The overcast skies had parted since the magistrates entered. When the large doors at the back of the hall opened again, Riven watched as the room full of villagers was split by a blinding shard of daylight. She walked across the hall’s threshold and the movement pushed aside the still air in the hall like the release of a held breath.
The doors closed behind her. Two warrior priests marched her through the large aisle that divided the throng. The council hall was once again cast in the murky gloom from curled windows set high in the ceiling and the cylindrical lanterns that hung from the sculpted roof. She watched Shava Konte swallow thickly as she passed.
She knew what they saw. A woman, her white hair matted with straw from a rough sleep in stone cell. A stranger. An enemy. A daughter of Noxus.
Fatigue clung to Riven’s bones like the farmer’s mud that still stained her clothes. Her soul felt stiff and misshapen, but when Riven’s gaze found the old man on the stool, she stood a little straighter.
She took in the three judges seated on the dais before her. The stern one in the middle motioned for Riven to be seated, rather than shackled standing.
Riven refused the wooden chair shaped by magic. She recognized the bailiff as the lead rider that came to old couple’s field. His thin lips stretched in the same arrogant smile.
“Suit yourself, it’ll just be harder for you.”
The bailiff sat on the chair himself with an air of satisfaction. The center judge gave the bailiff a look of admonishment and then spoke to Riven.
“I know you are not of this land. The dialect here is tricky. I will speak the common tongue so that we may better understand each other.”
Like most Noxians, Riven had learned enough of Ionia’s common tongue to command and order, but like the land itself, the accent of each village had a unique personality flavored by its people. She nodded at the judge and waited.
“What is your name?”
“Riven,” Riven said. Her voice was hoarse, catching in her throat with a croak.
“Bring her water.”
The bailiff stood and took up a skin of water, shoving it at her. Riven looked at the skin, but did not take it.
“It is only water, child,” the judge seated beside the center judge said, leaning forward over the table. “What, do you fear we would poison you?”
Riven shook her head, refusing the offer. She cleared her throat, determined to speak without any more assistance. The bailiff pursed his lips and took a deep swig, water dribbled from the corner of his mouth. He flashed his teeth in a triumphant sneer meant for her.
“You have been brought before this council,” the judge interrupted, drawing Riven’s attention back to the three robed figures and the crowd gathered within the hall. “Because we wish to know what you have to say.”
“Am I not being sentenced?”
The judge swallowed her surprise.
“I am unclear about how justice is carried out where you come from, but here we believe justice is first served by understanding and enlightenment.” The judge spoke to Riven as if she was a young child. “We believe you have knowledge of an event that is most important to this community. If that knowledge reveals a crime, then you could be sentenced and punished accordingly.”
Riven looked from the judge to Asa, then back. Justice in Noxus was often decided in combat. If one was lucky, it was decided swiftly and with the sharpened end of the weapon. Riven eyed the judge warily. “What do you want to know?”
The judge leaned back. “Where are you from, Riven?”
“I have no homeland.”
The judge’s narrowing gaze told Riven that her words had been taken as defiance. The hawk-faced magistrate paused, tempering her response. “You must have been born somewhere.”
“A farm in Trevale.” Riven looked at the old man. “Noxus,” she admitted.
The council hall, which had dropped back to silence in order to hear the prisoner, took in a collective breath.
“I see,” continued the judge. “And you no longer call that place home.”
“When your home tries to kill you, is it still home?”
“You are an exile then?”
“That would imply I wish to return,” Riven said.
“You do not?”
“Noxus is no longer what it once was.” Impatience edged into Riven’s voice. “Can we get on with this?”
“So be it,” the judge said with a calmness that irritated Riven more than the shackles on her wrists. “You came with the Noxian fleet, yes?”
“I assume so.”
“You do not know?” The judge looked confused.
“I do not remember,” Riven said. She glanced to the crowd, her sideways look catching the eyes of Shava. The old woman had asked a similar question. Riven shook her head. “Does it matter? There was a battle. Many died. That is all I know.”
The painful memory of war that smoldered among the crowd flared to life at Riven’s words. They shoved each other, shoulders knocking together and shouting, as they all tried to stand at once.
Someone lashed out. “Noxian filth! My son is dead because of you!”
A moldy eggfruit sailed through the air and pelted Riven in the neck. The fermented juice and pulp slid wetly down the back of her shirt. The rotten smell rose up in the air, but Riven would not allow the scent of death to take her back to that moment long ago. She closed her eyes, allowing her breath to come through parted lips.
With that, the crowd erupted. Riven knew what it looked like, that she felt nothing for what had happened to these people. “Please,” she whispered to herself, unsure if she was imploring them to stop, or to encourage the fullness of their barely contained anger.
In answer, more of the late season eggfruit exploded on the stone floor. One caught Riven behind the knee. She stumbled, struggling to maintain her balance with her hands bound.
The judge rose to her full height, towering over the seated villagers and Riven. Her magistrate’s robe flared as she slammed the chestnut sphere against its cradle. The wooden benches beneath the crowd strained, groaning and flexing in response to the magistrate’s will.
“I will have balance restored to this hall!”
The reprimanded villagers quieted.
“Yes, Riven, the council remembers that time,” the judge continued with more restraint. “Many Ionians… and Noxians… perished. And you?”
It was a question that plagued Riven. Why had she been spared when others had not? She could offer no answer that would satisfy. “It seems I did not,” she said quietly
“Indeed.” The judge smiled coldly.
Riven knew there was little she could say to pacify the bereaved crowd. She owed them the truth, but even that was not hers to give. Her memories of that time were broken. She bowed her head.
“I do not remember,” Riven said.
The judge did not stop the questioning. Riven knew doing so would only allow for interruptions to spew forward from the anger simmering in the room.
“How long have you been in this land?”
“I do not remember.”
“How did you come to this village?”
“I do not remember.”
“Have you been here before?”
“I…” Riven hesitated, but could not hold on to the moment that would give a clear answer. “I cannot remember.”
“Did you meet with Elder Souma?”
The name stirred something within her. A memory of a memory, hazy and sharp at the same time passed through her. Anger flooded the empty place where her past once lived. She had been betrayed. She had betrayed.
“I can’t remember!” Riven lashed out in frustration, the shackles at her wrists rattling.
“War breaks many things,” the judge said, softening. “Some we cannot see.”
In the face of this enlightenment, some of the fight left Riven. “I cannot remember,” she said, more calmly than before.
The judge nodded. “There are others who may be able to speak to what you cannot remember.”
Riven watched the old man make his way slowly to a witness stool set in front of the judges. His fingers shook as he smoothed a few errant hairs in his thick eyebrows.
“Asa Konte,” the judged said patiently. “O-fa, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us today.”
The old man nodded.
“Do you know this woman, the one called Riven?” the judge asked.
“Yes,” the old man said. “She came to us at the beginning of this past wet season.”
“Myself and Shava, my wife.”
The judge looked up at Mistress Konte, who still shifted uncomfortably on the bench at the front of the hall. The judge gestured to Riven.
“She came to you?”
“Well, I found her in our field,” the old man offered sheepishly. “We had a calf wander in the night. At dawn I went looking for it. Instead I found her.”
Murmurs of surprise and concern spilled again from the crowd.
“More will come!”
“We must protect ourselves!”
The judge rested a hand on the heavy wooden sphere in front of her. The room grew quiet. “What did she want, Master Konte?”
The old man smoothed his eyebrows again and glanced at Riven. His look begged apology.
“She wanted to die, magistrate,” he said softly.
The judge leaned forward.
“It was the start of the wet season,” Asa continued. “She was soaked to the skin, nothing but fevered bones held together by mud and stubborn Noxian muscle.”
“You knew she was Noxian?”
“She carried a weapon, a blade, the scabbard was inscribed with the marks of their father tongue. No Ionian would carry such a weapon.”
The judge pursed her lips. “Master Konte, you took heavy losses during the invasion?”
“I did, magistrate,” the old man said. He looked to his wife. “Two sons.”
“What did you do with the woman?”
The old man took a deep breath.
“I took her home to Shava,” he said.
The murmur of the hall rose again, questioning the man’s lenience on a foe that had been so merciless. The faces within the hall told their stories of loss. None in their community had been untouched by the conflict. The old man lifted his head, and turned to the crowd, challenging the hardness of their hearts.
“My sons… My boys… Their bones have long since been cleaned by the sky. Would those we lost wish us to bury ourselves in grief beside them?”
Riven watched as the old man and his wife shared a knowing look. Shava’s eyes were wet and full.
“We were not ready to let them go, but…” The old man’s voice quivered. “But it does us no good to mire ourselves in the past when there is life left to live.”
Shava bit her bottom lip and sat up straighter, daring those who sat next to her to speak ill of their choice. Asa turned away from the crowd’s stares. He sat facing the magistrate, the stool creaking beneath him.
“There were so many deaths, I couldn’t bear to add another,” he explained. “We cleaned her up and offered what we had in peace.”
The judge nodded without emotion. Riven watched as the judge took in Riven’s shirt and pants, mentally unrolling the cuffs. She knew what the judge pictured as she had thought the same thing many times since the old woman had presented the clothes. They were meant for a young man, a head taller than her, maybe a man with Shava’s smile or Asa’s kind eyes.
For Riven it was a constant reminder of her own weakness. All her years of living or dying by the strength of Noxus, and Riven had accepted their fragile offer of hope, let herself be clothed in it and in a family that could have been.
“When she regained her strength, she wanted to work in the fields,” the old man went on. “My wife and I are old. We welcomed the help.”
“You and your wife did not fear for your lives?”
“The girl wants nothing to do with Noxus. She hates Noxus.”
“She said this to you?”
“No,” he said. “She said nothing of her past. Shava asked her once and she said nothing. We saw that it pained her, so we did not ask again.”
“If she said nothing, then how do you infer her feelings about her homeland?”
Master Konte wiped at his old eyes. Riven watched the trouble pass over his face, like the words were not his to give. He spoke quickly, conscious suddenly of the audience surrounding him.
“Fevered dreams, magistrate,” he said. “The night she came to us. Something that belonged to her, something she had cared for greatly, had been broken. For that she cried out against Noxus.”
“Do you know the thing she spoke of?”
“I believe so, magistrate.” The old man nodded slowly. “The pommel of her weapon has been bound into her scabbard. Four days ago I saw her undo the laces. I saw the blade was broken.”
Riven had thought she had only been watched by the fat mousing cat that day in the barn. A few snide comments about the quality of Noxian weapons passed like handshakes among the crowd.
“And what did you do with that knowledge, Master Konte?”
“I took the blade to the temple.”
The judge cocked her head to one side, looking down her predatory nose at the old man. “To what end?”
“I hoped the priests might be able to mend it. That if the blade was made whole, she might be relieved of some of the ghosts that haunt her.” Even as crowd erupted behind him, the old man looked at Riven and the chains that bound her hands. “That she might have some peace in the present.”
“Thank you, Master Konte, for sharing your knowledge with the council,” the judge said, coldly staring the congregation into silence. “Your attestation is finished.”
She looked down at an unrolled parchment and back to the bailiff.
“Bring in the weapon.”
Riven watched two temple priests carry in a large wooden tray draped with a scarlet cloth and set it gingerly on the table before the council judges. A warrior priest stepped forward, his high rank made evident by the fluted edges of his wooden pauldron and breastplate.
“Show us,” the judge said.
The warrior priest withdrew the scarlet cloth, revealing a weapon and sheath both bigger than a kite shield. The scabbard was etched in the harsh strokes of Ur-Noxian, the heavy angles and slashes in stark contrast to the fluid script of Ionia. But it was the blade that drew the interest of the judges. A blade so thick and heavy it looked like it would break the well-trained arm of a temple priest to lift it, let alone the slender wrist of the young woman shackled before them. Indeed, when Riven had seen the weapon for the first time, she had thought the same thing.
Now, instead of one solid blade, the weapon was fractured into angry pieces, as if monstrous claws had raked through its metal flesh. The five largest pieces would have been deadly in their own right, but laid out against the soft Ionian cloth, broken and raw as it was, it was terrifying.
The judge looked at Riven. “This weapon belongs to you.”
Riven nodded her head.
“I suppose in this many pieces, it makes it a bit difficult to wield,” the judge said to herself.
There were snickers among the crowd.
The warrior priest shifted uncomfortably. “This weapon is ensorcelled, magistrate. The Noxians have bound magic into the blade.” The disgust hung heavy on his words.
Riven didn’t know if the judge was listening to the priest. The judge was nodding absently, her gaze washing over the weapon until it found the spot that Riven knew it would, the empty place Riven had struggled to fill. The judge’s falcon nose twitched.
“There is a piece missing.”
A young temple adept swayed nervously before the council hall.
“Adept, is this the weapon Master Konte presented to the temple?” the lead judge asked.
“You were the one to alert this court?”
“How did you know this weapon would be of interest to us?”
Riven watched the adept wipe his hands on the lengthy sleeves of his robes. His face was pale, as if he might faint, or be sick on the stone floor.
“Adept?” the judge probed.
“I am a bone washer, magistrate.” The words tumbled out of the young man. His hands hung like spent candle wax. “For the elders. After their bodies have been left to the sky, I collect them and prepare them.”
“I am familiar with the duties of a bone washer, adept. How is it this weapon concerns you?”
“The blade is the same.”
A moment of confusion swept over the judge’s face. The same uncertain daze washed over the crowd, passing from person to person in befuddled looks. Riven, however, felt a wave of unease crawl over her skin.
“When I prepared the bones of Elder Souma, after his time, for the temple, I mean to say.” The adept’s haphazard explanation was losing many. Instead of continuing he pulled from a fold in his robe a small silk bag and started undoing the tight knots with his long fingers. He retrieved from the bag a shard of metal and held it up. “This metal, magistrate. It is the same as the broken blade.”
The adept scurried from his place and approached the judge. She took the shard from his outstretched hand and turned it over in her fingers. Even held at a distance, the metal seemed similar to the broken blade.
Riven's breath caught in her throat. There was the piece of her past that she had searched for and given up finding. Now it was on the verge of coming together, illuminating a dark and forgotten corner of her mind. The guilt Riven carried and had buried deep was finally being unearthed. Riven steeled herself against what she knew would come next.
“Where did you find this?” the judge asked.
The adept cleared his throat. “In the bones of Elder Souma’s neck.”
The council hall gasped.
“You did not bring this forward before?” The judge’s eyes narrowed as she focused in on her target.
“I did,” the adept said, trying desperately to look anywhere but the warrior priest who stood next to Riven’s broken blade. “But my master said it was nothing.”
The judge had no such trouble looking at the warrior priest.
“Approach,” she ordered. She handed the bit of mangled metal to the warrior priest. “Put it with the rest.”
The warrior priest glared at the adept, but followed the orders given. He approached Riven’s blade and then turned at the last minute to the judge. “Magistrate, there is dark magic in this weapon. We don’t know what this piece may reveal.”
“Proceed.” The judge’s words left no room for argument.
The warrior priest turned back. All the eyes in the council hall watched as he took the sliver of hammered metal and placed it nearest the tip of the broken blade.
The weapon was silent.
The judge let out a small sigh. Riven, however, continued to watch the old man and his wife. She knew their hope would last only a moment longer. She had been weak to accept it, to believe that there was something in this world for someone so broken. Their relief at her fleeting innocence hurt most of all. It hurt because Riven knew in that moment the good they believed about her was a lie. The truth of her past was sharper and more painful than any blade.
Riven heard the sword beginning to hum. “Please,” she called out. She struggled to be heard over the chatter of the hall. She struggled against her restraints. “Please, you must listen.”
The vibration built. Now it could be heard and felt. The villagers panicked, pushing and shoving to get back. The judge stood quickly, her arms outstretched to the wooden table that held the broken sword. The edge of the table began to grow and curl, the wood budding new green limbs over the weapon, but Riven knew the magic would not hold.
“Everyone, get down!” Riven yelled, but the sound of the blade drowned out her voice, indeed all the voices, as the weapon built to a fever pitch.
Then, all at once the power exploded in a burst of runic energy and splintered wood. A gust of wind knocked everyone who had been standing down to the floor.
From the ground, the faces of the crowd turned to Riven.
Riven’s lips were cold and her cheeks flushed. The ghosts of her mind, memories she had entombed, they were fully alive now, looming one by one before her. They were Ionian farmers, sons and daughters, the people of this village that would not kneel to Noxus. They were looking at her. Haunting her. They knew her guilt. They were her warriors, too, her brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They would have gladly sacrificed themselves for the glory of the empire, instead she had failed them. She had led them under the banner of Noxus, a banner that had promised them a home and purpose. In the end, they were betrayed and discarded. All of them cut down by the sick poison of war.
Now these ghosts stood among the living, the courtroom of spectators knocked down by the power of the blade. The villagers slowly rose to their feet, though Riven was still there in that valley from long ago. She couldn’t breathe. Death choked her nose and throat. No, these dead aren’t real, she told herself. She looked at Asa and Shava and they at her. Two shades stood near them. One with eyes like the old man’s and the other with a mouth like Shava’s. The old couple clung to one another as they steadied themselves and stood, oblivious to the deathly past that surrounded them.
“Dyeda,” the old woman said.
At that Riven could no longer contain her guilt and shame.
“I did it.” The words fell from Riven’s lips with an empty hollowness. She would accept her fate at the hands of these people. She would let them pass judgment and she would answer for her crimes.
“I killed your Elder,” she told them, breathless. Her ragged confession filled the room. “I killed them all.”