No army, no matter how well-trained, could be nearly as fast as a single mammal. It was a thought Bogo tried to keep in mind as his guardsmammals—his soldiers—prepared to leave the Middle Baronies. Tzitz Quit had been designed to repel invasion, after all, and the same factors that made it difficult to take made it difficult to leave. The pillar it stood on had a single massive lift that led from its base to the outpost, with the only other way in or out being a relatively narrow wooden staircase that had been replaced dozens or perhaps hundreds of times over the years. It was one of those expenses that lords always complained about, but Bogo followed the lead of all of his predecessors and refused to replace the wood stairs with stone ones. He knew exactly why they were made of wood; if an opposing army did invade, the lift could be raised and the stairs set aflame, denying them access to the aqueducts.

Of course, the knowledge that Oveja I had simply breached the Middle Wall and ignored the aqueducts on his path into the city's core demonstrated that not every preparation worked. But Oveja I had been leading a war of conquest, and he had left as much infrastructure intact as possible since anything he damaged he would have to repair later. Bogo, though, had no idea what the mysterious army under the banner of the Betrayer wanted. They might want to take over the city, as Oveja I had, or perhaps they simply wanted to destroy it. Not knowing what his enemy had planned made Bogo deeply uneasy.

As did the fact that he wasn't even sure who his enemy was.

None of the other survivors of Phoenix had spoken a word even after Bogo's interview with Diego Cencerro was done. It was strange, and some part of him didn't like it. They certainly appeared shocked—as he would expect any mammal to be after experiencing horrific violence—but something deep in his gut didn't trust the reaction. It was entirely possible that he was being too hard on the mammals; unlike the City Guard most Zootopians never saw violence of any kind due to the effectiveness of torcs, and even in Phoenix he supposed habit was enough to keep that mostly true. He himself would never forget the stench of blood from the first murder he had responded to, and that had been bad enough to make his partner resign. If members of the City Guard couldn't tolerate violent death, what chance did coddled civilians have?

But the nagging doubt refused to leave Bogo, and he had ordered Del Mar to keep the remaining survivors under close supervision rather than allowing them their freedom. He had couched it with a bit more subtlety, of course; he had made the order sound more as though he was concerned with their mental health than that he was worried what they might do. If the otter had spotted his true motive, he hadn't commented on it, which left Bogo with at least one concern mostly addressed.

One of his other concerns stood at his side; as he supervised the movement of City Guard members from Tzitz Quit to the ground, he wasn't letting Diego Cencerro out of his sight. He had to admit to himself that his suspicions of the sheep might be motivated more by his own personal dislike of him—and the way in which he had obtained the job as commander of the Phoenix City Guard—and the blood relationship with Alba Cencerro than by anything the sheep had done to set him off.

But Bogo believed in listening to his instincts even if he didn't always choose to act on them, and while Diego Cencerro hadn't done anything obviously suspicious that didn't mean he was trustworthy. Another part of his mind told him he was being ridiculous. Lieutenant Colonel Cencerro was travel-worn and injured; would he have really cut a chunk out of one of his own ears?

That's exactly what he would want you to think if he did, a voice whispered in Bogo's mind, and he frowned. The voice was, of course, his own, and even as he carefully studied Cencerro his thoughts continued. Gangs do it to their members sometimes. And if they can stand the pain, a member of the City Guard could.

But unless Diego Cencerro had somehow gained the ability to read minds, he was blissfully unaware of Bogo's dark thoughts about him, standing near the base of Tzitz Quit and watching members of the City Guard pour out of the lift at regular intervals and take up formation on the grounds surrounding the outpost. He hadn't even taken any time to change out of his dirty and blood-stained clothes, and it lent him a somewhat tougher air than a sheep could normally manage. Despite the clothes, though, his posture was still perfect, his attention focused solely on the army Bogo was bringing down to the ground one lift load at a time.

"Do you think we have enough mammals?" Bogo asked abruptly.

Cencerro turned toward him, a slight frown touching his features as he seemed to consider the question. "To retake Phoenix, sir?"

"To retake Phoenix," Bogo agreed.

Cencerro was silent a moment, and Bogo wondered if his thoughts were going the same direction his own had. His force consisted of just over two thousand mammals, a mixture of the City Guard and the personal forces of Lady Cencerro and Lords Corazón and Cerdo. Two thousand mammals, none of whom had ever fought a war before, going up against an unknown force. Perhaps they really were barbarians, but other possibilities came to mind, each more outlandish than the last. A massive force someone had managed to put together in Zootopia and march to Phoenix without anyone noticing? An army of mythical homunculi created by an alchemist more powerful than even the masters of the Alchemist Guild? Something put together by blood magicians?

Cencerro spoke again at last. "I don't have a good estimate of the size of the barbarian army," he said at last, "They struck by surprise, when my forces were spread thin. Under those circumstances, even a small army can fight like a large one."

Bogo grunted an acknowledgement and waited for the sheep to continue.

"I believe we have enough mammals," Cencerro said at last, "But I can't help but be concerned that they made no attempt to chase the survivors down. It makes me wonder what they want."

The sheep's face was its usual mask; Bogo was forcefully reminded of how unemotional and detached the officer was. He was speaking like a mammal faced with an intriguing logic problem—like the one with a chicken, a monitor lizard, a bag of grain, and a rowboat—instead of what might be the greatest threat Zootopia had ever faced. Unless, of course, he had arranged the threat and was quietly mocking Bogo for not seeing that.

"What do you think they want?" Bogo asked, and he was genuinely curious.

If Cencerro was involved in whatever was going on, perhaps he'd accidentally give something away. And if he wasn't, perhaps he had seen something Bogo hadn't. There was one possibility he had in mind he wanted to see if Cencerro would suggest, and if so how he would do it.

"Phoenix has great strategic value as the point of the one opening between Zootopia and the outside world, and holding it would be of immense value to an invading army. Without alchemists to make additional breaches in the Outer Wall, it's a choke point they must hold or be beaten back at our leisure. Occupying the settlement makes sense if their goal is to conquer us," Cencerro said.

It was nothing that Bogo hadn't already thought of himself, but it was somewhat unsatisfying as an answer. If Bogo was in charge of an invading army, he would have followed Oveja I's strategy as best he could. Under that model, the invading army would hold Phoenix only loosely, with the majority of their forces committed to taking the rest of the city-state. To simply hold Phoenix with no further action was bizarre; they had lost any element of surprise.

"Alternatively," Cencerro continued, speaking more slowly, "Phoenix's most obvious resource outside its strategic position is the ruins it was built on top of. There are treasures down there we can't even guess at, so perhaps the invaders simply want something in the ruins. The Betrayer was said to have had a laboratory in Quimichpatlan Barony, after all."

Bogo wasn't sure what he thought of that theory. Even if the fox had held some kind of secret blood magic lab it could have easily have been destroyed when Oveja II ordered the barony razed. Or found and looted between the Betrayer's death and when the barony had been destroyed. The theory did explain what the invaders might be after, though, and Bogo considered it.

"Perhaps," Bogo said, "Any other theories?"

Cencerro laughed ruefully, and the sound was unnatural to Bogo's ears. The sheep simply didn't seem like the sort of mammal to have a sense of humor at all—something Bogo knew mammals also said about him—and it just didn't sound right. "None that make any more sense than those two, I'm afraid. It might be a trap, but I don't see to what end."

The possibility of it being a trap had weighed heavily on Bogo's mind, but the way Cencerro had suggested it wasn't exactly comforting. Admittedly, he couldn't see how it would work as a trap. Were there hundreds or thousands more warriors, hidden underground and waiting to strike in a pincer movement when Bogo and his defenders got too close? Or was it perhaps a trap intended for a single mammal? Had whoever planned the invasion known that they could successfully lure the queen and princess outside the relative safety of the palace?

It was enough to give Bogo a headache. There was, however, at least one trap he knew about that no one else did. If someone on the defender's side was plotting to assassinate the princess or queen en route, he meant to find them. "Yes," Bogo said at last, "It might be a trap."

Shortly after their not entirely comforting conversation, Bogo had brought Diego Cencerro over to meet the group of mammals he was particularly interested in seeing how he would react to. As they approached the tent that had been set up for the queen and princess while they awaited their army's preparations, Bogo kept one hoof loosely around the hilt of his macuahuitl; if the sheep tried anything he wouldn't live long enough to regret it.

When they were perhaps ten feet away from the tent, Bogo heard the familiar sound of the princess's laughter, and his grip involuntarily tightened. It had been, he realized, some time since he had last heard her sounding anywhere near as carefree. He couldn't see what she found so entertaining, however, since the royal tent was made out of cloth so richly embroidered that it was entirely opaque, with not so much as a vague shadow of the occupants visible.

In fact, calling it a tent wasn't quite right; that was far too unimpressive a word for what had been set up. A marquee, perhaps, more accurately captured the size and grandeur of the tent, which was larger than the apartment Bogo had grown up in. It was at least forty feet on a side, all composed of thickly quilted panels so perfectly aligned that the seams were all but invisible from a distance. Beneath the dramatically slanted roof of the tent, which was at least fifteen feet above the ground, and the wall panels was a cunningly made bit of mesh that would let air in but wouldn't admit rain. Two guards stood on either side of the entrance—which despite being a flap was still far more well-crafted than any piece of clothing Bogo owned—and admitted the two of them in short order.

Inside, the tent had a full office made out of furniture that was lightweight but still sumptuously carved, as well as a number of collapsible chairs so thickly cushioned that they looked as comfortable as a normal chair. Cheerful light was provided by half a dozen alchemical torches in beautiful holders hung from the pillars which supported the tent; even the pillars were richly decorated. The queen and princess weren't alone in the tent, but their company wasn't just Alba Cencerro, Leodore Corazón, and Esteban Cerdo as Bogo thought it might have been. They were arranged in a loose semicircle—which left plenty of space in the massive tent—around a curious sight. There was a large bird with the saddle and reins that marked it as the ride of a messenger, but there was no mammal on its back. Instead, on the thick carpet that covered the ground, was a little mouse laboriously shufflin three walnut shells around.

The bird, which looked to Bogo's admittedly inexpert eye to be some sort of hawk, was watching the proceedings gravely, its head cocked to one side as it followed the motion of the three shells until the mouse stopped. "Which one, Papalote?" he asked in his high little voice.

The bird reached its head forward and pecked at the shell on the far right. The mouse beamed at the bird, even as the princess enthusiastically clapped an instant before anyone else did. "Good girl, Papalote," he said, lifting the shell with a dramatic flourish, "Good girl."

There was what looked to Bogo like a dried piece of fish under the shell, and the bird struck at it and gobbled it down the instant it was exposed. "She's so clever," the princess said, "What's it like to be able to fly?"

"Oh, it's the most amazing thing you can imagine, your highness," the mouse replied, cutting a low bow before stroking at the feathers of his bird, "To see the world spread beneath you like a—"

The mouse was cut off by a delicate cough from Lady Cencerro; evidently the other mammals in the tent had been too enraptured by the performance the messenger was putting on to have noticed Bogo's arrival. "Ah!" the mouse squeaked, spinning in place to face Bogo, "You must be Captain General Bogo! It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, milord."

The mouse bowed again, not quite as low as he had to the princess. "Carlos of Phoenix at your service, but you can call me Camoti."

"Camoti?" Bogo asked, feeling his eyebrows raise involuntarily; it was one of the oddest and least fitting nicknames he had ever heard. The little mouse looked as slim and athletic as a mouse could, wearing a set of riding clothes made out of fish leather dyed a deep black that made the narrow bib of white fur under his muzzle stand out sharply. Otherwise, what little of the mouse's fur Bogo could see was a soft brown without any signs of lightening with age; he guessed that the messenger wasn't past his mid-twenties.

"Camoti," the mouse agreed cheerfully, "And I recognize Lieutenant Colonel Cencerro, although I am sorry to say we have never met, sir."

The mouse's tiny features flickered in concern. "Oh my, are you quite all right, sir?"

If Diego Cencerro had noticed the little mouse's display of how clever his bird was or felt anything at all about being asked how he was, it didn't show on the sheep's face. "Fine," he said shortly, and then turned his attention to the queen and princess.

"Your majesties," he said, falling to his knees in supplication, "I apologize for my failure. That Phoenix was—"

"Enough," Queen Lana said, interrupting him with a wave of one hoof, "Unless you invited these barbarians into Phoenix, you have nothing to apologize for."

She spoke the words in a rather kindly fashion, but Bogo was sure that everyone else heard the implicit threat in it. If Diego Cencerro had simply had the poor luck of being in charge when Phoenix got invaded, he wouldn't receive any kind of punishment. If he was responsible, though, he doubted that the queen would be particularly merciful. "Thank you, your majesty," he replied, still on his knees.

"Rise, Lieutenant Colonel," she said, and he did so with what seemed like great concern for doing so in a dignified manner.

"Goodness, Diego, you do look quite a fright," Lady Cencerro said once he was standing again.

She spoke rather casually, which Bogo found interesting. Evidently, she wasn't going to pretend as though she didn't know her cousin, although even for sheep they strongly resembled each other to the point that it was obvious they were related. "Getting out of Phoenix was... difficult," he replied, his face still free of emotion even as he chose his last word.

"I'm sure," Camoti jumped in with a rather astounding lack of manners; although his torc was difficult to see on his tiny neck, it didn't mark him as a lord and he obviously wasn't a member of the City Guard.

Bogo thought he knew why the messenger was in the queen's tent, though, and what he said next confirmed his suspicion. "I had a much easier time of it, but there weren't any barbarians for Papalote and me to deal with when we left!"

"Now that Lord Bogo is here, perhaps you could tell the story again," Corazón suggested, giving Bogo a quick side glance, "I'm sure he'll find it interesting."

"Well, there's not much to tell," Camoti said, glancing around the tent, "But if you insist, milord, I'll be happy to."

He doffed an imaginary hat in the lion's direction before turning to Bogo. "Papalote and I fly between Phoenix and the Middle Wall every few days. It barely stretches her wings, a fine bird like her," he said.

As he spoke, he reached up to scratch at the feathers under the hawk's neck. Her eyes closed in apparent pleasure as she lowered her head to give her diminutive master access to her neck itself, and he fondly ran the tiny fingers of his paw through the thick feathers as he continued to speak. "It wasn't too unusual a morning. Aluisa and Darmita—"

"A vole and a jerboa," Corazón cut in, rather unexpectedly.

"Yes, milord, they are indeed," Camoti said, seeming a bit surprised by the interruption, but he picked up the thread of his story quickly.

"They had left before I did. Aluisa rides an owl, you see, so she always flies at night. Darmita usually has a bit of a late start, since her husband lives in Phoenix and they only see each other when she flies in, but I heard they had a bit of a fight the night before and she was in no mood to, ah, lie in bed."

Camoti broke off from his narrative to flash Bogo a brilliant smile. "Something I hope you've never dealt with, milord."

Bogo had no intention of dignifying that with a response, and the mouse must have read his expression because he gave a quick cough and continued. "There were more guards about than usual, and all of Phoenix was alive with rumors, but I didn't see anything odd myself. Poor Fermina seemed awful nervous about them; I told her I heard they were looking for some kind of magician and she asked—"

"Who's Fermina?" Bogo asked, a bit more sharply than he had intended.

Bogo had followed the significance of Corazón's interruption; a mouse, a vole, and a jerboa were the last three messengers out of Phoenix before the attack, and Camoti was obviously the mouse. It didn't seem as though he had seen anything of useful except whatever he had to say about this Fermina. "Another messenger, milord, rather new to it. She's been doing local messages and deliveries only—local to Phoenix, you understand—but me and the girls have been telling her the real money is in trips between the Middle Baronies and Phoenix. And with a bird like hers..."

Camoti shook his head. "Golden eagle just as gentle as you could like. The mark of a good rider, training their bird so well; it's why I've taught Papalote so many clever tricks, isn't it dear?"

He scratched even harder at the hawk's neck, the bird clearly enjoying it. "A golden eagle?" Bogo asked.

Pieces were suddenly clicking into place in his mind, and he thought he saw the significance of it. "Fermina's a shrew, isn't she?"

"You are the clever sort, milord!" Camoti replied, "However did you guess?"

"That's not important," Bogo said, barely masking his impatience, "Where did she go?"

"Oh, well, she decided to finally take our advice, I suppose," Camoti said with a shrug, "Left for the Middle Wall much happier than I'd ever seen her. And that's that, really. I didn't even see this army of barbarians. I'm glad, too, let me tell you; Papalote doesn't deserve an arrow between her wings even if I do."

He smiled at his little self-deprecating joke, but Bogo was already lost in his own thoughts. More likely than not, Fermina was really the daughter of Alfonso of New Quimichin. She must have fled to Phoenix, knowing that if she ever tried returning the City Guard could use her torc to identify her. Phoenix, though, was much looser, and far easier for a fugitive to get by without drawing attention to themselves. But what had made her leave so suddenly, shortly before Phoenix was attacked? And, Bogo couldn't help but note, shortly after an alchemist fox had showed up. And where had she gone? It clearly wasn't to any of the official aviaries in the Middle Baronies as she hadn't been on the list of the last official messengers to leave Phoenix.

Bogo had been confident that Alfonso had been telling the truth when he had interrogated him near the start of the whole matter. And perhaps the shrew had been honest. But might not it be possible that his daughter would want revenge for her father's arrest and imprisonment?

It was another twist at a time when he least needed twists; he wanted nothing more than for everything to stop turning along convoluted paths and start following some kind of pattern that he could understand. His army would be ready to march for Phoenix in no more than twenty minutes, and suddenly it seemed as though a key piece of the puzzle might be sitting in a cell near the city's center far away from his ability to do anything about it.

"I'll have a message for you to take to the palace, Camoti," Bogo said slowly, his mind racing to put together what he wanted to write.

From the significant look the queen gave him, Bogo suspected he knew what she wanted him to write. It was time, it seemed, for answers to come out of Alfonso by any means necessary.

Author's Notes:

In this chapter, Bogo recalls a memory that was first shown in chapter 8, in which an elephant was reduced to a puddle of gore by his torc. As mentioned there, the sight of it did indeed make his partner resign, and in this chapter it brings up the idea of sensitization to violence. While this version of Zootopia isn't exactly at Demolition Man levels of being free of violent crime, it is exceptionally rare. Add to that the fact that they don't have television, movies, or video games, the only real source of violence most inhabitants of the city would encounter would be printed word descriptions or perhaps drawings. Beyond that, they really don't have the media for depicting violence; plays might occasionally demonstrate violence, but it may be too obviously fake to be truly shocking. Whether that affects how they view violence or not, it's understandable I think that Bogo would assume extreme violence to be upsetting to normal mammals.

Bogo also thinks about a trend that I think makes a certain amount of sense in a world of assorted mammals: using ear notches to symbolize something, in this case gang affiliation. Quite a few mammals have ears so different and proportionally larger than humans that it doesn't seem too unusual that it might be a form of body modification they'd practice.

The creation of a homunculus—a living being formed by alchemy in the shape of a human—was a common goal of alchemists from about the 16th century onwards. The alchemist Paracelsus described a method of creating such a being by first fermenting human semen, placing it in the womb of a horse, and then nourishing it on a solution made from human blood. For reasons that I hope are obvious, this doesn't actually work. However, many alchemists labored at trying to artificially create life. Bogo is notably dismissive of the idea, considering it outlandish, although I suppose you could argue that the monsters under Phoenix demonstrate that the creation of artificial life is possible in this setting.

Bogo briefly thinks of a Zootopian version of a common logic puzzle that takes many forms, commonly including a fox, a chicken, and a bag of grain. The idea is that you have to transport these three items across a river in a rowboat only large enough to take one at a time, but leaving certain combinations alone is problematic. The chicken will eat the grain if left together, and the fox will eat the chicken if they're left together. I won't spoil the solution!

Bogo's macuahuitl was last mentioned in chapter 6; as described there it's kind of like a cricket bat with a razor sharp edge.

Papalote is the Nahuatl word for "kite," which seemed an appropriate name for a bird.

In chapter 24, Bogo knew of three messengers who had been the last out of Phoenix—a male mouse, a female vole, and a female jerboa. That list notably excludes a shrew, and in chapter 21 Nick claimed that Judy couldn't meet "Fermina" since she had already left Phoenix.

Camoti is the Nahuatl word for "sweet potato" which really is an odd nickname for a mouse with no obvious resemblance to one, hence Bogo's reaction.

As always, thanks for reading! If you're so inclined as to leave a comment, I'd love to know what you thought.