Just short of chaotic was how Tag would’ve described the gala around him as he followed Master Croc through one celebratory crowd after another, candles lighting taverns as well as each street and byway with light and song. It was thundering sound all around him and soon he was smiling and singing along with some of the revelers even though at some points he caught wary glances and distrustful looks thrown his way. Some even looked disgusted as he passed by them spitting at his footpaws` when they thought that he wasn’t looking or jeering.
Even though he loved being in the middle of such happy festivities his ears sagged slightly as some of his worst fears began to hit home with even more force then when they had first occurred to him.
It would take diligence and hard work for any here or in china to trust him again.
For his part he kept to himself, careful not to bump into anyone or tip over anything…the clumsiness of being a teenager still a threat to him. However, Tag couldn’t help licking his chops at the wide variety of smells that hit him, rice, smoked salmon, dumplings, cakes, noodles, vegetable dishes, different assortments of seafood as well as the smell of freshly baked bread spread around and shared by the loaf.
In all of his time growing up here he had never been allowed to really explore the city and the few times where he had been allowed to walk the through it he had never seen it so alive with color and movement, never seen it’s citizens so happy nor the markets blazing and moving with such activity.
Regardless of what some thought of him he ignored them, relieved and astounded at how different his home had become.
Croc led him onward to a small café that’s terrace lay open to the outside and the streets beyond. The lanterns here were purple and although the mood was still jubilant and light somehow it also felt calmer then other parts of the city.
They were both greeted and shown to a table in one of the outside corners which allowed for a perfect view of everything going on, above them cracks and a great shaking sound boomed out everywhere at once. Tag drew his eyes skyward and shivered as vibrant colors exploded in sequenced beauty. Fireworks…
“Ahhh…this is how things should be my young friend” Croc muttered contentedly sitting down on the chair opposite him. “Song, food and peace all in one!”
“It is wonderful” the wolf admitted raising his eyes back to the sky in slight apprehension, “ all except…”
“The fireworks” Master Croc finished for him nodding in understanding. “You don’t like the fireworks then do you?”
“No I don’t” Tag growled glancing at the menu sitting on the table. “Can you really blame me? All I can think of in seeing them is Shen.”
Leaning over on the table and folding his arms Croc stared at him with new interest.
“I would assume that you agree with what Shen stood for…after all most of the wolves in Gongmen city fought for Shen.”
Hackles raising slightly Tag focused on the fireworks once more.
“I never have sided with Shen” he growled his whole body shaking visibly. “ Nor did any of my family fight for him out of choice! You have no idea what you accuse us of. We hated Shen and I for my part loathed the thought of ever fighting in his name.”
“Then why did your people led by the notorious Bosswolf cause so much trouble? Why follow him blindly” Croc cut back sharply? “ True you never fought under the banner of the peacock yourself but hundreds like you did. Wolves always have Tag Li!”
Fists clenched Tag looked down at the table his ears pinning back against his head helplessly as his boiling rage melted away and his exterior crumbled before the Kung Fu master as his shoulders shook and he covered his face with his paws tears falling hot from his eyes and creating small pools along the wooden surface near his elbows.
Around them all were oblivious to the transaction between them. He could feel Crocs’ eyes boring into him as he sat wishing that he could be invisible or dive deep into the sea and hide himself from curious eyes.
“We didn’t always….” he whispered to himself wiping his eyes and staring back at Croc trying to judge the reptiles reaction. Pity was something he didn’t want from anyone least of all a warrior like the one before him. Above he wanted to be understand…perhaps in time he would get his chance to amend what Shen had done and what the wolves had done in his name. Maybe in time he would be able to gain trust and cast a new light on his people and bring the reasons forth so that they didn’t remain secret. More then anything he wanted to be forthright and completely honest with Croc as soon as possible. However he knew that if he didn’t want to be misunderstood and if he wanted the truth to mean as much as he wanted it too that he would have to wait for the opportune moment.
Leaving Crocs accusations unanswered he scanned through the menu once more and selected a bowl of rice and a jar of wine waiting until one of the waiters, a gangly youth of a goose bustled to their table and wrote down their orders.
Master Croc ate surprisingly light, downing a small bowl of steamed rice with a dumpling which he kept dipping in his drink…whatever it was.
For his own part, his stomach growled as he hungrily devoured his food, savoring each grain and washing it down with the crimson of his drink Tag’s mood began to lighten a bit. Used to drinking as he was the atmosphere around him was contagious and the mood like a heated infection that caught on rapidly.
Soon he was up, leaving a few yen on the table to pay for his meal before his departure from Croc.
“I’ll meet you back at the barracks Master.”
Shaking his scaly head Croc winked at him.
“Alright but don’t get into more trouble then you can handle pup.”
Tag swaggered out into the square baring his shoulders and shrugging it off jokingly.
“Honestly scales who you calling pup?”
Before he could be reprimanded like he could read Croc wanted to do with some reply he dashed off flicking his tail out behind him back and forth as he walked down the main street exploring the city as he never had before and leaving Master Croc to eat his rice and contemplate his new nickname.
Scales? he thought chuckling to himself. He must take that as quite the disrespectful title coming from the likes of me. Oh well…
It didn’t take long to be caught up dancing to the merry melodies and drums ringing through the night. Tag soon found himself twirling around opposite a female rabbit who he’d bumped into. Neither had had a partner and somehow either through the luck having liquid courage still winding it’s way through his veins or some happy chance of fate the wolf found himself bowing to her further along the square.
It was a dance that he knew but given the wine his pawsteps missed their mark and he blushed his cheeks burning as he quickly tried to make up for his mistakes.
His partner for her part seemed not to mind, giggling a little at his plight before circling closer and hiding his mistakes with her own dance, flapping her trailing silk dress in intricate patterns that somehow never missed a beat.
“I’m sorry” he growled hopelessly after two more songs. “I’m not much of a dancer tonight.”
“You dance beautifully wolf” she said smiling. “I count it an honor to have you as a partner.”
Clasping her paws she bowed as the beat and the tune of the song faded away to a soft rumbling finish; the symbols crashing further and further away from discernable sound until the people cheered, urging the musicians on and begging for an encore.
Returning her gesture he smiled back and wagged his tail.
“The honor was mine. Thank you for dancing with me.”
He felt light on his paws and alive as the night wore on. Wandering away from the square he found the market place crawling with activity, games being played at booths, children running through the maze of older beasts, whooping in delight at their play while merchants sold their wares.
One such merchant caught his eye wreathed with tattoos all over her pelt, her eyes flickering with excitement as she waved about, her smock bouncing about her round form as she shouted out her sales pitch in a resounding cadence. The fox was a master at throwing her voice along with the best of them.
“TATTOOS! Come and see what fate has in store for you! Ever wonder what’s waiting just around the corner? What’s going to happen next….then if you do buy Madame Quin Sho’s Services tonight…find who you were meant to be!”
As he passed her she gave him a knowing wink as if she knew something that he didn’t.
Strange old bat! What the hell was that about?
Keeping a grin plastered on his muzzle he nodded to her and continued on his way, past a kite stand, another booth with chicken and then one where several contestants with bows and arrows were shooting at targets. The booth however was the one that caught his eye.
Another wolf much like himself paced around the caged fouls hungrily as if selecting prey.
Tags’ eyes narrowed.
However even though he could tell that the creature was planning on stealing, even though he recognized the spark of anticipation for crime written in those verbile eyes pity was his strongest emotion.
The other wolf was slender, scrawny, his clothing torn, little more then rags that clung to him. His nostrils flared greedily as the scent of the birds hit them and his eyes rolled back into his head with need.
Accessing the situation Tag strode up to the wolf and clearing his throat.
The wolf frozen and turned to look at him, worry clear and muscles tensed ready.
“Hi there” Tag said keeping his voice friendly.
“Hello yourself” the other wolf replied eyeing him up and down.
He’s sizing me up just in case he has to make a run for it….
Turning to the older goat behind the cages Tag growled out “I’ll take two chickens my good sir.”
The goat looked at him with a bored expression.
“Good. Two chickens for you tonight.”
“Also how much would it cost for you to prepare and cook them” Tag asked placing a paw carefully on the other wolfs shoulder should he pull away. “My friend here is hungry.”
The wolfs eyes were boring into him now, surprised and distrustful and then grateful.
Disinterested the goat pointed one of his hooved hands down further along the market.
“I don’t personally prepare my chickens but there’s a shop down that way that might” he murmured selecting two of the chickens and placing them in a bag.
Tag paid for the chickens and offered the bag to the wolf who took it and followed him stayed a couple of paces behind him.
“Why do this? Whoever you are…why help me?”
“Because I want to” Tag replied enjoying himself. “Also no one should go hungry on a night like this.”
The wolf smiled for the first time since Tag had first seen him shouldering the bag and trotting to catch up with him.
“Right you are brother. I’m called Stray” the wolf chuckled dipping his head in a small bow. “What do they call you friend?”
“Tag” Tag replied returning Strays’ grin with one of his own. “It’s an honor to meet you though I must ask…were you really going to try and steal a chicken from one of those crates? Surely that old goat would’ve caught you.”
Stray looked at the ground.
“I believe I could’ve although most of my life I really haven’t had a choice. I’ve always had to steal to feed myself….until tonight” he added. “Thanks again…honestly though I have nothing to pay you with. It was bad before being a scrapper on the streets of this place…now with Shen dead and hardly another like us within the walls it’s harder. Today with all of this…” he gestured at the jovial celebratory faces and activities surrounding them, “it’s worse. I can feel it.”
“May you could’ve but the risk…being caught…”
Tag could tell that the conversation was bothering the other wolf so he changed the subject as they drew closer to their destination.
“Anyways are you hungry?”
Raising an eyebrow Stray gave him a quizzical look.
“What do you think Tag?”
“Sounds good. Let’s get you fed Stray….”