With silver helmets gleaming in the light of the fire torches that lined the stadium on every level and at every turn, and engraved Mythril breast plates tied in place with thick, colored, velvet ribbons that matched their Kingdom’s color of LifeBreath, green and blue, the first round of Ethyrean Legion Knights entered the Arena.
As always, the crowd had a measurable response to the creatures they entered riding on. The horse was a relatively rare commodity in Ethyrea, and was not a luxury affordable to the common man like the abundant griffin population. There were a few breeders who lived in isolation on the islands south of Terratus in the Portiferyn Sea, but they kept mostly to themselves. The horses they bred were also twice the size of an ordinary horse, and as the Knights strode out into the Arena, a mist of unnatural thickness burst from the snorts and ferocious chortles that resonated from the horses’ nostrils as they pawed at the ground, anxious to get underway.
This year, the breeders had chosen to send ten horses with coats that were as black as night, and the crowd marveled at the thunder from their monstrous hooves as it echoed in enchanted fashion like drum beats across a canyon as they began to circle around the Arena. The Knights that rode upon them carried lances that were blunt on the end; each with their own flag in their Kingdoms color affixed to a slit in the lance’s tip.
As they entered the Arena, the Legion Knights of the two squads began to circle around in opposite directions. The crowd cheered as they passed in front of their own Kingdom’s Citizens proudly. Just as each of the Knights crossed in front of the Emperor’s box, as they passed one another, each pair of Knights tossed their lance flying their colors to the opposite opponent. It was a symbol that was another silly formal tradition honored faithfully each Legion and was associated with the commencement of the Tournament of Legion. The switching of the lances flying the colors of their competitors was just one of many visually strong uses of symbolism and imagery meant to represent a particular element from the Elder Gods’ story of Legion.
Cheers erupted from the crowd, and as the riders crossed in front of the other Kingdoms loyal fans carrying the flags of their competitors, the echoes of playful “boos” began to explode like a storm surge on an abandoned shoreline. As the Knights circled around the Arena, the Defenders, Archers, and Guardsman began to march straight up the center of the Arena in parallel formation. Their steps quickly synchronized with the echoing of the horse’s pace.
As the Knights reached front and center, Prince Xandreus, Captain of the Terratus Legionnaires, looked to his GrandFather, the Emperor, for his approval and opening gesture that signaled the time to begin had finally arrived.
The Emperor watched as the last fading streaks of color disappeared from the sky, indicating all of the last remaining signs of sunlight had finally dipped behind the horizon, and rose to his feet. In keeping with the established and respected rituals of the ceremony associated with the tournament, and with the intentions of holding fast to the long heralded legacy of the Elder Gods, the tournament was never initiated until after sunset. This was done much as it was done in the days of the lore in an effort to catch their enemies unawares. The element of surprise was an ally to the victor in their Conquest.
An immediate hushed and respectful silence washed over the Arena as the last of the light from the ordinary fire torches were quickly doused. Emperor Elrich peered through the darkness, eyes sharp like a hawk, as the unsettling thickness of early night settled in. He looked upon the thousands of eager spectators, holding their breath in anticipation from one side of the mighty Arena to the other. Suddenly, his green LifeBreath crystals in his crown and amulet burst into life. Then, with a powerful clap of his hands and a quick release gesture, unlit torches around the entire Arena exploded with light and burst into green, Terran LifeFire. The Arena was suddenly awash in light as bright as if the sun had never set.
“Let the Tournament of Legion begin!” he proudly exclaimed.
A cacophony of cheers, shouts, stomping feet, and clapping hands erupted with the trumpeters as all of Ethyrea’s Citizens cheered in unison!
The Emperor nodded to his son, King Elrick, who stood and approached the podium once more.
The drums began to beat wildly, with a drum roll that ricocheted off the Arena’s tall walls and rattled around through the empty seats. Even the very bones of those standing in their chairs quivered with the excitement! King Elrick raised his arm to signal the trumpeters, and, as if part of a well-oiled machine, both lines of Guardsmen made an abrupt quarter turn to face their rivals eye to eye.
As the Knights circled around the Arena on their giant steeds once more, each Kingdom’s Guardsman stepped back in unison into their assigned positions between the Defenders and the Knights carrying their opponent’s colors.
Each Defender was armed with a golden shield bearing the crest of their Kingdom. Terratus’ crest was that of a tree with long thick roots, reaching deep into the ground and below. Myr’s crest was a wave, much like the one that had galloped wildly around the Arena before freezing into a target to be destroyed.
Each Defender also wielded a boomerang-like discus, forged out of a metal not unlike the substance found within the looking pool of the Dial of Days. Every discus seemed to luminesce with its own light. Each Defender garnished their discus and manipulated it with their own realm’s LifeBreath. [SJC1]
The Archers moved to take up their positions along the outer circle of the Arena. Each team’s Archers were now on the opposite side of the Arena behind their opponent’s Knights on their monstrous beasts. The Citizens cheered as three golden gongs were carried out onto the field by each Kingdom and were spaced evenly on each side of the Arena. Each of the giant golden gongs also bore the crest of their Kingdom, like the ones on the Defenders’ shields. The gongs were positioned on the opposite side of the field from their respective Archers.
Legion was a game that had long graced the Arena of Champions. The Kingdoms brought only their fiercest and mightiest Warriors to the Arena, for their chance to be summoned forward by the Dial of Days and placed into combat for the honor of the first trade of the season. It was a game of hand to hand combat and immense skill.
The Defenders had been chosen to reclaim their Kingdom’s honor from within the enemy realm. The Guardsmen represented those left behind to protect their Kingdom and its spoils, while the others journeyed out onto further glory and conquest. The Archers, and the difficulty of their task, was meant to represent the victorious and treacherous “Hero’s return journey” home. If an arrow on return journey home was deflected from its intended destination by a Knight, that Knight could reclaim the enemy flag and force them to begin their pursuit of it again. There were five flags in the game, but only one to each gong was required to win. No two flags could hit the same target and be counted though; their destinations were very specific.
The Defenders would throw their discus, aiming for their own colors flying high upon their rival Knight’s lance in an attempt to free the flag from its captor. Once the flag had been knocked off, the Guardsmen would meet with severe and incredibly athletic hand to hand combat as the Defenders attempted to fight their way across enemy lines and collect their Kingdom’s flags before the Knight could reclaim it. Guardsmen were the only players forbidden from touching the flags of either team.
Upon claiming their flag, the Defenders flipped and fought their way past the enemy Knights and Guardsmen, intent on safely delivering their flag to the Archers, who were on the opposite side of the rival team.
Once across their rival’s defenses, they would pass their flag to their Archers and then circle back to aid their other Brethren. The Archers then attached the flag to their arrows and faced the challenge of shooting them far above the opposing Knight’s lances, attempting to hit one of their Kingdom’s gongs far across the Arena. The sounding of the gongs indicated a successful mark on the intended target, and the battle continued.
The challenge lay in clearing the defending Knights on their monstrous steeds, who continually attempted to deflect their opponent’s arrows and enchanted discs, while the Guardsmen used hand to hand combat to try and block the Defenders from gathering the next flag and returning it to their own Archer. Once one team had sounded all three of their gongs, the game was over. For as long as memory had served Ethyrea, and presumably to honor the length of time that passed between the alignments that coincided with the Tournaments, this game had always been called “Legion.”