Strength serves as the most valuable currency in the city-state of Noxus, and as such, many inhabitants appear to have deep pockets. The Noxian anthem would likely translate something along the lines of “servitude or purpose”, and its people adopt this invisible policy with the reckless abandon of an unchained cut-throat. Political success correlates with power and the will to abuse it; those who cannot achieve this requirement serve those who can. Simply put, there are two kinds of people in Noxus: those who control, and those who serve. Indulgence, gluttony, and vanity are the virtues of this land, and although foreign to outsiders, they couldn't want it any other way.
Noxus had originally been carved into a tremendous cliff face, necromantic skulls detailed along the mountain for aesthetic accuracy of its fascination with death. To date, the most powerful inhabitants of Noxus reside atop this sculpture, in one of the many palaces constructed at its peak. Surrounding this elevation, numerous outskirts and slums reach for miles towards the enormous walls enclosing the city-state, where smaller villages have been constructed for citizens deemed unworthy of entrance.
The atmosphere of this land is eerie, perhaps due to the incessant looming smog that shroud the city from sunlight, or even the perpetually burning embers of forges and streetlights. Noxus, people say, is a malignant tumor responsible for corrupting everything it touches, and its ravenous hunger commits to its terminal reach. Ever-expanding, this land challenges the minds and bodies of its citizens on a daily basis, craving the bloodshed and ruthlessness that shape men and women into champions of the military or political counsel.
And it is here that dreams are made, and nightmares rule.
The young woman grunts as she hefts the long sword to hand, quickly supporting its considerable weight with her other. Adjusting her posture to account for the blade, she orients awkwardly into a combative posture, and exhales slowly.
“You've so got this!”
A familiar spectator cheers, waving a gloved hand in her direction. Her scarlet locks have been twisted into three long tails, her beauty matchless. Her emerald eyes shine brightly in the darkness, challenged only by the luminescence of her smile. Katarina leans back in her seat, and whispers to a previously unseen companion.
Glancing towards her friend, Riven catches a secondary figure beside her, and flushes. With his dark eyes searching her own, she forgets to breathe for an instant. The young man winks, and leans forwards on his elbows, resting against the railing. As Katarina's hand finds Talon's, Riven swallows a quiet fury building in her lungs.
“C'mon, he's nothing for you, Riv.”
He coaxes, flashing a charming grin.
Riven smiles nervously before turning her attention to the monstrosity before her. Standing at a height at least twice her own, the abomination heaves with each labored breath, his skeletal hand grasping a double-edged cleaver menacingly. What little flesh hangs on to his frame has spoiled a mossy green, serving as convenient camouflage in the dusky evening, only his carmine eyes betraying his position.
Jericho Swain lurches between the two combatants, resting the majority of his weight upon a withered cane. Beatrice, the horrible avian creature atop his shoulder, bleats loudly to disrupt the silence, an action which seemingly pleases the older man.
“Today we are gathered here to contest mistress Riven's eligibility for the Noxian Special Operations Branch, the Crimson Elite.”
Gesturing with a low bow, the man's eyes rise to meet her own, sending a chill down her spine. He flourishes with his hand dispassionately.
“I am Jericho Swain, and I will be serving as proctor for this examination.”
Beatrice coos as he scratches at her beak with his fingers, and sighs softly.
“Although admittedly, more pressing matters stand to be addressed, it has been personally requested by our beloved General Darkwill that I oversee this event, as success, while nonetheless optimistic, comes with it...certain rewards that only I can provide.”
That last bit oozes with venomous subtlety, a feature Riven does not fail to observe.
She glances worriedly towards the young man in the audience, who waves his hand amiably.
“It's really not so bad, I promise.”
He assures her, and chuckles ambivalently. Although his experience had proved challenging, it had certainly not been on this level. To be quite honest, he feared for his friend's life considering her opponent's renown. For whatever reason, dread takes hold of the man as he digests the possibility that she was not meant to survive this bout.
“Sion, please begin.”
The gargantuan accedes, and stumbles towards the girl. His every movement invites an unnerving creaking as his skeleton squeezes against itself, slinging his powerful axe towards her slight frame. Dashing to his flank, the woman responds with a quick slash of her blade, catching his ribcage as she moves past him, afterward twisting on her heels to witness the horrible reality that he stands quite unfazed. Rather, upon closer examination of her blade, it was her weapon that suffered from the confrontation, much to her disbelief.
The monster grunts as it forcefully extracts the axe from the cobblestone it had embedded, and turns on his opponent. As the two share eye contact, a sudden sensation of terror overwhelms the girl, immobilizing her with horrific hallucinations of unspeakable nature. Her knees begin to buckle before she recovers, leaning against the hilt of her blade to steady herself.
Her breathing, quite shallow, reflects her shaken resolve as she attempts to collect herself.
Taking advantage of her psychological displacement, the monster draws an esoteric symbol against his chest with his finger, resulting in a gathering of necromantic energies. Within moments, an insidious aura had enshrouded him, sparking noticeable concern in the girl's distraught expression.
Riven had little time to ascertain the purpose of this, however, knowing that what little advantage she held lay within her ability to strike quickly and purposefully. Without hesitation, she rushes the creature, and pivots her hips in accordance to the swing of her blade, burying it into his stomach. Although initially believing the strike to be true, she discovers the barriers intervention, and nimbly steps around the arc of his retaliatory swing.
Sion roars as charges her, slamming her against the wall of a nearby building. The impact forces a mouthful of blood from the girl as she slumps to the ground, struggling to roll away from yet another otherwise fatal onslaught. Lifting her blade to parry his weapon, the sheer force of the blow sets her off balance, and she ducks beneath the reach of his wicked blade, slashing at his exposed thigh to little avail.
Skipping behind the behemoth, she cuts her eyes to Swain, who appears to be taking great interest in the duel, although likely anticipating her untimely demise. Her onlookers observe her silently, and their presence ignites what passion had smoldered prior.
She could not be the weakest of the trio. She had taken such strides to close the distance between herself and her rival; this could not be where she failed.
Raising her sword above her head, she brings it crashing down against the back of his skull, before mounting his back, and dragging the blade along the exposed neck.
The late bloom was always the most beautiful, and her conviction would soon bring about her evolution. So long, she had struggled, but now, she would take what was hers.
Kneeling upon his shoulders, Riven grinds her teeth together as she drives the sword through his skull, concentrating all of her physical energies into the assault, and for a moment, time seems to stand still.
Stiffening, the colossus steps forwards once...twice, then falls, bringing Riven down along with him. Striking the ground inelegantly, she coughs violently as she crawls away from Sion, and glances anxiously towards Swain, who appears quite disappointed.
“Pity. And we had just reassembled him.”
He sighs, and rolls his shoulders into an apathetic shrug.
“So bet it, girl. Congratulations.”
Two children scramble along the streets of the slums, mischievously weaving between strangers as they chase one another, broad smiles painted upon their youthful faces as they twist around the alleyways. Ignorant and naive to the nature of this land, children exist as unpolished potential, and are subsequently quite precious to those who would transform them into machines of warfare. However, these two were immune to the plague of Noxian violence, by a rare twist of fate.
The Noxian political organization, the High Command, is overseen by one General Boram Darkwill, whose favored military advisor, General Du Couteau, reigns over the armies of Noxus. By association with the Du Couteau family, these two children enjoy lives unrestricted by an otherwise harsh society.
“Where's Kat gonna meet us?”
The young girl questions excitedly, grasping at the hand of her friend, and clutching it tightly in her own. The boy smiles, and rolls his shoulders into a shrug.
“Dunno, something about the labra...labiniths.”
He murmurs, uncertainty plaguing his voice.
The girl giggles.
She corrects, pointing towards an elevation of elaborate stairs.
“It's a long walk from here.”
She reminds, slowing her pace. Certainly, the Du Couteau family were as prestigious as they came, and as such, their mansion sat at the apex of the mountain. Naturally, the only path to this exalted place required escalation by these stairways. With every platform, a pair of armed guards stand attentive, tasked with identifying those carrying proper authorization to scale the 'tower'.
At the first juncture, two familiar men stand at duty, resting their spears against the wall.
“Aye, mistress Riven and mister Talon, is it?”
The man queries playfully, ruffling the girl's hair with his hand. His companion glowers at him, and clears his throat.
“Oi, be more serious, will ya? They'll give us hell if they see us being so familiar with 'em...”
He whispers, dragging his pointer finger along his neck in a threatening gesture. The first guard nods his head reluctantly, and retracts his hand in favor for his weapon.
“Visiting the Du Couteaus, are we?”
The second man's voice startles the children, deeper and coarser than the first's, his dark eyes boring inquisitively into their own. Thick stubble mask what skin hasn't been risen or sunken by vicious scarring, and they somehow doubted that somewhere buried within these whiskers, a smile remained. These men, although friendly to the children, were certainly not to be trifled with.
The boy replies, straightening his posture.
The two men look at one another and smile helplessly.
“Aight then, have a good 'un.”
They stand aside, and flourish towards the stairwell.
“Say hello for us, will ya?”
With two successive nods, the children scamper up the staircase, and into the dark corridors beyond.
“Lucky kids, ain't they?”
The first mutters enviously, shifting once again into a defensive orientation.
“Aye. Not many afford such easy living.”
The second agrees.
A flash of lightning stirs Riven from her fretful sleep, and she twists her knuckles against her eyes exhaustively, startled to find them damp with tears. Stretching the muscles in her shoulders and groaning sleepily, she rises from her bed and lurches to the windowsill, where she swings her legs over languidly. The pitter-patter of rain against her bare skin serves as a chilling reminder of reality, and her dark eyes quickly dispel the blurry veil of fatigue. Glancing down into the streets of Noxus, the woman moistens her lips with her tongue, and peers at the passerbys below. One looks up at her, and in the process of enjoying quite a view, whistles lasciviously, warranting a rude gesture from the woman.
The rain always reminded her of him, probably due to the singular moment of affection they shared in their youth. That one kiss that proved her existence. Where he was now, was anyone's guess, but she had a general idea whose company he shared.
“Probably that cursed Du Couteau...”
She murmurs enviously, kicking her legs rhythmically against the precipitation. Sneering at the prospect of her beloved's affections lying elsewhere, she grimaces at the evening sky, and growls.
“What's she got anyway...”
Outside of talent, political prestige, the adoration of the High Command, and wealth? Well, Talon, of course.
Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, she attempts to dislodge the frustration from mind. Tugging her shirt to her thighs, she stares into the twilight absentmindedly, recalling her dream. How long had it been since the three of them had last been together? Since her enrollment in the Crimson Elite, years and years ago?
Craning her neck, she stares into the marvelous blade sheathed against the wall, a vapid emerald glow pulsating infrequently from the elaborate runes inscribed within the steel. The induction ceremony had spawned irrevocable conflict between herself and Katarina, and for that reason, she was alone.
Initially, she hadn't grasped the reasoning behind their distance, but as with all things, with time too came clarity. In a land worshiping might, her surpassing their martial talents had driven a stake between them, allowing her to quickly rise through the ranks of the elites, while her friends dallied with the political movements of Noxus. Were they disappointed in a 'commoner's' ability to achieve greatness? The celebration she had expected...where had it been? Why had Katarina appeared so discomfited with her success? The momentous occasion, the one that Riven had spent her life preparing for, why was her victory treated as defeat by those closest to her?
She had originally believed that her transition into the Crimson Elites would sanction more time with Talon, but shortly afterward he had abandoned his post in favor of assisting the Du Couteau family with assassination requests.
She didn't gloss over the irony here, having spent her years coveting Katarina, only to have this one talent separate the two. And naturally, where Kat went, so Talon followed. After all, her's was a love unrequited.
Pulling her knees to her chest, Riven rests her chin atop her knees, and stares into the dusky streets.
It had been years since the fallout now. Only sparse rumors of the Du Couteau family reached her in these times, and they were often prescribed with little substance and credibility.
Examining the scars that mottle her caramel skin, she twists her mouth into a pained expression as she traces a select few with the tips of her fingers. She had seen the true face of war. While Talon and Katarina enjoyed anonymity and selective targets of opportunity, she had tread upon the bodies of the fallen. With Talon's absence, she was made to fit the role of subjugator, and bore incredible burdens of military responsibility.
Such violence was her world now. Although her renown provided her with refreshing confidence, a particularly nagging absence of...something troubled her.
A knock at her door startles her, and she climbs back into her room. Quickly pulling a robe around herself, she opens the door to none other than her Captain, who stares down at her impartially.
“We have a mission.”
Darius grumbles, and about-faces.
Glancing over his shoulder, he raises a skeptical eyebrow.
“I do hope you bring your best; it's really going to be something.”
The sounds of warfare fill the stagnant air of the battlefield, invigorating the gathered Crimson Elite lieutenants as they anxiously await orders from their superior. Impatiently fiddling and whispering among themselves, silence quickly takes hold of the group as a man approaches them.
The captain's dictation was simple, if not vague. With a wave of his hand, he turns his back on the crowd, which disperses hurriedly.
The man stands as perhaps the most imposing of all Noxian soldiers, enveloped in layers of thick armored plates and wielding an axe rivaling his own height. Although many would consider his position in the rear to be favorable, it disgusting him. Longing for the embrace of combat, his foot tap-tap-taps impatiently against the trampled soil, his fingers rhythmically rapping along the hilt of his weapon.
These decorations that afforded him the responsibility over this army served only as a deterrent from his murderous desires and ruthless talents. Having originally ascended voluntarily by executing his frightfully indecisive commander, he had mistakenly believed this position would accelerate him to battle; while partially correct in his assumption, he had overlooked how, and what his duties would entail. Whether this dissatisfaction was due to the subsequent promotions in the name of his valor or some curious method to neuter his blood thirst, he didn't know. Whatever the case, this man was vexed.
Pacing back and forth, he fires a quizzical look at a young woman remaining in his presence.
“Have I not issued your orders?”
He queries, glowering towards the lieutenant. She shuffles uncomfortably, and moves through the motions of a salute.
“Sir, my squadron was originally tasked with reformative intentions, so I'm afraid I don't-”
Interrupted by the back of his hand crashing against her jaw, she falls to the ground and massages the wound instinctively.
“-understand how it ties in...”
She continues, matching his furious gaze with her own.
“Understand this, child: He speaks his words through me. If it is his will to raze this land, raze it we shall.”
Averting his sights to the battle on the horizon, he hefts his weapon in the air, and shouts to gather the attention of the artillery.
He commands, the thundering of bombardments deafening the world around them momentarily.
“As you were.”
He stares authoritatively at the woman, and she acquiesces with a nod of her head.
“As you say, sir.”
She murmurs sarcastically as she takes her leave, once more uniting with her men on the northern front.
“What's the word, ma'am?”
A grunt whispers, peering over the cliffhanging at the Ionian border.
She hesitates, pocketing her tongue into her cheek as she weighs the prospective opportunities presented before her, and broods over the captain's unfavorable plot. Rushing her slender fingers through her hair, she grins at her companions, and gestures towards a small village.
“We are to continue with our mission as ordered. Let us bring this land under Noxian control.”
They clash their blades together merrily and cheer:
Following, they begin to creep along the cliff towards the unsuspecting village with their unordered flank, in hopes of securing non-combatants as diplomatic alternatives to future conflict.
His madness, she would not preserve.