Disclaimer: Hey everybody! Welcome back once again to Spirit Heart! First off, I apologize for the delay but seeing as Spirit Heart is the most-liked among my fanfics, I decided to make this next chapter. Second, I have been recovering from the chicken pox which sucks for me since my fever kept going on and off and I look hideous at the moment, I was advised to take a week off from school (college to be exact). So I think I will use my rest time to write some more chapters and work on my other fanfics as well because I have a new fanfiction which is a bunch of oneshot drabbles.

It's Final Fantasy, so for those of you who have me on their Alerts, I think it will appear on their e-mails or something. Okay, now, enough with the heavy stuff.

As usual, I'm glad that everyone still seems to like this story, and I find it interesting that people are already having some assumptions towards some of the characters. I really enjoy reading what you think about characters like Desert Storm and Nukha and what you think they might be up to. I really enjoy reading about what you think about them, it's fun. Well, on with the story!

Summary: In a time where great beasts ruled the forests, a young and rebellious wolf named San was trained for the day she would soon become a great warrior to fight the humans and become leader of the Wolf Clan. Although a skillful and undefeated fighter, San tends to run off on her own despite her mother and older brothers' warnings. But on this day, she would encounter the one thing that she may be living for.

Ashitaka, a noble and pure-hearted warrior one day enters the domain of the forests gods in search of a way to prove that humanity and the forest can co-exist and finds, maybe the one who was meant to help him realize that peace can be restored as well as help him realize his own heart's desires.

But can a man truly love a wolf?


Chapter XIII: Heart and Spirit

San took her daily fill of fresh cool water at the stream early that morning. The forest had been quiet lately and only the small sounds of the birds and tiny rodents, and a few rattles from the kodama were what sounded off in the forest.

It had been a couple of weeks since San and Ashitaka's last meeting in the meadow after their close encounter during the hunt. He had explained that he had and will be busy for a while and ruefully said he might not be able to visit much.

San was as nonchalant about it as always but she could not help but feel disappointed still.

For the past few days, San had been bored out of her mind. She had been doing nothing but train for the day of her Rite of Passage, she went on every hunt, and even explored to her heart's content. Still, that did not curb her boredom.
San sat back after drinking and growled to herself. Was Ashiataka really that fun to be around? The young wolf god made a complaining sound and tried to shake thoughts of boredom from her mind.

It did not help that Nukha was still acting as if he were the leader of the Clan. San escaped whenever she could during Clan meetings, and though she had been lectured a few times for doing so, it was worth it to just walk away from Nukha's nonsense.

San rolled around on the ground, her eyes staring at the sky.

She remembered how Nausicaa dreamt of flying; a silly dream for a wolf god. But then again, anyone would wonder what it would be like to fly freely in the sky, overlooking everything from below them. San huffed; if she was considering Nausicaa's thoughts, then she really must be dying of boredom.

She wondered what Ashitaka was doing right now. Was he perhaps forced into building another human structure, or more dens?
The wolf growled to herself at the thought, but she could not decide if it was because the humans were creating more destruction or because Ashitaka might collapse from exhaustion. From what she had learned about Ashitaka was that he was too generous, to the point that he might fall and faint on another's behalf.

Such a strange human indeed; and San cannot count how many times she thought that.

How could this one human be so…selfless? And why? What was in it for him for being generous? San growled and snarled at nothing for what seemed like hours until she made up her mind.
If Ashitaka would not be able to come to her, then she will go to him. Her human form was perfect; not even the herding animals of the humans would be able to detect her, except for Ashitaka's red elk. But San doubted he would tell a soul. Humans cannot understand the language of animals anyway.

But what excuse should she present to the Clan? If she said she was to spy on the humans, surely several other wolves would want to join this mission; another flaw was that the other wolves were most likely oblivious to the fact that they may have the ability to shape shift into humans.

San growled again. If she told any of the wolves that they had the power to take the shape of a human, they would surely use this to their advantage immediately, especially with an Oracle Wolf like Nukha around. If that was to happen, then Ashitaka might be caught in the fray.

San could not let that happen, she would not let that happen. Not when she was possibly close to learning more about her human 'friend'.

Perhaps a better story and a more likely one were to say she intended to train in a farther region of the forest alone, for the Rite of Passage. That would deceive the others quickly, but Moro might doubt it. Still, San had to try.

Making up her mind, the young wolf headed back to where the Clan rested.

The wolves looked in her direction then returned to their own doings once they saw it was merely the daughter of Moro.
San found her mother immediately and went to her. Moro noticed San's presence and waited for her daughter to come closer and speak. San seemed to have an air of about her today.

"You wanted something, Daughter?" Moro asked. San bowed her head low in respect. "I want to leave the Clan for a short while, Mother. I wish to train for the Rite of Passage alone in the farthest regions of the forest."

Hearing this, the other wolves of the Clan stood up and turned their attention towards Moro and her heir.
"Leave the Clan? Alone?" "It feels too soon for that!" "It is probably best to wait for another season." The wolves all spoke at once. Moro stared at her daughter carefully, wondering what the pup was planning this time around.

The pack of young wolves made their way over to the commotion and noticed San with Moro. Dante and Nero growled worriedly to each other and exchanged glances with the other younger wolves. Sophie watched San, trying to make sense of San's sudden decision to leave for training alone.

Nausicaa's ears flopped down the side of her head slightly, while the younger wolves barked quietly at each other in question.

"What made you take this decision, San?" Moro asked sternly. San raised her head and looked into her mother's eyes. "If I am to become the new leader of this Clan, then so be it. But if I am to do that through the Rite of Passage, then my only request is that I train alone far from the Clan. I will take a few days. When I feel prepared, I'll come back right away."

Dante and Nero then bounded up to where their mother and sister sat. They both nudged San. "What are you thinking San?" "Why now?"

"It's my decision, Brothers." San said firmly. Moro knew by that tone that San had made her mind up. The large white wolf sighed deeply then turned her gaze back to her daughter. "You are aware of how much work you must put into this training…?" "Yes."

Another sigh escaped Moro before she answered. "… Very well. San of the Wolf Clan, you are to leave for training and return only when you are sure of your abilities."

San nodded. "Understood." The young wolf lifted her head again to look at her Clan. They all watched her with uncertain or worried eyes, even her friends. San stood and moved, setting out on her journey while the other wolves stood back.

Dante and Nero stood in San's way, along with the other young wolves.

"… It's only for a few days. I can manage on my own." San said. Her brothers nuzzled her and wished her luck while her small pack of comrades nodded at her and said goodbye for now. Nausicaa watched San silently as she left.

The daughter of Moro was soon out of sight and the Wolf Clan turned to Moro who turned her gaze heavenward. "May the Forest Spirit protect San on her journey."
The pack said nothing and dispersed. Only Dante and Nero remained there, with the young wolves.

"I hope you made the right decision, Moro." Nukha's voice said as Nukha himself appeared. The young ones growled at him warningly but Moro remained still. "It is her choice. She desires to be strong and learn on her own. Surely even you must know that, Nukha."

The Oracle Wolf bared his fangs in a smirk. "It still worries me; your daughter is an unruly pup. How are you sure she did not just lie so she may escape from her Clan and its duty."
Nero snarled angrily. "Don't talk of our sister that way, old wolf!" "San is young but she has honor like no other! Keep that in your aging mind, Nukha!" Dante snarled as well.

The small troupe of young wolves joined in as well. Sophie and Howl's fur bristled, and Nausicaa glared while the younger pups barked at the Oracle Wolf.

Nukha simply turned his back on them and held his tail up high in the air, which insulted the brothers and their troupe. "Very well. If you believe that is so, then it is so." Nukha said and trotted off, an air of arrogance around him.

"One day, I will bite that old dog's head off!" Dante growled. The others agreed. Moro said nothing, her mind more focused on San. "Whatever you are up to, my daughter, be wary."

San dashed through the forest, circling around the terrain to make it seem like she really was heading in deeper into the forest like she had said. This would help in case some of the wolves tried to sniff her out.

After she was sure her scent around the trail would fool anyone, she headed to where Irontown was.

As much as she hated that disgusting human residence, her friend resided there, and if there was no way that he could come into the forest to see her, then she would have to go herself. San thought of how horrible it would be to stay in that wretched town for a few days.

But if she stayed close to Ashitaka, then she might be able to tolerate a bit.

She approached Irontown, making sure to approach unguarded areas to avoid unwanted attention. Recalling Ashitaka's direction of the hidden entrance of Irontown, San snuck all the way around the fortress-like town, making sure to remain hidden. She sniffed the air, growling quietly when smog clogged her senses.
"Those damn humans…" The wolf continued on her way until she recognized the familiar trail. She looked around then slinked down towards the outer wall, sniffing for the entrance. Finally finding it, San nudged it open and stepped inside.

The human apparition of San stepped out of the hidden spot then dashed for Ashitaka's hut.

She hated being in this place, especially when she could not attack all because of one human. She shook her thoughts away and tracked down her human friend's scent to his home.
She entered his hut and looked around; it was still the same as the last time she saw it, which strangely pleased her. She sniffed around and made her way to Ashitaka's bunk. San touched the mattress of the strange object and was surprised at the feeling of slight hardness and softness at the same time. So this was what Ashitaka slept on?

She looked at the pillows and sniffed.

They smelled just like Ashitaka. No doubt that he had been lying down on these things. She buried her nose in the pillow and felt softness all around. The wolf god pup stared and sniffed at it for a while longer until she was unable to help herself.
San grabbed onto one of the pillows with her mouth and shook her head roughly, shaking the helpless soft pillow around. She growled playfully as she rough-handled and shook the pillow around with her mouth.

She looked just like a young pup that was busy playing with its favorite toy by shaking it around.

Ashitaka returned to his hut after a long hard-working day.

The oxen were fed, the damaged structures were repaired and he had helped the women with pumping the bellows for the day. He smiled as he returned home for some well-earned rest; just thinking about lying in his bunk made him forget his stress.

He pushed aside the flaps of his hut then froze in shock.

There were feathers everywhere; they littered the floor, and some other areas of his hut. The girl in front of him was shaking a pillow in her mouth like a dog pup playing with a rope that it had gotten its teeth into.
What surprised Ashitaka more, however, was that San had returned. He stared as she growled playfully while shaking the pillow around in her mouth.

San jumped around as well until she felt a presence. She stopped and looked over towards the door and found Ashitaka standing there, staring.

San blinked then glanced at the pillow in her mouth before realizing what she had done and dropped the pillow. "… Sorry." She felt her human face burn with embarrassment as she looked away from him and towards the floor. Ashitaka suddenly shook his head and grinned, chuckling at the display he had just seen mere seconds ago.

He stepped towards San and then pats the top of her head gently.

"It's alright, San. It was just a pillow. I had no idea you liked playing with them though; maybe I should make one for you whenever you visit." He mused. The wolf god flushed. "No thanks. I was just…distracted by it; it won't happen again. Sorry." San grumbled.
Ashitaka laughed lightly. "I can always make another one, don't worry." He began cleaning the feathers from around his hut while San sat back on her human hunches and watched.

Ashitaka picked up every last feather he found and stuffed them back into the sack and went on with mending it shut, fixing the pillow. San sniffed the object again once he was done with it.

"That other one is a little harder." She said. Ashitaka nodded. "This pillow is made from feathers, and this other one is harder compared to it because it has straw instead. Which reminds me; why did you come? I did not expect you to come back so soon."

San looked around, avoiding eye contact.

"… I told the Clan I was leaving for a bit to train on my own." She said simply. Ashitaka nodded in understanding. "I see. When are you coming back? Will you go far?" The wolf stared at him then shook her head. "I lied. I said that so I can come here without causing suspicion. I'm not really going anywhere."

Ashitaka was taken aback.

San had lied to her Clan just to visit him? He felt his heart pound in a strange rhythm as he stared at the wolf girl. San, in her human form was sitting on her haunches and scratching her head with her foot; she was still ever the wolf. Ashitaka noted with a smile.

San grumbled in frustrating at the fact that her back foot was covered in some kind of covering. It blocked out the comfortable feeling of her claws scratching at her itch.
With a huff, she ignored this fact and continued scratching her head. Ashitaka chuckled and shook his head. "Why did you lie to them, San?"

The wolf girl paused. Why did she lie? She thought she had already found out the reason why. Instead she went with the simplest reason she could recall; "I was bored."

The smile on her friend's face widened a bit as he stood up. "I didn't think you would come here of all places. You did tell me how much you hated the humans." "Weren't you the one who told me to give humans a chance?" San said back, hoping Ashitaka would let go of the awkward subject already; it was making her feel uncomfortable for some reason.

Ashitaka simply nodded. "What do you intend to do while you're here?" San shrugged only shrugged.

"Maybe we could use your time here to start your training…" Ashitaka mused. The wolf girl raised an eyebrow. "What?" "You told your clan that you were leaving to train. But since you're not too sure with that to do with your time here, we can use some of it for your training. At least it will help make your story believable. And you will have the chance to hone your skills."

San thought for a moment. "This isn't just any kind of training, Ashitaka. It is for the Rite of Passage; all wolves that come of a certain age needs to test their skills against the older and experienced warriors. I am expected to take that test around this season; it's too early for me but…Nukha insisted." San growled lightly. Ashitaka looked at her carefully.

Finally, he took her hand and made her stand upright. "Come on, you're probably hungry. Let's get you something to eat first."

San did not argue and simply followed Ashitaka out of his hut. The wolf girl had to control a growl and grimace at the smells of Irowntown. The citizens smiled and greeted Ashitaka as he passed by them, making San wonder just how valuable he was to this town; was Ashitaka that much of an important figure?
She knew he did not lead the people of this town, if he did then he would have had the power to control the humans from entering the forest. And of course San knew it was that Eboshi woman who ruled Irontown.

Still, why was Ashitaka so important?

They arrived at the eatery and San immediately recognized the place; it was where the humans came to have their daily fill of food. Ashitaka seemed to realize that she recalled this place and smiled. He told her to stay put while he went to get something she might like to eat while she was here.

San did as she was told but could not help but glare at all the humans around her.

Ashitaka was the only human who she was sure she could trust since he had proven his trustworthiness multiple times to her already. The young wolf god resisted the urge to snarl; if she did so while she was incredible irritated with her hatred towards these foul beings, she might lose control of her human form and give away what she really was.
Not only would that endanger her cover, but it would also jeopardize Ashitaka. San could tell these humans—young and old—looked up to him.
If they knew he befriended a wolf god, not only would they think he could control her, but they might turn against him as well.

San was not sure why she was so worried about such a thing; it should not matter to her. Yet, it did.

Ashitaka returned to her with two bowls of rice with some meat. The young woman gave the food a look as she followed Ashitaka outside. They returned to his hut and settled on the floor. San sniffed at the bowls then grabbed a piece of meat, biting into it.
She snarled at the strange taste. "What's wrong with this meat?" Ashitaka chuckled. "Nothing. It's cooked."

San snarled at the meat. "You humans have to ruin the taste of good meat." "Our tastes are just different San. Just try it; I'm sure you might get accustomed to it after a few bites." Ashitaka insisted. San was about to protest but recalled Ashitaka taking raw meat whenever he visited her; it made the wolf feel guilty. He did eat the meat fresh because it was given to him that way, and yet she was rejecting the food he was giving to her.

With a growl, San picked the meat up again and wolfed it down.

After a few bites, her tongue seemed to have grown used to the foreign taste of cooked meat, and even a bit of rice. Ashitaka seemed pleased that she was enjoying herself. San made a whimpering sound; she felt horrible for enjoying human food but if she did not, she would be offending Ashitaka, and he never once disliked the uncooked meat she offered him.

Ashitaka's eyes remained on San; her human form still surprised him, but it pleased him that she was still as beautiful as she was in her true form. Carefully, he reached a hand out.
San noticed the action then remained still. To her surprise, he stroked her cheek, something he never did to the wolf before.
His thumb traced the red marking on her cheek; he looked as if he were in a trance. San leaned forward slightly, sniffing Ashitaka's scent.

The human boy snapped out of his stupor then looked away, pulling his hand away from her face. "I'm sorry." "… For what?" San asked, not sure what this odd boy was apologizing for.

Ashitaka blushed; he knew full well that San did not know the customs of human affection which was why she was not offended. But Ashitaka did. He felt himself grow embarrassed and ashamed of himself for touching San in an inappropriate way, wolf or not.

"Ashitaka." San called, nudging his shoulder with a hand.

"Sorry. I was…not thinking." He said. San huffed. "Apparently. Maybe working too much had finally taken effect on you. The humans are making you do too much."
"I don't mind. It helps keep me occupied." Ashitaka admitted. The wolf girl growled and tugged at her clothing. "These things…still feel odd. But not as badly as before." "That's good. It means you're growing accustomed to this form."

San hated the idea of being accustomed to humans, but she supposed that it could help her blend in much better.

Nausicaa took in the smell of the forest as she trotted around the trees.

She missed San already; the older she-wolf was like a sister to her and even though she did not express herself much, San was a good friend. She looked after everyone else like a true leader did. Nausicaa chuckled to herself when she recalled how she would follow San everywhere when they were just little pups.

But now at this age, San was pressured in becoming the new Alpha in her mother's place. She was only seventeen summers old, and to have that kind of duty upon one's shoulders would surely make anyone act as San does.
Nausicaa noticed Sophie cleaning herself by the stream. She approached the grey wolf carefully before speaking. "Sophie?" The older female turned to see the auburn wolf behind her. "Nausicaa? What is it?"

"I was just thinking about San. I know she has such a burden on her shoulders but she's working hard even though no one else can see it. You think…the pack is being too hard on her?" Nausicaa asked. Sophie thought for a moment. "… Sometimes I think they do push San too far. I suppose that explains why that pup likes to run off on her own."
Nausicaa laughed. "San is the most free-spirited one of all, isn't she?"

"That she is." Sophie agreed.

"Where is Howl? He is usually with you." Nausicaa noticed. Sophie shook her fur off a bit. "He's resting. You know how he is after working so hard; he tends to sleep in."
The younger female tried not to smirk. "The both of you know each other so well…" Sophie blinked before realizing what Nausicaa had just said. "Now wait a minute, pup! It's nothing like that!"

Nausicaa laughed and nosed Sophie's neck. "I was only making fun, Sophie. I'm sorry."

A freezing gust of window blew past, making Sophie and Nausicaa shiver. A low growl sounded off and the two females whirled around.
Two black shadows stood before them, their forms blurred but distinctively canine like them. The first shadow's eyes glowed an electric blue and the other's was blood-red.

Sophie and Nausicaa suddenly felt their legs buck and shake under them. They were frozen on the spot, unable to move away. However, the shadows only stared at them with blank observant gazes but did not attack them.
After what felt like an eternity, the shadows leapt up and disappear in a blur. Sophie and Nausicaa felt their body finally respond to their commands and the chills they felt vanished and was replaced by warmth. The wolves exchanged slightly frightened expressions.

What was happening to the forest?

I am sorry that this chapter took so long. I know people had been waiting for forever. I am very happy that people still read this story so do not worry I am not giving up on this story, I will just be taking time to update it. Anyways, enjoy this chapter and let me know what you think.

Until then…