Chapter 3 - “Beginnings” [Part 1]
The darkness was all around her, but this time, she didn’t particularly mind. Everything was so silent now. Her thoughts were her own. The only sound that permeated her small corner was the sound of her quiet breathing. Quiet though her surroundings were, her mind raced, giving her no small level of real peace. She had heard everything they had thought, felt it almost as strongly as her own feelings, and at times, she couldn’t tell where her own desires ended, and theirs had began. Her mind had been assaulted with little remorse or respect by countless summoners over the course of the week. They had simply used her to meet whatever goals they had set forth to accomplish, as a killer might use a blade. She owed that to her Noxian affiliation, she knew. Each summoner, male or female, had either been neutral, or allied toward the Noxian cause. She’d felt the mind of her people, their wants and desires, their selfishness, their regrets, everything. The psychological burden had taken its toll.
She was not a “people person.” Even back then, before she’d been sent to Ionia, she did not socialize. Outside associations were simply trouble and a bother. The only thing that had mattered was getting stronger, rising higher, and proving your own power among the ranks. One did not have time to allow personal relationships to flourish, and so, she hadn’t bothered. She had truly earned her title of Exile, she though, in more ways than one. Now, however, she was forced to face such interactions head on. When summoned, she couldn’t hide behind the familiar strong face. All her vulnerabilities were put on display, and it was easy to take advantage of her. She shivered as the memories flooded her mind again.
“Come on! It’s like you’re hardly trying! If you keep this up there is no way I’m going to use my influence to pick you up. You can’t take any damage whatsoever!”
“…Please…stop…” Riven’s mental plea was soft and weak as she skidded backwards, blood dripping from a multitude of wounds as the crocodilian form of Renekton, sand howling across his form, stood over her, roaring with rage, even as her summoner continued to scream in her head.
“I’ll stop when you start performing! Even a child can perform better than you! Literally! Annie and HER summoner have scored seven kills and haven’t lost a fight once! What’s your excuse? You’re pathetic!!”
“I can’t…not like this… Please…no more…”
As a continued part of her introduction into the League, she was placed on automatic standby for every single training match where a prospective summoner wished to make use of her talents. It was a way for her abilities to be tested by those who would fight with her on the fields. Unfortunately, many of them attempted to force their will on her so strongly, she could barely manage to defend herself, much less strike down a target. Her current summoner seemed to have very little understanding of her style. Even now, as she attempted to hold off the raging Renekton, the rest of his team was busy demolishing her team’s half of the Twisted Treeline. She had fallen several times, and had yet to score a single victory for her side. It was absolutely demoralizing for her, and infuriating for her summoner. The man blamed the bad situation on her inability to fight rather than his lack of awareness or understanding, and made it all too clear what he thought of her and her strength. What troubled Riven even more was that the emotion her summoner was feeling was beginning to boil over into her own mind. Then, it happened. As one of the last towers surrounding the base fell, her summoner lost it completely.
Riven stumbled and gripped her head in pain with a cry as the link forced itself upon her mind. The anger slammed into her subconscious like a tidal wave, her own sense of self cracking under the pressure, and mixing with feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing, and undeniable rage.
“Your entrails will adorn my blade, wench! Time to die!!” Renekton surged toward Riven for the kill, even as sickly green flames burned along the runes of Riven’s sword. In a flash, the weapon grew to its full size, burning furiously. Renekton’s charge was halted as Riven swung, the unbridled power colliding with his crescent blade and throwing the reptile through the air and into the wall. As he shook his head, his yellow eyes caught sight of Riven’s. Her gaze was hollow, and across her face was a look of chilling contempt, a stark contrast to his own fiery rage. The battle cry that tore from Riven’s mouth was not her own as she hurled herself toward the crocodilian god. Clashing with Renekton’s blade with everything she had, and cutting deeply into the metal.
The fury the reptile felt was suddenly replaced by a twinge of panic in his burning gaze as Riven’s onslaught continued. Slash after slash was hammering into Renekton’s blade and armor, even as her health continued to drop from the swirling sands. Rage, however, was Renekton’s territory, and with a furious roar of his own, he dashed back and away from Riven, causing her to stumble, before he shot back in once again, his blade landing three powerful strikes against her with such force that she was stunned. Several more slashes cut deep wounds into her and threw her into the hard rock wall along the opposite side of the lane. She felt her ribs crack, only to be partially nullified by the glowing pulse of green around her as her summoner used his Heal Spell.
Seeing an opening, Riven threw herself into the fray once more, roaring a challenge back to Renekton that struck him with dazing force as her blade tore open fresh wounds one after the other. The reptilian madman only seemed to grow more and more enraged as the blade sunk deep into his scaly hide, burning flames surrounding Riven as his own summoner unleashed Ignite. Through the pain, Riven shot forward, literally impaling Renekton along the length of her blade before the runes thundered with crackling energy. Then, with a tremendous rising motion and monstrous strength, she unleashed her Wind Slash at her summoner’s command, the power tearing through Renekton and spattering her with his bloody remains for her first kill of the match. Riven fell to her knees, bleeding and broken, a blank, cold, and emotionless expression, along with a single tear, on her face. As she faded, she could hear her summoner screaming into her mind, just as the match was announced as a loss for her team.
“Tch… Can’t you get even one kill without dying? What a worthless champion.”
Riven shook herself heavily as the memory finished replaying. Every match in which she had participated had shown her to be a dragging force on her team. Not all the summoners had been so cruel to her, of course, but none of them seemed to really “get” her. Regardless, the psychological damage had been done. She sighed and slumped against the wall backing her bed. Perhaps coming to the League had been a mistake. Perhaps thinking she could fight under these conditions was a flawed musing. As she mused, a knock came at her door, causing her to jump. Her heart quieted itself as she got up off the bed and walked to the door of her quarters.
“Yes?” She stood near the door, glancing down to her blade near her left hand. As she contemplated how long it would take to grasp the weapon and strike whatever was on the other side of the door, a voice answered her.
“Oh, good, it’s you Miss Riven! The occupants of the other rooms I visited were very rude…”
“Summoner Kaz…?” Riven quickly opened the door to reveal the young Summoner, dressed in the same blue robes as last time. She noticed he looked a little singed. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, and a little wiser for the experience.” He sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. “A word of wisdom, though. Do not interrupt one of Miss Annie’s tea parties…” Kaz paused for a moment, looking distant, before he spoke again. “Then, after I had escaped a very unhappy Mister Tibbers, I heard laughing and giggling, and then I was a squirrel…” Riven blinked.
“A squirrel?” A pause.
“I got better.”
“I…see.” Riven was about to ask for an explanation, but she thought better of it and got right to the point. “So, Summoner, what brings you here? Is there something I can do for you?” Once she finished asking the question, Kaz seemed to get a little fidgety, as if he were uneasy.
“Well, you see, I haven’t eaten yet, and I thought it might be nice for us to have a meal together, and…you know, talk.” Kaz quickly looked up to Riven as she raised an eyebrow. “No, no, it’s not like that! I know you don’t like a lot of attention, and I just hadn’t seen you for the past week or so, and I just thought it might be nice to eat and catch up, you know? No date, I promise, just friends.” Riven couldn’t help but smirk slightly at the summoner’s uneasiness. It was endearing in a strange sort of way. Truth be told, she was a little hungry.
“Alright, Summoner. I guess it is normal for friends to do such things…” It was Riven’s turn to be a little fidgety as she answered. “I will go with you…”
A pair of boots clacked against cobblestone streets as a set of curved hips swayed back and forth with each step. Crimson colored hair flowed down the back of the woman as she reached a large and fairly imposing gate. The two men in front of the gate quickly turned and opened it, and Katarina Du Couteau soon entered her family’s large estate. She was dressed in formal attire, something more befitting for the High Command. She strode through the foyer, casting off a dark long coat she had worn to keep the biting chill of the weather from staunching her fervor, only to have it caught by a servant and dealt with.
“I will have my tea and meal by the fire in Father’s study.” It was not a question or a suggestion. It was an order, and the servants around her quickly dispersed to attend to their duties, and meet the demands of their mistress. Ever since her father had disappeared, Katarina had been using his study as her own. She’d kept it exactly the way it was, should he ever return, but when she was at home, she was rarely seen outside it. She even slept on one of two small couches that her father had placed in the corner of the room near the fireplace. It was always burning hotly with logs or hot embers on cold days in the event that her duties brought her home.
She entered the room and marched to the desk, climbing a flight of stairs to reach the second level. The study was two-tiered. The lower level held four large bookshelves filled with various books, the two couches, and a dark wooden coffee table between them, all sitting on top of a large and expensive rug. The fireplace was set into the wall, and above it was an exquisite mantle, complete with a portrait of Katarina’s grandfather, and a bust of her father. The two flights of stairs circled backward and upward to reach the second level, where her father’s desk sat, neat except for a few documents that Katarina herself had placed there. This second level, too, was filled with bookshelves with hundreds of titles covering thousands of different topics. In the center of the room was a large chandelier that cast light down onto the sitting area below, and filled the room with shimmering brightness. It was not lit, however, the flames from the fireplace being the only main source of illumination other than the lamp on the desk.
Katarina took a seat in her father’s chair and started to pour over the documents on the surface of the desk. They looked like nothing, separately. Some troop requisition forms, work orders, records of troop deployment, reports of a battle in the Ivory Ward and the investigation that took place after, a crumpled letter bearing a seal of a black rose, and a few other items were scattered about. She grumbled and glanced down to the door as it opened, revealing a servant carrying her meal and her tea. “M’lady…” He bowed once, and turned to leave, respectfully.
Katarina stood and descended the stairs, taking a seat on the left couch and sipping the tea. As she did, she paused for a moment, grinned, and spoke.
“You’ll have to do better than that to get the drop on me.” She turned, glancing into the shadows. “Report.” An envelope was cast through the air, landing neatly on the coffee table between Katarina’s teacup and her meal. A few papers peeked out as a deep voice spoke.
“All I could gather, but it is as you suspected.” Talon walked into the light from the flames, his face mostly hidden under his beaked cowl. “He is lying.” Katarina picked up the papers and glanced over their contents. It was nothing fancy. The papers were a cargo manifest from a caravan and a few governmental audits. The only enlightening thing on their surface was the location from which the caravan had departed before it passed through a checkpoint into Noxus. It had originated from the newly acquired mine, placed under the control of none other than General Jericho Swain.
“Tell me, Talon, how easy would it be for someone to misappropriate wealth from the mine?” Katarina’s mind drifted to the troop deployment and requisition forms on the desk above.
“Very.” Katarina scowled as she crossed her legs and stirred her tea.
“So, he surrounds himself with his most trusted men, gains control of the largest mineral field we have ever found, and is seen as a hero for bringing wealth back to the people, rises quickly in power since the loss of General Darkwill, and the disappearance of my father. Even more, he is lying about the wealth he has brought in from the mine.” Katarina took a sip of her tea before she sighed. “Everything is too convenient. If there is a push for a Grand General to be named, no one is left to oppose him from claiming the title. With that much wealth at his disposal, he can pay off virtually anyone he requires.” She paused, her face becoming serious. “What’s worse, the vast majority of our armed forces are loyal to him, and he has several allies within Zaun as well.” She shook her head.
“A coup, then.” Talon spoke, but Katarina stopped him.
“No. He’s not that foolish. With that kind of social, political, and monetary backing, he doesn’t need it.”
“What do you suggest we do about it then?” Katarina considered Talon’s question for a moment, but as she did, she frowned.
“There is only one person who has as much sway with the people as he does. He knows it. If they were to become involved, it would completely change the chess game he’s been playing.” The rising poison in Katarina’s voice left no doubt in Talon’s mind as to the identity of the person in question.
“Indeed.” Katarina almost snarled. “That sniveling little piece of gutter trash is the only thing Swain has yet to corrupt. After the match, she’s been the hot topic of discussion all over Noxus. The people love her almost as much as they love him. The ‘Hero of Noxus’ has returned, they say.”
“You disagree?” Katarina whirled on Talon.
“Of course I disagree! That mousey little tramp is no hero! She abandoned our ways, our beliefs, and her people. My father personally honored her with one of the greatest weapons ever forged in the history of Noxus, and she shattered it. She spat on everything she stood for, and now she dares to show her face again, claiming to fight for Noxus, all while wielding that shattered blade and putting it back together for some kind of twisted display of ‘honor’ and ‘inner strength’. She is weak, soft, utterly useless. To think that my father ever saw something in her…” Katarina growled. “It disgusts me. She disgusts me.”
“Do you not think, Du Couteau, that perhaps your father saw something in her worth honoring, and that, perhaps, you should do the same?” Katarina’s voice grew cold as ice.
“Watch your tongue, assassin, and know your place.”
“My ‘place’, is at the side of your father.” Talon locked his eyes with Katarina’s. She instantly became aware of how much taller he was than her. “I owe you nothing. The only reason I follow any of your commands is because they serve my own interests. Do not delude yourself into thinking I serve you.” Katarina was silent a moment, her face twisting with her anger before she broke eye contact, turned, and stared into the flames.
“I want you to speak to the Exile on my behalf. I would do so myself, but I have business elsewhere to which I must attend.”
“Might I ask what you hope to accomplish with this?” Talon watched as Katarina continued to stare into the flames.
“That tainted man and his harlot saw fit to take my father from me. Of that I have no doubt, and very little proof to substantiate the claim. I shudder to think of what darkness will befall this country if he is allowed to take Darkwill’s place. As much as I hate that woman, the only way to fight this is with her influence.”
“Very well.” Talon turned and shifted back into the shadows. “I will speak to her. Just remember our conversation.”
Katarina didn’t have to turn and look to know that Talon had left. The sneaky assassin had the uncanny ability to both quickly and easily enter, and depart from almost any situation. Such was one of the reasons behind his virtually unparalleled skill in his craft. She turned and looked to the bust of her father. She didn’t like to admit it, but she missed him. He was a truly great man. He had taught her everything she knew. Without him encouraging her natural skill with a blade, she would have simply been another woman like her sister. She loved her sister, despite her hideous transformation. Katarina was glad she had become what she was now, and not what her sister had become. What she hated was that Talon was correct. Her father had seen something in Riven that he wanted to reward.
In the simplest terms, she was jealous of all Riven’s success. She had worked hard, training with her blades to become a truly feared force on the battlefield. She’d met Garen Crownguard in battle numerous times, yet never defeated him. It had always been a tie, blades against blade, armor against leather. There had never been a truer conflict on the battlefield to represent Noxus and Demacia in all their strength. The fact that Riven had defeated the Might of Demacia burned, and more so because it had been a public spectacle. With all her success and her praise from many of Noxus’ greatest powers, Riven had still turned her back on her country as far as Katarina was concerned.
“What did you see in her that you didn’t see in me, Father?” Katarina sighed and sat on the couch, picking away at her meal, the crackling sound of the fire being her only company.