Chaos Ring: Redux - Chapter 14 - ShyWhiteFox (2024)

Chapter Text

Chaos Ring: Redux Chapter 12 – Acorn Kingdom Arc Part 5

Sonic blasted through Restoration HQ’s corridors at blinding speeds, fresh from a daring rescue attempt with the help of Rouge, Espio and Omega. What was supposed to be a simple escort mission turned into something far more dire as he and his friends witnessed the sudden restoration of the Acorn Kingdom’s barrier that they had been using for years to keep away any potential threats and outsiders. Thankfully. Omega was the only one to suffer any damage from said barrier, losing only a single finger that could be welded back on once it’s retrieved at a later date, but the damage that followed from the helicopter rescue hurt a lot of mobians that were involved in the rescue.

Since radios were down, it was up to Sonic to run out of range of the barrier so he could get in contact with Jewel and tell her everything that happened, leaving Rouge and the others to try and make a move with injured at a slower pace so they can be within range of an extraction vehicle that will not go haywire on them when it got close enough. Once that was done, Sonic was told to meet up with the beetle mobian at the Commanders Meeting Room where they originally cast their vote to see if they would even attempt to get in contact with the Acorn Kingdom after they had reached out to them.

Even though the Blue Blur was in a hurry, that did not stop him from helping pick up any scattered papers his speedy antics blew away, or help someone he knocked over by accident who suddenly came around the corner. He was so very tempted to grab himself a chilli dog, or two, from the cafeteria, maybe even grab an entire plate of them and pass it off as getting food for everyone, but there was no time to waste, even when it was the difference of just a few seconds. Tails, Amy, Shadow, Whisper, Cream and everyone else needed him right now, so it was not the best time to be stuffing his face with that chilli goodness.

Finally, he made it to the meeting room, and instantly saw Jewel who appeared to be talking Knuckles, Vector, and Rouge, all of them appearing on holographic monitors. “Has there been any more news?” he asked impatiently, not even a little winded by all the miles he crossed to get here.

The shiny beetle mobian turned towards the new arrival and smiled as reassuringly as she could. “Sonic, good to see you,” her gaze lowered suddenly, shaking her head once his question fully registered to her. “I’m afraid not. Rouge was just telling us what had happened. We have already dispatched an escort to pick up her team near the border. Please take a seat,” she pointed to the round table in the room, he was tempted to just sit at where he was the last time he was here, but when he saw two people talking amongst themselves, he instead opted to make his way towards them. “Hey there, Tangle,” he said to the lemur, trying his best to seem a bit more bright and hopeful for his friend who looked as though she was worried for everyone over there, especially Whisper. He then smiled at the other girl. “Hey there, Lanolin. Been awhile since I saw you in your mission gear.”

Lanolin the Sheep looked at him with a rather stern expression on her face, sipping at her coffee that was in a large, disposable cup. Lanolin had cloudy white woolly fur all over her body, it bunching up in her hair as four buns, as well as a large tuft on her forehead. Her short, black and pointy horns protruded from her forehead with no issues at all. Putting the cup down, her tanned muzzle could also be seen, it as intense as her slate blue eyes. The last few times he saw her, she had been wearing some simple, casual attire that would not get in the way of doing secretary work for Amy and Jewel, but it seemed right now she was back as a full time member of the Diamond Cutters, and so sported a black sports bra, an orange tank top, green cargo pants, a brown belt that had a golden buckle, brown and tan combat boots with zipper sliders, orange hairbands, black elbow sleeves, and brown fingerless gloves. To top off her look, she also had a gold cowbell that was attached to a grey choker, an item she used as her own person wispon. She certainly looked more formidable and recognisable like this.

She nodded towards the hedgehog, her expression serious. “Yes. Thankfully, the days off I accumulated over the years will finally be back down to zero in about a month or so, but Jewel suspended that time off since she needs all hands-on deck right now,” truly, the girl did look rested and ready, happy to be doing this sort of work again after so long. Actually, he was not even entirely sure she knew about Tails’ Chaos Ring since her last operation was leading a team of new recruits to a disabled Eggman base when the Eggcelsior was put out of commission by his own team of Tails, Amy, Tangle, Whisper, and himself.

Tangle narrowed her eyes as she chuckled nervously towards her fellow Diamond Cutter, an awkward smile on her lips. “She says she took ‘days off’ but all she was really doing was stepping away from active duty for a while to instead be Amy and Jewels temporary secretary,” she chuckled at her friend as she took a sip out of a can of Chaos Cola she had in her hand. “I know everyone has their own way to unwind, but being Amy and Jewel’s errand girl does not sound all that fun to me.”

Lanolin looked at her friend while resting her chin on a fist. She did seem a little bothered by how others saw how she spent her time, but she explained herself all the same. “Well, I’m sorry, Tangle, but I’m not the kind of person that can just sit around and take it easy. I always need to be working. My tenure as Amy and Jewels secretary for the last two and a half months was a compromise agreed by the three of us so their current one could go on early maternity leave. Besides, I had a little experience in that area of work beforehand,” despite having clear pride in her work, she looked as if she could not wait till she can return to her real job, even if that meant she would be contending with the chaotic excitement of not only the lemur she sat next to, but also the blue hedgehog that were teasing her right now.

It looked like Jewel, as well as Vector and Knuckles, were just getting to the end of Rouge’s report when Sonic heard Lanolin curse a little. Knowing her, it was probably because she got distracted and potentially missed an important detail in the report. Since he was there with Rouge, he filled her in on everything that happened. It was, of course, a quick and abridged version that ended at the same time as Rouge’s, but she looked appreciative all the same. The blue hedgehog just gave her a winning grin, then turned to Jewel when she took a seat, the three holographic monitors being adjusted so they can see everyone in the room, Rouge’s one being the only one that had other people looking over her shoulder, namely Espio and Omega.

From Angel Island, Knuckles spoke up, his voice stern. “Well, that didn’t take long for that to backfire on us,” he said, sounding like he was struggling with not saying ‘I told you so’ to those that voted yes. He probably would have liked to say it to Sonic and Rouge, but it would probably make Jewel feel bad, given how responsible she and Amy would feel with every decision the Restoration carries out.

Sonic sighed. “Knuckles, come on,” he said, a deep frown on his face, just increasing the echidna’s urge to chide on the hedgehog more. Once again, he held his tongue, encouraging Sonic to just drop it and carry on. “So, what are our options here?” he asked everyone present. “I mean, no one has gotten in that place in hundreds of years, So I don’t think there is much we can rely on.”

Rouge nodded her head, a frown creasing her otherwise beautiful brow. “Indeed. Just to remind everyone present, Shadow was a part of the G.U.N. operation to try and enter their territory using Chaos Control, but could not so much as make a dent in it, even with his abilities. Now, the barrier is more powerful than ever. Honestly, we lucked out with Omega having a built-in method to repel the same effect it had on the helicopters, otherwise we would have had way more casualties to deal with. Who knows what would happen if we actually touched the thing now.”

Sonic chimed in with a light chuckle. “Yeah, I’d be a blue stain on their doorstep if it wasn’t for the save by Omega,” he said with now shame at all, elbows and hands crossed on the surface of the large, circular table. “Can we all at least agree that Tails and the others aren’t in danger from the people over there? At least not from anyone who is taking orders from whoever’s in charge.”

Vector scratched his chin before moving under his long mouth. “Sonic does have a point there. Last we heard from Amy before all this happened, Mimic tried to assassinate the Queen. And before that, Rough and Tumble showed up, too. There is definitely more than we know going on over there.”

The purple chameleon behind Rouge nodded his agreement. “That is a very strong possibility. Before the chaos with the helicopters, the border guard clearly tried to not only get our attention, but wanted us to come towards them. They were trying to prevent us from being sliced up once the barrier came online. I think everyone present there can confirm that assessment,” while Sonic and Rouge gave a quiet nod, Omega was the only one to give a verbal confirmation, possible because he lacked the means to nod his head like they could.

Jewel quietly brought up a holographic screen that showed her attempts to get in contact with everyone who is over at the Acorn Kingdom, but despite calling everyone dozens of times in the time it took Sonic to race over to Restoration HQ, none of them went through at all. Tangle looked between the profile images of Whisper and Tails, and felt her heart drop in her stomach. Sensing her friends distress, Lanolin put her hand over the lemor’s, trying to quietly tell her that Whisper would be alright, oblivious to what the two of them had been doing with Tails as of late. “Unfortunately, no contact has been made with the small force that went inside. Amy has only been able to give abridged versions of her reports at the behest of their monarch this entire time, as apparently, they suspected some foul play, and wished to prevent sensitive information from being exposed over her radio reports. But if what she has said is true, then they have certainly earned the trust of Amy, Tails, and the others. More than likely, whatever is going on over there, our new allies are not behind it.”

Everyone present had various opinions on that information over the last few days, but they agreed that even if Amy wanted these talks to go through flawlessly, she would not agree to those sorts of conditions if she did not at least trust who was giving them, or at the very least understood where they were coming from by keeping that information hidden. Amy assured them that when all of this blew over, and entered the next stage of talks, she would reveal everything, but in this situation, no one present even knew what kind of people Tails and the others were working with now, only that their city, Mobotropolis, was attacked by foes the Restoration have come to blows with in the past. All they knew was that their barrier was put up, seemingly beyond their control, to prevent reinforcements from coming in to provide aid.

Tangle, worried that this was all going nowhere, spoke up. “Well, if we cannot use Chaos Control to just slip in, why don’t we just load up on some Yellow Wisps and just, you know, burrow under the damn thing? Easy-peasy infiltration,” she said, the corners of her lips lifting up into its usual bright smile.

It hurt Jewel more than she would like to bring down those hopes. “Tangle…that is not possible. We already know that the barrier the Acorn Kingdom is a full sphere, not a dome. If we tried that, it would just cause fatalities, something that could taint future talks going forward as the Acorn Kingdom will be seen as responsible for those deaths.”

She did not give up though and doubled down. “M-Maybe we just need more power? M-Maybe we use that thing that Sonic does with the Wisps? We can get some people who have a strong bond with them, link up, and bypass the barrier. They become pure hyper-go-on energy, right? So maybe they can pass safely that way, rather than the temporary effect our wispons give people.”

Sonic looked down at hearing that. “Sorry, Tangle, but that’s a no go. The Wisps are already pure energy themselves, and Amy reported there was not a wisp to be seen over there at all. If they could just…walk through that thing as effortlessly as you’re suggesting, they would have already.”

Adding to that, Lanolin spoke up, her voice equally as grave as Sonic’s as she did not feel good dashing her friends hopes like this. “I’m afraid, even if it was possible, it would be a difficult ask to gather enough individuals that possess a strong enough bond to link up with a Wisp in the same way Sonic does,” she gave her own bell shaped wispon a gentle flick, encouraging her friendly wisp, Maggie, a Magenta Wisp, to emerge. She then continued her explanation. “Even with the years me and Maggie have been together, we have never been able to merge like Sonic has, not even Whisper has with any of her own. They only do it with Sonic because he came to their entire planets rescue when no one else did, and Amy that one time during the Eggcelsior operation, but besides that it is rarely ever heard of,” she sighed, petting Maggie along the head, the laid-back looking Wisp enjoying the gentle movements. “It…is a process that is extremely personal to a Wisp to trust someone to such an extent, and most of what we have witnessed so far has all been out of circ*mstance, or necessity.”

Despite those two ideas being shut down, Tangle was desperate to come up with something that could at least spark an idea in someone. “W-Well…w-what about the Chaos Emeralds?” she asked, looking at Sonic, then Jewel. “Aren’t we holding them up on that Space Colony Ark place for situations like this? Let’s drop those bad boys right at the door and have Super Sonic blast through it. Maybe we can even get Silver in on this action?” Unfortunately, she was once again met with the shutdown of another idea.

Jewel took a sip of her tea calmly before putting it on its saucer. “Unfortunately, due to the power Super Sonic would possess, we have no idea what kind of damage that would be caused if he simply forced his way through it. Granted, he could break through it easily, or alternatively he could cause untold destruction to everything within the barrier and the Restoration would be held responsible for that loss of life. If we are in agreement that the Acorn Kingdom is not doing this themselves to hold Amy and the others hostage, or harm them, then we cannot do anything that could cause them to look at us like murdering invaders.”

Rouge nodded her head from her monitor, in full agreement. “As much as I would love for any excuse to get the Chaos Emeralds out of that stuffy space station, we cannot just use them for every hurdle we come across. If this was a new, giant doomsday weapon, or a newly awakened deity that wants to destroy the planet, then sure, but not in a situation like this where we could end up losing them and have them fall into the hands of someone who would use them against the Restoration and those we protect,” she looked at Tangle with pity in her eyes, then loosed a sigh. “Look, I know you’re worried about Wisper and the others, but this is not a situation that the Chaos Emeralds can solve safely, not when there are too many variables at play here.”

Utterly defeated on all points, Tangle slumped in her seat, head down, not even having the interest in trying to fake a smile right now. “Great…so we all came here to…what?” she paused, looking around. “Confirm that we’re absolutely useless right now?” sighing, the ring-tailed lemur grumbled. “If Tails was here right now, he would have a way to take that barrier down by now and we would be rolling in to help our friends to save the day,” at mention of Tails, Rouge’s own expression dipped slightly.

Sonic honestly could not take these bad vibes, and more than anything, could not just stand still and do nothing, being useless like Tangle claimed they were being. She was right, if Tails was here, he would have a plan by now. At the thought of his best friend, he grinned. “We got something better than that right now, Tangle,” the lemur blinked, her purple eyes looking with the green ones of the super-fast hedgehog. “Tails ain’t out here, he’s in there in the middle of it, doing his best to fix all of this,” Knuckles, from his screen, had a confident smile on his lips, knowing like Sonic that you could always bet on Tails. “Whisper is making sure they are all safe and sound, right?” not only Tangle, but Lanolin smiled and nodded in agreement at that sentiment. “Shadow’s probably there being a broody badass that is way too stubborn to give up at this kind of setback,” while Omega remained silent, Rough turned to him from her monitor and gave his arm a playful punch and smiling as she did, Sonic hitting that nail right on the head. “Cream is helping them all to their feet when they fall down,” Vector chuckled and nodded at that sentiment from his screen, Espio sharing that sentiment behind Rouge. “And Amy is there leading them all in their job to take names and kick ass.”

Jewel, having a bright, invigorated smile on her lips, nodded her head. She could easily picture the five of them united and defeating whatever threat behind those walls they were facing. This was no time to be moping when action could be made. She knew for a fact that Amy would not tolerate any of that if she was here right now.

Looking around and seeing those smiles he inspired on the faces of his friends, Sonic’s own one became bright and beaming. “So, I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I know for a fact that any minute now, Tails is gonna bring that wall crashing down because he knows for sure that we would never leave our friends hanging. I’m gonna run back the way I came, and park my butt right outside of that barrier, then run in the second it comes down and help our buddies give the smack down on whoever is giving them grief. Anyone else with me?”

Clenching her fists, barely able to contain herself, Tangle hopped off her chair with a bounce of her tail and near enough punched the ceiling with excitement. “HELL YEAH!” She cheered with unrestrained glee. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” next to her, Lanolin was looking up at her with a smile on her lips, Maggie no doubt having a similar expression if she had a mouth to even smile with. “I’m in for that action!”

Lanolin, a bit more composed and formal, looked towards Jewel. “Director Jewel, permission for Team Diamond Cutter to deploy and make sure these two do no go overboard like usual,” she said, trying her best not to seem as excited as the lemur, and show how much her teammate had rubbed off on her over the years.

The beetle mobian looked at the sheep girl with something resembling a frown struggling not to lose itself to a smile. “Lanolin…how many times do I have to tell you to…” she sighed, and ultimately lost out to that smile that fought for dominance on her gentle face. “Granted,” she said with a light giggle, trying not to seem amused by her dear friend Tangle, but failed spectacularly, fully losing that air of Restoration Director she always tried to keep close to her chest. “I’ll have some vehicles ready for you to move out, as well as a small squad.

On Rouge’s monitor, the bat lady looked over her shoulder. “You hear that guys and gals, looks like we’re back tracking,” despite the near death experience those out of view of the screen had just endured not even a full hour ago, there were roars of cheers to be heard after listening to Sonics speech.

Not wishing to be one upped by Sonic and the others, Knuckles chuckled and looked over his shoulder. “Well, I can’t leave the Master Emerald alone, so I guess I’ll let you guys borrow my squad until this mess is taken care of.”

Vector was awkward as he looked at all of them from his own screen, rubbing the back of his head while he chuckled nervously. “Jeez, you guys are really making me look bad here…I guess I can spare Charmy and a few detectives that have some combat experience.”

With all of that said, Sonic smirked at all of them confidently. “Alright then. Let’s move out and show the Acorn Kingdom why they can rely on the Restoration to help them out when they need it,” the Blue Blur did not wait for the response of his friends, knowing it would be a triumphant cheer of agreement, before he raced off and wait for the moment he can rush in and help his friends. However, as he quickly left the base and getting above ground, he could not help but have his thoughts wander towards his best friend. “Don’t make a liar out of me now, Tails. Show them all what you can do.”

(Mobotropolis – A Mile and A Half Out from Castle Acorn)

“As penance for all the humiliation you brought on me, I will take great pleasure in snapping the woman’s neck right before your eyes, fox,” that was the threat by Zavok that hung in the air, making a cold shiver run through the bodies of both mobians.

Tails and Amy did not have much of a chance to go over a plan between them, not when Zavok was taking this so seriously now. He was smart, as well as a brute, and knew never to give his enemies such a curtesy if at all possible. As temporary as their existence was, T3 and T4 were in a similar position on either side of the real mobians. The look in their foe’s eyes told them that he planned to exterminate them in the worst, cruellest way possible. If he gets his hands on them, he was going to make them suffer for all they have done to him, not just today, but for every interference they had a part in all his previous scemes, and only then would he release them from this mortal coil once they actually started to beg for death.

Out of all four of them, Amy was the most rearing to go, however. After that threat he made to Tails, that he would snuff out her life right before his eyes, it angered her to the point where her knuckles went white under her gloves while she held her Piko Piko Hammer. While she did not wish to die, she would not let anyone make Tails suffer through something like that. She loved him, and he loved her. If the devastation he would feel was even half of what she would experience if he was taken away from her, then she knew he would not be able to handle that emptiness, that hollowness in his heart. But, unlike the hedgehog herself, she knew he would find love again since he was the most beautiful soul she has ever come across, and cherished every breath and heartbeat they shared together.

Amy raised her weapon in her arms, not backing down from Zavok, surprising the red Zeti slightly. “If you think I’m going to let you use me to make Tails suffer like that, then you’ve got another thing coming, Zavok,” Tails looked at her surprised, a soft smile on his lips.

Giving the three, two tailed foxes a look to follow her, she led the charge towards the towering horned creature, hammer held high like it weighed absolutely nothing in her unassuming arms. As she ran towards the foe, she noticed that Zavok was keeping his eyes locked on Tails, the real one, and so smirked by providing interference with zig zag movements, obscuring his vision, the clones catching on and swapping positions around with the real fox, too. The three of them worked to cleverly angle themselves to be obscuring their right wrist so the large, powerful creature would have no way to know which fox he hit would be a decisive blow, and which one would just pop into smoke, giving his foes an advantage, especially the fast and powerful pink hedgehog.

Taking his attention off Tails, he focused instead on Amy. She was easily the more immediate threat with her hammer alone, causing a wound to the back of his head that had yet to fully heal even now. Since he was unfamiliar with her way of fighting, he raised his fists up to guard against her attacks, as well as dodge, to try and spot any openings that he could exploit.

He winched as he took an especially hard hit to the elbow, Amy feinting an attack, seeing how he would block, and caused some serious damage. Seems he was not the only one checking out what the opposition was capable of. “Your weapon is formidable,” he said as he punched at one of the flat heads, knocking Amy backwards, but landed on the ground with her feet skidding and making dust rise up from her boots. A quick look to his left and right had him clawing and swiping at two of the foxes that came at him, both of them dodging the attack that would have instantly tore through his stomach like paper. Zavok kept his focus on Amy as she resumed her assault, dodging and blocking her hits more effectively than before. “As are you. Not as powerful as that red echidna. Certainly not as fast as Sonic, but a competent mix of both their strengths, and your hammer making you especially dangerous,” Amy was not listening, not caring, just swinging away at him, hoping to get him right in his smug face. “But a weapon such as this is just merely a crutch to make up for your overall shortcomings, just like that strange ring the fox possesses,” proving his point, he grabbed Amy’s hammer mid swing with his right hand, just as she jumped up in the air to get a downward hit on him, his entire hand near taking up the whole of the upper half of the handle. “As I told him already, I will not be felled by weak fools utilising stronger tools,” he said with a smirk on his lips, only needing to lean forward with his other hand, then her fragile neck would be all his.

Amy returned his smirk with her own, not at all perturbed by him holding her weapon so roughly. “It’s pretty sad, you arrogant asshole, that you always forget the one thing we are all good at,” he blinked at her curiously, then growled and looked up when he sensed a presence above him, his throat already lighting up and glowing as flames built up from within, much slower than if he was in his giant form, which Tails seemed to count on as he delivered a powerful, harsh heel kick right on the crown of Zavok’s head, right between his horns. As he roared, loosened his grip on the hammer slightly, T3 and T4 moved in and spin dashed right into either side of his right hand, the creature roaring like it was caught between two blenders. The assault was successful in making him loosen his grip, and leaving him open.

Just as Amy fell towards the ground, the weight of her hammer embedding itself in the cobblestone below, she wasted no time gripping the handle hard for an upward swing, as well as giving his hand a firm, hard kick with her boot that resulted in the mighty hammer pivoting and striking Zavok right between the legs with enough force that a blast of air rushed passed the three foxes involved in the attack, each of them having a similar expression of a phantom pain run through their own nuts, something every man on the planet should at least be a little familiar with. Zavok’s feet were lifted off the ground a few inches, then folded them back as he landed on his knees, clutching his struck privates. His mouth was agape as he roared and howled in pain and anger, his eyes lighting up with a fire and rage he has only ever possessed when fighting the blue hedgehog that delivered his first real defeat in his long life on Lost Hex. “Try and heal those quick, Zavok,” Amy said with a triumphant smile on her lips, earning a deeper growl from the mighty Zeti.

One of the clones chuckled nervously next to the real Tails. “J-Jeez, I always forget just how scary Amy can actually be sometimes.”

The real Tails had an awkward smile on his face as he nodded in agreement. With all the times he had sex with her, where he was the dominating force, he was so very thankful he did not suffer any long going injuries. Every time she wraps her legs around his waist there is always the nagging fear she would get so happy and pleasured by it that she would accidently snap his spine, but thankfully, since all the times after the first time they made love, his body had become more than durable enough to last f*cking her until both of them were fully satisfied. “You said it,” He confirmed with a smile on his lips. “But that’s just one of the many reasons we love her.”

The second clone shook his head. “Enough of the sappy stuff, guys,” both real fox, and clone, turned to T3 as he continued. “We gotta move in while he’s stunned,” looking at Zavok, despite his raging and thrashing, he looked far more than ‘stunned’ with how he was gripping his crotch.

Not missing a beat, Amy looked at the clone and nodded agreement. “He’s right. We can stop him here and now if we rush him!” Amy yelled as she took off and closed the short distance to Zavok’s bent over form. She quickly spun around in place. Once, twice, five times till she started to feel even slightly dizzy, the pink hedgehog used the built-up energy and momentum to slam her hammer right into the side of Zavok’s face, the hedgehog able to hear an unnerving crunching sound as she did. Even as Zavok was bouncing across the cobblestone floor like a pebble thrown across the surface of a lake, she rushed to where he was going to be and slammed her hammer as hard as she could into the base of his back, embedding his red body in the ground, making a steady crater form with every new hit she introduced to him.

While it was certainly the least heroic thing Tails has ever done, taking part in a four person pile on and wailing on a downed foe, he was not going to take any chances here, not with the threats the Zeti promised. He nodded at his clones and rushed him like the pink hedgehog. The real fox got to his head and began punching him in the base of the skull, while T3 started stepping on his elongated tail when he saw it begin to move towards Amy’s feet. Finally, T4 was curb stomping the large creature’s right wrist, the same one he and his fellow clone spin dashed into before.

Zavok, while on the ground, felt his anger grow more and more. He did not allow it to explode outwards, however, and instead took his masters teachings to heart. Anger was a tool to sharpen one’s power to a greater level of lethality, not trash around like a mindless beast. He had made this mistake so many times in the past, especially when fighting Sonic. Only when he was on the cusp of ultimate victory would his efforts be foiled and wasted, then he would feel his rage build and consume him whole. It was only made worse with the smirking mockery that only Sonic seemed capable of.

This time, however, this was not one of his plans being ruined. This was him being insulted, made a mockery of by a fragile fox, a pathetic woman, and creatures that were not even properly alive. No, Zavok would not stand for this any longer. His good name has been dragged through the mud long enough since coming to this new kingdom. No more would he endure this mockery. It was time for these mobians to learn why he’s the leader of the Deadly Six of the mighty Zeti race.

Not even caring who it was he grabbed, he struck, his right hand that was being assaulted grabbed the ankle of the Tails clone that was causing more damage to it, no doubt to disable him to the point where even his impressive healing factor would struggle to repair in a timely manner. He brought himself to his feet immediately, parts of his red and black body bruised badly due to the damage he suffered, mostly thanks to Amy’s Piko Piko Hammer, then swung with the fox he held onto at his remaining aggressors. Even though Amy and foxes were winding back for another attack, they were all quick to jump backwards and avoid being hit by the yelling clone. Seeing the Restoration members avoided the attack, Zavok did the only thing he could do now, and dispose of the annoying clone. Bringing his other hand to the fake fox’s head, he muffled his voice and screams of terror, then pulled him apart as easily as a Christmas cracker, both body and head instantly bursting into smoke, but the memories that flowed into the real fox’s mind in that moment shook him.

Sensing her lovers distress, Amy called out to him just as a fresh plume of smoke washed over mobian and Zeti alike. “T-Tails? Are you alright?” she asked with concern in her voice, wishing more than anything that she does not have to witness a more permanent display of what she just saw.

“Y-Yeah, Amy...” he said, trying in vain to see her through the smoke, but all that was visible was a mostly obscured silhouette. This could have happened before with one of his previous clones when they were grabbed by Zavok, but that one had the time and sense to poof himself, rather than have the real Tails experience what it would be like to have a limb yanked off his body. It was obvious before, but much clearer now, that the Zeti was not playing around anymore. “Just…not a good way to go out,” he said, feeling sorry that one of his clones actually had to experience something like that before they died. Even if they were fake and temporary, they were real enough people to both him and Amy.

Tails’ own voice called out from within the smoke, snapping him back into the proper mindset. “Hey, Boss, I know that must suck, but you got to get your head back in the game. I can’t find Zavok!” the real Tails quickly heeded the warning and looked around himself, silently thankful that his clones did not get the memories of other clones while they were still active.

T3 looked around more, biting his lower lip faintly, trying his best not to think about what just happened to his fellow clone, trying not to imagine what the real one was probably feeling right now. Long as he does not throw up or get shaky feet, he was sure he would all be alright. More importantly, though, was where was Zavok? He was right in front of him when the smokescreen burst out from T4, but there was not so much of a silhouette of the towering Zeti. The fox clone then paused as he noticed something odd about the smoke.

“Is it…moving towards me?” he muttered to himself, then realised far too late what this meant. He tilted his head back so he was just in time to see the red and black Zeti crash into his gut, feet first, like he was a meteor. T3 felt his insides collapse entirely from the very swift attack to his gut, felt his ribs and stomach get caved in. He mentally apologising to the real fox, and popped before he could be subjected to much more of that.

Tails was greeted with the fresh set of memories that invaded his mind before he saw the fresh plume of smoke wash over him and Amy, or even hear the sound of Zavok destroying the pavement nearby. The sensation of his stomach being stepped on with such force was like a crushed pineapple. Feeling his rib cage, stomach, and heart get reduced to noting in seconds was equally as unsettling. The genius fox had to struggle to keep his lunch down after that, starting to see the disadvantages of using his clones in a battle against someone who could easily rip him apart like Zavok…not that it mattered since he was all out of such back up for at least an hour.

Taking his mind off the fate of one of his clones, Tails focused instead on his enemy. Zavok must have jumped in the air the moment after the smoke burst into existence, avoiding detecting in the process while pushing the smoke towards the mobians from the force of a really high jump. From there, it was a matter of picking one of the three mobians he could see in the smoke above and pick them off. Tails was unsure if the attack on the clone was intentional, or a stroke of luck, but at least they had a fresh smokescreen to work with, and had a good idea on where the Zeti was going to attack from.

“Do you feel relief, fox,” came Zavok’s voice from the smoke, in the direction where he took down the last clone. “Pleased that I missed you and the woman, and that you have one more smokescreen to hide behind?” Tails perked his ears, not hearing any steps coming towards him, no movement, something that actually made his blood feel like ice in his veins. The only thing in the smoke was just that deep voice that had a hint of remarkable controlled anger, but promised a deadly wrath with every word uttered. “I assure you, that was on purpose. I want you to witness but a fraction of what I will do to you the moment I grow tired of beating you both into the ground,” Tails gulped, feeling himself shiver. “You could have run away with your tails between your legs, let me knock that castle to the ground, but now because of your tricks and irritating diversions, I will break both of you, physically, mentally, spiritually. Then, only then will I give you both a painful, final death before I mount your heads on my horns.”

“Y-You think so?” Amy said, spoke out, voice more shaky than she would like. Fear flooded out of his body, and was instead filled with the desire to protect Amy. He would not allow any harm come to her. “You talk pretty tough for someone hiding in this smoke as well. If you really mean that, then come say it to our faces,” finding Amy, he approached her, brought a hand to her own, clasped it tightly, banishing his fear so she would not see it in his face, in his eyes, and likewise she did the same for him, both of them determined to be strong for each other.

Hearing an inhale strong enough to push the smoke in the direction of where they knew Zavok was, they looked at each other worried. A powerful, bellowing roar screamed out from deep within the smoke, the very centre of it, that made the smoke blow passed them in a massive gust. It was a struggle to not only keep their eyes closed to avoid damage from the rushing smoke, but cover their ears, keep their feet planted on the ground, and stay close to each other. It took a mere five seconds before the smoke was all gone, and the only thing was Zavok, having only the unadulterated desire for death and destruction in his eyes, looking at both mobians as he slowly walked towards them. “I am going to mount both of your heads on my horns,” he said calmly, not even hesitating saying those words as he looked the smaller creatures in the eyes. “Neither of you are as fast or strong as Sonic and Shadow, but both of you have proven to be as frustrating to deal with as either of them. I honestly did not believe I could despise any creature more than I do that blue rat, and his sidekicks and all.”

Tails looked at Zavok, then Amy. He did a surgically effective job at instilling fear in both of them, and Tails was very sure he would do everything he promised, but he refused to let Amy feel scared. She would protect her, no matter what. All he needed to do was get her spirits up. Thankfully, Zavok provided something he can use as ammo against him. A calm and tactical Zavok was dangerous, but a roaring and destructive beast was much easier to handle. “It must be pretty frustrating for you, Zavok,” Tails said calmly and slowly, allowing a smirk to form on his lips while he collected his thoughts, making sure his nervousness did not show. The large Zeti just raised a brow curiously, a light growl emerging from his throat. Amy, meanwhile, looked at the fox with those beautiful green eyes, smiling like she already knew what he was going to say, but honestly just loved that he was trying to be brave for her sake. She only felt her love for him grow more and more, while also feeling like her heart was being crushed in her chest. “At least with Sonic and Shadow, you could use them as a pretty good excuse for all your major failures, but now you and your pack will look absolutely pathetic when all of them are going to be beaten by Sonic’s ‘sidekicks,’” the only thing that betrayed the Zeti’s building rage was his clenching fists. Even if he got a handle on his rage before, these creatures were testing his limit in ways not even Sonic dared to.

Seeing what the fox was trying to do, Amy smiled at him, her heart rate calming down from the rapid pace it was at moments ago. “That’s not entirely true, Tails,” she said, trying her best to match the cheeky smile she has seen Sonic have so many times in the past. “I mean, Zomom’ pride will be perfectly fine. He is going against Shadow, so at least he can still hold his head up high when he walks away with broken bones and bruises thanks to the Ultimate Lifeform, unlike their supposed leader here,” Zavok inhaled deeply, red energy glowing in his fists, pulsating from them.

Not at all bothered by the Zeti trying to restrain himself, Tails continued. “That must be the real reason he was hoping to get in a fight with Shadow. While all the other Zeti’s pride gets thrown under the bus, Zavok gets to look like he can actually put up a fight in Master Zik’s eyes and seem like he is a capable leader for at least a while longer.”

While keeping his rage intact, only showing as much as an annoyed growl and a clench of his fists, he was far too tired of their attempts to mock him that he could hardly well up the energy for it. This entire operation was proving to be a colossal waste of his time, and would certainly make sure that Starline understands how much he did not appreciate his talents being wasted on something that wholly amounted to buying time for the platypus’ machinations.

Deciding that toying with this fox and hedgehog had grown stale, he slammed his tail hard against the cobblestone under his feet, cracking the pavement as he looked at them with a bored expression on his features. Sighing, he turned those fierce, purple eyes towards the two mobians and loosed a breath. “This entire excursion is proving to be far more trouble than it’s worth, and the two of you are just making it more and more intolerable by the second,” he shook his head. “My patience has reached its limit, and even your resistance and skills are plain and uninteresting to the point where I no longer wish to draw this out. I will just end both of you right now,” he said seriously with an intent to kill in his eyes.

Before either of them could say anything more, Zavok enveloped his entire body in a crimson glow, almost like he had a veil of fire wrapped around his already imposing form and stature, then launched himself towards his foes at blinding speeds that neither Tails, or even Amy, could react to, and crashed into the fox before he could even think of flying up out of the way. His entire weight and strength came onto the fox mobian, launching him towards the brick wall of a nearby building, making a spiderweb of cracks form on the surface from the fox’s smaller body. The moment Tails’ back collided with the wall, he coughed up blood from his mouth before he fell down on the ground, thankful he did not suffer any kind of major concussion from that full body tackle that sent him flying.

Enraged by what had just happened to Tails, Amy griped her Piko Piko Hammer harder than she ever had before and dashed towards the red and black Zeti, violence clear in her normally bright and loving green eyes. She jumped at him with her weapon behind her, winding it up for a severe attack that possessed all the power she could muster. Since he was so close to her, stopping in place right where Tails was standing but a few moments ago, it would be an easy hit that could no doubt cause devastating damage if he does not see it coming. Just as she yelled and swung her arms, that veil of red energy around his body concentrated in just his fists and grabbed the hammer mid swing, it already generating enough force to make a powerful gust of wind blow passed him, making his ponytail, as well as her long quills, flail in the rapid wind pressure. Zavok, however, showed no signs of even moving a single inch.

No matter how much she pulled at him, she could not free her weapon from his grasp. She was putting so much effort into it that her muzzle started to go a little red from exertion. “D-Damn it…L-Let my hammer go, you a-asshole!” At the insult, Zavok slowly lifted the weapon up higher and higher, lifting Amy off the ground with it. Even with no leverage to be had, she continued to pull at her hammer in the vein hope she could get it away from the muscular red beast. She looked at him as she begins to demand he give her weapon back, but paused as she stared right into his eyes and saw the humourless eyes of a creature that was very much done playing with its food. She barely even managed a gulp as she saw the red energy focus entirely around his left fist and wind it back.

“No,” was the simple, singular word he uttered as he punched forward with all his might, his clenched, powerful fist striking her clear and hard in her stomach without even a single thought or desire of holding back. Amy lurched forward, coughing up blood while she was forced to let go of her precious weapon, the sheer force of the overwhelming attack enough to launch her towards the building Tails was at, only she broke through the bricked wall as easily as running through a screen door.

Her scream as she came in contact with the wall pierced the air, awakening Tails from his brief spell of unconsciousness. Once his blurry vision saw the broken wall, he immediately replayed the scream he heard in his head and ran towards it. What he saw shook him to his core. Amy was on the ground, blood running down her lips, pooling at her throat, clothes dirtied and torn. Her left arm looked broken, probably hitting the wall shoulder first, and the way she was harshly breathing suggested she must have shattered a rib or two. He did not even look at Zavok, not even as he heard the approaching footsteps that crushed cobblestone under foot, and quickly rushed to his lover, cradling her near broken, but still living, body in his arms. “A-Amy…” there was not even a whisper of a reply to respond to his weak voice.

He tried shaking her, but did not so much as show a single hint of movement. It broke his heart to see. He brought one hand to her back, the other under her legs, and intended to carry her to safety while he had a moments respite from Zavok’s assault, but then heard the Zeti grunt in effort behind him. Going wide eyed, Tails rolled to the side with Amy in his arms just in time to avoid a spinning Piko Piko hammer from shooting past where his head just was a brief moment ago, and tear through not only the building he was in, but the next three in it’s path, too. “Leave the woman,” Zavok said as he continued his approach, his face the picture of detachment as he did not even seem to care the state he just left Amy in. “If you do, then maybe you can avoid being obliterated with her,” seeing the energy grow to something more and more potent and concentrated in his right palm, Tails went wide eyed and scooped up Amy once more, trying to ignore her pleas of pain to the rough handling, and ran for the entrance in the back of the building her hammer just made. At least that was a slight improvement over the unresponsiveness he got before from her.

Even as his lungs burned, the yellow and white fox kept running, Amy’s broken and limp arm flailing like a noodle that was no doubt causing severe pain and damage had she not already fallen back into unconsciousness. Just as he reached the hole in the wall, he looked over his shoulder and saw Zavok smirking as he fully charged that energy in the palm of his hand and fired it forwards the moment it was ready. The second his left leg crossed the threshold of the building, he put all his weight into it, then jumped to the right, rolling just out of reach of the orb of red energy that sought to consume him. It, instead, collided with the next building the Piko Piko hammer went through, explodeing with enough force to not only knock the fox off his feet, but push him back into the building he just escaped from.

Zavok was growing annoyed by the mobians, think of them as more like co*ckroaches than mammels. Even though he missed, and detonated his projectile as close to his foes as possibles, the lack of a death scream just served to annoy him. He was always chastising Zor for not putting an effort into most of his own tasks, and realising he was doing the same now irked him more than he would like. Out stretching his other arm, several, smaller balls of energy formed in his palm before he shot them outwards like he did with the larger one. Many of them hit the building the genius vulpine was hiding behind, making it collapse within seconds, but seeing a disturbance in the smoke, Zavok grumbled and lazily turned his body to the right, destroying the other buildings the fox was no doubt using as a shield between him and the destructive energy attacks.

Tails could feel his lungs burning painfully, his legs aching, his arms sore, every cut and bruised part begging him to stop moving, but he knew he could not. To stop meant that he and Amy would die here. Just looking down at Amy, how she was peacefully oblivious to all that was happening around her as she bounced up and down in his weakened hold of her body, made tears sting his eyes, making his vision blurry. “A-Amy…” he said, nearly biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. “I-I am so sorry…I-I lov…” he was cut short as an especially powerful blast of a building on his right was strong enough to knock him across the street he was currently on and slam back first into the wall of a nearby clothing store, just avoiding the window display by a few inches. The last thing he needed was a few more cuts on his body.

He was very sure he blacked out for a few moments, if the growing blackness at the corner of his vision was any indication. Realising his arms were empty, losing Amy, he blinked rapidly and looked around, trying desperately to restore his vision. It was a few, brief moments before he found the girl, now laying on her back, body limp, and facing away from him. He tried his best not to look at the blood that was on the road as he slowly got to his feet. He tried to call out to her, let her know that he was coming for her, but his throat felt so tight and tears threatened to form in his eyes again. Just as he reached her prone body, he was reminded of the threat that still lingered.

Tails had no idea what direction he came from, did not even know if he made any sound while he was too injured and focused on Amy, but Zavok beat him to the downed pink hedgehog and kicked the fox as hard as he could in the gut, making him hit the wall he just came back from even harder, enough to make the dust unsettle around him and make the window pane rattle. The fox was on the ground, gripping his stomach while he folded his legs into himself. He had never felt as much pain as this before in all his life. Zavok, standing over Amy, spoke up. “This is the end of our little game, fox. You were a decent distraction, but compared to Sonic or Shadow, that is all you and your menagerie of multi-coloured friends will ever be.”

Even as blood dripped from the many cuts on his body, his yellow and white fur stained with equal amounts of dirt and blood, Tails shakily made his way to his feet, only to fall forwards as pain rocked through his entire body. “S-sh*t…m-my leg…” he thought to himself, his left leg in absolute agony. He must have twisted it at some point, maybe even broke it. Gritting his teeth, he spun his twin namesake to fly a few inches off the ground, but even that was exhausting, so he instead opted to stand on his good leg and hop towards Zavok, dragging his injured limp one as he did, cradling one of his arms against his chest, too. Despite his pathetic state, he glared daggers at Zavok. “This…i-is not…o-over yet…Z-Zavok,” he said as he panted, managing to find his voice at last.

The Zeti looked at him with a look of something between distain and dispassion as he bent down and brought his large hand around Amy’s throat, making the fox’s eyes go wide and quicken his pace. “No, I think we are done here. Do you remember what I promised I would do when she first showed up?” he asked.

Tails could feel his heartbeat in his chest rapidly increase to dangerous tempos, feeling like it was going to either run up and out of his throat, or explode within him. “N-No s-stop…” he said weakly, tripping over his feet and falling to the ground, forehead hitting the cobblestone painfully. Even with that setback, he called across the ground, getting closer and closer to Zavok one inch at a time.

His voice was even, did not even care as his large hand wrapped around Amy’s throat tightly, who did not even react to it. Tails did not wish to watch this, but at the same time he could not tear his eyes away from it. It was only when she was lifted high enough off the ground that she experienced a hanging sensation that she jolted awake at last with a deep gasp for air that was quickly taken away from her. Her good hand went to the Zeti’s wrist, no doubt trying to use her other one, but realised quickly, in her panic, that it was useless. There was a clear, primal fear in her eyes, uselessly kicking her legs as she was slowly choked by the Zeti. “I promised I would snap the woman’s neck right before your eyes.”

Getting closer and closer to the red and black villain, he looked at Amy and saw her turn her gaze towards him, tears in her eyes, but more than all of that, she was smiling weakly as the tears rolled down her cheeks and chin. No, Tails would not accept this. He would not lose Amy, not like this. Even as he spun his two tails, Zavok did not increase his pace. From this angle, he could not see his lips, but the fox could picture the sickest of smirks on his lips as he held Amy’s life in his hands. “S-Stop it…” he panted, then lifted himself back to his feet. “Stop it…” he said more forceable, then jumped for the leader of the Deadly Six, swearing he would make him suffer if he carried out his threat. Seeing those fingers tighten around Amy’s throat, the same throat Tails has kissed and savoured the taste of hundreds of times, his eyes wild as every hair on his body stood on end. “I SAID STOP IT!” he roared and lunged for Zavok, just as he began to fully close his large fingers over her windpipe. “THE HEART’S DESIRES!” was the fox’s final thoughts before his entire world halted to a stop, the glow of the Red Chip of the Chaos Ring glowing brightly as it did.

(Mobotropolis – Silvanis Street)

Shadow had been in a number of dire situations in the years he has been a member of the Restoration, and even G.U.N., but few of them were like this one. Not only was he ashamed that he was left in such a vulnerable state against two foes he could normally dispatch by himself in an all-out battle, but he found himself being worried for another, too.

He and Lupe stood before her daughter, their stances more defensive, something the two of them were not entirely familiar, or comfortable, with. Shadow’s rocket shoes, formerly referred to his air shoes, after many upgrades and modifications Tails had given them over the years, were made absolutely useless right now thanks to the two Zeti’s electromagnetic pulse abilities that disabled them, as well as other technology it was directed towards. Lupe’s omni stick was in a similar situation. Where it could normally take the form and shape of a number of different weapons, it was no better than a steel bar in the wolf girls hands right now. Both of them had lost a large part of their offensive capabilities, and Shadow was drawing up a blank on how they could defeat their foes when Zomom himself brushed off everything outside of one of his most powerful attacks. He was still winded and exhausted from it, but he still continued to stand his ground.

Normally, he would not be worried for himself in this kind of situation, but he found himself being more concerned about Lupe and her daughter. It was exactly why he preferred to work alone when he could, the only exceptions being Omega who was like a walking tank, and Rouge who always had a way to get out of any unfavourable situation she found herself in and get whatever she sets her eyes on. Lupe, however, was an unknown that he was still not entirely sure of, and the child obviously even less so. But perhaps the factor that hindered him the most was the growing desire to protect both of them, something he would normally begrudge anyone else in trying when the best course of action was to dispose of foes as quickly as possible so he would not have to worry about anyone’s wellbeing. Not for the first time since joining her, he searched his feelings on why he even bothered to come here and not somewhere else his power could be more practically used.

He looked halfway towards her, not taking his eyes off the two foes slowly, and menacingly, making their way towards them, and spoke up. “Lupe, you stand back and protect your child. I’ll take care of this,” before she could even object, Shadow blasted off at a remarkable speed. Nothing to brag about compared to when his rocket shoes were in operation, but certainly still faster than the average mobian. Despite the speed, though, Shadow did look rather clunky in his movements, close to going off balance after every second or third step. The dark hedgehog pointed his palm towards the old Zeti, hoping to neutralise him quickly. “Chaos Spear!” He yelled, making several spears of chaos energy shoot from his outstretched palm. At least he did not need to worry about that method of attack being neutered.

Zik, however, looked more unimpressed than worried about the oncoming attack. “Protect me now, Zomom,” just as the attack was inches away from the small foe, Zomom’s huge hand lifted up and deflect the attack before it could hit its mark. Shadow was surprised by this, the creature never reacting that fast when they fought before, mostly only reacting after they got a hit in, as ineffective as they were. “What’s the matter, ‘Ultimate Lifeform’? Is that all you are capable of managing? Don’t tell me you used up all your power already just for some paltry fireworks,” Shadow knew he was being goaded by the older creature, but he growled all the same.

Not wasting any words on him, Shadow kept a cool head and crouched down into a ball and spun in place. Even if his shoes were compromised, this was still an effective method of building speed, though his manoeuvrability would be lessened as a result. As one of the few options he had remaining, it was one of the better ones. Once he reached a satisfying level of spin, he blasted forward, aiming to go under the creature’s legs like they were goal posts. Zik did not react to it, did not order Zomom to avoid or attack him, and instead just looked over his shoulder where he saw Shadow would jump up to get an attack from behind in.

“How laughable predictable…” the older Zeti said as he scoffed and shook his head. He then looked to Zomom just as the hedgehog was prepping his attack. “Zomom, smack the hedgehog to the ground where he belongs,” before Shadow could even finish the word ‘Chaos’ Zomom slapped his entire, large hand against Shadow’s body, sending him flying back the way he came.

Lupe quickly looked to her daughter. “Run, now” then turned to her foes and ran towards them before she could say anything. Even though her omni-stick was disabled, that just affected the hard light edge to it, as well as its ability to change to a different type of weapon for any situation, she would have to settle for the bo-staff form she left it in when she used it to keep Zomom’s mouth open before. She gritted her teeth as she held her weapon, even as her right hand stung with a lingering pain, and jumped towards them to attack and ready to swing her weapon, but Zik had a smirk on his face, expecting such a desperate move.

He jumped off from the shoulder of Zomom to confront the wolf in the air, their weapons clashing against each other, wood against steel, then followed up with a harsh kick to her face that sent her flying a distance away faster than she could react. “Nice try, but I’m not so fragile yet that I cannot defend myself against an injured woman,” he said as he landed on the ground, quickly hopping back on the larger Zeti’s shoulder.

Seeing Lupe get knocked away like he did, Shadow resumed building up power in his hand and fired his Chaos Spears behind him, with more force and power that he intended when he initially tried to use it against his foes, and used it as a means to propel him towards the wolf, managing to catch her before she could hurt herself further. He grunted as her body collided with his, but he held firm and landed on the ground with her, neither of them saying anything to each other, only having an exchange of looks, both of them trying to see if the other had any ideas, but found nothing.

Lupe’s daughter quickly ran the short distance over to the two of them, disobeying her mother, but Lupe was hardly in a position to yell at her in her current state, not when their enemy would use that to their advantage. She gave the younger wolf a disapproving look, something only a tried and true mother could manage, but found she needed to quickly look away and instead bring a comforting hand to her shoulder. It was difficult, but she had to turn away from the girl and focus on her enemy, fearing she may be reduced to tears. That was the last thing she wanted her enemy to ever see.

The two mobians did not say anything to each other, did not begrudge each other, both of them instead favouring glaring at this new adversary that was showing a frustrating level of teamwork and coordination. “He is impressive, no?” came Master Zik’s aged voice, stroking one of his long, white moustaches casually. The two mobians barely even paying him any mind. When they did not answer, he merely continued “Zomom may not have a desirable level of brain power under here,” the smaller Zeti patted the orange one’s head for reference. “Making him barely functional as a competent warrior when by himself, but paired with someone that knows what they are doing, as well as his uncanny ability to follow orders in an instant, makes him very dangerous,” he then sighed and looked upwards the sky longingly. “Ah, reminds me of my youth, where I could jump around, punch, and kick easily without throwing my back out. It was far better than using this…patsy,” he murmured, the large creature not all that bothered at being insulted by the older male, probably numb to it at this point after his century of life.

Shadow took a moment to catch his breath, allow himself to stand up straighter. He was not going to stand to look more frail than an old man missing his glory days and a fool that eats like a pig every chance he gets. “Are we supposed to care, or feel sorry for you?” Shadow asked, his expression becoming more fierce, his eyes more intense. Even with his current disadvantage, he was not going to back down, or lose his composure. As temperamental as he could get, this was hardly enough to make him lose it. “I’m surprised you would even work with him, considering how little you think of him. I thought you would rather cooperate with Zavok, since he is the only one in the Deadly Six you actually respect.”

The older male let out an amused chuckle, still stroking his moustache, keeping it straight and dignified. “I feel as though I should be saying the same to you, hedgehog,” he looked him over, then the two wolfs near him. “You possesses such awesome, raw power at your disposal, yet you waste it protecting creatures that can not even defend themselves. Injured women…weak children,” Lupe released a low growl, clenching her fists, including her injured one, even when it hurt. Shadow remained silent the whole time, but the hedgehog did react appropriately as Lupe noticed his own fist clenching slightly. “But yes, I would ideally work with my protégé, but sadly you forced my hand on that matter,” he shook his head and closed his eyes, making Shadow raise a brow. “As much as I would hate to admit it, I’m no longer the frontline fighter I once was, time withering me down over the last millennia while my fellow Deadly Six have barely touched passed their first century of life. My skills are better used for support now, which is why I am here now.”

After being told so much, Shadow began to put the pieces together. “I see…so your job was to support whichever Zeti I was matched against,” he reasoned. “Any one of them would have been difficult with their natural E.M.P. abilities, but two of them at once would prove especially challenging, even for me.”

Master Zik chuckled and nodded his head. “Quite astute of you. It is exactly as you say,” taking his wooden staff in hand, he pointed it at the black hedgehog. “It is only natural to focus a majority of our forces on a singular, powerful target. Even if extermination is not our main goal today, your death would certainly be demoralising, and would remove you from any future interference in our plans, too,” he then turned his head towards his fellow Zeti, and patted his head, a little more gently, almost kindly, than before. “My Deadly Six all know my time is running short, maybe only having a mere century or two left that will be snuffed out in the blink of an eye, so the best they can do for me is ensure that all my future battles and triumphs are glorious ones I can take pride in…though I know there are a few that would not care whether I became dust and bones today.”

Hearing that, Zomom looked towards Master Zik, his expression a visible upset one for the older creature, even after how he was abused and insulted just moments ago. “M-Master…” he said lowly, lips shaky.

Master Zik, who was stroking his moustache, paused as his ally struggled to form words, then chuckled as he petted his larger head. “Yes, yes, I know you’re not one of them, Zomom. You’re a good boy like that,” he said softly, then went back to stroking his moustache. “Now, please stop your blubbering and keep your mind focused. I want you to at least to be able to do as much before I’m really dead and buried,” despite the insult added to the end, Zomom smiled and nodded his head. It was a strange dynamic they had that Shadow noticed. Despite the insults, there was some respect to be found there, probably something that could even be seen in the Restoration, that these creatures would vehemently deny, but that did not change the fact they were a threat, and certainly would not be a reason for the Black Blur to pull any punches. “It was a hassle for an old man like myself to be hopping around, destroying cameras, and keep your command centre guessing on my current location and plans, but it all seems to have worked out. Even though I will not be sharing a glorious victory over a powerful foe with my protégé today, I suppose there is always the blue rodent in the future, or even that psychic hedgehog.”

Shadow released a growl and clenched his right fist. This was looking worse and worse. Clearly, these two Zeti had far greater cooperation with one another, or at the very least, one of them trusted the other to do everything for him. Brilliant martial arts mind worked in unison with a large, responsive, surprisingly fast body in perfect unison. In his current state, he was no match for such a combination. Looking down, he eyed the golden rings on his wrists. If he could just…

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Shadow looked up at Master Zik, the hedgehog’s brow creased into an annoyed scowl. “I have done plenty of research on you, ‘Ultimate Lifeform,’ and know just how destructive you can be when you take those rings off, especially with your lack of control over that power,” Shadow’s hand hovered over the ring, then lowered it, making the older male smirk. “Such an unfortunate thing, having two different kinds of limiters on your body,” he said, pointing to his wrists, then his ankles. “The safest place you can release such raw power is the planets upper atmosphere, but down here…well…we could only hope to cause as much destruction as you would. Never mind the faceless civilians you would be condemning, but the two wolves there would never survive such close proximity to you. Though, I suppose that depends on how long you have that wild power of yours running rampant.”

As much as Shadow hated to admit it, Zik was absolutely right. Even after all these years, he did not have a satisfying handle on all the chaos energy his enhanced body was capable of producing naturally, mostly because he could rarely justify removing the restraints to his full power on his wrists and ankles even as a form of training. As he proved with the Chaos Blast earlier, he had a difficult time focusing and channelling such a large amount of energy through his body. Just manipulating it, bringing order to the chaos, harmed his body in ways that would kill a normal person. Every option he had was being shot down, and any one he did have available to him came with unacceptable risks. “Lupe,” he whispered, keeping his voice low. “Take your child and run away from here as fast as you can.”

The head of the royal guard just looked at him with a wide-eyed expression. “Shadow, you can’t do that, you’ll…” she paused when she thought back to many years ago, recalling seeing his battle with Sonic on Space Colony Ark on the T.V., when both of them fought to defend the entire world from the creature that latched onto the space station and bring it down to the planet. After removing those restraints, he was thought to be dead, and even when found to be alive, he had amnesia. Her eyes pleaded that he would not go there, cause so much damage to her city, and to himself, but as she looked at him, she saw him look away, a little shame in his eyes. “You’re…not planning to take them off, even if I ran away, are you?” his silence was more than loud enough. She clenched her own fists as she glared at him. “That…is even more insane. It’s suicide fighting both of them alone.”

He aimed his intense gaze towards her, intending to intimidate, make her back down. “That doesn’t matter,” He looked away from her, focusing on the enemy. “You have a duty to protect your child. Just take her, don’t look back, and don’t worry about me. I’m hardly worth it.”

She shook her head as she gritted her teeth, not accepting that answer. She reached forward, gripping his arm so he was forced to look back at her. “It is both my duty to protect my child AND protect this city I have sworn to defend till my last breath,” her light blue eyes holding just as much power and authority as his red ones did. “Never make me have to choose between my child and my duty, Shadow, because I will always choose both.”

He was taken aback by her words, but it was clear he was not going to be able to convince her to leave. To a degree, he respected her a little more than he did already. If he was not going to be walking out of this, he was glad he would have someone like her at his side. There was always the option for all three of them running away, but that would leave the Zeti unattended, and neither wolf, nor hedgehog, would be able to live with themselves if they allowed that to happen. “Fine,” he said, his mouth a thin line. “Do as you wish,” he turned away from her, focusing on the enemy. Had he not been looking at them, he probably would have smiled, if only a little.

Giving a more comfortable smile, glad the hedgehog was not going to try and push her away, she took a deep breath in preparation for something that was going to tear her heart asunder. Slowly turning to the smaller wolf, who was remaining quiet and patient this whole time, if shaking in place, the current situation obvious even to her, Lupe brought her hands to the girls shoulders and stared deep into those eyes that were a mirror reflection of her own light blue ones “Listen to me. You need to get away from here as fast as you can. Things have gotten so much worse and…”

“B-But mom, I can help!” the girl yelled, shaking her head, tears forming in the corner of her eyes. “I-I could distract them or…or…” she tried to come up with something, but nothing practical came to mind.

Lupe frowned, shaking her head. “That is enough,” she said firmly, bringing her hands to the girls’ shoulders, ashamed that her palms were sweaty and shaking, hardly reassuring to a scared child trying to be brave. “Please, I need you to do something very important for me,” the girl stiffened, perhaps familiar with the seriousness in her mother’s voice. “Me and Shadow need some help here, and only you can do this. We cannot get in contact with Sally, or anyone else at the castle, so I need you to run there as fast as you can and not look back, no matter what you may hear. Do you understand me?” the girl looked defiant towards her mother, knowing exactly what this was. She held her mother’s stare for a few brief moments before she looked down and nodded her head in understanding. “Good girl,” Lupe said with a smile on her lips, her voice remarkable calm and even despite looking like she was holding in tears. That was the last image she would want her child to see of her, or her final foe.

The younger wolf looked as if she was about to run, but then looked towards Shadow with a stern expression that could have been ripped straight from her mother. “You…will protect my mom, won’t you?” she said, holding her stare with the hedgehog, even as she trembled when she felt the intensity behind his own gaze.

Slowly, Shadow nodded his head. “Of course,” he answered, then looked towards the mother wolf herself. “Until my last breath,” as comforting as his words were, even mimicking what she said moments ago, Lupe tried her absolute hardest to push how she felt to the back of her mind. This was not the time for blushing cheeks, awkwardness, or a wagging tail. Her determination to fulfil her duties she swore to uphold won out against her instincts as a woman to take the dark hedgehog in her arms. She was almost afraid what she would do should both of them somehow get out of this battle safe and sound.

Satisfied with the hedgehog’s answer and honestly, the younger wolf nodded her head and clenched her fists. “Thank you,” she said quietly, her entire body shaking as she turned around and ran away as fast as she could, not even daring to look back. Looking down at the ground she was standing at, both Shadow and Lupe noticed wet droplets in the cobblestone, the girl not wishing for either of them to see her cry as she ran.

The mother wolf gripped her weapon hard, her knuckles going white with the intensity, clearly not caring how much the right one hurt in that moment. “She is extremely brave,” Lupe blinked in surprise, not looking at the hedgehog, and instead just on the back of her retreating daughter until she turned the nearest corner, taking notice of every minor, minute detail.

Once she was gone and safe, Lupe looked at the dark hedgehog, then at their foes who did not even move an inch, Zik irritable confident that there was nothing they could do to his combined might with Zomom. “Thank you, Shadow, but you do not need to say that to comfort me,” she lowered her gaze, feeling so very useless right now that it frustrated her. Even if she had her weapon working properly right now, she was not sure she could be much use. She certainly wasn’t when she and Shadow worked against just Zomom alone. “Running away is hardly a brave thing to do.”

Shadow turned his attention towards her, then slowly shook his head as he looked towards the enemy. “You should know me well enough by now that I don’t complement anyone needlessly,” she tilted her head before he continued. “I saw a girl that fought against every instinct in her body to stand and fight, and instead turn around and run away because she knew full well that what she was capable of now would only end up getting in our way,” he looked down at his palms, slowly clenching them into fists as a certain blonde haired human girl flashed in his mind. “If I was in her position…at her age…I don’t think I could ever do that, not when the alternative meant losing someone I cared deeply for, and throw away the sacrifice they would make for me. I’d selfishly rather both of us died…together,” banishing the thoughts of that girl that was always at the forefront of his mind, the compass for every difficult decision he had to make, he looked towards Lupe who was staring at him with wide eyes. “So yes…she is brave, just like her mother that would sacrifice her life for her without a moments hesitation.”

Lupe looked at the Hedgehog, her lower lip quivering, her entire body shaking as she looked down at her feet the moment his gaze captured her own. His words, though not his intension, were very comforting. If any part of her was hesitant about trusting her daughter to get to Sally and Rotor, they evaporated in an instant. Not for the first time since she had started to get to know Shadow, beyond the brooding an intense hedgehog he was on the T.V. and on dossiers, always hesitant and cautious of who he lets close to him, she felt herself be drawn to him beyond admiring his power and skill, or being an inspiration for her. Try as she might, even in this dire situation, her body heated up and her heart raced madly within her chest. In that one instant, a new regret formed in her heart, and she was determined to snuff that out the instant the thought crossed her mind.

“Shadow…” she whispered his name gently, as if savouring every letter of it. Said hedgehog turned to her with a raised brow, about to ask her if she thought of something, when she suddenly closed the short distance between them, wrapped her arms around his neck tightly, and brought him into a deep, passionate kiss he was far too stunned to pull away from. The hedgehog, regaining his senses, felt as if he should pull her away, this certainly not the place for this sort of stunt, but even the Ultimate Lifeform could be a slave to his heart and feelings every now and again. His hands found her hips and his eyes closed as he leaned into the kiss more himself.

“Oh my…” whispered Master Zik as he stroked a long moustache, a smile on his lips. “This reminds me of those dramatic and romantic mobian shows I have taken a liking to recently. They even matched it right down to the poor timing of their feelings coming out. Perhaps it is something all mobians…” he was taken out of his thoughts suddenly when he looked down at Zomom, who was currently shielding his eyes with the palms of his hands, his entire head a beat read. “Oh come now, Zomom, your more than old enough to not let this sort of thing get to you. You’re one hundred and forty-three years old, not fifty. Act your age for once.”

The large creature shook his head, then slowly brought his hands down, still red faced. “S-Sorry, Master Zik,” he said lowly, always getting nervous when watching a display of affections. He was always like this. It just reminded Zik that their presence in this world was poisoning them all slowly, one way or another.

Slowly, but surely, Lupe pulled her lips away from Shadow’s, staring into those eyes that opened to meet her own. There were many, unanswered questions behind them, but she just answered with a revitalised smile and pulled away from him, running straight for the two Zeti. Shadow stared at her for but a moment before a smile crept onto the corner of his lips and ran after her as best as he could with his deactivated rocket shoes.

The captain of the royal guard narrowed her eyes and raised her weapon as she jumped up in the air high, her weapon overhead. It caught the attention of both Zik and Zomom, the former realising what she was trying to do. Grunting at his own foolishness, he looked back down at Shadow and spun his staff in hand quick enough to deflect several energy spears that were aimed right at his small body. Looking back at the wolf, she intended to continue her arial attack. “Zomom, you deal with Shadow,” he said simply. They worked best together, but it was best to eliminate the weaker of their two foes, then they can focus their efforts on destroying Shadow as a whole. Jumping from the larger Zeti’s shoulder, he gripped his staff and swung it. Both of their weapons, metal and wood, clashed in the air, both adversaries staring into each other’s eyes over their clashing weapons.

Shadow had a similar idea in mind for Zik. If he was taken out of the picture, then Zomom would be far more manageable. Both he and Lupe may still be down their greatest advantages, but he was sure they could still hold them at bay until reinforces can locate them and provide support. Surely some of the Zeti had been defeated by now. Curling into a ball, he spun as fast as he could manage, then shot forward at startling speed, aiming right for the larger creatures left, stumpy leg, knocking it out from under him and making him lean forwards on one wobbly leg, the wild swinging of his arms the only thing helping Zomom keep his balance.

Seeing his orange and black skinned foe was near his tipping point, Shadow uncurled from a ball to grab hold of a nearby lamppost he would have past and swung around it in circles. Once he was satisfied with the amount of speed he built up, he launched himself back towards his large enemy, aiming for the other leg once he rolled into a ball again. Despite the Zeti’s failed attempts to reach behind him and smack at the hedgehog, Shadow’s attack connected and made Zomom fall backwards onto the ground. The Black Blur acted quickly and turned right around to jump in the air and use Zomom’s exposed belly like a makeshift trampoline, aiming right for the back of Master Zik.

Despite him being engaged with one mobian foe already, Zik did not take his eyes off the dark hedgehog. He would be foolish to rely on Zomom to keep him at bay, especially when he already established that the large Zeti was only a threat now because of the older males instructions. “Honestly, you mobians will not be satisfied until I throw my back out…” he grumbled under his breath as he clashed his weapon against the wolf, both of them only now beginning to descend to the ground. He applied as much strength as his small body could allow, his advanced age only hindering it slightly. He pushed his weapon upwards with Lupe’s, lifting her arms up wide and defenceless. With no leverage from the ground, she could not recover quick enough before a small hand struck her cheek, an unsuspecting amount of power behind it that almost matched the Zeti’s millenniums worth of knowledge and experience. The wolf was sent flying with a yelp, leaving Zik free to engage the Ultimate Lifeform.

As shadow approached at blinding speeds, much greater than when rolling on the ground thanks to all that speed he built up, Zik gripped his staff like a baseball bat and smacked it hard against the approaching hedgehog, knocking him away easily. He may be fast, but hardly faster than Sonic. Zik has had plenty of opportunities to adjust his reflexes to such a fast foe, never mind someone that was slower.

Shadow grunted as he was sent backwards towards Zomom. “Get up now, Zomom!” Zik yelled at the top of his lungs, his voice reviving the normally clumsy creature to his feet instantly. “Now, play some volleyball with that hedgehog!” not missing a beat, Zomom jumped in the air at the command his old master gave him, and slammed the palm of his left hand hard down on the hedgehog while he was still curled into a ball and spiked him hard into the cobblestone ground below. Shadow roared in pain as dust and stone fragments rose up from the small crater he now occupied. He tried to get his bearings by getting back on his feet, but the weary Master Zik was already ahead of him. “Zomom, slam that arrogant hedgehog into the ground till his back snaps in half!” the dark hedgehog went wide eyed as the creature’s hand grabbed his entire arm and yanked him out of the crater, slamming him over head and into the ground behind him as hard as he could. Shadow screamed in agony, very sure he just felt a rib shatter. Another slam came, then another, and a fourth that felt even harder than the rest. Zomom raised the hedgehog high up from the dust cloud that obstructed him and saw that he was limply hanging by the arm, blood running down his forehead while some stray sharp stones stuck into his sides, a smaller trail of blood running down him. For all intents and purposes, the Ultimate Lifeform looked defeated.

Master Zik finally landed on the shoulder of his ally after his brief engagement with Lupe and Shadow, laughed dryly at the pathetic state of the dark hedgehog, stroking his long moustache as he did. Zomom turned his attention to the older Zeti, tilting his head as he did. “Master, is it over now?” he asked curiously, the hedgehog swinging lazily as he was held up like a cheap pendulum.

The blue skinned Zeti thought for a moment, observed Shadow, and saw that he was indeed still breathing. “Hmmmmmm…almost,” he turned his head towards Lupe who was still trying to get back on her feet after that surprisingly powerful punch to the face. “We still have a wolf left standing. Why don’t you go ahead and crush that weak hand of hers under foot,” Zik smirked at hearing Shadow’s anger growl, then turned to see him pointing his hand towards the Zeti, energy building in his palm, before firing small and weak Chaos Spears at him that were effortless to deflect with his wood staff. “Yes, I think that would be best,” he said with a dark smirk on his lips as he brought a hand to one of Zomom’s small horns, bracing himself as the larger creature jumped up an impressive height, then came down on Lupe, his left leg aimed straight for the wolf girl’s right hand.

The roar of pain and agony that came from Lupe was stomach churning, as all of Zomom’s weight came right down on her hand, no doubt shattering the bones within it. As her throat began to go hoarse from the screaming, as tears ran down her eyes, she continued to twist and move her hand in a vain attempt to free herself, but there was no helping her with the large Zeti towering over her downed form. “B-Bastard!” she roared defiantly, gritting her teeth as more tears flowed from her eyes freely.

Zik just chuckled down at her. “Oh my, a feisty one that is,” once he grew bored of her pointless struggles, he looked towards Shadow, his body looking more bloody and broken than the woman underfoot. “I think we are just about done here, don’t you think so, ‘Ultimate Lifeform,’” he used Shadow’s title once more with that mocking tone, getting Shadow’s attention, but he could do little in his current state, that previous Chaos Spear feeling like the last ebb of energy he possessed within his body. “If I can be honest with you, there is another reason I offered to focus my attention on you, Shadow. Do you have any idea why?” he asked, tilting his head as he continued to stroke his long strands of facial hair. The dark hedgehog was hardly in a position to even try answering his question. “It is because I despise creatures like you and Sonic, beings who are born with such extraordinary power, yet waste it on a poor attitude, or believe you are so beyond everyone else that there is no need for self-improvement. Even when we Zeti are born with greater strength and abilities beyond you mobians, that does not stop those like me and Zavok to improve our skills to their absolute highest potential. Is any of this getting to you, hedgehog?”

Shadow grunted in annoyance, opening his eyes to look at the withered face of the small Zeti, barely able to move his own body. “I’d…r-rather you just finish me off…t-than subject me to your…m-monologuing,” he said, spitting blood towards the Zeti, but it hardly reached and just spread out on Zomom’s chest. It did little to bother him at all.

Disgusted by the display, Zik moved along his allies long arm till he was closer to Shadow and chuckled. “Oh, I’m not going to kill you just yet. I think we’ll start with the woman,” he then raised his hand and snapped his fingers, making the fat Zeti smile.

Lupe roared anew at the torment she was subjected to, the anguish on her face palpable as tears ran down her face. To her credit, she refused to beg them to stop, enduring it all with admirable resolve that very few could keep up this long. “LEAVE MY MOM ALONE!” and in an instant, that resolve shattered. Right away, the mother began to struggle hearing the young, loud voice, even more so when she made out the grey fur through the tears in her eyes.

“W-What are you doing here…” she said in disbelieve, then gritted her teeth. “Get away from here RIGHT NOW!” despite the clear anger in her voice, to try and scare her away, the younger girl did not listen. Instead, she went up to the leg that pinned her mother and punched at it with her small fists, doing absolutely nothing to the giant Zeti it belonged to. “P-Please, stop it,” Lupe’s voice broke, going desperate, Shadow never before hearing such fear in her, even at the threat of her own life.

Zomom looked towards his master standing on his shoulder. “Ummmm…” was all he could really say, this situation confusing him entirely. Hearing the desperation in both the mother and daughter, Shadow began to move and struggle against the hand that gripped his entire arm. Seeing this, the older Zeti dawned a cruel smirk on his lips.

“On second thought, let’s work our way up from the child, then kill the woman when she is already broken. I’m sure if Zor were here right now, he would get a kick out of that sort of thing.” not even hesitating at what Master Zik was implying, the orange and black skinned Zeti gave a dumb chuckle at what his master was saying and swung his free hand right into the girl, the back of his hand the size of her entire body.

“NOOOOO! STOP!” Lupe roared as her daughter was knocked back off her feet and crumpled to the ground, the force of the attack almost like she was struck by a car going at full speed. She writhed where she was pinned down, no doubt causing more damage than what had already been done, but she did not care about her own wellbeing when the smaller wolf was being knocked to the ground. “STAY DOWN!” the wolf yelled to her daughter, warm and salty tears warping and distorting her vision as they ran down her cheeks and chin, forming a small puddle on the ground. “P-Please, stop this. J-Just stay down!” despite her words, however, the little girl got up, blood running down the side of her mouth while she cradled her left arm with the right, limping towards the larger creature.

The absolute, pure fear in Lupe’s eyes was undeniable, Shadow barely able to watch what was happening, feeling so useless right now. For Zik, however, he was gleefully enjoying himself, while Zomom was just happy to be carrying out orders properly and not be yelled at. The child should have run, Shadow thought, then there was a chance she could have been safe, but now her death was going to be yet another regret on his conscience. “I have to say, I’m enjoying that miserable expression on your face, Shadow,” Zik said, a cruel sneer clear on his aged lips. “From the information that had been gathered on you, I was led to believe you did not care much for other creatures, but I suppose if you’re the so called protecter of this planet, then that would just be contradictory.”

Shadow growled lightly, having enough strength to bring his free hand up to Zomom’s hand that gripped his arm and tried to pull at his fat fingers, but the extra pressure on his arm sent him reeling. “You…came here to kill me…so just do it already…and leave the two of them alone.”

The oldest Zeti merely chuckled, still so very smug and confident. “Oh no, we cannot have that, not when there is a lessen to be learned from this,” the screams of the young girl could be heard again as she was smacked backwards by Zomom, even harder this time. Shadow actually had to turn away with a winch, closing his eyes as he tried as hard as he could to block out Lupe’s frantic roars of pain and agony, as well as the younger wolf’s screams of pain as she is smacked around by the larger Zeti. Displeased with how he was looking away, Zik was quick to smack the hedgehog’s vulnerable cheek with the thick end of his wooden staff, making blood spray from his mouth in the process. “Now don’t look away, hedgehog,” he said, then turned to see the young wolf lift herself off the ground once more, blood dipping from a fresh cut on her cheek and was no longer nursing her injured arm, it just hanging and swinging loosely with every poor step she managed to make. Zik looked on amused. “Hmmmm…It is almost impressive how she can get up like that, but I think she has just about reached her…” he paused as the girl began to limp and groan towards where her mother was held down, ignoring the foreign pain that was shooting through every inch of her body. Zik’s eye just twitched in annoyance. “Honestly, all you mobians are the same with your inability to see the common sense of giving up when you’re outmatched.”

The little girl soon made her way to the fat Zeti for a third time and dropped to her knees, Lupe shaking her head as tears rolled down her face uncontrollably. “P-Please…j-just get away from here…f-forget about me,” she said, like she was trying to will her daughter to abandon her, but the girl did no such thing. Looking as if she barely had any strength left to stand on her feet, let alone swing her fists to attack her mother’s aggressor. Instead, she opened her mouth as wide as she could, revealing small, sharp teeth, and plunged them down on Zomom’s ankle, looking like a rapid, wounded dog in the process.

Zomom, for his part, did not seem at all disturbed by the girl trying to take a bite out of his leg, barely even feeling it. At least from the mild annoyance on his face, he could actually feel it. “Ummmmm…Master, this is getting boring…and I’m getting hungry,” he admitted, this being the first time he even mentioned food while working with the older creature. It seemed Master Zik got enough respect from Zomom, and perhaps the other Zeti, to not bring up their clear character flaws before him, at least for a few minutes. His stomach even rumbled, too, showing how much he had been holding himself back until now. “Can we finish them now?”

Zik stroked his mustache as he looked to Shadow, then Lupe, then the young girl, only to shrug his shoulders. “Hmmmm…I suppose. This has proven to hardly be as satisfying as I thought it would be,” the orange and black Zeti smiled wildly, looking like he was close to jumping in place. If he did that, he certainly would have only caused further damage to the two wolves at his feet. “Actually, perhaps we can fix your hunger right now,” he then looked at the small girl, making Shadows eyes go wide as he knew what he was going to order the giant to do. “Why don’t you make a meal out of the little cub.”

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” roared the mother wolf as she struggled and thrashed against the leg that held her in place, looking as if she was on the brink of gnawing off her own arm to protect her daughter from that horrifying image that no doubt flashed in her mind. “SHE’S JUST A CHILD! STOP IT!” but her pleas went on deaf ears as Zomom just chuckled dumbly and grabbed the small girl by the scruff, struggling to separate her mouth from his ankle she was still biting into, but quickly was forced to release him when the Zeti pulled hard enough.

As with Lupe, Shadow struggled against the hand that held him up, but he could not so much as move one of Zomom’s sausage sized fingers that tightly held onto him. “Damn it, stop this right now!” the dark hedgehog said with as much authority as his voice could demand, but Zik just waved him off. “You want me, so f*cking fight me then, you cowards!”

Master Zik just looked at the hedgehog the same way someone would look at a worm that just poked it’s head out of the earth. “You still do not get it, do you, hedgehog?” Shadow stopped his struggles briefly, if only to listen. “I said there was a lessen to learn from this experience, and I am nothing if not a competent teacher,” he smirked darkly and leaned closer to Shadow, his small body just standing before Zomom’s wrist as he stared into the hedgehog’s eyes. “The next time you feel like playing the hero, you should get in line with the rest of your Restoration rabble…” Shadow bared his teeth, wishing he could move closer and bite at his moustache and pull it off his withered face. “And wait for Sonic to save try and save the day,” the old man then turned away to look at his partner devour the innocent child.

Shadow clenched his teeth hard, growling, clenching his fists, every inch of misery and disgust at his own weakness only serving to amuse Zik more. “MOM!” the young girl yelled, crying now, her injured body flailing as best it could in her weakened state, but much like with her harmless punches and sharp teeth, they did nothing to help her current situation. The larger Zeti had a wild, hungry smile on his lips as he licked them like the girl was a fully cooked chicken, rather than a living creature.

Lupe closed her eyes tight, unable to watch this, her voice going frantic with a piercing scream. “PLEASE STOP!” she wailed, her throat and eyes hurting almost as much as her right hand. “DON’T TAKE MARIA AWAY FROM ME!”

Shadow’s eyes widened in an instant. “Ma…ri…a?” he whispered the name as a blond human girl flashed in his mind, having a smile so full of life on her face, the infinity of space, and the planet she wished to visit one day, behind her. Time seemed to slow to a crawl for the dark hedgehog, his gaze going to Lupe as she wailed for her daughter, showing a side of herself she never wanted anyone to see, especially not Shadow, then looked to the young wolf, Maria, and how she was terrified for her life as she was picked off her feet, her screams echoing in the hedgehog’s ears. “Not again…” Shadow said quietly, chaotic power crackling to life in the palm of his right hand that he brought to Zomom’s wrist, his body filled with a rage so white hot that all the pain he felt throughout his body melted away, his body steadying. “Never…again…” Sensing the sudden rise in power, Master Zik turned his attention back to the dark hedgehog and quickly jumped backwards to safety as his vision was enveloped by a red light. “CHAOS BLAST!”

Expecting to be incinerated on the spot, or his old body to be at least horrifically wounded, the millennia old Zeti lowered his hand from his eyes to find that not only was he not damaged by the desperate attacks blast radius, but Shadow was missing, too, only leaving a severe wound on Zomom’s wrist that the large creature only now reacted to, yelping in pain. Compared to the first time he used this move, the blast radius was minuscule, but enough to distract them, as well as harm Zomom enough to release the hedgehog. “Where is he? Where’s Shadow!” he demanded frantically, looking all around him, but seeing nothing.

“Oh, there he is,” Zomom answered after a few moments. Zik turned his head just in time to see Shadow in the air, mere inches from Zomom with his hand outstretched and that power building within his palm so soon after the last one. Of course, Zomom was far too dumb to see the danger of being close to the hedgehog right now.

“Get us away from him, you dumb fool! Drop the girl and get back!” immediately, the large Zeti did as instructed and let go of his wolf mobian appetiser, then jumped backwards, just barely escaping the short range of the second Chaos Blast Shadow used, both of them a far cry in comparison to the power he displayed before Master Zik showed up.

Taking a good look at him, Zik could see that the gloves in both hands were fairly torn up now, red blood dripping from the fabric, dyeing patches of the shredded things that same colour, it darkening more and more with each passing second. Zik had to admit, it was a clever tactic, using a small amount of energy to not only free himself, as well as save both wolf mobians, and force them to get a distance away, but it was certainly at a dire cost. As he established before, Shadow struggles at controlling the power within himself, harming himself at the cost of more controlled attacks, so even if the attack was weak, limiting the range the way he did no doubt must have inflicted serious wounds to him. Both his arms looked as if they were just a hit or two away from snapping in half.

Shadow grabbed the now released girl, bringing her to her mother after they dropped to the ground together, and watched as Lupe wrapped her arms around her daughter’s small body like they could be torn from each other at any moment. Even at the sound of Zik’s mocking laughter, the mother and daughter continued to embrace. Shadow, however, channelled not only his anger, but the same rage Lupe would display in that moment if she was not preoccupied with more important things. “I have to say, ‘Ultimate Lifeform’ I’m impressed you still had so much power remaining within you, but it seems to have come with an unnecessary risk,” he said with a smirk on his lips, eyeing the drops of blood that ran down his exposed fingers and dripped to the floor at his feet. “Instead of those two attacks that near crippled your arms, you would have been better using it for one, larger attack. You probably would have disposed of me unceremoniously, but I suppose that would have killed the women and left you alone with Zom…”

“Five minutes,” shadow said, his red eyes deadly and focused, clenching his bloody fists as he glared at the smaller Zeti.

Zik raised a brow and tilted to the side slightly, probably craning his neck if he actually possessed one. “Hmmmm…what was that?”

Shadow did not break his line of sight, did not even blink. “You said before that you desire glorious battles and triumphs that can top off your life. Just wait that long, and I’ll show you exactly what the Ultimate Lifeform can do.”

Curiosity bloomed on Zik’s face, once more stroking his moustache as he looked the dark hedgehog up and down. Honestly, he did not expect much, not after Shadow used so much power already, and having such a damaged, battered form, but the prospect of Shadow living up to that obnoxious moniker he carelessly threw around proved very tempting to him. Even if he scolds his fellow Zeti for succumbing to their own desires, he was just as guilty of the exact same thing. He chuckled and placed his hand on Zomom’s head, a silent command for him not to make a move. “Very well then. Show this old warrior what all the…’hype’ is about, is the word I think what the young one’s use.”

Not caring to confirm, or correct, he wordlessly turned to Lupe and her daughter, Maria, and slowly went down to one knee. He stared at them intensely for a few moments before Lupe slowly pulled the younger wolf out of the hug. Where relief and joy was on her face before, she only felt a deep shame as her cheeks tinged red and looked away. This must have been why she was hesitant to tell him anything about her family on the way here, not even tell him her name. She knew exactly what that name meant to him. “S-Shadow…” she gulped, feeling so small and weak under his unblinking stare. “I-I am so sorr…”

“Not now, Lupe,” he said calmly, cutting her off with a stern voice. “There will be time for that later,” he moved his hand, holding it out towards her. “Give me your Zeti Zapper,” he ordered. The confusion was clear on her face. Both of them were already aware of how ineffective they were, thanks to Whisper, so what could he possible be planning. Slowly shaking her head at trying to think of what he was plotting when he was on a time limit, she reached into the satchel she placed the small, disk like device when Tails handed them to all of them before leaving the command centre, and gave it to the hedgehog.

As Shadow moved to stand up, a voice called out. “A-Are you being mean to my mommy,” he paused, then looked to the smaller, female wolf. Her eyes, so much like her mothers, stared up at Shadow with a fierce, unshakable determination that Lupe also had when they first met. He looked at her, then Lupe, only to slowly go back down on his knee, keeping his expression serious, but not enough to frighten her. It was amazing that, despite her wounds, and so badly hurt, she could still look at him like that.

He shook his head. “No,” he said simply, then focused on lupe, thinking about the brief time they spent together, from despising each other, to fighting against each other, exploring the city she protected, learning more about her, fighting with her and…the kiss she gave him, too. Out of all the things she could have done in what he could only suspect would be their final moments, she chose to do that. Now in a similar position as her, he felt the same kind of draw she did, surprised with himself at how much he wished to feel her lips against his own, but stopped himself and focused on the younger wolf once more. “Me and your mother…just need to discuss things between us, but only after I take down the ones that hurt her…and you,” he could excuse any pain and misery inflicted on himself, but never on those he cared about, or the innocent. It was a shortlist of individuals, but each and every one of them were special to the dark hedgehog. He almost felt bad for promising Zik a fight when this would quickly become a massacre.

The girl looked at Shadow for several silent heartbeats, staring into his red eyes curiously, seeing the power they held, but also a comforting kindness that was an alien thing for him to express freely. Shadow got up and turned and turned away from her, just barely catching a brief smile on the corner of her lips before all she could see was his back and spiked up quills.

“Your name is Maria, right?” he asked, not looking at her. She almost jumped in place as she nodded her head silently, the hedgehog continuing, despite not turning to confirm her answer. “I knew a girl named Maria once, too. She was strong, kind, and cared about her family more than anything in this world,” he inhaled deeply, steeling his nerves. “You…honour that name by being just like her,” he could swear he heard inhale sharply at that, but still he did not turn to her. “But…I suppose it helps when you have a mother like Lupe, too.”

The girl gulped, tears stinging her eyes as she clung close to her mother, only now noticing her severely damaged hand that was bleeding even worse than the black furred hedgehog’s. “Are…you strong?”

Shadow just scoffed at the question and walked towards his foes, that amused smile still on his lips. Her mothers unharmed hand went over her daughters, staring at the hedgehog’s back as he walked off. “Of course he is…he’s the Ultimate Lifeform. Shadow the Hedgehog.”

Zik, waiting patiently for the agreed upon time, stroked his moustache as he watched the hedgehog approach, only to pause a few feet away from where he stood on Zomom’s shoulder. He had a smile on his wrinkled lips the entire time. “Truly a touching display, hedgehog, but nauseating all the same. When you said five minutes before, I was not expecting you to subject me to that tripe for three whole minutes,” he eyed the Zeti Zapper the hedgehog held in one bloody hand, then the other one he kept on his person that was given to him by Tails. His withered brow scrunched together in a frown. “And what, pray tell, do you hope to accomplish with those things? Our tolerance for those accursed Zeti Zappers, as you call them, are far beyond what they are capable of right now? Even if they did, how do you expect to get close enough to either of us to even make that work before we crush you?” he asked, trying to piece together the hedgehog’s plan with the little scraps he had been given so far.

Shadow growled in annoyance at the smaller creature, banishing all thoughts of Lupe and Maria from his mind to focus on the task at hand. “Shut your mouth, Zeti,” Shadow said as he clenched his fists, annoying Zik at that kind of backtalk, especially when the dark hedgehog was in no position to give it. “I have two more minutes, so act your age, and be patient.”

The millennium old Zeti grunted in annoyance, his small hands gripping the long, wooden staff in his hands, but them quickly calmed himself so he could regain his composure. Once more stroking his moustache, he gave a withered smile to Shadow. “Very well then, but do not make me regret this. For your sake, and the women behind you.”

Shadow inhaled through his black nose, taking solace in the comforting sensation. “You have been irritating me ever since you showed up, Zik. All you do is talk and talk, with Zomom doing everything for you, spewing nonsense about your ‘glory days’ when none of the other Deadly Six have probably never even seen those ‘glory days’ only having your word to go on,” the elder male glowered at the dark hedgehog, simmering where he stood on Zomom’s shoulder, the larger creature gulping and remaining quiet. He knew full well how Zik could punish those who doubted long life of battle and conquest, Zor, Zazz and Zeena often doing that whenever they were in a particularly poor mood on some days, and not willing to tolerate the older Zeti’s scoldings and insults. “But worst of all, ever since you got here to take credit for Zomom’s efforts, you have been underestimating your enemies the entire time.”

Zik could feel his anger begin to boil over. He could tolerate a lot, but claims of stolen glory and valour were one of the few things that could truly set him off. For a warrior such as him, hearing someone claim he was lying about his achievements, to be reminded that no one was around anymore to recall the glorious battles he had taken part in, angered him to no end. Never had he had such a strong desire to crush someone underfoot like he did with Shadow right now. Only by holding onto the tattered remains of his pride and honour did he not order Zomom to just tackle and destroy the dark hedgehog. He followed the hedgehog’s example and inhaled through his nose to calm his body and temper emotions. “Is that so?” he asked, stroking his moustache in that way that helped to calm him down. “And who would I be underestimating? You? The woman?”

“Both of us,” he said with a serious expression, his lips a bemused, flat line. “as well as Sonic.”

“Sonic?” Zik asked confused, then looked at Zomom like he could have an answer, but was instead looking around like the name would summon the Blue Blur himself. Composing himself, he stared down at the black furred hedgehog. “And what does that loudmouth of a nuisance have to do with anything right now?”

Shadow frowned at the Zeti as he bent down, placing one of the Zeti Zappers on one of his rocket shoes. Master Zik raised a brow, having an idea of what the hedgehog was plotting. “You said before that I should get in line and wait for Sonic to save the day,” he had frowned and shook his head, closing his eyes as he thought of the annoying, blue furred hedgehog that pushed Shadow to his limits every time, tested him in not just power and speed, but in morality, too. “But you could not be more wrong. He may underestimate his foes, and foolishly offer more chances to his enemies than any other sane person should, but as consistent as that is to his character, so is his inability to underestimate his allies. The fact Sonic is not here right now is because he trusts everyone who came to the Acorn Kingdom to handle whatever possible threats we would face here. All of us are capable of ‘saving the day’ without Sonic, doing everything within our power to help and protect those we have sworn to protect. I’m no different,” he placed the second Zeti Zapper on his other shoe, activating them. Immediately, they came back to life, fire and smoke igniting from the miniaturised rockets at the soles.

Zik, however, did not seem all that impressed. “I see, and is this your big gamble? Use the Zeti Zapper’s to neutralise the effects of our abilities on your shoes, rather than stunning us? I’d hate to ruin your big reveal, but that will only buy you a few, brief seconds, perhaps even less time than using it on us directly,” the older male laughed, Zomom following his example with his dumb laugh, not really understanding what was going on.

“Your information on me is also outdated, Zik,” Zik’s laugh began to soften to a light chuckle, then paused entirely, his eyes narrowing. “You’re right that I have limiters placed on my body because I cannot control the overwhelming chaos energy coursing through me at all times of every day,” he explained, brushing his bloodied hand over one of the rings on his wrists, looking down at the similar ones on his ankles, too. “Both sets of them are FAR too destructive to be used practically, only used for especially desperate situations, or isolated locations where it is just me and my enemy, but now I have a third limiter on my power, one that is far less destructive than the other two.

Before the elder Zeti could ask the hedgehog what he was talking about, recalling all that he has learned about Shadow from information gathered about him over the last few years, as well as reading Starline’s notes on the Ultimate Lifeform, a sound began to emit from the two shoes on Shadow’s feet as he pressed some sort of hidden button located on both of them. The small rockets retracted into the shoes themselves as a steel cover slide over where they were once exposed while the tips of the shoes dipped downwards, rather than pointing forwards. The material seemed to soften, too, looking like leather, rather than the mechanical appearance it has always had. The transformation was short and unimpressive looking, certainly less of a spectacle than removing those golden rings, but seeing Shadow in perfectly normal running shoes, much like Sonic’s, was an odd sight in its own right.

“I don’t need the Zeti Zappers to fight off your E.M.P. abilities and defeat you with my rocket shoes, I just needed them to be turned back on to switch to this new mode,” he looked down at his shoes uncaringly, scoffing at them as the Zeti Zappers fell off uselessly, the power within them completely drained. “I really hate what this mode represents, Zik, but if there is one thing I have learned from Sonic over the years…” he said with a smirk tugging on his lips as he bent down, taking up a runners stance, his hands on the stone below with his right leg in front of the other, body posture low to the ground. “It’s that sometimes it’s not so bad to try things his way every now and again,” as red energy rose up from within his transformed rocket shoes, caressing and enveloping his legs, Zik felt a cold line of sweat run down the side of his face, slowly taking a step backwards on Zomom’s shoulder. “Now, let’s see what you think of the Ultimate Lifeform when I actually have to run.”

(Castle Acorn – R&D Laboratory #3)

The battle within R&D Laboratory #3, the one that focused entirely on weapon advancement and upgrades, was steadily growing more and more intense. Thanks to the efforts of Surge and Kit, most, if not all, of the researchers stationed within had managed to escape, which was quickly proving to be a good thing as the level of destruction that was taking place would surely set back any projects that are not already in their database by two months or so.

The one causing the greatest amount of damage, of course, was Bunnie Rabbot, who chuckled computers, burning debris, and whatever else she could get her cybernetic hand on, but Surge and Kit were hardly doing their part minimise the damage. The green furred tenric would shoot out electricity that would make computers and fuel canisters explode, while the blue fennic foxes hydrokinesis just served to spread Surge’s level of destruction even further than what she was capable of alone, as well as damaging his fair share of the many computers located within the large underground lab that was just as large as a football stadium.

While Surge and Kit were ambiguous heroes at best, this was exactly the reason why Sally was hesitant to deploy them. Sure, they could patrol the city easily, prevent a car robbery, or a mugging, or effortlessly capture two skunks before they could ambush the Princess and her two guests, but when it came to neutralising someone as destructive and violent as a cybernetic rabbit, or even a Zeti, the level of destruction would reach a scale that Sally would not be able to tolerate.

So far, this gig with Sally was pretty sweet, and even with a limited, controlled exposure with Mobotropolis, they had amassed quite the fanbase. Though all of that was for jobs that needed a quick and swift solution. Kit would probably be more cautious of his environment and making sure no one got hurt, but even he was susceptible to being as bloodthirsty as his partner if she gets excited enough by fighting a powerful foe that can keep up with her.

This unknown girl, Bunnie Rabbot, was certainly proving herself to be just as dangerous as the Zeti with how fast she could fly, as well as her impressive strength. While it would be logical to assume she only had enhanced strength in her left, robotic arm, her right hook was nothing to scoff at due to the Metal Virus that altered her skeletal structure, much like it did with Surge and Kit. While it was established by Rotor that she was a prototype for Starline’s mobian cyborgs, with Surge and Kit being the final version of that particular project, that did not mean she was total pushover, even when fighting the two of them together.

“Damn it! This bitch knows how to take a punch!” Surge yelled after slamming an electric powered fist right into her opponent’s cheek, sending her a distance away, bouncing off the ground once, before colliding with a control panel that reacted to the electricity skirting along her body and exploded. To prove the girls point, Bunnie slowly rose up from the flames with a severely bruised cheek, and the tip of one drooping ear set aflame, but the only thing she showed was a much greater anger than ever before, her face slowly healing, too, though not as fast as Surge and Kit’s own healing ability.

Kit observed the fighting for the last two minutes now as he worked, having a mix between helping those still within the lab to evacuate, or provide support to Surge whenever he could. The two of them were doing massive amounts of damage as they clashed, the lab not able to go over ten seconds before another explosion echoed out. At this rate, there would no longer even be a lab to save. At the very least, it looked like he got everyone to safety.

“Star…line…STARLINE!” the rabbit cyborg roared loudly, and not for the first time, either. Both of the local heroes were beginning to take note of how less normal she was sounding, and far more…mechanical. Besides Surge and Kit, that she appeared to be aware of, Starline was the only name she uttered, and just hearing that name only served to piss off the Tenric more. Just knowing that he is crawling around here somewhere, thanks to the information Sally shared with them a few minutes ago, she was looking forward to crushing him under a building herself this time and make sure he stays dead. Maybe she can ask Kitsunami to flood it for good measure, too.

Surge groaned and rolled her eyes while she panted. “Yeah…yeah, I get it, Starline, Starline, Starline, oh woe is me, Starline is a bastard that ruined my life. Get a new tune already, lady, you’re not original. Me and Kit have been dealing with that sh*t for as long as we can remember,” Surge argued with clear frustration and annoyance on her face. The cyborg rabbit did not seem to take too kindly to the green tenrec’s attitude as she frowned deeply, snarling like a wild animal while she held her robotic fist out towards her foe. Surge just grinned at her. “Sorry, little miss terminator, but if you wanna reach me, you’re gonna have to pump those rocket feet to full blast and…”

Bunnie then, surprisingly, fired her fist towards the mocking tenric, her robotic fist grabbing at her throat before the electric user could react. Metal digits gripped her throat with a crushing pressure, enough so that it would probably snap her neck if her body was not reinforced the way it was. Thinking quick, Surge brought both hands up to the assaulting hand and blasted it with several thousand volts of electricity, but it did not seem to do anything to Bunnie. The reinforced cable that connected the fist to her wrist then began to retract with a tremendous amount of force, enough to pull the tenric off her feet towards her foe, then get her face bashed in by the rabbits regular looking right fist. Surge was very sure she felt her nose cave into her muzzle, disorientating her. She’d be dead right now if she did not have that Metal Virus gunk inside her.

The rabbit pulled back her fist to slam it back into the tenric’s face once more, but Surge quickly rose her left hand to catch it in her palm. A groan left her mouth as her nose and muzzle regained its former shape ever so slowly, though it did interfere with her speech a little. “Ok…good to know…arm and legs are…shock proof,” once her face fully reformed, she had a wide, sharp tooth smirk on her lips. “Now let’s see how the fleshy bits do,” despite the robotic hand attempting to crush her throat, Surge endured and charged up her left hand with a massive amount of electricity, enough so that cyborg psycho of limited words turned her head towards the high ceiling of the lab and screamed in agonised pain. Despite the voice that was steadily becoming more and more mechanical in sound, her scream sounded very normal and in anguish, the sound only made more horrifying as her whole right arm was soon lit on fire with the massive amounts of electricity coursing through her body. Once the girl released her robotic arm from Surge’s throat, she knew she discovered her enemies weakness. “Alright, now just back the f*ck down and we can…” Surge stopped midsentence as the woman growled at her, baring her teeth while pointing her hand right at the electric girls face, it soon transforming into something very different. Within a second, surge was stearing down the barrol of a cannon, and was already charging to fire. “What the…why the…” was all she got to say before she was blasted away by the energy that shot through the muzzle, crashing through several walls and causing explosions wherever she went, the electricity wreathing around her body lighting a dangerous spark in even the most minute piece of electrical equipment.

Kit gasped loudly as he saw this. “S-Surge!” he yelled, looking at the rabbit girl as he examined the robotic arm that had become a cannon, as well as the small trench she made from the shot that gauged into the ground, melting the steel floor that was still red from being super-heated. Shaking his head, he quickly moved over to Surge while the rabbit was fascinated by the cannon arm she just used, clearly not realising she possessed such a thing. Once he reached where the last explosion was, he saw Surge’s hand stick out from the top of the rubble and immediately brought his water tendrils to action and began moving the debris on her. “Surge!” He said her name again, helping her up, then going pale as he looked at her.

“FUUUUUCK,” she groaned out as she tried standing up thanks to the fox, but fell back down on her butt. “Why does she get a cannon arm…I want a cannon arm…S-Starline’s such a…f*cking cheapskate…oh, that’s not good,” finally noticing her partner and where he was staring at her, Surge looked down at the large, gaping hole in her torso that reached up almost to her chest and down to her waistline. Her healing had noticeable slowed greatly from that attack. It was a natural thing when the dormant Metal Virus within her and Kit’ bodies are pushed to their limits with no rest in between, but it never happened so soon. Either that cannon arm packed a massive punch by itself, or it was designed reduce the capabilities of the Metal Virus within their bodies. In either scenario, Surge would not want to be hit by it again any time soon. “sh*t, that thing smarts, and I really liked that shirt, too,” she groaned, having a bit more sense as she slowly stood up a second time, better supported by Kit, too.

Kit looked at her with concern on his features. “Was she this strong before?” he asked as he moved with her, hiding behind some consoles while using his water tendrils to support her body. She didn’t like it much, but she was left with little option while waiting for that clean hole in her gut to close up.

Surge thought back to when she fought Bunnie Rabbot a few months ago. On the same day the Eggcelsior went down, while the Restoration was simultaneously striking at many of his bases to bring down Eggman’s entire Eggman Empire in a single operation, The Acorn Kingdom wished to get involved in the action and take some Eggman tech for themselves, but Surge was not dumb and knew it was just Sally’s father, the former King, wishing to test her to see how well she worked with others, as well as separated from Kit. Part of her only agreed to it for the off chance she could fight Sonic and kick his ass into the pavement, but Sally did tell her to take things seriously.

While there, they got some stuff on Eggman, and later found out it was a Starline base that Surge had no idea about. Going deeper, they came across Bunnie and she broke out of her stasis tube the second she locked eyes with the green tenrec, screaming her name the entire time, even though Surge was very sure they never met before. Once she broke out, she started violently attacking her and the crew of Acorn Kingdom forces she rolled in with. She protected all of them that day, with minimal injury, which was the ideal result that Maximillian Acorn was looking for, despite the sudden appearance of a violent combatant. Even then. It was easy to tell Bunnie was not operating fully, not entirely optimised to take on Surge after such a long time in stasis and unable to access her full capabilities. Due to Rotor’s more humane methods, and only putting her under when she got especially violent in her new stasis pod, it was clear she was not at the same disadvantage she was back then.

“Nah, I kicked her teeth in after she just rolled out of bed back then. Right now, though, it feels like she’s juiced up on her morning coffee,” she grunted as the wound finally began to heal. The first thing was her ribs reforming, then her organs, muscle tissue, skin, then fur. “Dammit, don’t think I can take her down by myself, Drippy. You mind giving me a hand?” she asked. He normally just hung back when it came to one-on-one confrontations, usually having something better the fox could be doing in the background, but she was not above asking him for help when he was needed. They were partners, after all.

The blue fennec fox smiled brightly at that and nodded his head. “You got it, Surge! I’ll help as best I can,” he said excitedly, practically bouncing on his toes and heels giddily.

Surge chuckled at that, actually getting an honest smile from her. “Good, because I got awesome an plan to take her down. First, I need you to pop your head out and see where she is. If she’s still gushing over her cannon arm, then we can…”

“She’s…not there,” as expected from Kit, he did his job the moment the words left the mouth of the green furred tenrec, interrupting her mid explanation of her plan when he saw the first snag in her plan, or rather, lack thereof. Surge paused and moved up behind him, making him blush when he could feel her breasts brush right against his arm, trying his best to remain professional. “I…was sure she was standing right there when I got to you, but she’s gone now.”

Surge blinked as she looked around herself, and indeed saw no sign of their cyborg enemy. “What the hell? Where did she…” she paused when she looked towards the ground, seeing the ground light up with a blue glow. She quickly looked up above them, as did Kit, and saw the muzzle of Bunnie’s left arm cannon glow with a dangerous blue light. Thinking fast, Surge gripping kit by the arm and pulled him away with her. “New plan! Improvise! IMPROVISE!” she yelled as she jumped out of the way with her partner, just as that energy cannon destroyed the ground they had just been standing on, the released energy on impact pushing them further away from the impact zone.

Once they got to safety, rolling into balls much like the two heroes they were designed to mimic and replace, Kit quickly rolled out and looked up towards the Rabbit girl who was searching the dust cloud for her prey. It may put them in further risk, but he decided to take a page from his own rival, Tails, and knew exactly the kind of thing he would say in a situation like this. “Please stop this Bun…” he quickly stopped himself from saying that possible disrespectful name, not wishing to potentially trigger her more than she already was. “Please just stop,” she followed her ears and pointed her cannon right at the fennic fox, energy slowly building at the muzzle, much slower than the other times. She did not seem to have any rapid-fire capabilities, so maybe they could use this information to their advantage. “We know that Starline is here. You’re hunting him, right? You hate him?” she growled at the name, mercifully not screaming the doctors name for once. “Well, he ruined our lives, too. We thought he was dead for the longest time while we were here, but now we have a chance to get our own revenge against him. There is no sense in the three of us fighting each other and giving him the chance to run away and ruin other people’s lives like he did ours. Can’t we just…not try and kill each other until he is confirmed to be nothing but a memory for us?”

The blue fox held his ground by standing in place, not taking his eyes off the rabbit. Surge was incredible tense the whole time as she watched the two of them, ready to run in and save the fox the moment he saw the girl was going to fire. Amazingly, however, the rabbit girl spoke up, not screaming Starline’s name since they retrieved her from that abandoned base, or Surge and Kit’s whenever she locked eyes with them. “He…ruined…my life…” one of her eyes looked very…vulnerable in that moment, a tear rolling down her cheek from it while her voice sounded normal enough. Perhaps he was getting through to her? “All for that…blasted ring…we were like…g-guinnie pigs…a-abandoned by him…then…o-oh no…” her normal right hand went to her head, as if it was going to split in two. “Then…h-he found me again…experimented on me for…f-for…” she screamed loud, her voice sounding like whatever was going on in her head was pure agony. The girl even growled as she slammed her fleshy hand harshly against her head, like she was trying to crush a crawling spider that went under her flesh, under her skull and running along her brain.

Not wishing to make her feel like she needs to go through this alone, Kit reached out his hand towards her, concern on his face. “For…what?” he asked, thinking the question would help her focus and flow like a river, rather than get stuck and pent up like a dam.

This, however, turned out to be a mistake as her crying eye glossed over and focused on the two mobians below her, the energy in her cannon arm growing even stronger than before. “YOU, TWO!” she roared, her voice becoming more mechanical than ever before, barely having any tone of voice that even resembled a regular person. With a scream, she fired that pent up energy at the fennec fox, missing him by a hair when Surge rushed in to save him from something that would have surely destroyed him.

“Well, that lame plan didn’t work,” Surge grumbled as the girl started freaking out above them, looking more unstable than ever. She pointed her weapon at them, intending to fire, but nothing came out. Looks like she was on a really long cooldown period after firing three times in a row like that. She may have done some major damage to the lab, but at least there was no loss of life to come of it. “On the plus side, at least we have some breathing room.”

Kit sighed and shook his head. “That’s something at least. How does Tails make that look so easy,” he asked, though did not expect an answer from his green furred friend, or at least not a serious and pleasant one. He took a cautious look around, seeing the lab had been long abandoned. There was a possibility that there may be some people trapped under the debris, but they could be rescued at a later date. If they wanted to ensure there would be no more casualties, they needed to take out this girl before she can fire her cannon again. A plan soon formed in the smart fox’s brain. “Your electricity really affected her arm before. Maybe if we can combine our abilities and aim for somewhere more vulnerable like…”

“Her head?” Surge offered and got a nod from the fox. She then smirked. “Oooooh, someone is in a dark mood today. You sure that won’t kill her? You know the little Princess will be pissy at us if we at least don’t TRY and take her in alive” she watched the rabbit hovering above them, finally giving up on her cannon as smoke emerged from the muzzle and converted it back to the fist that broke the tenrecs nose before.

Kit gave the dangerous plan a few extra considerations, but nodded his head when pleased with the percentage of success that would secure all objectives. “She should be fine. You set her arm on fire before and the Metal Virus within her healed her up like it would us. If I can get her head in a bubble of water, and you light it up, the damage should be enough to knock her out…but I’m not sure if it would have lasting damage on her psyche…”

Surge seemed to chuckle at that, a wide smirk building on her lips. “So, you’re saying that if we shock her head, we could probably have her go from an insane psycho to a totally normal, boring girl?”

Kit stared at her in disbelieve. “W-What? N-No. If we do this then there is a chance we could probably, at best, wipe out her memory, or at worst turn her into a vegetable for the rest of her life. We have to…” but Surge was already dashing towards their foe, leaving crackling electricity in the air in her wake. Kit lowered his head and sighed. “I suppose… neither is technically murder,” giving in, he activated his hydro pack and followed after the tenrec with his high-pressure water.

Seeing the two foes come towards her, the angry rabbit rushed towards them, the propulsion on her rocket feet being far more powerful than ever before, so much so that she collided with Surge before she even had a chance to dodge, knocking her hard into the ground. Bunnie wasted no time lifting her metal arm and bringing it right down on Surges face, near caving her head in the process. Not for the first time since this fight began, the Metal Virus had helped her survive a fatal injury, but it was beginning to slow down. Even with her face half messed up, she was able to avoid follow up attacks of equal deadliness by merely moving her head one way or another, trying her best not to stare at the metal ground her foes fist had struck and not think that her face could look like that if she stopped taking this seriously.

Just as the fourth punch came down at her, Bunnie was stopped mid attack by water tendrils wrapping around her metal arm. She tugged at it forceable, intent to smashing the face of the female tenrec, but she could barely even move it by an inch, despite the water not having any physical mass that would be capable of restraining someone. To a hydrokinetic like Kit, such a feat was childs play. When she turned, using her regular right hand to pull at them, her hands went right through the tendril shaped body of the water, the fennic fox smiling confidently.

“Where do you think you’re looking, Rabbot,” came the voice of Surge, Bunnie turning her head just in time for the electric user to grip her face firmly, fingers digging deeply into her fur and flesh, then blasted her with as much voltage as she could dish out in her current state. The cyborg screamed out as that electricity shot through her body and systems, frying her from the inside out to the point where smoke was beginning to rise from her body, but the experience of what happened to her arm before led to her activating the thrusters on her feet and breaking away from Surge, and instead fly towards the blue fox holding her in place.

Kit instinctually raised his arms to defend himself from the approaching threat, but a quick manoeuvre mid-flight saw her slam her metallic legs into the white furred gut of the boy. One of her feet even penetrated his stomach, making his eyes go wide as he roared in pain. Seeing an opportunity to do some damage, the cyborg rabbit lit up the thrusters within the soles of her feet and began burning away at the fennic fox’s insides, sending him roaring in pain as he was cooked alive from the inside out, the Metal Virus just barely able to keep up with the major damage his organs were sustaining. His eyes dilated as he screamed in horrific agony, his insides feeling like they were charring over.

Finally getting up, Surge saw what was happening to Kit and growled at hearing him in such miserable agony. Electricity crackled to life all along her body, lightning moving from one piece of metal on her body to another while her fur stood up on end. “Oh, that’s it! No one hurts Drippy and gets away with it!” she roared and closed the distance at lightning-fast speeds till she was right behind the rabbit harming her partner and brought her hands to either side of her head. “Do it now, Kit!” she roared.

Fighting through the pain with gritted teeth, Kitsunami mustered his powers as best he could and summoned four tendrils of water to fire towards the rabbit girl’s head. She did not react at first, but soon succumbed to the drowning sensation as her throat and nostrils were filled by the liquid. No matter what way she turned her head, she could not break free as a perfect sphere of water surrounded her head and held it in place, only disturbed by Surge’s hands and the electricity that shot through it. Even when Bunnie desperately tried fight back against the drowning and electrocution, she blasted her thrusters as hard and fast as she could with enough force she would probably slam her head against the ceiling before she could stop, but the two mobians she fought against held her firmly in place. All she could do was scream into the water, mercifully muting her voice.

Surge was unsure how long she had been shocking the girl’s cranium, volts of electricity shooting through her entire body, very sure the brain of a regular person’s brain would be cooked by now, but Bunnie’s arms did indeed drop to her sides, her legs turning to jelly, then collapsed to the side. Kit inhaled deeply, like he had been the one suffocating, but it was just so he could fill his previously destroyed and burned lungs with fresh air. Despite what happened to him, he looked at the downed rabbit who no longer even twitched at the severe voltage of electricity skirting up and down her body, her entire head still wet from the sphere of water that quickly lost its form the moment she collapsed on her side. “Is…I-Is she…?” he asked slowly, cautiously, his flesh and fur beginning to reform after the fire damage he sustained.

Surge gave him a look that was something close to concern and relieve once she saw he was fine, if a little winded, then quickly looked away and towards the exit of the lab. “Who cares at this point. She has gotten in our way long enough. Let’s just get to Starline and give him the shock therapy he’s long overdue for,” she said with a deep frown on her lips, something that happened every time his name left her lips, then slammed her knuckles together for emphasis, electricity shooting between her fists like they were defibrillators.

Kit, however, looked up at her with a pleading look. “S-Surge…please, she’s just like us.”

The electric tenrec looked at him for a long few moments, then groaned and kneeled next to the cyborg rabbit, her middle and index finger going to her neck. She had the briefest of electricity shoot through her digits and got a pulse. It was far too strong for someone that just endured what she did. She looked way worse than she was on the inside. “She should be fine but…you stay here, maybe get her back in a spare pod before she wakes up again. While you’re dealing with that tech sh*t, I’ll deal with Starline. Got it?”

The blue furred fox looked concerned at that kind of plan, especially at the idea of being separated, but they could hardly leave Bunnie here when her body was healing. Without knowing what was going on in her mind right now, she could just restart her rampage the second she woke back up. As well as that, they already knew that Starline was in possession of the Warp Topaz thanks to Sally. They may not have ever seen him use it themselves, but he certainly loved to talk about it during their ‘training’ sessions. As hard as it was for them, splitting up was the best option right now.

He got up to his feet and summoned tendrils of water to wrap around the cyborg rabbit and gave Surge a smile. “Just leave enough of him for me…and maybe her,” he said as he looked down at the rabbit, managing a little compassion for the dangerous cyborg despite the damage she had caused. Just like him and Surge, they shared a bond now as one of Starline’s experiments. The only difference was that she was alone. He looked back over at Surge. “Just…be careful, ok?” he asked hopefully, then ran off in the direction of Rotor’s private lab, Bunnie Rabbot suspended above his head, groaning weakly at the jostling movements.

Surge looked back at her friend as he went and smiled to herself, speaking only when he was out of earshot. “Jeez, who do you think your talking to, Drippy,” she then turned to where Starline was seen escaping to and rubbed her hands together, sparks of electricity running freely along her digits. “I’m the queen of careful,” Surge then blasted off, more than ready to give her creator the beating she missed out on all those years ago. Before that, however, she pulled out her phone to get in contact with Sally to find out where he was holed up with the rest of the rats he was hiding with.

(Mobotropolis – Acorn Park)

“Then I’ll take you home with me to be my plaything.”

Cream tried to speak, but her voice failed her. It did not matter much, however, as the fist that struck her left cheek enveloped her vision in a blinding white.

Creams eyes opened wildly and sat up, but Zeena was no longer on top of her. Feeling her face, she felt no stinging pain, either. Looking around her, she saw that she appeared to be sitting on fresh grass now. Nearby was a simple stone road that had a line of trees on one side, and the grass field the rabbit girl was currently sitting on. on the opposite side were a few, small houses that looked a little familiar to her.

She shook her head gently, her large ears swaying one way or another as she did. “What…happened? Last thing I remember was Zeena pinning me down…punching me and…did she…knock me unconscious?” she pondered to herself, clenching her fists firmly. No, wherever this was, this was not where she needed to be. She has spent a good portion of her life getting stronger, strong enough so she could defeat Zeena by herself, to prove to herself that she was not some helpless little girl that needed to be saved all the time, that she was not a stupid, ignorant, rash brat that could very nearly cause the destruction of the world because she could not do what she was told and…

Her ears perked suddenly when a familiar sound reached her ears. Turning so she was facing down the stone path, she saw a familiar looking rabbit that made her stare in surprise, the girl humming casually as she moved down the path.

The young girl was Cream herself, looking very innocent as she hummed a tune to herself as she made her way down the road, heading towards the houses that were further down the road. Cheese also hovered in the air next to her, looking as determined as she was, still alive. She did not appear to notice the older version of herself, but that should be expected when the teenage Cream realised what was happening.

“I…know this day,” she said to herself, following behind the younger girl. “But…why am I seeing this now?” she got no response from the only other person there as she made her way to one house in particular, Cream already knowing the destination.

The home itself was nothing impressive. It was a two-story home with a living room, kitchen, single bedroom and other basic facilities. The only thing that made it different from the other homes was the lack of floral decorations in the front garden, and it also had a much larger extension on the side of it that was clearly some sort of garage. Compared to the other plain homes that were similar in design, this one had much more practical expansions and improvements to it, but offered nothing that would make it cosmetically appealing to the eye of most. That alone was a sign of who this home belonged to, had Cream somehow forgotten.

The younger version strolled up to the garage and closed her eyes, drawn by a subtle sound of a welding torch burning into steel. The roller door of the garage was closed over, but that was not going to stop the girl at all. She took a deep breath, then she brought her fist to it with a rather firm and loud rap that echoed off the steel door. She was waiting for a few brief heartbeats, when the sound of the torch ceased, before it a mechanism was pressed that lifted the door up slowly.

As the teenage Cream expected, Shadow the Hedgehog was soon revealed, looking rather annoyed at being suddenly disturbed. The way he looked directly at the older version standing behind her younger self told her that he expected someone at eye level with him, perhaps Sonic, or even Rouge, but then he cast his red eyed gaze down towards the younger girl. He looked at her, as if trying to remember who she was. Recalling a significant interaction, he spoke up, though lacked any sort of warmth that she had seen in other hedgehog’s she knows. “Cream…what are you doing here?”

The younger girl stared up at him, having an almost defiant expression on her face, but still gulped at that intimidating air he always had around him. Likewise, the current day version of her felt the urge to gulp, too. “I…c-came because you didn’t show up to my…e-eight birthday party,” the older Cream cringed at that, recalling that she really said something so stupid once upon a time.

Shadow looked at her with a raised brow, then scoffed as his hand reached for the mechanism to lower the door of the garage door. “I don’t have time for this. If you’re looking for a gift, go bother Rouge or Amy. I’m sure they’ll spoil you if you pull that face long enough” the girl looked upset at him, but more so at not being entirely clear in what she meant to say, then took a step forward so she was right up against the dark hedgehog, and directly under the descending gate as she stood her ground. Despite knowing where she was was dangerous, that did not stop Shadow from lowering the garage door’s slow decent.

Cream kept her eyes on Shadow, shaking her head. “I-I’m sorry, Mr Shadow, that came out the wrong way,” she said, in that polite, respectful tone she gave everyone when she was that age. “I-I just meant…I-I wanted to see you there….t-to talk to you,” the dark hedgehog raised a brow at that, not exactly being close to Cream to warrant such a thing from her. “I-I wanted to ask you to…t-train me how to fight!” she yelled the last part, both to get how serious she was across, as well as being a little afraid when she felt the gate touch the crown of her head and continue to press down on her.

She had hoped he would stop lowering the gate, but he continued to press the button, forcing her to bend her knees to stay under the gate. The older Cream recalled how scared and terrified she was of that. Was that how she was going to go out? After all the amazing stuff she has done with Cheese? Working together with Amy and Big? This was really where it was going to end for her? Those were the many thoughts that passed through her mind. Before it could go on longer, she heard the release of the decent button, then the door slowly lifted back up.

She looked up to see Shadow’s expression had not changed, a frown still so very strong on his face, but now his arms were folded over her chest. She quickly got to her feet and brushed herself off before she gave him her best steely gaze in return. The entire time, Cheese was frowning at the dark hedgehog, as well as worried for the younger rabbit and making several chao noises as he did. “Why do you want me to train you?” he asked firmly, not taking his eyes off her own, as if they gave a better answer than her mouth ever could. “You have access to Amy and Sonic. Even knuckles could show you a thing or two if you asked Tails to fly you over to Angel Island.”

The younger Cream held his gaze, not faltering as she answered. “Because…they will hold back on me,” she said honestly. For all the amazing people she knew, she knew them well enough that they would treat her like a kid. Amy would be very protective of her, Sonic would grow frustrated at going at her speed, and Knuckles, who would probably be the second-best option to Shadow, would hesitate at the thought of endangering the young girl, or even hurting her. “I…k-know you would not hesitate with me, to be as rough as you need to be for me to learn and improve,” she gulped, her expression slowly shifting to a more pleading one. “Please…I-I need to learn how to protect myself, and others, to protect the planet like you and everyone else at the Restoration do.”

Shadow, for his part, looked as if he considered it for a few moments as he stared down at her. He even brought a hand to her shoulder. The absolute joy and jubilation on Cream’s face before he even said anything was hard to watch as the current day version of her observing all of this knew exactly what would happen next. “Sorry,” he said flatly as he shoved her away from the garage gate hard enough to have her fall back on the ground, then closed it down before she could get back on her feet. His voice came from behind the gate as he continued. “I’m not the person you’re looking for. Go waste someone else’s time, kid.”

The older Cream looked at this with a deep frown on her face. She remembered this clearly. She recalled the frustration she felt, the anger, something she never really felt towards someone she would consider a friend. It took all of her strength of will back then not to cry, to slam her fists against the door and say that Shadow was being extremely unfair to her when she had no right to push her desires to get stronger on him, not when he had seen nothing worth investing in. She knew what she needed to do to get his attention.

“Sometimes I wonder if this is what Shadow wanted that day,” the older Cream jumped in place when she saw her younger form turn to her with a frown on her face as she made her way towards the front of Shadow’s house. “We know how wrong we were back then, how hypocritical we were. We wanted Shadow, someone we knew and trusted, to train us in a way that no one else would be willing to, yet at the same time we expected him to fold to our request like everyone else we knew. He was right to think of us like some sort of brat.”

The older rabbit lowered her gaze. The realisation of that did not hurt as much as the look of that young girl, the girl she saw in the mirror, promised she would be better, and failed. All that training, development, and now she was going to be…whatever Zeena wanted her to be. “Why…am I seeing this…w-why now?” she asked, her legs following behind the young girl till she came to a stop in front of Shadow’s house. Looking up at the darkening sky that soon began to rain, she felt her breath catch in her throat.

“Because you NEED to remember who you are, Cream,” the young girl said, looking at her older self. “Do you remember how long we waited outside?” she asked as the heavens opened up, and both of them were pelted by a cold rain, but neither of them reacted any differently.

The older Cream nodded her head. “Yeah,” she sighed, looking down, unable to bring herself to look at the young rabbit. “Two weeks…three days…and five hours,” she mumbled, just as the rain ended, the night coming, then the morning. It all sped along till the arrival of her mother, who was looked absolutely horrified at the sight of the young girl, her clothes dripping wet.

She recalled the argument she had with her mother, right outside Shadows home, telling her she needed to do this, and how she tried to pull the girl home. That was the first, real time she snapped at her mother. Thinking of it now, it was probably the first time Vanilla saw she was serious about something, and agreed to a compromise, as long as she could bring her camping gear, a change of clothes, and some lunches. At the thought of food, she recalled her belly rumbling loudly and almost gave in several times.

The time passed quickly. The day shifted to night. A sunny day turned to a rainy one. It was on one particularly bad night during a thunderstorm where her camping gear got wrecked, did she consider giving up, but instead stood her ground right outside of Shadow’s home. She must have been like that for three hours, getting drenched in rain and filth before Shadow had opened the door to let her in from the cold. That was when she won over Shadow with her grit, and her training truly began.

“I…was…am…such an idiot,” the younger version of her looked at her older self with a quizzical stare. “All that time…all those years, were wasted,” she clenched her fists hard, wishing she had something she could just punch. “What was the point of it all if I’m just going to be right back where I started and just be a weak, crying little girl the second things go bad for me? No matter how hard I trained, I’d never be strong enough to take on Zeena alone. It’s…so unfair.”

The smaller rabbit sighed. “You still don’t understand, do you,” she looked at her older self, disappointment on her young face as she held her hands out, showing several memories play before her like they were taken from a TV screen, floating around the two of them. “You forgot WHY we sought out Shadow. Sure, we wanted to get stronger, but we also wanted to protect people,” she said as she showed images of not only the times she was protected by her friends, but the times she saved them, too. “We wanted to be there for our friends to comfort them, make sure they do not make terrible decisions,” the memories then highlighted how she comforted Amy during the Metal Virus, even after loosing her own mother, then shortly after how she stopped Whisper from assassinating Eggman with words alone. “Getting stronger was the main goal, but we did not wish to lose sight of who we are, what was important to us,” she shook her head and frowned deeply. “YOU failed yourself when you decided to make this personal with Zeena and take her on all by yourself.”

The older rabbit frowned at the younger one, finally having the nerve to face her. “And what was I supposed to do? Just let her run wild and hurt someone else? That bitch almost destroyed Gemerl, destroyed the world with her Zeti!” she closed her eyes tightly, her face looking like she wanted to throw up. “And…h-how she toyed with me….touched me…I-I started getting off on it!”

Cream watched her younger self walk up to her, fists clenched “No, you should have stopped her, you were right to, but not alone, NEVER alone,” she shook her head and looked away, her eyes cast down to her feet. “We wanted to get stronger to defend our friends, but that does not mean we have to abandon them whenever we have the chance not to prove we are a waste of space,” the memories began to shift again, showing her how her friends and family cheered for her when she took her final exam at the Restoration to become a fully-fledged, fully trained, member. Even their voices passed through, filled with joy and encouragement. “Maybe if you stopped denying yourself the touch of another,” she said as the moment she had with Tails in her own bedroom appeared before her, making the teenage Cream blush. “And remember your friends are there to help you when you need them, just like you are with them, then you may not be in this situation right now.”

The memories soon faded away entirely as Cream shook her head. “What does it even matter now?” she asked. “I did something stupid, Zeena won…I-I don’t deserve them…I-I’d be better off learning to lick her c*nt and ass, and be a seat for her…”

The younger Cream frowned at her older self’s defeatism and took flight with her ears before she smacked the teenager hard across the face, making her cheek glow a bright red. “None of that matters!” she said as she spread her arms out, encouraging the older girl to look, really look at her life till now. “We have had some hardships, sure, but they have only made us stronger. Look at right here, where we are. You stayed here for two weeks just to prove to Shadow you could handle whatever he dished out. After that, you endured every insult, every punch, every kick, every broken finger, toe, arm and leg, and fought through absolute exhaustion to prove to everyone you were ready to step up. Why is this so much worse than all of that? Just because you’re on your ass now and getting smacked around does not mean you should just give up,” the older version of the rabbit girl felt the urge to call out her use of language, but remained quiet when she realised that would probably make her sound like her mother. “You can make this right. All you need to do is trust your friends, let them actually help you.”

The real Cream hung her head low, still rubbing her cheek. “What friends…no one is the…” she paused, when she stared at the memory of Cheese that hovered nearby, how next to him formed Cracker the Drill Wisp. Reaching down to her waist, she felt for the wispon she had strapped there. That’s right, she had Cracker there, waiting to be used against their enemy. The only time she used him during the whole fight was to attack Zeena when she threatened a child, and it seemed she still underestimated her as she did not use her E.M.P. abilities to disable her weapon. She could see where the past version of her was coming from now. She should have relied on Cracker, her friend, to help her win, but instead she wished to prove herself, that she could defeat the evil Zeti by herself and not risk anyone else’s lives, unlike the last time she fought him with Gemerl. Still, even with that revelation, a fresh damper on her mood and moral emerged. “It’s just…not fair…”

Knowing what was on her older selves mind, the younger Cream saved her some time. “I know…it’s not fair when Sonic can save the world all by himself, Tails can fix anything by himself, Knuckles and Shadow can beat everyone, and nearly everyone in the Restoration respects Amy. That is all we want, to be someone people can rely on to act by themselves, to save the day without anyone getting hurt, but that is not who you are, Cream,” she had a kind smile on her lips as more memories floated around her, showing how happy she was at every birthday, how she comforted her mother and friends during difficult times, to even privately celebrating Shadow’s own birthday’s when it just so happened to align with their training days. She was a kind and considerate person at heart, even if the last few years hardened her. “Fighting to protect people makes us strong, fighting for our friends makes us strong, but we are at our absolute strongest when we fight with our friends. I know you probably think all of this was wasted time, but because of your newfound strength, you can stand with your friends to defeat foes that gave you a hard time before. You must look deep within yourself and find your flame, that desire that put you on this path in the first place, and not just to get stronger for the sake of being stronger.”

The memory of the girl Cream once was took her older self by the hand and guided her towards Shadow’s home, where the dark hedgehog waited for them, frozen in place during this entire recollection session. Cream smiled as she followed her younger self, seeing a strength that she has been missing all this time, a strength she forgot she possessed. It felt so odd seeing a smaller version of herself represent said strength. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m not weak, or worthless, just because I accept help from my friends. I’m the best version of myself because of those people I care about!”

The younger Cream smiled and moved behind the teenager as they approached Shadow’s front door, a white void, her future, beyond it. “Good…then wake up and prove it!” she yelled as she pushed her forwards where she was blasted forwards, her old self and dark hedgehog quickly becoming smaller and smaller as she looked back at them. “And kick that bitch in her snot-coloured ass!” there was just silence for a few moments, then she spoke up like she forgot something. “O-Oh and give your mother a damn hug when you get home,” she was then gone from view as the white void glowed brighter and brighter, voice of her younger self getting more and more distant. “And for goodness sake…grab Tails by the scruff and ki…”

Pain blossomed on Cream’s cheek, making her gasp and cough up blood, the taste of tangy iron in her mouth from it helping her to focus. Slowly opening her eyes, she was now intimately aware of how much the rest of her body hurt, and how the blurry ground before her began to focus as she had her head to the side. “Finally,” came the nasty voice of Zeena, followed shortly by a tight grip on the rabbit girl’s throat. “I thought you were going to sleep through all of that,” at the pressure on her throat, Cream gasped, hands immediately going up to try and pull them away as she was effortlessly lifted off the ground. “I hope your little nap convinced you to give up and accept my offer, because this is starting to get annoying,” moving one hand away, she brought it to the front of Cream’s face to reveal her deadly digits, each one sharpened and self-manicured to perfection, minus one hot pink fingernail that had the briefest of chips down the middle. “As much as I would enjoy having you as a slobbering, pathetic pet, my nails are FAR more important than you’ll ever be. If punching your little skull in causes more damage to the effort I have painstakingly put into them, then I’d rather take you home and string you up so Zazz can use you as a new punching bag…” a cruel smirk lifted the corner of her lips, then licked them. “Or maybe worse.”

Cream shivered at such a dark thought, making the green skinned woman smile wider, flashing those white, perfect teeth of hers as she did. She lowered her gaze as her mouth finally began to move. “You…are vile…” the evil woman raised a brow and leaned closer.

“Come again?” she asked, increasing the pressure on Cream’s throat, holding her up with one hand as effortlessly as most mobians could with two.

“You’re a v-vile…terrible…horrible p-person,” faster than Zeena could react, Cream gripped her wrist as hard as she could, having a surprising amount of strength within her teenage body, able to feel the adrenaline and determination flowing through her, her heart racing as a result. “You’re selfish…arrogant…and…” gripping the girls wrists harder, supporting herself so she did not choke, Cream pushed her lower body backwards as far as it would go before she grunted and flung her body forwards like her lower body was a pendulum and struck Zeena right in her chin with both of her knees. “LONELY!” she roared out as the Zeti woman was forced to release her grip and fly backwards, her body vertical as she hovered above the ground with her natural ability to fly like all of her Zeti brethren

Not wasting a single moment, Cream flapped her ears upon release, allowing her to take flight. She had not done this in quite some time, focussing on developing new skillsets over improving those she already had. She had forgotten how freeing this could be, to fly with no restraint, but much like her younger self tried to tell her in that dreamscape, she needed to embrace her former self as much as she did her current self, for both parts of her to work in unison with one another.

With that in mind, she centred himself in the air, then shot down towards Zeena before she could recover, roaring long before her skull cracked against the Zeti’s non-existent nose, making her slam into the ground below, dirt, muck and grass clinging to her body. Cream panted as she slowly brought herself to ground level, her ears ceasing their flapping the moment her feet touched the ground.

Zeena got to her feet slowly, growling in a way that twisted her normally flawless, beautiful features into something far uglier, resembling the kind of person she was on the inside. “You…bitch,” she said with gritted teeth, not caring how she may be damaging them with how roughly she grinded them together. She felt something on her lips and brushed a hand along it, then observed. Her own blood stained her green hand, only now seeing the dirt and grass there, too. She felt her own blood begin to boil within her body. “How…dare you…” she turned her gaze towards the rabbit. “How dare you make me BLEED my own blood! How DARE you cover my beautiful self in dirt and filth!”

Cream’s features intensified, her toned muscles tightened as she clenched her fists. “You really do only care about yourself, don’t you?” The girl said with a low, uncaring tone as she walked towards the Zeti. “You called me pathetic before, but that describes you the most,” she shook her head, spitting some lingering blood out of her mouth, then roughly brushed away any running blood she felt from her face. “I can’t believe I was ever scared of someone who does not care for anyone else in their life, that would rather be vain, self-important and cruel to everyone she comes across.”

Zeena rolled her beautiful blue eyes while flipping her long mane of green hair over her shoulder. “Oh, spare me,” she grumbled. “Is this the part where you try and tell me there’s another way to live? Appeal to my humanity and change my evil ways?”

Cream thought about it for a second, then smiled and shrugged. “That sounds like something Sonic would do, or even Tails and Amy,” raising her fists, she got in a stance, one leg forward while her ears did a quick flap to brush off any lingering dust. “Unfortunately for you, I was trained by someone that knows exactly what to do with irredeemable trash like you,”

Zeena’s condescending smirk dipped to a solid, straight line. “Trash am I?” she licked her lips as she summoned twin whips of red energy in her hands and struck the ground with them, easily cutting through soil and concrete like a hot knife through butter. “Big words coming from someone that was crying like a scared child just a few minutes ago.”

Taking a deep breath, trying to keep her fears at bay, Cream took a few steps forward. “I was a scared child once, Zeena, but that never stopped me from doing what was right, to help and protect my friends when they needed me, and being scared of you right now will not stop me from kicking your ass to the curb.”

The girl chuckled at the approaching rabbit. “Oh, how precious, you think you’re some kind of badass now. Didn’t we already go over your place in the world?” twirling one of the whips in her hand three times, cleaving into the ground with each and every rotation, before she flung it towards the rabbit, intending to wrap it around her throat, or even pierce one of her precious ears with it, but Cream just tilted her body to the left to avoid the attack, not halting her progress at all.

“We did,” she said lowly, eyes half lidded, expression serious and focused. “And you were very clear about all that,” Zeena launched another attack, using the opposite whip of red energy, but Cream evaded that just as easily. “I’m never going to be the hero of the story, the one who saves the day like so many friends I know and look up to, but that’s fine,” growing more and more frustrated, Zeena flailed both arms, making the whips close in on the rabbit girl, but Cream just jumped up in the air to avoid them. Ears flapping, she flew towards Zeena as fast as she could before the green Zeti could wind up another attack and punched her right in the mouth, making a fresh line of blood splatter onto the grass below. “I accept who I am now. Who I’m meant to be.”

Absolutely fuming, Zeena diffused the energy whip in her left hand and flexed her fingers, claw like nails pointed right at Cream’s throat as she swiped. A quick back step from Cream saw that only a few stray hairs got cut off before she closed the distance and struck Zeena hard in the cheek, her other fist punching her in the gut so hard that her feet near lifted off the ground. Zeena soon looked like she had gone feral with rage the second her feet were reintroduced to the ground. “You…accept being this way? Some forgettable, unexceptional nobody that will amount to nothing? Just one of the scrubs in the background when the real heroes take the stage?” releasing the energy whip from her other hand, Zeena closed the distance between them and swiftly punched the rabbit hard across the face, knocking her down on the ground and bouncing till she was on her side. “That is absolute, f*cking bullsh*t, and you know it!”

Cream groaned as she slowly tried to lift herself off the ground, managing to get to her hands and knees as her rattled mind readjusted, staring at a growing, small puddle of blood that was dripping from her mouth longer than she should. Just as some sense came back to her, she felt the cracking sensation of a rib being shattered like a branch underfoot when Zeena’s foot slammed into her gut with incredible strength, launching the teenage rabbit into a nearby tree with enough force to uproot the thing and knock it over, Cream splayed out on top of the splintered bark.

Groaning as the pain that originated in her chest spread all through her body, her back in agony, she looked out at the approaching Zeena who looked more pissed than she had this entire time. Her hair was an absolute mess, blood dripped down both corners of her lips, and several of her nails were now cracked. Cream was thankful there were no mirrors nearby, otherwise she would probably dive on the girl and turn her face to mulch with the same force that shattered Cream’s rib.

“Let me tell you something about people, kid,” she said as she moved closer, red energy glowing in her hands, it growing stronger and more intense, more focused in a single spot. “It doesn’t matter whether they are human, mobian, or Zeti, everybody WANTS to be somebody. They want to be the boss at their job, have authority over others, be the person that turns everyone’s head when they walk by, to have people listen to them when they spout the most stupid, inane drivel they think of and get off at the fact they have mindless drones that listen to them, and even dream of having the power to beat everyone they don’t like in a one punch,” that power in her fist grew stronger and stronger, growing a deep crimson, smoke rising above it with a heat that vapourised the moisture in the air. “No one is that selfless, that pathetic, that they would just roll over and willingly let someone just swoop in and take the credit. To think that someone would do that with the biggest, f*cking smile on their face is the most stupid joke I have ever heard.”

Cream looked up at the green Zeti while she stood over her, panting exhausted while her ribs screamed in agony. Zeena bent down and gripped her by the scuff and hovered that super charged, near perfectly manicured fist over her head. With how much energy that could be felt at such a close distance, Cream was convinced it would do a little more than simply pulverise her face and most likely pop her head like a grape.

The rabbit girl choked as she was lifted off her feet, legs kicking uselessly. This only served to please the green Zeti more as she leaned her head closer, focusing entirely on the girls face, wanting to see that defiance in her eyes turn back to fear after her pointless outburst. “I-I…I-I…” Zeena raised a brow and inched closer, their faces near touching now as that red aura of her hand served to give her beautiful features a crimson, deadly glow to it. Cream struggled to make a smile as she moved her hand, Zeena feeling cold steel on her stomach. “I-I would,” she then pulled the trigger of her drill wispon she had been reaching for the entire time she was grabbed, when Zeena foolishly only focused on her face, then watched as the evil Zeti was blasted away by a yellow energy drill that made that deadly energy dissipated harmlessly from her hand as she collided with the ground.

Cream found her feet and balance once she was released from her enemy’s grasp, her legs wobbling as her ribs screamed at her to stop moving, but that was not something the young hero was going to do. Not waiting for Zeena to counterattack, she flapped her ears and flew towards her foe just as she got off the ground, gritting her teeth in anger in the face of such defiance.

Cream pulled a fist back once she was practically ontop of Zeena, then threw a punch that had enough force to knock the Zeti back a few steps, cheek rippling from the impact, blood coating her sensual lips. “I WOULD!,” cream repeated, more determined and passionate than ever. “Because I don’t need sh*tty, meaningless accolades like that. Not when I have a teacher who never gave up on me and trained me to be the best version of myself,” Seeing the Zeti blindly attack her with a punch, Cream side stepped out of the way and slammed her knee right in the girls gut, it sinking in there while her mouth was left wide and agape. “And showed me how to defend myself against bitches like you!”

Zeena growled and swiped at Cream. Cracked, manicured claws hovered just an inch from Cream’s vulnerable eyes just as the girl jumped backwards on those legs like the rabbit she was, avoiding the rage filled strike effortlessly. The Zeti’s other hand glowed a dangerous red and roared in such an unhinged, ugly way that was unlike her as she slammed her clawed hand forward, intending for every single digit to pierce through the rabbit teenagers skull, but a swift sidestep had her not only avoid it, but left her green foe vulnerable to having her arm grabbed firmly by the wrist, Cream using her enemies momentum and lack of steady balance to her advantage and flip the girl over her shoulder, making Zeena’s back slam hard into the ground.

Seeing her head at her feet like a football, Cream winded up a kick, but the green skinned Zeti rolled out of range, getting more dirt and grime on her in the process, looking far more pathetic and unintimidating than she did before. “I have a mother that loves me unconditionally, even when I have done NOTHING to deserve that love!” seeing that Zeena was getting frustrated with her, Cream smiled. A fist came for her, but she ducked under it and gripped the girls wrist once more, holding it firmly so she could stay close and get two hard punches on Zeena’s face, one of them looking like it will leave a rather nasty black eye. Her face the epitome of focus and discipline, Cream continued, still holding onto the Zeti’s wrist. “I have plenty of friends that I can count on…”

“SHUT UP!” roared the female Zeti, throwing her other fist towards the rabbit that she quickly ducked under, then just as quickly grabbed her other free wrist, crossing her arms over each other. Cream smiled confidently as she pulled her head back.

“For advice!” she slammed her head forward, it colliding hard with Zeena’s enough to make the powerful woman recoil in pain and agony. Despite desperately trying to pull her head backwards, Cream pulled her back by the arms, “Knowledge!” she said as she slammed her forehead against her foe a second time. “Courage!” a third time now. Cream them released the girls wrists quickly and brought one hand to her horn, the Zeti too winded to stop her touching what was perhaps the pride and joy of her sultry body, “And much, much more!” she roared as her fist collided right between the green skinned girls eyes with enough force to knock her back a good distance, the tight grip the rabbit had on her horn made it snap painfully from the base, leaving only a stump behind on the sexy female that was one quarter the size of the immaculate horn that was as much her pride and joy as her nails, lavish breasts and firm ass.

The scream of Zeena was ear piercing, sounding like she just experienced a limb being cut from her body. Cream panted as she held the horn in one hand, staring at it in disbelieve. She was a little surprised that she was not in more horror of what she had just done, but it’s not like it would not grow back at some point. The Zeti were well known for how well and quick they healed. Thinking on that, she dropped the horn like it was a simple shell she picked up on the beach and reached for her wispon, pointing it at her foe, intending to finish her off. Zeena, however, with her eyes wild like all pretence of control and femininity had been ripped away along with her horn, stood up with murder in her beautiful blue eyes, one of them already beginning to swell over, and held her hand out to fire off her E.M.P. abilities, making the weapon spark uselessly in the rabbit girls hand. With some semblance of control returned, a manic smile formed on her lips. “Not this time, little rabbit,” she panted harshly. Had she been born with a nose, it no doubt would be flaring about now with how hard she breathed. “Forget making you my pet. I’m gonna bring you back, cut every inch of your fur off, and turn you into a new, f*cking purse!”

Cream looked at her disabled weapon and chuckled, not bothered at all by the threat. Seeing how weak Zeena was right now, she extracted Cracker from it safely, then chucked the useless weapon right at her face, hitting the girl right on target. “And best off all…” she said with a soft smile on her lips as she looked at Cracker, her dear friend and companion who has been with her this whole journey since Cheese had passed. “…I don’t need my Wispon to defeat you, Zeena…” he seemed to share her sentiments as he seemed to smile broadly, or as much as one can when the only method of expression was a single eye and a few short tendrils, “…because my best friend in the whole world…is the f*ckING AMMO!”

Cracker seemed to glow in that moment, glowing a brilliant yellow before shooting himself into the body of Cream, aiming right for her heart. The rabbit girl released a deep exhale of breath, as if coming up for air for the first time in ages. Her entire body began to glow that same yellow now as her body went through a miraculous metamorphosis. Her fists slowly warped and transformed into drills themselves, as did her feet, and even the ends of her large ears. Slowly, her body was lifted off the ground as she no longer had any physical matter to her, her entire body becoming energy, the same Hyper-go-on energy that made up the Wisps, that allowed them to utilise their amazing abilities.

This was certainly very different from what she saw with examples in the past, such as with Sonic. When this happens, normally the host becomes a floating ball, only retaining vague features of their original body, but this felt very different, and far more exhilarating. “Well, this is unexpected,” she said, surprised by the double tone of her voice, having someone else’s voice mixed in with her own. “Wow, is this what you sound like, Cracker?” the teenage girl said giddily, the positivity of the energy shooting through her greatly improving her mood, mending both her physical body, as well as her soul. “Yeah, you’re right, we can talk later,” she said, having a conversation with the entity within her, both of them in concert of what to do next as they turned their attention to Zeena as her exhausted mind tried to process what was happening right before her eyes.

“W-What…” she said, taking a shaky step backwards, fear on her face as the alien creature before her slowly hovered closer and closer towards her, drill feet mere inches off the ground. Cream merely pitied the fear she saw etched on her face, the same fear she saw every time she looked in the mirror and remembered the larger, powerful force that was Zeena when she was a child. Seeing her now, however, reduced to such a state herself, was close to laughable had it not been for the sliver of kindness within her that felt sorry for the evil woman. “What…are you,”

This Wisp powered Cream smiled faintly. “My name is Cream the Rabbit, and this is Cracker the Yellow Wisp,” she pointed to her chest when introducing the latter, then pointed at Zeena. “And like we said before, we don’t need all those honours and accolades before when we have people we cherish and wish to protect,” she explained, speaking like they were two creatures inhabiting the same body at the same time so naturally, their heart and mind in resonance with one another. “So we do not mind at all if someone else is the hero, because every single foe we beat down means that that is just one less person getting in their way to save the day, one less foe threatening those we would give our lives for, and one less foe harming people who cannot defend themselves,” exhaling, those grills on her hands and ears began to spin and glow brightly, as did the ones at her legs, spinning at such a velocity that they started to whip up an intense wind pressure, one that that lifted her up higher and higher from the ground. “Do you know what that makes you, Zeena?”

Zeena did not wait for the girl to finish as she summoned a whip of red energy in her left hand and flung it at the transformed rabbit mobian, it bursting effortlessly through half her face, obliterating one of her eyes and half her cranium. Zeena looked on in surprise, then chuckled and laughed as she pulled that energy back towards her. “What was that little rabbit? I didn’t catch that,” she then bent over as she belly laughed, sounding as psychotic as she now looked in that moment. “Guess that form was all for show and…” she paused, seeing that the creature before her was not only still floating, but the pure energy body Cream now possessed slowly began to fill out the missing sections of her body, regrowing the destroyed portions of her head and eye till she looked exactly as she did before the Zeti struck her. The look of disbelieving horror on Zeena’s face was a look Cream was going to treasure forever.

“That makes you worthless fodder because no one is going to bother to remember a cruel, selfish bitch like you…and you only have yourself to blame for that,” not wasting another moment, the drills on her body began to spin rapidly. Cream realigned her body, the crown of her head facing Zeena, then used the foot drills to blast forward like a rocket. She roared as loud as she could as she pointed her fist and ear drills towards the Zeti and collided with her. Zeena screamed in agony and anguish as she was blasted back, her entire body spinning clockwise, like the energy drills that hit her, until she collided with several tree’s within the park. Cream watched as the trees fell on top of the girl, pinning her under them. She knew the Zeti was still alive, it taking much more to kill her, but that was a line she was not ready to cross, even for a tormentor like Zeena.

Seeing that her foe was finally defeated, Cream felt a surge of emotions rush through her, bringing tears to her eyes. Finally. FINALLY. She felt at peace with herself, her past. What she did today may never overwrite that battle with Zeena ten years ago, like she foolishly hoped it somehow would, but it was something to be proud of, something to treasure, just like every bond she has made with those in her life she loves and cherishes, including this newfound one with Cracker.

She gave an ache etched laugh as she listened to something Cracker was telling her inside. “Yeah, I’m ok, Cracker,” she said as she smiled, tears streaming down her face freely. “But I think I could really go for some professional help after all this is over and done with,” she then laughed, as did Cracker. Truly, she never felt so good, so happy, so fulfilled, in all her life. “Or maybe…Tails might work,” she giggled as that thought passed through her. Cream realised she needed to be true to herself going forward, and that included being honest with the feelings for Tails she had long suppressed in the name of self-betterment.

(Castle Acorn – R&D Laboratory #5 Storage Room)

“Well, this is just perfect,” complained Mimic as he looked around at the cramped conditions, he and his new allies found themselves in. In their mad rush, they followed after Starline to find a place to lay low while his glove scanned the Warp Topaz for the perfect level of voltage that would activate it from this totally drained, dormant state it found itself in. They wound up passing two other labs on the way here, and took shelter in what appeared to be a large storage room that was filled with boxes and crates of useless parts and gizmo’s. None of them seemed to take the time to take notice of what was being worked on in this particular facility, not that it really mattered.

As they ran away, unleashing that cyborg rabbit on the labs as they went, they sneaked passed many who went to look and see what all the commotion was about in lab #3, no one even paying attention to them as lab was getting wrecked by the cyborg and screaming Starline’s name to the point where she could even be heard over multiple layers of highly reinforced steel doors. For the most part, the platypus ignored the potential death that loomed over him and continued to work away on the glove, trying to speed up the process so they could get out of there sooner.

Hearing Mimic’s outburst for what was probably the tenth time today, Starline sighed as he stopped working on the glove, allowing the auto-analysis take charge for a few moments. It was almost done, after all. He would have continued to ignore him, but his complaining was beginning to unnerve and rile up both Rough and Tumble. He knew that, despite being thankful for the rescue, they would probably use the Warp Topaz to escape without him if he did not make any attempts to mediate the situation. “Mimic, please, we are very close to getting out of here unscathed. Can you perhaps leave your complaining for after we return to base?”

The octopus turned his frown towards the purple clad doctor. “Complaining? I think I have every right to complain. You should consider yourself lucky that that’s all your getting right now, Starline,” he growled, the tendrils on his head flaring, one of them even smacking off the nearby wall loudly. “We are stuck here, waiting for you to get our means of escape turned on, and the only thing we can rely on right now is for your two OTHER psychopath creations to hold off that crazy rabbit that wants to turn your face to mulch.”

The platypus groaned as he turned his full attention to the shapeshifter. “And this is all going according to my plans, Mimic, as rushed as they may be” he shook his head and got off the crate he had been sitting on while he fiddled with the glove on his hand. “Even when designing Surge and Kit, I was not going to implant them with a means of near instant recovery without a weapon that could neutralise those means. That rabbit cyborg possesses one such weapon in her arm should they rebel against me. I may not have had much need to use it in the past, or much chance, but it should be especially helpful now. Even alone, she could possible destroy Surge and Kit with that weapon, and if not, then they should distract one another long enough for us to make our escape,” as he said this, he kept an ear out for the screaming, blasting and violence, and was pleased to hear it on full display with no sign of it calming down.

Clenching his fist, Mimic growled, riling up Rough and Tumble in the process. Between Starline and Mimic, the octopus would more likely win in a fight, and would rather be on his side than the doctors. “And while I appreciate your ability to think on your feet, I still have some questions about your big plan as a whole,” Starline looked at him, tilting his head to the side just as Mimic pushed himself off the wall he had been leaning against. “For example, you already warned me ahead of time that Surge and Kit were here, being hailed as heroes of the people, knew where your precious Warp Topaz was located, and you even told me ahead of time about the big, f*cking dragon they keep in their basem*nt that they are unlikely to use against use because of how destructive she is. With all that in mind, you were pretty surprised by the appearance of that rabbit girl despite having intimate knowledge about all that other stuff.

Both the skunks blinked in surprise as they went through Mimic’s list themselves, Rough managing to vocalise their confusion. “W-Wait, big dragon…w-what the hell…”

“LATER!” Mimic quickly said, not desiring to fill the brothers in right now. Mimic took a breath to calm himself. “Ok, so MAYBE you know exactly where Surge and Kit are located, and perhaps that cyborg. You made all three of them, so maybe you have a way of finding them, same with your little accessory as you would wanna keep tabs on it, but how the f*ck would you know about that dragon beforehand, as well as know exactly how the Acorn Kingdom and Restoration would mobilise against the Deadly Six? You even knew WHO they would send to meet up with the Princess, as well as the members of the royal family. No one has been able to get information on this place in years, so how exactly do you know everything you know?”

All three of them glared at Starline now, who had the decency to look at least a little nervous in this compact space with three people who would probably happily punch him into unconsciousness with how he appeared to be stringing them along. Giving himself a little time, he removed his glasses slowly and cleaned them with a cloth, eyeing his glove that appeared to be at 98% analysis of the Warp Topaz.

“I’m afraid…I cannot reveal that information to you yet, Mimic,” The octopus growled, taking a step towards Starline, but the doctor raised his hand up to halt him, “And I’m sure you wish to use Rough and Tumbles ignorance to force my hand early, but I will stand by my convictions that I told you and Zavok’s group before we began this operation that I would wait until we all return safely,” Starline glared back at Mimic, whose tendrils whipped the air noticeable and harmlessly. It seems he was not too pleased that his tactic was found out. “Once this is all done and over with, I shall lay everything before you, all of you, the moment we return with everything we need victoriously. Then, like I said before, you are all free to leave if none of it agrees with you.”

Despite the skunk brothers not exactly being a big fan of either of the arguing mobians, and they had been betrayed more times with Starline than Mimic, the platypus’ words did give them pause. He was not always one for going after money directly, always preferring control and influence over anything else, but all of his plans always led to some big plan for control that could actually rival Doctor Eggman in terms of scale. With that in mind, it would probably be in their best interest to side with him right now, at least for now. Besides, even they were smart enough that Starline was probably the only one that could skillfully use the Warp Topaz to get them all out of here and to safety.

Seeing the changes in Rough and Tumble’s stances, Mimic scoffed in annoyance and backed down. He was the kind of guy that always wished to be at an advantageous position, even with his current employer, but he had hoped to get something on Starline now. If not for his greater plans down the road, he would have liked to know how Starline knew everything he knew. This plan was far too detailed that would take months to finalise, but so far it has all been going just as the mobian doctor suggested. Even the bomb locations Mimic used to not only mask their escape, but give the Deadly Six enough cover to move in with little to no warning for their enemies, were Starline’s suggestion, and they did their job wonderfully. How knowledgeable Starline was about all of this rubbed him the wrong way, but it seemed he would, unfortunately, have to continue putting his faith in the platypus.

As the situation deescalated, Starline released a strained sigh of relief. Try as he might to seem like his would-be detractors did not worry him, Starline was no fool. In an enclosed location like this, trapped with three strong individuals, the mastermind of this whole assault would be very hard pressed to fight them off and escape. It would make this operation far easier, but if there was one thing he had over Doctor Eggman, it was that he was more prone to seeing the bigger picture of things, and he knew he would need like-minded allies not only for this operation, but every single one going forward. “Wonderful, now that that is all sorted, my glove is almost done with its analysis of the Warp Topaz, then we can…” he paused as a bright red holographic display appeared over the glove. It was a good thing he already had white fur on his body, as he was very sure his face was paling as he read the message. “O-Oh no…”

Hearing Starline hesitate, Mimic instantly jumped back to his previous mindset. “What?” he asked, then he moved next to the mobian doctor. “What the hell is making you look like you’re about to sh*t yourself?”

Mercifully, Mimics crude description of the platypus’ expression snapped him back to his proper mindset. He felt his bill go dry, and licked it slightly, if only to moisten it a little bit. “It appears…I have underestimated how much power is required to activate the Warp Topaz…” he held it out for them so they could read the display, it reading ‘Unable to supply required power.’ He then continued. “Even when I found this gemstone for the first time, it still had some semblance of power rushing through it. For however long it was in that cave, it still had enough power within it to keep it in a dormant state that only required to lightest of sparks to trigger a reactivation, but it seems in this totally drained state, it will require more than a…precise spark.”

Mimic growled audible, Rough and Tumble still trying to process what all of this even meant. “So, you’re telling me is that you planned all of this to such an impossible, unrealistic detail, and the only part you decided to fumble the ball on was how to turn the on button on our only method of getting the hell OUT OF HERE!” the assassin roared, his many tendrils slapping hard against not only the floor in frustration, but even the wall. Rough even had to back away when he saw one of them flail towards his face. He had half a mind to curse at the octopus to watch it if he was not equally pissed off at their supposed ‘boss’ right now.

Starline, fumbling from this unforeseen situation, snapped back at Mimic with clenched fists. “Do not even start with me, Mimic!” he yelled, a critical flaw of the mobian doctor rearing its ugly face. Once something goes awry, he snaps and breaks down. “I could have left you in that dungeon, all three of you, but I didn’t, so I would appreciate it if you stopped putting all this blame on me and actually do something constructive like helping me come up with a way to turn this blasted thing on, otherwise we are all doomed.”

Rough just looked between the two arguing mobians and brought his hands to his head, nails raking through his hair wildly. “Then forget the small spark. Let’s just find the nearest computer screen and punch it. That will fill up that little thing, right?”

Starline stared at the skunk in disbelieve, feeling his temple pang relentlessly. The uninformed suggestion felt like a railroad spike skewering his cranium, and destroying precious braincells. “And here I thought you and your brother had gotten a little smarter after all this time, Rough,” the smaller skunk growled, taking a threatening step forward, all while Tumble seemed distracted by something. “Do you see this big number, you fool?” he said, holding up the glove so the skunk mobian could clearly see the massive number of voltage required to activate the Warp Topaz. “We need to expose the Topaz to something as close to this number as possible!

“Hey, guys?” Tumble said to get their attention, but failed.

“and if we go over that number, as I explained before, we could end up blowing up a hole in reality!”

“Guys,” the larger skunk tried again to get his allies attention, speaking more forceable this time, but with similar lacklustre results.

“Fine then, screw the computer screen, Let’s just stick your hand in a particle collider and get the job done! Were in some fancy science lab, right? They gotta have like…two or three somewhere around here.”

“A particle colli…” Starline looked at his ally appalled, his anger flaring wildly. Never mind it going white and pale, it was going a beat red from rage and second-hand embarrassment. “How the hell did you even come to that conclusion! Not only is that FAR more than what we need, but where would we even get something like that here?” the fact that Rough did not even look ashamed of the foolish suggestion just angered the brilliant platypus more. “Honestly, do you just use big words you hear, and hope they actually make sense in the conversation!”

Only after that comment did Rough feel his cheeks redden with rage. “H-Hey, shut up. You’re being totally…magnanimous right now,” he said, using one of the few big words he knew, totally proving Starline’s argument as he groaned loudly towards the ceiling, looking like he wanted nothing more than strangle the skunk for making all of them dumber just by opening his mouth.

“I was ‘magnanimous’ by getting you and your brother out of that cell when I did not need to, you fool,” he quickly, and roughly, rubbed his brow, feeling the pressure of his plan fall apart all because of one little miscalculation. He did not care if he was snapping at his new allies if it meant he was not acknowledging his own failure. “The fact that you…”

Mimic pushed Rough out of the way to get right in Starline’s face, interrupting the doctor. “Forget the particle collider, let’s just throw the good doctor into the nearest junction box, or generator, and see what hap…”

“GUYS! SHUT THE f*ck UP AND LISTEN!” the three arguing mobians paused, then looked towards Tumble. They glared at him for the briefest of moments, as if their shouting actually led to anything even remotely productive, then remained quiet as they listened as instructed.

They heard nothing, which was not right at all. Even with their talking and roaring, the sounds of the fierce battle with Surge, Kit, and the rabbit cyborg could have been heard even from a few labs over, but things were dead quiet now. There was not even the sound of screaming scientists and soldiers. They strained their ears just a little bit more, but could hear nothing.

“Did…someone win?” Tumble asked, looking back at the three other mobians as they appeared equally as concerned as he did.

“Maybe none of them?” Rough offered, a little hopeful. Best scenario being all three of the cyborgs killing each other after a particularly destructive battle with one another. The smaller brother then continued. “Though, considering that rabbit is not screaming Starline’s name like she has a hate boner for the guy, she is probably dead…” he looked towards Starline, “Right?”

Starline looked appalled at the skunk, especially at how he described the cyborg rabbits desire for revenge. He pushed that to the back of his mind as he tried to think of this logically. The rabbit possessed the means to destroy Surge and Kit’s Metal Virus augmentations, but the battle was still two against one. The chance for both sides destroying each other was a possibility. “Perhaps, but even if Surge and Kit survived their encounter, they would be seriously weakened at the very least. One way or another, they have no idea we are here, so if we are to find something that can power the Warp Topaz, I suggest we make a move before they…”

“Hey, Starline,” Mimic said, his attention drawn towards the ceiling, his body tensing up like he spotted something that would pounce on him if he moved even an inch. “You made sure to turn off the cameras in this room…right?” he said, his throat drying up on him. “And disabled their communications?”

Going wide eyed, a bead of sweat running down the side of his face, the platypus turned his head towards where Mimic was looking and saw his features reflected on the lens of a camera. His body suddenly went cold as he realised what this could mean. His mind began to go blank, an appropriate reaction was on the forefront of his mind, just a few words that were as accurate, as they were surprising, from the genius platypus that knew enough words in this world to rival a thesaurus. “Oh…f*ck…”

The door to the room they were in was blasted off its hinges before any of them could snap to a ready mindset, Mimic just backing away to safety in the nick of time while Rough dived for Starline and both rolled under it as he surely would have been bisected by the door that just got turned into a projectile. The electricity skirting from the smoke in the doorway was enough of an announcement for the new arrival, but Surge always loved being the centre of attention. “Knock knock, mother f*ckers!”

(Mobotropolis – A Mile and A Half Out from Castle Acorn)

“Ok, maybe this. Maybe if I redirect my trajectory and went for his legs, that might stun him enough that would…He would kick me away and Amy dies…”

Tails was unaware of how much time had passed in this frozen state. Before Zavok could complete the deed and murder Amy Rose, Tails activated a barely used Perk of the Chaos Ring. It fell under the Red Chip, attraction, and known as ‘The Heart’s Desires.’

“Maybe I could use enough of the previous plan to get under his legs? Then, make my way to his tail and…what…bite into it…He would grab me by the throat with it and Amy dies…”

‘The Heart’s Desire’ was a very intrusive perk, Tails originally thought, which gave him detailed information on women he both knew, and did not know, as long as he was looking at them when he used it. He would get accurate information on women as long as they shared their honest opinions with him in the past, such as name, age, breast size, etc. Women he did not know, however, would have that information revealed to him automatically, so long as the subject falls under its analytical level, of course. At a mere level 2, all it revealed were the three sizes of every woman he would ever use it on, regardless if he knew them or not, and he had little reason to use it on someone he did know.

“No…I should just go for the head. Punch him till my knuckles burst, and fists bleed, then slam my head against…All that will do is stop him from seeing himself murder Amy and leaves me open…Amy dies…”

One massive benefit of the perk he got right out the gate, however, was the ability to put the world around him in a Chaos Control like state, either stopping it entirely, or slowing it to a crawl. The downside, however, was that Tails could not move in this space, much like everyone else who was caught in its range. If he could describe the perk in video game terms, it was like one of those ‘scan’ abilities he has seen in some role playing games that reveals how susceptible some enemies are to different elements, what items and materials they drop, their attacks, as well as how much money and experience he would get, but you waste a turn doing it and cannot act until you cancel out of the effect.

“I got it! I can use the spare Zeti Zapper I have and…what…tickle him with it…Amy dies…again…and again…and again…and again…and again…”

Now here Tails was, using this ability to his advantage to come up with the perfect counterattack that would save his lover, not even giving much thought on the tole this was putting on his body. It has probably been hours by now, the whole of Mobotropolis frozen in this space, possible reaching the full one thousand miles of ‘Empowering Presence.’ He doubted this effect held the entire planet hostage in its grasp. When he would release it, the world would carry on like normal, no one even realising what had happened, not even Zavok with it happening right before his eyes…or Amy who will die, probably thinking the fox is absolutely useless in her time of need.

He went over his own abilities, how fast he was moving towards Zavok, the speed his hand came over Amy’s throat, the Zeti’s own abilities, possible counter attacks, and so much more. Visualising one plan after another, they quickly fell short within seconds as the fox only had less time to somehow stop Zavok. But they all ended the exact same way. Amy Rose dies.

As the dark thoughts threatened to consume him, wishing he could so much as cry right now, let it all out, he would have to settle for turning his gaze away from Amy, not able to bring himself to look at her, see the fear in her eyes, a fear he is unable to save her from.

“T-Tails…” Tails’ eyes widened, hearing the first voice he heard in hours that was not his own damning thoughts. He tried to turn towards the voice behind him, but just reminded of his own weakness right now. Mercifully, Holo made his way around to the fox, standing before him, but he was different now. He was moving so slowly, and his holographic body was glitching at the edges of his form, as well as lagging. Quickly, Tails understood what was wrong. Holo must be pushing his processing power to its absolute limit to even speak to the fox in this space, where time was at an absolute standstill. After that thought passed his mind, realisation set in. No, that would be impossible unless…

He forced himself to look at Zavok, glare at his hand. He did not know how much time had passed, how many times Holo had called his name to get his attention, but eventually he saw it. He saw the red and black Zeti’s hand move by a fraction of an inch, tightening his grasp on Amys throat by that much. That was all he needed for his heart to sink into even deeper depths. “This ability…d-does not stop time…o-only slows it,” he wished so desperately he could slam his head against the pavement, so instead settled on biting his lower lip. “I have been wasting the little time Amy has left by coming up with one stupid plan after another! And now she has even less than when I started!”

T-T-Tails,” came Holo’s voice once again, it sounding more glitchy and staticky than before. “P-Please. You’re hurting y-yourself. Y-You have to…s-s-stop t-this,” his Starline like body glitched suddenly, body stretching in an unnatural way, but he did not seem to feel it at all, as expected. “T-This e-effect is…n-n-not supposed to be a-active for so l-l-long,” At the worried tone of voice, Tails finally noticed the heat building around his wrist, it growing hotter and hotter. He did not give it much attention before, especially since he could not so much as turn his head towards it, but now it was becoming worse and worse, enough for it to become a concern for the fox.

Tails started shaking, or at least he would if he was not in this state. All he could do was move his eyes, speak, and breath. He did not even have the ability to thrash about. “What am I going to do, Holo?” he asked the holographic being, the false platypus not having an answer he would deem satisfactory. “I…can’t do anything for Amy right now. I can’t protect her…can’t save her…n-no matter what I do, she is going to die…” he bit his lower lip, his voice weaker like what followed was minor in comparison. “I…will die…”

The A.I. training program frowned and looked down, then approached his friend. “T-Tails…I-I-I do not want A-Amy to d-d-die…she has been a good f-f-friend to me…my f-first friend, along with you…b-b-b I c-cannot lose b-both of you,” he looked away from his friend. “P-Please…y-you have to a-accept your limits and r-r-run.”

“My…limits…” Tails said slowly, giving a dry laugh. “I have had to watch limits get shattered and obliterated all my life, Holo,” said hologram looked at him with a tilted head, remaining quite while his body glitched awkwardly. “I have seen the Chaotix become better detectives. I saw Lanolin become a better, competent leader. Knuckles only got stronger and stronger with every day that passed. Even Cream became so strong and dependable now…” one by one, their faces and feats flashed before his eyes before focusing on the two most important people in his life. “Then there is Sonic, the literal poster boy of ‘breaking your limits’ and Amy with her boundless kindness and ability to reassure anyone about a dire situation. Compared to them, I have not broken my ‘limits.’”

Holo moved so he was in front of his friend, worry and concern on his features, an expression the real Starline would never have for another being besides himself. “T-Tails, please,” he said pleadingly, his voice sounding more and more unstable. “Y-You c-cannot keep c-comparing yourself to t-them. Y-Y-You are b-brilliant i-in your own way.”

He tried shaking his head, then realised he could not, roaring instead. “I’M NOT!” he could feel his blood pressure rise, starting to hyperventilate. Every breath he took ached and threatened to crush his heart in his chest the longer this went on for. “You want to know when I peaked, Holo?” he asked, his expression fierce, so much so that the hologram took a hesitant step backwards, partially passing through Zavok in the process. “I have ALWAYS been a genius, but I have never felt like I have gotten any smarter since I was eight years old. While everyone has been getting better, stronger, faster, while our enemies have been getting more clever and deadly, I’m the ONLY one that has remained at the same place I was for years now! I was complacent and happy where I was!”

Some small, insignificant part of him had always felt like this, like he did not amount to his friends. At eight years old he successfully saved an entire city from being destroyed by Eggman, then NEARLY cured a zombie like virus, and since then has just been the guy that fixed stuff, and made plans. He is just an orphan that got taken in by Sonic like a brother. How does that even begin to compare to the last echidna that has known what he has wanted to do with his life since he was a child, or the blue hedgehog he admired who constantly saves the world hundreds of times over at this point.

Tails sighed and moved his eyes, at best only seeing the Chaos Ring at the corner of his vision. “You know, Holo, despite what I might say…a small part of me actually looked forward to using the Chaos Ring,” the hologram looked at him curiously, never hearing Tails say that before. Most times, he just complained about it, only really liking the stamina and clones for their productive uses. “I mean, I have tons of sex with a bunch of girls, artificially get stronger and faster without lifting a finger beyond that…and all of it together with Amy, too. What man wouldn’t want that…but the more I used it, the more I realised I’m no better than a slave. All I’m doing is grinding day in and day out to power up this thing with only slight benefits to my daily life, and because of it I cannot have a perfectly normal life with Amy? I can’t accept that. I’ll NEVER accept that!” he said fiercely, trying with all his might to clench his fists, even gritting his teeth till they hurt. “I…only want Amy, to protect her…have children with her…spend the rest of my life with her…and I know she wants that with me, too!” he roared as loud as he could, until his throat began to hurt, the entire time trying to clench his right fist into a punch, but felt like he was trying to crush a chunk of steel in his palm, his screaming soon turning to a pain filled one as the Chaos Ring began to heat up and burn more, as if warning him to stop this rebellion, to remember his place. Tails was not the one who decides the rules of the game it plays with his life.

Holo looked on quietly, Tails no longer concerned if it was because he actually had nothing to say, or if his resistance was actually overloading the CPU and processers within the gold ring. “T-Tails…” he whispered sadly, then offered a smile. “I-I know you can do i-it,” he said with a soft smile, taking the fox boy by surprise. Actually focusing on him now while he was in front of the struggling fox, he saw something resembling tears in the fake platypus’ eyes, something he never thought he would ever see on Starline’s face at all. “I-I believe in y-you…I-I do not want A-A-Amy to d-die so I-I…”

“H-Holo…” he whispered the A.I.’s name, but did not let up on trying to clench his fist. “You’re…crying?” he said with disbelieve in his voice. It was hard to tell with his slightly warped and glitchy appearance, but he could clearly see them run from his eyes, down his cheeks, it as holographic as the rest of his body and vanishing from sight the second it drips down to his feet.

As if only realizing this, Holo brought a confused hand to his cheeks, his eyes, and wiped at the tears, looking at them as they ran down his webbed fingers. “I-I-I-I d-d-don’t u-understand,” he said, the glitching getting worse and worse, his form looking like it was breaking down. “I-I did not…d-do this…w-w-why is this h-here…I-I d-don’t…” he paused as his breath became more haggard, almost like he was hyperventilating, his other hand clutching his chest, where his heart would be. He looked absolutely fearful and terrified. “W-What is this…f-f-feeling…I-I don’t n-need to breath…o-or cry…s-s-s-so w-why a-am I…” His features and voice became more distorted and unstable as he fell to his knees, clutching his chest and watching the tears fall onto the floor. “W-What is…h-h-happening to m-me!” he roared, his mind unable to process anything, his system reports not coming up with anything. It just confused him more and more till he thought to look through his memory, to find the cause, and suddenly all his thoughts were filled not only with the pink hedgehog he has come to know, but the yellow and white fox, too. He then drew up reference to all the comics he had read thanks to Tails, all of the movies, cartoons, anime, manga, literature, everything he had consumed through his holographic eyes pointed to one single, impossible result. He was sad…heartbroken.

Tails stared at his friend, never seen him react like this before. It was truly a sight he had long thought impossible. Sure, he could get happy, upset, and even insulted, but he never thought he could display such a sever negative emotion before, and by the looks of him, neither did he. Most living creatures live their lives walking hand in hand with these emotions, the smaller ones preparing the heart and mind for when the more severe ones eventually strike, but Holo was experiencing this extreme so early in his artificial life, so much so that he could not compute it. Tails only felt sorry for him as Holo ran his hands through his hair, his physical form becoming more and more unstable.

“Holo,” Tails called out to him, much like how the holographic platypus has been calling out to him since this ordeal had begun. “You have to help me save Amy. Only you can do that,” Holo stopped his movements, at least the intentional ones and not the glitchy appearance of his body. He looked up and saw Tails still trying to clench his fist, fighting for his lover, even at the cost of his own body. The intense glow of the Chaos Ring, as well as the rapid flashing of the Chaos Chips, all acting like a warning for the fox that he continued to ignore.

He shook his head slowly. “I-I can’t do that…I-I’m just a-a t-training program…I-I-I c-cannot…” saying that, however, just made the tears flow more from his eyes, his chest hurting, his head feeling like it was going to split open.

Tails, not having any of that, raised his voice, especially as a particularly intense burn made him feel like his wrist was being branded for his outspoken rebellion. “YES YOU CAN, HOLO!” with a roar, Tails put all his anger and rage, his love for Amy, his regret for Holo, into his hand and finally clenched his fist, something that made reverberations of a foreign energy rush all through his body. Along the edge of the gold ring the Red Chip was inserted, a sliver of a crack was formed. Tails flexed his hand freely, looking at it as hope filled his sky blue eyes once more, then wasted no time on working on not only moving his right hand, but his left, and even his head and tails. Since he was already jumping in the air, the rest of his body would be useless to him. However, this hopeful revelation was not the dominant thing in his mind, and instead focused solely on his friend. “You’re…n-not the same training program…S-Starline created! You’re smart, your kind, you can feel happy and sad, and I know damn well that you care about me and Amy just as much as I do about her!” he gritted his teeth, his body faintly vibrating in the air as he tried to break ‘The Heart’s Desire’s’ hold on his body. “So please, I’m begging you…h-help me save Amy, the woman both of us love with all our heart. I know more than anyone that you’re capable of that!”

Still on his knees, looking up at the fox, the holographic entity could not believe what he was seeing. Everything he knew about the Chaos Ring pointed towards the opposite. Because he fought for it, made it a reality, Tails defied something that Holo thought of like a holy commandment from a power far beyond his own. With that thought in mind, could Tails be right about Holo? Was he truly capable of being beyond what he was originally designed for? He was aware of this before with all the strange, illogical thoughts he had been having, as well as an interest in people and things beyond the Chaos Ring itself. If he truly tried right now, could he actually help Tails make a difference right now and save Amy? “I’ll…see what I can do,” he whispered, locking eyes with the fox, then vanished entirely, no doubt redirecting all his computing power towards the Chaos Ring itself, rather than projecting a physical form, and trying to communicate with the fox in this slowed down state.

It took a few moments, but Tails noticed the flashing, warning lights of the Chaos Chips began to slow down and dim, and the scorching heat the device produced seemed to go down little by little. As if bondage had been loosened on his body, Tails roared and moved his arms as hard as he could, soon being rewarded with free movement, a fresh wave of that strange energy washing over his entire body. Tails smiled softly and whispered. “Thank you, Holo” This was more than what he needed, right now, so he ceased his attempts to move his head and Tails.

“W-What’s the plan, T-T-Tails?” came Holo’s voice from the Chaos Ring, it sounding more staticky than it did before, as well a strained, like he was fighting back something, pushing it away from the twin tailed fox.

Tails had a smile on his lips, a hopeful one. “The same thing I’ve been doing over the last two and a half months, Holo. I’m gonna level up the Chaos Ring,” he said, more cracks forming on the golden device, now at the edge of each of the Chaos Chips sockets as he opened up the glitchy, holographic display. It was struggling, much like Holo, to function as intended within this bubble of slowed down space. Since Tails had not even opened the menu much since he came to the Acorn Kingdom, he could still open it up and slot in his points even though it was not 7PM yet. “There is one thing I never tried before, and that’s level up not only every Chip at the same time, but at least one Perk from their categories, too,” he said, voice much calmer now that he no longer suffered the physical toil of regaining control of his own body. “I…don’t know what will happen to me…or you…or even if the Chaos Ring can handle it…but It’s the only play I have right now. Sorry in advance if this goes sidesways, Holo.”

Tails could not see it himself, but with the voice that came through the device, he could detect a smile on the fake platypus’ bill. “I-I-It’s fine, my f-friend. W-Whatever happens to y-you…or m-me…I’m glad I-I-I can…h-help…I-I-I’ll regret…n-n-nothing,” he said, his voice sounding at least a little clearer now, now that he focused on just speaking out, but it still sounded burdened. Tails could only imagine what was happening in the ring right this second. Tails allowed a smile to grace his lips as he got to work.

He quickly did some math in his head, if only as a means of calming himself down a little. “Ok, the current maximum weekly limit per partner is set to one thousand, four hundred experience, and thanks to Amy, Whisper, Sally, Leeta and Lyco, that comes thousand experience. The experience needed for each level up is five hundred, so that is an easy equation of fourteen level ups, but in stat and perk point terms, I have…a whopping twenty-eight stat points and fourteen perk points,” he had a victorious smirk on his lips as the screen soon showed just that now, it finally beginning to catch up with him. “More than enough for what I have in mind.”

The fox boy paused as he heard Holo grunt from the ring. “You…h-h-have to h-hurry…T-T-Tails…” his voice was breaking up, as if suffering from interference. “N-Not sure how l-l-long I-I can…h-hold i-it…” It just served to encourage him all the more. He was not just fighting for Amy and himself anymore, he was fighting to preserve his friend.

The twin tailed fox quickly did a tally in his mind of the points, where they would go, which Stats and Perks were more useful than others, then opened his eyes wide and began rapidly tapping down on the buttons. He only got about four points in the Green Chip for stamina when his hand suddenly froze up again like it had before. It was not a strong as it was when this whole thing started, but it was a surprising turn of events. “You are…t-the most…s-stubborn, tackiest...accessory…e-ever!” he called out to the Chaos Ring, the Green Chip glowing brighter now, like it did not appreciate the name-calling. With a grunt, he released his hand from the sudden hold he was under and put the rest of the points in that he planned to socket there. “That’s seven.” He proclaimed, more cracks forming in the ring, spiderwebbing and joining with each other now.

The next few minutes was the exact same back and forth where Tails would isolate a different Chaos Chip, and slot points in it. “two in white…two in purple…three in red…” he said, getting some of the less important ones out of the way. For this situation, he hardly needed more cum, or appear more handsome and satisfy people with his touch, but there was another useless one he eyed, making his cheeks redden. “Five…in yellow,” and like that, Tails increased his dick size by one whole inch, unable to bring himself to something in between, like 7.2 inches, or even 7.8 inches. It was a waste of points in his eyes, but he was sure Amy would be very happy with that once all of this was said and done with.

Much like with the Green Chip, the Chaos Ring seemed to react poorly with the more points that were inputted. It did everything it could to get the fox back under control. It froze his body again, only for him to break free. It raised in temperature on his wrist, scalding and burning him. It even flashed its chips brighter with each new input, as if trying to blind the fox, or at least prevent him from seeing the screen clearly. Normally, Tails would he fascinated by all this, wondering if the Chaos Ring had some sort of sentient will of its own, or perhaps it was security features that Starline installed, but either way they were getting in his way and needed to go.

Finally, Tails came to the last two chips, and had the most points ready for them, much like stamina. “Six in blue…” he said, showing it some favour after the luck increasing effects possible saved Amy’s life before against Mimic, and hopefully will do so again. He then put points in the last chip after freeing his frozen hand once again. “Three…in…t-turquoise,” he said finally, and that was the Stat Points all implemented.

The second all that was done, a new light began to shine from the Chaos Ring, but it was from the cracks on the surface. A faint, golden light began to shine through. Most people would be worried about this, perhaps thinking the ring was about to explode on their wrist, but for Tails, this light was oddly soothing, comforting, even familiar. Even as the cracks reached all around the gold ring, even a the back of it against his fur and flesh, he continued with his daring gamble.

Rounding back to the Green Chip, and freeing himself from the Chaos Ring’s hold on him once again in the process, at this point it becoming easier and easier, and more of an inconvenience than anything, he focused on what would probably be the hardest thing to decide upon, and that would be what Perks to level up. He needed at least one in every category to enact the plan he had in mind, but they all had very valuable, and silly, abilities that he needed to keep in mind. That said, he knew for sure some abilities under the Green Chip he would upgrade.

Scrolling down the holographic page, trying his best to make sense of what was on screen as it glitched more and more right before his eyes, he put two points under ‘Team Tails’ bringing it to level 6, allowing him not only to summon one more clone than normal, but actually make them nearly twice as powerful as before, but still half as strong as the original, with the added bonus of being able to cum up to three times, rather than two, before popping. Since he levelled it up, it also had the added benefit of resetting the cooldown, too. Continuing on in this category, he gave ‘Power House’ two levels, too, giving his power and speed a decent boost, and raising it to level 5. Next, he distributed a single point to ‘Second Wind’, it now sitting at level 4, and boosting his regenerated stamina even more.

He thought against putting five of his fourteen points under the Green Chip, but he could not deny that it was easily the most helpful and practical for most situations. Scrolling down to the next few chips, he simply put a single level on ‘Pump Up’ bringing it to level 4, on the White Chip. On the Purple Chip, he put two of his points there, raising Synchronicity to level 2, and activating a perk called ‘Win Streak.’ The fourth chip he went down to, the Red Chip, got the same treatment as the white one and only had one Perk Point added to it, levelling up ‘obedience Training’ to level 4, making his female partners a bit more submissive towards him. Sadly, there was not much else to choose from that interested him at the moment.

With only three chips left, and five points remaining, Tails moved down to the Yellow Chip again. Unlike the Stat Points, he did not put many on the Perks, instead just distributing two. One went to ‘Thick and Meaty’ so it was now at level 4, as well as activating a new perk called ‘Fits Like a Glove.’ Moving down to the Blue Chip section, he instantly put in points for ‘Jackpot’ and ‘Top of The World’ bringing them to level 2 and 3, respectively. Now on the final chip and point, he moved to the Turquoise Chip and simply brought ‘Breaking Limits’ to level 3.

Finally, the fox was done. All he needed to do was just fully distribute the points by accepting. “Alright,” he said sternly as his index finger hovered over the command prompt. Just as it was a mere inch away, the Chaos Ring, as well as the chips within it, glowed brightly, violently, and froze him in place once more. “N-Not again…s-so close!” he yelled in frustration, trying to force his finger down on it more and more, but to no avail. Not only was his hand frozen, but so was his other arm and body. He was back to square one again. Somehow, the device must have been biding its time, waiting for this final moment to regain control over the fox In this Chaos Control like state. “D-Damn it…” he gritted his teeth and pushed against it, but nothing was working. It was only when he looked towards the corner of the screen did he see a notification. “Due to…lack of input…r-resetting…distributed points in one minute!” He yelped as loud as he could, the timer already ticking down.

This was VERY bad. With the state the Chaos Ring was in right now, he highly doubted it could handle a second round of what he had just done to it. It already looked unstable, and vibrating on his wrist, as well as burning into him more, and more. He struggled as much as he could against the frozen state he was in, but it was no use. Before long, he felt his eyes begin to grow wet once again, his hopes falling apart and shattering like it had before.

“T-T-T-T-Tails…” came Holo’s voice, sounding very weakened and drained. “D-Don’t…g-g-give up…t-that’s not…l-l-like y-you,” he said, voice getting lower, tired. “I-I may n-not have b-b-been there f-f-for any of i-it…b-but I saw f-f-footage of all t-that you did…A-Amy would…t-tell me stories…l-long after you slept…s-show me v-v-videos…Y-You are s-strong enough…y-you can…b-break through…this…b-break through it…a-all.”

Tails watched the seconds tick down as he listened to Holo, just passing twenty-five seconds now. He tried his best to calm himself down, reminding himself that Amy needed him right now. He chuckled and took a deep breath, Holo’s encouraging words echoing in his ears. “You’re right, Holo…I’ve done some pretty great things in my life, and have watched Sonic do greater things like dismantle giant robots, fight deities, and even put the physical manifestations of universal concepts in their place…” he stared at the timer that counted down, now at the last ten seconds before the point reset. “So…how pathetic would I be if after all this time…I could not even do something as simple as making some stupid accessory DO WHAT I WANT!” he roared and put all his remaining strength into freeing himself, another wave of energy washing over him as he freed his hand one final time, and slammed his finger right through the holographic display, right over the accept button.

The Chaos Ring reacted immediately, the Chaos Chips glowing brighter and brighter with each passing second, the light from the cracks in the ring becoming more intense, too, as it vibrated and burned his hand hotter than ever before. Just as the renewed power the Chaos Ring gave him washed over his entire body, Tails screamed as he was enveloped in an explosion of gold. He just prayed to whatever gods were listening to him right now, that the choices he made today would not come back to haunt him.

(Castle Acorn – Command centre)

“Sally, I can confirm that Surge has successfully found, and made contact, with Starline and his group,” Rotor said with relief in his voice.

The Princess smiled, pleased to hear some good news at last, and the relief that came from her mother made her feel even better. She looked at the screen that’s camera footage exposed where the platypus was hiding, the hubris of the evil doctor making him forget about the absolute control he had over their systems, or at least long enough for him to make a mistake. As infallible as the mad man was, even the stress from breaking into Rotar’s lab, invading his system, getting everything he wanted, unleashing Bunnie, and hiding away till he can secure an exit, all stacked up enough to make even him fumble at his careful planning. It was so satisfying seeing that worried expression on his face as he was now face to face with Surge for the first time in years. Static then erupted from the screen which could have either been Starline turning off the camera feed much too late, or a stray lightning bolt from Surge knocking out the thing. Either way, Sally felt good. Really, really good.

In fact, far too good, as she noticed her own heated breath, and her body temperature rising. “W-What’s…h-happening…” she moaned, actually moaned, then quickly covered her mouth with her hand. What had come over her so suddenly? Feeling another rush of heat pass through her in waves, she had to quickly bring her other hand to the large table in the middle of the room to steady herself. Her womanhood grew hotter and hotter, just as her nipples hardened. With what sane thoughts she had in her mind, she was glad she was actually wearing an attire where this would not be so obvious. She searched for the cause for a few brief moments and found it.

On one of the holographic monitors they had been looking at so they could keep tabs on the major battles going on, and rescue efforts, Sally paused as the screen that should have contained Tails, Amy and Zavok, but now only contained a dazzling, blinding light. Worry and fear should have set in her heart, but instead all she could feel was a deep-rooted pleasure shoot through her. Something was happening to her, to Tails, and it was something as pleasurable as it was terrifying.

“S-Sally,” The Princess jumped as a strained voice came on the communicator within the command room. “T-There is something odd happening,” came the heated voice of Leeta Wolf

“T-There is a strange…s-sensation…w-washing over my body,” came Lyco Wolf shortly after, her pants sounding more obvious and intense, so much so that even Rotor could catch onto what was going on, if the intense blush of his cheeks were not indication enough.

“T-Tails…” moaned Whisper over the radio. “W-What’s happened to…T-Tails…” like Sally, Whisper was deeply connected to the yellow and white furred fox, she was aware that this odd, pleasurable sensation was due to some sort of change in him, in the Chaos Ring.

Standing as straight as she can, trying not to have her knees wobble under her, she spoke into the communicator, thankful they all switched to a private channel, and their moaning and panting was not heard by anyone outside her mother and Rotor. “Everything is fine,” she promised, a shaky smile on her lips. “Tails is fine…t-this will pass soon, just…e-endure, please,” she then cut off communications with the three wolves.

Seeing that something was wrong, her mother approached her with a look of concern. “Sally, dear, are you…alright?” she asked with a raised brow, tilting her head to the side as she looked her daughter up and down, trying to get a read on her daughter, but it proved difficult when she was facing away from her. Rotor did not even try as he was trying to engross himself in his duties so he did not need to ponder about that triple threat of sexy wolves he heard moaning. There was probably another, more embarrassing reason why he did not turn around to face the Queen and Princess.

Sally turned her head to her mother and tried to banish the heat from her face, but failed. At least she could walk steady as she made her way towards her. “Y-Yes, mother, I am…I-I just need a moment to myself…c-could you and Rotor please see that everyone is directed appropriately…a-and call for me if there is an emergency?” she asked, but did not wait for an answer as she passed her mother and walked into the nearby storage room Alicia brought Tails in earlier, and closed the door behind her.

Alone in the dark room, Sally, on shaky legs that felt like they were going to fall out from under her, made her way to a nearby desk and placed her hands on the surface of it to steady her. Once she felt confident in her balance, she moved one hand to her shorts and slowly undid them, pulling them down along with her panties, exposing her womanhood. Another wave of heat and power shot through her, spearing her brain, heart, and royal puss* in a way that made her entire body shiver. “W-What is happening…w-what did…T-Tails…d-do,” slowly, she brought shaky fingers to her aching womanhood, then moaned loudly as her mind was catapulted to a white void.

She was still where she had been once she snapped back to her senses, her fingers pumping in and out of her, as a means of calming and smothering the flame within her puss*, but instead only stoked them till they grew into an inferno within her body. Slowly, she noticed the world around her become ingulfed in a golden flame that burned away at its features. The table was gone, as were the contents of the room, the walls, floor, and ceiling, as if they no longer mattered. But as the walls were burned away, revealing what was behind them like a curtain, she saw many faces she recognised, and those she had only seen in profiles. They were women, like her, that were touched by the pleasure only Tails could give them.

Behind each of them, a gold and white flame emerged from the ground, slowly forming a body Sally knew all too well, those sky-blue flames, meant to be eyes, locking on each and every one of them. They each noticed it with admiration and desire in their eyes. Leeta and Lyco went to the fiery creature, their clothes burning off their bodies in a glorious flame wherever the material touched it, not harming their bodies in the least, not even so much as a singe of fur. The twin wolves moaned as a hand each went to their ass cheeks, making them moan even louder as they leaned their bodies closer to the flame, kissing at what was probably it’s neck while their womanhood’s leaked profusely. Both of them moved their hands along its body, working in tandem together, pure pleasure in their eyes.

Next was Whisper, and who Sally assumed to be Tangle. The wolf mobian was on her knees before the fire, a leash and collar of fire attached to her throat as she leaned in and licked at a large pillar of white hot flame while her clothes burned off her body, exposing the lack of fur, and how her breasts heaved with every movement she made. Sally certainly did not need to think twice about what that pillar of fire Whisper was licking was. Behind the fire, however, Tangle was moaning loud and pressed her face against the fire, tongue hanging out, seeking out a certain orifice as it clumsily moved around him, her womanhood running like a faucet as she listened to the sounds Whisper as the flames other hand gripped the back of her head and skull f*cked her, that pillar of flame sliding down her accepting throat easily.

Finally, there was two individuals the Princess did not know personally, but recognised them as Rouge the Bat and Vanilla the Rabbit. Both of them were the loudest of the six girls gathered. For Rouge, the golden flame behind her just f*cked her wildly with no restraint, touching her all over to burn away her clothes, her body heating as she was pressed against glass, bent over a desk, f*cked wildly in the shower, identical flames f*cking every hole she had. The image kept changing with each passing second, but the idea was the same. She was being used how the flame wanted, all agency being taken away from her through not any personal weakness, but because the flame demanded it of her, and was more than capable of getting what it wanted.

With the mother rabbit, she was being f*cked in her bed like it was mating season, her belly pushed out with an extreme pregnancy, like she was expecting an entire litter any day now. Her belly was so wide it was larger than her breasts, and bounced as freely as said breasts with very thrust of that fiery co*ck that slammed in and out of her waiting womanhood. Her voice was loud, begging for more, wanting the flame to breed her, the name of that glorious flame on her tongue through every moment of it. “TAILS!”

Once Vanilla said the name of the flame, Sally could hear the white void echo with the name of the fox, the six girls saying it with different expressions and tones. Some were mad, some were passionate, some were sorrowful, some were org*smic, but all of them were in pleasure of the powerful fire that soon became an inferno that dominated over the white space.

“Is this…a premonition… or their own desires?” she asked, as if expecting an answer. Sometimes, she could ‘speak’ with the Source of All whenever it showed her a vision of a potential future, to guide her towards the very best outcome, but somehow it felt different, like the sensation and experience was hijacked by some outside force.

Her legs gave out and she was brought to her knees, everything else but the white space was gone, all except two fox mobians, wreathed in in gold and white flames, then did the only thing she could, and crawl towards the twin foxes, leaving behind a shameful trail of her excitement as she did, panting the entire time like all of it was a labour far too great for her.

As she got closer to the two foxes, the meaning behind this experience got clearer to her frying mind. “These are my desires…a-all of ours that Tails has touched…” With every inch forward she took, the fox on the right became more detailed, him now shown sitting on a small, golden throne that was right next to a much larger one, her one. On it sat a female figure wreathed in brown flames with a glorious auburn colour at the top of it. The blue flicker of flames, that were no doubt her eyes, watched her as she approached. Sally knew that this was supposed to be her, the only creature that had that same, majestic flame as Tails, as if both of them were of a higher standard and station than the other girls she saw that looked perfectly normal.

The rest of the room filled out into a throne room with a pristine and clear marble floor, as well as crimson banners behind the two thrones, the emblem of her house and country emblazed on it. Leading up to it, the six girls she saw before were lined up before the throne, looking at her, all while the two fiery creatures, her and Tails, held out a hand towards her, while their other hands held each other, and beckoned her towards them, to embrace that desire and future she envisioned for herself for so many years since she had bonded with the Source Of All.

Just as she turned to crawl towards that throne room, the fiery creature that represented her getting off the seat to pat it, as if keeping it warm for her, her attention shifted to the other Tails covered in flame. Her heart was caught in her throat at what she saw, giving her pause.

For the most part, the environment was the same. A marble floor with her kingdom’s red banner flying high and proud. Unlike the other side, however, Tails sat on her throne alone, and at his feet were the six girls she saw before, kneeling as she was now, covered in cum, and breathing hotly on that pillar of molten fire, tongues wagging for it, but none of them dared go near it, as if they knew they were not worthy of it, like they only existed to warm it up for the main event, for her.

The path to this version of Tails was littered with the kneeling, bowing, cum covered bodies of those she knew, and those she knew were associated with the fox, who had yet to experience that co*ck plunging inside them like she and the other girls did. She saw her own mother, Lupe, Megan, Surge, Cream, Jewel, Lanolin, Blaze, and many others bowing low before the fox, waves of power and authority radiating from his co*ck as comfortingly as the summer sun’s rays would on the body.

The final thing of note that felt like a gut punch to the Acorn Kingdom Princess was the vibrantly pink flame that stood behind the fox, looking right at Sally with two flaming, emerald green embers for eyes. Not seeing her at all yet since the beginning of this premonition, it was clear this represented Amy Rose. How could it not? Both flame creatures looked at her, but only the one representing the fox she loved dearly, gestured with his hand to approach, but his motions were much less kind. They were more demanding, expecting of her. They were the motions someone gave their pet to approach and heel. As he did, that pillar of fire radiated more intensely, like a lighthouse that beckoned her towards it. Even though she could get the sense that the pink fire behind the golden one smirked at her, Sally knew which choice was more preferable, knew which one her body desired.

Sally crawled towards the golden flame on the left with great shame in her heart, feeling the eyes of the other fire fox, as well as the one that represented her, stare at her before they began to flicker and fade away into a cinder. Yes, that reality was not a possibility for her anymore. How could it? It was based entirely on the absence of Amy Rose, on the absence of the Chaos Ring. That woman, that device, both of them decided Sally’s future for her and somehow, to her greatest shame yet, that was so…freeing.

No responsibility was placed on her, no pressure, no expectations. In this reality, this fantasy, she was not a Princess, or a Queen, did not need to rule for a people, did not need to exchange fake smiles with politicians, or laugh at terrible jokes to curry favour. She did not need to prove herself a capable leader, and never have to live in the shadow of her brilliant father, or her ancestors, that ruled justly and kept all their subjects as happy as can be. She would never be able to live a true, real version of this, not wishing to damn her own subjects for the weakness of her own heart and body. All this was is a bubble of safety she could retreat to, be comfortable in, a place where that burning flame around Tails could melt every inch of regal regalia on her body till she was made nude and vulnerable, where the only person she needed to please, to pleasure, was the fox boy she gave her heart to.

The more she thought of it, the easier it was to move on her knees, as if weights were slowly snapping off her limbs with each revelation of what she truly desired for herself. Before, the crawl towards him was slow, as if she was traversing quicksand, but it became easier the closer she got. Helping her with this was the bowing, nude forms of those she and Tails knew, their moans echoing out as they came hard before the fox. Even hearing her mother’s passionate moans, as well as Lupe’s, did not deter her as she made her journey towards the sitting fire creature, her clothes harmlessly burning off her body the closer she got to it, no longer requiring them in the presence of this inferno of a presence. The six girls at his feet slowly backed away from her, allowing her to knee before that great, gold and white flame alone.

She stared up at the flame on the throne, the fox, as well as his glorious co*ck that was mere inches from her face, that burned with the heat of a supernova. His name finally found its way to her lips. “Tails,” she said as lowly, pathetically, wantingly as she could manage. It seemed to please him as he slowly spread his legs for her, more than enough room for her to move between. She brought her hands to his knees as she breathed hotly on that fiery co*ck, stoking the flames that warmed her face in that comforting heat. Looking over it, she saw the pink flame look down at her, then pulled at a rope, making the red banners fly off and instead be replaced by blue ones that had the twin tailed fox’s emblem emblazoned on it. It was appropriate symbolism, she supposed, for whenever Tails was involved in anything, he would always take priority in her heart. She released a long, content sigh, a hot breath on that throbbing mass of flame, stoking it like the other girls had done before her. “My King,” she said breathlessly, as nude as the day she was born. Even though the flame turned away from her, to instead kiss the pink flame, Amy, Sally still brought her own lips to that scorching co*ck, not caring anymore if she got burned at all from it.

Sally moaned as she was catapulted from her fantasy with the arrival of a powerful org*sm that made her eyes roll to the back of her head, and made her limbs lock up. Quickly moving her hand to her mouth, she muffled a loud, deep-seated moan. She breathed harshly as her juices squirted from her puss*, her legs trembling as the juices slowly ran down her inner thighs. She was thankful she had the sense to kick away her shorts and panties at some point, but was very sure her denim jacket and top may have lingering traces of sweat to them. In her delusion, it seemed her royal womanhood had become very well acquainted with the corner of the desk she had been leaning on.

Now that it was over, the Princess did her best to compose herself, as if this was merely a lapse in her judgement, thankful that whatever it was she felt before, felt from Tails, had passed. Looking around, she found a box of tissues she could use to clean herself, then with as much dignity as she could muster, she bent down and slid her panties and shorts up her sensual legs. Yes, that was all that was, a fantasy, one she can indulge in when with Tails and his harem, but not right now. Her people and Kingdom needed her to be the strong, competent leader they could look towards in their time of need, and not someone that submits to her dark urges at any given time.

Just as she took a few final breaths to collect her thoughts before she resumed her duties, she was oblivious to the single eye that was staring at all that transpired within the room from the door that led to the control room. Her mother released briefest of shaky moans after seeing the display her daughter put on before she quietly closed the door, then went to make a fresh cup of very strong tea for her daughter, as well as herself.

Rotor’s voice then yelled out into the room. “Finally! Some good news!” then immediately made arrangements to get in contact with someone out on the field.

(Mobotropolis – Silvanis Street)

Shadow hesitated for the briefest of moments. One moment, he was ready to attack Zik and Zomom, but an odd sensation rushed over him the next. After using the ability for so many years, he got the sense he was caught in some sort of Chaos Control. He had no idea of how much time had passed, but one thing that was very clear was the explosion of chaos energy that erupted near the castle was telling him that something strange happened. Recalling who should be in that direction, the dark hedgehog blinked in surprise. “Is that…Tails?”

Unconcerned to what most of those within Mobotropolis experienced, Zik grinned as he watched Shadow look over towards the castle for whatever reason. Despite the unimpressive transformation his rocket shoes had undergone, merely just altering modes to look more like regular running shoes, the small, older Zeti knew this was his chance to get a sneak attack in, to destroy the hedgehog before he could do whatever he was planning to before. “Now, Zomom, DESTROY HIM BEFOR…”

The male was caught off guard as Shadow suddenly vanished from sight right before his eyes, leaving only streaks of red energy that lead from where he once was, to where his leg was now half buried within Zomom’s massive stomach, going further, and further, the force of it pushing back against the yellow Zeti’s rubber like body, stretching it’s reflective, and rubbery, qualities to its limits with a single attack.

While Zik’s eyes were wide with shock, and Zomom’s mouth was agape with a pain he never felt before, Shadow’s own thoughts were as reflective as the orange and black Zeti’s flesh, casting his mind back to a particular conversation with Sonic some years ago.

“Figured I’d catch you up here, faker?” Sonic said with that ever-irritating smile on his lips, that knowing, carefree one that could charm most people, even his foes. “You do know that there’s a party going on down there, right?”

Shadow released a sigh. He came up here precisely to get away from the music down below. The blaring of it irritated him. On the tallest point of Spiral Hill Village, a rather large bell tower, Shadow looked down at everyone, opting to celebrate in his own, unique way, by reviewing everything that happened, on what could have been done to prevent how close they came to losing. Looking down at his faintly smoking rocket shoes, there was one detail that stuck out more than the others. “I…was useless today,” he clenched his fists hard, straining his white gloves. “I don’t deserve to ‘party’ after Metal Sonic took me out of the fight by damaging my shoes.”

Despite the constant aura of danger his rival and friend always liked to project, Sonic carelessly approached the hedgehog. “You sure about that? Because Cream just brought out her famous Sonic Cookies,” he said as he took out one said cookie. As the name suggested, it had the blue hedgehog’s image designed onto it. “And I’m pretty these are her best ones yet,” when he got no visible reaction, outside of Shadow’s usual grunts and a folding of his arms over his chest, the blue hedgehog pulled out another cookie. “It’s also the debut of her exclusive, limited edition, Shadow Cookies, too,” not giving him a chance to process what he just said, Sonic chucked the thing, aiming for just over his shoulder, and as expected with the Black Blur’s sharp instincts, he caught it as it passed by his shoulder, and looked at it quietly, turning it over and saw that it even had the design of his quills on the back, even the red streaks of it. It was impressive work, and slightly more detailed than the ones she usually makes before training with him. A part of him honestly hoped that she kept making them, keep that innocence for as long as she could afford to.

Had anyone else offered this to him, or perhaps, more accurately, it was made by anyone else, he would have thrown it in the nearest trash bin, not being much of a fan of sweet treats, but Cream was a good kid, and her efforts deserved to be acknowledged…even if he never did it to her face. With a sigh, he brought the cookie to his mouth and bit down, actually savouring the crunch of it between his teeth.

Not getting a response, and actually weirded out hearing Shadow eat something, not entirely sure he has ever even seen Shadow eat anything outside of the odd apple here and there, or a bag of coffee beans he would munch on like popcorn, Sonic tried something else to drive up conversation, risking moving up beside the dark hedgehog as he did. He looked over the edge at the party down below and whistled. Despite Shadow wanting to be the brooding loner, he did have an awesome view of the party. He could see everyone from here. “You know, Amy is probably going to be looking for me to dance with her anytime now. I doubt Tails will make a move today, so I wouldn’t mind, you know, having you there to take a bullet for me. I’d sooner ask Silver, but he ain’t here right now,” Shadow did not so much as budge at the offer, only continued to eat the cookie, devouring the eyes of it. “Then there’s Rouge in the corner there that is eyeing Jewel’s sh…”

Shadow breathed out a mighty sigh that stopped Sonic from uttering another word. “Sonic, why are you really up here?” he asked plainly, not at all interested in his attempts to get the dark hedgehog to join the rest of his group of friends. Shadow has done this so many times before when such a celebration occurred, but the Blue Blur would be a bit inconsistent when it came to inviting his rival to socialise. He was only really this pushy when he got a sense Shadow was in a particularly bad mood.

It was now Sonic’s turn to sigh and brought his hands to the back of his head, looking up towards the untainted starry sky, able to see every single one of them glimmer like a diamonds within a vast sea. “Look, I get it, you got taken down early and that’s…kind of a sore spot for you,” Shadow gave a light growl at that, but did not deny it. “You like doing your part. Hell, you like doing the most damage when possible, even when most would advise against it, I respect that about you. But when it comes to getting taken down before you can actually do anything, it leaves you in a particular…foul mood,” Shadow finished his cookie, giving his lips a little lick as he did, making sure there were no lingering crumbs. He then gave Sonic a side look, one corner of his lips a thin line. Probably a good thing he gave the cookie, otherwise Shadow probably would have tried throttling the blue furred hedgehog. “I just want to make sure you’re doing alright, that’s all.”

“Well, I am,” he said simply, turning to the hedgehog that was bothering his brooding, wearing that annoying, knowing smile like he could read Shadow like a book. He cast his gaze down towards his damaged shoes. He tried activating them, too even hover off the ground, but not even a sputter of smoke emerged from under them. “It’s not…entirely that. These shoes were made by Gerald and designed by…Maria,” he said, that name still having a strong presence within his mind, within his heart, even after not letting his past memories and life have such a controlling presence in his life going forward. “Since I was unfrozen, I have had to repair them myself, but now…I think they may be beyond me,” His expression was soft, solemn, something he would not show most people so easily. Sonic wisely stayed quiet and listened. “I don’t know what I can do now if I cannot fix them.”

Sonic smiled at his rival and friend. “No need to worry about that, too much,” Shadow looked at him, with a raised brow. “Come on, don’t look at me like that. Just hand over those kicks to Tails for a day or two and he can fix them right up with no problem. I know you have your views on me, but you know well enough that Tails is smart enough, and respectful enough, to fix them up whatever way you want. Maybe you can even ask him to add in a feature to have them turn into regular shoes? I’ve seen you run with them and it’s…not a pretty sight” he said with a winch, only realising Shadow would not want to be reminded of when he fell victim to the Metal Virus. It was a good thing that wild, monstrous version of himself did not know how to use the rocket shoes, or Chaos Control, otherwise he may have infected so many more people, or perhaps the Virus itself knew he would have knocked the stuff off his body if he tried it, even if he was completely under its control.

Shadow looked at the hedgehog, then down at the party. He spotted Tails easily, talking with Amy who was no doubt asking where Sonic was, Whisper and Tangle right next to him, the lemur being her usual clingy self to her wolf friend. Sonic was sound in his reasoning. While it was difficult for someone like Shadow to put his faith in the hedgehog because of how careless he can be, as well as merciful to their foes, Tails was a very different story. Shadow did not appreciate him being so enamoured by Sonic, thinking him to be larger than life, but he could take things a bit more seriously, and certainly had a gifted mind that could match both Gerald and Eggman. It would hurt his pride to request something of someone so young, but the alternative was to be taken out of the fight to defend the planet Maria and Gerald loved until he can somehow learn to fix them himself. Even when G.U.N. was around, he hesitated to use their services, not wishing to be in any sort of debt with them.

“That’s not an…entirely bad suggestion coming from you,” Sonic smiled smugly and shrugged. He’d take what he can get from Shadow. “Though I’m not so sure about that ‘feature’ you suggested,” he offered, then turned his attention towards the hedgehog. “My shoes are like this for a reason. They absorb and filter the energy within my body to operate indefinitely, and even use lingering chaos energy in the environment. If I were to have shoes like yours and actually run as you do, it would be difficult to control the chaotic and kinetic energy I’d generate constantly. It could possible even harm my own body,” he looked down at his useless shoes and scoffed. “Even broken as they are, Gerald made sure this was a feature of the shoes that would work under the roughest of circ*mstances. If my feet were to touch the ground, the energy within my legs would be uncontrollable.”

Sonic rubbed his chin at that, then smirked. “Oooooh, so that’s it. Well, I always had you pegged for a guy who would keel over from a small jog,” he chuckled, much to the annoyance of the dark furred hedgehog.

Shadow grunted in annoyance. “That is a…gross oversimplification, Sonic,” he complained, but the hedgehog just smiled in that annoying way he does. Shadow just sighed he would be unable to win when his rival was in a teasing mood like this. “If I were to take them off right now, I’m pretty sure I could make you…what is it…eat my dust?”

Sonic smirked and did a quick stretch, both their eyes locking on each other. “Well, that sounds like a challenge If I ever heard one.” He grinned as he backed away, suddenly going fidgety, clearly desiring a race from his greatest rival. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

Shadow just looked tired and bored in the face of Sonic’s boundless energy, an ironic contrast considering how much coffee Shadow would consume daily. “Did you not listen to a word I just said?” he looked at Sonic and that challenging expression on his face. His bad habits must be rubbing onto the Ultimate Lifeform as he was actually considering it. “What about Amy? And the party?” he nudged over his shoulder where the pink hedgehog was, as always, looking for the Blue Blur she loved so much, Tails already trying to spin some sort of excuse so she would not be ‘too’ upset with him.

Sonic waved away his rival and friends concerns. “Eh, it’s not the first party I ditched, and certainly not the last. They all know that,” he then grinned at Shadow in his usual teasing way. “Besides, do you really want to use Amy as an excuse for chickening out of a race with me,” oh yeah, Sonic really know how to get him irked and annoyed. He could practically hear the leather in the dark hedgehog’s gloves strain at his clenched fists. Not wasting a moment, he faced away from the party, on the roof of the bell tower, and dropped his body down into a racing stance.

Taking a deep breath, Shadow slowly removed his shoes and socks, not caring that he was in his bare feet, and moved till he was right next to the blue hedgehog. Grunting, he lowered himself down to a similar stance, much to the jubilant glee of the other hedgehog. “You better not regret this, Sonic. I’m going to absolutely destroy you.”

“Oh yeah?” he said with a playful chuckle on his lips, looking straight ahead, not staring at the red aura that emerged from Shadow’s feet and wrapped around his legs like tendrils. “Prove it.”

Shadow snapped back to reality and smirked to himself. “Fine then,” he muttered to the memory as he willed that red, chaotic energy to envelop the leg he used to kick Zomom in his massive gut. With a potent blast of that chaotic energy being suddenly released from the soles of his feet, the fat Zeti, and the older male holding onto him for dear life, were knocked backwards so fast that he could not hope to move his arms and legs from in front of him due to the g-force, even as Zik was roaring commands at him to move his arms and slow themselves down in the air by grabbing whatever he could, but failed.

Since Zomom seemed incapable of defending himself in this state, Zik decided to brace himself against the large Zeti’s head, to counterattack Shadow whenever he tried a follow up attack. With one hand gripping the side of Zomom’s mouth firmly, and the other on the stick he carried, he turned his gaze towards where Shadow was before, but saw he had vanished, much like he had the first time. Surely this must have been some sort of Chaos Control. There was no possible way he was actually this fast with his rocket shoes deactivated. If he did, why would he never use it in the past before now?

“Have you had enough yet?” Zik shivered, just seeing a blur of black and red at the corner of his vision before hearing that deep, serious voice of the dark hedgehog. This was not Chaos Control, but truly pure speed, a level that Starline, and even Eggman, had never recorded before in the past. Even to Zik’s enhanced, Zeti senses, and his centuries of experience, he had never seen anything like this before.

Before Zik could answer with a swing of his staff, a white gloved fist struck him with enough force that he was worried that he may have dislocated his jaw, or even snapped his neck, had he been any more weary and weak than he already was. He had enough sense to notice that fist, how the fabric was more shredded upon impact, even more so after using his last two Chaos Blast attacks, and spotted the new, fresh cuts that were not only on his hands, but moving up his arms, too. So that was his secret. This power was killing him.

While gripping onto his ally with all he was worth, the punch sent both of them colliding into a building, but it was nothing like the housing district in Silvanis Street that they had been in before. From his recon, and destruction of the cameras on the streets, Zik knew they were on one of the nearby market areas. More hits smacked against them, mostly aimed at the stomach of Zomom, his roars of pain and discomfort indicating that his rubber-like body was being pulled to its limit with every strike he endured. The entire time, Master Zik could not help but notice that they went further south, soon approaching the city gates. How many miles had they just crossed in a matter of seconds? How powerful were the hedgehog’s strikes to reach this far with just a handful of them?

Zomom’s body collided with the city gates before long, the very same ones Shadow and his entourage crossed through before being brought to the royal castle on the opposite side of the city. The fat Zeti groaned in pain, sounding as if he was truly unfamiliar with the very concept of true pain. From his position, Zik felt much of the same, never feeling like this except the few times he encouraged Zavok to truly unleash himself during their training and sparring. This feeling was like being trapped in the domain of a powerful beast with no means of escape, to be cornered and just waiting to be devoured. He felt this way, too, with Sonic sometimes, but with the Hedgehog, he would never dare unleash himself like this unless the situation was dire, and Zavok would never harm Master Zik with his increasingly brittle body. But Shadow? He was like the very incarnation of vengeance and destruction. For the first time ever, Zik felt his body shiver and shake in the same way Zomom would whenever the older Zeti struck him.

The attacks seemed to stop, long enough that the large Zeti could actually touch the ground with his feet while his back was against the gates. Why had the hedgehog stopped? Had he succumbed to his injuries already? Zik just blinked as he looked around, then caught the hedgehog in the corner of his eyes, just standing there, both of his gloves now ripped to shredded fabric on his hands, exposing his black furred fingers, with several noticeable cuts on his body that had red blood run down his body and fur much like the red markings he was normally adorned with on his quills and limbs. His red eyes practically glowed in his sockets with the power radiating off him, the blood even steaming and evaporating in response to it. “Y-You must stop!” Zik said, barely even paying any mind to the hesitance in his own voice, how weak it sounded. “You’ll kill y-yourself! A-Are you some kind of idiot! You’re sacrificing yourself for people you don’t even know…p-people who do not even care for you!”

Shadow, instead of responding immediately, took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I…am Shadow the Hedgehog…The Ultimate Lifeform…” he said as if it was some sort of mantra, something that kept him focused, determined, and inspired whenever he struggled. The next time he opened his mouth, he was roaring as the air around him became electrified, and even as he crouched down into a spin, he was still screaming like his organs were being put through a blender. He went faster and faster, blood red electricity shooting off the ball of power he had become, colliding with buildings and blasting holes into them. The cobblestone under him even began to turn red and melt under him from the beyond supersonic friction he was generating with the repeated motions.

With a chill running down his spine, Zik quickly tried to warn Zomom to raise his arms and defend himself, but Shadow was shooting towards them faster than a railgun, his balled-up form colliding hard with the fatter Zeti’s head before he could so much as attempt to lift his arms up in defence. The back of his head collided with the gate while the rapidly spinning hedgehog’s spines tore into his face like fresh cheese through a grater. While Zik continued to hold on, his blue knuckles going white, Zomom felt his back hit open air once more, the massive gates to the city opening up from the tremendous impact, so much so that one of the gates doors was blasted off its hinges, the slab of massive metal slamming hard enough against the door to make the immediate vicinity shake, and a massive booming sound echo out.

Once the gate behind them was destroyed, both Zeti were launched backwards, their bodies mere inches from the ground before the eventual decent had their legs catch the ground and go tumbling along it. Even as dirt and mud covered them as they rolled along the uneven ground of the earth beyond Mobotropolis, Zik was holding on so he did not end up tumbling away from his ally. He had an iron grip even as they came to a stop eventually, the force of that spin attack knocking them well over a mile from the gates.

Things were getting bad now, very bad. Zik quickly went to the assaulted face of the larger Zeti, not caring at all for the yellow flesh that was peeling off slightly, and smacked him across the face. “Get up, Zomom. We need to escape before he…” Zik paused as he looked back towards the gate, and saw Shadow a few steps away from them, a powerful, fresh wind blowing towards them, along with the dirt and dust his feet shoot up where he ran.

Despite the threat, the fat Zeti did as instructed and stood up, very slowly, with a groan. While his face had been ripped into, with lines of blood running down his cheeks and lips, his body appeared to endure it like he does most things, but it was clear this was close to the greatest pain he ever felt. Since he heard Master Zik mention escape, he turned around in a quick one eighty and started to run, as hopeless as that would be against the dangerous hedgehog, only to quickly stop before he took another step forward. “U-Um…M-Master Zik…” he said slowly, nervously, but the older creature could see why he was fumbling his words with his own eyes.

Right before them was the barrier to the entire city that went up along with the one that covered the entire Empire of the Acorn Kingdom, and possible all their other lands, cities and settlements, too. None of them were any weaker than the massive one that trapped the entire Empire in a dome of protection, and even if Master Zik and Zomom worked together, there was no way their electromagnetic powers would be able to create any sort of opening in any meaningful amount of time before Shadow got his hands on them. Zik thought this city was trapped like rats with six powerful, merciless predators, but he was so very, very wrong.

“I am the greatest defender of this planet,” the hedgehog said, making Zomom, and by extension, Zik, turn to stare at him. He sounded as if that attack he just did was nothing to him, the air around him vibrating and crackling with electricity. “and to scum like you, I’m undefeatable,” he then began to walk towards them, Zomom just daring to take a single step back, then regret it when just a jolt of that super powered dome shield inflicted great pain on him. “The people here do not need to know me, and I do not need to know them in return, all that matters is that precious life is protected,” he got closer and closer to them. “But you made the disastrous mistake of going after a child right in front of me. If you think Sonic is bad when you target his friends, then you’ve seen nothing yet.”

Before Zik could speak, try and talk the hedgehog down, there was already a black, bloodied palm on his entire face, as was the case with half of Zomom’s, then both of them screamed as the back of their heads collided with the barrier, the power of it so shocking and powerful that smoke could be seen rising from their singed scalps.

While both of them kicked and tried to pull the super-fast hedgehog away, he used the momentum of his short run towards them to introduce the soles of his feet to that powerful dome. The electricity and power coursing through him caused the Black Blur to scream in agony, but he was not done with these Zeti. They still needed to learn their lessen. Using that pain as a motivator, Shadow brought one foot after another as he ran up the barrier with the Zeti in tow in each hand, dragging their flailing bodies along that electric domed field while he ran up it at an angle, going like a spiral along it, not even loosing speed as he eventually went upside down, summoned every inch of power he possessed in his body to introduce these durable creatures to the greatest pain they had ever felt, if only a fraction to all the damage and death they had caused not only since they came to Mobius, but before that, too.

Both creatures screamed in absolute pain and agony, though Zomom was far more fearful, not liking the sensation of being upside down, not when the back of his head was being burned to a crisp with no way of pulling away. He never suffered such torture and abuse, not even on Zavok or Master Zik’s worst days. Even though Shadow was willingly running along that insurmountable energy field, that every step felt like small explosions were going off in the soles of his feet and running up the length of his legs, he kept going and going. It was only when he reached the top of the dome shaped barrier, the very epicentre of it, did he jump off it with both Zeti and threw them towards the ground below, both of them now separated and screaming, Zomom’s limbs flailing wildly as the tears from his eyes floated upwards while he continued to fall.

Shadow panted as he fell with them, just above their bodies, but had enough sense to angle himself so he was perfectly horizontal on the way down, watching both of them. Zik looked as if he was close to passing out from all the damage he sustained, but Shadow was not going to show any mercy. He knew the creature could take more. “Alright then. Time to finish this,” he said, inhaling as relief flooded his entire body, the pain he felt before numbing away slowly. Gathering up that wild power within him, shepherding it to the palms of his hands, gritting his teeth as he mentally blocked off any stray alterations, bringing order to the chaos within, he roared as he closed a fist and pulled his body back like he was winding up a punch, pillars of yellow light forming in the sky behind him, above his foes. “Chaos…” was as far as he got before his body was wrecked with a pain he never felt before in his life, like fire and electricity threatened to breach his body from within, so intense that his mind and vision went black from the shock.

Shadow felt overwhelmed by an exhaustion that was foreign to him. The last thing he remembered was the party, Sonic being his usual annoying self, then he challenged the Ultimate Lifeform to a race. Wait…his shoes were damaged in the previous battle, so how did he…?

He groaned loudly as he slowly began to sit up, a familiar voice reaching his ears. “Oh, you’re awake already, Shadow?” said hedgehog grumbled as he opened his red eyes. His vision was blurry at first, but he could make out a yellow and white familiar shape. Once he focused, he saw that it was indeed Tails. He was at his workbench, tinkering with something while the hedgehog seemed to be in a small, simple bed he must kept down here on occasions that he cannot drag himself to his own bedroom. “Sonic brought you here last night. Honestly, I’m surprised you woke up so fast.”

With his head being a bit clearer, he recalled that he ran against Sonic with no shoes on, so the power within him would have been going wild the entire time. They ran for miles, both of them getting the lead over another every few minutes until the power within him began to grow wilder, more unstable…then things went black and he found himself here. “Tails…” he muttered the name of the twin tailed fox, his mouth feeling like sandpaper and his throat hoarse. He never felt so weak before in his life.

When he grunted loudly at sitting up at a certain angle, Tails was immediately frowning at him like some sort of bed nurse, turning away from his work on his yellow and orange swivel chair, his twin namesake poking out from between the back of it and from where he sat. “Shadow, you need to take it easy. Not even you can brush off that kind of damage so fast. You recovered at a remarkable rate, but you were an absolute mess when Sonic brought you in,” sighing, Tails slid off the chair and walked towards him, taking a clipboard in hand and checking some notes he must have jotted down. “He was considering bringing you to the Restoration to heal up, but he knew ahead of time that your lack of shoes is what was doing all that damage…and you wouldn’t appreciate getting an earful from Amy,” the fox blushed slightly, thinking of said hedgehog amorously.

Reminded of his shoeless state when racing Sonic, he looked down at his feet to see that he was not wearing his rocket shoes, but some other contraption. He looked at the fox and frowned. “What is that?” he asked, the objects on his feet being pure white and had basic details that did not really make them stand out beyond that.

“S-Sorry about that,” Tails said as he rubbed the back of his head. “They are not as good as your usual shoes, but the Robotnik Corp brand of skate based Extreme Gear were based upon your ones, so I figured they would have similar features in place, especially since you’ve had to use similar ones in Extreme Gear tournaments in the past with no issues. I think some energy is still leaking out, but it is not causing major harm to your body. I keep a spare around for upgrades just in case me or Sonic like to shake things up at an Extreme Gear Tournament.” the hedgehog nodded. Tails’ logic was sound, and he was right as a result. Shadow could feel that energy leave his body, but not as intensely as it did before.

Shadow had never felt that exhausted before, but that was most likely because the last time he took off his shoes for an extended amount of time was when he was being studied and tested on the Space Colony Ark. Even if he did have a major episode like today, at least Gerald was there to help him through it. More than likely, he was far more powerful since those days, too. It was not an experience he was eager to relive again.

“It’s fine…thank you,” he said slowly, the words as honest as they were unusual for him. He laid back down on the bed, then turned his gaze to the bench the fox boy had been working at and saw one of his own rocket shoes sitting up on it. “How are the repairs coming on them?” he asked, very sure that Sonic mentioned at least that much to the fox. He must have ran back to Spiral Hill Village to pick them up after dropping him off at Tails’ place. He probably needed to pick up the fox while he was at it, too.

Smiling brightly, Tails moved closer to the bed. “Amazing! The technology is almost sixty years old, but it is remarkable advanced for its time. I have been able to repair much of the superficial damage, an unaligned thruster on the right shoe, and some of the circuitry on the interior, but I’m going to have to call in a few favours to get the parts I need to fully fix them, and maybe even put on some much-needed upgrades. While the technology was advanced, it is a little…archaic compared to modern day technology in some areas,” seeing the frown on the hedgehog’s face, Tails quickly reeled himself back, getting ahead of himself. “T-Though, of course, there is nothing wrong with that as it still lets you get the job done. I-I’ll only change whatever you want me to.”

Shadow looked at the shoe on the workbench, having so much history with them, obviously being his oldest possession, a precious keepsake of a bygone time, but they have gone far too long with no improvements. He promised long ago he would move beyond his past, no longer beholden to Gerald and Maria, it was why he joined G.U.N. in the past and use them as a means to protect the planet more efficiently. It was about time his shoes also changed. “It’s fine, Tails…if you can make them faster and more durable, I’d appreciate it…even more so if you can do that without altering their external appearance,” Tails seemed pleased at those basic suggestions. Perhaps he was hoping for an excuse to mess with those rocket shoes for so long now. The dark hedgehog almost risked breaking into a slight smile at that thought. Recalling the conversation with Sonic before, a thought did come to mind. “There is…something else, but I’d be grateful if you never mention it to anyone, especially Sonic.”

Curious by the sudden request, Tails took out a pen from the tool belt he had around his waist and clicked the end of it and brought the nib to the paper of the clipboard he held onto and wrote down a few things, most likely putting down reminders to what he had permission to change and alter. “Oh? What did you have in mind?” he seemed very interested. Much like a doctor, Tails honoured a sort of client confidentiality. While it would be unfortunate he would not be able to tell anyone all the full details of what he did for Shadow, he understood that the hedgehog probably had his reasons. With Sonic being his rival, he probably did not wish the Blue Blur to know of any advantage Shadow had before he can spring it on him the next time they race. Thinking like that, Sonic would rather it be a surprise, he supposed.

Shadow was silent for a few brief moments and just focused on the ceiling, trying his best not to let a red blush touch the tanned cheeks of his muzzle. “Sonic…suggested an idea where the rocket shoes could…turn into something similar to his own shoes,” he had honestly considered what Sonic had suggested before, more so after the race they had. When his power went wild and out of control, his speed and power was extremely off the charts. It was not something he would utilise in every single battle, but it could certainly be useful in the case of emergencies, a trump card should he be caught with no Chaos Emeralds, especially if the plan goes ahead to use Space Colony Arc as their new method of containment and storage for them, or the release of his inhibitor rings proves far too destructive. He would rather cause terrible internal damage to his own body than accidently snuff out an innocent life.

Tails seemed curious with the proposition. “Hmmmm…It may involve a few tweaks to the design I have in mind, but I have been trying to finalise an adaptable metal that can change its shape and properties to suit any situation. I got the idea from Metal Sonic’s own metallic frame that has been able to alter its shape and form to compensate for his change in programming, or amassing too much copied enemy data. It works by…”

“Tails. Stop,” the hedgehog said as he sighed and rubbed the corner of his eyes. “I’m…really not interested in the technical talk of it right now. You can tell me all about it once it’s done. I just want to know if it’s possible.”

Tails nodded his head and reigned in his inner desire to geek out about his own creations. “It is. Maybe even with the simple push of a button.”

Pleased, the dark hedgehog nodded his head. “Very well then. What kind of timeframe would you expect to be done? Given that this metal sounds like it’s still in development.”

The twin tailed fox tapped the back of his pen against his lip several times, going over all sorts of calculations in his head, such as the metal’s current progress and properties, how to keep the shoes more or less the same as he upgrades it, making a tally of his resources, and much more. Once he came to a final answer, he smiled. “About a week or two, honestly, but considering I have nothing else going on these days, maybe I can cut that down to three or four days if I can arrange things and get in contact with some people I know.”

Shadow nodded in approval, and was content to just relax and submit to the exhaustion that was chaining him down to the bed, but he could sense that something else was on Tails’ mind. Opening his eyes, he turned his fierce red eyes to Tails’ own sky-blue ones. “What now?”

Rubbing the back of his head, Tails put down the clipboard, the action alone telling the hedgehog that he was now speaking as a friend, not a mechanic. “Shadow…while I’m more than happy to do this for you, I want you to understand that you were REALLY bad when Sonic brought you back here. If it was anyone else, anyone who was not…well…you, I’m positive I would be dealing with a corpse right now, not jotting down orders like I’m working at a restaurant,” Tails had a very serious expression on his face, the years of experience he accumulated certainly helping to get the point across whenever he had to speak of dire things. It was certainly a different feeling to hearing an eight-year-old try and scold someone and make them see reason. “You got lucky this time, but I can’t guarantee that using this mode again won’t very well kill you.”

Shadow took a deep breath at that, staring the fox deep in the eye. That alone was answer enough of what he thought of the warning he gave, but the hedgehog still brought his hands to the mattress and sat himself up once more with some strain and a groan, not once breaking eye contact. “I am the Ultimate Lifeform, Tails,” he said, his usual declaration and mantra for whenever he had to make the most dangerous of decisions. “If I ever have to use it again, then it will be worth it if my life can protect those who cannot protect themselves,” he broke eye contact to stare at his fist, at a brief sliver of red lightning that ran along his palm. “I will not use this power lightly. It shall only be a last resort to protect those precious to me.”

Shadow awoke to a coughing fit, shaking off the memory of a few brief years ago. Pulling a shaking hand away from his mouth, he saw the back of his hand was caked in fresh blood, and certainly could taste the tangy, metallic substance in his mouth. He was really pushing his body beyond its limits.

A quick observation told him that he blacked out only for a brief moment as he was still in the air while Zomom and Master Zik were still flailing in the air, trying to get their bearings due to the unforeseen, short calm that came after the savage assault both of them had just endured. Perhaps he blacked out for five seconds? Perhaps a little more? The hedgehog’s vision was going blurry, and not just due to the blood getting in his eyes, but also the exhaustion his powerful, stubborn body was enduring. He probably could not even make out his two enemies if it was not so easy to spot the enormous blob that was Zomom. He pushed his body back into action, even as the darkness threatened to envelop the edges of his vision once more.

Regathering the energy in his hand, he did a sweeping motion towards the two Zeti and released it. “SPEAR!” he roared, continuing his attack from before. Behind and above the hedgehog, many spears of red energy began to form in the air, matching the energy that was erupting from his body, before raining down on the two Zeti. With the filters of his shoes turned off, it became stronger, more potent, many levels beyond his regular brand of Chaos Spear attacks.

With such a wide range of attack, unable to focus them properly, some of the attacks managed to strike their targets, exploding on contact, but many rained down towards the ground and surely would have caused more destruction than what was warranted. Stretching out his right arm towards the wasted attacks, he extended his will out and roared as he not only halted their decent just inches from the ground, but redirected them upwards towards his foes, slamming the explosive energy spears into their backs. Their screams of pain and agony was soon drowned out by a flurry of miniature explosions that would only hurt them and cause no unnecessary collateral, or environmental, damage.

Shadow kept moving his hands, catching any stray spears that harmlessly passed by their targets with his mind and power. Like with this massive power in general, he was not used to directing the chaos energy, only unleashing it, and that inexperience showed as it seemed to take a massive tole on his body, but even still he kept fighting. He would not be satisfied until both his foes were incapacitated.

Focusing hard, he held both hands together before him and forced his will to gather, gritting his teeth to hard as blood ran down his nose, and over his teeth and mouth. The last remaining spears then stopped in the air, each aimed right for the two Zeti, and shot towards them to create a chain of explosions in the air, filling the area around them with smoke. “Surely…that…did it…” said the hedgehog, taking a moment to take a breath.

The hedgehog’s fists clenched as he looked towards the two falling Zeti and saw that Master Zik was still conscious and moving. He looked as if he was badly hurt, having some of his blue flesh charred, as well the tips of his long moustache scorched, and even one of his horns was cracked, too. Zomom was still conscious, too, but he was far more injured than his old master, perhaps ordered by the smaller creature to defend him from the oncoming attacks and absorb them. From the look of him, even his rubber like reflection abilities were close to their limit, or perhaps already surpassed after Shadow broke the ceiling of what his power was preciously capable of.

“Fine then…” Shadow said, brushing the back of his fist against the corner of his lips to wipe away the blood. The other cuts and slashes on his body were now bleeding more profusely, too. His body was a vessel for that chaos energy, and right now he resembled a cracked vase that was poorly glued together. “Chaos…” he raised his voice, clapping his hands together firmly as he did, then slowly pulled them apart to reveal a spear like form of chaos energy that was at least three times larger than the ones he had attacked the two Zeti with before.

Turning his withered, exhausted gaze up to the dark hedgehog, Zik reacted appropriately by going wide eyed, able to feel the energy this single creature was generating from his person like he was a living battery. His reaction to it was exactly what Shadow wanted to see, what he expected to see, and he relished in it. “ZOMOM! Get over here! Defend me from…whatever THAT is!” he roared the order, panic in his voice. He was exactly how Shadow expected him to be deep down. Masterful, in control, mocking when he had the advantage, but once that is taken away from him, he becomes nothing more than a pathetic old man. If Shadow did not feel like he was being pulled in six different directions right now, he probably would have considered bringing himself to laugh.

Zomom, at the order Master Zik gave, grunted and flapped his arms towards Zik, perhaps forgetting he could fly, or far too injured to sustain it. Either way, he managed to get to the older male and shield him from the oncoming attack Shadow was preparing. The energy that was joined from palm to palm broke away from his hands, floating before him in a vibrant, deadly red with sparks of crackling energy electrifying the air around it. With unshakeable determination, he brought his hand to the middle of that energy and grasped it firmly, steam rising from his hand as it burned into him. Pulling himself backwards, he kept his red eyes on his foes and threw it. “JAVELIN!” he roared, finishing the powerful attack, and watched as it flew down towards its target with blinding speeds.

The larger Zeti looked up at the attack, Zik roaring something in his ear he could not clearly make out, but he heard enough to quickly raise up his arms up in defence, certainly much faster if he wasted time trying to think for himself. Feeling Master Zik crawl down his back, like some sort of spider, Zomom took the full brunt of the attack head on, endured it as best he could, but it soon became overwhelming as the javelin shaped chaotic energy burned into his orange coloured flesh. “M-Master Zik…i-it’s t-too...” he tried to say, but the massive explosion that safely went off above the buildings silenced him as he and the older Zeti were blown towards the cobblestone ground below, landing in Silvanis Street where they started. If it was not for the quick movements of the older creature, he would have been crushed under the weight of Zomom, much like his precious wooden staff that was snapped in half.

The older Zeti had just barely managed to climb around to Zomom’s stomach after that deadly, powerful explosion, as his allies body went spinning and flailing towards the ground. As the larger Zeti’s back collided with the ground and made a crater, Zik was cushioned by Zomom’s massive stomach. Even so, this was far more than what he expected of Shadow. He was supposed to be all talk, all bluster and no substance. He was not supposed to be able to utilise his powers against him. He could not even properly blame Zomom for his failure because it was a massive oversight, an unforgivable mistake that was handing him such a humiliating defeat. The only saving grace was that his favourite student, Zavok, could not see the shameless display of his teacher, reduced to actually succumbing to his aging body. Even when he has hardly been hit by any of Shadow’s attacks directly because of Zomom’s sturdy defence, the older male felt out of breath and drained of all the energy in his body.

Surely that was the end of it. Surely Shadow the Hedgehog had nothing more to give after such a display of power. Zik saw the tole that power was having on his body, how it harmed him like a double-edged sword. Anymore and he would certainly keel over from blood loss alone, never mind the energy ripping his physical form to an unrecognisable level. Barely able to bring himself to look, Master Zik dared himself to gaze up at the black furred hedgehog who used the power within his body to defy gravity for but a few brief moments after his latest powerful attack. The Ultimate Lifeform looked like a god intent on smiting till there was nothing left to smite. Even as gravity took hold of his mortal body and he fell from the sky, he did not stop that fierce expression on his features. “He has nothing left…There is no way he could have more,” Zik said, his body shivering at the wrath that was within those eyes of his.

Not looking to disappoint, Shadow drew more energy from within his body as he dropped down towards the two Zeti from above like he had just base jumped out of a plane. Curling his body into a ball, as mobian hedgehogs like him tend to do, he began to spin his body rapidly, starting to go faster and faster, the blood from his injuries spraying out of him as his movements not only served to aggravate his wounds, but motivate him to keep on going faster and faster.

Zik looked up at the hedgehog as he continued to move and spin in the air rapidly, but knew it would be useless and wasted effort. While it was impressive that the likes of him and Sonic could do that in the air with no leverage with their homing attacks, and build up to such insane speeds in the process, but attacking them from that range was a very different matter. They could launch themselves towards their target while in the air, but it required their target to be within a close distance to them. Right now, all Shadow was doing was building up speed, killing himself faster, and would have nothing to show for it until gravity brought him down to a close enough range. “W-What…does that hedgehog think he’s playing at?” asked the older Zeti, as he tried to take some semblance of control from this situation. He immediately moved up Zomom’s body and kicked into his chest, as well as slapping his face. “GET UP, Zomom! Wake up, you lazy fool!” he said with as much authority his withered body could muster, but all he could manage was a weakened groan of pain from the larger creature, sounding like he was very close to sobbing. Zik had never seen him in such pain before.


The blood within Zik’s body chilled as he looked up and saw that red aura envelop Shadow’s entire body, gathering a large amount of power within him for some sort of powerful attack. There was only one ability within Shadow’s arsenal he could use right now, and he could not believe that he still had so much energy, so much determination, to use it when his body looked like it would collapse the second he stops moving. With pure fear in his old heart, Master Zik continued his assault on his ally to wake up and defend him from the coming onslaught, but the reaction was more or less the same. Biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood, the old, former leader of the Deadly Six showed his true colours and jumped off the larger male to instead run in the opposite direction the moment his feet touched the ground. He did not even look back as he limped awkwardly with no staff to rely on, all the breath in his lungs lost as the fear he felt towards Shadow, that manifestation of pure wrath, loomed over him like an Angel of Death.


In the blink of an eye, Shadow, with all that gathered chaos energy within his body, warped towards the belly of Zomom, crossing the massive distance in an instant. With a swift homing attack, he closed the short remaining distance between him and his target, and collided with him, all that pent up energy exploding outwards with tremendous power and force. The amount of energy released created enough of a shockwave to knock Master Zik off his feet and slam face first into the ground. A destructive blast of that red energy threatened to envelop the houses within Silvanis Street upon impact, but Shadow reigned it in as the master of that power he was, and condensed it till it was smaller and smaller, almost at critical levels, before finally exploding upwards in a pillar of energy and filling the entire area with a dense smoke.

Zik looked back at the smoke, it quickly dispersing with the wind that blew through the domed shield of the city, one of the few things that could harmlessly pass through it, and saw Shadow the Hedgehog standing on the belly of the defeated Zomom. Both creatures looked like they were at their limit, but Shadow’s ultimate power overpowered the fat Zeti’s rubber like defences. Zomom’s body was unmoving outside of pained breaths while Shadow stood where Zik previously was a moment ago. The severe damage to his body was a clear indicator that he would be of no use going forward. Slowly, Shadow turned his red eyes towards the millennium old Zeti, who had been in hundreds of battles, and conquered lands in his prime, and looked at him with pity at how fearful he appeared to be now that he met a power far greater than he has ever seen before in his life, by how he tried to back away from Shadow. The hedgehog was so focused on it that he barely even noticed his own blood rain down on him from above after the super-fast spinning a few moments ago. Zomom did not even react to it in any meaningful way as the drops of blood came down on the front of his body, mingling with his own.

Once Shadow moved off the larger creature, jumping off the side of his belly and moving towards the older Zeti, not caring for the wounds that ravaged his body, Zik began to feel himself hyperventilating, his old heart feeling like it was about to give out from within him. This feeling, this sensation, it terrified him more than anything else he has ever felt in a thousand years. “N-No, stay back,” he crawled away, not daring to take his eyes off Shadow, that red energy still radiating from his body as his worsening vision warped the Ultimate Lifeform into something truly demonic, not of this world and alien in his eyes. “S-Stay away from me! Y-You demon!”

Shadow scoffed at the panic in the older creature’s voice. To think he was supposed to be some sort of hardened warrior. He was so confident, mocking, and arrogant, but the moment he was pitted against an overwhelmingly powerful force, that illusion was shattered. All that remained was the husk of an old man who had long seen the end of his prime. It was absolutely pathetic that even Shadow found himself feeling sorry for him, but not enough where he would not deliver the justice and Karma the Zeti deserved.

“Stop embarrassing yourself,” the hedgehog said plainly, his entire body screaming in absolute torment with every step he took, small droplets of blood staining the cobblestone behind him as he went. At his voice, Zik paused as he gulped, his entire body freezing and locking up, barely able to stop himself from cowering the way he did. It was a struggle for him to even hear what the hedgehog was saying as he actually, for the first time, felt truly senile. “I thought you were some warrior that was unafraid of death, Zik?” Shadow said darkly, not stopping his approach. “I thought you were waiting for a final battle you could be proud of, to go out on a high note? I thought this would be more than enough for you? Instead, you run from me like a coward. You’re nothing but a pathetic, ancient joke, Zik. It disgusts me that someone like you had the power to force me into this level of desperation.”

At his words, Zik felt that fear melt away slowly, steadily being replaced by rage, his face going red with a shame he had never felt in his life. While he could not entirely stop his body from shaking, some sense started to come back to the older Zeti, enough so that he smiled and chuckled, slowly rising to his tiny feet. “I-I almost forgot who I was dealing with for a moment,” that smile on his lips spread a little more, suddenly feeling more confident. “You’re Shadow the Hedgehog, and even under all that darkness, that power, and rough exterior, you have never willingly taken a life. You are just as week and naive as Sonic. For all your own bluster, you can’t do what it takes to truly protect this mudball of a planet you claim to love so much, even against me, or Zomom.”

Shadow did not pause his advance, not even in thought. “I am Shadow the Hedgehog, the Ultimate Lifeform…not some executioner,” Master Zik smirked wilder, flashing his teeth. “As much as I want to every time I see the likes of Eggman, Zavoc, Mimic, and many others, I would just end up alienating myself from the rest of my ally’s…and deserve the same kind of death I would give them.” Zik just laughed more. Much like with Eggman, what reason did he need to be afraid in the face of such weakness? Bones would mend and flesh would heal. If this so called ‘Ultimate Lifeform’ refused to do what needed to be done, then what point was there in being so fearful. “Thankfully, that only applies to the wider area of Mobius I protect,” the mocking soon stopped and Zik went deadly silent. “In the Acorn Kingdom, they have their own laws to handle scum like you, and I’m not the kind of man to deny them that,” looking up, Shadow smiled at the figure that approached Master Zik from behind.

Seeing a shadow get cast over him on the ground, Zik slowly turn around to see Lupe hovering over him, her normally peaceful looking light blue eyes were filled with a deep, pain promising rage. Her hackles were raised while she flashed those perfect white teeth that were more than likely sharp enough to take half of the small creatures throat in one go. Her Omni-stick weapon was held firmly in her hand, now in it’s spear form after Zik and Zomom neglected to keep their electromagnetic field up. Zik quickly rectified this by disabling the weapon once more, but Lupe just quickly tossed it aslide and raised her right arm over her head. “W-Wait!” he said pathetically, his attention going to the child that was hugging her legs, but that just seemed to anger the mother wolf more. “Y-You wouldn’t hurt an old man, would you? What would your child think” he pleaded, Lupes fist shaking above her head the entire time. Pure disgust veiled her features as she looked down at the Zeti, but she was not so lost in her rage that she did not notice how Maria looked up at her in that moment.

With bile coating her throat, she glared down at him with an animalistic growl. “You wouldn’t try to kill a child, would you?” Zik gulped, trying to back away. “MY CHILD!” she roared, then brought her good fist down on the old Zeti with a karate chop that cracked against his skull powerfully enough to slam the back of his head into the cobblestone below and go limp, a pool of blood forming around his mouth, as well as the back of his head.

There was silence for a few moments between Shadow, Lupe, and their two unconscious foes before the young wolf child, Maria, looked up at her mother with pleading eyes, her voice a soft whisper. “M-Mommy?” she asked quietly, looking as if she was close to tears despite the fierceness she showed before. Something was still scaring her.

Recognising that it was perhaps Lupe herself that was scaring Maria, she calmed herself, forcing a kind smile on her lips. Soon enough, the girl stopped trembling, making Lupe smile much more naturally. She refused to scare Maria like her father would. Even in her rage, Zik was extremely lucky the mother wolf did not end his life. That was something she would also not do before her own child. This creature and his ilk deserved death for the years of murder and destruction they brought to Mobius, but that was not her call to make, only a ruler of the Kingdom she served.

Shadow smiled softly at the sight before he winched, coughing up blood as he did. His body was at its limit, pushed far too much that even he was approaching the point of no return. He dropped to one knee and attempted to press the button on his now reactivated rocket shoes, but the pain that pierced every part of his being caused him to collapse to his side. “S-Shadow!” Lupe was immediately at his side, her hands warm on his body where he felt himself grow colder and colder.

“Button…b-bottom of…t-tip…” he just barely managed to get out. The power he used before almost seemed to be corrosive, eating him up from the inside out. With so much expelled in quick succession, a whole new wave of chaos energy sought to fill in the gaps and be expelled from him like before. Too little, and it would kill him. Too much, and it would also kill him. Ironically, there needed to be a balance in the energy his body generated to live, which was what his shoes were originally designed to do since his body was unable to do it naturally.

Not only Lupe, but Maria, took a shoe each and easily found the button he told them about. Slowly, his rocket shoes returned to their regular form he always had them at. Already, the shoes was filtering the chaotic energy that attempted to bubble up at the surface and safely expelled it without harming the hedgehog. He was still covered in cuts, blood, and probably had a few broken bones and ribs, but it was nothing he could not endure and survive. It was what he was best at, after all. Few things compared to freefalling from the planets upper atmosphere when it came to surviving deadly injuries.

Slowly, Shadow began to open his eyes, the darkness at the corner of his vision beginning to fade away as he saw twin, sky blue eyes look down at him, “Shadow,” said Lupe’s gentle voice as she smiled down at him, hand caressing his cheek. She was unbothered by the blood and instead just focused on his handsome features. He attempted to move himself, to not be a burden for her, but the pain that shot through his body pinned him in place. It was only when his head came back down did he realise his head was on her lap, it so very warm and comforting…and the scent that hit his nose relaxed him greatly. It reminded him of a very comforting lavender. “You have to be…the most hardheaded, irresponsible…heroic person I have ever met,” she said softly, brushing blood away from his cheek with her thumb.

Taking a deep, relaxing breath, he winched after seeing how painful that was, settling on a wavering smirk to halt the pain shooting through him. “Your bedside manners…are abysmal,” he said, having something resembling an honest, amused smile just under that smirk. Closing his eyes, he took another breath, a more content one. “But…I’m glad you’re safe, both of you.”

Lupe felt her cheeks redden slightly as she brought a hand to his own, her thumb brushing shyly along the back of it, looking at the strips and remnants of those destroyed white gloves that got shredded due to the hedgehog’s own efforts. “I can get in contact with Sally and ask for a relief and medical team to make their way here. Will you be alright for a few minutes.?” she asked with concern in her voice. Even if the hedgehog did start to recover now, he was covered in too much blood and cuts to refuse any sort of medical treatment.

“He’ll be fine, mommy,” both wolf and hedgehog turned their attention to the younger, smiling wolf, the confidence in her declaration surprised both adults. “After all, Shadow is a strong name…a-and cool, too.”

Shadow looked at the mother wolf with amusem*nt in his eyes, but did not tease the leader of the royal guard, and instead just laid back down with a relaxed smile. Grateful for the hedgehog’s mercy, she looked at her daughter with a tint of red in her cheeks, all while taking Shadow’s hand into her own, something he actually returned, if faintly. “Yes…it most certainly is a very strong and cool name, Maria.”

(Mobotropolis – A Mile and A Half Out From Castle Acorn)

Zavok was a creature bred for conquest, to grind the weak down under heel, to destroy and torment. It had been so very long since he was put in a position where he could drag out one’s suffering, but he revelled in hearing Amy choke out for precious air to fill her lungs, as well as her weak lover screaming out for him to stop, totally defenceless against him. The red villain promised he would do as much to the fox, and when it came to the suffering of his foes, he was a Zeti of his word.

He almost hesitated at hearing the fox scream at him, telling him to stop and release the woman, if only for the reason that he wished for the snap of her neck to echo in his ears, doubting he would even be able to savour and remember it over the volume of his voice. However, Zavok continued up, pushing his thumb further and further into Amy’s slim throat, not satisfied until he feels his thumb and index finger shatter her windpipe.

While he was doing this, he did not take his eyes off the fox at all. He had killed many in his lifetime, so another dead woman in his hands was of no consequence to him, but the one thing he found he never grew tired of was the exact moment a person’s life collapsed upon them after someone dear to their hearts was snuffed out. It was a pathetic weakness, he found, such fondness for another, but it was exactly why he kept his eyes on Tails the entire time. What he saw, however, was very different from what he expected.

For the briefest of moments, perhaps less than a second, Zavok noted the blurred motions of the fox’s hands. Most would not even take note of it, a trick of the eye, but he clearly did something, pulled another one of his tricks, as power erupted from the fox like a tidal wave that washed over Zavok, knocking him backwards slightly. Between that and the blinding light, he had to brace his feet into the ground, cyan-coloured toes digging into the cobblestone below to assist with that, but that hardly was enough to ready him for the fist that slammed powerfully against his cranium with enough force that he was knocked off his feet fully, sent flying backwards. His mind went blank upon impact, loosing hold of the pink hedgehog he had within his grasp.

Once he felt himself sliding along the cobblestone below, he slammed his right hand into the ground, sharp claws gouging into the stone as a means of slowing him down. Before he came to a full stop, he twisted his body and landed on his feet, lifting his head to gaze up at this new threat.

The light was not as intense as the initial burst, it actually getting dimmer and dimmer so he could finally make out key details. Even as the light was too bright for most mobian creatures, Zavok saw the twin tailed fox he had been fighting previously before him now, his feet a few inches off the ground and pointing downwards. At first, the leader of the Deadly Six thought him to be using his twin tails to float off the ground, for whatever reason, but they were still behind him, rising upwards like the yellow and white fur on his body that looked to be in an eternal updraft. The golden energy now surrounding his body was like a tempered, patient flame that looked for any excuse to rage out into an inferno. The yellow of his fur was now a shimmering gold, the white now pristine and pure with no dirt or blemishes, almost as if he was now too good for the dirt, blood, and injuries he had previously that flaked off his body, and cleanly healed over. His sky-blue eyes that held such kindness and wisdom were now a ruby red. They were still filled with kindness, but Zavok could make out the flickering patience behind his gaze. Oh yes, Zavok was very familiar with this transformation.

“Super…” he said with a low growl, drawing out the word like it filled his throat with bile. He brought his attention to Amy, who Tails held bridal style in his arms, her body against his chest. Her eyes were closed, and breathing weak, the Zeti clearly doing some damage to her before he was assaulted by that overwhelming power that intermingled with Tails. Zavok took notice of how the fox looked down at the hedgehog in his arms, those eyes filled with such power trembling ever so faintly the longer he looked down at her, ignoring the threat that he was. A cruel smirk formed on his lips as he slowly stood up to his full height. “No…weaker.”

Tails did not even entertain the comment as he looked down at the pink furred hedgehog he loved, his gloved fingers brushing over her throat. “Amy…” he whispered, voice radiating power like the rest of his body, then leaned down towards her and pressed his lips against her own. Amy’s eyes snapped open just a brief moment later, inhaling deeply through her nose. Not only did that foreign power that rushed through her system seemingly heal her, but so too did the familiar scent of her lover that not only warmed her heart, but calmed it, too. Her eyes closed again, if only so she could savour this sensation while she wrapped her arms around his neck, her left hand palming the back of his head, and leaned towards him as that warm, comforting sensation washed over her. All the blood and dirt on her body and clothes, as well as the wounds she sustained, flaked off her body and healed over, much like it did with Tails himself.

Slowly, both mobians pulled away from each other, smiling towards their better half. Even if she only saw his eyes, she would recognise the shape of them, the kindness behind them, even if they had a different colour right now. “Tails…” she whispered his name, her peach cheeks blushing a faint red under his gaze. “What…happened to you?” she looked his body up and down, left hand moving to caress his cheek while the light that illuminated his body dimmed down slightly. He retained that energy around his body, the shimmering gold and pure white fur, but not enough to strain the hedgehog’s eyes.

Tails smiled down at her, then tore his attention away from her long enough to nod towards the Chaos Ring. Taking note of it now, Amy gasped when she saw the Chaos Ring looked very different now. It was still a gold ring, having the small shards of the Chaos Emeralds imbedded as normal, but it now possessed several cracks along the surface of the ring portion of it that were filled over by multicoloured crystal’s that were of the same colours, and originated, from where the Chaos Chips were socketed along the device. What kind of damage did it sustain in such a short amount of time that it would now have this form. “I just…had a rough few hours, that’s all,” he chuckled, confusing her in the process. She was sure she could not have been knocked out for that long, but she said nothing more when she saw the tears form at the corner of his eyes. Instead of running down his cheeks, however, they lifted up into the air around him with the power, much like the hair on his head and his twin namesake behind him. “I…thought I was going to lose you. I-I was so scared I…got desperate…”

She blinked once in confusion, then a reassured smile accompanied the second. Her thumb brushed the corner of one of his eyes to wipe away those tears. “You will never be without me, Tails. I’ll always be a part of you, just as you are with me,” he smiled back at her, pleased to hear her say that. Her touch was so soothing, relaxing, comforting, that he was confident that their hearts could beat as one now. She then looked down at him and smiled, her blush deepening in intensity. “That’s…a nice look on you.”

He blinked and looked down at himself, as if only noticing the transformation now, then chuckled as he concentrated, mastering the power enough to gently bring himself down to his feet, then helped Amy to her feet, too, even if she would like to remain in that bridal style position for at least a little longer. “Y-Yeah…not sure what was going to happen when I put all those points in at once, but at least it’s something…familiar,” he said as he looked himself over, especially his arms, how his fur glowed, how it moved and ruffled like it had a constant light breeze running through it at all times. He had seen Sonic turn into Super Sonic so many times over the years, Shadow and Silver having similar transformations when using the Seven Chaos Emeralds, but Tails had never once utilised their powers like this. Even though the Chaos Chips powers were derived from those powerful gemstones, the exact nature and powerset changed, he did not expect to ever unlock such a form with what was essentially little fragments of them. He had to wonder if even Doctor Starline was aware of such an evolution for this device that just continued to surprise the fox.

Amy looked into his eyes and felt her heart flutter in her chest. She had been saved dozens of times in her life, far more times than she ever would have liked at this point, but this felt different than the many times Sonic, or anyone else really, saved her. She was not being saved because she was just a friend, or vital to the Restoration, but it was done out of love, a love she can clearly see reflected in the Tails’ eyes. The way her heart assaulted her chest was as if she was falling in love with the fox all over again. Not only did he rescue her when she needed him, but he also risked his own wellbeing in the process. How could she possible not love him right now?

However, the sweet moment could not last long, especially with an impatient foe nearby. “What a pointless transformation that was,” both Tails and Amy looked towards Zavok, his arms folded over his chest as he watched them with a patience that was slowly being shaved away with every passing second. “I already know enough about that form after Sonic used it on me before. It takes the power of the individual and multiplies it several times over,” he scoffed, then spat down at the floor, his gaze lingering on the blood there while ignoring the salty and metallic taste in his mouth. With a growl, he turned his attention back to the fox. “It’s wasted on a weakling like you.”

Amy bristled at that insult, like it was directed at her, instead of her lover, but she calmed down when she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. “Amy…I need you to hang back for a while. I don’t know how long I can hold this form, but…”

“Yeah…I know,” she said, her voice a little down, but in full understanding of the current situation. The way Tails was now, Amy would be of no help to him. At best, she would just serve as a distraction, or at worst get in the super fox’s way. What he just did was a miracle in itself, and she was not going to squander their one chance to defeat Zavok. Perhaps, if both of them were more experienced with what Tails was capable of, or if she even had long range attacks like Whisper and Blaze, she could risk staying put, but now was not the time to put her personal feelings before what needed to be done. “Just be careful, ok?” she said as she leaned towards him and gave his lips a quick kiss, to which he returned, then broke away before running a further distance away to watch what happened. Both of them looked as though they wished for that kiss to last much longer, but the silent promise within their eyes told the other they would make time for that later.

Tails stared at the back of Amy as she ran to safety, sighing in relief as he did. Spending all that time in that slowed down state almost seemed worth it. Looking down at the Chaos Ring on his right hand, he clenched his fist and turned to face Zavok. Any hint of kindness that lingered on his face, in his eyes, evaporated the moment he turned away from her. In its place was a patient, tempered rage just waiting for an excuse to be let out. “Well, you’re right about one thing, Zavok, this power is wasted on me,” the red skinned Zeti smirked, watching the fox walk towards him with his tails spread wide behind him, clenched fists at his sides. “After all, Someone like me has no right to it, not when it could benefit someone much faster and stronger than me way more.”

Zavok took his own steps towards the fox, matching his speed and closing the distance between them. He offered his hand out, gesturing towards the ring, the seven multicoloured stones glowing within their individual sockets. “Then give it to me, fox,” Tails did not slow down, merely raised a brow. “If you do not want it, then I shall take it off your hands.”

Chuckling, the fox smirked. “What happened to your talk before about hating ‘tricks’? You changed your tune pretty quick.”

“Circ*mstances have changed,” the Zeti said, not at all intimidated by the gold fox. “Had I known it was capable of granting a form similar to Sonics transformation with the Chaos Emeralds, I would have ripped your entire arm off by now to get at it,” he growled lowly at that thought, no doubt thinking of doing just that the next time he gets his hands on the fox. “You can keep your tricks and boons that device grants you, I just want to destroy Sonic as…” he thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I suppose, Super Zavok has a nice ring to it.”

Not taking his eyes off his foe, Tails shook his head as they got closer and closer to one another. “Yeah, that’s not happening. I’m taking you down right now before you even get the chance, then whatever is left of your Deadly Six, then anyone else who is involved in this whole mess.”

Zavok had the slightest of smirks on his lips. “Confidence does not suit you, fox, especially a false one,” Tails clenched his fists as he continued. “Don’t forget, I just watched you cry over the female hedgehog mere moments ago. What could you possible hope to do when you’re neither fast, nor strong?” They stopped in front of each other, small fox glaring up defiantly at towering Zeti that thought of the mobian as less than an insect. “Are you going to fly higher than ever before?” he said mockingly.

Despite the insult, degrading one of the two things Tails does best between flying and using his brain, a smirk formed on his lips. “Yeah…something like that.”

Faster than his red foe could react, Tails jumped up and delivered a powerful uppercut to Zavok’s chin, sending him flying and spinning in the air. It was an odd sensation being so powerful he could actually do something so remarkable to a person as sturdy as the leader of the Deadly Six, but even stranger was how he took off the ground towards his enemy, flying without using his twin namesake at all. He had even fantasized about this many times, but it was still surreal to him that it was now a reality.

Banishing his surprise from his mind, the now golden fox focused on the task at hand. He had no idea how much time he would have in this form, and he doubted he was hardly as powerful as Sonic in this form due to his inexperience, and using a far weaker power source in the Chaos Ring, so he would have to make every precious second count.

Furrowing his brow, Tails shot towards Zavok like a rocket, shattering some nearby windows as he passed, but Zavok had already regained his centre of gravity in the air, and even hovered for a moment. The fox only now remembered that all the Zeti were capable of flight to some degree, but only Zor mostly made use to it in a combat situation to compensate for his weak constitution while all of the others only used it to run away from a difficult situation. Figures Zavok would utilize his natural ability to fly as a means of keeping up with someone who was also capable of flight.

Tails wided up a punch to strike Zavok, but a quick movement to the side made it miss, leaving Tails wide open. The evil creature smirked as he slammed a punch into Tails’ gut, causing great pain to the fox. With watery eyes, he gripped him by the wrist and moved along it to kick Zavok in the face, sending him flying even further into the air. At least Tails now knew he was not as ‘invincible’ as Super Sonic. Figures he would not have an easy time with this, but at least he knew to be slightly more cautious now in this form and not believe he was unstoppable like Super Sonic was.

Spinning around a few times in the air before managing to come to a stop, Zavok brushed his thumb over the corner of his lips, feeling blood there. He looked at it against his own red flesh and chuckled. “Well, you’re certainly more impressive now, Fox, but certainly no Super Sonic. If you were, you would have soundly defeated me by now,” He clenched his knuckles, it echoing out to where even Tails could hear it. “And you are figuring out your new abilities, too. Admirable for someone who has no qualities as a warrior, but I’d advise you unleash everything you have before I either outpace you, or deliver a killing blow.”

As much as he hated to hear it, Zavok was right. Now was not the time to experimenting with the fresh new limits of this power, or being cautious of what could happen if he went all out. Zavok was a threat to him, the Acorn Kingdom, and Amy. He was not going to accept anything outside of a victory he could walk away from, and Zavok defeated on the ground. Taking a breath, he nodded his head. “Alright then,” he looked to the Chaos Ring, and how the fragments of Chaos Emeralds seemed to shine more brightly with his urge to protect those he loved. “Just hang on a little longer,” he thought to himself, then. “Team Tails!” he roared in his mind, making a puff of smoke surround him in the air, only to quickly blow away in the air to reveal five more Super Tails along with the original.

He was thankful he upgraded this skill to level 6 after that ordeal, two whole levels from before. Not only did the level up reset the timer the Perk had, but level 5 made the clones massively more powerful so they were closer in strength to the original, then level 6 just added a bit more to that, as well as allow Tails to summon a maximum of five clones. Surely five extra Tails that are 45% as powerful as the original would massively turn the tides, even if they had the same durability issues as previous.

Zavok growled as the number of foxes had increased. Clearly, that was not what he had in mind when he gave that little pep talk, but much like with Zavok, he was going to use every advantage he had at his disposal. After everything Zavok has done today, Tails could not even begin to care about what he thinks of the fox, or his tactics.

With a silent nod from the original, the five clones flew towards Zavok, a roar eruption from each of their mouths. Three of them flew around him as two engaged head on, throwing punches and kicks that Zavok managed to expertly block and parry. Even if Tails was faster than before, stronger, too, he could not match up to a Zavok who was more than used to the speeds of Sonic the Hedgehog, and even his Super transformation. “Enough of this,” he said with a deep growl in his throat as he backhanded the two clones, only one of them managing to duck his head before it struck, the other not so lucky as it was sent flying. He then quickly shifted his focus to the first one he missed and struck him with his knee, it harshly digging into his gut. He then frowned and scoffed. “Durable,” he said, coming to an unfortunate conclusion that he would not be able to destroy them with one hit like he did before, or at least not simple attacks.

Not wasting a single moment, he grabbed the struck clone by the back of his head, gripping it firmly, then flew towards the clone he managed to knock away before cracking both of their heads against each other till he heard the brutal sounds that came with a shattered skull. Surely that would be enough to dispel them. Now, like before, he can just wait in the smoke for the other clones to…

“W-What!?” he gasped out loudly. Instead of smoke that would erupt from the clones Tails had used previously, these new super clone variants exploded with a bright, dazzling light. He roared as he shielded his eyes as they felt as if they were burning, like two flash grenades just went off right in front of his eyes. He roared in pain like a flailing beast as he swiped blindly at the air. The remaining clones, as well as the original fox, looked at each other in disbelieve, then as if they shared a single hive mind, a smirk formed on their lips, and charged the brute.

All three clones, joined by the original, charged towards Zavok with a mighty war cry, each of them taking one side of his body, the original facing their blinded foe and delivering one powerful punch after another to his face, not caring at all for the blood that was on his white gloves now as a result. Unlike his own, it did not show any signs of flaking off him, but he did not mind that at all right now.

At some point, Zavok recovered enough of his senses to stop flailing blindly, and used his arms to block the attacks coming to his sides. It left him defenceless to the attacks at his front and back, but at least he could compare the two foxes at the front and back of him. Knowing the original hit way harder, it was clear which one he needed to destroy in order to obtain a decisive victory.

Leaning fully into a defensive role, as well as testing his eyesight, Zavok endured the hits till he could hear the foxes become more confident, with their yelling and more risky attacks, then quickly used his prehensile tail to wrap around the ankle of the clone behind him. He put all his strength into that extra limb, knocking the fox off balance in the air. With no footing, the clone attacking the Zeti’s back had no means to resist, or even pull away, from the villain’s grasp, then spun around with him. All the clones and original quickly dodged their screaming ally that was being used like a flail. The original, as well as the clone on his right, dodged out of range while the other one only had enough time to duck under the attack.

Frustrated that he did not make contact, the red and black Zeti opened his eyes and grunted at his still blurred vision, but could make out the pattern of whenever he saw a yellow blur. Still spinning rapidly in the air, he did a count, fall into the right mindset for the timing, then released the fox he had in his grasp and grinned at the sound of contact. Doing one more rotation, he quickly faced the two foxes, then flew towards them with his horns pointing forwards, both of them effortlessly piercing stomach and throat, making the foxes explode into light. Not being fooled by their latest trick, he closed his eyes as tightly as he could the second he felt contact with his horns so he could avoid damaging his eyes any further. At least the damage did not appear to be anything permanent.

Now that he only had two foxes to deal with, hitting the original would be a lot easier for him, but he doubted the original would be brazen enough to attack personally under such circ*mstances. If he wished to reach the original, he would have to destroy the last of his clones. He did not need to wait long, however, as the clone came at him in a mad flurry, striking Zavok in the gut with his foot, then followed up with two harsh punches on either side of his face. With a growl, he reached forward with both hands and grabbed him by either side of the head. “S-sh*t,” the clone cursed, feeling the pressure on his skull increase immensely.

“These new clones may be far more annoying, fox, but I appreciate their durability,” he smirked while his eyes were tightly shut, applying more pressure, making the fox scream in agony. “It allows me to savour the crunch of their bones far better, and gives you a nice preview of the ways I can destroy you.”

Tails had far worse than a ‘preview’ of what his clones were going through as he knew and felt everything since the moment of their conception, and their destruction. It was a miracle Tails had managed to keep the contents of his stomach down as he did with all that he had experienced in this encounter with Zavok, never mind seeing his lookalikes get crushed and impaled with his own eyes. It was haunting, and would probably result in him waking up in a cold sweat in the future, but for now the fox required a steely endurance he was not entirely sure he possessed.

The clone screamed in agony at the increased pressure to his head, but he had no fear in his heart. He knew that no matter what happened to him, the original would be alright, and he could finish this fight. If there was anything that made them Miles ‘Tails’ Prower, it was that they never give up until the very end.

The final clone kicked his feet out, striking Zavok in the gut, then the chest, making the Zeti winch, then grunted. “Savour it all you want…I-It’s the closest you’ll…e-ever get to…k-killing any of us!” He roared with determination, then moved and stretched his hands out towards Zavok, bringing his thumbs to just above his eyes and forced open his eye lids, exposing those purple coloured eyes before puffing out of existence and blinding the evil Zeti more than he already was.

Zavok roared like a maddened beast several times larger than he was, very sure the last remaining Super fox would get pushed back by his voice alone. “FUUUUUCK!” He cursed for the first since they stared fighting, shattering that precious illusion of a powerful warrior that kept his composure in check at all times. He roared and flailed more, opening his stinging eyes, his purple eyes now pin pricks within the yellow sclera. He could only see a blur of yellow before him, but that would not stop him. “I will NOT be defeated here! Not by you, FOX! Certainly not you of all of Sonic’s weak and miserable…” The Zeti was silenced by an extra powerful punch that succeeded in breaking his jaw, sending him flying backwards.

Keeping up with the pace, not giving Zavok a chance to recover and counter, Tails rushed towards his larger enemy and brought both of his hands over his head, interlocking his fingers, then slammed them down right on Zavok’s cranium with a wide arc. The Zeti roared in pain at the hit, sent flying down towards the city once more like a scarlet comet, crashing into two buildings as he did.

Tails was just about done with this now. He could feel the power of this Super Form begin to ebb away the longer this went on for. He had no one helping him, and no clones. The only thing Tails had to rely on now was his wits and own strength of will. If he learned anything from his friends over the years, sometimes that is all that is truly needed to win the day. “Stay down…” Tails whispered to himself, quietly, as one of the buildings collapsed down on top of Zavok’s head. The genius vulpine only held his breath in hope for a mere five seconds before there was an audible rumble from below, followed close by a scream and eruption of power from where Zavok had been. The smoke cleared quickly to reveal the Zeti, his expression wild with anger and frustration.

Zavok’s heart was beating like a drum in his chest as he looked around wildly for the golden fox until he looked up in the air and growled, not at all disturbed by those blood red eyes that looked down at him with judgement and pity. “I am…” he struggled to say. He spit out some blood and brought a hand to his broken jaw and painfully put it back in place, his enhanced healing already numbing the damage. “I am…Zavok,” he tried again. “Leader of the Deadly Six, destroyer of kingdoms, conqueror of all that is before my eyes,” he took several harsh breaths “I will not be…defeated by some miserable upstart…that relies on help from others because he is pathetic by himself…tricks because he is afraid to die…and artificial enhancements because he is weak and unworthy of any glory that can be had in battle!”

Tails loosed an exasperated breath. He may not be as exhausted as Zavok was right now, or even as hurt, but his own patience with the deadly Zeti was running as low as the time he had in this form. Taking a deep breath, he looked down at the powerful Zeti, clenching his fists. It was time for him to end this. Tails raised his hand and pointed an index finger towards the creature on the ground. “Then get up here, Zavok, and f*cking do something about it,” the fox cursed.

The words of challenge from Tails must have been the last straw for Zavok as he jumped and flew towards the fox, but not before his tail struck the ground below him and left a sizeable impact in the rubble he had just been under.

For the first time since he unlocked this new form, Tails tried spinning his twin namesake, experimenting with it while the red, muscular Zeti barrelled towards him with death and murder in his purple eyes. They rotated faster and faster, soon going to speeds they never reached before. Tails marvelled at them for a brief moment before he turned to Zavok and blasted forward at super sonic speeds. It was much faster than Tails was used to, and would have wondered how Sonic even manages to fight at such speeds every single time, but he instead used those precious seconds to twist his body as he closed the distance with Zavok and delivered a powerful spinning kick to the side of his face that sent shockwaves through the entire kingdom.

Zavok not only endured the strike, taking it full on as a means to leaving the fox open, but he reached a large hand forward and gripped the fox by the scalp. Even though Tails reacted quickly, bringing one hand to a finger and effortlessly dislocated it, there was little he could do against the oncoming fist that crashed into face like a truck, spraying blood from his nose and mouth, then came down on him two more times for good measure.

The golden fox certainly could not endure much more of this, positive the Zeti’s fist would have gone right through his head at the second hit if it was not for this Super Form. Thinking fast, he looked around at his options, or as best as he could with a rattled brain. Holding him out at Zavok’s full arm length, Tails had no chance to punch and kick at him. He could raise his arms in defense, but that was only a temporary solution. Looking behind the foe, he saw his tail and got to thinking on how it was strong enough to wrap around one of the clones feet and spin him around. The gears began to spin in Tails’ brain, and hoped that every part of him was much stronger in this form.

Just as the fourth strike came towards his face, Tails raised his arms to black the attack, then grabbed Zavok’s arm as he attempted to pull it back for a fifth strike. Now or never, Tails shifted his body to the side, moving his rear closer to Zavok’s stomach, then launched his twin namesake towards the brutes gut like twin fists that struck hard enough to not only make him shed blood, but launched backwards towards the ground.

Not wasting the golden opportunity he gained, or sparing even a moment to marvel at his twin namesake, Tails kept up the momentum and turned his back to Zavok, spinning those extra limbs of his faster than he ever had in his life, hoping he was capable of actually doing what he planned. “What are you…” Zavok began to say before he was blasted by an intense air pressure that near knocked him down towards the ground, and it was just getting more intense the faster the fox spun his golden tails that resembled the propeller of a plain.

“Please,” he pleaded as he clenched his fists and closed his eyes, only focusing on those spinning limbs above his rear, the same ones that had him persecuted as a kid “Faster…e-even faster,” his efforts were rewarded when a tornado began to form from his extra appendages, the overwhelming pressure of it slamming into Zavok and towards the ground. The red Zeti was screaming as he spun wilding within that fox made vortex, and collided harshly with the ground below.

Tails panted, overwhelmed by the exhaustion that was pushing him to his limits. Seeing the Chaos Ring at the corner of his eye, he saw the gemstones begin to blink rapidly in warning. He had been around enough machines in his time to know that this new form of his was running on fumes. It was time to end this once and for all.

Looking away from his foe, Tails flew in a circle, round and round, as many times as he could while his tails spun behind him, making his entire body look like a gold ring itself as afterimages of himself blurred together, generating electricity and chaotic energy as he did. Once he was confident he had reached his maximum speed, he launched himself towards the ground, aiming right for the leader of the Deadly Six.

Zavok had managed to bring himself to his feet, but his shaky body suggested he was near his own limits. Turning his gaze upwards, he saw the gold fox flying towards him at levels of speed that could almost rival Sonic. Banishing the wide-eyed expression from his face, disgusted how it would probably look to the fox, Zavok pulled his right fist back, waited for Tails to get closer, then gave an ear shattering roar as he punched upwards with all his might.

Tails, not wishing to be outdone by the destructive Zeti, roared back till his throat went hoarse, curling into a ball as he did to meet the fist. Both of them clashed, sending a shockwave blasting out from contact area, shattering whatever glass was remaining, as well as knocking over a few buildings that were left unstable from Mimic’s bombs.

Despite the crater forming under his feet, and the flesh being shredded from his fingers and knuckles by Tails’ rapid spinning, Zavok screamed, endured, and fought until finally his body gave out, his elbow snapping like a tree branch, making him roar in pain and agony. Pressing on the attack, the spinning fox shot forward and struck the Zeti hard in the chest, slamming him to the ground with enough force to form a crater, and make a plume of smoke blast upwards like a massive explosion went off around him. If anyone somehow did not see that smoke, they certainly felt the wave of power that rushed through all of mobotropolis, followed shortly by a pillar of golden energy.

Chaos Ring: Redux - Chapter 14 - ShyWhiteFox (2024)
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