Is Love Safe?
Chapter Twenty Eight- Hero
Ming, Little Shen, Ling, Chou-Hen, Hei Xin, Hao, Husto, Leo, Jai, Fu, Keera, Chen Hue Leigh and Shen (c) mine.
The sun broke over the horizon, casting the sky in a wave of purple and soft blue. The storm clouds were shooed away into the darkness of the fading night, taking with them the cold winds and rain as it gave a defiant grumble. The snow tops of the Dragon's Pass Mountains never looked so radiant in the light of the great rising ember sphere.
Husto and Leo padded along the stone cobbled street of the village, their feet dragged by sadness. Side by side the two wolves walked slowly, their eyes facing the ground but staring off distantly as they were both lost in the world of grieving thoughts and sorrow. Their muzzles dripped with the crimson liquids of fresh blood from their latest kill. They had chased Chou-Hen far off to the border of the village, managing to catch up with him easily thanks to their naturally muscular bodies. The wolf General was within their grasp quickly and when they caught him neither Leo nor Husto were merciful. After they finished with ending the life of the animal who had so dishonourably separated Shen from the world, the only thing that could be deciphered from his body were the remains of torn limbs and bone.
As the two brothers made their way back to the market square, Husto turned his muzzle to Leo with consideration. He may have only known Shen for a few hours, but the Pure One could see how close Leo had become with the feline. Husto could never understand the depth of emotional distress his brother was in for the loss of Shen, yet he was honoured to have fought alongside an animal who, though may not have been born a Blood Knight, had the heart and soul of the bravest creature the pack leader had ever known.
The only other time the Husto ever knew someone give such a sacrifice was on the night he and Leo lost their parents. The memory of that tragic night still haunted the black wolf. He felt no different then, as he did now.
Shifu closed his eyes as he turned away from the sight of his deceased son's body. He could feel a tightness in his chest, like as if an iron bar had been wrapped around his lungs and started to squeezed. The Grand Master's old heart had shattered, broken like weakened glass when he watched Chou-Hen thrust his blade right into Shen's heart. He needed to be alone. Shifu limped away in silence. The others watched him go. Tai Lung went after him, but Crane's reached out and stopped him. The shake of his head told the snow leopard to leave him be.
As the sage, despairing kung fu master made his way from the market square, he let out an arm and steadied himself against the wall of a house. Leaning up against the residence, he slipped round the corner into the darkness of the back road and laid his back up against the wall. With a shaky gasp of breath, Shifu closed his sapphire eyes- long since turned ashen and empty of life- and slammed his head back, the hollow chuckles of anguish starting. Dropping his head forward into his hands the red panda wept into them profoundly, taking in bitter chokes as he rubbed the palms of his hands into the patch of brown fur around his eyes as the tears fell. Sliding down the wall, Shifu cried harder in seclusion as he wrapped his striped tail around his legs. He wailed intensely, though his howls did not escape the ears of his students or Tai Lung.
Never having before heard Shifu cry, it did not do well to comfort the spirits of the Furious Five. Viper hugged onto Monkey, the simian comforted her with pats as he tried his best not to cry as well. Crane and Mantis were no different. The avian found the only way was to hide his face beneath his hat as he tipped it forward, though it did not stop the salty drops of liquids running from his eyes.
Tai Lung's ember orbs burned like a roaring fire as he gazed on Shen's corpse. Though they were not of blood relation, the snow leopard couldn't help but feel his fur quiver. All his life Tai Lung had grown up with Shen as his older sibling, a spouse whom he would usually play with as a cub and sometimes look after when Shen was first brought to the palace. He reminisced well in the memory of when Shifu returned back to the palace, the lion no bigger that the size of a small pillow. The way they first met, with Shen reaching out a pip-size paw and taking hold of his claw, yipping and cooing joyfully. And as they aged through the years, they would occasionally spar with some sort of laughable outcome that usually got them into trouble. Even when they laid waste to the Valley of Peace, Tai Lung desired to do it with no one else than his younger sibling.
The snow leopard balled his paws into fists as he spun on his heels and walked up to the nearest wall, raising a fist and hammering it down upon the stone building. The surface cracked under his blow. Releasing his anger and suffering, Tai Lung continued to hit the wall endlessly. When the barrier finally collapsed from his strikes, Tai Lung dropped down to his knees paws with it. His pony tail fell loose of its band and hung around his face in strands. He shuddered visibly, giving in as the tears finally fought their way forward. Tai Lung sobbed profoundly as he rose up a shaking paw to his face, taking in a breath that sounded like he was lost of air.
Tai Lung had turned into a right mess.
He missed Shen.
Jai felt empty. Hollow. Her body shook with disbelief as she sat on her knees by her brother. Jai stared down on his body with teary eyes, having reverted back to their glowing blonde colour. Her paws trembled as she reached out and laid them on his torso. He felt like ice to her touch. This was not what she wanted. This was not how things were meant to end. Shen was meant to have survived. To live on; so that they could be a family again. No longer. Her eyes grew black and angry and bright with pain. From the agony of her loss she suddenly felt alone. She was the only survivor; she was the last person in her bloodline to still have lived throughout this hellish nightmare.
Her mother, Keera, her father, Chen, and now her younger brother, Shen, had left her in this world without the comfort or affection of a family to love. Jai shook her head as she pulled her paws in and clenched them into fists, they trembled. She begged, she prayed, she pleaded with all her soul and spirit for Shen to come back, to take her in his arms and say everything was going to be alright. She was so alone. Jai growled as the tears burned her eyes.
Then she felt the touch of a large paw on her back. Jai felt her body loosen as she turned to find Leo crouching at her side. The lioness felt her lip tremble. The gravity of knowing that Shen was gone straining her emotions deeper than she had ever let them go in a long time. She let out a soft whimper as the rough tears dripped down her cheeks and Leo took her into a tight embrace. He placed a paw on the back of her head and began to caress her comfortingly with his claws.
Fu gently rocked her body back and forth as she never left her sight off Shen. The lynx hummed lovingly a song that she and Shen used to sing to one another on the corrupt of days when they would rarely argue. One way or another one of them would whisper the memorable lyrics of the song, then pause and wait for the other to finish off the line. Before too long they would it would start to grow into a low grim singing that would eventually rise up till both were letting their voice overpower all emotional suffering that either of them felt. The song was played at their wedding, it was played when they would argue; Fu could think of no other time for such memories to caress her than now through the notes and tunes of her purring.
Still feeling helpless Fu chocked on glistening tears that slipped from her violet eyes, falling down her cheeks before dripping onto her husband's face. She stroked his cheek caringly with her thumb, he still felt cold. The village was suddenly brought into the light of the sun. Yet it harboured no warmth to those in the settlement, it lit no quailed hearts from the grim shadows of heartbreak.
Fu stopped her purring of the song as she took her eyes from Shen and looked up to the golden sphere coming up in the distance. Harder tears welled in her eyes as a single memory exploded in her mind. "L-look, Shen." She spoke, shattering the silence of the village. "It's morning." Everyone, even Shifu from his corner in the shadows, turned their gazes to the horizon as the beautiful sun crept its way into the sky, setting the skyline into a fiery yellow and orange among the clouds. "It's the next day." Fu's throat burned as she swallowed a lump. This was no ordinary new day to her, it was a marker. It was a special day. Looking back down to her husband's forever- sleeping form, the lynx lowered herself down and placed the most gentlest of kiss on her deceased lover's lips. She pulled away and forced a weary smile.
These words were the hardest things she ever said. "Happy anniversary, Shen."
It had been exactly one year to this day, in this very village that Shen and Fu got married.
Po held Tigress close to him as they both watched Fu embrace her husband's head. Po's red feral orbs twitched with stoic emotion, somehow managing to hold it all in. Tigress was doing her best, clutching to Po's vest and long fur. He could feel the anguish flow through her into him as they both stared to the sunrise. It was then Po's heightened feral ears caught the sound of cautious footsteps approaching. The panda looked down from the sun and gazed around as he saw the residents of the village begin to come out from their homes and crowd around the market square.
This was not the time for a crowd, not here.
Not with Shen dead.
But the panda knew there was nothing he could do to keep them back, he had no choice but to let them come closer. Then a thought hit Po's mind and in a split second had made a serious decision. If all these strangers were going to see their departed hero, then one other person should be here as well. Releasing his wife, Po turned and strode purposefully to the Pure Ones. The animals separated as the feral Dragon Warrior made his way through the pack and then the villagers, walking on past them without a single glance back. They gasped at the sight of his eyes though he paid them no attention as he focussed on the road out of the village.
"Po." Tigress called after him as she chased up. "Po, where are you going?"
The panda stopped and turned to the female. "I'm going back to the cabin." He responded shoddily. He glanced down to the floor and then met tigress' yellow eyes again. "I'm going to get Hao."
Tigress was concerned on the idea. "Po, wait." She took her husband's wrist in a grip. "Do you think that's a good idea? I mean, he's only a cub."
"But he is Shen's cub." Po said bitterly. "I would not let all these strangers see Shen this way without the man who saved them and us not be looked upon by his own son. No," The panda shook his head and easily slipped his wrist free of Tigress' grasp. "…Hao has to know. He has a right. I have to tell him."
The Dragon Warrior made for the road again. Tigress watched him leave. She knew: inside Po was aching just as badly as the rest of them. He just didn't show it, his feral state prevented such things. He only chose not to revert back for he did not wish to be weak, not when he told Hao the truth. Tigress bit her lip and thought hard. She regarded Po uncertainly. "Po!" She bellowed again. The panda halted and turned round, only to have Tigress come up and kiss his cheek. "We'll tell him together." She said, taking his paw in her own.
As the pair left for the cabin hidden in the woodlands, Husto watched them from the front of his pack. His large black ears had caught every word of their conversation. He never knew Shen had a cub. Husto could understand as a father himself what it was like to feel love for a child. Yet the very idea of a cub having to be told his father his dead seemed almost unbearable to the wolf. Husto looked over his shoulder and turned to Shen and Fu.
It felt right. It was right. No warrior, or father, husband or brother could ever give up so much for the rest of the world. Such a sacrifice was worthy of so much. This being gave his life to ensure the survival of others. He had lead on into the depths of the abyss without owning even so much as a thought spark of deciding otherwise. And though Shen's heart had been pierced, Husto believed it to beat on forever in the bodies of all those the feline had inspired, including him.
And as was tradition for Pure Ones to say their farewell to such a hero, the large black wolf lowered himself down onto his four paws. The rest of the pack saw and understood, joining their leader as they dipped to the floor. Stretching out his front paw, Husto bowed his head to Shen and Fu. The kung fu masters, Jai and Leo saw the Blood Knights salute the dead feline in respect and so felt it necessary as they too bowed their heads. The villagers, now seeing the truth, looked among each other before they saluted traditionally and bowed at the waist.
Husto took his part and raised his muzzle to the sky, pulled his ears back and howled to the dawn with admiration to pay tribute to Shen's spirit, wherever it may be. The call went far and wide; it reached the woodlands to Po and Tigress, to Hao, Ming and little Shen in the cabin. Further and further it went on into the mountains of the Dragon's Pass, echoing Husto's howl across the land, carrying with it the story of the saviour of Xi'an.
The saviour of China.
The saviour of the world.
There was no longer any pain or ache. No urge for rest; only a sense of floating and being weightless. Shen opened his eyes in flutters, letting his pupils to adjust to the bright lights of clouds that seemed to enshroud all of which the feline could see. Shen rose up a paw to shield his vision, only to gasp when he saw his arm. The fur was no longer the black colour in which he had grown accustomed to seeing but a shining coat of brilliant white. Shen raised up his other arm as he looked down upon his body, seeing that all about him was covered in the same colour. His clothes, no longer torn or shredded, glittered as if made from diamonds. Then it caught his sight, his mane- it had grown back. Shen ran his claws through the lengthy strands of hair that crowned his face, tied back in a pony-tail. Even the tuff of hair on the end of his tail had returned. He was a lion again.
As the feline inspected the area round him, the clouds soon began to draw back like a receding wall till they came to a stop. Shen gasped in realization as he recognised the place in which he stood centre. He acknowledged it instantaneously.
He was at the stone den from his dream. Shen felt marvelled, though having seen the place before, at the sight of it all. Everything seemed to give of a golden haze, even the tiniest detail sparkled with the yellow light. This time there was no snow, all of it grass and stone. Shen found himself to be wearing no sandals covering his feet. But he did not mind, the grass felt fresh and tickled the gaps between his toes. It was warm and comforting.
The sound of running water drew Shen's gaze to the centre of the den where he found the running stream of the crystal clear water snaking its way into the small pond. Yet when he stood over its edge and peered down in past its surface, the lion could not see down to the bottom.
Shen felt a sudden movement behind him. He spun round and narrowed his eyes as a flash of light temporarily blinded him. The feline groaned and rose up his arms. As the luminosity started to dim, Shen blinked as he peered through his arms, soon being able to lower them as the glow vanished completely. And as he gazed to the source of the fading light, Shen froze and his mouth fell into an open gape.
There, before him, was a wolf and a lioness.
Shen studied them. The wolf was well built on a large physique; bulky muscular arms and broad shoulders, a strong neck and a locked jaw. His face was weathered with age yet the most striking feature of him was the pair of remarkable azure eyes that surged with the grace of flowing river. He wore a clean long-sleeved robe and trousers. Shen looked to the lioness at his side, she was beautiful; a spitting of Jai. Wearing a hanfu, her fur was short-cut apart from the small tuff of hair on the end of her tail. Her eyes burned like a rising sun, holding a tender and kind gaze in them. She was on the verge of tears. Both the couple's furs and clothes were a shining white like Shen's.
The feline stared at the two with disbelief, his mind not wanting to accept that they were real. His voice cracked as he heard the words drip from his mouth. "M-mama, Baba?" He felt breathless.
The wolf's long lips curled into a smile as he chuckled and the lioness let go of her tears as they both nodded.
It was them, Chen Hue Leigh and Keera.
His parents, he had found them.
Shen's knees wobbled as he made his way over to the wolf and lioness. He inspected them with his dancing yellow eyes, looking between their faces as he came to a stop just in front of them. It may have been only seconds but to Shen it felt like a lasting eternity before any movement was made as Keera took the lead and jumped into her son's arms, captivating all of him as much as she could with an unyielding hold. "Oh, Shen!" She cried, her eyes weeping joyful tears into his clothes.
Shen a first didn't know how to respond; though, eventually, the right choice came as the lion took hold of his mother and hugged her. It was the first time for them both, since the day that they were separated by her early departure in the Valley of Peace, that they had connected as mother and son. Chen beamed a cheerful smile as he wrapped his family in his large arms. Shen slipped out his arm and laid it over his father's back as tears of overwhelming delight seeped from his clamped eyes.
"Welcome, Shen." Greeted a voice whispering the air, it was dear and soft as a gentle breeze. The feline's small ears twitched and Shen pulled away from his mother and father, following the trail of water up to the opening of the majestically carved boulder sitting atop two small stones like an arc. From atop, a bright light shined over the stone den. Shen waited as a muzzle crept into sight from out of the glow. Bit by bit, he watched as a wolf twice his size come out on all fours onto the rock. The lupine's coat was a sparkling snowy colour, fairly hiding the powerful muscles beneath. But the gripping thing, however, was the pair of emerald eyes that glowed so fiercely that they seemed to make all greenery of the world look pale. They were keen, intellectual with a natural sense of a true predator. The wolf came a stop and lifted its head high as it smiled significantly down on Shen past its nose. "It is good to see you again."
Shen wiped his damp eyes and grinned warmly to his old friend- the Green-Eyed wolf. "Likewise, my old friend." He gave a fleeting look around, glancing at his parents then back to the wolf. "Am I…?"
The white lupine's pointy ears lowered, his tone was grave. "I am sorry, Shen," He said, sinking his head as he leapt down from the boulder and onto the patch of grass. Even though he walked on all four of his paws the wolf still towered over Shen, with his chest reaching the lion's eye level. The white canine dipped his head to Shen. "….this chapter in your story has come to an end. You are now in the realm of the eternal plain; some know it to be the afterlife." He lifted his muzzle proudly and looked around, emphasising to the beauty of the stone den. "This is the place you decided to come when you passed on from the mortal world. It was the one dwelling empty of any pain, loss or aching memory that your mind could remember."
"The perfect haven." Shen day-dreamed as he gave another look around with a grin feeling a longing peace that he had not known for some time. He was truly at one with the universe; he could feel the energy running through his body, tingling his fur as if it were being stroked by Fu. "Fu…" Shen said solemnly, his ears falling and the happiness in his yellow eyes fading as he thought of his wife. "…Jai….Hao. My wife, my son, my sister," The lion moved his eyes up to the wolf who only continued to look on back at him. "….all my family, all my friends. They think I'm dead."
"You are dead, Shen." The white wolf growled compassionately. "Your body is dead, only your spirit can live on here."
"But," Shen stammered, sensing his world come crashing down around him. "….but they need me, they….they need to know that I'm still here."
The canine shook his muzzle, his face adopting the saddened expression again, followed by the same severe tone. "I am sorry, Shen. You fail to understand what it is you've become. Here you are an everlasting spirit. You're not of a body, you are purely soul." As soft as the wolf tried to explain to Shen, the feline could only feel his heart descend lower and lower to the ground and beyond. "Your chapter in life has finished. It was time for you to come and join your family up here among the Heavens."
Shen stood there, frozen as the words had pierced not only his heart but his soul. He felt entirely dead again, loss of all happiness and bliss. Everything faded as the weightlessness vanished and Shen believed himself to be held down by the heaviest of chains. From behind him, Keera slowly outstretched her paw out to her downhearted son in means of comforting him. Yet as her claws touched him, Shen simply pulled away from her and hauled his hefty feet through the grass till he was standing over the edge of the embankment again. His ember orbs stared distantly into the never-ending pool of water. "I don't believe it," He spoke grimly. "…even in Heaven, there is still no happiness."
"But Shen," Growled the wolf, his smile lost. "…you are happy; you've been reunited with your mother and father. You've spent a lifetime away from them and now, when they finally appear before your eyes, you still are not content?"
"There is a difference." Shen answered, speaking as if he had been taken over by a gloomy cloud. "There is a difference between….what your heart wants, and what it really needs. Between that which you lust for in all the universe, and what you already have. I know now that I've got what I wanted," The lion shook his head in denial. "… and I realise it's not what I need." He turned round and faced the wolf head strong, jaw locked in place. "What I do need is my wife; I need my son and my sister I need my friends and those who I've come to call as my family by my choice! Most of them may not have been related to me by blood or flesh, but they are family none the less. Because it was not me who made it over the years to who I am, it was them." The white wolf's straight lips curled a little at the edges, his green eyes lighting a spark. He watched as Shen went on. "It was their love, their care, their thoughts and friendship that drove me to become me! I don't want to watch every day and night as my family weeps over my death in sorrow whilst I stand here and whisper a prayer in their ear." The smile on the lupine's face stretched and curled further, a fire now in his green eyes. "No! I want to hold them, I want to laugh with them, spar with them," The smile broadened still. "…argue with them. I want to know that for the rest of my life I will be by their side ready to protect and love them as much as they would for me! You said it yourself: there is nothing, nothing, more powerful than Love. So prove it! Show me how much Love means to you."
Silence came over the stone den. Shen's admirable fur shivered enthusiastically and his fangs clenched bare to the white wolf who still wore his signature smile that had grown through Shen's speech. Chen and Keera said nothing as they held each other close, watching as their son went up against a force his mind could not even imagine. And yet the wolf kept on grinning, his ripe eyes blazing with life. It soon became too much as he started to burst out in a booming laughter. Though most would have thought it to be offensive, Shen found no incentive of intimidation or bullying. It was just laughter, nothing else to it. Chen and Keera smiled in relief. All Shen could do was hike a sceptical eyebrow.
"Oh, Shen," The wolf chuckled. "….I knew that one day I'd hear you say those words." The great lupine got to his feet as he leisurely pawed his way over to the pond, his tail flowing behind him like the ripples in the water. His gaze never left the lion. "You have proved to be everything that the people of the world need. Your spirit is something that has not been seen in a very long time. You are pure hearted: always putting others before yourself even if it means certain death- you've proved that!"
Shen was deadpan. "So?"
"So…" The lupine added on as he gently raised a paw and petted the surface of the pool. He swung his muzzle to Shen. "…if you remember correctly, I said that this chapter in your life has finished. But where one chapter ends…"
"….another must begin." Chen finished as he and Keera came up to their son. The lion's face brightened. "You are right, Shen, you do need them. And they need you."
"It's time you went back to the family that wishes for you the most." Keera beamed as she stared at her son.
Shen couldn't believe it. He was being given a second chance at life, another attempt to live the rest of his life with his wife and son, and Jai. The lion turned his head to the pool, the white wolf still pawing away at its surface with concentration on his face. Shen twisted back to his parents. "Come with me." He said as the idea spiked his thoughts. The white wolf gave a side glance to Chen and Keera. "Come back with me, we can be a proper family again." Shen took his mother and father's arms in his paws.
"Shen..." Chen tried to speak.
"Jai will be so thrilled to see you again."
"You can come live with me and my family. We'll build on the house, repair the damage done, spread it out. Redo the entire thing!"
"Shen! We can't go!" Keera snapped. Shen silenced himself, stunned by the lioness' biting scorn.
The lion blinked and switched eyes between Chen and Keera. "W…what…of...of course you can."
Chen swayed his muzzle from side to side, his ears falling slightly. "No, son. We cannot. We've lived our lives and we're happy here." The old leader of mercenaries took his wife's paw in his own, their wedding rings gleaming as they laced each other's claws. He laid his other paw on Shen's shoulder. An honest, fatherly stare in his cool blue eyes. "We've watched you grow, watched you train and build your life. We watched you love the right woman, always knowing when to make the right choices. Even when you fell in my shadow you still managed to climb out and change your ways. And we've never been more proud of you."
Knowing her husband had said what needed to be said, the lioness stepped forward as cupped her son's cheeks in her paw. She raked her claws through his mane, feeling the brush of every strand. Shen closed his eyes tightly as he nuzzled her touch. "We have always loved you, Shen." She purred, stroking him with her thumb. Shen opened his eyes again, they danced majestically. "And we always will, never forget that. We will always be here for you, watching over your shoulder as you continue to live your life the way you want it. One day we will see you again, and Jai. We'll spend our eternity in the clouds, forever." Tears came back into the female's eyes. "We love you, Shen."
The lion did his best not to cry, he tried desperately not to show his weakness, but when he glanced up into his father's blue orbs, seeing how they became glassy with tears the feline could hold it in no longer. Gripping both of his parents he pulled the wolf and lioness into a tight hug, gripping them in his claws. "I'll look up to you every night, thinking of you every day. I promise." He wrapped them even tighter against his chest. "I promise."
With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Shen pulled away and wiped his eyes as he turned to the great white wolf. The canine moved its nose to Shen. He flashed his signature smile. "I always knew you were special."
Shen chuckled as he wiped away the last tear. "Touché."
The wolf laughed. "Take care, Shen. I'll be waiting to hear of your latest story when you return."
The lion nodded. "I look forward to it."
The lupine nodded to the pool of which the ripples flowed across. Shen nodded in understanding, taking a deep breath and holding it Shen dipped his eyebrows and jumped into the water. As he disappeared beneath the surface, Chen and Keera joined the wolf at the side of the pool, ogling as their son faded into the blackness of the depths. And as they stared on, more figures came at their side, all peering down into the pool. Around the circle of the pond there stood another wolf with one scar running up along his muzzle, Chou-Hen; a snow leopard with emerald eyes, it was Ling; a large eagle whose feathers were no longer a sinister black and his wounds were all gone, Hei Xin. And the last of them was an old tortoise who wore nothing but a cloak across his shoulder and a long thin staff in his claws.
The sage reptile leaned his long neck over the pond and smiled a gentle grin. "You've did well letting him go." Master Oogway said as he gazed to the wolf with his brown eyes. "He truly is like you."
"A part of me is a part of him." The great white wolf lifted his muzzle to the group as they looked at him knowingly. "But what can you expect," He shrugged. The Green-eyed wolf, the Creator of Life, beamed as he flashed his sparkling fangs. "…I created him."
Shen sank immediately beneath the surface. He waited for the return into his body, but he found himself to be running out of air. He felt the crush of his lungs. The lion thought the returning was not working and tried to swim for the surface, but something pulled on his leg. A force took hold and Shen screamed out in horror, his words nothing but muffled grumbles and bubbles of air. Away from the light he was dragged, trying desperately to claw back up.
Soon the light went away and all around was pitch black. Silence fell. Shen could not see, nor hear, feel, touch, taste or smell. He was blind in the dark.
Then, just like in his last vision of the abyss, a terrible pain struck at Shen's heart. He roared out in agony and clasped his chest, huffing intensely. It felt like a terrible burning sensation, as if someone had stabbed red hot blade through him and was twisting it, torturing Shen from the inside out. The lion snarled as the unbelievable pain returned and he gasped out. It went away; the sting, the pain, it all simply vanished.
Shen blinked his eyes, he could see something. It was light, a splinter of shimmering fiery sunlight. It was hazy but Shen could never mistake such magnificence. His chest ached, arms and legs burned. There was a cold taste on his tongue with a dried tang of metal. His fur was wet, dripping with water. A warm feeling came over him.
The lion sighed in delight.
"S-Shen…?" A familiar voice whispered in his ear. It was soft and sweet like a fresh ripe peach.
"Mmm…?" Was his subconscious reply.
"Shen?" The voice called again, a spark of joy in its tone.
"Fu?" Whispered another recognisable voice, it was a little more authoritative, but cracked like the other one.
"He just said something! Look, he's smiling!"
"What?" A chorus of voices gasped.
Shen felt something touch his cheek, holding his face and lifting it up. "Shen?" The first voice went high as it continued to call his name. "Shen?"
Shen fluttered open his strained eyes, pulling the lids back as the light came back to his sight. And as he looked up to the flaming sky, the feline's gaze shifted to the left and he sighed. For above any other creature that he first laid sight on, it was the teary violet eyes and grey and black spotted face of his wife. "Fu…" He breathed.
The lynx let slip another tear, yet it was no longer ones of sorrow. They were happy tears, jubilant and overwhelmed with emotions. She gave off a laugh that Shen knew all too well as a gasping laugh when you can't believe the truth even though it's staring you right in the face. "You're alive…." Shen lifted up a heavy arm as his paw came to her cheek. Fu couldn't help but nuzzle it. "Shen…my Shen." She laid down her own paw over his. The feline smiled as he pulled down the lynx till their lips met. The kiss was long and adoring. The reunited couple settled into it immediately.
"Shen!" Jai squealed. The black cat pulled away from Fu and leaned on his side as the lioness jumped onto his body and latched her arms around his neck. "You're alive!" Shen did well to bite back down a hiss at the pain in his chest. He replaced it with a good laugh as he returned the hug. "You're alive!" The sound of Jai's shrieks of joy rung throughout the village of Xi'an, raising the attention of all who dwelled within its walls. And as those who bowed lifted their heads and looked down on the feline they failed to comprehend how the saviour was alive. Tai Lung rushed to his foster brother's side, joining Fu and Jai as they questioned the black feline as to how he survived.
The members of the Furious Five all gathered around him as the commotion rose. Husto and Leo both shared looks that seemed both comical and lost. Like the villagers and the rest of the pack they failed to grasp how Shen lived. But their troubling thoughts were silenced as an uproar of cheers and applause ricocheted through the market square and the streets of the village, all celebrating the return of their saviour. It wasn't before too long that the Blood Knights of the pack found themselves joining in on the merriment as they mingled with themselves and the villagers too.
And out from the crowd of gawkers a little child's voice rang in Shen's ears like a bell. "Baba!" Shen's head snapped to source of the yell. Standing at the front of the pack, a stunned Po and Tigress gawked with open mouths at the sight of Shen. Between them, holding their paws was the hybrid Shen had promised to see again.
"Hao!" Shen shouted as he sat up and outstretched an arm, motioning for his son to come to him. The cub released Tigress and Po's paws as he bolted across the stone cobbled square and leapt into his father's arms, grasping him in with all that his little muscles could take- never letting go. "Son." Shen cried. He slithered his arm around his wife and son, and with a smile he pulled in another member of his family.
Jai's lip trembled as she felt her brother take hold of her shoulder and yank her into the family hug. The lioness felt wholesome once again.
Tigress and Po looked to each other, shocked that after they had walked all the way to the cabin, telling Hao that his father was dead and brought him back to the village, only to find the very feline they presumed to have left the world sitting up and holding his family in his arms. Po's gawking muzzle stretched out into a smile and he blinked his eyes, setting them back to their normal shine of emerald green as he took Tigress by the paw. The striped kung fu master beamed a massive grin as she allowed her husband to drag her towards their friend and greet him back to the realm of the living.
It was the calling of Shen's name that first reached the old red panda's large ears, only dampening his torn heart and bringing him deeper into despair. But when the crowds of the streets went out in their holler of excitement, Shifu lifted his head out of his nimble hands and leaned round got to his feet. He looked out with his glossy sapphire eyes and as he peered out from the shadows of the alley where he had put himself, the Grand Master felt existence return to his old bones and his heart beat healthily once more.
He wanted to run out there, to shove past the crowds and run up to his son and forgive him for everything he had done. To say he was sorry and that he loved him. But Shifu held back, his face half showing round the corner of the alley way. He couldn't bring himself to move. An expression of guilt etched his wrinkly features.
There came the sound of footsteps from behind. The panda's ears swung round to behind him as sign he acknowledged the being presence. He knew the pattern and the sound of who it was in his wake. "You should go out there, y'know." The Creator of Life growled in all but whisper so he was not heard by the villagers. Shifu turned round and sighed. He glanced to the shade at his side where the gleaming green eyes of the wolf glowed powerfully. "You deserve him, he needs you."
"He's already got all he needs, I don't want to impose."
The Creator chuckled humorously. "You always were one for formalities, Shifu. For once, you have to let go of your past. You memory betrays you, my old friend, if it was not for you Shen would have never been found in that blizzard." The red panda shuddered at the thought. "Because of you everything that you see has happened. It is because of you and everyone out there that he is who he is." Shifu lifted his head to the wolf in the darkness. "Go to him, Shifu. Love him. It would make him all the happier….and you too."
The red panda stared into the emerald eyes of the white wolf, and as he did Shifu closed his own eyes and did something he had not done for a very long time. Taking in a long deep breath through his nose, the Grand Master could feel an energy swelling within him. It was old, ancient, yet raw with power. When the Grand Master pulled back his eyes lids, his eyes were no longer their remarkable blue but a heated red. Though this panda was not a feral, he was much more than that. His gaze was keen, intellectual and full of a primeval predatory instinct he had not known since the day he left his family for the life of kung fu. Oh the feeling was blissful, yet Shifu knew his place- it was no longer his place to be such a creature, but the flames would burn eternally in his heart and soul. For he was a special red panda. He was a Blood Knight.
Shifu smiled in gratitude as he bowed his head in respect to the Creator of Life. "It was good to see you one more time."
"We shall meet again, Shifu. But not for a long time." The hidden white wolf dipper his muzzle in traditional salute back. Shifu blinked his eyes and set them back into their casual sapphire blaze. "Now go. Go and be with your family. You always was and will be a terrific father."
The sound of the words melted his heart, sending a surge of heartfelt love that he had not sensed in his ragged body since the day his sons laid waste to the Valley of Peace. He swelled with satisfaction and pride. Giving the widest smile that he had not worn for many a year. The Grand Master gave into his emotions' desires as he slipped round the corner of the wall and out into the sunlight. The kung fu master dashed for his son, caring not of his rude behaviour as he shoved the crowds aside and ran up to give Shen the most loving cuddle that he had ever given.
It was their first hug since Shen was a cub.
The applause of the audience went wild.
From in the shadows of the alleyway, the white wolf's eyes bounced in the shade as he chuckled knowledgeably, his lips curling back to reveal the rows of perfect glittering fangs and plum purple gums. His laughter echoed in like a whisper as his lively green orbs and teeth faded into blackness as he became all but a legend.