Disclaimer: I do not own Kung Fu Panda
How does it end?
As Po allowed the spirit of his feral ancestors take control as he landed on the cold slippery rooftop of the buildings outside the Forbidden Palace walls, his Steelwood staff grasped tightly in his hand, he kept behind Shen – following in the panther's path. Together they moved about the connected tops of the City with such speed and agility they had the facade of blurry spectres gliding through the night; leaping and jumping with such grace and dexterity. The cold winds of the midnight winter air howled past their hyper-sensitive ears and shabby fur coats, tickling the scars on their skin beneath.
Staying in the wake of his lifelong friend, Po never let his blazing scarlet irises falter off Shen's full-on sprinting body. Twenty years on..never having heard from Shen in all that time or from his family, and now I'm rushing over the streets of the Forbidden City in the middle of the night in search of Hao! Shen, Po sighed in his mind, you'll never change. Raising his staff with both hands above his head Po struck the rooftop and pole-vaulted himself over a large gap as Shen jumped the opening with ease onto the next building. Still..at least I'm out and doin' something. Those six months in the Palace have been murder for me! Shen was ahead by a few metres; keeping a small distance between him and Po as the two Blood Knights eventually passed over one of the City's inner walls that acted as a fallback for the citizens should the outer walls fail of the metropolis fail.
Po and Shen continued on into the heart of the suburbs, their bare feet making hardly any sound but the faint tap tap for every hurried step they took. Shen did not even stop to wait. Poor guy, Po sympathised, I don't blame him, and I can't. How could I? Sure..it wouldn't have killed him to write a letter now or then – I still do with Tai Lung and his family – but I cannot help but worry for Shen. Hao..Po's black and white fur shuddered unpleasantly. The idea of him being on the loose..all because of- The Dragon Warrior couldn't bring himself to think the words let alone say them. Damn it, Hao..I..I remember when you was just a cub..so innocent, and now? I..I dunno.
Up ahead Shen slowed to a halt as Po blinked back into reality and came up to stand beside the Survivor on the lip of a rooftop connected to a tower. Shen craned his neck to look at the tip before squatting down and summoning on his feral strength as he catapulted himself straight up and onto the slanted roof. Po squatted down and did the same. He landed on the tower's top lip and stepped slowly – the high cold winds brushing through his fur and the frost of the tiled rooftop stroking his bare feet – to stand beside Shen once more.
The Saviour was crouched low as his feral eyes scanned the region of the suburbs before him, sharp claws sinking into the tiles. Through his gifted eyes he saw the flecks of energy highlight the outlines of the buildings and the snow frosted streets below in all their details. With this gift Shen focused in on the smell that he had been following for about half their run from the Forbidden Palace. To a normal creature their dulled senses would not have been able to pick up the scent of blood in the air, but to Shen and Po – being Blood Knights – their sense of smell was attuned to the highest degree and beyond. To them it smelled as if they were standing right next to a dead corpse. Shen, however, had been using this scent trail alongside his vision; to him the smell of blood in the air was like a cloud of flickering fireflies leading down a path in the sky.
The two looked out at the outer reaches of the City with saddened eyes, Po especially. The Emperor may be one of the most awesomeness rulers that China as ever had..but he still keeps his people apart. It was not the best of places in the capital, but the lives that lived here were thankful nonetheless; this was the area where the peasants or those who could not afford the life of simple luxury were restricted to reside. Sure, anyone one could venture out across the City, it was just the matter of the other citizens seeing the place as the slums of the City and a haven for the criminals. Sadly, even though the first part – the regarding the title of slums – was a little exaggerated, both were true. I wish they weren't.
Consolidating himself to keep such thoughts from his mind, Po turned to Shen. The feline's black face looked like a shadow in the moonlight coming from behind them. "Shen," The panther grunted in acknowledgment. "why are you so worried for Hao? I mean, if it really is him that was makin' the commotion then..I dunno..wouldn't you be happy to know he did something good for China?"
Shen didn't turn back to look at Po. Instead the feral feline let his head drop as a sigh rolled between his teeth off the tip of his tongue. Vapour puffed from his muzzle and he ran a paw over his neck. Should I be? "If what Hao's done is done then I guess you could say that I am somewhat happy, Po.."
The panda sensed the hesitation. "But..?"
"If he's managed to accomplish the task I know he set out to do then I see no justice to it." Shen paused then shook his head, tears threatening to well in the bottom of his eyes. He did well to fight them off. "He's my son, Po..h-how can I support the things I've seen him to do to those responsible for what happened if it's jus' to satisfy his taste for blood? How can I get my boy back?"
Po's red orbs descended downwards in deep thought. How could he justify them? If all of what Shen had told him and the Son of Heaven back in the Forbidden Palace kitchen had been true - and Po knew Shen as one not to lie on such matters – then maybe his search for Po had become the last stretch of hope to saving Hao; if need be, from himself. Letting his gaze travelled till it was on the distraught Black Panther again, Po reached up his free paw and gripped his friend's shoulder with sympathy. Shen sniffed and rubbed his cold wet nose with his forearm.
"Hey..don't worry." He said softly through the growls of his feral voice. "Everything will be okay, you'll see. We'll find Hao and sort everything out. He may be your son, Shen, but he's also like a nephew to me. I'll never let anything happen to him. You know that, right?"
Shen nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I know." He said. Shen rose back up to full height and stared off into the streets below a ways off. "I guess I'm afraid that if any of the Emperor's Guards come across him they'll capture Hao..or worse, kill him. Fu would be heartbroken..she's already worried sick about him as it is – literally!"
Po pulled his paw from Shen's shoulder and instead patted his back. Shen turned to see Po smiling a smile, not one of sympathy but of hope. "Then we better get going. If we're lucky we may jus' beat the Guards there. C'mon." Without so much of a second thought entering the panda's mind, Po ran and took a courageous leap off the lip of the tower lip as he descended down into the buildings below. Shen waited, for a moment, bloodied eyes a sparkle. Twenty years and he's still the same. Heh – I wouldn't want a friend any other way. Or a brother. That thought said in his mind, Shen prepared his feral spirit and jumped after Po.
Deeper and deeper the duo went into the heart of the suburban area, following their noses across the rooftops in the moonlight. Like shadows they moved quick and silently until, eventually, there came an ominous glow in the short distance. From where they came running, Shen and Po used their Blood Knight eyes to call forward their ancestors enhanced sight to zoom in like a pair of binoculars. There were many different smaller glows of light moving, the flicker of luminosity slithering up the walls as shadows bounced. Getting closer Shen felt his heart sink a little and Po sensed a cold chill rush up his spine. The Guards were already there.
Running to the light Shen and Po jumped with ease over the large gap and the wide open road beneath and slid to a halt once on the other side. Bearing down on the opening before them Po regarded the ragged two story building standing so anonymously amongst the others with a hiked eyebrow. This is where they've been hiding: planning their dastardly deeds of evil in a place like that. Hmm..well, it evaded the Emperor's spies attention for all these years. Who would've thought?
Shen, too, regarded the building before him. His eyes looked over it from head to top to bottom and then gave a luring scan of the open courtyard-like cul-de-sac that seemed to only lead out the front of the building. There were a large number of Imperial Guards stationed all in different spots, some holding burning torches whilst others held metal cased lanterns in their grasp; like groups at a social event they cuddled together in clusters, speaking to each other in whispers even though to the two Blood Knights it was like they were standing right beside them. Soon silence befell the courtyard and all eyes and attention was drawn up to the rooftops at Po and Shen.
Time to face the music.
Together the Survivor and Dragon Warrior jumped down into the stone-cobbled street with the grace of falling feathers, the mists spreading then swallowing up their bare feet; churning and licking at their ankles. A few groups of Guards that were standing close by where they landed backed up whilst others gasped when they saw, up close, in the gleam of the moon's shine, the scars visible over Shen's face and the one over his heart.
Whispers flew into the silent night, murmurs of stun and shock. Shen and Po's exceedingly heighted ears twitched this way and that as they caught every word of the soldiers' lips. Some, much to Po's astonishment, bowed and saluted as Shen walked past them and up to the building. Po followed in his steps. Huh, now I think I know why Shen stayed so hidden for so long. Who wants all this attention – even I get a bit annoyed and I'm the Dragon Warrior. These guys, and everyone in all of China, see Shen as something of a..divinity!
As they stepped up closer to the building, Po and Shen wrinkled their noses with disgust. Ugh! Po groaned in his head, resisting the urge to wave a paw in front of his muzzle. I've been Caged for so long I forgot the downside to being a Blood Knight as well as the upside. And the panda knew he was right. To a normal creature the smell of blood lingering in the air that came from inside the building was not but an unsettling scent. Yet for a Blood Knight it was much worse; thanks to the ability – as well as the newly remembered cursed side, in Po's view – of being a Blood Knight, those who Flared their inner feral spirit improved every feature of their body to a great eminence. The only hindrance, however, was that very same gift of heighted attributes sharpened all of the world; the most disgusting of smells would become unbearable, or the smallest of flames turning into a blinding light..meaning that to Po and Shen, at this very moment, it was like they were standing in a gas cloud filled with festering decay.
Not the most pleasant of smells, definitely!
It was then Po saw someone approaching them from the very front by the doorway of the building. Po recognized who it was that advanced and slowed his stride down considerably as his mouth hung open in slight awe and wonder.
"The Dragon Warrior," The figure spoke as they came closer, a metal lantern held in their grasp. The trio stopped a close distance from each other. All eyes from the Guards around stuck on them, only a few turning to whisper amongst each other again. The Imperial solider standing opposite Shen eyed the panther. "and the Saviour." There was a hint of surprise in their voice yet it was spoken with such a monotone that Shen dipped an eyebrow in amazement and consideration: no one had ever not been so ecstatic to see him in person. The figure didn't salute, nor did they kowtow – odd.
"Ge-general Fell." Po acknowledged as he managed to swallow the lump that had clogged up his throat. Shen raised his eyebrow back up as he side glanced to the panda beside him. He's got Po on edge, the only person I've ever seen do somethin' like that to him are Tigress and Shifu – damn, all Po's done to the guy is say hello!
Why was Po so..hesitant, all of a sudden?
The Survivor pulled his fiery scarlet orbs of the Dragon Warrior and ogled the general. Standing as close as he was to Fell, Shen eyed the high-ranking officer from head to toe with an obvious stare he saw no reason to hide. He had heard little to nothing of Fell in his lifetime but the martial artist could tell by the way he dressed and stood, back straight, chest out, with no doubt that the general had a high – if maybe feared – reputation under his belt.
General Fell was a Northern Province Tiger, much like the Son of Heaven, except his fur was not a natural fiery orange but the rare yet beautiful gleam of moonlight white – or at least once was, for old age had seemed to ravish most of the lustre and left behind a faded coat of extremely light grey. He wore no armour, and so was dressed in a casual attire of black silk pants with a sleeveless robe of shabby gold and red trimmings around the edge and un-tucked flaps hanging above his thighs; held together mostly by the body-hugging belt at his waist, the few top buttons of the robe were left undone halfway up the tiger's torso in a V-shape to reveal the strapping chest he had managed to retain despite how old he was. Not uncommon for the feline race, Shen's consciousness agreed, I'm well into my life, though not as close as this guy, and I still have the muscles to show. A cloak was draped around Fell's neck though not clasped together in any way that Shen could see. He's been at this a long time. If an opponent were to grasp his cape it could come righ' off..never thought of that.
And then the Saviour met Fell's eyes. Shen froze in thought and body. As the two felines looked at each other Shen could see that behind the tiger's lifeless, grey, glass-like casings there was hurt and pain and determination. A troubled past, Shen realized, I've seen that look too many times in my life..and so has Po. Shen had suspicions. He, too, was feeling slightly unnerved by the presence of the white tiger suddenly. All from one look.
And the was a smell wafting faintly from the general. Shen wondered, where have I smelt that scent before?
"To what, may I ask," Fell spoke, his voice was sharp like steel and rough like stone. He lifted up his arm and the glowing metal lantern so that the candle light inside was level with his muzzle – it gave him a ghostly appearance. "do I owe your presence here tonight?"
"General Fell," Po said more clearly this time as he cleared his throat. "I'm, uh, surprised to find you here. I thought the Emperor had given you the night off."
Fell smiled a dark smile. He shrugged his shoulders. "I was walking among the City region, Master Po. I heard the screams – which I am sure you and the Survivor heard as well – and came rushing to the source. I may have been off duty but there is no reason for me to abandon someone in need." Po's jaw locked and his eyes narrowed a little. I know what you mean by that Fell. Shen, too, was sceptical of the general's words. There was something about the way he spoke that just made the hairs on Shen's back tingle and stand upright. Po was no different. Fell turned to the building. "Unfortunately, if you wish to call it that, I was too late, as you can see; whoever it was that attacked here did their job quick and fast. There was no sight of anyone living on my arrival before the rest of the Guards."
Shen and Po shared certain expressions with each other through their stoic faces. It had taken the pair about the time of a five minute run with their enhanced speed and endurance – if also counting for the minute break atop the tower – whereas it would have taken any other creature about an hour to weave their way through the streets and inner walls of the City to get to this place. They had gotten here from the Forbidden Palace very quickly, and neither saw nor heard anyone leave on their approach.
Shen tensed up visibly. Hao! "No one?" He asked.
Fell looked taken aback slightly, his grin waning, yet he managed to keep his composure and the unsettling grin remained in place. He shook his head. "I cannot say that I or any of the other men have seen someone fleeing from this place, Saviour." Fell's eyes moved past Shen as his pale irises wandered leeringly over the clusters of Imperial soldiers mumbling amongst themselves. Their faces bespoke of unwavering fear and anxiety. "But looking at their eyes and souls, Survivor, I cannot say that any of them are in their right mind. The men are afraid, scared of the night. None of us have stepped inside the building." His vision fell back on the Blood Knights. "And they whisper, did you know that? Rumours..spreading fast like a fire. They keep mutterin' words that this was the work of a Blood Knight." Po sucked in a sharp yet silent breath. Shen's tail raised and twitched, though he wasn't sure if it was at the words Fell was saying or simply how the ashy tiger spoke. "Or perhaps, if we're lucky, a Pure One."
Shen blinked this time, cocking his head off to the side a tad. "And you, general Fell?"
The tiger's face fully turned to Shen for a moment before he creased his nose and snorted. "I know of the stories that have come from Xi'an, Survivor. And I know about Blood Knights and the Pure Ones and the great Battle, oh yes." Shen gave him a flat stare. Fell chuckled. "I suspected you thought a man of my military position wouldn't believe in them. Oh, no..no, no, Saviour. I believe. I believe more than any soldier standing here or all the kingdoms of the provinces combined. The two of you, standing before me are proof enough! I cannot see how any could argue with such evidence." The feline raised a claw. "But," He whirled round from Po and Shen as he stepped up to the building, fragments of wooden pieces hung from hinges and shards remained in the black opening where a door once hung. "I also believe only in the fact that someone has done the City and its ruler a favour." He then stepped aside and over something, the ends of his cloak brushing over whatever it was laying in the doorway.
The two Blood Knights recognized what it was immediately. It was the body of a Tibetan wolf – or what could be called as the remains of a wolf. The dead creature lay with its head hanging over the edge of the doorstep, eyes iced over, frozen with utter shock and horror. Its long dark fur was ruffled and missing in a few places, covered with a litter of cuts and various other wounds. The flesh continued to weep fresh blood that seeped down to the floor and formed a pool across the step before leaking into the crevices of the stone-cobbled ground of the road. The liquid gleamed powerfully in the moonlight through the low mists crawling around the floor.
It looked as if the poor creature tried to escape the massacre within but was unable to get a far as the front door before he was cut down. But by what? Then Shen and Po's eyes widened. At the carcass's side lay a bloodied obsidian tipped knife, shattered and cracked like broken glass. Po had seen that weapon once before when the Emperor showed him an exact model on the first week of Po's summoning; this was when he was told of his bringing to the Forbidden City. Shen, however, had also seen the blade before. He had found man unlimited stash of them in almost every province that he searched.
That was who Hao been tracking down – The Black Dagger Assassins. For the months that had recently passed Shen had been hot on his son's trail, jumping from province to province – village to village – in search of the boy with hopes that he would intercept and stop Hao before he did anything regretful. But, from a sad point of view, the Black Panther – even with his Blood Knight abilities – could never reach a hideout in time without seeing all of its members there slaughtered and butchered; the occasional repeated pattern of one other member pulled aside and then publically killed by a mysterious being. That was, however, after said associate had been tortured for information.
Hao! Shen's mind snarled. Claws curling into fists at his side. What have you done! You've murder an entire race, almost, just to seek out the one responsible. Damn it! Argh! Why? Why, son? Why!
Fell stood over the body and lowered the lantern in his grasp down to light up the dead wolf. "Messy, messy." He said almost amusingly, looking over to the two kung fu masters. "There have been rumours, y'know, all across the provinces. Something, or someone, has been picking off the Black Dagger Assassins one by one." Shen's bloody irises glistened with more memories. And though that same questioned riddled his mind..he knew why. How many have you killed, Hao? Shen was silently thankful he was fully feral, it held back all emotions inside of him as well as rioted them like a monsoon. He didn't want anyone to see him shed a single tear. My son..oh, Hao! It's didn't have to be this way. No matter what you do things will never change.
"And now," The general continued as he lifted the oil lamp back up to his face – he liked to have it close by. "the trail has ended here: at the Black Dagger's main hideout. So, to answer your question Survivor, I couldn't care less if it was the doings on your behalf or of the Dragon Warrior's. Heck! I couldn't care if it was the Pure Ones from the Battle of Xi'an!" There was a slight growl to his voice at this point. Where did that come from? "These criminals are gone and the Emperor and his family can sleep a little easier!" The snarl faded and he blinked, staring at the expressions on Shen and Po's muzzles. He smiled an almost sinister smile this time."But if you still have doubts," With a great swing of his arm Fell waved into the blackened building. "then why don't you see for yourself?"
Though Po had braved many adventures in his past and fought many battles at the risk of his own life, the panda felt something hold him back. Maybe it was his gut instinct, or possibly his inner feral spirit telling him to stay away from the building? Whatever it was the Dragon Warrior gripped the body of his staff tightly as he eyed the ominous black hole leading into the two story building. He saw out of the corner of his eye the expression on Shen's face. He doesn't think Hao has left. Po eyed the hideout. It..could be possible, but..this isn't my place. Hao is Shen's son. Not mine. But still..he's my friend. His consciousness continued to argue with itself, moral judgement slowly winning over.
Shen hesitated for a moment, his head cocked to the side again, before he stepped ahead of Po and up to the open doorway. The voices still arguing in his head and the tugging at his soul somewhat greater now, Po tightened his jaw before he took a step forward and came up behind Shen. The guards surrounding the courtyard watched with amazed expressions as the two Blood Knights stepped up the entrance. General Fell stepped back a little to give way, observing the two ferals with that dead-eye gaze of his. Minding the body Shen and Po were swallowed up by the dark of the inside of the building as they entered inside.
General Fell waited for a few seconds before he cocked his head to the side with interest as suggestive thoughts howled in his mind like the whistling winds. He smiled that smile of his – oh, that very, very unusual smile of his. It grew a little wider. Maybe..just maybe..With that single idea locked firmly in his skull, the tiger gave a warning to his fellow Guards to keep an eye out before turning and vanishing inside the hideout as well, with no idea as to what may wait within, lurking in the shadows.