Chapter 18 of A Different Sky – Luminous Daydream
Sunlight had begun to just brighten the snowy plains as Sonic broke through the gashed landscape on the outskirts of Robotropolis. He found the air crisp, and the scent of pure, dry oxygen sent his stomach rumbling.
A sleepless night was rarely good for any type of activity – especially not running. Sonic could feel the difference between rest and sleeplessness like being two different people. At his peak, the land flew by in a blur like water flowing around his streamlined shape, but this morning, running was jerky, sluggish, and his body grumbled at the starts and stops.
Today his goal was simply to get home to Knothole – to food, peace and quiet, and to hell with anything that came between him and his bed! The only obstacle right now was the sight of the Great Plains, stretching north and west like an unbroken ocean of land, with waves fixed in place by the frosty air. It was a sight enough to hold the ill-at-ease hedgehog youth at bay, to look up from the thin dusting of snow, into the cloudless blue where the half-full moon still hung.
One more breath, and the stomach made its point annoyingly clear once more. Sonic pushed his feet forward, one after the other into the unbroken blanket of snow, and left behind the dirt and bustle of the sleepless city.
In the now still, quieted heart of Knothole, Sally was sitting close to the fires of the mess hall, keeping close to the carefully-nested coals. Such a hearth was carefully tended day in and day out at the meeting-place, whether it was indoors or out, because there was always some group of friends, workers, or hungry mobians seeking a little heating in the colder months.
For Sally, right now, it was an empty comfort to bring her hands close to the radiating warmth, and to poke at the coals to stir the fire into activity. She couldn't ignore the fact that Tails had stayed out of sight and hearing for over eighteen hours. Night had come and gone, and after hours of tossing in bed, the Princess had waken all of her closest aides to search the regular paths and hiding areas around the forest stronghold.
Not even a wisp of hair – no, not even a footprint of the lost fox kit. Tails had disappeared without leaving a trace on the cold, hard ground, and the new layer of snow had removed even the tiniest traces. Even scent, taken away by the dry, wintry air, failed Sally. A new appreciation for the full abilities of the fox had grown in the princess over the wee hours of morning – but right now, she was simply cold, nearly frozen through her multiple layers of clothing, and worried.
Bunny had been dismissed to bed. Antoine, even Antoine, in his most grievous and downtrodden expression, had reported his failure after hours of searching, and had been sent to his hut.
Three hours until breakfast time, and Sally sat at the hall hearth and poked, poked, poked at the coals, feeling as if there wasn't enough heat in them to relieve even the pit in her stomach.
A sound of footsteps interrupted her musings, and Sally looked up into the dim recesses of the kitchen area to see a form peeking through the cabinets. It was a dark, pointy shape, moving at an unusually slow speed – and, as she stood and looked a little better, she recognized him.
Sonic stood straight up and the door of the cabinet slammed shut on its hinges. He looked over to see a small form in the middle of the tables, her shape muffled by a coat and trousers. She was trotting towards him, weaving in-between the disorganized benches and tables with a will.
There wasn't even a word between them when Sally came up to him, her boots tapping slightly on the packed earth floor - just a small smile. Not a moment later, they fell into a sudden hug, consoling each other over the difficulties that brought them together over a long night. Sonic leaned closely, shivering without a coat in the frosty dawn, and Sally's coat offering a hint of heat from the fireplace.
Sally found the energy to talk while he leaned against her. "Finally got hungry and came home, huh Sonic?"
The hint of humor gave Sonic reason enough to lean his head against Sally's. "Yeah, I guess so. Hedgehog's got to eat every now and then, y'know."
"I suppose so." Sally relaxed a little, and sighed. "I'm just glad you're back home."
"Me too," Sonic pulled away to give her a good look. "But what the heck are you doing up?"
Sally's face went sad and blank, and she grabbed Sonic's hand. "Come and warm up first, then we'll go out and look for her."
The knot in Sonic's stomach tightened on itself, and he looked up. "For Tails?"
Inside of the hollow tree, a voice came creeping into Tails' half-sleep. It tugged her out of slumber, calling from a distance, muffled, but clear in the cold air.
"Tails? Tails, where are you?"
It was a farmiliar voice, sounding somehow worlds away. She grumbled softly and held her eyes closed.
"Taa-ails!?" This time a male voice, closer and stronger.
The little fox drew in a sharp breath, ready to call out an answer on the verge of waking, but she found her nose pressed up against something cold, woody and damp. What would have been a loud and clear call came out as a muffled squeak.
Tails heard herself and groaned unfomfortably. Her entire left side complained about an hard surface and an unnatural position. She was twisted and folded up inside a space meant for creatures a fifth of her size, and her contorted spine made its opinions painfully known.
"Tails?" This time it came from closer nearby, sounding stronger.
Tails replied as clearly as she could, even though her lungs were denied a full gulp of air. "I'm here!"
A pained unfolding of limbs brought her nose to the entry hole in the tree trunk, and the breaking dawn blinded her momentarily. There was just the faint smell of wood and winter in the air, and the reverberating crisp sounds of thick brush crackling under the weight of someone plowing through it awkwardly.
"Where, Tails?" Sonic called, cupping his gloved hands around his muzzle to make the sound carry better.
The sound was from somewhere below. Tails poked her head out of the cubbyhole and oriented on the voice, her ears tilting to catch the direction of motion.
It was approximately five meters down, and slightly to the left – there, the small form of the blue hedgehog looking all the more blue for the snow around him. Slightly behind him, and struggling even worse for the thickness of a coat, was a roundish figure. It was hooded, and far enough that Tails could not scent the person's identity.
"Up here!" Tails squeaked louder than before, this time having caught her breath in a haphazardly upright position in the tree. She neglected to bring anything other than her head out of the trunk for the moment, relishing what little heat existed inside the makeshift shelter. "In the tree!"
Sonic's head angled upwards and his eyes searched wildly about, darting from branch to branch both high and low. He took a good minute to spot Tails' great orange ears splaying out of a hole in a great old tree, and her eyes glistening down at him.
The two stared at each other for a long minute, expressions blank. Tails had a shock of panic break through her like a cold snap; Sonic simply marveled, in his sleepless state, how Tails had lodged herself so high up in a tree – nonetheless, in the tree.
The tension broke when Sonic rotated on his heels and hollered in the direction of the wandering coat about his discovery. As the figure began bumbling forward at an increased pace, Tails popped her head back in the tree and began working out how to get out of the space she had somehow crammed herself into. She shuffled about, using her shoulders and backside more to turn than her feet. The only logical answer was to come out the same way she had come in – and that meant backwards.
Sally's first sound when she saw the fox tails hanging from the tree was an oh! of surprise. She ran up to the base of the tree and called up towards the writhing butt-end of the kit, torn between hysterical relief, and the humor of the sight. Sonic's hand made an appearance over her shoulder, and when she turned to peer at him, he had a wry, toothy grin stretching across his peach muzzle. Tails herself was having a rather difficult time climbing out, but watched by the pair below, she finally managed to extricate herself from the maw of the tree by hovering and maneuvering backwards. That didn't stop her from hitting her head against the top of the hole, though.
When her feet touched down on the ground before Sally and Sonic, Tails' brain felt like it was molasses. She couldn't think of what to say – but it wasn't long before she was wrapped up in Sally's arms.
"You had me so worried! Thank goodness you're all right!" The Princesses' voice was hoarse from her night's troubles. She went on to scold the girl for running off, but Tails' mind was on the blue hedgehog in front of her.
Sonic just looked tired – and cold. He was shivering a bit, and letting Sally handle the situation. Tails wanted more than anything to hear his thoughts, to know that everything was all right.
The princesses' arms loosened and Tails felt her shoulders being shaken. "… don't ever do that again!"
The youth set her eyes on Sally's and nodded, her face showing the tension and awkwardness she had inside. Sally took it as an answer – and closed her eyes with a tired sigh.
"I just hope all this gets settled down soon. Let's get back, ok?"
Sonic was waiting for those words. He stepped up behind Sally and picked her up in a practiced scoop, gave Tails a tired but familiar smile, and nodded in the direction of the village. "Let's go, lil' bud."