No True Noxian

Disclaimer: Don't own League of Legends or whatever. No profit is being made. Also do not own the MonHon cameo.

Notes: Unrepentant wank of Riven/Irelia/Sejuani/Syndra/LeBlanc. Also terrible smut. League of Lesbians.

In Noxus, the prime principle from which all others follow is strength. From strength is born authority. From strength is born right. From strength is born identity.

This is burned into every true Noxian from the moment they are born. It is etched into the foundation of their world. It is, more oft than not, carved into their bodies.

And it is an idea carved deeper into Riven than any other.

The Institute of War is no collar, no chain for Noxus. The judgment of the Institute is respected only because it is backed by strength. The moment that strength falters, Riven knows, Noxus will topple it.

It is not why Riven presents herself to the Institute. It only forces her hand early.

Because it will not be the Noxus of Jericho Swain that does so. It will be hers.

Despite her sensationalized title, Riven is not, strictly, an exile. Noxian command would never voluntarily cede authority over something - and she herself has never so much as denounced Noxus. But the title does win her one thing: she boards far from her countrymen in the Institute.

Cowardice, is the tone of any Noxian conversation that touches Riven's presence. It is, probably, also the tone of any conversation of the enemies of Noxus - but those are not worth listening to.

Jericho Swain does not so much as acknowledge her existence. It is an insult greater than the malice directed against her by the others.

Riven welcomes the insult almost as much as she hates it. If Jericho Swain will not see her coming, well. Noxus has ever known assassination to be proof of strength. And if he is keeping an eye on her - she can live with that respect until he dies with it.

In the meantime, her goal must be to stall. To keep the strength of the Institute from faltering. Noxus must hone itself more yet. Because the end goal is not to topple the Institute - the end goal is what comes after. Jericho Swain will have some scheme in place for that. But it will not be the plan of a true Noxian.

So much the better if it is not the strength of the Institute faltering on its own, but at Noxus' will.

Of all the champions attending the Institute who do not owe allegiance to Noxus, only the Ionians concern Riven. Too many priority faces - none that she has ever met, but all of them specifically called out by Noxian High Command.

Almost all of them.

The captain of the Ionia guard Riven only knows of by reputation. The Stand of the Placidium was a battle lost after her apparent death. If half the Noxian legends about her are true, then her position is merited at least as well as Riven's once was.

And the only way to tell that, of course, is to bleed her (or with her). Not on this farce of justice - where neither of them may bring to bear their full strength, nor fight with the fear of their last breath.

But that is strictly forbidden. To fight - injure, let alone actually kill - another Champion is to incur the most severe punishments of the Institute. And though her blood pounds at the thought of reforging her blade for it, and marking some lonely ground forever with their life, Riven does not act. Discipline, too, is a display of strength.

With every match on the farce of justice, it becomes clearer that to actually delay the atrophy of the Institute's strength will require a more subtle hand than she had been expecting. What is required is a conflict, over which the Institute must have jurisdiction, and which Noxus may have no hand in.

And so it is that her eyes turn to Freljord. It would be impossible for the rising tension with the arrival of Sejuani to go unnoticed, and the heart of the blizzard is ever so explicit about her intent.

For Riven, seeing Sejuani is so very much like looking into a warped mirror.

And it is this particular Noxian breed of intent that drives Riven to introduce herself. First, because she feels for Sejuani. And second, because if Riven has seen this in the Freljordian, there is no way that Jericho Swain has not - and she cannot allow Noxus to intervene. In this, the memory of the Northern Barbarian Pacification Campaign is a boon - while tribes of Freljord proper remained untouched, no one doubts that Noxus would soon have dropped the Barbarian from the campaign. And it is just as transparent that it was a plan born of Jericho Swain.

So she waits until Sejuani is isolated - which takes all of an hour and a half, and seats herself beside the princess.

"Hello," she says. "My name is Riven."

Sejuani stares at her as though she's about as interesting as a mayfly.

Riven forges on anyway. "That was quite the introduction. To challenge the queen of Freljord-"

Something cracks, and Sejuani's gaze bites into her.

"The pretender queen," she amends.

"Get to your point," Sejuani bites out.

"I merely wondered what allies you intended to bring against her. You are the only champion of Freljord who swears no loyalty to her."

Were this anywhere but the Institute, Riven is pretty sure there would now be bloodshed.

"I have no need of allies." Sejuani says, dismissing the question outright. "Ashe is no match for the true wrath of winter."

A smile spreads across Riven's face. "Because you challenged her in the League," she says. "So you must defeat her in a match sanctioned by the Institute of War." It is clear from Sejuani's arched brow that she does not see the connection. "And the only matches recognized by the Institute are in teams of five."

The frown that is the only expression Riven has seen on her face deepens. "Truly."

"Oh yes," Riven affirms.

"You are telling me this for a reason."

Riven closes her eyes, and remembers the Zaunite Melters burning Noxian and Ionian alike. Hatred boils up in her throat, and her voice overflows with it when she opens her mouth.

"Because I know what it is like to have your homeland corrupted."

She opens her eyes again, discipline choking the hatred back into dormancy. And just as she has never pitied Sejuani, the only thing visible in the heart of the blizzard is a mixture of understanding and respect. And though it is not apologetic, when she says:

"I have no reason to trust you."

It is just as clear she is looking for an excuse to.

And so Riven shrugs. "Then," she says, "we shall just have to work together until you do."

"A thing you propose doing by..." Sejuani says.

"The institute of war," Riven says, "is more than the fields of justice."

While it is not required, or particularly encouraged, the institute cannot prevent champions from accepting requests for aid from city-states, and the citizens thereof. Since, of course, the institute cannot monitor such trips, before a champion may embark on one, they are required to share the specifics of where they will be going, and how long they expect to be gone.

With zero champions slain, Riven can only assume that no one has yet served a request in the territory of their modern enemy.

Which makes serving this particular request extraordinarily absurd. It is no one's fault but her own, for not checking the situation before agreeing to go with Sejuani. It must be the only way Sejuani will ever see the island nation, but for Riven, returning to Ionia is a terrible idea.

It is not that she thinks her face uniquely remembered - though there is always the possibility that the Ionian champions may have announced her as a member of the invasion, that seems unlikely - it is no secret in the Institute, and therefore across all of Valoran, that she is Noxian. Assuming, of course, that her skin, eyes and hair did not mark her so (though perhaps her hair in isolation would make some think her of Sejuani's tribe).

So Riven chooses to track when Sejuani seeks out information upon her quarry. Foolish though it is for her to be in Ionia, more so to deliberately seek out authority.

The bamboo forests of Ionia have never been particularly distinct to Riven - and indeed confuse her senses more than any other terrain, frost mountains of Freljord included. It is inevitable, really, that she is nearly on top of Irelia before she notices the Ionian.

To which her first thought is, ah fuck.

"Noxian," Irelia's voice is perfectly bland and controlled. "What are you doing in my home?"

Riven speaks without thinking, which she suspects is the only way she's going to leave. "Sejuani decided to serve a request here, and asked for my company." Her heart is beating full tilt by the end of Sejuani's name. Though her gaze fixes on Irelia's armor - red standing out against the bamboo - her ears desperately search to see if they are alone.

Only now, with the fear of death pumping the blood through her veins, Riven sees how young the Ionian is. The differentiation between child and adult in Noxus is merely the recognition of individual strength - Riven was an adult long before many of those born before her. Irelia is an adult by any Valoran standard - but she cannot have been during the invasion.

Riven believes, in this moment, every Noxian legend about the captain of the guard.

"I see," Irelia says in that same flat, hard voice. "And where is she?"

"Learning everything that wasn't in the request."

Irelia approaches her, in a way that reminds Riven precisely of those most confident Noxians, whose strength has transformed into a beauty recognized even outside of Noxus. She forces her breath to slow, deepen.

"I hadn't heard of such a request," she says. "I should like to accompany the two of you, to see it done."

It takes a moment for Riven to decide that this is, in fact, an honest desire. Whether to keep an eye on the Noxian deep in her territory, or because she is truly interested in this request of Sejuani's, Irelia is going to go with them. The realization that she had been considering whether this was an excuse to stab her in the back sends a hot flush of shame across Riven's neck. Irelia's strength is blatantly not of that ilk.

"I'm sure we would welcome the company," she says.

With Irelia's help, completing the request is... well, no easier, but certainly faster. It only serves to reinforce that the shades encountered on the farce of justice are nothing like the genuine article.

Riven blames Irelia's presence for her distraction. It leaves her performance wanting - a humiliation unto itself. It's a new experience for her. Must be because Irelia has every reason to want her dead.

The shame of it is probably what keeps her awake long into the night.

It is a slow time for the institute. No sanctioned matches are scheduled, and of the practice matches, none require Riven's presence. It leaves her a lot of time to mull.

Sejuani is not seeking allies. Or at least, she is not prioritizing seeking out allies for her unscheduled, as yet unsanctioned match with Ashe. Riven cannot, strictly, blame her for this. The number of champions sufficiently independent of a nation, who might also be sympathetic to the heart of the blizzard is minimal at best. The troll king might be, and so too the berserker lord. And, should she be convinced it would set her in opposition to her sister, Morgana.

But the unresolved tension between Sejuani and Ashe keeps the institute alert. The masters of it keep, for the first time since Riven arrived, an actual watchful eye upon the champions. Their enforcers sharpen their blades. And the plans of Jericho Swain are delayed - a fact expressed in a way only Noxians would understand.

And most perplexingly, Riven's attention is drawn to the Ionian captain of the guard again and again. It seems that she is everywhere - a fact that must be simple paranoia. She's seen Irelia's strength, so it is only sensible that she be more aware of her.

What time she can, Riven spends serving requests - hunting whenever one that isn't in Ionia is available, but those are not so common. Risking life and limb is the only form of training Noxus believes in - and where all of her skill beyond the absolute basics with a blade comes from.

Which leaves her with a ludicrous amount of free time.

Inaction is something Riven is intimately familiar with. Indefinite inaction is something new.

Her frustration builds right up until the day she walks into the shared bath and finds Irelia.

Oh, she thinks when her brain eventually restarts, so that's it.

Finding the Ionian attractive is no surprise. Irelia is strong, utterly confident, and a woman - the top three most appealing traits anyone can have.

The surprise is that she wants Irelia. Though she is only visible from the shoulder up, and her eyes are closed, the sight of her nearly stops Riven's heart.

It's something she has plenty of time to consider as she soaks, until Irelia leaves. Which is, itself, a thing to see.

Indecision does not work for Riven. The only time she willingly suffers it is when she's possessed of no information.

So it is that instead of faffing about, or stalking Irelia from afar, as night falls, Riven knocks on the Ionian's door. It's answered before someone comes by, to drive Riven away. She holds her empty hands up to forestall any thought that she may be a threat.

Irelia's blades rotate slowly behind her. They are the same color as her robe, which looks not wholly dissimilar to some of the formal Ionian garb Riven vaguely remembers. She tilts her head curiously, presumably because there's no reason for this visitor.

"May I?" Riven asks, making a vague enter gesture.

"What are-"

She interrupts, pushing her way into Irelia's quarters and shutting the door behind her. The action is aggressive, and Irelia responds about as well as she expected, blades quivering as they point directly at her. Riven raises her hands again, to reemphasize the not armed factor.

"You're the only one with a weapon here," she says, wanting very badly to keep this in Irelia's mind.

The blades settle, though they don't turn from her. "What are you doing here?" Irelia asks again.

Riven chooses not to answer, instead staring curiously at the blades. After a moment of silence, she reaches out to touch one, managing to ignore Irelia's focus. It is cool to the touch and feels... well, feels like a blade. For some reason, she had thought it might feel more alive.

And then Irelia seizes her wrist, and peels her hand away. Her grip is clearly using almost none of her strength - it is a threat, but a polite one. Riven spends a few seconds considering the position she's in, and then decides that words are really not the most effective way to explain.

Instead, she crowds into Irelia's space, keeping mind of how the blades follow her, but never looking away from the Ionian and her growing confusion. It isn't until now, with barely an inch separating their faces that Riven realizes she's the taller of the two. Before Irelia decides what she thinks of this, Riven breaks her grip, and braces her hand against the back of the Ionian's neck so that when she closes the last of the gap between them and presses her lips against hers, she can't flinch away.

Riven is gratified to feel that she doesn't try to. She probes at her mouth, and the Ionian obligingly allows Riven's tongue in. She takes like plums and steel, and Riven cannot get enough. Her free hand drops into the small of Irelia's back, and she crushes the smaller woman's body into hers. One of Irelia's hands bunches into Riven's skirt, and the other into her own robe.

Eventually Riven allows the kiss to break, and Irelia gasps, a hot flush spreading across her cheeks.

"I want you," Riven breathes into Irelia's ear. She shifts her hand higher, scraping her fingernails across her scalp, underneath that ink slick hair.

"Oh," Irelia says and shudders. "Oh," she says again.

"You have about five seconds to stop me," Riven whispers. She sets to tasting the Ionian's neck

At the count of four, Irelia croaks, "Don't," and Riven freezes, before dropping her hands and pulling back. Irelia's hand in her skirt stops her. Riven arches an eyebrow at the woman who won't meet her gaze. "Don't stop," she says, and bites her lip. Riven waits to see if she has something else to say.

"I don't... I've never," Irelia says at length, her voice the merest whisper. The hand that isn't clinging to Riven's skirt makes a vague gesture that neither of them can see.

It's a touch disappointing to hear, but hardly something Riven will blame her for. She walks the Ionian back until her knees press against the mattress of her bed. She bumps Irelia's chin, pushing her to meet her eyes. "You just leave that to me," she says, and kisses her again.

And while she drowns the Ionian in her desire, she works her robe down off her shoulders, down to her elbows, trapping her arms behind her back and revealing her breasts. Then she shoves Irelia onto the bed.

Riven takes the opportunity to drink her in while Irelia blinks and tries to figure out where exactly she is. The blush across her chest stains her skin a lovely pink marble color. With some small degree of satisfaction, she traces the scars littering Irelia's body. The strength it took to scatter the entire Noxian force fielded at the Placidium was indomitable - not untouchable.

Irelia is built athletic, without the raw mass Riven has. Which is fine - the only human who wields a weapon of comparable size is the barbarian king, after all. Indeed, as Irelia's blades are moved by her will, her form is a tribute to her discipline above anything else. Her breasts - topped by deliciously dusky nipples - are smaller than Riven usually prefers, but not everyone can be blessed with Noxian blood. Her robe has fallen open to reveal one of her legs up to the thigh.

Riven stares until Irelia starts to fidget, tries to bring her knees together, and wedges her thigh between the Ionian's knees. "You," she says, "are stunning." Irelia smiles, and Riven kisses it off her face. Then she starts to work her way down, following scars the all the way to the Ionian's breasts. She runs her hand up Irelia's exposed leg, playing with the edge of her robe.

It is not her usual way to tease, but since she's fairly certain Irelia will not be doing much returning of this favor this night, she chooses to take her pleasure in delaying her lover's. So she plays her tongue around Irelia's breast, enjoying the quiet gasps that never quite become moans, and avoiding the woman's nipple, allowing only her breath to touch the sensitive bud.

"Riven," Irelia whimpers. "Please."

Her hand crawls up under Irelia's robe to run her thumb along the junction of her hip. "Please what?" she growls.

"I want you."

Riven draws a sharp breath, and smiles wickedly.

"Well that, I cannot refuse." And she lifts the robe away from Irelia's legs and dives beneath it. It's dark and hot and Irelia is so fucking wet that the sheets beneath her must be drenched. Riven drags the width of her tongue over the length of Irelia's cunt, and is rewarded as her hips buck.

It's a good reaction to discover before she's fully committed, and it could break her nose. She braces both hands on Irelia's hips, and dives back into devouring her engorged lips. Here, she determines, Irelia tastes... rich, is the only way she can think of it - though why doesn't immediately come to mind, and wasting attention on that isn't worth it. She's sweet and fresh - it's new to Riven, who's only twice fucked without a thorough workout directly leading up to it.

And, just as her tongue brushes the smaller woman's clit, Irelia's body goes taut - accompanied by a series of thuds Riven can't place - and holds for an eternal five seconds, before she goes completely limp and crashes down onto the bed.

Shit, Riven thinks, and fights her way out of the robe to get Irelia's weight off of her trapped arms. She props the Ionian up, and starts undoing the wide belt on her robe to free her up. The smaller woman's breath comes deep and slow.

Huh. She's pretty sure she's never fucked someone unconscious before.

Riven pulls Irelia close, and slips a hand into her own skirt to bring her own efficient, clinical, disappointing climax. Then she lets the other woman's soft breathing lull her to sleep.

In retrospect, she's woken by the cold of being alone in bed, which doesn't make sense at first, because she's been alone for a very long time. It takes a couple of seconds, but before she sits up she remembers whose bed she's in.

Irelia perches on a chair near the bed, her robe wrapped loosely around her - something Riven takes as encouraging. In the light of day, Irelia once again wears her strength with full confidence. It would be intimidating after a fashion, if not for the mark from Riven's blouse on her face.

"Exile," she says.

Riven meets her gaze and stretches languidly. "I thought we were past titles after last night, Irelia."

She blushes, and though she doesn't look away, she begins to fidget. "Riven," she mumbles.

"Good morning," she replies.

"Why did you..." Irelia trails off without specifying, and instead waves at the bed.

A frown spreads across Riven's lips, and she crosses her arms. "Was I unclear when I said," and here her voice drops, "I want you?"

"No," Irelia says. "That was... most clear. Why did you stay?"

Riven stretches and cracks her neck. "I was very tired," she says. And a little annoyed at having to get herself off. "Why? Did you want to pretend I was a dream?"

At this, Irelia stops being able to look at her, and after a moment, Riven smiles. She rises, and stalks toward the Ionian. She trails her hand up her arm, and rests on her shoulder. She leans down, and whispers into her ear, "How long have you been dreaming of me?"

She can feel the heat of her blush. "Since you arrived."

The confession lights desire in her again. Riven plays her fingers across Irelia's exposed collar, traces the edge of her robe. "And what would I do in these dreams?"

She says nothing for so long that Riven begins to think she's not going to answer. "I can try guessing," she says, casually perching her chin atop Irelia's head. The blades tear free of the walls - where it looks like they are not supposed to be stored, and twirl in a way she can only think of as anxiously.

"Maybe I attacked you outside the fields," Riven says. She traces the curve of the Ionian's jaw, drawing closer to the woman's ear as she speaks. "I lost, of course. But I forfeited the protections of the Institute. And I... was already your prisoner." The growing look of discomfort on Irelia's face tells her just how wrong she is, but she keeps going. "I wonder, was I your pet exclusively, or did you share? Did you make coin off of my services?"

"No," Irelia protests. "That's not. I wouldn't." She stops, and tries to calm down as much as she can with Riven pressed up against her. "You came to me," she says quietly, "and begged to know how to redeem yourself."

It's a hilarious idea. There is only one redemption for failed invasion. It's still less unsettling than her idea.

"And what did you tell me?" Riven purrs.

Irelia swallows, and tries to turn away until Riven forces her back. "I asked you to kneel," she whispers.

And that is just a delicious idea, so Riven obeys, placing her knees between Irelia's feet, and sliding her hands under the robe, up the other woman's legs. "Like this?" she asks.

"Not-not quite." Her ears are bright pink, and it seems as though she's been blushing since Riven knocked on her door. The Noxian arches an eyebrow, and waits patiently for clarification. "You were naked," she says at length, not managing to look her in the eyes.

"Of course," Riven says, and rises to her feet. She strips her blouse off without ceremony - there are only two fun states for clothing; as toys, and not present at all. Irelia stares, though whether it's at the scars that litter her body or the definition of muscle, Riven can't say. She sets to unwrapping her breasts, with every winding she undoes, Irelia's eyes grow a touch wider.

When she drops the wrap on her discarded blouse, she allows the Ionian a minute of uninterrupted ogling. She stretches her arms behind her, to show off her proud, firm breasts with only the beginning of sag to them. It's been a long time since Irelia blinked, so she bends at the waist, bracing her hands on the arms of her chair, and catches her eyes.

"Am I everything you imagined?"

Irelia shivers. "I thought you were... tanned," she says.

Riven's smile turns cruel. "Oh? And are you disappointed that I'm not secretly lily white?"

"No!" she protests immediately. "You're..." she bites her lip, and Riven runs her thumb over it. She sits up a touch straighter and says, "exquisite."

"Aren't you a charmer," she says, and sets to unwrapping her skirt. It and her smallclothes join her blouse, and she sinks back to her knees, crossing her arms over Irelia's thighs, and propping her chin upon them. "So, naked on my knees. What next?"

"I... you... serviced me."

That's a touch too vague for Riven. "So I was naked, on my knees in front of you... and you had me polish your blades."

Though, on second thought, it wouldn't be all that far out there.

"No, er... like you did last night."

"And did the reality live up to your dreams?"

As though the question unchains her, Irelia strokes Riven's cheek. "Eclipses."

"You say that like you're trying for a repeat performance," she says. "Don't worry. That's inevitable."

This time, Riven awakens while Irelia is still asleep, and leaves. Apparently being fucked unconscious twice in a row is too much for even her stamina.

Having addressed her... distraction, Riven once again focuses on what preparations Noxus is undertaking. It's difficult. She has no friends among the Noxian champions - just some who are fonder of her than they despise her. She makes do with what clues she can wrangle out of fellow champions and servicing requests in Noxus. No doubt some of these are left by Jericho Swain, but those only matter when they're not blatant falsifications. And, well, he has far too many people who only suspect what Riven knows to devote many resources to deception of degree over nothing at all.

What she can piece together, knowing Noxus, is less promising than she'd like. Even granted the... upheaval Noxus is undergoing. Jericho Swain has the support of every member of the High Command - or at least, the apparent support. The mystery of General Du Couteau's disappearance is only a paper mystery.

It is probably why she can count the sinister blade and the gorgon as not quite enemies. (The fate of the younger Du Coteau sister is a fucking tragedy - a crime against all of Runeterra in fact.)

Noxus is mobilized. Which is not quite the way the rest of the world would put it. Noxus never stood down after ostensibly bowing to the Institute (not that Noxus has been without some scale of war since long before her mother was born, but the military at large does return to port). The problem with this is that, by necessity, many of the senior officers are those who survived (lead) the Ionian campaign (to be read as the Ionian clusterfuck) are still in charge.

There is nothing that Jericho Swain could do to earn her good graces, but if he were to execute every single commander to survive it, she would think of him slightly better after he died.

Riven doesn't see Irelia for the better part of a fortnight. She counts (every third day). It sticks out in her mind because she couldn't avoid the woman before - and somehow, changing none of her routine, their paths never cross.

Oh well. It's a shame, but not wholly unexpected.

Watching, however, does draw her attention to the Kinkou order. It's interesting, because while what the Kinkou are is transparently obvious, no one knows exactly what their purpose is (at least, no one who talks anywhere Riven can hear even hints at such knowledge, though perhaps she simply arrived too late for the gossip), and no one knows about them. It's less impressive than meeting the Black Rose herself, but Riven can admit she feels that because she grew up with her legend.

Which is an interesting idea itself. The Black Rose was... not explicit, but obvious that the order vanished because of Noxus's centralization into military power. And Jericho Swain is nothing if not steeped in that paradigm.

It's not as though Riven isn't, but she's not (wasn't, rather) benefitting from it more than she would be, were Noxus still run like the Black Rose's heyday. And more importantly - she isn't the one who's going to grind Noxus to dust. Should she be able to convince the Deceiver... that would be powerful buy-in, indeed.

(She stuffs the Kinkou into the back of her mind anyway. They won't be useful for Noxus, but perhaps Freljord...)

So she sets about trying to catch LeBlanc somewhere private. This about as easy as she'd expected - every time she sees the Black Rose, she seems to disappear the moment she leaves the room. In fact, that she sees the Black Rose at all is kind of a shock. She'd been expecting something more like, she'd spend a couple of weeks not finding LeBlanc, and eventually waking up to a message somewhere private.

That's not quite what happens. Riven is wandering about the Institute, taking the less populated route from one place to another. The map of the Institute in her head is less about the entire facility, and more about the ways she might pass unseen between the wing where most Noxian champions are housed, and everywhere else.

And then she finds herself blind. She stops immediately, and turns to check behind her - where she can also see nothing. She places her hand on her face, and can't see that either. This is magic then, cast on her personally.

"LeBlanc," she says.

"Clever girl," the Black Rose says from just behind her, and then chains twist around Riven. "You've been trying to follow me." Her breath flows down Riven's neck, and she only just manages to stifle her gasp.

"Had to get your attention somehow," she says.

A hand lands on her chest and guides her back to the wall. "At that, you have succeeded."

Riven firms her posture as the other woman's hands ghost over her body. She's not quite sure what LeBlanc is doing, but if she were on the other side of this, she'd be looking for weapons. Then LeBlanc slides her leg between Riven's, and her eyebrows rocket up. Her heart beats.

"Interesting," the Black Rose says. "What was so important?"

"Oh, I only sought to ask you a question," she says.

It is the Deceiver who laughs - deep and throaty and incredibly delicious. LeBlanc's perfume matches the rest of her - barely there, a scent that seems to shift seamlessly from one thing to another (mostly smoke, roses, and pears).

This is all making it kind of hard to concentrate.

"Would I lie?"

Obviously. But that's not the point - the point here is to raise urgency in the Black Rose. Every Noxian - Jericho Swain included - knows just who the Black Rose operates in the interest of: only herself. And key, Jericho Swain commanding is in the interests of no Noxian.

"When the Grand General is killed," she asks, because this is his inevitable fate - as it is for any other conqueror, "who do you think his executioners will raise to command Noxus?"

LeBlanc laughs again, and when she speaks Riven swears she can feel the other woman's lips moving over her own. "Amateur," she says, in possibly the warmest voice Riven's ever heard from her. "If you are representative stock of Noxus, then her future is bright indeed."

This outcome is... acceptable. It is not optimal, but more than she'd feared (and really, more than she'd planned for). It was always likely (certain) that LeBlanc would see through her gambit - but just because something is transparent does not always render it ineffectual.

LeBlanc kisses her, and the texture of her painted lips is more unsettling than any other woman Riven has been with. The sensation doesn't entirely fade when LeBlanc breaks away.

"Run home little Akene," LeBlanc says, "And know that you are not alone."

The chains binding her vanish, LeBlanc's presence fades, and her sight returns. Her legs turn to noodles, and she sinks to sit on the floor.

"Fuck," she says. She can still smell the Black Rose.

Riven closes the door to her quarters, but leaves it unbolted. It's been a long time since she felt the need for privacy. Longer still since she regularly had any - and well, walls and a roof are almost a luxury of their own.

The first thing she does is check her reflection, because that peculiar... not quite rubbery sensation LeBlanc left on her lips is still there - but her mouth is as it always has been. There's a smudge of black paint, but it's small, far smaller than the feeling. She rubs her thumb across them, but the only thing to come away is the paint.

At length, she shrugs and chooses to believe that it's beyond her power for the moment. She sets to changing, because this has just fucked her entire day up, and she's so off rhythm that it's probably best just to wait for tomorrow to try anything else.

There's a knock on her door, and though she's naked from the waist up, she calls out, "It's open."

Whoever enters does not introduce themselves, so Riven hastens to finish folding her wrap, and turns to see her visitor.

It is, surprisingly, Irelia. Riven spends a moment considering how to react, and then doesn't smile. "Hello," she says, careful to be as polite as she can with her tits hanging out. "It's been a while."

Irelia's expression flickers, but not in a way Riven can put a name to.

"I'd invite you to sit, but the only furniture I've got is the bed."

The blades spin faster than Riven ever recalls. Irelia stalks - every motion of it aggressive, showing off every ounce of the power she brings to bear outside of the farce of justice. Riven sighs, and wishes she could fan her own plumage. She's pretty sure if she were to bare her soul at Irelia, it would set off the alarms that monitor the grounds.

And here she'd been thinking that Irelia wanted nothing to do with her.

"Riven," Irelia says. Her name comes off the woman's lips like murder. It is terribly confusing.

It's become pretty clear at this point that Irelia is trying to invade her personal space. It's less intimidating when Riven's most definitely penetrated hers. Definitely feels like being in the presence of a giant, at the least.

Suddenly, Riven's lips feel very, very dry. She licks them, and it doesn't help. Irelia's hand slams into her chest, and she walks Riven backward until she's forced onto her mattress.

(This feels familiar)

It's not the only way Irelia can loom - a thing she does by merely being in a room, but it helps. The aura of power the woman brings to bear is in no way reduced by the lined jacket and thick pants she wears.

Though it is not the first time she's borne the brunt of such attention, it is the first time it has ever been so... personal. And not just because Irelia's attention isn't always on her face.

Riven places a hand on Irelia's hip, and before she's managed to do more than figure out that the pants are some kind of cotton, one of Irelia's blades is pressed edge against her wrist. She stares at it for a few seconds. If Irelia wanted to hurt her, she's had too many opportunities in the past thirty seconds to really worry about it now.


But it's a threat. And it's from someone she respects. And just because that threat is unlikely to be actually taking her hand off does not make daring it a harmless option. So Riven slowly lifts her hand away from Irelia, and returns it to her side. The blade, in return, joins the rest.

(She's beginning to think this is not an elaborate seduction ploy, which is a shame, because it's totally working)

Irelia straddles Riven's lap, and the soft leather exterior of her jacket rubbing against Riven's skin drives her mad. She still hasn't heard anything from the woman but her name - which is an odd thought to have while staring up at the most gorgeous woman she's ever seen. One of Irelia's hands rises to cup her cheek, and her thumb strokes Riven's brow. The other slides over her side, seeking where the mottled burn that marks the end of her active service in the Noxian army creeps from her back.

Riven shudders at that touch. With her eyes closed, she doesn't see so much as feel - with what seems like every nerve in her body - when Irelia leans down to kiss her. This time, it's Irelia taking her breath away with the force of it. The hand on her face migrates to her hair, and twists deep before jerking her away from Irelia's mouth - which then trails down the line of her jaw to her neck to her collar, leaving a slick trail of saliva to mark her path.

Sensitivity is not a defining trait of Riven's scarring, but the one Irelia finds and latches on to is (it stands in stark contrast to the numbness of the burn less than an inch away). She lets out a long, low moan, and some of the tension in Irelia's back looses. The hand on her side slides down, teases its way under the waistband of her skirt, dips into her underclothes - at which point it becomes painfully obvious that Irelia doesn't have a clue what she's doing.

"Fuck," Riven snaps. "Be careful."

Irelia's grip on her hair tightens roughly, and she jerks it again. But that's fine, it's rough, and Riven can get along with rough. More importantly, she gets her nail the fuck out of Riven's clit. Her fingers fumble around the outer lips of Riven's cunt like it's the first time she's ever touched a woman - which to be fair, she admitted and Riven has no reason to doubt that.

She understands why Irelia probably didn't learn shit from being fucked unconscious - pride rises up in her at the thought - while she's never had it quite that good, she certainly never remembered much about her first time beyond how good it felt.

Her hands post out behind her as Irelia drags harder on her hair, forcing her to recline so she doesn't have to twist her own back when she wants her mouth on Riven's breast. For the briefest instant, Riven can feel the strength coursing through Irelia's blood, and the thought of that wanting her is so intoxicating, that when she takes her nipple into her mouth, Riven comes on the spot.

When she's recovered enough to grasp what's going on, she finds herself flat on her back with Irelia straddling her abdomen. She blushes like she probably hasn't since her first time - it's fortunate that her skin is dark enough and the lighting is dim enough that it isn't really visible. Irelia's gaze is calm, collected, and more than a touch satisfied.

After she's sure Riven is watching, Irelia starts undoing the buttons of her jacket. It falls open, and she shrugs it off, revealing a shirt made of the same clingy cotton as her pants - but much, much thinner. She pauses for a moment, and then keeps pausing. Riven dares to lay her hands on Irelia's hips, and when the blades do nothing, she slides up, remembering every scar she can't see through the cotton.

Her hands come to rest over Irelia's breasts, and she can feel the hard nubs of her nipples as though the cloth wasn't there at all. A small smile graces her lips, and she closes her eyes. Riven's heart skips a beat. She chooses to ignore that, in favor of seeing what other expressions she can tease onto the Ionian's face.

It's to her dismay that regardless of what she tries (and she thinks of herself as competent at teasing, having spent more time than she cares to admit on the other side), Irelia's contented smile barely flickers. Finally, with something she might call affectionate irritation, Riven drops her hands to the Ionian's ass, and drags her back so she can sit up.

And Irelia's eyes go wide, and her mouth opens in a perfect oval of shock.

Well, that's interesting. Riven tilts her head, and smiles viciously. She flexes her hands, and Irelia makes a gamely attempt to jump out of her lap - which fails. Partly because she's got no leverage, but mostly because of Riven's grip. She grabs at Riven's wrists, and tugs ineffectually.

Riven chuckles.

"Sensitive, are we?" She purrs against Irelia's frown. "Don't worry," she says, "Your secret's safe with me." And she kisses her.

It is, at length, the tickling on her stomach that awakens Riven. At some point while she slept, it seems that Irelia decided her abdominals would make for a fantastic pillow.

This is awkward. First, because Irelia's hair is making her itch like nothing else can. Second, because the last time she woke up in bed with her, she left without saying shit.

Uncertainly - indeed, tentatively, which is a whole new adjective for Riven when it comes to sharing a bed - she gathers Irelia's ink black hair, and tucks it behind her ear.

Her heart beats.


She lays her hand on Irelia's shoulder to shake her awake, and then stops. It's not that she looks so peaceful asleep (well, a little bit), but she has no idea what to say. She's not so crass as to kick her out of bed, but ways to do that are the only things coming to mind.

She sighs and moves her hand to Irelia's hair, stroking it absently. Perhaps it's better if Irelia stays asleep.

Riven's drifted back to a sort of half sleep when Irelia begins to stir. She arches her back, and then curls up into a ball, burying her face against Riven's midsection, her knees nearly brushing her shoulder. There's something uncomfortable about that, so Riven gives up on allowing Irelia to continue resting. She pats Irelia's cheek, which doesn't do anything, and then tries shaking her shoulder.

"Stoppit," Irelia slurs, and slaps Riven's hand away. That hand drops onto Riven's breast, and it's this that makes Irelia sit up sharpish. "Oh," she says, and squeezes Riven's breast reflexively. "Oh," she says again, and that delicious pink marble blush spreads across her features again.

Riven raises an eyebrow and offers the smuggest smile she can muster. "Good morning," she says. Irelia catches the unsaid - this is how you say hello?

"Good morning," Irelia says. She clears her throat, and though she removes her hand, it lingers as long as she thinks she can get away with (or something - Riven would be only too pleased if she left it there). "I'll be... going then." She makes it sound as much a question as a plan.

Only one response to this comes to mind, so even though she thinks it's kind of a manipulative asshole thing to do, Riven stands and lets out a disappointed sigh. "How sad. To think all those stories of Ionian politeness were nothing but." She finds a clean pair of underthings, and is halfway through pulling them up her legs when she feels Irelia's hand on the small of her back.

She looks over her shoulder, and Irelia is biting her lip. "What do you want from me?" she asks.

Riven finishes pulling up her smallclothes, and taps her lip pensively. "I think," she says, saying what comes to mind first, "I want you to decide something. What you want. Do you want me, or do you just want to fuck?"

And really, either of those is fine. Fuck knows - well, no point in thinking about that right now.

Irelia hesitates, and retreats. That's kind of an answer, then.

"What do you want?"

She shrugs. "What I want doesn't matter." This conversation is growing more surreal by the second, as she learns her own thoughts on the matter even as Irelia does.

"Why not?" Irelia says through gritted teeth as her fists clench.

This, at least, is an answer that Riven understands. Because identity is independent of anyone else. "Because what I want has no bearing on what you want."

"What if..." and she looks for a minute as though she isn't going to continue. "What if I want it to?"

And that is an entirely different answer altogether. Her heart beats. Riven crosses her arms over her chest, and stares at Irelia for a long time. "If that's so," she says at length, "then I think you have your answer."

Irelia sighs, and rubs her hands across her face. "I guess I do," she says. She reaches out and grasps Riven's wrist, pulling her closer to where she sits, and cups Riven's face with her other hand. She runs her thumb over the scar under Riven's eye, and then kisses her. It's soft, soothing, and her heart beats. Irelia breaks it, and presses her forehead to Riven's. Without opening her eyes, she says, "I want you."

It's a good thing Irelia's not looking at her, because Riven finds she's grinning like an idiot.

Things are different, but nothing's changed. Riven goes back to seeing Irelia around perhaps more than other Ionian champions, setting aside that she spends as many nights as not in her bed (metaphorically - neither of them is particularly thrilled with the idea of Riven in the Ionian wing). She spends what days she can killing the beasts of Valoran wilds, sometimes with Sejuani (and on the rare, accidental occasion, running into Irelia).

As she idles, Sejuani manages to find the allies Riven had not considered. The Void creature Cho'Gath, of all things. Riven does not count herself among those who have insight into the minds of denizens of the Void - and having seen what that has done to Kassadin and Malzahar, is only too happy to remain ignorant. And so, she cannot explain why Cho'Gath might deign to assist the heart of the blizzard.

The other being Sarah Fortune. Being human, she's a far less peculiar an ally to acquire, though her motivations are just as mysterious.

But that's fine, because that's all Sejuani's concern. It serves Riven's needs to keep the Institute attentive. Though she sees no actions taken by the Black Rose herself, she wouldn't expect any. None which are evident to anyone outside of Noxian High Command, at least - and even for High Command, terribly obtuse. The Black Rose does not lead, she guides.

A more direct player might be of substantial use, however. If only she could convince the elder Du Coteau to actively work toward a stronger Noxus. Unfortunately, she knows exactly what that would take, and she's not... thrilled with the prospect. It would certainly be fun, but for she's distinctly uncomfortable with that kind of payment. At least, while she's (so very literally) entangled with Irelia. Well, not the payment itself, exactly, but it would rather be a nightmare to try and explain.

It is actually completely by accident that she runs across the former Battle Mistress of Noxus. And that gives her pause, because while she did break her contract, and much of High Command was vocally displeased with her for that, Sivir's only reason for it was the leadership. And that at least, is not a sin that can be held against Jericho Swain.

Though Riven could not afford to tie her up (neither literally), it would be almost disastrous to allow Jericho Swain to reemploy her services (Noxus, on the other hand...). Fortuitously, Sivir's contract with the Institute is highly lucrative.

A new thing to worry about.

Katarina Du Coteau always said there were three blade masters in Noxus: Herself, General Du Coteau, and Talon. That number has fallen to two with the disappearance (death) of General Du Coteau.

By Riven's estimation, that's correct. Most Noxians who wield swords are more like Riven. Though few are as strong, the point is that most do not consider their swordsmanship a craft. That is a far more Ionian school of thought - even in Demacia, only the Laurents are famous for their bladework, with Crownguard brutality being the more common face.

(And it is impressive bladework. Riven can't be sure just how Fiora Laurent is crippled on the farce of justice, but what remains of her swordsmanship surpasses Katarina's full talents, and Talon's shade with ease.)

So it is that, with some shame, Riven is forced to admit that in this, Noxus falls far short of the title of strongest. And, having seen the craft of swords in Ionia (and Irelia), Riven cannot fall back to the common defense of it being an irrelevant strength. After all, no one ever claimed Noxus was the pinnacle of preparing tea, but neither did anyone care.

She doesn't attempt to emulate it - to do so would be a grievous insult. Irelia has devoted most of her life to the perfection of the Hiten style. Yi (and his student, the Monkey King, despite his use of a staff), the Wuju. But, having every opportunity to see Irelia's Hiten undamped by the farce of justice, she does study (admire) it.

Not that doing so is ideal, of course. Irelia's particular variant of Hiten is customized heavily by, well, the truth that she is the will of her blades, and does not require the more standard use of hands. Too, swordcraft is built around having a humanoid enemy - usually with a weapon. Watching her maul the beasts and wyverns of Valoran reveals far less.

Despite which, she continues to study Irelia's Hiten - for what she considers obvious reasons.

The first time she completely loses it, they're just over the border of the Kumungu jungle, having hunted down a wyvern harassing some Demacian town no one really remembers. Riven's more than halfway drunk on adrenaline and blood and life, and when she lays eyes on Irelia standing on its corpse, flecks of its blood in her hair and further staining the padding of her armor, Riven has her pinned to a cliff before she's realized she's moving.

Conscious, even now, that it's blood is so very toxic, she doesn't do what she wants so very badly, and instead forces her tongue into Irelia's mouth. The Ionian reacts by arching against her, and curling her fingers into Riven's hair - not quite so white at the moment. It's no less than the grinding of Irelia's armor against her own that stops her from going further when she at last breaks their kiss - though the last bit of frenzy in her mind won't stop trying to figure out how fastest to remove the most important parts.

She spends a long minute pressed up against the smaller woman, breathing in the scent of her sweat mixed with the wyvern blood, and trying to slow the beating of her heart. Irelia's hands stroke her hair in a way that really isn't helping ease the tension, and her breath on Riven's lips with the heat of her forehead, pressed as it is against hers, only complicates it more.

"We should get back," Riven says. She can't keep how much she wants Irelia naked under her - or on top of her, she's not picky - right this instant out of her voice, and when she opens her eyes she can see Irelia shiver at the sound. Still, she manages to step away.

Riven catches Irelia's hand in her unarmored one when she drops it from her head. The Ionian raises a brow when she doesn't let go, even while slipping her runeblade onto the hooks under her cloak. Riven meets her gaze, and smiles at her.

Irelia blushes.

"I'm not expected back until tomorrow," she says and squeezes Irelia's hand.

While it's a town nobody remembers, it's still a town. There's a restaurant, to which Riven drags Irelia. That might be overstating it a bit - Irelia's concerns with this idea aren't that sincere. While her coloration certainly marks her of Noxian descent, it would be tricky to find anywhere in Valoran (outside of the island that Ionia is) without some Noxian stock - just as it is hard to find anywhere with no Demacian blood. The real marker of who she is can only be the Noxian runeblade - which, trusting in both Irelia and her own strength, Riven leaves in the room the town has provided her - a fairly rare kind of artifact. Unique, technically.

It becomes immediately obvious that Irelia has no idea what to say. Granted, small talk is not Riven's forte, but she has a go at it.

So, entwining her fingers with Irelia's under the table, she says, "My favorite thing about the institute is not having to go weeks without knowing when I'll be able to bathe." She receives an uncertain look - Irelia unsure whether to risk offending her. "Disgusting, I know."

By the expression Irelia's still wearing, this line of conversation is pretty clearly going nowhere. Riven gives her a tired smile, and leans back, trying to think of something else to say. She closes her eyes, and her hand slips from Irelia's. "Well," she says. "Probably the second best thing is meeting the Black Rose herself."

Irelia takes her hand, and says, "The best thing about it is leaving."

Riven meets her gaze. "And where do you go when you leave?"

"Home," she says. In some way, it feels like Irelia is exceptionally focused upon her at this moment. "Some days I can forget that I'm not a child anymore."

This is a strange idea. Children are, of course, precious. But children are not free (even to serve), and there is no greater pleasure in life than setting her own course and following it.

"What was that like?" Riven asks.

"I spent my days playing with my father," she smiles. "Though it was the foundation of the Hiten he was teaching me in doing so." Riven tilts her head, trying to imagine learning to fight without learning to fight. "Hiten," Irelia clarifies, "is no less about evasion than any other style."

Ahh. "The difference between a close call with a weapon and a close call with a fist is being untouched against bruises and fractures."

Irelia nods.

"Forgive me," Irelia says, "but what is a Noxian family like?"

Riven smiles. It's crooked and she can't quite meet Irelia's eyes. "My mother was everything I aspired to be. She was never a leader, but she was so very strong." She sighs. "Her career ended to disease. And around when I enlisted... at least she never saw me desert." She doesn't know if her mother would approve of her choices - but she believes in them - so all the thought of her disapproval brings her is a touch of pain.

Irelia gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. "And your father?"

She shrugs. "Never met him. Never heard anything about him either."

"What was that like?"

"Other kids had two parents, none of them were as strong as my mother. I used to say that they needed two because both of them were so weak." She notices at last how tight she's gripping Irelia's hand, and loosens up a bit, stroking her thumb across the other woman's hand apologetically. "I probably only got away with it because they were weaker than me."

As their food actually arrives, Riven says, "It's probably why I didn't have many friends."

It's okay food. Not great - not Noxian either, but more Noxian than it is Ionian. Irelia eats it without complaint, but Riven can't say whether that's unusual.

"How was it?" she asks. "The food."

Irelia shrugs. "Too bland to be anything in particular."

"Really? What's Ionian food like?" Riven regrets, for the first time, never sampling the non-Noxian food the Institute provides. It's been too much of a relief to have something of home after so long.

"Home," Irelia says, and Riven doesn't ask because - that's exactly how Noxian food is. Instead, she picks up the tab, and leads Irelia out.

As far as dates go, Riven isn't super experienced, but she thinks it was not a good one. She'll just have to make up for that after.

So it is that when Irelia enters the room Riven's been provided, she pins her against the inside of the door and kisses her thoroughly. This time, there is no armor to get in the way, and Irelia's hands take the liberty of sliding up under Riven's skirt. She makes approving noises into the Ionian's mouth, and works at the fasteners of her pants. They come undone rapidly (Riven isn't exactly new at this), and her hands go in different directions. One hand goes up to squeeze the Ionian's breast, because it is delicious, and the other slides down to stroke her outer lips.

Extensive foreplay isn't in the cards right now - Riven's been too aroused for too long to do anything but make Irelia scream her name. So when she discovers that Irelia is damn near as wet as she is, she drives two fingers into her. And her Ionian (her Ionian?) does exactly what she wanted, and screams Riven's name into her mouth.

She sinks against Riven as she comes down, and carefully - if not gently - Riven carries her to the bed. Irelia hasn't actually passed out after those first times, but she does kind of conk out for a while after coming. Riven finishes peeling her out of her clothes, and then strips herself before sliding in beside her. There are actually a couple of things Irelia will do, sort of on reflex, when she's like this - Riven cradles her to her chest and smiles - for example, when provided a tit, she sucks.

It's one of Riven's favorite things that makes Irelia blush (which is a lovely goal in and of itself).

One hand strokes Irelia's hair as the other slips down to rub her own cunt. Not intending to get herself off, merely to keep herself as hot as she's been.

Irelia doesn't take long to come out of her near catatonia. Her face goes pink when she realizes Riven's nipple is in her mouth, and she says, "I don't know why you keep doing that."

Riven smirks. "Is enjoying it not a good enough answer for you?" she asks.

Her Ionian (her Ionian?) meets her eyes, and kisses her like she's just woken up. Her hand dives between her legs, to find Riven's busy there already. A flash of disappointment crosses her face.

"Did you...?" she asks.

"Still waiting on you," Riven says.

It's always interesting to see how Irelia will react to something like that. It's an provocative statement - Riven won't deny that. She doesn't want to hurt Irelia, since she's rather fond of how fucking hard she can make her Ionian (her Ionian?) come, just... motivate her. And it always does, to one degree or another. She is, after all, that breed of Ionian who believes firmly in balance.

With the way Irelia's face firms, Riven thinks this is one of those most determined times.

With the way Irelia's fingers curl into her cunt, Riven knows this is going to be fun.

That's the last time she meets Irelia for a while. Something is happening in Ionia that requires her presence, not that Riven knows any of the details. She barely made time to tell Riven she was going to be in Ionia before she left - which was unnecessary, dangerous for both of them, and wholly appreciated.

Not the knowledge of where Irelia would be - that's useless, since she's out of Riven's reach while there. That Irelia felt it important enough to let her know she would be out of Riven's reach is what thrills her.

It should be giving her enough time to focus on the things she needs to do. And, for about a week and a half, she does - spending some of her time working with Sejuani and her partially constructed team. It's an exercise in something like teamwork, but Riven's kind of shit at working in a team she isn't running in the first place, so mostly she wanders about the other side of the field, finding what weaknesses she can. And since there's the whole thing with Sejuani not having a full roster, it (and the opposing team) get filled out with whoever feels like jumping in to a random scrimmage.

And because of her incomplete team, Riven spends most of her time probing for Sejuani's personal weaknesses. The heart of the blizzard has taken to making things happen for her team. That's all well and good, so Riven works two things primarily: first, that Sejuani can work with her team to protect herself when she isn't actively making things happen; and second, that she can handle her plays being disrupted.

The way it turns out, Sejuani is not good at either of those things - at first. And really, she doesn't get good at them when working with her random teammates. But when it comes to Sarah Fortune and Cho'Gath, they start to work together passably.

But after about a week of that, Sejuani gets fed up of working with random teammates, and sets to more aggressively seeking out allies, which leaves Riven having to find something else to do. Hunts flow in, but none are difficult enough to be engaging.

Riven hasn't even seen the Black Rose herself since she managed to ask her question. For all she knows, the Black Rose herself is in Noxus, working her smoke and mirrors. That would be perfect - more likely, however, she's just decided not to be seen. It does leave her less certain than before about her plan. But all that means is she's got to step up other activities - and maybe she has to pursue one of the Du Coteau sisters. If nothing else, she has to know more about what happens in Noxus.

It's a shame the Institute of War discontinued their publication - ironically enough, far less of a farce than the competitions in their fields. She had been surprised to find that it promptly featured Jericho Swain's instatement as Grand General - though as confirmation, not the first she'd learned of it. Irritatingly, at this point Demacia might know more of Noxian positioning than Riven. The chances, however, of her learning anything from them she cast somewhere around none.

There is no sympathy for her in that camp.

No, for information, her best bet would seem to be Cassiopeia Du Coteau.


Riven sits across from Cassiopeia, and makes firm, direct eye contact with her. It is, she has to admit, uncomfortable, because the Du Coteau's eyes are nothing like they once were. She can, and Riven is really crap at doing so - which makes this very ominous - feel her magic building in her eyes. Still, it's less awkward than acknowledging Katarina, who's staring at her in a distinct what are you doing here sort of way.

It also means she doesn't have to wonder about the scar across Katarina's eye.

"Sister," Cassiopeia says, "weren't you saying you had to go and play with your new toy?"

The way toy rolls off Cassiopeia's tongue makes it very clear she means a girl. This is not so much a useful thing to know, but it is convenient. It confirms that she does not want to be indebted to the elder Du Coteau at the moment.

Katarina shrugs, and wanders away. It's not as though Riven doesn't know this conversation is going to be shared anyway, but having it without interruption has valuable in its own right.

Cassiopeia's nails click on the table. "What is it you wanted?"

Riven cracks her shoulder in an effort to look as though this visit is purely casual. "Just to talk," she says. Saying it puts her squarely in Cassiopeia's realm of dominance, and yet the fanged grin she receives isn't entirely that. There's something sort of genuinely pleased about it. Assuming the curse did not change Cassiopeia Du Coteau's expressions too much.

Her tongue flickers out, and Riven finds herself momentarily entranced by the motion. It's probably the only reason she notices the subtle rise of Cassiopeia's torso, as her tail coils under her.

It was not easy to decide how to approach Cassiopeia - the obvious thing, with what the fuck is going on with her curse, is probably also the worst thing she could ask. It's not as though she's never spoken to Cassiopeia before, but the topic of General Du Coteau is probably also a minefield.

So the only thing Riven can come up with is that other possibility - talking about herself. And that's piss fuckin' easy. Now, she even has things to say Cassiopeia might be interested in.

"You used to say that Piltover was your favorite place outside of Noxus," Riven says. Cassiopeia nods, and her body shifts from side to side. "I have to say that I should never have doubted your taste."

Cassiopeia smiles. It's wide, as all of her expressions do seem to be now - spending most of her time with her mouth slightly open so her tongue can flick about. "It is a wonderful place, isn't it? Everything is so-"

"Convenient there," Riven says in chorus. She gives Cassiopeia a small smile - it's how the woman always referred to Piltover. Her smile is meant to say, I remember.

And she chuckles in response. It's the same deep, throaty sound that Riven remembers accompanying Katarina's few genuine smiles. "Yes," she says. "Did you ever visit the...?" and she waves, because it's not the sort of place spoken of in company - and definitely not a place to be named in earshot of an actual Piltover citizen.

"No," Riven admits. "I saw it from the outside, but... well."

Cassiopeia nods, and frowns sympathetically. "Of course, of course." Entry is not permitted without Noxian or Zaunite approval. "In that case, did you make it into their college?"

"It was astonishing." The college is open to the public - well, parts of it are anyway. Riven had wandered in not particularly thinking anything of it, and emerged with new respect for the applications of hextech - beyond weaponization.

"Did they still have the display with the-" and Cassiopeia's hands trace a ball in the air. There's a word for it, certainly, but the only people who know it live in the college.

And it's not a gesture Riven can make any sense of. She guesses anyway, "Do you mean the one with the reverse explosion?"

"No, no, no." Cassiopeia sighs and shakes her head, a frown spreading across her face. "Perhaps they removed it, then."

Riven can't think of anything to say to that, but Cassiopeia isn't exactly looking at her anymore. It allows for enough unfortunate time for her to remember that she's sitting up on a fucking pedestal, with Cassiopeia.

She doesn't look, but suddenly it feels as though every champion in the Institute is staring at her. And they're probably not, few of them even caring about her presence, probably none of whom are even in the courtyard, but still. But still.

The thought that this was a terrible idea crosses her mind.

But that's stupid, because she knows exactly what she's doing here. She focuses again on Cassiopeia, tunnel vision blocking out everything but the cursed Du Coteau.

"How is the Siege?" Riven asks, touching a dangerous line of thought. It is something she wants to know, and badly. It's something that she has a personal reason to want to know - and yet, it's also something that will give her a sense of how sharp the blades of the Noxian army are.

And Cassiopeia must know all of those things.

The Serpent's Embrace fixes her to her seat with an intent stare. Once more, Riven can feel the magic building in her eyes.

"She's happier, I hear. Finally has the opportunity to make sure her students meet her standards before passing them."

Riven smirks. "So she's passed what, two so far?"

"Since the founding of the Institute," Cassiopeia says, "I've heard three."

It's not an answer that puts her at ease - though none would. She laughs, and doesn't press. Three, six months ago would be a very different answer from three, yesterday.

But hearing that the Siege is doing well is so much more important.

And that's the last productive thing Riven manages to do. Sejuani remains attempting to recruit allies. One interesting hunt comes in, but it takes two weeks to be posted, and twenty minutes to kill the wyvern. She talks to Cassiopeia, but about nothing in particular - admittedly in part because she is terribly, terribly bored - exceedingly careful to not ask anything that might matter to Noxus.

Cassiopeia does teach her more about the champions of the league than she'd bothered to learn before, though. Mostly, to be fair, who is fucking who. She wonders if the fact that Irelia's name doesn't come up means Cassiopeia doesn't know, or is just decorum.

It's two months and a week more before Irelia comes back. Riven counts.

It's not really a surprise to find that Irelia's return coincides with a new champion joining the league. The Dark Sovereign's feet never touch the floor - among the many, many mages in the league, summoner and champion alike, this is the single most impressive feat of magical mastery Riven has ever seen. Granted, it is not unprecedented among the champions, but those who do are masters of their magics (perhaps the Maven aside). And yet, even among those, something sets the Sovereign apart.

Aggression. It oozes out of every action she takes. Sona's presence in a room is immediately noticeable, and not just because of her Etwahl. So too it is for Syndra, excepting that it's not just the magic she controls that makes her presence known.

Riven wonders if there is something about Ionia that has birthed the two most powerful women she's ever heard of.

She is there to see Syndra's arrival, and it is heralded by liquid power smashing the fortified barriers of the Institute. It is absolutely a statement - the Sovereign is not here because she is commanded to be. She is forcing herself upon the Institute.

Irelia's return amidst this does not go unnoticed - though many of the Ionian champions slip back in discreetly. That, or their return is overwhelmed by this most personal enemy.

So it is that Riven is waiting when Irelia returns to her rooms. The Ionian doesn't actually notice her until she's practically in Riven's lap. She lets out the least intimidating squeak Riven's ever heard from her (and, having fucked the woman unconscious, Riven would like to believe she's heard some very unintimidating sounds).

Surprising Irelia is clearly a mistake, as she finds herself on the wrong end of her blades before she can move.

"Irelia," she says, pretending very hard that she hasn't just fucked up. The woman's name rolls off her tongue for the first time in two months, and it leeches some of the tightness in her back with it.

The sound of her voice, rather than the sight of her, is finally what lowers Irelia's blades - well, 'lowers'.

"Riven," she says, and the sound of her name on her Ionian's (her Ionian?) lips sends warmth blooming through her gut. It's not just pent up sexual frustration either.

She stands, and takes a closer look at the captain of the guard. Irelia is obviously exhausted - she could tell that the minute the woman walked through the gates - but uninjured.

It is a relief.

Her hands find the buckles and latches of Irelia's armor, and she carefully sets each piece in the correct place on the stand. Irelia stands very, very still, though her shoulders slouch and her head bows. That is not a relief.

When Riven has peeled her down to the soft garment she wears beneath her armor, she draws Irelia to her bed. She lays the Ionian woman down, and pauses upon meeting her gaze.

Irelia is biting her lip, and her eyes search Riven's face. Her hands curl into her sheets. Her shoulders are straight, but rigidly so. The bags under her eyes are only slight, but this is the first time Riven's seen them.

She gives Irelia her best soft smile, and draws the covers over her. She's not wearing her own armor, but she does have to lean down to unwind her sandals. Riven eases her weight onto Irelia's bed, staying on top of the covers, and settles onto her side.

She draws her Ionian (her Ionian?) close, and pins her in with an arm across the bottom of her ribcage. She drapes one leg across Irelia's ankles. The position leaves her with one arm jammed up against the head of the bed, but the discomfort is only minor.

Riven kisses Irelia's shoulder, and says, "Go to sleep. You need it."

She takes her own advice.

When Riven wakes, Irelia is still sound asleep. Though she hasn't moved, Irelia has relaxed. Her breathing is slow, steady, and quiet, and it is all Riven can do to not crush the woman against herself until she wakes.

And neither can she bring herself to leave. She's bored out of her mind (right?), lying still, pretty horny, and unable to actually fuck despite holding the reason she's bothered. But really, she can't imagine that she'd be much more entertained anywhere else, so...

Also maybe she doesn't want Irelia's welcome back to be waking up alone in bed, after going to sleep together.

Instead, she chooses to laze.

She isn't sure how long she was asleep, but she's got a pretty good guess - longer than usual. If she's done what she intended, it wasn't long after she went out that Irelia followed suit.

It's a few more hours before her Ionian (her Ionian?) wakes up.

When Irelia awakens, it's probably only because Riven's been staring at her for so long that she notices. Irelia doesn't say anything for a long time, so Riven doesn't acknowledge her awareness.

The first overt signal that Irelia is awake is when she entwines her fingers with Riven's. She doesn't say anything, so neither does Riven. Instead, she squeezes gently.

Irelia jerks, and then wordlessly settles back against Riven.

At length she asks, "How long have you been awake?"

"Don't know," Riven murmurs into her neck.

"That long?"

She chooses to ignore the question, and instead hugs Irelia tighter.

"Sorry," Irelia says.

Riven doesn't know what she could possibly be apologizing for, so she says, "Don't be stupid."

It pulls a laugh from her host, and that draws a smile across Riven's lips.

Riven's curious, but cannot think of a place to begin asking about Irelia's absence. She's inspected Irelia, so if there was violence, she came out of it unscathed, and yet. Somehow that isn't enough.

This confusion is not like talking to Cassiopeia, where she knows what topics she must avoid. Nor is it like talking to the Black Rose herself, where she knows that every motivation in every word is transparently obvious. No, this is complicated.

So instead, she says without thinking, "I missed you."

Irelia turns her head, but not so much that Riven can actually see her face - her hair may be trapped. "I did get that feeling."

Riven sits up. Untangling herself from Irelia takes less effort than she'd thought it would.

She needs to piss anyway.

It does not come as a surprise to discover that Syndra is rooming in her ass end of the Institute. Space is, while not exactly limited, mostly cut up and allocated to the city-states. What does come as a surprise is that Syndra is practically next door. It's obvious the moment she steps into the hall - her magic floods the area. It feels kind of like walking through ankle deep water.

As if summoned by her presence, Syndra's door opens and the Sovereign floats out. She has magic rotating about her person, forming orbs of antilight. Riven wonders if it is intentional mockery of the Institute's rules against conflict on their grounds or a display of superiority. Perhaps both.

"Who are you?" She asks, and her voice echoes oddly - as though it has more than one source.

Riven meets her eyes, which glow such that she cannot tell their natural color. "My name is Riven," she says.

Syndra draws closer, perhaps inspecting her. Being unable to see what her eyes are looking at is deeply unsettling.

"Where are you from?" And this time, Riven can tell that her voice is indeed coming from more than one place - her mouth and every one of the spheres she controls.

She looks up at the Ionian woman, and without hesitation says, "Noxus."

Syndra swoops around her, never touching her, but now at eye level - which still does not necessitate allowing the earth to touch her. "I seem to remember something about a Noxian invasion of my homeland."

The implied question sears her ears, and Riven's heart accelerates.

"I was there," she says. She suspects this is a stupid thing to do - this is how stupid people die. Imminent death pumps her blood.

"Then you have killed Ionians."

It is a shame that she is going to die now, because Jericho Swain still lives.

"Yes," she says. Also, and she's pretty sure she's only thinking of this because she doesn't have her blade with her, it's been more than two months since she got laid.

"Then you and I have something in common," Syndra says. She takes Riven's hands.

Her mind, on the other hand, is completely blank - still stuck trying to process that. All of the words make sense, but put together in context, what?

Fortunately her mouth doesn't seem to rely as much as she'd thought on her mind. "Do we?"

"Yes," Syndra says.

That's peculiar. Riven can't think of anything to say to that.

Well, she supposes that probably explains what the fuck Irelia was doing. It's a thought she doesn't want.

"Would you like to come in?" Syndra asks.

This, Riven thinks, is like an attempt to be friendly. That's... not what she would expect. But if Syndra's honest, and if she's trying to be friendly because they have both killed Ionians, then...

Then she badly needs to make sure the Sovereign never, ever allies with Jericho Swain.

If it's not, then Syndra is probably going to kill her whether she accepts or not.

"I would," she says, and follows the floating mage through her door.

Within is more proof of Syndra's sovereignty. She has disdained gravity altogether, and her furniture floats at different heights. She rises to retrieve a tea set, and seats herself at her table. Riven tests the other chair, and finds that it is far more firmly set than any seat she's found on land.

"Do you require assistance?"

"No." Riven shakes her head. "But this could be kind of embarrassing, I wouldn't mind if you didn't watch." And so, she pulls herself up onto the chair. It isn't as awkward as she'd feared, but it's not exactly graceful either.

Or deliberate, which is really what Riven substitutes for grace.

Syndra doesn't mention anything of it, and pours her a cup of tea. Riven stares at it uncertainly, waiting for the Sovereign to lift her cup and following her lead.

The flavor is very different from the tea she is accustomed to, far less sweet. It is not something Riven would seek out (though tea isn't in general), but it's perfectly drinkable.

"What is it like to grow up in Noxus?" Syndra asks at length.

Riven starts, and considers the question. It is a familiar one, though she can't quite recall why.

"Stratified," she says. She raises the hand that isn't holding the teacup and says, "Those with strength, and determination are identified and nurtured." Syndra sets her cup down and folds her hands, resting her chin on them. Riven can't remember anyone who's listened to her quite so intently. "Those without are provided for... or not, at the will of their betters."

She takes a sip of her tea, and finds that she's emptied the cup. Syndra makes a gesture toward the pot, and at Riven's nod, refills her. "Thank you," Riven says. Syndra waves it off.

"I have not a drop of magical ability," Riven concedes. "But from the mages I worked with in the army, I understand that it is much the same for them."

A tapping sound emerges, and though Riven assumes it must be from Syndra, she can't imagine what exactly she's tapping. "What would happen to a mage acolyte who surpassed their teacher?"

Riven shrugs. "When I proved stronger than my instructors, I was granted my rune sword. When I proved a more capable leader, I was made a leader. I would imagine similar opportunities to prove your strength."

"It sounds... idyllic," the Sovereign says.

"It is," Riven agrees. It occurs to her that this is probably her best chance to poison her against Jericho Swain, so she says, "But perhaps not for much longer."

That certainly draws Syndra's attention. "What do you mean?" the Sovereign asks.

Riven sets her cup down, and folds her hands together. Here, no lie will be more effective than the truth.

"Jericho Swain," she says. She trusts that Syndra has taken some sort of steps to prevent eavesdropping magic from accessing her realm. "He is currently the leader of the Noxian military. He is a genius strategist. He will lead Noxus through an attempt to conquer all of Valoran.

"And he will win many battles. He will bring low city-states, one by one. He will take greater strides toward a unified Valoran than any other has.

"But Noxus in her finest hour cannot win a war against all the world. And when Jericho Swain loses, it will only be after he has ground Noxus into dust."

It is a relief, in some way, to finally say it aloud. Certainly, the Black Rose herself understood all of what she meant from her question. Yet that is not the same as having said it.

Syndra raises one eyebrow. "And you are the only one who knows this?"

Riven shrugs. "I am the only one I know that knows this." She does not bring up the Black Rose. "Perhaps there are others who know the reach of Jericho Swain's ambitions. Fewer, I think, know his determination."

"Which you know, because..."

At least Syndra has not rejected her.

"I served under Jericho Swain," Riven says. "In any battle, I would trust no one more to command an army. But when Jericho Swain acts, he does not think of Noxus. He thinks only of Jericho Swain."

Syndra hums. "So why do you idle here?"

"I am doing what I can," Riven says.

"Here you are close to your enemy, but he still lives."

Riven turns her head. "Ask me that again after you've been summoned to the fields." She slides off of the chair. "Thank you for the tea."

But Syndra is right, after a fashion. Perhaps what she can do, has been doing, will not be enough. Perhaps attempting to topple the Institute of War will end in tragedy for Noxus.

It is nothing she has not considered before. But it hasn't crossed her mind, since... since Sejuani arrived, probably. And it should. It is a bitter pill, but Riven cannot forgive those who enter a course of action without considering the consequences of failure.

And so, she reevaluates.

She has a better grasp upon the situation now than she did before. The conclusion she comes to, however, is the same. In loss, Noxus may be transformed, but her first principle will remain in the victor.

Riven is not so surprised that she sees Syndra returning from a practice match before long. There are always summoners eager to test the capabilities of new champions.

Neither is she surprised to see that Syndra is grossly displeased with her summoning to the farce of justice. Her eyes glow a darker violet than the last time they spoke.

Speak, they don't, but the Sovereign does nod her head.

It is, disorientingly, almost a week (maybe? She doesn't count) Riven doesn't notice passing before she sees Irelia.

By now, she's sort of used to Syndra's power flooding the area, and so she ignores it as she enters her room. It's still overwhelming to her senses, but it's no longer strange.

And it's probably because she's drowning in it that the hand landing on her shoulder is completely unexpected. Somehow, despite that she hasn't seen it coming, it is no surprise - yes, of course, it's only natural that she should be in her room and being grabbed at. She's pulled backwards and sat down.

Irelia mounts her lap sidesaddle, and relaxes against her. Riven's hands automatically move to steady her (her lap is not exactly the widest seat around, though Irelia isn't overflowing it or anything). The Will of the Blades sighs, and closes her eyes. It takes a moment, but Riven finally decides that the woman on her lap has gone to sleep.

That's just absurd. She could have at least gone for the bed instead of this shitty fucking chair (a piece of furniture she picked up somewhere because, well, chair sex is fun).

This is not the most comfortable Riven has ever been. Irelia isn't so much smaller than her that she doesn't need to put work into keeping her in place.

It turns out to only be a short nap, which doesn't do a fuck of a lot for Riven's mood either way. Irelia does come back very awake the moment she opens her eyes.

"Thank you," she says, and presents Riven with a small smile.

Aw fuck.

"It has been a miserable couple of months," Irelia says. Riven doesn't doubt it. "Have you met her yet?"

Riven tilts her head. "Can you not feel her power?" she asks. The utterly blank look she receives is as good an answer as any. "Yes," she says. "Syndra is practically next door."

"Oh," Irelia says, and it's by far the worst sound Riven has heard come out of her.

She has no idea what to do about that, so instead, she loops one arm under Irelia's knees, and stands up. Her Ionian squeaks, a sound at which Riven arches an eyebrow, and blushes. She proves that it wouldn't have been hard to get to the bed - two steps - and lays her out. Irelia attempts to sit up, and Riven meets her with a hand on her chest. She shakes her head, and sets to undoing her sandals.

Then she sets to cuddling.

It takes a few minutes, but Riven realizes that Irelia actually wants to fuck more than she does. Or at least, she's much more eager to.

"Should have said something," she purrs into Irelia's ear. A second later, she's straddling Irelia's lap, peeling her shirt off. She can feel wetness under her skirt, where Irelia's pants prove her desire. Riven's finding the edge of her chest bindings when Irelia takes care of that; she freezes as one of her blades slides between her tits, and cuts away the fabric. It sets her heart to pounding.

Irelia's hands slip up her thighs, under her skirt, and dig into her hips, pinning her in place. "Since when," she asks, "have I had to say something to get you to fuck me?"

It stings a bit more than it probably should. Irelia's right, there's maybe been two or three times they've met that they haven't fucked, and only one of those by choice. Riven still considers her intentions declared, but perhaps she was too vague.

Then Irelia hauls her forward to bury her face between her thighs, and Riven moves on. She can clarify in the morning. Right now, paying attention is way more important.

Two months hasn't even started to dull Irelia's familiarity with her body - or at least, it feels like she's trying to prove that. It's barely a minute before she has Riven on the edge of coming, and holds her there.

"Irelia," she gasps for the umpteenth time. She's lost track of how long her Ionian has been carefully not fucking her, and a wild half-thought crosses her mind: if this goes on much longer, she's not sure she'll ever be able to think of anything else again. "Please," she begs. Her eyes shut and forehead pressed against the headboard, Riven can't see Irelia's response, but she feels it.

She's never come harder in her life.

Riven doesn't have the presence of mind to actually do anything. It must be Irelia, but she doesn't exactly remember how she ends up face to face with her Ionian. Her face is slick with Riven's come, and for some reason all she can think to do is stick her tongue down her throat. So she does.

Her taste has never been something she cares about one way or the other, but on Irelia's lips, it's incredibly annoying - because it's not Irelia's flavor. She wonders if this is what Irelia always feels like.

When she finally pulls away to breathe, Irelia looks more satisfied than Riven's ever seen her. And, well, kind of smug. Riven spends a few more moments resting, which can hardly be comfortably for Irelia, and then sets to working her fingers into her pants. It isn't long before she figures out that isn't happening, and she rolls off her Ionian.

"Get naked," she mutters.

Irelia's smug smile gets even more so. "Oh? Isn't that your job?"

In any other circumstance, this would probably be the most humiliating thing Riven's ever had to admit. But right now, she's never been fucked this well, and the closest she's ever gotten to this was... fuck, with someone else, which means now is not the time to figure it out.

"I can't."

Her Ionian looks far too pleased with herself before she sits up and loses her shirt. She has to get to her knees to work her pants off, and the sight of that is just too goddamn perfect, so right about when she peels the material down over the curve of her ass, Riven lurches against her. Her gross motor control is... well, not fine, but it is sort of working.

Irelia drops to all fours, and Riven kisses the base of her spine.

"Tease me, will you," she says, not entirely sure if Irelia can actually hear her. "Can't wave bait in front of me and not expect..." She bites the curve of Irelia's bum, hard enough that Irelia knows exactly what she's doing as she scrapes her teeth over the incredibly taut skin.

Fuck, but Irelia has the most exquisite ass ever wrought by the Goddess herself.

Her teeth click together, and she finally notices the shudder that spreads through her Ionian. She smiles. "Or maybe that's what you wanted?"

She flicks her tongue around the rim of Irelia's asshole, and it pulls a long, quiet whine from her. It doesn't taste quite like... other, nearby parts of her body, but it's still distinctly Irelia. And, more importantly, it's not at all distasteful.

Which is pretty fucking fantastic, because Irelia has the most interesting reactions to it, and Riven would hate to not enjoy pulling every single one of them out.

She makes Irelia come twice without touching her cunt.

When Irelia settles in next to her, Riven kisses her cheek. She figures it's probably safer than her lips. Instead, Irelia gives her quite a cross look, seizes her hair (god that's hot), and drags her into an absolutely brutal kiss.

Riven has never felt so wanted.

The first time she sees Sejuani in weeks, the Freljord queen hasn't quite finished rounding out her roster. The... fish woman has made some kind of deal with her. There's something sort of unsettling about a fish with breasts (second, though, to the plant with breasts), but... well, she does kind of look about as human as the younger Du Coteau. The difference being that Cassiopeia is actually human, while Nami has never been. Also, V-neck scales.

"I am asking you to help me in this," Sejuani says. It's clearly not a question - Riven isn't convinced that Sejuani knows how to ask a question. She would have had a full roster long ago if she could.

And Riven has to think about this. It's not quite as simple as yes, she wants to help - even though she does. They've spent enough time together that no one in the Institute would bat an eye at her agreeing here (well, new arrivals aside). But it is possible that aid here will put the eyes of the Institute's enforces on her, and that will make life hard.

Moreover, if she sides with Sejuani, she has to ensure that it is the Winter's Wrath who seizes victory. It is transparently obvious that Sejuani will not accept defeat in this - as well she shouldn't (as Riven hasn't). Riven needs the blades of the Institute's enforces sharp, not wet.

(Irelia's face crosses her mind)

But on the other side of the scale sits the simple truth she told Sejuani when she introduced herself: Riven knows exactly what it is like to have her homeland corrupted.

"What will you do with the pretender queen when you win?" she asks.

"Do?" Sejuani gives her a blank look. "Nothing. If she is strong enough to lead, she can lead her Avarosan however she likes. But I will not allow her to lead all of Freljord down the path to weakness."

Brutal but fair. She finds it unlikely (though she is, of course, not familiar with the woman) that Ashe will see it for the respect it is. Then again, perhaps she knows the classic spirit of Freljord as well as her vision for it.

"Okay," she says. It's not the easiest choice she's ever made, but what is?

Sejuani throws her team into every practice match she can. It eats up a great deal of Riven's time.

It makes the moments she gets to spend with Irelia rarer.

"What did she do?" Irelia isn't looking at her to see it, but Riven waves a hand toward the Sovereign's room. It's the first time Irelia has ever really looked around her room (well, maybe she's done it while Riven was asleep?). Riven wonders what she's seeing, because she doesn't - a chest with her clothes in it, and a stand for the remains of her rune blade.

"She killed her teacher," Irelia says. Riven isn't super clear on why that's a problem. "And she ripped a castle out of the ground. Now it flies."

Riven still isn't clear on why that's a problem, but it is pretty dramatic. She can see why the Ionian leaders would recall their champions.


Irelia shrugs, and runs her hand over Riven's rune blade without touching it. "I've never been able to look at this," she says. Her hand hovers over the one intact rune left. "What does it mean?"

"I don't know," Riven says, stepping up behind her. "The set used to work magic." She lays her hand on the hilt (taking the opportunity to practically embrace her Ionian), lifts the blade slightly, and says, "Here, I'll show you." She closes her eyes, and focuses - on the thought of a Noxus restored.

A moment of clarity.

It is a projection of her soul as much as anything else. It's certainly not summoning the original fragments - they remain buried under some nameless hill in Ionia she couldn't find if her life depended on it. Her blade, like Noxus herself, is broken, but the ideal of it is indestructible. And it will always, always come out in the end.

A sword mirrors its owner, after all.

Even the runes wrought into the blade take up their magic again.

Irelia stares. It's not something she's never seen before - but on the farce of justice, where nothing is real. She raises a hand, and pauses. "May I?" she asks.

"Just be careful of the edge," Riven says. It's an inane warning - but in fairness, the edge looks dull, is dull. It is the sorcery that sleeps in even the remnant of the blade that does the cutting.

She touches the last rune on the blade, and freezes dead in her tracks. A blush spreads up her neck, until her entire head is verging on red - a far cry from the color Riven is familiar with. Riven folds her plumage again, and sets the remains of the blade back down. She touches Irelia's arm, which hasn't moved yet, and asks, "Are you okay?"

Irelia practically fucking jumps out of her skin. Riven takes a step back because she remembers the last time she surprised Irelia. Her Ionian looks at her like she's grown a spare pair of tits. She tilts her head uncertainly. "Do you need to... sit down or something?"

Something is going on with Irelia's blades. They're spinning like mad, but wobbling in a way Riven's never seen before. Tension builds in Irelia's shoulders, and her eyes suddenly can't focus on Riven. She moves - slowly - to the side, making sure she isn't between the door and the will of the blades.

This is something entirely new.

Face still as red as her armor, Irelia draws closer, her hands coming up to cup Riven's face. She still isn't sure what's happening, but the gentle traction Irelia applies is far more a request than a demand. She goes with it, and Irelia kisses her in a soft, gentle way. It's... nice, but Riven still doesn't know what the fuck.

Her heart beats.

"I'm sorry," Irelia says, and draws her into a hug. Then she vanishes.

No, really, what the fuck?

Irelia appears to have gone completely insane. It's the only explanation Riven can come up with - she's actually talking to her inside the walls of the Institute. Well, talking to her outside the confines of a bedroom. It's putting a new kind of attention on both of them.

Ironically it actually seems to be shifting the looks she gets from, well, hate (less frequently, resentment) to more along the lines of confusion. Which is kind of an improvement to her situation, but on the other hand, more attention is more attention. Really, it's Irelia who's undeniably losing out here, going from respect to caution.

Popular opinion (as told to her by Cassiopeia) is that one or the other of them has clearly bewitched the other. Mostly her, because Noxians whose only talent is swinging an oversized sword are clearly amazing at that most delicate of sorceries required to alter the mind. Cassiopeia's words.

Syndra is actually the only person she talks to who doesn't mention it at all. Even Sejuani brings it up (though only to be sure she's not backing out of her team).

Sejuani has only managed to organize a few practice rounds. All have been against uncoordinated messes, not teams. All have also been horrendously one sided stomps. There have been a couple of things worth learning from them - but those have rapidly run dry. It is not their performance when closing on victory Riven is concerned about - it's getting there.

So it comes as something of a fucking shock when Sejuani tells her the date for her challenge of the pretender queen has been set.

"Okay," Riven says. She wants to say something about how ill prepared they are for a team, but there's no point. Fracturing their cohesion will not advantage them. Being right is immaterial. And anyway, doing more with less was why she captained Fury Company. "When?"

"Six weeks hence."

It's slightly less of a heart attack. She can put some effort into finding an opponent to test Sejuani's team against. In this, she is fortunate - because to those outside of it, a united Freljord is more of a threat than a fractured one. Being neighbor city-states, Demacia and Piltover are the most likely aides here.

Well, realistically, Noxus is the most likely to be sympathetic to the Winter's Claw, but assistance from that court cannot happen. Noxian sympathies for foreigners only matter for immigrants. And while Sejuani would certainly not convert, Riven can well admit that many Noxians do not take refusal well, even when backed by superior strength.

"Let me know when the pretender queen finalizes her team," Riven says.

Sejuani nods, and stares at her for a moment. Riven straightens under the inspection. "Are you hungry?" she asks at length.

Riven shrugs. "What were you thinking?"

She gets no answer, except a two-fingered follow me gesture. She does. Through one of the platforms reserved for those who are leaders, that must be able to return to their homes on a more frequent basis.

It is only when she's seated at the head of her table that Sejuani opens her mouth again. "You're talking to that Ionian."

Which is a weird way to ask a question. "She's pleasant," Riven says. After a moment of Sejuani not responding, she adds, "And attractive."

Sejuani hums at this, as though it explains everything. Maybe it does.

"You aren't reconsidering your place on my roster."

Oddly, despite being in the middle of Freljord, unarmed, and with only Sejuani for company (with no one else aware of where she is), it does not feel like a threat at all.

"No," Riven says. "I asked you to trust me. I gave you cause to. I will continue to."

It wouldn't quite be accurate to say some kind of tension leaves the heart of the blizzard at her response. Something, however, does definitely change. She snaps her fingers, and a servant enters to lay food upon the table.

The servings are... not meager, is the most generous thing Riven can say about them. The fare is rich as anything she's ever tasted, and sits in her stomach like a rock. The meat is dried and salted, and while she's not sure raw applies, she doesn't think it's ever seen a fire. It's accompanied by some roots she's never seen before, but don't taste like they're going to kill her. The mug placed before her is full of the thickest beer she's ever tasted, and by the time she's half done with the mug she's already feeling it.

She makes it back to her room without help, though she doesn't remember much of it. Changing (stripping) sounds like too much work in her head, so instead she rolls into bed. She's halfway conscious, and not keeping track of time particularly well, when she feels a hand on her calf. She jerks (in an attempt to jump), and gets lost trying to look behind her. Eventually she gives up. What a shitty death.

And then Irelia rolls her over, looking at her uncertainly.

Riven smiles like an idiot, but has the presence of mind to not try and say anything. Or maybe she just can't form words. She's fucking thrilled either way.

She's not so thrilled by the frown she gets. She can only think of one thing to do, so she reaches up, grabs Irelia's head (probably harder then she should), and pulls her down. She misjudges the distance, and so instead of a proper kiss, her lips barely graze Irelia's.

"You're drunk," Irelia says. Her breath feels fantastic on Riven's skin.

"Yes," she agrees.

Her Ionian sighs, and sets to stripping her. Riven watches through half lidded eyes as her sandals come off, followed by Irelia manhandling her to get her skirt and smalls off. She raises her arms when prompted, and shortly is naked of everything but her chest wrap. Irelia stares at it pensively.

Before she decides something about it, Riven snatches her belt and drags her down. Irelia's knee digs deep into her thigh, and rakes off. One of her hands barely misses ploughing her diaphragm. She does land face first in Riven's tits, and all in all, Riven's pretty okay with this. In fact, it feels just fucking right, and she wraps her arms around Irelia to keep her in place.

She looks down at the top of Irelia's head. I love you, she mouths, presence of mind intact to not say anything fueled by alcohol.

Then she goes to sleep.

She wakes up to find Irelia in her arms, and her fuzzy memory of last night brings what must be the brightest blush she's had in years to her face. "Shit," she says. Irelia stirs at the noise, and she has to confess some kind of panic.

(At some level, she notices that Irelia is naked and they're under her sheets, neither of which was true when she went to sleep, and that's really quite nice)

"Shit," she adds. Her ears are still on fire.

Irelia opens her eyes. She blinks a few times, before focusing on Riven's face, and then her eyes obviously drift to her ears. Shit, Riven thinks, and turns to try and hide her face. The attention makes her blush hotter.

"You're blushing," Irelia says, voice tinged with wonder. Riven bites her lip. In some way, this is the most humiliating thing she's ever done. Her Ionian slides up her body, and the feeling of skin moving against skin distracts her momentarily. A hand on her cheek turns her back to Irelia, and softer lips press against hers.

"I love you," Riven breathes when their lips part. It takes a moment for her to register what she's just done, and her blood freezes in utter horror. It's not that it's not true, it's just that this isn't at all what she'd planned for saying it (she hadn't, really, planned on ever saying it). She chose to love Irelia the day she dared her to make a choice, and at some point she knows she fell in love with her Ionian.

Discipline slams up her spine like steel, and before she opens her eyes, she's already preparing for the inevitable rejection. It's not that she believes Irelia is only interested in fucking, nor that she bears no kind of affection for her. But, affection describes to a tee how Riven felt for Katarina, and she would never have said she loved the elder Du Coteau. No matter how many times she screamed her name.

She opens her eyes, but doesn't focus on Irelia's face. Honestly, this would be easier if she'd just gotten up and left already.

"What a lovely thing to wake up to," the Will of the Blades says, which is going pretty fucking hard in on cruelty. She lowers her mouth to Riven's ear, which is kind of a relief. Riven isn't going to fucking cry, but she feels more certain about that when she isn't looking at her. "I love you too," she says, enunciating every single syllable exquisitely.

It stops Riven's heart.

She definitely isn't going to cry. It's just a lot closer than it was ten seconds ago.

The feeling gets pushed aside as Irelia ghosts her hand up her thigh. Where her fingers pass, she feels inescapable warmth linger. Her hands tangle in ink slick hair, and she drags her in for a deep, searching kiss.

Irelia hums into her mouth, and though her lips are held open, she forms as much of a smile as she can. Riven rolls over, pinning Irelia to her bed. She sucks on her Ionian's (her Ionian!) lower lip, and scrapes it with her teeth, releasing it only reluctantly. It turns into a fucking adorable pout.

"I am going to fuck you so hard," she says, and even in her own ears it sounds like she plans on kidnapping her and keeping her in a pleasure dungeon. Stretched over her Ionian as she is, she feels every centimeter of the shiver that crawls through her body. Irelia laughs.

Riven rises to her knees, and seizes Irelia's hips. She pulls her knees to her chest obligingly, and Riven drags her up until her tits press against the small of her Ionian's back. She takes a minute to drink in the sight of her.

Irelia's hair stains her sheets in a mockery of radiance. Even bent like this, the cut of her slack abdominals is the deepest Riven's ever seen on someone else. Her hands clasp loosely above her head. Her slit is slick with desire, but her smile is all satisfaction. She meets those sea green eyes, and deliberately presses a kiss to her clit. She hums and shudders as Riven drags her tongue down the length of her cunt and beyond - where she squeaks and presses her hands against Riven's face.

She chuckles, and presses the tip of her tongue against the bud of Irelia's anus. The hands on her face slide back and twine in her hair as she slowly penetrates the relaxing muscle. A long, low moan oozes out of Irelia, her eyes shut. She bites her lower lip, trying to keep her voice down, but can't stop the smile.

Riven tweaks one of Irelia's nipples, teasing out a small gasp from her lover. Her other hand spreads her outer lips, and alternates between plunging her finger ever deeper and stroking the length of her. Irelia's back arches at every new depth Riven reaches in her.

It is a long, slow burn before the touch of Riven's teeth on the bottom curve of her ass drives Irelia over the edge.

For the first time, Riven closes her eyes and drifts to sleep beside Irelia without feeling any need to bring herself off.

Things are different, but nothing has changed.

The day of Sejuani's grudge match draws ever closer. The Freljord queen aspirant is, natural or not, an experienced leader, and all of her roster owes her loyalty of some sort. Riven is totally on board with her taking command of the farce of justice.

Which is not the sharpest pain in the few practice matches that pass. That would be managing Sejuani's response to being disadvantaged. Twice (at Riven's personal, private, very secret insistence to the other team), Sejuani spends much of her time even more crippled by the farce of justice than usual. She doesn't act like it bothers her, in fact, she acts like it isn't happening. It leads to... terrible engagements. They lose the first match this happens in.

Afterward, Riven steps aside with Sejuani, and listens as she vents her rage. Eventually, when Sejuani is done, she says: "Fucking assholes."

Because she knows that this is not the learning opportunity she'd intended. Sejuani's knee jerk reaction here has been to deny, deny, deny that anything different was happening, even when confronted with incontrovertible proof that it was. And when, finally, the pressure is off her, she explodes. Sejuani is not in a place where advice will be heeded (or remembered except as vague resentment, in all likelihood). What Sejuani needs now is something that Riven cannot give her, because here Sejuani is the boss.

Were Sejuani a member of her company, now is when Riven would send her back out to do it again. She believes firmly that Sejuani is an intelligent woman, it is not by accident or mere prophecy that she leads the Winter's Claw. If allowed time, she may well consider what just happened and what she needed to do instead. But why allow for may well, when the issue can be highlighted?

But Riven has never lead a leader. So because she has no power in this, she chooses to trust Sejuani... and test her again.

This time, Sejuani's decisions are most definitely colored by the knowledge that she specifically is being targeted (this, Riven believes, is pretty likely to be what happens in her real match). Her calls are more conservative - perhaps more so than is strictly required, but if this loses them anything, it is only time.

Sejuani spends more time venting when it's over, but it lacks the bitter edge of real anger. This is mere stress relief.

"Fucking assholes," Riven commiserates.

If before, Irelia had lost her mind, she is now in need of a long vacation. She doesn't speak any differently - or indeed, seek Riven out any more frequently. It's just...

Riven can't really remember ever seeing Irelia touch anyone before. She thinks her basis for this is enough to be significant - she has spent too many months covertly staring at her Ionian. This is not so unusual a behavior - it's not so much that Riven remembers not touching people, as she would have found touching people memorable.

But now, almost every time they run into each other, Irelia's hand finds her arm or her side (and on one memorable occasion, in a split second of public privacy that Riven is pretty sure actually was, steals a grope of her rear). It is reassuring after a fashion, and Riven's kind of pissed at herself for that, because god damn it, she trusts Irelia and she doesn't need reassurance. What it really does is draw attention.

They're not really the sort of touches that Riven could reciprocate, but it also kind of makes her feel like she's not doing something for Irelia she should be. She tries to make it up to her in private, but it still leaves a kind of guilty taste in her mouth.

This turns out to be unusual enough that Syndra brings it up.

She's only too pleased to accept Syndra's invitation for tea. The Sovereign is young - younger than Irelia, even - which makes her power even more fascinating. Also, she's one of the vanishingly few champions in the Institute that seems to actually enjoy Riven's company. Specifically. Which puts her in the company of, well, Irelia and Sejuani. Cassiopeia doesn't seem to like talking to Riven so much as talking to someone who's actually listening to her.

She thinks the table set is a touch lower this time. It's all but confirmed when she pulls herself up to the chair and feels far less stupid about it. She accepts the cup of tea and takes a sip from it. It is the same blend as before, but perhaps it's the fact that she's tasted it before that makes it more palatable.

"Delicious," she says, and means it.

Syndra smiles and bows her head a touch. "Thank you."

It's difficult to tell behind the purple glow, but Riven meets what would be eye contact. Syndra takes a sip of her own cup of tea and sighs, before setting it down. Riven follows suit.

"I understand now," Syndra says, "what you meant." The ever cycling manifestations of her power circle her clenched fists (it's kind of adorable, how badly she's makes them). Riven reaches across the table and gently flattens one of Syndra's hands out, and folds it correctly. It's not hard to do, Syndra is exactly as strong as she looks.

The Sovereign inspects her hands side by side, and unclenches her other fist to make it match. For a second, her forearms go taut in the way that only soft muscle can, and then she relaxes. "I didn't come here to put on another set of chains," she says. "Let me help you."

It is everything Riven could have dreamed of. An ally of her own. An ally as unaffiliated with country as any from the plane of Runeterra could be. An ally with power unmatched by any in Noxus.


But while it works out for her, Riven cannot counsel Syndra without knowing the woman realizes the consequences of what she asks. It is a sort of self interest - she is no match for a mage of Syndra's caliber, and to hoodwink her would be a whole new kind of danger.

And besides, what is faith untested?

"Do you know why the Institute of War was founded?" Riven asks. She is old enough to remember - young though she was at the time, but she's fairly sure Syndra isn't (she is, in fact, pretty sure Syndra is younger than Irelia). Still, Syndra must have learned history from someone.

And indeed, "The last rune war," Syndra says. "Supposedly it nearly split Valoran into pieces."

"There is nothing supposed about it." Riven drums her fingers against the table. She was not even ten at the time, and so she can't exactly say what all of Valoran endured. "Noxus is a mountain. She is made of granite. Even she suffered the quakes. The top..." she hesitates. "The top lost a hundred feet to the storms. I watched saltwater lakes form where our lands sunk."

Riven flattens her hands against the table to still them. They aren't trembling, but they're about to be. This is her worst memory without a doubt. The end of her service was terrible, but fills her with burning hate. The sight of the storms engulfing Noxus's proudest spires, and bringing them down on her people's homes brings only helpless despair.

"It was worse elsewhere," she says when she can breathe again. "It took years for the Institute to be formed. It is by the edict of the Institute that magic is no longer used to shatter the enemy's fields." It is probably why Janna Windforce is one of the most crippled champions to take to the farce of justice. It is not much of a step from what she has shown to the asphyxiation of entire cities.

Syndra, of course, can apparently make castles fly, and while Riven never saw an Ionian castle up close, she estimates the ones she didn't get near as pretty fucking big. Big enough that were they to, say, be dropped on cities...

Very few of the non-mage champions at the Institute of War are actually terrifying.

Riven shrugs. "Without the Institute, those prohibitions have no enforcement."

"You suggest that the Institute of War is necessary to prevent the end of the world."

Put like that, it sounds incredibly stupid (which, of course, it is). "No," Riven says. "Just the city-states. Mostly Zaun." And by extension, Noxus. The alliance with Zaun is... not something Riven is a fan of. Also, not something most Noxians probably care about. But the most of the current High Command and, more particularly, Grand General are committed to it.

Another reason Noxus must be rid of Jericho Swain.

The sound of Syndra's foot tapping... something makes itself known. "I don't see the problem," she says.

This is sort of a foreign idea to Riven. But then, Noxus is her country, and everything about it suits her - except Jericho Swain. Perhaps, had she been born in Ionia, she would feel as though no state had anything to offer her.

"Then I would be a fool to refuse your help."

"Yes," Syndra says, though she looks as though she isn't convinced Riven isn't. "Tell me," she says, at length, but without hesitation, "the captain of the guard."

Riven tilts her head. This is not exactly a point of contention she'd considered. She tells Syndra the same thing she told Sejuani:

"She's pleasant. And attractive."

Syndra's face does this weird thing where she looks simultaneously offended and intrigued. "I can't imagine," she says, "how that woman could be pleasant." Then she snaps her fingers and places one over her lips. "Are you fucking her?"

Riven blinks. This is not a question she's prepared for.

"No," she says, and she crafts the tone of her voice and the hesitation to read as but I wish I was and not I'm lying.

It's not her best work. Proven by Syndra's frown.

"Yes," she admits before Syndra calls her out on it. She can live with the Sovereign knowing she's entangled with the captain of the guard. She can even live with her spreading that. She literally will not if Syndra decides to side with Jericho Swain.

"Ah." Syndra nods. "Well."

Riven finds herself at even more of a loss. Minutes pass as she and Syndra stare at each other.

"I would... prefer it if you wouldn't tell anyone," Riven says at length. "It would make dealing with Jericho Swain more difficult."

Syndra doesn't acknowledge her. The purple glow obscuring her eyes is making this situation uncomfortable - Riven can't be sure whether the Sovereign is even looking at her.

"I do have something I would ask of you," she says. "I will need... space to deal with Jericho Swain."

"Continue," Syndra says, and cocks an eyebrow.

"What do you know of the wyverns of Valoran?"

"A great deal about the seafaring beasts," she says. "They are the primary kind documented in Ionia."

Riven rubs her temples. "There is a specific species, known to mimic the distress cry of others. I need one found and brought nearby - ideally to the edge of marshes of Kaladoun."

"It would be nothing to me," Syndra says.

And the day of Sejuani's match arrives. Prepared though she is - experienced though she is - it is ever a shock to be dragged into the farce of justice and bound in new flesh by a summoner. Though crippled, it is an exact duplicate of the condition she arrived at the Institute in - stiff, before she'd found time to work flexibility back into the remaining stretch of burned skin.

She executes a slow, deliberate series of stance transitions, refamiliarizing with just how this shade of herself can move. One of the summoner's charms attaches itself to her belt.

Riven follows Sejuani into the jungle between turrets. Across the river that divides the Rift, and to the ancient that carries a burning minor blessing. It is theirs within seconds of being cast into the Rift.

The Cryophoenix is cautious, but not cautious enough as the Winter's Wrath descends upon her from behind. Riven's summoner forces her position forward, and then the Cryophoenix is an egg - and then her summoner's fire reduces her to nothing.

Sejuani vanishes back into the jungle, and Riven sets to slaughtering the mindless automata that mark direct routes to and from the nexus, driving her own toward the Cryophoenix's tower.

Her arrival is timed with Sejuani's, and the boar smashes into the barbarian king. The void creature's scream stalls his attempts to flee, while her own shout holds him in place for void fangs to finish him.

Her summoner drags her back to the nexus. More charms adorn her waist.

Things stall for a bit. Her attention is fully focused upon the Cryophoenix, rather than the reflexive, systematic sacrifice of automata. Riven is not overly surprised when the yeti and his rider burst from the reeds hiding the river, and flares her plumage before will propels her dash toward the Cryophoenix.

She has raised a wall of ice to herd Riven toward the yeti, and her approach shocks the summoner into dragging the Cryophoenix across an impassable wall of forest. She turns on the yeti rider, and an enormous snowball drenches her, weighing down her limbs. She spins toward him, carving the shade apart, and her summoner sets him aflame. He turns toward the automata, and she flings the fragments of her plumage at him to fell the yeti.

But the Cryophoenix has returned, and her orb of ice shatters next to Riven's skull. Her shade burns with the magic of Anivia's summoner. She can only watch as the shard of ice follows, and puts the flesh of the shade beyond its limits.

It is astonishing, she thinks, as she is left to stare at something that looks remarkably like her corpse, how nothing is really felt on the farce of justice.

More charms for her belt, and she seeks out where Sarah Fortune and the Tidecaller are pressuring Ashe and Janna Windforce. She arrives before Sejuani, and has to wait patiently out of sight. The bola arrives before the boar, and Sarah Fortune puts down withering fire. Nami eats an enchanted arrow for her just before the frost archer falls, and can only watch as an enraged barbarian finishes being dragged here by his summoner.

The Tidecaller's summoner weighs him down, and Riven turns toward them having brought Janna Windforce's shade to earth. Nami's dragged away before the final blow can land, and she demands a tidal wave that stalls him. Riven matches his shout with one of her own, and she and Sejuani pin him against the wall for Sarah Fortune to end, suffering the blows fueled by his undying rage.

The Cryophoenix has crumbled the tower Riven was to defend, but so too has the void beast smashed one in return and the three of them make short work of the Avarosan's.

The pace of the match calms, and the frost archer's team settles in to slowly bring down turrets, one or two strikes for every wave of automata that die upon them. The second tower has almost fallen, when the barbarian king shows his face alone to defend another from a seething mass of automata, and Sejuani acts.

It is a slaughter, and suddenly it is they who are rushing to down as many objectives as possible before new shades are forged.

It takes too long. The barbarian king's arrival is heralded by an enchanted arrow that locks the void beast in place, and slows the blood in their veins. A storm of bladed ice engulfs four of them, only Sarah Fortune being spared. She flees at Sejuani's roared command, the life chilled from Riven's shade before she can reach anyone.

Though the crystal inhibiting their automata has been shattered, the frost archer's team makes for the monstrous worm. It dies before a new shade is wrought for Riven, but not so quickly that all five of them cannot be in place for the charge.

The void beast's summoner times his adjustment perfectly to cross the enchanted arrow, and it screams in the face of the yeti and the barbarian king. A tidal wave surges forward, and Riven rides the lightness it brings. Even so, her summoner drags her onto the Cryophoenix and the pretender queen. Her shout stops the both of them, and her plumage brings the archer down when Sejuani's bola locks all of them in place under Fortune's fire.

Anivia falls shortly. She turns to find that Janna Windforce and the yeti rider have already been done, and the barbarian king in his death throes, though the void beast and Nami have fallen to his blade.

Nothing stands between Sejuani and victory anymore.

However Sejuani chooses to celebrate, it is private. Riven isn't bothered, there is nothing she hates more after a session on the farce of justice than being expected to make fucking merry with people. Instead, she sinks into the shared bath alone, letting the warmth go to work on the tension the farce of justice always leaves in her.

It is a combination of mental fatigue, physical inactivity, and suffocating the hatred that every summoning feeds a little more.

Eventually, when she feels as though she isn't going to fucking murder the first summoner she sees, she heads back to her room.

"What have you done?" Irelia asks.

"I leant my strength to a friend," Riven says. She's too tired to justify herself. Irelia looks as though she's not sure whether to grab Riven or bury her face in her hands. She chooses neither for the moment, allowing her presence to loom. Her blades rattle.


Instead of answering, Riven strips off her blouse and skirt. She hasn't bothered putting anything else on after her soak. She gives Irelia her back as she slips into her bed, which is about nine tenths accident and one tenth answer.

Because no one deserves the betrayal of their home, she mouths, before going supine, her eyes closed. "Can this wait until tomorrow?" she asks. She chooses... "I would prefer not to say something I'll regret."

Cowardice, apparently. Mistrust. Fuck.

She can't feel Irelia's eyes on her, though her presence doesn't fade. At length, one hand presses down on her shoulder. "Okay," Irelia says, and her voice is both tight and distant. She sure as fuck isn't looking at Riven. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Riven almost asks her to stay. She can't, there's something entirely too selfish about rejecting Irelia and then begging her for comfort.

Sleep is a long time coming.

She goes looking for Irelia when she wakes up. Her knock doesn't get an immediate answer at her door, and it's too daytime to stick around waiting for her. She retreats.

Neither is Irelia taking breakfast, or at least, she isn't taking it in Cassiopeia's courtyard. Riven doesn't eat much herself - though she hasn't since before Sejuani's match. What she does eat, she doesn't taste.

At this point, she faces the unpleasant realization that she literally does not know where Irelia likes to spend time. She doesn't think the Ionian's likely to be in any of the training facilities (and, even if she was, Riven wouldn't have the slightest about which of them to start at). Neither does she seem like someone attracted to the overgrowth the Institute calls a garden.

And that about covers all of the recreational areas in the Institute she can remember, which is kind of embarrassing all on its own. She isn't regretting spending as much time as she can away from it, but she isn't exactly thrilled with that at this moment either.

So she knocks on Irelia's door once more, and when she gets no answer, she returns to her room.

She isn't there either, but a few minutes of pacing later, Irelia does show up. Riven's torn between relief that she's been found, and the knuckle aching distress about where this conversation is going.

Irelia closes the door and leans against it, meeting Riven with nothing in her eyes. Her hair is tussled like she hasn't brushed it, but not in a just woke up way. "Riven," she says, in that same carefully controlled voice she heard in Ionia so long ago. And, though it's her name, it sounds exactly like Exile.

"Irelia," Riven says. It comes out barely more than a whisper, but that's about as loud as she thinks she can go with a steady voice.

"Are you ready to talk now?"

Her blood hums with energy, and it's all she can do to plant her feet and keep her hands splayed at her sides. It doesn't make her feel better. Her mind keeps spinning, but the only thought is please. "Yes."

Irelia doesn't say anything for a long time. She starts to wonder if she should be answering the question she got last night, brooded over for all those intervening hours. Finally:

"What justice was there in siding with her?" Irelia asks.

Riven hesitates. She chooses... "None."

Half truth.

"None," she admits. "I chose Sejuani because I know what it feels like to be betrayed by my homeland." She isn't sure Irelia's listening to her justification. Not that it really matters.

She stops to gather her thoughts. So many of them are still please that by the time she's done, Irelia's asked her something else.

"What will you do if she carries war across Valoran?"

Consider her a terrible leader, mostly. But that is not a full answer, and Riven suspects Irelia will not appreciate it. She spends a few minutes considering the question.

"I would oppose her," she says. "Beg Piltover to allow me to stand with them." Probably be allowed to die somewhere in the frozen plains of Freljord.

Irelia shakes her head, clenches her fists. "Why?"

"She is my friend," Riven says. "But what is good for my friend is not always what is good for Valoran. And the weight of my friendship only tilts that scale so far."

Irelia closes her eyes. Apparently, not even that nothing can bear to look at her now. It feels kind of like if she tries to take a step, Riven will end up sitting down.

"I don't know what to do," Irelia says.


Riven doesn't ask that of her. "Yes you do," she says. "I am unjust. Selfish."

"What do you want?" Irelia asks.

"That doesn't-"

"Shut up." Irelia bites out. "I want to know."

Riven balls her fists, digging her nails deep into her palms. It hurts enough to distract her.

"Please," she says, in a voice that she can barely hear. "Please. Don't hate me."

Irelia turns away, presses her forehead against Riven's door. She says something Riven can't make out over the blood rushing in her ears.

Then she's gone.

Riven finds her bed. She's just gotten up, but finds herself without the energy to go do anything. She curls up.

She isn't going to fucking cry.

Two days later, the hunt she asked Syndra for is posted.

It's early. She'd intended a dry run, only actually killing the wyvern and doing the run from the Marshes to the Institute, to make sure everything was workable.

But Syndra's right. She's spent a lot of time doing nothing while Jericho Swain paraded around. Her picture of the Noxian army is not complete, but... it shouldn't be far off.

Just before she leaves, she finds a note. Presumably from Irelia, given that it's written in Ionian runes - which she can't read.

Syndra could translate it for her. Probably would if she asked. But...

But she's pretty fucking sure she knows what it says already.

So Riven folds it neatly, and sets it down on her sword's stand.

It's very dark when she shows back up at the Institute of War. The forced march hasn't taken quite as long as she'd anticipated. The spare time is welcome. Her schedule is tight as it is. LeBlanc's note (well, she's pretty sure that's who left it) was pretty specific about the time window.

And, well, she's chosen to trust the Deceiver. She believes in the Black Rose's self-interest. It's not too late to change her mind, not exactly. It's just not going to happen.

It's not luck that keeps her from running into anyone. She's chosen a route through the institute that hits no high traffic areas, even though it's pretty much the dead of night. There are some, after all, who thrive in the dark.

So it is that she settles in to wait near the portal rooms. He too is granted the privileges of leaders. The Black Rose has suggested that he spends the lion's share of his time in Noxus herself, spending only a few days a month in the Institute. Today he's been summoned, and so has actually entered the grounds.

And as the note suggested, Jericho Swain appears. Riven is concealed by only the shadows of the area. Neither the bird nor Jericho Swain himself look around - perfectly confident in the rules of the Institute to keep them safe.

Perfectly reasonable.

Riven isn't.

She advances. Every step deliberate, and so doing, quiet as she's ever been. She is within striking distance before the bird detects her. Jericho Swain turns. Her fragment of rune blade cleaves through the creature.

Jericho Swain erupts into feathers. His screech sears her ears. The world takes on a vile green tinge, and she feels as though she's trying to move under a waterfall.

Riven's blade bites into Jericho Swain's chest, half turned as he is. Talons erupt from the floor.

Her swing finishes, and Jericho Swain lies in twain.

She rotates around the weight of her blade, and though one of the talons gouges deep in her armor, none of them draw blood. She cleaves the head of the anthropomorphic bird from its shoulders, hooks her blade on her waist, and leaves.

Her heart maintains the slow, steady pace it's been beating since she reached the doors of the Institute.

The world isn't quite as vividly green, but the tinge will not leave no matter how much she blinks. It's by memory more than anything that she finds her way back out of the Institute, and settles into her marching pace.

The return trip feels longer. Not so long that dawn breaks, and she doesn't actually remember any of it, but it feels longer. Her feet ache. The world is still filtered with green.

The hunting grounds are substantial, but Riven took care to locate the nest of the wyvern before leaving. It's there when she finds her way back. It isn't asleep.

It spies her, and shrieks a call she doesn't recognize. She waits until it's done, and then breaks it's horn of a beak. It screams in a voice that may actually be its own. The ground shakes with the approach of whatever it summoned, and Riven rushes to kill it.

Something sends black fire into the nest, and that's what ends the wyvern. It goddamn nearly ends Riven too.

A roar deafens her. The ground shakes as something ploughs through the trees, but she can't hear them snap before it.

It's fucking huge. The legs are at least four times her height. The giant... egg shaped body atop it is twice her height, and six times that long.

It is a truly ludicrous looking beast, and if it weren't trying to kill her, she'd find it hilarious.

Riven tightens her grip on her blade.

She spends three days unconscious on the floor of the shitty little hut this village put her up in. There's a bed, but she didn't make it there before she collapsed. She regrets waking as soon as she does.

Her chest feels like Shyvana in full glory is standing on her tits. She pants like she's run laps around the Institute. It's a few minutes before she finds the composure to - gingerly - raise her top. The deep purple bruising around her ribs doesn't look good, not at all. She lays a finger against the edge of the mark, and her breath catches in her throat.

The pressure she applies dragging that finger across it chokes the same scream it spawns in her throat. She goes limp when she's done, temporarily expended.

But her ribs aren't broken, so. The summoners will not be able to require her to see a healer, much though they might recommend it. She can't imagine which of them might not notice Jericho Swain's magic upon her.

The world is no longer tinged green, fortunately. Perhaps her efforts set that curse to not do so much damage.

(Who the fuck is she kidding, she's lucky it didn't kill her)

She gives herself a few minutes. When that helps a bit, she gives herself a few more. And so on, until it only feels like a human standing on her tits. An attempt to sit up ends in a gasp and immediate collapse.

Riven manages to roll over with less suffering. Fortunately her blade landed not so far from where she did, and she manages to use it to prop herself up. It hurts like a motherfucker, but it's not impossible.

She stumbles through the door, and cringes at the sunlight. She sits herself down on the bench, and leans back against the hovel, eyes closed. When the light leaking through her eyelids doesn't hurt anymore, she opens them.

The elder of the village stands before her, and when she's recognized her, the woman says, "Thank you," and gestures for her daughter.

Riven is presented with a tray, a bowl with some kind of opaque soup, something that looks like a stuffed flatbread, and a cup of tea.

This place is her favorite fucking shithole.

Her hand trembles when she lifts the cup, and uncertain of how long she'll be able to hold it, she chugs the entire thing then and there. The pain in her side dulls.

She isn't clear on what exactly any of it tastes like, but it's goddamn divine.

Riven manages to get through the teleport to the Institute without keeling over, or even shaking too much. She isn't super surprised to find herself immediately ushered into the presence of several summoners.

They don't bother disarming her, which doesn't really mean anything. Certainly she could kill them, but she'd be stuck in the Institute afterward. It's suicide - and the blades of the Institute are not kind.

She locks her knees, because it's the only way she's going to stay standing. She starts to fold her hands at her waist, and then decides that feels entirely too much like she's already in chains. They hang loose at her sides instead.

"Exile," one of them says. "Are you aware that Grand General Swain has been killed?"

"This is the first I've heard of it," Riven says. Her voice hitches as pain flares in her side. It's less than encouraging.

Her blade is dead weight at her waist, but a comforting one.

The door opens behind her to admit someone. She doesn't look, though by the way the summoners ignore them, it's probably no one to help her.

"It was the same night you left for your errand," he says. "We have record of you returning for an hour."

Well. That's unspeakably shitty, but not wholly unexpected. Given that, the biggest surprise is that they don't know it was her.

"Are you accusing me of killing Jericho Swain?" Riven asks.

The summoner gives her the raised eyebrow of is this the worst joke ever told. "Yes," he says.

She hums. A moment later, Irelia's presence crystallizes beside her. "She was here to see me," she says. The lie comes off her tongue with such confidence that Riven believes her.

The assembled summoners look about as surprised as Riven feels.


Irelia takes Riven's hand, twines their fingers together. Something warm and metal presses into the base of her thumb. Riven looks at her, dumbfounded. (On the plus side, it's very easy to believe she's confused because a secret is being told, not because she has no idea what the fuck)

Her Ionian gives her a soft, warm, adoring smile.

Riven flushes bright fucking red.

"It's okay," Irelia says to her. And then, to the summoners, "My betrothed wanted privacy to propose."


It's a better alibi than she could have fucking dreamed of, but the thought barely brushes the edge of her mind. Mostly she stares, fascinated, at the platinum band around Irelia's thumb, and the sharp contrast it makes against her own skin. Riven's not exactly clear on where they are, until she's pulled into Irelia's room.

Irelia sits with that same grace of strength, and fixes Riven with a calm, confident gaze.

Then she gasps like she's just broken the surface. Her eyes go wide, and a great shudder takes hold of her. Her grip crushes Riven's hand, and it reminds her body that holy shit she is in so much pain. Riven finds her knees, and rests her head on Irelia's leg. She refuses to let go of Irelia's hand.

Irelia's other hand comes very close to trembling as it works its way into Riven's hair.

"Thank you," Riven says. And again, and again, and again, and again.

She wakes up in the same position. Everything aches. She tries to stand, and comes just short of taking Irelia and her chair to the floor instead.

Irelia laughs at her, and Riven is relieved to hear it. She tries to stand again, slower this time. She uses Irelia to steady herself, now that she knows her Ionian is awake. She's almost - almost - upright, when Irelia's hand firms in her hair and pulls her in for a kiss.

It's soft, slow, and chaste - well, as chaste as Irelia knows how to get anyway. Riven groans. Irelia hesitates at the sound, and Riven doesn't like that. She kisses her lover through the pain, and chokes it in her throat. Irelia accepts it, reciprocates.

When she breaks the kiss, Riven rests her forehead on Irelia's collar. Posing like this is excruciating, but she can't muster to stand properly.

"Are you okay?" Irelia asks, stroking her flank. She feels the flinch as her hand glides over Riven's bruising. "What's wrong?"

"Careless," Riven says. "It'll be fine." She breathes shallow. "How badly do I reek?"

She feels Irelia's face press against the side of her head, and the deep intake of breath.

"Not at all," she says. Riven can't tell if she's lying or not, but not even the pain can keep the smile it brings off her face. "We should go see Soraka."

"No." Riven says. She's pretty fucking firm on this. "I'll be fine. Just need a good soak."

Irelia sighs. She wraps her arms around Riven, and stands, cradling her like fine china. If she felt any less like shit, she'd find this annoying, but right now... right now, Riven would like nothing more than to make sure her Ionian never has another nightmare again.

She practically gets carried to the bath, which is really not necessary, but kind of adorable. Also, nice. It doesn't hurt any less, it just means she doesn't have to concentrate on walking it off.

She spots the Black Rose herself out of the corner of her eye. She doesn't meet her eyes. She can't. Not in front of Irelia.

The bath isn't empty. Riven doesn't really give a shit after she sees that it's Sarah Fortune. Slowly, carefully, deliberately, she peels her clothes off, keeping her fucked up side away from Irelia as best she can - which is to say, not at all. Her Ionian isn't standing for any of that anyway, and she winces (sympathetically?) when she lays eyes on it.

It looks almost as bad as it feels.

She sinks into the water, resting her weight on her less battered side. Irelia slips in next to her. Riven takes a breath, and dunks her head. The feeling of the magic in the water dissolving the shit in her hair feels almost as nice as the warmth.

When she breaks the surface again, she rests her sopping hair on Irelia's shoulder and closes her eyes. She takes Irelia's hand under the water. Irelia laughs, and lays her head atop Riven's.

There's a splash - oh right - as Sarah Fortune stands. Riven's tempted to look - because Sarah Fortune is fucking gorgeous and proud of it - but it's just so easy to keep her eyes shut.

"I'll just leave you two lovebirds alone then," she says. Riven waves her free hand.

Between the warmth of the water and her Ionian, Riven comes pretty close to drifting off. She isn't sure how long it is before Irelia asks, "Are you okay?"

"Just tired," Riven says. "Can you help me back to my room?"

"No," Irelia says. She stands, pulling Riven up with her. Riven blinks down at her, uncertain how to take this. "That would be stupid of you."

It's true, and Riven's kind of embarrassed that she needed it pointed out. She covers by dressing. That rapidly replaces whatever shame she felt with pain, which is really not an improvement.

Riven spends a minute staring into Irelia's eyes, trying to figure out how to do this. "May I stay with you?" she asks at length. She's fairly sure that was what her Ionian was implying, but...

But she wants to ask.

Irelia blinks, and then a satisfied smile crawls across her face. "I would have it no other way," she says.

"Riven." Irelia's voice holds a note of hesitation she really isn't a fan of. Riven cups her Ionian's cheek, and waits while she composes her thoughts. "You never came."

What? "What?"

Irelia frowns, and her hesitation drops in favor of irritation. "I know you got my note."

Oh. Riven bites her lip, not thrilled that she's about to insult her love again. "I can't read Ionian," she admits.

"You could have asked."

She doesn't want to be meeting Irelia's eyes. She does anyway. "I thought it said something else."

That dilemma is solved as Irelia shakes her head, sighs, and leans forward to embrace her. "No," she says. "Never."

Never's a long fucking time. Riven thinks of the band on Irelia's thumb.

The Institute is pretty much on hold at this point. Most of the champions who weren't on the premises when she killed Jericho Swain have stayed gone. While the summoners are against it - many of the champions who were on the premises have departed. Mostly it's allowed because, well, they're not hard to find.

Monitoring every champion who isn't on the grounds is unsustainable at best, but finding any given champion is well within the Institute's capabilities.

It doesn't raise eyebrows that Riven leaves with Irelia, but that's mostly because those eyebrows have already been raised.

The grounds of Irelia's home are... not exactly the Noxian picture of Ionia. It is lacking entirely in the sand garden and miniaturized plants department. Riven isn't sure why this comes as kind of a surprise - she doesn't remember seeing anything of the sort anywhere else.

The building itself even has an interior - rather than being a bunch of rooms that open to the outside.

It's also pretty remote, which is something of a relief. Riven still feels like being in Ionia is kind of fucking insane. Worse yet is that her presence is hardly a secret. It sets her mind more on edge that Irelia spends much of her time occupied with the duties her position commands. She has no excuse with which to delegate them while not at the Institute.

So. Riven spends most of her time alone, injured, in a country she's invaded and killed a lot of citizens of. A recipe for stress.

And injured is not overstating it. Though the bruise has faded, and the sensitivity with it, there lingers a pain. It's pretty obvious by now that Jericho Swain has done more damage to her than she was prepared to mitigate.

Unfortunately, the only healers she knows are Noxian military, and champions of the League. To one group, she's a traitor. The other would probably recognize the mark of Jericho Swain upon her, and her not being friendly with them, would be more like than not to do their duty to the league. Being rid of two enemies, after all, is much better than one.

It is fortunate, sort of, that Irelia leaves her to her own devices. She's fairly sure now that she is not getting worse. Testing herself daily is always painful, sometimes excruciating, but that depends on what she's trying to do.

(Some days all she wants to do is scream at her body that yes something is fucking wrong, she knows, shut up about it)

She performs the same stance transitions as on the farce of justice for the same reasons. It's probably her favorite part of her routine, if only because it's the most like actually fighting (which it really isn't at all).

It takes her an embarrassingly long time to consciously register Irelia's presence, though it comes as no surprise. Riven lowers her blade. This is the first time Irelia has found her like this and... and the first time that she's seen the tremble of pain Riven can only hide when she's not straining. Maybe she doesn't see it, or at least not recognize it for what it is. But probably not.

Riven places her blade upon its stand, and then moves to greet Irelia properly. She takes her lover's hands, meets her eyes, and smiles. It's a small, discreet quirk of her lips born of less joy and more contentment. Irelia returns the look.

"How was your day?" Riven asks.

"Dull," Irelia says. "And long."

Riven lifts Irelia's hands and kisses her fingers. Her eyes fix on the ring around her thumb.

"In that case, I apologize." Irelia gives her a raised eyebrow, and Riven sinks to her knees.

She clears her throat and makes eye contact. "My name is Riven. I have nothing to offer you but my arm and my heart. I would ask that you accept me into your house." It is as proper a Noxian proposal from a peasant to a noble as such can actually be.

Irelia's lips firm. "I did not lie because I wanted something from you."

"I love you," Riven counters.

"I will not accept this out of some misguided sense of debt."

"I want you," she tries.

"You are not listening to me. You would not be doing this if I had not lied for you." Irelia's eyes are dark. Her shoulders are pulled down by Riven's grip on her hands, but they aren't really resisting. Her hands are shaking, but she's crushing Riven's fingers.

It doesn't feel at all like anger. It feels like... hurt.

"I want this," Riven says, and kisses Irelia's ring.

Irelia's eyes shimmer with the onset of tears.

"Please," Riven says. It's not Noxian at all, but neither is Irelia.

"Fuck," Irelia snaps. She hauls Riven to her feet, and wraps her arms around her waist. "Yes. You're mine."

"I love you," Riven says. The sheen of unshed tears in Irelia's eyes is unbearable, so she kisses it away.

Irelia rests her head on Riven's shoulder. "I love you too," she says.

It's not Noxian of her at all, but goddamn if the words don't make her feel like she's home.

Irelia falls asleep almost immediately. Not that Riven was doubting her, but it must have been a very long day. She has to half carry her to bed, and can't bring herself to leave to her own room. Instead, she slips under Irelia's covers, and finds that her Ionian curls into her warmth.

Irelia is smiling even in her sleep. For the first time in ages, Riven feels like she's maybe doing something indisputably correct. Her back propped up against the headboard, she strokes Irelia's ink slick hair.

Eventually, she drifts off.

She isn't alone when she wakes up. It's late in the day - or, well, not the morning. She doesn't understand. Irelia isn't attending her duties.

"Irelia?" she asks.

Irelia hums from the pillow of her stomach. She's been rearranged to be flat on her back.

"Why aren't you..."

Irelia sits up, looks down at her. "Ionia will survive a day without my presence."

"Okay." Riven says. She feels like that's enough campaigning against spending time with her... fiancée. It's a hard word to think. She combs her fingers through Irelia's hair, cautiously tugging at the tangles. Irelia sighs happily.

"Are you feeling better?" Irelia asks.

Riven hesitates. She doesn't want to lie about this. "Better," she says. "But not perfect."

Irelia rises and twists to meet her eyes. She hasn't brought this up since, for which Riven is grateful. It's possible it isn't the respect she assumes, but... she's no reason to believe that.

"Do you want to see Soraka?" she asks. "Or someone else?"

Riven breathes deep. The bed and the room smell like Irelia and it makes it hard to think of much else. "Not yet," she says. She quirks her lips in a small smile.

It doesn't get returned, but Irelia leans down and captures her lips. Her tongue probes Riven's lips, and she allows it in.

"I want you," Irelia says when the break apart. Riven's nipples are fucking diamonds.

"Fuck," she says, lacking perhaps her usual eloquence. "Yes," she clarifies.

Irelia's laugh rings in her ears. Her chest feels impossibly full like she's going to explode. She helps Irelia finish peeling her blouse off, and her chest bindings come apart under clever fingers. Irelia stares like she's trying to memorize every imperfection in her skin.

The knot of Irelia's belt surrenders to her - it's the least complex knot she's ever seen. It's also probably the only knot she can undo at the moment. She wants to slam her lover into a wall and bury her face between her legs. Her fingers twitch as she reaches for Irelia's hips, but her wrists are captured before she manages to.

She turns her eyes up, and Irelia grins at her. "Just lie back," she says.

Riven shudders at the promise in her voice, and flushes hot. Her breath comes in short, rapid gasps at the memory of how Irelia took her last time she was leading. Her Ionian pins her arms above her head with one hand, and the other teases her breast, gliding above her flesh without touching her. A maddening tingle spreads through her chest.

Irelia hasn't been touching her much more than a minute, and she's sweating. She stares into sea green eyes, and can barely bring herself to blink. The finger tracing the waist band of her skirt comes as a complete surprise, and Riven's back arches involuntarily.

The touch dips below the band.

Her heart bea-

It is nothing like waking up. And not just because Irelia is alternating between slapping her and shaking her, chanting her name. Riven raises one shaking hand to her hip, and fails to say anything. She swallows, and tries again.

"I'm here," she says. It comes out slurred like her tongue half isn't working. Irelia slaps her once more before it registers, and then Riven's engulfed in a hug. Her head hangs limp. She can't work up the effort to lift it just yet.

Everything hurts.

"Sorry," she says, less slurred this time. She can feel the damp heat of Irelia's tears on her shoulder. Irelia doesn't say anything, just squeezes harder.

Riven mumbles incoherent nothings. Her tone isn't the most soothing thing she's ever heard, but she doesn't want Irelia to think she's trying to die on her again. Her fingers trace circles (well... circle-ish things) on Irelia's hip.

So it is that Riven arrives at Soraka's doorstep. She doesn't know enough of the Starchild's history to have expected the almost... divine feel of the building. The only thing she's ever really heard of the mage are Warwick's all too frequent howls of rage (and how long it took her to connect the beast with... well, the beast Noxus once employed).

On the other hand, that it is also a school comes as no kind of surprise.

Irelia sets off to find the Starchild, leaving Riven alone with one of the acolytes.

"How is it," Riven asks the woman, "that no one recognizes you?"

A superior smile spreads across the acolyte's lips. "Ionians," she says.

"LeBlanc," Riven greets.

"Well done, little Akene," the Black Rose herself says. "Congratulations."

Riven tilts her head gratefully. She thinks of it as high praise it may or may not be. There is no use in overanalyzing anything the Black Rose has to say. Either the message is straightforward, or it will only make sense in retrospect.

"It would be such a shame to lose such talent," LeBlanc muses. A show, whatever the Black Rose herself will do was decided long ago, and this is but theatrics. Riven gives her an arched brow. If it's not what she's looking for, Riven can't tell. "I know. My thanks."

And Riven finds herself being kissed by those so very unique lips. Her mouth opens at some prompting she can't consciously figure out.

It feels like breathing smoke, except the sensation doesn't enter her lungs. It tastes like pears, except that her tongue is so very isolated. Her eyes close, and a moment later the touch vanishes. When she opens her eyes again, the Black Rose has vanished. The only evidence that she was ever there is an envelope in her hand. The wax seal bears the coat of the house of Du Coteau.

She's still staring at it pensively when Irelia returns with the Starchild in tow.

Soraka is an odd Ionian (well, no more than Irelia in some respects). If the Starchild hates her, she can't tell. Her every act feels... not serene, and not disconnected, but distant.

She instructs Riven to lie on a table and stay still. She can do that. The room is empty but for the two of them, so she closes her eyes.

Soraka shines through her eyelids, which is the other peculiar thing about her. She has a radiance that isn't light, but can't be ignored. She watches the Starchild's hands move over her.

How long does she have, Riven wonders, before what Soraka finds in her makes its way back to the Institute. What a shit way of repaying Irelia.

All healing feels different, in Riven's experience. She has been tended to by healers who've inflicted worse pain than they corrected, and healers who brought ecstasy. Soraka is unique among them - her healing doesn't feel like anything. The only way to tell she's actually done anything is that whatever discomforts she's suffering vanish under her care.

A pressure in her chest she hasn't really noticed fades. The ache she's forgotten in her back and neck reminds her as it ceases to be.

By the time the Starchild is done, Riven feels eight years younger.

"Now leave," she says.

Riven rises and stretches, not to any benefit, but to wonder at the feeling of it being so easy. She hesitates a moment, and then offers a Noxian salute to Soraka. "Thank you," she says.

Soraka looks no more pleased or interested by this than she looks irritated by Riven's presence. "If you wish to thank me, you may do so by ceasing your attempts to commit suicide by the Deciever."


Irelia makes very, very sure that Soraka's work was up to her usual, exacting standards.

The was seal on the letter parts peels away from the envelope at Riven's cautious prompting. The handwriting within is exquisite, in much the way hers is not, and she spends a moment admiring it before actually reading the contents.

Thank you.

It is unsigned, though the seal is as good as. Oddly, the penmanship matches exactly that of the note that lead her to Jericho Swain. She checks the seal again - it remains that of house Du Coteau.

She sets it aside, and leans over the basin to wash her face. She stares into her reflection, and runs a finger over her lips. They are black as night.

The castle puts the entirety of Irelia's home into shade. Riven seats herself on a convenient rock and turns her eyes up at it. She's sort of curious as to how Syndra has found her, but welcomes the company. Not into Irelia's home, but welcomes nonetheless.

It isn't long before the Sovereign descends. She remains, however, farther away from Riven than she has before.

"Hello Syndra," Riven greets. She's far out of arm's reach, so she waves from her rock instead.

Here, outside of the Institute's walls, Syndra's power is even more suffocating. Had she not spent so much time in her company already, Riven thinks she would not be standing. Her heart beats. At least, if Syndra decides to kill her now, she will die with sword in hand.

"Why are you here?" the Sovereign asks.

Riven returns a smile. She lifts her hand, and shows off the ring around her thumb. "Haven't you heard?" she asks. "Irelia and I are to be wed."

Syndra does not look thrilled for her by this. "Was this your plan?"

"No," Riven says immediately. She's not, strictly speaking, offended. She just finds the thought distasteful. "Left to my own devices, I would be in the Institute's chains."

"So why are you doing this?" Syndra well vibrates with energy.

"It was not my idea," Riven admits, "but I welcome it." She smiles again.

"How can you wed an Ionian?"

A great sigh bursts from Riven's lips. She takes her sword, and plants the tip in the earth between her feet, rests her weight on it. "I can never make up for what I did in the invasion. I..." Riven pauses a moment to collect her thoughts. "I do not believe I can even try.

"Do you know why Noxus paused her invasion?" The answer is no, so she doesn't bother waiting for it. "Because Ionia proved herself strong. And no true Noxian would blindly destroy strength." She shrugs. "Noxus was wrong to invade on the word of weak fools. She betrayed what she stands for. That... that, I must try to make up for. That is the only redemption available to me.

"And I love Irelia," she admits.

"I am going to kill the elders," Syndra says. "I will never be chained again."

"As is your right," Riven says. Syndra is strong. And so she has authority. "Irelia will oppose you," she admits. "I would appreciate it if you were not to take her from me." As though her desire has any bearing on what the Sovereign will do. "But Ionia is strong. I am not in your place... but if I were, I would look to excise only the weakness that chained me."

"As you did," Syndra says. Riven nods. It is the closest she will ever, ever come to admitting that she killed Jericho Swain.

It is then that Irelia arrives, her blades leading the way. She freezes when she notices that Riven is much closer to Syndra.

"Why are you here?" she demands.

Dark spheres begin to materialize around the Sovereign. "I haven't touched your betrothed," Syndra says. She dismisses Irelia with a wave of her hand. Irelia's eyes flicker between Riven and the Sovereign.

"Irelia," Riven says. She waits for the Will of the Blades to look at her and stay focused. "I'm fine. If she was here to kill me, I would already be dead." She pauses. "Unless you wanted to kill me in front of her?"

The veil of purple light hiding Syndra's eyes glows brighter. A cold smile captures her lips. "No," she says. "The Captain of the Guard is irrelevant to me. I am merely here to congratulate the two of you on your blissful union."

Riven breathes a sigh of relief, and bows her head in thanks. Syndra ascends.

No one moves until Syndra vanishes into her flying castle. It hasn't begun drifting away before Irelia reaches Riven's side.

"What was she really doing here?" Irelia asks. There's more than a hint of anger in her voice.

"She hates the leaders of Ionia," Riven says. "She's going to kill them sooner or later." She looks up at Irelia, and takes her hand. Noxians do not hope. They act, and they are either strong enough to shape the world or not.

Riven isn't feeling very Noxian at the moment. "When you stop her, please. Don't let her kill you."

Irelia's eyes soften, and she squeezes Riven's hand. Before she can say anything, one of her guardsmen arrives.