Just a note for this next chapter. The explanations might not make sense at first, but I'll explain everything in detail near the end of the chapter.

It's going to be a long, thrilling, chapter, enjoy!

Chapter 20: Blood Moon Rising

Once we had descended from the rooftop, all our troops gathered on the white-tiled bridge. We were looked on by countless animal spectators…including Han and a few thieves (who had caught wind of what was happening.) Po was thrown into a specially constructed cage. Several reptiles passed by us carrying the last cages to place in the city square behind us. Zhen and I put our hoods over our heads…concealing our faces in respect for Lady Chameleon.

Po, upon recovering, stood up and placed himself against the cage to see the Empress pacing just a few inches away from him, "so…you're the Chameleon…"

"And you're the one they call Dragon Warrior…" she snickered, "you don't seem surprised by all this."

"Not really, I knew this would happen…I knew they were working for you" he said between his panting.

She simply scoffed in return, "I know. Even armed with that crucial knowledge you still remained in my city…and allowed us to capture you."

"That was kind of the point" Po retorted, "I wanted us to finally meet."

"And now that we have…what was your plan exactly, panda? Was it to try and make friends with my apprentices, hoping somehow they could stop me?"

Po is silent and Zhen and I were too. We both just looked on…I looked up to see the moon starting to shift colors…turning red as the night began to approach.

"Mei has told me everything I need to know about you…before we even met." She walked up to me…pushing me toward the cage. Shortly after, she snarled at me, "straighten up!" I followed her command, stiffening my stance for her.

"T-told you? I thought she couldn't talk?" Po asked, bewildered. Zhen was also confused, but it soon came to light what Lady Chameleon meant.

She gave a sinister smile in return, "I read her thoughts, she has had MUCH to say…much to KNOW about herself." Zhen snapped her head toward her master, letting those words sink in…sink in deep…cutting into her soul. I was stuck in a trance suddenly…this was it. Was she finally going to tell me what I've been wanting to know about myself since I was a young child? Will I finally have closure?

"Mei has been loyal to me ever since I plucked her and Zhen from the gutter. As you've all guessed, she has come from another realm, another world. She didn't know who she was or where she had come from…it didn't take long for me to find out, however."

Zhen walked up, confronting her master in retaliation, "y-you knew!? All this time and you never told her!?"

"Silence!" Chameleon shot back with a poisonous glare and the fox immediately yielded. She soon fell back in line…standing next to me. Shortly afterwards, she looked at me with sorrowful eyes, she probably knew the first day we ended up in the palace…is that why she locked me out…is that why Mei was so hurt after being alone with our master that day? The vixen thought.

"I was waiting for the right opportunity…she had proven her worth to me, and now I will fulfill my promise to her" the reptile explained, still pacing with the staff.

Po stared at his ultimate foe, speaking up finally, "so…who is Mei."

Sure enough, she began circling me like a vulture, "she is from a world very similar to our own…I believe it's called: Hu-Man City."

"Hu-man?" Zhen and Po blurted out before the Chameleon laughed at their reactions, "that is the name of her species of course: Human."

"Human…" Zhen repeated in a soft voice, looking into my brown eyes as I stared ahead…as if I was paralyzed by the influx of new information. The diverse animal crowd, including Han, was shocked to hear this revelation. Soon, they descended into low clamoring…talking amongst each other regarding this new information.

"None of them exist in our realm…Mia here is the only one of her kind who has arrived" Lady Chameleon brandished a hand to me.

I sighed…I was overwhelmed with emotions…tears streamed down my face…finally: relief. She couldn't have made all of that up…it has to be the truth…and she said my name…my old name. It's the first time I heard anyone else say it ever since I ended up in Zhen's world.

"M-Mia?" Zhen looked down at the ground…letting it all sink in, that's Mei's real name?

Po was also taken aback by this stunning revelation, and he, like Zhen…looked at me solemnly. That's when it dawned on him that the Chameleon was simply using me all this time…knowing I wanted answers to help achieve her ultimate plan.

Suddenly, the reptile's eyes changed from yellow to her piercing cyan color…and as if it happened all of a sudden: I changed. Everyone just looked at me with widened eyes, and I soon discovered why. I looked down to see that I now had gray fur…and I now had hind legs similar to Zhen. Behind me is a long, idle, tail. I felt something on my face and head: ears and a long snout! There was no mistaking it: I'm a wolf! I looked down to see the shock in Zhen's eyes…the shock in everyone's eyes…including Po. Han, the leader of the Den of Thieves, (who was hiding in a corner) just couldn't believe what he was seeing, but inside he felt heartbroken by everything…but he DARED NOT to interfere (fearing the wrath of the shapeshifter.)

We all thought this was real, but once Lady Chameleon made a full circle around me, the mirage was done…and I was myself once again.

"And if she ever wishes to BELONG…she will continue to serve me…" she stopped just across from me…looking deep into my eyes as I looked down at her with fear in my eyes. S-she could turn me into what I desire most? It has to be true…that wasn't just for show…I could be one of the animals finally…be accepted

B-but…our master was so vague with her description of Hu-Man City…this supposed alternate world where my kind resided. D-did they even still exist? Was it really just like this world? Did I even have a family there? These answers would, unfortunately, have to come later.

Po narrowed his eyes to his foe and muttered, "so, you got the staff…why do all this?"

She smiled evilly in return, "I'm so happy you asked. Like you, I too came from humble beginnings…I dreamed of more, I wanted respect and power. I wanted to be a Master of Kung Fu! I was rejected from every academy. They said I was too small…inferior…"

"H-how? There are plenty of students and Masters much smaller than you are!"

She slithered up to him…snarling at him from the other side of the cage with her razor-sharp teeth, "for them…being a foreigner, I wasn't worthy of such potential!"

The Dragon Warrior looked down momentarily, letting it sink in: she was discriminated…because she wasn't originally from China? That seemed harsh…but, what if it's true? That can't be…then he thought about another reason why she might've been rejected.

"Or, maybe they saw darkness in you…" he replied in earnest, "and you're just using all that as an excuse!"

"Regardless, I chose a different path, Po." Suddenly, her eyes changed color and she transformed into various animals (such as a crocodile, a bull, an elephant, etc.)

"Sorcery…"

The panda just shook his head, giving a befuddled expression, "why imitate Kung Fu?"

She suddenly lunged at the cage again, but this time in the form of an all too familiar Snow Leopard, "just because I look like Tai Lung or any other Kung Fu Master doesn't mean I can fight like them…"

Zhen and I slowly looked at each other, wondering why she was saying all of this…taken aback. What was Lady Chameleon proposing exactly?

The latter reverted to her main form and ran her hand across the staff, "…for you see, Po…Kung Fu's secrets are housed in its spirits…now that I have the staff…"

"…you're going to steal his Kung Fu!" Po said, finishing her statement. Chameleon simply smirked in return, pleased by his reaction.

W-why would she want to do all that!? I thought she planned to enlist the help of the deceased Kung Fu fighters to defeat Po!?

Zhen thought the same thing, and we both made a mental jolt in response to this revelation. Then, total devastation followed.

"…and it won't be just Tai Lung…I'll steal the Kung Fu of every Master in the Spirit Realm. And, after I do…Po…no one will dare underestimate me again!" Lady Chameleon finally revealed.

I felt my hands shake…my mouth tense up. Zhen and I were paralyzed in terror...stunned horror. This was her plan all along!?

None of what Chameleon was doing was done to try and stop Po…it was done purely to destroy Kung Fu…keep it all for herself!

All this time, all these months of planning…all for something that suddenly made me sick inside just thinking about it.

I shook my head, then, dispelled my negative thoughts. Okay, so it isn't what I thought, so what!? If this is what my life has led up to…then this is my DESTINY…to serve the Chameleon as she becomes the most powerful creature on this planet! As long as she isn't killing anyone, right?

The corsac fox across from me, unlike me, was a lot more convinced now (more than ever) that her master was truly evil. But…her sights, and thoughts, were squarely on Po…the Dragon Warrior.

The warrior of the Valley of Peace shook his head to his ultimate enemy…murmuring peacefully, "Chameleon…you don't have to do any of this."

She simply laughed it off…walking away to join our side as the fox and I straightened ourselves to avoid scolding, "you are in no position to bargain."

Suddenly, she looked left and right at her soldiers: all of them wielding long, sharp, pikes, "I think it's time we put an end to the 'Dragon Warrior' problem." She snapped her fingers and several reptilian guards began marching toward the cage with their weapons. Zhen and I gasped…

W-what!?

"Once I destroy you, I'll destroy everyone else who stands in my way…starting with that insolate Den of Thieves!"

Zhen cringed, eyes widened, the vixen just had to jump in…almost getting in our master's way, "L-Lady Chameleon…he's no threat to us anymore!"

She smiled, it was the smile of a psychopath, "cutting loose ends is always the favorite alternative, my little fox thief."

This horrified the vulpine to her core.

Po found himself surrounded…he tried escaping his prison by punching the cage with all his might, but it was futile.

"Don't bother, Po. It's imbued with, very old, powerful magic. You'd need at least ten Dragon Warriors to break it!" The lead reptile cackled…twirling his staff like a toy.

I was paralyzed…I didn't know what to do…how to react…this is insane! She wants the panda dead…I didn't think you were like this at all, Chameleon! Po was telling the truth all this time. His vision suddenly added up, quite spectacularly if I might say so myself.

I saw Zhen…her paws were curled into fists…I know she felt pain by idly sitting by, but there was nothing we could do…lest we face the wrath of our master.

Then…the tide was turned.

The three of us heard the Dragon Warrior say confidently after looking down, "then I won't go through them. I'll go under them!" He started punching the white-tiled bridge floor until the section he was standing on finally collapsed!

Unfortunately, in doing so he sank underwater…the weight of the cage and the current of the river beneath the bridge pulled him under. Zhen couldn't take it…she had enough of her master…enough of all this madness.

For the first time in her life: Zhen would make things right.

The gray fox ran up to the section of the bridge that collapsed and jumped in, head-first!

I saw this action from my best friend just before I gave an indiscernible yell! I ran to the destroyed section to see her getting carried away by the fast-moving river.

Inside, I wanted to jump in…I wanted help…but how could I!? Then…I felt my mind be wracked with intense pain…

Go on…jump in…save Zhen…save Po…not that you could anyway…you can't swim

I dropped down to my knees, clutching my head as my stolen facemask fell off and dropped into the water below. I could barely see it floating down with one eye open…and I suddenly backpedaled in fear…fear of the rapid water…

Of course, you won't. After all, saving them means betraying me. And…you NEED me.

That last part echoed in my mind:

You NEED me

You NEED me

You NEED me

I shake my head from the pain…the torment…the anguish! M-make it stop!

If you even think once of defying me as Zhen has…I'll turn your feeble mind into a puddle of mud!

Chameleon stopped as my head hit the floor…and I groaned, numb with pain. Soon though, for my sake…I stood up…wobbling as I did, and I went to join her side. The city folk began clearing out of the square…many panicking…fleeing as best as they could, yet most were stopped by Chameleon's forces…who wanted them to experience this. Han and his men cunningly used a secret passageway to escape back to the tunnels under the surface.

All I could do, meanwhile, was give a stern, solemn, expression as I looked up at the crimson hue of the moon shining down on Juniper City.

Once I was by my master's side, she looked up at me and grinned, "this isn't about what's right or wrong, Mei. It's about loyalty. Life doesn't forgive weakness."

I sighed, forcing a nod to her.

Yet…deep down in my heart, I knew: I was no longer her apprentice…I was now her slave.

Once that was said by her, the lizard stepped forward…bringing her arms toward the sky, "my grand destiny lays before me! It's perfect, don't you see!? We're here when the blood moon is at its highest point in the night sky…as if it were written! Now, I will open the door to the Spirit Realm, and all of its secrets will be mine!"

Suddenly, she looked down to see her reptilian army (which circled the area) giving side glances and the Chameleon chuckled in response, "it's all for dramatic effect."

Sure enough, she began spinning the Staff of Wisdom around in a ritualistic fashion before scratching the floors of the city square. Somehow it caused symbols to be created and to float in the air until they formed a magical portal in the center. A bright yellow entrance soon shined through…lighting up the Chameleon and her surrounding entourage. My eyes widened in astonishment…and soon fear overtook me…

"Bring me Tai Lung!"

Po struggled underwater…his cage was being rocked back and forth as it was being carried downstream. Zhen was right behind him…trying her best to catch up to her new friend.

Once the currents got weaker the fox dove under and swam to the cage, which now rested at the bottom. The panda was running out of air, but upon seeing Zhen helping him (yanking the metallic hull to prop it open) he smirked.

In a flash (literally) a part of the cage came apart…slowly floating away…and the vixen's brown eyes widened at that; however, soon her focus turned to resurfacing with him.

Once they managed to break the surface, they looked at each other…gasping for air (both still being carried by the river toward the city's open lagoon.)

"Are you serious, Po!? You mean to tell me you could have broken out on your own all this time? FAKER!"

"Y-you gotta admit, that escape was awesome…" he simply said before she groaned loudly.

Once they can, the duo swim parallel toward a small beach across from a pier above them. They rested their backs against the sand…giving an exhausted sigh.

"This is NOT how I imagined this day would go…" Zhen muttered, almost to herself. She began to self-reflect…thinking about her betrayal towards Chameleon…and thinking about the human she had known her whole life, "To think…my life came crashing down after meeting you…" she had said to the panda, almost coldly.

Po sat up, looking down to her as she lay in defeat against the cold sand, "Zhen…you did the right thing."

She scoffed, sitting up too…shaking her head, "with what? All we've done is give an all-powerful sorceress the power to destroy the world. Is that what you're referring to, dumpling warrior?"

He shook his head, moving a bit closer, "you had the strength and courage to stand up to your master…you saw her for what she truly is. That…is change."

The vixen simply said nothing, looking away from him. At first, she doesn't want to hear any of it, but deep down she thought about it to herself. The way Chameleon lied and manipulated her and Mei…especially Mei…or Mia…how the sorceress kept everything from the human up until the very end…for her gain.

Suddenly, the vulpine responded, still facing away from Po, "to think…the first rule she ever taught us was…never trust anyone…"

"Trust goes a long way, you know?" He stated.

"And I should trust you?" She finally looked at him in his green eyes…studying him.

"I'm asking you to trust yourself, Zhen…what do you think needs to happen now?"

She scoffed almost immediately after, "run away…far away…maybe…"

"Is that what you really want?"

"…" she remained quiet, pondering. Her thoughts turned to me…to those in the city…the ones now in danger from the Chameleon.

"The Den…she said…Chameleon said she was going to go after Han and everybody else…" Zhen said suddenly...her triangle-shaped ears moving upwards as if a magnet was right above her.

"I say we go help them" the panda stood up and dusted himself off in response.

The Steppe Fox looked at him as if he was crazy, "I-I can't beat the Chameleon!"

Sure enough, he offered a paw to her and said with a light smile, "a wise old tortoise once told me that you never know what you can do until you do it."

"Really?" She took his large paw and Po helps lift her up from the sand, "You're here giving me advice from a tortoise!?"

He nodded simply, "be the pit, Zhen…"

She suddenly gave a contemplating look…reaching into her pocket to pull out the peach pit he had given her. The fox looked at it for several seconds…letting it all sink in. Then, she suddenly scoffed a bit…looking back at him before saying in earnest, "…ah what the heck…it's more fun this way…"

Po patted her shoulder before Zhen got his attention again, "okay, enough small talk…let's go save the city!" She smirked confidently before running to climb a ladder that led to the pier. Po smiled excitedly in return, "that's what I'm talking about!"

And that's a wrap! That was an exciting chapter to write!

Some of you readers might have picked up on the exposition from the Chameleon regarding Mei's backstory.

It's loosely based on the original concept for Kung Fu Panda 4: where there would had been humans co-existing with Po and the other animals. Hu-Man City is actually one of those locations that would have been featured in the movie had it actually went down this alternate path.

In many ways, I took my inspiration of Mei from this concept for early KFP4 when I was writing the story.

I always thought Hu-Man city was this separate realm that was somehow connected to Po's universe (think maybe Asgard and Midgard, or the worlds in Kingdom Hearts.)

Now personally I'm not sure how this concept would have worked in the Kung Fu Panda continuity, but I always found it to be an interesting idea regardless.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this recent addition, and I'll see you next time, peace!