Downtown – Mercy Hospital – Southern Savannah off Oasis Plaza
Saturday – 2:58 PM – Overcast Skies / Steady Rain w/Light Gusts

Murana's sleep was restless. Her sides hurt and it seemed every part of her body ached. After Chief Bogo had left, she inspected herself and realized they had done some emergency surgery to reclose the open stomach wounds from Javier, complete with stitches. They also removed the knife Ronald had placed between her ribs. Although it still hurt something fierce now that the pain medications were wearing off, she was glad to have it gone, with nothing left but a huge taped gauze patch to soak up blood.

This time, her dreams were interrupted by yet another person sitting in the lone chair at the end of her hospital bed. She opened her eyes to behold her husband, Anthony. He had his detective uniform on, probably having been on duty since early this morning. On his face was a mixture of displeasure and what looked like pity. With his arms crossed and tail swishing, she could sense he was very agitated.

"Don't look at me like that." Murana turned away to stare out the window.

"Look at you like what?" He monotoned, his eyes never leaving hers.

"Like you're ashamed of me." She hated feeling that she had disappointed others. She knew the look and she abhorred it.

"More like I'm saddened and hurt." He expressed at last. "Murana, we've been married not even two years and you've been keeping secrets from me. Not even small ones either, but life-changing, earth-shattering secrets."

"What would you have me do? Tell my would-be suitor that I fell in love with that we can't marry because I'm a vigilante who kills criminals and he's a cop sworn to uphold the law? Yeah, that would have gone over well." She turned to him, bitterness in her eyes.

"Then we shouldn't have gotten married in the first place!" He raised a paw out to her, keeping the other over his chest.

"That hurts…it's like you feel it would have been better had we not even gotten together at all, that there was no love there to begin with." She held his gaze, letting him feel her misery through her eyes.

"What hurts more is the fact that you put more than just me through these lies. You lied to and even utilized Steven to your own ends in your pursuit of justice. Now, you've even dragged Max into it. This is not fair to either kit." He refolded his arms again, trying to keep a level tone.

Murana scoffed, "Since when did you care about either one of those boys? You made it quite clear you didn't accept either of them as a part of your family."

Anthony scratched his chin a few times, "I'll admit, I have my own faults too. I am not too keen on the fact that I probably won't ever have proper children with you. Both now because of your infertile womb and that Bogo has it out for you to do life for what you've done. Before all this went down, I was thinking long and hard about what I wanted for our marriage."

"Probably wasn't for that long, because it seems you're about ready to give up on it again." She rattled her left cuff a bit to ease the pressure it was putting on her joint. "Shouldn't you be back at your job? I'm surprised your boss let you visit me at all considering your connection to me."

"He actually doesn't know I'm here." This got Murana's attention, but he continued on as if he didn't notice this. "I pulled a favor from Nick Wilde to cover me while I came over to talk with you."

She eyed him suspiciously, "You're here with a purpose. Why does that not make me feel any better?"

"It shouldn't." He nodded, flexing his folded arms. "You have a lot to answer for and I want to know it all. For the longest time since I found out you were the Dark Flame Wolf, deep down, I refused to believe it. I kept hoping and praying that it wasn't true, but the more I got confirmation from Steven and seeing you in action this morning, I couldn't ignore the ugly truth. My wife is a murderous vigilante. I figured I could get over this, but I cannot. Not until I find out why you do it."

"Why else? It's exactly what it looks like. Criminals do bad things. I go and kill them. Simple." She was terse with her response.

Anthony vehemently shook his head, "Nuh-uh, I'm not willing to believe that. Throughout our entire, dare I say it, sham of a marriage, you've been keeping back secrets from me: your nightmares, the picture on your nightstand and more. You've closed yourself off from the one person you vowed to be truthful and loyal to. How do you think that makes me feel? There's a deeper reason for why you do these things and I want to know answers. I deserve that much at least."

"What would it matter?" Murana looked defeated, letting her arms sag and pull on the length of the handcuffs. "You're just going to divorce me now and I'm going to be put away for the rest of my life. Not to mention I'm going to lose my son, Steven, nor can I get Max out of the horrible situation he's in."

"Murana, despite all the shit going on between us and the things you've done, I still have love for you." Anthony's words drew a curious look from her. "If you want me to even attempt to go to bat for you in any manner possible, I'm going to want the truth. All of it."

"Where's Max first?" She interrupted, looking anxious.

Anthony rolled his eyes, "He's safe with your…erm, secretary. Ron, I think his name was? Last night was a bit of a blur. The otter said he would take Max in for now until this all blew over and we figure out what to do with him."

Murana breathed a sigh of relief. Although she could have probably picked any number of better guardians for Max, she reasoned Ron probably wasn't the worst choice. Given what she had seen and observed this past evening, she had a gut feeling that Ron would not harm him. So although she was now well aware of where he heralded from, he was ironically the safest option for Max. With the skills Ron was trained with, she didn't have to worry about Max's well-being.

"The truth, now, Murana." Anthony repeated. His face offered no reprieve or excuse. He was determined to get the answers he sought or he would let her wallow in the grave she had dug for herself.

"And what truth is that? You need to be more specific, Anthony." Murana caved. She knew there would be no escape from her fate. What did it matter if she was now forced to relive the demons she tried to suppress for so long?

"Why the burning of your victims? You don't seem to kill any other way. What started all of this for you?" He edged forward on his chair, eager to know the answers.

She wrinkled the skin of her muzzle in disgust, "Did your boss put you up to this?"

He jerked his head back, "What? No! I'm genuinely wanting to know why my wife would commit such atrocities under my very nose since we've been married."

"Oh, dear," She sighed. "I've been doing this far longer than we've been together. I probably have done far more than you're even aware of."

"I gathered that. I gave you the benefit of the doubt yesterday, being dragged back to AJ's Fox Den in search of supposed 'supplies.' Finding nothing but ruin, I followed you across Zootopia until we finally got to your bank, where we were attacked by no less than three different factions by my best guess. You've made quite a lot of enemies. That is absolutely insane to me, coming from someone that I consider my wife. So yeah, start at the beginning. I want to hear all of it." He relaxed in his chair, settling in. "I got all afternoon, if need be."

"Not that it matters, but I was born the runt of the litter. Born into a home that couldn't care less about kits." Murana began haltingly.

She never really revealed this to anyone, and at this point, she didn't really give much of a damn. If anything, it whiled away the time before her inevitable sentence to prison that, if Bogo had his way, would be forever. She didn't have high hopes that she'd ever see Steven again either, with Karnage probably going to suck his soul out sooner or later. She had to fight to keep from tearing up at the thought.

She looked back up as Anthony cleared his throat, "How does this have anything to do with you being the Dark Flame Wolf and immolating victims alive?"

Murana glared at his impatience. "I'm getting there." Flexing out her ankles from being bed-ridden so long, she continued, "Being born into such an abusive and disgustingly unkept home, most of my brothers and sisters died off except for one. I had a younger brother who was just as much of a runt as I was." She sneered bitterly. "Ironic that the two runts were the only ones able to survive the mistreatment and neglect."

Anthony's eyebrows raised at this, but he let her go on, "I remember it clearly. It was to be the night I had planned for my brother and I to escape that hellhole. That very night my sick, sadistic mother brought her latest boyfriend and his friends over for a ritual gathering. They had chosen my little brother as a sacrifice and forced me to be part of the instrument that led to his death. They forced me to pour oil onto him while her boyfriend lit the match."

"Fucking hell…I'm so sorry, Murana. I had no idea." Anthony's mouth dropped open at this reveal. He thought on it a moment. "Was this brother the same one with you in that red wagon on your nightstand?" He referenced the picture with a grave face.

Murana nodded, "He was. He was the only true family I ever knew. They would shave us of all our fur for shits and giggles, thinking it hilarious that we were naked and exposed. They would leave us chained in the basement for days on end with nothing but stale bread and musty water while we sat in our filth that they wouldn't clean up."

"I can't believe they did that to you!" Anthony was aghast, such barbarism was beyond his comprehension. He had never heard of such a horrid case. "And they had you watch him burn to death?"

She bowed her head, "One of the worst moments of my life."

"Are they still out there? Have they been arrested or brought to justice?" He was getting furious on her account, despite everything she had done. If they were indirectly the cause of her actions by their cruel upbringing of her, he wouldn't rest until they were taken down.

Shaking her head, "No…I took care of that." At a look from Anthony, she explained, "A few weeks later, our town was attacked by Don Karnage and his gang. I was stolen away with a bunch of other cubs. I don't remember how long I was with them, but I had grown quickly as a favored protégé of Karnage. He would train me, use me to gratify himself and more. I was his to own."

Anthony was bristling. If he had known all this about that fox back at the bank, he wasn't sure he would have been able to contain himself from mauling the pirate on sight. "So you were forced to steal, be a pirate and such? How did you escape?" He was leaning forward now, very interested in her story.

Murana snorted, "Yeah…I was his 'star-pupil.' I was a natural at everything he asked me to do. The fact I was an unassuming runt of a wolf, almost the size of a large fox, was even better and made me far less of a target than some of the other cubs as they grew older. Most of what I learned in how to fight, I learned from him." She reminisced a few moments, her eyes glazed over. "I don't even remember how I escaped. I think it was a fluke."

At a grunt from Anthony, Murana expounded, "I was deathly terrified of Karnage. Afraid I would outlive my usefulness and suddenly my soul would be sucked out of my body and be left a lifeless husk."

"How is that even possible?" Anthony was incredulous. "That sounds almost like magic or some sort of demonic sorcery."

Murana tried her best to shrug. "Even I don't know. Each pirate has a piece of some totem Karnage found a long time ago that they use to do this. I don't know much more than that. I don't even know where it came from nor how it split. All I know is that regardless of if I was living with my bastard parents or with Karnage, I was always living in fear for my life."

"Yet you still escaped." Anthony pressed, guiding her back to the story.

"Mhmm, as I said, I think it was a fluke. I think he had grown so accustomed to my subservience that he never expected I had been planning a mutiny for months. They caught wind of it eventually, of course, but not before we had veered off course so much that it gave me the opportunity to jump ship. It was then he gave me these scars." She puffed out her belly in an attempt to get part of the patient gown to slip.

Anthony got up and padded over to slide the front of the gown aside, with some assistance from Murana, revealing the three long scars extending from just above her navel down towards her loins. Anthony was hesitant to gloss over the healed lacerations with his paw, unsure of what the etiquette was between a husband and wife in this unusual circumstance.

"I always wondered where these came from. Is…is this why you cannot conceive cubs, or were you truly barren from the start?" Things were clicking into place for him.

"I don't know." Murana honestly didn't. "I've been pregnant before."

Anthony's eyes bulged. "What?" He drew back a few paces.

She gave him a cross look, "This was before our time, Anthony. Don't get upset. I wasn't the pristine flower you think I am."

"Ain't that the truth." He clucked.

"Watch it." She squinted. "I've been pregnant several times before, however all attempts ended up in a miscarriage. I don't know if it is because of these scars or if somehow my womb was damaged from the start, but I can't seem to carry anything to even second term. To avoid the pain of losing yet another child, I just resorted to birth control. It was easier to just suppress the capacity to breed than deal with another bloody mess of misery and loss." She tried to remain strong, but tears were welling up in her eyes at the memory of it. Anthony moved in to hug her, but she snapped at him, "Don't try it! Not in the mood!"

"Look, I want to be on your side, Murana, I do. But it is really hard when you have all this evidence stacked against you." Exasperated, he walked back over to the chair and flopped back down onto it. "My hands at the moment are pretty tied, Chief Bogo saw to that. I just came here to at least understand my wife and why you do all these things. Now at long last, I think I'm finally getting it."

"That's a start." Murana didn't care how that sounded, she just wanted to be left alone right now. Feeling Anthony staring at her, she rolled her eyes. "Fine, I'll continue. So, Karnage injured me, but I got him right back, chomping a good portion of his ear right off. He hasn't forgotten that insult." She smirked at the memory.

"After getting away from him, I stumbled across Zootopia, lost, alone and hungry. I took up thievery. It wasn't long before I was noticed by the crime syndicate known as The Arbiter's Hand. I was scouted and inducted into this guild by Rosco, their leader. He used my talents to train me further into becoming a highly effective assassin. My codename was Widowmaker." She curled her lip; she was never really fond of the name.

Anthony looked skeptical. "You were an assassin too? This just keeps getting stranger."

She was broken from her thoughts, shooting him an odd stare. "What do you mean? This has been my life for as long as I can remember."

"It just seems…too fantastical though." Anthony tried to reason it out. "Starting from horrible beginnings, captured and trained by pirates, escaping to Zootopia and brought in to be an assassin for a guild nobody has ever heard of before. It just seems too implausible."

"As implausible as your wife being the Dark Flame Wolf?" She cocked an eyebrow.

"Good point." He huffed. "Still, it just seems very…" He crossed his arms as he looked out the window in thought. "…very contrived."

Narrowing her eyes, her tone grew cold, "Well, you asked about why I burn criminals. If you don't like what I have to say, I can stop."

He raised both paws up to stay her anger, "No, it's fine. I still want to hear it all. I'm just saying that most others will have a hard time believing that all of this happened to you, one bad thing after another." Anthony cleared his throat. "You were saying, Widowmaker?"

Murana regarded him a few moments before resuming, "Yes, that was what they called me. I was one of their best operatives. I had become an expert marksman and hit more contracts than anyone on record. Despite this, I was denied the opportunity to use my skills to go after the two wolves I wanted to kill the most: my mother and her boyfriend. I had known of their whereabouts for quite some time, but was forbidden by Rosco from ever striking them." Her paws balled up into fists as she bared her teeth.

Anthony was confused, "Why didn't he ever let you kill them? It doesn't seem like it would hurt his operations much. Especially if they've been flying under the radar this entire time."

"Oh, but it would." Her gaze flicked back up to his. "The Arbiter's Hand was nothing if not reputable in the dark circles of Zootopia. If it came to light that one of their operatives went rogue and began hitting targets not sanctioned for death, it would bring great shame to the guild and they would swiftly lose contracts and be run down and killed by competing factions."

"I honestly can't believe something like this exists right under the nose of the ZPD." Anthony seemed utterly astonished at all of it. His mind reeled at this influx of information.

"There's a lot that happens that most of the common people in Zootopia do not know about. It is probably best that way." Murana sniffed, finding the current line of talk boring.

She was feeling very tired again now and just wanted to sleep. It was clear nothing she said could change the authority Anthony had over her situation. So to finish the story, she skipped ahead to the part he wanted to hear most.

"I killed them anyway. I went outside my parameters on one specific hit. I was close to their position during one mission and I couldn't help myself. I wanted to punish them. To show them how much they deserved what was coming to them. So…I burned them alive, just like how my brother died." She grit her teeth.

"Murana…" Anthony shuddered. He could imagine the brutal scene in his mind's eye.

She waved off his concern, "Oh, but I had to! It's so much different up close, you know that? It's so easy to pop off a round and see someone's life end from miles away, but it's an entirely different beast when you can see them writhe in agony and hear the screams in your ears. They deserved it though."

Shaking off the memory, which already brought tremors to her body, Murana forged onward, "Regardless, I was outed from the guild and I had to go underground. That was when I met AJ, and through him, Billy Silva. They sheltered me for a time until the majority of the witch hunt blew over. I was to establish a new life and identity. I took on the name of Delante and set course for a new path in Zootopia."

Anthony whistled. "That seems pretty rough. According to Officer Hopps, it seems they still found you in the end."

"Of course. That's what happens when you get sloppy in my line of work. I wasn't always this way. I got lax." Murana chided herself. "Guess I was never meant to lead a quiet life. I always have to keep looking over my shoulder. I had hoped that I finally put my past behind me."

She half wondered if it was because she got a family and grew accustomed to having a normal life that brought about the events that led to this morning. If she had just stayed in the shadows, secretly operating from whatever base Billy was currently residing at, being known only as the Dark Flame Wolf, would she still have been found out? Only when she put herself out there as Murana Delante did things seem to fall apart. However, it was definitely a good long decade before it all came crashing down around her.

"Well, masquerading as the Dark Flame Wolf didn't earn you any points towards that goal, Murana." Anthony pointed out the obvious. "What made you think it was a good idea to continue moonlighting as a vigilante and marrying a cop at the same time? Knowing what I was and based on everything you've told me, you should have just run the other way, yet you didn't. Why marry me?"

"It's not that simple. With you, I-" Murana began, but was jolted by a knock on the door.

"Excuse me." A familiar voice rang through the slightly open door. A tawny-colored wildebeest peeked through the opening. "I hope I'm not disturbing anything?"

Anthony looked surprised, standing up from his chair. "Ralph! What are you doing here? How is your wife?"

Ralph looked back and forth between the two, "She's stable at least, thank you. Does Chief Bogo know you're here with her?" He asked warily.

"Does he know you are?" Anthony retorted, folding his arms.

"Touché." Ralph grunted, entering into the room fully before shutting the door behind him. He caught the eye of Murana, who was looking at him curiously. "I was actually sent to find you. Officer Wilde said he had a new lead on that case. He said you'd know what he was talking about." He seemed purposefully vague to keep Murana out of the loop.

Anthony's body sagged. This was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now. Despite all she had done, this past hour had gotten him closer to his wife than the entire year prior, and he didn't want it to end. "Fine. I was just heading out anyway." He nodded to Murana. "I'll be back to check in with you when I can, ba-…um, Murana." He caught himself. Feeling awkward, he moved to the door, checking himself as he saw Ralph lingering behind. "You coming?"

"I'll stay behind a bit. I need to talk to the suspect." Ralph used the word suspiciously.

"The chief said not to interact with her until proper procedures are followed." Anthony reminded.

Ralph gave him a knowing look, daring him to call himself out on the hypocrisy, "I won't tell him if you won't."

Anthony's eyes darted between Ralph's and Murana's. "Very well. Just make it quick. I don't know when he'll come back to escort her to more secure holdings."

"Understood." They gave each other a gentlemanly nod as Anthony shut the door and strode down the hallway. The silence was broken as Murana cracked her wrist, trying to smooth out the kinks from being held in cuffs for so long. Stepping forward politely, Ralph remained standing, "I apologize for coming in unannounced. In case you forgot, my name is Ralph Grayz."

Murana clucked her tongue, finding the sentiment laughable. "Please, you don't have to apologize to me. I'm just some low-life criminal."

"Yes, a criminal who helps her community, supports local orphanages, donates to a multitude of charities, fights for the rights of the oppressed and the defenseless and adopts kits that are in desperate need of a family. You are more than just someone who murders for the fun of it." Ralph was sincere, his hooves clasped before him.

This caught Murana off guard, she was not expecting this sort of merciful description of who she was from someone like Ralph. "Are you making fun of me?" She didn't really know what game Ralph was playing at.

Gripping what looked like a plastic bag in his hooves, he shook his head. "No, ma'am. After what I have seen and heard this week, I decided to do research on my own time about you. I'm frankly amazed you've managed to juggle so much all these years. I'm not sure if Dark Flame Wolf is the cover for your generous side or the other way around, but you've got quite a bit of influence in Zootopia, even if not a lot know your name. It would be a shame to see that all disappear when you are put away in prison."

A measure of respect washed across her face as she beheld Ralph in a new light. She grinned, "And here I thought you were a by-the-numbers rookie cop, interpreting the law black and white and accepting nothing but what the rules allowed. You've grown up." She sniggered.

He nickered at the jab, but proceeded to ignore it as he clopped over to the end of her bed, "I may not approve of what you do. In fact, I absolutely detest it."

"That makes me feel real good." She lay there, looking up at the tall wildebeest, feeling a bit helpless like this. She remembered how bad he rammed her into that dumpster the first night they met.

"I'm just stating my views." Ralph tapped a hoof on the bed railing. "Despite that, I do see a lot of good you do. I'm no psychiatrist, but I do study people. Looking through all you've done, it does seem like you are making up for something, as if you are trying to erase a lot of bad with a ton of good. Much of it seems genuine, but a lot seems like you're grasping at straws to make your own self feel better."

"Are you trying to make me feel worse or do you have a point in coming here, Ralph?" Murana stewed a bit, miffed that her flaws were blatantly being pointed out by this young cop who appeared to know better than she did.

Ralph chuckled, "I don't blame you for being upset. My wife hates it when I do this to her, too. However, I studied psychology in college before switching over to law and becoming a police officer, so I can see threads of purpose behind people's actions. Right now, I feel like your actions are telling me that you want an escape from something. That you are still running away from something that you've involved yourself in too deeply and now you feel like there is no way out."

Murana's entire body wilted in the tight cuffs. "I'm kinda feeling that way now."

Ralph mused on her situation for a few moments, "I won't argue that point. You did sort of get yourself into this mess." He completely flouted the scowl she sported. "However, I am not without sympathy. You taught me that not everything is as it seems on the surface, and for that, I am thankful. I came here to apologize for how I treated you and my preconceived notions on who you were. I can't promise that I will be able to help your situation, but I will do my best to speak out for a lighter sentence on your behalf."

"Well, that means a lot." Murana didn't seem too convinced.

She wasn't sure if he was saying this from the heart or just paying lip service so he could rid his own conscience of any guilt. In the end, it ultimately didn't matter since she was still shackled to the bed like some wild animal.

"Oh, and to give this to you. I secured it from the evidence bin. Given what I know of your son, Steven, who I heard was kidnapped, I figured this trinket would be appreciated." Ralph said.

Without a further word, he unzipped the baggy and reached over to lay a single pine tree earring on her chest, its forest aroma still emanating from its scented pores. Murana's resolve broke and she began to cry. The weight of Steven's fate lay as heavy on her heart as did the earring. Gazing down at the small gift of love from her adoptive son, she couldn't help but wonder how much different things would have been had she not taken that final mark with Javier Sanchez. Would they still be together as mother and son today?

"It's all my fault…" She sobbed. "I failed him. I should've listened." It was beginning to get harder and harder to understand her words.

Standing uneasily at her bedside as she wept, Ralph grew solemn and proper. "Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. I will be taking my leave now…I'm sorry, Mrs. Wolford."

He was nearly to the door when she called out to him, causing him to turn his head back to her, hoof already on the doorknob. "Cherish your family, Ralph. Don't let them slip away from you. Fight for them. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Go be with your wife." Murana tried her best to smile through the tears.

Ralph's face dissolved with grief. "Thank you…I already do."

He gently shut the door behind him with a click. Murana was left to her thoughts on her life, contemplating the culminating future of all her decisions. Despite the dark well she allowed her mind to sink to again and again, her sanity kept coming back to the bright green tree resting on her chest.

Sahara Square – Northern Sand Dunes – Three Miles Northwest of the Oasis Hotel & Casino
Saturday – 10:12 PM – Dark, Overcast Skies / Pouring Rain w/Electric Currents

It seemed to be quite the blur, these past few hours. Murana could scarcely believe that she was in a police cruiser, zooming down the tunnel through the barrier wall into Sahara Square with Ralph Grayz, Ronald Latrinae and her son-to-be Max Thrash. The wildebeest was driving since it was his assigned vehicle. She was in the passenger seat with Max sitting right behind her. Ronald was right next to him, building a few weapons made from a variety of parts he had brought with him in a bag. Each one of them wasn't even blinking an eye at her sitting among them in full suit, mask and all. It was surreal.

Murana remembered waking up long after the sun had gone down, with constant rain pelting the side of her room window. Ron was standing on the foot of the bed, a bag placed by her hind paws as he was rummaging through it to pull out her vigilante suit he had procured from her office back at the bank. Beside him was Max, gently nudging her arm to get her to awaken softly.

"Hey, Max." Ron asked without looking at the raccoon, still unfurling the last bits of her suit onto the bedsheets. "Can you unhook her from those restraints while I get her gear ready? Do it just like I taught you."

Without another word, Max dug into his pockets, pulled out a few metal lockpicks and began working on the cuffs one by one. Murana's awareness began to rack into focus quickly as each limb was freed from the confining grip of the metal rings.

"What are you two doing here?" She was a bit confused, but not ungrateful for her newfound freedom.

"Rescuing you, of course, so we can go rescue your son from Karnage." Ron beamed as he dropped the final bit of clothing onto her suit: the gloves.

"Does anyone else know you are doing this?" She stretched out her legs and rubbed her wrists as Max undid the final shackle.

"Not a one!" Ron winked. He gestured over to Max with a smile, "It was his idea actually. He reasoned that if you're going to be put away for life anyway, you might as well go out with a bang and get rid of that pirate while saving all the kits in the process. Who knows? It just might score some bonus points for you, and you already know by now that I don't really follow the law when it comes to my real job. So, we're here to make sure you get one last shot at finishing your job."

"You did this, for me?" A few tears began to form as she looked at Max. At a nod, she brought him close to her in a full embrace, rubbing the back of his head and not wanting to ever let go. At first rigid, Max seemed to just melt into her touch. Presently, she released him and rotated her finger in a circle, "Can you two please turn around while I suit up?"

Obliging her request, they looked out the glass pane onto Zootopia. The view was ironically facing Sahara Square where they could just barely see the floodlights of the ZPD trained on the Iron Vulture, just out of view beyond the wall, its malevolent field of energy visible. After a few minutes, Murana coughed and they turned to see her in full attire, complete with mask. She truly did look like a superhero to Max, regardless of what others said of her.

"What's the plan?" She queried, adjusting the fit on one of her gloves. This was probably one of the oldest suits Billy made for her. It didn't quite fit like it used to, being a bit tight around the middle.

"I was hoping you would tell us." Ron replied. "I know next to nothing of this Karnage fellow or anything his crew and ship are capable of. We're relying on you to fill us in on the details."

"And what of Jack Savage? Did he get captured too?" She asked a bit more warily.

"No one has seen him." Max offered, walking up to her and looking straight at her mask, which gave the impression to her he was staring directly at her eyes.

"Max is right." Ron swished his tail in slight agitation. "From what I heard, after that skunk, Courtney, nailed him with her car, he simply vanished. He might still be out there, but he's currently not in the vicinity."

"Is Courtney alright?" It seemed like an odd question for Murana to ask, but the last thing she wanted was another hapless civilian involved in her affairs. All because she asked her to keep Steven company that one morning.

"Last I checked, the ZPD escorted her home and they are ensuring she doesn't get within several city blocks of your position." Ron chuckled a bit. "She didn't seem happy about this."

Suddenly reminded of seeing her in a wedding dress while at the side of the road, she could only imagine the shenanigans that had gone on in her absence between Courtney and Steven. Murana guessed it was only natural Courtney would be distraught over the kidnapping and disappearance of Steven. She was just the same.

"Well, let's not waste time. We need to get to Sahara Square immediately." Murana took a few confident steps towards the door before faltering and having to be held up by both Max and Ron. "Fuck! That still hurts!" She gripped a paw to her ribs where Ron stabbed her.

The otter grimaced at the reaction, "I truly am sorry, Murana, for doing that. Do you think you got the strength to carry on?"

She made a valiant effort to get back onto her paws, but shook her head firmly. "No…not as I am now. I need a little boost."

"How are you going to find that? I don't think both of us can lift you and carry you the whole way." Max was being too logical for his own good. Murana couldn't help but smile at his naivety.

"Not that kind of boost, hun." She ruffled his ears. "I mean a medicinal boost. I was here earlier this week…for reasons." She didn't really want to say in front of Max that her sole reason for being here earlier was to kill Sanchez, even if Ron could guess at her motives. "There's a drug station on the first floor where I could find something to tide me over, at least for a few hours." At a thought, she turned back to the bed. "Hey, Ron? Search those sheets for something looking like a pine tree earring. Can you keep it safe for me?"

Understanding completely, Ron snapped his fingers and they both assisted Murana out the door after he had gotten the precious item she asked for, stuffing it safely into his slacks' pocket. On either side of the door were two cops, but she noticed they were strangely still and appeared to be leaning up against the wall sleeping. She grinned as she shared a knowing look with Ron. They had been subdued, but not killed, in his quest to reach her this night.

The hallways and elevators were a haze as they made their way around the nurse and cop patrols. It wouldn't be long before they discovered her missing from her bed. Between the three of them, they managed to evade most of the personnel working at Mercy Hospital and deftly entered the medicine closet without a single witness.

Murana scavenged through the shelves and cabinets until she found what she wanted. A full dose of Equinephrine. Her paws shook as she tried to rip open the plastic wrapping around the lengthy needle tube. Not caring about any of the pill bottles spilling onto the counter as she navigated the labels, she found one named Ulfuram. Popping the top off, she dropped a few pills onto the counter as she readied her arm for the shot injection.

Ron surveyed the medicines she was taking with a worried look, "Are you sure these are good to mix together? I think they might end up doing more harm than good in the long run."

"I don't have a choice!" She snapped, tightening the elastic rubber from a drawer around her bicep with her teeth to ensure a vein was visibly popping in the crook of her arm. "Not that I'm trying to constantly remind you that it's your fault, but it really is your fault I'm resorting to these measures just to keep up with the Karnage situation. Are you going to help me or not?"

Doubtful of the final result of these drugs, Ron sighed as he took the needle and sifted through her fur to find an appropriate vein. Max stared on with extreme interest at close range as the otter punctured her skin and pumped the entire vial into her bloodstream. Murana immediately popped the two painkillers into her mouth and swallowed. Within minutes, her pupils dilated and her breathing became fast and short as the adrenaline began taking hold.

Placing a paw on either side of her face, Ron looked her directly in the eyes, "Are you going to be okay, Murana?"

She nodded with certainty, "Let's just get this over with. I want my son back."

"You are one amazing wolf." He marveled.

"Let's save the compliments." She barked, standing up too quickly and staggering.

No sooner had they left the medicine cabinet that the door across the hall, two rooms down, opened to reveal Ralph Grayz. Stepping out, he looked both ways and spotted the three of them. His eyes widening as he recognized her vigilante suit.

"Hey, you!" He pointed a hoof, his expression changing to one of determination.

"Max, I'm starting to think this might have been a bad idea." Ron said out of the corner of his mouth.

"I got this." Max said confidently, avoiding their grasping paws as he scuttled up to Ralph, blocking his path and forcing him to look down and notice him. "Excuse me, sir?" He raised a paw, admiring the wildebeest's impressive horns as he spoke, "My name is Max Thrash, and that wolf back there is going to be my future mom."

"She…what?" Ralph was flustered at this unexpected raccoon.

"However, she is distraught and just took a ton of potentially bad medications just to keep walking so she can go save her other son from Karnage, a very bad pirate that can suck the souls of people and add their life to his own. If we don't catch his ship, the Iron Vulture, crashed out in Sahara Square, before he fixes it and takes off, she will lose her son forever and every single orphan cub and kit on that ship could die as well. Do you want to have all those lives on your conscience just because you thought stopping a masked vigilante was far more important?" Max blinked innocently a few times as Ralph stared at him with something akin to abject horror.

"Why did I let you talk me into this?" Ralph's eyes were like slits as he drove down the dark tunnel, interspersed by ceiling lights at intervals. Glancing over at the masked vigilante next to him, seatbelt securely fastened, he tapped a hoof to the steering wheel.

"I could still be with my wife and son right now, who desperately needs medical attention, but the doctors won't make a move until the quagmire that is my insurance situation is resolved. Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for the operation and I may be stuck footing the bill, which would put my entire family broke and onto the street, and yet here I am, assisting a known and wanted criminal in taking down some crazy, soul-sucking pirate in a flying airship from centuries ago." He seemed slightly bordering on controlled hysteria.

Her hind paw tapping incessantly on the car floor, Murana reached out a paw and softly laid it on Ralph's thigh as she tossed him a reassuring smile. "I know this all sounds insane and crazy, but trust me, my life has been anything but normal. This is par for the course. You are doing a good thing here, Ralph."

Ralph laughed apprehensively, keeping his eyes on the road, "Ha! Yeah…this was not what I expected my first week to be like coming to Zootopia. That's for sure! Being an accomplice to a well-known criminal, I'm going to be fired when this is all over!"

"I'll put in a good word for you." Ron assuaged, snapping the last piece into the gun frame with a click. "I think the good will definitely outweigh the bad."

Viewing the otter through his rear view mirror, Ralph was not appeased, "You'll have to forgive me, but that really isn't comforting right now. I have no idea who you are. I had thought you were her secretary, but now I'm not so sure. As far as I'm concerned, you're probably no better than she is!" He jabbed a hoof finger in Murana's direction. "No offense." He added as an afterthought.

"None taken." She smirked, resuming her vigil on the road ahead.

Murana couldn't blame Ralph. In the few scant meetings she'd had with him, he seemed to be a very devout apprentice of the law. She could tell he had his limits tested recently and this was quite unlike anything he'd probably experienced before. She wanted to address the topic more, but her heart was all aflutter. She could feel it beating out of her chest. If she didn't get out soon and get some action in, she feared she might explode from being seated for so long after taking that adrenaline. She couldn't even feel the pain anymore from her ribs.

"This is very bad. I should have just stayed with Stella and Rodney." Ralph's face drooped as the end of the tunnel came into sight. "This could cost me my job and my ability to seek medical help for them."

"He's freaking out." Max noted helpfully.

Murana gave Ralph another reassuring squeeze, "You could just tell them that we knocked you out and stole your vehicle. Nobody has to know you aided us. Tell me more about your wife and son. What's going on with them?" She was trying to keep his mind off what he was doing, distancing himself from the potential laws he was breaking by helping her out and allowing the escape.

Focusing on the topic, Ralph continued to drive straight, "My wife has always had weak lungs, but she recently contracted bronchitis. We thought it'd go away with some meds and fluids, but weeks went by and then months. She wasn't getting any better. We don't know what's wrong. We had come here to get help for Rodney's legs, to get him prosthetic replacements so he could walk finally, but now we're stuck here with an even bigger problem with Stella and no supportive insurance on file."

"I'm…I'm sorry, Ralph." She withdrew her paw, deciding it best to not give him false hope. "I don't know if there is anything I can do to help right now, but if things turn out the way I want it to, I promise I'll do what I can to find a solution."

Ralph shot her a sidelong glance as he grunted with reserved appreciation. "Thank you."

"We're here." Ron interrupted, tapping Ralph on the shoulder. "Eyes ahead."

They opened out on the lone road leading into the square proper. The major downtown district of the Sahara was still a few miles in front of them, but the large Iron Vulture loomed off to their left deep into the dunes. The crackling field was gone now as several groups of ZPD could be seen like black bunches of bodies slowly making their way towards the aircraft.

"What the hell are they doing?" Murana slapped the dashboard as she leaned forward. "They're going to get themselves killed."

"The electrical field is down." Max pointed out.

Murana recognized his observation, "Which means they will have the power to fire upon them without mercy!" She ripped the cruiser's walkie from its holster and shoved it in front of Ralph's snout. "See if you can get them to pull back, now!"

Without wasting a moment, he snatched it from her and brought it to his lips, "All units, this is Officer Grayz. That aircraft in Sahara Square is going to fire. Stand down and retreat! Fall back!"

"Grayz? What the hell you doing on this channel?" The cantankerous voice of Bogo boomed through the speaker.

"Trying to avoid a disaster, sir!" Ralph rejoined promptly, his eyes rapt on the building current rumbling through the antenna fixed atop the Vulture.

"You were not assigned to this duty, Grayz. You are to-" Bogo crackled and fizzed out as lightning struck the visible rod on the ship.

"Shit! It's happening!" Murana gripped the car seat as Ralph swerved it to the side of the road, windshield wipers going full blast so they could see what was happening through the rain.

All noise seemed to fade before several concussive booms were heard. Brilliant flashes of white lightning surged out of the twin dipole rods extending out from either side of the Vulture's 'mouth.' They arced and created a swath of devastation across the scattered members of the ZPD. Some bolts struck the column of vehicles parked along the road nearly a half-mile away. The rain did little to effectively halt the fires resulting from the attack.

"What's that sound?" Max's ears twitched as the rising hum irritated his senses.

"They're lifting off…" Murana's mouth dropped.

The propellers along the twin ballast balloons on either side of the Vulture began to sputter to life and twirl at an insane rate of speed. Slowly but surely, sand was kicked up, obscuring the aircraft from view as it rose into the air. A few more lightning blasts surged out of the pole cannons and leveled a few smaller buildings with explosive fires. The Iron Vulture was airborne once again.

"We've failed. We didn't make it." Murana slammed a fist on the glove compartment dashboard.

"Do you think we can chase it down?" Max was entranced at the full scope of the Vulture in flight.

Murana shook her head. "We wouldn't have a clear path to follow it no matter which direction it headed. The moment they leave the outskirts of Zootopia, we may never see them again."

Their attention was diverted when a loud revving of engines signaled the arrival of a fox on a motorcycle, his white tail visibly drenched in the rain. He seemed to be stopped alongside the cruiser purposefully, waiting for them to acknowledge him. Rolling the window down and letting the rain into the car, Murana peered out curiously at the strange visitor.

Raising the visor on his helmet, a pair of familiar eyes smiled back at her. "Whew, you are a hard person to track down, Murana, or should I say, Dark Flame Wolf? It's a good thing I put a tracker in each of the suits I made for you. Need any help?"

"Billy!" She cried out happily before turning serious. "Wait…tracker what?"

I know a lot of writing and filmmaking involves 'show, don't tell.' Unfortunately, I could show no further past this point in the story. As much as I tried to hint at Murana's past, her complex motives and why she does the things she does, I now had to come clean and get the whole truth from the wolf's mouth, as it were. There was simply no way getting around this exposition dump. The way the story played out from multiple viewpoints and perspectives, I could no longer show any further. I knew that before going into the final climatic battle with Karnage, I needed to level with the reader on all aspects of her past that were only hinted at in the previous five days. All puzzle pieces should now click into place and the entire scope of who Murana is should come into focus for readers. This entire scene was tricky to write, but definitely easy to get through since I belted it out in a single sitting. After much revising, I feel I cut it down to the core exposition that was needed.

The second scene was somewhat more difficult to write since it wasn't actually a part of this chapter to begin with and was to be the beginning of the next. However, that sequence was running very long and I needed to cut it somewhere and place the remainder here to pad out this otherwise short chapter. I felt it worked best since it gave us a nice pause to gather our thoughts, figure out the major players going forward into the finale and prep Murana for success. It was not intended for Billy to come in as he did, but by some spontaneous inspiration, he provided the missing key that would get Murana onto the Iron Vulture. Saddle up boys and girls, it's going to be a bumpy ride!