"Children find everything in nothing. Men find nothing in everything."

A snowy rescue (an Erdan mini-story)

Winter has settled. For the past few weeks the northern winds have blown the freezing breath of nature at year's end. All across the Valley of Peace, snow covered entire fields and towns in bright white blankets. The atmosphere, cold and harsh, the ground, soft yet chill to the touch, and the sky, grey and blank. Small crystals of frozen water gently floated downward to the earth at a slow yet patient pace. Normally this scene of harsh nature would bring grim thoughts and moods and words to one's little world. But the people of the Valley welcomed the winter with a season of parallel energy, countering the coming of the cold times. Throughout all of China, folks from all walks of life, whether rich or poor, celebrate the Winter Festival. A joyous season where festivities of warmth, love, and charity are not just encouraged, but celebrated, and as this holiday continued, so did the warmth of the warm smiles, and warmer meals of the Winter Feast.

Paw pads of a boy's feet made soft sounds of pressed snow as a young wolf named Erdan walked down the street of the village. He looked around and was heart-warmed by the sight of the season. Families joining together in warm homes, children playing while making snowmen, and colorful lanterns illuminating the homes and clotheslines in all types of colors, all these winter traditions and activities brought a warmth within the boy's inner being. As he walked down the stone street, his foster parents strolled next to him, with his father to his right and his mother to his left. When the night came, the family of lupines left their home to enjoy dinner out in the town, and at the best place to enjoy a hot meal.

Erdan walked, but was experiencing a little discomfort. A few minutes of walking and already his healing injuries were annoying him.

Zhong looked at his son and asked "You alright Erdan?"

"Yeah… yeah, I'm…fine…" Erdan replied while whincing again.

"Oh dear, you need to take it easy." Shu said, expressing concern for her son.

"I'm alright…" Erdan simply said.

"Son, just two days ago you got kidnapped, ran through the forest, and almost fell down a cliff with a collapsing tower, you need to take it easy." Zhong politely ordered.

"Dad… I'm…" Erdan tried to protest, but saw the expression on his father's face, realizing that this was one argument he could not win.

Abiding to his parents concerns, Erdan took the crutches Zhong brought with him, just in case. The young wolf may be able to walk normally, but his legs hurt if he walked for too long, due to his injuries from his most recent adventure, involving croc bandits, oxen warriors, and a sacred silver fan. Erdan took the crutches and used them to travel safely, allowing his legs to finish their restoration. Soon, the family of wolves arrived at their destination, Mr. Ping's noodle shop. The restaurant was decorated with all types of lanterns and holiday banners. The eatery was already filled with guests from the village, and the smell of exquisite soup filled the air, bringing joyful sensations to Erdan's sense of smell. After greeting their friends, of which included the panda, Po, Jimbo, a local goat and his two sons, Kenny and James, and the Hao family, a rabbit mother, father, and their hot headed son, Fang. With the reunion ready, Erdan, Zhong, and Shu sat at a table and awaited their orders of soup while enjoying the company of their friends and comrades. Normally Erdan would be serving the soup to customers, hence his job at this noodle shop, but for once he was the one enjoying the luxury of being waited on and served. The minutes flew by as conversations and laughs filled the atmosphere in a wholesome mood. After a short time, Po was now ready to present the family of Lupines their soups.

"Here ya go Zhong." Po greeted while giving the large wolf his dinner.

"Ah, thanks panda." Zhong replied.

"Here you are Shu." The panda said.

"Thank you Po." Shu thanked.

As Po was about to give the third bowl of soup, a pig man stood nearby, waiting in line to order.

"And her you go Erdan."

"Thanks Po." Erdan thanked his bear friend.

But as the teen boy was about to enjoy his soup, he felt a presence next to him. Erdan noticed that Zhong and Shu were both staring at something by him. So Erdan turned and saw a pig man looking at him. The gentleman pig looked at him with a rather puzzled expression, as if he was familiar – yet confused at the same time.

"Um," Erdan asked. "Is there something wrong, sir?"

The pig stared for a second longer before replying "Oh, no… I-I'm sorry." And walked back to his spot in the line for orders.

The next few minutes passed with Erdan enjoying conversation with his family while enjoying the best food the Valley had to offer. But as he was enjoying himself, the pig man was given his order, and as he walked to his table, he couldn't help but look at that young wolf boy again. After a few moments of mental debate, he decided to approach the teen. As he was finishing his dinner, Erdan felt a familiar sense behind him, and looked back to see that same pig man just a couple feet away from him.

"Um… excuse me, but…um…" The pig man said.

Zhong noticed this odd scenario and asked "Is there something wrong, sir?" in a half controlled and half tensed tone.

"Oh no, it's just… is your name by any chance… Erdan?" The pig man asked.

Erdan answered "Y-yeah, that's my name." He then studied the strange man. He looked pretty normal, dressed and clean, same as any other villager. He had a nervous expression, most likely due to Zhong. The sight of a large, burly man giving you suspicious glares would make anyone uneasy inside.

After taking a moment to build up his courage, the pig man asked "H-have you every traveled in recent years?"

"Um, yeah… a year and a half ago I tooka journey from Gongmen City to here in the Valley of Peace."

"Then, have you ever been to a place called Xuefeng mountains?" The pig asked.

Erdan took a moment to think, as the name of that wild place struck a bell within his memory.

Zhong, wanting to understand the meaning of this, asked "Do you have any trouble with our son?"

"Oh, uh, no, no sir." The pig answered in nervousness. "It's just… I've heard of your son."

At that moment everyone at the table fixed their eyes on the pig man and the young wolf.

"You've… heard of me?" Erdan asked.

"Yes." The pig answered. "I've heard about you and, well I want to know if you-"

"Oh wait-" Erdan interrupted, finally remembering what the pig was talking about. "I did pass by the Xuefeng area once."

Shu looked at her son with a curious face, asking "Well, what did you do while there, Erdan?"

"Yes, what did you do while traveling there." The pig man asked.

"It's, kind of a story really." Erdan replied.

Soon his friends all wanted to hear this tale. If this stranger wanted to listen to Erdan's time on those mountains so badly, it must be an adventurer worth hearing.

"Come on Erdan, tell us." Fang asked.

"Yeah, we'd like to hear." Kenny asked followed by his brother, James.

After a minute of requests from his friends, the boy couldn't deny their burning curiousity.

"Ok, ok, I'll tell it." Erdan asnswered. "And you can sit here to listen, Mr…?"

"Oh, its Luai, my name is Luai." The pig answered as he took a seat across from Erdan.

With everyone's ears ready and waiting, the young wolf begun his story.

"Ok, now, this was back when I was traveling alone, during those six months of walking and traveling from Gongmen to the Valley. This started when I was navigating the snowy terains of China's moutians."

((()-()))

Harsh winds blew mercilessly, the mountain blowing its icy cold breath with nature's harsh push of airs. The sky beamed a combination of blue and purple as the long, difficult day came to an end. The freezing atmosphere alone served as a reminder of why little people choose to live within the earth's mighty high hills. Trudging along the upward side of the mountain, a young wolf boy continued on his journey, his seemingly endless quest to reach a famed paradise, where the greatest heroes of China resided, one of which this boy would give a special letter to, a note that served as a single and only document of a general's second life. The Gongmen general Yu, the second in command to a war criminal, but also a tortured soul with a lighter side. The wolf pre-teen continued up the mountain, his feet aching and his body as a whole exhausted of any energy, due to the tremendous climb that he spend the whole day on. The young Lupine decided to rest for a moment, and as he looked out to a sight before him, he was given a view unlike any other. The world felt large and grand as he gazed out at the valleys, villages, and lakes miles down. The wolf pup saw the splendid view in front of him, and thought that the climbed was perhaps worth this view alone. But the sun fall was ending, so the boy found a small cave to make his camp. It wasn't large, but it could provide shelter for the night. The young wolf gathered some wood from a couple trees nearby and made a fire, then cooked his dinner. As he rotated the fish over the warm flames, he couldn't help but think back on how his life was much better just a year ago, before the raiders, and before the loss of the man he considered his second father. After the food was cooked and ready he sank his sharp teeth into the fish. He hated the taste of caught game, and the thought of consuming something that once had a life of its own gave him an unsettling nerve. But he preferred to not go hungry then conform to his pet peeve. After he finished his meal, and his stomach was satisfied, the young wolf laid down next to his warm fire and allowed the exhaustion of his body drift him into slumber and rest.

The boy woke up after his rest, but found his surroundings to have changed during the past hours. The cold icy mountain was replaced with a warm and cozy house. He looked around, seeing that he was in his bed and room, with his few worldly possessions laying around by the desk and window. He got out of his bed and sensed the heat of summer crawling on his skin. Feeling this, the pre-teen took off his long sleeve shirt with glee. He, like many other wolven males, prefer to wear nothing on their torsos. With a thick coat of fur covering their whole bodies, there was really no need for specific clothing. The boy then slid his bedroom door open and closed it after stepping into the upper hall. Then walked down the stairs to find a nice smell coming from the kitchen and enter his nose, bringing delight to his senses. He then walked down the stairs and into the cooking room to find his house mate, Yu. The large, one eyed wolf stood by the counter finishing breakfast. The man had dressed like he always did when at home, shirtless and relaxed, with his naked torso bearing his large muscles and larger heart. Yu looked to his left and saw his young house mate arrive.

"Good morning, Erdan." He greeted.

"Good morning, Yu." Erdan replied with a smile.

"I made your favorite for breakfast."

"Really!?" Erdan asked with excitement.

"Yep, help yourself." Yu said as he presented a basket full of honey flavored bean buns.

Erdan took one and bit into it, entranced by its sweet and thick flavor. After tasting the wonderful treat, Erdan smiled at the man who made them, baring a grin of his own. Erdan was overcome with joy, and he went to give a thankful hug to his friend. Yu wrapped his large, strong arms around his –

But in a single second the warm and loving scene was quickly replaced with the cold and frosty cave. Erdan woke up, finding himself back into reality, and back into his little cave camp. After taking a moment to realize what was happening, Erdan couldn't help but cry as he reached into his satchel to read a letter Yu wrote to him… before the large and kind man met his end. After a few minutes of emotional ease, Erdan recollected himself, prepared himself, and set out to continue again through the mountain wild lands. After a few hours of walking and hiking through the mountain range, though the snow and cold, Erdan stopped to rest by a small wooded area. He sat on a fallen log, resting and giving his body and lungs a chance to relax. But a minute later, he heard the faint sound of a quick zip, and before he knew it, a projectile came flying towards his head. In a split second he moved and avoided the incoming object, though by only a few inches. The boy was shock so much he couldn't help but scream as it all happened. After his mind and heart calmed down, he examined the object. It was a long stick with a sharp triangle edge in front sticking in the nearby tree, and feathers attached to its end. As the wolf took a closer look, he heard the sounds of footsteps coming from behind. He turned and saw that someone had approached, a wild cat with white garments and a hood that was off of his head. At first Erdan was shocked and scared, since the last time he encountered a wild cat in the mountains was when he loct his birth parents. But the stranger stayed his distance as he greeted himself.

"Oh, sorry if I gave you a scare… and almost killing you… and scaring you again." The wild cat said in a half apologetic and half laid back tone.

Erdan stayed silent, keeping himself alert.

"You ok?" The wild cat asked.

Erdan nodded silently.

The wild cat went for his arrow, pulling it off of the tree. He then looked at Erdan and studied him and then said, "Well… I'm gonna get back to my business. But if your traveling too, there's a village just a few miles east of here, you cloud rest and restock there."

Erdan lowered his guard down a bit. He didn't know who this mysterious archer is, but from the presence he gave, he didn't seem to be a bandit or cutthroat. A moment later the young mystery man gave a wave goodbye and ran off. Erdan didn't know what to think, but if that guy was telling the truth, there was a town where he might get some rest. He knew it could be a risk, given his kind not being welcomed most places, but the thought of a warm bed gave him the drive to keep walking.

Erdan hiked east, and within an hour he saw the village just a ways ahead. It wasn't small but also not large, with smoke from warm fires coming from the houses. Erdan then made his way to the village and entered. Not many people were out and about within the town walls, most likely working I fields. The town was mostly built with wood, making the village comprised entirely with log cabins. The sigh reminded Erdan of his native village, everything from the brown wooded homes to the white snow covering their roofs. As Erdan then found a small shop, there he met an old woman who greeted him well. At first he wondered why she would give such generosity to a wolf, but then realized that she was blind. Knowing this the boy took advantage of his opportunity and bought as much food and supplies as he could from her. She was sweet and nice and offered fair prices. After his shopping was finished, Erdan went further into town to see if there is a place to lodge for the next day or two.

As he walked through the town, a few house wives took notice of him. They gave suspicious glares and fearful stares. Erdan started to feel nervous, and begun to think that he may have made a mistake. But he heard to sound of a girl shouting. He went behind a house to investigate, and found a young pig girl being bullied by some goat boys. They were pushing and harassing her, making her dread ever coming outside of her house. Erdan couldn't stand the sight of this scenario and decided to step in.

"Hey!" Erdan shouted. "Leave her alone!"

The three goat boys looked back and were instantly shocked to find a wolf right behind them. In just seconds they ran off shouting "WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!"

Erdan went to help the pig girl up while asking "Hey, are you ok?"

But the girl screamed and ran off herself. Erdan tried to follow her, but turned the corner of a house to find a small mob wielding farming tools for weapons. Pigs and goats formed a crowd, looking as if they were ready for war.

"There he is!" One goat boy shouted.

"He must be part of Tufi's gang!" One of the men shouted.

"W-wait, I- I was just-" Erdan said.

"Get out of here!" A pig man yelled.

"B-but I-I just wanted to-" Erdan tried to plead.

"WE don't need some thieving scum wolf coming in and stealing all our food!" A goat man shouted.

"GET HIM!" A pig man yelled.

With only moments to react, Erdan dashed on all fours down the main village path and out of town. He ran as far as he could get, and soon the angry farmers stopped chasing him and stayed in their village. Erdan looked back, seeing the town now small and far away. He felt angry at them. Here he was, a boy who did nothing wrong and even tried to help someone, but all he ever got was a crowd of people who only wanted to kill him, just because he was a wolf. With at least a fresh supply of food and traveling needs, Erdan had nothing else to do but continue on. He soon found a cave, one that felt… warm. Erdan entered and found that this cave had a hot spring inside it. How or why this was here he didn't know, but Erdan saw this as a place to rest and relax for once. He placed his paw in the warm water, and found it to be nice and hot. He then got a good idea, and soon stripped himself of his clothing and dipped his body in the spring, feeling the warmness of the hot water. It felt like a paradise, and the wolf boy closed his eyes and relished in the moment. He wished his friend Yu could be here to enjoy this natural sauna. But Erdan decided not to dwell his mind on grim thoughts for once, and enjoyed his relaxation and the water warmed his body as steam rose gently up the air. After a couple hours Erdan had enough for now, and after putting his pants on (keeping himself shirtless while in the warm cave) making a fire, cooking and eating a meal, and making a bed with a blanket he bought from the nice old blind lady, he laid his head down on his satchel for a pillow and slept peacefully for once in his little paradise.

The young lupine's eyes opened to return to his warm little cave camp. Erdan sat up, enjoying the peaceful slumber that long avoided him for weeks. The wolf then ate a vegetable breakfast, dressed himself, and left his little warm home. He walked out of the entrance, breathed in and out, and prepared himself. But out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something, dark black smoke rising from the east. He then realized it was coming from the village he was chased out of. The boy thought for a moment of just continuing onward, never going back to a place that hated him. But he decided that he could at the very least try to learn of what had happened. Erdan then made his way back to that small town, but was shocked to see the roofs of houses burnt, and the whole place was ravaged. Erdan hid behind the village wall as a pair of goats walked by talking.

"I-I can't believe they… that they took all our…" The goat woman cried.

"Come now dear, let's… let's help the others with fixing their home…" the male said before sobbing himself. "Oh… my… my sweet little boy… why… why did they have to take him?"

Erdan climbed up the wall and looked at the village. The only people he saw were the adults, working on fixing houses and replanting fields. With a minute of solid thinking, he deduced that the gang of bandits the pig man mentioned must have kidnapped the children last night. Erdan couldn't help but feel sorrowful for these people. No matter who or where, no one deserves to have their loved ones cruelly taken away from them. Erdan left the village, but came at a crossroads. He found a set of tracks, likely from those bandits. And for a moment, the young lupine thought about going after those ruffians and rescuing the children. But at the same time, he thought about how he needed to reach the Valley of Peace, and give the Dragon Warrior the letter of his deceased friend. After a few minutes of mental debate within his mind, Erdan decided to track them down, living up to his belief that wolves were made not to be predators, but protectors. He used his gifted sense of smell and tracking abilities to follow the sets of footprints to a nearby wooded area.

As Erdan was navigating his way through the woods, he realized that nightfall was upon him. Seeking a place to set up a camp, the pre-teen wolf used his natural night sight to search through the woods. But as he hiked through, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a light in the distance. He approached and found a small camp, comprising of a fire, a pot, and a tent. Erdan decided to warm up next to the flames and-

"What are you doing here?" A familiar voice sounded.

Erdan looked to his right to see that same wildcat from before arrived with a load of sticks.

"Oh, uh… I'm sorry, I just wanted to warm up for a moment." Erdan explained himself.

"Well, in that case, warm up as much as you like." The wild cat said with a smile.

"Really?" Erdan asked.

"Sure, it is the least I can do for almost hitting you with my arrow yesterday."

Erdan chuckled a bit and sat on the ground by the flames as him and the welcoming stranger made introductions.

"I'm Kaijin Jing." The wild cat said.

"I'm Erdan." The boy replied.

"Just… Erdan?" Kaijin pondered out loud.

Erdan just gave a shrug in response. His tribe never really gave themselves or their children last names, instead just calling themselves by their clans.

"Well, ya hungry Erdan?" Kaijin asked.

Erdan nodded and together they made a soup dinner with noodles and vegetables Kaijin packed. They both enjoyed the warm supper as the light of the fire beamed in the darkness around them.

"So, what are you doing all the way out here Erdan?" Kaijin asked.

"Well… I'm traveling to the Valley of Peace, to make a new life." Erdan answered.

"But, where are your parents?"

"They… they're both dead, killed by raiders earlier this year." Erdan gave a few tears as he said his answer.

"Aw, that's terrible… I'm sorry for you little guy." Kaijin replied.

Erdan nodded and decided to change the subject.

"Well, what are you doing here Kaijin?"

"I'm actually kind of doing two things at once. Well, I'm really doing one thing, so that I can go do the other thing, so I can do great at my own thing."

Erdan just stayed silent and confused by the wildcat's vague answer.

"I want to be a champion archer." Kaijin clarified.

"Archer?" Erdan asked.

Kaijin then brought out his bow and arrows from his tent and showed Erdan how he pulled the end of the arrow on the bow's string, and then released, sending the projectile at a makeshift target on a nearby tree. He looked back at his new friend and saw a fascinated gaze on the wolf's face.

"Wow. Can I try?" Erdan asked with excitement.

"Yeah, sure, I'll show you how." Kaijin answered happily.

The young adult feline then taught the boy how the bow worked, how to hold it, and how to put the arrow into position. With his guidance and safety, Kaijin gave an engaging lesson. With his k=new knowledge and basic information, Erdan took his first shot. He held the bow in his left paw, the arrow in his right, pulled back, aimed, and released. The quick snap of the shoot made Erdan close his eyes in reaction, but he looked at the result and saw that the arrow hit the tree, but nowhere near the target.

"Ah, don't worry about that, everybody doesn't get it right the first time. Try a few more" Kaijin said.

Erdan nodded and tried again. And like before, every shot missed the intended target. Erdan became frustrated and groaned with slight anger. Then he felt the paw of his friend on his shoulder.

"Hey, its all good, you just need practice, that's all." He said with a smile.

"Well… ok…" Erdan said right before giving a long, big yawn.

"Whoa, you need some sleep." Kaijin commented.

"Yeah… I need some rest." Erdan replied. "Thanks for the lesson."

Erdan then pulled out a blanket and laid down by the fire on the snowy ground.

"You're gona sleep on the ground?" Kaijin asked.

"Well… I-"

"Here, you can sleep in my tent, there's just enough room for both of us." Kaijin offered.

Erdan perked right up and asked "Really? You'd do that for me?"

"Sure, we archery-maniacs need to look out for each other." Kaijin said with his easygoing tone.

Erdan got up from the ground, took his blanket and satchel and thanked the nice leopard for his generosity. Soon they both rested for the night in the small safety of their shared camp. The next morning, Erdan woke up early. While scratching the fur on his bare chest, he noticed that Kaijin was still asleep. SO the young lupine got up and out of the tent to stretch his limbs. He then noticed that Kaijin's bow and arrows were in a box just out of the tent, and he also saw the target he made dangling from that tree. Erdan took his friend's advice and decided to try hitting the target. But just as he was about to take the first shot, the leopard exited out of the tent.

He saw what Erdan was doing and said "Early bird gets the experience, huh?"

Erdan laid Kaijin's belongings down and said "I-I'm sorry… I ust wanted to practice and…"

"It's ok." Kaijin interrupted, putting Erdan at ease. "At least eat breakfast before practicing."

Erdan was relived and the two cooked and ate some morning meals while they had more conversation.

"Why are you so passionate about archery, Kaijin?" Erdan asked.

The leopard answered as he ate his meal. "I've always loved it, more as a sport. What I want to do with my life is to compete in royal tournaments and become a champion in shot and bow."

"Wow, that's pretty cool." Erdan complimented.

"Yep, so I'm traveling to the imperial city to learn from the greats." Kaijin answered.

They continued their meals and enjoyed each other's company more with each passing minute.

"I don't have enough money to get there yet, so I'm tracking a gang leader to collect a reward." He explained while finishing his breakfast.

Erdan then rose his head in revelation, and quickly ate up his food before asking a question.

"Is this gang around here?"

"Yeah, they say the leader is named, Tufi, a white wolf who's pack robs local villages." Kaijin explained.

Erdan then thought back at how the villagers pushed him away, and now knew why they were so scared and hostile.

"I'm tracking down those bandits too."

"Why, for the reward?" Kaijin asked

"Um, no. They kidnapped some children from that village you told me about yesterday. I'm trying to rescue them."

After a minute of thinking, Kaijin came to a decision.

"Well, since we're both tracking them, how about we rescue those kids together, and split the reward to catching that leader?" Kaijin asked with an optimistic attitude.

After thinking for a moment, Erdan decided he'd have a better chance with a partner to help.

"Ok then, let's get going." The young wolf answered.

After a half-an-hour of preparation, the two headed off together. Erdan tracked the scent of the bandits a couple miles from the camp, and they soon found an old fort on the mountain, that served as the bandits' hideout. The two laid on the stomachs and tried to survey the small fort the best they can.

"I wish I could get a closer look, but I don't want to get spotted." Erdan muttered.

Kaijin reached into his bag and handed Erdan a spyglass.

"What's this?"

"It's something I bought from a retired sailor, try it out." Kaijin explained.

Erdan looked through the wooden tube with glass and was amazed by the sight he gained from it. He was able to examine the fort at a much safer distance. As he paid close attention, he saw that one of the kids ran out of the door of an old tower, but was quickly caught and tossed back in. A nearby guard then placed a lock on the door to keep that child inside. Erdan figured that was the place where the prisoners were being kept. He noticed that eh tower was right next to the nearest wall, and that a few yards away from it was a large tree. His lupine mind was working in drive.

"Hey Kaijin?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you have any rope?" Erdan asked.

"Sure, it's back at my camp."

"Good." Erdan replied.

"Do you have an idea?" Kaijin asked.

"Yeah, actually, it's more of a plan." Erdan explained.

The two then returned to the camp, and Erdan explained in detail how they could save those kids. He explained how to reach them and ensure their safe escape. Kaijin had never attempted anything like this before, but was excited by how well put together Erdan's plan worked. With everything set, they desided it would be best to wait until nightfall for their plan. Until then, Erdan continued to practice the bow and arrow.

"AHHHGGGG!" Erdan grunted in frustration.

Kaijin looked at the numerous arrows that missed their target. Though the kid was getting a little better, he still needed time before he could become good at this art form.

"Here, have some tea." Kaijin offered.

Erdan took a break and sipped his drink while settling down his body and mind.

"I've been practicing all afternoon, why can't I hit it?" Erdan said in calming anger.

After thinking for a moment, Kaijin gave his friend some advice.

"Hey kid, archery is about instinct."

"Instinct?" Erdan asked.

"Yeah, sure you need ot learn and practice. But what 's also important, is learning how to listen to your inner wisdom." Kaijin explained.

"Inner wisdom?"

"Yeah, just trust what your inner voice is telling you." Kaijin finished.

After hearing this wisdom, Erdan decided to practice a shot again. He readied his bow, breathed in and out, and opened his mind. He listened to his inner thoughts, relaxed himself, and released. And before his eyes, his arrow hit the target on its outer ring.

"I… I did it… I DID IT!" Erdan shouted with glee.

"Way to go kid, see, that's what you needed." Kaijin congradulated.

The older leopard gavethe wolf boy a high five to celebrate. And after a few hours of practice, the two took turns taking naps, resting for their rescue mission in just a few hours as the sun began to set on the distant horizon. When the few hours passed, the once purple, orange, and red sky was replaced by pitch black darkness. Erdan and Kaijin prepared their equipment, reviewed their plan again, and then begun their rescue mission. When they arrived, the fort was nearly lightless. The gang must have turned in for the night, and the children were likely still in that tower. The duo initiated the plan as Erdan ran to the fort wall and climbed it and right after he proceeded to make his way up the outside of the tower. He was nervous beyond belief, but he stayed calm and resisted the urge to look down below him. Meanwhile, Kaijin tied a long rope to a big tree just a few yards away from the fort walls, and he readied his bow and arrow. Erdan made his way up the tower and into a window on the second floor. He then light a small torch that would be his signal and Kaijin shot his arrow into the window. Erdan grabbed it and tied the rope around the tower's central support beam. With everything ready, he searched the tower.

He quietly walked down the steps and found ten children sleeping on the cold concrete floor. He thought about how to wake them. He knew that if they mistook him for one of the bandits, they could alert the whole fort in fear. But then as he was looking at the kids, he saw a familiar face, the pig girl who was bullied earlier. He carefully approached her, and nudged her, while keeping his paw on her mouth so she wouldn't scream. She woke up and was shocked to see a wolf right in front of her. He kept her still and made a 'shh' sound, to tell her to be quiet before whispering to her.

"I'm not a bandit, I'm here to rescue you all."

"Really?" the pig girl whispered back.

"Yeah, I have a friend who's going to help. Wake up the other kids, tell them to be quiet, and you all come to the top of the building, ok?" Erdan gave his instructions quietly.

He then went up to the top floor to give the signal to Kaijin, and make sure the rope was secure.

When the other kids came, a goat boy asked "w-wait, isn't he a wolf?"

"He's a good wolf." The pig girl said.

"How do you know?" A goose girl asked.

"Because he tried to help me when the Daikon brothers were pestering me." She explained.

"Wow, really?" a young goat boy said.

Erdan needed them to focus.

"Everyone listen to me." All ten kids stared at Erdan quietly as he told them what to do. "You need to tear off a piece of your robes, and use them to ride this rope down and over the wall, my friend out there will catch you."

The kids did as they were told and got ready to escape. Most of them scared, but they'd rather leave then be around those no good bandits. Erdan told them to close their eyes and hold on tightly and one by one the kids were zip lining to freedom. Some took a little more time to work up the courage, but Erdan did his best to help them. Meanwhile, Kaijin made sure the children were safe and unharmed. They knew how to get back home, so they ran back to their village as soon as they were able to run as far from that fort as they could. One by one the kids were safely rescued, and all that was left was Erdan and that same pig girl. She got ready, but she hesitated.

"I… I… I don't think I can do it." She said in fear.

"You can do, I know it." Erdan said encouragingly.

"I, I want my mommy and daddy." She began to cry.

"Come on now, what's your name?" Erdan asked.

She cried with tears, and muttered "M-Mei"

"Ok Mei, my name is Erdan and I need to tell you something."

"What?" She asked.

"What's holding you back is fear, right?" She nodded. "Well, fear… is something inside you, right?" She nodded again. "And your bigger than anything inside you, so your much bigger than your fear. Just tell it you're the big one, and you can do it."

Mei took a deep breath and said "I'm bigger than you." And began her zip line ride.

All was going well, until her hand slipped and she fell down screaming in panic. Erdan, fearing that she'll get injured, jumped and dived out of the window after her. He caught her in his arms and then landed on his back in the snow. Mei looked up and saw that she was saved by This wolf. But then, footsteps were heard, the two kids became fearful, and in a moment two bandits surrounded them. Erdan tried his best to fight them off, using what knowledge of self defense and martial arts he knew, but was overpowered, and him and Mei were taken to the leader, Tufi.

Erdan and Mei were taken into a small building that had a great amount of stolen goods, ranging from art and food, to jewelry and fireworks, all like taken from traveling merchants. But Erdan looked to his left and saw that Kaijin was captured as well. The whole gang was present, and the leader arrived, wearing the same robes as his men, but had a fancy hat on his head. He looked at the girl, the leopard, but what surprised him was the young wolf.

"What are you doing here?" Tufi asked Erdan.

"He was trying trying to get the kids out." A hench wolf answered.

"Did he?" Tufi asked.

"Nope, the lock on the door is still sealed and tight, he,he."

Tufi looked at Erdan and asked "Why on earth would you, a wolf, help those lower beings?"

"I have my reasons." Erdan answered.

As they were having their confrontation, Kaijin spotted something in the room, a case of fireworks. As the bandits were distracted by the young lupine, Kaijin slowly made his way to the fireworks and pulled out a lighting rock from his pocket.

"You know you could join us, if you'd like?" Tufi asked Erdan.

"Never." Erdan replied.

Tufi then grabbed the pig girl and said "What if I beat this thing to a pulp?"

Mei gasped in fear and Erdan yelled "Leave her alone!"

"Why? You're a wolf, these people are beneath you." Tufi argued.

"No!" Erdan yelled. "I'm not a predator, I was made to be a protector!"

Suddenly a large bang sounded, and Kaijin grabbed Erdan and Mei, who was Tufi released due to the firework shocking him, and they ran out for the entrance. The henchmen ran after them, but a large firework rose up and exploded into a large bang. Then, the colossal amounts of snow higher up the mountain began to fall, and picked up pace and speed as it all came crashed down on the fort.

"AVALANCH!" one of the bandits shouted.

In mere moments the whole fort was overturned by snow and all the people in it were being washed away by the massive land slide. The weak walls of the fort were blown apart by the wrath of nature's cold fury. Mei jumped onto Erdan's head and held on for dear life. Erdan managed to get onto a barrel that was moving along the snow. But he looked in horror as he saw that a cliff was just ahead of them, already sending the bandits to a long fall no one can survive. Despretely searching for a way out, Erdan saw a massive tree protected by large rocks set into the ground. Erdan braced himself and then at the right moment, jumped off and grabbed onto the tree's massive branches. Erdan climbed onto it, making sure Mei was safe. He looked at all the debris being swept away over the cliff. Then he saw Kaijin sliding nearby. Erdan yelled at his friend and the two reached out and grabbed their paws. The leopard managed to pull himself up onto the branch with his arms. But Erdan noticed a shocked face on the leopard. And in a moment of pure shock and dread, Kaijin let go of the branch, pulled out his bow and shot an arrow towards Erdan. When the wolf looked back he found that Tufi landed on the tree, and tried to stab Erdan from behind. With an arrow in his heart, Tufi fell on the landslide and fell off of the cliff. Erdan and Mei looked down below, but saw nothing but distant earth far, far below.

"K…Kaij…Kaijin…Kaijin…KAIJIN!" Erdan cried.

Tears streamed down the lupine's face as he realized that the only friend he's had in months was gone forever. Erdan creid intensely, and Mei felt sorry and hugged him. After a few minutes, Erdan remembered he still had a job to do. So once the avalanche settled, he got off of the tree and got ready to leave this place. Mei shivered as the cold winds blew on them. Erdan tucked her between his shirt and soft, thick fur to keep her warm.

"Come on… I'll take you home." Erdan assured Mei as he walked foreward.

The hike back home was difficult and harsh with the cold. If it weren't for Erdan's fur coat, Mei would have frozen to death all alone. After a long and taxing hike, Erdan made his way to that warm cave with the natural hot pool. Seeing that Mei was still alive, he entered the cave, but was surprised to see that all nine other children made their way here, and were sleeping warmly and peacefully. Erdan laid down on the cave floor with Mei by his side and fell asleep instantly.

Erdan's eyes opened as he yawned and awoken from his deep slumber. He remembered what transpired last night, everything that happened, include Kaijin. The young wolf looked around and saw that the warm cave was empty, and all the children he rescued were gone. Erdan got up and checked on the village, keeping out of their sight. He saw that the children were reunited with their families and parents. Mothers and fathers tended to their sons and daughters, and elders were reassured that their beloved grandchildren were safe and sound. This wrong was made right, and now that Tufi's gang was gone, Erdan took comfort, knowing that these people will be safe. He looked out from over the wall, but he saw that a goat father gave him a deathly glare, and the lupine hurried off, running far away from village.

Erdan decided he wanted to get away from this mountain range, so he proceeded to travel onwards. But as he made his way through a forested area, he came across a familiar scene, Kaijin's camp. This place brought only memories of yet another deceased friend of the boy, so he only stayed a little bit. He figured Kaijin wouldn't mind Erdan using his tent and supplies, since they were now with out and owner. So he packed up the tent, with its cloth drape and stakes. But Eradn found something while cleaning the site. A bow and quiver of arrows laying by that same target. Erdan held the bow for a minute, thinking of what the leopard's words of growth and instinct from yesterday. The wolf boy then readied his arrow, breathed, and took a shot. And to his surprise, he hit the target again. Erdan smiled and decided to bring the archery tools with him.

He looked at the bow and said "Don't worry, your sacrifice wasn't in vein, and I'll remember you always, Kaijin."

And with that, Erdan continued his long and once again lonely journey, to the Valley of Peace.

((()-()))

After nearly an hour, Erdan's story was finished. Everyone present was speechless at the tale their young friend just told. Po was at tears, while Zhong and Shu hugged their son in comfort. The pig man, Luai now understood well of what this wolf boy did for his village.

"So, you did all that, for us, why? I mean, we threatened to kill you if you didn't leave?" Luai asked in an apologetic tone.

Erdan took a sip of tea and answered "You were wronged and could do almost nothing. I… didn't really need a reason at all, other than it's what I believed I should have done."

Tuai smiled and said "You're actually a very good person. I'm sorry for-"

Erdan held up his paw and replied "It's in the past, don't worry about it."

The two shared a nice smile, making amends together.

"Tuai, there you are!" a feminine voice shouted.

The pig man looked at the entrance of the noodle shop and saw that his wife had entered, after her search for her husband.

"Oh, I'm sorry honey." He apologized.

"What's been keeping you? We've been waiting at the inn for…" She said before noticing who her man was seated with. "Tuai, why are you with a pack of wolves?"

"It's ok, their alright, they won't hurt us." Tuai corrected.

But before the wife could speak again, a small voice shouted "Daddy!"

A young pig girl came running in and hugged her father. Then, she noticed the wild dog sitting next to him, and in a moment his face rang a bell from her memory. Erdan recognized the girl, happy to see her again after so long.

"Hello Mei, remember me?" Erdan asked.

Mei gasped and shouted "E-Erdan!?"

The pig girl went and hugged the young lupine. After their reunion greeting, Mei told Erdan "Thank you for saving me and my friends."
"You're very welcome Mei." Erdan replied happily.

"Why didn't you thank me before?" Erdan asked.

"Well… our parents told us not to talk to strangers, and stay away from wolves. When the other kids went home, I went with them and listened to what my parents said, I'm sorry." Mei explained.

"It's ok." Erdan replied as he patted her head.

"Well, come now, let's get back to the inn." The mother pig said.

Mei got off of the boy's lap and walked with her parents to the inn while giving a wave goodbye to her hero. Then the night began to grow late, and the three wolves decided to return home. As they were leaving the noodle shop, Tigress came and approached them.

"Zhong, I need to tell you something." She said calmly.

"What is it?" the one eyed wolf asked.

"Earlier today we found a scout spying on the village. He was a Chidong warrior. And we now have reason to suspect that Temutai might try something, with tomorrow being Winter Feast here." The feline master explained.

"Ok, we'll keep our eyes out." Erdan said. However he received a disturbed look from his father. Realizing that his old man had only one good eye left, Erdan said "Oh, sorry dad."

Zhong sighed and said "Let's get home, good night Tigress."

"Goodnight you three." Tigress replied before running back to the Jade Palace.

The three wolves walked down the street back home together. Along the way, Erdan looked up at the night sky, and noticed a bright star among the darkness above. Shu noticed this and wondered what her son was thinking.

"Hey mom, didn't you say to me once that you believe the stars are our passed away loved ones?" Erdan asked as they returned home.

"Yeah, why?" Shu asked as she opened her home's door.

"Oh, nothing." Erdn answered.

Zhong and Shu went inside their family house, but Erdan stayed out in the street.

"Erdan are you coming?" Zhong asked.

"Yeah, just a minute." Erdan answered.

He looked up at that star, and the thoughts of his mother's beliefs came back to his mind, as did the memory of a good friend.

"Happy Winter Feast Kaijin, wherever you are now." The young wolf said to himself before entering his warm home and joining his mother and father.

The End