The Destined Path, Chapter One: Restless.
After spending so much time amoung the flaming buildings, she could still smell the smoke and destruction on her robes. Her entire body was sore, and covered in bruises from the countless people she had fought in the last few hours.
Has it really only been a few hours? The last day seemed like it lasted a dynasty.
The billowing, black smoke had burned her nose and eyes. And the tears. The numberless tears she had cried in the ruins of her childhood home... her eyes felt as if someone had thrown poison in them. She couldn't even look at the small fire they had built, for it irritated her already annoyed eyes.
She was physically and emotionally exhausted beyond any point she thought possible. She knew that in any normal situation she could have slep on a bed of nails comfortably... but the faces of those she lost that day haunted her.
Pushing off her small, make-shift blanket, Jen Zi moved to exit the small camp they'd claimed outside of Tien's Landing. Dawn Star had managed to find sleep, having cried herself quietly to exhaustion a small time ago. Zu sat in the corner, guarding her sleeping form.
The cooler air away from the fire calmed her eyes, but couldn't help the self-blaming thoughts she was having behind them. She had spent the time since sundown trying to calm her mind and allow herself to get some must needed rest, but her meditation wasn't working... not on this.
Was there more that she could have done? Could she have saved her home if she had delt with Gao the Lesser sooner? If she had been there, perhaps Master Li wouldn't have been taken.
Jen Zi shook her head, as if to dislodge the thoughts. Master Li would be dissapointed. She shouldn't be worrying over 'what-ifs'. Distraction in a fighter's mind can be deadlier than an enemy's sword, her Master always said. He had always led her to shy away from activites he thought distracting to a young student. She always spent a few hours in meditation a day, learning to clear her mind so her skills would stay sharp. Worrying was unbefitting of Master Li's protege.
So much had happened in the last day and a half. Her childhood home was in ashes. Her fellow students and friends, now spirits, doomed to wander the Jade Empire until it drove them mad. And her master, the closest thing she had to family besides Dawn Star, was in the clutches of the Emporer. The Emporer who everyone praised as the Hero of the Jade Empire. Master Li had said her life would be different after entering the Spirit Cave, but this wasn't what Jen Zi had in mind.
'Pity the world if you fail, Spirit Monk, for you are the last.'
After the events in Two Rivers, Jen Zi had nearly forgotten what had happened in the Spirit Cave. The spirit who came to her... no, she seemed like much more than a spirit. Jen Zi could sense much more from the Blue Spirit than just being lost. Her sadness was profound, as was her pain. A spirit guide, perhaps? But she spoke only in riddles. Master Li cautioned against listening to the Blue Spirit, a needless distraction, but it was a mystery her wandering mind couldn't help but ponder.
Jen Zi called upon the magic the Blue Spirit had gifted her. Dire Flame coated her hand in a gentle fire, lighting the path around her. She let it fade as she continued down the path. The night was calm, she continued forward until she found the small stream.
Quickly disrobing, Jen Zi slid into the cool water. The small pool was only about waist deep, but it felt good on her aching body. Dunking her head, she worked on removing the burnt smell from her hair. She also rubbed the throbbing muscles of her legs and arms, working out the stress.
Time slipped away as she relaxed in the water, looking at the stars and tried not to think of the destruction behind her, or the obsticles in front of her. She wrung out her hair, and, regretfully, had to put on her torn and bloodied school uniform. It made Jen Zi realize just how woefully unprepared and under-supplied their group was.
"Who's there?" Jen Zi called into the darkness. She wasn't sure how she sensed it, but someone was there.
Zu walked into the pale moonlight from the trees. Jen Zi's uneasiness returned quickly. Their new companion had scars from deep wounds all over his chest, arms, and face. Jen Zi sensed that this man had seen many horrible things, perhaps even caused them. She had needed his help to save Dawn Star from Gao the Lesser, but some part of her wondered if they should continue to employ his help.
"The Assassins that attacked Two Rivers," he began, his voice gruff, "I know much about their ways. Every Assassin in their order will know of you two by now. It would be wise to dispose of your old school uniforms," his eyes raked her body in a very uncomfortable mannor. "They will have discriptions of you, so anyway you can alter your appearance will be benefictial to your mission."
"Why are you telling me this now?" She was overly on-edge. It was very improper of him to come to her while she had been bathing. Jen Zi's cheeks burned, hoping he hadn't seen anything.
"Your companion was too far beside herself with grief," Zu spoke bluntly. "Even speaking of Two Rivers would have been too much for her." Sagacious Zu turned to leave.
"You only decided to help me when I told you Dawn Star's name," she spoke to his retreating figure. "You still haven't told me why."
Zu stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked back at her. "I am here to help," his voice harder than the look he gave her, "that is all you need to know." Without another sound, he disappeared into the shadows.