And I return! And I've taken waaaay too long about it too. For that I sincerely apologise, and I promise I won't be taking another year to reach chapter 14.

Mostly action this time after the talking of chapter 12, so I hope it makes a nice change. As always there are bits I'd like to change, but then I think I've kept you all waiting long enough.

Comments are always welcome! And thank you to all of you who have left reviews so far. Each and every one has been helpful in some way, so cheers!

Chapter 13: The Long Road Home

"Tails... Thank you."

"For what?"

"For saying 'no'. And for what it's worth... I'm sorry for what he's done to you."

"Don't be, it's not your fault. It's his... and I swear, for what he's done to me, for what he's done to everyone... I'm going to make him pay."

"We've got to get out of here. We have to find Sonic and Sally."

"I know. And we will. Trust me."

----------

"He... refused?"

Raid raised his eyebrows in mild surprise, and settled back in his chair. That was a most unexpected result; Prower's behaviour had been something of a project of his for some time, and in his experience the Spyder had often acted with open hostility to those he deemed to have wronged him.

The scenario had called for him to become enraged for his treatment at the hands of the Knothole elite. Raid knew full well the work his Master had put into consistently framing him for acts he did not perform; indeed, Raid himself had done the same not too long ago when he fed Acorn some selective truths.

Interesting then how his anger instead was at Lord Robotnik. Apparently the boy saw the Machine God as being the one who had wronged him the most.

Raid stared across his desk at the red and black hedgehog who stood motionless in the middle of his office. He had returned to Chestnut a few days ago, and with current events he knew that he would not be here for long.

Idly, the mayor wondered what might have caused the Chosen One to turn against them. And he knew; there could only be one reason, and that one was, just like the Cyborg before him, a hedgehog.

A strangely amusing irony, how there always seemed to be a hedgehog at the root of his Master's problems.

"What are our commands?" Raid asked the Snyper, ignoring how Robotnik had chosen to relate his orders to the assassin instead of him. He would have his reasons.

"To do what must be done," an artificial voice ground out from a speaker somewhere on it's body. "The war must begin. Acorn must fall."

Raid nodded and rose from his desk.

"Very well. Then we shall keep to our plan, remember?"

Of course the Snyper did. It would never forget.

"Rachel?" he said, speaking to his secretary via an internal comm.-link built into his desk. "Cancel all other appointments for today; a serious matter has just come to my attention."

"Yes sir, will you need anything?"

"Yes, please alert the Chief of Police. I'm going to the Old Quarter, so I will need an escort."

"Yes sir, I'll get on it now."

"Excellent."

The plan was now in motion. The Snyper would do his job- Raid simply have to do his. But then he was capable... Robotnik had seen to that.

Raid looked up; Shadow was gone.

Yes, things would go perfectly.

----------

As soon as the lift reached the top, Tails knew that they were in for one hell of a fight.

Apparently, the base was not uninhabited save for one mad scientist- it's population had been hiding, and consisted of a large number of fanatical Mechanists, plus a few Robians.

Four of said Mechanists were waiting for Amy and he as they exited the lift, all of whom had blasters raised and pointed at them.

The first received a bolt to the head from Amy before he could pull the trigger, a testament to her superior training. They didn't seem to expect them to fight back against overwhelming odds, and the confusion gave Tails more than enough time to make his way between two of them, slashing a bloody path with his claws. He draw his pistol as he went, turning to face the last who, driven mad with hatred at seeing his allies dispatched so easily, charged wildly whilst swinging his blaster rifle round like a club.

Not having Amy's skill with firearms (or any real training other than experience), Tails snapped off a few bolts at his midsection, downing him loudly.

By the time he had finished Amy had moved up to the door of the room, scanning the corridor for hostiles. She saw a few and opened fire, just as Tails joined her.

"We have to get out of here," he said, following her example in shooting the Mechanists.

"You remember the way?" she asked.

"Yeah, left here."

"Right, ready?" she flashed him a small, strange smile. "10-6 was the score, right? I bet we can beat that." He blinked, and her smile widened. "Teamwork, Tails. Like dirt hockey, remember?"

He returned the smile, suddenly knowing exactly what she was talking about.

"Yeah, teamwork, Amy. Let's 'do it to it', eh?"

They grinned at each other, neither realising how odd it was to share such a moment at a time like this. But they both knew that they had once been best friends... And after all these years apart, they still were best friends.

Back-to-back, they fought their way into the corridor, following the direction from whence they came. Amy held them off thanks to her superb marksmanship- always aiming for the head, Mechanists always went down from her with just a burst of three shots. Tails' method however was somewhat more brutal. Leading the way allowed him to distract with shots from his pistol, following up by closing rapidly to let his claws do the work. Amy would sometimes fall behind, but he would always hold and wait for her; for a mercenary used to working alone, he could display a remarkable awareness for any team mates when he wanted to. And it was only now that she realised that she really hadn't fought so close to him yet – he had always ended up isolated from her somehow – and it amazed her how well they worked as a team.

It really was like when they played dirt hockey when they were kids.

Ten minutes of fighting brought them near to the entrance. There had been a few close incidents, including Amy running low on ammo for her rifle as a group of close-combat orientated Robians charged forwards. The matter was solved with Tails throwing her all of his spare pistol clips (thanking the Walkers that the rifle and pistol power packs were identical) leaving only the one he had loaded already and, from that point on, all combat from his end was up-close and violent, but not without elegance.

Soon they reached a fork in the road that Tails recognised. To the left was the way out – he could see the daylight from where he stood – but to the right was a squad of Mechanists pounding forwards, all of them bearing powerful metal fists that crackled with energy.

He placed himself between the junction and the mechs with his claws at the ready whilst Amy dashed towards the exit. He glanced to her as she dropped to one knee and took a position further up the corridor, her rifle aimed in his direction.

The mechs closed. "Let them come!" Amy yelled, and he skipped back a pace as the first swung for him.

Amy's burst took the head from the first Mechanist, and the stomach from the second. She fired at the third too, but the blaster rounds were stopped prematurely as a thick metal door slammed down between the two Mobians.

Tails stared dumbly at the door for a moment before realising the danger he was in. Three Mechanists remained- one of whom was already lunging for him with lightning-shrouded hands.

He ducked from the attack, and delivered an uppercut to the groin. The mech fell back, an enraged comrade leaping over him to get at the Spyder, but Tails was already moving. A well-timed snap-kick caused the Mechanist to miss, leaving him open for a counter attack which Tails did not ignore, slashing and disembowelling.

The final mech was a lot more cautious, not throwing himself in like his predecessors but dropping into a low, balanced stance. Then, suddenly, he dashed forwards quick as lightning, swiping a clawed hand towards him. Tails reacted instantly, courtesy of mechanical augmentations, but not quick enough to avoid the attack completely- a finger clipped his shoulder, and the discharge of power nearly floored him.

Walkers knew what would happen if the mech hit him full on- he couldn't take his time. This mech had to go down now.

Tails went with the blow, spinning around using and using his speed to the full. He ended up facing the Mechanist's back and buried his left claws- the mech fell, awkwardly, as he brought around his other claws to finish the job.

"Tails? Tails!" he heard squawk through the com-link on his wrist.

"I'm here Amy, I'm fine," he said, panting. He looked to the door- reinforced armour. Designed to stop a full assault (or at least slow one down). There was no way he could open it here.

"I'm going to try to open the door-"

"No, you go for the car, get moving!" he said, already running back into the complex. "This is a bunker, right? There's no way that you're going to get it opened from there without something heavy duty. I'll find another way out."

There was silence for a few moments. He could tell she didn't like it, but then she was smart enough to know that he was right.

"How do you know there is another way out?" she said suddenly.

"Because I'm an optimist, remember?" he said simply. "Trust me Amy. I'll see you in five."

"Alright, as soon as you get out tell me. I'll pick you up."

"Got it."

He cut the link, dashing this time away from the route they had followed before and hoping for the best. He turned a corner, almost running flat into another squad of Mechanists- thanks to Robotnik's modifications he reacted immediately and turned in tight, dodging the leader and cutting into him beneath his ribs. His left arm came up to remove a limb from another as he passed and, using his momentum to the full, kicked off the wall to perform a somersault over a third.

The crack of a blaster being discharged echoed as he fell to a crouch- the wild shot missed him and disintegrated the head of the mech behind him. Tails lashed out immediately, cutting the throat of the trigger-happy trooper and knocking him back into his last living comrade. The final mech stumbled under the sudden weight, but his bionic legs gave him enough stability to remain upright- a fact the Spyder was able to exploit to the full as his clawed fist connected with his face.

A squad dispatched in moments, but Tails did not pause. He could not; to stop meant death. His only chance was to keep moving, and hope that the Ancient Walkers was smiling upon him.

And apparently they were, as he found himself attacking a group of Mobians with mechanical eyes of some kind and leather jackets. They had not been running towards him, and aside for a small service pistol each were unarmed- pilots for something. And Tails' best guess was that they were running for whatever it was they flew.

And they had been close to their craft too, for Tails suddenly found himself running into a large angular room. The walls and ceiling were made of the same metal as the rest of the complex, the only difference being the floor covered with tarmac and the yellow markings painted onto it.

Across the far end of the room were a number of craft he recognised as military grade airspeeder bikes. Such vehicles had become popular with rich folk with too much time on their hands (as they were both difficult and expensive to maintain), but Tails knew that many governments saw uses in them due to their speed and manoeuvrability. He had owned one a few years back for a time as a reward for a job, but it had been damaged around a coolant feed and no matter what he did, he couldn't get it going again.

As a result he did not care much for the temperamental machines- but at a time like this, he couldn't afford to pass up such an opportunity. He was in a garage of sorts which had to have a route leading outside somewhere, and he could remember a time in Oak learning how to hotwire similar vehicles.

He wasted no time, drawing his pistol and using what remained of his ammo to force technicians away as he ran for the bikes. As he closed he leapt behind one, slashing a soldier who had got too near in the process, and used a claw to cut away at the wires surrounding the ignition lock.

There was a spark, and a high-pitched whine signled the powering-up of the engines. He straddled the machine, making a quick mental note of the controls- a pretty standard layout with the addition of a trigger for the twin under-slung blaster cannons, and kicked it into gear.

There was a tunnel ahead of him which, judging by the markings on the floor, was the way out. He pressed his foot down on the drive pedal and speeder bike shot towards it, leaving shouts and gunshots behind. An alarm was still ringing, and the doorway leading outside at the end of the corridor was closing- Tails kicked up another gear and floored the power.

He made it with a moment to spare, shooting out onto the planes around Tau-27 like a bullet from a gun. He was confident of no pursuers for a while thanks to the door being closed, but it being open in the first place suggested an uncomfortable truth to him- Amy was racing away in the Knothole airspeeder, and she was being followed by mechanists on bikes just like his.

Using the compass on the control panel, Tails angled as close as he could get towards Knothole, and hoped for the best.

----------

Raid couldn't help but feel that this was something of a last-minute gesture. Well, it was the idea he supposed- if he could make the people believe that he had come here to talk to them honestly rather then feed them some political spin, then all for the better. But if they didn't, then he would have to resort to much more desperate measures... Either way would work, but this one would give better results.

"People of Chestnut!" he shouted out from his soapbox. Word of him visiting the Old Quarter had spread like wildfire - the poor fools probably thought he really cared about them - and a sizable crowd had gathered, filling the square. A crowd of a good few hundred people which, he could clearly see, were notably segregated into mechs and norms.

How very interesting.

Time to put on the drama.

"Some of you have heard rumours of an army from Machina marching on Knothole. I will not lie to you; it is true!"

There were some gasps, but most took it with silent resignation. Apparently, they expected it.

"I want you to understand that this is not our war. We are an example to all civilised nations, an alliance of the flesh and the mechanical!

"But, we must be vigilant. I know well that the vast majority of our people are peace loving and a credit to our state, but there are some amongst you who are a danger. Some who believe that a war is inevitable across all of Mobius. So, to reduce the risk of any harm coming to us, all mechs are to be registered and issued with identity cards which they are to carry at all times."

The obvious bias in the favour of normal Mobians went down well with them. The mech half of the crowd however was not so welcoming, and already he could hear words of abuse. He stared in the direction they had originated from, and waited as the noise died down.

"Failure to comply with this will result in severe punishments," he said in a steely cold voice. "Especially to those discovered to be members of the Mechanist cult, who have been a cancer in the heart of our city for nearly 10 years. In fact, it is Mechanists who have created Machina's army, and it is Mechanists who threaten to bring this war to our doorstep."

There were nods and voices of agreement. This was good- they were taking the bait.

"So, the Mechanists must be eradicated, and it is our right- no, our duty to see it through! And I expect each and every one of you to do your part in ridding our fair city of them!"

The normal Mobians were getting incensed by his words. Mechs were getting worried.

And sudden silence fell as a blade appeared in his chest. For what seemed to be an eternity, nothing happened.

Raid gasped and stumbled, falling to his knees as the sword slid back out, his vision spinning. Somewhere, he heard screams and voices shouting murder.

A... 'mech' had had attacked him.

Well, he knew it had been coming anyway.

Gunshots sounded and arms encircled him pulling him away. His police were here, taking him to safety, but as they moved into a building he was able to catch a glimpse of the crowd- now a swirling melee of violence.

"Sir? Can you hear me?" a policeman said in his ear. He heard a door close, and he fought to bring his vision back.

"Yes, sergeant, I can," he said. And smiled... For now, finally, he could reveal himself for who he was.

Despite the wound, one purposely aimed to look worse than it really was, Raid was on his feet in an instant. From each clenched fist emerged a set of three foot-long claws, and behind the fake covering of his left eye a targeting computer worked a route through his bodyguards.

Raid had not lied when he told the Knothole elite of a mech killing political figures from time-to-time in Chestnut. Nor had he lied when he told them it was a canine with claws. Prower was the first Spyder-class Cyborg... but he was most certainly not the last.

To their credit, the bodyguards realised what he was with admirable speed, and their reactions to the threat were by the book. They were the best- but they were woefully unprepared for the threat of a Cyborg.

Within a minute, despite his wound, he had slaughtered them to a man.

Moments after it was over, he sensed another presence in the room, one wielding a blood-covered blade. Shadow had indeed done his job well.

Raid made his way to a window looking over the square, ignoring the medical equipment his bodyguards had brought for him. He did not need it- he could feel the nanobots going to work around his wound already, and he would be fine in a few hours.

Outside a war was breaking out. The Old Quarter was finally destroying itself after years of neglect and racial hatred. And there was one other reason why he had chosen to make his play here- firearms. This area was full of scum armed with weapons they should never have been allowed access to. And judging by the bodies and fires already scattered around, he had made the right decision.

And now not even the Chief of Police was alive to rally his forces. Confusion reigned- and no one could stop it.

"It has begun," he said to Shadow. The Snyper remained silent.

"And now for the next stage... We must get to Knothole."

----------

To run from the bunker was going against all of her instincts; Amy was a teacher, a friend, and a person, and all of those demanded that she do everything she could to help someone who needed her.

But, she was also a soldier, and that part of her knew that Tails was right. She had nothing near the equipment required to destroy a foot-thick reinforced steel door, and besides, Tails had proven he could handle himself in this kind of situation. He'd find a way out.

She dashed for her hover-car, still parked exactly where she had left it. A touch of a button on her wrist opened the rear door, and she pounded up the boarding ramp and leapt into the cockpit seat. She didn't know that anyone was following her, but then it didn't hurt to get away as fast as possible anyway.

Her suspicions had been correct though; as the craft powered up, an alarm buzzed bringing her attention to blips on the radar approaching from her right. She looked over just in time to see four jetbikes approaching, the guns of the lead craft lighting up as they neared.

Amy twisted the transport around to face the Mechanists, relying on the thicker armour on the front to protect her. It did, for now at least, deflecting bolts of energy from the curved hull.

The engines engaged, and she found herself being pushed back into her seat. The jetbikes broke formation like flares from a firework, cutting around to take shots at the weaker armour on her rear.

Well, she wasn't going to let them have an easy time about it.

With the flick of a couple of switches on her control panel, a linked pair of blaster cannons swivelled to life beneath the cockpit. The AI controlling them targeted the nearest bike on her command, opening fire as she banked the craft smoothly around to face the bikes once more.

The biker was good; perhaps some physical connection to his speeder gave him an advantage, as it seemed to side-step the shots. But Amy had other things to worry about, namely driving, and let the hover-car's computer do the shooting.

The land around Tau-27 was mostly desolate plain, though there was some rough ground (cliffs and the like) a few miles to the east. Her best bet would be to move there so that only one or two bikes could attack her at once. With those odds, she stood a chance. Out in the open, it was just a matter of time before a wild shot hit something vital.

She gunned the engine, and the craft flew through what passed as streets in the poor town. The bikes followed, but Amy was always moving, always turning down a new path.

The two sides exchanged fire. The blasters mounted on their craft were of a much higher voltage that the hand-held version that Freedom Fighters commonly used, and hence as Amy turned the hover-car with a smooth drift (bringing her side armour up against the bikes), some shots hit and tore chunks out of buildings. Wherever the chase went, houses would receive horrendous damage, many collapsing in on themselves. Amy didn't know if anyone was still living out here, and at this moment in time she did not particularly care either- but as she flew through the outskirts it was clear that no-one would be staying outside of the bunker for some time.

Amy maxed out the throttle, wincing as she was pushed into her seat at the sudden acceleration. Her nose was aimed towards a passage into the rough terrain, something of a miniature valley, one that, she hoped, would not suddenly end.

But at least if it did, she wouldn't be around anymore to worry about it.

The hover-car roared into the canyon, loose rocks and dirt falling in her wake. She strafed around corners and followed the land as it rose and fell, gunshots always following. Abruptly, Amy came to a hairpin turn as the canyon wall drew out briefly. She hit the airbrake, spinning the speeder on its axis, and fired the engines to push her back the way she came. All the bikes copied the move save for one; the driver apparently fancied his chances and tried to shoot her cockpit canopy. Such a shot would require accuracy and a stable firing platform- this was his downfall, as his refusal to manoeuvre allowed the targeting computer to catch up with him.

Red light lanced out from the swivel guns on the hover-car, catching a steering vane on the speeder bike. It lost balance, shuddering violently, forcing the driver to concentrate on bringing it back under control before he was thrown off at a speed that would easily break his neck.

Unfortunately he did not recover fast enough, and his bike slammed into the canyon wall. It crumpled flat and killed the driver on impact, following up with an impromptu cremation as the fuel lit up.

Amy cruised away, pulling up a short hill that led her to the top of the rocky ground. The area was littered with dead roots and long grass, a real problem as they hid any large stones. Should she hit one, then odds were that she'd end up as dead as one of her pursuers.

She geared up and cruised away, the bikes in hot pursuit. She jinked about, avoiding blaster fire, but could not dodge it forever. A blast grazed her starboard engine, and the grav-transport jerked as the disruption caused her to clip a rock. Her nose dipped and cut into the earth, spinning the vehicle around and bending the right hand wing.

She was stuck; the car was, essentially, pinned in place. She was a sitting duck.

Immediately, she leapt out of the pilot's seat and engaged the rear ramp. Outside was a rocky outcrop, perfect cover whilst she got her bearings, and perhaps she would have time to contact Tails. If he was out by now, then he'd come to help her.

Amy ducked down behind the stone as shots traced in on her. She grabbed her rifle, strapped loosely over her shoulder, and fell back on her talent as a marksman by firing a burst at the first closing bike.

He skipped sideways out of the way, returning fire and cutting so close as to force her to keep her head down. The next followed suit, shooting plainly around her, and it quickly became obvious to Amy that these rocks would not keep her safe forever.

The third, she decided, would be going down at least before her. The bikes had so far displayed an unnatural talent for avoiding energy based weapons, so she figured that somehow the riders had been modified to react to them instantly (well they were mechs after all, so it was a fair guess). But, there was always a chance that they would not take into consideration something small like, say, a rock. Or a hand grenade.

She clipped one off her belt and pulled the pin, peering over her cover to spot the bastard approaching. She timed herself, holding down the fuse, only releasing as the bike was mere meters away. And then she threw lightly upwards, dropping down as the bike tore through where she had been a moment before. She grinned as she realised that her gamble had worked- the biker had flown into the grenade full on, and with any luck it was now sitting comfortably in his lap.

She looked back, watching the bike accelerate away and begin to bank around for another pass. Suddenly it detonated with a satisfying thud, scattering shrapnel for a good thirty meters.

Two down, two to go.

Another was coming in. She didn't figure the same tactic would work again, so this time a variant would have to do. She ducked down, letting this one pass, and grabbed a fairly large rock- not huge, but heavy, and it took both hands to lift.

Her target came in. She waited, and as expected it came straight at her. As it approached, just like with the grenade, she flung the stone up and dropped down. The biker hit it, taking the blow in his chest, and whilst it was not big enough of an impact to kill him it did knock him from the seat of his speeder and threw him to the ground.

Amy grabbed her rifle and brought it to her shoulder. The Mechanist – who was, she noticed, almost entirely machine aside for a patch of fur around his midsection – was up in an instant, and charged as she fired a three shot burst.

It hit him in the left arm, and sparks burst from the wound. His right came around, ripping the gun from her and crushing the barrel with his artificial strength- it would take more than a severed limb to stop this Mechanist.

Amy jumped away and drew her 8-inch combat knife in a back-hand grip, ready and waiting for hand-to-hand combat. She knew that she couldn't beat him with pure strength- she would have to rely on her speed.

The mech charged with a roar more static than vocal, swinging a right hook at her with the force to crush boulders. Amy stepped back from the attack, then moved in once the fist had passed. Her knife came under his defence, and she buried it to the hilt in the only flesh she could see on him.

The mech made a strange noise that sounded like a static filled gurgle as she pulled the blade back out, covered in a vile mix of black liquid and blood. He stumbled past her, and she brought the knife up and around into the back of his neck as to cut several unarmoured cables. He dropped like a stone.

Just one to go, but the fight had brought her out of cover. In the open, the third mech down and out, her only cover lay about ten meters away- and the last biker was already lining her up in his sights.

Finding herself staring at certain death, it was odd she realised that the only thing she felt was the hope that wherever he was, Tails was okay.

Another roar of an engine, and from nowhere another bike shot past. In an instant she recognised the orange fur and twin tails of the rider as he leant in close to the mech, lashing out with a set of claws as he passed. The mech's bike twisted to the side, out of control, and propelled the rider to the ground nearby.

Suddenly, her odds had improved. But she couldn't delay- the mech was clearly still alive, pulling himself up and engaging the same lightning claws the others inside the bunker had possessed.

So close, he was on her before she could draw her pistol. He slashed once, twice, and each time she stepped away from the attack figuring that the lightning could only do bad things to her body- better to avoid his arms altogether than block.

She flicked out a boot, catching the mech in the ankle and causing him to stumble, and without pausing followed up with a powerful kick to the side of his head. The mech fell back to regain his balance giving her the opening she was looking for- her knife lashed out to cut his arm, pushing him on the retreat further, and gave her all the time she needed to finish the job.

As the Mechanist fell and the sound of Tails' bike drew near she eased back into her fighting stance and silently thanked Bunnie for her lessons on hand-to-hand combat.

"Amy, are you okay?"

She looked round to see him dismounted and approaching.

"Yeah, I uh... How did you find me?"

"That," he said, pointing to the crashed hover-car which was by now belching smoke from the engines. Apparently it had been hit pretty badly at some point. "What happened?"

"Well I crashed," she said flatly, fixing him with a wry smile. "Don't worry, I got out okay. Glad you turned up when you did though- you do know how to make an entrance."

He stood there awkwardly, and lightly scratched his neck, apparently not really knowing what to do. So she showed him with a hug.

"I'm glad you're okay," she said into his ear. He looked positively embarrassed.

"Yeah, me too."