The time passed reasonably quickly. The next time Shyla glanced at her watch, it was eleven o’clock. The house was quieter, because almost all of the younger children were asleep. The older children were still playing video games in the TV lounge. Shyla and Henry shared one of the armchairs and watched as Mitch played a game against his thirteen year old brother. Shyla spotted her backpack lying on the floor and nudged Henry. “I think we should go.” She mumbled under her breath. They didn’t want to start their rounds too late.
Henry stood up, dragging Shyla with him. “Where you going?” asked Mitch. “I almost won.”
“It’s getting late.” Said Henry. “I promised Shyla’s mom she’d be home by half past.”
“Let’s go.” Urged Shyla, eager to get going.
They located Anita in the dining room. After thanking her for a lovely party, and promising to visit again, they disappeared up the stairs. Shyla changed in record time – which was swift for a fully trained ninja – but didn’t tie her hair up. Henry checked the coast was clear before escorting her to the balcony again.
Henry pulled his t-shirt off on the balcony and slid into his black shirt. He had changed his pants, and handed his clothes to Shyla to keep in her backpack. Shyla plaited her hair hurriedly, in a rush to leave. They pulled their masks over their faces. Henry jumped into a neighbouring tree and dropped to the ground. Shyla followed suit. They sprinted towards the high-rise buildings in comfortable silence. Both ninjas were in top physical form; they needed to be to do what they did. “Your family must think I’m strange.” Shyla muttered, knowing Henry had heard her.
“They do not.” He replied, suddenly surly. “They like you. Some a little too much.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Mitch. He seemed to talk to you quite a lot.”
“Jealous?” Shyla was confused. She barely spoke to enough people to ever cheat on Henry. Besides, having one big secret was tough enough.
“He knows we’re dating.” Henry was still sounding sulky.
“You’re still jealous.”
Henry stopped suddenly. “Well, you know I can be jealous, even if we are dating.” He stated, apparently ending the argument before it had begun.
“I respect that.” Replied Shyla, jogging back to where he stood. “But I would never cheat on you. You know that, so I don’t see the point of this discussion, or why you brought it up.”
“I’m sorry I made it sound like that.” Said Henry, looking down.
“It’s okay.” Said Shyla, touching her hand to his arm. “Let’s hurry. We don’t want to miss something because of fighting.”
They jogged towards a darkened alley right on the edge of the CBD.
A group of men in their early twenties stood clustered around a dumpster in the back of the alley. Henry and Shyla could see they were drinking. Henry glanced at Shyla, and grimaced. “You know I hate doing this, especially when your safety is involved.”
“I do it,” remarked Shyla, pulling off her mask, “because I have protection.” She stretched up and kissed his cheek lightly. She handed him her backpack.
Henry watched from the shadows as Shyla innocently walked past the entrance to the alley, appearing to be on her way home. One of the men laughed at something his friend had said, and moved to the front of the alley. “Hey, gorgeous.” He shouted, looking up the street at Shyla.
Shyla kept walking, seemingly oblivious.
The group followed her up the street and caught up to her a block later. The first man grabbed her arm. “Hey, gorgeous.” He said loudly. “I’m talking to you.”
He pulled her back into the centre of the circle the men had formed. “What are you planning on doing with that young lady?” Henry said from the outside of the group.
The group turned abruptly to face him. Shyla vanished around the next corner. She had to stay out of sight because they had seen her face. “Who the hell are you?” one of the guys asked.
“Dark Ninja.” Replied Henry with a smile.
One of the guys snorted. “Ninja? As if.”
Shyla quietly stepped behind Henry with her mask over her face. This wasn’t part of the plan, but they didn’t know she was the same girl they had just attempted to assault. “You really should be more careful about who you follow.” She remarked from behind Henry.
The group looked past Henry, and seemed perplexed. “What they hell is going on?” several guys asked, confused.
“Ginger Ninja, at your service.” Shyla smiled sweetly. Henry scowled, angry at Shyla for breaking protocol.
Um,” one of the guys stepped away from the two ninjas. “Do you plan on beating us up for wanting to talk to a pretty girl?”
“I probably should, but you’re all drunk and acting stupid, so this wouldn’t be a fair fight.” Henry burned inside, evidence of this leaking into his restrained tone.
“Dark Ninja,” said Shyla from behind him. “A word.” She turned to the group. “Don’t let it happen again, or things could get messy.”
The group disappeared swiftly into the night, leaving the two ninjas alone.
Shyla led Henry by the hand towards the southern suburbs. Henry sulked almost the whole way. Shyla stopped and swung around to face him. She took the backpack from his clenched fist and swung it over onto her back. “What the hell was that?” she shouted at him. “We are supposed to stick to protocol. I had nothing to do with that argument.”
“Shyla, you can’t talk about sticking to protocol.” Henry countered, still fuming.
“I had my part under control, Henry.” Shyla could feel her anger rising.
“That doesn’t matter.” He snapped. “You should never have come into that fight. Those are the rules and you should have stuck to them!”
“Henry,” Shyla felt the anger bubble to the surface. “I can look after myself. You know that. I beat you the first time we fought. I can handle a group of drunks. Stop worrying!”
“I will worry, because I love you!” Henry lowered his voice as they continued to walk back up the street. “I worry because you broke the rules, and I don’t want to lose you to The Wiping because you had to prove something to me and them.”
The Wiping was only used when a ninja had violated the vow of secrecy enough for there to be a threat to the ninja community. Once somebody had been under The Wiping, they had to leave the ninja community, and were forbidden from returning.
“I get that,” said Shyla. “But don’t let your love get in the way of business, please. I know where to draw the line. I won’t be Wiped.”
“Shyla…” Henry stepped towards her.
She held up her hand, and he paused. “I shouldn’t get angry with you, and I’m sorry. But please stop treating me like I’m four. Please. I’m fully trained; I know the protocols as well as you do.”
“I’m sorry.” Henry turned away from her.
Shyla gently rested her hand on his shoulder. “What’s got you so protective all of a sudden? You’ve never been like this with me ever.”
Henry turned to face her and held out his hands. They were a patchwork of fine scratches and deep gouges. “Shaun.” He said, looking into her eyes.