The world slowed, each second magnified, like the ground itself soaked with adrenaline, and the perception powers of the universe heightened to infinity.
Kipo raised her mighty arm, sword glinting in the daylight, and swung down.
The sounds of the battlefield stilled. Kipo could almost hear the crush of bone and the piercing of flesh.
Scarlemagne shrieked, splitting the sky. Wolf’s breath halted with the wind, dry and heavy with dust.
Kipo wrenched the sword, glinting and dripping, from Scarlemagne’s body, the force causing his stomach to lift and then flutter back down, lifeless.
Maybe Wolf imagined the way she could see Kipo’s shoulders rise and fall, her rib cage expand and shudder, as she walked down the hill, sword pointed to the ground, crying into the trampled grass.
Wolf ran up to her, but Benson and Dave got there first. Kipo crumpled to the ground.
Benson and Dave crashed to the ground after her, surrounding her like a wall of love and support.
Benson looked up Wolf who had just arrived, eyes pleading and wide.
Wolf knelt down.
Kipo’s eyes were closed.
“Stay with me, Kipo,” Wolf said. “You did it.”
Kipo’s eyes fluttered open for a moment. She smiled, like a candle flickering in the night. Her hand trembled and Wolf latched onto it. Maybe she imagined it, but she thought she saw the tension leave Kipo’s body, as the four of them rocked her together, the wind carrying the ferric, putrid smell of victory, stirring adrenaline like a hurricane, louder than happiness, at least for the moment.
As soon as Kipo was ready to walk, Wolf was ready to ditch the wide open prairie and head to safer ground.
But of course, Kipo couldn’t do that.
Kipo stayed and stayed and stayed, until every animal and human had been taken care of. She learned what herbs to collect and how to mix them to make poultices and teas. She learned when a wound needed a new dressing and how to wrap bandages. Wolf’s arms were twisted—she was forced into hunting for the herbs as well, and scouring for cloth to use as bandages. She would not be confined to organizing the herbs or washing the cloth, though. She had her limits.
After that, there was family reunification. Spouses, children, cousins, friends. Teachers, students, mentors, leaders. Wolf did not expect to have to be a school bus for opossum babies or a lookout rock for bison calves. She did not expect to have to row baby rams across a river (if they couldn’t swim then they should just stay on the other side.)
But each time a family was reunited, each time friends hugged, or a parent checked a child over to make sure they were okay, Kipo’s eyes glistened. Kipo's dopey, watery smile hung as the backdrop to every successful strand of society rebuilt.
Kipo was soft. Powerful and determined, no doubt. But also soft. She loved this stuff. She really loved everyone.
Wolf, however, was less interested in how much Benson and Dave enjoyed helping others, though they did as well. Wolf enjoyed seeing Kipo proud of her friends, happy that Benson and Dave were happy. Until Wolf thought Kipo might be looking at Benson too much. And that wouldn’t do. Wolf tried to make sure Benson was on search and rescue missions very far away from Kipo.
When it became clear that Kipo was the heart and the brains of the operation, because of all her innovation and determination, people and mutes flocked to her in droves. They formed lines down the hill and into the forest. Wolf, Dave, and Mandu had to built temporary shelters to house the creatures. Benson called them ambassadors. Wolf told him to help or shut up.
They built the holding shelters while creatures waited for their turn with Kipo. Benson called them the Hour Over Hotels. Wolf said that everyone had waited way more than an hour.
Benson said, "exactly."
The creatures asked Kipo for her help. They needed her direction in reorganizing their communities. They wanted her to help them rebuild their schools, dens, and marketplaces.
Wolf did anticipate Kipo to take on such a monarchical role, with quite so much spotlight, but maybe it was destiny. With Benson and Dave as her trusty knights and advisors, they were right in the middle of some stupid medieval fantasy cosplay where the dungeon master was drawing out the ending far too long.
Wolf was also there, too. But she wasn't going to play the dumb game. She stayed. She was going to stay until Kipo was ready to go.
The Newton Wolves wanted Kipo's help rebuilding their telescope. The Wolves invited her to their Observatory. Wolf wasn't going to let Kipo travel alone so she was going with Kipo, obviously. Benson and Dave had nothing better to do, apparently, so they also came.
When Kipo arrived at the Observatory, she helped with the blueprints and materials selection. At first, Wolf stuck close to her, refusing to hide her lingering distrust and distaste for Wolves. She also kept her cloak and Deathstalker tail with her, but she ceded to Kipo: she wouldn't wear the hood when they were inside the house.
Wolf thought Kipo would just choose some steal and write a few measurements down or draw some angles or something and then they would be on their way. But Kipo wanted to learn about the tesla coil. Now this was turning into some kind of nerd retreat.
Figuring that the Wolves were too busy being nerds to be of any real danger to Kipo, Wolf figured she could hang back, get some fresh air, swing back every now and then to keep an eye on Kipo. Even if the Wolves weren't an imminent threat, Kipo was honestly a threat to herself.
It kept Wolf busy. It was nice.
Benson and Dave, of course, were no help so Wolf had no idea why they were even here.
“You ever heard of a mirror?” Dave grumbled when Wolf said as much when they followed her into the work room during one of her regularly scheduled Check On Kipo Rounds, scattering screws and sheet metal everywhere.
“Why don’t we all take a break, okay?” Kipo said, high pitched, like she got when she was overthinking something, when things were coming to a boil.
The wolves served them dinner, and put robot oil in front of Benson. When his face froze in horror, they all laughed and swapped it with a real meal. The wolves performed their songs and Kipo watched, appreciative and amused. The lights flickered across her nose, and Wolf thought she could see the whole sky in her eyes.
Kipo jokingly asked if they wanted Dave to speak about the universe. The wolves glowered, and instead, they ate dinner.
The wolves gave them their own quarters in the Observatory. For territorial wolves, it didn't quite make sense for them to have a guest suite but she sure as megapigeon poop wasn't going to share sleeping space with the Wolves. Benson and Dave got the room next door and Wolf and Kipo got a little corner room, with more window than normal. All the wolf house rooms had windows. It was their thing, after all. But this room was decked out a little extra. Kipo marveled at the sky, because of course she did. It never got old for her. Kipo pointed out the pictures to her, maybe the same ones she always did, maybe different ones. Wolf mostly looked at her.
Wolf never fell asleep before Kipo. She didn't want to leave Kipo unprotected. You would think Wolf would be used to how long it took Kipo to sleep when they slept under the stars.
But eventually Kipo’s eyes closed, heavy, and her breathing shallowed out.
Wolf let herself be lulled by the rhythm, imagining the hot breath on her face, and the smell of her neck, and her arms curled around her.
Eventually, the wolves and Kipo hit a creative roadblock. Hackles were raised and Wolf was seconds away from unleashing ten or twenty jabs of Deathstalker into each of the Billions. Kipo, apparently sensing this, (not that Wolf had tried to be subtle anyway) jumped in between them and yelled loudly that she needed to go home to think and maybe she could come back to help more if the Wolves thought she would be needed. The Wolves beat around the bush like the weak stupid cowards they were and eventually formed a coherent sentence: they invited her back for the telescope’s inauguration.
Kipo thanked them and was excited to see the new telescope when it was finished.
And then they kicked us out.
Wolf was happy to be going home.
Home, she thought, grudgingly. Who knew that the shack of a "castle" as Benson took to calling it, that creatures visited Kipo in to ask for her blessings, time, and energy, would become home? The shed not too far from the hill where Kipo killed Scarlemagne, and then apparently took on the role of Queen of the Wonderbeasts.
How had that become home?
Not that they were there all that much anyway, between being the Newton Wolves' mechanics and creative directors and saving all the baby mutes and rebuilding neighborhoods in hollows, ravines, and gorges. The frogs kept the fort clean while they were gone. It turns out all they wanted was dibs on all the spot remover in the land and some of the costumes of Scarlemagne’s puppets. A little dark, a little twisted, but Kipo had deemed in a reasonable request.
When they returned home from the telescope escapade, Harris and Kwat were sitting outside on beach chairs they had scavenged from somewhere, reading a newspaper they had also scavenged form somewhere.
"Welcome, m'lady," Kwat squawked.
"Thanks, Kwat," Kipo chirped. "How have things been?"
"Same old. Lots of mutes here to see you."
"Oh, wow!" Kipo said, apparently still amazed everytime someone needed her, as if this hadn't been the pattern for some time now.
She remained humble. Maybe it was one of the wondrous things about her.
She returned to her throne, which Mrs. Sartori was helpful in designing. Much too swamp for Wolf's taste, but Kipo was, as always, gracious and excited to receive the gift.
She settled into the chair with a smile on her face.
"Bring in the mutes!" she said, banging her fist onto the armrest.
Benson and Dave cheered and rushed outside to figure out who was next in line.
Maybe they all were enjoying this too much. But Wolf couldn't help but feel a little excited, too.
They were ready for their next mission.
The elephants wanted a new amusement park immediately, and for some reason didn’t understand that there were some things more important in life than honoring season passes.
“And anyway if we are building a new park, wouldn’t the old season passes be invalid?” Benson asked.
An excellent point. Wolf looked at Kipo hopefully.
Kipo sighed. “We’ll ask the rats what they think.”
The rats didn't care either way. They were just happy to be rebuilding their home of merriment and wonder.
As annoyed as she was with the whole process of rebuilding light up biodegradable plastic mute heads or finding replacement oars for the gondola boats, Wolf wished to be back with the rats and elephants or even the wolves, when the the Timbercats and Umlaut Snäkes came with their problems.
“They stole our chords!” Shoelace McCutty whimpered.
“You can’t own chords,” Camille whimpered back.
“You couldn’t have written those chords if the notes slithered up and bit you,” Cotton snarled.
Kipo looked worried that they would take to violence to solve their copyright claims. Wolf, on the other hand, kind of hoped they would, as it would be less work for us, honestly.
“Maybe you guys can collaborate on this song?" Kipo suggested. "So then both of you can have the chords.”
Molly Yarnchopper looked incredibly displeased. “I know you thought that worked with the monkey in the desert and all of that, but there’s no way that can happen now. That was a one time thing, and we have our standards.”
“They are too unrefined to understand our superior music theory,” Cotton said, shaking her head, as if sad that her opponents were too stupid.
“You know there’s only one way to resolve this, right?” Benson asked gleefully.
Oh, no. Wolf did not like his tone. He had that smile that took up half his face and a glint in his eye that said everything was worth it!
“Oh, yeah, I know,” Yumyan Hammerpaw unsheathed his claws. Cotton and Camille shook their tails menacingly.
Just when tension was coming to a tipping point, Benson erupted from his place sitting by Kipo’s side, somehow with two fog horns blaring, and a megaphone to his mouth:
Kipo's helpful hand continues
The riff off ended in a tie, unsurprisingly. Kipo would never help someone at the expense of someone else.
Kipo ruled they could take turns using the chords. It was the stupidest thing Wolf had ever heard, but the Mutes seemed happy with it. Cotton and Yumyun shook paws and tails and scampered and slithered off into the desert horizon together, to wreck more havoc, strum more tunes, and continue their general tomfoolery.
Must be a nice life. Wolf was happy for them.
She was glad there were no bodies of water nearby because she did not want to look at herself in a mirror just then. Happy? For another person? For another Mute?
She didn’t really. Well. She didn’t have her things with Mutes, as much anymore.
She was mostly just happy that they were gone, okay? The Timbercats were so, so much. And the Umlaut Snäkes were so, so loud.
They had more important things to focus on.
Which, unfortunately, led them back to the Newton Wolves. Could any Mute just keep it together for one second?
The Newton Wolves were almost done with the telescope and they wanted Kipo to give a speech at the inauguration.
It was a particularly special inauguration since it was the first time they would be opening their school for astronomy for all species.
It was a momentous occasion, blah blah blah. Wolf watched Kipo bounce up and down because she couldn’t walk like a normal human being. She also couldn’t experience emotions like a normal human being. Everything was so much, and so big. Each Kipo emotion was like a separate wonder of the world—massive, breathtaking, and scattered across the map, literally miles and miles away. Wolf didn’t know how so much emotion could be in one person.
Kipo’s excitement might be her favorite, Wolf thought, as she watched Kipo spread her arms out and circle around Benson and Dave, making little chirping sounds, like a hummingbird, but a peaceful and cute one.
(Wolf was Strong, Brave, and Warrior enough to admit that Kipo was cute. Very, very cute.)
“What are you going to say?” Benson asked.
“I don’t know!” Kipo gushed, “It’s just so exciting and such an honor.”
“You haven’t planned out your speech at all?” Dave tut-tutted. “This outta be good.”
Wolf started to say that his eyes were literally bigger than his brain so he needed to watch his mouth (which was also bigger than his brain) but Kipo picked him up and twirled him around, despite his outcry.
“What can I say,” Kipo said wistfully. She put Dave down and hovered over him, closing her eyes and swishing her finger arrogantly and matter-of-factly in the air in front of him. “I am best at improvising,”
Benson laughed and Dave retorted something empty and grouchy and Wolf wished she could live in Kipo’s laugh forever.
Kipo gave her speech and the Newton Wolves were delighted. You almost couldn’t tell that it was completely improvised.
(Just kidding. You could completely tell by the way Kipo babbled around how happy, proud, and honored she was. How she extolled the beauty of science, and the beauty of their love for science. She was so excited for them to open up the school for all Species and had a few encouraging words for people who wanted to join the first incoming class.
Benson cried like a baby. Wolf had to admit, she understood the urge.)
Kipo smiled with Bad and Good Billions, her tiny human teeth shining just as bright as their sleek carnivorous teeth, in front of the navy satin ribbon which surrounded the telescope. Where they got ribbon or why Newton Wolves were at all concerned with frivolous earthly things like ribbon or opening ceremonies was completely beyond Wolf.
Kipo cut the ribbon and everyone applauded.
The Newton Wolves organized a ball of sorts. The Wolves performed their science rap which might actually be the only song they knew. Other Mutes performed their music as well. Creatures danced.
It was Wolf’s nightmare come to life.
...Except for how happy Kipo looked.
Wolf sighed internally. And it always came back to that, didn’t it?
How happy Kipo looked was the saving grace of all of this. It always pulled her through.
She almost let herself think about when this would be all over―
But it wouldn’t, right?
As much as Wolf hated being in everyone’s business because she just wanted some alone time, some time to chill, she enjoyed hanging out with her friends (she was Warrior enough to admit that they were all friends, and anyway, Warriors need friends in the first place. Plus, they had proven time and time again that they earned the title of friends. And she was very grateful for them.)
She didn’t want this to end.
So it had to be understandable when she loitered darkly by the hour devours, brooding and hunched over, hoping that no one would see her, and ignoring everyone that tried to discern the purpose for her presence.
In a crazy turn of events, someone found Kipo that atrocious blue pink and purple dress from the clothing store so very very long ago. Wolf remembered Kipo describing in unnecessary detail all of the outfits she tried on before she chose her signature Saturn shirt and leggings. Wolf wanted to laugh because Kipo described the dress so over the top floofy idiotic that there was no way that it could look decent at all
But for some reason Benson knew how to sew. And he made the dress into something else. He took the frills down to about a one, and blended the hues as if on a painter’s palette. It reminded her of the most beautiful sunset.
Someone styled her hair differently, too. It fell in choppy layers around her face, highlighting her eyes even more (if that was even possible.)
She was beautiful.
Truth betold, Kipo looked perfect all the time. She looked amazing. But more important than that, looks didn’t matter. Kipo was so much more than that: strong, smart and determined. Loyal. So caring and loving. She was genuine.
And she was also extremely beautiful.
Kipo caught her eye and gave her some kind of shy smile that made Wolf’s stomach go through karate sequences in ascending belt-color order.
Which is why Wolf (did not run away) stationed herself at the hor devours, guarding and patrolling. She needed to make sure she prevented Dave from hoarding them (because there was no need for that anymore. If Kipo said they were here to share, then that is what they were going to do.)
There were a lot of slow songs that made Wolf a little uncomfortable. It reminded her of Scarlamagne’s taste.
Before the ball, Kipo causally mentioned to her that she could dress up.
Wolf snorted and ignored the comment. She had already left her wolfskin in the travel bag that they all shared (that was mostly only for holding the wolfskin when they visited the Newton Wolves but still.) Benson produced a maroon suit that would either make the ModFrogs envious or disparaging (because maybe maroon was a tacky, cheesy, undignified color.)
But Benson shone in it. The walls refracted his laser smile back to him, injecting the air with energy only Benson could provide. Dave wore a tophat, a tiny black bowtie, and a monocle.
Their attire seemed fitting for the creepy Scarlemagne music. Wolf eyed the exits, figuring that she had at least shown her face, and that would probably be enough. She had arrived with Kipo, so everyone knew she had been there. So she could probably sneak way now and it would be completely acceptable and no one would be offended.
Not that she cared about offending anyone because she didn’t care what anyone thought. But she didn’t want Kipo to be sad.
Just when Wolf deemed it safe to make a break for it, the music cut off and uncomfortable fidgeting spread throughout the room. Murmurers of confusion rippled over the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mutes of all ages,” Benson bellowed over the loudspeaker. “How you doin????”
Kipo cheered, alone in a room of confused faces.
“Thank you, thank you,” Benson said. “That right there is my biggest fan. Shoutout to the GOAT, the legend herself, Kipo!!!”
That got claps and cheers from the room. Kipo looked flustered to have the attention turned onto her.
“And now back to me,” Benson said. “Heh heh. Are you all ready for the night of your lives???” He surveyed the crowd. He pointed to the live orchestra. “Are y'all with me? Follow my lead.”
Benson stood in front of a full DJ mixing table he materialized from somewhere.
Wolf could not have predicted what happened next.
The party turned into a ruckus. Electricity leapt around the room, static grazing creature’s cheeks, shoulders, and backs, their hands, paws, and other appendages. Everyone whooped and hollered, movement and chaos churning and erupting.
This was certainly a way to celebrate.
Wolf tried to keep an eye on Kipo throughout the ruckus. Kipo would disappear momentarily then appear on the other side of the room, still dancing up a storm.
The hor dourves smelled weird. They weren’t really to her taste, but Wolf had learned long ago to eat what she was given.
She scanned the room for Kipo again, knowing the momentary panic of not finding her would be momentarily relieved.
“Oh, there you are, Wolf!”
Wolf’s spine stiffened and she whirled around.
“I’ve been looking all over for you!” Delicate raspberry flush saturated her cheeks. Beads of sweat collected at her hairline, trickling down past her ears.
“Yes!! Come dance with us?”
“So you are having fun standing by the meatballs all by yourself?”
“I didn’t come here to have fun.”
“That’s ridiculous! Why did you come then?”
Wolf remained silent, stern gaze locked on Kipo’s bright one, and then staring out to the wall at the end of the room.
“Please? Just one.” Kipo clasped her hands together and bat her eyes in what Wolf can only assume she thought was a cute, pleading way.
Wolf shook her head. “There’s too many people.”
“We can dance here!” Kipo brandished her arm over the salmon strips.
The snack table was to a certain extent the least populous sector of the room. Wolf chose it that way on purpose. It being the least populous meant they were much easier to spot. It was a tradeoff Wolf had to make for safety from sweating and panting bodies. That being said: “No way.”
“Why not?” Kipo pleaded. “It’s a party!”
Wolf shrugged. “I don’t dance.”
“Everyone can dance!” Kipo grabbed Wolf’s arm and Wolf jolted back, the table digging into her spine. The appetizers rocked precariously.
Kipo didn’t notice at all. She started tugging and Wolf set her feet in the ground, schooling her face into a more terrifying frown, and ignored the dubstep bees in her stomach.
Kipo kept her tight grip on Wolf’s hand and started swaying to the beat.
“Anyone can dance!” Kipo said, sliding this way and that. Unseen forced pulled her body this way and that, like an undirected stream of bubbles. “Dancing is easy!”
“You look ridiculous.”
“I am having a ridiculous amount of fun!” Kipo spun herself, still holding Wolf’s hand. The disco lights glinted off her hair, her exposed shoulderblades, the back of her neck.
Kipo spun herself closer to Wolf. Their noses almost touched.
“See?” Kipo said, breath billowing across Wolf’s cheeks. “Fun!”
Wolf wrenched her hand back and turned away. “I’m not like you,” she said through viscous gunk that materialized in her throat over the past thirty seconds.
“What? Wolf are you okay?”
“Everyone loves you.”
“Because we help them. Everyone loves you too.”
“Everyone loves you. They tolerate me.”
Kipo’s hand burned on Wolf’s shoulder, insistent. “Wolf, what? That’s not true.”
Wolf wished she had just shut up. Wished she had just slipped out of the party before Kipo saw her. Kipo was fine. She was safe. All these Mutes would keep her safe. The world wasn’t dangerous like it used to be.
(Wolf didn’t actually really believe that. But maybe the world was safer for Kipo. At least until it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t, Wolf would be there for her. She felt a prickle at that promise, deep in her subconscious. She knew it was true. She knew she would keep her word. She knew it like she knew the colors of Kipo’s eyes (purple) that her hair was spiky (hilariously) and her smile was huge (like the sun warming the world).
Wolf didn’t know where this “vulnerability” came from. She didn’t want Kipo to get all, “thanks for sharing your feeling with me Wolf. I feel so honored to share this moment with you and I am so proud of you. You are doing so well.”
Ugh. Praise and validation. Gross.
She felt Kipo’s emotions approach a breaking point of outpouring.
She scoured frantically for a way out.
“I don’t want anyone to look at me.” She winced. It was still weak stupi and horrible. But no one else would have to know. And Kipo would never use it against her.
Some people just didn’t know how easy their life was just because they were charming and amiable and it showed. “Dancing is embarrassing.”
“If we go into the crowd no one will notice what we are doing.”
Wolf looked into the middle of the room dubiously.
Something pulled her—not the dance floor. Kipo, ever the shrewd operator, even if it was instinctual, not purposeful, took advantage of Wolf’s momentary lapse of consciousness and tugged her onto the floor.
Wolf clung to Kipo’s hand like a lifeline. She didn’t want Kipo to let go.
Kipo grinned at her and held her hand all night, her dancing, Wolf dodging creature’s limbs as best she could.
Magic sparkled in the air, in the sweat, in Kipo’s eyes.
Wolf wished it was just them two. She focused on Kipo, trying to drown everything else out.
(It wasn’t too hard to do.)
Wolf smiled in relief as Kipo finally bid farewell to Billions and Billions the following afternoon.
It took so long to leave because, first of all, Kipo was slow to wake, and Benson was slower. Dave made a fuss about how he couldn’t find his monocle. Wolf was beginning to question its existence in the first place. And then Benson wanted to eat lunch which if Kipo hadn’t agreed, she would have slapped him for even suggesting. Honestly she still might slap him when Kipo wasn’t looking. So they sat down at the table and she hoped the wolves would serve Benson some stupid oil and nuts and bolts. But they served them rare slabs of meat and streamwater.
After lunch, Benson said he was tired and wanted a nap but Wolf literally could not take it anymore. Maybe Kipo sensed the annoyance prickling off Wolf like porcupine quills or maybe they were just that in sync—she felt they had imposed long enough on the Wolves and that it was time to return home.
Wolf looked forward to some alone time. Maybe she could teach Kipo what berries were poisonous, and could be used to trick out arrows to make hunting more efficient. Maybe she and Kipo could find some building material to reinforce their rooms.
When Benson started calling their dwelling “the castle,” Dave of course, immediately loved and latched onto like a flea to tree sap. Kipo looked delighted, laughing the first time Benson referred to their home like that.
“What will you name your abode, Kipo?” Benson had asked, with a dramatic bow, his nose almost touching the ground. Wolf wanted to casually slip by him and push him over.
She barely resisted. Also she was distracted by Kipo’s wide, startled eyes.
“What? It’s all of ours,” Kipo protested.
“No, no, no, Kipo,” Benson said with a flourish “It’s obviously your castle. You just let us live in it too.”
According to Wolf’s calculations, all of this was absolutely atrocious. Still, she watched Kipo’s thoughtful expression.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think buildings need names.”
“Castle Kipo it is,” Benson said.
Kipo squawked indignantly, waving her arms and chasing Benson, warning him not to spread that around, and to not be silly.
Wolf let herself have this small smile.
Just this once.
Dusk fell softly, the purple sky highlighting Kipo’s eyes even more, casting an ephemeral glow on her hair, and dainty shadows over her nose.
Wolf wanted to contemplate this in peace, but there was no hiding their return. Some creatures slept, but some creatures milled about impatiently.
Wolf made eye contact with a hamster and saw the recognition slowly building in its big dark moonlike eyes.
The party halted in their tracks, cowering. Wolf pressed her hands over her ears.
When the audio assault completed, the hamsters ran up the hill to Kipo.
“No, we were first!” a raccoon with a rainbow headband cried.
“What about my theme park???” an elephant trumpeted from the bottom of the hill, bothered enough to complain, but not bothered enough to confront Kipo about it now.
“Okay, okay,” Kipo raised her hands. “Let’s go inside to discuss.”
When Kipo sat on her throne, and Benson, Dave, and Wolf took theri council seats as well, the clamour began.
“Our workouts!” one of the raccoons, with a pink headband, sobbed, latching onto Kipo’s hand.
“Forget about the workouts, what about our lives?” a pink sparkly-leather-jacketed hamster squealed.
“This will be the end of us,” another raccoon, with orange wristbands, wailed on the floor, limply battering a fist in a stuttering rhythm.
“We are but simple mammals,” another racoon mused sadly. “Can’t we just enjoy our time on this earth in peace?”
“Guys, what is going on?” Kipo asked.
“Okay, let’s not do that anymore!” Wolf snapped.
“What?” the hamster asked blinking at her.
“What? What are they doing?” Kipo asked.
“They love their bombs too much!” a hamster screeched. “They don't care about the safety of the rest of us!”
“Aren’t their bombs nonlethal gas?” Kipo asked. “It just makes creatures faint for a while, right?” Kipo said.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no—” one of the hamsters said, as another hamster said, “they are making plans to build big weapons!”
“What?” Wolf leaned forward in her chair. “What did you say?”
“Why?” Benson cried. “We just secured peace?”
“What the heck is going on,” Dave boomed.
“They keep bombing the flatlands,” a raccoon gasped. “It won’t be long until—”
“Our home is gone,” another wailed.
“We won’t let that happen,” Kipo said, back straight, and voice strong. As inappropriate as it may be in this situation, Wolf could not help but admire her.
“We will discuss a plan—BUT—” Kipo yelled just as the clamour began again (and subsided when she cut them off.)
“One at a time,” she said. “I understand that this is a very stressful time. But we have to remain calm and think of a plan. We aren’t going to talk over each other. And we are going to present that facts as they are so that we can make the best plan. Yes?”
“Yes, Kipo,” the mammals said in droopy unison.
“Excellent. So let’s begin.”
“Talking to them will not work,” Wolf cut in.
“How many times are you going to say that, and then I show you that it does work,” Kipo said testily.
“Do you think you can negotiate with insane peo—creatures? No!” Wolf said.
“She may have a point. They must be mad,” a raccoon said tentatively.
“We have to figure out why they are doing it. Maybe they feel threatened,”
“By what? Hamsters? I think they just like violence,” Wolf said darkly.
“And chaos,” Benson agreed.
“Well, who doesn't?” Dave retorted, to which Kipo rebuked him for, high pitched and frantic.
“Are there some other Mutes moving in on their territory or something?” Kipo asked.
“Birds aren’t territorial. And besides, they get the whole sky,” Dave said. “They can’t be greedy.”
“Creatures can definitely be greedy,” Wolf grumbled.
“We are going to talk to them.”
“What?” Wolf growled.
“What about us?” a hamster squeaked.
“You all will stay here until your homes are safe to go back to,” Kipo said.
“Oh, please hurry,” the raccoons whispered. “Please protect our home!”
Kipo got down from her throne and descended into the crowd. She held paws with the raccoons and hamsters.
“I won’t let you down,” she said. “We will sort this out. You all will be screaming and exercising back to normal in no time.”
Some cheered, and some smiled at her, watery and grateful.
Wolf watched Kipo soothe the mammals in the grand hall. Wolf kept her face neutral (that is, it looked disturbed, disgruntled, and unimpressed.) She glanced at Dave and Benson almost involuntarily. Dave looked unbothered, but Benson looked worried.
Maybe they all should be. Wolf had no idea how they were going to pull this one off. She knew she would follow Kipo anywhere. She just hoped they all made it back this time.
Planning a new journey
Kipo returned to their bedroom, after talking to the raccoons and hamsters about where to find the hummingbirds. She was gone a long time and Wolf was tired and too annoyed to accompany her. She went out to hunt down some dinner in the meantime .
There was no way this was going to work. She always wanted Kipo to slow down, rethink things, play it safe.
She just wanted Kipo to be safe.
And you know what, she did admire Kipo’s bravery. Her heart. Her passion and love for everyone and everything. She loved when Kipo’s crazy ideas worked. It was nice to see another perspective—well, terrifying and confusing sometimes. But it was nice to see that trust was possible. Wolf did think on many occasiosn that Kipo was crazy for doing so, but when it worked, it worked spectacularly.
Wolf wasn't entirely convinced that it would work for anyone but Kipo. Kipo had a certain ... something. Something that made everyone like her.
But this time was too much. This was crazy. The hummingbirds were unpredictable and clearly violent and without basic decency and respect.
Wolf believed in Kipo. She wouldn't be here if she didn’t.
But she also wanted Kipo to live to see another day. Help some more baby bisons in her time or whatever.
She had to convince her not to go. This wasn’t her fight.
When Wolf returned, Kipo wasn’t even home. Her heart echoed in her chest, her eyes wide as they raked across the room.
“Ah-ah-ah,” Dave yelled at her, syllables like gravel tumbling down a mountain, lounging in a crumpled pile of cloth scraps. “Kipo isn’t here. She and Benson went to talk to the hamsters.”
Wolf glowered and stalked across the room.
“Hello, to you too,” she heard Dave call at her back as she left for the kitchen. “How are you, Dave? I’m fine, Wolf, thank you so much for asking. What a gentlelady you are. You as well, Dave, are the most refined gentlebug I have ever seen. Thank you, Wolf!”
There was no regular modern style kitchen that Kipo was used to in the underground. But there was a room of the castle where the roof had a hole in it. So that was where Wolf made her fire.
She laid out her haul from rummaging around in the forest to blow off some steam and also feed her family..
She bit back a sight at herself.
Things really have changed.
She used to not really feel remorse regarding eating whatever animal she wanted, whether it talked English or not. Who knows what kind of meat the Wolves were eating? Maybe it was cow, bison, dinosaur leg, who knows.
And she talked. She had been hunted for meat before.
She could almost think of it without wanting to curl up in a ball, crying, and hating herself, and her life.
She really had Kipo to thank for that.
So was she going to make fun of Kipo for not wanting to eat animals that were cute or could talk? Yeah. But was she going to tirelessly search for plants, flowers, roots, nuts, beans, and tubers that would still fill their bellies and give them all the nutrients they needed?
She didn’t know when Kipo would be back. But she ate her share (raw) and she cooked the rest of their portions. Also they were at home. When they were on the road they couldn’t always cook everything. She wanted Kipo to have something nice today. And also she needed Kipo to be in an amiable mood so she would listen to her when Wolf argued with her (at her?) for wanting to talk to the hummingbirds.
When Kipo finally arrived (Benson in tow, of course) she looked tired but happy. Benson went straight to the firepit. Dave chased him indignantly, bemoaning the disrespect he received in his own house.
“I can’t even get a hello??”
Wolf watched Kipo walked over to her and sit down on the floor next to her.
Wolf looked at her silently wondering when she would start talking Wolf’s ear off.
Kipo just laid her head back against the wall, eyes falling shut like a blanket.
Wolf inhaled, ready to—
“Ah-ah. Not now. I need to sleep.”
Wolf kept her mouth firm and neutral. “I made dinner.”
Kipo’s eyes flew open and she leapt up. ”Why didn’t you say so?”
Wolf didn’t have a chance to talk to her for the rest of the night. Maybe it was for the best. As Wolf drifted off to sleep, she thought maybe self-indulgently, that Kipo’s breathing sounded especially calm and satisfied, and maybe they would get a good night’s sleep.
They deserved that one in a while, right?
Wolf used to wake up at any suspicious squeak, scratch, pant or peck—and they all were suspicious.
Now times were safer. At least until Kipo decided to waltz into the lair of a rogue violent mafia.
So now, Wolf was woken up slowly, by the pull of something languid in her brain. Consciousness descended on her in increments, like baby bird footprints in wet spring dirt.
She turned over to check on Kipo. She didn't want anything to wake her up.
It took her a second to realize that Kipo’s bed mat was empty. She left everything tousled and clumped.
Wolf jolted up, panic rising immediately.
Almost instantly she heard mild commotion. She went from living alone in complete silence to living with the three loudest most energetic parakeets she could ever imagine.
She went outside, ready to yell that some people were actually trying to sleep when she was greeted with unexpected raccoon visitors.
“Oh, hey, good morning,” Kipo grinned, and Wolf’s heart stopped racing. Wolf nodded at her, but couldn’t do or say more with the visitors here.
Why were the visitors here? This was a castle, right? Where was the security?
Normally Wolf would be the security. She had gone soft. She let Kipo explain the situation to her and she let the train of thought go.
“You remember Carton and Tongue Depressor!” Kipo gestured to the raccoons.
Two raccoons gave her a thumbs up.
“And Label!” a third raccoon exclaimed.
“And Label,” Kipo heartily agreed.
Wolf would very much like to know what is going on here.
“We are so totally stoked that you are helping us out with this little problem!” the orange headband one said.
“After you totally ramped us up to work out that pigeon problem, we were like totally inspired dude!” the pink headband one said.
“Where are Benson and Dave?” Wolf asked.
“Dave wanted some Explosion Berry before we leave,” Kipo said. “Benson is sleeping I think?”
Wolf didn’t hear the last part. “What?”
“The raccoons are going to take us to the hummingbirds!” Kipo said.
“No,” Wolf said.
Kipo sighed. “Come on, Wolf! We can’t let this problem go unsolved!”
“They said you inspired them with the pigeon thing. Why can't’ they do it themseles?”
“Everything works better when we work together.”
“Can we work together to stay at home? Stay safe?”
Kipo looked at her with glittering eyes. Why couldn’t Kipo see Wolf just wanted the best for her? Why did she have to stick her neck out for anyone? When did it end?
When it ended for good?
“Look who found the mothaload!”
Kipo cringed and Wolf’s eyes flicked briefly to the doorway where Dave lugged several crates of Explosion Berry behind him.
“Way to go, Dave!” Kipo said, voice lacking a certain brightness that felt like a slap in the face.
“Alright, so I’m gonna wake up Benson, and then we can go,” Dave said.
“We’re not going,” Wolf said.
“Oh, give it up,” Dave said already walking out of the first room. “You know we are all going to go and have a grand old hunky dory time and then come home and then do it all over again.”
“Well what if we don’t want to?”
“I want to. Do you?”
Wolf didn’t reply.
“Wait, wait, stop arguing! We want to watch!” Dave called, voice soft, and several rooms away.
“Oh, the nerve,” Kipo muttered, brow furrowing darkly.
“We’ll get ready to leave, too,” orange headband said. “And then we will meet you here and we’ll all leave together?”
Kipo nodded. “Sounds like a plan. Thank you so much for this. Do you need any help packing?”
“No, we’re good,” pink headband said cheerily. “See ya in a jiff!”
They scampered away.
Benson and Dave emerged from the bedroom.
“Ooh, lunch,” Benson said, flipping open an Explosion Berry.
“Okay, you two,” Dave said, sitting on the ground with finality and urgency of someone ready to watch a show. “Begin.”
“They are just going to bomb us on site,” Wolf exploded.
Kipo set her lip, steadfast. Maybe Wolf shouldn’t have done that right out of the gate.
“On accident or on purpose?” Benson asked.
“Both,” Dave said.
“You don’t know that,” Kipo said, with stalkish, prickly calm. “And they know me, so they won’t harm an ally.”
“Do they know you?” Benson asked. “They didn’t technically fight with us against Scarlemagne.”
“Cowards,” Wolf snorted.
“Do you think they are working for him?” Kipo asked, the first look of worry etched on her face.
Yes, Wolf thought. Okay, now let’s stay home.
“Shouldn’t Scarlemagne have no army after he died? He was just using mind control on them. So now that he is dead there is no one to control them, right?” Benson asked.
“Maybe he can control them from the dead,” Dave said.
Everyone looked at him.
“What? It could happen. He controlled them with pheromones. Pheromones can live on after death. That is how I will ensure my progeny.”
“Dave, please shut up,” Wolf said.
“My man, always planning ahead,” Benson said, and high-fived Dave.
“I don’t think that’s how pheromones work,” Kipo said. “And I’m not going to let some weird bird gang scare off my friends from their homes. I’m going to talk to them.”
“How are these birds making bombs anyway,” Benson said. “Why can't they use their powers for good?”
“There must be a good reason why they are doing this,” Kipo said.
“Because they are evil?” Wolf asked.
Kipo didn’t even look at her.
“Wolf. You don’t have to come.”
Wolf felt winded. “Fine. Forget it. Let’s go.”
“We have to wait for the raccoons.”
When the raccoons arrived, Kipo still wasn’t talking to Wolf. Or maybe Wolf wasn’t talking to Kipo. Either way Kipo was mad and Wolf was going to let her stay mad (as much as it pained her to see Kipo anything but happy and safe).
Silence, Wolf could do. That’s what Wolf had been doing for years.
There was still time yet to save them. Wolf wasn’t going to let some birdbrains harm her friends.