Shen awoke for Kennen pushing him. He opened his eyes and quickly got onto his feet.
"Come on Shen! Quickly, up onto that tree!" - said Kennen as fast and as silent as he could.
Without hesitation Shen followed the yordle climbing up to the tree. Once they were crouching on a thicker branch, he finally asked.
"What is it? Someone's here?"
"Something!" - answered Kennen - "Look!"
He pointed at the direction of a small, four legged animal coming their way. It was a deer.
"We can't have such luck..." - muttered Kennen to himself.
"But why would it venture alone to the edge of the forest?" - said Shen. - "Is it possible? It's just a young child what got lost? Or gone mad?"
"Whatever!" - said Kennen impatiently - "Just throw your blade into it. Come on, who cares why it's here?"
"And it will be fun when it runs away with it, yeah? I don't know animal anatomy that much, it just might not kill it."
"Then give me the other, I'll throw it too."
"So we'll be left completely without blades. If it won't die I'll have you run after it."
"Sure! Give it here."
The two ninjas both got a blade in their hands, and took their aim. The deer was standing still, eating grass.
Two blades hissed through the air and both hit the animal's neck, Shen's a little closer to the head. The animal raised it's head with an awkward move, made a few uncertain steps then collapsed on the ground.
"Let's hope it's mother won't miss it." - said Shen with relief, but Kennen wasn't there anymore. He was already pulling his prey closer to their camp.
"And now we're going to roast you, and EAT YOU!" - he said to the dead animal with huge enthusiasm.
"Allright, it does worth a campfire. Just what the hell it was doing here alone? I can't imagine." - said Shen as he collected his blades - "But we can't eat all of it. There's no time, we must catch up with Akali The easiest way to get food out of it is probably by the upper leg muscles. While you make the fire I'll cut some clean meat out of it."
"Allrighty" - Kennen nodded happily, then he darted off.
With his speed and energy empowered by the promise of roasted meat, he collected a pile of small wood from all around in record time. Then he got two branches and lit fire with it, by rubbing them to each other to generate heat. Needless to say it didn't take much effort to him to rub the branches fast enough for fire to ignite. And because the flames were burning already, he went over to Shen to help him cut the deer into roastable pieces. Afetr they extracted some usable meat they pinned it on some wooden sticks used as skewers and held it above the fire.
"How much time till it's ready?" - asked Kennen after a few minutes of desperate waiting.
"You'll see when it is." - answered Shen with a smile.
"I'm rather interested in how fast you yourself would roast." - said a cold metallic voice .
Kennen screamed and rolled sideway but Shen remained calm. He has already encountered Nocturne before, who, now freed from his chains, was trying his 'unbound wings' with pleasure. This time there was no dark mist, Shen just noticed him floating into his vision with a slice of meat pinned on a branch, as he held it above the fire.
"How ... how did you get here?!" - gasped Kennen. He was so scared he almost hid behind a tree, but gathered his courage and stood still.
"Oh my little hamster.." - started Nocturne with a tone a mother uses to teach her child - "I travel at the speed of thought. I can go anywhere where fear is present in any amount. And you my friend are afraid for Akali."
"Nocturne, forgive me, but you start to be a little boring." - Shen turned to the Eternal Nightmare - "Do you have any specific reason to come? If yes say it, otherwise we'll be moving on. Unlike you it seems, we have things to attend to."
"Boring?" - asked Nocturne after a short laugh - "But look at how excited that little hamster got. He's hardly bored."
"He's a yordle." - said Shen coldly.
"Maybe he is... but You aren't exactly boring either. Wherever you go, death follows. Ever since you arrived back at the Institude, through the noxian camp to the village mayor, you leave corpses behind you. And yet you call yourself balanced?"
Shen looked ahead of himself and took a deep breath. Kennen also realized Nocturne is not about to try to kill them right now, so he quietly crawled a little closer to Shen. In fact his answer to the nightmare's question interested him. It was a long time ago when they could seriously talk about balance."
"You are accusing me of disrupting the balance... " - Shen looked Nocturne in the eye - "But you know nothing about balance. The noxians themselves work against it, killing a few was rightous, for it allows me to to continue working for complete balance, while slowing them in their attempt to disturb it. The mayor's life was a necessary sacrafice. If I don't do something drastic enough to hold the crowd back, they would have charged at us - and then I would have had no choice but to massacre them. The mayor's judgement was clouded by superstition and hatred, unable to make good decisions, his life I exchanged for Kennen, a warrior who understands balance like no other, a member of the Kinkou. That is my answer."
"Ah, balance, Shen, always the balance. You live for it you'll die for it." - Nocturne continued with his freezing voice - "But have you ever considered how cruel it is? Why don't you let people live in joy, and happiness to the fullest? Are you really so wicked, that you would work against a world without evil? Because that's out of balance?"
"You've really never been to the Kinkou have you Nocturne, aside from that pathetic vision back at the Institude?" - Shen replied, along with his characteristic short, dry laugh - "I am working for balance, and evil, being on the edge, is clearly out of it. There is no pleasure in success without challange, no joy in food without hunger, as it is much better to recieve something you didn't already have. That is what balance is about. Just answer me one question Nocturne. How does it feel being free after years of imprisonment?"
Nocturne looked away, but did not answer. Kennen kept staring at him from behind Shen, with wide open eyes, but as Nocturne noticed it the yorlde quickly turned away. He too noticed that Nocturne was nothing like back on the Field. Fear surrounded his being. Shen however kept looking at him, awaiting his response but Nocturne just floated there, roasting the meat on his branch. His face suggested that he really is considering the past few days of his eternal life.
"If you have nothing more to say, then we'd be moving on." - said Shen quietly.
"Clever you are..." - Nocturne looked back at him - "Of course, I won't stand in your way. I hope the rest of your journey will be just as entertaining as it was so far."
Shen didn't answer as Nocturne slowly faded away then disappeared. Kennen came back to the fireplace, and once again sat down in front of Shen. He was still slightly shivering.
"What's got into him?" - he asked with a voice as if he had drank a glass of icy water.
"This is the real Nocturne, unbound by the magic of the summoners. For some reason he takes an interest in me. He revealed some secrets to me back at the Institude, considering the summoners. But I already told you that, so you know it."
"Back at the Fields I considered him cute..." - said Kennen staring at his feet.
"Trying to scare someone but fail doing so is considered cute by many." - Shen replied with a smile.
"At least he left here the meat he roasted." - and with that Kennen picked up Nocturn's branch with the meat pinned on it, that the Nightmare dropped before his disappearance.
"On of the advantages of staying calm is that you don't drop your branch." - answered Shen still smiling. Ture enough he was still holding his, and the meat on it was getting really nice.
About half an hour later everything was ready and they could finally eat their prey. Needless to say Kennen was fast in that too. Already having finished everything he waited for Shen.
"You know" - he said - "I really liked Nocturne's questions. And I loved your answers. Actually, who would have thought he's the philosophical type?"
"He works in people's minds, toys with them. Of course he is at home in the world of thoughts He just tried to make me uncertain, tried to plant guilt in me. But I know when I make the right decision."
A few hours later they were finished with everything and were ready to go. They had to leave the rest of the deer where it was, for they had no time or means to carry it with them.
In just a few minutes they were back on the road in the blazing sun. They continued to southeast following the road that showed signs of carriage wheels in spots. Hours went by without the landscape changing much. There was almost no wind and the air stood still. Only the flowers moved sometimes, when a fly landed on them. The thin clouds lazily sat on the sky for hours without showing any sign of movement. Leaves hanging motionlessly. The trees in the roadside forest howerer got even more rare, and at one point, the forest finally ended, giving space for a meadow ahead of it. The grass was now a dim-yellowish color, not deep green like around the Institude. The heat also rised as noon arrived. There was nothing covering the sun, and the shadows were strong and hard edged.
"Do you know Valoran, Shen? Where are we heading?" - asked Kennen, tired of the long walking.
"This might be the road to Bandle City" - Shen answered - "It's somewhere southeast from the Institude, and probably the only thing on the southern part of the island that would interest the noxians."
"That's good." - Kennen answered between two breaths - "I like Bandle City."
"The noxians are ahead of us. I wouldn't know what to expect."
Kennen sighed. The huge open lands seemed so peaceful and still in the blazing sun. He could hardly imagine any kind of war, looking at the bees and wasps flying all around the flowers and dry bushes. There were even some raspberry bushes scattered around. Kennen was focusing desperately on balanced energy usage so he could walk long distances, but there was no helping on it, he was getting terribly tired. The heat along with the still, motionless air was getting unbearable. He looked up and saw that even Shen was sweating. Kennen felt extremely hot under his fur, and he was thirsty. The bumps of the road were hurting his ankles and the dust was getting hotter by the minute. He had no shoes and every step burned his feet. Now that they left the forest behind, there were only a very few trees standing alone on the meadows, not providing any shade on the road. Pale yellowish grass covered the fields, wich were dotted by flowers of all colors from red to blue, all standing still in the lack of wind. The land was mostly silent aside from the flies' buzzing, and an occasional weak breeze rustling the leaves of the bushes every once in a few hours.
After hours of walk they finally came past a small wooden sign indicating that a town is not far from there. They continued the journey with refreshed spirit, altough still tired and thirsty body. The heat did not go down, and it seemed as if the air was vibrating from it, especially in the far distance. A tiny wind arrived by the afternoon, altough weak, but at least constant. It gave the plants a slight movement, but it wasn't much for cooling, the breeze was as hot as the rest of the air. There were no words between the travelers, their throat was dry enough from the travel alone. In time, the sun started it's way down to the horizon, but it still left plenty of heat behind. The sky slowly darkened from that intense blue it was at noon, as the light got dimmer. When Shen and Kennen finally saw the roofs of the town, the shadows were long and the meadows bathed in the red light of dusk's sun. Even the wind got a little stronger, it's warm air stroking their face.
The town actually had a small brick wall around it, but there were a few houses outside too. There was a small gate on the wall leading inside, with two bored guards in front of it. The houses ouside of the wall had thatched roofs and were mostly made of clay and straw mortar, while those inside had brick walls and tiled roofs. Shen looked around but there was no well around. They had to find some water in town. As they approached the gate, the guards stopped them.
"Halt! No nonhumans are allowed in town." - said the guard with a bored, but hateful tone.
"Are they for a silver coin?" - asked Shen calmly but hoarse from thirst. The guard looked around, then at the other guard.
"They are. For two coins."
Shen fished two silvers out of his purse, then quickly walked inside the town with Kennen at his side.
"We must find some water or I'm gonna faint." - gasped Kennen, still breathing heavily from the long journey.
"We'll do just that." - answered Shen while looking around - "There must be a well somewhere."
"Let's split up and search for it. We'll find it faster that way." - suggested Kennen.
"I'm not letting you go alone or else some might try to kill you." - replied Shen.
"Since when am I so easy to kill?" - Kennen fought back, feeling a little offended.
"Ever since you're tired from a day's travel. They caught you at the village too when you were wounded. Never overestimate yourself, just as you never underestimate an enemy. We're going together."
"Allright. Just get me some water." - sighed Kennen.
The two started searching for any source of water in town, be it wells taverns, inns or anything. It wasn't an explicitly big town but it was considerable larger than the village back. It had a lot of cobblestone streets aside from dirt paths. It was late afternoon and people were still getting around, and they all looked at Kennen with a face full of hatred. These citizens also wore slightly better clothing than the peasents in the bird's village. Shen was also looking out for any kind of eagle statue but so far he didn't find any. After fifteen minutes they finally spotted a small well in a house's tiny garden. It had a low wooden fence around it.
"Good enough?" - asked Shen. He was also terribly thirsty - "Private property. Shall we take the risk?"
"Stupid question my friend." - answered Kennen, totally charmed by the sight of the little well - "Look, it even has a bucket near it. Come on what are you waiting for?"
Kennen was over the fence in seconds and already threw the bucket into the well when Shen got there. As soon as he heard it splash, he greedily pulled it out. The bucket was full of water and the little yordle eagerly pushed his face into it. Shen waited patiently as Kennen drank the whole bucket of water and pulled out even more, drinking another half. Then he rolled onto his back and took long deep breaths, with his eyes closed, in the perfect harmony of having just drank liters of water.
Shen smiled at his friend, then also pulled some buckets of water out for himself. Just when he was about to drink the second one, the door of the house opened and a woman walked out of it, strangely familiar. As Shen saw her, he quickly drank out the second bucket too before the woman could insist.
"What on the Stars are you thinking?" - she asked, but stopped looking at them - "Is that ... is that you Kennen?"
"Soraka?" - asked Kennen looking up at her. Indeed the woman had a horn growing from her forehead, but she wore thousands of rings, earrings, bracelets and the finest silk. - "What are you doing here? And what are all those...?"
"I am." - Soraka answered as a tiny smile appeared on her face - "Come on in then, I'll tell you everything. Just tell me who's this man with you?"
"I am Shen, the Eye of Twilight." - Shen introduced himself - "At your service madam. I believe we already met."
Kennen burst out laughing at the formal introduction, and he did notice a smile in the corner of Shen's mouth too. Soraka aslo laughed, with that warm and friendly voice she always had.
"Ah, you took off your mask. I don't recognise you without it."
"That's exactly why he took it off." - Kennen said, still a bit laughing.
"Come on in then. You're probably hungry. Let's help some poor champions who didn't betray the League."
With that Soraka went inside and left the door open for them. The two ninjas looked at each other, then Kennen got onto his feet and they entered Soraka's new home. The walls were made of brick but there were countless carpets and rugs with all kinds of warm color hanged up on it. All of the furnitures were made of a deep brown wood, and along with the many pictures and paintings about stars, nature and rune-like symbols, this gave the house a very warm and friendly feeling. There were a few small plants in ornated vases, all of them blossomed with deep full colors. Soraka lead them up on a narrow wooden staircase. The second floor had a lot of windows, with thick curtains hanging at their side, a soft carpet with some low tables and puffs. Soraka opened a cupboard and put a plate of food on the table.
"It's a kind of special bread from Ionia" - she said as she closed the cupboard - "Come on, don't be shy. It has excellent taste and helps restoring inner peace."
Kennen took one and tasted it. Indeed Soraka wasn't lying, and when the starchild sat down on a puff Kennen already had three in both hands. Shen took only one for first and he also sat on a puff.
"Soraka" - Shen started - "I would have one very important question. Have you seen Akali going through this town? It's possible she was captured by noxians."
"Hmm..." - Soraka looked at Shen - "I think I did. The army left town just a day ago. I did see a woman in their prisoner carriage that resembled Akali."
"And where was she taken?" - asked Shen.
"Well, further along the road." - answered Soraka - "I believe they are going to Bandle City. It's not far from here you know, this road leads exactly there."
"And Bandle City has a harbour, right Kennen?"
"Yeah, it has." - answered the yorlde with his mouth full of Soraka's unique bread.
"If they put her on ship we'll never find her. We must cath up with them somehow." - said Shen.
"But we can't go any further today." - asked Kennen with huge eyes - "Can we?"
"No, I suppose we can't. We're all tired."
"Well..."- said Soraka - "I'd be happy to have you as my guests. You can sleep here upstairs."
"Soraka, you're kind as always." - Kennen told him.
"By the way, care to tell us how you ended up here?" - asked Shen.
"Well I suppose I can. We've got time now that you're not going anywhere today." - Soraka started - "So the stars don't tell the petty future of individuals, but they do show huge events that shake the peace of the land. They showed me that the noxians will come, so I left the Institude days earlier the attack."
"Why didn't you stay to help?" - Kennen interrupted.
"Well, I always felt in the League that my efforts aren't respected. I tried to heal as hard as I could but they always just came recklessly back and got all new wounds. And they wanted to heal fast, so fast I couldn't keep up. It would not have been any different during the attack. If I heal someone, that would have been just the reason for them to charge in again and get killed. I was always free to leave the Leage and so that day I did. I longed for the peace of the southern lands and so I came here, the first bigger settlement from the Institude, but it's not too big for my liking. It's not yet impossible to keep track of people."
"And how do you make a living here?" - asked the yordle.
"Well..." - Soraka raised her eyebrows - "I'm a fortune teller."
"But you just said taht the stars dont's show the future of individuals." - Shen noted.
"Yes, you see that correctly" - Soraka answered - "But these people here are beyond superstitious. They believe anything I tell them. They don't care that I'm not even entirely human anymore, my mysterious look, and the friendly sanctuary I made up here in my house is all enough for the trick."
"But how do you make accurate predicitons? Or you just fool them?" - asked Shen.
"Partly, both" - Soraka replied - "I do have wisdom though. They tell me their problems and I try to find a solution. I know a lot about the human soul, and I can solve many problems about relationships, self respect and the likes. Other times I'm just shady enough for them not to understand, but still feel I siad something important."
"Clever." - nodded Kennen. - "I like it. I see you could buy a lot of trinkets from the coin you make."
"People aren't greedy when their fate is about to be revealed." - smiled Soraka. - "But it's time for you travelers to rest. I'll go down and make some tea. I hope these puffs will do for I have no extra beds."
"They're perfect" - nodded Shen.
A few minutes later Soraka arrived with the tea then pulled the thick curtains over the windows and left the ninjas alone upstairs. They kept talking about things for some time, about Akali, the noxians, balance, but then they really grew tired. Each picked a puff, lay on it and closed their eyes. A few minutes later however, Kennen asked with a sleepy voice:
"Shen, mind if I sleep on your puff? It feels so lonely here..."
Shen looked up and smiled at his companion.
"Sure, come." - he said softly.
Kennen hopped to the floor and toddled over to Shen in the darkness. Shen helped up the yordle near him, and hugged Kennen as he cuddled into him before they fell asleep.
Note: Comments and tips are still extremely appriciated. I'd love to know what can be improved and what is already perfect and ready for reuse xD