Chapter 26: The Race to Sector 7
Tails, Cream and Cosmo slid down a chute and landed hard in a pool of murky water. Groaning, the fox pulled himself up and suppressed the urge to gag, the stench being nearly unbearable to his hypersensitive nose. Plugging his nose, he looked around the channel that he and the others landed in. ‘Seems like we’re in a storm drain of sorts,’ Tails observed. To his right, he saw a ladder leading up to an elevated section of the channel. “There might be a way to get to Sector 7 from here,” he murmured to himself. Moving on, his eyes soon trailed to the bodies of Cream and Cosmo rousing nearby.
The rabbit was the closest in proximity to him. “You alright?” Tails asked as he approached her.
She rose up and wiped the dirty water off the side of her face. “Man, this is terrible,” she said, disgusted. She started wringing the excess water out of her ears and hair.
Tails then ran to Cosmo’s side and knelt down to her. “How ‘bout you?” he asked. “You alright?”
The flower girl nodded. “Yeah,” she replied, picking herself up. She soon twisted her face in revulsion and gagged. “Eugh, what a stench…”
“…Be thankful you don’t have heightened senses,” the fox deadpanned, his nose wrinkling at the smell.
Cosmo smiled at him, despite her grimace. “ I am actually,” she quipped, before letting out a sigh as she looked around at her surroundings. “Well, at least the worst is behind us-”
A loud gurgling noise erupted from behind them, halting her in mid-sentence. Two yellowed eyes looked out to the three Mobians beyond a tunnel obstructed by thick steel bars.
Cosmo wilted, her hand clasping the staff in her belt. “Spoke too soon, huh?” she said weakly.
Corneo’s voice suddenly broke out from a speaker ahead. “Oh Ap~s!,” the toad called in a sing-song voice. “Come and get your din~ner!”
The bars in the tunnel descended into the ground, creating a pathway between the creature and the Mobians. It bounded towards them, roaring loudly.
“Get ready!” Tails called, drawing his sword. Hastily, he replaced the Ice Emerald in his armor with the Cover Emerald he picked up at Cosmo’s house. Pocketing the other gem, he settled into a stance and braced himself.
Soon, the creature emerged from the dark tunnel and the dim lighting illuminated its features. Aps was a grotesque, blue-skinned Mutate. It’s bottom half was covered in matted, dirty brown fur and it walked on two large, trunk-like legs with hooves at the end. A long, prehensile tail that ended with sharp, protruding spikes helped it to maintain its balance. Its upper half was grossly over-proportion compared to its lower body. The arms themselves were thicker and more muscular than its legs and its shackled hands were large enough to hold a small car. Two large horns protruded out of the massive hump on its back.
Aps beat its chest with both hands and bellowed, a long, forked tongue lolled lazily out of its gaping snout. Its sharp, misshapen teeth, coupled with the garish, golden harness it wore around its mouth, prevented the monster from closing it properly.
The Mutate reared forward, its beady eyes searching for its meal. Spotting the trio in front of it, the monster lumbered towards them with surprising speed, its massive arms dragging on the ground as it moved.
“Get out of the way!” Tails shouted, sidestepping as the monster swung its arms downward, slamming the ground where he once stood. Recovering quickly, the fox aimed a slash at one of its arms, but the flesh was so thick and rugged that his blade barely penetrated it. Aps retaliated by backhanding the warrior, sending him flying towards a wall.
“OK, let’s try this!” Cream yelled, charging an Ice spell. She cast the spell, the ice ball travelling and striking the monster in the face. It cried out in pain and tried to rub the cold off from its eyes. While it was distracted, the fighter rushed in, jumped and landed a flying kick to one of its knees. Aps howled loudly as it was forced to kneel. “Cosmo, now!” the fighter called, getting out of the way.
Cosmo had been charging a spell of her own shortly after Cream launched hers. She swept her hands down as she called “FIRE!” A large pillar of flames erupted from the ground and enveloped the creature’s skin and fur. It screeched loudly as the flames caused it to writhe around in agony. “I think Fire’s more effective here!” the flower girl called out to the others.
Corneo’s voice crackled on the speaker once again. “ Oh shit!” He called out, his voice now high-pitched and panicky. “Don’t worry my sweet! Daddy’s got you!” There was a loud click over the speaker, as if something was switched on.
Peeling himself off of the wall, Tails heard a grinding noise behind him, followed immediately by the sound of rushing water. Realizing that he had no time to lose, he sheathed his sword and headed back to the two women. “We have to get to higher ground! Grab hold!” he said, holding out his hands. “Hurry up!”
The two grabbed on and Tails tossed them up to the elevated section of the drain channel. He followed behind them, clasping the edge and pulling himself up just as the murky water swept down through the channel. It submerged the lumbering beast and put out the fire that covered its body. The smell of singed fur lingered in the air as it rose up from the ground.
“Let’s finish this!” Cream said, her eyes blazing. She hopped off the ledge and charged another Ice spell. Instead of aiming it at the monster, she instead directed the magic to the ground, which was now covered in water. The Ice magic froze the ground in front of Aps, who stepped on it and immediately slipped painfully onto its backside.
Wasting no time, the fighter circled around to the creature’s back, focused her Ki into her fists and punched several times where she thought its kidney was located. Aps let out a long, piteous moan and started thrashing its arms and tail wildly.
In her haste to end the battle, Cream failed to notice that her back was against the drain wall, giving her little room to maneuver. Aps’ tail abruptly swung in her direction, the spikes aimed directly for her chest. She gritted her teeth and prepared for the worst.
All of a sudden, Tails was in front of her with the Buster Sword held in a defensive position. The spiked appendage deflected off of the blade several times and the fox grimaced as he felt the vibrations from each strike rattle unpleasantly in his arms. The purple Emerald in his armor glowed brightly and then faded once Aps moved away from them. “You alright?” he grunted, turning to the fighter.
“Yeah,” came her response. She suddenly gasped and looked beyond the fox’s shoulder. “Cosmo! Look out!” she called.
The warrior whirled around in time to see the Mutate grab hold of Cosmo, who was still on the ledge above. Collecting her from the top, the monster began to squeeze and the flower girl let out a wail, tears streaming from her eyes.
“Ha-ha! That’s right, my sweet!” Corneo’s voice chortled from above. “Crush them!”
Cream then stepped forward and Tails saw that her body was suddenly enveloped in a bright golden aura. Tiny bolts of silver electricity arced around her fists. “LET HER GO!!” her voice rang out angrily, as if responding to the toad’s taunts. She rushed up to the Mutate’s leg and struck its knee with five heavy, ki-infused punches, breaking the joint. She then rolled to the other leg, hopped onto the other knee and somersaulted off of it, her heel shattering the bone.
Aps released the flower girl from his grasp as his legs buckled. It toppled forwards, bellowing loudly as it crashed into the ground . Tails ran to Cosmo’s side as Cream continued her assault by striking it in the face with a flying kick. “Cosmo! Speak to me!” he said, guilt racking through his body. ‘I should have never let her come with us…’
She winced as she wrapped an arm around her left side. “I-I’m OK, Tails,” she said, gasping for air. “No-No worse for the wear. Just pass me a Potion, we-we gotta help Cream!”
No sooner did she speak those words did the fighter rejoin them, the golden aura around her body dissipating. “I think it’s on its last legs,” she breathed, her eyes narrowed into a harsh glare.
“Then let’s put it out of its misery,” Tails responded. He fished out a restorative for Cosmo and then readied his sword. “You two hang back and prep your strongest magic while I distract it. When you’re ready, launch them and I’ll go for the neck to finish it off.”
Cosmo and Cream nodded and started preparing their spells, both packing in as much Mana as they could. Tails then rushed ahead to the now disabled Mutate, who pushed itself into a sitting position. The fox jumped in and started poking it with his sword to provoke it. Aps flailed its arms and tail about, tears streaming from its eyes from both pain and frustration.
Above them, Corneo’s frantic voice blared through the speakers. “No! My poor Aps!” he choked out. A series of clicks followed by a roar of frustration followed. “Why isn’t this friggin’ watergate-thing working!?” he yelled, the sound of him repeatedly slamming his fist on the controls echoing through the sewer.
Tails ignored the toad and instead focused on keeping away from the monster’s limbs while listening intently for the two women behind them to finish their preparations. Soon enough, Cosmo and Cream both launched their attacks. “FIRE! ICE!” they called together, sending both of their fully charged magic to the Mutate. The combination of hot and cold elemental powers overwhelmed it and sent it into a stunned stupor. It leaned back and exposed its neck.
‘Now’s my chance!’ Tails dashed forwards, jumped and with a yell, plunged the sword into the base of Aps’ throat. Blood spurted out as its major artery was severed. It croaked out a death rattle as the fox pulled out his sword, before slumping back and becoming still.
Above them, Corneo started wailing. “Oh, my precious pet!” he sobbed loudly. “I’ll make sure you’ll all pay for what you-”
Finally rid of the Aps, Tails then shorted out the speaker using a weak Lightning spell. “I was getting tired of hearing his voice,” he grumbled, washing the blood off of his sword with the dingy water.
With the battle over, Cosmo brought a hand to her now trembling lip, her eyes on the dead Aps. “How inhumane,” she murmured. “For it to be mutated like this… it’s – it’s unconscionable…”
“Blame the radioactive runoff from Kintobor’s reactors, it’s what’s been causing all of the mutations in the first place,” Tails explained plainly, sheathing his weapon. “Anyway, it’s dead now, so let’s go. We can’t delay any further.”
“But Tails,” Cream said, her shoulders slumping. “Hope… Bark… The people of Sector 7… Th-They could already be-”
“No!” Cosmo forced out, shaking her head. She took the rabbit’s hands into her own. “Cream, don’t give up hope! Never give up hope! It must be difficult to break the pillar, right?” She then looked pleadingly at the fox.
He nodded, launching into an explanation. “If anything did happen, we would have felt the tremors. The plates themselves weigh a ton as it is and, combining that with gravity, would result in part of this storm drain being crushed as well from the impact. …To put it simply, we would have noticed the plate falling a while ago.”
Cream’s eyes went from Tails to Cosmo. She gave them both a shaky smile. “…You’re both right,” she said, her face alight with renewed hope. “So, we still have time!”
“Yeah. So let’s get going,” Tails motioned to a ladder on the far side of the drainage channel. “We get up to higher ground first. From there, we can look for a way back to Sector 7.”
They ascended up to the top of the channel. On the far side, they watched as the channel sloped downwards at a steep angle. Tails approached the edge and peered down into it. He was able to see something in the distance, but there was not enough light to make out the details. He closed his eyes and buried himself in thought. ‘It’s too dim. But maybe…’
He opened his eyes. “Cosmo, hand me the Fire Emerald? Cream, come here for a sec.”
The two women did as requested. The flower girl handed the gem to Tails, who then handed it over to his friend. “Take this, charge up a fireball and launch it down there,” he commanded, pointing to the bottom of the tunnel.
“Ah I get it, you’ll use the light to see what’s down there, right?” she said, understanding his intentions. Seeing him nod, she continued. “OK then, stand back.”
She replaced the Emeralds, charged up a Fire spell and cast it down the channel. The fireball illuminated the path and Tails could see another storm drain channel at the bottom, along with a ladder on the far side of the wall going upward.
“…There’s a ladder down there,” Tails said. “If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say that’ll lead us topside.” He looked around and saw that the only way down was to slide down the channel. “Looks like it’s a one-way trip. Let’s take a break to catch our breath and then we’ll head down.”
As they did so, the fox spotted something in the refuse on his right, glinting under the low lighting. He ambled towards it, shuffled some rotted cardboard boxes away and revealed a Yellow Emerald. ‘Steal? This’ll be useful,’ he thought. Returning to the team, they modified their Emerald configurations. Cream sported the new Steal Emerald in the armour slot of her Iron Bangle, while taking back the Ice Emerald from Cosmo. Tails placed his Lightning Emerald in his armor slot, opting to link the All and Restore Emeralds on his weapon. Cosmo installed the Fire Emerald back into her staff.
Tails turned to the two women. “Ready?” he asked. They nodded. “Then let’s go.”
The three Mobians descended and landed hard in a shallow, ankle-high pool of stagnant water. Ascending out of the channel, they made their way to the ladder on the wall and then climbed up. Cream ascended first, followed by Cosmo and finally Tails at the rear.
The fighter soon reached the top of the shaft and pushed on the manhole cover, raising it up and sliding it to the side. She poked her head up and looked around. “I think we’re in the right place!” she called, hopping out of the hole. Cosmo and Tails followed suit.
They emerged in the Train Graveyard – a vast rail yard filled with abandoned train cars. Many of them were broken beyond recognition, but some still had power within them. The haphazard way the railcars were arranged created a maze that blocked their way to Sector 7.
Tails huffed a sigh at the scene. “Cosmo, I’m sorry I got you invol-”
“Don’t tell me to go home,” the flower girl broke in seriously, her eyes on Cream, who mounted the car in front of her and surveyed their surroundings.
“I think… Yes, I can see the train station in the distance,” she said slowly, her squinting eyes adjusting to the bright lighting in the Slums. “If we move through the lit cars, we should be able to get through.” She turned to the two, a look of worry etched onto her brow. “Please, let’s hurry.”
Nodding, Tails and Cosmo followed Cream to the top of the car. Together, the three traversed through the Train Graveyard, their footsteps the only sounds being made in the space. Their progress was slowed by Cosmo, who wasn’t as athletic as the former SOLDIER and the martial artist. As they made their way up and across another car, Cosmo called out to Cream. She slowed down so that the flower girl could catch up.
“Hey, I never got to say thank you,” Cosmo said as they walked carefully, the rusted metal shell creaking from their combined weight. “For getting me out of that jam, I mean.”
The fighter smiled listlessly at her. “No charge,” she said. Her eyes trailed back to the path ahead. The crowded railyard opened up to a clearing, with the path beyond blocked off by a line of locomotive engines. “I hope we get there soon…” she sighed, biting her lip.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll get there,” Cosmo replied, smiling serenely at her. Cream said nothing and only shrugged in response.
Her hand still on Cream’s shoulder, Cosmo’s face suddenly grew mischievous. “I know this probably isn’t the right time, bu—t,” she started. She turned to see if Tails was out of earshot, before digging out the disposable camera from her pocket and showing it to her. “… I did get you that picture that I promised!”
This time, Cream couldn’t help but smile. Cosmo, too, beamed brightly at her. “There, that’s better!” she exclaimed as she let go of the fighter’s shoulder, her hands clasped in front of her. “A… friend of mine always said that the best thing to do when times are bad is to find something that’ll make you smile. A smile, he said, is the one thing that no one or nothing can take away from you.”
“…Good advice,” Cream said, before taking the flower girl’s hands into her own. “…Thanks Cosmo, I needed that.”
“No problem,” Cosmo said, winking as she stowed the camera away.
“Hey!” Tails’ voice echoed out, startling them both. He stood at the centre of a large space not far from the car they stood on. “Everything OK?”
“Yeah Tails!” the fighter replied, waving to him. “We’ll be right there!” Sharing a warm glance to each other, the two soon hopped off of the car they were on and met with the fox in the middle of the clearing.
Tails surveyed the line of engines in front of him with mild interest. “I can’t tell from here,” he said to the two as they caught up to him. “But there might be some juice left in those engines ahead. If we use one of them to move the cars out of the way, that might create the path we need to get out of here.” As he finished speaking, his ears perked up and he drew his sword. “Behind us!” he called.
Three diminutive wyverns swooped in from above, shrieking loudly. They had thin, sickly green bodies and flew on translucent cyan wings. They had spiked barbs at the ends of their tails and the tips of their wings had curved fangs designed for slicing. They attacked first, spitting out sharp ice spikes from their mouths.
Tails blocked the assault with his sword, while Cream led Cosmo away from their range. The flower girl quickly pulled out her staff as she ran, drew energy from her Fire Emerald and cast it on one of the wyvern Mutates. Its wings caught fire and the webbed skin around it burnt away, causing it to drop from the sky. The fox ran up and finished it off with a cleaving blow that severed its head. As he raised his weapon, a sudden sound of grating metal caused Tails’ head to jerk to his left. ‘Oh hell…’
A group of six Robians marched menacingly towards the group, their blood coloured optical sensors making them easily discernible in the gloomy train yard. They started screeching mechanically at the sight of potential victims, their teeth snapping and talons and claws all flexing with the intent to kill.
“We don’t have time for this,” he muttered darkly as the Robians approached. They were halfway across the clearing. Scanning his surroundings, his eyes landed on the engines he observed earlier. The track it was on led directly into a derailed car aligned nearly perpendicular to the engine. At the other end, the car was wedged between another, which blocked the path forward. A plan started to form in the fox’s mind.
“Tails! On your right!” he heard Cream shout out, interrupting his train of thought. Without missing a beat, Tails swung his sword. The flat of his blade caught the second wyvern as it dove for him tail-first. The thin creature crumpled to the ground nearby and Tails ended its life by crushing its breastbone with his foot. It exhaled a cold breath on expiration.
He rejoined the two women, who were battling the last wyvern. Cosmo got a lucky swat in with her staff, stunning it long enough for Cream to grab and slam it into the ground. Grasping the wings, the rabbit stamped her foot into the wyvern’s back and pulled hard on the appendages, causing them to tear off. She dropped the wings and winced squeamishly at the sight of the blue blood spurting out of the now dead lizard’s back. Her eyes trailed from the grisly sight, to Tails and then finally to the Robians behind him approaching in the distance. Her face paled.
“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” Tails said, reading the rabbit’s expression. “C’mon.”
He led them to the engine nearby while casting a glance at the Robians for a split second. They were investigating the dead monsters. ‘They’ll come after us next,’ he thought. He hopped into the train’s cab and quickly checked the drive controls and the RINGTEK storage. “They’re still good, got enough juice for what we need to do,” he said to himself before addressing the two women. “Cream, Cosmo, here’s the plan; we’re gonna use this train to both open the path ahead and beat down those Robians comin’ for us.”
He flicked a few switches and pressed a button. The train’s RINGTEK sputtered to life and started the engine. He then adjusted a lever on the side of the operation board. “OK, it’s set to go,” he continued. “When I say now, pull this lever and hit this button at the same time.” He pointed to the two instruments on the board. “That’ll get the train moving fast.”
He made his way to the entrance of the cab and peeked out. The Robians stopped investigating the remains and were hastily making their way to their location, clearly hearing the sound of the engine starting. “Meanwhile, I’ll keep ‘em occupied,” he said, drawing his sword. He swapped the Restore Emerald with the Lightning one in his armour slot.
“I’ll come help!” Cream exclaimed, but Tails turned and shook his head.
“No, Cream. I need you to stay here and protect Cosmo,” he replied, hopping out of the engine. He missed the cross look the rabbit gave him. The Robians roared in alarm, the sounds of their grating metal voices irking the fox. “Remember to wait for my signal!” he called before rushing towards the incoming horde.
The three in front were moles, their long, sharp digging claws held in front of them like spears. Tails easily vaulted over the claws and used the head of one of the moles to soar over the other three Robians: a duck, a raccoon and a wolf. “Come and get me!” he taunted, running towards the railcar at the other end of the track.
As he predicted, the six robots gave chase. He crossed the clearing towards the railcar sitting horizontally on the track, turned around and faced them with his back to the car. He placed a hand on the All Emerald, swiped it to the Lightning Emerald linked to it and drew out the energy. It separated into six points of yellow light; five on his fingertips and one on his palm. He poured Mana into them to strengthen the spell as the Robians charged forward.
‘I hope whatever Cosmo did with my tails worked,’ Tails thought idly, gritting his teeth as he concentrated. ‘If not, then this might be troublesome…’
The pack was only a couple dozen paces away from the Ex-SOLDIER. ‘It’s now or never!’ “COSMO! CREAM! DO IT NOW!” he hollered loudly, hoping his voice carried to them.
The sound of the rusted and squeaky train wheels turning confirmed that they did indeed hear him. The engine started to pick up speed quickly due to the fox’s machinations.
The Robians were now within striking distance. Struggling to maintain his focus on them, the oncoming train and the spell in his hand, Tails squatted down and jumped upwards, just as the moles lunged at him. Angling himself, he muttered a quick prayer and then spun his tails. The muscles felt tight and tense from their lack of use, but he was slowly able to get airborne.
He pushed himself higher so that the approaching engine wouldn’t crash into him, thrust the hand holding the magic charge downward and called “BOLT!” The six lights erupted into beams, one for each Robian. They struck simultaneously as the robots stepped on the track, the electricity stunning them long enough for the train sailing underneath the fox to crush them with the car in front. The force exerted by the engine on the car caused it to be dislodged from its position and dragged it far enough so that a path was opened at the other end. After travelling a fair distance with the front car in tow, the locomotive engine came to an abrupt, screeching halt, its wheels jumping the track as it did so.
Cosmo and Cream climbed out of the cab, both shaken and sporting a few bumps, but nonetheless uninjured. Tails landed awkwardly near them and he hissed painfully as he felt his namesakes suddenly seize up. ‘Still not 100%, but I can fly again at least,’ he thought, inwardly happy about his improved condition. He gingerly wrapped his two tails around his waist and sheathed his weapon.
“You two OK?” the swordsman asked Cream and Cosmo. They nodded in response. “Alright then, let’s motor.”
“Right,” Cream said, her eyes alight with determination. She added in a murmur only Tails could hear. “Hang on just a little longer, Sector 7…”
The three Mobians then hurried through the open path and soon came across the Sector 7 train station. The conductor on the platform called out to them to turn back, but the trio paid no heed to his words. They soon reached the Sector checkpoint and the main support pillar holding up the Plate above. A crowd had formed by the fenced off portion of the pillar with everyone gaping at the scene above. They did not immediately notice the three newcomers.
“We made it!” Cream cheered, relief etched onto her brows. “The pillar’s still standing!”
“Hold on,” Tails said, raising a hand, his ears upright. “I hear something… above us…”
Cosmo cupped a hand to her ear and angled her head towards the support pillar. “Is that… gun fire?” she asked.
Their eyes trailed up to the top of the steel structure. They could see Bark through the grating up on the topmost platform, firing his Gun-Arm at an agile moving SkyTrans. Wedge was also on the platform providing supporting fire. Tails could see the transport door open, where a familiar-looking purple-furred figure stuck its arm out and fired several shots from the pistol it held in its hand. The bullets sailed past Bark and hit Wedge, who stood behind him. The human staggered backwards off of the platform and fell, crashing into the ground near the three Mobians.
“Wedge!” Tails shouted, running towards the fallen man. The crowd by the fence heard the fox yell and turned to see the grisly sight on the hard earth. Wedge’s body was mangled from the fall and blood was pooling from the wounds in his torso. His red bandanna had flown off during the fall and fluttered to the ground nearby.
“T… Tails…” he croaked out. His vital fluids were oozing out of his mouth as he spoke. “Y… you remembered… my name…” He let out a rattling gasp and then continued. “Bark… Up top… Help… him… An’… Tail…s? S… Sorry…”
As he choked out his last words, Wedge died, his tears now mingling with the blood on the ground. His head lolled lazily to the side and his eyes stared unfocused and unblinking into the distance.
Tails watched as the light faded within the human’s eyes. Grasping Wedge’s bandanna beside him, he placed it over the dead man’s face. He stood up and clenched his hands tightly as anger coursed through him. “I’m going up!” he said loudly.
“Tails, I’m coming too!” Cream said, unshed tears shining in her eyes. She hastily wiped them away and put on a scowl. “They’ll pay for what they’ve done!”
The fox nodded and then turned to Cosmo. “Cosmo, stay here and help everyone to evacuate,” he said to her.
“Hope!” Cream shouted suddenly. She clasped the flower girl’s hands. “Could you please do me a huge favour?” she said pleadingly. “My bar is just up the street here and there’s a little human girl with blonde hair inside. Her name is Hope. Could you-”
Cosmo tenderly pulled out one of her hands from the fighter’s grasp and placed it on top of Cream’s. “I’ll get her somewhere safe,” she said gently, a knowing smile on her face.
The rabbit flashed a grateful smile of her own. She then turned to the crowd. “Everyone! You have to leave!” Cream hollered out to them, waving her arms to catch their attention. “It’s not safe here! You all have to get out of Sector 7!”
As she spoke, Tails moved towards the fence. His eye caught Pacchi – the otter he met days ago at this very spot – who was trembling in fear. Recognizing the fox, he crossed over to him. “M-my special place,” he moaned to the fox. “Y-you have to save it!”
“…I’ll try,” he responded halfheartedly. He pulled out a Potion and drank it to pep himself up. “…You should get out of here. Now.”
The otter nodded and backed away. “Cream, let’s move,” Tails called as he opened the fence door. The fighter wordlessly followed behind him with a determined look on her face that matched his own.
They started climbing to the top.