Chapter 11: Cranky's Conga
Aside from the howling wind outside the cave, the silence was absolute as Diddy stared in shock at the old ape, hunched over on two canes in front of him.
"What the heck's the matter with you, boy?" Cranky Kong snapped. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"W-We thought you were gone," he stammered.
"Kidnapped! Captured by the Kremlings!"
"Me? Kidnapped?" The elderly ape raised one of his canes threateningly, and Diddy took an involuntary step back.
At that moment, his compatriot awoke and drew her katana. "Stay back!" she warned, rising to her feet.
"Nadhi, wait!" Diddy said, his hands spread wide in a placating gesture. "He's a member of the Kong family."
"The eldest and most respected member, thank you very much!" Cranky grumbled in a disgruntled tone. "I saw firelight flickering in this cave, but you two were the last things I expected to find." Both primates lowered their respective weapons, although he still eyed Nadhi suspiciously. "And who are you? You're with those ninjas I've seen all around the island lately, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am," she replied guardedly.
"It seems we have some things to discuss." Cranky turned and shuffled out of the cave. "Follow me."
"Where to?" Diddy called, but the old ape had already disappeared into the darkness.
Against the moonlit landscape, three figures could be seen traversing the tundra. After a while, Diddy spied lights in the dark – the outline of a ramshackle old cabin. Its roof and windows were encrusted with ice and snow, and icicles hung down from the eaves. However, a warm glow could be seen behind the windows.
"So you've been up here the whole time?" he mused presently. "But Dixie and I thought you had been kidnapped by the Kremlings."
"Ha!" the old ape scoffed. "Those mangy buccaneers couldn't kidnap the likes of me! I was out taking a walk and came back to find my hut trashed. Figuring something fishy was up, I made my way up to the safe-house here."
"You climbed all the way up here by yourself?"
"Are you doubting my ability, boy?" Cranky grumbled. "Why, back in my day – the golden age of video-gaming – I was the chief villain of Jump Man – "
"You mean Mario?"
"Whatever! I'm the main star here, and you're all just my supporting cast!"
The young monkey opened his mouth to retort, but fell silent when the door opened, revealing the last person he expected to see. In the foreground of the light coming from inside of the cabin, a lithe, graceful and pink-clad figure could be seen, her long blonde ponytail falling across her back.
"Diddy, is that you?"
"Dixie!" he cried, scrambling up onto the porch and enveloping her in a strong hug. They spun around, revelling in the joy of seeing each other safe and sound. Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Nadhi's downcast gaze and felt a twinge of guilt.
"Diddy, little dude!" came a familiar voice.
He looked to see a bulky ape standing just inside the doorway, without his shades on for a change. "Funky! Man, is it good to see you!" He broke the hug with Dixie but held onto her shoulders. "But what are you two doing up here?"
"We came to find you," she replied, looking away shyly. "I realised..."
Her voice broke off, and Funky cut in. "We flew over the glacier looking for you, and saw the lights from this cabin. We then found ole' Cranky here instead. We were going to wait until morning to go looking for you."
"Come on then!" the old ape muttered, ushering them inside. "I'll put the kettle on, I suppose. Make you lot some tea. And then you can all start talking – why are there volcanoes exploding everywhere, and why are those blasted Kremlings back?"
Maku fell to one knee and bowed his head shamefully. "I am sorry, Raine. We could not find them. The blizzard has made tracking them all but impossible."
The leader of Nanji clan clenched his fists. "The traitor must have gone to warn the Kongs. Nadhi is no longer one of us. If you see her again, kill her on sight."
Raine turned to leave, but paused when he heard his underling speak up suddenly timidly, "What about the Lost World?"
"Nothing has changed," he replied, turning. "Even if the Kongs know, they cannot stop us. We will win this battle." He placed a reassuring hand on his underling's shoulder. "I have not come this far to fail, and to see our clan become extinct."
When Diddy finished his story, bringing everyone up to speed, Cranky sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Pah! This story's even worse than DKC2! Ancient powers, sacred ground – what is this rubbish? Seriously, what terrible writer have they recruited for this?"
Dixie, on the other hand, was visibly shaken by the news. She and Diddy had experienced the terrifying wrath of the Kremlings' Chambers twice already. She frowned. Something about the story bothered her. Something she could not quite put her finger on…
"Well, it looks like this whole thing is deeper than anyone expected," Funky commented.
Cranky turned and rounded on Nadhi. "If it weren't for your lot showing up, we wouldn't be in this mess!"
"Leave her alone," Diddy said, immediately coming to her defence. "It's not her fault."
The elderly ape was momentarily surprised at the backbone the whippersnapper was showing – answering back to him! But the audacity! His hand twitched toward his cane.
"From what you've told me, the Kremlings' ship has just sailed out," Funky spoke up, defusing the situation. "I've added a few extra features on my Biplane Barrel since you saw it last. With a couple of extra barrels of fuel stored onboard, it should be able to make the trip to DK and back," he announced proudly.
"But what about the Nanji clan?" Diddy asked. It was not that he did not want to go and rescue his best friend, but there was already so much going on. He wondered if he and Dixie would have an island to come back to.
"We'll handle those interlopers," Cranky replied curtly.
"And I will help you," Nadhi said respectfully. "My people have brought their war to your shores. It is the least I can do."
It was at that moment that something dawned on Dixie: her problem with the story.
"It's DK!" she exclaimed, causing everyone to turn and look at her. "DK is the sacrifice," she explained. "The 'heart of the enemy'. If they bring him to the fourth Chamber, this island is going to sink below the sea."
The gravity of the situation appeared to sink in at that moment.
The thought of his friend – at the mercy of the pirates and on his way to certain death – hardened Diddy's resolve into iron will. He looked directly at Funky. "As soon as the sun rises again, we're setting out."
The ape nodded in agreement, while Dixie clenched her fists tightly at her sides.
Cranky was looking them over shrewdly. He recalled a similar situation – when Diddy had insisted on going to rescue DK from K. Rool instead of paying the villain's ransom demand. Back then, the young monkey had been eager, but timid – full of self-doubt. It was the first real adventure where he was the star of the show.
Déjà vu flashed over the scene – here the young whippersnapper was again, about to set out on another dangerous adventure, with infinitely more at stake. And yet no self-doubt or second-guessing marred the boy's face.
Perhaps he was growing up.
"So it's settled, then," the elderly ape said, pushing away from the table. "You three had better get back safely from this, and bring back that good-for-nothing grandson of mine."
Diddy nodded resolutely. "I'll bring him back, you wait and see!"
"And we will stop the Nanji clan from claiming your home," Nadhi said determinedly, donning her black face-mask again. "I swear it."
"We have some terrain to cover," Cranky said, turning to her. "We'd better get going now." He looked over at the three other Kongs, ready to venture into unknown waters. "You lot can use this cabin and rest up for the night." With a final nod, he left through the door.
"Good luck," the ninja said to the others softly, and then followed. She had made it to the edge of porch outside when she heard Diddy's voice behind her.
She turned, and the two looked at each other for a moment.
"No matter what happens, I just want you to know how much I care about you," Diddy said softly.
"And I you," she replied.
The two monkeys embraced each other once more.
"Take care of yourself."
"Do not worry," the ninja replied, smiling. She looked over her shoulder at Cranky. "I will have a friend with a light to show me the way."
"Come on, then!" the 'friend' in question snapped. "I ain't getting any younger!"
Nadhi giggled as she disengaged herself, and then trudged over to join the old ape. They wandered off into the frozen night together, and were soon lost from view.
A little while later, Funky's snores filled the cabin, the lanterns long since extinguished. Diddy tossed and turned in his cot, the pitiful blanket doing little to stave off the cold.
"Psst, Dixie," he finally whispered into the dark. "Are you awake?"
A beat passed, before the whispered response came. "Yes."
He gripped his blanket tightly, listening to the creaks of the cabin as it was buffeted by the glacial winds. "I… I'm really glad you're okay."
There was a short silence, before he heard the sound of Dixie's nimble feet hitting the floor. "Come on," she said, grabbing his arm and dragging him out of bed. "Let's go out onto the porch."
"Outside into the cold?" he could not help but blurt out. "Are you mad?"
Although it was dark, he knew his compatriot was rolling her eyes. A moment later, they were standing on the porch, looking out across the moonlit peak of the island.
"What were you going to say before?" Diddy finally asked. "Why did you come to find me? What did you realise?"
"I realised…" Dixie paused, and then smiled. "I remembered what a great team you and I made when we journeyed to Crocodile Isle to rescue DK. It was so dark and gloomy and dangerous there." She directed her piercing green eyes at him. "I haven't told you this before, but I was really scared there. All the time."
"Scared?" he scoffed. "No you weren't –cracking heads and jokes. You were so strong-willed and brave – it's the reason that DK and I returned from that place at all."
Dixie shook her head in apparent irritation. "You must stop selling yourself short, Diddy. You were my rock on Crocodile Isle. I was always looking to you for my strength. When we were attacked by Zingers in Crocodile Cauldron, when we dodged all those traps that K. Rool set for us in his keep, when we fell asleep together in the bramble forest…" Her face blushed at that, and she looked away.
The two stood in silence for a moment, listening to the whistling of the wind.
Finally, Diddy tilted his head toward her. "Dixie, I'm sorry that things got so messed up between us."
She pursed her lips, wrapping her arms around herself for warmth. "Me too," she answered at length.
He came over and wrapped his arms around her body to help keep her warm, but was taken aback when she stepped forward out of his embrace. After a moment of awkward silence on his part, he tried to express himself again.
"Dixie, what I'm trying to say is..."
She turned and gazed at him silently, but Diddy found he was unable to get the right words out, and looked down at his feet in embarrassment.
"It's okay," she finally said gently. "You don't have to say anything."
Her old boyfriend looked back up in surprise. "Huh?"
"What I mean is that we're about to embark on a dangerous mission, and we can't afford distractions." She shot him a playful smirk. "Besides, with what we're about to walk into, a relationship should be the least of your worries."
"But – "
"Look, Mr Hotshot," she said playfully. "I don't want all this angst when we cracking Kremling skulls together. I want my friend by my side – the same friend who I relied on back then, and who I trusted with my life." Her expression turned serious. After a beat, "Can I trust you on this adventure, Diddy?"
"Yes," he answered without hesitation.
Well, well, it's been a while, hasn't it?
All I can say is 'I'm sorry' x 1000 (to you guys, the readers, and to Diddy and Dixie for neglecting their pixelated awesomeness).
The truth is that my muse hasn't visited DK Island in a while. But I seem to have hit a writer's block for my Coraline and Corpse Bride stories, and so here I am!
We are also now (finally) at the end of Act I, and ready to begin Act II. Expect pirates, dungeons, danger, swashbuckling action, and some (hopefully) witty humour to help it all go down easier.
Reviews are greatly appreciated, so please take them time to leave one. See you next chapter!