Image Credit to the amazing MCONCH. Find more of his work on Pixiv-dot-net.
Previous Image Credit of the Red Chinese Assassin to the amazing ChaoXuanYu. Find more of his work on Deviantart.
Pale white hands clutch pitch black blades,
A pitch black night clutches a pale white moon,
Two red robed assassins journey,
Cradling hungry dragons within coffins.
Though the moon hung full and low over the sky, the nighttime mountain roads were a sea of pitch-black rocks and inky crevasses . Under the cover of darkness, the Blood Moon assassins carefully made their way to their slumbering prey. A cold, sharp wind rose from the frosted rocky grounds of hallowed Ionian ground, rising to cut at the cheeks of the scarlet-clad night warriors. The Hirana Monastery lay before them, still in the moonlight; only the rare torch mounted over the top of the wall could be seen, standing vigil over the dark sea of fog and wind that surrounded the fortified temple.
At the sight of their prey towering before them, Shueto turned to Shuezi. From under the cover of the man's wide brim bamboo hat, his sister could see a smirk forming at his bloodless lips. She smiled in return. It was a time of celebration for the two siblings, because tonight, they were going to have fun.
They started down the treacherous mountain trail...
...with the coffins that were chained to their hips clanking and clattering unceremoniously in the night.
He was a fat, slow man, Brother Tam knew. But these were quiet, peaceful times, he always told himself, therefore gods must be getting just as lazy he was. Fat, lazy monks suited peaceful, dozing gods well. And Brother Tam was indeed fat. The brown-robed man's kasaya, his monk's uniform, was thin from years of stretching and bulging at the middle. The folds parted to reveal a large pale belly that would have been cold if not for the copious amounts of insulation the rolls of fat provided and the warm fire that Brother Tam had dutifully lit for himself.
He had been dozing off at his guard post at the Hirana Monastery's gatehouse, his belly full of delicious vegetable stew and his head full of pleasant dreams. His role in the temple as a guard was not the most difficult job, to be sure. Not in the Monastery's quiet years devoted to those lazy gods. In fact, Ionia, on the whole, had been a rather peaceful island in the last few years.
Even if the rare gang of bandits would arrive at their doorstep, invariably demanding money, weapons, or food, they would be greeted by the inexhaustible charity of the Hirana Monastery's Abbot, Grandmaster Bao, and more often than not, convinced to lay aside their weapons to pursue a life of peace. Even those who could not be swayed by words would find Hirana Monastary a hard-won prize, for the Hirana Monastery upheld a long and honored tradition of drawing martial strength from inner peace. Peaceful strength powerful enough to quell even the fiercest fires; it would be here that a blind monk would lead a warrior of the North, and here that the Northern warrior would find the calm within the flames.
KAM! KAM! KAM!
A sharp banging upon the gate's door startled Brother Tam awake. The plump man fell out of his wooden chair in a heap, mumbling in confusion. The banging raced through the empty gatehouse again, cutting through Brother Tam's disoriented fog.
A visitor? Who could possibly be bothering the Monastery at this hour? For a brief moment, he swore he could hear the jingle of metal links, but the silence that followed smothered his suspicions as quickly as they came. Did he just dream it?
Brother Tam gathered himself, huffing and puffing and shuffling over to the thick oak doors that led to the Monastery's connecting bridge. He reached up and groped for the cold iron handle of the door viewer. Upon finding it he roughly slid it open. Bracing himself against the rush of cold wind from the outside elements, Brother Tam thrust his face against the slot in the gate door, searching for the bothersome visitor.
Nothing. He saw nothing.
Confused, Brother Tam looked back and forth along the open space in front of the door. With what little view he squinted as far as he could see within the darkness. Wasn't there supposed to be a lit torch outside?
"Hmph..." He grumbled, reaching down to unbar the gate. Perhaps the wind had blown it out. He hefted the iron bar up, and slid it out, releasing the gateway door from its grasp. Grunting, Brother Tam shoved at the heavy doors. The entrance doors groaned and complained, until finally the heavy oak gave way to a stiff gust of wind that cut past the monk's blubber and chilled him to the bone, until the monk found himself outside of Hirana Monastery's gates.
Shivering, the round man clutched at his thin monk's robes, looking about for the source of the noise.
"Hello?" He called out, his voice snatched away by the sharp, biting wind. "Is anyone there?"
Still, no reply.
But... now he did indeed see ...something. Two somethings, to be precise. They stood in the clearing, dark and still, unnatural and out of place. Frowning, Brother Tam shuffled closer to the shapes in the darkness. "Hello?" he whispered, as if he was afraid to wake them.
They didn't respond. Now Brother Tam could see that the shapes weren't people, but vaguely rectangular, wooden boxes that stood taller than he did. He reached up, and felt along the smooth edge of the wood and felt another chill, though this time it wasn't from the cold. An evil chi was emanating from this thing.
He felt along the edge until he felt a gap, and within that gap, intruded upon some cold liquid inside. Brother Tam, disgusted, quickly withdrew his hand from whatever foul substance filled the inside of the thing. Whatever it was, it felt cold and sticky in the dry wind, hardening over his hand like a second skin.
Confused, Brother Tam carefully brought his hand to sniff...
... and then in that moment...
Shuezi silently fell to the ground behind him. With a single hand, the lithe woman pushed Brother Tam into the coffin, his scream still caught in his throat, before the luckless man could ever realize that the substance coating his hand was blood.
The temple doors burst open, warrior monks die, and fresh blood drenches the sibling assassins' hands.
By now, all of Temple of Hirana have echoed the sound of screams and violence. What few survivors are left have rallied at their abbot's chambers. The men who have gathered around the abbot, are healthy and uninjured, for the assassins have indiscriminately dealt death to anyone they cut. The monks' famous calm and serenity has vanished into a fit of trembling hands, stammering prayers and wide, panicked eyes. The ancient Grandmaster Bao sat in the middle of them all, quivering at his humble throne. The man gripped his martial long-staff, but there was a futile edge to his hold. Though the elder was once an avid and respected warrior within the Wulin, the martial-arts underworld, age has made a decrepit ruin of his body and spirit. He hasn't so much as sneezed on, let alone fought another warrior in over twenty years.
And now, he faced the annihilation of his monastery at the hands of demons cloaked in red.
The cries outside dwindled to a halt, and for a moment, all the defenders could hear was the voice of their terror of death. It was the sound of their heart, beating a tattoo into the insides of their chests. The silence lasted for only an instant. Then the doors to the abbot's chambers rocked from a violent blow, and all of the monks stepped back, cowed like herd animals. Their cries of fear was like the mewling of lambs. The framing of the portal is already showing signs of stress. Cracks show in the painted wood and metal bolts pop out of their molding. No mere doors have stopped these sibling assassins before. Not even doors as grand as these.
Another massive blow, and the wooden bar to the door shatters, knocking back the men who were bracing it with their weight. A voice cried out with the pain of a decimated shoulder, another cry from the agony of a hand smashed into a twisted and mangled ruin.
A final blow, and the doors to the Abbot chambers fly off of their hinges, crushing the most fortunate of the monks beneath their combined weight, killing them instantly. From behind the wreckage, the Blood Moon Sect's assassin Shueto lowers his coffin, after using it to batter down the doors, and chains it squarely back at his hips. His smirk is still sitting smugly over his smile, although the arrogance is now streaked with blood. Not his blood.
"Knock, knock." Shueto sang, striding into the abbot's chambers confidently, with casual ease. Shuezi followed her brother closely, a cheerful red shadow at his side.
His exquisite scarlet robes by all rights should have been hardened and blackened from being soaked in blood, yet as they flapped about, dripping with life-force, they shone fresh and as new as they day that they were woven. In his hands he clutched a cheap blade, taken from a worthless street vendor in the next village out. The shit steel had chipped not even halfway through its first kill, breaking off a tiny piece at the tip while lodged in that same street vendor's brain.
Shuezi held higher reservations for weapons; instead her hands were coated in bright red blood from the kills she made bare-handed. Her clothes just as radiantly red as her brother's from the excess amounts of blood and gore over her dress.
All the while, the coffins that were chained to their bodies were swaying to and fro, almost as if they had come to life. The 'Hungry Dragons' within their coffins could smell the scent of blood in the air, but tonight, they were to make peace within their sheaths, for if their 'Dragons' were to be let out, everything in their path would have been consumed. And tonight the Blood Moon Sect needed a man alive.
Frozen, the remaining Hirana monks could only watch in horror as the Blood Moon assassins butchered their injured brothers in front of their eyes. Yet even this horrid sight had a cruel beauty to it. Their movements were practiced, honed, and refined for maximum efficiency in creating bloody death. Shueto's cruel blade butchered men like animals, and Shuezi's seemingly dainty hands cleaved through flesh, bone and metal alike. Elegance in evil- such were the techniques of the Blood Moon Sect's martial arts style.
At the sight of Shuezi silently laughing, while tearing out the spine of one of their brethren, three of the monks charged one-by-one in crazed, fear-drunk desperation, swinging their wooden staffs ridiculously. One monk strayed just one step too close to Shueto and was instantly eviscerated by a flick of the man's wrist anda thrust of his blade, despite the man's preoccupation with one of the monks trapped underneath one of the fallen doors. After a few strained, wheezing gasps for breath, the monk died with a three-foot long blade buried two feet deep in his gut. The remaining two were torn apart by Shuezi's flying claws of hands. By the time Shuezi was finished with them, all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't have figured out whose body parts and organs were whose between the two.
Basking in a gentle rain of blood, Shuezi closed her eyes and let the red mist in the air nuzzle every inch of her. She smiled, satisfied.
"Last one, Shuezi." Shueto stood, having given up on retrieving his cheap blade from the monk he had killed. He didn't feel like tearing open the man like a package just to get at the shit-steel blade. His hands were too slippery from the gore anyways. Shuezi, done with her pleasures, nodded.
Only the abbot was left.
Shueto took the lead, walking up to the withered old man, covered from head to toe in scarlet bloody murder. The abbot seemed shrink, aging a century at the horrible sight.
"Hello, Abbot." Shueto took off his rounded bamboo hat in faux respect, set his coffin squarely out in front on them and sat himself by the abbot's side, putting his arm around the grandfather's shoulders. All the while, Grandmaster Bao, once an accomplished martial artist himself, quivered like a frightened animal. "Are you doing alright? Nervous? We just need to ask you a few questions."
Grandmaster Bao could only whisper in reply.
"Why?" Shueto frowned. "Oh, you mean why we are here. And who we are? Straight to business, then." Shueto looked up to his sister, and shrugged, while Shuezi mimicked him. "We are of the Blood Moon Sect. Our Master wants a martial arts script, something called like a 'Saintly Sword Manual'-"
Shueto was cut short by Shuezi's hand motions and frantic head shaking.
"Oh." Shueto corrected himself. He squinted, trying to make sense of his sister's sign language. "the... 'Warrior'... 'Saint Codex'" He cocked his head at the Grandmaster underneath his arm. The abbot though, refused to meet the man's gaze. "Heard of it, Grandpa Bao? ...ahhh, who am I kidding?" Shueto laughed, clearly enjoying teasing the frail old man under his arm. Shueto knew that it was just like torture. "We know you know where it is."
Shueto sighed, exasperated. His smile shrunk by a few teeth and he rolled his eyes, clearly bored by his captive's response.
"Are you old AND stupid? Shuezi and I are from the Blood Moon Sect, and we are looking for the-"
"All this killing... all this death. For the Warrior Saint Codex? And yet you made no demands... only killing... W-why?"
"-Ahhhhh... Why did we just start killing everyone, instead of making demands first?" Shueto nodded at this, his face brightening up at finally understanding the old man. "Well, you see, Shuezi and I, we figure killing everyone you love and hold dear makes a point about how serious we are. Something like that."
"Y-you... slaughtered my Children of Hirana... basked in their blood... to p-prove a point?!""
"Well..." Shueto smiled warmly. "I'd be lying if I said we didn't enjoy it too."
For a moment, the old man's lips quivered. Grief, disgust, and primal fear of death gripped at the man's core, but what he said was not what the duo expected.
"M-monsters! Devils! You'll never get what you want from me!" Grandmaster Bao's chest was now heaving in fury, and even underneath all of that age, Shueto could see in the fire deep within the depths of the old man's eyes. He could see the great warrior who Grandmaster Bao once was. "I will die before I give you anything you want! ON MY HONOR AS GRANDMASTER OF HIRANA! NEVER!"
The sounds of the Grandmaster's fury echoed deep into Hirana Monastery's empty halls. The two assassins seemed to be shocked into silence.
At this, Shueto turned to look at Shuezi, who smiled. The brother turned to look back at the Abbot and his face took on a darker, eviler visage. A cold smile- his real smile- crept across Shueto's mouth.
"I was hoping you would say that,"
And Shueto reached out and broke one of the abbot's fingers clean off, to the sound of the elderly man's screams. He closed his eyes and rolled the warm finger in his hand, savoring the feeling of human flesh between his fingertips, even as Elder Bao sobbed and cursed.
His eyes still shut, his face still plastered with his chilling smile, Shueto leaned forwards and whispered; his words cut softly under the Abbot's bloody screams.
"Let us find out which lasts longer, Abbot. Your body, or your honor?"
It was happening again today. Zed and Shen were going to spar. So, by Master Khen's bidding, all junior ninjas were to cease their sparring matches to watch and observe the Kinkou Order's top two junior ninjas duke it out. That meant, of course, that everyone was to drop what they were doing and circle around the fight. Or in Akali's case, get up from being dropped. She was currently buried under just about two-hundred and fifty pounds worth of one of her peers. Akali tried just about everything to get out of the leg-lock that the massive, hulking girl had her in, but the bitch was just too damn heavy.
At the sound of Master Khen's command to cease sparring, Akali reached out to pat the ground in surrender. Damn it. Another loss on her record.
The She-Ogre finally let her go, but not before giving Akali a grin flavored like rancid butter. Akali staggered up, and made her customary bow, as was expected after every match. But the huge girl she had been sparring with was too taken with herself about her "triumph" over the daughter of the prestigious "Pruner of the Tree" to bother. The She-Orge ignored basic courtesy and lumbered off to join with her bitch friends to watch Shen spar with Zed, shit-talking Akali with her stupid ugly mouth the entire way.
Akali fell to her knees. Once there, she pounded the dojo floor again and again in frustration. Damn it. God damn it all.
A thin, lithe hand appeared, floating in front of her. Beckoning. Akali smiled, reached up and took it gratefully.
"Thanks, Kona." The skinny, bookish girl helped Akali up. Despite Kona's thin stature and Akali's bruised everywhere, two managed to get Akali to her feet. "Ow, ow ow ow." Akali complained, wincing.
Her one and only friend, Kona, was a social outcast like her. Whereas Akali was ostracized for not living up to her namesake of being progeny of a Kinkou Trimulvirate, Kona was simply different. With dark, shoulder-length hair, bright eyes, a sharp tongue and a sharper mind, Kona had made enemies among her peers pretty much as soon as she could speak. Yet with Akali... somehow, they clicked. Kindred spirits, it seemed like.
"The She-Ogre get you again?" Kona asked, tilting her head. Her hair partially covered her eyes. She always did like letting her bangs grow long in front of her face.
"Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum," Akali muttered in reply. "Alive or dead, grind your bones to make my bread."
Her friend laughed, and then beckoned to the circle of students who were milling around the center of the dojo. Zed and Shen's fight was already underway.
"Well, maybe this will cheer you up- Your 'Prince' is riding out to slay his own ogre."
Akali rubbed her neck while she and Kona joined the crowd of students. Absent were the cheers and jeers of ordinary spectators. Instead, the circle of student ninjas stood silently observing the on-going fight between the two best in their class; for these students were Kinkou Xiao'nin, the junior ninjas and youth of the next generation. Each Xiao'nin was watching the movements of Shen and Zed carefully. Watching, learning, and stealing if they could. Each student hoped to learn the secrets of how these two prodigies, though both their peers in age, managed to be so far and away stronger than any others in their class.
Zed, the larger of the two, lunged forwards, locking hands with Shen, intending to erase any clever trick that Shen might have planned by simply overpowering the younger boy with his weight and strength. Shen very nearly buckled under the assault, but at the last moment, he managed to lock his limbs in such a fashion that Zed may has well have been pushing down on a wooden post in the ground. For just a moment, there was a stalemate between the two; Zed bearing down over Shen, his killing intent almost palpable, and Shen remaining resolute underneath Zed's crushing weight.
Like always, it was Zed who lost his patience first. The huge boy roared, turned and threw Shen to the side, but Shen was light on his feet and the toss did little. Still, Zed advanced, his fists flying.
Blow after blow came raining down on Shen from Zed, but for every strike, Shen replied with an expert block. Akali could scarcely believe that this was a fight between two nominally low-level ninja, let alone two teenagers. Still, despite Shen's resolute defense, Zed was slowly wearing him down with his freakish strength. Every strike Zed made on the his younger opponent, whether it was blocked or not, did damage to the underlying muscle and bones.
Akali watched the spectacle with worry. It was looking less and less like a sparring match, and more like a slaughter. She silently cheered him on.
Come on, Shen! Kick his ass!
As if by command, her plea was answered, for Shen found his opening. His movements were almost too quick to follow. A grab, a twist, and a throw, and suddenly, as if by magic, Zed was sent soaring through the air. The hulking boy flew, then slammed high into one of the dojo's pillars, and for a moment, Akali had the insane thought that the wooden support might break. However, though it shuddered from the blow, the beam held and Zed fell bodily onto the ground.
Shen, sensing his advantage, charged his prone opponent.
Zed wasn't finished, however. The huge boy, pushed to the brink of defeat, found desperate creativity to be his salvation. He slammed the bamboo tiled floor; a lone tatami mat burst open, and Zed grabbed the edge of it. With a single hand, Zed threw the floor tile at the advancing Shen, edge first, like a massive wooden blade. Only Shen's quick reflexes and extensive training saved his face from being smashed in. He just barely managed to catch the flying wooden mat over his crossed arms, the tatami breaking over his body. Shen went flying backwards, the scattered pieces of the tatami mat tumbling around him.
Shen rolled, tried to get up, but collapsed to the ground, his injuries too great. Across from him, Zed alike, struggled to get to his feet. His legs failed him too, and he fell to a knee.
"Damn it!" Zed growled, slamming the floor, but it was all he could do.
"That's it!" Master Khen stepped forwards, raising his hand, separating the two Xiao'nin. So it was another draw between the two. "Well done, both of you. Now stand and bow."
Both Shen and Zed were helped to their feet by their fellow peers. Shen bowed as soon as he got up, as well as he could after such a vicious fight, but Zed simply shrugged off his classmates, and slouched off, sulking.
"Seto!" Master Khen barked, "Where is your respect? Bow!" But Zed ignored him, and he quickly ducked into one of the dojo's surrounding corridors, vanishing. He must be especially pissed this time, Akali realized.
Master Khen sighed, shaking his head. He turned to the rest of his students, exasperated.
"I hope you all learned something from this today." Master Khen's careful eyes scanned his crowd of students. Akali thought that the Master's eyes might have lingered for a moment longer upon her, but as soon as she saw it, it was gone. "You're all dismissed." At his words, the class of Xiao'nin stood, bowed, and dispersed. Akali, however, stayed where she was, thinking. She knew that look. The one that Master Khen had given her. She had seen it thrown her way all her life. It was the look of bitter disappointment in the face of lost potential. For she was the offspring of one of their sacred Kinkou Triuvulrate, just like Shen, but unlike Shen, she had no such prodigious talent; nothing at all to indicate that she inherited any more than a pittance of her Mother's skill.
Their elite caste ninjas, the Dai'nin, were already grooming Shen for the position of their next headmaster. Everyone could see it. Even their current headmaster and the Eye of the Twilight, Master Khen, famous for his impartiality, considered his son Shen to be the heart of the Kinkou Order's entire future.
And Zed, though the Kinkou Elders held serious reservations about the young boy's temperament, was already considered to be a shoe-in for the currently vacant position of the next generation of Heart of the Tempest. The prodigious boy would have plenty of time to cultivate his heart over his power and skill, they reasoned.
To the Kinkou Elders, the student known as Akali was merely OK, at best 'above average' in the wake of prodigies like Zed and Shen. To their discerning eyes, she would be lucky to have half so much skill as her mother, the current Pruner of the Sacred Tree.
Thus, the disappointment. The hate. The jealous, contemptuous eyes of her peers that followed her, cursing her lineage and of how she wasted it. The yearning eyes from Akali's elders that followed her, wishing for, yet never receiving, the daughter of the Pruner of the Sacred Tree that they deserved.
A calm, familiar voice cut through Akali's train of thought.
Akali looked up, and jumped a bit at the sight of Shen bearing down on her. Damn if Shen wasn't quiet. Akali didn't even notice him creep up on her. The boy waited quietly, staring blankly at her. Her heart skipped a beat.
And then she realized.
Oh... she was blocking his way.
"S-sorry..." Akali stepped out of the stoic boy's way, and he nodded in thanks. Kona did not miss that Akali was slowly sliding behind her; as if to hide from Shen. The two of them had talked about this before, and she'd be damned if she'd left Akali pass up yet another chance to connect with her 'Prince'.
She smiled, and then ribbed Akali as hard as she could in her side.
"Thatwasafantasticmatch!" Akali blurted at Shen's back. At the sound of Akali's outburst, Shen stopped. He turned slightly towards Akali, his face still stony.
"...Not really." Shen seemed disappointed. "I should have seen Seto-Zed's attack coming." And then, the boy gave the slightest bit of shrugs, before moving on. "But Zed fought well."
"Please excuse me. I have duties to get to."
And then Shen turned without another word and disappeared into a side corridor. Akali exhaled, feeling the mixed emotions swirl about her breast. Excitement, frustration but mostly disappointment. Well, at least she tried.
"Hey..." Kona patted Akali's shoulder supportively. "Look on the bright side... he used complete sentences this time!"
"Tsh, yeah, thanks, Kona."
Kona glanced at the path that Shen had taken, and then smiled. She beckoned Akali closer to her; confused, Akali obliged. Kona brought her hands up to Akali's ear, cupping them tightly around the side of her friend's head; it was a necessary precaution against the eavesdropping that was endemic among their class of ninjas, for all Kinkou Xiao'nin trained to enhance their hearing to extra-human levels, and like all teenagers, loved to eavesdrop, gossip, and shit-talk.
Slowly, softly, she whispered into Akali's ear.
"You know... the Lunar Revel is coming up..."
It was true. Every year upon the Second Moon, the Kinkou were to make a religious pilgrimage to the nearby village of Ing'Xao to pay their respects and prayers at the Warrior Saint's temple. It was one of the few periods of rest for the Kinkou, especially their young junior ninjas. And as always, there was going to be a festival in the village below.
"...And Shen's all alone right now..."
Kona's voice dropped lower, and grew slower; even as Akali's face grew red and redder. The next words Kona spoke turned Akali red as the setting sun. The poor girl buried her face in Kona's shoulder in embarrassment.
"I can't! Not now!" Akali hissed in reply, "I don't know what he'll say!"
Kona smiled, letting her teeth show.
"...Don't you want to find out?"
She finally managed to catch him on a high, open-air bridge, overlooking their instructing school's practicing square. The Kinxui Hidden Fortress, home to all Kinkou, was a labyrinth of wooden passageways and staircases and secret passageways that served to bamboozle invaders and give the Kinkou an edge in fighting on their home turf. But here, the bamboo and screened maze served Akali's purpose of finally cornering Shen in a spot where she could ask the question that she'd been mulling over with Kona for weeks. She didn't want to run the risk of the entire goddamned monastery should things go South. It was a real concern. Damn ninjas and their super-hearing.
It was just a simple question. But still- why was she so damn nervous?
"Shen?" The expressionless young man turned at the sound of his name, and Akali's breath caught in her chest. "Can I ask you something?"
His eyes barely changed at the sight, and Akali couldn't imagine he was looking at anything good. Probably a thin, teenaged girl, bruised from coming out on the losing end of a sparring match? And somehow, despite the boy's stiff walking pace, he had managed to give Akali the slip multiple times as she tried to track him through the Kinxui Fortress, so her ponytail was messed and disheveled from her struggle to keep up with Shen. Oh, and she didn't brush her teeth today. But that was her fault.
Inside her head was a raging storm; her mouth felt like it was full of cotton.
Ridiculous, that she should feel more pressure now than she had ever had—and she had the Pruner of the Sacred Tree, one of three most powerful ninja in the entire Kinkou Order as a mother. With that kind of parentage, the weight on her shoulders should be like the pressure from the deep sea compared to what she was trying to do right now.
Still, she fumbled with her words like an idiot.
"The… the Lunar Revel is coming soon. You know only once a year we get to leave the Kinkou Monastery to offer our prayers at the Warrior Saint's Gate…" What the fu— what was wrong with her? She had somehow managed to awkwardly blurt out a few words, but it felt like her tongue had been swapped for a knotted rope.
Shen didn't respond. Akali hadn't gotten to her question yet, so he didn't have to, and so he didn't. The stoic boy never was one to spare words.
"So after we do, would you like to go with me… to see the festival at the Ing'Xao Village?"
There. Finally. It was out.
Shen gave a longer pause this time. He blinked once, and then sighed, before closing his eyes. It was a painfully long silence. It was only until Akali finally turned her head away from embarrassment that Shen finally responded. She could hear the calm in his voice, the passivity, almost as if he was trying to be kind. But it counted for nothing. His words, as they came out, stung worse than any insult.
"Sorry. The Lunar Revel may be a rest for you and the rest of the Xiao'nin, but my training resumes as soon as I finish my duties at the Warrior Saint's Gate. I will be training throughout our trip. I don't really have the time."
"Oh… right…" She didn't know what else she was expecting. Of course Shen would be training, even on their Lunar Revel pilgrimage. His was their golden boy. Their heir.
"Of course." Akali finally finished. "I'm sorry for bothering you." She felt her face flush, from disappointment, or embarrassment anymore she didn't know. Hell, she didn't care. "I should have known that-"
"It's fine." Shen cut in- not rudely, but curtly. "Well, if that's all then- Please excuse me. I have duties to attend to."
And he left, leaving Akali standing alone there, feeling stupid.
Well, what else did she expect from a boy whose emotions ranged from "barely any at all" to "potato"? What else did she expect from the heir to their Kinkou Order as son of their Headmaster, and heir to the seat of the Eye of Twilight as son of the same? She only succeeded in getting her hopes high enough to be crushed.
At least Shen could keep his mouth shut, if nothing else. Since no one would ever know about this, Akali could at least go crawl off alone to 'cry' about it later, or more likely beat the ever-loving shit out of some training dummy—
She turned, realized where she was and then froze in blank horror.
Ohhh no. Oh no, nonononono.
She had turned only to sight upon an entire class of full of Xiao'nin had been training in the courtyard below. Every one of the students was another one of her peers, and she blankly recognized a few of them when she was walking over to confront Shen, but she wasn't conscious of them training below until now. But they weren't training any longer- now they were simply staring. A good thirty pairs of inquisitive teenage ninja eyes stared straight back up at her, to Akali's horror. Even worse, normal people wouldn't have been able to eavesdrop from so far, but these were ninjas in training, who specifically trained to enhance their hearing to extra-human levels. They had almost certainly heard- every—single—fucking-word- she said.
Akali gathered herself, held her head high up, and turned and walked away with as much dignity has she could muster up. There wasn't much left. Even now, as she tried to disappear into the Kinkou Castle as quickly as she could, she could hear the faint tones of soft laughter and wicked gossiping that blossomed in the courtyard.
"Fucking shit," Akali muttered, wholly dreading with a pit in her stomach her next group instructional session.