I made sure to fasten the pace of the story a bit just in case if life gets in the way again. Also, I made a cover for this very tale. Hope you guys like all my efforts.
Disclaimer: I do not own Kung Fu Panda or any of its characters but I do own The Underground, my OCs and this story's plot.
Chapter 27: Far Apart
A warm summer's day. Not too hot and yet sunny. Just the way she likes them. However, it wasn't just the weather of the atmosphere around her that made her happy. It was her blossoming romance with Jun Lao.
Tigress couldn't help but blush at the thought of her lover.
Things had been going smoothly between the two felines. Jun Lao always seemed interested in her and everything she did like her hobbies, lifestyle and even the food she desired the most.
Somehow the tiger reminded her of Alvar, except for the alternate ego, but more charming and approachable.
Whatever did happen to Alvar?
Oh well, she didn't have time to bother with the panther, especially since her tiger was indeed waiting for her for a special get-together.
Now she was happily walking along the streets of the valley, enjoying the view of the peaceful villagers on their daily routines. She did notice Po crouching on the ground next to a grassy patch of dirt on the side of the path. He seemed to be inspecting a small sprout protruding from the ground.
Whatever. Her tiger was waiting for her.
"Hey, Tigress, I almost didn't see you there." Po said as he finally noticed her. "Where are you heading to?"
"I'm going to meet up with Jun Lao."
"Oh, a date?" Po asked as he got up, interested in the topic.
"We're just going to spend some time together at the forest, Po."
To that the giant panda looked rather confused.
"Isn't that where he bathes?"
Does everyone know that? Tigress thought to herself, feeling a little embarrassed.
"Wait, how do you know that?" She snapped, eyeing him suspiciously.
Po's eyes widened as sweat trickled down the side of his face and his features turned pink.
"Oh, look at the time, I need to be training. See ya later, Tigress!"
And with that the giant panda retreated back to the Jade Palace.
She actually let out a small chuckle as she turned around to continue her journey to the forest.
"There you are! I've been longing the opportunity to speak with you but you are quite elusive."
It was Xinla and she was wearing a rather revealing pale blue cheongsam with flower embroidery and she was also carrying a pouch bag and it seemed to be full but of Tigress had no idea what its contents could be.
"Thank you for your services but I found someone special, Miss Xinla. I will not need your assistance any longer. In fact, I'm going to meet up him right now." Tigress finished her statement with s small smile and shy blush.
The ibis returned a questioning look, "You mean Jun Lao? Sorry to tell you but he already took a bath earlier today. I should know, I saw the whole thing."
"I'm not going there to spy on him!" Tigress snapped but calmed herself down almost instantly, "It's actually a date."
"Well, have fun you two. I need to take care of my other clients." Xinla said as she pulled a riding crop out of a pouch and bent it so as to express her intentions.
"I also sell sex toys, interested? The ibis added.
Tigress didn't respond to the avian's toy, or her question, but she was interested in something else.
"Is Alvar still chasing after me?"
Now the ibis looked sad, "No. The poor guy has fallen into a serious state. It's almost as if the past that he had, for some reason repressed, suddenly came back and with that not only is he remembering important old specifics about his life but also forgetting new ones."
Tigress remembered what occurred weeks ago, where Alvar had revealed a secret to her, a secret that he apparently was not even aware had happened until that moment. That revelation had been the last deal breaker with the panther.
"Did you know that Xovius has not appeared once or spoken a word out of Alvar's mouth? He completely disappeared." The ibis added.
The tiger did feel for the panther in his moment of need but she didn't want him to intervene with her future, especially since she had found someone else who she consider far more suiting for her.
The ibis then shook her head and spoke, "But what am I telling you this for? Go spend some time with your hot piece of ass boyfriend."
And on the meantime, I'll investigate that tiger. The ibis thought to herself. She had tried to find answers about Jun Lao but couldn't. Now that he and Tigress were somewhere else, it was the perfect time to snoop around their usual whereabouts, personal belongings and living quarters.
Tigress had been willing to share some information but the male feline not so much. In fact, he tended to avoid the ibis. That's why Xinla was heading straight for the Jade Palace worker's living quarters.
Surely, she will find something about Jun Lao that may help her if he really is a good match for Tigress.
It's a good thing the staff's housing wasn't as well secured as everything else in the Jade Palace. She was also glad the workers were on their daily duties and were not present to interfere with the ibis' schemes.
"Now, let's see, where would a tiger put all his belongings?" She asked herself eyeing the interior of what only could be a small lounge. Xinla noticed cubbyholes on a wall where the palace workers placed their personal possessions, such as clothing, trinkets, etc. What intrigued her the most was that only one had a shirt fitting for a tiger. Jun Lao being the only servant who wasn't a waterfowl was a dead giveaway that the ibis had found her best lead to discovering more about this mysterious feline.
"Well, well, well! What do we have here?" She merrily said as she inserted her wing in the hole and searched around hoping to find anything interesting about Jun Lao… and his undergarments.
"Ooh, what's this?"
The ibis pulled out a piece of paper with writing on it. Of course, she read it but was left confused with it.
"Romance Tigress. Learn about her. Seduce. Seal the deal."
Then it hit her: Jun Lao had written the steps necessary to win Tigress' heart... and get laid.
"This guy had planned it all along. Damn, he's good!"
She then eyed the tiger's belongings one more time.
"Ooh, jackpot!" She exclaimed as she pulled out a sock from the cubbyhole. She happily pressed it to her nostrils and breathed in the scent.
"Damn, that's good!"
The ibis then stored the sock in her pouch and continued to rummage through the tiger's possessions. Suddenly, a floor board creaked behind her.
That of course startled her enough to get a rather loud cry from the ibis. She turned around to notice no one was in the room with her.
Maybe it was nothing. I mean, this place is ancient, it's probably falling apart.
Then, she felt a sudden pain on the left side of her torso. What seemed to be a little turned to a stinging sensation that crawled all throughout her body.
Xinla then collapsed on the floor, unable to move any of her limbs or any other part of her body. She did notice that there was indeed someone else in the room with her.
"I've seen you before. What is the meaning of this?" Xinla managed to say despite the pain.
Her assailant said nothing but strike the avian once again, this time knocking her out cold.
The afternoon sun was beginning to set and soon nighttime would cover the land and a certain red panda was planning on spending the rest of the evening meditating.
He was at the Hall of Warriors, in his usual meditation spot.
It had been an average day, teaching and maintaining order in the Jade Palace and keeping the valley safe. He felt relief knowing that everything was quiet and peaceful. His kind of night, actually.
Suddenly, Shifu felt a chill run up his body. It seemed the temperature had dropped drastically. In fact, he could see his own breath every time he exhaled.
The sky didn't show any sign of such a sudden weather not now nor earlier.
What could be the reason for this sudden change?
He then felt a presence. A pair of eyes staring at him. Someone was in the room with him.
The red panda turned to look at where he felt the presence and he was taken aback to see none other than Zoi Zengata, leaning against a pillar with an expression of pure disdain on her features.
"For what purpose do I owe you this unanticipated appointment, Miss Zenigata?"
She strode forward, still sporting the same expression, stopping just a few feet away from him.
"Oh, Shifu…" she said with a wave of her hand, her voice full of condescension, "you can cut the formal crap. I am certain that we are way past that point."
"What is the reason for your elegant presence, Miss Zenigata? You put so much effort in your appearance for simply exchanging just a few measly words."
Zoi sensed his discomfort and smirked.
"Do not hate me for being beautiful, Shifu." She paused to stare at him with the coldest glare he had ever witnessed. "Hate me for being a bitch."
He was trying to remain calm. He was really trying. But she knew how to get under his skin quite easily. Still, he retained as much composure when he spoke not wanting to give her any form of satisfaction she was clearly obtaining from this conversation.
"What did I ever do to you to deserve such a harsh treatment from you?"
As soon as those words left his mouth, Shifu could feel the temperature in the room drop. Was it her presence or was it her cold glare?
"You made me responsible for the deaths of innocent children. I placed my trust in you and instead of saving those lives, you sealed their fate." She paused, allowing everything to sink in. "They are all dead now." She finished.
Suddenly, Shifu felt his heart stop as the realization of what he had supposedly done hit. His ears began to droop down as he carried a tormented look on his face. He finally learned the reason for her hostile behavior towards him and he didn't like it one bit.
"What?" He barely blurted out in an almost audible whisper.
She leaned forward and spoke in the most condescending voice he had ever heard from her, "Oh, are you finally interested in knowing what I had to say?"
Before he could respond, she spoke again.
"Well, that is too damn bad." She leaned back and crossed her arms, her face expressing her disgust towards him. "After all the harm you have done, do you honestly believe that I am willingly going to aid you in any form?"
Finally, Shifu could hold back his anger and he snapped back at the reporter.
"You torment my very existence whenever you have a chance to do so! The least you could do is inform me of the wrongdoings that I supposedly committed!"
"No!" she retorted back at him, "You had your chance all those years ago but you were nothing more than a walking hemorrhoid that pisses and bleeds all over everyone around him. Guess what, Shifu? You have not changed one bit. You are still a miserable, worthless piece of shit."
There was nothing but silence, only the echo of her cold words. Speaking of cold, Shifu could feel she had frozen him in place as he was unable to move. Hell, he could see his breath. This reminded him of the way Arc had spoken of him months ago. Was this really how everyone viewed him?
He didn't contemplate on that for too long because Zoi wasn't done talking.
"That is how you are. That is how I view you. That is how the world sees you, in fact. And I hope you finally see yourself for who you truly are one day. All you do is harm. I tried to help but all you did was hurt others."
The look in her eyes was nothing but pure disgust for the old man in front of her.
"You can rot in hell for all I care, Shifu."
Silence. Just cold silence.
But the raccoon wasn't done playing with her prey.
"However, if you wish to know about the children whose murder you aided, talk to Master Tigress. She has been quite the comforting listener though she has not paid me a visit in for months."
That managed to snap Shifu out of his silent trance of guilt and shame as concern began to rise within him after hearing the name of his student
"What exactly have you two conversed about during those meetings?"
She smirked. "That is confidential. Do not worry; it was not in any way different than when I interviewed your other students. They were all quite informative, by the way."
That actually made Shifu worry far more than it should.
"What did you do to them?" He asked as his concerns were beginning to surface through his voice despite his best efforts to hide them.
"Just me doing my job." Zoi responded with a smile and an upbeat tone.
He couldn't hold it in anymore. He wasn't going to allow her to insult him or threaten him anymore, much less his own students. Shifu spoke, through his gritted teeth, in a clearly angry tone yet one could tell he was trying to hold back much of it and to retain his composure.
"If you brought harm to any of my students, so help me…"
"You will do what exactly?" Zoi snapped back rather loudly, "Bring me harm? What will the good citizens of the valley think? Lollipop Guild reject attacks defenseless woman: Dementia strikes again!"
She allowed that last part to sink in.
"What a headline!" She added with satisfaction.
Shifu gripped his fists and glared furiously at the raccoon.
"I'll take that risk if I have to. Don't force me." He said.
Zoi then covered her mouth and began to chuckle.
"You honestly believe you are capable of going toe to toe with me? Your intelligence must be even lower than what little respect I have for you."
Her face then changed to a more sympathetic one.
"Watch yourself, Shifu. The Valley of Peace is littered with enemies. That is all the help I will spare."
He had no clue what she meant by that but the red panda at least calmed down a bit, enough to regain his composure and speak formally. Though, his anger was still visible.
"Why are you here, then? I doubt that it is to simply ruin my good mood?"
She shook her head and smiled, "No, that is just an added bonus. I am here to interview you, of course."
To that Shifu huffed in visible anger, "You know full well I will decline it! Why would you waste your time coming here then?"
"It is to clarify a few things." She responded, "I already know a lot about the topic of this interview. In fact, I know all the answers, really. I am here to confirm whether you actually tell truth or not."
Shifu knew nothing good could come out of this and that confession of her reason for an interview clarified it. When he spoke his voice was commanding with a hint of anger disguised as a calm demeanor.
"Every time you show up, you harm others for your personal gain but let's be honest, you do all of those horrible acts for no good reason other than to appease your boredom." He then lifted his arm and pointed to the door, "Leave. Now."
Zoi ignored his words and spoke in a soothing yet condescending manner, "Do not be like that, Shifu. You will find out more about the dead children I had mentioned a few moments ago soon enough."
"What can you possibly gain out of this?" He asked. He knew he shouldn't have but she was getting the better of him.
"If something can be destroyed with the truth, then it deserves to be destroyed." She said.
Master Shifu huffed at her words and pointed once more towards the door, "I am not going to participate in your personal games of pettiness."
The reporter smirked at him as she crossed her arms in defiance, "What is the matter, Shifu? Afraid that I will ask about Da Xia and your involvement in her disappearance?"
Silence. Nothing but silence after that. However, Zoi smiled victoriously as she noticed his stricken look over hearing that name. She knew every single weakness her opponent possessed and she will enjoy exploiting them for her personal amusement.
But let us leave the juicy details for later.
"How do you know…?" That was all he could muster out. Her words truly did surprise him. Just what else did she know?
Zoi just smirked in satisfaction at the suddenly frightened old man in front of her.
"A good reporter never reveals her sources."
He was tired of her attitude and he was not going to give her any more satisfaction of any sort.
"I think we're done here. Leave." He ordered as calmly as he could though it came out rather harsh. "And before you go…" He added with a pause.
"Stay away from my students if you what's good for you." He didn't bother to hide the sternness and warning from his voice nor from his cold glare.
Zoi was not faced by any of it. In fact, she seemed happy by his reaction.
"Oh, Shifu, my dear miniscule bitch, you are too late on that regard," She said in the most condescending tone she could produce before shifting to a harsher voice, "I already fucked their lives."
And with that, Zoi strode off, back facing the red panda, and out of the hall as she chuckled in delight.
Shifu just stared at her as she exited the room. He didn't know if he should be angry, concerned or both. He knew that she got exactly what she wanted from him even though an interview didn't occur. It personally terrified him that Zoi knew about his hidden secrets especially ones he hoped would never surface. There was also the story of the children she brought to him years ago and how he had dismissed it. Was he really partly responsible for the death of innocents?
However, another concern was coursing through his mind and he feared that it might be true.
I need a word with my students. What exactly have they exchanged with Zoi?
It had been a few days since they departed and finally Tai Lung and his companions had reached the City of Bricks. It was pretty much what had been described: a place with an overabundance of bricks. Some of the building looked like they were lined by a multiple layers of those stone blocks.
Tai Lung also wondered about the fort the Workshop members stole from but he quickly shook it off from his head. He had no time to spare, his friend was in need of help and there was nothing he could do. He needed to reach the surface as soon as possible.
Lately, the lion was the only thing he could think about. And how could he not? Arc had become a part of the snow leopard's life, a part that he held dearly close to him. Not only was his mind filled with morose things happening to his friend, most of the time he would just remember all the good times he had spent with the teenager and it usually brightened his mood.
Like the time Shifu had asked him to teach a young class of students but little did the red panda know was to tell him exactly what he was supposed to teach.
"You taught them what?!" Shifu yelled at the lion who looked completely confused at the red panda.
"I didn't teach them anything, really. I simply answered they're questions about where babies come from." The lion replied, unaware of his actions, like usual.
Master Shifu stood stricken with fear with what he had just heard.
"What did you tell them?" Shifu asked completely scared to find out the answer.
"Don't worry, I didn't tell them anything inappropriate." The lion reassured with a smile.
Somehow Shifu didn't find relief with that, mostly because this was Arc, after all.
"Then what exactly did you tell them?"
"I showed them this picture book!" Arc said as he pulled out said book. A happy, yet clueless, grin plastered on his face.
Shifu on the other hand was horrified as he read the title of the book in a cracking barely audible whisper.
That memory, that day, the laughter it had brought Tai Lung was precious to him. His mind then went straight to the day the lion had spent an entire afternoon sitting next to him just to keep him company while the cub was grounded for misbehaving. Such a simple gesture meant so much more to him now than it did then.
Tai Lung smiled as he recollected the events of that memory. Even without his presence, Arc was brightening his day.
He needed Arc in his life. There was no doubt about it. The lion was his family and he will reunite with him no matter what stands in his way.
"Where are we going?" Tai Lung asked aloud as he noticed they were traveling through a rural area and not the main road.
"We are going to look for a nice clearing on a not so crowded field to make camp."
"What about the train station? We need to get to Arc." Tai Lung replied, coming off as a bit too demanding.
"And we will." Gongju responded firmly yet calmly, "However, it's getting late, we need to rest and the train station is located about a mile away from this city. We'll board the first train at dawn."
He hated he had to wait but there really was no other choice. He certainly didn't want to hear complaints from anyone.
Might as well use this time to admire the city where the heist took place.
And then it clicked.
"Where is the fortress you guys raided? Or the asylum you robbed Penpal from?"
"The fortress is still where we left it but the asylum burned down." Gongju explained, "Worry not, they built a new one on the other side of the city, though it is referred to a hospital now. It is full of some of the best doctors and caregivers. It is one of the best in medical and psychological science in all of The Underground. You can tell the place is fancy by how it smells of proper hygiene unlike most other places."
"Afraid of getting dirty?" Tai Lung teased.
"Laugh all you want but there is nothing wrong with being tidy." Gongju replied, crossing his arms, any sign of amusement left his face.
Before Tai Lung could reply, Penpal spoke in his leader's defense.
"There's nothing wrong with being clean and organized. How else am I supposed to make good strategies or predict the weather if everything is out of order?"
"Predict the weather?" Tai Lung repeated with clear confusion on his face.
Well, his head is always in the clouds. Makes sense he can tell what they will do. Then again…
"Oh, uh, yeah, it's one of my special abilities." Penpal explained as he twiddled his thumbs.
"You mean the character you role-play can predict the weather, right?"
"Oh, um, no, I, uh, I can tell the weather before it happens. I don't know how, I just know. It's like another sense. I can't really explain it."
Tai Lung noticed how uncomfortable the cougar was having to explain himself to someone else.
"Penpal, I'm not going to hurt you. You don't need to be afraid of me. Besides, you're the one who has shocked me in the past."
"Oh, sorry about that! I didn't mean to!" Penpal replied in a sad tone.
How did someone as fragile as Penpal be declared insane enough to be locked in the crazy house? Tai Lung thought to himself.
"Are you really insane?" He bluntly asked the cougar.
"Huh? Um, I don't know. Aren't we all mad?" Penpal finished with a sad smile on his face.
"That's honestly the sassiest thing you've ever said." Tai Lung replied, a bit impressed by the timid feline's statement.
"Oh, I-I'm sorry!" Penpal replied with big sad eyes.
"You don't have to apologize for everything." Tai Lung reassured.
"You're right. I'm sorry."
Tai Lung sighed in defeat. Clearly, whatever was that made Penpal who he is had a much stronger influence on his behavior.
"Right there seems be the most adequate spot." Gongju informed everyone as he pointed to a grassy meadow up ahead.
Once there, each member of the team dropped their belongings on the ground and sat down to rest.
Gongju, however, was looking for materials to make a bonfire.
"Everyone, rest up or do whatever you want, we'll continue our trip later." He informed his team.
As everyone sat or lied down on the ground, Penpal remembered something important and began to search through his own bag.
"I completely forgot to tell you. Here you go, Tai." The cougar said as he pulled out a bunch of items from his rucksack. He happily, yet timidly, handed them over to Tai Lung.
"Arc left behind a few of his belongings. I kept them for safe keeping but I think you should have them." Penpal explained.
Tai Lung recognized the majority of the items and it brought a smile to his face remembering more of the lion.
"Thank you!" He responded, eyes gleaming with gratitude.
As Tai Lung rummaged through Arc's memorabilia, everyone else around him found interest in the lion's personal things. Among the heap, the snow leopard noticed a red bowtie and a light blue one with a yellow flower pattern, an empty container with a cork, a crumpled piece of parchment paper and what looked to be a mineral stone. There were a few more items but these were the ones that he took interest in.
Wen, in particular, was intrigued in a piece of cloth. She took it from the small pile and caressed it against her face.
"Arc left behind a blankie!" She exclaimed, both amused and charmed by the fragment of fabric she was holding. "Doesn't really surprise me." She added.
Tai Lung watched her as she continued to caress her face with the piece of cloth and he let out an amused chuckle, trying not to burst in a fit of laughter. Nevertheless, he spoke to explain the situation the vixen.
"That's not a blanket, that Arc's loincloth."
Upon hearing that, Wen threw piece of fabric away from her and shrieked in what could only be describe as pure horror as she began to wipe her face with her hands, in a desperate attempt to wash herself from the loincloth's touch.
Ralix was rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically at his sister's misfortune.
"Stop laughing, you little butthole!" Wen demanded, her face lazing red.
Tai Lung then noticed where the loincloth had landed. It was covering Penpal's face.
"Penpal, whatever you do, don't breath in Arc's groin musk." He joked.
Of course, Ralix laughed even harder seeing this turn of events.
"Don't worry, I'll help get it off from your face." Gongju said as he moved towards the petrified cougar.
Once the cloth was removed, Penpal's face was revealed to be bright red with big wide eyes still completely frozen in place from embarrassment.
Wen, still wiping her face with her hands, strode off towards the city, "I need to wash my face in the nearest body of water available! No, scratch that, make it a barrel, no, a crater filled with soap!"
Ralix stopped laughing and grabbed Penpal by the wrist, "Come on, we can't miss this!"
It was a rather funny scene as the small fox tugged and pulled the taller feline, who was still petrified from embarrassment, to follow him so as not to miss a moment of the vulpine's source of entertainment.
Tai Lung watched them go and smiled. Yet another memory brought to him by Arc, even if he wasn't directly responsible.
He then sat down next to the older snow leopard, who was making adjustments to his crossbow, in hopes of forming a conversation. The cub was pleasantly surprised when Gongju did in fact start talking to him.
Finally, he had Gongju's attention.
"You and I need to talk and it's not about your usual ramblings. It is about Penpal and why you should be more careful when speaking of personal matters about him."
"Why is he the way he is? How could someone so fragile and innocent be considered dangerous?" Tai Lung asked, genuinely interested.
"When he was younger, before we met him, Penpal was physically and mentally abused by his caregivers." Gongju explained as he prepared to build a bonfire, "From what I gathered, he was orphaned at a young age and was left in an orphanage. There the children were treated like slaves with no say in the matter and, I fear, were whored to the rich."
The last part caught Tai Lung off guard and it made his heart wrench with an all too familiar feeling but he did his best to keep his composure as he listened to Gongju.
"One day, Penpal snapped and lashed out and thus he was sent to the asylum."
Then with a piece of flint, the snow leopard lit a small fire.
"That's all the information I could gather from him and on my own." He continued to explained as he tried to keep the flame from dying out. However, he did look directly to the smaller cat with a pleading stare, "Please, don't bring up such matters to him again."
Tai Lung knew from personal experience of seeing children abused and he certainly didn't want to make Penpal relieve such pain.
"I understand." He said with finality.
Gongju noticed the change in the younger cat's mood, tone and features and decided to switch the topic of the conversation.
"You miss Arc's company, don't you?"
Tai Lung raised a brow and smirked at the other feline, "Am I that easy to read?"
"Sometimes." Gongju replied. "The other times you are just dick."
"Takes one to know one!"
Gongju chuckled at that, not denying the young cat's words. He did, however, continue the conversation.
"What is it about Arc that you can't let go of him?"
"I guess, I like being around him. He makes me smile." Tai Lung answered as simply as he could. Then again, that was the truth.
Gongju nodded and spoke.
"Well, joyful people tend to make others happy as well. It's only normal that negative individuals, such as yourself, to be attracted to joy and get as much of it as possible. Arc just happens to be that endless supply of happiness you need. I can't blame you, he's a special guy. Who wouldn't want to be eternally happy?"
"You're wrong." Tai Lung replied, "Arc may seem happy all the time but in reality, he's sad. I can tell." "He's just like me, except I don't hide my pain from others."
"He does lie about his species. It doesn't surprise me that his smile is just a front. I mean, he lies about his own identity all the time, after all." Gongju said as it was the most casual of piece of information about the lion.
Tai Lung eyed the other feline suspiciously. Then again, Arc had mentioned that Gongju was the smartest person he knew. It shouldn't surprise him that he figured out Arc's secret.
What about my secret?
"Your observation skills are outstanding." Tai Lung said.
"I try." Gongju responded with a proud smirk.
"What else do you know about him?" Tai Lung asked, still curious. If he was able to figure out Arc's secret all by himself, he could inform him more about his friends personal life.
To his surprise, Gongju actually gave him an answer.
"I know that he recently turned a year older and told no one about it."
"Wait, he did? How do you know his date of birth?" Tai Lung asked completely taken aback. How could Arc not celebrate his own birth, let alone tell anyone else?
"He told me five years ago, on our journey to this city." Gongju explained.
"Why didn't he tell me? I would have gotten him a gift or maybe a dessert." Tai Lung explained. Still confused as to why his friend wouldn't tell him with something so simple as the date of his birth.
"Arc is quite the secretive guy. He likes to keep things to himself. In my opinion, I think Arc just doesn't like being reminded of his existence." Gongju explained calmly and without a single doubt in his tone.
Hearing all this information about his friend only managed to upset Tai Lung even further. The lion needed him and he wasn't there to lift his spirit and protect him and vice versa. He contemplated how to reach his friend quicker as he recalled more memories of their time together.
"Hey, Snow Cub!" Arc said as he held his hand out towards the cub, "I got you your very own pet rock!"
"Uh, thanks." Tai Lung replied as he eyed the moss covered, round stone in Arc's grasp, "Why did you suddenly decide to gift me a rock?"
"I thought it looked pretty and it has personality so it made sense that a special rock such as that one should be left in the care of someone special!" Arc explained.
Tai Lung had to smile at his friend's bizarre, yet kind, behavior, "Well, thank you! I'll take good care of it!"
"Remember to feed it and give it walks!" Arc happily informed.
Back in the present Tai Lung was fondly chuckling at the memory of his time with his friend.
Where did I leave that rock? He thought to himself.
But knowing that Arc had kept secrets from him was rather suspicious, especially since his altercation with The Gambler and the lion's sudden disappearance.
He had celebrated Gongju's birthday when his friends brought him a cake and showered him with gifts (though, he wished he had brought a gift as well). But, he never stopped to think about Arc or to find out more about him other than the usual subjects that were brought up. Even when the opportunity came the snow leopard didn't take it and just worried about his own problems. He never stopped once to wonder if Arc even wanted to go to Zola.
"I can tell you miss Arc dearly. He means a lot to you." Gongju said, offering a smile to the cub.
Tai Lung nodded.
"Ever since he left, all I can think of is him. Mostly, all the fun I've had with him since I met him about a year ago."
"Let me guess, in most of those fun times, he was naked, right?"Gongju joked.
"Pretty much." Tai Lung chuckled, "Like that one time an uptight high-class prim bitch visited the Jade Palace for her weekly bitching."
Tai Lung recalled that event, nearly a year ago.
It was the middle of the day and the training hall was occupied by Master Shifu and Tai Lung. Little did they know that they were going to receive an unwanted visit.
"Master Shifu," The prim voice of a woman called out the red panda from behind, "I have a few complaints to address to you about your inappropriate teaching methods."
Tai Lung turned to see who it was and gasped in surprise upon seeing her. He could have sworn she had died many years ago. How old was she again? He remembered being a child and how that old got would march up the Jade Palace every single week to file a complaint.
Master Shifu, on the other hand, took a large breath in annoyance, exhaled and then responded her as politely as he could muster, with a forced toothy grin.
"Miss Ling, what a pleasant surprise to grace us with your presence."
"Hmf, at least one of us is capable of brightening such a miserable room. This chamber is infested with the stench of muscle-bound brutes roasting in the sun."
"Is this the reason for your visit?" Shifu asked trying to hold himself from angrily retorting at her.
She stuck her nose up in the air and responded him after a quick huff.
"No, but I am glad I brought it to your attention. My reason for being here is to inform you of the rowdiness of your students constantly making such a loud ruckus. I can hear them from my own home."
"I'll see what I can do." Shifu sighed, "Thank you for informing me, miss Ling."
Suddenly, Arc interrupted their conversation and waltzed right in front of them.
"Hey, Shifu, have you seen were I left my pants?" The lion asked the red panda. He was, of course, completely nude.
The lion then noticed the old woman in the room and happily greeted her.
She however, had her now wide eyes set on the lion. Her face was red from the sight of the naked feline. She ultimately spoke in a scandalized tone as she clutched her chest.
"Oh goodness me, a pee-pee!"
And then she collapsed on the floor.
"She died!?" Gongju exclaimed in shock, trying to hold in his laughter, especially after hearing what Arc's antics had produced.
"Yup! The sight of Arc's wiener caused her cardiac arrest." Tai Lung amusingly explained, "She probably never saw one before in her entire life."
As much as he wanted to talk about his friend's antics, Tai Lung had other things in mind and yet they still involved the lion.
"Has Arc told you anything else about his life that I may not know?" Tai Lung asked.
Gongju hesitated to answer at first but ultimately decided there was no harm in sharing a few details.
"Well, I am aware of his family's fate. I make sure never to bring such themes whenever he's around so as to not hurt him in any way."
"What about you? Do you know what became of your family?" Tai Lung asked.
Then, Gongju's features hardened but he did respond, although, in a rushed manner.
"My mother was a prostitute. My father was a no good piece of crap."
"Oh!" Tai Lung responded. Clearly, he did not expect that answer. Hell, he didn't expect an answer at all! But, those words hurt to hear.
However, Gongju explained himself.
"My mother's long gone and my father, well, I have no idea what became of him."
"I should probably never bring up this matter to you, huh?" Tai Lung asked in a grim tone.
"That is correct." Gongju replied sternly as he started a small fire from a piece of flint in his hands.
At least Tai Lung got him to spill some personal information rather than just elude his questions.
He then looked back at the red bowtie in front of him and picked it up. Of all the things he never expected to do in his life, this was one of them: he was tying the bow around his neck.
"Need help with that?" Gongju asked seeing the younger cat struggling to tie the accessory properly.
"I've seen Arc do this every single day." Tai Lung boasted.
It was true, the lion always wore a different bowtie every single day for no particular reason. Why did Arc like them? Tai Lung had no clue.
"How does it look?" He asked Gongju once he had successfully tied the decoration around his neck and presented neatly to the other feline.
To his surprise, the older snow leopard smirked.
"You look adorable!" Gongju playfully teased.
Tai Lung groaned at that jab but ignored it, nevertheless. At least now he would always have something that reminded him of Arc. Well, this and the…
"Oh, I nearly forgot all about it. I've kept it in my rucksack for almost a year!" Tai Lung thought to himself as he recalled a very specific detail he had overlooked for so long.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps approaching their location at a rapid pace. Tai Lung turned toward the sound and saw both Wen and Ralix running towards the two snow leopards.
What was the reason for them to sprint to their location? Why did they look so distraught? And where was Penpal?
"Gongju, we have an emergency!" The vixen explained once she reached the cats, though out of breath, "They took Penpal!"
"What? Who?" Gongju asked sounding a bit more worried than he would have liked.
"Some guard. He recognized him from many years ago and took him back to the asylum." Wen explained.
Gongju took a deep breath and nodded.
"Well, it looks like we are now on a rescue mission." He said conclusively as he poured water over the fire he had built and gestured everyone to come closer to him.
"Gather around me. Here's the plan…"
About an hour later.
Penpal was trashing helplessly in a padded room. He was, of course, restrained by a straitjacket.
"I keep telling you, I am not crazy!" The cougar cried out as he lied on the padded floor, struggling to break free.
"Are you sure he's an escapee?" A nurse asked as she watched the feline from a window.
The guard nodded and explained himself.
"Yes, I remember him. Those eyes, that annoying wheezy squeaky voice, that stupid hat and he shocked me when I touched his arm, just like now he used to do whenever he came close to me."
"Well, he won't be escaping again. The security here is tighter now." The nurse added with affirmation.
Once the guards were gone, Penpal stopped his excessive movements and leaned against the wall, forcing himself on his two feet.
"I thought they'd never leave." Penpal sighed in relief, "This place has improved quite a lot since I was last here. It's almost even cozy in here!"
About a minute of silence.
"Any minute now…" He said to himself.
He then heard the door hinge rattle and squeak.
"Even faster than expected!" The cougar happily exclaimed when he saw Wen standing in the doorway.
Then the steel door swung open and there was Wen.
"Never doubt Gongju's schemes." Wen asserted.
"Where is everyone else?" Penpal asked, noticing that the rest of the team was nowhere to be seen.
Wen explained the entire plan to the cougar as they sneaked their way down the hallways.
"Gongju and Ralix are taking care of the guards right at this very moment, you know, sedating and distracting them." Wen clarified.
"What about Zai?" Penpal asked. If everyone had a task, what about their youngest member?
"Oh, Gongju gave him a task not only to keep him busy and not screw our mission up with his impulsiveness."
On the opposite wing of the asylum.
"Why did Gongju ask me to look for a laundry cart?" The feline had been informed the laundry cleanup schedule and that workers should be changing old bed sheets with clean ones about this time of day.
Tai Lung was ordered to take said cart to a certain area of the asylum at a certain time for reasons he did not know.
His ears perked upwards as he heard footsteps approaching his location.
He ran towards the nearest door he could find and entered the room without a second thought, making sure to close the door and pressed his ear to the wooden surface and listened closely to the sound of footsteps as they came closer and closer and then became distant to the point they were no longer audible.
Before he could release a breath of relief, Tai Lung was startled by the voice of a child coming from behind him.
"Who are you?"
Tai Lung turned to look at the stranger and was startled once more, not by the child's appearance but by the fact he had an eye patch on his right eye. He was staring at a raccoon wearing decent clothing (a black montsuki kimono, black and white striped hakama and white tabi concealed his feet) but kept himself at a distance from the feline.
"Are you my planned play date for today?" The boy asked, his voice monotone.
"Uh, sure. I'm Tai." Tai Lung replied as he extended his hand towards the boy. Though, the latter did not accept his gesture, he didn't react to it either.
"My name is Kaito. It is a pleasure to meet you." The raccoon replied, his voice still monotone.
"What game did the doctors schedule for today?" He asked the snow leopard, still monotone, without a glint of excitement or any other emotion.
Tai Lung quickly looked around the room for a quick answer. There as only a small table in the middle and a couple of chairs.
"We get to play, um, hide and seek! Yes, that." The snow leopard responded, feeling almost too proud of himself for coming up with that on the spot.
Finally, the raccoon actually changed his expression to one of surprise, though his voice was still as monotone as before.
"Oh, it is usually board games, nothing too exhilarating like that game in particular."
Tai Lung huffed a bit and responded.
"Well, today is different. Now go hide and I'll look for you."
The one-eyed raccoon just stood in place and stared at the feline for a few seconds.
And then he spoke.
"Where should I hide? There is nowhere to hide in here?"
Tai Lung then placed his hand on the raccoon's shoulder and looked him directly in the eye.
"Kid, you can hide wherever you want in the asylum. Now go!"
A few seconds of silence.
"My name is Kaito."
"Go hide!" Tai Lung cried out.
Kaito then stared closer at the cub, leaning closer and closer, examining the feline for no reason. He then spoke and, of course, his voice was monotone.
"You remind me of someone I once knew many years ago. He even had the same name."
"Go hide already!" Tai Lung said through gritted teeth.
Without another word, the raccoon turned towards the door and exited the room and onto a hiding spot.
Tai Lung let out a breath of relief.
"Now, onto my mission." He said with determination as he sported a serious look on his face.
He exited the room and looked around. He sneaked his way down the hallway to hunt for his target.
After a few minutes of searching, he finally spotted what he was looking for: an unattended laundry cart and by the looks of it, and nice fragrance, its contents' were clean. The cart was basically a big wooden basket with wheels and a handle on two opposite sides.
"Jackpot!" Tai Lung exclaimed as he pushed the cart away.
"Now to get this damn thing to the back of the asylum without anyone noticing me."
However, Tai Lung was suddenly lifted off the floor and was now face to face with a gorilla.
"What do you think you're doing, boy?" The giant ape asked, holding the cub up by his wrist.
"I, uh, I… Oh, to hell with this!"
And with a swift movement, Tai Lung managed to land a fist on his captor's face, sending him flying several feet away.
The cat landed on his feet and continued onward with his mission. This time he would not hesitate to take down anyone who stood in his way.
So much for being stealthy.
Luckily, he did not encounter another guard on his way to his destination.
I guess Gongju and Ralix must have accomplished their part of the mission.
Once he exited the back entrance, Tai Lung positioned the cart exactly the way the team leader had instructed: beneath the third second story window to the east.
Now, onto the next phase of his mission: wait patiently to rendezvous with the team.
He waited a few minutes and still no sign of his teammates. He knew better than to doubt Gongju since the boy's schemes never seemed to fail, especially since he always had an alternate plan in case things don't go precisely as planned.
Tai Lung shook his head and decided to think of something else to pass time.
Of course, his mind went straight to Arc.
He clutched the bowtie he was wearing in the lion's remembrance and wondered what his leonine friend was doing right now. Was he happy? Was he safe? Was he thinking about him?
Once again, his mind drifted to another memory of his time with the lion.
Both Arc and Tai Lung were in their room at the barracks of the Jade Palace.
The snow leopard was gazing attentively at the lion who was tying a bowtie around his neck. Every day; a new bowtie.
"I don't think I've seen you wearing the same bowtie twice." Tai Lung expressed as he lied on his bed.
"I should get more. Each one is a memory of the past. A moment that I wish to remember. Whether it is a happy recollection or a sad one." Arc responded.
Tai Lung looked at the teenager in utter confusion, "Why would you want to remember a sad moment?"
"I don't know. I guess I do." The lion responded, "For example," Arc then reached for his backpack and pulled out a long yet thin piece of blue cloth, "this one is from when I won a dance competition."
He then pulled out a few more of his bowties, "This one is when I popped a bone out of place, this one is when I got my first mane hair, this one is when I made a huge archeological discovery, this one is when I developed a fear for poo and poo throwing monkeys and this one over here is when I got over that fear."
"How did you get over it?" Tai Lung asked, completely curious and a bit worried at the same time (this is Arc, after all).
Arc smiled and responded.
"I got to know Master Monkey better and I learned that not all simians are rabid poo throwers. Also, poo isn't so bad since we used mine to prank the magistrate, remember?"
"Yes, I remember." The snow leopard replied and yet he was more confused by the answer he was given, "What, where and when did you develop that specific fear?"
Of course, Arc happily answered his question the only way Tai Lung would have expected from the lion.
"Want to go there? It'll be great to truly confront my fears once and for all no matter how many turds we're covered in!"
"Never mind!" The cub replied with his paws up in the air.
Tai Lung then snapped back to reality when he heard the voice of Ralix.
"Hey, Tai, ya made it in time."
Before Tai Lung could respond in his usual sardonic way, he was taken aback by the vulpine's clothes.
"What are you wearing?" He asked as he eyed the frilly pink dress the fox was sporting.
"It was part of my mission." Ralix replied as he proudly placed his fists on his hips.
"And you did an amazing job back there." Gongju congratulated his friend as he folded his wheelchair and threw it in the wagon.
Everything was going according to plan. Now all that was needed was for Wen to reach them with Penpal.
As if on cue, the shutters to the second story window opened and revealed to be the vixen and cougar.
"Look out below." Wen shouted as she took Penpal's hand and jumped, much to the feline's concern.
Luckily, they both landed in the cart, their fall safely cushioned by the pile of clean laundry.
While Wen hopped out of the wagon, everyone else got in and draped themselves with the laundry.
"Now to the final phase." Gongju said as he gestured to the vixen, "Wen, push us the hell out of here!"
"Gladly." She replied and pushed the cart out of the asylum's property and its vicinity. She made a straight line to the forests in the outskirts, making sure not to attract attention yet play it cool.
Once they were deep within the concealing trees, the cart stopped and everyone jumped out of their hiding spot.
Gongju was the first to speak, "Well everyone, give yourselves a round of applause because that mission was a success."
"And we got Penpal back!" Ralix expressed as he wrapped his arm around the mountain lion's neck.
"Are you sure nothing bad will come from all of this?" Tai Lung asked the older snow leopard, only for Ralix to answer him.
"Words of advice, never question Gongju. He wouldn't suggest something unless he had a backup plan or a way out in case things go wrong."
"Leave the cart here, we'll leave travel through the woods, making sure no one spots us."
Ralix hopped out of the laundry and landed swiftly of the grassy ground.
Penpal stood up and looked directly at everyone, his eyes full of gratitude and yet he sported his usual shy sad smile, "Thank you, everyone, for saving me. I don't know what I would do without you."
Gongju spoke on behalf of everyone.
"It doesn't matter if we have to reach the end of the world, we will never let anything happen to you. Remember that."
That simply made Penpal lit up as his eyes twinkled from his friend's words.
Suddenly, Tai Lung felt something move beneath him and he nearly jumped out of surprise when he felt it again.
"What the hell…?"
When he moved away layers of clean laundry in front of him, he was, once again, startled by what lied hidden in their escape vehicle.
"Looks like you found me."
Everyone turned to look at the stowaway, sporting the same startled face as the young snow leopard.
"Kaito? What are you doing here?" Tai Lung asked the raccoon in complete shock.
The young raccoon just stared expressionlessly at the cub.
"We were playing hide and seek, you were it and I was hiding in this laundry cart."
A few seconds later.
"And you found me. Now I'm it. Go hide."
Everyone just blinked blankly in unison as they continued to stare at the raccoon.
"Did we just kidnap this kid?" Wen asked, pointing at their stowaway, not being able to hide concern from her voice.
Of course, this made Penpal feel guilty. After all, this wouldn't have happened if he had not been captured.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to!" He said as tears formed in his eyes.
Gongju, on the other hand, looked intently at the raccoon, inspecting him carefully. And then it dawned on him.
"Are you Zoi Zenigata's son?" He asked.
Kaito turned to look at the snow leopard sitting on a wheelchair and nodded.
"Yes. Do you know her?"
Gognju nodded in return.
"Of course, she's very kind to us. She's currently at the Valley of Peace on some personal business."
Kaito didn't respond to his answer, he just stared at him with an absent gaze.
"We are outside of the asylum." The raccoon said.
"Well, he's no genius, I'll tell you that much." Ralix joked as he cheekily jabbed his elbow on Penpal's side.
Gongju propelled his chair towards their stowaway and reasoned with him.
"We can take you back to the asylum if you wish."
Kaito shook his head and explained, still expressionless.
"No. I'm bored of that place."
Gongju then took a deep breath and offered a smile to the raccoon, who pulled out zori sandals from his pockets and set them on the ground only to insert his feet, one by one, in them.
"Then, you should come with us." The leader said, shocking everyone except Kaito who simply stared at the snow leopard.
"Well, where would you like to go, Kaito?" Gongju asked him, which caused the vixen in their group to scoot over to the feline.
"You're taking him with us?" She asked wide-eyed.
Gongju responded with a shrug of his shoulders.
"We did the same with Penpal, twice."
Wen sighed and rolled her eyes. Nevertheless, she gave in. Great, one more brat to babysit!
"Whatever, welcome to the team whoever you are." She said to her latest charge.
"My name is Kaito." He responded.
"I'm Wen, that's my little brother, Ralix, the wizard is Penpal, our leader, Gongju, and I see you've already met Tai."
The raccoon stared at Tai Lung, who was now standing next to Gongju.
"You look like someone I once met." Kaito said.
"I know, you told me." Tai Lung responded with a hint of annoyance.
However, he did notice a few seconds later that Kaito was not looking at him when he spoke. His gaze was directed at Gongju.
"Enough introductions. We need to leave, now." The leader ordered and with that they were once again roaming the land.
It would be dark soon but knowing that if they stayed, they could run into trouble with guards, especially since they have two escapees with them. It was better to avoid main roads and just head straight to their next destination, the nearest train station, without pause.
"So what can ya add to the team?" Ralix asked the raccoon out of curiosity.
His sister rolled her eyes at her brother's poor question.
"What he meant to say is: what can you do? Any hobbies of interest? Anything interesting about you?"
The raccoon continued to walk, not even turning to stare at the fox and then he finally spoke in his usual monotone way.
"I killed a man."
Silence after that statement.
Gongju broke it, however, with an answer that came off as too casual.
"So have we. In self-defense, but still…"
Kaito just continued his pace without showing any signs of emotion. Hell, had he blinked at all since they found him?
"Yo, Kaito, how did ya lose ya eye?"
"A man ripped it out. My mother killed him for it." He answered almost immediately.
"Um, not the answer I expected." The fox expressed. He had heard that Zoi Zenigata was capable of bringing lots of harm but he had never heard her kill a person deliberately.
He shook his head and tried once more to start a conversation with his new teammate.
"Wanna know where we're headed?"
The fox didn't get an answer but something did click in his head.
"Hey, are we reaching the capital city by foot?" Ralix cried out to his leader.
"No, I told you, we're taking a train. It's much faster and we need to reunite with our friend. He's waiting for us over there." The snow leopard responded as he propelled his chair forward and avoided obstacles from the unmarked grassy road they were taking.
"That's right." Tai Lung said and fastened his pace, "Arc is waiting for us. Let's go."
"I bet ya wondering who Arc is, huh?" Ralix asked the raccoon enthusiastically, in hopes to start a conversation with him.
"No." The raccoon responded immediately.
The vulpine's hopeful smile deflated to a scowl.
"Well, I tried!" Ralix shrugged with a sigh of defeat.
At the front of the group, Penpal approached Tai Lung.
"I'm sorry I got captured. I know how much you wanted to explore the city."
"No big deal. Besides, we have a new member to keep us distracted."
"Though, I would have liked to have seen the fortress."
"The one we robbed?" Penpal asked.
"Are there any other fortresses in that city?" Tai Lung replied, he wanted to say something sarcastic but decided to just go easy with the cougar.
"No." Penpal answered as he twiddled his fingers.
"Then yes, the one you robbed."
Gongju then inserted himself in their conversation.
"From what I know, the place was abandoned after our heist."
"Why?" Tai Lung asked.
"Remember that unexpected visit from Councilman Tzabar during the heist?" Gongju said, "He was there to collect something of his. Something dangerous and illegal. Something everyone knows was and is in his possession."
Tai Lung just stared at the other feline with interest.
"Recall the story of the heist, inside the fortress there were bottles of a specific potion, forbidden from being made in all of The Underground for its dangerous effects. Tzabar went that very same day to retrieve them and make an escape before anyone noticed. He was a major contributor for the upkeep and maintenance of the fortress, once he didn't need their services for keeping his secret brood safe, well, the place shut down in about a few months, every patron left and moved on and that's how the very same fortress we robbed became nothing more than an empty eyesore. "
"So now it's just a big building with nothing to hope out of it." Tai Lung concluded with an air of disappointment. He really was in seeing what the Workshop had to encounter on their first mission and not a boring husk.
"No," Gongju added, "teenagers tend to frequent there, either to do drugs or do the nasty."
Penpal then leaned in to his leader's ear with a concerned expression.
"Are you sure it was okay to say things like that to such a young boy?" He whispered.
"Trust me, he's done worst things." Gongju responded the cougar's question with an air of dismay, not caring who heard him.
Tai Lung continued to walk but he was taken aback, though he tried not to show it, by the other snow leopard's words. He was tired of always giving the leader of the Workshop the satisfaction that his words managed to get to, easily, him.
"I don't get you, Gongju, but I will get answers someway, somehow." He thought to himself as the group made their way through the harsh terrain and onto what lay ahead.
At the capital city, Tzabar rested on an armchair as he stared out the window with a rising sense of unease. Despite years of work, for some reason, he felt like something was getting closer and closer. Whatever it was, he had no clue whether it was good or bad.
He was growing desperate. He had not received word from his undercover agents of anything suspicious in quite a while. Not even his lookouts were lucky, at least, that's what they reported after camping on the site in which they claimed they attacked traveling undergrounders months ago.
The jackal had spent years on this plan, his agents who were right now doing his bidding have formed lives of their own as time went on and nothing had been accomplished.
There was a casualty among his men but it was actually a self-inflicted death, according to the autopsy.
Even Nianzu disappeared.
The undergrounders got to him, I know it! He thought to himself as he contemplated the fact that he was right about another thing: there must be an entrance to the secret world somewhere in this city.
His best agent, Rou, was right now out on the field trying to accomplish anything that would benefit him. The feline had proven his worth from his previous work and the jackal knew that soon he'll be given his opportunity to finally…
"Sir, I have a message from one of your agents." His latest servant, a dwarf rabbit, said, interrupting his thoughts.
Normally, he would lash out at any of his workers who would do such a thing, let alone enter his quarters without asking permission first or introducing themselves. However, the rabbit's words caught his attention.
"What are you waiting for? Give it to me already!" The jackal impatiently cried out as the servant handed over the sealed scroll.
At this point, anything would be good.
Tzabar read the message. Saying outloud the parts that caught his eyes or that he thought were important.
"A prisoner?" He said, "I see. She found out about our operations." He kept reading for anything else, "She might have knowledge of what we're looking for."
The prisoner should arrive any day now and when she does, they'll extract everything they can from her. This was better than nothing, at least.
"Sir?" The servant rabbit called out.
Tzabar growled under his breath as he spotted the small man still in his room.
"What the hell are you still doing here? If you're going to stay at least make yourself useful and bring my supper."
"Uh, I was given another message to give you. It's from an agent Rou." The rabbit nervously explained.
The jackal actually got on his feet and snatched the scroll away. Surely, if any of his agents had discovered anything important, that would be Rou. He read the message like the one before except this time he wanted to make sure everything he read was in fact written and not just something he imagined.
"What's this?" He said upon reading a rather interesting bit of information. Of course, he read again just to be sure. He smiled blissfully and looked up from the scroll.
"Actual evidence of The Underground…"
"Need anything else, sir?" The rabbit interrupted his monologue.
The jackal, however, did not lash out or displayed any signs of anger at the servant. In fact, he looked relaxed and happy.
"No, you can leave but bring me my supper. Tonight I feel like celebrating."
The rabbit looked confused but nodded.
Once the room was empty, except for himself, Tzabar sighed heavily and walked towards the window and stared out into the world.
"I know you're hiding somewhere. I'll find you someday. Mark my words."
Miles away from the capital city Cinpronio laid hidden behind shrubs and trees as he tried to hide his disgust at the rotting corpses he had to watch over until his task partner came back from her personal errands.
How did he end up like this?
All he wanted was to be a dancer with his friends by whatever means necessary but now he was all alone following orders from a group of psychopaths and now he was tasked with tricking anyone of importance with the puppets he was taking care of at the moment.
And yet, all he wanted was to kill the little bastard that killed his friend and, clearly, caused him to be in his current position.
I'm going to kill him.
He then heard footsteps approaching his location and he quickly grabbed hold of the nearest dead body and lifted it so as to make it seem it was standing on its own.
"Who goes there?" The bird asked as he pulled a string, that moved the jaw of his puppet, in sync with his own words.
He didn't get an answer, unfortunately, which only made him gulp and elevated his concerns.
"I'm screwed! Why did I think this would be a good idea?" He whispered to himself as he panicked to make a decision.
"You can come out of hiding." A soft raspy voice called out.
The flamingo recognized it and he dared to peek from the bush and saw none other than the black clad, white feline with tears staining her face: Ciqi.
"It's you." Cinpronio said as he poked his head out of the shrub, "Lian isn't here at the moment but she should return any minute now."
She shook her head and responded.
"I'm not here for her. The Gambler wanted me to tell you that you've done a good job making sure Tzabar and his men suspected nothing. But now he has new task for you."
Hearing that the flamingo shot upwards in delight.
"Good! I'm tired of these decomposing husks and their stench!"
Then he remembered an important detail.
"What about Lian? She should be back soon."
"She was assigned a task. She just didn't tell you." The sobbing girl informed.
"Are you kidding me?!" Cinpronio cried out.
"Do not fret; you did your job quite spectacularly. But now it's time for the next phase in which you will be given the opportunity to obtain the revenge you seek."
The flamingo calmed down once he heard the words he wanted to hear.
"So…" He said as casually as he could, "Where are we going?"
"The capital city." She informed as she wiped tears away.
"The Gambler has big plans and it will occur there." She informed as she turned around and faced the direction of her next destination.
Cinpronio looked at her and then at the corpses he had helped turn into puppets.
"What do we do about the bodies?"
Ciqi turned around once again and pointed towards the corpses which made the bird look in that direction.
"Don't worry." She said, "They'll take care of it."
The bird noticed how thousands of spiders appeared out of nowhere and engulfed the puppets, slowly encapsulating them in webbing and then they dragged the corpses away into the depths of the forests, never to be seen again.
The flamingo gulped at what he just witnessed and then stared at the crying feline with what could only be describe as worry.
She extended her hand towards him.
"Come with me." She whispered.
Tia Ra cradled her youngest son in her arms as the boy slowly fell into slumber. She was, of course, surrounded by the small crowd that is her children.
They had accustomed to life in the valley, even if their stay was temporary, and had become quite well known among the citizens.
She was heading to a grassy clearing near the farmhouse that served as their secret entrance to the valley since it was the only place where she knew her children could play and get some exercise without disrupting anyone in the village and she could keep an eye on each one.
Of course, when she and her family had last used the secret entrance, the house wasn't a busy business but that's what she was witnessing at this very moment.
A group of men were lined up at the door. Tia had no idea what they were doing but she assumed that the secret entrance had been discovered and others had been using it freely.
Suddenly, a panther burst through the front door pushing out a goat.
"I keep telling you Miss Xinla isn't here! She hasn't been here for quite some time. Now leave me alone!"
"But what about my lady problems?" The goat complained.
"I was told my perfect match would be scheduled for today." Said another of the men waiting in line.
"Actually, I'm just here to get laid." A shameless individual on the same line confessed.
Alvar inhaled deeply and restrained himself from punching anyone. He wasn't feeling well with everything that was going on in his life and he wasn't going to let a bunch of horndogs make things more complicated for him.
"I said leave!" The panther yelled at the top of his lungs finally displaying his anger and annoyance which seemed to work as the line dissipated and everyone made their way back to where they came from.
Still huffing from the adrenaline rush, Alvar just stared into the distance.
Tia witnessed the whole display and instead of backing away and minding her own business like she knew she should, the lioness felt like she needed to be informed on a few matters.
Her children frolicking and playing on the grassy plain and her youngest child was safe in her arms. Seeing everything was alright, she approached the male, though conscious.
"I've seen you around the valley a few times. What exactly is going on here?" She asked the panther, who turned to see who it was and was surprised to see one of the most gorgeous woman he ever witnessed.
Hubba hubba! He thought as he happily eyed her form up and down several times.
He stopped admiring her beauty when she cleared her throat.
He blushed from embarrassment at his behavior and apologized. He did answer her afterwards.
"Well, as you can see my friend runs her business here… but she disappeared."
Just like everyone in my life…
The lioness looked at the male in confusion, "Disappeared? Are you sure?"
"She would never abandon her business without making sure it was under the management of someone she trusted."
"What about you? Aren't you a trusted employee of hers?"
To this, Alvar shook his head and offered a smile, "I'm actually one of her clients and no, if she wanted me to run her business, she would have at least informed me."
"I see." Tia said as she caressed her baby.
Alvar noticed the child and then looked past the lioness and saw the a group of lion children. He looked back at her with curiosity.
"Are all of them yours?" He asked gesturing the children.
"Each and every last one." She happily answered as she looked back at her little ones.
"Busy woman!" Alvar expressed as he counted the amount of kids.
"I have two more but they're on a trip." She added.
He kept staring at her and her happy family.
"I once had family of my own." He said grimly. He had no idea why the words left his mouth but they did.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Tia Ra responded, feeling a bit awkward by his statement, "If it's not too much to ask, what happened to them?"
He hesitated to answer her question but sighed and gave her the only response he could.
"I don't know…"
And then, something in his head clicked.
"I was betrayed." Alvar said, completely out of breath, astonished by this discovery, "I lost my wife because of them."
And then his eyes widened at a new memory that finally reached the surface of the depths of his mind.
"My wife and my… my son? He whispered the last words.
For some reason, the world seemed to have slowed down to the panther and then everything went back to its usual ace and he was now dealing with a sudden realization. He turned to look at the mother holding her baby.
"I had son."
"I had a son!"
"I HAD A SON!"
Tia Ra just stared at the seemingly insane panther cry out random statements like a lunatic. Did she just witness a man's descent into madness?
Should she check if he was well or not?
Trying to break him out of his current state, the lioness did the only thing she could think of, except for backing away: introducing herself.
"Well, my name is Tia Ra, it's a pleasure to meet you, kind sir!"
The panther then stared at the lioness, this time with eyes even bigger than before.
"Tia Ra? The Tia Ra?" He then rummaged through his pants and pulled out a promotional image of clothing displaying Tia in a rather provocative garment, "This Tia Ra?"
She blushed seeing the image but nonetheless smiled at her fan.
"The very same." She gleefully responded.
The lioness noticed that he was twitching. Apparently, whatever had occurred to him was still bothering him. What could she do to distract him from having a nervous meltdown?
"Who's business are you protecting, if I may ask?" She asked him, gesturing the farm.
Alvar, still shook from the discovery he made, forced a smile and answered as calm as he could.
"Miss Xinla is running her matchmaking corporation right here. Well, she would if she had not vanished."
"I see." She responded. "Did she match you with someone?"
Before answering his face lit up and then he frowned and slumped his shoulders.
"Yes, but I managed to screw that up."
The panther would kick himself now and then for messing up his one chance to be with Tigress but his forgotten past kept getting in the way of his present and his future.
"Are you in the valley just because you're looking for love?" Tia asked out of curiosity.
He smiled and shook his head.
"No, you see it's kind of a long, complicated story but I've been living in this village for a few years now. Xinla agreed to help me out and moved here temporarily."
He wanted to avoid specifics, mostly because right now all he wanted to do was scream at the top of his lungs but did not dare to do so in front of Tia Ra, especially since her children were present.
"Ah." She said, understanding where he was coming from, "My family and I are visiting. Two of my children went on a pilgrimage and said they would return here once they are done."
"I see, you're staying in the valley until your runaway kids return?"
"Precisely." Tia Ra nodded. She noticed he was still twitching.
"Are you sure you're well?"
Alvar inhaled, puffed out his chest, placed both fists on his hips and forced a toothy smile.
"Me? Of course! In fact, I better clean up the place before Xinla arrives and sees her aphrodisiacs are still scattered on the floor."
Before he made a hasty exit, the panther took her hand and gently shook it.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, damisela Tia Ra!"
Normally the touch of a woman he had fantasized in his dreams would make him bounce with excitement but now he was too concerned with what was going on in his life to care.
And with that he entered the farm, leaving Tia Ra, cradling her baby, rather confused by the bizarre man she had just met.
Any more surprises? She amusingly thought to herself as she scanned the area to check up on her children.
She was startled and pleased to hear a familiar friendly voice.
"Tia Ra, as beautiful as ever, I see!"
The lioness excitedly turned to the direction of her friend's voice.
"Lan Se! How are you? It's been a while!"
She would embrace her friend but she didn't want to disturb her slumbering baby. The male feline was dressed in his usual blue uniform and carrying his messenger bag, and by the looks of it, he had a busy day ahead.
"I'm more than fine! Nice to meet your whole family at last." The cheetah responded as he gazed at the group of children in the field.
"Well, most of my family." Tia Ra corrected.
"I know, I have a letter from Jagter and Nakira meant for you and your husband." He informed, "I stumbled upon them while they traveled. Arc was with them, by the way."
"Speaking of your husband, where is he?" Lan Se asked not seeing the massive, intimidating feline anywhere in sight.
The cheetah then jumped in surprise as a heavy hand placed itself on his shoulder.
Lan Se turned around and was greeted by the hulking sight of a Tia Ra's husband.
The lioness, on the other hand, was trying to contain her laughter.
"Honey, don't scare others like that. Lan Se has a message from Nakira and Jagter so be gentle."
The male lion simply looked down on the cheetah and offered his hand, which the deliveryman took and shook.
"Sorry, it's in my nature." Jagter said. His voice deep, almost with a hint of a roar behind it.
"We know Arc is with them, any sign of the Workshop children?" Tia Ra asked the cheetah and to her confusion, he seemed to be taken aback by the question.
"I had no idea they were traveling together with the Workshop kids and I didn't spot them anywhere near your song and daughter."
"What about little Tai?" She asked with a hint of concern in her voice.
"Didn't see him either." Man, that kid just keeps disappearing and causing trouble.
Maybe they all weren't together when Lan Se took the message? Tia Ra thought to herself.
"Anyway, it was nice seeing you again, Tia, and your husband as well!" The cheetah expressed and then he gestured his bag with all of its contents.
"As you can both see, I have other deliveries and errands to finish. Till we meet again!"
With that farewell and a wave of his hand, the cheetah was off once again.
Once he was gone, Tia Ra carefully handed her baby over to Jagter, then unfolded her children's message and read through it in silence, only telling her husband important bit or anything that might interest him.
"They are traveling by train back to Dynophita's Pillar!" She expressed excitedly.
"They must be on their way back." "Good, I want to set Nakira's suitor straight."
"Talk with him but don't physically harm him." Tia explained, "Nakira won't forgive you if you do."
"I've seen that boy naked more times than the amount of children we have." The male grumbled.
"He's a sweet boy. Go easy on him." She said it confidently, not because she knew Arc well, though she did, it was the fact that her most responsible child, her eldest son, was watching over his sister and making sure Naki was safe and out of trouble.
Tia Ra continued to read the letter despite her husband's audible huff and groans considering the male teenager's relationship with their daughter. She chuckled under her breath as she always found it humorous when he was grouchy.
And then her heart sank. Her breath was missing as she read the same sentence over and over again. She turned to look at Jagter with eyes full of horror and recited what was on the message.
"They're heading straight to the capital city…"
His wife's stare was enough to fill him with dread but after hearing the reason for it, his blood turned cold.
"Are they not aware that the capital city is not safe at the moment?" He asked, not caring that fear showed on his features and voice.
Whatever their reason for going, the lioness wasn't going to let anything happen to her children and with a big inhale of air, she stood straight as determination burned inside her.
She knew what she had to do.
"I'm going to the capital city myself." She told her husband with a definitive air.
"Don't, I'll go in your place. I can take care-" He was cutoff by his wife.
"No, stay here and guard our children in case if anything unexpected happens. As soon as I find Naki and Jagter, I'm taking them to safety and make our family whole again."
Jagter didn't like this plan. He didn't like that he couldn't protect his entire family and was now in this situation, feeling helpless. Yet, his wife was right.
He saw the determination in her gaze and knew nothing would change her mind. The male knew that she would not quit until her family was safe and sound and knowing that reassured him for the time being.
"Alright." He said with a heavy sigh.
The baby in his arms began to stir and make sounds. It was almost as if their youngest child was aware of the grim situation his family was in at the moment.
After avoiding people and unwanted attention, the Workshop had finally boarded a train and were well on their way to the capital city.
The members were all doing whatever they pleased, from having a meal at the dining cart or just enjoying their ride. However, a certain snow leopard, still wearing his backpack with all of his belongings for safekeeping, did not join the rest and simply stayed all by himself in a cabin. With a heavy sigh, Tai Lung stared out the window only to distract himself from the fact that Arc was not there with him. Penpal had even offered him an apple but he set it aside for his worries were stronger than any amount of hunger he might feel at the moment.
This led to him recalling another even involving his missing friend.
"Hey, Snow Cub, pass me those eggs."
The snow leopard did as he was asked and handed over whichever ingredient the lion needed.
Arc was preparing his little companion a meal in a small pot he seemed to have pulled out of thin air over a small fire.
"Now pass me that carrot."
He was making a strange concoction and Tai Lung was fairly interested in eating something besides oatmeal.
"Now give me that octopus butthole."
Okay maybe not that interested.
Back to reality, Tai Lung let out a few chuckles. Memories that he didn't seem to care for were now the only thing brightening his mood.
Tai Lung sighed in relief knowing that he would reach his destination quicker than expected thanks to the advance transportation of The Underground.
The voice of Penpal made him change his attention from the view to the shy feline sitting next to him on the cabin's bench.
"What's the matter, Zai? You're not hungry?" The oddly dressed feline asked as he eyed the untouched apple.
"No, just a little worried." Tai Lung answered as he eyed the big, hopeful eyes of the cougar. He decided to give the apple a bite at least and in doing so the other feline smiled. Right after thanking his companion for the fruit, the snow leopard decided to start a conversation though he had no idea why he chose that topic.
"Why are you not talking in that bizarre manner that you tend to speak in?"
"Oh, dost thou prefer it when I speak in such a manner?" Penpal said.
"Speak whichever form you like, I was only curious."
"Did thee like the apple?"
Tai Lung nodded with a smile in the hopes to brighten the timid boy's mood and it seemed to be working.
"Can I have an apple?"
Both felines turned to look at the other person in the room, which they had no idea was there to begin with.
"Kaito? You were here this whole time?" Tai Lung asked.
"Why aren't you with everyone else?" The snow leopard asked the raccoon.
"I don't like people."
You and me, both! Tai Lung thought to himself.
"And why are you here Penpal?" The snow leopard asked the feline.
This question made the cougar avoid the other cat's gaze and twiddled his fingers.
"I thought thou were feeling lonely and I wanted thee to feel better."
Tai Lung smiled and placed his hand on the shy feline's shoulder and reassured him, "Thanks. It sort of worked."
Suddenly, the door to cabin slid open and there was the rest of the team.
"Is this where y'all want to spend the entire trip? Come have some fun once in a while!"
"I'm tired of all the walking." Tai Lung groaned at the fox.
"My name is Kaito."
"We heard you the first time." Ralix replied only to receive no reaction from the raccoon.
Gongju hopped on the bench and folded his wheelchair, placing it beneath the seat, then he happily looked at his team right before speaking.
"We should arrive at Dynophita's Pillar within a week and hopefully reunite with our friends."
"You don't think he'll be there?" Tai Lung questioned his statement, sounding way too worried than he wanted.
"I didn't say that." Gongju quickly responded, "I simply hope to reunite with our leonine friends. You really need to lighten up and relax and this is coming from me."
"Why do you hate me?" Tai Lung huffed. He had only experienced subtle passive-aggressive responses from Gongju since he met the boy and he wanted to change that, he genuinely wanted the other feline to like him, to open up to him and to learn more of the child who resembled Lei.
To that, Gongju actually sighed heavily, crossed his arms and tried his best to keep a calm demeanor.
"I don't hate you. Just because you may often irritate me does not mean that I dislike you."
The words made Tai Lung blush a bit as he uncomfortably rubbed the back of his neck.
Did I really say that out loud?
"I mean, you do tend to pester me quite a lot about subjects that I'm uncomfortable talking about so it's normal that I developed less patience for you."
"I know you miss Arc but we'll reach him, I promise." Gongju stopped talking and chuckled at a fond memory of the lion, "He is both a blessing and a punishment, isn't he?"
In a sense, he agreed with Gongju on that regard. Arc was like a guardian angel that was bestowed upon him to not only guide him but also to humble him.
Oogway, did you send him my way?
Of course, being reminded of the lion simply made Tai Lung lose himself in more memories of his friend.
"Where are we going now?" Tai Lung asked the lion as he followed him down a dirt path in a rural area of the valley where all he could hear was the raging waters of the river nearby. Anything that touches its stream would be swept away in an instant.
Arc was excited as he skipped with joy to their destination.
"I buried a treasure in this very valley five years ago. We're going to uncover it!"
"You mean an artifact that is actually worth a lot?"
"Well then, you have my full attention. Where is this treasure buried?"
"I buried it right next to a peculiar rock formation that looks like a cock!"
"Only you would pick such a spot."
Then something caught Arc's attention and he gasped.
"There it is!" The lion said as he ran straight towards the rock formation, shaped like a fowl.
Tai Lung blinked.
"Oh, it's shaped like a rooster."
"Yes, I told you. What else did you think I meant?" Arc responded as he inspected the rock structure.
"Uh, nothing." Tai Lung dismissed, trying to hide his blushing face.
Arc walked around the rock structure, feeling the earth with his acute tactile sense.
"Found it!" He exclaimed with excitement as he drew an X on the dirt.
And then the lion got on all fours and began to dig on that spot with his bare claws.
The snow leopard was impressed at how fast the lion dug rather deep and then he noticed his feline friend stopped and was now hauling on something.
The teenager pulled out a dirty cloth sack from the hole and Tai Lung was rather curious to see what was in it.
He was disappointed.
The lion pulled out a brown mushy mass, pieces of broken glass and a seashell.
"Um, where is the treasure?" Tai Lung asked, his arms crossed and his face displaying annoyance.
The lion smiled and explained the objects one by one.
"This used to be a one of a kind art piece but I guess the water ruined it, this used to be an ancient beautiful glass sculpture by a famed artist but I guess it broke when I threw it in the hole all those years ago but at least the seashell is okay!"
"You can hear the ocean!" Arc said rather excitedly as he pressed the shell against the cub's ear.
"All I hear is that it sucks." Tai Lung replied.
Despite his response and his negative attitude, the lion was still happy and optimistic.
"Wasn't this fun?" He asked the cub.
"I guess." Tai Lung sighed. At least now that they found what they were looking for they could head back.
"Ooh, there's something else in here!" Arc expressed with eagerness.
The lion dug his hand in the sack and felt a solid object. Not knowing what it was, he pulled it out.
Tai Lung's eyes widened at the object he was seeing: a gold blade with a jewel encrusted hilt. Truly, a treasure worth finding.
"Well, we don't need this." Arc said with disinterest right before he hurled the blade into the raging river.
Of course, Tai Lung simply just stared completely flabbergasted, with his jaw open, at what just happened and what the lion had done.
"Let's head back before it gets dark. We'll set on another adventure tomorrow, Snow Cub!"
The snow leopard's memories were broken when Ralix shook him abruptly.
"There we go. Welcome back, Tai!" Ralix exclaimed as he released the cub's shoulders.
Tai Lung shook his head and looked around the room as his face slowly turned red from embarrassment.
"You pretty much zoned out." Wen explained, "What were you daydreaming about?"
Tai Lung apologetically scratched the back of his head and laughed a bit nervously, "Just thinking about Arc and his usual odd ways."
"Well," Gongju said, "since that's the only topic you seem to respond to, let's talk about our dear missing friend. Would you like that, Tai?"
"I guess." He responded, still feeling a bit apologetic. He hated that everyone was able to see him in such a weak state over his friend's absence.
"Tell us how Arc beat the living crud out of Shifu!" Ralix exclaimed excitedly, almost demanding the cub to speak.
"Gongju didn't tell you?" Tai Lung asked, turning his attention the other snow leopard.
"I did, he just likes to hear it." Gongju responded with an apologetic look and a small smile.
"It gets better each time I hear it." The red fox explained. "Serves that pint-sized asshole right!"
Tai Lung raised a brow at the boy's last remark. He then turned his attention to his sister, knowing too well what would happen next but was surprised by her response.
"Normally, I'd smack you for using such language but I'll let it slide this time. Fuck him."
"You guys dislike Shifu?" Tai Lung asked the children only to receive nods in return.
"Oh yeah!" Ralix expressed and it was similar with everyone else in the small room.
"I'd like to gut him open with a rusty knife and leave him to die slowly as buzzards chew on his entrails as he watches his body being torn apart, piece by bloody piece."
Everyone just stared blankly at Kaito.
"That took a dark turn but he's sort of right." Gongju explained, "There's not a person in The Underground that doesn't despise him, Tai."
Now he looked more confused than before. He knew Zoi and Arc were not fond of him but he had no idea so many others felt the same.
"How come?" He asked sounding a bit more concerned than curious.
"You know, because of what he did to Da Xia." Gongju answered coming off as if it was common knowledge to everyone.
"Who?" Tai Lung asked. He did feel somewhat wary about what he was about to learn for some reason.
However, he didn't expect Gongju to taken aback by the cub's question but here he was actually confused by the snow leopard's little to no knowledge about this specific person.
"I'm surprised Arc didn't tell you about her." Gongju said as his eyes displayed what he had just expressed: surprise.
Tai Lung had enough. He crossed his arms and huffed loudly, fully displaying that he was not amused.
"Who was she and how is she related to Shifu?" He demanded. Anything that they could say, he knew he could handle it.
He was surprised to see that Gongju actually looked hurt, avoided his gaze and didn't answer.
After a few seconds of silence, Wen spoke.
"I'll tell you." She waited until the young snow leopard's attention was turned to her, "She was a beloved healer. Her knowledge of potions as well as the miracles she performed with her concoctions were astounding."
What was she going with this?
"One day she fell in love with someone on the surface and had a child."
"How is this related to Shifu?" Tai Lung impatiently asked.
This time, it was Gongju who continued the story with a cold tone in his voice.
"She was a snow leopardess." He said and waited for Tai Lung to look at him directly, his features stern and cold, "Shifu murdered her and her lover just so he could keep their child and raise him as his own just because he saw potential in the boy and wanted to be the one who trains the Dragon Warrior."
Silence. Nothing but silence.
"No one ever saw her again. She would have never abandoned her child."
Still, nothing but silence.
"Does that answer your questions, Tai?"
Tai Lung didn't say anything. He just stared at the other snow leopard with wide eyes, pupils constricted, his mouth half open, quivering even, as he tried his best to keep his tears from running down his face.
The boy stood from his seat and exited the cabin without a word and ran directly to the last car, the observation car, and stood against the railing.
He couldn't control his breathing. Tears finally ran down his face. He gritted his teeth. He gripped the railing so hard it began to bend.
Letting out a roaring scream that echoed throughout the land as the train sped through The Underground and yet all he could feel was pain.
He got answers and yet he had more unanswered ones now.
Why would Arc keep this from him?
How could Shifu have done that?
He needed answers and he knew someone was going to pay dearly for the incredible amount of pain he was feeling right now.
The snow leopard retreated from the railings until his back touched the door of the passenger car and curled against it as he wept in complete solitude. He loosened the red bowtie around his neck for it felt like it was constricting itself more and more by the second.
As he drowned in his tears, Tai Lung remembered once more what he had kept safe and decided that now was the best moment to use it.
Looking through his pack and rummaging his belongings, he found it. The yarn ball Arc had gifted him nearly a year ago.
The snow leopard remembered the lion's words: "It brought me joy at the darkest times and in doing so it saved my life."
Tai Lung embraced the ball as close as he tried to keep himself together. Was Arc's gift actually doing something to ease the pain? He had no clue but it did made him focus on all the good times he spent with Arc.
Suddenly, despite tears flowing down his face and the pain inside kept growing more and more, a small yet sad smile curled on his features as a small chuckle left his lips at the memory of Arc he just recalled. Suddenly, he felt warm. Almost as if the lion was there, hugging his friend, comforting him from the harsh reality that was his life.
Arc's words once again came to mind.
"I'm sure that one day it'll do the same for you!"
At the capital city on the surface.
"As you can see, the area is quite spacious. There is enough room for you, your staff, customers and everything else you wish to include. I'd make an offer now before someone else takes it!"
Frankie French Fry sighed as she inspected the empty interior of an abandoned building. Her mind was preoccupied but ultimately responded the salesperson, an overly cheery pig.
"Thank you for your help but I am only inspecting before I make my mind. Besides, this might just be temporarily."
The swine smiled and patted her shoulder.
"Well then, let me know whenever you wish to purchase a space. Until then, I'll be waiting outside for your decision Miss French Fry."
And with that he exited the premises.
"That's Frankie French Fry to you." The rabbit replied bitterly as soon as the pig left.
Normally she would be a source for uplifting others but right now she wasn't feeling any of it. Frankie paced around the building, watching her employees and crew inspect the entire perimeters and moving either debris out or equipment in.
She was feeling awful about what she was doing but she felt like there was a chance to accomplish something that would benefit so many but the price of whether succeeding or failing would be immense.
"Pierre," she called out the male rabbit and in an instant he was right there, "what do you think?"
"I think it is a most appropriate place for a restaurant, belle demoiselle Frotier. There are a few eateries nearby but I know they stand no chance against you."
Frankie forced a small smile and looked out the nearest window.
The chef could see where her target was currently located and it chilled her to the core realizing what she was planning to do.
She had no intentions of opening a new establishment in this very city, not because of the amount of competition, the rabbit simply didn't want unnecessary attention from high status individuals. Frankie tended to avoid common places where she could start a business in the hopes of not attracting a certain high-ranking jackal's attention.
However, that was why she was here for.
Start a restaurant while the Tzabar was residing there, get him to attend dinner service and feed him a personal dish from Frankie made from her hatred towards the contemptible jackal.
And that will be the end of his reign of terror.
No one will suspect it was her.
She noticed Pierre was standing still in the same spot, waiting for her attention for a response, for an order from his boss.
"Well, what do you think?" She asked, the grim tone was noticeable in her voice despite her efforts to hide it.
"I think it's perfect." Pierre responded, "It should take about a day or two to turn this place from an empty, dusty eyesore to a gleaming splendor worthy of your name."
"Good." She said and ordered everyone to begin the renovation process.
Soon, this will all be over.
What a day it had been! One would think that after the winter feast things would be smoother and yet it was the middle of summer and things were still hectic. But now, Shifu could rest knowing all went well and he earned a good night's sleep.
Just before entering the Sacred Hall of Warriors, his ears twitched as the sound of a barely audible movement put him on guard.
A soft voice from behind him called out.
He slowly turned around and saw a black cloaked figure, concealed in darkness with a big, toothy grin and glowing eyes standing there completely still, staring unblinkingly at the red panda.
And then, it spoke again.
"Can you come out and play?"
A/N: Man, it really is hard to write a chapter without Arc in it, that's why I added those little bits with him being his usual self. Hope you enjoyed that. Overall, this chapter was quite difficult to write. Also, I have a twitter account where I've been making tons of Arc art and chapter covers, just in case if you guys were interested.
Zoi has shown her true colors, I finally introduced Kaito (hope you guys like him), Tia Ra is on her way to reach her kids, Tai Lung found out a big reveal the harsh way and Frankie is about to do something drastic. Looks like everyone is headed straight to the same location, huh?
Since the story is reaching its third and final act, I thought it was time to reveal secrets and move the plot a bit faster.
Please, read and review!