Riven was alone in the ULN marine locker room, slipping her Headhunter suit on. Piece by piece, she stripped down to her underwear. Once she was done, she slipped into the black full body suit that Team Dark used. It was mostly battle cloth armor-- micro-teflon coils woven in a hexabinary pattern to keep bullets from penetrating the flesh underneath. There were patches of chain scales over suitable areas-- her chest, her arms, and her thighs, but by and large her suit was not intended for heavy combat.
This made it light, and easy to move in, but fragile to heavy weapons or knives. Riven flexed her protected hands experimentally. her joints rotated with ease. Not too different from her old uniform, then. She didn’t know whether she preferred that or not.
“Hey cutie.” A deep voice, followed by a heavy hand on her shoulder, startled Riven. “Anyone ever tell you that purple would suit you better?”
The private had the hand in her grip in a flash, and she raised it over her head before twisting her body in what should have thrown the offender over her shoulder and into the metal lockers in front. Should have. When she tried to throw the man over her shoulder, her back only collided with cold, hard metal, and she couldn’t even lift him off the ground.
“Hey, now. Let’s play rough after we’ve been acquainted.”
Riven swiveled her head to face the man behind her.
A handsome man smiled back. His square jaw framed his bulky body, all of which was wrapped in a full-metal power suit. His eyes shone in the locker room light, but Riven inwardly shuddered under their gaze. It was shallow beneath those forget-me not blues.
“...don’t touch me.”
“couldn’t stop me if you tried, cutie. But alright, since I’m such a nice guy--” The man lifted his armored hand, raising it defensively. “You like my power armor? It’s one of my latest designs. Power thrusters, personal shields, you name it, it’s got it.”
“...who are you?”
“Ha!” The man playfully slapped his forehead, wincing in mock pain. “I’m such an idiot--”
“True that,” Riven muttered.
“--I forgot to introduce myself.” The man put out his metal-wrapped hand, his smile revealing white teeth. “I’m Lance Corporal, William Jayce Westmoreland. I’m the leader of the Royal Headhunters. You might know us as the best of the bunch.”
Riven didn’t take the hand, instead staring coldly back at the man.
“Ok.” Riven turned back to clip up the last bit of her uniform, her eyes closed with annoyance. “Go away, William Jayce Westmoreland.”
“Now hold on a minute here,” The lance corporal persisted. He sidled over and put his hand on the locker, hovering over Riven. “I didn’t catch your name there. I think I’d remember someone as cute as you.”
Riven sighed, and flexed her fingers. She wondered whether this dolt’s head was as hard as his armor. It would be a pleasure to find out.
A deep, guttural voice cut across her thoughts.
“What are you doing, Rookie... with this y’sheelee?”
A low growling filled the room. Jayce flinched and looked towards the entrance. He seemed to back away from Riven for a moment, lifting his hand off of the locker. But the indefatigable lance corporal bounced back immediately, a smile plastering his face once more.
“Hey, Furry! It’s been, what, eight months? Too long!”
Riven looked up. Captain Rengar filled the locker room’s doorway, his rough, scored armor scraping against the metal lips as the massive Yautja slouched through. His eyes were narrowed, his lips were drawn slightly back to reveal stout, sharp fangs. It was abundantly clear that his mood was less than perfect. Every step the beast took left a deep, heavy thud in it’s wake.
“Leave, y’sheelee” Rengar stalked closer and closer, but not to Jayce. “Before my axe finds your throat.”
“Ha. Good luck getting to this yeeseelee's throat with my new power armor. With this, and my latest Mercury weapons system, I wouldn’t give you five minutes in the ring with me.” Jayce shrugged in a self-satisfied way. “Just admit it-- Team Dark’s history, Furry.”
Rengar turned away from the man, his long thick braids shifting away. His yellow eyes held nothing but contempt in their depths.
“We leave, Rookie.”
The Captain slouched out of the locker room, bidding Riven to follow. This Riven was more than happy to do. She finished packing her gear into her duffel bag, and slung it over her shoulder in one practiced motion. She followed the Yautja captain closely, sparing not a glance for the rival Headhunter leader.
“You all might have had us beat slightly before, Captain Furry-- but we’ve got all kinds of new tech now! Flamethrowers, advanced stealth systems, you name it, we have you beat!” Jayce leaned over to call out to Riven.
“You hear that cutie? You’re welcome to play with our toys at our place!”
Riven let out a sigh of relief when the sliding door to the locker room sealed, cutting off the lance corporal’s noise. Wordlessly, she stepped past her captain. She didn’t know what was in the captain’s mind right now-- better to stay out of his way. She picked up the pace slightly, speeding up to turn the corner as quickly as possible.
“Rookie.” A soft growl cut in. Riven stopped. She licked her lips. Was this bad?
She fingered her bag, feeling the familiar weight of her most hated, most important item she had. With it-- she wasn’t totally defenseless at the moment-- but using it would shatter her vow.
Riven looked up to face her captain.
“We don’t talk with the Royals,” Rengar eyed the private carefully. Riven had expected his eyes to be angry... but in them held no malice. “Understand?”
Riven knew then. This was a test.
Riven considered the situation carefully. What would Luce or Crow have done? Apologized, maybe. They always seemed to act cowed around their massive captain, and Riven didn’t blame them. But they always got beat up at their first slip.
What would Commander Yi do? Riven pondered, he never got beat up.
He would stand up to the Captain.
But the Lieutenant was incredibly strong. He could stand up to whomever he wanted.
Did the Captain value strength of body, or of mind, then? Riven chewed her lip. No, that didn’t make sense. If he valued only physical strength there’d be no point in testing her in the first place. He wants to see how I would react.
Then she would have to take the risk.
“...didn’t want to anyways.” Riven stated back as confidently as she could. The massive Yautja was still scary, and Riven wasn’t sure this was what the Captain wanted-- but as long as she carried that item in her bag, she probably wouldn’t be killed.
“And next time, I don’t need you to baby me. I can handle guys like him by myself.”
Rengar slouched forwards, his lion’s face impassive. The Yautja came up until he was right next to Riven, then bent down to stare into her eyes. Bright, yellow eyes met soft grey ones. The beastial captain’s eyes narrowed as he peered into Riven’s. The private gulped slightly. Did it work?
“Hm.” Rengar stood back up. His eyes shifted away to elsewhere, and without another word, he lumbered away.
Riven waited patiently until the captain’s heaving steps faded into the darkness of the corridors.
Then with an explosive sigh, Riven fell to her knees. She looked down, and found her hands quivering uncontrollably.
That was harder than she realized.
But a grin flickered across her face, as her shaking faded away.
“I’m living my new life,” Riven said out loud. “I’m changed.”
Her words sounded hollow even to herself, but even so, she had this small victory to bear.
She slowly picked herself up, and walked off to the hangar bays. Her first mission was waiting for her.
The Admiral was standing by herself in front of her window again. Her hands were clasped behind her back, her hat was tipped low over her eyes. Once again, Kayle silently joined her side. The AI had just come back from a ship-wide party being held in the hangar bays. She didn’t particularly like parties; but the thrill of interacting with humans was always the highlight of her job. Yet one person was notably absent-- the Admiral of course. And as soon as Kayle noticed the good Admiral missing from the festivities, she knew exactly where to find her.
Kayle mimicked the Admiral’s posture, folding her hands underneath the wings on her back. It was her way of passively mocking the Admiral’s occasional austerity.
"A crushing victory, captain."
Was it? The Admiral though? Lito didn’t respond.
Instead, Irelia stared out the window as the charred remains of what once was The Bloodthirster bounced harmlessly off of the neosteel of her ship. She wondered how many of those blackened pieces floating about in the cold vacuum of space were once people. And of how many more it would take to end this war.
This will not end yet, Lito knew.
"Not yet, Kayle." Admiral Lito turned around and fell back, lying on the plate glass. She closed her eyes, leaned back, and tipped her admiral's hat down. "The Lord of Admirals escaped. As long as he's alive, Noxia will keep fighting."
"I beg to differ, admiral." Kayle pulled up a holographic diagram of the Noxian flagship; dozens of red warnings and symbols littered the surface of the virtual model. "Lord of Admirals Du Couteau barely escaped with his life, Ma'am. The Ravenous Hydra limped away with almost catastrophic structural damage. The damage from our MAC rounds was severe, to say the least-- her remaining functioning engines were running at only 65% capacity and I detected multiple atmospheric leaks along dozens of distinct locations."
Kayle closed the diagram. Admiral Lito got the point. "Simply put, I wouldn't be surprised if The Ravenous Hydra simply fell apart trying to get away."
"Barely escaped with his life." Irelia hissed out, quoting the Ai’s own words. "Almost catastrophic. The man I've dueled with for over seven years, Kayle, would not fall to 'barely' or 'almost'. The Lord of Admirals is alive, and I intend to change that."
The admiral pulled her hat up a fraction of an inch to stare Kayle in the face. The admiral's sharp, hard eyes, simmering with cold rage, drilled into the construct. The AI recoiled a few millimeters, despite the fact that it was beyond irrational to fear a physical being when Kayle existed as data in cyberspace. It was not possible that she could hurt me, Kayle tried to tell herself. Still, Kayle felt it. Fear.
"Kayle. Operation Broken Knife is on standby, right? Send out the Headhunters."
Kayle paused. The AI had thought the Lord of Admirals to be finished-- but she had not remembered to inform the Headhunter teams that their mark was most likely dead. They were probably prepared to leave right now.
Still, what could be the harm in checking? It would also give that Captain Rengar something to do and put a couple hundred light-years in between us and him once he finds his target already dead. The man was already enough trouble when he was in a regular mood. Kayle didn’t want to think about what that Yautja would do if he lost his temper.
"...Aye aye, admiral. Beginning operation Broken Knife at 1670 hours, on my mark." Kayle drew up a holographic timer starting from 6 seconds and winding down. The admiral and the AI watched the numbers descend intently. "... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Mark."
The construct then tapped into some controls.
On the other side of the Infinity Edge, a ship hundreds of times smaller than her mother supercruiser, but still the size of a multi-storied building, detached from the hull. The smaller ship fired up whisper-quiet engines; dark as night and with less radiation than most cell phones. It shot off into space, following the trail of ship atmosphere that The Ravenous Hydra left behind as it jumped away. A ULN Kinkou-class shuttle slunk off stealthily into the night, carrying on board, two veteran Headhunter teams, a squad of ULN marines, ranging from Yautja to cyborgs to humans, and even a wet-behind the ears, fresh, greenhorn rookie. Named Rook Riven.
They were gathered in the lobby of the shuttle, strapped to their seats for the next nineteen hours by heavy safety bars that wrapped over their chests like a roller coaster ride. Riven was seated next to Luce Vayne at the very end of the shuttle. In front of her was a full squad of ULN marines, to her right, the rest of Team Dark was strapped in likewise. Fortunately, Team Royal was seated in the next row of seats, so Riven didn’t have to bear with the good Lance Corporal for nineteen hours straight. The wink he gave Riven as they passed each other while boarding was more than enough of him that Riven could take.
She lay back, and readied herself for another nap, knowing that with her sleep cycle, nothing would bother her for the remainder of the flight.
Then the shuttle lurched, rocking everyone sideways. Normally this wouldn’t have been enough to bother her, but her duffel bag tumbled from her hands in the impact. The black pack slid across the corrugated floor along the side, as Riven flailed for it.
“Ugh!” The strap slipped from her hands at the last second. Her fingers grasped only thin air.
Then a hand shot forwards, and snatched it from the floor. A low chuckle cut in from the owner of the hand that caught the bag.
“Still dropping stuff,” the man sitting next to her ribbed, weighing the pack in his hand by the strap. “eh Rookie?”
The man turned to smile at her, his ocular mask dominating his face.
“Don’t get careless now. That’ll get you killed.” Yi bounced the bag in his hands. His grin turned into a slight frown. He caught the bag firmly, and turned it a bit on it side. His frown deepened. “This bag is about four kilos too heavy. I know you’re new rookie, but how could you overpack like this?”
Yi unzipped the pack, still frowning.
Riven’s eyes widened.
Yi stopped. Then looked down at the hand that had grabbed his forearm. Riven’s. It took Riven a second to realize that she had lunged forwards to seize Yi’s arm.
“Please... wait, Sir.”
“...what’s in this bag, Rookie?” Yi didn’t back down. “We’re about to embark on a dangerous missions, with too many unknown variables. If I can’t trust you, I can’t fight. I’m your superior officer, and I need to know.”
Yi turned to stare at Riven. His lenses drilled into her.
Slowly, she let her hand down.
“...Thank you, Rookie.” Yi reached in, and pulled out a flashlight, a water flask, some medical supplies and... His fingers brushed on something hard, wrapped in rough paper. Not a gun, or any ordinary tool that Yi knew of. He gripped the package, and pulled it out of the pack. It was about the size of the base of the bag, around two and a half feet long. And a half foot wide. Underneath, Yi could feel the solid, giving form of what seemed to be a handle. Slowly, carefuly, he unwrapped the item.
The paper fell away, revealing a blade. Yi drew a short breath. A broken blade, shattered a foot and a half from it’s hilt. The design was unmistakably Noxian, but of a cut higher in quality than most blades manufactured from the empire. The Lieutenant studied the blade carefully. It was almost unbelievable that such a sturdy sword of have been broken. The metal was runic black stone-- a rare, proud element that was nearly indestructible, yet equally difficult to craft with. Yet the insides of what once was a proud, massive blade shone, exposed to the elements, while an inscription in what was symbols of the High Noxian dialect was carved into the blade, half of the word shattered away from whatever broke it.
Yi turned the blade on it’s side to read the inscription. His Noxian was pretty bad, but he could managed a few symbols.
“...ngel?” Yi frowned. “What’s the full name of--”
“It’s name is Traitor.” Riven stated out flatly. Her knees were drawn to her chest, and she was breathing more heavily than before. Her eyes stared off into open space, boring a hole through the steel floor. She buried her face deeper into her knees, her eyes lost in old memories.
Yi sensed he was digging up old wounds. But his curiosity won over his sensitivity.
Her answer was short and curt once more.
“Because it betrayed me when I needed it the most.”
Another image, unbidden, flashed across her mind. Of her, flinging her sword out, trying to block the shot. Of her fleeting, ephemeral sense of relief as she felt the weight of the bullet catch onto her blade.
And of horror, when she felt her blade shatter, and saw the blood of the innocent spill out.
She drew deeper into her shell, while Yi silently wrapped Traitor back up, and placed it back into her bag. He gently put it back at Riven’s feet, while she stared off, lost in her own world.
This was going to be a long mission, he realized, closing his eyes. Too long.
He never did sense her go to sleep.