Uoy II-2

Underworld of Darkness

Ch.1 part7

(The reign of Venus and Ash)

-The subtle voices of betrayal Part7

1.

"Are you tired?" asked Salem casting him a weary look.

He was irritated, not tired. He gripped the handle of his sword with a sigh and peered into the half moon shining down on the Philadelphian streets. "Why can't we find him?" he growled.

"Ash is hiding from us," Salem said looking into the carcasses of the vampires that rotted by their feet. "No one will talk," he said rather smugly.

"They're afraid," he said with an irritated snort. "They're afraid of Ash when they should be afraid of us," he looked at Salem.

Salem's orange eyes flickered, "Do you suppose Ash has skipped town?" he asked.

"No," he answered shaking his head and looking back into the moon. "He made it pretty obvious to me that he intended to stay and take San from me," he said. "I just want to see him try it," he sneered.

Salem smirked and shook his head while lifting up his sword and eying the tip of it disapprovingly. "I'm all out of practice," he said and then looked up with a small smile. "Master would die if he saw my sloppy technique tonight."

"I bet," he said with a sneer and looked around the empty streets. "We should head back now," he said.

"You don't want to look around anymore? I thought you weren't tired!" Salem exclaimed with his orange eyes shining balefully.

"I'm not," he snorted.

"Worried are you?" he laughed heartlessly. "Shou Lang, the Half-demon of Ether is worried about a rat, old woman, and two ladies, I find that very funny, Shou Lang."

"I'm not worried, "he growled.

Salem's smile was unconvincing that he believed him, "As you say," he said and wiped off his sword with his sleeve. "But being worried isn't anything to be ashamed of," he said looking into the moon as he spoke. "I'm worried, I can't help to wonder if Ash has crept into the house while we were out."

He was secretly relieved that he wasn't the only one who was worrying about that possibility as well. "I'm sure Ash is hiding somewhere, he won't dare come home at this point," he growled. "He knows that I'll be waiting for him there, guarding the place..."

"True," said Salem thoughtfully. "Do you want to go back, Shou Lang?" he asked.

He wasn't sure, "I don't know," he said looking at the twisted faces of the vampires below his feet. "Sticking around isn't going to help us find him any sooner," he said wrinkling his nose in disgust. The stench of their rotting flesh burned his nose.

"Then, let's go," said Salem impatiently.

"You're worried," said Shou Lang flashing him a smile. "That is why you're so eager to get home!"

"Of course," he said with an agitated expression. "Why wouldn't I be? I am fond of all of them there," he paused a moment. Salem's eyes shifted to the moon over their heads, "May I be honest, Half-ling?" he asked.

"Sure," he smirked.

"I..." he stopped and grinned at him mischievously again. "I'm glad that we've met," he said and gave his shoulder a harmless punch.

He offered Salem somewhat of a grin and punched him back, "Getting soft, aren't you?" he asked with the ends of his mouth turning.

"Not at all," said Salem making a face and walking away from him. He cleared his throat and stood several moments looking around the street.

Shou Lang actually smiled unbelievingly to himself and stared down at his moccasins. He had not expected Salem to say a thing like that, but it pleased him none the least. He would never admit to Salem that in fact, he felt the same as he did, but was glad to know that Salem matched his feelings.

My alliance with Salem was made such a short time ago, he thought looking at the back of his head. It seems like so much longer...

"Are we leaving?" Salem looked irritated.

"Why not?" he said with an indifferent shrug and sheathed his sword. "I don't want you to die of worry," he said and jumped up into the air hovering a foot or so above Salem's head.

Salem's orange eyes glowed, "Keep joking, Half-one," he said tucking his sword in his belt and tying the lace.

He did not wait for Salem, but he did not fly fast enough so that he couldn't easily catch up either. He flew at a leisurely pace and was soon joined by Salem flying a little higher than he was beside him.

"When do you think that we'll find Ash?" he asked Salem without an expression.

"Soon," said Salem with a firm nod. "He can't hide from us forever..."

Right, he thought looking into the clouds he was flying past. When I find that short little twerp, he thought gritting his teeth. He'll wish that he'd have stayed in that box!

...

"Did you find him?" asked Ms. James clutching the belt of her robe. Her expression was troubled.

"No," said Salem placing a hand on her thin shoulder, "But you have nothing to worry about, Ms. James," he smiled at her. "You're safe."

She looked at Shou Lang helplessly, "Are you sure?" she asked looking back at Salem worriedly.

"Positive," said Salem walking past her up the steps. "You have nothing to worry about!" he laughed.

Shou Lang shrugged when the old woman looked back over at him. "I'm so afraid these days," she said with a sigh. "I'm afraid for San," she said.

He looked at the wall, "She'll be fine, Ms. James," he said quietly.

"How can you be so sure of that?" asked the old woman with her voice wavering. She turned from him and walked halfway in the hall. "How can we be sure of anything anymore?"

He shoved his hands in his pockets not knowing how to respond.

She looked at him over her shoulder, "I don't know what to do," she said with a sigh and continued walking down the hall. Her feet shuffled into the parlor, she turned the corner and leaving her out his view.

"Ms. James?" he called softly following her into the parlor.

Ms. James turned into the kitchen and for a while he stood in the parlor listening. Moments later he heard the sounds of pans and dishes rattling violently inside the kitchen. Gasping quietly he walked in, a hesitant look came across his face. "Ms. James?"

She was opening drawers and pulling out things, her hair was a white mass all over her head. She looked frustrated and upset, her hands pulled out iron pans and pots and then rearranging them again.

He walked up to her and looked down at her. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Cleaning," she answered pulling out a yellow vat and fumbling with the lids of the pots and pans.

He swallowed and knelt beside her, "It's late," he said looking into the side of her face. "You should go to bed," he said.

"I have to finish," she said clanging several pots on the tile floor with a resounding crash. She did not seem to hear him.

"Ms. James...?"

More pots and pans clanged and spun on the floor, finally he grabbed the both of her hands-stopping her. She looked up at him with a hard swallow. He slumped his shoulders and looked down at their hands.

"Please," he said in a quiet voice. "Go to bed and rest."

"But-!" she started to protest.

"-I'll clean the drawer," he cut in helping her to her feet. "Get some sleep, you can't worry on like this...we have it under control."

"There are vampires after my daughter!" she cried jerking her hands away from him. "You don't have it under control! My daughter could die!" she cried.

"Ms. James..." he said quietly.

She turned and sighed leaning on the counter. Her thin shoulders slumped in front of her, "Everything is going wrong...I just want her to be safe!"

"She is safe," he said.

She did not reply, instead she straightened herself and sighed heavily. She stood there for a second, thinking to herself, and then she turned to look at him. "I'm going to bed," she said.

"You need the rest," he replied.

She looked very sad, and very tired, almost as if she had been drained of all life. Her normal perk and spirit were gone, the brightness in her eyes had died out. She turned and started away from the kitchen.

"Ms. James-!" he cried suddenly.

She stopped but did not turn around.

"Goodnight," he said softly.

"Goodnight, Shou Lang," she sighed and left him alone in the kitchen.

...

"Ah," he sighed sitting beside Salem and Kithara closing his eyes. "Today has just been rotten!" he said irritably.

Kithara nodded her head in agreement, "I missed an episode of 'Young and the restless' today," she said and snapped her fingers. "Damn," she muttered.

Salem looked at him and offered him his canteen, "Brandy?" he asked in a helpful voice and his orange eyes lighting up.

"Sure," he muttered taking his canteen and then tilting the contents in-between his lips. He took several gulps and handed it back to Salem. "Many thanks," he said wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

"This is a serious problem," said Kithara with a sigh. "Ash could be a very bad problem..." she looked at him and then at Salem. "What are we going to do?"

He sighed and leaned back on his palms gazing into the lawn. "We have to find Ash and kill him! That's the solution!" he said watching a star above his head twinkle.

Salem swished back his canteen with a nod.

"Kill Ash," said Kithara with a dry laugh. "It sounds so easy," she said and looked at him sideways. "It's only too bad that your pet had to get herself marked by him. This wouldn't be a problem if she hadn't taken the handkerchief from Ash."

He nodded his head and tapped Salem's shoulder. "More brandy," he said.

"To be marked by a vampire...especially one like Ash..." she said shaking her head. "That girl, I swear, is the dumbest human on the planet!" Kithara said coldly.

Salem handed him his canteen, "Don't drink too much," he warned mildly.

He ignored Salem and tilted the canteen straight up.

"The situation is nearly impossible to handle," Salem was saying with a tired sigh. "Ash has marked her, so he knows exactly what's going on with her, and I'm sure he's powerful enough to even read her thoughts!" he cried.

He swished the brandy around the canteen smacking his lips together. Salem was right, and the situation looked bad. With a vampire as strong as Ash, marking someone was basically making them a slave. He was sure that Ash could read her thoughts, he had marked her, and he seemed strong enough to hold such influence in his markings.

"Damn it," he muttered glaring at the canteen.

"It isn't that bad," Kithara said with a light laugh. "What are you guys so worried about? Ash isn't going to get to her," she said.

"It's possible," he muttered casting her a look.

She shrugged her shoulders, "If she gets taken, oh well," she said and looked into the stars pursing her lips together. "She's worthless as it is..."

"Don't talk about her like that," said Salem with a grunt. "She isn't worthless."

"You're fond of her as well?" Kithara snapped and gave him a cold glare.

Salem glared right back, "Yes!" he said heatedly.

"Disgraceful!" she exploded standing up from the little porch in the backyard with her hair spilling over and out from her shoulders. "Since when did demons care for disgusting humans?!"

Shou Lang and Salem looked at each other and then back at Kithara.

"You think San is disgusting?" Salem asked.

"Of course she is!" she exploded breathing hard. "She's not worth the breath in her body! And the both of you..." she pointed at the both of them with her expression turning demonic. "YOU!" she glared at them. "You both have become infatuated with her!" she shrieked.

His features hardened, "No one is infatuated with anyone, Kithara," he snapped.

Her normally porcelain features were twisted into a dark grimace. She looked ugly with the hate and anger showing on her face. "You'd give up your lives for that lonesome runt!"

"I would," said Salem nobly. "But I would do the same for you too, Kithara. San is no different...why are you so angry?"

She glared at him, her eyes turning into wide circles. "How dare you?" she hissed.

"What's wrong with you?" Shou Lang demanded.

"You-!" she shook and pointed her finger at him. He felt the heat of her hatred burning on his skin. He shuddered, her whole body emitted negative vibes. His mouth opened in shock, he had never seen her quite like this before. "You," she narrowed her eyes to cool black slits that held no emotion. "You will turn out exactly like your father!" she cried. "You'll be a human lover just like him!"

"Enough!" he exploded and stood up glaring at her.

She became quiet, and so did everyone else. No one moved, no one spoke, or even breathed. There wasn't even a breeze to stir the leaves on the trees, there weren't any crickets chirping around the yard, there was only heavy silence.

"You've said quite enough..." he said in a quiet voice.

She was breathing hard, her expression hadn't changed. "I don't wish to say anymore," she whispered balling her fists to her sides.

"Get out of here," he said turning. "How dare you talk of my father?" he said gripping the wooden edge of the porch and staring heatedly out into the yard.

She didn't move.

"Kithara," said Salem's voice from behind him. "Let's go," he said.

He heard Kithara stomp away from the porch and slam the backdoor shut rattling the windowpanes of the house. Salem lingered at the door. "Shou Lang?"

"What do you want?" he said watching the trees without an expression.

"My canteen," he said with a dry laugh.

Shou Lang tossed it at him and sighed.

Salem sat on the steps of the porch drinking the last of his canteen. No one spoke for a long while...

"Your father..." said Salem after a long while in an indifferent tone. "Do you have any idea why he..." he trailed off. "You and your mother...?"

"I don't know," he said and grit his teeth. "Why do you care?"

"I don't," said Salem with a careless shrug of his shoulders. "I'm curious," he said.

"He's dead, and so is my mother," he growled looking into the half moon. "Thank the lord for that, I hated them both."

He heard Salem stand up, "Well," he said and looked in the direction of the house. "It doesn't really matter, I guess," he said and walked across the porch. He opened the door and shut it behind him.

Shou Lang looked into the sky and pulled out his panpipe.

...

There it is again, she thought with her heart bouncing excitedly in her chest. She opened her window and listened.

"San..." it was Chip talking in his sleep.

"Go back to sleep," she said to Chip.

"Aren't you tired?" he yawned turning on the pillow.

"Yes," she said quietly. "I'll be there in a second, go back to bed," she whispered.

It's the Mysterious sound-maker! He plays again tonight, she thought leaning out her window and closing her eyes.

This song was sad, it was a hurtful sounding melody and it matched exactly what she felt inside. She rested her head on her arms and stared out into the stars listening to the instrument and becoming attached to the song. It seemed to sing from a place deep in her heart and awakened all the sadness she felt. The song was sorrowful and anguished, with each cord it cut away into her heart.

She let a tear meet her eye and was too tired to wipe it away. She was sad herself and frustrated. The song seemed to reach out and comfort her like a warm blanket. More tears met her eyes and blinking they fell down her cheeks.

I hate my life, she thought wanting to kick herself. How could I be so stupid in letting a vampire mark me? I'm so ugly and stupid...! I'm so...

She cried silently and pretty soon had lost all train of thought and silently cried herself to sleep.



2.

(Ms. Smith)

"Good morning, Salem," she said sitting beside him in the sofa. "How are you?" she asked him, she still felt a little gloomy from the previous night.

"I could be better," he replied and looked at her.

They were quiet for a while but the sounds of Shou Lang and Chip arguing pecked at the silence from a distance. Ms. James' voice could be heard chiding them.

"How are you?" asked Salem after a while.

She would have lied and told him that she was fine, but she did not. She looked at her hands and took a deep breath. "Is...everyone mad at me?" she asked.

"What?"

"I mean...this is all my fault," she said. "Ash...marking me...aren't you angry at me?"

Salem looked sympathetic, "No one is angry at you, it wasn't your fault."

She swallowed, "You don't have to lie...I know that Shou Lang and Ms. James are mad at me. I know that I'm stupid," she said.

"You aren't stupid."

"Yes I am," she said shaking her head. "I'm stupid, I was always stupid."

"You aren't stupid," he said again.

"Salem," she said looking into his face. "I feel stupid!" she cried.

His orange eyes shone in the light coming from the blinds. "We all feel stupid at times," he said gently. "You did nothing wrong."

"You're just saying that," she said. "I heard you arguing last night while I was upstairs," she cried. "I'm just getting in the way, aren't I?"

Salem sighed, "San..." he said quietly.

"I'm worthless, I heard someone say it last night," she said miserably and covered her face with a sigh. "Don't lie to me, Salem. I already feel stupid."

"It wasn't your fault," he told her. "You couldn't have known," he said gently. "Don't beat yourself up about it, San. It's ok, really, it is."

No it isn't, she thought shaking her head and biting her lower lip. Ash will find me, and then I'll be putting you all in danger. Why is this always happening to me?!

She heard him sigh again, "I wish I could say something to cheer you up..."

"There's nothing to say that would make up for how stupid I was at the mall..."

He sighed, "That's not what I meant."

They were quiet for another long spell.

"I'm sorry, Salem," she said looking up at him with her eyes watering up. "I didn't mean to cause you all so much trouble..." she said.

He made a face and took her hand, "No trouble," he said. "Don't worry about it."

She wiped her face and leaned on his shoulder, he patted her shoulder with another tired sounding sigh. "We'll get through it, alright?"

She hugged his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. "We'll figure it out," he said quietly and hugged her gently. "Just don't worry about it..."

They were quiet for a long time and remained like that until Ms. James leaned in and reminded them to go to the bus stop and get to school.

It's nice to have Salem around...

...

She was thinking about Abdul when her main worry should have been Ash, yet she couldn't help it! The last time she had seen or heard from him was from Friday, and that was the day Shou Lang assaulted him with apples.

"He'll never want to talk to me again," she muttered slamming her locker shut.

"What was that, San?" chirped Chip.

"Abdul," she said hugging her books to her chest and stopping for the possum to jump on her shoulder. "He probably hates me after what Shou Lang did to him on Friday," she moaned.

Chip shrugged, "Get over him. He's not good enough for you anyway, and plus, he deserved a smack on the head for getting fresh, right?"

She sighed, "I guess so..."

"Shou Lang did you a favor, even you told me that," he sounded unconcerned. "I bet he'll apologize for what he did, if he doesn't, he wasn't worth the time anyway."

"Hey San!" it was Salem draping an arm over her shoulders. "Gym?" he asked.

"Everything is going wrong, Salem!" she moaned looking up at him.

"Why?" his orange eyes flashed a wave of curiosity. "You're still thinking about what you said this morning?" he asked surprised.

"It's Abdul!" she cried.

He groaned and rolled his eyes she felt his arm leave her shoulders. "Oh please, not the louse! I forgot all about him," he muttered.

"I didn't," she said sadly. "I think I'll never go out with him again..."

"That's a good thing," Chip snapped.

She shot him a look and pursed her lips together. "What am I supposed to say to him? I can't pretend that it didn't happen," she said with a groan.

"Sure you can," said Salem with a mischievous grin coming across his face. "Just don't think about him, like me and Chip-" he said nudging Chip.

"I can't do that!" she protested.

"Why not?" asked Chip. "He's only a louse!"

"You guys," she whined. "Show some compassion, I really like this guy!" she pouted and glared at her feet. "Shou Lang did this...I hate him."

"Yeah, don't we all," laughed Salem and took her elbow. "Come on, I want to beat him to gym class today," he said picking up his pace.

San resignedly stumbled after him.

...

"What took you so long?" mused Salem grinning at him. "What took you so long to get to gym class?"

He glared at Salem, "You really want to race? Next period-" he challenged.

"Oooh," he said with a laugh. "Looking forward to it, but first," his orange eyes narrowed on his face. "Pay up, sir!"

He glared at him but handed him his canteen of ale that he had kept in Ether.

"I'll get it back," he said watching Salem tip it down his throat.

Loser, he thought grunting and pushing past him to his locker. The other human boys were dressing and laughing with each other. They joked and horsed around noisily.

Salem plopped next to the bench he was sitting in and swallowed a gulp of ale with a satisfied look on his face. "Next period, huh?" he said with a chuckle.

"Don't drink that all up," he snapped pulling off his shirt and reaching in his locker with an irritated snort. "That's good stuff, I had to swindle it from one of the villages in the Old Folk Forest."

"Tastes great," said Salem swishing the ale in the canteen. "What village in the old folk?" he asked curiously.

"I'm not telling," he said tugging his gym shirt over his head. "But if you want good gin you should ask the gnomes. They have good gin in the Old Folk Forests, next time you should check it out."

"I will," he said.

He changed into his gym shorts and looked at his tail with a frown. "I hate wearing these tight things," he muttered pulling his tail out of the hole he had made for himself in the shorts.

Salem looked amused, "I wonder what life would be like if I had a tail," he laughed.

"Having a tail is an enormous responsibility," he said balling his clothes and stuffing them inside the locker. "You wouldn't be able to handle it, Salem."

"Big responsibility eh?" he jeered.

"Yes," he looked at Salem while slamming his locker shut. "You have to make sure it doesn't drag on the floor or it'll get dirty, and you can't let it grow so long and bushy either. You have to make it look neat, see?" he said lifting his tail and showing it to him. "I clip the ends and brush my hair," he said and released his tail wagging it behind him. "I'm proud of my tail, you won't find any neater tail in the world."

Salem snickered.

He leaned down and tied his laces of his moccasins. "Come to think of it," he looked up with a grin. "I'm probably the only thing on this planet that has a tail like mine," he said and looked back at his tail. The hairs of his tail shone silver in the light.

"Hey, you're the transfer students, aren't you?" asked a boy in only his boxers coming out in front of them.

Salem and Shou Lang glared at him.

"Hey," the boy looked at the canteen in Salem's hand. "What's in that thing?" he asked and reached for it.

"None of your business," snapped Salem pulling it out of his reach.

The boy grinned, "Is it alcohol?" he asked.

"Get out of here," Shou Lang snapped.

"Alcohol isn't allowed on school soil," he said backing away. "I'm telling-!" he said and broke into a run.

"Little runt," he growled grabbing his hair and throwing him on his back. "Talk and I'll kill you," he spat in his face.

The boy looked sly, "If you give me a swig, I won't tell," a grin crossed his face.

Salem sighed and gave him the canteen.

Wasting all of my ale, he thought forcing the boy on the bench and shoving the canteen in his hand. "Drink-!" he growled. "But if you tell a soul, you're dead!"

He opened the canteen and tipped it in his mouth, Shou Lang snorted and grabbed the canteen from his lips. "That's enough," he said and hauled him away from them. "Remember what I said," he growled after the boy's retreating back.

...

"Today is the new semester!" San said smiling at Chip. "I get a whole set of new classes!" she said and smiled at Salem and Shou Lang.

"Does that mean that we'll have the same classes that you're having?" Chip asked.

"Of course," she laughed and tousled his hair. "A whole bunch of new classes too," she said and kissed his forehead. "I'm especially interested in the new music class that I've signed up for! I hear a new teacher is teaching there!"

"I'll be joining you in music class?" asked Shou Lang crossing his arms over his chest and looking at Derek lifting weights.

"Of course you will," she said and huddled closer to Chip. "I think we all need a little music in our lives," she said.

"I hate music," Salem muttered.

Shou Lang suddenly grinned at him.

"Why Salem? Why don't you like music?" she asked.

Salem looked smug, "I find no pleasure in listening to sounds from instruments. It's boring," he said and walked over to the weight lifting bench and looked over it.

Shou Lang joined his side.

"Don't hurt yourselves guys, trying to be macho," called Ms. Walton from the corner of the room.

She heard a bunch of girls giggling.

San walked over to Salem and Shou Lang. Shou Lang had made himself cozy in the bench press and was barking at Salem to add more weight on it.

"Shou Lang? What are you doing? That's too much weight!" cried San.

"He knows what he's doing," said Salem putting the weight on 250 pounds.

"Yeah! I love this machine!" he laughed lifting the bar easily. Then he set it back down, "More weight, you fool! 250 pounds? Are you kidding?"

"You're going to hurt yourself," she cried putting her hand on his stomach. She was surprised by the hardness of his abs.

"Move away," he growled at her.

"What are you doing?" it was Derek looking in behind Salem's shoulder. "What are you doing Droops? That's on 300 pounds!" he cried incredulously.

Shou Lang sat up and smiled at him, "300 pounds isn't much, Derek," he said.

"That's insane!" he cried.

Chip started snickering from on her shoulder.

"What's going on?" asked Ms. Walton and a few curious girls stepping in. "Are you guys having a competition or something?" she asked dully.

"He's trying to lift it at 300 pounds," said Derek with a laugh. "He's going to drop it and kill himself!" he told Ms. Walton.

"Shou Lang," she said. "Get off the bench, you'll hurt yourself!" she said.

Shou Lang ignored her and resumed position underneath the bar. "I'm fine," he told them and gripped the bar. "This isn't going to be heavy enough," he told Salem. "Add more."

"That's enough," cried Ms. Walton. "Don't be stupid, get off of there!"

Her heart leapt in her chest, she was sure that Shou Lang could lift a ton if he wanted, she was only worried about how that would look to the rest of the class. "Shou Lang-!" she hissed pinching him in the ribs. "Stop!"

"Get away from me," he said pushing her away. "Go do some cartwheels or something," he snorted.

"He can lift it, San," said Salem.

"I want to see you try it," laughed Derek. "Go ahead."

"Absolutely not," snapped Ms. Walton. "Shou Lang..." she warned.

The two girls beside her started giggling and whispering to each other. "Do you think he'll do it?" asked one.

"Sure he can! Look at him! He belongs in the army or something," laughed the other.

San bit her lower lip with a sigh, "Do you have to show off, Shou Lang?" she asked.

Shou Lang appeared to be busy ignoring her and asking Salem for more weight.

"He's going to drop it, and when he does I'm going to laugh my butt off!" Derek snickered looking at San.

"Spot him," said a girl shoving Derek in front of the bench.

She stood beside Salem and hugged Chip. "You're making a mistake, Shou Lang!" she told him although he wasn't listening. "You're going to get us all in trouble!"

"500 pounds," said Shou Lang. His yellow eyes held a playful glint in them.

Salem added more weight. "Show off," he muttered down at him, Shou Lang only grinned at him.

"Go on," said Chip.

"Stop!" Ms. Walton threatened.

Derek moved in front of the bench, "I'll spot," he said. "But if you drop it, there's nothing I can do to help," he said.

She watched Shou Lang sneer, "I don't need you, why can't you all just leave me alone and let me exercise?"

"We want to see you work out," laughed a girl beside her.

"Take off your shirt," said the other girl giggling.

Shou Lang looked disgusted.

"Hurry up, Droops!" yelled Derek, "Are you going to lift it or what?" he demanded.

"Stand back," warned Salem moving backward with her hand in his.

Shou Lang looked around the room, soaking up the attention of everyone in the room. Even Ms. Walton had fallen into curious and silent awe like the others. San wrinkled her nose and snorted.

He gripped the bar and then lifted it off the hatch it was resting on. He lifted the bar over his chest, never changing expression, and silently began bringing it up and down.

The girls broke into cheers and the boys started gasping incredulously.

"Oh my-" started Ms. Walton covering her mouth.

She heard his tiny pants as he worked, he did not appear tired or strained although the muscles in his shirt had seemed to increase in size. She was surprised, he was like a machine, or at least he looked like one. He worked methodically, not paying attention to anyone else in the room.

"Wow," said Chip in awe. "Don't you feel so safe with him here?" he asked.

"Show off," muttered Salem. "It's only brute strength."

She was impressed as little as she wanted to admit it. She felt lucky for some reason as she looked across the other girls. Then she snorted and crossed her hands over her chest.

"Yeah, he may be nice to look at but that doesn't change his bad attitude," she said more to herself than to anyone else.

Shou Lang smiled, hearing her.

...

"You stink!" she said wrinkling her nose in disgust. "Couldn't you have taken a shower in the locker room or something?" she said waving a hand over her face.

Shou Lang whistled with his hands in his pockets.

"Music class?" asked Salem looking down at her. "Who is the new teacher?" he asked.

San squinted at her new schedule. "It says...Ms. Smith," read. She smiled at him, "Sounds like a nice lady," she said.

"Whatever," Salem muttered.

"Are we going to play instruments?" asked Chip jumping up and down on Salem's head. "Are we going to sing songs and dance?" he bubbled.

"I don't know," she said looking into the hallway with a smile. "I've never been to a music class before."

Shou Lang had stopped whistling, "Play instruments?" he asked mildly.

"Yeah," she told him with a snort. "I'm sure you have no musical talent anyway, so don't you worry about it!" she told him.

He glared at her.

"Room C140," said Salem reading her schedule. "Are we close?" he asked looking around the doors.

"Here it is," she cried tugging Salem's sleeve. "There-!" she said and pulled them into the room before the bell had rung.

...

"Hello Ms. Smith," said San brightly to the woman with her back turned to the board. She had long brown hair and wore a plain green outfit. She turned and smiled at her, "Hello class," she said.

Immediately after she had turned Shou Lang had gasped loudly. She looked up at him in surprise. "What's your problem?

The woman smiled, "You!" she cried pointing at him.

Shou Lang blinked several times, "You..." he said in surprise.

They know each other, she thought looking from Shou Lang to Ms. Smith. How is that possible?

She turned from the board and walked in front of him showing him a beautiful smile. The new teacher looked in her early twenties, she was very pretty and appeasing looking. "Stranger-!" she said and pat his arm. "How are you?"

"Fine..." Shou Lang still had the same look of surprise in his wide yellow eyes.

"You're a high school student," she said standing back and looking him over. Then she looked at her. "Are you both in the ninth grade?" she asked.

San nodded her head.

"Ah," she said and looked back at Shou Lang. "You must be around fourteen or fifteen years old, then..."

"No," he said with a laugh. "I'm 58 years old," he said.

"Of course," she said and motioned to the chairs. "Take a seat," she said. "Class will begin shortly," she said. Then she turned and wrote in chalk on the board, 'Salina Smith.'

She rubbed her hands together and walked up to her desk and sat down flipping through pages in an odd music book.

"Do you know her?" she asked Shou Lang after a while.

"We've met," he said without an expression.

"When?" asked Salem leaning down in his ear.

"Yesterday," he said.

"She's pretty," awed Chip looking in her face eagerly. "I think I'll like this class!"

More students filed into the room and surprisingly, she caught Abdul coming in. Her heart leapt and she turned away embarrassed. "He's here-!" she gasped.

"Who's here?" asked Shou Lang without taking his eyes off Ms. Smith.

"Abdul," she hissed looking over her shoulder. "Oh no...!" she whispered turning around in her seat with a groan. "He's in this class too?"

Chip grinned wickedly, "HEY! ABDUL COME OVER HERE!" he yelled across the room.

"Chip?!" she hissed.

Abdul looked over and found them with his eyes. San turned in her seat and offered him a small wave, his face was blank, and for a while he stared at her before sitting down and looking away.

He's mad at me, she thought biting her pencil.

Shou Lang, Chip, and Salem snickered to themselves and nudged each other joking around.

"Not funny!" she cried at them breathlessly.

Shou Lang snickered into his hand and looked at Salem who was trying to keep from laughing as well. Chip lowered his head with his shoulders shaking silently in silent laughter.

She scoffed and stood up, "You all are so mean-!" she cried and whirled away from them sitting away in the corner and covering her face.

They don't care, they don't understand! To them, it is just a game, how can they be so thoughtless? I really like Abdul-!

The last bell rang and then Ms. Smith crossed the room and shut the door. "Class," she said smiling at everyone.

Someone whistled at her. She ignored it. "My name is Salina Smith, I am your music appreciation teacher. Just to give you a little background," she said and stood in the center of the room. "I graduated from Julliard with a degree in music and art," she looked around the class clasping her hands together. "I'm new in Philadelphia, I moved from upstate just a few weeks ago. I'm still trying to learn my way around, but I-"

"Do you have a boyfriend?" someone blurted which was followed by a series of snorts and snickers.

Ms. Smith smiled pleasantly, "I have no boyfriend, or husband," she said and laughed. "I'm single, but that makes no difference to my introduction."

Some of the girls giggled.

"I am twenty-two years old and I have two cats. Their names are Felix and Jazz," she said and sighed. "That's all about me," she said and turned back to her desk. "I'm new to this school so...I don't know any of your names," she said and sat on the top of her desk. "I'm going to call roll and when I say your name I want you to stand up so I can start matching faces with names," she took a clipboard and peered into it.

"Debra Dorsey," she read off.

"Here," said a chubby tenth grader standing up.

San snuck a look at Abdul. He was sitting with two girls and was whispering to them. The girls were upperclassmen, San turned back around.

"Lindsey Dots?" she read looking around the room.

For a while she read off the names until at last she reached her name. "San James and Chip James?" she asked.

San stood up and looked at Chip who had jumped off of the desk and on the floor.

Ms. Smith stared at her for a while, "You're San?" she asked with a smile.

San nodded her head.

"Pretty name," she said and grinned at her. "I'll have to remember that," she said and marked something in her clipboard. "San..." she repeated and looked her over several times, "You may sit down now," she said.

She obediently sat back in her seat.

She called off more names and left Shou Lang and Salem last. "You two..." she said and motioned for them to stand.

Salem and Shou Lang rose to their feet.

"It says here that the two of you are transfer students from Australia and Germany, uh..." she smiled at the both of them. "Which is which?"

"My name is Salem," said Salem shortly. "I am from Germany."

"And you..." said Ms. Smith smiling at Shou Lang. "You must be Shou Lang Wolf, is that right?" she asked.

Shou Lang only inclined his head in reply.

"Shou Lang," she said and stuck out her hand for him to shake. "Now that we've met, I can properly thank you," she said shaking his hand.

"Very well," he said quietly.

I can properly thank you, thought San making a frown. Just how well does Shou Lang know Ms. Smith, anyway?

They stared at each other for a long while, and then Ms. Smith released his hand and laughed turning away from him. "Alright," she said smiling and facing the class again. "We shall start our first lesson!"

Some of the students started groaning.

"We will learn how to read music first," she said and then looked around the class. "First of all, does anyone in the class play an instrument?" she asked.

San looked around the class, only a handful raised their hands.

"Do you all know how to read sheet music?" she asked.

Some nodded others stared unresponsively at the black board.

"Ok!" she said and started handing out papers. "We will learn how to read music," she said. "We'll learn the notes first," she said as she went around the class and then stopping in front of a piano and sitting down in front of it.

"Class..." she said and hit a cord on the keys, "This is the note 'F'," she said. "Look on your sheets, it all goes in order," she said.

...

The class filed out of the music room eager to leave. San pulled her backpack on her back and walked away looking back in the top row where Abdul was. He was still talking and laughing with the girls as if he hadn't heard the bell ring. Sighing she turned and walked out of the music room.

She peeked inside just as Ms. Smith pulled Shou Lang out of the doorway and held him back in the classroom. Her attention moved from Abdul to Shou Lang!

"What's up?" asked Salem walking outside and joining her beside the door.

"Ms. Smith pulled him back," she said.

"Who?" he asked.

"Shou Lang-!" she hissed.

"So?" he said and pulled on her arm. "We're going to be late for third period," he said. "Are you waiting on Shou Lang?"

"No," she said.

Ms. Smith and Shou Lang were talking to each other, Ms. Smith occasionally, laughing and touching his arm. Shou Lang seemed to be explaining something to her, his expression was nearly anxious. They talked a long while.

Abdul and the girls were coming out of the door, she was too busy looking in on Shou Lang and Ms. Smith that she did not see Abdul walk by or hear him snort as he walked past her.

"Salem?" she asked looking back behind her but he was gone.

Chip scampered from the room and jumped on her shoulder, "Hi San! You aren't mad are you?" he asked.

"No," she said hugging him and turning from the door. "Do you know what they're talking about in there?" she asked.

"Nope," he said and then his eyes lit up. "Do you want me to spy?" he asked.

"No," she said and whisked away from the door. "Salem just took off on me," she grumbled as she walked into another hall.

"Oh," said Chip with laugh. "That's because Shou Lang and Salem are racing to get to each class first."

"Why?" she asked turning into the hall with her locker.

"Shou Lang brought some of his ale to school," he said. "Whoever wins gets to keep the canteen until the next period."

"Boys are so stupid," she muttered placing Chip on the ground and fiddling with her lock on her locker. "They have to compete over everything!"

"San," said a sharp, yet recognizable voice behind her. San gasped and turned to look over her shoulder. "Hello, San," her eyes penetrated through hers.

"Ms. Ran-!" she cried.

"I've got a pass for you to leave school with me for an hour," she said and took her face in her hand. "Let's make this quick, alright?"

"San?" Chip squeaked.

"Get to class, Chip," she said eying Ms. Ran coldly. "I'll be back soon," she said.

Chip scampered down the hallway.

"Who was he?" asked Ms. Ran in a pleasant voice.

"My friend," she said without emotion. "What did you want to see me about?"

Ms. Ran narrowed her eyes, "Follow me," she snapped.

3.

"Get in the car," she said and pushed her roughly into the car. "We have to talk," she said before slamming her door shut and walking around to her side and sliding in. "Put on your seatbelt," she snapped slamming her door shut.

"What is this all about?" she asked.

"Put on your seatbelt!" Ms. Ran shouted at her.

San clicked on her seatbelt glaring outside the window. "Where are you taking me?"

"Where is Ms. James?" asked Ms. Ran pulling the car out of its parking place and then driving out of the school parking lot. "Where is she?" she demanded looking at San sideways.

"Home, where else?!" San snapped rolling her eyes.

"Good," she said. "Because we all need to talk, not only are you in new custody now, but Ms. James is getting placed elsewhere."

"What?" she whispered, the insides in her stomach knotted together.

"We'll talk when we get there," said Ms. Ran flashing San a quick smile and gunning the engine.

...

"Please come in, Ms. Ran," said the old woman taking San in her arms. "Do you want some tea?" she asked.

"Yes, that would be lovely," said Ms. Ran looking around the hallway. "Quaint little house," she said smiling up at the walls and ceiling. "You must live good lives here."

"Yes," said Ms. James pulling San into the kitchen.

"May I sit in the sofa?" asked Ms. Ran from in the parlor.

"Oh yes, go on ahead," said the old woman and then looked at San with her eyes wavering. "San..."she whispered.

"What's going on?" she asked taking the old woman's hands. "What's wrong?"

"I got a call from Ms. Ran this morning, after you had left for school. She faxed me all of these papers..."

"Papers? Papers? Ms. James...?"

"Documents," said the old woman hoarsely. "They state all the legal matters of the courts and the information about your life in foster care." She swallowed and released her hands turning sadly to a kettle and pouring hot water in a cup.

"Ms. James..." she cocked her head. "I don't understand."

"San," she said softly and reached into the cupboard for a bag of Earl Grey teabags. "You've already been adopted," she said.

San gasped, "No I haven't!" she said.

"I have the papers," she countered angrily. "You've already been claimed by another family, years ago-!" she cried.

"But..."

"They did not place you back into the house because they were suspected of child abuse. There was a big investigation on it, do you remember?" she asked dropping the teabag in the cup.

San felt scraps of it coming back, but she could not remember. "What family? I was never abused!" she said angrily.

"San-!" Ms. James looked pained. "Please...!"

"Ms. James?" called Ms. Ran from the parlor. "Are you all right in there?" her voice bounced along the walls of the house.

Ms. James bent her head, "Your tea is nearly ready," she called.

"I would like to speak to San, will you let me talk to her?" she asked sweetly.

San stared at Ms. James. The old woman waved her away, "Go," she said.

"Ms. Ran," she said walking into the parlor and glaring at her with her hands on her hips. "You wanted to talk to me?"

Ms. Ran moved in her seat and smiled at her, "San..." she said sweetly. "How've you been lately?" she asked. "I've missed you."

"I'm sure you have," said San expressionless.

"Please sit," said Ms. Ran motioning to the space beside her.

San sat in another sofa and crossed her arms over her chest. "Why'd you bring me here?" she asked curtly.

"I have these files I want you to look at," said Ms. Ran pulling out a manila envelope and handing it to her. "They are important records stating information on your legal parents."

"Legal parents?" she asked looking up from the envelope.

"Yes," said Ms. Ran with a sugary smile. "The Kettles in Maine," the smile was so artificial and unfelt that San wanted to reach over and rip it off. "They are your parents."

"My parents are dead!" San said angrily. "I don't know who the Kettles are!"

"Read the information in there," she nodded at the envelope. "At one time you lived with the Kettles, you don't remember?"

San glared at her.

"They were a nice couple, weren't they?" she sighed with another one of her sugary smiles. "They adopted you when you were only five years old. All of these years has gone by, nearly eleven years since then."

"Ten," San snapped.

"Now they want you back," Ms. Ran stretched. "And you will have to go back, you understand? They are your legal parents, the papers were already signed long before Ms. James came into the scene."

"I don't want to!" she cried angrily. "I won't!" she refused.

"I'm very sorry, dear," said Ms. Ran smiling. "But you don't have a choice."

"Tea," said Ms. James coming into the parlor. She handed Ms. Ran a cup, "It has nothing in it, maybe you'd like sugar or honey?" she asked.

"This is just fine," said Ms. Ran fixing a cold eye on San. "Thank you," she said taking a sip.

At that moment San wished she had poisoned the tea.

Ms. James sat beside Ms. Ran and stared at San with a long sigh. "Are you all right? You looked flushed."

"I'm fine," she replied shortly.

Ms. Ran set down the saucer and cup and rested against the back of her seat. "I'm sure you both are aware of my business doing here, today."

"Yes," said Ms. James.

"I've come to warn you," she sat up straighter and peered at San. "The adoption has not been dropped, and the Kettles want you to live with them very bad. You will move in with them next month," said Ms. Ran.

"NEVER!" she shouted.

"Or..." Ms. Ran looked at Ms. James. "You can take the case to court, but your chances are slim to none," she said with a bitter laugh. "As what I said earlier," Ms. Ran looked at San again. "Ms. James is being placed in a home some time in the next six months, did she tell you that?"

"What?" San cried.

"I'm afraid this is a very dire situation," she said through a smile. "There is little to do that will keep you two together."

"The Kettles were placed with charges of child abuse, are you saying that the charges were dropped?" Ms. James asked in a steady voice.

"Of course they were," said Ms. Ran and flashed San a wicked smile. "There was no evidence of it, none at all that proves that the Kettles had abused her in any way."

Abused...? She thought swallowing hard.

"Therefore, the adoption still stands, and San is their rightful child. It would be wrong for her to stay here, her place is in Maine."

"I want to live with Ms. James," she said angrily. "You can't make me go back!"

"Ms. James is old," she replied picking up her cup of tea. "She is a senior citizen, San. She is barely able to care for herself, how can she take care of a child?"

"She takes care of herself just fine!" San shouted standing out of her chair.

Ms. James sighed heavily.

"Say something, Ms. James," cried San looking at her helplessly. "Tell her! You pay the bills and buy groceries and..."

"Sit down, child," said the old woman hoarsely.

San sat, "Why aren't you defending yourself? You can take care of yourself just fine! Why...? Why won't you say anything?" she demanded with her eyes shining.

She licked her lips and looked up at her, her blue eyes filled with tears. "San..."

Ms. Ran cleared her throat, "Ms. James has been making trips to the hospital, has she told you that?" she asked with another slow smile. "I've talked with the doctors, and do you want to know what they said?"

San's heart seemed to break into a million pieces. She felt her life slipping from right before her eyes. "Ms. James..." she whispered, tears gathered in her eyes.

"I've been..." Ms. James said and then she looked at her old gnarled hands. "I'm sick, San. I'm very sick," she said.

"Sick?" she managed to say weakly. "What...? Why...?"

"Ms. James has been diagnosed with cancer, San," said Ms. Ran dispassionately.

San let out a sob and stood up again, "And you didn't' tell me?!" she screamed.

"I'm sorry..." whispered Ms. James.

The ground seemed to tilt from beneath her feet, she saw circles and felt light headed, as though she would faint. The blood left her head and spiraled into her heart leaving her a chalky looking color.

"As I said," said Ms. Ran cheerily. "You're better off in Maine, my dear," she said.

Cancer?! Cancer?! Cancer?! It can't be, it isn't true! They're lying, it has to be a joke! I cannot accept this, I will not accept this! She can't have cancer! She can't!

"You're...lying!" she cried breathing hard and tears running down her face.

"I'm afraid not, my dear," said Ms. Ran sipping the tea.

Ms. James looked very old and suddenly very weak. She had her head bent low so that she couldn't see her face.

Taking several more breaths she backed away from them and then walked away from the parlor.

"San!" cried Ms. James. "Please...!"

San walked out the front door and let another sob rack her body. She slammed the door shut and sat on the front step hugging her knees to her chest and burying her face in her legs.

It's not fair, she thought. It isn't fair! Am I being punished? What did I do wrong?!

She heard the door open partway, "San, dear," said Ms. Ran kneeling down and putting a hand on her trembling shoulder. "I have to drive you back to school, the hour is up," she said.

"Get away from me!" she cried vehemently and moved away from her touch.

Ms. Ran sighed, "Are you coming to school or aren't you? I don't know what goes on in that silly head of yours."

San didn't answer and continued to cry helplessly into her knees.

"Your choice then," said Ms. Ran straightening her back and walking toward her car. "You'll be getting a detention for the tardy you're about to get," she said as she piled into her car and slammed the door shut. "Try to have a good rest of the day, San-!" she beeped her horn and drove off.

...

San walked around to the backyard and sat on the porch. She did not want to go inside but she didn't want to leave the house so she stayed in the porch. Still crying she curled into a tight spot in the middle of the porch and closed her eyes, nearly crying herself to sleep.

4.

"She should be at home," said Chip who sat comfortably on his shoulder. "She left with this Ms. Ran woman," he said.

Shou Lang looked at the wall, "Ms. Ran..."

...

The air was heavy with weighted sadness and sorrow, everyone looked depressed.

"I need to get out of here," Kithara said breaking the silence of the dinner table. "Do you mind?" the question was directed at the sullen old woman.

Ms. James did not answer, in fact, she did not seem to have heard her at all.

Kithara stood up and looked at him, "Anyone else coming along with me?" she asked. He knew for a fact that that question was meant for him. He looked up at her and shook his head. "I...think I'd better stick around."

"So do I," said Salem quietly.

Kithara walked out of the kitchen, which was followed by the front door closing quietly behind her.

He looked at his hands and swallowed hard, the weight of the silence was killing him. Ms. James had not said a word since he had gotten back from school, and San...she was curled asleep on the front porch with Chip.

He felt depressed and heavy hearted. He did not remember a time when he felt this bad in all of his life.

Ms. James was sick...

San was leaving for Maine...

He sighed and closed his eyes taking a deep breath. The cloak of depression seemed to cover the room with gloom. He found no pleasure in eating his pie like he normally would. He played with it with his fingernail with his shoulders slumped.

Salem seemed to match his mood, his face was unusually slack and tired looking. He stared at his plate of untouched food the same way he was looking at his pie. His eyes were a dull orange instead of his normal color of bright, vivid, orange.

The old woman's eyes were glazed and glossy looking, they stared in a fixed spot on the wall. No one seemed to have the heart to say anything to comfort her, or to the girl asleep on the porch. The intensity of the situation scared him, he did not know how to respond to something of this dramatic nature. He wasn't good with his feelings, so how could he be good with someone else's?

There was nothing that he could say to change the situation so it was best not to say anything at all. Everyone seemed to be using that method, silence. He did not know which situation was worse, Ms. James' or San's.

Salem stood up, breaking the silence again. He had his mouth open to say something to Ms. James but quickly shut it and looked away.

He knew how Salem felt, he stood up and looked at Ms. James. He reached out and gave her shoulder a squeeze, he didn't know what else to do. He looked up at Salem and sighed.

Salem moved out of the kitchen and up the stairs, Shou Lang followed him.

Both boys wordlessly crept out of Ms. James' window and onto the rooftop. They walked over the shingles and sat on the flat part not saying anything to each other.

Both were depressed, both were too uncertain to say anything, and what good would it do? They had nothing to say, anyway.

They stared into the faces of the wind soaking the presence of each other's company.

...

She pulled the blanket over the girl's shoulders and tucked a pillow underneath her head. San looked like an angel, she brushed her cheek with her hand, she did not deserve to live a life caring for a sick old woman. She did not deserve to be sent back to the family that had abused her either, the old woman sighed.

Chip snored quietly in San's hold, she held him like a girl would hold a doll.

"I just want you to be happy," she said patting her shoulder.

San snuggled farther into the covers and squeezed her eyes tighter together.

"Sleep well, love," she said bending to give her a quick kiss on her cheek and then standing up and walking back inside the house.

After the old woman had closed the door, only then did San's eyes open, filled with tears, and then they shut and she went back to sleep.