A lone figure awaited the armed convoy, standing silhouetted against the sun. His heavy cloak and the long plume atop his helm billowed in the hot, dry desert wind. A tallwas held at his side.
The convoy was thirty strong. Most of its number were hired mercenaries—rough, warlike men and women garbed in hauberks, leather, and chain, bearing crossbows, halberds, and blades. They walked the dusty path alongside heavily laden mules, though they came to a halt, crude insults and jokes dying on their lips, as they saw the warrior standing motionless before them.
The dark-clad leader of the expedition frowned as he pulled his coal-black steed to a halt. While the others were from lands far away, he knew this place and its inhabitants, for he once counted himself one of them. While he had been raised among the mountain people of the Rakkor, he had long ago turned away from them. Now he returned, after many years of absence, drawn by the lure of the priceless wealth he knew awaited in the Seer's temple above.
He knew and respected the fighting prowess of his former people, but a single warrior? Not even the Ra'Horak could survive such odds.
Even so, the figure atop the rocky outcrop made no move to stand aside.
“You come with murder in your hearts,” the warrior said, his voice as hard as iron. “I am of the Mountain. Turn back, or I will gladly destroy you. The choice is yours.”
The mercenaries smirked and scoffed.
“Piss off, madman,” one of them shouted, “lest we plant your head on a spike to mark our passing.”
“You are a long way from home, friend,” the leader of the convoy said. “We journey to the mountain ourselves. There need be no blood spilt here.”
The lone Rakkoran warrior was unmoved.
“We are simple pilgrims, and still have far to go,” said the leader. “And besides, there is no way back for us now. Our ships have sailed, see?” He gestured behind him.
Behind the convoy, less than a mile distant, the sea glittered like dragon scales in the dying light. A trio of galleys could be seen, sails unfurling as they turned north on the long journey home.
“We come with no ill intent, I assure you,” the leader continued. “We merely seek wisdom.”
“Your tongue is forked, serpent,” said the lone warrior. “You seek the blood of, and it will be your end. You were born on the mountain, and now you will die in its shadow.”
The leader's frown deepened, and he turned away with a dismissive shrug.
“We shall see,” he said. “Kill him.”
In an instant, crossbows were hefted to shoulders and the air was filled with loosed bolts. The warrior of the Rakkor was not punched from his feet, however; the bolts clanged as they ricocheted from his heavy, circular. Then he began to advance.
He appeared to be in no hurry. He strode forward with grim resolve, still silhouetted against the sun, the tip of his spear lowering toward his enemies. Another flurry of crossbow bolts. Again they were turned aside by his shield.
The first of the snarling mercenaries launched herself toward him, a jagged-bladed scimitar arcing in for his throat. She died in the blink of an eye, the warrior's spear buried in her chest. The next two died almost as quickly, a crimson line slashed across one man's throat, and another falling with a broken skull.
“Take him!” roared the expedition's leader, drawing an exquisite, bespoke pistol from his waistband.
A cloud passed in front of the sun, allowing the warrior to be seen more clearly. His armor was wrought with celestial imagery, and it seemed as if stars gleamed in the shimmery fabric of his midnight-blue cloak. That starlight also glittered in his unrelenting gaze, shadowed within the visor slits of his helm. For a moment, it seemed like his armor and speartip gleamed with what could only be described as divine power, and sudden dread filled the leader of the raiders, for he had heard of this power in his childhood, but had long since dismissed it as myth and legend.
The lone warrior moved like liquid, every movement smooth, efficient, and deadly. He was impossibly fast—faster than any man should be. More mercenaries died, their blood staining the dry desert ground. None could land a blow upon the deadly fighter. He moved effortlessly through the battle, closing inexorably on the horseman. One by one, the mercenaries were slain. In moments, those still standing turned and fled in the face of this unstoppable foe.
The leader of the mercenaries leveled his pistol at the lone warrior and fired. Impossibly, he swayed aside at the last moment, and the shot merely scraped across the side of his helm. The leader swore and cocked his pistol for another shot... but he was too slow.
The warrior's shield took him square in the chest, and he was hurled from the saddle. He fell heavily and grimaced as the warrior's foot came down on his torso, pinning him to the ground.
Staring up, the leader of the raiders realized with a shock that he knew the face of his opponent. A name surfaced in his memory, from a time when he had still lived among the Rakkor.
“Atreus,” he said. “Is it you?”
In answer, the Rakkoran's spear drove down, punching through the leader's chest.
“Atreus is gone,” said the warrior. “I am the Pantheon, now and forever.”
Blood bubbled from the dying man's lips, and he shuddered. When finally he was still, Pantheon pulled his weapon clear and turned away. Twilight had given way to dusk, and countless stars lit the night sky.
Aof burning fire streaked down toward the distant mountains, a hundred miles east.
Pantheon's eyes narrowed. “It is time, then,” he said to the darkness, and began the long journey back to Mount Targon.
- This short story was updated on November 5, 2019 in light of Pantheon's visual gameplay update.