If I just follow you, I will never see the light
Now is the time to find my way through this life
I'm trying so hard to be strong . . .
Two Days Later
A few kilometers away from Never Lake, there stood a wide area of prairie land, flanked by various plateaus and small mountains. The grass was a very light, dull green. And on this particular day, the shadows of three fat clouds stretched lazily upon the landscape.
Regardless, anyone standing at this vantage would probably not pay much notice to the ordinary clouds or their shadows. They would look instead to the sudden trail of dust in the distance, rising and falling along the horizon in wavelengths. The dust trail shot up and down, from east to west, until it made a sharp turn to the north. And then, anyone standing at that northern vantage would have stopped noticing the dust trails, as their creator was now running toward Never Lake itself.
Of course, "running" could only be a metaphorical description of the orange blur.
Miles Prower leaned forward almost perilously, creating an appearance not unlike that of a missile. The comparison was especially apt considering he was literally in flight. This was thanks, of course, to the fox's two tails — which rotated behind him, one parallel to the other, and propelled him forward.
He zoomed straightway for a couple of kilometers, then turned left to pass between some cliffsides, at which point he intersected a paved road that turned in on itself. Through a forest, where he passed beneath a large tree branch that hooked downward, nearly touching the ground. As he darted through the circle created by the tree, its branch, and the ground, Miles felt the strangest urge to run along this makeshift loop over and over again, just because it was there. But that thought remained somewhere in the back of his mind; instead, he dashed on.
Shooting out of the forest, Miles found himself within a rocky, relatively deep valley. Again he resisted the urge to bound about the halfpipes created by this valley, instead flying upward and out of the pit. Then it was between a number of shorter, yet still rocky, plateaus. Then through a narrow tunnel (of which Miles had been briefly tempted to run across the ceiling) before blasting out into daylight and grassy, rocky land again.
After another kilometer or so, the land dropped off suddenly. Miles ignored it, darting at the same level of height he had been at when the ground was beneath him; after all, with his two tails, what did he need the ground for? The orange missile sped over the top of a tall, thin rock projection, pushing his foot off it for momentum as he passed. Then another. And then he flew straight between several other projections, though a part of him wished to instead bounce from one to the other. After a bit of time, though, exhaustion caught up with the fox; he had to touch down on one of the rocky projections and catch his breath. His tongue had been hanging out of his mouth for a while now.
Using his right hand to shield the sun away, Miles gazed ahead. How much farther was the lake?
Once his panting had slowed down, Miles dropped to the earth and continued running. When he came to a river at the foot of a small canyon, he plunged in. Yes, he needed that. The water felt wonderful.
Miles took a moment to enjoy a somersault (flipping his body had always been easier and more enjoyable underwater) before he swam to the surface. Some people had joked about his dog paddle, but to Miles, it was one of the most efficient ways to swim he had seen. His tails began spinning immediately after he breeched the surface, flying him to the top of the canyon above.
On he ran, shaking a small cluster of trees as he passed. Propelling his body onward along a downward slope, until something unexpected caught his eye. He stopped in his tracks; an eyebrow rose, and his mouth formed into a circular shape of wonder.
"The stories..." Miles stopped to breathe. He hadn't realized how hard he had been panting again. "The stories didn't talk about a chain."
There was no chain before. It is recent.
Miles closed his eyes, trying to focus on one of the beings he could not see. "Robotnik? He came here?"
He came from here. This chain was constructed before you met the doctor.
Normally, remembering his first meeting with Dr. Robotnik would have brought a smile to Miles's face. That drilling vehicle – it had been so remarkably ridiculous. But now, his mind was distracted by a torrent of questions. "Dr. Robotnik told me he's the same person as the Eggman. But the Eggman is a legend. And even if Eggman was real, then he lived thousands of years ago. So was Robotnik lying?"
Miles waited for a moment. He opened his eyes. The huge metal chain was still dancing in the distance. A pile of rock debris lay at his feet — perhaps fallen long ago, from the wild swingings of the massive chain? Miles waited. Silence.
"Please. I just wanna know what's going on. I'm tired of not understanding any of this." Miles's voice began to crack as he spoke the last few words.
Gotta keep going.
Fine. Miles leapt toward a nearby landform, spinning his body into an orb. He hit the mount running upward, and when gravity started to have its way, his tails took over. Miles flew up the mountain like a rocket, overshooting the apex a bit on purpose, then planting his feet firmly on the mountain's tip.
At least, Mile thought it was some kind of mountain. It was incredibly long and thin, reminding him of stalagmites he had once seen in caves. Only this one, of course, was enormous. And it gave him a perfect view of the Little Planet.
"I always wanted to come here. I always wanted to know if it was real."
It was. A great mass of land, suspended above Never Lake. The effect might have been more astounding if Miles had not already seen the floating Angel Island. Even as it was, though, the sight was breathtaking. That great mass of land, that "Little Planet", seemed as if it longed to hover idly into the cosmos. Preventing it was that enormous metal chain, pulled taut from the Little Planet's efforts to escape. The scene resembled the struggle between a helium balloon and its string.
Miles frowned. "The stories said it goes away and comes back every year. How's that happen now?"
The answer is simple. It does not happen now.
The fox shook his head. "That's not simple. It probably messes up a bunch of stuff."
Agreed. There are reasons I did not object to you coming here.
"I actually thought you were trying to keep me away. Why did I have to send the Sonic Tornadoback to Angel Island on patrol mode?"
It was needed.
Miles turned his head suspiciously. "Is it something about Knuckles? Is he okay?"
The echidna Guardian is capable of defending his island. All shall be well. In any case, it is unwise to attempt landing on the Little Planet in an aircraft vehicle.
"Hmm." As Miles studied the distant Little Planet, it seemed to flicker, as if it had blinked out of existence for a split second. It truly seemed to be the beautiful, mysterious place he had always heard about.
He jumped from the immense peak, curling his body inward, spinning. Falling, spinning, waiting. Waiting for just the moment . . . release. A breeze had caught his two tails, signaling just the right moment to uncurl. His tails rotated in motion with the breeze, then faster. Even now, in the midst of all the anxiety Miles had been feeling, flight managed to relax him. Arms and legs hanged limply, the whole of his body supported by those two spinning appendages. Even the gentle, propeller-like buzz had a way of calming his nerves. In a few more years, Miles would start to wonder how the physics and biology of it all worked. For now, though, he took it for granted. There were more important questions to answer.
He could already see the perfect landing spot.
Palmtree Panic: Zone 2
The Little Planet
There was something almost prehistoric about this part of the Little Planet.
As Miles's sneakers touched down, they crunched softly against a cluster of fallen ferns. Healthier examples hung limply nearby, overshadowed by great palms stretching skyward. Interspersed among them were enormous, crystal waterfalls spilling into equally clear lakes below. Sure, it was breathtaking. Was it more breathtaking than the falls and fauna of West Side Island? Miles could not quite say.
The planet rumbled, ever so slightly.
There was a rustle in one of the living ferns. From the corner of his eye, Miles caught a tiny figure dash from behind its green cover, leap upon the trunk of a nearby palm tree, and race to the leaves above. The two-tailed fox raised his eyebrows. "A Ricky squirrel?"
Several groundlings are nearby. Some of my children are also here. They are no doubt observing you, the strange newcomer.
"Huh. I don't wanna scare them."
And they will discover as much in due time. Do not deny them their hesitancy. The natives here have a mixed history with outsiders, as you are surely well aware.
It was all part of the legend, of course. Supposedly, during those ancient times, a cold-hearted blue hedgehog had imprisoned the creatures of the Little Planet. Calling himself Sonic the Hedgehog, he declared that all living creatures had become slaves of himself and his master, the Eggman. But this hedgehog was the false Sonic. The true Sonic arrived shortly thereafter, released the animals from their prison, and promptly disappeared. The bulk of the Sonic legend was centered on this singular event; the rest was based on future prophecy.
"Guess they're not used to people. I'm probably the first they've seen in years, huh?"
Again, Flicky hesitated before answering.
Miles was listening. In fact, the command was slightly insulting. He felt that he always listened, always observed. It was one of the few abilities that he actually recognized in himself. He listened, but this disembodied voice, he found, rarely gave proper answers. "I've been listeni—"
And then, he heard the girl. Singing, somewhere among the trees ahead. Carefully, quietly, Miles treaded through the foliage. Yes, she must have been up ahead, in the clearing. She was belting that tune with all of her lungs, yet somehow it still came out sweetly. And now, as he stepped closer, he could recognize the melody.
It shot forth in quick, decisive rhythmic beats that he had not heard in a while, a tune rarely sung unless a jumprope was involved. Preferably with a playground crowd, clapping on each beat.
"Flicky bird, Flicky bird, where are you flying?
To save my poor Chirps, I can hear them crying,
Flicky bird, Flicky bird, why do they cry?
'Cause Tiger and Iggy are hungry, that's why,
Flicky bird, Flicky bird, what happens then?
I take 'em to my nest and count them again:
ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN
Seven little Chirps are safe in the nest,
Better go back and find all the rest,
Flicky bird, Flicky bird, where are you flying?
To save my poor Chirps, I can hear them crying . . ."
She had not gotten very far in the song. And now, coming to the beginnings of a clearing, he could see her. She was a hedgehog.
Though he could only see her back from this vantage, Miles could not mistake the pink, hedgehog quills. The girl's focus was on some sort of table in front of her, gloved hands manipulating a set of small objects as her blue-and-white sneakers bounced the rest of her body in rhythm to the song. Like most females, she wore extra clothing for the sake of style; Miles spotted a red headband that curved the girl's quills down and back, while her body was adorned in a green shirt and light-red miniskirt. It was a fashion that had been popular during the last decade.
". . . FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT
Eight little Chirps are safe in the nest,
Better go back and . . ."
Suddenly, the singing stopped. She turned, and Miles saw dark black eyes, wide with uncertainty and caution. Almost immediately, they rounded off with relief. "Oh!" the hedgehog shouted. She waved to Miles, then proceeded to gesture toward herself, in a welcoming motion. "Hi! Come 'ere, come 'ere! Come in front!"
In front, it seems, was referring to a square card table the girl had been standing behind. As Miles came into the clearing and walked around so that he was facing her, he could see that the small objects she had been manipulating were some sort of playing cards. She was shuffling them attentively.
"Hi," Miles said flatly, awkwardly. It came out awkward because, well, he had not really expected to encounter anybody in this world. "Um... I'm Miles. Prower."
The girl continued shuffling, not looking up. "Hi Miles. I think I know why you're here. It's about Sonic, isn't it?"
The fur on his back stood up. "Yeah. That's right." Miles swallowed. "This is... this place is where the legend was supposed to take place, right? I just... I needed to see it. I didn't think anybody would be here. I just came because... because I need some answers."
Miles had gazed off a bit toward the palm jungles as he pieced his thoughts together. When he turned back toward the hedgehog, she had stopped shuffling. Now she was staring at him, giggling into her hand. "You sound so big and serious!" she exclaimed.
He did not know how to answer that. It was no matter, though, since the girl had instantly returned to her card shuffling. Either she had a remarkably short attention span, or there was something remarkably important about those cards. And her disproportionate focus reminded Miles of someone. A solitary person, living her life alone on this world. Living on this chunk of land, floating in the air. Hmm.
"So are you... the Guardian of this place?"
The hedgehog glanced up from her deck, confused. "Guardian of what?" She allowed her head to dart about briefly, as if there might be something worth guarding that she had not noticed before. Her hands kept at their work.
"This place. I mean, are you guarding this place because it has something to do with Sonic the Hedgehog?"
Without pausing, she bit her lip in thought. "Mmm... kinda. I'm just waiting for him to get back!"
Miles tilted his head. "So. So your people really do believe that Sonic was actually here, 5000 years ago?"
She laughed. "No! He was here just last summer!"
The planet rumbled, ever so slightly.
Last summer? Just under a year ago? Perhaps the girl was just being confusing on purpose. Though, Miles could not guess why she would be that way. Maybe it was a hedgehog thing. Maybe it was a part of the hedgehog culture, just like the echidnas had their own strange beliefs and practices. "So, you're watching this place because of Sonic the Hedgehog. And you think he's real. So, is he... is he your ancestor?"
"My what?" She kept her eyes on the cards this time, but a raised eyebrow showed that she was not following.
"Your ancestor. You know, like your... are you related to him?"
The shuffling cards stopped. The girl's eyes grew as wide as saucers. Then, in an instant, the shock on her face melted into a burst of laughter. "Ha ha ha ha ha!" The pink hedgehog literally fell down, clutching her ribs. From the ground, she carried on in laughter.
"So you don't think he's your ancestor," Miles concluded. The girl was still laughing. Hard. After a moment, Miles cleared his throat. He repeated, more pointedly: "So. You don't think he's your ancestor."
"No!" the girl managed to shriek gleefully, her laughter dying down. "No, no, no!" She was still lying on her back, shaking her head and sporting a wild grin. "We can't be related, silly! I'm gonna be his WIFE!"
. . .
Huh. That was something. "I'm sorry?"
"Well," the pink hedgehog bit her finger sheepishly, "He hasn't exactly given me the ring or anything yet, but we are gonna get married someday soon! We're perfect for each other!"
Miles was at a complete loss for words. Throughout his years, since he was barely older than a baby, he had heard every story written about the character named Sonic the Hedgehog. Yes, the people telling those stories had sometimes sounded awestruck, perhaps enchanted with this mythical figure. And of course, he had to admit to himself that he often grew more obsessed with this speedy blue hedgehog than he needed to be. But until now, he had never, never never never, heard of a girl who thought that she could be MARRIED to a fictional character.
But then again, how fictional was he? Wasn't that the reason he had come here—to find out?
The girl was back on her feet now, dealing out her cards into a giant pile on the table before her. "I'm eight too, you know."
"Huh? How did you know..."
"You showed up on eight," Amy smiled matter-of-factly. "Eight, in the Flicky song."
"Well... yeah. I did."
"But you sure don't sound eight."
"Yeah. Wait, huh?"
"Is it because of those things, Tailguy?" Amy gestured to the two tails that dragged behind Miles.
That annoyed him a little. "No, it's not. I've had two tails my whole life. In case you're wondering, I haven't always talked like this."
"Have you always been eight?"
"No, I . . . ugggh."
The planet rumbled, ever so slightly.
"And I thought you weren't supposed to get two of 'em 'til a thousand years!"
This was impossible.
She had almost finished spreading the cards across the table, but her eyes kept falling back toward his twin tails, as if she wanted to complete her train of thought. "And that's how you found this place, isn't it? Sonic got here because he's super great, and I got here with my dowsing rod, and..."
"With your what? Did you say dowel rod?"
"...you must've got here 'cause those tails of yours have the dowsing shape, and they have your life energy, so they work like dowsing, so you could follow them to the Stones here! Is that how you did it, Tailguy?"
"They help you find all kinds of gems too, don't they? 'Cause Sonic can do it all himself and find the worlds between worlds where gems hide, but the rest of us have to use—"
"STOP! JUST STOP! Please!" Miles sighed. "Look, girl..."
Her hands propped against her hips proudly. "My name's not Girl! It's Amy Rose!"
His eyes rolled without Miles even realizing it. "Pleased to meet you, Amy Rose, not Girl. But I didn't come here just to chatter back and forth with some other kid. I came here..." he heaved another sigh, turning his back on the hedgehog girl and facing the jungle. "I don't know. I just thought I'd be able to find some answers here."
The fox heard only silence behind him. When he looked back to the center of the clearing, Rose was standing defiantly behind the table, a smile on her face. On the table, all of the cards had been spread out, face down. She waved her hand over them, invitingly. "The answers are ready now, if you still want 'em."
Miles stepped back toward the table. "Look, I'm not sure you can help me. I fought this guy a few days ago, his name was Robotnik. But he acted like he was..."
"Not those answers! Answers about who YOU are." Rose tapped a few of the facedown cards with her gloved fingers, mocking impatience. "You gotta pick THREE CARDS!"
Obediently, Miles reached for one of the cards.
"You can't LOOK at 'em!" Rose shrieked suddenly.
Miles recoiled in alarm, but his surprise dispersed with a sigh as soon as he registered the command. "I wasn't gonna!"
Rose nodded, satisfied. "Good. Now take three. It's called tarot. And it's spelled like "ta-rot", but the "T" is silent! Okay, three cards!"
The planet rumbled, ever so slightly.
Warily, Miles took a card into his hand, followed by two more. In a rhythmic sweep, Rose seized the cards from his fingers and lay them on her table, face-down and well spaced from each other. With a flourish, she then proceeded to deal out nine more cards on the table randomly—three above each of the cards Miles had selected himself. "Three-and-one, three-and-one, three-and-one," she chanted softly to herself.
Rose inhaled for a beat. "Now. Let's begin!" She moved to the four cards on Miles's left, flipping over the top three that she had dealt out.
"Hmm, this one looks scary!" Rose pointed to the middle card. All of the cards had illustrations of hedgehogs above their captions. THE WITCH was simple enough: a black, shadowy silhouette, showing the outline of an old woman hedgehog's head, complete with a conical "witch" hat.
"It's part of the Past, Miles," Rose entreated. "Do you remember?" The silhouette did seem familiar to Miles, in a sense. When he stared into it, it seemed as if… as if he could still hear the shrill laughter. And he could still see parts of it, too—he could still see his friends and neighbors, transforming into crystal before his very eyes. The laughter seemed to start fresh again, louder, each time it happened. And though the outline was clearly that of a hedgehog, Miles knew that she was actually of the same species as Dr. Robotnik.
"Witchcart," he mumbled. Wendy Witchcart. The memory did not seem nearly so frightening or tragic, once he began to think about how everyone had returned to normal afterward. He never figured out why the crystallization spell had not worked on him.
Amy gestured to the last card. "And this was your best fight so far, wasn't it?" she asked. THE WAR showed a picture of a ruined battlefield filled with armor-clad hedgehog warriors; some of them were still locked in struggle, while others had fallen. As Miles gazed at the image, those hedgehog warriors somehow reminded him of Battle Kukku soldiers and Flicky defenders. Yes. And as he thought about those times, he could still smell burned rope and gunpowder: a bomb's fuse working its way down. He could still remember the rhythmic crunch of his hammer, colliding with the lightweight, avian skull beneath it. And the napalm. Thick smoke rising from the burning grass, grass that would not look quite the same when it grew back. His own singed fur, from when it had gone off closer than he meant it to. Burning feathers and flesh, from when it had gone off exactly when he meant it to. The birds' shrieks of pain, slowly dying down to silence. Miles almost threw up, as he had back then. When it was all over, he had dumped most of those weapons into the ocean. It made him sick just thinking about them, much less looking at them. He would always remember the stench.
But you also remember how the Chaos Emeralds felt at first touch, can you not? You remember how even the common rings felt, once you first learned to absorb them?
The voice in his head—Flicky—was comforting him. He nodded in acknowledgement. Somehow, once the Rings and the Chaos Emeralds were factored in, everything changed in perspective. Things didn't seem as gritty, as dirty. As dark.
"Mmm-hmm," Rose voiced lightly, "I almost forgot about this first one. It was a long time ago, right?" Her finger brushed against THE STORM. This illustration did not have any hedgehog characters; it only showed a flooded landscape. Sheets of rain were crashing downward. A single, yellow lightning bolt struck at a diagonal, fiercely. And as Miles saw the rising water, as he saw the lightning, it was almost as if he could hear the roaring thunder. And beneath the thunder, he could hear their voices. Being so early in his life, it was a very frail memory, almost subconcious. He had been too young to remember much before it, or even much immediately after it, but critical memories had sometimes form islands of recognition in his mind. Early islands of memory. Falling down hard from one of his first flights, he had that memory. A certain person's face, looking into his eyes and laughing, trying to get him to laugh as well... he sort of had that memory. The rain, the lightning, hearing those familiar voices shouting something, hearing them one last time...
Miles struck the card off the table. "I need you to stop that. Whatever you're doing. Okay?" His face was turned to the ground, eyes shut tight.
Miles remained there with his eyes closed, part of him imagining that the darkness he saw could cover those memories he rarely cared to dwell on. After a moment of this, he heard Rose touch something on the table. He opened his eyes, and he saw that she had placed THE STORM back in its original place. She had also turned over the last card on his left, which was resting beneath the three that had just been revealed. It was the first card he had chosen himself.
It was a very young, fair-faced hedgehog boy. Above him, multiple orbs seemed to be floating magically. Orbs, or maybe they were just ordinary balls? Regardless of what they were, it made a chaotic scene. Yet the boy's almost-certain grin, the tongue sticking out of his mouth in deep concentration, showed that he had everything under control. In fact, it almost seemed as if he were manipulating some of the orbs himself.
Rose was smiling. "You got through it, huh?"
"But let's get to the Present now!" she squealed, in a voice that betrayed her obvious excitement. A quick hop set her at the center of the table now, standing over another set of three cards above one card. A swipe of her hand flipped over the top three cards almost simultaneously.
Miles tilted his head. "Are you dealing from the bottom of the deck?"
Rose bit her lip, her brow showing low-level signs of frustration. "That's so weird," she murmured. Then, her eyes brightened with a thought. "Hey! It's not so weird if you did something really important, three times in a row, really close together, and it was maybe just before you came here! Did something like that happen?"
"Umm... actually, yeah." Miles scratched the fur on the side of his temple. The illustration on every THE MACHINE card was exactly the same. A single, large grey cog, set on a black background. Yes, it was a cog, like the gear of a giant watch. When Miles looked at it the right way, though, the circular shape almost gave it the appearance of an oval, or maybe an egg. The black background also had a strange effect on the image, making it seem as though the circular contraption were suspended in the darkness of space. "Yeah, I guess something like that did happen."
Rose smiled, pleased with herself.
"But that second one," Miles jabbed a finger on the middle card, eclipsing the gear picture beneath it, "that second one, it happened REALLY fast. Like, it should be all blue behind it instead of black, 'cause it wasn't even in space yet."
Rose's scowl was only half serious. "It's not a perfect picture, silly! Just, a perfect fortune!" After a gloatful dipping of her head, she turned over the last card of the Present, the one Miles had chosen.
The hedgehog character in this picture stood stalwart, adorned in silver armor and wielding a magnificent shield and sword. Behind him in the image, there were a number of other hedgehogs with their arms raised in cheer. They were much smaller due to the perspective of the background, but something about the way they stood, made it seem that the cheering arms might have actually been propping up the hero in the foreground.
Her accuracy thus far is impressive, though it raises questions. For example, Miles, I do not believe most of these cards are authentic tarot.
Rose's left ear twitched. After a furtive glance to her left and then her right, she leaned toward Miles and held her hand sideways to her mouth, whispering: "Her fortune's always boring! It's like those three cards in a row you got, only it happens all the time, the same thing over and over!" She giggled.
Miles thought he heard a snort. He ignored it, choosing instead to divide his attention between Rose and the last four cards on his right. "And that means these are the Future?"
"You bet!" she exclaimed. "Future, Future, Future," she narrated, turning each card over in turn.
Without waiting, she then revealed the final card.
Miles studied the four cards. The first three had relatively generic scenes... a hedgehog woman restraining the jaw of some beast, an angel-like hedgehog pouring water into a chalice, a hedgehog queen on a throne with a sword... they all seemed very calm, very positive events.
The planet rumbled, ever so slightly.
The final card depicted a muscular hedgehog on one knee, holding the weight of an actual planet on his shoulders. From the three-and-one way Rose had set the cards up, it sort of looked like the character on the final card was holding the other three cards on his shoulder as well. Miles stared into the character's face. There was something very grave, yet very stoic about the line of his mouth. Something very enduring, and very resigned to the way things were.
"No," Miles mumbled. "No, that's not," he shook his head. "That's not how it goes. That isn't how it's... it's not supposed to be that way."
He stuck his finger on the center of the table, tapping THE MACHINE cards that were still in place. "Look, it got finished right here."
"Are you okay?"
"It got finished RIGHT HERE. One, two, three, just like you said. And that too, over there." His fingers brushed back against the cards on his left—the Past cards—briefly. "And those were done, and these were done, and yeah it's okay if there are some more over here." He gestured again to the most recent four cards, the ones to his right. "There can be some more over there, sure..."
"No, shut up. You shut up." The fox closed his eyes, clenching to avoid a floodgate of tears. "There can be some more like that, but they have to stop after a while." With a conscious effort, he managed to open his eyes without them spilling over. "And, after enough of those things being stopped, then you get these." He tapped the top three cards this time, the FORTITUDE, TEMPERANCE, and JUSTICE ones. "You get these, but it came from all the other stuff before it, right?"
"Hey, stop yelling!"
"I'm not yelling."
"You're talking fast with that voice like you're mad at me! It's just as bad as yelling!"
"I'm just saying that it came from all the other stuff before it, so you don't need this." He struck the final card, below the other three. He tried not to look at the character's face. "You don't need this one here."
Rose crossed her arms, and her eyes narrowed. "Just because you beat a bunch of bad guys doesn't mean you get to bully me around, Miles!"
"It's just that this last card isn't right, Rosy. That's all."
"Don't call me Rosy! And YOU'RE the wrong one!" Shifting from her right to left, Rose gestured to the table in front of her. "It doesn't matter if you don't like the cards, Miles! They don't tell you what to do! They only say the kinda stuff that you're gonna do anyway!" Now it was Rose who was gesturing to the Past and Present cards. "No one told you to beat this lady or these guys! And when the Eggman came, no one told you to go and beat him neither!"
"No, but someone had to do it!" Now Miles actually had started to raise his voice, matching Rose's volume.
"Don't you yell at me Miles don't you yell at me! I'm being nice to you, so you gotta be nice to me! You gotta be nice to me, Miles!"
Miles Prower. Do not dare disrespect this girl.
Until now, Miles had been concentrating on keeping his own tears from showing themselves. But now he caught a glimpse of Rose's face; and, it seemed to him that her scowl had been carved from stone. To all appearances it was pure rage, no nonsense. But the rest of her body, from her stiff shoulders to her clenched fists, was noticeably trembling. His first thought was that perhaps she was holding back tears herself; his second realization was that, in the midst of his tantrum, he really had hurt her feelings.
Miles sighed, craning his neck upward and gazing into the sky. He suddenly felt very tired. "Look, I... I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be mean to you."
"I don't even know why you're mad!" Rose jumped back in, "If you don't like any of this stuff, then why're you doing it?"
"Why am I...?"
"No one made you fight that human lady, and no one made you fight that chicken..."
"Battle Kukku. It was an armada."
"...and no one made you fight the Eggman!"
His breathing was starting to slow down now, though the occasional chill still ran through his body. "I already told you that someone had to..."
Rose's gloved finger was bearing down on Miles. "Someone has to do something, and someone else has to do something else! But you were the one who did THIS!" She was shuffling the remainder of her deck again, her eyes upon each card as if it were a document. "You're running fast, spinning in a ball, and breaking the bad machines. And it's not my cards that's makin' you do it, Miles!"
. . .
"I just wanted to be like Sonic, to do what he did in the stories."
Rose threw her arms out, taken aback. "So what's wrong with that?"
Miles looked downward, shaking his head. "I didn't think I'd have to do it forever. I didn't think I'd have to be like THAT guy." His eyes fell again on that card of the hedgehog who was holding up a world.
Rose tilted her head in confusion, as if Miles had been speaking a foreign language. "But isn't that the really cool part? When your life's over, you can look back on it, and you can say: 'I did it all by myself!' That's the good part."
"No, it's not." Miles exhaled with a fake laugh. "I've changed a lot since I started trying to be like Sonic. It's not about doing stuff myself. I've been doing that most of my life. That's not the kinda stuff that really matters, Rosy."
"Hey, I told you! Don't call me Rosy like I'm a little kid!"
Miles really hadn't meant to do that. "Sorry, Amy. It was an accident."
Rose raised her snout disdainfully. "I'm not a little kid anymore. Amy is my real name. Rosy is a little kid's name. If you keep calling me names, I'm not gonna finish the fortune!"
Miles was not trying to hit a nerve, but apparently he had. He chuckled, still sniffing a little from his near-cry a moment ago. "Well you know what? Being a little kid, it's not that bad. So don't grow up too fast. Okay?" He laughed softly again, shaking his head. Rose had just threatened to withold the rest of the fortune. If there was anything still left, that is. "Heh. I didn't even come here for my fortune."
"Oh?" Rose's arms were still crossed. In fact, she still looked cross herself. Yet she continued, "What DID you come here for?"
Miles wiped away a rogue tear that had dropped into his fur a moment earlier. But when he heard the question, he laughed again. "I told you. I came to get answers. About that fat guy I faced. He called himself Eggman."
Rose's smirk seemed dubious. "You really want me to tell you about that stinky Eggman?"
Miles shrugged. "I just... he seemed to take himself so seriously, like the Legend was true and he was a part of it. And you act that way too. And there're these Flicky birds. And I just wanna find out if the guy was just a nutcase or if he was really a real Eggman, because..."
"Because...?" Amy gestured her hands in a waving motion, prodding Miles. "Because what you REALLY wanna know about is..."
At breakneck speed, Rose scooped her arms from the sides of the table inward, shifting every card into a single stack within the center—every card except one of the cards from Miles's Past section. She then placed three new cards, facedown, on the table: one to the right of the stack, one on top of the stack, and one to the left of the stack. She turned all three faceup.
Miles's ears perked upward in curiosity. "What's this? The rest of my fortune?"
Rose's voice was crisp, authoritative, and it carried the slightest hint of you're-not-so-smart. "You wanted answers about Sonic? Well, they're right here!"
THE LEGEND showed another generic hero hedgehog, this time with armor that looked somehow more ancient. THE TRAVELER showed a hedgehog character walking down a trail, carrying a stick and toting some sort of backpack. This card was on top of the stack Rose had made out of Miles's fortune cards from before. THE CONFRONTATION showed two warriors, preparing to engage each other in combat. The fiery scenery behind the warriors gave the scene a final, apocalyptic feel.
"You know about time travel?" she asked flatly.
"Uhh..." How could he answer that kind of question?
Rose pointed to THE LEGEND and said, "5000 years ago, Sonic came to the Miracle Planet and saved the animals." She pointed to the stack of cards holding THE TRAVELER and said, "Just a little while ago, Sonic ran through again." She pointed to THE CONFRONTATION and said, "In 5000 years, he's gonna come back and beat the Eggman." Placing her hands on her hips, Rose seemed to heave her entire body in a nod of finality. "Past. Present. Future."
. . .
Miles tried to understand what was being said. "So. So Sonic really was here already? That wasn't just, like a metaphor?"
Rose bobbed her head up and down, her grin widening. "He even held me in his arms, before he ran off with sparks, into the future! Glittery sparks!" Rose spun on the tip of her toe, a new bounce in her voice as she recounted the event. Posed with hands palm-down beneath her chin, she blinked repeatedly, eyelashes fluttering.
The fox turned toward the palms surrounding the clearing. He still needed a moment. "Today?"
The girl laughed. "I already told you, silly! Not today. Last summer!"
. . .
"That's not my name, TAILGUY!"
"Amy! I mean Amy, sorry. But Amy, that fat guy. If he was Eggman, then that means that while Sonic's running into the future... Eggman stayed behind or something?"
Rose nodded, hopeful that Miles was starting to understand. "Sonic ran to the Future, but Eggman stayed here! But it's funny, 'cause he just came back a little bit before you did..."
He stayed behind, Miles. As Sonic traveled forward into the unknown Future, the Eggman saw that he could remain in the Present instead of following. He believed that he could rule the world uncontested. And by the time five thousand years had passed, and Sonic returned back to the timeline...
"...it would be too late." Miles really was beginning to understand now. "But that's not what happened."
Because of you, Miles.
He turned back toward Rose. "But you said he came back here? Just ahead of me?"
"Mmm-hmm," Rose bobbed her head affirmingly. "He came back here, flew past me without seein', and zoomed right into the Future." She scratched her head. "He was yelling about something. But he yells all the time!"
You stalled the Eggman's progression here, Miles. He has fled forward, to take his chances against Sonic again.
If that was true, then Miles felt it was a monumentally stupid decision to make on the Eggman's part. Would the doctor really have an easier time in the future, against... well, against the Legend himself? How did that even make sense?
Do not underestimate your own talents, young Miles. After being so soundly defeated by you three times in succession, the Eggman felt it best to find a new course, to face the hero who has only bested him once thus far.
Miles froze. "Huh? So you can read my thoughts in there, too?"
Rose was hopping in place, trying to get the fox's attention. "And he had to go into the Future! He has to finish the fight with Sonic!" Again, she pointed to THE CONFRONTATION, to Miles's right. "It's time travel, Miles. It's because of the Miracle Planet! Look, I showed you your fortune here, right? And I showed you Sonic's fortune that we know about here. But that's just the part of Sonic's fortune! It's only the part that we can SEE! Look it."
At the moment, the Past side of the table only held Sonic's card for THE LEGEND and one of Miles's cards. The Present part of the table had almost all of Miles's cards stacked up, with Sonic's card for THE TRAVELER on top. The Future side of the table had only Sonic's card for THE CONFRONTATION.
"This is the part that we see, you and me, right now. But it's not how it really is! It's not how SONIC sees it!" With that declaration, she swept up THE LEGEND and THE CONFRONTATION, placing them within the huge stack in the middle, the stack that was topped by THE TRAVELER. She then placed a new card on Miles's left.
Amy explained, "This is Sonic's real Past." The card showed a young hedgehog, standing in the midst of hills. The entire scene was natural, filled with unspoiled greenery. It invoked feelings of beginning, of promise for the future. Rose had said the card was Sonic's true past, but something about it seemed like the origin of the world entire. She flipped a new card, this time on Miles's right.
Amy explained again, "Sonic's real Future." The hedgehog in this image was remarkably similar to the one in that CHAMPION card that Miles had picked earlier (the one currently buried somewhere beneath Sonic's THE TRAVELER). However, instead of having armor, shield, and spear, this hedgehog character was shown unarmed and unadorned. Also, THE CHAMPION had given the appearance that cheering bystanders were somehow holding up the card's character. There were still cheering hedgehogs on THE HERO card, but on this one... well, it was difficult to tell if the card's character even knew they were there.
Miles stared at THE HERO admiringly. "It's almost like an accident, isn't it?" He looked up toward Amy, losing track of his smile. "It's like... like a waterfall or something, just going through. And when it goes through, everything's better because of it."
Rose giggled into her hand.
That was Sonic the Hedgehog. And a part of Miles had always wanted to be like that. It had not quite worked out that way, but who could say whether that was a bad thing?
GENESIS. THE TRAVELER. THE HERO.
"Hey. How come Sonic's fortune only has a few cards for the Past and the Future? And also... if all of my fortune is underneath that TRAVELER card," Miles asked, "then what's it gonna look like when the TRAVELER part is done?" There was still one card from Miles's Past on the table, but the rest had become a part of Sonic's time travel stack. "Do I have a new Past and Future too?"
Rose wrinkled her brow. "It's kinda complicated. Did you wanna know more about Sonic's real fortune, or did you wanna know more about your real fortune?"
"'Cause it's kinda hard to do it, with one or the other."
That did not seem to make sense. "What do you mean?" Miles asked, raising his own eyebrow.
Rose straightened, as if a lightbulb had just gone off above her head. "Hey, I know! I'll do it like this!" With the flick of her wrists, a stream of cards flooded into the Past and Future sections of the table. They stacked on one another so quickly that it was impossible for Miles to see all of them. Naturally, his eyes shifted to the Future half of the table.
The cards kept coming. What was Rose doing? Maybe some of them were Sonic's and some of them were his?
THE INNER BEAST
That was the last one on the stack.
The picture did not have any hedgehogs in it, showing instead two links of a chain, set together. At least, Miles assumed it was two links of a chain; the drawing was very stylistic. When he studied the circles more closely, it was difficult to tell where one link ended and the other began. It was almost as if they were actually just a single piece bound around itself, like an elaborate mobius strip. When he looked back up at Rose, he saw that she had been staring at him.
"I can't tell you just your fortune, or just his fortune," she smiled, "without telling you both of them. Your life and his, they're stuck together. He's the right arm, and you're the left."
Miles was in shock. His throat was parched. "So... so this happens? This happens when Sonic comes back?"
Rose bit her lip.
"Oh, but he can't come back, right? Because he's going to the Future, and we're going to the Future too..."
"...except we're going a lot slower!" she finished.
Miles had pieced it all together now. "So he is going to come back to our time. But when he does, then everything's gonna start over after that? Right? I mean, if he comes back to the same time he left, and stays with us from there?"
She nodded, "Then everything after that will be changed! It'll all be different, only with Sonic here!"
"So this conversation we're having won't exist anymore."
"And... when I beat Eggman three times? And Witchcart, and the Kukku?"
"Did you do all that after last summer?"
"Well, yeah." Miles's eighth year of life had been an incredibly dangerous one.
"Then nope, it's gone too!" Rose sounded pleased and pleasant.
The planet rumbled, ever so slightly. Then it rumbled again. Louder.
Miles considered crumbling to the ground. He shook his head in wonder. "So it's all going to disappear? Everything I did?" His eyes raised back toward Rose, imploringly. "Then why does any of it matter? Any of the stuff you do or I do, why should we even care, if it's just all going to go away!"
"No, it's not like that!" Rose shook her head. "Don't you remember? Sonic's gonna come back!"
"Well yeah, in 5000 years!"
And when he does return, Miles, he will find a world that has not been enslaved by the Eggman or his descendants. There, already, is a difference your actions have made. There, already, is an evident purpose.
Miles gazed through the palm branches above him, toward the blue sky. He stepped away from Rose and the tarot table, taking steps to the border area between the clearing and the jungle. He laughed, just a little. He laughed again. "Sonic. So it... it really IS all about Sonic, isn't it?"
Rose was beaming. As she was about to say something in confirmation, though, the planet rumbled fiercely beneath her.
The chain, Miles. You have your answers.
"Right!" Miles answered. After so much conversation, so much trauma and exhausting revelation, it almost felt nice to shift his body and senses back to crisis mode.
Rose was confused. "What's she talking about?"
It was strange that Flicky somehow had the power to communicate with Miles inside his mind. But it was beyond bizarre, that Rose seemed to somehow be able to eavesdrop. Miles pointed from the direction he came, into the distance beyond the Little Planet. "Eggman must've done some stuff to this place when he first got here, and it's messing things up now. The Little Planet's supposed to only show up once a year. But there's a chain holding it to the rest of the world, so we gotta get rid of it. And since Robotni—I mean Eggman—since Eggman was here, he probably left behind some..." Miles scanned the area around them. Sure enough, near the border of the clearing, Miles spotted a machine that looked like a giant ant mixed with a unicycle. A badnik. "We gotta pop those things open too, so we can free the animals."
Miles heard a stomp upon the dirt. When he turned back, Rose was crossing her arms defiantly. Since he had walked away from the table, she was now a fair distance from him. "We're not doing that, Miles!"
"Sonic's gonna come back here in the Future. He's gonna come back right here! And when he does, everything has to be just the way it was when he left!"
Miles coughed. "Are you insane? The Little Planet's already been chained up too long! If it stays this way, it could tear apart! Then what's Sonic gonna do?"
"He's gonna... hmm..." Rose looked as if she had not thought of that.
"Look, Amy," Miles pleaded, "Sonic went to the Past already, right?"
"So when he came out, the Little Planet wasn't chained anymore, was it?"
As Rose considered this, the ground rumbled once again, much more fiercely than before. Miles and Rose worked to keep their balance. But the young hedgehog hadn't stopped considering Miles's question.
Her eyes widened in amazement. "No! It wasn't chained!"
Miles smiled. "So it won't hurt Sonic if we break the chain now and stop the Little Planet from being destroyed. Right?"
"Right, okay. So first we pop all these badniks open. Then, we find where the chain's attached to." Schemes and strategies were already formulating in the fox's head.
But Rose shrieked, "Not the robots! The robots have to stay the way they are!"
This girl was insane. "Why?" Miles shouted his question over a new set of rumblings, which did not seem to be dying down this time.
Rose shouted back, "Because they're not for us to break! They're for Sonic!"
The rumbling was getting louder.
Miles yelled, "But there's living animals in there, Amy! We can't let them stay badniks for thousands of years!"
"It's okay Miles, don't worry! They're not even animals! They're plants! So it doesn't matter!"
Miles could not quite explain why he was so angry with Rose, after that remark. He did not think there was any reason he should be offended or enraged... but for some reason he was. Yet there was no time to dwell on that. "Plants are living things too, Amy!" he shouted once more. The rumbling was getting louder.
"No!" Rose protested. "We can break the chain, but we can't change the robots! They have to stay just the way they were when Sonic left!"
One of the badniks was not far from Rose's left now, rolling around on its unicycle body idly. There was no time to waste on arguing with this little girl. "Look, Amy! I'm supposed to keep things right around here until Sonic gets back! I know you don't like it, but it's gotta be done. I'm sorry!" With that, he began trotting toward the badnik. An easy spin attack would break the badnik open, bouncing Miles further away from the clearing so that...
What was Rose doing? In his peripheral vision, Miles saw that the young hedgehog's own eyes had grown to saucer size again. She was staring at something other than Miles. Rose's mouth had shifted into a decidedly "o" shape, a shape that was now expanding into a gaping jaw, which would undoubtedly be screaming soon. Seemingly in slow motion, Miles saw Rose raise her hand, clearly about to point at something Miles did not see. She moved her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. She was apparently stunned with fear, too terrified to shout a warning.
But Miles did not need a shouted warning. Seeing her face was enough. Miles leapt to his left side, hoping to avoid any shot or swipe that might have been aimed at where he was standing. Then he spun to face the new threat, to see what danger Rose had spotted behind him...
...and he saw nothing. Nothing was there.
CLANK!From the other side of the jungle, Miles heard the sound of metal being crushed. Then he felt the ground bump beneath him, once more, as the rumblings stopped. The clouds in the sky seemed to be getting closer.
"She? The chain?" he mumbled softly. So Rose had known where the chain was all along. But how had she moved to it so quickly? And how had she managed to break those iron bonds, apparently in a single stroke? "AMY!" Miles screamed, running to where he thought the sound of the impact had come from. "AMY! WHERE ARE YOU?"
He found her, standing proudly over what had been the connection between this world and the one Miles and Rose came from. She seemed surprised to see him. "Miles? You've gotta go now! Miracle Planet's going back!"
Miles leapt to the air in a somersault, then unrolled his body. His twin tails caught a gust of wind and began spinning, lifting the rest of him into the air. "Jump and grab my hand, Amy!" he screamed, offering it to her. "I can get us out of here!"
Amy shook her head, laughing above the sounds of the Planet shifting beneath them. "You gotta go by yourself, silly goose!" she answered. "I've gotta wait for Sonic!"
What did she say? "Amy, come on! You told me yourself that Sonic's not coming back, not for us! He's not coming back for 5000 years! We'll be DEAD by then! C'mon, and we'll watch the world for when he gets back! We'll stop the bad guys together! And, and... and we'll train other people, we'll train kids to keep the world safe for Sonic after we're gone! You'll train the girls and I'll train the boys! And then they'll train other kids later on..."
"That's YOUR fortune, Tails!" Amy smiled lovingly from her spot near the shattered chain, the fierce winds of a rising Planet streaming past her. "I promised Sonic that I'm gonna wait forever for him, so that's what's happening!"
You are running out of time now, Miles.
"Amy! Please, Amy! We can wait for Sonic together!" As the wind grew stronger, Miles's tails spun furiously to keep him aloft and steady. Rain began to fall now, merging with the tears that returned to Miles's eyes. "It's just that, if Knuckles is on his island, and you're on this place, and..." He could hardly see anything in the growing rainfall, but both of his arms were still outstretched, desperate. "Amy! I... I just don't wanna do this alone anymore! I CAN'T do this alone! I CAN'T!"
A hand grabbed his arm.
Miles stammered, cutting his pleadings short. "Amy?" Another hand grabbed his other arm. Miles squinted through the rain to see her. And there she was.
Every bit of Rose's face was urgent. Her hands tightened over Miles's arms, and she shook him. She shook him with all of her strength. "NO ONE'S ALONE!" she screamed. "NO ONE'S ALONE! YOU HEAR ME MILES PROWER? NO! ONE'S! ALONE!"
For a moment they remained there, suspended in the air. She stared Miles down. He tried to hold back his sobbing again, to meet her gaze. Reluctantly, he met it with a series of nods.
She let go, leaping to the Planet beneath her.
And then they were gone.