Hi readers! Here's the next installment, enjoy!

Chapter 19: Given to Gain

I arrive again in Juniper City by the time it's early evening. Behind me are a few dozen reptilian troops…armed to the teeth. We begin our search…our mission: is to find PO and get the staff. I make a hand signal: ordering the soldiers to branch out and start their hunt. One large grunt with a pike and several others stayed with me as we went straight for the interior of the city.

Meanwhile, not too far away, Zhen figured it was time to return home and face the wrath of the Chameleon…maybe it wouldn't be so bad…it's not like the staff is lost forever, right? She thought.

As she made it to the path leading to the chateau, she noticed the guards who were coming down from the mountain…and were now searching for somebody. It didn't take a genius to know exactly who they were looking for.

I'll give credit where credit's due...Mei sure is a fast runner, she mused.

As she walked up the path, passing by several pedestrians milling about in stands, delivering cargo, and who knows what else, she spotted a familiar black and white creature…now accompanied by a similar beast (as well as a goose.) The corsac fox gasped, realizing who they were, and her heart skipped a beat. Soon, though, she gave an annoyed face, are you kidding me…

She walked up to them, Po was the first to notice her arrival as he stood up from the ground, "Po, what are you still doing here!?" She threw her arms outward at him.

He walked past both his fathers to meet with her, "I told you, I'm stopping the Chameleon."

In response, she grabbed her ears in frustration, grunting loudly, "ughh what is WRONG with you, how many times do I have to say this, she can't be stopped!"

"Ah, who is this?" The other panda inquired as the goose jumped at her as she stepped back slightly, "the shifty fox thief who made a ruckus at the Jade Palace!"

She brushed his insult aside before Po cleared his throat a bit, "did you come back and change your mind?"

She crossed her arms defensively, "this is the street I take to get home."

Po looked away in response, "oh…"

"Po, you REALLY shouldn't be here! The Chameleon is out looking for you! She'll do ANYTHING to get her claws on that staff!" Just as she said this, they heard several hissing and snarls coming from down the corridor…they're coming.

Countless pedestrians are being stopped by numerous reptiles as they search every crack, every corner, and every hidden spot they can find.

Then, they heard a very loud, booming, voice echoing throughout the streets, "Dragon Warrior, if you're out there…the Chameleon is here looking for you. Come on out!"

The panda stepped forward, still wielding the green staff in his paw. He figured maybe some fighting might be inevitable to complete his mission. He narrowed his eyes, "alright, time to kick butt."

"Po!?" The three (Zhen and the dads) exclaimed as he ignored them. The gray fox rushed for him, trying to tug at him to stop, "you're going to get yourself hurt!"

He looked back to her (and by extension his two fathers) and said with a smile, "like I said before, this isn't the first villain I've taken down."

He stepped away, resting the Staff of Wisdom on his naked shoulder as Zhen, Li Shan, and Mr. Ping looked on with dread.

"Why do I get the feeling he is getting these crazy ideas from you, fox!?" The goose said, looking up at her before she rolled her eyes back at him.

Close by, a gang of lizards were harassing two rabbit shopowners when they heard Po call out to the scaly creatures. He towered above them, grinning heroically, "so, I was told the Chameleon might be here?"

The two beasts looked at each other momentarily before dropping the lagomorphs and moving towards the panda. Their approach was slow at first but sure enough they started charging Po with their spears!

The Kung Fu master was ready for them. He parried a swipe of a blade by one adversary with the staff before smacking them away. The other jumped at him and Po quickly ducked: causing the second reptile's falling body to hit the first one.

The commotion got the attention of several more guards as onlookers nearby began to flee or rush inside nearby buildings to watch the fight that was starting.

Within moments, Po found himself surrounded by half a dozen reptiles. One lunged at him with a kick but he grabbed their leg…kicking them away hard afterwards. One came up behind to try and punch the side of his face; however, the Kung Fu Master ducked and locked his arms around their extended appendage: elbowing them in the face in retaliation.

One managed to jump on his back before the panda jumped in the air…kicking two foes away who charged him. The reptilian who had clung onto the black/white warrior was soon grabbed by the latter and thrown off.

Before he could continue his fight, he saw some lizards above with crossbows…with sharp bolts that were ignited. They begin to open fire as Po is forced to run through a tight alleyway to evade them…with some of the troops behind him. While running through, he spotted some large containers at the end of the alleyway that he could use as a barrier. And so, once he was on the other side, he kicked them and it created an avalanche of food that fell on the reptiles behind him.

Zhen was close by…running through rooftops to keep up with the chaos below. Inside she was thinking of the mess her acquaintance was getting himself in…and she knew this all wouldn't last very long either.

Sure enough, once Po turns a corner he spots several more followers of Chameleon's guard…including me.

He stopped for a second, gasping for breath as he looked straight at me, "Mei…" I had a determined face, and I soon snapped my fingers to get the soldiers to go after him.

Two came charging in before Po used his staff to send them both toward a fruit cart. One of my men managed to smack into the panda, but it only caused him to hit the wall and ricochet back at them…sending the lizard flying! Once the Dragon Warrior recovered, I rushed in. We parried each other's move with our fists and arms. He picked up the staff with his foot and slammed it toward me; however, I managed to snag a wooden board to block his attack and it soon broke in two. Right afterward, I used them as dual weapons against him.

I had learned my mistake from him since the Hall of Heroes, and I lasted longer than I did previously. Still, I will admit: he's the superior fighter. I can't land a hit with him…I can only try and stun him for the others to apprehend him.

Unfortunately, the tall reptilian brute, who had accompanied me, decided to jump in and the sheer impact of their jump caused Po to be thrown in the air. He falls into another street below the one that we are on. He lands on a rickshaw filled with fruit and it begins to roll down a hill. I looked toward my ally who grunted with a shrug before I rolled my eyes.

Po yells just as his vehicle comes to a halt and sends him flying toward a roof where he lands. We followed him, making our way to the same building…climbing up just as he started to recover. Below us, some of our men got caught up with some of the city's bovine guards (who had managed to catch what was happening and are now attempting to arrest the lizards.) It seemed as though this part of the city was now in utter chaos.

Regardless, I pursued the Valley of Peace Warrior on the rooftop alongside the brute reptile. Once Po reaches a dead-end…he looks at what awaits him below (a bridge and a river underneath.) We're not too far from the main city square and quite a few onlookers were spectating from their homes or the street. The panda looks behind him to see the brute and I closing in.

He spins the Staff of Wisdom as that same glow comes back. He's performing the ritual he taught Zhen in the Den and the same one he used in the tavern! Well, he won't get me!

As soon as the golden dragon is released and heads for us: I jumped on the reptile and got off just as they got hit by the blast…stunning them. I soon landed on Po and we both fell off the edge…

He managed to hold on with a paw as I dangled from his stubby leg…yelling loudly in fright upon realizing what had happened. He looked down to see my scared face…he knew I couldn't swim if we managed to fall and miss the bridge below us.

"H-hold on, Mei! Try to climb on me to get to the top!"

I had to do it, otherwise I'd fall. I decided to accept his offer. Slowly but surely I climbed his body and soon ended up on his shoulders. He managed to give me a little boost and I got on the edge just fine. Right afterward I looked down toward him…seeing his eyes of relief for me.

I quietly pondered, he really is something else. That's twice he saved my life...despite everything.

Something in me just couldn't watch the panda struggle...I HAD to help.

Then, as if on cue, we heard Zhen's voice.

"Po, hold on!"

"Zhen!" He called out.

Once she ran up to us she quickly said, "Mei, grab his paw and I'll pull him up by the staff…there's not much time!"

He nodded, offering the staff so Zhen could help just as I started pulling his furry paw. Sure enough, though, I heard a cackle, and Po and I became confused. He and I looked at the fox…that's when I realized something.

Why WAS Zhen wearing her blue hood all of a sudden, and why is her face so…weird…

My eyes widened and so too did the panda's. This wasn't Zhen…

Upon being given the staff, the laughter became more malicious as "Zhen's" eyes turned from her natural brown to unnatural bright cyan…the eyes of the Chameleon! It's crazy to think that Po had never encountered the Chameleon, never seen her change, so her shapeshifting ability had caught him completely off guard!

Sure enough, the REAL Zhen arrived…gasping as if she was running for us, "Po!"

But it was too late: Chameleon-Zhen unfurled a long tongue at his face and it stunned him…causing the Dragon Warrior to fall. Zhen stopped by the edge of the roof, yelling for him, as the three of us saw him strike the bridge…creating a small crater from the impact.

After making a sinister smile in the form of her fox apprentice, the Chameleon reverted to her true form…inspecting the Staff of Wisdom, "well done you two…you brought the staff to me after all…"

"You could have KILLED him!" Zhen yelled at her before her master snapped back with a hiss. In response, the fox recoiled in fear…ears drooping, "almost isn't enough!" Chameleon snarled. Soon, however, she changed her demeanor and smiled…bringing a claw to the corsac fox…directing her muzzle toward the lizard, "what's the second rule of the streets?"

The vulpine hesitated a bit, but finally said, "someone always gets hurt…"

"And make sure it's never you…" Lady Chameleon added.

I looked on with a neutral expression, now that we had accomplished our mission…what was there to feel? Absolution I hoped, I begged…

Po looked as though he was unconscious…out long enough for the reptilian entourage to make a move toward him. They were already moving cages through the bridge into the square…and one such cage seemed tailor-fit for Po.

I looked at the shapeshifting sorceress and she gave me a nod of approval. I looked away, sighing, The Chameleon didn't hesitate, Zhen is right…she could have killed the panda…and she looked as though she didn't care…

"Master…is all of this really necessary?" The gray vixen asked before the Empress smirked, "third rule of the streets?"

She and I snapped our heads to her, raising our brows in question, "third rule?" Zhen asked.

The sorceress nodded, "some would say it's the most important rule" suddenly she snarled at the fox, gritting her teeth, "no one is interested in your feelings!"

Zhen's long ears drooped in response as she looked down. I never heard this rule before by Lady Chameleon…it seemed so harsh on her part…did she just make that up to get Zhen to stop thinking about what happened…or…was she being sincere? It was so cold too…I didn't know what to think about that.

Sure enough, though, the Chameleon scoffed at the small furry beast, "don't tell me you were actually starting to be friends with that panda?"

"I…no…of course not…" Zhen looked away…but her tone suggested hesitation.

"When we want something, we must use whatever is at our disposal to get it…" the reptile brandished the staff. In many ways, our master was right…this is the law of a thief. She didn't even teach us that, Zhen and I LIVED it during our early days…

"That's all the panda was…something to use."

Zhen turned her back to us…walking slightly away to look at Po. If you could see just how torn she was at that moment, it would convince her mentor that she had doubts about everything. She was conflicted now more than ever, "is that why you took us in? We're just something to use?"

I snapped my head to her, widening my eyes…oh man, Zhen is REALLY asking for it! Still, inside my mind that question lingered…repeating over and over again…

Instead of punishing the fox thief, Lady Chameleon softened her stance, "Zhen…I took you both in because you were clever and ruthless and unsentimental…like me." Then, that icy demeanor switched back suddenly, "and the day the both of you stop being those things is the day when…yes, you will stop being useful to me." Right afterward, she began walking off the rooftop to meet the others down on the bridge, "so, for all our sakes…don't change."

She left the both of us by the steps…walking past Zhen before the latter looked to me. I had shaken my head to her, soon gesturing the fox to follow, let's finish this, Zhen.