Chapter 1: Prologue
Long ago, in an old world, there existed two lands that lived in harmony: the Fairytale Province, and the land just across the sea from it, Ancient China. Peace was known between the two for many centuries - until a great massacre struck under mysterious circumstances.
With bonds shattered and trust obliterated, dark times set in as a war broke out. Humans and creatures were torn apart, and so it became forbidden for the opposing lands to have any involvement with one another. Little is known of how these events came to unfold, but it is said that higher powers played a major role.
Years after the war first started, a peace treaty was bound between the lands, and trading started once more. Tourism followed and eventually immigration. New bonds were formed between creatures and humans alike as trust was slowly rebuilt between the differing lands. Among the bonds created was between a particular group of unique people and creatures. Whether it was fate for them to collide or simply coincidence, they could not say.
Chapter One: The Beginning
In Far Far Away, ten years into the Days of Peace...
"So, the guy your friend is getting married to...is a goose?" Go Go squinted through the dark strands of hair falling over her eyes. "Like, a real, actual goose?"
"Yeah," her friend, Catlan, laughed with amusement. "So you'll come to the wedding, right? I'd really appreciate you as my plus one."
Catlan glanced up from the multiple flyers bundled on the floor in front of her. She sat with her legs crossed with various faces staring back from the papers - bounties waiting to be caught and collected. Since moving to Far Far Away to accompany Go Go in researching for her latest project, Catlan had to adapt to a new line of work. It wasn't the easiest, but it brought a good amount of money in - and money was vital for staying in Far Far Away.
"Huh, well I can't say I've ever seen a marriage between a person and a goose before so, sure, it sounds interesting," Go Go leaned over her newest invention, a peculiar object that took up the entire table. Catlan had no idea what it was and she had no intention of asking. She felt that that sort of thing ought to be left to those with the brains for it.
"Okay, well there's still a few days to get organised," Catlan shuffled the flyers around to reveal more, absorbing the faces and rewards below them as she went. She halted on a particular one that had been hidden under the rest. Golden eyes pierced from the dark expression of the individual shown, teeth bared in a menacing manner. This was the highest bounty out of the lot: Tai Lung. She vaguely recognised the name, but unable to place it, she put it down to her most likely having seen the flyer before in passing. Considering the reward linked to this bounty, Catlan knew he was a cut above the rest. She gazed at his face for a moment before gathering the flyer and tucking it into her pocket as she stood up.
"Well, I'm off to see the bride-to-be. She wants Theo and I to help with something," Catlan told her friend as she headed toward the door.
"Cool," Go Go nodded, her bubblegum popping. "See you later, then."
Down the road from the residence of Go Go and Catlan was the noodle shop of Mr Ping, a goose who originated from China. He'd moved to Far Far Away to open a brand new restaurant - one on a grander scale than his last, intent on sharing his food with the wider world. It was here that he met Keri, his fiancée, and Catlan's old friend, a woman who had once been married to Lord Farquaad of Duloc, a neighbouring region of the kingdom. Keri had taken any and all of her husband's wealth when he met his untimely death, and with it, moved back to Far Far Away for a fresh start.
It was here that Keri met Mr Ping. She had seen that a new restaurant was opening in the centre of the city and, seeing the size of the building and taking in the location of it, she made it her quest to get close to the owner. She would visit every day and make a point of praising Mr Ping and giving his food compliments at every turn. Once she was close enough to him, she started making tea for Mr Ping rather frequently, claiming that he did enough as it was. The goose never caught sight of a strange liquid being poured into his tea, and before he could even say "noodles", he became infatuated with the woman.
Keri moved into the restaurant and lived with Mr Ping ever since. She didn't need to worry about his son as he was out of the picture for the most part, living over the sea in China where his duty held him. He visited his father when he could, but it was never enough time to catch on to his future mother-in-law's true nature. He recognised that his father was acting differently, but he'd never seen his father in love before and so grew to accept it.
"Oh good, you're here," Keri chirped as she caught sight of her oldest friend as she entered the restaurant.
Theo sat down in front of her and gave a shake of her head. "I can't believe you're doing this. Well, I can, but I can't believe you're actually marrying a goose for money."
"What?" Keri gasped in a dramatic fashion, slapping a hand on her chest as though offended. "I love Mr Ping, and I want to be Mrs Ping! How dare you accuse me of doing this for anything other than love?"
Theo rolled her eyes. "Right, sure. So what is it you're needing?"
"Well," Keri began in a hushed tone. She glanced over her shoulder and saw her fiancé over at the counter taking care of a line of customers. Content that no one was listening, she continued. "There's a bandit-for-hire that I have the details for. I'm figuring that since this is going to be a wedding, people will be carrying valuables on them - especially expensive jewellery that would cash in nicely. For obvious reasons, I can't meet with him, so I need you to do it for me."
"You want me to hire someone on your behalf to rob your own wedding guests?" Theo's face scrunched in disgust. She knew her friend was a complete gold digger, but she couldn't help but fall into disbelief every time Keri lowered the bar even further.
"No, I just want to relieve them of their burden. All that jewellery must be weighing them down, and nobody wants that!" Keri sat back, flashing a smile.
"Yeah, no, I'm not helping you with that," Theo told her.
Keri huffed. "You'd think my best friend would be more supportive and giving in the light of my wedding. A wedding doesn't happen every day, you know!"
"It pretty much does for you," Theo murmured.
Keri opened her mouth to respond when someone new joined the table.
"What are you two arguing over now?" Catlan asked, glancing between them as she sat down.
"Keri's being a bitch as usual, what else?" Theo answered. She shifted in her seat and began to tap the table. "So... is Go Go coming to the wedding, then?"
"Yeah, she's coming," Catlan smirked in amusement. Theo never said it, but she knew about her little crush on Go Go.
"Does that happy news put you in a more loving and generous mood to help me out?" Keri pushed.
"What's she trying to rope you into now?" Catlan asked with a cautious tone.
"Keri wants to rob her own wedding guests," Theo filled her in.
Catlan stared at Keri from across the table. Like Theo, she too couldn't believe it whenever Keri proved to them she could somehow stoop lower.
"Wow. Well, anyway," Catlan said, redirecting the conversation. "Tigress sent me a message. She said they should be here in the next couple of days."
Catlan had met Tigress and the rest of the Furious Five previously when her work had taken her to China thanks to a runaway bounty. She joined with Po who acted as her guide in the forgein land, and so met the Five as one of their missions overlapped with one of her bounties. They became good friends and kept in touch, especially since Mr Ping, Po's father, had moved to Far Far Away and became engaged to Catlan's friend, Keri.
Theo always wanted to meet the legends, specifically the fierce and beautiful Master Tigress, but she was afraid that she would be consumed by her anxiety, however, and dreaded their arrival for the wedding.
"Oh no," Theo squeaked involuntarily at the realisation that she would be seeing them in person.
"What?" Keri asked..
"Nothing," Theo laughed nervously. Not only was her long-time crush, Go Go, attending the wedding, but her celebrity crush was as well. She felt her little heart couldn't take it. What would she do if either of them actually spoke to her? How badly would she mess it up? How much would she embarrass herself?
"Okay…," Keri narrowed her eyes in suspicion as Theo rubbed her forehead. "Well, since the little baby here won't help me out, what do you say, Catlan?"
"I'm also going to say no," Catlan told her.
"Why don't either of you want me to be happy?" Keri sulked, sinking in her seat. She considered that if these friends weren't prepared to help her gain gold, then perhaps she needed new friends.
"I'd rather not help you in robbing people, especially your own wedding guests," Catlan retorted. "What the fuck, Keri? Anyway, I'm disappearing for a couple of days."
"On a hunt?" Theo frowned. "What if you don't come back? What if you die and you leave me to suffer alone at this stupid wedding?"
"Thank you for the wedding being your only concern, but I won't die, don't worry," Catlan said. A grin crept onto her face. "Besides, I can't miss Keri getting married, especially to a goose."
Everyone loved Mr Ping, but it was still amusing to Catlan and Theo that he a goose, and Keri a human, were together. Humans and creatures becoming couples wasn't an uncommon occurrence since the lands unified due to the Peace Treaty, but the different mixes and matches always made for a fun look.
"Wouldn't you rather head out after the wedding, though? So you can just take your time rather than having to rush back?" Theo suggested with a hopeful tone to her voice. She really didn't want to be left at the wedding on her own. Not with Keri and especially not with Go Go or even Tigress.
"No, this one's huge and we could really do with the money. Go's short on materials and they tend to be really expensive. Besides, we're struggling to pay for our accommodation. Funding our living expenses as well as Go's research isn't exactly cheap."
"That's so sad," Keri cooed as her fingers twirled around the golden necklace hanging from her neck. A large jewel was at home on the end of it, sitting upon a pendant, bright and and most likely very expensive. A clasp lined the side.
"But if this one is such a biggie, how do you know you won't die and leave me to suffer at this stupid wedding?" Theo groaned.
"It'd be nice if you at least pretended to have a little faith in me," Catlan laughed.
"You know I can't lie," Theo lightly shrugged.
"Who is it, anyway?" Keri asked. "Your bounty, I mean?"
Catlan showed her the flyer. "Tai Lung. Judging by the reward, he's notorious. But that money would be really helpful."
Keri studied the flyer for no more than two seconds before losing complete interest in both it and Catlan's job. She leaned back in her chair and gave a small sigh as though content, turning her attention to what was going on around the restaurant instead. Catlan never understood why Keri was curious about her bounties. She always asked who they were with interest that would drop as soon as she found out.
"Great, so you're definitely dying," Theo said from beside Keri as she looked the flyer over. Catlan took it back and put it away in her pocket, giving Theo a roll of her eyes.
"Again: I'm not dying," Catlan told her. "Anyway, I better tell Go that I won't be back tonight. If I'm to get back in time for certain then I'll need to leave as soon as. Let Po and Tigress know that I'll be back soon, I'm just dealing with some business. Anyway, try not to kill each other when I'm gone."
Catlan got up from her seat and gave them a little wave as she walked away from the table.
"Don't worry, I'll arrange your funeral for you!" Theo called to her. Catlan swung round with two thumbs up before turning back and exiting the restaurant, leaving Keri and Theo to no doubt start bickering over anything and everything.
The next day arrived and with it Mr Ping's son, Po, as well as the Furious Five. The Five were bewildered by the Fairytale Province and in awe of the contrast it struck with China. It was the first time they had visited the land and they were due to stay at Mr Ping's restaurant. Po was familiar with the place as he'd visited his father a number of times prior when he could manage to.
Keri wasn't very pleased by her guests as she would have to keep up her facade with far more people than usual. She kept her goal in mind, though, and forced herself to grin and bare it.
Po and the Five unpacked their things before coming together at one of the larger tables for dinner. They took in Mr Pings new restaurant and found themselves impressed by the upgrade.
"Oh, it's nothing," Mr Ping waved a wing. "Oh, who am I kidding? Look at this place! And I get to sell my noodles to twice the folk in one day!"
Po smiled, proud of his father. His gaze shifted to the woman by his fathers side. Her lips were pulled up stiffly and a hand fidgeted with a golden necklace around her neck. Had his father gotten the necklace for her? It looked expensive.
A fresh, hot bowl of noodles suddenly appeared on the table before Po. He looked up to find a serving pig. It was strange - his father had never employed waiters before. No matter how many orders piled up and how busy the restaurant got, he always did everything himself. He insisted, making sure everything was done to his standards. Perhaps this new land required it, or perhaps this restaurant proved to be a much bigger challenge than the one in the Valley of Peace?
It was a strange land and Po wondered if his father really belonged here.
Po's thoughts were interrupted by a gasp sounding from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see a small human at the entrance of the restaurant.
"Whoa," her eyes widened as she took in the warriors before her, her hands squeezing the strap of the satchel she was wearing.
Theo couldn't believe it - her heroes were here. Her eyes landed on Master Tigress and she could feel her face suddenly burning; the pictures she had seen of Tigress did no justice and she found it difficult to look away from her. She scanned the warriors before her and found none other than the Dragon Warrior smiling warmly at her. She felt her mouth drop open once more and tried to form words. Faltering, her eyes darted back to Tigress and she considered backing out of the restaurant - but the Dragon Warrior now stood in front of her.
"So, who's your favourite?" He grinned. "I'm betting it's Tigress."
Theo's eyes widened in embarrassment. Had she really been so obvious?
"She's my favourite, too!" Po exclaimed enthusiastically. He opened his mouth to elaborate when Keri appeared and interrupted him.
"Oh, thank god you're here," she grumbled, grabbing Theo's arm. She pulled her into the restaurant and sighed. "Why are you late?"
Po frowned. This was obviously a family friend and dinner had barely begun - what was the issue? Keri dragged the little human to the side.
"Why are you late?" She hissed, demanding an explanation a second time.
"Why didn't you tell me the Furious Five would be here?! And the Dragon Warrior!" Theo scoffed in disbelief. Theo was aware that the warriors were staying at the restaurant during the time of the wedding and that they were due soon as Catlan had received a letter from them saying so, but Theo found herself annoyed at Keri for not mentioning they were already here and having dinner with them. Not that it would have made much difference whether she knew or not - she'd feel awkward either way - but she felt worse being caught off guard.
"Ugh, whatever," Keri grumbled. "Just sit your ass down. And make me look good, I need them to like me."
Theo glared at her "friend" as she followed her over to the table. Mr Ping welcomed her, happy to see one of his faithful customers and Theo greeted him in return. Her heart skipped a beat when she realised the only space around the table was between Keri and Tigress.
Shit, she thought, gulping. She seriously considered just turning and sprinting out of the restaurant, but she knew Keri would have her head if she did. Plus, she didn't want to seem silly in front of the group of warriors, especially Tigress.
Theo forced herself forward and sat down. She lifted the strap of her satchel over her head and placed the satchel at her feet, pushing it under the table and out of the way. Her cheeks flushed when she realised just how close Tigress was - she was right next to her, just mere inches away.
Theo's gaze caught that of Po's, and with a warm and encouraging smile from him, she suddenly felt calmer.
"I didn't catch your name," he said to her. Suddenly, eyes from all around the table were on her. "I'm Po. This is Tigress, Crane, Monkey, Mantis and Viper!"
"Um, hi, I'm Theo," she said, forcing herself to glance around the table at them all. "It's nice to meet you. I'm-I'm a big fan."
"It's nice to meet you, too, Theo," Viper offered a friendly smile along with the rest of the Five.
Theo quickly averted her eyes to the bowl of noodles that were put in front of her. She chewed on her lip in both annoyance and anxiety. She couldn't believe Keri didn't let her know that the warriors from China would be having dinner with them tonight. She just hoped she wouldn't be too awkward...
Chapter 2: An unwelcome visitor
You better bloody read this Elleigh.
The sun was sinking behind the hills, flooding the land in a warm blaze. Catlan had set out to track down her latest bounty, leaving the city and her friends behind as she made her way to a tavern called the Poison Apple. As the tavern was solely for criminals, it was a last resort to visit it. Catlan had been there only once before in the past when, much like this bounty, she had nothing to go on and no leads to follow. Luckily for her, one of the criminals had been outside - using the wall as a urinal - completely drunk and unaware of who she was, so Catlan pretended to be a regular at the tavern. The man thought nothing of it and through slurred words, offered up critical information that led her to where she needed to be. She slipped away with what she needed and not a wink of conflict.
The sky above was growing darker as the sun creeped away, leaving the light inside the building to spill from the windows and illuminate the path as Catlan neared the entrance. Unfortunately, there weren't any drunks outside this time that she could interrogate away from prying eyes and riled criminals. She didn't expect to have the same luck as she did before and accepted that she'd just have to go in this time.
How no one in the city appeared to have any information on Tai Lung continued to confuse Catlan, though. She'd gone out and questioned people after she spoke to Go Go earlier that day - as she usually did with her bounties - but other than a few saying they merely recognised the name, nobody could tell her anything about him. It frustrated Catlan as it left her without a shred of information to work from, which forced her to the Poison Apple.
Catlan thought about Tai Lung's flyer and realised she couldn't recall seeing others except for the one she had. She tried to remember where she'd picked it up in the first place but she couldn't, so assumed she must have just grabbed it in passing as she often did with flyers.
It was very strange: a high profile criminal with a large reward attached to his head, yet his flyers weren't plastered around the city like other criminals and Catlan couldn't extract any information from anyone beyond recognising the name.
As she entered the tavern, Catlan felt her presence unwelcomed. She had her hood up, yet people and creatures peered at her with recognition. She assumed most would be familiar with her face considering she was a local bounty hunter and no doubt had run-ins with a number of the taverns regulars.
"Tell me what you know," Catlan said as she leaned against the counter of the bar. Her eyes followed the barmaid from under her hood. "I need to know if he's been here. Has he ever passed through? Does he come here often?"
The woman turned with a glare that darted between Catlan and the flyer presented by her. "And why would I help you? You aren't welcome here."
Catlan was taken aback by the deep, booming voice that came out of the woman as well as the bold, striking make-up she sported. Brushing it aside, she became aware of a growing silence spreading throughout the tavern. Catlan knew she had to be careful; a hooded figure asking questions at the bar wasn't the most subtle approach, but she had nothing to go on and the best place for intel on criminals and villains was a place they frequent. Without any leads, the fastest - but perhaps not the wisest - route was heading straight into the belly of the beast. Catlan had surely been in stickier situations than this, anyway. If she needed to get out, she'd figure it out somehow.
With that, a hand smacked onto her shoulder. She inhaled deeply before turning to find a tall, blonde man before her. It was none other than "Prince Charming." She'd never met the pompous wannabe before, but she'd heard all about him. Ever since the death of his mother, the Fairy Godmother, it became common knowledge that he affiliated himself with a certain group in Far Far Away with whom he schemed with. Nobody outside of his band of criminals took him seriously, however, and took no notice of him. His bounty was fairly low and Catlan had no interest in him. Other hunters seemed to ignore him as well, perhaps due to pity for the fake Prince whose mother had died.
"We don't like people asking questions around here," Prince Charming said softly, his obnoxious accent prominent. "Especially people like you."
The sound of a pin dropping would equate to the clash of thunder in the tavern at that moment, and all eyes had found Catlan. Her hood was yanked down and with her gaze focused on Charming, she could make out a figure dressed in purple to her left. She tensed up, prepared for any incoming blows. But nobody moved.
"I just want information," Catlan said firmly, her eyes still locked with Charmings. "Help me out and I'll ignore the bounties that are placed on some of your buddies here. Harm me and you'll regret it."
Charming laughed and the rest of the tavern erupted with him.
"Look around you," Prince Charming smirked at the small woman as his blue eyes sparked with amusement. "You aren't exactly in the position to be dictating things, now are you? You've made a big mistake coming here."
"Give me what you know in regards to this criminal," Catlan held up the flyer. "I won't ask again."
The purple figure beside her slammed her against the bar and held a sharp, golden hook to her face where his right hand should have been.
"I think we've made ourselves clear," the man said in a gruff voice, edging the hook closer to her eye. He was a low profile criminal but Catlan knew Captain Hook had become the right hand man of Charming. She'd seen his flyers but he wasn't a very desirable bounty the last time she checked.
"As have I," Catlan shifted her gaze back to Charming. Her fingers feathered the hilt of a dagger strapped to her belt. If it came down to it, she'd use it, though she'd rather avoid bloodshed. "So let me go, give up any information you have and I'll be on my way."
"What a fool," a nearby tree snorted, reaching for a tankard on the table before him. Catlan found she could never quite get used to talking trees, even though she'd seen her fair share. The Fairytale Province was full of magical and mysterious things but for whatever reason, talking trees still felt absurd to her.
"Hit the bitch, already!" A shrill voice called out from the onlooking crowd. Another voice piped up in agreement, triggering everyone in the tavern to start shouting and slamming their fists and glasses on the tables, eager to see some action. Soon, the entire building was vibrating.
"Okay, fine," Catlan sighed as she saw a smirk edge onto Charming's lips. She grabbed the hook inches from her face and lodged it into the wooden top of the counter behind her before slamming the man's face down next to it. Knocking a fist into Charmings face, she proceeded to swipe her foot under his own, causing him to topple to the floor.
Time to go, Catlan thought, darting forward as she jumped between the two men and made her way to the door, rapidly dodging hits from different angles and deflecting others.
"Get her!" Charming screeched as he pulled himself up, his hand reaching for his eye.
How she thought this could end any other way, Catlan didn't know. It was pure stupidity, but what choice did she have? Nobody in the city appeared to know of her bounty and her best chance at finding a lead was the hope that one of the criminals in the tavern would give him up. She would pay a limited amount of gold if she had to - especially considering the size of Tai Lung's reward. Still, going there was dangerous and evidently worked against her.
Catlan used the environment to her advantage as she went, grabbing stools and launching them at those nearest as she kicked and flipped a couple of tables. She reached the exit, kicked the door open and flew from the building. She dashed to the side and jumped onto a barrel before pulling herself up onto the roof. Panting with adrenaline, she threw herself down and sunk against the tiles and peered over as criminals flooded out from the tavern, yelling in rage as they looked frantically for the direction she'd gone in.
The sun was long gone, leaving the stars scattered across the sky and the moon peeking out from behind a cloud to brighten the surroundings. Eventually, the criminals below retreated back inside, though a few of them remained out and headed down the path away from the tavern, glancing around them and squinting into the trees for any movement.
"That was quite the show," a voice said.
Catlan swiped the dagger from her belt and pushed herself up in a position of defence. Her eyes landed on a small creature perched on the edge of the chimney - a cat. He had light, ginger fur and wore a pair of leather boots with a sword fastened to a belt slung around his waist. A hat was perched on his head accompanied by a yellow feather springing from its side.
Catlan stared at him. How did this cat even see anything that went on in the tavern from there? And what was a cat doing here in the first place?
"So, you're on a hunt," he raised a little glass to his lips, licking what Catlan assumed to be milk. He had a strange accent, one she'd never heard before. She wondered how he was aware of her business but desperate for leads, she decided to brush it aside for now.
"Yes," Catlan admitted as she lowered her dagger cautiously. "Do you know of Tai Lung?"
The cat put the glass down next to him and turned to look at her. His bright, green eyes gleamed and his whiskers tweaked upwards as he smiled.
"Indeed I do."