Chapter One: The Prison

Author's Note: I'd like to start out with a good old-fashioned CONTENT WARNING.

This story is rated 'T', but there is one chapter in particular that I feel is worthy of an 'M' rating for sensitive material. I'll give you a heads up when we get to that chapter. For now, just be aware that if you're easily triggered, this story might not be for you.

Anyway, hey guys, this is ConMan1226. Now, I recently had to change my account because I changed my email address. If you're interested, my old account can be found here. (u/5622219/ConMan1226)

Some of you may already know me from a little WildeHopps story called 'Z-Harmony'. That story has unfortunately been on hiatus for a very long time. I truly apologize. I got out as much out as I could but then I just kept on procrastinating and eventually lost interest entirely. There's a small possibility that I may write the ending one day. But for now, it is extremely unlikely.

I actually came up with the idea for this fanfic long before Z-Harmony. It took a long time to flesh the plot out, but once I had the entire story formed in my head, I found it difficult to think about anything else.

My original plan was to wait until I had the entire story written. I wrote the first half of the story during NaNoWriMo, and I was making good progress until I accidentally erased a good chunk of my writing. Now, I'm in a difficult position where I want to share my story with the world, but I don't want it to end up like my last story attempt. So, I decided on weekly updates.

Just to be clear, this story does not take place in the same canon as Z-Harmony. For that story to work, I had to make it so that the Night Howler case never happened, and I pretty much had to ignore Dawn Bellwether.

Now there have been a lot of stories about Bellwether in the past, and she's a very interesting character to look at. In the movie, she's putting on an act for most of her screen time, so there a lot of different ways you can interpret her. So it was a very exciting challenge to write for her. Now, don't worry, Judy and Nick will play a role in this story, but they're more in the background. Dawn takes center stage in this story.

Finally, standard disclaimer. I do not own Zootopia, yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway, that's all for me. So sit back and relax, as we dive into… A New Dawn.

...

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Dawn rolled over in the other direction. Maybe that would make it easier to sleep.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Nope. There was no difference.

Her "bed" was basically a slab of concrete with the firmest mattress in the world. There was something coldly ironic about giving her the hardest bed in the entire prison, almost as if the warden believed that since she was covered in wool, she would be comfortable automatically.

Or maybe they just wanted to torture her.

It wasn't always easy to tell what was going on in the minds of the prison guards. Obviously, the predators wanted to torture her, but if the guard was a prey mammal, then it was a little trickier to figure out, There were moments where Dawn swore she caught a glimpse of empathy in their eyes. Surely they were only torturing her because they had to. It was their job, after all.

In Dawn's eyes, it was entirely possible that every prey mammal working in this prison knew the truth.

She didn't deserve to be there.

Often, she thought back to the day when her father came to visit. She had only been at the prison less than a week when he came. She had half been expecting him to scold her, or even to call her a monster like everyone else had done.

Instead, he had smiled at her.

"You did it, Dawn," he said.

"I almost did it," Dawn corrected.

He quickly brushed it off. "I know it seems like you've lost, but just think about it. You had power. Real power. And for one glorious moment, you had convinced the rest of the world to see preds as they truly are. Monsters."

Dawn felt a shiver running up her spine.

"Dawn," her father continued. "You reminded so many prey mammals why they hated preds in the first place. Nothing will ever be the same now. There will come a day when the world will realize they were wrong to lock you up. Years later, they will mention your name in history books. Kits will learn about the little ewe who fought back against the preds."

He placed his hoof up against the glass window. She did the same. It was the closest they could get to holding hands.

"My sweet little lamb," he said. "You are a hero. Never forget that."

The second time she saw her father, things had changed. Apparently, his credibility as a judge had been tarnished by his connection to his daughter, and he was now receiving a lot of hate. He explained that, for his own sake, he had to go into hiding for a little while.

"Just don't lose hope," he said. "Things will get better, I promise."

That was the last time she saw her father.

He had gone into hiding, and nobody knew where he was. There were even rumors going around that he was dead.

Truth be told, Dawn hadn't gotten any visitors since then. She hadn't had many friends before getting locked up, and the ones she had didn't want to associate themselves with a criminal.

The only real friend she had left was Doug, her former associate. From what Dawn could recall, Doug had gotten a short prison sentence that had since ended. After getting out, he had tried to visit her but the guards strictly forbade it, worried about the possibility of the two exchanging information.

And in all fairness, they were probably right.

She still had some access to the outside world via newspapers and broadcast TV. She still remembered the Gazelle concert they had shown her shortly after her arrest. There didn't seem to be much of a point, only to make her see everything she was missing out on.

'Try Everything?' she remembered thinking to herself. 'Guess what, I did. Look where it got me.'

As time went on, she tried to hold on to her father's last words to her. 'Things will get better, they have to.' She said to herself. 'They'll realize that predators are monsters and they'll let me go with an apology.'

But in the two years that she had been locked up, things only seemed to be getting worse. In fact, it was like predators and prey were getting along better than ever. There were more and more stories how worldwide companies were becoming more diverse. More predators were being trusted with high-profile jobs.

And worst of all, prey and predators were forming interspecies relationships.

This wasn't completely unheard of before, but now, it seemed to be everywhere. No matter where she looked in the news, she would see a romance made up of two completely different species, some of them with extreme size differences. How was that even possible?

And then the day came when Dawn received the worst possible news she could imagine.

Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde were dating.

The two mammals who ruined her master plan, the mammals who put her in this hellish situation to begin with… Dawn simply couldn't believe it.

She knew very little about the fox, just that he was a former con artist who somehow made his way onto the police force, most likely through some sort of trickery. Also he was partially responsible for ruining her life. Also, he was a predator.

All three of those were perfectly valid reasons to hate him.

But what really upset her was Judy. When she had first met that bunny, she had seemed like a good and honest friend. She had reminded Dawn so much of herself. Both of them were raised in the country, outside of Zootopia, and both of them had worked very hard to be taken seriously.

Dawn had a very distinct memory of seeing Judy's nose twitch when that fox had asked her, 'Are you afraid of me'. Deep down, Judy didn't trust predators.

Or at least, she hadn't back then. But clearly, something had changed.

Dawn had accepted long ago that the world was a very cruel and unforgiving place. But it still hurt that she was locked up in prison for merely standing up against the predators, while those two lovers (Dawn had to suppress the urge to gag) got to live happily ever after.

It just wasn't right.

But there was no point in thinking about it now. For the moment, the only thing she could do was to try and get some sleep.

Dawn found herself wondering if this 'bed' had actually been designed in some sort of madhouse. After two years of attempting to sleep on it, it hadn't gotten any easier. She kept trying to find a comfortable position to be in, but each position was somehow less comfortable than the last. It was an incredibly paradoxical piece of furniture.

If there was one good thing about the sleeping conditions that night, it was that it happened to be raining outside. The rain was making the pipes leak, but at least the distant ambient noise of the storm gave her something soothing to listen to. Eventually, by some miracle, she managed to doze off.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

CRASH.

Dawn woke with a start. Something had made an incredibly loud noise. She looked around and then froze.

Slowly, she got up. She didn't blink. She didn't look away. She gently reached down and gave her arm a tight pinch. Ow. Okay, she was definitely awake.

Her cell wall was gone.

As she looked around, she realized it wasn't just her wall. An entire chunk of the prison exterior wall had been blown up, with some sort of dynamite. And in the distance, she could see that the prison gates had also been blown apart.

Dawn began to hear loud noises. The voices of prisoners and guards became muddled together so it sounded like a giant stew of noise. And she slowly realized that there were prisoners running out of their cells to the outside. Mammals of every size were running for their lives, and there weren't nearly enough guards on the scene to control them.

Upon seeing this, it took Dawn about half a second to realize what was happening.

And then another half a second before she started running.

She didn't even look back. There was nothing to look back at. She hadn't even realized she could run this fast, as she couldn't recall ever being in a situation like this. And she kept running, even though her body told her to stop. Even though she was tired and hungry and w-

No. She was not weak. She hated that word.

She kept running. And at last, she ducked into a sewage pipe that was just the right size for her. She didn't mind being a little dirty if it meant she could finally be free.

For once in her life, she was immensely grateful that she was so small. All of the guards were busy chasing after the larger mammals, and hardly any of them even noticed her.

She took a deep breath and began swimming. She had never been a terribly strong swimmer either, but any limitations she may have had before didn't mean anything to her anymore. She was going to escape.

Escape. Escape. Escape. She kept repeating the word in her head. It was almost within her grasp, she just had to keep holding out a little longer…

At long last, she reached the end of the tunnel. She gasped for air and then pulled herself out of the sewage. She was choking a bit. It didn't matter. She was free…

"Bellwether!"

For a moment, she stood still. Then a slow smile crept up onto her face. She recognized that voice.

"Doug!"

She looked up, and there he was. Her old friend and partner in crime was standing outside a parked car, wearing dark clothing.

He snorted. "You're welcome, boss."

Dawn looked back at the prison, where the chaos was still visible, and she put two and two together.

"…You did this?"

Doug looked at her with a sense of urgency in his eyes. "Look, I'd love to catch up on things, but we've got to go. The fuzz will be coming after us any minute."

She didn't need to be told twice. She hopped into the car and Doug sped off. They were going extremely fast, but Dawn didn't mind in the slightest. Just feeling the cold air in her wool was a completely exhilarating feeling. She was out.

After a moment or two, she looked back at Doug.

"I don't suppose you could have let me know about this plan in advance?" There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

"It was too risky," Doug responded. "Don't worry, from now on, you're involved in all plans."

Dawn found herself smiling wide for the first time in years. "From now on, I make the plans."

"All right, Boss," said Doug. "So... do you have a plan?"

Truth be told, Dawn didn't have a plan fully formulated yet. Just twenty minutes ago, she was still in prison. But she would have a plan soon enough. As a matter of fact, she was already beginning to put one together.

And this time, nobody was going to get in her way.