Chapter 3A:

Lost and Found


-0-

Time: Present Day, 1:50 PM.

Place: Angel Island, Marble Garden Zone.

-0-

Omochao had always said that the Red Guy was nice deep down, and Cheese had, at least to some degree, believed that. He hadn't punched around any chao with those huge fists of his at any rate, and he hadn't been openly mean to anyone in front of him. He was sure if he'd truly gotten to know him, Cheese may have really grown to like him, and not just think he was 'cool' or 'tough' or 'reliable' like he had once thought before.

'Once' thought because of the way he was glaring at his new friend, and speaking to her like she was some sort of threat. Some sort of enemy that needed to be eliminated.

If Cream hadn't been so close to the edge, she probably would have run, he surmised. Grabbed him and flown to safety as fast as her ears could carry them. Not that it would have made much of a difference with the Red Guy's speed and strength, but she would have at least done something, rather than stand around with her eyes wide and mouth agape while she floundered for something to say other than 'um' and 'uh'.

"Um...I'm um...um..."

"Look kid," The Red Guy crossed his arms. "If you think you're getting anywhere with this frightened little girl routine, you're not."

"Not tryin' to!" The rabbit shot back. As though she remembered something important, she covered her mouth with both hands as her eyes widened, though the tears that started to spill down her cheeks were unmistakeable.

"Right. You're just some little girl, who just so happened to get onto an island that few surface dwellers have ever found, much less survived the journey. Next you're going to tell me that you're a magical princess from a fairy kingdom, and that everything you touch will turn into candy."

"..."

That wasn't fair. He hadn't even heard Cream's story! From the looks of it, he didn't even seem to want to, pushing and prodding for something that Cheese wasn't really aware of. Wasn't what she said good enough? Cream wasn't the sort of person to lie, after all!

The Red Guy's glare was hard, and Cream's body was shaking.

He had to do something!

Bouncing into the air, Cheese flitted closer to the Red Guy, crossing his arms in defiance.

"[She came from Knothole!]" He insisted. "[An' she is lost! She told me so!]"

Violet eyes widened for a moment, though Cheese wasn't sure why, before they lowered and became angry slits.

"[You actually spoke to her?]" the Red Guy asked, switching to Cheese's own—and his native—language on the fly.

"[Uh-huh.]" Cheese puffed out his chest proudly. "[She understood me, too.]"

He wasn't sure why the Red Guy looked so perturbed; well, Omochao did say that people from the outside couldn't talk like them, but Cream understood him, so that meant he was wrong! He probably didn't like being proven wrong. That had to be it!

"[That's impossible,] the Red Guy said, [Outsiders can't speak our language.]"

"[You can speak theirs.]" Cheese retorted.

"[I was taught. You weren't. Chao may be able to understand others, but that doesn't mean she is able to understand you.]"

"[Well maybe outsiders could speak like us! 'Cause she can understand me and can prolly understand you, an'...]"

The Red guy didn't even seem to notice him at this point. Staring over Cheese's shoulder at Cream, who had managed to walk forward a few steps with some newfound courage, he placed his oversized hands at his hips.

"[Let's try this as a little test, then.]" His words were slow now, speaking to Cream as one would a particularly stupid child. "[Do you understand what I'm saying, Outsider?]"

Cream nodded. "Uh...uh-huh. I can, um...Monsieur Red Guy, Sir."

Even though it had been he who said it, he looked really confused. Was Cream not supposed to understand? Or was it 'cause all outsiders weren't like what he thought?

"[...You can understand me.]" It wasn't so much a question rather than a statement, but with the way his face was looking, it might as well have been a question.

Again, Cream nodded. "Ou-oui, I understand you, sir."

"[...How?]"

"I...I don't know. All I know is that I woke up, and then Cheese talked to me, and I could understand what he was saying even though he talked all funny." She paused. "I know that um...that people not from here can't do that. You told Cheese that too, but...but..."

Cheese hugged Cream's leg, patting on it to give her some sort of comfort, even as the tears were starting to come and the sniffles were growing louder, louder, and louder...

"I don't know what's going on..."

Her speaking had grown to a higher, fevered pitch, almost a wail; Cheese's new friend held her face in her hands and sobbed, shaking her head and letting her ears flap to and fro.

"[It's okay!]" Cheese fluttered upwards and touched her shoulder. "[Everything'll be fine! Just don't cry, okay?]"

"Just wanna find my friends..." She sniffled once, hiccuping and breathing in—all it really did was make her speech more incomprehensible to Cheese, though from the wet tones and occasional coughs he was able to at least make some of it out. "Just wanna find my friends and go home, honest. I didn't mean to make you mad, Monsieur Red Guy, didn't mean to do something wrong..."

The switch to common didn't even seem to give any effort to the Red Guy.

"You keep telling me that you want to find your friends, and that you didn't mean to make me mad, but you still haven't explained how you got here. Do you can think you can manage that?" The Red Guy touched his head with a sour grimace. "With minimal crying?"

Cream looked up with a loud sniffle and gave him a small nod.

"Uh...uh-huh."

"All right...so talk. How the hell did you manage to get on this Island, if you and your friends are so 'innocent'."

Cream gasped, and it was almost as though she was going to step back, but she thought better of it. Her eyes grew to the size of saucers.

"You...you said a bad word!"

Now the Red Guy really did look confused. Maybe a little annoyed, too. "...What?"

"You said a bad word, Monsieur Red Guy! The 'h' word!" Cream repeated. "You're not supposed to say bad words, because if you do, then you'll get your mouth washed out with soap and go to bed without supper. Papa said so!"

"[I don't believe this...]" The Red Guy growled now, shaking his head even after his palm slapped it. "Fine. I won't use it again, all right? Just...just answer me. Please."

What word did the Red Guy say that was bad? He seemed to understand, but Cheese sure didn't. Maybe it was a non-chao thing? But it seemed to perk Cream right up, and she was even giving him a smile.

"Amy wanted to show us somethin'." She said. "Amy wanted to show us somethin' cool, so she took us into the forest."

"And who's Amy?" he asked. "One of your 'friends'?"

"Uh-huh. She's...she's a hedgehog, all pink and pretty, and she uses a big hammer to hit stuff when she's mad."

"Okay..." That was the tone that Omochao used when he wasn't happy about something—but if he got mad and tried to get all scary with Cream again, Cheese would definitely protect her. Yeah. "Go on."

"Well, she tol' us it was cool, so we went into the forest and it was really scary! Like, it was dark and it looked like there were monsters there, but I wasn't scared at all, because I knew Amy and Tails would protect me! So when we looked for it, Amy couldn't find it, and she decided to use her pretty rock on a chain to go and find it..."

-0-

Time: Present Day, 1:52 PM.

Place: Angel Island, Lava Reef Zone.

-0-

"This is the last time I'm ever letting you look at machinery when we're lost, Miles Prower!"

"ME?" A splash, followed by an angry slap of fur against an even wetter hard surface. "You're the one it grabbed!"

"But I wouldn't have been grabbed if you hadn't looked at it!"

"It came up when my hand moved by it! If I'd just walked past it, I woulda been grabbed and gone off and you wouldn'ta known where to find me!"

"Urgh..."

"I'm right, aren't I?"

A stomp of a soaked foot on stone answered that question.

The fox glared at the pink hedgehog with a huff, slinging the bag the girl had been carrying over his shoulder before turning away.

"At least Mecha-Tails isn't wet." Thank the world for small favors, though for the life of him, Tails couldn't be too certain as of how. Maybe it was how tightly it was pressed against Amy's dress—the bits of it that weren't soaked anyway. "That woulda been bad if it got submerged somehow."

"Yeah. Too bad you can't say the same about yourself."

Tails snorted, before a wicked gleam formed in his eye.

"Well," he said with a chuckle, "It's been a while since I last took a bath."

...And then with that, he stepped close to Amy and shook himself out hard, sending water flying everywhere that wasn't on himself and quite possibly soaking her even more than she already was.

"EEEEK!"

"What? I'm just drying off! You said I was soaked, Amy!"

"And now I'm soaked!" Amy paused, shooting Tails a look. "And stop grinnin' like that! It's not funny!"

The fox coughed once, shaking his head before throwing her a mock-innocent stare. "I didn't do nothin', Amy. You're just imaginin' things!"

"...Riiiight." Oversized blue shoes (now soaked through and firmly on the girl's feet) squelched against the brick as the pink one moved to stand next to her companion. "What exactly was that?"

"Dunno. I guess a security mechanism or somethin'. Aunt Sally told me that some machines sorta work on motion, and if you go too close, they go off. Maybe that's what it was?"

For some reason, the hedgehog turned away. "So the security here's just throwing us down a slide and into...into...here?"

"I didn't say it made sense." He snorted and stuck out his tongue. "Still...where the heck are we?"

Wherever they were, it was hot. Hot and rocky and dark, with enough heat in the air to dry out a decent amount of Tails' fur within the span of a few minutes (well, what wasn't replaced with sweat, anyway, but even that was drying fast). The tiniest glow of red in the distance revealed hints of some platforms with something...something steaming sitting between them, and some slides that led who-knew where.

A network of caverns, perhaps?

"Dunno...I can't see a thing." Amy started to take a small step forward, but then decided against it for some reason.

"Maybe we're in a mountain?"

"Why would a water slide drop us into a mountain, Tails?" Did she really have to roll her eyes? "That's just stupid."

"Then where do you think we are?" Tails asked.

A foot-stomp in retaliation. Of course. "I said, I dunno!"

The fox let out a sigh and ran his fingers through his head-fur. With a shake of his head, he was already reaching one arm back and digging through his backpack for that familiar feel of metal.

"Then," he shook his head. Where was it...? "We should go look! That's what Sonic and Aunt Sally would do."

"But what if we can't get out?" She fanned herself with one hand. "I'm hot."

"Me too." Ah, there it was! "But we can't sit here, can we?"

A shake of the head. "Nuh-uh."

"Maybe we'll find somethin'. Or maybe someone'll tell us where we are. All that stuff has to be there for a reason, right?"

Maybe they'd get back before the adults sent a search party, wherever they were. Cream had to be down there grabbing them right that minute, and it was their luck that they had to be thrown into some mountain with no clear exit and no certain way for anyone to pinpoint them.

Well, they'd think of something.

Still...

He glanced upwards.

There had to be something up there. The faintest glow of red was all he had to go by, but from the shadows above them, it was clear that the roof at least wasn't a short one, and there'd at least be enough room to do a minor aerial scouting. Though the tinge with red, the soft light that cast those shadows...

He rubbed his arms and shook his head.

"Hey, Amy."

"Yeah?"

He glanced behind him to the source of the response, but there was no pink hedgehog in sight. Where did she-?

His heart quickened a little and he sucked in a breath.

"Amy?"

It's fine. She's probably not lost or anything—she sounds okay, so it's probably—

"Up here!"

Up? His eyes scrolled up to 40 degrees, 60 degrees...where...?

Ah! Up and to the right! He should have probably guessed that, but considering the lack of light, it was entirely possible that he had overlooked her. Hammer in hand and legs dangling from her seat on a ledge about ten feet up, she smiled at him with a wave.

"I think I found something up here!" Standing once more, legs seemed to plant into the rock to keep her balance. "Like a secret entrance or something."

A swish of the tails and he was airborne, by her side in seconds as he strained his eyes for a closer look. Sure enough, there it was: a stone opening, about the size of that air vent that he and Sonic had crawled through, when he had demanded he tag along to Robotropolis. There wasn't much to go by, but he thought he saw-

"Is that another room?"

"Looks like it. Wanna see where it goes?"

"Amy, Maybe I should look around first, see if that's a goo-"

"Great!" To his chagrin, she was already halfway through the hole, with only her legs sticking out. "Then you go check it out, I'll go in here..."

"Amy, wait!"

A small sound in the back of Amy's throat, the stiffening of her legs. Her hammer flew through the hole and her legs along with it, hardly giving the fox time to react.

"Amy?" He called. "Amy, what—"

"Get in here!" She must have already been well on the other side, because the muffle made him strain his ears to hear.

"But-"

"There's someone here! Hurry!"

The fox couldn't go through that hole fast enough.

-0-

Time: Present Day, 1:53 PM.

Place: Angel Island, Marble Garden Zone.

-0-

Monsieur Red Guy was scary. And mean, too! Even as she told her story, being perfectly honest like her Papa always taught her to be, his violet eyes were nothing but slits, foot tapping and knuckled hand resting on his hip. Those knuckle-things were coming out pretty far, too...did they hurt? They must have, though he didn't seem to mention anything...

Well, maybe that's why he was so grumpy and said bad words? Because his hands hurt and that would be a perfectly reasonable explanation (isn't that how Tails would have put it? He and Amy always used big words, even when Cream didn't understand them all that well) for being like that. Cheese had said that he wasn't a bad person, so it had to be true...

Cream didn't want to cry. Honest, she didn't. She tried to hold back her tears, not hiccup and be grown-up and everything! She'd cried before, but crying was for little kids, and in a bad situation, Sonic and Sally didn't cry! Why, Tails didn't cry, and he was even in the same room with creepy ol' Robotnik!

But still, she'd cried in front of Monsieur Red Guy and still cried now, and she could feel the tears spill down her cheeks as she tried her best to recount every detail...

"A-and the pole was thin with a pretty little bulb at the end, tall like those bouncy mushrooms that I played on with Cheese! Except those were fun and not scary, and looked like trees. And um...um..."

Don't pay attention to his face, don't pay attention to his face! Keep focused on the story! Don't cry!

"Ummm...the circle had a big star on it, and it was shining a lot, just like Tails's glowy rock."

"Any particular reason why it was glowing?"

He didn't sound mad. Maybe that was a good thing?

"Um. Um. I don't know." She sniffled. "B-but Tails's rock was glowing and it was glowing, and Amy said it didn't look like this when she saw it last time, so that must mean that it was differe-"

"Ugh, get to the point!"

Oh, he was mad now! He glared at her and talked in a scary voice and everything!

"Don't yell at me!" Oh, that was it. She was crying now. Hard, too, with her ears covering her eyes and everything! So much for being adult.

"[Yeah!]" She could feel Cheese sit on her shoulder—his little hands grabbing on one of her ears. "[Stop yelling at her!]"

A sigh. Was that coming from the Red Guy? It didn't sound like Cheese. She wanted to look, but thought better of it, hiccuping tears and using her ears in an attempt to wipe her eyes dry.

...What? It was more polite than using her skirt!

That's when she heard it—a small mumble.

Was it okay to peek out? Who'd said that?

Her ears moved to the side slightly, and large eyes tried to get a good view from the other side. It was better to not look like she was really looking, after all-

...but why was Monsieur Red Guy's face turned to the side, just a little bit? He didn't look mad now, just...

Something else. But not mad—that much she was sure of.

"Um..."

He cleared his throat, though his voice came out in a gravelly whisper:

"I said I was sorry."

He was apologizing...? Though why did it sound like it hurt him to say it? Did his Mom and Dad not tell him that saying 'sorry' was important when he was mean?

Ears moved all the way to the side, and Cream's eyes finally met his.

So he was nice, after all?

"It's okay! You're just in a grumpy mood. I understand that! Papa gets in a grumpy mood sometimes, and he yells, too."

"Uh-huh. Yeah—let's go with that." A shuffle of the feet, and another glance away, almost like he wanted to look at everything else but her. "So."

"So?" She blinked.

"What happened next?"

"Oh!" She bounced back a small bit, and let her ears flop back. "Um. Amy told us that it was a 'Star Post', and that it was supposed to help dead people or something. Do dead people need help finding their way if they're lost? I guess they do, since Papa said that they all live somewhere far away. It must be hard to get there. And then Tails decided that he wanted to touch it, even though that was reeeeaaaaally dangerous, and then this bright light appeared and we all started screaming, and that's all."

"...Wait. What do you mean, that's all? So you touched it, and you ended up here?"

"Uh-huh! I woke up in that place with the bouncy mushrooms, and then I met Cheese, and he told me that you'd be able to help me find my friends, so we went looking for you!"

"...You looked for me."

"Uh-huh." Why was that so hard to believe? Was something wrong with looking for him?

"[But we wouldn'ta if we'd known you'd be so mean!]" Cheese crossed his arms, only to earn a light tap from Cream.

"Cheese!" She scolded, "That's not nice!"

"[But he—]"

Cream cut him off with a glare. "Say you're sorry!"

"[But...!]"

"..." She tapped her foot and waited; she thought she heard someone snicker, but that had to be her imagination.

"[Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay.]" Cheese stared down towards his feet. "[I'm sorry.]"

"Good." With a nod, her gaze returned to her other companion. The one who seemed so scary before...but maybe he wasn't so bad. He did apologize, and he didn't seem to want to hurt her. Maybe he really was just grumpy? "So does this mean you'll help us?"

"Wait, what?"

Did he not understand? Cream spoke louder: "Does this mean that you'll help us find my friends?"

He winced, putting a finger in his ear and stepping backwards. "Agh! Chaos, you don't have to yell! I heard you the first time!"

"S-sorry!" Oh, dear, there she went, being rude again. Papa would be so mad if he saw her acting like this! Surely he would been much better spoken about it, if he was here. "So you'll help us?"

"I don't remember saying anything about that."

"But I answered your questions!"

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"I answered your questions and told you how I got here and that my friends are missing, and so you should do something I ask, it's only fair!"

He shook his head. "And life isn't fair, kid."

"Well, it should be!" Cream shot back.

"But it isn't, and it doesn't mean that I am obligated to help you find anyone. For all I know, you could have just made that up."

"But I didn't make it up! I really can't find my friends, and I didn't say you were obligamated to help me! ...What does that mean, anyway?"

"That I have to."

"...Oh. Well, shouldn't you? Cheese said that you'd help me, and that you know a lot of stuff."

He shook his head, and crossed his arms. "What's that got to do with anything? Look, kid, there's a way to get the hell-"

"Bad word!"

"...heck off this island, and I'll see you out. But I'm not going to play babysitter and drag you around any further than that."

"Why not? I just want to find my friends."

"And I'm sure I'll find them eventually. But not with you."

If he wasn't going to help her, then she had no choice. Cheese said he would help, and he wasn't. What did he have to do that was so important that he couldn't help her, anyway? What if Tails and Amy were hurt, or monsters got them? Wouldn't he care?

Her ears weren't hurting anymore, and her body could handle another jump.

All she needed was a running start-

-but so much for that plan. Monsieur Red Guy had her under the crook of an arm in an instant. Cheese let out a chirp of irritation and pulled on her skirt, but it didn't seem to faze him one bit.

"...And I won't go for you running away, either. You're getting off this island, and there will be no arguments."

"Okay..."

...It didn't seem like arguing was going to do anything. All she could hope was that she somehow found Tails and Amy before they got there...

Or somehow convinced him of the imminent monster threat before then. Whichever came first.