Tuesday, April 1, 2014

You think I'm joking

Despite the date, I have surprisingly true news.

It is time. Phase 1 of the rewrite of Loco Buri has exited Alpha and is being reviewed by Beta readers. There are five people online who I selected from the reviews on the story. I have sent them the new chapters 1-13, and they are reviewing them. Once I have enough feedback from them, I will post those 13 chapters.

There are an additional 3 people I know in person who are contributing reviews to the story.

So next time you ask yourself "why is Krivoklatsko taking so long?" just know that I am not.
We are.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wooo

Loco Buri was published two years ago today. Today only has 4 minutes left in it. I should pay better attention to this kind of thing.

Hold fast, faithful readers. The update is coming. Only 4 more chapters to rewrite now. Only 4.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Headwind

I wanted to release this all at once, when it was finished, but now that I'm focusing entirely on Loco Buri's rewrite, I thought it would be fine to give you the first chapter of "Headwind."

What I will show you here is an outline of the story. It spoils the entire story, which is fine, because I will probably never get a chance to write it. It makes me sad to admit, because I feel passionately about telling it. But there you go.

Chapter 1
1)      6:30am train
2)      Surface/Undercity girders
3)      Janna and Jenna
4)      Work for Architech Co. repairing steel girders
5)      Newspaper: Caitlyn, Dr. Aregor Priggs, Borders closed
6)      Company store
7)      Smog covers the sky.
8)      Go to work
9)      Janna and Jenna are working in the Girders
10)  They hear “Brother can you spare a dime?”
11)  Jenna decides to steal bread to eat, and invites Janna to come along.
1.      Jenna Monologue: “Money makes the man.”
2.      Intro Blood Thirsters, mercenary police.
12)  During the chase, a girder falls loose and Jenna falls to her death

Chapter 2
1)      Janna finds a place to lay low in the girders. She can see the sky. She wills the smog to part, but nothing happens. She falls asleep to the song “Brother can you spare a dime.” Different lyrics from the first time she heard it.
2)      6:30am train.
3)      Janna wakes to a piece of bread at her feet and a letter promising freedom in the People's State of Piltover. The song is playing.
4)      Janna follows the guitar/singing to its source on the ground.
5)      The man there tells her that there is a secret road to Piltover, and that he can put her on it. But first, she must prove herself trustworthy, and second, she can never go back. “The road to Piltover is one-way.” Janna wants to go.
1.      The man gives her packages to dead drop.
1.      Janna spends her days doing dead drops for money.
2.      While doing a dead drop, she sees a man almost get run over by a car in Zaun’s midcity. She pushes him out of the way with wind (discovers her powers).
6)      Cameo Katarina and Riven. They are drinking together in uniform. Noxian soldiers are a major demographic since they are preparing to invade Ionia (launching from Zaun’s shipyards.)
7)      She sees a dress in a window that she wants. She does the reflection thing where it looks like she’s wearing it. Then the owner comes out to look at her closely. He’s holding a wanted poster with her face on it. She runs.
8)      She goes to sleep one night looking at the sky and wills the clouds to part. They do.

Chapter 3
1)      6:30am train.
2)      Janna will do her last dead drop today. She is looking forward to leaving.
3)      She slips on a girder on her way to the guitar player. She is saved by Sivir, who Janna recognizes as a mercenary.
4)      Sivir explains that the man Janna saved on the street was Dr. Aregor Priggs. He is thankful, and wants to meet her.
5)      Janna follows Sivir to the Surface, to the home of Dr. Aregor Priggs in the over-city. Describe Zaun on the top/bottom.
6)      Aregor thanks Janna, and offers to adopt Janna and to find her schooling in magic. Janna agrees.
7)      High Summoner Ashram is a friend of Priggs. He brings a summoner from the Institute of War to teach Janna to hone her primal magic.
8)      Months pass.
9)      Dr. Priggs takes her to a debutant’s ball.
1.      There is a woman there who used to work at Architech with Janna. She married into money.
2.      Janna points her out and references “Money makes the man.”
3.      Dr. Priggs Monologue. “Man makes the money. It is hard for a man to be larger than his money. Having more than she is worth will surely destroy her.”
10)  She sleeps in, not hearing the 6:30am train.

Chapter 4
1)      More months pass.
2)      Priggs' ex-wife appears in Zaun, and comes to visit him, reporters in tow. Janna is there. She was thought dead, but can legally reclaim her legal status to him.
1.      Surprise: She is Miss Fortune.
3)      Priggs spends the day with MF, leaving Janna to her studies. She can't focus because she's no longer the only woman in his life.
1.      She enters Dr. Priggs’ office and sees that he receives letters from a warehouse address.
4)      When Priggs and MF get home, Janna spies on a conversation between them.
5)      Priggs reveals that he fell into/out of love with MF and paid her to leave and pretend to be dead.
1.      “Do you know what separates you from the other sluts at that dive I rescued you from? Me. I do. And not a damn thing else. I paid you good money to get out of my life and never come back. You fooled me. I thought you loved me. I loved you! You won, and got away with a king's ransom. Now leave me in peace.”
2.      “I want more. Make it rain for me again, Priggs. I'm not leaving. What will you do about it? Lock me up in that warehouse prison you want to keep secret?”
3.      “No. I will kill you.”
6)      MF leaves. Janna packs her bags and leaves that night, afraid that Priggs will stop caring about her and kick her out, as he apparently did with MF.

Chapter 5
1)      4:00am train
2)      A new song about revolution is echoing.
3)      Janna returns to the man with the guitar, apologizes for leaving, and asks what she has to do to go to Piltover.
4)      He says he has a new task for her. “Times are changing. The revolution is upon us.” She must help smuggle someone from Piltover to Zaun by boat.
5)      It's Resistance Caitlyn.
6)      They gather with the guitar man and hundreds of other revolutionaries to begin planning.
1.      Include Noxian veterans from Ionia.
2.      The woman who married rich is poor again and among them.
3.      Janna reveals the location of Priggs' secret prisons.
4.      Someone at the meeting proposes killing Priggs and other fatcats. Caitlyn shuts it down.
1.      Repeat a quote. “It's hard for a man to be larger than his money, but more Blood Thirsters aren't the solution.”
5.      Janna is kicked out. “Could you deliver this dead drop? Quickly. We're starting soon.”
7)      Sivir is disguised among the crowd. She bumps Janna on the way out, and tells her that Priggs wants her to come back, and will always have a place for her. Janna declines. Sivir insists. “He's dying. Turns out cancer doesn't care how much money you've got.” Janna agrees to go to him.
8)      Priggs is being attended by a Summoner in his office. Sivir is sent away. “Finish the preparations.”
9)      Priggs monologue. He explains the prisons and the kind of men kept there. He explains why he hated MF. Janna accepts his justification and agrees not to leave again. She thanks Priggs for taking her in.
10)  Gunfire sounds in the house. Priggs hides Janna in a closet/panic room from which she can see the room.
11)  MF, Graves, and an extra break in. Graves kills the healer outright.
12)  Graves shoots off Priggs' legs. “Everyone's a hero...”
1.      Priggs: “You are a thief and a murderer.”
2.      Graves: “But today I have the gun.” He kills Priggs.
13)  They proceed to search the room for trade secrets that Piltover wants. Caitlyn arrives and scolds them for murdering Priggs, but helps them continue searching.
14)  Caitlyn’s sleuthiness realizes that Janna is in the room. She finds the button to the panic room. Janna knows she knows. Caitlyn dismisses MF and Graves. She sits just outside of Janna’s hidden closet, but doesn't open it.
1.      “I'm sorry it came to this.” She relates a story about the things she has lost to the revolution.
15)  MF and Graves call in to Caitlyn that the Blood Thirsters are coming. She leaves with Graves and MF.
16)  Sivir and her Mercenary team arrive. They try to rescue Janna. Janna wants to stay with Priggs' body, and tells them she can't pay for them to protect her. Sivir explains that Priggs paid her in advance to rescue Janna, no matter where she was. He never planned to leave Zaun because he believed in it. Janna agrees to escape with Sivir.
1.      “And you're inheriting his estate, so we'll bring you back when the civil war is over.”
2.      “I never want to see Zaun again. Take me to Ashram.”
17)  While fighting their way out of the city, Sivir proves bloodthirsty. Janna inner monologue: Money wasn't the reason. Money was the excuse.
18)  They escape the city on a bullet train to Noxus.
1.      The city behind them rears up like a steel dragon, and the train track whips away like its tail. It screams and scorches air with flaming breath, then heaves over and dies.
2.      Sivir congratulates her surviving mercenaries and gets their hopes up by mentioning that they have the contract for Ionia.

19)   She sits down beside Janna and asks: “Why do you want to join the league?”

Welp. I wrote that skeleton a while ago. I've been working on Loco Buri (and on getting a real job) in the mean time. Looks like I'll finally get to roll burritos, and maybe finish one story in my lifetime. If anyone else feels compelled by the story, feel free to run with it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Winds of Change

What follows is part of the introduction to a "short" story about Janna growing up in Zaun. It's a teaser, since I'm not done and want to release it all at once. The title is subject to change.

Winds of Change

A poet visited Zaun during its founding. He wrote home to his family about glades and meadows. He spoke fondly and with smooth prose about a sweet breeze whispering from the bay, and about grass like silk. At night, he claimed, the constellation of The Lady winked at him, and The Noble bowed and tipped its hat. He wrote of natural wonders, and unnatural marvels. He wrote of potential.

Janna never met that poet, or saw his vision. The 6:30 Regular woke her again. It roared overhead, dusting her face and shaking the steel girder she had claimed at night. She gripped it, remembering suddenly the loose screw her fatigue had ignored. She thought of the drop below her, and saw the screw wiggling loose at her feet. She secured it with the heel of her boot, and glanced down to the ground.

These girders held up the Mid City, and bedded the workers that maintained them. Below her was the floor of the Undercity. It was very, very far below. The less dextrous lay where they fell, their nutrients awaiting the return of skies and meadows. She only saw muck, and the pooled acid rain of the last ten years.

But her eyes refocused, and she saw instead the eyes of her friend, on the girder below her.
“Good morning Janna,” the girl strained.
Her arms were folded like a pillow for her head. And, true to their friendship, she had placed her boot under Janna's girder, and was supporting her weight.

“Good morning, Jenna,” Janna yawned back. She reached up to another girder, making sure not to disturb the rising workers around them. She and Jenna had woken this way for most of their short sentience. Neither knew their age, but they had no one younger to look down on in this line of work. They rose to the surface, the Mid City, as a sea of brown insects, their work overalls bearing the proud emblem of Architech Inc, and the stitched-on Motto, “We hold the city up!”

The surface was much safer. Workers gathered there on flat surfaces that had no death holes to fall through. Above them was a smog where a sky might be. Around them was the Architech staging yard. And in their midst was a soap box.
“Go on, Jenna!”
“No! Janna, should do it today!”
A chorus of cheers pushed her to it, and hands too calloused to be gentlemen's helped her step up above the crowd. Breakfast was being disbursed by the Architech kitchen staff nearby, at the cost of Architech company gold; and men were rolling out an armory of rivet guns and steel girders, purchasable for company gold. The workers were paid for each iron girder replaced with steel, and were charged for each rivet used.
“New prices!” a Company Rep announced.
The crowd grew silent, forgetting Janna in their worry.
“Ten-packs are three company gold today, not two! Those of you working second jobs can change out currency from other companies to Architech Gold at a two-to-one rate.”
“Usury,” a worker mumbled. And he stripped his uniform and left.
“Can't make a damn living here,” were his parting words to a silent crowd. He was right, to most of them.
But Janna and Jenna had a special source of income. The men would buy their meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner in exchange for her dulcet tones and literacy. She was handed a stack of periodicals: Zaun Daily, the Journal of Justice, Ladies of Hextech, and she cleared her throat, hoping to earn her way by lifting the mood.
“Good morning, everyone!”
Dirty faces smiled up at her, ready to forget. She opened the Journal first. From experience, she knew to read Ladies of Hextech last.
“So we've got the... uh... Oh, there's an article about the Waterfront!”

And she cleared her throat to begin.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Work in Progress

This is a teaser for one of the "short" stories I was writing that interrupted Loco Buri. I don't recall ever posting a work in progress before, but it doesn't spoil anything, so enjoy.

Bandle of Brothers

“Hold still, Teemo. Stay camouflaged.”
Kind eyes and bristled fur added a final patch of reeds to Teemo's disguise. His vision had been reduced to the space between two blades of grass and the image of his mother as she shuffled away. They had left Bandle City, adventured out of Ruddynip Valley, and hiked to the top of the Sablestone mountains to watch the sun rise. His mother had invited many friends, of course. No good Yordle would go anywhere without taking as many fellow creatures as possible. Teemo wondered why she had invited wolves though.
Teemo was a good Yordle. He sat still, just as his mother had commanded, and watched through his camouflage as she covered the form of another Yordle- blue- a girl. Teemo's mother was a matchmaker. He knew why he and the girl had been brought together on this picnic. He could not figure out why wolves were here.

Teemo's gaze fell to the foliage below him. A bell-like plant with a silky-white surface was standing at attention by him like a guardian angel. Angels were lucky, he remembered. And mushrooms were luckier. A splash of blood shot across the fungi.

Many years later, Teemo kneeled before another sample. The Scouting glass around his neck had to be scooted to the side, and he had to wear gloves. Captain Tay was behind him, blow dart held ready and ears perked high. Wolf Patrol had become a common part of life- so had toximancy.

“Hey, is that a Wood Mushroom? Can we eat it?” 
Another scout had crouched down by it. Teemo did not answer immediately. He needed absolute focus to retrieve the mushroom without getting any spores on his fur or whiskers. A mistake now could kill him days later. He made a quick swipe with a mushroom knife and let the bell fall into an outstretched bag.
“Destroying Angel,” he finally answered.

The rookie stepped back, eyes wide at how close he'd brushed death. Teemo stood to face him, feeling the northern winds as they met him at the Sablestones' crest. Over the rookie's shoulder, dawn broke the horizon. From here at the peak, Teemo could see down over the fertile, green Ruddynip Valley to his south, and into the mired Voodoo Lands to his north. Both were blurs of color.
“Does anyone else smell that?” he asked.

The rookie's nose twitched. The rest of the scouts around him turned, almost in unison, into the northern winds. Captain Tay had been a Scout of the Mothership longer than any other Yordle present. Only he was old enough to recognize, “Burning oil.” He pointed to a rising, black blob in the Voodoo lands. Yordles are notoriously near-sighted as a species. But Teemo raised a scope, bringing the sight to him. His scope followed the billowing smoke to a half-track vehicle the size of a three-family den. The rookie beside him gasped.
“Are those... humans?”

“Yeah,” Teemo mumbled. 
He was watching two humans as they walked beside the half-track, weapons slung up on their shoulders.
“With rifles,” he added. “It might be a hunting party.”
“They have really long fur on their head,” the rookie whispered.
“Hair,” Captain Tay corrected. And like an encyclopedia, he proceeded to describe them.
“Humans have hair on their head and fur everywhere else. Human males have some fur on their face, but these are soldiers- male. They shave all of their fur and their hair.”
The Rookie took a moment before objecting.
“What about that one? Two vehicles back from the front?”

Teemo traced his scope along the human caravan to another vehicle, this one much larger, with a turret-mounted canon on top and a closed roof. A hatch had been opened on the roof, and rising from it was a human unlike any other he had seen. Scarlet hair billowed out from the hatch like the flag of Noxus beside it.
Captain Tay closed his scope and called to his side.

“Hey , Rookie. You like adventure?”
The mere suggestion evoked a rigid solute.
“Yes, sir!”
Captain Tay had a coy grin for every occasion.
“Good,” he smiled. “We're going to intercept them. I want to know what humans are doing south of the Great Barrier.”

All eyes rose to the beam of Targon. Teemo had learned from a traveling merchant that Targon was a snow-capped mountain unlike any other. It marked the highest point on the mountain range that cut Valoran in half. By Yordle vision, it was a second sun that rested on the horizon every day. The Scouts' gaze fell back to their target, and a hurried march began.

The humans had been traveling southwest, towards The Sable, the traverse that merchants took over the Sablestones. But that was nestled in thick terrain, at the edge of Kumungu. That much, everyone knew. Captain Tay supplied the rest as the squad slid down unmapped terrain.
“With vehicles like that, the humans will be slower in the bogs. It should take them at least a day to reach Kumungu- maybe another to get over the Sable. And that's if they don't run into Chaos Faeries. They're carnivorous.”

After a pause to catch his breath, he added, “Clench your cheeks, Rookie. I'm kidding.”
The horror didn't immediately leave the Rookie's face, but he fell back into a trot, and entered the foliage of the Voodoo lands with the rest of them.
“On a lighter note,” Tay added, “I think we just found a Ley Line.”
He waved Teemo to the front of the group and pointed to a ring of mushrooms.
“Fly Agaric. Yeah, it's a faerie ring.”
He waited for Captain Tay to lead them on, but received a pat on the back instead.
“Take point and get us there.”
Teemo had forgotten. Captain Tay was blunt; he couldn't follow the trails of faeries. The magic they left behind resonated in every creature that could wield it. That, and it warped the shape of things. The Scouts of the Mothership had learned the advantage they brought.
“Should be just a minute ahead of us now,” Teemo muttered. The vehicle smoke was already stinging his nose and curling his whiskers in tight.

The minute passed fast, and Teemo had to be snatched back into cover when a stray human nearly spotted him. The man wore all black with red lapels and tapered cuffs. And in his hand was a rifle. Two swordsmen followed just behind. The road was another five meters past them.
When the soldiers passed, Teemo finally turned to his group.
“I don't like this,” Tay whispered. He pointed. “Merchants use animals, not vehicles. And hunters don't wear uniforms.”
The rookie tried to blurt out a fool's question, but Teemo slapped a hand over his mouth.
“Yes,” Tay whispered back. “These are soldiers.”
Then he turned to Teemo.
“You're the fastest runner. Stay concealed. The rest of you are with me. We need to say hi and ask what they're doing here. I've got point.”
A wave of his hand lead them forward onto the road. As soon as they left the cover of foliage, humans began shouting and vehicles halted. Teemo held still. He saw the orange glow of the iron cars and the humans on foot as they moved to flank his friends; he saw the colors of their uniforms over their heat. The sour taste of sweat and oil hovered above the Voodoo mud, and a mass of flies was now gathering around him, itching his whiskers and fur. But Teemo held and only watched as Captain Tay held up a hand.
“Hello!”

The hatch atop an iron car burst open and burped out the Noxian leader. Teemo recognized the color of her hair from before. It had settled without the wind blowing it, and was now draped past her shoulders like a cloak. It wasn't until she faced Captain Tay that Teemo saw the scar on her eye. And as she stopped before them, Teemo was reminded that humans were very, very tall.
“Hi. I'm Captain Tay.”

He raised a hand to her to shake, but the Noxian commander did not speak Yordle. She sneered and took a step back, then barked her Noxian language at a nearby soldier. Some humans shuffled their feet and looked to each other uncertainly. The commander barked again. Captain Tay's hailing was eventually answered with a rifle shot.

Teemo had been raised properly, like any good Yordle. He froze, shock and poor training rooting him to the spot as crimson streaked over the dirt. By the time he moved again, only the rookie was left alive, dragging Captain Tay's corpse back into concealment. Whatever happened in the blur of the next few moments left his memory entirely. Teemo only knew that he survived. The rookie was gone. Teemo was running with Captain Tay's body dragged in one hand, and human shouts roaring around him. Bullets whizzed through the feather on his helmet, and in a moment of inspiration, he tore it off and tossed the charm and its luck away.


The humans did not follow him along the Ley Line, or over the wrong end of the Sablestones, or home. Teemo did not feel himself living again until he collapsed, panting, with blood foaming the fur around his mouth. His face cracked against cobble, and he knew he was home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hello

Loco Buri is not dead.

This post gives a brief rundown of what I have been up to. First, I sought to write two short stories before the next chapter. Both were interrupted by a Death Note crossover oneshot. That was interrupted when I decided to revise all of the content in Loco Buri. That revision was finished at about the same time as the Freljord retcon, so now I am rewriting chapters 22 and 24.

What does this mean for you?

Soon- very soon- I will be replacing every chapter in Loco Bur on FanFiction.net. The changes are cosmetic and not relevant if you're already caught up on the story. However, due to the retconpocalypse that happened to Freljord (The Freljord, now), chapters 22 and 24 have been annihilated and re-written entirely. Also, chapters 24 and 23 will swap places. You REALLY SHOULD reread starting at 22.

I would like you to re-read from the beginning, but that's just for my vanity's sake.

What about those short stories?

None of them are anywhere near finished. If you contact me about wanting one in particular, I'll get on it. Otherwise, I think it's just time I work on Loco Buri. I'll pick a better name in the final draft.

Bandle Of Brothers is about Teemo. It's his origin story, starting with him as a child, skipping to how he became Captain of the Scouts of the Mothership, and ending finally with a tiny, Yordle middle finger in space. Suck it, Zaun.

Babel will have a different name if I can think of an Atlas Shrugged pun. The story is about Janna's origins in Zaun. She is touted by the growing revolution spreading in from Piltover. After the death of her close friend (unsafe working conditions), her talent and beauty is recognized by a wealthy philanthropist named Dr. Arregor Priggs. Her raises her living conditions greatly, gets her a personal tutor from the League of Summoners (soon to be League of Legends) and then gets murdered by Graves. SHTF, and suddenly Sivir's contract comes in to play: Get Janna safely out of Zaun while the infrastructure is collapsing and the streets are running with the blood of angry men.

A Study in Death is a Death Note crossover. A dangerous artifact has gone missing from the League's Armory. This is kept secret until the murders begin. At their wit's end, the League summons Sheriff Caitlyn to lead the case, alongside LeBlanc. Katarina, meanwhile, has discovered a way to identify the killer.

What have you been doing, Krivo?

I'm flattered that you care so much, dear reader. I watched seasons five through seven of Doctor Who. I watched Death Note. I watched Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I watched Gundam 00. I started playing DOTA2 (210 hours). I (maybe) got a paid internship as a writer. I saw Agent Kayla two more times. I crossed the Frozen Plains and ascended the Fabulous Mountains to confer with the Gay Sage. He and my Asian-Mexican-Iraqi friend are working together with me on an RPG. We also stopped working on it, but I might upload a few plot notes some time.

Remember that article "Proof I existed"?
A lot of the proof is now gone. I need to write another one.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Loco Buri (League of Legends) (GarenxKatarina) Chapter 23

I'll just leave this here.
Waterfront

“Our Fortunes Rise and Fall Together.”
When Katarina had first come to Zaun, as a child, the words had hung on the lips of every man at the bottom. The towers had risen on their backs, until the men at the top could hang the structures from the clouds, completing the mantra. But the land of Zaun was a land of change.

“Steam or Bleed.” That mantra had hung above the gates to the land of change when Katarina returned for war. Profit Bay had become Killik Naval Yard. The luxury industries had collapsed, and from the ashes rose a bird of vengeance.

And now, Katarina was here again. Now she waded through a denser smog than before to see that the motto had been replaced for a third time. The archway to Killik Naval Yard had been removed, probably to make way for something. In its stead, hanging from the dock tower that Noxus' officers had commandeered, was a banner that hung several floors.
“Steam saves Blood,” and the Hextech logo.

Katarina stopped to ponder it while a sea of faces moved around her on the sidewalk. The difference from before was only very slight, but she felt it was significant. An anonymous bump from the crowd taught her its meaning: No one is still before war. She crossed over the street and through the Naval Yard's gates, and began her kilometers long trek through the smog with that thought sullying her experience. The bandages over her eye had drawn too much pity at the city boundaries, so she had removed them, and subjected her itching wound to the smog. Her father's blade had widened the scar only a few days of travel ago.

The pain clawed at her mind. She hefted her duffel bag higher to breathe through it, almost missing what she had been meant to catch. An envelope fell from the top of her bag, cartwheeling in the air. She snatched it mid-flight with practiced ease- with restored depth-perception- and noted the seal. The bump and the letter were not anonymous. Both were sealed with a black rose. Two more were tucked into the bag's flap. Katarina pushed them in properly. She had a long walk through Noxus' newly raised army to think about it.

No soldier was sitting, as the last time she had visited. Drill Instructors shadowed and roared over the sound of thousands of sparring sessions. Platoons marched through and between each other with precision or punishment. Katarina knew her friend Riven was among them. She knew she would be among them soon. But first she had to check in. Her father's office was across the flat surface of the Naval Yard, and high atop the control tower.

But Zaun was a land of change. When she exited the elevator, the title on the door before her was Field Marshal. No name. Another door in the hallway was for High Summoner Sander Grieve. She had been expecting her father and General Hawkmoon. Her moment of shock was broken by an arcane, inhuman growl.
“First Lieutenant Katarina Du Couteau?”
The Field Marshall's office had two men guarding it. Green uniforms and golden heavy armor were not assigned to Noxus' soldiers. It wasn't until Katarina saw their helms that she realized who she was facing. Noxians did not wear Green, and men did not have four eyes. But the helms held four slits that glowed red with magics.
Captain Du Couteau,” she corrected.

Both guardsmen nodded, and baleful smiles appeared below their masks. The other guard answered this time, in another voice that no human could produce.
“You can take that up with the Captain.”
Katarina refused her fear the only way she knew how.
“You mean with the Field Marshal? I guess they don't teach big words to the dogs.”
The smiles turned to scowls, and the guardsmen alternated their answers.
“He's Field Marshal to you, regular.”
“And you're nothing to us.”
The guardsmen parted with tempered discipline and a resuming malice in their grins. One opened the door while the other prompted Katarina to enter.
“Don't keep him waiting, dog.”

She passed into the office, and was mildly shocked when the two guardsmen joined her and stood within reach. She was more shocked by the man she'd come to see. Katarina had grown accustomed to men with magnanimous presence- she had grown up with it. But this man was not magnanimous. This man was terrifying. His form darkened the halo of Piltover's reflection across the bay. Her father had stood in the same spot a month ago and blocked out the sun. This man made it hide behind the expanding smog of Noxus. His presence cast a shadow of dark amber across all the land below him. He did not move, or smell, or sound like any normal creature. His every step was the death blow of a void daemon. His desk was the throne of a mad god. His glare was the soul-stealing gaze of monsters. It wasn't until he finally turned and smiled that Katarina felt she could breathe. She had seen that smile in the reflection of the elevator doors, and she showed it now, proving that she, too, was dangerous.

Then, remembering herself, Katarina set down her duffel bag and saluted.
“Captain Katarina Du Couteau, reporting for duty, sir.”

The Field Marshall wore only one decoration on his uniform. Katarina wouldn't have recognized it, but she had just seen it on the guardsmen beside her. It was a unit marking, the image of the golden Raedsel helmet and its four, red eyes. Katarina swallowed hard as she realized whose presence she was in, and what manner of soldier she had just insulted.

After a long pause, Nirmal Raedsel answered,
“Captain. Yes. Hawkmoon mentioned your... promotion.”
With the last word, his hand settled on a folder on the desk before him. Without opening it, he continued,
“I don't recognize royal privilege. And I don't recognize brevet ranks.”

He waited for the thought to sink in to Katarina's shocked expression. Her father's jurisdiction did not allow him to promote her. He had assigned her a brevet rank, thinking that General Hawkmoon would assign her to a command platoon and keep her out of harm's way. But Hawkmoon was not here. The guardsmen on either side of her were chuckling, but the sound was of hungry dogs smelling fresh meat.

Her salute held. Raedsel had not reciprocated.
“Sir. If I may.”
“Report for duty, First Lieutenant.”
Katarina nodded.

“First Lieutenant Katarina Du Couteau, ready to serve.”
She saw his posture relax into conversation, and he sat into his desk chair. Katarina tried her question again.

“Sir, I thought I would be reporting to Field Marshal Hawkmoon. Is he alright?”
General Hawkmoon was reassigned to naval affairs. I have resigned from my post as Captain of the Raedsel guard to take command of this force and ensure Noxus' victory. Now why did you arrive injured, soldier?”

The question drawled in casual, explanatory tone. Katarina had to take a moment to remember her not-yet healed scar.
“I'm fit for duty, sir.”
“I just told you, you aren't,” Raedsel growled.
His voice had no arcane augmentation. He didn't need it.
“There's a healer downstairs named Buri. Go to him.”
He waved her dismissal, and the two guardsmen at her side saluted.
“Sir,” she asserted. “Summoner Grieve is just down the hallway. He has healed me before.”
The Field Marshal's glare was now hostile.
“You will not waste his time, and you will not waste mine. Now get this straight, princess. You are a blade of Noxus, and Noxus sharpens its weapons. Get with the program. Ferro.”

He gestured, and one of the guardsmen tapped Katarina's shoulder. It was not a request. She saluted and pivoted with the guardsmen at her side. One stayed by the door.

The other guardsman, Ferro, did not speak again until they reached their unit. The 42nd had a rally point on the Naval Yard marked by it's standard- “42nd” on a black flag. The crates nearby were organized as tables, either for kit or wounded soldiers. One medical table had a poster on its side. The image of two soldiers: a Demacian using a civilian as a shield, and a Noxian shielding a civilian. The caption read, “Remember Kalamanda.” It was here, at this medical table, that Katarina saw the summoner, Braxton Buri. And it was here that Ferro spoke, without his augmentation.

“Buri.”
His calm tenor was for the summoner's benefit. Buri was hunched over a medical table, hands pressed against the gash in a man's torso. The flesh zipped closed with a relieved exhale, and the summoner turned to nod at them both. Ferro stepped forward and nodded for attention.
“Summoner, this is our newest Lieutenant, Katarina-”
“Du Couteau,” the summoner mumbled. “We've met.”
He was easily twice her age, and weary from the memory she surfaced in him. Katarina knew not to mention the scene at the embassy. Ferro spoke for her.
“Raedsel wants her fixed up. Where are my platoons?”
Buri paused to remember, “What company are you? Echo?”
Katarina nearly died on the spot. She wasn't Fury Company's Captain. It hadn't occurred to her to wonder who was.
“No. Fury,” Ferro answered.
“They're still running, Captain.”
Buri turned back to his crate-table and nudged the soldier that was laying there.
“Get up. You're healed.”
The soldier groaned, “It still hurts, Staff-Major.”
“Pain is an illusion. Get up.”
The soldier removed himself, and Buri turned back to the conversation with a gesture to Katarina.
“Could have sworn that scar was healed when... So did it open itself? Any arcane after-effects?”
He licked his lips and tried to avoid thinking about the man that was beaten into Death's tender caress at the embassy. Katarina shook her head clear of the thought.
“No. Just- it...”
She didn't feel like telling everyone she had lost a fight, or revealing her family troubles.
“Mundane. It's a mundane wound.”

Buri shrugged. A quick, arcane zap was all he needed.
“All better, Lieutenant. Anything else, Captain?”
“Yeah,” Ferro grumbled.
The four eyes of his helm were peering through the masses of bodies filling the dockyard, not finding something he wanted.
“Would you mind keeping the Lieutenant company? I'd like to see what's taking so long.”
Captain Ferro was out of earshot before Buri could nod. He sprinted with speed that Katarina had never expected from a human. It was only when his image disappeared behind the marching formation of the 15th Regulars that Katarina felt free to relax. It was only then that she realized how scared she had really been. She jumped to the side as a hand fell on her shoulder. Buri was there, a consoling expression offered her way.

“I would ask if you've got a tremor, but the Raedsel men take a little getting used to.”
He smiled as Katarina sighed her shakes away.
“Why are they here, Buri- I mean, Staff Major? Is Darkwill here?”
She nodded sideways, to the rank on his lapels, as an apology. Buri shrugged the tongue-slip away.
“Noxus needs an army. War Veterans are the best men to raise one, but we don't have many left. There haven't been any real battles since Mogron or Del Garde. Few even remember those.”
He sighed and leaned his weight back against the crates he had used for healing.
“So they re-drafted old codgers like me and brought in the Raedsel Guard.”
He smiled as Katarina asked, “You're a veteran?”
“Yeah,” Buri smiled. And with a nod to the poster beside him, he added, “You too. Kalamanda, right?”
He turned away from the conversation before Katarina could respond. The injured soldier had returned, this time clutching at his missing fingers.
“There are more vermin in the supplies, sir!”
Buri stared for a moment before answering, “So you stuck your fingers in them?”
He gestured for the soldier to come closer, then examined the wound long enough to tell that “we need to go get your fingers back. Lieutenant, would you?”
He nodded for Katarina to follow, and they took off at a jog, with the bleeding soldier at point. He gestured with the working hand towards the sound of scuffling, and Katarina approached a stack of crates with caution, Buri at her side.

The crate before them had its lid still attached. Blood was congealing around a scavengers hole where the soldier had no doubt been stupid enough to stick his hand in blind. Buri gestured at the lid, and took hold of one side. Katarina grabbed the other, fearing the scuffling inside and keeping her fingers tense.
Her eyes met Buri's. He nodded.
“Now.”

They threw off the lid expecting the seven maws of hell, but a fox's head popped into the sunlight, scarlet blood scoring its white fur. Two fingers protruded from either side of its mouth, like a comic impression of Freljord's Walruses. Katarina made the connection instantly. This was the horrid critter that had bit her when she and Garen- she shook her head free of the memory, searching for another. This thing had been in Bilgewater when she and Garen- Katarina bit her cheek to suppress it again. In any case, this vermin was a bad omen.

Buri sighed across from her over the crate.
“Nine Tails,” he murmured.
“Sacred vermin. This'll be easy. They like shiny things. I had to handle an infestation when I lived in Ionia.”
He summoned some currency from his pocket while Katarina stepped back with mild awe.
“Wow,” she murmured.
Buri glanced up, nearly getting caught as the fox pawed at his hand.
“What?”
He grinned as the fox turned from murderous to playful, and dropped its finger snacks to try and steal his coins. Katarina shrugged, bemused.
“Well... you're a Veteran, a Summoner, a Forensic specialist, a Historian, a Fox charmer... Is there anything you haven't done?”
Her smile fell with his. Buri nodded, focusing on his distracted prey as it lunged up to him from the ground. He had drawn it out of the box, and was leading it to the waterfront. A stiff drop and no access would drown the problem.
It was as he reached the edge that he answered,
“Yeah. I never killed anyone. And I never requited my love.”
Katarina glanced up from the dancing fox to see if Buri was joking.
“Love?”
She saw him smile as his eyes trailed toward the water. A splash confirmed his kill.
“Too late now. We're at war.”
And then his tone changed with the subject.
“You know, Nine-Tails are sacred in Ionia. But they say that when a fox tastes human blood, it can't get enough. It turns evil.”
Katarina followed his gaze into the water, and watched as the fox surfaced. It paddled around in a circle, looking for land, and set off down the harbor when it found none. Watching it move, she realized that the tides were not lonely for it. The tiny waves brought up by wind had blown other debris against the paved wall of the Naval Yard. Other foxes had fallen to similar fates at Buri's tricks. Their corpses danced, locked together in harmony with the ocean's tune against the wall.
“Thousands of the damn things,” Buri mumbled. “They keep coming from inland. Maybe they smell something on the wind.”

The sound of a horn's call drew them away from the lapping waves, and back to the movements of the yard. Several platoons were arriving exhausted and panting under the 42nd's banner. Katarina picked out her friend Riven at the lead of one formation instantly. She was spry, but still worn and sweating. Ferro looked like he'd just won a cheap battle. The horn lowered from his lips, and he waved for Katarina and Buri to join him. Buri was grinning.
“I didn't mention,” he murmured.
“The Raedsel men have an interesting initiation process.”

Katarina arrived in time to straighten her uniform and approach Ferro from behind. He was addressing the platoons that had just arrived. Most of the soldiers were catching their breath still, but there seemed to be an unspoken rule against slouching or sitting. Ferro's voice called out to those gathered like the horn had.
“The modern soldier is not a tank! He is an endurance runner. He is a machine that does not stop to sleep, eat, drink, or piss. He does not need encouragement. He does not need a reason to fight beyond orders. Allow me to state again: He is a machine!”
Ferro took a brief respite from his spiel to glance at Katarina.
“In a moment, Lieutenant.”
He turned back to the recovering soldiers and paced across them.
“An Ionian swordsman doesn't give a damn how heavy you are. A rifleman could care less how much you can lift. A martial artist will never find out how hard you can punch. The goal of this army is speed and efficiency. Wars are ex-pen-sive. The faster we're done, the faster we come home. Do you all understand? By the time we get on those boats, we should be a speedy machine!”
Ferro sighed.
“So it is with great distaste...”
Katarina could tell by the soldiers' reactions that they had known Ferro for a while. Their faces fell as his words came.
“It is with great distaste that I award Riven her new weapon. Step forward, Lieutenant!”
Katarina hesitated a moment before realizing that he hadn't addressed her. Riven stepped forward, the sun catching on her smile and new rank insignias. Zaun was truly a land of change.

Ferro stepped back to the nearest crate, a double-wide box, and kicked its top off. The faces around him were lit up with bemused excitement as he reached in and produced the most obnoxiously large weapon Katarina had ever seen.
“Two meters long crafted with three Quintessences of Desolation in the blade. The primary material is Ironspike Obsidian, with a thickness of one molecule on the blade's edge. Oh. And check this out.”
Ferro tossed the sword to Riven with a single hand. Its immense weight soared just like the weapon it was. Katarina was more worried by how easily Riven arrested its motion. When her fingers secured a grip, the arcane marks of the quintessences lit up along the blade. Arcane, green mist lifted out of the obsidian to illuminate Riven's manic grin. Ferro's mouth was a happy snarl.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant. You are now in possession of the finest weapon ever crafted. You can show it off later. Third Platoon! You have a new recruit.”
Ferro nodded in the Platoon's direction, and the men nodded back, their weight shifting in interest. Katarina did not need to straighten her posture further. She held their glares, and felt her scar itch under the attention. The general emotion was the anticipation of an inside joke- all but Riven and her suddenly apparent worry. Katarina caught her eyes long enough to shoot a questioning look, but Ferro had her attention before Riven could respond.

Katarina took a step back as Ferro turned to her. Somewhere in his throw to Riven, he had drawn his own broadsword.
“Weapon ready, Lieutenant,” he called.
Katarina's hands fell to her sides.
“What?”
“Weapon ready,” Ferro repeated.
“No man serves under Captain Raedsel's watch until they can draw blood against him. The same goes for you and me.”
His broadsword raised to point at her.
“You don't have to beat me, Lieutenant. Just draw blood. Now last warning. Arm yourself.”
Katarina had not brought a sword. She had several daggers concealed on her body, but none of them were regulation.
“What if I'm unarmed?”
The pleading in her voice was heavier than she had intended. Ferro's snarling smile returned below his helm.
“You die.”
He lunged. Katarina ducked and rolled to her side, rising with a dagger in either hand. But she had to move before she could use them. Ferro was always advancing, always striking. She lost a dagger and dodged for more room, but the 42nd standard had formed an arena by their attendance. Katarina reached for another dagger with more lore than survival on her mind.

She had heard stories about the Raedsel guard. They were supposed to be Boram Darkwill's bodyguards. She had heard that each recruit had to draw blood against their captain or die. She hadn't thought that was true, though. Had Riven already fought him and won?

Katarina ducked a swipe at her throat, cutting her hair in the process. She flicked a dagger, thinking Ferro exposed after his strike, but cursed herself when the blade ricocheted off of his gauntlet. She had three left.

“Nice effort though,” Ferro chided. His next blow sent her rolling backwards. Katarina landed on her feet and brought two daggers to the ready, lowering herself finally into a proper stance for fighting. The dagger by Ferro's feet had blood on it- hers. Katarina hadn't realized it at first, but she would need to wash her uniform later- if she lived. There was another dagger between her and Ferro. Katarina could tell by the handle that it was the blade she had concealed behind her waist. Blood trickled from it, and her back, to the ground. With two daggers and some blood left, Katarina found herself realizing the trouble she was in. What would Cassie do?

“This is ridiculous! Wait! Can't we settle my rank without killing each other?”
Her tone remained assertive and level, but Ferro's patronizing response made everyone forget that.
“Welcome to war, princess!”
Another lunge. Another dagger lost under powerful blows. Ferro's off-hand had remained behind his back until now, a gesture Katarina mistook for traditional fencing. With a single knife left to her, Katarina's options had fallen to a last ditch effort. She could no longer win by crossing blades. A swift cartwheel carried her around the circle of observers, and kept her just out of Ferro's reach. She landed on her feet with the desperate hope that he would give her room. If she could get her momentum forward, she could Shunpo. She would win and show everyone just how deadly she could be. She just had to draw blood. But Ferro was charging. And all she had left was her ability to throw. But as her hand cocked back, Ferro's off-hand appeared. The cutting pain of realization overwhelmed the feeling in her raised wrist.

She wasn't the only person who could toss a dagger. Sliced tendons dropped her last weapon to her feet, and the slicing edge of Ferro's broadsword sealed her fate. Katarina felt steel pierce her kidney and slide out her back. The hilt pressed against her skin, and the flex of his arm pulled the blade up. Katarina was only fast enough to grab his wrist with her remaining hand and hold herself up. She could only vocalize a scream. Through the scream, she heard a voice speak for her, just as desperate and scared as she was.
“Captain!”
Riven stepped forward, her eyes pleading and hands gripping a sword that asked no questions. But Ferro held Katarina's gaze.
“You've got one hand and no weapons, sergeant.”
His off-hand grabbed her shoulder, pressing her down and dragging the blade against her organs. But she held, pressing against his wrist to stay alive.
“You should surrender,” was his last advice.

But Katarina did have one more weapon. And she was thankful to have sparred with her step-brother, Talon. Her wrist flicked against Ferro's grip, launching the vambrace she'd hidden in her uniform into his skin, and slicing tendons in beautiful retribution. His grip failed instantly, and Katarina fell to the ground with the Captain's weapon still sheathed in her gut. Ferro's hand raised to show her victory, and they both smiled through the pain.

Katarina had never heard applause in ballet, in poetry, or in any of the subjects at which her sister excelled. But she heard it now. And the sound carried and echoed into the following two weeks. Her wounds healed under Staff-Major Braxton Buri's care; the solitude of the Du Couteau estate gave way to Riven's company and the Summoner's tales about Ionia. Zaun was becoming the home she'd never had. She would rise and fall in darkness, always seeing the city's haze glow golden in the rising sun while her platoon ran the perimeter; always seeing the smog fade to blue as it muddied the stars over their formations. The weeks and their work did not pass quickly. But the bond Katarina felt with the men and women around her grew closer than she had ever been with strangers. She had learned everything about Riven's childhood as they drifted to sleep in their bunk beds. She had learned about Ionia's flora and fauna during healing breaks between combat drills. She had wondered where Swain and her father were.

On the evening of the third week, her mind finally cleared of the past. A sheen of sweat pearled over her skin and lit up under the occasional Hextech lamppost. A steady jog kept the light stations coming every few seconds. Riven was panting at her side, breasts wrapped tight against her chest, muscles tensing in feminine grace as she bobbed through the night. Katarina's jealousy had driven her through every exercise. Riven glanced her way suddenly, noticing the attention.
“What?”
She smiled it.
Katarina shook her head.
“Nothing.”
The occurrence was too common for that excuse to keep up, but Katarina had no intention of admitting her insecurities. The jog ended and another of the endless briefings began. Ferro had dragged out a chalk board and propped it up against some supply crates while Fury company gathered around. Katarina was still eying Riven with contempt when she heard her name called.
“Sir?”
“Our designation, Lieutenant.”
She could never read his expression through the Raedsel helm. His mouth remained an unimpressed line.
“Light Infantry, sir,” she called back.
Ferro nodded, satisfied, and pointed to Riven.
“Fury company has four divisions. What are they?”
“Sir. Platoons One, Two, Three, and a command element.”
Riven's posture relaxed as Ferro nodded.
“Correct, Lieutenants. Four squadrons of eight per platoon. How many fire teams do you have?”
He pointed out to first platoon.
“Eight fireteams. Thirthy-six men, sir.”
“Excellent. We've got this down. Moving on! Tonight we're learning about some equipment that's new to this war. Ionia is a land of hills with runes in 'em. We can expect our ward systems to fail hard and often. To counter this problem, we will be using flares as a secondary method of communication.”
Here he turned around to retrieve one from a supply crate. Katarina's lost attention drifted towards her envy again, but was caught. Riven was already watching her.
“Lieutenant!”
Ferro's gaze had caught Riven first. Her posture straightened under his reprimand.
“Pay attention! This might save your life.”
Ferro held up the flare, a small cylinder with a Hextech logo on the side and a string on the bottom.
“For those of you familiar with Hextech sparklers, this works the same way. Point it up and pull the string, like so.”
Ferro jerked the string, removing a cap from the bottom. The toy reported like a rifle, and a green sparkler shot up to the heavens, pulsing bright and reporting with a bang every few seconds. Katarina remembered little of the technical explanations that followed. Don't get it wet. Don't look directly at it. Don't point it at your face. Pull the string; make the sparkles. Her father had bought two when the Hextech corporation had first invented them. She and Cassie had launched one each from home. That thought sullied her night until the hour she finally reached a bunk.

The officers quarters were separated by sex. Katarina kept that in mind as she followed a male's footsteps through the shadows to the bunk she shared with Riven. She was at Katarina's side, peering through the unlit room to what was definitely a man. To them, he was just a shadow rummaging through Katarina's trunk, at the foot of the bunk beds. Katarina could see a Noxian trench coat covering his frame, and the shadow of a second person standing behind him. Her eyes focused, thinking it was an illusion of the dark, but it refused to disappear.

She and Riven had been panting before, but they cut their breathing until they couldn't hear each other over the sound of their own hearts. Katarina checked Riven's face for the certainty she needed. A nod back confirmed, and Riven moved to flank the strangers. Katarina scooted forward another bed through the shadows, swift and silent. The intruder seemed to find what he was looking for. His posture shifted to satisfaction, and shifted again to remove a parcel from his cloak. Enough moonlight was peering through Zaun's smog and the windows to illuminate the seal of a black rose on the package- enough for Katarina to realize who was before her. The image of his face in her father's house appeared- the thought of him murdering the ambassador in the vilest of ways. This was the man Talon had been sent with to Freljord. Lieutenant Mayfield. Katarina wasn't sure if she felt fear or anger.

Either way, Mayfield felt her presence. His head tilted up suddenly, as if knowing he was in her thoughts. The shadow behind him vanished just as he turned to look at it, and then his ear tilted towards Riven, to the sound of her finger against a switch. Hextech lamps blazed to life around the room. But his silhouette lingered in darkness for a moment too long. Katarina hesitated at the sight, but blinked away the illusion as his face appeared.

Now or never, was all she had time to think.
Mayfield jumped to his feet and sprinted for the window, but Riven intercepted him, swinging the hammer of her fists. With their contact as a fulcrum, his feet swung up behind her, and locked around Riven's neck. He grabbed her arms and rolled, using their combined momentum to flip Riven forward and land her on her back. His arms reached to secure her neck, to snap it, and Katarina charged in without a moment's thought.

But the assassin's speed appeared again. Abandoning the kill, his feet planted, and he drew a dagger from behind his waist just as she did. Katarina hated a fair fight about as much as she hated being watched. Thanking the gods that had passed the art of Shunpo on to humanity, she stepped like a flash, and left only smoke in her wake. Mayfield's eyes flashed wide, and his head swiveled just in time for Katarina to admire the surprise she'd inspired. Descending with a blade to his back, she felt the thrill of the ambush Garen had escaped. Her opponent had similar intentions. With his eyes still wide, he flashed a smirk and vanished. Katarina felt what she feared and swiveled her head to check. Their places had switched.

Katarina sprung forward and turned, seeing the hilt of Mayfield's dagger jab at where her neck had been. So he wasn't playing to kill. Katarina was now at Riven's side. She had a knee floored, and was about to rise when Mayfield drew another weapon. This was a revolver, with another Hetxtech logo in the city they owned. Riven froze under its attention.
“Stay out of this, sweetie. You're expendable.”

The patronizing tone did not have its intended effect. Riven scowled, biding her time while Mayfield paced his way to the window, weapon on Riven and eyes locked with Katarina. As another bunk bed passed between them, Katarina shot her friend a glance. Riven understood, and dashed to cover, dodging the spark and report of a bullet. Mayfield seemed unfazed now that his back was to the window.
“You've got mail in your box,” he murmured.
Katarina saw his weight shifting back against the window sill. His voice continued.
“I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you lost the last few letters. Make sure this set gets read.”

The revolver returned to his cloak, and his weight shifted farther back. But Katarina's scowl stopped him.
“I don't feel like doing your dirty work,” she spat.
Riven had disappeared from her senses. Katarina knew she was in earshot though. She would have to explain this. Mayfield's reaction was bemused. His weight shifted back forwards, into the room, and he advanced on her a few steps. Katarina readied her stance again, hoping Riven was closer than just earshot. But Mayfield stopped just out of her reach, and whispered so only she could hear.
“Transcendence is not refused.”
Katarina did not afford him the same discreteness.
Try me,” she hissed.
Mayfield sighed, a mix of disgust and annoyance.
“It will interest you,” he growled.
“I'm going to burn it,” she growled back.
Mayfield's jaw seemed locked onto words he didn't want to use. Katarina wasn't thinking of using words at all. Nothing he could say would make her consider following the path of whoever had selected the ambassador's death. She shifted to her back foot, ready to spring and attack, and Mayfield took his opportunity to stop her in her place.
“Garen Crownguard wrote one... to you.”

Katarina hesitated. In that moment, Riven sprang from her cover, surprisingly close to Mayfield. He had no time to react as her fist slammed into his stomach, percussing his lungs and tossing him through the open window. Katarina ran to Riven's side, peering through the window to catch a view of the bastard falling. But he had landed on his feet, revolver drawn. Perimeter guards were already rushing to meet him, but they could only fight what they could see. A bullet to the nearest Hextech lamppost cast two deep shadows onto the dockyard. The same uncertain thing that Katarina had seen before was now back at Mayfield's side. Her eyes refocused as Mayfield's silhouette turned to their window, and she realized with a pang of fear what he was doing.
“Duck!”

She pulled Riven back in time to avoid the next shot, which splintered the wood where Riven's head had been. They fell to the floor together, panting and reeling from the adrenaline. But Katarina couldn't stay down. She found her feet and stumbled to the trunk, leaving Riven panting on the floor. Mayfield's parcels were there waiting for her, all tied together with a steel cord made for throats, and tied with a slip knot. The first three were all for Sander Grieve. The last, a leather-bound book, had no address on it.
“Hey, Kat.”
Riven's voice went ignored. Katarina flipped the book open and read the first entry to herself.

December 1st, 5 CLE
I recognize “Mayfield” from the embassy in Bilgewater. He killed the Noxian ambassador. General Laurent and I rescued him. Talon appears to be a Noxian himself, but has expressed no allegiance.
Our equipment includes Zaunite craftsmanship, but was delivered by a Demacian quartermaster. Our orders are delivered to Mayfield in envelopes sealed by black roses. Their contents are shared only by Mayfield's mouth. Talon knows me by some fame. Mayfield knows more. By virtue of knowledge, he is in charge.

“Katie.”
Riven's voice was shaking. Katarina turned to see that her outstretched arm was as well. Riven had propped herself up against the wall, and was watching as the combat high receded from her body.
“I've never been in a fight before,” she confided.
“So?”
“Were you like this after Kalamanda?”
Riven's eyes twitched and darted over the arm she couldn't control.
Katarina turned back to her diary, furious that it didn't interest her, and wanting to read more, to find what would. But she couldn't do it here- not with Riven.
“What did he mean about Garen Crownguard?”
“I don't know,” Katarina lied.
“And no,” she lied again.
Riven swallowed her excitement and smiled. The survival giggles were coming on.
“We sure showed him, huh?”
Katarina bared her teeth in an attempt to reciprocate the smile.
“Yeah, Riv. We got him good.”
But her sarcasm was lost on the younger girl. And her will to spite was lost as she realized the look Riven was giving her.
“Thanks,” Riven whispered.
Katarina blinked it over a few times.
“Thanks for saving me, I mean.”
Riven smiled; she meant it. Katarina nodded, and returned the parcels to her trunk.

The next day began at Sander Grieve's office, an hour before she would rise for drills. He answered her knock with the same, perpetual weariness that he always had, and the same unnatural energy behind it. She still hadn't learned to trust the youthful face he'd bought in Kalamanda.
“Hey, toots.”
The accent was a parody of Zaun. He dropped it for his greeting.
“Seriously, though. I'm glad to see you made it out of Kalamanda.”
“You pitted me against a summoner,” Katarina grimaced.
Grieve shrugged as he accepted the letters from her.
“Nothing you couldn't handle.”
He waved the letters.
“I guess this means you've met Mayfield properly.”
Katarina was silent, so Grieve opened the letters.
“Charming guy, I know,” he filled in. His eyes scanned the first letter for a second before he added,
“Quick learner, too. I think he forged this. Missing an arcane signature. He's blunt, like you. No magic.”
He tossed the letter aside, and it immolated before gracing the floor.
“Don't go yet, Kat. I love your company.”
His words stopped her from turning. In her tired stupor, she hadn't noticed his mind reading hers. A focused effort corrected that. Grieve winked. She feigned a scowl.
“I have some papers for you to incinerate,” he explained.
Katarina's eyes turned to the air where the falling letter had been. But Grieve's hand waved and caught her attention. He pressed a finger to his lips, and then to his ear. Katarina's eyes darted over the room, expecting to see whatever wards were hidden nearby. The futility struck her, and she nodded back to Grieve. He handed her a pile of papers, and waited for her to turn away before mumbling, “oh.”
Katarina turned back to him.
“This, too. Be sure and use the elevator. It's much more convenient than stairs.”
Grieve slapped a folder on top of her stack- address: Field Marshal Raedsel.
She nodded, understanding, and finally left. The incinerators were at the bottom of the tower. And Grieve had been very clear about the one place that wasn't warded. As soon as the elevator doors secured her, she flipped open Raedsel's briefing and crossed the line of treason.

Operation Thorn
The Black Rose agent “Mayfield” is being upgraded to a high-priority target after a JOJ announcement that “Mayfield is loyal. Begin Phase One.” Subject was spotted in Freljord, due to anonymous tip. Agents assigned to follow were spotted and killed in unarmed combat. We have switched to indirect observation, and are now tracking Black Rose agents supporting Mayfield.

Katarina was not a fast reader. The elevator slowed to a stop, and she flipped through several pages, hoping to see words highlighted for her convenience. Sander Grieve had wanted her to see this report before she destroyed it. He had risked both of their deaths for it. The last page held the shortest topic, so she skimmed it.

Conclusion
Only two Black Rose agents, “Scarlet” and “Gold,” have survived the selection program against Mayfield. They have been designated as his handlers. Neither has been identified yet, but, as noted in another report, intercepted letters indicate that “Gold” is a Demacian and “Scarlet” is a Noxian within the military. Rank unknown. Neutralization of “Scarlet” and “Mayfield” is now the top priority of Operation Thorn.

The doors opened, and Katarina flipped the envelope closed. She had understood few of the words, but most of the meaning. The rest of her day was spent contemplating the strange hue of turquoise that the report burned. It wasn't until midday that Riven finally snapped her out of it. They were squatting together, back to back. The team exercise involved more weight than Katarina had ever carried on her own, and the stress was demanding her concentration. Riven was just starting to break a sweat. Her head turned to talk over her shoulder.
“Did you file your report?”
Katarina leveled her breathing before responding, “What?”
“Your report. About last night. I already did.”
Katarina laughed through her breathing.
“Must have slipped my mind.”
Her legs felt like the papers. But she couldn't look weak with Riven beside her. She wouldn't. Riven didn't even have parents. She couldn't be stronger.
“Hey, Kat.”
“What?”
Her impatience revealed more than she'd hoped. But Riven's hesitation was internal.
“I just wanted to say... thanks, again. You saved my life.”
“Break!”
Katarina knew she would never meet an angel, even a fallen angel, but Ferro's voice was close enough sometimes.
She pressed off of Riven's back and stood, stretching her legs out, feeling the pain get its last stabs in before recovering.
“Three more sets, kids! Ionian's have a fascination with powers of two! They do thirty-two, and we do sixty-four. We will be a speedy... Damnit, Riven! Why don't you look dead?”
Riven smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry, sir.”
“Second Platoon! Look at your CO! Is she doing something differently? You all look like you've been working harder. Is that the case?”
The men appeared more embarrassed than sheepish.
“No, sir,” one of them moaned.
The ensuing condemnations were issued during the next two sets. Katarina felt her envy growing with every second that Riven's face did not break. Was she better at putting on a show? Was she really that much stronger? Katarina remembered the greatsword that Riven had been awarded, and the stories she told about wrestling cows on her adopted family's farm. It was possible, she decided. But it was not her pedigree. Katarina would not lose.

“Lieutenant!”
Ferro's voice was unhappy. The difference in tone was very slight, but Katarina had learned to recognize it. She looked his way to see an aide from headquarters standing by him.
“You've got a summons. Go see Raedsel. Riven, I'll take her spot.”
The exchange was quick, and Riven finally had a worthy match at her back. Katarina heard “We're holding this one until Riven or I break!” before falling out of earshot.

But she had not been spared. She knew that as soon as the office door closed behind her. Nirmal Raedsel was seated, his reading glasses and anger in place. His introduction interrupted her salute.
“There should be five reports sitting before me. I see four.”
Katarina knew she could not lie convincingly, and that honesty meant death.
“I do not have your perception, sir.”
His glare shot up to her before she had finished.
“Bullshit, Couteau!”
Raedsel rose from his chair, broadsword unsheathed and singing from the sudden motion.
“Draw your weapon,” was his only warning as he circled the desk.
Katarina cursed herself quietly. She had left her sword and kit in the field. He would kill her just for that.
“I burned it,” she admitted.
“Grieve told you to. I know. Raise your weapon.”
Katarina could not afford to choke on her next question, so she forced it through and yelled,
“Then why do I have to duel you?”
Her desperation sickened Raedsel's expression.
“Do you know why I came here, Couteau? Because I know who needs to rule this nation right now. There is no man better suited for the job than Boram Darkwill. We came to a disagreement about who to trust, and that left me with two options. Step up, or step down.”
His blade extended- an accusation.
“You burned those documents because you think you know better than I do about what should reach my desk. Now prove it.”
Shunpo, flash stepping, is the skill whereby a person travels large distances with highly efficient, and therefore fast, motions. Katarina hard heard it called a skill. When Nirmal charged, she realized it was an art form. Her dodge left some blood behind. His second strike scraped her before it had fallen, and his third took both of her weapons, slashed her palms, and pinned her shoulder to the wall.
She grunted to suppress a shriek. The sword would not remove itself, and she couldn't get proper leverage.
“Usually I would cut out your tongue,” Raedsel growled. Katarina was pinned too low to see his face. From her vantage point, she could only note that the four, red eyes on his unit insignia would fluctuate with his voice.
“But I need to know what that report said.”
Nirmal pulled the visitor's chair away from his desk and straddled it backwards to face her. His sword was left pinning her flesh to the bookshelf behind her.
“Take your time,” he egged. “I'm not the one bleeding.”
“I didn't read all of it,” she admitted.
“Then tell me what you did read, Scarlet.”
His words connected with the name on the briefing, and Katarina realized with a start what the words around it meant.
“What?”
“Scarlet. That's your codename, right? You're one of LeBlanc's thugs.”
Nirmal Raedsel was not a man who joked. Just days prior, Katarina had been worried about possibly fighting a group of assassins that played on rumors about secret societies. Now she was realizing that the stories had the merit of Raedsel's faith.
“No! LeB- what? LeBlanc? She's a myth! She's dead! Or she never existed!”
Katarina grabbed the blade in her shoulder and tugged. The wood shelf behind her wouldn't ease its grip though. She grunted and tried to adjust her feet beneath her while Raedsel folded his hands in patience.
“Then you're a fool, as well,” Raedsel mumbled. He reached for one of the four folders on his desk, and tossed a photograph from it to Katarina's feet. She had seen that face published in a Hextech tabloid before. And here it was having tea with Captain Swain.
“Yesterday,” Raedsel mumbled. “After six hundred years of 'being a myth.'”
“That's impossible,” Katarina whispered.
“That's...” Boram Darkwill's age flashed before her mind.
“She's younger than the Grand General,” Raedsel supplied. “And she'll probably live a lot longer than you.”
“Sir. I...”
Pleading would get her nowhere, and he had little reason to believe her words.
“I don't know LeBlanc, and I don't work for the Black Rose. I just want what's best for Noxus. I want to make sure Kalamanda never happens again. I burned those papers because I thought Grieve knew better than me what to do with them. I was just following orders.”
If only Riven could see her now, cowering and kowtowing to men with sharper swords. Katarina would never fail again without seeing her secret rival's physique overcoming all odds. Quite possibly, she would never fail again. Raedsel stood from his chair and straightened his uniform.
“An idealist,” he groaned.
“Tell me, then. What is best for Noxus? The Monarchy, or the Meritocracy?”
Raedsel's unit marking carried a steady pulse when he was silent. The eyes would glow just bright enough to reflect on the badge's gold before dimming to darkness and rising again. Katarina had no idea how to answer.
“I- I don't know,” she stuttered. “I thought we don't have a monarchy anymore.”
Raedsel stood and kicked his chair away.
“And don't you forget it! We are a meritocracy: a nation of virtues that must be upheld. Enemies to that cause are enemies of virtue itself!”
His hand rested on the hilt of his sword. A quick twist of the wrist would carry along the blade and through her shoulder. Katarina watched it with the growing trepidation of the pain she was about to feel. His words were muted behind that fear, but the growl of his voice supplanted all other thought.
“Make a choice now, Katarina. Pick a side. Do you think the people of this nation should be held as slaves and traded to new masters on heredity?”
Well when you phrase it that way, “No.”
“Then tell me,” he growled. “What was in that briefing?”
“I don't know,” she whimpered. “I just burned it sir.”
Cassie had insisted that this would work in even the most dire of cases. Raedsel twisted his sword, and Katarina learned that her sister was wrong.
“Mayfield! Scarlet and Gold and Mayfield! They're going to kill those three! But I'm not Scarlet! Mayfield is my enemy! He killed the ambassador in Bilgewater!”
She waited in Raedsel's indecision. He contemplated her words, or something, before answering,
“You don't have the heart of a soldier. You don't belong in the regulars.”
His tone betrayed no meaning to his thoughts. But his sword jerked free from her shoulder, knocking a book loose from the shelf.
“Get up,” he mumbled. His off-hand was reaching for a handkerchief to clean his blade.
“We're going to duel again. This time, one of us is going to die.”
He and Katarina both knew who. She wasn't dumb enough to accept a fair fight.
“I'm not your enemy,” was her answer. And as she pondered a way to prove that, her eyes fell to the book that had fallen.
Io- ni- an Fer-vor. Ionian Fervor.
Talon had read one of the fables aloud to her and Cassie. If she could read, she would have finished the story herself. An entire night she had sat up thinking over the passage in her head.
“I'm not your enemy,” she repeated. “So I cannot raise my weapons against you. But if you believe that I mean you harm, sir, then order me to throw myself on my blade, and I will.”
Or it went something like that. Raedsel had frozen with his sword almost clean, handkerchief at the tip.
“Hmm,” he finally grunted. And his eyes fell to hers.
“I won't pretend to understand an assassin's virtues. But I suppose I can recognize them.”
His blade sheathed, and Raedsel resumed the chair at his desk. He busied himself for a moment with signing an order, then replaced his reading glasses and began reading through one of the four briefings. It was only when Katarina began testing her injured arm that his glare shot up to her and he scolded, “That wasn't an invitation to stay.”
She didn't.

Thank the gods it was Friday. Katarina could not stop shaking. Twice that day, she had been in mortal peril. All of this due to the political vagaries that she ignored. Politics, it seemed, would not ignore her. Even here, in the center of a Zaunite pub, she felt the eyes of Noxus upon her. A slurred glance over her shoulder led to the hooded stare of a stranger across the bar. A lock of scarlet hair fell loose and blocked her view. And by the time her hands had fumbled it away, the man had disappeared.

“Aren't you supposed to have a buddy?”
Katarina swiveled around on an uneasy axis to see Riven taking the stool beside her.
“Yeah,” Katarina mumbled. “Oops.”
She had three shots of Whiskey left before her. But her vision corrected to two, and she took one.
As her head came down, she heard Riven smack the third against the bar, empty. Katarina only stared as Riven coughed up the fumes of her first drink- first ever. When her composure returned, she giggled at Katarina's expression.
“Something troubling you?”

Katarina ran her tongue over her lips, enjoying the numbness. The shaking in her hands had subsided, but now Runeterra was swaying on its heels. Katarina nodded without explanation, and Riven's mouth fell to a frown.
“Is it... is it about the break in?”
Three more shots appeared before them. With a slight delay to aim, Katarina's hand reached out and grabbed at where one had just been. Riven finished it while Katarina wondered if her hand was going numb. She glared at her friend, demanding an explanation. Riven only smiled, nervous.
“That's what buddies are for, right? I can't let you get too drunk. The weekend's only started.”

Katarina sighed, her lips flapping without control, and buried her head in her hands. But Riven seemed determined to not let her slink away into solitude. Here she was, nervously stealing Katarina's drinks and bothering her. Katarina felt Riven's arm nudge against hers.
“Hey. We should probably get out of here before someone catches us. I'd rather not get guard duty.”
Katarina nodded, remembering that there were rules she was expected to live by now- more rules than just her father's. Katarina lifted her satchel from the floor. Garen's diary was within. She was still too sober to read it.

Riven guided her walk out the pub and into the Hextech maze of Zaun. The city stretched around them into the sky, with lights flickering high enough above them to replace the stars the smog hid. Katarina might have lost her balance in her gaze without Riven there. She followed the tug on her arm as Riven began guiding them back to the yard. This was getting useful, if humiliating. Katarina had never been there for Riven. It was always this younger, stronger, more attractive girl picking up for her.

“Thanks for saving me,” Riven whispered.
Her voice had dropped to a more sheepish tone, quieter to hide the shaking. Or maybe the shots were starting in on her. Why was she nervous? Katarina nodded, amending her last thought. Now what was she supposed to be upset about? Riven's arm guided her into an alleyway. The shortcut was taking them to Hextech Avenue, to the gates of Killik.
“I still remember that pirouette you did in ballet class.”
Riven's words were a muted mumble in Katarina's head, but the meaning shone clear. Was Riven... ?
“I looked up to you a lot back then. My parents were away making preparations in Zaun, so I really had you as a role model. And you were always nice to me.”
Riven laughed. Katarina had little memory of her or their friendship. Her focus had always been competing with Cassie.
“Glad I could help,” she mumbled.
Riven stopped suddenly, her eyes hesitating on the avenue ahead of them.
“Hey, Kat?”
Katarina's gaze slurred to her direction.
“Yeah?”
“I...”
Riven gulped and scoffed at herself.
“Oh gosh. I... I don't... I don't know how to say this.”
Riven's breathing deepened as she took the air she needed.
“Should've had more drinks,” she finally whispered.
Katarina remained silent and bemused.
“Ok. I um... I came out here looking for you because I wanted to talk to you.”
“Ok,” Katarina nodded.
“In private,” Riven added.
Katarina nodded. A cat hissed nearby, and engaged in a battle of wills with a nine-tailed fox. The fox retreated, and the cat remained to rummage through a trash bin. Katarina's eyes fell back to Riven, and she realized with a shock that she had the girl's full and undivided attention. Also, Riven was about two inches taller. Katarina straightened her posture, trying to make up the difference.
“I guess this is as much privacy as we can get,” she finally answered.
Riven's eyes focused into a question.
“What?”
“Nothing. Go ahead,” Katarina murmured.
Another dose of conspiracy couldn't do much more harm than it already had. But Riven's worry seemed slightly different.
She swallowed again, her chest heaving under breathing she was struggling to control.
“Ok. I... I... Sorry. I'm just really nervous. I mean- maybe I shouldn't.”
Her head shook.
“Sorry. Just- we should go home.”
But her turn was stopped by Katarina's arm. If the girl needed encouragement, she was about to get it.
“Riven, just-”
And she did.
Katarina felt lips press against hers, and hands holding her waist, and all the attention that Riven could give holding her in place. Her lips parted to speak, and she found herself entangled in a dialogue. Maybe it was because she wanted attention, or to have the girl she thought of so highly be so enamored with her. Maybe it was a confirmation of the beauty no one else would acknowledge. No, Katarina decided. She was drunk and it felt good, and that was all the reason she needed to pull Riven against her and accept a reverie under the smog of war and Zaun.

She didn't remember stumbling drunk into a hotel or threatening the bellhop to silence. But her back fell into soft sheets, and she knew where she was. Riven's body pressed against hers, smiles and moans abundant. Katarina was just enjoying the ride. Her satchel slid to the floor, dropping the weight of business, and Katarina swore it moaned in her voice as its flap opened and Riven's hands slid into her uniform. The feeling of skin against her stomach was too much.
“Wait,” became a moan as Riven found her lips again. The next opportunity she had to speak fell to pleasure as Riven's tongue traced lewd pictures on her neck. But she couldn't give in. Her arms wrapped around the younger girl, and she rolled them across the bed. That was her first good look at Riven's face. She was blushing with anticipation and fulfillment.
“I like you a lot, Kat,” she whispered.
Katarina knew what she meant. Somewhere behind the pleasure and risk was more than friendship or rivalry. But she didn't have to lie to keep it going.
“I like you too,” Katarina murmured.
And she pressed a finger to Riven's lips.
“No more talking.”
Riven frowned, uncertain about the rule, and she sighed. Her words passed through the finger.
“I've admired you since I first saw you, Katarina. I-”
Her head rolled to the side in thought, but her expression flashed suddenly to curiosity.
“Is that...?”
Her eyes had focused on the open satchel, and the leather-bound diary poking out of it.
“Kat, why do you have that?”
Katarina hopped to the satchel and flipped it closed, smashing her shoulder against the wall in the process. Alchemy and Brewery did wonderful things together. Her head cleared enough to remember the diary. She had to explain this somehow.
“Ok. Riven, you're drunk. I don't think-”
“It's fine!”
Riven's eyes were wide with shock at what she'd just said, but she persisted.
“Kat, it's fine. I won't... I won't say anything.”
Despite her power and talent, Riven was not a willful person. Katarina couldn't imagine her staying silent under Raedsel's gaze. But the offer was heartwarming.
“Thanks, Riv.”
“I...”
Riven stopped herself again. She was on the verge of saying what she had meant to before, but a still-too sober mind kept her thoughts hidden. Katarina spared her with an exit.
“Riven, I like you too. I think- I mean... I like this.”
She smiled her sincerity.
“But you're very, very drunk, Riven. And I don't... I think you should be in your right mind to-”
“So are you,” Riven frowned.
Katarina nodded, still clutching her satchel.
“Yes. Yes, I am also drunk.”
She sat in a complimentary Hextech chair, next to a complimentary Hextech desk, and stared across the room at Riven's form on the bed. She hadn't remembered stripping the poor girl. Oh, that body was tempting. Katarina clutched her satchel tighter, and tried to muster the courage she needed. She had to read this diary. That was the whole reason she drank. And she couldn't let Riven feel so strongly about her. Katarina didn't even know if she wanted this yet. Well...
“Ok. Ok, you're right, Riven. It's fine. And... thank you... for not saying anything. But...”
Riven smiled, and let the dimples fade as Katarina looked for words.
“But I-”
She stood to leave. Riven's smile disappeared and she sat up.
“I have to... I have something to do... later.”
The satchel fell, and Katarina let her uniform go with it.

Hours later, Katarina lay wrapped in an embrace with her sleeping comrade. Riven was snoring away the alcohol left in her system. Katarina was feeling it pounding in her head. But she couldn't sleep without reading that diary. Her fingers were still entwined in Riven's hair. She had cropped it to her ears on enlistment, but it grew thick. Thick black locks wrapping around Katarina's fingers and slipping away like silk. She pushed Riven's arms away and stood, still feeling her balance lag.

The diary was buried under discarded clothing. She had to use the bathroom light to not wake Riven. And Garen's hand was much softer than she had expected.

December 15th, 5 CLE
The Journal of Justice has printed rumors about myself and the Sinister Blade of Noxus. Apparently we were too busy having sex in Kalamanda to kill each other. There was a change in climate at the summit which somehow became an official inquiry into my private life. Ashe raised more objections to amendments. Sejuani accused me of being a prostitute. Mayfield and Talon are still holding Lissandra somewhere. I haven't discovered the location.

Every entry flowed that way, detailing the movements and descriptions of the assassin or of Talon. The one exception was a page of notes that had been scribbled over. Katarina lingered on that page for a moment, but could only pick out the image of a gear, and some equations she didn't know. She flipped to the end.

December 21st, 5 CLE
Gods are mortal. War is a racket. I can only apologize for my own actions. I believe that history will show Demacia's innocence in this horrible affair, and will reveal the real culprits behind the monstrosity that I have helped commit here. I will leave this book in the Library of the Frost Archer Tribe. I don't give a damn who reads it, or how far this information spreads.

And for the record, Katarina and I were too busy having sex to kill each other. It's the only part of Kalamanda I don't regret.