Rain pelted down profusely on the wreckage and scattered debris, the islands of wood and goods still scattered after the battle that had scarce happened hours before. After the span of time it was truly a marvel that any of it still remained as a mark and a symbol of what had transpired.
It had all happened faster then any beast had had time to register.
Shen had blasted through the bridge and the defenders with the cruel weapon of destruction he had concocted from the ingenuity of his parents crowning achievement…the fireworks. Nothing had stood in his way at the end even though the tyrant had killed many of his guards and soldiers in the process of seeing his dreams realized. Few of the defenders could do anything, blown back and floating helpless as the fleet fanned out, preparing to subjugate and conquer all of China.
The dragon warrior Po had stood as the last barrier to the world facing the great ships and the insane peacock alone in a heroic and inspiring display of courage. They had all known that it was the end, that the ball of flame would engulf and destroy him until the bulky panda had swiped it away and off to splash off and into the eddies. However the moment was relieved slightly as Po had brought up a paw and danced about as it burned.
Dousing the flame by shoving his paw into his mouth the creature chanced a silly grin at his enemies.
Lord Shen enraged had ordered his hoard to keep firing and somehow through it all the panda had kept deflecting the fiery spheres away and in some cases back at his enemy. It had been for all of the spectators like watching a delicate and dangerous sparring match with one contestant constantly defending and the other seemingly stronger of the two attacking with more fervor.
The rabbits, pigs, goats all started to cheer, urging on the one remaining hero and the last hope of the valley of peace.
Dismay was written upon Shens’ face, his feathers fanning out as he seethed with near uncontrollable anger.
At a bidden word his own vessel aimed at Po, the cannon bouncing back with the force of it’s projected delivery. Massive sparks leap as the giant ball of molten hot color hurtled towards the lone figure that stood on the wreckage that remained directly in the midst of the gulf. There was barely time, no chance to avoid such a force and deflecting it was out of the question!
In that moment every breath was held taunt and questioning for what would happen next, all frozen in the spell of the events playing out before them.
The flame hit the dragon warrior meeting his awaiting paws and pushing him back. He gave an audible yell that rang out through the valley. The water churned in rippling torrents around him as his yell gained intensity.
All were transfixed….
At the last moment he flew into the air still wrestling with the deadly energy, whirling with it in a huge ball of dark and light, white and black as the potential fire only increased in power.
Every watcher was dumbfounded, especially Shen….
Landing as if the impressive feat was only another training technique that he had mastered after years and years of training the panda landed on the wooden surface, the impact sending water crashing up around him and the ball. Eyes glowing with determination and poise he hurled the pulsating missile back the way it had come uttering one word that cut through every mind, every thought deftly.
It happened, the fire traveling back faster then any eye could follow, trailing along the tip of water before hitting full tilt into the prow of Shens’ ship. The air was alive with splinters, royal décor, shafts of light, iron, hard metals as well as the hiss of destruction.
When the fog cleared Shen was still alive but his fleet was no more. Even in victory Po had offered to let the lord live and heal but to no avail.
The peacock attacked him cutting at him and unwittingly sealing his own demise. Missing Po and cutting ropes that held up an unstable section of his vessel that jutted out overhead he had dislodged it, bringing it down to crush him as the dragon warrior dived into the water, coming up for air mid the roar of voices celebrating his success.
The festivities had been near ceaseless all that day, the city alive with merrymaking and laughter. It was over, all of it!
The great tyrant was dead and his reign, his insatiable quest for power and dominion halted and brought to an end. No sadness anywhere, only the thrill of joy and the music and lights and parties. Only the smell of food and flowers, of love and frivolity with no beast feeling down or helpless or confused….not one save for the solitary wolf standing near the shoreline watching the tide lull and push at all that remained of his life.
Broken timbers and memories washed out to sea never to return to him again and a legacy that lay in ruins, taken from him he knew not how.
He had watched as some of his pack along with others he knew had fought, he’d been surprised that such a small band of creatures would defeat an army and that one beast alone had stood before an armada and beaten them. Yet he knew not the most important piece of information of all…who had killed his father.
Had Bosswolf been killed in that moment when the fiery ball had been hurled by the panda? Had he escaped? Had some other beast killed him?
Questions wracked his mind with turmoil and he slumped to his knees falling freely from his face lit by only the smaller lantern of remembrance which he held in one outstretched paw.
“A warrior, lay down your sword…
A life of seasons beat on your drum
To call back days past and ward off ones to come
Now you go to fight long distant shore
A life of seasons without your face
Call back those days where the world offered more
Red is my heart that cries for you
A life of seasons, a warriors son
Where I shall fight and earn someday my rest too
Then I shall rest with you…”
As the last notes of his lament left his lips the young wolf touched the lantern to the water, the lit candle within flicking and casting a warm aura of bright yellow around the paper.
It bobbed off sending a gleam out across the waves, a ghostly vessel setting out on a virgin voyage sailing out as his father never had.
“That was an honorable tribute.”
The voice came harsh to his ears accustomed as he was to believing that he had been alone. Turning his head his red amber eyes met with two orange ones. It was a crocodile that had spoken his head bowed in respect and his body covered in simple robes. Even then however it was unmistakable who he was.
“Master Croc” the wolf whimpered? “I promise I’ll leave…”
“And why should you my friend” Croc chuckled. “ What do they call you wolf?”
“Tag Li” the small wolf answered not taking his eyes from the other beast. “Most just call me Tag.”
“Tag…hmmmm. I like it a lot! It’s a pleasure and an honor to meet you” Croc said bowing and clasping his clawed hands together.
Tag just stared off into the distance, his grief overcoming his fear of what the stranger might do.
Noting this Master Croc stood silently by watching the horizon thoughtfully.
“I take it you lost someone today” he asked nodding his long snout toward the remains of Shens’ ship.
“I don’t know what I’ll do to be honest….after what the wolves did…following Shen, causing so much trouble..I can’t stay. No one will want me around.”
“Friend they can’t going judge you by anything other then what you do yourself…your actions. I can’t promise that you won’t get accusations every now and again but it will pass with time.”
“That’s why I must go” the wolf whined piteously. “I need to start over and figure out who I am.”
“Maybe it is easier to start over then having to leave everything that you know.”
Raising his head hopefully at Crocs words Tag allowed his tail to sweep slowly in confusion.
“What do you mean? There isn’t another way.”
“Well if you would accept my hospitality until such time as you find out what and who you are you are welcome to house with me. It gets sort of lonely when all I have is Ox, who’s serious as well…as serious as only he can be.”
“One and the same kid.”
Starting to walk away Master Croc turned with a long toothy grin. “If you do decide to I’d appreciate it. Perhaps having you there would make him less apt to shoot down every joke I throw his way.”
Nonplussed Tag cocked his head.
“I…..I dunno….if you wouldn’t mind I at least need a place to stay for tonight.”
“Well that’s settled then. Come Tag! Away with us…perhaps we’ll run into a party or two on our way back to the palace.”
Standing Tag walked over and fell into step beside Master Croc as the older of the two regaled his newfound charge with merry ideas for jokes and pranks, slight variations in his kung fu tactics and anticipation for a nice meal of dumplings and rice cakes.
Tag only half listened to Croc as his mind raced bombarded with all the information that he was taking in and with the misery that still clung to him like an unwanted pest. For now he needed to drowned himself in wine if he could persuade Croc to indulge him for tonight. However he would not give up.
Somewhere in his being he knew that he would never find peace until he found out what had happened to his father who had disappeared mid the fighting. Tag knew that his search for truth had scarcely just begun…..