“What you are doing is a mistake!”
Zed didn't react at first, his gaze still focused on the scene before him. The fires engulfed the night, biting the walls of the ancient temple, swallowing it from the inside. The old wooden statues were burning. The flames consumed the ancient gods of ebony, reducing hundreds of years of history and reverent adoration to ashes. The scent of resin impregnated the air, fragrant and sweet, unfitting of the violence in the whole scene.
“This is not what we agreed on, Zed!”
The Master of Shadows finally turned around. He stood in front of the fire which outlined his silhouette, a red-eyed black shape against the bright light. He looked like one of those statues, the only one remaining, the only one left to be worshiped.
Two of the Order's acolytes forced the High Priest of the lost temple to kneel. Sweat blurred the ceremonial paint on his head, staining his face with yellow tears. The fury in his features burned as intensely as the flames.
“No”, Zed conceded, approaching him with slow and silent steps. “But it is what was bound to happen”.
“You betrayed us!” The High Priest struggled against the acolytes’ grip, only to be painfully shoved down once more. Even with his face in the dirt, the man managed to spit his furious words. “We trusted you to drive away the rebels and the vastaya from our lands! We offered our support to you, and this is how you treat us?!”
“Silence”. Zed's command cut sharp like a blade, and the man flinched just slightly before rage overcame his fear once again. “You were the ones who came to me begging for my help; you should have known beforehand what I do to liars”.
The last word came like a venomous hiss from inside his mask. The High Priest widened his eyes; it was really admirable of him that no one could tell if it was out of apprehension or bewilderment.
“You... How dare you accuse-...”
“The vastaya”. Zed turned his head to the left. On the distance, a fire burned, equal to the one in the temple. “Their growing incursions and attacks against men had become a problem we needed to take care of. But the rebels...” He took a step forward, full of fury and disdain.
“They were no rebels. They were refugees”.
The elderly man kept quiet after that. He ceased his thrashing and looked up. In his gaze, there was an increasing panic as the Master of Shadows’ figure became more intimidating with each step.
“Did you think I would be so blind as not to notice?” The acolytes parted away, but before the High Priest had time to get up, Zed grabbed him by the collar of his tunic, dragging him as he descended the few steps down the hill.
“You promised them homes after they lost everything in the war, but you never told them how they were going to be treated like cattle under your yoke”. Zed stated matter of factly, as the man grunted and struggled to get free. “And once they realised what you were doing... you sought me to cull them”.
As he reached the level at the base, he tossed the elderly man again on the ground. Around them, a circle of people watched in awe and fear. Dirty peasants, with scared and scrawny children in their arms, monks and believers who didn’t even dare to pray.
“Like sheep, you meekly followed the shepherd”, Zed proclaimed, full of contempt, addressing the fearful audience as his voice cut the night. “Faith had always served you, peace and harmony only found in Balance. Nothing but lies”.
The High Priest hurriedly got on his feet and looked around, his mouth closed shut, a silent plea for help in his eyes. But nobody came to his aid, and their silence awakened a desperate fury in him as the Master of Shadows gave his sermon.
“Balance made you weak and content. Balance made you bow your head and accept your fate even when it only brought you hunger and misery. Balance failed you”.
“Enough! Who are you to blame me, Zed?! We all lost things in the war!” The man shouted as he furiously stood up, pointing at the ninja with a trembling, accusatory finger. “Do not think so highly of yourself, Master of Shadows, for your hands are stained with worse sins than mine! Curse you, Shadow of Death! You murder and steal, hiding in your self righteousness, and you will drag all Ionia to-...”
A blade interrupted his words abruptly as it cut through his throat. The High Priest, eyes wide open, brought his hands to his neck, touching the steel stuck there. Zed’s gaze was piercing, burning in red.
Just another sharp move and the neck snapped. The body fell limp to the ground, splattering blood as the head remained between Zed’s hands. The silence that followed was heavy and dense despite the never ending sound of the flames and the ancient wood crackling in agony.
Zed looked at his work for a brief second and then threw it away. The people scrambled with soft exclamations of fear, and the deceased High Priest, still with a surprised expression on his features, hit and rolled over the ground.
The Master of Shadows moved forward as a path was opened for him. His acolytes followed, silent ghosts clad in black and red. Dark magic slithered at their feet, like dark serpents whispering dark omens.
“If you are not able to stand on your own, none of you deserve my sympathy”. Zed’s voice was heavy, a reproach, contemptuous and angry.
Nobody dared to question him. As the group got away, a few people dared to follow them, fascinated by the display of strength; sheep again following a new herd. Those who didn’t remained behind, silent and slowly forgotten.
The fires kept burning until nothing but ashes remained.