Chaos: This lives, predominantly thanks to Terra. I hope this chapter will make sense to people after so long.
If you're here, I can't thank you enough for sticking with me and am very surprised to see you. It's been a while! How are things? We should hang out and catch up sometime. Over coffee. And biscuits.
… I bet nobody's missed my ramblings, at least!
Well, on we go. This chapter was one long, painful struggle of drawing things together to a disappointing conclusion which I feel quite under-whelmed by.
But nothing's worth having if you don't struggle to get it…
Rouge was lying along a beam slanting down from the ceiling of the ruined house – it had caved in a long time ago, and the beam had been left skewed when the roof was rebuilt. Too expensive to replace, like everything else in the slums of the Central Province where she made her living.
She was watching the hedgehog, as he warily pulled on the gloves she had provided. Flexed his fingers and made a fist. She could tell he was trying not to look at her.
So she was making him uncomfortable. Good. She didn't like him at all after what he had done to Shadow, who she had thought to be rather like herself – and she liked to think she was untouchable.
He was a threat, although she still couldn't quite work out how.
He was also the only chance Shadow had.
She ran a hand over the rings adorning the fingers of the other. It was a habit. She liked to know that they were there. They made a punch ten times more dangerous; although she preferred to use her feet and leave the jewellery clean.
The hedgehog had pulled on the sneakers now. They were old shoes, fairly worn down but still usable. Their owner had been low down in the Thieves' Guild ranks before eventually being knifed in a back alley.
She ignored the fact that she had always had to tell him to stop being careless and hoped instead that the shoes were cursed. Though with any luck the hedgehog could get to Shadow before they took effect.
She still wasn't sure what she was accomplishing here, but this was the source of all the problems for Shadow, and maybe the solution too. She was too well known by the Lords – and was quite proud of the current price on her head – to do anything herself, but the hedgehog was free.
Even if it was too late. She knew he would never get to the port in time. The only chance was to take a boat and try and follow them to the location of the Tournament, and she said as much to the Wild.
He gave a kind of shrug, staring out through the shattered window and half-fidgeting with the cuff of one glove.
"Are you listening?" She said, annoyed. Normally people who annoyed her got themselves killed, and having to make an exception only made her dislike him more. "I'm not going to repeat myself."
The door creaked and she turned to see a purple chameleon appear, blending into view from the shadows by the wall. The hedgehog instantly wore a glare, stepping back to the far corner.
"Espio, I said not to bother me." She said irritably. "I thought you had a job to do."
The chameleon inclined his head in apology. "The Eastern Province no longer needs me. I thought you should know."
She waved a hand dismissively. "Fine, fine."
"I thought you should know," He said again, meaningfully, and with a sigh she moved closer. The hedgehog watched them but didn't move from the corner.
Espio continued in an undertone. "That hedgehog was at the North-eastern Lord's castle."
"Why is he here?" The chameleon asked, hardly louder than a whisper.
"That's my business." She said in return, not seeing where he was going with this. "Explain yourself, Espio, these questions aren't important."
"They are." The chameleon said, more urgently, "That hedgehog doesn't belong to the Eastern Lord."
"He didn't write the right name on the papers. He showed them to me before I started, but I saw the originals in the North-eastern Lord's study – they said 'blue hedgehog, Wild'… the Eastern Lord just wrote 'blue hedgehog'. They're invalid."
"Isn't that a technicality?" Rouge asked critically. It wasn't that she didn't trust the chameleon – he had a keen understanding of the law, allowing him to evade being arrested even if he was caught… but she didn't dare hope that Shadow had gone for nothing.
"Yes," Espio continued, "But it means if Shadow writes out new papers he has a case. And no Royal court would vote in favour of the Eastern over a loyal province, right? He doesn't have to enter this tournament."
The bat looked sharply at him. "How do you know about that?"
Espio squirmed. "Another chameleon overheard you and Lord Shadow… it's been going around the 'Guild. My point is, I know you're friends… if there was a chance to stop him-"
"No." Rouge said suddenly with a sigh, shaking her head and shifting her weight to one leg. "It's too late… you'd have to move faster than a cheetah to reach him now. The carriage left hours ago."
The door banged on its hinges and they both spun. The hedgehog was gone.
"What in the-!" Rouge's temper flared up; that creature had taken advantage of her distraction! But to move that fast…?
"Also," Espio said slowly, thoughtfully. "If Shadow didn't write out new papers already, it means any claim over that hedgehog is void.