Short story • 36 minute read⮜
by Graham McNeill⮞
Taliyah had almost forgotten how much she missed Shurima's sweltering heat. The sweat and strength of hundreds of people pushing, cursing, haggling and talking so passionately and quickly that outsiders used to think they were fighting.
Starring: Nasus, Sivir, Taliyah, Xerath
Mentioned: Azir, Renekton
Taliyah had almost forgotten how much she missed Shurima's sweltering heat. The sweat and strength of hundreds of people pushing, cursing, haggling and talking so passionately and quickly that outsiders used to think they were fighting.
In all his travels, he never found a place with the bustle and energy of his native country. Ionia was a wonderful place, and the frozen landscapes of the Freljord were impressive, in their way, but the scorching sun of Shurima melted any memory of those places as he walked on Bel'zhun's stone pier.
He felt his connection to the foundations of this land flood his spirit, as if drinking one of Babajan's spiced teas. He was grinning from ear to ear as he climbed the steps from the harbor, and even passing under the black stone of a Noxtoraa could not diminish his enthusiasm.
Taliyah did not spend long in Bel'zhun. The Noxian warships anchored at the dock made her too nervous, and brought back bad memories. He stayed long enough to buy supplies and listen to the latest market rumors, brought in from the depths of the desert by the caravans of merchants. Most of them were contradictory and fantastic; visions of sand warriors, thunder storms under clear skies, and rivers flowing in places where no water had flowed since time immemorial.
To accompany himself by friendly faces, he left Bel'zhun along with a highly armed caravan of Nerimazeth silk merchants heading south to Kenethet. He endured the movement of the caravan long enough to reach the bone souks of the famous northern border town of Sai, where he went on his own. The caravan's master, a whip-thin woman named Shamara with eyes the color of polished jet, advised her not to travel further south, but Taliyah told her that her family needed her, and there were no further warnings.
From Kenethet, he continued southward, following the twisting path of the great river that people had once again called the Mother of Life, rumored to be in the capital of the ancient Shuriman empire. By traveling alone she was able to move much faster, using the stone as transportation, riding its crest, giving it the shape of waves that carried her south towards Vekaura, a city that was supposedly half buried in the sand coming out of Sai.
Shamara told him it was nothing important, little more than a tribal camp built on the ruins of an abandoned city, a meeting place for weary travelers and wandering nomads. But even from a league away, Taliyah could see that she had been lied to; Vekaura had been reborn.If only he hadn't found that dying woman ...
The city's souk was full of color and noise. Piercing air billowed through the streets, their arches and canopies, carrying the sound of furious bargaining and the scent of spicy spices and roast meat. Taliyah cut through the crowd, ignoring the merchants, their extravagant promises and their requests for their starving children. A hand grabbed her clothes, trying to lead her to a stall lined with shelves filled with roasted desert animals, but she managed to escape.
Hundreds of people packed the wide street that led towards the broken walls of the city. Aromatic smoke drifted like mist from the bubbling pipes of old men sitting at their doors, like wrinkled sages. He saw the tribal markings of Barbae, Zagayah and Yesheje, although there were many more that he did not know. He saw people from tribes who were sworn enemies when he left Shurima, but who now walked together as brothers in arms.
"A lot has changed since I left," she told herself.
He had what he had come for, and he must return to the ruined building he had chosen on the eastern edge of the city. She didn't want to stay longer than necessary, but she had promised to keep the injured woman safe, and her mother had taught her never to break a promise. The Great Weaver had little fondness for the people who made it.
The crude bag on his shoulders was full of food. Cured meats, oatmeal, bread and cheese, along with two water-filled canteens. More than she needed, but it wasn't everything to her. The gold that he had darned within the edges of his clothing was almost gone, but he knew he was not far from his goal. She had no way of knowing for sure, but she felt certain that each step brought her closer to the warm embrace of her mother and father. After that, he would no longer need gold; with them, you would have everything you need in your store.
Taliyah was so lost in that pleasant future that she didn't notice the huge man until she collided with him. She bounced off his motionless body and fell to a sitting position.
It was like hitting a cliff; He did not step back an inch. The people in the souk did not make the same mistake. They flowed around man like water around a rock in a river. He was dressed from head to toe in ragged clothes that did not hide his enormous bulk and height very well. It held tightly to a long, cloth-covered cane, its broad head wrapped in rags. Seeing that her legs were at a strange angle, she thought maybe she needed it.
"I'm sorry," he said, looking up. I did not see it.
He looked down at her with his face hidden in the shadows of an elongated hood, but did not respond. He held out his hand, his fingers covered in bandages, like a plague victim. Taliyah hesitated for only a moment before taking her hand.
He lifted her with practically no effort, and she saw the glint of gold beneath the dusty fabric of his clothes before she hid her hands back in her sleeves.
"Thank you," Taliyah said."You must watch where you walk, little one," he said. Her voice was heavily accented and resonated strangely, as if coming from an infinite well of sadness within her. "Shurima is a dangerous place these days."
The man watched the young girl run through the souk and turned toward the shattered walls of Vekaura. The giant blocks only reached the height of his head and the highest levels were made up of sun-baked bricks, painted the color of the blocks. The people of Vekaura may have considered them impressive, but in their opinion, they were a poor copy of the real thing.
He walked through the portal, looking at the stones roughly wedged above his head. A water vendor, standing in the middle of a brass caster, dispensing cloudy water into green glass bottles, looked at him as he passed.
-Water? Fresh from the Mother of… ”he said, but the words died in his throat as he saw the huge figure looming before him.
He knew he should keep moving. The words written in blood on the walls of the Tower of Astrologers guided him here, and no doubt the wizard would be drawn to this place as well. He sensed the presence of a member of the Ascended Bloodline in Vekaura, one who could trace his line back to the glory days of the past, before an empire that once stretched from ocean to ocean fell into ruin. It was vitally important to find that person before his enemy did, as the blood of the Ancestral Shurima was as rare as it was potent. Had brought Azir back from oblivion, and in the wrong hands, could bring doom to the reborn Shurima.
Yes, it should keep moving, but it didn't.
"Trading among the ghosts of the past," he said.
"Ghosts?" Said the salesman, his voice wavering with fear.
"This bow," the man pointed out, raising his staff toward the sky above the bow. Dust was falling through the cracks in the walls over which people walked higher. "The exiled artisans of the lost city of Icathia built it." Each stone was cut and fitted with such precision that it didn't take a drop of cement to fix them in place.
"No ... I didn't know that."
"You mortals forget the past and attribute to legends what they should remember," he said, the bitterness of centuries lost in the depths of the desert threatening to turn into violent rage. Didn't I build the Great Library to prevent them from keeping such gaps in their memories?
"Please, High Lord," said the water vendor, pressing his back against the portal wall. Talk about myths from ancient times.
"For you, but the first time I came here, the walls had just been put up." Two hundred feet of polished marble, each stone pristine and veined with gold. My brother and I entered the city in triumph, at the head of ten thousand soldiers in gold armor and burnished spears. We march through this arch to the cheers of the citizens.
He sighed loudly before continuing. "A year later, there was nothing left." It was the end of everything. Or maybe the beginning. I have been hidden from the world for so long that I no longer know the difference.
The water vendor paled and squinted as he tried to penetrate the darkness under his hood. The man opened his eyes.
"You are the Lost Son of the Desert!" Exclaimed the salesman. You are… Nasus .."I am," he said, as he turned and walked into the city. But there is someone much more lost than me.
Nasus followed the crowds moving through the city toward the temple at its center, trying not to notice their stares. Its size alone would attract attention, but by now, the water vendor must have spread his identity to the four winds. Shurima was always a place of secrets. Secrets that never seemed to want to stay hidden for long. He would be surprised if, by the time he got to the center of the city, all of its inhabitants did not already know his name. Yes, stopping had been a mistake, but the vendor's disrespect for history offended the scholar in Nasus.
Like the wall and portal, the interior of Vekaura was only a shadow of its former glory. Azir's mother had been born there, and the young emperor was generous in giving gifts to his people. Its structures were adorned with tiered gardens and flowers of vivid colors and wonderful scents, brought from every corner of the empire. Its towers gleamed with silver and jade, and fresh water flowed from the great temple, carried by great aqueducts, naively believing that its abundance would never end.
Millennia passed and weathered the city until its stone bones were exposed, and once magnificent structures were turned into ruins. In recent centuries, those who continued to cling to the old ways built on the ruins, believing that their future could be saved by the past. As Nasus followed the growing crowds, he saw only crude imitations of a largely forgotten memory.
The buildings, planned by master craftsmen, were now nothing more than crooked parodies of their former glory. Instead of its walls made of cut granite, now stood wooden structures and rough blocks. The original silhouette of the city was still there, but Nasus felt that he was walking through a nightmare in which familiar surroundings appeared distorted in strange new ways, and in which everything twisted in ways designed to bewilder.
He heard voices murmuring around him, speaking his name in silent whispers, but he ignored them. He turned a corner and entered the open plaza in the heart of the city. His clawed hands turned into fists as he saw what the citizens of Vekaura had erected in the heart of their rebuilt city.
A temple of the sun created from carved sandstone and bare rocks. Raised by human hands to a human scale, it was a child-created imitation of the structure that rested at the heart of the Shuriman empire. The Great Temple was the envy of Valoran, and the architects of distant kings traveled thousands of miles to see it. And this insult is how you remember it?
The walls were black and shone like basalt, but Nasus could see the uneven joints between the panels embedded in the rough stone. A sun disk glowed at the top of the temple, but even from here Nasus could see that it was not made of gold, but alloys of bronze and copper. Nor did it float like the disk under which Nasus acquired his current form. Instead, braided ropes tied to asymmetrical pillars on both sides of the disc held it in midair.
Part of Nasus wanted to unleash his fury against these people, to hate them for building this horrible memory of the empire that he and countless other people achieved by fighting and bleeding. He wanted to shake them up and tell them what they had disgraced by building on the greatness of the past. But they didn't know what he knows, they didn't see what he did, and he couldn't make them understand.
A hierophant in a feather cape stood in front of the disk, his arms raised in supplication, though his words were lost in the noise of the city.Was he the person you were looking for?
He crossed the plaza toward the temple, stepping determinedly, noting the uneven steps cut into each of its four corners. Two warriors in tight bronze war armor and plumed helmets, molded to represent beasts, stood on the stairs, watching. Seeing him, they turned to him. Nasus hesitated as he recognized who his helmets were trying to represent. They both had elongated tubes. One roughly mimicked the jaws of a crocodile; the other had its visor molded into the shape of a jackal's head snarling.
They raised their spears as he approached, but Nasus sensed his amazement as he dropped his robe and rose to his full height. He spent too much time wandering the mortal world, hunched over and embarrassed, trying to hide his size. Too long in hiding, doing penance in his bleak loneliness, but his days of hiding had come to an end. Nasus no longer wished to keep hiding his true face.
Nasus, a figure of power and magic, an Ascended being from a time when heroes like him still walked among mortals, towered over the guards. The magic of the solar disk lifted his body and recreated it. His flesh, withered and dying, was transformed into an obsidian-skinned, jackal-headed demigod. A gold-ringed armor, stained by time and supported by ceremonial ribbons embossed with Shurima sigils, covered his chest and shoulders. He raised his hand and peeled back the cloth around his staff to reveal his long-handled ax. Its edge gleamed expectantly, and the gem in its heart, an ocean blue hue, gleamed in the sunlight.
"Get out of my way," he said.
The guards hesitated in fear, but did not abandon their posts. Nasus sighed and swung his ax in a circular arc. The winger hit the first guard with an upward blow and threw him several meters back. His second attack knocked the other down, who was sprawled in the dust, groaning in pain as Nasus landed his claws on the bottom step.
He climbed to the top, where the sun glinted off the burnished metal of the disc. As he climbed, he looked beyond the decrepit walls of the city of Vekaura. An unbroken sea of inhospitable dunes stretched to the horizon on three sides. On the eastern flank of the city, the terrain rose on the haunches of rugged hills of stubborn soil, upon which grew sturdy desert palms and thick clumps of bhanavar trees, whose roots stretched hundreds of feet under the sand to find water. .
Seeing the empty desert that Shurima became saddened Nasus, who remembered the time when the Mother of Life fed the earth, which flourished with life and vitality. Perhaps Azir would bring Shurima back to life once more, but perhaps not, which made the task of finding the carrier of the bloodline even more vital.
Other guards were climbing to the top of the temple, shouting in a language that originated from ancient Shuriman, but completely lacked the beauty and complexity of that lost language.
Nasus recalled the pain and fear he felt during his final ascent to the Great Temple, as he prepared for his Ascension ritual. The terrible illness had left him too weak to climb, and his younger brother had had to carry him in his arms. When he reached the top, the sun was almost reaching its zenith, and life was leaving him like the sands of a broken hourglass. He begged Renekton to go away, to let him meet the sun by himself, but Renekton shook his head and whispered his last exchanged words like mortals before the disk of the sun carried them both to Ascension.
"I will be with you till the end."
Even now, those words had the power to wound him, to cut deeper than any sword. When he was mortal, Renekton was unpredictable. Sometimes he was capable of being violent and cruel, but also of acting with great nobility and courage. The power bestowed upon him by Ascension had made him powerful, and in the end it was Renekton who fought the treacherous wizard in the Tomb of the Emperors and sacrificed himself to save Shurima.
Did what they did that day save Shurima? Azir died, murdered by his childhood friend, and the city was destroyed when the unleashed magic of the broken Ascension ritual buried it under the desert sands. Day after day, Azir relived the moment when he sealed the tomb doors behind Renekton and Xerath, aware that he had no other choice, but no less overwhelmed by the crushing weight of guilt.
Now Xerath and Renekton were free. Somehow, Azir conquered death and became one of the Ascended, and Shurima was reborn under his will. The ancient city rose from its barren grave and shook off the dust of the millennia that it slept. But if the stories that came out of the desert were true, the Renekton that Nasus knew and loved was no more. Now he was little more than a crazed assassin who ruthlessly killed in the name of vengeance.
"And I led you to that," Nasus said.
He reached the top and tried to push away thoughts of the being his brother had become: a monster that roared Nasus's name over the burning sands of the desert.A monster that sooner or later he would have to face.
Nasus reached the top of the temple structure, ceremonial paper ribbons fluttering on his arms and belt. He planted the handle of his ax in the rough stone and took a moment to survey his surroundings.
Sunlight reflected at divided angles on the solar disk. Its metal finishes were rough and dull. The braided ropes were painfully evident up close, and the harshness of the Vekaura citizens' work was very apparent. The ceiling was unadorned; there were no great dais carved with the celestial vault or cardinal winds, no reliefs of the heroes who had Ascended on its sacred surface.
Ten warriors, dressed in dirty robes and armor made up of overlapping bands of bronze, stood between Nasus and the hierophant. The priest was a tall, thin man, dressed in a robe of iridescent feathers with wide sleeves and the shape of wings, and a hood that looked like an ebony peak. The face under the hood was distinguished, stern, and ruthless.
"Are you Nasus?" Said the hierophant. The man's voice was deep and commanding, almost like that of a monarch, but Nasus could hear his fear. It is one thing to claim that you are descended from the gods, but it is quite another to know yourself.
"The fact that you ask means I spent too much time away from here." Yes, I am Nasus, but the most important thing is to know who you are.
The hierophant stood up, puffing out his chest like a bird in mating season, and said, "I am Azrahir Thelamu, descendant of the Falcon Emperor, First Voice of Vekaura, the Enlightened One, the Lightwalker, and Guardian of the Sacred Fire." Bringer of the Dawn and ...
"Descendant of the Hawk Emperor?" Nasus interrupted. You claim to be from the lineage of Emperor Azir?
"I'm not saying it, it's what I am," the hierophant answered aggressively, regaining some self-confidence. Now tell me what you want.
Nasus nodded and turned his ax, holding it in both hands, horizontal to the ground."Your blood," Nasus said.
He struck the stones with the pommel of his long-handled ax and a cloud of sand rose from the ceiling. It floated in shimmering veils, spinning in a slow circle around the hierophant and his warriors.
-What are you doing? Asked the priest.
"I told you, I need to see your blood."
In the blink of an eye, the sand circles turned into a roaring hurricane. The warriors raised their weapons to protect their faces from the sandstorm. For his part, the hierophant bowed, blinded and choking on windblown dust. The sandstorm raged with the fury of winds from the depths of the desert, which could rip meat from the bones of an entire flock of Eka'Sul in a matter of minutes. The armor did not protect them: the sand penetrated every groove and crevice to reach the skin and ravage it. The disk of the sun swayed from side to side in the winds conjured by Nasus, its supporting cords taut the iron rings embedded in the stones.
Nasus let the fury of the sands fill him. His limbs blazed with power and his body swelled as the wrath of the desert manifested within his dark skin. Its form rose and grew, enormous and monstrous, just as it was said of the first Ascended.
He attacked without warning, hitting the guards hard and throwing them sideways with the handle of his ax or the flat part of his blade. He had no intention of killing those men. They were sons of Shurima, after all, but they stood in his way.
As they writhed and groaned in pain, Nasus walked over them toward the hierophant. The man was on the ground, curled up. His bloody hands protected his face. Nasus took it and lifted it by the neck as easily as a bloodhound lifting a cub. The hierophant's feet dangled off the ground as Nasus lifted him up to his face.
The hierophant's skin was red and raw where the sand had washed away, and tears of blood trickled down his cheeks. Nasus approached the solar disk. It wasn't the genuine disk, it wasn't even gold, but it reflected sunlight, and that should be enough.
"You claim to be of the lineage of Azir?" He asked without waiting for an answer. Let's see if it's true.
He pressed the hierophant's face against the sun disk. The scorching metal burned his exposed skin, and the man screamed. He fell, sobbing, and Nasus watched the blood hiss as it ran down the disc in red rivulets. Already the blood was drying into a brown crust, and its scent filled his nostrils.
"Your blood is not of Ascended Lineage," Nasus said sadly. You are not the one I am looking for.
He narrowed his eyes and saw a radiant blue glow reflecting off the disk's surface. Its source was in the distance.
Nasus turned and fixed his gaze there. A cloud was gathering in the distance, composed of dust kicked up by the feet of marching men. Nasus saw the reflection of the sun on the points of spears and armor through the dust. He heard the beat of war drums and the sound of battle horns. Huge beasts emerged from the clouds of dust, braying creatures of war, bound with knotted ropes and led by groups of men armed with barbed pikes. The beasts, protected by plates of calcified skin and armed with curved horns, were living battering rams, capable of breaking down the decaying walls of Vekaura with ease.
Behind the war beasts an army of tribal warbands advanced toward the city under a variety of carved totems. At least five hundred warriors. Light skirmishers, horse archers, and infantry armed with scale shields and heavy axes. Nasus felt the touch of a dominating will on them. He knew that many of those tribes would normally tear each other apart as soon as they were seen.
Nasus felt the presence of ancient magic and a metallic taste filled his mouth. All his senses sharpened. He heard the murmur of hundreds of voices below, saw every imperfection in the bronze disc, and felt every grain of sand under his feet. He smelled the sharp smell of freshly stagnant blood, with a faint hint of yesterday and distant echoes of an era believed to be lost forever. The smell summoned him from somewhere in the east of the city, on the very edge where the ruins mingled with the hills.
The bearer of that reborn magic hovered above the army: a being composed of sizzling energy and dark power, bound by cold iron chains and the pieces of an ancient sarcophagus. A traitor to Shurima and the architect of the ancient empire's doom.—Xerath —dijo Nasus.
The ruined house on the eastern edge of Vekaura was collapsing. It didn't have much roof left, and the sand was ankle-high, but it had four walls and the trees that covered it provided shade during the hottest hours of the day. Taliyah's backpack was propped up in the corner, ready to go, as always. Canteens filled with water and goat's milk hung from his side, and inside was enough dehydrated meat to last several weeks, along with his clothes and bags of rocks and pebbles that he had collected from all over Valoran.
Taliyah was kneeling next to the injured woman, who was lying in the shade. He lifted the bandage from his side. He winced at the scab of blood around the stitches he used to seal the deep wound. It looked like a sword cut, but he didn't know for sure. Taliyah had taken the armor off the woman and cleaned it as well as she could. Aside from the near-fatal wound on her side, the woman's body was a map of pale scars. All were memories of a lifetime of battles, and all but one were spread across the front side of his body. Whoever this woman was, only one of her enemies hadn't come face to face with her. Taliyah replaced the bandage and her patient grunted in pain. She slept while her body tried to heal, and only the Great Weaver knew how long she had suffered in the desert.
"You are someone who fights," Taliyah said. If there's one thing I know about you, it's that you fight to survive.
Taliyah didn't know if the woman could hear her words, but perhaps they could help her spirit find its way back to her body. It didn't matter, it felt good to talk to someone, even if they didn't respond. Unless feverish murmurs about emperors and being dead were the answer.
Taliyah had tried to be alone since she left Yasuo in Ionia, constantly moving and staying in each place only as much as absolutely necessary. He had been in Vekaura longer than he had planned. It was supposed to be a quick stop for fresh supplies, but he couldn't leave while the woman was still unconscious. Her desire to find her family was overwhelming, but the Great Weaver always said that everyone was linked by the thread of life. Letting one strand fray sooner or later would affect all the others. So Taliyah had stayed to honor her promise to the injured woman, though every moment she didn't spend trying to find her family hurt her soul.
Taliyah brushed the dark hair from the woman's feverish face to study her countenance, trying to imagine how she had ended up hurt and with half her humanity sunk in the outer dunes of the Sai. She was pretty, but she had a tough look that didn't soften even when unconscious. His skin had the tanned, sun-tanned texture of a Shurima native, and when his eyes occasionally opened for a moment, Taliyah saw that they were a piercing blue.
He sighed deeply, saying, "Well, I don't think there's much I can do until you wake up."
Taliyah heard a loud bang to the west. He approached the window upon hearing the unmistakable sound of rocks crawling over other rocks. At first he thought it was an earthquake, but it was more like an avalanche, and he had seen quite a bit of them in his lifetime. Considering the state of the buildings in Vekaura, you wouldn't be surprised if this was the sound of one collapsing. He just hoped no one was hurt.
-What's going on..? Where I am?
Taliyah turned around hearing the woman's voice. She was sitting, looking around and reaching for something.
"You are in Vekaura," Taliyah said. I found you outside, bleeding and dying.
"Where's my gun?" Asked the woman.
Taliyah pointed to the wall behind her, where the woman's strange razor was wrapped in its boiled leather strap, and hidden under a woven blanket interspersed with bird designs.
"There," Taliyah said. Its blades are very sharp, and I didn't want to leave it somewhere where I could trip over it and cut off my foot.
-Who are you? Said the woman. His voice exuded distrust.
-I know you? Does your tribe want to kill me?
Taliyah furrowed her face and said, "No. I do not believe it. We are shepherds. Weavers and travelers. We don't really want to kill anyone.
"Well, you're one of the few people who doesn't," said the woman. He breathed out slowly, and Taliyah could only imagine the pain in his side. He sat up and grimaced as his stitches tightened.
"Why would someone want to kill you?" Taliyah asked.
"Because I have killed many people," he replied. Sivir, trying to sit up. "Sometimes because they paid me to do it." Other times because they were in my way. But these days, because they get really mad when I tell them I'm not coming back.
-Back to where?
The woman looked at Taliyah with her piercing blue eyes, and she saw a deep well of pain and suffering within her.
"To the city," he said. The one that rose from the sands.
-So it is true? Taliyah asked. Was ancient Shurima really reborn? Have you seen her?
"With my own eyes," the woman said. A lot of people are heading there right now. I saw mainly tribes from the east and south, but others will be coming soon.
"Do people go there?"
-Every day more.
"Then why don't you want to go back?"
"You tire me with all your questions."
Taliyah shrugged and grumbled, "Asking questions is the first step on the journey to understanding."
The woman smiled and nodded, and replied, "Good point, but be careful who you ask." There are those who answer the questions with their swords.
"Sometimes, but since you saved my life, I won't this time."
"Then tell me one last thing."
"Sivir," the woman said, despite the pain.
Taliyah knew the name. There were few in Shurima who did not know him, and he already had a good idea who this woman was, from the style of her cross-bladed weapon. Before he could answer, a new sound muted the sound of falling stones. He had seldom heard such a thing in his native land, but he had heard many times on the shores of Ionia, in the labyrinths of Noxus, and in the frozen wastes of the Freljord.
Taliyah looked at her backpack, thinking about what it would take to escape Vekaura. Sivir heard the sound too, and spread her legs as she tried to stand up. The effort was almost too much for her, and she grunted. Beads of sweat fell down his forehead from the effort.
"You're in no condition to go anywhere," Taliyah said.
-Do you hear that? Sivir said.
"Of course," Taliyah said. It sounds like a lot of people yelling.Sivir nodded. "That is precisely what it is about."
Fire was falling from the sky.
Xerath's outstretched arms emitted comets of white and blue flames, traveling in an arc, like the projectiles of a war machine. The first hit the market and exploded like a shooting star. Searing fire detonated from impact. Burning bodies flew through the air like blackened firewood. The blazing winds carried Xerath's malevolent laughter, an immemorial insanity that enjoyed the pain of others.
How could I not see the evil inside before?
Nasus heard the screams that came from the city, and all the anger he previously felt towards the people disappeared like mist over an oasis. Pain-maddened war beasts crushed the city walls, pounding and trampling the ground with ground-shaking force. Lightly armored warriors entered the city on the rubble. They screamed a variety of different war cries, eager to begin the slaughter.
Nasus swung his ax and descended the temple steps, advancing four steps at a time until he reached the ground. Hundreds of people entered the main square from the west end of the city, fear running through their veins. Bloodthirsty screams and the sound of clashing weapons followed them. Terrified citizens sought refuge in the buildings around the edges of the plaza, closing doors and windows in the hope that they would keep them safe. Nasus had already walked the bloody streets of captured cities before, and he knew how brutal warriors could be after battles. Xerath would have every man, woman, and child killed in Vekaura.
More fireballs fell like lightning, and the air was filled with screams and the smell of burning flesh. Stones were splitting and rolling in cascades of molten rock from the impacts of the magical attack. The marketplace was ablaze, and pillars of black smoke obscured the sky.
Nasus cut through the horrified crowds moving east, following the potent stench of blood he now felt. The hierophant was a fraud: his blood was weak and had diluted after thousands of years, but ... what did he feel now then? It was strong. He could hear the thunder of a heart beating within a deadly chest. This person came from a line of emperors and warrior queens, men and women of enormous ambition and strength. It was the blood of a hero.
People shouted his name, begging for his help. He ignored them. He knew he served a greater good. The sun had renewed its purpose to serve Shurima beyond death, to fight for her people and defend them from their enemies. He was serving his purpose, but leaving the inhabitants of Vekaura to their own devices caused him a known pain in his soul.
How many more will you let die?
He ignored this thought, tracing a path through the shattered streets covered in piles of sand. Most of the buildings had been reclaimed by the desert. All that was left of them was little more than their broken foundations and the remains of ancient square columns. The desert scavengers fled when they saw him, as he approached the thunderous heart. The ruins of the city became more sporadic, more and more buried in the sand.
Eventually he came to a collapsed structure that may once have been a public toilet. Its walls were thicker and stronger than the others. He bent to enter, and smelled the sweat and blood of the two souls within him. One was young; the other, so old that Nasus felt as if he were face to face with a friend who had walked in the same sun as him.
A young girl appeared in the doorway, dressed in a loose coat from a land across the eastern ocean. It was the same girl he had talked to in the souk. He felt her fear, but also her determination. Meanwhile, she moved her hands in curved and rotating patterns as if weaving some kind of naturalistic magic. The ground shook, and the stones danced at his feet and the sand that covered them fell from their surface. Behind her, Nasus saw a woman trying to stand up, using the walls for support. His robe was stained red. A terrible wound, but not fatal.
"I am Nasus, Curator of the Sands," he said, but judging from his gaze, she was not unaware of his identity. His mouth fell open, impressed, but he didn't move.
"Girl, step aside," Nasus said.
"No, I won't let you hurt him." I made him a promise.
Nasus turned his ax and hung it on his back, as he took a step forward. The girl backed into the ruins. The ground made wave patterns at his feet. Stones were lifted from the ground and pieces of plaster were loosening from the walls. The masonry cracked open, rising up to what was left of the ceiling. The last time he faced someone with similar abilities, he was still mortal and nearly died in the process. The injured woman looked at the girl in amazement. It was evident that he was completely ignorant of his partner's abilities.
"You have the power to break the rock of Shurima," Nasus said.
She raised an eyebrow and warned, "Yeah, so you better get away before I break you."
The young woman's bravery made Nasus smile, who replied, "You have the heart of a heroine, lass, but you are not my target." Your magic is powerful. If I were you, I'd leave this city before Xerath rips it away from you.
His skin paled and he said, "I'm not going anywhere." I promised that I would protect Sivir, and the Great Weaver hates broken promises.
"If you are his protector, then you must know that I have no intention of harming him."
-So that's what you want?
"I came to save her."
The injured woman limped over to the girl's side. Although it was obvious that she was in a lot of pain, Nasus was impressed by her determination. But nothing less could be expected from a direct descendant of ancient Shurima.
"Who is Xerath?" -I ask.
"A dark wizard who already knows too much about your existence."
The woman nodded and turned to Taliyah, placing her hardened hand on the girl's shoulder.
"I owe you my life, but I don't like to owe anyone anything," he said. So consider your promise kept. I can go on alone from here.
The relief on the girl's face was evident, but she still hesitated.
"I appreciate it, but you can barely walk," Taliyah said. At least let me help you get out of town.
"Deal done," Sivir said gratefully, before turning back to Nasus. He moved his hand from his back to reveal a golden cross sword with an emerald gem in the center. The woman held her in position; it was a weapon no ordinary mortal could wield so easily.
"Lately, many have saved me," he said. But they always want something in return. So tell me, big guy, what do you really want?
"Keep you alive," Nasus said.
"I can do that without your help."
"The wound on your side tells me otherwise." These...
-This? Sivir interrupted. It was just a misunderstanding with some delusional people who didn't take no for an answer. Trust me, I've had much worse injuries and I lived to tell the tale. I don't need protection. These days, fate seems to take better care of me than anyone else, no matter what I do.
Nasus shook his head. How little mortals know of fate.
"The future is not set in stone," he said. It is a river that divides, the course of which can change at any time. Even those whose destiny is written in the stars may find that the water of their lives is flowing into arid lands if they are not careful.
He pointed at Sivir's gun and said, "Do you know who that razor used to belong to?"
"How important is it?" Sivir said. Now it is mine.
“It is Chalicar, the sword once wielded by Setaka, the greatest Warrior Queen of the Ascended Army, at the time when we had enough for that name to mean anything. It was an honor to fight alongside Setaka for three centuries. His exploits are legendary, although I see that you don't even know his name.
"The fallen are forgotten," Sivir said, shrugging.
Nasus ignored Sivir's cold reaction from his former lost war sister, and recounted this: "A desert stylite once told him that he would see the sun rise the day a Shuriman emperor ruled the whole world." It made him think he was invincible, because we had not yet conquered the world, but he fell to the monsters on the eve of Icathia's doom. I held her in my arms as her light faded, and I sent her into her eternal sleep in the depths of the sands, with her weapon on her chest.
"If you came to get her back, we'll have a problem."
Nasus knelt down and crossed his hands over his chest.
"You are of the ascended lineage." It is your right to carry the weapon, since the blood of emperors runs through your veins. He brought Azir and Shurima back, and that must mean something.
"No, it doesn't mean anything," Sivir replied aggressively. I never asked Azir to bring me back. I don't owe him anything. I don't want to have anything to do with you or this Xerath guy.
"Your wishes are irrelevant," Nasus said. Xerath will kill you regardless of whether you accept your fate or not. He came to end the line of Azir once and for all.
"What does Azir want from her?" Taliyah asked. And what will he do now that he's back? Do you want us to be your slaves?
"He asks too many questions," Sivir said.
Nasus hesitated before answering.
"To tell the truth, I don't know what Azir's plans are." I know he will face Xerath, which is enough for me. They can present their neck to the traitor meekly, or they can live to fight another war.
Sivir lifted her robe to reveal her bloody bandages and made a scathing face before saying, "I've never been docile in my life, but right now I'm in no condition to fight anything more threatening than sleep."
"You must live," Nasus said, straightening to his full height. And you must be ready.
"Ready for what?" Sivir asked, as she and Taliyah began to gather their few belongings.
"The battle for Shurima is coming," Nasus replied. For now we must flee. Xerath's warriors are slaying everyone on Vekaura.
"What's so special about this place?" Taliyah asked, settling her backpack.
"They're looking for her," Nasus said.
Sivir's face hardened, and she let out a long breath and said, "So you're Nasus?" I've heard stories about you since I was a little girl. Stories of war and heroic battles. All legends say that you and your brother were the protectors of Shurima, right?
"It's true," Nasus said. Renekton and I fought for Shurima for many centuries.
Sivir hesitantly approached him. His face was as full of imperious determination as Azir's on the day he ordered the priests to prepare the solar disk for his Ascension, defying centuries of tradition.
"Then fight for Shurima today," Sivir said, with as much authority as an emperor. The sons and daughters of the desert die out there as we speak. If you are the hero that I have heard about all my life, it is your duty to go out and save as many people as possible.
Nasus hadn't imagined the meeting would turn out like this, but Sivir's words about duty stoked an ember that had been dormant in his chest for too long. He felt its flame spread through him. Only now did he realize how lost he had been all these long and lonely years since the fall and subsequent rebirth of Shurima.
"You have my word that I will," Nasus said, untying an earring that hung from a leather strap around his neck. If they move away from here, I will do my best to protect the people of Vekaura.
The stone on its earring was jade, ocean green with pale gold veins running across its surface. A soft light emanated from within him, pulsing like a slow beating heart.
He offered it to Sivir and said, "Use this and it will hide you from Xerath's eyes." It won't last forever, but it may be enough.
"Enough for what?" Sivir asked."So that I can find you again," Nasus said, turning around.
He left Sivir and Taliyah before he could change his mind, as he knew their best chance of survival was to draw Xerath's warriors to him. They watched him go and he never looked back. The fire blazed in the center of the city, and Nasus followed the shouts of the inhabitants of Vekaura.
His anger increased as he passed the bodies of the men and women slain by the devastating warriors. More deaths to add to the debt to pay off Xerath. Nasus shifted his shoulders to loosen his muscles. The last time he faced the wizard, his brother was at his side, and a wave of fear reached out to touch Nasus.
We couldn't defeat him together. How can I defeat him alone?
Nasus saw a group of five warriors blocking the exit from the plaza. Their backs were turned to him, but they turned when they heard him draw his ax. He must have been able to feel their fear at the thought of fighting an Ascended warrior, but the blue fire of Xerath's will burned in their eyes, and they feared nothing.
They ran to attack him with bloody swords and spears. Nasus responded head-on with a low attack that sliced three of them in half with a single blow. He pierced another's chest with his fist and dropped the full weight of his jaw on the latter's head. Nasus bit it and the warrior's skull exploded.
He entered the plaza and saw the remaining city dwellers threatened by swords to kneel in front of the sun temple, their heads bowed like docile worshipers. Groups of bloody warriors raised their spears toward the luminous and terrible god that burned at its peak.
The treacherous wizard's fiery body hung suspended in air, the edges of the sun disk melting under the immense heat of his Ascended body. Floating in front of him, the hierophant writhed in screams.
"Mortals, they have always been delusional," Xerath said, smashing the flesh and bones from the hierophant's body. Why would anyone claim to be from the lineage of such a useless emperor as Azir?
"Xerath!" Nasus yelled. His voice echoed throughout the square.
The mortal warriors turned, but did not move to attack. There was silence and Nasus felt the hatred flowing from Xerath crash into him like a breaking wave. What was left of the hierophant's body burned to ashes in an instant, which were blown away by the warm winds that surrounded the wizard. Nasus marched into the plaza holding his ax firmly at his side as all eyes were fixed on him.
"Of course it's you," Xerath said, in a voice just as flattering as that of his time as a mortal. Who else could it be than the coward who sealed me out of the world for millennia?
"I'll take you back there," Nasus promised. Xerath's form burned brighter.
"You had your brother by your side to help you, back then." Tell me, have you seen Renekton since they opened the prison we share?
"Don't mention his name," Nasus threatened.
"Have you seen what he has become?"
Nasus said nothing; Xerath laughed, a sound similar to a fight between spirits of fire.
"Of course not," Xerath continued. The flame trapped in his being crackled in dark glee. "It would have killed you just to see you."
Xerath descended along the ruined walls of the temple as flames raced through his limbs and flew like fireflies. The dominated soldiers were still as motionless as statues. This battle was not for mortals.
"The power within you belonged to Azir," Nasus said, slowly approaching Xerath. You were not chosen by the sun.
"Neither was Renekton, but he was promoted."
"Don't say his name," Nasus said through clenched teeth.
"Your brother was weak, but you already knew that, didn't you?" Xerath said, stepping forward. Breaking it was easier than I imagined. I just had to tell him that you had left him in the dark. That you trapped him with his enemy to die.Nasus knew the wizard was provoking him, but his hatred kept him from thinking of anything other than cutting the chains that held the unimaginable power of Xerath's body. Two Ascended beings from another age would clash in the center of the city: a warrior king and a wizard made of living magic.
Nasus struck first, and in less than a heartbeat, his body went from immobile to moving at blinding speed. His legs threw him through the air as he swung his ax in a downward arc. The blade struck Xerath in the chest. Links in the chain exploded on impact.
The blow threw Xerath backward, to the walls of the temple. The masonry split in two and dust rose through the zigzagging cracks, from the grave far below. Large stone panels fell from the building. The wizard lunged forward, bolts of energy blazing from his crackling limbs. Nasus howled as he felt Xerath's power burning him, and the two collided with fierce power.
A surge of magical energy exploded outward, sending people spiraling like leaves in a hurricane. The nearest buildings collapsed from the impact of the seismic force, which destroyed their walls. The people of Vekaura fled, trying to find a safe place to hide from this battle of ancient gods. Now that Xerath's hold on them was broken, the warriors scattered and raced toward the city limits. Xerath summoned the arcane fire from the core of his being and unleashed it indiscriminately.
Nasus rolled to dodge a series of bright comets that fell hard. His fire was cold, but it burned just the same. He rose to his feet in time to swing his ax and deflect a series of white light orbs. Xerath hovered in the air above him, laughing as lightning surrounded him. Nasus attacked the wizard with his weapon to unleash a withering blast of power. Xerath roared in pain and anger, but although the fire in his heart flickered, it did not diminish.
Nasus leapt toward Xerath. They fought in midair and fell into the temple of the sun once more. The impact destroyed the outer wall, and huge blocks of stone collapsed from the top. They fell like the fists of ancient tomb guards, cracking the earth and exposing the shadowed crypts of the temple. The remnants of the sun disk fell from the ceiling, hurtling to the ground like a coin tossed by a giant. It shattered as it hit the ground, sending chunks of gleaming metal flying in all directions. A fragment buried itself in the flesh of Nasus's thigh. When he withdrew it, blood gleamed down his leg.
Xerath emerged from the shattered stone debris, and a searing bolt of pale fire struck Nasus in the chest. He grunted and staggered back. Xerath unleashed another torrent of magical energy, this time hitting Nasus's heart. The pain was excruciating. Nasus fell to his knees, his skin scorched and raw. Nasus was capable of fighting an army of mortals single-handedly, but Xerath was no ordinary enemy. He was an Ascended being that wielded the stolen strength of the sun and the power of dark magic.
He raised his head, as the city burned around him, and said, "Your objective is not here, and now it is hidden, far from your gaze."
"The last of Azir's bloodline cannot be hidden from me forever," Xerath said. I will find him and finish off that despicable blood.
Nasus extended his ax, and the gem on its blade emitted sizzling flashes of force.
"I'll die before I let you."
"As you wish," Xerath said, firing light attacks over and over from his arms. Nasus did his best, but he couldn't stop them all.
Xerath floated toward him, and said, "I warned your brother over and over again of your betrayal and the envy you were hiding from him." He cursed your name and cried as he told me how he was going to rip one limb after another from you.
Nasus roared and stood up. A pillar of volcanic fire erupted beneath Xerath, and the wizard screamed as he felt the blazing fire of the Many Suns engulf him.
But it was not enough. It would never be enough. The last time they fought, Nasus and Renekton were at the zenith of their powers. Now, Nasus's power was only a shadow of what it once was, while Xerath's had been growing for centuries.
The wizard overcame this last, desperate attack, and Nasus had nothing left to give. Xerath's magic lifted him and tossed him into the air, throwing him into the crumbling ruins of the temple. Stones broke around him, and he felt his sun-tanned bones split like tinder.
Nasus stopped in the middle of the rubble. His legs were broken and twisted under his body. His left arm dangled at his side, disabled and broken from shoulder to wrist. He tried to straighten with his other arm, but a sharp pain surged up his spine. His back was broken. In time, his body could heal these wounds, but he had no time left.
"You have fallen very low, Nasus," Xerath said, floating toward him. His burning fingers spilled drops of liquid fire, as if they were embers. "I would feel sorry for you, if I didn't hate you for what you did to me." The long years you spent wandering alone and overwhelmed broke your spirit.
"I'd rather that than be an oathbreaker," Nasus said, coughing up blood. Even with all the new power you have gained, you are still a traitor and a slave.
He felt Xerath's fury and rejoiced in it. It was all he had left.
"I am no one's slave," Xerath said. Azir's last act was to set me free.
Nasus was stunned. Was Xerath a free man? It did not make sense...
"So why are you doing all this?" Why betray Azir?
"Azir was a fool, who offered his mite too late," Xerath said.
Nasus grunted in pain. The splintered bones in his shoulder rubbed together as they began to reconstitute. He felt the force return to his arm, but it kept him limp and useless.
"What will you do when I die?" Nasus said, remembering how much Xerath loved hearing his own voice. What will happen to Shurima with you as emperor?
He tried to keep his face from reflecting his pain, as his transformed flesh worked wonders inside his body to repair the damage Xerath had caused.
The wizard shook his head and climbed out of reach.
"Do you think I can't see how your body renews itself?" -said.
"Then come down and fight me!" Nasus yelled.
"I have imagined your death a thousand times," Xerath said, towering over the empty temple. But never by my own hands.
Nasus saw the wizard rise as the flimsy walls of the temple creaked and cracked as they bowed, as if to fall at any moment.
"The Butcher of the Sands will receive his tribute," Xerath said. Its shape shone with a force greater than the sun's disk ever had. Rocks and dust fell from the heights. And I'll be there to watch the meat rip off your bones.
The wizard cast his chains of white fire at the ravaged walls and added, "Until then, I will bury you under the sands as you did with me."
Xerath burned with the fire and light of a newborn star, and he flung his fiery chains forward. A deafening storm of broken stones poured into the entirety of Vekaura, unleashing murderous and devastating fire.The ground began to crumble under Nasus's feet, rocks cascading over each other, like a tsunami of liquid stone. The temple walls collapsed, burying Nasus under hundreds of tons of rubble.
After dark, light.
A thread of warm luminosity. The sunlight?
At first, he wasn't sure if everything was real. Perhaps the mind had some trick in hand to help the body with its transition to death.
Was this how an Ascended being died?
No. That was not death. Sunlight moved across her field of vision and she felt it warm her skin. He redistributed his weight, spreading his legs and rolling his shoulders. His limbs were renewed, a sign that he must have spent quite some time in the dark. Her body was healing fast, but she had no idea how long she had been unconscious.
No matter how much, it had been too much.
Xerath was free and stronger than ever.
Nasus turned up. He saw how the rock had formed a perfect dome, the glassy sky of which was soft and warm to the touch. Despite the low light, he could see the surface stamped by vitrified swirls like paint intermingled on an artist's palette. He ran his fist through the ceiling, over and over again until the rock broke, leaving pieces of glass that had been softened by intense fire. The light came in and he could see that all that remained of the temple was a heap of crushed stones. Nasus picked up a fragment of the shattered dome, his protector, from the ground. He looked at it in his hands and discovered their various mixed materials, that they had nothing to do together to form that piece of rock.
He tucked the sharp pebble into his tunic and walked away from the devastated temple of the sun. He surveyed the ruins as a gloomy wind swept through them, carrying the murmurs of the dead.
The city had disappeared, or at least what its inhabitants had built on its remains. Nasus watched as most of the stone floor had the same swirling texture patterns as the dome that had saved his life. The edge of each ledge had an undulating surface, like a tide of glass that formed a half-rising frozen wave.
And beneath that wave, protected from Xerath's murderous fire, emerged handfuls of Vekaura's inhabitants. They came out one by one and in pairs at first, and then in small groups, blinking in the sunlight and amazed at the miraculous way they had survived.
Nasus nodded slightly and said, "Shurima thanks you, Taliyah," and turned towards the city to head towards it.
The rest of Vekaura was once again the desolate shadow it had been when Nasus last visited her. Broken walls, broken foundations, and pieces of columns that stood like dead trees in a petrified forest. He had seen ruins like these before, after the first battle with Xerath, when Shurima fell. Back then, guilt had caused him to hide his face from the world, but it wouldn't be like this this time.
Xerath spoke of Renekton as if he were a beast crazed with bloodlust, but Nasus knew his brother far better than the wizard. Xerath saw only the beast Renekton had become. He had forgotten the noble warrior within him. The man who had offered his own life for his brother. The warrior who had willingly sacrificed everything to save his homeland from a traitor. Xerath had forgotten all that, but Nasus never would.
If Renekton was still alive, part of him must remember the hero he used to be. If Nasus managed to reach that part of his brother, perhaps he could pull him out of his well of darkness. For a long time, Nasus had thought that one day he would face Renekton, but until now he had believed that this confrontation would end with one of them dead.
Now he knew there was another way out. Now it had a purpose. The Bloodline of Azir still existed, so there was still hope.
"I need you, Renekton," he said. I can't kill Xerath without you.
In front of him, the desert called his name.
Behind him, the sand was engulfing Vekaura again.FIN.
TriviaFor a detailed look, see Lineage.
- Lineage serves as the second main event to reintroduce Shurima into the new canon.
- It happens after the events of "Descent into the grave" and "The Rise of the Ascended", Rise, Reborn in the Dark, Uroboros, Water and The Bird and the Branch.
- It occurs before the events of Homecoming, and Echoes in the Stone.
- It is revealed that the crossed blade of Sivir is called El Chalicar, the sword once carried by Setaka, an Ascended warrior with whom she Nasus fought side by side until his fall at the hands of the Void Creatures.
- Places like Bel'zhun, Nerimazeth, Kenethet, and Vekaura were mentioned in this story.
- Vekaura as of now has been completely destroyed by Xerath.
Referencesv · eHistories and Events
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Some random short stories:
All 208 short stories ...
Some random videos:
All 68 Video Stories ...
Some random comics, narratives, or reveals:
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