A/N: First chapter to first story in different genre. It has to be long... set things in motion. I will be completely honest, I started this story to see how far can I stretch my ability to set a story with characters that are based on very little background other than few trivia. Nevertheless, I do find this particular pairing as most interesting one. Let me know what you think.
Heavy breathing and sounds of boots traversing across the clear path filled the area. Nothing else was heard. He stopped, falling down to one knee. It didn't look good for Garen, not with the blood pouring from his left side just below his ribs and hand trying to hold it in. He could try and use the crystal, return to nexus and mend the wound but he knew that such attempt would not be unnoticed, and he would be dead within next two seconds. Right now he needed to stay alive, his team depended on him moving forward. It didn't look good before but now it was even worse. He was on the very edge of his strength, exhausted, more so than ever before. Sweat bathed his face; armor slowly cooked him on the inside as he struggled to stand up. With loud grunt, he got himself up, right hand clenching the thick hilt of his sword.
Eyes wandered, looking in every direction possible. Eerie growl came from the near bush and Garen turned, pointing his sword toward the general location. Step by step, he slowly approached the bush and just as he was about to swing the heavy blade and cut the grass, another growl reached his ears and he turned. Rengar leaped, aiming with his blade to pierce Garen's heart. With the wide, desperate swing, Garen deflected the blade, sending it far from the hunter but he could not avoid the pounce. He fell on his back with hunter on top of him, growling into his face. Wound that was already painful was now akin to a hot iron placed on the bare skin. Rengar allowed himself one growly chuckle before his two claws attempted to pierce Garen's throat but stopped a mere centimeter from the target. It wasn't his mercy, it was Garen's arm that held hunter's, trembling as he tried to keep claws from piercing the soft skin. Demacian knew it was matter of seconds before he loses what little strength he has. In desperation he raised his right hand and punched Rengar across his left cheek. One more punch and beast's head turned from the force and Demacian went straight for his throat, clenching it tight.
Pridestalker had to move himself away, just enough of Garen's reach to be able to breathe again and in that moment, captain pushed his lower body upward, sending Rengar just high enough for Garen to plant his foot on his stomach and send him to the side, making him hit the nearby tree. Captain stood up quickly, grabbing his heavy blade and rushed forward, shouting as loud as his lungs could provide "DEMACIA!"
Point of the blade pierced Rengar's chest and even the tree, emerging from the other side. Only tip emerged, but enough to demonstrate that title Might of Demacia was earned, not inherited. Pridestalker coughed, blood gushed from mouth and head bowed forward. Garen just watched, knowing what will happen in next several seconds. Faint blue light surrounded Rengar, and entire body disintegrated in small magical balls, dispersing around. Right arm reached and grasped hilt of the sword, pulling out of the tree with great difficulty. Now he can return.
Just as he reached for the necklace hanging around his neck, loud bang filled entire field of justice and blue letters painted sky "VICTORY". He chuckled and sat down, still holding his side with hand but his rest was interrupted by the sound of steps coming from behind. Instinctively he clenched his sword.
"Easy there. Match is already over." Female voice was heard. Garen said nothing, waiting for the slim figure to walk past him and stand in front.
"Indeed." He responded with a nod.
"It appears I tend to lose when you are on opposing team." She said, smiling faintly as she looked down upon wounded captain. "You look terrible."
"Cut me some slack, will you?" Garen said, growling with clenched teeth as he repositioned himself on the ground, placing heavy sword in his lap. "I just spent… twenty minutes… dancing with the second worst breath in Runeterra." He jested as he looked up, gazing into eyes that appeared unimpressed at what they were looking at.
"And I suppose you would prefer to have different kind of dance?" She asked in softer voice.
"Now that you mention it, I wouldn't mind. Is that an offer?"
"In your dreams, Demacian." Katarina commented with a smirk, walking away from him. Unlike Rengar's, her steps were far softer, elegant, far more… pleasant to the ear. If only…
Garen leaned looked at his own hand. Same particles that enveloped Rengar now enveloped him and he felt as if his entire body became as light as a feather, a feeling he never got used to but a feeling he didn't hate. Quite the contrary, in those brief few seconds he felt as if his entire body was thrown out of this world, moment when peace took place into his mind. He opened his eyes glancing around as other champions stepped down from rune pedestals, walking outside of the summoners room. Wound was gone. What an amazing magic he thought. One can suffer thousand deaths upon field of justice, be tormented by the pain of thousand moments where final breath escapes the lips and he would still leave the field alive. Only the memory of the pain would remain… memory and exhaustion. Magic worthy of greatest of awe… to preserve champion, to keep him alive against everything that is thrown at him… but still to leave him with remainder of what he went through.
Captain made his way out of the room, looking at large lobby filled with both magical and technological marvels. Dozens of large monitors placer on walls, powered by crystals embedded in hextech's finest engineering, there to follow every match and allow other champions to observe and cheer for their favorites. Lobby was not just the place for champions and summoners. Visitors from all of Runeterra would make their way to Institute of War at least once to see the matches. One day, perhaps they would stand up in line to become next greatest gladiator worthy of all accolades.
"A well fought match." Garen said, extending his hand for a shake toward Ranger who just emerged from opposite room. Pridestalker just snarled at Demacian and moved along. Katarina followed the example, although her growl was far less obvious. Captain moved along but his trajectory changed as he heard his name being called. It was a figure of great elegance and wealth followed closely by his loyal half-dragon guardian.
"Your majesty…" He said as he approached prince, bowing his head to which the crowned champion scowled.
"Decades passed and I am yet to conquer your stubbornness." Prince commented "Drop the formalities Garen, we both spilled enough blood together to be rid of the titles."
"Heh… Have you come to see the match?" Garen asked to which Jarvan nodded.
"That and to hear the voice of Council on the issue of Noxian's raiding party. It is as I have predicted."
"What has Noxus demanded?" Garen asked, following slow steps of prince Jarvan and his always vigilant guard, Shyvana.
"Swain demands that we recall the scouting party that placed camp in Howling Marsh. In return he will recall all raiding parties sent along the southern borders of Demacia."
"Are we going to retreat?" Captain asked, voice showed great displeasure at demands.
"I will rather dethrone my father and then kill myself before I listen to demands of that… that… that…" Jarvan spoke through his gritted teeth, trying to find appropriate word.
"Tyrant?" Garen added appropriate word.
"Ass!" Jarvan practically shouted "Council found out about both of the 'expeditions' and has scheduled a match between Demacia and Noxus for next week."
"Do you wish for me to fight in the match?"
"I thought that was already as clear as day." Jarvan finally smiled as he looked at old friend "It appears we are going to fight side by side yet again. Just like the old days." Garen smiled to these words and nodded. "In the meantime, get some rest and enjoy the week, I need you in your full effect for the upcoming humiliation of the Noxian's finest 'excuses-for-warriors'. Meeting is on Saturday, I have summoned Lady Laurent and Quinn to join our team and come up with suitable strategy and plan of combat. With superior tactical advantage, some cunning and Demacian spirit… we cannot lose."
Garen smiled again, relieved to see prince in such high expectations for the match. Although he didn't mention fifth member, he assumed that his guard Shyvana was going to fill in the last spot. An unwise decision in his own opinion but he couldn't object. If it was up to him, Lucian would've been better option but word of the king and prince are absolute. They parted ways, leaving captain in the crowded lobby. His gaze now shifted to other side. It didn't take long for him to find what he was looking for. Among the sea of champions, politicians, visitors and regular spectators, very few had red hair and only one was adorned in leather clothes. Will she fight as well?
Heavy hand fell on his left shoulder and very impact nearly threw him off balance. It is not hard to recognize whose hand it is… there are only handful of people that strong.
"My good friend Garen!" man shouted, nearly shattering his eardrums.
"Braum." Garen turned and offered his hand for a shake, a notion that giant eagerly accepted and returned with hearty gesture of a firm squeeze and a pat on the armored shoulder. He hid well the fact that he felt slight pain.
"A very good match. I saw everything from the start right to the end. That Rengar is fierce rival, no doubt… but you still keep your well-earned title."
"I would say he is second person I am not keen seeing on opposite end of the battlefield." Garen said, averting his gaze to the left, spotting the hunter in question who was scratching his chin as he looked at one of the monitors.
"Only second? That first one must have done something really impressive. Or stepped on your wrong toe, if you catch my meaning." Giant winked at Garen.
"You could say so." Garen commented. For a moment he observed Freljordian, noticing something unusual "Where is your shield?"
"Over there." Braum pointed behind himself. Around his intricate shield was a small group of Yordles, intensively studying large piece of impressive looking doors.
"Are you sure it is wise to leave it like that? What if someone steals it?"
"Haaah! They need to lift it first!" Braum commented through hearty chuckle "Little ones over there seem to be very interested in it."
"Yes and from my experience their interest is not always a good thing." Garen frowned slightly as he observed group around the shield. They were measuring it, muttering among each other "Still, are you sure you should leave it unattended like that? I think one of them said 'explosives'.
"If they can wreck it, it is theirs to take! I bashed it for hours and couldn't make a single scratch on it. If their so called technology can break it, then who am I to say they are not worthy of having it?"
"You are really taking things easy, do you?" Garen asked although it was more of a comment than a question. He was no longer frowning as he looked up at muscled man. There was a spark of admiration in him along with a smile.
"Such is life, my friend." Braum commented sagely "Today I may lose a shield, tomorrow I may find a hammer! I saw one of the little ones carry a hammer almost twice her size so I got myself thinking. Perhaps I find one for myself, a hammer made out of even bigger door! Now that would be something!" Herder laughed loud enough for all those around him to notice him and look his way. Captain couldn't contain himself and chuckled along, finding image of a hammer made out of doors highly amusing. His eyes however landed upon another target.
"But that reminded me. There are some rumors that I heard involving you and a certain… Noxian girl that fights well with daggers."
"What?" Garen quickly looked toward Freljordian, eyes widened in surprise.
"I didn't start it but I find it interesting. Yes! Very interesting." Braum nodded, fingers braided his own moustache.
"Hold on, that is not true." Captain quickly added, denying the said rumors even though no name was immediately given.
"It isn't?" Braum looked with left eyebrow lifted. His torso bowed and head moved closer to Garen's "Then how come your eyes keep seeking her?"
"She is an assassin. One who aims to take my life, I have to keep my eyes on her." Garen frowned heavily.
"Oh I think she may be aiming for your life but she got something else instead." Freljordian grinned wide. His right hand reached up with index finger extended forward, pressing against chestplate of Demacian's finest. Garen swallowed hard, his frown turned slowly upward. Now, he himself didn't know what to think anymore.
"You cannot trick Braum easily." Giant smiled wide, wiggling his eyebrows in rather comedic fashion before he stood tall again, taking a glance at his shield that was still object of admiration and a few experiments. Yordles still attempted to lift the shield, now as a group and when they failed they attempted to take a chunk of it by slamming their wrenches and other tools against the thinnest part of the shield… horn, to be precise. Much to Braum's amusement, all they could manage was to tire themselves on pointless attempts.
"It is not that simple, Braum." Garen commented, getting Braum's attention back to him.
"And why is it not?"
"We come from opposite cultures." Garren said.
"And yet you are both human." Braum added.
"Our nations waged bloody war one against another."
"And now you are at peace." Braum added again, voice now more softer as he was proving his point.
"We are very different people."
"I agree. You are man, she is a woman. A fine woman if I may say so."
"You are not giving up, are you?"
"Does love give up?"
Garen's look turned, from mild amusement to complete shock "Whooa hold on there, no one said anything about love?"
"No?" Braum asked "Then how do you see the one named Sinister Blade?"
"As a worthy rival." Garen said after a few moments of deep thinking "Someone who can push me beyond my limits and bring out best of my abilities."
"A baron can do that!" Braum raised his voice as if he is praising the mentioned wurm. His voice soon lowered down "Try looking past the brawl, look at her deeper side."
"I do not think she has that 'deeper side'. Only depth she accepts is how deep she can slide her blade into my guts."
"And you believe that there are no chances for good friendship to be born from the rivalry?"
Captain looked again to his side. Katarina was standing on the edge of the crowd conversing with one she calls Talon. Even from this distance he could see that she did had something he rarely sees. Even if faint one, even so subtle to be barely be recognized… there was a smile "Maybe in another time and another place." Garen commented, now desperate to end the exchange of arguments he was clearly losing.
"I recently spoke with one of the little ones. Glasses, great mind, hair worthy of king of Freljord! He believes every star in the sky has more worlds like ours where people are living. More than that, he believes that there are… what did he call it? Dim… din… dime… oh right dimensions! Yes! Countless amounts of them where every possible story is being told right as we speak. Perhaps on one of such there is a Demacian named Garen and Noxian named Katarina and they are happy right now."
"But I say, why hoping that there is one of such? Why not this one?" Braum leaned forward again, still having his wide smile that was simply irresistible to ignore, even to a battle-hardened Demacian captain. Ignoring was difficult but at least he will try and object.
"Because…!" Garen raised his voice, trying to find suitable argument but after very long pause he lowered his voice down to normal. "I don't… even know if my views are shared by…" he stopped, looking to side again toward red haired assassin.
"The way I see it, that heart you have in you is not yours anymore. Even if you won't admit it."
"What do you mean not mine?" He asked, brows furrowed yet again. His arms were crossed as he waited for explanation from the giant Freljordian.
"That heart is hers." Braum slowly rose his hand and as inconspicuously as possible pointed toward Katarina who was still unaware that she is target of debate. "And it will remain with her until you ask for it back. All you need to do is go over there and ask for her to give it back to you. Worst possible case… she gives it back, a little cracked, few places to be mended but in time and with a lot of warm milk it will be as good as new!" Freljordian laughed heartily "Best case scenario… she won't give it back to you."
"And what good is it then?" Garen asked.
"Ah, but you see, a person doesn't need two hearts. If she keeps yours, she'll give you hers in exchange."
"Is that so…" Captain smiled softly, looking away. For a man who so eagerly speaks of heart and of sharing one, he appeared as if he has three for himself "You do realize that even if you are right, I would be branded as traitor, my family banished and I would be executed in front of everyone?"
Braum simply nodded and looked away as his name was being called. His hand moved up to his own face, braiding one of his moustaches.
"A worthy challenge… something to think about, but for now, it is time for me to show fruits of my training! I best get my shield before they hurt someone with all those machines."
"Indeed. Good luck!" Garen added, ready to leave.
"I got it!" Braum stopped and turned. Demacian looked at large Freljordian with quizzical look "If that is the problem, then make yourself less alive. If everyone believes you are dead, no reason to impose harsh punishment on family. It is big world, finding someone is not easy."
Garen was left with his thoughts, pondering on everything that Braum said. If only it was that easy. He allowed himself one more gaze toward the assassin before he hanged his sword over his shoulder, heading out of the Institute.
The day of battle came and despite prince's orders, Garen couldn't lock himself in the mansion and do nothing. Most days he spent in backyard among training equipment and wooden dummies. They should've been metal instead of wood. Sword cuts easily through such soft material, even more when a skilled, strong arm is swinging at them. Demacian group entered the large chamber of the High Council, void of everyone but them and three councilors, dressed in long navy-blue robes with golden lace on the edges of their hoods and sleeves.
"We are ready." Jarvan said as he stood in front of his group before the High Council.
"As are we." Second voice came, one that made all five of them turn head. Prince's eyes squinted as he looked at Grand General followed by his most trusted warriors. Katarina and Talon on his left, Darius and LeBlanc on his right. "I can only hope you are ready for this humiliation, prince Jarvan Lightshield the Fourth."
"We shall see about that." Jarvan replied. As they waged their silent war, one of the summoners entered the chamber and approached High Council, whispering to them. Words were too quiet for any of them to hear but they all noticed his presence.
"Is there a problem?" Prince asked, turning head slightly but eyes were glued to Swain.
"The match shall proceed as scheduled. Demacian team against Noxus team. As per agreement, losing side shall fulfill demands of the winning one implicitly. Proceed to your nexus."
All matches on that day were canceled, all but this one. Political and military prowess along with famed rivalry of two nations gathered large crowd. Demacian finest again Noxus's finest were to face one another. For them it was moment of great importance, historical even. Such was any match between these two nations. For everyone else, it was a spectacle unlike any other, promising a heart-stopping match and great turnovers as sides stood much to lose in case of defeat. First to step on the pedestal was Jarvan, followed by his guard Shyvana and Might of Demacia. Quinn and Fiora were last to climb up. Seconds later they appeared on the field, greeted by female voice that could be heard throughout entire Field of Justice.
"WELCOME TO SUMMONER'S RIFT"
"We stick to our plan." Jarvan said as he slowly walked forward "Garen will take up lane to the left with lady Laurent. Quinn and Shyvana shall take path to the right. If I know Swain, and I know him, he shall be coming from the central path. He wouldn't miss the chance to face me. On my signal, we switch."
"Understood." Rest said in unison and moved toward their pre-planned locations. While four of them ran, Jarvan walked slowly toward the 'meeting place'.
Battle began. Mindless followers moved along the path, followed closely by champions. Just as they predicted, Garen and Fiora are facing Katarina and Darius. Whatever feelings Garen harbored before the match, all were locked deep, sealed with unbreakable lock that is his loyalty toward Demacia and its people. He can worry about small sentiments later, right now… Katarina is to be viewed as single greatest rival to him. From the very first clash everything indicated that battle will be fierce and difficult. As it was planned, Garen's fight was against Darius. Sword and axe clashed one against another; sparks flew with each parried attack. Fiora's duel with Katarina was far more subtle, only few clashes of their respective weapons as they both focused on aiming for vital parts of the other person's body. Five minutes since the start of the match and a red flare rose up with loud whistle. First signal was sent.
"Go!" Garen shouted toward Fiora who immediately ran through the shallow river. Katarina attempted to follow but quickly dodged back as large sword aimed to cut her in half. "You two aren't going anywhere while I am drawing my breath!" Garen growled at them, standing between them and entrance to the river. Enraged, Darius rushed toward Demacian, swinging heavy axe only to be met with a parry and a swift punch with left arm across the face. General growled at Damacian, swinging heavy axe again, this time managing to make a solid scratch against Garen's left shoulder piece. He took several steps back, forced to take solid footing as Katarina appeared just in front of him, swinging her blades with unparalleled grace. Within next moment, she again disappeared and much to Garen's surprise, she appeared sitting on his shoulders, clenching his neck tight with her legs. Her blade rose, preparing to send fatal blow but voice interrupted her. Loud, booming voice filled the field "HIGH GENERAL SWAIN HAS BEEN SLAIN!"
Katarina's head turned and focus dropped as she looked down the river, giving Garen just enough time to grab her and throw down into the water. Darius was no less surprised by the announcement, enough to barely avoid Garen's attack. One swing, then another, Might of Demacia was pressing forward, sending fury of attacks toward Noxian general. Garen's hand reached for the handle of the axe, gripping it tight, preventing Darius from swinging it. Sword rose, horizontal with the ground and point of the blade pierced general's chest.
"Eat your heart out, you butcher." he muttered as he pulled out his sword.
Tower of the middle lane fell soon and with the help of mindless minions Garen succeeded in preventing Katarina's attempt to advance. Her attacks were relentless, barely giving him time to dodge. Furious Noxian general joined fray yet again, eager to take vengeance for the pain he just had to endure. Another tower fell. Battle prolonged more than he anticipated and fighting against two Noxian elite proved to be too much even for Garen. Exhaustion slowly caught up with mighty captain but his resolve remained unwavering and he endured one blow after another. Match entered second hour. Third tower fell and that was the signal to retreat but not before none other than Jarvan appeared out of nowhere, taking both of Noxian champions for himself.
Captain ran back just out of sight and took the path through the jungle. If everything would be as prince predicted, Swain is right now locked in combat with Shyvana. The sight was almost horrific. It was demon against dragon, magic against fire, battle worthy of epic tales. He waited for the right moment; standing leaned behind large boulder, gathering his breath. Opportunity came, High General Swain exposed during his combat with half-dragon. Now was the time to strike. His sword was bathed in golden light and mighty Demacian rushed forward, sending a quick and mighty slash at possessed Noxian general. Though it only managed to make a small cut, it was enough for Swain to lose his balance and focus and within seconds, dragon fell upon him ripping him apart.
He only gave her a nod before he rushed forward; knowing that there are is only one more line of defense before their nexus is exposed. His head turned as he heard steps behind him. There was no surprise in his look, he knew Katarina would be following him but he must not stop. Walls are in sight, minions inside laying siege upon the last of the towers that stood before them. Blade rose up, pointed forward; both hands held the haft and he screamed "DEMACIA!" Crimson crystal was pierced; half of the blade went through as if it was made out of butter. Crack expanded and light emerged, shattering large piece of crystal. Loud voice echoed through the field
BLUE TEAM VICTORY!
Mighty captain turned, breathing heavily and offering a smile to his rival. Her look was anything but pleased and in her defense, she had right to be sour. Noxus lost and will now be forced to call back all raiding parties that were still roaming along the borders.
"Tendency continues." He gloated, looking around for rest of champions to come. Katarina's expression turned from sour to very annoyed as she heard his words. Right now, all she wanted to do was slit his throat.
Cracking noise reached both of them, rising in volume with each second. Both of them looked toward the nexus. Crystal was slowly revealing more and more cracks in it, holes filled with red light. Both of them felt uneasy, as if their instincts were warning them of impending disaster. Their instincts were right.
Cracks expanded even more and soon entire crystal gave away the signs of imploding. Air around them swirled and gravity shifted, pulling them both toward itself along with everything around that wasn't tied to the ground. Garen quickly took his sword and lodged the tip between two cobblestone pieces, using it to hold himself from being drawn to the nexus. Katarina, on the other hand, could not replicate the method but fortunately Garen's quick thinking was still in effect and he grabbed her arm just as she was passing him. Gravity became stronger and now both of them were lift from the ground with only Garen's sword keeping them from being sucked into large crystal.
The pull increased and burden on hand multiplied. Crystal shattered completely, imploding into its own center that was now a ball of pure magic, surrounded by numerous electric surges. Garen was struggling, giving his all to keep the grip tight around the haft and Katarina's arm. Just five more seconds and crystal will explode.
On third second, sword bent, on forth it broke in half and both of them were pulled into the core of nexus. Wherever they are going now, they are going fast. Entire field around them turned white as they were surging through what appeared to be tunnel made out of magical particles of all colors. Although he felt same sensation as he did when he was transported back into Institute, he knew this was nothing like that. This was far more chaotic and violent. Instinctively, he grabbed Katarina with both arms, wrapping them around her as he felt the worst is yet to come, knowing that emerging from this swirl would inevitably slam against the ground. He didn't knew why he did it, he just felt as if he needs to take this fall for her. They emerged from the tunnel and slammed hard against the ground. It should've killed them. The speed, the feel, everything looked as if they were going thousand kilometers per second and now they are on the ground… they should be dead.
"What the hell was that?" Garen asked, groaning hard as he finally came to his senses.
"Hell if I know." She commented, feeling uncomfortable in position she is in "You can let me go now." She looked up at him, commenting at the fact he was still holding her. It was only now that he noticed he down on the ground with her on top of him, arms still embracing her. Quickly, he opened his arms allowing her to stand up.
"Where are we?" Katarina asked, looking around. Captain slowly stood up, eyes wandered from one side to another and then behind him. They were on a small hill, grass no taller than their ankles. Everywhere around them were green lands, lush and wide with patches of forest far into the horizon.
Garen kept looking, trying to see any signs of recognizable landmarks or large masses that he knew or remembered seeing. After several moments of silence he uttered "I have no idea…"