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Ouroboros: the Endless Cycle

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Waking up with his wife's arm around him was one of those simple pleasures Bogo hadn't even realized he missed until he had it again. He had fallen asleep nearly the instant his head touched the cot, but when he awoke he felt refreshed in a way he never had before on the occasions he had previously used the cot. It was even more cramped than it usually was, with Maria's warm presence at his side, but whereas the cot had always been supremely uncomfortable before he found it as soothing and as difficult to get out of as his bed back home. "Back to work?" she murmured, her lips and breath tickling his ear.

Bogo sighed as Maria slowly ran her arm down from his shoulder to his waist, relishing the sensation of her fingers against him. She must have stayed awake the entire time he slept; she had always been able to show how much she loved him even without a single word. "Back to work," he agreed, slowly rolling himself into a sitting position on the side of the cot.

It wasn't easy, considering how narrow the cot was; they had both been on their sides and wouldn't have fit otherwise. But once he was sitting Maria moved to sit at his side, casually looping her arm around his shoulder. "You're not as young as you used to be," she said, "You can't keep pushing yourself so hard."

It was odd, hearing a thought that had run through his head with increasing frequency coming out of his wife's mouth, but Bogo simply grunted. "The faster I get through this the sooner my retirement goes through," he said, and Maria smiled at him.

He had mentioned his upcoming forced retirement from the position of Captain General, but her response was still teasing. "What'll I do, what with you brooding around the house all day?" she asked, and her smile widened, "Perhaps you could become my assistant. See if calves are any easier to deal with than the Queen's Council."

Bogo felt a thin smile coming across his own face. "The calves are probably better behaved," he said, and Maria gave him a playful shove.

"You already made that joke," she said.

"Who said it was a joke?"

She didn't have an immediate response for that, her fingers drifting down his back to start making slow circles. "You've been expecting something like this, even if you didn't know it," she said at last, "Ever since you arrested Tlatoani, you've been on edge."

"Have I?" Bogo asked, but the withering look Maria gave him rivaled the glare he favored incompetent guards with.

He had, of course, not mentioned any of the details of Alfonso's arrest or the lead up to it, taking his responsibility to maintain the City Guard's information and secrecy quite seriously, but Maria was far from foolish and always read the entire newspaper. She knew the details as well as any civilian, perhaps better because of her proximity to him and her ability to read his moods. He had warned the Queen's Council about what the power vacuum left by the shrew's arrest might cause and been almost completely ignored. Until the attempts on the princess's life had started, at least. "You have," Maria said firmly, "I can tell you're worried. Your thoughts are going in circles, aren't they?"

Bogo sighed; sometimes she knew him perhaps too well. "Yes," he admitted, and Maria leaned up against him.

Her plain dress was somewhat rumpled from lying on the cot, and her fur had pressed itself into whorls and clumps that stuck out at odd angles and emphasized the threads of white age had brought. Despite it all, though, he didn't think she had ever been any lovelier than she was in that moment. "When you retire," she began slowly, and her hoof drifted further down his back, "I can think of something else you could do instead of brooding."

Her fingers brushed past the base of his tail, going a little further to the side and down before she squeezed. "What do you think of that?" she whispered, his ear very nearly in her mouth she was so close.

"I think I'll enjoy my retirement," Bogo said, and he gave her a quick kiss as he gently pulled her hoof away from his butt and stood, "But I've got work to do first."

Maria smiled up at him. "You better come home soon, dear," she said as she stood up herself and pulled at her dress to straighten it.

"I will," Bogo said, and he meant the words with all his heart.

Maria stole another kiss on her way out, and Bogo watched her go for a long moment before turning to the washbasin and mirror in the little room. After he was sure that his appearance met his standards, he left his office without a backwards glance. A different pair of guards—who nearly dropped their spears, they snapped to attention so quickly when he opened the replaced door—were waiting outside, and since there was nothing new for them to report Bogo hurried past.

It was more than a little concerning that no word had yet come back from the mammals Bogo had dispatched to find out what had made Phoenix go dark, and Bogo tried to push down the uneasy feeling in his gut. Instinct, if not yet facts, told him that there was some kind of connection between the attempts on the princess's life and what had happened in Phoenix; surely the blood magician who had made the quauhxicallis the two would-be assassins had used somehow tied both events together even if he didn't know how. Still, once he had been admitted to the royal suites for an audience with the queen and the princess alone, he felt as though he was the perfect picture of a Captain General. Never let them see you bleed, his predecessor had told him once, and it was a lesson he had taken to heart.

"Your majesties," Bogo said respectfully, and the queen airily waved the words and formality away.

"Did you enjoy your nap?" she asked, and Bogo couldn't help but look up in surprise.

"I—" he began, but the queen cut him off, a small smile playing across her face.

"Who do you suppose insisted your wife be allowed in?" the queen asked, "I know how much she means to you—and you to her."

The queen's smile somehow became sad without changing so much as a degree. It was one of those strange ironies of life; the queen had more wealth and power than he could ever dream of holding, but he had something she had lost forever. The prince consort and the princess were Queen Lana's greatest treasures; one of them was already gone and the other was being actively threatened.

"Mrs. Bogo was here?" Princess Isabel asked eagerly, apparently blind to her mother's reaction, "How is she?"

"Well, your majesty," Bogo answered respectfully, and he was grateful for the smooth diversion the princess allowed him.

Although the princess naturally had a whole array of tutors who came from the proper rank of society to educate her, none of them had succeeded at teaching her the basics of math. Maria had, and if it hadn't been for the queen's desire to keep the families of those tutors from complaining she might have made the post permanent. The princess had become rather fond of Maria as a tutor, though, and Bogo wondered if his new rank of nobility would give the two the opportunity to be student and teacher again. It was a nice thought, but he pushed it aside; any dreams of what the future might bring could wait for after the latest crisis was resolved. "I have a proposal," Bogo began slowly, "But I must be sure of something first."

He probably looked mad, carefully going through the royal suites and checking for any eavesdroppers, but his plan was too vulnerable to falling apart if information leaked to be anything less than as thorough as possible. It took nearly half an hour; the queen silently watching the whole time. The princess had started to ask a question before the queen touched her arm and she fell silent, but at last Bogo was satisfied that no one would be able to overhear them. "I think I have a means of finding out who is behind the attempts on the princess's life," Bogo said, and explained his suspicion that one or more of the queen's top advisers was behind the attacks.

Both queen and princess listened attentively, but when he was done the queen seemed simply to be considering his words while the princess looked shocked. "You can't think that one of them is guilty of treason, can you? Of trying to kill me?" she asked, and her voice trembled with emotion, "Lady Cencerro is like an aunt to me! And I know you don't like Lord Corazón, but he cares so much about all the citizens of Zootopia. And Lord Cerdo—"

"I've long suspected that someone murdered your father, my dear," the queen interrupted, and her voice was oddly flat.

The queen's face looked as though it could have been carved from stone, her eyes hard. Princess Isabel's mouth opened, and then closed, and then opened again, completely wordlessly. "Papa was murdered?" she choked out, and then she burst into tears.

The queen placed an arm around her daughter, rocking her gently, the stony look gradually leaving her face as she comforted the princess. When at last Isabel was no longer heaving with sobs, she wiped at her puffy red eyes with one paw. In her grief, the princess's chimeric nature was somehow less unusual; the expression of misery Bogo saw was one he had seen echoed across countless faces while on the job. "I have been a fool," Isabel said, her eyes still watery, and the queen shook her head, drawing her closer.

"You have been a lamb," the queen said gently, "And it is not weakness or foolishness to see the best in mammals. Punishing an innocent mammal is a terrible crime, my dear."

Bogo couldn't help but remember that the queen had expected him to torture information out of Alfonso, but he supposed it was the mark of a good parent to try to raise their child to be better than they themselves were. The gods certainly knew that he and Maria had tried, but—Bogo dismissed the memory of his daughter with no small amount of effort. His nap—and seeing his wife—had helped somewhat, but his mind still seemed prone to drift off on random tangents. "A great queen is just," Queen Lana said, but she wasn't looking at Isabel as she spoke.

The queen was looking Bogo dead in the eyes even as she stroked the odd woolly fur atop her daughter's head. "Cruelty and harshness cannot keep control for long, my dear. It would dishonor your father's memory to act otherwise," she said.

The princess nodded slowly. "We cannot act without absolute proof," she said, and Bogo felt his blood run cold.

Certainly he was used to seeing a shadow of the prince consort in the princess's blended features; she was as much a jaguar like her father as she was a sheep like her mother. But as a chimera she was so uniquely herself, completely unlike any other mammal, that it was easy to forget until some small gesture brought one of her parents to mind. The way her tail, shorter though it was, twitched as her father's had. The way she surreptitiously stretched the way her mother did when she got tired of sitting. It had always been little things before, but when the princess spoke it had been as though it was her father had spoken, the words and intonation a perfect match.

From the way that Queen Lana twitched Bogo was sure that she had experienced a similar reaction. "What do you propose, Lord Bogo?" she asked.

"Whoever is behind the attacks on the princess has made two attempts that we know of, and I suspect has gone to extreme lengths to hide their actions."

"Phoenix, you mean," the princess interrupted, and although her eyes were still puffy from crying they were still sharp and alert as she watched him closely.

Bogo nodded. "I strongly suspect the mastermind has taken action against Phoenix to destroy some kind of evidence linking them to their crime," he said, and the queen nodded thoughtfully.

"And what does that tell you, my dear?" she asked, turning to face her daughter.

Bogo was quite used to the queen taking various, and often unusual, opportunities to teach her daughter some lesson or another, and he thought he understood the logic behind it. It was, after all, the same reason the queen had started bringing her daughter to meetings of the Queen's Council; if Princess Isabel was to someday lead Zootopia she had to understand why things happened.

The princess frowned, stroking at her jaw. Her tongue poked between her strange mixture of teeth that could tear flesh as easily as they could grind plants as she thought about it. "If there's something to hide," she began slowly, "And they're willing and able to... to destroy a town to do it..."

She glanced anxiously at her mother, as if to see if her analysis was right, and the queen gave her a slow nod. "Then that means that they have power. A lot of it. The sort a member of your council has."

"Indeed," the queen said, although her tone was not quite approving, "I think I know what you're about to suggest, Bogo."

The princess looked between her mother and Bogo; Bogo did not react and neither did the queen. "What?" she asked at last, "What are you suggesting?"

"There have been two attempts on your life so far, your majesty," Bogo replied, "I suspect there will be a third."

It took a moment for the princess to understand the implication, but to her credit at last she did. "You mean to bait them into acting," she said, her eyes wide.

"Yes," Bogo replied, "Feed all three of them different opportunities, and see which one is taken."

"A trap," the queen said, nodding.

"Then of course we must try it!" the princess began eagerly, "We must—"

"A trap with you as the bait," the queen interrupted bluntly, "You would be putting your life in Lord Bogo's hooves."

"I trust him," Princess Isabel said promptly, and Bogo couldn't help but feel a swell of pride at how rapidly the princess had said it, and how obviously she believed it.

"Thank you, Lord Bogo," the queen said, "We will consider it."

"But—" the princess began, and the queen cut her off almost instantly.

"There will only be one chance to try this plan, and three opportunities for you to lose your life," she said sharply, "It may be that all of them are innocent. Or it might be all of them working together. The fish that is reeled in is caught, yes, but the worm on the hook dies with it. And my council is far cleverer than a fish! If this plan fails, they will see through any other such attempt and will know where our suspicions lie."

"They must already know that they're suspected," the princess said, her chin at an obstinate angle, "And—"

"And neither I nor Zootopia could bear your loss," the queen interrupted, her voice low.

"Then we will consider it seriously," the princess said sharply, looking at her mother.

"We shall. You are dismissed, Lord Bogo," the queen said, and Bogo nodded.

In short order, he had left the royal apartments behind, making his way back to his office. The meeting had gone about as well as he had hoped; he suspected that ultimately the queen would leave the decision up to the princess, and he knew the princess would want to go ahead with it. That was, after all, the burden of being a parent. Eventually, your children would make decisions for themselves, and all you could do was hope that they could live with the consequences.

Although he didn't have authorization—not yet, at least—he spent his time considering how best to design the trap. He had held a vague outline in his head, but it would not be enough; he needed something absolute and definitive. It had to be a trap with three triggers, designed so that it was not obvious to the mammals he sought to bait even if they shared information with each other. About two hours later, once he thought he had something that could stand up to all the problems he could foresee, there came a sudden and urgent knocking on his office door. "Captain General!" a breathless voice called through, "There's been news from Phoenix!"

Bogo stood up from his desk so quickly that he knocked half of what had been on it off. He ignored the fallen papers, pens, and books littering his floor and immediately made his way to the door. When he opened it, a slim cheetah in the uniform of a lieutenant saluted him as sharply as he could while his chest heaved like bellows. "Urgent message, sir," the cheetah said, giving him a sealed envelope.

"Excellent work, Lieutenant," Bogo said, even as he broke the seal with one finger and ripped the envelope open.

"Will you have a response, sir?" the cheetah asked, but Bogo barely heard him.

The words on the letter were hastily written, the letters so uneven and blotchy they were difficult to read. Once he had, though, Bogo had to read the message again to be sure he had read it right.

Lieutenant Colonel Cencerro reports Phoenix invaded by massive barbarian force from beyond the Wall. Civilian losses catastrophic. Bridge to Phoenix destroyed to prevent further progress. Cannot hold. Cencerro en route with survivors.

Bogo slumped against the wall outside his office; he didn't seem to be able to get enough air into his lungs and the corridor seemed to spin around him. It should have been impossible, but the words remained obdurately on the page, harshly black against white. The last time Zootopia had been invaded by mammals from beyond the Wall, the ruling dynasty had been overthrown and the city entirely remade in the image of the victors. But the Oveja dynasty, which the queen and the princess were the most recent members of, had brought peace and prosperity, putting an end to the brutal and violent rule of the emperors. Somehow, Bogo doubted that the latest invaders would be anywhere near as benevolent. The torcs might slow the barbarians down, but he thought the attempts on the princess's life were proof that someone was betraying the city. It seemed impossible that the invasion wasn't linked to the assassination attempts, and Bogo looked down at the letter again.

He had all but crushed it between his hooves, but he could still read it. Lieutenant Colonel Cencerro being en route with survivors meant something. It meant that his trap didn't need three triggers. It needed four.

Author's Notes:

There really wasn't too much for me to say in terms of author's notes last chapter, and I liked the more dramatic break, so I'm including them here.

Nick transmuted the cell bars from diamond into graphite. Both are arrangements of carbon atoms, but graphite is significantly weaker, allowing it to be easily broken. In his bout with Judy, he was able to use the wind and earth as focuses, but lacks them either in the cell, explaining his difficulty performing the transmutations. Drawing out the patterns with his own blood seemed a simple enough way to do it, lacking other options.

In this chapter, we learn that Bogo is the little spoon when he and his wife share a bed. Not exactly an Earth-shattering detail, but the bigger person doesn't always have to be the big spoon!

Bogo did indeed warn the Queen's Council that Alfonso's arrest left a power vacuum all the way back in chapter 2, and he did make a joke about nobles being more unruly than children in chapter 24.

Bogo's own daughter has been mentioned only briefly, such as in chapter 10, but it is something he has in common with both the queen and Alfonso. In chapter 14, the queen's expectation that Bogo would use torture was indicated; I figured that this wasn't something that Bogo would let go. The prince consort did use the words "absolute proof" in chapter 6 when Bogo is remembering his terrible death.

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