"I'm disappointed, Lord Bogo," Cerdo said.
His tone was mild but his eyes were hard, the pig's jaw set so tightly that his jowls seemed to shake even when he wasn't speaking. "I'm very disappointed."
Bogo sat in silence, watching the pig while a sense of utter loathing filled his chest. He had—and if the gods cursed him for it he deserved it—put the torc Cerdo had given him around the queen's neck even as she had frantically demanded that her daughter be found. And with that, Cerdo had snapped a single word—"Stop!"—and the queen had frozen in place.
She might have stayed like that, standing completely motionless, until she died of thirst had Cerdo not eventually ordered her and Bogo to sit down. The pig had spent the last few minutes pacing back and forth in the queen's carriage, his hooves working themselves into fists and then straightening back out, before finally giving Bogo another order.
"Remember everything and don't move."
And with that, Bogo had found himself in his current predicament. Although there was nothing he'd like more than to launch himself across the carriage and subdue Cerdo, he couldn't so much as twitch. He couldn't even turn his head to the side and see how the queen was holding up, although he couldn't imagine what she must be thinking.
"Do you have any idea how hard I've worked to set everything up? How close my plan is to completion?" Cerdo demanded, and Bogo would have had a few choice words for him if he could actually answer.
The pig didn't seem to be expecting a response, though, because he kept ranting without giving Bogo permission to speak. "It took me years to make the few dozen special torcs I needed. Years. And the cost. By the gods, the cost! I all but bankrupted myself making them. And today, all of that was supposed to pay off. The array out there," Cerdo said, pausing briefly to gesticulate forcefully in the direction of Phoenix, "Gives me the same control as one of my torcs but works on any mammal within it. But you can't even realize the elegance of that design, can you?"
Cerdo sighed, and some of the tension seemed to drain out of him. "But listen to me," he said, uttering a chuckle that was chilling in its lack of humor, "I'm getting emotional. That's exactly the sort of thing this is all intended to avoid."
The pig clapped his hooves together briskly. "What we need now is some action. Your majesty, do you have any idea where your daughter might have gone?"
After a moment, a slight but cruel smile crossed his face. "You can speak," he said.
"I don't," the queen answered, and her voice sounded thick and husky with tears, "What are you going to do with her?"
"Do with her?" Cerdo repeated, sounding surprised, "You can't think I'm planning on killing her, can you?"
"Before today I might have said no," she answered, her voice cold.
"Then allow me to ease your mind," Cerdo replied with a smile that didn't touch his eyes, "I have no intention of killing your daughter. She's far too useful."
"Useful?" the queen repeated, and Bogo could hear the incredulity in her voice.
"Useful, yes," Cerdo repeated, nodding his head, "It all comes back to the cycle of history. I won't live forever, you know."
"Good," Queen Lana spat.
Cerdo ignored her outburst, and continued in a lecturing tone that was horribly familiar to Bogo. "You see," he said, clasping his pudgy hoofs behind his back as he continued to pace, "The problem with revolution—with any revolution—is that the skill to run a government is quite a different one from the skill to overthrow a government. Now, I may be so bold as to say that I'm quite capable of both, but my attention is finite, after all. The problem I had to solve was one of how to ensure that generations from now, when I'm long dead, that the system runs smoothly without me. The obvious solution, of course, is for the mammal in charge of the kingdom to also be the one to see to it that things continue. That means, then, that your daughter must become mine. I can reasonably expect to live at least long enough to see to that her children are raised to do the same, and from there my system can run itself."
Although Bogo couldn't see the queen's face with his own rigidly stuck facing toward Cerdo, he supposed it must have twisted with disgust, because the pig laughed, raising his hooves in a placating gesture. "Now, now, don't get the wrong idea," he said, "I have no intention of marrying your daughter. I'll see to it she has a suitable match, one chosen to help ensure the maximum stability possible should the alchemy array surrounding Zootopia ever go down, however briefly."
"So you want to be the power behind the throne," the queen said, "Is that it?"
Cerdo's face and voice became beseeching in a way that seemed frighteningly earnest to Bogo. "No, that's not it at all. This is for the good of everyone. Can't you see? Once my army rebuilds the Outer Wall into an alchemy array, every mammal in Zootopia will finally be safe. Once everyone accepts the edicts that I'll offer, there will be no more crime. No more unrest. No more petty politics. I'm not taking the city over; I'm offering it the sort of freedom it's never had."
"That'd be easier to believe if you couldn't force mammals to do whatever you want," the queen said.
Cerdo sighed. "Bogo hasn't come around either, I'm afraid," he said, "Tell her honestly what you think."
Bogo's mouth suddenly worked again, and he didn't waste the opportunity. "You're a traitor," Bogo said.
"That's a judgement for history to make, not you," Cerdo replied, sounding quite unruffled, "Had Oveja I failed to take over Zootopia, he would be remembered only as a brutal warlord who brought only death and destruction. But because he succeeded, that makes him the—"
"You're nothing like Oveja I," the queen interrupted, and Cerdo shrugged.
"You'll come around eventually," he said.
"Because you'll force me to?" the queen asked.
"I do hope it doesn't come to that," Cerdo said, "I'd prefer if the only control I exert is to prevent mammals from giving in to their darker impulses. But I don't think that'll be necessary. After all, you'll eventually realize that it's pointless to resist."
Cerdo had strode out of the carriage after his ominous pronouncement, apparently satisfied that he had the last word. Nearly the instant that the door to the carriage had clicked shut, the queen had spoken again. "Lord Bogo?" she asked.
Bogo wished he could answer, but Cerdo's control had only allowed him to answer a single question; his mouth seemed glued shut. He still couldn't move, either, no matter how he tried willing his body. After a long pause, the queen sighed. "You can't speak, I suppose," she said, "I was hoping you could tell me more about what Cerdo's doing. There must be some way to stop him. There simply must."
Although he appreciated Queen Lana's optimism, Bogo found it difficult to hold onto his own hope. He still fully intended on seizing any opportunities that presented themselves, but it seemed likely that there may never be one to use. Surely, before too long, Cerdo would return and order him back into blissful obedience, making Bogo act like a puppet.
"I should have seen this coming," she continued, "But Cerdo always did have a way of escaping notice. It was always so easy to see him as being harmless. Even when the attempts on Isabel's life started, I didn't really think it could be him. I told myself I was suspecting everyone equally, but..."
The queen trailed off, and for a moment Bogo thought she wouldn't continue. When she did, her voice had softened. "I want you to know I don't blame you," she said, "If that's any comfort."
In a way, it was. Under normal circumstances, Bogo would never forget the look of shock and betrayal that had crossed the queen's face as he had grabbed her and placed Cerdo's torc around her neck. But they were in far from normal circumstances; for all he knew Cerdo would be back in minutes and order him to forget what he had seen yet again.
The investigative part of Bogo's mind latched onto that thought. It was, he realized, actually quite important. Cerdo might have the power to make him do as he pleased, and even the power to bury memories. But he didn't seem capable of erasing them; the very fact that Cerdo could order him to remember everything certainly seemed to prove it. Whether or not that would be helpful in any way Bogo had no idea, but he forced himself to hold onto the thought. "We may, however, need to revisit the idea of your retirement," the queen continued, and although the cheer in her voice was obviously false Bogo still appreciated her making the effort, "If Cerdo's right about one thing, it's about having a proper successor."
If he could have spoken, Bogo would have told her that Princess Isabel was a fine young mammal, that the queen could be satisfied knowing that she had done her best to raise a daughter who would be as capable a ruler as any that Zootopia had ever had. But he couldn't. So he listened instead, his eyes filled only with the wall of the carriage facing him. "For now, then, we'll put our faith in Princess Isabel," the queen said, "I suppose we'll see."
The queen fell silent after that, and the minutes seemed to stretch out. Unable to move so much as an inch, Bogo became aware of a maddening itch at the tip of his nose and wished desperately for the ability to scratch it. Just when it seemed that it was about to become completely unbearable, he heard the door to the carriage swing suddenly open. "Queen Lana, Lord Bogo," came Cerdo's voice, which was as cheery as Bogo had ever heard it, "In talking to the guards, I've learned that a mammal who could have only been the princess descended down into the ruins. Chasing after Commandant Totchli or Captain Nicholas, perhaps. I do want this all resolved as quickly as possible, and I can't imagine any mammals she'd trust more than the two of you."
Cerdo came into view as he walked around Bogo's back, that chilly smile still lighting up his features. "So I've decided: you're both going down there."
It's been a while for these notes, hasn't it? Well, there are some items that I did have notes for that I figured would be appropriate to cover here, after the run of three sort of interrelated chapters.
It's been established in previous chapters that incomplete philosopher's stones are a useful source of energy, and that alchemical torches are made with such imperfect stones. There have also been references to the ancients leaving behind artifacts that seemed to be designed in such a way as to require complete stones for a power source; as such I figured it made sense that Nick would find the use of a true philosopher's stone greatly increases his ability to do alchemy by taking most of the burden off of himself. It's similar to running, I suppose; you can only run at your top speed briefly before becoming too exhausted to continue running that fast. If you never got tired, you could keep up that speed indefinitely.
Nick leaving Judy's sword impaled in his chest is, in fact, exactly the right way to handle such an injury before receiving proper medical attention. If you're ever stabbed, you're better off leaving the weapon in until you can see a doctor, as removing it may cause you to bleed out faster. If you disregard that advice and remove a knife you've been stabbed with, pulling a Kung Fu Hustle and putting it back in may not be the best idea, however.
The philosopher's stone, as it was used by Isabel, pretty closely aligns with the stories of such an artifact in the real world. The philosopher's stone was commonly held to be soluble in water, as demonstrated when it completely dissolves in her canteen and turns the water within into the elixir of life. The ability of the stone to transmute base metals into gold is also one of its supposed properties, as indicated by Judy's sword spontaneously transmuting into gold when splashed with the elixir. The fact that the stone was completely consumed when placed in water is also an application of my thinking for part of why philosopher's stones are rare; they don't last forever and using them eats away at them.
As always, thanks for reading! If you're so inclined as to leave a comment, I'd love to know what you thought!