Chapter 3: The Childhood Friend
The distinct scent of the air after a storm mixed with the pungent odour of pollution.
The sounds of footsteps, large and small, treading on cobbled streets blended with the loud whistle of a train engine.
The feeling of the warm, worn soles in leather boots and the individual fibres 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 before 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. All he could hear now was the high-pitched whine coursing through his eardrums. 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 with 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 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, hard, laborious breaths coming out of 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 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. Breathing deeply and rhythmically, 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 fibres 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 pulses of air coming in through his nose and out through his mouth.
“Good, good,” the voice chimed in, clearly pleased with the results. “Just keep taking it slowly.”
The fox then moved on to his sense of smell. He exhaled a breath through his mouth and then inhaled, forcing himself to take in the scents directly around him. Instead of detecting the blended smells of sweat, pollution and rainwater, he could detect a pungent odour nearby that caused his nose to wrinkle. ‘The hell is that smell?’ he wondered.
Eyes still closed, Tails got onto his hands and knees and crawled blindly until he hit a wall. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he opened his eyes slowly 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 began to take in his surroundings.
He was 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 high ceiling 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. The fox could practically hear the smile in its voice. “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 now under his control, he found that he was able to think clearly. At once, the fog lifted and 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 to him.
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. His very presence radiated an otherworldly power unlike anything ever seen on the planet.
In his memories, Tails could see that 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 remembered 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 reminders 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 utter destruction of Knothole. He could feel the flames from that moment sear his arms and legs and his heart tightened in despair and hatred.
He chased Nazo up to the Energen Reactor at the top of the mountain and 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 though, didn’t I?‘ he thought, a slight smile on his face. ‘Somehow and in some way, 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… Must be those bay doors,’ Tails noted idly as he scanned the underside of the plate, now testing the limits of his enhanced vision.
His eyes stopped at a bright red label on a large pipe that travelled transversely 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, he saw something form in the depths of his mind. The image of a word floating in a sea of fog.
“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, startling Tails. The fox had forgotten about it while retreading his old memories. “Now that we’ve sorted that out; where do you go from here?”
Tails’ look of elation 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 and 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. Ignoring the stiffness in his joints, he pushed himself off the wall and craned his head to see two individuals standing in the alleyway.
At the mouth of the alley 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. They weren’t large enough, however, to hide the distinct bulge on his front. 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. “Make this easy on yourself and don’t struggle, I promise I won’t hurt you,” he said gleefully as he inched forward slowly towards the second figure in front, whose back was facing the fox.
From what Tails could discern, the figure was a svelte, female rabbit with cream-coloured fur. She had chocolate brown patches on the tips of her long ears. 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 wore a black, form-fitting overcoat that went down to her knees and exposed a pair of 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 raccoon 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 whimperings echoing 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 recognized, 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. She had a petite nose, lush, full lips and an oval-shaped face that was flawless. Chocolate brown patches – the same shade as the tips of her ears – framed her soft almond-shaped amber-hazel eyes. 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…
“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 softly, smiling, his eyes squinting from the bright light.
Kneeling, she placed the flashlight 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 years, right? Wow… Time flies,” she replied, chuckling half-heartedly. “Um, so… 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, travelled 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. “N-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. To Tails, it was as though it had offended her in some way. Turning away, 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.
“W-What?” the rabbit exclaimed, doing an about-face back to the swordsman.
“I go by ‘Tails’ these days,” the fox repeated, smirking. “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.