9/8/2013: I finally got around to rewriting chapter one and it was so much fun! I believe it's quite improved. And as my very first flame review (which I am admittedly super excited about because it means I'm official!) mentioned, my first few chapters were of much lower quality than later ones. For new readers, essentially nothing has changed except quality. Please enjoy!
original greeting: Hello summoners! Below is my first published fanfiction ever! I recently became addicted to League of Legends and fell in love with the lore behind the game. Garen was my first champion and he holds a special place in my heart and I was thrilled at the hints of romance in his story! After a lot of research I came up with this. I tried to follow the lore including the journal of justice entries as closely as possibly but with my own twists. I hope it's an enjoyable story to read and I would greatly appreciate feeback, positive and negative! Thanks! ~Princess Garen
There was a saying of which Garen Crownguard was fond: Pride goes before the fall. It reminded him, in short, that his relatively new and hard-earned position as Commander of the Demacian Dauntless Vanguard could be easily lost by an arrogant mistake. But determination was not something which he lacked and he was determined to ensure that he never descend to such a level of pride.
When he looked back on this moment, he recognized it as the moment when he truly learned humility. The fall. And she made sure he learned the lesson well.
Anyone could have seen that the Noxians were executing a suicide mission. His small contingent of the Vanguard outnumbered them two to one, was better equipped and more experienced. These three things told Garen all he needed to know about their enemy: They were sent as a last-ditch effort to keep them from leaving Noxian territory with their spoils, though the Noxian High Command didn't expect their own force to succeed; they seemed to be mostly assassin-fighters, given the cowardly nature of their approach; and they were likely sent under a new Commander or one who had fallen from grace as a test of their leadership capabilities. None of these were seasoned soldiers, just kids scarcely out of training or maybe even still in academy. If Noxus didn't expect anything from the attack, Garen didn't either. It made him confident.
He would allow the enemy commander this: The ambush well perfectly timed. It was dusk and Garen and his men were just shy of crossing the Western Noxian border and already relaxing into what looked like a clean getaway. Once they were in the neutral territory that separated Noxus and Demacia, they were in the Institute of War's jurisdiction and neither would be able to fight without having the Institute's High Council of Equity coming down on their heads. He should have known better.
The land to edge of Noxus's borders was sparsely forested and hilly with a number of rocky outcrops, but the scouts had seen nothing; there was nothing to see. Cloaked by magic rather than by nature, the enemy troops seemed to materialize from the boulders and trees around them, already infiltrating their lines and leaping for throats by the time the unawares Vanguard noticed. A few chaotic seconds passed and two of his men went down before Garen shouted out a defensive formation and the Demacians fell into position. In the rush to reform one more fell but the Vanguard were some of the most disciplined of Demacia's forces. Where a lesser group could have easily fallen into panic they rallied; cries of, "Demacia!" filled the air and in a few more seconds the field devolved into the violence of clashing steel and screams.
Garen easily lost himself to battle. He'd been born to be a soldier, groomed for command since he was young and a Champion-representative of Demacia for the last four years. He was a fighter by nature and he couldn't stop the vicious grin that alighted on his face as his sword, a massive blade half as wide as a kite shield, finally slid through the unprotected side of the faceless Noxian in front of him. Conceit was far from his mind now, in his element, singing steel in his hands and the coppery scent of blood in the air. He'd never lost, there was no one who could keep up with him, no challenge-
The Demacian soldier next to him seemed to explode, a sharp spray of blood rushing from his neck as he collapsed, and Garen scarcely blocked the black steel daggers that were on a collision course for his own neck. A glimpse of vivid red was all he caught of the owner of the blades as they vanished, then without even disturbing the dust, reappeared aiming a dagger at his unarmored thighs. He swung where he thought the enemy would be, felt the bite of a blade sinking into his flesh in return, but his attacker paused, now a few steps away.
He blinked, unbelieving.
"Cutting through the man beside your opponent, isn't that what your strategy is?" the woman before him remarked through the din of battle. He noticed his counter hadn't missed at all; her jacket was torn and a wound on her upper left arm began to bleed onto the cloth.
He'd seen her before, at the Institute. Long red hair, vivid green eyes, and a jagged scar that carved its way over her left eye. What was her name? "Katarina DuCouteau?" he finally choked out.
She flew back in at him blades extended only to connect with his sword and he pushed against her momentum hard, sending her stumbling to the side. His follow through missed, though, and she tucked into roll before popping up at his side in another clash of steel. It was an easy parry, but Garen felt shaken.
"It's a shit strategy," she answered, a saccharine smile on her face. "As the new Commander of the Noxian assassins I find a more direct approach to the target to be more effective."
A sneer twisted Garen's face. "Clearly assassins don't know anything about tactics," he spat. "This is suicide."
A sharp whistle pierced the battlefield and the woman's fierce grin grew a little brighter. "Au contraire," she laughed. Her pursed lips let out an answering whistle and as suddenly as the battle had begun the Noxian force disengaged to slink back into the rocky landscape.
Garen took a step toward where the red-headed woman had been standing moments before only to stagger back as a knife sank into the metal where his pauldron met his breastplate.
"A little something so you remember the day you lost," came a provocative voice from behind him, though as he whipped around swinging he was met only with air.
He hadn't noticed that his own private skirmish had drawn him out from the line until his first captain came trotting up behind him. "Sir! Orders?"
The Commander turned, still feeling rattled. "Captain Renault. We need to make it across the border as soon as possible. Send a scout- Corporal Girard- ahead to the main force relaying our movement, not the events of today. Those wounded need to patch as we go, get the healer to triage. How many casualties?"
"Four more, sir," the man relayed, directing him toward the contingent. "It wasn't as bad as it could have been. The enemy did not seem to be as trained as our foes earlier today."
Garen winced. "Agreed. Well, let's do what we can. Put them on the cart with the cargo along with anyone too gravely wounded to march. We can't afford to stop now but once we make back into the neutral zone I will call a halt. We need-"
"Sir!" another voice interjected as a soldier ran up and snapped into a salute. "The cargo is gone!"
For a moment he stared blankly at his subordinate as the words registered. "All of it?"
"N-no sir," the boy stammered. "Just the, ah, remains of that Noxian soldier."
Garen looked down at the knife jutting from his armor. A little something so you remember the day you lost. Damn it.
"We... we cannot turn back now," he ground out, repressing a curse. A perfectly timed ambush indeed. "It's already dark and we're still in Noxian territory. Captain Renault, give the orders to move. The sooner we leave this mess behind us, the better."
Within minutes the efficient soldiers were ready to march, not a one too injured to walk or ride. A grim feeling settled in the pit of stomach and a shakiness danced in his legs, something he contributed to his untended wound, as Garen followed behind his troops. As the shuffle of feet and hooves filled the air, he paused, wrenched the knife from his armor, a scowl on his face and an angry flush creeping up his neck.
This was his karmic retribution for his pride, wasn't it? He glared at the offending knife, raised his hand to throw it... but couldn't seem to complete the motion. Pretending it hadn't happened wouldn't improve his attitude and it wouldn't help him see with unbiased eyes in battle next time. Perhaps... perhaps it would be better if he remembered this loss. His hand dropped into his lap, idly tracing his thumb over the 'S' etched into it's smooth surface. Katarina... DuCouteau. The Sinister Blade, as her League moniker went. One of the Champion-representative for Noxus, he'd seen her before at the Institute of War, and he'd seen her on the magically-controlled Summoner's Rift. He'd never seen her on the real battlefield.
A not entirely unpleasant weakness coursed through his knees again, reminding him of his injury and he spurred his horse into motion, dropping the knife into a pouch on his belt. As much as he hated to admit that he would listen to a Noxian, he hated more that he'd been outdone. He wouldn't make the same mistake twice; there would be no underestimating her again.
When the Dauntless Vanguard was finally a sufficient distance into the neutral territory of the Institute, Garen ordered a halt. They burned no campfires and built no pyres but hurriedly buried the dead and folded their blue cloaks to return to their families. Undoubtedly it was his most hated aspect of command, especially now. How was he supposed to tell a mother her son had fallen in a mission that had failed? Garen stayed until every last shovelful of dirt was cast.
Their single healer had been too exhausted to cast any spells by the time the Commander arrived to have his leg looked at. All he could do was apologize, bind the wound and hand him half a potion that was supposed to speed recovery. But with all of his duties finally completed, the Commander gratefully retreated through the hastily erected camp to the solitude of his own bunk, carefully removing only the most restrictive pieces of armor and leaving his boots on. They were all on high alert tonight after today. He shifted uncomfortably and stared up at the canvas roof and his thoughts immediately slipped to her.
Skill, undeniable. He'd never met one who so easily traded blows with him, especially not a tiny, unarmored slip of a woman. Her strength definitely lay in her agility; the only hit he'd managed to land on her had been glancing and he'd been on the defensive for almost the entire fight. Across the canvas their brief fight replayed before his eyes. Perfectly opposed. Choreographed, even.
Even in the privacy of his own thoughts, Garen immediately felt guilty. To feel satisfaction over fighting a Noxian... he rubbed a hand over his unshaven face. Well, it wasn't that out of the ordinary to desire a worthy opponent and it just so happened that he'd found his preeminent rival in a Noxian assassin. Coincidence, and not and unreasonable one since Demacia had been at war with Noxus since its founding.
That settled it.
He would fight her again. Until one of them went down, he would seek her out on the battlefield. His heart pounded in his chest at the prospect and a grin crossed his face. Katarina DuCouteau. He was going to take great pleasure in watching the fire die in those emerald eyes.
But as he finally closed his eyes and willed his mind to stop, he noted, without humor, that his knees were still weak.
Since Garen's return from Noxus, he'd been assigned more time at the Institute of War for his failure in returning with their target, the Noxian soldier Sion whose remains Katarina's contingent had stolen from him that day. Even worse was when the very same Sion, whose skin looked decidedly decayed and who sported a thick ring of stitches where his head had once been disconnected from his body, joined the Institute's League of Legends as a Champion for Noxus. Garen had almost been dishonorably discharged after that, and only a plea from his childhood friend Jarvan Lightshield, the Crown Prince of Demacia, had saved his position.
Forced to keep his nose clean lest he lose his command permanently, Garen put on hold his quest to seek out the Noxian assassin and, though he'd seen her in the Institute's halls, he never crossed blades with her again.
Which was why his next confrontation with the Sinister Blade of Noxus caught him completely off guard.
It was a month into Garen's probation that the previously nondescript town of Kalamanda, located South of the Institute just before the Great Barrier mountain's and Mogron Pass, became a point of interest for the Demacian Crown. Reports stated that their miners had discovered a trove of precious resources and two nexuses, powerful crystals of magical energy. And Kalamanda was looking for a city-state to help mine it.
By the end of July, the political battlefield of Valoran had exploded, and Garen's station had moved accordingly. He looked down at his reaassignment papers wih an incredulous expression painted on his face.
3 August 20CLE
The following individual will proceed as indicated.
Station moved from Institute of War to Demacian camp located at [X], Kalamanda. Report immediately to Command Headquarters for further instruction. Request for cessation of probationary period denied.
He resisted the urge to wad the paper into a ball. Of course his request had been denied, and now he was being sent to command on glorified guard duty. Perfect. Mother would be so very pleased.
The next day upon his arrival he was informed that as a Champion-representative of Demacia he was to help ensure that Demacia received the contract to mine in Kalamanda. Guard duty and politics; he'd rolled his eyes once in his own quarters. As it turned out, his long-standing position as one of Demacia's first Champions granted him the respect of the legislative delegates and a unique insight into the Institute's workings. The latter was of great importance as they tried to navigate the Institute's interference in Kalamanda.
The trouble didn't end there, though, as Demacia wasn't the only city-state making its presence known: Zaun and Ionia from North-East Valoran had arrived in small entourages and were camped outside the city and within the nearby Institute. Piltover, Zaun's neighbor and a recent Demacian ally were also prepared to make a play for the contract. And, of course, Noxus was ever present everywhere Demacia went, with a delegation just as large and aggressive in attempts to secure Kalamanda.
Katarina was there.
She'd been in the League even longer than he had, he'd learned, and it seemed that in addition to her skill as a fighter, she was a dangerous political force. Garen didn't put it past the Noxian High Command to use her... special set of skills as a threat, either. While swapping glares and subtle insults during meetings wasn't quite the violent encounter that he'd been hoping to have with the Sinister Blade, it was, in its own way, entertaining.
Just as on the physical battlefield, Garen was determined not to lose to her and even more so to guaranteeing his mission succeeded. Each night when his comrades went to the Hasty Hammer Tavern in Kalamanda, he stayed holed up in Command Headquarters ensuring that he understood all the nuances leading to and surrounding the current situation.
Tensions continued to mount as negotiations slowed to a halt and by the end of September, they'd reached a boiling point. Rather than awarding multiple mining contracts, Kalamanda's mayor had decided to only give one, raising the already fierce competition between the city-states. Any minute Garen was sure that he was going to crack under the pressure. The limits of his probation had all but been removed; this mission was entirely his own as were its results. Perhaps it was that which caused him to finally answer to his troops' pleas to accompany them to the Hasy Hammer.
Garen wasn't a drinker. There was simply too little time to waste on being hungover. In addition to the responsibilities surrounding Kalamanda he had his duties as the Commander of the Vanguard: Training, assignments, rotations and the like, but tonight he was on edge, his nerves frayed from overwork and exhausted from late nights and early mornings. If he didn't take at least a few hours off, he was afraid he was simply going to throw all his research at the next delegate who spoke to him.
So it was with a forced smile and a single-minded focus on relaxing that the Might of Demacia took a seat by himself at the crowded bar counter. Aside from the occasional toast to Demacia on which his subordinates insisted, he was left largely to his thoughts and by his third mug of Craggy Ice, they'd stopped harrassing their brooding senior officer altogether.
With the alcohol working its magic on his brain, it was easy not to think of work. Not so easy was avoiding thoughts of a particular Noxian assassin. Why was she just as good as him at... everything? It bordered on frustrating, but he was simultaneously drawn to the challenge. He wouldn't lose Kalamanda to the likes of her, but try as he might it was impossible to outmaneuver her. The Demacian High Command and Crown had sent him the information they had on her and he'd memorized it though it offered him no further insight:
Eldest daughter of Noxian General Marcus DuCouteau. Grew up training in assassination. Responsible for the known deaths of fifty-seven Demacians ranging in importance from foot soldiers to one General. None of it was particularly helpful. Garen was more concerned with how she was able to so easily get her way with a simple smile. Her file said nothing about her being a mage, though she had a sister who was-
Garen abruptly scowled into the cup of amber liquid and cut his train of thought with a mental, No. This was supposed to be relaxing, and thinking of the red-headed assassin was making his heart race in a decidedly unrelaxing manner. In response, he downed the remains of his fourth mug and within minutes realized, quite suddenly, that his head was full of cotton. He gave a perplexed look at the glass in his hand; now he understood why his father had been so fond of this at times. Everything felt lighter and the stress that had become commonplace between his shoulderblades melted down his spine.
Wait, no, this was dangerous. If someone were to attack now he was in a terrible condition- He shoved the empty glass away from him which the bartender took as a sign to replace with a full one. He took a drink; he would have to make sure his sister never came anywhere near this stuff. Why was it suddenly so quiet? He turned to the door-
Without warning a shiver ran through his stomach and settled in his knees accompanied by the untimely inhilation of his drink. His face flushed; he wouldn't let himself-
The silence was broken by his choking cough.
One of his soldiers jumped to his aid, slapping him heartily on the back while the others burst out into hysterical laughter. Chatter resumed as the small band of Noxians who had just entered the tavern drifted into the crowd, though the tension lingered, palpable and thick. The enemy soldiers cast sideways glances and ill-disguised sneers at the group of Demacians but one sharp glare from their leader put them in line. Once she determined that her soldiers were going to follow her unspoken order, Katarina DuCouteau sauntered directly to the bar, signaled the barkeep, and, to Garen's shock, took the seat to his right. He froze. Were there no other empty seats? What the-
"I swear to God it's like babysitting sometimes," she muttered under her breath. The ice in her glass tinkled as she brough her drink to her lips and took a swig. "Know what I mean?"
He was fairly certain that he didn't remember how to breathe. As an example of Demacian ethic what exactly was he supposed to do? His fingers twitched immediately for his blade, but to start a fight would lose Demacia the mining contract and spell the end of his career, but on the other the Measured Tread dictated the deliverance of justice to known evil, and-
"Are you trying to burn a hole in the bar?"
He jerked his head to look at her and traitorous knees trembled in response. Her long hair cascaded around her shoulders, framing her sharp face and burning green eyes in fire. At his apparent surprise her lips curved upward, coming to rest somewhere between a smirk and a sneer and contorting the jagged pink skin of the scar that stretched from her forehead to her cheek. Had she always been so...?
"Are you... are you talking to me?" he stammered.
A look of disdain twisted her face. "No, I'm talking to the beer. Fucking idiot, of course I'm talking to you. Demacians, jeez."
Her words seemed to snap him from his trance and he slurred, "Well, don't. Because I don't talk. I mean, just to Noxians. Like you."
Katarina's face twitched and Garen was sure that this was it, this was where there were going to fight and-
She let out a dark laugh, her shoulders trembling as she put a gloved hand over her mouth. "Oh wow, wow, you are really drunk," she chuckled. "That's... unexpected."
Garen could feel his face begin to burn and his already fuzzy thoughts refused to cooperate with him. "Don't. You can't do anything," he finally informed. "Kalamanda s'neutral."
"I'm not here to start a fight, if that's what you're trying to imply," she replied and as if to proved her point, she finished the rest of her drink and beckoned the bartender for another. "Like everyone else, I'm here to get drunk. Besides," she added with a falsely sweet smile, "I do understand tactics and Kalamanda is a fight that won't be won with violence. Yet."
He couldn't take his eyes off her as she finished her drink. "You're not going to win," he declared, curling his hand into a fist on the counter. "Either way. I won't let you."
Her lips parted in another husky laugh. "How cute. Does your little Demacian brain consider me your rival?"
He gave her a sullen look in response.
"Now that's rich!" she laughed and suddenly she was far too close, so close he could see the flecks of blue in her eyes and almost taste the gin on her breath. "You can't beat me, Garen Crownguard. I'm better than you at this and I will have the Kalamandan council so far up Noxus's ass by the time these negotiations are done that they'll know what the High Command ate last week. You're outclassed, little man. No one can resist a little DuCouteau charm." He could feel the heat on his ear as she breathed, "Not even you, if I wanted."
Garen was aware that his heart was beating far too fast and that he was in far too intimate of a position with a Noxian than would ever be considered appropriate. He knew it, but his head seemed to have short-circuited on what to do about it and all he could manage was a confused, "Wha?"
Apparently that was the correct response because Katarina snorted and settled back into her stool. "Never mind. Clearly you're too stupid for it to have any effect."
His eyebrows drew together in agitation as he realized that this was a jab at his allegiance to Demacia, at the very aspect of himself in which he took the most pride. He turned on his stool so that he was facing her fully and spat, "You may be the best opponent I've ever faced but don't underestmin... don't count me out. No Noxian could ever shake my loyalty to Demacia, not even a pretty one and I won't ever let you win!"
He was quite pleased by his retort when her eyebrows shot up in surprise and she looked sheepishly into her drink, but his feeling of triumph was short-lived when he heard the phrase, "Demacian scum!" followed by the sound of a punch and clatter of a flipping table.
The Commander turned as quickly as he could but found, to his annoyance that the tavern appeared to be swimming. He felt a steadying hand on his arm but when he looked down, Katarina had already rushed past him into what was quickly becoming a riot. After a baffled grunt, he shook his head and barrelled into the fighting soldiers, plucking the nearest Demacian clean off the Noxian soldier they'd been beating and pushing him into his friends. It seemed that the entire Kalamandan constubulary was trying to separate the unruly soldiers but already there were several lying unconscious on the sticky tavern floor.
"W'the hell do you lot think you're doing!" he screamed over the scuffles. At the sound of their commanding officer's voice the soldiers seemd to snap to attention, pulling back from their enemies, but alcohol was clouding everyone's judgement and the screaming didn't stop.
A cry of, "Fuckin' Demacian cowards!" and a disparaging comment about the Crown Prince pierced the din and it seemed the fighting was about to resume when Katarina seized the neck of one of the shouting Noxian soldiers and smashed her knee into his face.
"Does anyone else want to disobey my orders?" she demanded as he collapsed to floor holding what was undoubtedly a broken nose. The Noxians immediately snapped into attention and no one bothered giving their injured comrade a hand.
A few of the Demacian Vanguard jeered and one started to reply, "Oi, slut! Here's an order: Suck my-" which ended abruptly in a strangled wheeze as Garen crossed the room and siezed him by the blue cape with circled his neck and lifted him from the ground. Behind him he heard Katarina let out a hearty laugh.
"I will have the next person that speaks court-martialed," the Commander swore. The effect was immediate; no one so much as moved. Satisfied, he let go of his subordinate who plummeted to his knees gasping. "Move out!" he shouted. "If you're not back to camp in rank in five minutes I will have you reassigned to garbage detail for a year! MOVE!" There was a mad scramble as the Vanguard bolted from the tavern with Garen, feeling a good deal more sober, walking behind.
"Hey Crownguard," Katarina called suddenly.
He turned sharply, stumbled, and gave up hope at maintaining a cool facade. "What, Katarina?" he sighed.
She paused for a moment, an unreadable look on her face until finally she gave him a wicked smile full of promise. "Good luck. You're gonna need it."
He narrowed his eyes in suspicion, then turned on his trembling knees and strode from the bar.