walked at night, unwilling to face the sun. The boy followed in his wake.
How long had he been there?
Those mortals who caught a glimpse of the monstrous vagabond always ran, all save the boy. Together, they wove a path through the bygone tapestry of Shurima. Self-imposed isolation chipped at Nasus' consciousness. The desert wind howled around their malnourished frames.
"Nasus, look, above the dune sea", said the child.
Stars guided the pair's sojourn across the desiccated expanse. The old jackal no longer wore the armor of the Ascended. The golden monuments lay buried with the past. Now a hermit dressed in tattered fabric, Nasus scratched at his matted fur before slowly raising his head to observe the night sky.
"The Piper", said Nasus, his voice low and graveled. "The season will change soon."
Nasus put a hand on the boy's tiny shoulder and looked down into his sunburnt face. There, he saw the soft lines and curves of Shuriman lineage, worn ragged by travel.
When did it become your place to worry? Soon we will find you a home. Wandering between the ruins of an extinguished empire is no life for a child.
This was the nature of the universe. Brief moments unfolded into the endless cycles of existence. The heady philosophy weighed upon him, but it was more than just another stone in his endless tally of self-imposed guilt. In truth, the boy would inevitably be changed if he was allowed to follow. Remorse darkened Nasus' brow like a thunderhead. Their companionship sated something deep within the ancient hero.
"We can reach Astrologer's Tower before dawn. But we'll have to climb", said the boy.
The tower was close. Nasus pulled himself up the cliff face hand over hand, the climb memorized to such perfection that he took great liberties with each handhold, tempting death. The boy clambered up by his side, his agile form utilizing every nook and cranny offered by the blemished rock.
What would happen to this innocent if I gave in to death? The thought troubled Nasus.
Wisps of fog rolled through the crags of the upper cliffs, each threading the narrow rocks like tiny mountain paths. The boy scurried over the top first. Nasus followed.
In the distance, metal clanged against stone, and voices could be heard through the haze - they spoke in a familiar dialect. Nasus was shaken from his reverie.
The well at Astrologer's Tower occasionally attracted nomads, but never this close to the equinox. The boy stood perfectly still, his fear palpable.
"Where are the fires?" asked the boy.
A horse's whinny pierced the night.
"Who goes there?" asked the boy. The words rolled through the darkness.
A lantern sparked to life, illuminating a band of riders. Mercenaries. Raiders.
The jackal's eyes snapped wide.
He saw seven of them. Their curved blades remained sheathed, but the look in their eyes spoke of martial training and guile.
"Where is the caretaker?" asked Nasus.
"He and his wife are asleep. The cool evening prompted them to retire early", replied one of the riders.
"Old jackal, my name is Malouf", said another rider. "We have been sent by the Emperor."
Nasus stepped forward, betraying the briefest hint of anger.
"Does he seek acknowledgement? Then let me give it. There is no emperor in this fallen age", said Nasus.
The boy stepped forward defiantly. The dark messengers backed away from the lantern. Long shadows obscured defensive stances.
"Deliver your message and leave", said the child.
Malouf dismounted and stepped forward. He reached a calloused hand into the folds of his shirt and produced a dark amulet bound to a thick, black chain. The geometry of the metal sparked recollections of magic and destruction in Nasus' mind.
"Emperorsends offerings. We are to be your servants. He welcomes you to his new capital at Nerimazeth."
The mercenary's words fell on Nasus like a hammer on glass.
The boy promptly knelt and snatched up a weighty rock.
"Die!" cried the boy.
"Take him!" said Malouf.
With a heave, the boy hurled the rock through the air, its perfect arc threatening to shatter mercenary bone on impact.
", no!" roared Nasus.
The riders abandoned their half-hearted deception. Nasus knew then that the caretaker and his wife were dead. Xerath's greeting would come in the form of cold steel. Truth began to eclipse illusion.
Nasus reached for the boy. The child tore into shadows of memory that dissipated across the starlit ground.
"Goodbye, brother", whispered Nasus.
Xerath's emissaries fanned out, their horses bucking and snorting. The Ascended was flanked on three sides. Malouf did not hesitate, drawing his blade and piercing Nasus' side with it. Pain rippled through the ancient curator's body. The rider attempted to withdraw his weapon, but it wouldn’t budge. A clawed hand gripped the blade, keeping it agonizingly buried within Ascended flesh.
"You should have left me to my ghosts", said Nasus.
Nasus tore Malouf's sword from his hand, shattering fingers and tearing ligaments.
The demigod pounced on his attacker. Malouf's body cracked under the jackal's enormous weight.
Nasus leapt to the next rider, pulling him from his saddle; two strikes ruptured organs and stole the wind from his lungs. His broken form spun off into the sand, a ruined mass of agony. His horse reared and fled into the desert.
"He's mad!" said one of the riders.
"Not any longer", said Nasus, approaching the mercenary leader.
A strange fragrance filled the air. Dead flowers spinning on lavender colored threads followed in his wake. Malouf twisted on the ground, the broken fingers of his right hand, skin sagging like wet parchment. The barrel of his chest caved in on itself like a rotting spine fruit.
White-knuckled panic overtook the remaining mercenaries. They struggled to keep their mounts under control, if only to retreat. Malouf's body lay abandoned in the sand.
Nasus turned east toward the ruins of Nerimazeth.
"Tell your 'emperor' his cycle nears its end."