Has FFN been quieter lately? I'm not seeing as many reviews as usual, and I'm talking about on everyone's stories, not just mine. Peculiar.
Anyway… this is the final chapter of The Dark Side of the Moon, and the final chapter of the Undestined Future series. It would be a sad day for me… that is, if I didn't already have something huge in the works to move on to. That, folks, is Survivor's Resolve – so I hope that after this story concludes, you'll add me to your author alerts to get notified when it's posted! I plan on improving everything about my writing in that story, from actions scenes to characterization. Yes, characterization. After playing through several Sonic games recently, I realized that there are some things I've gotten wrong about the characters… SR will fix that. ;) But I digress.
Thank you to EVERYONE who read and/or reviewed, you are all appreciated SO much. I have read every review ever given to me and have tried to take suggestions to heart, and accept praise when given. Thanks again to everyone, and I hope you are more than content with the ending!
CHAPTER 20: Hold Onto What If
Can you feel your life
Tangle you up inside?
Now you're face down on the floor…
But you can't save your sorrow;
You've paid in trade.
I was no hero. I never had been, and as far as I was concerned, never would be. I fought for my own beliefs, just like everyone else. I simply did what I felt I had to do. The only thing that set me apart from any other person was that my physical capabilities enabled me to excel in acting on those beliefs.
Selfishness was a part of my mental repertoire, just like everyone else.
I felt sick with the shock of the truth. Either millions of innocent people were going to die, or Tails was going to die.
Tails wouldn't want so many people to die on his behalf. He wouldn't want Eggman to win. And equally important: neither did I.
The control panel was before me. I had approached it slowly. It was now only six inches from my fingertips.
I was about to undo everything I had fought for over so many months. Tails's fate would be exactly as it was before, only this time I was killing him directly.
My eyes closed. I couldn't do it.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill my best friend; my brother. I couldn't condemn him to death like that. He was supposed to live. I just couldn't do it.
But even so, I watched my hand reach for the control panel. It was like watching someone else do it. I was so numb that I swore I couldn't even feel the smooth surface beneath my finger as I pressed down on the button.
When nothing happened immediately, I withdrew and thrust my whole body into the panel with a loud cry, obliterating it. It was then or never. I only had a second to take in the thousands of metallic pieces scattering across the floor. Then my vision was taken over by the ensuing blast of Chaos energy. I steeled myself, knowing this was going to hurt, in spite of my Super form.
There was surprisingly less debris than I had expected. The world around me went white and white-hot. I cried out in unanticipated agony, and for a several seconds it made me forget the horrendous significance of what I had just done. It took me over completely, and I knew the pain was caused not by the explosion itself, but by the incredible amount of active Chaos energy being released at once. I had used seven Super Emeralds to activate my Hyper form before, though; I had pretty much mastered Chaos energy. I used that knowledge now to guide myself through the burning pain, working with it instead of against it, drifting along the Chaotic flow I was so familiar with.
But it was lasting a little too long, for some reason. The Eclipse Cannon had only been infused with the power of five regular Chaos Emeralds. That was a great deal of energy, but there was no way it should have been causing the lengthy sensations I was experiencing.
I had initiated the release of the Chaos energy; I was the controller. I was supposed to be aware of everything I caused, because I was the one causing it. But I wasn't. There was another force at work here. This was lasting way too long.
Suddenly, ground existed beneath my feet, but I could tell by the feel of it that it was not part of the regular world. It too had Chaotic properties. I fell to my knees, the tornado of energy around me becoming too much to handle.
Something I did not anticipate is beginning to happen to me. The Master Emerald's words were distant, like it hadn't spoken to me, but just spoke aloud to the air. I was about to question this when I was addressed directly. Sonic… can you hear me?
Yes, I thought back. A wave of disappointment washed over me. I had thought Tails had somehow affected Chaos Control. It would have explained why things were going awry, and would have let me know he was somehow still alive. That hope died as the Master Emerald spoke, because if Tails was still alive, its conscience would have known.
Sonic the hedgehog… the attack has succeeded. You are truly selfless. Not many beings have that kind of strength.
I don't either. Despair seemed to swallow me whole. I… would never do that again. Never.
You do not have to. What's happened has happened.
…Tails deserved to live. He deserved to live.
He would have approved of your sacrifice. Both of our minds went silent, because there was just nothing else to say or think. It was over. It was just… over.
It felt like there was fire coursing through my veins instead of blood, burning me from the inside out. My clenched hands met the ground as I groaned in misery. The pain was comparable to using all seven Super Emeralds to transform. Where was this power coming from? This overwhelming amount of energy was impossible. It just didn't make sense. There was no way…!
What is happening…
I could barely get a hold of my thoughts. I had a feeling the frightening mystery of this situation was making the pain seem somewhat worse than it actually was. Didn't I drain your power? I thought. What is this?
As a matter of fact… I am finding that the opposite is true. Yes, the opposite.
What… what are you talking about? A yelp escaped my throat. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to escape into the darkness behind my eyelids. I didn't know what to do.
Benevolence… is the strongest influencer of Chaos energy, as you know. It is stronger than any type of evil, or any other emotion. And what you did for the world was the ultimate act of sacrifice and compassion. My power… is ascending to astounding levels…
You mean… I'm somehow causing this? The infinite atmosphere around me increased in temperature. I've never felt anything like this. Am I about to spontaneously combust or something?
Humor in the face of such difficulty is admirable.
I'm not being entirely humorous, here!
The genderless voice became soft and soothing. Relax, Sonic. You know my power will not harm you. Take control of it like you always have.
And I did. It became easier, knowing that this pain was not dangerous. I rose to my feet and spread my arms, welcoming the powerful energy, allowing it to saturate my system. Now pleasure joined the discomfort, creating a mix that reminded me of a shower that was slightly too hot: it hurt enough to make your toes curl a little, but somehow still felt relaxing.
Except it was on an astronomically larger scale, in terms of both pain and pleasure.
"Will you tell me what's happening?" I asked, now trusting myself to speak.
It can explain itself better than my words can. All that needs to be said is that you should brace your mind along with your body. This is the final struggle you must face.
I approached the next statement bluntly. "I'm in no shape to take anymore in either respect. My brother is gone. I still kind of feel like I'm on fire. I can't."
I have come to know you better than to take those words seriously.
I closed my eyes again. I hadn't been joking, but I knew those words were a little dramatized. I could do whatever it was I had to do, I just didn't really want to. Reality had taken its toll. Tails was gone. I was feeling more unmotivated than I ever had in my life.
I worked the Chaos energy the way my instincts told me to. The lava in my veins got hotter. The area began to spin. My eyes were closed, but I could feel the sensation all the same. I felt vaguely nervous, but most of my mind was numbed by the circumstances… numbed by pain, physical and mental.
I was overcome by a wave of nausea. There were too many things occurring within me at once. It needed to stop. Everything I had accomplished with Chaos energy before seemed irrelevant now. My body was not built to handle this kind of power.
Then there was cool oxygen in my lungs. I gasped it in like I had been holding my breath for my whole life. I realized that in the midst of the sensory overload, I had forgotten to breathe intermittently. But even if I hadn't, I think the sudden comfort I experienced would have made me pull in that sweet relief anyway.
When I opened my eyes, the ceiling of Tails's living room was above me.
My stark confusion at the environment around me seemed to disable any physical movement. I laid there in a cool sweat, one arm on my stomach and the other hanging off the sofa, staring straight up. There was a sheet over my body, and it was stiff, as if I had covered myself with it very recently. My vision swam as I recovered from the intensity that had been my life for the past several minutes. I felt more disoriented than I could ever remember feeling before.
I was neither tense nor relaxed, hot nor cold – and if I was, I didn't realize it. My mind was somewhere far away from my body, trying to figure out what in the world had just happened.
The silence was so absolute that I wasn't sure something hadn't happened to my hearing. When the Master Emerald finally communicated with me several long minutes later, it made me jump.
You have not gone back in time.
I contemplated this. Then… it was a dream? Or is this the dream? Am I dreaming right now? Did I pass out during the explosion or something?
The answer to all of your questions is no. You are not dreaming, and you have not gone back in time. Rather, time itself has moved back… permanently. Those events never happened and never will happen, and will be impossible to teleport to using Chaos Control or any other method. The very fabric of the universe was reset in that flash of light.
So the burning sensation… I trailed off, not even knowing how to frame my next question.
It was no less real than anything else you've experienced. What you felt was the most powerful form of Chaos Control.
For the first time, I let my gaze wander around the room. The time of night, the fact that I was on the couch, the debris on the floor, and hundreds of other little factors let me know exactly where – and when – I was.
It was the night Tails and I had defeated Zorro.
So… so… why did you bring us back? I felt something growing within me, but it was nothing like the energy I had felt before. It was something far less physical, yet just as powerful. It was hope. If things really were as they seemed…
My power needed an outlet, the voice replied. I had very few options: drastic manipulation of time or space, or releasing my energy into the Emeralds, which would have made them Super Emeralds again. The latter option would have helped no one, while the former option would give you a chance to have life as you knew it returned to you.
I did not respond for well over a minute. My mind absorbed the information, and I went through every loophole I could think of before convincing myself I believed it. Then, full of infinite emotions I was sure were audible in my voice, I uttered two words. "Thank you."
I cannot accept your gratitude.
…What do you mean?
You have only yourself to thank for this. If it were not for your choice, this would never have been possible. It was the power your selflessness and love that granted me the power that was needed to accomplish this.
I couldn't wrap my mind around the enormity of what was being said to me. I'm… I'm the reason?
Because of you, the world is safe. Innocent people like that young boy Zorro harmed are safe. Because of you, Miles Prower can continue to live. Sonic. Think of every memory you have. Everything you have done, every person you have talked to. Think of all the joy and all the pain. Think of the strongest emotions you have ever felt. Think of every moment of pride. Think of all the places you have been to. Images, people, and feelings popped into my head automatically with each instance she listed. And now, because of your choice, savor the knowledge that millions of people – one of them being your young brother – can now continue to exist with just as many memories and experiences.
The genderless voice was infused with a kind of passion, and for the first time, I truly believed the story of Tikal and Chaos. It was their spirits that had guided me throughout this entire journey, not just because I was a user of the Chaos Emeralds, but because they were fighting for the same cause I had been fighting for all along.
Remember, I and the Chaos Emeralds function on the most powerful emotions and motives. Yours were more powerful than anything I've ever seen.
Under normal circumstances, I might have responded with some wit. But these were not normal circumstances. I inhaled a breath and let it out again. It was a mixture of relief and disbelief. I couldn't speak.
However… the spirits began, and I sensed something reluctant in their tone. Even though time has been reset, the memories of your struggles will always remain just as vivid as they are now.
I am… not following you, I thought.
These experiences were erased from the fabric of time, save for your own mind. Removal of memories is not within my power. And since those memories are technically nonexistent, no time can pass in between. Therefore, they will never become any more distant to you; they are frozen. Should you happen to recall them, these memories, including the painful ones, will flood back to you as if they just happened. Your fights against the poison as it attempted to kill you; the torment of learning how to swim; being trapped in the chamber not too long ago; and Tails's death…
They're not painful.
These frozen memories do not bother you?
No, I thought, I don't think so! You want to know what does bother me, though?
What might that be?
The fact that Zorro is still alive and I'm laying here doing nothing! It's time to get Tails up and grab that Super Emerald that was lying outside and finish this!
My muscles ached from all the exertion as I rose from the sofa, but I didn't care. Unbelievably, impossibly, everything was okay now. Tails was alive, millions of people had been saved, and I knew exactly what to do now to prevent the future from repeating itself.
As I walked down the hallway to Tails's bedroom, I mused that the future was not destined, nor had it ever been; life was not supposed to be one certain way, it just was what it was. Tails was not 'supposed' to be dead, nor was he 'supposed' to be alive. None of us were. We all just had to make the best of this free life, no matter what. I grinned; it would not be hard to make the best of the life I was living right now.
I leaned against Tails's doorframe for a long time, arms folded, smiling as I watched his chest rise and fall with his even breaths. My eyesight became slightly blurry, and I had to blink to clear the moisture that had suddenly formed there. He had the blanket tucked underneath him on both sides, and a small fan on the other side of the room was blowing his bangs around. He was oblivious to it, just as he was oblivious to me standing there, taking him in.
I didn't want him to be oblivious anymore.
"Tails…" I whispered softly, approaching his bed. I set a hand on his shoulder and gave him the gentlest shake. He roused, opening his eyes halfway, and moaned tiredly. "Tails. The Master Emerald… um, kind of spoke to me in my sleep," I improvised. "It sounds like Zorro survived the fall in the Dome Base. We need to deliver that final blow."
"…What?" Tails said, lazily pushing himself to a sitting position. I let the sound of his voice sink in. The dictionary did not have words significant enough to fully describe the happiness I felt. "Sonic… Zorro's not… but I thought we…"
"Me too," I said quietly. "He won't be strong, though. It'll be like tearing apart a sheet of paper, but I still figured you would want to come." I smiled at him. My heart swelled as he almost smiled back, but then his expression was interrupted by a frantic thought.
"Sonic!" He exclaimed, fully awake all of a sudden. "The wound…"
"What w—" I cut myself off, quickly remembering what wound. Zorro had just stabbed me a few hours ago. I glanced down at my chest. There was no remnant of the brutal murder attempt; not even a scar. But I'd known that already. The Emeralds had healed me. "It's fine," I assured him. "Gone for good."
As we walked outside, there was not a cloud in the sky; only the glowing moon and stars. Just like before. No pollution hindered the view, and the moon was visibly whole and circular.
"Man," Tails said, "we're lucky we have the Master Emerald. I don't even want to know where we'd be if it hadn't been helping us all this time. I mean, if we didn't know Zorro was coming for us right now…"
I didn't speak, just smiled in spite of myself.
"Hey Sonic – Sonic? Why'd you stop?"
I had barely registered the fact that I had stopped, but as I absorbed Tails's words, it hit me that I had indeed come to a sudden halt. My eyes were locked on the moon. It was a half moon, but the night was so clear I could see the shadowed half, as well.
As the Master Emerald had warned me, the memories of what had happened were vivid. They didn't bother me much – but they were there, all right. Now, I was remembering how Tails's death had nearly affected me enough to make me want to desert the world in its time of need. I remembered how close I had come to choosing Tails first; to making the selfish decision. I had never seen selfishness as a horrendous thing, as long as it wasn't at the expense of other people. You had to be good to yourself. But if I had done what I wanted to do, so many lives would have been ended, and I would never have known that things could have turned out so wonderfully like they had.
I remembered how, after I met Shadow, I had focused only on trying to bring Tails back and nothing else. I remembered the uncharacteristic sadness that always seemed to linger, even when I thought I was okay. I remembered never feeling quite as optimistic, quite as playful, quite as ready. And it was like it had all just happened.
Everyone had a dark side, but as Shadow had said, some people were just better at containing it than others. I had seen my own dark side, just as clearly as I could see the dark side of the moon.
But in the grand scheme of things, it didn't really matter anymore. I felt just as confident and resolute as I always had, and my life was just as fun as it had always been. I had learned a few not-so-great things about myself, but that didn't mean I had to focus on them. I had already taken from those experiences what I would, and now it was time to move forward.
"Sonic?" Tails repeated again, and I realized I had zoned. It was becoming apparent that it would take some focus to get used to those prominent and entrancing memories; they were going to stick around for a while. "Everything cool?"
I just nodded and grinned. My answer would only confuse him pointlessly. "You know, the Master Emerald's in my head again." I gestured with my head in the direction we had been going, indicating that we could continue on now.
"Ah, right," he said, and I saw his eyes light up as the realization dawned on his face, replacing the concern that had been there. "Okay. Just looked like you were daydreaming, or something."
The rich green grass rustled beneath our feet as we went. It was nice to be in a world saturated with life and color again. In Eggman's Empire, I had never fully realized how bad it had gotten, because it was such a slow deterioration. Seeing how beautiful the world before me was really put things into perspective. Station Square was undoubtedly still a wreck, since Zorro had destroyed it, but it would be rebuilt over time. They were far from losing hope.
I hesitated for a few minutes, wondering if I should say what was really on my mind. I decided to start with a question that wasn't too revealing. "Tails… would you believe anything I told you?"
He hesitated too. "Well, if you told me there was a dog flying in the sky, I would probably take it with a grain of salt."
"You're not too far from a flying dog yourself."
"Oh yeah, that's right. Touché." He shrugged. I chuckled. After the moment passed, I continued on.
"I mean, if I was serious, though. Even if it was that weird."
Tails met my eyes. I wanted to embrace him tightly, go back to the workshop, and tell him everything over some chili dogs and potato chips. It wasn't that simple, but I had already decided I was going to tell him anyway. "Well…yeah!" He replied, smiling earnestly. It made me smile, too. "Not much is too weird for this world. And I do trust you, so… yeah."
"Well, you don't have to hold yourself to that, but…" I paused, realizing the reality of the offer I was about to make to him. Tails never had to know about this. Life could go on as it normally would. But I had already attempted to hide his death from him once, in an alternate life he didn't even know about yet. Though he would never find out on his own like he had then, I felt like he was old enough to understand, and he deserved to know. "I have an interesting story to tell you tonight. After we defeat Zorro, I mean."
"Yeah? It's late right now, you know, and with everything that happened earlier…" Tails trailed off, and there was concern seeping into his expression. I held his gaze for a moment, reading the care in his eyes and knowing it was for me, and wondered what his reaction would be when I told him that that same care had driven him to forfeit his life for me. "Wouldn't you rather wait until morning? I mean, I'm pretty awake, and you got me kind of excited to hear this story of yours. But after you got stabbed and all…"
The answer to Tails's question required no thought at all. "No. After all we've been through, it's hard to tell if we'll both even be here in the morning." We weren't last time, that's for sure, I said in my head, remembering waking up poisoned in Grand Metropolis because of the way events had played out that time around. "And if we are, something'll come up and I'll change my mind about telling you this before I have a chance to tell you again. So… no." I grinned at him.
"Hehe, that was kind of cheesy, even for you."
"You know, how you said you never know if you'll be here in the morning."
"Well, let's just say I know from experience," I said, giving him a thumbs-up. And so do you. "Besides, I already know we'll be too occupied tomorrow to have time for stories."
"Yeah?" He asked curiously, cheerfully.
"Yeah. There's something I want to try at Emerald Coast." I got a little nervous at the thought of it, but I knew I'd be okay.
"Emerald Coast?" He looked amused, and a tad skeptical. "At the beach?"
"That's right," I said confidently, looking on ahead.
Tails just gave me a sidelong glance and kept walking.
Sincerely, thank you to everyone. Please review! If you'll miss this series like I will, add me to your author alerts… I'll be back with Survivor's Resolve on June 23, Sonic's 20th anniversary!
Sayonara… for now.