Uoy 44

Part 10 The Beginning/Conclusion

Ch. 1 part 10

(The second portal)

1.

(Half a year later...)

"But don't you need me to help you back in the forests, Shou Lang?" she cried gripping her hands together.

His yellow eyes stayed the same. "No," he replied turning away from her. "I told you," he said without turning. "You will stay here from now on...I don't want to steal anymore time from Ms. James, San."

"But if you leave-?" she cried grasping his sleeve.

"We'll visit sometime, Miss James!" assured Tora from beside Salem and Shou Lang.

"Darling? Are we going to leave or what?" asked Kithara irritated on the top step of the trapdoor.

Shou Lang turned to Kithara with a nod, "Yes. Let's go, Tora," he said motioning for the Chales boy to come forward.

"But-! But wait! When you will you guys be back?!" she cried panicked as Salem, Shou Lang, Kithara, and Tora trooped down the cellar steps.

"I'll come in a few months to check up on you," promised Salem before he disappeared down the steps.

Shou Lang offered a wave, "Me too! Take care Ms. James! Take care San! I'll see you in a couple of months! Many thanks!" then he too disappeared.

"Goodbye Chip!" cried Tora before shutting the trapdoor with a wink. "Take good care of Miss James and Ms. James for me, will you?"

"I will," Chip gave a wide grin.

She stared at the green rug for a while as with the old woman and possum standing next to her. Then after a while of the silence she made a face and sat down at the kitchen table. "I guess...things are going to be a little more normal until they get back," she sighed in her seat.

"Yep," said Chip jumping into her lap. "But at least you and I have Ms. James with us! And just think," he added with a glow starting in his green eyes. "No more Shou Lang for a while! Finally this house can enjoy some peace!"

She stroked his hair without saying anything.

"Well," sighed Ms. James opening the refrigerator. "Since everyone is gone, we won't need anything big for dinner...what do you two want for dinner tonight?"

...

Herman's pinch brought San back to the present. "You're zoning out again!" he accused her. "Were you listening to a word I've said?"

She let the distant memory fade with a sigh. "Yes, I was listening," she replied laconically. "I was just thinking..." she paused then sighed again. "I was thinking about when those two transfer students left me!"

Herman grinned, "They've been gone for nearly half of a year! What are you still thinking about them for?"

"Oh," said San smiling at him. "I don't know! That's strange! I haven't really thought of them for the past month, I guess."

Herman wiggled his toes in the water while tightening up his fishing line, "I think I felt a bite!" he told her while he tugged.

San stared into the calm waters, then back up at Herman. "Really? Nothing seems to be moving down there, Herman. Are you sure that you caught something?" she asked checking her fishing pole to see if she had caught anything.

She hadn't.

Herman stood up tugging fiercely; the thin muscles in his arms went taut. "There's definitely something on my line! It's big too!" he strained reeling in his line. He bit his lower lip, "Man! This is huge!"

"Do you need help?" asked San standing up and looking frantically back into the still waters again.

"No!" cried Herman flashing a grin. "I can handle it!" he cried heaving backwards with all of his weight.

She looked from him back to the lake. "Herman, be careful!"

And then with a gasp Herman finally pulled back his fishing rod and fell back on his rump panting. His glasses slipped down his nose as he looked up at her flushed and out of breath.

She couldn't help but laugh at him. "Are you all right, Herman?" she asked giggling.

He nodded his head. "Yeah," he said lifting his rod so she could see what was on the end of it.

A rusted toolbox swayed back and forth off of his fishing hook. It was littered with seaweed and mud, a truly dirty sight.

San burst out laughing at him, "All of that and not even a fish was on your line!" She gripped her sides laughing at him.

Herman gave her a dark glare.

"I'm sorry, Herman," she said after a while of helpless giggling. "It's just that, you looked so macho when you were trying to reel it in!" she laughed looking down on his uplifted, sulky face.

"I don't think it's so funny," he grunted throwing the tattered toolbox on the grass. "What a waste," he muttered.

San sat back down beside him on the shore again. Then she looked into the trees and the lake with a happy sigh. "I love summer breaks!" she said looking at Herman again.

"Me too! No homework, no gym, no boring teachers..." Herman was looking at her as he spoke. "Anyway, since we can't catch anything how about we go back to my Dad's trailer and order some pizza?"

San smiled while standing up, "Sure! I'm hungry!" she looked into the sky. She guessed it was around 4:00 in the afternoon. She suddenly wondered if she should call in on Ms. James.

Herman and San walked back into the trailer that was parked on the shore of the lake. Herman walked inside and flopped on a couch, "Can you give me the phone, San?"

"Yes," she handed it to him and sat beside him. She watched him dial a number then look thoughtfully at the wall.

"Yeah?" said Herman after a pause. "Yes, I would like to order a pizza? Pepperoni, yeah..." he looked at her. "What kind of drink do you want?"

"Sprite."

"Yeah, a sprite please. And...cinnamon sticks too! Two pizzas, large, yes, that's right," Herman was saying into the phone.

San sighed happily and looked out the window with an absent look on her face. She watched a bird flutter by her window and out of sight.

I'm glad I could spend a week out here camping with Herman and his dad, she thought to herself. They've been really nice, I should do something nice for them around Christmas or something...

Her eye drifted on the shimmering lake. She couldn't help but wonder then how Shou Lang, Tora, and Salem were doing out there battling Monde by themselves. She suddenly wished that she were with them.

They said that they would visit in a few months, and so far no one has contacted me! She thought bitterly. I hope that they are doing all right...

"That's the door!" said Herman springing to his feet all of a sudden. "That must be Dad and Chip from the store!" he cried.

"Oh, Chip!" said San following him to the front door of the trailer. She opened her arms for Chip to jump into. "Hey there!" she laughed tousling his red hair. "Did you buy the extra flashlights?"

"I sure did," answered Mr. Granger shutting the door and grinning at her and his son. "Did you two order the pizza?"

"Yep! It'll be here in about forty minutes," Herman swiped a grocery bag from his father's hands. "Where's that flashlight?" he muttered to himself.

"Hello Mr. Granger!" greeted San moving aside so he could plop himself on the couch. "What did Ms. James say?"

"She said hello," he said turning to smile at her. "I'll drive you back home in two days, just like she said," he said.

"Aw! But this is fun!" pouted Chip.

"Chip," she nudged him in the ribs to be quiet.

Mr. Granger sighed again, "I'm tired! Next time I'm going to stay in the trailer! No more hiking for me, I'm all worn out!"

"But you had fun, didn't you, Dad?" grinned Herman.

Mr. Granger only groaned in reply.

San and Chip giggled.

...

"Hello Ms. James!" cried San into the telephone. "How are you?" she asked.

"Fine," replied Ms. James' voice on the other line. "Are you having fun with the Grangers?"

"Oh yes, I am!" San laughed crossing a look at Herman and his father. "They're wonderful! Herman caught a tool box in the lake today!" she said, then giggled when Herman turned to glare at her.

"I'm so happy that you're having fun, San! I really want you to enjoy your summer break!" said the old woman.

"Ms. James..." San's expression softened, "I miss you..."

"I miss you too, love," came the old woman's happy reply back. "You'll be back here in Philadelphia in two more days! Then I'll see you again."

"Yeah. Do you want to speak to Chip? He's been dying to talk to you since we left last Monday," she said looking down at the possum and then giving the phone to him.

"Ms. James!" squeaked the little possum happily into the telephone. "Mr. Granger and I drove up to the store today because we ran out of flashlights!"

San sat beside Herman and Mr. Granger.

...

"Thank you for everything, Herman," said Ms. James nodding gratefully at him. "San doesn't get out of the house much. I'm glad that she's making more friends!"

Herman grinned at Ms. James, "I'm sure we'll hang out a lot more now that it's summer vacation!" he said looking at her then back at Ms. James.

The old woman motioned for San to come near. San obeyed and stood smiling at the old lady's side. Ms. James put her hand on San's shoulder.

"See you around, Herman!" laughed Chip jumping on top of San's head. "When you're done hiking up the Appalachians come visit us sometime! Maybe we'll go to the arcade like last time, eh?"

"Will do," Herman waved as the three of them went inside of the house. "Goodbye!"

"Bye!" the three of them said as Mr. Granger and his trailer sped up the street and out of sight.

After they had left San grabbed Chip from her hair and swung him around. "Didn't you have fun?!" she laughed as she stopped twirling to hug him to her chest.

Ms. James laughed heartily, "Maybe we'll go see a movie! I hear that that Shrek 2 movie is really good, what do you say?"

"Oh yeah!" cried the girl and the possum in one voice.

2.

He swung his sword down against Salem's blade; there was a spark that flew from their crossed swords. Pressing with all of his weight he was able to stagger Salem a bit. He smirked, "Come on, Salem! Is that the best you can do?" Shou Lang lifted his sword up to swing it down on Salem's sword again.

Salem grunted from the impact, staggering a bit and panting. Then he regained fighter's stance with a snarl on his face. "Cretin! I will win this duel!" he screamed charging angrily at him at full speed.

He dodged out of the way and tripped Salem so he went flopping down on his stomach. His sword clattered against the wooden training hall, it bounced and crashed against the wall, and then there was silence.

Salem had not bothered to get up. He lay there still trembling.

His fangs caught the afternoon sunbeams shining out from the window. He smirked down at him, "Seems to me that you lost...again," he added with a chuckle.

Salem's fist clenched but he did not get up or speak.

"Shou Lang! You fool!" boomed Urdu slamming his crutch on the floor, shattering the silence.

Shou Lang whipped his head in Urdu's direction startled, and then his expression melted into irritation. "Now what, old man?" he asked impatiently at Urdu's hobbling form approaching him.

"You held back, didn't you?" Master Urdu boomed at him. "You were fooling around when you could've beaten Salem much earlier, you cocky self-absorbed idiot!"

He curled his lip, "What does it matter? I was going to beat him anyway, just like all those other times! Salem isn't improving any! I guess he owes that to you," he looked away from him with a sneer.

Salem stood up looking diagonally at the floor, his hand was still clenched in a tight fist. He made no move to retrieve his sword. He watched Salem grit his teeth and at the same time his fist trembled.

I guess he's mad about me beating him again, thought Shou Lang staring at him blankly. Well, it is his own fault for challenging me! I warned him that he would be humiliated afterwards...

The rest of the dojo members made little 'oohs' and 'ahhh's'.

Salem finally lifted his eyes off the floor to stare into his. They looked to him like orange burning orbs.

He turned his back on Salem, "Don't challenge me anymore until you improve on your fighting skills, Salem," he said quietly, then he tossed Urdu a look. He stared at the old demon for a while before averting his eyes in front of him and walking away.

"Damn him!" he heard Salem growl just shortly after he had walked outside.

"Sir! Sir! Lord Shou Lang!" cried Tora running up to him and walking beside him. "My lord, where are you going?" he asked looking up at him.

"Out," he answered without feeling. "Why?" he snorted down on the Chales boy.

Tora looked determined, "I'm going with you!"

"I'm just walking around," he told the young boy gruffly. "I'll be back in a little while," he sighed looking out into the mountains.

Tora continued to follow after him, and after a while Shou Lang stopped walking. In response the little boy stopped also and stared up at him, "Why have we stopped?"

"Listen, Tora...go back to the dojo, stop following me around all the time!"

Tora made a face, "I will not! I'm going with you!" declared the boy swelling his little chest proudly.

"Yeah? And who said you could follow after my heels all day?" demanded Shou Lang crossing his arms over his chest.

"I did!" Tora snarled angrily.

He irritably looked away back into the trees he had walked through. "Why do you have to be so damn difficult?" he said after a while.

"I know that you aren't just walking around! You're going somewhere, aren't you?"

"Yeah," he said glancing down at him. "So what? You're not coming! It's dangerous! Go back to the dojo, Tora!" he said pushing the boy in the direction of the dojo but the boy resisted.

"No! I said that I'm coming with you! I'm helping you, remember?" Tora pointed to himself with a sneer. "I know where you're going! You're going to the High Cliffs, aren't you?"

"I need to speak with someone, that's all," Shou Lang whistled for his horse. Tora stood where he was so he said, and a little more firmly, "Tora! Go back!"

Tora shook his head fiercely.

Nitro appeared in a cloud of black smoke. The horse pranced in front of him and neighed happily to see him, Shou Lang patted his snout. "Good boy," he said tenderly. Then he jumped on Nitro's back glaring down at Tora.

"Take me with you!" Tora screamed from below his gaze. "I said I want to come!"

Shou Lang kicked Nitro's sides so that the horse went into a trot, "You'll stay here, Tora! I'm not going to baby-sit you!" he spat.

"I don't need you to!" Tora began scrambling up Nitro's side.

Startled he stopped the horse so that the Chales wasn't trampled, "H-Hey! What do you think you're doing, Tora?!" he shouted at him once Tora had wormed his way properly on the horse's back. "You could've been stomped on by Nitro's hooves!"

Tora scooted up so that he was directly behind him, "I said that I'm coming!" he said stubbornly.

After staring at him for a while Shou Lang sighed in defeat. "Fine, but if you're coming, get in front of me," he hauled Tora in front of him.

"Are we going to speak to Goliath today?"

"Yes," he said starting Nitro into a canter. "And then I have to go see Kithara a little while later," he said speeding his horse into a gallop.

"Lady Kithara? But why?" asked Tora turning to look up at him. "Have you been visiting her often, sir?"

Shou Lang ignored him, "Just shut up, Tora," he said with an uninterested intonation. "I'm not in the mood to answer your stupid questions."

Tora grumbled but turned around gripping Nitro's black mane.

Goliath should tell me something decent, he thought to himself. Monde has expanded his territory into the eastern regions and parts of the south. I need to find that portal that Kithara was talking about! Perhaps Goliath will know where Golem is!

...



"Goliath?" he stopped to pluck the scorpion from Tora's hands. "No time for fooling around! Tell me what you know, already!" he demanded irritably.

"Master Shou Lang! You've returned again this week! I was waiting for you! I have the most urgent news to-"

"Then got on with it!" Shou Lang demanded.

"-tell you," Goliath continued ignoring him. "I've heard word that Golem and the witch of Dander are a team now! They're both looking for San, the demon eye and the navigator!"

"The witch of Dander?" Tora questioned. "I thought Salem and she had fought?"

"They did, but Salem let her get away," he said thoughtfully. "So Goliath, what else? Has Monde's territory reached as far south as Old Folk Forest?"

"No, he's more southwest, my lord," said Goliath raising his front claws. "Listen to me, he's taken complete control over Yarmin Forest and Brighnick Forest! He's working his way to the White Mountains!"

"Judo lives there, doesn't he?" he gasped.

"Ay, yes, my lord! Lord Judo has lived in the White Mountains for many years!"

"Judo?" Tora cried. "That's Master Urdu's friend, isn't it? Weren't they both the same pupils of Lord Ximvoc?!"

"They were indeed, young one," Goliath turned in his palm to face the gaping Chales boy. "They are the oldest followers of the Demonic Swordsmanship Style! Lord Ximvoc has been dead for centuries, his only pupils were Master Urdu and Judo."

"So does Judo have a dojo like Master Urdu?" asked Tora.

"No," said Shou Lang gazing his yellow eyes at the ground. "Judo lives all by himself on that mountain. He's probably better than Master Urdu in martial arts, but...who really knows?"

"At any rate," continued Goliath raising his claws again. "There's a portal that Golem and the witch are aiming for in the White Mountains."

"There's a portal there? Are you sure?" he asked him angrily.

"I'm positive! It's at the very top of the mountains, Mt. Kogre, if I'm correct, and supposedly there's a ghost that will take you to the hidden portal."

"There are seven portals leading to the other dimension. I know about one, and the one you speak of makes two! I have to destroy the other five to keep the other dimension truly safe..." he thought aloud.

Goliath started laughing. "Ay yes! But Salem has been hard at work while you were battling those 1,000 demons in the portal world!" Goliath sounded sly. "Salem and I have uncovered three portals already!"

"So Salem was destroying the portals for me?" cried Shou Lang surprised. "I didn't know that...Why would Salem care if the portal world...?" he trailed off confused.

"Salem cares about your human friends back there more than you think," laughed Goliath. "He wanted to stop Monde and the witch from ever entering through there and harming anyone."

"Really?" gasped Shou Lang in surprise. Then he remembered how he had humiliated him earlier that day at the dojo and felt bad. "I never knew that he...was doing me a favor..."

"You must stop Golem and the witch from getting to that portal, my lord!" said Goliath. "The witch is after San, you know. Monde is sending every able demon to seek out these portals for her, so you see, our time is limited!"

"Ok, if Salem destroyed three of the portals...then we only have four to take of, Shou Lang!" cried Tora eagerly.

"You mean three," said Shou Lang crossly. "I'm not going to destroy Ms. James' well just this instant. How will we ever get back if we do that, Tora?"

"Oh, you're right...speaking of which, maybe we should go back there!" said Tora.

"Hm? Go back? We don't have time to visit! Didn't you hear Goliath and what he was saying? Monde is expanding his territories! It won't be long before he is as close as Dander or even the Haunted Forest!" he yelled at Tora. "Going back is absurd!"

"But it's been nearly a year since I've seen Chip!" complained Tora. "I'm starting to miss them!"

"If you want to go back then go back, but you'll be going by yourself!" he snapped jumping on top of his horse. "Hey, Goliath? You don't have anywhere special to be, do you?"

"Of course not, my lord!" the scorpion sounded nervous.

"Good, then you will assist me on this new quest!" he said with a smirk, "Tora?"

"What?" the boy huffed.

"Are you going or staying? Pick!"

"I'll...go with you," said Tora jumping behind him.

"Where are we going now? This isn't the way to the White Mountains!" shouted Goliath's voice.

"Pipe down, Goliath! Hey Tora, hold the scorpion and make sure he doesn't get blown away by the wind or something," he said speeding Nitro into a gallop.

"Ok," said Tora taking Goliath from his hand.

"But my lord, where are we going?" asked Goliath.

"I have to talk to Kithara and then I'll swing back to Master Urdu's dojo and ask if Salem will want to help or if he has any information on the other three portals."

...

He stopped Nitro abruptly and motioned for the scorpion and the Chales to be quiet. "I'll be but a minute! Stay on Nitro, Ok?"

"Yes sir!" Tora said clutching Goliath with both hands.

He slipped away from his horse and into the woods. He gazed up at the setting sun then looked around him. He darted by the small pond he and Kithara had always rendezvoused. He bent low into the grass sniffing for her. She wasn't around, but then, he was a little early. They had always met just after sunset.

"Kithara?" he whispered into the dusk as the wind started up. Now he could smell her. "Kithara?" he whispered again.

"Darling?" came her voice from somewhere close. "By the tree..."

He looked around to be sure that he wasn't being watched by anyone, then slipped back into the woods. He saw her standing underneath a willow, hands clasped, and troubled. "Kithara!" he cried ducking under the willow's branches to greet her. "Have you any news about Golem and that witch?"

"Darling! I'm afraid not, but I have other news to tell," she said determinedly. "Hector is organizing a Uoy team called the Dark Militia! They're scraping up every Uoy stone in the southern forests! It won't be long before they surpass what stones you have!"

"Damn!" he made a fist. "Right when I had enough to worry about! Well, what about my brother? I heard that he was nearing the White Mountains..."

"The White Mountains?" Kithara shook her head. "I overheard his spies before I killed them just where he was going!" she whispered drawing close to him. She brought her lips to his ear. "He's going into Light Forest!" she whispered into his raised ear.

"Light Forest? When did you discover this?"

"Two hours ago," said Kithara gazing at him through her jeweled black eyes. "He's going to rid it all, I know it!"

"Hm," Shou Lang rubbed his chin for a while, then he clamped his hand over her shoulder. "Kithara," he said quietly. "I'm going on a little mission for a while."

"A mission? Where?"

"I have to destroy the other portals before the witch of Dander and that goblin get there first! They're looking for my navigator and my demon eye...I can't let Monde catch hold of her!" he said squeezing her shoulder. "I'll be in the White Mountains for a little while to cut them off."

"I'll go with you," Kithara said gripping the fabric of his sleeve. "I'll help you, darling!"

He smiled a bit, "Thanks, but...I don't need your help finding the portals, but I do need you with this Dark Militia team. Do you think you can defeat them for me?"

Kithara looked away from him, "I honestly don't know, darling. They're very strong, but I could try!"

"If you can't, you'll know where to find me! I'm going to Mt. Kogre for this portal," he said releasing her shoulder and slipping underneath the willow's branches. "Good luck, Kithara!" he said running back for his horse.

...

"Do you think he'll want me around, Master?" groaned Goliath's voice. "Master Urdu will probably want me eaten or something!"

"Oh hush! Master Urdu doesn't eat scorpions!" snorted Tora.

"Yes he does," he said with a grin.

"Don't let him fluster you, Goliath!" said Tora knocking on the door to the front entrance. "Shou Lang is only teasing!"

The door opened revealing Kit and Ken standing there looking in at everyone. "You're back!" said Ken mildly.

"Welcome back little Tora! Welcome back, Lord Shou Lang!" said Kit bowing politely and moving aside so that they could pass. "You're just in time for dinner," she said straightening and smiling.

"Oh boy!" Tora rubbed his hands together. "I can smell it from here!"

Shou Lang placed the quivering scorpion in his pocket, "Stay there for a while, Ok? And don't prick me!"

"I promise you that I won't, my lord!" vowed the scorpion settling comfortably inside his pocket.

He sighed and followed Ken, Tora, and Kit to the dining room where everyone else was sitting around the table eating.

Salem looked up at him as he entered through. His orange eyes blazed into his before fleeting back to his plate.

Shou Lang wearily sat beside Tora and Shah who immediately started pulling on his tail. "Mister! Mister! Did you miss me?" she asked grinning up at him.

Shou Lang patted her hair with a small smile.

After dinner he followed Master Urdu and Salem to Master Urdu's room. He sat down beside Salem while staring up at the old demon. "Where were you, Half One?"

Shou Lang lowered his eyes, "Master...I...have to leave. Monde's little goblin and the witch of Dander are looking for San. They're going into the White Mountains for a certain portal...I must stop them and destroy all of the other portals so that Monde can't get through to the portal world again."

"Oh?" Urdu turned to look at him.

"Salem, do you know where all of the portals are? Goliath told me that you destroyed three already..."

Salem smirked, "Yes, I know where they are, but it was Goliath who told me. If Golem and that witch are going into the White Mountains then they're going to Mt. Kogre, aren't they?"

He nodded his head. "If you have any information-" he started but Salem cut him off.

"I'll go with you, half-ling! I like to finish what I start," he said standing up and glaring at his Master. "Master, I will accompany the half-creature on this mission. I'll continue my lessons after I get back!" he said following Shou Lang out the door.

"You're coming with me then?" he said over his shoulder as he stopped in the middle of the hallway.

"Yes. I'll do anything to protect Chip, San, and Ms. James back in the other dimension. They are...important to me."

Shou Lang's expression was impassive, "Salem..."

"We should leave right away if we want to beat that goblin and the witch!" said Salem narrowing his eyes. "Isn't our other ally coming? Kithara?"

"No, she has a quest of her own. Hector has organized a Uoy team called the Dark Militia. She will take care of them for me," he said looking away from him.

"I see. So who else or it just you and I, half-ling?"

"Goliath and Tora are coming with us," said Shou Lang glancing back up at him. "At any rate, we should be quick about destroying the portals. Monde has sent men to seek them out."

"I will get Pelican and Tora since they're both in the stables, and I'll meet you by the river in fifteen minutes, OK?"

"Yes," he said watching Salem run to the stables. He watched Salem disappear from sight with a sad expression. "Thank you..." he said quietly, then he turned and ran to the river.

Along the way he came across his horse and jumped on his back, "You can come out now, Goliath!" he said galloping through the trees.

"I'm quite comfortable here, thank you!" said the scorpion inside Shou Lang's pocket.

"Suit yourself," he said shrugging his shoulders.

3.

"Hah!" cried San sitting up in a short gasp. Sweat dotted her forehead and her eyes were wide and open. She panted heavily with her hands clenched inside her bed covers.

"San? What's the matter?" asked Chip sleepily. "Why'd you wake so fast? Is something the matter?"

"I-I-I had another vision!" gulped San touching the center of her forehead.

"What did you 'see'?!" cried Chip instantly wide-awake now.

"It was...Tora, Salem, and Shou Lang! They're...going somewhere very dangerous!" she cried gathering him into her arms. "I don't know where...but I can feel it! Something bad is happening over there!"

"You're sure?" asked Chip.

"Yes!" she gasped blinking into his green eyes. "There was a ghost! She was speaking to me and all the while I could hear Tora, Salem, and Shou Lang screaming!" she closed her eyes.

"Do you think we should go over there to warn them?" asked Chip worriedly. "I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to Tora!"

"They should be checking up on us by now, don't you think?" she asked looking around the darkness of her room. "It's been six months!"

"Or maybe not, they might not be coming back at all," cried Chip.

San gasped.

"Are you positive that something bad is happening to them?" asked Chip.

"Yes, I 'saw' it, Chip. They're going to some mountain, I heard Salem talking about it in my vision," said San jumping out of bed. She ran to her closet and started packing things inside her backpack.

"What are you doing? You're going?" Chip squeaked.

"Yes," said San touching her dagger. "I have to warn them, to stop them from going to that place! There is evil there, I know it!"

"Then, if you're sure...I'll go tell Ms. James that we're leaving!"

...

It was night inside the portal world. The stars burned in the sky all over her head as she looked up and around her. She turned to peer into the moon, which was a crescent moon. "Waxing crescent," she muttered to herself absently.

"Hey San! Where are we supposed to be going?" Chip whispered fiercely on her backpack strap. "What mountain was it?"

"Um..." San gave a nervous laugh. "I don't know!"

"You don't know? Then how are we supposed to find them?" cried Chip rolling his eyes. "We could be looking around forever!"

"Not really, my senses tell me that they are east!" she said turning to the east. "I got a pretty good hunch that that is where they'll be, Chip! You trust me right?"

"Sure I do," said the possum, although he looked dubious.

Be positive, she thought to herself as she started walking eastward.

...

"Do you know where we are?" she asked Chip. "I have no clue where we're going!"

"To be honest, neither do I!" admitted Chip sorrowfully.

San sighed heavily while shielding her eyes from the sun. "We were lucky that a demon didn't find us last night while we slept! That would've been bad," she yawned.

"Maybe we should walk to a village and ask directions?" suggested Chip.

"Do you know any human villages around here, Chip?" asked San.

"No. We're going the opposite way of Ether, so I have no clue where we are!" cried the possum throwing up his hands. "We're lost San, face it!"

"Then all we can do is continue walking east!" she said shuffling on.

...

"Pelican needs a rest," said Salem jumping off of his horse's back. "He's thirsty."

Shou Lang sighed and looked out into the sun. "Well, I guess we can have a little break for a little while."

"How long until we reach the White Mountains?" asked Tora stretching on the grass on tiptoe.

"I don't know. Maybe a good week's travel," said Goliath crawling up Tora's arm and on his shoulder. "We're making good time as long as we don't take a lot of breaks."

Shou Lang dug out some oats for his horse. "Come here boy," he said motioning Nitro over to his palm. Nitro chomped the oats greedily while Shou Lang patted his long neck. "Hungry, weren't you?" he grinned.

Nitro looked at him, his black eyelashes batted at him slowly. He nuzzled his cheek snorting smoke into his face.

He laughed pushing Nitro's face away from his. "Knock that off!" he waved the smoke coughing. "See Pelican? Go over there and drink from that stream," he said giving the horse a slap.

Salem looked over at him then at Tora and Goliath. "Are you both rested to start traveling again?"

"Sure, Lord Salem!" said Tora walking to Salem nodding. "I just needed to stretch from all of that riding! My legs were cramped!" The Chales boy looked at Shou Lang, "I'm going to switch horses and ride on Pelican."

"I don't care," Shou Lang snorted jumping on top of Nitro's back. "Toss Goliath over here!"

Goliath screamed as Tora hurled him into the air. The scorpion sailed smartly into his open palm, and very gently he placed him on his shoulder. "You all right?"

"Don't ever do that again!" he wailed at Tora who was laughing.

"Hiya!" he said kicking Nitro's sides. "Alright, Goliath! Tell me where to go since you know the way!"

"Make a turn into those trees and head that way until we come across the hills," Goliath told him.

He perked his ears with a snort. "I smell demons this way..."

"More than likely there are demons here," said Goliath. "There's a human village not so far away from the hills. I'm pretty sure that the demons you smell are feeding off of that village," the scorpion said.

Pelican reared next to Nitro snorting and stomping impatiently. "I saw some movement in those trees," Salem told him steadily. "Be on your guard!"

"Demons! Oh!" wailed Goliath hiding in his navy hair.

"Watch Tora," said Shou Lang scanning the trees speculatively. "Make sure he doesn't kill himself! I'll go check it out!" he said speeding past Pelican.

"Master? Do you have to take me with you?" whined Goliath scurrying about in his hair for a hiding spot. "I don't want to be anywhere near those demons!"

"Shut up!"

Nitro stopped short snorting and neighing. "It's ok," he said patting his neck. "What you smell are demons..." he reached inside his pack unsheathing his sword. The forest was silent but even still he could hear the scuttle of feet over his head.

Shou Lang jumped into the air hovering. He looked around both sides tightening his hand around his sword handle. His eyes darted left and right as he flew higher up.

Suddenly there was a crack, and then a large bough plummeting down over his head. Shou Lang whipped his sword over the branch slicing it in half before it came to contact over his head. He craned his neck upwards with a snarl.

"Oh!" wailed Goliath.

A demon dressed in a long flapping coat hovered over their heads. He had a scarf wrapped around his head and face covering his mouth and nose, but his slanted white eyes could be seen through the leaves.

"Half Blooded!" the demon hissed pointed a long sword at him. "You have the navigator don't you?!"

Shou Lang poised himself for another round of battle.

"Oh no!" Goliath groaned.

"Give your Uoy stones to me or you die!" cried the demon shooting down for him with his sword aimed.

Shou Lang turned his sword up so that the blade struck against his, a spark flew from their joined swords. He watched the demon struggle to overpower him. "Damn! I will kill you!"

He shot the demon into a trunk of a tree with another stroke of his sword. The demon screamed and cracked that part of the tree over then went screaming as he fell back on the forest floor.

Shou Lang hovered over him a second before kneeling down next to him with his sword pressed inside the demon's throat. "Who are you?"

"I will...never tell!" gurgled the demon.

He thrust his tip into the demon's throat then stood up glaring down at him. "A waste," he muttered swiping his sword so that the blood stained the grass. The demon's body was turning into goop as he left him and rejoined his horse. "Let's get out of here!"

"Who was that, sir?" asked Tora once he rode back to Pelican. "Was he part of that Dark Militia team?"

"Nah, that guy was a nobody," Shou Lang pulled Goliath out of his hair.

"Alright then," Salem said giving Goliath a look. "Where do we go from this point, Goliath?"

"Ah, ah, ah," trembled Goliath in Shou Lang's fingers. "Is that demon dead yet? I wasn't looking!"

"He's dead," Shou Lang told him.

"Tell us where to go!" Salem said impatiently.

"The hills, I said! Go through the hills!" said Goliath pointing a claw in the direction. "I already told you that!" cried Goliath.

"Whatever, Nitro, hiya!" he said moving his horse in the direction the scorpion had pointed. "Good boy, Nitro...good boy..."

...

"It's getting dark, San," cried Chip fretfully. "We should stop and set up a camp somewhere before it gets too dark and the demons start getting active!"

"No," said San primly. "There's enough light, Chip! We've been lucky so far, we won't run into any demons," she said eyeing the bulk of trees they were entering through.

"In this thick black forest? Are you kidding? It spells danger all over it!" Chip squeaked. "Let's turn back where there's light and set up a camp!"

"Out in the open? It'll be safer in the woods, Chip! If we're out in the middle of that valley we'll be easy targets!" she told him while glancing over her shoulder.

But it was getting dark. Every passing minute the woods seemed to grow blacker and blacker until at last San couldn't see past three feet in front of her. She swallowed hard, trying to choke back the fear that was creeping up on her.

"I can't see a thing!" squealed Chip digging his nails inside her scalp. "What are we going to do now, San?" his voice wavered.

"Uh...um..." she gulped. "We'll think of something! But first, we need to get out of these woods!" she said walking again.

"These woods? Oh, San! I'm scared!" screamed Chip.

"Hush!" she told him firmly. "Don't be too loud or you'll lure a demon! The last thing we need right now is a demon after us!"

San started at the sound of sinister chuckling from somewhere in the blackness. "Chip!" she squealed holding her dagger in front of her.

"Did you hear that?!" Chip wailed.

San felt her heart hammering against her ribs, her breathing was short and labored as she looked around her, but there was nothing but the darkness. "I heard someone, did you?"

"Do you think there's someone out here?!"

"Oh, I don't know!" whispered San looking frantically through the dark. She inevitably speeded up her pace.

She heard another chuckle, this time louder than before. San's blood froze and her eyes went round. "There it was again!"

"It's a demon, RUN!" shouted Chip.

San tripped over her feet as she ran. She ran blindly through the dark, her arms stretched out in front of her as she ran.

She could hear heavy footsteps pursuing her, and the footsteps grew louder and closer with each breath that she took.

"Something's after us! RUN!" Chip's nails dug in her skin.

San gave a scream as another chuckle split open the darkness. She could feel hot breath on the back of her neck. She ran as fast as she could, tripping and stumbling as she went. "AH!" she cried as her foot caught hold of a stick and sent her sprawling on her stomach.

"San!" screamed Chip.

The footsteps stopped by her side. "A puny human all alone in the forest!" rumbled a deep voice. A hand reached down and picked her up by her throat. "And oh! A tasty little rat to eat for dessert!" laughed the speaker squeezing tighter around her throat.

San stabbed her dagger down but the speaker caught her arm with a laugh. "Stupid girl! Did you think you could kill me with that small little thing?" he chortled.

San kicked her legs thrashing and grunting, "Let me go!"

"You'll taste especially nice!" laughed the voice punching her in the stomach and throwing her over his shoulder. "Stop your screaming! Save it for when I kill you! HA!"

...

The speaker was a demon, a large demon covered in warts and pustules. His skin was purple and his eyes were a sapphire color. He was very large, at least 7ft tall with large arms and legs and with a huge barrel chest. He had a pair of leathered wings on his back. He smiled at her as he threw her down on the ground, "Heh!"

San crawled away from him but he stopped her with a kick to her ribs. Gasping San rolled over on her back.

"My! What a pretty little girl you are!" laughed the demon crossing his arms over his chest. "The prettier the tastier, that's what I always say anyway," he laughed shoving his large disgusting head in her face.

San screamed crawling away from him again.

He laughed at her, "Where can you go? You are my dinner snack! Come here!" he said reaching for her.

"Chip! Chip! Help me!" screamed San as she was lifted into the air. The demon grabbed both of her wrists and spread them apart then he started pulling. San screamed, "Somebody help me!"

"First, I'll tear off your arms and eat them! Then I'll rip off your head and drink the blood from your neck! Heh! Heh! Heh!" he laughed pulling harder.

She felt her shoulders come out of her sockets as he pulled. She screamed out in pain with her head thrown back. She could feel her muscles pulling and then her bones stretching with the tension.

"HELP ME!" she bellowed.

"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed the demon pulling harder.

"Release the girl right now!" hissed a new speaker appearing in front of the demon, but San's back was to the person. "I said release her!" screamed the voice.

The demon holding her let out a scream as two darts shot into his eyes. He released her so that she bounced against the ground. "My eyes! My eyes! You cursed woman!" the demon cried.

San saw a figure in white bound up to the demon with a row of darts, and then all at once she shot them at the demon so he was screaming and splattering all over the place. San whimpered from where she was on the grass.

The figure in white faced her, and San could see from the demon's dress that the demon was a woman. The demon had a white scarf around her face covering her mouth and nose, but her black jeweled eyes could be seen underneath the white hood over her head.

San started to crawl away from the figure but the demon jumped in front of her preventing her from running away. "Stupid girl, where do you think you're going? And all by yourself at that?" smirked the demon woman.

Trembling, San withdrew her dagger, "Go away!"

The demon woman narrowed her eyes. Then with a smirk she knelt beside her and reached out her hand to touch her face. "Don't you recognize me, San?" said the demon woman gently caressing.

San shook her head, unable to pull her eyes away from the demon's intoxicating gaze. She felt as though she was being lulled to sleep and she was woozy. She had trouble keeping her eyes open. "Who...are you?" she was able to mumble.

The demon woman gently picked her up and hoisted her over her shoulder. "Chip, come on!" and stooped down to pick up the trembling possum.

"But...who? Who? Who are you?" San mumbled half-consciously.

"You'll know soon enough," answered the woman walking into the dark trees again. "When you wake up...if you wake up...I'll explain to you what's going on, but until then...goodnight my dear and sweet dreams," the woman snorted sarcastically.

Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, San sank into a deep sleep...

...

All of a sudden Shou Lang gasped from beside him. His gasp startled he and Salem who immediately turned to look at him. "What is it?" cried Salem.

Shou Lang looked baffled for a second, then he shook his head. "It's...nothing. I just, just got a bad vibe...that's all," he said holding his head. "Probably just a headache...it's nothing."

He wasn't so convinced. "A bad vibe? What's up, sir?"

"Master Shou Lang?" Goliath sounded concerned.

Shou Lang waved them off, "It's nothing! It's nothing! It's so ridiculous it couldn't be true anyway..." he was saying tartly. Then he smirked, "For a moment...I thought I smelled San and Chip..."

Salem laughed too, "San and Chip? That is absurd! Why would they be here, half-ling?"

"I...don't know," said Shou Lang looking away into the firelight. He looked worried nonetheless. With the fire illuminating off of his face the half-demon looked almost human.

Tora kept his gaze on Shou Lang until Shou Lang looked at him, and then Tora looked away.

It was silent once more before Shou Lang stood up again with both ears pricked forwards. In one fluid movement he unsheathed his sword and stood in fighter's stance. "Something is coming!" he warned them.

Tora was up on his feet in an instant. He tucked Goliath in his pocket for safety and followed Shou Lang's eyes to the right where there was a groove of trees.

"We've been followed, Half One?" asked Salem to Shou Lang. Shou Lang nodded his head. "Damn!"

There was a rustle of movement in the leaves then there was the stillness again.

A shudder raced up his spine. "Weird," he said looking around him suspiciously.

A wind swept through their campsite blowing the fire out and leaving them in darkness. Tora was startled and gave a little shout.

A snicker came from the leaves and the wind.

"What the hell is that?" he heard Salem snarl. "It doesn't smell demon!"

"Because it isn't," said Shou Lang. "It's a-"

"HA! HA!" appeared a white face in front of Tora. Tora screamed and fell over backwards in a sprawl. The white face began to laugh heartily at him. "I scared you, didn't I!? Ha! Ha! Ha!"

He saw Shou Lang's yellow eyes through the dark shining like those of a cat's. "Ghost! Just why are you lingering still and why here of all places?" he snarled.

"I've been roaming around for many months," sighed the white ghost miserably. "I just wanted some fun, really! I'm very sorry if I scared you, young man!" said the ghost humbly.

Tora saw that the ghost looked to have been human once, he was an old man perhaps in his fifties. He was a transparent wispy thing that shimmered and seemed to give off a light.

"A ghost!" he breathed.

"What the seven hells!" cried Goliath from in his pocket. "A ghost? Well let me see!" the scorpion said popping through the pocket and looking out. "What?!"

"Why are you here?" asked Salem's voice.

"I don't really know myself!" laughed the ghost heartily. "Allow me to introduce myself to you gentlemen! My name is Hawthorn!" the ghost bowed humbly. "Nice to meet you all!"

"You nearly scared me to death!" Tora cried taking a breath of relief. "Just what were you doing out here, anyway?" he accused.

Hawthorn bowed humbly, "I was following you, young one!"

"Following us?" gasped Goliath. "Why?"

"I was curious to where you were going," answered the ghost shrugging. "It isn't very common that I run across a scorpion, a young boy, a demon, and a half-blooded demon traveling together on one night!"

"Don't follow us, old man!" snarled Shou Lang sheathing his sword irritably. "Go to hell where you belong!"

"Just where are you young lads traveling anyway?" asked the ghost looking at Tora. "You must be going somewhere very important!"

"We're headed to the White Mountains!" answered Tora plucking Goliath out of his hair and back in his pocket.

"Why there?" asked the ghost.

"You ask too many questions old man!" snarled an impatient Shou Lang.

"Be gone!" Salem waved the man away.

"I might have some very important information to give you," offered Hawthorn grinning. "Can't I stay and linger just a while?"

"Absolutely not! What do you take me for, a fool? You're going to try to possess one of us, aren't you?" Shou Lang snapped.

"No! I wasn't going to do that!" said the ghost waving his hands. "No! No! No! You have me all wrong, half-demon!"

"And how do you know that I'm half-demon?" demanded Shou Lang.

"We dead have our ways!" winked the ghost.

"Whatever! Just get out of here before I exorcise you!" Shou Lang snapped.

"Fine, fine," snorted the ghost disappearing and leaving them in the dark again.

"Just who was that old man anyway?" asked Goliath after a pause.

"Ah, who cares!" snorted Salem. "Light the fires again, Tora!"

Tora bent to light the fire but meanwhile caught sight of a wispy line passing through the trees.

4.

She was greeted by sunlight and the smell of grass. She fluttered her eyelids open staring into the bright blue sky above her, and for a moment, she could not think to where she was. She did not even remember last night until she sat up and saw the white-clothed demon sitting in front of her.

San pointed her dagger at the demon breathing hard. "You!" she cried looking around for Chip. "You kidnapped me!"

The white demon had skin the color of milk. She still wore the scarf covering her face but San could tell the demon woman was smirking at her. "Have you really forgotten me already? Use your head! If I wasn't someone you knew you would be dead already! Why would a demon kidnap a human?"

"Where's Chip?!"

"Sleeping beside you," answered the demon calmly.

"I saved you, remember?" said the demon woman reaching her hand up to untie the scarf over her face. "Humans have such short memories," she said while pulling the scarf free from her face.

San gasped, "Kithara!"

"That's right," said Kithara placidly. "I found you out there in the woods yesterday night...just why were you out there all by yourself?"

San lowered her dagger and then slipped it over her neck. "I had a vision that Shou Lang and the others were in danger."

"So you went out here all by yourself?" laughed Kithara mockingly. "Just what could you do, anyway? Scream yourself to death? Don't make me laugh!" Kithara stood up smirking down at her. "I don't know why I saved you last night...it would've been better if I had just let you die!"

"Thank you, Kithara," San said carrying Chip. "I really appreciate that you helped us."

"Whatever, I only did it because my darling would've wished it...and he needs you alive!" said Kithara looking her over with those black gems for eyes. "You've grown in the past year, haven't you? You're not that scrawny thing like before, you're becoming quite the young lady, aren't you!"

San blushed.

"How old are you, girl? 13? 14?"

"I just turned 16!" cried San angrily. "I'm going to be a sophomore in high school!"

"Hm..." said Kithara glancing her over. "Well, for once you look something like your age," she said wrapping the scarf over her face again. "At any rate, I can assure you that Shou Lang is fine. I saw him maybe two days ago, he's busy in the White Mountains..."

She snapped her fingers, "That was it! That's the place! He can't go there, it's dangerous! My vision was terrible!" cried San shaking her head. "If he goes there it'll be bad!"

"You 'saw' it?" asked Kithara.

She nodded her head, "I did," she told her. "If he goes there...he will suffer!"

Kithara stared at her for a long while before turning away and throwing her something. "You and I are on our own mission as of now! There is a group that we must destroy, the Dark Militia Uoy team that Hector organized! I promised my darling that I would defeat this team and claim their Uoy fragments...you will assist me," she said glaring at her.

"Me?" squeaked San staring into the white uniform that Kithara had thrown out at her. "But! But I have to be with Shou Lang and Tora! They're in danger!"

"You will stay here with me," Kithara shook her head. "You and I will destroy this Uoy team, understood? When we are finished, only then will we meet up with Shou Lang and the others on Mt. Kogre."

Mt. Kogre? San thought gripping the white fabric in her hands.

"Get dressed in that, the clothes that you're wearing make you stand out!" said Kithara turning her back. "Hurry!" she snapped when San did not react.

San quickly shed her clothes and dressed in the clothes Kithara had given her. It was a white kimono like Kithara's but with a blue sash around it instead of a red one. San draped the white cloak over her shoulders and flapped the hood over her eyes.

Kithara gave her a scarf to cover her face. "We must go in secret from this point on, no one must know who we are...there are spies everywhere! Keep your identity hidden, do you understand?" whispered the demon.

San tied the scarf around her face then nodded at Kithara. Inwardly, she felt kind of stupid in these clothes but she didn't say anything.

Kithara made a disgusted sigh, "What are you doing? Do you know how to use that sash at all? You tied it wrong!" Kithara went behind San and untied the sash. "Make it tighter than that or it will fall off!" she said tying it tightly around her little waist.

San looked down at her sneakers embarrassed.

"And your shoes squeak when you walk! You're no martial artist!" cried Kithara handing her slippers and shin guards. "You must look like a demon if you don't want to get kidnapped or eaten!" cried Kithara pinning armor for her forearms on her coat.

San admired the new agility in her new gear. "Thanks, Kithara!" she grinned.

"Don't thank me," Kithara rolled her eyes. "I don't want you to look like an ass that's all. You'll give yourself away as the human from the portal world!" Kithara propelled her through the trees.

"Where are we going?"

"We're going into Dander," answered Kithara briskly. "Once there, we will speak with Hector and ask what's going on with his Uoy team."

"He'll answer us?"

"By force, yes," said Kithara stopping in front of a dappled brown horse. "Get on the horse!" said Kithara looking around cautiously.

San jumped on the horse's back, "So this horse is yours?" she asked admiringly. "I didn't know that you had a horse!"

"I borrowed this horse from Master Urdu's stables," said Kithara jumping behind San. "Hiya!" she shouted jerking on the reins.

...

Kithara slowed the horse to a trot. "Shhh," she said jumping off the horse with her darts. "Hector is close by, I smell him and his pups!" she whispered.

San looked down at her from on the horse, "Do I stay up here?"

"Come down from there, you idiot! You clueless twit," snapped Kithara dragging San into a clearing where a pack of wolves were resting. Once they caught their scents they were up on their feet growling and barking.

She gritted her teeth and acted as brave as she could. "I hate dogs!" she said wincing.

"I wish Shou Lang was here!" Chip whispered from on her shoulder.

"Hector!" shouted Kithara spreading her feet apart in fighter's stance. "I am Kithara, ally of Lord Shou Lang, the half-demon slayer from Ether Forest!"

"Kithara!" barked Hector jumping in front of them angrily. "How dare you enter my territory?!"

"Dark Militia, where is it?" growled Kithara.

"Oh? So Shou Lang is sending you to do his dirty work is he?" laughed Hector shaking out his fur. "He's too cowardly to fight off my Uoy team by himself, is he?" he laughed.

"Don't speak of my lord that way!" Kithara hissed. "Tell me! Where is the Dark Militia?"

"They're on their way to the Ancient Forest, my lady!" answered Hector through a row of sharp teeth.

San winced inwardly.

"If you are lying to me, I'll have your head!" shouted Kithara running back for the horse. San could only run after her if she did not want to be left behind.

"Hiya!" shouted Kithara rearing her horse back and bounding away.

...

"Is he still following us?" snorted Shou Lang glaring over his shoulder.

"Yes," answered Salem sighing. "He's a desperate spirit probably, perhaps you should send him back to hell."

"No, he isn't worth my time," Shou Lang looked into the trees gritting his teeth.

"...I fought in the battle of Huron!" Hawthorn was saying to the little Chales boy behind him. "The Chales and the Tatoris clans were allied at that time..."

He's so annoying! If only I could chop his head off, he thought wistfully.

"Really?" cried Tora eagerly. "And who was the general of the Chales clan at that time? Was he Chief Genma?"

"I believe his name was Chief Wansuko Hintaro!" answered the ghost heartily. "Yes! His name was Hintaro, I know it for sure! The Tatoris leader was Ramsey Vodken!"

"This trip is going to be a while, isn't it?" groaned Goliath from on his shoulder.

"Yes...it will be..." he snorted.

"And you were in what tribe?" Tora was asking.

"The Huron tribe! I was a good warrior back in the living days! Oh yes, I was also strong and handsome!"

"Really?!" Tora cried eagerly.

Shou Lang rolled his eyes.

"The girls all loved me!" Hawthorn was saying happily. "Ask anyone of the Huron and they'll tell you how loved I was! I was only 16 when I fought in the Ether Forest battle!"

"You were great!" he heard Tora say admiringly. "I wish I could've seen you alive, Hawthorn!"

"Don't believe that old man's lies!" Shou Lang snapped rolling his eyes. "He's only fabricating about himself! I bet he was some chump loser that died of a plague or something!"

"I died of old age!" the old ghost said defensively.

"Old age? Old age?" laughed Shou Lang turning on Nitro to grin at the old ghost. "Don't make me laugh! Look at the rings under your eyes and your blotchy discolored skin! You died of some sickness!"

Hawthorn's eyes widened, "And what would you know about that, Half One?!"

"Don't anger him, my lord," said Goliath. "Let him have his last moments of happiness in this world. After all, he cannot walk around forever! He must return to hell."

"He's enjoying what life he has left," Salem whispered.

"Some life! Lying to little boys..." he snarled over his shoulder.

"Really?" Tora sounded as though the man was one of the god's themselves. "You're so cool! I wish I could be like you!"

Shou Lang bristled with jealously, "Hey ghost! Stop it already and go home!" he yelled at him. "Quit filling Tora' s head with those lies of yours!"

"I do not lie!" the ghost snarled.

"You look so angry, Master! What for?" Goliath questioned.

"He's just jealous that the old ghost is making a bigger impression on the boy than he could!" said Salem without an expression. "You should know by now how easily jealous Shou Lang can get."

"I'm not jealous of that wobbling old ghost back there! I'm still alive, he's dead!" Shou Lang said bitterly. "What's to be jealous of?"

"That Tora thinks he's cooler than you!" Salem sneered.

"A dead guy? Oh please! I don't care!" Shou Lang snorted at Salem.

"So you beat them all with your eyes closed?" Tora was bubbling excitedly. "Just how many monsters were there?"

"Twenty of them," Hawthorn answered. "I had a blindfold over my eyes and just a single knife and I was able to slay them all! I was only 15 years old at the time!"

Oh give me a break! Shou Lang thought.

"That's so cool!" Tora cried. "Man, I wish I had that kind of skill! You're so brave!"

"You're so brave," he mimicked sarcastically. "Oh, shut the hell up Tora! You're actually believing what that old flea-bitten carcass has to say?"

"Hey, don't make fun of the dead, Shou Lang!" Tora said angrily.

"What a fruitcake," he grumbled irritably to himself.

"Go on..." Tora urged the ghost.

"After I had killed the monsters I got a medal for my great fighting skills! It's still hanging in my room! It was the greatest achievement my village had ever had! There was a big feast in my honor, and dancing, and women, and many other things!"

"Wow! That sounds so cool! What kind of medal was it?" asked Tora.

"It was made of silver, a blacksmith wielded it for me!" Hawthorn said proudly. "It was shaped like the sun as a symbol of bravery!"

"Whoa! I wish I had a medal of the sun!" Tora said longingly.

"Tora, shut up!" Shou Lang snapped.

"Don't be jealous, Half One!" Hawthorn snapped.

"Why would I want a fucking medal of the fucking sun?!" Shou Lang snapped jealously. "I see the fucking sun every morning!"

"Temper, temper," soothed Goliath. "Calm down!"

"I AM calm!" Shou Lang snapped angrily.

"You don't sound calm..." Salem smirked.

Nitro cantered away from them snorting and neighing sympathetically at him. He patted Nitro's long neck affectionately. "Don't worry boy, I'm fine!" he assured him.

Nitro blinked his beautiful black eyes at him concerned. He neighed a little.

Shou Lang rubbed between the horse's eyes with a smile, "I'm not mad! I wasn't yelling at you back there...it was that stupid ghost that..." he started but Nitro started walking ahead. "Hey! Where are you going?"

Nitro tossed his mane picking up speed. He galloped into the trees and stopped with his ears perked up and his nostrils flaring.

What's Nitro trying to show me?

He jumped off of his back and stood next to him, "Show me..." he said following his horse to a clearing that ended at a cliff. He walked with Nitro to the edge and looked out.

From the horizon he could see the white covered mountains jutting out from the earth. "Mt. Kogre," he said patting Nitro's neck. "That's it, Nitro! You're right...we're almost there!"

"Shou Lang?" called Tora's voice from somewhere.

He pivoted on his heel, "Come on, Nitro!" he said flying over his horse and back to where the rest of them were waiting.

"Where were you?" asked Goliath.

"Nitro was showing me how far away we were until we reached the White Mountains," said Shou Lang shrugging.

"You and that horse," Salem muttered.

"In two more days we'll be at the summit of Mt. Kogre," said Goliath. "Let's get started if we're done here..."

"Ok," said Tora jumping on with Salem.

"Where'd that creep run off to?" he asked looking around for Hawthorn.

"He just vanished," said Salem shrugging his shoulders.

"At any rate, let's go! The sooner the better!" said Tora looking up at Salem.

"Hiya!" shouted Salem leading the way on Pelican.

...

"Where are you going, Half Blood?" asked Salem as Shou Lang stood up from the campfire. His orange eyes looked red in the firelight.

Shou Lang ignored him, "I'll be right back!" he said flying over the trees and hovering in the air.

He sniffed several times, then cocked his head. He was pretty sure that he had caught Kithara's scent. He was puzzled, for not only was it Kithara's scent but also San's and Chip's.

But that's impossible, he told himself. San and Chip wouldn't be here! Why would they be? They're safe with Ms. James!

He thought of them and was suddenly seized with an aching pain inside his chest. He was surprised just as startled at his sudden storm of new emotion. He put a hand over his heart blinking in surprise.

It hadn't occurred to him until now that he missed them!

But even if he missed them he wouldn't go back. Not just yet, anyway...he had business to take care of. He could visit them later.

Shou Lang paused as he inhaled again, yes, he smelled them. It was faint yet it was there in the wind! Or was it some trick deceiving him? Could Chip and San really be here? The idea perplexed him, he hoped not!

"It can't be San and Chip...they know not to come here...but that smell! Why do I smell their scents? If they're here...?" he shook his head. "No, no, it can't be them. It is so subtle and soft that it might be something else, perhaps another human that I'm smelling..."

He convinced himself that he smelled something else and flew back to the others. He sat beside Tora without saying anything to him. Tora was nearly half asleep and was struggling to stay awake like everyone else, but his eyes kept closing and he was nodding off.

When he finally did fall asleep he fell limp in Shou Lang's arms. Shou Lang gently placed the Chales on the grass and tucked his blanket over him. "Sleep well, Tora. We'll be doing some heavy traveling during the morning."

...

Kithara's axe gleamed just as her shining black eyes. The blood dripped down her wrist and on the handle of her axe. Kithara straightened with a grunt, "Hector always lies."

"Yes," said San looking into the sky. "Now we're back where we started, Kithara! That demon didn't have any information to give us! How will we find the Dark Militia now?"

"We could go to Urdu's dojo and ask?" offered Chip.

"That will take us too much time," said Kithara gazing into the sky. "I will look for the Dark Militia on my own," said Kithara looking at the two of them. "I will send you off to the White Mountains, do you think you can make it on your own?"

"We don't need your help," said San sticking her chin out proudly.

"Fine then," said Kithara handing San a rusted sword. "Take this sword and use it if you must. It's worthless, but hopefully your disguise will make demons think twice about attacking you...they'll think that you are me."

San took the sword handle with a nod, "Show us the way to Mt. Kogre!"

"The White Mountains are a good four day travel from here, you'll have to move quickly if you do not want to be taken by some demon or Monde's spies, you understand?"

"Yes!" said San and Chip together.

"Get on the horse," said Kithara gruffly. "If you die...I'll be sure to break the news lightly to that dear Ms. James!" she said coldly but through a sweet smile.

San jumped on the horse's back, "I'm not going to die," she snorted.

"I hope not," said Kithara without feeling. "Follow the pass, it'll lead you straight through to the mountains! You'll see them right away! Just keep heading east and you'll reach them!" Kithara slapped the horse's rump so the horse went galloping away. "Tell my darling that I am still looking for the Dark Militia!" she shouted.

...

"The White Mountains! Finally!" cried Goliath shivering inside Tora's hair. "Mt. Kogre is the tallest mountain!"

Tora stopped to look up at the tall snowy peaks over his head. "Is there a place we can sleep the night?!"

"Yes," said Goliath pointing a claw to the dirt road. "There's a lodge up there! We should rest before attempting the climb up to Mt. Kogre!"

"Be on the lookout for that witch, Shou Lang," said Salem as he and Pelican pranced up the street.

He watched Shou Lang make a face at him. "Are you tired, Tora?"

"I am," he admitted.

Nitro trotted up after Pelican blowing smoke trough his flaring nostrils. Nitro seemed to be cold because he stomped his feet a lot and sneezed occasionally.

He too was a little cold. He would be glad once he reached the lodge so he could rest. He stifled a yawn and looked up the mountains again. "Do you think climbing will be hard, sir?"

"Not really," said Shou Lang looking up the peaks too. "It should be a little cold so maybe we should buy you something warmer," he said without emotion and without looking at him.

Tora hid a grin, he was secretly pleased that Shou Lang cared enough about him to think of buying warmer clothes for him. Even if he only half meant what he was saying, Tora was still glad.

"Whoa," said the half-demon stopping his horse and jumping off. He guided Tora into one of the cabins. A bundled old woman was at the counter. "Yes?" she asked when they reached her.

"We're staying here for a night," said Shou Lang. "He needs a warm jacket. We're climbing up Mt. Kogre."

"Mt. Kogre?" laughed the old woman but still she handed him a warmer jacket.

"Many thanks," said Shou Lang dragging Tora back outside and to one of the empty cabins. "You'll stay here," he said throwing him on a cot and shutting the door. "I have to speak with Salem, make sure the horses are safe..." he said before leaving.

Shivering, Tora fell into sleep.

...

"Goliath, once we reach the top there's supposed to be a ghost that's supposed to be talking to us?"

"Yes! The ghost will tell us how to find the hidden portal in the mountain," said the scorpion. "We have to be very careful though, I hear that the ghost is very tricky, but we'll see tomorrow after we've rested!" said the scorpion.

Salem and Shou Lang looked at each other.

5.

(On Mt. Kogre)

The wind whipped the snow into his face stinging his cheeks. His nose felt as though it had frozen off at the tip and his cheeks felt like ice. The jacket he wore wasn't helping him much through the raging winds. "It's so cold!" he gasped sucking in a mouthful of stinging air.

Shou Lang gave him a speculative look before taking off his shirt and draping it over his shoulders.

"But what about you?" he cried over the screaming wind.

"Don't ask me stupid questions! Now, keep walking!" he shouted pushing Tora into a stumbling hike.

Salem trudged ahead of them leading the way. "Come on! Hurry up, Tora!" he said reaching his hand to pull him up over the sharp rocks jutting out of the mountain.

An icy blast of air hit him in the face. Tora ducked his head underneath his arm shivering, "I can't see your hand!"

Salem hauled the little boy farther up the mountain. Tora lost his footing and nearly fell but Shou Lang caught him around the waist and hoisted him back up into Salem's arms.

Tora managed to climb farther up by six feet unassisted before it was too steep for him and too slippery. His fingers were numb from the rocks and he was trembling all over. "I can't make it up!" he cried after the next hour.

"Don't complain!" Shou Lang pushed him up to the next handhold. "Grab on to that and hang on!" he said climbing ahead of him, then stopping to grab his arm and hoist him up to the next handhold.

He was starting to feel lightheaded after the next twenty feet or so. He gripped Shou Lang's forearm with both hands, "Shou Lang...I feel kind of woozy!"

"It must be the elevation getting to him!" said Goliath.

"Then we'll stop," he heard Salem say. "We'll stop here, see that crevice? Let's go!" he said scaling the other side of the mountain.

Shou Lang pulled him into his chest with one arm and climbed to the crevice with the other. Sometimes it truly amazed him just how strong Shou Lang really was! Once inside the crevice Tora felt the urge to sleep. "I'm so tired..." he whispered.

"There's another cabin just another sixty feet up!" said Goliath. "We can make it up there, can't we? There's a village, called, Frozen Sky Village...we can make it!"

"Can you?" asked Salem looking at him.

Tora fought his urge to sleep with a fierce nod of his head. "Yes!" he said heading out with the others to begin climbing up.

Shou Lang grunted as he pushed him up to the next handhold. He glared down at him before grabbing his arm, "What are you doing?" he yelled over the screeching blast of cold wind.

"Wha-?" he was nearly half asleep.

"You're drifting off! If you fall asleep you'll fall off the mountain!" cried Shou Lang shaking his head. "I won't lift a finger to help you, so stay awake! Come on, Tora! I'm not baby-sitting you!" he said releasing his arm to resume climbing.

The wind seeped through his clothes freezing him. His teeth chattered in his skull. "I can do this!" he said reaching for the next rock to climb on. He fought his desire to sleep and continued climbing with his numb hands.

Salem and Shou Lang were already thirty feet ahead of them and neither seemed to stop and wait for him.

Straining he reached for the next rock, the snow stinging his eyes as he closed his hand around it. He panted in icy gasps of air, it hurt his lungs but he had to breathe. He was feeling lethargic again, his eyelids drooped.

"Tora! Tora! Wake up!" cried Goliath from inside his jacket pocket. "Get up! If you fall asleep you'll fall off the mountain or even worse freeze to death!"

"I...I'm trying to stay awake," whispered Tora shaking his head weakly to rid his fever of sleep, but he was so tired. His sore arms couldn't hold him anymore and his chest was hurting. He nodded his head trying to keep awake.

"Tora!" cried the distant cry from up the mountain. "Tora! Come on, you can make it! Don't give up! Climb up!"

"Trying...I...staying awake..." he whispered loosening his grip on his handhold. His eyelids closed over his eyes and no matter how he tried he could not open them again.

"Tora!" screamed Goliath. "Wake up! Wake up! Don't fall asleep now! Tora! Tora!"

The next blast of wind knocked him off balance waking him back up again. With a strangled cry Tora gripped the sides of the mountain. Straining he reached for the next handhold. "Damn!" he said in his throat.

Shou Lang was climbing down to get him. "Hold on!" came his cry over the howling wind. "I'm coming to help you!"

"Shou Lang!" he cried weakly. "I can't make it! I'm going to fall off!"

"Tora!" Goliath cried.

Shou Lang reached his hand for his, "Take my hand, Tora!" he said bending down a little farther.

Tora was trying to reach but his arms were too short. "I can't-!" he cried straining. "Come down a little further!"

The wind blew again, this time swinging Tora against the mountain's base. The icy rocks were slippery, he had trouble latching on properly. "Shou Lang!" he cried looking up helplessly at him.

Shou Lang's yellow eyes were determined, "Come on!" he said bending farther. "Take my hand, I know you can do it!" he grunted.

Tora grasped his fingertips just barely when the wind blew knocking him off the face of the mountain and plummeting down into the flurries of snow spiraling around his face. "Shou LANG!"

Shou Lang caught his ankle just in time. "Damn it, Tora!" he grunted hauling him upright. Tora hugged him thankfully. "Come on," said Shou Lang swinging him on his back. "Hold on to my neck!" he ordered while he climbed.

Tora hugged his neck thankful that Shou Lang was so strong. "You saved my life!"

"Probably won't be the last time either," Shou Lang snorted as he climbed. He finally reached the village. Salem pulled them both over the ledge so they went rolling on their backs.

"Thank you sir! Thank you!" cried Tora looking over at the teenage half-demon gratefully and happily.

Shou Lang ignored him.

"That was a close one!" cried Goliath relieved. "I thought I was going to die!"

"Stupid," Salem shook his head. "Why'd you say you could climb if you weren't going to do it by yourself?"

Tora hid his face in shame, "Sorry!"

Shou Lang suddenly shivered beside him. Tora looked over at him and realized that he was shirtless, he had his shirt. "Oh my lord! Please take your shirt before-"

"Stop whining like a girl," said Shou Lang standing up and ignoring him. "You're starting to sound like that fool girl San. Let's settle here in this village and then we'll spend the rest of the time going up Mt. Kogre!"

Tora handed Shou Lang's shirt back to him but Shou Lang ignored it and brushed past him. Tora stood there clutching his shirt in his hands. "Shou Lang..."

"Come along now, Tora," said Salem pushing the bemused boy across the snow.

...

"Whoa!" said San stopping the horse in front of the towering white peaks in front of her. She pulled her coat closer about her body and tightened the scarf around her neck and face. "Come on, Chip," she said walking Kithara's horse to the stables.

She stopped when she saw a familiar white horse-! "Pelican!" she cried racing to the horse hugging his neck. "Oh Pelican! That means that Salem is up there on that mountain, isn't he?" she moved to the next stall to pet Nitro.

"Nitro!" she cried kissing his nose. "It's me! Remember me?" she laughed petting his snout happily. San kissed his nose and then his forehead. "Oh, Nitro! I've missed you so much! Is Shou Lang up there?" she asked him.

Nitro, happy to see her neighed and gummed her fingers. He nudged her cheek with his snout snorting happily into her face. He nodded his head up and down.

"I have to warn your master that he is danger," she said stroking his velvet cheek. "I'll be right back! I promise," she said patting his cheek before slipping away and looking back into the mountains again.

She heard voices from the back of the stables so stole away to investigate. She ducked into Pelican's stall as footsteps went by the stables.

"He's here, I know it! I see his horse there in the stalls!" said a jittery voice.

"Of course that half-ling brat is here! He's off of to destroy the portal! He beat us to it! Perhaps he's already finished up there!"

"I know a pass that is much quicker than climbing up," said the jittery voice again. "Do you want me to show you?"

"Golem, you expect me to follow you up some deviled path?!" shrieked the other voice.

"That's the witch of Dander's voice!" cried Chip into her ear.

"SHHH!" she said quickly.

"Yes, we are allies now!" said the jittery voice. "Come now! We have to beat them to the portal!" the footsteps disappeared.

San peeked over Pelican's stall, then she jumped over it and followed closely after them. She watched two figures disappear up a slope just up the mountain. Gritting her teeth she followed after them.

"Is this a good idea, San? They might put a curse on us!" Chip wailed.

"They'll take us to Tora and Salem! They know the fastest route!" she said stopping so they could get a good lead on her. "We're four days behind them, they might have finished up by now!"

"True!" said Chip looking around.

San followed after the goblin and the witch as close as possible, but far enough not to be noticed. The slope turned sharply into the crest of the mountain disappearing into a tunnel. She watched the two sturdy little figures race inside the cavern before she slipped inside herself.

...

Shou Lang gasped gripping both sides of the table he was sitting in. His eyes grew wide and surprised.

"What is it?" asked Tora.

"Nitro...it's...San and Chip! They're HERE!"

...

San followed them close to an hour inside the dark tunnel before she finally saw a light. She stuck close to the walls of the tunnels so as not to be seen. She followed them up to another road where a village was sprawled out in front of her.

The village was a small one, not many houses were consisted in it. She guessed that it was the last civilization before reaching the summit.

She slipped away from her two targets and into the village so as not be seen by them. She looked up the peaks determinedly. "Do you think that they've destroyed the portal already? They had a good four days ahead of us!"

"They could've been resting here," said Chip.

"I'll ask for information," said San unsheathing the rusted sword that Kithara had given her. She tied the scarf around her face and flapped the hood over her head. "Let's go," she whispered walking into the main cabin.

...

"What do you mean that they're here?" demanded Salem angrily.

"Nitro has seen them," said Shou Lang pained. "If they're here...then...then...they could be in serious trouble! The witch of Dander and that damned goblin might have spotted them!"

"How do you know that Nitro has seen them, my lord?" asked Tora.

"Master Shou Lang has a special connection with his horse, little Tora," said Goliath mildly. "Shou Lang and Nitro are like one mind in a way, they can seem to read each other's thoughts."

Shou Lang stood up pricking his ears forward, "We have to go at once! I smell the witch of Dander! She's here already!"

"I knew that we shouldn't have wasted time resting here for all of yesterday and the day before!" muttered Goliath.

"What about San and Chip?" asked Tora looking around. "Are they close by?"

"Forget about them! We have to destroy the portal first!" he cried frantically. "Tora, you go with Salem and Goliath! I'll see if I can find that goblin and the witch!" he said running away from the cabin and in the village streets.

He narrowed his eyes running into the main cavern where the eating room was. He unsheathed his sword as he came into the room. He looked left and right but didn't see a witch or a goblin. But he smelled San, was she in here?

He walked with his sword raised looking from corner to corner but he did not see her! Maybe she had left and went somewhere else! He was about to leave when he heard the name 'witch of Dander' spoken aloud by a white cloaked person to the bar area.

The person in the white cloak turned around facing his direction but was far away from him. The person carried a thin sword, about three inches wide at its widest point, and a rusty blade. As the person walked closer he could see that it was definitely a girl, she had a small waist tied in a blue sash, and thin delicate hands. The scarf covered her face but revealed her honey colored eyes.

He froze staring at her as she walked closer to him. Her scent...her scent...but that could not be! San did not have a white cloak like this or a sword!

She stopped in front of him finally lifting her eyes to stare into his. He watched her eyes widen a bit but she did not say anything and nor did he. Partly he did not speak because he was so stunned to see her, he had not seen her in nearly half a year and here she was. And she looked so unlike the long limbed gangly girl he had pictured in his head, San had...grown up! He realized just how much time had passed as he looked at her, as all the other human men in the cavern looked at her, she was no longer that shrimp of a girl he was used to, she was...much older.

Suddenly she narrowed her eyes with a short gasp, "MOVE!" she cried running past him and out of the cavern. He watched her bewildered more than anything else.

She jumped over a fence disappearing into the snowdrift. He saw that she had drawn up her sword.

Recovering from his surprise he ran out to see what she had been chasing, it was two figures jumping past her and out of sight.

"The witch of Dander and the goblin!" he realized running after them. He pointed his sword out skimming the ground just barely. He saw them disappear into a tunnel a couple of feet into the mountain. "Damn it! Salem and Tora better have found that portal!" he growled jumping up the rocks with his sword horizontally out.

San was chasing the two of them with her sword before she disappeared inside the tunnel snuffing her from sight.

"San!" he cried jumping up to the tunnel and peering through.

"Ah!" he heard which was followed by the clang of two swords hitting against each other. "Get off of me girl! I'm not after you!" then more footsteps disappearing into the darkness.

He ran into the dark tunnel, his eyes scanning the area for any sign of life but he found none. He ran out the opening of the tunnel where he could see San climbing the mountain after the witch and Golem.

He jumped up springing his sword down on them both. The witch gave a scream and lost her footing on the rocks. She fell with an unearthly screech all way down and then disappeared in the snow.

Golem swiped his sword at San, he expected San to fall or cry out but she didn't. Probably she had grown up both physically and mentally for she fought back with her pathetic excuse of a sword. Golem scrambled up the mountain at a faster pace.

He climbed after her, he didn't want her to fall! He finally caught up to her but climbed past her and pursued after Golem. Golem was already running up the summit. Shou Lang looked down at San then ran after Golem.

"Salem! Did you smash the portal?!" he cried jumping up to a small rocky slope.

There was a scream and then he saw Golem flinging down and out of sight into the falling snow. He stared down to where he fell then looked over at Salem and Tora. "Salem! Did you smash the portal?"

"Yes, I did!" said Salem wiping his brow. "I just have one more strike and it'll be destroyed," he said raising his sword.

"But where's the ghost?" he asked.

"What ghost?" asked Tora. "We didn't see any ghost!"

Salem chopped down on the portal, which was, a wooden door decorated in Demonic symbols. The minute Salem destroyed the portal Hawthorn jumped out at them. "Now you will DIE!" he shouted.

San had just come up from the top of the summit. Hawthorn hurled himself at her and Tora knocking the both of them off the face of the mountain and disappearing into the snow just like Golem and the witch had done.

"NO!" he screamed and was about to dive himself over if it hadn't been for Salem holding him back. "NO! SAN! TORA" he cried peering helplessly down into the spiraling snowflakes.

"They're dead! They're dead!" he cried gripping the sides of his head. "Salem! They're dead!"

"Stop it!" said Salem giving him a hard punch in the face. "They aren't dead! That side of the mountain leads down to a valley! There's nothing we can do now but go and find them!"

"I knew that that Hawthorn was up to no good!" he growled making a fist. "If anything has happened to them-"

"Nothing has happened to them, you'll see!" cried Salem pushing him down the slope. "We'll check on them, don't worry Shou Lang!"

6.

(Lost in the snow)

The wind whipped his hair around his head as he walked. He looked around the snow-covered valley wondering if he would find any sign of Tora or San. He hoped that Salem was having more luck then he was.

He trudged in the snow, each step was slow because the snow went up to his waist. He wondered if the snow had covered them up already! It was a possibility. Perhaps they had frozen to death while he was trying to find them!

"Oh!" he moaned stopping to look up into the fluttering snowflakes. He couldn't think like that, he had to think positive! If they were dead...oh no, they couldn't be dead! He would just die if either one of them had died.

"San! Tora!" he called into the empty valley. "Can you hear my voice?" the wind threw his words back into his face. "Tora! Tora? TORA!" he cried cupping his hands over his mouth.

He trudged on looking around him frantically. "San! San? SAN!" he called. "Can you hear me? Tora? San?"

...

"Tora?! Tora?!" cried Chip on Salem's shoulder. "San?! SAN!" cried the possum.

Salem circled inside the snow breathing hard, "They might be dead already."

"What do you mean?!"

"It's been two hours! If they're still in the snow then they've frozen to death..."

"Salem! No! Don't talk like that!" Chip wailed covering his ears with his fists.

...

He opened his eyes slowly, then sat up looking around him. All he saw was the emptiness the drifting snow. He rolled to his feet rubbing the back of his head and inspecting the height he had fallen. "I'm not dead?" he wondered aloud. "But how is that! I hit the ground, I felt it!"

Tora sighed and slumped his shoulders, suddenly he felt the cold and hugged himself. "I wonder where San went...I saw her fall too. I hope she's ok!" he chattered trudging across the snow for some kind of shelter.

After a while of useless walking he stopped and looked around the whiteness around him. "How will the others find me in this barren place?" he thought aloud. Then he bent to his knees and started digging. He knew that the best way to keep warm in a blizzard was to dig a burrow.

After a while he squeezed himself inside his little burrow to warm himself. He stayed in there until he was warm enough to go out again. Tora began stacking snowballs on top of each other like totem poles. "This, they will definitely see!" he said diving back into his burrow shivering.

"Tora! Tora!" he heard just faintly over the plaintive drip of the snowfall.

He strained his ears with his heart pounding. He barely breathed so as not to make a sound. After a pause he heard it again. "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Tora crawled out of his burrow happily. "HERE I AM!" he screamed at the top of his burning lungs. "I'M RIGHT HERE!" he screamed waving his hands over his head. "SHOU LANG! SALEM! I'M RIGHT HERE!"

"Tora? I hear you! I hear you!"

"I'M RIGHT HERE! COME HERE! HEY! HEY! HERE I AM!" he screamed jumping up and down excitedly.

He could see a blurry object against the snow approaching him. He saw two arms waving and waved back laughing. "YOU FOUND ME!"

"Yeah! I see you!" said the person waving at him, it sounded like Salem.

"Tora!" squeaked Chip's voice. "Tora, are you all right?!"

Tora laughed in relief. He slumped against his stacked totem poles of snow breathing hard. He looked up into the snow grateful. "Oh gods! Thank you! Thank you!"

...

He could hear happy yipping from somewhere. He figured it was Salem finding somebody...if only he could find Tora or San! He did not know which had been found.

"Tora! San!" he called into the vast whiteness. "San? Tora! Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" he called out trudging farther into the snow.

He could see a shape approaching him, much like a big rock or something. He squinted at it before realizing that is was a cave! "Shelter!" he cried running for it. It seemed to take him forever to reach the cavern, once he was there he was exhausted.

He flung himself inside breathing hard, each breath brought pain to his lungs but he didn't care. After catching his breath he ventured farther into the cave looking around. He heard a sniffle and froze, "Tora?" he asked.

"Who's there?" came a weak call.

"Shou Lang," he said. "Where are you?"

He heard another shuffling sound and looked over into the gloom where a figure emerged. It was San in her white cloak and scarf. "Shou Lang!" she cried pulling the scarf from her face so he could see her trembling blue lips.

"San!" he walked up to her and stared down in her face. "Are you all right?" he asked her.

She nodded her head sniffing and trembling because she was cold. Her cheeks were flaming as was her nose and ears. "I'm just cold!" she gasped.

He was relieved to see that she was all right, "I'm glad!" he said sighing. "I was lucky to find you," he said looking out the entrance of the cave into the snow. "Salem and Chip have found Tora and now I have found you...but how will we find each other?" he gave a sardonic laugh and slumped to the rocky floor.

San sat across from him on the other side of the cave. She looked ready to sleep, and seemed to drift off when Shou Lang noticed, "San!" he screamed at her so she woke up again. "Don't fall asleep, no matter what you do, don't fall asleep! You'll freeze to death!"

San's teeth chattered in her skull, her whole body was convulsed in shivers. "I'll try!" she chattered quietly.

He watched her hug herself with her thin arms to keep warm. He looked back into the snow. Neither spoke for a while.

"I guess, we'll be here for a while," he said after a while. "We should just stay here until I think of something better to do," he said looking back at her.

San didn't seem to have heard him.

"San? You're not falling asleep are you?" he asked.

"N-No," she chattered shaking her head. "I'm...too cold to talk!"

He looked at his feet, then slowly looked back at San sitting opposite of him. "San..." he said, she looked up at him.

"Can you move?" he asked her.

"Too cold to move!" she said with a wry smile.

He looked away from her, "If I come over there...you'll be warmer..."

She didn't say anything.

He stood up and walked over to her side of the cave and hesitantly sat beside her. "Here," he said giving her his shirt. "I'm not as cold as you are..."

San shook her head, "You'll get cold if you give me your shirt."

"Take it!" he shoved it in her hands and looked away from her back at the wall of the other cave where he was just sitting.

San slipped his shirt over her head shivering inside of it, "Th-Thank y-you," she chattered looking at him.

"Don't...thank me," he said looking at his feet.

They were quiet again.

He noticed that she was drifting off again. He pinched her awake, "Hey San! Stay with me, Ok? I don't want you to freeze!"

"I'm...just...cold...want to sleep..." she mumbled forcing her eyes open.

"How about we talk?" he asked lamely.

"What would we talk about? How much we hate each other?" she laughed weakly.

He was slightly offended by her comment but didn't show it. "If it keeps you awake..." he said.

San looked up at him, "We have nothing to talk about..." she said.

She was so incredibly right! He had never talked with San and San had never really talked to him in a conversation lasting eight sentences at the most. "Well...you have to stay awake somehow."

San swallowed hard, "I guess..." she said. Then she looked up at him, "Why didn't you come to check up on me?" she asked.

He looked away, "I was busy."

"Were you ever going to come back?"

"I guess..."

"You guess? As in no?"

He stared at her but didn't say anything. "I was busy," he said after a while. "It slipped my mind I guess."

She looked away too. "Yeah, I'm sure it did..." she said and with an edge in her voice.

He swallowed hard uncomfortably. "San...I don't want you here because it's dangerous for you, and because Ms. James needs you more than I need you."

"You forgot about me, didn't you..." she said after a while.

He shook his head, "I didn't forget about you, San."

"Then why were you gone for so long?"

"I told you I was busy."

"For seven months almost?" she asked with another edge in her voice.

"I guess..." he said.

"Seven months...that's nearly a year," she said with the same bitterness. "I don't think you were ever coming back."

"I was."

"Be honest!" she said looking at him angrily.

He recoiled from her stare, "I..."

She turned away from him, "Whatever..." she sighed. "I guess it doesn't matter anymore does it? You don't care...I don't care...so it isn't a big deal..."

Again she had offended him.

Now he was angry, "You're right. I don't care."

"I know you don't, you never did," she responded without feeling.

He glared at her, she glared back at him.

"I didn't forget about you, San...it isn't like that," he said hotly.

"Oh, spare me the details!" she snapped back at him.

He glared at the wall deciding not to say anything else to her if he could help it. He wondered if he should go back to his side of the cave and sit there instead of sitting next to her.

They were quiet for another spell, both of them angry.

"When can we leave this cave?" she asked.

"I guess anytime we want," he said still angry. "Go by yourself if you want, I'm staying here for the night. It gets colder at night."

She didn't say anything else for a while and neither did he.

He looked out into the snow still angry with her and himself. He stared out into the snow for a long while before peeking at San to see how she was doing, she was asleep.

"San! Wake up!" he cried shaking her shoulder. "San! Get up! Get up! Don't go to sleep, what did I say about that?" he cried.

"I'm awake! I'm awake!" she mumbled pushing him away from her. "Leave me alone."

"Not if you're going to sleep!" he snapped.

"You shouldn't care so much if I freeze to death," she muttered under her breath, but with his ears he had heard her.

"Do you hate me now San? Because I didn't check up on you?" he asked looking at the opposite wall.

She didn't answer.

When she didn't say anything he felt bad.

"No..."

He looked down at her in surprise, he had expected her to say the opposite. San's eyes were glassy and she sniffed. "I...really missed you when you left. You just abandoned me."

"I didn't!" he said quickly.

"You weren't going to come back!" she challenged with a tear running down her cheek. "You and Tora and Salem were never going to come back, were you?"

"We...were...eventually," he faltered.

She shook her head glaring at the wall. "No. You were never coming. If I hadn't come back here then I probably would've never seen you guys again."

"That's not true," he said looking away from her. "Tora was going to visit you after we finished up with this whole portal mess."

"What about you and Salem?"

"We didn't desert you."

"Yeah right," she said putting her face in her knees.

He felt worse. He did not know that San would care so much, or maybe he did but he didn't care enough to do anything about it. He sighed, "San I'm...I'm sorry I didn't visit."

"It's not about visiting..." she said into her knees.

"Ok," he said looking at her. "I'm sorry about how all of us just sort of...left you there by yourself. But I thought that you would be happy with just Chip and Ms. James!"

"You don't get it, do you?"

"I do, San...I just...I just thought that you'd prefer your life as a normal girl without demons and ghosts and...portals...I thought you didn't like all of that."

San kept her face inside her knees.

"And...what about what you said about you not wanting me around, remember? You've said that plenty of times, so I just got the impression that you-"

"-You know I don't mean what I say, Shou Lang!" she said inside her knees.

He blinked in surprise, "I thought you were serious!"

She looked up from her knees, "If I was serious then why would I continuously keep helping you all of the time?" she asked him. "Why would I be here now if I really meant that?" she wiped her tears away. "Why would I ever come back if I meant that?"

"I..."

San sniffed again while wiping her eyes. "Don't worry about it, Shou Lang..."

He felt horrible. "I'm sorry," he said lamely.

San continued to sniff and wipe her eyes.

They were quiet for another long spell.

San was still sniffing and wiping her eyes, still crying silently. He wished that he had never opened his mouth to her in the first place! This was some kind of torture trap to sit next to a crying girl, especially San. Her crying only made him feel worse.

Shou Lang gently put his hand on San's quivering shoulder. "Come on, don't cry...you know how much I hate that..."

San seemed to shrink from his touch.

He kept his hand on her shoulder for a while then he put his other hand on her shoulder so he could turn her around. She kept her head lowered from him to hide her eyes. He took her chin and tilted it up so he could look at her fully.

A tear slipped down her cheek, absently he wiped it away with his other hand. "San...I really am sorry...so stop crying, all right?" he said wiping another tear from her face. "Ok?" he said.

She grabbed his arm staring tearfully into his eyes. With a sob she threw both arms around his neck.

Shou Lang didn't want to be soft, he wanted to push her away...but another side of him wanted her just where she was. He ended up putting his arms around her, his heart started pounding as did hers. He could hear it with his acute sense of hearing.

If time could stop...if this moment could last forever...I would be truly happy...

...

"Do you think that Shou Lang has met up with San already?" asked Goliath from on top of his shoulder.

"I don't know..." he sighed shaking his head. "And even if they did...how will we find them through this snow?!"

"I guess the best thing we can do now is wait for tomorrow," sighed Salem with a nod of his head.

"Wait for tomorrow?!" cried Goliath. "But why?!"

"Look at the sun, it is already setting!" informed the demon pointing out to the horizon. "By night this place is going to be freezing cold! It's best if we wait for the sun's heat to return."

"We'll have to find shelter," said Tora with another sigh.

They sighed, looking around the empty snow-covered plain. "Hopeless," sighed Goliath. "How will we find them even with morning? This place is like one big endless plain! We'll never find them!"

"Miss James could've frozen to death by now!" he cried sinking to his knees. "Oh Miss James..." he whispered tearfully. "MISS JAMES!" Tora pulled at his hair.

"Tora! Don't cry, I wouldn't worry about her!" said Chip sympathetically. "She's pretty smart, you know! I'm sure that she's found a way to survive!" he put his claws comfortingly on his arm.

"Chip..." cried Tora wiping his eyes. "Do you...really think so?"

"I know so!" the possum gave him a thumb's up.