“They are privileged to die at my feet.”
Atreus issued his usual taunt as he plunged his glistening spear into another defeated outsider. He surveyed the sprawling battlefield, a picture of bloodshed and carnage - his foes had been routed and only his brothers, the mighty Ra-Horak, stood tall. The people of Rakkor valued nothing higher than the eternal glory of battle, relentlessly pursuing perfection in war, and the Ra-Horak were their elite warriors; no one came close.
As they began their return journey, they came across a host of soldiers from the allied nation Demacia. To the untrained eye, this army would have looked as formidable as any, but to the Ra-Horak these were just kids playing dress up. The Damacian commander made the mistake of questioning the strength of the small group of Rakkorians and Atreus knew he would be made an example of.
“You there, what is your profession?” barked General Na’azthar to a weak-mouthed soldier in the Demacian second row. “I’m a musician sir” came the timid reply. The question was issued to soldier after soldier, each time soliciting a meek response of various commonplace jobs. Eventually the commander turned deliberately towards his small squad and issued the same enquiry. The battle cry from the Ra-Horak was so terrifyingly loud and synchronised that the mountains echoed and quaked while the Damacian soldiers fell to their knees in terror and awe.
Atreus uttered the infamous cry of war as loud as any, it was an automated response, drilled into him… yet he never really felt committed like his comrades… why didn’t it feel right? Only one possibility ever made sense: every member in the history of the elite fighting sect had been denied a childhood, carefully selected from birth, dedicated to the art of war by the high priest and forced into a strict, 24/7 training regimen; that is, every member until Atreus.
Atreus was the only son of the legendary Na’azthar and the spirit-mage Misha. At his birth, Misha had gazed upon the face of the ultimate warrior – one she knew would be chosen to lead every bloody Rokkorian battle. This future was not what the great thaumaturge dreamed of for her only son; she had seen the elders’ avarice, turning young, innocent souls into heartless soldiers for their own gain. No. Misha determined Atreus would have a real childhood, experience all the beauty of this world and make his own decision regarding violence and peace. Perhaps one day he would lead their people away from the glorification of death and bloodshed. As the procession of Rakkorian elders entered the birthing facility, Misha began to chant in a low hushed whisper.
There were shrieks of rage from the elders as those carrying their thrones fought to keep their footing on the heaving earth. The preternatural quake was accompanied by a tangible darkness so thick you couldn’t see your hand an inch in front of your face. Then, as fast as it had begun, the storm was gone. So were the mother and child.
That evening, as the Rakkorians relaxed in camp, the buxom princess Leona lay her head on Atreus’ chest and looked up at him through deep, chestnut eyes. “Atreus, what would you be if not a warrior?” she asked gently. He paused, travelling back to the time before he lived nothing but war. He saw himself playing in the quiet garden, the monotonous drone of poro-bees interrupted by shrill cries of razorbeaks flitting about in the leaves above. He heard his mother’s soft voice calling him inside to the heavenly scent of freshly-baked Armordillo cakes.
“...Atreus... ATREUS?!” As always, his memory was interrupted, but the vision had served its purpose. “Come to think of it, I’ve always wanted to be a baker.” Even Atreus was surprised... what he had said was true, but it felt wrong saying it aloud. Refusing to bury it any longer, he declared again with more intention: “I want to be a baker”.
Leona’s infectious laugh rang out from tent, “you can’t be serious my love”. The unwavering stare from Atreus told her he was. It was a long night for the young couple, but before the princess stole away from camp under the haze of dawn she had vowed to teach Atreus to bake. It was something she hated and loved about him – once his mind was set there was no changing it, he always got what he wanted in the end.
"WHY IS THIS SO SUNNING HARD!" The mixing bowl shattered, covering the already messy kitchen in another coat of plaster-like cake mix. Atreus' oversized, rough hands and god-like strength were not his allies in the art of baking. "Relax, you must start from a place of peace and serenity", Leona's soothing voice and hand on his shoulder calmed him again as he determined to try again. When it came to baking, one useful result of his warrior training was his tenacity.
The Ra-Horak generals couldn’t understand it. Atreus hadn’t acted so disinterested since his memory was hex-excised over 20 years ago. No one had any idea where his passion had shifted to except the princess and Atreus himself; they had to keep it that way. Not even Leona would be exempt from the obligatory death sentence if the elders discovered one of the revered Ra-Horak neglecting his post to toil over baked goods in an apron and hat like any commoner. However, his progress was unprecedented – from a rocky start, Atreus had forged ahead in leaps and bounds, learning each baking tip and trick Leona knew within mere months; in fact, he had surpassed every baker she had ever seen, including herself. Atreus never mentioned there was more than his own effort and talent moving him forward – each day he felt as if his mother was sending him supernatural power and revelations from beyond. He FELT her presence whenever he was baking.
It seemed impossibly unlikely, but after witnessing his talent, Leona believed Atreus was the one to face the ultimate baking challenge and succeed. Together they contrived an elaborate ruse, convincing the Ra-Horak to give Atreus a rare leave of absence.
The pair trekked up the lower section of the great Mount Targon towards the amber lights of base camp. Leona went a little farther with him before she bade him farewell with tears welling in her eyes. She knew, of the thousands of baking prodigies making the pilgrimage to the holy stone oven each year, dreaming of becoming the pantheon, none had ever returned. Worst of all, her faith in Atreus had been shattered by their last conversation - when she asked him what he planned to prepare for the baking celestial Psometheos, instead of something complex and delicate like the multi-layered Ionian veil chiffon, he was intent on a simple children’s treat.
The solo climb from the camp along the craggy peaks and treacherous precipices of the sunless mountainside drove Atreus near-mad as the altitude sickness sapped him of energy, and his will to continue waned. His unmatched physical condition worked against him as his straining muscles screamed for oxygen. Then, just as he felt himself slipping into unconsciousness, he caught sight of an expertly-wrought gilded oven of monumental size, nestled amongst the rocks. The warrior summoned his remaining strength and clawed his way towards the holy grail of baking, dragging his supplies behind him.
Upon reaching his destination, the strange, soft glow emanating from the oven, instantly breathed life back into his aching body. A baking fever took hold of Atreus, stronger than ever before as he deftly prepared the ingredients the way he saw his mother do it in fragmented memories from long ago. In no time, the cakes were ready for Psomitheos. Atreus offered a prayer of supplication before he slid the tray of miniature Armordillos into the golden kiln.
“Soldier, what is your profession?” Languidly, Pantheon lifted his eyes from the dusty path to see who dared question him. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw looking back at him. In an instant, every memory and dream from his childhood flooded his mind in perfect clarity as he gazed into the eyes of the man who had stolen his innocence. He remembered his idyllic life; sitting on Misha’s lap looking over their sun-drenched garden. Suddenly, the hextech-cloaking screen dematerialized, revealing a dystopian world he had never experienced. Rakkorian troops stormed through the widening gap as his mother scrambled to transport them to safety. Before she could begin the spell, the soldiers were upon them and he watched as the very man standing before him plunged a cruel blade into his mother’s heart, her screams echoing as the lifeblood dripped onto his face.
The full power of the pantheon surged as he roared “I AM A BAKER!!!!!!”
The Rakkorian elder’s pallid face looked as if he had just seen the devil… and recognized him, as he hung lifelessly, impaled by an unnaturally sharp baguette.