Chapter 29: Rose’s Story
“It was during the Great War. My husband was sent to the front; to Mobotropolis on the other side of the world…”
“One day, I went to the station because I got a letter saying he was coming home on leave…”
The steam from the train engine billowed around Rose as she hurried to the train platform in the Sector 5 slums, a letter clutched tightly in her fist. The train had just stopped into the station and a crowd was gathered in front of the passenger cars, waiting for the doors to open to reveal their loved ones.
Rose stopped at the back of the gathering to catch her breath and fix her hair. The sounds of the train door opening and the coachman’s cry of “All change!” caused her head to snap up. One by one, the passengers made their way out. The majority of them were soldiers from the war abroad. Some sported bandages and splints, while others had missing limbs. However, each of their grim, exhausted faces lit up at the sight of those they had left behind to join the war front. They greeted their family and friends with hearty hugs and sobs.
The woodchuck scanned the platform desperately for a sign of her husband, but as the train emptied and the crowds thinned, her hopes gradually diminished. Finally, as the last of the passengers disembarked, the train coachman looked inside to check for any stragglers and then ordered the doors shut.
Panicking, Rose approached the coachman, a silver-furred wolf. She looked into his eyes imploringly as she explained her situation. However, the wolf shook his head.
“That’s the last of the passengers. Try back tomorrow maybe?” he said.
Disappointed, Rose descended the platform, sat on the bottom step and put her head on her knees. Her soft sobs were drowned out by the loud train whistle.
“My husband never came back. I wondered if something happened to him? But as I walked back home, I thought that maybe his leave was cancelled?”
“Regardless, I went to the station every single day, hoping he would show up. Then, about three weeks after I got that letter…”
Rose walked to the station as she always did, right after her shift at the military barracks. Her uniform was rumpled and streaked with dirt and sweat as she trekked the familiar steps up to the platform, hoping beyond hope that today would be the day when her husband came back. She expected to see the wolf coachman smile at her as she approached, but instead saw a different and more frightening sight.
She hurried to the steps, where a woman was lying on them, blood pooling from a gaping wound in her side. Rose bent down to examine the injured woman, but one look was all it took for her to realize that she was dying.
She was unlike any human or Mobian the woodchuck had ever seen before. She had pale, peach skin, sky blue eyes, a bump in place of a nose and powder-blue hair. She was wearing what looked to be a hospital gown, the blue outfit stained red with her own blood. The most intriguing thing about her was the object on the crown of her head; a large, white lily flower ornament whose petals appeared to be shrivelling and blackening gradually.
A little girl was crying beside her. She was nearly identical to the woman, save for the bright green hair and the twin hair ornaments that were shaped like rosebuds. They buds quivered as the child continued to sob, calling out to her mother and praying for her not to die.
The blue-haired woman craned her neck towards the woodchuck, her face in a pained grimace. “P-please…” she choked, tears welling in her eyes. “Please… Take Cosmo… Somewhere safe…”
With what little strength she had left, she placed two fingers into her wound. Gasping from the pain and exertion she put on herself, the dying woman pulled something out from within it. In her hand was a small, blood-covered silver jewel, to which she placed in Rose’s trembling palms. “Take… It… Cosmo’s… Our legacy…” Her eyes met Rose’s, the light started to fade from them. “Promise… Me…”
The woodchuck nodded vigorously without hesitation. The child named Cosmo kneeled down to her mother’s side, who gave the child one last smile before closing her eyes. Cosmo sniffed loudly, rested her head on her dead mother’s chest and began to sob even louder.
After a few moments, Rose knelt down and tentatively stretched her hand to the child. She placed it on her shoulder and Cosmo looked at her through tear-stained eyes.
“Come with me, little one,” Rose said softly, tears of her own starting to form. “I will take care of you.”
Cosmo stared at the woodchuck for a few moments, her eyes glassy. She then took the Mobian’s hand and stood up, nodding silently.
As the two made their way out of the station, Rose glanced back at Cosmo’s mother, only to see that her body had vanished, gown and all. All that remained of her was a bloodstain on the step.
“As a nurse, I was used to seeing this sort of thing happen. As for Cosmo, well, my husband never came back and I was lonesome. And I promised her mother that I would look after her. So I took her home with me.”
“It wasn’t long before she and I grew close. Cosmo loved to talk and she never ran out of things to say. She told me she escaped from some sort of research laboratory somewhere. And that her mother had returned to the planet, so she wasn’t really lonely… and many other things.”
“Returned to the planet?” Bark asked, puzzled. Tails and Cosmo shot him a look that said ‘Don’t interrupt.’
Rose nodded, unfazed by the bear’s interruption. “I didn’t know what she meant,” she said, her eyes downcast. “I asked if she meant that she’s now a star in the sky, but she told me that it was Mobius itself… She was a mysterious child in many ways…” She let out a sigh and then continued her story.
“It had been over a month since I got the notice. And then one day…”
“Mom. Please don’t cry.”
The woodchuck looked up from the stove towards Cosmo, bewildered by her sudden exclamation. “Did-did something happen, my dear?” she asked, her eyebrows raised.
Cosmo, now wearing a simple earth-brown dress and a pair of shoes, stood by the kitchen table, her eyes down and away from Rose. “Someone… Someone dear to you has died,” she said haltingly. She bit her bottom lip so hard that she was drawing blood from it. “His spirit was coming to see you… But he had already returned to the planet.”
She then did an about-face, ran out of the door and into the garden by their house. Rose could only stare open-mouthed at the retreating figure, her body suddenly tensening. “It can’t be,” she whispered to herself, a thought crossing her mind. She furiously shook her head and went back into the kitchen, busying herself with dinner and putting the thought aside.
“When she told me that, I didn’t believe her. But… several days later, we received a notice that my husband had died. Even though Cosmo told me days before, I never blamed her for his death. In fact, it only solidified my belief that she was an exceptionally special girl.”
“Over the next five years, we bonded. I loved her as if she was my own and she loved me, despite missing her real mother. A lot had happened, but we were happy.”
“And then Kintobor finally tracked her down…”
There was a knock at the door. Before Rose could get up from the sofa, a lanky, twelve year old Cosmo flew out of the seat next to her and headed for the door. “I’ll get it!” she called.
Rose chuckled at her energy. She suddenly heard a loud gasp from the door and her mirth was replaced with a feeling of dread. She rose quickly to see Cosmo running to her side, her face pale and her body trembling.
A figure entered the house. He looked to be a teenager, barely a few years older than her adopted daughter. He was an echidna with red dreadlocks, a tan muzzle and cold violet-blue eyes. The navy suit and slacks were tight against his taut, muscular frame. The spike-tipped gloves and steel toed boots sent an unnerving shiver down the woodchuck’s spine.
Soon enough, the echidna spoke in a deep and measured tone. “Greetings, I am Knuckles from Kintobor Inc. We’d like you to return Cosmo to us. We’ve been searching for her for a long time.”
“I’ll never go back!” Cosmo shouted, her shoulders shaking. “Never!”
“Cosmo, please listen to me,” Knuckles continued calmly. “You are very important to the future of this city, to this planet even. You are of special blood.” He let the words sink in before continuing. “Your mother, your REAL mother, was an Ancient.”
Cosmo shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. “That’s not true!” she said heatedly. “That’s not true at all!”
“Don’t be daft,” Knuckles countered, his fists tightening. “Surely, you must’ve noticed that you can hear voices?” He lowered his head, massaged it and let out an exasperated breath through pursed lips. “Look, the Ancients will help lead us to a fertile land of opportunity.” He looked at Cosmo, who stared back fiercely. “Cosmo, you can bring happiness to all those in the slums, to you mom. That’s why Kintobor wants your coop-”
“Didn’t you hear me!? I said no!” The girl spat, her face flushed with anger. Rose tried to place her hands on Cosmo’s shoulders in an effort to calm her down, but she shook them off and headed for the front door. “And I don’t hear voices anyway! Only crazy people do and I’m not crazy!” She slammed the door and took off towards the residential district.
The woodchuck fixed Knuckles with an icy stare. “I think you’d better go now,” she said.
Knuckles scoffed and said nothing. He turned to the front door and opened it. Before crossing the threshold, he looked back, his cold eyes boring into Rose’s hazel ones. “She’s not going to be able to run forever. One day, she will come back with us, that’s a promise.” He then left, closing the door behind him.
“I knew that she was an Ancient and that she had special powers. I knew that she had an incredible connection to Mobius, but for Cosmo’s sake, I pretended otherwise. She tried desperately to hide her powers, to be normal and all I wanted for her was to have a normal life…”
Tails sat quietly as Rose related her tale to the three of them. He spoke out first when she finished. “It’s amazing how she’s avoided Kintobor for all these years…”
Rose nodded. “Yes, they needed her for whatever they were planning,” she replied. “They wouldn’t harm her.”
“So why now?” Cream asked, her lips downturned and brows pulled together.
The woodchuck gave her a wan smile. “She brought a little human girl here with her,” she said. “Knuckles found them on the way here and issued her an ultimatum: go to Kintobor in exchange for the little girl’s safety.”
Tails looked in Bark’s direction. “That’s probably Hope,” he said.
The bear stood up quickly, his bulging eyes scouring the house in search of his child. “Hope!!” he exclaimed, his roving eyes centred on Rose. “You mean, Cosmo was caught because of Hope?!”
He walked up to the woodchuck and hung his head low in front of her. “I’m-I’m so sorry,” he blubbered, swallowing hard. “Hope, she’s my daughter… I’m really, really… sorry…”
Rose looked at him with astonishment. “You’re her father?!” she gaped. “How could you ever leave a child alone like that!?”
Bark sniffled loudly. “…Please don’t start with that,” he croaked, his voice thick with emotion. “It goes through my mind all the time, ‘What would happen to Hope if I…’” He shook his head and let out a shaky breath. “But you gotta understand, I don’t have that answer. I wanna be with Hope… but I have to fight. Otherwise, this planet’s gonna die…” He rubbed the wetness out of his eyes with his good hand and stared into Rosie’s eyes, his own filled with conviction. “So, I’m gonna keep fighting. But I also want to be with Hope, I worry about her all the time…” He then let out a groan and started massaging his temple. “See? I’m going in circles here…”
Rosie’s glare softened. She sighed, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. “I think I understand what you’re saying…” She pointed to the stairs. “She’s asleep upstairs, in the first room to the right of the bathroom.”
Bark thundered up the stairs before she could even finish her sentence. Once he was out of view, Tails heard Cream sigh deeply in the seat beside her. “This is all my fault,” she said, rubbing her ears, her brows knitted. “I was the one who got Cosmo involved…”
“That’s not true,” Rosie admonished lightly. “Cosmo wouldn’t think that.” She then stood up and went into the kitchen. She returned with a large first-aid kit in hand. “You three look like you’ve been through the ringer. Let’s get you patched up.”
“I’ll go get Bark,” Tails said before Cream could open her mouth. He rose from the table and headed up the stairs. The sounds of gruff crying and squealing laughter met his ears as he reached the upper floor landing. He opened the door to Cosmo’s room to see Bark squeezing his daughter tightly, his muzzle buried into the crook of her neck.
“I’m so glad,” he cried, his throat constricted. “So… So glad you’re OK, cub.”
The little girl squirmed under her father’s tight hold, her smile reaching her eyes. “Papa Bear!” she giggled loudly. “Don’t cry! Your whiskers hurt!” She freed herself from his grasp and saw Tails stand in the doorway, watching. “Mr. Tails!” Hope called.
“…Just call me Tails,” the fox noted, a wry smile crossing his lips.
“Guess what, guess what?” she continued, her eyes sparkling. “Cosmo was asking me lots and lots of questions! Things like ‘What kind of guy is Tails like?’ I bet she likes you!”
Tails gave her a quizzical look. “Maybe?” he said, more to himself than to Hope. Inwardly, he was curious. ‘Why ask a little girl questions about me?’ he wondered.
Before he could pry further, Bark approached him. The righteous fury returned to his eyes. “You’re gonna help Cosmo, right?” he asked. “She’s done so much for me… I can’t just sit here and do nothing, I wanna go with you and fight!” He smacked his gun into his open right palm, his hackles raised. “Kintobor’s gonna pay for what they’ve done!”
“Tails? You and Papa and Cream are gonna bring Cosmo back, right?” Hope chimed in.
The fox looked directly at both of them, his eyes blazing with confidence. “Of course,” he said with conviction. “We’re gonna get her back, I promise.” He inclined his head towards Bark. “Better get downstairs, Cosmo’s mom’s patching us up. We should rest up for a little while. We need to be fully prepared for the fight ahead.”
The bear grinned. Kneeling down to his daughter, he cupped her chin with his hand and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Now, you go back to sleep, little cub,” he said, looking directly into her eyes with a softness Tails didn’t realize he had. The girl beamed and kissed her father’s nose in acknowledgement before returning to her bed. “Let’s move, foxy,” Bark grunted, rising from the floor and heading back downstairs.
Tails turned to follow him but Hope’s voice stopped him. “Psst!” He turned to see her grinning at him. “I promise I won’t tell Cream,” she said in a secretive tone, bringing a finger to her lips.
The fox quirked his lips slightly and then followed Bark down. Rose had finished tending to Cream’s injuries and was now starting to apply ointment to Bark’s burns. The charred marks on the back of his arms contrasted greatly with his yellow-white fur.
“Tails, I’m coming with you too,” Cream said, her mouth set in a tight line. She held an ice pack to her ribs.
“I wasn’t gonna object to it,” he responded, sitting in the chair next to her. He leaned back and stared at the ceiling, his mind racing. “We’re going right into Kintobor Headquarters… so we gotta be prepared for the worst.”
“I know,” Cream agreed, adjusting the cold compress. “Right now, I feel like I need to push myself beyond my limits. If I stay here, I’ll go crazy.”
“Hey,” Bark called across the table. He winced as Cosmo’s mother now sprayed antiseptic onto the large cut on his shoulder. “So, do we have a plan? How the hell are we gonna get up to the Kintobor Building?” He removed his cap and dusted it off, earning a glare from Rose. “I mean, there’s no train that goes up there anymore-” He hissed mid-sentence as the older Mobian started to wrap gauze around his leg.
The rabbit stared around wistfully, a finger tapping her chin. “…Maybe we can try the Wall Market?” she suggested. “We might be able to find something there.”
Tails said nothing in response. He leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and steepling his fingers, his eyes lost in thought.
“Uh?” Bark addressed the woodchuck, his head bowed. “I’m sorry to ask, but could you-”
“I don’t mind,” she interrupted, anticipating what he was going to say. She quirked her lips upward. “Go. Fight. But make sure you come back to her. And don’t get killed.”
“We won’t,” Bark reassured her. “But this place is dangerous now. Once we leave, you better go somewhere else.”
She hummed a response, now making her way towards the fox. As she started cleaning and dressing the wound on his shoulder, Tails’ mind dwelled on Cosmo. ‘Hang in there Cosmo, we’re coming to get you.’