Carmelita wasted no time. She dropped to the deck before the pack had a chance to recover.
"Sly! Found your cane!" she called, a second before throwing it at him.
"Wait, I–" said Sly, a second before it hit him in the face.
She sped past and he hurried after her, balancing the cane in his handcuffed arms.
"Was that on purpose?!"
"That's a 'yes'!"
Carmelita ran to Judy, who was watching her with bright eyes. "Oh, Carmelita...!"
"Don't worry, Judy, I'm here." Carmelita's own expression softened. Keeping her pistol in one hand, she loosened the ropes tying Judy to the railing. "Everything's going to be alright."
Judy stepped clear. "Coming from you, I believe that."
Carmelita glanced around. The pack was waiting on Wolf, who was still lightly smoking, face-down on the deck. But they weren't completely lost. Any escape route was blocked, and some wolves were beginning to drift towards the escaping prisoners.
Carmelita turned to Judy, watching as she stretched her stiff body. "Could you get us some space?"
"On it! Anything you need!"
Sly got her attention. "Say, Jude... I could maybe loan you my cane, since I can't exactly get a good grip on it right now. But be careful with it, okay? Family heirloom. One of a kind. My dad's."
He slid it awkwardly out of his grasp and she caught it before it hit the deck. She tested it, holding it with both hands like a spear. "It's still a bit big for me..." She met his worried gaze with a smile. "But I appreciate it. And don't worry. I'll keep it safe."
They took a few steps towards the wolves – Judy armed and dangerous, Sly moreso giving moral support.
Behind them, Carmelita turned to Nick, examining the handcuffs binding him to the rail. "Alright. How do I...?"
"No!" he said. "N-no. Leave me handcuffed."
Nick swallowed. It was scary enough trying to explain the Phantasm to Judy. "Just – trust me. I'm trying something."
Carmelita watched him for a moment – which was terrifying – then gave a brisk nod. "Alright. I don't get it, but going by your expression, I don't have to."
Nick exhaled. "Thanks..."
"Let Judy and I handle this, then. Maybe Sly can guard you..."
He frowned. "Seriously?"
"Yes, Nick, seriously." Carmelita met his gaze. "Why? Has he been giving you trouble?"
"He is trouble! He only helps people when he feels like it!"
"And has that impeded your investigation?"
"I–" Nick blinked. "...Well, he..."
She sighed. "Nick, remember what I told you about Sly faking amnesia?"
"Yes! Exactly! He thought it would be fun, and that's the only reason he–"
"Nick." She glanced to the wolves. Still circling. "Shut up and listen."
"Sly's excuse for that amnesia was a head injury. But it's not like he tripped on a rock. I arrived just as a fight was winding down – and his opponent, hoping to 'make him suffer', fired at me with intent to kill. The only reason that bullet didn't hit me is because Sly blocked it. With his skull."
Her eyes were steady as she spoke.
"You're smart to treat Sly with caution. He's got a selfish streak, and doesn't even notice it. No-one knows that better than me. But don't write him off, either. When it really matters... he makes the right choice."
Nick's mouth twisted. "...You'll forgive me if I still don't trust him."
"That's fine," she said. "Just know that I do."
Behind them, Wolf was getting to his feet. He rubbed his eye, getting his bearings. "What the heck–" He squinted. "Hey, I remember you! You're that crazy vixen who tried bringing that bazooka into a fancy party."
"And I remember you, too." Carmelita turned slowly, her voice steel. "You're the brainless lowlife who thought he could hurt my friends and get away with it." The pistol hummed. "It is my duty, and pleasure, to prove you wrong."
"Uh huh." Wolf's eye travelled over them. Nick still bound to the railing. Sly still handcuffed. Judy still testing the weight of the cane. "I suppose it doesn't matter that you're completely outnumbered?"
Carmelita stepped forward, protecting the others. "Not when you're completely outmatched."
Wolf stared – then burst out laughing, bringing his hands together in a loud clap. "Hah! Fighting words, sister. I like that." He settled, easily, into a fighting stance. "Alright, I'm intrigued. Let's see what you got."
Larry frowned. "What are our orders, exactly?"
Wolf had produced his clawed gloves. "Lock down the cargo. Especially Hopps." The right glove slid into place, points gleaming. "But give me and the new chick some room." The left. Ready. He grinned. "I'm about t–"
Carmelita shot again.
Wolf twisted out of the way, then fiddled with something on his belt. When Carmelita fired again, the blast connected with his face. Nothing happened.
Nick noted that Carmelita's expression of surprise was just a different kind of glare. She fired again, and his time Wolf swatted away the massive blast of lightning with his fingers and a chuckle.
"Had some bad experiences with shock pistols recently," he drawled. "Lucky for me, this gig comes with certain technological benefits. Your precious lit–"
Carmelita shot him again.
"I," said Wolf, "just told you that–"
Carmelita shot him again. Twice. Thrice.
"Woman. I'm talking here! Can't you take my word for this?"
"You're hiding behind a gadget," said Carmelita. "Gadgets need batteries. Batteries run out."
Wolf smirked. "Alright, then. Let's see which one breaks first."
The pack followed suit, surging forward. Carmelita blasted a hole through the crowd and slipped through it, Wolf and his claws close behind.
"Agh!" Judy swung the cane, putting her whole body into it, and managed to hit one wolf in the face. He stumbled back a little. The other eleven did not.
"Hopps, get moving!" said Nick. "You're cornered. You can't fight them back here."
"What about you?! I won't leave you!"
Nick managed a smile. "Trust me, Carrots, I'm not going anywhere."
Sly planted himself of the largest wolf he saw, looked her in the eye, and kicked her shin. That accomplished, he jumped onto the railing, effortlessly balanced.
"Didn't your boss tell you to apprehend me? I don't feel very apprehended!"
"You aren't the priority," replied the wolf, unfazed. "Hopps is."
Judy backed up another step, eyes darting around. The wolves had entirely closed off the bow, leaving no escape. They ignored Sly, watching from the railing–
A final glance to Nick. You're sure?
His tired smirk. Go get 'em.
She nodded, returning it. Then she jumped off the boat.
The wolves gasped, almost as one, but Judy didn't get far. The cane hooked onto the railing and then she was running along the ship's outer hull, diagonal yet perfectly secure – and fast.
Before the pack reacted she had cleared most of them, and then – with a yell – she kicked off. The cane brought her in a beautiful arc, more than half a full rotation, and within a second she was landing feet first on a wolf's face.
He fell and didn't get up. The other wolves stared, their quarry suddenly behind them.
Judy adjusted her grip on the cane, smiled, and ran.
They followed, leaving Nick alone. He watched his partner with warm eyes. "That's my Carrots..."
Sly, likewise ignored, looked around for Carmelita. She and Wolf weren't hard to spot, trading blows a few meters away.
Carmelita fired blast after blast into Wolf's torso, to no effect. He ambled towards her, grinning. "You still trying to wear down the batteries? Don't think it's working."
He lunged abruptly, claws cutting the air, and Carmelita rolled under his swipe. She slid along the deck, still firing.
"Heh." He followed. "Or maybe you just don't know any other tricks."
Carmelita growled, jumping toward him with a kick. Wolf caught her boot, laughed, and twisted his wrist. Carmelita fell face-first.
"Face it!" he yelled. "Without your little toy–"
Carmelita kicked both her boots into one of his, making him wobble. In the instant of weakness, she sprang up and slammed the full weight of her pistol against his face.
Wolf stumbled back – and growled. No comeback for that.
He attacked again, more viciously, and Carmelita started losing ground. Sly leapt from the railing, dodging past other wolves to approach.
She snarled under her breath, dodging Wolf's sweeping claws. "Busy."
"I know!" said Sly. "I want to help! If you can get the handcuff keys off him–"
With a successful feint, Wolf shouldered Carmelita aside. He turned to Sly, pulling the key fob from his jacket. "You want this, runt?"
"Yeah that'd be gr-"
Wolf flung the key down the length of the boat. By the time Sly ran past him, Carmelita was back on the offensive.
Sly sprinted past wolves and danced past obstacles, his eyes squinted against the dark sky to follow the key's path. Wolf's throw carried it down the ship, and the wind nudged it toward the sea–
It landed, perilously, just under the railing on the side.
Sly smirked, dropping into a slide as he reached out to grasp it – and remembered halfway through the motion that this was the key to the handcuffs he was wearing which he needed to remove the handcuffs blocking his fingers and that currently he did not have use of his fingers and as such could not grasp things.
He slid to a stop. The edge of the handcuffs gently bumped the key. Nothing happened.
And then the key slowly, leisurely, fell off the boat. With a gentle blip, it hit the water and sank straight to the bottom of the bay.
"Oh," said Sly.
Closer to the ship's bow, Judy was doing better. Only two wolves had cornered her against the railing this time. Larry on her left, lips curled in a slight snarl. Gary on her right, the innocent glint in his eyes suddenly artificial.
"Boys," said Judy firmly, "you're adorable, but I won't hesitate to hurt you if I have to."
"You can't take us both, Hopps," said Larry.
"Yeah! We've got too much synergy!" said Gary, then quietly congratulated himself for getting it right that time.
Judy backed up a step, but she was at the edge of the ship. No ground behind her. Except for a lifeboat, she supposed, but...
She smirked. "Oh, I don't need to beat you both. I just need to beat one!"
She darted forward, weaving right of Gary to ensure they couldn't both reach her. She slipped the hook of Sly's cane over his ankles and sprang up, swinging around to throw her weight into his back.
Gary yelped as he tripped over, falling toward the rail – and straight over.
"Gary! No!" Larry leapt forward, grabbing his boyfriend by the waist. "I got you. I got you. Don't worry."
He felt the cane around his own ankles, and despite everything, all he could do was sigh.
Judy knocked him over too and both wolves fell onto the lifeboat. They looked up in time to see Judy give them a friendly wave, then flip the release switch. The lifeboat fell from the Tamatoa, and in a matter of seconds the two wolves had been left behind by the ship's roaring engines.
Sly ran up, still jangling. "Wow! Nice one."
"Think you can help me do a few more?"
He nodded. "I can try."
There were too many opponents to politely arrest. They needed to thin the pack somehow, and this was the safest option.
Nick watched as they tried to goad any more wolves near the lifeboats. But the pack learned quickly. Judy and Sly were only able to jettison two more wolves before the remaining eight all understood the trick. They were still outnumbered.
And now the wolves were armed.
As Judy and Sly had tried to cajole more wolves closer to a lifeboat, Nick saw a smaller one slip away, disappearing inside the ship. He returned with an armful of poles, almost twice Judy's height from ear-tip to toe. Thin, but metal. He began to pass them to his comrades.
When Judy swung the cane, the poles swung back. Her opponents had equal range. She had lost her only edge.
She was soon lost in a throng of attacking wolves. Two came for Sly, who managed to use his handcuffs to his advantage – shielding his face with the metal, or catching an oncoming pole with the chain. But Judy was still the target. And as good as she was, Nick knew six co-ordinated opponents would soon prove too much.
Nick bit his lip, tearing his eyes away. A frightened, animal part of his brain wanted to glance around for the Phantasm. He purposefully ignored it, focusing instead of Carmelita's fight.
She wasn't doing much better. Her shock pistol still had no effect, except as a blunt instrument. Even then, Wolf was capable of just weathering her blows as they came. Was she equally durable? If those claws caught up with her, would she...?
Carmelita dodged one swipe and then another but wasn't ready for Wolf's boot. He kicked her suddenly, catching her in the stomach and knocking her back.
She collided with Judy, punted by a wolf's kick. The two women landed back-to-back on the cold deck.
The pack was gathering. Wolf stood tall. Invulnerable to Carmelita's shots. She couldn't damage him with her pistol. And Judy couldn't fell enough wolves with the cane.
They came to the same realization at the same time – and shouted the same word.
They switched. Carmelita tossed her trusty shock pistol to Judy as she threw over Sly's cane. And then they sprang up.
Wolf's eyes widened as Carmelita came in swinging with the cane. He backed up instinctively before realising he could counter-attack. But she had already won ground.
Judy, meanwhile, was facing the first challenge of using Carmelita's shock pistol – not immediately falling over. She had never held it before, and only now did she appreciate its ludicrous weight.
Her enemies weren't giving her time to adjust. The nearest wolf was almost upon her, bearing down with a pole. Judy sucked in a breath and aimed with both hands and fired.
The blast almost took her off her feet. More importantly, it caught the wolf right in the chest. With a yelp, she stopped short, her momentum completely cancelled.
Judy stared. And fired again. This time the wolf crumpled.
Judy looked down at the pistol in her hands, red and powerful and oh-so-inviting. She looked up, and saw seven wolves staring back.
She smiled. She grinned. She fired.
In seconds, the pack was thrown into chaos. Hardened mercenaries gave way to a single, small rabbit wielding a gun larger than her own head. The sea air was awash in crackles and a yells and increasingly loud laughter. Nick watched on in amazement and a healthy dash of fear.
Nearby, Carmelita pressed her advantage. She took to the cane immediately, drawing on her weapons training. Wolf swiped and she parried, redirected his whole arm, and hit him in the face. With a sharp motion, she pulled the cane back along his arm. It caught Wolf's left glove and ripped it off in one smooth motion.
Wolf barely had time to register he was being disarmed before the cane came back around, poking him once twice thrice in the face. He stumbled, startled, and Carmelita swung hard, knocking him in the side of the head. Wolf almost lost his footing, but righted himself with a growl, focused on the cane. He reached out to grab it – and Carmelita copied his trick, kicking him suddenly in the stomach. A second later, she pulled the cane back, removing his other glove and letting it fly over the railing.
Carmelita spun the cane in her hand, planted her boots, and glared.
Sly stared, taking in every movement. "...I love her. So much."
Wolf backed up, his eye wide. He glanced briefly to his pack – terrorised by a rabbit, some willingly throwing themselves onto lifeboats in a desperate attempt to placate her. The sight did not improve his mood.
"Just give up." Carmelita stalked after him, the cane ready in her hands. "We can do this quietly if you stop struggling."
"Frankly, lady, I'd rather take my chances with the sea..."
Wolf's boot hit something uneven on the deck – a pole, dropped by one his disappearing employees. Before Carmelita could stop him, he snatched it up and matched her stance.
"And who says I'm done?!"
He charged, and the weapons met. Carmelita grunted, exerting herself to match his superior strength. But she had the sturdier weapon, and the stronger resolve.
Judy had almost finished with the pack, herding them onto lifeboats with shot after shot of crackling electricity. Her cackling rose over the noise, purple eyes burning.
The final pair of wolves scrambled onto the last lifeboat in view. Sly ran up and hooked his handcuffs around the release lever, sending them down.
"That's it! Run!" yelled Judy over the side. "Run from your superior!"
"Judy! Judy." Sly hunkered down to her, keeping his voice even. "You've gone mad with power, and honestly I'm loving it, but you've run out of wolves now. There's no more wolves, Judy."
"So it's time to put the pistol down."
She frowned at it for a second, then took a breath. "...Right, yes. Okay. Fight over."
He smirked. "Good. If you were any more into that thing, I'd need to throw it into a volcano or something."
"You have to admit, it's very, uh..." Her voice was reverential. "...impressive."
"Believe me, I know. I see down the barrel every time I close my eyes." He stood, looking up. "Speaking of, let's check in on our violent guardian angel."
Judy headed back towards the bow, Sly behind her. It wasn't hard to spot the last two combatants on the ship.
The fight had become slower, but somehow, more brutal.
Wolf slammed the pole into Carmelita's side. She staggered, then rallied, viciously counterattacking with Sly's cane. Wolf staggered, then rallied, hitting her with the pole. Carmelita staggered, then rallied, bringing the cane down.
Judy stared for a moment before Sly spoke. "Uh oh. I've seen this before."
"The rare times Carmelita's faced an equally tough opponent, they get caught in a loop of perfectly symmetrical violence. This'll go on for hours." He smirked at her. "Unless someone tips the balance."
Judy nodded, returning it. "Copy that. With Wolf down, Bellwether will be defenceless!"
She took aim at Wolf, but lowered the pistol again. Carmelita had made quick work of Wolf's gloves, but hadn't removed the device on his belt that nullified electric blasts. Judy would need to move in physically, once the right moment appeared. She just needed to wait. Wait until–
"Hopps!" yelled Nick. "On your left!"
A huge paw knocked the pistol from her hand.
Judy found a mountain of gold bearing down on her. Sly tried to help, but with his hands bound he could only delay the inevitable. Then someone equally powerful grabbed him as well.
Judy squirmed, testing the hold, a furious yell rattling through her. Then claws slowly unsheathed, just to the point they met her skin, and she tactically considered maybe calming down. Just for a second.
Two more approached the scuffle. Sly had been right. All it took was one solid punch to the back of Carmelita's head for her to fall. She pulled herself upright, trying to fight back, but both newcomers grabbed her. One arm each. Wolf, for his part, took a moment to catch his breath. "Uh... thanks."
Nick watched helplessly as Judy, Carmelita and Sly were dragged back toward him. The cane and pistol were dumped unceremoniously at their feet. They had been so close. They had almost turned this around. And they had fallen at the last second, because of these...
"Lionesses," he murmured to himself. "Wolves are one thing, but lionesses? Bellwether wouldn't..." His eyes widened. "No. No. It can't be."
"Nick?" said Judy. She seemed tiny in the lioness' grip, arms behind her back. "What's happening?"
He didn't respond. He just looked up, and everyone followed his gaze – Judy, Sly, Carmelita, the lionesses, even Wolf. Footsteps broke the silence, the steady clink of claws on metal. And from the dark bowels of the ship, finally stepping into view, came their adversary.