Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Random Encounters



Bark

Jessie blew a strand of hair away from her face as she prepared an improvised explosive to use on a collapsed wall blocking their way out. The force of the explosion from Reactor #1 caused the facades of the unused emergency exit to crumble around TORNADO. Some portions had already caved in, causing the group to sidle around or crawl underneath the rubble. 

Bark and the other two members of the team sat in silence as she worked, their faces contorted in a myriad of emotions. Behind them, Tails leaned on a wall, his face the picture of a mercenary – cold, stoic and calm.

Biggs was the first to break the silence. “Hey Jess, you sure this won’t kill us all?” he said in a half-hearted attempt to make a joke, his voice echoing around the sunken passage.

“Shut it Biggs!” Bark seethed. “Keep your voice down or the whole fucking place will collapse on us!”

“Sheesh, sorry I tried to lighten the mood,” the Human relented in a much quieter tone, rolling his eyes. The group settled into silence once more until he piped up again, this time in a more somber voice. “Guess that means Mobius will keep on living… at least, a little while longer.”

“Yeah,” Wedge said, gripping his rifle in his sweaty hands, his eyes downcast and his shoulders hunched over.

Bark said nothing. He stared at his remaining hand instead as it trembled. While he was initially elated at the prospect of striking a blow against Kintobor, the heady rush of endorphins soon wore off and left him feeling a gut-wrenching weight deep in the pit of his stomach. ‘What on Mobius have we done?’ he reflected, lost in thought. ‘How many people died from the-

His musings were snapped when Jessie stood up after she placed the bomb on a weak spot on the wall. “Guys! Stand back!” she called, putting some distance between herself and the device. The others followed suit.

The device detonated after a ten second count, blowing a hole in the wall and clearing the way to Sector 8. The explosion caused the already weakened passageway to collapse. Tails ran out first, followed by Bark, Biggs and Jessie. Wedge brought up the rear just as the corridor came down behind him. He bent over and panted loudly as he clutched a stitch in his chest. The portly man soon made his way to the rest of the crew after he had caught his breath.

The three Humans and two Mobians emerged in a small clearing in Sector 8’s upper plate, a short distance away from the entertainment district. Bark motioned for them to huddle up as he silenced his earlier thoughts back in the passageway. “OK, now let’s get the hell out of here,” he said, keeping his voice low. “The rendezvous point is at the Sector 8 station, just beyond the theater district. Thanks to the chaos we caused, security will be all over the place.” Bark paused and looked around, spotting multiple paths leading to the streets. “If we move as a group, we’re bound to look suspicious,” he continued. “These back alleys around us should take us out to different areas of the street, so split up and get to the train. Move out!”

The group scattered in different directions. Biggs and Jessie ran in the same direction down an alleyway. The woman cut left while Biggs continued onward and rounded another corner to the main street. Wedge took a passage next to them leading to another section of the street. He slowed down as he approached the mouth of the alleyway and then ducked his head and stuck his hands in his pockets, walking onto the road and acting as nonchalant as possible. Bark spun around and strode up a staircase behind him that led up and over to the theater. 

Mid-way up, Tails called out. “H-hey!” 

The bear turned back around to face the fox and cast a hardened look at him. “If it’s about your money, save it until we’re back at the hideout.” He trundled back up the stairs and left the mercenary to his own devices.


Tails

Tails sighed, watching the retreating bear as he turned the corner. ‘So much for ditching them here and now, I’ll have to wait til we’re back in the slums.’ Seeing no other options available to him, the fox decided to take the same path that Bark did. He climbed up the stairs and winded around a four story tall building whose exterior was pockmarked with debris from the exploding reactor, before stopping at a juncture. 

To his left was a ladder leading up to the roof. Another stairwell leading down to street level stood in front of him. ‘I could probably get to the station faster if I go across the rooftops and fire escapes,’ Tails pondered as he explored his options. ‘But if I were a bettin’ fox, I’m sure they would have SkyTranses covering the air and they’d spot me pretty easily jumping from roof to roof. No, I better stick to street level.’ Breathing deeply through his nose, his decision made, Tails descended the stairs to ground level. Touching down on the paved surface, he found himself in another narrow corridor leading out towards the theater. Passing a large transmission pipe that was leaking out Energen, he strode out and calmly assessed the scene in front of him. 

The aftershock from the reactor explosion created upheaval around the district. Cars were overturned and signs mounted on the walls were knocked down, its pieces scattered along the asphalt. Chunks of concrete and brick that were blown off from buildings littered the streets and blocked passage to parts of the district. The theater next to him suffered severe structural damage; the lights had been blown off and the sign that read ‘Look-a-Like’ was on the verge of falling to the ground below. Scores of Mobians and Humans hurried to the sites of the blockages to assist rescue workers, while others shoved and pushed their way towards the train stations in a desperate attempt to escape. Tails watched them pass as he surreptitiously walked down the street. 

A grunt elicited from a woman nearby caught his attention. It was followed by the sound of something soft hitting the ground and rolling towards him. The object stopped by his boot and Tails peered down to look. “Flowers?” he mumbled, tilting his head curiously at the rounded woven basket.

Two dirt-caked boots suddenly entered his field of vision and stopped right in front of the basket. Tails’ eyes trailed up the slender legs and past the flowing white dress with the scoop neckline that came down to her shins with points at its hem. They travelled over the patchy, brown leather satchel that sat up against her narrow waist that had a wide, silver-buckled belt wrapped around it and the unopened, forest green coat that came up to her midriff before finally stopping at her face. She had delicate, pale-peach features that were framed by bright, chartreuse-green bangs. Her thick and wavy hair was arranged into a ponytail braid with a pale pink ribbon tied around the base. Atop her head were a pair of ruby-red rose ornaments that were in full bloom. She had a rounded bump where her nose should have been; a fact that didn’t bother the fox in the slightest. 

When their eyes met, Tails saw her crystal blue orbs widened into saucers and her pretty pink lips parted into an O shape. He then noticed her eyes go from his face to the hilt of his sword and then back again.

“I-I’m sorry,” the Mobian suddenly stammered out as she knelt down to pick up the basket of flowers, her pale, peach-coloured cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Some panicked idiot ran into me and I dropped my basket…” She stood up, brushed some of the lingering dust off of her dress and stared at the fox once more. “Um… do you know what happened here?” she asked in a soft, sweet tone. She placed her hands behind her back and started shuffling from side to side, her eyes downcast. “I was on this street, minding my own business when the reactor exploded and rocked the whole Sector.”

Tails felt something stir in his mind as he listened to her speak. Something about her felt familiar to him and he couldn’t help but think that he had seen her or heard her voice before in the past. Try as he might, however, he couldn’t remember ever meeting her before tonight. He knew that he had to continue onwards to the train leading back to the slums, but a part of him wanted to stay and talk with her. ‘But… why?’ he wondered, an unsettling feeling bubbling in the pit of his stomach. ‘Why do I want to stay for?

He was startled back into reality when the woman leaned towards him, her head tilted to the side and her brows creased with worry. “Are you alright?” she asked. “You kinda zoned out there for a second?”

“It’s nothing,” Tails replied, blinking rapidly. He swept a hand over the bangs on his forehead as he racked his brain for something to say. “…but I was wondering,” he paused, his eyes going to the basket of flowers in her hand. “I’ve never seen flowers here in Megapolis, not since I got here at least?”

The Mobian pulled back, her lips curling up into a tiny smile. “Oh these?” she said, pointing to the yellow and white flowers that were carefully cut and arranged into her basket. “Do you like them? They’re only a mobium each?”

Tails nodded and pulled out some paper bills from his back pocket; the spoils from the various odd jobs he had completed in the three weeks prior to tonight’s operation. As he pulled out a single mobium out of the wad in his hand, he was suddenly struck with a thought. “Can I get two?” he asked, handing her a second bill. 

The woman beamed merrily as she took the money. Tails watched as the flower girl knelt down and pulled out two square sheets of brown parchment paper from her satchel. She then carefully selected two flowers from her collection; one yellow, the other, white. Placing the paper on the pavement, she neatly arranged the flowers and then folded up each sheet of paper to make a thin envelope.

Standing up, she handed him the two sheets. “So you can put them in your pocket,” she said, watching the fox’s puzzled face. Her work done, she turned around, flashed him one last smile and then briskly walked away.

Tails arched an eyebrow as he watched the flower girl turn the corner at the end of the street. He then spun around and made his way through to an unobstructed boulevard that led to the train stations. ‘That was strange,’ he thought, his brows furrowing into a deep scowl. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever met her before… so why do I get the feeling that I know her?’ He stopped to peer up at a large, Gothic-styled analog clock. The time read 12:06 am. ‘According to the briefing, the train leaves in 7 minutes… better hustle.’ 

After jogging half of the block, he emerged onto a large, stone bridge. He spied the station entrance located at the other end. Tails slowed his pace back to a walk, but kept his sense alert. 

Suddenly, he heard a voice call out forcefully from behind him. “Hey! You there!” 

Tails halted just as he began to cross the bridge. He gnashed his teeth. “Perfect, just what I need…” he groused softly to himself. “Kintobor soldiers…” He waited until they got close to him and then turned around. 

Two MP’s with their rifles drawn out, approached the fox. The one on his left was a short and thin Human with wiry muscles. The second on his right was a large and heavy-set brown bear, its snout poking out of the mask that obscured the soldier’s eyes. 

The former SOLDIER threw them a bored look. “What?” he asked roughly.

“We’ve received reports that an individual with a distinct weapon was involved in the bombing attack,” the smaller soldier answered in a clipped tone. “Given that huge sword on your back, we’re going to have to ask that you disarm and come with us to answer some questions about your whereabouts in the last hour.” He and his partner raised their rifles at the warrior. “That wasn’t a request by the way.”

The fox rolled his eyes at them. “You guys sure are original,” he said dryly as he raised his hands up. “But honestly, I don’t really have the time for this.” Before the guard could blink, the warrior rushed up, drew his sword and cold-cocked the larger of the two in the muzzle with the flat of his blade before rounding on the Human. He threw a quick, horizontal slash that nicked the Human’s arm and forced him to drop his weapon. Tails used the momentum of his swing to execute a side kick to his opponent’s gut, knocking the wind out of him and sending him sprawling to the ground. 

The first guard Tails had stunned staggered up to his feet. He drew out a baton from his belt and loomed over the shorter Mobian. “You got lucky, punk,” he growled menacingly. “C’mon, let’s see what you’re made of!”

“Well, someone’s brave,” Tails retorted as he bobbed around the bear’s wild swings. “If I weren’t already pissed at the sight of that uniform, I’d almost feel sorry for you.” The fox blocked a two-handed overhead swing with the flat of his blade and then wrapped his tails around the ursine’s legs. Yanking hard, he sent the bear sprawling to the ground before plunging the sword into his breastbone. The soldier gurgled for a few moments as he choked on his own blood until he expired. 

Wrenching the blade free, Tails turned to the bear’s partner, who was gingerly picking himself up from the ground. He was soon flanked by three more guards who heard the ruckus a distance away. Two were hogs wearing the standard blue uniform, while the third soldier was a hare wearing thick, orange body armour and hefted a six-cylinder grenade launcher. “Surrender!” one of the hogs called out as he and his comrades pointed their arms at the fox.

“You idiots!” the wiry MP shouted out, his hand applying pressure to the wound on his arm. “He’s hostile! Fire on him!”

Their hesitation gave Tails the opportunity to charge and launch a Lightning spell. The Human rolled out of the way as the magic sailed and struck one of the hogs behind him. He was thrown back from the electrical attack, hit the ground and spasmed violently until he lay still. The fox placed the flat of his blade in front of his body to protect himself from incoming shots as he ran up to the other remaining soldiers. The telltale sound of a grenade canister being fired caused Tails to jump instinctively. The munition exploded behind him and the shockwave pushed the Ex-SOLDIER right into the path of the guards. He went into a shoulder roll, righted himself and stabbed the second hog in the stomach. Pulling his blade free, Tails turned to the grenadier and threw two slashes. The first scraped the hare’s armor horizontally, but the second diagonal slash severed his unprotected right leg. The hare’s howls were cut short when the fox lopped off his head as he toppled over. 

Tails craned his head towards a billboard on one of the rooftops. The digital display noted the time: 12:11 am. “Shit, I gotta go,” Tails swore under his breath. He sheathed his sword and broke into a run across the long stone bridge leading to the station.

Suddenly, the same MP he injured before reappeared with five more grunts alongside him, all with their guns drawn. Brows knitted in equal parts annoyance and exasperation, Tails increased his pace as rifle bullets whizzed past him. Amidst the sounds of gunfire, Tails could pick out the MP activating the radio on his shoulder. “Hostile heading for the station! Cut him off!” he heard him yell.

From the station side of the bridge, Tails spotted four more guards emerge to block his access to the entrance. Cursing, the warrior halted at the midpoint of the bridge and settled into a defensive stance. ‘Great, I’m surrounded… and the train’s leaving any minute now-’ 

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a whistle in the distance. This was followed by sudden vibrations on his feet. His eyes then darted away from the incoming grunts and towards the edge of the bridge as a train thundered underneath where he stood and travelled into the tunnels leading down to the Slums. Tails quirked his lips into a smile at the sight of the last car descending downwards. ‘I have to time it just right,’ he thought as he slowly backed up to the edge. He angled himself in a way that the digital clock on the billboard above him was in his direct line of sight. The time read 12:12 am.

The soldiers edged their way up and formed a half-circle to corner the warrior. They all pointed their rifles at him, save for the one Tails wounded earlier. “OK, that’s as far as you go!” the man said, a wide, toothy grin forming on his masked face.

Tails reluctantly sheathed his sword, rolled his shoulders and threw a cocky look at the soldier addressing him. “Didn’t I already say that I really don’t have time for you losers right now?” he asked in an offhand manner. “How ‘bout you all run home to your mommies and let me be on my way. It’s clear that you’re all way out of my league.” As he spoke, he eyed the time from his peripheral vision: 12:13 am. He then heard a train whistle go off in the distance. ‘Get ready…

The man’s face went beet red. “Fuck off! You’re gonna pay for what you’ve done to my partner!” he spat, his shoulders bunching up. His jaw was clenched tightly and a vein was popping out from his neck. “Screw the President’s orders: Kill him!”

The fox hopped onto the bridge railing just as the soldiers fired, their bullets riddling the stonework with holes. Tails then started running on the narrow ledge back towards the theater district. The soldiers continued firing, their shots trailing just behind the mercenary. As he ran across, he felt the vibrations beneath his feet grow stronger as the train approached. Tails jumped off just as the first few cars passed underneath him. He landed hard on his hands and knees and kept his head low to clear the tunnel going down to the Slums. His heart was pounding loudly against his chest as the train rattled along.

He smiled, thinking of the soldier he insulted. ‘I dunno about before when I met him on the bridge, but If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say he’s extremely pissed off now. That made my day.’ As the train descended down the enormous main support pillar separating the upper and lower worlds, Tails started to make his way towards the freight cars at the back of the train. ‘I sure hope to the Goddess that I’m on the right train,’ he thought idly as he moved from car to car.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Escape



Tails

The Guard Scorpion stampeded across the platform and attempted to run down the Ex-SOLDIER and the TORNADO leader. Narrowly diving out of the way and tucking into a roll, Bark righted himself and unloaded a volley of bullets as he bellowed loudly at the mechaniloid. His shots pinged harmlessly off of the substantial armour covering the Scorpion’s vital components. The Roboguardian skidded to a halt and turned around before spreading its arms outwards to activate its head-mounted scope. The Search Scope – a wide, yellow beam projecting from the small device – swept the area in front of it. 

Bark ceased fire and started to hastily back away from the mech. The beam moved faster than he could and it soon tagged his foot. “Oh shit!” he cursed loudly as he stumbled backwards and landed on his rear.

“Target acquired,” a neutral, mechanical voice announced in monotone. The scope shut off and the Scorpion resumed its operation. Using the data captured from the various antennae on its head, the Guard Scorpion processed the information and executed its first subroutine. Raising its arms up and forward, it aimed its Vulcan cannons at the bear. Bark froze in place, his eyes glued on the high powered machine guns pointing right at him. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the bullets to fly, fully expecting his life to be over in that instant. 

Tails moved on instinct the moment the Scorpion raised its arms. He ran up to the bear, grabbed the back of his vest by the collar and leaped away from the mech just as it opened fire, the shots ricocheting off of the steel platform.

Landing on the floor ungraciously, Bark opened his eyes and turned his head to see the fox standing in front of him and preparing to cast a spell at the guardian. “Thanks,” the bear said, breathing heavily as he picked himself up off the floor.

“Don’t mention it,” the fox replied tersely as he shot his palms out and called “BOLT!”

The Lightning spell struck the Guard Scorpion dead-on, the electrical energy causing the machine to stumble as its directional systems were disrupted. Running up to it after launching the magic attack, Tails unsheathed his sword, leaped up and cut open the polymer shielding on its arm to expose its internal wiring inside. Landing next to the mech, he started to move away from the guardian as it righted itself, but was caught by the Search Scope.

“Target acquired,” the machine repeated. The Scorpion then bent forward and extended its prehensile tail, thrusting it several times at the Ex-SOLDIER. Tails weaved around each strike, but still ended up getting one of his namesakes nicked as the large, spike-ended extremity whizzed past. The barrage continued until the Guard Scorpion pulled back and moved away from the Mobian. It then opened its exhaust and intake ports, to which Tails surmised that it had issues with overheating. 

The fox used that opportunity to charge up another Lightning spell and aimed for the section he cut open. Firing it off, he witnessed the electrical attack enter the arm and travel throughout its body, causing substantial damage to the Roboguardian and disabling it once more. 

Just as he was about to charge another spell, Tails dropped to a knee as he suddenly felt exhausted. ‘Damnit, I must still not be at 100% yet,’ he thought angrily as he took several deep breaths. ‘Six spells in and I’m already feeling burnt out. Taking stock of his current situation, Tails guessed that he had three or four more casts before he would run out of magic. ‘That Lightning spell was effective, but not enough to take it down… I need access to something more vital…’ He skimmed his eyes over the robot as it finished discharging the electrical energy and rebooted its systems. His eyes finally landed on the cameras mounted beneath the bulletproof glass on its torso. “Bingo,” he muttered to himself, an idea beginning to form in his mind.

Bark rushed up to the downed Mobian, his arm raised and ready to provide covering fire against the Scorpion, which now stood erect as it finally discharged the electricity through a grounding circuit. “You alright?!” he hollered at the two-tailed fox behind him. 

The fox groaned as he rose up from the ground and settled back into a fighting stance. “Yeah,” he responded. “But we need to finish this fast. I’m nearly at my limit with magic.” He paused as the bot stomped forwards and extended its tail. Tails and Bark jumped away to avoid being impaled by the spike-tipped end.

“Limit?! Ain’t you some sorta big time SOLDIER?!” the bear hollered as he fired retaliatory shots at the Scorpion’s joint casings. “I ain’t paying for you to tell me this shit?!”

“No, you’re paying me to ensure that we win and get out of here alive,” Tails retorted, attacking from the Scorpion’s left side. Sensing that the swordsman was more of a threat, the Scorpion rotated its body to face the fox and shot point-blank at his direction before following up with a sweep from its tail. Tails dodged the shots and then flipped over the tail, but he wasn’t prepared for the mech to swipe at him with the back of its arm. The fox only just got his blade up in time to protect himself as the guardian’s appendage slammed into him, sending him flying in Bark’s direction. He bounced off the floor once, rolled and then landed into a crouch, his brows narrowed into a scowl and eyes flared with rage. “That was a lucky shot, you bastard,” he snarled, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. “Definitely won’t happen again.”

Bark halted his assault and flanked Tails as he staggered upwards once more. “Listen up Bark!” the fox yelled out over the sounds of raining bullets. “Remember how we dealt with those Robians earlier? We’re gonna do the same thing!” Tails began preparing an Ice spell and palmed the magic orb in his left hand. “I’ll go in and bait it into raising its arms. Once it does, concentrate your fire on those camera lenses on its chest after I launch my Ice spell. Then, I’ll short-circuit the son of a bitch. That should finish it off.”

Bark ceased fire and looked at him skeptically. “Uh, you sure this is gonna work?” he asked, an eyebrow raised at the fox.

“Trust me, I did the math,” Tails countered hotly as he poured more Mana into the spell in his hand. “It’s gonna work.”

“Alright, if you say so…” the bear trailed off before glancing back to the Scorpion. “Oh shit! Heads up, it’s using that targeting scope-thingy again”

No sooner did he say so, the mech loomed in front of them and activated the scope on its head. Before the beam could even land on the two however, a grenade suddenly landed on the back of its head and bounced once before exploding. The shockwave took out the array of sensors mounted on its head, while damaging the targeting scope.

Half-blinded by the loss of its environmental instruments, the Scorpion diverted all of the remaining power in its head unit to the Search Scope in order to continue its assault. The destroyed sensors retained just enough information to allow the Scorpion to deduce the origin of the grenade; the walkway just above it. Hopping backward, its six legs crashing thunderously on the platform, it pointed its cameras upward and saw Jessie. The woman was crouched on the walkway above, her hand digging into her pack frantically to produce another grenade. Reacting, the Scorpion rushed towards and crashed into the wall, which caused the walkway above to shake violently. 

The Human stumbled backwards and got her foot caught in a grate. “Ungh, dammit! I’m stuck!” she called out as she attempted to wrench her leg free. She watched as the Scorpion stepped backwards and pointed the Vulcan cannons towards her. 

Tails reabsorbed the Ice spell as the mech aimed to kill the brunette and then hastily charged and fired off a Lightning spell. The Scorpion staggered, its legs stumbling about once more as the magic struck at it from behind. Recovering quickly, it turned around and barreled its way towards the two Mobians while swinging its tail wildly.

Bark and Tails leapt out of the way once more, but the erratic movements of the tail spike managed to slice the fox’s shoulder open as he rolled past the Scorpion. He swore, hissing in pain as his blood intermingled with the fur on his arm. “Listen Bark, we gotta do this hard and fast,” he called out to the bear across from him as he prepared another Ice spell, his teeth gritted from the creeping exhaustion he felt through his taxed body. “Wait for the signal and then go!”

The mechaniloid skidded to a halt, turned back around and activated the Search Scope once more. The polar bear circled around and kept his distance while Tails stayed put as the yellow beam landed on him. He held the orb of bluish-white magic once again in his left palm and waited for the right moment to strike. 

“Target acquired,” the mechanical voice spoke. It raised its arms and pointed its Vulcan cannons once more at the fox, whose eyes flashed at the sight of its exposed cameras. 

“Bark! Do it now!” Tails shouted, just before the Scorpion could attack. He pushed his arm out and called “ICE!” as he barely scraped through the resulting machine gun fire. The spell shot out and hit the glass casing around its eyes, causing it to cool rapidly.

The bear halted in place, aimed at the iced spot and then fired upon it, his eyes blazing with anger. The shots easily shattered the weakened glass, damaging the lenses and tearing a hole large enough to expose the delicate components beneath it.

Finally, Tails pushed himself to draw out Lightning energy once again. The strain of magical overuse present on his muzzle, he cast the spell. The Lightning beam travelled a direct path into the exposed area and straight through to its core systems. The magic damaged the unprotected electrical components inside them and caused a systems crash within the Scorpion. The large mechaniloid shuddered and then collapsed onto the platform, an undamaged lens on its chest dimming from bright green to black.

Breathlessly, the two fighters looked at each other for a brief moment before smiling and then bursting out in laughter; Bark throwing his head back both in elation and relief, while Tails let out a low and satisfied chuckle. Even Jessie weakly laughed as she continued to pry her foot out from the grate. 

Soon enough, the laughter subsided. Bark looked back at the fox and jerked his head towards the bomb. “Alright merc, turn this thing on and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said, grinning at the fox.

Tails sheathed his sword and made a beeline for the bomb. He suddenly paused in mid step though as his hearing picked up a peculiar sound coming from the Roboguardian they defeated. The servomotors within it were whirring into motion. The fox’s jaw tightened as he realized what was happening. “Shit,” he muttered to himself, before turning back to Bark. “Watch out! It’s not over yet!”

The polar bear opened his snout to speak but was interrupted by the reactivation of the Guard Scorpion. Running on an auxiliary RINGTEK-powered engine, it stood up shakily and its remaining eye was gleaming in the dimly lit space. It then tucked and locked its arms into its sides before raising its tail up above its head. The tip opened up in three sections and exposed a stout nozzle. The machine then started to shudder violently as it stood in place.

Bark raised a puzzled eyebrow at the odd behaviour of the Scorpion. “What the hell is it doing?” he asked the warrior, before shaking his head to clear his confusion and glared at the mech. “Ah screw what it’s doing! We got no time for this!” he yelled, lining his Gun-Arm up at the hole in the Scorpion’s chest. “Happy trails, you piece of shit!”

Tails watched the machine’s erratic movements with equal curiosity for a brief moment before suddenly making another realization. ‘That thing’s not acting strangely, it’s baiting us into thinking that it’s weakened!’ “Bark! No!” he called out, drawing his sword and running to the bear as fast as his legs could take him. “Don’t shoot! Attack while its tail’s up and it’s gonna counterattack with its laser!”

Tails’ words fell on deaf ears as Bark had already fired a volley at the components in its chest. As the bullets tore through the hole in its torso, the Guard Scorpion stilled itself momentarily before firing a focused, white-blue energy beam from the nozzle at the end of its tail. Sweeping the tail around the platform, the Scorpion’s energy ray made its way towards Bark, who stared helplessly at the approach of his demise for the second time.

The two-tailed fox roared loudly as he pushed his weary body and mind beyond its limits. A golden aura started to radiate from his body, with tiny bolts of silver electricity crackling and arcing all around him. In his frantic dash towards the bear, he dimly noticed that his tails had started to rotate. As they spun faster, his feet touched ground less and less until he was fully airborne, his two tails spinning rapidly like a pair of helicopter blades. 

Now moving faster than he would have on two feet, Tails flew towards Bark, grabbed him by the collar once again and threw him away from the Scorpion’s energy beam. The fox then twisted his body so that his spinning tails faced the ground. The movement caused him to launch upwards vertically until he was high above the mech.

At the apex of his flight, the fox stopped spinning his tails and briefly hovered in zero-G. He held his sword in a two-handed grip behind him and then plummeted towards the machine, his weapon blazing with ethereal gold and silver energy. Tails let out another mighty roar and brought the Buster Sword down on the machine vertically. The blade sliced through the Scorpion from its head to its six, clawed legs and the fox landed in a crouch just in front of it.

Rubbing his head as he got up after being tossed for the second time, Bark gaped as he watched Tails rise up and walk calmly towards him, his unnatural blue eyes burning brightly in the dim light. The Guard Scorpion stood frozen in place for a moment until both halves toppled away from each other and crashed into the platform loudly, the mechaniloid being cleanly cut through by the fox’s enormous weapon. The glow from the remaining camera eye on its chest fizzled out permanently and signaled its complete and total deactivation. 

Tails faced the robotic remains, pumped his left fist up, spun his sword twice and sheathed it, placing it on the magnetic disc on his back. He struck a pose as he did so. “Game over,” he said, a small, tired smile crossing his lips.

The polar bear looked at him with awe. “Holy shit, that was amazing! How’d you-“ he started before Tails lifted a hand to interrupt.

“Look, there’s no time,” the fox cut in, running over to the bomb placed on the reactor core. He pressed the green button near the LCD display and initiated the detonation sequence. The screen flashed once and then returned a timer. Ten minutes to detonation. 

Tails rounded back to the bear. “We have to get out of here, now!” he said.

Bark snapped out of his revelry and then met Tails’ insistent look with a grim expression of his own. “Yeah, but we got a problem,” he said, looking at the wall where the Roboguardian crashed into after Jessie blew up its head sensors. The dent it made in the wall had also completely destroyed their only way back up. “Didn’t notice this till now, but the ladder’s totaled. How the hell are we gonna get up now?”

 Tails eyed the display. Nine minutes and 45 seconds remained. Drawing his sword, he jogged up to Bark and stuck out his other arm. “Grab on and hold tight,” he commanded.

Raising an eyebrow, Bark clamped his hand tightly around the fox’s wrist. Tails then bent his knees and jumped, his Energen enhancements allowing him and the bear to launch high into the air. Spinning his namesakes at the top of his jump, the fox propelled himself and Bark over the catwalk where Jessie lay. Tails dropped the bear, landed and then helped Jessie free her foot from the grate.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, rubbing her ankle. She pulled out four Potion vials and handed them to the Mobians. “We have no time to wrap the wounds, but the Potions should help until we get out of here.”

Bark guzzled down both his restoratives while Tails poured one onto his shoulder and injured tail before downing the other. Once finished, they broke into a run with Jessie following closely behind.

The Human checked her wristwatch as they moved. “I’ve set my watch to synchronize with the bomb, looks like we have about eight minutes and thirty seconds left!” 

“And with the time we wasted fighting that ‘bot, I’ll bet that security forces had time to call in reinforcements. We’ll have to break through them.” Tails responded, reaching the next ladder going up. He motioned Bark to go first before stopping Jessie. “Do you have an Ether in that pack of yours? I’m gonna need one of them.” 

Jessie nodded and then pulled out another thin phial full of red liquid. Handing it to Tails, he broke the cap and swallowed the contents before following Jessie and Bark up the ladder. As he ascended, the fox felt a sudden rush of energy welling up inside him, signaling that the Mana reserves in his body were partially replenished. ‘Perfect,’ he thought, as his ears started picking up sounds from beyond the door leading out of the conversion chamber. ‘And not a moment too soon.’ “Security’s caught up to us! Prepare for an ambush!” He yelled out, drawing his sword as he stepped off the ladder.

As if on cue, three more Squirrel Robians dropped from above and landed on the catwalk leading out of the chamber. They were flanked by three MP’s, their rifles drawn and cocked. Tails leaped up and spun his tails as fast as he could, rocketing over the Robians before landing in front of the startled grunts. He threw three quick, consecutive slashes to the three MP’s, slaying them as he then turned his attention to the Squirrel Robians.

Bark rushed up to the closest bot like a berserker. Ducking and weaving around its swipes, he used his Gun-Arm as a melee weapon to bash in its skull several times to disorient it, before picking it up and flinging it over the walkway. Jessie, meanwhile pulled out her pistol and lined up a shot as the second Robian made its way to her, screeching savagely. Those cries ended however, when the woman placed a well-aimed bullet right through its glass-silicate eyes and into its positronic brain.

“Woo! Nice shot Jess!” Bark commented as Tails finished off the last Robian by cutting it in half horizontally and then impaling the sword into its head as its body landed on the ground. “That was a one in a million-”

“Keep your guard up!” Tails ordered, cutting the bear short. His heightened senses picked out the sounds of more claws skittering along the walls. He started to charge a Lightning spell. “We’re not out of this yet!”

As soon as he finished speaking, three more Robians suddenly appeared, each scaling the walls below the catwalk the two Mobians and Human stood on. The robots jumped off to face them. Without wasting any time, Tails launched the spell at the closest Robian, frying it and leaving a dead husk in its wake. He then stabbed the second one just as it touched the ground. Flinging its remains over the walkway, Tails then charged a quick Ice spell and fired it at the final Robian. The spell cooled the third Squirrel’s exterior enough for Bark and Jessie’s bullets to finish it off. Without pausing to rest, the three exited the chamber and into the refinery.

“Time!” Bark yelled to Jessie as they bolted to the staircases leading up to the elevator.

“Five minutes, fifteen seconds!” She answered.

We’re not gonna make it…’ The fox thought. ‘Unless…’ “Hold on, stop here,” he said to the two while drawing out his weapon. Both of them looked at the fox with puzzled curiosity. “Jessie, grab hold of the hilt, Bark take my hand,” he instructed “We’ll cut about two minutes if I fly us to the elevator. Now, quit gawking and grab on!”

Bark and Jessie hastily took their positions. Tails crouched, jumped up with his two charges in tow and then spun his namesakes. The fox gritted his teeth as he strained to fly them past the six flights of stairs leading to the lift.

As they traveled upwards, Jessie noticed that the refinery path was covered with grunts running towards the main pump chamber. Fearing that they would try to disarm the bomb, she dug into her pack and extracted her last grenade. Pulling the pin with her teeth, she dropped it towards the entrance leading into the reactor’s heart. 

Tails landed on the platform by the lift just as an explosion, followed by the sounds of agonized screaming echoed through the refinery. The three clambered into the elevator car and Jessie frantically pushed the ‘Up’ button in an attempt to get the car moving before the remaining soldiers caught wise to their whereabouts. The doors closed soon enough and the car ascended upwards, granting its occupants a much needed opportunity to catch their breath. 


Crouched behind a crate full of RINGTEK rings and armed with a rifle procured from an MP he incapacitated during his escape, Biggs trained the iron sights on the elevator leading down into the reactor, waiting and watching for his teammates to return. When he saw the lights indicating that the elevator was in motion, he put his finger on the trigger and took a long, deep breath to steady himself.

The lift stopped and the doors opened, revealing Bark, Tails and Jessie. Grinning, the man hopped out of his hiding spot, flashing a salute. “Yo, what took you guys so long?” he joked, wiggling his eyebrows up and down. Noticing the withering looks they were giving him, he relented. “Alright then, let’s go!”

The lift doors closed once more and descended back down to the refinement plant. “We better hurry,” Bark said, his brows furrowing as he cocked his weapon. “We’re about to have company. Jesse, how much time’s left?”

Jessie ran up to the control panel, opened the sheet of paper with the codes on it and plastered it against the wall so she could read it. She then checked her watch. “We got less than three minutes,” she said, hammering away at the controls to reopen the doors that shut when the alarms went off. It only took her a moment before she cracked the code and the first door opened. “I got this one! Biggs, help Tails and Bark while I get the second one,” she yelled as the elevator doors opened up, revealing a contingent of Kintobor MP’s who piled out and opened fire at the TORNADO operatives. 

Taking cover, Biggs and Bark traded shots with the soldiers while Tails covered Jessie while she worked, using the massive sword as a shield. He placed a hand on the Lightning Emerald and prepared another charge while he defended the brunette. Working furiously, Jessie entered the last few keystrokes and listened as the code registered and the door opened. “Guys! It’s open! Hurry! There’s only sixty seconds left!” she yelled.

Tails held the Lightning charge in his hand while Biggs and Bark backed away towards the entrance. As soon as they cleared the second door with Jessie, the mercenary launched the spell at the door panel leading to the elevator, shorting it out and closing the door on the soldiers before running out himself.

Wedge spotted his teammates emerge from the reactor. Waving to them, he opened the emergency exit to Sector 8 and stood by the door. Biggs led the pack, followed by Bark and Jessie running side by side and Tails bringing up the rear. As they reached the T-junction on the walkway and swerved to the right, Jessie lost her footing, stumbled and fell flat onto her face. Tails stopped by her side, helped her up and together they escaped just as the bomb detonated.

The CPU on the main bomb located in the conversion chamber executed a command at the 30 second mark, sending a signal up from the high powered transmitter, through the cleverly hidden signal boosters and up to the router that was already connected to the secondary explosive Biggs mounted in the RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant. Now synchronized, the bombs detonated in unison as the countdown hit zero.  The resulting blasts ignited the Energen and the RINGTEK, setting off a chain reaction which travelled upwards through the reactor and out of the top of the enormous exhaust stack, spewing out a ring of fire that illuminated the city and the night sky.


President Kintobor

“Sir, we have a situation!”

An administrative secretary shouted out loud as she breathlessly scrambled up the stairs to the 70th floor of Kintobor’s main headquarters, located in the centre of the city. At the top of her ascent, the woman adjusted her knee-length pencil skirt and glasses, both askew in her haste, before striding forward to the man standing next to the opulent desk at the far side of the circular room. He was looking out of the reinforced, floor to ceiling panoramic windows that arched upwards and met at the centre above, forming a dome. The design allowed anyone on the floor an unrestricted, 360 degree view of the entire city. 

From behind a pair of tinted, thick-lensed pince-nez, President Kintobor observed the damage wrought from the reactor explosion. He wore a snow-white coat over wizened shoulders and black slacks over polished, black shoes. His lips underneath a thick, bushy grey moustache tightened into a thin line, his long, hooked nose wrinkled and the hands behind his back balled into fists as he watched a secondary explosion erupt from the top of the reactor’s stack. “Yes, I can see it right now, Monica,” he said, his reedy voice laced with anger. “Have you any information about the perpetrators?”

Snapping to attention, Monica opened the leather-bound organizer she carried with her, cleared her throat and spoke. “At approximately 2300 hours at Sector 1 station, two soldiers were incapacitated after investigating the late train entering the station. According to their statements, the usual crowds they see on a daily basis at that time did not exit the cars; they were empty, save for two Humans, a woman and a man. One of the soldiers was able to radio for backup before being knocked out. Three MP’s responded to the call but were killed in action; two with severe laceration along their waistlines and the third charred black from a magic attack. We originally suspected that one of the assailants was armed with a sword and Emeralds to cause that kind of damage.” 

“Hmm… and how come we were not aware of their movements?” the elderly man asked as he stroked his moustache in thought. 

“It seems that after that initial assault, all of Reactor #1’s security systems had been hacked,” Monica reported, flipping through her handwritten notes. “Whoever broke into the security systems was very good at what they were doing,” she continued. “Disabled communications, the motion and thermal sensors, set the security cameras on a feedback loop and then further disrupted things to mask their presence.”

“Well, that is regrettable,” Kintobor commented acidly. “So, we have no way to identify who is responsible then?

The attendant cast her gaze towards the floor and tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. “Um… Not exactly, Mr. President,” she said hesitantly. “The Chaotix have recovered – ”

“Oh, they’ve recovered something hm?” Kintobor interrupted derisively, his lip curled up into a sneer. “As good little lap dogs should. Now, if they put as much focus into bringing us our missing crown jewel as they do with all their assignments, then they’d be more deserving of a proper reward.” He scoffed and turned away from the carnage towards the secretary. “Well then, let’s see what have they ‘recovered’?”

She then produced a data stick from her organizer and handed it to the President. He took the stick, walked over to his desk and inserted it into his computer. Once loaded, he opened the single file that resided in the device. He then hunched over the desk and watched the recording, the light from the screen reflecting on his squat, bald and wrinkled head. Once the video finished playing, he looked back at the woman, his eyebrows scrunched together, his annoyance visible. “Is this all they got?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. President,” the woman replied.

President Kintobor straightened up, his back creaking from the movement. He stroked his moustache in thought for a moment and then picked up the phone beside him. He pressed the button marked ‘Security’ on the speed dial and only had to wait a moment before he received an answer. “Send additional troops to Sectors 1 and 8,” he said. “They are to look for anyone wearing a SOLDIER uniform and a large weapon on their back. Find him and bring him in alive, if possible.” 

He ended the call and then pressed a second button labeled ‘IT.’ “Is the new ID Security Scan software update ready for deployment?” he asked as soon as the call connected. “Good. Have it installed immediately on the upper plate checkpoints on the Magenta Line. I want them all operational before the first trains leave their stations in the morning.” 

Hanging up the phone, he then turned his attention to Monica. “Go to PR and tell them I want a press conference set up in the next 30 minutes,” he said. “Then, I want you to contact Kodos and have him brought here. I want an explanation as to why this happened on his watch.” He paused, turning back towards the firestorm that was Reactor #1. “Mention to him if he’s not here in the next 10 minutes, I’ll have him Roboticized and taken apart for the Weapons Development department to use.”

The secretary acknowledged her superior’s request and hurried off down the stairs to her task.

As his aide left, Kintobor picked up the receiver and pressed the button marked ‘Operations.’ “This is Kintobor,” he said on receiving an answer. “Go to each of the seven remaining reactors and install a secondary, silent alarm in the tamper-proof circuit. If the tamper-proof is disabled for any reason, get that circuit to relay a signal directly to me.” He paused, listening to the response before furrowing his brows and clenching his teeth in rage. “I don’t care how you do it, just do it!” he yelled at the unfortunate soul on the other line, spittle escaping from his mouth. “I want a solution by first light, or I’ll have you Roboticized! I don’t care if you’re Human! Now get it done!”

Slamming the receiver back on its cradle, the president stood up and ambled back to the window facing No.1, his body illuminated in the orange glow coming from the flames sprouting out of its remains. As he surveyed the carnage, his mind reeled back to a figure that stood out in the security footage he just reviewed.

A two-tailed fox with unnaturally glowing blue eyes. 


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Bombing Mission



Cream

It’s after 11,’ Cream noted, glancing at the clock above the flat-paneled tele-crate screen mounted on the wall next to her. It was another packed night at Vanilla’s Haven. The bartender kept her mind off of the dangerous mission Tails and the others were on by serving food and drink while making small talk to customers both familiar and new. 

One of her regulars, a man with long, auburn swept back hair, wearing an unopened black leather vest, a thin, white t-shirt and faded black jeans waved her over. He shot a lopsided grin at her. “Hey gorgeous, can I get another round?” he called, waggling his eyebrows.

Cream rolled her eyes at his antics, shook her head and smiled at him. “Johnny, you still haven’t paid your previous tab! I’m cutting you off!” she said, turning away from him. She continued working, serving up drinks and warmed food to salivating customers while keeping the pouting Human in the corner of her eye. After letting him stew for a few moments, she slid a bottle of a particular lager down his way.

The man easily caught the bottle in his hand. He beamed heartily at the barmaid. “Aw, thanks Cream! I promise I’ll pay ya back tomorrow, first thing!” he shouted gleefully over the crowd. He took a pull from the bottle, relished the smooth taste and then continued his conversation with another patron sitting beside him. “So anyways, I was saying…”

Cream turned away from the conversation and was about to queue the next customer at the counter, when she heard a sweet, child-like voice call her name. She raised her hand up to indicate that she’ll be right back and headed to the back hallway leading upstairs. 

Sitting on the bottom step was Hope, wearing a set of pink pajamas that were a size too small and clutching a ratty, brown teddy bear with a missing right arm tightly around her. The little girl looked up to the taller Mobian in front of her. “I can’t sleep,” she said plainly.

The rabbit kneeled down to Hope’s level and looked softly at her. “I know sweetie,” she replied, her lips curled into a gentle smile. “You’re worried about your daddy and the others too, huh?” She then stood up and hoisted the little girl into her arms. “Tell you what; I’ll let you stay up tonight so you can wait for them. Once they’re back though, you have to go straight to bed, okay?” 

“Okay!” 

Cream let out a chuckle as she brought Hope back to the bar area. Placing her on a stool behind the bar, she looked at her in the eye. “Now, I want you to stay here and keep an eye out for anyone suspicious,” she said in mock seriousness. “If you can’t go to sleep, then I’ll put you to work!”

The little girl beamed brightly. “You got it!” she exclaimed, eager to help out.

Grinning brightly, Cream turned back to the crowd. “Alright everyone, listen up!” She hollered, catching everyone’s attention. “Hope here is gonna be keeping an eye on you guys, so you all better be on your best behavior, understand?” She pointed at the little girl sitting behind the counter on the stool, scouring the crowds with a steely gaze and watching for troublemakers.

Stricken with mock fear, Johnny stood up from his stool and looked at Hope, clasping his hands in front of his face. “Oh, please Hope,” he pleaded, a hint of amusement in his eyes. “We’ll be really, really good, honest we will.” He arched back to his fellow patrons. “Right guys?”

A chorus of cheers, acknowledgements and shouts of “We promise!” answered back. 

Hope blushed at all the attention. “OK,” she said bashfully. 

Another raucous cheer broke out and Cream had to bite her lip hard to prevent herself from cracking up. She returned to the counter and apologized to her patiently amused customer for the wait.

Suddenly, the program on the tele-crate was interrupted by a large ‘Breaking News’ banner that flashed across the screen, catching the attention of those nearest to it. A zebra called out to the barmaid. “Hey! Can you turn it up for a sec?!”

Hastily grabbing the remote on the liquor shelf, Cream pumped the volume up to its maximum. The near-deafening crowds quieted to a hum as the brunette newscaster spoke.

“This is Scarlet Garcia, reporting from the Kintobor News Network desk in the Sector 2 studio,” the woman sitting behind the news desk said. “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a breaking news update: We have reports of an incident at the Sector 1 Train Station this evening. Just after 11:00 pm, several assailants attacked the security detail guarding the station. Whether this has any relation to the ongoing labour dispute is not currently known, but we will provide an update on the situation as this story develops.” The screen then returned to its normal broadcast.

Cream felt her fists tighten reflexively at the news as the bar returned to its normal, boisterous din. ‘So, it’s started,’ she thought, slamming a glass down on the counter harder than she expected. She huffed loudly as a crack formed down the middle of the glass. Giving an apologetic wave to her current customer, the rabbit kneeled down to the shelf underneath the counter to replace the cracked cup. Picking out another highball glass, Cream dropped her bartending facade and took several deep, shuddering breaths. Though she hid it well by keeping everyone’s spirits up, deep down she was worried about the team and Tails.

‘Come back safely… and don’t you all die on me,’ she prayed as she rose up from the floor and set the glass gently on the counter. “Sorry for the wait!” she said once again to the patron on the other side of the counter and flashing a winsome smile at him. “So, what’ll it be?”


Tails

Sticking to the shadows, TORNADO made their way through the winding passages that made up the security checkpoints leading into the reactor, stealthily dispatching the lightly manned security detail along the way. They moved quickly and efficiently, mowing down each Kintobor grunt one by one with sheer numbers. Tails trailed behind, picking off the soldiers the group ignored in their mad dash through the passage. 

You got to give it to them,’ the two-tailed fox observed as TORNADO progressed through the last of the checkpoints. ‘Despite their amateurism, they seem to know what they’re doing. Colour me impressed.’

The team soon emerged onto the wide catwalks leading into the plant interior. Suspended a hundred meters above the slums, the walkways connected the main entrance from Sector 1 to an emergency exit leading to Sector 8, with another catwalk in the middle running perpendicularly into the reactor proper. The reactor itself, a towering mass of metal, was physically separated from the plates. 

Biggs and Bark made a right at the T-junction and hurried into the reactor entrance. Wedge ran to the opposite end to secure the emergency exit leading into Sector 8, hiding in an alcove. Jessie and Tails brought up the rear. “Go blow this place to hell!” Wedge shouted as they passed him by. 

As soon as the fox was through, the woman slammed a button on the nearby wall. A steel door slid into place with a hiss, preventing access from the oncoming security forces that were likely to follow. 

Once inside, the three TORNADO members caught their breath. Tails crossed his arms and leaned against a wall, eyeing his charges as they recovered.  Soon enough, Bark straightened up from his bent position, his massive chest heaving up and down. “OK, the easy part’s done,” he said, rolling his shoulders. “Biggs, go enter the codes.”

“You got it boss!” With a grin, Biggs strode up to the first set of security doors at the far end of the room. Hastily pulling out and unfolding a sheet of paper, the man scanned over the codes before inputting them into a control panel next to the door.

While this was going on, Tails surveyed his surroundings. The interior was stark and industrial, with thick metallic panels covering the floors and walls covered with reinforced concrete. The hallways were filled with an adequate amount of lighting necessary for workers to traverse through. Exposed pipes criss crossing along the walls and ceilings made the space feel narrower than it really was. The fox’s eyes then landed on the Human manipulating the door controls, muttering to himself as he did so.

His gaze was broken by his employer, who walked into his line of sight. “Is this your first time in a reactor?” Bark asked, eyeing him warily.

“No, I’ve been in plenty before. I did work for Kintobor, you know,” the fox replied candidly, running a gloved hand through the fur on his head.

Gritting his teeth at the mere mention of the company, the polar bear continued. “Well I’m sure you know what these things do then. Energen isn’t just a convenient, cheap energy source; it’s the source of all life on Mobius. And these bastards keep sucking it all up with their weird machines and converting them into RINGTEK-”

“Look, I’m not here for a lecture,” Tails cut him off, turning his head away from the bear and raising his hand dismissively. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Fed up with his lack of understanding, Bark snapped at the mercenary, pointing his Gun-Arm at him. “Fine then, I’ve had it with you and your attitude!” he shouted, spittle flecking from his mouth. “You wanna get this over with?! Then do your damn job and lead us to the bottom of the complex! And I’ll be right behind you with a bullet ready to blow your brains out if you try anything stupid!”

“Alright! Code deciphered!” Biggs shouted triumphantly as the security door loudly rattled open. Turning to the others, his face went chalk white at the scene in front of him. “Um… I miss something here?”

“Oh shut it Biggs, and give that here,” Jessie snapped, snatching the piece of paper from his hand. “You’re too slow! And boss?” She said, turning to Bark. “We need to focus; don’t you remember what’s at stake here?”

Bark broke his gaze from Tails at her words. “Hmph, yeah,” he muttered, lowering his weapon before turning his attention again to the fox. “Alright then merc, you lead the way once Jessie breaks through the next set of doors.”

“Fine,” Tails responded, his fingers gripping his folded arms tightly. He had to force himself to keep his cool as he was about ready to pick a fight with the obnoxious bear to set him straight. He took a few deep breaths to relax as Bark and the others headed to the next set of doors barring access to the Reactor and the Manufacturing Plant before following them. Inwardly though, he was a little impressed at Bark’s focus. ‘Huh, despite his temper and his paranoia, at least he has his priorities straight.

Jessie hurried towards the access panel for the second set of security doors. Without hesitation, she riffed open the sheet she swiped from Biggs, pasted it against the wall and started punching the codes listed on them. “Thank the Goddess we were able to get these codes from our sources,” she called back to the group, trying to clear the tense air. “A lot of people lost their lives to get us these, so we can’t let their sacrifice be in vain.” It took only moments before she cracked the code and the doors opened. ”Code deciphered,” she announced.

Biggs walked up to her with his hand held out, his lips set in a grim line as opposed to his perpetual grin. ”Ok, I’m up,” he said. “Hand me the bomb and the signal relays and I’ll head into the manufacturing plant.”

The woman dug into her satchel and handed him several objects; a number of small, black antennas, wireless, RINGTEK-powered signal boosting boxes to connect each antenna to and a bulkier package which was wrapped in brown paper. “Here they are,” she said, piling them into a smaller bag Biggs brought with him. “Install the signal boosters as you go along the corridors; remember that the max radius of each is 75 feet, so keep an eye on your supply and your distance. Once you set the bomb, make sure it connects both to the signal relays and to this router here.” She pulled out a thin rectangular box with a slim profile, mounted it inconspicuously near a stack of crates and switched it on. The device gave off a low hum that matched the din of the reactor. Turning around, Jessie looked at Biggs with concern flooding her features. “Look, be careful with this stuff, it’s all delicate. And… take care of yourself too.”

Biggs raised an eyebrow at her, his lips curling upwards once more. “Yeah, yeah, I won’t forget,” he waved nonchalantly. “And am I not careful as it is?”

Jessie shoved him playfully and beamed at him. “Oh shut up and get going,” she said, amused. “Oh, and don’t forget to use that data device I gave you too!”

The man nodded. “Yeah, I won’t forget! Good luck!” he replied before heading down the corridor into the manufacturing area. He turned the corner and disappeared.

“You two done?” Bark asked Jessie, who stood by the lift going down into the reactor. His eyes were set in a determined scowl and he tapped his foot impatiently. “Let’s get going.”

Appearing slightly mortified, the brunette stepped up to the lift and pressed the call button. The door slid open a few seconds later and the trio climbed aboard. Jessie then pressed the switch leading to the lower level. The lift doors slid shut with a clunk and the car began its descent towards the bottom level.

It was here that Bark decided to give Tails another chance to understand the significance behind this mission and its implications into the future. “Look man,” he addressed the mercenary. “All I was saying before was that sooner or later, these reactors will suck out ALL the life force that’s keeping this planet alive. Once that happens, it’s the end of all of us.”

Tails shrugged off his words and then crossed his arms. “It’s not my problem,” he retorted.

The polar bear slammed his left fist against the car, rattling it. “For fuck’s sake Tails, the planet is dying!” he roared angrily, his whole frame shaking with rage. 

“And I’m telling you that the only thing we should be worried about is finishin’ this job before this place is overrun by Robians and Roboguards,” Tails responded coolly, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. ‘Well, I was wrong about his priorities,’ he reflected. ‘Too concerned about saving the planet and less concerned about staying alive… Either he’s cocky or he’s an idiot-

“Hey, d-do you think that Robians are really gonna be here?” Jessie asked, cutting through the fox’s thoughts. 

Tails opened an eye, which glowed brightly in the dim lighting of the elevator car. “Positive,” he responded, grateful for the change of subject. “You guys may have reduced the security detail here down to its bare minimum, but the reactor’s here are their stomping grounds. Robians don’t get paid and don’t need breaks. Guarding secure, classified locations like these and prowling the Mutate-infested areas within the slums are their only functions in life now. We’ll definitely encounter at least one.” 

As he finished speaking, the elevator stopped. The panel on the side displayed the words ‘Refinery And Transfer’ and the doors opened to reveal a vast, cavernous area littered with pipes of all different sizes running around the space. Some went upwards into the Manufacturing Plant, but many of them went out of the sides of the concrete walls in the distance. All of the transmission pipes originated from the refinery; a massive industrial plant that stood several stories high.

Gun-Arm raised, Bark peeked out of the car to check their surroundings. He spied the pathway that snaked around the refinery and led further downwards towards the centre of the reactor’s operational control and their primary target – the main pump chamber. Seeing that the coast was clear, he motioned for Tails to take point while he brought up the rear. Jessie was sandwiched in between the two Mobians. She drew a high caliber pistol from her hip and held it steadily in her hand. 

They traversed several staircases and ladders as they winded down the path to the bottom of the reactor. Every now and then, they stopped as Jessie installed the signal relays required to link the bomb they would plant here to the one Biggs would install in the Manufacturing Plant. 

On the climb down the third ladder, Tails’ supernatural hearing started picking up sounds of mechanical rasping that would have otherwise been hidden amongst the industrial noises of pumps and fans operating. They soon approached the door leading into the main pump chamber, separated by a high steel-cladded wall. The fox abruptly halted a few feet in front of the door and brought his hand up to his sword hilt. “I hear something coming,” he said, gripping the hilt of his Buster Sword. 

Bark swung his arm around wildly. “What do you mean?” he asked, aiming at nothing. “I don’t hear shit all. Quit trying to scare –“

With a screech sounding like nails on a chalkboard, three Squirrel Robians dropped from above and surrounded the three in a pincer formation, with two in front of Bark and Jessie and one in front of Tails. What were once normal Mobians were now merciless killing machines, their bodies given metallic form and their free will stripped through the roboticization process. Their lithe bodies were covered with chrome and gun-metal grey plating, they had wickedly curved claws on their hands and feet for gripping onto walls and for rending flesh and their segmented tails were round, bulbous and designed for bludgeoning.

The warrior drew his sword and stared down at the Robian in front of him. It hissed as it lashed its tail out at the fox. Tails ducked down to avoid the swipe, rolled forward to get in close and then threw three, wide sweeping slashes. The first two sliced off its arms and the third lopped off its head. The squirrel dropped to the floor and became motionless, sparks flying from the dismembered portions of its body. 

Tails turned around to see Bark and Jessie attempting to gun down the remaining two Robians. The polar bear roared, firing a volley at the first squirrel as it bore down on him. Its hide was thick enough to prevent his shots from penetrating. The Robian drew near and swung its tail hard, catching Bark on the stomach. He staggered backwards, winded, but not seriously injured due to the protective band around his waist. Claws raised, the squirrel let out a metallic shriek and bounded towards the vulnerable bear.

Upon seeing Bark being pushed back, Tails quickly placed a hand on the second green Emerald on his sword and drew blue energy out of it. Sheathing his sword, he shaped the magic with his Mana. The magic collapsed and formed a ball in front of his chest. Focused on the robot that was steps towards the gunner, he then pushed his hands outward and called “ICE!”

A blue-white beam shot out from his hands, barely scraping the polar bear’s right shoulder, and hit its target. The magic showered the Robian with Ice energy, slowing it down its movements and giving Bark enough time to recover and avoid being slashed by its claws. Rolling out of the way and landing in a kneeled position, he pointed his arm and fired another salvo. This time, the bullets tore through the Robian’s body as Tails’ spell made its armour plating weak and brittle.

Seeing that Bark was able to handle himself, the fox turned his attention to the third Robian. The wild swings from the squirrel’s claws forced Jessie back until she hit a wall. Tails reacted, hurrying towards the woman as the Robian wrapped its tail around her waist. He swung the great blade upwards and cut the appendage just before it could squeeze and crush her. The warrior then followed up by wrapping his own tails around the mechanical beast’s arms and pulled hard, ripping both of them out of their sockets. He then finished it by crushing its head with the flat side of the Buster Sword.

“W-What the hell was that?” Bark cursed. He winced and rubbed at his abdomen as he stood up. Nearby, Jessie wriggled out of the Squirrel Robian’s tail. Her eyes were as wide as saucers and she struggled to catch her breath.

“Trouble,” replied Tails, his eyes narrowing as he picked up the sounds of something skittering along the walls. “And there’s more of it coming!”

Two more Squirrel Robians jumped off and landed in front of them. The one closest to the three lashed out wildly and tore a gash in the polar bear’s left arm. Bark roared in pain and grabbed the robot on instinct. Forcing his Gun-Arm into its mouth, he pumped its insides full of lead and then threw its lifeless husk away from him. 

The Ex-SOLDIER then leapt over Bark and brought his sword behind him. At the apex of his jump, he swung it forward and cut the second Robian in two. Landing in a crouch, the fox’s eyes widened in alarm as his ears picked up the sounds of mechanical legs stomping up behind them. The unknown mechaniloid whirred and a hissing noise blared out. The two-tailed fox recognized what it was about to do. “Sweeper’s behind us, everybody duck!” he shouted, dropping to the floor.

Bark and Jessie hastily followed suit as bullets whizzed past them. Clenching her teeth, the brunette hastily dug into her satchel and produced a grenade from it. Pulling the pin out, she counted to three in her head before lobbing it in the vicinity of the Sweeper. The grenade landed right near its spiked feet and exploded, cutting its barrage short. Tails got up from his prone position, his hand holding a charge filled with yellow-white energy. He thrust the hand holding the magic outward and called “BOLT!”

The spell shot out of Tails’ palm, snaked into the Sweeper’s damaged legs and into its rectangular shell. The lightning wreaked havoc on its internal systems, short-circuiting it and leaving it nothing more than a hunk of scrap in its wake.

Jessie got up first and she shivered at the sight of the mechanical remains. “Ugh, those things give me the creeps,” she muttered, staring at the Sweeper’s metallic grill. Letting out several shaky breaths, she turned to Tails and flashed a small smile to the Mobian. “Thanks. If it weren’t for you, we’d all probably be dead by now.”

The fox shrugged. “No problem,” he said coolly. “Just doing my job.” He looked around and piqued his ears, using his enhanced senses to scan for any more unwanted encounters. “I don’t hear or see anything coming our way,” he announced. “Now would be a good time to recuperate before we carry out the rest of the mission. More of ‘em will show up eventually, but we should be on our way out before they do.”

His left arm soaked with blood, Bark got up and walked over to Jessie. She stuck a hand into her satchel and pulled out some medical tape, along with a thin phial filled with blue liquid. The label ‘Potion’ was stamped on the side. 

Handing it over to the bear, he broke the top off and held it in place with his teeth. With a slow and practiced movement, Bark poured about half of the solution onto his wounded arm and yelped in pain as the liquid made contact. The antiseptic components of the Potion reacted with the blood and formed a paste that sealed the wound. Taking the phial out of his mouth, he downed the remaining contents and retched at the bitter taste before discarding it onto the ground. He then placed the medical tape through one of the barrels of his Gatling Gun and, using it like a dispenser, he bandaged his arm. Tossing the tape back to Jessie, he threw her a thumbs-up and grinned. “Yeah, we’re good to go!” he exclaimed.

Bark strode towards the entrance to the main pump chamber, but stopped as he passed Tails. He arched his head and stared down at him. Tails half expected the bear to berate him once more, but to the fox’s surprise, Bark’s lips curled upward into a slight smile. “You ain’t half-bad Ex-SOLDIER,” he commented lightly. He opened the door leading onwards and beckoned the other two to follow, his lips now set in a tight line. “Alright, let’s move.”


Biggs

After splitting from the group with the second bomb, Biggs snuck past plant operators and light security detail as he headed for the main control room of the RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant. He paused from time to time to install the signal boosters necessary to connect the bomb to the central router at the rendezvous point. Stealing through another corridor, he noticed the heavy use of security cameras, which were all reprogrammed thanks to the Mobian Ex-SOLDIER. Biggs smiled to himself, thinking about the hardened warrior. ‘It’s a damn good thing we have that guy on our side,’ he mused. ‘Without him, this mission would’ve gone south long ago.’ 

He soon found himself in front of the control room, its door wide open. He peeked inside and saw five figures. Three of them were Human; two dark haired men and a blonde woman. The remaining two were Mobians; a canine with long flowing brown locks and a toad with a shock of black hair on his slippery head. Each wore the same uniform: a light blue, short sleeve work shirt, dark blue denim overalls with beige gloves tucked into the front pocket and dark brown work boots. 

Seeing a closet in the corner of the room that he could hide in, Biggs stealthily entered the room. Keeping himself low, he opened the closet door and tucked himself into it. His heart racing and praying that he wasn’t seen, he reopened the door a crack and stole a glance out of the window separating the control room from the main plant.

A litany of machines occupied the large room and all were used to forge RINGTEK batteries of all kinds and sizes. The TORNADO member watched as a thin, ionically charged grey ring was inserted into one of the molds. The molds varied in size, from large fuel cells for vehicles and heavy duty machinery to tiny cells used for personal electronics. Biggs remembered from his own research that the grey ring was made up of various metals that caused slow, powerful chemical reactions with the Energen once bonded. At the end of each ring and exposed outside of the hermetically sealed mold was a socket used to insert the RINGTEK into machinery in order to power it. 

Pipes from below the refinery transported Energen into the manufacturing plant, where various nozzles injected it into the molds. Once filled, the molds were then subjected to supercooled water flowing through a heat exchanger that crossed the doughnut shaped die. The supercooled water caused the liquid Energen to harden and bond with the inner ring, creating the powerful, self-contained battery. Once casted, a mechanical arm extracted the rings and inserted them into specially designed containers to cool the rings further, increasing their durability. The fully cooled rings were then transferred to another department for testing and quality assurance. The entire process – from casting to cooling and transport – took less than a minute to complete.

Biggs stifled a sigh as he watched the RINGTEK being created. “All this technology helped to advance and modernize our world…” he mumbled to himself. “But the cost… it’s way too high.” Feeling that the time to act was close at hand, he then checked the watch on his wrist. The digital display noted the time as 11:29 pm. 

A minute passed and a loud buzzer emitted from a speaker in the wall. Biggs sat where he was and listened to the workers leaving for the break room, all of them complaining about the labour strike that has crippled production. When the last operator left and the door shut with an audible click, the man slowly got out of his hiding spot and quickly raced over to the main control console. Knowing that he only had exactly ten minutes before the workers returned, he quickly extracted a thin, rectangular data stick and inserted it into the terminal in front of him. The programming inside the stick automatically executed its preloaded subroutines. Biggs watched the monitor in front of him as the programming began discreetly searching for and downloading a wealth of critical data. 

Seeing that the operation was in process, Biggs then pulled out the explosive Jessie gave him. It was a carefully constructed rectangular box with an LCD display and several coloured buttons – black, green and blue – underneath the screen. Peering underneath the console, he spotted an area where he could place the package without it being seen. After adhering it to the spot, he installed a thin antenna into a slot on its side and then pushed the black button. 

The LCD screen came to life and displayed the words ‘AWAITING CONNECTION’ in black lettering after a few seconds. Biggs crossed his fingers and then pressed the blue button, hoping to the Goddess that he spaced out the boosters enough. The screen flashed twice before returning a message: ‘CONNECTION OK! PRESS BUTTON TO ACTIVATE.’ 

Biggs exhaled loudly. “Oh man, I was worried there for a second,” he muttered, wiping sweat from the bridge of his nose. He then pressed the green button and activated the bomb. “Done,” he said, getting out from underneath the console and standing to look at the monitor in front of him. The words ‘Download Complete’ came up in a popup in the left hand corner of the screen. ‘And so is this thing too.’ 

Pulling out the stick, he placed it in his pocket and looked at the time. It read 11:38 pm. “I got two minutes left,” he whispered to himself, pulling out his side arm and adjusting his headband. “Time to blow this pop stand.” He crouched down again and slinked out of the room just before the buzzer rang for the end of break time. 


Tails

After hopping over to another platform and climbing down another set of ladders, the three stopped at a wide walkway suspended above a glowing pool of raw Energen. At the very end of the path lay the extraction pump chamber; the heart of the reactor. The entire apparatus consisted of an oblong, twelve foot tall pumping assembly that jutted out of the concrete wall. The main pump itself was massive, consisting of a four-foot tall body and a giant, 2,000 horsepower motor that was anchored in place by several guy wires and hangars. An array of pipes, both thick and thin, sprouted out of the top of the pump assembly, the set spreading out like a web from the current level they were on up to the refinery plant on the next level above. On the bottom, a series of huge pipes led down from the machine and into the pool of gold and silver below. A large hand wheel in the centre of the structure operated the pair of enormous, eighteen inch isolation valves that would halt the flow of liquid in an emergency. Next to it were the main controls for the entire structure.

Jessie handed Bark the second, much larger explosive from her pack and then stood by the ladder. “I’ll wait here,” she said to the two Mobians, her mouth set into a grim line as she watched for incoming enemies.

Bark nodded and motioned the fox to follow him. Tails started, but paused when an object on the floor caught the corner of his eye. It was a tiny, brilliantly cut, hexagonal green jewel, similar to the ones installed into the slots of his Buster Sword. He walked towards it and picked it up. “An Emerald,” he said softly. Peering closely at the gem, Tails saw a soft and warm green light emanating from it, eliciting a smile from the mercenary. “Looks like Restore magic.” He was about to switch it out for the Ice Emerald on his sword when Bark lumbered up, his face contorted into a scowl.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked roughly, snatching the item out of Tails’ hand. Looking at it in confusion, he kissed his teeth loudly in annoyance and then pocketed the jewel. “C’mon man, we got a job to do here! Once we’re done here, this place is gonna be nothing more than a hunk of junk!” He held out the bomb and Jessie’s instructions to the fox. “Tails, you set the bomb.”

Tails raised an eyebrow, his glowing eyes staring coldly at the bear. “And why should I?” he questioned icily. “This is your show. I’m nothing more than an escort.”

Bark glowered wearily at the quizzical fox. “Just do the damn thing already,” he grumbled. “I wanna see if you’re willing to bite the hand that feeds you. If not, then I know where your true loyalties lie.”

The fox rolled his eyes. ‘Goddess-damned bastard doesn’t give me a break…’ “Whatever, fine,” he huffed, snatching the package. He approached the mechanism with the polar bear behind him, his arms crossed as he watched him keenly. As Tails was about to place the bomb on the central console, he froze as a high pitched buzz erupted in his head, like it was signaling him. Clutching his head with one hand, he suddenly heard a sharp, childlike voice speak out to him. 

“Watch out! Something’s off about this reactor!”

Bark watched the Mobian stop in place for a few moments and then shoved him out of his stupor with his gun. “What’s wrong?” he asked, glowering at him.

“Huh?” Tails blinked in confusion for a few moments as he returned to reality.

The impatient bear growled. “What’s wrong, Tails, hurry the hell up!” he demanded.

Tails shook his head and cleared his mind. “Yeah, sorry,” he apologized.  He set the charge against the central console on the reactor. The main unit consisted of a powerful explosive with a tiny control board mounted on it. Reading the instructions, Tails extended the two, flexible antennae on its side and then inserted a cable from the control board into the service port of the central console. He then pressed a black button on the top corner to initialize the bomb.

Drawing power from the central console, a small, rectangular LCD display on the top left corner of the charge activated. Upon startup, the screen flashed the words ‘AWAITING CONNECTION’. Tails pressed the blue button as per the instructions and waited as the machine transmitted its signal through the boosters Jessie installed throughout their journey. The words ‘CONNECTION OK! SYNCHRONIZATION OK! PRESS BUTTON TO ACTIVATE,’ soon flashed on screen, indicating that all was ready.  

Before Tails could push the green button to arm the device, a klaxon began to blare out loudly and strobe lights flashed red emergency beacons.

Bark furiously pressed his Gun-Arm against the fox’s head at that instant. “What the hell did you do?!” He bellowed. 

An intercom beat out the two tailed fox before he could speak. “Warning! Unidentified tampering detected at main pump chamber!” the female voice announced. “Dispatching Roboguardian designate E-89 ‘Guard Scorpion’ to eliminate threats! Field shall be modified to accommodate!” 

The railing on the walkway suddenly detached and folded underneath it. Next, two thick steel plates slid out from the walls on either side of the chamber. Each plate was lined at the incoming edge with tapered tabs like gear teeth which meshed with strategically placed holes in the walkway to form a single, seamless platform. On the left hand wall, a large, twenty foot tall by fifteen foot wide panel slid open to reveal the Guard Scorpion.

Created to emulate the look of an actual scorpion, the red mechaniloid stepped out onto the platform on its six, segmented legs, each the size of a tree trunk. Atop its legs was a heavily plated, oblong torso. Concealed beneath thick, bulletproof glass on its center was a set of large, mechanical lenses that acted as its eyes. Its head consisted of a round dome with several antennae jutting out from it and a small, pivoting rectangular scope, used by the guardian to obtain environmental and targeting data. In place of pincers were a pair of long, heavily plated crimson arms, each equipped with 20mm Vulcan cannons. By far, the most fearsome and intimidating part of its body was its tail; a segmented, flexible mechanism with an enormous, diamond-like spike at its end. The joints of each leg, arm and tail segment, along with its torso, were covered with a flexible, black polymer shielding. The reflections from the gold and silver pool below casted an eerie glow against the polished steel as it leered menacingly at the two Mobians in front of it. 

The robotic monstrosity vented grey-yellow exhaust fumes out from various ports along its body, before moving towards the intruders, its legs stomping thunderously on the thick metal platform.

Bark turned his gun away from the fox and towards the Roboguardian. “OK, well there’s my question answered!” he yelled as Tails stood beside him, sword drawn. “Head’s up foxy, here it comes!”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Prelude



Flower Girl

Three weeks later…

Silver and gold particles floated up from a broken Energen bypass pipe in a backstreet on the Sector 8 plate. The glowing material illuminated a figure – a green-haired flower girl with red blossoms on her head – who was staring deeply at the pipe fissure, watching the wisps float upwards and disperse into the air as nothingness. 

As she watched the flecks of white and yellow intermingle with each other, swirling about her like fireflies in the night sky, she could gradually hear a sound emanating directly from the particles themself. They were screams of agony, of pain and of suffering, each intensifying the longer she stood there. It was as if a collective voice was crying out for any sort of release from the torment that they endured at that very moment. 

Knitting her brows, the woman placed her pale hand close to the pipe, almost touching it and attempted to communicate. “Hey,” she whispered softly in soothing tones, not wanting to be overheard lest she be deemed crazy. “I’m back. Sorry I haven’t been this way for a while. I’ve… been avoiding you all for the last few weeks.” She paused, thinking about the moment back in the Sector 5 church. “But I’m here now and I’m ready. So long as the agreement stands – meaning I’ll listen and be present and you all don’t show me any weird things – then we’re good.” 

She kneeled into a more comfortable position and continued to watch the sparks float about. After a few moments, she felt that she was ready to dive in. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift off as the wails echoed about her. The flower girl kept herself alert throughout her meditation, in case anyone unexpected tried to sneak up to her.

Though she willed herself not to think of the visions she saw that day, somehow the image of the orange-furred Mobian with two tails kept presenting itself to her as she remembered how the root entered her finger back in the church. ‘It’s been weeks since that day,‘ she thought distractedly, her brows furrowed into a scowl. ‘I’ve had visions like this one before, but never one so invasive.’ 

In the midst of her musings, the anguished cries emanating from the fissured metal in front of her had suddenly gone silent. Startled, the flower girl’s eyes flew open. In front of her, the particles stopped floating upwards and were suspended in front of her face. She suddenly heard a booming echo of a voice inside her head.

“COSMO,” it called out her name, sounding like the amalgamation of thousands of different voices.

Cosmo’s eyes widened into saucers at the sight in front of her. The particulate matter then started to swirl and twist around her. Some bonded together to form words, symbols and even images, all which were instructing her on things that she could not comprehend. As the matter danced around her, she felt her whole body quake. A cold chill crept down her back and though she wanted to free herself and move away, she felt paralyzed by the light show in front of her. 

The wisps swirled around her faster and faster, until finally they stopped and began floating upwards once again. Cosmo found herself able to move as she gulped lungfuls of air amid the sounds of screaming that returned to her ears. It was as if the events that had transpired moments ago had never happened.

The green-haired flower girl scrambled away from the pipe to the wall opposite it. Leaning against the cool brick and panting softly, she placed a clammy palm over her face, closed her eyes and processed what she saw. The image of the individual she saw in the previous vision – a two-tailed fox, she realized – was burned onto her retinas. On his back was a large weapon that looked strangely familiar. Several other figures surrounded him, though they were all hidden in shadow. One of the figures loomed above the rest. It’s cruel and sickly green eyes were illuminated against its spectral form and looked right at her.

A flash of white light enveloped the image and caused Cosmo’s eyes to snap open. No shadows were in front of her, but only the pipe which had shown her the new visions. ‘They’re becoming stronger… More vivid… What does this all mean?’ she wondered fervently as she picked herself up from the ground.

As she dusted off her skirt, she contemplated leaving the sector, going back home and hiding under the covers of her bed until everything blew over. Before she could act on that impulse, she felt the locket bump up against her chest as she straightened up. The feeling of the cool metal against her skin, combined with the nauseous feeling she had in her stomach, triggered yet another memory.

“Listen, Stargirl-” the corners of Cosmo’s mouth turned upward sadly at the reminder of the endearing nickname. “- I-I don’t think you should be running away from these visions. No, I think now is the time that you should face them, head on y’know? That’s what I would do.”

She remembered that time well: it was the last she saw of her ex. They were in the middle of a heated argument at the church about her visions. He was the only person she had ever confided in about them. Cosmo wanted nothing to do with them and yet he tried in vain to convince her to see where they lead. Angrily, she told him to leave and he did just that… and never came back. That was five years ago.

Cosmo looked back at the leaking pipe, her hand clutching the pendant at her neck as she relived the painful moment. The silver and gold particles gently floated upwards. After a few moments of staring and thinking, she let out a long, dejected sigh. “Alright,” she conceded begrudgingly, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Alright Spikes, you win. I’ll see where these visions lead… No more running, I suppose.”

Her decision made, she walked back to the pipe and picked up the worn, woven basket full of fresh, cut flowers she had brought with her. Walking away from the pipe, she turned a corner and emerged out of the alleyway and into the entertainment district of Sector 8.

It was arguably the busiest area of Megapolis, consisting of numerous nightclubs, bars, shopping malls and specialty stores. On the left side where Cosmo emerged was the Sector’s biggest draw; a massive, elegant theater, showcasing award-winning plays. The flower girl put a smile on her face and made sure that her hair blossoms were opened extra wide as the doors leading into the theater opened up and released the latest crowd for the city’s enduring classical love story: “Look-a-Like.” 

She watched as a particularly large throng of Mobians and Humans meander in her direction. Many of them were couples, her favourite kind of customers. Cajoling them to buy flowers for their loved ones was one of the many things that made selling the flowers she grew worthwhile to her. 

Cosmo beamed brilliantly at a middle-aged Human couple that she accosted. As she plied her trade – to the dismay of the older gentlemen – she dimily noted that the place she stood was, in fact, the first part of the omen she had seen moments ago. Reminding herself to uphold the promise she made to herself and to Spikes, she stayed and waited for the inevitable to happen.


Tails

Wind ruffling through his fur as the passenger train he crouched on sped towards the Sector 1 station, Miles “Tails” Prower, Ex-SOLDIER turned mercenary for hire, reviewed the details of his first big gig in his mind: To aid in the destruction of Energen Reactor and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant #1.

In the three weeks since Cream brought him to live at her bar, Tails had used the opportunity to rest. Once he recovered, he started doing the odd job here and there for the residents of the Sector 7 Slums as a mercenary, which helped him regain his fighting form. Whether it was taking care of invading Mutates, prowling Robians or even helping the locals with their personal problems, the fox felt both his strength and confidence grow with each passing day. Now, he felt more than ready for whatever obstacles lay ahead of him.

To his left and right, Tails could only see glimpses of industrial scenery as the train they were on sped towards its destination. Craning his neck forward and fighting the wind resistance, he looked ahead to see Bark crouching down on the next car ahead of him, the dim, intermittent lighting obscuring his features. 

Feeling that he was being watched, the bear’s head turned sharply behind him, his reddish-brown eyes glaring darkly at the fox. Tails met his gaze for a few beats before

the other Mobian turned back around. Shrugging to himself, Tails looked sideways at the passing scenery. ‘Just because he hired me on doesn’t mean I should like him,’ he thought to himself.

“Attention, attention. The train to Sector 1 – Energen Reactor & RINGTEK Processing Plant – has arrived at its final destination. All passengers please gather your belongings before exiting the cars. Thank you for riding the Megapolis Railway System, brought to you by Kintobor Incorporated. The time now is 11:00 pm, Megapolis Standard Time.”

The automated intercom voice caused Tails to snap out of his reprieve as Bark started yelling out orders to his three subordinates. 

“Alright guys, this is it,” the polar bear roared loudly, his voice almost drowned out by the rushing wind. “When security notices no one coming out of the train cars, take them out and head for the reactor entrance across the street. Security should be pretty lax tonight thanks to our efforts over the last few weeks, so let’s not waste this opportunity!”


The two security personnel on the platform, a grey feline and an Human, stood near the platform edge, bored out of their minds as the last train arrived at the station, signaling the end of their shift. Each wore the standard Kintobor Army Security Force uniform: Blue jumpsuits with protective coverings around the vital organs to reduce fatal injuries, polished black steel-toed boots and a belt holding a twenty inch baton and a 9mm sidearm. On hand was a standard issue military-grade semi-automatic rifle. A helmet equipped with a visor to protect the eyes completed the look. On the shoulders, they wore a patch with the letters KI in stylized typography. 

The train’s automated systems activated the braking mechanisms upon entry to the station. The feline turned to the Human next to him. “Hey Jim,” the Mobian spoke up as the train came to a complete stop at the wall denoting the end of the line, the engine hissing loudly. “You hear anything new about the labour strike that’s been happening these last few weeks?” 

“Naw Sam, nothing new. It’s a shitshow right now,” Jim responded as the doors slid open to let out passengers. “It sucks that we have to be here as part of the skeleton crew mandated in our collective bargaining agreement…” The human huffed loudly and rolled his shoulders. “…Know what, screw this; let’s go gather the other guys and go for drinks after the usuals come out, my treat. No need for us to be here any longer than we need to be, eh?”

“If you’re sure, buddy,” Sam the guard responded, smiling. “Hopefully you have enough cash on hand, seeing as we still haven’t been paid yet.” He turned his head towards the doors, expecting the few, familiar workers heading for the Reactor to exit the train as they do at this time every night.

However, no one came out. 

Puzzled, Sam drew his baton and walked inside the car slowly to investigate, while Jim stayed outside, rifle raised and cocked. “See anything?” the Human called out.

“Negative, it’s just empty,” the Mobian responded. “Which is weird, why – what the! Hey you! ACK!”

“Sam, Sam! What’s going on!?” Jim cried, pointing the rifle at the car entrance. Suddenly he watched as his partner was thrown out of the car, landing hard on the platform, unconscious. Arms shaking, the Human made his way to the car. “You in the car! Come out with your hands up!” he shouted.

Before he could make it to the entrance, a woman rushed out from her hiding spot between the engine and the first car and promptly delivered a hard kick to the guard’s side. Taken by surprise, he fell to the floor, dropping his rifle as he did so. He scrambled around for his radio, flicking the switch to turn it on when a black boot descended on his head, knocking him out.

The owner of the boot, a raven-haired man dressed in an olive drab tank top, black cargo pants and combat boots waltzed forward into the light of the train platform. Tugging at the red bandanna around his head, his brown eyes swept around the platform, landing on the woman next to him. “Nice kick, Jessie,” he whistled, voice full of mirth.

The brunette tucked a stray strand of wavy hair back and away from her pale face. She wore a blue, short-sleeved shirt with a set of steel mail covering her torso and shoulders and blue jeans. On her feet were brown, leather covered steel-toed boots and on her back was a large satchel containing instruments used for hacking, additional ammunition, healing items and the bombs she designed specifically for the reactor. She too, wore a headband similar to her teammate. “Thanks Biggs,” she responded, her hazel eyes brightening as she gave him a small smile.

Turning away from him, she called out, “Alright! I think we’re good!”

A shorter, portly man appeared from the same car where Biggs exited. He wore a red bandanna, a faded, mustard-coloured shirt and blue overalls with red, plated boots. Clutching a stitch in his chest he panted, out of breath. “Phew… I’m glad that’s all over,” he said in a nasally tone.

“Tch, Wedge, stop being such a wuss,” Biggs retorted jokingly, a wild smile on his face. He moved towards the platform exit leading to the streets and to the reactor entrance. “I’ll do recon and check if the coast’s clear,” he said, all business. “Once I give the signal, Jess can come up to hack into their system. Wedge, you and I are on lookout duty.” 

Biggs ascended the stairwell and peeked out. Seeing no signs of life around, he whistled, giving the signal for the other two to come up.

Bark strode out from his hiding place on the train car as the other two Humans ran upstairs. Turning around, he looked up to the top of the train and motioned to the fox with his Gun-Arm, beckoning him to come down.

Tails executed a one-handed flip from the top of the train and landed neatly in a kneeled position, his namesakes swishing about. His piercing, electric blue eyes looked at the bear, who was clearly not amused at his flourish.

“C’mon merc, let’s get goin’,” Bark growled, gritting his teeth at the show-off. He spun around and bounded up the exit.

Tails rose from his kneeling position, put away his weapon and cracked his knuckles, ready to begin his task. Before he could take a step forward to follow the TORNADO leader, he heard the sounds of footsteps behind him. Two Kintobor soldiers, who answered the call from Jim’s radio, hurried to the north end of the platform and pointed their guns at the fox’s back. “Freeze!” the one on the left yelled out.

Tails slowly raised his arms in surrender. The soldiers inched up to him until they were just right behind him. The Ex-SOLDIER then bent his knees and leapt backwards, arcing over their heads before the MP’s could even blink. Landing just behind them, Tails quickly drew his weapon and performed a sweeping, horizontal slash that eviscerated them from the waist down, killing them instantly. Using the momentum of the swing, Tails’ body spun around and faced away from the dead guards. 

Placing his left hand on one of the Green Emeralds lodged into the slots of his sword, he drew yellow-white energy from it. Sheathing his weapon, he poured in Mana to shape the energy, which quickly formed an orb that appeared in front of his chest and between his palms. Pushing his hands outward, he called out “BOLT!”

A yellow-white beam shot out from Tails’ palms. It zig-zagged down the platform, arced around a stack of crates and struck the third guard who was cowering behind them. The impact sent high-voltage electricity shooting through the hapless grunt’s body and left a singed, blackened mess in its wake.

Not waiting to see if his magic attack hit, Tails swiftly turned around and dashed towards the stairwell leading up to the street. Once there, he spotted the three Humans and Bark near the reactor’s entrance. The woman was hunched over a small, hand-held computer to which she was rapidly typing codes into. The computer was connected to the door security controls. 

Biggs and Wedge were standing close by to her, keeping watch when the dark-haired man spotted the fox coming out of the station entrance. He waved his hand and his face split into a wide grin as he motioned Tails to come over. “Hey, welcome to the party!” he chortled, his tone friendly as the fox approached his side. “You’re from SOLDIER, aren’t you?” he asked, sizing up the slightly shorter swordsman. “I never expected to see a guy like you work with an organization like TORNADO.”

Tails crossed his arms and shrugged in response. He was uninterested in socializing with his charges.

Jessie paused from her work, looking back at the Mobian with wary eyes. “SOLDIER, aren’t they the enemy?” she asked Biggs.

Her comrade shook his head in response. “Nah, not this guy,” he said. “From what the boss told us, he used to be with them but then quit and is now one of us,” he said simply. Turning back to the fox, he kept talking. “You’re name’s… Tails, right?”

The fox nodded robotically, his eyes trained on Jessie’s handheld console. His brows furrowed deeply at the sight of the code on the screen. 

Another genuine smile broke out on the man’s face. “Awesome, this mission’ll be a piece of cake with you around, I’m thinking –“ 

Before he could finish, Tails interrupted, jerking his head towards the talkative man. “I don’t really care what you think,” he replied coldly. “And I haven’t joined up with your little ‘organization’ either. Once this job’s over, I’m out of here. For now, focus on the task at hand.”

Biggs’ grin evaporated instantly. He awkwardly returned to his watch, his pride hurt from the fox’s words.

Tails looked to his right where he saw Bark leaning against the wall barring access into the reactor proper. Once again, the two locked eyes – glaring reddish-brown meeting indifferent electric blue. The polar bear was still skeptical and he was well within his right to do so. The fox knew that he was an outsider; an unknown variable in their carefully crafted plans. He knew little of the full details of TORNADO’s plan, but it didn’t matter. A job was a job and he was going to do his part to make it happen. 

Soon enough, Bark snorted, broke eye contact with the swordsman and pushed himself off of the wall. He turned to face Jessie. “Any luck?” he grumbled, tapping his foot impatiently.

“Almost… There!” she replied, triumphant. The security doors rattled open, revealing the entrance to the reactor.

Tails suddenly walked up to her, arm outstretched. “Wait,” he said to the woman and then pointed to her console. “Give it here.” He could hear Bark next to him toggle the safety off of his weapon. Tails, however, held up a hand to the bear. Still addressing Jessie, he asked, “Did you do anything about the additional security controls? What about thermal scanning? Communications? Masking? Did you take care of any of that?”

“N-No,” She answered, realizing the implications of his question. “I mean, I added a patch to jam communication lines and I disarmed the motion sensors, but that’s it.”

“Then hand it over,” Tails said coldly. Taking the console from her, he started inputting commands on it as the polar bear kept his gun trained on the swordsman. “Did you guys think that it’d be easy to get in with a skeleton crew working at the reactor?” he said while he typed. “If I were a bettin’ fox, I would think that they would add in extra security measures, just in case someone was crazy enough to do what we’re doing tonight.” He smirked upon seeing the lines of code show up on the woman’s terminal. “And I was right.” 

After a few moments of typing, he tossed the controller back to Jessie. “Done,” he said. “Cameras are on a feedback loop. Thermal sensors are down. I’ve masked our presence here by explaining that a training exercise is underway. Comms have also been utterly scrambled. And finally, I’ve bugged the code up in a way that it’ll take a long time to undo everything. And even if they do pull it off, it’ll be far too late.”

Jessie looked at the console, observed the code and then looked back at the fox with awe. “Wow, this is genius,” she said reverently, pocketing the machine after disconnecting it from the panel. She turned to her leader. “Boss… this guy is something else…”

Bark kept his arm trained on Tails for a moment longer and then dropped it. “…Good to see you’re worth every last mobium,” he spat. He walked up to the entrance and peered inside, scoping the premises, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, except a few guards in light-duty equipment. Satisfied, he turned around and addressed his team. “OK, let’s go through it one last time,” he said quietly, steeling himself. “Our target’s the Energen Reactor and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant #1. Jessie and I will sneak in, head to the main conversion chamber all the way at the bottom of the plant and set the main bomb there. Biggs,” he addressed the raven-haired male. “You’re in charge of getting us to the lift. From there, you get to the manufacturing plant and set the secondary bomb at the main plant line. From our research, it should be easier to get there versus the reactor heart. Once you do, get back to the rendezvous point and stay out of sight until Jessie and I return. Wedge,” he turned to the portly one. “Secure our exit. And as for the Ex-SOLDIER,” he said glancing at the fox from the corner of his eye. “You’re with me.” 

Tails shrugged. “Sure,” he said.

“Alright then,” Bark exclaimed, a grin crossing his snout. “Move quickly and quietly, as we practiced. Let’s do this!”

With that, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie ran inside. Bark hung back and glared once again at the fox. “That was pretty impressive, what with the cameras and communications systems and all that shit,” he snarled, not sounding impressed at all. “But I still don’t trust you.” He then did an about face and followed his team, leaving Tails to himself.

The fox gave him a hooded look, clearly annoyed at his attitude. ‘I wasn’t looking for you to trust me anyway. I’m just hoping you keep your end of the bargain when this is all over,’ he thought.

Tails glanced up at the enormous reactor for a brief moment, before entering and catching up with the others.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The Leader of TORNADO



Cream

While the residential district of the Sector 7 Slums was small, it was the local bar and grille within that made it among the most popular destinations in the lower world of Megapolis. Scores of Mobians and Humans living in the slums would make their way to this haven of relief after an exhausting day full of menial work. 

The building was a medium sized, two storey brick complex with walnut-brown wood paneling on its sides and on the roof. Its construction made the building distinctive amongst the shoddy built and crumbling structures and corrugated metal shelters that dotted the district. The entrance consisted of two wooden double-hinged saloon doors, with a metal shutter behind them barring access into the bar proper during closing hours. The front facade of the restaurant brightly lit from the glowing neon sign just above the entrance. It read “Vanilla’s Haven.”

This simple bar nestled in the pockets of the slum was made famous for two things: the delicious, mouth-watering food and drink and the gorgeous, big-hearted, optimistic and gentle barmaid serving them up.

That very same barmaid led her old childhood friend away from the busy streets and through an alleyway between her bar and a neighbouring house leading to the establishment’s rear entrance. Clutching the paper bag tightly, Cream felt skittish as she glanced to and fro, her eyes and senses alert for any sort of movement. She was frazzled as her impromptu meeting with Miles – Tails as he now called himself – threw her off schedule. She now had to race to both get everything set up for the opening dinner rush and sneak Tails in and keep him hidden until the time was right.

As they found themselves in front of a steel door with a pair of locks at the rear end of the bar, Tails called out to her. “You okay?” he asked.

Cream jumped and nearly dropped the bag of sundries at the sound of the fox’s roughened voice. Her reflexes, gained through years of martial arts training, kicked in and she steadied herself before anything fell out of the bag. “Y-Yeah,” she replied, twisting back to look at him. “I’m just… a bit behind, that’s all.” She turned back to the door, shifted the large brown bag to her other arm and fished through her jacket pocket for the keys. 

I have to make sure Miles – I mean Tails – is out of the way until after today’s rush,’ she planned as she produced the keys from her pocket. Her nose wrinkled at the thought of his friend’s preferred name. ‘Once things die down, I’ll bring him in, introduce him, tell them his story and how he’s interested in working with us. Hopefully that’ll be enough to convince them…’ She picked out a key from the key ring and inserted it into the first lock. As she twisted it and heard the tumblers fall into place, her mind continued to wander. ‘I just hope that Bark hasn’t spotted me –‘ 

“Hey! Cream!” A deep, rough voice boomed out, once again startling the rabbit. It came from the entrance to the alleyway. “Is that you back there?”

Ice filled Cream’s veins and she almost dropped the grocery bag. “Oh no…” she muttered, as she looked to Tails with pinched eyebrows. The fox produced a perplexed stare in return.

Letting out a frustrated breath, she called out to the voice. “Yeah Bark! It’s me!” she hollered, praying to the Goddess that he didn’t notice her companion.

“Oh, OK,” she heard in response. Relief swam through the rabbit’s body, but it was only temporary as the voice returned. “Hey waitaminute! I saw some guy following you to the back just now! And why’re you going in through there anyway? Also, you’re running late and from the day I met you years ago, you’ve always been an on-schedule kinda girl, so what’s going on?”

Crud,’ her mind raced as she began to panic. ‘He noticed.’ “Um, well Bark?” she replied sheepishly. “Um… W-well… The thing is… It’s a bit… Um… Complicated?”

“What the hell?” she heard him grumble loudly. “OK, now you got me curious, I’m coming over there!”

Cream’s eyes widened as she heard footsteps lumbering towards her. She fumbled with the second lock, shakily selecting and inserting the key before unlocking the door. Before she could open it and usher Tails in, ‘Bark’ arrived.

He was a massive polar bear with coarse, yellow-white fur. He wore a worn, brown leather vest which was opened up to expose his broad, barrel chest. On his legs were baggy, green war fatigue trousers covered with pockets of all shapes and sizes and jet-black combat boots on his large feet. Covering his waist and abdominal area was a large steel band that had ribbons of ammunition wrapped around it. His left hand, which could easily cover the rabbit’s face with, was covered with a simple, fingerless leather glove. His right arm, from the elbow down, was missing and was replaced with an unusual prosthetic; a stout, metallic cylindrical weapon with six, snub-nosed barrels. This Gun-Arm was directly fused to his arm and connected to his nervous system, which allowed him to fire on command via his synapses. The ammunition wrapped around the metal band on his waist fed into the peculiar weapon.

His piercing, reddish-brown eyes swept the scene in front of him, his eyebrows knitted in confusion. He readjusted the reversed red and white ball cap on his head and rubbed his snout as he addressed the rabbit. “Cream, what the hell is goin’ on here?” he asked, perplexed. “You’re running late, your jacket buttons are ripped off and to top it all off, you bring home some weird stranger? Who is this guy anyway?” he gestured towards the two-tailed fox.

Cream stifled an exasperated groan. ‘Of all the days that this had to happen, it had to be the one where I ran out of greens for tonight’s special…’ “Well,” she began causally, clearing her throat and sweeping a stray strand of ivory hair away from her face, “Some creep was following me home from Sector 6 and was looking to try something. So I lured him into an alleyway and made him rethink his current life choices.” She glanced at Tails, before continuing her story. “And then, by a strange coincidence, I ran into one of my oldest friends from back in my village. Seeing an opportunity to catch up, I brought him back here to chat while I get things ready.”

Aside, she voiced out in her mind. ‘I was going to introduce you to him later tonight, when things got less busy, but…’ She watched the expression on the bear’s muzzle shift from suspicious to curious. Feeling brave and hoping that Bark wouldn’t cause too much trouble, she continued. “Bark, this is Mi – Um, Tails and he works as a mercenary. I was gonna-”

Bark’s eyebrows shot up at the mention of his title. Eyeing the smaller Mobian, he sniggered and then suddenly burst out laughing, cutting Cream off. “A merc?” he blurted out in between gruff chuckles. “Him? Ah hah hah, that’s a good one Cream!” He turned his back to the fox, who was glowering dangerously at the one-armed bear.

“I mean, look at him, even the SWORD’S bigger than he is!” he howled mirthfully, tears streaming from his eyes. After a while, he calmed down, wiping his eyes and grinning at the rabbit. “Look, seriously speaking, I refuse to believe that this kid’s a mercenary-“

Cream brought a hand to her lips as sharp, cold steel rested against the bear’s throat. She hadn’t even seen Tails move. ‘Twenty minutes ago, he could barely walk… and now… he’s swinging that thing like he’s done so his entire life…’ 

Surprised, Bark gazed downwards to see the broad edge of Tails’ Buster Sword lightly touching his neck. If he so much as twitched, his head would have flown off. He looked past the weapon to see its wielder, glowing eyes glaring menacingly at him.

“Finish that sentence,” Tails dared the larger Mobian in a quiet, commanding tone. Despite his visible exhaustion, he held the blade levelly. He steeled his eyes, waiting for any sudden movements from the gunner in front of him.

Bark tried not to gulp as he felt the edge against his jugular. As he nervously looked at the fox, his eye travelled to the electric blue irises belonging to the shorter swordsman. The polar bear’s own eyes widened at the sight before narrowing in anger.

Seeing that things were about to escalate, Cream crept up and tentatively extended her hand towards Tails. She placed it gently on his shoulder and looked placatingly at him. “Tails, please stop?” she implored.

The two-tailed fox cast a sidelong glance to his old friend, snorted and then eased off. He removed the blade from the polar bear’s neck and sheathed it. He crossed his arms and glared at the offending polar bear.

“Hmph, you’re pretty good, aren’t you,” Bark said coldly, rubbing his throat where the sword had been against previously. “But then again, it’s not every day that a member of Kintobor’s special police force poses as a mercenary to infiltrate my group!” He jumped back and pointed his Gun-Arm at the fox, who, again, unsheathed his blade and settled into a fighting stance.”There’s no way I’ll let you live to tell your SOLDIER buddies ‘bout us back at Kintobor! And Cream, how could you do this to us?” he glanced incredulously to the rabbit beside him, who returned a look of bewilderment as a response. “How could you let the enemy into our base?! Ah, nevermind that, I’ll take care of him and then you and I are gonna have a chat!” Turning his head back towards the fox, he raised his gun-arm, pointing it and tensing his arm muscles, as if he would have balled up his fist if it was still there.

Horrified, Cream stepped in between them. “STOP IT!” she shouted, bringing her arms up between the two in an attempt to stop them from fighting.

Bark yelled in surprise and pointed his arm away from Cream towards a pile of trash on the wall opposite to the bar’s back entrance. His arm still tensed, bullets spewed out from the weapon at a rapid rate, the cylindrical portion rotating with each shot fired. The shots tore through the refuse, shredding it into pieces and leaving smoking holes in the wall behind it. The gunner relaxed, stopping the flow of bullets and turned his head towards the rabbit in fury. 

“WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “I could have shot you just now! Are you out of your mind?!”

“No, YOU’RE out of your mind!” Cream retorted, equally angry at the polar bear’s declarations. “You honestly think I’d bring Kintobor to our base of operations, which, for your information, is also MY home?! Which I’ve had the good grace to let you stay in, by the way? You seriously have some nerve! And one other thing you should know too,” she jabbed a finger towards Tails. “HE left the army five years ago, when they burnt down our hometown! He wants nothing to do with them anymore than we do!” She then fell silent for a moment and took deep breaths to calm herself down. She felt a stab of guilt course through her insides, which she attributed to the thought of her old home.

“I’ve already told him the gist of what we do and he’s agreed to listen to us.” she continued to Bark, annoyance still in her tone. “I was going to talk to you later tonight after the rush, introduced you to him, explained his circumstances and everything, but… I screwed up on that front, OK?”

The polar bear’s hardened gaze faltered at her words. Cream knew that if it was anyone else speaking to him, he would have ignored them, shoved them aside and resumed fighting. However, she knew that he trusted her level head and sharp intuition far more than any other in his group. He wouldn’t be able to ignore what she said, especially given the severity of the mission at hand.

Staring at Tails for a few more beats, Bark snorted and lowered his weapon, facing his ally. “Fine, he can stay,” he said harshly to the rabbit. “If he’s your ‘friend’ like you say, then I got no problems.” He then turned back towards the swordsman, glaring darkly at him. “But listen, you,” he spat at the fox, his teeth bared in dislike. “If you make any moves or do anything that exposes you for the traitorous son of a bitch that you are, I’ll do that -” he pointed to the destroyed heap of garbage. “- To you. Are we clear?”

Tails returned the glare, his namesakes rising in a threatening manner. “Crystal,” he replied acidly. He wrapped his tails around his waist and placed the sword on the disc attached to his back.

After a few moments of tense silence, the one-armed Mobian jerked his head, motioning for the SOLDIER to get out of here. 

Sighing in relief that the fighting was over and done with, Cream called out to Tails. “Go up the stairwell on the left and head for the room down the hallway,” she said. “ I’ll bring something up for you to eat, you look like you haven’t had anything for days. There’s also a bed in there for you to sleep on. You should get some rest after you eat, you look exhausted.”

Tails looked at her, his piercing gaze softening slightly as a form of acknowledgement and then made his way to the bar’s rear entrance.

“Oh and one more thing,” Cream added just as Tails opened the door. “Once the evening rush is over and we close up shop, we’ll start talking about the job and your payment.” The words left a bitter taste in her mouth as she said them. She then looked at Bark, addressing him sharply. “By the way, when’s the mission starting?”

Bark was taken aback by her cutting tone, but recovered quickly. “Well, phase one has just commenced, so in three weeks time, we make our move,” he replied, training his eyes on Cream instead of the former SOLDIER. 

Tails looked at his would-be employer. “Fine,” he replied without expression, walking inside and upstairs as directed. 

As soon as her friend entered the bar, Cream rounded on her teammate. “Bark, what the heck-,” she started, but stopped when the bear raised his hand, motioning her to stay silent. 

“Hold on,” he whispered. “Wait a moment.”

After a few minutes, he dropped his arm and faced her, a sigh of relief escaping from his snout. “Keep your voice down,” he continued in hushed tones, removing his cap and running his only hand through the thick forest of yellow-white hair underneath it before replacing it on his head. “We can’t let him hear us. Now, what are we gonna do about this? I can’t believe you brought him…” he trailed off, shoulders slumping. “Gah, this is all screwed up.”

“Bark,” Cream started, fingers pinching the bridge between her tightly shut eyes. She felt the beginnings of a headache drum through her forehead. “I know this looks bad, but,” she opened her eyes and looked into the bear’s own reddish-brown orbs. “If you’re serious about going through with this, I’d feel more comfortable knowing that he’s got your back, as well as the others. Think about it: he’ll be a great asset to the mission since he’s worked with them before and all. Plus,you saw how good he is for yourself, didn’t you?”

Bark rubbed the spot on his neck where the shorter warrior’s blade once laid. “Yeah okay, I admit he’s good,” he responded grudgingly. “But, c’mon Cream, are you really sure you can trust him?” he said, his eyes trained not at her face but at her ear. 

“Of course!” She said hotly, knowing what he was talking about. “You really think my memory’s that messed up?!”

“No, no, It’s… That’s not what I mean,” the bear stumbled, arms raised in a defensive, placating manner. “I’m… I’m just worried about you, that’s all. But seriously though, he’s-he’s pretty damn good, I have to agree with you on that.”

“Right,” Cream continued, flashing a small, but brightening smile, thankful for the change in subject. “See, if we’re going to take down Kintobor and save Mobius, he’s our best bet to do so. Please, won’t you just consider that angle when taking him on, at least?”

Bark listened to her words, processing them carefully and then let out a weary groan. “Fine, you win, I’ll consider it,” he conceded. “We’ll talk tonight. I’ll head to the front and open up for ya.” At that he started walking away towards the bar’s front entrance. He stopped at the mouth of the alleyway and turned around, a sheepish look on his muzzle. “Um, hey Cream?” he said, hesitating, his eyes downcast. “I’m… Well, I’m…”

The rabbit fighter shook her head. “Bark, it’s OK,” she replied, smiling once again. “I forgive you.”

Bark returned the grin. “Well then, you better get going, you got a bar to open, don’t cha?” he responded, turning back around and bounding down the alleyway to the front.

Satisfied, Cream took up her groceries and entered the bar. As she closed the door and looked up the stairwell, she swore she could see wisps of white and orange fur escaping her vision from the doorway on the second level. Her hand automatically rose to the back of her head, her finger tracing a jagged scar underneath her hair that went from the bottom of her right ear to the base of her skull as she realized what had just happened.

‘He heard it all.


Tails

Tails awoke to the sounds of a gentle rapping on the door in the room he was sleeping in. “Tails?” came Cream’s voice from the other side. “Sorry to wake you, but could you please come downstairs? I’ve closed up shop. We’re ready to talk.” 

“Sure, I’ll be there in a bit,” he groaned. Hearing her walk away, he lay in the dark space and stared at the ceiling above.

“Man, I sure lucked out,” he whispered to himself, the beginnings of a half-smile forming on his muzzle. “A place to stay and an upcoming job… Well, I better not keep my would-be employers waiting.”

He sat up on the hard mattress and stretched, feeling better than he had in years. He felt the strength course through his body as he flexed his fingers and the muscles on his arms. He sensed that he had somewhat of a basic handle on his acute senses, given how he was able to both listen in on Cream and Bark’s conversation earlier in the afternoon and tune out the loud, raucous crowd below while he slept. He stood up and turned on the lamp on the nightstand, shielding his eyes from the sudden burst of warm light that flooded the room. After waiting for his eyes to adjust, he pulled on the pauldron and his arm guard and then picked up his sword. 

The green gems nestled into the hexagonal slots shone in the dim, yellow light in the room and caught the fox’s eye. Holding the sword aloft, he stared at the Emeralds as a fuzzy memory bubbled to the surface.

He vaguely remembered sitting at a desk in a room similar to the one he was in right now, pouring over several textbooks and writing notes on a legal pad. Someone from behind chuckled, which caused him to jump out of his seat.

“Still studying? Jeez Tails, like you don’t know enough about Emeralds as it is!” the figure behind him chortled, its voice a ghostly echo in his mind. “Tell ya what though; instead of pouring over the books, why not show me what you can do?”

Tails blinked rapidly as his mind returned to the present moment. “‘Show me… what you can do?’ Hmph…” the fox mused to himself over the memory. “Come to think of it… I haven’t even tried using magic yet…”

Deciding that Cream and Bark could wait a few more moments, Tails placed a hand on one of the Green Emeralds equipped to the sword. He felt a surge of knowledge shoot through his body and into his brain when his palm made contact. It instructed him how to bring the magic into being. Removing his palm, he drew forth the energy from the Emerald and began to shape it with his Mana – the current of internal spiritual energy that exists and flows within all living things. He cupped his palm upwards and concentrated until a small orb of yellow-white light formed right in front of his eyes, further illuminating the room. The orb crackled and popped with electrical energy.

A sudden creak caused the fox to jerk his head towards the door in front of him, which opened a crack. The orb in his hand fluctuated in size as his attention shifted to the figure staring at him through the narrow opening. A single, baby-blue eye and strands of flaxen-yellow hair peeked out at the fox, who locked his own electric blue at it. The figure squeaked, backed away and ran off. Tails could hear the pitter-patter of feet clamber down the stairs and into the bar proper. The fox suppressed a sigh as he closed his fist. The Lightning spell dissipated and he reabsorbed the Mana into his body. ‘Guess I should head down now,’ he thought, sheathing his weapon and striding down the hall and the stairs down to the main level.

The inside of the bar had a cosy and warming atmosphere. With the booths, tables and stools placed around the floor there appeared to be seating available for up to fifty at a time. Tails guessed that the number of patrons in the bar greatly exceeded that capacity on a daily basis. The bar area consisted of a simple L-shaped ash counter top with a roughened finish and was complete with a flip-up portion at the end. Behind the counter were shelves stocked up with copious amounts of alcohol whose origins spanned the many regions of Mobius. A swivel door at the far end of the counter, opposite of the flip-up portion, led to a decent sized kitchen that held a sink, a six-burner stove and oven and a large fridge and freezer.

Sitting at one of the round tables were Bark and Cream. The polar bear wore an expression of distaste on his face while the fighter sat upright with her hands in her lap, her expression neutral and businesslike. Hidden behind the massive bear was a small human child wearing a sky blue dress with pale skin, bright blue eyes and golden hair; the very same child that spied him using magic. She buried her head deeper into Bark’s back at the sight of Tails, which the bear noticed. His upper lip curled up into a snarl. “You scarin’ my little cub?” he asked venomously.

Cream tapped Bark’s shoulder. “Bark! Be nice!” she admonished, glaring at him before turning her attention to Tails. “Sorry about that, he’s really overprotective of his daughter. That’s Hope by the way.” She angled over her seat to speak to the little girl, smiling warmly at her. “Hope, this is my friend Tails. Your daddy and I were hoping he could help us out with a little job.”

“Yeah,” Bark added. Though his tone softened when addressing his daughter, his eyes still glared daggers at the ex-SOLDIER. “This won’t take long, little one. Head back to your room and I’ll come read you a story.”

The girl tentatively circled around her father to face him. She looked up at his face with big, expressive eyes. “You promise?” she asked softly.

“Uh-huh,” Bark replied, nodding. His eyes still never left Tails. “Now, get goin’”

Giving the fox a wide berth, the human girl circled around and travelled up the stairs to her room. Once they heard the door close with an audible click, Bark started to speak.

“Listen up, cuz I ain’t gonna repeat myself,” he started, folding his arms and reclining back on the chair. “Cream’s filled you in on the basics, but here’s the real deal: We’re an anti-Kintobor group known as TORNADO. I’m it’s leader and Cream here is second in command. There are three others; you’ll meet ‘em later, should you take this job. Our mission is to sabotage operations of the Energen Reactors and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plants that keep Megapolis powered up at the expense of Mobius’ life. You know about those, right?”

Tails scoffed. “You kidding me? I used to work for them, so I know what they are and what they do.”

“And that’s why we want to bring you in,” Cream chimed in. She leaned forward, placed her elbows on the table and steepled her fingers together. “Your knowledge about the company’s major assets and your strength would be a huge asset to this mission. Like we discussed before, we’ve started up the first phase of the mission. The main ordeal will commence in three weeks time, which gives you plenty of opportunity to prepare and assess what’s to come.”

“So, now that you know the basics, what do you say?” Bark questioned, leaning forwards. “You interested?”

Tails made a show of considering their request, but he already made his decision when he awoke. He sauntered forward and pulled up a chair. Unsheathing his sword and leaning it against the table, he sat down and faced the two TORNADO members. “Yeah, I’m interested,” he answered with cool indifference. “So, let’s talk business…”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 3


Chapter 3: The Childhood Friend

Tails

The distinct scent of the air after a storm, mixed with the pungent odor of pollution.

The sounds of footsteps, large and small, treading on cobbled streets, mixed with the loud whistle of a train engine.

The feeling of the warm, worn soles in leather boots and the individual fibers mingling with the callused pads on the bottom of his feet.

These were just some of the tens of hundreds of sensations that were bombarding the two tailed fox’s heightened senses. He was sitting in an unfamiliar place, his sword by his side and both hands in a vice-like against the sides of his head. Scents, sounds, shapes, textures and colours, all were overwhelming the fox and he slowly began to lose his sense of self. What he remembered prior to entering this strange, new setting was lost to him; all that he could remember now was his name: “Tails.”

In the midst of his suffering, he heard a voice speak out from his right in soft, dulcet tones. “Surrender yourself,” it said. “Give yourself up and sleep and dream…”

The voice was comforting, yet saccharine. Though Tails felt the urge to do as the voice beckoned, he also found himself to be strangely skeptical and wary of it. He gritted his teeth as the environment around him continued to batter his overstimulated mind and he began pounding the back of his head on the wall he was seated against in an attempt to redirect the pain.

Soon, a second, youthful voice called to him from what seemed like his left ear. “Hey! Stay with me!,” the new voice demanded forcefully. “Fight it! Don’t let it consume you!”

The fox pushed off of the wall and went to his knees. He bent forward and brought his head to the ground and began thrashing about, hissing as a blindingly sharp pain erupted from the centre of his skull. 

Sleep… Sleep and dream…”

“Fight it! Don’t give in! You gotta stay awake!!”

As the voices battled on either side of him, Tails started hearing a high pitched, buzzing sound in his ears. He lay face down on the grimy, cobblestoned ground and shook violently. The multitude of stimuli that his brain desperately tried to process soon began tiring him out. The voice on his right and its demands for him to sleep became stronger, as did the urge to sleep. Tails’ eyes started to close as the promise of slumber became too great for him to ignore.

It was at that moment that the buzzing in his head intensified.

He no longer heard the trains, no longer smelt the pollution around, nor did he even feel the stonework beneath his knees. All he could feel now was constant pain erupting from his mind. Tails felt as though his skull was being split into two pieces.

The soothing voice from his right became overpowered by the constant ringing coupled by the second voice on his left yelling the same thing to him over and over:

FIGHT IT! FIGHT IT! WAKE UP!!!

And then, as though struck by lightning, Tails’ body seized up. He rose up from the ground onto his knees, his head was thrown back, his eyes went wide and his mouth opened in a scream he could hear in his head, though no sound came out. 

He felt himself collapse to the ground seconds later, breathing hard, laborious breaths through his dry mouth. The assault on his senses had finally ceased and when he opened his eyes, all he could see around him was white.

C’mon little buddy!” It was the second voice, the one he heard on his left. It spoke in a cheerful tone. “I’m proud of you for not going to sleep, but you still gotta get a hold of yourself! You’re not out of the woods yet!

Tails’ breathing slowed as he calmed down. He could still hear the ringing, but it was not as loud as before. 

Now, you gotta concentrate for me, OK?” The voice continued. Tails felt that he heard it somewhere before, but he couldn’t quite make out where. “Try to focus and rein in your senses, starting off with touch. Close your eyes and breathe in and out.”

Something about its tone made the fox want to trust in what it was saying. He shut his eyes and concentrated as instructed. He tried to feel the ground beneath him as a whole instead of the individual sensations. When he felt confident that he could no longer feel the textured fibers on his clothes, the worn soles of his boots and the individual strands of fur on his body, he then moved onto his hearing. He screwed his eyes tightly and constrained his enhanced auditory senses to hear his immediate surroundings only. Conversations in the far distance soon faded away and all he could hear was the steady, rhythmic breathing from his mouth.

Good, good,” the voice said, clearly pleased with the results. “Just take it slowly.

The fox then moved onto his sense of smell. He exhaled a breath through his mouth and then inhaled, forcing himself to take in the scents directly around him. A pungent odor nearby caused his nose to wrinkle. ‘The hell is that smell?’ he wondered. 

Tails got onto his hands and knees and crawled blindly until he hit a wall. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he slowly opened his eyes to see the source of the offending smell in front of him: a rusted, gray dumpster overflowing with trash. Keeping his eyes on that sight alone, he began training himself to ignore the minute details around his peripheral vision until all he could see was the bin in its entirety. Satisfied, he opened his eyes fully and slowly began to take in his surroundings.

He was sitting in what appeared to be an alleyway between two run-down buildings. ‘Definitely not in the wilderness anymore, I’m certain of that,’ Tails deduced, as he craned his neck around. To his left, at the mouth of the alleyway, he could see people mulling about their own business.

Well now,” the voice in his head commented flippantly, interrupting him. “I suppose you’ve calmed down enough. Now let’s start from the top: do you know who you are?

Tails’ head bobbed up and down as he mulled over the question. His mind, now unburdened, was blank and full of fog. His head wobbled in the same fashion for a few moments until an answer came to him. “Tails,” he replied in a whisper, his voice hoarse. 

Tails?” the entity spoke in his mind, amusedly. “Odd name, how did you get it?

The fox’s head continued moving up and down as he searched for an answer. He saw a word form through the static in his mind. “Nickname…” he replied softly. “It’s a nickname.”

I see,” the voice said. “So what’s your real name then?

Tails put the back of his head against the cool wall behind him as he thought deeply. Try as he might, he couldn’t seem to remember something so basic. He was drawing a blank. “…Forget?” he questioned, his brow furrowing in confusion. He thought he could hear a sigh from the intangible presence in his mind.

OK then, new tactic” it grumbled, clearly annoyed. “Do you at least know where you are?

Tails brought his head back to look upwards. He saw no sky above him, only a ceiling high above him made of metal. Pipes, plates and cables crisscrossed with the steel beams. Looking back to his left and through the alleyway he was in, he could see a pair of large, twenty-five foot tall bay doors in the distance. A security checkpoint, with guards either milling about or watching the citizens going about their own business, was situated in front of the doors. He could hear the sounds of a large engine from his right; a train, he surmised.  

Processing the information in his mind, the fox’s lips parted as he finally recognized where he was at last. “Megapolis,” he answered quietly.

Alright! Well done!” it said encouragingly. “Now, can you tell me how you got here?

Tails closed his eyes and rested his head again on his chest whilst racking his brain to figure out the reason why he was in the great city. With his senses under control, he found that he was able to think clearly. At once, the memories of the past began filling in. He started to remember that he left his hometown – Knothole – and came to Megapolis to become a SOLDIER… just like his hero.

Nazo.‘ Tails’ jaw tightened at the thought of that name. He clenched his fists and felt a burning sensation in the pit of his stomach as the image of the war hero came into his mind. His very presence radiated an otherworldly power unlike anything ever seen on the planet. Nazo was a hedgehog with pure silver fur and long spines on the back of his head that pointed upwards as opposed to sloping down. At over six feet tall – a height that towered over most Mobians – he was best described as a force of nature itself; an unstoppable being of near-godlike ability. He donned an unopened black overcoat overtop his muscular frame with ivory pauldrons adorning the shoulders. A pair of black leather pants, gloves and combat boots, completed the outfit. Tails could remember the cruel smile adorning the almost-silver coloured muzzle and the slitted eyes which glowed pale green. In his hand was the blade that made him legendary – a six foot long katana. Masamune, the fox recalled its fearsome name. 

Anger started to course through the fox’s body as the memories of a particular night came to him in vivid detail. He recalled that his first mission as a First Class SOLDIER was the joyous return to his hometown to investigate reports of Mutates coming down Mount Mobius. It was here that Nazo went insane and declared war on the world; his first act being the destruction of his home. He could feel the flames from that moment sear his arms and legs and his heart tightened in despair and hatred.

He remembered that he chased Nazo up to the Energen Reactor at the top of the mountain and how he faced off against him. But the memories after that moment became very hazy. Tails opened his eyes and stared down at his gloved palms. ‘I survived, didn’t I?‘ he thought, a slight smile on his face. ‘Somehow and in someway, I’ve survived destruction at the hands of a god… but why am I back in Megapolis?‘ 

He rested his head against the brick wall he was leaning against and his piercing eyes peered skyward. A loud klaxon went off without warning, causing the fox to wince from the sound. The alarm ceased and was then followed by the grinding noise of metal dragging against the flattened, packed earth. ‘Something’s opening up…’ Tails noted idly as he scanned the underside of the plate, testing the limits of his enhanced vision.

His eyes stopped at a bright red label on a large pipe that traveled transverse across the plate from left to right. Tails squinted to read the white lettering on the decal. It read: ‘Merc Pipes – a Subsidiary of Kintobor Inc.’

The fox tilted his head to the side as he reread the words. Something about them seemed familiar. As he glanced at ‘Merc’ for the fourth time, something started to form in the depths of his mind. The image of a word floating in a sea of fog.

…Mercenary…

“A mercenary?” he mumbled out loud, angling his head back down to the dumpster. His eyes widened suddenly as a revelation dawned on him.  ‘That’s right!‘ he thought, his body trembling with anticipation. ‘After I somehow survived that fight, I decided I had enough with Kintobor and Nazo. I would go back to the city and start a new life as a mercenary for hire. Big jobs, little jobs, anything for the right price!

There ya go, little buddy!” he heard the cheerful voice exclaim jubilantly. If Tails could see the entity’s face, he imagined it would be smiling. “Now that that’s been established; where do you go from here?

Tails’ look of jubilation quickly turned into a brooding frown. “Hm… Haven’t thought of that,” he muttered darkly.

Tell you what: why not take it easy for a bit?” the entity responded. Tails wasn’t sure where this voice was coming from – or if it was coming from himself. But, he realized, it was speaking the truth. He could use some rest.

The fox reclined back against the wall. For the first time since he entered the city, he felt satisfied, despite the terrible smell coming out of the large grey metal bin in front of him. Looking to the ground on his left, he spied his sword – the Buster Sword – lying close enough to reach with a hand. Lips curling slightly upwards, Tails leaned over, grasped the broad blade’s leather-bound hilt and held onto it tightly. Settling himself against the wall once more, he closed his eyes while keeping the rest of his senses on alert. 

He could still feel the entity’s mysterious presence, though it was diminished. “One last question,,” it said to the resting fox, its voice sounding far away. “What’s your name?” 

“…My name is Miles ‘Tails’ Prower,” he answered in a low, but powerful voice as he drifted off to sleep. “Former SOLDIER… First Class.”


“I have you now sugar!” 

Tails’ eyes snapped open as he heard someone cackling from his right. Pushing himself stiffly off the wall, he craned his head to see two individuals standing in the alleyway.

Standing at its mouth was a raccoon. Though the lighting from above was dim, Tails could make out his dirty grey and brown fur, his rumpled blue T-shirt and brown slacks that were a size too large for him. His pointed teeth were gleaming through a wide, lecherous grin on his muzzle and he licked his lips as though he was going to enjoy a tasty snack. The raccoon’s eyes gazed hungrily at the figure in front, who had its back turned to him. “Make this easy on yourself and don’t struggle, I promise I won’t hurt you,” he said gleefully as he inched forward slowly.

The second figure was a rabbit with cream-coloured fur. She had chocolate brown patches on the tips of her long ears and framing her soft almond shaped eyes, which were coloured in an amber-hazel shade. Her long ivory hair cascaded down to the small of her back and was tied off at the very bottom with a black elastic band. She had a petite nose, lush, full lips and an oval shaped face that was flawless. 

She wore a black, form-fitting overcoat that went down to her knees, exposing toned calves. On her hands were a pair of thick leather gloves and her feet were covered in sturdy, brown leather ankle boots. She was holding a large, heavy-looking brown paper bag filled with sundries.

As the raccoon approached, the woman set the grocery bag down beside her, with her back still facing her assailant. Tails watched as she collected herself and slowed her breathing. Her brows lowered into a scowl and her eyes hardened like steel. Tensing up her muscles, she waited. 

The lustful racoon growled and lunged forward, his arms outstretched and hoping to catch the rabbit off guard.

Instead, the rabbit quickly lifted her left knee and pivoted on her right foot, twisting her body at the same time. Using the momentum from the twist, she extended her left leg outward and executed a devastating reverse side kick. Her foot collided severely with the raccoon’s muzzle, breaking several of his teeth and his nose and sending him flying back to the alleyway entrance. The rabbit then faced her would-be assaulter, her hands up and feet placed in a traditional fighter’s stance.

The raccoon scrambled up to his feet and looked fearfully at the vicious being in front of him before fleeing from the alleyway, his pain-induced wimperings echoed through the narrow passage.  

Seeing that the pervert didn’t bring along any friends, the fighter relaxed and her arms dropped back to her sides. Looking down, she saw that the buttons of her tight jacket popped off, most likely during the spin. “Oh gosh, Jessie’s going to kill me,” she mumbled in a sweet tone that Tails recognised, sighing in frustration. “This was her favourite jacket-” 

Suddenly, she whirled around, her fists raised and her eyes scouring the area where Tails rested. It was as though she felt like she was being watched. “Who’s there?!” She called out, eyes narrowed and flicking to and fro. “Show yourself!”

Tails locked eyes with the rabbit as she edged forwards cautiously until she stood just in front of him. He saw that underneath the jacket, she wore a white, form-fitting tank-top that was cropped at her midriff. Going from her waist to just above her knees was a protective leather skirt, held up by black suspenders. What caught his eye was the long, thin white scar on her exposed, toned abdomen that crossed right to left diagonally from the bottom of her rib cage to just above her hip.

The sight triggered his memories and soon, the holes within them were filled with the image of the gorgeous rabbit standing in front of him. A rabbit that he finally recognized from his childhood…

“Cream Rabbelocke, we meet again,” he said to her softly.

The rabbit’s jaw dropped. Hastily fishing her hand down a pocket on the jacket she wore, she produced a small penlight. Clicking it on and shining it down on the figure in front, her lips broke out into an enormous grin. “Oh my Goddess, Miles Prower, is that really you!?” she cried out, half-shocked, half-jubilated. 

“Yep, it’s me alright,” he replied, smiling, his eyes squinting from the bright light.

Kneeling down, she placed the penlight on the ground and looked him over, concerned eyes roving over his body. “How long has it been since we last saw each other?” she asked in wonder.

Tails suddenly felt a sharp, stabbing pain on the side of his head. He placed a hand on his head, massaging it. “Well, it’s been…  five years since we last met,” he said.

The fighter’s grin disappeared and her lips parted slightly. “Uh, y-yeah… five year’s right? Time flies,” she replied, chuckling half-heartedly. “W-what have you been up to since then?”

“Well, a lot has happened,” Tails answered, not noticing the hesitation in her voice. “After Nazo went crazy during the mission at Knothole, I decided that I was done with Kintobor. So I left, traveled the world and now I’m back in the city as a mercenary for hire. Any job for the right price.”

Cream said nothing for a few moments, as she processed what he had told her. “Miles,” she spoke all of a sudden. “Do you have a place to stay?”

The fox jumped slightly, caught off guard. “No, I just got into the city. Why d’ya ask?” he questioned. 

“Well, I got my own place down here in Sector 7,” she said, a hand unconsciously stroking one of her long ears. “It’s a bar, I own it. If you want to, you can stay there for as long as you like.”

Tails grinned widely at this stroke of luck. “Really?” he said in awe. “You’d do that?”

“Yeah, of course,” she answered back, a tight smile crossing her lips. She suddenly looked away from him and Tails got the feeling that she was wrestling with something. “I-I can even get you a job too, y’know? There’s this group living in my bar right now that could use a mercenary like you.” 

“…Alright, let’s hear it,” the fox replied. Cream checked to see that no one else was around before drawing in close and speaking in hushed tones. She  backed away a few moments later, her fingers fidgeting and her eyes focusing on anything except the warrior resting on the wall. 

“Hmm, TORNADO huh?” Tails questioned, keeping his voice low after Cream finished explaining. He slowly began rising from his spot using the wall and his sword for support. “An anti-Kintobor organization… Sounds right up my alley. Sign me up for it.” He wrapped his tails around his waist tightly before placing the massive blade on the large magnetic disc on his back.

Cream cast a suspicious look at the weapon as though it had offended her in some way. Shaking her head, she collected the penlight, clicked it off and stood up. “Well then, come on Miles, follow me,” she said, going back to the bag she placed on the ground.

“Tails.”

“W-What?” the rabbit exclaimed, doing an about-face back to the swordsman.

“I go by ‘Tails’ these days,” the fox repeated. “Call me that from now on.”

Cream blinked. “Oh, OK then,” she replied, turning back and picking up the brown bag. She stood still for a few moments, her head bowed forward as though she was suddenly lost in thought.

Tails took a few tentative steps towards her. He was still not in the best of shape, but at least he could stand and walk. A few more days of rest and a decent meal or two would help. He could feel the knots in his empty stomach demand some form of sustenance. He stopped next to his friend. “Hey Cream, are we goin’ or not?” he asked.

Cream jumped, snapping back to reality. “Y-yeah!” she spluttered, a blush creeping up on her cheeks. “S-sorry, I just… I can’t believe you’re here…” Adjusting the bag in her arm, she quickly walked back to the main street. “Let’s go M-…  T-Tails,” she called back to him.

The two-tailed fox smirked softly to himself. ‘She’s changed,‘ he reflected, watching the brawling beauty in front of him. ‘But so have I, for that matter. We’re not who we used to be as kids after all…” Putting that thought aside, he followed her out of the alleyway, his movements sluggish, but steadily improving.

“Finally, things are looking up,” he whispered to himself, his lips curling upward as he followed his friend deeper into the slums.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The Price of Freedom



The SOLDIER

A storm was coming.

It was an event that happened rarely in the wastelands surrounding the massive industrial city of Megapolis. Dark clouds intermingled with the ashen, grey-yellow smog emitted from the metropolis’ eight towering reactors and the haze quickly blocked out the sun. 

Whatever organisms that eked a living on the barren lands started to burrow underground or find cover around the large rock formations in anticipation of the tempest to come. Even the larger Mutates – those creatures horribly mutated by the radioactive runoff discharged from the city’s reactors – were forced to seek shelter once the first few claps of thunder erupted, shaking the earth itself. In spite of their primitive intelligence, their basic, bestial instincts sensed that something was amiss.

This storm was unlike any before it.

The threatening air did not stop the blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog from slowly trudging towards Megapolis. He had long, sharp quills coming out of the back of his round head which swept down his back. He wore a dark blue vest and long, baggy wool trousers, held up with thick, brown suspenders. A steel plate covered in worn, black leather was fastened to the top of the trousers to protect the abdominal area. On his left shoulder was a black, battle-scarred leather pauldron and his left hand was covered with a well-worn white glove, soiled and cracked from prolonged use. His right shoulder was covered with a steel, studded pauldron and his upper arm was covered in tarnished, plate armor. An ornate steel gauntlet with a gold band and a red gemstone adorned his forearm.  He wore deep red sneakers with a broad, white stripe crossing the top. Each stripe ended with a gold buckle on the outer side of each shoe. 

The suspenders were bound together on his back by a flat, circular metal disk. Attached to the disk was an enormous, gun-metal grey broadsword, five feet long, with a single, ten inch wide edge. The riveted hand guard was adorned by swirling, golden designs. The base of the blade by the hand guard had straight, angular etchings on either side. The sword had two holes bored into it, near the hand guard. Inserted into each hole were two, brilliant green gems, with a linkage connecting them together.

His clothes were riddled with holes and tears while the rest of his exposed body was covered in a litany of wounds and bruises that were slowly healing. The bottoms and the sides of his shoes were caked in a thin layer of dirt and blood. Wearisome as he was, he still pressed forward.

A sudden, cool breeze flowed through his quills and he stopped in place, his eyes closed as he relished the feeling of the wind behind him. He then felt a frenzied, restless urge coursing through his body all the way down to his legs. It was as if the wind gently pushing on his back was telling him to stop holding back and to let go of all inhibitions.

It was telling him to run.

Before he could act on this impulse though, he heard the crackling sound of thunder above him, followed by a weak moan coming from his left. His unnaturally glowing jade-green eyes turned away from the city looming in the distance and towards his companion, who he had wrapped his left arm around.

Supported by the hedgehog was a 21 year old orange-furred fox. He stumbled about on weakened legs and was unable to support his own weight. He was clothed in an exact replica of his protector’s uniform, with slight differences. The zipper on the vest was down slightly, revealing tufts of white fur underneath. He wore a steel studded pauldron on his left shoulder, which was identical to the one the hedgehog wore. On his wrists were brown and grey gloves and on his left arm, from wrist to three quarters up his forearm, was a studded armlet to use as a guard. He wore brown, standard-issue combat leather boots. On the base of his left ear was a piercing; a single, silver hoop. 

His body was thin and his pointed, white muzzle was gaunt and sunken. His ears lay flat and his nose was dry as he staggered forward, his friend coaxing him onward. His irises were coloured an unnatural, electric blue, similarly to the green that the blue warrior sported. Dragging on the lifeless earth behind him as he ambled were large, bushy twin tails. Beyond his general weakness, the fox was otherwise uninjured. He had no means to defend himself and was relying solely on the good graces of his friend to keep him safe.

Drool was slowly dripping out of his hung mouth and his eyes were staring unfocused on hard dirt beneath him. He let out another quiet moan as a second crack of thunder erupted from the sky. 

The hedgehog bent his head down to look at his friend, concern flooded his features. “You OK little buddy?” he asked softly, wiping the drool off of his lips. 

The fox only mewled in response, his grip on the hedgehog’s arm tightening.

The hedgehog didn’t know what to make of the answer. He shrugged and said cheerfully to the fox, attempting to change the subject, “Look over there! We’re almost at Megapolis! In another few miles, you and I will be safe and sound!” He chuckled to himself lightly. “Heh, heh… Miles. Get it? Cuz your name?”

The fox moaned again.

The warrior shook his head. “OK, I get it, it was a lame joke,” he chuckled. When he heard no further response from his companion, he let out a sigh. “Man, this trip did a number on you…” he mumbled under his breath.

As he trudged on with the fox in tow, the hedgehog barely repressed the frustrated and restless feeling he had inside him. If there was one thing he hated most of all, it was moving slowly. He desperately wanted to feel the wind rushing by him as he ran, but he knew that his usual, blistering pace would be too much for the two-tailed fox to handle. The warrior cursed at his annoyance. ‘I can’t be selfish,’ he thought as he half walked, half dragged his barely conscious companion through the darkening wastelands. ‘He needs my help to get better… After all, I dragged him into this mess in the first place.‘ 

His train of thought was broken as the rain started to fall in small, light droplets onto the duo. The hedgehog stopped to look upwards and frowned at the sky. “Well, this won’t do,” he muttered, looking around for shelter. 

He spotted a cave at the bottom of one of the ridges overlooking the city, straight and to the left of him slightly. “OK Tails,” he addressed the fox by name. “We’re gonna go to that cave over there and camp out til the rain stops,” he said, pointing towards the direction of the cave.

Tails said nothing at first, but then nodded imperceptibly in agreement. 

The hedgehog smiled as he led him to the cavern. “Don’t worry little buddy,” he said as he guided him. “You’ll be alright. We’ll get to the city, find a doctor to help you get better.” He paused, grunting as he started going up an incline on the way. “And then after that, we’ll be on our way to fame and fortune! All you have to do,” he continued as the rain started to pour harder, “is just hang on for a couple more hours, OK?” 

His pace started to slow as the ground beneath him became muddy and slippery, making it harder for the invalid Tails to gain any traction. The spiny swordsman gritted his teeth and summoned up more strength to continue onward, his sneakers starting to make squelching sounds in the mud with every step. 

Tails started to slip further, causing the hedgehog to stumble himself and nearly lose his footing in the process. Against the now pounding rain, he looked ahead to see that the cave was only a few hundred feet away from where he was. The rain started coming down in sheets now. Lightning arced and flashed across the sky wickedly. Thunder boomed loudly in the hedgehog hyper-sensitive ears, causing him to flinch at the sound. 

After a herculean effort, the pair made it to the cave. As they entered its mouth for shelter, the swordsman suddenly heard something besides the falling rain and thunder. Kneeling down and honing his senses, he soon picked out the hum of hover engines and the heavy boots of Humans and Mobians tromping on the wet ground over the din of the storm. He picked out the hoarse voices of officers directing soldiers and the squelching sound of tank treads rolling and bipedal mechanoids stepping on the ever-saturating soil. His ears shot up like arrows and his eyes widened, realizing what this all meant.

“Damnit, they found us…” he whispered to himself. He hoisted up Tails, using as much of his remaining strength he could muster to drag the catatonic Mobian deeper into the cave. He concealed him behind a boulder, propped him up into a seating position and then kneeled down to his level to speak.

“Listen Tails,” he said to the fox, a sad smile crossing his muzzle. “Kintobor’s army has found us and it doesn’t look like they’ll be taking us alive either.” An exasperated scoff escaped his lips and his eyebrows lowered into a scowl. “If I were a bettin’ hog, I’d say that that crazy bat-crab bastard at Kintobor had something to do with this.” He pinched the bridge between his eyes and then drew out the enormous sword from his back. Placed it on the ground beside him to inspect it, he continued talking. “I want you to stay here and be safe. I’ll draw them away from here and hopefully catch ‘em by surprise at the same time.” He paused and then turned his head to the catatonic fox, whose eyes were misted over with confusion. 

The warrior placed a hand on the fox’s shoulder and the corners of his mouth turned upwards once more. “Hey, I made a promise to you, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower,” he said in a warm, caring tone. “I promised that I would get you to the city and help find a way to fix whatever the hell they did to you. Before we get there though, I gotta go take care of these losers first.” His smile grew into a grin as he stood up, placed the blade on the disk on its back and turned towards the mouth of the cave. “Hope they’re fast enough to catch me!” the warrior said cheerfully as he stretched and warmed up.  “Honestly, I could use a bit of a challenge right now.”

The bravado he portrayed belied the uncertain feeling he had in the pit of his stomach. As the storm began to lighten slightly, the sounds of the machines and of boots trampling the ground became more pronounced. The hedgehog ceased his stretching. ‘Oh boy…’ the swordsman mused, his ears flattening as he listened on. ‘That’s a LOT of soldiers and mechs out there… and they’re all out for little ole’ us.’ He twisted his body back to the fox slumped on the ground, his head bowed to his chest. A sickening thought then crossed his mind; he could leave him there and run off. What made him feel worse was that he was considering it.

The warrior shook his head violently and pushed that thought away as far as he could. He would not abandon his friend, not after all he had done to keep him safe. ‘No more running,‘ he thought. ‘It’s time to end this, once and for all.” 

Waving farewell to the twin-tailed fox, the hedgehog turned back and strode out of the cave to face the crowds of soldiers, vehicles and mechs that awaited him. Outside, he bent down into a runner’ starting position, tensed up and then shot off like a bullet in a flash of steel and blue fur through the rocky outcroppings. 

He zipped up to the top of a tall spire that overlooked the area. Keeping low to the ground so that he wouldn’t be detected, he scanned the horizon. From a few hundred feet away, he saw soldiers by the droves marching towards the ridge where Tails hid, each sporting coloured uniforms to denote their rank and status. Blue uniforms for grunts, green for platoon leaders, grey for sergeants and red for the higher ups. They were flanked by tanks and ‘Sweepers’: bipedal machines with large spikes for feet, high-caliber machine guns for arms and small anti-personnel missiles hidden inside the elongated, rectangular body that was parallel to the ground. Attached to the back of the machines was a large motor that exuded greyish-yellow exhaust fumes. The ‘face’ of these machines consisted of a large intake grill with vertical slats of metal that opened and closed to make a frightening visage. The hedgehog squinted his eyes and saw, with remarkably enhanced vision, a model number etched into the burnished metal on the robot’s side: E-25. 

He angled his head to the dark grey skies and saw several egg-shaped transporters above the soldiers, each held aloft with hover engines on either side of its body. On the undersides of each transporter were a pair of large, six barrel rotary machine guns along with a searchlight that roved the ground below, the drizzling rainfall disclosing their location in the air. “Huh, they must be desperate if they’re bringing SkyTrans carriers into the fray,” the hedgehog muttered to himself, frowning at the sight.

He scanned the area between them and located a spot of flat, open earth on another ridge that overlooked the city. It was close to where he hid Tails but far enough that the army wouldn’t circle back and look for him. ‘Looks large enough that I can go to town on anyone who approaches, but small enough that I wouldn’t be completely overwhelmed,” he thought to himself as he scrutinized the plain. ‘Looking at this closely, if I play my cards right, I might actually stand a chance here?’ 

Deep in the pit of his stomach however, he didn’t believe that for a second.

The hedgehog stood up, drew his sword and held it with the gauntlet-covered arm. He took several deep breaths to ready himself. Then he flung himself off of the spire, slid down to the surface and then, with a sonic boom, dashed off to the top of the ridge. The shockwave ensured that he left a trail distinct enough for the army to notice. Without fail, the searchlights on the SkyTranses above picked the speeding hedgehog out and the soldiers and mechs began to give chase. 

The warrior soon reached the ridge and halted right at its edge, followed closely behind by the army. Soldiers lined up, cocked their machine guns and took aim. The Sweepers, tanks and SkyTranses followed suit and pointed weaponry of all sorts at the lone figure.

“You are surrounded!,” the hedgehog heard a grunt shout out. “Turn yourself and the other subject over, or face destruction at the hands of the Kintobor Army!”

“Boy, oh boy,” the warrior said to himself as he smiled and shook his head. “The price of freedom is steep.” He closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the sword, just as the storm above began to gain strength once more. Lightning shot through the sky, illuminating everything for brief moments while thunder erupted, making it sound like the Goddess above was demanding that the bloodbath be started. The sky opened up and the heavy raindrops began splattering loudly on the helmets and metal bodies that surrounded him. 

Live with no regrets. Believe in yourself. And chase after the impossible,’ the hedgehog mentally recited to himself, a habit he picked up over the years. He then scoffed at the thought of the imposing army in front of him. ‘Yeah, this is definitely an impossible situation… But things like this never stopped me before. And ‘sides… I got something to fight for…

And then the warrior opened his eyes, which shined with an unholy light. A golden aura started to radiate from his body and tiny silver bolts of electricity crackled around him, mimicking the tempest above. His quills rose upward and he felt as though his entire body was supercharged for battle.

“Hey, assholes!” he yelled out for all to hear over the sounds of the strengthening tempest above. “I made a promise to somebody very important to me! And you guys should know that a SOLDIER’s word is his bond!”

And, as the last word was spoken, the self-declared SOLDIER threw his sword into the air and curled up into a ball, as any hedgehog would do in the face of danger.

The grunts were bewildered at the move, dropping their guard involuntarily. The general in one of the SkyTrans vehicles above who ordered his surrender actually smiled, thinking that he decided to give up. His face fell when he saw the curled up rodent rapidly spinning in place on the ground. The hedgehog became nothing more than a gold-tinted blue, blurring ball with tiny, silver bolts of lightning arcing around him. The sword thrown into the air lazily reached the apex of its arc and started falling, gravity bringing the mass of metal hurtling to the land.

Just when the sword was about twenty feet from the ground, the hedgehog launched himself, the momentum of his spin dash throwing him forward. He pushed off of the surface and launched himself into the air like a rubber ball hitting the floor, right into the path of his own weapon. He then untucked his right arm and grabbed the sword at the hilt, while maintaining his supersonic rotation. This had the effect of turning the warrior into a spinning buzz saw of death as he flew forwards into the soldiers that were gawking at the sight. 

He struck at the same moment a lightning bolt cracked across the sky. The spinning attack mowed down an entire unit and sent body parts flying in all directions. He uncurled and jumped straight into the next horde, swinging the massive sword, cutting soldiers and mechs indiscriminately and pushing his battle-scarred body to its limits. The aura surrounding him ceased to disappear and instead glowed more intensely as he launched more spinning attacks, one after another. 

Flesh, bone, sinew and machinery flew as the hedgehog fought on. The relentless assault from the opposing army dwindled his strength, slowly, but surely. Pushing himself beyond his limits was a gamble, but he had already admitted to himself back at the spire that he was in a losing fight. Amidst the orders being shouted out loudly, the hedgehog’s focus was on the battle at hand, with his prime objective being to take out anything and everything within his reach and to keep fighting on and on until either they gave up and left or he fell. 

Soon enough, he was barely able to hold the sword upright, but he willed himself to keep fighting. He hacked as bullets entered his body. He slashed even as explosions tore holes in his legs. He couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop.

He was going to protect that two-tailed fox who was like a little brother to him.

Even if it killed him.


Tails

Tails awoke alone in an unknown place with a severe throbbing sensation stabbing his head. 

Groaning and rubbing his eyes in the darkness, he groped around his surroundings. His hands eventually patted against the rock he was leaning against and he deduced he was in some sort of rocky cospe. He could not for the life of him remember how he ended up in that small nook with his back against a boulder in Goddess-knew where. However, he did recall a voice speaking to him, telling him to stay here while they dealt with something.

His headache suddenly intensified at the thought. Flashes of memories, from happy to grisly and everything in between, swept through his mind at a speed too fast to process. He turned his head and rested his cheek against the cool rock, his teeth gritted in pain as he was being bombarded with various mental images. He felt like a computer being booted up after a long time being shut down.

The pain subsided after a few minutes, to his great relief. His face still against the rock, Tails opened an eye and caught a glimpse of light coming from the mouth of the cave. Startled, he tried standing up, only to stumble and fall flat on his face. Cursing softly underneath his breath, he forced himself onto his hands and knees and crawled out of the cavern and into the open badlands.

The first thing he noticed was the light rain that was drizzling down to the wet and muddied surface. Above him, faint rays of sunlight started to peer through storm clouds that began to clear up. Blinking from the contrast between darkness and light, he placed a hand on the muddied ground and leaned against the cave opening as he waited for his eyesight to adjust. 

And then suddenly, it sharpened. Everything around him started to come into greater detail. He could pick out the minute cracks in a rock formation several thousand feet away. He could see the tiny organisms crawling around a moss-filled boulder across from him through his peripheral vision. Colours and shapes, both known and unknown, were vividly pouring into his eyes and his mind nearly overloaded while attempting to process all the information.

When he found himself able to manage his vision, the two-tailed fox was then bombarded with the smell of the clearing rain and the putrid breaths of Mutates lurking in their hideaways, followed by the scent of gunpowder and the strong, coppery odor of blood. This particular stench was greatest at the top of a nearby ridge. Tails turned his head towards it and perked his ears up in reflex.

As soon as he did this, he was able to hear creatures emerge from their burrows yards away from his current position. He could hear various animalistic and ambient sounds with extreme clarity. He then picked up the sound of feather-light breathing and a barely heard moan. Focusing on that particular noise only, the fox gritted his teeth and went to his hands and knees, crawling up the ridge.

As he reached the summit, Tails felt his muscles grow stronger, little by little as he moved closer to the scent. He now stood upright and stumbled slowly to the top where the smell of blood was overwhelming.

The outcropping of rock was stained red and dotted with blobs of shimmering gold and silver liquid. Tanks, hover transports and pieces of bipedal mechaniloids were scattered along the ridge with black-charred marks riddled all over their lifeless husks. Tails saw the dessicated bodies of soldiers – both Mobian and Human –  lying on the wet earth with bronze bullet casings draped over their whole or dismembered bodies like garlands of flowers. The remains of a hover transport – a SkyTrans, Tails recalled – was teetering on the edge of the cliff. 

Tails shivered at the sight of the macabre scene. His eyes roved around before landing on the only body barely left breathing; a mangled blue hedgehog whose life force was streaming endlessly through a large hole blown into his chest, a hand clutched in a bone-breaking grip around the hilt of an impossibly massive sword. The fox recognized the uniform he wore as a standard-issue SOLDIER outfit. His shimmering jade-green eyes were starting to fade. 

The fox’s eyes widened at the sight and raced over to the body. In his haste, he stumbled over a dead body and slid on the bloody mud until he came to a stop. He crawled the rest of the way to the hedgehog’s side, his left cheek and face slathered with reddish-brown mud and gasping for breath. He searched the SOLDIER’s body in an effort to save him, but he realized it was a fool’s errand. He was too far gone.

The hedgehog chuckled upon seeing the fox before coughing up blood. He took several shallow breaths before he spoke. “For the… both of us…”

The fox blinked, processing what he heard. “The both of us?” he murmured, puzzled.

“Yep… that’s right,” the hedgehog replied, wheezing. Struggling, he raised his arm and placed it behind Tails’ head. “You gotta… You gotta…” 

“Live.”

The warrior embraced the fox at the last word, his hand dropping back into the mud a moment later. Tails rose up, the hedgehog’s blood mixed in with the mud caked on his face, and nodded in acknowledgement. 

Satisfied, the SOLDIER then raised the hilt of the sword up, his right arm shaking with the effort. “Take… the Buster Sword…” he said, offering it to the two-tailed fox. “Keep going… Keep flying high… For my sake and… for yours as well…”

“Believe in yourself… Cuz I’ve always believed in you… Little buddy…”

Tails took the sword at the end of the hilt with both hands. It was still warm. To his surprise, he found the weapon to be lighter than he thought it would be, despite its size. He looked down at it and then to its owner. Suddenly, like water bursting through a dam, the memories of the SOLDIER washed over him in a flash. He saw the battles, the laughter, the tears and the hardships that bonded them together. The fox felt a vice-like grip squeezing his heart as he finally remembered who the blue hedgehog was.

“I will… Sonic,” he said thickly through gritted teeth, addressing the SOLDIER by name for the first time as he gripped the hilt of the Buster Sword tightly in his hands.

Satisfied, Sonic then took his right hand off the hilt and it too, joined his left on the wet ground. His breathing started to slow as his mouth opened a last time, saying one final thing that Tails almost didn’t hear:

“Take… care…”

He smiled one last time, his eyes glazing over as he passed away.

Tails watched on as the SOLDIER died. On seeing the glassy look in the hedgehog’s eyes, he felt the flames of rage and anger roil around in the pit of his stomach. He was angered that this SOLDIER died for him. And enraged at the faceless enemy who was responsible for the act.  

Kintobor Inc. 

He suddenly tilted his head back and screamed, loud and long as the rain continued to fall on his face. His screams tapered off as his throat became raw and his breathing ragged. Choking back sobs, Tails looked again at the dead hedgehog and though his face was frozen in a smile, he could still hear his voice in his mind…

“Tails, don’t stand still and waste time waiting for something to happen. If you want something really badly, you gotta move forward and chase after it, even if it’s impossible. It’s the only way to live without regret.”

The fox let the words wash over him as he looked towards the city on the horizon. He made the decision to move forward and finish the journey for the both of them. He got up, using the Buster Sword as a support and looked back to Sonic for what would be the final time.

“Thank you,” he softly said to his still body. “I won’t forget. Adios, Sonic the Hedgehog.”

He walked away from his deceased friend, never looking back as he did so.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 2


Chapter 2: A Premonition

Flower Girl

Shadowed above by the massive Plate which contained the upper city, the slums of Megapolis were a dilapidated and often ignored portion of the city which was populated primarily by Mobians. While each sector of the lower city had its pockets of residential areas, only a few were lucky enough to hold communal amenities for the populace to use. 

Over time, the numbers for army personnel charged with community protection in the lower city started to dwindle. This came with increased rumors that circled through the residential hubs about the fearsome Robians – ordinary Mobians transformed into soulless mechanical monstrosities – and the uptick of mutants being sighted around the common paths. The gossip caused the residents to keep to their own hubs and reduce travel to other sectors in fear of being attacked.

A church located beneath the unfinished portions of the Sector 5 plate was once a particularly beautiful building. After being abandoned by the citizens, years of neglect and disrepair caused the building to become a shadow of its former self. The exterior was stained by the dirty air exhausted from the underside of the Plate. The roof was full of holes of various sizes that let rays of sunlight shine through. Inside, the floorboards and pews running from the large double doors to the altar were in a state of constant decay. Several stained glass windows were shattered and those that were untouched were caked with grime. A structural column holding up the vaulted ceiling in the rear had fallen, leaving the rear portion of the building susceptible to collapse. The storage areas up in the rafters above were covered with a thick layer of dust. All in all, it was not a suitable place to live in.

As run down as it was, the spacious interior held something that many in the city would have called a miracle.

Carpeting the centre of the church floor was a field full of beautiful yellow and white flowers . They grew out of a large, round patch that was unearthed by removing the old floorboards. The field started from the altar and took up two thirds of the floor towards the doors. Plants were a rare sight in Megapolis; the lack of sunlight and the nutrient-poor earth were hardly sufficient to grow anything. But the flowers at this church were hardy and their caretaker even more so.

A female Mobian walked around the patch, her dirt-coated, pale hands held a tattered, soft-cover book which she thumbed through. She wore a white, form-fitting dress that went to the bottom of her shins, the edge of the dress tapering into points like flower petals, and a padded, unbuttoned short-sleeved forest green coat that reached above her midriff. Around her waist was a worn, brown belt, which sat snugly above her hips. Inserted in a holster on the back of the belt was a retractable, metal guard staff. Her dirt-caked leather boots made soft, muffled sounds against the old floorboards as she circled the patch. 

The back of her vibrant, lime green hair was tied up into a braid and held up by a pink ribbon, while the bangs on the front framed her oval shaped face and complimented her bright, turquoise eyes. On either side of the top of her head were two, fully bloomed red rosebuds. Circling around the patch, she placed a finger on a sentence of a random page and read the passage from the book aloud to the plants growing in the field. 

“-And then he showed his true colours.

Once the headquarters and the majority of the city were completed, President Kintobor started pushing towards military rule by establishing a massive army supported by RINGTEK-powered war machines. He used his army to crack down on dissenters and rebels who questioned his authority. He ran policies favouring Humans while persecuting Mobians, which only served to increase the existing generation-spanning tensions between the two. He discreetly raised the costs of living for those citizens forced to live in the lower city below. Those who could not pay those crushing fees were captured and subjected to experimental testing in the R&D labs high up in the headquarters, where no one ever returned from. These experiments, coupled with further research into Energen and its applications into living beings, yielded the SOLDIER program: soldiers infused with pure Energen to greatly enhance their bodies for military purposes.

Using his newly created military forces, the president then set his sights towards the rest of the world. His first act was to invade Mobotropolis – the capital city of the Western Continent – and annihilate its Royal Family.  In the two decades since the coup, Kintobor expanded until nearly every region on the planet had an Energen Reactor, save for one; the secluded kingdom of Chun-Nan in the far East. The kingdom was wary of both the company’s technology and the growing influence the conglomerate had over Mobius. They resisted until a bloody war broke out eight years ago. Despite their mastery of magic and their knowledge of the difficult terrain, Kintobor’s vast army, their war machines and their unstoppable SOLDIER forces, conquered the tiny nation in little over a year’s time. That act firmly established Megapolis and Kintobor Inc. as the sole, dominant world power.

After the war, a brand new technology made its debut: Roboticization. This process involved the partial or total conversion of organic matter into a hardier, robotic form. Roboticization could even return missing limbs, which came particularly in handy for the veterans returning from the front. For a time, the innovation was deemed a blessing for the citizens. They believed that no matter what happened to them, be it loss of limb or sickness, Kintobor Inc. would swoop in and help with their wondrous scientific advancements.

That all changed only four years ago, prior to this book’s publication. Rumors abound in the slums, but what I could dig up was that the president discovered that the Roboticization process could transform individuals into mindless, robotic slaves. It is my belief that he began rounding up Mobians in the slums, with the commitment to use the process to remove their ills caused by the rampant pollution in the lower city. He then transformed them which had the effect of completely stripping them of their free will. These Robians were set them loose in the Slums to eliminate the vicious mutants and terrorize the denizens below, and in the Energen Reactors to act as guards against any interlopers either foolishly attempting to dig up company secrets or attempting to sabotage or destroy the reactors themselves as acts of terrorism…”

The woman stopped and snapped the book shut, a wry and bitter smile crossing her lips. She turned towards her flowers and knelt down to the patch. “That was pretty fascinating stuff, wasn’t it?” she asked the plants before her. “This guy, Kirby… he really knew his stuff, didn’t he?” Turning the book around to view the cover, she wrinkled the bump that was her nose. “The Untold Story of Kintobor Incorporated… Well, no wonder the book was banned up above. It’s lucky that I stumbled on one copy that missed being destroyed, right?”

The flowers didn’t answer back to her, but it was something that she was used to. Placing the book down to her right, she began working her hands into the damp soil. She moved around the patch, cutting dead leaves off the younger plants, transplanting seedlings to open areas where they could grow and snipping some of the fully matured bulbs to place in a woven, straw basket. After a good half-hour’s worth of work, she leaned back to stretch and mopped her brow. Tilting her head back, she looked to the holes in the roof above and beyond to the Sector 5 plate. Faint sunlight was streaming through the gaping sections of the unfinished portions. Her lips quirked upwards as she remembered the storm that had passed earlier in the morning. The deluge of rainwater provided much needed nourishment for her garden, which made her feel content.

Then suddenly, she heard the sounds of heavy footsteps just outside of the building.  A deep, cold chill ran down her back and she stifled a gasp. ‘Don’t tell me it’s them again?!’ she thought frantically, hunching over into a bent position. She swiveled around and then crawled on her hands and knees as quietly as she could to a pew close to her and huddled underneath it. She held her breath and waited for the footsteps to pass.

She then felt a sharp sting on her index finger as something needle-like jabbed into it. Biting her lip so that she wouldn’t scream out, she saw that a root from her flower patch extended out and inserted itself into her finger. Her eyes widened into saucers and she tried to wrench her hand away but her body suddenly went rigid, as though she had been electrocuted. 

She then saw visions, all of them moving in a rapid fire manner and many of which she couldn’t understand. The visions then slowed down enough that she could pick out a figure in them; a blue-furred individual wearing a uniform with a large sword on his back. It turned its head so that she could get a glimpse of the face from the side. She saw a single, glowing jade-green eye and a smirk that sent her heart aflutter until the figure disintegrated into wisps of silver and gold. Another figure appeared in his place – an orange-furred individual wearing an identical uniform with its back turned to her. Swishing about were two bushy tails…

At that point, the flower girl regained control of herself. She pulled her hand away and the root slipped out of her finger, leaving a shallow well of blood streaming from the digit. She was breathless and cold sweat matted her bangs to her forehead. Pinching her thumb to her forefinger to stem the blood, she first listened to see if the coast was clear, before crawling out from under the pew and moving towards a nearby floorboard. She wormed two fingers into a hole in the centre and pulled, causing the board to come loose. Placing it beside her, she pulled out the first aid kit lying underneath and set about bandaging her finger whilst mulling over the visions she saw.

The one thing she was able to discern clearly was the blue furred individual who then disappeared in a flood of silver and gold wisps of light. Realization dawned on her and she brought a hand to her lips in shock. ‘No way, It’s not possible…‘ she thought, ardently praying that whatever she dreaded wasn’t true, that the vision she saw was not what she thought it was. ‘He can’t have… died? After all of these years of him going missing, he’s now dead?’ She shook her head to banish the thought out of her mind. Of course not! He couldn’t have died?! The voices are just… lying to me again, that’s all!

Deep down, she knew otherwise. It was now the second time that she saw this sort of vision. The flower girl forced down the memories of the first time as a deep, cloying sadness began creeping into her heart. ‘…If he truly is dead – which he isn’t, I’m sure of it – it must have occurred… during the storm,‘ she reasoned as she finished tying the gauze to her finger.

Suddenly, her vision blurred as tears began forming in her eyes. She screwed them shut and her shoulders trembled as she succumbed to her sorrow and wept. She tried hard to keep herself from sobbing out loud and instead balled her hands into fists with her dirt-coated fingernails digging into her palms. Around her, the flowers seemed to resonate with her emotions; the petals and leaves drooped downwards as though they mourned alongside her. 

It was some time until she finally calmed down. Breathing heavily, she eased herself into a sitting position, brushing stray strands of hair away from her face and wiping the tears from her puffy eyes. As she slowed her breath, her mind then turned to the other part of the vision: the orange figure with two tails. ‘Now, what could that mean?’ she wondered, her brows lowering into a scowl. ‘There’s no way that someone with two tails exists on Mobius… So what’s the deal here? What’s this vision trying to tell me now?

The flower girl let out an exasperated sigh. “What’s the point in showing me these things?” she growled through clenched teeth. “Can’t they just… leave me alone?”

She felt the root that had penetrated her finger wrap around it again, this time in a gentle, comforting manner. The flower girl watched the tendril curl around the digit, a bittersweet smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. It was though her plants were telling her that these visions had to happen and that she could not run away from them any more. 

She scoffed at the thought. “Well, so much for that,” she muttered to herself, her brows furrowing deeply at what she considered. “I won’t stop running, even if the voices and the visions want me to do otherwise… It’s not like they’ve ever shown me anything good anyway…”

The Mobian ripped the root off of her finger, stood up in a huff and brushed off the dirt from the knees of her dress. She felt something softly bump into her chest as she straightened up. She looked down to see her pendant; a simple, hexagonal locket coloured amber-gold with a window to the contents within on the front. Inside was a silver-white jewel. She collected the pendant into her palm, which was as small as her own hand and stared at the gemstone inside. The sunlight from above shone down on it and gave it a brilliant, shimmering glow.

“…I know it’s a little… ostentatious – funny that I know that word, huh? A friend of mine taught it to me. But anyway…  Look,  I know it’s important to you, so I figured… it needed a safe space, y’know? So I thought: What better place to keep it safe than around your neck and tucked into your dress?”

The flower girl made a noise of amusement as she remembered the moment she received the pendant, her lips curling upwards despite her sadness. She clutched it gently with both hands and put it against her heart. Closing her eyes and bowing her head, she said a prayer in her mind to the Goddess and then tucked the locket back into her dress. She then set about to gather up her things. She replaced the medical kit and the floorboard that hid it, picked up the basket full of cut flowers and finally the book that she was reading aloud. 

Heading for the door, she plucked a brown, patchy satchel from one of the pews, stuffed the book inside of it and slung it around her shoulder. Checking to see that her retractable staff was in place, she opened the large church doors a crack to check if the surroundings were clear. Seeing that no one was around, she turned to smile apologetically at her growing patch of flowers before slipping through the door and closing it with a muffled click.


Espresso Shot Review: Severed (2016) [PSVita]

Good afternoon and welcome to the first edition of Games with Coffee for the new year!

Yes, I’m back after a couple of months off. It’s important for Mature, Distinguished Gamers to take a little R & R every once in a while and boy, did I need one. That’s not to say I wasn’t busy; nay good friends, I’ve been working away on new content that I can’t wait to share with you for the coming year! 2019 is sure to be an exciting one, filled with new games, new stories, new interviews and (of course) more coffee.

Speaking of which, let’s get to our subject.

Today, I’ll be taking a look at a quirky, touch-based game that originally was released on the Playstation Vita, before being ported to other platforms like Android, iOS and even the Switch. It consists of hack and slash mechanics and RPG elements revolving around using the severed remains of your enemies to level up and get stronger. It’s set a land heavily steeped in Mexican influences, with labyrinth-like environments filled with terrifying monsters, secrets and hidden areas to find. Finally, the game presents a captivating, mature story starring a strong-willed female protagonist armed with a living sword, suffering from severe losses in both the familial and physical sense. From Drinkbox Studios, this is Severed.

H2x1_NSwitchDS_Severed_image1600w

Background

Severed was developed by Drinkbox Studios, a Toronto based developer known for the popular Guacameele! games. Originally pitched during an internal game jam by concept lead Augusto Quijano, Severed was initially released for the Playstation Vita, before being ported to other platforms.

It was met with high praise from critics and has won several awards, including 2016’s Apple iPad Game of the Year and the Canadian Videogame Awards for Best Musical Score.

As of now, the Playstation Vita is officially dead. I figured that to celebrate this underrated handheld, I would shine a spotlight on one of the system’s most interesting indie games. So, let’s get into it.

Story

Severed tells the story of a girl named Sasha, living with her family in small farmland with her mother, father and brother. One day, Sasha mysteriously finds herself in a strange, parallel version of her home, alone, with the stench of death surrounding her. Entering the ruins of her home and looking into a mirror, she discovers that she had her right arm mysteriously cut off, a bloody stub of a limb being the only thing that remains.

severed-sasha-intro

The mirror reflected another figure behind her. Turning around, Sasha briefly encounters the Stranger – a skeletal, alien-like being who gives her a living sword to protect her from the monsters she would encounter in this world. He instruct her to find her family, taken away by a monster only known as the Dragon, before promptly disappearing and leaving Sasha on her own. Now, she must journey through three sprawling areas to recover her family and escape from this world before the Dragon finds her.

big-toothed-monster-severed-110216

Severed’s story is told through Sasha’s perspective and is very metaphorical in its presentation. Sasha is desperate to find her family, even if it means cutting through and killing everything in her sight to do so. With every enemy that she cuts down, she uses their severed remains to strengthen herself. This is especially prevalent with the bosses, as she gains a new ability after cutting out a body part of theirs and then wearing the dismembered piece as part of her armor. However, the more progress she makes in her journey, the less human she looks and acts until she’s barely recognizable at the end of the game.

severed

At the onset, Sasha feels hopeful from the Stranger’s words that her family could be found. Upon finding each member of her family however, she discovers to her horror that they are already dead; their bodies in a state of decay with some sort of fungal/coral-like organism growing out of them. With each member she returns to her home, her rage and hopelessness only grows until she reaches the Citadel, the third area of the game. Here, two important plot points happen.

First, after reaching the top of the tower, Sasha reunites with her mother’s body only for it to be taken away from her by the Dragon. It then steals her other two family members, creates a portal within the mirror in her home and dares Sasha to come get them.

Second, Sasha reunites with her severed arm within the Citadel; now an autonomous, multi-coloured appendage which gives her enough power to possibly defeat the Dragon. Yet, during the final battle, it’s revealed to her that the Dragon has influence over the arm, as the arm rebels against her at random moments throughout the final battle. This suggests that that the creature had a hand in it’s creation (via its removal at the start of the game) and has possibly shaped Sasha into what she was at that moment; a creature of rage and despair.

In order to free herself from those feelings, Sasha makes the decision to re-sever her right arm. The Dragon then swallows the arm and mutates into its final form; a terrifying, multi-headed beast. After finally slaying the Dragon, Sasha removes all the armor and severed pieces of monsters that she had accumulated and gives her family a proper burial. The Stranger appears and tells Sasha she has a choice: stay in this alternate realm or return to the real world. The ending is then left to the player’s interpretation as the game cuts to the credits just as Sasha moves.

There’s very little dialog within the game and much of the story is left to player’s interpretation, but the visual style of the game does a really great job in portraying the environment that Sasha currently inhabits on her quest, which I’ll discuss later on. Along the way, she encounters only two other individuals that are not out to kill her: a friendly two-headed crow and an overly-paranoid old woman holding a dark secret. Literally.

severed-suffering

Overall, the story is very dark, but it captures the essence of what it must feel like to go through a heavy loss and what it would take to move on. It’s also short; clocking in at roughly eight to ten hours total, so it’s great for those who don’t have a lot of time on hand to play. I also like how the story requires a lot of player interpretation to get the gist of what it’s all about.

Gameplay

The decision for the game to be heavily touch-screen based was met with some criticism from other publications, but ultimately I felt like it was the right choice. Controls for the game utilize both the thumbstick/D-pad and the Vita’s touch screen. The D-pad is used to move Sasha while the touch screen is used to perform several actions. For left handed players, the face buttons can be also used to move the character.

Tapping objects on the screen allows Sasha to interact with them, whether it be eating fruit to restore health, picking up dropped items, reading signs, examining things or talking with NPC’s. Sasha can also slash things on the field to reveal hidden objects and secrets or break objects to reveal their contents.

Encounters are fixed and denoted by a black and white wisp on screen. Approaching and touching it starts a battle where Sasha must kill the creature in front of her. Swiping the screen makes Sasha slash in the direction of the swipe and is her main form of attack when she encounters enemies. As shown in the game’s tutorial, the longer the swipe, the more damage is done, so the player must make sure to make long, sweeping slices back and forth against enemies in order to deal tons of damage. Later in the campaign, Sasha gains the ability to charge up her slash by pressing down on the screen for a short time until the charge is ready and then slashing in the direction of choice. This can be used both on offense and defense, as some enemies have attacks that can break through a normal parry.

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Enemies don’t just stand there and take the punishment though. A circular meter is associated to each monster. When it fills up, the monster will perform an attack. The meters fill up in two ways, depending on the enemy: one type of meter fills up constantly and a second type decreases as Sasha attacks. When an enemy is about to attack, it displays a tell of sorts; an animation that shows it’s about to attack and in what direction (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, etc.). When that happens, the player can execute a parry to block and avoid damage by swiping in the direction of the attack. So, if the enemy’s attack is going horizontally from left to right, the player must swipe horizontally from right to left in order to parry the attack. This attack and parry mechanic allows for fast and frantic combat.

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The training wheels come off after clearing the first area, the Domain of Crows. Enemies from that point on have buffs that affect many stats, such as Attack Up, Defense Up, Health Regeneration and the like. Luckily, Sasha gains a few abilities along the way that help make battles much easier, like the Blind spell (stuns enemies) and Devour ability (steals buffs).

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Also, some encounters spawn multiple enemies, up to four at a time. Tapping on a direction on the D-Pad in battle will allow Sasha to face whatever enemy is associated in that direction. Each of those enemies will either attack or charge up their attacks in real time, so the player must be aware of when to strike, what enemy to attack, when to defend, when to stun enemies and what buffs to steal in order to survive.

The Focus Meter is at the top of the screen, represented by Sasha’s sword. As she attacks, the meter slowly fills up. The meter fills up faster as you keep chaining slashes, but the multiplier resets if you are hit. Parrying attacks sustain the multiplier though. When the meter is full and the enemy is defeated, the game enters what’s called Severed Mode and is the main mechanic where the game derives its title from.

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In Severed Mode, the enemy is briefly suspended in midair, its limbs splayed out with markers showing where to cut. Cutting through these markers allow Sasha to pick up the remains and use them to enhance her skills through the Skill Tree in the menu screen. Players have to be quick to sever as many limbs and parts as possible, as there is a brief time limit before the monster disappears permanently. The game offers plenty of opportunity to gather parts though, so there’s no need for the player to worry about not gathering enough parts to enhance skills.

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The skill tree is a big part of enhancing the Severed experience. Skills require severed parts of monsters, such as arms, eyeballs and such, to acquire. They range from basic attack increases to improving efficacy of special abilities. Skills are practically a requirement to progress further in the game, as the battles only get more and more challenging. New skills also unlock when Sasha gains a new ability to use.

Sometimes, players won’t have the parts on hand to improve on a certain skill. In this case, they can transmute small components called giblets to create the part they need. Giblets are found virtually all over the map in breakable objects that Sasha can slash open on the field.

Health and Mana (used for abilities) can be increased by collecting hearts and brains. Sasha must find five Heart Pieces or Brain Stems and then devour them to gain the upgrade. It’s a visceral and interesting way for a character to increase their life or magic.

Out of battle, there are many puzzles that Sasha has to solve in order to progress further in the story. Some include finding crystals, hitting a gong to open or close doors, travelling to parallel dimensions even creepier than the realm she currently inhabits and the like. The puzzles are fair to the player; not too hard, but not too easy at the same time. There are also plenty of secrets and hidden passages to find. Some of them require some exploration within the room to open, some require certain abilities, while others require having a certain item in your possession (Such as the Mask of Birds or the Jaws of the Cryptolith) and touching a symbol on the wall to open a passageway to the secret.

One criticism I have about the gameplay revolves around how uncomfortable it felt playing on the Vita. After a prolonged period of time, I found that my left hand ached as I held the system while using my right finger to swipe. The ports released after the Vita version addressed this by making the game fully playable through the touchscreen. I’m unsure of what Drinkbox did for the Switch version, but I would like to think they learned from the Vita version of the game.

Beyond that, the gameplay itself is very tight and engaging. The difficulty curve feels natural; there doesn’t seem to be any point within the game that the difficulty spikes up intensely during the main story. There are some difficult battles, yes, but many of them are optional and are not required to complete the story.

Visuals

Despite the dark and depressing atmosphere presented in game, Severed has a striking artistic style, to the point where it looks like it was drawn on paper. The visuals are colorful and bright and the backgrounds are look fantastic.

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The enemies look like something out of a horror film, with multiple, grotesque limbs, jagged teeth and quivering tendrils. Speaking of which, the enemy animations are incredibly well done. Everything, from the way they move their limbs, to the slight twitches they make when they are stationary, looked so polished and fluid. I was very impressed.

The bosses also look incredibly well done. Not only were they difficult to defeat but they looked fearsome as well.

The most visceral image in this game though is when Sasha sees herself in the mirror at the beginning of the game, her arm freshly cut off. It’s a haunting image that really sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Audio

The soundtrack certainly fits with the game’s atmosphere. Home is a very poignant theme and reminds me of the feeling of loneliness and despair, while Death (the theme when you see The Stranger for the first time) evokes a foreboding feeling, like there’s something underneath the surface as he explains what Sasha needs to do to leave the alternate world.

The music within the areas of Severed are divided into two types: Exploration and Battle. Exploration music seems to be influenced by Mexican/Central American sounds, with plenty of drums, bells, chimes and the like. The Battle themes however are grungier, remixed versions of the Exploration music. They fill the original with guitar riffs and more percussion to increase the tension while fighting.

One of the best songs in the game is when Sasha returns to her home at the end of the game. It’s a haunting track filled with despair and accurately reflects how Sasha may have felt at the very end after the Dragon stole her family. It’s a great setup piece for the final battle.

Replayability

To be frank, Severed is a fairly short game with little to do once completed. The most a player could do is take on the optional and highly challenging battles in hidden rooms within the three main areas. Defeating the enemies under special conditions yield special items called Mementos which serve two purposes – powering up Sasha and changing some of the final scenes in the game’s ending.

However, this game is one of those titles that’s easy to pick up and replay at a moment’s notice, due to simple nature of its control scheme. I’ve replayed it already a couple of times since and I found myself changing my strategies when fighting and severing limbs on each playthrough – trying to do one full swipe to sever all limbs instead of doing quick, individual swipes, for instance.

The Last Drop

Severed is one of the most interesting games I’ve played in recent years. It really takes advantage of the Vita’s touch-screen/direct control dynamic and presents a very compelling story that’s tied together with some solid gameplay. It’s short, but had it been any longer, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it the same way I do right now. It’s definitely a game worth checking out if you are able to.

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Pros:

  • Tight gameplay mechanics that combine elements from Action and RPG games.
  • Uses the Vita’s touch-screen effectively.
  • Beautiful visuals.
  • A great story centered around loss and grief.
  • Has a great lead character, whose silent nature belies an fierce spirit that’s relentlessly pursuing a way to save her family

Cons:

  • It’s fairly short, but this is only a minor issue for me.
  • Not much to do once you’ve neared the end of the story/not much post-game content.
  • Holding the Vita can be awkward and uncomfortable after prolonged periods of play.

Score: 4/5

4 out of 5

Tomb Raider – The Legacy of Lara Croft

Good day and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! As a part of my friend NekoJonez’s “Writer’s Raid” collaboration, today I’ll be talking about the first game of the Tomb Raider series titled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We’ll cover the history of the game, my experiences with it and I’ll be delving deeper into the enduring legacy of Lara Croft herself, one of gaming’s most iconic characters.

Background

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’s development started back in 1993 by the now defunct Core Design, a British-based developer consisting of six people. The director, Toby Gard, was the individual credited for Lara’s creation; he initially started with a male character but then added in a female character to give players a choice on who to play as. Realizing that the second character would double the work required for cutscenes, Gard cut the male character and instead developed the female further, intending to counter the stereotypes surrounding female video game characters. He notes that Lara was inspired by Swedish songwriter/rapper Neneh Cherry and the comic book heroine, Tank Girl. He also cited Virtua Fighter as an influence, saying:

“It became clear to me watching people play Virtua Fighter, which was kind of the first big 3D-character console game, that even though there were only two female characters in the lineup, in almost every game I saw being played, someone was picking one of the two females.” – Toby Gard

Originally, Lara was to have a cold and militaristic personality and hail from South America under the name “Laura Cruz.” Gard and his team decided instead that she should be British and for her personality to be a combination of Indiana Jones and a proper, English lady. This expanded Lara’s character and showed players that she was more than some grave robbing adventurer with a knack for murdering vicious creatures using dual-wielded pistols. We’ll go into this a bit later.

As for her first adventure, bringing Tomb Raider to life was not an easy task. Programmer Gavin Rummery explained that the game was only possible by building it on a grid-like system. It’s the reason why squares, rectangles, slopes and planes are so integral to the gameplay, in terms of lining up for jumps, finding pathways through levels and even discovering secrets, among others.

Musically, the game was scored like a film, playing at certain times for dramatic emphasis, like finding secrets or during action sequences. For the most part, the only audio that was played throughout the game were atmospheric in nature, such as footsteps, Lara’s grunts the growls of animals, rushing waterfalls and the like. It made Lara’s journey far more isolating and increased tension within the player, forcing them to listen closely to see what may or may not be ahead.

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Tomb Raider was released for both the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. Despite the game being developed for both systems, it was first released for the Saturn as a timed exclusive as part of a deal between Sega and Core. Timed exclusivity meant that the game would only be released exclusively on one console and would be released on other consoles after the exclusivity period expires. After its release, Core Design discovered that the Saturn version was riddled with bugs that would also affect the Playstation version. Since the game was a timed exclusive, the team was able to fix the bugs for the Playstation version. While three sequels were released for the Playstation, no subsequent titles were released for the Saturn.

Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed on its release in 1996. The cinematic approach with its gameplay and music combined with state-of-the-art graphics was a sight not seen in gaming until its release. Major publications, like GameSpot and EGM praised the title, with GameSpot calling it a potential Super Mario 64 killer, referencing the iconic Nintendo game released in the same year. Finally, Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider herself, cemented herself as one of gaming’s greatest icons, her appeal as a character and as a strong, independent woman captivating gamers and non-gamers alike.

The Legacy of the Tomb Raider

Lara Croft was considered a revolutionary when her first adventure was released. Her introduction changed the conversation about women in video games, in that their games can tell a story similar to or even surpassing that of their male counterparts at a time when female protagonists were scarce. Just like what Chun-Li in the Street Fighter series did for female representation in fighting games, Lara too was instrumental in ushering in a new age of games starring charismatic and strong female protagonists.

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Lara is a statuesque and athletic individual with brown eyes and auburn hair traditionally tied in a plait or a ponytail. Her standard outfit consists of a turquoise tank top, brown shorts, calf-high hiking boots, fingerless gloves, a backpack to hold various items and holsters for her arsenal of weapons, such as her iconic dual pistols. She is highly intelligent, having excelled in various scholarly pursuits and is fluent in several languages; useful for navigating the locales of where her next raid is going to take place. Unlike the stereotypical female characters gamers we were used to seeing before, Lara was not a woman to be trifled with, thanks to her no-nonsense attitude and her dry wit and it really showed itself in her first game.

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Throughout the campaign, Lara had to face insurmountable hurdles in recovering the fabled Scion of Atlantis. Examples include deadly traps that activate if Lara makes a wrong move, tricky puzzles that required logic, speed and a little luck to solve and a plethora of nasty beasts out to kill her, either for food or for sport. However, she faced them all, head-on and, most importantly, on her own. Lara required no help from anyone – male of female – to overcome the challenges in front of her. I believe that her strength, her determination and her perseverance in overcoming anything and anyone that stands in her way garnered her claim to fame more than her looks.

Culturally, Lara forged a path for more female leads in video games. Without her, we would never have had the opportunity to experience the stories of other strong and inspiring women, like Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII, Yuna in Final Fantasy X, Faith Connors in Mirror’s Edge and 2B in NiER Automata. Even video game heroines from established series, like Samus Aran from the Metroid series for instance, had their characters further fleshed out. Lara’s influence extended beyond gaming and into mainstream media: she currently has three live-action movies under her belt, has been featured on several hundred magazine covers, been involved in various print and television advertisements and has been a spokesperson for various causes. Furthermore, she has several Guinness World Records to her name, including most recognized female video game character and most official real world stand ins.  

Furthermore, even though the game was developed with a male audience in mind, Lara ended up garnering a serious female audience. Authors from several publications stated that the character appealed to women and drew them more into gaming simply because they see in Lara an emancipated heroine that they could emulate.

However, with accolades also comes controversy and Lara’s introduction to the gaming industry sparked quite a bit of it over the years.

Controversy

Much of the controversy surrounding Lara centers around her looks. Lara is an attractive, tall and buxom woman and has been described as a sex symbol because of those traits, despite Toby Gard originally intending for her to be “sexy only because of her power.” Critics have argued that Lara reinforced unrealistic ideas about the female body and that she was developed as the embodiment of male fantasies. That latter point fueled rumors in print magazines and the internet about a potential code to remove her clothing; it was revealed that there never was one in the first place. There was, however, an unofficial patch that could be used on the PC version known as “Nude Raider” that was used to remove Lara’s clothes. Eidos eventually shut down the website hosting the patch, but the damage was done nevertheless and it remains as an infamous footnote in her history. Further criticisms include that the character was developed in a way to make male gamers feel like “chivalrous protectors” who were trying to protect Lara from harm and that her character’s appearance does nothing to detract men from the notion that women are sex objects.

The Last Drop

I’ve first started playing Tomb Raider in 1998, right around the time that puberty hit. I’ll admit, I had a huge crush on her when I first played the game; she was extremely attractive, not just in looks but in attitude as well. However, I’m sad to say that at that young of an age I felt that I gravitated more to her looks than to her character, which was in line with the criticisms noted above. As I grew older and more mature, I revisited the character and found that I resonated more with her spirit, her determination and the fact that she could do such impressive feats of physical and mental strength. She was really like the female version of Indiana Jones (a character that I rather enjoyed) and I found myself wanting to learn more about her, beyond the original versions (which I found to be a bit one-dimensional). To that end, I’ve picked up Tomb Raider Anniversary – a remake of the original taking place in the rebooted world of Tomb Raider: Legend and the recently rebooted (again) Tomb Raider (2013), an origin story featuring a more realistic depiction of Lara. I’ve played through the majority of the Anniversary edition and I’ve yet to play the Square-Enix reboot, but I’m looking forward to it.

I do want to argue that, despite the various criticisms surrounding her, Lara represents a step in the right direction towards more female representation in video games. As a guy myself, I personally want to see more stories of women in gaming, as their stories are just as important (and in some cases, more important) than the stories of overly-masculine, broody and square-jawed males (think Joel, Nathan Drake, Cole MacGrath, etc.) that have been the focus for the last decade or so. I, for one, feel like the future of women in gaming is a bright one, all thanks to Tomb Raider and one Lara Croft.

Hope you enjoyed this introspective into Lara Croft: Tomb Raider! If you want to delve further into the Writer’s Raid, I suggest you check out the hub at NekoJonez’s blog for the full list of other posts written by other amazingly talented bloggers!

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!