The minutes whittled away. Diana kept her weapon poised, ready to strike while the two women stared at one another, neither of them flinching. Neither of them were going to give the other any quarter. Leona had no weapons, no armor, no way to defend herself unless she thought all she needed was the sun on her side, and the Moonlit Knight knew that even the sun can be eclipsed. The questions that plagued Diana was what kept her hand at bay. She was not sure how to respond to this situation before her. Her temple was defiled, but new information was presented. Leona was here, but how? Did it matter?
"Talk," the Lunari avatar said, her weapon not wavering.
"Put the weapon down, D-"
"I'm not here to fight you."
"Then why are you here?"
"I just want to talk."
"I am not stopping you from talking. Talk."
Leona's voice ever so slightly became sterner. "Diana, please put the weapon down."
"Why should I?"
"Because I am not your enemy. I am not your foe…" Leona's body shook with a snort and a chuckle, followed by a small grin spreading across her lips. "At least, that's what I tell myself. I don't believe us to be enemies, but how long have you thought otherwise?"
Diana raised an eyebrow, tilted her head slightly forward, and waited for Leona to continue speaking.
"Am I your enemy, Diana?"
"Not yet you are not."
Diana's eyes snapped wide open. Her lip pulled back as she let out a low snarl.
This did not deter Leona. She placed the helmets on the ground in front of her, the metal clacking against the marble floor. Leona pointed at the Lunari weapon and said, "If I am not your enemy, why are you pointing this at me?" The Solari avatar took a step towards the tip of the blade. "Are you going to skewer me? Is that what you're aiming to do? Will this be your response to everything that angers you?"
"What are you doing here, Leona?"
"I wanted to talk to Diana, but it seems that I cannot." Leona shook her head to and fro, her eyes never moving from the Lunari avatar's line of sight. "I've always been your enemy, haven't I?"
Diana had to take a step back or else Leona would have skewered herself at the end of her blade. She had to back away at the same pace the Solari avatar advanced. Why was she moving away?
"No. You and I do not have to be enemies, all you have to do is side with me, and we can put the past behind us."
"Whose blood do you wear, Diana?" Leona demanded while quickening her pace. "The very moment I saw you in your room, you wanted to kill me. Every moment of your life, all you ever wanted was an excuse, didn't you? Everything we ever shared, we ever did, all of that was a lie, wasn't it? This is who you've always wanted to be. There was never a choice, there was never a chance for us to repair the bridge, it was all a lie."
"How dare you?" the Moonlit Knight snarled, her blood rushing to her face. "I never lied to you."
"If you did not lie, then why..." Leona's voice increased in volume with frustration stoking the fire. "Why did you not see me?"
"Instead of running away, instead of fleeing the temple, instead of butchering everyone, instead of doing all of the destruction you did, instead of disappearing, why did you not come to see me?" Leona struck her chest, her voice sinking as her quiet anger finally boiled to the surface. "You admitted to me yourself: You blamed me. What would have happened if you found me? What would I have done if you came to me for help? Not that night, not that week, but in the month, the month after, in all of the time between that day and your arrival at Institute, you could have seen me. We could have spoken. Every single day, I did not know what to think, how to act, how to respond in the situation, because you never gave me a chance to do so. Because you assumed."
"Why did you not see me, Diana? Why, why why why, did you not?" Leona reached out and batted away the tip of the Lunari weapon away. Diana repositioned her weapon and kept it pressed against Leona's neck. Just one twitch, and it would be over. And yet she hesitated.
"You blamed me. You said that you believed it to be my fault what had happened to you, for the judgement that was passed. Why would you ever think that? Why would you ever believe that unless you never trusted me?"
"You betrayed me first."
"And how many times do I have to say it, Diana? I. Am. Sorry!" Leona took a step forward, a bright yellow line appearing on her neck, the golden blood trickled out and quickly turned crimson. She was still human. "What do you want me to do? What is it that I can do to make you understand?"
"Listen to yourself!" Leona yelled, accompanied by a burst of light erupting from her. She could see the smoldering anger in Diana's eyes as the temple lit up. "What is this nonsense? You are sounding exactly like the ones you claim to have discriminated against you! I can't join your mindset, Diana. I refuse to because I will not join their mindset either! I am not you, I will not approve of your actions, I cannot forsake everything again because then your goal and my goals, and what we have done for them, will have been all for naught! But that does not mean we cannot be allies!"
The drip dropping of blood told the passage of time, the stain on Leona's toga becoming ever larger from its former droplet size.
"You want me to leave behind the Solari, to leave everything and everyone behind again. I know your intention, Diana, and I cannot, nor will I do such a thing! I can't, I am their leader, they are my responsibility, I can't abandon them! You cannot nor will you ask me to do such a thing!"
"Why not, Leona? They abandoned me without a care. My own father held the knife meant for my throat. These are the people you want to serve? Their mindsets have been passed on to the new generations of Solari, they will not change." Diana dragged her blade towards her, cutting ever so slightly deeper into the Solari avatar's neck. "What do you owe them? Your power? Your prestige? Is that why you desire to serve those corrupted vermin?"
Diana paid no attention to her words, or the weight behind them at this point. "I'm not surprised, really. You already abandoned everyone else in your pursuits, of course you would respond in such a way."
Diana could see Leona took a breath in, pull away from Diana's crescent blade and turned her back to the Moonlit knight. She walked towards the helmets, knelt down and picked them up. Tucking them under her arms, Leona walked past Diana without saying a single word. All that screamed in her mind were the same words over and over again, 'Hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite, hyp-'
"I still call you Leona."
This stopped Leona. Her shoulders quaked. Anger?
"I still call you Leona. I still see you. This is the only reason why I bothered to give you that offer in the first place." Diana snorted and shook her head, disappointed with the answer she had received. "Will you really force my hand?"
"If you will kill your wounded friend, who is unarmed and only spoke to you, then do it."
Diana swiveled her blade about, waiting to see if Leona was serious.
"Do it, Diana. What are you waiting for? Do you want me to attack you? To belittle you? To instigate you, to justify your actions?" Leona turned around and glared at the Moonlit Knight. "Fine. I will."
Diana's arm rose above her head, as though she were expected a beam of sunlight to crash down and attempt to fry her.
"You are right, it was my pursuits. Do you know why I was taken away from the Rakkor?"
"Of course. You went against their traditions. You went against your society. What changed you?"
This generated a response from Diana: confusion. Her face barely betrayed it, but it could be seen.
"Failure? You speak of this once more?"
"And I will always speak of it when I am asked to justify my actions. When I was growing up alongside Pantheon and Molik, there were others. We were a group, of twenty children. I was…" Leona laughed and pressed her bloodied hand against her face. She winced from the pain and allowed her arm to hang at her side, leaving a bloody handprint on her forehead. "I guess you could say I was the mother. Pantheon was the father, and Molik...was him. I could fight as well as any Rakkor, my hand to hand expertise was decent, but I did not believe in mindless violence, and I always went out of my way to protect our group. The weakest, the most gentle, the ones who could sing, dance, the children who did not care for warfare, that is who we were. And we took care of them. We watched over them. Out of those twenty, Diana, how many of them lived?"
"You, Pantheon and Molik," Diana affirmed. "Maybe another one or t-"
"More than a hundred children die every single Rite of Kor. I watched them butcher each other. I sat there, and watched Pantheon gut an old rival of his, letting entrails splash onto him. I did nothing, and I lost my baker that day."
'Baker?' Diana thought to herself, mildly amused by the image of Pantheon wearing an apron though she did not show it.
"I watched them pit siblings against one another, and I watched sisters weep as they killed their own flesh, brothers kill themselves shortly afterwards. Some of them were stopped in time by the presiding elders, and dragged off the fields kicking and screaming, demanding they be killed. The entire event was a slaughter of their souls."
Leona's voice hit a new volume, her strong tone finally cracked, "I watched my friends kill one another! I stood there and watched them slaughter one another! I watched! And when it was my turn, I said no! And in my last moments, I begged, I hoped with all of my heart that my death would be painless!" She grabbed the Lunari helmet and heaved it at Diana, not bothering to watch the arc it flew in. "I was not in danger from them! Not from the man pointing the sword at me, from Pantheon who stood at my side and waited patiently for my death, not from Molik who wept on the ground and begged me with those big eyes to fight back, but from myself! The sun had to save me from myself!"
Diana watched the helmet sail towards her and hit the ground at her feet, bouncing twice before it rolled behind her. Not all of it was new information to her, but one thought sparked in her mind. "Are these the ones you spoke of before; all those years ago?"
"Hundreds of children, Diana, that Kor alone. And then hundreds in the next one, and the next one, and the next one." A mock-filled laugh escaped Leona's throat. "I failed them all. They are who I speak of whenever I speak of my failures."
Diana rested the tip of her blade on the ground in front of her, staring at Leona. "Then what do you expect from me?"
"I hope I don't list you as another failure of mine, Diana." Leona let out a low, hollow laugh. "Do you hear that?" she asked, choking back emotion. "I called you Diana just now, and every time before. You call me Leona, I call you Diana. Not enemy, not foe, you are Diana to me, you are the avatar of the Lunari. All you need to do, is just, you can trust me...just, just this once, trust me and listen to my words."
"There is only one way I will trust you: If I can call you Leona, and not the Radiant Dawn, not the Solari avatar, just Leona. You said no. What now?"
Leona placed the helmet of the Solari onto her head. "Then we repeat the same tragedy our predecessors did. Then we continue the cycle of hatred, of failure, of ignorance, except this time…" Once she made sure she affixed the helmet properly, the Solari Avatar raised her arms to her sides, widened her stance and tilted her head back. "You will kill me."
"I will ask you only once more, Diana: Whose blood do you wear?"
Diana reached up at her armor, wiping the blood off of her chestpiece. "Noxian soldiers."
"They were attempting to harass Demacian travelers. If it were not for me, then the Demacians would have been killed, enslaved, or worse." The Moonlit Knight stared at the crimson staining her hand while asking, "Does that make me a monster? If I did not act, they would have died. Am I a monster for my actions?"
"You did not have to kill them."
"It takes more skill to disarm an opponent than to kill one," Leona interrupted. "Killing should be only used as an absolute last resort. Did you have to kill the Elders? Did you have to kill your father? Do you want me to answer this question?"
Diana whipped her free hand forward, motioning to Leona to continue speaking while she said, "Be my guest, answer the question, why not, let's hear your answer and let us all fawn over it. Let us all just accept your answer for every question in life. Enlighten me."
"You did not have to."
Before Diana could say anything else, Leona continued, "But I can see why you did, and I do not fault you for that. I do not fault you. But Diana, this has to stop. You don't have to be alone. Knock knock, Diana."
"Seriously? You're seriously g-"
"KNOCK. KNOCK," Leona bellowed, sunlight flooding out from her and filled the entire temple.
How odd, that the entire Lunari temple reflected the sunlight so perfectly that it made it seem like daytime. Diana gripped her weapon so tightly that her knuckles popped, she had to turn away from the blinding light. By the time she realized it, arms were wrapped around her. Leona took the cover of sunlight to attack her? How underhanded. How...uncharacteristic.
Diana raised her weapon, squinting in her effort to look directly at the Solari avatar when she heard Leona speak, "You don't have to be alone. We can do this, Diana, if you and I both compromise. Please, Diana, let us compromise, please let the punchline be the sun and the moon, not you were alone the whole time. I wish I saw it earlier. I thought I did, but I was blind. I'm so sorry, Diana, but please, please don't be as blind as I was. Don't make us repeat the failures of the past."
The light died down, Leona was hugging Diana around her waist, her face resting on the Lunari avatar's shoulder. Diana could feel the entire weight of the Solari woman pressing down on her, using her as an aide to stand up. She was tired, her journey was long, fatiguing. Diana could even feel the small amount of dampness that still clung to Leona. This close to her, she could even smell her scent from her hair, it always had hints of cinnamon within it. It was so familiar, so warm, her stomach started to churn, Diana could feel revulsion? No, it wasn't revulsion. Diana could feel her mind fogging, thoughts creeping in, her hand gripping the Lunari blade shook.
Her hand, it shook? Impossible.
With a deep breath, Diana lowered her weapon and asked, "Where did you find the helmets, Leona?"
The Solari Avatar drew back and looked over at the hole in the ground she had made earlier. "Follow me," she stated while walking, blood still dripping from the shallow cut on her neck.
Leona looked behind and saw Diana reach over with her blade, aiming for her neck. She did not move as the hooked tip lowered and caught the corner of her toga's sleeve. A light pull tore through the fabric, and the Lunari avatar walked over to Leona's side. Grabbing one of the torn pieces, she ripped it off and pressed it onto Leona's hand. "Stop your bleeding. It may get on my floor."
Leona loosely tied the purple fabric around her neck so as to not choke herself. Diana reached up, adjusted the position of the knot, and stepped back.
"Can't even tie a knot properly," she said with an exaggerated grunt. Diana gave Leona's shoulder an awkward tap in her attempt to prompt the Solari avatar to walk once more. She nodded her thanks and made her way towards the hole.
Leona's body started to shine, illuminating the hole, and revealing to Diana what was hidden underneath the temple: A sarcophagus.
Its lid was pulled back, and there was nothing in it but ancient Solari text.
"How did you find this temple, Diana?"
Diana glanced at Leona, shook her head, and could not help but mock her. "I threw a rock in a direction and ran after it. It worked after then fifty seventh try."
"Through ancient Solari texts that were made accessible only after the Avatar's death to the rest of the council. Before that, only the Solari avatar could access it."
"That means someone on the council was formerly a Lunari mem…"
Diana stopped, and fell quiet. That was impossible. Almost every single murals that lined the walls depicted some sort of witch hunt for the Lunari. They were wiped out completely. How could a single member get by the eyes of the avatar? How lucky could they have been? In fact...how were the murals even made? It would take a lot of time, a lot of effort, to do so in secret.
"And it occurred to me, Diana, when was the last Solari avatar?"
"Before you? Centuries ago."
"And how long would you say it would take for our society to forget about the Lunari's existence?"
Diana stared at Leona long and hard, wanting to say the first thing that came to mind, 'You are an idiot', except, it held some water.
Leona pointed downwards and asked, "Can you read it aloud, Diana? Please?"
The Moonlit avatar jumped down into the sarcophagus, seeing the lid had been pushed to the side into a perfect slot, and she wondered who could have done all of this.
"In here lies my Sin." Diana cocked her head and attempted to re-read it several times. "No, that is a long e. See-en? Ever since her light faded from the world, so did mine. For what I had done, there is no redemption. If not even Solarus will forgive me, why should I forgive myself?"
Diana looked further down the scratchings on the sarcophagus and saw strikes upon strikes It filled every nook, every crevice, they overlapped one another as though they were done in a panicked frenzy at times. Her fingers rubbed against a black stain, it crumbled and a rotted copper whiffed upwards.
Eventually she found the rest of the text, located approximately where one's feet would be if they lied down within the tomb, and started to read once more.
"I had to do it. I had to do it, I kept telling myself that, but oh Solarus, oh Lunara, what had I done? The moment her light faded, I lost my Shield. I lost my Sin. In here I have laid to rest our masks, so that I could see as I once did before. All I can do is here and now, swear that I will make this right one day. Albina."
Diana went quiet. She rolled the inscription in her head again and again.
"Look at the mural, Diana," Leona interrupted, pointing at the far one on the wall. It depicted the Solari avatar standing over the Lunari avatar, the latter spread out and turned upwards, her face full of betrayal, while the Solari kept her blade readied to strike her down.
"I've been thinking about: If the Solari avatar killed the Lunari avatar, how is the armor here? How did you find the weapon? Who would be able to take these artifacts and have no one question them? Who would be able to know the location of the Lunari temple and be able to adjust the Solari texts without fear? Who, Diana?" Leona turned and stared at the back of Diana, the Moonlit knight not moving or responding. "She made a mistake, Diana."
"Sh…" Diana started to say, but stopped herself. What was this? Why did her chest heave, what was this welling?
"Diana, we don't have to make the same mistake our predecessors did. We don't have to repeat the tragedy. We don't have to, Diana, just say-"
"Say what? I'll join you?"
"No. Not that you will join me." The Solari avatar extended her hand out to the Lunari avatar, her arm shaking. "That you'll join Leona. That together, we can make things right. We don't have to be separate, but you don't have to be alone. All you have to do, is to trust me. I don't want to lose you, Diana. You can't wash the blood, I can't either, but together, we can make things right."
Diana stood up with the slowness of a glacier. Leona's light dimmed away and allowed the Moonlit knight to bathe in the lunar beams.
Diana did not respond.
"Please, Diana. Please. Please, please, please, Diana."
Molik sat on the footsteps of the destroyed Solari temple, staring at his hands. What should he do? What should he do? Leona trusted him. What was he about to do?
"Iron Solari Molik? Are you available, son?"
He palmed his face and nodded. "I-I am, Elder Alexios. I am."
Alexios reached down, patted Molik's shoulder and motioned with a nudge of his head to follow him up the stairs. Molik followed, his head hung low. He watched his feet drag across the marble and nearly trip him with every other step.
Once they reached the top, Molik saw the other members of the Council there, waiting for him. The stone rubble was still piled high, and the stains of blood still marked the ground.
"This is what will happen if the heretics return, Molik: Complete destruction. You remember the teachings."
"I remember them, Elders, I do. That the Heretics wanted to bring down the Solari down to their level, and they were twisting the hearts of men and women, and by seducing them, they nearly destroyed our society," Molik said in his best attempt to choke back his emotion. "I remember, but, Elders, it's Leona. It-"
"The Avatar has obviously been corrupted. The traditions and laws were not set for the sake of humor, Iron Solari Molik. If she-"
"Maybe she should break them!" he yelled back. And just like that, the atmosphere changed. Molik could taste the anger. He refused to falter. "The Rite of K-"
"Is a tradition set by the Rakkor for millennia, and we cannot change it. It has always served us effectively: We have not been lost to invaders this entire time because of such laws and traditions."
"But with the Inst-"
"The Institute will fall, Molik. And when it does, war will return."
Elder Alexios shook his head, and the other members of the council mimicked his action, all of them letting Molik know their universal disapproval.
"I can't betray her...I can't."
"She is not seeing the larger issue, M-"
"I will not betray Leona again!"
The Council of Elders waited for Molik to settle himself, and when he had, Alexios said, "We will not hurt the Avatar, Molik."
"Why would we harm our own Avatar? The Iron Solari will be mobilized as they once were to purge the Heresiarch and her followers, and we will help purify the Avatar."
"Purify? Define it, and swear you will not harm Leona."
"She will be stripped of her powers and her title until she is deemed fit to bear the regalia again, Molik. We are not going to harm her."
"Why do you not tr-"
"I need to hear the words!" he yelled, his voice cracking. "I need to hear the words, that this is the best choice for her. That this is what will help her, that this is what she needs!"
"Iron Solari Molik...her needs do not matter. It is the needs of this," Alexios said while sweeping his hand all around the city. From their vantage point, they could see every building, every home that the Solari called home. "The reason why the Solari are here is because we consider ourselves not just warriors, but scholars. Our avatar is not only our symbol, as you know: She is the ultimate form of defense for us. If all else fails, she will succeed. And she cannot if she is tainted. You understand your duty, and hers, extends beyond one another. Your duty is to the people, Molik."
Molik cupped his face, shook his head and looked away. "All of my brethren, we swore our loyalty to the Avatar."
"And the Avatar is aiming to doom us. If you do not show us where the temple is, then you will have to kill her."
Molik went cold. He shook. No one could kill Leona. They could not kill her. The Elders failed to kill Diana, and she was weaker than Leona. But...they were older. The Iron Solari was composed of the finest warriors of the Solari. Even though they numbered fewer than three hundred bodies, they were said to be as capable an army as all of the legions of Rakkor. And Leona...she wouldn't kill them. She wouldn't, he knew that.
Oh Gods...Leona. Leona, I'm sorry.
"This week…" Diana started, shutting her eyes as tightly as she could. She did not want to say the words. She did not trust Leona. She could not, Leona betrayed her. Do not make this mistake. Do not do it.
"You promise me, that it is Leona and Diana trying to make things right?"
"Yes, Diana. Yes, just like old times. You and me, we can do it."
Diana's shoulders quaked. Damn her. "I will be escorting my followers to this temple, to make it their permanent residence. Promise me their safety. Promise me that no harm will come upon them from the Solari or the Rakkor."
The Moonlit knight stood up, turned around and looked at Leona. She cracked a smile. Diana actually cracked a smile. "Very well, Leona. One chance."
Diana took Leona's offered hand, and allowed the Solari avatar to pull her upwards. "For now, you need some rest. Let me escort you to the living quarters."
"This temple has living quarters?"
"It was built into the actual mountain itself. Completely fascinating."
Before either woman could take a step, a loud rumbling roared out from Leona. She coughed, scratched the back of her head and said, "I ah...Haven't...eaten anything."
"Food first then. I have not eaten either. You are not picky about freshly caught meat, are you?"
"Not particularly. That sounds appetizing, really. Why do you ask?"
Diana motioned with a nudge of her head towards the entrance of the temple, and the two women walked together with the same cadence. Unbeknownst to Diana on the back of her dark silver chest plate, the surface cracked, and an ash colored flake drifted downwards. It revealed a patch of brilliant silver, the size of a fingertip, that had been hidden away.
The moment Leona and Diana were completely out of sight, behind the Lunari altar, on the floor, a certain map started to spark with tiny blitzes of violet magic. A rich purple colored butterfly fluttered upwards, rested itself atop of the altar, bathing in the moonlight for a few seconds, then disappeared with a light laugh.
Author's Notes: Things have been hectic with my own projects. I finally got the webcomic going, bgcomics. ca (remove the space inbetween the period and the ca), I have to figure out how to hyperlink it on fanfiction, I probably will have to do it via my profile, and I'm also writing the Eidola story! I'm on chapter 4 for that, page 4 of the comic is done, and both KuzAnn and I are very busy.
It is with that said that I must say that I haven't been able to bother KuzAnn with editing. If anyone catches a mistake, or lack of description, please let me know and I will give you an internet hug. And I have to admit, this is probably my favorite chapter just because I am a cackling sort of evil.