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Taliyah The Bird and the Branch

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  • Taliyah The Bird and the Branch

    “That power of yours was meant to destroy. You don’t want to use it? Fine. Let it sink you like a stone.”
    Those were the last words Taliyah heard from the Noxian captain before she slipped beneath the salty water, words that haunted her still. Four days had passed since that landing on the beach where she had made her escape. At first she ran, and then, when she could no longer hear the breaking bones of the Ionian farmers and Noxian soldiers, she walked. She followed the high skirts of the mountains, not daring to look back at the carnage she’d left behind. The snow had started to fall two days ago. Or maybe it was three; she couldn’t remember. This morning, as she passed an empty shrine, a cheerless air had begun to move through the valley. Now the wind grew stronger and broke through the clouds to reveal a sky clear and blue, a color so pure it felt like she was drowning again. She knew that sky. As a young child, she saw it blanket the sands. But this wasn’t Shurima. The wind here was not welcoming.
    Taliyah hugged herself, trying to remember the warmth of home. Her coat kept out the snow, but still the cold air crept in. The invisible loneliness snaked around her, sinking deep in her bones. The memory of being so far from those she loved now dropped her to her knees.
    She shoved her hands deep in her pockets, her shaking fingertips tumbling a few well-worn stones for warmth.
    “I am hungry. That is all this is,” Taliyah said to no one and everyone. “A hare. A little bird. Great Weaver, I would even take a mouse if it showed itself.”
    As if on command, a small crunching of powdered snow sounded several strides away from her. The culprit, a gray handful of fur no bigger than her two fists, popped its head from a burrow.
    “Thank you,” she whispered through chattering teeth. “Thank you. Thank you.”
    The animal looked at Taliyah inquisitively as she took one of the smooth stones from her pocket and slipped it into the leather pouch of her sling. She wasn’t used to throwing from a kneeling position, but if the Great Weaver had given her this offering, she wasn’t going to waste it.
    The little animal continued to watch as she wound the sling once, seating the small rock. The cold gripped Taliyah’s body and gave her arm a jerky feel. When she had enough speed, she unleashed the stone and, unfortunately, a harsh sneeze.
    The stone skipped along the snow, narrowly missing her would-be meal. Taliyah rocked back, the heavy weight of frustration erupting in a guttural growl that echoed in the silence around her. She took a few deep, clearing breaths, the cold burning her throat.
    “Assuming you are anything like sand rabbits, if there’s one of you, there are a dozen more close by,” she said to the patch where the animal had been, her defiant optimism returning.
    Her gaze lifted from the burrow to more movement farther down in the valley. She followed her winding tracks through the snow. Beyond them, through the sparse pines, she saw a man in the shrine, and her breath caught. His wild, dark hair tangled in the wind as he sat, head bowed to his chest. He was either sleeping or meditating. She breathed a sigh of relief. No Noxian she knew would be caught doing either. She remembered the shrine’s rough surface from earlier, as her hands had run along its carved edges.
    Taliyah was shaken from her reverie by a sharp crack. Then a rumble started to build. She steadied herself for the rolling earthquake that didn’t arrive. The rumbling grew into a steady, terrible grinding of compacted snow on stone. Taliyah turned to face the mountain and saw a wall of white coming for her.
    She scrambled to her feet, but there was nowhere to go. She looked down at the rock peeking through the dirty ice and thought of the little animal safe in its burrow. She desperately focused, pulling on the rough edges of the visible rock. A row of thick columns sprang from the ground. The stone blockade reached far over her head just as the crushing white avalanche slammed into it with a heavy whumpf.
    The snow rushed up the newly made slope and spilled like a glittering wave into the valley below. Taliyah watched as the deadly blanket filled the little glen, covering the temple.
    As quickly as it had begun, the avalanche was over. Even the lonely wind stilled. The new, muffled silence weighed heavily on her. The man with the wild, dark hair was gone, entombed somewhere beneath all that ice and rock. She was safe from the snowslide, but her stomach lurched with a sickening realization: She hadn’t just brought harm to an unsuspecting innocent; she had buried him alive.
    “Great Weaver,” Taliyah said to no one and everyone, “what have I done?”

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