Chapter 17: The Flower Girl From The Slums
Tails opened his eyes to a sea of white.
‘This place again. Why am I here now?’
“Good. You’re awake.”
Tails spun around, his hand groping for his sword on his back. To his surprise, he grasped at nothing but air once more. The hooded figure in front of him chuckled as the fox muttered curses.
“For a smart guy, you sure are dim, y’know?” it said cheerfully, walking forward “It seems like you’re still in one piece-”
“Quit it,” Tails interrupted, his voice echoing through the Void. He crossed his arms and stared contemptuously at the garbed individual. “What is this place? Why do I keep coming here?”
The figure halted in step and stared at the fox for a moment. “You know,” it said as if Tails didn’t interrupt earlier. “Back then, you were able to get by with scraped knees and a bruised tail.”
The fox was taken aback at the figure’s words. ‘This guy… sounds different from the first time…’ he noted, quirking an eyebrow upward. ‘He sounds… older? And looks taller too… What is going on here?’ “…What do you mean by ‘back then?’” he finally asked after a long pause, narrowing his eyes.
The hooded form tilted its head to the side. “You mean you don’t remember that time?” it asked sincerely.
Tails started to get frustrated. He felt the urge to walk up to the figure and shake it violently for answers. “What do you mean by ‘that time?’” he said instead, burying the feeling. “What about now?”
It shook its head at the fox. “…Don’t worry about it then,” it conceded, shrugging. “But you’re right in that you need to focus on the present moment.” It paused and crossed its arms. To Tails’ eyes, it appeared to be considering its next words with care. “…Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself moving. Trust me,” it added, seeing Tails’ skeptical gaze.
Shrugging, the fox closed his eyes and did as instructed. He suddenly felt a vibration on the floor he stood on. “Goodness! You’re alive!” a voice boomed out.
“Alright! Now keep your eyes closed, little buddy!” the hooded figure called out.
Tails continued to squeeze his eyes shut as he felt the vibrations around him getting stronger. He suddenly felt a whooshing sensation in his stomach, as if he was falling from a great height. Eyes still closed, he yelled out to the hooded figure. “Who the hell are you!?”
“…A very close friend.”
Tails’ eyes snapped open to the sight of ocean blue orbs staring back at him. They belonged to an oval-shaped, pale peach face that was framed by bright viridian hair. Two red-rose ornaments lay on either side of her head. Her thin brows were creased in worry, but relaxed upon seeing the fox rouse from unconsciousness. “Oh, thank goodness you’re alright,” she said, her delicate lips upturned into a tiny smile, her soft voice sounding like honey in his ears.
She leaned back as Tails rose up painfully into a sitting position. His entire body ached and he could feel the beginnings of a large bruise forming on his back. “Easy now,” she said from her knelt position as Tails looked around groggily at his surroundings. “You’re in a church in the Sector 5 Slums. You really gave me a scare when you fell through like that.”
Tails rolled his neck to ease some of the stiffness while recalling previous events. ‘There was the trap sprung by Kintobor, the fight against that Alpha robot… and then the explosion that took out the walkway…’ He looked in her direction. “I… came crashing down?” he asked.
The woman nodded. “Yep, it seems like the roof and the flower bed here broke your fall,” she said, smiling. “You’re lucky.”
“Flower bed?” Tails asked. He looked down and his eyes widened at the sight. He sat in a field of white and yellow flowers. “…Is this yours?”
She nodded again and burst into giggles as the fox rose up as quickly as he could. He brushed the dirt off of his body. “Um… Sorry…” he said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.
She shook her head, still smiling at him. “Don’t worry, it’s alright,” she replied, standing up. “The flowers here are quite resilient and have no trouble blooming, despite the lack of sunlight and the polluted ground.” She walked up to the podium, its wood cracked and rotted with age and turned to face him. Her arms were spread wide. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” she asked him.
“Yeah,” Tails replied. He noticed her eyes were sparkling in the church’s ambient lighting. He felt mesmerized by them – by her – for some reason, but he couldn’t point out why exactly. ‘It’s the same as before… back in Sector 8,’ he thought as he watched her. Suddenly, her image doubled and Tails felt a wave of dizziness wash over him. He looked down to see that some of the white flowers were covered in small splashes of blood. His own, which originated from the piece of metal that was still inserted into his left tail, the bit of scrap sticking out of the appendage.
Gasping, he felt the stabbing pain return full force and he dropped back to a knee. ‘I lost a bit of blood…’ he surmised, taking several deep breaths. From nearby, he heard the soft hitch of the green-haired woman’s breath, followed by the sounds of footsteps to his right. Tails turned his head to see the flower girl pry a loose floorboard free and retrieve a first-aid kit from a depression beneath it.
Returning quickly to the fox, she opened it and started taking out three Potions, some gauze, a bottle of disinfecting alcohol, a pair of tweezers and a suture kit. “That thing’s stuck in you real deep,” she said as she handed him a phial. Her eyes didn’t meet his own; she kept them on the wound of his tail. “Drink this first and then I’ll pull out what I can, sew this up and wrap some gauze around it.”
The fox nodded his head tiredly as he reclined into a sitting position. The light scent of the flowers wafted into his nose. It was pleasant and soothing. “Thanks…” he said, closing his eyes and relaxing as the woman tended to his injury.
Nack Fang observed the crowd of people flocking towards the Sector 5 train station as he loped into the residential district. The violet furred, wolf-weasel hybrid sported a pair of navy-blue slacks and a jacket over an untucked white long-sleeved shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar. Two pistols were held in a double shoulder holster underneath the jacket. His rumpled clothing and aloof behaviour allowed him to blend in with the crowd. He soon sidled up to a run-down shanty and leaned against the wall with his arms folded, his sharp eyes picking through the crowds. “Now, lesse where you’re at, love,” he muttered in his Downundian accent.
Ahead of him, the gates to the trains were shut. The conductor on the other side of the fenced gates addressed the throng of furious and scared would-be passengers. “Everybody, if I could have your attention!” he hollered out over the incensed mob. “All trains will be out of service for the foreseeable future due to today’s terrorist attack! We will let you know immediately when the trains are back in service! Thank you for your coop-” His voice was drowned out by the intensified shouting on the other side of the gate.
The weasel-wolf suppressed a sigh as he tipped the garish, wide-brimmed, brown leather fedora on his head to shade his eyes from the artificial lighting above as he left the station. ‘She ain’t here… So that leaves the other usual spot then.’
Nack slunk out of the residential district, his gait easy-going. A pleasant smile adorned his muzzle and his exposed left fang gleamed in the light. He made a left out of the district gates and continued down the path for a few hundred meters until he spotted a large pile of scrap next to a rusted crane.
There were six figures next to the dilapidated crane; three soldiers and three mutated mutts. The soldiers were the standard, run-of-the-mill MP’s that were everywhere in the city. The mutts, however, were a special breed developed by the Department of Science. They were large and muscular, with coarse, dark fur and a tentacle-like tail erupting from the base of their neck. They approached the Mobian and the guards stopped in front of him. The soldiers brought the savage mutts to heel before snapping to attention.
“No sign of the target, sir?” the middle soldier asked.
Nack sneered at the threesome. “No. Which leaves the other place,” he said, inclining his head down the path leading to the city walls. His eyes settled on an abandoned church near the outskirts. “Alright then mates, let’s shove off. The sooner this is done, the sooner I can get meself a drink…”
“So, we meet again.”
Mentally, Cosmo kicked herself as she sat next to the two-tailed fox and wrapped gauze around his one injured tail. ‘After sitting here with the guy who fell through my roof and tending to his wounds, that’s the first thing that comes out of my mouth?’ She noticed the fox’s ears perk up at the sound of her voice. He twisted his body to look at her directly and the flower girl had to suppress a shiver at the unnerving sight of his unnatural eyes.
‘Just like his…’
Shaking off the uncomfortable feeling, she tilted her head and looked back into his glowing irises. “Do you remember me?”
He blinked twice before nodding. “Yeah I remember,” he said. A smirk suddenly crossed his lips. “You certainly weren’t drunk and dancing around the place, that’s for sure.”
The flower girl’s expression darkened. ‘Why, you little!’ “Excuse me but -”
“Relax, it was a joke,” he interrupted, his smirk deepening at Cosmo’s reaction. “I remember buying flowers from you that day.” His expression fell and a wry smile soon crossed his lips. “If that’s what you look like when you’re mad though, remind me not to do that again.”
The flower girl harrumphed, crossing her arms and turning her nonexistent nose into the air, her eyes closed. “Still, you were very rude to me,” she intoned in mock anger, before looking in his direction with one eye, the corners of her lips quirking upwards. “But… I guess I can forgive you since you bought a flower from me.”
The two sat in silence before suddenly bursting into laughter. Cosmo giggled and the warrior let out a soft chuckle. Soon, the laughter died and silence permeated the space once more. He turned his head towards the back wall and stared at the crumbling masonry behind the dais as she continued her work.
“Is this a coincidence?” he said after a pause. “Meeting you again, I mean.”
Cosmo shrugged and examined her handiwork. The pieces of shrapnel were plucked out, the wound was sewn up and dressed properly. ‘Mom would be proud of me.’ “Perhaps so, perhaps not?” she replied, picking up the first-aid kit and rising to put it away. “Even still, I’m surprised you’re even alive at this point.” Her eyebrow arched upwards. “Before you crash-landed, you had cuts and nicks all over your body and bits of metal scrap all over your arms and legs. That large piece in your tail was particularly nasty-looking; you might not be able to use it properly for some time.” She folded her arms and cocked her head to the side. I’m curious… Wanna tell me what happened?”
The fox shook his head. “…It’s a long story,” he said cryptically, looking away from her.
“Might it have something to do with a certain explosion on the plate that cut off the power down here for a few minutes, perhaps?”
Cosmo saw his head turn sharply towards her. Though he kept his face impassive, she noticed that he was blinking a little too quickly. ‘Bingo.’ “Hmm… alright then,” she said after a pause, a look of satisfaction on her face. “I won’t pry.” She returned to the spot where she kept the medical kit, placed it in the depression and set the loose floorboard back in place. “Say, I feel like talking,” she said to him, dusting her hands off. “Are you up for it?” ‘Please say yes, please say yes, please say yes!’
The two-tailed fox shrugged at her. “Yeah, I don’t mind,” he said.
The flower girl beamed at him. “OK, well, uh… give me a minute or two to check on my flowers and then we’ll talk,” she said. She walked to another section of the patch – away from the fox – kneeled down and started rooting through her plants. She picked out dead leaves and petals while dealing with the inner turmoil within her mind.
‘OK, he’s willing to talk. Great. Good. Now, how should I start this? “…Hi stranger, nice giant sword you got there, any chance that belonged to somebody else?” No, no… that’s stupid. How about; “Hi, you’re clearly a SOLDIER, what with the glowing eyes and all, so would you happen to know a guy by the name of…” Ugh, that’s coming off too creepy… Well, what about: “I saw a vision of you and I meeting and-” Argh! This is stressful! I got nothing!’
Cosmo continued to ruminate as she monotonously worked through the yellow and white plants. She barely noticed the pair of large, brown boots approach her from her left side. “Just a little longer…” she murmured as she plucked out a dead flower from the patch.
‘How would Spikes approach this?’ she wondered ruefully as she saw the fox’s boot tap impatiently. Suddenly, an epiphany struck her. ‘…He’d start with the obvious!’
Bolting right up and facing the bewildered fox, she smiled sweetly at him. “You know, I just realized we don’t know each other’s names, do we?” she said, bringing a hand to her chest. “My name is Cosmo, I’m a florist.”
“Me? The name’s Tails,” the enigmatic male said as he adopted – what Cosmo assumed to be – a cool pose. “As for my occupation… I’d say I do a little bit of everything.”
“Oh, like a jack of all trades?” she opined, cocking her head to the side and putting a finger on her cheek. ‘*cough cough* Mercenary.’
Taiis shrugged. “Yeah, I do what’s needed,” he said.
“Hmm… OK then,” Cosmo replied. ‘Nailed it.’ She brought her hands behind her back and started swaying on the spot, the old floorboards creaking as she put her weight on them. “Say… here’s an odd question,” she started. “Do you have any Emeralds on you?”
The fox raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. His eyes danced with amusement. “Yeah, I have some- Oh!” he suddenly exclaimed as he shoved a hand into his left pocket and dug out a pale, green gem. “I completely forgot that I had this Restore Emerald… I can use this to fix up my tail and-”
“Except, you’ve lost a lot of blood and any magic use now – even healing magic – may probably do more harm than good,” Cosmo interrupted, a slight wince on her face. “So, uh, maybe don’t use any spells until you get some more rest?”
The fox blinked at her and then scoffed. “So… you do know your stuff,” he said, a look of amusement on his countenance.
Cosmo frowned and crossed her arms. “Of course I have to know my stuff, I live in the Slums for goodness sake!” she huffed, which elicited a chuckle from the fox. “Knowledge is the best way to survive, after all!”
“OK then,” he said, his laughter dying down. “I get it. So why do you ask? Nowadays, you can get Emeralds anywhere.”
Cosmo looked furtively to the left and right before beckoning Tails closer with a finger. As he inched up to her, she dropped her voice to a whisper. “Because… I have a really special Emerald, one that’s good for absolutely nothing.” ‘And why are you telling this strange, two-tailed fox that little tidbit of information, Cosmo!?’ she mentally berated herself.
Tails stepped back, an eyebrow arched. “Good for nothing? You probably don’t know how to use it.”
She snorted, furrowing her brows. “I do know how to use it! It’s just…” she trailed off, glancing down and away from Tails and letting out a sigh as she did so. “It really doesn’t do anything. It belonged to my mother, so… I feel safe just having it on me.”
Tails nodded. “I see,” he said, scratching his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “So, where’s this special Emerald of yours anyway, if it’s on you?”
“Oh! It’s right here,” Cosmo said, pulling out the pendant from beneath her dress. “…Wanna take a look?”
Tails blinked a few times, before nodding and taking the pendant into his hand. He stared down at the small, silver gem inlaid into its centre.
The flower girl couldn’t help but feel awkward about the ordeal. ‘What were you thinking, woman?! Why did you let him take a look!?’ she chastised herself as he brought the pendant closer to his eyes. She couldn’t help but quiver at the sight of his bright, glowing eyes. ‘They’re like ice, those things…’
A moment passed and Cosmo couldn’t stand the attention much longer. She needed him to stop looking. A thought suddenly popped into her head, which caused her to smile malevolently. ‘This is a crazy idea… but, let’s see if this works.’
“So, you’ve been looking at that thing for quite some time,” the flower girl said in a casual tone. “Which makes me think… Are you really staring at the jewel or are you just taking a look down my dress?”
Tails snapped out of his daze. He tore his eyes away from the pendant and looked at Cosmo. His mouth parted in surprise. “W-what?” he spluttered.
“I’m saying… Did you like what you saw just now?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.
The fox stepped back, his jaw working as he struggled to form words. His face took on a sudden, deep shade of red. “N-n-no!” he floundered
At that point, Cosmo lost it. She sniggered a few times before erupting into peals of laughter, moisture forming on the sides of her eyes.
The fox’s ears lay as flat as the stare he gave her. “W-what’s so funny?” he stammered hotly, which only caused Cosmo to laugh even harder.
Soon enough, she calmed down, wiping off the tears and blowing hard to catch her breath. “Whew… OK… I’m… I’m sorry,” she forced out, her jaw feeling sore from laughing so much. “I just-”
The church doors suddenly burst open, hitting the walls with a loud bang, the rusted hinges squeaking loudly as the doors bounced back. The twosome darted their heads to the lone figure sauntering into the church: a weasel-wolf with purple fur wearing an untucked shirt, a rumpled pair of navy-blue slacks and matching blazer. On his head was a brown fedora, which he tipped as a greeting. He grinned at the pair, his exposed left fang gleaming in the ambient lighting. “‘Ello there,” he said in his strange accent. “Oh, don’t mind me. Keep on conversin’.”
The flower girl sobered up quickly. ‘Oh no, not now… not today!’ “Hey, Tails,” she whispered to the fox, who recovered quickly from his embarrassment and stared down the intruder.
He turned his head, keeping one eye on the stranger at the door. “Yeah?” he asked softly.
“Ever been a bodyguard?”
Tails raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to speak, but Cosmo continued. “You DO everything, right?”
“… Yeah that’s right.”
“Then get me out of here,” she implored, facing the fox. “Take me home.”
He gave her a small, cocky smile. “…OK, I’ll do it,” he said after a pause. “But it’ll cost you.”
‘Mercenary to the end…’ “Well, let’s see…” Cosmo said thoughtfully, racking her brain for a moment before answering. “How about… if I go out with you once?”