My very first fanfic ever. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Kung Fu Panda, Dreamworks does. However, I do own everything in "The Underground" (read and you'll find out what that is).
Heart of a Child
Chapter 1: Call me Arc!
There was no sign of life anywhere he looked, except for the wild plants that inhabited the forest. It had been hours ever since he woke up, surrounded by strange looking, oddly tall, trees. He didn't mind that he'd never seen the specific species of angiosperms before, what did bother him was that everything seemed to be too big. The sky was very cloudy with no sight of blue anywhere. Add that to the fact that he had no idea where on Earth he was. Was he on Earth at all?
Obviously, not knowing where he was going, Tai Lung stopped walking and stared intently at his arms and paws. The muscles that once were his pride were gone, leaving behind a pair that he recognized quickly since he had good memory of his entire past. He reached for his tail and saw that it was also different; it was as he remembered it in his cub hood.
As he tried to convince himself from a preposterous, and outright stupid, conclusion, he noticed that he wasn't wearing any clothing whatsoever. And that is when it finally hit him (hard) of what exactly happened to him. Looking at his naked body he viewed that he no longer possessed the muscles that he worked so hard to obtain, his pectorals were gone along with his abdominals. But what really made him realize the truth was the sizes of his… you know what (it wasn't adult-size anymore).
Yet, he didn't want to believe anything until he got enough proof to convince himself.
"Where the hell am I?" He said to himself aloud.
His eyes instantly widened as he notice that his voice was small and sweet, like it belonged to a child. That was how he sounded when he was merely three, four, five?
There were so many things going through his head. The world seemed spin around him. Then, suddenly he was snapped out of his mind numbing thoughts as he heard something, or rather someone. A shout, like the ones warriors make when they make a strike.
Not minding that he was unclothed, he went running in the direction of sounds of battle that were becoming louder by each step he took.
He came upon some sort of ruins, looking around, the snow leopard also noticed the cause of the sounds from earlier: four large hooded bandits and a lion carrying a sack. Apparently, the quartet of hoodlums wanted the contents of that bag.
Tai Lung decided to stay hidden and see how things played out. Watching as the lion kicked and punched his way around his larger enemies. It was an amazing display of techniques he'd never seen before.
The snow leopard was a little taken back by the appearance of the other feline. The lion's mane was in a spiky style, he's probably just a punk, he thought to himself. Tai Lung noticed that the other cat was wearing a bowtie around his neck, an unbuttoned long sleeved shirt, there were buttons on the cuffs, blue trousers made out of what looked like sackcloth, but he was barefooted. And, if he had to guess the age of this unknown cat, he'd say that the lion is just a teenager.
Out of all of the lion's qualities that took the most of snow leopard's attention was the strange fur coloring on the other cat's body. His mane was dark brown and had what seemed to be black stripes on the spikes of hair. Then, there was a marking beneath his left eye, kind of like a black scar. But that was not all, the area beneath his eyebrows and around his eyes were white, which was a quality that Tai Lung shared. Was this a lion at all?
Snapping out of his reverie, Tai Lung noticed that the shrouded enemies pulled out swords and daggers, striking and aiming towards the adolescent cat. But he reacted quickly and dodged every attack with not a single scratch. The same cannot be said about the bandits because for every attempt they made to hurt their enemy, the lion used the opportunity to attack them. One by one the lion's opponents fell on the ground, defeated.
Tai Lung was impresses by the other feline's fighting style, not only did he used kung fu but also did pirouettes to gain momentum.
"Huh? Who's there?" The lion said as he heard someone else. That's when he saw a little, unclothed snow leopard cub in the distance. He ran towards the small child. "Little boy, you shouldn't be walking around alone and naked, especially in a place like this; you'll need protection! Now, where's your mother?" The unknown lion asked him as he took his shirt off and gave it to the child, revealing armor strapped around his arms hidden by the long sleeves.
Tai Lung didn't know what to say, he just stared at the bigger cat who dressed him with his shirt. It was too big for his body size, which led him to ask "How old am I?" He knew that the question sounded stupid, however if he was a small child, then it pretty much didn't matter cause it's something that children tend to do is ask questions even if they make no sense at all.
The lion smiled in an amused way at him and said "Well, to me you look like three years old or four... yeah definitely four."
That answer made it official. Tai Lung, thirty eight years old, was a four year old again. Still, he wanted to see his own reflection in a mirror to make sure.
"Where are your parents? And why were you naked?" The lion asked his smile turned into a concerned frown.
"I, uh… uh…" The snow leopard didn't know how to answer him. Fortunately the other feline beat him to it. "You don't know where they are, do you?" Which was true, Tai Lung knew nothing of his parentage, except for that "treacherous rat" who adopted him.
"Actually I've never met them." He answered with sorrow written all over his face.
"Really?" He sounded surprised and yet sad at the same time. "I never met my parents either." He confessed to the young cub, however, the lion didn't seem to be upset by it, and actually, gave him a smile in return.
The snow leopard was surprised by the fact that maybe there were others in the world that felt the same pain he has endured his entire life.
"Where are we?" Tai Lung finally asked what he'd been wondering for hours.
The seemingly friendly lion stood up and spread his arm in the air and said, "These are the Ruins of Terkhonazya, located in the middle of a forest with no name," he dropped his arms and an annoyed expression entered his face "which is not so far away from a highly populated village."
"A village!" Tai Lung blurted out, relieved at knowing that he was no longer lost. "What's its name?"
"Gibaria" The lion answered.
"Gi-bar-e-ah?" The small cub questioned back looking quite puzzled "Never heard of it before."
Grabbing the sack he protected from the bandits the lion said in an excited tone "Well, in that case let me take you there and get you some clothing."
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Tai Lung asked and thought that maybe it was because he was just a child, a lost, unclothed, small child. "I don't even know you?"
"Oh! How rude of me!" He exclaimed scratching the back of his neck. "I'm an archeologist, but you can call me Arc!"
"Arc?" The cub sounded quite confused by the lion's name.
"Yes, Arc! It's short for archeologist." He answered back.
"Your name is Archeologist?" Tai Lung questioned the bigger cat with an expression of disbelief on his face.
"No, it's just Arc, since I never had parents I decided to name myself when I was younger, and what better name than something that has to do with what I love!" The lion said joyfully. "But, enough about me what's your name, little guy?"
Tai Lung hesitated, what would this friendly guy say and how would he react if he found out his true identity. "My name is… Tai."
"Tai, eh? Pleased to meet you!" Arc said then he noticed the bandits returning to consciousness. "We better get out of here, come on."
Both feline spent about an hour walking until they finally exited the forest. Tai Lung saw that there was a village nearby, and to his shock it was a weird looking place. The buildings were high above the ground and seemed to be crooked. Apparently the only way to enter those buildings is using a system of bridges.
Due to the lion's shirt being too big for him, the snow leopard kept tripping on it and falling flat on his face. But he recovered quickly and gathered himself to keep on going.
"Arc?" Tai Lung asked looking up at him.
"Huh? Yeah? What is it?" He looked down asked in a quick fashion.
"What is the deal with that village?"
"Well, that is Gibaria, and if I have to guess on what you mean I have to say that it's about the bridge system, and the height and structure of the buildings." Tai Lung nodded. "The reason for that is that the first inhabitants were monkeys, sure they could have live in the forest we were in but bandits love to hide in trees, bushes, boulders, you know." Tai Lung never heard of such a place, am I even in China? He thought to himself. But he was taken out of his thoughts as the other feline continued telling the history of the village. "It quickly became a very popular location for merchants. Despite it's weird appearance Gibaria is a place where you can find anything, plus I'm meeting someone there," he looked down at the snow leopard and smiled, "she's the one who's going to help us with your clothe problem."
"Was she… the one who dressed you?" He knew he sounded a bit concerned.
"No, I dressed myself." Arc answered quickly.
"Really? Because you did such a good job at it" Said the snow leopard in a sarcastic tone.
The lion just raised an eyebrow at him, and suddenly his expression became one of amusement and excitement. "I got these clothing when I was in France, just so you know these clothing are all the rage in Europe!"
"You traveled all the way to France, wherever that is, for clothes?"
"I'm an archeologist, hello! I travel, explore, discover and raid tombs, and I do like to take souvenirs from places I've visited." Arc answered still smiling at the little one. Then he flexed his arms in a cocky fashion, "Just look at these babies I got at The Lost Titanium Fortress beneath Mongolia."
Tai Lung just stared at him, "Then why are you barefooted?" he said in an accusatory tone.
Arc simply took a big breath and puffed pout his chest, "As an archeologist there may be danger on the road: bandits, pirates, natural disasters and, my biggest enemy of them all," he squinted his eyes and pursed his lips a bit, "booby traps."
Oh shit, I'm being helped by someone who's just as crazy as Oogway! Tai Lung thought to himself.
While Tai Lung was second guessing his choice for a helper, Arc continued explaining, "I don't wear sandals because I won't be able to feel the vibrations on the ground as strongly as I can right now. That way I can evade and make sure I don't trigger booby traps."
At the same time the snow leopard kept thinking why was some stranger helping him, and then it hit him: he was being helped because Arc didn't knew who he really was. Tai Lung is supposed to be a massive, muscular man not an adorable, helpless cub.
If Arc discovered the truth he would abandon and turn him away just like everyone else he used to love and trust.
"Something on your mind, Snow Cub?" Arc suddenly interrupted his thoughts.
"Snow Cub?" He said looking at the lion with an annoyed expression and tone giving him a cold stare.
"It's just a nickname." Arc said in a reassuring tone.
"My name is Tai Lu… Tai!" He snapped almost revealing his secret
Arc's ears flattened against his head and gave a sheepish smile, "I'm sorry, I know how children don't like to be treated like babies."
Tai Lung was concerned by what the other cat said, he let something like being treated like a baby get to his nerves really easy. Was he becoming a child on the inside? Then again, he'd never appreciated being treated that way before, not when he was a teenager, especially during and after Chor-Gom. So he can't exactly tell the difference.
The snow leopards curiosity snapped him out of his reverie as he saw the lion pull a shiny shield out of the sack that he protected with his life. "What is that?"
"This? Oh, it's something I found in the ruins we were earlier at, here take a look!" Arc held out the shield to the smaller cat. However, as soon as Tai Lung saw his reflection on it, he fell back on his rump. "You okay?" Arc replied.
He quickly gathered himself and stood up, taking another look at his reflection once again, he was finally convinced. Looking at the big eyes, chubby cheeks and at his entire body, he truly was a four year old boy again. Tai Lung moved around to see if the reflection did the same movements and that all of this really was just a dream.
But it wasn't.
He also noticed how ridiculous he looked wearing the long shirt, but he didn't mind.
However, his nightmarish thoughts were interrupted by his friendly companion, "What's the matter, haven't you ever seen your own reflection before?"
He was wondering if the archeologist was talking down to him because he was a little cub or that was just the way he is, Tai Lung couldn't tell.
Trying to start a conversation with a different topic, one that the snow leopard liked and could benefit from, "So, where did you learn to fight like that? You know, against the hooded bandits."
"That's because I've discovered in lost temples different styles of martial arts, whether they were written on the walls, rocks, floor, ceiling and, of course, scrolls. Each of those forms were presumed lost and forgotten. Luckily," he raised his voiced and his face became one of pure amusement, "I found and kept each and every scroll I happened to see lying around!"
That's how he learned how to fight; he was probably the only person in the world that knew those techniques. Tai Lung thought that maybe he could ask the lion to teach him those forms and styles that were hidden from the world.
At last, they both reached the entrance gate of Gibaria, while Tai Lung watched in amazement the system of bridges that provided as a way for every inhabitant and tourist to reach any destination in there. Some bridges were wider than others, probably because more commotion happened on them; there were also smaller bridges that connected the big ones to others and buildings.
There was a guard at the gate but he let the two cats pass, "Nice to see you again Arc," the bull greeted the lion, "I see you finally found out about the ruins in the forest!" he couldn't keep his laughter inside.
"Ha, ha, very funny!" Arc replied in a sarcastic tone.
Once they entered the village everything looked far more complicated up close. The bridge system was outstanding: there were bridges everywhere: to their sides, above them, both of them were walking on one to begin with.
Tai Lung couldn't believe his eyes, he never knew that there could be such a place. It was sturdy and there were nets of ropes along the sides of every bridge, just in case if someone trips the lucky individual would be safe from major injuries.
"Hello, Arc!" both of them stopped on their tracks as they heard a female voice to their left, Tai Lung didn't recognize who this woman was, of course, but the archeologist did, in fact he greeted her back, "Zoi, nice to see you again!"
The snow leopard stared at the tall female raccoon, about four feet tall (that's big for a raccoon) that was in front of them. She seem to be a well mannered sweet person, and she didn't just look descent, she looked like she was a very classy lady. Tai Lung confirmed this by staring at her clothing (or rather uniform): a dark blue necktie, a red jacket of fine silk, white vest beneath it, a short red skirt (to match the top) and the strangest shoes he'd seen in his entire life, they covered her toes, like a boot, but the heels were lifted by a spike. Maybe it's used for combat, to stab opponents with it? She was also carrying a heavy messenger's bag filled with scrolls, parchments and maps.
With a huge question mark on his face, Tai Lung broke his silence, "Uh, hi."
"Oh, Hajimemashite Yoroshiku, are you friends with Arc?" She said looking down and finally noticing the small cub wearing a shirt too big for him.
But the lion answered for him, "You bet, he and I met about an hour ago, and I can tell we're going to be friends for life, I'm taking him to see Tia to get him some new clothing."
Tai Lung just stared at the other feline next to him. No one in this world is that caring? He could be wrong.
The teenage lion continued interrupting his thoughts, "He's name is Tai, I found him walking around, naked in the nearby forest."
"Oh, you finally went to the Ruins of Terkhonazya?" She said with a grin on her face.
"You knew that the ruins were there too?" He snapped with eyes wide with an incredulous tone.
"You never asked me if I knew where they are." She said giving an innocent look.
"Don't worry" He sighed with a defeated tone and look, but just like that his expression and tone changed to one of excitement, "I went early today to the ruins and found this." He showed her the shield hidden in the bag.
"So I'm guessing you're going to trade that for some money." She assumed.
"It pretty much depends on how much it's worth: if it's a low amount I'll keep it, if it's a high number I'll sell it, but if it is an extremely high number I'll keep it. You know I like rare artifacts."
Tai Lung was just staring at the two mammals, his eye twitching, looking at them incredulously, do I even need to be here? He cleared his throat to get their attention.
Arc got the cue and presented the raccoon to the cub, "Ooh, sorry, this pretty lady right here is none other than Zoi Zenigata. She's a reporter and it's because of her that the people have been well informed over the last ten years."
The raccoon stretched her arm towards the snow leopard cub and shook his hand and greeted him. "Hi cutie, do you know where your parents are?"
Tai Lung didn't lie but he also didn't told the entire truth, "My father abandoned me." He said with such a harsh tone and an expression of pure anger and sadness but avoided to meet their gazes.
Arc and Zoi looked at the cub who was fighting sobs and a lump in his throat, their expressions were of both sadness and sympathy.
"All ever did was try to make him happy, but he never appreciated what I did for him, and so he punished by leaving me all alone with no else but myself" Tai Lung said, still fighting back a sob.
The kind lion rested his paw on the cubs shoulder, looking at him with a reassuring smile that said 'you're not alone anymore'. "Come on, let's go see Tia, she'll make you new garments."
"Who's she?" The snow leopard asked, still not knowing anything of this Tia person.
Zoi cut the lion before he could answer, "Tia Ra, she is a fashion designer, she used to walk the runways when she was a high fashion model, and now that she is retired from modeling she travels the world for inspiration for her new clothing lines and collections. I just interviewed her just couple of minutes ago for the fashion spread. She told me that she was going to Frankie's for a bite."
"That's good, we could all have something to eat," Arc turned to Tai Lung and continued, "You'll love Frankie and her cooking."
Somehow he believed that he would since the people he has already met were really nice.
They continued their journey for the so called Tia, along with Zoi, apparently she thought there could be a front page behind this. Arc seemed to be happy about everything, which is kind of creepy, Oogway creepy. At least he didn't come up with wise sayings and metaphors. However, he never thought that someone would ever give him kindness and compassion in return for nothing.
A couple of blocks later, Tai Lung tripped on the long shirt sleeves many time, they came upon a large building that attracted a lot of people. There was a line that stretched all the way around the corner.
"We're here!" Arc exclaimed, "Frankie French Fry's restaurant sure is full, but I bet if we are patient a table will clear out in a couple of hours, just you…"
He was cut off by Zoi, "I made a reservation yesterday, so there's no need to wait at all."
Tai Lung let out a sigh of relief, "Good because there's no bloody way in hell I'm waiting in line, specially one as long as this one."
"Language" She pointed a finger at him and gave him the look that all mothers were able to do that meant a warning to children.
They walked to the reception counter, and thanks to Zoi's convenient reservation, they were escorted to a table.
Seated, the three of them waited for their menus to arrive. Zoi grabbed a napkin and placed it gently on her lap, while Arc decided to get to know the snow leopard better, "So, where are you from, do you even remember?"
He was flabbergasted by the question but he answered it truly, "I'm from the Valley of Peace."
Zoi and Arc just stared at him with expressions of astonishment and confusion.
"So you aren't from here." The lion deduced.
"Well yeah, I've never heard of this village before."
"That's not what I meant. You're not from The Underground, are you?" He said with a raised eyebrow.
"The under what?" Tai Lung was confused. He woke as four year old, naked, in the middle of a forest, been to places he never knew existed, met strangers that can be described by anything but normal, what's next a scarecrow, a tin man and… well I already met a lion, "You mean we're not in China?"
"No," Arc answered then he put his hands in the air, like he did before, "This is The Underground!"
A/N: Well, this is the beginning of the story (duh!), so I hope you like it so far. If you're wondering where the Ruins of Terkhonazya, Gibaria or The Lost Titanium Fortress are located then don't bother, they are not real, those are places I made up. They are part of The Underground, which will be explained in the next chapter. Hajimemashite Yoroshiku means 'hello and pleased to meet you' and Domo also means hello but to a person that you know well and/or have a personal relationship with.
Please review, I'm going to need as much help as possible.