Note: A couple things…one, there is one more chapter left in this story. Two, as soon as it is posted, I will take a break from writing in order to get my life in the position I want it to be, and also to recollect my creativity. I've worked very hard on this fic, which, while at times was very rewarding, at other times was emotionally draining. Don't expect to see anything from me for at least a couple months, okay? I know most of my watchers and readers (if not all) eagerly await each update, but truth be told, I need a break. In advance, thank you all so much for your appreciation and your kind words.
Also, Thanks to everyone who reminded me that Easter is the resurrection, not the birthday! Shows how long its been since I actually went to church… :P
Memoirs of a Master
"See? He doesn't totally hate you. Well…not anymore."
Po sighed wearily, shaking his head. "I still find it really hard to believe that his mind changed that quickly. Maybe he just forced himself to do it because he had no choice."
"Po," Tigress said, "He accepted you a lot faster than any of us…" She slowly, as if questioning the decision, stretched out her hand and took his, giving him a gentle squeeze; this, naturally, did not escape the notice of the other Five.
"He changed his mind because you proved yourself," she said. "I can't speak for all of us, but I know I doubted you…because I didn't know what you were capable of. I wasn't there to see it. But now that I know…that just makes your defeating Tai Lung that much more impressive. You deserve to be called 'Master'."
Po looked back at her, seeing in her eyes the same expression she had given him when she had first called him Master. Slowly, unsure, he smiled back. The light in her eyes changed suddenly, and his smile dropped just a little, stunned at what he was seeing.
There was no way to dismiss it or mistake it now. That look in her eyes was no secret. And if she had no problem with it…then neither should he.
He smiled again, beaming. She beamed back, her body moving just a little bit closer to his…
Crane cleared his throat, breaking the mood.
Tigress jumped and flattened the scroll across her lap, clearing her throat. "Ahem, yes! Um, where was I…?"
The time had come. Whether we were ready for it or not, it was time for Po to realize his destiny.
We—Po, the Furious Five, and myself—stood in the Sacred Hall of Warriors, in front of the Moon Pool, gazing up at the Dragon Scroll, still perched in the golden dragon's jaws. I felt the Five's presence behind me, and I truly felt bad for them. As much as I had gotten to know, and like, Po, I felt terrible knowing that they had dreamed of this happening to one of them. But like them, I had to swallow my pride and accept that the one standing next to me was the key to our survival.
Po tore his eyes away from the gilded ceiling and looked at me with mixed trepidation and humility.
"Do you…" he started. "Do you really think I'm ready?"
My first instinct was to say no, but he had proved himself to me. He had proved he was capable of more than anyone had ever given him credit. In four days, he had learned and accomplished more than I had in my lifetime. It was his work ethic and his personal moral code that led to my sincerest answer:
"You are ready…Po."
He smiled. It was the first time I had ever vocally called him by name.
I looked to my right, at Oogway's shrine, and slowly walked over to pick up his staff. I gazed up at his portrait, sighing. It was a perfect likeness, the look on his face as serene and beatific as I had always known it. It had been less than five days, and I already missed him.
But I would have time to mourn him later. Grasping the peach wood staff, I ran my fingers over it. It had once been a part of the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom. According to legend, it had been planted a thousand years ago, when Oogway first came to this valley. It had been my master's favorite place to meditate. One day, the story goes, he was in deep meditation when one of the branches fell and landed at his side. The moment he picked it up, it was said, the branch achieved magical abilities; it was said to be a gift from the gods. Oogway had said only once that this was not the case…but I couldn't help feeling I was unworthy of holding it.
I returned to my spot under the dragon's watchful gaze, gazing up. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime, much less that it would be my responsibility to extract the Dragon Scroll from the dragon's jaws. I closed my eyes and tried to recall what Oogway had done.
After Tai Lung had been taken away to Chorh-Gom, Master Oogway had shown me how to bring the scroll down from the ceiling. He had caught it, and put it into my hands. "Feel the weight of it," he had said. "So you may see the gravity that comes with this knowledge; only the purest soul has the strength to accept and understand the contents of this scroll." I knew what he meant; the scroll and its casing was very heavy, and I felt the weight of this ultimate power…and felt unworthy. I had the stupid hope that, if only Tai Lung had held the scroll just once…that he would realize he was not the One.
I'm such a damned old fool.
I took a deep breath and began. I twirled the staff and then pushed my palm straight out, upsetting a few peach blossom petals that had settled on the water. Twisting and twirling the staff in my hands and around my body, I bothered the blossoms until they floated up, up, high into the air, weaving in a delicate ballet straight towards the dragon's mouth.
One delicate pink petal landed on the end of the scroll, and that tiniest of weights upset the jade and jewel-embossed case, causing it to slip from the dragon's jaws, and fall in a graceful dive straight for the Moon Pool. I remembered now, that the Moon Pool wasn't just there for meditation; it was an anti-theft device. If either the thief or the scroll were to slip, the latter would be lost at the bottom of the pool (which was rumored to be bottomless), and the former would fall to their doom.
I adjusted the staff in my hand, jutting it out and catching the scroll within the crook of the ancient stick. The weight of the scroll forced the staff down until the tip of it settled onto the Moon Pool's still surface. The ripple it caused rang like a bell, chiming in this historic moment.
Carefully, I pulled the scroll away, feeling it in my hand again. Somehow, this time, it felt…lighter. I turned back to Po and held it aloft.
"Read it, Po," I said. "Read it, and become the Dragon Warrior."
Tentatively, he reached for it, then stopped. "Wait, what happens when I read it?"
"No one knows," I admitted. "The legends say that you will hear a butterfly's wing beat, and see in the darkest cave…"
He got overly excited, "Wow! Can I punch through walls?! Can I do a quadruple back-flip?! Can…"
"Focus. Focus," I reminded him.
"Huh? Oh yeah, yeah…"
"Read it, Po," I said. "Read it, and become the Dragon Warrior."
"Whoa…" he took it in his hands and pulled on the end to open it. We all waited with bated breath…then sighed when he struggled to open it. He went so far as to bite at the jade stopper, twisting with bearish grunts, "Its impossible to open," he grunted by way of explanation.
I sighed and held out my hand. He frowned and relented, handing the scroll back to me; I lifted the stopper with very little effort. He took this in stride,
"Thanks…I uh, loosened it up for ya, there."
"Okay, here goes," he said with a deep breath, and began slowly unrolling the scroll. We all waited patiently; as the late afternoon light hit the scroll, a golden light emited from it, and I stood watching, enraptured, wondering as his face paled and he gasped…Is this some holy secret? Some power only bestowed by the gods? Why else would it glow with such a holy light? Whatever the secret to limitless power is, truly, it is…
I almost didn't hear him. "What?"
"Here, look," he shoved it in my face.
"No!" I turned away, "I am forbidden to look upon—" Oh please, my inner voice tempted. You're the Grand Master now. If anyone other than the Dragon Warrior deserves to see this, its you, his master. I glanced back at the scroll and dropped the staff, holding the scroll up to the light. I tried unrolling it again, time and time again, as if by doing so I would find the message hidden beneath the golden reflective coating. I held it up to the dying light, perhaps it had been written with disappearing ink? It seemed like something Oogway would do to further ensure the secret to limitless power stayed in the right hands.
But Po was right. It was…
"Blank," I stared, devastated. "I…I don't understand."
"Okay," Po gesticulated. "Maybe…Oogway really was just a crazy old turtle after all…"
"No," I defended, trying to convince myself as well as him, and the Five, "He was the wisest of us all."
Po scoffed, "Come on, face it, he picked me by accident. Of course I'm not the Dragon Warrior," he finished quietly, completely dejected. I turned round, the closed scroll in my hand, staring down into the Moon Pool. Reflected in the still water was the golden dragon on the ceiling. What were you thinking? I asked myself, but also asked Oogway, if he could have heard me.
Tigress brought me out of my thoughts, venturing timidly, "But…who will stop Tai Lung?" Gods, she sounded as defeated as I felt. No doubt Tai Lung gave her the full brunt of his attacks. Judging by her injuries, she must have fought quite fiercely, but as a result received the worst wounds.
"He will destroy everything, and everyone," Crane said, just as confused, as worried, as overwhelmed.
No. I wasn't going to let that happen. Tai Lung had killed too many people the first time, had made orphans of too many children, and forced too many parents to bury their young, too many funerals, too much destruction…
In my heart, I knew what had to be done. I knew what I had always needed to do.
"No," I said with conviction, turning back to them. "We evacuate the valley; we must protect the villagers."
"What about you, Master?" Tigress asked.
"I will stay behind."
I saw the expression in her eyes, the fire extinguished; her body slumped, and I'm fairly sure it wasn't because of her injuries. Po was the only one brave enough, I believe, to say something:
"But Shifu…he'll kill you."
I sighed, "Then I will have paid for my mistake." And why shouldn't I? I had brought this upon them, I had caused those significant injuries the Furious Five had suffered, had ruined their lives…and all because I had loved. I had loved my wife, and loved my son, and look what it had wrought me.
Now, I was determined to do one final act of love. I let them go, told them to leave. However I met my end, I didn't want them to be there to see it.
"Everyone," I said, "You must all continue your journey without me. I am very proud to have been your master." I punched my fist into my palm and bowed low to them, for they now deserved more respect than I did.
They bowed back, silently acknowledging my dismissal, probably the nicest dismissal I had ever given them. There was no room for bitterness, no room for sympathy, no room for lengthy goodbyes. I don't think I could have tolerated it anyway. I didn't want pity, or sympathy, nor did I want to go to my grave seeing the looks on their faces, or see their tears…if there were any.
I turned my back and limped back to stare into the Moon Pool to gather my thoughts. Behind me, the Five had already turned away. But I could still feel Po's presence, watching me retreat into myself…and I knew he looked at me with pity, and, I'm sure, wished he could do something to help.
There was no helping me, not anymore. I had brought this on myself…and it was time to answer for my mistakes, for my sins…and whether I went to Heaven or to Hell, at least I could die knowing that justice had finally been done.
Hours later, long after the sun had set, I stood on the steps of the Jade Palace, directly below the Sacred Hall of Warriors. I waited, was waiting, waiting for my doom. The sky was covered in a thick blanket of charcoal grey and black clouds, threatening an impending storm. Turns out that old adage about "red sky at night, red sky in morning" predicting the weather wasn't that far off.
I could see the evacuees far below, the long line progressing through the village and disappearing into the distant foothills. The golden yellow lanterns that lit the way reminded me of fireflies on a summer's night, though oddly, they also reminded me of the peach blossoms that had carried my master into the next life. The storm clouds gathered high above my head, thunder rumbling as lightning danced between the clouds.
It felt like karmic retribution, standing alone on the steps of the Jade Palace, ready to face down a monster I had created. It was appropriate, too, that I should die that night. I probably deserved it. No, I did deserve it. I spent that time looking back on my life, wondering how much I had forgotten, all the sins I had committed and the people I had wronged.
Of course I thought of the Furious Five, how I had failed them, denied them the encouragement and support they deserved. I thought of Master Oogway, whom I was sure was disappointed in me. I thought of my friends, who were now scattered throughout the empire, most of whom had not spoken to me in forty years…and were probably dead by now.
I had promised Li to be with him until the bitter end. We were best friends, weren't we? I had promised to be by his side, and though he had left to be with Ren, I still felt entitled to keep that promise, and I had broken it.
Ren…I owed him too much. He had given my best friend love and support, and he was as honorable a warrior as I have ever, and would ever, meet.
Ochir…I had only recently reestablished our friendship, making it that much stronger. After Tai Lung's imprisonment, he had been my support to keep me from sinking into the abyss.
And, I thought with disbelief, I thought of Xue Shan as well; I had failed to see that there was more to him than he originally showed. I had failed to see that he had such darkness inside him, and did nothing to help him combat it.
And of course, I thought of my long-dead wife. That last thought actually brought me comfort. I closed my eyes and forced myself to think of the silver lining: if I were to die tonight, that would mean being reunited with her. If I couldn't have her in life, then having her for eternity in the afterlife would be just fine by me.
I opened my eyes as lightning flashed overhead.
And there he was.
Tai Lung towered over me, his form as dark as his expression, yet his yellow eyes blazed with a maddened fury I had never seen. There was so much hate in those eyes, so much disdain and anger. I had no doubt that this, what I saw before me, was the result of twenty years of growing rage. His pose was oddly relaxed, but I saw his hackles rising and shoulder muscles tightening. He was on the defensive; so was I. I think, in that moment, we both knew that there was no turning back, whatever the outcome would be.
He somehow managed to soften the look in his eyes as he bowed his head slightly.
"I have come home, Master," he said.
That was it. Those five simple words…but he had spit out the last word like a curse, like poison, mocking me, daring me to deny him. I had held out hope—stupidly—that he would show up, call me "Baba" and we could forget this silly scroll nonsense, but how ridiculous and unlikely would that have been? As soon as he said "Master" though, I would have given anything to be looking back at the little boy I had raised, to have this grown man call me "Baba"…just one last time. But as I looked back, I no longer saw that little boy. The image of the child who held out his arms to me was no longer there; that child was dead and gone.
"This is no longer your home, and I am no longer your master." Just saying it was like a knife to the heart; though he didn't show it, I knew he felt it too.
"Oh yes," he sneered—the only proof I had that my barbed comment had wrapped itself around his heart, "You have a new favorite." He unclenched his teeth, recovering with a dark chuckle, "So where is this…Po? Did I scare him off?"
"This battle is between you and me," I stated sternly. I wanted to keep Po out of this. He was an innocent victim, and I would not allow him to get hurt.
Tai Lung, for his part, looked a bit disappointed to not be facing the Dragon Warrior; I truly think he may very well have killed him, just to get the scroll, and the title. But, as he had learned many years before, he hid those emotions under the thick armor he had forged for himself. If Zeng's summations could be true, no doubt that armor had been built up while in prison, honed, and perfected, until not even the chinks in his armor could be detected. But they were still there.
"So, that is how it is going to be?" he asked, turning his body away from me.
"That is how it must be," I said, taking a step back.
He was looking over his shoulder at me, giving me the same look I had seen him give me the day of his rampage. There was a low growl in his throat. I braced myself.
Suddenly he roared, jumping high into the air, bringing his foot down into a powerful drop kick. I jumped out of the way as the steps cracked into a crater in the exact spot I had been just seconds before. Slamming his foot down again, he dislodged a huge boulder, kicking it right toward me. I had barely seconds to determine the boulder's weakest point before striking it and shattering it.
But he had used the boulder as a cover, so that when it broke apart, he was there with a punch strong enough to send me flying through the closed double doors of the Hall of Warriors. I recovered quickly, landing on my feet and sliding backwards on the polished floor. He stormed into the hall as I lowered myself into a battle stance.
"I rotted in jail for twenty years because of your weakness!" he snarled.
I growled back, "Obeying your master is not weakness!"
He pointed an accusatory finger at me. "You knew I was the Dragon Warrior! You always knew. But when Oogway said otherwise…what did you do?"
I felt my heart leap into my throat when I realized he and I were standing in the same exact spots we had occupied on that fateful day. He stood in the same spot where he pleaded to me with his eyes…those eyes that I couldn't bear to look into.
"WHAT did you DO?" he demanded. He snarled viciously, baring his fangs to answer his own question: "NOTHING!"
"You were not meant to be the Dragon Warrior!" I decried. "That was not my fault!"
"Not your fault?!" he advanced, eyes burning with the intensity of hellfire. "Who filled my head with dreams?!" He swung his leg and kicked over Ochir's armor; I dodged all the parts just in time, but the various pieces knocked over other artifacts.
"Who drove me to train until my bones cracked?!" he grabbed hold of the Shield of Fire Monkey Pass…the same shield Shan had taken and used for battle when he was scarcely twenty-five. Tai Lung threw the shield like a discus, and it sunk deep into a green granite column; I barely had time to avoid it slicing me in half.
"Who denied me my destiny?!" he grabbed a rack of pole weapons and cast the whole thing at me, easily a dozen weapons headed straight for me. I held out my fists and palms, deflecting each pole arm, just as Yeying had taught me many years ago.
Tai Lung lifted the Sword of Heroes from the floor with his foot, sending it my way with a quick roundhouse kick. I stepped to the side, expecting to grasp it by the handle and use it. But something stopped me. I had used this same weapon against another snow leopard, and nearly killed him. As hard as this was…I wasn't going to kill Tai Lung. That wasn't the point of this battle anyway.
I used my hands to paw the sword around, around my body, over my head, my face reflected in the polished blade. That same face, that same person who, forty years ago, had used this honorable blade for a dishonorable act. Never again. I stabbed it deep into the floor, determined that neither of us could use it to kill the other.
"It was never my decision to make!" I glared back at him.
He growled at me, but then his attention was caught by something else, something that seemed out of place to him. He strode over to Oogway's shrine, straight for the peach wood staff.
I watched carefully, wondering what he was doing…and secretly hoping he would change his mind.
He turned around to face me, the staff clutched in his strong hand. With a smirk, he boasted,
"It is now."
He had learned nothing, had no regrets. He had seen Oogway as his Yeh-yeh, his grandfather, and now that the tortoise was dead…he had no remorse, did not bother to mourn…despite everything my Master had done for him. All the sacrifices we made, the hours we spent training him, the hope and love and affection we poured on him…and this was how he repaid us? How he repaid him?!
Now I was pissed.
We had done so much for him, given him such opportunities, and he was still willing to throw it all away for an insane quest for a title that he didn't deserve.
So I attacked.
He blocked me with kicks, with the staff in his hand, with everything he knew and everything I had ever taught him. I tried to flip over his head to strike him from behind; if I hit a nerve in the middle of his back, I could immobilize him. He didn't give me that opportunity. He caught me by the neck in the crook of the staff, and swung down, slamming me into the floor.
"Give…me…the scroll," he gritted out, pressing down on my throat.
"I would rather die!" I hissed back.
He snarled…and took me up on the offer. The crook of the staff pushed against my throat, threatening to cut off my airways and pin me to the floor. I pushed back as hard as I could, because I knew that once I was down, he would not hesitate to take advantage of my weakness and kill me.
This battle for control had an unexpected and disheartening effect. Against the two opposing forces, the ancient limb snapped in half.
We simultaneously let go, the two pieces clattering to the floor. I looked on, devastated, spying a few peach blossoms on the breeze, twirling around the staff…as if Oogway's spirit were mourning the loss as I was.
Tai Lung took his chance, delivering a flying kick that pushed me back against a column. I pushed back on his foot with two hands, pushing him back into the opposite pillar. I tried to outrun him. He was still too strong, but I could tell he was fatigued by his journey. If I could only tire him out, perhaps I could defeat him…
I did the same thing that I had done when I fought Xue Shan. I jumped along the wall, from pillar to pillar, Tai Lung on my heels, right behind me. He was barely a half-step behind me. He swiped with his claws, pounced, missing me by inches. I jumped up to the rafters, and he was quick behind me; with a mighty roar, he slammed into me, sending us both up, through the roof and high into the sky.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed around us. He kicked, punched, swiped, the claws slicing off a strip of my sleeve as I desperately tried to keep in control of this fight. He swiped again as thunder roared in our ears. I temporarily got the upper hand, kicking down on the back of his head, then latched myself to his ears.
As we fell back to the Hall's roof, I thought I had the upper hand. I had always been able to subdue an opponent by landing on the back of their neck and holding their head back, exposing the throat. But Tai Lung was more limber than any opponent I had ever fought. He reached around, elbowed me once, twice until I let go, and he grabbed me by the neck and forced me down in front of him.
We fell, faster and faster, face-to-face as my head felt the full brunt of the impact with the roof. We fell through, wood splintering and shingles shattering, but I was barely aware of anything else when Tai Lung suddenly let go of me and delivered a mid-air roundhouse kick, sending me flying.
Pain shot all the way through my body as my back hit the jade pillar. I couldn't breathe. I fell, landing on my side on the hard granite floor. As I struggled to catch my breath, to pick myself up, Tai Lung had crawled his way down the opposing pillar, smashing the Brazier of the Eternal Blue Flame. The flames licked around his claws, fireballs in his hands. Hate in his eyes, he bounded through the flames licking the floor and pounced on me as I struggled to stand.
He came at me with every ounce of strength he possessed, and I realized too late that no matter how tired he was, I would not tire him out. He was far too gone, far too enraged, filled with the strength attributed only to madness, for me to do anything but clumsily block as many of his strikes as he could.
But something changed, something I hadn't expected…
"All I ever did, I did to make you proud!" he roared as he hit me, giving it his all. "Tell me how proud you are, Shifu!"
Two more hits, ones I had barely enough strength to block.
"Tell Me!" he snarled.
He finally got in a hit on my shoulder and I faltered in my step. My stance was off; I knew it, and so did he.
"TELL ME!" he roared, hitting me with both claws, sending me flying back several yards.
I hit the floor hard, feeling pain shooting up my spine as I bounced and rolled, hitting the dais surrounding the Moon Pool. I gasped and struggled to breath as he snapped his wrists, the fire dying, leaving his hands smoking, smoldering, like the look in his eyes.
My entire body hurt. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to move. I knew I had to have broken several bones, had several bruises, multiple cuts. I had been injured many times before, but these…were almost too much. My body shook, my arms, while trying to prop me up, were trembling, my muscles refusing to work for me. Tai Lung's words rang in my ears, and it was like a giant gong being rung right in my ear: too shocking to ignore.
All I ever did, I did to make you proud.
Had he thought I was never proud of him? Had he…oh gods. Oh no…
That was when I knew, for the first time, that was when I realized just what I had done. This, all of this, was my fault. I had ruined his life with my selfishness and pride, just as surely as I had ruined Tigress'. It could very well have been Tigress who hated me as surely as Tai Lung did. Everything that had happened, all the pain, the darkness, the hate and regret and melancholy…was my fault. I had told myself never to love again…when love was exactly what I needed, what both of them needed. It may have been too late to tell Tigress, but I could still tell him…
"I…have always been proud…of you," I panted. "From the first moment, I've been…proud…of you…"
He paused, staring at me.
"…And it was my pride…that blinded me," I continued. "I loved you too much…to see what you were becoming…" and finally, I did the one thing I could not bring myself to do twenty years before: I looked him in the eye.
"…What I was turning you into. I'm s—" It was pointless. What I was about to say was pointless…
No, this is what he needs to hear.
He didn't care. It was too late for this.
But it needs to be done…
The hellishly enraged expression trickled down until it was no more, completely nonexistent, replaced instead with an expression of shock and awe. He stared back at me, searching my face, and I could see what he was thinking.
He's lying, he was probably telling himself. He didn't love me. What father would do that to his son? What father would disown his son? He did it to save his own skin! He never cared about me!
All these thoughts I expected. I would have been surprised if he didn't believe it. But I stared back at him, imploring with my eyes, begging him to see that I was serious, that I truly was sorry for what I had done. That I was the reason he went to prison, that all of this, all that had happened to him…was my fault.
Then his gaze softened, and I saw it.
He…he still…he must still love—
But then just as suddenly his heart and his eyes hardened. With a snarl, he slammed his hand down into my throat, wrapping his fingers around my neck.
"I don't want your apology," he seethed, then lifted me high and shook me like a rat, "I want my scroll!"
I saw his eyes flick up to the dragon in the ceiling; he gaped, "…What?"
I remembered I had given the scroll to Po, a last-ditch effort to keep it out of Tai Lung's clutches. Only now, he knew he had been had. Viciously snarling, he slammed my battered body back into the floor, cracking the marble around me as I felt pain once again shooting up my spine and throughout my body.
"WHERE IS IT?" he roared.
His hand tightened around my throat, and I struggled to breathe; I coughed out, "Dragon…Warrior…has taken scroll halfway across China by now…you will never see that scroll, Tai Lung," I heard the definitive sound his lethal claws extracting. His breathing hitched, wrath filling his eyes.
This was it. This was the end. It would make sense, wouldn't it, that I should be frightened by what was to come. Truthfully, I was afraid, but not of death. I was worried about how much it might hurt. I knew the Tai Lung was angry enough to want me to suffer a slow, agonizing death. But I also knew that Yeying, my family, and long-dead friends awaited me on the other side…
His grip on my throat tightened harder, obstructing the air in my lungs until it hurt just to breathe. I clutched desperately at his large hand, feeling my body weaken, my sight dimming…
Tai Lung's grip loosened enough for me to suck down a breath. Even in my weakened state, I heard someone panting heavily, then, to my amazement, I discovered…it was Po. He had come back.
He panted heavily, thumbing over his shoulder "…Stairs…hoo…"
Tai Lung eyed him strangely, "Who are you?"
"Buddy," Po recovered, "I…am the Dragon Warrior." He hunched over again, still trying to catch his breath.
I caught Tai Lung's expression just before I felt the darkness creeping in. the snow leopard looked at the panda in complete disbelief…but then chuckled, and stood.
"You?" he shook his head in bewilderment, and threw me down to the floor like I was a dirty rag, asking me, "Him? He's a panda, you're a panda!" he turned and pointed at him. He laughed again, "What're you going to do, big guy, sit on me?"
Po chuckled, "Don't tempt me. Now, I'm going to use this…" he taunted...with the Dragon Scroll in hand. "You want it, come get it."
That was all I heard before everything faded to black.
Strangely, I opened my eyes a minute later, and sat up. I could still see them, and I watched as Tai Lung charged at him, chasing the panda down the stairs and into the village. But as soon as they passed through the doors of the Sacred Hall of Warriors, and as soon as I stood, brushing myself off, I found I wasn't alone. There was someone there, on the floor next to me…
I wasn't prepared for the horrifying shock: I was staring at my own body.
"Relax, Shifu," I heard someone tell me, "You'll be fine."
I whirled around, hoping, praying, that it was my wife.
The voice was masculine.
But that didn't mean I wasn't glad to see him.
It was Jian Qiang.
I stared in amazement, running my hands over my chest in shock. "It can't be…"
He chuckled, nonchalantly leaning against the nearest pillar, looking exactly like the young master I had met when I was five years old. The light I remember in his eyes was there once again; he had obviously found peace in death. He smiled warmly at me, explaining, "No, not yet. You've got a hell of a lot of fight for someone so small. But I should expect that."
"Why are you here?"
"Well, the intent was to whisk you away to the afterlife, but honestly, I think I can defy the gods this time around."
"Why would you risk it?"
"I'm about as stubborn as you are, remember?" he smirked. "Besides, you've still got too much fight left in you."
"No offense, Master Qiang, but can't you see I'm lying on the floor?" I pointed at my own battered body.
"Of course I can, I'm not blind," he said sternly. "What I'm telling you is that your time has not yet come. You still have far too much chi left. Besides, there is too much unfinished business."
"You know what," he winked.
He was right. I had the Five to think of, especially Tigress. I had the villagers, I had…
I had Po.
"Shifu," he said kindly, "You still have too much to accomplish."
"I should have been dead a long time ago."
"Your parents did tell me you had always been stubborn. Your brother wanted me to tell you that you're too stubborn to die now."
"I want to see my wife again," I begged. "I want to see Yeying."
"I promise you, you will."
I sighed, feeling rejected, defeated, and still desperate. Yet Qiang was right; I wasn't done yet. I still had too much to live for, too much to accomplish. I had lived over seventy years, and by heaven, perhaps I would live for a century if I willed it. I was too stubborn to die…and I wasn't going to. Not today, nor anytime soon.
Qiang seemed to read my thoughts and warmly smiled again. "We'll wait for you."
I nodded and knelt next to myself. But I stopped, wanting to know… "Master Qiang, what is Heaven like?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. But believe me when I tell you that Chancellor Miao was wrong: it is possible for you to find Heaven on earth…you just need to know where to look."
And I knew exactly where to look. He smiled back at me and patted my back.
"Now get your tail back in there; you're not dead yet."
I gave him one last smile, and laid myself down, vaguely hearing someone calling my name…
Someone was shaking me, shadowing me from the bright morning light streaming through the smashed open doorway. I fought to open my eyes, slowly; I was in someone's shadow…someone's large shadow.
"Po…you're alive…" I felt myself smiling, then my pessimistic side kicked in, "…or we're both dead."
"No, we're alive. I defeated Tai Lung."
I smiled, "Wow…" He had done it. I don't know how he had done it, but at that point, details didn't matter. The Valley was saved…and it was all thanks to the Dragon Warrior.
"It is as Oogway foretold," I said, still weak. "You are the Dragon Warrior. You have brought peace not only to the valley…but also to me." I felt my eyelids getting heavy. "Thank you…"
I could finally rest. I had no idea how all that stress had affected my health. Now that the threat was passed, I could finally rest easy. I had lived so long stressing out about the most asinine reasons, but now, thanks to Po, I could rest, recover, sleep…
"No, no, Shifu!" he yelled, "Don't die!"
Speaking of stress…
"I'm not dying, you idiot!" I snapped, then quickly corrected myself, "I mean…Dragon Warrior. I am simply…at peace."
Recognition dawned on his face, "Oh…so, I should be quiet now?"
"If you can," I smirked to myself, rolling onto my back and closing my eyes. I took a deep breath, ticking my ear once as I heard him lie down next to me, staring up at the ceiling.
He had defeated Tai Lung.
I don't know how. I didn't think I would ever know. But it didn't really matter. The Valley was safe, my students were safe, my daughter was safe…we were all safe. We had weathered the storm, and come out victorious.
Po was, by far, the most victorious of all. And I was proud of him. He deserved this rest as much as I certainly did…
"You wanna get something to eat?"
Well, so much for rest. I sighed, expecting this from him, but at the same time, I was quietly grateful. Despite the extraordinary achievement of defeating the scariest and strongest kung fu warrior of all time, he was still the same Po Ping. And as much as I wanted to lie back and appreciate that I hadn't died a violent death, I figured, Oh, what the hell, live a little…
I nodded, "Yeah."
Well, as it turned out, the Valley had been saved in more ways than one. There had been no one there to say for certain what had happened during the battle, and there was very little evidence to support the claim that a battle had actually occurred. Po did fill me in on some of the finer points, things that I had taught him that he had used to win the day. I think he did that for my benefit, to show me I was still a good teacher; gods bless him for that.
However, despite the damages that were supposedly made during the battle, the only evidence that there had even been a battle at all was a massive crater in the town center, and a distinctive snow-leopard-shaped hole in the ground. However, whatever damages had been made to homes, businesses and other properties…they were in pristine condition.
But that wasn't the only surprise.
Po, the Dragon Warrior, had, after only three days of training, had successfully performed the Wuxi finger hold to defeat the snow leopard. Honestly, I wasn't surprised. A few things did surprise me, however.
For one, recall how I once said "The hardest part is cleaning up afterwards"? There was simply nothing to clean (except for the crater, of course). It was as if the finger hold, when performed, instead of destroying, had repaired everything that had been damaged. Some villagers even stated that their homes and businesses had never had such sturdy foundations.
And yet there was no sign of Tai Lung anywhere.
Very few people know the true secret of the Wuxi finger hold. Like any element in nature, it has two sides: light and dark; to create, or destroy. The effect depends on the intentions of the warrior wielding it. Had I used it on Po in the Sacred Hall of Warriors just a week before, most certainly the entire mountaintop would have been nonexistent. But when Po utilized the same move…you guessed it.
It pained me to think my son was dead, but at the same time, I never heard contrary from Po that he was alive, either. My guess? Perhaps he is still out there, somewhere, licking his wounds and preparing to come back. Or perhaps Po had done him a mercy, and killed him, completely obliterating him; harsh, perhaps, but keeping him alive would not have done much for either of them. Tai Lung would have just been sent back to prison, or finally be executed for his crimes. So, perhaps, he is dead, and that is a blessing in itself that there is no physical representation that could be further demeaned. No doubt the villagers are still bitter enough to desecrate his corpse…if there was one.
Things changed quickly in the Jade Palace after that. I curtailed all training (except Po's) until we repaired the Sacred Hall of Warriors. The Furious Five and all the servants chipped in; even Zeng graciously offered to glue the Urn of Whispering Warriors together again—if you ask me, the urn looks much more beautiful now, with its flaws.
Once all the repairs were made, I recognized that, under my nose, other things were being repaired. First impressions are always most important, and though Po had completely screwed up the first time, his easy-going nature and kind personality quickly won over every palace servant…and the Furious Five.
Tigress is still rather distant to him, but as far as I know, she respects him.
As for me, I began spending more and more time outside the palace walls. Upon Po's urging, all kung fu masters made more frequent trips into the village. There was quite a bit of wisdom there—it made us appear less god-like, more approachable. I think the panda is smarter than I had originally thought. Still clueless, in some respects, but otherwise…he's doing well.
It is still too early for me to predict what kind of future Po will have. I know that his will be much brighter—and blessed—than my life had been. Though perhaps there are the little blessings that I have overlooked. It has been a long life, and until recently, it had been at times a very lonely one.
I am now the Grand Master of the Jade Palace—quite a feat for the youngest son of a rice farmer! Though I don't think of myself as a self-made man; I would never claim that. But looking back at what I have written here, I can easily name all that I have lost…but also what I have gained.
My advice to anyone and everyone, anywhere and everywhere, who should ever read this narrative of my life:
Never give up. Never lose faith and hope, no matter how hopeless a situation looks.
The mystery of the Dragon Scroll is simply this: one needs to have faith, not only in life, but in yourself.
Anyone can be a hero. That was the message Oogway intended. The reflective gold scroll, which showed the face of the, was the key.
Po explained it more aptly later on—and revealed a family secret. Hopefully he'll forgive me for revealing it here. "There is no secret ingredient."
His father, of course, is well known in the valley for his Secret Ingredient Soup…which turns out to have no secret ingredient. "People only have to believe it's special in order to make it special."
Anyone can have power and might…but only if they believe. Something—or someone—completely ordinary can become special, so long as they believe it, and as long as everyone else does as well. Anyone can be a Dragon Warrior, anyone can be anything they aspire to be, as long as they believe that they can.
And now—finally—I believe.
Tigress rolled up the final scroll and set it back in its place. She sat back in her chair, looking around the table at her friends.
"Wow," was all she could say.
"Wait, that's it?" Mantis asked. "That's the end?"
"It must be, for now," Crane reasoned. "Once he comes back from this funeral—whoever it is—that would have to fill the last chapter, wouldn't it?"
"It sure answered a lot of questions," Viper mused aloud, indicating the entire work. "Master's more complicated than I thought!"
"No kidding. What a life…" Monkey said, shaking his head. "No wonder he was so desperate to find peace."
"First he lost Yeying," Tigress said softly, "Then Tai Lung…and he almost lost the five of us, whom he actually considered children."
Po was looking right at her. "You okay?"
Tigress mutely nodded, saying quietly, "It all makes sense now…everything. Why he's always been so cold, so distant…I want to blame him, but I cant anymore. Now…I truly feel sorry for him…"
Po noticed she had gotten misty-eyed, and he wrapped his arms around her, gently rubbing her back. "Its okay…I bet it feels great to know now, doesn't it?"
"Feels great to know what?"
Six jaws dropped and turned to stare at the doorway.
Shifu had returned.
And his eyes were trained on the basket of scrolls, still sitting on the kitchen table.
Monkey bit his lip; Viper hid her horrified expression behind her coils; Crane was looking anywhere but at the red panda; Mantis was sporting a blatantly guilty look; both Tigress and Po were so shocked, they had forgotten they were still embracing. No matter what their individual pasts and experiences, in that one instance they all shared the same thought.
They were so screwed.
"So…" he began amiably enough. "You found my memoirs, did you?" He glared at six guilty looks. "You deliberately disobeyed me when I told you to stay out of my quarters, and you invaded my privacy? I trained you all, made you the best of the best, gave you better lives than you ever had the chance for, and this is how you repay me?"
"It was my fault," Po said.
Shifu blinked in surprise. "What?"
"It was all me. I was the one to disobey you. When I found what state your room was in, I told the others. We were worried about you, Shifu!"
"We cleaned it up for you," Viper offered as an apology. "We changed the sheets…"
"Aired out the mattress," Crane nodded.
"Washed the dishes that were in there," Monkey added.
"I, uh, watered your orchids for you," Tigress said, uncharacteristically sheepish. Shifu gave her the harshest look by far.
"I see. Yet you still invaded my privacy…"
"We didn't think…"
"No, Tigress, clearly you didn't think!" he snapped. "Do you have so little faith in your master? You don't think that, if I intended those memoirs never be read, that I would have hidden them in such an obvious place?"
The silence in that kitchen was stifling…and Tigress' temper was already flaring.
"WHAT?" she roared, drawing out her claws.
Shifu's lips finally broke into a sly smile and he chuckled, "Yes, I'm fully aware that you know my favorite hiding spot. You discovered it years ago—you honestly think I didn't know? I raised you better than that."
"Wait," Po said, releasing his hold on the tiger, "You mean to tell me that you meant us to find those scrolls?"
"Like I said, I knew at least the fair majority of you were curious enough to read what I had left on my desk. I figured the rest would fall into place. I'm not sure if I should be glad or disappointed that you all are so predictable."
"But just so we're clear," Mantis said slowly, "You're not mad at us?"
Shifu sighed, clasping his hands behind his back, "No, I am not…"
"Then what's with the face?" Po asked.
"There isn't a 'face', panda," he said, his eye beginning to twitch. "I…" he sighed again, "The funeral was hard."
"Oh…oh yeah, that's right…" they all suddenly remembered. Their master had left because an old friend was on their deathbed. The poor soul must have died soon after he had arrived.
"Who was it?" Viper asked, hoping she sounded as sympathetic as she intended.
"It can wait," the red panda explained. "First, there are some people I'd like you all to meet." He turned and beckoned to whoever was standing in the hall. A moment later, three people entered the kitchen…and even though the Five and the Dragon Warrior had never seen a portrait, nor ever met them before, they instinctively knew who they were looking at.
A tall wolf, grizzled and light grey with age, sporting an eyepatch over his right eye, stood hand-in-hand with a shorter fox, light reddish fur peppered with grey and white. And beside them was a massive rhino, whose brown eyes showed the fierceness of the warrior he had been, but the wisdom of the master he still was.
They were speechless for a long moment…until Po broke down and gave in to his fanboyish tendencies.
"WHOA! Master Flying Rhino! Holy cow!"
Ochir laughed, the sound rumbling like thunder. "Good Lord, Shifu, he's exactly as you said he'd be!"
Dong Li and Jian Ren both chuckled, the former shaking his head good-naturedly. He sighed, gazing upon the young faces. "So…these are your students. They are everything you described. You must be proud."
"I am," Shifu said, beaming at the six warriors. "I am very proud of them."
"And you," Dong Li approached Tigress, "Must be Tigress."
"He told you about me?" she asked, bewildered.
"Are you kidding?" the old fox laughed. "We couldn't get him to shut up about you! I always guessed, if he ever had a daughter, he'd be prouder of her than any son…"
Tigress glanced over at the red panda, who had averted his gaze and was whistling innocently. She just smiled.
Jian Ren approached Po, "And this is Po Ping, the Dragon Warrior…I expected you to be…"
"Thin?" Po deadpanned.
"I was going to say 'taller'," the one-eyed wolf replied with an arched brow.
"Sure you were," muttered the panda.
"Are you as good a cook as Shifu tells us?"
"He's better," Mantis piped up.
"Good, because I'm starving," Ochir said. "It was a hell of a journey from the Dragon's Lair…"
"You went all the way to Zhou-Tong?" Viper asked with surprise.
Shifu nodded. "I had to—that was where Xue Shan was."
Silence fell upon the room again. Crane was the one to speak first. "You mean…"
Shifu sighed, "Master Xue Shan lived a long life, and it was a good life, despite the mistakes he had made…"
"His passing was peaceful," Dong Li assured.
"Was it old age?" Monkey asked.
"Natural causes; if you can call it that," Ochir said sadly. "He'd been sick a long time."
"The plague," Ren explained. "The one he'd survived as a child. It had lain dormant inside him for years…a few years ago, Li and I had finally tracked him down. We expected a fight, but he didn't budge, seemed to welcome the idea that we would kill him. You see, he had just been to see some healers, who had discovered a tumor. It weakened his chi, which left the plague open to take over his body. I suppose he just gave up after that."
"We found he'd been living in Zhou-Tong for a good thirty years or so," Li said. "We stuck around, tried to give him some comfort. We moved in with him after his wife passed, so we could care for him…"
"Wait, I thought you guys hated each other?" Po asked.
"That was before Shan's deathbed confession," Shifu said. "Please serve us some of your noodle soup, Po. I've missed it, and I need something of comfort to get through the rest of the story."
"The rest of the story?" Monkey echoed.
"Of course," the red panda said, pulling out chairs for his old friends. "Every story needs an ending, doesn't it?"
And this story, apparently, needs an epilogue. Coming soon, to a fanfic near you!