Date: 1 August, 22 CLE
Diana enters the Institute of War with her head held high, her step sure and her posture proud. She carries her giant sickle-sword behind herself, flush along her back as though it were already a part of her. The same could be said of her armour: she wears it and moves with it like a second skin, despite having discovered it only recently.
Her eyes, shining white inside blackened pits, are sharp and fierce. She seems eternally ready to fight off some unperceived threat, to defeat some challenge to her power. The crescent seemingly branded into her forehead glows with a strange silvery luminescence that never stays constant: at times it waxes, at others it wanes.
She passes through the doors into the Reflection Chamber without a moment's pause. Is this testament to her confidence – or her recklessness?
Enveloped by cool darkness, Diana let herself relax. She closed her eyes briefly, breathing deep of the dark. It had always had this effect on her, even as a child: the moon and her myriad stars were always so much kinder than the scorching sun. The moon didn't burn, casting shadows on a privileged few while others suffered in its baleful gaze. This soft, pale, silvery light was instead like being bathed in the heavens' glow. When she was at peace like this Diana could almost imagine herself as a celestial being, clothed in a glimmering nimbus of moonlight.
"You like to come up here, don't you?"
Diana jerked back to reality. She whirled around at the voice behind her, alarmed that one of the Solari might see her enjoying the night – almost a heretical action.
"It's all right," said Leona, smiling brightly. "I promise I won't tell the elders."
Diana let out a sigh of relief at seeing her friend. Her brow furrowed briefly as she wondered why her hand felt so empty; why she felt so naked, despite being fully clothed.
"I'm sorry I scared you," Leona added.
Diana shook these minor concerns from her mind: they weren't important now. "It's quite all right. You can join me, if you like."
Leona stepped up alongside Diana onto the rocky promontory. It commanded a fantastic view of the valley of the Solari, its houses, temples and farms all arrayed below – but Leona knew that wasn't the reason Diana came up here. It was easy to think, living in the valley below, that the Solari were the entire world. Up here, there was nothing to separate a wandering spirit from the vast sky.
The two women sat together. Diana looked across at Leona, wondering why it was that this strange outsider – one of the barbaric Rakkor, no less – had become perhaps the only true friend she had in the world. She still remembered the first time they'd met: Diana was being derided by her fellows once again for her unconventional beliefs when they happened across Leona, newly arrived after being plucked from the Rite of Kor. Diana's heart sank into her boots, seeing this newly-acclaimed champion of the sun staring her down, but against all expectations Leona had stood by Diana's side, fending off all those who would attempt to bully her. To this day, she was still trying to work out why: Leona herself had been closed on the subject, although she remained Diana's staunch companion in times of need.
"Something on your mind?" asked Leona, returning Diana's stare.
"Oh – nothing particularly," said Diana, looking away. She continued falteringly, "Um, I've been making some progress in my studies, by the way. I'm hoping to find some proof of the Lunari soon."
Leona closed her eyes briefly, letting out a tired breath. "Why do you do this to yourself, Diana?"
"You're deliberately making things difficult for yourself. You could accept the Solari's beliefs: you could have a much easier life than this."
Diana looked at the ground for a while, downcast. When she raised her head again, she stared Leona straight in the eye.
"I believe in something. I have to follow it, no matter how foolish that is. I may suffer for it, but... isn't that worth it? To have something to believe in?"
Leona appeared to be momentarily taken aback by this. "...Yes," she said slowly. "I suppose it is."
The two friends shared a smile in the moonlight.
"So," Diana began, "how goes your training?"
"It goes well. In fact, that's why I've come up here..." Leona took a moment to compose herself. From her grave expression, Diana doubted that this was happy news.
"...Are you leaving?" Diana asked. Her voice was no louder than the night breeze, yet contained more sadness within it than the endless void of space.
"...Yes," said Leona eventually. "My training nears its completion. Soon, I'll be ready for the League."
"Must you go?"
The disappointment in Diana's eyes, the sheer apprehension of the loneliness she'd suffer without her protector beside her, almost broke Leona's heart. She'd never forget that look.
"I'm sorry, Diana. The sun has chosen its champion, and I must serve it by using the power it has given me to protect as many innocents as I can. I'll be much better-placed to do that in the League."
"But... can't I come with you?"
"Not unless you become a champion too."
"Then I will!" said Diana, surging to her feet, surprising Leona. "I'll find out the secrets of the Lunari and become the moon's champion, just as you've been chosen by the sun. Then we'll fight side-by-side on the Fields of Justice: Leona the Radiant Dawn and Diana, Pride of the Moon!"
Leona smiled, but strangely – weakly, as though her lips might crack and shatter if she stretched them too far. Diana felt that this was wrong. She remembered Leona laughing with joy at this point... but how could she remember what hadn't happened?
"You do that, Diana," said Leona, reaching a hand up towards Diana. "I bet the two of us will be unstoppable."
Diana smiled back rather more heartily, and took the hand that Leona gave her, using it to haul her up onto her feet. But she didn't let go once that was done – not just yet.
"We shall be as sisters in battle. We'll show everyone that the moon and sun are deserving of equal praise, and only at their strongest when worshipped together."
Leona laid both hands on Diana's and smiled, heartfelt and true.
"It is my fervent hope that we might yet make this a reality."
Diana could have sworn that she felt some of the sun's warmth radiating from Leona's face at that moment. For the first and last time in her life, she thought that it didn't feel so bad.
The memory gave Diana strength as she marched up the temple steps, arrayed in her armour and with sword in hand. She'd achieved the goal she'd been searching for her whole life. She'd found the Temple of the Lunari and the secrets hidden away within, and would now reveal all to the Solari elders. Surely now, with the evidence staring them in the face, they would have to yield and finally accept Diana's earnest belief.
As she stormed up those steps, all the disrespect Diana had been paid by the Solari hammered in her head and rang in her ears. However, she would prove that she was better, that the moon was better: even after all these insults, she was willing to forgive them all, even to stand as their second champion in the League, shoulder to shoulder with Leona. There, she would bring word of the moon's power to all of Valoran and thereby reform the Lunari, who could live side-by-side with the Solari. This vision lived in her mind's eye, a sparkling mote of hope in her heart.
She entered the temple – and stopped, surprised to find the elders already there, their aged, hooded forms waiting for her in their thrones, the blazing braziers lit and guards lining the walls. The guards behind her shut the doors she'd just passed through and barred them.
Diana continued towards the elders, undaunted. "Elders of the Solari: I bring you great news!"
"Strange words to herald such ill tidings," said one of the elders.
Diana blinked in confusion, stopping in front of the semicircle the elders formed around a grand table. "What? But this is reason to be happy. I have uncovered the ancient and lost Temple of the Lunari, and now-"
"We know what you have done, fool girl," snapped another elder. "We tried to warn you away, time and time again, but it seems the path of darkness and lies has firmly ensnared your mind."
"You don't understand," said Diana, still continuing amicably despite the elders' stinging reprimand. "I've rediscovered the secrets of a civilisation long since lost. If you would but listen to me, I'm sure we could all benefit from knowledge of the moon's power as much as we already do from the sun."
"You come to us dressed in that armour, wielding that sword, and you expect us to listen?" an elder hissed. "The Lunari weren't just lost – they were hidden away, and for good reason."
"But what is so terrible about the moon that you fear it so?" asked Diana, stepping forward in honest entreaty, palm oustretched towards the elders.
"If you think that we will tell you of the Lunari's greatest weapon, you're obviously even more stupid than we'd come to expect," spat an elder. "This is your absolute last chance, girl: surrender that armour and sword to us, or die."
The guards all around the room suddenly became part of the foreground as they began to move towards Diana, drawing their sunswords.
"What? But there's no need for this!"
The elder in the middle stood. "SURRENDER OR DIE!"
Long after his bellowing voice had echoed away into nothing, a single tear dropped from Diana's cheek onto the polished marble floor. When she spoke, it was in a whisper.
"The moon has always been in my heart. Since I was born, it has been my guiding light; the shaper of my dreams. You ask me to relinquish the moon... you ask me to relinquish my very soul."
She looked up at the elders, her eyes shining with tears of defiance.
"I will not."
"Then allow us to take it from you. Guards."
The guards drew in all around Diana, a wall of swords, shields and grim faces. Diana readied the crescent sword, not knowing whether she had it in her to kill even for self-defense. No matter where she turned, who she faced, there was always another sword waiting to stab her in the back. This felt like the end.
They struck – Diana parried, expecting at any moment to feel a sharp pain in her back. More blows fell, but it eventually became clear to Diana that they were toying with her: it was obvious to all present that she wasn't able to use this sword properly so they tested her, seeing how quickly she could dance to their tune. The derisive laughs of the elders rang through the hall, and Diana could see smirks on the faces of the guards through eyes blurred with angry tears.
"This is very amusing, but enough is enough. Bring her here."
Diana was instantly disarmed, a flat blade brought down on her hand enough to break her inexpert grip. The moonsword clattered to the floor.
Guards surged up behind Diana, pinning her arms; more approached from her front and took her legs, such that they carried her bodily to the elders' table like an animal being prepared for slaughter. She struggled, screaming Leona's name, cursing the sun for taking her protector from her.
"Why does she invoke the name of her intended destroyer?" asked one of the elders curiously, pulling up his sleeves as the guards held Diana down on the large marble table.
"It matters not now," said another, drawing a golden dagger from within his robes and handing it to the first. "We'll just have to do the Radiant Dawn's job for her."
"What do you mean?" asked Diana, her voice a horrified whisper.
"You always were woefully stupid. Learn this lesson well, for it will be your last: Leona is the chosen of the sun, you are the chosen of the moon. Her purpose... is to kill you."
The tears and the screaming stopped. Diana was deathly silent as the elder raised the dagger.
"Any last words?"
Her voice was hoarse, almost a croak. "You are beneath me. And so is she. All of you... The moon will kill you all."
"Defiant to the end. The sun's curse upon you, heretic. May you burn for all eternity."
The dagger fell.
It plunged into Diana's heart.
It all melted away before her very eyes, like rainwater down a cliff-face: the elders, the guards, the temple... the very real pain in her chest...
Diana was back in the chamber. Her sword – the moon's sword – was still in her hand. And standing in front of her was Leona.
"The summoners are too cruel," she said mournfully. "They would have continued, had I not been here."
Diana reeled slightly on her feet. "But... that didn't happen. They didn't kill me. The moon came to my rescue: I remember it!"
"You slaughtered them," said Leona, in the same tone.
"I repaid them their many kindnesses," Diana spat.
"And then you saw the carvings."
Diana paused. "You know of them?"
"They were shown to me, as part of my training. They were instructions passed down from the ancient Twilight War."
"Then you know what I aim to do."
"If you try to bring about the Eclipse of Eternal Night, I will have no choice but to end you... Diana."
A few seconds passed in silence.
"...So it's true. You are meant to kill me."
"I would much sooner save you from yourself."
"Save this poor deluded girl from her path of darkness and lies, you mean?" Diana sneered derisively.
"No," said Leona. In Leona's eyes – eyes that she'd seen so full of warmth, once upon a time on the promontory – Diana saw nothing but cold, aching regret. "As I said, you do it to yourself. It doesn't have to be like this."
"That's what I said to the elders. They didn't agree."
Leona looked about to speak again, but faltered. The bitterness of Diana's voice stabbed her heart with guilt. At length, she did speak – haltingly, reluctantly.
"Why do you want to join the League?"
"BECAUSE YOU WEREN'T THERE TO PROTECT ME!"
No amount of armour could shield Leona from that blow. As unfair and childish as it was, the barbs of that remark bit deep. The many excuses that leapt to Leona's tongue withered before they'd even tasted air. She continued with the League's spiel.
"And how does it feel... exposing your mind?"
Diana took a breath, composing herself after that outburst. "Strangely liberating. I have no need to hide in the darkness anymore. The moon's light will protect me, in your stead – and destroy all who doubt it."
She strode forward – and paused, next to a grim-faced Leona.
"Seek me out on the field, for I shall seek you. I look forward to snuffing out your light... sister."
And she was gone.