Azir was a mortal emperor of Shurima in a far distant age, a proud man who stood at the cusp of immortality. His hubris saw him betrayed and murdered at the moment of his greatest triumph, but now, millennia later, he has been reborn as an Ascended being of immense power. With his buried city risen from the sand, Azir seeks to restore Shurima to its former glory.
Thousands of years ago, the Shuriman empire was a sprawling realm of vassal states conquered by powerful armies led by all but invincible warriors known as the Ascended. Ruled by an ambitious and power hungry emperor, Shurima was the greatest realm of its day; a fertile land blessed by the power of the sun that shone from a great golden disc floating atop the temple at the heart of its capital.
The youngest and least-favored son of the emperor, Azir was never destined for greatness. With so many siblings ahead of him, he would never be emperor. Most likely he would take up a position in the priesthood or as governor of some backwater province. He was a slender, studious boy who spent more time perusing the texts collected in the Great Library of Nasus than training to fight under the stern tutelage of the Ascended hero, Renekton.
Amid the twisting shelves of scrolls, books and tablets, Azir met a young slave boy who visited the library almost every day in search of texts desired by his master. Slaves in Shurima were forbidden to take names, but as the two boys became friends, Azir broke that law and called his new friend Xerath, which means 'one who shares'. He appointed Xerath - though he was careful never to endanger him by naming him publicly - as his personal slave and the two boys shared their love of history by learning all they could of Shurima's past and its long legacy of Ascended heroes.
While traveling with his father, brothers and Renekton on the yearly tour of the empire, the royal caravan stopped at a well-known oasis for the night. Azir and Xerath stole away in the middle of the night to draw the stars and add their own celestial maps to those they had studied in the Great Library. While they drew the patterns of constellations, the royal caravan was attacked by a cabal of assassins sent by the emperor's enemies. One of the assassins found the two boys out in the desert and was poised to cut Azir's throat when Xerath intervened, throwing himself upon the assassin's back. In the ensuing melee, Azir freed his dagger and plunged it into his attacker’s throat.
Azir took up the dead man's sword and rushed back to the oasis, but by the time he returned, the assassins were already defeated. Renekton had protected the emperor and slain the attackers, but Azir's brothers were all dead. Azir told his father of Xerath's courage and asked him to reward the slave boy, but his words fell on deaf ears. In the emperor's eyes, the boy was a slave and beneath his notice, but Azir swore that one day he and Xerath would be brothers.
The emperor returned to his capital, with the fifteen year old Azir now his heir, and unleashed a merciless campaign of bloodshed against those he believed had sent the assassins. Shurima descended into years of paranoia and murder as the emperor took revenge on any he suspected of treason. Though he was now heir to the throne, Azir's life yet hung by a thread. His father hated him - wishing he had died instead of his brothers - and the queen was still young enough to bear sons.
Azir trained in combat, for the attack at the oasis had revealed how little he knew of the deadly arts. Renekton took up the task of teaching the growing prince, and under his aegis, Azir learned to wield sword and spear, to command warriors, and to read the ebb and flow of battle. The young heir elevated Xerath, his only trusted confidant, and made him his right-hand man. To better counsel him, Azir tasked Xerath with seeking out knowledge wherever he could find it.
Years passed, but the queen was never able to carry a child to term, every conceived infant perishing before it could be born. So long as the queen remained barren, Azir's life was relatively safe. Some around the court believed a curse was at work and a few even whispered the young heir's name in connection with this – though Azir claimed innocence and even executed some who dared voice such accusations openly.
Eventually, the queen bore a healthy son, but on the night of his birth a terrible storm engulfed Shurima. The queen's chambers were struck again and again by powerful bolts of lightning, and in the subsequent blaze, both the queen and her newborn son were killed. It was said the emperor went mad with grief and took his own life upon hearing the news, but tales soon spread of how he and his guards had been found lying in pieces on the palace floor, their bodies little more than charred skeletons.
Azir was shocked by their deaths, but the empire needed a leader, and with Xerath at his side he took control of Shurima as its emperor. Over the next decade, he expanded Shurima's borders and ruled with a harsh, but just hand. He instituted reforms to better the lives of slaves and privately developed a plan to overturn millennia of tradition and eventually free them all. He kept his plans secret, even from Xerath, and the issue of slavery would prove to be a continual bone of contention between them. The empire had been built on the back of slavery, and many of the great noble houses depended on enforced labor for their vast wealth and power. Such monolithic institutions could not be overturned overnight, and Azir's plans would be undone were they to become common knowledge. Despite Azir's desire to name Xerath his brother, he could not do so until all Shurima's slaves were free.
Through these years, Xerath protected Azir from his political rivals and guided the expansion of the empire. Azir married and fathered numerous children, some by wedlock, others by ill-advised liaisons with slaves and harem girls. Xerath stoked the emperor's grand vision of an empire greater than any the world had ever known. But to stand as ruler over the entire world, Xerath convinced Azir that he would need to be all but invincible, a god amongst men – an Ascended being.
As the kingdom reached the zenith of its power, Azir announced he would undertake the Ascension ritual, that the time was right for him to take his place alongside Nasus and Renekton and their glorious forebears. Many questioned this decision; the Ascension ritual was highly dangerous and intended only for those near the end of their lives, those who had devoted their lives to Shurima and whose service was to be honored with Ascension. It was for the Sun Priests to decree who would be blessed with Ascension, not the hubris of an emperor to bestow it upon himself. Azir would not be dissuaded from his rash course of action, for his arrogance had grown along with his empire, and he ordered them to comply on pain of death.
The day of the ritual finally came and Azir marched toward the Dais of Ascension, flanked by thousands of his warriors and tens of thousands of his subjects. The brothers Renekton and Nasus were absent, having been dispatched by Xerath to deal with an emergent threat, but still Azir would not turn from what he saw as his great destiny. He climbed to the great golden disc atop the temple at the heart of the city and in the moments before the sun priests began the ritual, he turned to Xerath and finally freed him. And not just him, but all slaves...
Xerath was stunned into speechlessness, but Azir was not yet done. He embraced Xerath and named him his eternal brother, as he had promised he would all those years ago. Azir turned as the priests began the ritual to bring down the awesome power of the sun. Azir was unaware that Xerath had studied more than just history and philosophy in his quest for knowledge. He had learned the dark arts of sorcery, all the while nursing a desire for freedom that had grown like a cancer into a burning hatred.
At the height of the ritual, the former slave unleashed his powers and Azir was blasted from his place on the dais. Without the protection of the runic circle, Azir was consumed by the sun's fire as Xerath took his place. The light filled Xerath with power, and he roared as his mortal body began to transform.
But the magic of the ritual was not intended for Xerath, and such awesomely powerful celestial energies could not be diverted without dire consequence. The power of the Ascension ritual exploded outward, devastating Shurima and laying waste to the city. Its people burned to ash and its towering palaces fell to ruin as the desert sands rose up to swallow the city. The sun disc sank from the sky and what had taken centuries to build was brought to ruin in an instant by one man's ambition and another's misplaced hate. All that remained of Azir's city were sunken ruins and echoes of its people's screams on the night winds.
Azir saw none of this. For him, all was nothingness. His last memories were of pain and fire; he knew nothing of what befell him atop the temple, nor what became of his empire. He remained lost in timeless oblivion until, thousands of years after Shurima's doom, the blood of his last descendant spilled onto the temple ruins and resurrected him. Azir was reborn, but was yet incomplete; his body little more than animate dust given form, held together by the last vestiges of his indomitable will.
Gradually resuming his corporeal form, Azir stumbled through the ruins and came across the corpse of a woman with a treacherous knife wound in her back. He did not know her, but saw in her features the distant echo of his bloodline. All thoughts of empires and power were forgotten as he lifted this daughter of Shurima and bore her to what had once been the Oasis of the Dawn. The oasis was empty and dry, but with every step Azir took, clear water began filling the rocky basin. Azir immersed the woman's body in the restorative waters of the oasis and as the blood washed away, only a faint scar remained where the blade had pierced her.
And with that act of selflessness, Azir was lifted up in a column of fire as the magic of Shurima renewed him, remaking him as the Ascended being he was meant to become. The sun's immortal radiance poured into him, crafting his magnificent, hawk-armored form and granting him the power to command the very sand itself. Azir lifted his arms and his ruined city shrugged off the dust of centuries spent beneath the desert to rise anew. The sun disc lifted into the sky once more, and healing waters flowed between temples heaving themselves back into the light at the emperor's command.
Azir climbed the steps of the newly-risen sun temple, weaving the desert winds to recreate the city's last moments. Ghosts formed of sand relived his city's last moments from long ago, and Azir watched in horror as Xerath's treachery unfolded. He wept as he saw his family murdered, his empire fall and his power stolen. Only now, millennia too late, did he finally understand the depths of hatred harbored by his former friend and ally. With the power and prescience of an Ascended being, Azir sensed Xerath somewhere abroad in the world and summoned an army of sand warriors to march alongside their reborn emperor. As the sun blazed from the golden disc above him, Azir swore a mighty oath.
I will reclaim my lands and take back what was mine!
The soft, shadowy light of predawn seeped through his city. The brightest stars still shone overhead, though they would soon be snuffed out by the rising sun. The night sky was not as Azir remembered it; the stars and the constellations were misaligned. Millennia had passed.
With every step, Azir's heavy staff of office struck a lonely note, echoing through the capital's empty streets.
When last he had walked this path, an honor guard of 10,000 elite warriors had marched in his wake, and the cheers of the crowd had shaken the city. It was to have been his moment of glory – yet it had been stolen from him.
Now, it was a city of ghosts. What had become of his people?
With an imperious gesture, Azir commanded the sands beside the roadway to rise, creating living statues. This was a vision of the past, the echoes of Shurima given form.
The sand figures looked forward, heads tilted toward the immense Sun Disc hanging above the Dais of Ascension half a league ahead. It hung there still, declaring the glory and power of Azir's empire, though no one remained to see it. The daughter of Shurima who awakened him, she who bore his lineage, was gone. He sensed her out in the desert. Blood bound them together.
As Azir walked the Emperor's Way, the sand-echoes of his people pointed up at the Sun Disc, their joyful expressions turning to horror. Mouths opened wide in silent screams. They turned to run, stumbling and falling. Azir watched this all in despairing silence, bearing witness to the last moments of his people.
They were obliterated by a wave of unseen energy, reduced to dust and cast to the winds. What had gone wrong with his Ascension to unleash this catastrophe?
Azir's focus narrowed. His march became more resolute. He reached the base of the Stairs of Ascension and began to climb, taking them five at a time.
Only his most trusted soldiers, the priesthood, and those of the royal bloodline were allowed to step foot upon the Stairs. Sand versions of these most favored subjects lined his path, faces upturned, grimacing and wailing in silence before they too were swept away by the winds.
He ran, taking the steps faster than any man could, talons digging into the stonework, carving furrows where they caught. Sand figures rose, and were then destroyed, to either side of him as he climbed.
He reached the top. Here, he saw the final circle of onlookers: his closest aides, his advisers, the high priests. His family.
Azir dropped to his knees. His family was before him, rendered in perfect, heartbreaking detail. His wife, heavy with child. His shy daughter, clutching his wife's hand. His son, standing tall, on the brink of becoming a man.
In horror, Azir saw their expressions change. Though he knew what was to come, he could not look away. His daughter hid her face in the folds of his wife's dress; his son reached for his sword, shouting in defiance. His wife... her eyes widened, sorrow and despair writ within.
The unseen event blasted them to nothingness.
It was too much, but no tears welled in Azir's eyes. His Ascended form rendered that simple act of grief forever lost to him. With a heavy heart, he pushed himself to his feet. The question remained as to how his bloodline survived, for it most assuredly had.
The final echo awaited.
He advanced, halting one step below the Dais, and watched as it all played out before him, re-enacted in the sand.
He saw himself, in his mortal form, rise up into the air beneath the Sun Disc, arms wide and back arched. He remembered this moment. The power coursed through him, infusing his being, filling him with its divine strength.
A newcomer formed in the sand. His trusted bondsman, his magus, Xerath.
His friend uttered a silent word. Azir watched himself shatter like glass, exploding into motes of sand.
"Xerath", breathed Azir.
The traitor’s expression was unknowable, but Azir could see nothing but the face of a murderer.
Where did such hate come from? Azir had never been aware of it.
The sand image of Xerath rose higher into the air as the Sun Disc's energies focused into his being. A cadre of elite guards rushed toward him, but they were all far too late.
A brutal shockwave of sand flared out, disintegrating the final moment of Shurima. Azir stood alone among the dying echoes of his past.
This is what killed his people.
Azir turned away, just as the first rays of the new dawn struck the Sun Disc overhead. He'd seen enough. The sand image of the transformed Xerath collapsed behind him.
The dawn sun reflected blindingly off Azir's flawless golden armor. In that instant, he knew that the traitor still lived. He sensed the magus's essence in the air that he breathed.
Azir lifted a hand, and an army of his elite warriors rose from the sands at the base of the Stairs of Ascension.
"Xerath", he said, his voice tinged with rage. "Your crimes will not go unpunished."