Chapter 3 - To Follow One Path So Blindly
The lady of the moon rested herself, arms crossed with a menacing demeanor, in a corner of the room. She was waiting for the other champions to be summoned, but did not bother to see who would be who would be accompanying her today. It didn't matter to her. Only at the sound of metal greaves clanking towards her did she bother to raise her head. An ice-cold stare was exchanged between Diana and the armored hoplite. She snorted, "Rakkor."
"Who are you?"
She shifted her shoulders ever so slightly, "I am Diana."
The hoplite nodded, "I have heard of you. Pantheon."
The name alone was enough for Diana to lift an eyebrow in interest, "Pantheon? You know Leona then."
"Where has she been?" Diana slowly pushed herself out of the corner, "I have not seen her for twelve days now. Where is she?"
"Hrn. They will not leave me alone until I can prove to them I am 'stable'."
Pantheon eyed Diana from the shadow of his helmet, taking note of her posture, "Stable?" The warrior could not detect any pause or hesitation in her demeanor. She was relaxed, confident, but it only served to remind him of a coiled viper, waiting to strike.
"The Summoners believe I may be a 'threat' to Leona's personal safety outside of the League, and they were reportedly approached by someone concerned for her safety." Her grey eyes narrowed, "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
Pantheon shook his head, "Not my place to say."
"How do you know me, then? Who was it? Was it her?"
"No," Pantheon flatly replied. "That is not who she is. If you knew her at all, you would know that."
"Then where has she been?"
"I do not know."
Diana scoffed, "You do not? How odd, coming from you."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Pantheon gripped his spear tighter.
"Exactly as it sounds. She used to talk about you."
Pantheon looked away, rolling his eyes out of her line of sight and issued a short, condescending grunt, "Tch."
Without warning, Pantheon swung his spear in a broad arc. Diana's curved blade caught it as she ducked underneath the strike. She pushed forward and pressed her palm against the hoplite's chest armor. Pantheon withdrew his spear with a quiet harumph, "Leona taught you that." His voice was flat for the most part, but Diana could swear she heard the barest hint of satisfaction within his tone.
"What makes you think such a thing?"
"It screams of her technique. The Solari are not as well versed in combat, and a typical defense maneuver by a Solari would be to have a shield, to block the strike and wait for an opportune moment to attack rather than to redirect it. This is a Rakkor technique, and one that Leona specialized in. Redirect, disarm, and take down," Pantheon replied. "Even your stance reminds me of hers."
"Your stance is somewhat similar to hers as well."
Pantheon grunted and waved Diana off, "Why shouldn't it? I was also trained by the Rakkor."
Diana looked away and silence fell over them once more. The other champions did not seem to bother the Rakkor man and the Lunari woman. A few moments later, she spoke up, "What do you think of the Lunari?"
"What is your opinion on the Lunari? Surely you have been told of their, and my, so called atrocities."
"I don't care."
"Why not? You fight for the Sol-"
Pantheon let out a short bout of cruel sounding laughter before replying, "I don't fight for them. I fight to defend my people, to defend my homeland, to show these other city-states who it is they will have to face if they ever dare trespass on Rakkor land. I am not a religious man. I am the Artisan of War." His eyes settled back on Diana's face, and at once his voice hardened, "You being a supposed heretic means nothing to me. Worship whatever you want, and if you are tormented, insulted, belittled and attacked because of it, why not fight back? Why not defend yourself? Why did you kill them?"
"Because they wished to quell the truth, the one only I knew."
Pantheon grunted and pointed at her with his spear hand, "Then good. You killed them. Less scum to deal with."
"Then you agree?"
"Did Leona command them to do whatever they did? I highly doubt it," Pantheon snorted. "They were acting in their own self interest rather than for the group as a whole. I am not a religious man, but I will not abide idiocy. I am Rakkor. Let them deal with their own problems, and we will deal with ours."
Diana stared at the hoplite, not impressed. "A man with no faith is a man who has no soul."
"I never said I had no faith, I said I am not a religious man." He pointed at the ceiling, "The Sun and the Moon exist whether we see them or not. Why should I not have faith? To follow one path so blindly is foolish."
"Will you not give the Moon a chance?"
Pantheon rolled his eyes, muttering a short grunt of exasperation, "Are you deaf? I just said-"
"Eh?" The hoplite's voice raised a bit, challenging her for an explanation for her statement, "What do you mean?"
Diana pushed past Pantheon as intense magical energy started to swirl about them. They were being prepared to be summoned onto the Fields of Justice. Diana raised her head slightly, as if she had just remembered something, "She used to talk about the three of you: You, Molik, and her." Her tone in her voice conveyed her disinterest.
Pantheon shifted his stance slightly, grunting.
"Do you know what she used to say about you?"
The Rakkor hoplite gave no verbal response, his armor clanking as he turned to face her.
"She said you were a good man." She looked back at him and flicked her weapon, "That may have been once, a long time ago. Don't get in the way of the truth. I will end you."
With that, she disappeared in a burst of light. Pantheon shouldered his weapons and let out an exasperated groan. He really needed to stab something.
Leona thumped her head on the desk. She was not happy. Books littered the room, tome upon tome were piled high in stacks on the desk and on the floor closest to her. Dark bags were prevalent under her hazel eyes. She had not slept very well in the past couple of weeks. She rubbed her face, then picked a pen up and started to scratch out more notes. "It's supposed to be in these books. I don't get it...what did you see, Diana? What am I missing?"
A knock on the door. Leona did not acknowledge it, she was too engrossed in her work. It slowly creaked open, and a hoplite walked in with a tray: A small teapot filled with boiling water, a cup, and a few pieces of toast were some of the items that rested on the tray, as well as a small stick of butter and a jar of honey. He lightly but tepidly walked over to the desk and set the tray and its contents next to the Radiant Dawn while softly asking, "How's it going, Leona?"
"You tell me," she pointed behind her.
He saw the bed was filled with torn and balled up papers, nearly covering the mattress.
Leona rubbed her face again, "So many things, so many discrepancies, I don't see how she did it. Is there a pattern? A code? Am I supposed to slant the books at a precise angle while pointing a lens in the sunlight to reveal a map? This doesn't make sense."
Finally noticing the tray, she reached over, "Thank you, Molik." She grabbed a piece of toast and nibbled on it. Leona sighed, "Remember the bread we had when we were young?"
"Yeah. You never did say where you found it, Leona. It wasn't gremlins, was it?" Molik smiled at her, trying to prompt a bit of laughter.
This did not work. Leona bobbed her head and replied with a simple, "Mm." She reached over, sliced off a large piece of butter and placed it on the toast. She dropped the toast from her mouth into her free hand, grabbed the tiny spoon and scooped up a dab of honey. Carefully she drizzled it over the butter.
The hoplite winced as he watched her take a bite of the toast, "Still not sure how you can eat it like that..."
"It's actually quite nice," Leona admitted, smiling ever so slightly. "It perks the spirit with a bit of tea."
"Where did you ever pick up such a strange combination?"
She did not answer. She quietly poured herself a cup of tea. Leona looked at the papers and let out another sigh, "I don't know what to do, Molik. I don't know where to look, what to find, nothing! The notes she made are so...convoluted. I can barely keep up with them. It's frustrating, Molik."
"Are you making any progress?"
Leona nodded, her eyebrows narrowed, her lips pursed, "Yes, but barely."
"Maybe you should get some sleep then, Leona."
"I can't. Night is when any of these texts make the slightest bit of sense. Another piece or two found and then I analyze them during the day. I need to observe the constellations, the faces of the moon, its position, I am making a little progress. I just need to make more, step by step."
Molik rested his hand on her shoulder, "One night won't end the world, Leona. Get some sleep, wake up and come for prayers tomorrow morning."
"Look at these notes, Molik," Leona swept her hand about the room. "She spent countless hours, countless days making these, and they were all going to be burned. They were going to be snuffed out and hidden because of me."
The hoplite shook his head, "Leona, you've tried. Maybe that's enough. It's been weeks. You tried, and you're barely getting anywhere. What else can y-"
"What did you say?"
Leona glared at him. She screeched the chair back and stood from her seat. She turned around, nearly towering over him, almost glowering at her friend as she asked him again, "What did you just say?"
"I will not give up on her. Do you hear me, Molik? I will not give up on her!" She started to yell, "It was because of me they all died! Do you understand? It was because I wasn't there, it's because I was ignorant that she was going to be executed! It's because of me she was put in such a position!" She leaned closer to Molik, her eyes were lit with anger. He could almost swear there was fire seeping out from her eyelids.
Her yelling continued, "If I was worth my salt as the Solari Avatar I would have stopped that event from ever happening! It's my fault she's this way, it's my fault they're dead, it's my fault the temple was destroyed, it was all because of my ignorance!"
"They are supposed to be my representatives and they do that! How could they? How?!" Leona breathed in and out, eventually calming herself, "I'm...I'm sorry, Molik. I didn't mean to snap at you."
The hoplite nodded his head, the tension in his shoulders disappearing, "It's alright, Leona."
Leona grabbed her toast and took another quiet bite of it. She looked outside, and noticed that the sun had started to set. "...It's almost time."
After she placed the toast back on the plate, she stretched herself and paced around the room while softly speaking, "I need to do this, Molik. I need to do this, for her and for me. I need to show her that I am not ignorant, I need to show her that I am aware, and then maybe..." She sighed, her back facing the hoplite, "Maybe then I can talk to her. Maybe then she will listen to me, as I listened to her."
Molik shook his head, concern in both his features and his tone, "Leona, are you not scared? She wishes to kill you. She will kill you. Is she worth it?"
"I do not fear death. You know that first h-" Leona's eyes went wide, and quickly silenced herself. The damage had already been done. She turned around and looked at Molik, having fallen silent. She eventually asked, in almost a hushed whisper, "...Please leave me be, Molik. I am sorry, but I have a lot of work to do. Good evening."
The hoplite nodded and walked out of the room. He closed the door behind him. The moment he heard the handle click, he tore off his helmet. Tears streamed down from his eyes as he lamented, "I wish you'd stop apologizing. Why do you keep apologizing? Why?"
Leona made her way to the window, positioned the telescope, and pointed it at the sky. Once the dark blanket of night had fallen, the skies revealed a moonless night lit only by stars. She winced, and looked over at the papers next to the cold tea and toast that rested on the desk. She would be able to draw parallels with only the constellations tonight. She allowed a light glow emanate from her body. Once the light was suitable, Leona grabbed a bookmarked tome, some scrap paper, a pen, and started reading. She glanced up at the night sky every now and then. Each time she did so, she would slightly wince. Within minutes, she placed the papers, the pen, everything down. Leona had to do this, out of habit. It was probably meaningless, but it was a moonless night. She probably would not hear, but Leona would pray for the both of them anyways. She clasped her hands together and muttered a short prayer. It was these nights that always unsettled both herself and her the most.
Crimson streams spurted out in a fountain. Flicking her blade, the lady of the moon looked about the encampment. A small Noxian troop trying to move closer to Rakkor lands. She would not allow such people and their arrogance endanger others. She scanned the scene while trying to wipe the blood off her face, only serving to smudge it more. She heard a noise. She turned to face the source, where she saw a grizzled old man stand in front of a young man. They were wounded, but not dead. He was standing, facing her, but was scared.
"What will you do?"
He rushed her, swinging his blade overhead. She easily sidestepped him and threw him to the ground. "Why do you keep fighting? Your comrades are dead."
"You won't take my son away from me!" the old man roared. He got to his feet and readied himself for another charge. He was unsteady, the fresh wounds clearly debilitating the man, yet he was still willing to fight.
Diana pointed at him, "Do you wish to live?"
She pointed at the young man behind her with her blade, "Do you wish for him to live?"
"Then accept the moon as your protector."
The old man laughed, readying his blade, "What? Why? How will that h-"
Diana raised a hand at him, silencing him. She coldly spoke, "I killed the rest of these men because they thought it wise to attack me. I had no qualm with them. I asked them to leave, they refused. I asked them to join, they attacked. What makes you think you have the strength to do what a dozen men could not?"
The old man shook a bit, "I can't...I can't abandon Noxus. No one can. They'll come."
"You do not have to abandon Noxus, just accept. If you are in danger, let them come," Diana replied. Her voice was cold, firm and confident, "Let them send their armies. Be it man or machine, grain cannot ever hope to overcome the scythe. I will protect you, him, and any other believer with my life."
She threw a hand up, mockingly so, "Or you could try to attack the Moon. You will see the futility first hand."
The Noxian lowered his blade, shaking, "...You swear?"
"On my life. I do not break my word."
The old man lowered his blade and walked over to her, "How do I know you can be trusted?"
"You're not dead yet," the lady of the moon pointed out, a slight hint of scorn in her tone. Her voice returned back to its colder, firm tone, "And it is for the same reason I can trust you: the Moon has judged you, and your son, accordingly. The day will come when the house of the Moon will be restored. Until that day, and after it arrives, I will watch over you. All you need to do is chose to believe: Praise the moon."
"...Praise...praise the moon..."
Diana's porcelain face cracked for a single moment, letting a smile spread across her lips for that split second. With that, she walked away. So long as she was around, there would never be another moonless night again. Still, looking up at the night sky, seeing the absent silver sphere, she could not help but feel the hairs on the back of her neck rise.
"Molik? Has her mind changed? Have you been successful?"
The hoplite sighed, shaking his head, "She refuses to deter. She is tired, she is starting to become exhausted. Not even the tea is helping."
The elders murmured to one another, "This is not good...not good at all...We have heard some disconcerting rumors."
Molik raised an eyebrow, "Rumors?"
"Yes. They say the heretic is recruiting."
"Recruiting?" His voice hardened, "Who?"
"Anyone willing to listen. We have been told a few Noxians have joined her."
Molik shook his head, "She's making an army...Dear Gods..."
"What did the Summoners say?"
"They said they would keep tabs on her, make sure she is compliant. She has been so far."
The elders shook their heads, "The Radiant Dawn is in danger, and she does not see it. This does not bode well."
"No," Molik slammed his fist on his chest. "I will protect her. I swear it."
The elders nodded at one another and turned to him once more, "Tell us her progress, and how she fares mentally. We fear that the longer she looks at those notes, her mental capacities may start to deteriorate...just like the heretic."
"That will not happen. She will not become like Di..." the hoplite coughed, "I mean, the heretic."
"You are dismissed, Molik."
The hoplite nodded and motioned to the rest of the Vanguard, "Men, move out."
The elders conferred with one another, worry on their faces. They could not let the Lunari rise again, even if the Radiant Dawn was blind to it, they were not.
***Author's Notes: A shout out to KuzAnn for editing this as usual! Thank you Kuz!