The Golden Gift by Footrot Flats

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G'day!

 

This isn't the first story I've ever written, but is the first story I've published on here. I've written a handful of stories for the Kung Fu Panda Fandom, and this was my latest works. Some history about this story. Originally, I wasn't planning on doing a story for the New Year's, but this idea kept nagging away at me, and got the better of me in the end. So, this story is the result of that. When I started writing this story, initial plans were to have it finished before Christmas, so it could be uploaded in-line with the Dongzhi Festival (celebrated on the Winter Solstice). 

 

What I didn't plan was on having the story balloon out to 20k words. So, it's no small 3-4k short story. Now, because it is 20k words, I've broken it up into three parts, and to avoid disrupting the flow of the story, I won't include any author notes until the end of the 3rd part. That way, you get a smooth ride until the end. There's not much more to add, other than it's exciting to have joined this site. I've been part of FanFiction for over a year now, but thought it'd be interesting to see what non-KFP fanfictioners thoughts about my stories. I don't want to spoil the story, so rather than explain what it's about, I'll let you read and discover for yourselves

 

Disclaimer: All characters and settings used in this story are property of DreamWorks (except for the few minor OC characters and random villages created by me). 

 

Without further adieu,
Please Read, Review & Enjoy!

The Golden Gift - Part 1

 

The Winter Festival is a traditional annual celebration venerated by the people of the Valley of Peace, celebrating the coming of cold weather. With heavy snowfall having settled a few days earlier, preparations for the Winter Festival had begun in the valley. During this time, the villagers decorate their homes with colourful sun lanterns, while partaking in a feast with family and friends. Common traditions participated during the Winter Festival, include party games, music, and folk dancing. The New Year's Festival may celebrate the beginning of a new year, but the Winter Festival is a time where the valley comes together to celebrate the year that has been.

 

Prior to Po's arrival at the Jade Palace, as the Dragon Warrior, Master Oogway hosted the traditional Palace Feast at the Jade Palace. Every year on this holiday, kung fu masters from all the other provinces gathered at the Jade Palace to strictly observe the Palace Feast according to formal traditions. These traditions involved the recital of the Creed of the Masters, the wearing of silvery clothing, tall hats, and headdresses, while the host, Master Oogway, had the important responsibility of planning the whole banquet. After Po's arrival, selected as the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway, who descended into the spirit realm not long after, took over the responsibilities of hosting the Palace Feast.

 

Po may have excelled in the preparations, despite a last-minute scare, but he struggled to remain composed after discovering no guests, including his father, were allowed at the Palace Feast. Because of his internal struggle, Po changed how the Jade Palace observed the Winter Festival. During the first Palace Feast hosted by Po, he left mid-feast after the guilt of leaving his father alone became too much to ignore. His departure caused a significant amount of confusion among the visiting masters, but Po's closest friends, the Furious Five, led the decision to join Po at Mr Ping's. Master Shifu was unimpressed by his students willing to break formal traditions, but the remaining masters overpowered his pleas.

 

Given Po, the Dragon Warrior, was the host of the Palace Feast, one tradition observed is everyone must follow and respect the host's gestures to avoid offending them. This moment changed how the Palace Feast was observed at the Jade Palace. While the masters still observed the Palace Feast, out of respect to the old tradition, the time at which is it observed has been brought forward to midday. This provides enough time for the Palace Feast, but also allows the masters to return to Mr Ping's and celebrate the Winter Festival into the night. Mr Ping's may have become quite a tight squeeze as a result, but no matter how many there were in his restaurant, there's always room for one more at Mr Ping's. For several years, this is how it worked. But things changed.

 

After the death defying events, at the hands of Lord Shen, everything changed for Po. He always treasured those around him, giving them plenty of love and laughter, but after coming so close to losing those he cherished the most, he couldn't waste the opportunities life presented him. Most changed were subtle, while others were more obvious, but the biggest change came during festivals. In particular, the Winter Festival. Po improvised an idea to bring more joy to the Winter Festival. The idea took some time to gather momentum, but three years after Po first established the idea, most of the valley supported it, given Po, the Dragon Warrior, had created it.

 

Early on, some wondered why one should go through such efforts to give someone a gift, but part of their answer was hidden in the question. The greatest gift you can give someone is your time. When you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back. Getting someone a gift not only presents your love and care for them, but you are also giving them your time. The more you love and care for someone, the greater the time and effort you'll put in. Finding gifts wasn't too difficult for Po, but the one person who always troubled his mind was Tigress. Not only did she disprove of giving and receiving gifts, but Tigress was the most sceptical about Po's idea.

 

Tigress understood and respected the reasonings behind Po's idea, but she found little use of the gifts given to her. They either created unnecessary clutter or were useless for her training. That was the issue Po was dealing with as he wondered through the Valley of Peace on a snowy winter morning. Whatever he got Tigress had to be something special. Something that could become part of her. Now, Po had an idea in mind, and he knew who could help him create such a gift, but he wasn't confident about how Tigress would perceive such a gift. Over the last few months, Tigress had been learning how to utilise her chi. While everyone possesses chi, incorporating chi into your attacks can inflict greater damage on your opponent.

 

Harvesting your chi can also strengthen your defence, and that's what Tigress desired. She may be a strong and fearless warrior already, but if you can strengthen your attacks and defence, why wouldn't you exploit it? Ever since the events of Lord Shen, Tigress has trained harder than ever before. She couldn't risk losing her friends again, especially Po. Just like Po, after having defined death when it seemed certain, she changed. Her hardcore nature had softened. One would be murdered for daring to suggest such a thing, but there's no denying it's true. Perhaps she realised the value of love and friendship after almost losing everything, including her own life. The one person Tigress had softened to the most was Po.

 

Everyone had their theories for why that way, and while no-one could pinpoint it, no-one dared to ask either. Not even Po. He welcomed this change of friendship with Tigress. She had always been an important figure in his life, so to have created such a strong, personal connection with her was a dream come true. Since Gongman City, more often than not, would you find Po and Tigress together, whether it was at training, visiting Mr Ping, walking in the valley, or on a mission somewhere. They were inseparable, and this closeness allowed Po to understand Tigress better than anyone ever had. Some would argue Po knew Tigress better than Master Shifu.

 

While everyone could see the changed from Tigress, because of the tight bond Po shared with Tigress, he could see far beyond what the common eye observed. Tigress was opening up, allowing herself to be more vulnerable with Po. For Tigress, she never felt uncomfortable doing so, because she knew Po would never dare to take advantage of her. This closeness Po shared with Tigress was why he felt more pressure in giving her the perfect gift. He knew her better than anyone else and wanted to get her something that reflected these changes. She was changing, and Po felt as though it was time for her attire to represent the change. That's why Po was nervous about giving Tigress such a gift.

 

Tigress is never one to admit she's changed, but the Tigress Po knows now is not the Tigress he first met. She was far different, and given her recent trainings revolved around chi, which produces a golden light unless harvested negatively, Po felt that the colour of her attire had to represent that. For such a gift, Po needed a tailor, and while there were plenty of tailors in the Valley of Peace, none of them could help Po with his request. Po had to leave the Valley of Peace, and make his way to a nearby village, Jindesichou Valley, which was renowned for its tailors. One tailor, known as Rouhuade, had custom made the silks worn by Master Shifu.

 

This tailor had served Master Shifu for many years and was recommended to Po by Master Shifu after Po had asked him where the best tailor was. While Master Shifu couldn't get Po to explain why he wanted to see a tailor, he presumed Po needed something made for himself and so gave him the day to see this tailor. Jindesichou Valley was only thirteen miles west of the Valley of Peace. Separated by ironwood forests, a river, and some isolated mountains, the journey to Jindesichou Valley wasn't too difficult, but the undulating topography troubled the panda asthma Po suffered. Upon stumbling into Jindesichou Valley, after regaining his breath, Po looked around the village, forgetting how similar it looked to the Valley of Peace.

 

One would be forgiven for thinking it was the Valley of Peace, given its surroundings and design were almost identical. However, for those who have lived in either village their whole life, the differenced were clear. The biggest being the presence or absence of the Jade Palace overlooking the village. Strolling down the main path of the village, after stopping and signing autographs for some village children, Po had found the place he came to this valley for. It didn't stand out, but the sign on top of the building with golden letters spelling out 'Rouhuade's Caifeng' caught the eye. The ringing of the doorbell signalled to Rouhuade a customer had entered his shop.

 

Keen to know who required his serviced early on a cold winter's day, Rouhuade made his way from the workshop to the customer's desk. Little did he realise this wasn't an ordinary customer. His heart almost skipped a beat upon seeing a large panda standing in his shop. Po wasn't unaware, but his presence made Rouhuade nervous. What made the Dragon Warrior venture to their village and find his way into Rouhuade's shop? There was only one way to find out. Taking one last breath, Rouhuade approached the Dragon Warrior, telling himself it was just another customer. What added to Rouhuade's nerves was Po's size. He was far bigger up close. Then again, most things are when you're a Chinese Silk Chicken.

 

With the Dragon Warrior scanning the shop, Rouhuade swallowed his nerves, breaking the silence. "Good morning, Dragon Warrior! How can I assist you today?"

 

Po turned around. "Good morning! I'm… um, where are you?" Looking around, Po couldn't find where the voice had come from, unaware of Rouhuade's small size in stature. Rouhuade cleared his voice, making Po look down and widen his eyes, surprised. "Oh, sorry! I didn't realise you were so… small. Um, Master Shifu said you're one of the most awesomest tailors in China, who does his robes and stuff, which all look awesome by the way. Well, Master Shifu didn't use the word 'awesomest', but I'm sure he thinks that-"

 

"How can I help, Dragon Warrior? Usually, Master Shifu sends Zeng if he requires anything from me. Is he unavailable?" Rouhuade asked, disrupting Po from his rumblings.

 

Po straightened up. "Oh no, Master Shifu didn't send me here. I'm here because I need something done for me. Well, not me. I need your tailoring awesomeness to create the most awesomest gift for someone who's beyond awesome."

 

Intrigued, Rouhuade gazed at Po. "And what is this request you require, Dragon Warrior?"

 

Po held up his paw. "Oh, please, just call me Po." Taking out a scroll from his back pocket, Po handed it to Rouhuade. "I've sketched this as the idea and was hoping you might be able to do it?"

 

Rouhuade opened the scroll, unsure what laid inside, but what he saw surprised him. He didn't expect such a detailed sketching of a hanfu. Not just any hanfu. A golden hanfu with red vines drawn on it. He had made many hanfu's in his lifetime, but this would be the most important hanfu of his career. At first, Rouhuade didn't know who this would be for, but it was crystal clear now. Not only would he be making a hanfu, but one requested by the Dragon Warrior for Master Tigress. Two of the most powerful warriors walking the lands today. Now the nerves had returned, knowing the magnitude of the task. "Your sketching is impressive, Dragon Warrior. Master Tigress would be delighted to receive something like this. When do you need this to be ready?"

 

Looking up from the scroll, Rouhuade noticed Po's facial features showed a bit of hesitation. "Well… I was kinda hoping to give it to Tigress during the Winter Festival. I know it's only two days away, so if that's not enough time, that's okay. Whenever it's ready. Just, the sooner, the better."

 

While Rouhuade was a skilful tailor, most things took several days for him to make. However, hanfu's are more difficult, requiring a few extra days, but given Po's sketching provided such in-depth details, Rouhuade felt confident he could get it done in time. "Fear not, Dragon Warrior. I will start this immediately and have it finished, ready for you to collect tomorrow afternoon. When it's finished, I will send a message to the Jade Palace."

 

"Really? That would be awesome! You have no idea how amazing that would be. Thank you so much. I, ah, I should probably go and let you get started, right?"

 

"Indeed, but before you go, is there anything else you need while you're here?"

 

"Nah, that's all I came here for. Oh, Master Shifu asked me to pass on his greetings."

 

Rouhuade smiled, before bowing to Po. "It has been a pleasure to serve you, Dragon Warrior. Now please, do not stress. I will get this done for you."

 

Po returned the bow, beyond gratified by Rouhuade's services. "Thank you! Thank you! You have no idea what this means. I'll go now so you can get started. Thank you again."

 

Rouhuade watched Po leave his store, and despite promises to have completed the hanfu by tomorrow, he could tell the Dragon Warrior was anxious. He didn't know why Po wanted this hanfu designed for Master Tigress, nor was it any of his business, but as a professional tailor, the design complimented Master Tigress. After meeting Po, he could tell Master Tigress was of great significance to the Dragon Warrior. Rouhuade has served Master Shifu many times over the years and had never disappointed. He wouldn't let the Dragon Warrior down, either. With the sketching pinned to the wall of his workshop, Rouhuade closed his shop, allowing him to work on this hanfu with no distractions. If he takes all night, then so be it.

 

The winter sun shined down on the Valley of Peace, bringing little warmth as the villagers went about their business, making final preparations for the Winter Festival. Sun lanterns of all colours lined the streets, although they weren't in need of use just yet. With the Winter Festival one sleep away, the festive spirit was running high. Everyone within the valley looked forward to celebrating the Winter Festival with their loved ones. It marked a stage of the year where they reflected on the year that had been, while enjoying a winter feast with those they loved. Up at the Jade Palace, things weren't too much different. The palace servants were running in all directions, getting the Jade Palace in pristine condition for the Palace Feast.

 

Despite preparations going to plan, sitting in the kitchen was one nervous panda. For most of the day, the preparations had preoccupied the panda's mind, but now with the day two-thirds through, his mind turned to Rouhuade. Po sat in the kitchen, twiddling his thumbs around, hoping to receive a message from Rouhuade soon. He knew his request was almost impossible for Rouhuade to complete on time. Po wouldn't be disappointed if that turned out to be the case, but when leaving Rouhuade's shop, he could see the determination in Rouhuade's eyes. With nerves running through his body, the sight of Zeng walking into the kitchen made them dissipate. "Zeng?! Have you-"

 

"Yes, Po. Your order from Rouhuade's is ready to collect. Would you like me to collect it for you?"

 

"Um…" While it would be quicker for Zeng to fly to Rouhuade's, Po knew it would be politer to collect the hanfu himself. "No, I'll get it, Zeng. I'd like to thank Rouhuade face-to-face. I better let Shifu know. Thanks, Zeng!" Po ran out of the kitchen, heading for the Hall of Warriors, hoping to find Master Shifu. Upon reaching the top of the staircase, Po approached the doors of the Hall of Warriors. "Hopefully, he's here, otherwise I'll have no clue where he could be."

 

"Where who could be?"

 

"AHHHH!" Po jumped, startled by the unexpected appearance of Master Shifu, who had been meditating by the entrance of the Hall of Warriors. "Master Shifu! How do you keep doing that?"

 

Master Shifu stared at Po impassively, raising his eyebrow. "Is there something wrong, Po?"

 

"Oh, yeah! Zeng told me the…" Looking around, Po seemed hesitant for unknown reasons. "I don't wanna say in case Tigress is hiding somewhere and hears me."

 

"Why are you concerned about Tigress' presence? Have you done something to her, again?"

 

"What? No." Po realised he hadn't told Master Shifu what he was getting done at Rouhuade's for the sake of not raising any suspicions. Or more suspicions than what was already circulating the Jade Palace. "I, um, may have gotten something for Tigress… as a gift, you know? For the Winter Festival."

 

Master Shifu looked at Po curiously. "I see. You may go collect your order from Rouhuade but return before sunset. We must ensure the Jade Palace is prepared for the Palace Feast tomorrow before resting for the night."

 

"Okay, cool. Thanks, Shifu! I won't be long. Just don't tell Tigress where I am if she asks."

 

"She's in the Training Hall, Po. I doubt she'll even realise you're gone. Once you return, meet me back here. Now go before you run out of time."

 

"Yes, yes, okay. I won't be long." Master Shifu watched Po run down the steps, knowing Po had made a mistake. When snow covers the thousand steps, nobody should run down them, as the snow makes them slippery. While Master Shifu couldn't see Po, for he had dipped below his sight of view, the sudden yells indicated Po had slipped on the steps. Shaking his head, Master Shifu returned to his meditation. In the valley below, Po landed at the bottom of the thousand steps, causing snow to erupt from the ground. Po pushed himself up, shaking his head and dusting himself off before remembering what he was doing. With the sun approaching the horizon, Po had to hurry, as there wasn't much daylight left in the day.

 

The last thing Po wanted to do was keep Rouhuade or Master Shifu waiting. While running to Jindesichou Valley, excitement flooded through Po's body, as he couldn't wait to see the hanfu Rouhuade had made. Po may have designed the hanfu, but seeing the real thing would be different. It would no longer be a figment of his imagination. Upon entering Jindesichou Valley, unlike yesterday, Po didn't have time to stop for the villagers. As much as it pained not doing so, he only had enough time to thank Rouhuade and pay him for his services before returning to the Jade Palace. Sunset was imminent, with the gap between the sun and horizon narrowing with each passing second.

 

Arriving at Rouhuade's Caifeng, the anticipation coursing through Po's body vanished after seeing a sign on the door saying "Closed. Do Not Disturb!' Confused, Po wondered if Rouhuade had forgotten and closed his store for the day. Po's shoulders slumped, thinking he had taken too long. Of course, Rouhuade couldn't wait all day for him. He had a life too. Not knowing what to do, Po turned his back to the shop and leaned on the door, only for it to swig wide open, causing Po to fall into the store. Picking himself up, Po closed the door, hoping to have caused little disturbance. Upon turning around, the shop was almost dark, with only a few lanterns keeping it from being pitch black.

 

Po walked through the store, taking great care not to disturb anything in the store, before reaching the front counter. Behind the counter was a door, left ajar by a few inches. "Ah… Rouhuade? Are you in here?"

 

Rouhuade, who was in the workshop ironing the last few creases in his product, snapped his head towards the door, recognising whose voice it belonged to. Placing his ironing tool down on his desk, Rouhuade dusted off the hanfu, before hanging it behind a white curtain, allowing him to reveal it to the Dragon Warrior. With the hanfu in place, Rouhuade walked out of his workshop to greet Po. Unlike yesterday, there were no nerves. "Good evening, Dragon Warrior. I'm glad you could make it."

 

Po smiled at Rouhuade. "The pleasure is mine. And please, call me Po."

 

"If you wish," Rouhuade said, bowing.

 

"So, um… how did you go with the hanfu? I'm sorry for having left it so late. I would have come earlier, but Dragon Warrior duties kept me busy."

 

Rouhuade waved his wing in the air, understanding Po's reasoning. "It's better late than never. To have you come to me for my services is a blessing. Now, as for the hanfu, would you like to see it?"

 

An enormous smile formed on Po's face, as he expected Rouhuade to tell him he hadn't been able to complete the hanfu in time. "Of course! Of course! I can't stay for too long, though. Master Shifu wants me to return before sunset. How did you manage to finish it?"

 

"Come this way." Rouhuade opened the counter door, ushering Po through and into the workshop in the back. "Now, you said Master Shifu requires you back before sunset, right?"

 

"Yeah, but don't worry. There's enough time."

 

"Alright, well, usually I don't work on a customer's order throughout the night, but as you're the Dragon Warrior, exceptions can be applied."

 

"You worked on it all night? Oh, man! You shouldn't have."

 

"I know, but this hanfu is of great significance to you, isn't it?" Po nodded. "And as you're the Dragon Warrior, I couldn't dare let you down. Now." Rouhuade walked over to the white curtain, which hid the hanfu from view. "Are you ready to see it?"

 

"Yeah." Without hesitation, Rouhuade ripped back the white curtain, revealing the golden hanfu. Po's mouth dropped wide open, as its glimmer shun like nothing else. Walking over to take a closer look, Po noticed the white Tiger Lily that laid on top of the red vine which snaked its way up the front of the hanfu. The red vines were also imprinted on each sleeve, and unlike Tigress' red vest, the golden hanfu had long sleeves with loose endings. Po wanted to examine the fabric, feel the silk run through his paw, but he didn't want to ruin such a fine piece of art. It was beautiful. Designed for someone who was just as beautiful. It had Tigress' name written all over it.

 

"So, what do you think? Do you think Master Tigress will accept this?"

 

"It's… beyond awesome. Honestly, I can see why Master Shifu has come to you for so long. The details of this; I still don't wanna touch it, but it's perfect for Tigress. Man, I hope she likes it. Gonna take some convincing for her to accept it."

 

"Well, I'm glad you approve of it."

 

"Are you kidding? Tigress is gonna look totally awesome in this!"

 

Rouhuade chuckled, sensing the Dragon Warrior's companionship with Master Tigress was more than just comrades. He could tell Po had a big heart, and Po's reaction to the hanfu showed that. As much as Rouhuade wanted to talk through the details of the hanfu, he knew Po had little time to spare. "You need to be going, Master Po. Would you like me to wrap the hanfu in something so you can present it as a gift, as you wished?"

 

"Oh, that'd be awesome, thanks!" Rouhuade nodded, grabbing the hanfu, and folding it up with as much care as possible. He then gathered some wrapping material, placed the hanfu in the middle and wrapped it up, placing some string around the wrapped hanfu, and tying a knot into the bow, ensuring it wouldn't come loose. With the hanfu wrapped, Rouhuade gave it to Po, who took it, still appearing hesitant to touch it, even though it was wrapped. "Thank you for this, Rouhuade. How much do I owe you?"

 

Rouhuade led Po out of the workshop before the question made him stop and turn on the spot. "For you? This gift is priceless."

 

Po widened his eyes, realising what Rouhuade meant. "What? I can't take this without paying you something. You spent all night working on it. Let me pay you something."

 

"You protect us from danger. We are the ones that owe you for your services."

 

"Oh, no, no, no! That's my duty to protect everyone. Please, let me pay you something."

 

Sighing, Rouhuade gave in to Po's pleas. "Alright, ten yuan is all you're required to pay."

 

Po reached into his back pocket, pulling out a small sack of coins. "Oh no, you deserve far more than ten yuan. This hanfu is worth like… I dunno. How much do I have in here?" Emptying the bag onto the counter, Po counted all the coins. "Five, ten, fifteen, twenty." A few minutes later. "Two-ninety-five, three-hundred. Would that be enough? I should have brought more."

 

Rouhuade's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, seeing so much yuan, but he couldn't be greedy. Truth was, he never asked Master Shifu for payment either, but when the grandmaster requested the design of the green belt and shawl, which he wears now, Master Shifu had paid generously. So much, Rouhuade was still living off that payment, and that was about a year ago. Now Po was standing here, willing to do the same. "Please, I cannot take all of your coins. Ten yuan is enough."

 

Although Po wanted to pay him more, he couldn't force Rouhuade to take more than what he wished for. Then again, he didn't possess the same level of persuasiveness as Master Shifu did, so perhaps that's why Master Shifu had overpaid Rouhuade for his services. However, that didn't mean Po wouldn't try. "You deserve more than what I have here, Rouhuade, but I cannot make you take more than what you value the product at. Take as much as you wish. Feel free to take the whole three hundred yuan. You deserve it. It won't offend me, but my heart cannot leave without paying you something."

 

"I cannot thank you enough for the generosity, Master Po. If I weren't serving you, I would value this hanfu at two hundred yuan, but I cannot take that much from you."

 

Po collected two hundred yuan and handed it to Rouhuade. "Take the two-hundred. I'd give you the whole three hundred, because like you said, this hanfu is priceless. You have no idea how important this gift is."

 

With some hesitation, Rouhuade accepted the two hundred yuan, while Po placed the remaining hundred yuan into his bag. "Thank you, Po. It has been an absolute pleasure to serve you, and please, if you need anything else, don't hesitate to come back."

 

Po smiled at Rouhuade while placing the sack of coins into his back pocket. "Oh, I'll definitely be back. Don't you worry. I'm glad Shifu told me about you." The mention of Master Shifu triggered an epiphany in Po's brain. "Oh! Master Shifu! I gotta get going. Sorry to leave."

 

Rouhuade lead Po to the front of the store and opened the door for Po. "Please, do not let me keep you waiting, but do pass on my greetings to Master Shifu."

 

"I will do. Thank you, Rouhuade!" Po rushed out of the door, before skidding to a holt. "Wait, Rouhuade!"

 

Opening the door back up, Rouhuade saw Po approaching again. "Did you forget something?"

 

"If you're ever in the Valley of Peace, you gotta visit my dad's restaurant for a meal. We'll cover for it on-the-house. I'll tell my dad, so if you go there when I'm not, he'll know who you are."

 

"Thank you for the kindness, Master Po. I have heard about your father's restaurant, so I must come visit it."

 

"We serve the best noodle soup in the valley. You'll love it! Anyway, I better go. Thank you again! Happy Holidays, Rouhuade!"

 

"Happy Holidays to you too, Master Po!"

 

Rouhuade watched Po vanish into the ironwood forests, which marked the eastern boundary of Jindesichou Valley, as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon. Pleased at his works, Rouhuade closed his shop for the night, eager to catch up on the sleep he missed the previous night. After a long thirty-six hours, fatigue had caught up with Rouhuade. He could only hope that, whenever Po presented the hanfu to Master Tigress, she would accept it. Though Rouhuade didn't say anything, he too thought its design suited Master Tigress to the core. Maybe one day, he'll get to see his product in use, but until then, his eyes were calling for sleep.

 

Heavy breaths wheezed out as Po force-jogged his way back to the Valley of Peace. Travelling back from Jindesichou Valley may not have been the longest of journeys, but pandas don't have great stamina. By the time Po returned to the valley, the sun had just about set, offering little light. Po was already behind time, and while the thousand steps would help, neither would the fact he promised his father a visit, but he had no time now. Master Shifu would berate him for being one second late, and that's something he didn't want right now. Not with the Winter Festival one sleep away. As Po sprinted through the valley, his mind was torn about whether to visit his father's now or early in the morning. However, his body wanted to visit his father now, as he had promised.

 

The entrance for Dragon Warrior Noodles & Tofu was closed, but that didn't stop Po from entering. Unfortunately for Po, he was in such a rush he forgot to knock, alerting his father of his presence. Upon entering his father's shop, without knocking, a ladle flew by his right ear, just missing his head. "Who are you?! Get out of my shop! We're clos- oh. Po? What are you doing? Why didn't you knock?"

 

"Sorry, dad! I'm in a hurry. Gotta meet with Master Shifu, but I wanted to stop by and see if you were doing fine with the preparations for tomorrow."

 

"Oh yes. Everything is set, Po. While you masters are having your fancy feast up at the palace, I'll be down here cooking on my own so it's ready for when all you masters arrive in the evening. Now, you better go see Shifu. I know he doesn't like you being late for anything."

 

Mr Ping's response answered another question in Po's mind, and even though Po gets the same answer every year, it didn't stop him from asking. "So… you don't wanna come cook for the Palace Feast?"

 

"Po, I've told you every year, you know I'd love to, but if I'm not cooking down here, then who is?"

 

Po's shoulders slumped as he sighed in defeat, disappointed he couldn't persuade his father to prepare the Palace Feast, but knew Mr Ping was right. "Yeah, okay. I'll just have to pick a chef tomorrow during morning." Po looked up at the darkened sky. "Ooh! I gotta go, dad! Shifu's gonna kill me for being late." Po rushed over and squeezed his dad in a typical bear hug.

 

"Can't… breathe, Po," Mr Ping said, gasping for air.

 

Po released his father, placing him on the ground, before scurrying out of the restaurant. "I'll see you tomorrow, dad!"

 

"Bye, Po! See you tomorrow!" Mr Ping watched his son run towards the thousand steps. With Po long gone, Mr Ping closed his shop, and headed for bed, knowing a big day awaited them tomorrow.

 

Po sprinted up the stairs before fatigue set in, forcing him to crawl up the remaining half of the stairs. He wasn't too keen to return to the Jade Palace, knowing he had made Master Shifu wait longer than he would have desired. In Po's defence, he had done an awful lot of travelling in the last few hours, and the fatigue from his journey had caught up with him. Master Shifu wouldn't have any of his excuses, though. He expected Po to be back at a specific time. Upon reaching the top of the thousand steps, Po dragged himself through the doors, into the Jade Palace, and locked the doors as was required at sunset. With the Jade Palace locked, Po climbed one final set of stairs, up towards the Hall of Warriors to meet with Master Shifu.

 

The stairs had sucked every ounce of energy from Po's body, resulting in Po slumping to the ground, breathless, after reaching the top. "You're late."

 

Glancing to his left, Po saw Master Shifu approaching him, not looking too pleased with his late arrival. Po pushed himself up, although it was with some difficulty, still fatigued from the long flight of stairs having just climbed. "Sorry, Shifu. I, uh, I stopped by my dad's on the way to make sure he was fine for tomorrow. Tried convincing him to cook for the Palace Feast, but it didn't work. Oh, Rouhuade asked me to pass on his greetings."

 

Master Shifu noticed the parcel tucked under Po's arm. "I assume you got what you needed from Rouhuade's?"

 

"Yeah, yeah. This is it." Po tapped the parcel, before looking back at Master Shifu. "So, was there a reason you wanted me to meet you here?"

 

"Yes, follow me." Master Shifu walked down the stairs, leading Po to the Palace Dining Hall, which was next to the arena platform, just above the Palace Arena. Pushing the doors open, inside laid a large, round table in the middle of the Dining Hall. "Tomorrow morning, after you have selected the palace chef, you will need to set the table for the Palace Feast. Then you will need to ensure the chef you choose prepares the dishes to the letter. I don't care how you do it, but you know what needs to be done."

 

Po followed Master Shifu into the Dining Hall, scanning the empty table before looking at Master Shifu. "Don't worry, Shifu. I'll get the others to help me with the table settings, like every other year. It'll be all under control."

 

"Hmm… very well. If you believe that is the case, I will see you bright and early in the morning, where we will begin preparations. The masters will arrive at midday, so we cannot waste a minute. And try not to accidentally dismiss any of the chefs."

 

Walking out of the Dining Hall, Po scoffed at Master Shifu's remark. "Oh, come on, Shifu. That was my first year of hosting. I know what all the gestures mean, now."

 

Master Shifu looked at Po with a judgemental gaze, before closing the Dining Hall. "Do not be late tomorrow morning, Po. There's lots to be done with little time available. Now, it's best we get some rest."

 

"No worries, Shifu. I'll see you in the morning. Night, Shifu!"

 

Parting ways, Po left for the student barracks, while Shifu returned to the Hall of Warriors, standing at the top of the stairs, looking at the lantern covered valley below. While Po made his way to the student barracks, he remained vigilant, ensuring nobody would spot him carrying the parcel. Especially Tigress. He didn't want to ruin the surprise, but thankfully for Po, nobody spotted him before he reached the privacy of his room. Po didn't know how he was going to give Tigress the gift. Whether to leave it in her room tomorrow, and let her discover it, or wait until they were at Mr Ping's. Both were plausible ideas, but the first option seemed better.

 

He knew the chances of her accepting such a gift were long odds, so perhaps she needed some persuasion. How could he persuade her, though, if he wanted to leave it in her room? The only way he could, would be by writing a note and attaching it to the gift. Po didn't want to be around when Tigress discovered the gift, as he knew she'd track him down and kick his butt for getting her something so expensive. Meaning, he had little opportunity to execute his plan. Once he dismisses everyone from the Palace Feast, he'd have a mere few minutes to get the gift, leave it in her room, and get the heck out of the Jade Palace before Tigress entered her room. That way, when Tigress returned to her room, he wouldn't be around.

 

While that seemed like a promising idea, Po knew he had to leave a note. He couldn't just leave such a gift and not provide any sort of explanation to it. With that in mind, Po placed a burning candle near him, grabbing a few empty scrolls and began writing. It wasn't easy, for he didn't want to say too much, but after a few hours of overcoming many walls and rewriting several parts, what he had written felt right. It wasn't too much, nor was it vague. Satisfied by his efforts, Po rolled up the scroll, placing it on top of the wrapped gift, and headed to bed, knowing a big day awaited him tomorrow. While he was a little nervous about how Tigress would react, he could only hope she would see eye-to-eye with him.



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