"Keep your face always toward the sunshine - and the shadows will fall behind you." - Walt Whitman
Following the lesson in marksmanship, Nick and Judy, along with the recruits at the academy, returned to the Zootopia Police Academy's lecture hall for a pop quiz on the various topics that they had covered the past week. The fox himself was thankful to Major Friedkin for not forcing him and his partner to take the test as well. Being a teacher certainly had its perks. By now, the two of them had been working at the academy for just over two months, and although it had its moments, Nick was already itching to get back into some real police work. Judy, on the other hand, was having as much fun as ever helping to teach the next generation of ZPD recruits how to be good cops.
Despite their differing desires, both mammals kept themselves resolute in their tasks, and hopeful for the future to come. If anything, that was to be cherished.
After a few more hours of idly walking down the rows of the lecture hall, silently keeping an eye out for potential cheaters, Nick and Judy were eventually instructed by the Major to help her grade the recruit's tests. This took another two hours, much to the fox's utter dismay, but it did at least give him the opportunity to examine the many test grades for improvement amongst his favored subordinates, most notably, perhaps, being Harlan and Mary. To his pleasant surprise, it seemed that the wolf's average score had jumped significantly since his last exam, likely in thanks to his wooly partner's tutelage. Nick was glad to see the improvement. Unsurprisingly, Mary's own test grade was a perfect one hundred percent. She definitely lived up to her intellectual reputation. Eventually, though, the deed of grading was done, and the task came to an end. With its conclusion having been reached, it was at last time for the final activity of the day: A grueling late-evening run through the open countryside that surrounded the academy.
This, of course, excited Judy more so than any other activity that she had partaken in that day. To her, running wasn't just a hobby, or a sport: It was a passion, as well. There was something all-too satisfying about pushing oneself to the limit in such a manner. Many bunnies were excellent runners, anyways, especially when it came to short-bursts of speed. As such, rabbits were perfect for sprinting. However, long-distance running came at a far more difficult scope, for her species was not designed for such endurance. She had gradually built and honed her abilities over the years, but she could never forget just how torturous those late-evening runs could be, back during her own first run through the academy, all those years ago. The clingy dust, salted sweat, and gnawing sense of hopelessness would all batter against her resolve like a strong wind against a tree's branches. She remembered how the voices of her most notable detractors - Gideon Gray, Major Friedkin, and even her own parents - would sing insults and put-downs in the back of her mind, eating away at her strength. It took a lot of willpower to finally banish those voices from her mind, and force herself to come out on top of it all.
On the other hand, there was Nick, who saw running as just another way of putting one foot in front of the other. Simple enough, even if it was still a pain to do. He had never been the most athletic mammal in the world, but still found certain doses of running to be enjoyable. Unfortunately, Major Friedkin's "certain doses" involved ten mile jogs through hilly terrain. Alas, there was little else that Nick could do save for sucking it up and adorning himself with a gray ZPD-issued tracksuit. Judy herself proudly sported the same dark-blue bodysuit that she had used during her own first experience through the academy, all those years ago. It still fit her well, and Nick couldn't resist occasionally stealing glances at her; admiring her healthy body, that fluffy cotton-tail he loved so much, and the spring in her step that gave away her excitement for the run to come.
Seeing her enthusiasm helped bolster his own, and that much he figured he could use.
"You ready to go?" She had asked of him. "This is gonna be so much fun!"
"I can literally think of about a million things more fun than being forced to run ten miles through hill-country with the Major whipping at our heels."
"Oh yeah?" Judy scoffed, amused by her husband's reply. "Like what?"
The fox shrugged nonchalantly and began to number off on his fingers;
"Routine patrols, ticketing, Bogo's lectures, card games, savage jaguars, ticketing, cable news during election season, ticketing, picking fights with polar bears-"
"Okay, okay, I get it." Judy assured as she waved one of her paws in exasperation, though not without a slight smile egging at her lips.
"I told ya." Nick teased. "Well, more like annoyed you to the point of submission, but it's a close second. Did I mention ticketing?"
At that, the two officers finished preparing for the coming activity before setting out to the far side of the academy's complex, where the track and field bordered with the running trail that led deep into the open countryside, and where Major Friedkin had ordered a rendezvous point to be set up with the other recruits. As Nick and Judy approached the edge of the academy's property, they caught sight of the pack of recruits milling around in orderly rows, awaiting Friedkin's orders. Behind them, the backdrop of the setting sun painted the grassy landscape with deepening colors of red and yellow. It was a lovely sight bound to grow even more scenic as time went on. The rabbit specifically recalled her own past exploits and adventures on this very same running trail, with that same sun setting over the horizon. The nostalgia was almost sickening.
"Alright, line up! Make 'em straight!" The Major's booming voice rolled across the field. "You know the drill!"
Dozens of recruits swiftly aligned themselves in response to Friedkin's orders. She continued;
"We'll be out runnin' 'till sundown, so when it gets dark, try not to fall off the path and get lost. Now let's go!"
Without any more time to waste, the pack then set out down the path, starting off at a steady jogging pace. Nick and Judy both ran at the side of the group, giving them plenty of space to work with. A hundred footfalls beat against the earth - Clouds of dust were kicked up beneath their feet, thickening the air. Swift inhalations filled the lungs and rang against the eardrums of every mammal in the vicinity, and the setting sun cast elongated, twisting shadows across the grassy plains that lined the dirt-lain pathway. As the pack of recruits jogged together in their regiment, row by row, Major Friedkin ran adjacent to them on the edge of the path. Despite her larger size, she easily kept up.
"Come on, maggots! Pick up the pace!" She would occasionally shout. "Sing it with me! I don't know but I've been told!"
Not keen on drawing the Major's ire, the recruits would respond with identical chants of whatever she bellowed. This went on for a good five minutes, during which Nick did his best to keep his voice from sticking out amongst the crowd, even if it meant barely mumbling the lyrics of Friedkin's academy chanteys. Judy however, was all too happy to shout back with as much vigor as she could manage, which at least helped inspire the other recruits to do the same. Her enthusiasm was surprisingly contagious.
Judy noticed that Mary, although being positioned near the end of the group, had nearly as much fervor as herself. She was putting in her all, and the rabbit admired that like little else. Judy also spotted Harlan running by her side, occasionally throwing out encouraging comments and tips on maintaining a good running form. Judy already knew that Harlan was easily among the best runners in the entire class, yet he still purposefully lingered back to stay at his friend's side. She found that sweet of him.
The common mole that Judy had met earlier that day, Eugene, despite being an excellent marksman, was clearly not an excellent runner; trailing at the back of the back, wheezing hard and panting heavily. He pulled out an inhaler from one of his pockets before bringing it to his mouth and taking a deep breath in. It seemed to help, as he sighed in relief before picking up his pace, and trying to maintain a steady speed and positioning alongside his fellow recruits, even if he was still trailing at the back.
Eventually, as the run dragged on and Major Friedkin's consistent chorus came to its conclusion, the pack of recruits began to gradually disperse as each cadet found their most comfortable running pace. Some jogged close together, while others maintained a more solo approach. All of the participating runners had the same destination in mind: A large hill several miles out that would serve as a brief resting stop before they all regrouped and made way back to the academy, and were at last dismissed for the night.
For now, though, it was every mammal for themselves.
As the pack slowly thinned out, Nick took note of the various mammals that were keeping up with him. Judy, of course, despite being a superior runner, had chosen to stick by his side throughout the entire ordeal. Her consideration didn't come as a surprise to him, as they always worked together on just about everything, but it was still very much appreciated. He didn't see Harlan, but figured that the wolf had slowed his own pace to keep up with Mary, who was likely trailing near the back. Poor Eugene the mole had trudged off to the side of the trail to throw up, all while Friedkin berated him on his poor performance, and Nick hadn't seen either of them since. A few dozen yards in front of him and Judy, however, was none other than Nick's old buddy from that morning's target practice at the shooting range; Harold the hare. His large ears were tucked behind his head, and he only seemed to be growing in speed by the minute. The fox deduced that he'd be putting in even more distance between himself and Judy in no time.
Harold may not have been the best at marksmanship, as Nick had witnessed earlier that day, but his stamina was truly formidable. In the end, it only confirmed the fox's belief that every mammal was good at something, no matter how stupendously horrible they may have been at something else. Everyone had their hidden talents, and throughout their time at the academy, serving as temporary instructors, both Nick and Judy had gotten to witness plenty of diverse skills brought to light: Harlan had his combat prowess, Mary was an academics prodigy, Eugene's marksmanship skills were top-notch, and Harold, apparently, was among the best runners in the entire class of cadets.
If there was one thing that both Nick and Judy were proud of during their brief time here at the academy, it would have to have been the relationships that they had built with the recruits. All of them were fine mammals, from what they had seen so far. The spy may have still been out there, but that fact wasn't enough to prevent the two officers from forming bonds with their subordinates, and enjoying themselves along the way, of course. To them - even Nick, cynical as he was - that was what made this all worth it.
Together, Nick and Judy continued running for another half-hour, stopping briefly every once and a while (much to Nick's satisfaction) to catch their breaths. As they continued to jog down the dusty path, meandering around grassy hills and crossing the infrequent stream, they passed a few recruits that had previously been ahead of them, yet had burned out along the way. A few other recruits passed them up, too, but they didn't mind. Admittedly, Judy had been holding back a bit the entire time, but it was worth it if it meant sticking alongside her beloved partner. Even though Nick never considered himself the best runner, he, and Judy, by default, were still placed in the top quarter of the runners, with only a few other recruits ahead of them, like Harold. Most of the other cadets were still running farther behind. Each new step that he took was arduous, and there were plenty of moments when he felt like giving up, but Judy was always there to keep him motivated with her enthusiastic demeanor and upbeat comments.
Arduous as it may have been, Nick still considered it fun to be able to jog alongside his wife. There was just something unexplainably natural to it.
Eventually, the path brought them to a large hill protruding from the ground, its smooth slopes coated in healthy green grass. The dirt path wound around the hill like a noose, and judging from the sight of Harold resting on the hillside along with a few of the other recruits that had passed them up from earlier, Nick and Judy deduced this to be the same hill that Major Friedkin had mentioned earlier. It was to be their well-earned (albeit temporary) place of rest as they awaited for the remaining recruits to fall in.
"Phew! Now that was a good run!" Judy exclaimed with pride, her ears perked excitedly, chest rising and falling as she took in steady breaths of air.
"Yeah... Good... Run." Was all Nick managed before he collapsed against the hillside, flopping back-down and staring up at the hazy evening sky above.
The bunny paced over to him before sitting down at his side. She leaned back against the hill and stretched out her limbs.
"Some day, huh?"
Nick simply nodded his head in agreement, rather than verbally reply, as he was still catching his breath. The fox's pants of air were swift, and his tongue lolled ever so slightly out of the corner of his mouth, trembling with each new breath. Judy figured that he must've been pushing himself fairly hard on that run - Even more so than usual.
"You did good out there." She claimed as she leaned forward and propped her upper body up with her palms.
"Thanks... Fluff." Nick wheezed. "Can always... Count on you. Even on... The verge of death."
Judy laughed. "At least your sense of humor is still intact."
"Of course." The fox managed through his pants. "That's the hardest part... Of me to break."
Over the next five minutes, the rest of the class of recruits gradually began to fall in to the rendezvous point at the hill, with some practically crawling to its base out of sheer exhaustion. Harlan and Mary arrived soon, with the latter looking quite winded, while the formal still held his head high, and kept his breaths easy. Eugene eventually caught up with the group, too; reaching the edge of the hill with a dreary trudge before promptly falling face-first into the grass with an audible grunt. Major Friedkin herself was the last to arrive, unsurprisingly, as she had been tailing Eugene in an effort to prevent him from passing out on the run. Nick noticed that her own breathing was just as labored as most of the others, though unlike them, she didn't let it impact her aura of authority and confidence. With her back straight and gaze held high, she addressed the pack.
"Alright cadets!" Major Friedkin began aloud. "You all get exactly fifteen minutes of rest before we head back! Enjoy it while it lasts."
Stepping warily over the collapsed form of Eugene, the Major approached the hill before taking her place among the recruits; lounging in the soft grass with her paws behind her head. Even drill instructors had to take it easy sometimes, it seemed. All of the mammals present allowed themselves to relax, enjoying the relieving cool breeze that occasionally swept over the hills, causing the grass to billow like a sea of green fingers, filling the air with the sound of soft ruffling. In the distance, dark storm clouds closed around the setting sun like a cage, darkening the atmosphere. The sun's beams still pierced through the chaos, though, illuminating the horizon with deep red and yellow hues.
The storm clouds themselves were dark, and thick, with white lightning flashing in their cores, briefly illuminating the darkness that surrounded them. Though miles away, they seemed to be growing even larger by the minute; gradually absorbing more of the setting sun's remaining rays of light. Judy had a feeling that the group would be wanting to get back before those clouds descended upon them. The rabbit could only imagine just how arduous it would be to have to march back home in a torrential downpour.
Ominous as they may have been, the coming clouds didn't stop her - or anyone else, for that matter - from enjoying their respite. Mammals chatted idly as they lounged upon the hill, enjoying the cool breeze being pushed in by the storm, and the soft feeling of the grass beneath their toes and fingertips. A jackal recruit was scratching at her back by rolling feverishly on the hillside, and one of the deers couldn't stop plucking and eating handfuls of the stuff. At the top of the hill, Friedkin kicked back with her blue baseball cap lowered over her eyes, and her stopwatch counting down the remaining minutes of the class's hillside rest. Farther down the grassy mound, Nick and Judy recovered their stamina alongside Harlan and Mary, who sat close together, and Eugene and Harold, as well. Together, the group of mammals passed the time with idle chat.
"I gotta say, Joker," Nick initiated, singling his buddy Harold out, in specific. "You're a pretty good runner!"
"Thanks." He replied, grinning proudly. "It's always been a hobby of mine."
Judy's ears shot up with interest. "Same! Did you used to run in the Bunny-Burrow Marathon, too?" She asked excitedly.
"I grew up in Deerbrooke County, actually."
"Oh, I see." The bunny muttered, her left ear twitching in disappoint.
"Deerbrooke County, huh?" Nick repeated with a half-lidded smile before snapping his fingers enthusiastically. "Don't tell me... Podunk?"
Harold chuckled. "That's the one." He confirmed, to which Nick barked a laugh.
"Knew it!" He exclaimed.
Smiling, the hare then turned towards Judy. "So you're from the Burrows, you say? Figures."
Judy simply shrugged. "What rabbit isn't?"
"Fair enough." Harold stated, cocking his brow.
Nick snorted through his nose. He recalled his last trip to Bunny-Burrow well. Fun place, so long as you didn't mind the practical oceans of carrots in every direction.
"Yeah, that place is packed to the brim with all things cotton-tailed." The fox added. "As opposed to the Meadowlands, which is packed with all things cotton-wooled."
Upon administering his punchline, he spared a brief glance towards Mary the sheep, who was reclining in the grass nearby, hoping to elicit a reaction from her.
He was pleased to see her giggling with amusement at his quip about her home district to the east. "It sure is." She agreed. "Sheep and hills."
"It's been a while since Nick and I have been to the Meadowlands." Judy claimed. "Are those anti-predator marches still happening?"
Mary's gaze flitted to the side. "Sadly, yes. There was one just before I left for the Rainforest-District."
"That's horrible." The bunny said. She quickly decided to change the topic to a lighter note, now that her curiosity was sated. "What'd you go to the Rainforest for?"
As the words left Judy's mouth, Mary lolled her head slightly to the side as if the sudden question were unimportant, or trivial.
"Oh, just a short little vacation - Wanted to go out and do some sightseeing before I got shipped off to the academy for six months, you know?" She asserted.
"Wish I could afford those more!" Harold interjected. "But Podunk's a long way from the city."
Eugene the mole let loose a nasally laugh. "Home is home. What about you, big guy?" He then inquired, gesturing to Harlan. "Where're you from?"
"Happy-Town." The wolf stated in an emotionless tone of voice, his gaze still stubbornly trained on the horizon.
Nick noticed that Eugene's expression took on a hint of sympathy after registering Harlan's response, but he otherwise remained silent as he glanced off awkwardly to the side, which was understandable - Talking about the place was just depressing. Happy-Town wasn't exactly a five-star resort, being a ghetto-like neighborhood home to a nearly one hundred percent predator population. The fox himself had grown up there, and could understand why Harlan wouldn't want to discuss it in-depth, especially around Mary.
"Happy-Town? What's that place like? I've never heard of it before." Harold asked aloud. "I've... Actually never even been to the city before."
Sweet, naive Harold, Nick thought to himself. He considered it a bad idea to ask, given the circumstances, but couldn't blame him for doing so. He simply didn't know, which wasn't very surprising, considering that the mammal counties (and their citizens, by extent) outside the city boundaries of Zootopia mostly stuck to their own problems.
The fox was about to take it upon himself to fill in the hare on Happy-Town's likeness, but stopped when Harlan seized the chance beforehand with a statement of his own;
"Inner-city ghetto. Poorest neighborhood in Zootopia. Ninety-nine percent predator population. Only place I've ever called home."
Harold nodded a single time, as if he understood. Nick could tell that he didn't.
"Oh. Well, why didn't you just, I don't know... Move?" The hare asked.
Nick had to resist the urge to facepalm. This guy was suddenly reminding him way too much of Judy when she had first taken up her mantle as a meter-maid at Precinct One - Naive, and lacking an understanding of just how divided things were in the city. Both of them had grown up in rural counties hundreds of miles away from Zootopia, to be fair, but Harold was only just now beginning to learn about life for other mammals outside his community. It wasn't his fault, but the callowness of it all made Nick cringe.
Even more wince-inducing was the glare that Harlan was administering towards the hare. A nerve had clearly been struck. Nick could almost smell the tension in the air.
"My mom had to raise me and three other cubs all by herself - Worked multiple jobs just to keep us from starving." Harlan growled. "So no, we couldn't just move."
Harold gulped nervously, and raised one of his paws defensively. "I'm, sorry, I-I didn't know."
"Yeah." The wolf agreed. "You don't know..." He grumbled before trailing off.
Don't know what it's like, Nick's conscious concluded.
His gaze fell away. Harlan's childhood reminded him all too much of his own: Growing up in Happy-Town with a dysfunctional family household. At least Nick was able to say that he had known his father, for as much of a slimeball as he may have been. Harlan wasn't so lucky, it seemed. At that thought, the fox made himself a mental note to call his own father sometime soon, if only to catch-up. Nick hadn't forgotten his father's harsh words when he had first found out that he and Judy had gotten married, but he had long since forgiven him over it. Besides, it had been well over a year since he had last spoken with him, so he figured that it wouldn't hurt to check in with him, at least.
That brief thought of hope was what urged the fox to lift his gaze and stare out upon the faces of his comrades once more.
"It's not often heard of mammals from... That part of town, joining law enforcement." Eugene added, careful with his words. "What coaxed you?"
The wolf's jaw tightened. "I just wanted to get away from that place. Do some good in the world. Maybe make myself a better mammal, along the way."
Harlan momentarily locked eyes with Nick after finishing his sentence. The fox nodded in a gesture of reassurance, reminiscing to his talk with Harlan the other week.
"Honorable justifications." Eugene remarked while readjusting his glasses. "What did you do before then?" He asked curiously.
A slight smile grew at the edge of Harlan's muzzle, but it was gradually replaced by a sneer the longer he spoke;
"Whenever I wasn't fightin', I worked at a soup kitchen 'few blocks away from my apartment. The manager, an ocelot who went by Big Marco, was like a second father to me. But the place got shut down after a health-code violation... Load of utter crap. Marco tried resisting. City-hall got involved. It was ugly. He lost a lot... I did too."
Harlan gripped one of his paws into a muscular fist. Nick could sense the animosity laden behind his demeanor.
"It pisses me off thinkin' about the city government... The crap they've let slide..." His began, but his voice trailed off once again when he noticed his squad-mates.
All of the recruits sitting around Harlan had gone silent, and were staring at him nervously. Nick couldn't blame them - Not only was it taboo for a devotee of law enforcement, especially a recruit at the academy, to talk so degradingly of the very institutions that they were working to protect, but Harlan was also quite intimidating when he got upset. No one wanted to set him off. Harold glanced away, seemingly interested in the grass by his feet, and Eugene skeptically narrowed his eyes at the wolf. It was only Mary who seemed to show any sympathy with him. She put one of her hoofs on her friend's forearm, clenching it softly in reassurance, yet strong enough to warrant his attention. She didn't say anything, but as Harlan locked eyes with her, his anger seemed to dissipate. He sighed as though he were disappointed in himself before relaxing his arm.
"Sorry." Was all he muttered.
After a few more seconds of awkward silence, Judy straightened her spine out as she took the chance to speak her own mind, and defuse the situation;
"I think I speak for us all when I say that you made the right choice, joining the ZPD, Harlan. We're glad to have you, and I'm sure you'll make a fine cop."
The wolf locked eyes with his superior, and took note of her proud, smiling expression. It was hard not to feel optimistic around her, given her exuberant personality.
"Thanks, officer Hopps." He finally said, allowing himself a touch of a grin. "That makes me feel a bit better... It means a lot to me."
With Harlan sated, the collective mood of the other recruits began to rise, in turn. Conversation was less abound, but at least the tension was gone, thanks to the bunny officer's plea of reassurance. As the others spoke, Nick wrapped one of his arms around her shoulder as they stared out together over the rolling pastures of grass before them.
Judy looked from left to right, taking in the content expressions of her subordinates and squad-mates as they watched over the skyline from their place of rest on the hill. Here, watching the sun set over the horizon with the others, and with Nick by her side, she felt a sensual mixture of pride and relief thrum within her heart. These mammals were her friends and her teammates, just as much as any other officer from her time on the force. To her, there was little more satisfying than feeling pride in her friends and herself.
Unfortunately, the moment was ruined when an annoying electronic beeping noise began to resonate from the top of the hill. Grimacing, the recruits all stared up at Major Friedkin as she hauled herself to her feet at the hill's peak, stop-watch clutched between her large black claws, and bearing a cruel grin across her snow-white muzzle.
"Time's up, new-bloods! Hope you enjoyed your respite, cuz you ain't gettin' another one. On your feet, let's go, let's go!"
The rabbit turned towards Nick with a curious expression. Her husband simply shrugged. "All good things gotta end eventually." He quipped.
Judy grinned. "Stated like a true cynic."
"Ah, you know you love me." The fox avowed.
"Hard not to." She said before planting a swift kiss on the side of his cheek and then shooting to her feet. "Alright, let's get going, slowpoke!"
Nick watched as she ran off to the base of the hill where the other recruits were beginning to congregate, her long ears flapping in the wind. He smiled to himself, rubbing the spot on his face where Judy had kissed him. The fox got to his feet, and then took one last look over the fields beyond the hill. The sun had set even lower, and the dark of the coming night was beginning to swallow up the last of its rays. The mesmerizing red and yellow colors that had once engulfed the horizon were slowly fading to black. Most impressive of all, though, was the distant storm, which seemed to have grown roughly twice as large since the class had first arrived at the rest stop. Its dark center flashed with lightning, and the dwindling light of the sun practically appeared to be drowning in the closing shadows of the storm. The inevitable downpour would be a strong one.
Exhaling through his nostrils, Nick tore his gaze from the landscape before him, both beautiful and terrifying as it was, and then ran off to catch up with the others.
3:24 A.M The Next Morning ; Precinct One, Savannah-Central
Chief Bogo irritably sighed beneath his breath for what must have been the thirtieth time that morning.
In the months since his two best officer's departure to the academy, things had only gotten more hectic for him. Performing his usual duties as chief of police were tedious enough on their own, but now, having to deal with a spy on the loose at the ZPA, and the sudden return of Night-Howlers, as well, definitely put a strain on his time-table. He had been doing his best to piece together as many links as he could about the spy at Precinct One, but for the moment, it seemed that the best chance of stopping them fell upon Nick and Judy themselves. He could only hope that they'd remain headstrong for the challenges that were sure to come. As for the recent rediscovery of Night-Howlers, the chief could do little more than try to keep things under control at head-quarters while his officers and detectives found out what they could about the source itself.
As if those two headlines weren't ominous enough on their own, the chief had also caught wind earlier that day that another officer from the Nocturnal-District's Precinct Six had gone missing. It wasn't very surprising, as mysterious disappearances and kidnappings were common in the depths of the dark district, but the thought of an officer of the law being such a victim was a disconcerting one. Unfortunately, it wasn't the first - Precinct Six had a higher than average officer mortality rate compared to most of the other districts, in no small part due to the sheer amount of power that organized crime groups had down there, the most notable one being the dreaded Nocturnal-Mob. That particular syndicate had been making some exceptional comebacks in the criminal underworld over the past year, from what Bogo had gathered, even after their HQ had gotten burned to the ground in a ZPD raid. Their assets have only gotten bigger, and their conquests more daring; even if it meant taking out police officers hot on their tails.
It seemed that for every criminal syndicate the ZPD cracked down on, two more surged in activity and prominence. None of this came as a surprise to Bogo, who had been in law enforcement for near of three decades. Sometimes, dealing with organized crime was like kicking a beehive - You take out one, and just serve to fire up the others. This theory proved eerily true in light of the dissolution of the mobs belonging to Shahaz the Stinger, the former crime-lord of Shara-Square, and Iluka Rombahe, the former crime-lord of Outback-Island, respectively. The ZPD, thanks to the efforts of officers Hopps and Wilde, may have succeeded in bringing down those two crime-lords, but inversely, their defeats have only seemed to energize the others. The arson attack at Precinct One's evidence archive, and now this whole spy debacle at the Zootopia Police Academy were good examples of such - Retaliations against the ZPD by the criminal underworld for interfering in business. Zootopia's hive of scum and villainy was a bold one, indeed.
With the Nocturnal-Mob pushing its power against the ZPD, and the Rainforest-Outfit dabbling in the production of Night-Howlers, Bogo worried that more retaliations were to come. And as such, he had the intention on doing everything within his power to prevent that from happening. He made sure to increase monitoring and patrolling of suspicious hubs, and up the ante against the underworld's smuggling circuit. He was proud of his officers for continuing to put their lives on the line to protect and serve the city, even if officers Hopps and Wilde weren't available to help. Although he didn't like to admit it, Bogo couldn't deny that things just weren't the same without Nick and Judy. They were quite the inspiration on the other officers, after all. Still, for as productive a pair as those two may have been, the ZPD had plenty enough to deal with on its own, and no intention on slowing down because of it. All of these new revelations may have been unnerving, but Bogo wasn't about to sit back and let chaos overtake his city.
Not on his watch, at least.
And so, Bogo did everything he could to help maintain order amongst the precincts and their officers, and to help further the fight against the criminal underworld.
He had even devoted some extra effort into creating a search warrant for the primary suspect of the arson attack: That vampire bat that officer Hopps had fought with in Beaverdam. At the time, she had claimed to her superior that the bat, who went by Lucy, had indirectly admitted to the crime via taunts throughout the tussle.
Chief Bogo took the rabbit officer's claims to heart - She had very rarely been wrong before, after all.
In the months since, the warrant had garnered little new evidence. It was already known that the vampire bat was a freelance thief wanted for various acts of burglary and grand larceny, was suspected of a string of rodent murders, in the past, and that she also had close ties to the Nocturnal-Mob. Apparently, arson wasn't too dirty a job for her, either. The connections between her and the incident at Precinct Once may have been made, but there was still much work to be done if the ZPD was ever going to bring her - and those who had planned the arson itself - to justice. The first big step was organization: Over the past few months, Chief Bogo had been helping his detectives and forensic analysts with recovering and repairing what was left from the fire. A lot was lost, but what little remained still took weeks to sort through. Thankfully, by now, most of it had been taken care of; cleaned, identified, labeled, and sorted into a brand new secure location once again, where it would be stored away and safe from destruction.
And with the pieces picked up, the ZPD could at last focus its full attention on returning justice to those responsible for the mess in the first place.
The clean-up had taken some time, but on a more personal note, Bogo was happy to have been able to contribute. The objective had given him something to do - For some reason, packing plastic evidence bags and doing truckloads of paperwork, for as tedious as it may have been (and it sure was), allowed Bogo to clear his mind and think. Some of his greatest revelations, even, had arisen out of hours of filling out forms and documents relating to cases and legal matters. The most boring of tasks ironically gave way to the most creative of ideas. Perhaps it was just the mind compensating for its lack of fulfillment, during such tasks; spawning thoughts to combat the sheer boredom.
Whatever the reasoning behind it, the water-buffalo couldn't deny that sorting through the remaining evidence recovered from the burnt archive had become an interest of his. Not quite a hobby, but something to look forward to at the end of each day. It also gave him the chance to help out with the grunt work, which was something that he enjoyed doing - He preferred not to become lazy, and unmotivated in his efforts from too much sitting around giving orders, like some of his other police chief colleagues.
Earlier last afternoon, he had picked up one of the last remaining boxes of evidence from the archive before taking it to his office to sort through later that evening. Alongside filling out his usual deluge of paperwork from city-hall, labeling and filing the evidence from his box kept him working early into the next morning. Now, he sat in his chair, pen in hoof as he jotted down notes relating to a piece of evidence that he had just finished cataloguing: A tiny fork that had apparently been dubbed as a murder-weapon in a homicide case from Little Rodentia a fear years back, where a mouse named Mickey had allegedly used the thing to attack a neighbor of his. Bogo nearly bent the fork while handling it in his oversized hooves. Once that particular piece of evidence was done and dealt with, the water-buffalo sighed in relief before taking another look inside his box of evidence. He felt his heart steady with satisfaction, for there was only one item left in need of identification. Once it was properly labeled, he could go home for the night.
The chief then gingerly pulled the last-remaining object out of the box. It was small, especially compared to him; no bigger than an average golfball, and completely wrapped in brown paper. One of the forensic analysts must have covered the item after it was initially dug out of the rubble of the old evidence archive, to help preserve it. Chief Bogo carefully unwrapped the protective paper before placing it on his desk, and then bringing the true piece of evidence closer for his eyes to see past his reading glasses.
It was a small silver locket, threaded by an identically colored chain near the top.
Bogo furrowed his brow as he turned the item around his his hoofs. The water-buffalo recalled how officer Wilde himself had been the one to bring this particular token of evidence back to Precinct One after the fiasco at Ratsputin's private estate. Its silvery surface glimmered with an almost haunting luster in what little light was present, and a sizable portion of the locket's bottom half had been burnt dark black, and stained with soot - A depressing reminder of the damage that the fire in the archive had inflicted.
Fingering over the comparatively minuscule amulet, Bogo's hoofs pressed down on a tiny button positioned at the top of the locket. The front frame swung open, revealing an empty interior that was even shinier than the outside. The buffalo's eyes narrowed skeptically. It seemed odd for the inside of the pendant to be empty. He didn't think much of it, though, for there was still work to be done. Chief Bogo wasn't familiar with the history of the locket, but knew that it had some sort of connection to the criminal underworld - It had been recovered from Ratsputin's secret extortion stash, after all. Whatever it was, the rat must have used it in one of his nefarious blackmailing schemes.
Bogo had no idea just what, but quite frankly, didn't care, either - He had work to do. It was a difficult task to identify the purpose of the locket, and its place among the other evidence recovered from the archive, but in the end, Bogo, just wrote it off as another item that Ratsputin had used to blackmail a specific victim with, which he knew was true. He might have been able to deduce more information about the locket if its original plastic labeling containing details about its recovery had survived the fire, but sadly it hadn't, so Bogo was left with nothing but the process of elimination to identify this thing. Once it was properly re-labeled and bagged, Bogo packed the locket into another box, ready to be shipped off to another evidence archive. With a drawn-out sigh of content, he then sat down in his office chair and leaned his head back, staring at the ceiling above.
He was so tired that he could have fallen asleep in his chair right then and there. He momentarily closed his eyes, that was, before the sound of his door being flung open caused his eyelids to peel back with renewed focus. A shot of adrenaline coursed through his bloodstream as he leaned forward and locked eyes with his intruder; Benjamin Clawhuser, who had pushed himself through the doorway, and was panting heavily, as though he had ran all the way up the stairs to Bogo's office on the second floor. The buffalo's adrenaline faded, knowing that the intruder was an ally, but it was quickly replaced by a growing feeling of anger that caused his teeth to grind in frustration.
"Clawhauser! I thought I told you to stop barging into my office like this!" Chief Bogo growled, recalling all too well the last time that Benjamin had done so.
"Sir, sir!" The cheetah huffed. "I-I know you said not to disturb you, b-but it's an emergency! A big one! A bad one!"
Bogo's face slackened, his eyes taking on a hint of concern. He maintained his perfect aura of stoicism, but deep down, though, his stomach dropped with anxiety.
"Calm down, Clawhauser. What is it?" He asked urgently, his previous bout of anger now completely evaporated.
Clawhauser heaved, sucking in several wheezing lungfuls of air as he recuperated from his desperate run. With terror lacing his words, he exclaimed;
"It's the academy, sir! The ZPA! There's been an accident!"
Quite the cliffhanger, eh? Not to worry - The next chapter will be here before ya know it! In it, you'll see what happened at the academy, and to our favorite bunny and fox partners, and then some! Big things are coming, and I'm so excited to finally get the plot kicked back up into high-gear (not that Nick and Judy's adventures at the academy haven't been fun, of course), and I hope that you all will stick with me for what's to come!
I'd also like to thank all the readers and reviewers of the original version for helping the story reach 1900 Favorites and 2000 Followers. Thank you, truly, for your continued support and interest. I know that doesn't really apply here, but I thought it worth mentioning, if only to express my gratitude.
I am very excited to share what's coming - Everything is coming full circle, loose-ends are being tied, and soon, this story will end with the bang that you loyal readers deserve, but not before we get through every last moment of what I've got planned out. I reckon you'll enjoy it, as it arrives. As I said, WIF is now entering the endgame of it's seventh and final arc - From here on out, things are in full throttle.
The climax is coming next chapter! Do please stick with me for the final hoorah of 'When Instinct Falls'! Trust me, you won't want to miss it! :D
With that being said, I am now all out of announcements. Thanks for reading, and do stay tuned for the next chapter, comin' your way soon! In the meantime, do feel free to lemme know whatcha think of this most recent chapter in the form of a review! What did you enjoy in this latest update? What did you think of Bogo's little scene at the end, and the reintroduction of the locket? Who do you think is the spy, and what do you think will happen next? Feel free to answer any one of those, if you're looking for something to say. Regardless, I'm glad you made it this far, and hope you stick with me for what's to come!
'Till next time...