eyes behind them again. It had stopped about ten meters away, still curious and cautious. Another voice responded over Vayne's earpiece.
"Pincushion, this is Jarvan the Fourth speaking. Artillery is behind schedule. Are you at full strength?"
"Affirmative." She didn't check.
"Vayne, take who you need and extract. Your contract's fulfilled. Leave any men you don't need behind with Garen. And hand off your ward to him."
She gestured at the corpse-flag color guard, mumbling, "You're with me."
She tossed her earpiece to Garen and parted with, "don't let the fox get you killed."
Garen fumbled the ear-ward to his head.
"I'm here, sir."
"Good. How many men do you have?"
He checked, "Five, sir."
Outflanked. Jungling. Enemy aware of presence. Half strength.
Mission failure chance above ninety percent.
"You have a new objective. Katarina Du Couteau."
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