Chapter 11: Emeralds – A Primer
Cosmo let out a loud, shuddering gasp as her eyes snapped open. Bolting upright and looking around wildly, she soon realized that she was at home, in her bed. “A dream,” she whispered as she took several deep breaths to calm herself from the jolt that roused her. “Just… just another dream.”
The flower girl wiped away strands of green hair from her sweat-drenched brow with the back of her hand. She turned to the bedside table, next to the simple, metal-framed bed she slept on, and read the time on the alarm clock that sat upon it. It read 8:22 am. “Ugh… five hours?” she groaned softly as she shifted the covers off of her body and slid towards the edge of the bed. “I feel like I barely slept…”
Cosmo rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and then stepped onto the cool, oaken hardwood floor. She wore a thin, white nightgown with spaghetti straps that hung loosely on her frame and fell just below her knees. As she brought her arms up and arched her back into a deep stretch, she recalled the events that transpired on the previous night. Visiting the broken pipe in Sector 8, the visions and voices, the reactor explosion and finally…
‘A fox with two tails…’ she thought, turning on the light in her room and heading towards an antiquated mirror hanging on the wall opposite her bed. She stared at her bleary-eyed reflection. She had light circles underneath her eyes, her lips were dry and her hair was undone from the hastily-bundled upbraid she tied up before flopping into the bed. Shaking her hair, she saw the long, bright green tresses flow down to the middle of her back. The rosebuds on either side of her head were closed up. Sucking her teeth at her appearance reflected on the mirror’s surface, she picked up a brush on top of an aged, five-drawer dresser nearby and started to comb out the tangles in her hair.
‘The uniform… and the sword on his back… they look exactly like his… I never thought to ask him back then if it was one of a kind or not. It could just be a random coincidence that the fox has the exact same sword… but still…’
As she reflected on the mysterious stranger, she separated her hair into three bunches and neatly tied them into a large braid. She then placed a bright, red elastic hairband at the bottom end to keep it in place. Finally, she reached for the pink ribbon that was folded up on the dresser next to where the hairbrush lay, wrapped it around the base of her braid and tied it into a bow.
Cosmo checked herself over but then noticed that something was off about her appearance. Peering at her reflection closely, her blue eyes widened as she realized what was missing. “Oh! Wow, I can’t believe I forgot about these!” she said, resisting the urge to smack herself on the forehead. “Sheesh, get a grip, Cosmo.”
She closed her eyes and felt the buds on either side of her head start to rustle. A second later, she opened her eyes and she saw in her reflection two, blood-red roses in full bloom. Smiling, she shut off the light and opened the curtains in her room to let in what little light passed through the open sections of the Plate above her. “Good morning, Sector 5,” she whispered, a pensive look on her face. Turning away from the window, she disrobed, pulled on a clean duplicate of the dress she wore yesterday and then set about her morning routine. Entering the bathroom next door and turning on the tap, Cosmo let herself get lost in her thoughts amidst the monotonous tasks of getting ready for the day.
‘Man, what a weird dream… Hooded men, bright green eyes and that two-tailed fox… It feels like someone or something is trying to get a message to me, but whatever that message is, it’s coming in pieces. And whatever pieces I do get, I can barely understand them.’
Cosmo washed her face and patted it dry on the towel hung near the sink. As she shut off the water, she gripped the taps tightly as a forlorn feeling washed over her. ‘I wish mom was still here to tell me what all of this means…’ Snapping herself out of her funk, the flower girl opened the door and bounded down the stairs to the kitchen to see her mother preparing breakfast.
She was a woodchuck in her late forties with auburn brown fur and shoulder-length chestnut hair tied into a high ponytail. Turning to face Cosmo, she wore a simple off-white, floor-length dress and a forest-green apron. Her lips perked upwards. “Good morning, sweetheart,” she said warmly.
“Morning Mom!” Cosmo replied playfully, beaming at the older Mobian. “I hope I didn’t wake you when I got home early this morning?”
The woodchuck shut off the stove and drew near the green-haired girl. “No, but I couldn’t fall asleep anyway until I knew you were home,” she said, her smile dropping slightly. She tenderly placed her hands on Cosmo’s cheeks and cupped them, concerned hazel eyes looking into the flower girl’s own crystal blue. “Are you OK dear?” she asked her, a tinge of worry in her voice. “I-I hope you weren’t anywhere near that explosion?”
‘Sorry, mom…’ “Nope, I was on the Sector 3 plate,” she lied effortlessly, doing her very best to hide her guilt. “It took forever to get on a train home – what’s usually a half hour’s trip took me almost three!” She pouted, hoping it would help sell the lie further. “I would have called you but-”
Her mother’s stern look cut her off mid-sentence. “But nothing,” she said plainly. “You should have called – what if something happened to you? What if-” she halted, looking away from Cosmo. She sighed and then tenderly looked back at Cosmo’s face. Her hands lingered on the flower girl’s cheek and she leaned into their warmth.
“Never mind, at least you’re home safe and that’s all that matters,” her mother finally said, her hands sliding off. She then entered the kitchen and returned with a plate of sunny-side-up eggs, two slices of bread topped with fresh fruit and a small bowl of oatmeal. “Eat up,” she said, setting the dishes on the well-used wooden kitchen table. “You know what I always say: Breakfast is –“
“The most important meal of the day, yeah mom, I know,” Cosmo finished, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Picking out a fork, a knife and a spoon from the cutlery drawer on the opposite side of the wall, she took a seat in her favourite of the three chairs surrounding the little table – the one facing the window overlooking the vast and beautiful garden that she tended to- and began to eat, her mind still preoccupied with the dream.
‘It’s how it ended that’s getting to me; I saw myself falling through the roof of the church and into the flower bed. Could that mean something?’ she paused, her finger tapping her chin in thought while chewing her food. Her mother returned to the table and placed a glass of orange juice near her. ‘I guess I know where I’m going to be today.’
Cosmo wolfed down the rest of her meal and swigged down her glass of orange juice. “Mom, I’m heading to the church!” she called, rising from her seat. “I probably won’t be back until the end of the day. I’ll take yesterday’s leftovers with me.”
Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head in exasperation. ”Alright Cosmo,” she said wearily. “Just make sure you’re safe out there, OK? And try to be home early, please?”
The flower girl shot her mother a cheeky grin and kissed her on the cheek as she passed her by. She headed to the fridge, took out her uneaten dinner from the previous night and packed it into an insulated lunchbox. Grabbing her basket and her retractable staff from the table near the front door, she yelled out a goodbye, opened the door and then left for the church.
Tails opened his eyes.
Instead of seeing the room that was loaned to him since his arrival at Vanilla’s Haven, he saw a vast expanse of white space. The fox blinked and scanned the expansive and endless void for a moment until he made a logical conclusion. ‘I must still be asleep,’ he thought.
“Hey,” a voice called out from behind him. It echoed lightly within the expanse
Startled, the fox whirled around and grasped for his sword only to find that it wasn’t on his back. Eyes narrowed, he warily faced the newcomer. It was wearing a black robe and hood that shrouded its features, save for its feet and hands. It wore a pair of white gloves and red and white sneakers. The figure was only a few feet shorter than he was and its voice, though it sounded young and muffled by the garments it wore, was slightly familiar to him.
“Do you know what you’re doing here?” the shadow asked. “Do you know… who you really are?”
“…Of course I know who I am,” Tails said, his own voice echoing throughout the space. “I’m Tails, a former member of SOLDIER. I quit them and became a mercenary.”
The figure leaned forward and tilted its head to the side as if it were scrutinizing the fox. “So, you say you know who you are and what you’re doing,” it said. “But is this really what you should be doing; fooling around and taking the odd job here and there?” Straightening up, he raised a gloved hand, pointing a finger at the warrior. “The problems you have right now are serious. Much more serious than you’ve let yourself believe. They won’t go away just by thinking about them, nor can you change anything by just sitting back and looking at it.”
Before he could ask, an intense pain erupted inside the Tails’ mind. He screamed out and dropped to his knees as he clutched his head with both hands, thrashing about in an attempt to relieve his suffering. “What… What do… you…? What are you talking about!?” he said, gritting his teeth in agony.
The figure dropped his hand. Instantly, Tails felt the pain stop, as if his head was released from a tight vice. “Below you. Look into it and tell me what you see,” the shadow instructed.
Still on his knees, the fox looked down and saw a reflection of himself, with eyes closed and body still. Tails felt the hairs on his neck stand up as his doppelganger started to open its eyes. The right eye was his usual electric blue, but with silver and gold flecks dancing around the iris. The iris of the left eye however was a harsh, light green, the pupil a slit instead of a round shape. The eye stared back at Tails with malice. “What is this?” he questioned, feeling an unnatural tingle going down his spine.
“Something that you should have known and that you should have realized,” the voice said cryptically. “What you might be feeling now is the realization that the worst thing imaginable has happened.”
“What’s happened?” Tails asked, looking back at the hooded person and his patience nearing its breaking point. “Tell me, WHAT’S HAPPENED?!” As he shouted, the white space around him started to disintegrate, leaving behind nothing but darkness.
As the degradation inched closer and closer to the two, the wraith-like being brought up a gloved digit to its lips and motioned the warrior to be silent. “The worst has happened,” he repeated.
“It started moving.”
Before Tails could open his mouth, the darkness swallowed him whole. The last sound he heard before blacking out was a loud thump…
Tails jolted awake to the sound of a fist pounding the door. He was back at Vanilla’s Haven, in the room Cream loaned him. “Wake up foxy! Meet downstairs at the bar, it’s go time!” Bark’s voice called out from behind the room door.
Getting up, the fox shook the cobwebs out of his head and wiped the cold sweat off his brow. ‘Man, what a dream,’ he thought as he headed into the washroom to refresh himself. Returning to the room, he pulled on his SOLDIER uniform, strapped on his armour and headed downstairs to the bar which was abuzz with activity.
Biggs, Wedge and Jessie had just departed as the Ex-SOLDIER walked in. Bark was sitting at one of the tables with a grizzled-looking hound. The two were speaking in low tones over papers that were scattered all over the surface. Cream did a once-over of the bar to ensure that things were locked and secured tightly. Hope sat at the bar counter with some paper and a box of crayons.
Seeing that everything was in order, she picked up a carafe filled with coffee and walked up to a table on the far end of the bar where a woman was sitting with a mug in her hand. Tails recognized the Human as Cream’s next-door neighbour.
“Thanks for taking care of Hope on such short notice,” the rabbit said to the woman apologetically. She refilled her coffee and placed two packets of cream on the table. “I mean, what with the fiasco going on between the two of you and Johnny-”
The thin, auburn-haired woman shook her head. ”No, no, it’s alright,” she cut in, her voice a high, nasally tone that made Tails feel slightly uncomfortable. “It gives me something else to think about besides the fact that my troublemaking son is leaving home… It’s a good distraction.”
Cream took her hand, patted it gently and shot her a gentle smile. “Don’t worry, everything will work out,” she said optimistically, turning around to return the coffee pot to the percolator. The woman smiled ruefully at her retreating figure and then stared forlornly into the steaming mug of black liquid.
In the midst of the conversation, Tails retrieved his sword and sheathed it. He approached the bartender and snatched a piece of toast from a plate that she set on the bar counter in front of her. “Oh, good morning Tails!” she said, turning and smiling at him. “I was just talking to the neighbour. The person we usually ask to watch Hope is feeling ill, but Johnny’s mother stepped up and agreed to help, thank goodness.” She tucked a strand of hair behind one of her long ears. “So… I trust you slept well?”
“Yeah, I slept alright.” Tails said as he took a bite out of the toasted bread. Smirking, he added, “But if I was next to you, I’d probably sleep a lot better.”
Cream’s eyebrows shot straight up in shock. “Um… I-I don’t know what you mean,” she stammered, turning her reddening face away from the fox, who let out a chuckle at her expense. Composing herself and the blush receding, Cream looked back at the fox, her eyes alight with determination. “Tails, I’m going with you today,” she said, her mouth set in a grim line. “It’s all hands on deck for the mission since Kintobor is probably gonna throw everything at us. And before you argue,” she cut in, seeing his mouth open. “I’ll be fine. Besides, I want to see the fruits of my training. I want to know if I’ve done enough to really stick it to them, you know?”
Closing his mouth, Tails nodded. “Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from,” he said. He looked over her shoulder towards Bark and the hound sitting with him. “Who’s that guy he’s talking to?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s the Weapon Shop owner from down the street,” Cream replied, inspecting her gloves as she spoke. “That reminds me; Bark wanted to talk to you about something. You should probably see what it’s about.”
Finishing the light breakfast and wiping the crumbs off of his muzzle, Tails headed over to the table where the polar bear and the hound were sitting. “Bark,” he said, crossing his arms. “You wanted to see me about something?”
Bark raised his hand and motioned him to wait. “OK, so we’ll see you in a few,” he said to the hound, who got up from his seat, shook the bear’s hand with a toothy grin and then left. The bear then turned to the mercenary, his lips set into a tight line. “Today, we’re hitting the No. 5 Energen Reactor and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant,” he said. “As we predicted, Kintobor has upgraded their security to make things harder for people to get up and down the Plate. We have a workaround for it, so I’ll fill you in on the full details once we get on the train.”
He paused, took off his hat and placed it on the table. His eyes on the red and white cap, he then ran his hand through his long, yellow-white hair before exhaling loudly.
Tails surmised that there was something else he wanted to say. “Spit it out, Bark,” he addressed sharply. “You didn’t ask for me just to state the obvious, so what’s up?”
“Alright, look,” the polar bear started, sounding incredibly uncomfortable. “Before the next mission… there’s something I wanna ask you.”
The bear started to squirm in his seat. “I, uh… I don’t know how to use Emeralds!” he blurted out, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “I mean – I’m not stupid, I know what they are and all, I just never found a use for ‘em.”
The fox cocked an eyebrow at his employer. “Is that so?” he said casually. “So, how have you been-”
“Look,” Bark cut in through gritted teeth. “I’ll give back the one you found yesterday at No. 1… but just teach me more about them, alright? We got time? I’m sure it won’t take long…”
Tails mulled over Bark’s request. ‘Well… as I always say, the more you know, the better your chances of survival…’ “…Fine, I’ll go over it with you,” he said resignedly. He twisted back towards Cream, who watched the conversation whilst nibbling idly on a piece of toast. “Hey Cream, come over here,” he called. “I dunno what you know, but a refresher wouldn’t hurt, right?”
“R-right,” she said, coming over to the table. Tails noted the hesitance in her voice but paid it no mind as the three Mobians crowded around the table.
Tails extracted the two hexagonal green gems from the linked slots near the base of his sword and placed them on the table, side by side. They glimmered in the warm, yellow lighting above. The fox stared down at them as he collected his thoughts and he suddenly saw a flash of white across his vision. Closing his eyes and rubbing them with his thumb and forefinger, he saw an image form beneath the lids. A flash of silver spines, the licks of red-orange flames and a cruel, pale green eye with a slitted pupil.
His eyes snapped open and he could feel his heart pounding inside of his chest. ‘I… I must still be a little tired,’ he reasoned. He looked up and saw Bark and Cream looking at him; the former had a perplexed expression, while the latter gazed on with concern. “I’m fine,” he told them, clearing his throat and launching into his explanation. “I’ll be brief since we’re on a time crunch, so try to keep up.”
“As you probably already know, Emeralds are created when Energen condenses to the point of crystallization. This process usually takes years to accomplish naturally, though, with the advent of the Energen Reactors and RINGTEK plants, they’ve become more of a byproduct of the refinement and manufacturing process than anything else.”
“Now as for the types of Emeralds, there are five of them, each a different colour: Green, Yellow, Red, Blue and Purple,” Tails pointed to the two Emeralds on the table. “Green ones are Magic Emeralds. They’re the most common and abundant types of Emeralds you’ll find. Each Green Emerald has its own unique magic associated with it. For example,” he pointed to the Ice Emerald. “If you look closely into this Ice Emerald, you can see tiny crystals inside of it. The same goes for all Emeralds you’ll find; in fact, you can see its effect most of the time by just looking at it.”
“So then,” Bark interrupted, pulling out the Emerald he swiped from Tails at the No.1 Reactor and placing it on the table beside the other two. “What’s this one do? All I see is some kinda green light inside of it. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it does? Pun not intended, of course.”
“…That one’s a Restore Emerald, it allows you to cast Cure magic to heal wounds,” Tails replied, gazing flatly at the bear’s lack of witticism. “It’s much more effective than using Potions, but you want to be careful not to depend on it too much. Trying to summon up more Mana than you have will lead to a condition called ‘Mana Fatigue.’ It’s when one feels exhausted due to magic overuse. You don’t ever want that to happen while you’re in the thick of battle, so try to be conservative with your magic. Only use it when you need to. If it ever comes to the point where you’re burnt out and there’s trouble, drinking a phial of Ether will replenish your Mana. Ether’s will also temporarily relieve Mana Fatigue, but the best cure is rest.”
Tails looked past Cream’s shoulder to the tele-crate on the wall which noted the time. ’10:00 am. Based on what Bark and Jessie said last night, we’re taking the 11:40 train on the Magenta Line to upper Sector 4. I’ll also have to account for the time we’ll spend at that weapon shop too…’ “We’ll go over the remaining four types of Emeralds very briefly and then I’ll explain how to equip and use them. Shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.”
Watching them nod their heads at him, Tails continued. “So, yellow represents the Ability type. Ability Emeralds bestows specialized skills when equipped and tapped into. So, with a Steal Emerald, for example, it will give you knowledge on the arts of thievery. The only downsides are that Abilities have a bit of a windup time since you have to tap into the Emerald in order to use it. Secondly, to keep using these Abilities, you’ll have to keep the Emerald equipped at all times, so it can affect your configurations.”
“Next are the Red Emeralds, which represent Summon magic. This type of magic is much more powerful than normal magic used with Green Emeralds. Summon Emeralds call forth the entity locked within them to aid you in battle. Calling forth these creatures requires a tremendous amount of Mana, so expect to feel gassed afterwards. This type of magic is best suited for extreme measures.”
“Fourth on the list are blue or Support Emeralds. These can only be equipped onto linked Emerald slots on weapons and armour; placing them in single slots will do nothing. Equipping a Blue Emerald in conjunction with a Green, Yellow or Red Emerald will bestow supportive effects – either passive or active – to the linked Emerald. For instance, equipping a Green Emerald in a linked slot with the active supportive Emerald, All, you can use multi-target types of magic instead of single-target spells. The main drawback is that its strength is proportional to the number of targets. The same idea goes for restorative magic too, so it might be wise to gauge the situation first before using area of effect spells.”
“Most active Support Emeralds have a cooldown period before they can be reapplied to spells, summons or Abilities, so it’s something to be aware of. Passive supports, like Elemental, have no cooldown periods. When linked to elemental magic, the Elemental passive bestows a weapon with an elemental attack or an armour with an elemental defence. Another example is Counter Support, which counters an enemy’s attacks with the paired Emerald.”
“The last type, Purple, belongs to a catch-all category called Independent Passive. Independent Passive Emeralds can increase your physical or mental capabilities, bolster your stamina or Mana reserves, or grant passive abilities such as detecting ambushes from behind or protecting a vulnerable ally. They can’t be linked with anything and you can’t interact with them like the other four. You just set it and forget it. You two with me so far?”
Cream nodded with rapt attention, while Bark did the same, albeit uncertain.
“OK, so to equip Emeralds, you’ll notice that most weapons and armour have small holes built into them designed for Emerald use – those are called slots. Looks to me like both of your weapons have a single slot to equip Emeralds, so take one from the table and equip them.”
Cream picked up the Lightning Emerald and installed it into the slot on her glove, located on the top of her hand. Bark inserted the Ice Emerald into the slot on the left side of his Gun-Arm.
Tails gave her a small smile. “Good,” he said, sounding pleased. “Now, how do you guys feel?”
Bark hesitantly put a finger on the gem and suddenly jolted backwards as if he received a shock. “Woah, this is awesome!” he said excitedly. “I can feel the power… and something else too?” He closed his eyes and his brows scrunched together. “I feel… a little weaker? What the hell?”
“So do I,” Cream parroted the bear’s sentiments.
Tails scoffed and placed a hand on his hip. “Well that’s the thing,” he said to the two, a smug smile on his lips. “There’s always a catch when it comes to obtaining great power and equipping an Emerald is no different. Magic and Summon Emeralds both enhance your magical output for effective spellcasting. To do that, however, it draws and converts some of your own physical strength. That’s why you feel a bit weaker when you equip one.”
He saw Bark’s snout twist with confusion, and so he reworded his statement. “Simply put, right now you’re stronger mentally but weaker physically. In a sense, equipping Emeralds is kinda like holding a double-edged sword. It’s a bad idea to overload yourself with lots of Magic and Summon Emeralds, but if you mess around and combine them with the other three types, you’ll find the perfect setup suitable to your fighting style.”
“Using magic is easy; just place your hand on it and concentrate on drawing the energy out. The knowledge locked within the Emerald will assist you with accumulating and shaping the magic with your Mana. Once you’re ready, call the spell to fire it off. Everyone has their own unique style for using magic, so how you use it is up to you. For Commands, tapping into it will allow you to use them. To use Active Supports, place your hand on it first and then slide it over the linked slot to the other Emerald before using it. Doing so will add the effect of the Support Emerald to the linked Emerald,” Tails paused to let the information sink into the two Mobian’s heads before reaching the end of his tutorial. “Place the Emeralds back on the table.”
The two removed the gems from their slots and did as instructed. “Now, one last thing,” Tails said, pointing to the three gems sitting side by side. “When equipped into slots, Emeralds synergize with your body. So as you grow stronger, they grow stronger too. Eventually, they’ll grow enough to grant access to new spells and abilities, while reducing cooldown periods and Mana consumption. When they reach the apex of their growth, they are said to be Mastered. A Mastered Emerald grants the user full access to its power, while providing a wealth of additional bonuses, or so I’m told.”
Tails paused in his explanation suddenly and he crossed his arms. ‘Come to think of it, I’ve never Mastered an Emerald as of yet…’ he mentally admitted, his brow scrunched together. Noting both that time was short and that Cream and Bark were staring at him, he pushed the thought out of his mind. “So, when an Emerald is Mastered, a chunk of it breaks off and creates a fresh duplicate of the original that can be used and grown all over again. And that’s my lecture,” the fox concluded, taking a breath. “That’s all I can teach you, the rest comes with practice. Honestly, it’s not that tough once you get the hang of it.”
Cream blinked a few times, before nodding slowly in understanding. “I think I get it,” she said, a grin slowly creeping up on her face. “At least, I understand this more than I did before. Thanks, Tails!”
Bark’s scowl said otherwise. “What the hell is all this ‘It’s not that tough’ crap?” he said, levelling a glare at the Ex-SOLDIER. He threw his head back and groaned loudly. “Shi—–t! I’m freaking clueless…,” he said, shaking his head as he left the table for the door. “…Anyway, it’s about time to shove off. We’re heading to the weapons shop down the street. That guy I was talking to has some stuff ready for today’s operation – he’s one of us, don’t worry,” he added, noticing the fox’s skeptical gaze.
Turning his attention away from Tails, he approached his daughter sitting on the stool by the bar counter. “Now Hope, Daddy has to go out and save the world, alright?” he said to her gently. “So you make sure you’re a good girl to Mrs. Marino and don’t cause trouble for her, otherwise I won’t bring back any ice cream. Do you understand?”
The child perked up at the mention of the frozen sweet. “I promise that I’ll be really, really good, Papa!” she chirped happily.
“And keep an eye on the store too, kiddo,” Cream added in winking as she followed Bark to the door. Tails inserted the Ice and Lighting Emeralds back into the Buster Sword and shoved the Restore Emerald into his pocket. He waved lazily at the little girl before joining the others.
“Okay! Good Luck!” the girl said cheerfully before returning to her drawing.