Whiskers from Westerdelle ~ Chapter 2! Counting Day

Hello peoples! I’m late putting the next episode of the story out for you, but here it is at last. I might take a break before I work on Chapter Three. In the meantime, here’s what’s below. The continuation of WFW! I hope you enjoy it!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter 2: Counting Day

Only one Knop could ride the elevator at a time, and of course, Aprille had to go first.

Bye-Bye waited as she inched herself backwards into the wooden box’s crude opening. Two bolts were drilled in on either side, each one holding fast the knotted end of a white string. The four strings joined together above the box and made a thick cord that traveled upward, all but disappearing into the tall and leafy evermoon trees. Aprille smiled–she always enjoyed what she was about to do–and gazed her big blue eyes intently up toward where the cord ended tautly wound around a winch.

The winch turned immediately and the elevator rose.

As the princess, Aprille received the maximum six shares given of Firespring water each day. What was regarded as the greatest gift from the Appointer himself tended to work different wonders depending on what kind of living thing drank from it. Telekinesis was one ability granted to the Knopf, and it was for them alone. Because of Aprille’s six shares, she could use the telekinesis-operated elevator twelve times daily and without diminishing her other gifts.

Bye-Bye wasn’t sure how many times in all Aprille had visited the ground that day, but such information was unimportant. He personally had been allowed to drink only two shares, which meant that once he had ridden up after Aprille, he would not be able to visit the ground until morning. His telekinesis would by then be too weak to use, unless he wanted to utilize the power for it that would otherwise let him see in the dark.

Presently, the elevator groaned to a stop far above his head, but he had to wait for another minute before it would come back whirring down to him. Aprille had to inch out of the box first, after all, and then she had to let the sentry know that another Knop was behind her.

When acting in perfect alignment to their nature, Knopf were slow.

~ ~ ~

Bye-Bye let the elevator travel in a smooth motion, staring fixedly at the winch and never once looking downward. A yellow light shone through the roughly hewn cracks on the landing up above his head, faintly illuminating the tree trunks all about.

Home looked cheerful, but it wasn’t so.

“You’re late,” remarked the sentry, a surly blue Knop with glaring green eyes.

“Oh, and I suppose Aprille isn’t?” Bye-Bye asked him. “You sure do have your favorites for a Knop who does community service, you pincushion.”

“The name’s Cookies the Third, and no, it wasn’t her fault for being late. I suspect you should have known that fact already.” Cookies’ eyes narrowed. “What is it you were doing?”

Bye-Bye yawned. “Making fun of the Boof.”

“Really.”

“I’m late. You’ll have to ask me again later if you want to know more about it.” Cracking a smile, Bye-Bye slithered away as fast as he could, nevertheless still feeling the gaze of Cookies the Third drilling through him.

Glowing blossoms in flowerpots aligned the landing deck as well as the bridge leading to the largest treehouse of the Knopf’s community. The smooth woodwork felt welcoming to tired tentacles, and the steamy smell of sweet chalknut pudding overflowed through the windows. Across each window, rows of claws and teeth from dead predators were strung evenly and neatly like trophies, providing Knopf inside the treehouse with a sense of refinement and security.

Hundreds of Knopf had already arrived, having gathered from everywhere in the jungle to the hub of their community to simply assure each other and especially their leader that they were all accounted for. Hairy heads of all different colors populated the room so thickly that hardly any part of the floor was visible, the largest and oldest Knopf fathers letting their children–the knoplings–rest atop heads so as to prevent them from getting crushed. Knoplings less than four weeks of age were latched onto their mothers, their tiny mouths toothless, their eyes closed, and their bodies each coated with a light fuzz. Everyone had been talking excitedly together, but they suddenly grew very quiet when Bye-Bye slipped in and sat in a corner by himself. Aprille made her way around unfazed to be the Knop sitting closest to her father, Emberus.

“Let us begin,” said the Knop chief presently.

Emberus was old, and he spoke only what he needed to say. At the same time, one fierce look from him was a terror; he was furthermore enormous and gray-haired and he had always smelled of something mysterious. He claimed to be the first Knop to have ever been given wisdom. His eyes were fiery brown-and-orange orbs, and his fangs had grown the longest, although he was not savage. He had once had a mate whom he had loved dearly, who had given him Aprille. Since her death, he had established counting day. Through it, everyone knew everyone else.

The Knopf knew numbers, but counting day required a song. They sang it in their Westerdellian tongue and as a fugue, so that each distinct voice with its respective number was heard in an orderly way and musical enough to remember.

The song went on for about three hours, as it named each and every Knop who had belonged to or was belonging to the community, whether or not he or she was alive. Deaths were carefully noted, however, and, when the deceased’s names were reached, the entire community sang their respective lines for them solemnly.

The numbers had been assigned but without respect to age nor with much regard for rank. Once Bye-Bye had dared to ask why his number was his, and Emberus had replied to him: “My counting system places you and me and the others in the exact same order of our individual attainments of wisdom. I saw it happen. That’s how I know.”

Bye-Bye’s number was nowhere near the beginning of the song. It was even after Aprille’s, who was one year younger than him. He had stiffened angrily at Emberus’ words. “Then you must think that I’m dumb.”

“No one in the song is dumb,” Emberus had replied. “Only boofs and the other wild creatures are dumb. Just don’t turn yourself back into a beast. It’s what we all used to be. But that’s in the past. And so we Knop can each have a part in the song.”

 

One–hail chief here; two, old Wow.

Three, Queen Ailexa, who is gone.

Four is Zamery, five dead Jenn,

Six here is Muffin Yay. So where’s seven?

 

Seven was Dunno, Eight is Hello,

Nine was Itty-Bitty, Brilly is ten,

Hayball here, he’s number eleven,

And Bringsba was twelve, with five children.

 

Yorfur is thirteen, Yorsec comes next.

Yorthur is fifteen. Yorfor, he was breakfast,

But sixteen still. Yorfiff, she’s seventeen.

And their uncle Samegg—he’s eighteen…

 

…Eighty-nine’s Yoryuck, ninety’s Thistle Dew,

Ninety-one’s Yup Yup, and Lezmay’s ninety-two,

Ninety-three’s Cookies, ninety-four’s Onuth,

And ninety-five’s Aprille. Her Royal Highness…

 

Sixteen Knopf later, Bye-Bye’s name and number were sung by him, and those who were left to be counted, who had “attained their wisdom” after him, were mostly knoplings who had been born into families now teaching them the wisdom instead of they themselves attaining it by the same means as their parents. They soon filled the room with their sweet and tiny voices calling out their own names and numbers innocently.

Bye-Bye did not remember what it was like for himself to be a knopling. His earliest memory came from when he had been learning wisdom: the day when he had been given a name. Before that, he had been an unnamed and stupid beast, which had been like being a slow and squishy version of the plork. At least, that was how he imagined it to have been like.

On naming day, a single face had stared at the Knop who was to be Bye-Bye Buttons and had said his name. That face had not belonged to a Knop–it had been pale and hairless and even oddly shaped. And yet it spoke and seemed to have far more intelligence and vigor in it than all the rest of the Knop community combined. Since then, Bye-Bye had wondered if that face had belonged to the Appointer himself. Had the Appointer himself spoken to him? Had he given the Knopf their names and their wisdom? Such a thought always made Bye-Bye Buttons feel special, even though he had not ever seen the face of his Namegiver again.

The song for counting day was reaching its end. Now the parents of knoplings who could not yet sing were doing the singing for them, acknowledging that everyone down to the youngest and most helpless members of the community were safe and well accounted-for. Emberus was nodding his head formally after each name and number, but Aprille Thummins, Bye-Bye Buttons noticed, had forgotten her manners. As the parents sang on, she had by now relaxed and was gazing at each of their knoplings fondly. He could even hear her softly singing their respective names and numbers as well.

“It’s not your turn to sing, Princess.”

There were tears in the princess’ eyes, too, which made her look all the more annoying and unnatural.

Suddenly, the song faltered, and then it stopped altogether.

Emberus’ eyes opened up widely as if he had been sleeping and he asked immediately, “Who is missing?”

“Sir,” said a mother Knop on the far side of the room, raising up one trembling tentacle for herself to be seen, “Mine: nue* three-eighty-four. She is gone.”

~ ~ ~

* Nue was derived from the word number among the Knopf to refer exclusively to a knopling during counting day. It told other Knopf right away what was being counted so as to evoke their immediate and affectionate attention.

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