When Arianna Fauna had followed Nishimura's advice to take Benjamin to her bedroom, she must have figured that no harm would come of it since she'd planned to kill the cheetah once he'd served his purpose. It was the only explanation that made sense to Benjamin when he found the documents in the chest of drawers. A lot of it was scientific mumbo jumbo, but years of administrative work enabled him to get the gist of it; they were regular reports from the laboratory concerning the progress of the Nightfall and Daybreak grenades.
Daybreak? That was new. Benjamin found all the papers relating to Daybreak and started from what appeared to be the beginning. The development of Daybreak began after Bellwether's plot was exposed, and an antidote had been successfully synthetized to cure the savage predators. Nishimura had immediately recommended that they begin development of a grenade that could quickly disperse a Veltro developed variant of the antidote in gas form. He'd argued that Daybreak could be useful should their Nightfall weapon get out of control, or should the need to hold the city to ransom arise. It acted quickly to neutralize the blue gas, and also worked as an incapacitating agent to sedate the victims until the antidote did its job. It could either be triggered by hand or fired from the launcher. Benjamin quickly skipped past the scientific stuff he had no chance of understanding, and learned that Daybreak had been perfected a mere day ago, too late for the Veltro members who had been ambushed in the forest between the city and the Casel estate. But perhaps not too late for the officers fighting for their lives at this very moment.
Wincing at the sharp pain of the glass in his side, Benjamin set the papers down, stared at the wall behind the drawers and for the second time this evening contemplated the stupid thing he was about to do. When he'd spoken with Fauna outside the dining room, 'Nishimura' had said something about an antidote in a laboratory. He must have been talking about Daybreak. If the cheetah could get his paws on those grenades, dozens of lives could be saved. Benjamin was already forcing himself to his feet. It was a stupid decision, but an easy one as well. It took some pain and effort, but he unblocked the door and peeked into the hallway outside. After the explosions the place was a wreck, with parts of the wall broken off and littering the floor, but it was also empty. The stairs weren't too far from here. The hard part would come when he reached the lower floor, where he would have to find the stairs to the basement lab. At the very least he should take a weapon. Benjamin returned to the bed and completely broke off the bedrail he'd damaged earlier. Then he left the bedroom before he could change his mind.
Nick leaned against the side of the first armored van with one paw. "Before I explain my brilliant plan to cheat Vercus's game, please confirm one thing for me. You're certain these vans are bulletproof?"
Yaxley nodded. "The bullets can punch through the windows eventually, but they can't get through the armored metal."
"Perfect." Nick rubbed his paws together. "All the ways to the lower floor are a no go, 'cause Vercus's loyal followers are waiting there."
"He's right." The sharpshooter called down from his perch. When they'd learned that there were mammals with guns on the other side of the gruesome semis, he'd moved to a tree with better cover. "I can see about two dozen hostiles taking cover behind the burned vehicles in front of the mansion. I also see five in the dining room windows, wearing hazmat suits. They've put duct tape over the interior doors and barricaded them for some reason. I don't see anyone in the upper floors."
"There might be too much damage up there to take the risk." Judy said.
The easiest way into the mansion is through that bedroom Benji just left."
"Easier? Are you certifiable, Wilde?" Bogo snapped. "That's on the upper floor! How the hell are we supposed to get there?"
Nick gestured to Judy and himself. "Officer Carrots and myself are footballs to you bulging behemoths. We'll use the van to get close enough for someone to give us a boost. Once we get on the balcony we'll be out of reach of those bullets. Then we'll find Benji, hunt Vercus down and put an end to this whole… whole… whatever it is."
"So we're literally throwing some cheaters into the mix?" Yaxley chuckled. "I see what you did there, Wilde. What do you think, Bogo?"
Bogo nodded. "When we clear that gate, we're going to have hellfire raining down on us. If the rest of us return fire, we can keep them distracted until I can get Hopps and Wilde up on that balcony." Nick blinked in surprise. Bogo responded with an evil smirk. "Oh yes, Wilde. You don't know how long I've wanted to pick you up and throw you away."
To his credit, Nick merely smirked back. "Yeah, yeah. Just don't miss."
Yaxley opened the driver's side door and climbed inside. "I'll bring the van to a stop facing the building, so you'll be under cover the entire time. And when you get in there, find the radio jammer and destroy it. We need communications restored as soon as possible."
"Yes, sir." Judy said. "We'll call as soon as we can."
"Higgins and Rhinowitz will stay here and guard the gate. Alright, the three of you get in the back before I decide this is a stupid idea." Yaxley gave orders for every mammal to return to the armored vehicles in preparation for the raid, and for three biggest and strongest mammals to push the middle semi out the way on his signal before shutting the door and starting the engine. Nick, Judy and Bogo entered Yaxley's van, and the buffalo closed the doors behind them. They heard the faint crunching sound of massive tires on gravel as the middle semi was pushed forward.
Then the hellfire began.
There was a jolt as the van got moving. Nick didn't have to look outside to know they speeding, He cringed, trying to focus on replenishing his ammo supply along with Judy instead of the frighteningly loud sounds of countless bullets striking the van. They can't pierce the armored plating, Nick thought to himself over and over. They can't pierce the armored plating. They can't pierce the armored-
"It's going to work, Nick." Nick was snapped out of his mental mantra when Judy touched his forearm. "Chief Bogo's going to throw us over the roof of the van. All the terrorists will be aiming for the sides of the van. They won't be expecting anyone to go up. This will work."
Nick nodded, not entirely convinced, and looked up at Bogo. "Sir, can I have a baton, please?"
Bogo rolled his eyes. "Take two if it'll help you man up."
Nick gratefully took two retractable batons from the van's supply and attached them to his belt.
They clung to the seats for balance when the van came to a sudden stop. Yaxley yelled from up front. "Now, Bogo!"
Bogo approached the doors and glared down at his officers. "You two ready?"
Bogo exhaled slowly, steeling himself. "Just get Ben back alive."
With that he flung the doors open and leapt out.
As Nick and Judy were picked up like little dolls, they caught glimpses of the other vans, and the officers pouring out to return fire at the terrorists defending their headquarters. Bogo shouted at them to brace themselves. Nick stared up at the stone balcony above them. Maybe this wasn't such a good ide-
Bogo threw him without warning. Nick nearly screamed his head off as he soared over the van roof and the bullets. He cleared the railing and landed hard on the balcony. Bogo's aim had been true.
The fox was so relieved that when Judy landed on the balcony next, she caught him kissing the stone floor. "Nick?"
Nick looked up sharply, eyes widening when he saw her face. "Carrots?"
"What are you doing?"
"What am I doing?" Nick grew hot with mortification as he got up. "What are you doing, just standing there? We've got a city to save again!"
They made a beeline for the open bedroom door, leaving the terrible gunfire behind them. Nick sent a small prayer that they would all make it out okay before he and Judy entered the corridor. "Clear." The fox confirmed, and they retreated back into the bedroom. "So what, do we head downstairs?"
"Let's go top to bottom and check the roof first." Judy said. "The radio jammer will likely be somewhere high up, and we need to restore communications."
"Okay, the roof it is. So how do we get up there?"
"Let's figure it out while we look."
"Okay. Lead on, Macduff."
Judy paused. "Lay on. It's 'lay on, Macduff.'"
Nick clicked his tongue. "Shakesheare was some playwright if he couldn't even write properly."
"Stop being uncultured and find a way up."
"The roof got blown up, too. What makes you think we'll find anything up there?"
There were five other doors in the hallway, and the stairs leading down were almost completely gone; it looked like the source of the hallway's destruction was a bomb planted somewhere on the steps. Most disturbing of all was the faint trace of blue mist seeping from the debris blocking what was left of the stairs, and the two closest doors. Nick and Judy backed away, glancing at each other with worry. The explosions had not only decimated Veltro's headquarters. They must have also unleashed Veltro's supply of Nightfall. It explained what their sharpshooter had said about the duct-taped doors. It did not bode well for Benjamin, or for them.
"You know what? You're right." Nick pointed his gun at the dangerous debris despite the stupidity of the action. "I haven't been on anyone's roof since I stopped melting jumbo pops."
They approached the next door along, and tensed when they heard crunching sounds coming from the other side. Nick motioned for Judy to cover him while he turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open.
The room was eerily dark, so dark they almost missed the figure hunched over the bed. When the shaft of light from the open door hit the figure's face, it looked up. Nick caught a glimpse of antlers, a big red smear covering the mammal's mouth, and more red covering the bed covers. Before the fox could have time to feel sick, the mammal bellowed and launched itself at the two officers.
A shot from the fox brought the elk crashing to the floor halfway across the bedroom. Too afraid to look at the bed just yet, Nick cautiously approached the fallen mammal and checked the crimson stained face. It wasn't Vercus. Not only that, the red smear wasn't the right shade to be blood. It also smelled too sweet.
"Oh, thank goodness." Judy breathed from beside the bed. "It was just a pie."
They did a quick sweep of the room, finding several black hazmat suits in a wide variety of sizes in the walk in closet, but no radio jammer.
"They must have had those in suits in something like this should happen. I'll give them credit for one thing, they knew what they were dealing with." Judy said. She pinched the sleeve of one of the smallest suits between her fingers. "Nick, how do you feel about wearing an oversized suit?"
"It'd be a step up from an oversized clown vest, that's for sure."
Nick found himself in a humiliatingly baggy suit that would have better suited a pig or other wider mammal, while Judy had the fortune of finding one fit for a bunny. They both agreed that a jammer powerful enough to cover a half-mile wouldn't be small enough to hide easily, and left.
Holding the mask in his paw, Nick froze when they stepped back out into the hallway. He'd caught a whiff of something that wasn't blackberry juice. "Carrots."
"What?" Judy already had her head covered, her voice sounding strange through the mask. She looked like an alien from a fifties movie.
"I smell blood." Nick put the mask over his head, almost immediately finding it stuffy under there.
They slowly stalked down the hallway, aware of the sounds of gunfire coming form outside. Nick wondered how Bogo, Yaxley and the others were doing, and hoped they would be careful enough not to storm the lower floor without protection. They checked the fourth door along the way. An empty bedroom. Nick lifted his mask and with his sniffer he traced the scent to the set of doors at the end. He pushed one of them open. They found themselves on the upper walkway of what they assumed to be the entrance hall, which looked relatively intact compared to the hallway… other than the massive hole in the ceiling dripping rubble and dust. They could only see the top half of the front doors above the blanket of Nightfall covering the floor below. Nick swiftly slipped the mask back on. When they saw the half dozen mammals crawling on all fours through the mist, Nick and Judy ducked down, keeping low to the floor in case any of the savages looked up.
"Oh, this is bad." Judy whispered. "We've got to disable that jammer and warn Bogo."
Nick didn't reply, instead kneeling down on the walkway's carpet to examine a circular stain on the ground. Blood. Please, please don't let it be Benji's. He looked for more traces and saw trail taking him and Judy across the entrance hall. They crawled on all fours along the walkway, the carpet cushioning their movement. When they mercifully reached the double doors on the other side without being seen, Nick grabbed one of the doorknobs and opened the door by a crack.
In the hallway there were more spots of blood. Nick followed the scent to a plain wooden door. He turned the knob, and scowled. The door was locked this time. He braced himself for trouble and knocked.
"Anyone in there?" He asked quietly.
"Nick?" Came fearful voice.
"Benji!" Judy barged past Nick and knocked on the door herself. "Ben, it's us! Open the door!"
There was a click and the door opened. The smell of blood strengthened, and Nick's heart sank when he saw the cause of it.
"Oh sweet cheese and crackers." Judy clapped a paw over her mouth when she saw the shard of glass in the cheetah's side, stabilized with a bloody ring of cloth. "What happened?"
"The glass doors blew out when the semis blew up." Benji bit back a whimper as he backed away from the door and lowered himself onto an old fashioned bed. He'd been in the middle of slipping on a hippo-sized suit of his own, it was clinging to his hips. "You don't know how glad I am to see you guys."
Judy hopped onto the bed and wrapped her arms around the feline's neck. "You're going to be okay, Benji. Bogo's here. The ZPD and the ZBI are both here. They're going to bust in at any moment and put an end to this once and for all."
Benjamin relaxed at the mention of Bogo, but his expression was pained. Judy lowered herself to the embedded shard to see what she could do.
"If they bust in here now, they'll be busting into a slaughter." Nick said. "We need to do something about that chemical hazard down there."
"Daybreak." Benjamin said with a grunt of pain.
"You're suggesting we wait 'till the sun comes up? Just how much blood have you lost, Spots?"
"It's a grenade designed to dispense a gas that can neutralize the Nightfall and safely incapacitate anyone caught in it." Benjamin replied. "Veltro developed it in a lab just like Doug Ramses did. I tried to get to it to neutralize the gas spill downstairs, but I ran into a savage elk. I managed to lock myself in here."
Now that sounded like a solution. "Where is this lab?"
"In the basement."
"Darnit." Judy grunted even though they would doubtlessly go down anyway. "The first thing we should do is to disable that jammer. I'll go."
Nick scowled. "We'll go, Carrots."
"Someone has to stay here with Ben! He could go into shock any minute!"
"Guys, guys!" Benjamin quickly put an end to their argument. "I think I know where the jammer is. It's in the attic. There's a stairway two doors down. I would have disabled it myself if I knew what it was."
"It looked military. I'm sure." Benjamin closed his eyes and held his wounded side. "Be careful up there. The attic floor took a lot of damage. If the jammer survived that, it might take the both of you to stop it."
Judy lightly smacked his arm. "Don't be ridiculous, we can't leave you here on your own! What if Vercus finds you?"
"And what if the floor collapses while you're up there? What will you do if there's no-one to save you?" Benjamin retorted as he slipped the black hazmat suit the rest of the way up. It was very wide, even for him, so he could pinch part of it and hold the fabric away from the shard. It wasn't like he would be doing any more running around in the meantime. "The stairs aren't far from here. You'll probably be five minutes tops. Just leave a gun. A few darts. Some donuts if you have them."
Nick shrugged. "I would have given you a blackberry pie if a savage hadn't beaten us to it."
Judy tapped her foot. "I'm not going to convince you to let me go alone, are you?"
"Fine. If we don't disable the jammer in two minutes, you come back here and stay with him until I'm done. That's final."
Nick nodded, satisfied. "Sorry, buddy, but I don't have spare gun. If a nutjob shows up, poke him in the eye with this." He handed Benjamin one of his batons.
Nick and Judy stepped back outside and waited until they heard the door lock before making their way to the door the cheetah had told them about. They found the stairway, a narrow wooden filthy set of steps leading to a wide attack draped with cobwebs.
"There it is." Judy used her dart gun to point at the large device in the center of the attic, as well as the massive hole from before. As they edged closer, they spied the entrance hall walkway below.
"Military, just like Benji said." Nick added. "Where the hell did Veltro get hardware like that?"
"We'll ask the survivors when this is over." Judy said. "If we removed the antennae from that thing, would that work?"
"Worth a shot." Nick took a step forward, and stiffened when he heard a crumbling sound coming from the ceiling beneath. "He was right, this floor isn't stable. Let's go one at a time, shall we?"
They made it to the jammer without incident. Nick boosted Judy onto the device, and she started to pull at one of the antennae. "Cripes, this thing is fixed tight!" Nick climbed up to help her. With great effort on both their part, the antenna ripped free. They pulled out the rest before Nick tried the radio.
"Chief Bogo, come in! We reached the jammer and disabled it. Come in, Buffalo Butt!"
" I ought to put you on parking duty for that, fox!"
Nick and Judy beamed at each other. "Sir, the radios are officially unjammed."
"Where is Ben?!" In the background they could still hear gunfire.
"He's hurt, but okay for now. How's the firefight, going?"
"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" They heard Yaxley shout. "Good news is we've found Fauna. Our sharpshooter spotted her locked up in a bedroom at the end of the east wing."
"That's at the end of this!" Judy exclaimed.
" The bad news is that we're running out of firepower to fight these guys! We can call for reinforcements, so that's something. Have you apprehended Vercus?"
"There's been no sign of him since we got in here. Sir, do not break into the house!" Judy warned. "The entire ground floor is flooded with Nightfall. You'll need hazmat suits to make it through there!"
"We'll make sure our backup brings some along!" Bogo said. "You need to find a way to dispel that gas!"
"Veltro built a device called Daybreak that can neutralize Nightfall, but it's in the basement la-"
Suddenly Nick grabbed her around the waist. "Judy, look out!"
Sparks exploded across the jammer as Nick and Judy tumbled to the floor. Bruised and sore, they looked up to see Vercus standing in the doorway, machine gun in hoof.
Nick had lost his dart gun in the short fall. Judy leapt to her feet first, gun aimed at the elk-deer's chest. "Stand down! I won't tell you again!"
Vercus snarled before pulling the trigger. Judy leapt to the side, drawing the hail of bullets away from Nick. Before she hit the floor they heard the dry click of the machine gun running out. Vercus tossed the gun aside, pulled out a sickle, and threw himself at the bunny. Judy dodged his attack again and fired a dart into his shoulder.
Nick felt a rush of relief. It was over. The Hound was down.
But then Vercus raised the sickle to his own arm, and sliced through his own sleeve and skin. He hissed through his teeth and glared at Judy with pure hate.
He fought off the tranquilizer.
Vercus struck quickly, pinning Judy to the floor before she could snap out of her stunned state.
"No!" Nick pulled out his other baton and charged at the mad mammal. He struck Vercus in the head. "Get! Your mitts! Off of her!" At the third strike Vercus turned on the fox, grabbing the baton in the middle of the fourth swing. Pretending to struggle with the weapon, Nick lowered his free paw to the pouch of darts on his belt.
The floorboards somehow decided that that was the right moment to give up the ghost. With a great crunching crashing noise, Nick, Judy and Vercus plummeted amidst a rain of splinters, rubble and dust, hitting the tiled floor of an old fashioned bathroom below. Stars danced in front of Nick's eyes. The only thing on his dazed mind was his partner's name. He turned on his side and saw her lying atop the toilet lid. Vercus had landed in the bathtub, and was already clambering out with look of pure bloodlust on his scarred face.
Nick heard the click of a door opening. He turned his aching body to the bathroom door behind him.
Of all the goddamned luck. They'd landed in the adjoining bathroom of Benjamin's room.
Still holding the excess fabric over the place where his shard was embedded, the cheetah gasped when Vercus spotted him. Eyes of madness locked with eyes of terror.
"There he is." Vercus whispered.
There was a creak from above. The heavy jammer, teetering on the edge of the new hole in the ceiling, tilted just enough to plunge into the bathroom after them. Nick cursed and rolled out the way just in time. The jammer hit the tiles with the force of a wrecking ball, sinking six inches. Nick had a premonition, cursed again and grabbed the exposed pipe beneath the sink just as the floor collapsed once more.