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we must strive for perfection

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Kronk was on a mission to perfect his macarons.

“These are all cracked along the top,” Yzma said, slinking along the edge of the counter. There would be kitten hair everywhere. “Perfection!!!!” Yzma said. “We must strive for perfection, Kronk.”

Kronk would like to shoo Yzma off the counter and have a conversation about sanitary baking conditions, but Yzma’s claws were so sharp and when Kronk was firm with her she just sneaked back into the kitchen in the middle of the night and industriously ripped open all the bags of flour and batted the eggs off the counter and coughed hairballs up into poor vulnerable pastries.

“Scouts meeting in an hour,” Kronk reminded her, and tried to stay positive re: macarons. It was hard. This was his fifth attempt, and something had been wrong with every single batch. Too crunchy! Too soft! Not enough banging of trays to get the air bubbles out!

“Scouts,” Yzma hissed. Her enthusiasm, after some initial resistance, had been heartwarming. Kronk clasped one hand to his heart and beamed at her.

The day’s second disappointment was that halfway through their hike into the deepest darkest reaches of the jungle -- McSqueakerson, as the proud owner of not one but five deep woods badges, was doing a fine job on point -- Yzma stopped dead in the middle of the trail and insisted that they turn back. They, of course, was Kronk and Yzma. They was always Kronk and Yzma.

“But Yzma! Your deep woods scout troupe deep woods badge!”

“The badges are nothing, Kronk. The badges are mere symbols of true power.”

“Even… even knot tying?”

Yzma hesitated. Knot tying was her very favourite troupe badge, earned over three weeks by kidnapping two professional sailors and pitting them against one another in a great duel of knots until one finally invented a super knot that could be prepared ahead of time to look like a perfectly innocent pile of rope, but which was really one dramatic tug of tiny kitten claws away from an expertly executed knot of glorious destiny that could never be undone, not even with a knife.

So she’d said, anyway.

“Are you coming or not?” Chaca asked, crossing her arms across her chest.

Not,” Yzma said.

“Maybe?” Kronk said, hopefully. He had really wanted to lead his troupe to badge victory today.
But if Yzma needed him, well. The scouts’ code did say that friendship was important.

“I have --” Yzma frowned her new kitten frown at Chaca and Tipo and McSqueakerson, and ushered Kronk further down the trail. Kronk wondered sometimes if Yzma was shy, but only occasionally. She was so confident most of the time! Maybe she just didn’t like strangers. “I need to complete things,” Yzma said. “Things, Kronk. You remember the things?”

Kronk pulled out the memory of this morning, and failed to find any mention of things in it.

“If you say so,” Kronk said, doubtfully, because a deep woods scout mission was no place for Yzma to have one of her rages. Lots of large animals with large teeth would find all that noise very interesting, and as acting troupe leader Kronk was responsible for his scouts.

And for the animals with large teeth. Caring for nature was right in the oath.

“I do say so,” Yzma said, who seemed to have sensed that Kronk was going to honour their friendship over his troupe leadership duties. “TO THE CITY,” she added, jabbing one paw in the wrong direction.

McSqueakerson assured him that he could handle the troupe for the remainder of the day.

//

Yzma abandoned Kronk at the very gates of the city, melting into the crowd when one of the guards recognized him and shouted Kronk’s name. “The emperor wants to see you, dude!” the guard said. “A - S - A - P, if you know what I mean?”

Kronk didn’t, particularly, but an imperial summons was definitely important. Kuzco often said things like, “Wow, sorry about the awkwardness, buddy,” whenever they spoke, usually interrupting himself in the middle of a sentence to do so. Kronk wasn’t certain which awkwardness Kuzco was referring to, although Yzma, the one time he brought it up, had been pretty certain it was related to that time Kronk had been personally involved in trying to kill the emperor.

“Riiiight,” Kronk had said. His most vivid memories of that time were of the thirty glorious minutes he spent as the greatest fry cook that adorable little restaurant had ever seen, and anyway, the llama incident had been, oh, a whole year ago! Kronk thought he could be forgiven for forgetting some of the details.

At the palace Kronk was ushered into one of the back rooms behind the throne room. It had a giant painting of a jaguar on the wall, and there were secret passages in two of the jaguar’s giant white claws. The one on the left had been Kronk’s favourite. There was a slope to the floor, so if you kept a cart at the top - which Kronk did - you could ride it all the way down to the bottom.

Kuzco greeted him and inquired after his current hobbies for a few minutes. Pastimes. Associations. New friends.

Kronk filled him in on the troupe’s latest adventures, because Kuzco was usually especially interested in Chaca’s and Tipo’s scouting achievements. “I am also on a mission,” he added.

Kuzco leaned in. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“Macarons,” sighed Kronk. “They’re very difficult, technically speaking.”

Kuzco blinked at him. “Macarons. Right. Hey listen, have you gotten any troupe applicants recently?”

“Not recently. But I can put in a good word for you with the scout master. Ha ha ha!”

“I’m not looking to join.”

“Is it a friend of yours? Troupe’s pretty big already, but I’m sure we have some more room.”

“No, I want to know if anyone recently did join. Recently.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s why the troupe’s so large this year. Lots of new interest.”

“These would be big guys, maybe ones you remember from around the palace.”

“A few. They’re not integrating into the group very well,” Kronk confided. There were six of them, former personal guards. They tended to keep to themselves, and did not show particular interest in achieving any badges. They did all display a great deal of natural talent for looking menacing in corners of rooms, though. That wasn’t really a quality the troupe officially encouraged, but he and McSqueakerson decided it was important to applaud them in something, lest their self-confidence as valuable team members start to waver. And anyway Yzma certainly seemed to like it.

“But one of them makes the most amazing mini quiches,” Kronk added, so that Kuzco wouldn’t get the wrong idea and think the new recruits were unappreciated.

“Quiches, really.”

“A true artist with an egg.”

“That’s great. I’m so glad. Well, this has been enlightening, thanks for coming in.”

“Wait, what did you want to see me about?”

“I just- we-” Kuzco trailed off to rub at his face. “Never mind. I just hadn’t seen you in a while, wanted to check in. You know. Make sure our young people are being adequately, uh, trained. In, uh, woods navigation. Activities.”

“Well you know what they say about kids,” Kronk said.

“They’re the future?”

“They’re natural navigators,” Kronk agreed. Kuzco walked him to the door.

“Let’s do this again real soon,” he said, waving Kronk off and disappearing back into the palace. A beat later he materialized again, earrings jangling. “Also I want to try those mini quiches. Can you hook me up?”

Kronk saluted him. “Will do. I’ll bring you the macarons, too. They’re going to be amazing.”

“Sure,” said Kuzco.

//

Yzma still wasn’t home when Kronk got back, so he took advantage of the silence to mix up a bunch of macarons with an ingredient he seldom got to use: total concentration. It didn’t seem to help. More precision was required, he thought. The oven was too hot, maybe. The air was more humid than it was yesterday. “What,” Yzma said, right in his ear, “did the emperor want with you?”

The macarons, despite not looking quite right, probably would have tasted okay, Kronk thought, mournfully. He needed to work on not dropping things when startled. “He’s looking for a good quiche,” Kronk said, prompted by Yzma’s claws in his shoulders. That was one thing that hadn’t changed in the transformation from fullish-sized woman to palm-sized kitten.

“Quiche,” Yzma said.

The doorbell rang. “Excuse me,” Kronk said, and detached Yzma from his shoulder to go answer it. “Oh look!” he cried, when he opened the door. “Someone has left their cow on our doorstep. Hey there, little fella. Don’t worry. This’ll make more sense when you’re older but listen. Sometimes moms and dads just get to feeling a little overwhelmed. The important thing to remember is that everything’s going to be fine.”

The cow stared at him. “I’m … here to see Yzma?” it said.

“Show him in, Kronk,” Yzma called from the kitchen. Her voice had gone sugary sweet again.

Kronk showed the cow into the living room and brought him a cup of coffee, and then a second cup of coffee when cow hooves proved difficult to use when holding mugs. “Kronk, be a dear and run out for some more coffee,” Yzma said.

“Oh!” Kronk said. “Not to worry. I have more in the cupboard.” He watched the cow sip at the coffee for a moment. There were rustling and rattling noises in the kitchen, and then a resounding crash and the sound of hundreds of hard, tiny objects hitting the floor in a wave.

“Oops,” Yzma said.

//

It figured that the week Kronk decided to really concentrate on his baking would also be the week that everyone decided they wanted to see him. Kronk ran into Pacha in the street and instead of waving goodbye once Kronk had filled him in on all the amazing progress Chaca and Tipo had been making on their cliff scaling badges, Pacha invited him back to the palace to make potato puffs and talk some more.

“I have to bring this coffee back to Yzma,” Kronk said, but he was wavering. Yzma did not appreciate the potato puffs as much as he would have liked.

“I’ll get a runner to bring it over for you,” Pacha said, helpfully, and Kronk supposed that was acceptable. Yzma was busy with her cow guest, anyway, and both Pacha and Kuzco seemed very interested in that once Kronk explained that the cow part wasn’t a figure of speech.

“Leftover from Yzma’s lab,” Kuzco said, spraying potato puff everywhere. “Leftover from Yzma’s lab! Pacha, I told you she was up to—”

“Ahem,” said Pacha, tapping his last potato puff meaningfully.

“Oh!” Kronk said, elated. “I’ll go get more.”

They ate potato puffs late into the night. Kronk tried to let himself back into his house quietly, but when he closed the door behind him, the faint gleam of moonlight through the windows reflected off of two gleaming, ominous eyes, crouched low in the dark and staring at him.

Kronk shrieked.

A candle flickered to life, further into the house. “You were out late,” Yzma said.

“Oh, Yzma,” Kronk gasped. “Oh, wow, you scared me! Ha!” Belatedly, Kronk remembered that Yzma’s new kitten body got very excitable once the sun went down, and again at around three in the morning, when she liked to go around the house knocking small objects off of shelves. He should have anticipated that she would be awake.

“Where were you?” Yzma said.

“Potato puffs,” Kronk said, still breathing hard. “Ran into Pacha in the market and he said -- Yzma, did you get the coffee beans?” he added, suddenly alarmed. “Pacha promised that --”

“Ohhh, yes,” Yzma purred, pacing closer. “That package was delivered. And then I dealt with the deliveryman.”

“Oh, good,” Kronk said, relieved. “You remembered to tip him.” They’d had a conversation about tipping last week. Yzma had been firmly of the opinion that no one deserved tips at all, but Kronk had worked in the service industry before getting into henching (which had better benefits and a liveable wage, despite the greater risks). Tipping was important.

“I tipped him, all right,” Yzma said. “Tipped him right over.”

“Is the cow still here?” Kronk said.

“No, no,” said Yzma. “He left hours ago. He has a mission to complete.”

“My macarons!” Kronk said, recalling his own mission and the trays of unbaked macarons he’d left sitting out earlier in the day.

“I’m going to bed,” said Yzma.

//

Kronk awoke in the morning feeling refreshed and positive. Today was the day, he thought. Today he was going to finally succeed at making the perfect macaron.

“TODAY IS THE DAY,” Yzma screeched, somewhere outside the house. “FOLLOW ME, MEN.”

That sounded important. Kronk tried to scramble out of bed, but his legs got tangled up in the blanket and he wasted several moments escaping from its fuzzy grip and picking himself up off of the floor. By the time he got to the open window, Yzma was nowhere to be seen.

“Hmm,” said Kronk, torn. On the one hand: Yzma. Friendship! Henching. On the other hand: Kronk had made plans for the day. And Yzma hadn’t even asked him to join her, or warned him that she was going to keep him busy. “I don’t think she actually cares about you,” sighed his shoulder demon. “Stay in! Bake! Be the best you can be!”

“When Yzma and her new friends come back, you can feed them delicious, perfect macarons,” his shoulder angel suggested. “Just think how happy she’ll be. What a nice reward after a hard day.”

“Thanks, guys,” Kronk said. He really did just want to stay in with his baking supplies.

There was a rumble from deep within the earth as Kronk was measuring out his almond flour, but his scale remained firmly on the table, so after a moment’s hesitation, he kept going. The smell of smoke, acrid and ominous, floated in with the sound of screaming about an hour later, but the macarons were at a vulnerable point in the process, when all the air bubbles had to be slammed out of them, and by the time he’d finished that the screaming had stopped.

It got very dark in the early afternoon, when Kronk was humming happily while whipping up three different flavours of filling. He had been using the sunlight to see, so he peeked out the window. There was something dark blotting out the sun -- not the moon, he thought, but something with jagged edges.

He lit a few candles.

Kuzco banged on the door, shouting, just as Kronk was arranging the macarons on plates, and he opened it to discover that the sun had returned, and it was a beautiful day. Pacha had a cow and two large scouts thrown over his shoulders, and Kuzco was clutching Yzma in the crook of his elbow. They were all covered in soot and filth and Yzma was spitting angrily.

“Come in, come in,” Kronk said, genuinely delighted at their good timing. “It worked! This is so exciting. Everyone, the macarons were finally a success!”

After a moment to process the news, he was offered a slightly out-of-breath chorus of congratulations. Beaming, Kronk ushered them all inside.