Wolf had thought that she understood the surface. She had thought that she understood mutes. She had thought that she understood humans. But then something—someone—had come along that she didn’t understand at all.
Kipo was a bright light in a world that wanted nothing but to snuff it out. At first, that had infuriated Wolf. This weird, purple girl (were all people from burrows purple? Wolf wasn’t sure) was going to get herself killed, and Wolf by extension. With her insistence to pet or befriend big, fluffy animals, animals that could and would tear your throat out the moment you showed weakness, she was a walking naïve, bubbly death wish. Almost more infuriating than the saccharine schtick was that it worked. This world that had done nothing but chew Wolf up and spit her out since birth—it welcomed Kipo with open arms. Wolf had thought that she knew how the world worked. But she definitely didn’t know how Kipo worked, and now that the world was bending around her, she wasn’t quite sure what to do.
Worse, than that, Kipo was…a mute? Half-mute? She wasn’t fully human, that was for sure. Something deep in Wolf, the scared kid that was raised to be hunted, betrayed and killed, wanted to run. She wanted to run as far as she could, and keep running, never stop, never sit around long enough to make friends or trust anyone. If you never trusted anyone, they could never betray you. Grappling with that scared kid was a part of Wolf that had lain dormant for years, that she thought had died after she took the life and skin of her false mother. This part of Wolf was weak, and wanted things like hugs and friends and love and support. The last time Wolf thought she had those things, she was almost eaten alive by them. Now she had them again. If the definition of insanity was doing the same thing and expecting a different result, Wolf was stark raving mad. Trusting these people was almost certainly a mistake, and yet, she wanted to.
Now, lying under the stars, wolf skin wrapped around her and the soft snores of Benson and Dave in her ears, her mind began to race. She was brimming with anxiety, though she couldn’t quite place why. She hadn’t really wanted to live in the burrow anyways, so its collapse wasn’t the end of the world. Her friends were all safe and intact, and Kipo seemed to be taking the capture of her dad well—at least, as well as one could take that sort of thing. Still, Wolf’s brain was filled with unpleasant thoughts, nebulous and hard to pin down. She sat up, fixing her eyes on Kipo, who was sound asleep a few feet away.
No jaguar arm right now. Which was good, because Wolf didn’t know if she’d be able to sleep knowing that her closets friend was losing control of her body to a dangerous mutation. Every time she thought of Kipo’s mute abilities, a battle raged in her head. Kipo was her friend, her sister. But Kipo was also a mute. Mutes killed people, hurt people. Kipo made people flower crowns. Mutes made flower crowns too—one mute had made her a flower bracelet—Wolf felt panic rise in her chest and tore her eyes away from her friend, taking deep, unsteady breaths. It was painfully unfair that the only friend she had had in years had the same blood as the creatures that had played with her feelings for fun. Was Kipo playing with her feelings? Was Wolf destined to repeat the same mistake over and over, trusting a mute and then getting burned, or bitten? Thoughts and memories flashed in Wolf’s head. They’ll betray you. What do you think will happen once she turns full mute? A cruel voice echoed in her mind.
Wolf stood up. She needed to walk this off.
It was funny how the surface could be so chaotic one moment, and so peaceful the next. Wolf certainly appreciated it now. Against her better judgment, she had ventured into a nearby forest. Forests were dark, too dark for most human eyes to see well, and there were plenty of places for mutes to hide and stalk their prey. But Wolf had always felt more secure, more safe in forests. Maybe it was because she had grown up in the woods. Maybe it was because the woods were where she had proven her worth, proven to the world that she could and would survive. Or maybe she just liked the comforting scent of the pines. Whatever it was, amidst these trees she could find solace. At least, that was what she had thought. The forest had done nothing to calm the torrent of thoughts and fears that roared in her ears.
Kipo was part mute. It hadn’t even been 24 hours since Wolf had discovered. She had run. Was she right to run (of course you were right to run she’ll kill you she’s a mute)? The look on Kipo’s face, the tears welling up in her eyes, were etched into Wolf’s brain (you can fake tears you can fake friendship you can fake sisterhood). She was lucky that Kipo took her back with open arms (how long until open arms turns into an open mouth she’ll hunt you kill you eat you). She was so afraid that between the letter and the running that Kipo would give up on her (give up on hope give up on friendship while you’re still alive while you have the chance).
Wolf hadn’t even realized that she was hyperventilating until she dropped to her knees, one hand reaching up to her chest, where her lungs didn’t seem to be cooperating. Wolf tried to steady her breathing, but the silence was deafening, and the world was spinning around her. Wolf closed her eyes, dimly noticing that there were tears streaming from them, and started counting to ten in her head.
Kipo wouldn’t hurt her, would she?
Kipo was different from the others. She was different from everyone.
Kipo was a mute.
Mutes killed people.
Mutes had tried to kill her.
Kipo had never tried to kill her.
A loud crack rang out in the still air, and Wolf snapped back into the present, into reality. The survival skills that had been beaten into her since birth took over as she snatched up her staff, scrambled to her feet, and spun around to face the direction of the noise. Her stomach dropped when two big, purple eyes blinked out at her from the shadows. Newton Wolves. She should have known. It was foolish for her to leave camp without backup. Wolf braced herself for a fight, leveling her staff and gritting her teeth. She was about to charge, when—
“Wolf?” Kipo’s voice took her entirely off guard. Not off guard enough to make her lower her staff, but enough to keep her from attacking immediately. Her best friend, the subject of her pondering, stepped out of the darkness, eyes shifting back to their regular appearance once she stepped into the moonlight. “Wolf, are you okay?” Kipo asked, hesitantly reaching out a hand. Wolf didn’t lower her staff. Her panicked brain projected fangs onto her friend’s hesitant smile, pointed ears onto her spiky hair. “Wolf, talk to me.”
“Your eyes.” Those were the only words Wolf could choke out, once her fear had calmed enough to talk. “They were glowing.” She said, cursing the way her hands and voice shook. Kipo frowned.
“They do that sometimes now, yeah. Sorry, I meant to tell you.” Kipo took another step forward, and Wolf took a hasty step back. Kipo’s expression was growing more concerned. “Wolf, please don’t run. We can talk about this.” Kipo said. Wolf could tell she was determinedly keeping her tone even, but she could hear a trace of desperation. That desperation was what kept Wolf from bolting, even though every atom of her being wanted to run and not look back. She owed it to Kipo to stay, to explain. Still, she kept her staff pointed at Kipo, looking from its pointed end to her face. Kipo noticed.
“Wolf, I’m not going to hurt you.” Kipo let out a small, sad laugh. “I don’t even think I could if I tried.” These words had the opposite effect on Wolf than intended. Her grip tightened on the staff, and she raised it a bit higher.
“How do I know that?” Instead of sounding fierce and intimidating, the way that she wanted, Wolf’s voice sounded weak and scared. Kipo’s face fell, and Wolf’s heart dropped into her stomach. She had gone too far this time. Kipo was definitely going to leave, and then Wolf would be all alone again, and—Kipo began walking towards her. This was not in the plan. Wolf briefly felt a moment of panic, but then, looking into Kipo’s eyes, let the staff fall to her side as Kipo wrapped her in a hug.
“Wolfatha Christie the Fourth, you’re the only reason that I made it back to my dad in one piece. You’re the strongest person I know, and the best friend that a weird half-mute could ask for in this crazy world. I would never hurt you, ever.”
“Promise?” Wolf’s voice was barely more than a whisper. Kipo smiled.
Kipo’s words were enough for Wolf to completely break down. She buried her face in Kipo’s shirt and sobbed, tears streaming down her cheeks. Kipo held her tight, gently moving her hand in circles on Wolf’s back, staying quiet until Wolf was finished crying. The moment Wolf regained her composure, she pulled away, scrubbing violently at her cheeks.
“I…sorry.” Wolf grumbled, trying to sound tough. It was bad enough that Kipo had seen her crying as many times as she had already. Wolf hated to add another to the list.
“It’s okay.” Kipo said softly, a small smile on her face. “But please, Wolf…can we talk?”
Wolf determinedly looked anywhere but Kipo. The woods, where she had learned what it meant to be accepted, what it meant to be betrayed, what it meant to fight. The sky, that Kipo had been so amazed by when she had come to the surface. Her staff, that had saved her more times than she could count, that she had almost just stabbed her best friend with. She took a deep breath and finally met Kipo’s eyes.