Chapter 40: No More Running
“Uh, It’s not stopping?! Tails, what’re we gonna do?!”
The fox ignored Bark’s nervous tone and scoured the tank-like robot for vulnerabilities as it quickly approached them. “Get against the shoulder!” he suddenly yelled out to the other four. “Now! It’s gonna attempt to ram us!”
The five Mobians quickly scrambled to the left and right shoulders of the road, barely getting there in time as the mechaniloid came to a complete stop where they stood. It backed up and then started to transform. The small, domed head on its back slid forward towards and into a slot at the top of its torso with an audible clunk. The main body then rose to an upright position to reveal a wide chest and a narrow, tapering waist leading to a six-axis undercarriage. The six wheels – one for each axis – spread outwards in a hexagonal pattern to provide stability to the whole body. It had thick, hinged plating covering its upper chest, while six nozzles circled around the lower portion of its torso, each of them pointing downwards.
Its two arms then unfolded outwards, revealing two, long flamethrower nozzles. The large, ducted fans attached to its shoulders flipped into a vertical position and Tails could see that the bottom ends of the fans were tapered, as if they were meant to fit into something. His eyes narrowed at the sight of the broad, silver-white stripe against the dark plum paint and the label across the top right chest plate that read ‘E-105 – z.’ His eyes continued roving until they finally landed on the six Emeralds that were inlaid in a spot where the undercarriage and the waist met. They were arranged in a hexagonal pattern, with two pairs of green and blue linked together and two purple gems in single slots.
Greyish-yellow fumes exuded from the two, long pipes from its back as the torso bent forwards. The domed head, which looked diminutive in proportion to its body, angled itself to look down at the five Mobians, who grouped together once more.
“IN THE NAME OF MASTER ROBOTNIK,” the robot’s computerized voice boomed out from a speaker just below its head. “LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND SURRENDER THE SEEDRIAN, OR FACE ANNIHILATION.”
“Tell your ‘master’,” Tails yelled out, his teeth bared and sword drawn. “That he can go and shove it! We’re not gonna surrender and we’re never giving up Cosmo!”
There was a pause as the robot considered the fox’s words. It straightened itself back up and loud clicking noises suddenly erupted from the robot’s body as it armed its weapons. “… ACKNOWLEDGED,” the plum coloured robot announced. “E-105 ZETA, DESIGNATE: MOTOR BALL. INITIATING COMBAT MODE.”
The green and blue Emeralds on its lower abdomen shone brightly as Zeta brought the arm cannons towards the group and shot fire towards them. Bright orange and red flames licked at the Mobians as they backed away from the monstrous mechaniloid to avoid being burnt.
“Yeah, sure, let’s go and goad the giant, flame-throwing robot!” Bark retorted to Tails sarcastically as he fired some test shots at Zeta. The bullets pinged harmlessly off of its thick armor. “Great plan, genius!”
“Shut it, Bark,” Tails growled, swapping the Fire Emerald out of his weapon and replacing it with the All Emerald. “And avoid using Fire on it. I get the feeling it’s not gonna work!”
“He’s right!” Cosmo called from the back. Tails turned to see her irises flashing with a bright, bluish light as she accessed the power of the Sense Emerald. “It’s got a flame-retardant coating all over it, but it’s vulnerable to Lighting!”
Cream drew a Lightning charge from her own weapon as the robot lurched forwards. “I got this, then!” she said, her brows lowered in concentration as she shaped the magic with her Mana. “BOLT!” she called, launching the ball of electricity towards Zeta, just as it rose an arm to spew flames once more. It collided, sending a shower of electricity all over its body. The spell failed to stun the machine however, and it sent a plume of flames towards the fighter. She rolled away to avoid being burnt to a crisp, but a lick of flames singed part of her arm. She hissed, bringing herself up to a kneeling position and cradled the injured limb.
As Green XIII charged a Lighting spell of his own next to him, Tails noticed something on the undercarriage. A long, thin spike from underneath the robot was buried into the ground, and he realized it was the same tactic that Alpha used in their fight back at the No. 5 Reactor. “Bark! Cream! It has a grounding line, same as from that time at the No. 5!” he yelled out. “We’ll have to take that thing out first-”
Before he could continue passing instructions, Zeta reared back and opened the plates on its chest. Beneath the cavity were a battery of micro missiles, all which shot out towards the five in wide arcs.
“Back to the truck!” Bark hollered as the missiles angled towards them. He and the others ran back to the vehicle as the projectiles crashed onto the ground and exploded, creating pockmarked craters on the asphalt. Several missiles zoomed over their heads and dropped to the wastelands below.
One struck the ground near the truck, the explosion getting underneath it and sending the vehicle flying over the edge. The resulting shockwave from the explosion sent all five to the ground in a heap.
Green XIII was the first to get up, the chunk of crystal holding the Lightning magic still clutched in her fist. Her eyes quickly turned to the giant purple robot, its chest plates closing over the missile batteries. “Oh no you don’t!” she growled, her rasp sounding venomous. She thrust her hand, palm out and called “BOLT!” The chunk shot out and squeezed through the coverings just as it closed. The magic charge exploded and caused the plates to blow off. The golem laughed loudly. “How’d you like that?!” she shouted out.
Tails rose up and drew Lightning energy out of his armor. “Now! Focus on the chest!” he ordered, shaping and casting the magic. Cream and Cosmo stood up and followed suit with Lightning spells of their own, while Bark launched an Ice spell. The four elemental magics struck Zeta’s chest cavity, the electrical variety short-circuiting its insides while the ice variety supercooled the metal around the missile batteries. Bark followed up by emptying one of his last four clips into it, damaging it beyond use.
Zeta’s body slumped forward as the electrical energy dissipated from the grounding spike below it. Tails kept a wary eye on the machine. “Keep your guard up,” he hissed, his sword held up. “If I know one thing about Kintobor – or Robotnik’s – machines, it’s that they don’t fall over easily.”
True to his words, Zeta righted itself, its green eyes shone brightly in the night sky as it faced the five Mobians once again. “REBOOT COMPLETE. INITIATING MODE 2 OPERATION,” it announced. The robot’s body suddenly folded forwards, its arms and the turboprop fans tucking into its sides and its head sliding back between the two tubes on its back. The wheels on the front and back moved together with the middle wheel stacking on top of them, causing Zeta to rise upwards. It tilted forward and pointed the tubes at the group. A red and orange glow began to emanate deep inside them.
As it was transforming, Tails and the others were charging up more spells. The fox stifled a groan, the strain caused by a lack of rest plus the constant use of magic over the course of the last 24 hours was taking a toll on his body. Once again, he willed himself to keep going and continued to pour more of himself into the Lightning charge in between his palms. “All together now!” he shouted out to the others behind him. “Aim for those tubes on its back!” He and the others thrusted their hands towards the mechaniloid and called their respective spells.
The four Lightning spells and the lone Ice spell from Bark all travelled into the tubes just as they belched voluminous plumes of flame. The three elemental spells collided with one another and created a violent explosion that decimated the robot’s back and sent Tails and the others flying backwards. The backs of Cream, Cosmo and Bark struck the left and right shoulders of the highway and each had the wind knocked out of them. Green XIII rolled to a halt at the edge of the highway while Tails soared off of the edge entirely.
In a fit of desperation, Tails thrust his sword out to what he hoped was a partially constructed structural column The blade embedded itself into the concrete and the momentum caused the fox to slam into the support and nearly lose his grip. He let out a few shaky breaths to steady himself before grasping the weapon and placing his feet on the column. Fanning out his tails, he yanked hard on the Buster Sword to dislodge it and then took flight. He rose back to the highway, dropped into an ungainly roll as his namesakes seized up and then landed in a seated position. “Phew, that was close,” he said to himself as he gingerly got back up to his feet. Raising his voice, he called out to the others. “Everyone alright?”
“Uh, yeah, Tails,” Cream’s nervous voice answered his call. “But… I’m not sure for how long!”
The question he wanted to ask died on his lips as his eyes trailed over to E-105 Zeta, who was still operational despite its back being completely obliterated. As the robot unfolded itself, Tails could see that the yellow visor on its head was shorn in half and it lost an optical sensor in the explosion, but the remaining one still shone coldly in the slowly brightening sky.
“-bzzt- ERROR. ERROR,” Zeta spoke out loud. “UNIT HAS SUFFERED -bzzt- CRITICAL -bzzt- DAMAGE -bzzt-. REROUTE ALL AUXILIARY POWER -bzzt- TO MAIN SYSTEM. INITIATE ROLLING FIRE OPERATION. ACTIVATE HOVER ENGINES.”
Tails and the others watched in shock as the plum robot detached both of its arms, each landing with a loud crash onto the ground. In the same motion, the ducted turboprop fans rotated and then folded inwards, the tapered slots fitting into the holes where the arms used to occupy. The six wheels then rotated so that the sides faced the road beneath it. Once they were in position, the fans in its arms started to spin, sucking in the air surrounding it.
Bark reacted first, sending shots towards the fans and the already damaged chest area to no effect. “I’ve seen something like this before!” the bear hollered out to the group as he drained his second-to-last clip. “When I used to work in the coal mines, fans like those were used either to bring in fresh air or exhaust hot air, depending on how it’s spinning! I dunno what it’s supposed to do for this thing though!?”
Green XIII attempted to climb up the machine’s body while Bark reloaded, but she was forced back as Zeta’s wheels started to turn. She would have been ground to powder had Cream not grabbed and pulled her back at the last moment. “Woah, thanks!” she said gratefully. “Any later and I would’ve been -” The rest of her quip was cut off as the hover jets on the robot’s wheels blared loudly. The two watched as it rose up several inches from the ground.
“Tails!?” The fighter called out to her friend, who stood in the middle of the highway. “What on Mobius is happening?!”
Tails , his brows furrowed as he kept his guard up, made no response. Observing the robot’s behaviour, he quickly surmised what was happening based on the polar bear’s remark about the fans. ‘It’s sucking in air… air is used to fuel fire… and those nozzles on the underside of its chest… Oh shit!’ “EVERYONE! REGROUP! IT’S GONNA RAIN FIRE!!” he screamed out, a vein popping out of his neck. His hand slid from the All Emerald on his weapon to the Restore linked to it and he forced as much Mana into the spell as he could muster in preparation for what was to come.
Zeta, now several feet above the ground, tilted its bottom half upwards with the back wheels facing away from the group and it hovered forward at a brisk pace. The two pairs of linked Emeralds on its lower body shone brilliantly as it continuously angled its hover engine-equipped wheels to circle the five Mobians, forcing them to group together. Fire then spilled forth out of the nozzles on the underside of its chest and the Mobians screamed in agony as the flames poured down on them. The giant machine made two passes in this manner before settling back down on the tarmac in front of the group.
The fox struggled to raise the hand covered in green healing magic into the air. “C-CURE!” he spat out. The magic burst into a wave of soft green sparks that showered the group, which healed and reduced the severity of the burns they suffered. Cosmo, Bark, Green XIII and Cream shakily got to their feet as the remnants of Zeta’s flaming attack lingered around them, but Tails remained down on one knee, his breathing hard and forced. He had put almost everything he had into that Cure spell and was now in the full throes of Mana fatigue. His body was telling him to stop and rest, but on seeing the robot towering in front of them in a motionless state, Tails thought otherwise.
As exhausted as he was, he noticed the soft hand that was suddenly placed on his back. “Cure,” he heard a voice – Cosmo’s voice – call out. Another bright green field of energy enveloped and healed his body. He still felt mentally drained, but he was now able to stand up and continue fighting.
“Thanks Cosmo,” the fox said, his lips curling into a half-smile. She responded with a good-natured grin before charging and administering more Cure spells to the others.
Getting up and settling into a fighting stance, Tails’ eyes roved the damaged surface of Zeta’s motionless body as he looked for something he and the others could take advantage of without resorting to magic. The fans inserted into the machine’s arms were now spinning in reverse – exhausting hot air instead of taking in fresh air. “It looks like it’s recovering! Now’s our chance to strike back!” he called to his friends behind him. “Hit it with whatever you have left!”
He dashed forwards, leapt up and sliced at the fan on its left shoulder. The blade bit into the thick metal that surrounded the fan, but it could not cleave through it. Wrenching the weapon free, he returned to the ground and struck at the wheels, its chest and anywhere else that he could do any damage to.
Bark fired at the robot’s chest to no effect. He cursed as he angrily tossed his last clip at Zeta. It pinged noisily off of his head. “I’m out!” he yelled, his hackles raised.
The golem rushed forward, jumped and threw her signature haymaker at the Emeralds on Zeta’s torso. She didn’t expect the robot to move backwards during its recovery mode and she landed face first into the tarmac. Groaning, Green XIII rose up only to be rammed by the spiked wheels. She flew backwards and landed in a heap behind Cream. Her front had a long, jagged crack down the middle and blood started to seep out of it.
The fighter shot out another Lightning spell that she charged as Green XIII slid by her. The ball of electricity impacted on the surface of the right fan. She smiled as the spell caused it to sputter to a halt, but then frowned when it suddenly reactivated. “Tails! Nothing’s working!” she shouted to the fox as she struggled to produce another Lightning charge. “What do we do?!”
The fox ground his teeth, his frustration towards the robot and its creator reaching its peak as he hacked away unsuccessfully at its armoured hide. Despite everything they threw at it, Zeta didn’t stop. It was as if willpower itself was keeping the machine alive. He was forced back as Zeta adjusted its wheels to enable its hover engines. The fans on its arms reversed direction and it began taking in air in preparation for another Rolling Fire attack.
His focus shifted to the other four; Bark and Cream were surrounding Cosmo as she applied healing magic to the downed Green XIII. Beads of sweat accumulated on the green-haired Seedrian’s face as she continually tapped into her magical reserves in order to close the golem’s wounds.
‘Bark’s out of ammo, Green’s down for the count, Cream looks like she’s tapped out for magic and Cosmo’s probably running low as well…’ Tails analyzed, his face twisting into a scowl. ‘I have another All Emerald… but I don’t know if my body can handle the strain of healing more than one person.’ Closing his eyes and considering his options, he then brought a hand to the Emeralds in his armor just as Zeta rose upwards on its hover engines and angled itself for its attack. He tapped the Barrier Emerald and forced out what little Mana he had left to shape the magic. ‘I can’t protect all of us… but I can at least do my job as a bodyguard,’ he reasoned. ‘It’s a gamble… but Cosmo’s the best of all of us. I know for certain that she’s got untapped power and that it’s greater than anything we could ever muster… If anyone can take this thing down and save us all, it’s her.’
‘All she has to do… is believe in herself.’
Cosmo had just finished healing Green XIII when she heard the roar of the hover engines coming from Zeta. She watched in fear as the robot charged forward, flames beginning to spew out of the nozzles in its chest. Suddenly, she heard Tails yelling something out in front of her, his palm pointing in her direction. Before she knew it, a rainbow-coloured barrier encased her just as Zeta rained fire down on the group. The barrier protected her from harm but inflicted severe burns on her friends.
Bark, Cream and Tails all dropped to the ground and rolled to put out the flames, each howling in pain as a result of Zeta’s Rolling Fire attack. They then lay on the hard pavement, barely breathing with their fur charred and bodies singed greatly. The flames also rolled over Green XIII’s downed body, heated her stone skin and cooked her from the inside. She struggled to sit up, but then collapsed and slipped into unconsciousness, her head lolling to the side.
“W-why Tails?” the flower girl croaked at the fox’s direction, her hands whitening under the intense grip she put onto her staff. “Why… Why did you save me? Why not Cream, or-or Bark, or even Green XIII?! Why me?!”
Ahead of her, Zeta lowered itself to the ground and rolled up slowly to the group, the flames that remained on the highway reflected off of its plum coloured armour and gave it a wicked and hellish look. The fans inside its arms started to spin loudly, exhausting the hot air that accumulated inside the robot’s body during its last attack. It stopped in front of the Mobians. “AUTHORITIES -bzzt- HAVE BEEN -bzzt- CONTACTED,” Zeta boomed, its computerized voice continuing to stutter. It bent forward and its remaining green eye trained its focus onto her. “YOU ARE TO -bzzt- REMAIN HERE AND -bzzt- -crackle- AWAIT TRANSPORT BACK TO -bzzt- ROBOTNIK HQ.”
The flower girl sank to her knees in despair, her rod clattering to the ground in front of her. “This can’t be how it ends… is it?” she choked out softly to herself. A thought crossed her mind and she corrected herself. “No… I’ll be safe, they can’t harm me…” she reasoned, tears accumulating in the corners of her eyes. “But… but my friends…” Her eyes traveled over to each of them.
Green XIII, the strange, but spirited golem. Beneath her fearsome, rocky exterior lay a kind and gentle spirit that she appreciated, especially when things got tough during their escape in the elevators.
Cream, the bartending rabbit whose big, caring heart was as strong and fierce as her fists. Despite only knowing her for a day or two, Cosmo felt an instant, sisterly bond with her. It was the kind that she longed for her whole life.
Bark, the one-armed polar bear whose convictions to end Kintobor’s exploitations of both Energen and Mobians were only matched by the concern he showed to his friends and the love he had for his adoptive human daughter. At first glance, she thought him as a rough and tumble individual who enjoyed the thrill of battle, but realized over time that he did the things he did to protect the people he cared about.
And the final member of their odd crew: Tails, the two-tailed fox, enigmatic former SOLDIER, First Class and the reason she was on this journey in the first place. Though he held the same sword and carried himself in the same manner as her ex-boyfriend, she sensed that there was more to him than she thought. She only wished she had the time or opportunity to ask him more…
‘Without them, I would have stayed exactly where I was,’ she thought sadly, her eyes downcast. Tears began rolling down her cheeks. ‘…Growing up, I always knew that this would have been my ultimate fate… and it’s why I’ve been running away my whole life.’ She twisted away from Zeta and towards the edge of the city, where the dawn of a new day was breaking. She looked wistfully at the growing orange glow in the sky beyond the mountains in the distance, the rays of light piercing through the haze of pollution surrounding the city. ‘In the end, I’m nothing more than a tool that’s to be used for others’ gain… What a sad and pathetic life this is…’
A brisk and warm gust of wind blew by her and she closed her eyes, cherishing its soft caress on her cheeks.
And then suddenly, her eyes snapped open. She couldn’t tell if it was from exhaustion or wishful delirium, but she swore she heard a voice in the wind. Many voices. All of which were familiar to her.
She heard them screaming through the earth that she walked in the Slums.
Whispering through the leaves and roots of her flowers at the church in Sector 5.
Crying out in pain through the Energen that seeped through the cracks in some of the transmission pipes on the Plate.
And now here, on this broken highway at the edge of the city, she heard the collective voice of Planet Mobius speak to her once more. What made this moment different from all others was the lead voice that overshadowed the cacophony. It spoke to her in a gentle, but commanding tone that took Cosmo’s breath away. Her fingers trembled as she recognized the voice.
It was her mother.
“Be not afraid of your strength, my child… Tap into it, let it seep through you… Let your feelings and your heart guide you towards your destiny… Take up arms, hold your head up high and fight back against those who would stop you…”
“For you are our world’s greatest hope.”
Cosmo’s breath hitched as she listened. Upon hearing her mother’s voice for the first time in years however, she suddenly felt her heart stir. Years of negative thinking had caused her mind to outright reject whatever the Planet said to her. While those thoughts were quelled slightly during the short time she spent with her ex-boyfriend, they returned full force at the onset of his disappearance. She thought that they would never go away, but today, as she knelt on the battle-scarred asphalt on the edge of the city, Cosmo found a sense of peace and understanding that she had not felt before.
Her mind presented various scenarios of what would happen if she left the relative safety of the city, each more terrifying than the last. But her heart countered each and every idea that sprang up until, at last, it coaxed her anxiety into silence. All that remained was one burning desire; to leave this place and discover who and what she truly was. Her decision had the effect of reinvigorating her spirit as she was now ready to come to terms with what she wanted in her life. Slowly, her breathing settled, her jaw became set and her eyes turned steely and focused.
Her spirit revived and burning bright, she turned away from the sun-dappled sky, took up her staff in both hands and got to her feet. She faced Zeta and her body shifted into a defensive stance.
“THREATENING ACTION -bzzt- DETECTED,” the purple robot spoke. “CEASE ACTIONS -bzzt- -crackle- IMMEDIATELY OR THIS UNIT -crackle- WILL USE FORCE TO INCAPACITATE…”
Cosmo didn’t hear the rest. Zeta’s computerized voice became nothing more than background noise to the Seedrian. She took in a deep breath and turned her head up to look into the robot’s eye, a determined scowl crossing her face. “Kintobor! Or Robotnik! Or whoever you call yourself!” she called out loudly, her soft voice now acerbic and forceful. “I know you can hear me and I know you can see me! I’m here to tell you that my power doesn’t belong to you! It’s mine and mine alone and I will use it to protect my friends and to leave this city!” She then pointed to the four Mobians, who were roused by Cosmo’s voice and were all shakily rising up to their hands and knees. “Do you see these four here?! They risked everything; their lives, their friends and their families, all for me!”
As she shouted, a golden aura started to emanate from her body and silver sparks began to crisscross all around her. She then felt a wellspring of energy bubble inside of her. Whereas before she would have shied away from it, this time Cosmo tapped into the full extent of power and let it envelop her body, just as her mother instructed her to do. Instantly, her aura intensified. The air around her became supercharged and the rose blossoms in her hair bloomed to their fullest, the red petals shimmering in the golden light of the morning sun.
“These four have shown me how to be brave!” she continued, the radiance around her growing stronger as she spoke. “They’ve shown me how to stand up and keep fighting, even when the odds are stacked against them! And they’ve reminded me of something that someone very close to me once said!”
In a flash, an image of blue quills, bright jade-green eyes and a cocky smirk across a tan muzzle entered her mind.
“Live with no regrets. Believe in yourself. And chase the impossible.”
Her radiance now rivaling the sun behind her, Cosmo began funneling all of the energy into her staff.
“… ORDERS -bzzt- -crackle- RECEIVED. REINITIATE -bzzt- COMBAT MODE,” Zeta stuttered, its eye locked on to the Seedrian. It straightened up and activated the fans on its arms and began sucking in air while it rotated its wheels in preparation for another assault.
Though her eyes were trained solely on the robot in front of her, Cosmo saw Tails and the others standing up unsteadily from her peripheral vision. She quirked her lips upwards. “Good! I knew you’d all be up sooner or later,” she called to the group in a cheerful voice loud enough for him to hear. “Listen, I know it’s hard right now and you’re all hurting real bad, but we can beat this thing! I know we can!”
“H-how?” Cream answered, her voice quavering from the pain. She clutched the patch of her left arm where a large and angry red burn lay. “Cos… we got nothing left?”
Cosmo giggled as the bright golden light now fully engulfed her weapon. “Don’t worry Creamy,” she answered, a gentle smile crossing her lips. “You leave that to me. You all may have hit your limit. But limits are meant to be broken! And those guys at Kinto-botnik or whatever forgot one crucial thing.”
“…And what’s that?” Tails asked as the fans on Zeta’s body ceased spinning. Its hover engines on its wheels activated and it began to rise up slowly.
Cosmo gripped the staff with both hands and brought it upwards above her head. “You all have an ace up your sleeves,” she said pluckily. “Me.”
Cosmo brought the glowing, golden staff down to the ground. As its tip struck the pavement, Tails watched with wide eyes as four, thick tendrils of golden energy – like the roots from a tree – dispersed from the staff and snaked its way towards him and the others. The root-like tendril then shot up from the ground and stabbed him in the chest.
Suddenly, the fox felt a tremendous surge of power coursing through him. His body began to glow golden and silver bolts of electricity sparked all around him. Tails quickly glanced around him to see that the others all had similar glows around them. Cream’s teeth clenched as tight as her fists as she struggled to contain the power within her. Next to her, Bark clamped his hand around his Gun-Arm, which was surging with silver electricity. Green XIII lumbered up next to the bear, her crystal body alternating between flashing green and silver.
And then it finally dawned on him. He still felt tired. He still couldn’t use magic. He was in pain and could barely lift his sword. But now, as a surge of unstoppable power coursed through him, he truly believed that he and the others could pull off a miracle.
The fox hefted his sword into an offensive stance and faced Zeta, who was now prepared to strike. “Everyone!” he shouted forcefully, the lustre of his aura intensifying. “Let’s not let what Cosmo gave to us go to waste!”
Green XIII roared loudly as she charged forwards first. The glow around her body started to pulse faster and faster until only a silver light remained. She crossed his arms, slid underneath Zeta’s undercarriage as it passed overtop and then spread them out to release the pent-up energy within. A brilliant, silvery-green explosion tore off the back three wheels and sent the plum robot toppling forwards face-first into the ground before it could release its flames. Sliding to a halt, it then used the three remaining wheels to push itself up, only to be met by Cream.
Eyes blazing with fury and hands and feet coated in golden silver energy, she approached its lower body where its Emeralds lay and began pummeling the thick armor; first with her five-hit combo and followed by a somersault. She landed back on the asphalt in a crouch before launching into the sky and diving back down with a savage drop kick. Each of her Ki-enhanced blows cracked the surface around the six slot assembly. Landing once more, she ran up to the robot again, jumped and whipped her right leg with such speed and force that it created a shockwave that tore through the air itself. The wave ruptured the armor around Zeta’s belly, causing the Emerald assembly to become dislodged and creating a gaping hole. The six gems each tinkled loudly on the pavement.
“My turn!” Bark shouted from behind. The bear dug into his pocket and extracted a grenade. Pulling the pin off with his teeth, he held onto his hat as his own aura quickly traveled to the tip of his gun, which he aimed at the spot the fighter opened up. What started as a large red orb quickly collapsed into a smaller, dense sphere that shone bright white. Bark then placed the grenade into the energy “Hope you like a Grenade Bomb!!” he called to the robot, spittle flecked from his mouth as he launched the incendiary-coated sphere at Zeta. It zoomed into the hole that Cream made and detonated, blowing the bottom half of the robot apart. Zeta’s upper body crashed onto the highway and somehow maintained its upright stature. Its domed head swiveled to see Tails approach it rapidly.
“Cream! Give me a boost!” he hollered, leaping as he approached her. With a hint of her aura remaining, Cream crouched down and cocked a fist back. She launched it at the bottom of Tails’ boot just as he soared overhead. Her fist connected and the fox rocketed forty feet upward, carried by the force of the rabbit’s punch. Tails then spun his namesakes, taking him higher into the sky. At the apex of his flight, he wrapped his tails around his waist, pointed the Buster Sword out and curled up into a ball, his own aura shining like the sun above. He began to rotate and started descending down towards Zeta, his spinning becoming faster and faster the further he fell.
Soon enough, the orange and silver buzzsaw of death from above crashed into the E-Series robot, savagely cleaving it from top to bottom. Tails uncurled and leaped away from Zeta as both halves of what remained of its body toppled to the ground with a deafening crash. The smoking debris spread over the width of the highway, separating the group from any of Kintobor’s approaching forces.
Standing upright, Tails swung his sword around with a flourish before placing it on the disk on his back. He crossed his arms and wagged a gloved finger at the now destroyed Zeta, a smirk crossing his lips. “Game, set and match,” he said triumphantly.
“Whew… We did it, Tails!” Cream exclaimed breathlessly, a tired but elated grin spread out on her face.
“Wahoo!” Bark whooped, throwing his arms up in celebration. “Suck on that, Ro-butt-nik!”
“I second that!” a new voice called out to them from behind. Tails whipped around, sword drawn and ready to strike, but he faltered at the sight of the newcomer.
She looked to be a chipmunk with shoulder-length mussed auburn hair and matted, two toned brown fur. She had a willowy, thin frame with white wrappings around her torso and waste protecting her modesty. Her wide and expressive blue eyes shone out brightly in the rising sun. Her eyebrows shot upwards at the threatening sight in front of her. “Hey guys, chill out! It’s me! Green XII!” she called to them, a shaky grin across her petite muzzle as she raised his hands up in a non-threatening manner.
“…You’re really Green XIII?” Tails asked after a few moments, sheathing his sword and staring at her skeptically.
“Yep!” the chipmunk replied, still smiling. “But, could you not use that name? I go by Sally.” She bowed regally to the group and Tails could see the numeral ‘XIII’ tattooed on her right arm. “This is my true self; the one beneath the stone armour.” She breathed out a long sigh of relief. “It feels so good to be back to normal-”
“See? I knew… I knew that you guys could pull it off,” Cosmo’s exhausted voice cut in suddenly. The group of four all turned and surrounded the flower girl, whose eyes crinkled at the corners.
Cream knelt down and threw her arms around the flower girl. “We couldn’t have done it without you, Cos,” she said, squeezing her lightly. “You really saved our skins this time.”
Bark frowned, his arms crossed as he looked over Zeta’s burning remains. “But, what was it that you did to us?” he asked Cosmo. “ I mean, I felt like this before a couple times when things were bleak, but… not like this?”
“Hmm…” Sally wondered. “I’ve heard of this phenomenon before. It’s more commonly seen among those trained in combat, but I’ve never heard of such a thing happening to four individuals simultaneously.” He looked sidelong at Cosmo. “It must be the power of the Ancients, I suppose?”
Cosmo bowed her head and remained quiet.
Tails, meanwhile, approached the husk of the E-Series robot. He bent down to retrieve the Emeralds that Cream dislodged, when he heard something shuffle inside of the robot’s shell. Prying a piece of metal off near its RINGTEK power source, he discovered – to his horror – Robotnik’s secret that he teased during their fight on the roof of the Kintobor Building.
Hooked up to wires inserted into every point of its body imaginable, was a small, withered bird – an unevolved critter. It tried in vain to pull itself free from the bonds holding it in place. Tails’ eyes narrowed into slits. “So that’s how he did it,” he muttered to himself, his nostrils flared out. “Sealing living critters into robotic shells and using them as a conduit to use Emeralds… It’s diabolical… but it’s also a genius-”
“Hey, yo! Tails!” Bark hollered, breaking the fox’s thoughts. Casting one last pitiful look at the trapped and dying bird, he collected the Emeralds on the ground and traipsed back to the other four. “So what do we do now?” the polar bear asked once he returned.
Tails let out a deep exhale as he crossed his arms and closed his eyes. He saw a flash of flames, blood spilled on a familiar stump and water tower and heard the screams of innocents. All of this was followed by a cold and chilling laugh that sent shivers down his spine. “…Nazo is alive,” he said after a few moments, opening his eyes and facing out towards the mountains in the distance. “I… I have to settle the score with him.”
“And that’ll save Mobius?”
Tails gave him a sidelong glance. “It seems so?” he answered.
Bark pumped his fist, a maniacal grin crossing his lips. “Alrighty then! I’m going!” he announced.
Cosmo stood up, using Cream as a support. She approached the edge of the highway. “I also want to go,” she said. Her hand clutched the pendant around her neck. “I have… Questions that need to be answered.”
“About the Ancients?” Cream asked curiously.
“Hmm…” Cream brought her arms above her head and let out a soft groan as she stretched. She then stood beside Cosmo, who was next to Tails. Bark and Sally soon joined alongside them. The sun had finally risen and bathed the group in orange and yellow light. Behind them, the city started to rouse as factories and manufacturing plants started operations for the day, the greyish-yellow exhaust fumes from the stacks wafted into the sky and slowly started to obscure the sun. A new day had dawned on Megapolis. As it did for the five Mobians staring out of the horizon towards lands – and adventure – unknown.
“I guess this is goodbye Megapolis.”