Chapter 1: The Price of Freedom
A storm was coming.
It was an event that happened rarely in the wastelands surrounding the massive industrial city of Megapolis. Dark clouds intermingled with the ashen, grey-yellow smog emitted from the metropolis’ eight towering reactors and the haze quickly blocked out the sun.
Whatever organisms that eked a living on the barren lands started to burrow underground or find cover around the large rock formations in anticipation of the tempest to come. Even the larger Mutates – those creatures mutated by the radioactive runoff discharged from the city’s reactors – were forced to seek shelter once the first few claps of thunder erupted, shaking the earth itself. Despite their primitive intelligence, their basic, bestial instincts sensed that something was amiss.
This storm was unlike any before it.
The threatening air did not stop the blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog from slowly trudging towards Megapolis. He had long, sharp quills coming out of the back of his round head which swept down his back. He wore a dark blue vest and long, baggy wool trousers, held up with thick, brown suspenders. A steel plate covered in worn, black leather was fastened to the top of the trousers to protect the abdominal area. On his left shoulder was a black, battle-scarred leather pauldron and his left hand was covered with a well-worn white glove, soiled and cracked from prolonged use. His right shoulder was covered with a single steel studded pauldron and his upper arm was covered in tarnished, plate armour. An ornate steel gauntlet with a gold band and a red gemstone adorned his forearm. He wore deep red sneakers with a broad, white stripe crossing the top. Each stripe ended with a gold buckle on the outer side of each shoe.
The suspenders were bound together on his back by a flat, circular metal disk. Attached to the disk was an enormous, gun-metal grey broadsword, five feet long, with a single, ten-inch wide edge. The riveted handguard was adorned by swirling, golden designs. The base of the blade by the handguard had straight, angular etchings on either side. The sword had two holes bored into it, near the handguard. Inserted into each hole were two, brilliant green gems, with a linkage connecting them.
His clothes were riddled with holes and tears while the rest of his exposed body was covered in a litany of wounds and bruises that were slowly healing. The bottoms and the sides of his shoes were caked in a thin layer of dirt and blood. Wearisome as he was, he still pressed forward.
A sudden, cool breeze flowed through his quills and he stopped in place. His eyes closed as he relished the feeling of the wind behind him. He then felt a frenzied, restless urge coursing through his body and down to his legs. It was as if the wind gently pushing on his back was telling him to stop holding back and to let go of all inhibitions.
It was telling him to run.
Before he could act on this impulse though, he heard the crackling sound of thunder above him, followed by a weak moan coming from his left. His unnaturally glowing jade-green eyes turned away from the city looming in the distance and towards his companion, who he had wrapped his left arm around.
Supported by the hedgehog was a 21-year-old orange-furred fox. He stumbled about on weakened legs and was unable to support his own weight. He was clothed in a replica of his protector’s uniform, with slight differences. The zipper on the vest was down slightly, revealing tufts of white fur underneath. He wore a steel studded pauldron on his left shoulder, which was identical to the one the hedgehog wore. On his wrists were brown and grey gloves and on his left arm, from wrist to three quarters up his forearm, was a studded armlet to use as a guard. He wore brown, standard-issue combat leather boots. On the base of his left ear was a piercing; a single, silver hoop.
His body was thin and his pointed, white muzzle was gaunt and sunken. His ears lay flat and his nose was dry as he staggered forward, his friend coaxing him onward. His irises were coloured an unnatural, electric blue, similarly to the green that the blue warrior sported. Dragging on the lifeless earth behind him as he ambled were two, large, bushy tails. Despite his general weakness, the fox was otherwise uninjured. He had no means to defend himself and was relying solely on the good graces of his friend to keep him safe.
Drool was slowly dripping out of his hung mouth and his eyes were staring unfocused on hard dirt beneath him. He let out another quiet moan as the second crack of thunder erupted from the sky.
The hedgehog bent his head down to look at his friend, concern flooded his features. “You OK little buddy?” he asked softly, wiping the drool off of his lips with the back of his gauntleted hand.
The fox only mewled in response and his grip on the hedgehog’s arm tightened.
The hedgehog didn’t know what to make of the answer. He shrugged and said cheerfully to the fox, attempting to change the subject, “Look over there! We’re almost at Megapolis! In another few miles, you and I will be safe and sound!” He chuckled to himself lightly. “Heh, heh… Miles. Get it? Cuz your name?”
The fox moaned again.
The warrior shook his head. “OK, I get it, it was a lame joke,” he chuckled. When he heard no further response from his companion, he let out a sigh. “Man, this trip did a number on you…” he mumbled under his breath.
As he trudged on with the fox in tow, the hedgehog barely repressed the frustrated and restless feeling he had inside him. If there was one thing he hated most of all, it was moving slowly. He desperately wanted to feel the wind rushing by him as he ran, but he knew that his usual, blistering pace would be too much for the two-tailed fox to handle. The warrior cursed at his annoyance. ‘I can’t be selfish,’ he thought as he half walked, half dragged his barely conscious companion through the darkening wastelands. ‘He needs my help to get better… After all, I dragged him into this mess in the first place.‘
His train of thought was broken as the rain started to fall in small, light droplets onto the duo. The hedgehog stopped to look upwards and frowned at the sky. “Well, this won’t do,” he muttered, looking around for shelter.
He spotted a cave at the bottom of one of the ridges overlooking the city, straight and to the left of him slightly. “OK Tails,” he addressed the fox by name. “We’re gonna go to that cave over there and camp out til the rain stops,” he said, pointing towards the direction of the cave.
Tails said nothing at first but then nodded imperceptibly in agreement.
The hedgehog smiled as he led him to the cavern. “Don’t worry little buddy,” he said as he guided him. “You’ll be alright. We’ll get to the city, find a doctor to help you get better.” He paused, grunting as he started going up an incline on the way. “And then after that, we’ll be on our way to fame and fortune! All you have to do is,” he continued as the rain started to pour harder, ” Just hang on for a couple more hours… OK?”
His pace started to slow as the ground beneath him became muddy and slippery, making it harder for the invalid Tails to gain any traction. The spiny swordsman gritted his teeth and summoned up more strength to continue onward, his sneakers starting to make squelching sounds in the mud with every step.
Tails started to slip further, causing the hedgehog to stumble himself and nearly lose his footing in the process. Against the now pounding rain, he looked ahead to see that the cave was less than a hundred feet away from where he was. The rain started coming down in sheets now. Lightning arced and flashed across the sky wickedly. Thunder boomed loudly in the hedgehog’s hyper-sensitive ears, causing him to flinch at the sound.
After a herculean effort, the pair made it to the cave. As they entered its mouth for shelter, the swordsman suddenly heard something besides the falling rain and thunder. Kneeling down and honing his senses, he soon picked out the hum of hover engines and the heavy boots of Humans and Mobians tromping on the wet ground over the din of the storm. He picked out the hoarse voices of officers directing soldiers and the squelching sound of tank treads rolling and bipedal mechanoids stepping on the ever-saturating soil. His ears shot up like arrows and his eyes widened, realizing what this all meant.
“Damnit, they found us…” he whispered to himself. He hoisted up Tails, using as much of his remaining strength he could muster to drag the catatonic Mobian deeper into the cave. He concealed him behind a boulder, propped him up into a seated position and then kneeled down to his level to speak.
“Listen Tails,” he said to the fox, a sad smile crossing his muzzle. “Kintobor’s army has found us and it doesn’t look like they’ll be taking us alive either.” An exasperated scoff escaped his lips and his eyebrows lowered into a scowl. “If I were a bettin’ hog, I’d say that that crazy bat-crab bastard at Kintobor had something to do with this.” He pinched the bridge between his eyes and then drew out the enormous sword from his back. As he placed it on the ground beside him to inspect the weapon, he continued talking. “I want you to stay here and be safe. I’ll draw them away from here and hopefully catch ‘em by surprise at the same time.” He paused and then turned his head to the catatonic fox, whose eyes were misted over with confusion.
The warrior placed a hand on the fox’s shoulder and the corners of his mouth turned upwards once more. “Hey, I made a promise to you, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower,” he said in a warm, caring tone. “I promised that I would get you to the city and help find a way to fix whatever the hell they did to you. Before we get there though, I gotta go take care of these losers first.” His smile grew into a grin as he stood up, placed the blade on the disk on his back and turned towards the mouth of the cave. “Hope they’re fast enough to catch me!” the warrior said cheerfully as he stretched and warmed up. “Honestly, I could use a bit of a challenge right now.”
The bravado he portrayed belied the uncertain feeling he had in the pit of his stomach. As the storm began to lighten slightly, the sounds of the machines and of boots trampling the ground became more pronounced. The hedgehog ceased his stretching. ‘Oh, boy…’ the swordsman mused, his ears flattening as he listened on. ‘That’s a LOT of soldiers and mechs out there… and they’re all out for little ole’ us.’ He twisted his body back to the fox slumped on the ground, his head bowed to his chest. A sickening thought then crossed his mind:
He could leave him there and run off.
What made him feel worse was that he was considering it.
The warrior shook his head violently and pushed that thought away as far as he could. He would not abandon his friend, not after all he had done to keep him safe. ‘No more running,‘ he thought. ‘It’s time to end this, once and for all.”
Waving farewell to the twin-tailed fox, the hedgehog turned back and strode out of the cave to face the crowds of soldiers, vehicles and mechs that awaited him. Outside, he bent down into a runner’s starting position, tensed up and then shot off like a bullet, a flash of steel and blue fur tearing through the rocky outcroppings.
He soon zipped up to the top of a tall spire that overlooked the area. Keeping low to the ground so that he wouldn’t be detected, he scanned the horizon. From a few hundred feet away, he saw soldiers by the droves marching towards the ridge where Tails hid, each sporting coloured uniforms to denote their rank and status. Blue uniforms for grunts, green for platoon leaders, grey for sergeants and red for the higher-ups. They were flanked by tanks and ‘Sweepers’: bipedal machines with large spikes for feet, high-calibre machine guns for arms and small anti-personnel missiles hidden inside the elongated, rectangular body that was parallel to the ground. Attached to the back of the machines was a large motor that exuded greyish-yellow exhaust fumes. The ‘face’ of these machines consisted of a large intake grille with vertical slats of metal that opened and closed to make a frightening visage. The hedgehog squinted his eyes and saw – with his remarkably enhanced vision – a model number etched into the burnished metal on the robot’s side: E-25.
He angled his head to the dark grey skies and saw several egg-shaped transporters above the soldiers, each held aloft with hover engines on either side of its body. On the undersides of each transporter were a pair of large, six-barrel rotary machine guns along with a searchlight that roved the ground below, the drizzling rainfall disclosing their location in the air.
“Huh, they must be desperate if they’re bringing Sweepers and SkyTrans carriers into the fray,” the hedgehog muttered to himself, frowning at the sight.
He scanned the area between them and located a spot of flat, open earth on another ridge that overlooked the city. It was close to where he hid Tails but far enough that the army wouldn’t circle back and look for him. ‘Looks large enough that I can go to town on anyone who approaches, but small enough that I wouldn’t be completely overwhelmed,’ he thought to himself as he scrutinized the plain. ‘Looking at this closely, if I play my cards right, I might stand a chance here?’
Deep in the pit of his stomach, however, he didn’t believe that thought for a second.
The hedgehog stood up, drew his sword and held it with the gauntlet-covered arm. He took several deep breaths to ready himself. Then he flung himself off of the spire, slid down to the surface and then, with a sonic boom, dashed off to the top of the ridge. The shockwave ensured that he left a trail distinct enough for the army to notice. Without fail, the searchlights on the SkyTranses above picked the speeding hedgehog out and the soldiers and mechs began to give chase.
The warrior soon reached the ridge and halted right at its edge, followed closely behind by the army. Soldiers lined up, cocked their machine guns and took aim. The Sweepers, tanks and SkyTranses followed suit and pointed weaponry of all sorts at the lone figure.
“You are surrounded!” the hedgehog heard a grunt shout out. “Turn yourself and the other subject over, or face destruction at the hands of the Kintobor Army!”
“Boy, oh boy,” the warrior said to himself as he smiled and shook his head. “The price of freedom is steep.” He closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the sword, just as the storm above began to gain strength once more. Lightning shot through the sky, illuminating everything for brief moments while thunder erupted, making it sound like the Goddess above was demanding that the bloodbath be started. The sky opened up and the heavy raindrops began splattering loudly on the helmets and metal bodies that surrounded him.
‘Live with no regrets. Believe in yourself. And chase after the impossible,’ the hedgehog mentally recited to himself, a habit he picked up over the years. He then scoffed at the thought of the imposing army in front of him. ‘Yeah, this is definitely an impossible situation… But things like this never stopped me before. And ‘sides… I got something to fight for…’
And then the warrior opened his eyes, which shone with an unholy light. A golden aura started to radiate from his body and tiny silver bolts of electricity crackled around him, mimicking the tempest above. His quills rose upward and he felt as though his entire body was supercharged for battle.
“Hey, assholes!” he yelled out for all to hear over the sounds of the strengthening tempest above. “I made a promise to somebody very important to me! And you guys should know that a SOLDIER’s word is his bond!”
And, as the last word was spoken, the self-declared SOLDIER threw his sword into the air and curled up into a ball, as any hedgehog would do in the face of danger.
The grunts were bewildered at the move, dropping their guard involuntarily. The general in one of the SkyTrans vehicles above who ordered his surrender actually smiled, thinking that he decided to give up. His face fell when he saw the curled-up rodent rapidly spinning in place on the ground. The hedgehog became nothing more than a gold-tinted blue, blurring ball with tiny, silver bolts of lightning arcing around him. The sword, thrown into the air, lazily reached the apex of its arc and started falling, gravity bringing the mass of metal hurtling to the land.
Just when the sword was about twenty feet from the ground, the hedgehog launched himself, the momentum of his spinning dash throwing him forward. He pushed off of the surface and launched himself into the air like a rubber ball hitting the floor, right into the path of his weapon. He then untucked his right arm and grabbed the sword at the hilt, while maintaining his supersonic rotation. This had the effect of turning the warrior into a spinning buzz saw of death as he flew forwards into the soldiers that were gawking at the sight.
He struck at the same moment a lightning bolt crackled across the sky. The spinning attack mowed down an entire unit and sent body parts flying in all directions. He uncurled and jumped straight into the next horde, swinging the massive sword, cutting soldiers and mechs indiscriminately and pushing his battle-scarred body to its limits. The aura surrounding him ceased to disappear and instead glowed more intensely as he launched more spinning attacks, one after another.
Flesh, bone, sinew and machinery flew as the hedgehog fought on. The relentless assault from the opposing army, however, dwindled his strength – slowly, but surely. Pushing himself beyond his limits was a gamble, but he had already admitted to himself back at the spire that he was in a losing fight.
Amidst the orders being shouted out loudly, the hedgehog’s focus was on the battle at hand, with his prime objective being to take out anything and everything within his reach and to keep fighting on and on until either they gave up and left or he fell.
Soon enough, he was barely able to hold the sword upright, but he willed himself to keep fighting. He hacked as bullets entered his body. He slashed even as explosions tore holes in his legs. He couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop.
He was going to protect that two-tailed fox who was like a little brother to him.
Even if it killed him.
Tails awoke alone in an unknown place with a severe throbbing sensation stabbing his head.
Groaning and rubbing his eyes in the darkness, he groped around his surroundings. His hands eventually patted against the rock he was leaning against and he deduced he was in some sort of rocky cospe. He could not for the life of him remember how he ended up in that small nook with his back against a boulder in Goddess-knew where. However, he did recall a voice speaking to him, telling him to stay here while they dealt with something.
His headache suddenly intensified at the thought. Flashes of memories, from happy to grisly and everything in between, swept through his mind at a speed too fast to process. He turned his head and rested his cheek against the cool rock, his teeth gritted in pain as he was being bombarded with various mental images. He felt like a computer being booted up after a long time being shut down. The pain subsided after a few minutes, to his great relief.
His face still against the rock, Tails opened an eye and caught a glimpse of light coming from the mouth of the cave. Startled, he tried standing up, only to stumble and fall flat on his face. Cursing softly underneath his breath, he forced himself onto his hands and knees and crawled out of the cavern and into the open badlands.
The first thing he noticed was the light rain that was drizzling down to the wet and muddied surface. Above him, faint rays of sunlight started to peer through storm clouds that began to clear up. Blinking from the contrast between darkness and light, he placed a hand on the muddied ground and leaned against the cave opening as he waited for his eyesight to adjust.
And then suddenly, it sharpened. Everything around him started to come into greater detail. He could pick out the minute cracks in a rock formation several thousand feet away. He could see the tiny organisms crawling around a moss-filled boulder across from him through his peripheral vision. Colours and shapes, both known and unknown, were vividly pouring into his eyes and his mind was nearly overloaded while attempting to process all the information.
When he found himself able to manage his vision, the two-tailed fox was then bombarded with the smell of the clearing rain and the putrid breaths of Mutates lurking in their hideaways, followed by the scent of gunpowder and the strong, coppery odour of blood. This particular stench was greatest at the top of a nearby ridge. Tails turned his head towards it and perked his ears up in reflex.
As soon as he did this, he was able to hear creatures emerge from their burrows yards away from his current position. He could hear various animalistic and ambient sounds with extreme clarity. He then picked up the sound of feather-light breathing and a barely heard moan. Focusing on that particular noise only, the fox gritted his teeth and went to his hands and knees, crawling up the ridge.
As he reached the summit, Tails felt his muscles grow stronger, little by little as he moved closer to the scent. He now stood upright and stumbled slowly to the top where the smell of blood was overwhelming.
The outcropping of rock was stained red and dotted with blobs of shimmering gold and silver liquid. Tanks, hover transports and pieces of bipedal mechaniloids were scattered along the ridge, deep gashes and black-charred marks riddled all over their lifeless husks. Tails then saw the desiccated bodies of soldiers – both Mobian and Human – lying on the wet earth with bronze bullet casings draped over their whole or dismembered bodies like garlands of flowers. The remains of a hover transport – a SkyTrans, Tails suddenly recalled – was teetering on the edge of the cliff.
Tails shivered at the sight of the macabre scene. His eyes roved around before landing on the only body barely left breathing; a mangled blue hedgehog whose life force was streaming endlessly through a large hole blown into his chest, a hand clutched in a bone-breaking grip around the hilt of an impossibly massive sword. The fox recognized the uniform he wore as a standard-issue SOLDIER outfit. His shimmering jade-green eyes were starting to fade.
The fox’s eyes widened at the sight and raced over to the body. In his haste, he stumbled over a dead body and slid on the bloody mud until he came to a stop. He crawled the rest of the way to the hedgehog’s side, his left cheek and face slathered with reddish-brown mud and gasping for breath. He searched the SOLDIER’s body in an effort to save him, but he realized it was a fool’s errand.
He was too far gone.
The hedgehog chuckled upon seeing the fox before coughing up blood. He took several shallow breaths and then finally spoke. “For the… both of us…”
The fox blinked, processing what he heard. “The both of us?” he murmured, puzzled.
“Yep… that’s right,” the hedgehog replied, wheezing. Struggling, he raised his arm and placed it behind Tails’ head. “You gotta… You gotta…”
The warrior embraced the fox at the last word, his hand dropping back into the mud a moment later. Tails rose, the hedgehog’s blood mixed in with the mud caked on his face and nodded in acknowledgement.
Satisfied, the SOLDIER then raised the hilt of the sword, his right arm shaking with effort. “Take… the Buster Sword…” he said, offering it to the two-tailed fox. “Keep going… Keep flying high… For my sake and… for yours as well…”
“Believe in yourself… Cuz I’ve always believed in you… Little buddy…”
Tails took the sword at the end of the hilt with both hands. It was still warm. To his surprise, he found the weapon to be lighter than he thought it would be, despite its size. He looked down at it and then at its owner. Suddenly, like water bursting through a dam, the memories of the SOLDIER washed over him in a flash. He saw the battles, the laughter, the tears and the hardships that bonded them together. The fox felt a vice-like grip squeezing his heart as he finally remembered who the blue hedgehog was.
“I will… Sonic,” he said thickly through gritted teeth, addressing the SOLDIER by name for the first time as he gripped the hilt of the Buster Sword tightly in his hands.
Satisfied, Sonic then took his right hand off the hilt and it too joined his left on the wet ground. His breathing started to slow as his mouth opened once more to say a final thing that Tails almost didn’t hear:
He smiled one last time, his eyes glazing over as he passed away.
Tails watched on as the SOLDIER died. On seeing the glassy look in the hedgehog’s eyes, he felt the flames of rage and anger roil around in the pit of his stomach. He was angered that this SOLDIER died for him. And enraged at the faceless enemy who was responsible for the act.
He suddenly tilted his head back and screamed, loud and long as the rain continued to fall on his face. His screams tapered off as his throat became raw and his breathing ragged. Choking back sobs, Tails looked again at the dead hedgehog and though his face was frozen in a smile, he could still hear his voice in his mind…
“Tails, don’t stand still and waste time waiting for something to happen. If you want something really badly, you gotta move forward and chase after it, even if it’s impossible. It’s the only way to live without regret.”
The fox let the words wash over him as he looked towards the city on the horizon. He soon made up his mind: he would move forward and finish the journey that the both of them had started. He got up, using the Buster Sword as support and looked back to Sonic for what would be the final time.
“Thank you,” he softly said to his still body. “I won’t forget. Adios, Sonic the Hedgehog.”
He walked away from his deceased friend, never looking back as he did so.