Heavy, plodding steps echo throughout the Great Hall, daring anything present to hinder his unshakable path. Pantheon’s soulless eyes blaze beneath the shadow of his gleaming silver helmet, focusing solely upon the ornate double doors that await him. Symbolically clad in crimson armour to represent the immeasurable seas of blood that spilled forth from the flesh of his enemies, he embodies unequivocally the pinnacle of the Stanpar elite.
His onyx cloak, draping over impossibly broad shoulders, follows him like a faithful shadow. In either hand he wields mystic relic-weapons of his tribe. Despite the ostensible girth of the threatening spear and near impenetrable aegis, he marches unburdened, as if they aren’t there at all.
Pantheon faces the broad shield, proudly embossed with the image of his tribe, towards the stalwart statues that guard the Great Hall, almost as if he was predicting that they would suddenly animate and ambush him. Surely none would challenge if they could; Pantheon’s rippling, thewy physique appears to have been hand crafted by the same artisans as the watchful sculptures.
Pantheon eyes the elaborate, almost ceremonial surroundings of the Great Hall. He marks the ornate decorum with visible disdain.
His stern, chiselled countenance beneath his helm falters not one iota as he reads the inscription upon reach the doors – “The truest opponent lies within.”
With an unimpressed grunt, Pantheon bashes the doors open callously with his aegis and fearlessly enters the awaiting blackness.
The darkness was total. Pantheon readied his spear, prepared to strike forcefully at the first sign of movement. He strained his finely tuned senses, focusing intently on any sounds of shuffling feet or the smooth unsheathing of a blade. Abruptly, a preposterously bright light hounded the black abyss away, gradually replacing it with an all too familiar scene.
Pantheon’s bleary eyes came into focus. He stood within the pit of a large, disused coliseum. The rows upon rows of seats that encircled the dirty centre rose further into the distance with each line, but there was not a soul to occupy them. Above, the open roof streamed in a dull sunshine, somewhat hampered by the overcast sky. Pantheon ran his dry tongue along the roof of his mouth, seeking out moisture. His heart beat like a drum, an inexplicable energy burning in his blood. He couldn’t fathom how he returned to the past, but there was no mistaking it.
An abrasive creaking cut through the foreboding silence, redirecting Pantheon’s attention behind him. A rusted portcullis lazily descended to the earthy floor. Gripping the empowered relic-weapons, he listened to every word absorbedly that boomed from an invisible place.
“Whoever opens the gate, exiting with their foe’s helmet, will be declared the winner!”
The disembodied voice confirmed it. Pantheon knew from the beginning, and there was no denying it now. This was the final battle to gain the tribe’s blessing as the Artisan of War and to represent the Stanpar to Runeterra in the League of Legends. There was no one to watch the epic clash; there would be no interference permitted, not even encouraging cries or disavowing boos from a stimulated, bloodthirsty crowd. Besides, most Stanpar preferred to be ripping out the throats of their foes personally rather than vicariously. The venue chosen was a dilapidated, aged stadium that not even the children trained in. It was sacred ground, where only the greatest combat took place. To emerge victorious here was to be the strongest, most vicious warrior in all of Mount Gargantuan.
Pantheon turned slowly, realisation of his opponent settling in fast. For the first time since he stormed through the Great Hall’s elaborate doorway and into his past, his expression changed.
“So this is where it ends ... brother.”
The battle of his life was destined to end up here. Standing on the opposite side of the coliseum, donning a golden helmet and an enigmatic stare, was his older brother, Perseus.
Perseus was unparalleled in strength, dexterity and experience. Thus far he had known no equal, never being bested in combat, and most of the Stanpar people expected that he would surface from the battlefield, thrusting Pantheon’s helm like a gaudy trophy into the air. In fact, tales of his deeds had grown to the point that many believed he was the reincarnation of Theseus, an ancient warrior of the Stanpar who was thought to be invincible. Perseus himself bought into the hype, inscribing Theseus’ icon onto his own relic-aegis.
Pantheon knew his beloved sibling could be defeated. The two warring brothers had never completed a fight that they had started; for myriad of reasons, their red hot rivalry was never sated. This time, however, there would be no doubt left in anyone’s mind of whom the true Artisan of War was. Both were prepared to kill their own flesh and blood, if it meant receiving the opportunity of educating the enfeebled and pacifist governments of Runeterra the undeniable truths of combat.
Perseus tipped his helm as a visible acknowledgement of respect, revealing his polished silver chest plate. He rolled his burly shoulders, repositioning the golden pauldrons comfortably. Twirling his relic-weapon, a three pronged trident, in his right hand and hoisting his relic-aegis in the other, he exuded in aura of supreme confidence. The fight would not be easily won.
“So it does, Perseus,” Pantheon met steadfastly. He stepped up to his brother, leaving a distance short enough for either of them to leap easily, and held out his spear diagonally. “May the true warrior continue on the path.”
Perseus blinked before crossing his trident over the relic-weapon of his opponent. “And may this battle, as it is the last for one of us, be filled with the glory that he deserves.”
Pantheon gave a curt nod and bounded backwards, providing ample space between the brothers for either to initiate. As if a precursor to the battle, an abnormally vivid bolt of lightning snaked through the clouds, acting as a catalyst to a light downpour of rain. Droplets of water beaded upon the warriors’ bodies, slinking down their muscular forms into the dusty earth where mud soon formed. Pantheon tarried, unprepared to instigate the battle.
“As a courtesy, brother,” Perseus brusquely stated, his voice quietened by the increasingly thick precipitation, “I’ll allow you the first strike.”
“A bold offer, but one that I will readily accept,” he returned with heightened bravado, hiding the desire for his brother to initiate. The only time Pantheon had ever doubted himself in the face of a brewing confrontation was right then.
Launching off the back foot, the silver helmed combatant charged forward, drawing his relic-spear backwards for the first blow. The piercing tip sliced through the rain, clanging noisily against Perseus’ aegis. His brother pushed the weapon away, thrusting his trident towards Pantheon’s midsection. Perseus tightened his grip upon the trident as Pantheon swiftly countered, parrying the trio of prongs from gutting him. Again Perseus assaulted his younger sibling, steel upon steel forging glowing sparks, oblivious to the thunderstorm. Pantheon swept his sturdy shield over his body, protecting himself from each calculated jab that yearned to end his life.
Patiently Pantheon waited for an opening, and in due time, he was rewarded. As Perseus withdrew his powerful trident for another attack, Pantheon barrelled forward, raising his aegis. Pantheon raised his brother into the air as if performing an uppercut with his shield. His heart beat itself into a frenzy; while he was in mortal combat with his own flesh and blood, there had never been a more exciting battle in his life. Everything rode on the results of this battle. He took aim, carefully judging Perseus’ trajectory, hoisted his relic-spear above his shoulder and hurled it with all his might.
The spear whistled towards its target with pinpoint accuracy, imperceptibly leaving a trail of torn air in its wake. Perseus blinked his hardened eyes behind his golden headgear, gaining a semblance of cognisance, and spotted the approaching weapon despite the rain. Twisting himself in the air, the older brother waved his shield into the path of the blade, it ricocheting with a metallic clang at an off angle. He rolled unceremoniously across the muddied stadium floor before flipping upright with all the grace of a seasoned gymnast. He flourished the three pronged trident, taking confident jabs in the empty space in front of him.
Pantheon glanced to his right. His relic weapon lay a hundred yards to his right, and Perseus could close the gap in much less than time than he could. Weapon-less against his brother, he had little chance of becoming victor unless he was also disarmed. Removing Perseus’ ironclad grip from the trident, however, was no simple task. Strategies from years and years of harsh training ran simulations in his mind a mile a minute. Perseus twirled his relic weapon about in one hand, tarrying to allow his younger sibling to choose the next avenue of their monumental battle. Pantheon narrowed his blood red eyes. He knew what to do.
With a bone chilling war cry, Pantheon charged forward. Perseus abruptly ended his display of dexterity and observed his brother, clasping the trident firmly. Staying on the defensive was never his strong suit, and Pantheon knew that. Easily combated, Perseus thought. A thick spray of mud exploded from the boots of Perseus as he barrelled towards Pantheon. Holding the flat of his shield directly at his brother and with trident extended, he looked like a horseless jouster, although far more terrifying.
The distance closed in what seemed like a nanosecond to the two warriors. With the smallest gap remaining between them, Pantheon enacted his plan. Drawing his near unbreakable aegis over his left shoulder, he swung forward and released, flinging the shield like an oversized Frisbee. Perseus reacted instinctively, using his own aegis to deflect the incoming projectile. When his vision was no longer obscured, he noticed the absence of his brother. Overhead, as a sizzling thunderbolt crackled overhead, an airborne Pantheon manipulated his repelled shield with his boots, flipping it nimbly before slamming it into Perseus’ head. A reverberating clash of metal upon metal echoed intensely through the desolate coliseum, although within Perseus’ dazed head it was as if the collision took place in his ear canal. Pantheon landed clumsily but managed his footing, while his brother tumbled over like a toppled tree.
For a moment, Pantheon felt a moment of empathy for his stunned adversary. While nothing was thicker than conquest of battle, blood was a very close second within the Stanpar. To murder another of their kin, especially if it was a family member, was only excusable during combat. As much as he was pained, he knew he was the man to school the fools of Runeterra on the art of war. Pantheon kicked the relic-aegis from Perseus’ grip and out of reach before bending down to seize his trident. With a firm heel on his brother’s chest plate, he hoisted the relic-weapon above him, ready to pierce the exposed throat. His heart suddenly fell in his chest. As the storm endlessly pelted the arena with rain, he steeled his soul.
Perseus’ brusque voice immediately froze Pantheon’s murderous intent. Tilting his head towards him, he queried, “Why do you wish to join the League, brother?”
Pantheon’s fingers curled in revulsion around the shaft of the trident. “How dare you mock the death of Perseus in this way!”
“Why do you wish to join the League, Pantheon?” Perseus repeated.
The bewildered warrior grimaced behind his helmet. “To show Runeterra the true meaning of war! To make them dissolve their petty League and return combat to the battlefield, where it belongs! Where death is not a minor inconvenience for the weak!” Pantheon hadn’t noticed the surge of emotion that imbued his declaration.
“Why do you wish to join the League, Pantheon?” his fallen brother asked a third time.
Pantheon grunted, at odds with the maelstrom swirling inside. The rage pressed against the back of his lips, and he knew he couldn’t retain it. “To avenge you, brother! To make them pay for what they made me do to you this day!”
Perseus’ golden head plopped back into the mud, white eyes staring directly into the downpour. “How does it feel, exposing your mind?”
Pantheon thrust the relic-trident into the phantom of Perseus, uttering not a word. A disciplined mind found the unleashing of its secrets to be incomprehensibly repellent.
As the tips of the trident penetrated his fallen foe’s throat, it dissolved like a mound of sand blown away in the wind. He halted the progression of the stab, inches above the mud, which swiftly morphed into the dark marble of the Reflection Chamber. The very weapon in his hand became his spear once more, his aegis neatly finding its place in his left hand somehow. A flood of light poured into the darkness on either side of the room. One offered the League, the other offered a chance to back out.
“To require such trivial hallucinations to join a theatre of combat,” Pantheon muttered, “is exactly why this world needs me.”
The resilient warrior strode forwards, his will unbreakable. The strength of the Stanpar, and of Perseus, brimmed within him.