The council hall that had been as still as a grave swarmed back to life. Armed warrior priests, drawn by the commotion, flooded through the doors, pushing past villagers who just wanted to run away from the dangerous magic that had been thrust upon them.
The falcon-nosed judge had found her footing and cracked her wooden sphere against the table.
“This hall will restore itself to balance,” she demanded.
The room grew quiet once more. Overturned benches were righted. The crowd seated themselves. The hooded stranger scratched his scarred nose and moved to examine the new chest high scorch mark that blackened the walls of the council room. A warrior priest approached the magic weapon tentatively.
Amid the broken table legs, was the blade and sheath. A greenish glow of energy crackled around the still broken pieces. The warrior priest bent and reached for the pommel, using two hands as he felt the true weight of the sword. Though fractured, the weapon held its shape.
“Put that accursed thing away!” someone shouted from the crowd. The priest slid the weapon back into the sheath as more priests came to remove it.
“I killed him,” Riven repeated. The voice was hers and not hers. It was the past speaking through her. She looked at the faces in the room. Memory restored, she was awake once more to a shadowed corner of her history.
“Riven,” the judge said.
Riven’s attention snapped from the blade to the judge.
“Do you know what you are confessing to?” she asked.
“Why did you do this?”
“I do not remember.” The words were all she had to offer. Because of her bound hands, Riven could not wipe away the silent tears that ran down her jaw.
The judge stared hard, waiting for more to reveal itself, but when nothing came, she motioned to the bailiff.
“Riven, you will stay chained in this hall until dawn so that all who need to speak with you to make peace may do so before you are sentenced.”
Riven looked at the shackles on her wrist.
“The other magistrates and I will consult the scrolls and the elders for an appropriate punishment of your crime.”The villagers left quietly. The last to leave was the old couple. Riven knew this because she heard Shava whisper in her country voice to the old man, though emotion made the words unclear. When she heard their aged feet finally shuffle over the threshold, Riven at last looked up. The room had been emptied of the living—the only thing she was left with were the ghosts of her past.
The midnight air was cold and clear. The full moon held a ring of frost high in the dark sky. The light streamed in through the hall’s still open doors, but did not reach the shadows which held Riven at the back of the room. None of the crowd had come inside during the day to make their peace. The warrior priests had taken the blade, but the wooden spiked scorch mark that encircled the room kept the villagers from venturing inside the council hall. Some had come to the open door, a few with more rotten eggfruit, but ultimately Riven had been left alone with her thoughts. Sleep had finally come for her, but it was the light, fitful sleep of someone who knew the coming dawn could be her last. When shuffling footsteps approached in the dark hours before sunrise, she was instantly awake.
Riven opened her eyes.
“O-fa,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
The old man crouched down next to her slowly and unrolled a soft cloth full of tools. Riven recognized the metal instruments as the ones he used to fix the long blade to the plow.
“What does it look like I’m doing, child?” The silhouette of the moonlight deepened the wrinkled edge of his face, but the gloom of the shadows where the two of them sat did not touch him the way Riven had thought they would.
“You are stubborn in your wish to die,” he chided her. “That is not how you will find balance.”
He worked the shackles at Riven’s wrist and ankles. Riven did not push him away and tell him to go home as her mind insisted. Her selfish heart would not let her. If the old man was the last person she would sit beside in this life, Riven wanted the moment to go on as long as it could. She sat this way for a few minutes until she heard footsteps on the gravel outside the hall. Riven looked to Asa. He was smiling, dangling the opened cuffs before her like a child’s toy.
“O-fa. Quickly. You must hide. Someone is coming.” The edge to Riven’s voice was sudden and sharp and left no room for argument. The old man shuffled to a dark corner to wait in the shadows. Riven bowed her head again in the practiced pose of sleep. She let her hair fall in front of her face, but kept her eyes open.A strong wind blew through the trees and curled around the posts of the hall’s great doors. There, framed by a shaft of moonlight, the contour of a man stood on the threshold.
The stranger’s mantle was now pushed back fully from his face and hung loosely over his shoulders, leaving his blade and metal pauldron clearly outlined. He paused at the doorway like the others. Unlike the villagers, he ventured inside. His feet made no sound on the stone floor. When he was a blade’s length from Riven, he stopped.
He reached behind his back and retrieved a leather scabbard with harsh runic writing carved into it. He tossed it, clattering, at Riven's feet.
“Which weighs more, Riven?” he asked. “Your blade, or your past?”
It was clear the stranger knew Riven wasn’t sleeping and so Riven no longer pretended. She looked up at him, his face reduced to gray shadow, yet the scar across his nose was clear.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Another broken blade,” he answered. “You are ready to accept guilt. For that, I admire you.”
Riven watched as a brief wash of emotion crossed his face.
“There is more to the story of your blade,” he continued. “Do you desire the truth of what happened?”
“I killed him. He died because of me. They all died because of me,” Riven countered. She was not sure if she was capable of carrying more grief.
“Pick up your weapon.”
Riven sat. She could hear the man’s low growl of frustration.
“Stand and face your past,” the man said. His voice left no room for argument.
A wind began to build, swirling around the room, knocking back benches in the hall, and pushing Riven to her feet. Instinct and physical memory guided the young woman’s arm. When Riven faced the stranger, the sheathed blade was in her hand.
“I asked him to destroy it,” she said.
“Did you?” the man’s voice was mocking.
The stranger’s question was cutting and it hit a bone of memory in Riven. She shuddered with a half-remembered vision. Elder Souma’s voice had been so calm. The air in his meditation room had been heavy with thought and the smell of incense. Elder Souma had not judged her or her burden.
Riven looked at the stranger before her now, anguish building in her heart, flooding her body until it reached her hands. She tightened her fingers around the pommel as she drew the runic blade from its sheath.
“Why are you here?” Riven asked.
The broken blade coursed with power. The blinding light cast their shadows on the walls.
“I heard you wanted to die.” The stranger smiled.
The ghosts that haunted her had returned in full force and Riven swung wildly at them now. The man’s blade parried the sadness and the fury. It infuriated her and centered her back in the present. They danced around each other. The air hummed and crackled at each block and thrust.
“I came here to kill my master’s murderer.” He was breathing hard through gritted teeth. “I came here to kill you.”
Riven laughed, tears in her eyes. “Then do it.”
The wind warrior lowered his sword, and instead manipulated the very air that swirled around them. The magic built to a fever pitch, the man focused the energy at the runic blade. The Noxian spells within the weapon shuddered, the broken pieces separating for a moment, releasing the sliver at the fore end.
The energy collapsed and the sliver broke away, speeding toward the shadowed corner that held Asa. The tiny bit of death was about bury itself in the old man’s throat. The spiced memory of incense flooded Riven’s nose, she was back in Elder Souma’s meditation room.
“No!” she shouted. Riven dropped her blade, unable to prevent that which had happened before.
Just as the piece of shrapnel was about to graze the old man’s weathered skin, it stopped, held in place by a current of air. The man with the scarred nose let out a strained sigh and the small shard of Riven’s broken blade dropped harmlessly to the stone floor.
“You are lucky your breath comes so heavily, Master Konte,” the stranger said, his own short-winded words tumbled out quickly.
Riven ran to the old man and embraced him. She looked over her shoulder at the stranger. A breeze still whipped his hair as he wiped a bit of sweat away with the back of his free hand.
“It is true.” The stranger joined them, picking up the splinter of the blade. Riven watched some of his anger melt into understanding. “You killed Elder Souma, but you did not murder him.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The moment Riven had been searching for, she was living again. The words came fast and thick. She was shaking as she held on to the old man.
“I came to him. I begged...” Riven struggled to enunciate each word as emotion overcame her. “I begged him to help me. To break this. To break me.”
“Elder Souma tried to destroy your blade,” the scarred man said. His voice grew thick. “But we cannot destroy our past, Riven.”
Riven knew what it was to face memories that could not live again, but would not stay dead. She saw now this stranger carried his own ghosts. The swirling eddies of air calmed around him as he gave a heavy sigh.
“Elder Souma was my responsibility. If I had been there… that night… I could have protected him. It was not your intention to kill him.” Riven watched, one knowing fighter to another, as the man resettled the burden of his own unseen demons once again on his shoulders. He met her gaze. “In the end, the fault of his death lies with me.”
“Yasuo?” The old man looked more closely at the man and then wagged a gnarled finger at this. “You have shown great honor in admitting the truth in this matter.”
“My honor left a long time ago, O-fa,” In Yasuo, Riven saw her own resistance at the offer of hope, of forgiveness. The man with the wild hair shook his head at the old man’s reprieve. “One mistake has compounded many others since. That is my punishment.”
The pronouncement was interrupted by the shift of gravel. A falcon-nosed woman entered the council chamber. She walked carefully around the room, inspecting the damage of the fight between the two broken warriors. A metal jangle kept time with her footfalls. The judge slowed as she passed Riven and the old man. Riven recognized a loop of leather slung with the keys to her shackles. When the magistrate came face to face with the stranger, she stopped.
“Taking responsibility is the first step to atonement, Yasuo” she said evenly.
“And the second?” There was a desperate edge to Yasuo’s words.
Yasuo held the magistrate’s gaze. The room stilled, holding its breath.
The judge’s quiet voice was loud in the empty council hall. “Forgiving yourself.”
Riven watched the fellow warrior closely. He could not bring himself to the words that would release him from his pain. Riven had wanted death for so long, but now as she witnessed Yasuo’s own struggle, she knew the hardest thing she could do was to live and to live with what she had done. Yasuo looked at her now. Would he stay and face his past?The man who carried the weight of the wind turned his back on the council hall and walked into the night. Riven held tightly to the weathered hands of the old man.
Sunrise was cool, but there was a thickness in the blanket of clouds that hinted the day would turn warm and humid. When the warrior priest and the hawk faced judge with the leather loop of keys had come to collect Riven, the judge had raised one slender eyebrow at the neatly piled shackles still on the floor. Riven stood on her own and walked out of the hall to face her future.
The other magistrates had gathered the waiting villagers in the square outside the council hall. Riven assumed none of them wished to be confined with her or her runic blade. A cool breeze now tugged at the plaits of the judge’s hair.
“Upon examining the evidence and consulting with the elders, the Noxian woman will stand for her crimes,” the judge began.
Riven bristled at the inclusion of the land of her birth. She watched as Shava and Asa leaned on each other.
“Though easy to carry out, a sentence of death does not keep the world in balance,” the head magistrate continued. “It does little to repair the destruction a crime rips through a community.”
The people of the village nodded in sober agreement. Riven took in their faces, noticing a pattern to the many who were missing; fathers and mothers to the young, sons and daughters of the old.
“Instead, this council seeks a longer, harsher sentence,” the judge continued. “We will see that Riven, the exile, mends that which she has broken.”
The judge looked down her falcon nose at Riven.
“It will be a punishment of hard labor,” the judge announced. “Starting with the fields of Master and Mistress Konte.”
A murmur swept through the crowd.
“This court will also see Riven make reparations to the council hall. And to those whose homes and families were injured in the Noxian invasion.”
The judge looked at Riven expectantly. “Will you live by this decision?”
All eyes were on Riven now. A new emotion caught in her throat. She looked around. The ghosts she carried did not melt away with the pronouncement. Riven looked to them as they mixed freely with the living. It surprised her. She welcomed the visions. She would prove to them that she was worthy of the gift being offered.
“Yes.” Riven barely recognized her own voice, overcome as it was.
The old couple swept forward at this, crushing Riven between them. Riven relaxed into their embrace, leaning into them now as they did to her.
“Dyeda,” Shava murmured against the slashes of Riven’s white hair.“Daughter,” she whispered back.