At the same time, Shyla and Henry were finally quiet. Essie’s stomach growled into the silence of early morning, and Henry pulled an energy bar from the backpack. “To keep you going until our lift gets here.”
Essie nodded, and sat quietly nibbling the bar. Shyla looked at Shaun, who was absorbed in thought. “Penny for your thoughts?”
Shaun shook his head. “I was just thinking about how I got mixed up in this, and what would happen if I wanted out.”
Henry sat on the floor in front of Shyla’s legs, resting his head on her knees. “Depends how far ‘out’ you want. For you, a civilian, it would just require you to never speak of what you’ve seen or done. For us, however, it’s a lot harder than that.”
Shaun frowned. “How so?”
Shyla rested her head back on the bench and gazed up into the blackness. “It’s known only as The Wiping. As far as we can tell, some process that dates back to the sixteenth century reformation is used, where memories are wiped. But it’s not a total wipe, so the ninja who has been under The Wiping has to leave. Our trainer has only ever had to do this twice, and he says it’s a heartbreaking thing to do. We’re a family, and loyal like one.”
Shaun looked over at Henry, who nodded in agreement with Shyla’s words. “I promise your secret is safe with me.”
Henry gazed back at Shaun, and then back at Shyla. Shaun understood the motives driving Henry. Shaun knew Shyla was important to Henry, and would do anything to keep her safe. Even hurting the only other person outside of this group of four who knew of their secret. Shaun nodded once, and Henry tilted his head in response. This exchange went unnoticed by Essie or Shyla, who both seemed to be half asleep.
The night wore on, becoming cooler. Essie was exhausted, and was beginning to drop off to sleep with her head resting on Shyla’s shoulder. Shyla wasn’t asleep, but was allowing her body the chance to rest. Henry and Shaun talked quietly, but Shyla ignored their conversation. It didn’t concern her. That was when her sensitive ears picked up the sound of an engine. She twined her fingers into Henry’s thick curls, and tugged.
Henry reached up and tugged Shyla’s hand as a dark blue car pulled up to the bench. As the engine stopped running, the driver’s door was flung open. A short, slight, dark-haired woman with grey eyes launched herself from the car and slammed the door behind her. “Essie!!” she yelled.
Essie started upright and lurched to her feet. “Mom!!” she yelled, too surprised to say much else.
She ran into her mother’s arms. Theresa Jones hugged her daughter tightly and looked at Henry. “Thank you.” She mumbled, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you all.” She pulled away and looked Essie up and down. “My poor baby. You don’t look like you’ve been fed at all. You’re just skin and bone.”
Henry pulled on his backpack. “Did the master send you?”
Theresa nodded and looked at Shyla. “Clarisse is so worried about you. She didn’t know where you were.”
Shyla froze. “You know Clarisse?”
Theresa nodded. “She promised the master she would explain it all to all of you.”
Shyla stood up, still shocked, and followed behind Henry. Theresa led them all to her car, and they piled in. The hour long trip back to Rutherford seemed to take no time at all, and soon the car was pulling to a stop a block from the ninja school. “The master said I needed to stop here.” Said Theresa as they got out. “He said you would know where to go from here.” She watched as Essie got out of the car with them. Her poor baby was so painfully thin. “Esther…”
Essie looked at her mother. “Mom, I need to do this.”
Theresa nodded. “I understand.” She looked at Henry. “Bring my baby back to me.”
Henry nodded, and the car disappeared into the night. Essie swayed on her feet, and Shaun grabbed her arm. “Easy there,” he murmured. “This won’t take long, then we can get you somewhere safe.”
Shyla was startled. She had heard many things from Shaun since they had met, but none of them quite like this. Before she could delve any further into the thought, Henry began to stride down the street to the school. The three others followed closely behind him, and soon Henry was pushing the door to the school open. Master Wong stood on the other side, and he embraced Shyla warmly. “Young one,” he said. “We were worried we wouldn’t be seeing you again.”
Shyla grinned. “You can’t get rid of me so easily, Master Wong.”
The master nodded, a small smile on his face. “Let’s go. We have much to discuss.”