Author's Note: Senescha here. Screampaste and I would like to apologize for the length between uploads, but real life circumstances came up that made uploading difficult. That being said, hopefully the long wait was worth it.
For what remained of their voyage, Riven rarely left her room. It felt to her to be more of a prison then her tent had at the Ionian encampment had been, but it was all she had for refuge aboard the ship. Not that it protected her from much. Irelia was polite enough, or perhaps wounded enough, to leave space between them, but the worst of it came from Riven's own thoughts.
She knew what she'd done had put distance between herself and Irelia, taking away one of the only benefits of her situation, and worse, hurt someone she cared about. Merciful as it was not to have to exist under her friend's stare, she found herself wishing for her company. Conflicted, as it seemed only Irelia could leave her.
What she needed was a way forward, something concrete, something she could act on. Dwelling on her emotions was neither, and it was something she avoided whenever she could. In this case it proved difficult, the subject of it all had a pull for her that seemed to hook her interest and drag her consciousness back, kicking and screaming if need be. She wanted nothing more than a way out, the freedom to right the damage she'd done, and perhaps, to pursue a source of happiness at the end of it all. She knew what she wanted, at least. So what was the way forward?
Lying on her back, staring up at the dusty boards of the deck, Riven had no answer to that, and she doubted she would any time soon. She was going back to the league, to be made a political spectacle of. She'd be penned up there, contained and controlled, with her goals taken from her. So what was there left? She covered her face with her hands and rolled to her side.
If Irelia remained true to her threat? Nothing. Ofcourse she'd been angry with Irelia, the commander had to understand what she was doing to Riven by handing her over to the League for protection, she thought. She was taking away all that Riven had; her chance, at doing the right thing, redeeming herself, demonstrating that the Noxian way could still work. The real Noxian way. The way that had enthralled her, motivated her, shaped her, which had been rejected and spat upon by a self serving and deceptive leadership.
And all of that might've been tolerable with Irelia beside her. That was impossible too, though, and she knew it. Irelia had her duty and her country, Irelia would have to leave, whether from the institute or Piltover. The end was the same, it didn't matter, and that thought left Riven feeling a way she had not felt in a long time. Defeated.
Irelia found herself busy, almost irritatingly so, with constant attention from the crew. Most of it was professional, at least. Discussions about their route, schedule, risk of running afoul of the Noxian fleet. Some of it was more personal interest however. Attention from the sailors due to either her looks, station, or status as a champion. Everything from attempted small talk to subtle hints that they could show her the nicest places to drink and cavort on the mainland.
Normally such inane and unappreciated advances would quickly draw her ire, but for the time being they made the voyage feel mercifully short, even if they were somewhat irksome. Distractions were welcome, and Irelia had been provided with just enough activity with dismissing her admirers to keep Riven's behaviour in the back of her mind. It always came to the forefront when she was alone, however. In those moments she didn't know whether the trip could end quickly enough, or if she dreaded its' conclusion and the resulting departure.
She'd frequently found herself seeking out Kayle for any unrelated reason she could think of in those moments. Everything from discussion of tactics and logistics to a cup of tea or a game of 'Go'; a strange stone based game from Ionia which the celestial had taken an interest in. To Irelia's chagrin she was an apparent natural. She harboured no doubt that her friend knew she was troubled, she even suspected that Kayle knew the nature and source of it. It struck her tellingly that her normally smug companion said nothing at all about it, something the commander mentally credited her for. Even if she happened to be blessed with the most frustrating case of beginner's luck she'd ever witnessed.
Regardless of how she might have felt, their ship route concluded and Irelia found herself at staring out from a porthole, silent and stoic, but with a lead weight settling in her stomach. The gangplank was set, and their passage was finalized. The day was miserably cold and grey, spitting rain in a way that seemed noncommittal, as if even the weather had written the day off.
A sharp rapping on the wood of her cabin door grabbed her attention, forcing some colour back into her perception. "Enter." She called, turning to face the wooden frame with her hands folded behind her back. Her blades fanned out from behind her, resembling the display of a peacock. When the door was pushed open, and the silhouette of a silent, white haired Noxian girl greeted her, however, the fan of metal closed in, retreating behind the deep blue of her long coat.
Riven was wearing a loose fitting white cotton tunic, tied at her waist with a bit of spare rope and drawn up beneath a hooded green cloak, satchel slung over her left shoulder. She bore a blank expression, more a lack of one at all. Irelia had seen it from her before, her friend joined first joined the league she had rarely so much as blinked. The return of this particular mannerism gave her a cold pang; something she hoped her own expression had not betrayed.
From the doorway Riven turned back to the stairs that led to the deck while beckoning Irelia with a simple statement; "It's time to go." She disappeared up the steps then, leaving no room for a reply. Annoyed, her blades bristled up above her shoulders for a moment before settling. Without much choice in the matter, Irelia followed the Noxian topside, and into the damp weather.
She had a hard time being too angry with Riven. It was almost admirable that even with control taken from her she seemed to be leading the way to an outcome she hated, a line of thought that Irelia swept aside, she'd been over this with herself already. She understood Riven's anger, and it weighed on her. She felt however, that her obligations to her country and the league, particularly in such a precarious political state, necessitated her actions, and their cost.
On the deck Riven stood with Kayle, the pair waiting together for Irelia to join them so they could disembark. Reluctantly joining them she moved to lead them down the wooden ramp provided-but once again found Riven ahead of her. The Noxian always moved like she had something to prove, that day it seemed she could handle anything. Even shedding her purpose for the sake of politics she didn't trust. Irelia just shook her head and fell into step silently.
At least one of them was less than content with the quiet. Nary a word had been spoken on deck, and the tension was grating on her nerves. Kayle, deciding to liven things up, stepped in beside the Exile on the gangplank and casually gave her a solid outward shove. Riven found herself displaced, off of anything solid, and having only time to look back at her assailant in surprise, plummeted down into the frigid sea water.
"...KAYL-!" She'd managed to shout the beginning of what may well have been a threat before she struck the waves. The Judicator didn't seem to notice, and Irelia was certain the woman was strutting the rest of the way to the dock. It was an absurd thing to witness, and she brought her hand quickly to her mouth trying to fight the laugh she knew was coming. The effort barely helped, making it harder to contain, her own posture and the positioning of her blades loosened visibly and after a few seconds Irelia lost it. Completely and utterly, back hunched, tears in her eyes lost it.
Kayle stood at the edge of the docks, watching Riven scramble up the wooden structure to where the celestial stood with a furious look on her face. As she reached the edge and slung one arm up onto the planks to begin lifting herself, she twisted her head around to look at her friend. The sight and sound of Irelia holding her ribs and crying with laughter put out whatever ire she may have felt for Kayle. Turning back around the angel's gloved hand greeted her, and she accepted her help back onto the dock without complaint. In fact, she smiled a silent thanks to her. Even if she was soaked and it was cold out, she figured she could handle it.
"Come on, Relly." Her voice had softened for the request. "The sailors are giving us looks." Her arms crossed over her white tunic and she pulled her cloak more tightly around herself as she noted this, smiling wryly. "We wouldn't want any rumours." At length, Irelia obliged, stepping down to the dock and patting her once on the shoulder as they set off.
Her messy white bangs whipped against her cheeks and softly pointed ears, large aquamarine eyes held wide into the oncoming wind despite the gunner's goggles that rested unused, on her head. She sat in a sidecar attached to one of Piltover's wondrous transportation devices. A strange thing with two parallel wheels lined up beneath a frame with a seat. Next to the rear wheel her small seat rolled along on a set of smaller wheels of it's own. To the Megling, it seemed like great fun.
Tristana held her arms up over her head and grinned wide into the bright, cloudless sky as Sheriff Caitlyn lead them through the streets of the City of Progress. The sun against her face felt warm and liberating as it snuck between the towering buildings to shine on her and her companions. It seemed to her to be a beautiful day for the time of year; mid fall. Harrowing time was coming, and she'd found herself a date for the annual Piltover festivities.
The sidecar had been designed for use by a full sized human, and was large enough to seat not one, but two tiny humanoids. Leaning to her left and relaxing into the plush cushioning, Tristana sighed contentedly. "Teemo", she began, "I can't dance. You'll have to teach me." Now she'd drawn the gaze of Caitlyn, who just smiled at her and shook her head slightly. Tristana guessed the human thought her and Teemo were cute. That didn't bother her too much, Cait had been good to her since she'd come to Piltover.
After the destruction of Bandle City the little people who survived it ended up as refugees and nomads. Most had settled in Piltover; few other places would take them. For Tristana in particular this had worked out well enough. Caitlyn was an intelligent, tall woman, who Tristana could talk guns with, and also who could reach the top shelves when they went shopping together. She dearly missed Bandle City, but now she always had Teemo with her.
A stop and subtle forward jerk as her momentum dissipated pulled the small gunner from her reminisces and back into the bright, comfortable morning. They'd reached their destination, a short ways outside of the city they had a hill, topped with a gnarled old tree for shade, and in the lee of the hill a field with targets, large and small, near and distant. Caitlyn dismounted the bi-wheeled vehicle gracefully, and Tristana followed suit in her own way. It took a bit of doing for the smaller woman to hop over the edge of the sidecar and down into the grass while holding her cannon, but it was easier than firing it from the hip.
With a grin, she called over her shoulder; "Come on, Teemo!"
The wheels of her bi-wheel kicked up mud and splashed water over her and her passenger as she exited the city and the roads softened from stone to dirt. It was miserable outside. Cold, wet, foggy. Hardly a good day for shooting, and yet Tristana had insisted they go out to practice together, seeing no problem at all with the weather. That didn't surprise her.
"Teemo", said Tristana, "I can't dance. You'll have to teach me." Caitlyn looked back at her when she said this, and smiled sadly, shaking her head. The girl in the sidecar seemed not to care or notice. There was silence between them, and the human it felt tense. Thankfully they were approaching their destination.
In short order, Cait pulled to a sliding stop, kicking up mud and leaving a streak in the dirt path. She killed the engine and lifted her leg to stiffly come to a stand on the side opposite the decrepit, beaten up sidecar where Tristana and her gun sat on a shredded leather seat. The smaller woman grabbed her gun and made her way up the hill. She seemed impossibly cheery as she shouted for Teemo to follow her.
The sniper took her time, letting her friend go on ahead, she needed a moment to collect herself. Breathers like it were become a frequent necessity for her. Tristana was a good friend, and often the bright point of any dark day. Her value to Cait was inestimable. Still, she hadn't taken the destruction of Bandle City, or any of the aftermath of it, all that well, and the oddities it had aroused could become unsettling.
With a sigh she removed her helmet, shaking out her hair and revealing her features. Sharp, with an angular face, high but subtle cheekbones, and a black leather patch over where her left eye had been; another casualty of the war with Zaun. The loss at least seemed not to hinder her aim.
Stepping to the rear wheel and pulling her disassembled rifle from the saddlebags, she quickly put it back together, and ensured every possible adjustment was to her liking. For her it was a calming and therapeutic exercise, one she repeated often to keep herself steady.
In short order, with her breath even and her mind calm, Caitlyn shouldered her rifle and walked up the gentle slope of the nearby hill to take shelter underneath the tree. Tristana had already begun shooting, generating an astounding ruckus. Strange as the perpetually smiling little woman could be, Cait admired her way with that gun. Truthfully she admired her endless cheer, as well, even if she attained it a little differently.
Picking a target, a distant one Tristana had not yet annihilated, the brunette set her sight on a 'T' shaped straw man with a worried facial expression painted on the sack that served as his head. Raising her barrel to account for distance, and running the numbers in her head for the wind and rain, she decapitated the dummy at a range that would leave some straining to see.
"Huh. Still got it." It was spoken with utmost satisfaction.
Shivering, with her cloak pulled tightly around her, Riven's mood was oddly improved. It gave her something else to focus on. Every step closer to Piltover was a step closer to warmth, rather than a step further off of her path. Irelia had warmed to her, if only slightly, as well, seeming to sympathize with the freezing Noxian. All offers to wear her admittedly gorgeous coat went politely refused, however. Riven didn't want to get the fine garment wet.
Irelia didn't like it, but she found herself able to understand Riven's refusal. Without recourse she was obliged to simply let the stubborn woman suffer quietly. The experience wasn't without its charm, and Kayle didn't seem at all bothered by the misery she might have caused the Exile. There was something appealing about the normally rigid and stoic white haired soldier being forced to bundle herself into her clothes and shiver. Her humble stature and blood flushed cheeks completed the picture. She looked young and vulnerable; cute.
These were thoughts she didn't get to expand upon. An echoed gunshot met her ears, and the three of them went on the alert. Another, louder and lower sound followed it. Knowing they were closing on Piltover, it boded poorly to hear gunfire. In unison, the trio took off at a run toward the source of the sound. Kayle took flight after a few steps, and Irelia spread her blades our behind her like wings before craning them forward in a threat display.
Riven had no wings. She had no mystical weapon. Hers had been broken and stolen. Without the heft of her signature blade she was reminded where she was running to, and the temptation to veer off and leave her companions behind built in her gut. It was crushed quickly.
It was inherently against her to let her friends charge into potential danger without her, but more than that, the self disgust she felt in that moment gave her an important insight. With her stride growing in speed she overtook Irelia, who she knew she could not leave behind, not for any reason. Riven was going willingly. Through Piltover, over the Ironspike mountains, past Zaun, to the Institute of War. All of it on her own two feet. She didn't fully understand why she would allow her freedom to be taken from her, but the realization carried her forward, down the road and over a hill to the source of the noise, ahead of even Kayle.
Looking over her shoulder to the willful woman, she smiled bitterly. That would all change once she left. She wondered if, once that happened, she'd still go willingly, or whether she'd fight. It was a rare moment for her, but Riven let it pass in favor of the need for action. Thought would slow her down if they needed to act suddenly.
Riven and Irelia ran, with Kayle's quiet wings flapping overhead, up a short path to a hill. As they crested it, a familiar (if somewhat unexpected) pair turned to meet them, their expressions just as confused as Riven's felt - a soft gasp escaped her as she realized it was Tristana and Caitlyn. She didn't notice Cait's eyepatch for another second, and then had to look away with a slow, guilty frown.
Caitlyn slung her rifle under her shoulder after a quiet pause between the five of them, broken only by Tristana's excited giggle. She glanced between Riven and Irelia as Kayle descended nearby. "You look absolutely peaked! Never mind that it's excellent to see you all, but is everything quite all right?"
Irelia shook her head, relaxing as the pair seemed as confused about the ruckus as they were. "Well, that explains most of our worries. We heard you shooting and, well. Things the way they are, of course, we were concerned. Do you think we could get an escort into town?" Irelia noticed Riven's expression, giving Kayle a glance that the celestial returned with a silent nod. "We're on League business." Riven sulked at the edge of the hilltop, guilt for Noxian actions weighing on her conscience once more and in general unwilling to interrupt Irelia.
As Irelia spoke, Tristana gave a little squeal of excitement, clapping her hands together in anticipation and cutting off the Sheriff's reply. "Can we, Cait? It's been so long since we've all gotten to talk like friends! Please? Pleasepleaseplease?"
"I - yes, Trist, we can, but restrain yourself. We'll call for a more formal escort, and we'll give the people something to celebrate, hm?" Caitlyn favored Trist with the ghost of a smile before trying to resume a more normal mode of conversation with the other three. "It'll only take an hour or so, and she was adamant about target practice today, so two birds with one stone, don't you think?"
Riven nodded sullenly, apparently not caring one way or the other and walking away from the group to stand by Tristana, who had raced to the sidecar and called dibs several times already. Despite being a bit unnerved by the hyper Yordle, Riven didn't mind it too much. It was strange to be in such close proximity, though - Yordles were forbidden to live in Noxus proper and most had chosen to live in Bandle City prior to its destruction early in the war. Despite their time in the League, she'd never really gotten used to it.
"Teemo and I have dibs! Dibs on the sidecar, nyahh! Riven! Why do you look so sad? It's such a nice day outside! Look!" Tristana leaned against the sidecar, her cannon tossed inside. She made a grand gesture with her arms, encompassing the misty, wet day. "Cait says smiling makes you feel better. I dunno if that's true, but we're all friends and there's gonna be a big celebration when we get into Piltover!" She giggled, and her enthusiasm was enough to make even the dour Noxian chuckle. Despite the fact that Riven had yet to see Teemo, she decided to take the cheerful Trist at her word and enjoy her change in mood.
Riven stared out at the dismal 'party' with a more-thoughtful-than-usual frown - when Caitlyn had mentioned a celebration, this was almost, but not quite exactly, the opposite from what she'd imagined. Piltover had suffered greatly during the fight for the city, the strife only somewhat abating after a negotiated ceasefire that ceded most of the city to Noxian control. Many Piltoverians had lost businesses, families, life savings, homes. No wonder they didn't seem quite thrilled when champions of the League, who had not defended their rights when they needed to be defended most, came into town under formal escort with their Sheriff in tow.
It had been a hasty affair, small banners flying from streetside verandas, which Riven only noticed after taking a glance at the misty sky. If there was ever a day to have a party, she decided promptly, this wasn't it. The people seemed unhappy and tired, and nature refused to cooperate. The wind blew cold off the shores and rain fell in intermittent patters. There was a small formal dance holding in spite of everything, and the sight of such strained normalcy finally drove the Noxian to leave, seeking refuge in the privacy of an unihabited bridge. Riven leaned over the side, staring down at the murky river beneath.
A small voice calling her name roused Riven from her brooding silence along the bridge. Alerted and nervous in a strange city, she prepared herself for a trap - Half of Piltover was, after all, Noxian. She was surprised to see Tristana, looking slightly lost herself and calling Riven's name again.
"I'm here, Trist." Riven called out, waving her right arm just enough to signal the Yordle before settling down with her back to the bridge's guardrail, ignoring the wet, cold feeling of the cobbled street through her thin pants. She leaned her head back to look up at the sky so that she wouldn't have to watch Tristana's quick, stubby stride over.
"I can't find Teemo. He was supposed to dance with me! Have you seen him?" Trist sat down beside Riven, looking up at the sky intently after the Noxian refused to look at her. "What are you looking at?" Trist's happy voice grew somber as she tilted her head to get a better view of the dark clouds.
"I haven't." Riven scooted away from Trist, sighing at the questions. "I'm not looking at anything, I guess. I'm really not the kind of girl who likes parties. He didn't tell you where he was going?" She tilted her head down to gauge Tristana's expression, which gave her the impression that the Yordle was trying very hard to remember something important.
A sniffle broke through Trist's composure as she shook her head. "He said... I don't remember." She leaned her shoulder into Riven's chest, prompting an uncomfortable, slow draping of the Noxian's arm around her. She perked up at the touch, voice almost returning to normal. "Teemo's scouting ahead. He's scouting ahead to make sure it's sa-" Tristana's tiny voice trembled. "He was supposed to teach me how to dance." Her head shook slowly from side to side, giving Riven a terrible sensation of forboding. "Riven, Teemo's not coming back, is he?" She looked up slowly at Riven, expressive, overlarge eyes brimming with tears.
A sudden flash of intuition explained Caitlyn's strange behavior, Tristana's insistance that everything was absolutely perfect and why every time Tristana mentioned Teemo, the Sheriff gently deferred comment. Riven's eyes widened as she realized the truth about Teemo's demise and Tristana's eccentricities. Tristana, she knew, would accept Riven's next words as gospel truth, and that fact gave her pause. An idea formed, and she squeezed the Yordle in a miniature version of a one-armed hug.
"Uh, you know, I haven't seen Teemo, and I don't dance, but we can look dumb together if you want. I bet Irelia will dance with you, too. I bet she's good at that kind of thing." Riven gave Trist her best hopeful look, which under normal circumstances was rough and considering current circumstances, this one was particularly bad. Still, it managed to light up Trist's eyes for the time being, and that did indeed make the humiliation she was bound to suffer acceptable, as far as Riven was concerned. "Let's go before they come looking for us."