Author's Note: Hello Everyone! Welcome to my second JCA story. For those of you who are returning readers, welcome back, and I hope that you really enjoy this story and where I take this AU. For new readers, this is a sequel to my story "The Ultimate Evil", if you haven't yet read that one, I would seriously recommend it because otherwise some references and pieces of information in this story won't make sense.

Still here? Good. As you can see, this story is starting from the end of Season 3 and will be going into Season 4 and 5.

Also note - whilst this story is starting out with a 'T' rating, at some point during the story it will shift up to 'M' rating. So just a fair warning now.

With all that said, I hope you all enjoy and please don't forget to review!

The Stronger Evil

The Chan Clan Reunited

"Well, Brian is obviously a charming man, but I think it's good that he likes to help people – he seems rather genuine, anyway. As I was saying: He put up a notice that he was in the market for a saleswoman, which my friend Becky saw, who told her neighbour Cassey, who told her mother Frieda, and it just so happens that we share a hairdresser – so that's how I found out. I mean, the money is good for the time being, and the man himself is not exactly bad either. He's well off, and single besides…"

Valerie let her mother drone on whilst she stared at the calendar in the kitchen, quite perplexed. Stephanie Payne's words faded into nothing as Valerie concentrated with everything she had on the current month. February. For some reason she felt a sense of pressure on her chest, as if she had forgotten something important.

And that was when she saw it. A little mark in the corner of the square for February 9th: Chinese New Year. It hit Valerie like a brick to the face. The Chans.

Having spent nearly a year with the Chan family, they had obviously left their mark on her. Chinese New Year had been a great occasion for their family, filled with sweets, lanterns, fireworks and celebrations… and gunfights, demons, and foiling plans for world domination. Valerie had learned quickly that life with the Chans was never 'normal'.

But she'd loved them anyway. They'd become her family, her rock in a turbulent time in her life. The only reason she'd left them several months ago was to try to make things better with her family back in Toronto. And also because she wanted to sort her head around the memory of an evil dragon-demon making her his bride and power booster.

She looked down at the mark on her left hand. A large scar that ran from the right heel of her palm to just beneath her forefinger. Her mother had been livid when she'd first noticed, but Valerie couldn't tell her the real explanation for it. Yes, a fire-demon married me in an alternate reality, he bound me to him and this mark is the only evidence that it ever happened. No, she knew her mother would put her in the nearest asylum if she ever heard that. Instead, she'd told her that she'd cut herself cooking.

Valerie didn't know why she still had the mark. The binding ceremony had happened in an alternate dimension, and when history had been rewritten back to normal, it had technically never happened. Perhaps it was just one of those time-space-continuum loopholes? In any event, it had never given her any trouble. She'd felt it twitch only once, but it had laid dormant ever since.

She stared back at the Calendar. The date for Chinese New Year stared back at her. A sense of loss enveloped her heart, and again that urgency crept its way into her veins. It was overwhelming, suffocating. She wouldn't be able to breathe unless she broke free of it. Thoughts spun in her head: did they miss her? What were they doing this New Year? Were they alright? Would they want to see her?

What was she talking about? Of course they would! Jade regularly rang her almost every other day to talk to her. The girl never stopped saying how much she wanted Valerie to come back to San Fran. And besides, it was New Year, that was enough reason to visit, right?

A smile cracked across her face. It seemed there was more reason for her to go then stay.

"… And Margery was telling me how she's picking lilacs and lilies for the wedding," her mother was saying. "Lilacs, I like, but lilies are just ghastly, they remind me too much of a funeral. But I know that you will look stunning in purple! Just the right occasion to take Brian–"

"I'm leaving."

Valerie's mother stopped short and gaped at her. Valerie almost found it funny the way her mother's mouth hung open like a fish as she tried to wrap catch up with what Valerie had just said.


"I'm going back to San Francisco. I have some friends there I'm seeing to celebrate Chinese New Year."

"B-But I thought you'd moved back – have I done something–"

"Mom, don't worry, it's okay," Valerie said gently and placed a hand on her mother's shoulder. "I'm just going to visit a few friends for their holidays. That's all."

"Do they know you're coming?"

Valerie lied automatically. "Sure. I'll be fine, Mom. Don't worry."

"Oh. Well, when are you leaving then?"


The flight had been horrendous, and the taxi ride had been awful with the evening traffic. Because of all this, Valerie arrived much later then she would've liked. But it was worth it in the end to stand on the sidewalk and look up at the familiar shop front.

Uncle's Rare Finds. Just looking at the front door brought a huge grin to Valerie's face. The shop looked closed, but through the window Valerie could see a sliver of light escape the back room. With duffle bag slung over her shoulder, she could hardly contain herself and stepped inside.

The bell above the door chimed happily, like an old friend excitedly announcing her arrival home. Valerie closed the door behind her, dropped her bag and held out her arms, waiting to be showered with affection.


She looked around. Nothing. She knew someone was in, and though she wasn't vain enough to expect a huge welcome party, she was a bit put out that no one had come to the door. When she'd worked here, she'd always made sure the door was answered… 90% of the time.

That small light still glowed from the back room. Valerie tiptoed in its direction. The closer she got, the more she heard voices. Ever so gently, she pushed the door open another crack and peered inside.

Jackie, Tohru and Jade were stood in a triangle formation. All the piles of books and bookshelves that usually forested this room had been pushed against the walls in order to make as much room as possible. Each of them held a lantern, whilst Uncle sat in the centre, beside the statue of a dragon. Jackie, Tohru and Jade took up a haunting chant.

"Yu Mo Gui Gwai Fai Di Zao… Yu Mo Gui Gwai Fai Di Zao…" Their lanterns began to glow bright green, their fiery light spreading to one another until they enclosed Uncle in a perfect triangle. Valerie held her breath as she watched silently. Uncle hummed, and the dragon statue began to levitate off of the floor. A wind gathered in the room, tossing their hair about but they continued their chant.

"Yu Mo Gui Gwai Fai Di Zao… Yu Mo Gui Gwai Fai Di Zao!"

A burst of green light. Valerie ducked behind her arms to shield herself from the glare. She heard a clatter and looked up. The statue lay on the floor, the others gathered around it as if waiting for something to happen.

"Wow, I was expecting a 'Hi Val', you didn't have to go with fireworks," she remarked loudly with a smile.

The others gasped and turned around to stare at her. There was a moment where they blinked.

Jade was the first to break the silence and roared: "VALERIE!"

She ran at her. It was all Valerie could do to sweep the little girl into her arms when she leapt at her. Jade threw her arms around Valerie's neck and hugged her fiercely. Despite her windpipe being crushed, Valerie returned the hug just as tightly.

"I knew it! I knew you'd come back!"

Valerie grinned and pulled the girl back so that she could see those beautiful honey gold eyes. "Told you I would, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but why didn't you call?"

"I wanted to surprise you for New Year."

"You're staying for New Years? Awesome!" Jade cheered.

Valerie chuckled and stood. Jackie was the first to come up to her, a huge smile on his face. Valerie couldn't contain her own joy as her swept her into a hug just as tight as his niece's.

"It's good to see you again, Valerie," he murmured.

"Hey, Jackie." She pulled back and quickly turned to the old man as he came up to her. "Uncle – OW!"

It took her a moment to register that Uncle had struck her with two fingers on her forehead. She rubbed the spot, dumbfounded that he had actually hit her like that. The look on his face was hardly pleased.

"Shop assistant been gone too long!" he screeched. "One more thing: shop in need of cleaning. One more thing, interrupting spell might have thrown off chi balance! One MORE thing–"

Valerie cut him off with a roll of her eyes and swept his frail body into a hug. "I missed you too, Uncle."

Uncle practically jumped to get out of her hold. But the blush the hinted under his shallow cheeks was adorable. Valerie decided not to rile him further and looked up at her favourite sumo.

Tohru smiled down at her. "It is good to see you again, Valerie."

"It's good to see you too, Tohru. How's the apprenticeship coming?"

"I am still learning." He looked away, as if attempting to find the right words. "Uncle is… unrushed in his methods."

Valerie laughed. "Ha! I can believe that!"

Jade jumped up and down. She held onto Valerie's hand, desperate for her attention. "Please say that you're staying, Val! Pleeeeeeease!"

"Jade," Jackie scolded softly, "don't pester Valerie right now. She just got back."

"It's okay, Jackie." She turned her eyes onto the young girl again. "I don't know what I'm doing just yet. But I've got a motel all booked so–"

"JACKIE!" Uncle shouted. "Make up sofa! Uncle will not have his shop assistant in some motel – bad chi flows in those places."

"Oh, no, it's alright–"

Jackie was quick to hush her. "Just let him have his way. Makes him easier to deal with."

Valerie giggled behind her hand.

Tohru left to get them some tea, and they all sat around in the back room. Uncle took the only available chair, claiming he trumped them for the right as it was his shop and he had old bones. Valerie refrained from saying anything that might earn her another smack to the head.

"So Val, what've you been up to?" Jade asked brightly.

"Well… Toronto's been a bit rough. I'm trying to be a historian. But that's a bit further then I thought. So I've been in between jobs you might say." She sheepishly looked at them all. "It's nothing compared to what we used to do. And you have no idea how frustrating it is to read a history book and know that half the facts are wrong because of magic."

Tohru re-entered with the tea and handed each of them a small cup. Uncle took his with a quiet 'thank you' before turning his nose up at the conversation again. "Heh. Fools to think chi magic a myth."

"Easy to say when you're practising it in your back room," Valerie winked. She hooked her thumb as the discarded dragon statue. "What was all that about?"

"A locator spell."

"For what?"

"We're trying to locate a dragon," Jackie said. "To find the power of combustion."

Valerie frowned. "Isn't that the dragon talisman?"

"Was…" Jade murmured.

Jackie nodded. "There was an attack on Section 13. A Dark-Chi wizard, Daolon Wong, wanted them."

Valerie's frown deepened. "Who's–?"

"An EVIL man!" Uncle spat. "He destroyed my Chi-Master Fong!"

"Uncle." Jackie hissed softly to shut him up. He turned back to Valerie and continued. "The Talismans were destroyed. But the powers weren't."

"How is that possible?"

"The laws of physics say that energy cannot die. It is only transferable," Tohru explained. "The powers inside the talismans escaped and sought vessels to house them – in the form of living animals."

"Wait, wait! So just like when we hunted for the talismans a year ago, you guys have been searching for the exact same thing, except now with real life animals?"

Jade nodded. "Yeah, and we've found nearly all of them! They're all back in Section 13."

"Almost." Jackie corrected. "Daolon Wong has the powers of levitation and heat-beam eyes."

Valerie looked back at the statue as Uncle stooped to pick it up. "So the locator spell was attempting to find a dragon that would have the dragon talisman?"

"Yes." Uncle nodded, but a worried expression haunted his eyes. "But the locator spell has found nothing."

"Duh. It couldn't find a dragon because they're extinct," Jade said as if this should be obvious to everyone. "The only one left on earth was Shendu – and he's doing afterlife in the interdimensional slammer."

"Jade," Jackie looked at her as if he'd already said this a thousand times. "We had to be absolutely certain that the power of combustion has not found a host."

Tohru said, "With no dragon to inhabit, the power remains lost. Safe from the forces of darkness."

Uncle shook his head and placed the statue on his desk. "As long as Daolon Wong roams the earth, nothing remains safe…"

Valerie bit her lip. Her thoughts consumed by red eyes and a large scaly body. Her fingers closed over her mark subconsciously. They'd all thought Shendu gone once before. Could the same be true this time? Thoughts and memories attempted to surface, but she pushed them back down. Even after all this time, she still wasn't ready to deal with them or what they meant.

Her mark hadn't even itched in several months. She had to believe that that meant something.

Shendu could not believe what he was hearing.

He'd at first been intrigued when he'd felt the familiar pull of a summoning spell. Life in the Netherworld got monotonous rather quickly when there was no marker for the passage of time. As Hsi Wu had once described, each century passed exactly like the one before it. It gave rise to madness-inducing boredom.

But Shendu had had his time consumed. When he'd first arrived back in the Netherworld, he and his siblings had had to confirm that reality had been restored and they were alive although imprisoned once again. After their relief at having lived, had come the name-blaming. Of course, they'd all held Shendu responsible, but this time they'd also blamed each other for the personal failings along the way. They were too busy arguing and fighting amongst themselves most of the time to bother with continuing Shendu's eternal torment.

He was sure, however, that eventually they would've returned to their ways of torturing him as punishment for his misdeeds. But then there was the matter that he was completed. He'd been bound to his Other, and though now they were back in the former reality and he was a spirit once again, the effects were still apparent. Shendu was not idle in demonstrating that he would no longer take their tortures. Even as a ghost, he could fight back, however slightly diminished that power was. His siblings had never encountered a completed demon before. So they thought it wise not to push him to see exactly what he could do, in the case that he proved to be more than they could handle.

It had been a gamble, but one that had worked in Shendu's favour. Though it had led to his isolation. Though peaceful, it had left him to do nothing but think on everything that had happened and it never bodes well to just stew on matters long past.

Which was why, when the Chi-Wizard Daolon Wong had summoned him and began speaking to him through the magical window, Shendu had entertained the conversation just for something to do. It was certainly pleasing to see and speak with another living creature. Though he could tell that Dark Chi surrounded this one. It poured off of his aura, had shrunken his body until he was bone-thin, paled his hair to white and twisted his features into mismatched eyes. Such was the price of dark magic on a mortal body. But Shendu had listened to him anyway.

But as he'd begun speaking with the human, he'd not been impressed. The tale he spun spoke of his precious talismans destroyed, and his hard earned powers scattered to the winds. That was something he took as an insult that his property had been so badly mistreated in his absence. But the Chi Wizard continued with what he thought was a tantalising offer. Shendu's previous interest had then turned sour with irritation at promises that couldn't be kept, and ideas and wishes he refused to entertain so as not to get his hopes up.

But the human was oblivious as he spoke his proposal and finished with a bow. "Your answer, most malevolent of fire-breathers?"

Shendu didn't bother to keep his impatience and irritation hidden. "It would seem you have summoned me merely to humour me, Wizard. For to obtain the power of Combustion, you would require a living, earth-bound dragon. Which I – evidently – am not."

"You underestimate my talents, Lord Shendu," Daolon Wong smirked. "As the most malevolent of Dark-Chi masters, I know a multitude of ancient spells… some of which might restore you…"

Shendu felt his non-existent insides shiver with anticipation. Was it true? Could he live and breathe once more? It was possible, and he knew the human would have to keep his side of the bargain. He needed Shendu alive and on earth in order to acquire the dragon talisman power. In that respect at least, Shendu knew he wouldn't be cheated. But could he turn this in his favour? Humans were oddly naïve – even the eviller ones – when it came to honour and integrity.

It was too good of an opportunity to waste.

"Ahhhh…" he grinned. "Then you may have my rightful power, Daolon Wong. IF you find the spell that will allow me to live again."

Section 13 hadn't changed a bit. Valerie was pleased to see that she still had access to the top secret government facility. And it had been good see it all again. Her giddiness had forced her to hum the men-in-black theme song as they'd taken the elevator loaded with all of Uncle's books and magical items.

Captain Black had been happy to see her, which she reciprocated warmly. It was nice chatting and grabbing a coffee with him. Even if he seemed perplexed as to why it looked like Uncle was moving into the base. Jackie and her had quickly explained that it was for the protection of the magical animals in the Section 13 Vault. Black had offered to increase security, but Uncle had gone on his high horse of how 'magic must defeat magic'!

So now, Valerie stared at the Vault, which had once housed the talismans in a specially designed container, only now to look like a miniature zoo. Each of the animals of the zodiac (excluding a dragon) were housed in their own pens and kept well fed and bedded. She watched, coffee still in hand, from the side lines as Uncle and Tohru attempted to create new talismans for the powers in the animals to be transferred to.

It wasn't going so well. After many attempts, Valerie had to wince as finally the snake Talisman shattered.

"Oh," Tohru deflated. "That was my best one."

"Hey, never mind, Tohru, there's always next time," Valerie tried to say cheerfully.

Uncle stroked his chin in thought. "The making of a talisman is very tricky business. The spells which created them have been lost for thousands of years."

"Weren't the original talismans pulled out of Shendu?" Valerie asked.

"Yes, but as you can see, we are short of a Shendu to transfer the talisman powers in and out of him."

Valerie was about to say something, when she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She looked over and spotted the dragon talisman suddenly floating in mid-air. Her eyes widened and she speechlessly pointed to it. Uncle and Jackie frowned in confusion, before following her gaze. When they saw the statue, they gasped.

"A dragon is near…" Uncle whispered.

"How is that possible?" Jackie demanded.

Jade was too busy bouncing with excitement to think. "Who cares? Let's get it!"

"Not you!" Jackie held his niece back by her orange hood. "You are staying here with Valerie – out of trouble!"


"How on earth do you do it?!" Valerie hissed as she ran after the girl that had just jumped out of the cab.

"Following, my feminine ingenuity," Jade grinned. "Come on!"

It had taken all of five minutes for Jade to attempt an escape. But unlike all her other hapless babysitters, Valerie had been able to spot exactly when she'd left and quickly ran after her. She'd even had to jump into a moving taxi to make sure she didn't lose her. Jade had then quickly pointed out that seeing as she was in the cab anyway, she might as well come along. Valerie had grumbled grouchily, but had conceded that Jade had a point.

They'd ordered their driver to follow the Section 13 chopper (disguised as standard military issue). They'd lagged a little further behind as they had to take bends and stops whereas the helicopter could just fly over buildings. But they'd managed to find the place just as Uncle, Jackie and Tohru broke in through the gate. Before Valerie could stop her, Jade had rushed across the street after her family, with Valerie growling and following.

So now they snuck up behind their three friends as they followed the glowing statue. Into the front yard of what looked like an old Victorian town house, with three floors, peeling paint and looking as if it had seen better days. They edged around the side of the house towards the back yard.

"If the locator spell detects a dragon…" Uncle murmured quietly. "Someone must be conjuring one…"

"Tch," Jade rolled her eyes, completely blowing their cover as the three men spun with wide eyes to see them there. "And I'll give you one guess as to who that someone is!"

She ran ahead of the ground to the corner of the house before anyone could stop her. Jackie gaped at his niece and then turned his hard stare on Valerie. The woman immediately shied away.

"Hey! Don't look at me! It was all I could do just to keep up with her."

"Jade!" Jackie rounded back on his niece who had frozen in place. "This is too dangerous! We could be facing a dragon!"

"Not just any dragon…" she whimpered and pointed.

Valerie felt a shiver race down her spine, like someone had walked over her grave. She rushed ahead to stand next to Jade, panic in every step. She looked up and gasped.

"Shendu!" Jackie gasped.

Indeed, it was. In the centre of the back yard was a bubbling pool of molten fire. Posts holding flaming torches circled the outside, and between each post was a symbol burned into the earth. And raised out of the centre of the scorching pool, was a gnarled and almost ashen branch. In its clutches was what appeared to be an artificial womb or egg, and inside of it nearly stretching the fleshy sack to bursting, was a fully grown Shendu.

Even curled up and seemingly asleep as he appeared, he was just as she remembered him. Large, broad, muscular enough to make a body builder envious. Horns crowned his head, whiskers just beneath his nose, and curling tattoos between his eyes.

Valerie felt her heart flutter as memories assaulted her mind: a vortex that ended the world, and one person pushing her on to stop it; an alter where he stood beside her drinking her blood as she drank his; a kiss that ignited a heat that turned her body to liquid. Each one and thousands more dragged with it feelings she didn't want to understand. And she resolutely pushed them away.

"Awaken!" shouted a voice.

Valerie's eyes were drawn to a small man beside the pool. He was old, with white hair, pale skin and a bone thin body. He was dressed in black and blue robes that fell to the floor. Muttered incantations fell from his lips as he muttered the spell so quickly Valerie couldn't catch it.

Before he could finish, Jackie kicked him aside. Valerie would've said how it was unfair to hit an old man, but before he could hit the fence of his garden, the wizard corrected his path in mid-flight and floated in the air. Valerie realised that this must be Daolon Wong.

He growled at Jackie and said a series of words that Valerie didn't quite catch. From the lava pool blue fire flashed, and four red figures appeared. Valerie had to do a double take as she recognised some of the features of these men. They were the Dark Hand enforcers!

"You seem to have left a few bits out of your story," she shot to Jade, who shrugged.

Ratso looked around the scenery with a goofy grin. "Hey! Backyard barbeque!"

"What're we grillin'?" Chow smirked.

"Jackie Chan!" Hak Fu roared.

Finn scowled. "Let's tenderise 'em!"

Chaos ensued.

Valerie couldn't really tell much of what was happening. One moment Hak Fu was flying towards Jackie, only to be intercepted by Tohru. Then the other enforcers had thrown themselves at him with glowing weapons.

"And I thought you guys couldn't get any weirder!" Valerie murmured. Was life with the Chans EVER normal?

"Never mind that!" Jade tugged her arm frantically. "Look!"

She pointed and Valerie saw. Shendu was moving inside the fleshy egg. It had to be almost time for him to hatch. Whilst Valerie didn't want to see him murdered again, she also knew that him coming back was a bad thing.

"We've gotta stop this spell before the barbeque becomes a birthday party," the girl said.

Valerie nodded and followed her, even with Uncle shouting after them.

They quickly ran to the set up in the centre. They both hurriedly pulled out the posts from the ground and threw them away. They might not know a counted spell, but perhaps if they disrupted whatever energies were here, it might work. Valerie pulled out another post and threw it down, it splintered in two. She saw Jade about to step on the flaming symbols and –

"You are too late, child!" shouted a voice. They turned to see Daolon Wong hovering above them. He held a gnarled root in his hand and pointed it like a wand at Jade.

Without thinking, Valerie picked up half of the broken post and swung it like a baseball bat at Daolon Wong. It hit him square in the chest and sent him flying. "Back off!"

He recovered and shook his head. He fixed her with a glare and bared pointy teeth. Valerie then noticed that he had mismatched eyes. One green, one brown.

"Another helper?" he sneered. "You will suffer as well!"

He pointed his root at her, and Valerie placed herself between him and Jade protectively, even if her stomach was coiling around itself in fear. But before Wong could finish his spell, a flash of green passed over Valerie's head. It hit him in the face and diffused his spell. Valerie and Jade turned to find Uncle standing behind them, a puffer-fish in hand.

"Sorry," Uncle smirked. "Cannot hear you. You must have a frog in your throat."

Daolon Wong promptly then puked up a frog. Valerie would've laughed if it hadn't been so disgusting. The dark chi wizard didn't find it so funny. "Cheap tricks!"

And so began a battle of wills as blue flashed against green. Wizard fought wizard. Valerie honestly thought that she'd only ever see the like in movies, but now she was paralysed to do nothing but watch. Uncle and Wong chanted with equal intensity. It seemed to be a competition as to who could chant the loudest and fastest.

Valerie pulled on her jacket sleeve. She was reminded of the pressing issue and followed the girl back to their current mission. Once again Jade tried to stamp out the fiery letters, but Valerie stopped her at the last moment.

"Don't! Get the hose!" she said.

"Oh, yeah! Duh!" Jade grinned and went to get the garden instrument. She brought it back a moment later and began to douse everything in water.

Valerie grinned, until she saw Tohru and Hak Fu backing up towards them. She quickly pulled Jade out of the way. Tohru was doing his best to block the master martial artist, but the fight kept pushing him back until he was balancing precariously beside the lava pool.

Hak Fu leapt into the air dived with both fists stretched out for Tohru. "METEOR PUMMELS MOUNTAIN!"

Valerie had forgotten how annoying his little sayings were.

But at the last moment, Tohru dodged aside and allowed the red Hak Fu to dive straight into the lava. Valerie expected him to burst into flames, but was surprised when he simply vanished in a puff of blue smoke.

Tohru smirked to himself. "Hot bath?"

"Cold shower," Jade grinned and poured the hose into the lava. Steam rose up and the lava seemed to moan as it relinquished its precious heat. "It's working!"

"Jackie!" they heard Uncle shout.

Valerie spun in time to see Uncle trapped beneath coiling roots of a tree. Jackie cornered by the enforcers. And Daolon Wong levitating high into the air. A look of rage passed over his face as he glared at Jade's back. His eyes glowed bright yellow, and Valerie knew what it meant.

"Jade! Look out!" she lunged and pulled the girl away right as Tohru swept them both into his arms and jumped clear.

The heat-beam blast hit into the lava pit. In an instant it was back to boiling intensity. Light exploded from its base and wrapped itself around the gnarled branch and womb that it held. Warmth exploded out of it and made the February night feel like mid-July.

Valerie hissed as burning pain exploded out from her left hand. Tohru was so shocked that he promptly released her and allowed her to stumble away from him. Jade shouted her name but she couldn't hear her. She screeched and fell to her knees. She clutched her hand to chest, in an attempt to shield it from whatever was happening. Fear made her heart beat wildly. She looked down at her hand and saw that the scar was glowing yellow-white.

She looked up and saw that inside the womb, Shendu's blazing red eyes were open and staring right at her.

All movement ceased. Valerie could do nothing but stare into those eyes. She felt as small as an ant before an elephant.

And then the moment was over. Movement stirred in each of Shendu's muscles as if they now couldn't be kept still a moment longer. With one push of his legs and sweep of his arms, he burst out of the fleshy sack and stood. He roared and shook his head, the sound echoing across the night.

He turned to each of their stunned faces and grinned.

"Greetings, everyone!"