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About Me

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  1. Howdy my friends. :-) I also decided to make a topic about my arts. UncleBen59 asked me to show my arts here as well, so I thought myself “ Yes, sure. Why not? :-) ”. ^^ I love dressing Sally Acorn in Blue Jeans clothes. I believe that I can say it is my personal taste of clothing style for women, which attracts me. I made the first picture just as a new kind of beginning with my arts, because the currently account on DeviantArt., called SallyAcornLover4Life, is actually my second account on D.A.. Since my friend Class (short form for ClassicSonicSatAm) had birthday, I made a picture for him. ^^ Sally Acorn in Blue Jeans, and a T-Shirt with Blue & White Stripes. My first picture was released in February 7, 2013. The second picture of Sally Acorn was strongly inspired by the clothing style of Tina Armstrong from the D.O.A. fighting game series. Especially from DOA-4 and DOA-5. Sally Acorn in Blue Jeans trousers, and a bikini with an USA-Flag, and I also added Sally's Blue Jeans Denim Vest. My second picture was also released in February 7, 2013. My third picture of Sally Acorn being in Blue Jeans, this time from the backside. Completely in Blue Jeans outfit, and I added a T-Shirt with Purple & White Sripes. It was kind of a request from someone on D.A. My third picture was released in October 4, 2014. My latest picture is a different one. I made a picture of Shadow the Hedgehog. It was actually made for a german speaking Sega-/Sonic fan community; it was at the time before Sonic Boom was released and I spoke to someome who would need a new Shadow for their banners regarding their fan-community. I did a lot of effort on this one, but unfortunately they never used this picture. Well, I’m glad, that I released it on DeviantArt, so at least some people can see it, anyway. Someome (a former friend of mine) even told me that my pictures would not have enough of quality to be used. I know that I’m not a co-worker from the Archie Comics, but it kind of hurts to hear such stupid statements. My fourth picture was released in January 1, 2015. It’s one of a few pictures, which I worked on with digitally technologies. I remember working on it during the New Year's Eve time from 2014 to 2015. Since then I didn’t really do anything new. I become too frustrated and constantly feeling under pressure and out of energy in real-life. I believe it may have something to do with the fact that I moved from the house of my family away and nowadays I’m living alone since already 2 years. And you know what? Since exactly those 2 years I didn’t do anything new. It’s frustrating me. Anyway, in addition at least I can show you some of my older pictures. My first account is called BlueSonicGamer and it still exists. I call it “The Best Of my older stuff”: That's all for now. Maybe some day I will get more energy and motivation to do something new. I hope that God will give me back my strength and happiness to move on. Chad the Cartoon Nut is one of my main inspirations for my kind of arts with Sally Acorn.
  2. The following thread is for all discussion of The Princess and the Demon, a story that can be found here: In addition, the opening post contains a series of appendices that I have written for the purpose of fleshing out my personal take on Mobius. These appendices are by no means final, and will be expanded on over time. Please note that, though the story and appendices are based on the SatAM continuity, they are not meant to be set in it. This is essentially an alternate universe story. THE APPENDICES A GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF THE PRINCESS AND THE DEMON APPENDIX A: LORE AND CULTURE Section I: Aethyr Aethyr is an invisible, omnipresent form of energy. It is metaphysical in nature, originating from a separate, parallel plane of existence, generally known as The Pure Aethyr. Dimipists generally agree that this plane is spiritual in nature and, like everything else, made by the Creator, while skeptics have sought to prove a purely natural explanation for the phenomenon. Whatever its origins, Aethyr is difficult to harness but capable of producing extremely powerful and versatile effects, many of which are otherwise impossible to achieve. Aethyr can be harnessed by two types of people, Ierokast and Mages, and certain crafted objects, known as Artifacts. In addition, though they cannot directly wield it, Anointed have a degree of Aethyr that passively flows through them. An Ierokast (“Holy Judge”) is an individual with the innate ability to channel Aethyr into a supernatural power. Dimipists believe that this ability is a gift from the Creator, and that Ierokast are meant to help guide a city, nation, or even all of Mobius through times of crisis. Ierokast are very rare: no more than one has ever been known to exist at a time, and centuries may go by without one being born. Each Ierokast throughout history has had a different, unique power. Some have an enhanced attribute, such as strength or wisdom, while others are granted an entirely new ability, such as telekinesis or weather manipulation. An Anointed is a member of a bloodline whose body carries a passive amount of Aethyr. According to Dimipism, these individuals have been blessed by the Creator and are meant to fulfill roles of leadership. The Ierokast Samuel, for example, reportedly caused Lenora Acorn to become an Anointed when he invoked the will of the Creator in declaring her to be the first monarch of Theiapele. While many non-Dimipists are skeptical of the story’s authenticity, there is no denying that each studied Acorn monarch has proven to have the physical properties of an Anointed. While Anointed status is passed genetically, it is strongest in firstborn offspring, becoming increasingly weaker in successive children. In the case of royal Anointed, such as the Acorn dynasty, this has the effect of the status remaining close to the throne as generations pass, rather than being widely distributed amongst nobility. Anointed have generally been observed to demonstrate personality traits well-suited for leaders; they tend to be very intelligent, charismatic, and determined individuals, though it is possible, if rare, for non-Anointed to match or even exceed them in these respects. In addition, Anointed can wield Artifacts attuned to their lineage, and their blood can be used in the creation of Mages. Aethyr Artifacts, commonly referred to as just Artifacts, are constructed devices capable of harnessing Aethyr in a specific manner. Creating even a ‘simple’ one is an exceedingly difficult process, one that requires a blend of expert craftsmanship, scientific genius, and deep spiritual understanding. Most Artifacts throughout recorded history have been created by the Jiahang, who, of all the nations of Mobius, have the culture most closely tied to Aethyr and its manipulation. In other parts of the world, Artifact creation has increasingly become a lost art, one viewed with fear and suspicion by many. An individual crafting an Artifact must choose whether to make the device Bound or Unbound. Unbound Artifacts can be used by anyone, while Bound Artifacts cannot be activated unless wielded by the type of person they are attuned to during creation, a selection limited to Ierokast and Anointed. While Ierokast-attuned Artifacts can be used by all Ierokast, Artifacts attuned to Anointed discriminate based on bloodline. If an Artifact was attuned to the Acorn line, for example, someone from another Anointed lineage would not be able to wield it. Bound Artifacts are more secure and powerful than they would be if Unbound, while Unbound Artifacts are usable by far, far more people. Normally, only Ierokast are capable of channeling Aethyr through their bodies, and even they are limited to a single or small set of abilities. However, through mysterious occult practices, reportedly including demonic pacts, normal individuals can be imbued with the ability to manipulate Aethyr. With enough study and discipline, these Mages can produce a wide variety of magical effects. However, because the Aethyr they use is forcibly ripped from its plane instead of flowing naturally, as with Ierokast, it becomes twisted and corrupted. The ‘spells’ of Mages thus tend to be violent and punitive in nature, and are generally agreed to be evil. Using such magic takes a toll on the user’s mind; the result, combined with the costs of becoming a Mage to begin with, is that actively practicing Mages are invariably wicked…and often insane. Becoming a Mage requires the blood of an Ierokast or Anointed. While the ‘ascension’ ritual involved only requires a small quantity, the power of the Mage being ‘reborn’ is proportional to the amount of blood used. Tragically, this has resulted in the abduction and murder of many Ierokast and Anointed throughout history in the name of creating Mages. Ierokast and Anointed that become Mages themselves have the capacity to become exceptionally dangerous, though such cases are very rare. ‘Corrupt’ Artifacts can be made by combining techniques used in Mage ascension rituals with those used in more conventional Aethyr Artifact creation. Such devices are generally more versatile than other artifacts, but their construction requires Ierokast or Anointed blood, as with ascension rituals. Corrupt Artifacts possess an inherent degree of instability and cannot be Bound. Section II: The Mobian Calendar A year on Mobius consists of 404 days. There are 8 months, each consisting of 40 days. The ordered months, and their translations, are as follows: Vrokeri (“Waxing Rain”) Vroparak (“Waning Rain”) Iliokeri (“Waxing Sun”) Ilioparak (“Waning Sun”) Synkokeri (“Waxing Harvest”) Synkoparak (“Waning Harvest”) Chionikeri (“Waxing Snow”) Chioniparak (“Waning Snow”) In addition, the middle day of each season is considered separate from any month. These days, located between the ‘Waxing’ and ‘Waning’ months, are traditionally holidays observed through festivals and celebration. They are: Vrofaltezza (“Height of Rain”) Iliofaltezza (“Height of Sun”) Synkofaltezza (“Height of Harvest”) Chionifaltezza (“Height of Snow”) Section III: Mobian Religion Dimipism (“Belief in the Creator”) has, for most of recorded history, been the dominant religion in Theiapele, Jiahang, and parts of Trivarié. It is a monotheistic belief centered around the deity most commonly referred to as the Creator, a benevolent, all-powerful god responsible for the existence of the universe and everything ‘natural’ in it, life included. Dimipists worship the Creator, out of both reverence for His divinity and gratitude for providing in their daily lives. The religion draws a distinction between the bodies and souls of people, claiming that, though the former are made through biological processes, each is directly imbued with a unique soul specifically designed by the Creator for a purpose. Upon a person’s physical death, his or her soul is believed to be drawn into The Pure Aethyr and carried before the Creator, though what happens after this is the subject of frequent debate amongst various sects of Dimipism. Such conflicting beliefs include the soul entering paradise, being judged for its actions in life, becoming part of the Aethyr to guide future generations, and being absorbed by the Creator, thereby joining a massive collective intelligence. While no other modern religions exist on such a large, organized scale, Mobius is home to a number of other beliefs. Worship of ancestors is common in Isenvalk and northern Trivarié, while various cults have risen and fallen throughout history, ranging from heretical spinoffs of Dimipism to the shadowy attempts to consort with ghosts and demons that gave birth to Mages and the Order of Ixis. The Mandara are thought to have practiced a polytheistic religion, though, as with most aspects of their culture, records of it are scarce at best. Atheism is dominant in the Elleteren Empire and was common amongst the humans of Fabrastrum. Other humans tended to practice beliefs passed down among their people from before they settled on Mobius, some of which are similar enough to Dimipism that attempts to reconcile the two practices have been made by certain theologians, both human and Mobian. APPENDIX B: HISTORY OF NATIONS Section I: Theiapele (“Divine Liberation”) The constitutional monarchy of Theiapele has its roots in the band of former slaves that, under the leadership of the Ierokast Abner, escaped the Mandara in the year 0 EL, just prior to Sidon’s destruction, and sailed to the main Mobian continent of Chora. The civilization that arose from their descendants was small and fragile, caught between Chora’s two rival superpowers, Jiahang and Trivarié. Through the strength and leadership of the Ierokast and a unifying faith in the Creator, they endured, eventually shifting from a nomadic lifestyle to living in small, agricultural towns in the southern portion of the continent. Allying themselves with Marecianti in the archipelago to the south, the Theiapelens were careful to remain neutral in the series of intermittent conflicts between Jiahang to the northeast and Trivarié to the northwest. In 1268, shortly after the mages of Jiahang went rogue and attempted to conquer both of the warring factions, the famed Ierokast Samuel, acting in the name of the Creator, anointed Lenora Acorn as the first monarch of Theiapele. Out of respect for Samuel and reverence for the Creator, the Theiapelens rallied to their new queen, who led them in battle against the mages. The sudden entrance of Lenora and her fresh troops into the conflict turned the tide and led to the mages’ defeat. The gratitude the people of both Jiahang and Trivarié held toward Theiapele allowed Lenora to serve as a neutral go-between and achieve the unthinkable by brokering a lasting peace between the two rival nations. In 1322, several decades later, Lenora’s son, King Geoffrey I, oversaw the creation of a new capital city for Theiapele: Mobotropolis, so-named in celebration of the newly unified world. The establishment of the majestic city marked the dawn of a golden age for Theiapele, in which it rapidly grew into a respected world power. During this era, the Theiapelens were perhaps best known for their legendary diplomats. For centuries, whenever international tensions threatened to spark armed conflict, it was they who proved key to maintaining the peace, such as with the secession of Isenvalk from Trivarié. By far the most renowned case of Theiapelen peacekeeping occurred in 2142, following the landing of the Dawnbreaker on Mobius. The human colony ship was, to the people of Mobius, the first confirmation of extraterrestrial life, and word of strange, alien creatures using incredibly advanced technology spread like wildfire, leading to mass panic and confusion. Some thought the humans to be gods or demons, leading to separate calls for their veneration and destruction. The latter were joined by groups fearing a planetary invasion or seeking to acquire mysterious, powerful new forms of technology. Violent confrontation with the ‘invaders’ seemed inevitable. Yet the Trivarié military was able to quarantine the territory surrounding the Dawnbreaker, keeping vigil while a small team of Theiapelen ambassadors, accompanied by a single representative from each of the other nations, attempted to communicate with the aliens. Courageously lead by Queen Esteri III, the diplomats painstakingly learned simple means of conversing with the ship’s own representatives. After three long, tense months, a fragile understanding was reached, and war averted. Tragically, the Golden Age of Theiapele ended scarcely a century later in 2247, when King Isaac II was assassinated by members of the Order of Ixis, a secret cult of mages descended from survivors of Queen Lenora’s purge centuries prior. The assassination was long in the making, preceded by years of planning and infiltration, and coordinated with simultaneous attempts on the lives of political leaders throughout Chora. It is believed that the Ixis mages sought to create widespread chaos and mistrust between nations whilst harvesting Anointed blood to bolster their ranks. Notably, only the leaders of Jiahang, the nation that had given birth to mages to begin with and remained the world leader in arcane knowledge, were not targeted, creating an obvious suspect likely intended to bear international blame. Though most of the assassins found their marks and all of them managed to escape immediate reprisal, vanishing through magical means, the Order of Ixis ultimately failed to either ignite war or seize power in the wake of its attacks. After saving the Theiapelen heir, Princess Amelia, from the assassin that murdered her father before her eyes, the Ierokast Cornelius called for international cooperation, directing anger away from Jiahang and toward the mysterious assailants themselves. Over the next decade, the Order of Ixis was uncovered, uprooted, and eradicated. Its teachings and artifacts were burned and its members put to the sword, though many mage-hunters were slain by their magic in the process. In the end, only Ixis Lazaar, the leader of the cult and murderer of King Isaac, remained, having retreated into his fortified lair deep beneath Mobotropolis. Only Cornelius himself dared pursue the wizard into those accursed catacombs. Neither ever emerged. Legend has it that Cornelius successfully made it past the labyrinth’s myriad traps and arcane guardians, reaching the heart of the lair and engaging Lazaar in a final, terrible duel. The two nemeses mortally wounded one another, but the wizard placed himself in a magical slumber, allowing him to heal and await a disciple strong enough to find and awaken him. Cornelius had no such recourse and succumbed to his wounds; his death would seemingly herald the end of the Ierokast, for none were born for nearly a millennium afterward. The Order of Ixis was vanquished, yet it left a terrible legacy. Amelia Acorn, now Queen, was so deeply traumatized by witnessing the death of her father that she became consumed by paranoia, convinced that the mages were not truly defeated, that countless more could be hiding in plain sight. It was a suspicion shared by many at first, and the public was encouraged to report anyone who might possibly be a mage. Accusations ran rampant as neighbor turned against neighbor, whether out of fear or hidden grudges. Homes were ransacked by guards looking for evidence; citizens were imprisoned without trial. For the first time in history, the Theiapelen monarchy violated the people’s rights established in the constitution, doing so in the name of peace and security. There was little protest at first, so widespread was fear of mage insurgents. But as years passed without so much as a single confirmed mage being found, unrest began to build, while Queen Amelia descended further and further into madness. Mobotropolis and other cities throughout the land were placed under martial law. Strict curfews were enacted, and anyone entering or leaving a city or the national border required extensive authorization papers. Protestors were arrested on sight, assumed to be mage sympathizers or even mages themselves. “The Mad Queen”, as she came to be known, ruled with an iron fist and soon turned her fearful gaze beyond her own borders, to Jiahang and the human city-state of Fabrastrum. Amelia was not convinced that Jiahang had merely been a scapegoat during the Ixis Assassinations, while Lazaar himself had been a human. That Jiahang had contributed significant resources to the mage purge under Cornelius did not matter to her; nor did the fact that Lazaar was the only human mage on record. Neither nation was to be trusted, and all trade with them was suddenly banned by her edict. When the Archduke of Trivarié criticized her for such rash actions, she extended her ban to his nation as well. The economy of Theiapele quickly began to suffer, and with it her people. Soon, even Amelia’s most loyal supporters began to privately question her. The final straw came when Amelia began ordering soldiers into the catacombs beneath the capital to search for Lazaar, whom she insisted was still alive. A full squad of troops reluctantly entered the tunnels that Cornelius had braved years prior. Only one returned, traumatized and wounded, frantically recounting the gruesome deaths of her comrades, all of them victims of the lair’s defenses. When Amelia ordered the survivor executed, claiming her to be Lazaar in a magical disguise, the military at last turned on the queen. Without so much as an objection from her guards, Amelia was arrested and thrown into an asylum, where she would spend the rest of her days cursing her ‘traitorous’ people. Her son, Geoffrey V, took the throne, while the entrance to the catacombs was walled up and quarantined, eventually falling into legend as the mysterious “Forbidden Zone.” A decent man, Geoffrey V, having grown up in an atmosphere of fear, was nonetheless a cautious ruler. His mother’s trade bans were relaxed but not altogether removed; the same went for the tightened security in cities. Those unjustly imprisoned were quickly given fair trials and the specter of open revolt soon faded, but it ultimately took several generations for the domestic state of Theiapele to begin to resemble what it had been prior to the Ixis Assassinations. The nation’s reputation abroad did not heal so easily. The human colonists, already a tiny minority, had always been looked upon with suspicion and mistrust by much of Mobius. Theiapele had been their greatest ally and advocate since the days of Esteri III, yet Amelia had shattered that alliance in her demented fury. The already reserved humans drew in upon themselves even more, largely remaining within the walls of Fabrastrum and trading with Mobians only when necessary. To the other nations of Mobius, Theiapele lost its reputation of being the great peacemaker of the world, the famed Acorn dynasty forever tainted in the eyes of most. The reign of Queen Amelia and the years immediately afterward became known as Theiapele’s Dark Age. Gradually, the scars it left began to heal, and the nation enjoyed centuries of peace and relative prosperity. Yet international tensions began to slowly rise once more. The Ixis Assassinations reignited animosity among the people of the Elleteren Republic toward Jiahang, from which they had seceded in 1461, out of protest of all arcane study once the danger posed by mages became known at the end of the Trivarié-Jiahang Wars. In 2401, the republic declared itself an empire, a restructuring done in the name of security. Many domestic policies similar to those of Queen Amelia were enacted, yet they were welcomed by the populace out of nationalistic fervor. As the centuries passed, the Elleteren Empire began increasing its militarization, ostensibly to support the colonization of remote islands, while investing heavily in local technological advancements. The nation courted Fabrastrum at every opportunity, seeking its technology, but this only caused the wary humans to further isolate themselves. Marecianti, which had increasingly become corrupt and greedy, developed strong ties with the Elleteren Empire, hoping to profit from its rapid growth. The shift hurt Theiapele and Trivarié, which began to rely more and more on one another for economic support. Eventually, Marecianti and the Elleteren Empire entered into a formal alliance with one another, pledging support in times of peace…and war. In response, Theiapele and Trivarié created their own pact, promising the same to one another. Though few would admit it, most feared that war was inevitable. The Theiapelen Diplomatic Corps attempted to diffuse tensions between the Elleterens and Jiahang, but failed miserably, having seen the looming danger far too late to be of any use, particularly with their still-disgraced reputation. As the Theiapelen diplomats headed home in defeat, Jiahang, fearing for its safety, turned to Theiapele and Trivarié directly, and was soon admitted into their alliance. Meanwhile, the people of Isenvalk reluctantly joined the Marecianti-Elleteren alliance. Though traditionally isolationist and fiercely independent, they had long feared being reabsorbed by Trivarié. With the Trivarines now possessing two major allies, the Isenvalkans saw entering into an alliance of their own as the only means of ensuring independence. The stage was set for a conflict unlike any Mobius had ever witnessed, one spanning the entire Choran continent and its surrounding islands. Three nations arrayed against three others, with only tiny Fabrastrum steadfastly remaining neutral. Then, in 3214, the second year of the reign of King Maximillian Acorn II, the dam finally burst as Elleteren troops invaded the Jiahang border. The Great War had begun. Section II: Sidon (“Chains”) Coming Soon! Section III: Marecianti (“Merchants of the Sea”) Coming Soon! Section IV: Jiahang (“Navigators of the Mists”) Coming Soon! Section V: Trivarié (“Varied Tribes”) Coming Soon! Section VI: Fabrastrum (“Forge from the Stars”) Coming Soon! Section VII: The Elleteren Republic/Empire (“Against Aethyr”) Coming Soon! Section VIII: Isenvalk (“People of the Frost”) Coming Soon! APPENDIX C: TIMELINE OF HISTORY The following chronology is based on the Theiapelen Reckoning of history, which is centered around the escape of Mobian slaves, the first Theiapelens, from Sidon under the Ierokast Abner. Years prior to this event are denoted as being part of the Era of Bondage (EB), while years after it are part of the Era of Liberation (EL). Circa 2000 EB: The Mandara organize their continent into the empire of Sidon. Circa 1900 EB: The Mandara establish their first outposts on the continent of Chora to the east. They also begin raiding Mobian villages in Western Chora and sending captives back to Sidon as slaves. 1517 EB: Jiahang is founded in Eastern Chora. 980 EB: The cities of Western Chora unite to fight off Mandaran raiders, becoming the nation of Trivarié. 212 EB: The existence of Aethyr is discovered in Jiahang. 42 EB: Birth of Abner, the first known Ierokast, into Mandaran captivity in Sidon. 1 EB: Abner receives a vision from the Creator in which he is instructed to free his fellow slaves and depart Sidon. Start of the Mandaran Civil War. 0: Aided by the Creator, the chaos of the Mandaran Civil War, and a small group of Mandara sympathetic to his cause, Abner leads a contingent of 3000 Mobian slaves out of Sidon on boats. Shortly afterward, all of Sidon is destroyed through unknown means, commonly thought to be either divine wrath or the unleashing of a terrible weapon as a result of the civil war. 1 EL: Abner and his fellow former slaves continue making their way east across the ocean, toward the main Mobian continent of Chora, relying on small, uninhabited islands for rest and food. 2: The former slaves at last reach the shores of Chora, where they declare themselves a new nation, Theiapele, in honor of their freedom provided by the Creator. 97: The nation of Marecianti is founded in the archipelago south of the Choran mainland. 525: Beginning of the Trivarié-Jiahang Wars. 809: Theiapele establishes an alliance with Marecianti. 1064: The Ierokast Lucien rebels against the Creator and, through foul craft, becomes the first Mage. 1185: Birth of the Ierokast Samuel. 1239: Birth of Lenora Acorn. 1266: The Mages of Jiahang go rogue, declaring war on their homeland while continuing to fight against Trivarié. Beginning of the War of the Mages. 1267: Jiahang and Trivarié agree to a truce in order to focus on the Mage threat. 1268: Samuel anoints Lenora as Queen of Theiapele. The Theiapelen people pledge their allegiance to her. 1269: Queen Lenora leads Theiapelen troops against the Mages, turning the tide of the war. 1271: End of the War of the Mages. Theiapele, Trivarié, and Jiahang emerge triumphant. Surviving Mages go into hiding and eventually form the Order of Ixis. 1280: Lenora brokers a treaty between Trivarié and Jiahang, ending their many centuries of intermittent fighting. 1322: King Geoffrey Acorn I founds Mobotropolis. 1461: The Elleteren Republic secedes from Jiahang. Despite high tensions and widespread protests, the transition is a bloodless one. 1749: Isenvalk secedes from Trivarié. The parting is largely amicable, in part due to the efforts of Theiapelen diplomats. 2142: The human colony vessel Dawnbreaker lands on Mobius in Trivarié near the Elleteren border. Despite widespread panic, negotiations between the ship’s crew and Mobian ambassadors led by Queen Esteri Acorn III ultimately prove successful. The Trivarines cede a modest amount of land to the newcomers, where they establish the city-state of Fabrastrum. 2185: Birth of Lazaar. 2199: Birth of the Ierokast Cornelius. 2240: Members of the Order of Ixis begin putting plans in motion to assassinate key leaders in most nations. 2247: The Ixis Assassinations occur across Choran. Lazaar murders King Isaac Acorn II. Cornelius saves Isaac’s daughter, Amelia, and leads the nations of the world in uprooting the cult. Beginning of the Ixis Crisis. 2258: Lazaar, the last known surviving Ixis Mage, places himself in magical stasis deep beneath Mobotropolis after killing Cornelius. Official end of the Ixis Crisis. 2259: Queen Amelia begins enacting totalitarian policies throughout Theiapele out of a paranoid obsession with Mages. 2275: Amelia bans Theiapelens from all trade with Jiahang, Fabrastrum, and Trivarié. 2279: Amelia is arrested by her own military, ending the tyrannical reign of “The Mad Queen.” Her son, Geoffrey V, takes the Theiapelen throne and begins the process of undoing the harm she caused. 2401: The Elleteren Republic is reorganized into an empire. 3164: Birth of Charles Hedgehog. 3188: Birth of Maximilian Acorn II. Charles Hedgehog begins studying the creation of Aethyr Artifacts in Jiahang. 3197: The Elleteren Empire and Marecianti enter into a formal alliance, pledging to support one another in the event of war. 3201: Theiapele and Trivarié sign an alliance. 3204: Charles invents roboticization, but abandons the technology after discovering its mental effects on subjects. 3206: Theiapelen diplomatic attempts to decrease tensions between Jiahang and the Elleteren Empire fail. Jiahang joins the Theiapelen-Trivarine alliance. 3209: Isenvalk joins the Elleteren-Marecianti alliance. 3212: Maximillian II becomes king of Theiapele and marries the archaeologist Nicole. 3214: The Elleteren Empire invades Jiahang, beginning the Great War. 3219: Births of Princess Sally Acorn and Sonic Hedgehog. Queen Nicole dies in childbirth. 3222: Charles, suspecting his nephew to be an Ierokast, begins designing Power Rings for Sonic. 3223: End of the Great War. Charles creates an Artifact that functions as a Power Ring generator. 3224: Julian, now calling himself Robotnik, conducts a mechanized coup in Mobotropolis, quickly conquering and roboticizing most of the Theiapelen population and declaring war on the rest of the world. King Maximillian II is banished into the Void. Princess Sally, Sonic, and other refugees from Mobotropolis escape to the hidden sanctuary of Knothole, deep in the Great Forest. 3233: Princess Sally organizes a team of freedom fighters from volunteers in Knothole and begins a guerilla campaign against Robotnik. 3235: Events of The Princess and the Demon.
  3. As the guerilla war against Robotnik and his mechanized legions drags on with no end in sight, the burdens of leadership begin to take their toll on Princess Sally. When an all-too-routine sabotage mission encounters an unexpected complication, she finds herself alone in Robotropolis, where she undertakes a harrowing journey that brings her face-to-face with her most terrifying adversary, a cunning and ruthless being that threatens her very soul. Content Rating: T (Violence, mild language, and dark thematic elements) Disclaimer: This thread is for story updates only. A discussion thread, which also features a set of appendices detailing this story's setting, can be found here: The Princess and the Demon Chapter I: Song in Shadow Sunset. A decade ago, the sky would have been awash in a dazzling array of blues and violets, their cool hues intermingling with the fading orange and gold embers of Mobius’ sun in a dance that had inspired countless minds over the course of history. The dance was at once fragile and immortal, fading after only an hour or so yet always restored to life the next evening, each revival bringing with it subtle new movements that left the end of that day unique. It was a testament to the pure, elegant strength of nature that these daily occurrences remained moving, inviting those who witnessed them to lay down the duties and sophistications of society, if for only a moment, and enjoy simple beauty. Even as a small child, Princess Sally had loved watching sunsets, had felt the brush of their power. On days when he was not burdened down with his duties, her father would often take her out to the palace balcony to watch the wondrous dance in the evening sky. He would set her on his shoulder as they looked out over the expanse of their kingdom, their home. Sometimes they talked; sometimes they remained silent, content to simply be with one another. On evenings when her father was busy, Sally would at times still go to the balcony alone to gaze out at the horizon. The sunsets were most comforting on bad days in particular. Whatever had happened, whether a scrape on the leg or an argument with Sonic or her father receiving upsetting news that she wished she could understand, Sally could take solace in the sunsets. They always appeared, no matter what. The events of the day could not change them. Nor could they change her life. Whatever happened, she would always be with Daddy, always live in a beautiful palace, always be best friends with Sonic, always be safe. These things were as sure as the setting of the sun appearing in the evening sky. Now, no glimpse of the sun could be found. The last echoes of the multicolored dance had here been long since silenced, their eternal cycle of revival snuffed out. Across the rest of Mobius, the cycle continued unabated, the brilliant tapestry of the sky shifting and changing as it ever had. But here the reign of the sun had been usurped, the light of the great star overthrown and cast down. The sky had a new lord now, a thing of smoke and fumes, one that endlessly stretched the ghostly fingers of its black hand outward, so that with each passing hour more of the world was befouled by its taint. Again and again, the downcast starlight attempted to end its exile, to break through the fastness of its enemy and be reunited with the world below. Yet no ray could breach the dark veil that lay enshrouded above Robotropolis. Though divorced from all heavenly light, the city was not beholden to absolute, perpetual night. Here and there, the dim, pale glows of lamps and spotlights could be seen, providing some small measure of sanctuary against the blackness threatening to engulf everything nearby. Yet they offered no warmth, no comfort, their hues sickly and cold. Far worse were the gouts of flame that tore through the air in mechanically precise intervals, bursting from towering smokestacks and open waste pits. The columns of fire rose roaring with tremendous force, the surrounding air trembling and distorting in their wake. Almost blinding in their intensity, the crimson torrents issued forth tsunamis of searing heat that lay waste to everything around them. Near the furnaces of Robotropolis, no life could endure. Yet as they rose in all their terrible might, the flames dared challenge the usurping lord of the sky, the veil of smog smothering the city. Against that impenetrable fastness, even they were as insignificant, stinging insects to be crushed under heel. The fires were swallowed up, their light quenched without as much as a shift in the fumes they strove to pierce. The luminance cast forth by the fixtures and fires brought into dismaying clarity the state of their surroundings. Enormous steel structures stretched beyond the eye’s reach in every direction, some only a single story, others towering dozens of meters into the air. All were jagged and angular in their construction, products of geometrically precise designs that factored in not elegance and aesthetic, but efficiency and output. They ranged from power stations to factories, computer mainframes to waste disposal centers. Like organs in a body, each was crafted with a singular purpose, working in mechanical unison with the others to form the massive organism that was Robotropolis. Yet if the city bore any similarity to life, it was out of twisted mockery, of parody, for its streets harbored none of their own. Shuttles and surveillance drones flew through the empty air, weaving birdlike between buildings and bridges. Small mechanical creatures, failed experiments constructed and cast away over the years, scurried and clambered like rodents along walls and through crevices. A thin layer of dust and ash covered most surfaces like moss. To witness Robotropolis was to look upon something alien, a place so perverted and mechanized that it seemed otherworldly, as though some colossal giant had snatched the city from a planet equally metallic and lifeless and hurled it across the stars toward an unsuspecting Mobius. Yet the city had not always been so. Once, it had been filled with verdant gardens and flowing fountains, whitewashed buildings that curved in gentle slopes. Great trees dotted the landscape, their soaring branches blooming with flower and shading the carefully crafted terraces and parks below. Arching wooden bridges spanned bubbling streams that meandered to and fro, their clear waters filled with fish dazzling in color. In orderly rows lay houses masterfully hewn from rough stone into intricate, unique shapes, their interiors lined with wooden panels and ceramic tiles. Above them towered the Ministry building, a monumental ziggurat of eight levels. Flights of stairs ascending to the peak lined each of its sides, flanked by gardens along the walls. Most magnificent of all was the royal palace, a pair of interwoven stone towers that gently curved ever upward, one culminating in a dome that housed the glittering throne room, the other in an arched bell tower used to signal the arrival of holidays and festivals. The palace was situated upon a network of bowl-shaped terraces, down which cascaded a series of shimmering waterfalls that merged with the river below. Mobotropolis, the city had been christened, The Jewel of Mobius. For Sally and millions of others, it had been far more. It had been home. Tattered remnants of this former glory could still be glimpsed in the outlying reaches of the city. Here, an old boarded up restaurant sitting between a pair of watch towers. There, the shattered stone walls of what was once someone’s house, lying in a crumbled heap amidst charred ashes that had perhaps been furniture. Shards of playground equipment covered in rust, strewn tangled about outside a weapons plant. A child’s toy, coated with dust, lying where it had been dropped years ago as the robotic police force suddenly turned on all that lived... “Yo, Sal! Hedgehog to Sal! Ya read me?” Sally snapped out of her reverie, annoyed at the interruption. “What?” She looked over at Sonic, the source of her newfound frustration. The two were lying prone on the roof of a three story warehouse overlooking one of the city’s many computer hubs, a small squat cylindrical building surrounded by an electric fence. “You were starin’ off inta space. Just two minutes ‘til Bunnie’s supposed ta give us the signal.” Only two minutes? Sally frowned. That was absurd. She had been keeping track of time, despite her musings, and they still had nearly a quarter of an hour before the signal was due. She glanced down at the chronometer counting down on her wrist, its red digital digits shifting to indicate exactly one minute and forty-six seconds remained. Oh. The squirrel closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to regain focus. “Sorry. It’s just…this place. It still gets to me sometimes.” Sonic offered a gentle smile, his tone softening as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I hear you. I miss home too. But ya gotta stay focused while we’re out here. You know that as well as I do.” “Better, on most days.” Sally managed a grin and the two shared a soft laugh, their thoughts briefly turning toward past missions together, the scores of trials and triumphs, narrow escapes and bitter losses, that had come to define so much of their young lives. They remained quiet after that, Sonic watching the countdown silently approach zero, Sally turning her eyes once more toward their objective. Between the hub below and the fence encompassing it was a courtyard; every few seconds, its dull metallic surface was broken by a faint blue shimmer that quickly moved from one end to the next, the only sign that the building was protected by an alarm grid. Supplementing the grid were two rotating security cameras, as well as half a dozen SWATbots patrolling outside the fence. All in all, the hub was lightly defended, as it did little more than help funnel data between two much larger facilities. If NICOLE’s analysis was correct, however, it held a critical weakness, one that made the building the target of the night’s raid. The countdown reached its terminus. A moment later, the building beneath the two Freedom Fighters shook slightly. Perhaps a kilometer away, the night was torn asunder by an explosion, a luminous lance that soared above the surrounding cityscape. The brilliant beacon was a shimmering mixture of oranges and golds, its gradient tapestry interwoven with the blues and violets of chemical smoke. For a moment, the light was as a glimpse of the sunsets of old, the multicolored radiance a remnant of what once was that dared reach out and reclaim its home. Yet within seconds the light faded to waning embers, replaced with the pale, cold glow of searchlights as blaring alarm klaxons filled the air. The SWATbots patrolling outside the hub turned and raced off toward the source of the anomaly. “Man, Rote’s outdone himself with the ol’ firecrackers this time!” Sonic chuckled, the warmth in his voice coming through even amidst the screech of alarms. Sally nodded, wishing she could share her friend’s enthusiasm. Rotor’s craftsmanship was indeed impressive, the walrus at times seeming as much an artisan as he was an engineer. But even he could do only so much with their limited resources. These explosives generated a great deal of noise and light, but lacked enough heat or force to inflict any significant damage. This rendered them useful only as distractions. Nuisances, not genuine threats. If only- Sally’s thoughts were cut off as the alarms were joined by a growing droning sound. Squirrel and hedgehog pressed themselves flat against the warehouse roof as a squadron of gunships thundered overhead, wheeling to circle the site of the blast like some hideous flock of carrion. They would find no prey, however. Bunnie was long gone, headed to the rendezvous point on the outskirts of the city. Her task was complete. For Sonic and Sally, clambering to their feet after hours of waiting, the night’s endeavor was only just beginning. The couple turned to one another, each extending a hand that moved to touch and dance about the other in a series of quick gestures that bore the fluidity of years of practice. The handshake was an old one, created what seemed a lifetime ago by two small children who had not the slightest inkling of wars or coups. It was a bastion of familiarity in these terrible times, an artifact of lost innocence and an emblem of a friendship that had survived the fall of a world into ruin. Equally old and meaningful were the words that followed, a simple phrase that had come to underscore so much of their struggle for freedom from the tyranny befouling their former home. Five small words that carried with them no small amount of courage, an unshakeable confidence shared by those who spoke them. “Let’s do it to it!” The actions performed next were nearly as familiar. She, unwinding the coil of rope and lowering it over the rooftop edge, her hands swift and sure. He, tying the rope’s end to a fixture, threading back and forth to weave a knot steadfast and strong. Then they descended, the champion going before his princess, gliding soundlessly into the murk below. How many times before had they done this? Descended into the mouth of oblivion on some daring venture, some fool’s errand, hoping to thwart the tireless machinations of their great enemy, dreaming to purge that festering blight and bring healing to a dead land? Dozens? Hundreds? It was uncertain, the memories a blur of breathless tension and fearful adrenaline. There were moments that stood etched out in stark clarity, tangible triumphs and dismal defeats. The destruction of a foundry punctuated by a narrow escape, her arms wrapped around his body as he outraced tongues of flame. The loss of a gentle mentor known for years, his arms wrapped around her body as she wept tears of grief. Yet most of their raids, though dark and deadly, were strangely unremarkable. They had become routine. Routine! The thought struck Sally as both ludicrous and terrifying. How could such acts, journeys into a twisted, alien realm that had only moments before overwhelmed her with its very visage, bear any semblance to the mundane? The answer, sadly, was too clear for any hope of escape into the refuge of uncertainty. They had changed. Years of enormous hardship had taken their toll on the people of Knothole, leaving scars deep and beyond healing. None had truly escaped the death of Mobotropolis, the hideous tide of mechanization that had consumed the city. The Freedom Fighters were themselves constructs, children tempered by the loss of all they had ever known, by years of hiding in evil’s shadow, until they were forged into combatants, colder, harder, capable of fighting to reclaim all that once was. Such a goal could never be realized. Even if Mobotropolis was rebuilt, restored to all of its former beauty and glory, its people freed, its enemies utterly destroyed…the world would not, could not, return to the way it was. Memory would linger. Through it, the pains and hurts would endure, the taint of the usurper never truly cleansed until all who witnessed it returned to dust. Even if… She, Sonic, and the other Freedom Fighters would be hailed as saviors, the great heroes of the age, but what then? They, who had grown up orphaned, cut off from society, without so much as a formal education, would be expected to acclimate. Live by a set of norms that would never truly be their own, however much they yearned for them to be. It was a bitter irony, that they should be denied even in triumph that which they had fought so long for. Worse still, she herself, sole heir to the throne, would be expected to lead, to rule. To govern a society she could never again truly be a part of, to be the protector of a peace she would never know. A queen was a paragon of all that was good, the embodiment of what one should strive for. A queen was kind, not critical, governed by courage, not fear. A healer, not a fighter. Young girls would look upon her with awe and wonder, at night whispering to their innermost selves, “I wish I was like Queen Sally.” And what would they be idolizing? A wall. A shell of smiles and hugs and waves surrounding a broken woman old before her years, a relic from another age unable to banish the fears haunting her mind. The real Sally would never be a queen, merely a dressed up imitation trying in vain to match her forbearers. Even if… Stop it, Sally ordered herself as she angrily clamped down on her thoughts. That was despair talking, a viperous nest of fears unallied with even the faintest whisper of reason, more poisonous than any of the sickly fumes eclipsing the sky above. It had become increasingly problematic as of late, a whisper of malice breathing ruin into the edges of her mind when she dropped her guard. She hated it. Perhaps this raid would help. Another victory, another blow struck against the usurper. A reminder that their cause was not hopeless, that they were that much closer to winning this war. Yes, tonight’s triumph would help. The two Freedom Fighters completed their descent and dropped to the ground. Perhaps a hundred open meters separated the fence ahead from the warehouse shadow in which they stood. A hundred meters without cover, of breathless vulnerability. A passing security drone would spot them in an instant, turning painstakingly planned actions into frantic attempts to survive the next few minutes. Stratagems would crumple into instinct, hope engulfed by terror. A mere hundred meters, yet so much hinged upon them… Then a gloved hand wrapped itself around her shoulder, its warmth permeating through the fabric, evaporating the unease in her heart. She turned to her best friend and smiled, gratefully allowing him to sweep her up into his arms. She rested her head against his chest, heard the pace of his heart quicken as his body tensed. Her arms tightened across his back. An intake of breath. Then he began to run. A hundred meters of fear and vulnerability vanished in an instant. The entire crossing took only two, perhaps three, seconds, but it was enough for Sally to savor. The world around her lost its focus, its potency, becoming a blur. The only visible constant was the one holding her, his cocky smile betraying the wellspring of confidence that resided at his very core. It was during those moments, when he ran with her in his arms, when everything else ceased to be, that a rare peace came over Sally. The walls of her soul were lowered, allowing the exhausted, suffocating girl within to draw life-giving breath. She heard not even the faintest echo of the shadowy whispers that had beset her for so long, that she had built those horrible walls to withstand. Fears spawned from seeing her world devoured by an unending mechanized night. Loneliness gnawing at the void the loss of her father had left, the scars of time’s passage not quite covering the rawness underneath. Doubts about her worthiness as a leader, her ability to truly be the unshakable pillar of strength so many needed and sought in her out of trust in blood. All of them were silenced. In their stead, a rising melody began to flow through the edges of her mind. Wordless, it was swift and erratic, seeming a barely controlled chaos ever on the verge of discord. Here, a note struck too soon by eagerness. There, a moment of hesitation and faltering, almost imperceptible as the sound shifted to shroud its shame. Yet beyond the roughness there lay power, a strength maintaining cohesion and ushering the music ever forward. It grew in volume, cascading deeper and deeper until all of Sally was awash in the melody. Its notes rippled through her thoughts, sifting out embedded anxieties and carrying them away like so much detritus, leaving behind calming reassurance. But then the music was challenged. Beyond Sally’s mind, a besieged bastion at last receiving relief, there existed a world of flesh and metal. A fallen world, choked by smoke and shadow, in which drops of blood and sweat mixed with ashen dirt as the flesh was beset again and again in its struggle to check the metal’s spread. As the body holding her own came to a halt, that terrible world was suddenly brought back into focus. As she left his arms and stood on her own, the whispers begin to build again. Fears. Loneliness. Doubts. All of them threatened to renew their assault and ravage her mind, now naked before them. Instinct, touched by traces of panic, demanded the walls be raised again immediately, that everything be shut out, that the mission could not afford her acting in a compromised state. Only cold, dispassionate logic could withstand the world around her. Yet the melody remained, flowing around her and acting as a bulwark against the renewed torrent of bile. Bitterness lanced against it with a terrible fury, only to be deflected, leaving her unscathed. Reminders of countless failings were hurled with ruthless precision at her heart, yet all were splintered ere they reached their mark. With every blow the music weathered, however, it waned slightly. Slowly but surely, it was weakening, and Sally knew that Sonic was facing a similar assault of the soul as all the vile potency of Robotropolis renewed itself around them. For a single, agonizing moment, it seemed that his melody, flawed and rough as it was, would fail entirely, that both of them would be swept asunder by the noxious tide. Doubt would cripple them. Fear would poison their innermost hopes. Years old scars would burst, sending the dammed up pains of the past forth to drown them. Then Sally added her own voice to the melody. It was small and soft, lacking the raw passion and intensity that so defined the music of her dearest and oldest friend. Yet it held an equal strength. Where he bordered on chaos, she was careful precision. As he soared in crescendo, she was a soft backdrop, subtle and complex, ever shifting in her nuance. Her carefully calculated dance of notes touched where his faltered, seamlessly healing the gaps in the melody. Where she hesitated, his chorus held true. They were in absolute harmony, perfect counterpoints to one another. The music surged outward, overtaking the vicious onslaught. Even with all the terrible might of the surrounding world fueling them, the whispers of fear and doubt were as nothing before the melodious union. They were instantly purged from both minds, leaving only a calm as each healed the damage the other had suffered. Gradually, the melody faded in volume as Sally and Sonic, for now freed from the wars of the spirit, turned to the outward task they faced. Yet the music did not cease, instead forming the rhythm through which their bodies flowed from one motion to another. Running parallel to the fence just outside its base was a thick insulated cord fastened to the ground every two meters by metallic bolts. A few seconds of following the cord revealed that it was connected to a metallic box perhaps a third of a meter tall; save for an unlabeled panel screwed in at the top, it appeared featureless. “This what we’re after?” Sonic whispered uncertainly. The squirrel nodded, setting her backpack down before reaching into it and withdrawing a makeshift screwdriver. “It may not look like much, but this device regulates power to both the fence and the alarm grid behind it, making it my ticket in.” As Sally began deftly removing the screws holding the panel in place, Sonic gave a theatric sigh. “Alas, that to smash it would be of no avail, for the alarms would hinder any chance to prevail,” he bemoaned, his voice nearly compromised by the tremors of laughter threatening to escape his longsuffering tone. The princess looked up from her handiwork with a raised eyebrow. “Trying our hand at poetry again, are we?” she asked with a mix of mock suspicion and genuine curiosity. Sonic’s face tinged slightly at the question, his right hand nervously rubbing the spines behind his head. “Well…I ah...ya seemed ta like it back when we were in Lower Mobius a couple months ago. The idea of it, anyway. Did a bit of practice here and there since then. Just trying to…” His words drifted into silence, and Sally quickly returned her gaze to the panel, both to look away from Sonic’s blushing, sparing him further embarrassment, and to hide the warmth that could now be glimpsed on her own face. “I’m not sure any of the great Mobian bards ever used the word ‘smash’ in their works, though I must say that’s quite the improvement over last time,” she replied after a moment. She hesitated again, the humor in her voice shifting to sincere warmth. “…and it’s quite thoughtful of you. Thank you.” A quiet tinged with awkwardness filled the air as the last of the screws was removed and Sally detached the metal plate. Beneath it was a complex array of wires and circuitry, all of it so tangled and densely compacted that making sense of the components would take hours…for an organic. Reaching into an inner pocket of her vest, the princess withdrew her most valuable possession and flipped it open. “NICOLE,” Sally whispered, “Please scan for input slot. Maintain response volume at ten percent.” “Acknowledged, Sally,” the computer replied in a feminine tone equally soft, a green glow emitting from one of its sensors as it analyzed the device below. Only a few seconds passed before the sensor’s light narrowed into a tight beam aimed at a grooved cylindrical opening, an image of which was displayed on NICOLE’s screen. As the computer reported its success, Sally reached into her backpack and withdrew a bundle of adapter cables, all of them identical on one end. Using the display as a reference, she quickly located the appropriate one and connected NICOLE to the input slot. The image vanished as data began to stream across the computer’s screen. “Uplink…complete,” the computer dutifully reported. “No security measures in place. However, overt interference with power distribution will trigger an alert. Awaiting command, Sally.” “Figured as much,” the squirrel sighed before pausing in thought. “…you said overt interference. Could you trick the system? Mitigate the current of electricity so that it flows at a slower rate, then project a phantom current masquerading as the rest of the wattage? That would give the fence and alarm grid sufficient power to avoid setting off the contingency alarms, but not enough to actually function. Run simulation and report.” NICOLE made no reply, its lights dimming as every bit of the machine’s considerable processing power was delegated to analyzing yet another of the unorthodox stratagems conceived by its owner. As the device in her hand warmed a few degrees from the strain, Sally gazed up at the fence looming before her. Standing perhaps half a dozen meters tall, the obstruction’s height more than quintupled her own, quashing any hopes of being vaulted over. She would have to climb. Yet even without searing streams of lethal energy writhing over every shard of the metallic fastness, the act would be dangerous. The metal links comprising the barrier were tightly interwoven, scarcely leaving room for purchase. Footholds were impossible altogether, leaving only her hands to support the full weight of her body and pack. To the untrained eye, the fence held no further defenses, for its summit lay bare, bereft of any tangled mass of barbed wire or rows of spikes jutting upward like sabers. Yet these omissions were predatory illusions, designed to lure intruders into hapless complacency. Each of the metallic links was honed to a fine edge, forming a tower of tiny blades. Any attempt to grasp them would result in the piercing of flesh and tendon, blood raining onto the ground below and cries of anguish filling the air above. “Never boring out here, is it?” Sonic murmured wryly, his eyes on the same structure. “Rarely so,” Sally whispered, her anxiety again abating at the sound of her friend’s voice. As she turned toward him, his admission moments earlier rose to the surface of her mind, casting ripples that refracted into shifting thoughts dyed with a myriad of emotions. It was true that she had long held an appreciation for poetry, that most subtle and nuanced manner of the arts. Among the handful of texts she owned was a volume of such works, a compilation spanning centuries, its yellowed leaflets preserving the distilled currents of a hundred souls long departed. Each poem was a gateway painstakingly carved with the instrument of language, through which the currents freely flowed into her own mind, bringing with them memories and emotions, images and musings, all of them as vibrant and real as they had been when first wrought into strokes of ink set upon a page. Together, they formed a shimmering tapestry heralding in joyous adulation the very spirit of her world. Yet that world had been rent asunder by unspeakable atrocity, and as the passage of years bestowed upon the young exile ever more understanding, the comfort offered by these glimpses into the past waned. For her wondrous culture, proud and fair, regal and beautiful, was no more. That which had over countless years been crafted was crushed under heel in a terrible instant. To the glories of old, no monument was left save a few tattered books salvaged from a mutilated ruin. How could such fragile assemblages of parchment possibly be enough to save what was on the verge of being lost forever to the mire of time? By themselves, they were woefully inadequate, for it was only through the touching of souls that their strength was made manifest. But through this coupling, culture was passed on. Through the gateways of art, the lifeblood of past generations flowed into new minds still alive and vibrant. Through the lives of those so touched, a world could be reborn. Sally felt the gentle stirrings of hope at the thought, yet as she studied Sonic they were met with uncertainty. Poetry was among the last things she would normally associate the hedgehog with. It was not that he was unintelligent; her friend was far more cunning than she suspected he gave himself credit for. Rather, his heart lacked patience. He was a being of action, ever in the moment, his mind seeming to analyze the world around him at a speed no less astonishing than that of his body. Matters of subtlety and introspection were something else entirely, and he appeared loath to dwell on them. Whatever interest he held in poetry was clearly for her sake. That he should so pursue a subject far beyond the realm of comfort and familiarity spoke greatly of his commitment to their budding relationship. It was a humbling thought, one answered by warm assurance, a certainty that the hedgehog’s venture could nonetheless awaken him to a new facet, unseen yet resplendent, of the cause they had long risked so much for. Assurance gave way to determination as an idea began to coalesce within her mind. “Uh, Sal?” “Mmm-hmm?” the princess murmured distractedly, her focus lingering on how to best approach the matter. “You’ve been starin’ at my face for over a minute,” Sonic noted, an inimitable grin spreading across his face. “See anything you like?” That got her attention. “I’m afraid not,” Sally replied dryly as she rummaged through the collection of playful jabs one invariably accumulated over a lifetime of knowing the wisecracking hedgehog. “I was just looking in vain once again for some shred of humility. I seem to suffer from this nagging delusion that I’ll see it one day.” “Maybe you should get that checked out. Poor eyesight is a terrible thing to live with,” Sonic shot back. “Oh, I agree. Hearing, on the other hand, I could manage without. At least then I could get a decent stretch of sleep without being subjected to that cacophony always coming from down by the bridge.” “Hey, don’t be slammin’ the beauty of rock, Sal.” “Is that what it is? My mistake. I had assumed it was two animals clawing one another to death…again and again and again.” “Some people just can’t appreciate the classics,” Sonic sighed, “Though I don’t see how you can’t sleep with all that poetry ya read. Whadda ya see in that stuff?” The flash of hurt that skimmed across Sally’s mind must have been betrayed in her expression, as Sonic’s smile vanished. “Whoa, sorry, Sal. I shouldn’t have brought that up.” He closed his eyes in frustration before softly muttering, “Probably shouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place.” Taking a deep breath, Sally took one of Sonic’s hands in her own. “No, I’m glad you did. Sonic, I…I’d like us to start reading poetry together. It wouldn’t have to be very often, just here and there. I’m already familiar with the poems in my book, and I think if I could help you understand them more, you’d start to enjoy it...” She trailed off, nervousness finally staying her tongue. Sonic said nothing, but the doubt in his eyes was clearly visible, leaving Sally to berate herself in silence. That approach had been foolish. Too blunt, too forward. Now her idea was on the verge of failing entirely. It would be best to lower the tension before trying again. “Oh come on, Sonic,” she continued after several moments of careful consideration, adopting a playful tone tinged with coquettishness. “How can a girl possibly resist someone versed in the fine arts? You could become a man of culture. We’ll start with poetry, then move on to ballads as we make our way to classical music. Perhaps some formal dancing lessons after that, maybe with a suit…” With each passing statement, Sonic’s expression became more pained, his skin blanching and eyes widening in horror, until at last he could stand no more and stuck his tongue out, a mock retching noise escaping his lips with great fervor. “If all that stuff was so important, you’d have fallen for Ant ages ago,” he glowered. At that, Sally found herself making a face mirroring Sonic’s, her confidence returning as both of them laughed quietly. With another glance at the fence before her, she reached into her pack and withdrew two long strips of thick white cloth of a soft texture that belied the durability of the fabric. Several layers of the material would, when properly wrapped, prove sufficient to protect her hands from the razor edges of the fence’s links, making the climb before her possible, if still difficult. She held her arms out as Sonic took the cloth and began gently wrapping it around each hand. As he carefully wove his shield around her, a stalwart barrier against which the daggers of the surrounding world could not avail, their shared melody began to build once more. The filth and corruption around them faded into insignificance, and as the seconds seemed to slow even time was made powerless. The harmonious song freed their minds from the shackles of the present, from the incessant demands of the now, and Sally found her awareness gently drifting into the then, the realm of memory in which emotions and events were crystallized, immortal and unchanging though they be shrouded ever more by time’s passing. The scene upon which her focus settled was yet to be so marred, its nuances remaining illuminated in perfect clarity. She sat on a bedside holding a book, its cover worn and pages yellowed with age. Beside her lay Tails, carefully tucked in yet still awake, his attentive face illuminated only by the pale shafts of moonlight gleaming through the hut window. The eyes of the young kit were wide as she continued the story, a lengthy tale that they had been reading for nearly a week. It was one of daring adventure and fantastic deeds, of fearless heroes facing vile monsters. The recounting was brought to life as she read it with dramatic intensity, her voice shifting to assume the roles of knights and nobles, witches and warlocks. Standing beside her was Sonic, who acted out the events of the story with equal enthusiasm, his silent movements punctuated at times by the roar of a creature or the sound of clashing steel. Sincerity amply compensated for any lack of realism in their performances, and Tails remained enthralled for over an hour. At last, however, his eyes gradually drifted shut as the needs of the body gently set the pleasures of the heart aside for another evening. Sally smiled lovingly at the recollection before narrowing her thought further, turning her intent toward the story she had been reading, poring over what she knew of its history and meaning. Parallels began to emerge with her earlier musings; she drew upon these, carefully weaving together the threads of two disparate matters into a unified whole. Satisfied with the conclusion she had crafted, the princess withdrew from the world of memory, bringing with her the fruit of her journey so that it might be presented in triumph to the one before her. “Sonic, what do you think of the story we’ve been reading to Tails the past few nights?” she asked softly. “Ya mean Sir Samuel and the Seven Seals?” he frowned in confusion. “Mondo cool, as far as books go. Plenty of excitement and all, but there’s more to it than that. I’ve probably heard the story a dozen times now, but it still moves the ol’ feelings.” His tone became wistful as he continued, expression turning upward in a sad smile. “I remember Uncle Chuck getting choked up at certain parts back when he read it to me, even though he said he’d been reading it since he was a kid. Guess it’s a classic.” “Exactly. Sonic, that story was first written over five hundred years ago, yet the passage of time has claimed none of its potency. It remains powerful because it was deeply rooted in a culture dating back even further, a wonderful assemblage of traditions and ideals passed from one generation to the next that shaped countless aspects of life. Our culture. It’s such an important part of who we are. But now...” She gestured to their surroundings, the lifeless steel husks jutting in cold mockery from the ruins of their former home. “…that culture is on the verge of being lost forever. We’re the only ones left that can change that, that can pass things on until...” Words choked in her throat. “…until this can be undone.” As she spoke, her words enkindled a glittering light in Sonic’s eyes. “But to pass that culture on, we have to learn as much of it as we can, right? Including poetry. I hear ya Sal. Although…music’s a part of culture too, ya know. Seems to me that rock’s just as important as poetry. Just ‘cuz it’s newer doesn’t make it any worse.” At the comparison, Sally felt the emergence of a tendril of distaste, spawn of a shadow of arrogance that had long lain bound within the darker recesses of her heart, locked away in a vain attempt at confinement. From this suppressed prison, disdain sprung up with terrible speed, penetrating consciousness and discoloring her mind with its venom. Music? What he referred to was nothing of the sort. Music was elegant, a harmonious family of layers dancing around one another with grace and precision, intertwining to form arms that gently embraced the mind, freeing it from the mire of the surrounding world. Resting in this soft touch of notes and rhythms, the soul was carried into realms sublime and fantastic, some rich with history and ancient wonder, others flowing with powerful currents of emotion. All were glimpses into that evanescent, incomparable paradise that was beauty. ‘Rock’ was far removed from this tranquility, as barren desert from life-giving streams. No gentle embrace, it threatened to smother the mind with its chaotic discord, drowning efforts at even rudimentary thought. Yet as Sally stood before the event horizon of dismissal, on the verge of casting the suggestion into that chasm from whence no ray of thought could reemerge into the light of consideration, she gave pause. These words had been spoken by her dearest friend in sincerity. What right had she to so quickly toss them aside? After all, there clearly existed some basis for his belief, obscured from her though it was. Seeing but one recourse, she turned aside, clutching Sonic’s words tightly as she ventured once again into the world of memory. A far cry from her reminiscence of Tails’ bedside, the recollections she now touched were harsh and grating, a dozen instances of coarse noise flitting around her like a swarm of stinging insects. Steeling herself, she pressed forward, studying the noise for any deeper meaning, any semblance of cohesion. There it was. A faint shimmer of harmony glinting for a moment as it breached the surface of the turbulent sea of erratic beats. Before it could vanish beneath the currents, Sally seized it, scrambling atop the coherence and using it as a vantage point from which to gauge the surrounding noise. Gradually, parts of it began to coalesce, forming small islands of motif and melody. They remained isolated, with most of the sounds still seeming shrill and chaotic by her reckoning, but their very existence was enough. This was indeed music, borne of deliberate craftsmanship, questionable though it might seem. It was not some arbitrary array of arrangements, conjured up with no thought beyond the desire to satisfy the spontaneous caprices of the moment. There was design underlying the sounds. With such thought came intent, purpose. Meaning, the will to convey something more. Culture, then, could still be communicated through something as unlikely as rock, for the minds of those who wrought such music were as pervasively shaped by it as any. As Sally gradually uncovered the wisdom of Sonic’s words, the conceit that had spread through her mind was finally checked, its inky black tendrils pierced by radiant lances of understanding cast downward from her higher consciousness. These lances, refined and focused, were joined by a wellspring of unfettered love rising up from the utmost core of her soul. Where they met, brilliant beacons lit up, their rays refracting this way and that as they tore through veils of condescension and interwove with one another, forming a wall of light that suffered no ill thought. As the network of lights expanded, the arrogance within her mind was forced ever backward, until at last it was confined once more to its prison deep within her subconscious. Though not utterly purged from existence, it was at least subdued…for the time being. “You’re right, Sonic,” Sally finally replied after several long seconds of contemplation and conflict. “I may not understand your preferred forms of music, but that doesn’t make them any less a part of our culture.” “Yeah…about you not understandin’…” Sonic’s words were at first unusually uncertain but found their footing as he continued. “I agree ‘bout our culture needin’ to be saved ‘n’ all. An’ if me learnin’ poetry’s an important step toward that, couldn’t the same be said for you learnin’ rock? We could teach each other.” As Sally’s newfound understanding of rock as a legitimate and meaningful form of art had yet to blossom into full-blown, eager acceptance, the suggestion was met with an arched eyebrow. Yet after a moment she found herself nodding in agreement. Such a pursuit would, at one time, have doubtless been deemed far too lacking in dignity for one of her station, yet the notion of social propriety had long seemed increasingly irrelevant and absurd in the face of the dire circumstances she and her fellows had to contend with on a daily basis, despite Antoine’s insistences to the contrary. Moreover, it was only fair that, having asked of him, she give in return, especially if it helped achieve the same end. And if it meant that she simply had to spend more time alone with her now-more-than-best friend in situations that did not involve them being pursued or shot at, well… With the final tug of a knot, the hedgehog finished tying the strips of cloth around the princess’ hands, his handiwork leaving each with a fair degree of dexterity and surprising but welcome amount of comfort alongside the considerable protection afforded by the carefully layered white wrappings. Rather than withdrawing, Sonic shifted his own hands so that they were clasped in hers, their fingers intertwining as much as the fabric would allow. The two drew close to one another, silent, their shared melody washing through them as they basked in the contentment each found in the other. Though on the doorstep of a separation that would leave each alone and threatened by unnamable horrors, they allowed no cloud of fear to plague their minds, no tempest of anxiety to trouble their spirits. Theirs was the tranquility that can be found in the hearts of even the fiercest storms. Closing her eyes, Sally allowed herself to be wholly submersed in the moment, trusting in Sonic for protection as she savored its nuances, carefully distilling them into memories that she could draw strength from during the trials ahead. The feel of his hands beneath his textured gloves. The subtle, nigh imperceptible rhythm of his heartbeat. The soft, warm current of his breath, tinged ever so slightly with the fragrance of his last meal. A current that seemed to draw closer…and closer…with every passing moment… She smiled in anticipation. “Simulations complete, Sally,” NICOLE’s monotone, emotionless voice announced, intruding upon the silence as the sudden clap of thunder on a calm summer’s day, heralding the inexorable approach of forces unwelcomed. In that moment of tranquility’s breach, the melody faltered as all ‘round them the cold and gloomy structures of lifeless metal, wretched monuments to the depravity of the usurper, whose soulless treason and foul craft twisted and perverted the jewel of a world into a barren husk, a festering mockery of life, were unveiled once more with terrible intensity. Rolling her eyes, Sally leaned forward and planted a kiss on Sonic’s lips anyway, the soft touch, though brief, providing enough measure of comfort to calm her startled nerves as she steeled herself yet again against the alien but all too familiar surroundings. “Right. Back to business at hand,” she muttered, glancing down at the small computer. “Report, NICOLE.” “Analysis indicates that your hypothesis was valid, Sally. Decreasing the electrical current flow of the device in question by ninety-eight point seven zero two four percent will render nearby security measures effectively inoperable without triggering any contingency alarms,” the machine tonelessly droned. “However, to maintain a reduced current, this unit will need to remain connected to the port it is currently attached to.” The princess resisted the urge to slap her palm against her forehead as she inwardly cursed her shortsightedness. How could she have been so foolish? Of course NICOLE would have to be left behind for such a plan to work! Without the small computer, her task in the building before her would be far more difficult. Perhaps…no, it would not be impossible, she reassured herself as she hurriedly flew through the world of memory, quickly reviewing her experiences of hacking various computers throughout the fallen city. “Think you can pull this one off without NICOLE?” whispered Sonic, who, though not well versed in technical matters, clearly held similar reservations. “I…I think so,” Sally breathed, “It won’t be easy, though, and will doubtless take far longer than originally anticipated. Instead of a few minutes, we’re talking hours. Maybe even a day or two.” “Days?! Ya can’t stay in there that long!” Her smile bore a reassurance that she did not feel as she closed her pack and hefted it onto her shoulders. “I’ve got enough water and provisions in here to last for a few days. As for the increased risk of detection, security inside the building is pretty minimal according to the readouts we sliced last week. Once I gain access I should be fine.” “But what about getting out? Ya know I’m more than happy to play the ol’ distraction card, but even I can’t keep it up forever. And then there’s NICOLE. We can’t just leave her-” “It,” Sally automatically corrected. “Whatever. We can’t just leave it out here. But if I take it, those security measures go back up.” “Meaning I won’t be able to get out the same way I got in,” Sally nodded grimly. “I know. It just means I’ll have to get a little…creative. When we were staked out on top of that warehouse, I noticed a hatch on the roof of the hub. If I can get up there, I should be able to escape using that zipline launcher Rotor worked up.” Sonic crossed his arms and began tapping his foot, an absentminded gesture he often performed that betrayed his anxiety. It was usually brought upon by impatience, but the worry in his eyes suggested that was not the case this time. “I still don’t like it, Sal. Maybe we should just call this one off. Hit the hub some other time or just find another target.” The possibility was tempting, she had to admit. Journeying through Robotropolis was all the more miserable and terrifying when alone, and the prospect of spending days holed up by herself within the wretched city lay heavy on her heart. That alone was far from sufficient cause to abandon the mission, of course. They were at war, and certain actions had to be undertaken, however unpleasant. The chances of victory were poor enough without personal fears complicating things. But though she was no coward, neither was she foolhardy. The parameters of the raid had changed, rendering her carefully crafted plan useless. To proceed now was to cross the threshold of uncertainty, to burden herself with unnecessary risks atop the staggering weight of dangers already present. And for what? Success here would not win the war. At best, it would be only a minor triumph, an infinitesimal step on the impossibly long and arduous road to the ever waning flicker of hope that was true victory. But that was her path. Though it seemed to diminish day by day, hope of victory was not lost altogether. It could not be lost, not while she pressed forward. Not while she pushed herself beyond the meaningless illusions that were her limits. Not while she held the courage to give everything of herself so that others would not have to. “No. I have to do this,” Sally firmly stated, the fiery determination fueling her heart seeping into her words more than she intended, leaving them hard enough to cause Sonic to flinch and cease his tapping. Seeing his reaction, she softened her tone, taking one of his gloved hands in her own and managing a wry smile. “Hey, I thought I was supposed to be the voice of caution and restraint. You’re always taking risks like this.” Rather than giving a witty retort as she had expected, Sonic simply closed his eyes and sagged in resignation. “It…it’s not the same. When I go out there and take all those chances you’re always callin’ ‘crazy’, I’m by myself. I’m not puttin’ anyone else in harm’s way, so I can afford to push myself a little further. ‘Cause every bot that I toast or at least draw away is one that…that’s not aiming at…” His voice faltered into nothingness, leaving a somber silence lingering in the air. Sally made no attempt to hide the moisture welling up in her eyes as she saw mirrored in Sonic the same agonizing helplessness that had beset her so many times before. It was a feeling that Sonic himself engendered more often than not as his reckless heroics left him hurtling headlong into great peril far beyond her control. Beyond her aid. Beyond her reach. To knowingly inflict that very feeling upon her closest friend was heart-wrenching, and for the briefest of moments the temptation to simply give up and return home resurfaced. Yet it was stilled as quickly as it arose. For in war there could be no security, no comforting assurance that those who fought at one’s side were safe. What recourse was there? To force those one cared for to stay behind, to prevent them from joining in the conflict? None of the Freedom Fighters would settle for such a thing, least of all she and Sonic. To abandon the war entirely, to remain in hidden sanctuary and hope to wait out the storm? Sanctuary could not endure forever, not in the face of the tide of evil spreading ever outward from Robotropolis, a tide that would soon engulf all the world unless checked by those possessing the courage to strike at its festering heart. No. There was no recourse. Painful though it was, the helplessness that came with allowing others to put themselves at risk was a necessary evil, one that even Sonic must accept. Sally felt the coolness of tears running down her cheek fur and suddenly found herself locked in a tight embrace, desperately wishing that the logic coursing through her mind didn’t have to make such terrible sense, that she could just run away with Sonic and be free from this awful, awful war, that she would wake up and escape the nightmare that had been the last eleven years. As they held one another, her breathing gradually steadied, the despair threatening to overtake her replaced with calmness and conviction. Peace found her, covering her heart with a gentle touch as pure as newfallen snow. Even the sudden tramp of mechanized feet in the distance, heralding the return of the contingent of deadly SWATbots guarding the hub, could not threaten the peace filling Sally as she turned and ordered NICOLE to begin regulating power to the security emplacements surrounding the structure. It simply meant that it was now or never. As the shimmer of the alarm grid faded from the courtyard, Sally flashed a sincere grin. “I’ll be headed back home before you know it. We can start our lessons as soon as I return.” With that, she turned to the looming fence and began the climb. Scanning the jagged bulwark for chinks in its razor mail, she found a gap of suitable size and carefully placed a hand inside the deadly maw. Ridge upon ridge of cold metal, each as sharp and potent as any cruel instrument of bloodletting forged in the days of old by barbarous warmongers in open furnaces beneath the moonlit winter sky, set against her fingers in predatory earnest, seeking to pierce and rend flesh and inflict upon her mind a blinding, all-consuming agony that would devour her every thought and forever eclipse any hope of comfort. Yet their ravenous fangs were blunted, their vicious onslaught splintered, for their malice could not avail against the anointment of protection encircling her hand, the steadfast ward of care covering her fingers. Guarded by her gifted shield, she found purchase even within that den of evil, binding it to her will so that it might betray its murderous architect and serve her by supporting her body in its pressing time of need. Then she did it again. And again. Higher and higher she clambered, with each new handhold weathering a fresh assault, the cloths protecting her suffering flurry after flurry of scars yet never yielding an opening to the enemy. But though uninjured, she was not wholly spared from the bitterness of pain. Unable to utilize footholds, she had to rely entirely on the strength of her arms to carry her weight. Chiseled by long years of labor and toil, her body was a capable instrument, one well-maintained and kept in fit condition. Yet the strain, worsened by the burden of her laden pack, was still considerable, squeezing out of her pores beads of sweat that matted the fur of her forehead and covered her fingers, threatening to loosen her grip and send her plunging to the ground below. Though only halfway through the ascent, she found herself drawing breath in short, ragged gasps. In each of her arms, there ignited an aching fire that burned more fiercely with every movement. The insistent pain demanded her full attention, leaving each passing thought blurrier and more difficult to muster. Concentration waned as higher mental faculties seemed to abandon her until she was overtaken by a mindless numbness as she inched forward, a humiliating baseness that mockingly scoffed at the intellect she so prided herself upon, at the foolish delusion that Princess Sally Acorn was anything more than a worthless mound of flesh being pushed to its very real limits. All the while, her senses were unimpaired, senses that continually sent urgent messages past the fires of immolating pain surrounding her mind. These dark tidings warned of marching footsteps growing ever louder, of the coming arrival of evil’s agents, bringers of death armed with terrible devices capable of annihilating her exposed form. Within moments they would be upon her, and all hope would be lost. She would perish. Leaderless, the Freedom Fighters would inevitably be crushed. All that she had ever loved, ever fought for, would be purged into nothingness as her world fell into eternal shadow. Not on my watch. Icy determination filled her veins, quelling the fires of pain as her mind reasserted its dominion over the rebellious shell that housed it. Her pain held no true meaning; it was merely a message, a signal that her body was strained at the moment. That was of no significance, for she had made it through far worse in the past and could therefore endure the current trial. She was uninjured, thus the pain was not indicative of any danger. Just…just a lack of comfort, one that would soon pass. Yes…the pain was meaningless. As she swung an arm upward toward the next opening, her eyes alighted on the tattered yet still resolute fabric guarding her hand. At the reminder of he who had wrapped it, still faithfully watching below, her fears of the oncoming foes were assuaged. They could not threaten her, not while the greatest champion Mobius had borne witness to in a thousand years stood before them undaunted. The peace she had felt earlier, driven to a deep recess within her heart as the climb intensified, reemerged, its warmth filling her once more and melting frozen resolve into life-giving waters that washed away the last vestiges of fear and pain. There occurred at that moment a curious thing. Though evil held sway over so much of the surrounding world, Sally felt a sense of rightness welling up inside her, as though being where she was just then was in accordance with some great plan ordained in the unfathomable reaches beyond the realm of time and space. She realized it was probably nothing, merely an inexplicable errant thought. But still…to think that she, bearer of great responsibility in tumultuous times, was despite all her failings and faults ultimately doing what she should do was comforting. She often wondered what her father would think of what she had become, but as she reached the top of that fence, exhausted, a tiny beacon of defiance in a twisted city of unending night, she knew beyond any shadow of doubt that he would have been proud of her. Really not the time for this, Sally-girl, she reminded herself as, blinking back tears, she swung her lower body up and over the wonderfully smooth top of the fence, rotating so that she was now poised to drop down to the other side. Taking a deep breath, she let go, curling into a ball as best she could and rolling to minimize the impact. It still knocked the wind out of her, and it was all she could do to press herself flat to the ground as she gulped lungfuls of air. She had made it. Not a moment too soon, it seemed. Even as she struggled to steady her breathing, the sound of her gasps, though seeming far too loud as to possess anything so much as remotely resembling the degree of subtlety befitting a covert situation involving the rapid approach of enemies, was suddenly dwarfed by a declaration as lifeless and metallic as the amalgamation of transistors it issued from. “Alert! Target Priority One has been sighted in Robotropolis Sector 7, Quadrant 3! All security units within adjacent sectors are required to assist in capture of tar-GZZZT!” The SWATbot’s words were interrupted by the sound of breaking glass and a burst of static that made Sally’s ears ring and spine tingle. Looking up from where she lay, she saw that the machine was convulsing uncontrollably, a glowing golden band jutting out from its shattered red visor. “Sheesh. You metalheads talk too much,” Sonic quipped as he gracefully danced around the crimson beams of searing lethal energy the five remaining machines began firing toward him from their wrist-mounted cannons. “After all, all talk and no play makes for a dull bot!” A second torrent hurtled at the hedgehog with equally unsuccessful results. “And dull is right. You guys are seriously boring tonight. Let’s fix that.” Weaving through the hail of fiery darts with an ease that Sally still found astonishing even after all these years, Sonic jumped atop one of the steel sentries even as he asked, “How about a game of tag?” Leaning forward, he began mockingly rapping with his fist on the visor of his unwilling mount. “I’ll let you guys figure out who’s ‘It’.” Without hesitation, the four machines not being ridden by a supernaturally agile Freedom Fighter opened fire once more on the hedgehog, only for their target to leap out of the way, leaving the guard he had been atop exposed to the assault. Though most of the bolts sailed harmlessly over the SWATbot’s head, one punched through its visor and clean through the back of its head, leaving a perfectly round hole from which smoke began to pour as the machine toppled to the ground. “Well whadda ya know, that’s correct! Now you’re getting into the spirit!” Sonic cheered, clearly enjoying himself despite the gravity of the situation. As usual. His reckless enthusiasm had often irked Sally, but now it caused her mouth to twinge upward in a small smile. She was still worried, of course. Watching one’s dearest friend come under fire had a tendency of instilling at least some minute degree of anxiety in most individuals, and she was no exception. Yet that fear was kept at bay, confined to a small part of her mind by confidence in his ability and the assurance that he was still following the plan. For all the chaos of Sonic’s actions, they remained within parameters that Sally, having set them herself, understood. Understanding did not quite equate to comfort, but in such situations it was the closest approximation she could reasonably expect to have. Moreover, she had to admit, if only to herself and not anyone else, least of all Sonic himself, that there was something inherently enjoyable about watching him in such moments. Witnessing the destruction of machines that were foremost among the instruments used to overthrow her civilization from within was rather cathartic, naturally, but it seemed that there was more to the sensation welling up within her than grim satisfaction. Joy? Pride? Hope? Perhaps it was a blend of all three that she felt, lying prone and motionless, watching the boundless confidence and exuberance that dwelt within Sonic’s spirit boldly proclaiming themselves in a fallen city that for more than ten long years had been starved of the laughter now flowing from his lips. “But what’s up with this ‘Target Priority One’ stuff?” he was saying, running headlong toward a SWATbot and delivering a jumping kick that, strengthened by the force of his momentum, sent it careening into another. “You guys used to call me ‘Hedgehog Priority One.’ You’re so impersonal these days! After all we’ve been through, I was sure our relationship was better than this.” He was answered by a salvo of bolts stemming from a new direction, where over two dozen recently arrived SWATbots, flanked by a pair of hovercraft, were marching toward him. “Hedgehog, Priority One!” the machines droned as they realigned their aim. “Now that’s more like it!” Sonic grinned. If he was put off in the slightest by the arrival of enemy reinforcements, he did an admirable job of concealing it. Darting through the now far more intense maelstrom, he reached the still convulsing form of the first SWATbot he had neutralized and withdrew the Power Ring lodged in its head. As he did so, the cannon beneath one of the two gunships began to glow with an almost blinding intensity. An instinctual cry of warning welled up in Sally’s throat, yet through sheer agonizing willpower she stayed her tongue. He knows what he’s doing, she tried to reassure herself. Taking action would in all probability accomplish naught save their own deaths. Her trust was rewarded as Sonic darted away an instant before the gunship’s charged blast struck the ground where he had been standing, creating a brilliant explosion that thundered in Sally’s ears and forced her to squeeze her eyes shut. For a split second, the surrounding air rose sharply in temperature and even behind closed lids her eyes began to water. When she opened her eyes a moment later, she found that the paralyzed SWATbot was gone, completely vaporized, while the ground within a two meter radius of the impact had been reduced to a smoldering crater. Sonic himself had been thrown to the ground perilously close to the fence, the Power Ring still clutched in his hand. Though he was on his feet once more in an instant, for the first time since the skirmish had begun the hedgehog looked worse for the wear. His body was caked with soot and sweat, his posture tense and his breathing heavy. Glancing behind him, Sonic must have seen the concern in Sally’s eyes. He winked and offered a grin that still bore the confidence his entire body had been brimming with seconds before. Raising the Power Ring high above his head, he whispered “Love ya, Sal.” I love you. He had spoken those beautiful words to her before, yet each time he breathed them they were welcomed by an opened heart that treasured each precious syllable with the tender care a mother gives her newborn. An observer somehow privy to the innermost chambers of her spirit might have found it odd that she would treat these three words, each worn to the point of being mundane after centuries of frequent use in common parlance, with such emotion. But Sally knew far better than to think them as being within the same spectrum as the ordinary. Individually their radiance was hidden, but together? Together they outshone the stars. Together they formed a discovery of incomparable worth, an epiphany that cast into perfect clarity the answers to innumerable questions she had long been asking in vain without even knowing. Together they made her spirit soar upward in a glowing dance toward the heavens that grew until it seemed to touch everything that was good that had ever existed and ever would exist in all of Creation. Joy, laughter, compassion, and so much more swirled around her as they joined in the resplendent celebration, and with her in the center of it all was love. She yearned for nothing more than to rush toward him, wrapping him in her arms and speaking those same wondrous words to him, at once whispering them in his ear with gentle grace and shouting them from atop the highest mountaintop in the world with utter abandon. And yet she could not. It seemed, in that moment, the most severe transgression ever committed in history that she should be barred from doing so. But, just or not, she was. She had a job to do, and as always duty came before her own desires, however deep they ran. And so she remained silent. She remained silent as the golden glow of the Power Ring Sonic held spread across his entire body, steadying his breathing and easing his posture as it filled his being with strength. She remained silent as the group of mechanized terrors before him opened fire once more, only to find him tearing through their ranks as he hurtled forward, the air behind him thundering with the clap of a sonic boom. And she remained silent as he sped out of sight, leading the entire contingent of foes away so that she might succeed at the task before her. When Sally was certain that the last of the SWATbots were gone, she clambered to her feet, undoing the cloth around her hands as she eyed the structure before her. There was still the matter of the pair of security cameras guarding the door, one on either side of the entrance, but experience had refined her ability to deal with such things down to an art. Mass production may have rendered the cameras all equally efficient, but it also left them all equally predictable. The emplacements in question were of a model that was entirely automated; due to the sheer number of cameras installed throughout the city, only those in high security areas were designed with separate monitoring SWATbots in mind, a setup that, though more thorough, was far more costly. Automated cameras such as these signaled an alarm if tampered with or if heat signatures were detected, the latter feature preventing the various forms of robots from setting off alarms themselves. However, the hardware for the thermal sensor package was rather heavy, limiting the speed at which the cameras could rotate. Though the presence of a second camera with a field of coverage overlapping that of the first helped compensate for this slow rotation rate, it ultimately left brief but very real blind windows that could be exploited. Doing so required preparation, of course, a combination of time, a hidden observation point, and technology that could triangulate the cameras’ fields of vision, but Sally had possessed access to all three whilst waiting atop the adjacent warehouse with Sonic. It was only a matter of pulling it off. She waited until the left camera had completed two-thirds of its outward arc, then, taking a deep breath, sprinted forward, crossing the span of the courtyard in a carefully memorized pattern that left her directly beneath the right camera, a permanent blind spot that allowed her to catch her breath. Once the camera was in the appropriate position, the squirrel quickly shuffled against the wall of the building and reached the door itself. With a full three seconds to spare, Sally deftly entered the keycode she had spied one of the maintenance robots using to gain access and dove into the doorway as the hatch hissed open. Safe for the moment, she turned around and gazed out at the distant surroundings beyond the fence, where she could just make out the flashes of light and echoes of yelled taunts that signified Sonic was still joyously eluding his pursuers, still surviving an assault that would have killed anyone else and doing so while laughing. A single tear drifted slowly down the cheek of the princess as she smiled sadly and whispered, “I love you too, Sonic Hedgehog.” For the thousandth time, Sally wondered how she could possibly ever be worthy of him. He was Sonic Hedgehog. Living legend. Champion of the free peoples of Mobius. Hero entrusted by fate with power that defied comprehension. And she...she was Sally. Leader by right of blood, not of merit. Prisoner to a host of fears and doubts. Tactician whose foolishness had already cost eight courageous men and women everything. With that, the walls around her heart arose once more as doubt set in again, the shared melody keeping it at bay for now nothing but a memory. Still, memory held some measure of power, and after a moment of concentration she was able to rekindle part of the peace she had felt earlier. She was alone in Robotropolis, cut off for the time being from all aid, yet the breath she had drawn while protected by the melody had been a deep one, enough to replenish her spirit for some time. As the entrance hatch slid shut, entombing her in darkness, Sally assured herself that the love she clung to, for Sonic, for Tails, and for her people, would grant her the strength to see this through to the end. It would have to.
  4. ToaArcan


    Fiona strode confidently into Casinopolis, eyes flitting across the various patrons under Mammoth Mogul’s protection. She glanced at her watch- Several hours had passed since she left Freedom HQ, so any hope of rescuing Scourge before the combined force of the Freedom Fighters and Suppression Squad overwhelmed him was looking thin. She’d need to at least go to Moebius in order rescue him, putting her options for new minions much narrower. A thought crossed her mind, that the Squad might not imprison him, but instead kill him- They’d made no secret of their contempt for him, and had even tried to sway her to their side, but she’d remained steadfast in her loyalty to him.She swelled with pride for a moment, before a more familiar voice rang through her memories.“Keep telling yourself that.”Sonic’s arguments stuck in her mind, much moreso than she wanted to admit. Her pride faltered, superseded by anger at herself. Her face hardened, snarling involuntarily at her own weaknesses- She’d cried in front of him. Before, she had stepped on his heart, struck his closest friend as hard as she could, and tore into him over his failure to save her, and it had only made him angry. And yet, with a few simple words, he had reduced her to a quivering, sobbing wreck. Her trip had been spent agonizing as to why this happened, and she still had no answers. A part of her screamed that perhaps his points were correct, but she shrugged it off, stomped the voice down. She’d been doing that a lot lately, since she had joined Finitevus’ plans.Realising that the other patrons were staring at her, her eyes widened for a moment, glaring defensively back. She had half a mind to ask what they were staring at, but currently she had no backup, so aggravating them was a bad idea, especially since she intended to try and recruit some of them. With all eyes on her, save for one- a figure with a distinctive purple, crooked tail, wrapped in a greatcoat, head covered with a stetson, sat at the bar- evidently, Nack was drowning his sorrows again- she smirked.“Hello, everybody. My name is Fiona Fox, and I’m here to recruit people for a little rescue operation.” She paused to gauge reactions- Most of them were still watching her quietly, but Nack seemed to be shifting slightly, turning on his barstool. “A close personal friend of mine got into some hot water with the Freedom Fighters and their counterparts from the anti-Mobius, and chances are they’ve taken him back there. They might’ve killed him, but with any luck, they haven’t, and we can get in there and save him.”“Who’s “We”? a voice called out. She turned to look at them, but she didn’t recognise the face.“Well, me, and anyone who comes with me.”“And what’s in it for us?”“Well, my friend managed to conquer Anti-Mobius, or Moebius, as we call it now. Planet full of psychopaths and maniacs, and he took it all over, bent it to his will, in a week. Even made me his queen. If we rescue him, we can do that again, even easier, and then you’ve got all the money, power, and anything else you need, no worries.”“Doesn’t sound so bad. Anything we’ve got to worry about?”“Well, there is the Suppression Squad. “Evil” versions of the Freedom Fighters, except Sonic and Amy. They’re not quite sane, willing to kill, all that stuff.” She replied. Immediately, the rows of interested faces looked awkwardly at each other, then at her, and returned to their drinks, ignoring the vixen again.“And just like that, you’ve lost ‘em.” Another familiar voice echoed through the room. It seemed to have come from Nack, but the voice was definitely a woman’s. The weasel turned, and stood up, looking straight at Fiona. There were certainly similarities between her and Nack, but her muzzle was shorter, her torso covered by a white bodysuit, her boots lacking the brown toes, her gloves reaching her elbows. The distinctive enlarged fang was gone, and she shifted her hat, allowing long purple locks to fall down behind her. “Nic?” The vixen paused. Immediately, several of the patrons were pointing guns at the weasel, who rolled her eyes.“I don’t know why you’re bothering. Nack won’t pay you, even if you do kill me. I also don’t know why you all think you can get something good from helping the guy whose biggest claim to fame is “I got kicked in the nuts by Princess Sally and beaten half-to-death by Amy Rose”. But what the hell, if you want to try and take me on...” She reached inside her coat, pulling out a pair of oversized handguns. Within a few seconds, every single glass in the room had been shot out, followed by the lights. She slipped a pair of night vision goggles onto her face. “... bring it on.”The assorted criminals sat still for a moment, silently daring each other to make the first move. One of them pulled the hammer back, and, with another cacophony of gunfire, the weasel relieved each one of their weapons.“I didn’t get where I was without getting to be a really good shot. Seriously thought you guys would’ve got that.” She mocked a sigh, sauntering past them, towards her former partner. Fiona smiled, closing the gap as the weasel pocketed her weapons and removed the goggles.“Nic, it’s gre- Ow!” She was cut off when the weasel sharply pinched her ear, tugging her toward the exit. “You’ve got some serious explaining to do, young lady.” SHe hissed over her shoulder, kicking the door open.“Ow ow ow ow, quit it!” She shouted, as they reached the cold night air, slapping Nic’s hand away. She reached up, rubbing her sore ear, glaring at her. “What was that for?!”“You mind telling me what you’re doing? Running around, trying to raise an army to take over another Mobius. And doing it all while dressing like a skank. I thought I raised you better than this.”“Oh, what, are you gonna call me out for being ‘bad’ now? The bounty hunter-come-treasure thief?”“There’s a line, Fi. Conquering worlds is well over it.” Nic folded her arms. “Hey, it was Scourge’s idea, not mine!”“Scourge... Scourge!? You threw in with Scourge!?” She grabbed Fiona’s shoulders, shoving her against the wall. “Are you insane? Or just plain stupid?”“Hey, he’s not as bad as people say he is!”“He’s trying to conquer planets! He calls himself Scourge! He’s a liar, a traitor, a mass-murderer, a pervert! And he works for Finitevus!”“What’s wrong with Finitevus?”“Oh, I don’t know, how about the whole “Burn the world to ash and rebuild it his way” schtick?” She retorted. “You’re trying to destroy one world and conquer another, throwing in behind Scourge. And the crazy part is that you don’t even realise what you’re becoming.”“Oh, what am I becoming?” She sneered.“Well, I want you answer this: How are you any better than Robotnik?”Fiona threw a punch at Nic, who nonchalantly titled her head away from the blow. The vixen swung again, the weasel’s fingers closing around her wrist. She twisted it slightly, sending a twinge of pain through her arm. “Don’t compare me to him! I’m nothing like him!”“Answer my question, Fi. Tell me how you’re better than him. Tell me how serving Scourge and Finitevus is any better than Nack helping the lardass.”“I...”“You can’t answer, can you?”“I’m not like him...” She murmured, arm relaxing.“You’re supporting people who are just as bad, or worse in the case of Finitevus.” Nic replied, releasing her arm. “And I want to know why.”“Because I love Scourge! You wouldn’t understand that, but it’s true!”“And that’s worth all the wrongs you’re going to commit? All the atrocities you’ll support?”“I-”“Think long and hard about that one, Fi.” The weasel’s voice was suddenly lower, softer, and several orders of magnitude more threatening. Fiona shrank back as much as she could with her back against the wall. Nic could be very loud. She was very good at it, and it projected the aura of a hair-trigger temper. But in truth, Nic was a very patient woman. Her shouting was often just a way to let off steam. When she really became enraged, Nic became very quiet, very cold. Almost mechanical. “And how about Finitevus?”“Scourge worked for him.”“And that’s it? That’s why you do things now? Because Scourge does them?” Nic rolled her eyes. “You know, Fiona, you’re standing awfully well for a girl without a backbone.”“Doing things together is what couples do, Nic!”“And how many times has he taken you somewhere you wanted to go?”“Loads-”“That you wanted to go to for reasons other than “Scourge said so”?”“Uh...” She paused. There hadn’t been a single time. In fact, Scourge had never even asked her. Nic noticed the silence, smiling grimly.“What even is there to love about him? What attracted you to him?”“Well, he was more fun than Sonic, for one thing. For a roguish charming hero, “ol’ blue” wasn’t half dull.” Fiona shrugged.“Maybe because he was on the rebound from dating a princess? Shoulda seen that he was still hurting and said no.”“I asked him.”“Well, then you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself. You basically stamped “Rebound Girl” on your forehead. You locked yourself into a dead-end relationship, and Scourge exploited that. Hell, that relationship is the entire reason he wanted you.”“Huh?”“Don’t you see, Fiona?” Nic sighed. “You’re not his girlfriend. You’re his trophy. Scourge only wants you because you were Sonic’s girl. If Sonic had still been with Sally, he wouldn’t have given you a second glance. I met him once. ‘Bout two months ago. He was drunk off his ass, probably couldn’t remember the encounter if you asked him, because he spent most of the evening sleeping on a bowl of pretzels. He tried chatting me up. I knew who he was, but I decided to humour him. See if I couldn’t get him to spill a bit on FInitevus’ plans. Then I could sell the details to GUN, they love getting stuff like that. And it worked. That’s how I knew about the albino freakshow’s deal. ‘Course, he gave me the whole life story first.”“If he gave you the whole story, how come you didn’t know I was with him?” Fiona asked.“He never mentioned your name. He just mentioned some “dumb bimbo” that he’d managed to get to follow him away from Sonic. Guess that’s you. Of course, he mentioned this while his eyes were glued to the barmaid’s tits, very classy.”“He was drunk! He’s different when he’s sober.”“Hopefully he’s better at seducing people, or there’s something seriously wrong with you.” Nic smirked. “Anyway, he mentioned that he spent more time going after Bunnie Rabbot and Amy Rose. He made a pass at the “dumb bimbo”, but she didn’t take his fancy. Apparently, she didn’t appeal until Sonic went for her, at which point, well, you became priority target. The only reason he even cares about you is because you were Sonic’s girlfriend. You’re his ace over Sonic, as long as Sonic still cares, Scourge will keep you as a memento to his bruised ego. But the moment Sonic gets over you, and Scourge realises that... you’re screwed.”“I-”“Do you understand me now, Fi? You’re becoming no better than the man that tortured you as a child, all so you can keep being the brainless arm-candy for a psychopath that doesn’t even care about you. That’s all there is to it... So, are you going to wake up and do something about this, or do I have to make you?”“How do I know if I can trust you or not?”“Because you’re my little sister, and I won’t ever lie to you?”“Bull, you lied to me before!”“To protect you. And look what happened, it totally worked. If I’d told you the truth about that little excursion, we both know you would’ve run in half-cocked and got seriously hurt.”“Alright, alright...” Fiona said. Her ears drooped, eyes shut tightly. She slid down the wall into a sitting position, pulling her knees closer to herself, her head slumping into them. Her tail wrapped around her body, and her shoulders shook, as the first bitter, angry sobs shook her small frame. “I believe you.”Nic sat down beside her, pulling her into a gentle embrace, guiding Fiona to lean on her shoulder. Carefully, she pulled several pins out of Fiona’s hair, and it fell down into a more natural look, but not quite the curled style she had worn before.“What do we do now?”“I’m taking you home, to my place. We’ll get you cleaned up, get you something decent to wear, and then we can work out how to fix the mess you caused for the Freedom Fighters.”Fiona nodded, and allowed Nic to lift her up, carefully carrying her to the hoverbike she had left outside the casino. “Say Fi, I’ve had a few... Think you can drive this thing?”“Of course I can.” Fiona nodded, smiling weakly.***That evening, the two quasi-siblings sat on a couch in Nic’s apartment, Fiona once again leaning on Nic. She now wore a loose-fitting t-shirt and sweats, her hair and fur now properly groomed once more.“I feel so stupid...” She finally said. The duo had sat in relative silence for a while, leaving each other to their own thoughts.“Well, in a way, good. You can see where you’ve erred, and you won’t do it again.” The weasel shrugged. “Right?”“When you mentioned the mess I made of the Freedom Fighters... You don’t know the half of it.”“Hm?”“I... I managed to piss off just about all of them, even the ones that didn’t know me much. Amy came at with the hammer while I was trying to sneak off to meet Scourge, I mocked and ridiculed Sonic for trying to help people, Sally hates my guts and thinks of me as nothing more than a traitor... Tails... Oh gods, Tails...”“The half-pint? What’d you do to him?”“He was nuts about me... and I stepped on his heart twice, and then when I left, I slapped him in the face!”“Okay, why the hell did you do that?”“Scourge said I had to... Said I had to do something that would hurt Sonic as much as possible... Said I should hurt his sidekick. Especially after I let slip about his crush...”“Word of advice: If Scourge tells you that you should do something, ignore him.”“Oh brilliant, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind when I’m a whole universe away from him.” The vixen groaned. Nic smirked slightly, before sighing. “Well, you’ve got a lot to make up for.” She said. “So how do we deal with this?”“You’re gonna help me?” She stared at Nic.“Sisters, remember?”“Okay, okay...” Fiona nodded. She stood up and walked over to the window, quietly watching the rain running down the glass. “Honestly, I don’t know what I can do. I guess, well, the first step would be an apology... But I don’t think that will cover it. I doubt they’ll ever trust me again... but I guess that’s only fair.”“I’ve got a bit of a plan myself... We’re going to find your ex, and put a bullet between his eyes. If anything screams “Change of Heart”, it’s shooting the jackass in the face.”“Or it could make me look like even more of an opportunist traitor...”“Okay, good point.”“Make no mistake, Nic. If he’s alive, we’ll kill him. But it has to be in a way that doesn’t make us look worse.”“So now you’re on-board with killing him?”“I threw away my life for his lies. I had everything I wanted, and I was too blind to see it. And then he came in and told me all the things I wanted to hear, and what did it amount to? Being queen of a planet where everyone wanted to kill us and take our position. And now I feel like I’ve got nowhere to go from here... He ruined me, Nic.” She hissed, hand balling into a fist as she turned to face her friend again.“It’s one of those things, Fi... You never know how good you have it, until you lose it all. I didn’t even realise how much I needed you until you left...”“Then I suppose there’s my answer to where I go next...” Fiona mused. “Here. I’m staying with you.”“Really?”“You need me.”“I was thinking that I’d come with you. Fi, I can’t have this life anymore. With Nack after me I barely get any work, and I can’t support myself. I keep having to move out of places every time he finds where I live, on the off-chance he gets lucky.”“So you want me to try and get back in Sally’s good graces?”“Maybe. Maybe we find another team. Maybe we make our own. However it happens, we break into the Freedom-Fighting business.”“You know that Freedom Fighters don’t kill unless they absolutely have to, right?”“Well, we absolutely have to make sure nobody goes through what you did.” Nic replied, putting her hands on Fiona’s shoulders, before pulling her into a hug. “That’s why we’re going to do this.”“Alright.” Fiona nodded. “What do we do about Nack?”“Beat him up, and dump him on the Freedom Fighters’ door. They’ll take care of him.”“Okay then... Let’s do it.” The vixen smiled. “One thing: I’m gonna need a new weapon.”“Oh, that can be arranged.” Nic smirked. “I nabbed these handy little devices called shock gauntlets. I think you’ll like them. I’ll get you some new clothes too. And it’ll look a lot better and be a lot more comfortable than that... thing... Scourge got you.”“Thank you.” The two embraced. “So what’s with the new look?”“The fang was making eating and talking hard. Plus, it was a bit of a turn-off to any prospective partners. I grew my hair out because people kept mistaking me for Nack.”“Even with the chest?”“Yes.”“How many people have you shot, or otherwise injured, because of that?”“A few.”“Damn. And the coat?”“It has loads of pockets for my gear. And it looks badass.”“Can’t disagree.” She nodded.“Want one?”“Nic, you know my tail’s kinda sensitive. I’ll have a shorter one.”“Okay. Now, let’s go get those shock gauntlets.”***The next day, in Freedom HQ, the Knothole Freedom Fighters sat around the main table, blueprints, plans, and documents laid out in front of them, along with a three-dimensional map, projected from Nicole.“Okay, what are we hitting today, Sal?” Sonic asked. “We need to put Eggman on the back foot before we assault the Eggdome. If we hit him now, he’ll be ready for something. If we knock him off-kilter, then it’ll be easier to hit him again, hard, while he’s still reeling. Fortunately, we have a way to do that.” Sally replied.“So, what’s the target, Sally-Gal?”“Eggman’s getting a shipment of something important today. We have reason to suspect it’s a new weapon or power source of some sort. It’s got heavy security, whatever it is.” Nicole zoomed the map in on the landing strip.“How do we know he’s not just going to extreme lengths to project his lunch again?” Tails spoke up.“Well, we got tipped off, thanks to Geoffrey’s team. They saw something being loaded up yesterday, and whatever it is, it was putting out a lot of energy.” The squirrel explained. “So we’re going to go there, steal whatever it is, get Nicole to plant some nasty viruses in the Eggnet and steal some files from the ship’s computer, and blow up the landing strip, and the craft with it.”“Alright, I like the sound of that.” Sonic nodded.“Now, Rotor has already got the explosives loaded up, and Tails has provided a new transport craft- The Special’s getting old, and it’s not at all quick in comparison to the fighters Eggman uses now.”“I created a Magnetic Mass Accelerator. It was supposed to be an upgrade for Bunnie’s cannon, but its far to big to be a personal weapon, so I put it on the new plane!”“And... in English?”“Railgun.”“Oh, nice!”“Thanks!”“Anyway... Antoine has run through the risk assessment, and this one’s going to be a little harder than usual. Security is tight, so we’re going to need some solid overwatch. Fortunately, Rotor will be keeping the plane airborne and using the weapon systems to cover us while we attack on the ground. Since landing won’t be safe, this is an air-drop, so if you can’t fly or take long drops, bring a parachute.”As Sally finished explaining, a Warp Ring split the air above them, and Nack the Weasel fell out, crashing into the table. He seemed to be unconscious, hands cuffed behind his back, with a letter taped to his tail. The ring snapped shut, leaving the assembled team staring at the sudden new arrival. “Uh... not exactly what I’d call a present...” Sonic mused, nudging him. “He’s out cold… Want me to run him down to the jail?”“Nicole, scan the envelope. Make sure it’s not a letter bomb.” Antoine spoke up.“Already done. It isn’t.”“Well, what is it?” Amy asked. Sally took the letter, opened it, and pulled out a single sheet of paper.“It says… ‘Dear Freedom Fighters, I’m writing this to let you know that you’ve got a pair of unorthodox allies. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve got a long road ahead of me before I can hold my head high in public again, but and with my Sis’ help, I’ll be done in no time. Hopefully you can consider this a first step. He was going to be a thorn in our sides, so we let him come to us, got the drop on him, and sent him on over. All the best… Fiona Indigo Fox…’”“‘P.S: We’re taking Bean and Bark on as our team-mates, so don’t worry about them.’” Sonic added, leaning over Sally’s shoulder.“Well, Ah’ll be…”“She has a sister?”“Nah, Ames. S’what she always called Nic the Weasel. They were like family apparently, somewhere between a sister and a mother. Nic was to Fi what the rest of us were to Tails…”“Guys, look, there’s something else in the envelope!” Tails piped up, barely believing his ears. Sonic swiped it, and pulled the second piece out. “It’s a photo.” He said, putting it on the desk. It showed Fiona, now clad in a familiar yellow-and-white outfit, with a belt across her chest, her upper body wrapped in a short white coat. She was embracing Nic with one arm, the other holding up a “peace” gesture,the weasel mirroring her position, her free arm adjusting her hat. Her arms were encased in shiny golden gauntlets, with blue circles on the backs of the palms. “Heh… guess we’ve got some extra backup for the big one…” *** Uploading more oneshots before I start on any of my larger works. THis one is set just before Issue 198-200. I like Nic a lot more than her design would really merit. She's got a fairly interesting history, and I especially like playing her off against Fiona. Normally, I write them with a more parental bond, but their exact relationship here was decided by poll on DA, back when I had a premium. This Fiona should probably also set the tone for the versions of her that I'll bring in for future stories. Hope you enjoy.
  5. Figured I should post this here since there might have been a few of you who haven't seen this yet. This takes place in the reboot of Heroes of Arcadia shortly after Robotnik's defeat. It's a bit of an experimental piece which looks at one possibility of what happens when those that create the fiction find out the worlds are real. Sadly...I couldn't post this on FF.net due to prohibitions against using nonfictional people. Anyways...hope you enjoy! Oh yes...and before I forget... (P.S.: That sound you hear is the fourth wall completely shattering!) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Things were looking difficult for all involved. Dealing with fans? Not a problem. Deadlines? Not an issue. Layouts? Easy. Finding out your comic was based on a real war in another reality? A problem...and a big one. For years, at Archie Comics, the Sonic comic was going along despite changes in authors, artists, characterizations, and story. It even endured the backlash of fans who got angry whenever something bad happened to a favorite character...like the most recent robotization of Sally. Then Arcadia happened. When the news was made public that Mobius was real and that they were in the middle of the very war that both the cartoon series known as SatAM and the Archie comic were based on, many at Archie felt very uncomfortable. Not only because they used said war as a means of creating a new comic, but because at present one of the very leaders of the Freedom Fight was depicted as having been a victim of said war. This situation became even more complicated when it was learned that King Maximillian Acorn ended up on Earth when he was chucked through the void...and knew about said comic series. Although Archie had decided to temporarily halt production of the comic in respect to the Freedom Fighters of Mobius, an action mirrored by Sega when they halted production on the Sonic games, many were still worried that they might not be allowed to continue it. Or, worst case scenario, how were they going to pay royalties to an entire planet? The one that was concerned about this most was lead producer on the comic, Ian Flynn. He was known as Ian “Potto” Flynn to fans due to the fact he was originally known as the creator of the fancomic “Sonic – Other M”, which of course left many wondering if he laughed when he saw the name of the new Metroid game. This fancomic eventually got him noticed by Archie and he was eventually hired for the Sonic comic and he was even working on a Megaman comic for Archie as well. Unfortunately, with the revelation that both Mobius and Capcom-Earth were real, both those projects were now in jeopardy. Not only because it could be construed that they were making light of what were now revealed to be real events, but because those that were characters in said comics might object. As such, Ian worried about both his future and his career. To make matters worse... “Mr. Flynn? Princess Sally Acorn is here.” ...that just happened. “Show her in.” Ian took a deep breath and prepared for the worst. He knew someone from Mobius would come to talk about the comic. Unfortunately, it just had to be the one Mobian he didn’t want. Sonic would have been fine, since he was still depicted as Mobius’s hero. Sally, though...he was expecting a major browbeating from her for turning her into a roboticized slave to Robotnik, and even weaponizing her. Sally soon walked in, and Ian easily recognized the classic look...a humanoid ground squirrel with auburn headfur wearing a blue vest and blue boots. Despite the fact she was only about four feet tall, she still had an air of importance to her that made her seem larger than life, and that made Ian feel a bit nervous. “Mr. Flynn? Thank you for seeing me.” “It was my pleasure, and may I say quite an honor as well. Please...sit down.” Sally sat down in the chair that was offered her and Ian then tried to make the situation more comfortable. “Can I get you anything?” he asked her. “We have coffee or anything from the vending machines...” “Oh...no, thank you,” Sally said. “I appreciate the offer though.” “Okay,” Ian said, sitting down at his desk. “Now then...let’s talk about the comic.” “Yes, and I’ve heard about you halted production ever since hearing about the war on Mobius,” Sally interjected, knowing that was going to be something Archie was worried about. “We definitely appreciate your sensitivity about the war.” “Well, it probably wouldn’t have looked good for us to make light of your struggle,” Ian said, starting to feel the nervousness increasing, until he saw Sally giggle a bit. “Ian...you had no way of knowing we really existed until now,” Sally said, trying to calm Ian down. “I’ve seen games on this world based off your own wars, and they’ve been handled well enough.” “Oh...you’ve seen some of the fictions of this world?” “I have...including a few issues of the comic you guys have made.” That made Ian nervous again, knowing full well that if that included the more recent issues... “Let me just say it WAS a bit unnerving seeing myself roboticized,” Sally began. “Oh crap...here it comes...” Ian thought to himself as he heard that. “Well, it was a good career while it lasted.” But then what he heard next blew his mind. “But seeing how I got roboticized was definitely what I would have done under those circumstances,” Sally finished. “In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next stories.” “Wait...” Ian then said, surprised by that last part, “does this mean you’re allowing the comic to continue?” “Absolutely!” Ian was dumbstruck and wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but then Sally explained. “Just because it IS based on what we have been through means nothing. The story you have going is far removed from what we have been through, so it is still very much fiction and still very much nothing more than the product of your imagination. I’ve even heard there were several cartoons that were created based on real people here. I think some guy named ‘MovieBob’ Chipman did some online article called ‘Celebritoons’ about a lot of them.” Ian laughed at that. “Oh my god...who told you about THOSE?” “Gamemaster Anthony did,” Sally said. “Actually, it was remembering that that helped him get over how upset he was over what had happened to us.” Ian nodded in understanding. Hearing about what had happened on Mobius would have been bad enough, but seeing it... “So how is the Gamemaster getting on with Arcadia?” Ian asked. That question started a long conversation between the two about everything regarding Arcadia. Everything from the rebuilding effort to what the new reunification of Arcadia has wrought in terms of new tech and other discoveries. Eventually, they got back to the comic and Ian showed Sally the new look he had created for her after she becomes deroboticized. “Oh my gosh, that looks pretty cute!” Sally said. “You like it?” Ian asked. “I’ve had a few detractors say I seemed to have Sega-fied you a bit.” “Well, the gloves do give that look,” Sally said. “But I rather like it! I saw someone we met in Station Square named Tiara wear something similar to this.” “Well, we felt you needed an update,” Ian said. “Besides, I wouldn’t put it past Amy and Bunnie dragging you to some mall somewhere to go shopping.” Sally snickered a bit at that. “You know...I actually joked with Anthony that he should take me to that Mall of America place in his home state. Of course, he’d have to pay for any purchases as I don’t yet have any Earth currencies...” “Oh, God help that poor man’s credit rating...” Ian mumbled to himself and then laughed for a bit. “So...feel better now?” Sally asked. “Yeah...” Ian said, letting loose something akin to a sigh of relief. “I was kind of seeing my entire career going up in smoke for a bit.” “I don’t think it’s your career you need to worry about, Ian,” Sally said. “Sega on the other paw...” Ian looked both surprised and shocked at that. “Sega? What do you mean?” Sally frowned a bit and continued. “Sonic wasn’t too pleased at certain things. He wondered why they told you guys to keep him and me apart and the comic’s story and then got a bit cross when he learned about that ‘nothing the fans can do’ comment. He thought Sega was actually dissing the fans.” “So...what did Sonic say to that?” Sally smirked a bit. “He suggested that they give you a little more leeway in regards to how he and the others are depicted, and then he rather coyly wondered out loud what would happen if Archie had permission to use him and Sega didn’t.” Ian visually winced at that, but was also trying to stifle a bit of laugh. “Ouch...to be browbeaten by your own ‘creation’...” “I know, right?” Sally said, giggling a bit. “At any rate, Sonic managed to convince them to let you guys have a little more levity in regards to the story. So...I’m guessing I’ll see me dating Sonic again in the comic?” “Hey, how can I refuse the princess of Mobotropolis?” Ian said. “In that case, I’d better let you get back to work,” Sally said, getting up from her chair. “Thank you again for meeting me, Ian!” “Actually, I should be the one thanking you!” Sally looked surprised at that comment, considering Ian’s prior nervousness. “It’s just this, Sally,” Ian explained. “I’m glad to have finally met you...the REAL you. It made me glad to see you were real. Not in the sense that you exist, but that you are down to earth and aren’t like the overly demure or prissy princess tropes you see in some stories. In short...a true person.” Sally smiled at that. “All the more reason for me not to get TOO comfortable in my return to princesshood, I guess.” “In that case, here...” Ian said, handing her one of the sketches of her new look. “Who knows? You might be able to wear that as some kind of casual look.” “Alright. Thank you, Ian!” As Sally waved and began to leave, she suddenly stopped and turned back around. “Oh, stupid me...almost forgot! Anthony had a question for you.” “The Gamemaster? What did he need?” Sally reached into a pocket of her vest and pulled out a small sheet of paper. “I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about with this, but apparently he wants to know if you ‘laughed your butt off when Metroid Other-M came out’. Any idea what this is about?” Ian laughed and then explained. “Oh God, yes. I actually got this job because of a Sonic fancomic I made called ‘Sonic – Other M’, where Sonic ended up on some alternate version of Mobius where Knuckles was the main villain.” “Really?” Sally said. “So...what happened when that Metroid game came out?” “Let’s just say I had images,” Ian explained. “Picture Sonic wearing Samus’s Chozo armor and you’ll get the idea.” “Oh, Goddess!” Sally said, chuckling a bit. “I’ve got to tell both Sonic and Samus that!” Sally said her goodbyes to Ian and left. Ian then collapsed further into his chair and breathed a huge sigh of relief. A bit later, he got a phone call from one of his coworkers. “Hello? Yeah...she just left. Looks like she’s okay with the comic going on as usual. Guess she wasn’t as upset at seeing herself roboticized as we first thought.” A short pause occurred as Ian heard something interesting from who he was talking to. “We can also use Penders’ characters? Well, I already knew that. He did give permission to...” Another pause as he heard something...odd. “That wasn’t the reason? Why...what happened?” This time...the pause was followed by Ian nearly laughing and falling off his chair. “Wait...Julie-Su threatened to do WHAT to Penders?!?”
  6. Spark of Life Review part 1: (Looks across a scorched landscape.) This burnt landscape was a direct result of fans whom raged over what they read over the work of an arc written by Aleah Baker. Real choice actions over a new writer of her own arc. Aleah Baker is an artist and writer for the sonic the hedgehog comics. She is also the wife of current writer, Ian Flynn. She was tasked with writing the arc known as Spark of Life. Just to say, she has a familiarity with the series not only because of her being the writer's wife, but she had also wrote back up issues for the series not long ago when this arc came out. Does she do this arc justice? Let's find out.Before we begin lets tackle on the background information on the two characters that are the main focus of this arc. This is mainly Sally Acorn, leader of the freedom fighters, and Nicole the A.I. holo-lynx, whom is the main focus of this arc and is in fact delves in her origin. Nicole has had two different backstories from different mediums. In the satam cartoon series (mainly on the notes for season three), she was a smart little girl whom had her mind ripped out by Robotnik and transferred into computer, but she would ultimately forget the experience and help out Sally, Sonic and the rest of the freedom fighters. As for the old comic continuity, she was created by rotor of the future and was sent back in time to help sally and the freedom fighter in the past. Time paradox everybody. So, what makes Baker's story any different? Now without further ado, on with the review.We start this issue with Sky patrol under attack by Gaia monsters with Sally, Rotor, Tails, and Big fighting them off. Nicole tells them they only need to fight them off for two more minutes until sunrise. However, tails gets swarmed Gaia monsters and Sally takes them out nearly falling to her doom of the airship. Luckily, tails manages to return the favor and with the break of dawn, the Gaia monsters disappear. After the fight the group rests up (with cream serving up muffins and donuts but having a hard time with rotor's coffee machine), Nicole questioned Sally on why she was reckless on saving tails and nearly falling off sky patrol when sunrise wasn't too long. Sally tells her that though it was reckless tails was in trouble and she couldn't sit by and do nothing. Suddenly, Nicole disappears into the digital world after a distress call from Dr. Ellidy, an old lynx scientist who made Nicole and Sally's wrist blades. He had digitized Mobotropolis' royal archives and was very ingenious computer programmer but left to isolated island (I made a mistake in my announcement summary)and started to delve more into ring technology before departing he gave Sally, Nicole, for safe keeping. This is revealed via flashback. In the present and in the digital world, Nicole saves Ellidy from viruses which he somehow acts as if he sees a ghost and asked her why she has the form of lynx as an avatar in the digital world and she tells him "she chose it". When Nicole reunites with sally and the gang (big and tails whom had arrived) on isolated island in the real world. Ellidy briefs them that he was doing some research with the help of the badiks he repurposed after Eggman abandoned in a previous bid of subduing the island to help his research and protect the island from Gaia monsters coming out at night. However, some of the badniks have been going haywire and he went to check their programming via the digital world to find the problem. But ended up being attacked by viruses where Nicole found him. After, he goes to rest and recuperate Sally and Nicole discuss that something is in the computer system which we are revealed our villain whom takes an interest in Nicole, Phage. This was a good start for the arc, a lot of backstory and setup was in this one and Aleah did wonderfully on this beginning portion. It also establishes Nicole's backstory of being a creation of Dr. Ellidy rather than a time paradox. But it seems there may be more to her previous relationship to her creator because of how nervous Ellidy is around her. In the next part we figure what is Ellidy researching as of now and what secrets hold for Nicole as well as the new featured villain, Phage. part2: So next part of the review, here is where we are going to get a great deal of backstory. As well as where the main story picks up. Now let's find out what we have. Shall we?We find that Ellidy was doing some research, and what exactly was he researching into? Why a red star ring. Now for those of you unfamiliar with current sonic games the red star rings are found across stages that unlock special features like artwork, a multiplayer (in Colors), and unlocking Super Sonic (Colors and Lost world). Also, in the mobile games like Dash and Runners, the red star rings are used to unlock playable characters, items and extra lives. But back to the main story. Ellidy states he discovered the ring when the local lake of rings suddenly dried up of rings but suddenly producing this one red star ring. He theorizes the creation of these rings are due to Gaia energy and that these rings have a greater energy output then their regular counter parts. Sally makes the comment that it could power Nicole's lynx indefinitely. This doesn't sit well with Ellidy. However, the group breaks up Sally and big go and investigate the lake and the downed robot, while tails and Ellidy aid Nicole in the digital world to snuff out the virus or hacker in the digital world. As they are on their mission, Sally after seeing how ellidy reacted to Nicole, she asks him how he feels about her. He says he liked her and as for how he felt about her being an AI he says; "As long as they're nice, I don't care what anyone is". Well said Big. This leads to a flashback to when Sally starts to use Nicole in her studies but ends up figuring the hard way to be self reliant due to Nicole unable to solve a question. As that's going on Tails and Ellidy do their part and help Nicole in the digital world (with phage stalking nicole). Ellidy then asks Nicole if she remembers when she first activated. She says that she had remembered those events but now from different perspective and rather disappointed in what she was then. Which we are given two different flashbacks, the first being Ellidy activating Nicole however, she had no designation which made him break down in tears. As for the next flashback, younger Sally is talking to Nicole that everybody (Bunnie, antoine and Rotor) were now counting on her to be strong but she feels she couldn't but she thanks Nicole for listening. Which we end up back with Sally and Big to find the robot unresponsive, a red starring and a powerful energy signature. However, the robot goes haywire and attacks them when they pulled the ring out of the water but they destroy the robot and head before it got dark. They tell Ellidy their discovery and decide to get rest as for sally she goes outside to ring up Rotor of their status but then stumbles upon something which she ends up being caught by a dark gaia possessed Ellidy telling her it wasn't right for her to be snooping around.This issue was very decent. Big got that one character moment out of it. And the flashbacks really set up the relationship Nicole had/have between Sally and Ellidy as well as a little bit of their thoughts and feelings toward the A.I. Now comes the next where a lot of people give this arc a great deal of flak. part3: Now on to the next part, it's this half where a few reviewers really laid into this issue. What are their problems with it in particular? Are they wrong about it? Does this last half deserve this hate? Let's... God from Monty Python: GET ON WITH IT!Yes. We start the issue with Sally asking Ellidy who this girl whom looks similar to Nicole that is enshrined in front of his lab. He tells her to drop the conversation but Sally persisted. He tells her that the girl enshrined was his daughter, Nikki. She was dying of a terminal illness which he had little options to save her because in a flashback in this very issue. Uncle Chuck was checking up on his project and Chuck had also told him his roboticizer was still not ready yet, which might have been helpful. Now what was Ellidy's project? Scanning and Mapping Nikki's brainwaves and consciousness and put them into an A.I. That A.I. was Nicole. However, the mapping was unsuccessful and Nicole was a failed project. Since then, Ellidy saw Nicole as a failed experiment that had cost him his daughter's life.As that's going on, Nicole and Phage finally meet. Phage finds the fact of her being able to manifest a hologram body that could interact with real world and she also, tells Nicole that she's causing all the problems with all the badniks so she could nab the rings, Ellidy's Research and a Chaos emerald that was on the bottom of the lake of rings. This was all Nicole needed to know and she quarantines her off. However, Phage is too strong, breaks free and captures Nicole as a hostage. Back to Sally and Ellidy, Sally tries to persuade Ellidy to put the blame on Nicole for the loss of his daughter, but he ends up saying he didn't and that was why he gave her to Sally. But Sally's says how he treated her now hurted her feelings and it slowly devolves into an argument over Nicole's feelings and Sally's father. This is due to them under the influence of Dark Gaia. Sally realizes this and pulls Ellidy back inside the lab and are chased by both Dark Gaia Monsters and Phage controlled badniks. Sally and Ellidy wake up Tails and Big as they head into the lab but are sealed in the room. On the computer monitor, Phage reveals herself to Ellidy and Sally making her demands known also, she reveals on who she works for... Eggman. This leads to another debate of shutting the system down it would stop Phage but would destroy Nicole. Sally isn't too keen on Ellidy's option. In the digital world, Phage tries to copy Nicole's persona and tries to absorb her but Nicole stops her and escapes looking for a place to hide. Sally gets a message from nicole and tells Tails and Big to head to the Lake of Rings and fast. They, Tails and Big, take the vehicle he and Sally took earlier. In another flashback, sally wakes up to find Nicole's handheld missing and a strange figure outside her bedroom. She asks who this lynx girl is and she says she's Nicole. She tells her she had little time to explain because the hologram body. However she wishes to see the stars, sounds familiar moving on.Nicole runs and hides from Phage and her virus-lings but she informs her that she infected the entire system. Leaving Nicole nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Nicole then finds an uninfected part of the computer system which contained video clips and pictures of Nikki, however phage manages to find her. Sally then fed up knowing Nicole would be powerless fighting Phage on her own decides to help. She covers up a camera with her vest and hands Ellidy one of her ring blades and tells him she's going into the digital world via the digitizer. Ellidy protests saying how foolish it is risking her life for Nicole and that's she's a princess. Sally acknowledges she's a princess but she tells Ellidy: "And as far as I'm concerned my family exists to serve its people. I get it you didn't intend to create Nicole and maybe you don't like having her around. But don't you dare suggest to me that she isn't a person worth saving!". You tell 'em. Sally heads into the digital world slicing up Phage and sets up the fight for the next issue.Ok, now what did I think of this issue. It was decent. I understand people's gripes that Phage is a villain in cahoots with Eggman being a bad thing and making her characterization poor. Not necessarily, some of the villains tied to Eggman whether they'd be egg bosses or former associates like Sniveley or Breezie, whom have interests of their own but use Eggman as a means to an end. Also, what about the Doc's robot creations like Tails doll and Metal Sonic, they're devastating and dangerous. Which we see in this issue that Phage is interested in Nicole likely because of her abilities in the fact that she can interact with the real world which is dangerous in the hands of a virus like her would be apocalyptic. So, honestly it's beyond unfair that Phage is discredited because of her ties to Eggman. Now comes the next gripe others have of this issue, Nicole not being Nikki. Some reviewers (a former fan in particular) say that it is a bad thing and wrecks the emotional connection of the comic. However, I don't think it does. What Ellidy did was brain map her daughters brain and translated it into coding for an artificial intelligence that was meant to house his daughters mind however, this technique isn't transferring her mind and everything that made Nikki, Nikki but made a copy of her memories and how her brain functioned rather than her experiences or for a lack of a better term her soul. Which is why in the prior issue she had no designation. Ellidy created Nicole by accident in hopes of saving his daughter, what he got instead was a new being. Nicole whom had different experiences than Nikki. I think people forget what an origin story is in how it makes characters. It's not the traits, or physical characteristics that makes them who they are but their choices and experiences they had. Which is what makes Nicole who she is.Also, this issue really showcased Sally and Ellidy's relationship with Nicole. Ellidy sees her as a machine, with no characteristics that had failed to save his daughter. As for Sally, she sees her as wonderful friend. Which it's this clash of characters in their impressions of one character in particular contributes greatly to this story, Next issue is the battle between Phage, Nicole and Sally. How will they defeat her and will they get the emerald? We will find out next issue. part 4: Now unto the final issue of this story arc. This is where arc all comes to an end. Now there are a lot of people who dislike the ending. Why you may ask? Let's get this over with shall we?We start where part three left off, Sally fighting off Phage to save Nicole. Sally tells Nicole to head back into her handheld so they could shut the system down but Nicole instead helps Sally by summoning a digital pitchfork which pierces Phages core. Which just pisses her off. Nicole then grabs Sally and fly off away from phage.As for Tails and Big, they arrive at the lake of rings, now swarming with badniks. So, what does Big do to get the chaos emerald out of the lake? He fishes the emerald out. They now got the emerald however, their ride gets trashed by dark gaia monsters leaving them surrounded by both dark gaia monsters and badniks. Oh boy. As for Sally and Nicole, they hide from phage thinking of their next plan. Nicole told Sally she didn't go to her handheld because Phage had infected the entire computer system making escape not possible. She also, felt what she did was reckless but she didn't want Sally hurt. Sally reassured Nicole she understands but they make a plan and decide to use some of Ellidy's ring inventions he had on file in the computer and use against phage.Sally distracts Phage and has her chase her out into the entrance to the greater expanse of the digital world, all the while doing the matrix-ey thing of trying to run as fast as sonic by thinking she can. Phage taunts Sally thinking she made a mistake but little did phage know was that as she tailed Sally there was a trail of glowing light, which come from a set of tether rings which Nicole uses to pull sally back into Ellidy's computer system and try to shut Phage out and leave her in the digital world. However, Phage tries hard to get back in getting more frustrated and angry. As that's going on, Ellidy is seeing Sally struggling as she's hooked up to the digitizer and badniks are now in the room ready to take him out. Instead of fighting them off with the ring blade, he makes a big gamble. He shoves a Red Star ring into Nicole's drive. Thus, transforming her into Over clocked Nicole. In this form, she shuts Phage out of the computer system and restores the Badniks back to ellidy's settings of being nice robots and chase dark gaia monsters thus saving Tails, Big and Ellidy, as well as well as securing the chaos emerald. We then, find the heroes packing up and ready to head back to sky patrol with the chaos emerald and the first red star ring. Ellidy and Sally talk in private. He apologizes to her for how he acted toward Nicole and that if his daughter were alive they might have been friends. Though Sally tells him he should apologize to Nicole, but Ellidy says it would take time. Sally went to check up on Nicole and she tells Sally she understood why Ellidy acted in such a way because she came to life while his daughter died. However, before they left Ellidy gives Nicole the second red star ring for her to analyze after what she did for him. Consider it as an olive branch. Then the group fly off with Nicole feeling the wind in her face. Now how about that ending. The best way to put the ending would be in the words of Chuck Shurley from Supernatural; "Endings are impossible. You try to tie up loose ends but you never can. The fans are always going bitch. There's always going to be holes. And since it's the ending it's all supposed to add up to something. I'm telling you they're a raging pain in the ass." So what does this end or more or less this arc adds to? Well we have good story about Nicole's origin as well as a better understanding of her and her relationship to her creator and to those dear to her. Which this arc really shows. She also has the known ability to go super thanks to the red star rings. However, the fans will complain about that due to the fact red star rings are easier to find than emeralds then again they only occur if an emerald plops into a lake of rings fusing rings together with the infinite energy of the chaos emeralds forming a red star ring. Also, this arc shows the best characterization of Sally ever. Though some people will complain on how phage was handled. I do agree some of her character could have been touched upon in more detail. However, I do think she was handled as briefly as this arc was. Now I understand that she was just had a door thrown in her face but, know and consider this. The comic is in a new continuity, one off villains are a luxury though one could argue Black Death was one but he was a package deal alongside Eclipse the Darkling and The Dark Arms. I am sure we will see more of Phage in the future. So, was this story terrible make you want leave the series and have a fit over it? Well it depends but honestly I don't think it is and I hope Aleah Baker works on future stories. (Regardless of the fact that some call her anti-feminist when she is in fact a woman herself). feel free to comment
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