Good day to you everyone… I think its day… (glances at computer clock) Okay, technically it is. Haven't been able to sleep again. There was a football game this evening and I guess we won, judging by the honking of horns and the amount of firecrackers being set off outside of my dorm… really shoulda brought my paintball gun with me…
At any rate, decided to make use of the time and give this chapter a final proofread and then finish this tale.
As always, my humblest of thanks to everyone who has read this amateur's work. To those of you who have reviewed, your feedback as been extremely welcomed, and in many cases, has provided me with the insights that I needed to keep going. For this, I cannot thank you enough. (bows humbly)
Lawyers- For the last time (in this story anyway) I own nothing but the creations of my own demented mind, now bugger the heck off!
Anyways, I present you with the final chapter of Ghosts of the Past, and I hope that you enjoy it.
(edit) Thank God! They've finally fixed the formatting!
Epilogue: Hope and Darkness…
"Come on, princess, one more time," the doctor said, gently urging her on.
Taking a deep breath, Sally tried to do as she'd been instructed, bracing herself for the pain. She felt a gentle squeeze on her hand, and looked over, her eyes meeting Bunnie's. Her friend smiled in an encouraging manner, and the ground squirrel returned it as best she could. Then she grit her teeth, and pushed.
It was painful to say the least, and she couldn't stop a scream. However, this time, her cry was to be the final one, and at last, her child was out in the world. Much to the surprise of everyone, and to their slight concern, the child didn't scream its lungs out when it emerged.
Thankfully though, the baby, a girl, was breathing fine and after cleaning her off and wrapping her up, the doctors handed her over to her mother. The princess let a tired grin come to her face as she stared at her child.
"You got a name for her?" Bunnie inquired, looking every bit the role of dotting aunt.
"Saria," the mother said, looking into the child's green eyes, the eyes of her father.
There was an intelligent curiosity to those eyes, and the newly christened baby looked all around the room, as if taking in every detail. She was a ground squirrel, like her mother. However, her fur on her arms and chest were a lighter shade than the rest of her, and her crimson hair had some obvious spikes to it.
Sally felt a pull at her heartstrings, despite the joy of the occasion. She ignored the doctors who fretted about, and let her thoughts drift to Sonic. Goddess, she missed him more now than she ever had before. How she wished he cold have been hear, could have looked into the eyes of his daughter.
There were times when she swore that she could still feel him around, as if he had never left.
A giggle brought her back to reality, and she looked down in time to see little Saria beep her tiny fist against her nose. She smiled softly in response, brushing her thumb, her real thumb, up against the child's cheek. It would appear as though the girl had a bit of her father's spunk about her as well. Bunnie laughed, crossing her arms and shaking her head.
"I think I'll go let the others know how it turned out," she said, patting her best friend gently on the shoulder before heading out the door.
She was gone for all of fifteen seconds before she returned with her father, Elias, and several others in tow. They immediately crowded around the mother and the baby, marveling at the little miracle that had just arrived. King Maximilian seemed to take an instant liking to his granddaughter, a liking which seemed mutual judging by the way he was able to get Saria to laugh.
Sally looked into her father's eyes and smiled. They'd patched things up quite a bit over these last few months. Something aided by the fact that there had been so much to do that had required them working together, and that he'd nearly lost her when Knothole had been destroyed.
After Julian's death, and the disappearance of Snivley, there had been a lot of work to be done. As luck had had it, the overlord had been putting a lot of resources into getting a functional deroboticizer up and running, apparently for the purpose of having a large group of ARC troopers ready to move out as quickly as was possible. This had made their job much easier, and within months, entire cities had been restored to normal.
There was still a lot to do, as was evident when Amy and Tails came in. The former was in a wheelchair, while the latter was wearing heavy gloves and a jacket to hide his scars. Uncle Chuck had been working a new project that centered on them and Bunnie. Determined to take something good away from the ARC project, he'd begun delving into the flash-cloning nature of the experiment. They already knew how to create a full body, and individual functioning limbs for that matter. The problem lay in the fact that the old man had yet to figure out how to slow the process down once the appendage had reached the age that it was supposed to have.
Still, the princess held out hope that they would one day find the key.
The hedgehog girl rolled up close, staring at the child, before looking over to her mother.
"Can I hold her?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, but be gentle," Sally said, before carefully handing Saria over to Amy.
The girl held her as if she were a priceless object, gently rocking her back and forth. The princess smiled once again, although she had to admit the ordeal had been exhausting. Nonetheless, hope continued to burn in her heart though as she watched her child giggle once again, drawing the usual amount of 'awes' and what not from the rest of the group.
She let her eyes drift over to Sir Charles, noting the tired look on his face. He had not yet been restored to flesh and blood, determined that he should be among the last group of people to receive that blessing. Nonetheless, he just looked exhausted, and had for some time. It was as if something had been eating away at him from the inside. He claimed that it was stress, but she'd always suspected it was something deeper than that. Still, it wasn't her right to prod, and if something was bothering him, he'd let them know in time.
That fatigue seemed to vanish once it was his turn to hold Saria, and an impish grin came over his mechanized visage, one that Sally remembered that he and his son would have on when they were about to play a prank of some sort. Surprisingly, his granddaughter didn't seem at all put off by the fact that she was being held by a machine, though she did look a little confused when her tiny fists bonked against his metal skin.
She smiled once more, and hoped that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to turn out alright.
Outside of the room, Antoine let a faint grin come to his face as he crossed his arms. His fiancé had just delivered the news that Sally had brought a little girl into the world. He was glad to hear that both mother and child were apparently in good health, and he silently lamented the fact that the third member of the group was not present to round it out. A flash of anger went out towards Robotnik, but the coyote quickly suppressed it, contending himself with the fact that the overweight blob was no doubt being prodded by pitchforks and tormented by all manner of demonic entities at the moment.
He heard a grumble off to his left, and he glanced over, his mechanical eye taking in the scene of Geoffrey St. John. The skunk had a frown on his face, which quickly became a sneer.
"And thus is the birth of a bastard child celebrated," the colonel muttered, shaking his head.
Antoine remained silent, though his grin faded into a tight lipped, neutral expression. Slowly, he looked down one end of the hospital hallway, and then the other. Certain that no one was watching, he acted. He pivoted ninety degrees, took one step over to the skunk, and then brought his knee slamming into the man's groin. Geoffrey's eyes, real and cybernetic, bulged with pain, and his mouth opened, though no scream came out. If it had, though, the royal guard was under the impression that it would have been in the soprano section.
The skunk went to his knees, clutching at his wounded area, before slumping over, apparently out cold.
The coyote let out a 'hmph' of contempt, and then resumed his post at the door.
He shut his eyes and rested his head in his palms. Before him was a computer screen, evidence of a multitude of data files present upon the monitor. He didn't dare to believe it. He had thought himself a freak before this, and now… now he knew the true depths of his origins, how truly freakish he was.
On the flip side, at least he knew what was happening to him, though he still didn't understand the strange dreams that had haunted him lately, or more importantly, why he was having them.
He rose from the chair he'd been sitting in, and walked to the door of the room. It hissed open, revealing a long, sterile hallway. He looked over to the side of the corridor, polished so smoothly that he could see his reflection. The scars stood out for all to see, and he traced a cybernetic finger along them.
He remembered getting them all too well, and what he'd done after he'd gotten them. Memories flashed, painfully reminding him of what had transpired. He shook his head, letting his quills, which he'd allowed to grow to the point to where they were just above his waist, fly about.
He strode down the hallway, finally entering into an elevator. Pressing a floor number, he felt the contraption shoot up several hundred meters, before opening silently and letting him out.
He took five steps forward and leaned upon the railing that was there, staring down into this place. The main section was built like a giant pit of concentric rings, each one slightly smaller than the one above it. Trams and subways connected it to various outlying stations, from the mess halls to the living quarters to the hangers and armories to other, more distant top secret science labs similar to the one from which he'd just emerged.
Stonehenge, this place was called, and he had now come full circle, returning to the dark place from which he'd been born. He closed his eyes, and let his thoughts drift, let his senses reach out.
For a moment, he could feel her, and the others. They were happy, it seemed, as if they were celebrating something. Good for them, they deserved it after everything that had happened, after everything that he had done to them.
A beeping sound drew him back, and he twisted to watch a small utility droid go zipping by him, heading off to fix something, though what he didn't exactly know. Those machines were his only company now, and they were not exactly keen on conversation. Still, it was nothing less than he deserved, after what he'd done, the crimes he'd committed.
Sorrow and self loathing welled up inside of him, and he clenched an artificial fist. Control, control, he had to concentrate. Already, he heard the groaning of metal from somewhere, and realized that if he didn't focus properly, he might rip out something important.
He willed himself to calm down, taking a deep breath and exhaling. He needed to get some rest, had been a while since he'd slept, and he truly had no clue if it was day or night up on the surface. His fatigue was making him sloppy, and that was bad. Yes, that was it, he'd sleep, then try to see if he could delve into himself some more, try to figure out how to control these newfound 'gifts.'
Nearly half a world away, a very different event was occurring.
The Mobian skittered through the darkened alleyways of the city of Station Square. This particular region was run down, to say the least. It had yet to be fully repaired and it still bore the marks of Julian's reign.
The Mobian smirked to himself. While the overlord might have bought the big one at the hands of his brother, and the Acorns might have been back on the throne of Mobius, the southern region had had some problems. Massive derobotizations had made it possible for numerous psychopaths and criminals to get back to what they were doing before the coup. The governmental troops and various police forces had been unable to handle the sudden backlash, and in desperation, people and businesses had found themselves turning to a more exotic source of protection.
He'd been looking for a group of people like that for a while, and at last, he believed that he had found the perfect ones. They were battle hardened, having been with the southern Freedom Fighters for years, and they had earned recognition for their efforts in retaking this very city. However, shortly thereafter, they had revealed their origins, and had been ostracized as a result of it. Embittered, they had left, only to return months later as guns for hire. They had quickly established an underground reputation as people who had a knack for brining in social deviants and making organized crime bosses regret the day they were born.
Unfortunately for them, their heritage prevented many official 'jobs' from reaching them, and if the rumor mill was to be believed, several government officials might have actually put contracts out on them.
Such tactics would make his job all the easier.
He arrived in a dank, deserted courtyard, and found them waiting for him.
They were dressed in armor the color of the sky above their heads, with one exception. The man in the front, his visage hidden behind his helmet, was wearing silver, with a blue Mythosaur skull upon the headgear. He had to resist the urge to laugh. A Mandalore and his Death Watchmen, so much the better.
He frowned then, noticing that there were only six present, when he had been informed there were seven members to this group. Then he realized it, and he smiled.
"So, is the missing member of your squad around here somewhere?" he inquired, gesturing to the old buildings. "No doubt with some crosshairs trained on my head?"
"Your pretty smart for a man foolish enough to arrive without backup, Mr. Johnson," the leader said, one hand causally resting on the grip of a heavy pistol. "Now what's the job?"
"I need you to perform a service for me," he said, continuing to make a detailed analysis of the group in front of him. "If you accept, the reward will be beyond what you can imagine."
"We've heard such things before," the other man said, cocking his head, "the last time it was from a police constable who turned on us after we gave him his prize crime boss."
Ahh yes, that little incident, officially chalked up to a drug bust gone bad. He remembered reading about it, thought it rather suspicious (he didn't know of any drug cartels in this neck of the woods who could have brought out the level of firepower required for the ensuing destruction), and decided to delve further into it. It was one of the things that made him decide that this was the group to use. All of the police involved had been killed, even thought they'd outnumbered this bunch by a four to one margin and had the advantage of surprise as well as tactical assault weapons. He had to admit that the constable had been pretty stupid though; thinking he could intimidate and bully a squadron of hardened warriors like this, particularly when they were packing enough weaponry to take out a couple of city blocks.
Most of them had been killed by disturbingly accurate heart or headshots, while others had been blown to pieces by military grade anti-squad weapons, but the constable himself had been different. He'd been decapitated, and as he glanced at the leader, he spotted the handles from a pair of what appeared to be bladed weapons, possibly curved in nature, though he couldn't tell with that kama in the way. He had little doubt that one of those, or perhaps both, had been responsible for that gruesome bit of retribution.
"How many credits are we talking about here?" one of the black armored soldiers, the one nearest to the leader, replied, revealing itself to be a female.
"I'm not paying you in credits," 'Johnson' replied with a shake of his cloaked head.
"Then this meeting is over," the leader replied.
"Now, now, don't be hasty," the other Mobian responded, raising his hands. "I'm offering you something greater, something far more valuable than credits. Besides," he continued with a slight laugh, "I know your kind, you aren't in it for the money, you're in it for the challenge."
"What is this 'valuable' reward," the Mandalore inquired, sounding irritated.
"A chance to save your people from extinction," was the response that he got.
That got their attention. They remained silent, but the cloaked man knew that Mandalorian battle gear had a private comm. line that was good for twenty meters. They could be having a blazing argument right now and he wouldn't have a clue about it. Their body language was also perfectly masked, giving him no hints as to how their little conference was going.
After a minute or two, the leader brought his hand up and rested it against the chin of his helmet. Finally, he spoke.
"We're listening," he said.
"Haha, I knew that you would choose wisely," the man said, smirking underneath his cowl. "I have a… colleague… of sorts, who has the means to create an army the likes of which this world has never seen. Unfortunately, we lack trainers for this army. I will settle for nothing less than the best, and that search has led me to you…"
"And what exactly are you planning on using this army for?" the Mandalore asked, getting another smile in reply.
"Why, I am surprised that you even have to ask," he stated, before gesturing around him. "Look, my dear friend, look at this world, what do you see? I see anarchy, I see chaos, I see murders and criminals on the loose, I see corrupt officials who turn on an honor pledge just as soon as it is convenient for them to do so. I see a battle to be waged to get this world back in line."
"You're talking about world domination, just like Robotnik!" the armored man snarled, drawing his weapons so quickly that they just seemed to appear in his hands.
"Perhaps," Johnson replied with a nonchalant shrug. "I will tell you this, though. You have no idea what you are dealing with here, my friend. I am more than what I appear to be. If you try and gun me down, I will fight back, and I don't think you and your friends will be the ones to walk away from this encounter." He then opted for a demonstration, extending a hand and gesturing. The Mandalorian's guns were suddenly yanked out of his hands and zipped over to where the hooded Mobian was standing, whereupon they floated gently in the air.
They were good at hiding their surprise, but he knew that he'd managed to shock them. He'd used enough theatrics, though. It was time to get back on track.
"Beside that, you have two other choices: accept or walk. If you reject my offer, I'll simply find another group, and you'll probably never hear from me again. But," he paused again, raising a finger, "if you join me, I will give you a chance to raise your people up from the ashes of Malachor, and you will be forever known as the resurrectors of the Mandalorian race!"
He gestured again, and the two guns went back to their owner, who promptly grabbed them. They said nothing, though, and he could tell that they were in another discussion. After another minute, the man holstered his weapons. He smiled underneath his cowl. He had judged them well. Their discipline and loyalty to one another, to a cause, was commendable, and a very good thing for an army. Under normal circumstances, he knew they would probably never join him, and might have even tried to go through on their earlier threat. However, the thought of extinction could make one a little desperate, and he had also played off the fact that they'd been betrayed left and right because of what they were, trying to make it appear as though he was the one honorable player in an otherwise dishonorable world. His thoughts were confirmed when the man removed his helmet, a sign of trust among Mandalorians. He was a timber wolf, but the gray fur of his face was marred by a pair of tattoos, a winding red streak coming off each eye, like a pair of bloody tears.
"When do we leave?" the man asked.
"Right now, if you're ready," he responded. "I've got a transport just outside the city; we can take it to where we're working."
"Sounds like a plan," the Mandalore responded, before putting his helmet back on.
He went quite after that, but the cloaked man knew that he was having another conversation, as a moment later, the sound of a jetpack filled the courtyard, and looking over, he saw a black armored figure descending from a rooftop, a long barreled rifle in his hands. He landed and fell in line with the others.
"Since this sounds like its going to be a long haul, you mind telling us your real name?" the leader inquired as he turned to begin walking out of the courtyard.
"Shadow, my dear Mandalore, Shadow is my name," was the cowled man's response.
They became silent after that. But he could sense that they were probably talking amongst themselves.
They were indeed chatting over their private comm. line.
"I don't like this, it sounds like a trap," one of the females, the one closest to the leader, stated.
"Easy, kar'taylir, why would he do that?" the Mandalore replied. "There are easier ways to lure us into a trap than this. Besides, he doesn't look like he's part of the local security force. You know how they are."
"What's more, Brianna," the sniper said, his tone quite, "you heard what he's offering, this isn't something we can afford to not check out."
"I know, Kex, I know," was all the young woman said, unconsciously placing a hand against her stomach and moving a bit closer to her leader. "And what if it does turn out to be a trap? What do we do then, Jaster?"
"Then the Goddess help him," her leader, her husband, replied. "Because we won't take kindly to having our hopes built up like this…"
With that, they fell silent, moving off into the night like ghosts, following Shadow to what they hoped would be their salvation.
Up ahead of them, Shadow smiled. Everything was going according to plan…
Okay, and that's a wrap.
Once again, I would like to thank each and every one of you for all the help that you've given me over the months I've spent. Cyrex, PhiloWorm, Farr2rich, and everyone else, I couldn't have done it without you guys.
It may be a while before I upload the next story, I need to hammer down a few points and try to update my other one (which my muse seems to have deserted me on). I hope I have left you interested as to what will happen in the next story, though if I have managed to confuse you, let me know and I'll try to answer the question.
Many thanks again, to one and all. God bless you, and have a great day.
Until next time, this is Red Mage 04, signing off. (bows)