Chapter 21: The 'Truce'

Getting back into town wasn't the hard part. The hard part was trying to get to the Den of Thieves, and with a city crawling with Chameleon's men AND the city's Bovine Guard on full alert: it seemed like getting there undetected would be an impossible task.

Po and Zhen found their own method of slipping through…using the rooftops. The corsac fox knew better than most how to navigate the city that way…and the main tunnel to the Den wasn't far away…the question was: could the two get there before Charmeleon and/or her men?

The panda considered going after the Chameleon instead…but the threat to Han and the others was just too great!

And so, they made it to a wall with a long gray street stretching across both sides. Both animals peeked their heads and could see several lizards with pikes searching all over for them. Others were stealing from the stalls and shops (their owners had hidden themselves away of course.)

Once Po and Zhen pulled away to look at each other, the Dragon Warrior just had to say, "feels like we're stuck in a wicked a time loop..."

"Except this time, we're going to be fighting them…" the vixen sighed afterward, thinking about the ramifications, "I guess we don't have any other choice then…"

Before Po could interject, he saw Zhen climbing from one wall to the other across to ascend. As the gray fox climbed, she heard a LOUD thud beneath her. She snapped her head to the source: it was the panda…he had tried climbing like her but ended up falling after his first attempt, "could you BE anymore LOUD!?" Zhen whispered loudly…giving a frustrated glare toward him before the latter gave a sheepish grin, "sorry!"

She rolled her eyes and continued. Po kept having problems…but then Zhen had an idea up her sleeve. She pulled out an almond cookie, one that she stole off of Po at some point earlier in the day, and brandished it to him, "oh, what's this…an almond cookie? You want it? Come and get it big guy!" She smiled mischievously…waving the food to the panda before he grinned confidently.

By some miracle, Po climbed the walls with such speed and precision at that moment that it surpassed Zhen's ability to climb tenfold!

He ended up beside her not too long after…and she had a look of surprise and shock on her face…if for just a moment. Then, she chuckled, giving the cookie to him, "I think you've earned it."

And so, the two anthropomorphic warriors made their way through the city…running and jumping from building to building…avoiding detection below. With the light of the blood moon shining down on Juniper City, the duo could see several archers that had nested themselves in several balconies and rooftops. They had several torches that faintly lit up the buildings across from the two heroes.

"Drat!" Zhen said softly, snapping her fingers.

The Dragon Warrior thought of a way to pass by…kites. Sure enough, they both saw a few closeby that they could use to fly over the sentries. And so, both animals jumped and held on to the strings that were attached to some kites. One of them was a shape of a dragonfly that Zhen took and the other was a rather large bird shape for Po. The Steppe fox unsheathed a claw and swiped at both lines.

"Hold on" Zhen whispered, looking down to the panda who was hanging on for dear life, "oh, don't worry…I am!"

Both were soon carried by the wind across the large expanse of the city…and soon they ended up close to a passage they could use to get to the tunnels. Zhen could follow her nose to get to the Den of Thieves, but having gone there so many times in the past, she didn't need to. Either way, they made it to a spot disguised as a corner shop and she opened the manhole…gesturing for Po to jump in.

Sure enough, he got stuck halfway, "umph!" As he struggled, the fox gave a facepalm and a groan in return. Soon, they hear a commotion down the alleyway: it's members of Chameleon's army and they're coming!

"Hurry up, Po!"

"I can't, I'm stuck!"

"Suck in that gut, come on! They're almost here!"

Zhen's eyes shrunk at the sight of the approaching reptilian entourage and soon she made the choice to jump on Po. As soon as she did they both fell in the pipe: ending up in the same tunnel they were in a few hours ago.

Back on the surface, two reptilian guards looked around before giving looks of confusion.

"Did you hear something?"

"Yeah Larry, your voice, unfortunately" the other retorted.

Faint red light from the blood moon above the surface was shining through the dark, wet, tunnels leading to The Den of Thieves. Po and Zhen hastily made their way, with the fox leading the panda once again to their destination.

It didn't take long for them to run into trouble again.

There were half a dozen reptiles approaching two children from the den, both were hugging each other…hoping that the beasts would go away. Chameleon's guard had their sharp weapons out…their intentions were clear as day…

The duo managed to arrive at the perfect time. Po rushed in: kicking two beasts, which were closest to the orphans, away. Zhen appeared on a shoulder behind one of the scaly guards. They tried to hit her in the face, but she was quick…and another reptile got hit by their friend instead (who tried to get her from behind.) Finally, she slammed the side of her paw against the first reptile's neck, rendering them unconscious. The panda, meanwhile, finished off the last of the group on his own.

Once the "fight" (more like a one-sided domination) had ended, Po and the Zhen walked over to the two shivering children. The corsac fox squatted and said with a soft voice, "now's your chance, get somewhere safe." The small animals nodded to Zhen before getting up and rushing down a tunnel to safety.

The pair looked on, with the male putting his paws on his hips…saying, "well, that wasn't so bad now…was it?"

Unknown to the two mammalian fighters, something was swimming under the surface toward them. It started rising up slowly from the knee-deep water. Po and Zhen's ears could catch the beast behind them. Both slowly looked behind them to be met with what now stood in their way. Blocking their path to the Den of Thieves was a large reptilian brute (it's the same one that fought alongside Mei and helped capture Po not too long ago.) Water dripped from their muscular hide and armor as they growled at the two smaller creatures.

Zhen gave a sheepish, and nervous, grin to the tall lizard, "uh…hey there, how's it hanging?" It looked as though she was offering a paw to fist-bump their former ally. Unfortunately, the adversary ignored her comment and instead gave a loud, deafening, roar back.

Both she and the panda were momentarily stunned and did not react in time. Po is smacked by the reptile's thick tail and is suddenly thrown back! Zhen, meanwhile, is grabbed by the throat by their adversary and pulled up to be eye-to-eye with Chameleon's elite soldier. The gray fox thrashed around, trying to break free but to no avail. When her partner tried to jump in to save her, the brute threw the vixen at him to stop the panda! Soon after, the reptile jumps into the water and disappears as if they were a crocodile.

Po managed to recover, pulling the fox out of the strong current that was taking the two into another part of the sewer. Unfortunately, something grabs his stubby leg and pulls the Dragon Warrior under…and shortly afterward Po is thrown out of the water and towards a wall. Zhen is forced to fight back against the monster…who had revealed themselves again. Before the vulpine can be overwhelmed, her partner jumped in with a jump front kick to the reptile's face, "hiyaa!" Po yelled in his usual manner. It didn't seem to do much against them, however, and they recovered as though it was a light tap to the face.

The giant panda gulped and he gave a sheepish grin in return, "buddy, maybe we can talk about this!"

Behind him, Zhen had an idea: she quickly jumped on the back of her ally and stood on his shoulders: now she was eye-to-eye with the green lizard! Now the latter had trouble striking both Po and Zhen since they now blocked the brute's attack from every angle. Their foe, growing frustrated, roared as they attempted to smack the corsac fox off of Po; however, both mammals grabbed its scaly tail at the same time and (with their combined strength) threw the beast toward the wall.

Unfortunately, even that didn't seem to have hurt the guard one bit and they launched themselves toward the duo once again. The three continued their battle: not realizing that they were slowly making their way toward a dead end…literally.

Upon reaching the edge of the tunnel they were in, the brute finally managed to smack Zhen away before slamming into the panda: sending them over the ledge! The cold-blooded lizard walked forward and peered down. They can see a long drop into a violent whirlpool at the bottom of the cylinder-shaped room. More importantly, Po was clinging on to the ledge with a paw…barely able to hold on. The Kung Fu fighter looked up to see the barely noticeable grin on his foe's face. The latter brought up their fists, intending to finish the Dragon Warrior off once and for all.

Before that could happen, Zhen yelled…jumping in to save her friend! She landed on the brute's back…scratching and biting at them. The muscular lizard tried to get her off, but in the midst of their distraction: they slipped.

Both the fox and the reptile fell into the hole. Zhen expected to fall into the inescapable whirpool like her former ally, but fortunately for her: Po managed to grab her hind leg to spare her from such a fate.

Both of them heard the yells of the brute being silenced by the loud churning of water below them. The panda looked down to try and spot them…but the lizard was gone…

Zhen, dangling just below him, exclaimed with fright, "whoa!"

The black/white warrior holding her said with labored breaths, "h-hold on, I got you, Zhen!"

He swung her above…landing the vixen on the ledge…to safety. Po, with all his power, pulled himself up to join her side on the wet floor: both panting in exhaustion.

"That was…"

"Intense, wicked, far out?" Zhen interrupted him.

He sits up, chuckling back, "hopefully there's no more surprises waiting for us at the den…"

The corsac fox hopped up to her feet upon hearing that and gave a determined scowl, "come on…let's keep going…it's not far away now!"

The panda nodded in agreement, standing up, "are you sure you're not just saying that again to make it seem like it's closer than it actually is?"

Zhen rolled her eyes and began running down the tunnel before Po smiled lightly to join her.

After a few more minutes, Zhen and Po finally made it to their destination: The Den of Thieves and it was just about as chaotic as you'd expect.

Chameleon's army was already there…fighting the exhausted thieves who were being overwhelmed. Most of them had fled to the deeper sections of the den.

The fox and the panda fought their way through…trying to drive the reptilian invaders away…all the while trying to find Han. Both heroes make their way to the pangolin's office and manage to fight off several lizards. Just when more of them came rushing toward the duo, with pikes intended to impale them, Han came rolling in. He smacked the group away, as if they were bowling pins before he unfurled and stood across from Po/Zhen.

"I should have turned you two in when I had the chance!"

Zhen was taken aback by this, but it made sense after all…shame soon overtook her face as her ears drooped. Po decided to step in for her sake…knowing just how dire the situation was and how time needed to be on their side, "listen, we gotta get everyone together and get Chameleon's goons out of here!"

"What do you think we've been trying to do!?" Han retorted, giving a deep scowl back to him.

Po thought about it, thinking about what they could possibly do. Then, an idea struck them and he smiled to the anteater, "we'll start with the lower level…gather everyone here, and we'll work our way up the den!"

Han and Zhen looked at each other before they looked at the panda again. The old mentor simply shrugged, "as long as those lizards get hurt real bad, I'll go with any plan the panda says!"

His former student simply rolled her eyes at this…shaking her head.

Regardless, the three started making their way through the hideout…taking down some of Chameleon's forces as they did so. They find the monkey brothers fighting over an ignited dynamite…trying to decide who should throw it to the group of reptiles not too far away. Han rolled in, slapping the bomb away with the tip of his tail as he unfurled. The red stick soon lands and explodes (sending some of the intruders flying in the air.)

The monkies looked toward Po and the other two and soon pointed at each other as if to blame the other for the dynamite fiasco.

The group (now including the monkies) began making their way up some steps to help several orphans trying to fend off some reptiles. Before they can even intervene, three small bunnies come rushing in…swarming the hapless lizards into submission. Once that's done, the three little lagomorphs give innocent faces as Po and the others just stare at them with shocked faces.

Sure enough, Po looked down at the pangolin and asked with a neutral tone in his voice, "should I know how you found these three?"

Han scoffed, "I didn't find them, they…found me. I was impressed." the tone of his voice suggested he was forced by the bunnies to accept them into his group of thieves. Honestly, Po and Zhen found this vague explanation to make sense…somewhat.

Nevertheless, the group continues on: ascending the den and rescuing countless inhabitants…directing them to go to the bottom center of the underground village. They assisted the female antelope and her friend, the pig, from the scaly beasts…and then rescued a sizable group of den members who had hidden themselves in a small cave to escape the carnage.

Finally, as Po and the gang finished off the last of Chameleon's men, they saw the remaining few escape to the surface before the entire Den of Thieves erupted in cheer!

It seemed as though the battle was won…for now…

For the time being…while everything is calm, Po and the others head back to Han's workplace. A handful of thieves surrounded him and the corsac fox. The group had been talking amongst themselves and weren't focused on the duo. Zhen jumped on some crates and tried to get everyone's attention, but to no avail. That is, until someone accidentally stepped on Po's foot and he yelled at the top of his lungs from the pain!

Now, he had EVERYONE'S attention on him, and the vixen smirked at the Dragon Warrior, "thank you…" she said. This gathering had inspired the gray fox to come up with a plan…if she could get her former acquaintances to rally against The Chameleon and save her best friend…the human. Maybe they can stand a chance against the lead reptile if they work together! She figured maybe the thieves would be up to the challenge…especially after Po and Zhen helped them get rid of the lizard troops.

And so, she took a deep breath in and began, "alright…listen up everyone. I know we've had our differences and all…"

"Yeah…didn't you like…betray us or something" one spectator interjected before another one did as well, "aren't you the reason we're in this mess right now?"

Zhen growled under her breath, rubbing her temples, "that doesn't matter right now…"

Po leaned in…whispering in her bent cone-shaped ear, "actually, it kind of is, Zhen…maybe you should tell them how sorry you are at least…"

"I was GETTING TO THAT…then someone INTERRUPTED ME!" She whispered back with more ferocity and volume in her raspy voice.

With a sigh, she continued, "look…we're here because we want to STOP The Chameleon too…"

There was silence in the air…then someone in the back waved their paw in the air before they shouted out, "so…you betrayed us for The Chameleon and now you want to betray The Chameleon for…us?"

"You do know we all want you skinned, right?" The antelope next to her pig friend stated.

"Personally I'd like to see her torched!"

"Okay, we get it!" The fox snapped back, throwing her arms outward before bringing them in again, "if you wanna do all that, fine…whatever! But first, my friend, Mei, is in trouble…this WHOLE CITY is in trouble! They need our help."

Han stepped forward from the group to confront Po and Zhen, "Mei…she's with The Chameleon though…so why should we even bother helping!?"

"Because…" The fox looked away in solemn, thinking about her human friend. Po could see the despair on his new friend's face. He crouched down a bit to be eye level with her…and he placed his big paw on her shoulder and gave a reassuring nod to the gray Anthro. Chameleon's former apprentice looked into his green eyes and soon nodded back with a light smile before turning to face the group again, "…because…it's the right thing to do…"

A short silence followed before the whole room descended into mad laughter out of nowhere. The vulpine soon gave an annoyed expression as Po next to her gave a sheepish look in return. Zhen whistled for everyone to stop…and soon they did, "look, I know you think it might be too late for a bunch of cheats, thieves, and cutthroats like us to change our ways. But, a good friend once told me…it's never too late to do the right thing…" she said as she looked at the panda with a smile.

Han thought about what she said. Inside, the thought of seeing Mei suffering as she did under Chameleon's thumb didn't sit well with him; however, he also thought of the opportunities this all might present.

"So what you're saying is…the right thing to do would be to dipose that lizard…save Mei…" The Pagolin stated before Po and Zhen smiled in unison to this, "yes!" They both said, but they didn't expect Han to continue, "…and take the city for ourselves!" He smiled at his idea.

Zhen and Po were both flabbergasted, "what, no!" They also said in unison.

"With the Chameleon out of the way…" the antilope mused.

"We can finally do all the wrong that we want!" Her pig friend finished for her.

The fox facepalmed at this as Po tried to crowd control in response to no avail, "I-I think you're missing the fundamental point…"

Even the bunny children were convinced that violence would be the solution to everyone's problems. The panda leaned down to whisper in Zhen's ear, "this is feeling like déjà vu all over again…"

The steppe fox pretty much gave up at that point, "are you guys ready to do the right thing for the wrong reasons!?" She jumped in the air with a fist held out to the group. Sure enough, everyone was onboard with the plan. Zhen stepped down as Po sighed softly…she shrugged back to him non-chalantly, "it was worth the try."

"It was close enough I guess" Po added.

And so, the band of thieves…now joined by Po and Zhen…started making their way to the surface. Their mission: to confront The Chameleon and her army, and end this…once and for all!

Thus, the final battle of Juniper City began…

Phew! That was quite a chapter to write. It took me SUCH a long time to write it too. I lost part of the original copy, so I had to rewrite a quarter of the chapter from scratch (the brute fight in the sewers.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this latest edition and I'll see you next time!