EDITED BY: DrummerMax64
Chapter Twenty-Two - The Fall
"Hello, Edward Snow."
Immediately, Edward surmised that he was chatting to someone other than the mammal who contacted them initially. This time, it was obvious that this was a female. It didn't seem like they were using a voice changer either, although, he couldn't prove that fact. There was something else about them that he couldn't quite explain either.
"Where's your friend? I thought someone was supposed to be meeting us up here?"
"Yeeeah, about that," she said. "There's been a slight change of plans."
"What do you mean?"
Charles exchanged a look of disappointment, shook his head, and walked over to the edge of the bridge facing the Meadowlands. His gaze was locked onto the distant lights.
"From what I understand, you seem to know a great deal about our little secret. How are we supposed to know that you don't have anything incriminating on us?"
"All of our physical evidence was burned by Charles. He tells me that your goons were tailing him, so you should already know. In regards to our digital evidence, if you look at Anders's phone you'll see that everything on that drive has been wiped. We've done everything you've asked. Our families are safe still, right?"
"Your families are safe—"
"But," she spoke up. "There's still the matter of you two. How will we know if you won't go blabbing to someone else?"
"Are you kidding? And risk our families' lives? I don't think so."
"You of all mammals should know that I can't go on just your word, Mr. Snow. So, here's what we're going to do. You're going to listen carefully and do everything I say. Is that clear?"
"Yes," Edward muttered like a little pup.
"Good. Now, the waterfall might be a pretty sight, but I want you to do me a huge favor and take a look over at your friend."
Edward flashed a confused glance at no one in particular, then around him. Trying to process exactly what this mammal wanted him to do was bizarre. Why would he need to look at Charles? Why did it matter? He looked around for a moment towards the cliff, the dark treeline, and even below towards the waterfall. Nothing. No one.
How does she know? He turned his body one-hundred eighty degrees, then fixed his eyes on what the mammal was implying: a bright red dot, aimed directly at the back of Charles's head, the tiger unaware of the sudden danger. Instantly, Edward's heart rate accelerated. He couldn't even see the dot's trail.
"You look nervous," the unknown caller chimed in again. "Is it the dot? We can take it away if it makes you feel better. My guy, the mammal holding the rifle, is ex-army. He doesn't need the help. He can hit a shot like that in his sleep."
"W-what do you want?" Edward stuttered. The dot magically vanished.
"Well, since you know so much about our Nighthowler serum, I'd like to offer you something tangible, something that will solve your unemployment in a flash—a job with us. You know, help us little guys for a change. Would certainly help considering you don't work for the Gazette anymore.
"First, I'd need you to hand over your phones to us so we can see what you've got hiding in them. Second, I need you to infiltrate the ZNN and write about how awful these attacks are, as well as recommend City Hall do something about it. I'm sure they would listen with the majority of the city's populace. One of our affiliates in the company already planted the seed for that idea, so all you would have to do is maintain it."
"Are you not with us right now or something?" Edward asked, ignoring the mole situation at the ZNN. "You're acting as if you aren't here."
"Not exactly," she answered fairly and honestly. "I had some work to do, but trust me, I've got my eye on things."
Hold on, Edward hypothesised. "What're the other conditions? You didn't mention anything about him anywhere in there."
"Oh yeah," she said. "Lastly, I would like you to prove your newfound loyalty, because loose ends are something we can't possibly have-"
You mean blackmail?
"-I want you to push Charles over the edge there."
Edward's eyes went wide. "You're joking. You have to be joking."
"Not at all. You see, he already has a record. If he gets caught in the midst of working with us, it's over for him. The rest of his life would be spent rotting behind bars. It'll be quick and easy, trust me. The impact on the rocks from the fall would kill him instantly, so there won't be any suffering. Just push that tiger over the edge. That's all you need to do."
An unpleasant pause. "You're twisted."
"I'm just doing what's right. I'm just doing my part to make the world a better place."
A better place...?
Edward's eyes shot open. An epiphany. He cautiously glanced around once more, giving his surroundings another careful look. No sudden movements.
"So, what? Would that make you my boss?"
"Yeah, pretty much!" she chirped.
Then, he spotted it.
It was a large pole next to a tree, disguised to hide within the fauna to maintain the district's natural appeal. At the top of that pole was a camera, a CZTV camera aimed right at the reporters, its red LED indicator mocking them with each perpetual blink.
Only the ZPD would have access to those cameras, Edward remembered from a story Anders and Charles had written. It's nine o'clock in one of the deadest parts of the district. If that's the only set of eyes on us right now, it would have to be that. The police wouldn't care about some open old road like this, no one important from the police would be watching from there. How else would she be able to see us? The only other possibility would be a cellphone or a laptop, but I doubt that they'd use anything like that in these conditions. Who else would have the authorization to use the traffic cameras?
Another lightbulb flashed in Edward's mind, giving him an answer.
The only mammals with enough clearance would be those at City Hall, more specifically, the leading members. Lionheart was disbarred and currently in jail, so who else is left? "A better place…" I know I've heard that before.
"...Dawn Bellwether?" he spoke aloud, barely above a whisper.
"What?" Charles asked, turning around to face Edward.
"It's Dawn. Assistant Mayor Bellwether. She's behind it."
"Wrong answer," the formerly mysterious mammal confirmed over the phone with spiteful conviction, her previous cheeriness gone. Over the sound of the waterfall and then through the phone, Edward heard the chime of a radio opening up its communications, then her echoing command. "Take it."
Neither Edward or Charles could expect the expert marksmanship of the mammal lurking well beyond the treeline of the waterfall. Unfortunately, even making out a burst of compressed air was difficult for the lupine, the very trait that made his species tick. All he could do was helplessly watch as a small projectile flew through the air at breakneck speed and found its mark on the top of Charles's forehead, exploding in a burst of purple liquid. The tiger crumpled to the ground.
"Charles!" Edward screamed, rushing over to the downed mammal's side. But even with his fast reflexes, by the time he reached Charles, it was too late. Felinic screams of agony ripped through the night-time air as the tiger convulsed uncontrollably. It looked as if he were having some sort of heart attack or seizure. Edward knew he was seeing the terrifyingly true effects of the Nighthowler serum.
"Charles," he fleetingly repeated, hoping to warrant some response from his friend. Nothing came. With all of his rage, Edward willed the phone back to his ear. "What did you do?!"
"Just making sure I do my part to show just how afraid the city should be of preds like you. However, not as much as you should be. We only had one shot left. If I were you, I'd start running soon. Who knows what a big cat can do to a softie like you. Buh-bye!"
The call ended. Edward couldn't move. He was frozen, only able to comprehend the roar of the waterfall. Everything else around him was eerily stark, quiet. The body next to him was at ease. His own slender body shivered.
Maybe she was bluffing? Maybe it didn't work? A gulp forced its way down his throat, his mouth agape as he whispered to the cat, "Charles?"
With a flick of his friend's ears and a deep growl rumbling in his throat, Edward had his answer. Charles's head turned to meet Edward's, the pupils of the cat's emerald eyes transformed into narrow slits.
Edward's heart leaped out of its chest as he rose and took a few slow steps backward towards the rental car.
"Charles," he pleaded. "It's me, Eddy. Don't you remember?"
No change. The savage Charles Clawson got up on all fours and was advancing on him with every step Edward took. His growl resonated deeper in his throat.
"Shit," the canid muttered under his rapid breathing. "Shit, shit, shit, shit…"
What do I do? What can I do?
Edward shot his head to the right for a split second. The car was off, the keys more than likely nestled in the suit pocket of his savage friend. Knowing him, the car would also be locked. Unless Edward were to magically tire the tiger out enough to finagle the car keys to the ground, how long would he be able to last? The car couldn't and wouldn't be his way out. With his time to act rapidly vanishing, the road to his right was the only option he could think of.
Edward's eyes darted around the treeline. Nothing. It was as he surmised before, no houses, no buildings, no landmarks, no mammal in sight. They were alone, and he was practically doomed.
Wait, he thought, recalling one of his past excursions, I remember!
About a year ago when Sharla and Edward were out and about on foot in the Rainforest District, they found Oakwood and its waterfall. In the spur of the moment they had planned a date, and the following night, they went for a brisk swim. The only reason their date was relevant to the situation was how accessible the location was on foot. The base of the waterfall was connected to a path that wound upward and across the road before the bridge, then through a forested section before the area's gondola platform. It was the final stop for Zootopia's gondola system, and it helped mammals get from the Meadowlands to the heart of the city in a snap. Tonight, it was going to be Edward's saving grace. It was now his only chance for an escape route.
Edward kept his eyes on his friend before him, beginning to double back towards where the car was, inching closer and closer to where the trail began.
"Charles, please. You don't have to do this."
The wolf's plea gained him a few precious seconds of time before he noticed the tiger's shoulders bobbing up and down. A pounce was coming his way. He could just see the car in his peripheral vision on his right.
Now or never! Edward took off, transferring the cellphone in his right paw to his left, and darted towards the end of the bridge. A snarl from behind made him pick up his pace. He was nearing the tree just before the trail.
Edward sucked in a breath, gave a silent prayer, pressed his right paw against the bark of the tree and took his turn towards the trail. Before he made it, however, the sound of rain and splashing feet had ceased, replaced by another nauseating sound as sharp surges of pain shot through his arm and his body.
The claws of his savage friend had found their mark on Edward, tearing through his rolled-up sleeve and through his right forearm. Edward wouldn't dare look. He couldn't. He just kept sprinting further and further down the path until he was out of earshot of Charles's roars. The lupine leaped and dodged stray rocks and holes in the ground just so he could keep his pace. His lungs burned like fire.
Coupled with his injury and the failed negotiations, Edward refused to keep the information to himself any longer. The silver wolf activated the SOS feature on his phone, instantly dialing the Zootopia Police Department. He hoped and prayed to whatever god was watching over him and listened intently for anything coming up from behind him, even taking a quick glance. He couldn't see anyone else, but that didn't stop him from continuing his run.
He wasn't aware of how much time had passed, but thankfully his phone connected, and he was met with a male voice on the other end of the line.
"Zootopia Police Department," the officer spoke cheerfully, "what is your emergency?"
"My name," the wolf panted, the pain now excruciating, "my name is Edward Snow. I'm being chased by a mammal, my friend, who turned savage. His name is Charles Clawson."
"Sir," the officer's tone donned a more serious tone, "what's your location?"
"I'm… running up the trail towards the Oakwood Gondola. I should be there in a couple of minutes. Please tell me you have officers nearby…"
Edward turned around, sensing a feeling of dread. His life flashed before his eyes.
"Fuck!" His scream rang out through the forest, and he ducked to avoid yet another pounce.
The tiger landed back on all fours a few feet in front of Edward and turned to go in for another swipe. Luckily, the scrawny canid was quicker, landing a solid punch on the feline's snout. Edward held his stinging paw close to his chest and continued running down the path, pulling the phone back up to his ear.
"Do you or do you not?!" Edward seethed.
"We have officers en route to the platform, about three minutes out."
Edward hung up and pocketed his cellphone, his legs working overtime through the maze of hard dirt and trees. He wondered how long he'd been running for, but his panic subsided somewhat when the distinguishable poles from the gondola came into view. Edward was almost in tears.
I'm almost there. He smiled, the light from the platform bleeding over the rough, earthy edge, blessing his soaked face. He was going to see Sharla again, be happy again, finally safe.
The wolf hopped out of the trail and onto the road and crosswalk connected to the gondola platform, seeing the next car slowly inching towards the station.
No time to sit and stare.
Edward, clutching his bloody arm, rushed over to the edge and impatiently waited for the cabin. He turned around, staring deep into the darkness behind the tall, thick trees.
"Nothing," Edward muttered. His eyes darted back at the gondola car. He frowned. "No…"
To his dismay, further inspection of the cabin revealed that it was occupied, filled to the brim with kits and a single adult female antelope, one that he surprisingly recognized. She was the mother of the boy that stepped on Edward's tail, who Edward could barely see right beside her.
The doe stared cautiously at the wolf when she saw him, her wide-eyed gaze piercing his very soul until the gondola car came to a complete halt. Edward could see the younger mammals packed in there with her: two rabbits, a koala, a lemur, a fox, and her son. There was barely any room left, and the kits were regarding him with a mix of confusion and fright.
"What's the matter with you?!" the antelope yelled, holding the children close. "Are you trying to scare these kids—"
"Please listen to me," Edward spat back. His ears were in overdrive, able to hear the sound of sirens getting closer in the distance. He shook his head. He had to stay focused. "There is a savage tiger close by. You need to take these kids and get out of here."
"Haha," came a faux laugh. "Nice prank. It worked, thanks for wasting my… time…" she trailed off. The doe's gaze was locked on something behind him, her eyes as wide as saucers.
Edward could sense the air grow thin. He turned, finding the mammal that was once his friend about fifty feet away, now shirtless and growling as he slowly emerged from the forest and into the light. The tiger's eyes were terrifyingly mesmerizing.
"Oh my god," the doe trembled.
Edward let out a silent curse. Retraining his ears on his surroundings and through the pounding of his heart yielded the sound of sirens, but not close enough to assist. The wolf looked back to the gondola, then at the group of mammals. A sigh helped calm down the adrenaline coursing through him.
He didn't see any way that he was getting out of this situation. There was no other angle, no getting around it, no beating around the bush. His conclusion was irrefutable. He'd be damned if he brought harm to other mammals, especially from this stupid story. So, regrettably, he made up his mind. Edward had to be strong.
"Take these kids and go. I'll make sure you get out safely," he declared, his body shaking like mad.
The doe was taken aback. "W-what? Are you crazy?" She opened the door, the mammals inside fleetingly squishing into the back as much as they could. "You can't just stay here. You'll be ripped to shreds!"
"I-I know," Edward forcibly smiled, shutting the door with his paw, the blood seeping down his arm leaving a stain behind. "The police are already on their way. There's no way that we'd all fit or make it if he were to pounce on us."
She was unable to refute the wolf as the gondola shuttered and slowly crawled around the bend and upward. The teary-eyed antelope looked back down at him. Her son peered over the wall of the car, said something indiscernible, and shrunk back to his mother's side.
The canid sighed and turned towards Charles across the road, now face to face with the feline. Edward dug his feet and claws into the wood of the station platform.
Cover your eyes. He wished he'd said that to the gondola car's occupants. If mauling and clawing was the way he was going out, he didn't want children or anyone else scarred by witnessing his fate. He turned his head and looked at the wound on his arm. It wasn't just the chilling feeling of the rain causing his body to shiver violently. The stains on his arm and shirt were an incredible shade of crimson, the rain extending them grotesquely. Physically, his thin body was aching, burning with monsterous fatigue. His eyes couldn't focus. He wasn't sure how much longer he could hold up.
Another roar from the savage mammal echoed around him, pulling his attention back to Charles. Edward expected another pounce, but he was surprised to see the blinding bright lights of a police cruiser pulling up. It parked right on the road next to the terrace, cutting off the tiger's only exit.
"Thank god," Edward whispered.
Unfortunately, the moment of peace didn't last. Momentarily distracted, Charles looked back over at the wolf and sped up his prowling. He snarled and charged at the wolf. The feline bared his teeth, flashing them unceremoniously.
Edward stood helplessly as Charles made the final leap towards him. Edward shut his eyes, putting the last of his energy in the thought of Sharla. He was going to miss her.
The feline's claws swiped towards Edward's left side, catching him in the torso right at the hip. The momentum threw Edward backwards and past the unguarded safety of the platform. He felt weightless.
The wolf clamped his eyes shut, unable to will them open as his world spun.
Was that Judy?
She would be the last thing Edward heard before the world suddenly felt much darker and colder.