Title: The Garden of Two Rivers, part 1 of 5
Summary: Jing Woo adjusts to his new life at Two Rivers School and his budding friendships with Wu the Lotus Blossom, Dawn Star, and Kia Min.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or settings, and they belong exclusively to BioWare.
He was fifteen years old, and he was dripping from head to toe all over the wood planks outside of his new master's house. Thunder raged violently outside, and his master quickly bid him inside and handed him a towel and his neatly folded new uniform. One glance at the elderly man told the boy that he had made the right decision coming here. He knew many unwanted or turned out children eventually made their way over here if they used to live close enough, and he could see why. The master's eyes told the boy that he was kind, but stern, and would look out for each and every one of his students, come what may.
It wasn't long until he found himself ordered to put on the new uniform and already running off on an errand for his new master. It was his first day, and he could not mess this simple errand up. He just had to carry a message to one of the older students, who his new master predicted would be in the garden with her friend, and report back with her. He excitedly bowed, exited the room and ran in the direction his master had pointed him to, catching a quick glimpse in a deep puddle along the path of himself in his new uniform.
It was modest attire, which the boy found all too suiting, but he felt like he belonged in it. He took a quick second to admire himself. He knew that there was nothing special about it; these were the clothes of a junior student. If nothing else, he would probably get only the attention of senior students wanting an easy spar…
No. Something about his new master's demeanor told him that he would never allow bullies like that. He might allow senior students to spar with junior students only to learn from the elders. That was the kind of school that would gain such a great reputation on the borderlands, after all.
He continued on his way, and he was dismayed to see that he was already getting mud splattered on the leggings of his new uniform. It was a silly concern, he knew, because he was already drenched from the pouring rain. But he had delayed long enough for such a vain reason, and he could not delay more. Through the pathway he traveled to the garden, and he wished that the sun shone instead of hiding behind thunderous clouds. He could tell this place was the most beautiful place of the school, and it must be even more so when the yellow rays of the sun were illuminating it. The border between land and stream was marked with artfully crafted red fencing and a modest bridge, and there was a mill steadily spinning where water fell from a small hill. The trees swayed faintly, delicately brushing their green leaves against the wind and the rooftop of the crimson house that seemed to be a subtle centerpiece of the garden.
This must be it. The boy ran quickly to the house and quickly but gently pushed the sliding door open. He didn't enter. It was rude, and he didn't want to get the straw mats within wet and muddy.
He saw two feminine figures sitting and chatting over what looked to be tea, and it was enough for him to bow and say, "Excuse me, I am looking for Student Wu the Lotus Blossom, and I bring a message from Master Li."
"I am Wu," one of the girls said. "Please just call me Wu. The full title is hardly necessary among my peers."
"Yes, of course," he said as he released himself from the bow hesitantly. The word 'peers' seemed odd to him. As he stood straight, he received his first look of the girl who spoke, and he nearly caught his breath.
Even at fifteen years old, he could appreciate beauty when he saw it. Her eyes were kind and brilliant, and her face was not the pale skin of nobility but slightly tanned as though she spent most of her time outdoors. Her long black hair was loose and silky and hung like a painted wind across her waist. He understood why she called him a peer, as well; she, too, wore the robes of a junior student, though their master had referred to her as his senior. He didn't question it. She has obviously been here longer.
"I haven't seen you around here before," she said. "Are you the new student Master Li told me to expect?"
"Expect?" The boy had been directed to the school by Gujin only the day before. Did word travel around a village such as this so quickly? He supposed he should not be too shocked. He remembered the farmlands and how quickly news spread from neighbor to neighbor as if everyone could read everybody's minds. "Uh, yes, I guess I am. My name is Jing Woo."
The girl smiled brightly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Jing Woo. As I said, I am Wu. This is my best friend, Dawn Star."
She motioned for the other girl to come, who seemed meek as she did. The boy bowed to the other girl, who did likewise. The other girl was just as beautiful, the boy could tell, but there was something else there. Wu looked lively and full of life, while this other girl, Dawn Star, seemed sad, cold, and distant.
"Welcome to Two Rivers, Jing Woo," said Dawn Star.
"What is the message that Master Li sent you?" Wu asked.
"He… he wanted me to take you to see him," said Jing Woo. "He said to go as soon as possible. I am to accompany you."
Wu laughed. "I hope you won't be this formal with me for as long as we're here at this school," she said. "But, yes, we should go. I'll come back as soon as I can, Dawn Star. We can talk more then. Thank you for the tea."
"Anytime, my friend."
When Wu left the building and shut the door behind her, she examined the skies momentarily. Jing Woo did not have a moment to ponder her expression when she turned to him with a bright smile. "Let's race!"
Jing Woo jumped. "What?"
"It's the best way to keep from getting too wet," she said, and then she looked him up and down carefully. She giggled. "Well, you're already drenched. But let's race anyway!"
She took off ahead of him, seeming just as unconcerned with the mud and water as he had been concerned on the way over. He stood there a moment, unsure what to make of this. They wore the same uniform, the uniform of a junior student, but she had been here longer, and obviously so much longer. He had a preconceived notion of the students here; he thought they were all mature and withdrawn. With a master like his new master, it seemed as though the students would be nothing but. Wu, however, was… much different.
Of course, older student or not, he was not about to be beat by a girl, so he took off running behind her. She was almost too fast for him; by the time he caught up to her she was already at the steps of Master Li's room, panting and laughing.
"Come on, you slow poke!" she called to him with her hands on her waist. Despite her talk about running keeping her drier, her hair stuck to her wet face and water tripped like a waterfall from her elbows. "We can't keep Master Li waiting!"
He jogged up the wooden steps and put his hands on his knees as the water flew from his face onto the planks. "That wasn't fair. You got a head start."
"So are you saying you'll beat me if I didn't?" she asked.
"I certainly would have a better shot of it!" he shot back, and then he realized exactly who he was speaking to again. It wasn't one of his buddies back at the farmlands. It was his senior. "Er, I'm sorry for speaking like that…"
Wu frowned. "I thought I told you there's no reason to be that polite with me. We're both junior students. I'm betting we're the same age, too. Sixteen?"
"So I'm one year older. Hardly a reason for me to be superior to you. And I bet that one year is more like a handful of months, anyway."
"You've still been here longer and have a greater rank in Master Li's eyes," Jing Woo answered back. "It's a matter of respect in the order of things, isn't it? I know you won't be wearing the clothes of a junior student for too much longer."
Wu sighed, as if mournfully. "Never mind," she said softly. "Let's just see Master Li now."
Jing Woo felt guilty almost immediately, though he was unsure why. Was it something he said? For some reason, even though he knew Wu for only a few short minutes, he did not like to see her upset like that. Of course, he did not like to see anybody upset like that, but with others in the past, he knew why they were upset, especially if he were the cause of it, and he could apologize for it immediately. This time, it was clearly his fault, but he did not know why. He could not apologize if he did not know what he did wrong, he knew that much.
Wu slid open the door to their master's house and bowed. Jing Woo followed suit, and then followed her inside the room. She seemed not to worry about the water dripping onto his nice straw mats, and Master Li did not scold her for it. Jing Woo was timid about following suit, but he knew that if he followed his senior's example he would not suffer much punishment.
"Ah, good, there you are," he said. "I see you've met our new student, Jing Woo?"
"Yes, Master Li, I have," said Wu, in a tone of voice that Jing Woo had expected all the older students to have. He found himself surprisingly mournful to hear the spirited, lively voice vanished from her, and disappointed that she fell into his previous stereotypes.
Master Li nodded. "I wanted to try something a little different. When students your age first join the school they have usually acquired other martial abilities, and I was wondering if you knew of any yourself?"
"A little," said Jing Woo, "but most of it was just to defend myself in case thieves or bandits came snooping around."
"So you learned a freestyle method, and never went to a school before coming here."
It was not a question, but the pause was just long enough that Jing Woo knew he must respond. "No, Master."
"If anything we teach you conflicts with what you have learned before, I trust that you will follow our methods instead of your previous… style," said Master Li.
Jing Woo bowed. "Of course."
"Jing Woo, you will go through most of the same teachings that the other students go through. You will have the majority of your classes with Smiling Mountain and if he assigns you to another student to spar against, you will spar against him. I will on occasion pull you aside to tutor you privately. Unlike the others, however, you will learn your basics from Wu the Lotus Blossom for a few weeks."
Wu widened her eyes. "Master Li, I am not sure if I am fully prepared to be able to teach--"
"My child, there comes a time in every student's life where he must be ready to take what he's learn and teach it to others," said Master Li. "Sometimes the best teacher is within. I trust you will learn much about yourself and your art through this experience."
Wu stood still for a moment, taking in this new information. She then bowed. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Master."
Jing Woo did not want to speak at first; he was not entirely clear about the etiquette involved with speaking with Master Li. Wu obviously held a high enough rank in the school to be less formal with him than Jing Woo would otherwise expect, but he had to know.
"Master Li, if I may," he began slowly, hesitantly, and when Master Li made no sharp, scolding remark at him and Wu did not glare at him, he continued. "Why me?"
"You are the newest student and with little other experience," he said. "Plus, you are of the right age."
"Right age… for what?"
"It is more of a lesson for Wu than it is for you," he replied. "An older student will be more difficult to teach than a younger student, and it will test Wu's patience."
Wu smiled for the first time since entering Master Li's house. "Are you encouraging him to be as difficult as possible?"
"That is Jing Woo's own prerogative. His ability to learn is just as dependent on his attitude as it is his previous experience and talents. You may go."
Wu bowed, and Jing Woo followed suit. "Thank you once again, Master Li," she said.
When the two left the house, they stood outside underneath the rooftop. Wu turned to Jing Woo, and the spark that he had seen in her eyes earlier was gone. Her smile was vanished once more, and Jing Woo wanted nothing more than to apologize but he did not know yet what for.
"I guess that means I'm your teacher now. Or your mentor," she said. "I guess you got what you wanted. Go see Smiling Mountain, and he'll direct you to your room. I will see you in the morning, bright and early, rain or shine."
Jing Woo nodded. He knew not what else to say. She pointed in the direction where he could find Smiling Mountain, and then ran off before Jing Woo could figure out how to form the correct words to find out how he had offended Wu earlier, without offending her some more. He hoped that whatever he said, it would not affect too harshly on the training she would offer him later.
Jing Woo nearly forgot where he was when the blinding rays of sunshine penetrated through his windows and onto his face. He groaned and flipped over to bury his face in the pillow. It was only after a gong resounded beyond the walls did he remember that he was no longer hiding in an empty room in an inn or tavern in his wanderings, and he shot out of bed in a hurry to pull on his leggings.
Smiling Mountain had warned him that if he did not wake before the gong, there would be little breakfast left. Many students began to set their internal clocks to beat the bell and get first grabs; those who did not possess the skill to control how long they slept often wound up with the less ideal meal, or the more likely event, little to no breakfast. There was no rule against this, Smiling Mountain explained. Some students have shown they perform better without the weight of a morning meal. Mostly, it was good exposure to the Way of the Closed Fist--the "weaker" students must learn how to make do. The world, after all, did not completely follow the high path.
Jing Woo ran out the door still pulling on his shirt and vest, hoping in vain that Smiling Mountain's warning about breakfast was unfounded. Even when homeless, Jing Woo always managed to get breakfast somehow, and honestly. Alas, when he finally made it to the common area, most of the students were already filled with their meals and there were only scraps of food left.
Jing Woo sighed. So much for a good first day. He picked up what was left, knowing that anything was better than nothing in order to not let Master Li or Smiling Mountain or any of the other teachers down.
He took a glance around the common area; he recognized no one. He wondered where the two girls from yesterday were, but then decided that it would probably be best if he did not get too friendly with one of his teachers. There were no empty tables left, either, but he did not have to linger too long before a girl with her hair in randomly placed knots waved him over.
He smiled weakly. Things were starting to look up, after all. He took the seat next to her. She seemed cheerful enough; her other companions at the table, on the other hand, barely looked at him, but he paid no mind to them.
"You're new here, aren't you?" she said. "I'm Kia Min. I've been here for a few months already. I know what it's like to be the 'new kid' more than the others around here, so if you have any questions, consider me your gal."
"Thank you," he said.
"I wouldn't worry about it too much. Almost everyone here is pretty friendly. Even Master Li. He can be harsh, but he really does care about all of us. So, where are you from? Originally." Jing Woo hesitated. Kia Min quickly laughed sheepishly. "Sorry, you don't have to answer if you don't want to. I know a few students have come here under less than happy circumstances."
"No, it's okay," he said. "I just didn't know how best to answer that question. I wandered around a lot, but where I spent the majority of my childhood and where I was born was around Tien's Landing."
"You wandered? Why?"
Jing Woo shuddered. "That I'd rather not talk about."
Kia Min shrugged. "Fair enough. Come on, hurry up and eat. We don't want to be late for Smiling Mountain's class. He's nice, but he doesn't tolerate tardiness. I don't want to spend my lunch scrubbing pots and bowls."
Jing Woo was blown away during Smiling Mountain's classes that morning. For a martial arts school, he was expecting to go into some physical training (only to be taken away by Wu later for the basics Master Li told her to teach him) first thing, but Smiling Mountain instead taught philosophy and history underneath the trees by the sparring grounds. Jing Woo listened intently; Smiling Mountain had discussed little philosophy with him the night before while showing him to his room, but he hadn't gone into detail.
Before Smiling Mountain began the history lessons, he let the students have a break. The children to let loose some energy, and the adolescents to chat and refresh themselves. While Kia Min was talking to him about how she came to the school, Jing Woo saw Wu approach Smiling Mountain with Dawn Star at her side. Some of the other adolescents began speaking in hushed tones.
Jing Woo turned to Kia Min, and the wrinkles in his forehead must have asked the question for him. "They are Master Li's favored students," she said. "Both of them are very skilled, but Wu's skills--the one with the untamed hair--put her above even the senior students."
"I'd rather not speak about them too much," she said. "I hate gossip, and I hate gossipers, but if you really want to know more, I could introduce you to Lin during lunch. You could try to talk to them yourself, but Dawn Star is very… distant. She's kind, but you probably won't learn anything about her from her. Wu won't speak up about herself, either, but she's more approachable at least. Don't be surprised if she learns more about you than you do about her, though." Kia Min shook her head. "I've said more than I wanted to. Let's talk about something else."
Jing Woo frowned. "Excuse me, Kia Min, but I need to speak to Wu real quick."
"I'll explain later." He picked himself off from the ground and grabbed Wu's arm as she walked away from Smiling Mountain. He duly noted the sudden hushed gasp among the other students as Wu turned to face him, her face bewildered.
Jing Woo didn't know what he was going to say. He had all night to think about it, but he still couldn't figure out anything about what had happened. He did know that he had to apologize if he was going to learn from her, even though he hadn't figured out what he had said or done.
"I wanted to apologize for yesterday…"
"Apologize? For what?"
Jing Woo bit his lip and now regretted this bold move that would soon make him the talk of the students. Not because of the gossip and rumors that would ensue, but because he remembered why he never apologized unless he knew what he was apologizing for.
"I… I don't know," he said. "But yesterday, after we raced, something changed. You seemed very… spirited, and then I must have done or said something because then you weren't anymore. Whatever I said or did, I'm sorry."
Wu didn't say anything at first, and instead just stared at him, wide-eyed and confused. Dawn Star beside her, Jing Woo noticed, wore a strange, small smile, which only served to make the situation even more bewildering for him. He vowed that next time he did something this drastic, he was going to think it through more.
"It's… it's all right," Wu finally said meekly. "I guess." Then she grinned that familiar grin that Jing Woo first saw when he met her. "I have you after lunch, to train. Meet me in the garden. Don't be late!"
Wu and Dawn Star wandered off, and Jing Woo turned back to his fellow students who were all watching him. He couldn't tell if they were appalled or awed by his actions, but he knew he did something that nobody else ever dared to do. Jing Woo offered a meek smile to the others and then quietly reclaimed his seat next to Kia Min, who turned to him in unmistakable awe.
"When I said that Wu was more approachable, I didn't mean that anybody actually approaches her!" she exclaimed. "You have some guts, Jing Woo. It's actually kind of impressive, and refreshing."
"I mean it. But you should be careful. This is bound to spur on some… interesting rumors. Nothing too harmful, I hope, but it's no secret that Wu the Lotus Blossom is training you herself. That is causing a lot of jealousy for both her and you. Imagine the things people could start to come up with from there, especially after that display."
"I'll keep that in mind," he said, though he wasn't sure how true to that promise he would be. Gossip and rumors barely interested him to begin with. He doubted that his opinion on the matter would change even if the gossip and rumors were about him.
Kia Min helped Jing Woo make up for his overlook at breakfast, and at lunch she had him by the sleeve and pushed him into the common area, where he found himself the first one to grab food. She said that it would not do him any good if he attended his first training session with Master Li's protégé without the best food in his stomach. He did not see how the quality of food he had in his stomach would affect him in his afternoon training session, but he was thankful that Kia Min was being so helpful.
If the other students had been shy around him at breakfast time, they must have been outright afraid of him during lunch. Jing Woo and Kia Min shared a table by themselves, and Kia Min scoffed.
"It seems like the rumors and gossip have started already," she said. She sighed. "And it seems like I'm going to be caught in the middle of them."
Jing Woo cringed. "I'm sorry."
Kia Min laughed. "Don't be. Words mean nothing. In the end, skill and discipline are the only things that will matter, and how I treat others despite what they think my motives are. Wu and Dawn Star are kind enough that they only warrant timidity and respect from everyone, and I guess fear, too, but not in the bad way. I would like to be like that someday, except more able to call the other students friends than they can. You know, fear the day that they'd have to spar me but not fear me otherwise."
"They aren't friends with the other students?"
"They're nice to us, and we respect them, but that doesn't mean that we'd call each other friends," said Kia Min. "Dawn Star isolates herself too much, and Wu knows how much the other students either are jealous of her or places her on her a pedestal. I would like to try to break that mold and comfortably call them friends, but I haven't the courage like you do to actually do it yet." She laughed. "Of course, I bet you don't know why Dawn Star isolates herself, and I bet you haven't seen Wu in a sparring match yet. That's why you still have the courage at all."
Kia Min wouldn't say anymore on the subject of the two girls after that. She feared she had broken her "no gossiping" rule, even though she knew it was difficult not to when it came down to Wu and Dawn Star. Jing Woo did not mind, though; he knew that if he would be training under Wu, he would learn enough.
He finished eating his lunch quickly and found himself in the garden a good long time before he was told to be there. He did not mind, though; he was able to marvel at the beauty of the place while he was there. He was right: in the sunlight, the garden was a piece of heaven itself. Birds chirped in the gently swaying trees, and the ripples of the stream calmed him. The gentle chug of the mill provided rhythm--it was as though in the sunlight, the garden's purpose was soul-soothing music. He stood at the bridge, his arms crossed atop the red fence, and closed his eyes. He could stay here forever.
"You're here awfully early."
Jing Woo jumped and spun around. There was Dawn Star, gently smiling.
"I'm sorry if I startled you. Wu is with Master Li right now, but she will be here shortly."
He bowed. "Thank you. I'm sorry if I'm intruding by being here…"
"No, it's fine. Wu told you to come here, and you are here. Early or on time would not matter to her, so it does not matter to me. Besides, I love having visitors here."
"The garden is your area?"
"That's what the other students believe, so they rarely come here, and I'm usually the only one especially if Wu is training. Even during her free time she enjoys to spar. Please know that you are always welcome here in the garden; it is not exclusively my private area, though sometimes I am glad that the other students treat it as such."
"Thank you," said Jing Woo. "It's very beautiful here, and quiet."
Dawn Star nodded. "That's why I love it here. The rest of the school can be quite rowdy compared to here, and I prefer the peace and quiet. Anyway, I'm glad that I caught you before Wu got here. I wanted to talk to you."
"Talk to me? About what?"
"I wanted to know more about you, but I suppose I'll find that out later. We don't have time for that now, but I did want to tell you that you should not be afraid of being yourself around Wu. It's what she likes about you."
"What do you mean?"
"You're the only one who has ever approached her without stammering to relay a message to her or harassing her," said Dawn Star. "Even yesterday, Wu told me that when you wished to treat her as a superior, you were unwavering. She was disappointed because she had hoped that you would see her as an equal--she has that hope for all new students, especially ones her age--but after your display this morning, you've really placed yourself in her favor. Don't go back. Just… be yourself."
Jing Woo realized then what he had said before that had offended Wu so much that it seemed like her personality completely shifted. Now he knew what he had to apologize for, but he had already extended his apologies and he knew he would be foolish to do it again. He bowed and thanked Dawn Star, just in time for Wu to come running up to the garden.
"Sorry I'm late," she said. She looked between the two of them and smiled. "I trust you two had a good conversation?"
Dawn Star and Jing Woo stared at each other, and Dawn Star smiled and nodded. "Yes, we did," she said.
"Good!" said Wu. "Oh, and Dawn Star, Master Li told me to send for you. He said it was important."
Dawn Star took her leave, and Jing Woo found himself alone with Wu. She turned to him and wasted no time in offering to spar with her.
"What? Why so soon? I barely know anything of Master Li's style--"
"I just want to get a good gauge of where you stand and what's similar with your freestyle and what I need to have you relearn completely," she said. "Some of the older students are in the sparring ring, and Smiling Mountain is using his grounds to teach the younger students. So we'll spar here."
Jing Woo knew that regardless of his opinion, he had no choice in the matter. Besides, as far as he could possibly know, Master Li might have requested that Wu did this. They walked to the small clearing in front of the little house. Wu quickly tied her hair back in a loose ponytail and took to a fighting stance.
As soon as Jing Woo moved into position, Wu delivered a swift kick to his stomach, and he found himself crouching on the ground holding where she landed the blow.
Wu pouted. "At least try to fight back. That's the point of this."
"You… you caught me off guard!" he exclaimed.
"You said that yesterday. I hope that won't be your excuse every time you get beat by a girl. Or a boy, for that matter," she said. "Besides, do you think your opponent will care if you're ready to fight or not?"
Jing Woo frowned. She made a good point--what if he was ambushed some day in the far future? That kind of excuse would get him killed. He, however, did not want to admit that she was right. Not yet. Not until he could land one or two blows, or at least be given the opportunity to attack.
"Let's do it again," he said. She smiled.
"Now that's what I wanted to hear!"
It took him two or three more times before he could even put Wu on the defensive for a split second, but as soon as he did, Wu called the sparring session to a close and decided it was time for her to start teaching him.
The way she taught was not something that Jing Woo expected. He expected a lesson in the same manner that he would expect from Master Li, or a typical, more experienced student, but Wu sprinkled her lessons in jokes and questions about Jing Woo. He found himself laughing throughout the lesson, and if not laughing, then talking about himself, and before he knew it, the gong rang signaling the beginning of the dinner hour.
Jing Woo stopped in the middle of one of the basics routines that Wu had him going over. "That was quick," he said.
Wu grinned. "It sure was. Fastest four hours of my life. Well, hurry to dinner then. I think Master Li would want to see you as soon as you're done eating, just to make sure I'm on the right track with you."
"Will you not join me?"
Wu was taken aback. Jing Woo almost regretted what he said--he had done it without thinking it through, at all--but then he remembered what Dawn Star had advised him before the start of the session. He took in a deep breath and held his ground. He could not risk offending her again, not in the same way.
"I haven't seen you eating with the other students. I know I've only been around for a couple of meals, but you and Dawn Star are never around then. Come eat with me, and Kia Min, too?"
"Well…" Wu started. "I'd rather not. Dawn Star and I eat together here in the garden. The other students aren't so kind to her, and I'd hate for her to have to eat alone."
Jing Woo frowned. "That's not what Kia Min told me."
"I know a little bit about Kia Min," said Wu. "She doesn't associate herself with many of the different crowds who would speak ill of Dawn Star. She's well-liked among the other students, but she doesn't feel the same for everyone else."
"She did say she hates gossipers."
Wu smiled. "Exactly. No, I won't join you. I won't leave Dawn Star alone. Thank you for the invitation, though."
"Why doesn't she come with us?"
"You weren't listening, were you?"
Jing Woo fell silent. Kia Min had said that Dawn Star kept to herself but had no interest in explaining to Jing Woo why. Now Wu was telling him that she was not well-liked by the other students like Kia Min had implied, even though Dawn Star was clearly nothing else but kind to everyone she met. Jing Woo was puzzled. He knew he was missing something but he could not figure out what.
He was astounded by Wu from the moment he met her, but now he was curious about Dawn Star. He would not let go of this so easily.
"Then I'll come join you two," he said. "If you don't mind."
Wu blinked and seemed to have stopped breathing for a second. "You…" she started softly. She shook her head. "People say this of me all the time, and I never thought I'd say it to someone else… but you're… different." She grinned. "In a good way, of course. No. You shouldn't. You're new here, and you should get to know your fellow students. I'd hate for you to be an outcast like me or Dawn Star."
"We'll be fine, trust me," she said. "Thank you. You better go before all the food is gone. Dinner is the most popular meal around here." Jing Woo hesitated, and Wu laughed. "Go on! I'll see you at the same time tomorrow."
Jing Woo took his time leaving the garden, occasionally looking back to see Wu still watching him exit until he could not see the bridge and mill anymore. He stopped in front of the gates into the main area of the school and put a hand to his forehead. He could not figure out why he felt so terrible suddenly. Wu's demeanor didn't completely transform on him again; she only turned down an invitation. She made it sound like it was for his own good, but he could not understand why. Kia Min would likely not talk to him anymore about the two top students; he knew she was already berating herself for saying what she had.
And if the rest of the students really were as petty as Wu implied, why would she want him to befriend them all? Of course, Kia Min did say that she, like Dawn Star, were very friendly to everybody, but Jing Woo knew that he was one of the very few who she showed her more human side to.
There was something else going on at the school, and he knew he would not be satisfied until he knew what it was.