The guests from the other clans had finally arrived, a night of revelry and celebration was in order. A precursor to the supposedly merciless and bloody days to follow. Almost considered their final meal, the many guests continued into the night until finally retiring into their respective rooms. The long night returned across the mountaintop, the crescent moon shined down on the silent monastery. But shadows stirred and shifted, honor was a commodity in the lust for victory. 

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The night eventually dwindled to silence as passing guests stumbling into their rooms, drunk and stupor. Moonlight danced along the myriad clouds along the sky, only the sound of the mountain winds howled along the wood and stoned walls of the monastery. Not all were asleep, Mei Fong sat in her room with the opened window peering out into the darkness beyond the horizon. Pensive and lost in thought, she sat on the floor with her legs cross and arms extended. Her swords remained nearby in their sheathes, tomorrow the blades will be free and out for blood. This is my resolve, she thought. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on her goal and purpose here, until something caught her attention. An unfamiliar presence, a murderous intent coaxed the monastery. Danger was looming around the corner, in the shadows. Mei Fong slowly reached for her twinned blades, resting her hand on them — waiting.

The villainous aura departed Mei’s wing of the monastery, shifting and moving towards somewhere else. She caught up halfway before stopping herself; honor dictated that she move out and alert the contestants, but the less contestants alive in the morning would mean less to fight in the long run. Frozen in place with only the sound her beating heart. Gods be damned! She gathered herself, donning part of her battle skirt and bracers with her blades affixed to her hips, and rushed out to the dark and empty corridor. Silence, again.

***

Jade Tiger and Beren roomed together on the opposite side of the second landing, as one of the early guests to arrive, they had first priority to claim any of the guest rooms within the monastery. The tabaxi slept with his back against the wall partition, his tail curled along his waist, head slouched down onto his chest that steadily rose and fell with each breath. Meanwhile, Beren laid on his back with arms and legs loosely extended in all directions; having eaten a sizeable portion of food and wine, he succumbed to the gluttonous sleep that followed. The warrior let out loud spouts of yawns and gasps of air, snorting every so often between breathes. Jade had already gotten use to his friend’s odd sleeping habits a long time ago, he felt no pity for the other guests. His feline instincts triggered, Jade was alert and scanned his surroundings. The room was a small room roughly ten feet wide and fifteen feet deep, there only mats but with plenty of pillows and quilts to keep anyone warm against the cold mountain air. An ominous aura surrounded their side of the monastery, the tabaxi’s hairs stuck up ready to leap off of him. His predatory nature forced him to feel his surroundings, he had heard stories of nightly deaths during the tournament. It would seem those stories may hold true after all. Jade eyed the unconscious Beren, unsure how the warrior managed to sleep through such murderous intent.

A short glimmer of light, and the tabaxi dodged the blade as it emerged from the very partition behind him. He quickly rolled over and saw his assailant half exposed from the very shadows with dagger in hand. Out of the shadows, literally. Jade took a more defensive stances, checking on Beren who remained soundly asleep. Of course, not even loudest thunderstorm wakes him up!

The figure fully emerged out of the wall, lunging with their drawn blade at the tabaxi. Jade Tiger easily parried the strike, there plenty of openings, but he needed answers and therefore only struck the assassin’s abdomen. With a quick turn of his wrist, an added spin was made as the strike found its target; the assassin flew back towards the wall and made a resounding thump against it. The tabaxi’s feline reflexes save him enough time to dodge a series of dart throws aimed at his back. Narrowly dodging another assault. Jade Tiger released a snarl as the shadows in the walls shifted and moved, circling around him until landing next to the fallen assassin. The unconscious assassin began to bleed into the wall, fading out of reach. Foul magic, he thought. The shadows circled the room several times before departing, the air began to lighten once again. The tabaxi calmed his mind and went to inspect his sleeping friend, Beren was completely unharmed. In fact, he even parried one of the dart throws to the side of the room. Always was better fighting asleep than awake

***

Mei Fong emerged out of the corridor, the distant sound of struggles emerged and she rushed towards one of the nearest rooms. Upon breaching the doorway, she was greeted by the unpleasant sight of bodies with their throats slit or worse. She could still feel the dark and ominous aura that surrounded the landing, giving chase to it. Once she reached the other side of the landing, she found Jade Tiger glancing from his room, also seeking out the origin of the malicious intent. She eased her stance, unsure of the predicament or situation. The tabaxi easily noticed her approach and nodded at her.

“Why did you not wake your friend?” She asked, looking into the room and seeing the unconscious Beren.

“A storm couldn’t wake him up, he’s fine. Did you see your attacker?” Jade inquired.

“No, I was not attacked. Were you?”

“Yes. They were weak though, not as skilled as I had expected.”

Mei Fong took the lead and the distant sound of death and last breaths could be heard further down the hallway. Eventually the two stopped and noticed a figure clad in dark cloth standing amidst the carnage. It turned to face them, their face was concealed by a white mask that seemed to depict some sort of creature or demon with horns.

“You must be Hangul, the Demon from the Nura clan.” Jade Tiger addressed.

“I am honored that one of the Verdant Conclave would know of me.” Hangul replied. His voice was low but his demeanor seemed geniunely impressed at the tabaxi.

Mei Fong readied herself with her blades. “Did you cause all this carnage?”

Hangul glanced over at Mei Fong silently for a few moments. “No, I did not. The strong will prevail in this trial, while the weak perish in it. Those who made the journey for their clans knew that this inevitable fate. Only fools would journey here and not expect any less.”

Jade Tiger almost sighed, thinking back to Beren’s sleeping form. Gods, he has no idea.

By morning, a chime of three bells signaled the start of a new day. Only twelve participants survived the night’s ordeal. Hangul, Mei Fong, and Jade Tiger were greeted with the others by their steward and host. Even Beren eventually emerged from his room, a hour late. Still yawning down the steps, their host informed them all that the tournament preparations were completed and the weak were purged from the monastery in the previous night. While twelve survived, only eight shall progress into the next stage and to the true battlegrounds ahead.


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