Chapter 12 – Flicker, Part 2
Riven heard the sound of the crowd echoing down the hallway far before reaching the end of it. She took a deep breath, knowing she'd need to steel her nerves in order to face it. She silently wished it could be simple like before, when she didn't need the process; When she was always ready, always focused.
They passed through the final doorway of the passage, and Riven shielded her eyes from the sudden sunshine. The open space of the coliseum greeted them, and the sight of the thousands of spectators in the stands made Riven wish she hadn't looked.
In the middle of the raised platform, in the center of it all, stood Lux, waving cheerily at the crowd.
Riven felt a twinge of anger run through her. How could she look so happy after what happened last night? It sickened her. Part of her wanted to walk up and confront her on the spot, despite not knowing what to say. The other part regretted the commitment she felt earlier. What was this tournament going to accomplish for her? It was pointless.
... Or was it? She shook her head, trying to figure out her own thoughts. What was her intention? What was the goal? Her eyes drifted back to the blonde, and she felt her insides twist in confusing mix of discomfort. This had become complicated.
"I like complicated."
Riven almost smiled at the memory, but stopped herself halfway through, allowing the sadness to return. She knew she recalled the memories fondly, but refused to let it through. Happiness was something to be shunned right now. She felt she needed to be upset in order to get through this.
'And then what? What comes after?'
Was it over between them? Riven felt a large amount of regret. It pained her to imagine it. This wasn't her fault, yet... she didn't want it to end this way.
The thought itself was strange. She'd parted ways with many people, many times. She'd made friends, enemies, met hundreds of others, some she never wanted to meet again. Every time, though, she'd left unfazed, like they didn't matter in the end. The only parting that came close to what she felt now was the loss of Fury Company. Even after all these years, she felt the shame, regret, and despair from that time. Despite how little emotion she felt back then, the group had had that much of an effect on her. And now, it was happening again. Only... this time she had the chance to change it.
She hesitated at the idea. She had the chance if she wanted it. This could also be an opportunity to end it and move on, as if nothing had happened. From the look of it, Lux was already doing so.
The frustration flashed through her again, her fists clenching on their own. Yes, she was just about ready to take her anger out on someone. And it had better be soon. Somehow this tournament was the right place right now.
"Alright, you two, wait here," Sayara directed. She stepped out onto the field and walked towards the wooden platform in the middle of it. Riven stood beside Lee Sin and watched as a few others followed Sayara, carrying a variety of supplies. A large, white board was brought out and set up centre-stage. A man stood on each side, holding a long stick with a brush at the end of it. Riven curiously continued watching, wondering what would happen.
"I believe they are setting up the 'Path to Victory,'" Lee Sin explained, as if reading her thoughts.
Riven glanced at him, "What does that mean?"
"It's a common form of tournament here. The newcomers are generally placed against one another, and face tournament veterans afterwards in order to secure overall victory."
"Sounds like a lot of work for newcomers," Riven replied, unintimidated.
Lee Sin nodded, "Indeed, though I have the feeling it will be the shortened edition, considering we have only two days."
"The veterans will face one another for their spot in the path, cutting the amount of battles in half."
"How many in total?" Riven questioned, her mind eager to prepare itself.
"I'm not sure of the final amount. We will have to wait and see."
Riven tapped her foot impatiently as the crew finished setting up. Sayara raised her hands in the air and the stadium responded almost immediately, quieting down to a whisper. She waved Lux away, and the Demacian bowed and left the stage, standing well out of conversational range. Taking this as a hint, Riven stayed defiantly beside Lee Sin.
"Are you alright, Riven? You're giving off a particularly stressed aura," Lee Sin commented.
"Don't worry about it," Riven replied. The last thing she wanted now was more 'helpful' advice. The monk didn't press the matter.
Sayara bowed deeply, proceeding to make wide hand and arm gestures with a certain flow to them. A man copied her actions precisely on the opposite side of the stage, while another beat a methodic rhythm on a large drum.
"Is this a sort of preshow?" Riven asked, confused.
"They are explaining the rules," Lee Sin answered.
Riven studied them, understanding what it was now. She couldn't decipher any of it though, and wondered how anyone new to it could hope to grasp it. Nevertheless, it was mesmerizing to watch as the two danced in sync to the drumbeat. It was an art in itself.
Suddenly, the others joined in, and in a short flurry of movement, followed by a pause, a blindfolded man held up a coloured wooden block high in the air. The ones with the giant brushes jumped into action, smoothly dancing around the stage. In one swift motion, they gathered a dipping of ink and plastered a complex-looking symbol on the white board.
As soon as they finished, the sequence began again. The sound of their accentuated footsteps matched the tempo of the drum, and those were the only sounds in the stadium.
"Describe the first glyph to me," Lee Sin requested.
Riven squinted at it, "It looks kind of like a person riding a six-legged horse."
"To... Ri, then?"
"Mm," Riven confirmed. So he was first, huh?
"Keep going,. I can help you understand."
A symbol was painted in the top-right corner.
"A... bear?" Riven thought aloud, though the drawing was highly stylized. She couldn't really tell.
Lee Sin nodded, "That would be Udyr. It's quite fitting for him."
Riven continued describing the symbols to the blind man, and he interpreted them with ease. Lee Sin himself was placed next, just above Tori. Followed by a person named Amo, next to Udyr, and another named Li, below them.
The next symbol looked like an eagle carrying a fish, and when Riven said so, Lee Sin visibly reacted.
"Yi? I was unaware he would be participating. This could be troublesome..."
Riven recognized the name. Master of Wuju, Yi of Ionia. He had fought in the war as well, and the reports told of his prowess of the blade, along with his penchant for working alone. She'd heard a rumour that he too was a victim of the chemical bombardments that plagued the nation. Though, it was difficult to find an Ionian who wasn't.
"Where is he placed?" Lee Sin asked abruptly.
"His symbol is next to yours," Riven answered, unsure of the significance.
Lee Sin smiled in a look of relief, "Well, that is a stroke of luck."
"What do you mean?"
"It means Yi will not be participating in the tournament for very long," He said with a dark smile, cracking his knuckles.
Riven smiled nervously. Somehow that seemed like less of a boast and more of a declaration.
"Is there a reason why you don't want him in it?"
Lee Sin turned to face her, "For your sake, of course," He responded.
A roar of applause erupted from the stands, disrupting Riven's attempt to press him for more information. She glanced at the stage to see what was going on, and saw that the performers had finished.
"As I thought, a small turnout," Lee Sin commented.
"Hold on, which one am I?" Riven asked, suddenly flustered. She didn't understand the designs on the board.
"We'll see in a moment," Lee Sin answered cryptically. Riven clenched her jaw, somehow feeling like he knew more than he was letting on.
The crew carried away the supplies and board, leaving only Sayara on the platform. Once again, she raised her hands and the audience fell silent.
"It has been decided!" She yelled, her voice carrying surprisingly well despite her small appearance.
The crowd welcomed the boy loudly as he emerged from an area to Riven's left. Her eyes followed him while he confidently strode towards the centre.
Riven's eyes widened and her gut clenched agonizingly. "Just like that?!" She complained to Lee Sin.
He smiled and beckoned to the platform.
"I don't even know the rules!"
"It's simple. Win."
She grit her teeth and steeled herself, muttering about how ridiculous this was.
As she proceeded onto the field, the crowd's cheering was reduced to murmurs and polite applause. Riven kept her hood up, afraid to expose herself.
"Good luck!" She heard a familiar voice call.
Riven glanced at Lux, who smiled and waved excitedly back at her, bouncing on the spot.
She turned away and grimaced, a strange torrent of stress running through her. The frustration had returned instantly, and she resigned herself to it. She could use it during the fight.
Removing her shoes and climbing the steps, Riven looked across the platform at her opponent. He grinned in that cocky way she'd already grown to hate. Sayara bowed to both and stepped off the platform, leaving the two of them alone in the middle of the stadium.
Riven's nerves caught up as she felt thousands of eyes on her. She took a deep breath and focused on her target, excitement and sharpness replacing the nervousness.
"I didn't expect to see you here," Tori said, just loud enough for the both of them to hear.
Riven didn't answer.
"What do you say we raise the stakes a bit?" He asked smugly.
Riven analyzed him. What was he getting at?
He beckoned to Lux, "Winner takes the prize?"
Riven glanced over to the Demacian, wide-eyed. She smiled back, confused. She obviously couldn't hear them.
Riven looked back to Tori, "I'm not here for her."
He shrugged, "So you're just gonna give her up like that? I hear a Noxian never backs away from a challenge. Maybe my dad was just making that up. Or... maybe it's just you."
Riven clenched her fists. 'Don't fall for it,' she told herself.
"But," He continued, "I don't blame you, really. It isn't much of a challenge for me. I learned the Noxian style, your style, and specifically created one to counter it."
She tried to ignore the remark about style, but it was difficult. Memories of bashing people's faces in over that remark only brought back the anger. Instead, she attempted to analyze the information he was revealing. She needed to keep him talking.
"So what if I accept?" She replied.
"Then whoever loses backs off."
'You realize you don't have a chance in the first place, don't you?' Riven thought to herself, holding back a smirk. Maybe she could use this. No matter what happened, she came out ahead. Meanwhile, she was going over the best counters to Noxian fighting, figuring out what weakness Tori might hold.
Riven shook her head, "If I win, I want something else."
Tori shifted his stature, "Like what?"
"I haven't decided yet. But it will be reasonable."
Tori eyed her suspiciously, "You're a strange Noxian, aren't you?"
Riven took a deep breath, "On the contrary, I'm not. I am everything a Noxian strives to be, and my goal is to remind them of that."
Tori raised an eyebrow, clearly not understanding the message meant for someone else. "Whatever, I'll go along with your deal. May the best man win."
He bowed, presumably out of custom. Riven responded in kind, though she felt none of the respect the action was meant to convey. She'd had enough time to figure out some possible strategies, and quickly trained them to memory. Now she'd find out if they were right.
Riven allowed her mind to go quiet, quieter than the now-silent, expectant crowd or the wind that gently brushed by. This was what training was for. Not needing to think, relying on instinct. She could let her body do the work, while she kept focus on the goal.
She stepped forward and began circling Tori, studying his form and intentionally using an old stance from her military days. Tori followed suit, calmly walking around the platform. Neither of them made a sound against the wooden floor.
Riven made the first move. She rushed in and attempted a quick jab, testing his reaction speed. He smoothly sidestepped the punch and struck her in the ribs in return. It would have been more painful if Riven hadn't tensed herself for it. She quickly backed off and scanned him again. Time for another test.
She stepped forwards again, feigning another punch, but stopping halfway. Tori had already prepared to sidestep again in the same pattern. Riven stepped back out and circled more, looking for an opening.
Tori made the first move this time, attempting to throw a high roundhouse kick. Riven's instincts took over, and she quickly stepped into close range to reduce the effectiveness of his kick, launching a short flurry of blows to his chest, hand over hand in a wheel motion. Tori stumbled backwards, clearly surprised from the manoeuvre. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, and they cheered, bringing about a small amount of euphoria in Riven.
She took a deep breath and stared calmly at him, her arm burning slightly from the impact of the kick. She hadn't planned on breaking out her Tilas this early into the fight, but it was just a natural reaction. Luckily, Tori didn't seem to realize her style had changed in that moment, and returned to his normal stance, eyeing her warily. She knew she'd inflicted some damage there by how cautious her was being. Riven wanted to test something else.
She sent a quick kick to the side to see how he'd react. He caught it and swept one of his legs under hers. Riven fell hard onto the boards, and the crowd reacted again. Tori didn't relent, still holding onto her leg, he crouched down and punched her in the gut. Riven used her natural reaction to curl up from the pain in order to bring her knee up and strike his head. While he stumbled, she scurried back onto her feet and sent another kick at him, striking him cleanly on the shoulder.
He toppled over, and Riven took the chance to regain her stamina. Her gut was twinging in pain, but the adrenaline was countering it sufficiently. Overall, the test was successful. He was reacting as expected. She had analyzed him correctly. She felt in control.
Tori scrambled to his feet, bouncing a bit to loosen his movements. He looked to be less focused now. He was thinking.
Riven didn't waste any time. She jumped in and sent a punch directed at his neck. He grabbed her wrist and pulled the blow to his shoulder instead, angling his body to absorb the blow while bringing his other hand up to attack. But Riven caught the fist with her free palm, sending Tori a small smirk as he looked at her in surprise. With his blow stopped, she brought her palm to his chest with lightning speed, knocking the wind out of him. He released his hold on her wrist, and she was free to continue the assault on him. After another quick flurry on his chest, she grabbed his neck, manipulating it forwards to put him off balance. With a slight swipe at his feet, she sent him tumbling forward past her.
He landed hard on his stomach, and Riven gave him the chance to get up, content with showing her dominance.
"You can give up any time," She stated.
"As if," He grunted, getting to his feet again.
Part of Riven was glad to see him get up again. She hated to see someone give up so easily. And from her experience with Ionians, they never gave up easily.
He seemed to force himself back into a calm state, and Riven did the same. After a brief respite, he moved in again, loosely sending a punch her way.
'A feint,' Riven thought, watching him more closely. She waited an extra half-second before responding, and was rewarded when he shifted his stance to bring up his leg instead. She stepped in past him, rendering his kick useless, and grabbed his arm. With a quick tug, he was pulled off balance, and she pushed him down to the ground. She got her revenge with a quick jab to the gut, and backed off before he could recover.
He coughed and lay there for a moment while Riven watched him. Once again, he returned to his feet.
"You're not using Noxian techniques," He said, a bit of the pain escaping in his tone.
Riven smirked, "Correct."
Tori shook his head, "That really sucks. I underestimated you."
Riven shrugged, "You aren't the first. Ready to give up?"
Tori's laugh transformed into a small fit of coughing, "You kidding? I'm just getting warmed up."
Riven couldn't help but chuckle at the display. The kid was tough, she'd give him that. She gave her arms a quick stretch, and removed her hood. She ignored the increased murmurs from the crowd as they finally got a good look at her face. She didn't really care if they recognized her right now. She was enjoying herself.
Tori grinned and began circling her again, apparently feeling the same despite his clear disadvantage.
Riven waited for Tori to make the first move, but he was being too cautious, and she was getting impatient. A small plan formulated in her mind. It was risky, but she could end the battle if it went right.
She relaxed and let her instincts take over. She'd need every millisecond of reaction speed, and that required not thinking. Releasing herself into the flow of the battle, she jumped in and swung hard. The next few seconds were a blur. She felt the pain of being hit in the brow, but didn't let up. She felt her fists making contact, and they ached from the blows she gave him. Riven was knocked off balance from something, and she pulled Tori down with her, throwing him off to the side as she fell.
Immediately, Riven rolled to get back onto her feet, only to see Tori struggling to get up as well.
"Stay down," She commanded.
"Make me," He responded, wavering. A stream of red was trailing down his cheek in two places.
Riven grit her teeth. Her hands felt wet, and she wasn't sure if it was his blood or her own. Her head was pounding where she'd received the blow. She'd thought for sure she would have knocked him down there, but he must have reacted better than before.
"You're not bad, but you need to train more. You can't beat me." Riven said plainly.
"I've trained this way for an entire year. I can take you on anytime," Tori answered angrily.
"Then prove it," Riven coaxed. This was good.
He charged, and she studied him. She could see his movements clearly, and almost smirked at the chance she'd been given. As he swung, she reacted instantaneously, redirecting his arm beside her. With her other arm, she grabbed his wrist and pushed it out of the way, while sending her elbow into his face. Not giving him a chance to react, she brought her arm back behind his head and pushed him down into a knee to his gut. Pushing him down further, she kneed him in the head, and dragged his arm around to break his balance. He fell easily onto his back, and Riven finished off the manoeuvre with a crouching blow to his gut.
The wind was knocked out of him, hard, and he had trouble breathing for a moment. Riven felt the endorphins running through her at the success of the movement. She had beaten him completely, and the crowd was cheering maddeningly for it.
Tori finally regained his breath, though it was very ragged. His nose was bleeding now, and Riven knew she'd broken it.
"Alright," He wheezed, "You can have her."
Riven sighed, wiping some sweat off her brow, "I told you I'm not here for her."
He stared up past her at the sky, "Then... What do you want?"
Riven considered the question for a moment, before offering him a hand up. "Just keep training," She said with a smile.
The crowd roared as Tori signalled his forfeit.
Far up in the stands, a woman stood alone, leaning on a railing and observing the end of the match.
The woman looked beside her, "Lee Sin. How are you?" She asked with a soft smile, not questioning how the man seemed to sneak up on everyone he approached.
The monk smiled back, "I am well," He replied, leaning on the railing beside her.
"She fights well," He said simply.
"Mm," Irelia agreed, staring down at the platform as Riven helped Tori off.
"... I heard you had some... complications in your plan."
Irelia closed her eyes and gave a heave of a sigh, "It wasn't my plan. It was Karma's."
Lee Sin hummed in response, "Are you alright?"
"I will be," She answered, "Just... don't touch me."
Lee Sin chuckled softly, and said nothing.
After a few moments, it was Irelia who broke the silence.
"I didn't mean to fall for her. It surprised me as much as it surprised her.
"The plan... The idea was simply to befriend her, to indebt her to Ionia in some way. Karma was right to think so, and it was up to me to accomplish it. But..."
Lee Sin quietly listened while Irelia carried on.
"She really caught my attention. After our first meeting, back when I was reading up on her, I was impressed by her. It felt easy to laugh at her accomplishments and get upset at her failures. We actually have a lot in common, and I guess I felt we were similar, or connected in some way. It was something special. And then... Then when I saw her again, this feeling was already there. I kept thinking 'How can I help her?', or 'What would she like?', or 'How can I make her smile?'"
She shook her head, "She's been through so much. I wanted to save her from it. Every source of pain. Every horrid memory. I wanted to help her heal the wounds..."
She felt a tear threaten her eye, and laughed shakily, "It seems I'm not entirely immune to emotion in this state after all. She taught me that as well..."
"I'm sorry, Irelia," Lee Sin said solemnly.
"You have no reason to be. I'll be fine."
The pair stayed quiet for a longer moment.
"So what are you up to with her?" Irelia began again, her voice struggling to return to normal, "Why the sudden attention?"
Lee Sin laughed, "Let's just say I had a convincing conversation with an old friend."
"Cooperating with the Kinkou? Now that's new for a Shojin monk," Irelia joked with a small laugh.
"What can I say?" Lee Sin chuckled, "This is a chance to solve many problems at once."
"Mm," Irelia sighed, looking back to the white-haired girl down on the field, "You're right about that. We need her on our side. She will become the bridge between our nations."
She frowned slightly as she watched Lux pounce on Riven, and with another sigh, she began to walk away. "One day, she will rule Noxus."
Lee Sin listened to her footsteps as she left, and her blade cleanly cutting the air as it followed. They were sad and slow-paced, yet still the same confident strides she normally made.
"Balance in all things," He said to himself, "You really are the embodiment of it, Irelia."
Riven handed Tori off to the staff waiting nearby, who helped him limp away to the infirmary. As she watched him leave, she couldn't help but feel that somehow she saw him in a more positive light.
"Riven!" Was all the warning she received before being tackled by the familiar blonde. She nearly toppled over from the impact, and likely would have if the girl didn't weigh less than her sword.
"That was impressive," Lux said cheerily as she wiped Riven's face with a cloth, keeping her hold with her other hand, "Does it hurt?"
Riven recoiled and stepped back at the touch, forcing Lux's hands away.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
Lux frowned, "What?"
"Why are you acting like this? Like nothing happened?" Riven spat back.
Lux's brow furrowed a little, "Can I not worry about you when you're mad at me?"
Riven looked at her confusedly, unsure of how to take that statement, "You really don't get it, do you? You don't understand what you did wrong."
"I do," Lux responded immediately, calmly, "I know I hurt you and I wish to make amends. I'm sorry."
Riven hesitated. Was she being serious here? Or was this more acting? She bristled at the thought of it and pushed past Lux, saying "Just leave me alone."
"Riven!" Lux called after her.
She didn't look back.
Riven relentlessly pummeled the training dummy, her anger and frustration showing itself to the empty room. Her hands ached, but she kept on. Counting the rhythm in her mind distracted her well enough, though Lux's visage still appeared in her mind. Each time, she'd force it away by switching the routing. Each time, it would return.
With an angry grunt, she hit the dummy so hard that it fell over. The clatter echoed around the hall, and left only the sound of Riven's heaved breaths.
"Can I not worry about you when you're mad at me?"
'Why should you worry about me?'
"I know I hurt you."
'That's obvious. But why couldn't you think of that before you did it?'
'It's not enough. Words are never enough.'
Riven stared at her hands. She'd opened the wounds from earlier, and blood was slowly drenching the messy bandages she'd wrapped around them.
"You make me feel all this..." She whispered, "So much that it hurts. But why can't I hate you for it?"
Footsteps sounded down the hallway, and Riven hastily moved to pick up the dummy, embarrassed of her sudden outburst. Standing it up properly, she looked to see who was there as the footsteps stopped at the doorway.
Irelia stood there, casually. "So it was just you, Riven. I thought I heard something."
She strode over while a small amount of anxiety built up in Riven. Was she still upset?
Irelia stopped in front of her and glanced at her bloodied hands. Riven quickly hid them, though it was too late for that.
"As I thought, you did not get healed after the match. We have Soraka here for that, you know," Irelia reprimanded, looking Riven in the eye.
"Then I'm sure Tori will appreciate her attention more than I would," Riven replied flatly.
Irelia smirked as she stared back, "I am sure he will... You did not hold back, did you?"
Riven frowned, "I had no reason to. I did, however, have a reason to beat the living shit out of him," She said half-seriously.
Irelia laughed. It was a happy, carefree laugh, Riven noted thankfully. She hoped Irelia was feeling better, and wondered if she herself could pull off such a thing. It was both surprising and admirable that Irelia could be so normal after what happened between them.
"It seems he has hit a soft spot in you, Riven. You showed such chivalry after the match."
Riven blushed slightly. So she had been watching.
"I think," She responded, "He reminded me of why I respect the Ionians. It's something I'd like to see more in Noxus. It would be terrifying to see such persistence in an enemy, and the fact that he tries so hard..." Riven shook her head, smiling.
"I believe everyone has the capability to become strong. If they're determined to do so, even if they're the weakest in the world, if they put in the effort to become stronger, then I will accept them. That is a true strength in itself."
Irelia regarded her with a gentle grin, "Well said, Riven. That is something we can both agree with."
Riven took a deep breath and wiped some sweat from her face, "Is it wrong to use such an Ionian philosophy to fix Noxus?"
Irelia shook her head, "We all strive to find a better way of life. Our methods may differ, but there are fundamental truths we cannot ignore. We must honour potential. To stifle it, to mock it, is wrong. I think you are correct to desire this way of thinking in Noxus. You will bring about many positive changes."
Riven stared at the Ionian, "You make it sound like it's a certain thing," She commented wistfully.
Irelia smiled comfortingly, "It is. I believe in you. We all do."
Riven felt her mouth fall agape. 'I don't deserve this,' was her first thought, but she knew better than to voice it to Irelia. Instead, she nodded slowly and respectfully.
The crowd roared outside, interrupting the conversation. Apparently they'd missed something significant. Irelia noticed Riven's curiosity and smirked.
"I have a better idea, Riven. Let's get started on your training."
"But the match..." Riven trailed off, feeling torn.
"You are done for the day. The next phase will begin tomorrow. I imagine you will face Lee Sin, so I wish you luck in advance."
Riven processed that, feeling a small tinge of excitement. She wanted to test his skills and see if he really was as good as he boasted to be.
"But for now," Irelia continued, "You need to focus on your sword. It will help you far more than a tournament trophy."
Riven relented. It wasn't that she dreaded training. She'd just hoped to be better prepared for it. If she'd managed to learn something from Lux...
She let that thought slip away from her mind, avoiding the chain that would no doubt end in remembering the kiss they shared. She'd just managed to calm down.
The streets weren't nearly as busy as the previous day. They had made it away from the arena without much trouble, though Riven felt she was attracting far more attention than usual. A girl pointed at her, calling to her father excitedly. For a moment, Riven considered she was pointing at Irelia, but it quickly became apparent as the girl rushed over to her and asked for an autograph.
Riven looked around, flustered. Without a piece of paper or writing utensil, she didn't have many options. Irelia leaned over and whispered something in Riven's ear, causing her to blush and recoil. Did she really just...?
With another look at the expectant girl and a sigh, Riven caved in. If it was just for a kid, she could do it. She leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.
"Find your own strength," She told the girl, who blushed, nodded, and ran back to her father.
As they continued, Riven felt a little lighter. It was slightly invigorating to have fans, and she didn't mind following the custom Irelia suggested...
"...It's not really a custom, is it?" Riven questioned squarely.
Irelia giggled, "It might be."
"Maybe it's a new custom," Irelia suggested light-heartedly, "They need to start somewhere."
Riven heard the sound of cheering again at the stadium, and wondered what was happening. Her thoughts immediately drifted to Lux, and despite her best efforts, she felt concerned about the idea of the Demacian fighting. Would she really be alright?
Another cheer. Things were going well for somebody, at least.
A quick stop at the guest quarters and a short travel up the mountain found Riven in the garden dedicated to Irelia. The Ionian stood before her, her blade hovering calmly at her side.
"Riven, tell me, what do you feel when your sword glows?"
Riven glanced at the giant blackstone blade in her hand. Its glow was light, stagnant. She felt almost nothing, really, and said so.
Irelia shifted her wight and tilted her head a bit, "Do you not feel the magic flowing through you? It is speaking to you. Clear your thoughts."
Riven relaxed her muscles and tried to focus on any feeling her sword might be 'communicating' to her. It was rather fruitless, and it frustrated her.
"Have a seat, Riven. We may be here for a while," Irelia said patiently.
Riven let out a sigh and sat on the grass cross-legged, her sword laid flat on her lap. She didn't know what she was supposed to do here.
"Keep your mind open. Close your eyes only. Use your other senses to study yourself."
Riven was used to this sort of talk already. It was common in martial arts, particularly in Ionia, and so she did as Irelia said, knowing it would likely lead somewhere. The leaves on the ground rustled loudly in the breeze, clattering across the stone paths. She shivered slightly as she felt the wind wrap around her as well. Her mind and body slowly relaxed, and once more she tried to study her sword. But she felt nothing out of the ordinary. Was she so used to the feeling that it just didn't happen consciously?
Riven sighed again, and tried another route. She recalled the first time she'd received her sword. Back then, it had felt foreign, magical, and most of all, heavy. She smirked a little as she remembered struggling in her training to wield it as well as any other broadsword. It quickly became a resolve that absorbed her life, and she'd ended up largely ignoring the magical properties of the blade. In time, they'd presented themselves, mostly by accident, giving her the special abilities she relied on in battle. She still wasn't sure of the full capabilities of her sword, which was one of the reasons she believed this could work. She just needed to figure out how, and not rely on discovering it by accident this time.
Her eyes still closed, Riven felt the sword trace out its runeglow, and eagerly sought out the residual effect that tingled at her fingertips. Was that it? That fleeting emotion that floated through her? It was faint, but apparent, and then it was gone.
"Did you find it?" Irelia asked, a small amount of eagerness in her voice.
Riven opened her eyes and nodded, "I think so. But I lost it again."
Irelia smiled, sitting down across from her, "That is a start. Keep trying. In order to use the runes in your sword, you must understand the magic within, and consciously activate it."
Riven nodded slowly, her thoughts coinciding with Irelia's. She didn't quite grasp the concept of 'understanding' the magic, and wondered if it was something that would just strike in a 'voila' moment. She stared intently at the remaining rune in her sword and brushed her fingers along it. It shimmered lightly in response.
Once again, she tried to focus on the feeling, but it was gone too quickly. She sighed in frustration. "This isn't making sense."
"Relax, Riven," Irelia replied, "I do not expect you to figure it out in one session. It will take time."
Riven forced herself to be patient. She had time. She could afford to take it slow. The plots back at the League were far away and irrelevant. As annoying as they might be, she couldn't see them being a problem. If someone from Noxus wanted her out of the way, they would have sent someone...
Or... Had they already? That blue flash back when the pirates attacked... She hadn't put much thought into it, but it was reminiscent of summoning magic. That would mean a summoner was involved, and wouldn't that be a serious problem in the League? It seemed a little far-fetched, though, considering the summoner's creed. They were meant to relinquish alliances and remain neutral. And yet... it fit. The Noxians were using a summoner to not only set her up for murder, but to try and off her. They really wanted her gone, but for what reason?
"Riven?" Irelia asked in a concerned tone.
Riven looked up. Her sword was glowing ominously, giving her and the area around her an eerie green glow. As soon as Riven realized it, the glow diminished back to its regular state.
Riven blushed lightly, "Sorry. I was getting worked up over something."
Irelia frowned, studying her, "If this is troubling you, you do not need to force yourself."
Riven shook her head furiously, "No, it's not that. I just... have a lot going on right now."
Irelia seemed to hesitate before speaking, "Is this about Lux?"
Riven's eyes widened at the mention of Lux's name, and she averted her gaze uncomfortably, "I wish... that were the only thing I had to worry about."
"Is it something I can help with?" Irelia said, reaching a hand across to place it on Riven's. As soon as she did so, however, she withdrew it as if she had touched something hot.
"Sorry," She said quickly, "I wasn't thinking. I didn't mean to."
Riven stared at her solemnly, not knowing how to respond. The weight of the sudden turn in conversation was heavy on her mind. She had considered spending last night with this girl, in a weaker state. She felt comfortable with Irelia, so much so that the idea of it didn't phase her. And she could see that Irelia still wanted it, despite trying to act normal under the guise of her 'alternate personality'. It took only a small accident to break through.
The whole thing made Riven feel guilty. She was being selfish by refusing Irelia under the excuse of chasing after... whatever she had with Lux. It didn't seem worth it, somehow.
"Even I know when to give up."
Was she being truthful when she said that?
"Riven," Irelia said suddenly, "Please don't look at me like that. It isn't my intention to guilt you into being with me. So please pretend this didn't happen."
"But-" Riven started, reminded of the time when Lux said the same thing.
"No buts. We both made our decision, and it was the right one," Irelia said commandingly.
Riven bit her lip and nodded.
"Good," Irelia smiled, a small hint of sadness clouding it, "Now tell me what's bothering you."
Riven took a deep breath, thinking. It seemed a tad unbelievable now, when she considered it again, but Irelia's gaze pressed her.
"I think..." She began, "Noxus is trying to... get rid of me." She was picking her words carefully, unsure of how Irelia would react.
"Get rid of you how?" Irelia asked calmly, yet sternly.
"There's something going on at the League. Something dark. And the pirates that attacked the ferry, I think they were there for me."
Irelia was listening intently, "Is this the first time it's happened?"
Riven nodded slowly, "I don't think they knew I was still alive until I arrived at the League. And ever since I got there, it's been so hectic I didn't have time to consider that they'd see me as a threat. I guess... they know of my plans, somehow. Hell, I don't even know my plans."
She stayed silent for a moment, reflecting. During that talk with Katarina, had she revealed something unknowingly?
"Irelia, how did you know I was... in love?"
"It was written all over your face," Irelia said matter-of-factly.
Riven sighed and covered her face with her hands. Even Tori had figured it out. This seemed to be her biggest weakness.
"We can protect you, Riven."
Riven looked up in surprise. "What? Why?"
Irelia smiled, "You may not realize it, but you are an important link between Noxus and Ionia. We want to keep you safe, for the sake of our future relations."
Riven looked down at her sword, going over the offer in her mind. She wasn't sure she was worthy of the amount of trust Irelia was placing in her. She kept speaking as if the future were set in stone.
"You do not need to respond right now," Irelia continued, "Our offer will stand until you decide either way."
Riven nodded slowly. Her first instinct was to decline, but she wanted to be sure. This was a large decision.
Riven's stomach growled, and Irelia smirked.
"You know, I agree. A late lunch is in order," She laughed, and pulled out two boxes from a travel bag at her side, handing one to Riven.
Riven opened the wooden box to find a variety of foods separated into small compartments. Irelia handed her a pair of chopsticks, which Riven reluctantly accepted. It took her a few tries to get the hold right, but managed it in the end.
As they ate, Irelia lightened the mood with some normal conversation. Riven responded in kind, thankful for the change of pace. They didn't talk about much in specifics, simply everything in general. Favourite things, hobbies, festival events. Normally Riven avoided this sort of small talk, but today it was welcome.
It wasn't until she noticed they were suddenly sitting in the shade of a tree that her mind registered the hours gone by. Irelia seemed to realize it at the same time, and looked worried by it.
"Is it that late already? By the gods, I was meant to meet with Karma this afternoon. I really should get going."
She began to clean up their impromptu picnic, while Riven watched. She hadn't quite figured out what she should do next. Irelia leaving so suddenly had her lost.
"My apologies, Riven. I will not be able to accompany you anywhere."
Riven shook her head, "It's alright. I think I'll stay here a while longer. I'd like to give my sword another try."
Irelia smiled sincerely, "I am confident you will find it."
She finished packing her things away, and bid Riven a hasty farewell, before disappearing down the stone staircase.
Riven sat still in the shade, feeling the cold nip at her in the sudden lonesomeness. It was quiet.
She began breathing deeply and steadily. It had been a long time since she'd tried meditating, for it usually only led to dark, repressed thoughts. But perhaps today it was worth the risk. It was another tool she had to try prying open the problem.
As she concentrated on her breathing, and the tinge of clarity it brought, she felt her mind relax. Over time, her thoughts became less scattered, and she gently nudged them in the direction of her sword.
She allowed them to drift untouched while they explored her senses. The heavy weight of the broken blade on her lap. The smooth, hard hilt held loosely by her fingers. The small green glow that pressed against her eyelids.
She pushed the thoughts a little further. This wasn't deep enough.
Slowly, painstakingly so, a new feeling emerged. Or rather, an emotion? It was difficult to place, but it was there.
'Keep going,' She pressed.
The emotion remained, not disappearing like before, giving Riven some relief. Even more, she felt her sword's runeglow, the light shining more noticeably in the darkness of her closed eyes. The energy buzzed faintly through her, no more than a light pulse, yet accentuated by her focus on it.
'Now understand it.'
She tried to direct her thoughts, but something immediately felt off. The more she tried, the further the emotion receded. In a small amount of panic, she tried to go back to the state she'd just experienced, but it was already lost.
She groaned in dismay. She'd been close. She'd felt it. She just needed more time to figure it out.
She sighed and opened her eyes to near-darkness. She blinked several times in confusion before realizing the sun had already set, the last rays of daylight grasping the west horizon. That had taken much longer than expected.
Settling her mind for the moment, Riven decided to call it a day. The idea of a comfortable bed was welcome right now.
As she made to stand, though, she froze, her eyes caught on a figure leaning against the tree in front of her.
Seven green eyes looked back.
"I know that sword," It spoke with a man's voice, "It was responsible for the deaths of many Ionians."
Riven tightened her grip on the blade. The figure's voice was dark and challenging. If it wanted to harm her, she was ready.
"Judging by your performance today and your murderous intent right now, you have not changed since then. I have deemed you a threat to Ionia, and you will be eliminated."
"Who the hell are you?" Riven yelled back angrily.
"One who cannot forgive. I will restore my honour."
It drew a long, thin blade, and stepped out of the shadows, slowly walking towards her. It was then that Riven realized the seven orbs were not eyes, but some sort of headgear. It made the man look inhuman.
Riven took a defensive stance. She wasn't ready for a battle. She was tired, both mentally and physically. But if it was just one person, she had a good chance.
She watched the man approach, slowly and fluidly. His footsteps made no sound. Something in the back of Riven's mind was screaming that this was a bad, that she should run, but she attempted to stifle it. She'd managed in the past, she could do so now.
He stopped suddenly, and Riven prepared herself. But instead of charging, the man vanished. Before Riven had time to react to the oddity, a piece of tree bark flew past her from behind; the sound of wood cracking only barely registered in her mind.
She glanced behind her to find a deep gash in the tree she'd been sitting next to, right before a blur flashed by her. A jolt of pain flew up her left arm and caused her to jump back in a panic. She looked down to see her forearm bleeding, a clean cut freshly made. She couldn't take her eyes off it. How? What was going on?
The sound of another tree being hit nearby caught her attention, but by the time she looked, another tree had been struck in front of her. Riven barely saw the blur approaching and raised her sword to protect her neck.
A loud clang rang out as the force of the blow knocked her off her feet, sending her flying backwards onto the stone path. Though she managed to keep her grip on her sword, she hit the ground hard.
Not wasting any time, Riven struggled to her feet, wincing at the sting in her arm and the growing pain in the rest of her body. She could barely breath.
"That's some good intuition you have," The man called out, suddenly visible again in front of her, "How did you know I was aiming for your neck?"
Riven glared back, unanswering. Of course he would go for the neck. What easier way was there?
He began walking towards her again, more quickly this time.
'This is bad,' Riven thought to herself. He was already at an advantage, and now it was even worse. He was skilled. She needed a trump card.
'Nigel,' She sent out the message, 'I need your help.'
It was a few seconds before the boy responded, seconds that mattered.
What do you need, Riven? He asked just as the swordsman struck.
Riven blocked the slashes as they came, attempting to respond, but she couldn't concentrate on both. Just as she blocked another strike, she felt the swordsman's foot connect with her gut. Again, she fell backwards, landing in a large, shallow pond.
'I need my sword!' She forced out, swearing to herself.
What? I can't-
'Now!' She yelled in her thoughts.
... Hold on. I'll be five minutes.
'I don't know if I have five minutes,' Riven responded, observing the man stepping into the pond to pursue her.
'He's fast,' She analyzed, 'Maybe the water will slow him down.'
She readied her blade, attempting to focus. She just needed to last until Nigel was ready. She took a few steps backward, testing the resistance the water gave. It was noticeable and inhibiting. She needed to make as little movement as possible, lest she lose her balance.
The man's footsteps finally made sound as the water splashed around him. Riven still couldn't see his face behind the goggles he wore, but could tell he was not concerned with fighting here. Was he really that confident in his skills, or was there something else in his plans?
He struck first again, slashing wide. Riven parried it forcefully, knocking it away with ease. However, the swordsman simply used the momentum to swing a wide arc back down on her. Again, Riven blocked it, but absorbed the blow instead. The weight difference of the blades was significant, and Riven hardly felt the force of his normal attacks. She just needed to keep up and wait for an opening.
But again and again, he attacked. Riven was pressed backwards, struggling to move against the water. Suddenly, with incredible speed, he slashed twice in near-instance. Riven barely managed to parry the first, and the second caught her right arm. He didn't stop. Rather, he seemed to be moving faster.
Riven's breathing quickened. He wasn't being slowed by the water at all. She had made a mistake by trying to fight here. She'd put herself at yet another disadvantage. Her thoughts began racing. She needed out, but how? She was pinned. The strikes were relentless, merciless. He wanted her dead.
She felt his blade graze her hand. She couldn't keep up.
The green orbs seemed distant and indifferent as the man kept attacking. He was doing this in cold blood, not out of anger or hatred. He truly believed it was necessary.
'Fuck you,' Riven cursed at him in her mind.
His blade cut her shoulder. If she'd been wearing her armour, it would have blocked it. Instead, she was wearing this new outfit. The one she'd gotten with Lux...
'Lux,' Her mind clicked. The image of the girl flashed in her mind as the battle seemed to fade away.
'I can't die here. Not yet.'
Another cut, in the leg this time.
'I still have to tell you...'
He kicked her unexpectedly, and she fell backwards, sending a spray of water around them.
He stopped for just a moment, seemingly gloating, looking down upon her. Riven felt the anger rising in her. There was no way she was giving up here. There was too much to lose to this nameless monster.
He raised his sword.
"Get the fuck..." Riven muttered.
"OFF ME!" She yelled, sending a Ki Burst at him with a swing of her sword. The blast sent both the man and the water around them flying, and Riven ran. The water splashed loudly with her footsteps. She couldn't tell if he was following. She just needed to reach shore. With a swift jump, she cleared the rocks that surrounded the pond and spun to face her attacker.
To her surprise, he hadn't moved from the spot in the middle of the pond. He looked up at her, brushing a strand of wet hair from his face. His goggles lay floating in the water next to him, while the moonlight faintly lit his visage.
"You..." Riven gasped, recognizing him. She had seen him before, just once, and once was all she needed to correlate him with a feeling of sheer terror. Now she understood why he was so strong, so determined. The fear took hold, and her lip quivered.
Her sword-arm fell limply to her side, and she immediately turn and ran, further away from the pond that held the demon. She couldn't fight, she had to escape.
Memories of the war came rushing back. Being seperated from the company, lost in the woods, foraging to survive.
A man appearing out of the night and attacking unannounced.
Trying to fight, desperately, fruitlessly. Being outmatched, not being able to touch him.
A night spent running, hiding in the underbrush of the woods. Hearing his footsteps and taunts and curses.
Being afraid for her life, for the first time in her life.
She was surrounded by trees again. The moonlight crept through the branches to reveal her surroundings.
"You can't hide this time!" The man's voice called out in the distance, "I can see you!"
Riven's ragged breaths caught in her throat. The goggles. Of course.
She stopped running. She knew he was faster. The terror peaked in her mind. If she couldn't escape him... what was left?
Riven swallowed hard. How many years had it been since she fought him? She'd improved since then, hadn't she? But she was also missing something. Her sword's gentle green glow cast an eerie light around her, but to Riven it was more comforting than anything. If she could hold out long enough, they'd be together again. And together, they still had a chance.
How many minutes had it been? Where was Nigel?
Riven took several deep breaths to silence her nerves. It didn't work quite as well as she'd hoped, but it was better than nothing. She did a quick once-over to examine her wounds. They were mostly shallow, but the amount of blood on her clothes was frightening. Altogether, she was reaching the limit of physical exhaustion.
A twig snapped nearby, and Riven readied herself. If he were to use that technique again, she would need complete concentration to survive it.
A loud crack from a tree nearby confirmed the fact. She tensed herself, trying to figure out which direction he was coming from. A rush of wind brushed by her, leading to another sharp clatter on the other side. She felt the wind pass by again behind her.
What was he doing? Why wasn't he attacking? The sound of trees being hit farther away, before returning, gave her the logical answer.
'He can't control it! It's too fast!' She realized with a small boost of confidence.
Riven. You ready?
Riven almost smiled, 'The sooner the better,' She replied hastily.
Right. Incoming. Be sure to keep your sword pointed away from you.
A clack of wood being struck behind her, the buzzing of energy as the summoning magic began to take hold of her sword, her confidence growing ever more, all of it accumulated as Riven spun to meet her foe with a wide swing.
She didn't know how she predicted where he would be. She simply relied on intuition, and it paid off.
A flash of blue-green light illuminated the area in mid-swing. The look of surprise was suddenly clear on the face of her foe, despite the speed at which he approached. When the blow connected with a metallic clang, the man was sent flying sideways like a ragdoll. He landed heavily ten feet away and rolled awkwardly before skidding to a halt. He didn't get up.
'Is it over?' Riven breathed heavily, her arm burning furiously from fatigue. She waited, hesitant to get too close. He still didn't move. Had she killed him? She knew he'd blocked it to some degree, but didn't know the extent of the damage. It wasn't unusual for her to win battles simply by crushing her opponent.
Care to tell me what's going on, Riven? I could get in a lot of trouble for this. Nigel commented, his voice calm despite the likely strain of the magic. Riven thought she could hear him muttering something.
'I was attacked,' She answered simply.
Attacked? By who?
Riven glared at the unnamed man lying in front of her, carefully making her way over to him.
'An old enemy.'
As she stepped closer, the muttering grew louder. Riven stopped suddenly, and it dawned on her.
'That isn't you, is it Nigel?' She asked, already knowing the answer.
Me what? He replied.
The swordsman launched himself at her, his face, or what little of it that was showing, filled with unrestrained fury.
Riven focused. Her full sword in hand, she could do this. She didn't know how he got up like nothing had happened, but it didn't matter. She would win this.
But when she tried to lift her blade to block the attack, she found she could barely lift her arm.
'Ah... Is this my limit?' She thought. The idea felt oddly calming while the man charged at her. Somehow, it felt surreal, and she wondered if this was simply the exhaustion catching up to her. What a terrible way to go...
"That is enough," A serene voice said beside her. She felt a hand on her shoulder and quickly looked over.
"Lee Sin?" She said drowsily, even though she expected her voice to be incredulous.
He smiled at her, "You can go to sleep now, Riven. Thank you, Nigel."
Riven glanced back at her attacker, questioning why he hadn't arrived yet. She saw him struggling in the grip of a hulking bear of a man. The sounds of his endeavours were dim, her vision darkening.
"But... How..." She asked, disoriented.
"Shh," Lee Sin's voice came clear in her mind, "Sleep."