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Pantheon In Battle, Broken.jpg

Targon Crest icon.png

Short Story

In Battle, Broken

By Laurie Goulding

Weary from the day’s labors, Iula wiped her stiff hands upon her apron, and raised a cup to the mantel.


To assume the Aspects act in the interests of Targon Crest icon.png Targon or its people is folly of the highest order.

When the first Rakkor climbed the Great Mountain, they did so to bring themselves closer to their holy sun, the divine source of all light and majesty in this world. But when they reached the summit, they found strange, otherworldly beings waiting there for them.

Not gods. There are no gods on the mountain, nor above it. The Aspects have never claimed this, and the Rakkor have never considered them as such. In spite of all their heavenly power, they had descended from the firmament of the celestial realm, yet were still unable to cross over into Runeterra unaided—and this was something for which they would be willing to bargain most dearly. Enough to use our own worst natures against us. Enough to betray the golden sun itself.

To this day, the Aspects strive to manipulate a world that is not theirs, for reasons we cannot fully comprehend, on a timescale that mocks even the grandest of mortal ambitions.

However, we can be certain that their motivations are not human, and their capacity for cruelty and deception is unmatched in all existence.

— from ‘Tribe of the Last Sun’, by the Hierarch Malgurza of Helia

Weary from the day’s labors, LoR Non-Champion Non-Spell Indicator.png3 Iula wiped her stiff hands upon her apron, and raised a cup to the mantel.

“Here’s to you, my love,” she whispered, before bringing it to her lips.

A flood of sweetness. Warmth. The last rays of an autumnal sunset.

She measured the taste for a moment, letting it sit on her palate, breathing out slowly through her nose. Then she looked down into her drink and gently swirled the golden liquid around.

“How is it?” Hanne asked, as she heaved the farmhouse door closed behind her.

Iula shrugged. “It’s fine. Maybe it will age into something better.”

The younger woman set down two large sacks of grain on the floor beside the kitchen table, and poured a cup for herself. Iula watched her sniff it, and take a long swig.

Then Hanne coughed, and blinked hard, twice.

A third time.

“You can... You can really taste the smoke...” she managed. “Is mead always... like this?”

Iula smiled, running her fingers through the bunches of herbs hanging from the roof beams. “No, not always. Depends what you put in. For a traditional medu, I hoped the hedge-sage would come through a little stronger. Maybe next time we’ll use more. And fresh, not dried.”

“Are we still taking it to the market, though? Will it be ready by then?”

“It’s fine. We can backsweeten each jar with a little more honey, before I seal them.”

Hanne finished her cup with only the slightest hint of a grimace, before setting it down. “I think I saw one last honeycomb in the storehouse,” she said. “I’ll bring it in.”

“There’s no rush. I’m not doing it tonight. Need to start on the sourdough before bed.”

“It’s no trouble!” Hanne insisted. “I’ll go now, before I get this young man his supper.”

Little Tomis was still seated at the table, swinging his bare feet back and forth. Even though the day had been long, his eyes were still keen... and very much fixed on the drink in Iula’s hand.

“Can I have some?” he asked, the moment Hanne was gone.

Iula made a show of turning to face him with an expression of mock-confusion. “You mean this lovely stew that Hanne has made for us all?” she said, gesturing to the fireplace with her cup.

Tomis shook his head. “No. The medu.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s a good idea, is it?” she replied, stepping over the bench to sit next to him. Her knees and elbows creaked as she went—but her knees and elbows always creaked, so she had given up remarking on it years ago.

She tapped the large glass jar next to him.

“What about your fine batch of sun tea, eh? Wouldn’t you rather have some of that? We spent all day on it, and you’ve been very helpful! I’ve been looking forward to trying it.”

Tomis wrinkled his nose. “I don’t like sun tea anymore.”

“Oh, that’s not true! It’s a very special drink for a young Rakkor. It fills you up from top to toe with the blessings of the Sun. Don’t you want that?”

The boy went very quiet, and still. His eyes sank to the tabletop.

“Then why do you put your drink in the dark?” he murmured, plaintively. “Does that mean it’s bad?”

Iula was suddenly worried that she had gone too far. “Oh, no,” she chuckled, putting her arm around him, “it’s not bad. Not bad at all. My dear husband taught me how to make mead, when we were first married. It needs to sit in the dark for a while to... umm... to get more... sort of...”

Then she gave up trying to explain fermentation to a four-year-old, and playfully poked his nose.

“Look, my boy, some of the best things that grown-ups enjoy happen in the dark, all right? One day, when you’re older and taller, you’ll understand that. And then you can have a sip of mead! But for now, it’s sun tea for us both! Can you spare my tired old feet, and bring me two clean cups?”

Tomis giggled, and scurried away to the pantry. Iula watched him go, before craftily gulping down the last of her drink, just as the farmhouse door opened.

“Actually, Tam,” she spluttered, “bring three. Hanne’s back, and she’ll want—”


Something in Hanne’s tone chilled Iula’s blood. She was on her feet before she realized it, moving to join the girl in the open doorway. “What is it?”

“There’s someone coming. I think... I think it’s a Solari.”

Iula strained her eyes into the twilight gloom of the valley, past the dusty yard of their simple homestead, and the fields of empyrean wheat beyond.


True enough, she could just make out the distant, haggard form of a man clad in dulled, golden battleplate. He was moving slowly through the crop, but there could be no doubt as to his intended destination. Iula’s home was remote and secluded, the nearest neighbors several hours to the north.

She sighed, steeling her nerve, and strode into the yard.

“Greetings, friend,” she called out. “May the Sun’s light be upon you. I hope your journey through the mountains has not been too hard.”

The man did not respond, nor halt in his approach.

Iula continued. “I can offer you food and water, but I am sorry to say warriors are no longer welcome in the house that I once shared with my beloved. Perhaps you have heard of him? Pylas of the Ra’Horak. A worthy hero of the Solari, some forty years past. I have the countenance of the priesthood in recognition of his service. You will find no enemies here, I assure you.”

Still, the man did not respond.

He crossed the bottom ditch. He was now barely a hundred yards from the house.

“Hanne,” Iula said calmly, “please go get my husband’s sword.”

The girl did not move. Her wide eyes were fixed on the approaching figure.

Iula shot her a serious glance.

“The sword hanging above the fireplace. Bring it here. Now. And make sure Tomis is hidden.”

There was something curious about this warrior. As he drew closer, she could see that his deep blue cloak was ragged and stained from battle, and his shield hung limply at his side. His spear, the haft pitted and bent, dragged in the dirt behind him as though it might be a beggar-king’s plow.

Iula took a step back. She did not know why the man had come... but if he meant the three of them harm, she would be ready to fight back.

Hanne tumbled out of the house with the sheathed sword clutched to her chest, letting out a whimper when she saw the warrior heave himself onto the path that ran between the yard and the fields. He stumbled, and Iula noticed that his left sandal was flapping loosely from his bloodied foot.

Her heartbeat thundered in her ears.

“...Atreus Atreus?”

The warrior stopped at the sound of his own name. The spear slipped from his grasp.

And then he was falling.

Though neither of them consciously intended it, Iula and Hanne both lunged forward in a vain attempt to catch him; some instinctive, mortal reaction to seeing true divinity humbled and laid low.

But of course, they could not.

Atreus, once known as Pantheon and the Aspect of War, crashed face-first onto the flagstones, his helm seeming to ring like a cracked temple bell as it rolled away into the dusk.

On the fourth day, he awoke. Iula did not hear him climb from his bed, pulling on the freshly washed and dried tunic that she and Hanne had left out for him, nor creep down the gritty stone passageway to the kitchen.

The first she knew of his recovery, at all, was when the unmistakable smell of burning reached her nostrils.

She hauled herself out of her simple cot in a daze, her heart pounding.

“Hanne!” she yelled. “Hanne, get Tam!”

The floor was cold beneath her feet, but she did not think to look for her sandals. She threw the dividing curtain aside, cursing when her shoulder struck the wooden jamb as she passed beneath it.

There was smoke in the passageway.


Wincing, cradling her shoulder, she drummed a fist on the rough stone wall of Hanne’s small room all the way down to the kitchen, before remembering that the girl would have left for market hours earlier. Iula would have to deal with this alone.

Then she turned the corner, and stopped abruptly.

Atreus was crouched before the bread oven in the fireplace, frantically fanning a small blaze with his shield. His eyes were raw from the smoke, his hands smeared with flour and soot.

He looked over his shoulder at Iula.

“Forgive me,” he choked. “I... I don’t know what I...”

She let out a cry of exasperation and grabbed a flagon of water from the pantry.

“Get out of the way, you big oaf!”

Steam billowed from the oven as the fire was quenched. Iula coughed and wheezed, dropping the flagon so she could cover her mouth and nose with her nightsmock. She glared at the warrior standing sheepishly in the middle of the room.

“What are you waiting for? Get the damn door open,” she snapped at him, even as she hobbled over to the window and pushed the shutters outward. The morning sun streamed into the gloom, becoming almost solid bars of light in the haze.

Atreus opened the door, then thought for a moment, and started moving it back and forth to waft fresher air inside. Iula shot him a withering glare, before lowering herself to her knees in front of the oven, to inspect the damage.

“Well, that’s the whole batch ruined,” she muttered, gingerly plucking one of the sodden, blackened loaves from the mess. The stone base groaned and ticked as it cooled, with a slurry of ashes and water splattering down onto the floor beneath the open grate. “And the fire’s dead too. It took me a whole day to get it up to the right heat, you know.”

She jabbed a thumb over her shoulder, in Atreus’ direction.

“I told you last time you were here—you will never be a baker. Just give up.”

He continued to waft with the door, as if it were the most important task in the world. “The girl,” he murmured. “She asked me to mind the bread. Before she left.”

Iula got back to her feet with some effort. “You spoke to Hanne?”

Atreus nodded. He looked around for something to prop the door open, before shrugging and using his shield. Even when he stood again, she noted that he would not look her in the eye, and kept his gaze on the floor between them.

And she could not quite shake the sense that he looked somehow... lesser than she remembered. Diminished, perhaps. In the past, he had always radiated a kind of stubborn defiance, one that reassured his allies and unsettled those who might seek to oppose him.

That was gone, now.

He ran his fingers through his beard, apparently trying to find a specific combination of words that he wanted to speak. “I wanted to... I want to find a way to repay you, Iula. For all your many kindnesses to me, over the years.”

She scoffed. “Well, we’ll have to find something outside of the kitchen, won’t we. Maybe I’ll let you till the fields before I sow again, next season. Not even you can set mud on fire. At least, I hope not. Maybe I’m wrong.”

A glimmer of a smile crossed his features, but it was only a glimmer.

Then his gaze darted past her, to the passageway.

Iula looked to see Tomis standing there, peering around the corner, gripping the edge of the wall with his little fingers. She smoothed out her smock, and beckoned to him.

“Come here, Tam. Come and say hello. This is the man we’ve been helping. His name is Atreus—we’ve been friends for a long time. A very long time. Although you wouldn’t know it from looking at him, eh?”

The boy did not move. Neither did Atreus.

Sighing, she trudged over and scooped Tomis up, letting him lean into her bruised shoulder as she carried him into the kitchen. “He’s a little afraid of you, I think. You’re the first soldier he’s seen, since...” The words died on her lips. She smiled down at the boy, and blew an affectionate raspberry into his hair. “Well. He’s an orphan. These past few years have not been kind to the folk of the high valleys.”

Atreus looked from Iula to Tomis, and back again.

“He is not yours?”

Iula laughed. “Are you being serious? I am never quite sure with you.”

Atreus’ eyes fell to the floor again. “I... I don’t...”

“No, Atreus. I can tell you this very young boy is not my son. And before you ask, no, Hanne is not my daughter either. I’m sixty-eight years old, and I know I look it, so don’t try to flatter me into forgiving you for the burned bread, either. I know you don’t ever seem to age, but the rest of us mortals bloody well do.”

Then she looked at the warrior standing before her, a man she had known almost all her life, and saw something she had never seen before.

His eyes were brimming with tears. He was trembling.

She made to take a step toward him, but Tomis squirmed uncomfortably in her arms at the prospect, and she lowered him to the floor instead. “Go on, young man. Back to your room. I’ll bring you some breakfast shortly.”

In spite of her reassuring smile, the boy still edged out of the kitchen most warily. Iula turned back to Atreus, who had stooped to pick up the flagon.

“You’ve been gone so long,” she said, reaching out to place a reassuring hand on his arm. “I was beginning to wond—”

Atreus reacted to her touch as though struck by summer lightning.

Get away from me!” he bellowed, recoiling with such force that he crashed over the low wooden bench, and split his forehead on the corner of the table.

Iula started away, almost losing her balance as well.

Atreus covered his face with one hand, and tried to regain both his footing and his composure. He backed into the space behind the open door, and brought his knees up like a wall between him and the rest of the world. “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me, don’t touch me,” he repeated again and again, under his breath.

It had pained her to see him physically broken, but Iula knew now that the wounds he must recently have suffered ran far deeper than his flesh.

And that, that hurt her more than anything else she could imagine.

She folded her arms tightly across her chest, sobbing gently, grasping the fabric of her smock, and sank down to sit opposite him on the floor.

They sat there for some time. Iula said nothing for a goodly while, watching the sunlight through the window move slowly across the gray tiles, and not thinking about the rheumatic ache in her joints, or the chill in her toes.

Eventually, when Atreus seemed to have calmed enough to let his head sink a little, she wiped her eyes with her sleeves and cleared her throat.

“What happened to you, old friend?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t... I don’t really remember.”

“What do you remember? Do you recall the last time you were here? The last time we saw each other?”

He frowned a little. “I think so. How long ago was it?”

“Six years, Atreus. I haven’t seen you in six years.”

Her words seemed to hang in the air longer than she had intended. She watched him attempt to process them in light of whatever it was he wanted to tell her.

“I... I think I went back to the peak,” he murmured. “I think I climbed the mountain again.”

Iula’s eyes widened. “But...”

“I know. It shouldn’t be possible. And yet, there it is.”

It was beyond anything she had ever considered. Certainly, there were legends that pre-dated even the empire of Shurima, of climbers who reached the summit of Mount Targon and yet were claimed by no Aspect, who then managed against all odds to make their way back down and return to their people; whether in shame or triumph, it was often unclear in the telling, and usually considered nothing more than fanciful allegory.

But the notion that any mortal, even an Aspect’s host, might make the climb twice...

It was unheard of.

She laughed, clapping her open palm on the floor. “My old friend,” she beamed, “if ever someone was going to rewrite the rules of the world, it would be you!”

Atreus shook his head, and Iula felt all levity fade.

“No,” he replied. “It wasn’t me.”

“Then who—”

Viego Viego.”

Even though she had never heard it before that moment, the name sent a shudder through her. She did not like to think that words, or names, could have power over the living. Maybe it was simply the way Atreus had spoken it, his gaze haunted and thin.

“Viego. The ancient king who brought the Black Mist to our lands. I tried to fight him, but he... uhh...”

Atreus rubbed absently at his scalp.

“He made me his puppet puppet, Iula. I think I’ve done some terrible, terrible things.”

Iula was numb. She recalled Atreus’ disheveled state when he stumbled back into the valley, and how she and Hanne had not dared imagine what foes he must have faced to blunt the weapons and dull the armor of an Aspect.

Had they even been foes at all?

She hauled herself up onto her knees, and found she could not stop shaking her head in disbelief at the injustice of it all. “I’m sorry. I know how hard it was for you to be controlled by the Pantheon, all those years ago. This must have been... Oh, Atreus. I’m so truly sorry for what has happened to you, my friend.” Slowly, cautiously, she reached out to him again. This time he did not flinch, but his face creased in pained sorrow.

“Oh, Atreus,” she said again, and took him in her arms, rocking gently back and forth with him on the kitchen floor. He clutched at her clothing with his scarred hands, his face pressed against her chest—not so very different from young Tomis in those early days after he first came to the homestead.

Close to tears herself, Iula closed her eyes.

“Tell me what you need, old friend,” she whispered. “Whatever I can do for you, I will. You know that.”

Atreus took a deeper breath to steady himself.

“I need you to tell me it’s okay to give up,” he replied.

Iula felt suddenly cold. “What?”

“There is too much evil in the world. You and I have both seen it. I’ve fought it for so long, I can’t remember what came before... but I’m tired. I’m so damn tired, Iula. How can mortals hope to win out against undying kings, or fallen god-warriors? The Aspects and their slaves. Demons from the spirit realm. Runeterra is becoming their playground. I thought all I needed to do was keep getting back up, no matter what. But if I can be made an enemy too, then simply being able to endure is no longer enough.”

He gritted his teeth, and looked her dead in the eye.

“And worst of all, I’ve lost whatever power I still held after my Aspect was slain. Viego must’ve seen to that. Whatever it was that connected me to the celestial realm, it’s gone. I am... I am just a man. So I need you to tell me that it’s okay for me to leave all this behind. You’re the only person I—”

Iula pushed him away, and clambered shakily to her feet. Adrenaline surged in her veins. She saw that this wasn’t just the absence of his comforting defiance, which for so many years had made her feel safer, just knowing he was out there, somewhere in the world.

He had actually given up.

“How dare you,” she murmured.

Atreus rose, confused, towering over her. He wiped his face with the back of his forearm.

“I don’t underst—”

How dare you!” Iula shrieked. “How can you even think to ask that?”

He faltered, his fists clenching involuntarily. “I can’t do this anymore. Please.”

A sour taste rose in the back of her throat. Her anger was so fierce, so hot, that she couldn’t feel the floor beneath her feet anymore.

“Damn you,” she spat. “Damn you. Coward. How dare you say that to me.”

“Iula, please, listen to—”

She slapped him, hard, across the face.

And again.

He did not try to defend himself, but only stared down at her, dumbfounded, his cheek reddening quickly.

Iula could not weep. She was too enraged. “He loved you, Atreus! Pylas loved you more than any brother. He was my husband, but he went with you up that accursed mountain, even though I begged him not to. He was mine, and you lost him up there!” She let out a wordless cry of pain, and dug her nails into her forearms. “You got to hold him, Atreus. You got to hold him as he died. And what did I get?”

She pointed to the mantel, where Pylas’ blade hung.

“I got a sword. Nothing more.”

Iula squared her jaw and looked up into the clear, open sky she imagined beyond the ceiling beams.

“Don’t you dare tell me about what you’ve lost, and how you can’t go on anymore. You don’t get to retire. You don’t have that option. This isn’t about you. It never has been. I helped you because that’s what Pylas would have wanted. I even tried to become a soldier and follow you on the battlefield after he was gone. He died for you, so you could become something greater than any Ra’Horak. Greater than any mortal.”

Atreus shook his head. “But I’m not.”

Exasperated, she stomped to the fireplace and snatched down the blade, wrenching it from its sheath and pressing it to Atreus’ heart in one sweeping motion.

“Then we don’t need you! We may as well just let the Aspects have their war, and let that be the end of everything!”

The tip of the sun-tempered steel parted the threads of his tunic, and drew a trickle of blood from his breast. He looked down at the small crimson spot slowly spreading across the fabric.

Then he looked back to Iula.

“What war?” he asked, his voice sounding weak.

She tightened her grip on the sword, realizing only then that she did not know how she expected this to end.

“The Solari, Atreus. They see heresy everywhere. And they’re not just killing anyone they suspect of being a Lunari—but anyone suspected of harboring them, too.” Unable to take a hand off the hilt, she nodded instead toward the open passageway. “Tomis’ entire settlement. The Ra’Horak butchered them. This, this is what happens when the Aspects cloak themselves in mortal superstition. Your former brethren have been driven into darkness by the blinding light of their new savior.”

Something like recognition flickered across Atreus’ features, as if he were trying to recall a fading dream. “And the Aspect of the Moon Aspect of the Moon... Of course, she has not yet stepped forward to lead the Lunari.”

“And how much worse will it all get, once she does?” Iula hissed. “You swore that you would stand against them, Atreus. That you would not let this world’s fate be decided by such inhuman monsters, even when they choose to do nothing. I am sorry for what has happened to you, I truly am... but I cannot let you break your oath. Not now.”

Atreus slowly, deliberately closed the fingers of his right hand around the sword blade. “Killing either the Aspect of Sun Aspect of Sun or Moon will not end the conflict in Targon. Just as the death of LoR Non-Champion Non-Spell Indicator.png5 War did not lead to eternal peace.”

“Shut up. Stop trying to justify what you want, and do what you know you should. That little boy was absolutely terrified of you when you arrived, and yet he wanted to wear your helm and pick up your spear from the moment he saw them. If you won’t act now, then that’s the only future he has—growing up to fight and die like too many Rakkor before him.”

She forced as much conviction into her voice as she could muster.

“You need to get back up, Atreus. I didn’t want to be a widowed farmer. I didn’t want to inherit all this. I had to give up my life and my love, so now you need to prove you’re worthy of the faith my husband had in you. You need to honor the sacrifices we’ve all made. You need to stop the Aspects from destroying our people entirely.”Atreus gripped Iula’s leading hand, gently urging her to drive the blade onward, his expression resolute.

“I can’t,” he whispered, his voice cracking. “I’m not strong enough.”

That was it. Iula was done.

She threw down the sword and barged past him, heading for Tomis’ room. “Well, if you’re going to just lay down and die, please pass on my love to my husband when you see him,” she yelled over her shoulder, before scooping up the startled child and hurrying out of the farmhouse in tears. She did not look back to see if Atreus was following them.

“Where are we going?” Tomis asked.

Iula winced as her bare feet were cut raw on the stony path, but did not slow her pace.

“We’re going to cut some more firewood, my boy,” she managed to smile. “We’re going to bake bread again today.”

When they returned, Atreus was gone.

Iula ignored the handwritten note that had been carefully placed beside Pylas’ sheathed sword on the kitchen table, and went to close the door.

Telling herself she was merely looking out for Hanne on her way back from market, she scanned the distant trackways that led up and out of the valley, but saw no sign of anyone.

She took a deep breath to calm herself, letting it out slowly as she walked back to the fireplace, and knelt before the cold oven with a grunt of discomfort. Then, without reading it, she balled up the note and stuffed it into the grate, and began to hum an old song from her youth as she stacked fresh kindling on top.

She genuinely hoped that would not be the last time she saw her old friend; that he would find his way out of the shadows, for all their sakes, by whatever path he had chosen.

But until then, she would sharpen her husband’s blade, and prepare to meet whatever was still to come.