"Don't beat the drums of war unless you're ready to fight." - African proverb

5:00 P.M ; Happytown, Savanna-Central...

Home sweet home.

The first eighteen years of Nick's life had been spent living out of the largest slum neighborhood in Zootopia, and he couldn't have been happier to escape it once he began his life of crime. First it was a brief stint in Mr. Big's mafia, followed by his time as a con-artist, but those days were long behind the fox now. For the longest time, he had viewed Happytown as a trap - a place only to return to when visiting his mother. But now, as he strolled down the dilapidated streets, he viewed the ghetto as a new opportunity.

After all, the mammals that lived here - a nearly one hundred percent predator population - were exactly the kind of mammals that Nick wanted to help. He'd spent too long witnessing their misfortune, and too long seeing how powerless he was to change anything as a cop. His injury may have changed his life, but by no means did it have to be for the worst. That's what he was here for: to make a difference, as Judy had taught him so long ago. And that goal would be one step closer with this televised interview.

"Beige? Really?" Samantha complained as she followed Nick into the employee entrance of his mother's soup kitchen. She hopped over a grease stain on the floor, doing her best to avoid getting any contaminants on her dark green skirt.

They were in a short, tight hallway surrounded by a few doors. Nick stopped before the push door that would take them to the kitchen and turned to look at Samantha. "What's wrong with beige?" He asked as he tugged on the lapel of his suit jacket.

"It's too bright. Politicians typically wear black suits, or dark blue, with maybe a colorful tie if they want to seem interesting, but that's kind of pushing it." She explained frankly, like it was obvious.

Nick raised a questioning eyebrow at her, asking without words if that was really true. Samantha shrugged in response, then explained, "Hey, the largest voting block in most areas is the elderly, and the elderly tend to like mild, familiar politicians, and reflexively vote against anyone they deem 'radical', even if they agree with that mammal's platform. Hate to say it, but politics - in most cases - is about feelings, not logic."

The fox considered that, then shook his head. "I'm not doing this so I can be like every other politician. That's the whole point of my platform, right? Besides," he smoothed a paw down his front, straightening the wrinkles that had formed while he walked. "I like this suit. Looks good on me. Compliments my fur."

"Glad to see you hold my advice in such high regard." Samantha said mildly, but with a hint of real annoyance.

Nick leaned down a bit to rest a conciliatory paw on her shoulder, and spoke softly. "Sammy, I take everything you say to heart, but I need to be my own mammal. My own fox. Doing things just because it's what the other politicians are doing is one of the problems we're fighting against, isn't it?"

Samantha closed her eyes and sighed, before nodding agreement. "I suppose you're right. Still, mammal's will talk. You'll see."

"I'm sure you're right," Nick said as he straightened up. "But what else is new? I won't let that change who I am."

With that said, he pushed through the door. There were several volunteers hard at work, making large batches of simple, healthy foods, like rice, beans, soups, and salads. At the back of the kitchen, Olivia was carefully sniffing one of the large pots, body obscured in a cooking apron. She nodded approval and motioned for another volunteer to take it to the serving counter, then turned to face her guests.

"Nicholas! Sammy!" The vixen exclaimed as she moved across the short space. She raised her arms and threw them around her son.

"Hey, mom." Nick greeted warmly as he returned her embrace.

"Olivia." Samantha greeted as mother and son pulled apart.

"It's nice to see you, dear." Olivia said as she held out a paw. Samantha took it, and they gently squeezed before pulling apart. "Is Judy not here?"

A flicker of sadness briefly passed over Nick's muzzle, but he masked it as quickly as it had arrived. "Not this time, I'm afraid. Compared to all the important police work she does, small events like this aren't worth coming to, but once we start ramping up speed, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her. She's busy with a new case, anyways. Promised to tell me all about it tomorrow."

"That's very good to hear," Olivia replied, smiling warmly. "I'll be looking forward to seeing her again."

"Yeah." Nick agreed. Me too

Samantha glanced around at the varied mammals as they worked. "I've heard so much about what you do. I'm glad to finally see it for myself."

Olivia looked around as well, grinning with pride at her fellow volunteers, several of which noticed her attention and smiled back. "We do good work here. Speaking of…" She looked back to Nick and Samantha, her smile dimmed with doubt. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do your first news conference here? I mean, we do our best, but a run down cafeteria isn't exactly… mayoral."

Nick laid a reassuring paw on his mother's shoulder. "That's the point, mom. For too long the mayors of Zootopia have only worried about getting and keeping the job, not about serving the mammals who need them. Lionheart and Bellwether are just the tip of the iceberg of bad leadership. I need an example of the type of mammal that I'm going to strive to be as mayor. One that is trustworthy, sympathetic, and goes out of their way to help others." Nick moved in, slid his arm over his mother's shoulders and tucked her into his side. He grinned at her, eyes sparkling with frank admiration. "What better example than you?"

Tears threatened to fall as Olivia touched a paw to her heart. "Oh, Nicholas…"

Surreptitiously wiping her own eyes, Samantha stepped in to tug on Nick's sleeve. "Easy on the big feels there, Nick. Tear tracks don't look good on camera."

Taking the advice, Nick squeezed his mother briefly once and stepped back. Olivia wiped at her own eyes, sniffed once and settled herself. The three looked up and were startled to find every eye in the kitchen was on them. The expressions of the volunteers as they stared varied from touched at the tender scene to amused.

Olivia waved her arms at them. "It's rude to stare, you know! Back to work!"

With a few laughs and coos, the volunteers did as they were told. The trio turned back to each other.

"So," Nick chuckled as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Ready to fight the vultures?"

"Before we make any more of a spectacle of ourselves, preferably." Samantha said, half-jokingly.

"Cafeteria is right through that door," Olivia pointed it out, a simple double push type common in restaurants, but she made no move toward it, something which Nick noticed.

"Not coming with us?" He asked. "You are my campaign Chairmammal, after all."

"Oh, I don't think I should," Olivia responded with a small shake of her head. "I'm afraid I'll say something I shouldn't. Better for me to stay out of the spotlight for now."

Nick's disappointment showed through in the slight wilting of his ears, but he smiled for his mother anyway. Then Samantha led the way through the double doors into the cafeteria beyond. The room looked like many other cafeterias, with dinged up metal tables, scuffed linoleum and water stained ceiling tiles. In spite of all this, it was obvious that the volunteers worked hard to keep everything clean and tidy, but there was no covering the damage that time and a limited budget had caused.

Mammals of all types were there, some eating alone, some in small groups, and there were even a couple of families. Some were dressed casually, and looked like anyone you might see on the street, while others looked more obviously like stereotypical homeless, with ragged, weather worn clothes and their possessions in bundles on the floor at their feet, with many mammals in various states of dress in between.

A particular group of about ten mammals standing in one corner stood out from the rest. They were all dressed in bright, freshly pressed business casual attire, some had logos on their sleeves, some had IDs clipped to their shirts or hanging from lanyards around their necks. Two held full-sized news cameras, while the rest held either smaller cameras, recorders or microphones.

The group noticed Nick and Samantha's approach almost at once, and there was a small frenzy as they rushed to ready their equipment. By the time the two groups met, the correspondents were ready.

One particularly plucky sow in a bright yellow cardigan pushed ahead of the rest and stuck her microphone right under Nick's nose. "Mr. Wilde, hi! Sally Sunday with the Special Sunday Scoop. What brought on this unexpected bid for mayor from one of the most well known police officers in recent times?!"

After years of being a cop, Nick was more than used to pushy reporters. He didn't even blink as he smoothly replied, "After my retirement from the force, I wanted to continue my career in public service. Considering that Zootopians have been let down by their mayors for years, I decided that campaigning for office would be the best way to serve them."

A ram shouldered forward and stuck his recorder out. "No offense, but you're a rank amateur when it comes to politics. Do you have the experience necessary for such a high office?"

"If you're worried about the paperwork, don't." Nick chuckled. "Ask any cop. We know all about paperwork. Too much, even. Now, if you're worried about politics, the wheeling, the dealing, don't. Check my record of arrests and convictions. Not to toot my own horn, but it's a long list, and nearly every one of those mammals thought they were smarter than me. I've never been shy for the spotlight, either. Any politician who thinks they can walk all over me because I'm new to the game is in for a surprise."

The ram blinked at him, flummoxed. The pig, Sally Sunday, was apparently made of sterner stuff, because she didn't hesitate to follow up with, "What about expertise? Do you think you're qualified to run a government as large and complex as Zootopia?"

"I'm a fast learner, but I admit that I will need help on that front, but that's what advisors are for." Nick waved to Samantha, who stood a little ways off behind, watching the proceedings closely. "This is my first advisor, and Campaign Manager, Samantha Diallo. Ms. Diallo is an expert that has worked with several administrations on very large projects, including the Mammal Inclusion Initiative, the program that allowed me to become a police officer and which started me on my current path. I will seek the advice of any such expert on any subject that I am not familiar with. And honestly, I think if recent mayors had done the same, they wouldn't have had so much trouble."

A few of the reporters chuckled. Another pushed forward, a donkey of some kind, braying loudly, "Mr. Wilde, I can't help but wonder at the…" she cast a critical eye on the rest of the room. Several curious patrons hurriedly turned away. "Venue you've chosen. Why did you choose here for your first interview?"

It was only through long practice that none of Nick's annoyance at the donkey's attitude showed through. "Because this venue is a perfect example of what the citizens of Zootopia really need right now. This meal center is funded through charity and run by volunteers. These mammals spend their time and money to help the needy and expect nothing in return. It's compassion and kindness in one of its purest forms, and I believe it is a lack of these qualities in our leaders that has led to the divisions we see in Zootopia today."

"Are you one of those volunteers?" The donkey shot back, just a hint of accusation hidden beneath her professionally level voice.

"My shift starts at five thirty," Nick said matter-of-factly. "I just thought I'd show up early to let you professionals have your face time, and it is now…" Nick made a show of checking his wrist for the time, though he wore no watch. "About five fifteen, so if you have a lot of questions: hurry up! I can't stand around gabbing all day."

"Mr. Wilde, Mr. Wilde!" A skunk in a ZNN hat jumped up to get his attention, causing what looked like an air-freshener around his neck to flail distractingly. "Is it true that this soup kitchen used to belong to crime-lord Al Catpone?"

Nick masked his inner grimace, having been wondering if that exact question would surface. Thankfully, he was prepared with an answer. "That is correct. But it was never used as a front, or for anything else illegal - it's always been a quaint, non-profit little soup kitchen, and the new owner does a fantastic job of carrying on its serving legacy. And I would know; I worked the case that brought down Al Catpone last year myself."

There were many more questions, all of which Nick handled with grace, and even some charm as the reporters warmed up to him and he to them. He even got them to laugh a few times. Any question that he didn't know the answer to, he either deferred to Samantha or responded with something noncommittal like 'I'll have to look into it,' or 'I'll get back to you on that.' As it turned out, his natural charisma worked wonders in front of a camera. Nick continued with the interview even into his shift; donning a work apron and soup ladle as he dished out food while simultaneously answering questions. The plan worked perfectly: every camera in the building got a front row seat to his charity. Nick just hoped that it would be enough to prove that mammals could trust a fox like himself, and that he had meant what he'd said at the police ball. Eventually, it came time for Nick to wave them off to focus on his work.

"Sorry friends, but it's time for this fox to focus. You can stay if you want, get pictures and whatnot, but please don't harass the patrons. If you're eating here, it's not because you had an easy day."

Most of the correspondents turned to leave, but the pushy sow, Sally Sunday, didn't move. "Mr. Wilde, just one more question?"

Nick smiled, nodded, gestured for her to continue, but admonished, "Okay, but just the one!"

Not wasting time, Sunday got right to it. "You mentioned earlier that Samantha Diallo," she waved at the meerkat, who still stood watching from a little ways off. "Was your Campaign Manager. Have you chosen the rest of your staff, and when will you officially launch your campaign?"

"That's two questions, but I'll answer both anyway," Nick said, smiling indulgently. "My Communication's Director is a talented young writer and activist named Nathaniel O'Leiry. My mother, Olivia Wilde, is filling in as Chairmammal for now. We'll see how it goes. And we have already launched the campaign, officially. Filed the paperwork with City-Hall last week."

The pig tilted her head, a curious smile playing about her snout. "Are you sure about that? My publication's researchers didn't turn up any official filing."

Nick quirked a brow, but before he could say anything, Samantha stepped forward. "What was that?" She butted in loudly, voice barely below what could be considered polite.

"My researchers found no filing. And they are quite thorough." Sunday explained, tone friendly, but her expression betrayed her amusement as she stared down at the much smaller meerkat.

Nick and Samantha shared a glance. Nick raised both brows, silently asking Samantha what to do. Samantha quickly came to a decision.

"Please excuse me." She said. Then she turned and walked through the kitchen doors, already furiously tapping at her smart phone screen.

Nick watched her disappear, then turned back to the still smiling Sally Sunday. He smiled confidently and shrugged, entirely unperturbed. "Won't be the first time City-Hall lost paperwork. I'm sure we'll have it straightened out in no time. Speaking of time!" He jerked his chin toward the double doors that Samantha had disappeared into, indicating the kitchen beyond. "I really do need to get to work. Thank you for coming, Ms. Sunday."

And with that, Nick turned and sauntered into the kitchen. He spotted his mother, and she didn't even have to be asked. She just pointed to the employee entrance door. Nick followed her direction and stepped into the short hallway. Samantha was at the other end, and she looked uncharacteristically enraged as she snarled into the phone.

"How could it not be there!? It's been over a week! Well, can you check? It's important. Yes, I know how late it is. Fine! Fine. I'll be there first thing tomorrow." She angrily tapped the end call icon and shoved her phone into her purse with a scoff of disgust.

Nick leaned against the door frame, arms crossed and brow quirked in amusement at her sour mood. He'd almost forgotten Samantha could do anything but smile.

When she noticed him standing there, she gesticulated wildly, arms flapping like she was trying to indicate all the unfairness in the universe. "Can you believe this!? The entire campaign behind by a week! Tomorrow, you're coming with me to get this mess fixed."

Nick just shrugged in his typical unbothered fashion. "Hey, look at the bright side."

"What bright side?!"

Nick gestured lazily toward the front of the building where they had left the reporters. "The vultures never mentioned my suit!"

"To your face," Samantha groused back. "Wait until this gets on the evening news. The anchors will mention it five or six thousand times. The fact that our official campaign submission got lost in transaction won't make for a pretty headline, either."

"Gee, and I thought I was the cynic." Nick joked as he turned to head back to the kitchen. Those were problems for later. There were still hungry mammals waiting, after all.

8:00 P.M ; Fangpyre Family safehouse, the Nocturnal-District...

Lester had always hated delivering bad news.

As Head of Security for the Nocturnal-Mob, the naked mole-rat viewed himself as the fine line between order and chaos in the Family, protecting it from both outside and internal threats. He had served the Nocturnal-Mob for nearly thirty years, back when Vladzotz Fangpyre II had first created the organization. In all that time, he had never once let down his boss, even as Vladzotz III supplanted his father, and that was something the mole-rat took great pride in. Life in a criminal organization's administration required deep loyalty, and Lester was always happy to provide it. He had an obligation to serve the Family. So it was only more painful when he was forced to deliver bad news - the fraying along the edges of his otherwise perfect record.

He gripped the letter in one of his wrinkled pink paws, careful not to cause too much damage to it. He couldn't deny that his nerves were addled. His usually stoic temperament faltered at the mere idea of being the bearer of bad news. But he knew it had to be done. Some tasks, no matter how unpleasant, just needed to be handled without question. Without disloyalty. Besides, he knew that his boss wasn't cruel enough to shoot the messenger, at least. That reassurance drove him to seek out Vladzotz.

Stepping through one of the safehouse's back doors, Lester set foot in the yard behind the manor. It was a sprawling field of rock and dirt, decorated with statues that rimmed the entrance of a cove-like pool built into the natural bedrock of the cavern floor. There were no plants in the Nocturnal-District, but bioluminescent fungi and patches of moss lit the way down a cobbled path toward the mushroom gardens on the far side of the property. Lester followed the path quietly. In the distance to his right, he could see the greater Nocturnal-District: the massive underground cavern stretched for miles beneath the surface. Entire stone neighborhoods were built into the floor, and massive stalagmites topped with beacons lit up the cavern ceiling, so vast it might have been a sky of its own. Gothic skyscrapers reached for the surface, and on the edges of the district, huddled against the cavern walls, factories and mining facilities were buzzing with activity. Millions of glowworms pulsed through the clouds of mist that congregated around the pointy stalactites clinging to the roof, almost as though they were stars beaming against a cloudy nighttime sky. Crystals embedded into the cavern ceiling glittered in the glowworm's light, speckling the rocks around them like a colorful kaleidoscope. Unlike most surface-dwellers realized, the Nocturnal-District was a gorgeous place.

But of course, Lester knew better than most that it was also a place of great poverty and crime. After all, he worked for the single most powerful criminal organization in the district. Crime was practically the district's nightlife, if such a term could even be used in a place where the sun never reached. He was just thankful that this safehouse was in one of the more affluent neighborhoods, safe from petty crime, even though the building itself was a thriving hub of the organized variety. But still, past the mob's misdeeds, the safehouse harbored a place of peace in the form of the gardens. It was undisturbed, free of unlawful activity. Eventually, Lester reached the mammal he had come to see.

Vladzotz knelt in the rocky dirt of the cavern floor, lower-body obscured in a gardening apron. He toiled away at a large patch of mushrooms with a trowel, looking less like a crime-lord and more like a lawn laborer.

"I hope you're not too busy, sir." Lester began, gruff voice filling the empty air.

His boss raised his gaze from the soil, and eyed his Head of Security up and down. The mole-rat's body was muscular in spite of his age, obscured in a black commando sweater and green thick-padded cargo pants. His mottled pink flesh was strewn with scars and tattoos of assorted shape and size. Lester grinned at him past his massive digging incisors.

"Not at all. Just exploring new hobbies. Even with war on the horizon, I feel that it's important to find time for personal passions." Vladzotz stated.

"I'm glad, sir. You'd spent too long locked away in Castle Fangpyre following your family's passing. It's healthy for you to explore new interests."

"Indeed. I have Lucy to thank for much of it. Do you… remember Castle Fangpyre's courtyard garden?" Vladzotz asked. "Before the fire."

Lester nodded, causing the fleshy pink wrinkles around his neck to fold. "I do, sir. It was beautiful. The glowing moss and mushrooms rivaled any surface-world flora. Though I never understood why your father would so often try to plant grass."

"It never did live more than a few weeks, despite all the effort he invested." Vladzotz remarked. "And it never would without the sun. I believe he just liked feeling as though a part of the surface-world were down here with us. I wouldn't waste such money on something so short-lived. But it was…" he trailed off, remembering the feel of the grass beneath his toes as a child. "Nice… to experience it while it lasted."

A sigh siphoned through the mole-rat's nostrils. The last thing he wanted was to deliver this more than likely distressing message to his boss when he was in a good mood. If there was anything the Nocturnal-Mob needed in these stressful and uncertain times, it was a little bit of hope and pleasantry. Vladzotz, however, noticed his minion's apparent reluctance. The crime-lord's expression hardened as his peaceful reminiscence melted away like an ice-cream cone in Sahara-Square, leaving him staring coldly at Lester.

"You have something for me." Vladzotz inferred, setting down his trowel and rising to his feet.

"Yes, sir." Lester confirmed before handing the letter to his boss. "It's from Mr. Big."

"I see," the crime-lord hummed, thoughtfully staring down at the item. "It must be a response to my ultimatum."

He then sliced open the envelope with one claw tip, and read the contents within. Lester could do nothing but watch as his leader's jaw gradually tightened with anger. After a few more seconds of silent reading, Vladzotz crushed the letter in his claws and then gently pushed it into Lester's chest. The mole-rat fumbled to grab the paper.

"Burn it." Vladzotz ordered.

"Y-Yes sir," Lester promised. "But… what does it say?"

The crime-lord discarded his gardening apron, revealing the simple black-button up and cargo pants beneath. The rage boiling behind his single red eye was all too visible.

"We're at war." He said calmly, but with enough tension to display his true feelings. "Summon the lieutenants to the council room. Find my wife. We must discuss our strategy."

Vladzotz didn't wait to hear a response before he flapped away, disappearing behind the imposing roof of the manor. Lester looked down at the letter in his paws, and then back up at the rear of the safehouse. Through its many windows he could see suited mobsters carrying boxes of contraband, and armed guards patrolling the halls. The thought of them all being thrust into a crime war jarred the mole-rat from his stupor. Without further hesitation, Lester jogged back into the building, running through the corridors and calling as many of the Nocturnal-Mob's top brass to action as he could find. Amidst the chaos, he found the time to reach the library - pushing open its doors and gazing within.

In the corner of the room, Lucy sat atop a stool, sweeping at a painting before her with a brush. Her skintight black bodysuit was stained with red paint, or at least Lester presumed it to be red paint. Beside her, Leo and Vasila rolled helplessly around in their crib. The mother bat glanced up from her work with a fanged smile.

"Don't you know it's rude to interrupt a lady when-" her teasing grin faded as she noticed Lester's even-more-serious-than-normal expression. "What happened?"

"We received a letter back from the Tundratown Mafia, m'lady," he quickly explained. "They refused to concede. War has been declared. Vladzotz has called a meeting to discuss strategy, and requests your attendance."

Lucy's gaze lowered in tandem with her brush. She hadn't been expecting Mr. Big to give up so easily, but the reality of the situation was still difficult to fully comprehend. The two largest and most powerful criminal organizations in Zootopia were about to be at each other's throats. The outcome of such a conflict could be anyone's guess.

The bat gulped down her apprehension. "Okay. Thank you." She said, not bothering to watch as Lester ran off to continue his mission.

Instead, her gaze focused on the crib beside her painting easel. Within, the two bat paps chirped irritably, as if picking up on their mother's distress. Lucy sighed, setting down her brush and reaching into the cradle to stroke at Leo's light gray forehead. His bright green eyes - just like her own - stared up at her with a curious innocence.

"I swear," Lucy began quietly, using one claw to caress at Vasila as well. "I won't let anything happen to you. I know you can't understand, but… I promise I'll keep you safe."

Both pups stared at her vacantly, clicking softly into the ensuing silence. Lucy allowed herself a smile, just taking a moment to appreciate their harmless, adorable faces. At the sight of their smiling mother, the two babies mirrored the expression, which only caused Lucy to smile even more. She patted them both before turning to the door. Walking outside, she briefly halted as a much larger wolf ran by on all fours in the direction of the meeting room. Lucy then glanced to the mammal standing next to the library door.

"Could you watch the pups while I'm away?" She requested.

A vole in a maid's outfit bowed a curtsy. "Whatever you wish, m'lady."

Lucy nodded. Despite normally favoring rodents for quick drinks, she had an affinity for this one. "Thank you."

When she reached the meeting room upstairs, all the mob's leaders could be seen gathered around the circular table. The deep blue light of the district's glowworms filtered through the stained-glass window on the back wall, illuminating the room and blanketing the anxious, determined faces of the conclave. Vladzotz arrived shortly, earning all eyes. The crime-lord had replaced his gardening outfit with his typical well-dressed attire: a blood red vest obscured by a sleeveless black overcoat, complete with a vampiric collar jutting from his nape and identically colored slacks. He strode into the room with his wings folded calmly behind his back, trailing behind him like a leathery cape.

Seating himself at the head of the table, next to Lucy, Vladzotz exhaled slowly before announcing, "We are at war. The Big Family has abandoned peace in favor of conflict, and threaten to destroy our organization and its members. We are all at risk, and so we must fight. We must meet this invasion of vermin and turn it back. And when we have won, I will suck the life from their senile tyrant myself and put an end to the traitorous Tundratown Mafia once and for all." He growled harshly, digging his claws into the tabletop before calming himself down. "But we will not fight this battle without a plan. It is paramount to our victory. Our survival. We must discuss our options. The table is yours."

Lester seized the chance to speak. "Sir, since you sent that letter, I've finished updating our security apparatus here in the Nocturnal-District. All our safehouses are stocked, staffed, and secure, as are the warehouses and other depots we use for storage. If we need to move any mammals or supplies at a moment's notice, they'll be ready."

"Excellent. You've earned your pay." Vladzotz said.

"That's not all, sir," Lester continued. "All our properties underground are prepared for war, but I haven't finished overhauling security in our territories on the surface world. We have entire warehouses, offices, and weapons caches that aren't adequately defended yet. If there's any place the Tundratown Mafia will strike first, it'll be up there."

The wolf that had nearly flattened Lucy earlier grunted in acknowledgement. "No surprise. Anywhere close to Tundratown will be their initial targets."

"So it's safe to assume that they'll start by raiding our warehouses on the surface," Lester agreed. "Cut off our supply chain, suffocate our power up there until we're totally reliant on what we have down here, like we used to be."

"Yes, and once they reclaim the surface for themselves, they'll turn their attention to the Nocturnal-District." Vladzotz concluded. "But I suspect if that happens, they'll find their advance to be difficult. We have total power over these caverns. The Nocturnal-Mob dwarfs the other criminal organizations here by thirty fold. Our monopoly will act as our defense."

"Then we should focus on defending our territory upstairs," A raccoon mobster added. "And withdraw if we get too much heat."

"We'll defend them, sure, but I don't think it's a good idea to devote too much effort outside the Nocturnal-District." Lester advised. "Those properties will be warzones, all of them. We can afford to lose them if it means better securing our home front."

The raccoon shook his head fiercely. "Those properties are our foothold in the surface world! How do you expect to transport, or hide any soldiers or supplies we ship up there if we lose them? We need them to beat the Tundratown Mafia, otherwise we won't have the ability to put up a fight on the surface!"

Lester sighed. "Playing on the defensive side isn't a bad strategy. Even with war, we have more than enough self-sufficiency down here to continue normal operations. These caves are a natural castle - we can have the enemy exhaust themselves trying to break our defenses. They'll never get to us."

"But we won't be able to fight back!" The raccoon insisted, slapping the table with each word. "We may be well-defended in the Nocturnal-District, but we'd be trapped if we let them take those properties up there! They'll cut off all our routes to the surface. We'd never be able to sneak past. Big will have won from the start!"

"What do you suggest we do, sir?" Lester asked, turning to Vladzotz.

He clasped his long claws together. It was a tough decision. Such was the responsibility of a leader. But Vladzotz saw more than just two options.

"Both," the crime-lord declared. "We will defend our territory in the Nocturnal-District and beyond. But we will not overexert ourselves to protect a few buildings on the surface. I have put some thought to it, and I believe I have a suitable plan for victory: while we defend our surface-world properties, we will transport as many supplies to them as we can, not just to arm them, but to prepare for attacks on the Tundratown Mafia as well. We must strike them hard, and fast - before they destroy our footholds on the surface and cut us off from it. We'll target their leadership. Leave them in disarray. Our strategy will comprise of small, covert strikes." He glanced to Lucy. "Can you handle this?"

Lucy smirked. "Walk in the park. I'll just need to put together a small team, and we can get to work on taking them down. I'll have to put off my research into that flying squirrel problem we talked about, but this is more important. We need to get the upper hand in this war ASAP. I'll start by figuring out where Big's top cronies are hiding tonight."

"Grand," Vladzotz said. "I shall leave that to you. Notify me of any needs or developments."

"Uh, sir," a suited badger spoke out. "If it comes down to it, what's our plan if the Big Family seizes control of the surface and tries to bring the fight to us?"

Vladzotz considered this for a moment. "Pure defense, as Lester described. However, we have a secret weapon that the enemy does not: Precinct Six."

"The ZPD?"

"Correct. Chief Condy is heavily indebted to me. That star-nosed suck-up lacks the will to defy us. How do you think we've grown so powerful in a district so small? If we require assistance in turning back an invasion on our territory, I will call for him to focus his precinct's policing on the enemy. His officers make loyal, unwitting soldiers. But this will only serve as a last resort. I do not want the ZPD to know of the war, lest they interfere with it."

"You've got it all figured out, huh?" Lucy couldn't resist saying.

Vladzotz lightly shrugged. "Contingencies are a necessity in my position. We will be ready for anything that comes our way." He then glanced to the naked mole-rat at his left. "Lester, I shall leave it to you to establish that every mammal at this table remains safe for the coming conflict. Make use of the other safehouses if necessary. We'll all but vanish to minimize the possibility of retaliation against our administration for the destruction of the enemy's. Understood?"

"Yes sir." Lester promised with a resolute nod.

"Then nothing more need be said, save one last thing," Vladzotz added as his expression hardened, lips pulling back to reveal his fangs. "I trust you all with my life, and the life of this syndicate. If any of you should ever accept pacts with the enemy, the only reward you can expect is your own bottled blood arriving at your family's doorstep."

The crowd nodded their understanding, and were promptly dismissed by Vladzotz. Only Lester and Lucy remained.

"Quite the tough threat," Lucy teasingly remarked, standing atop her chair and leaning over the edge of the too-large table. "I like it when you remind 'em who's boss."

"He's as thorough as his father was." Lester agreed.

"Ensuring order is vital in times as uncertain as these," Vladzotz said. "Outside threats are only one front of this war. Our underlings must know the cost of treason."

Lucy smirked. "And so beat the drums of war. I can't say I'm happy about Big's decision, but I am looking forward to thrashing him and his henchmammals."

"Indeed," the crime-lord concurred. "Night will fall on our enemies soon enough, and they will know the true meaning of fear. Of Fangpyre justice."

10:30 P.M ; Tundratown...

All was fair in love and war.

Lucy Sang was plenty happy to exploit that mentality. For the love of her family, she would do whatever it took to win this war against the Tundratown Mafia. And if that meant going so far as to brave the cold of Tundratown, then it was a price the thief was willing to pay. The journey alone was a dangerous one. Having evolved to thrive in warmer climates, a vampire bat setting foot, or in her case, sailing above a place as cold as Tundratown was a hazardous affair. Their kind had little body fat and even less reason to live anywhere behind the climate wall. The cold forced her to wear a fluffy black parka over her prized bodysuit. Not exactly the look of a thief, but with the alternative being freezing to death, she was left with little choice. Besides, she figured the dark colors would at least help her blend into the night's shadows cascading over the snow-dusted streets of the district, and the weather-appropriate attire would keep her from sticking out like a sore fang. All the better for keeping a low profile, just as she liked it.

Landing atop a spiraled onion dome, she echolocated into the lightly falling snow, mapping the layout of the cobbled streets below her. Older part of town. Deep in Mafia territory. Big and his crew may have had a size and strength advantage over what the Nocturnal-Mob could lay claim to, but the power of flight would forever give them the advantage for espionage and subterfuge. Crawling down the building and hanging upside down so as to peer into one of the windows, Lucy had to wipe the glass clean from condensation before analyzing the interior. A room sized for medium mammals sported wooden floors, book-lined walls, a personal bar, and a delightful assortment of knives and firearms lining the walls. Definitely one of Big's storage houses. She traced a circle into the glass with her claws, and pushed herself through the opening, making sure to grab the sliced circle in her talons before it could shatter against the carpet.

Lucy flapped in quietly, setting down the pane with just as much care. She was in. Now it was time to dig for info. She immediately began to scour the books on the walls, tearing out pages of old documents, and peeking into drawers in search of juicy extortion-worthy details. She stuffed a few important-looking files into a comparatively large black bag she had brought with her. Everything was just too big for her, making something as simple as maneuvering around the room a tiring endeavor, but the bat forced herself through the exhaustion. This would be worth it, so long as she wasn't discovered. But even professional thieves couldn't predict everything. The sound of something clicking nearby caught her attention. Keys to a door. No time to look for which one. Lucy quickly flapped under a nearby lampshade, hung upside down, and stilled herself.

A tiny door built within the larger polar bear sized door opened, and a trio of shrews entered the room. All of them were dressed as old-timey mobsters, one in a black suit and bowler hat, one in a dress shirt and suspenders, and one in a muscle shirt, slacks, and a fedora. "Can youse believe how worried the boss is about all this?" asked bowler hat.

"Tell me about it, Vinnie," said suspenders, shaking his head. "I get the concern for his daughter and all, but come on! They can barely even enter our territory without freezing up!"

Fedora laughed as he grabbed a tiny bottle of wine from a rodent-sized counter branching from the base of the main bar. "Yeah, you gots a point, Paulie! Let's see them just try to get the drop on us!"

"Well, no point getting worked up about it now, Nicky. Let's just kick back tonight," Vinnie replied.

Suspended inside the lampshade, Lucy kept herself as still and as quiet as possible. Judging by the high-pitched tone of the voices, she deduced the newcomers to have been rodents. The cold weather paired with her flight here had made her a bit hungry, but she knew now wasn't the proper time or place to fantasize about drinking them. This mission was all about stealth, after all. She only hoped that her stomach didn't grumble loud enough to give her away.

However, that hope became a moot point as Paulie hit the lights. The dark shape cast from inside the lampshade was a bit hard to miss. "Gah!" Paulie yelled, scrambling backwards. "What is that?!"

Guano, Lucy cursed to herself. No sense hiding anymore now that the bat's out of the bag. The thief dropped from her perch inside the lamp, acrobatically landing on the carpet below in a defensive position. Something told her she wouldn't be talking her way out of this one, if these shrews recognized her, so she readied herself for the inevitable.

"Hey, that's Vladzotz's wife!" Nicky yelled almost immediately.

"You sure?" Vinnie asked warily.

"Yeah. I mean, the parka looks a little silly, but otherwise that's definitely her!"

"Well then," Nicky smashed his wine bottle on the table to create an improvised shiv. "Let's send her back to 'im."

"In pieces!" Paulie added, grabbing a rodent-sized baseball bat from one of the weapon racks.

"Was sorta the implication, Paulie." Nicky said, putting on a pair of brass knuckles.

If they wanted a fight, then Lucy didn't have much of a choice. They were between her and the window she'd slipped through, after all. Not to mention the fact that she couldn't let them run back to their boss now that they knew of her intrusion. She didn't like the thought of risking her health on a mission that was supposed to be a simple espionage attempt, especially now that she had a family to protect, but she knew that if news of this broke out, then said family would be in great danger. There was only one thing to do.

Lucy smirked. "I may be a married bat now, but don't mistake me for some defenseless housewife!"

At that, Lucy leapt into a roll, springing forward with her legs at its cusp and tackling Vinnie to the carpet. She socked him a single time across the face, hoping that did the trick before she flapped into the air, out of reach, just as Paulie took a swing with his baseball bat.

Vinnie groaned, rolling around on the floor while the other two shrews glared up at her, obviously vexed but just as obviously unsure what to do from here. Nicky threw his bottle at her, which Lucy easily dodged in mid-air.

"Hey, that's cheating!" Paulie shouted.

"I've got somethin' to take care of that!" Nicky promised, rushing off behind the nearby bar counter while Paulie attempted to climb the shelves up to Lucy, a plan rather lacking in foresight.

Lucy cackled. All she did to beat Paulie was flap over to the shelf he was clambering up, slipped behind the crack between it and the wall, and pushed with all her might, causing it to topple over and smash to pieces on the floor. A dazed Paulie rolled out of the rubble next to his incapacitated friend. That's when Lucy turned her attention toward the third, slinking off somewhere behind the bar. Unfortunately for her, Nicky wouldn't be going down quite so easily, pulling a very mafia-esque tommy gun from behind the counter and opening fire in her general direction. The bullets would give larger predators an ugly bruise at worst, but for someone of Lucy's size, they would be much more dangerous.

The bat gasped, immediately taking evasive aerial maneuvers to avoid getting turned into swiss cheese. She flapped, tucked in her wings, spun down and rolled to a halt beneath the countertop where the bullets couldn't reach her. In the commotion, the broken top of Nicky's old wine bottle rolled next to her right foot. Lucy quickly formed an idea. Grabbing it, she crept beneath the counter until she reached the corner, jumped up, and tossed the piece of junk into the wall of bottles behind the shrew. The whole thing collapsed atop Nicky with a beautiful crashing sound, sending a colorful wave of mixed drinks cascading across the carpet. He didn't stand a chance.

"Phew." Lucy huffed wearily, wiping at her forehead with one wing. She admired all the destruction their fight had sowed across the office. "Aw, and it was just getting good. Too bad."

She spared a glance at the bag she'd brought with her. Pulling out the files she'd grabbed from the desk, Lucy flipped through a few documents and smirked. Commerce records, with all kinds of useful info. Definitely a win. Choosing to review it all in a safer time and place, the bat stuffed it back into her bag just as a groan echoed somewhere close by.

"Ugh…" Nicky whined from beneath the pile of glass, his two partners in similarly bad shape. "You won't… get away with this… bat broad." He coughed a few times. "Boss'll turn you into… a frozen doorstop… for stealing from him."

Lucy took a moment to catch her breath as she looked around, pondering what to do next. "All's fair in love and war, bite-size," she rebuked. "Your side started it by trying to burn down Castle Fangpyre. I'm just doing my part to clean up your mess." She paused. It was at that moment that her stomach let out a piercing growl, loud enough to fill the air. She clutched at her belly. "Mmrm. Hungry now, too." Her gaze drifted to the three defeated shrews. A wicked smile grew across her face.

Good thing I have a nice three course meal laid out just for me, she thought to herself as she hungrily licked her lips.

Beneath the rubble of the bookcase, Paulie stiffened with fear as he noticed her reaction, which only served to draw Lucy's attention. The shrew hauled himself free before running for the door. Hissing, Lucy lunged forward and captured the escaping rodent in her wingtips, landing belly-down on the wooden floor. She shoveled Paulie into her mouth and bit down, sinking her fangs into his body. He squeaked with futile terror as Lucy sucked him dry in a matter of moments, and then raised her head with a gasp of air.

"Not bad," Lucy said before letting out a small belch. "But not very filling. Looks like I got first blood in the war, though!"

Both Vinnie and Nicky were understandably terrified. The former gave a high-pitched screech as Lucy pounced atop him. She sucked the fluids from his body, causing it to shrivel up while her own stomach visibly expanded, stretching against the form-hugging fabric of her bodysuit. From behind the counter, all Nicky could hear was his partner's scream of terror, a puncturing sound like a knife cutting fruit, and a harsh gulp before Vinnie went silent. He shivered with fear, and seized up as Lucy leered down at him from over the countertop, blood dribbling down her chin.

"Stay away from me you monster!" The shrew demanded.

"Monster? I can't survive without at least a little blood, ya know," Lucy explained. "Normally I just take a sip from dozing mammals in the houses I rob, but sometimes a little morsel like you comes along, looking to start a fight, and I just can't resist. Now be a dear and hold still!"

Nicky screamed as the bat descended upon him, wishing that he had just stayed home that day.

11:00 A.M ; The next day, Savanna-Central...

A harried looking Samantha led a somewhat amused looking Nick through the front doors of City-Hall. The building's massive entrance led to equally spacious halls bustling with mammals of every shape and size. Polished white tiles lined the floors, glaring in the bright light from the windows.

"C'mon! C'mon! Why aren't you taking this seriously!?" Samantha tried to urge the fox along, but Nick wasn't concerned.

"The paperwork isn't going to catch fire because we don't show up a minute earlier, Sammy."

"It just might!" Samantha shot back. "It might have already! Why else would it have suddenly disappeared?"

"Because bureaucracies never lose paperwork," Nick drolled, voice dripping with sarcasm. He casually strolled with his paws stuffed in the pockets of his wrinkled beige suit.

"Not like this they don't," the little meerkat hissed, surprising Nick with how vicious it sounded. "This smells of sabotage."

They passed through security, and then Samantha made such a beeline for the City Clerk's Office that Nick could scarcely keep up. The meerkat was in such a rush that she nearly collided with an inattentive capybara, almost spilling their coffee across her dark blue business skirt and blazer. They came in, and Samantha charged toward the nearest desk with a full head of steam, while Nick limped up shortly behind.

She smiled, but her tone was anything but friendly as she said, "Hi! My name is Samantha Diallo. This is Nick Wilde. We submitted a campaign for mayor's petition and the associated packet nearly a week ago. Paid the filing fees and everything. Then, I received a phone call and someone tells me that it didn't go through. Could you please tell me how that is even possible?"

The sheep clerk, an ewe with height, build and features remarkably similar to Bellwether, stared at the smiling, raging face of Samantha with wide, yellow eyes. "Uh, um- I don't know! That sounds highly irregular!"

"It sure is." Samantha agreed through gritted teeth.

The ewe cringed away from Samantha's hostile tone. Nick, who had been ignored since his introduction, bumped Samantha's shoulder and shot her a warning look when she glanced sharply up at him. Though no words were said, when Samantha looked away, she crossed her arms and settled her shoulders, visibly reigning herself in.

The clerk was furiously typing on her computer now, though she shot Samantha several nervous glances as she worked. After a moment, the ewe squinted at the screen. "You're right. There's no record here of your petition being filed, or your packet. You're sure-?" One glance at Samantha's expression killed the question before it could fully form. "Right, you're sure. Uh, would you mind waiting? I could ask around-"

Samantha cut in, "Where's the Head Clerk? Mr. Ross. I left the packet with him. He should know exactly where it is."

The ewe clerk winced. "Oh, poor Mr. Ross got real bad food poisoning the other day. He had to go to the hospital. I heard he nearly died!"

Shock overtook Samantha's hostility as she covered her mouth with both paws. "Oh, no! Is he going to be alright?"

"Last I heard, he's going to be out of the hospital in a few days, then he should be back to work the following Monday."

Nick bumped Samantha's shoulder again, and when he had her attention, his smile was partly comforting and partly I-told-you-so. "See, Sammy? Boss got sick and the paperwork is just waiting for him to come back. Monday, right?" Nick looked at the ewe for confirmation and she nodded. "See? No problem."

Samantha still looked disturbed. "Nick, that paperwork should have been filed last week. And we've already announced the campaign. This puts us behind schedule. Every day we don't have that paperwork on file opens us up to charges of incompetence at best and fraud at worst. We have to get that packet filed." She turned her attention to the ewe. "Is it possible to get it done today?"

"Uhmmm…" the ewe hummed as she considered. "You said you left the complete packet with Mr. Ross? It might be in his office. It's open. I could check…?"

"I would really, really appreciate it," Samantha said, once again her usual, friendly, earnest self now that she didn't feel like she was being duped.

"Come this way," the ewe waved them around her station and led them past several rows of desks all stationed with bookish, conservatively dressed mammals filling out paperwork, inputting text on computers and flipping through thick reference manuals. Shortly, they came to a corner office with the door closed and frosted windows dark. The bronze plaque on the door, blemished with age, read Head Clerk - Robert Ross.

The door was unlocked. The ewe let herself in and flipped the light switch, displaying a sheep-sized room with a floor quite literally made of grass. Samantha and Nick followed, with the latter clutching at his aching knee. "Now, Mr. Ross sometimes kept particularly thick documents in his desk pending filing," she explained as she began to open and close drawers, but a brief check turned up nothing.

Before a next step could be discussed, an unfamiliar rabbit stepped into the room. Dark fur was contrasted with a pristine white pantsuit. What really caught Nick's eye was the missing tip of one ear, and the faint, jagged, discolored lines on her paws and wrists, and he guessed they continued under her long sleeves. Years of living on the street and working as a cop made it easy for Nick to guess what they were: defensive scarring. She'd been mauled by a predator.

Respectfully averting his eyes, Nick stepped away from the door and the rabbit standing in the frame. The rabbit, for her part, seemed to do her best to ignore Nick entirely and focused only on the two females.

"Miss Flockley," she addressed the ewe, "Can I help you with something?"

"Oh, yes," the now named Miss Flockley gestured at the desk. "We're looking for a mayor's Campaign packet. Have you seen anything?"

"Yes, I have," the rabbit said. "There was a packet like that on Mr. Ross' desk the other day. I thought it seemed important, so I filed it myself."

"You filed it? Then why doesn't it show up in the system?" Samantha asked, suspicions raised.

The rabbit shrank a little, suddenly seeming much less sure of herself. "It doesn't? I mean, it should. I followed the reference…"

"Miss Capriola started here last week. She's a hard worker, but she still has a lot to learn," Miss Flockley explained to Samantha, then turned back to the rabbit. "Miss Capriola, do you remember where you put the packet?"

"I believe so. I could show you."

Miss Flockley gestured past Miss Capriola out into the rest of the building. "Lead the way."

The two turned and made their way out of the office. Samantha turned to follow, but Nick snagged her arm before she could escape. "Sammy, I'm gonna stay here."

Samantha tilted her head curiously at him. "Why?"

Nick shot an uncomfortable glance after the scarred rabbit, then looked back to his Campaign Manager. "My knee hurts. Been so busy lately that I haven't been going to physical therapy, and then there was all that dancing at the ball… I think I might have strained something. Just gonna rest here a bit."

Compassion softened Samantha's features, and she nodded. "Alright, Nick. I'm sorry if I rushed you. I'll come back as soon as I get this straightened out."

The meerkat turned and hurried after the two clerks. Nick watched her go, then sank into one of the fox-sized guest chairs across from the desk with a relieved sigh. The fox was alone with his thoughts for only a minute or two before a new, masculine voice drew his attention to the door. It was a clear, strong tone that drew his ears like a moth to a flame.

"Bob? You here? Oh. Hello."

A tall, lean buck deer stood outside the door. His thin brown fur was peppered with gray, and wrinkles around the eyes placed him somewhere past middle age. The deer's polished antlers branched into a six-point spread, and his deep blue suit and tie were as spotless as they came. He stared curiously at Nick, like he wasn't sure what he was looking at.

"Sorry, Mr. Ross isn't here," Nick explained before it got awkward. "I'm just waiting on some paperwork."

"I see," the deer said. He tilted his head and squinted his blue eyes thoughtfully. "Do I know you from somewhere? I feel like I've seen you before."

Nick allowed himself a smirk. "Well, I have done a few TV interviews here and there-"

"Wait, you're that fox that's running for mayor!" The deer deduced, eyes brightening with revelation and interest. "Nicholas Wilde, right?"

"The one and only." He confirmed as he reached out with an open paw. "But please, call me Nick."

The deer had to duck down to fit under the door frame, nearly knocking his antlers on the ceiling during the process. He took the shake with one hoof. "It's an honor to meet you! I saw your speech on the news yesterday. It sounds like you've got big plans! Real exciting stuff!"

"Sure is. Never imagined I'd be getting into politics, but I feel I've got a few ideas worth exploring."

"No need to be so modest," the deer chuckled. "You seem like a real visionary. Just the kind of mammal this city needs."

"Why, thank you," Nick replied, smiling proudly. "I have to say, it's nice to hear from everyday mammals. The news is one thing, but knowing that my goals resonate with real citizens is a huge motivator. I hope I can live up to my promises. What kind of work do you do here?"

"Oh, I'm just the Election Chairmammal, nothing special."

"I hate to have to ask this, but… what exactly is that?"

The deer chuckled good-naturedly. "Don't worry, I get that a lot. It's not a job that's in the spotlight. But to answer your question, it's my responsibility to oversee the voting process during elections." A grin spread his lips, showing rows of perfect white teeth. "Which means I may just be counting your votes."

"Well then, don't short me when the time comes, okay?" Nick joked, earning a laugh from the deer.

"Not to worry, I take my job very seriously. I promise to give you exactly what you have earned, Mr. Wilde." The deer calmly folded his arms behind his back. "You know, I'd be happy to give you some advice as well."

"What kind of advice?"

"Just about City-Hall. What it's really like here." He pointed a hooftip in the direction Samantha had gone. "I presume Miss Diallo is your Campaign Manager? She's an excellent advisor, but she doesn't work here like I do. I'd be happy to fill you in on what to expect. After all, you may be working here too in a few months, no?"

"There aren't any laws against that?" Nick asked, raising an eye pointedly. "Sounds a lot like insider trading to me."

"I can assure you we wouldn't be talking about anything confidential. Just one mammal sharing their experiences to another. Networking is an important part of politics, you know," he then gestured to the empty desk of Robert Ross. "And besides, from what I overheard about your paperwork problem, it sounds to me like you're not technically in the race yet, so even if I did share too much, it wouldn't be problematic." The deer reached into his breast pocket, and offered Nick a crisp white business card. "So what do you say? Up for a quick lunch tomorrow?"

Nick took the card in one paw, admiring the formal design. The words Bradley Stagnew, Election Chairmammal were printed in a sleek black font, followed by his email and cellphone number. The fox chuckled, wondering if this deer had truly happened upon him by accident or not, and then glanced back up to him.

"You really came prepared, huh? Well, I guess I can spare some time, especially if it helps me learn more about City-Hall."

"Excellent choice. Give me a call at noon tomorrow, or whenever is most convenient for you. I'll be looking forward to teaching you what it's like here."

"Sure thing." Nick promised. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Stagnew."

The deer grinned wide. "The pleasure is all mine." He said with a smirk, and then glanced out the door. "I should be getting back to my post now. Best of luck sorting out your paperwork problem. Until tomorrow!"

Bradley ducked out of the door, vanishing behind the frame. Within less than a minute, Samantha returned along with the bunny and ewe, holding a thick stack of paperwork in her arms.

"Found the file!" She exclaimed before shooting a curious look at Bradley as he departed, as if she nearly but didn't quite recognize him. "Who was that?"

Nick tucked the business card into his pocket. "Just a supporter. It's like you said at the ball: the whole city knows about us now."

"Well, good!" Samantha declared, smiling. "You're going to need all the supporters you can get, because as of now," she held the previously missing packet aloft with both paws before turning and handing it to Miss Flockley with ceremonial care. "You are officially running for mayor!"

"That's great!" Nick said with enthusiasm. "So now what?"

"Back to the office! We have lots of planning to do. And you," she said with an evil smirk fitting of any crime boss. "Get to start making phone calls. Lots and lots of phone calls."

7:00 P.M ; Capricorn Tower, Downtown Zootopia...

Power had its perks.

None knew this better than Rupert Clovestone. A lifetime of entrepreneurial success in the architecture and tech business had shown the markhor what power truly meant. He commanded an army of employees to do his bidding, managed a vast network of influence brought about by his empire, and owned more money than he could hope to spend in ten lifetimes. Yet if there was one thing Rupert could happily do without, it was the attention. Power came with more than just opportunity, after all. Responsibility, envy, and scrutiny were all just another task on his daily to-do list. But to Rupert, the attention was the most deplorable of all. He was a mammal of solitary work and focus - the very traits that had helped him build his empire - and prying eyes, flashing lights, and nosy journalists never failed to test his already thin patience.

Yet of all the scandal-hungry scavengers he'd dealt with over his life, few vexed him as intensely as Officer Judy Hopps, even days after she had visited.

The markhor stood before the floor-to-ceiling windows of his office, watching over the bustling cityscape of Savanna-Central with his arms calmly folded behind the white lab coat that obscured his brown vest and slacks. Far below, he could see the streets clogged with the evening rush hour traffic like plaque in an artery. The sun had nearly set over the horizon of the Zootopia Sound, blanketing its waters with a deep miasma of orange and yellow. Zootopia's lights were gradually flicking on for the night, driving away the dark as though daytime had never ceased. At the very peak of Capricorn Tower, his office provided him with a view truly like no other in the city. It was a grand sight, but Rupert couldn't fully enjoy it with the threatening words of Judy Hopps echoing in his mind.

If I find any evidence of criminal activity on your property, you'll be the first to know.

Rupert sneered. Pretentious rabbit, he thought to himself. She doesn't understand her place in this city. In my city. What a nuisance.

The sound of his office doors sliding open caused one of his ears to flick. Rupert's amber eyes lazily refocused to the reflection in the window pane before him, watching as his llama secretary approached him from behind. Her hooves clopped against the pristine white tiles, echoing softly around the marble pillars that flanked the path to his glass desk.

Miss Hoover halted a few yards from the desk, leaving a respectful amount of room between them. Her clipboard hugged tight against her chest. "Mr. Clove-"

"That rabbit cop," Rupert forcefully interrupted, causing Miss Hoover to silence herself immediately as his feathery, snide voice filled the room. "I want my lawyers on her case by tomorrow morning. Tell them to tear it apart if there's so much as a typo in her report."

"Yes sir," Miss Hoover said. "But, isn't her investigation still open? The ZPD won't give any info until they bring it to court."

The markhor turned to glare at his secretary, posture scrunched as though his gigantic curved horns were weighing him down. "You think I don't know that? She may not have pressed charges yet, but it's only a matter of time before she happens across some rounding error in our balance sheet and cries foul. You know how jumpy rabbits are. I want my lawyers ready at the first sign of trouble. Do I make myself clear?"

Miss Hoover submissively nodded her head. "Yes sir. I'll see to it at once, but…" She hefted her clipboard. "I have a briefing for you."

Rupert checked his wristwatch. "Seven already, hm? How time flies." He sighed with exasperation and irritably waved one hoof as he turned to face the window. "Get on with it."

Clearing her throat, the llama lifted one of the papers on her clipboard. "Staff complaints have risen an additional one-point-four percent since implementing the new batch of public announcements you requested-"

"Thankless ignorami…" Rupert muttered.

"-And Mammal Resources recommends discontinuing them altogether." Miss Hoover concluded before continuing down her list, looking relieved to have gotten that one out of the way. "Research and Development has finished a prototype model for Project Everest and-"

A mote of intrigue straightened the markhor's spine and softened his scowl. "Have they now?" He interjected, using one hoof to stroke at the stringy brown fur of his long beard. "Finally. Some good news. I shall see this prototype for myself." Straightening his lab coat, he began pacing toward his secretary. "And don't notify R&D beforehand. I want to catch them in their element, or lack thereof."

"Very good, sir. Right this way." Miss Hoover gestured to the door.

"I know the layout of my own building, thank you." The markhor snapped, head nodding a bit too far forward and forcing him to readjust his glasses.

"Of course, sir." She cleared her throat again, silently thinking that if he weren't her boss, Rupert would just look like a sad old mammal. "I'll continue with the briefing as we walk."

Rupert rolled his eyes. "Oh, very well. Just rip the band-aid off already."

Hope you enjoyed the latest chapter! The crime war finally begins, and with it you can expect plenty of action down the line! Meanwhile, Nick's campaign is officially official, and I can't wait to share what's to come! You'll be seeing Judy's investigation grow, some sweet new Wildehopps scenes, and brand new districts! Judy may not have had any time to shine in this chapter, but she'll get some big scenes with Nick in the next one. You'll see!

Credit to Berserker88 for writing part of that scene with Lucy on her mission. Also, apologies if that part at the end of that scene was a bit too dark. I wanted to remind readers that Lucy is still a villain, which may be easy to forget past all the sweeter moments she's been having with Vladzotz and their pups lately. Their relationship is somewhat of a support network for the both of them, as you can probably tell, and when left to their own devices, well, they tend to relapse. You can be certain that there will be harsh consequences for her actions though, and that she'll actively grow as a character through them. I did warn that there will be character development, after all. You'll see!

Bradley is another new character you can expect to see a lot of going forward. Anyhow, chapter 6, "Harsh Truths," will be coming soon! Stay tuned.