Taliyah’s fingers traced the earth of the roadway with patterns only she could see, patterns deep within the earth. Patterns of might and movement, tremors and tearing, stillness and solidity. The stone here was old beyond its time, aged by the solar magics of countless eons past that it had been witness to. A line of stress there, a fault there, a shifting of sediment from bedrock, it was a language only a weaver understood, a weaver of stone.
That language spoke now of more immediate events, the return of Azir, his Ascendance and resurrection of the city that was Shurima. Lines of tension belied the incredible forces at work, the strands of the world woven into a rough mirroring of the powers that now held the Disc of the Sun aloft over the city. It was a crude echo, as a reflection of the night sky upon a pool of water when the wind blows, wrought without understanding nor appreciation, only as a necessity to balance the _true _ prize high above.
_Those that wander with their gaze on the sky forget what lies beneath their feet._
Taliyah rose, dust trailing from her fingertips as, with a breath, she took in the dry desert air. The outskirts of the city of Shurima, the iridescent halo of the Sun Disc glowing in the evening sun high above, rose around her in crumbling ruins. Underfoot, the once-proud roadway cracked and gave way to sand in every fault. As she paused here, beneath the arch that guarded the entrance to the city proper, she could hear the rock singing, even beneath the ocean of sand of the waters that now flowed to the Oasis of the Dawn, deep beneath the city. Living waters, bringing breath to the dead and sight to the blind, rushing through the rock as blood through veins. Yet the waters held the same echoes of power as the Sun Disc in the sky, arrogant power as had Ascended those warriors of ages past, the same as had returned the ‘hawk-father’ to life.
_“Azir has returned to us Ascended. The Oasis of the Dawn flows again. A new day has come for Shurima.”_
The words of the woman she had met in the city on her last visit echoed in Taliyah’s mind. They had held just as much promise for her as they did to the people flocking to the city, until she had heard the agonised remembrance of the city’s stone; memories tainted with what those that wandered with their gazes fixed upon the skies had forgotten. Memories of the desperate breaths of countless slaves labouring to bring Shurima into being. Memories of hands rubbed raw to make gold gleam in the sun, of tears shed in the night over ornate tapestries, of blood spilt to pave the Emperor’s Way with its golden tiles. And for what purpose? The glory of an emperor whose own empire was reduced to dust by his own hubris. It had revolted her. She had come seeking her family, but had found only the blood-tainted memories of a fallen empire and what she thought had been the false promises of an emperor.
_The last time Azir had made promises to the people of Shurima, it had cost them their lives._
Now she had returned, for with her family’s fate known, her purpose was unclear. Finding them safe and well, but concerned with the coming sandstorm that was Azir’s resurrection and that might be swept away in his pursuit of Shurima’s past glory, had been more curse than blessing. It had reminded her of the greater powers in Runeterra, and how her family may not soon know again the peace they had so treasured in her childhood. It reminded her that her own powers would keep her from knowing again that simple peace.
Entering the city, she caught the attention of a passing Shuriman, one of the few still in the streets in the late evening light. “Where might I find the Hawk-father?”
“The Emperor’s Audience Chamber, in the upper levels. But he won’t want to talk to a dust-stained traveller.”
Ignoring the jibe, Taliyah set forth into the city. She had travelled too far, and too much rested on Azir’s answers - answers she _would _ find - to stop now. Following the Emperor's way, the golden roadway that lead through the heart of the city and thence up the tiers to the Dais of Ascension at the peak, was the surest way to reach the esteemed Audience Chamber. Steps blurred beneath her as she ran through the city, past boulevards blurred with sand, towers standing proud despite the terrible fractures in their stones. This was a tomb, risen from the dust, not a city reborn. Azir’s magic may have returned the towers to stand, the Emperor's Way to gleam again in the setting sun, but the stone cried with agony and death, and looking past the sand revealed the cracks in the facade.
By the time she reached the upper levels of the city, the sun had lowered to grace the dunes with a brilliant conflagration of gold, and the Sun Disc, almost unimaginably colossal as it hung above, shone with unnatural radiance. Pausing for breath after her flight upwards, Taliyah laid a hand on the ground to steady herself. The bitter echoes of agony and magics jolted her upright, reminding her of her intent. Taliyah wondered what she may find - would she be disappointed? She wanted to like him. The glorious stories of the risen emperor contrasted with the stone’s memory in a discordance utterly confusing to her. On one hand, glory and treachery, the other, arrogance and blindness.
The river of golden tiles continued onward to the Dais of Ascension, a couple of hundred steps away, directly beneath the Sun Disc’s lowest point, but Taliyah had eyes only for the doors to the right, doors bearing the symbol of Shurima; the Sun Disc with its stylised rays of light.
The doors swung open at her touch, soundless on gilded hinges. Only then did Taliyah pause, as the figure within turned and fixed her with her with his predatory gaze. Here the Emperor’s Way ended, the golden floor gathering in a final golden sunburst, and so too did her path.
Azir, his hawk-like visage gleaming in the few rays of sun that pierced in through the high windows, stood in the centre of the chamber. Taliyah’s breath caught in her throat. Tall and imperious, this was not the weary, saddened creature of Nasus but an hawk, soaring in man’s flesh. The sun, shafting in through high windows gleamed like fire on unblemished plate. Wings of cloth spread about him, the wings of a bird ready to flight. The eyes beneath his hawk-like cowl burned with unreadable, implacable fire, looking through her very existence as easily as a blade through flesh.
“What is it, child? I have much to do, and the day has ended. Return to your home, and leave me be.”
Taliyah took a calming breath. She had so many words, had anticipated this moment too long.
“You are the one they call the hawk-father, are you not?”
“I am, and much more: I am Shurima’s Dawn.”
_Dawn, but if the tales are anything to judge by, Shurima’s doom just as much so. _
“When I listen to the stone I can hear the agonies of those who died in Shurima’s fall. You say you are Shurima’s Dawn, but are you the the people’s dawn? What of those destroyed before Xerath?”
“Those who follow me, follow destiny. All who build and conquer and are loyal will be rewarded. I have seen the manner of ruin that this age has bred, and what he has wrought; and though it was not I who brought the heavens down upon Shurima, I shall be the one to raise it up to the sky once again. I shall lead them forth into this world and they shall rise with Shurima. Or fall beneath it.”
Taliyah’s brow furrowed. “So you would build your empire again on their breath, tears and blood? You would disregard the lives of those who are content beyond the walls of your city?” A rush of recklessness made her plough onwards. “Will you forget them, just as you forgot those who bled to make Shurima golden?”
Azir’s expression may have been hidden behind his hawk’s visage, but Taliyah saw his shoulders tremble as he stalked towards her. Anger, or pain? Rage or sorrow? His words were coloured by all of these emotions, and Taliyah could not help but back away as his eyes blazed with golden fire.
“You presume to council me? I have returned, I have Ascended, and I shall see Shurima renewed and avenged! I will open their eyes - when I replace their roads of dirt with pavestones of gold.”
Azir stepped past her, vanishing into silhouette against the incandescent sun that now broke through the doors Taliyah had entered by. Shurima was lit by a burning brilliance as the sun began its final descent below the desert, and beyond the city walls, the endless waves of sand were a patchwork of dunes and shadow.
The fire waned.“I see and know all things, little one. This nation fell to treachery, but I shall be its Dawn. I will never see Shurima fall to shadow again. I do this because I remember.”
Taliyah lowered her gaze, saddened. This land needed a light to guide it from the shadow in which it lay. _She wanted to trust him. _
But … she couldn’t. She realised that this very emperor was indeed the cause for Shurima’s destruction those thousands of years ago. If nothing changed, she feared history was doomed to repeat itself - he would bury them all in the sands. Shurima needed change, not merely a ruler. It needed someone who would care for its people, not someone who would lead them all to purposeless war, toil and death. She knew: Azir must never become emperor -
**- not until he had been given a lesson. **
“The Great Weaver says that every lesson is a gift. You have much to learn.”