Thank you to Hiddenstranger for letting me make references to his story "What any of us would have Done"
Making the Cut
The trip back to the Valley wasn't nearly as long as the trip from it. All 8 of us were able to catch the coach back to the Valley of Peace later that day. Surprisingly, Mr. Ping happened to be in the village and rode back with us. He told us that he was sampling some new soup ideas in the area and that the other day he had "the nicest conversation" with a large crane. It wasn't until later he decided to ask Po what we were doing there. Po simply looked at me for an answer and I told everyone the story. The ride to the valley was long enough. Starting with the letter going on to the roadside robbers, the battle at Keen Lee's, the gazette, the coyotes, and finally making it to Montenegro's.
My leg was still sore. I had a limp . Po insisted on carrying me on his shoulders most any time we were walking. Which I didn't mind too bad. It was kinda cool being that high up.
After a while I wasn't able to stand the sight of the stitches in my leg. While the coach made its stop in Pearljing I asked Master Shifu if I could stop off at a different clinic I knew of to have my leg wrapped up. He had no problem with it. When I saw Mr. Hanz Amm and showed him my leg, he shook his head chuckling "I was hoping you wouldn't get into anymore fights after the one at Keen Lee's." It took me a second to realize he had known all along. But all he did was smile and give me the gauze to wrap my leg.
We got back to the Valley around mid evening. Mr. Ping insisted that we all spend dinner at the noodle shop that night. Having not had a real meal in days, none of the masters refused an offer like that. When we got to the noodle shop my parents ended up being there. Of course they got more than they bargained for when they casually asked "What have you been up to?"
Feeling the pressure of the masters watching me, I told them. Of course I made it a very VERY abridged version of the events. I was thankful the masters didn't point this out, having heard the story once already today. I didn't want my parents to freak out too much, and of course they freaked out a little.
Once we had all finished our dinners and I finished their questions, we all felt the need to be back at the Jade Palace. The night was a far cry from the village-wide celebration after Tai Lung's and Park's defeat last year, but truthfully, it was all I needed. Being the center of attention this much just felt weird. And I was ready to get back to the familiarity of the Jade Palace. We said goodbye to my parents and Mr. Ping, and climbed the stairs to the top of Jade Mountain. I made mental note to get with Dew and Lucas soon. They'd definitely want to here about this one.
Once everyone else walked into the bunkhouse, I lingered behind and stood out on the porch. The night air was calm with only a slight breeze that kept it cool. The stars shined brightly. They clustered the sky without pattern, like most things in nature.
I could remember last year staring at many of the same stars under the Peach tree of Heavenly Wisdom believing life was unbearable to go through. I could not fathom how far I had come in just one year.
The bunkhouse door opened again and Master Shifu walked out. I heard him but I didn't turn to him until he was standing right beside me.
"Taking in the sight?" he asked.
"Just glad to be back." I said with quieted pleasure.
Master Shifu said "I forgot to mention, while Crane took you to the clinic, we were able settle some other matters in the cities. New schools are being made for Keen and Valko's students as we speak. They won't compare great to here but at least their kung fu won't be embraced in a unethical way like before. We'll be able keep track of their progression from your friends."
"The coyotes and the binturong."
"Oh," I said. "Zed, Germaine, and Cash."
Shifu said "The binturong especially showed interest in reforming the school."
"I'm glad he forgave me." I said. I wasn't sure if this was all Shifu wanted to tell me. It was the first time he and I had been alone together since we got back. I had a feeling the conversation was leading to something.
I had felt so prepared for this discussion 10 days ago, why was it so hard now?
"Jo, I want to talk about our... altercation before all this." Shifu stopped as if he was being held back from speaking. "I couldn't stop thinking about it while we were being held captive."
"Neither could I." I said. It was true. "Master, I'm sorry about what I said. I was just confused at the time and said something I regret now."
Master Shifu said "And I'm sorry for not controlling my temper. I guess I should explain-"
I cut him off. "I overheard you and Po outside my door that day."
Shifu paused, slightly shocked. "Oh... then I guess you know then."
I nodded. "Master, what was it about Tai Lung that made me remind you of him?" I asked not really wanting to know.
Shifu's eyes wandered breaking our eye contact. They looked as if they were searching for something, most likely an answer to my question. After closing his eyes and giving a deep sigh he said "I loved him."
The answer caught me off guard. "What?"
"I loved him too much to see what I was doing to him. What I put him through. Sometimes I don't know whether I don't see something in you because I've blinded myself to you just as I did with him. Sometimes I wonder if Tai Lung even wanted to learn kung fu or if I just imagined it."
My mind was still processing what Shifu first said-
Jo Dakota Crevan: What was it about Tai Lung that made me remind you of him?
Master Shifu: I loved him.
-that it took me a second to realize I should have said something supportive.
"He did want to learn kung fu, Shifu" I assured him. "but he wanted it for the wrong reasons. You've even told me that before."
Shifu nodded and said. "Yes, you're right. Thank you, Jo. For everything"
I almost said "It was nothing," but I stopped myself and said "You're welcome."
Shifu looked at the night sky as I was just doing. "You may not believe me but, Valko, Keen and I used to be such good friends. For a long time I was not sure what it was that made them turn against Oogway. When I recognized that the same thing had happened to Tai Lung I almost couldn't live with myself. I've had phases where I've worried about this with each of the Five, Po, and you."
Shifu's posture straightened up and he turned to me. "Your stance on kung fu is now well made having witnessed the undertaking you took upon yourself. You're growing into quite the kung fu warrior, kiddo."
I smiled. Shifu hadn't called me 'kiddo' in a long time. But he knew it was something I liked.
Shifu went on. "Not many people could fight off 52 kung fu students."
I shrugged. "It wasn't all me. Luck had a lot to do with it."
"If luck was on your side, I think that makes you pretty special."
I smiled liking his answer. "I guess I never saw it like that."
Shifu said "You're not so crazy, you know."
I smiled a laugh. "Yeah I am, I'm just a different kind of crazy."
"And you're ok with that?" Shifu asked.
"I've been different my whole life." I said. "I guess I have to get used to it eventually."
"I assume that's why you excel in panda style. It's about adapting, using what you have and using it in a different way than others. I imagined it helped alot on your journey"
I said "I was praying constantly on this journey for the strength. So much weight has been lifted off my shoulders, you can't imagine."
"When we've carried a long ridden weight it's not until it comes off that we realize how strong we've gotten over that time." Shifu said. "What will you do now that it is over?"
"Write a BIG thank you note to Saxon Zadora." I joked.
We both laughed. A creak from a distant floor board made both of us turn around. Po walked into the doorway before seeing both of us on the porch.
"Oh, sorry," Po said. "Am I interrupting?"
"Not at all. I probably should be turning in." Shifu said walking to the doorway. When he reached the doorway he turned around and said "Jo, this probably goes without saying, but I give you permission to continue with your practice in shurikens."
"Thank you, Master." I said. Shifu continued inside the bunk house to his room.
Po took Shifu's original place leaning on the porch railing with me. "I see you two have worked it out."
"Yeah, I think we're good." I said.
"Hows the leg?" Po asked.
I lifted it slightly to stretch it out of it's stiffness. "Still sore. The doctor said it might be a week or two before it heals."
Po said "At least now you can practice your shurikens until then. Doesn't require alot of moving around."
"Yeah, that's true."
Po asked "What did your foster parents say when they found out you nearly died... like 3 times?"
"They said they didn't want me to leave the valley ever again." I said remembering their almost humorous reactions.
"I assumed you talked them out of something like that." Po said.
"I just reasoned that it was stuff like this that I'm being trained for. Besides, I'm thirteen now. Stuff changes alot at that age... at least that's what I've been told."
Po nodded and said "I told you they did a good job raising you."
"Yeah." I answered simply. I think it was less than an answer Po expected.
"Is something on your mind, Jo?"
Typical Po. Always able to tell what I'm thinking.
"It's just..." I trailed off not sure how to word what I wanted to say. Finally, unable to find a wording that didn't sound unpleasant, I asked uneasily "Po... Am I a killer, now?"
Po looked shocked. I could tell he wanted to say "No" but he knew I wasn't gonna accept that so easily. He and I both knew, by definition, I was a killer. Po spoke anyway "Jo, I know it was a frightening experience. Probably more frightening than what happened last year-"
I said "I don't know why, but somehow it's different than it was with Tai Lung and Park. This time I actually watched someone die. Before they both died, each of them had this look in their eyes. It was... indescribable like... I don't know.
How is that even possible? For someone to have life and then suddenly it wasn't there anymore. He was a living being then he was just a lifeless body. Life was everything, then suddenly it was nothing. Death was such a recondite subject for me.
Po in his fictive kin manner said "I understand." I picked up traces in his voice of recollection of the past.
"Po... Did you ever have to kill someone... like that, I mean?"
Po remained silent for a second. "Actually, yeah. I did."
For a second I thought that was all he was gonna say. I asked "What happened?" which I immediately regretted. I didn't want to press him to say anything. He seemed uncomfortable with the subject, and who could blame him.
"It happened just almost a week after I became the Dragon Warrior. One night we got an alert from the village. Someone broke into my dad's shop. When me and the Five arrived on the scene a large deranged jaguar had my dad cornered. The Five and I held him off the best we could but in the end it wasn't enough. I was right there and my dad was an inch away from being mauled by that demented black cat. I didn't know what else to do so I grabbed a cleaver from my dad's table and... stopped him."
I wondered why Po hadn't told me about this before, but at the same time I knew exactly why he hadn't.
Po said "At the time I didn't know how to take it. But it became clear to me later that the cat made his own choice to do what he did. Even if he wasn't exactly sane, he was too unsafe to be near anyone. And it was just the same in your case, Jo. From what you told us, both times you were on the verge of being killed if you didn't do something. You protected your self and you saved others. No one can blame you for that."
I rested my chin on my folded arms that lay on top of the porch railing. "If what I did was justified, then why do I feel this bad?"
As Po stood beside me he placed one of his his arms around both my shoulders in his lovable brotherly way. "It's because you have a good heart, Jo. You always have. It's probably the same thing that lead to you making this journey knowing it would be anything but easy. You know it's wrong to kill, so even when you're placed in a situation where it was necessary, you still feel drawn not to, but when I had my ordeal, some one reminded me that sometimes in life fate is just out of our hands."
I lifted my body up from the slouch I was sporting. "I guess Shifu told you that." I said.
"Actually," Po said. "It was Tigress."
I looked at him not believing it. "Seriously?"
Po said "Give her a little credit. I heard her say she's reconsidering you."
"Really?" I asked hopefully.
"Great," I said. "Now, I know what to do the next time someone doesn't like me; I just have to save them from a certain horrible death."
"It's always worked for me." Po said.
We both laughed. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the folded piece of paper with Po's handwriting on it. "I found your note a few days ago."
Po smiled. "Did it help?"
"You have no idea." I said earnestly.
"And I meant every word of it." Po said. "I appreciated that poem you wrote."
I said "I found it at the right time. It's like you could sense what was going to happen right then and there."
"Maybe I can sense the future and I just haven't told you yet." Po snickered. "That's me. I'm here for ya. Any questions ya got, you can ask me."
"Ok," I said jokingly. "When will these catastrophic problems stop?"
Po laughed. "Never, I'm afraid. If there weren't any problems we'd have no reason to be here. But we are here, to protect the Valley and the people in it. Other stuff will come."
I shrugged. "I guess I'd be bored without it. Just try not to get yourself into too much trouble." I joked. "I don't think I could handle being the only Dragon Warrior. I kinda like being the Next Dragon Warrior"
Po chuckled. "I'd feel the same way. But, 'Next' doesn't mean you take over when I'm gone. It's more like... we're doing it together, The two Dragon Warriors. I guess we should call you 'The second Dragon Warrior'."
Almost instantly, we both shared a consensus of dislike.
"Doesn't have as nice a ring to it." I said.
"Yeah, I agree." Po chuckled opening his arms. "Come here, Jo."
I didn't need to be told twice. His arms looked inviting as ever.
I walked forward till my chest met his gut. I wrapped my arms as far around his waist as they could go. I felt his arms envelop me and drape across my back to bring me closer to him. I nestled the side of my face into his soft white fur. More than the companionship, safety, lack of worry, and everything else, this was the thing I missed most during this past journey.
Stroking my back gently Po said "I love you, Jo."
"I love you too, Po."
Still holding me tightly Po chuckled and said "If you didn't, after what you went through for me, I'd think you were crazy."
As with all sequels, you want it to be better than the first one, capture the essence of the first one with out just redoing it, and I really hope I did all that.
I'm not sure how the idea for this sequel came up. Strangely, the very first thing I wrote for it was Saxon Zadora's line (although I didn't know it would be Saxon at the time)
"So this is the little dagger they call the Next Dragon Warrior?"
From then, the story was somehow made.
Once again I have to thank Hiddenstranger for being a continuous source of ideas & advice.
Thank you to all my reviewers who were consistent. I know I didn't always make it easy.
And thank you to anyone who read my story!
Any final reviews are appreciated!