So here's the next chapter in Shen's journey. It's only one but it's pretty long, I hope you'll enjoy. I finished it during the night so there might be some spelling errors.
Shen walked up to the village along the bumpy dirtroad. The houses weren't densly placed, each had a lot of space around it. Even from a distance he saw that the village centered around the meeting point of two roads, the one he arrived on, and another crossing it. The intersection itslef seemed to have turned into some kind of main square. As he was nearing the houses, some man in rugged leather clothes who was previously leaning against the wall of a nearby house, now ran up to him.
"You wish to enter our fabulous settlement, good sir?" - he asked with a grin.
"I do" - answered Shen with a questioning look on his face. The guy didn't move. - "So please stand aside, if you will."
"Certainly sir! There is just one little business to settle before that. To enter, you need to donate a small amount to ... hmm, let's say to the village's church."
"The village church is taxing people entering the settlement?" - Shen looked at him suspiciously - "To be honest, it doesn't sound too believable."
"It ain't tax sir, no way, it's just a little donation. A sign of your good will towards the village you're just about to enter."
"What if I'm not entering the village with any specific good will in mind?" - Shen started to figure out what's going on.
"Nah sir, I DO trust you are the generous sort." - he answered with a threatening face.
"You're cheap." - Shen told him - "You could have at least come up with a better excuse to extort money from travelers."
"Now listen here old man! I don't know what you're so dam confident about with these ridiculous torn rags of yours. Maybe those two rusty rods on your back you're so proud of, I ain't know but me is bloody sure ya stole 'em somewhere, can't even hold one of em with two hands. I just tell ya that one, I shout back to them fellas and before you count to three, ya'll find urself thronw into da ditch n pieces. So pay up sucker, while I let you!
Shen analyzed his opponent. Avarage height but thin, with a relatively weak muscular system. No visible weapons on his outfit. Leather and linen equipment, not likely to wear any protection. Uncovered head with high, almost sticking out cheek-bones - easy to break. Supposedly having backup, if not lying, then around three-four young adult males, probably stronger than himself - should be avoided, one or more of them could die. Greedy, agressive facial expression, probably won't listen to reason.
Decision was made. With one precise, strong punch on the face, Shen knocked him out unconscious before he could even think about shouting. This way he could avoid any larger conflict.
"Old man ey?" - he muttered as he knelt down to check the damage inflicted - "Quite a punch from an old man it seems..."
Everything was allright, he was unconscious but breathing, cheekbone appeared to be slightly bruised. He will recover in a few hours, though a temporary memory loss is possible.
"Now about my torn rags, I think it's time to balance out our wealths." - and with that said, Shen took half of the coins he found in the guy's pockets. It was three gold coins and twenty coppers. He must have been doing rather well. Maybe a wounded champion who couldn't resist him?
He looked around. It was early in the morining and most of the folk were still sleeping. He couldn't spot anyone who would have noticed, so he stood up and went inside the little village. He stopped at the main square at the crossroads to look around. First thing he noticed was a wooden column on the middle of the square, with a wood staute on top of it, showing some kind of bird expanding it's wings. Then he looked at the houses, they were randomly placed around the village center.
Some had farm wagons near them, a hen house in the back garden, scythe and rake laying around. He noticed that a few houses were burned down. Also, there were a few similar black tents like back in the warcamp, indicating a noxian presence. Than he spotted the largest building, with empty barrels in front of it. That must have been the tavern. If you're looking for rumours or information, that's always the place to start. He headed over to it and entered through the large two winged wooden door. It looked like a nice, comfortable place with the tables in fron of the bartab, still supporting some drunk villagers, and a stairs leading to the floor above. But then he noticed the tavern keeper as he was cleaning the bartab with some old rag.
"What the ... well now, I didn't expect that." - Shen said, both laughing and surprised - "Gragas! What are you doing here?"
"Bloody hell..." - Gragas looked up and stared at him - "Is dat you Shen? Goddamit, come, come closer I'll give you some drink in a minute."
"No need, I think I'll manage." - answered Shen still smiling.
"Well I can see you ain't had an easy time gettin' here. Still better than dead ain't it. I actually thought you were."
"I'm not so easy to kill. But now you to tell me. How did you get away and how did you end up here?"
Gragas drank the mug of grog he originally poured for Shen, even though he refused it.
"As ya know, I recalled a lot earlier than you, so I arrived back at da Institude before the siege began. It was a chaos already. Everyone somehow felt that them summoners are missing and some claimed they saw Brand runnin over a corridor. Now as ya can imagine, Nasus and Renekton immediately jumped at each other's throat, and so did Kayle and Morgana. It was a bloody mess I tell ya. I just grabbed me cask and ran straight to the backdoor of the Institude because it was facin' south, and the noxians came from da north. And so I followed that little road till over here, but then I got tired and saw this place had a bloody inn, so I decided to get some rest. By the way, did you know that Fiddlesticks planted his arse in one of them cropfields? Anyways, I was just gettin the party started when those rotting noxians got here too. They said they're "takin' over" or something. What matters is that at the end they didn't get enough grog so they killed old Barty, the tavern keeper and I took over. I'll be stayin' here till the road to north is clean again. Then I'll go to Freljord, to the Avarosa Iceflow. I have a brewery there, and it's far enough from all these noxians."
"Interesting story." - Shen nodded - "and since you're the tavern keeper now, can I ask for some food? Bread will do. I can pay. And I also have some more questions if you have the time."
"Sure but I'm not taking money from you Shen. Friends from da League, and I don't know how many of them are left." - Gragas opened a cupboard and put some bread and cheese on the bar counter. - "Now tell me, what's eatin' ya?"
"I'm looking for my friends, Kennen and Akali." - answered Shen as he got to his breakfast - "Fiddlesticks told me he saw Kennen going this way. Have you seen him? Or Akali for that matter?"
"No Shen I haven't" - said Gragas with a worrying look on his face - "But that doesn't mean he's not here. You know they don't like nonhumans around here, especially since the noxian army arrived."
"Yes, I know Noxus detests all nonhumans, or at least those who don't slaughter in their name." - nodded Shen.
"Now what I'm thinking is that even if he's here, hes probably laying low somewhere, trying to avoid attention. But then the peasents won't be much of a help finding him."
"Shame." - sighed Shen.
"But you're not entirely safe here either" - continued Gragas - "A drunken noxian told me they're looking for any ionians that survived. They don't want you in their lines when Noxus attacks. Shen, if you're recognized, you'll probably be attacked on sight. Lucky thing you came this early, coz these soldiers are the lazy sort."
"I see. And then I can forget about talking to the villagers. Seems like I'll have to take my mask off for now."
"What? But you never removed it before." - Gragas was pretty surprised.
"Yes, but by now, everyone knows my mask yet no one knows my face. It simply does not serve the purpose of hiding my identity anymore. I will also need some new clothes. Do you have any idea?"
"There's a tailor close by, you could try there. Look, if anyone's gloomy with you, just tell 'em I know you."
"Many thanks." - answered Shen. He stayed to finish his breakfast. He didn't need to take off his mask for that, it was torn around his mouth anyway.
When he finished, he walked out of the tavern and searched for the tailor's shop. He soon found the sign hanging from a small building with a tiny drawing of a shirt on it. But it was early in the morning and the shop was still closed. Shen headed back to the tavern but then he saw a little well near it, so he walked up to it instead. There was a bucket full of water around it too. He sat down next to it on the ground, drew both of his swords and began cleaning them with his clothes. It's been a while since he took lives for real, but all of them was necessary. He regretted none of his decisions. When the blades were relatively clean again, the sun has already rose higher and villagers began to appear on the main square. Then he finally saw the tailor unlocking the door of his shop, and entering. Allright, time to take off that mask. Shen removed the torn piece of clothe covering his head and the gentle, cold wind blew into his face, breezing his medium-lenght dark black hair.
A ninja adapts to his environment. Swords and masks are not symbols, but tools to aid him in achieving his goal. A ninja does not pursuit false ideals. If in this environment, the mask is only setting him back, and keeping him from finding his friends, then he will take it off. His freinds worth a lot more than that.
He got up and headed straight to the tailor. He entered the little wooden door, into the shop. It was a small dark room with only one window, and many clothes and equipment were stored on the wall, on shelves or hanged up.
"Why come so early?" - asked the tailor with a grumpy voice. Then he looked at Shen's clothes - "Ah, I see ... so what'll it be?"
Shen picked a good, strong linen shirt and a leather jacket plus a pair of studded leather trousers. His belt, bracers and other steel armor was still in one piece so there was no reason to drop those.
"You don't look like you have the money for that." - said the tailor with a bit of contempt in his tone, as he packed everything together - "It'll be three silver coins."
Shen put a gold on the counter. Back in the Institude he didn't encounter much with lower grade money than gold, but he still knew the currency from earlier years. Ten silvers make a gold and a hundred coppers make a silver coin. Of course in the Institude they used unreasonable amounts of gold, but that was just for the show, since they didn't take anything home from matches anyway. It was meant to make them feel special.
"I don't trust you" - grunted the tailor as he picked up the coin - "I never saw you before here. Who the hell are you anyway? And that" - he pointed at the gold - "is fake isn't it?"
"You treat every customer like that?" - asked Shen calmly - "Can't be doing too well in business."
"You're joking?" - asked the tailor angrily - "You look like a beggar and then throw gold in my face? Why should I believe it's genuine?"
"Gragas knows me. You can ask him about me next time you go to the tavern. Probably that won't be too long from now. You still don't look sober."
"Riiight. Gragas. But if he happens to say he never saw you..."
"The gold will still be genuine." - Shen finished the sentence for him.
The tailor searched all his drawers, then finally gave Shen the seven silver coins and pushed the equipment a little closer to him.
"Pleasure doing business." - he said - "Now get out of here."
Shen grabbed his belongings and left the shop. He went straight back to the little well behind the tavern where he cleaned his blades, and changed his clothes there. The old ones were really dirty and torn, but still mostly recognisable so he had to get rid of them somehow. He noticed that the tavern was lit by torches during the night and of them was still burning on the wall outside. He took it out of it's iron support and ignited his old clothing. No one will be able to trace him now. In the flames he saw the ruins of the Institude again.
It was time to start loking for his friends. Still nothing about Akali, but Kennen should be nearby. Shen went back to the main square to ask villagers heading out to the fields. He saw that a few noxian guards already woke up, some headed to the tavern others just stood at their posts with their face rotting from boredom. They were looking straight through him, none of them seemed to know who he was. They were fully unaware that Shen, the Eye of Twilight walks past them. He looked like a simple wanderer, as it wasn't unusual for them to carry weapons.
"Good man, could you anwer a short question?" - he asked a nearby villager - "I'm looking for a yordle who went this way. Have you seen him?"
"I don't know of any yordle who went this way and is still in one piece." - he answered with contempt - "Go ask in the tavern. Maybe he'll be served as dinner today."
"Why hate nonhumans so much?" - asked Shen.
"They're the cause of everything The war, the noxians here and all." - answered the man - "But if you forgive me now, I'm heading to the fields. Good day!"
Shen kept asking villagers, but with no luck. Most of them didn't even care to answer after Shen said the word "yorlde" and others simply never saw Kennen. Shen started to feel like as if he was looking for his favourite rabbit or mouse, because people didn't really consider his friend any more important than that. Many were surprised that he's actually looking for a yordle while most people try to avoid them. Shen was losing hope, so at one point, when most of the villagers were out on the fields already, he decided to go check around the houses. He really wouldn't have been surprised to find Kennen in a small cage at a backyard by now. He checked every house's garden from a distance, but saw nothing more than cats and chickens. The noxian soldiers started getting nervous and were glancing at him increasingly often. Shen was really disappointed. There was no sign of any of his friends whatsoever and dusk was already coming. He decided to go back to the tavern and continue the search tomorrow. Maybe he will have to use his talents to search houses from the inside. If he still finds nothing, he'll have to move forward assuming that Kennen avoided the village. But it was on a crossroad, wich way did he follow then? At that point someone pulled his belt to get his attention. He looked down and saw a little boy standing at his feet.
"Please sir, do you have any food? I'm hungry!"
Shen smiled and knelt down to him.
"How old are you boy?"
"I don't know." - the boy answered with huge eyes fixated at Shen.
"How many winters can you remember?"
"Hmmm, about ten." - answered the boy, then with growing curiosity - "why, how many do YOU remember?"
"Me?" - Shen smiled. He grew up in Ionia where winters were nothing like here. There weren't snow and frost. But he knew the child is ultimately asking for his age so he answered - "It's at least thirty."
"Woow, you're so old. My father remembers about five winters only."
"He must have been drunk on the others." - said Shen - "So about you being hungry, doesn't your mother feed you?"
"No, she doesn't. All of our food goes to Helios. My mather believes it's best. But I'm so hungry."
"Helios? Who's that? Is he your father, or a relative?"
"No, you silly. It's him!" - and the child pointed at the top of the wooden column in the middle of the main square, that had the wooden bird statue on it.
"This Helios is a bird?" - asked Shen. He started to get confused.
"He's the Eagle of Light." - answered the child - "He's very powerful and he protects us if we're kind to him. But he must be getting really fat by now."
"How do you give food to this Helios." - Shen started to suspect what's going on.
"We burn it. Sacrafice they call it. I don't know how he eats it afterwards but he likes it, because people say he accapted it when everything's in ashes."
"Cáel! Cáel, there you are!" - that was the voice of a middle-aged woman, running towards them - "If you keep wandering off, I'll have to beat you harder next time." - she caught up with them and turned to Shen - "I'm sorry he gave you trouble sir, he's just a bad boy like that, won't happen again."
"He was hungry." - said Shen as he stood up. He looked sternly at the woman.
"Ah, the gluttonous little devil. We fed him yesterday but he's still crying."
"Yesterday?" - repeated Shen - "And you consider that sufficient?"
"We're hardly rich folk sir. If we'd only have more!"
"Yet you still have enough food to burn. I understand why you make those sacrafices, but try to keep up a balance between your child and your god or else he will become a sacrafice himself, starving to death."
"YOU! YOU...!" - the woman's eyes widened in anger - "Don't you have a little respect for Helios?! We have offended him, we let the nonhumans too close, so now he sent the noxian army to get rid of them. We must convince him again that we are worthy!! And also, beg for forgiveness!"
"But that doesn't exclude feeding your child at least once a day." - Shen insisted.
"OH MY! What is one child before the mighty Helios, Eagle of Light?! He's not even worthy to be sacraficed to the Lord!"
"I wonder how kids survive around here..." - muttered Shen, then continued aloud - "Does the other villagers believe in this ... diety?"
"THE MIGHTY HELIOS!" - shouted the women - "YES! We all follow his command, you will NOT find any nonhumans unharmed among us! The Eagle of Light only tolerates faithful humans!"
"Then how come he's an eagle? That's not exactly human..." - Shen was getting disgusted.
"BLASPHEMER!" - screamed the woman, pointing at him with her finger - "HE MOCKED THE NAME OF THE MIGHTY HELIOS! BURN HIM!!"
With the coming of dusk, villagers were returning from the fields and people started to gather up around them. The woman was totally out of her mind, blazing cheeks and rolling eyes, shaking her finger pointing at Shen. Her child so scared, he was hiding behind the ninja.
"HERETIC! You are no different from those dirty nonhumans! Having no respect for the Lord, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!"
A man broke through the small crowd that gathered and walked up to them.
"I'm the village mayor. Is there a problem?" - he asked.
"Nothing, I'll be on my way." - answered Shen quickly.
"This man here mocked the name of our Mighty Helios and wanted me to stop sacraficing to the Lord!" - said the woman, pretending an offended calmness.
"I only said, " - Shen turned around. He was getting a little angry - "that you should also keep a little for your children. That's all."
"Look sir, I can see you are a traveler" - started the mayor calmly - "but please try to understand that Helios is holy and almighty and you should keep him in the greatest respect you can. These are hard times and we need the support of our Lord, so everyone is free to sacrafice as much as they see fit. Unfortunately we cannot tolerate offenders of the Lord, so I must ask you to leave the village in peace."
"Very well." - Shen looked straight into the mayor's eyes - "I will leave tomorrow. I don't want to be here for the boy's funeral, when he starved to death."
The boy in question started to cry. Shen felt sorry for him, he wanted to help but the child's own mother stopped him from doing so. Now the people wouldn't let him just take the child for a dinner to the tavern. It was impossible, his mother was a fanatic, and the crowd backed her up. Shen walked back to the tavern, feeling the woman's gaze on his back, but he didn't care. He entered the inn. As he walked towards the bar counter with Gragas behind it, he saw the man he knocked out earlier, in the company of two musclemen and many empty bottles on their table.
"...and he wore a ridiculous mask like this" - he made an awkward grimace - "I swear if I find im, I'll teach 'im a thing or two. Took three gold coins goddamit!" - and he hit the table.
Shen ignored him and walked straight over to Gragas. The giant dwarf was pretty busy serving all the people since it was hightime, evening after work.
"I'll need a room for today. And I'll pay for it." - said Shen.
"Well if ya so much want to, I won't resist. Fifteen coppers it is. Hey Shen, you look angry. Wha happened, you haven't found anythin'?"
"Yeah, no trace..." - Shen sighed, and handed the coppers to Gragas - "But I wonder how did you get in here. You're a dwarf after all, didn't their bird want to bite you?"
"Do I look like a dwarf to you, even if I am one?" - said Gragas laughing.
"Then a giant, it's all the same for them."
"I guess you met their lil bird too. But ya forget that I brought grog. You give them some good wine and not even Hulos or whatever will care for what the f.uck you are. Besides my brewing skills are also much better than the previous tavern keeper's, so dat ****ty eagle can't have a word."
"Finally someone speaking sense." - Shen smiled bitterly. - "I'm going to sleep now. Wich room is mine?"
"End of the corridor to da right upstairs. G'night. Here, take this bread too. I bet you're hungry."
"Thanks. Listen Gragas, there is boy named Cáel, his mother doesn't feed him because she burns all her food to that eagle. Here's a silver coin, if you see him running around alone, please feed him from this."
"Upholding the balance again? Allright, don't get pushy, I'll do it for you."
Shen walked up to his room and quickly ate the bread he brought up with himself. The room was little with only a single bed, a table and a small cupboard, no other furniture. But this was enough for him, Shen didn't even took his wrist-bracers off, he just lay over the bed and fell asleep.
He had a very strange dream. He was very short, his eyes were at the level of Talon's knees as he walked into the room, holding some crumbled papers in his hand. He held them high and shook them in his hand. "They're here, all here! Ryze didn't notice a thing." Nocturne was sitting behind his desk in his green robe with pieces of yellow armor on it, his wooden staff still in his right hand, and the red-eyed raven on his shoulder. "Excellent work. May I have them?" He crawled closer to the desk and handed the papers to Nocturne. The general carefully looked through them, then nodded and handed it over to Veigar who was standing at his side. "Does this appear to be useful?" Veigar took the papers, looked at them for a few seconds then laughed. "YES! Evil can certainly be spawned from it! Suffering awaits!" Nocturne now turned to him. "Thank you for your work. I will inform Zaun about their newest council tomorrow. And about your money, Talon please, will you be so kind?" Talon walked over to him and thrusted his blade right through him. Pain pierced his body as he fell on the floor. Nocturne was still looking at his papers while Veigar laughed horribly. Then Shen awoke. It took him a few seconds to calm down and realise where he is.
It could have been around midnight, and one of the houses near the tavern was burning. He quickly got up and ran downstairs. He saw Gragas still behind the counter, just some of the guests have passed out already.
"What's going on?" - he asked.
"Oh, didn't I tell ya?" - Gragas looked at him - "Some of the village youth ran off when the noxians came. Now they play bandits and sometimes raid one of the houses. But don't worry, da bastarts never come here because they know they'd meet with the worse end of da barrel."
"And don't the guards do anything about it?"
"They're checking for leftover. These are lazy old fools, so they always arrive late. Now they're searching for any valuables the bandits didn't take for themselves. The houses are far from each other, so hopefully the fire won't spread."
"They don't even try to cath them?"
"Why would they?" - Gragas pulled his eyebrows.
"Allright. Goodnight Gragas." - said Shen as he climbed the stairs back to his room.
The rest of the night was relatively peaceful and Shen could have some rest. There were no more strange dreams or burning houses or anything. In the morning he awoke for Gragas shaking him.
"Hey Shen wake up! Come on dude!"
"What's up? What is it now?" - asked Shen between two yawns.
"A drunken peasent just told me there's an execution going on. Hell it's a "sacrafice to the eagle" but that's all the same. They're killing a nonhuman!"
"Bloody hell!" - Shen immediately jumped up. - "I owe you one for that."
He quickly got his swords on his back and ran out of the tavern, straight to the main square. Gragas didn't lie, there was a tied up brown furred little yordle on top of a pile of wood. The crowd had already gathered they were almost igniting the bonfire already. Shen ran closer and broke through the crowd to see the yorlde. It was Kennen. He was given some toddler's clothes and there was no trace of his original equipment.
"STOP!" - Shen shouted
"SHEN!" - Kennen yelled with his high-pitched voice - "I'm so happy to see you! Help me out please!!"
"It's the blasphemer again! BURN HIM TOO!!" - shouted the woman from yesterday, who was naturally in the first line.
"No one burns anyone!" - said Shen firmly - "This yordle is with me. None of you will touch him. We are leaving together."
"Now this is more than enough!" - the village mayor walked up to him with a pitchfork in his hand. - "That yordle is a sacrafice to the Lord and you will NOT stop the ritual. I asked you to leave kindly, if you refuse to, we'll have to use force."
"I'd like to see you try, peasent." - Shen answered coldy.
"STAND ASIDE, or we'll burn you too!" - shouted the mayor at him. - "You can't stop the entire village!"
"BURN THE HERETIC!" - screamed the woman.
"I give you one last chance to leave!" - yelled the mayor. - "Then we'll remove you with force."
Shen stood still, solid as a rock. The mayor hesitated then grabbed his pitchfork with both hands. Shen still didn't move. The mayor waited a few more seconds, then defeating his insecurity he tried to hit Shen with it. In just a flash, Shen drew his blade, stepped forward and stabbed it into the mayor, who groaned in agony. The crowd froze in silence as blood dripped from his blade.
"Anyone else who wants to burn the yordle?" - he asked aloud. - "I'll slaughter the whole village if I have to."
Total silence. No one dared to answer as Shen pulled his blade out and let the mayor's lifeless body fall to the ground into the pool of his own blood. He walked over to Kennen and cut his bounds.
"Come on Kennen, let's get out of here." - he whispered to his friend.
I hope you enjoyed Shen's little village adventure. Any comments are of course greatly appriciated. I'd love to know what you think about the story : )
Btw this language filter sucks, it doesn't even allow words like "dam.n" or "bas.tard". Village folk aren't raised by the gentry lol.