Bundle Of Roses (Through the Monitor)

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Author: Alex Warlorn

Sonic and co copyrighted to Sega. Uses characters from the Through The Monitor Story-verse.

Author's Comments

This chapter contains a tribute to the Sonic OC Dr. Bookshire, of the first, and perhaps the best OC FF ever made.


She looked like Jane. But she couldn't be Jane. Jane was a lot of things, she had never been into the trend of dying your hair odd colors, let alone neon pink. And Jane didn't have one ear pierced for a gold colored earring. And since when had she worn sunglasses? But it had been so long since anyone had seen Jane, or had the slightest clue where she had been, anything was possible.

"Dearie? Jane my girl is that really you?" Sheila dared to ask the lass in the red blouse and skirt with white trim.

The lass' eyes showed hesitation, indecision, still she said, "I'm sorry mom-, I mean, Mrs. Brownson. I'm not your daughter."

Her slip up, the fact the lass knew Sheila's last name, doubled with how she was looking at the spitting image of her child, add a year in age, left Sheila doubtful of that answer.

"Jane, what are you saying? Where have you been all this time?"

With an almost dejected look the girl avoided the older woman's gaze and sighed, "Zefie."

"What? Jane what is this?"

"If you have to call me something call me Zefie, it's as good a name as any. I have a -lot- I need to tell you and your family and you all have a very important decision to make, and we really, really won't have much time to do it. Make sure everyone is at the house this afternoon, I won't get another chance at this. Avoiding talking to anyone with green hair or purple sun glasses like mine. Don't tell anyone you saw me! See you soon."

In the space between thoughts, Jane, or Zefie, was gone. Sheila started. Everyone in the super market started moving again. The clock on the wall began ticking again. Sheila remembered what had happened.

The thirty eight some old woman was grocery shopping, just another day in her life. No special events coming up her family wanted to be reminded of, and no late breaking news that she hadn't heard before. From only a sideways glance she had spotted her. Looking unsure, concerned, and a deep longing on her face right at Sheila. A girl who for all practical purposes Sheila was sure had to be her missing child! It had to have been a mistake! Her daughter hadn't turned into a video game character and gone off to Sonic Land! She had found her! Then everyone in the store just stopped moving, like a still in a movie frame, or a pause in a computer game. All except for Sheila, and her...

Everyone in the super market moved without missing a beat with neither fanfare nor special effects. Amazingly mundane given what had happened to her family and many other families she knew. A year ago her daughter, Jane, had turned into a fictional character, even if Sheila had missed the actual transformation, and gone through a swirling portal before her very eyes. The third person who had been documented in what had since dubbed The Sonic Syndrome.

Many, many people followed. Some deceptively random, some with clear connections to Jane's "He's my boyfriend he just doesn't know it yet" friend Ben Bonner. Even the police who had been investigating had vanished, along with a lad from a troubled family who the police had been ready to pin the vanishings on. the latest most bizarre one had been the tabloid writer who had taken the photo of Kyle, Jane's best male friend, after he had become the character Tails. Strangely his stories were still delivered to the rag he worked at weekly via some untraceable e-mail. 90degree@everywhere.com or something.

And now, a year later, out of the blue, a girl with her daughter's face, had appeared, frozen time, had a sixty second discussion with her, and she needed to met with their entire family, then vanished.

Could Sheila this trust this young woman? She had told her not to mention seeing her to anyone? And not to talk to 'certain' people? What was she hiding? But if she really was planning to do something harmful to Sheila and her family, why had she admitted to -not- being her daughter? When it would have helped Zefie's trust factor by leaps and bounds if she had just played along? But not only that, as absurd as it sounded, Zefie had every one of her daughter's 'tells' and Sheila knew she didn't mean any harm.

And all things considered, she wanted to see her baby again.

True, it wasn't like when her nephew Robert and his fiancee Mary had died in that awful pile up years before, this time she had gotten at least to good-bye to Jane. And Jane HAD said that they'd see each other again. And after an internet search, Sheila had learned that in the franchise, the character Jane had become, Amy, was a fortune teller. Sheila had never believed in fortune telling in her life. But after seeing the outcome of Jane's fantastic transformation, Sheila was reconsidering what was to be considered 'impossible.'

Sheila remembered, just after Terra had said she had met a pink bird who she swore had to be Sandra (Jane's best friend before Jane vanished into pink quills) Terra herself had vanished.

One thing Sheila knew for certain from everything she had read. Anyone who got close enough to glimpse the truth, vanished like Jane had. From the two cops first assigned to the case, to Nicolas trying to solve the crime himself, to a Sega Rep looking into it, and of course that tabloid reporter, and the other families of those who had vanished... they all went the same way.

Sheila had few doubts about what this 'important discussion' was going to be all about. But why not just jump in and zap her and the rest of her family like that had done with Jane? What was different about this one?

Sheila wondered about going to the police, she could tell them a watered down version they'd believe. But there remained the temptation of seeing her daughter again, and it involved speaking with this lass with her daughter's face who appeared to hold all the cards.

She should just go to the police, lay a trap for Zefie, find out what had truly happened to the others, end these meaningless games these unknown people were playing with innocent people's lives. But no matter how hard she fought it, betraying Zefie felt to her gut instincts like handing over her own child!

While Sandra had been Jane's best friend, Cosmos her brother and archery coach, and Ben her idol, none of them could be considered a boy and her friend so to speak. Sheila knew Jane wanted to skip right to the end with Ben, Jane already 'knew' in her mind how Ben was, and that any deviation from that perfect image must be wrong. Sadly, unlike with video games and cartoons, such self delusions don't survive forever. Sheila still remembered, when Jane had gotten it into her head to somehow make Ben jealous, had tried to be a bad girl, and go out with Mike, a friend of Ben's who had made some very selfish choices.

Sheila thanked God that Jane made it out of that stupidity unviolated. Mike played along only until he could get her somewhere he could invade her, then beat her to a pulp and leave her somewhere broken. Apparently he found her child 'annoying.' Chris Blair and Kyle had saved her that day. And Blair finally woke up she was told, to the kind of person Mike had become. After her daughter's narrow brush with the monster, Jane had dusted herself off, and knew better tactics were in order to win her idealized version of Ben.

Jane was so fixated on the mirage in front of her, she never looked to her left or right, to see Chris or Kyle there right besides her. Ironic, given Kyle had introduced Jane to their video game club, and had actually known Jane longer than any of them.

Jane had never been much into video games then, the only reason she had Sheila even drive her to the arcade that day was because she got a set of free game tokens as a birthday present and didn't want to be rude about it.

Jane had chosen a random machine, a ball motion game with a yellow, blue, and red and black characters running through an obstacle course being menaced by a mad scientist. She had also picked up a partner, a a boy who looked much more excited about the game than she did. She again didn't want to be rude and let him play with her. As they played, the boy introduced himself, Kyle, and shot his mouth off about who the blue character was, and who the mad scientist was.

Jane politely took it all in. They got to the end level apparently before they hit zero on the time, and lost automatically regardless of live or continues. The boy was disappointed but knew there was always next time. But Jane, something had sparked within her, and she predictably, begged her mother for quarters to turn into tokens to play the game again. The boy had intended to start playing one of the side scrolling shooters there, but he didn't want to be rude, and played again with her. Jane played like a girl possessed, and together smashed through the final level...

Jane hopped in place and kicked her feet, Kyle just smiled and nodded.

Jane realized her own rudeness and finally introduced herself.

Kyle off handedly mentioned the cartoon that went along with the video game, and just as Sega wanted, her daughter was hooked. Jane had played some of the major games after that, but the comics had become Jane's personal passion. Jane played more of the latter games apparently because they had more story.

Before laying eyes on Ben at the first meeting, Jane had shared many Comic story 'what-ifs' and criticisms with Kyle, but after, when she did talk to Kyle, it was about Ben.

"Jane... why did you have to be so chasing after imaginary treasure you couldn't see the real one right in front of you? Maybe that's why this happened to you, you are your fantasy now maybe." Sheila said to herself, but stopped before opening old wounds.

Sheila remembered Zefie's words, 'Make sure everyone is at the house this afternoon, I won't get another chance at this.'

'I won't'. Not 'we won't' or 'there won't'. 'I won't'. What was this? Sheila knew only one surefire way to find out.


The young woman had blond hair. She was wearing a dark gray jacket over a white shirt. The darker gray pants and black shoes she was wearing added to her grim appearance. If anyone who had known the different would have seen her, they'd swear Terra had escaped the aliens after they had turned her hair a different color. The expression on her face however, was enough to make anyone who saw her keep a fair amount of distance. The fact she had a sword on one hip didn't get her stopped by the police once, in fact, no one thought much about it all, it was like not one of them could even see it, or perhaps, simply couldn't even notice it!

In spite of carrying a weapon in public, she didn't so much as blink as a police car drove along side her and stopped. She stood at attention as the window rolled and bowed her head as low as it could go without kneeling.

A man with green hair and pale skin pulled down on his black sunglasses, and looked at her intently.

"Have you sensed it?" He said in a no non-sense tone.

"Yes my master." The blond replied quickly, "It seems that they are after the same prize as us after all."

"Perhaps. But they have moved past the stage of collecting those who are not bound by fate. This suggests things be to our advantage."

"Master?" The blond looked up ever so slightly.

"I did not feel the same massive reaction I have felt before when we have gone after the same target as they before. With the exception of the brat's shadow, do not attack them unless provoked."

"Yes my master." She said without hesitation bowing again.

The pale man pushed back up on his sun glasses. He turned to the cop in the driver's seat, a glazed look the cop's eyes, in a few hours he'd be just another Guard Robo in Central City. "Go go go! I wanna get my new buddy all his new toys before he comes over! Go!" The man said in a completely different tone and attitude.

The blond woman grimaced as the police car sped off. "This was supposed to be a simple pick up and go. If they really are now involved, I'm going to need some extra help." She looked across the street at a convenient lot with a sign that said it had precisely what she needed.

Walking across the street without any sign of fear of being run over flat, she grab the chain link fence, and shook it as violently as she could. She was pleased with the result as three snarling doberman pinchers came running up to the fence barking looking perfectly ready to bite her hand off. She looked at the sign "Beware of dogs? Heh. Dogs beware."

With one hand she reached into her jacket, and took out a three ringed spiked metal collar that had no business fitting inside one of her pockets. With the other hand her sword sliced open the metal fence in a slash. The non-sentient animals saw their opportunity to finally get in some good maiming and leapt at her.

Twisting on one foot, in the space between perceptions, cheating the laws of reality in too many ways to count, the blond woman calmly placed each collar snugly around each animal's neck without needing to open a non-existent clasp.

She back peddled down the sidewalk as the animals chased after her intensely, going for a good thirty seconds before the three animals began to act confused and skidded to a stop. They barked and growled at one another, suddenly desperate to get away from each other, fearing if they didn't they never would. The blond woman merely smirked and watched.

Twisting back on themselves the animals finally stopped struggling, and stood side by side each other like store dummies. The animals growled, at exactly the same time, echoing each other. Then they howled in perfect unison like a set of stereo speakers.

"Good doggie." She said using the singular.

The three dogs growled at her simultaneously. "This is for the master," She said knowing her own authority meant nothing to this thing, "Now come along."

Looking ready to tear her apart at the drop of a pin, the three animal tagged along their paw falls in perfect sync with each other. It would be good to have this beast as her pet for once.

It would be a good five minutes before anyone there suddenly wondered where the heck that hole in the fence had come from.

As someone else would pick up an item from the store, twisting the threads of fate in her favor, she easily found two other victims.

"Come on come all, keep your eyes on the red card, can you keep your eyes on the red card?" Said the man behind the table shuffling the card faster than the average sucker could hope to see.

"Hey," The blond woman said in the best impersonation of Rouge she could dig up. She held up an Ace of Spades in front of his eyes. "You wanna see a real card trick?"

A short time later, the last item on her shopping list took it's form from a clown who had handing out balloon. Her image shimmered for a moment before she approached the park clown. No one even noticed a nine year old in a blue dress dragging along three massive dogs. "Hey Mister," She said in as good a farce of innocence as she could, "I wanna see a really, really BIG balloon."

Neither poor soul ever saw it coming.


"Why do I keep coming here?" Cosmo wondered. "Now that you're gone sis?"

Cosmo didn't consider himself pessimistic, nor did others who knew him. But after seeing his sister as a pink hedgehog who swore her name was Amy and go through that glowing portal, Cosmo doubted on her return.

"Don’t worry, I’ll see you guys again. I’d better go though, the others need me!"

Jane had told them that just before entering the weird floating mix of rainbow sherbet. He knew he should trust his sister. "You were always a hopeless romantic sis', but you weren't a liar." Had Amy really had a vision? Telling her that she'd reunite with her family?

Jane had said he had to go because the others needed her. Cosmo had learned more about the comics Jane loved, and the video games they were based on. Amy's family was never mentioned in the games or other media except for a cousin of hers who was a spoof of Robin Hood. And as far as he knew, people had changed into characters from the games or other Sonic media. If they did somehow get 'infected' by what had changed Jane, Cosmo doubted it would be as family on the other side. Cosmo had learned of a character who shared his name... a plant girl from the anime who had sacrificed herself to save the universe after having a romantic relationship with Tails. The idea of having a relationship with the mutated Kyle sent a chill of terror down Cosmo's spine.

Cosmo wondered if Jane was still alive. Characters only survived in the comics due to good luck and plot devices. They only survived in the video games because of the magic of multiple lives, which Cosmo doubted applied in a reality based off of those games (or was it the other way around?). A bunch of brightly colored anthropomorphic animals against a mad scientist and his warrior robot race didn't sound like a job with long term survival prospects.

Cosmo looked at the archery field. The one he had been at with Jane the day it had all began. Cosmo had only agreed to be Jane's coach because she was too much of an unknown to be grab one. Archery tournaments were often biennial and thus even though almost a year had past since Jane's vanishing, there was no roar of crowd or archers jockeying to be selected for the next Olympics for their respective nation. It was a slow day, with no one else present. Cosmo was no toxophilite. But he knew enough to be able to give Jane the tips she needed to grow and evolve her skills. "You always shot for the top sis. For better or worse."

Cosmo had the small bronze trophy Jane had won for herself that day with him. After Jane and now Sandra had vanished, it was a matter of collecting their things before their rent ran out on their apartment. If only she hadn't still been pinning for Ben at the time he was sure she could have taken the gold, or at least claimed the silver. Across time and space, a telekentic hedgehog sneezed.

A year later and Cosmo was still living at home with his parents, he had finally settled on his major though. He kept up his hobby of making bows and crossbow though. The one Jane had used had been his master piece, one he had yet to surpass. He needed to take it for a test drive himself.

It was funny. This range, without the crowds, the competition, the people, it was just another place. Like some abandoned kingdom in some fairy tale. Cue the lovely and mysterious figure.

Cosmo looked down for his, (Jane's) duffle bag only to find it not where he had sat it down next to him. 'What the Hades?' He didn't remember anyone walking next to him! It didn't just get up and walk away! Could it?

The sound of an arrow being fired and hitting it's target drew Cosmo's attention to a site on the far end of the field. His (Jane's) duffle bag was next to a Caucasian lass holding a pilfered cross bow. In spite of this thievery, Cosmo had to admit, she was good, she had hit the mark dead center, and she reloaded and fired again, she repeated the feet, splitting the first arrow.

As cosmo got closer to confront the thief, he noticed something odd about her. She looked familiar, not her odd outfit or weird sunglasses, but her figure, her stance, the way she held her crossbow... "Sis?" But this was impossible.

The pink haired version of his sister stopped firing, and replaced the crossbow into the duffle bag without bothering to retrieve her arrows. She calmly hoisted the duffle bag up onto her shoulder turned on her heel and began to walk into the green painted building that shadowed the range.

"Hey! Jane! Wait up!" Cosmo ran, he should have caught up with her just as he entered the building, missing her by mere seconds as she walked inside. But she wasn't in the hallway. Was Cosmo seeing ghosts? He looked around, as if waiting for him to spot her, he saw the girl who looked so much like Jane still with the duffle bag begin to climb the square spiral stairs up to the second floor.

Not hesitating, Cosmo ran right to the landing, again sure that at her calm pace, there was no way she could out run him. And again, he found himself looking around confused at the landing being empty.

Looking up, Cosmo saw her walking up to the landing of the second floor, turning a corner on the staircase, he ran again, but a bit more cautious this time, getting the feeling he was being led. Again he found the landing empty, and the process repeated itself until they were on the third floor, and he saw her walking out to the door of the room, finally stopping in her slow procession to take a glance at him before walking out.

Half expecting the door to lead to another universe and himself in a leafy dress, Cosmo took his chance and followed her still. But he found they were on the flat roof, the same flat roof that had always been here. And he saw the girl who looked like Jane, standing in the middle, no longer walking away from him, duffle bag at her side.

"I'm sorry for leading you on like that, but I wanted us to have some privacy." She picked up the duffle bag, and proving the non-spiritualness of her existence handed it back into his dazed hands.

His brain reeling from all this Cosmo got out, "But there was no one there on the shooting range."

"The walls have ears. Windows have eyes. And just because you don't see something, or -someone- doesn't mean they're not there. Sorry if some of this sounds a little vague, everyone else has had lot more experience making the profound pseudo philosophical speeches."

"Everyone else? Jane?"

The girl sighed, "I'm sorry Cosmo, Jane is Amy. I am Amy, yet I am not Amy, thus I am Jane and yet I am not Jane. Maybe he was right, we should wear name tags."

"Whose he?"

"Not important right now. I wanted to talk with you Cosmo, and to offer you a choice."

Cosmo remembered what some of the tabloids were saying now, details slowly becoming more concrete, some patterns finally showing up. In particular, to the families of the first group of victims of the Sonic Syndrome.

"I AM NOT becoming a plant princess!"

"HUH?! You think? You are." The Jane look alike laughed, "I'm sorry Cosmo, I didn't mean it like that. But, I guess you've made some of the connections? Oh and before you forget, if you need something to call me, call me Zefie."

"I suspected some things. Considering what happened to the parents of the guys who became a raccoon and raccoon-dog. And you said before -I- forget. That means you're gonna do a Men In Black on me when this is over?"

"You make it sound as if we somehow have control over it Cosmo, some of us pretend to, but none of us do. And it a lot larger than a case of selective amnesia that you, mom, and dad need to all decide. And very soon."

"You called my parents your parents? I thought you said you weren't really Jane."

Zefie looked hurt, "That's just it! When you've seen it through so many versions, seen then die or live happily ever after, be robotocized or gain super powers, you end up not -caring- they're not really the people who gave birth to you! They look like them, they smile like them, they speak like them, they hug like them, they whisper everything's okay when you fall down and scrap you knee like them..." Zefie started shaking, gathered herself and said, "Maybe he's been right all these years after all. I do let my emotions get in the way of my thinking too much. Then again, if I was able to dismiss my feelings like a good little trooper, I wouldn't be doing this."

Before he even know what he was doing, Cosmo hugged Zefie, who seemed to tense up, then relax under the embrace. "Look, I don't know what your story is, there are gonna be times where you should just trust your feelings. In particular when it's about those you care about."

"You're so much like him." Zefie whispered too low for Cosmo to hear. She enjoyed the hug for as long as she could before slipping out. "Ya know, there's nothing more sobering then seeing yourself from the outside in. I suppose that's why I was able to give him up before any of the others."

"Are you going to keep foreshadowing things I have no idea about?" Though if this girl was some version of Jane, Cosmo had a good idea what she was talking about.

"Sorry, I was trained and raised to be cryptic, it's part of my psychology. They didn't want us giving away hidden truths at the core of the universe to everyone we interacted with. And yeah, you're right, I was able to give up chasing him before any of the other versions of me got a clue."

Cosmo blinked, "How'd you know I was thinking that?"

Zefie perked up, "I read your mind."

Cosmo suddenly felt very naked, "Uh... do you have to?"

"Don't think so loud then. One of the misconceptions is that it's a like a radio you can turn on or off. It get annoying after a while."

"I'm sure it does." Cosmo conceded. "So, what precisely is the choice you mentioned? Though I think I already know."

"Yes you do. But not precisely. When I overheard what they were planning to do with you, and what they were planning as 'Plan B' for you, I knew I had to offer you a different choice. Things happened differently here, some things wildly different. But... I knew deep down, that what they wanted was wrong."

Some might think that Zefie's reasons where the same as Tikal's. Some might think Zefie was thinking about those who lost their memories of this existence when they passed through the monitor. They'd be wrong. Zefie's reasons, dealt with an unfairness on a totally different level.

"What are you saying?"

"Be at the house with mom and dad this afternoon. I'll give you all the details then. Then you can each make your own choice. About which life you want to live. And which future you'll abandon." Zefie stopped, her eyes went wide. "No! Nonono! But why? What would them want with you? If they don't think that much of you, why would them chase you?!"

"Zefie?" Cosmo wondered if the mystery girl had gone mad when he saw her look frantically about, before she finally raced to the edge of the building and looked down beyond the fence that guarded the rooftop.

Cosmo followed her vision. He saw a woman with three doberman pinchers behind her and... he blinked... and a sword? He shook his head, the more he looked, the more he was sure there was something very wrong with the way the dogs were moving. Not robotic, but something else. As he saw the woman march along the sidewalk, and enter the Archery building's driveway, he got a good look at her face. Blond hair, but he was able to recognize the object of Jane's vexing.


Zefie grabbed both his arms and spun him around so they were face to face, the look on her face screaming desperation and alarm, "Listen to me very carefully! That woman is NOT Terra! She is very very dangerous! Don't go out the front door! Try the back! I don't feel any more of them close by! Avoid anyone with sunglasses like mine and I know this'll sound crazy but -don't- trust the police if they act even slightly strange! There's a man with green hair and dark blue sunglasses, avoid them at all costs! I'll see you back at the house! I'll distract her!"

Cosmo looked away from Zefie and down at blond Terra. She looked up. And Cosmo felt an Arctic wind wash over him. that woman was indeed in no shape or incarnation the Terra he had met on occasion. He wasn't sure if she was something that should have existed!

Zefie pushed the duffle back into his arms and pushed him further towards the stairs, "Please! Just go! Go! If you trust your sister even in the slightest than trust me!"

Cosmo hesitated, looked at Zefie, and saw Jane, saw Amy, and for a moment, just a moment in a second of clarity, realized he was looking for a separation where they were was none.

"Please. I don't want to see her get her claws in you." Zefie begged.

Cosmo finally nodded, and made a mad dash down the stairs, somehow not breaking his neck, never thinking of ditching the duffle bag with it's contents inside.

Zefie slowly turned on the roof top, and in the space between perceptions relocated her spacial coordinates to where, taking into account the spin and orbit of the Earth, the rotation and drifting of the galaxies, where the parking lot was in the next space between perceptions. Zefie looked at the invader with a grim almost dark look on her face.

The blond Terra looked her blandly, not even having drawn her weapon. "Lookie here, a little girl pretending to be all grown up. How sweet. Now run along little creature, the grown ups have important things to do."

Zefie raised her hand in the air, and her weapon materialized and landed neatly in her waiting palm. The sudden weight of it shaking the asphalt.

"The widdle girl is gonna play solider now? Sorry, as sweet as peeling back the layers of your tiny mind would be, you're not important enough to be a bother to me right now." She said the next part ever slightly more sternly. "Now run along."

The pink hair lass assumed a combat stance, holding the weighted weapon ready to swim.

The blond Terra moaned, "Do you even have the slightest idea of who I really am child?"

Like a thunderclap Zefie snarled, "I know precisely who and WHAT you really are. And I'm telling you right now there is no way I'm letting you or your puppet-master lay a finger on my family!"

This was unbelievable. "They're not your family you TWIT!" The blond Terra slapped her forehead, "They're STRANGERS to you! You don't even know them! Can you even think logically? Or are you missing the left side of your brain assuming you have any?"

'I can't think of a million things I want to say to you. But I know you'd just twist them about and spit them back in my face. But if I can just keep you distracted.' "They may not be from my zone. But they're still my parents. I don't expect you to understand. But they raised Amy and then Jane the way mine did, to aim for the stars and not give up."

The blond Terra looked at her. How could something this stupid work the reality altering equipment she was wearing? Must have been super user friendly.

"Just because a version of you might make a good toy for a new arrival, doesn't mean you somehow have higher significance to the cosmos. You're just a puffed up, oversized version of your dozens of zone clones and I don't have time to waste on a toy right now, sic'em boy."

The three dogs made a vicious growl at the blond woman, before leaping at Zefie baring all three sets of fangs to rip the flesh from her bones growing larger as it charged.

The mad dogs whimpered as the central one got struck like a fly against a fly swatter against Zefie's giant weapon, the center one being knocked back while the two flanking it suffered a head banger from the momentum. The beasts crashed into a tree trunk, shattering bark, twisting wood and pulling up roots from the impact. By all logic the three animals should have been dead.

The blond version of Terra leapt towards her even as the beast went flying past the woman. They dull gray blade moving in a beautifully perfect arch that went snicker snack and sent the girl's head going flying off. Or should have if Zefie hadn't bent over backwards before even seeing the weapon and lifted her melee weapon upward again using the same motion to knock the blond skidding across the paved ground at a right angle to her trajectory.

The blond slammed her sword into the parking lot skidding to a stop, the weapon look not the least worse for wear. The blond stood up easily, vexed, though her left arm was now dangling in wrong directions. The impact -should- have shattered half the bones in her body.

"If not for cheating with that cheap ESP you'd be dead now brat. Get past that, and you're just a child with toys too big for her to play with."

'Keep her focused on me, not Cosmo.' "The Tarot might a gift most versions of me share, and beyond that the ability to see -without- a medium, but our sixth sense is related ultimately to dousing, I didn't foresee you coming, I felt it even while I had my eyes on your attack dog."

Speaking of which, bones had just finished resetting and spines had completed realigning, their shadow loomed larger than before, twisting into something that was not the shape of the ones casting it.

'Whatever senses she has in this reality, they can't be as good as mine, she's an alien to this plane of existence! No matter what body she's wearing. Okay, just give Cosmo enough time to get away, then get dad. Wait a minute! What if instead of me distract them! What if they're distracting me?!' Zefie wasn't a tactician, and she knew it, she was a seer, and a front line fighter.

'Heh. You were an idiot to do this on your own. Then again, no one would be dumb enough to help you on a quest this selfish and empty headed.'

'SHUT UP ZHADOW!' Zefie mentally snarled at the approximation in her mind.

That was beasts came down on the distracted girl, the three dogs landing on her, their weight being a lot more than it should have been, it felt like she was being crushed by three iron balls! Zefie was pushed hard into the ground.

"Like any true idiot you couldn't keep your mind on the fight. You're not anything special, get it yet? So stop with the mind numbing speeches about how inexperience and inbecilic obligations are going to beat skill and power already!"

'Cosmo needs just a little bit more time, then she'll have to search the entire city to find him!' Zefie thought.

Her deceptively powerful biceps bulging, Zefie pushed herself up, and RAMMED her weapon's hammer head into the central animals' gut, sending them skyward like a rocket before coming crashing down again. The impact shook the entire lot and caused some people walking along the sidewalk to trip at what was obviously a small Earthquake. Rolling was something Zeifie had become a natural at, and easily dodged the animal's reentry, tiny piece of black rock stinging at her. She rolled back a moment later to avoid downward jab that impale the ground she had been crouching on an eye-blink before.

"Well you either get f--king out of my way or just stay still and DIE already you worthless self insert!" She snarled.

"I am NO self insert!" Zefie snapped both of her boots connecting with the blond's face using her hammer's staff as a balance grip.

Blondie hissed as she pushed her nose back into place, then with a disgusting noise of bones against flesh she violently waved her left arm snapping destroyed joins back into place.

"You've wasted too of my time already! Truth be told I wouldn't have minded watching them tear you into fleshy chunks, but if I have to hear one more word out of that hollow dung filled head of yours my ears are going to start bleeding."

"I'll sing you a full sonnet then!" Zefie threw the giant weapon right at Blonde, who easily cleaved it in two, the debris providing the perfect cover for the -second- hammer.

"The @#%$-?!" Blonde just had time to get out before she was struck dead center by the attack, creating another "obviously small Earth Quake" as she struck the pavement. She had already calculated the perfect maneuver to turn this pest into a smear just as a THIRD Hammer landed on top of her with the force of one of Knuckles' punches, smashing her through the pavement into the dirt underneath, creating a stunning shock wave and cloud of dust.

Feeling dizzy, Zefie let go of the giant weapon, falling back on her rear, it was always weird not feeling that slight sting of your tail as you fell backwards. Propping herself up with her arms she smirked at the hammer and impact crater, "Take every fight seriously, that's what Knuckle Head always says."

Zefie looked at the Dobermans, seeing bones slowly moving back into place and organs already beings forcefully restarted. Shakingly she stood up on her own two feet. "That's my limit Cosmo. I gotta go now, there's still dad, and after that kind of disturbance, they're going to know precisely where I am. Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll run into each other before me. Everyone always says I have the 'hedgehog dumb luck.' "

Zefie with a drunken stupor at first walked away from the battlefield, quickening her pace as soon as she could before the enemy could regenerate again. She tossed the bracelet she was wearing that allowed for teleportation, knowing they'd be using it any minute now to forcefully recall her back to Ninety Degrees from Everywhere. Indeed a few moments later by the force of a Recall, it vanished. "They are gonna be soooo mad." Zefie smirked.


Cleam's large ears twitched as she pressed herself against the alloy wall so hard her tail stung. The discussion inside roaring with the rage of an inferno.

"I knew she couldn't be trusted!" Ranted a harsh, dark male voice, "She's always been and always will be a selfish arrogant, delusional, obsessive, overly violent, psychotic little stalker! No matter what the reality! She should have been Zonic's secretary and nothing more! That's the job she'd be the least likely to screw up!"

"Now everyone calm down!" Said a stern but sensible female voice.

"Calm down? Now on top of worrying about THEM, we have to worry about one of our own going rogue and screwing up the plan worse than ... than... than... THERE IS NO COMPARISON!"

"The faster we react the less damage that's caused! Now I'll inform the others and take the proper precautions, take whoever you feel is best suited with you and bring her home!"

"I can handle that whinny clingy romantic on my own! I taught her everything she knows! It's the only thing in that empty skull!"

"That's an order! Don't forget THEM are also there, and with two of you your attention won't divided two ways."

"I've been a Zone Cop fifty years longer than you or most others! I shouldn't have to take orders from you!"

"You're better as a field agent and you know it! And you KNOW what's happened to nearly all the versions of you who have gained authority. Now stop bellyaching and go!"

"Yes mam..." The dark voice hissed lowly.

'Oh no! Ama!' Cleam had seen all the warning signs, but she was just a raw recruit, a newbie, she was barely allowed to behold any of her alternate selves, the grown ups didn't have time to listen to a child. Even her own mother had been too busy with the Returners to listen to her. Not sure what she was going to do she ran down the corridor for about three feet before bumping into soft, massive, and big.

She looked up and gasped in surprise at the large purple cat in the one size too small zone cop armor, his white belly sticking out. "Cute Rabbit? Is everything okay? You don't look so good."

Cleam bowed several times in rapid succession before pleading, "Mr. B!g I have a really really important favor to ask you!"


"Hi, I'm Zoe! Could you please tell me where the Sports Equip Unlimited warehouse is?" She didn't dare risk accessing her GPS, and her landing had been tap in and go.

"Huh?" The redhead with a black collar looked down at her, "Sure kiddo, just down a block that way and make a left, can't miss it." The young woman raised an eyebrow, "But aren't ya a little young to be going around here by yourself?"

"It's okay, don't worry." Zoe didn't have to fear about being mistaken for one of the Returned. While Charlotte Ford and herself were effectively twins, Charlotte had been ahead of her by several years. Unless the police's missing posters were accidently of Charlotte in early grade school, Zoe didn't feel worried about the police picking her up. As for less savory types, Zoe could defend herself easily. "My best friend's daddy's works there."

The redhead leaned over slightly. "Giving you a ride home?"

Zoe rubbed one of her shoes into the sidewalk. "Sort' of."

The redhead looked the girl up and down. Pig tails, red and green dress with gold highlights (seemed early for Christmas), plus a pair of weird one piece purple sunglasses around her neck: yet all of it was clean, so the lass didn't seem homeless. "Well... okay kid... but seriously... if you need help, I promise I'm not one of those sicko types."

"It's really alright I promise." Zoe bowed several times japanese style, (but she looked European) her pig tails flopping as she did so, "Thank you Miss... thank you very very much."

Zoe should have sprinted on her way after that, with Them likely about, and They if not already here would be here soon. But something caught her attention about the younger woman, something about her was very familiar. Finally Zoe asked, "Miss? What's your name?"

"Felicia, Felicia Fennec." The red head said doing her best to be polite to the small child.

"That's a type of fox right?"

"You're a smart kid."

"Thank you Miss Felicia." Zoe smiled warmly at her, "I just wanted to tell you, always be sure to live your life, and remember the past can't control you if you don't let it... oh um... that is... well I mean- " Zoe sighed, "Be happy."

Felicia blinked, "Okay... thank you."

Zoe bowed again, "You're a good person!" And ran quickly the way Felicia had pointed, 'live this life in peace Fiona Fox. You're free. You're lucky. You don't need to fight anymore.'

Felicia never knew it, but her giving directions to a grade schooler, had delayed her just enough, that she had missed being picked up by a pale skinned cop with big blue sunglasses who would have wanted her to come with him for 'questioning.'

In spite of moving if moving at the speed the Hare would have gone if he -hadn't- taken his break during his race with the Turtle, Zoe still managed to hop, skip and jump looking like any little girl out on fall vacation.

The warehouse district however was not a place meant for little girls to be on their own, but ironically for once human apathy worked in good's favor, as Zoe didn't need to Return anyone in self defense as she passed through the near identical square buildings to the one where she knew the Returner was. It was no different from any of the other buildings, distinguishable only by the company logo above the personal and loading doors. Large lifters loaded sporting equipment and marksmanship products onto even larger trucks that pulled out into the street to the stores cross country. Zoe was very glade she had decided to risk leaving Zeez at home, the hyperactive blue and yellow kitten would have gotten run over in a second.

Lucky Zoe was not conspicuous, and with some good effort on her part, she was able to avoid being noticed by anyone who would care. She resisted the urge to play with one of the teether balls and sneaked her way to the warehouse's office.

Lance Brownson looked over the orders... half of them demanding products that they wanted yesterday and the other half wanting products that wouldn't be in till next week today! How did he get stuck with this job? Oh right, because the warehouse's previous manager had been promoted when said manager had told said manager's father that said manager was too good to be a warehouse grunt. Needing to fill in the power gap, the higher ups saw Lance's attendance record was the best of any of the staff there, and was one of the few there who had english as their first language.

At leas the work helped him keep his mind off Jane, or Amy, or whoever she was now. Normally by now he'd have simply moved on. But Jane wasn't dead, not to his knowledge, and she had told them that they'd see her again. If only his daughter had provided them with some kind of date! If there was one thing that helped Lance keep his sanity, it was a good schedule. Sadly, everyone in the world had their own schedule, and they rarely, if ever, overlapped.

And everyone figured everyone else's schedule was flexible. Unlike the rest of his family, he hadn't found the time to brush up on the apparently not so fictional world that his child was now a part of. The one thing he had learned was the character Amy had no family beyond a cousin mentioned in one of the comic books. For a short while Lance had entertained the demented thought that if they petitioned Sega for profiles of Amy's family to be released, they would automatically go to Sonic Land. But from he had read in the tabloids... it didn't seem to work like that.

How could people be mutating into humanoid animals left and right and going through rifts in the space time continuum and nobody taking it seriously?! Then again, Lance wouldn't have taken it seriously if Jane hadn't been one of those people herself.

A rapping at his door brought his attention out of his reflecting. 'Please please PLEASE don't be another work hand with a sick grandma who has to be gone for the rest of the day.'

Moving around his desk, a museum display of sedimentary rock in paper form, he opened the door, saw no one, and heard hear a polite, "Excuse me," and looked down.

Something about the child looked vaguely familiar, but he had never seen anything remotely like her style of dress, and he had never seen sunglasses like those before. Before he could ask if she was lost, she asked, "Are you Lance Brownson? Father of Amy Rose, er, excuse me," She bowed several times, "Jane Brownson?"

Was this girl some fan of the video game? He didn't have time for this, "Look, little girl, can you please just tell me where your parents are and-"

"This is deadly serious, and about your daughter Mr. Brownson." Said the child in a mature tone that was almost frightening on a gradeschooler. It was no tone of a child playing grown up, it was of someone who had seen things that no child that age should ever have to see. "I'm here to ask you, if you want to be with her."

Lance took a step back as the child stepped into his office closing the door behind her not taking her eyes off him.

"Are you, are you one of the aliens?"

The mature mask was broken and the child blinked at him, "Alien? No I was born in the same country as... oh Oh! You mean -that- kind of alien!" The girl looked up and put a finger to her chin, it finally hit Lance she was wearing white gloves. "Well, I guess in the super vague term I'm that kind of alien."

In spite of this being one of those adductors, Lance found he couldn't be as confrontation with this little girl as he had planned on being if the aliens ever visited him. "I need to know, why did you chose my daughter? If she -had- to go to save lives like she said, why couldn't we go with her?" Lance honestly wondered in hindsight if he really COULD have given up his life here on Earth even for a short time while his daughter went to war, but the question had been asked.

The little girl shook her head looking down, "We, They didn't chose Amy, I mean Jane Sir Mr. Brownson. She was... she was... please... let Zefie explain things... she's so much better than me at this sort of thing.. I've never been out solo like this before! I'm going to be in so much trouble! I'm sorryI'msorry!"

Lance stared, the alien lass looked ready to panic. "Now now! Don't be like that! Look! I don't know what your story is! But yes! Yes I do want to see my daughter! But I have speak with my family first! Do you mutate me now or in transit?"

The alien calmed down slightly, silent for a few moment before looking him in the eyes again, "No-no. Not yet, not right now. You, your wife, your son, all of you if you want to go. But... things are really really complicated, Zefie wants to explain all of it to you at once I think... well... I think she does... Them haven't taken them yet, and she hadn't Returned any of them yet so I think that's what she wants."

Lance shook his head in confusion, "What are you talking about? They? Them?"

"Please." The girl bowed, "Just please go to your house this afternoon, the rest of your family should be there, I think that's where Zefie wants to meet all of you I think. I'm not sure. Look out for people with these sunglasses," She held up the ones around her neck. "Or a pale police office or police with a funny look in their eyes."

"What? Your type of sunglasses?" Where these aliens at odds with each other? "And what about the police?"

The little girl managed to put back on that mature mask, "Do you really think, that we'd bring a hero like your daughter to the world... and yet bring monsters to it too?"

".... You're the alien... you tell me."

"My name is Zoe." The girl corrected submissively, "Please call me that." She bowed again. That was when Zoe felt the shiver. She felt it. She didn't need her equipment to feel it. Them were coming. They were closing in on their prize. But she just told him that he needed to go right now he'd think she was dodging his question! "There are BAD people Sir Mr. Brownson! And there are VERY BAD people! Some want you to stay where you are, some want you to be made into some awful! Some want you to be made into something that isn't actually you...I just want Miss Amy, Jane, to be with her family again, like Miss Zeifie wants."

Lance was silent for a few moment. Zoe felt them coming closer. Her skin prickled. "How do I know you're not with or one of the 'bad people' or 'very bad people?'"

"I-I don't know how I can convince you! How can I convince you?" It didn't sound like a rhetorical question. She bowed her head, and kept it there. "Please... just believe I'm telling the truth. Or at least... hear out Miss Zefie."

Lance looked at Zoe, he didn't see an alien. He saw a scared and desperate child who was sure she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Lance wrote a quick note on his office chair that he was going to go see his daughter and wouldn't be back for the day. He doubted the aliens that were opposed to Zoe's faction would be fooled by any lie he invented.

The girl looked up at him. Her face was dry, but Zoe's expression was of someone who had just burned through their tears. "Please, if we don't get out of here soon your men are might be caught in the cross fire."

Lance didn't like the sound of that. "All right then." He looked at her. "Let's go then."

The girl looked relieved and nodded, "Okay! Good! And what I said about people with my sunglasses? There's at least one more whose on your side.... that's Miss Zefie. You'll know her when you see her."


"She... looks almost exactly like you daughter, but has pink hair."

Lance narrowed his eyes, but said nothing.

Lance didn't bother to wonder why none of his co-workers asked where he was going in the middle of the day, or why they didn't ask why he was letting himself be led by a little girl. He chalked it up to the alien magic.

Several yards outside the loading zone of the warehouse, Zoe stopped dead in her tracks. Her gasp audible across the block, and Lance nearly trampled her. Lance looked in front of them, and saw that the frightened posture Zoe's body was in.

"Is that... one of the bad ones, or the really bad ones?"

"Really... bad." Zoe whispered.

Lance looked at the one blocking their path, it was a clown.

A rather plump clown, but a clown none the less. The clown also had on a little too much make up, and that big round nose couldn't be good for his foreword vision. Lance couldn't decide of that was a bad crown or a really good fool's cap.

The clown's voice sounded like he had breathed helium all his life. "Wanna be, wanna have a balloon?" That smile would have only been disarming to a blind man.

Zoe's eyes were large and she hesitantly breathed through her mouth. She put back on the mask of maturity she had shown Lance before and looked at him with one eye, the other not leaving the clown, "Do you have your car here? Good. Run to it, not walk, run. Drive as fast as you can without causing an accident, get to your home, don't get stopped by the police, if you are, leave your car and run on foot. I hate to say this, but, no matter what happens today, I think speeding and resisting arrest are going to be the least of your worries."

"Bridges burned down?" Lance asked, the clown began to waddle towards them, Lance's grandpa on his last day looked like he could outrun this clown. But Lance wasn't sure if he could trust his senses.

"I think so." The mature Zoe replied.

Lance still didn't know if he was being 'helped' by the right side, or if this wasn't going to turn out to be some cheap day time TV prank. But the expressions on Zoe's sweet face, and the look of pure insanity in the clown's eyes... this seemed far too elaborate to be some Candid Camera. "What about you?"

Zoe smiled, "Don't worry, I'll be okay."

And the first time in his short encounter with this alien child, Lance knew, "You shouldn't lie to your elders young lady." That what she just said had been a bald faced lie.

"I don't matter-"

"That's a lie too!" Lance snapped.

The mask dropped again, "... Zefie is my friend, so in a way, so is your daughter... so I'm doing what a friend does... help. Please. You're the one he's after! "

Lance was still hesitant, but he felt more uneasy around this bizarre clown with each inch it took towards him. "PLEASE!" Zoe begged through gritted teeth.

Taking one last look at the strange child he had only just met, Lance ran in the opposite direction of the incoming storm, planning it circle around to his car in the parking lot. Zoe felt more at ease, she didn't feel any more of Them except the one in front of her close by, and she'd know if They were remotely close.

This was going to be dangerous Zoe thought, her fighting style was built around Zeez being there to help her, solo fighting had never been her style, she hated fighting, like almost all the versions of herself. But unlike many versions of herself, she knew that there were people who simply had no interest in talking things over.

"Oopsie, there goes my new balloon," Said the clown sound like a demon possessed carnival performer.

Zoe knew what was coming, but stood her ground between them, "I'm a child, you're a clown, let's play!"

"Whoa'K!" The clown toothlessly smiled. "Hidee! Hidee! Hidee!" The clown stuck out his arms, and twirled around once, and in the blink of an eye gravity had been demoted to just high enough to keep the local atmosphere from drifting off into space.

Zoe and her skirt lifted off the ground as some of the loose piece of driveway's concrete did the same, she yelped as she reactively pushed it down. She glared at the creature, she could see, just almost see, the thing's real shape underneath the stolen human body it was wearing. Any other version of Zoe would have scolded the clown for having something that didn't belong to it, any other version of Zoe wouldn't have dodged the big red balloon in time, any other version of Zoe would have been turned into one of the clown's mindless balloon animals and sent to track down and attack her own friends. "Wha ha! Ha ha ah!"

"You're not a funny clown!" Zoe snapped and dove under the now floating clown and gave him a nasty soccer kick from below rocketing him skyward. "Whaaaa~!" The clown laughed madly.

Zoe's ears might have been tiny and useless in this version of reality, but she still had all her experience in acrobatics in the air and flew upwards after her opponent, twisted this way and that gracefully avoiding the deceptively looking balloon the clown left in his wake.

Face to face with the monster Zoe pirouetted twice before kicking it hard sideways, her boot sounding more like it had made contact with rubber than flesh, and the clown continued to giggle in it's helium voice, "Wha ha ah ha!"

Zoe didn't have Zefie's sixth sense, she could only guess and hope that Sir Mr. Brownson would make it to his car and escape with the time she bought him. She had to drag this out as long as she safely could though! Before someone who wasn't a part of this got hurt!

Diving downward on top of the clown's head Zoe's feet jack hammered on the clown's head, before a last intense blow sent it spinning wildly in a random direction again. "Jump! Jump! Jumpjumpjump!" The clown just laughed.

Zoe sped after the mock clown, flying ahead of him by several yard, both of them now flying over the warehouse's roofs and drifting towards the freeway beyond. She intercepted him and delivered yet another attack sending him back the way he came. "Whee wee ha ah!"

"What the hades?! Gary Gary! Forget the traffic turn the camera THIS way!"

Zoe's gasped, 'Oh no!' But she heard the chopper blades. A traffic eye in the sky. The clown saw it too.

"Wha ha ha!" The clown laughed before blowing up a green balloon with a yellow and red star, sending it drifting lazily in the direction the chopper.

"No Hank! I swear to GOD! You KNOW this is a live feed! Ask Larry on the ground if he sees it too! He does? There you see!!"

Zoe saw the clown grin, not smile, grin, the most frightening thing it had done so far, as it blew up another green star balloon and sent it on it's merry way to a random car below, didn't matter if it wasn't Lance in there, she had to do something.

But what could she do! Without Zeez her distance attacks were pathetic, and she didn't have anything she could impact the balloons with. Oy! Of course she did! She zoomed at the clown who just cackled at her blowing up a black balloon that lazily followed after her as slow as molasses.

A downward kick sent the back of her heel into the clown's face, this time sending it straight into the black balloon that exploded into tar, and right into the green balloon drifting towards the cars that let off an deafening explosion leaving harmless green smoke and sparkles behind. "WHAAA!" The clown said the first thing coming out of it's squeaky throat that didn't sound like a laugh!

Not wasting a second Zoe move below it again and gave it an upward kick to it's stomach, sending it straight into other green balloon that also exploded and resulted in another shriek from the mock clown.

The news helicopter shook but somehow stayed steady, "Hawk! I'm really really starting to think that flying fox WASN'T a stunt by Sega!"

Gary yelped, "Bruce I really think we otta get outta here now!"

"No way! If we don't get every second of this they're all either gonna call us crazy or liars!"

"And that's worse than being dead how?!"

"We're staying!!!"

The clown's eyes twitched as it gazed at Zoe who glared at it defiantly.

"Whee-he-he! Ha ha ha!" The mock clown dropped like a bomb down at her. Zoe deftly caught it, feeling more like the canvas from a circus tent than skin and up over and under threw him away from the chopper and the freeway spinning!

The clown somehow stopped itself right side up and blew up a blue balloon that drifted mindless towards Zoe. Zoe started as she saw the balloon multiply onto two, then four, and so on, quickly becoming mass of blue balloons, all of them sticking to each other.

"Whea-ha-ah!" Zoe sped sideways thinking that the clown had gotten below her, but she saw out of the corner of her eye the clown floating around the mass of growing balloon keeping it between them. But what had made the insane helium laugh then? Oh no! The red balloon!

A quick glance down confirmed her worst fears, Zoe had naively thought that once she dodged them the balloons would burn out before they could do any damage. She had been wrong. Below she saw men and women, staff from Sir Mr. Brownson's warehouse, running from them. Worst than that. She saw giggling, humanoid shape balloons with animal features floating after them, with heads of kitties, doggies and other mundane animals in brightly colored rubber. Their motions creating the noise of rubber against rubber, their giggles just like the clowns, and their fixed grinning expressions molded onto their faces. The balloon animals were naked but politically correct.

As Zoe watched in dismay she was one woman be enveloped by the red balloon, unable to escape thanks to the male purple balloon kittie holding her arms behind her back. She vanished into the balloon, then the balloon shrank. The woman's cloths were absorbed by the enchanted rubber along with the other nonliving material on her like her hair and finger nails. The balloon became transparent as it took shape, showing nothing inside. The balloon took on the shape of a female figure, turning blue, before a thin long tail popped out of it's rear and a mouse's grinning head took shape on her shoulders. The balloon mouse and balloon kitty grinned at each other and then at their fleeing co-workers who they quickly gave chase.

From the panic and confused noise Zoe heard, she knew the news crew had seen it too. Someone must have dialed 911, because she saw a police car near the entire mess, with two cops who wondered what in all nine hells was going on. Not to mention what the hades the rest of their unit was doing right now and wouldn't respond to their dispatches. They were looking ready to draw their weapons (which meant they intended to use them), and Zoe didn't know what was worse, the idea the weapons wouldn't work and there'd be two brown police balloon doggies soon, or they would work, and successfully 'pop' all of the clown's brainwashed puppets.

The clown just giggled and his pale copies echoed him. Zoe narrowed her eyes. She had just run out of time to draw this out. Sighing and finding her center of calm, Zoe twirled like a little tornado and quickly stopped, her twister spun foreword hitting the mass of blue balloon with her wind attack and pushing them all directly onto the startled mock clown who made a shriek of surprise as it's own balloons covered it, sticking to him like glue.

Zoe knew she didn't have time to cover her tracks, and every time she made use of her privileges, it was a giant oversized becon to Them to where precisely she was, what she was doing, and what she intended to do. Zoe could feel her window of opportunity begin to shrink down to the size of a peep hole then nothing. She just hoped she had bought Sir Mr. Brownson enough time.

The warped gravity that was making the clown and Zoe air born effected the cops and workhands below, making them attempts to flee or attack their mutated co-workers all that much harder. She couldn't wait any longer.

'This thing isn't him. It never was him. It's not his Return. It's just super imposed, or maybe stuffed inside him.' Several shapes of colored light, or perhaps floating stain glass, formed around Zoe's wrist, looking like a viscerator almost.

"Ha?" The clown blinked ignorantly, it's rubber nose twitched.

"If you would please kindly sir go back to Hell!" Ready, aim, fire. Almost as simple as her shooting range instructors had told her it would be.

"WHAAAAAH!!" The mock clown screeched one last time as tethered blades of colored light shocked from the stain glass viscerator and impaled themselves through the balloons and right through the clown not leaving a mark in their passing.

Zoe watched with her mature mask as the clown's real form as an after image was skewered by the blades being pulled clean from its human host and kept on going until it hit what looked to be a invisible water surface and vanished in a ripple. The blades lost contact and retracted back into the stain glass viscerator at lightning speed. The weapon vanished from Zoe's wrist.

The clown's body deflated from the ball-like shape into something much more human and his face paint became make-up on skin. The blue balloons dissolved into thin air freeing him. Down below, the balloon animals became opaque, then began to take on flesh tones. None of those animal shapes had been their Returns, thus they didn't last after the clown's reality altering aura was gone.

Fixed grins became capable of expression again, rubber became flesh and bone and air internal organs. Mixed animal features gave way to primate ones. Those who had worked at the warehouse for years found themselves back in their uniforms, those who hadn't screamed in confusion as they found themselves naked and no longer politically correct covering themselves, but giving the taste of pure unflavored insanity they had just experienced, it was still a relief.

The police stood confused as to what had just occurred, but did their best to try and give the work hands at least some sense of order.

"THAT WAS INCREDIBLY! Ladies and gentlemen I swear under oath that this is for real ladies and gentlemen! Huh? Oh no!"

It took Zoe only a second to realize what the copter reporter was walking about as the clown, now fully human again, began to dive downwards as gravity returned to normal, so did Zoe.

The clown screamed as he plummeted to his death, Zoe dove down like a missile her arms at her sides to catch up with him in the seconds they had before their splattered on the ground and took hold of his really big shoes.

A shock wave of air at the last possible second came into being cushioning both their falls as they hit the ground with only a light thump. The clown rolled over and looked at the child in front of him who was holding her knees shaking. All around them people applauded and cheered.

"You.. you saved me didn't you?" The clown asked, "I.. I could hear everything that.. that THING was thinking... thank you.."


"I'm getting all of it! I'm getting all of it!"

The child with the strange one piece purple sunglasses around her neck smiled weakly at the clown nodding her head, "You're welcome Sir Mr. Clown."

Zoe, her hands shaking, took out a small cell phone with carrot stickers on it, and flipped it open and hit speed dial. It rang for several seconds before it finally picked up.

"How did you-"

"It's okay Zefie, your dad's safe, he's coming to meet you like the rest, at your house right?"

"Zoe?! What are you doing here?! How did you even know what-"

"Doesn't matter anymore. Just want you to know Zefie that you're my friend and always will be, good-bye." Zoe pushed a tiny red button at the base of the phone, which quickly blew smoke and sparks as it's insides were turned to slag, no one could track Zefie with it now. Zoe let it drop to the ground.

Zoe felt the shadow of death fall over her even before she heard the gasps of the crowd. She looked up and smiled opened mouthed. Whatever she had to say, she never had a chance to say it.


Zoe didn't have a chance to scream as the chaos bolts impaled her from multiple directions, her face became a empty staring slat as the force of the attack actually lifted her a few feet off the ground before she fell back to earth with a thud.

Her attacker looked around at all the faces, memorizing them, "I'll deal with you later." He said curtly, then back at Zoe, "When this is over, I'll make sure you and your partner in stupidity regret the day you were born! Chaos Control!" Then he was gone.

'Why do humans have suck tiny ears?' Zoe thought, 'I can barely hear what all these people are saying and they aren't really good for anything...' Her staring eyes, saw the face of a nice clown looking down at her.

"Little girl?! Little girl can you hear me?!"

Zoe heard a clicking noise, then three nice sounding beep's, then a woman's voice, "Nine One One Emergency."


A short while earlier, two individuals appeared between the blinks of an eye. One of them, except for his purple hair with a yellow forelock, looked like Hayato Hattori from Fluid Vibrations. The other looked like either a cynical version of Ben Bonner, or did he resemble more Chris Blair? It was hard to tell, either way, his separating trait was his black hair with red highlights.

They were wearing identical green and red jackets and pants with brass trim, their eyes hidden by the one piece purple shades.

"So what are our precise objectives sir Zahir?" The Hayato look alike asked professionally.

"We neutralize the renegade Zokova." Zahir said coldly, "Then we terminate the Them who are after the same targets as us, then we acquire the targets."

Zokova cocked an eyebrow, "I thought those targets were declared too insignificant to even bother with?"

The wind whipped across Zahir's locks, "It's the principle of the thing. The moron bimbo whined until I'm surprised she didn't need a pacifier about letting her self-insert have her meaningless relatives! We'll give them to that alt-brat. In a way that'll teach that idiot to always be careful what you moan for!"

"I understand." Zokova closed his eyes and bowed, his expression unreadable.

The central city roof top they were on gave them no worries about being seen, so Zahir calmly activated a series of holographic panels they showed the activity and location of things that did not belong in this reality. His eyes narrowed darkly.

"What is it?" Zokova asked.

"Idiots! Idiots! idiots! ALL OF THEM IDIOTS! Selfish little brats who have no sense of duty or responsibility! I blame myself! I should have known that brat would have pulled in her playmates into her stupidity!" He stabbed a finger at one holo-screen. "I'll deal with that one! You take care of the other!"

Zokova reached behind and under his jacket, and pulled out a sheirken that looked like it would be wielded by a Zentradi. He gripped the handle at it's inside tightly, "Understood."

"Chaos control!" In a flash Zahir was gone, and Zokova a moment later vanished in a puff of leafs.


"It appears that we have lost one." DeVoid hand opened to show showed a palm sized version of the mock clown's true form, it closed swiftly with a sound like a balloon popping. Of course, that really destroyed the mock clown soul and all, that was just an image right? Right?

"They killed the human host?" The blond Terra asked leaning on the front of the police car Mr. Devoid was sitting in.

Mr. DeVoid didn't look at her. "No. They were able to extract him and throw him back into our own realm."

Blonde's pretty eyebrows raised up slightly, "I was unaware they were able to do such a thing," Her head flopped down, "forgive my ignorance my Master."

"Forgiven." The Master had no intention of saying neither did he. "We have lost nothing though. We know the fishes are already headed straight into our net."

Blonde looked at the current vacant home of the Brownson household. "Are you certain my Master?"

"Do you question me?"

Her head went down, "Never my Master!"

"This Zone Cop might think herself a free thinker, but she'll slave herself to formula like all the rest rogue or not. This is where the fishes will gather, this is where she'll ask them to gather."

"Then why..." Blonde blinked, "Were we all sent to fetch them individually?"

The dark tone of Mr. DeVoid became that of a child suddenly, "Cause I was bored silly!"

Blonde groaned, her head throbbing. How much longer did she have to endure this? The cops near or around the house were standing like robots with glazed looks in their eyes. Central City would have some new Guard Robo's soon enough.


"And this is just what I've been talking about ladies and gentleman! I told you The Man was lying to you! This is gonna blow the cover off this whole-" "-police have confirmed that no movie shot was being filmed on location, further more-" "-the child had been rushed to Bookshire General Hospital's emergency ward, her condition remains unknown and-" "-I don't -know- who she is! I think the thing said her name was Zoe, and something about cream, NO I WAS NOT THINKING ABOUT PIES! I SWEAR-" "-the nature of the explosions remains unknown, but testimony from several eye witnesses say-" Lance clicked the radio off. There was no way in Hell they were going to pull this off as just a CGI image stunt, not with liberal AND conservative news stations all reporting the same thing. In particular since it was on the radio!

No police had tried to stop him, and any police cars he had seen were going in the OPPOSITE direction he was going in, so he didn't feel the need to worry about Zoe's warning. He hadn't seen any pink haired eyes who looked like his daughter. But he had to make a point to keep his eyes on the road or he'd be joining Zoe in the emergency room!

He felt an urgency in the back of his head, like there was somewhere he -needed- to be, but he had no idea exactly where it was he was needed, and this frustrated him. It wasn't at the house in particular, it was somewhere he couldn't even really name! It wasn't just the idea of seeing Jane again, even if she was now some mutant animal and soon possibly would he be. It was like, he was a bolt set into the wrong kind of crossbow. Where had that metaphor come from?


Zefie ran as fast she could, she was no Zane, like it or not, but she could still kick up dust when she wanted! She could no longer teleport! And she didn't dare use any of the other equipment she still had. By now They certainly had arrived and would pick her up the moment she used any of it! She had to make it to the house. She had to be the one to explain things to them, Zefie owed it to Amy. Zefie had been the one to make sure they would be with her in THIS world in the first place! Zelda told her she was just being narcissistic, Zefie hadn't cared. Kinda pathetic when it was only your Zero-Reality alternate self who gave a damn about you huh?

'No,' she thought, 'stop listening to everything Zahir tells you, Zoe cares.' Or did care...

Zefie had wasted a precious ninety seconds jogging in place in front of a TV store, seeing the sketchy news reports of a little girl in pigtails fighting a monster clown. Of course a number of people who were passing by mistook it for an episode of a magicial girl show. But there was the annoying fact it was on nearly every local channel! If it had been an ad, it should have been on cable or network.

Zefie first impulse had been to run to the hospital to rescue her, she wasted thirty seconds running in that direction, then had to waste another thirty running in the direction she had been going, 'Zoe did what she did because she's my friend. She did this for me! I won't throw away this gift!'

Running so hard she was sure her legs were going to fall off, Zefie arrived at the predestine street address. Not a stupidity expensive house, but not really a bad one either. The couple had bought it before Jane had been born. It took twelve seconds for Zefie to see through blurred exhaustion that she had failed miserably to be the first one to arrive after all.

Police cars, and several tranced police officers ignoring the calls on their radios, stood around the house set like the springs on a mousetrap. Zefie saw who was in one of the police cars, and felt about as small as a mouse herself. Before he had been actually SCARED OFF by the mere presence of a Zone Cop, not wanting to risk exposure and violate the rules. However, Zefie had already broken the rules, she wasn't protected by that little treaty.

She saw the doberman pinchers and Blonde were both there as well. Looking no worse for being crushed and buried. 'Knew it wasn't going to be that easy to kill her.' Zefie also knew if she didn't act fast, everything she had done, everything Zoe had done, would become as meaningless and as forgotten as the dust.

She flipped open her cellphone, dotted with glittering pink hearts, and hit speed dial, "We have to change locations!" She spoke into it the moment it picked up not waiting for a 'hello.' "


Lance's cell phone rang. Dammit, he should have ditched it when he had the chance. The caller ID said 'Zefie' and he remembered what Zoe had said. He picked it up and said "Hello?"

"Dad-Mr. Brownson!" What?

"Jane?" Lance said in disbelief.

"No time! We have to change location! Where we last said-" A static hiss and nothing.


Zefie wasn't about to try and fight a rematch with Blonde and the dobermans with Him right there. She'd likely end up 'Metal Amy' or another of His puppets. The moment she saw the gray sword flying at her heart right through her cell phone, she let her feet go out from under her, and saw the weapon cut her phone in half from below. She didn't bother to look as she heard the ringing of the weapon imbedding itself into the walls behind it, she merely FORCED her second wind, and ran, wondering how far she'd make it before they overtook her.

Blonde cursed thickly at her missed and took two steps foreword to engage her, "No." The calm dark voice said and she stopped her in tracks.

"A trap is worthless if the mice know the cheese is poison too!" Blonde snarled, "They won't come within a mile of here now!"

"SILENCE!" His voice seemed to echo from every shadow.

"Yes Master!" She stood straight head down in an instant.

"The mice might have scattered but we still have a cat. Send them after her, and the other two mice."

Blonde blinked confused, "But the mice HAVE scattered my Master! It can't go after all of them at once!"

His voice was so calm it was like a grave, "Yes it can."

The blond Terra turned as pale as a sheet, "Master-! You could not-you aren't- I beg you to reconsider!"

"Do-as I say~!"

"Yes Master." Blonde whispered.

Blonde retrieved her sword from the wall of bricks it was impaled in, and calmly walked over the three dobermans who turned their heads all at once to look at her with hateful eyes. She raised the gray copy of the Sword of Acorns over her head, and slashed the weapon down as fast a thunder strike. And it was like a shoackwave of dread and fear had been unleashed into the world.

The three doberman shook free of the now destroyed set of chain collars they had worn since the dawn of their conjoined existence. And they howled as one, the echo reaching even the bones of the tranced police. The three dobermans looked around independently, INDEPENDENTLY! Though they all settled on blonde.

"You heard the Master! After them! All of them!"

They howled together, slightly out of sync, their separate shadows grew huge and blanketing, the street cracked and gave way under their weight, and they leapt off separately onto the hunt, their paw falls created tremors. The paw prints they left, were larger than they were!

In that moment, Blonde's greatest joy was that they had not chosen to eat her!


'The lights are so pretty. Was it hurting before? I don't hurt now.'

"Dammit! Do we have a pulse?! Do we have a pulse! Clear!"

Zoe felt like something just dove a knife into her chest, and why did they have to make all the pain come back?

"What kind of wounds are these? Did something scorch her with a hot poker all the way through?!"

"She not bleeding on the OUTSIDE! We need to drain it off or she's going to start drowning! Surgery now!"

There was a fail safe given to every zone cop regardless of rank when they were sent out on their own in case they were ever stranded with no hope of return. When activated, it would alter the zone cop's memories and existence, and the immediately surrounding reality, to give them a life and a past in that reality, so no one could use their vast knowledge of the different possibilities of existence for their own gains. As a safety measure, it could only be activated if they zone cop's equipment had no link to the No Zone, and could only be activated by that zone cop themselves and never by accident. Zoe, having broken her link to the Zone Cop network before coming to this world, and having been attacked and left for dead by a fellow, was very much ready to do this.

Thankfully, Zoe was in so much pain, and her body so damaged, she couldn't have hoped of activating it in her current state. Question was if it was going to matter soon enough.


Cosmo ran for the house, he hadn't seen any signs of the blond Terra or those mad dogs on a lease since then. None of the police had tried to stop him, and he hadn't seen anyone with glasses like Zefie's. He heard on someone hand radio of an explosion in the air near where dad worked... had they gotten dad? Cosmo wouldn't let himself cry over a what-if, no yet! He doubled his pace. He had never been much into these kinds of sport. Not since high school at least.

"Look at Amy she's so slow! Look at big bad sister Amy can't catch me! Nay nay!" He looked down from the tree he was sitting in, seeing Amy in her silly orange and green ruffle dress making her pathetic jumps in an attempt to grab his swinging legs.

"Red! Come down right now! Mom an' dad are gonna kill me if you break your neck!" The little girl whined look up at him.

"If ya didn't want me up here ya shoulda caught me! Oh yeah you can't!"

"That's not fair! You know I can't run!"

"That's cause you're a girl and all girls are slow!"

He saw the tears starting to come now, without cousin Rob'O here to back her up, he had little to fear from her.

"That's not true!" She stomped her foot. "I'm just good at other stuff!"

"Like what?" He grinned knowing he had her beat.

"I-I-" Amy began but couldn't finnish. She tried to climb the tree to get to him, twice, both time she feel down on her tail, and dirtying up her dress in the process both times. he laughed some more. He kicked his legs, and rocked back and forth. And suddenly lost his grip and feel over backwards, his head headed straight for the rocks hidden ever so slight by the forest's leaves.

"RED!" Amy's eyes widened and she brought her hands to her mouth, frozen.

Cosmo gasped. What... what was that? He looked around, and at himself. Same hands he was born with, same city he had been in a second ago, but, what was that then? Nobody was acting like he had just vanished or been standing around like a zombie. But... why did that... that feel like it wasn't an acid trip? And why was he in a cold sweat?

Cosmo shook his head, it didn't matter now! He just had to get home! He took one step, and saw a huge shadow vaguely shaped like a dog with glowing red eyes that swallowed him in one gulp, and he saw his hands were of a little red machine, and saw in a reflective surface a buzz saw sticking out of the back of his head.

Cosmo nearly screamed, and now people did look at him. What the HADES was going on? Both of what he had experienced had felt as real as him standing on this city street!

'Don't worry, we'll meet again, I know we will.' Jane, Amy, had said that, or something close to it. Right? He couldn't do that if he didn't go home! He took another step. Dog! Shadow! Machines! Cosmo stopped dead in his tracks. Okay, check him into the loony bin, this was getting stupid!

"So what am I supposed to do?" Cosmo hissed.

'Don't worry, we'll meet again, I know we will.' He remembered what Amy had said.

"Duh, Hello." Cosmo looked up, and his heart nearly stopped. "Are you Cosmo?"

Hadn't he seen this guy somewhere before? Hadn't he been on the missing person list that Jane was on? Jason Titan? Well, except for the purple hair and added a dozen of so pounds of both muscle and flab.

The man was wearing green pants with bronze trim. He was also wearing a T-shirt with a big purple 'Z' on it. And if Cosmo had bothered to look, the back of his shirt would have read, 'I Am Not An InterDimensional Space Cop' but what Cosmo of course saw first and last was the purple sunglasses.

Cosmo turned and ran.

"I'm Biiiiig Z!" Big Z realized Cosmo wasn't standing there listening to him, "Uh! Are you Cosmo?" Big Z called out, "Uh! If you are! You're going the wrong way! You otta go that way!" The big guy pointed in a direction that was neither the house nor the way Cosmo was running.

Big Z waved his arms running after him, "Wait! Are you Cosmo? You're running the wrong way!"

Cosmo kept running. He didn't dare look back anymore, but the words of the big guy let him know he was still hot on his trail. Finally he turned a corner and came face to face with the meanest and ugliest set of teeth he had ever seen drooling right at him! He heard something whizzing, then something latching onto the back of his clothes, and he was pulled away just as the jaws chomped down on where he had been standing a moment before.

Cosmo landed on his rear and looked up at Big Z to see the man was holding a fishing pole with the hook stuck on Cosmo's shirt which Big Z undid, "If you're Cosmo, the nice girl told you outta go thadda way!" Big Z pointed.

Finally it dawned on Cosmo what was in the direction. Deciding to follow the advice of the person who HADN'T just tried to eat him, Cosmo thanked him and ran, then realizing his error said, "Oh yeah! My name is Cosmo!"

"Thank you!" Big Z turned his back on the growling hound that people were quickly backing off from and waved at Cosmo. "Like the cute rabbit does! Thank you!" Big Z bowed as much as his body would allow him, and the beast made a flying leapt at him, missed like a single woman, and landed on his head on the concrete. It quickly rolled from it's back onto it's four legs.

People now in a panic began to flee, some had the common sense to call Animal Control. Cosmo used the crowd as cover and ran for it.

Big Z grabbed a sports car that lucky been double parked for over four weeks and lifted it up with both arms and eyed the motorcycle sized hound carefully.

Someone, somewhere, was playing 'batter up!' music.

With one swing, Big Z scored a home run, complete with the traditional moment where the 'ball' rammed right into the conveniently placed jumbotron. The screen shorted out as electricity burned out ever nerve in the possessed animal's body. The other option had been to knock the ball into the ground floor of a just finished apartment complex and have it hit a mason supporting beam and burying it in several hundred tons of expensive rubble.

The beast hit the ground with a thud, helpless as it's nerves struggle to repair themselves.

Big Z scratched his head, "Now what do I do next?" Big Z scrabbled through his pants, looking for his Zone Cop pocket manual. Meanwhile the doberman's nervous system had finish fixing itself enough for it to feel pain again. This only made it more angry.

"Ah! Here we go!" Big Z said as the beast got one of it's legs working, "'After having successfully subdued the subject, extract and exorcize the malicious transdimensional entity.' Whao-K. Mr. Manual. Never understood how smoshing something forcefully through the void between realities is suppose to help someone get in shape though."

"Okay Mr. Bad Doggie, could you stay still for a big longer?" Big Z asked as he pulled out his fishing pole again. Three legs working, and it was enough now that the beast was hopping towards him ready to eat him alive!

Big Z leveled his finnish pole with the black beast, "Ooh pretty!" Big Z said as the pattern of floating stain glass formed around it. The beast got all four of it's legs working just in time for a killing leap at Big Z, whose weapon went off at the same instant, the blades of light impaling it, and the REAL beast controlling the non-sentient creature was pushed clean out of it's host, then like the mock clown, pushed clean through a ripple of invisible water, and vanished.

The blades retracted and the weapon vanished from around Big Z's fishing pole. He walked over and petted the poor doggie who was whimpering, scared and confused. "It's okay doggie, it's all okay, everything's okay now." Big Z said petting the animal kindly.

Big Z felt a slight breeze and even before looking up said, "Hello Zokova!"

The japanese youth waved, "Hello Big Z."

"I think the doggie's gonna be okay!"

"Don't worry, he will be," Zokova nodded, "And I just want you to know, this isn't anything personal."

"What isn't personal?" Big Z blinked.

Between the blinks of an eye Zokova was right behind Big Z and gave him a quick chop to the side of the neck, "That." Zokova said calmly.

Big Z wavered, "Nightie Night." Big Z fell foreword creating a slight shock wave as he hit the ground.

"Sleep tight." Zokova said, wasting several seconds hoisting Big Z into a cafe chair that somehow help his great weight. The dog walked over to Big Z and innocently sniffed him.

Zokova merely crouched down, and with the slightest hint of an after image, was gone, a breezing blowing.


Lance still hadn't been stopped, delayed, or perused by the police, or anyone with sunglasses like Zoe's. In fact, he hadn't seen any police cars or police officers for quite some time. True there had been the chaos and confusion at the warehouse, but that couldn't have been enough to draw the attention of -every- cop in the city right? In particular if some of them had been turned into brainwashed zombie slaves like Zoe had implied. True there was that -second- incident on the radio, soon after the report of the tremor near the street address of the archery range that Cosmo was supposed to be today (Lance could guess what that meant), about a motorcycle sized rabid dog being sent into a building by a fat guy using a car as a baseball bat, but something about that didn't feel right either. It was possible that in all the confusion he was just slipping through the cracks.

If that was true, then the sooner he got home the better. There was a moment of static on the radio as a pirate music station overrode the news reports (nothing new about Zoe).

"And that was Shasta TikiTavi with her brand new single." The male DJ sounded rather young, something familiar about the voice, but too high pitched, where had Lance heard it before? "Up next we have 'You Can't Go Home Again' performed by Royston Langdon." Lance turned the dial getting the news again. "Animal control reports that the animal was stolen by an unknown person this morning from-" The static again, and back to 'Can't Go Home again.'

Lance narrowed his eyes, and turned the dial one more time. "- the other two dogs locations are-" Static one more time, only this time it was a rap song apparently called 'Mass Destruction!'

Lance slowed down his car, "Okay, I've seen this movie, and I still think they should have given more dialogue to the giant robots." The rap song abruptly ended (it was sadly kinda catchy for a rap song). "And next we have the Pokemon Song 'The Time Has Come!'" Said the young DJ.

Lance drove slowly, listening to the line 'time to say good-bye' which seemed to repeat itself more times than the last time he had endured this song.

The glitchy song ended strangely abruptly again, "And finally we have 'Thank You' from the PS1 classic 'Musical Adventure.' " The young DJ said.

Lance nearly stopped his car if he dared. What was going on? What did any of this mean? If this was the opposing faction to Zoe would they use tactics like this? And why did this DJ's voice seem so familiar?!

"Thank you my love. We shall say good-bye just for now, till we meet again." The song played. Suddenly for Lance it all clicked and he slammed the brakes. He remembered the last time he had heard those words.

"Son, catch." The brownish red hedgehog tossed the weapon from his black gloved hands to the much younger blood red hedgehog.

Spike looked at the rifle carefully, catching it with ease. "Dad? You're actually -letting- me hold this thing?" Spike had been trying to hold this thing for years, but his father had never allowed him near it, loaded or not.

"Take it to your room, hide under that pile of junk you call 'your stuff' and don't even think about it little man, it isn't loaded." Spike deflated somewhat, still.

"Dad? Why?"

"Just hurry up already! And don't come out of your room until I tell you, and no matter what anyone says you haven't seen any weapons in this house!"

Spike just nodded to his father and ran to his room, and hide it underneath his wooden swords, and rubber bow and arrows. A few minutes later, Spike saw out of his window several big bears wearing uniforms he didn't recognize along with Merica's Forest Guard knocking hard.

Spike saw the door open and his father standing in front of the uniformed mobians looking innocent and straight faced. The scared hedgehog looked rather small compared to to the burly men. The pale blue female hedgehog behind him fiddle with the solo small gold earring connected to one of her ears, looking equally confused.

"Edge Rose and Blue Quills Rose?" The mobian at the front said, one of the ones weird uniform, a skunk with a mustache.

"Yes." Edge said calmly still sounding ignorant of what was going on, "Can I help you sir?"

The skunk snapped his fingers and a rabbit handed him a scroll. The skunk read the piece of parchment. "By Royal Degree of King Acorn, in light of the death of Prince Acorn, Acorn Kingdom, and all of her allies, have hereby outlawed all bullet style killing tools. Including but not limited to, pistols, rifles, uzis, revolvers, semi-automatics, machine guns, rail guns, flint locks, and any and all guns. These are to be confiscated from all citizens private and public for destruction for the safety of all our nations' people. Withholding or hiding or buying, or selling, or hoarding of this illegal and dangerous weapons will be considered an act of treason." The skunk stopped reading.

"You are a maker of such killer tools aren't you?" The skunk asked.

"I am a gun smith yes. But I turned in all my product and private collection last week." Edge said calmly.

"All the same, anyone who creates devices whose sole purpose to end the lives of their fellow mobian are not exact considered... trust worthy."

Edge and Blue calmly stepped aside, "If you wish to search my house, without warrant. Go right ahead."

"This degree serves as my warrant whenever and wherever I wish it sir, now if you'll continue to stand aside, sir." The bears and the Merica Forest Guard entered the house. they stayed for over an hour. They knocked over a lot of furniture, and broke at least one, one hundred year old vase. They only came into Spike's room once. One of the bears, after nearly impaling his foot on one of Spike toy soldiers, he took a glance around and called out, "Nothing in here but some kid's toys!"

After patting down Edge, and patting down Blue twice (just to make sure those things were real and not grenades of course), the foreigners and the Merica Forest Guard finally left.

Right afterwards, Blue ran into Spike's room and avoiding his toys like the dancer she was, she grabbed him and hugged him, sobbing.

Edge squatted next to his son and whispered, "Keep it hidden, keep it safe." Referring to the prototype rifle that Edge's grandfather had made decades earlier.

And Spike did, for years he kept it safe. For well over a decade he kept it safe, only being uncovered to be cleaned and maintained. The blood red hedgehog learned what his father was forbidden now to teach. He could never practice any of it, but he could remember. Since King Acorn had declared all firearms to be evil. Only the most basic common sense of the kingdom's military had allowed crossbow to be allowed to be still be bought and owned. Thus Edge had change professions as best he could, as mobians now suffered from the same phobia of indifferent technology that had gripped the echidnas, mere in a different guise. Any like anything people feared, they came to hate it.

Edge had always been a gambler with destiny, he dared to let his opinion be known, that murderers and thieves had simply switched to knifes and poisons, that other nations not allied with Acorn Kingdom had no such reserves against such weapons and would not hesitate to use them in any war.

Finally one day, Edge Rose had made his opinions a little too vocal, a little too intense, until at last, he had declared that Acorn Kingdom had no right to dictate the weapons it allies could and could not have, and that Merica Forest Counsel was cowardly for bending over backwards to their demands, and they (the people) were all cowards for allowing it. He was beaten to a pulp, and died two days later. Many people were happy to see the vanishing of one of the 'Roses of Death' as one town crier had nicknamed the Roses.

It took every bit of motherly authority that Blue had over Spike to keep the youth from getting himself killed too over the following weeks, the locals still swelteringly angry at a family of the creators of 'murder tools' (why the hades weren't they fixated on making the lives of sword smiths miserably too!?) who had dared talk down to them: the honest, law abiding people of the land?

Blue was also glade that Edge hadn't kept any rounds for the rifle, Edge she knew hadn't kept it because he wanted a weapon, he kept it, because it was part of his family's HISTORY. And she was finally able to explain that to the angry and confused teen.

Blue had cared for her growing son by herself as best she could, but she often threw herself into her dancing, to help distance herself from a world, that had, in her own opinion, had gone mad.

But sadly, and realistically, there is no such thing as the secret that lasts forever.

Spike had heard it, as had his mother, "And so the overlanders have threatened the safety of our race and our people, but we shall stand up to these barbarians, these monsters! We shall protect our homes and our families from them! Warlord Kodos of Acorn Kingdom has learned of their plans, and Acorn Kingdom and her allies shall defend themselves from this evil!"

Over the next couple days, information continued to trickle in. On the plus side, now that overlanders were evil, everyone forgot they were supposed to hating the 'Roses of Death' too. Any of the handful of humans who had the bad luck of being in Acorn Kingdom or Merica at the time had fled to neutral Station Square in fear of their freedom or their lives. It didn't matter if they weren't part of the enemy's military, or hadn't seen their home country in years, or were even supporting parts of local political parties (including the ones who considered Spike's family the 'Roses of death' ), they were overlanders, and thus, were a threat.

"Black and white thinking control freaks." 'And they likely proud -of- that fact to boot!' Spike thought.

"Spike, do you really need to be doing that?" His mother asked looking out the window worried, her physique maintained by her years on stage.

"It's tradition mom, we always clean this thing on the day dad was murdered by those thugs. And I won't have some stupid war change that. Besides, everyone's forgotten about us, they have new things to hate now."

Was this how role-players felt whenever something else caught the eyes of the pharacies?

"I'm just worried that-oh no!- Spike! Put it away now!"

Spike stood up holding the weapon his hands, "Wha-mom-what's-!"

No time react, Spike nor his dad had ever been fast on their feet.

The door opened without a knock and lynx of the Merica Forest Guard entered and said, "Excuse me, forgive the intrusion but- oh my Aurora!" The lynx's eyes were fixed on the gun in Spike's hands.

A day later, "This is stupid! This thing hasn't been fired in a decade! I don't even OWN any ammo for it! And it's been outdated since before I was born! It's a family heir loom."

"The law sees no difference I'm afraid. It's a firearm and those are illegal." The lynx sighed., "However, there is a slight change in the law with the war going on, Acorn Kingdom feels ... people like you... could be useful in the protection of it's people."

Spike fumed, "You want me to fight and -die- for some -other- nation's cause?"

The lynx shook his head, "You can either enlist, or face charges for treason for owning a firearm, which sadly, everyone forgot to take off the books."

"Go ahead." Spike said darkly.

The lynx said flately, "And your mother would be arrested as a accomplish to treason."

Spike stared silently for a few seconds before hisses, "Creep."

"I don't make the laws, I just enforce them."

Spike was silent, writhing for a minute before finally breathing out, "Long live, the Acorn Kingdom."

"Now you come back alive," Blue told him, hugging her son carefully as all hedgehogs must the next day, "Otherwise the Roses will vanish with you."

"Sorry mom, this hedgehog's gonna be single till the day he dies and then some! But don't worry, I ain't dying any time soon." Spike said with such fake confidence.

Unlike humans. Mobians were reluctant to send teenagers and collage kids to fight. Maybe that was why Sally's Freedom Fighters had been so incredibly radical. The mere idea that cubs could fight before becoming of age was heresy to many. This cultural difference, was also why there were so many families without a father after Warlord Kinbotor's betrayal had nearly pounded the human race into dust.

After his instructors had finished appraising him, Spike was made into just another foot solider. The kind who in a human army would have piloted a Zaku. The size of the weapon design division had been shrunk dramatically since the taboo had been put into effect, and while Spike had shown a natural talent for weapon design (much like his father), they didn't anymore 'murder tool makers' for this war apparently.

Spike should have died at least twice in that war, and likely more times then that. The first time was when his entire troop had been charging, and their leaders had so gracefully stepped on, and OFF a land mine. Spike only lived because he had been last in line and -tripped- during the run, fearing for his mother, he had managed to barely cover up his ineptitude at distance running.

Being the lone survivor of his troop, he had been declared a 'bad luck charm.' After that, he was kicked from unit to unit, no one wanting him. He was finally given a chance to 'redeem' himself by Warlord Kodos by being part of Queen Acorn's escort to Angel Island. A random filing error had slipped Spike through the paper work and he wasn't given his authorization. The plane he was -supposed- to be on, the one the -queen- was on, was shot down. And Warlord Kodos used it make the people hate the overlanders even -more!-

Finally, the new warlord had appeared, Kinbotor, the overlander, yes, one of the race everyone was supposed to hate, was now their new commanders. The sheer hypocrisy of it drove Spike nearly mad. However, at least the war ended quickly after that. Quickly, decisively, and at times, gruesomely. Nations of humans were pounded into dust.

The war finally over, Spike and his aging mother were spared, their family heirloom gone. Spike was finally able to go into a form of weapon design, crossbows, bows and arrows, somehow, since they used arrows instead of bullets to kill people at a distance, they weren't considered 'evil' by the taboo.

Among his best customers was Robin Hedge. A noble who apparently was stripped of his property years before. It certainly explained his 'have at thee' style of speech that Spike had sure had gone the way of dragon slaying. Spike never asked questions, merely designed new crossbows and bows and arrows for him. Though his classic model was the all time favorite of Robin's son Rob'O, apparently shaping up to be quite the archer. The boy had picked up his father's style of speech along with his mother, ballad writer named Bardia Hedge.

Spike never asked how rich people seemed to lose their cash around Robin, nor how starving single parent families suddenly had enough money to get them by until they could find work. Later Robin confessed the origin of the loss of his properly and land, apparently, he had made the mistake of directly challenging Warlord Kodos of Acorn Kingdom. The two hedgehogs always had much to discuss.

Spike wasn't sure if he was happy, but he did feel satisfied with his lot. Sadly, his mother, her fur starting to turn from sky blue to gray blue, wasn't happy with Spike standing where he was in life. She hadn't given up on saddling him with a ball and chain. Thankfully, the silver lining of things was that most women weren't interested in dating a 'Rose of Death' and the ones who would were too crazy for even Blue to approve of that ranged from renegade wolves to members of the weasel clan. They disgusted Spike, they treated revolvers like they were noise makers.

But his mother was as persistent as she was stubborn when she wanted to be, and the darkest hour had come when she and Robin joined forces! Out Flanked and out numbered on both sides, Spike began planning his escape rout to avoid this battle entirely.

"You'll love me sister Spike, she be a wonderful actress the likes of ye ya've never seen!" Robin had promised. "She be returnin' soon from a wonderful tour in Mobotropolis, you be dating a star in the younder heavens!"

When Spike asked, Blue confessed she had never heard of Robin's sister, and Spike's mother had some very decent knowledge on theatric 'whose who.' Spike dug up some actor magazines, but he found no mention of her. Finally, he got his hands on a news paper from Mobotropolis, and found some reviews of her performances.

On the back page.

'Not even a picture!' The reviews were atrocious, unforgiving, and at some points even downright curt! They did everything but call her ugly! Well, they certainly called her acting ugly! They described her as getting too carried away with her role, often adding too much ad-lib, and holding dramatic pauses for just too long! She had even attempted to redirect the course of a play's story in the middle of a live performance! Much to the misery of her costars.

Spike had no desire to date any woman, let alone a glamor-puss who couldn't act out of a cardboard box! However, Spike wasn't about to get an ear full from his best friend and his mother about 'not giving the nice lady a chance.' So he abided his time, waiting for the approach of the enemy, which those flanking him had been foolish enough to divulge the when and where of!

Finally the dark hour was upon him. He used the brilliant distraction he had spent weeks researching and preparing for his jailers, Robin and Bardia (Rob'O was being looked after by Blue), Spike pointed his fingers behind them and said in a alarmed voice, "Hey! Isn't that a corrupt local law enforcement official?"

Robin instantly turned around looking everywhere but at Spike, "Where? Where at is the nave?"

The scene Bardia also distracted Bardia for a few precious moments as Spike then ran like he had never run before! Of course, he was still no track star, but it was a lot faster than he could remember running! Out of the house through the back door, and into the fine town of Shoddingham a few minutes later, Spike stopped at a bench gasping for breath, waiting for the color to return to his vision.

Convinced a minute later he wasn't about to die of a heart attack, he considered his options to wait out the storm. He considered a hooters bar (no way any woman would go in there!), but Robin would kill him, and his mother would glue him to any female inside he had more than two words to! And failing that: one word to!

There was the archery range, but that was too obvious. And too many of Robin's buddies (they were always so merry), hung out there. Spike moaned. Was THIS what he was reduced to? Avoiding a blind date like Rob'O playing hooky? Yep. That was sure what it looked like. Was he going to have an ear full when this was all over.

Well he obviously couldn't stay out in the open. Blast it all, they were bound to be looking for him by now. Spike didn't believe this. All his careful planning, and he had forgotten to figure out a worthwhile hiding place!

"Hey honey! Want some honey!" Two slender arms, adorned in jeweled bracelets suddenly grabbed themselves around his shoulders and torso. Spike confused and alarmed turned to see a pastel pink hedgehog wearing several 'happy' illustrations on her face was gazing at him like was a piece of meat. As a rule, clothing was optional with male mobians, with feminists often chaffing under the attire that it was -mandatory- for them to wear. Some more radical women and rebellious teenage girls even went 'tom boy' wearing gloves and boot like males but nothing else. However, HOWEVER, what this hedgehog was wearing, it somehow made her figure, exaggerated.

"Who are, who are-" Spike stammered.

"I'm the answer to the prayers of a lonely little man like you dearie! Now come on! The night's still young and so are we!"

He had been discovered!!! Putting the bare minimum hand to hand combat training a soldier meant to last just long enough to be killed by a named character to use, Spike slipped through her arms, rolled a few yards or so in a ball away, then go up and magically found his second wind! Some place! Any place! He had to hide somewhere! He looked at the nearest row of building across the street from the park he had been in, Shoddingham was not known to being a major tourist spot, it wasn't like they were the home of a legendary hero or anything! But it still had a few attractions! And Spike wanting to be a needle in a haystack dove into the most crowded building he saw first, the gambling house.

The bouncers didn't take notice of him as Spike swam as deeply as he could into the people throwing their money away on the sweet lie that it was possible to win big! Oh Spike knew the games here weren't rigged, (they wouldn't dare), but he also knew the odds were always stacked in the house's favor and there was no reason to toss cash out on one-armed bandits. Was this particular house owned by the Wolf Pack, the Weasel Clan, or was it an independent? Spike hadn't exactly cared enough to care about it.

Certain he was deep enough into the hive of money eating machines, Spike leaned back against one of the slot machines. As long as he kept his hands to himself and didn't look at any of the games he was pretty sure he wouldn't get thrown out, after all, this place was too busy looking out for thieves or cheaters to care one loiter, he just needed to make sure it didn't look like he was scoping the place out.

"Okay, I just need to stay in here for a while until she goes away, she won't stay out there forever, and if she comes in here, I should be able to hide from her. It's not like she'd be psychic right?"

They said the key to being found was to stay in one place, so that was the last thing he was going to do. Though he knew he risked being asked the wrong question, he had some loose cash in his pockets to throw away money into one of the bandits if worst came to worst. So Spike began to wander the machines, not bothering to hid from the cameras but doing his best to look out for a pale pink hedgehog. Still, what was he going to say when he ran into Robin? That Spike had fled in the face of his blind date? From Robin's sister? He wondered how the honor minded Robin Hedge would take it! Spike knew how good Robin was with that bow and arrow, after all, Spike had made most of the one's Robin owned. What was he scared of anyway? Would enduring the presence of a pink hedgehog for one evening really be all that horrible? He had gone to war, and he was scared of one woman he didn't even know. Did he simply not trust his friends and family not to accept it if he said 'she's not the one for me?' Or did he just think he couldn't really live life if he had a girl dragging him down?

He was reminded of his soldier days, being told he was cowardly like the overlanders for wanting to use bullet weapons to defend 'his' homeland and people. That 'real men' used their natural talents and fought hand to hand whenever they could! .... How the heck did they ever win?

'Well, you four legged jackasses! I'm going to use each and every one of yours ghosts that I'm no coward!' After too long a time of contemplation, Spike stood up like a man, determined now to face his fate head on.

A playing card breezed down at Spike's feet, face up, except it didn't look like any suit he had ever seen, it didn't look to even -have- a suit! Just a number, 13. Great. Sign of things to come? Picking it up, he saw that showed a picture of a skeletal hedgehog riding a non-sentient horse with a scythe. Was this a collectable card from Magik The Unification or Ra-Gi-Oh? Spike knew as much about cards as humans did about fur.

"Hey! Come back you're mine!" Spike's ears perked at a woman's frantic voice. He didn't know women were into trading card games. Then again, there was no way to know whoever just said that had anything to do with some random playing card he had just picked up out of totally random curiosity. "Excuse me! That card you're holding is mine." Okay, maybe not.

Turning towards the source of the voice, he nearly crashed into a white hedgehog. Instead she crashed into him. Spike had never understood why, in a gender equal society, men were expected to catch women but women weren't expected to catch men. "Oh my! Excuse me! I'm sorry!" The white hedgehog apologized. The force of her impact nearly made Spike fall over on his spines.

All the same, "It's all right, so this is your card?" He offered it to her.

She took it back without a second thought, "Oh yes, thank you. It came up again when I double checked, but for reason I'm still losing."

Spike rose an eyebrow, "Er? Is it a strong card in the game?"

The white hedgehog blinked at him, "Game? Oh my! You mustn't know then!" She laughed slightly, "This is a Tarot Card, The Death. They help you to see the future."

'Greeeeat. An occult fan.' "So... you're hoping that the person you're gambling against is gonna fall over dead and you'll win the hand by default?"

The white hedgehog shook her head, "Of course not. The Death symbolizes the erasure of the old patterns. And since it kept coming up, I figured that it meant my ... luck would change patterns."

Spike looked her over. She didn't look crazy. It stunned him when he realized she wasn't really old either in spite of her white quills. He finally noticed her skin was oddly pale and her eyes were the color of blood. She was an albino. She also had the beautiful mobian hedgehog double-eye, which many a heathen had dared called a deformity. Her quills were done up in the three triangles style, a rather plain and common choice.

'Where does she get her taste in clothes?' Her dress style was weird, yet conservative. Her top was a "chinese" (whatever that meant) purple shirt with yellow trim. While her nearly ankle length skirt was purple. Her black sandals against her white socks looked cheap made. And to just to mention every other microscopic detail about her, she was wearing a tiny heart shaped bronze necklace. As was the trend, she was wearing white gloves.

"Are you staring?" She asked wondering.

'Who wouldn't stare?' He thought, "No, not at all. You're just unique looking that's all."

"Aren't you sweet. Well, I have to start winning," She turned around back to the gaming table she was at, when a very large wolf calmly stepped in front of her,

"Excuse me miss, but while the management has been grateful for your, ahem, donations, they feel in good conscience they can not allow you continue. They feel it might discourage business if someone walked out mobium less."

"Wha-?" She stared in disbelief, "But my luck was about to change! The cards told me so!"

The wolf looked at her like she was crazy, "Riiight. Madam, all the same, we would appreciate if you could leave without making a scene madam."

The last thing Spike wanted was a scene. His pink blind date might have been still hunting for him. Then again she might provide a good distraction. However, his enemy had proven relentless already by hunting him down to the park. Maybe he needed some protection. If he was helping a random woman whose name and street address he didn't even know, he couldn't be blamed if his blind date misinterpreted things, and he wasn't in fear of his mother hooking up himself and this woman if she didn't given her name. And if she did, he'd just lie.

"Hey, maybe you should look at your tarmot cards again," Spike injected, "Maybe they think you should leave now." He didn't believe in all that of course. But these baloney was half psychology and half showmanship anyway.

"That's Tarot." She corrected him not even looking at him. She looked at the cards. "The Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune? Waiting for things to turn around? I guess my luck will change later."

"Yes that sounds right." Spike encouraged, "You should leave it for now. And, please allow me to escort you home."

She looked at him oddly, "Excuse me?"

"This is a dangerous neighborhood." A lie, but maybe she didn't know that.

"And how do I know you're not dangerous?"

Spike said the most stupid thing that first come to mind, "I have a very trust worthy face." Only a complete moron would-

"I guess you do." She said taking his arm. "Would you mind being my guard for a short time sir?"

"Not at all madam." Spike said with the best manners he had used in a year.

The burly wolf looked happy the situation was defused and backed off without anymore context in this tale.

As the two hedgehogs walked out of the building, Spike kept an eye out for his blind date, no sign of her yet. "So... what's the deal with those, tar-rot cards?"

Spike had spent longer in the wolf's house than he thought. It was well into sunset and the stars would soon be coming out.

"I bought them two weeks ago along with this neat little interpretation book. The crow who sold them said he could just -see- the mystical energy around me, and that the cards and I were meant to be together."

'More like he saw a sucker and knew you and your cash weren't meant to stay together.' Spike thought.

"He also said that while the little black book was going to give me some good hints on how to figure them out, he said to be careful. Since the visions the tarot gives can be greatly obscured by the person's experiences and preconceptions of what the future holds. He said I'd understand when I was ready."

'When he had skipped town you mean.' "So are they working out for you?"

"Kinda... when I came here, I drew the Chariot, which is supposed to be order, rigidness, and accordance to duty. Clearly that meant my ride was supposed to be on time. But my ride was late. Some big coyote with a mustache and purple cape apparently had priority over my carrier so I got delayed."

Spiked blinked. It couldn't be. Of course not. It was all bogus.

Spike saw out of the corner of his eye a pink hedgehog in a 'figure enhancing' outfit glaring death looks at him around a street corner than vanishing. Done. Now he just hoped Robin didn't put an arrow through his throat before Spike had a chance to explain.

"I AM honestly beginning to wonder if these work or not." The albino said, "I mean, I'm drawing the Wheel of Fortune and Sun Tarot again. I original drew those just before going to that rigged gambling house. The sun is for positive feelings, happiness, not being judgmental, friendship, and Wheel of Fortune is for things to go from bad to good, good to bad, and bad to good again. It makes perfect sense that after my misery lately that things would turn out all right. And since it's the 'wheel of fortune' I figured winning at rootlet was a good guess.... Guess not. Maybe."

"Misery?" Spike asked idly curious.

"Well, things haven't exactly been looking great for me lately. My opinions have been getting me into more than a little trouble lately."

"I know exactly how you feel." Spike said before he even had a chance to think about it!

"Really?" She looked at him.

"Yeah... I really didn't like some of the policies imposed by a government that isn't even the one ruling our country! We're not occupied. It's never made sense to me."

She held a card up to the light of the rising full moon. He didn't see which one. "I actually bought these things hoping TO make sense of things... no such like so far."

"I've learned not to believe in luck."

"I think there's luck, you just have to make your own."

"Is it even really luck then?"

"Everything is just someone's opinion." She said calmly. "This is it, I think... Thanks for being a gentleman."

Spike blinked... he had ... had forgotten for a second she was his shield. Well, now he just needed to get back to his house before -she- did. He looked around to get his bearings, having lost track of where they were going in their discussion. He looked around at the woods. 'Okay, chalk up no sense of direction to her traits too.' "Uh, I think you made a wrong turn."

"Eh? You think so?"

"Yeah. We must have taken a wrong turn, there's no way this is where-"

"Younder Spike!" 'Oh no!' "Where have ye been?" Then he spotted her. Oh great... "What tis this?"

"Look! Robin! This isn't what it looks like-"

"Misty!" Robin hugged the albino hedgehog.


"Robin?! Robin is that you?!" The albino, Misty apparently said surprised. "Then again, not many other people talk like you!"

"It is the proper and noble speech of yore."

"You two know each other?" Spike blinked.

"Spike." Robin said, "Tis be Misty Hedge! Me sister!"

"Wait! You're -that- Spike?" Misty stared and pointed.

"WAIT! You're the... she's the... but that... who was...I thought that pink hedgehog you sent after me was your sister!"

"What pink girl?" Robin asked confused, stroking his beard.

"Wait... I think I saw a prostitute who was a pink hedgehog..." The white hedgehog said to the red hedgehog.

"That was a---" Spike felt dizzy. Misty caught him.

Bardia came out and clapped, "Amazing! I see you two found each other after all!" The green hedgehog looked dreamily, "Did you two plan this? This is wonderful!"

Misty with her free hand looked at the cards again. Sun, Happiness. Wheel of Fortune, Change of Fate. "Couldn't be." Misty said to herself.

"Uh.... come inside for tea Mist'?" Spike said in a unsure tone.

"Love to, you sneak." Misty said grinning.

All things considered... it didn't go that bad. Misty wasn't that bad to talk with, she apparently had a lot of plays memorized by heart, or at least her version of them, and Spike didn't see any of the overacting he had read in the reviews when Bardia asked her to play out some parts. Spike couldn't say he wasn't entertained that night.

Misty threw out the interpretation book two weeks later, and threw out the cards a month later, then a week after that drew her own tarot cards. Said she felt ready to create her own fortune. That when Spike broke the big family secret.. or what he THOUGHT was the big family secret. As it turned out, Misty had already known about the 'Roses of Death' and didn't care in the least. Okay, check, Spike didn't care if it took a life time, he -had- to figure this woman out.


'Maybe two life times' Lance thought as reality came crashing back to him, and he almost hit a street lamp! He had no choice. He parked the card before he ran someone over! He needed a second to collect his thoughts. What was that? A memory? A delusion? A lie in his head? But, why did all those choices then make -sense- to him? His father had been no weapon designer, and he had died of old age! But he had been a NRA member, like Lance had been, and his pops had even had a 'You Can Have My Gun When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Fingers' bumper sticker! Lancer had never served in the army. And his wife had abandoned any interest she had in the occult shortly after high school. But, every one of those choices, every one of those decisions he 'remembered' making in the memory that had just popped out of nowhere, feeling like -years- worth of memories, he -knew- he'd have made the same. What was the most creepy however, was that he -had- sneaked out of his blind date with Sheila... and had run into her when they had chosen to go to the same hang out by sheer luck! Seems they had the same tastes in games.

The coffee... that had somehow not spilled over in the near miss, quivered slightly. Of course Lance in his retrospection didn't notice at first. What he did notice was the slight vibration he felt a few seconds later. He noticed the coffee cup when the next vibration hit. It was stronger this time. And it felt like... it was coming from behind? Yes, Lance had seen Jurassic Park. He had nearly gotten cornered by an evil demon clown when he had last stood there wondering! He got the car out of park, and almost having an accident in the process began to drive through the city streets again towards his new destination.

As the poundings kept getting closer, it took him a minute to realize exactly WHAT was making the tremors that were now setting off car alarms as the source passed. At first he thought the dog was just fleeing from whatever it was too. But as it kept tailing behind him at every turn, he began to take notice of too many little things that were very wrong. The doberman was one: able to keep up with him even as he drove over twenty five miles an hour. Okay, he had no clue how long or fast a dog could run, so maybe that was nothing. However, each time the dog landed from one of it's leaps... that was when the tremor happened. More than that, AFTER it landed, the dog left paw prints in the asphalt, GIANT ones! And when he managed to speed up on a sparse street, the dog kept up easily. And finally, Lance noticed the shadow, the shadow was much, MUCH too large for any dog! And the shape it gave off, was not that of the creature being cast.

Lance knew logically, that the animal behind him was just a dog, it looked like one, and was barking and howling like one. But no dog would leave those foot prints. No dog would cast that shadow. No dog would keep up with his car or follow it relentless beyond mere animal impulse. And no dog... could send a random person on their motorcycle FYING, as they forced -through- him! Lance was stuck between keeping his eyes on the road, and his eyes in the rear view mirror of his animal chaser. He almost felt like a fox, though then he'd just spin his tails and fly away. Where did that come from?

Lance began to take in more details of his animal, the way it moved, the motions of it's body weight, they all slowly, as he kept risking crashing, began to SCREAM, that what he was seeing was not what was there. Finally, as he turned a corner, out of the corner of his eye, he saw this animal as something very different, for one moment he saw it for what it was. Where was Hercules to tame this thing when you needed him? Still, he was making progress, but what was he supposed to DO when he got there? This THING would still be following him like a wolf does a rabbit!

'Ben? Chris?' Lance had just enough time to think as he saw the man standing right in the middle of the road. He could have been either Jane's ideal Ben, or her club's extreme sports dare devil Chris, except his hair was dyed a mix of black and red. And his expression, was like that of some cops Lance was glade he had never stopped by. Even as Lance swerved out of the way, he spotted them. Sunglasses that were just like Zoe's. And his jacket's color scheme was the same as Zoe's dress.

This time, Lance did crash into a street light, trashing the front of the car and activating the air bag. Seat belts save lives! The shock of the crash let Lance stunned. Then again, it was no grenade or motor shell, so he recovered fast enough. Finding the door thankfully didn't require the jaws of life, Lance abandoned the vehicle. He saw the damage done to the engine, this car wouldn't be riding again today. At least he was close. At least he could run faster now then during his time of service. Lance shook his head again, what was this?

He saw several people stopping and dialing Nine-One-One on their cell ones. Someone came over to him and asked if he was all right. He didn't look at the person, his eyes fixed at the moment on the man with the purple one piece sunglasses. The man didn't even move from his spot as the animal continued crashing foreword. When it was precisely six seconds away from him he shouted, "Chaos Spear!" And multiple lances of yellow light impaled the animal from all sides, shattering it's focus and causing it to stumble and trip. The creature was caught by the throat by the strange man, who held it up effortlessly. Lance noticed how the man's boots were now leaving a deep impression in the street. Making a sound of exertion, the Ben/Chris look alike slammed the doberman into the street besides him not letting go of it's neck, sending pavement everywhere. The impression left in the ground was too big, and looked nothing like the shape of the poor animal. Yes poor animal. It looked every bone below the neck had been broken. Still not letting go the Ben/Chris look alike snarled, "Chaos--- Blast!" A Rector scale level explosion enveloped the Ben/Chris double and the doberman, a sphere of crimson energy spreading outwards.

When all was said and do, there was a blast crater, and nearly everyone had run away screaming. The animal's skin had been completely destroyed, with scorched muscle and misplaced bone showing easily. The Ben/Chris double wasn't harmed in the least. He then crushed it's throat, and gave it a kicked to the exposed stomach and sent it bouncing out of the crater.

Zahir didn't give the beast a chance to recover, the stain glass viscerator appeared around a revolver he pulled out of his jacket, and he pulled the trigger. No bullet came out of the gun, but the chained blades of light did, swiftly impaling the creature, ripping it out of it's host body and knocking it back into it's own plane of reality unable to easily return.

Ignoring the suffering animal Zahir looked around, dammit. The rat had run away during the fight. Didn't matter. There was nowhere for the rat to run. And Zahir had no fear of the rat being caught by Them. These things were no match for him. Let alone when forced to use medium to even exist in a plane of reality they weren't even meant to inhabit. He'd catch the brat, then the rats. And any of Them that got in his way wouldn't be there for long. He saw the police and ambulances coming, he made a mental note of them all. He'd deal with them all later. Then this entire thing for the humans would blow over and be just another hoax. He flipped open the wheels hidden on the skates he was wearing, and moved at a speed and with skill no mere human being could hope to match. He had some rat catching to do.


"I tell you lass, you're a survivor." The pig tailed girl was a lot more sturdy than she looked. She actually lived through the emergency surgery that had patched her up from the inside out. The surgeon chalked it up to a certified miracle. Being dressed in a hospital gown and taken to the child's wing, the girl's personal effects were put into storage for safe keeping. In spite of apparently being some kind of super hero right out of the comic books, most of her items looked to be rather ordinary. Her sunglasses were just sunglasses no circuitry, her shoes didn't have any anti-gravity heels, and her dress didn't seem to be made out of anything strange. All in all, a rather ordinary child. "Damn, media circus."

The nurse did not really believing the fantastic stories that were blaring all over the news about this girl apparently fighting some evil alien balloon, she was calmly putting the girl's things away in one of the hospital's storage containers for her. There was no way to know when the lass was going to wake up, let alone when she'd be able to leave the hospital. At least they had been able to keep the media vultures at bay. They wanted to see the wonder girl at once. It certainly seemed a lot for just some hoax, and so many rival news agencies with different angles being part of the same one? "Something about this is wrong."

The only item the girl had on that was more than a little strange was her bracelet, they had a very hard getting it off her to where they had almost just left it on her. The bracelet at first glance looked simply just a linked piece of plastic, if they hadn't been paying attention to it in particular to get it off, they wouldn't have noticed the finer details. In fact, the more they payed attention to it, the more details the bracelet seemed to have to where they were wondering if this was really the same bracelet if they hadn't had their eyes on it the entire time. Holding the bracelet, the nurse idly thought, "I wonder what your story is." Like a floating painted window, a small 2-D image appeared just above the bracelet. The nurse gasped and took a step back, the image moving back with the bracelet. Seeing it wasn't about to explode, the nurse slowly took notice of the image.

"What the--", It showed a cream colored humanoid rabbit child in an orange dress. A name floated near the bottom of the image: Cream the Rabbit. The image then shifted to an older human child, something about her seemed familiar. The name changed as well Charlotte Ford. "Charlotte Ford? Whose that?"

The 2-D flat image changed again, now it showed one of the tabloid articles that had been gaining more popularity than any rag had a right to. It showed a family who had bought a mysterious video from a store then vanished without a trace. "Charlotte? Is she.... her?"

The 2-D image shifted to show the girl now in the hospital gown, and the name beneath it, "Zoe?" Did the girl have any ID on her before? "Of course she didn't... did she? Someone would have found it.... right?" The nurse went through them again, and indeed, this time, there was a photo ID of the girl. .... "SINCE WHEN DO LITTLE GIRLS CARRY ID?! What is this all about?!"

The 2-D image the bracelet was apparently responding to her questions, because it began to show a orange humanoid ant eater in aztec dress. "Tikal?" Wasn't that the name of a city?" The image shifted to latino lass that the nurse swore she had seen somewhere before, "Julan Sarah Romero?" The image shifted AGAIN this time, "Dang that's a horrible set of first and middle names, 'Sonic' Hedgehog Huh? Wait a second!" Realization dawn on her. She knew that character! Her brother had a game with that character! It the hedgehog became a human, "Ben Bonner? Miles 'Tails' Prower? . . . Kyle Johnson? ... Amy Rose?... Jane Brownson .... "

Not sure what else to do, the nurse began snap shooting the pictures with her cell phone then made an important call, "Okay! Yes it's nice to hear from you too! Listen! The pictures I just sent you! Send them to everyone on your call list, and have them send them to everyone on THEIR call list! No these pictures aren't fake! Yes we have the super hero girl here at the hospital!" The nurse looked on as the images continued to cycle through people who were declared missing or dead (in the case of a cult). Finally the images stopped, and showed a list of names, the ones on the left from their puns clearly video game characters, the ones on the right..."They're, flickering?"


"Shush, it's okay dear, don't cry." Mom said softly holding me.

'Those foxes' look so pretty with their quills like that, how do they get them so thin? And what's that way they have their quills shaped? Pig tails? But they're foxes, not pigs, they should be called fox tails. They look interesting doing their quills like that, I wonder what it's like.'

I'm in my room, Robin is out hunting four-legs with dad, so I know I won't be bothered. I look at the little mirror in my room. Okay, Robin uses it too, but he's not here right now, so it's just my room! I remember the ribbons that the foxes had in their quills, maybe that's how they got their quills like that. I take a ribbon from one of my pretty dresses, it'll look lovely in my quills. I grab my quills on the back of my head and bunch them together, I hold them in place with one hand as I try to try to tie the ribbon... the foxes' quills weren't this hard to move... maybe it takes practice? I hold them a little tighter, pull and a harder and then-

I scream out loud as my quills pierce my skin and draw blood, making my white quills look pink as it spreads out over them, my hands are bleeding! I cry as as my fingers begin to throb, blood pulsing out of them. I must scream very loudly, because mom hears me even through she was outside in the garden. She comes in, sees what I've done to myself and holds me, asking desperately for what happened. I explain about the foxes, about wanting to be like them, and about trying to tie my quills together like them, figuring that if they could do their quills like that without getting hurt, then I could too.

"Honey..." My mom looks at my sadly, "Foxes don't have quills, they have long fur on their heads called hair."

"Hair?" I asked not having heard the word before. "Why don't they have quills like normal?"

Mom looks kinda uncertain, but finally saying, "Most people don't have quills Honey... quills are part of what make us hedgehog special."

"Like our our special eyes?" I sniff.

"Yes like our special eyes, now let's get that cleaned up and dressed before it gets infected."

And that was the day that it was hammered into me to know before I acted. It was a lot like with Robin when dad told him to look before he leaped, to not make the shot unless you knew it was going to hit. Robin of course as he got older learned to mix his knowing with instinct, with feeling before you actually knew. I on the other hand wanted to always know, always wanted to be sure. I slowly learned piece by piece that life didn't work like that. I don't know if mom and dad chose to just split us between them, or weather it just came naturally, but Robin spend most of his time with dad, and I spend most of my time with mom. I guess that was why Robin picked up dad's style of talking, which mom was strangely lacking. Mom explained that she and dad weren't from the same 'class' and he had married her with some objections from grandpa. I didn't understand why not being in the same classroom would have anything to do with it, but I let it go as normal adult strangeness.

I loved the theater whenever mom and dad would take us, Rob had been dragged along, he said it was 'boring' the only plays that ever interested him where the ones with mock battles. Boys. But what I loved about the theater wasn't the romance or the drama, (though those were wonderful), it was the sense of understanding, of order, that confusing things made sense, that things you didn't understand you would by the time the story reached the climax. Most girls who wanted to understand would simply read books, but even mom had called me 'a little strange.' But I guess I did begin to read, plays at least, I'd memorize them, I'd then act them out, playing all parts. Yeah, mom looked at my funny for a while whenever I played the boys, which composed the majority of the cast normally, I never understood why that was.

For a long while, up until I was thirteen, I thought I understood everything I needed to understand, the real world was far too chaotic to -really- understand, so I chose to just understand the theater, the stories, the order, the sequence, and that was that. And Robin it seemed not to ever pick up any 'real world' talents as mom called them, but he got good at his bow and arrow, or 'archery' as dad called it. Of course dad was determined to hammer into him enough brains so he could ultimately run the 'estate.'

Of course, there came the time when I finally began to attend drama clubs with other kids my age. That was when everything changed. I had never thought about it before. I had never stopped to think about something was common sense to others. I had always been the center of mom's universe, so I was the center of my own universe. It took me a while for it sink in, but as I slowly watched girls playing the same roles I had, and boys playing the roles I had, and me playing the roles they did, a feeling began to creep into me. I had no clue what it was at first, as I knew was that something didn't feel right. At first I thought it was just tired, showing up to my club meetings later, and leaving earlier, and even ignoring the others as they played their parts. It finally hit me when I dreamed I was at a puppet show, as one of the puppets! I dreamed that each time a new character came on, my head was replaced, repeatedly, I couldn't tell if any of the new or old head was my own! Then thunder struck me, I -had- no head of my own! That was when I woke up.

Dreams were part of the 'doesn't make sense, so won't try to understand' category for me normally, but for once in my life, the truth of it all hit me. I was a blank slat, a store dummy for people to put masks on, I simply became the character I was playing, and that was that. My mother and club mates had always praised me on my acting talent, it had come so naturally to me, and now I understood why.. because I had nothing of my own! And suddenly I realized, that mattered to me!

I still loved the theater and it's sense or order, but I also realized, I wanted to be my own self too, not just a part of the theater. So I began think about the characters, how -I'd- feel in their shoes, not how they'd feel in their shoes, and brought my own decisions and reactions to the plays, what some called 'ad-lip.' In the eyes of my peers, my talent dropped like a stone, but I didn't care, I wouldn't be no one, I wouldn't be just a base for a mask! My parents figured it was just a phase, and I'd grow out of it soon.

One time when Rob got dragged along to one of my performances, thankfully just an informal rehearsal, he got so bored with it all that he jumped up on stage and took the story so off course that the other actors were left clueless. I'll admit, I had the time of my life. I didn't realize it, but doing that little game of 'whose line is it?' made me feel more alive than I could remember being in a long time!

The evening wasn't a total disaster, at least one of my club mates found the entire thing a riot! She was a green hedgehog like Robin but a darker shade to his greenish turquoise, it almost looked the missing blue had gone straight into her eyes and that tuff of fur on her forehead. She sure didn't dress fancy, all her clothes looked home made but very practical that just barely managed to pass themselves off as feminine. And she was currently laughing up a storm at Robin's poor stage acting and over dramatic sword swings!

When he addressed her in his 'have at thee' style of speech that he had absorbed from dad, she immediately assumed it was all part of the fun and games and addressed him likewise. They talked to each other the entire evening like that. She introduced herself as Bardia Hog. She begged him never to say her last name and he vowed not to. Upon hearing a 'knightly vow' from my brother, and Bardia was hooked! She was amazed at how Robin always spoke her 'romantically' not realizing it was how he normally spoke. As for Robin, dad had managed to drill enough manners into him to be polite to a lady (meaning of course any female he came into contact with).

To play along, Bardia began to imitate Robin's style of speech until it became second nature to her. By the time Bardia asked about it and Robin came right out and said that it was just the way he spoke, just as his father did, Bardia was shocked. But instead of defending his position or saying that he had no clue like a typical male, Robin instead apologized as deeply as he could, saying that he was wrong to have falsely led a lady, and that the fault was totally with himself. Bardia was so floored she forgot she was supposed to be upset! If there was one positive trait my brother had, it was charm!

As for me, after some loud discussions with both my parents at the same time (never a good sign), I gathered enough common sense to hold myself in restraint during the drama meetings, then going all out at every chance I was given every place else! Thus, as the members of the club who didn't lose interest or find other callings in life (Bardia had taken to writing ballets,) started to turn professional, I got -very- mixed review at first. The times I felt alive while performing, was when my reviews were the worse, when I trap myself inside, was when my reviews were fantastic!

All things considered, I shouldn't have been surprised at what happened next, Robin and Bardia got married. Personally I was relieved, Bardia had by now totally infected herself with Robin's 'Victorian Mobian' (whatever that means), and having the two together in my humble opinion just meant they wouldn't go on to infect the entire world! But seriously, I was overjoyed for them. Bardia had begun to learn my real reasons for acting the way I did when I was acting, and sympathized, and Robin effectively acted and, no, was her personal prince charming. Grandpa gave some odd opinions about things, but him and dad never really talked much anyway so it didn't really matter. Dad for his part gave his blessing on the spot. And I got a chance to put in Bardia in something other than those simplistic things she called 'dresses' and put her in a -real- wedding dress. The hours we spend from dawn till dusk finding just the right outfit that match her fur, eyes, and quill style was a hoot! I actually hid her poetry book so she couldn't run off and write somewhere! She ultimately forgave me. She didn't learn the sapphires and emeralds were real until after I bought it for her, via an account from mom and dad of course. She almost insisted on taking the dress back, but I managed to convince her that my family was well enough off that she didn't need to worry about anything. Bardia as it turned out was very money conscience, she had lost her family to sickness two years before meeting Robin. But if Bardia had one talent, she never ever let anything weight her down. She refused to let it.

Let me tell you, that was so much fun. Even though it was the happiest day of Bardia and Robin's life, I had never remembered laughing so hard and fully as I did that day. It didn't hit me until later (seems that's the way it also went with me), that I had effectively lost my brother, he belonged to Bardia now, and Bardia belonged to Robin. Oh sure I was still their sister and now sister-in-law but... I knew that I was -always- going to be second fiddle to either of them in all things. Then third fiddle when Rob'O was born about a year later. But I couldn't help but love the hyperactive cute as buttons hedgehog, even when he began shooting me with those suckion cup arrows his parents gave him no matter how many times I asked him not to.

Realizing (I do a lot of that), that I was reaching that age where I just needed to find my own way in life, and I wasn't going to find it in Shoddingham or Merica. So deciding to be ambitious to the praise of my aging parents, I bought a ticket to Mobotropolis, Acorn Kingdom. I had planned to go home just as soon as I made a good enough or bad enough name for myself (seriously, if someone is bad, how does everyone hear of them?) But that was when the last anyone and everyone expected happened, war. Humans, or Overlanders as the propaganda soon called them, had never been a factor in my life before, even though a good deal of the plays I had memorized were written by them. When Kingdom Acorn was founded as a unification of all species, humans had violently refused to join, persistence on the near pre-history Acorians part had resulted in thrown spears and really big rocks. The silent agreement from then on was that humans lived where they did, and the Acorians lived where where they did. Merica was far removed from any of them, rubbing much closer shoulders with the echidnas, but that's another story.

No one seemed to know the reason for the war, only that Acorians on their death bed would swear humans had declared it and humans on their death beds would swear just the opposite. Lucky for me, Acorians were stuck in the belief that it was 'disgusting' for women to fight, much like humans. And while I certainly felt insulted, I considered myself lucky as Merica as Acorn Kingdom ally gave it's support in troops. This meant of course that I was stuck in Mobotropolis. Travel between countries and even cities had suddenly become much too dangerous. It was fantastic how distant the war felt even as men young and old disappeared and never came back, and the price of things went up ever so slightly. Though my mediocre career as an actress began to slowly pay for itself, I was totally caught off guard when my family's accounts vanished. I received no official reason at all, I only got a letter from Robin that barely made it through. the gist of it said, 'Sis, dad tried to say that we weren't a part of this war, and that maybe just maybe try to figure out why the humans declared this war in the first place.. apparently he said so to the visiting Acorian Warlord Kodos. Afterwards debts and land claims seemed to almost magically appear over here, it happened so fast none of us knew what to do. Dad's a broken man sis, I don't know if he'll live to the end of the war, I'm sorry.'

No words. Just no words. Nearly everything my parents owned swept away by some power seeking battle glory hungry thug with way too big a sword. My mother tried to sent some letters or protest directly to Acorn Castle, but they all returned rejected, and by the time we got the idea of me trying to hand deliver them, the letters just, stopped.

After that, I conformed enough to get by, and risked my own style were I dared. Things became a lonely bur after that, and the world again became a twisting myriad of conflicting information and confusion. Like all wars, the Mobian/Overlander war finally ended, in no small part to apparently a human refugee being promoted to Kodos' old job, I couldn't say I wasn't happy to see him go! 'The one civilized Overlander', that's what he called him, Warlord Julian Kinbotor. And the letters magically started again, along with a horde of ones that had been 'mysteriously' lost in the mail service in the chaos of the war while Warlord Kodos had been in control. I learned that dad had died after the letters stopped, natural causes brought on by everything that had happened. His final farewell had been quite a while ago... Mom, well, Robin and Bardia took care of her.

After that, I dove myself as much as possible in my acting, blindly mixing my own style with burying myself, the critics for the sake of ending their own confusion just labeled me a lost cause and had that be that. All the same, I finally managed to scrap together enough to buy myself a ticket home back to Shoddingham of Merica. Before I returned home, I told my producer, my agent, and my co-stars precisely what I thought of what they thought of me. Of course I was never going to work in that city again, and I really didn't care. I didn't have much in the way of personal effects, nothing worth taking or didn't already have at home. Aside from my violet dress, (which was kinda an original combination of mine), I brought along what mobiums I had left along with a bronze heart locket with a picture of my family inside.

Two weeks before my flight left for Merica, I was on my way back from what had decidedly been my last performance major performance in Mobotropolis, when I had the creepiest experience of my life. I had stopped at a street corner wondering if I had really done the right thing (I knew as sure as heck that it wasn't the smart thing), when deepest calmest voice I can remember said right behind me, "You have arrived."

I turned around to look at a crow who was appeared to be in his late thirties, his feathers looked as dusty as his outfit, which appeared to be made out of several layers of colored ponchos and a non-patterned kilt. "Who are you?" At this point I'd almost be flattered if it was a stalker.

"Since we are never going to meet again, I feel there is no need to share my name miss Hedge. But if you insist, Rainbow Crow."

'Hippy.' Was my instant mental reaction. "Well... nice to met you, but I'll be on my-"

"I'd like to make a business transaction with you."

"I don't have any money."

"You're lying. Otherwise you'd be interested in learning what my business was. And yes, while I do selfish ask for cash in this Miss Hedge, I believe you'll find what I wish to offer you will prove very useful for you in this life and the next."

"Look, I say my prayers already at night, and I-"

"Forgive me for continuing to interrupt you, but you are mistaken. What I offer is a key." The black bird opened his claws.

"That is a book and a deck of playing cards." I pointed out.

The crow spoke as if he was talking to a student of his, "First rule girl! Never ever interpret things literally when you are only granted a glimpse of things! This is a key to a talent that you don't even realize you have. These cards are the Tarot. The Arcana through which all is revealed."

"riiiiight... " I took a few steps back. "And let me guess, you've been waiting for me in particular for years just to give me just what I need?"

"Hardly. The Arcana revealed to me that it would be needed by someone near the theater. Second lesson girl, getting specifics from the Arcana is like pulling teeth."

"So how do you know I'm this one?" I asked playing along for now until he dropped whatever bomb shell he was hiding.

The crow drew several cards, looked at them, then at me. "Your family has been stripped of nearly everything you own, you sought justice, only to have it thrown back in your face, you have sought order in your life, only to find you couldn't make yourself fit into that order without losing yourself, and that you had to find a self. You seek to understand the laws of cause and effect that govern fate, you call out to the Arcana, and the Arcana has chosen to answer back. Oh, and you'll need some amusing reading on your way back home, so an interpretation book is as good as any."

I blinked several times, how much of that could he have guessed? How much of that could he have figured out from public records? I felt dizzy. "-What- are you?"

"A flesh and blood mobian, same as you, hoping to pay the bills via destiny. Didn't work out so hot. Lesson number three girl! You do NOT tell the cards what you want to know, the Arcana tell YOU what you need to know. So if you would be so kind as to give me the five spare mobiums you have in your purse's second pouch next to that letter you got from your brother, and I'll give you the pieces of paper that people believe hold magic and the book that's worthless past the third chapter."

Did this bird have x-ray vision? Was that any more absurd than him being a precog'? And if this was a con, he sure was playing down his part for supposedly putting on an 'air of mystery.' The five mobiums in my purse's second pouch next to the letter from Robin I could actually spare so I tossed it to him, he deserved it if that was all he wanted after putting on a performance like this.

I tossed him the five mobiums and he handed me the book and deck of cards. "Now, lesson number four girl. What you hold in your hands are nothing but tools. Tools are worthless without the skill and wit to use them correctly. The Arcana can help you behold a piece of tomorrow's truth, but it's not a faith or a religion, it can't help you behold the entire truth of all things. These items have but one purpose, and that is to teach you be able to use the talent inside you -without- using them. These are your training wheels, nothing more, nothing less. Oh, and Misty? Those foxes were actually jealous of yours quills."

I felt a chill go up my spine. Feeling that this was way too in-depth and complex for a con to give me a book and cards for five mobiums, I turned and -ran-! And I -kept- running until I was back at my apartment, I locked the door, locked the window, and slept that night with the light on!

After I hesitantly opened the book the next day and it didn't suck my soul out, I actually began to read it, learning what each card meant, didn't mean, could mean, meant upside down, and how they related to each other. And the warning on almost every other page that the Tarot could be misinterpreted due to preconceptions of what you -wanted- the future to be.

Maybe I just looking for meanings that weren't there, but I began as a game to draw the tarot cards to see if they ever picked up any meaning on what happened that day. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't. And I was eager to just brush it off as just a game. However it interested me all the same, so I continued to toy with them. VERY strangely however, they slowly began to align themselves more with what happened that day.

The creepiest one was where I drew the Lovers, and I got a letter from Robin explaining that he arranged a blind date for me as a 'welcome home present.' I had never drawn the Lovers before that day. Robin gave me some details about him, he didn't sound like that bad a guy, apparently he was part of the 'Blood Rose' clan. A family of weapon smiths and gun smiths who had been hit hard when Merica adopted Acorn Kingdom's taboo on firearms. Personally I never understood the difference between the flint-lock and the crossbow or why people thought the former was evil and the latter was alright. I honestly wanted to see if this blind date was real, I -dared- it to be real, just to see if that stupid piece of paper could have possibly helped me see it coming.

When my flight to Merica finally came around, I drew the Chariot, I was sure this meant my flight was going to be quick and easy, instead it got delayed. Some big shot apparently was coming through, so much for that card.

I should have gone straight home when my flight finally arrived. I was going to be late anyway. The place had changed some since I had left, one of the wolf tribes had even opened up a new gambling house. I looked at the Tarot cards, I drew the Sun and the Wheel of Fortune. Hmm, the card meaning good things, and a card with a gambling device on it... worth a shot. I was going to be late anyway.

So much for the clarity of the Arcana. My meager financial resources began to drop like a lead balloon. Maybe I was being just a fool, but I chose to look at the cards again. This time it came up Death: the erasure of old patterns. The card however slipped out between my fingers and almost seemed to fly away. That was when it led to me a spiky red hedgehog, whose name I would was rather unoriginally Spike (then again, we Mobians are infamous for having little or any imagination when it comes to names).

Turns out he didn't have a clue what a tarot card was. As I explained things to him, I noticed him staring at me, had he heard of me? Then again, who was I kidding? I was an albino, even among your own species these red eyes made people nervous. The infamous pools of blood.

At this point however it looked like the management wanted me gone, and right when I was about to start winning! Spike informed me that that neighborhood had turned ugly, and it was dangerous to go around alone, Robin hadn't mentioned anything like that. But I was an actress, and while i did pick up he was hiding something, nothing about it seemed hostile.

The tarot showed me The Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune this time, I was going to have to wait for my luck to turn around? So I accepted the management's request and Spike's offer, I told him where my family's house was and we walked. We talked much about nothing, where I had gotten my cards from, our lots in life. I drew the Wheel of Fortune and the Sun Tarot again, this time in the reverse of what I had before. Had my luck already changed? Weird. Maybe these cards were a load like Spike was telling me they were.

The sunset, the stars and moon came out, the last card I drew for the evening was either of those though, I drew the Fool. The direct translation of course was that I was an idiot, but the indirect translation referred to the end of a journey and the beginning of another.

Putting the card away, done with them I was sure, we finally arrived at my family's home... much more modest than it had been when I had left. Spike acted very confused about this being the place, I didn't have time to think about that because for the first time in years, I saw Robin! We greeted each other and hugged as much as hedgehogs dare when Spike revealed the bomb shell of the evening, HE was my blind date all along! The sly hog!

The rest of the evening went perfectly well, I performed in front of the others, using my own style, and feeling alive among friends and family. Spike seemed to enjoy it immensely, and I think I finally began to understand what Rainbow Crow meant, and the truth behind the little pieces of paper.

I threw away the interpretation book two weeks after I met Spike, parallel to the two weeks I had gotten it before meeting him. Rainbow Crow had been right, the meanings did seem to come more clearly when I didn't try to look it up. A month after that from being home, and finding local work as a stage performer and finding a much more tolerant audience, I also began to amuse myself by fortune telling on the side, my normal choice in attire seemed to create the air of strangeness about me anyway.

A month after throwing away the book, I threw away the card Rainbow Crow had sold me, and drew my own. Spike wondered about that, and I explain it to him. While there was no rule about using manufactured cards, let alone as tarot readers 'code of conduct', it just felt more natural using cards that I had drawn myself than printed in a publisher. I told him that I was ready to make my own fortune. He got a strange, then determined look in his eyes after that.

Oh yes, and Spike told him his family history as if it was some dark hidden secret that was supposed to be hidden by all, the look on his face was priceless when I explained I had known even before meeting him, and that I couldn't have cared less! One thing I learn was in the time I had gone Rob'O had upgraded from his toy to an actually bow and arrow, and (thank heaven) had lost his interest in firing them at me. Spike explained the bow was actually one of Spike's own designs. I endured his talk about weapon design and he endured my talk about the finer points of acting. One thing that did worry me though was Robin. Robin had grown a slightly distant since I had last seen him, and while I could always trace where the cash came from and went to for all the bills, there was the strange habit of the wealthy losing their surplus cash, and the fatherless families finding some whenever he was around. I was honestly worried about him, but Bardia always assured me that everything was all right and there was nothing to worry about.

As Rainbow Crow said, I began to see the Arcana without even actually using the tarot, no longer in symbolic logos or numbered cards, but as meanings, causes, and effects. And while many of the things I felt made he feel safe and confident, many of things I saw made me scared. I didn't know what at the time, just this creepy shadow of death, and a strange restrictive feeling of uniformity.

But all these dark feelings were pushed to the side when Spike asked me The Question. He wanted to know if I wanted to be his wife. I gave him a day to sweat it out, then gave him the answer I was going to from the start: of course yes! Spike didn't enjoy everything I enjoyed, I didn't enjoy everything he enjoyed. I listened to everything he had to say regardless, he listened to everything I had to say regardless. I had no talent or interest in weapons, he had no interest or talent in the 'occult.' Spike paid attention to me when I was with him, and I paid attention to him when I was with him. At the end of the day, Spike wanted to understand me, and at the end of the day, I wanted to understand him. I didn't see a 'Bloody Rose' when I looked at him, I saw Spike, and he didn't see the 'bad crazy actress with pools of blood' when he looked at me, he saw Misty. He seemed to know about Robin, and didn't care, I knew about him having broken the Acorian taboo, and I didn't care. He was willing to give things up that mattered to be with me, and I was willing to give up things that mattered to be with him.

I don't think there's any true text book definition of love, but at this point, I think it was worth the risk to find out if it existed between us. Bardia was sure come Hell or high water to get her revenge on for me for her wedding day. The dresses I tried on were so traditional, so formal, so perfect, so adhering to expectations, of course I hated them. Of course Spike being a male mobian, was almost allergic to clothing, so being stuffed into a tuxedo was the first major sacrifice he made in my name. Ultimately, I chose to return the favor.

The wedding day was the nerve racking, heart pounding, most wonderful day of my life. You know... I think that day was the first time Spike and myself actually kissed... it was wonderful, and what we did that night for the first time, was heaven's bliss.

When I found out I was pregnant well, let's just say that I lost whatever tiny shreds of obliviousness I had left crawling around inside my skull about the world in general. Spike took it pretty well actually.

"Dearie, please come down from the ceiling," I managed to coax him eventually.

Those months were lovable, humiliating, and at some points aggravating. As if to make up for it, Amy came out rather easily. But she was such a little thing that it wasn't too surprising.

A few months before Amy's birth, someone else happened. Something big, round, and shaped like an egg. I remember seeing what would happen with the tarot, I remember sending letters of warning to the Acorians... they weren't blocked, or lost. They were rejected. No one wanted to believe a member of the 'Bloody Rose' family let alone some 'fraud psychic,' least of all if it defaced Warlord Julian Kinbotor, 'the one civilized overland in the world.' And personally, I think no one wanted to believe the consequences of their choices could be foreseen, that way they could always say 'I didn't see that coming' or 'there was no way I could have known things would turn out this way'. The take over by the tyrant who renamed himself Dr. Ivo Robotnik was swift and terrible, like something out of a nightmare, it happened so fast that information was short coming, and the two nations of South Island and Acorn Kingdom were swiftly and ruthless crushed and absorbed into the new nation of machines by machines for machines.

However, the rest of the world doesn't stop turning because one nation is taken over and another is invaded. And Robotnik's empire at first seemed to be totally isolationist, as long as no one was dumb enough to step foot in his little empire, everyone thought that he'd be content with his little land grabs. The Cat Country and the Federation of Human City States (all that remained of an entire nation after Julian Kinbotor was through with it), chose to leave well enough alone, as did Merica. And Spike, any grudges he had against the Acorn Royal family died that day, he had seen what had happened to the once beautiful nation, he figured that had just paid in full and more so for the sins they had committed. I don't know if he felt satisfied or guilty. But at the same time... with Acorn Kingdom reduced to rubble, betrayed by their own ally who betrayed his own race... holding a grudge against them now felt meaningless. In particular who he heard how many where shot by robots, mobians defending themselves with either melee weapons or arrows.

And so The Eggman Empire became just an ugly blot on the map everyone tried not to pay attention to, as long as he kept dumping his toxic goo in his own backyard, no one saw a reason to bring up the ire of the apparent maniac.

The irony was not lost on anyone as the neutral city state of Station Square, with a majority of humans, took in refugees from a nation that had just finished a vicious species oriented war. And like any refugees in for the long haul, they were expected to assimilate into the culture.

In Mercia, everything remained peaceful, Robotnik's shadow a distant nightmare that didn't concern us in the least.

It look longer for Amy to crawl than it should have, and it took her longer to walk than it should have. Thankfully these short comings didn't reach to their mental faculties, she learned to speak and recognize things just fine, but her motor skills always seemed to drag their feet. The doctors insisted that we always make sure she got plenty of exercise. We made sure she worked her little muscles. But if there was one thing Amy always seemed to fall short on, it was her legs. No one could ever figure it out, but no matter how hard Amy tried, she always seemed to be dead last.

As for Rob'O, while at first he considered Amy to be just a mobile siren to be avoided at all costs. But once she was out of diapers, and she began following him around, he actually liked having a 'fair young maiden' to rescue, protect, and to enrapture with the tales of his heroic deeds. For the time, Amy considered herself to be the princess, and Rob'O her prince. Whatever grievances Spike had with the Acorians, Amy loved the idea of being a fairy tale princess and Rob'O his knight in shinning armor, their only regret was that there was a dragon who lived nearby to rescue her from. I don't know if dragons took offense to these games or not, but to Amy and Rob'O they were just innocent fun, and that's what mattered.

Plus, it encouraged Amy to run, something she'd never do otherwise, when Rob'O enticed her to chase after him, something Amy needed more than anything. Our lives weren't fantastic or notable, except maybe Robin's, but we were happy. Then came the day I told Spike that were was going to be twice as much love in the house.

"Mama? Why is daddy on the top of our roof?"

This time Robin and Bardia chipped in getting Spike out his comical hiding place. Rob'O and Amy thought that the entire thing was a riot! As for me, I now had the added 'fun' of taking sure Rob'O didn't sneak over his archery set and accidently shoot Amy, and making sure Amy didn't mistake the tool shed for a giant 'take out all the nails' game on -top- of my pregnancy! Thankfully both me and Spike had more experience this time around and knew what to expect, so balancing taking care of me and making sure Amy and Rob'O didn't play William Tell with each other wasn't as stressful as it could have been.

As if to balance out Amy's easy and on time birth, Red came out early, painfully, and kicking and punch something fierce! Needless to say, Red was a fireball from the start. Again as if he was trying to contrast Amy right from the start he almost learned to run before he learned to crawl! This made diapering him almost more trouble than it was worth sometimes let me tell you! Of course, he also gave Amy the added practice she always needed. If Rob'O was Amy's protagonist, then Red was Amy's antagonist, as little brothers I'm told tend to be.Of course, I had some experience being a little sister of course, we're genetically programmed to drive our older siblings nuts!

It all began when Red began to reach the age where he could actually play games with Amy and Rob'O. Rob'O for his part I think was happy to finally have another boy in his 'band of merry men' (and could finally use the plural). Having come to the threshold where he could be another playmate rather than a burden, Rob'O was quick to make Red his squire. Of course, in a year, by the time Red was world wise enough to know what a squire was, immediately demanded that he be a knight too, not just a squire. This led to Rob'O saying there was room for only one knight in the backyard, and Red was demoted from squire to goblin. And very adapt at being a goblin red proved to be. Mud bombs, non-sentient bug booby traps, it was all Sir Rob'O could do to protect his fair maiden from the vile goblin's endless assaults and tricks.

Spike just made sure Rob'O never used his bow in these situations, but otherwise -encouraged- it, feeling it natural behavior among boys, sadly Amy was being dragged along for the ride. I know what they say about Tomboys being perfectly natural, but I'd prefer Amy didn't pick up habits she wouldn't be able to later. So it was ultimately up to me to keep the peace, this often ended up with me being stuck with one of Red's mud bombs on one side and one of Rob'O foam arrows on the other. Amy of course cheered Rob'O on, after all, he was her brave knight.

Eventually I was able to lay down the law (like any parent should), and enforce some rules that kept my garden from being destroyed and the house from needing washing twice a week. Things began to settle down after that. The kids grew older, but things remains relatively sane for all of us. Robin remained the mysterious balancing force between the rich and the poor, but was never arrested. I let my 'hobby' with the tarot slack, after all, I had a happy life, I didn't need to go chasing off after every imaginary future out there, I had what I wanted right there in the present. I ignorantly believed me and Spike had found our place in things.

I should have remembered the truth of the Wheel of Fortune, good times shall follow bad times, bad times shall follow good times. And that troubles times shall always strike you in threes.

It was like any other day, it was just any other day, it should have been just any other day. I still don't understand how it could have happened. It shouldn't have happened. But it did all the same. Rob'O was reaching that age where he could be trusted with a fraction of responsibility. We were lax, complacent, of course something was going to go wrong. We were both just in a hurry that day, and Rob'O was never late, and we told ourselves the kids would be alone for just a few minutes. We were both selfish idiots. If we had just waited for Rob'O to be dropped off by Robin. Could have, should have, didn't. Amy and Red were indeed alone by themselves for only a few minutes, and those few minutes, was all it took. We visited Blue, Spike's mother, and my own and Robin's mother as always did that day of the week. Blue, while old age was beginning to finally catch up with her, insisted on remaining self sufficient. And my Mom, was as normal talking to dad's ghost who only she could see or hear. Everyone else thought she was crazy, and maybe she was, but I had begun to wonder about the things we mortal mobians -couldn't- see.

I carried my tarot cards with me mostly just cause, I didn't even think any of it when the Wheel of Fortune and the Death accidently slipped out of my purse and hit the floor. I simply put them back in my bag without a second thought.

I came home first, Spike closely behind by Spike. We were innocent and confused by Robin and Bardia being there, it wasn't until we saw the doctor that concern and alarm flared in our heads. Rob'O was a ball of quills in Bardia's lap, shaking with his double eye as large as it could go. Amy was on the couch, in an almost feral position crying a river and drowning in it, there were scratch marks all over her bare legs, and the ends of her gloves had been torn through by the inside.

When we saw what we saw, Spike's legs gave out from under him, his face empty yet horrified. For me, bile climbed up my throat, I forgot how to breath, then I just screamed so loud that Bardia said it echoed off the mountains.

"Our young Rob'O came crashing in looking more scared than I've ever seen'em in all his days, you know our young Rob'O nothing ever scares the lad," Bardia later told, "He was screaming, yelling up the storm to bring down the gods. Finally we brought forth from him what had transpired, and we made to yer house hold, having called forth the good doctor to be there with us... but... young Red... he be already gone... Misty... I be so sorry, so sorry indeed."

Rob'O had heard Amy screaming and crying behind the house, thinking Red had pulled a particularly nasty prank on her. Instead he found Red bleeding all over, and his face, one look and Rob'O just ran home, all his courage forgotten at the sight of it. When Robin, Bardia, and the doctor all arrived soon after, Amy was still there. Her voice was broken, her eyes almost as crimson as mine. And she kept clawing at her legs, cursing them and herself, for being a slow freak. We later pieced together Red had climbed one of the trees like he had done a million times before, slipped, and broke his neck, Amy had been just too slow to catch him.

We had a wake for Red, and a funeral, words of kindness were said, and we gave our final farewell. The emptiness left behind by Red's death was a shadow over all our hearts. Spike chose to simply never mention his son, and never brought it up once with me or Amy. Amy's fixation on moving faster grew almost into a sickness. We watched Amy carefully for months after Red's death, making sure she didn't damage herself more than she already did. Rob'O, or one of us, was always with her. Thank heaven for Rob'O, I think the boy was braver than all of us, he continued as is, and was neither fixated on Red, nor pretended my son had never existed. He also gave Amy what he needed most, someone who cared about her, someone who she could speak to, because after Red's death I failed miserably at that job.

I became almost slavishly fixated on the tarot at that point, ignorantly thinking I could predict any and all misfortune that could harm my family. I read every book I could on the tarot, it's origins, it's dangers, it's strengths and weaknesses, gleaning what was useful and discarding what wasn't, I didn't want anything to surprise me or my family ever again. I didn't hear Amy when she asked me to look at her, I didn't see her when she reached out for a hug... I did it to her, I did it all to her. I protected the flower by building stone walls around it in all direction, and slowly began to kill it from the lack of sunlight. My ability to see with my sixth sense did grow by leaps and bounds, and I totally forgot Rainbow Crow's warning that you could never hope to predict everything. I was convinced he just didn't try hard enough, wasn't willing to go far enough.

Then I did the unthinkable, I thought I could -command- the future through the cards, that instead of just seeing the way the river would bend and curve, that I could decide where and when it would bend and curve. I returned to that casino (now under the control of the Weasel family)... and in a day earned back double everything I had lost that day I had met Spike, and then quintuple, and by the time I left, I enjoyed the feeling of fear the gambling house gave me, they tried to prove I was cheating, but ESP wasn't considered something you could hold up in a court room, and I felt all the more confident because of it. As far as cash went, our family was well off due to my winnings, and I felt in total control of life, instead of just going with the flow. I remember buying Amy her green ruffle dress, and while she looked wonderful in it, she looked at me with a warped mix of longing and fear that confused me, but I was too busy being on top of the world to worry. I was free of anyone's control but my own, finally, I wrote the script and no one else.

They say those who defy fate for the sake of defying fate, or try to directly contradict destiny are it's most entrapped pawns, and those who try to cheat fate, and manipulate destiny like you would the sale of a ship, are the ones who are struck down the most ruthlessly by it. They're dead right.

The fates paid me back in full with interest for my obsession in the name of fearing loss, for neglecting my surviving child in the name of helping her, and for acting as if I was their master.

It was a night of heavy rains on what was supposed to be a clear full moon night. Dinner was good, I had cooked for once instead of ordering take out as I often had since I had let myself become a slave to the tarot. I don't know how he found out, or what made him think that we'd work with -him-, but the devil came knocking all the same.

When Spike opened the door, he gasped in alarm, his nearly forgotten military training bringing him neatly into a fighting stance. But the feline mountain in the doorway didn't react hostilely towards Spike's display, instead he just said, "Parlay."

It was Kodos, the son of a tomcat. Ex-warlord, and the sick bastard who had broken my mother's mind and sent my father into a grave! But what struck me hard, is that I realized, is that that my sixth sense hadn't warned me of this, or had it, and I just ignored it?

"What do you want you bastard!" Spike said it before I could.

The lion on the prowl never stopped grinning. "Such hostility! I merely come here to offer you employment! To make amends for the tragic injustices visited upon you years before."

"Out with it and get out of my home!"

"Humph. I come all this way. Seek you out of all people, and you turn away a guest, how rude. As I said, I merely wish to offer you employment. Are you familiar with Acorn Kingdom's Court Magician Ixis Nagus? He had begun to collect people of particular talents and skill to form a group to take the power unlawfully stolen by Robotnik, and to make sure it never falls into the hands of the Acorn Royal family ever again, after all, wasn't it their taboo imposed on Merica that cost your family it's lively hood?"

"And -you- destroyed my family!" I could hold it in anymore. I completely forgot about Amy even being there. Sitting there wide eyed wondering what was going on.

"Like I said, I only wish to make amends, is it really that hard to believe that men can change?"

On reaction I pulled out a Tarot. The Devil. Greed, deceit, manipulation, and self-destruction. I narrowed my eyes.

Spike after a long silence said, "And how do you plan to make sure the Acorns don't regain power?"

"Kill them of course, execute them, it's just what they deserve for allowing Kinbotor to rise to power at all, for letting him steal my title and rank, for ruining your life, it's only justice."

Another Tarot, this time it flashed through my mind's eye, no need for the cards, the aura was so powerful. It was the Justice, UPSIDE-DOWN!

Spike after another too long silence looked up at the much larger and taller cat. "You shouldn't have mentioned your murder plans, otherwise, you just might have suckered me. Now get out before I throw you out."

"Now that's a pity, I really thought you could be useful, oh well." Kodos' claws went through the air where Spike's head had been a moment before. In a matter of seconds the fight was on and I dove for cover. Our living room was reduced to shambles in seconds. Spike twisted over forewords and backwards, using his quills as a natural shield against Kodos' claws. Spinning over forewords, Spike managed to cut deeply into the brute's arms, causing the lion to roar with pain so loud that my ears rang. But in the end, Spike's grunt skills were just no match for a fully seasoned warrior, Kodos faked out twice, then dove his fist and his claws into Spike's gut, sending the crimson hedgehog fly across the run into a wall leaving an impression.

Kodos moved in to finnish Spike off when there was a sick cracking sound, and he hoped backwards a step or two, howling and cursing too awful to reprint. "YOU LEAVE DADDY ALONE!" Amy screamed. Amy! My Amy! I cursed myself worse than Kodos ever could! Amy! Amy no! All this, and I forgotten about her! No! No! No! Amy!

She was holding a hammer that had been accidently left in the house. It was no war hammer, but it got the gruesome job done all the same. His eyes those of a killer, Kodos looked down at Amy swiped at her, fully intending to kill her. Amy's reaction time had improved just enough over the course of time that it became a glancing blow instead, but it was still enough to send her flying into the base of the couch.

I charged at Kodos, kamikaze thoughts filling my entire being.

"What the bloody Hell?!"

"Come on! It was from Misty's house I'm sure of it!"

"Well come on it sounded like a wild animal!"

You know what they say about waking the neighbors? Well this time it did. Kudos, not knowing if he was about to face a full armed police force or a gaggle of ragtag neighbors (and certainly no clue that it was the latter), did the one thing he had never done in his life, retreated, I don't think he wanted to risk going into battle with a ruined knee. I didn't really care though. I was more concerned about my husband and child. Amy was laying very still, while Spike was bleeding all over himself. We called the doctor, and did our best to apply first aid, but his bleeding wasn't the danger as much as the parts of him that wild man had torn out, we don't know what infection was on that devil's claws, but it slowly began to eat away at my husband. Spike was sweltering for a day before death finally took him. Sir Charles Hedgehog's robotocizer, or the vast medical knowledge of the echidnas could have saved him, but it was neither here nor there, we could only do our best to save him, and watch our best fail. Amy, after examination by several doctors repeatedly (to the point where some wanted to run some tests on me), was shown to have suffered no brain damage. When she first awoke, she asked where her father was, and why the house was a mess.

A psychologist theorized that Amy had completely blocked out what happened out of her memory. I told Amy Spike had been mauled by a non-sentient bear, rather than saying he had gone on a long journey like most suggested I say. Maybe it was the wrong thing to say, but I didn't want my baby to turn into a vengeance machine, nor did I want to have to keep making up lies on where her father way. Robin and the police together (the irony), searched high and low for Kodos, but they could never find the Warlord turned murderer. The monster must have fled all night on that ruined knee. I couldn't help the feeling of satisfaction I felt knowing that. My sixth sense only told me that he'd face justice ultimately for what he had done.

I never looked at, or touched my Tarot cards again. I prayed to Aurora several times for forgiveness, for letting what I told myself was a selfless endeavor become a selfish satisfaction. Another wake, another funeral, another final farewell, and I was a single parent looking after my surviving child. Spike's mother, Blue, practically locked herself up in her home after that, the old woman refusing to take visitors most of the time, even seeing us on only rare occasions.

No one enjoyed the death of one of the 'bloody roses', people now had new evils to hate.

I continued to act on the side, filling my time with mediocre roles, I still gave readings when asked, never once using the cards anymore. I let Amy play with my cards when she found them, not caring if she cut them up or burned them.

It had been a year since Spike's death, when Amy meekly stepped into my room one night, she looked awful, she had been crying.

I let her crawl on top of my bed, and I hugged her, letting it all out before she finally said anything to me,

"Mama.... " Amy whispered, "I lied.. I didn't try to catch Red... I just... I just... stayed there and gasped!... I didn't do anything... "

Understanding came to me in that moment, "Honey. You couldn't have done anything different. You were scared. There's nothing you could have done differently."

"Then.... you don't hate me?"

"Honey... you're all I have left... I could never hate you, not in a thousand years, in not a thousand life times, I could never hate you."

I still don't know what it was that inspired Amy to 'confess' that night, maybe she had a dream about Red, maybe she received a message through the cards, it didn't matter, the point was that my daughter had one less burden to carry, and we had enough burdens to carry as was.

That night I feel asleep with Amy in my arms, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was in a city I had never been in before, but I knew like the back of my hand, I dreamed the only people I saw were humans, but I was just as tall as any of them, I dreamed that I driving around in what humans called a car. I dreamed that I answered to a name other than my own, but was my own. I dreamed my whole family was alive, even if our names were different. I dreamed of my daughter having to leave us to aid and protect those she cared about. I dreamed we had waited a long time for her to send word to us, but none came. Then I dreamed of a messenger with her face, telling her we'd be with her again soon, or never see her again depending on which lord of fate won out over us. I dreamed that I had gone home, just as instructed, but -they- were waiting for me. I dreamed of the machine I had heard of but never seen, I dreamed of my body parts being replaced by electronics, I dreamed being given the perfect order I had always desired. I dreamed being used to torture my own child but no longer being able to care. I dreamed her doing what she had to do, I dreamed this destroyed her, leaving her the perfect toy for a devil in sleek blue armor.

I screamed when I woke up, I woke up Amy and she screamed too. I though we could both use some hot coco. I explained to Amy I had simply had a nightmare, one where we were all together again, but then, were torn apart.

"I had a bad dream too mom..." Amy had said, "I dreamed there were tin men everywhere, they were bad tin men, they broke everything and kept hurting people... I thought tin men were good."

Amy didn't know about Robotnik in earnest, the Wizard of Oz, held more meaning and was more real to her.

"Not all tin men are good sweetie, some are awful, just like people."

"I hope I get to meet some of the good tin men."

"I'm sure you will sweetie, I'm sure you will." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I doubted there were any good 'tin men.'

The next several weeks, Amy and I lived our lives the best we could, Robin and Bardia gave us the support we needed when we needed us. To make up for lost time, I spent as much of each day I could with her. I took Amy long on a few of my theater jobs, but she never showed any interest in acting. It scared me how she always seemed to find a hammer to play with regardless if it was plastic, aluminum or real. Her memory, at least consciously, of Spike dead remained buried, she always wanted to carry a hammer with her, even if she herself didn't understand the reason.

Rob'O also gave her something to focus on. Hedges always started their children young on the bow and arrow. But while my little Amy showed some passible talent with a longbow, it was with the dreaded crossbow, the terror weapon of ages past, that my little child shinned at. Natural I couldn't stand the idea of such a dangerous weapon being in the hands of a child. Sadly, Rob'O being the cousin he was, sneaked Amy lessons on the awful thing, I was sure it was going to get herself or Rob'O killed. I couldn't ever allow that. But my objections only caused Rob'O and Amy to be even more sneaky about it. And Amy was more and more seeming to know just when they had to flee to not be caught by me, even as finding their new hiding places became second nature to me.

I never once thought about the idea that maybe, just maybe, Amy had inherited my sixth sense, sometimes we miss what's right in front of us. What Robin called our 'weird feeling' had gotten to the point where Amy and I could almost point out each other's location on a map if we tried hard enough when I had the last night of my life.

They came without warning or pretense. The little black lie that Robotnik was content with what he had, shattered along with several pangs of glass in an instant! I awoke fifteen seconds before the first shock wave was felt by anyone. I was running through my house thirty seconds before the first robot was seen. I had stormed into Amy's room, took her straight out of her bed ten seconds before the screaming started. Lazy child was still in her dress.

The SWATS came first, being the brass knuckles punch that broke through whatever hardened defenses there were. Then came the Badniks flanked by the elite Egg-Robos. And mixed in with these flickies trapped in metal shells, were people who -were- their metal shells. Robians. None of us had seen one before, but we knew what they were at first glance. They carried out their duties and functions the same as the rest of their fellow machines. Spotted in the lot 'just for fun' as Robotnik called it, were rapists serial murderers, left for the Robotocizer in Mobotropolis' prison when it's citizens had fled. They had been given free will, the ability to think and act on their own in exchange for just one thing, doing what they did best. Given that their fellow mobians had left them to die, they weren't about to turn on their new benefactor or species.

It was bedlam washing up against a tide of ever encroaching order. Some fled, some fought and died, some gambled to take some personal effects with them before fleeing, some won, many lost. Not even letting Amy down her own two feet I ran, I felt where they were before they were there, I turned directions so fast that soon even I didn't know where I was going. But it was like a noose slowly closing around my neck, it didn't matter if you could see which way to go if there wasn't going to be a place to go! But still I ran as fast as I could, as far as I could, pushing my body to the limit.

Robin's family lived much farther out from the heart of Shoddingham than Amy and I, the machines wouldn't have bothered with it yet. It would be a temporary safe heaven, safe just long enough to get provision and escape the machine's designated target zones.

The robots noticed the larger target of a mother and child escaping together, they fired the laser shot, stunning the mother, and the child futility attempted to drag her along. It was simple matter then to carry the limp and squirming raw material, place it into the robotocizer, and the machine greeted the newest members of the Eggman Empire.

I stopped dead in my tracks, my heart nearly shatters from the power of the vision I had just had, more intense than anything I had ever had before, my sixth sense growing by leaps and bounds.

"Mom?" Amy asks more worried than worried.

I put her down, look her RIGHT in the eyes, and say in the most stern and intense voice I had ever given her said,

You go find cousin Rob'O Rosy!"

"Huh? But Mom what about-"

"Not now young lady! You go to cousin Rob'O's house, tell them everything that's happened! Don't tell them to wait for me! I'll be there when I'll be there! There's something I forgot at home I need to go back for, now run, -RUN!-"

And Amy, on her meek legs, ran as fast as I think she ever has, her small size making her a minor target. Robotnik nor his robots never had considered children of any real value.

The woman didn't resist as the robots took her, wishing the other raw materials gave them this much compliance. The processing went without a hitch, and the new citizen of the Eggman Empire quickly went about her new tasks. It was simply, perfectly orderly existence, and was so for many years. Until a pink organic creatures attempted to damage one of the factories, the unit attempted to stop it, the pink organic creature hesitated, how foolish of it. However, it fired at the last moment, striking the unit with the primitive projectile weapon, terminating it, the pink organic was found by the SWATs, broken and crying, they took it as the replacement for the terminated unit.

I gasped out, tasting blood in my mouth, feeling dizzy, I was seeing the future more clearly than any mortal creature had a right to, and it was costing me that mortality. My heart really did feel like it was doomed to burst. Amidst the destruction, the death, the perversions of good intentions, I was struck by a sense of clarity. For just moment, I understood it all.

"I'm sorry Amy, it's going to take me a lot longer than I thought to go to Robin's home, I'll be there when I can, I'm sorry my little rose."

I found a grenade on a fallen weekend warrior. I felt which direction the robots would come from before they even showed up.

They would say, "Halt. Surrender," and they did.

I would walk up to the stupid machines, the weapon behind my machine, and I did.

I would say, "I surrender." and I did.

They would look at each other confused for a moment, and they did.

I would use that moment of confusion to get close enough to pull the pin on the bomb, and I did.

The blast would be intense enough that I wouldn't have time to register the pain, and I didn't.

Shelia swerved to the left and right sides of the road, clipping several cars before making a half-hazard emergency parking on the side of the road, causing more honking than at a protest rally.

Shelia drove to her home, where she had been told by Zefie to go. She had tried to call her husband and son, as per instructions also, but all she got was static that sounded too much like a demented laugh. She also hadn't run across -any- police. This should have been a relief, but as C.S. Lewis once wrote 'if there's a wasp in the room, better to know where it is.'

Shelia was drenched in sweat, her heart racing a mile a minute, experiencing death while still fully alive was not something anyone was meant to feel. She leaned her head against steering wheel... what was that? It was no dream, no delusion, she remembered it all, every detail, every fact. And the early facts were blurred and smeared as they often were for childhood memories, while the later ones were crystal clear.

The flood gate of memories had been so intense for that several minutes she just sat there, almost going to sleep. But she couldn't sleep. She couldn't risk it. She also knew beyond all doubt, that she couldn't go home... that dream... HER dream... she wouldn't let it happen. The thirty something woman got out of her family's second car, locking it out of habit more than anything.

Shelia went to a fortune teller once, the fat short woman had looked at the cards on the table, then at Shelia, then at the cards again, then screamed and ran. Lance assured her it was all part of the act. Strange thing was, Shelia hadn't paid yet.

She looked in a storefront window, and for a moment, in the space between moments, she saw a creature who was much shorter than her, and had albino features. She touched her hand to the glass, and the woman entity on the other side did the same. Shelia looked into the pools of blood of the humanoid hedgehog, she looked back.

"Misty. Help me find our daughter." She said, and she saw the hedgehog on the other side do the same. Her reflection nodded and she did the same. The moment between moments pasted, and the human woman took a city map out of her purse. She knew her own home was no longer the meeting place. She let her minds eye wander, she felt where she needed to be, she thought about her daughter's last words before she had gone on ahead of her. Shelia blinked, and knew precisely where she had to be.

And so she ran, she still didn't see any police, and they worried her all the more. 'Know where the wasp in the room is.' But wherever the wasp was, it wasn't someplace she would see. Shelia stopped lightly hit herself on the head. 'Of course. If one sense doesn't work try another, maybe I am where my Rosey gets it from.'

Shelia let go of her other senses, would this even work? How could it work? After all, Misty had had the sixth sense, not Shelia. True that never stopped Clark Kent from picking up tables one handed but still... she felt, no, sensed something. It was easy to pick up because it didn't belong to these rules of reality, like a black blotch on a white sheet of paper. One felt -huge- but distant, others felt smaller but closer. One or two were moving somewhere, but it was like trying to pin point something in a hall of echoes. The last one... it just kept, popping in and out of existence, Shelia felt a -very- bad headache coming on and opened her eyes, breathing in deep and letting the solid and defined universe come flooding back.

Shelia grabbed hold of a lamppost and looked in a car window, seeing the albino hedgehog in a moment between moments, "Nothing is as easy you remember." She said and she saw the albino hedgehog mouth the same words.

Shelia heard wheels screech to a stop followed by several car horns honking like wild. Shelia's eyes involuntarily darted to the source of the noise.

"Hey! Ya loony! Get out of the road! You wanna get killed!" Said one car driver at the one standing in the middle of the intersection.

Shelia's eyes saw an overly fluff birthday magician, too tall top hat, stage magic type wand, blank yet demented expression, decked out in a gaudy yellow and purple tuxedo and cape! She felt a headache again as her vision that wasn't vision saw an after image of something that was NOT human wearing an even more illogical version of the outfit the magician was wearing.

The magician ignored the angry drivers and cackled with a gurgle at the back of his throat, "I heard someone say 'hello is anyone there?' Hello here I am! Where are you!" Something about his voice reminded Shelia of a goose.

Shelia's heart skipped a beat when he pointed his wand right at her. "Ah! There's the one I heard say 'hello is anyone there.'"

Shelia turned and ran.

"Ah-ah! The audience doesn't leave before the show even starts!" A giant purple curtain multiple stories high, materialized ahead of Shelia, and even as she skidded to a halt it closed in around the four way intersection and some of the close-by office buildings as well. The way people screamed and panicked as it closed up above them like a tent let Shelia know that she wasn't the only one seeing this.

Cars and people tried to ram the strange barrier but it just rippled at their efforts and withheld.

As if he really was on stage the magician took no notice or cared nothing for the confusion and bedlam. "Now then! Pick the cards! All the cards! Nothing under my sleeves! Ta-da!"

Pulling up sleeves that revealed -nothing- holding up his white gloves, the magician threw out an entire deck of cards from nowhere! The cards grew to the size of people and then some in an instant, the back patterns looking like a pair of round black eyes, the fronts looked almost normal until Shelia realized each corner showed a complete different suit!

The cards stopped again the back of the alien curtain and began to slowly float towards Shelia and the innocent bystanders.

"Is there magic in these cards?" Said the magician looked straight at Shelia, "Nearly everyone knows the truth that these cards hold no power of their own, they are but pieces of paper. But we know the truth beyond that truth don't we? We know that these cards hold no true power of their own, -but-"

As out of nowhere as the cards, a wave of japanese throwing knifes, kunai, struck the top 'heads' of the cards pushing them backwards from the humans beings, also interrupting the magician's monolog. A oriental lad in green and red attire with gold trim landed in the middle of the street next to Shelia. She had seen his face from somewhere she was sure! He had been friends of one of Jane's friends?

"Everyone get down! Stay away from the maniac and the barrier! Don't let the cards touch you!!" The lad's voice was powerful and commanding. The look in his eyes made sure no one argued with him, even if his eyes were partially hidden by those purple one-piece sunglasses. He suddenly looked right at Shelia. "That goes double for you! You're his only real target! But that won't stop him from entertaining himself on anyone who happens to be his way!"

"None but the magician expositions during the performance!" The magician threw another card that grew to giant size in a moment, in another moment the 'king' card's swords reached out from the surface and began to swing randomly. The oriental lad bent backwards as the mad card flew over him, and in the same motion threw another kunai from his seemingly endless supply impaling it before it could around for another pass. It dissolved into a transparent mass of card suit symbols.

"Are you one of them?" Shelia asked but she didn't get an answer as the oriental lad jumped impossibly high into the air to avoid the next onslaught of living cards. Pulling out a strangely pink whip the lad struck a lamp post and pulled himself out of the way for the next attack. The lad actually stood -sideways- on the lamppost crouching in a fighting horse stance.

The magician was apparently done talking, he merely made that strange cackle of his. In a moment the cards vanished and appeared in his hands again. Everyone but Shelia and oriental lad were doing their absolute best to convince themselves this was a nightmare or a movie stunt and failing utterly.

"I don't have time to play with you!" A viscerator made out of stain glass appeared around the japanese lad's arm. In a second blades of tethered light shot from the weird weapon. They impaled the magician, who then turned into a giant ace of spades, and vanished into nothing. That awful cackle echoed around them.

The cards from above and nowhere appeared again with their backs to the interior. This time as they slashed into position each and every one of them sounded like a blade being drawn! Shelia saw the magician as he really was for less than moment before he vanished behind another ace of spades that also vanished into nothing.

The oriental lad sounded more angry than worried, "Nice magic trick! But too bad for you I know too!" The lad's hands formed a jutsu pose before a swirl of leaves from nowhere flew around him and he vanished from sight.

Shelia and the others were all witnesses to a demented game of two way blind man's bluff! Animated card thing flew against shuriken, kunai and other distance blade weapons as deadly as any bullet! Each one trying to precisely pin point the other's location! It was a game without end, the magician not being bright enough to use the innocent people entrapped with him as bait or assuming the lad didn't care for them and the lad's weapons always hitting a card double ganger rather than the real thing! Then the magician upped the stakes. A throwing star hit one of the endless circling giant cards as it began to animate, then it turned around and showed a jester. "Joker!" The lad had just enough time to hiss before the card dissolved and in it's place a black sphere with a lit fuse. Bomb!

While they couldn't escape, the force of the explosion unfairly was, horrifically damaging the face of the buildings, and sending the japanese lad flying back, ruining his concentration and knocking him back into visibility. He barely managed to land on his feet. This was no good. Any one of the cards could be another Joker, another bomb, and this time it might go off near the crowd and people would die! And if he did nothing, the crowd would end up part of the magician's card collection followed shortly by him and Shelia...

"Zokova!" Shelia suddenly shouted getting the lad's attention.

Zokova turned toward Shelia nonplused. "How do you know my name?!"

"I just do!" Shelia snarled holding one side of her face twitching. "I know where he's hiding! Third row from the top! Directly opposite of the one that just blew!"

"Why should I trust-"

"Just do it ninja!!!"

Having no real time to argue and devoid of any other options, Zokova threw two of his shuriken and kunai on a direct course for the card Shelia had indicated. The blade weapon stuck the card, which turned around to show the ace of spades, which dissolved to show the magician. Who looked around madly and confused at his suddenly visibility.

Skipping all fanfare Zokova summoned and fired his weapon again...hit. The magician's arms and legs shot out from his body as the non-human after image behind him squirmed and twisted spinning round and round on the blade chains before he passed through an invisible wall of water and vanished. The blades all retracted into the weapon as the curtain dissolved showing greenery for less than a moment before that too dissolved.

Moving at the speed of shadows, Zokova managed to catch the now fully armed and perfectly ordinary looking magician. He looked around frantic and scared, "That, that thing! Is it really gone? It is gone right? What about the girl? She isn't here is she?"

"Don't worry about," Zokova said assuringly as he could. "That thing is gone, it won't trouble you again. And the girl isn't here and won't seek you out again, you're safe." Zokova put the street magician down, "I'd say not to tell anyone or they'd think you're crazy, but I think things are past that point. An assassin needed a body, and the girl chose yours, please go." The street magician just stood there looking as if wanting more answers but Zokova ignored him.

Shelia stood tall and defiant. "So what happens now?"

The crowd was split into those who fled the scene as fast as they could, and those staying near wanting more of answer to what had just happened. Zokova ignored them and look at Shelia.

"You saved my life and likely that of a lot of people, but that doesn't change my mission," Zokova said formally and officially. Shelia steeled herself for whatever happened. "My mission objectives are to eliminate the agents of the opposite who have violated the rules of engagement, apprehend the rogue zone cop Zefie and any associated with her, and finally to obtain you and your family and convert you into something small, harmless, and meaningless." Shelia didn't budge an inch. More people took off in a bigger hurry, while others stood more engaged. "Without my commanding officer here, I have to make my own judgment call in what order to achieve these goals. And Zefie is certainly more a threat than a normal human, and the enemy's operatives will continues to cause damage if left unchecked, so I fail to see why I should obtain you now and waste time. In fact," Zokova closed his eyes and assumed a lecture pose, "I fail to see why I should have to explain all this to you, giving you amble time to escape and meet up with your family while I distract what enemy agents remain, enabling you to crossover in a form we did not chose for you, and possibly allowing you to flee my capture all together as I deal with the much larger threats clear and presently presented by the enemy, further more-"

"Excuse me." Said the street magician tapping the ninja on the shoulder.

"Yes?" Zokova looked at him.

"You can stop talking, she's already gone."

"Ah. Thank you."

"And the camera man from the local news station has been here for at least ten seconds..."

"I see... well, I don't have time for an interview... be seeing you. Just look out for the guy with green hair and boyish features!" Zokova vanished into another twirl of leaves and was gone.

The people who remained for the whole thing, quickly and eagerly began telling the cameraman everything they had seen and heard.


Zoe blinked, ugh, why did everything have to hurt? She moved slowly and carefully. Where was she? The last thing she remembered was Zahir, lots of pain, and the clown that was no longer evil. Why was her hearing so weird? Why didn't she feel her tail? Why did her skin feel so cold... wait... that was right... she was in That World right now. Shaking her head, so got up ever so slowly incase she ended up opening wounds. She saw she was hooked up to a heart monitor. She turned down the volume and disconnected herself, unwittingly STILL setting off a code-blue alarm on the base floor below her saying she had flat lined. However there was also the matter of the camera in the middle of the room which saw her disconnect herself and get out of bed.

Blissfully unaware of these things, Zoe carefully walked down the hall-like room, her bed the one closest to the door. She looked at the various kinds in here. She read the medical papers on the clipboards connected to each bed. Some where dying of genetic cancer, many had been in car accidents and weren't expected to recover, one was a baby whose birth defects would kill him in a matter of hours, one was here to have his appendices taken out. Zoe spotted something at the end of the room next to the window. It was a small boom box meant to provide not particularly loud music. Next to it were one or two CDs.. one caught Zoe's attention at once.

Like many transformation mediums, the Chao CD was interlaced with fate's threads. After the teacher had thrown out the CD, too nonplused to think of smashing it, it had been found by a bum, who had sold it to a local pawn shop, where it had been bought by a computer geek, who after listening to it with no effects, gave it to his girl friend, who gave it to her sister, who was a nurse at the hospital's children's wing and been placed there that morning at the bottom of the pile. One of the doctors that afternoon would decide the music was more of a hindrance than help and have the boom box removed and the CDs with them with the chao CD never having been played.

Zoe looked around the room and came to a decision. She found a small pair of ear plugs and put them in the ears of the sleeping boy who was here for the removal of his appendices. She also put one pair in the ears of a girl who was there for foot surgery. Looking around at the rest, Zoe nodded, and took the Chao CD, placed it in the boom box and hit play and immediately sat down in a chair, she hurt all over inside.

She watched as visible colorful musical notes floated out of the boom box and into the heads of the various conveniently sleeping kids through their ears except the two Zoe had given earplugs. The musical notes floated around her, floated up to her face, then floated away towards the other kids in the hospital room. Zoe sat back and watched as the terminally ill children or terminally deformed infants slowly shrank into their diapers or hospital gowns losing fingers and toes along the way but giant a floating sphere above their heads that shifted into a heart shape as the music danced in their heads. She listened to them all hum peacefully in their sleep. Living water droplets, every color of the rainbow blinked open their eyes and hopped out of their clothing, the various children naked and free. Zoe also noted that the stuffed animals a couple of the kids had with them shifted and morphed into miniature and very much alive versions of the animals they represented.

The hero chao singed along with the notes, while the neutral chao giggled, and the couple dark chao snickered. Finally the music stopped and Zoe took out the CD. As she held the disc up to the light the casing and the CD both dissolved into floating sparkles that came together and spun around and round like a sideways hula-hoop. Finally a swirling tunnel made of colors as diverse as the chao themselves came into being. The chao all hoped off their beds and gathered around the strange glowing portal, wondering if it was something the could play with. A voice that was not verbal came through the portal, it's tone was neither male nor female, but held a commanding tone of a parent,


The genderless chao all cheered and ran straight through the gateway. The last one to enter was the most beautiful angel chao Zoe had ever seen, one who had been sentenced to die from a deformed brain before his first birthday until now. The portal slowly closed but Zoe made no attempt to enter. The best way for your mother to find you was to stay in one place after all.

The mysterious time distortion that had allowed Zoe to do her self appointed task ended, and the same nurse who had examined Zoe's bracelet and a doctor barged into the room. They looked around the room in a panic, Zoe just looked at them and smiled, "It's okay. They're alive, and they're happy now."

Several floors below in the parking lot, a thirty year old woman in a green and red dress with gold trim looked up kindly at the hospital and smiled kindly, "Oh Zoe..."

The 'Sonic Syndrome' in the space of one hour, finally leapt from being tabloid stories taking advantage of a series of kidnappings and runaways, to a piece of certified fact in the public's mind. There was no denying this time. Too many had seen it this time, too many camera shots, to many live feeds, too public a place this time. And the fact the two forces involved would have needed to work together to cover it up this time, something that would never happen in this space of eternity.


Zefie ran as best she could, as fast as she could, but matter how fast she ran, she couldn't out last those four tremor causing paws, no matter how many twists or turns she took, she couldn't dodge that thing's nose. She had been knocked off course repeatedly perhaps for the best in trying to dodge the thing. She had stood and fought twice, buying herself time as the doberman realigned it's spine and reconnected it's broken neck, but it just kept coming. And since had to toss her bracelet to avoid capture, she had no way to de-posses the animal. She never tripped, never stumbled, in spite of, or perhaps because of her alarm and fear. But it didn't make one bit of difference, you couldn't out run something that could never tire. You couldn't lose something that could smell your soul!

Zefie idly wondered if this what it all came down to. Her risks, her sacrifices, the actions that many of her friends had declared to be just grade-A stupid. None of it was going to matter anymore, she'd either end up a puppet, or dead. She knew which she preferred. Maybe this was all for the better. Her reckless actions, had thrown so many things out of order, disrupted the natural statuesque. She was beginning to freakin' think like Zahir! That was it! This thing wasn't going to get anywhere near her family either! She didn't care if it was a hopeless battle, at least she'd slow it down enough hopefully for her family to be reunited, and in the end, after that, nothing else mattered!

Zefie stopped on a dime, twisted around, and willed her weapon to appear, ready to finnish this one way or another. She braced herself as the monster came lumbering down the street, people fleeing, the force and presence the beast gave off overriding anything it's outward appearance told them. Every muscle in her body tightened, her eyes narrowed, she gritted her teeth. "Oh well, it's been fun!"

The beast leapt and the after image of the thing controlling it was impaled by tethered blades of light, and knocked through the metaphysical barrier between realities, releasing the animal from it's control. The non-sentient animal landed at Zefie's feet, it barked fierce at her, Zefie gave it one nasty glare and it ran away yelping. Zefie didn't drop her guard. She didn't have time to enjoy this contrived anti-climax. She waited for the attack to come, for whatever zone cop had taken care of the beast to show themselves... but none came.. Zefie, still not dropping her guard, wondered who it was, and why they were taking so long. Did they... did they want her to lead them to where her family was? Well nuts to that. She went over detail of the moment the beast was impaled in her mind, thinking of what angle the attack had come from, any curve in the trajectory... wait a second... Every one of the weapons was customized by each Zone Cop and Zefie remember the reds and pinks she had given hers... like the one that had impaled the beast. It could be used if you had a master hacker using it, but it was a waste of time since nearly all zone cops had one... unless it was a message to her. True, it could just be a message to try and GET her to shown the way but, every decision maker who would have wanted her family neutralized too wouldn't think her smart enough to figure that out.

"Okay, I guess I'll be an idiot again and blindly trust some sublime message that may or may not be there. At least I won't be able to make many more mistakes if this is one."

Zefie ran as fast as she could towards her goal and never looked back.


"No sir." Said Zack holding the bracelet. He was sitting on the nearby slanted rooftop. "I have no idea how Zefie got her bracelet back. I warped in the moment that the recall didn't work, but by then she had already dumped it again. No sir. I have to surmise that her two accomplishes must have stolen it before joining her and given it back to her. Yes sir, I'll examine the bracelet to see whose handled it since it was recalled. Yes sir out." Zack turned off his audio-com. The lad smirked at the bracelet, elegantly and perfectly erasing his usage from it, along with the fact that any data -had- been erased. No one would question the information he provided. Just as no one would question the warp logs that stated clearly he had teleported in one minute ago, not five. "I'd say you owe me Zefie, but I've given up on that. If this really means that much to you, then just make sure you don't fail at your end." Zack gated out.


"You said your name was Zahrah Z. You don't look arab," the male receptionist in the hospital's reception room said looking at the woman who, if he had read the tabloids more, would recognize maybe as a younger version of Angela Ford.

"The 'Z' is a bit of a family tradition, let me tell you it makes telling people's initials apart a nightmare!" The woman's laugh was so disarming and good natured that it effectively threw off the reasonable suspicion the receptionist had.

Still, "You have ID right?"

"Of course." The woman handed the receptionist a photo-ID that confirmed her identity. The receptionist had no idea why a child would have ID but it was too illogical for the woman to be be lying about it so he called in asking if the kid did have ID on her, she did, but the nurse on the other end sounded distracted. After explaining that their 'super girl's' mother was here, the receptionist hung up and politely told the woman what room her child was in. Fifteen seconds later the phone range again, the receptionist picked up the receiver again, and his eyes bulged.

"You're joking! You're not joking! she did what! She said what? Yes! Yes!" The receptionist slammed down the phone. "I'm sorry madam, but I'm going to ask have you to-" The woman had already left the reception room, but when did she leave? He didn't see her go! "First super-girl, now the invisible woman!"


Zahrah calmly walked down the white hospital halls. She knew where her child was, the location of the gate opening had told her that. But it felt rude to simply teleport in and out. Moving through the clean corridors of mixed hope and dispair, Zahhrah moved with neither with haste nor delay. She had faith in her child. Yes she was going to have to talk to Zoe about impulsive choices, but secretly she was proud her daughter was willing to risk herself for her friends. Zahrah would have to be sure to tell her that after Zoe's punishment... which would happen -after- she gave Zahir more than just a piece of her mind for harming her only child! Followed by a word with the rest of her vast family tree to him! They were rabbits, they didn't have small families, Zoe and Zahrah being the odd ones out. By pure chance, she happened by a room dedicated to elderly retirees. Zahrah laughed softly and shook her head, "At least I know where Zoe gets it from." She hoped the hospital forgave her if she was found out. Her dress simmered and became a chief nurse's uniform before she walked inside. Slipping something that suspiciously resembled carrot juice into the IVs of the unconscious ones, she handed some vitamins shaped like carrots to the conscious elderly saying, "Just takes those and you'll be fine." She left the room -the uniform becoming her normal dress- a minute later smiling. A doctor came by the room ten minutes later to find the room in a state that shocked him. The seniors hadn't reversed in age a day, and were still totally human. But their aches and pains, Alzheimer's and cancers were all totally gone! The retirees were chatting up a storm and wanted to thank the nurse with long hair for her miracle. Some quickly began suggesting she was an Angel of Mercy.


"Excuse me Doctor, this is the room for Zoe Z yes? I'm her mother, Zahrah Z." "Oh? Yes it is Madam. Sorry that you can't see her at the moment, she's just had surgery and and we've had some er-complications that-" "Mama!" "How the? I thought I locked that door!" "Give your mother a hug sweetie. Don't worry about it Doctor. Zoe's always been hard to pin down when she's excited. She's a bit different from her sisters that way." "You have many daughters Madam?" "Zoe is my only child." "But you just said Madam-" "It's a long and convoluted story Doctor." "Like people turning into talking animals madam?" "Ah. So you looked at Zoe's bracelet Doctor?" "One of my nurses did actually... is this the part where you turn me into something fuzzy and/or erase my memory?" "Ha, hardly Doctor. I never like the Red-ops and black-ops style my friend and I used anyway. So perhaps it's for the best." "Does that mean I'm not in trouble mama?" "Don't be silly sweetie, of course you're in trouble. But Zefie won't be in trouble for anything ever again if Zahir catches her. That's why you and I need to go right now, okay dear?" "Okay mama .. Goodbye Doctor! Thank you for saving me!" "Don't hug so hard, you might reopen yourself. I suppose asking you to stay is futile, but please remember not to strain yourself. And, you're welcome." "I'll make sure she obeys your instructions Doctor. And thank you for saving my baby. I know exactly what I would have done if I had lost her, and I know my friends would never look at me the same way again if I did. So thank you. And it was good to see you again Doctor Bookshire, and to meet you again for the first time." "What are you talking about madam?" "Just live your life and stay true to your duty like you always have." 'And I thank you for the many worlds on which you helped deliver Zoe.' "I'm sorry the children Zoe helped didn't get a chance to say goodbye to their parents. But know that they're alive, happy, and protected by a guardian who will never let anyone harm them. And that their parent's love is still with them. And again, thank you." "You're welcome.-?! Where did that go?!" "Doctor!" "Yes Nurse?" "The girl's bracelet is gone!" "...What about those photos you took of her list it showed you?" "Huh? Let me check. They're all still here, why?" 'Maybe Mrs. Zahrah is tired of the information black out after all.' ' "No reason. Now get that tabloid rag on the phone and see how many people on that list -haven't- vanished yet!" "Yes doctor!" 'Whoever created that monster Zoe fought: he, she or it just claimed their last victim!'


"Attention all units, repeat, attention all units. Be on the look out for a pale skinned adult male, boyish features, dyed green hair, possibly wearing a pair of dark blue sunglasses, very likely dressed as a businessman or police officer! He is a prominent suspect in the 'Sonic Syndrome' kidnappings! Arrest on sight! Use all necessary force!" Mr. DeVoid blinked dumbly at the police dispatch from the radio in the patrol car he was in. He was currently laid back with a his arms behind his head and his feet up on the dash board. While the police he had cursed to slowly turn into Guard Robos didn't have many of their own wits at the moment, DeVoid had to let them keep their sense of duty and recognition of orders so they could properly carry out his objective. And now that sense of duty broke into the programming their thoughts were becoming, and each and everyone of the cops there turned on Devoid in a heartbeat.

Caught off guard, DeVoid did he first thing that came to mind as the horde of cops came at him from all directions at once! With two waves of his hands the transformation on the police was complete and they all teleported to Station Square or Central City, the two greatest or at least two of the greatest human cities on Mobius. Central City being the same city Robotnik had sold security bots to in his never spoken of more benign days ( the same days Egg Carnival Amusement part was opened, the Egg Fleet fought against Black Doom's Flying Fortress' and Shadow was won over to Robotnik's side).

The curse rushed, the new Blue Guard Robos were commented as having more personality and creative thinking then their 'Gray' Guard Robo cousins. During a trip to Central City, when interacting with them, Bark and Bean said they felt they were catching up on things with old friends.

DeVoid meanwhile, looked around at the now empty police cars and empty house. And he could feel the minions of his opposition moving now in mass against him. He could not risk remaining in this limited rule heavy material world a moment longer. Worse was the fall of four of the five servants he had brought through. He sent out a silent message to Blonde, wherever in the city she was. And in the space between perceptions he was gone.

'You are my last hope. Do NOT fail me...' Said a mental voice as deep as any nightmare.


"So this is where all the mice trails lead Zokova?"

"Yes Zahir sir."

"Heh. Such an obvious spot! Only a complete idiot would think to look here! Should have known she'd choose it!"

"Yes Zahir sir."

"Signals and signatures?"

"All three victims, I mean targets, I mean subjects are moving towards the building at maximum running speed from multiple angles. The only rogue signal left is Zefie's. 'His' signature just vanished...but one of Them is left and closing in fast."

"You detain Zefie for me. In the meantime I'll take care of the last one of Them here. Then we can deal with the rodents at our own leisure."

"Yes Zahir sir. I'll perform my duty as you have commanded me to."

"Just see that you do."

"Good hunting sir."

Zahir didn't acknowledge the gesture. Zokova ninja he was vanished in a swirl of leaves, while Zahir jumped from roof to roof using the dangerously wobbly rain funnels as support for his 'soap shoe' like boots. Zahir thought, "Now is the time, to end this childish stupidity.'

Zokova moved like a shadow to intercept Zefie to keep her from screwing with the natural order more than she already had. Zhair moved swiftly and purposely, Zokova would keep Zefie pinned like the unruly brat she was, and when Zahir was done with Zefie: yes, yes, the enemy, focus on the enemy, that actually matters. Focus on the dragon spawn, not the sewer rats.

Zahir landed perfectly on the roof of the apartment complex. The same complex a year before had belonged to Jane and Sandra. The two that had crossed over now to Mobius for reasons Zahir couldn't begin to understand. Why return someone so worthless who could not fight or think their way out of a paper bag? What were his 'superiors' thinking? To think such wailing infants considered themselves HIS superiors! Zahir was thrown of his contemplation of the sheer illogic of his 'superiors' as the aforementioned 'dragon spawn' made her entrance. The blond Terra also landed on the roof coming up from the side of the building. She took one look at him and said, "Yo."


Zahir spoke flatly making a single gesture at the blond Terra who was bombarded by a rain of chaos spears. The yellow energy bolts came from all sides at nearly the speed of lightning! The spears hit their mark perfectly without fail. Actually they hit their target's after image she left behind as she dodged the bolts at totally illogical speeds and reaction time.

"Give up." Zahir said his voice still even and cool, "You're going to burn out that body in no time, and I'll destroy you, and move on with the my mission. Besides, you couldn't even kill Princess Sally with that faux sword of Acorns in your natural environment, let alone this domain."

"Ah but you forget I am stronger now! And unlike the pink brat you can't subconsciously tell where I'm going to be before I do!"

Now Zahir showed expression, raw unfiltered anger, "Don't you EVER compare that scum with me!"

Blonde made her move in the moment of distraction rather than be vaporized as would happen in the comic books when an antagonist sets the opposition off. Stepping close in the second of more violently fired but less precise chaos spears, the faux sword of Acorns was drawn in a flash and beheaded Zahir. Instead Zahir caught the blade between his two boots, and using the leverage gave Blonde a double hammer blow to the skull sending her reeling back. Her weapon spun through the air a few times before impeding itself in the roof a few feet away from her.

"I was going to toy with you," Zahir lied, the stain glass viscerator, "But you just made me mad, so let's skip to the 'always wins the fight' move like they -should- do in those mindless 'heroes beat monster of the week' TV serials!" The chained blades of light flew right at their target making the kill swiftly and easily. Instead Blonde reclaimed and brought her sword up at the very last moment and deflected the attack with the blade of her weapon. Sparks flew everywhere as the sound of metal grinding against something else. The differing metaphysical natures of the weapons causing Zahir's attack to partially become material, the blades knocked wildly off course. One impale the roof top leaving a hole behind and skipping in and out like a dolphin in the ocean. One went skywards and impaled the spirit of an innocent non-sentient bluejay. The rest twisted madly back upon themselves.

Begrudgingly Zahir was forced to recall the attack before it impaled his spirit! Blonde now came charging at him screaming, merely jumping over the -wall- of chaos spears that Zahir sent at her next bringing her sword down. "Chaos Control!"

Zahir began to activate his weapon again, this time his target frozen in time, or was it Zahir moving faster than mortal perception? He never could tell. He got his answer when the inhuman transparent image floating above Blonde's frozen form did a spinning wheel kick that that sent Zahir spiraling before he righted himself. "Ah-ah! No winning that easy!" The entity said in a completely different tone and voice from Blonde. Zahir didn't respond he only steeled his face and 'started' time again.

Zahir teleported behind Blonde and began to spam the Chaos Spear untiringly without pause or gaps.

As a couple chaos spears began to leave tiny cuts at her sides, Blonde made a flying kicked at Zahir who again teleported, but this time Blonde instantly threw her sword behind her, almost catching the fifty year old plus Zone Cop off guard as he leaned backwards, the blade leaving a vertical cut along his chest as it dove over him. Sure she was now defenseless Zahir willed his weapon to appear again, not knowing Blonde was already concentrating on retrieving her weapon having memorized the speed and direction the blades would come from Zahir's first attack. Never before had any survived an attack from the spiritual viscerator, and now it had lost it's element of shock and surprise, never a good thing.

At that moment however, someone else arrived on the tried and true 'roof top of fate.' Both combatants were distracted for the moment by her arrival never thinking she would come to them.

"You want me? I'm right here." Zefie said calmly and strangely polite to the one who had been hunting her all this time.

Zahir balked at her, the first words he said to her after this long chase were, "Save the bravado for -blue- hedgehogs you deluded obsessive sociopath."

Blonde looked at both amused, "Well this is entertaining. So tough guy, you want to join forces on the brat since she's a threat to both our causes or shall we just have a three way free for all?"

Zahir was suddenly split between his massive loathing for this wretched child, and his duty to exterminate this blond haired abomination. But he liked being played least of all! "The one who allies himself with murderers and criminals, only progresses the goals of murderers and criminals."

Blonde sweat dropped, "You're misquoting John McCarthy you know that right?"

"Whatever," Zahir fired a congo line of chaos spears that Blonde back flipped to avoid landing on the edge of the roof top.

"Well," Blonde said smiling, "My mission is to snack the chicks from the chicken house, so while you two roosters enjoy your little cockfight I'll inside the henhouse, cheerio!" Blonde stepped backwards over the edge. No one there for a second believed she had fallen to her death and were right to not believe so.

Neither Zahir or Zefie moved an inch. Zahir knew that if Zefie was here, that meant Zokova must not have encountered her yet, and would deal with the blond Terra personally. Zahir knew there was no way the fake princess could hope to win against the ninja. As for Zefie who had no way of knowing of Zokova,

"I see you're not moving to save the faux family you were so eager to completely ruin creation over to get for yourself."

Zefie just stared back at him, with a stare few if any of her alternates ever showed, "They're not fake, you exaggerate, and I have no need to move."

Zahir was not impressed, "Don't even try to act high and mighty with me you coward. You're a criminal. One that I'm here to make sure pays for betraying her uniform, her code, her teammate, our organizations, our cause, and the natural stability of the universe!"

Zefie only twitched, "I may have betrayed my orders, but I've never betrayed my teammates, yeah I betrayed a stagnant obsolete code, and I'd say if anyone's been betraying the natural stability of the universe it's YOU and people like you!"

Zahir was always amazed at how small her mind was, "Now you're just blindly shouldering your own mistakes onto others."

"Is that so? Whose prevented realities from becoming aware of each other? Who wanted families and friends to remain ignorant of the fate of their loved ones? We've become like over zealot park rangers keeping even the smallest bush fire from starting when many of those fires are in fact a natural part of a forest's ecosystem! You have, we have, become so scared of change of the current order that we've built up the dam higher and higher until we can't build it any higher and when it fills over it'll cause a flood! If we had let people on BOTH sides know what was going on from the start we wouldn't have had to invent such a massive web of lies to keep things sane! We could have asked and used their help!"

"What help could any of -those people- possibly offer -us-!"

"... You always did underestimate anyone who couldn't breath fire through those nose or fire lasers from their toes Zahir dearest!"

Zahir's anger boiled high, "You no longer have any right to call me by that suffix!"

"And what precisely are you going to do about it?"

Zahir stared for a few seconds before screaming, "You thick headed, brainless, self deluded, deranged, mentally retarded, completely deranged, greedy, selfish, lying, manipulative, violence hungry, abusive, oblivious, immature, whinny, lazy, brattish, oppressive, excuse spewing, blind, completely allergic to change, inflexible, cry babyish, worthless, useless, spoiled drama queen CHILD!"

the slightest smirk appear on Zefie's face, "You forgot to call me ugly."

No Chaos Spear this time, Zahir merely in a teleport flash clocked her in the face. He was annoyed when she didn't fall backwards KO'ed like she was supposed to do. She couldn't even do that right!

Zefie got up and whipped the blood from her mouth. She merely glared at him darkly.

"selfish brat. I'll beat the stupid right out of you."

Zefie merely stood back up, she didn't call forth her weapon.

"Aren't you even going to -try- and defend your faux family?"

"Why should I try and fight you? Your perception of the chaos force is about a hundred and fifty times better than mine, and the amount of power you can channel from the chaos force before wearing out your own body is three hundred times more than I can. I don't stand a snowball's chance again you. But that doesn't mean I have any intention of -ever- giving up or backing down!"

"How nice," Zahir said his voice dripping with sarcasm, "You just admitted the mindless futility of what you're doing, and yet you're continuing it anyway, your family should have gone into religion not the occult!"

"That's your opinion not mine."

"And your opinion has always been the only one that has ever mattered ever! If you don't have an opinion something, it's not worth discussing! And by 'discussing' you mean telling people what they should believe!"

".... If that's true, then maybe we're more alike than either of us ever wanted to admit."

Zahir punched her square in the breadbasket. "Do NOT compare me with you, you mindless little mass of ego! I want you know." Zahir said calmly, "You've done this to yourself. You and your narcissistic driven stupidity."

Zefie managed not to fall over bug eyed, again annoying Zahir with her inability to do anything right. "And all the misery and damage that's happened, is because of you and your .......... " Zefie stopped and sighed.

"Nothing to retort to the truth? No oversized delusion? You must be tired, maybe you need a nap little girl."

"I'd say you've always been better at debate than me, but that's a lie, considering that 98% of timelines were you turned evil, it was me who snapped you back to reality."

"You wasn't you! It was never you! It was Mariah!"

"Whose real promise you never remembered in time if I didn't stepped in and spoke some sense back into your revenge driven angst filled brain."

Zahir's eyes twitched, he had just had his fill of this self deluded woman-child and enough was too much!

"All the resources that we could be spending on protecting the fabric of the universe, all of them, and we have to WASTE them on keeping a spoiled delusional maniac like you in line! Anyone who has died out there in the Zones because we weren't there to help them are YOUR FAULT! That makes you a second degree, no, first degree murderer, and I have no amusement for filth like you. It's time to end your imbecilic obligation to 'bring happiness to yourself' or whatever meaningless tripe you believe in."

Zefie stiffened, her heart sank into her stomach and was eaten away by the acid. "Don't kid yourself, the only reason they weren't considered to be brought back as they were was because they weren't super powered warriors like you wanted them to be. You're the one who wanted to stop bringing back -any- civilians declaring them all 'worthless.' "

"They are worthless."

Zefie stood there in thought for a few moment before asking, "Ever read the poem, The Rose? By Amanda McBroom?"

Zahir wondered if the stress of her absolute defeat had caused the maniac to lose her final 'so-called' grip on reality.

Zefie say the expression of nonplus and continued, "It's a lovely little poem, easy to find, you should hear it."

He just had his fill of this brat's mindless and aimless babbling!

Zahir knew logically he should just teleport past this annoyance, deal with the rats, then deal with the headache. But too many insults had been made on his person, too many trespasses made on his authority. He would break this brat like the cheap glass she was!

Zefie began, her voice surprisingly graceful and wistful, "Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed."

Zahir punched her in the side of the face this time, then on the other cheek when she turned it.

Zefie continued as if nothing had happened, "Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need. I say love, it is a flower, and you it's only seed."

Zahir kneed her in the gut, karate chopped her shoulders, then jack hammered her in the stomach. Zefie faltered but still stood.

"It's the heart, afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance. It's the dream, afraid of waking, that never takes a chance."

Zahir punched her face, harder, this time with the force to make her cheek bones crack. He then punched her in the chest, making her gasp, then punched her in the back as she finally keeled foreword like she was supposed to. She always did only get it after it no longer mattered.

"It-It's the one who won't be taken, wh-who cannot seem to give. A-and the soul, afraid of dying, that never learns to live."

Chops to the shoulders again, this time hearing the satisfying music of her bones breaking! Then two palm strikes to her lower chest's sides cracking ribs. Zefie shed tears of pain but bite her tongue to keep her from crying out. Zahir chopped her in the hips, her knees buckled from the force.

"W-when t-the ni-night h-has been too-oh lonely, and t-the road has been too long, And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong,"

He palm struck her from her ankles to her face, hitting her body with more impacts than the surface of the moon. Bruises bloomed like a field of flowers up and down her body, her skin slowly turning an almost uniform shade of purple. Zefie moaned this time, her entire body feeling like it had been clubbed by a horde of angry cavemen.

"Now be quite you idiot!"

"J-j-j-ust re-remem-ber en thea wen-wintur-ter fah-far baneh-beneath the bitter sn-snow, Liesss ah-a sea-seed, that weh-with t-the suh-sun's love, --- in the spring becomes a rose."

"SHUT THE **** UP YOU *****!" The fist was headed straight to her head, with enough force to send it flying off her shoulders to splatter against a building wall.

In the space between perceptions Zahir stopped. Not because he suddenly regained his self control, but because an electrum sword was now across his throat, the fist sized barrel of a blaster was jammed in his gut, someone had wrapped their limbs around his legs, and finally someone had been able to block his punch for his target!

Zelda, Zane, Zack, and Zahrah all surrounded Zahir. It surprised the dark haired man to no end when he realized that it was Zahrah who had managed to grab hold his arm and fist before it made contact, and her grip was.... hurting?!


Zelda spat, keeping the Sword of Acornz pressed hard against Zahir's thorat, "You're orders were to retrieve Zefie, not execute her. Not have any orders for execution been given out!"


The impossible grip Zahrah had on his arm tightened even more, "Like my Zoe deserved to be impaled six times by you?"

"She was a criminal! She was aiding a criminal!" The grip tightened ever so slightly, and Zahir started when he saw the look in Zahrah's eyes. No version of Zahrah in any reality had ever had that look in her eyes before... she honestly wanted to kill him!

Zane spoke holding his death grip on Zahir's legs, "And she was exhausted, making no hostile action towards you, made no threats, and had just taken out an enemy Zahir. What were you thinking?! What's wrong with you!"

Had they all gone mad?! "I didn't have time to deal with her! Time was of the essences!"

"That is NO excuse!" Zelda said.

"And you were about to kill Zefie!" Zack hissed holding the wrist mounted weapon steady.

"No one would miss her!"

Zack poked the weapon into Zahir hard but said nothing.

"We don't have time for this! The enemy is still on the loose! She must be eliminated! We've waited too long as it is! We can't allow her to continue to reek havoc and disorder! She must be exterminated!"

"ZAHIR!" Came Zokova's voice over the audio-com, sounding very alarmed. "I am sorry sir! Zefie she... she disabled me in battle! I no longer sense the enemy or the subjects! I have failed sir!"


"And thinking that way... is why I won." Zefie said, dang did her jaw hurt! So did everything.


Zefie's eyes went wide as she ducked, the kunai flying through where her nerve clusters were a moment before. "Hey Zokova." Zefie said not turning around.

"I am sorry Zefie-chan, but you must surrender or I shall subdue you by force." Said the ninja standing sideways on a building.

Zefie sighed, "Sorry, I'm too close to the finnish line to stop now."

"As you wish." Zokova vanished.

Zefie grinned slightly, then pulled out a trick of her own, one she knew better than to waste on enemies with spiritual senses, and vanished into thin air as well.

Zokova showed no reaction to Zefie's trick, knowing better than to speak out and give out his location. He listened as precisely as he could, slowly and ever so carefully made out where her heartbeat was. Moving more silent than dust, Zokova came up from behind the rogue all of his action already perfectly planned out in his head.

'Gee.' Zefie thought, 'Zahir sent a ninja who specializes in using stealth and surprise to win his fight against someone who can sense the location of things simply by thinking about it. I see Zahir's opinions of my abilities are as high as ever.' Zefie summoned her weapon swung it behind her not even turning around, hitting Zokova nicely on the head, knocking him out instantly. 'Dofuse.'


"I am sorry sir, I was not informed of the extent of her sixth sense, I was caught unprepared." Zokova knew better than to say 'you did not inform me.'

Zahir stared in totally and complete disbelief at the impossible outcome of the impossible situation. This had to be a trick. There was no way in Hades this could be real! Zahir regained his composure in spite of still be restrained on all sides.

Zahir sneered at Zefie who suddenly fell on her rear, just about the only spot on her body not damaged. "Looks like everything you've threw away was for nothing after all! Now your brain-dead other self will get cut to ribbons by her own newly tin plated family! Congratulations!" Zahir bursted out laughing. The only one who joined him, was Zefie. Zahir stopped laughing the moment he realized this, so did Zefie. Laughing hurt, a lot.

"You idiot!" She grinned as much as she dared, "You think I'd abandon my family's side and leave them with NO ONE with YOU and HER breathing down their neck?!"

Zahir's face went blank. "Inconceivable! We caught your little playmates! There was no living being left on this planet with the power to help you!"

"Precise." Zefie nodded. "I knew you could never resist the chance to tell me at length how worthless I am. Long enough for her to do her part."

Zehir's face went blank again, realization dawned on his, and he screamed in rage! Only the disruptive powers of the Sword of Acornz kept the top two stories of the building from being annihilated from a rage empowered Chaos Blast.

"She's a criminal and an anarchist and a dissenter! Kill her! Just kill her already!!!"

"You, are a hypocrite Zahir," Zefie sighed, looking incredibly calm, "You say they aren't my family just because they aren't from the same reality as me. That I couldn't care in the slightest for me, nor should I give a damn beyond my duty for the other versions of me that exist. We've all seen you hang your head in shame on every world that King Shadow brought peace with an iron fist. We saw you secretly jump for joy every time Maria reincarnated and found Shadow again, weather it was as a human or hedgehog. We saw you smile satisfied on every world Shadow decided that Eggman was no longer a true part of the once honorable Kinbotor clan and was owed no loyalty. We all saw your seething rage, looking upon those few precious worlds, where I was the one able to fill that gaping hole in your heart!"


"Big Z, Zoe, and Zefie's defection will be evaluated by due process," Zahrah said calmly, "After her and Zoe's injuries are fully treated, the new returned hearts are properly integrated into Mobius since they are now Zefie's responsibility, AND a full examination of YOUR actions has been conducted, by -me!-"

Zahir's eyes went wide again as in so many minutes. He saw the look in the woman's eyes. And for one moment, just one moment, for the first time in ten years, Zahir knew fear, "NO!!!"

The space between perceptions, they were gone.


Earlier. Several floors below, in the mysteriously unlocked yet unrented apartment that had belonged to Jane and Sanadra, had arrived one by one, Lance first, then Sheila, and finally Cosmo. Zefie was waiting for all of them, she gave each of them a heartfelt hug, even though she confessed to not being their Jane preciously, each of them saw her fighting back tears in her eyes as she hugged them. The family quickly caught up on the day's events, in particular their meeting with the 'nice' strangers and the decidedly 'not nice' strangers! Zefie was shocked to learn Big Z had also put out his neck for her. As Zefie was describing her own close enough encounter with one of the monsters, her eyes dilated for a moment before she said kindly, "I'm sorry, time's up for me, I have to go great our unwelcome guests, don't worry, I'll kept them busy long enough, you just go meet Jane, you've all waited long enough."

"Wait! Zefie!" Sheila said, regardless of who this girl claimed to be, she swore it was like this lass was like a daughter she didn't even knew she had, "Please, don't... don't get yourself killed."

Zefie looked at Sheila, Sheila's words of concern brought a happiness to her face that took even Zefie by surprise. "I... I promise... I'll be careful." Before Sheila could point out that wasn't what she asked for, Zefie continued, "Don't worry about me. Julan will take things from here. Jane's waiting for you." Zefie opened the window and jumped out, no one considered her in danger because they weren't on the ground floor. They were instead distracted by the latino girl who had appeared out of thin air!

"Julan is that you?" Cosmo asked remembering her being a friend of a friend of Jane's. Only she was supposed to be dead. She was run over by a car!

"Are you another 'Julan' yet not Julan?" Sheila asked.

The dark haired girl shook her head, "No. I am not like Zefie. I am the Julan you know. Or rather, I was Julan you know. You can still call me Julan if you like."

"Julan," Cosmo said, "Jane said you were dead."

"She is." Sheila said look at the girl, really looking at her!

The image of Julan simmered, it was replaced by an organ short humanoid echidna dressed as a Aztec princess, "Once upon a time I was Julan, once upon another time I was Tikal Princess of the Knuckles Tribe, I've begun to finally understand it all now. At last. I sought borderlines where there were none. The error I now see was not what was eclipsed, but that no choice was given, and at most times, no chance to say good-bye."

"Julan what do you mean?" Cosmo asked bewildered.

the echidna princess sighed floating a few inches off the floor, startling the family, "As you might have guessed, the fictional world of Sonic The Hedgehog, or at least the core of what inspires it, is a true reality as real as yours. A terrible disaster happened that scattered many, -many- hearts of heroes and monsters alike. When rushed steps were taken to repair the damage as it sent shockwave across various truths, some hearts began to wander back to Mobius, but not all of them by choice or instinct..."

Cosmo narrowed his eyes slightly, "How we even KNOW you're Julan? One of those things looks like Terra but most decidedly is not!"

Tikal sighed, "If I was one of the enemy in disguise, I'd never bother explaining things to you, nor expose the truth to you outright. If you still don't believe me, then you're free to go, I can't stop you, I'm dead."

The Brownsons all looked at each other, none tried to leave.

Tikal continued, "The original intent of myself and Zefie was to offer you a choice to stay or go to your daughter. Now it looks like you have a choice of being made again through Them's image, or They's image, or the image we offer. You'll have to decide which is best."

Lance had enough, "THEY? THEM? YOU? STRAIGHT ANSWERS!"

"You know what they say about 'speak of the devil?' It's exactly like that." Tikal explained, "One side wants to turn you into a weapon against Amy Rose, the other side wants to basically sweep you under the rug. Myself and Zefie, we want to try and unite you again with her as you are on this side as best as can be."

"What do you mean?" Cosmo asked.

"Your mother and father were going to either be left behind or arrive mostly unaltered from how they connect to Jane here. They were going to either offer you three choices Cosmo, or make it for you. One was to stop being Amy's sister, and become her Flicky side kick because 'Amy's obviously far too much of a spoiled brat to have ever had siblings' or to have you reverted to a fetus and grow up from day one.' The final one was to be one of the two protagonists from the show Sam and Max. And not be related to your sister in the slightest."

"Those are all crazy!" Cosmo reacted, "Sam and Max? Okay kinda cool, but seriously! Why can't Jane be my sister there?"

"Like I said, they think she's 'far too much of a spoiled brat to have ever had siblings.'"

"That's BS."

"Not to them. And our offer, to be fair, is only slightly less insane, or more insane, depending on your point of view."

"What is your offer?" Cosmo asked. "And do I get turned into that plant princess from the anime? I think I'd go crazy if I had to start dating Kyle!"

"No, you are not destine to become Cosmo, er, THAT Cosmo. And Jane on the other side is Amy Rose, has always been Amy Rose, shall always be Amy Rose, just as on THIS side she has always been Jane, is Jane, and will always be Jane. To be Jane's family there, you must be Amy's family."

"And?" Cosmo asked.

"And you'll forget your lives here, and remember every detail of yours lives there."

Lance didn't believe this, "I thought Zoe said you were the -good-guys- in all this! But now you say you're going to make us lose our memories of being human?"

"I'm NOT MAKING anything happen!" Tikal look distraught and frustrated, "I can't control it. No one truly can! Anymore than you can control what color red dye turns when you squeeze a drop into a glass of blue colored water. The Zone Cops and They LOVE to pretend that they can. But those who can remember two existences at once isn't something that can be decided or controlled. It can be given artificially, but unless they remember on their own it can lead to identity crisis, depression, and making them wonder if either life is real instead of wondering if both are! I hate this more than you can imagine! But I can't change it!"

Lance asked again, "So what makes you different from either side?"

"I wanted to offer you a choice. AND- your loved ones will NEVER EVER forget you!"

"You mean, like Tommy's parents?" Sheila asked, reading about how the boy had vanished his parents had apparently gone mad no longer remembering he ever existed!

"He was taken by Them's side. You're lucky He's, Them's true leader, is not a complete god, otherwise Tommy wouldn't exist even in the memories of his teachers and classmates, or yours. That's an evil that I've always failed to forgive. Don't worry, Kyle was able to bring him back to his senses though he's had to get used to his new form the old fashioned way."

Sheila felt slightly better at that, she asked, "You said you wanted to offer us a choice, you make it sound like we have no options left. Is that really true?"

"You could just run and run until the conflict between the opposing sides reaches it's conclusion, at which point it won't matter one way or another. But you'll have made a liar out of your daughter. Since Amy promised you'd all see her again."

"If she's Amy, is she really my daughter?"

"You are looking for a discrepancy, where none exists."

The Brownsons were silent for a time before Sheila said, "Just tell me are those memories I have now real?"

"As real as your memories of Sheila are real."

Cosmo and Lance looked at each other then Sheila, "You too? What? You too too?"

Tikal waited patently as the Brownsons discussed the other set of memories now floating inside their heads before Tikal said,

"It's not easy is it?" Julan said, "Remembering how you died. I know. I've died twice."

"If I'm supposed to be dead in that reality, wouldn't I turn into a corpse when I get there?" Lance asked not sounding amused.

"Normally. You wouldn't even be able to cross the barrier unless you were already dead. But with more and more people remembering their second lives.... combined with other factors... makes it so the fact you are alive here.. is enough to cancel out the fact that you'll have been dead for years on that side. Besides, heh, people come back from the dead in video games and comics for no good reason all the time."

"Granted." Lance said remembering his Captain America comics before his mother threw them out.

"The side effect is, good or bad, each of you will 'return' the way you were before dying..I'm sorry that's the way of things. You will each be the age you were 'before.' There is no way around it."

Cosmo said, "So instead of going back into diapers I lose my education?" Cosmo shuddered remembering falling from that tree while teasing his big sister.

"I never said any of these choices came without loss. I know it's not much of a consolation, but you will get to enjoy an innocent childhood again, the war will be over, I won't say soon enough, but I will say soon. And who knows? Maybe you'll learn it all faster this time..."

Cosmo added his two cents, "I once read a story on-line where a man dressed as a minotaur, won a costume contest, and was turned into a real minotaur and given a chance to enter fairy tale land, when he refused he was turned into a mundane cow and left to suffer his fate in the real world. Is that going to happen to us if we refuse?"

Tikal shook her head, "No, you will not be turned into mundane hedgehogs and left to suffer with your human minds or as non-sentient animals. But you might be caught by Them and turned into killer robots sent to slaughter Amy or die trying which they're hoping for no good reason other than they want to present Amy as a torture toy for one of their new members who shall be arriving soon."

-Everyone- shuddered.

Cosmo asked, "Can't you warn him too?"

"He's already evil on this side. Please don't ask."

"So what now?" Shelia asked.

"You decide if you wish to crossover, and start a new existence along side your daughter, or remain here, and risk being caught by They or Them, and be turned into perfect strangers or instruments of her death. Your choice, such as it is."

"You know it's not really a choice at all." Sheila said.

"I know."

"Then why did you mention it?" Sheila asked.

"Because that's the point of free will." Tikal had nothing else to say on the subject.

The Brownsons again all looked at each other, and nodded. "We're ready." Lance said.

"Then we begin!"

Suddenly the curtains were drawn, and all three were sitting around a round table with Tikal opposite of them. On the velvet clothed table were cards. Two sets of three. And three sets of two. Sheila recognized the backs, the Arcana.

"Each transformation requires a medium," Tikal said, "The Arcana shall be your medium. I am no esper, these cards are worthless to me. Sheila, Cosmo, Lance, each of you must turn over the cards before you, turning over one will do nothing, turning over two, shall seal your choice. The first set of cards on your left open the door for the change, the last set of cards on the right will close it, and you shall arrive, and everything shall be done. If any of you wish to back out now, and Cosmo, if you wish to become that hero instead of your sister's little brother again, you are free to until the final card is turned."

"I'm tempted. VERY tempted, if it was about me I'd take it IN A SECOND... but Jane, Amy, whatever, she's my sister... I can't abandon her."

"Then let's begin, Sheila, begun to turn over the cards in the set to your furthest left."

Hesitating only for a moment, Sheila turned over the card, it showed the Death, "The erasure of old patterns." Sheila said.

"So the patterns were reversed and new patterns formed." Tikal says. Sheila turned over the next card. "Wheel of fortune."

Sheila said, "When good times turn to bad times, and bad times turn to good times."

"So wars turn to eras and peace and peace makes way for new conflicts." Tikal said.

Lance and Cosmo were literally transfixed by the aura of strangeness around the humanoid animal and their wife/mother.

"Last one." Tikal said as Sheila turned over the last card. "The Judgment?"

Sheila searched her memories, "The card that represents renewal, regeneration, absolution, returns, and resurrections."

Tikal said, "So old patterns are lost, good times become bad and those bad times become good, and things are renewed from it all."

So this was it, whoever went next would both lose themselves and gain themselves at the same instant. Sheila looked at the cards on the table, going for the second to last pair on the right side, her hand hovered over them and her eyes widened slightly, "The first card is the High Priestess, Misty's, MY Tarot! Unconscious Knowledge! The next one is the Star Tarot! Serenity, peace of mind, calm and clear thinking..." Sheila flipped over the first Tarot, she saw she had been right and looked down at the High Priestess, trusting in fate, she flipped over the next one, the Star.

Sheila felt suddenly completely and utterly calm, her thoughts unclouded by distraction. She knew truth and knew precisely who she was. The room and everything in it got larger. Her business like skirt and blouse thinned. Her sleeves reaching up her arms as the stitches moved to her shoulder the trim becoming gold as the fabric took on a purple pattern. Her skirt flowed all the way down her ankles, becoming violet with white trim. She looked as her shoes became sandals and she lost a toe as her skin turned pale and all her hair turned white before growing into fur. Her thin limp hair grew into thick strong quills in a classical triangle pattern, gloves materialized around her hands now missing an extra finger. The lights in the room became somewhat brighter as her eyes lost pigment showing the red underneath. Her lower face formed into her muzzle as her eyes joined into the beautiful hedgehog double-eye.

She felt around her neck and felt a wave of comfort go through her as she touched her tiny heart necklace still containing the faded pictures of her parents and sibling. Looking herself over and backwards she laughed, she was in an exact copy of the same outfit she had met Spike in on that fateful day! Misty shook her head at fate's sense of humor. She remembered dreaming a dream, and now she remembered she had dreamed having the dream she had dreamed. She remembered her mother hugging her when she had cut herself trying to imitate the fox's hair styles with her quills, she remember her ride as an actress being good enough for the critic to never get tired of saying how bad she was, she remembered giving birth to Amy, she remember giving birth to Red, she remembered pulling the pin on the grenade when the SWATs were less than five feet away from her. Misty shuddered, and focused on her good memories.

"Who are you?" Tikal asked.

"I am Misty Hedge Rose." The albino said calmly.

"What are you?"

Misty laughed, "According to Spike a puzzle he's never been quite able to solve!"

"What were you before this?"

"Well," Misty thought, "I was an actress before I got into tarot reading, how good I was depends on who you ask. The more important someone was, the more they hated my acting!" She turned and smiled at the two humans in the room who visibly started at her express. "But I loved it anyway!"

"Who were you before this?" Tikal asked.

"My maiden name is Hedge. A couple of my old grade school mates called me 'Mists' cause they said I was always 'out there.' "

"Thank you." Tikal nodded in approval.

Spike stared, and Cosmo shuddered. And Cosmo knew if Cosmo didn't flip those cards in the next twenty seconds Cosmo would be running towards the door-screaming!

Without giving it even one bit of forethought or planning Cosmo flipped over the card on the left of the set of three right next to the introduction set. He saw a guy holding a flute with a dog next to his barking happily, the guy looking like he didn't have a care in the world.

Misty spoke, "The zero Tarot, The Fool: the idealist, the hero, the idiot, ending of one path and the beginning of another. This is YOUR tarot Red."

"Is that a good or bad thing?" Cosmo heard himself asking.

"Most of the tarot are never completely good or bad," Misty explained calmly. She then flipped the card on the right of the set of three Cosmo had just flipped over. It showed a guy in a robe surrounded by several rune symbols, "The one Tarot, the Magician, this my daughter's Tarot, Amy, talent, self confidence, heh but it also carries with it immaturity."

Like in a dream, Cosmo let the albino hedgehog his mother had become take hold of his hand, and slowly move it to the center card, not forcing anything more. 'In for a penny. In for a pound.' Cosmo thought as he turned the card over.

"The Moon." Misty said, the card showing exactly it's name sake, "This is the tarot that you share with your sister. Heh, lack of clarity, being unrealistic, but at the same time imaginative, the card of both dreams and nightmare, on occasion, this card also bears the meaning of letting go."

Misty stood calm her hands folded in front as she watched the human begin to shrink from his huge five feet five as the other human stared jaw open. Misty smiled as the human's clothes evaporated letting her see the shinny red smooth fur growing all over his body as he lost the extra digits and his hairs became the cutest quills she had ever seen. He shrunk down to her height, then below her chin until he was the size of any mobian tike, at the same time his features becoming rounder, more genderless, softer, his fingers stubbier.

She watched happily as bandages formed around his hands and feet, every time they got him to wear gloves or shoes they wore out in a week! Some of her friends had suggested he should have been born a spider-monkey. A red head band, one or two shades lighter than his fur, wrapped itself around his forehead, keep his unruly long quills out of his eyes that were already the beautiful singular double iris ones all hedgehogs had, his eyes the same green as his big sister's. But it was the expression in those little big eyes, that made her heart melt. The shell of cynical and world wary adulthood wasted away, the expression in those eyes becoming brighter and larger as she watched, the entire world becoming a place to explore and discover, a child untainted by video games nor TV. His tiny tail wagged wildly as Red looked left and right, looking for something to catch his curiosity and feel his innocent yet ruinous touch! He looked up and Misty and proclaimed, "Mama!" Hugged her instantly. Misty carefully petting him on his backside, having a life time's experience in avoiding the quills.

"Are you okay dear?" Misty asked soothingly.

"Yeah mom! I think I had a scary dream though..."

"And that's all it was, just a bad dream, don't worry about it honey. You're safe now."

"Okay. Hey mom, where's Amy?"

"She's just been away for a long while sweetheart, don't worry we'll be back with her soon."

"Red," Tikal asked the boy now in hefted up in his mother's arms, "How old are you?"

"Old enough that I don't need to be a squire lady!" The small hedgehog talked back.

Tikal thought over her question, ".... How many candles were on your last birthday cake?"


"How many before that?"

"Six. Duh! I can count!"

"Have you always gone around naked?"

"What's naked?" Spike asked with honest to Aurora innocence.

"Never mind."

"Mom? What's naked?" Red asked.

"It's... something boys don't need to worry about dear."

"Oh, okay, I think."

"What's your sister's name?" Tikal asked the boy.

"Amy, but she likes to be called 'Princess' Amy so 'Sir Rob'O can always save her." Red said a healthy taste of distain in his voice.

"Don't worry dear," Misty told her son, "I'm sure once they get back, Rob'O and Amy will finally let you be the knight."

Red looked in awe at his mother before speaking the words of fate of any child, "You .... you promise?"

Misty grinned, "I guarantee it!"

"Oh right! I'm gonna be Sir Red!"

"But since you never wanted to be Rob'O's squire, I don't think he'll want to be your squire..."

Red looked at his mother in confusion before understanding dawned on him, "Oh, okay... I get it, I guess."

Lance stared at the two humanoid animals that used to be his wife and son. 'No,' The realization hit him, 'Still my wife and child, maybe, maybe that's the whole point of this in the end.'

Lance looked at the table, only two cards left besides the two Julan had said would seal the door for anyone who chose to stay behind. Looking at his transformed family, Lance knew his time as a human being had come to it's end, but maybe he had known that from the moment he accepted Zoe into his office.

Stand like a man, Lance stood in front of the table and flipped both over at the same time. One showed a giant heart and a couple (Amy dragging away Sonic who was clawing at the ground), and the other a lion.

"The Lovers, and the Strength." Misty said still holding Red looking down at the table.

A slight pang of panic filled Lance's heart, "I'm-I'm not going to turn into some muscle woman am I-?!"

"No!" Tikal assured him, "The Lovers isn't directly related to women, the aspects you share with it are personally beliefs, passion, and individual values. The strength doesn't mean muscle, it's strength of heart, and strength of soul...Spike."

Lance felt dizzy as his clothes grew around him disintegrating along the way. His family began to grow back to normal size as the room and furniture grew to absurd sizes. He watched as fur a darker shade of red than his transformed son spouted all over his body, he was a little surprised when he saw a white tuff of fur formed on his chest, but why was that wrong? Lance shook his head and quick ran over to the closet reached up and pulled it open, looking at the full sized mirror on the inside of the door. He wanted to see this happen! He saw his lower face form into a muzzle with a black round nose that was new yet familiar. His eyelids raised as his eyes great huge before they actually seemed to -join together- turning blue but he shuddered as the truth of it hit him, 'this isn't a deformity or ugly, this is natural, hansom if do say so myself.'

His hair conjoined into quills the same color as his fur and much shorter than Cosmo/Red's grouping into triangle shapes on the back of his head and on his back. While the Acornian army fully believed in military disciple, species were way too diverse for there to be such as a thing as a 'standard issue hair cut.' Lance realized what he just thought and held his head, he felt his hands were now covered in brown gloves. He looked down at his feet and saw brown leather boots now covering them. He felt something snake out of his spin and cool air flowed over his tiny pin needle of a tail. He looked at his hands, was he missing a finger, or did he just lose a surplus one? He thought of his son and daughter and instantly the red hedgehog the albino was holding and Amy Rose popped into his head.

He watched the albino put down the boy who looked at the site of Lance curiously. The albino walked up to Lance and eye to eye. Lance felt dizzy again as he realized those two pools of blood where the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. "You seem rather confused dear."

Lance shook his head, "I... I'm not sure..."

"Maybe this will clear things up." She took two steps foreword and hugged his naked body. Wait, he was a man! Why should the word 'naked' even apply to him! He wasn't a woman! A bit worried by his own thoughts Lance/Spike looked down at himself, relief washed over him to see he was still male. His heart raced as he felt his wife pressed against him. He looked up, and didn't have a chance to say anything. His wife kissed him straight on the muzzle. A meteorite level shock-wave of pleasure crashed through him as his entire body shuddered, feeling his heart turn to mush under the kiss. It was like they hadn't kissed each in a lifetime! His eyes almost rolled into the back of his head from bliss by the time they had to break the kiss for air!

"Feeling better dear?" Misty asked her husband.

"Yes honey." Spike answered his wife.

Red just blinked at the scene in confusion.

Tikal asked, "Sir, your name is Spike right?"

"Yes." The red hedgehog nodded.

"What's your job?"

Spike shurgged, "I'd like to think gun smith bit the only thing I ever seem to get orders for are crossbow and long bow, it's a bit of a family tradition."

"Did you have any job before that?"

Spike scratched his forehead (his couldn't scratch the back of his head after all), "Well technically if you count serving in the Acorian army, but that's not the sort of thing I like to talk about."

"Where do you live?"

"Shoddingham Merica, well close enough that we're considered part of the city at any rate."

"Have you lived anywhere else before that?"

"Not really, been plenty of times I thought about moving, but in the end, it IS your country, your city, your HOME after all."

Tikal nodded, "I can appreciate that," she looked at Misty, "Only two cards left and the door shall close."

"And I, we finally see Amy again?" Misty asked.


"Then let's see what the Arcana reveals." Misty said in a stern voice letting go of Spike reluctantly. She walked up straight to the table and turned over the first card, "The Sun, Happiness, achievement, joy, positive emotions."

"I'm sure you'll be feeling plenty of those soon enough." Tikal nodded.

Without even thinking of hesitating Misty flipped over the final card on the table, "The World. To be complete, whole, fulfill, to realize one's place in the scheme of things."

"And so this 'reading' is complete, and so my purpose here is fulfilled, so in the scheme of things, They can now only take those willing, and Them can catch or swindle no one off guard even again. Thank you."

"Tikal," Misty said to the literal 'spirit guide', "Take me, us to my first born child."

Tikal nodded, "With pleasure."

With one last act, Misty scooped up the tarot cards, they were HER tarot cards (she hadn't understood why she felt compelled to draw the lovers that way), they belonged to none but her. The picture of Mobius on The World grew bigger, and bigger, and the vision of the family members were filled with swirling colors as they felt like they were falling -forewords.-

'Rosey, I'm coming.'


While Blonde's real self could not be affected by time distortions, that didn't mean the universe around her couldn't, and thus, time began to move in the apartment room at a normal pace again, Blond burst inside, ready to claim the rats for her master... only to find the room empty. "That... THAT BRAT! I'll hunt her down! I emotionally destroy her! I'll turn her long-eared best friend into her worst enemy! I rub her nose in her failed dream of claiming that blue hedgehog! She'll beg for death! Her best friend will be calling for her head! She'll--" That was when she felt the ominous aura of her master reaching out to her.... wanting to have a very long talk with her about her inability to complete her mission... she knew as that thing that might be erroneously called her heart turned to ice, that it would not be pleasant even in the slightest!


Amy looked around, confused yet calm about where she was.

"Let's see, trees that rival the Great Forest in terms of beauty. a feeling of being in a live enactment of fairy tale theater, am I home?... Since when are there floating castles in the sky.. and dragons the size of pixies lighting the glow spheres inside the flowers... since when do the flowers have glow sphere this time of year?"

"Hello." Said the little pointy head cherub being that told Amy exactly where she was.

"Why am I dreaming of a slightly stranger version of Merica?" Like any dreamer, Amy recognized the Nightopian, it was just like most people she only remembered them when she was asleep.

"Well, you let go of your dream of Sonic, so we had to rebuild your dreamscape."


"And you've -only- been dreaming of Sonic for so long we've diverted resources elsewhere... you kinda took us all by surprise. We didn't think we'd have to take down the chapel until you died... let me tell you it was a headache getting the skyscraper sized statue of Sonic of here."

Amy blinked, "Where'd you put it?"

Sleeping in his bed Tail pumped up a fist and said, "Sonic is the the greatest!"

The nightopian's eyes shifted, "Oh, no where in particular. So long story short, we had to do a rush job so we excavated this place from your early days... it needed a lot of dusting."

Amy sat down on a colorful toadstool. "If this is That dream, then where's Red my court jester, where's my princess dress, and where's Sir Rob'O?"

"That's the thing, your opinion of princesses, your self image, and your perception of your family have changed a lot since then."

"I guess I haven't dreamed of myself as eight since my first battle with ZERO... so how long until you get this place up and running again or until I wake up?"

"We should have this place spruced up by the time you you realize what you want, at least subconsciously of course. You're not due to wake up for a little bit yet so please enjoy the sights Princess Rosey."

Amy blushed beat red. She noticed a small wooden cabinet in one of the nearby trees. "I don't remember dreaming this before."

Doing as one will in a dream Amy opened the the cabinet. Inside she saw a wild snow storm, and in the middle of that snow storm was a young human woman Amy didn't recognize. The woman pressed on pitifully, the woman spotted a male mongoose Amy recognized as Ash! The woman raced through the blizzard, her arms out stretched until they embraced. Amy watch the woman's clothes and years melt off her until Amy beheld a mongoose like Ash, Mina! The storm vanished replaced by a field of flowers under a sky filled with musical note shaped clouds. A large glowing valentine heart appeared behind the couple. Amy's guide closed the cabinet to give them privacy before they began taking off Ash's clothes.

"What was that?!"

"Sorry about that, seems this place is in need of more sprucing up than I thought... there are some moth holes laying about to other people's dreams."

"But... why would Mina dream of being human?"

"Dreamer's confidentiality. Everyone's dreams are their own."

"... Fair enough I guess." Amy accidently kicked something metal in the dirt. A little box. Taking it and opening it up she found, "Yugioh cards? How do I know what a Yugioh card is?"

"That's odd.." Her guide flew closer, "That's from the other side of your dreams... someone must have left them here by mistake."

"Okay, 'other side?' "

"The dreams that belong to the you, that is not you, but is you all the same." Only in a dream.

"That means?"

"The part of yourself that aren't at the forefront, everyone has them."

"Well, I'd like to see them."

"No can do."

"What? They're MY dreams, I have a right to them!"

"Yes, you do, but you locked the door yourself and melted the key. You'll have to create a a new one. Like the others."


"Dreamer confidentiality."

"Ugh. Okay. If I have to make a new key I will."

"Your subconscious... oh almost forgot, someone has a message for you."

Someone tapped Amy on the shoulder. Amy looked behind and gasped.


"See you soon Rosey." Her mother smiled.

"Mom what is-"

"That's, what, girls do!" Amy's pink alarm clock sounded.

Amy sat up in bed, "Dangit!!" She hit the alarm clock with her fist, silencing and almost breaking it. "I haven't dreamed of mom in years- but why did I dream of Mina?" Amy shuddered. "Mom... what happened to you? I miss you..." Amy got out of bed and began her morning routine: which included but wasn't limited to, checking her email, exercising, reading her horoscope, washing, and and breakfast. She had stopped kissing her Sonic plushie good-bye every morning. She checked her calendar. She had a lot set for today. She was due at Chao World this morning. Believe it or not- and many refused to believe it- Amy was a certified substitute teacher and a regular instructor at the Chao World Preschool when she wasn't smashing eggbots - or being kidnapped as Sonic would snicker.- While Amy used her dousing to treasure hunt, she couldn't compare with world class ones like Rouge and Knuckles. On the strange side, her fortune telling seemed to have become more popular (better) since she had made peace with Princess Sally.

Since Amy didn't work at Chao World everyday, she didn't live on the island itself. Meaning she had to cut more time into her schedule to be on time. At the dock she flashed her employee's pass and sat back and enjoyed the brief boat ride while she could. Since her day didn't start until a bit later than the other work hands, there was no one on the boat she knew besides the captain and he was always too focused on steering the ship to talk to anyone. So began another day with Robotnik hopefully NOT blowing something up with his robot army.

Clocking in and hanging up her jacket, Amy went through her normal mental checklist: make sure the normal chao get plenty of attention, pay attention to anything the angel chao have to say, and make sure the dark chao don't set anything on fire. Chao were fun to visit but actually working with them was another story! Since Chaos' mysterious return a number of employees had abandoned working at Chao World due to the memory of the corrupt version of Perfect Chaos wrecking their city. Thankfully Chaos provided order among the chao in the gardens and actually acted as decent security once it was conveyed to the god chao that damage to chao world was not in the best long term interests of Chaos' children.

Kindergarden and preschool were good names for the institutions on the island. Few chao ever made it past the mentality of five or six year olds. And it was the special ones that learned to speak mobian, and from those 'special ones' were the few who managed to grow in maturity and intellect into adolescent, then teen (oh-boy) and those special rare ones, the adult mind set. As such it had always felt a little weird at first every morning when Amy visited the Principle's office. The normal sized neutral chao looked at her with those one way glasses just above his very real mustache (don't ask). His expression was collected and unreadable, meaning his emotion dot always remained a simple sphere above his head. Everything in the room was chao size meaning for a mobian the size difference was disorienting and for a human just plain astounding.

"Good morning principle." Amy greeted like she was supposed to.

"Good morning Miss Rose. We've had a large group of new chao arrive this morning, so be sure they get to know the rest of the garden chao."

Amy didn't think to ask where they were from, figuring they were a transfer from Station Square's garden, on the mainland, or the Mystic or Egg Gardens. "All right Principle I will."

"They should be done with their check ups with the Doctor soon, so be gentle."

'As if one should be anything else with a chao.' Amy felt relief she wouldn't have to deal with the Doctor directly. The Doctor was a normal chao like the principle, but -- he was weird. While the Doctor had proven medically able on many occasions, there was a look in his eyes and the way he grinned at her that Amy just didn't like. Still he had never done anything to ever harm his fellow chao and he worked for free so the management let him continue as is.

One important thing about chao that needs to be noted here is that even the most brilliant of them are not known for their drive or ambition unlike other sentient races even when compared to the laid back Flickies. Chao showed little if any interest in building their own self sufficient society.

Maybe that was why Chaos existed, to protect creation's most innocent race. The new chao were quite lively, even for chao. Amy was impressed that they all had names, always a step in the right direction. Names were something introduced to the chao after the fall of the Knuckles clan. Chaos loved it's children equally, considering none as superior to the others, it wasn't until they began absorbing traits from people and other living things around them that the idea of each being unique emerged.

"Chao! Chao!" 'I'm Franchise.'

"Bobby Chao!"

Amy also quickly learned they had names that didn't sound like the handle of an internet forum poster, something that honestly pleased Amy, it helped them be recognized more as a people than someone's pet. She had never seen chao so into physical activity, they were almost like chao versions of Red...

Shaking her head Amy got the lessons started for the day. Drawing, dancing, music making, always keeping her eyes out for chao who looked bored with such simple games and looked ready for more complex things like learning the ABCs, possibly read, or even write! (Like Barker's partner chao.)

Finally noon rolled around and the chao escaped, er, exited the small school building and returned to the gardens. Amy breathed a sigh of relief, none of the normal chao had started crying. The devil chao hadn't tried to sucker the new comers (with Amy watching) and the Angel chao, well, Amy couldn't think of anything negative -they- ever did. After taking a bite out of a salad Amy visited the neutral grounds, the only place all three alignments of chao mixed freely. One thing special was the arrival of Yami, Buddy and Hikari to welcome the new chao into their respective groups. While Chaos loved it's children equally the three of them had become the el facto moderators of the three gardens. And standing there brain pulsing, it's tail scythe now looking more like a benign fin, was Chaos itself. While some called Chao 'he' scientifically since Chaos had birthed the chao race, Chaos was asexual. The chao new and old cheered happily at their parent's presence.

And flanked by cheese and chaocola, was the Cream, Chaos' new avatar. Ever since Chaos has returned and had selected Cream as it's voice, the bunny had been allowed to come and go from the gardens as Chaos willed it. It was through Cream Chaos said it had no interest in committing another genocide and only desired to see that the Chaos' babies were treated with respect and kindness. Good thing too before GUN tried to blow up the island. After the chao convinced Vanilla that Chaos wasn't out to turn Cream into Chaos' mindless slave, she was happy her child had been given such an important diplomatic role.

"Chaos says Chaos welcomes Chaos' new children to the gardens." Cream said smiling.

"Sure sure has adapted well."

"Huh?" Amy said. "Oh hi Tails! What brings you here?"

"Hey Amy. I came by to visit Cream, isn't it amazing? The Cream we know is now the mouth of the river god we all fought against, well, me, Sonic and Knuckles."

"And Big..."

"Oh right Big too! Sorry Amy! But still, Cream IS the go-between for a being who grief brought the echidnas to their knees! Isn't that incredible?"

'Yes...yes she is...there's not a cruel thought in her head or a hateful feeling in her heart. The kind of girl you'd have to have no heart to hate. The girl who could make friends with anyone. The kind of girl who always puts others before herself."

"You you okay?"

"What? Oh right. yes. That's -our- Cream."

"I was thinking of asking her to ask Chaos about him guarding the chaos emeralds again."

"What? Chaos? Remember Perfect Chaos?"

"Yes I do. And that's part of my point. We seem to be stuck in a loop of taking the seven emeralds from Eggman, him stealing them from us, and back again. The emeralds can't be destroyed. And they seem to tweak fate to find one another. So I was thinking, as long as doesn't become the corrupt Perfect Chaos, it's impossible for -anyone- to steal the emeralds from it once he absorbs one. The emerald becomes a part of Chaos that's as inseparable as the rest of it's body. Now that Chaos has returned and is back to it's senses, I figured it might be a way to finally end the cycle...beisdes, they were Chaos' to begin with."

"Are you sure that's the right thing to do?"

"NOt totally. That's why I want to talk about it first in case there's something I-"


"Oh no!" Tails dismayed.

"Tricky." Amy lamented.

The raccoon dog ran through the Garden Entrance leapt right -through- Chaos, and did a cannon ball into the chao pool causing a huge splash. The chao all cheered at the spectacle. Cream also giggled, "Chaps saus. heh heh, please don't hah hah, do that again."

"DO that again? Okay."

Amy and Tails managed somehow to tackle the raccoon dog together. "Hey! Come on! It was just a joke!"

"I'm not sure Chaos has a sense of humor." tails said not letting go.

"Maybe I can give her/him one?"

"Er, don't and say you did." Amy's eyes shifted.

"Hey! I'm a prankster! Not a liar!"

"Do, do it, do it, do it!" Yami cheered, "I wanna see mom/dad eat'em! His pranks are so small time!"

"My pranks are NOT small time!" Tricky said in Yami's face.

Tails and Amy realized they were holding a Tricky shaped balloon. They yelped and let go. It was likely filled with laughing gas, wouldn't be the first time." When the weasels had tried once to kidnap Tricky, the involuntary giggles coming from the weasel manor didn't stop for a week!

As Tricky and Yami listed off their various prankster achievements Yami finally said.

"Bet you can't even tell a funny joke!"

"I bet I can!"

"Bet you can't!"

"Well you just watch me!" Tricky placed a leaf on his head and in a puff of smoke turned in a blue and dark blue normal chao.

'I was expecting dark chao.' Tails thought.

"Ahem!" The Tricky chao started addressing Yami and the various other dark chao.

"Chao-chao-chao-chao chao chao, chaoooo chaooo, chao-chao-chao..." They all leaned in closer. "Chao! Chao! Chao! chaochaochao!"

Somewhere a chao on a drum set hit the symbols. The all burst out laughing, some falling over backwards as they laughed.

Tails, Amy and the other non-chao in the garden just stared dumbly.

Cream asked, "Tails what's a," she whispered in his ear, Tails blushed! "Nothing you never need to mention to your mom-like EVER, or to anyone!"

"Oh okay." Cream nodded innocently.

"Chao!" Everyone's attention however was suddenly drawn back to the laughing dark chao. One of them was still laughing, rocking back and forth as he did so. That was what got everyone's attention, what -kept- their attention was the chao changing color. Before their eyes the devil chao turned from black to gray to white, and where he had red shading he now had blue! His bat wings warped into angelic wings and his spike ball emotion dot became a halo! What got most however, was his laugher changing from a sadistic snigger to snow bells ringing! The new Angel chao got up, looked at Yami once, and hugged him. Yami screamed in terror and fled back the the underworld like dark garden. Hikari giggled and waved her retreating brother bye-bye. A minute later the new angel chao and Hikari were dancing around each other. The chao Tricky just clapped and in a puff of smoke was Tricky the mobian again.

"Told him I could tell a good joke!" Tricky declared.

"Chaos says you made Chaos' children laugh, Chaos is pleased, Chaos forgives your previous trespass."

"Ah nuts," Tricky actually sounded disappointed, "Having a god on my 'angry for prank list' would have sky rockeed me on the top one hundred pranksters of Mobius!"

Tails blinked, "To One hundred-"

"-Pranksters on Mobius list?" Cream finished.

"Yep! They meet every three point one years to decide whose the funniest officially for the next three point one years."

"I don't get it why three point one years?" Amy walked straight onto it.

"Because silly, that's the value of pi!" The symbols rang again. Cream giggled, Amy and Tails groaned. Tricky pulled from metaspace a long-hand written list of names that unrolled nearly reached the edge of the garden!

"Yeah, dad's number sixty-four, I'm number ninety-eight."

"Whose number one?" Tails had to ask.

"Coyote the Trickster of course, followed by Raven The Trickster, then Miss Kitesune of the Twelve Tails The Trickstress-"

"Kitesune The Trickstress?" Tails exclaimed. He was pretty sure that wasn't even a word!

Cream asked innocently, "Whose number ninety-seven, ninety-nine and one hundred?"

"Number ninety-seven... who cares? Ninety nine is Bannana The Splits and hundred is Jack the Tripster."

"Jack The Tripster?" Tails knew THAT wasn't a word!

"He made the list because he puts down pies ahead of his victims before tripping them."

"I don't suppose Yami is only that list." Cream said knowing nearly all the chao by name.

"He's number eighty five, but I have a feeling we'll be swapping spots at the next census!"

"Don't worry, you'll always be a number one pain in my book! I still can't those bots to remember they're suppose to be killing machines and not clowns!"

"EGGMAN!" Every Mobian there shouted at once. All charged at once at the fat dictator walking out of the garden entrance. Any willed her hammer into her hands! Tails teleported in his wrist zapper, Cream flew straight in, and in a pull of smoke Tricky was riding on top of a spring loaded boxing glove the size of a bus filled with horse shoes the same scale!

"Na-uh! Paying customer!" The heroes stopped dead in their tracks as Eggman pulled out a 'Chao Fan Club Platinum Life-Time Pass Member ship card.' "And need I remind you, Chao Island is neutral territory?" Ina bid to dodge taxes and to further that chao, in spite of their mass illiteracy were their own people, Chao World had Chao Island declare a neutral island state. With Chaos' return it was now formally listed as a theocracy since it had a living god as it's head of state.

Tails wasn't eased, "What is this? What demented game are you playing now Eggman?"

"Such ego. Not everything I do is related to you runts. I just came here to check on Eggbert."

"Eggbert?" The heroes all said at once as Eggman whistled.

A red devil chao came racing to the doctor's feet hoping up and down joyfully. "You been a bad boy Eggbert? Good! Have a prize!" Eggman took out a drumstick and tossed it at the little devil. Eggbert inhaled the meat on the bone in one gulp, then ate the bone in bits,

"Na-na-na-na-na-na!" He was like a pirana.

Eggbert burped, his breath smelled like Flicky. The heroes all 'blached' in disgust.

"How could you teach a chao to be like that-ow!" Tails hopped as Eggbert kicked him in the knee.

"Heheheh!" Eggbert giggled.

"You're awful Mr. Eggman!" Cream declared sounding more disappointed than angry.

"You flatter me, but Eggbert's just having some fun, aren't you Eggbert ye you are, yosh-yosh!" It was disorienting to see the mad doctor praising and spoiling the little devil. He looked like a big kid.

"CHAO! Chao-chao!"


"What is it Cream?" Tails asked.

"Cheese challenges Eggbert to the honorable field of battle."


"My Eggbert accepts your pitiful challenge! Have at thee! Chao Sumo!"

CHaos did not tolerate violence within the garden (at least to the chao), but Chaos Sumo was unanimous delcared a game and nothing mothing more all with strict rules, thus the god chao tolerated it.

A few minutes later all involved parties were in or around the little ring. The Omachao were chao given to Robian to help rediscover themselves and had absorbed the Robian's traits. They were still cute, but had no desire to be 'cured' this was simply the way they had matured and nothing more, they acted as tour guides and referees for Chao World.

"This is a non-tournament one round take all exposition match between Cheese and Eggbert! The winner is the first one to knock their opponent out of the ring, have them give up, or make them cry for mommy! Now CHAO SUMO!!"

" This fight is in the bag!" Amy cheered, "There's one of Eggman and five of us counting Chaocola! Our cheers will keep'em revving at top speed! This fight is in the bag! This'll be a piece of cake!"

Tails ears wilted as he pointed across the arena. "The cake is a lie."

Marching in single file, six unarmed egg pawns marched behind the doctor, all holding 'Go Team!' signs.

"Eggman! You're cheating!" Amy snapped.

"Whose cheating? I just brought some friends along to cheer for my chao, same as you."

The heroes looked at each other discomforted, they hated it when the mad doctor had a point.

The Omachao side stepped left then right, swinging down the two flags it was holding, "Cheese and Eggbert! Fight!"

"Go Eggbert! We love you! Go Eggbert! We love you! Go Eggbert! Win and we don't go to scrap heap!"

Eggbert charged and began to slap Cheese across the face left and right, the grin never leaving his face.

Cream called out to her friend, "CHEESE! Don't give up! I believe in you!"

Cheese dug his feet into the mat as he was pressed halfway to the edge.

"Go Eggbert! You will win! Go Eggbert! You will! Go Eggbert!"

Eggbert palm struck Cheese a few times in the chest creating ripples on his body. Cheese stubbornly refused to move another inch.

"Don't let that nobody beat you Eggbert! You're WAY better than him! You will do it!" Eggman yelled hoping up and down waving a tiny flag and wearing a baseball cap from nowhere.

Eggbert bonked Cheese on the head, the chao went down.


"And one!" The Omachao called, "And two!"

"Cheese!" "Cheese!" "Cheese!" "Chao-Chao!" "Cheese burger!"

"And a Four."

"Please Cheese! Get up! You're my family! I LOVE YOU!"

Cheese got up so fast that he his head bonked Eggbert in the jaw sending the devil chao spinning backwards! Eggbert landed on his head dizzy.

"Oh come on!" Eggman exasperated!

"C-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-chaooooo!" Cheese moved like a freight train, spinning his arms like mad!

Eggbert was bonked in the head repeatedly, feeling dizzy! Eggbert growled and began to madly slapped Cheese in the face again forcing Cheese back again! This time however, Cheese made a jump tackle, and landed straight on Eggbert's head, right in his spiky emotion dot. Cheese cringed and fought back tears, Eggbert on the other hand. "C-chaoooo!!" 'M-mommmy!!'

Eggbert crying ran away from Cheese and leapted right into Eggman's arms.

"There there Eggbert you're still better than they are and much better looking too!" Eggman tenderly patted the chao on the back of the head and made a very hasty retreat, the robo-cheer squad following close behind.

"Does this mean we're not scrap?"

"Don't be silly, of course you're scrap!"

"Cheese! You won!" Cream cheered.

"Chao chao!" The chao flew fight into Creams arms, hugging like crazy. It was a good thing chao don't have bones.

"Weird." Amy said.

"You can say that again." Tails responded.

"No I mean... Eggman, just for that second, he was acting like how he was for a while."

"Huh?" Cream, Tricky, and Tails and Chaocola all looked at her.

"Well... after the disaster with the corrupt Perfect Chaos when it turned on him, then when he had to help us stop the Biolizard from crashing into Mobius, and -then- he was forced to help us behind the scenes during Blue Emperor Metal Sonic, and finally when his air fleet fought against Black Doom's flying fortress' during the Black Arms invasion.... Eggman didn't quite act as awful as he used to... he opened up a theme park that wasn't booby trapped, that was also when Shadow decided to go hook up with him, even Rogue worked for him for a while, he even sold robots that weren't booby trapped to Central City.. don't get me wrong, he still sent giant robots after us, Sonic in particular but... it felt more like he was doing it for the excitement rather than putting any real effort into taking more territory or trying to kill us. But after everyone vanished, he acted -exactly- like he used to right after he betrayed King Acorn, or even -worse!-"

"And... " Tails asked, "you think you saw some of the -good- in Eggman there for a bit?"

"Well..." Cream suggested, "nobody is -ever- all bad."

Tails thought for a moment, was it possible, could it even be possible, that Dr. Eggman, Lord Ivo Robotnik... was a victim... just like Tommy? How many more like Tricky could there be? Robo-Knux? The weasels? Tails only knew that their only real enemy for certain was Void. ANY of the Eggman empire could just be TF victims like his cousin... this wasn't good.

"Hey Tails." Amy said out of the blue.

"Yeah Amy?"

"I just want to say this before I forget that.. I'm not going to compete with you this year at Sonic Con for 'Sonic's Biggest Fan Club President.' "

"What?!" Tails jaw dropped open, "But-but Amy! We don't it every year! Some years you win! Some years I win! Who are you and what have you done with the real Amy?!" Kyle felt so stupid asking that question, "Since when do you give up just cause you might lose?"

"I just think... I need a year to rethink about how just how well I really know Sonic." Amy replied meekly, Amy, meek, okay check please!

Tricky ran a scanner over Amy that looked like it had been stolen from the set of Star Trek, "No hypno waves, no robot implants, no genetic irregularities to suggest cloning, DNA matches Amy Rose, meta-reality wave length confirmed... yep! This is Amy!" Tricky tossed the weird looking gadget over his shoulder where it vanished in a puff of smoke.

Tails shook his head, he knew half of that was scientific gobblely gook, but accepted the other half as reasonable. "Okay Amy fair enough."

Tricky came between the two. "Hey Amy! Before I forget again-again! I like you to go on a date with me!"

Amy started, staring at Tricky in disbelief. "A-a date?" When was the last time anyone on Mobius had ever asked -her- for a date?

"Yeah a date! You interested?!" Tricky bounced up and down looking up into Amy's double-eye.

Amy blushed, "I, er, um, I guess so."

"Okay!" Tricky took Amy's hands and shook them. "See ya at Twinkle Park! I heard you love going there! See ya at six!" Tricky vanished in a puff of smoke.

"Wow! Amy I'm so happy for you!" Cream declared floating and holding Amy's hands too looking her in the face, "You got a date! This is wonderful!"

Amy stood there like a puppet, "Yeah.. it is... hey Tails... can I... can I come to your place and ask you for some tips... I kinda.. don't have much experience in these sorts of things."

Tails fought not to blush, "Won't worry Amy! You'll do fine! You know what they say 'just be yourself.' "

"Please Tails?" There a hint of desperation in those eyes.

Tails sighed. "Okay... I think I can..."

Amy nodded, a look of relief in her eyes, "Okay thanks."

"Hey Cream." Tails said looking past Amy. "Can you help me? I came here originally to ask Chaos about being able to guard the emeralds we've collected from Eggman."

"Huh? Oh! Okay Tails! Sure! I know just where Chaos likes to hang out this time of day. You coming Amy?"

"No thanks, I had better prepare, it's been a while since I went on a girl/boy outing..."

"Too bad! See ya later then!"

"Yeah," Amy smiled, "See you later!"

The heroes left the Arena, Tails and Cream and the Chao going one way, Amy going the other. Tails just hoped Cream never brought up the joke Tricky said with her mom, the last thing he wanted was Cream to be asking what fox tail stew was.

After her shift at Chao World ended, Amy headed down town to do what he did best next to smashing robots and babbling romance, -shopping!- The lady's clothing stores had suffered a loss of sales recently. Apparently after Princess Sally's return, a surprisingly large percentage of female mobians had rediscovered the courage to go around in the fur that protected stuff from view anyway. Amy almost wished she could join them, but her fur pattern didn't cover 'those' areas. And on the plus side, it meant some of the more pricey dresses that had once been out of her price range were now within her budget as store began to drop prices to attract customers.

Without anyone to give her opinions, she was forced to buy quite a few new dresses just to be safe. Ultimately however, she decided to settle on a white dress with ruffled shoulder straps, it included a more stylized version of her warrior feather hair piece. She also found some silver bracelets and a pair of silver and white flattops to wear with it.

That settled, she changed back into her regular attire and went to Tails' home. Thankfully his parents weren't in, apparently they were getting reacquainted with the Acorian royal family. Thank heaven Tails had managed to convince them against all odds that he was needed here in case Chaos' wanted to talk over details of guarding the emeralds after Tails left and if Robotnik's visit to Chao Island was more than just a visit.

Tails greet Amy at the front door, being totally and casual about the entire thing.

"Okay, Amy, what did you want to ask? Really?" Tails didn't believe her story about wanting tips with Tricky. There was no such thing.

"Well... remember when Chaos first appeared? And we both got items from Tikal's era? You somehow taking something back with you from that weird dream world vision thingie, and I got one while I was getting off Robotnik's first Egg Carrier."

"Yes." Tails replied.

"Well... you can use your rhythm badge to do your spin technique constantly, but when I use my warrior feather to use my hammer spin for too long, I end up getting dizzy, I was wondering if we could compare so I could figure out what I'm doing different."

"What made you think of this now?"

"Well, seeing Chaos there of course."

"You see Chaos every time you work at Chao World."

"Oh right. Oops."

"Real reason?"

"Just tired of one of my moves having a glaring flaw to it that makes it almost worthless..."

"Amy, the fact.... the fact you realized that you and Sonic aren't meant to be, that means you've gotten a lot stronger."

"Give me the 'get stronger as a person' speech and I'll give you an instant flight straight to your parent's tea party at Sally's."

Tails ears wilted, "Whao'k.... fine... let's go out back."

As the sun moved across the sky, getting closer and closer to sunset and Amy's date with Tricky, Amy watched Tails' tailspin, while Tails carefully observed Amy's hammer spin, Amy being careful to spot just short of her limit before the dizziness hit.

After seeing Tails do his move so many times they began to blur into Amy's brain, the fox finally spoke his opinion.

"I think I might have gotten it." Tails concluded after seeing the attack over and over, and thinking about it compared to his constant tailspin. "The secret is to step, not turn on your heel. You treat your body like a top, no wonder you're getting dizzy."

"Okay... let me give it a try." Amy took her Long Hammer in both hands, and think about the difference began to do the hammer spin, this time moving her feet rather than twisting on them, she didn't get dizzy, but after a few seconds... she tripped. "Ow! Dangit! Dangit!"

"Amy... it's okay, it's not like this is a video game where you can master a skill after one lesson after all."

Amy nodded, "Yeah... I.. I guess you're right. Hey Tails... t-thank you.. I want you to know...that...while we've always fought over Sonic's attention, I've never though negatively of you. You're a great guy. Really. I'll admit I was jealous, that you always seemed to be around Sonic more than me. But we were both always there.. chasing after him... side by side... isn't it funny? How we never looked to our left and right and saw who was there?"

Tails felt every muscle in his body tighten, "Amy... please... don't..."

"Don't what? Don't start on another 'mindless brainless crush without even knowing even the slightest real detail about the person not able to see their flaws even the slightest?' Or don't start saying what's been there all along but I've been too blind to ever notice before?"

Tails sighed, "Amy...you know I'm hanging out with Cream.... it wouldn't be right, not to her, not to you."

Amy clenched her hands so hard that her nails threatened to go through the glove and cut skin. "I'm a selfish immature deluded brat remember? What do I care?"

"Don't start using the garbage those Anti-Amy jerk spew as a shield... you'd never betray your friends, you know that, and you know that I'd never betray my friends."

"I thought I didn't know you."

"I -never- said that!"

"You implied it."

"No I didn't! Amy, please stop seeing things that aren't there."

Amy took out a tarot card, looking at it, the Death upside down, stagnation, when patterns do not change. "Why? I've BEEN seeing things that aren't there from the moment I laid eyes on Sonic..."

"DANGIT JANE! WHY DID YOU HAVE TO GET OVER HIM NOW!" Tails shouted out of the blue.

Amy took a step back, "J-Jane?! Who the Chaos is that?!"

Tails looked at Amy... he knew who she was, even if she didn't, the only person she could be, the only who logically she could be.

That was the thing of course. This wasn't just about Tails and Amy. This was about Kyle and Jane.

Kyle had never considered Jane his girlfriend, she was just a girl who was his friend. Until Jane feel head over heels for Ben and Kyle felt the floorboards had been pulled out from under him.

'I finally accept you'll never stop chasing after him. I finally bury those feelings and let them rest in peace. I finally find someone else in Cream. And THEN you FINALLY stop and say your available?!'

Kyle's memories of Tails remembered, ' We both chased after Sonic for so long, I finally stopped chasing him, and looked around, and I saw you. But you never looked around, you just kept looking at him alone, and kept running. And -after- so long, when I finally accept we just weren't meant to be, and I move on! THEN you take a look around and see me?! '

Ironically, if Tails hadn't been so certain of who Amy was originally, then he wouldn't have been so utterly allergic to the idea of going out with her, and the fact that he would never ever have it on Tricky's term just because of a game of his.

"... Just someone I used to know. You better go Amy, you don't want to keep Tricky waiting."

"....of course... he's likely to curse the rides somehow if I don't show up on time...I'll....be going now."

Amy left the fox head shaped house unattended.

Amy arrived at Twinkle Park right on the dot, she took a passing notice that instead of his poncho Tricky was wearing a tie with silly faces on it. Amy did her absolute best to smile. After all, it wasn't like any of this was Tricky's fault somehow.

The Twinkle Park the two were at wasn't the one Amy had gone to with Sonic of course, that was one was in Station Square, this was a second Twinkle Park built to provide some family entertainment for the people of Central City to contrast with the vices of Night Babylon after the museum failed to make learning fun. Knowledge was a reward, it had to be worked for, it wasn't always fun.

Being Central City and not Station Square, cute couples weren't let in free, nor even a judging to see if they were a cute couple, Amy actually felt some disappointment at the last part. When everything was said and done, more than half of people agreed, she and Sonic -had- been a cute couple, even if it was only due to the illogic of their unity.

After paying the teller, Tricky and her entered the new Twinkle Park.

A blue guard robo looked at them as they passed the main gate, "Please enjoy the park kids." It said in a tone with more inflection than either was used to from machines.

"Er, thanks." Amy hear her mouth say.

"Welcome." Replied the blue machine again with more expression in it's voice than a mass produced robot sold by Robotnik should have ever had.

And so they went on the Twilight Circuit, smacking into each other on the hover cars until the race started and they sped through illusionary space, only this time Amy didn't have a demented green robot after her. It felt good to ride the roller coaster, she had missed out on her chance to do that with Sonic when they had gotten split up by ZERO's unwanted chaperoning.

Amy was sure Tricky was cheating when he never missed a ring (no, not those kinds of rings) on the merry go round and all them went into the clown's mouth without fail, but she gave him credit for not being caught once! As for Amy, she had been trained by Rob'O The Hedge himself, if she was anything, it was a crack shot!

On bowling Tricky proved to be slightly less perfect, actually getting the gutter many times. Amy's strikes were a lot more constant from the strength of her throws...but she stopped before she accidently broke the machine and got stuck with a bill that would drain her bank account.

And Amy's ears twitched as she heard all around her what people were saying.

Tricky skipped a few feet ahead of her when they went inside the Enchanted Castle, his illusions and magic tricks making the walk inside the fun house much more than just a few stairs and a hall of mirrors! Fairies, dragons, wizards, ghosts all greeted her in turn as she stepped in and out of their domains.

Tricky proved to be in his element as he showed the clowns, both robotic and alive, how it was done using his five senses illusions to create wonders that left many people wanting to come back to Twilight Park the very next day. And some of the staff wanting to talk to Tricky's father to get him a contract as a formal performer in the park... clearly none of them had heard of Tricky ability to ruin public and private property along with nerves and mornings with his pranks.

Amy found herself laughing more than once at Tricky's games. She looked at a clock and saw what time it was, she sighed and shook her head.

"Tricky, I think it's about time for you to go home.. Twilight might be worried about you if you don't come home at a decent hour. So might think one of your pranks went sour."

The grin didn't leave Tricky's face. "Come on the night's still young! Besides, you're little too but look like an adult! We're not gonna get in trouble and mom always forgives me as long as I don't hurt anyone!"

"That's one of the things I've been meaning to talk about Tricky... you likely didn't hear them...I guess you are like me that way, you don't hear what you don't want to, you see what you decide to see... Tricky they thought I was your babysitter and that I was treating you."

Tricky bounced up and down on a mobian ball he created out of a superball. Or at least a five senses illusion of one at least. "So what? Who cares what other people think? We're really the same age inside!"

Amy didn't want to say this. She had enjoyed this evening. But she had learned, and had it stuffed down her throat these last few days, that what you wanted, and what you needed to do, were rarely if ever the same thing! "It's just this entire evening I kept thinking 'this is how I used to' or 'this is what I used to do' not 'this is what I do' or 'this is how I do it.' What I've been feeling is nostalgia.

"When Sally made me an official FF, I had to accept somethings: that this bdy wasn't an illusion anymore. This body wasn't a costume anymore. I'm no longer a little girl in a teenage body Tricky.

"And I couldn't go back, even if I was able to. I can't go back to that version of me, because it isn't me. If I went back to that form, that body, it would be the lie. I gave up two years of my life and I will -never- get them back. Even if I was regressed back to that age, it wouldn't erase the things I've experienced as a teenage girl, and if I lost those experiences, can I really say that me, would be me?

I'm sorry Tricky. I really am sorry. But I'm not 'really your age' not anymore. You're a knight in jester's clothing, but, you're just too young for me."

Amy could hear a voice at the back of her head say, 'You're giving up your one shot at this kind of happiness!'

Amy thought back, 'Maybe it's better to be surrounded by friends, then to have a happiness based on a lie.'

Amy kissed Tricky, and felt nothing, it was just a kiss. Amy blinked away tears as Tricky looked at her lost and utterly confused. His illusions always ended, no matter what he changed it always reverted back to what it was before. He couldn't comprehend the idea of the illusion becoming reality. He couldn't understand the idea of someone acting nice actually becoming nice. He couldn't understand that there was more to what defined anything beside what someone observed of that person of objected.

"Come on Tricky." Amy said hoisting him up, his leg strength being enough to hold him up on her shoulders, "Let's get you home."

Tricky remained silent, still confused. And he remained silent until they reached Tricky's home and Ring greeted them at the door, dumbfounded by the utterly out of character looks on both.

"Thank you for the evening Tricky." Amy deposited the lad on the doorstep, gave him another kiss, this one on the forehead, and left the residence behind... not looking back.

Amy looked at her hands, 'This is me, this is all of me, I am what I am that's all I am.'


Why. Why should it have been so impossible. There was no giant tower. No deadly mad dragon seeking to keep the prisoner for itself. No dark army of abomination guarding the giant tower. No forbidden forest hidden things long forgotten by people for the better. No long road to be traveled through shadow, day and night. Why should it have been so impossible to met the one most important to her?

She tried to meet with him ever since she had returned from what she knew not what. It was insanity. There was no other word to describe it, it was insanity. Like the two men who say one is a liar and one the truth teller when both are liars. Or the twisted infinite staircase that folded back upon itself and did not obey even it's own rules of where led to where else. So didn't know where she had heard the term, or it's origins, but one word came into her mind over and over again: kefka. This entire situation, the reverses upon reverses, the situations where you neither had the cake or eaten it while the opposition accomplished both against all logic and reason: kefka. It was all kefka!

She heard from others what he had been doing, what he had accomplished, not accomplished, his own reverses, put downs, along and his mistakes and sins. Like she was in a zoo watching him through a glass cage unable to interact with him at all, only observe. And true to any kefka situation, when you caught the situation with it's pants down, it turned out to have steel underwear. She had tried just sending him a letter, a word of mouth -anything!-

But the letters never reached him, the word of mouth either died, never heard from again, or were caught up in a situation where they were no position to remember a simple message to give to someone that most did not even like.

And true to anyone trapped in a kefka situation, instead of sensibly simply sitting down and refusing to play the game, she pressed on, because what she had to gain and what she'd lose were simply too high to refuse to continue.

She'd try to meet with him, and the enemy would attack nearby or right there and she'd be pulled into the fight, she'd try to meet him somewhere ahead of time, and the enemy would attack near him or right where he was, delaying him just long enough until she left.

She had never believed in fate, no burning balls of gas in the galaxy, no painted pieces of paper no unseen women with a spindle, thread and scissors, they did not control her destiny. Her existence was her own. But, as blockades grew into absurdity, she knew someone, somehow, for either design or their own amusement, was keeping her from meeting him.

She could figure out who it was putting boulders in her path, some of her fellows seemed to know the answer, but they stayed silent. No matter how hard she tried to extract the information the well appeared for all purposes dry. Normally she'd be realistic at this point and simply give up. But she couldn't, not this one time, she would not. Not for him.

One red morning, down the city sidewalk, they all blurred together now, she dragged her feet towards where the schedule said he would be that morning. She wondered what contrived and convoluted twist of fate would occur to shield him from her this time. Surprise attack by the enemy's troops? Auto-accident? Maybe a time bomb again. But as this narrative suggests, this day would be different.

She didn't look up as she dragged her body along, feeling condemned by the fate she didn't believe in, figuring she'd hear or smell whatever what would push her two steps back for the one step she took today as normal.

She didn't see the person walking towards, she only felt him when she bumped into him, she looked up, wondering if it was a mugger or a serial killer again (the mental wards had to be totally empty by now).

She looked and saw his face, and didn't believe it in the slightest, she heard his voice, and still didn't believe it in the slight. She felt him touch her, and still yet didn't believe it in the slightest. She had grown weary, confident each twist of destiny was the reverse of the day. But she knew one thing for certain, she was just too damn tired to care anymore! She just didn't care! Screw it all! She had enough!!!

"JEFFERY!" Hershey yelled putting her arms around him, pressing her furry covered body and only fur covered body like the manly woman she was against his! Disorder and near madness swept up in her mind. He could be a fake, an assassin, the final trap to capture her in the final unending illusion, but she had grow too weary of it all, to assume the worst.

"He-Her-Hershey?!" Geoffery St. John said confused and bewildered. "Where did you come from? What are you doing here? Where have you been?"

"I've been looking for you! I've always been looking for you! Ever since I returned I've been looking for you! Only you! Every time I got close! Something! Someone! Somehow! Someway! Kept me from getting close to you! Kept me from talking to you! Kept you from seeing me! I thought I was going to be trapped in this Hell of always just missing you forever!"

"Overlanders?" Geoffery asked only understanding half of what Hershey Hershey was going on about.

"No Jeffery! Not Overlanders! No human being could do what's been happening! If there are gods and if there is a god of fate I swear that it's been torturing me for it's own amusement! I don't BELIEVE in fate! It doesn't exist! But there's no way in Hell that random chance can stack up this high against any being in the cosmos!"

"Hershey, maybe you were just imagining all this, maybe it was all in your head."

She pulled back partially from him, "LOOK ME IN THE EYES JEFFERY! Look me in the eyes and tell me what's been happening is just a lie I created for myself!"

Geoffery did look, and realized that he couldn't speak thus while looking into her feline eyes. "You're... you're not conjuring this up out of your own mind... but then why are you here now? Why are you with me now? What's changed?"

"I don't know! I don't care! All I thought -you- were just another lie! Jeffery the point is that I'm here now, the point is that I'm here with you now. And that I don't plan to leave your side ever again as long as you're alive."

"Hershey, if you've been trying to reach me for, however long it's been, then I'm sure you know what's been going on, the threats from within that now exist."

"Yes Jeff'... I heard... that's why I became all the more desperate to talk to you... to speak with you... Jeffery... you can let go now."

"What?" Geoffery asked not understanding in the least.

"You can let go, I don't know what happened, I don't care, but I know I can't bear the idea that I could have come back without you there for me in this world! You can let now Jeff, you're free! It's over! Kodos is dead! has been dead for over three years! The man who murdered your father is dead."

"Overlanders murdered my father and broke my mother!"

"NO! Humans -killed- your father, Kodos MURDERED him. You know he was the one who secretly handed the rout of the queen's airship your father was on too to Angel Island, not letting the humans know who their informant was, all to make sure that an irrational with grief King would never stop the war until every last human was dead.... It's over Jeff! You can let it go, there's no reason to weight yourself down anymore!"

"I-I-I can't! Overlanders are polluters, thieves, rapists and murderers, for the sake of the WORLD they can't be allowed the chance to continue their rein of--"

"JEFFERY STOP IT! PLEASE STOP! You're better than this! I KNOW you're better than this! You're not blind! You're not stupid! You're the bravest most loyal man I've met in my entire life! You -aren't- the kind of person who'd be a slave to the propaganda used by your father's murderer! And the man who in turn destroyed your mother! Please Jeffery! There's no more reason for it anymore!"

"I can't! It's-it's-it's!"

"It's WHAT Jeffery? It's what?!"

"...it's all I have left..."


"Hearing about his death, it's the only solid memory I have my of father... his duty always came first... always... I barely saw him, and the time I remember are ghostly half faded images."

"How can you admire him if he was like that?..."

"He was my FATHER... and he did love us, he just... he just didn't want to put the happiness of the families of all Acorn Kingdom at risk just for the sake of his own family's happiness... dad never could put himself first..."

"Jeffery... I love you,"

Geoffery looked at her surprised, and caught totally off guard, "You.. you what?"

"I said I love you. I fell in love with you after I thought that I was -done- falling in love after Drago betrayed me. I loved you when even when you only kept your eyes on the princess. I love your right now, even as you carry that awful weight on your shoulders because you think you have to."

"You ... love me?"

"Yes I love you! I want to spend the rest of my life with you! I want be yours and yours alone! I want you to be mine and no one else's! You don't need to carry that weight any longer!"

Geoffery lamented, "I told you, it's all I have of my father."

"NO! It's all you have of Kodos! What you have of your father is his sense of duty, his sense of honor, his courage to march into battle WITHOUT superpowers or power armor, and his loyalty to his people and his kingdom! THAT is what you have of your father! That bias you've been carrying for human being was given to you by Kodos!!!"

"Hershey ... I.. I can't... I'm... I'm so..."

"It's okay Geoffery... just let it go... I know you can do it, after all you're stronger than those go into battle with super strength or chaos powers... and I admire that about you..."

"Hershey I..." Geoffery took his arms around her, and kissed her.

As their muzzles touched, Geoffery felt a load stone he didn't even realized he had been carrying fall away from his backside, his heart and soul lifting from the sudden lack of burden.

"Hershey... thank you... love you too"


Hunt did not need to sleep, he did not sleep. He was a robian after all, or close to one actually, since robians could sleep when they needed to. As such Hunt had -much- free time, and believed that logically he should put it to good use. While Tails/Kyle/Miles had removed the part of his programming that made him blindly accept Dr. Ivo Robotnik's order and ideas, Hunt was still driven by by the pseudo desire to be useful. It was as natural as breathing was for an organic unit. To be useful, to have purpose, to serve your function, this defined any machine's existence. The only true difference now was that Hunt could chose his function rather than be slaved to the one Dr. Ivo Robotnik had installed in when he had processed.

While his family collectively detested treating him like a servant in any way, Hunt didn't mind in the least, and honestly enjoyed it, it was felt good to carry out instructions. Right now he was collecting groceries for his organic relatives, having been given the cash and a verbal list of what to buy, he didn't need to write it down, he never did, he memorized it perfectly on the first try. As strange as it sounded, and while Hunt knew there was no endearment between them, he honestly wondered what Mecha Unit 03 Robo-Knuckles was up to. While they had been fighting for the incorrect side Hunt logically knew, they had also been comrades in battle.

Hunt screamed as error message flashed across his text feed and he suddenly crashed to the street from his flight path. Ninety eight point two percent of organic units didn't realize that status messages didn't appear as images obscuring visual data like in the movies, but in fact was a completely different input all together, the robot's equal of the organic's mind's eye. Check conditions. Early morning, temperate weather, no electrical storm. Location, market district, no high power lines nearby. Review log of past twenty seconds. No internal power surge detected. Logical conclusion: electrical charge from outside source.

"What to go Sparks! You brought that egg bot down no prob!" Unregistered voice, grammar level suggest low education, tone suggest age 19 to 21.

"Thanks Flames! That'll show those egg bots!" Unregistered voice, grammar level suggest low education, tone suggest age 19 to 21. Designated 'Sparks.' Previous voice designated 'Flame.'

Hunt corrected his position and stood up, groceries damage at 25%, still salvageable. Systems at 75% from electrical shock.

"Zap'it again Sparks!"

"You got it Flame!"

Warning! Previous discharged now confirmed as hostile action! Agh!!! Error! Error! System now at 60%!

"All right egg bot! You're going down! We're the justice fightas! And yer goin' down!" Voice Flames said. Source of audio located. Post teen lynx, 'Sparks' yellow spiky fur. Source of other audio located. Post teen tiger, red 'wild' fur. Manner of dress and accent suggest non-citizens of Cat Country. Unit Flame at 12 O'clock, unit Flame at five of clock. Logic error on organic units detected, debug.

"Correct: while this unit is constructed by Eggman Empire. This unit is, in fact, no longer in service of Eggman Empire, it has transcended status as an object to be owned and is currently registered as member of the Prowler family house hold and is a legal Acorian. Thus your actions are-AGH!" System at fifty percent!

"What was it going on about dud?" Flames asks.

"Who care?!" Sparks said, "We gonna take it down and everybody what kinda heroes we really are! Not those old foggy Freedom Fighters! The justice fightas are gonna beat Egg butt off da planet!"

"The termination of a unit not returning fire that is not hostile towards you or anyone currently known to be known friendly to you does not fall within category tree of 'heroic.' Gather information mode: what is electrical ability you possess and how did you receive custom upgrade?"

"Huh?" Spark looked stupidly at Hunt.

"I think it wants to know how we got the powers we gonna blast it with!" Flame said, "Me and my buddy lost both our families to Eggman! We swore justice on him and all his dumb bots! But we couldn't do anything cause we didn't have cool powers like Sonic The Hedgehog! Then one day! We stumbled on the fragments of a artificial chaos emerald! We touched it and gain our way past cool powers! We couldn't go fight all Robotnik's bot army when they came here all at once, cause we ain't stupid! But a dumb bot like you all alone. Now we're finally gonna use'em to beat you!"

"Identification: You are idiots, you are cowards, and your origin story is weak and cliche."

"You calling us cowards? I'll show you!" Flame's paws burst into flames, "Oh yeah burn baby!"

"Catch phrases are all recycled too."

"SHUT UP!" Hunt dodged the attack fireball that flew at him. Hostile units not members of Eggman Empire. Hostile units acting under false information. Access to combat systems denied. Take evasive action. Ariel retreat not recommended in light of electrical attack.

"Please cease hostile action."

"YEAH! Beg fer ya fake life ya pile of bolts! Giga-big-bang fire ball!" Flame raised up his hands, and a fireball grew in his hands the size of him! "Oh yeah! Whao.. kinda hard to aim dis this! Oh well, here we go!"

An arrow went through Flame's left paw, he lost control of his attack and the fire ball landed on top of him, didn't damage him as much as it should have, but left the tiger plenty scorched.

"Deus Ex Machinas are shameless, tactless, and complete distasteful elements to use in a story... but I always did fail creative writing with flying colors... here's a hint little boys... causing thunder bolts to rain down on a clear day is going to get people's attention." As a member of the Acorian Secret Service, Geoffery was given in detail updates on the Freedom Fighters, including the reprogramming and the awakening of Miles Prowler's cousin Hunts Prowler.

The two youths looked up to see Geoffery St. John.

"HEY! It's that bigot who hates Sonic is always trying to steal Sally from him!" Flame said forgetting his bleeding paw.

"If we take him down! Beat him up until he realizes the error of his ways, everyone will know what kinda heroes we are!"

"YEAH! LET'S DO THIS!" Flame's eyes then rolled into the back of his head and he fell foreword. Hershey rubbed her hand where she had given the delinquent a karate chop to the neck from behind.

Hershey said calmly and authoratively. "Here's a lesson little boy, always be aware of your surroundings, and beating someone to a pulp only changes someone else's opinions on TV."

"Who are you?" Sparks asked stupidly.

She felt insulted they knew Jeffery and not here. "Hershey Feline."

"Never heard of ya! Ya can't be that important then! Get otta here."

"You just threatened my other half! If you think I'm leaving you're a bigger idiot than you look!"

"Other half? You a female clone of him or something?"

"You've never gone a date in your life have you?"


Hunt looked at the scene in confusion. Unit Hershey Feline. Acorian Secret Service. Female. Mobian Cat. No other Data.

Geoffery St. John. Acorian Secret Service. Male. Mobian Skunk. Noted for bigotry and general hostile attitude towards Cryo Prowler. Listed as Semi-Hostile. Actions in direct contradiction of data. Data error noted.

"You DO realize you're attack an innocent child right?" Geoffery asked.

"It's a robot!"

"He's a robian!"

"What's a robian?"

Geoffery, Hershey and Hunt stared in total disbelief. "How could you possibly be... how could you not... how is that even... look he's a child turned into a machine."

"That's absurd... people don't get turned into robots..."

Geoffery felt a giant headache about to hit him hard. "Look, I'm the one in service of the King of Knotehole. You aren't, surrender, promise to never do anything like this ever again and we'll forget this ever happened." 'Or try my best to at least.'

Spark's body pulsated with thunder all over himself. "No way! The justice fightahs never give up! Never surrender! Retreating is for cowards and weaklings! Surrender is for traitors! Besides! Like I'm gonna run from some cowardly NPC without any actual special powers!"

"You..." Hershey's voice was thick with loathing, "You SCUM! How DARE you! Geoffery is like every other mobian who there who had to march to war -without- super powers! Without super secret emerald powered weapons! People like them are the real heroes! They aren't scared to do what they have to protect their families WITHOUT a super natural or metaphysical advantage! That's real courage! You're HIDING behind a power you didn't even work for and calling it courage! That makes YOU the coward!"


Hershey calmed herself. "Can I ask you just one question?"

"What person whose not important enough for me to remember the name of?"

"How many fights have you been in?"

"Doesn't matter!"

Hershey and Geoffery and Hunt could all tell from his reaction: the answer was this one, would make one.

"Thanks. So I guess you haven't had a chance to really field tests those talents of yours, or it's weakness." Hershey knocked open a fire hydrant she was next to, she expected Sparks to dodge it and leave himself open to an attack by Geoffery. He surprised her by taking the wash head on.

"Ha! What do you think you're even-bawbabwbabbwabaw!" Spark lived up to his name as he twitched and shock and finally fell over dazed.

Hunt spoke simply: "Elementary School Level information: water conducts electricity. basic house hold safety type: never drop live wiring into any liquid."

"Don't... need to go to school... I'm smart..." Sparks said before falling fading into unconsciousness.

Hershey took out a radio, "I'll call the police and make sure to know they've got a pair of rogue chaos users on their hands."

"Thank Hershey... you're Hunt Prowler right? Are you... badly damaged?"

"Systems at 60%, auto recovery systems activated. Data Gather Mode: why did you prevent this unit's destruction?"

"You're an innocent child, those idiots were trying to kill you because of how you looked, you're also a citizen of the kingdom I've sworn to protect. What other reason do I need?"

"Data Stored. Data discrepancy found: Geoffery St. John's alleged attitude towards Cryo Prowler not in parallel with current actions, please enter corrective data."

"Your.... data is one hundred percent correct... how I treated your... cousin is in direct contradiction is me helping you when I didn't need to."

"Please explain source of contradiction."

"I guess to use terms you'd understand right now... I guess I got a software upgrade."

"This unit is fully able to understand non-robot and non-scientific terms, however interface software is hardwired for technical terms. Explain source of upgrade."

"That would be me." Hershey says standing right next to St. John and kissing him on the check.

While Tommy had been blindly ignorant of such things, Cyber-Tails had been given basic psychology software, and... new data files listed under 'Hunt' had begun to mysterious appear in his data base, showing memories of being raised by a wizard fox, explaining the power women could hold over men.

"No further data required."

"Do you need an escort home?" Geoffery asked.

Hunt began to gather up the groceries he had dropped. "Negative. Systems at sufficient levels. However, presence at Prowler residence may be needed as proof of upgrade."

Geoffery thought of the things he had said to Cryo, there were a lot of things he needed to say now.

"I think I'll do that." They waited until the policed arrived with sufficient restraints for the idiots and the three were on their way.

At the Prowler house hold, "No way! No how! Get away from me!"

"Come on Cryo!" Tails grinned, "You said you wanted to learn more on how to be a mobian right? Take the shirt off! boys don't wear clothes!" Tails laughed as he made another jump at Cryo.

"Did Tricky switch brains with you or something?!" Chris had stayed over night with Knuckles learn to be more precise with his power. He had reached the point where he could have his power fully active without worrying about freezing the water around him unintentionally. So falling into water was no longer a danger for him.

"Naw! I'm just having some fun Cryo!" Truth was, felt today like being like a brother to Chris today, tease him playfully and drive him nutty.

Chris could have defended that he wore his short as a keep sake, but that was besides the point. "I wanna wear it!"

"You want to get mistaken for a girl?"

"Rings wears a shirt!!"

"And Tricky never stops teasing him about it...how about this? You take it off, then we take some pictures of us together in the mirror, then we take some pictures in the mirror with ME wearing it?"

"What-?" The idea of Tails wearing a shirt just felt... so weird.

Tails laughed, he felt... alive. Something he needed to be after last night with Amy. Maybe that was the real reason he was acting more like a typical kid today instead of a FF or little scientist, he needed a reminder of what this all was for.

There was a precise knock on the door the brothers recognized as Hunt and opened it. When they saw Geoffery they felt their blood boil. Cryo formed spikes on his fists (a homage to his mentor) while Tails willed his zapper to appear as he did with Eggman, and still didn't get to fire it as they noticed the third person with them... they knew she was a dear friend of Geoffery... but... for some reason their minds had a hard time putting them together, like there was a barrier there or something.

"Hostile actions unwarranted. Geoffery status upgraded to friendly." Hunt explained.

The kits just stared at each other.

Half an hour later and one long explanation later, then ANOTHER half hour and a even longer apology later, Tails wondered after hearing Hershey's story wondered, NO -suspected- that a very particular someone like Geoffery being a bigot would couldn't work well with the Freedom Fighters and perhaps didn't want to risk setting him off too soon with Hershey's death.

Cryo was throw off kilter by Geoffery's change in attitude, oh he was still Geoffery, but, he wasn't acting like the Geoffery he knew. This Geoffery acted... polite to him. Like Cryo was a PERSON.

"I don't expect you to accept my apology, I only wish for you to know that I am sorry, and I'd do it different if it was all over."

"So you're Cryo huh?" Hershey leaned down, "You're a cute kid." She kissed him on the forehead, "But you should take the shirt off, you look a girl."

The words left his mouth before Cryo even realized he was saying them, "And you're not wearing anything! You look like a guy!"

Hershey laughed, "That I do, so I guess we're even...but can you excuse me... there are some thing I want to catch up with Jeffery on, important things." They black and white pair exited the house, many weights lifted for both them and the foxes.

"What important things do you think she meant?" Cryo asked to no one in particular.

"Playing appropriate response: 'I will explain it to you when you're older."


"Princess Acorn? We'd like you meet our daughter Lady Amy."

"Haiiiii!" Said the year old child to the teenage princess.

"Well aren't you as cute as buttons."

"Thank you." The pink hedgehog in the pink dress nodded happily at the older less, "So what's it like being a princess?"

"Oh it's really fun but it's really boring tool! Just having to sit around all day listening to people talk all day, I think my big brother Elise has the better deal, he gets to go out all day."

"Is that why you dress like a boy?" Amy asked innocently. Her parents gasped, but Sally laughed it off in a flash, grinned. She ruffled the child's head tuff of fur.

"Yeah, maybe that's why I dress as a boy. I have a lot of dresses I never wore, would you like one?"

"Really?" Amy's eyes sparkled.

"Yep!" Sally nodded. While Sally didn't dress like a princess, Amy's family didn't dress like nobility. Sally was told it was due to the Roses giving up most of their wealth up to civil projects to improve the standard of living for Merica's. Sally rarely wore her dresses and had never worn half the dress she had in the far back of her closet that even when they fit here, so Sally figured that with Amy at least they could go to a good cause.

The teenage Amy rose sat back in a comfy seat of the original Castle Acorn but with five years worth of changes it never had a chance to have before Eggman turned it into rubble. "So what's this now? This never happened." Amy asked her guide. The nightopian was relatively straight in his answers, rarely an good manner.

"Precisely. This did never happen, for you. This is one of the few precious worlds where what if the Great War never happened."

Amy stared unbelieving. "But, if the Great War never happened that means that Robotnik never happened, and-" If this wasn't a dream, Amy knew he head would be hurting, "It's way too much."

"Yes, if the Great War never happened then neither did Ivo Robotnik. Your family never lost it's nobility, Princess Sally grew up along side her mother and brother, Robotocization was never demonized."

"Wh-wh-wh-what?! But if Robotnik never came to power how can Robotocization exist?!"

"Robotnik didn't invent it of course."

"Huh?... Oh, right, Sonic's Uncle, Sir Charles..."

"And since Sir Charles wasn't rushed to complete it to save Jules' war injuries that never happened, Sonic's father, he was able to complete the design the right way so the process doesn't rob anyone of their free will or identity. It's seen as a weird, but acceptable medical practice here similar to cryogenics."

Right on cue, a robian version of Sally's caretaker Julayla cheerfully greeted Sally and Little Amy and Sally happily telling her good morning. Little Amy praising Julayla how 'cool' she looked actually somehow making the armor plating of Julayla's face blush!

Amy realized, "Cryo, wait, Chris, if Robotnik never happened then, Sonic was never caught up that Chaos Control blast that accidently knocked us all to Station Square that one time and Sonic never fell into Chris' swimming pool!"

"Sadly, yes, Chris and Sonic don't meet. Remember there's no such thing as a perfect world."

Amy stomped her foot, "Well if this is a dream I say I fix that!"

"I'm sorry, this isn't a dream, precisely, this is actually a vision. This is an alternate past you're dreaming of right now."

"Why would I dreaming of something like this?"

Her mother turned to her and said, "If I was to hazard a guess, I think this might have to do with you wondering about a world without some of the worse conflicts in your life. Or you're just dreaming of a better world like many people do and your dreams came into alignment with a shadow of this reality."

"Thanks mom."

"You're welcome sweetie."

"Wait! Mom?! You can see me?! I thought I was a third party in this dream!"

"Oh I think you are," Her mother stepped away from her husband and stepped close to Amy, "But last time I was trying to talk to you before you woke up. I don't think I'm really in your dreams, it's just.... okay, I'm stumped, I can't really explain it. I think because I'm between being away and returning I'm brushing against your subconscious, Red and Spike can't see or interact with you because we're the only ones here with our third eye open so to speak."

"Mooom, what are you, wait... returning... you're coming home?! But wait! Dad!? Red?! But that's impossible! I remember! I saw them die!"

Her mother's face was sad, "You're right, you did. If you wish to find the truth of that, follow your instincts and ride to where they tell you, that's all there is to it."

"But are you really, you're really... " Amy's eyes began to mist up, Misty lifted up Amy's chin.

"None of that dear. I'm sorry but you won't likely remember most of this when you wake up, just remember, follow where your sixth sense tells you go and don't fear master you."

Before Amy could say anything her mother kissed her.

Amy woke up in bed, it was pitch black outside. Amy felt the images of her dream wash and fade away even as she grasped at them, but she did remember one piece of it, 'just follow where your sixth sense leads you.' Wondering what caused her to wake up so early, however did know one thing. She -felt- it! The feeling of needing to be somewhere! You didn't know why, you just knew it was where you needed to be! Wait. Wasn't that how Tails always described it when he felt the need to greet someone who had returned? A flash of her mother went through Amy's head for no apparent reason.

Feeling the urge grow stronger the longer she sat in bed and did nothing, Amy forced herself fully awake and did the quick bare minimums before going to her closet and pulling her extreme gear 'Magnificent Rose.' She checked the air tank, full enough she hoped. Not about to wear a skirt on an air board Amy slipped on her air gear leggings but otherwise wore her normal attire. Amy then -ran- outside her home and ran down the street carrying the air board up until she reached the beach and threw the air board in from of her that hovered a few feet off the ground causing the sand from scatter away from it. Amy hopped on board, the air board groaned under her weight nearly sank straight into the sand but managed to keep itself air born. The repulser force underneath the board became more extreme to counteract the heavy weight. If Amy wasn't running on instinct she'd have done something about the heaviness but at this point her brain was running totally on just one thought 'come this way.'

So ignoring that her gear might break in two or burn itself out over the ocean leaving her to drown unknown to everyone Amy forced the air board over the surf and then the waves pressed the air board to move foreword for all it was worth!


Robo-Knuckles presided over an execution in Robotropolis, the city of machines by machines. The two separate offenders offers would be executed one after the other. Robo-Knux almost wished Metal Sonic was here, being the master of ceremonies at these ghastly affairs was supposed to be Metal's job! As it was though, he stood on the podium, three hooded Egg-Pawns standing next to three big red buttons. A large crowd of robians, SWATs, E-series, and Pawns had gathered to watch the show, the Weasel too had come to enjoy the 'fun and games.' Robo-Knuckles felt so dirty. At the tick of precisely six, he said, "Move the first condemned into position!"

Two SWATs carried the doomed soul on the solid steel plate his feet had been welded to, his motion functions from below the neck disconnected. The SWATs placed him underneath the hanging tons of solid square black iron and hastily got out of the way. Standing in front of the Egg Heart Zone, Robo-Knux spoke, "Robian 000C-517, you have been found guilty of spreading slanderous propaganda against our master Robotnik, and attempting to incite rebellion, and attempting to infect several robians with the virus known as 'faith,' you sentence is death, do you have any last words?"

The robian did, "Sir Charles Hedgehog was the birth of our race, Lord Robotnik shall be our species' DEATH! I have seen it! If we do not turn away from this path the race of robians is doomed to oblivion! Only when we stop acting like a virus shall be stop being treated as one! If our race is to survive, we can not force our beautiful state on organics or they will never embrace us at all! Destroying this shell shall cause my death as much as it shall prevent the end! I have foreseen it all!! These are the words of Rainbow Crow!"

Waiting for just one moment, the rebel apparently having nothing more to say, Robo-Knux took one last look at the robian. A crow obviously, black colored, but with reflective highlights that never seemed to show the same precise color twice. Oh well, didn't matter. Robo-Knux signaled, and the three Egg Pawns all hit the buttons at once. The weight dropped, and crushed Rainbow Crow, killing him instantly as he was pounded into scrap in the space of an instant! 'Mad bird,' no, not mad, then he'd wouldn't be responsible for his actions, and this execution would have been wrong, and that was totally illogical.

"Bring the next condemned!"

The SWATs moved the black pieces of metal out of the way for recycling and brought into position the other execution of the day.

"Robian 00BD-662, you have been found guilty of unlawfully hacking into the programming of no less than eight female robians, and illegally uploading data into their Operating Systems without their consent, and welded one's arms and legs together so she could not flee you, your sentence is death, do you have any last words?"

The robian rat with several customized 'tattoos' on his plating looked up at Robo-Knux and sneered, "Yeah! I've some 'last words', how about you-" Robo-Knux slammed all three switches at once, dropping the weight onto the rat mid-sentence, crushing him into slag.

The hooded Egg Pawns looked at him confused.

"What? I asked him if he had any last words, I didn't say I was going to listen to them!"

There were quite a few female cheers from the crowd of robots, and Robo-Knux gained a percentage of new members to his fan club that morning.

"Dum-de-dum!" Robotnik on a hover scouter wearing a scarf sped idly between the execution's block and the crowd not even slowing down as the SWATs point their arms at an angle and said, "Hail Robotnik! Long live the Eggman Empire!"

"Hail The Eggman Empire!" Robo-Knux and the hooded Egg Pawns soluted similarly.

"Long live the Eggman Empire!" The robians said together even if their master didn't so much as look at them.

"Dum-de-dum!" Robotnik stopped in front of Egg Heart Zone and got off the scouter, which was instantly picked up by a loyal robian dragon and deposited in the Eggman Garage.

The Eggman entered his place of business and causally entered his command room, thinking of how he might arranged a four block tennis tournament with the Robians, Badniks, Pawns, and E-series.

Eggman was shocked to find his 'special friend' holding up a weird creature Robotnik didn't recognize. That mutant cat Ice was cowering looking heavily bruised in the corner as the weird creature was hug up on a single thread from Void's finger.

His voice cold and emotionless, "I wanted Hershey Feline to be kept from curing Geoffery St. John of his prejudice so I could use it at the right time and place against the heroes as an effective distraction. Tell me precisely why exactly what I did not wish to happen has happened?"

The creature struggle it's magician's top hat falling off. "M-m-master! Have mercy!"


"With the distraction the Zone Cop version of the pink dreamer cause, I forgot about the cat! There was just so much going on! Forgive me master! Mercy! Mercy!"


The scream the strange creature made would remain with Robotnik's for the rest of his days.

Dusting off his hands Void looked sternly at the Eggman. "Where have you been?"

"Well I felt I could do for a vacation! I visit the chao gardens, I visit my own theme park, I took part in an extreme gear race, I wouldn't have come in last place if they had let my robots race, jerks, I paid my respects to Grandpa's memorial on ARK and-"

Void zoomed up to Robotnik, "You're -back sliding- doctor! It's sad to see you this way!" 'Maybe I shouldn't have been too hard on my servant, it appears that the pink No Zoner distracted me from keeping people on the proper track as well.'

"See me what way?"

"Never mind. A small band of new returns have avoided my grasp, send every last Egg Pawn, Special Robian, SWAT, and Badnik in the arsenal, they -must- be claimed!"

"What? Who are they?"

"Doesn't matter."

"They're my robots so yes it does matter who are they?"

"Ugh. Amy's roses parents and younger brother, like I said, doesn't matter, simply send them to the coordinates I've already loaded into your computers."

"What? The rent-a-hostage's hick relatives?! THAT'S what you want me to send an army after?! That's absurd! A complete waste of resources, one or two bots should be more than enough! I won't do it!"

Void zoomed into Eggman's face being eye to eye, "DO AS I SAY~~!!!"

Eggman fell backwards into his command chair, "Y-y-yes...M-ma-mast,er, Void!" Robotnik pressed a button on his arm rest. "Attention all Chess Eggs! Special Robian Core! SWAT Troops and Badnik Brigade! All units proceed at once to preset coordinates! Capture identified targets for Robotocization, terminate all interlopers with extreme prejudice!"


"Got it Doctor!"



Eggman then leaned back into his chair and looked up, seeing Void was gone he felt strangely relieved.


As Amy's base desire to simply go in a particular direction began to make room for free will, she spotted a little island about the size of Knotehole on the horizon, good thing too, her extreme gear was sucking fumes, though logically Amy knew she should have been seeing fishes miles back! If Sonic or Tails had been with her they would have recognize the shape of the volcano, or at least part of it since the one they saw was taller, and wondered at the island's lack of inhabitants, and wondered why there were no other islands in water bike distance. Tails would have commented on there being no chatter box racccoons, while Sonic would have commented on the lack of purple pryokenetic cats.

Amy knew none of this, she knew only as the island drew closer that it was only place she could reach before taking a permanent dip and urged her gear onward. The Magnificent Rose finally gave out and fell silent mere yards from the beach line, Amy rose the board like a surf board best she could before finally falling off and ending up soaking herself from the waist down. She moved sluggishly through the surf until she finally came upon dry land, leaving the now useless extreme gear against a palm tree.

"Okay. I'm here, so who am I welcoming?" Feeling the feeling tugging at her again, she moved through the palm trees until she came to the stereotypical clearing at the base of the apparently dormant volcano. Who she saw sitting there made her heart stop, who she saw standing there made it start going again. Around a thatch hut, one of them in clothes totally unsuited to the climate, were three hedgehogs it took Amy all of one second to recognize.

"M-mama?" Amy gasped out.

The albino hedgehog underneath the roof to shade herself looked up at her. And did the other two hedgehogs.

"Who are you?" The smaller red hedgehog said. That wasn't right. If this was a trap by Robotnik, the fake Red should have recognized her instantly.

"Is that... impossible." Said the larger red hedgehog. Again, it was all wrong. If this was a trap, the fake Spike shouldn't have spoken of how impossible this was.

"Rosey, my Rosey The Rascal is that really you? How can you..." AGAIN! Wrong all wrong! Robotnik shouldn't have known Amy's childhood nickname! The fake Misty shouldn't have doubted who was in front of her!

"No, this is impossible, this isn't real..." Amy voiced her doubt and disbelief, her voice tortured.

"Please!" The albino begged, "Is your name Amy Rose? Are you MY Amy?!"

Amy couldn't take it anymore, she broke, "MOTHER!" She ran straight into Misty's arms, crying, hugging as hard as she could not caring if her arms got impaled on her mother's quills or not!

"Amy! My Amy! It is you! It really is you!" Her mother gushed hugging her back, "I'm so happy! I was worried we'd never see each other again!"

"WHAT! THAT'S Amy?" Red exclaimed hoping up and down, "WHAO! What happened! YOU GOT BIG!"

"And you're still tiny!" Amy stuck a tongue out at him.


"Amy," Spike injected, "Be nice but... we've been gone a long long time haven't we?"

"Heheh," Amy smiled through her tears, "Not quite as long as you might think, I kinda wished myself two years older using the white chaos emeralds."

"What?" Misty looked her child in the eye. "Amy why? Why would you?"

"Because I was always helping everyone but they still treated me little even though someone just as old as me was helping too and not treated little."

"Amy... childhood is a gift."

"I figured that out, after I realized that I had grown up on the side along with my body when I wasn't looking..."

"I don't care!" Said Spike, he hugged her too, "You're my child! That's all that matters. We still love you."

"But this is all impossible, you didn't ... go away when everyone else vanished?"

"Die?" Misty whispered in Amy's ear, "Is that what you're afraid to say? I don't understand it either, neither does Spike, but please told tell Red, let him enjoy himself."

"I understand." Amy nodded.

"Can we go home now I'm bored." Said Red. "None of the trees here have branches!"

"You scared of a challenge?" Amy smirked at her little brother.

"No way!" Red said instantly climbing a nearby palm tree to the top like it was nothing, "Ha! Beat that!"

"So Amy... how's our home?" Misty asked.

"... The robots did a number on it, and took a lot of people, but we DID kick Robotnik out! We're one of the few kingdoms to have actually kicked his fat-butt clean out of our backyard!"

"Amy your language."

"Yes mother." Amy nodded submissively.

"So how's Shoddingham?" Spike asked.

"Er... Rob'O kinda send me to Knotehole Kingdom, that's where the Arcorns are now by the way, because they were all fighting Robotnik back then and I wasn't a fighter yet, and I made so many friends in the mean time I didn't want to go back right away by the time I was... then we finally threw Robotnik out on his ear!" She wouldn't mention she was teammates with the son of their nation's former evil overlord. "He still controls a lot of Kingdoms like Acorn and South Island, but he's no longer the boss of Merica!"

"Not a fighter -yet-," Spike raised an eye brow at his now much older child, "So you're saying you're a fighter now?"

Amy opened her mouth when Red shouted out from his treetop, "Whao! Check out all the airplanes, we got a way off!"

The three older hedgehogs all looked at each other in surprise and dread, Spike shouted out, "Red! Is there a big ... mustached face painted on the ships?"

"I think so..... yes..." Red leaned out a bit to get a closer look.

"RED GET DOWN RIGHT NOW!" Misty shouted. "Get inside the hutch stay out of sight until we get you!"


"RIGHT NOW LITTLE MAN!" Spike shouted, and Red let go of the palm tree. Amy gasped, then felt relief wash through her as Red landed perfectly and squarely on his feet. The boy while confused obeyed his parents and ran inside.

"Amy you too, I'll try to lead them away." Spike said.


"Amy this isn't a game!"

"I know."

"Then don't please don't back talk -now-!" Her father pleaded.

"No... you don't have experience fighting these things... I do... I've been fighting these things nearly every day of my life for years... "

"Amy please, I don't want to lose you! Not right now! Not like this!" Spike implored.

"And you're not going to. And I don't want to lose you too... mom... please go inside with Red... dad, stick close."

Misty and Spike stared was this really, was this really their Amy after all?

Finally Misty nodded and went inside and held Red close. Spike looked at Amy's stance, it didn't look at all like the 'pretend hero' poses that 'sir Rob'O' would always assume when the kids played hero. He was amazed. The planes came close, there were so many.

"Maybe we should run, they might be out to carpet bomb us."

"No," Amy said, "That's not his style, it's never been his style, he likes seeing his robots at work, besides, he rarely passes up the chance to turn someone into a slave when he gets the chance. They'll land, they'll come."

"Amy." Spike said sadly looking at his daughter.

Amy and Spike looked up, the Badniks landed on top of the volcano and came buzzing down the hill side like a swarm of insticts. The Egg Pawns floated down like paratroopers, Amy spotting some looking to be dressed as Rooks, Knights, Bishops. No King or Queen pieces? Oh right, Eggaman was king and planned to have princess Sarah as his queen. Didn't Sonic or Tails say that mixed troops was a sign that Void was involved in this somehow? Amy still couldn't wrap her head around Void turning around and going from a selfish misled child into a full blown monster after what and Lumina learned from each other that day.

The SWATs arrived at the beach, marching in perfect columns in perfect stride and taking pride in this.

Amy and Red both cringed when they saw the robians, all with sick and sadistic or even demented looks on their mechanical features.

"Hey I think it's the girl from fairy land." Said one robian snake in a tone that suggested something other than a fairy tale setting.

"Heh, yeah that's her," Said a burley robian wolf, "Still remember when we leveled fairy land?"

"How could I forget?" Said robian wolverine, "man those were good times! All those 'thees' and 'thous' and those Merican Fairy shoes they wore? I swear we did the world a favor by taking it off the map!"

"Come on let's finnish the job!" Said a robian looked like his parents had been a crocodile and a shark.

"Yeah, it's what little brother would have wanted." Said a huge ugly even for a robot rat.

Someone else would ask how anyone with free will could be loyal to Robotnik, someone else wouldn't understand like a gang of murderers and child molesters from death row would swear loyalty to Robotnik when he effectively negated their death sentences and promised them payback against the society that had denounced them. Amy and Spike weren't someone else.

"Don't let them get you angry Amy!" Spike warned, "That's what they want! Anger in a fight only gets you killed!"

Amy didn't reply at all.

Finally that were surrounded on all four sides.

"Surrender and submit to Robotocization! Resist and you will be terminated!" Said a white and gray SWAT in front of the regular black ones.

Amy sighed. "All the years I chased after him." Amy reached down undid the straps on two red rings around her legs underneath her soaked boots. "All the years I thought that that we could be." Not letting go of them and her arms straining she reached under her left bracelet and undid the strap on another fabric covered ring, "I thought it was supposed to be," Spike and the enemy watched in utter confusion. Her arms feeling heavy she undid the strap on her right arm, "He was everything everything that I wanted!" She dropped the four sets of braces at once. Two giant plums of sand exploded upwards above the battle field as the heavy weight stuck the ground -hard- creating shock waves! The giant cloud of sand slowly dissipated. Spike coughed, then stared. In both his child's hands, one in her left, and one in her right, was a pair of hammers whose heads were larger than his skull!

The last time she had tried to duel wield she hadn't yet met Emerl, she hadn't met her adopted child, and she suffered the most humiliating loss of BOTH hammers in under five seconds. But that was then. "But all these years I've been pretending! Well so much for happy endings!"

"FIRE!" The Pawns and SWATS fire right were Amy was standing as Spike ducked. They lasers turned where Amy had been standing into glass. Spike blinked, and a dust trail from the spot of glass to where the white SWAT bot was sent flying several yards into the hand to fall and break into pieces halfway across the battle field. Two seconds later several more SWATs went flying straight into the palm trees breaking the trees in half as they went sailing. A wave of laser shots from the various Egg Pawns came towards the teenage Rose as she turned her head the lasers shot nothing but empty air, a moment later a sand trail in a sharp curve lead straight to a pink comet thaw blew through the Egg Pawns as if they were bowling balls! One landed with it's crashed head buried upside down right next to Spike that got a yelp of surprise from the adult hedgehog!

"Ha!" Said the Egg Knight waving a green Cloud Strife akin sword. "Nothing can withstand my Zero Sword!"

"And nothing can penetrate my Zero Shield!" Boasted the Egg Rook raising a green long spiked shield!

A second later Amy jumped right between them, and smacked one hammer each into their backsides! The Zero Sword sliced through the Zero Shield and it's owner, and the two pieces of the Zero Shield flew foreword and impaled themselves on the Egg Knight, the two robots collapsed in on themselves destroyed!

"GO Badniks GO!" Cried a beetle badnik with motorcycle design charging straight at the girl hedgehog and his shell was shattered a moment later releasing his life battery a moment later as he raced straight into Amy's waiting hammer the Flicky flying as high in the sky it could. Amy yelped and nearly dropped her hammers as the flying scythes from a mantis Badnik cut through the skin and nicked bone drawing blood. Grinding her teeth and resisting the urge to stop Amy did a leaping smash destroying the now unarmed insect badnik releasing the life seed inside it becoming a flower.

The badnik now having the enemy right in the middle of themselves took the obvious choice of action and came at her from all sides. The metal claws and fangs getting within an inch of her Amy re-grabbed one of her hammers so it's head was reversed then did the Hammer Spin, becoming a ground base tornado of pink light and transparent hearts sucking in the badniks ripping them to shreds and releasing their life-force batteries out of the top of the tornado unharmed to boot! As Amy's attack ran it's course the flying pieces of badnik kept the other robots from getting a clear shot at her.

Spike looked at his daughter and remember most of the doctors said she'd never one, only a doctor Bookshire said only her chance was to keep trying.

"SWAT loses at thirty percent. Egg Pawn loses at forty percent! Badnik loses at Ninety percent!" A robian bear black in red eyes were huge at the slaughter!

"Shut up!" Said the wolverine! "The brat isn't even our real target! Get the other Merica fairy!"

The robian mobbed Spike expecting the piece of flesh not to be able to defend himself, the Wolverine heard a laser shot, thought nothing of it until he noticed the hole in his chest when he stopped a few inches short of Spike's throat.

"Geez," Said Spike holding the gun from the Egg Pawn that had crash landed next to him, "Because I'm a grown adult with life experience had been part of an actual military unit, I therefore must be totally useless in a fight, glade to see thieves and murderers are as brilliant as ever."

Not expecting the enemy to fight back the robians criminals were throw out of their game for a couple moments which Spike used to down several more. The robotocized murderers usually relied on their psychological advantage and the mobian taboo on firearms to deal with mundane mobians. A couple of the more cowardly ones lost their nerve and retreated! Spike made sure every shot counted, having no idea how many rounds where in the weapon!

Breathing hard and finally ending the hammer tornado, Amy's heart was going a mile a second! (Still safe for a hedgehog.) Two armored hands came at her from behind grabbing her upper appears, their metal claws digging into her flesh, Amy cringed at the awful pain,"What we got here? Someone who doesn't know how to watch her back that's what!" Said the robian cougar. "You are one stupid Merican Fairy babe!"

Snarl snarled, jumped in the air as high as she could with her weight, spun herself into a ball dismissing her hammers and her quills came out cutting up the robian as she landed on her backside with him breaking her fall. Getting up Amy snarled at the split in two robian, "You jerk! You made me completely ruin the back of my dress and jacket!!!"

"Love the view babe!" Said a robian lynx leaping up behind her whose head went flying a second later in the nanosecond it had taken Hammer to re-summon her hammers.

Seeing their numbers vanishing, one of the ships shaped like a chicken opened up and began to drop a fresh carton, er, supply of Egg Pawns.

Seeing the reinforcements land begin taking pot shots at her, Amy dared to look up, and shouted, "Who told you YOU could join the party?!" She smacked her hammer upwards seeing one of the Egg Pawn, followed by others back into the ship's gullet, the robots hitting the ceiling of their hanger began to accidently fire off their shots from the impact setting off a chain reaction and obliterating the helpless Egg Pawns still inside the ship. The vessel moaned as it's cargo was destroyed.

Seeing this, the Egg Bishop hiked up his metal robe and began running in the opposite direction of Amy and Spike, "It's the grim recycler herself! As foretold in the update software sub-note! Run for your lives!!!" Egg Pawns, not known for their courage anyway, and seeing their elite members be turned to scrap, followed the Egg Bishop's example, dropping their weapons to run away faster (which Spike thanked them very much so for) and ran away fleeing in terror! Screaming!

The handful of badnik's left, seeing this and themselves being picked off one by one by Amy as they tried to get close to her, followed this example and beat a hasty retreat but with significantly more dignity. "He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day!" Said a Coconuts MP model leaps from one tree to the next back to the unarmed transport egg ships.

"Let the cowards run!" Said a SWAT with red military strips on one arm. "We are the SWAT Bots! We are the truest and loyalist servants of the Empire! To death and glory!"

Amy snarled at them, the pink blur avoided their shots tore through them again, "To note! I've only taken my weights off twice in the last year! Once to help when there a fire at Station Square Mall, and -again- when I had to drag in Sonic for Tails!" Amy dared use another hammer spin, but this one was much shorter than the last one, but still got the job done, "You buckets of bolts should feel honored!"

The robians began to get the idea to pick up the weapons the pawns had dropped themselves, but Spike took every chance he had when they tried to pick one up to shot them in the head!

"DANGIT!" Said a robian rogue wolf, "WHAT is she? It's the Bloody Rose incarnate itself! We've gotta get out of here! DELOY HIM NOW!!!" The wolf shouted at the top of his robotic lungs at the other floating transport above them.

A few seconds later, a armored green shape was dropped from the floating ship, the vessel itself now feeling much lighter. The criminal wolf's face looked of salvation turned to dismay as he screamed and brought up his arms futilely as his metal body was crushed underneath the ton weighting machine that landed right on top of him.

At the sight of the robot, the SWAT now DID exercise the better part of valor, along with the robians who weren't already convinced Amy was a demon from Hell having come to collect their souls after they cheated their executions with the robotocizer! There was no way, Robian, Badnik, Egg Pawn, or SWAT would ever EVER want to be caught in the splash damage of a fight with -this- robot!

"What is that thing?!"

"Dad don't shoot!"


"If you fire at it it'll recognize you as a threat! Just keep away from it! You can't damage that thing!"

"And you CAN?"

"I've fought it twice before!" Amy said, "I'm certain I can win!" Amy lied.

ZERO look one look at Spike it's listed target, and saw Amy, and forgot all about it's mission. ZERO's singular vacuum-tube brain was overwhelmed with anger!

"Come on you hunt of junk!" Amy baited, "I'm the one you really want!"

The E-series proto-type beat it's chest and made what sounded like a growl.

"All right then! Round three! This one decides it all!"

The E-series nodded, convinced it's defeat on the Egg Carrier MUST have been a fluke! He was ZERO! The Chase Master! Indestructible!

Zero clicked it's fingers causing pillars of an electric fence with an extra one right in the middle to land and activate around the two rivals.

"Ha! You don't have any imagination do you!" Amy double hammered Zero straight into part of the electric fence just like old times, but that part of the fence cut out at JUST that moment and suddenly left trapped inside. "What the-!"

ZERO would have laughed if it had a mouth. It clicked it's hands again, and the pillar in the center of the inclosure activated, stretching out thunder to the other pillars. Amy gasped as the pillars began to MOVE like the spokes on a wheel! One touch enough to electrocute her instantly! "Oh no you don't!" Amy did a hammer jumped propelling her clear over the fence side.

Before she landed she hammered ZERO in midair sending him into the fence! Yes! ZERO overloaded and exposed his brain! But instead of leaving it open for one moment, ZERO madly spun around repelling Amy from getting her smash in and closed it's own top. Amy growled.

"Ya-da-da-da-da-da!" Like her arms were jack hammers Amy hit harder and harder at ZERO knocking the chase master back again and again, but even leaving a dent on it's body, finally she sent the prototype sailing into the serve where it vanished. "And you're outta here!"

ZERO -exploded- from the serf, flying upwards on it's strength, Amy had forgotten he could that. Amy back pedaled like mad ZERO's double hammer blow hit the ground where she had been creating an impact-crater several times ZERO's size! ZERO fired it's tethered fists again and again at Amy this time not wasting time on uselessly trying to get a lock on her first!

ZERO began to play the electric fence pillars, landing them two at a time in front of Amy's path trying to catch her like a speeding bumblebee on a waiting spider's web. And Amy began to tire.

'No good... he won't stop... he doesn't get tired... unless I can trick him into a electric fence I can't get that 'brain' of his to show...' There was not a living thing on Mobius that could penetrate ZERO's armor, not Amy, not Sonic, not Knuckles, Big, not the strongest living person in existence Mighty could hope to penetrate ZERO's armor.

"Amy!" Spike shouted, "It's eyes! That weird little scanner light on top of it's head, I betting they're not indestructible! What else would it keep it's tiny face hidden behind that weird cage!"

Amy didn't take her eyes off ZERO, but heard what her dad said. Could he be right? Could ZERO's weak spot have been that obvious this entire time and no one had ever thought of it before now? She trusted her dad, but could she risk it? Dangit! If only she could will her crossbow into existence like she could her hammers! She could snipe those eyes no problem! But what if they were protected by that same armor? Nothing could get through it, nothing could resist it. 'Wait a second. ZERO Sword, ZERO shield...' She laughed dementedly, 'thanks Eggman.'

"Punch me if you can zero-brain!" Amy did the tongue and eye lid.

ZERO growl and fired it's 'rocket fist right at Amy, she'd dodge it easy... but ZERO knew she'd try to get in close when his arm was extended and readied his other fist as a surprise. But instead Amy... helped his arm retract?

Amy's first enchanted hammer made contact with ZERO's fist... then she had her OTHER hammer make contact with the other hammer from behind... the combined force... send ZERO's fist back into it's arm post haste!

ZERO would have grunted if it could have, but otherwise was undamaged. Amy came at him head on and fired his fist again, only... it's right arm jitter and shoo. NOT made of the strange armor it's outer body was made from the delicate servos inside it's arm had been damaged from the forceful retractions... uh-oh.

ZERO saw a red mobian who it was pretty sure was important to something it was supposed to be doing fire a shot at his scanner eye, oh-no! ZERO blocked the shot with it's left arm. Well, it wasn't beat yet!

"ZERO!" Eggman's voice rang in it's head, "This has gone on long enough! Return to base!"

ZERO growled.


VERY reluctantly, ZERO fired up it's rocket skirt, and lifted straight up into the waiting other transport vessel and along with the lesser smaller ones now mostly empty, it beat a hasty withdrawal from the islands.

Amy dismissed one of her hammers and used the other as a crutch, "Yes ... that's it... go and run coward..." Amy said breathing in and out.

"If he thought that he had lost his advantage and that the cost of the fight wasn't worth the risk anymore, then it isn't cowardice." Spike said.

"Dad." Amy retorted.

"I'm sorry Amy, running away isn't always about cowardice, somethings it's about knowing when to fight -next-! I have a feeling that thing isn't done with you yet."

"He never is." Amy sighed.

There was the buzzing of a high speed plane and Amy and Spike got ready for another round when a blue biplane's passed over them, a moment later a big cat with am umbrella landed between a moment later with an orange rabbit on his shoulder. The Tornado III in walker-mode quickly followed suit ready for battle, "Here here! The Calvary is .... " Tails looked around at the battle field, "Here?"

Amy made a tiny laugh, "You're late!"

"Uh Amy..." Tails blushed bright red.

Amy realized what it was, then blushed bright red herself and made so she had her front to him. "Not one word."

Tails did provide something -very- important to Amy and her family, a way off the island! At interesting it might have been for the family of four to live on only their wits for a while until rescued, it was a relief and a half! Amy was worried that Sonic, Tails and the others would think that Amy's family was another Fiona Fox or another Tommy Turtle and that Amy was being her normal 'self-deluded-self' for not 'seeing it. But instead Amy was hit by serious confusion Amy when Tails and Sonic and Sally in particular, -didn't- think the return of Amy's family was odd. OR the fact they hadn't aged a day since Amy had last seen them! Amy admitted she really didn't mind in the least, but it was still crazy. It was like they had all secretly agreed to just agree with her for once in her life!

A medical examination and DNA testing both proved that they -weren't- clones or robot doppelgängers, and NICOLE was with whatever was able to prove the best they could or rather find out the best he could that they were alternate reality impostors. It was apparently something Castle Acorn had whipped up after Evil Antoine had posed as their Antoine for months and tried to assassinate the king.

While some people WERE distrustful of Amy's returned family, Sally and the others were able to win them over. Any old 'ghosts' of the bloody Rose motif had died out during the on going war with Robotnik, so that was one less thing to worry about. Dad meanwhile couldn't believe the war was -still- going on! Red of course was bewildered and confused by the progress of things, but he seemed very strangely eager to learn for once. Mom.... took it all in much better stride than Amy thought anyone could!

Misty seemed interested in look after Red and possibly offering readings for people again who'd take them. Spike was wondering if there any human cities who didn't mind the idea of firearms who wouldn't mind a red hedgehog who wanted to catch up with the times and offer his services to the community. Red... he was still a spider-monkey in a hedgehog's body! 'And I wouldn't have them any other way.' Amy thought. However, ever since meeting her family, there had been a prick in Amy's brain, 'The returns... why haven't I really thought about them before? Why doesn't anyone ever really talk about them? Why are we all, why am I, just... accepting them? They're unexplained, they're unknown, they're strange but... no one is really questioning them? Why?' And Amy could only wonder where the answer lay.

After flying back to Station Square, Spike finally worked up the nerve to talk to a child. "Excuse me..." Spike said to the rabbit.

"Yes Mr. Rose?" Cream asked all introductions having been made at the island.

"You said your name was Cream right?"

"Yes sir."

"I, I just want to say, thank you for, coming to help my family when you did, you're a very very brave girl for you age and you're the most wonderful little rabbit I've met in my entire life. So... thank you... just... thank you so much."

Cream, while confused a little blushed, "Thank you Mr. Rose."

"You're welcome."

Red looked up and down the big cat, "You're big."

"No, I'm Big." The cat corrected.

"Oh okay... huh?" Red's head hurt. He shook it and climbed all up and down the big cat, who giggled as the hedgehog did so, "You're cool!"

"THANKS!" Big didn't remember the last time anyone who called him cool.

"So you're really strong?"

"I don't think so... but the cute rabbit says so... and Amy says so... and Froggy says so."

Red grinned, "Okay! I just wanna say that you're really cool looking to me! And thanks for coming when you did, I thought was dead meat there for a second!"

"Whao'K." Big nodded not having a clue what he did but happy he could help way.

Looking at the scene Misty smile and giggle while Amy grinned and laughed!

When Amy had been leading them to her home in Central City, Misty trailed a bit behind and looked over her shoulder and saw the blue vixen doing a bad impersonation of a stalker. "It's okay Krystal." Misty said, feeling the girl's name.

"What do you mean Misty?" The other telepath replied.

"I'm saying it's all right. Everyone will remember when they need to or when the time is right, there is no stopping or hiding truth forever... but for now... you don't need to do anything... forcing it out will only hurt people... just let me have my time with my daughter."

Not expecting this kind of encounter, Krystal mere nodded somewhat confused and let the new arrivals be.

The Roses, at Amy's home, found it very... pink. Misty wondered if pink was simply Amy's favorite color of if her daughter had become a tad narcissistic.

As Red bounced up and down the couch and Spike read a current events book, Misty looked around the room and back at her teenage daughter, "You live by yourself?"

Amy was totally caught off guard by the question but nodded. She had changed out of her ruined outfit and into one of the much less fragile of the dresses she had bought the day before.

"I sometimes babysit Cream but yeah. I was able to trick them into thinking I was a legal aged adult. It's a common trick among the Freedom Fighters who don't live in Knotehole Kingdom. Humans get so messed up about adult mobians being so much shorter than them that they say 'to heck with it' and take our word for it."

"Well we're going to have to do something about that." Misty said.

"Mom!" Amy blushed, a million horrible metal images filling her mind at what her mother meant!

"Dear you know you're not of age." Misty chose NOT to say 'even less so than you appear' since Amy had been struggling and finally come to terms with that herself.

"I've lived on my own this long! I can..." Amy stopped herself. "I don't want to abandon the friends I've made here. Robotnik's lost interest in Merica... he's targeting the homes of my FRIENDS, I can't just sit back and watch them defend their family by themselves when I can -help- them."

"Well, I guess there's no 'right' solution then, we'll just have to settle for the 'best' solution then." Misty addressed her family, "Spike, Red, we are moving."

"WHA?!" Both red hedgehogs said together.

"Yes, we are moving, right-next-door-! I saw that it just HAPPENS, for no contrived or reality cop meddling reason, to be on sale for a reasonable price."

Everyone in the room groaned.

Misty's eyes darted to something and picked up a vexingly familiar book on Amy's table, "Amy? What's this?"

"Huh? Oh, that's nothing. That's just my 'How To Interpret Tarot Without Fail' Book."

"Have you memorized the first chapter?" Misty asked calmly.

"Yeah?" Amy asked wondering where this was going.

Misty tore the book in two.

"MOM! What are you doing?!" Amy tried to stop her but to no avail. Her precious interpretation book fell to the floor in pieces.

"Those books do nothing but convince you that your interpretation can't be wrong, tell me, is that the book that told you were meant for the boy 'Sonic' you talked about on the plane ride back?"

Amy meekly said, "Yes."

"No further questions." Misty dumped the book's remains in the garbage.


"Yes dad?"

"Robin, Bardia, mom, how are they all?"

Amy's ears wilted, "I... I don't know... after the invasion me and Rob'O lost track of everyone but each other... "

"Rob'O's okay?" Misty asked eager to hear.

"Yes. He is! His wife and child are doing fine!"

"ROB'S MARRIED?!" Red says now completely disjointed.

Spike laughed, "I'm OUT of surprise so I'm not as shocked as I should be so... whose the lucky lady?"

"Mari-An she's from the echidna nomad tribe!" Amy said eager to get off the subject of the family that -hadn't- mysterious returned from the dead. "Their daughter is named Clara-An ... haven't actually seem the in almost a year..."

"Amy!" Misty scolded.

"I've been busy helping save the world from fat mad men!"

"You still need to see those you love once in a while or you'll forget what you're fighting for." Misty said.

Spike shrugged. "You're mother's right."

Misty clapped her hands. "Well then, it's all settled then, we are, meaning all of us, are on the next flight to Merica!"


Flying by DRAGON had been the last thing any of the roses had been expecting, apparently some of the dragons felt they'd be better recognized as their own people by humans if they started interacting with them on their level. You couldn't 'slay' a paying customer or a service provider after all.

Red loved it, Spike hid as deep in the pouch as possible, Amy enjoyed the scenery, while Misty temporarily lost her albino statue when she turned the same green as her daughter's eyes.

The damage wasn't as horrible as Misty had feared, but Merica was hardly exactly as they remembered it. New buildings had been put it, and as was Merica tradition in such things, new trees planted where old ones had been lost due to Robotnik's resource guzzling machines.

Misty was disturbed to learn that all of Rob's childhood friends were listed on the 'robotocized' list pillar in the middle of Shoddingham square for the Krazy Kritter Freedom Fighters whom Rob was the lone survivor. She decided not try and see if Robin or Bardia's names were on there. Spike found his mother's name on another of the pillars not related to robotization, he shed tears.

But there was one silver lining to all of them, Rob was still alive! Their nephew was still alive! And wasn't a brainwashed machine either!

They found Rob'O and his wife still lived in the Hedge house hold. Amy went in first to explain things knowing the kind of itchy trigger finger Rob could have his bow and arrow. Amy stuck her head and politely gestured them to enter, "Okay, Rob says that if you show yourselves now, he won't think I'm crazy!"

Accept this answer, Misty went in first, and gasped when she felt herself shot with an arrow. The suckion cup hitting her square in the forehead. "Gotcha!" The three year old mobian hedgehog/echidna hybrid declare. "I got the dragon!"

"And so the generations continue..." Misty moaned.

"I still can't believe that's Clara-Ann." Amy said.

"Cousin, you've been gone for a YEAR what do you think she was still in diapers?" Rob pointed out.

"I guess, heheh, I've kinda lost track of time." Amy admitted.

"You're funny looking!" Red pointed to Clara that got him the shot in the head with a suckion cup bow and arrow too.

"I am Mari-An." The forest dressed echidna woman bowed, "Warrior, freedom fighter, wanderer, and mother. It's a pleasure to meet you all.. isn't Clara adorable with her bow and arrow? Rob'O gave it to her."

"Heh." Misty made the smallest laugh, "Wait until she wants to play William Tell."

"Eh?" Mari-An blinked at her.

"Auntie... that be really ye?" Rob'O asked hesitantly.

"I am as much Mari-An as you are Rob'O The Hedge."

"Then that be good enough for Thy!" Rob'O hugged his aunt as much as hedgehogs dare. "Ye be real..."

"I'm no ghost if that's what you mean Rob."

Spike added his two cents, "I can assure you in spite of all factors to the contrary I am very much alive."

Clara-An poked Spike about twelve times before finally looking at her parent, "He be no ghost." She smiled satisfied.

'And another generation of victorian style speaking mobians.' Misty thought, 'And I wouldn't have it any other way.'

At Rob'O's suggestion and Red's urging, they partied like happy idiots that night. Misty was just glade she hid the bow and arrow by the time Amy and Rob'O had enough 'fun' that Rob was going around in Amy's dress chasing Amy and Amy in her cousin's clothes but without gloves or shoes saying how 'Way Past Cool' she was.

The next morning while Rob'O and Amy taking the second best cure for hangovers (the first one being never to get drunk in the first place!), Misty stumbled upon something. It was dusty, seven years old, in her old bedroom before she moved in with Spike, was addressed from herself to herself.

She opened it and read,

'Hello Misty, this Misty. It's a pleasure to meet you. I hope this letter finds you well. I don't know weather you'll remember writing this letter or not, or any of the many other things I've seen myself as someone else doing when I'll be lacking quills. I can't say I'm not scared of what's ahead of me, but of all the possible futures I could have taken, this is the one I've chosen, I only hope it's the right one, or at least the best one in the end. Amy has the family again that was taken away from her and me one by one again. Maybe this choice did have some selfish parts to it too I guess. Misty, you've fought long and hard, longer than you think, and harder than you think to make it back here, you have, Red has, Spike has, Amy has, Rob and Mari-Ann just got back here a LOT sooner than most of us. I just want to say, be happy, and look out for Red and Amy, and enjoy your life with Red, because they'll be no returns a second time around. So please, just make sure those we love are happy. ---Misty 'O Hedge Rose.'

Misty nodded, understand, and placed the letter back in it's envelope and into one of the drawers and continued gather what things of hers that were still here she wanted to take with her to Central City. She just hoped Spike didn't resist moving there with TOO MUCH kicking and screaming.

That same day, as the sun sank, a beautiful sunset on the verge of beginning, Rob, Amy, and Red were outside in the backyard, Clara being looked after by Mari. And yes, the two did agree to play knights and princess with Red when he asked. Again, all Amy felt was nostalgia, but maybe nostalgia could be a good thing at times.

"Red," Amy asked knowing she had to do this, "About that... bad dream you had before you went to the island? I just wanna say that, well, I'm sorry I didn't catch you. I'm just so sorry, if I had only been faster then, then things would have gone the way they did."

Red innocently looked at Amy for several seconds until, "It's okay, don't worry about, I just slipped! Besides you're fast enough to catch me now right?"

Amy thought for a moment, "Maybe, but I don't want to put it to the test, please be more careful."

Red was going to give a sarcastic remark, but something in the back of his head told him listening to his bigger sister was a good idea today, "Whao, I promise I'll be more careful when climbing." The boy nodded.

"Thank you." Amy said with more meaning than those words should have been able to carry. "Red.. you don't need to be a squire. You can be my knight in shinning armor any time!"

"You... really mean it?"

Amy nodded, "You bet!"

A few minutes later, Sir Red rode gallantly upon his light green steed Rob'O the four leg horse snorting at the presence of the dark black dragon before them. But the brave knight held his mount steady. "Don't worry Princess Amy! I shall save you!" The brave and powerful hedgehog declare point his sword at the beautiful maiden.

"Thank you sir Knight!" Princess Amy said her beautiful dress obscured by the dark claws of the dragon the held her! But not for long!

"Foreword my noble steed!" Sir Red declared and Rob'O raced forth carrying his rider with him into battle. The dragon roared and breathed fire at the incoming knight, but the hero and his dodge dodged the deadly and massive attack, and struck the evil black dragon in it's vulnerable gullet, the beast roared in pain from the smite of justice and died.

"Brave Knight you have saved me! I am, and my kingdom forever in your debt!"

"Think nothing of it princess! I do but my knightly duty as is-"

"Red! Dinner's ready!" Called Mari-Ann.

"Okay! Cool!" Red hopped off Rob'O, who got up and dusted himself while Amy climbed down from the black tree she was in.

As Amy watched her little brother go inside the house she thought, 'I don't understand everything that's happened, but maybe I will someday.' The teenage hedgehog merrily skipped inside and joined her loved ones. 'But for now, I have my family back, and they have me back, and for now, that's enough.'