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Zed breathes in, with fresh winds cutting his bare skin and ignores the height of the cliff as he stands over the valley, gazing below. There’s a gasp of surprise, of fear from beside him, obnoxious shushing as the others glare at the culprit. He holds his hand up to quiet them, saying aloud, “We will camp here for the night.”

They obey, scurrying to set up bedrolls and a fire. Jovn complains, but there’s the sound of a smack, possibly from Nyra. It was to get him back for berating her, Zed thinks, a tendril of something like his childhood quashed as soon as it surfaces.

Zed doesn’t smile, but there’s amusement in his chest, wrapped by cool winds as they ruffle his clothing. The shock of a cold touch throws him back to drowning but not quite drowning, a strong grip on his arms and gasping for breath. The suddenness of breathable air had confused him, shaking his head dazedly as he tried to reorientate himself.

Zed walks to scout the perimeter, with memories of his past filling his head with nostalgia and laughter, of Shen’s relief when Govos had replied. They were roughhousing like boys, as boys who had to mature too early, thrust into adulthood by the river’s droplets, running down his face, both their faces. It was then he knew that he loved—

Who is he kidding? When he allows himself to think like this, to ruminate in memories despite hating his weakness, he knows that he loved, loves Shen. He would have been fine to see Shen settling down with Yevnai, even if it would become a loveless marriage as Master Kusho passed on his duties. Where she would find peace in that Shen loved her once. Whereas long as Zed could stay by his side, he would be alright. But this is the path he chose, and he killed her. He may not have been the one who dealt the blow, only it was his decision, his attack on the Temple that caused it regardless.

Curse him, as he had loved her too. Before the engagement was known, he loved her fire, her quick wit and sweet smiles. He loved them both and look where that got them. Dead and broken. Broken like the false peace in these lands, broken like his mind, and all the hearts of others who lost their loved ones.

But he doesn’t dwell in it. It’s happened, and you can’t bring back the dead, once they’re buried, their corpse—desecrated. He rakes the felled tree before with him a blade, a shower of rotten wood and moss flying around him. Zed bathes in the hate that he wraps around himself like a cloak, shadow stepping to a higher vantage point, to cleanse his mind of frailty. It doesn’t help, with his thoughts full of racing against Shen, conversations hidden by the willows, gazing at the stars as if they held the future, and staring at someone who he thought would always catch him if he fell. He knows that once, Shen would have caught him with no doubt in his mind and grins of adrenaline on their faces.

Now, now, Shen would react differently. A twitch of his fingers as he hesitates, body aborting a motion last second. The furrow of his brows as he purses his mouth in an attempt to remain neutral, unfeeling and unbound by sentiment. If Zed showed no signs of saving himself—couldn’t save himself, then would Shen have leapt into action, or perhaps not. Thinking of him in the years apart reminds Zed that he doesn’t know Shen anymore, and maybe he never did.

Zed gazes across the treetops, seeing the trail of smoke in the air from the direction he came. If he isn't back in camp by nightfall his pupils (still children, really, no matter how much they have killed) will come looking for him. It might be a good test, but Zed is not in the mood for it. The mental state of being stern and apathetic but so proud of them. Constantly telling himself that he can't get attached, they're mostly Noxian-born for Ionia’s sake. Is this how Master Kusho felt? He rips the notion from his head. Zed imagines the scent of blood and betrayal, the moment he became a wyrm. It is a heavy thought.

He breathes in, out. The mask is heavy in his hands. He puts it on, the scent of metal strong against the leather and cloth. He can't feel the wind on his face. Zed breathes in.

And he falls.