(Whewee, this post took meh a while... And is almost entirely unrelated to the last one. Almost. It comes together though, I promise.)
The mountain of a man with giant axe resting on his shoulder- Darius, she knew, though she had never met him personally- squinted sourly out across the broad grassy plain, and gave a dissatisfied grunt. Behind him, the rows of soldiers remained silent as they stood in front of the command tent. They knew better than to interrupt. "No sign of them for a week now. Might be we finally knocked the fight out of those damned Demacians. Can't be many of them left now anyways." He spat, wiped his mouth roughly with a heavily gauntleted hand, and turned towards the camp, his eyes sweeping over her without seeing. She was used to that- she did not look strong or particularly menacing, and was easily overlooked; a fact she often took advantage of in battle. "Alright, let's get it over with. What's first on our plate, Rostan?"
A thin man with a bookish look about him stepped forward, a scroll clasped tightly in his hand. He looked small next to the Hand of Noxus, but then, most men did. Still, to be the personal aid to the Grand General's right hand man was no small feat; positions of power had to be defended in Noxus. Rumor said poison was his game, but she noted bulges in his uniform suggesting at least four hidden knives, and his hand was continually caressing the hilt of a long dagger. He unrolled the scroll and began to read. "First item of the day- two officers were caught duelling behind the command tent yesterday; one of them was injured in the leg. The injured man claims that his oponnent stabbed him before the duel began."
Darius snorted. "And what did he expect?" The massive head shook desparagingly, but she saw destinct signs of amusement in the tilt of his thick eyebrows. "Cut off the loser's foot and send him to the cook. For being unprepared and starting a fight you can't win, he's lucky I don't take his head. Next."
A quill appeared flickered back and forth as Rostan made a note, and then he continued. "Lieutenant Thresh has returned with her scouting party, and is ready for debriefing." Here it comes, she thought grimly as she stepped forward, snapping a sharp salute.
That thick eyebrow raised as Darius gave her an appraising look. Show no fear, show no weakness. You are the rock, one with the earth. "Thresh, is it? I know that name. You're the kingslayer, hmm?" He walked over to her, crowding her space with his great bulk, looming tall over her. She was used to this, also- large men often made a point of their size around her. Trailing around him was the smell of battle and blood, with a faint hint of the oil he used to keep the blood from etching his blade. "When I heard someone finished of Jarvan, I expected someone larger." You knew exactly what to expect. Play no games with me, Hand. "Rostan, what family is she from?"
The aide shrugged. "Gutter born, sir."
Darius only grunted. Gutter born was not an insult here, as it was in many places; to have been born in the gutter and fought your way up was a mark of pride in Noxus, and even more so in the army. The Hand gave her one last speculative look, and then returned to the head of the column, gazing out into the plain. "Well, speak up then. Do tell us what you saw, oh mighty kingslayer." The mockery in his tone stung, but her face remained smooth and blank.
Show no weakness. I am stone. With her voice perfectly level, she began to recite. "We encountered nothing for the first three days of travel, though we saw many old trails, most heading east and south. The shape of the footprints and their patterning suggests that these were primarily civilian groups, with perhaps one or two armored men escorting. On the fourth day..." She hesitated, and then mentally cursed herself for doing so. Stone never hesitates. "On the fourth day we encountered a Demacian warband, clearly worn from conflict, fleeing east. I established contact and attempted to extract information."
At this, Darius turned around, mild surprise evident in his broad features. "Established contact? You said they were battle weary and worn down. Why didn't you eliminate them? Was their warband so much larger than your scouting party?"
Stone. "We might have destroyed them, but we would have taken heavy losses. My mission was to scout, not to hunt." His eyes met hers, tar black to ice blue, and she tensed, ready to reach for the slender sword at her side, but he simply nodded and waved for her to continue, returning his gaze to the plain. "Their leader told me that they had been part of a larger force of freshly trained soldiers from the capital, but they had surroundedby what he could only describe as a cloud of darkness; they got separated from the main army and fled into the woods."
"Undisciplined new recruits," Darius growled. "Frightened off by some glamour. Just as well for them they didn't make it this far to be slaughtered by true soldiers. However, it would be good to know who else has the destruction of Demacia in their plans.... Did you manage to find out that much, girl, or is all you have the mad concoctions of a cowardly enemy trying to save his hide?"
A flash of irritation escaped her before she could repress it. "It's Lieutenant Thresh, not girl. And the multiple soldiers described a figure riding through the fog that could only be Hecarim." The silence that followed that statement was sharp; the only sound was the faint whisper of a cool evening wind through the grass, and the soft clinks of the Hand's armor as he turned to glare at her. She dragged her anger back into control as she pushed on. "We followed their trail back to where they said the battle was; there we found a great many fallen Demacian soldiers, as well as a number of bodies far older than the reported time of the battle. Either the Demacians killed themselves in an old open grave, sir, or the Shadow Isles have joined the fray." She snapped a sharp salute and slid back into line, pointedly ignoring the acid look Darius was continuing to give her.
"You would do well," he told her, his voice full of soft menace, "to adress me with the respect my position deserves, kinglsayer, or we will see how you fare against a League Champion who hasn't been worn down by a full day of battle."
"And maybe," she retorted, ignoring the voice in her head saying stone has no pride, ignoring her common sense which was screaming at her to stop, "You'll see how the job should be done. He killed you- what, twice? Three times, before I had to bring him down for you?"
She slid back one foot and flexed one hand toward her sword as a look of pure rage twisted across the Hand's face, his huge gauntlets tightening around the haft of his axe. Part of her was uttering silent reprimands- You left him no choice, did you? That was as good as a challenge... - but part of her was tingling with excitement, guaging his reach, estimating his speed, analyzing the terrain for flaws. The axe was coming off the shoulder- faster than I thought- and the soldiers were backing away behind her. Her hand tightened on the sword, her mind filled with the image of a mountain, cold and hard, and-
"That is quite enough." She whirled to see the source of the rasping voice, and sank to one knee immediately, eyes on the ground, her mind racing like lightning as she saw the Grand General himself: Jericho Swain.
The general's signature tapped quietly in the soft earth as he walked past, ignoring her. Without a view of Darius, she had the paranoid feeling that there was an axe poised to swing at her back. But surely he wouldn't- not with Swain- yes... Yes he would. As soon as the general passed her, she did her best to turn herself around again to face the action while remaining on one knee.
"Your temper will be the death of you some day, Darius." His rasp was just loud enough that his words could not be mised, but at the same time, just quiet enough that you had to focus to hear. The bird on his shoulder ignored the object of it's master's attention and gave her a beady six eyed stare, ruffling feathers so black that they seemed to soak in the light. She stared boldly back. "You were in the League long enough to know that appearances can be decieving. I believe Annie taught you that lesson quite thoroughly."
The big man's head bowed at the chastisement, but she thought the red flush in his cheeks was not from shame. He gave her a sidelong look, cold and calculating, that conveyed a promise: We're not through yet, you and I.
"Lieutenant Thresh's information is quite correct, however." Without seeming to get any louder, Swain's voice now carried throughout the camp. Magic of some sort, or just clever voice usage? Neither would surprise me. "An army has landed from the Shadow Isles, and will most likely be coming for us when Demacia falls, which should not be long now. We will regroup at the Institute of War. Prepare to break camp- we move at dawn."
There was a sudden hubbub as the soldiers turned to go, quietly discussing the news as they retreated to their respective areas to clean up. She rose to go too, but a cane in her path held her in her tracks. "Not just yet, Lieutenant." The bird continued to stare at her unblinking as Swain turned back to his Hand. "I need both of you alive. You can kill each other when the war is done... and not a day sooner. Am I understood?" Darius nodded slowly, clearly still angry. As long as Swain lives, then, and the war goes on. She almost felt disappointed. "Darius, go see to the summoners. They can be most... uncooperative at times. It would be good to remind them what happened to the rest of them the last time they defied me, yes?" With that, Darius turned and left, axe scoring a trail in the dirt behind him as it hung loosely from his hand.
"As for you, Lieutenant..." She looked up to meet his gaze, and instantly regretted it- there was something distinctly unsettling about the sharp yellow of his eyes, and the way he held his head. "That was a bold play, but not a wise one. If you're going to play the Game with Noxian High Command, you would do well to learn the rules first." I'm not here to play games, General, she thought, trying to read the many wrinkles around his eyes. I am here to fight. I am the stone that never yields. "Darius may look a brute, but don't mistake that for stupidity. He has a keen mind and a long memory, and you would do well to watch your back. He knows as well as any that my protection extends to you only if he gets caught." Their eyes remained locked for a moment more, but she turned away. Those eyes... The power...
"Come," Swain said, gesturing. "There is much to prepare... And I have a special task waiting for you." As long as there is a battle at the end of it. Bring me the foes, and I will bring them down. No weakness. She gave a slight bow, and together they disappeared into the darkness of the tent.