Bogo stood at the head of his army, which only seemed right, and looked at the bridge to Phoenix. The original bridge had been destroyed by Diego Cencerro, but the replacement his alchemists had put together looked solid enough. It looked, in fact, hardly any different from the old bridge; were it not for the fact that it was ever so slightly darker in color than the remains on either end of the chasm and showed no signs of age there would have been no difference at all.
Bogo turned back and looked at his forces, at the hundreds of determined faces he could see even as he knew there were hundreds more he could not. He couldn't help but feel some pride at the sight of so many mammals ready to do their duty even as something colder bit at his gut. Even after the princess had left him, the nagging sense of missing something remained. He had done his absolute best to prepare for what he was about to commit to, of course. He had questioned Alba Cencerro himself, but she had refused to say anything she hadn't already, her eyes seeming glassy and dull as though she had withdrawn to some secret internal place.
The only thing that she had said, when he had pressed for further details, was almost ominously vague. "I don't know all the details," she had said, her voice as dull and tired-seeming as her eyes, "They didn't matter."
There were, of course, options that Bogo could have taken to try wringing more answers out of the sheep. But Bogo didn't seem to have a stomach for them; some part of him insisted that it'd be a terrible mistake to make. He had left Alba Cencerro alone in her hastily-made prison after asking one final question on what seemed like a whim. "What do you know about torcs?" he had asked, the words seeming to leave his mouth of their own volition.
Bogo had been more than a little surprised at himself; he didn't tend to blurt things out. Not anymore, at least; it had been decades since he had been far more hot-tempered and brash. But there had still been that same thought going through his head.
Their torcs saw to that...
He wasn't sure what had made him ask Cencerro, and he hadn't really expected a meaningful answer. Cencerro had looked at him, though, her eyes momentarily seeming to brighten. Bogo had looked at her carefully as she seemed to be on the verge of saying something, her lips half-parted. At last, just as he had given up that she would say anything at all, Cencerro had spoken a single word.
With that, she had seemed to lapse back into that apathetic silence so unlike the sheep he had known. Or at least, the sheep he thought he had known. It wasn't an answer that meant anything; anyone with half a brain would know that the purpose of torcs wasn't merely to keep the population of Zootopia safe but to control them in a way. And was that really such a bad thing, after all? It was preventing mammals from killing and harming each other, not...
Their torcs saw to that...
As Bogo stood there, aware of the eyes of his soldiers upon him as they waited for the command that would have them march into Phoenix and whatever awaited them there. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he felt as though he was on the cusp of grasping something important. Something seemed to be dancing just outside his reach, something that he was sure would end his constant wandering thoughts. But that itself was a foolish thought, surely; what it all came down to had to be nothing more than old age starting to catch up with him.
Bogo did his best to shove the thoughts aside and turned to his expectant commanders. "The word is given," he said simply, "If anything looks suspicious, report back before investigating it."
He had never been one for lengthy speeches. But even with so plain a command, something so unlike the grand and glorious speeches captain generals of old were said to have given to rally their troops, his army seemed to move as though it was itself a living creature. The newly remade bridge didn't seem to flex so much as an inch under the syncopated steps of nearly two thousand mammals, and nothing on the other end popped up to face them.
Bogo felt his stomach twist into an uneasy knot as the first wave of the army reached the half-way point of the bridge; he had naturally ordered sentries into position ahead of the main force crossing who had thoroughly checked for anything that might damage the bridge. Having hundreds of his soldiers plunge deep into the chasm beneath Phoenix, where they would surely die as the traitorous fox must have, would be an ignominious start to the expedition. But nothing happened, and the army continued to advance until it had reached the other side.
Something deep within Bogo seemed to scream out that he was making a grave mistake, but it couldn't give a reason to accompany this irrational fear. Rather, it was simply more of that same nagging concern that didn't seem like it'd ever leave him, and the words flashed through his mind again.
Their torcs saw to that...
He pushed the thought aside again as his army, free of the choke point that was the bridge, split into three massive arms, as though it was a trident being thrust into the heart of Phoenix. His sense of unease refused to depart, though, and with it the surety that something terrible was about to happen only grew. He knew that it was an irrational thought—that it had to be an irrational thought—because he had taken every possible precaution. Scouts had scoured the city ahead of him giving the order for the main force to advance. The civilians found under the city had been evacuated, and there had been no sign of an opposing army lurking in wait.
Bogo told himself that it had to be the simple fact that he still didn't know what Diego Cencerro had planned or how he had done it. Where had his army come from, and how had it melted away without so much as a trace? Even as his command center took shape around him, just inside the boundaries of Phoenix, he saw none of the usual clues of assault he had expected. There were no broken windows from an invading army gleefully looting. There were no bodies of defenders crumpled where they had fallen, nor even so much as bloodstains on the streets or sides of buildings. There were no arrows embedded in the ground or walls where they had missed their mark and not been recovered; there was only the eerie sense that the city had been abandoned.
As his command tent went up, Bogo turned around and looked back the way he had come. He had foreseen the eventuality of a surprise attack coming from behind, and taken what he had thought to be adequate precautions. A significant part of his forces—nearly three hundred mammals, although the group had just as many alchemists with them as his advance force did—had formed a half-circle around the other end of the bridge. If an attack came, he controlled both sides of the bridge and would be able to respond accordingly.
Although Bogo's close-up vision had admittedly grown worse over the years, to the point that he needed reading glasses for anything that wasn't written in large letters, there was nothing wrong with his ability to see things far away. And there was, in turn, nothing wrong with what he could see from where he stood. The half-circle of soldiers stood at alert around the carriages that the expedition had brought with; although he was too far away to quite distinguish them he knew that the queen and the princess were safely ensconced in one of those carriages and Alba Cencerro was secured in another.
There was, in short, absolutely nothing to worry about.
But the feeling in his heart just wouldn't go away. Not even as reports began to trickle in as Phoenix was searched in more thorough detail than lone scouts could have done, all of them amounting to the same. There was no sign of the enemy. There were no more survivors, either survivors or corpses. There was nothing but the sense that everyone had simply left.
It gnawed at Bogo; it absolutely felt like a trap to his gut at the same time that it didn't. There simply didn't seem to be any reason to set up such an elaborate trap and not spring it in any of the dozens of ways that he could think of. If anything, it seemed almost like the setup for a spectacularly unfunny practical joke.
And then, with absolutely no warning, something changed.
Bogo had planned the entrance into Phoenix so that the sun would be high in the sky, banishing any shadows in which the enemy could hide. But the quality of that light somehow seemed to change, and it took him a moment to realize how. It wasn't that the sun had gotten dimmer or brighter; it was that there was a new source of light, pouring up from the crevasse surrounding Phoenix. Bogo looked at the light coming up from the point closest to himself, and heedless of the danger ran over to the edge and looked down.
It hurt his eyes to look into something so bright, but it looked as though a brilliant pattern had suddenly appeared in the rock about fifty feet below the surface along the opposite edge of the crevasse wall. Enormous lines curved smoothly around for as far as he could see, and tremendous symbols bigger than he was danced in and out of the lines, forming words that he couldn't read.
"Call a retreat!" he bellowed, although he didn't have to.
The sudden light had been accompanied by no sound; Phoenix was as quiet as it had ever been. "We need to—"
You need to obey me.
Bogo clutched at his head as the thought seemed to explode into it. The voice was loud and terrible, as cruel as anything he could possibly imagine. It seemed to brook no argument, blotting out every other thought. As Bogo collapsed to the ground, he was vaguely aware of everyone else he could see doing the same.
Lord Cerdo's commands are absolute.
The voice came again, and with it was not just the overwhelming force of the thought but something else. Bogo could feel tears filling his eyes at the pressure. He wanted to obey Cerdo. It was only right, after all. He had to. It would be so much easier if he just gave in to that relentless force filling his head. Dimly, he was aware of a different voice inside his head, something small and feeble trying to say that it was wrong. But how could it be? It felt right in a way that nothing ever had before.
The force of the command was not lessened by its simplicity. It struck Bogo's mind like a hammer, and that feeble voice fell silent. Of course he had to obey. It was an authority that superseded all others.
The pressure was irresistible. Bogo heard a voice cry out, begging for orders from Cerdo that they might be followed, and realized after an instant that it was his own.
Now rise and follow.
And with that, the force inside Bogo's head was gone. Only that wasn't quite right, was it? The voice had fallen silent, but the pressure still seemed to be there. He was eagerly awaiting an order to follow, and everything else was meaningless. The thought that had been running through his head was pointless after all, just something unimportant that had gotten stuck there.
Bogo arose unsteadily, watching as the mammals around him did the same. He could somehow feel their shared sense of purpose, and when he saw a small group of scouts sprinting across the bridge from the other side a calm sense of purpose filled him. He knew exactly what he needed to do; Lord Cerdo had given him orders right before he had crossed the bridge himself. He simply hadn't remembered them until now because he hadn't needed to.
"What happened, sir?" one of the scouts cried as they approached Bogo's tent.
Their paws, he couldn't help but note, were on their weapons. "A failed attack by the enemy," Bogo said, his words perfectly calm.
He knew exactly what he needed to say, the words flowing smoothly from his lips. "Some kind of gas made with alchemy. Their array must have failed this time."
Cerdo had given him the explanation he would need, and Bogo watched impassively as the scouts looked from one to the other. "Gas?" one said uncertainly.
"The array's gone," Bogo said, pointing at the crevasse, and of course it was, just as Cerdo had said it would disappear from sight after fulfilling its purpose, "It must have been their plan all along, to get our army here and kill us all."
The other guard gave a relieved chuckle. "I can't say how glad I am that it failed, sir," she said, and Bogo nodded.
"It might have failed now, but I don't know enough about alchemy to say that it won't turn on again," he said, "We need to evacuate."
The feeling of all the pieces coming together was incredibly pleasing, and Bogo watched with satisfaction as his army pulled away from Phoenix, reforming into a single line and marching back across the bridge. His army would wait for further commands, but there was one more thing he had to do himself. He reached into an inner pocket of his tunic and felt for the two objects Cerdo had given him, confirming that they were still there. They had completely slipped his mind before, but that was fine. He had remembered them when he needed to use them.
Bogo called out four of his captains and they accompanied him as he made his way to the queen's carriage. Cerdo himself seemed to appear out of nowhere, joining them as they walked to the door. "Very well done indeed, Captain General," the pig said, his tone one of utmost pleasure.
Bogo let the warmth of the words flow over him. "Thank you, Lord Cerdo," he said.
The guards before the queen's carriage nodded at his little group as he relieved them and they all entered the queen's carriage. Bogo reached into his tunic and grasped one of the two torcs that waited there and—"My daughter!" the queen cried.
Bogo's hoof fell away from the torc he was to put around the queen's neck as he looked at her. Queen Isabel's eyes were wide with panic, and she was completely alone in the carriage. "Where has the princess gone?"