Hello again! Thanks so much for the continued reviews and reads! I appreciate every single one, I really do. I hope everyone feels a little like they're getting to know Garen and that the story is going a good direction. If you want to read a great story that is tied into my plot, I encourage you to read the fic "The Deceiver Unmasked" on the LoL forum by my friend Tootsie20 (he's not nearly as long-winded as I am .)! That's my plug for today Anyway, on to chapter 3! I have posted into two sections for your eyeballs' sakes.
The Only Truth: Lost in the Woods
Lost in the Woods
It was nearly two months to the day that time had been stopped in Kalamada when Jarvan finally reappeared in Demacia. Since the day Garen woke in his house after the battle, the Dauntless Vanguard had searched for any trace of the prince's whereabouts to no avail. His arrival was a complete surprise and the Vanguard commander rushed to the gates to meet him.
"Prince Jarvan!" he called, working his way through the crowd of people welcoming the prince home. Noticing the two prisoners the prince had in tow he added, "Allow me to assist you."
To his surprise, he was completely rebuffed by the prince, who ordered him curtly, "Stand down." However, after the statement his friend discreetly placed two fingers against the side of his face, a motion Garen recognized as an old childhood symbol that he would meet with him later. He nodded, letting Jarvan pass by, who continued to ignore the surrounding crowds of his subjects.
What could possibly be so important that Jarvan couldn't even hint as to what was going on? Thinking back on their conversation before the short-lived war, Garen sighed and resolved that, although things were indeed more complicated than he imagined, all he could do was trust his friend.
Later the same day, Garen strolled through the castle halls, making his way to Jarvan's private study and knocking quietly on the heavy wooden door. "Garen, is that you?" Jarvan called quietly from the other side. The commander answered in the affirmative and was quickly rushed inside, the prince locking the door behind him.
"I'm glad you remembered the signal," he muttered sheepishly, "and I'm sorry for being so cold earlier. It's just...well, I said things would get complicated didn't I?"
Garen crossed his arms expectantly."About that, what's even going on anymore? Where were you for the past two months? Were you captured? How did you get back?"
Jarvan grinned, holding up his hands in a request for silence. "Well, mother, why don't I just start from the beginning? I hope you're ready for a long story." The prince walked over to his desk, unlocked a drawer, pulled out a piece of paper, and with a deep breath, began speaking. "About a week before the war in Kalamanda I received this letter from a... reliable source." He handed the paper to Garen, who stared disdainfully at his friend for a moment before taking it from his hand.
There is something deeper going on between Noxus
and Demacia. I have traced the following discrepancies
surrounding the collapse of the Kalamanda mine, the
death of the Demacian soldier and Noxian general. If you
wish to assist me in following this trail to its root then
I need to know that you are committed to uncovering
the truth. Meet me tomorrow within the archives of
the Institute of War.
Garen's hands shook as he read, finally crunching the paper in his fist upon finishing and turning on the prince. "Seriously?! 'Come alone?' Why didn't you at least tell me?!" Jarvan laughed awkwardly and raised his hands in defense. "C'mon Garen think about it! They have access to the Institute of War, so they were either a Champion, Summoner, or Counselor. Plus, with all the restrictions on people within the Institute, it's not like they could really do anything. AND," he added with a slightly smug look on his face, "if I went missing, people would notice. Obviously."
Jarvan's 'reassurance' did little to alleviate the frown on Garen's face. "So who was the source?" the commander sullenly inquired. "Patience! I'm getting there," his friend replied with a grin. Clearly, the prince enjoyed the attention.
"So I met with this person and listened to their evidence and reasons. Turns out they were very compelling but of course I did a little investigation on my own, just to be sure. And...it turns out, they were on to something."
"So what does this have to do with where you were the last two months?" Garen pressed.
"Well, this is where things get unsettling," said Jarvan with considerably less excitement. "The day before we attacked, I said I had received a letter about Noxus preparing an attack. When I went ahead of the force to scout the area...well, it didn't even look like they were up for the day yet, much less getting ready for an attack."
Garen anticipated he knew the answer, but asked his friend anyway. "If that's the case then why did you attack?" Jarvan broke eye contact to gaze blankly at the wall and said, "I saw Swain and I just...couldn't stop myself. When I see him I just get so furious and I have to do something."The Demacian commander nodded."I understand. Then, what happened during the fight? Where did you go?"
Jarvan's face turned sour as he recollected the next part of his tale. "Everything was going fine, in fact, I think I was winning. But..." His expression had grown puzzled, "I don't know, I felt that shiver up my spine, like when someone's looking at you from behind, and reflected on Swain's breastplate, there was a woman's face."
Garen raised an eyebrow, encouraging his friend to finish. "It was strange, Garen. I swear I saw her reflection and I turned around to attack but there was no one there." "Did you recognize her?" The commander was inclined to attribute his friend's description to sleeplessness or the rush of battle, but Jarvan looked so genuinely disturbed that he humored him.
"Well it's funny," he replied, perking up slightly, "because she looked familiar to me but I couldn't place where I had seen her before. She had dark hair and pale skin and...that's all I've got." Garen rolled his eyes. "That's not particularly helpful. Maybe you were just hallucinating."
Jarvan let out a tense laugh implying that he thought otherwise, but conceded that it was possible. "In any case, Swain ripped me to shreds with his damn crows after that, so I had to fall back. I went straight to my tent and penned a letter to my informant asking why they said Noxus was going to attack when they clearly weren't and went to meet them, and you know what they said?" He raised his eyebrows and paused, hoping to increase the suspense. Garen was not amused. "I'm more interested in how you got to them so fast."
"Killjoy," Jarvan stated, again ignoring Garen't inquiry about the mysterious informant. "They said that they had written no such letter. That's when we realized that there were things much larger going on than just a collapsed mine and some dead soldiers. So I...thought I would leave, do a little digging with them. I wanted to apologize to you though, for leaving after that. I imagine that did not cast a good light on you, especially since I ordered you to keep Katarina away from the fight. How did that go by the way?"
Dejectedly Garen rubbed his face and sighed. He could tell Jarvan expected forgiveness, but he intended to give the commander a piece of what he had been through before he ultimately complied. "She stabbed me through the leg, Jarvan. I've been getting dirty looks from everyone for two months and you won't believe the **** from my mother." This time Garen looked expectantly at his friend.
"I'm...sorry Garen I had no idea," he mumbled. It was enough of an apology for the commander, who simply waved his hand and muttered, "It's fine." A brief silence followed before he asked, "So, does the King know about this?" "Some," Jarvan replied hesitantly. "I informed him of the possibilities of a conspiracy but he needs harder proof than what I have to really counteract the League. I did happen to neglect telling him who my informant was."
"Speaking of that, who is your informant?" he asked again, fully expecting his friend to go on another tangent. "I'm glad you asked!" Jarvan exclaimed as though the commander had not asked thrice already. "She's actually here, although, I trust you will keep it an absolute secret."
Garen raised an eyebrow. "She?"
A slender hand slid across his back. Red hair, green eyes, a familiar mocking smile and a feeling in the knees. "Did you miss me, Garen Crownguard?"
The shocked commander stared in silence as Katarina simply laughed at his confusion. "I've been here this whole time. Does it unnerve you to know that I could have killed you a hundred times from the shadows while you stood here talking?" Helplessly he looked to Prince Jarvan. "Her?! How did she even get here?"
"Oh I walked through the gate right past you Garen, along with my brother Talon," she interjected coyly. "I'm hurt that you didn't recognize me by the way." Jarvan shrugged as Garen turned his disbelieving gaze back to him. "I had to get them in somehow. Talon is actually searching for some information now."
Holding his head in his hands, Garen finally fell wearily into a chair. "Will someone please explain this situation to me in full?" Katarina laughed again, walking past him to put a hand on Jarvan's shoulder. "I think we broke him, Jarvan." Garen's head snapped up. Jarvan? She was on first-name terms with-was she touching him? Suddenly he felt incredibly angry. "Just explain, Katarina," he snapped.
She raised a delicate eyebrow and crossed her arms defensively in front of her. "Touchy. Can't you ask nicely, Garen?" The commander glowered at the woman who had caused him so much mental anguish. She was infuriating! "I don't have to do anything for you, Noxian," came his haughty reply.
Green eyes flashed in anger. "Oh really? You don't owe anything to the one who kept your beloved prince from death in the Noxian underground? I don't recall you being there to do your job!" "You went to Noxus?! If you hadn't coaxed him there he wouldn't have been in danger!" he interjected curtly.
"Children, please calm yourselves," Jarvan interrupted, a touch of irritation in his tone. "Garen, I need you to co-operate with Katarina! Katarina, would you please inform Garen as to the situation?"
The assassin smiled sweetly at Jarvan. "Of course! Glad to see some Demacians know how to treat a woman." She looked pointedly at Garen but continued before he could speak. "I started to notice something wasn't adding up when General Darkwill turned up dead. It was Swain's own words that tipped me off; the Raedsel Guards are the best Noxus had to offer, better than the Dauntless Vanguard I dare say," she added, smirking at the glaring commander. "You must admit, there's absolutely no way they could have been killed by even the Vanguard in such an open field and in such an efficient manner that they couldn't even send a warning to the main force."
Garen mumbled his grudging assent. He had only encountered them a few times himself but the Raedsel Guards had been incredibly formidable. Even at the skill level of his squad she made a valid point; if the Vanguard couldn't even be that efficient then...
"Then...it was an inside job?" Garen ventured to guess. Katarina clapped in mock delight. "Winner! Yes, my conclusion was that it had to be a setup, so I did a little investigation of my own and found a letter in Swain's files indicating that he should send Darkwill with his men to that location and that 'they', the letter writer, would take care of them. It was stamped with this," she said, as she pulled a letter from a pouch at side and showed him the image at the bottom, a black rose.
"Now this letter" she said, waving the paper in her hand, "was something left behind by my father." A bitter tone crept into her voice. "He has been...missing for some time. I was unaware of this letter until I shared my suspicions about the late General Darkwill with my younger sister, Cassiopeia." She directed a false smile towards Garen and said, "You know, the one I mentioned to you during our last fight before you went bat-**** crazy and ki-" "RIGHT, YES," a panicked Garen loudly interrupted. "CONTINUE THE STORY. Please." Jarvan coughed awkwardly but said nothing.
Katarina snickered at his discomfort, but obliged. "Cassiopeia, it turns out, had this letter which our father left before he was mysteriously summoned away. I had no knowledge of this letter until she gave it to me as I was in Ionia at the time of his departure. But before I could look into the meaning of the note, the 'war' began in Kalamanda. However, I thought the evidence of Swain's betrayal of Darkwill, the possible setup of Demacia, and the involvement of this 'black rose' group would be enough to pique Jarvan's interest."
"Wait a minute," Garen intervened. "Why Jarvan, why a Demacian? That doesn't make any sense. Why not pursue the matter yourself? Demacia doesn't have anything to do with this."
To his surprise, Katarina remained quiet for a moment and replied quietly, "I am interested primarily in discovering the source of my father's...disappearance. No Noxian would have sympathy for that, and I would have no guarantee of their loyalty if I did try to recruit help." A wry smile twisted her face. "On the other hand, my information would be incredibly valuable to a Demacian as it would provide enough information against Swain to lead to a credible validation of war."
Anticipating Garen's train of thought indicated by his incredulous face, Katarina growled, "My father should have been the one in Swain's position! Instead the DuCouteau name has been run through the mud. Swain must have something to do with his disappearance and I will get my revenge." With a slightly more humble tone she added, "It's just, Swain is so powerful and with this 'Black Rose' group supporting him, I...can't do it alone."
Garen pressed his earlier question, "Then why a Demacian?" and surprised himself by wondering silently, why not me?
"The thing about you Demacian's is you're so damn honorable," Katarina said with a grin. "Jarvan gave his word that there would be no tie to me in the event of a war. Besides, if a war started, I would be able to kill as many of you as I pleased, and if Jarvan betrays me," she looked pointedly at the prince, "then I have no doubt that I could kill him from right under your nose." The last part of his sentence was said with such an air of smugness that the commander visibly cringed. Jarvan rolled his eyes and let her threat pass.
"So in any way this plays out, you come out on top, " Garen mused. "Jarvan, why would you even go along with this?"
"Well, at first the evidence that it could lead to another war against Noxus was enough for me to consider playing along, especially since there would need to be a good reason to go against the truce and the League. Demacian justice and all." He leaned forward in his chair with an air of intensity. "However, since this might go above even Swain, I believe could affect more than just Demacia and Noxus."
Garen found that his head was beginning to hurt, and he still had questions for his friend. "Just so I'm clear, you went behind my back to take a two month vacation and work with a Noxian assassin on the off-chance that you could start another war on Noxus under the guise of justice? I understand the end but are the means truly worth it, Jarvan? I...can't help but feel this goes against what Demacia stands for."
Jarvan IV shifted uncomfortably under his friend's scrutiny. "Garen...it might have started out like that but, try to understand. This is becoming more than just about Noxus and Demacia, or who's right or wrong; something big is going on that could affect all of Valoran. If I have to work with a Noxian to uncover the truth and bring justice then...then so be it!"
The Vanguard commander sat quietly, absorbing what the prince had said and the implications of what Jarvan was planning. For the first time in his life, the commander felt a hint of doubt about his city-state's actions. What if there were times before when Jarvan and Demacia acted under the mask of justice and honor only for self-serving goals? Even so, if this truly went above both Noxus and Demacia, people would need protection.
The three sat in silence for several minutes before Katarina finally spoke. "So, Garen, are you going to help or not?" The air filled with tension as he pondered the question.
Finally he spoke. "I'm yours to command."