Sorry it took a while to get this done, I've been busy with other things. But I finally got some time to finish this chapter off!

It's the morning now and Ashitaka is getting ready to head off. Enjoy!

Chapter 4 - A Rude Awakening

Ashitaka left the house excitedly next morning and headed for the stables. He greeted Yakul when he arrived and started loading him up with some provisions.

"We're going to see San today." Ashitaka told him happily.

Yakul nudged him in the arm, pleased to be going on a proper trip at last. Although Ashitaka knew Yakul couldn't talk back to him, he was confident that the elk understood exactly what he said. Yakul was Ashitaka's faithful companion and he was a remarkably intelligent animal. That's why Ashitaka often liked to talk to him; he knew when Ashitaka was feeling upset and Ashitaka found him a great comfort.

The pair of them had left their old tribe and had travelled together through the long and rough journey that had led them to Iron Town. Yakul was a magnificent creature; he had impressive tall horns and an elegant red coat, with a lighter coloured chest and underbelly. He was a fine example of a red elk, something not many people had ever seen before as they were incredibly rare and some even believed that they had gone extinct. Unfortunately this animal was something that people familiar with the old tribal lifestyles and customs could use to link Ashitaka back to his past. These people knew that the Emishi tribe had used these regal animals, but this wasn't going to stop Ashitaka from using Yakul whenever he needed to travel somewhere.

He had cared for Yakul while he worked on the town because the elk had suffered an arrow wound to his right hind leg. He allowed the elk to rest and made sure he never over exerted himself if he needed some exercise. He had recovered well and Ashitaka saw that he was in high spirits today, eager to join Ashitaka in the forest.

"Right." Ashitaka said and he led Yakul out of the stables. "I think we're all ready to go."

Ashitaka walked over to the gate, Yakul following close behind, and waited for the gate to open.

"Thanks." He waved to one of the men on look-out duty.

"Watch yourself out there." The man called back.

He nodded, mounted up on Yakul and they set off towards the forest.

San had awoken with a start, her brothers had forced her to wake up and she wasn't happy about it. Last night she'd barely had any sleep and now she was extremely grumpy. She was furious when she realised just how early in the morning it was.

"That wasn't funny!" She roared. "I'm really tired and I wanted more sleep." She glared at them; San's temper wasn't to be tested this early in the morning as Karo and Namu knew very well. But to San's surprise the two wolves weren't laughing.

"This isn't a joke San." Karo spoke seriously. "There are humans in the forest."

"What?" San shouted. She stood up alert, as if preparing for an attack. "Humans in the forest! Don't they know they aren't allowed? I'll get my things and we can set off at once." She was furious that humans were the reason she'd had to get up at this time and she was going to make them pay dearly for it. She sprinted over to where her spear was stuck in the ground.

"Wait." Namu called to her. "We don't know anything more of the intruders. We're just sure they're hidden somewhere in the forest."

"Yeah." Karo also called after San "They might be plotting something; we need to find out what they're up to. It will help to know what we're up against and so far we're unsure whether they are planning something against us and the forest, or Iron Town."

"So they aren't from Iron Town then?" San asked as she walked back over to them, spear in hand. She was a little less angry now that she knew that something suspicious was going on.

"No." Namu replied. "We know their scent.

"Ashitaka isn't among them either." Karo added. "We know his scent even better, thanks to you."

San blushed slightly.

"Well we've got to find out what the humans are up to." She said commandingly.

"Yes." Namu replied. "We just need to make sure that you'll stay close to us."

"I can look after myself!" She said indignantly.

"That depends on the number of humans we come across." Karo told her. "We all need to be alert and on guard. As we said, we don't know what they're up to."

"Fine!" She shot back, infuriated that they didn't believe she could cope on her own. "Let's go already!"

San jumped on Namu's back and the wolf clan set off to search for the intruders.

They hadn't noticed a small party of five men hidden completely from sight in a nearby bush, watching over their conversation.

"Stupid girl." One of the men whispered. "How could the young prince ever of been drawn to such a savage. I suppose she could be useful for other reasons too, though." He added, smirking.

"Quiet." The leader hissed. "Ready with the signal?"

The first man produced a strange instrument from his pockets.

"Good." The leader whispered. When he could no longer see the wolf clan in the distance he nodded to the man with the instrument. "Now."

The man blew into the instrument, which made an eerie whistling sound that pierced through the quiet forest.

"All right, get moving everyone."

The group silently sneaked out of where they were hidden and headed off through the forest in the wake of the wolves, careful not to be spotted.

"What was that?" San said as soon as she heard the noise.

"I heard it too." Karo and Namu said at the same time, looking around for movement.

"Wait I smell something." Karo continued. "Strange, it smells like…"

"Over there!" San interrupted. She pointed, and then stopped. "Ashitaka?" She turned to face Karo, who stood next to her. "I thought you said he wasn't in the forest."

Karo looked a little confused. "He wasn't, that's why I thought it was strange to smell his scent."

"He must've just arrived." Namu added.

Ashitaka noticed San sitting on the back of one of her brothers and Yakul carried him over towards her. They weren't far from the forest edge; he had only recently passed the outer trees.

"Nice of you to come and meet me." Ashitaka smiled, and then stopped as he saw the surprised look on San's face.

"What are you doing here?" She said blankly.

"I came to see how you were." He answered. "Are you alright?"

"Something strange is happening. There are humans somewhere around." Namu responded for San. "Besides you of course." He added

"That's right." Karo continued. "They're up to something. Did you hear a strange sound just now?"

"Err…No." Ashitaka replied with a shake of his head. "I only reached the forest a little while ago, look you can still see where the trees thin out a bit." He added, pointing out of the forest.

The wolves followed Ashitaka's gaze and they all saw a gathering of six men, dressed in black with swords strapped onto their backs. Three of them broke into a sprint and ran stealthily through the trees towards Iron Town. The other three looked over towards where Ashitaka, Yakul, San and the wolves stood then dashed off in the opposite direction to the others, deeper into the forest.

Ashitaka reacted instantaneously; he strung his bow then said. "Karo and Namu, you go after the ones that ran into the forest. You're quicker than Yakul through this terrain. Do what you can to stop them; they're definitely not from around here so I'm sure whatever they're planning can't be good." He paused and the two wolves nodded. He looked towards San. "San, you go with them, but be careful."

"Why is everyone telling me to be careful?" She burst out.

"Because we care what happens to you San." Karo, Namu and Ashitaka all said together.

Ashitaka turned in the direction of the men that had made for Iron Town and spoke. "I'll go and do what I can to help Iron Town." With a grim expression on his face he added. "Good luck, we'll meet later if all goes well and the danger passes."

They split up, San and the wolves rushed deeper into the forest while Ashitaka and Yakul galloped back past the trees towards Iron Town.

San was worried about Ashitaka; he would be on his own until he reached Iron Town and she yearned for him to be alright. She suddenly heard the sound of Yakul cry out in pain and without thinking jumped off the back of her brother and sprinted as fast as she could towards the sound. Her brothers stopped abruptly.

"San!" They called together, but before they could turn around to go after her the three men from earlier jumped out at them and drew their weapons. They had no choice but to hope she would be ok as they began to fight their attackers.

San barely heard her brothers shouting and growling in the distance, her ears had muted to any sound that didn't give away Ashitaka's condition. As she ran past the trees she thought of him. 'He's a strong warrior.' She told herself. 'Nothing could've happened to him. There were only three of them after all.' This didn't reassure her; Even if there were only three it was still obviously too many for him to face alone, even with Yakul and he sounded hurt. These men looked dangerous and San needed to know what had happened to Ashitaka for real.

All of a sudden she felt something snake like grip round her right ankle, she felt it tug at her leg and she tripped. The dagger Ashitaka had given her flew off from around her neck to land in a bush some distance ahead of her, out of reach. She hit the floor hard and rolled over to see what had caused her to fall over. She saw a length of rope led from her ankle to a tree, where it was tied in a tight knot. It had been a trap. She'd dropped her spear in the fall, but fortunately her main dagger was nearby. She picked it up and scanned the area; it was the same area that she'd met Ashitaka and Yakul before they had set off for Iron Town. Her senses worked hard, trying to find a scent or hear the sound of whoever had done this to her. San gave up after a minute and started trying to sever the rope with the blade. The rope was thick and it was tough to get into, but she was making progress. Then she felt something small and sharp prick the skin of her left shoulder. She stopped what she was doing and reached her right hand over to see what it was. San discovered that it was a dart and before she had been able to remove it she had fallen onto her back. She could still hear slightly but her vision began to blur.

"Nice shot." Someone muttered in the background.

She could make out five figures walking over to her, but had no strength to do anything about it. One of them spoke.

"Well now, look at this. Regretting leaving the protection of your friends now aren't you?" He laughed nastily. "It was too easy capturing you. I'll be honest I expected more from the great Princess Mononoke." He mocked. "But then I suppose you are only human after all." He laughed again.

San felt the last of her energy leave her and her vision turned to darkness.

Hooray! More reviews! Thanks so much, it's great to hear your feedback and I'm glad people like the story. :D
Any comments you have of how you find the story and any improvements I can make are appreciated!

Not sure when I'll have the next chapter done, but keep an eye out for it. :)