The gods have agreed to a divine contest and prepared the Grand Arena. Now each god must choose a champion from among their mortal followers on Eucos. The gods choose their champions for different reasons, but the champions have one thing in common: all of them were extraordinary well before they gained a god’s attention.
Today, we meet Lysander, who will become the Champion of Light.
Chapter 2: Lysander’s Origin — Broken
by Kelly Digges
Lysander kneels in prayer, his spear and plumed helmet beside him. His god towers above him, hard white marble inlaid with gold that shines in the morning light. Behind the statue stands the temple itself, closed to worshippers. Lysander is not the only one praying this morning, and the statue’s feet are draped in offerings of silk and surrounded by sticks of incense.
“Thaeriel,” murmurs Lysander, “whose Light is the sun. Watch over us in our darkest hour. Guide our blades and our hearts as we defend your shining city, and grant us the strength to prevail.”
He listens and waits, hoping for an answer. His mentor told him once that not all prayers are answered, and not all answers are easy to understand.
Lysander sighs and rises with a rattle of armor. Other soldiers stand around him. Even in prayer, they follow his lead.
Young Kadmos stands beside him, taller than he is. Kadmos commands his own squad now, a respected warrior in his own right. Lysander claps his son on the shoulder, and he nods.
He and his impromptu honor guard march down the great boulevard to the Bronze Gate.
The sun has only half risen, and the hills around the city are still shadowed. But he can just barely see the army that surrounds the city, their red banners snapping. The wind takes the scent of incense with it, and now he can smell the fires of war.
The Tartessians have come before. They have met the Parthene army in battle, besieged the city, even scaled the walls. But this time, something is different.
This time, they brought a monster.
Lysander stands outside the city walls in his shining armor and blue-plumed helm, addressing his assembled troops.
“This will not be easy!” he bellows. “Tartessos is a grim place, without the arts and luxuries of Parthon. Its children are made in its image, dedicated to warfare in a way that we, secure behind our walls, will never be.”
The soldiers shift uncomfortably. Everyone knows tales of the Tartessians, how the children of their warrior families learn to fight before they can talk.
“You’ve probably heard by now,” says Lysander, dropping his voice so the soldiers must strain to hear, “that the Tartessian commander is terrible to behold.”
Scouts had been sent to investigate these wild stories. Only one had returned, in the early hours of the morning, raving about a daemon with four arms that stood as tall as the city wall.
“These rumors appear to be true. Whatever it is, it is not human.”
There’s murmuring at this—a break in discipline that he expected, and chooses to ignore.
“I say, let them send their monsters!” shouts Lysander, cutting through the whispers. “Let them train their children for combat! It will do them no good! Do you know why?”
The soldiers are silent now, all eyes on him.
“For the Tartessians, war is a way of life. But we go to war to protect our way of life!” he shouts. “We fight, you and I, as volunteers, so that our artists and philosophers, our children and our spouses, can live in peace and prosperity. That is what we fight for! That is why the gods are on our side! And that is why we will prevail!”
The soldiers cheer.
“General Lysander!” shouts a soldier.
“General Lysander!” the rest shout in reply.
“For Parthon!” shouts Lysander.
Lysander shouts a battle cry as the Parthene and Tartessian lines crash together, shields interlocked. The younger soldiers’ shouts sound excited, eager for blood, but for Lysander there is only grim resolve.
Confusion reigns, as swords clang off Lysander’s shield and his own sword bites into the flesh of soldiers he barely catches a glimpse of. God, they’re all so young.
Then he sees it, rising above the chaos of battle: the daemon prince that commands the Tartessians. It is an obsidian-clad horror that towers over its troops, with a horned head and a maw full of jagged teeth. The thing carries an enormous axe, twice as long as Lysander is tall, with an axe-head the size of an ox-cart. The Tartessians shout a bloodthirsty cheer and surge forward.
The first line of Parthene soldiers reaches the beast. It swings that massive axe straight through them, but there is no blood, no body parts thrown aside.
The soldiers are just gone, their bodies and their gear crumpling and shredding, flying away like embers on the wind.
Lysander feels, more than hears, the mounting panic of his troops. They can beat the Tartessians head to head, but this is something different. They need to see this monster fall.
“To me!” he shouts, and his soldiers form up around him. He sheathes his sword and unbuckles the spear on his back. He’ll need the reach.
Spear in one hand, shield in the other, he strides out toward the monstrous Tartessian commander with a squad of Parthon’s finest at his flanks.
“Fight me!” he shouts, above the din. “Or are you too cowardly to face a champion of Parthon?”
The daemon’s monstrous head scans for him, and it breaks into a toothy grin. With one clawed hand, it waves away its honor guard and gestures for him to come forward.
“Stay here,” says Lysander to his troops. “Keep them honest, though. If they mob me, charge.”
He turns to meet the creature, but there’s a hand on his arm. He turns back. Kadmos, dear young Kadmos.
“General,” says Kadmos, bloody but apparently unhurt. “Father.”
“This is my task,” says Lysander.
“I know,” says Kadmos, his eyes shining with hope and admiration. “You can do this.”
“I’m proud of you,” says Lysander. “No matter what happens.”
Then he turns away, toward the creature. It seems bigger with every step. A hush has fallen over the battlefield, and Lysander feels as though everyone must surely be able to hear his whispered prayer.
What should he pray for? Protection for himself? The safety of his troops?
No. Only one thing matters.
“Guide my spear.”
He breaks into a run.
Nothing stands between Lysander and the monstrous Tartessian commander. It looms over him, fangs dripping, that enormous axe seeming to cleave the air itself.
If I fall, there will be nothing left of me.
He leaps forward, under the massive creature’s guard, but the monster kicks him with one clawed foot, sending him rolling over backwards.
He’s almost to his feet when he hears a whistling sound overhead, like the roar of the wind in the treetops. He brings his shield up just in time for the creature’s mighty axe to meet it—
—and stop dead, with a flash of light and a sound like a great bronze bell.
For a moment, he holds. The rest of the battle seems to freeze around him, soldiers on both sides faltering at the display of power in their midst.
Thaeriel, protect me.
Then a crack shoots through his shield with a sound like ice breaking. Then another. And another. Gods, if he could stand his ground by will alone!
Then the cracks begin to appear in his flesh, and he knows that he is lost.
With his free hand he flings the spear wildly. Gods know what difference that will make to a beast the size of a house, but it’s all he has left.
The cracks spread, rending him with pain that goes far deeper than the body. Is this how his soldiers will die? Ripped apart from the inside?
Then he breaks into splinters, scattered on the wind.
Lysander is surrounded by light, a blinding white light that seems bright enough to bear his weight. He cannot even see his hands, his body. Gods, does he still have a body? The last thing he remembers—
The voice comes from all around him, from the Light—it is the Light. It speaks his name as though no one has ever truly spoken it before, as though every time before this when a parent or a friend or a lover has shouted his name it has been a mistranslation from some foreign tongue.
“YOU ARE COURAGEOUS, AND YOU ARE PIOUS. YOU HAVE DONE WELL.”
Lysander tries to speak, to protest, to ask where he is, but he has no voice. No body, no form, no self. Only the Light.
“I WILL SEND YOU BACK AGAINST FUTURE NEED.”
Then sensation returns, and it is agony, as the Light rebuilds his body from the inside out, filling every break with searing molten gold.
“THIS IS A GIFT.”
He hears another voice, his own voice, screaming into the Light.
“DO NOT SQUANDER IT.”
Lysander stirs, still dazzled by the Light. Strong hands bear him up.
“—the general. I’ve found the general! Somebody help me, he’s—”
Voices, his soldiers.
“—see his face? Gods, look at his face—”
“The creature,” rasps Lysander. His throat is hoarse from screaming. Has he been screaming?
“He’s alive!” shouts a voice. “Get the healers, the general’s—”
“What happened?” asks Lysander “Did we win?”
Finally his vision clears, and he beholds a scene of devastation. There are bodies everywhere, Parthene and Tartessian. Smoke rises from a dozen pyres.
The Bronze Gate has been torn off its hinges, the wall breached, and there are plumes of smoke within Parthon itself. And there, slumped at the feet of the statue of Thaeriel, is the monstrous enemy commander, dead. A dozen spears stick out of its body.
Lysander rises, with difficulty, waving away the strong hands that try to help him. He tests his limbs, stretches hands and arms and legs. He remembers pain, but now there is not even an ache.
He tries not to look at the golden seams that now hold his broken body together.
A healer arrives, a businesslike young woman who gestures to two of the soldiers.
“Bring him to the healer’s tent,” she says. “I need to have a look at him.”
Lysander shrugs out of their hands and follows her.
“My son,” he says. “Kadmos. Did he survive the battle?”
“Yes,” says the healer, “but barely. He’ll recover, and so will you, but I need you to lie down—”
Lysader pushes past her into the tent, past a dozen wounded young men and women, to find Kadmos in one of the beds. The young man looks pale and shrunken, half dead, and there is a blood-soaked bandage around his midsection.
“Full recovery?” he asks the healer.
“Yes,” she says, “barring infection, which we’re watching for. But he’s weak. It will take time. And you… Frankly, I don’t understand what happened to you.”
“Neither do I,” says Lysander. “Let me speak to him.”
The healer shakes her head but withdraws, to help some less intransigent patient.
Lysander takes Kadmos’s hand in his. The boy stirs, but does not waken. What is he now, twenty-three? He looks like a child again, without his armor, without his strength.
“I’m sorry,” says Lysander. “I love you.”
He finds a piece of parchment and a charcoal and scratches a simple message:
I, Lysander son of Menelos, resign my commission in the Parthene army. Do not seek me out. I will not return.
Lysander pauses at the entrance to the temple grounds. Kadmos puts a hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t know, son,” says Lysander. “I didn’t pray for a very long time. Not sure Thaeriel wants to hear from me.”
“It’ll be alright,” says Kadmos. “I prayed for you.”
Lysander draws a deep breath.
“Thank you,” says Lysander, and approaches the altar under the marble gaze of his god.
How long has it been since he prayed? A year away from the city. Another two, nearly, since he returned. Some had welcomed him as a returning hero, and others had scorned him as a deserter. There was nothing for that but to do the work. He’d enrolled in the army as an officer and climbed the ranks all over again, learning new faces and new tactics and new limits. He’d done everything he expected to when he came back… except this.
He kneels before the altar, lights a stick of incense, and closes his eyes.
“Thaeriel,” he says. “Thaeriel, who is the Light. I don’t claim to understand the gift you’ve given me. Not everyone gets a second chance. But I wanted to say… thank you.”
Nothing happens, for a moment, then white-hot light presses against his eyelids. He tries to open them, but the pain is too intense. The Light.
“LYSANDER OF PARTHON.”
He has a body, this time, and the voice rings inside him.
“My lord,” says Lysander.
“YOU SAY YOU DO NOT KNOW WHY I SENT YOU BACK.”
“I have never known,” says Lysander.
“AS I SAID BEFORE: I SAVED YOU AGAINST FUTURE NEED.”
“I… I don’t understand.”
An arena, gold and gleaming, takes shape around them, half-obscured by the all-consuming Light. Lysander squints, trying to get a look at it.
“I HAVE NEED OF A CHAMPION. I NAME YOU.”
“Of course,” says Lysander, his heart racing. “My life is yours.”
“IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN.”
Thaeriel himself steps out of the Light, its brightness shining through his every feature. He reaches out with one hand.
“Come with me,” says the God of Light. “There is much to do.”
Lysander reaches with one golden-veined hand, but pauses.
“Lord Thaeriel,” he says. “This time… I’d like to say goodbye.”
“Do not tarry,” he says. “Time is shorter than you know.”
Lysander returns to his senses, nearly losing his balance.
“Father? Are you alright? You’re… glowing.”
Lysander looks down. The golden veins in his arms are pulsing with the Light. Kadmos shades his eyes.
“Yes,” says Lysander. “I’m fine. I need to tell you something.”
The Champion of Light rises.
Kelly Digges is a narrative designer and creative consultant for games, with 90 credits across more than 50 products for Magic: The Gathering and other games. Find him on Twitter at @kellydigges.
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