-{-[]-}-Kung Fu Panda-{-[]-}-

-The Mirror-

I

_a few months after Lord Shen's attack_

It was dark over the Valley of Peace. A thunderstorm was lazily making its way through the secluded region. In the lower section of the Valley, the normally bustling village was eerily quiet as the villagers waited in their homes for the storm to pass. Even Mr. Ping - the noodle shop owner - had closed up his shop for the day, despite the loss of his usual customers. A sudden flash of lightning lit up the sky, casting shadows through the empty stone streets.

Further up the mountain stood the ornate Jade Palace, home to the guardians of the Valley. The outer training grounds were quickly turned into small ponds as the rain continued to fall. Master Shifu had thought it wiser to remain indoors for the time being, and took some time to meditate. He left his students to their own devices - Po, Mantis, and Monkey were embroiled in a heated game of mahjong, their shouts of trash-talking echoing throughout the halls. Crane and Viper had opted for sparring inside the massive training hall. Tigress had actually decided to venture outside to do some training in the forest - she claimed the thunder and lightning had a calming effect on her while she trained.

In his quarters, Shifu sat cross-legged on a soft mat. "Inner peace, inner peace..." His eyes were closed as he repeated the familiar mantra. A sudden noise broke his concentration. Opening his eyes, he cast a quick glance around the room. Everything was normal, nothing seemed out of place. 'I must just be getting old' the red panda thought jokingly. His mind must have just been playing tricks on him, even more so from the recent events brought on by a war-mongering peacock by the name of Shen. But even the most dedicated warrior could still fall victim to worry and depression. 'Even I'm not immune to that'. Shifu could still feel the pain subtly making his presence known with even the slightest movement. It had been a bit more difficult getting around the palace, but he'd never let it show, especially to his students. Those injuries would heal, given enough time. The emotional pain though, Shifu couldn't be sure if that kind of damage would heal as easily.

The same noise caught his ear again. 'What made that noise then' Shifu thought. He looked toward the small chest near the door, and noticed the candles were blown out. A small, broken mirror sat between them. Shifu remembered the day he received it from Master Oogway - before he passed - and that the mirror had been undamaged for the longest time. But one day, it just fractured for no reason. Initially, Shifu had suspected someone of committing the act - namely Po, given the panda's clumsiness. But he and the five claimed innocence, leaving Shifu to wonder. And since that day a few months ago, strange things had been happening - the candles he lit near the mirror would just go out, odd noises were heard from nowhere, and just recently, Shifu swore that he could hear whispering from the cracks of the mirror itself.

'It's just a mirror' Shifu calmly reminded himself. 'Just an ordinary mirror'. But he couldn't help thinking about something Oogway had told him the day he received the mirror - "Nothing is ordinary, even the simplest object can hold the greatest secrets". Shifu sighed. There was more to this mirror than met the eye, and Shifu was determined to find out what it was.

He moved closer, attempting to examine the mirror, when he felt something push against his chest - like a large hand trying to hold him back. Shifu's brow furrowed in frustration as he took a step back. After a moment he thought, 'a different approach then'. Sitting cross-legged again, Shifu concentrated hard on the mirror. He fixed his eyes on the cracks while he continued his meditation, staring at his reflection. As seconds turned into minutes, Shifu could even hear the dust settling on the floor while he closed his eyes. Things were always so quiet when he meditated like this. 'Wait, it's never this quiet'. Shifu wondered. Something was different in the room. A harsh breeze unexpectedly whipped across his face - and there was an odd odor coming from somewhere. Yet it smelled familiar, like smoke.

Shifu's eyes shot open. Without warning he found himself falling into a massive, fiery chasm. He tried frantically to slow his descent, but to no avail. Now the ground was getting too close, too fast. Shifu decided to focus his strength into cushioning his fall. Closing his eyes, he gathered the surrounding energy into his body, and formed a protective shield around himself. "I hope this works!" His robes were beginning to smolder as the fiery wind tore at him. Shifu could feel the skin on his hands blistering from the heat as he held them in front of him. 'It's just got to work, it's just got to'. He could feel the cocoon of energy heating up as he fell still faster, a trail of fire streaming behind him. Shifu felt as if he were a comet streaking down to earth, if only this close to a horrendous death.

The ground was smoking. The remnants of a large tree lay splintered around the deep crater that had taken its place. Inside the crater, lay the partially burned body of Shifu. His energy shield held, but didn't absorb all of the impact when he crashed, knocking him unconscious. The fur on his face and hands were badly singed, and his robes had been blackened by the flames. After a few moments, Shifu slowly began to stir. He winced when he opened his eyes - the smoke had caused him some irritation, making his vision a bit bleary. He groaned as he sat up. 'At least there's nothing broken, I hope', Shifu thought grimly as he felt his way around to find something to grab onto. Finally, he found a tree root and slowly hauled himself up and out of the crater.

When Shifu reached the top, he seated himself on the edge to let his eyes clear. The ground around him was still burning, smoke rising from the scorched earth. The stench of charred wood was nearly unbearable as it choked the precious oxygen from Shifu's lungs. He started to cough violently, nearly sending himself back into the hole. Shifu had to get away from here before he choked to death. Opening his eyes wide, he could now at least make out blurry shapes and patches of light. 'It'll have to do until I get away from this smoke'. Summoning every ounce of strength he had left, he willed his legs to move and ran as fast as he could.

Shifu could hear his heart beating loudly in his ears as he half-stumbled, half-ran through the forest. The old master had the will, but his body was failing him. His face and hands felt as if they were on fire again; Shifu had to find some water for his burns quick. A sound caught his ear, it sounded like running water. 'Maybe there's a stream nearby'. Not more than a few dozen feet away, lay a small stream. Shifu hobbled over and slowly immersed himself in the cold water. His burns were soothed as he lay in the shallow stream. "Now all I have to do is figure out where I am..." he said tiredly.

After a few hours of rest, Shifu sat up to crawl out of the stream. His fur was covered in black, flaking patches - apparently the energy he summoned was healing him. But as he got up, Shifu spotted a tree untouched by the inferno. He decided to climb to the top to get an idea of where he was. As he reached the top, what he saw shocked him. The forest he landed in was almost completely gone, yet the fire would advance no further than the stream. "What caused this? Or more importantly...who caused this?", Shifu wondered. As he looked back towards the stream, he could see a tall hill. "There must be something over that hill, hopefully a village". Shifu climbed down and decided to head in that direction. "But more importantly, I have to find out where I am"...