Is Love Safe?
Epilogue – Symphony of Angels
Hei Xin, Ling, Chou-Hen, Chen Hue Leigh, Keera, Husto, Kella, Ming, Hao, The Green-Eyed Wolf, Leo, Jai, Fu, Shen and all Pure Ones (c) mine.
The winds of the wintry season snake their way around my body, making me shudder with a relative sense of delight. It was a wonderfully soothing feeling. I could feel it cup my cheek and stroke the fur strands of my face, almost creating the allusion that something, or someone, was holding my muzzle. I tentatively rise up a paw to my cheek and lay it across the fur, hoping that I had not lost the cold yet affectionate touch. It's still there. A soft sigh escapes my mouth, the hot air rolling along my tongue and between my chapping lips. My yellow eyes roll back in their sockets as I survey the beauty of the starry night sky above, there was a sting of a tear in my right eye; threatening to fall down with a blissful sadness.
I know now it is not a thing in the wind caressing me, it is a who. And that who whom I've known to have ever had such a gentler touch was none other than my Mother. She was here, I could feel her. Her spirit, her presence was by my side. The love from the winds on my cheek was enough to tell me so. I had kept my promise, I made sure to look up at the Heavens every night, no matter what the weather – and say nothing. No prayer needed to be chanted nor words of unpleasant distraught and loss be said. They would only bring out the worst in me, to the point where I would break down in a fit of sobs and weak cries. It was never the time to cry. I decide to say nothing.
And as I look up into the diamond speckled space, my feline eyes come to lie on the two stars that shined brighter than any others besides the full blossoming moon. They spin as they twinkle, one of them bigger than the other. That is where they look down on me. They are my Mother and Father: my protectors. My eyes dance, catching their lustrous glow as I continue to stare up at them. I was allowed to keep the memories; to remember the events of what I saw and said up there among the clouds and the Stone Den after my death. They are real, I know that it happened, yet those recollections always seem distant – like a dream.
I had said naught to others about what I experienced up among the clouds with my family and the Green-Eyed wolf, no matter how much Po tried to annoy it out of me. He was almost the same as Hao: one of them an adult, but both with the hearts and spirits of cubs. I thought it best not to tell, a way of saying thank you in silence to creature who gave me my life and my family back.
I suddenly felt the cold touch of my Mother leave me. I did not whine, I did not retaliate or deny her parting me. It was her time to go; to be with my Father again so they could continue to love each other and watch over me and Jai. It was then, I think, with a downhearted spirit, of my sister. She was gone.
Not dead, just gone.
After the battle of Xi'an the Pure Ones needed not to worry about their secrecy. They were no longer feared, only respected by the villagers and all of those they had saved from Hei Xin's malevolence rule. Word spread far, even before we returned to the Valley of Peace Husto and Shifu both dreaded the reaction of the villagers, thinking that they would be welcomed with an angry mob. Instead, and much to everyone's relief, they were celebrated.
Tai Lung, my adoptive brother since when we were both cubs, was welcomed as a hero with Ming and their child. His past and my own of the destruction to the Valley of Peace was erased from time. It was good to return home once more.
I give a low chuckle. It took us over four hours just to get from the village border to the Palace steps. I was almost sorry for the pack; surrounded by villagers and children who all wanted to get close to the saviours of China and the world. Still, it kept them off me. Two months went by in peaceful harmony, just the way they were meant to be. Blood knights and villagers co-mingled as if having known each other for centuries. Tai Lung and his family spent the first few weeks in the Palace dormitories, like me and my family. They left eventually for Xi'an once more – the guy does still has a farmer's job to keep. Me, Fu and Hao only stay for longer to wait on word when our house will be repaired since it was half destroyed the night I was kidnapped. Curtsey of the villages of Xi'an. We too would be gone from this place soon.
Still, it warmed all of our hearts to see such sights.
And yet, when it came to the night that Jai told me of her pronouncement I felt as though my entire world had shattered like the weak ice that covered the frozen lakes running through the village centre. I do well to recall our conversation.
It was a night like most others. Shen sat in a chair around the wooden table of the Jade Palace kitchen. He was alone, everyone else asleep. He was cast only in the flickering glow of a single candle flame set in the centre of the table. The dance of the little fire on the tip of the wax whipped and slashed at the air. The feline's shadows seemed to dance on the walls and ceiling. Shen stared at its fiery blaze with a deep look of intent, his eyes never blinked once. He never seemed to falter. In his paws a cup half empty of tea. A favourite that he and Shifu used to share when he was he was a cub. The hot liquid had cooled down to a reasonable temperature, yet it was not the reason why Shen had not finished his drink.
He was so transfixed on his never ending stare into the candle's flame that his heightened sense of hearing and feline ears did not see the figure standing in the doorway. They leaned in silence against the frame of the timber doorway. The pair of ember eyes staring at him as if they were inspecting him to see if he would ever move.
They watched as the feline gradually slipped his paws away from the cup and pulled aside his robe, his head craning to see his chest. With a hefty sigh through his nose Shen unsheathed a claw and gently ran it over the bumps of the cuts he had received from Tai Lung as a cub – by accident of course – that had long since formed into scars. He looked down to where his heart was. This wound was ugly and gruesomely casted a shadow over his muscular breast. A short, sharp hiss came through his teeth as he touched it.
"Still hurts?" The leaning form in the doorway said sympathetically.
Shen's head snapped up to the doorway as he roughly drew the flaps of his robe together and tightened the sash around his waist. He gave a simple glare to the figure, but, he could not hold it for long. It was his sister. "It's been about a month and a half since Xi'an, Jai." Shen answered as he turned back to cupping his tea. "It's never fully healed. I doubt it ever will."
The lioness leaned off the frame and unfurled her arms as she pulled out a chair at the end of the table. Taking her seat, Jai laid out her arms on the surface and clasped her paws together. She gazed at Shen in appreciation. Though there was some flicker of guilt when she noticed the parallel scratch marks done by her claws.
As her brother, Shen had sacrificed and lost so much over the time that she had known him, giving things out to others whilst keeping almost none for his own. Jai almost thought of calling Shen a saint. He had not been the same since their return. He was happier, more open and joyful for all that happened in the end. Although, there was a still a splinter of darkness, a shroud of emptiness inside of Shen that Jai had noticed. Every night he would see his wife and son off to sleep, being with them till they were deep in sync with their dreams that he would leave the room discretely and disappear for hours long into the morning.
It was only by chance that she found him here in the kitchen. He had already come back from wherever it was he had slipped off to. And now that she was by her brother's side, the lioness didn't know what to say.
Stillness came over the room. Whereas Jai found it to be eerie and it sent her fur into a quiver, Shen welcomed the hush. During his time as the reclusive, vengeance-driven traveller Hei An, Shen spent a lot of his time in solitude and silence of the nights and daytimes. It was second nature to him.
Shen gave a side glance to his sister; he caught how tense her laced claws were. They raked into the wood, peeling back strips as if it was a peach's skin. The sound of her tail twitching behind her seat reached his ears. Jai bit her lip in nervous hesitation; another thing Shen did not fail to take note of. Shifting in his seat, the cat lifted his cup with a paw and held it just away from his lips. He continued to stare intensely at the single flame. "Something on your mind?" He enquired, easing the tension. Jai lifted her eyes to her younger sibling as Shen tilted his cup back and took a quiet sip of his tea.
Jai released a sigh as she hung her head a little and laid it in her paws, it practically gave the appearance of shame. "Shen, you know I don't mean to cause you any harm, right?"
The feline lowered his beverage from his mouth and nodded as he swallowed. "As far as I'm aware." He said, flashing a small smile to Jai.
The lioness giggled wearily to hide her anxiousness. She lifted her face out of her paws. "Yes. And…I know we've only been together for two months, or so, but" She ran a paw through the fur on her head and gave out a lasting breath. "I'm leaving."
Shen was lowering his cup when the announcement hit his ears. He froze. For a few seconds nothing happened, he said not a word. Eventually, much to Jai's respite, he slowly lowered the mug back onto the table. "With Leo." Shen acknowledged, in a whisper, more than questioned.
Jai bobbed her head. "He's going back to live with Husto and the pack. And they've all agreed that I tag along, become one of them." Shen said not a word, his stare stabbing into the candle flame. "I've thought hard and long on the decision ever since we came back. Husto has agreed to keep the pack close to the Valley of Peace and Xi'an should we ever be needed." Jai shifted her paw across the table but hesitated as her claws came inches within Shen's furry arm. "We may have been together only for a few months now, Shen, and I can understand the feelings and thoughts you might now have for me with what I've told you. I've never really done anything right by you as a sibling. And I won't deny you any anger or dark emotions you have towards me personally, but I have to follow my heart. I'm sorry."
The lioness started to pull her paw away from Shen when the feline lifted his arm and laid his own paw on top of hers. Jai looked down to his hold and then up to his face as he swung it round in her direction. She believed, if for a second, that the light from the candle flame had been sucked into Shen's eyes as they glowered more brightly that the candle itself. If it was anything that the male feline felt it was pride, gratitude and a never-ending love.
His smile; it was curled up and tight, not going anywhere. "No, Jai, there is no need for you to be sorry. Your life is your own and I can never change that. We may have lived separate lives since the day of our births, but we belong together in flesh, blood and soul. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can ever take that away from us." Shen got up from his seat, walking round and kneeling in front of his sister in her chair. His paw never left hers. Their eyes, the same ever-lasting burn of raging fires shimmered with the signs of an unbreakable bond. "You are my sister, and I am your brother. We will always be family. Always." Though restless and tired she was, Jai felt a tightness in her cheeks as she smiled greatly. The reflective glitter of tears threatened to fall down her muzzle. "And besides," Shen added as he lowered his gaze and placed a paw up against her abdomen, laying it across the growing bulge of fur beneath the bottom of her robe top. Jai stared down to her lower torso. It had been just over eight weeks since Jai and Leo's encounter in the snowy tree tops of the Dragon Pass Mountains. And as the days went by, the signs began to show. Jai was expecting with cubs. Shen beamed a larger grin. "it'll be good for your cubs. They'll have a wonderful life and a loving family to protect them. Your choice was good, Jai. Leo will be a great Father." Shen lifted his nose to Jai, the pregnant lioness meeting her brother's tender looks. He could see the worry in his sister's golden orbs. Shen could sympathise; she was afraid of being a terrible mother, dejection by her children. To ease her apprehension he gave a smile full of support. "And you will be a magnificent Mother. I just know it."
Jai could no longer stop herself; the tears had broken through and trailed down the sides of her muzzle. She leapt up from her seat and lunged onto Shen, knocking him onto his backside. The black cat laughed as he felt the female wrap her arms around his shoulders. Shen patted Jai's back and drew her in close. He could feel the tingling touch of her tears running through the fur on his neck. He was careful not to pull her too close for fear of the cubs growing inside Jai's womb. Yet he wanted her close, secretly fearing that it may be the last time he'll be with his sister alone like this ever again.
Shen drew away from his sister as he sat on his backside whilst she kneeled in front of him. Shen smirked with a strong smirk, hiding the tears and worry as if wearing a mask. He cupped Jai's face in his paws. "Mama and Baba would be proud." It had to be said, the words that Shen knew Jai had never heard for so long since their separation and the burning of their home. The lioness tried hard not to cry, but the potency of Shen's words broke her heart with both sorrow and vanity. Shen swiped away the salty liquids with his thumbs. His eyes then took a curious change. The yellow orbs evaporated of their distress and the mask was no longer needed. "How about a cup of herbal tea? One more drink before you set out, just you and me. Brother and sister."
Wiping the pads of fur beneath her glowing ember eyes, Jai sniffed as Shen got to his feet and offered her his paw. The pregnant female was hoisted to her feet and she gave a loving smile. "I'd love one."
I let my eyes fall down a touch, sinking to the village below that sparkled with the tiny dots of lit lanterns. A heavy weight of sadness bites at them, threatening more tears to come up. I manage to hold them back with a sniff from my dry nose. The breeze picks up, now slicing into my fur. I shudder but still don't feel the bitter chill.
It was two weeks later Jai left. Never one good at saying farewell, she and Leo actually tried to escape from the Palace. I smirk at the idea of their attempting to elude any of the residents here in the Valley of Peace. Though I do wonder how they escaped Shifu's large furry ears. Those things like alarms systems sitting on top of his head, I guarantee it. I chuckle with a sense of self-amusement. How I had watched their movements. I slap a paw up to my face and somehow laugh harder as darkness comes over my sight and I see the mated pair move through my mind.
I swear, though, I had seen Po move with better stealth tactics, and he sucked at it – man, it's hard hold in this laughter and think about it at the same time- pretty badly.
Night had already fallen around the great hills that rose up around the still Jade Palace. Their green patches of foliage dipped into the bleak gloom of the carpeting black and blue sky. Not even the tallest tips of the mountain precipices caught the fiery gold shine of the dying sun. The air was light with frost and held an acrimonious sense of darkness with the ever wondering breeze that crept over the fallen layers of snow.
In the bloodless, pale sky something broke into the silence of the calm night. The wintry ground crackles as a warrior's paw breaks the hard earth. By the entrance of the dormitories Jai's gleaming eyes sweep back and forth as she glanced out across the speckled stone pathway running along the edge of the mountainside, past the Peach Cliff – where the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom and the young sprout at its side sat – and the frozen gardens, leading to the main Arena. The lioness leaned round the edge of the entrance, keeping to the shadows. Only her lightened eyes seem to give away her position.
From out of the fogginess behind her, Leo's long grey muzzle and handsome white mask revealed itself. He curled up his nose and took a few good whiffs of the cool air, smelling no scent of anyone along winds and the path. His pointy ears cocked forward, making sure his most trusted sense was not mistaken. There was not a sound in the night. The lupine dropped his face down to his mate. Leo tapped Jai's shoulder for the sign to move.
The two-month pregnant female sped across the stone walkway, her padded feet making no sound as she swept over the floor; almost with a floating-like illusion. Swinging his muzzle and checking one last time of the clearing Leo took bolted in her wake. Together, in complete silence, sharing no communication but sharp signals the two creatures moved about the grounds of the Palace with the swiftness of ghosts. They had made it to the front of the Palace, outside the large red doors of the Sacred Hall of Warriors. The jade tile floorings were littered with flecks of fallen snowflakes, most of it brushed aside in heaps by the Palace staff men. Jai and Leo did little to hide here; they were far away from anyone who would more likely still be awake.
The towering Pure One's oceanic blue orbs, with the splinter of green in the left iris, spied the icy steps. He took the lead and timidly pawed each step, making sure that when Jai followed after him she would not slip and risk endangering their unborn cubs. The wolf was about two steps down when he stopped and turned to Jai. "Okay," He growled in a whisper. "come on, it's safe." Leo held out a paw for his mate to take hold of.
Jai flattened her ears and snarled in warning as she placed a claw to her lips. "Shhh! We'll be caught!"
Leo rolled his sapphire eyes at her stubbornness. "Don't worry." His eyes flashed a reassuring smile. "It's perfectly safe, no one can hear- whoa!" The wolf had taken another step down and had misjudged the surface of the ice covering the stone footstep as his feet went sliding out beneath him.
A look of surprise and wonderment came over the lupine's muzzle as he toppled to the floor and went bouncing down the steps in an echo of painful grunts and groans. Jai winced every time he rebounded; more to the fact that his cries of discomfort were ringing throughout the entire Palace. Yet the sight of seeing a Blood Knight – a tough and powerful animal – go through such an amusing event, someone would be mad not to laugh. Jai tried to maintain a sturdy face whilst biting her tongue to hold back the laughter that tickled at her sides. They came out in strained giggles and snickers.
So much for subtleness.
As Leo finally reached the Arena stage and slid to a halt on his front, legs sprawled out eagle style, Jai managed to take in a deep breath as she cautiously trotted down the stairs to run up to her mate. Leo pushed himself up onto his knees as he shook his head to rid the dizziness that rushed over him. He blinked stupidly and lifted his eyes to Jai as she placed herself at his side. The old 'I-told-you-so' look was all about her beautiful face. Leo's cheeks reddened and grew hot with shame and embarrassment. For a creature who was naturally born for stealth and delicacy that was one major mess-up. Leo lifted a paw in defeat. "I know." He whimpered. "I know: I was wrong."
"Good." Jai accepted the apology. She flashed a smile and kissed her lover on the lips quickly. "Let's go." She lifted the tall wolf to his feet as they both ran down the steps of the stage and out to the front gates. They were careful going down the Thousand Steps; being sure no repeat of Leo's slip-up was made, though a few sliding and wobbles did occur. Eventually having reached the bottom, thankful neither of them bundled their way down, Leo took a grasp of Jai's paw as the two of them ran through the main street of the village.
The mated pair paused and cast a side-glance to Mr Ping's restaurant, thinking fondly of the time when Po had introduced them and the rest of the pack to the old goose. They were welcomed warmly by the noodle maker, not a splinter of doubt or judgement in his joyful eyes. At the first sight of them, along with the villagers, the restaurant owner was generous enough to dish out free bowls to everyone both Blood Knights and villagers alike for saving the world. It was the least that could be done. Po chipped in with the work. So much laughter, so many jokes. Jai couldn't help but smile fondly through her golden eyes under the curved archway to the closed shop. The lioness switched her head to Leo as the wolf placed a kind paw on her shoulder. The same look was in his own oceanic irises.
With a bob of their muzzles, the two lovers turned away from Noodle Shop and pursued onwards – to the edge of the village.
Though as they left, neither the lioness nor the wolf managed to spot the watchful stare of a pair of fiery yellow eyes piercing at them; shining brighter than the lanterns that ran up the side of the road. The figure was lying across the rooftops, hidden in with the shadows of the building. They pushed up onto their hind legs and rose against the gloom of the darkened sky. The mysterious figure's irises narrowed down to slits. And, with a tighten of their lips and professional silence they leapt up onto the roof of Ping's restaurant and onto the following building; heading after Jai and Leo.
The couple ran hard and fast, though keeping a weary pace for Jai to maintain the chance that she would not overdo herself and injure the cubs dwelling within her womb. They moved with such quickness that their bodies seemed like blurs in the fogginess of the night. Their feet barely touched the cobbled road.
Along the way, Leo's ears cocked backwards and he pulled on his muzzle. His black nose taking in quick whiffs of a scent; it belonged to neither him nor his mate's. His striped tail rose into the air. The grey lupine slowed his run and spun so that he was facing back down the street. Jai noticed Leo's halt and stopped at his side. Her breathing was heavy but controlled.
She could see the insecurity in his behaviour. "What is it?" Her tail swished in anxiety.
Leo lifted his nose and he sniffed the cold air. His irises dilated as he curled up his lips and revealed the rows of silvery fangs and purple gums in a warning snarl. "We're being followed."
Jai felt her stomach churn, whether it was the growing cubs inside of her or the twist of trepidation, she suddenly wished that she had her throwing knives or sword on her body. "Are you sure?"
Jai now was shaking with fear, her auburn fur quivering as she dreaded the sense of danger that seemed to hug close to her heart; it was not of herself that she worried for, rather the ones that had yet be born. She came up behind Leo and stared past his arms down the road. Though a light mist hovered just above the floor and the flickering lights of the candles in the lanterns did well to illuminate any darkness of the road and joining streets a heavy sense of trepidation snapped at the air. The village was silent in a slumbering stagnation.
After what seemed like hours, through it had only been a minute or two, Leo dropped his muzzle and hushed the snarl in his throat. His ears swivelled atop his head for the signs of a pursuer as he could pick out not a single sound besides the low howl of the winter winds that snaked through the fissures of the settlement. The wolf lifted his head high and squinted. "Hmmm," He growled. "maybe I was wrong." He looked down to Jai who clutched his large arm in her paws. "Maybe it's my mind playing tricks on me." He forced a small grin with which Jai returned. Leo's muzzle swung round to the path leading out of the village.
And as he did so, his nose came within an inch of a feline's face, littered with scars. The cat's eyes burned a fierce yellow, his teeth bared in a toothy grin.
"Evening." Shen said to the wolf.
Leo didn't know what scared him more; the fact that Shen had suddenly appeared from out of nowhere right in front of him like a so silently, without the Blood Knight detecting him, or the knowing fact that his and Jai's escape plan had shattered into a million pieces. Either way, the Pure One was so stunned that he jumped back and landed on his backside. Jai was almost just the same. Shen had to hold in his laughter and not wake the villagers from their sleep, but seeing his sister with her fur standing out as if she had been struck by lightning was almost too much for the sibling to hold in. The best he could muster was a light chuckle.
"Shen?" Leo acknowledged.
The feline stuck out a paw to the wolf and helped him to his feet. "Looks like you're losing your touch, Leo." Jai's fur strands settled back down into their smooth coat.
The look of humiliation filled the white mask covering the wolf's face; he turned a gentle shade of pink and gained attention on his feet. He met Shen's gaze again. "What are you doing here, Shen?"
The black cat crossed his arms over his chest and gave both his sister and pronounced brother-in-law a hard glare. "The same reason you are. You think you could just get up and leave the Valley of Peace in the middle of the night without at least one person knowing?" Failure now swelled in both the lioness' and wolf's eyes. They seemed like children getting a scolding from their parent. "Though I do admit, I may not have noticed your leave without the screams and grunts of what sounded like someone falling down some stairs." Shen ogled Leo. Jai glared daggers to the wolf. The Blood Knight was helpless to deny anything.
Leo sighed heavily, the warm air puffing from his long muzzle and forming a cloud of condensed heat. His ears dropped flat against his head as he laced his claws with Jai's and pulled her close. "We wanted to make sure that no one would cry or grieve for our leaving. Jai only told you because you had a right to know as her brother." He gave Jai a loving smile. "The others would understand if we left in secret." Leo motioned to the edge of the village. The outline of the farm fields and the forest trees could be seen in the distance. "Husto, Kella and the rest of the pack are waiting by the village borders in the forest."
Shen hiked both of his eyebrows and he turned to look out to the woodland silhouette. An expression of contemplation fell over his face; he lifted up a paw and started to scratch his chin in thought. "Then they can wait a little longer." Jai and Leo dipped each an eyebrow in confusion. "Come with me," He commanded softly, reaching up and taking a lantern in his paw. Shen faced his sister and her lover over his shoulder. The light escaping through the top opening of the lamp flickered across the bottom of his face, giving Shen a spectral appearance. "there's something I want to show you."
Through eerie silence, Shen took the lead of Jai and Leo. The trio moved with an unhurried pace to the farmer residents of the border of the village. It was here Shen took off from the road and walked with purpose into the fields of the farmers, though being careful not to trample any of the vegetation. He lifted the lantern up to his face and gazed out to the very thing he was heading towards. Jai and Leo came in his wake. Without the shelter of the building to protect them, the winds whipped and snapped at the trio, but the two felines and wolf had long since grown use to the cold feeling of the winter season. Their furs rippled like waves in the breezes.
It didn't take them long till Shen came to a stop beneath the baron twigs and branches of a tree. Jai and Leo rolled their eyes back in wonderment. Their minds synchronically speculating why it was Shen had brought them here. The cat, himself, was not looking up but rather down to the roots at the very base of the tree. His honey-coloured orbs sparkled, the tiny sign of a tear pushing from the corner. He did well to hold it back. For at the roots, there stood a flower.
A White Rose.
Its petals were a pure white, almost making it blend in with the snowed field it sat in. The green leaves flapped in the gusts but the stem held strong. Though a little crushed it was from when Shen had used it juices in the past to cure the Dragon Warrior when he was poisoned, the flower was an overall beautiful creation of nature. It had been just over fourteen months since Shen had planted it in the last twilight spells of the holidays. The black feline lowered himself into a crouch and placed the lantern in the snow as he lifted one of the petals tenderly with his claws. He beamed a wavering smile that was born of knowing happiness and saddened loss.
"Shen," Jai's sweet voice called. The cat faced her. "what is this place? Why did you bring us here?"
Shen released the hold on the single glistening tear in the corner of his eye, it rolled down the shape of his cheek. "The truth is, Jai, I originally wanted to show this place only to you." His stare was fixed on the White Rose. "But since the two of you have been mated and are now part of a bigger family, I believe it best that you both see it."
"But what?" Leo enquired. "Shen…see what?"
Shen ran his gaze up the body of the tree and placed his paw against its wooden bark. He could feel her presence, his Mother, running through the veins of the tree and into his body. She was now what gave this piece of nature life. "When I was in the cave with Shifu and the others on the hunt for the White Rose, we were caught in the middle of a blizzard storm."
"We know of it, Shen." Leo admitted. "We followed you, remember?"
"Yes." Shen accredited. "Though because the blizzard was so wild you did not hear what was said. When Shifu spoke of my past and our parents, Jai, he left no part out. He even told me of the place where he had buried our Mother after our Father killed her and the bandits had left." Shen stood back and an erected his back, and with a motion of his raised arms to the great tree before them all a sense of pride filled the tone in his voice. "It was here that he buried her, all those years ago when I was but a cub." He spun round to the wolf and lioness. He mainly regarded Jai. "Right below our feet lays our Mother, Jai. This is her resting place, no one can touch it. It legally belongs to the Grand Master of the Jade Palace so no one can spoil it or destroy it. It shall forever remain as it is in nature's care."
Sadness. It was what Jai first expected to overcome her. It was not, to her surprise. Only an ever-growing pain of guilt, wrapping around her heart and soul; chilling her more coldly than the wintery night in which she stood amongst. The ground burned her feet; a tightness on her chest, as if she was being squeezed by an invisible force. Her lips felt dry and chapped. Having spent parts of her life in search of the grave where her Mother lay, clawing at even the tiniest of rumours and hints as to its whereabouts Jai never thought to look in the one place where she had witnessed the murder of her parent. The truth hurt. It stung with more vigour than any blow she had ever taken.
The lioness's knees wobbled and her legs trembled. Jai held sturdy. Stepping forward, out of her lover's claws and pass Shen; rising up a paw, Jai placed it against the smooth yet frosty surface of the bark.
She could feel something. A vibe of energy, tingling the pads of her paw. The sensation was new to Jai; she no longer could feel the cold season air on her fur or the snow beneath her feet. Only a warming perception filled her body from the inside. Jai gasped, at first believing that it was her mind playing tricks on her eyes. It wasn't real! Could I have only been a figment of her imagination? Maybe it was genuine. Coming to comprehend what she was baring witness to was very real, Jai felt enlightened. She could see right past the wooden surface of the tree and into the core of its trunk. There tiny sparkles of light – about the size of fireflies – flickered as they ran through the veins of the wood; reaching all the way from the tips of the tallest branch to the roots that dug deep in to heart of the earth. And there it did not stop, all around more and more, endless streams of light dots pulsed and throbbed.
She could see it all.
The world was full of energy, as if it was one gigantic heart; pumping the blood – the energy – all throughout the planet. It almost brought tears to the amazed lioness' bouncing orbs. Maybe it was this that her brother wanted to see. Or was it her Mother?
Shen stood with a smile on his face, lifting up a paw and placing it against the bark, joining in with his sister as she gazed to him and him back. Shen eyed Leo, who only could wonder at the phenomenon that his mate and foster brother shared. Shen beckoned him over. The wolf was hesitant and gave a quiet whimper as he padded up to the shrub and laid his big grey paw onto the tree. As soon as one of his claws made contact with the timber, the Pure One sharply exhaled as the marvel of the secrets to the universe were passed into his eyes and mind.
The lupine laughed in delight.
Shen's grin broadened all the more. His eyes held a cautious glint – he always saw this.
Every hour, minute and second, everywhere he looked, Shen saw what Jai and Leo had only bared witness to. He did not need to touch the tree. It was gift that he had received not too long ago. Apart from the memories of his time amongst the Eternal Plains – the Afterlife – Shen was blessed to see the energy of not only the world but the entire universe stream through all living creation, spirit and soul down to the tiniest of insects. A little something that the Green-Eyed wolf – The Creator of Life – had sanctified, so that Shen may perceive the wonder of what the Creator gazed upon every day and every night.
The happiness that enveloped the trio was shattered suddenly. The sobs, of the lioness, they destroyed the serenity and tranquillity of the moment. The tears were unstoppable, the whimpers increasing. Leo moved to comfort his mate and released his paw from the tree. The sight of the energy left him. Shen lashed out his arm and blocked the wolf. The shadowy cat shook his head as he stepped towards his sister. He did not try to comfort her or coo her sniffles. He only stood beside her – understanding her cries, the tears. The question simply had to be asked.
Jai drew in a shaky breath. Her voice was surprisingly straight and steady. Her paw remained planted on the bark. "Do you think they forgive me, Shen?" Jai lifted her head and turned it to face her brother. "Do you think Mama and Baba truly forgive me, even for all I've done?"
That was the question, the exact words that Shen wished and desired to hear. Having died and seen his parents, hearing and remembering the words of their conversation all too well, Shen had to not even think on the idea of if he should lie or tell the truth.
The feline snatched Jai's shoulders and jerked her onto him, tightening his arms around her and holding the back of her head as his claws raked through the suave, beautiful gold of her auburn fur. Jai held back no wails of sadness and grieving guilt that had been withdrawn inside of her for many a year. She could let it out, all of it. And what better way to do so than with the person who was closer to her than ever before. She was safe in his embrace, free of the darkness and evil spirits of the world that threatened to tear her away from everything she loved. Her life was now truly free. The female wept harder.
"They do, Jai." Shen cooed into her ear, clamping his eyes shut as he drew in a hissing breath to battle the waterfall of tears that leaked down his cheeks. "They do."
Minutes passed by before Leo reluctantly stepped forward.
"We need to go," He growled compassionately. "they're waiting."
Shen and Jai pulled apart, wiping their dampened fur patches. Shen glanced to his sister with a forced smile. "You should get going." He said, moving off back to the village.
Jai gave Leo a pleading stare. The wolf curled his muzzle in a sympathetic and submissive grin and wheeled round, reaching out to grasp hold of Shen's shoulder. "Come with us." He growled welcomingly. Shen faced he white mask on the wolf's face as Leo motioned with a wave of his arm towards the woodlands that stood off to the distance. "I think they'll want one more audience with the saviour of the world."
The last walk was made to be slow, giving Shen, Leo and Jai all the time they could summon to be as a family together. Though much was not said, smiles and glowing eyes spoke words that did not be declared or expressed. They smiled with their lips and their eyes. Jai held onto her lover's bulky arm as Shen strode at their side. Through the mist of the farmlands they marched, the tall spikes of the bamboo and pine trees taking shape and rising high into the starry sky above as the trio approached.
Shen felt his grin stretch.
Standing there was a collection of various animals.
At the front was a tall wolf; he wore no clothes but his long black fur, mixed the shabby line of grey running up from powerful hind legs to his broad shoulders where they spiralled into circles did well to hide the toned muscular body, honed by a lifetime of hunting and survival. The tips of his pointed ears were dull in a gloomy ashen torrent. A pair of mighty oceanic blue irises, with a fleck of green in the right one, shimmered brightly in the night, giving the hard stare of a leader with the gentle glow of a Father. This was Husto, Leo's brother.
At his side, a slightly shorter wolf stood. This was a she-wolf. Her fur was a brilliant white. She was slimmer but had all the qualities of both a lupine and a Blood Knight. Kella, Husto's mate. Around her two cubs stood clutching at her legs. Their little ears cocked forward with interest.
These creatures, this pack, were the Pure Ones.
Shen hiked his eyebrows in question, for all of the pack, even the youngest of cubs and eldest members did not wear their trademark blood tinted feral eyes. Only the colours of which their eyes had been born with. Shen remained a space away from the group as Leo walked up to his brother and took him in a sibling hug. Jai and Kella were just the same, surprising Shen that the female alpha wolf did not object or growl as the lioness sauntered up to the pack. They embraced each other like long lost relatives.
Shen's smile returned again. His worries for his sister had left him completely. Husto pulled away from Leo and faced the feline. "I must thank you, saviour." The Blood Knight growled in gratitude. "If it were not for you I would have never met my brother again. Your leadership and sacrifices has allowed us to be no longer feared by your kind. Your Emperor is safe from harm. Word has already spread far; many Pure Ones are coming down from the mountains and hiding, joining among the civilized kind. They are welcoming each other as it should have been all those years ago. We cannot thank you enough."
Kella stepped ahead of her mate. Her tail wagged contentedly behind her. The she-wolf was slightly taller than Shen and gazed down on him past her slim muzzle. "You have protected not only our home, saviour, but both of our kinds all over the world." Kella stepped aside and lifted her paw to the entire pack. "We can now live in peace, knowing that there is a brighter future on the horizon. The sun shines brightly for Blood Knights and non-ferals alike. Stories of what you have achieved will be passed on till the ends of time, long after you have moved on into the Afterlife."
As much as Shen heeded the Alpha' words he knew what awaited for him when he would die and move on back to the Stone Den. His friends and family would be anticipating his arrival, with welcome open arms. It would be wonderful to see them again, but Shen was patient and felt no need to rush. He wasn't afraid of death anymore; he could only wait for the day when his spirit would leave its aged or battered shell and watch as his children and grandchildren grew and lived from the sky. Although he had the knowledge that what Kella spoke of to be true, Shen did not ask for it. The outcome of the battle in the village of Xi'an and stopping Hei Xin – a traitorous Blood Knight – from killing the Emperor of China and overpowering all those who eventually have followed in his rule and bowed down to him was victorious for the light. Darkness had fallen. Many of the ferals who had been part of his army had scattered and were too afraid or cowardly to even think of fighting back and rising up again. Shen felt no glory in the memory of the clash that occurred and slaughtering men who had only been manipulated by Hei Xin's lies, becoming nothing but pawns in his game till they proved useless. Or became meals for the Pure Ones who would come under the eagle's wing. He could only hope that any other packs of Blood Knights out there would allow the ferals shelter and comfort amongst creatures who understood them.
It was then, Shen's eyes darkened with guilt. As well as many of Hei Xin's cohorts having died on the battlefield, more numbers of Husto's pack had perished as well. Men and women who laid down their lives to follow in Shen's cause. The feline's saddened gaze landed on the many of cubs and younglings who all stared at him; most were happy. Yet those with angered and depressed glares told Shen what he feared – they had lost their parents and were now orphans among the pack, consequences of his actions.
Shen lifted his head up to Kella and shook it, much to her and Husto's confusion. "No, I have caused too much pain and suffering for others. I have killed and maimed more enough to haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. I see the children and lovers of your pack," glances were swapped amongst the Pure Ones "they have lost the people they love most dearly because of what I lead you guys into. Many are dead and can never be reclaimed again like the way I returned." Shen tugged on the line of his robe and pulled it aside till the scar on his chest from where Chou-Hen – the General of Hei Xin's army – had run a sword through his heart. It was clear for all to see. "This mark shall be on my body till the day I die. And though it will remind me that I came back to that which I love so much and fought so hard for, I shall also make it a reminder of all those who gave their lives for what we have achieved." Shen readjusted his top robe and looked mainly to the young ones of the pack. "I promise you."
"But She-" Leo tried to speak.
"But nothing!" The feline snapped in the form of a snarl, silencing the grey wolf. Kella took a step away from Shen in fear. "I would not have these cubs," Shen thrust out his paw towards the younglings. "grow up knowing that when I lead their parents into battle I was snatching them away!" There was a sign cracking in the feline's voice, the burning of tears were tearing at his eyes. They caught the gleam of the faint moonlight that highlighted the mist which bordered the forest. Jai felt her heart beginning to grow fissures and break. "They have a right to have their parents at their sides! And others should have lovers in their arms to embrace them!" The pack and Jai could only look on as Shen trembled, his entire body shook. The tears were dropping. "Those men and women who died out there, those…those Pure Ones should not have given their lives for me or for anyone." Jai came away from Leo, slowly passing Husto and Kella. "I...I could have saved them. I could….could have spared them so…so much pain." Jai was in front of her brother now, standing before him face-to-face. Shen lifted his head, his fur drenched with tears. "I…I could have spared…so much pain." He reached out and took hold of Jai's arms. His legs collapsing beneath him as Jai took hold and crouched down with him. "…I…I could have saved them….but I didn't…!" Shen buried his head in Jai's robe, not out of embarrassment or disgrace but for the need for comfort. "…but I didn't…!"
Never before had the pack seen such behaviour, especially coming from one who was an adult. All manner of a mature character had left Shen, shrinking him back into the frightened cub he was on the night Keera – his Mother – had died. Jai cradled her younger brother in her arms, stroking his head and whispering gentle hushes in his ear. Those among the pack, who had lost someone that they cared deeply for to the battle of Xi'an, could no longer hold their anger and hatred towards the feline. They knew he meant what he said. The pain was in his crying eyes. All of loathe and envy for Shen was lost as a breeze passed along the treeline. Everyone's fur brushed sideways and they remained still, ogling the crumbling Shen on his knees. Only pity and sympathy remained, the rest was blown away with the winds.
And as Shen wept hard into his sister's clothes, one member of the pack, a little cheetah cub, came out from the group. He crawled out on all four of his paws, tail swaying behind him in curls as he padded up to Shen and Jai. The pack's attention was drawn to the child. This cub once had parents, a Mother and Father whom to call his own and love him with all their hearts; now they were dead. He would never see them again. And yet, as he slipped his way to Shen's side, seeing the dirge feline held by the lioness, the cheetah cub stretched out his neck and nuzzled the fur of Shen's quivering arm. Purring with his eyes closed, he rubbed his head up and down Shen's forearm.
The crying black feline sucked in his tears and drew away from his sister as he gazed down with curiosity to the cheetah. The cub continued to purr and nuzzle him. Shen looked to Jai for guidance; the lioness was a stumped by the cub's choice of action as much as him. The youngling soon opened his eyes and stared up to Shen with such innocence; it wore no smile, only a sparkle of benevolence. Shen placed his arm around the cheetah and swallowed the lump in his throat as he hunched over and used his forehead and cheek to nuzzle the little one back. A purr rippled from his muzzle and the cub did the same as Shen gave a sigh of relief.
The cub had forgiven him.
One by one they came, the first being those who had no longer had any parents; the cubs crawling forward to join their brother as they all crowded round Shen and craved, with patient satisfaction, to be touched by both the murderer and the saviour of their families. Then the adults joined them, with Leo taking a seat by his foster brother's side and taking both of his siblings into his arms. Soon enough, Shen was completely surrounded by the entire pack. The only ones who stayed out of the growing huddle were Husto and Kella.
The black wolf's aging face curled at its muzzle and he grinned; smiling through his eyes. Kella saw the glint in her mate's oceanic blue eyes, the splinter of green in his right iris shining more powerfully than she had seen in a long time, since the day that Leo relinquished his position as Alpha male to Husto and left the pack on the cold wintery night up in the mountains of the Dragon's Pass. The she-wolf growled blissfully as she stepped under Husto's chin and lifted her muzzle, rubbing against his fur lovingly. The Alpha whimpered with delight as he snuggled her back.
Husto had made many howls in his lifetime, all of them echoing into the night air when the moon would shine upon the world and set everything in a pale luminous gleam. The black lupine gazed to the stars, seeing the full circle in all of its glory as the fog began to settle around him. Instinct came over. For whenever reason Husto – a Pure One wolf – would stare up to the moon and he would think of the Creator of Life; thankful to all that was given. Now, when the lupine ogled the ball of white he was gratified not to the Creator but to his new found friend and adoptive brother – Shen.
He could not hold it in any longer; Husto opened his maw, drew back his pointy grey-tipped ears flat against his skull and cried a howl unlike any other. Kella sang her howl with Husto, drawing the attention of all the wolves of the pack as they lifted their muzzles to the starry night. Even the canine pups howled the cutest of tunes. Shen, Jai and Leo faced each other. The trio nodded at each other as Leo arched out his back and joined in with his family, singing their great melody of friendship and love. Both mourning those who had moved on to the Eternal Plain and forewent to dance among the stars, whilst also celebrating the freedom that had started to spread all over the world.
That symphony of angels ended in waking up the entire Valley of Peace.
I am not embarrassed of the fact I cried like when I did as a cub. There is no regret in my actions. Only a knowing sense that even though I was forgiven by all of the pack for taking away much of their family, I will continue to keep my promise. As I think back to that cold winter's night, the claws of my paw climb up to my chest, slipping into flaps of my robe as they trace over the scars I had earned from my years. My black claws find the ever-healing scar over my heart. I shudder at the touch.
It was then another paw came over my shoulder and slid on top of my own inside my robe. The claws lace with my own and squeeze gently. The sound of seductive purring coos my ear; I feel the pressing of a body against my back. "So this is where you slip off to." My wife – Fu – whispers.
I drop my head and sigh in defeat. "I hoped you wouldn't come to realize." I growl shamefully.
"It's okay," She leans her head on my back, cushioned by the years of built muscles. Her other paw slips around my waist and comes up to my chest, holding me closer to her or vice versa. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
My shoulders slump forward. I exhale heavily. "I miss her." I say vaguely. My yellow gold orbs staring out to the far horizon of mountains and precipices. "She's out there, somewhere."
The feel of Fu's muscles constrict as she grips me tighter. "I know, I know; she was my sister too." I know she means that in as my wife, Fu was connected to Jai by family commitment, yet the attempts of consoling me escape my hollow shell of a body like a distant echo. Although her words are true. She had pardoned my sister of all her crimes in understanding that both mine and Jai's past were one of the same – pushed forward only by blackness. Then I hear my lover say. "I only wish she hadn't gone off with them butt-naked."
A chuckle forces its way up my throat. She had me there. After the event of my breakdown in front of the pack, the cheetah cub nuzzling at my side and the great symphony song by the angels of the Valley it was time for me to part with Jai. Agonizing it was – I cannot deny that. I was never one for goodbyes. They seemed too heart breaking. It was my reason for simply vanishing from Shifu, Po and the Furious Five on the night that Tigress was deemed to survive her wounds from the battle with Chen Hue Leigh – my Father. The truth after the outcome of the fight, finding out that he was my biological relative was quite a strain on my emotions.
Mine and Jai's farewell was brief. Yet I remember it feeling like an eternity for the both of us. As the pack and Leo gave us the privacy to say out goodbyes, neither of us said anything. What words could be said? So long? See ya? Keep in touch if you ever get the chance? No. We spoke not a single syllable to one another. It was with our last acts as sibling that we conversed all that needed to be said.
We hugged, clasping each other so firmly that our claws tore at our skins. No more tears were shed. I guess the best way to describe it was that we were dried out.
As we pulled apart, sharing our last moment together as brother and sister, our claws slipping apart; I felt the flow of energy from her spirit leave me. I was empty again. She backed up slowly to Leo who stood in line with Husto and Kella. All these creatures, these Blood Knights, staring at me – smiling. I can't fully explain what I did next, it was like this urge. Like that time I was up in the Dragon Pass Mountains when me and the Kung Fu Masters had narrowly escape my Father's gang – The Thousand Arrows – and I had roared out my anger at his betrayal of me, seen as I had hired him unknowingly of the truth at the time. I believed it was that animal spirit, writhing inside its cage somewhere inside of me, wanting to be free. I had let it go, though only to a small extent. With massive control, thanks to my fully feral capabilities, I blinked my golden eyes and had transformed them into the fully feral colour of a dark crimson red.
Jai was the first to comply, comprehending my just cause. Leo copied her, then Husto and Kella. Before long, a sea of red eyes was beaming towards me. Soon Husto and Kella turned away to walk away and into the shadows of the forest. A part of me wished to follow, but my place was among my own kind. Leo and Jai were the last to go. And as I witnessed my older sister leave, she stopped and faced me as she gave one last glance and a wink of her perfect eyes. She then vanished into the trees.
As soon as she was gone I turned to leave, letting myself stay fully feral to enjoy the moment of its power. A big mistake on my behalf. I never saw it coming, not even my heightened sense of hearing detected what happened before it was too late. After taking five steps a force struck me at the back of my head. I was lifted off my feet and sent crashing, face first into the snow. Picking my muzzle out of the cold surface, with the appearance of a white beard on my chin I felt the soft touch of a bundle of clothes on my head. There was fading laughter from the tree line. I pulled the wad from my head and eventually understood as I saw what they were. If Jai was going to be a part of the Pure Ones then she would have to live their way. No clothes but the fur on her back. Leo's pants were among the heap.
It's weird to think of my sister running with wild animals completely naked, but the situation is coherent. I'm sure she's not too fond of it either. However, we both know she'll adapt over time. And though separate and so far away from each other we are, I can tell from the depths of my heart that somewhere out there, in the massive expanse of horizon, my older sister stares back at me.
"It's her calling." I say ultimately.
There was a sharp gasp from my wife behind me and a quick jolt in my back. I twist in her arms and face the lynx who I have loved since the day we first met by the fruit stand down in the valley. Fu places a paw down on her torso, where there is a growing bulge. I kneel down and place both my paws on her rotund stomach, sensing the warmth of her fur. With my gift from the Green- Eyed wolf I can see the sparkles of energy running through her body, and in the little cub that still waits to be born from her womb. This spark of life was conceived on the very night that Ling and his men stormed into our house and swiped me away to the Dragon Pass Mountains. It was only because of all that had happened no-one noticed Fu was pregnant.
Thankfully, after we had returned here to the Jade Palace and the months passed on by, with Fu getting frequently sick after most meals – to which Po thought he had lost his touch of the culinary arts – and a trip to the Valley's local doctor the news was confirmed. Fu was with child again. I stand up to my feet again, sliding my hands up the front of my wife's body as she wraps her arms around my neck. We kiss, filled with pride for the child that is to come into our family. It's long and passionate.
Then something small, light and very cold lands on the tip of my nose. My eyes snap my eyes open and cross them over to focus on the end of my muzzle with hiked eyebrows. I pull away from the kiss and Fu watches in a fit of giggles as I scrunch up my face to the intruder of an amazing moment – a little snowflake. It quickly melts and I take in a deep breath before sneezing my lungs out. Fu now laughs at me. I stand there, wriggling my nose about then glare to my wife playfully. "Not funny." I snarl.
Fu covers her mouth with her paws and snickers through them. "I sorry." She manages to say between the sniggering. "It's just your face looked so funny, I've never seen it before."
I growl in a threatening but spirited manner. I tilt my head back and look up to the sky, seeing now that the moon is gone and the stars have faded. My parents with them. A bank of gloomy clouds settle down over the Valley, and from them comes the fluttering of tiny snowflakes that spin and twist to the ground all around us. Fu gasps with astonishment, whereas I remain silent. My wife then sneezes, not of her own will. The cold is nipping at her fur and skin. She furls her arms around her shoulders and shudders.
I too now feel the chill coming over me. I give another stare off into the distance, thinking one more time of my sister and the pack as I rub my paws together. I start to hope for my warm room and bed again. The same wish in in Fu's purple orbs. "We should be getting back to our room, I don't want to risk you getting a cold and endangering the cub."
Fu shakily bobs her head, clouds of hot breath leaking from her muzzle. "A-agreed." She's quivering. I fear for her now. Taking my lover by the waist I hold on her paws as we begin our descent down the stone steps of the Peach Cliff. We pass along the front of Sacred Hal of Warriors and along the footpaths leading to the dormitories. Thoughts of a comfy bed and well-deserved rest sounding justified. Slipping down the corridors to the barracks, I think of the times when I used to walk these corridors as a cub. Everyone is asleep and our steps are so quiet. We come outside my old room – which was once Tigress'.
The idea of the Kung Fu feline makes me pause as Fu slides the door open and steps inside. She heads straight for bed where our son is fast asleep beneath the covers. His little ears twitching as he dreamt. Turning over my shoulder to the door opposite, I hear the faint sounds of sleeping coming from behind the wall. Tigress and Po are deep into their slumber, getting the rest they need for tomorrow. They were going to need it. A tug of worry comes into my heart.
I walk into my room and close the door behind me. Fu is halfway in bed, pulling the covers over her body. She stops and looks to me in the darkness. "Is something wrong, Shen?"
Our eyes connect. She sees the concern. "Do you think the weather will disrupt the wedding tomorrow?" I enquire.
Fu smiles and shakes her head. "Not a chance. Tigress and Po have waited too long for this moment to slip through their fingers. They'll have the wedding tomorrow in the snow, rain, sleet or hail. Besides," Fu beckons me to join her in bed. I start to remove my robe. "now that Tigress is pregnant with her's and Po's child, Shifu is more determined to see his daughter married as soon as possible."
I laugh gently. That red panda really is too stubborn for his own good. He's a good Father figure though. Always has been. "I just hope I don't mess up."
Fu rolls her violet orbs. "Don't worry." She says as I slip in behind her, sliding my around her waist as I hug her close to me and feel the warmth of her body. "You'll be fine." She kisses me again.
"I hope so, because I'm the one giving the ceremony away." Now tired and sore from everything that my life had endured from my days as a cub to where I am now, I pull the covers over my family and rest my head against the softness of the pillow with my wife and son. Knowing fully well that there is a brighter future on the horizon and all is well, my eyes slowly close and before long a deep sleep overcomes me.