A/N Here's Chapter Six, which sets up the rescue attempt in the next chapter, which I'm almost done writing. I know this story seems like it's going pretty fast, but don't worry; I've got a few ideas and plot twists simmering away… after all we know very little of Juan Tian Meng, Yin or Liulang Zhe… and then there's the ten thousand year old secret I promised in the summary, the one that will shake China to its core… and finally there's the real reason that Juan Tian Meng is attacking the Valley, which has nothing to do with the threat of Kung Fu…
Oh, and Mei Ling gets quite foul-mouthed in this chapter, for reasons that should be rather obvious, so apologies in advance to those who dislike swearing in Mandarin.
Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own Kung Fu Panda or any of the characters… if I did then Mei Ling would have been in the movies and Oogway would have made a ghostly appearance by now…
Plans Are Made…
Two felines were creeping stealthily, slowly over the lip of a ridge, one was female with the orange and black fur coloration of a tigress, more specifically a South China tigress, and the other had light grey-brown fur and was a male mountain cat. From just over the top of the ridge were faint wisps of smoke, the telltale signs of an encampment.
The two felines had sent Monkey back in order to inform Shifu of their discovery, whilst they chanced taking a closer look to verify what they already suspected. After three days of frustrated searching they had found the Dai Feng encampment.
"So, the panda just drops out of the sky and Oogway declared him as the Dragon Warrior?" Liulang Zhe asked.
"Yes, and then half the village paraded Po up the mountain, with great difficulty, and dropped him off in the Palace. Back then I was a little too… irritated to notice, but he seemed to be kind of… shocked, bemused and terrified all at the same time." Tigress shook her head, "And then he opened his mouth."
Liulang Zhe winced as he continued his stealthy approach to the ridge's summit, "Ah… and… you weren't best pleased."
"None of us were, especially Shifu. We tried to drive him out of the Jade Palace, beat him, humiliated him…"
"And he pulled your collective asses out of the fire and saved the entire Valley." He surmised.
"Pretty much." She replied. As Liulang Zhe started chuckling quietly she shot him a half-irritated, half-curious look, "What?"
"I was just wondering if Oogway was ever going to tell anyone that the Dragon Warrior was always probably going to be a panda." He said.
Tigress froze, "What?"
She didn't sound happy, and Liulang Zhe silently cursed his big mouth, "Well, uh… There've been… clues, signs over the years about whom exactly the Universe might pick to be the Dragon Warrior. There was this prophecy some fortune-teller in Gongmen City made about a 'Warrior of Black and White' that would defeat some crazy peacock. The Universe has this urge to make prophecies tie together. It likes its fated individuals to have quite a few destinies to fulfil."
"I know about the Warrior of Black and White. Po killed Lord Shen a few months ago." Tigress said.
Liulang Zhe, "Oh, I know. I was there."
"Really?" Tigress asked curiously.
"I was… delivering a message when that damned peacock and his cannons arrived and took over the city. I couldn't get out, but then, I didn't want to miss the show." He said, "I must say that battle in the canal, and the way Po fought off those warships in the harbour… that was pretty impressive."
"Impressive? We almost got blown to bits." She hissed.
He nodded, "Yes, but you did it in a rather spectacular fashion." He then put his finger to his lips and gestured upwards.
Tigress looked up and saw a lone bird, a hawk perhaps, circling high overhead. The two felines flattened themselves against the rocks, trying to sink themselves into the shadows of the ridge. For a few tense moments the bird continued to circle, scanning for intruders, and then he was gone, flying further westwards. They both released sighs of relief and continued their upward climb. Minutes later and they crested the ridge, giving them a view over the isolated plateaux upon which the Dai Feng had made their camp…
Tigress' eyes widened in horror. It was like a miniature city made of tents. She could make out armouries, smithies, barracks and the supply depot and the kitchen tents, around the perimeter was a wooden palisade, a barrier of outward-pointing stakes and breastworks and ditches. But at this distance, it was impossible to tell where Mei Ling was being held. Liulang Zhe pointed to the largest tent at the exact centre of the encampment, surrounded by an inner ring of breastworks, a wooden wall and a clear space which would obviously be a killing field or a firebreak in case the camp was attacked.
"That," He said solemnly, "Is the personal command tent of the Dai Feng's War-Queen, Juan Tian Meng. If we could get inside there would be at least a hundred hidden guards, booby-taps and a plethora of other nasty surprises, most likely including Jiao Han. Get past all of that and you get a chance to assassinate Juan Tian Meng herself, who is, by all accounts, an accomplished warrior in her own right."
"But if she dies…" Tigress said.
"The Dai Feng will collapse back into nothing more than a group of squabbling, warring bandit groups and petty raiders. Hardly the organised horde that threatens us at present." He finished.
Tigress seemed to consider it for a moment and shook her head, "No, her tent-palace will be a death-trap for assassins. We have to catch her out in the open."
"Just what I was thinking." He said, "Our best shot would most likely be an archer hidden amongst her ranks, or an ambush."
"We would need careful planning, Master Shifu won't authorise a suicide mission." She said.
Liulang Zhe nodded, "I know. For now we'd best just lie in wait, watch the camp, figure out the routine… and prepare ourselves for when the rest of your team arrives and we can go and rescue Master Mei Ling."
Tigress scanned the camp, and Liulang Zhe could see her planning strategies and discarding them almost as quickly, "The main problem will be getting across the open spaces around the camp. If we can avoid getting spotted by the sentries we shouldn't have too much of a problem sneaking into the prison tent and freeing Mei Ling." She said.
"If we can find the prison tent in all of that." He said, nodding towards the camp.
"I'll send in Mantis first. His… stature should mean he wouldn't get spotted. He will locate Mei Ling and inform the rest of us."
Liulang Zhe nodded, "The most difficult part will be sneaking Mei Ling out… I suggest a distraction."
"What do you have in mind?" She asked.
"I'll set fire to the supplies." He said, "And attempt to do the same to the war-machines they're assembling on the far side of the camp. With a little luck we can destroy the majority of their food, water and weapons along with a significant portion of their catapults and other machines. It might even spread further into the camp."
Tigress considered the idea, "Two birds with one stone… still the supplies depot will be guarded."
"It doesn't matter. I'll get the job done."
"Don't underestimate them, or they might surprise you then you'll be killed or captured!" She cautioned.
A strange, hard look entered his eyes, one that sent an odd shiver down her spine, "I'm not underestimating them. I am more than capable of dealing with this rabble."
Her eyes searched his hard, resolute face for a second and then she nodded, "Very well. But don't take any unnecessary risks."
"I won't." He said.
The two felines turned around and began their descent from the top of the ridge and back to the small camp they had set up the previous evening near the base where they would wait for the others.
"I'm not so sure about this, Yin… are you sure it will work?" Lian asked tentatively.
The two felines were sat inside Yin's small tent on the western edge of the Dai Feng encampment, the younger feline had been discussing the plans that her mentor had put in place to ensure the Dai Feng reached the Valley of Peace, "The Thread of Hope is designed to stop armies." Yin said, "However if we can eliminate the scouts that the Chih Kuan Crane Clan have put in place along the Thread of Hope then that should prevent the Furious Five from learning about our approach until it is too late. By then we should have secured the Thread of Hope and the rest of the army can cross with ease."
"It seems risky. Why not attempt to enter through one of the mountain passes?"
"The mountains are poorly mapped." Yin said, "We could spend months searching for a passage that leads into the Valley of Peace."
Lian remained silent for several long seconds and then said, "I have an idea; why not proceed with the first plan, but leave a small force behind to scout the mountains and search for a pass. If crossing the Thread of Hope proves too costly, then the army can use any alternate routes the scouts discover."
"Perhaps… hm… I will speak with the War-Queen and her generals." Yin said, "But don't expect them to agree. Her Majesty is quite obstinate once she has set her plans in motion."
"Has Mei Ling given up any new information?" Her protégé asked.
Yin released a frustrated growl, "That girl is more resilient than I accounted for… I am going to attempt one last peaceful interrogation before I resort to more… diverting methods."
Lian looked away hurriedly, "If you say so, mistress."
"Perhaps it is time I began your instruction in the proper technique for extracting information from obdurate opponents. If a little torture upsets you…"
"No!" Lian said hurriedly, "I am… I mean, I am not afraid. I am not weak."
"I would hope not, Lian. I have trained you to be strong. I have no time, nor patience, for the weak." Yin said coldly, "If you can no longer serve me it would be an easy matter to have you… replaced."
Lian's blood ran cold. Those that displeased or failed Yin rarely lived beyond such misfortune. She shook her head, "There will be no need for that, mistress. I live but to serve."
"Good. Now leave me… I have business of my own to attend to."
"Yes, mistress." Lian said, rising and leaving hurriedly.
Alone, Yin stood and walked over to a chest kept near her bedroll. She knelt down and traced her claw over the faint, badly weathered symbol on the front, too faded for anyone to tell what it once had been, "Blood of the blood, flesh of the flesh. Bones of my Ancestors, stone of my halls." She whispered, passing her right paw over the symbol.
There was a faint click and Yin opened the chest, taking out a small statuette of a young female feline of indeterminate species. It was made of an unknown stone and its fur was painted pale beige with silver markings, the eyes were a bright, vibrant green.
Yin smiled slowly as she cradled the statuette, "Ah… soon you will see my plans come to fruition…" She caressed the figure's face, "Oh how you will weep and gnash your teeth with impotent rage when you see all that you have fought for extinguished!" She placed the figurine back in the chest next to two other, smaller figurines, and laughed softly, "But don't worry, soon enough your husband will join you and your children… and the way for my victory will be cleared at long last. But at least then you can both be together again after so long apart."
Yin shut the chest and stood up, an odd expression on her face, "Perhaps when that day comes, when all is made right again, you and all of the others will forgive me… and see that I was right all along." She shook her head and growled to herself, "Or perhaps I will make you all beg for my forgiveness." She walked out of her tent, tail lashing with suppressed anger behind her. Perhaps she could take out her anger on that so-called Kung Fu Master, Mei Ling.
Mei Ling was on her knees, head slumped forward and her arms still tied behind her back to the pole by thick, coarse ropes. She couldn't tell exactly how long she had languished in this tent, all alone with no food or water, but her best guess was about three days. Her tongue felt like it was glued to the top of her mouth and her stomach ached from lack of food.
Suddenly the tent-flap was lifted open and light poured into the tent, dazzling her eyes. She looked up blearily but all she could make out was a vague, bleary shape framed by glaring sunlight, "Whaa-" She croaked, her voice weak and cracked, "What...do…you want?"
Mei Ling's ears flattened against her head in anger as she recognised the soft, silken tones of Juan Tian Meng's pet assassin, Yin, "I've just come for a little chat."
Mei Ling growled, "Cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài" She spat.
Yin smiled, "Such language!" She shook her head; "You never would have made a good wife with a tongue like that in your head. Maybe when this is over I'll do you a favour and cut it out?"
"When I get out of her I'll rip your throat out with my bare hands." Mei Ling snarled.
Yin smirked, "Hm, carry on like that and I'll be sending Crane your tongue… or perhaps one of your ears?"
Mei Ling glared at her sullenly, refusing to rise to the bait.
Yin snorted in irritation, "I haven't come here for pleasantries and games, Mei Ling. How do I enter the Valley of Peace without crossing the Thread of Hope?"
"I could always toss you off of the cliff and show you how to fly across?" Mei Ling offered.
"I am in no mood for jokes." Yin growled, "There must be another way into the Valley. Tell me or I will start removing body parts."
"What makes you think I know anything?" Mei Ling asked, "I taught at Lee Da; we don't exactly have close relations with the Jade Palace."
"You are a Master are you not?" Yin asked.
"They don't tell every Master where the backdoor is." She said, "I doubt if anyone remembers where the old passes even are! No one's had reason to use them for centuries."
"Shen's wolves knew." Yin said, "How else could they have entered the Valley of Peace undetected?"
Mei Ling glared up at Yin, "I don't know. You'll just have to kill me."
Yin backhanded her across the mouth; "I can inflict tortures upon you that will cause such pain as to set your very soul aflame with agony!" She hissed, "You will beg me for mercy, for death!"
"I'm not accustomed to begging." Mei Ling said, spitting blood on the floor, "But if you do the smart thing and let me loose I promise not to kill you."
"Brave words, little girl." Yin sneered.
"Little girl?" Mei Ling asked, insulted, "By the looks of you I think we're about the same age."
Yin snorted, "I may not look it Mei Ling, but I am far, far older than you or anyone else you're likely to have met, but enough of this! Tell me what I want to know!"
Mei Ling glared at her defiantly, "Never."
"Very well." Yin said, turning away from her prisoner, "I think leaving you here to starve for a little longer might loosen your tongue." She began walking out of the tent, but before she left she said, "If you prove too obstinate I might be forced to search for another source of information. How long do you think it would take for Crane to break if I started roasting him over a fire?"
Mei Ling paled, "Crane… Crane is stronger than you think!"
Yin chuckled darkly, "I think he would be a lot weaker if he watched me cut you up. Just think how his heart would break as he listened to your screams… how he would beg me to stop… and tell me everything I want to know."
"Crane may be my friend, but killing or torturing me won't do you any good! He knows his duty!"
"Perhaps." Yin said, shaking her head, "But love is a very powerful emotion." And then she was gone.
"Love?" Mei Ling asked in confusion, "What was she talking about?"
The sky had begun to darken to a deep purple as the sun sank below the mountains, plunging the Dai Feng encampment into a premature night. In the gathering darkness Mantis, Viper, Po and Crane were following Monkey towards the place where they had agreed to meet up with Tigress and Liulang Zhe.
"So… do we actually have a plan?" Po asked as he tried to keep up with the rest of the Furious Five.
"We sneak into the camp, bust out Mei Ling and set fire to stuff to cause a distraction." Monkey said, "We have to cause as much chaos as possible, maybe we can delay their attack on the Valley."
"But saving Mei Ling is our first priority." Crane said, "If we fail, they might… kill her."
"We won't let that happen Crane." Viper said reassuringly.
"Yeah, we'll kick Dai Feng butt!" Mantis put in, "Heck we'll beat their whole army and they all run away crying. I mean we're the Furious Five, it's what we do."
"Awesome!" Po said enthusiastically, "Trust us Crane, the Dai Feng won't know what hit 'em… with such bodacious awesomeness how could we lose?"
Crane cracked a faint smile, "Thanks guys."
The group came up to the base of the ridge where Liulang Zhe and Tigress had made their camp; the two felines were waiting for them, "Took you long enough." Liulang Zhe said, "I don't like being so close to their camp for so long. It's too risky."
"Sorry, but Po isn't exactly the fastest guy in the world." Mantis said.
"Hey!" Po exclaimed, "I'm not that slow."
Tigress smiled faintly, "Of course not, Dragon Warrior. It must have been the snack stops."
Po blushed, "Hey, I only took one break this time!"
Liulang Zhe cleared his throat and said, "We do have pressing matters to attend to."
"Yeah, rescuing Mei Ling." Po said with a nod, his smile fading into a sombre expression, "What's the plan for getting in?"
"The only way to get past the plateaux without being spotted by the sentries would be to join in with one of the foraging parties and sneak in behind them." Liulang Zhe said, "The problem is there aren't any snakes, cranes or pandas in the army as far as we can tell so it would just be Tigress, Mantis and myself. We'll knock out two soldiers, steal their clothes and join in with their group. Once we're inside the camp Mantis will start looking for Mei Ling whilst Tigress and I deal with the sentries, then the rest of you can sneak in."
Tigress nodded, "Once we're all inside Crane, Viper and myself will wait for Mantis to return, he will then lead us to where Mei Ling is held and we'll free her. Meanwhile Monkey, Po and Liulang Zhe will get in position. Once we send the signal they will set fire to the tents, supply depot and the war-machines the Dai Feng are building. We'll escape in the chaos."
"Nice plan, but it's risky. A lot could go wrong." Mantis said.
"It's the only plan that will work." Tigress said, "We have to take the chance. The moon is waning and there are clouds gathering. With any luck the moon will be hidden and the darkness will help us."
"A word of warning." Liulang Zhe said, "Don't go anywhere near the command tent, and if you see of the assassins, hide. I'm not sure how exactly Jiao Han fits into all of this, but we don't want to get her attention. I do not wish to sound as if I am doubtful of your skills, but none of you are her equal in battle."
"How will we recognise Jiao Han if we see her?" Monkey asked.
"I…I'm not sure." Liulang Zhe said.
"What do you mean? You must know what she looks like!" Mantis said.
"It's not that simple." Liulang Zhe replied, "It has been a long time since I saw her last, and whilst this Yin person sounds much like her I cannot be certain that she is not just Jiao Han's student. Jiao Han herself may have changed her appearance; dyed her fur, changed her clothing and hairstyles, any number of things. All I can say for certain is that she's involved here. Yin's style is too similar, and she was last seen amongst the Dai Feng."
"You may have to face up to a fact that Yin is Jiao Han." Tigress said, "If that is the case… can I count on you if it comes to a fight?"
Liulang Zhe nodded, "If… if Jiao Han has sided with the Dai Feng then I will fight her, but I want to speak worth her first. I want to make sure that I'm not jumping to any conclusions."
"Right… so… we sneak in, avoid Liulang Zhe's ex-girlfriend, save Mei Ling and run away before anyone's the wiser. I like that plan." Mantis said.
"She is not my ex-girlfriend." Liulang Zhe said mildly.
"Whatever. Let's go." Crane said impatiently.
"Liulang Zhe will return once we've taken care of the sentries, he will lead you to me." Tigress said as she gestured to Mantis and Liulang Zhe to follow her. The two felines and the insect began their careful approach to a small wooded area below the plateaux where they hoped to find a foraging party to ambush.
A/N So that's this chapter done, I know it wasn't all that eventful, but I'm sure the next chapter will be better. To those who want to know what Mei Ling said to Yin; Cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài apparently means 'Fuck your ancestors to the eighteenth generation', quite the foul curse in any culture, but especially so in China were family and reverence for your ancestors is very important.
I've almost finished the next chapter, but I might have to split the rescue chapter in two, but I promise a fight seen in either Chapter Seven or Eight.
Read, Review and Enjoy!