It took a solid week of traveling, but eventually the tattered old moving van arrived at the outskirts of the Great Plains. And none too soon for the kids. Sonic was so restless that every stretch of road without a significant population was deemed a safe zone for Sonic to at least go out and stretch his legs. Shadow would join him, teleporting along the path of the road so to ensure they always were in sight. Silver couldn't float himself that fast yet, so he made due to enjoy the extra elbow room in the van. Amy was the only one who was content to lean back with the window open and enjoy the scenery.
The change from a barren rocky landscape to a green, lush forest was an exciting one and the hedgehogs were nowhere short of amazed at what the world looked like when you had more than rocks and boulders from one end of the horizon to the other. The air was crisper and Sonic remarked how easier it was to breath, how the air didn't feel oppressive. At one point, when he was dashing next to the van, they came over a bridge and below lay a clear, sparkling lake.
"What? Lake?! Totally going fishing here when we get settled in." He declared.
"Probably won't be a problem." Chuck said. "We're almost to the city. Just over that hill. So go ahead and get in, Sonic."
Sonic complied and leapt into the moving vehicle. A moment after he closed the door, Shadow materialized next to him. "Mobotropolis is just over that hill." Shadow remarked.
"Wake me when we get to our house." Sonic said, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
Shadow nudged him with his elbow. "I already ported over the hill and saw it myself. Trust me, you don't want to miss this."
The van traveled up the slow, forested slope of the hill fencing the lake. When they came to the crest of the hill, the great expanse of plains gave way to a massive, sprawling metropolis that stretched for miles in both directions. It was a low-slung city, with most buildings not rising past five or six stories. The tallest building in the city was seated in the middle, a distant pillar in the shape of a creamy- off-white teardrop.
"Why are all the buildings so low?" Silver asked. "Urbantropolis looks much bigger than this."
"It's a Royal Degree." Uncle Chuck explained, "When Mobotropolis was first becoming a major city, the king at the time decreed that no city building would rise past half the height of the royal castle. Well, the castle itself is gone, but the modern palace still upholds that ruling and it is thirty stories tall. But, since the old decree applied to the castle-which was only ten stories-most buildings are rather wide, as opposed to tall."
"Oh boy. Architecture. My favorite subject." Sonic said, blowing a raspberry with his tongue. "I suppose the monorails are cool. Don't have those in Urbantropolis."
"No, indeed." Uncle Chuck smiled, "It's a marvel of modern technology. Clean, quick, free transport for the whole city. Its design is one of the most complex additions ever made to the city. Its design is nothing short of a miracle of science."
"Really? You seem to know an awful lot about it." Amy asked.
Uncle Chuck smiled and cast a sly look at Amy, "I should. I designed it."
As they pulled into the city, it became clear that this was no gritty urban metropolis. The streets were immaculately clean and the streets were spacious and sparsely occupied by cars.
"Not a lot of traffic." Shadow commented.
"Everyone uses the monorail." Uncle Chuck said, "Most folks live and work in the city. Hardly anyone owns a vehicle."
Most of the buildings were a creamy off-white color or a muted, light grayish color, making the city look less like a sprawling metropolis and more like a massive, immaculately designed park. Plants and trees were everywhere, as if nature were popping up through the cracks. Flowers, ferns, trees, plants of all kinds dotted every bit of landscape. The buildings themselves seemed designed with window planters and spots of hanging ferns all over the place. Stores, shopping strips, boutiques, food vendors, business of all kinds dotted the cityscape.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Sonic said, plowing over Shadow to plant his face against the window, "I see CHILI DOGS!" He licked his lips as they passed an expansive two story restaurant that prominently displayed a chili-dog on the sign that read "CHUCK'S CHILI DOGS!"
"Get off! You're drooling on me!" Shadow cried.
"Glory be, I was wondering if my old place was still standing." Chuck exclaimed.
"Uncle Chuck, you used to own that place?" Amy asked.
"That's why my name's on the sign, m'girl." Chuck smiled fondly, "It was the business that put me through college. Passed on to me from my father, it was his diner before I took it. You don't think I got good at making chili dogs just on accident, did you?"
"I figured a guy smart as you could make anything." Sonic declared.
"The chili dog recipe was passed on to me as well." Chuck said, "But when I decided to move out of the city to raise you youngins', I gave the place to my old pal Boomer, though I haven't kept in touch with him in some time. He must be running it since he kept the name the same."
"This place looks like a brand new bathroom that someone decided to thrown a gardening class in." Shadow said, "Who takes care of all these plants?"
"Landscaping is big business here." Uncle Chuck said, "People have decent careers and end up retiring just taking care of ten city blocks. I told you kids, this city is different. Not just how it looks. We're at the center of power and commerce for the entire kingdom. The other kingdoms visit here regularly. Some of their dignitaries are practically permanent residents of the Palace. Speaking of which…"
Uncle Chuck slowed their moving van and the five hedgehogs gaped in awe at the Palace. It had looked impressive from a distance, but now it looked immense and imposing. The massive structure was not much taller than the average building in Urbantropolis, but whereas those buildings were rectangular in shape, this was a teardrop shape with a bulbous protrusion in the middle.
"The big ten-story structure and stadium to the right is the Royal Academy." Chuck said, pointing it out, "It's the highest seat of learning in the entire kingdom."
"Why not the whole planet?" Amy asked.
"I'm afraid the Echidnas on the Floating Island are several generations ahead of us." Chuck said, "They're the smartest creatures on this planet. I took an aptitude test to compare myself against an echidna education when I was in my prime and I just barely had my head above water when it was finished. In their eyes, I would have been a good C student, but not much better. The application process for the Academy is brutal and I will warn you that all of you will be applying to go to school there. It will be keeping you very busy in the days ahead."
"I thought you said we were gonna go to school there anyway." Silver commented.
"Nobody goes there without earning it and, yes, your relationship to me is a credential they absolutely will take into account. However, should you fail to score in accordance with their standards, they won't accept you. And since you're my kids and I educated you, I expect you all to do your best take it seriously. Got it? Sonic?"
Sonic gave a thumbs up, "No prob, Unc. The main hedgehog will ace that sucker."
"What about the cathedral back behind it?" Silver asked.
"That's St. Aurora's, the head of the Aurora Faith. Very nice people, hardly politically motivated. The structure to the left of the Palace is the Royal Ballroom, it's mostly for special functions like the Royal Gala, the Queen's Ball, and so forth. The Palace has an unbelievable housekeeping staff. Last time I was here, there were several generations of same families working together."
"So where are we staying?" Silver asked.
"At the Ministry Compound, where the Ministers and their families live." Chuck drove them up to the twenty foot walls that surrounded the Royal Compound. He flashed the guard at the gate an ID and identified himself, where the guard-dressed in an immaculate blue uniform with red trim-snapped a salute to him and directed him where to drive.
"They saluted you." Silver noted.
"Duh." Sonic replied, "Unc is an important dude, now. I bet they salute us, too."
"Not until you earn it." Uncle Chuck laughed.
"I like those uniforms." Amy said, "Very dashing."
"Well, you'll see a lot of them." Chuck said, "Probably more than you'll like. Like I said, the Guard are everywhere. Look, up there is the Royal Seal." He pointed to a golden acorn emblazoned on a red crest against a blue banner.
Once inside, the four teens saw that the Royal Palace was a good half mile from the walls themselves and the buildings surrounding it were spaciously apart, though shuttles and people went to and fro in a much faster pace than the city outside. The compound itself was spacious, several miles in length and width and giving those who lived and worked there plenty of room.
"Leaving the Royal Compound can be a real pain in the quills." Chuck explained. "They try to have as much accommodation here as possible so people aren't inconvenienced too much. There's plenty to eat here, plenty to see, the Great Library, things like that."
The teens all shared a similar look. They had no intention of going to any Library for fun. They didn't tell Uncle Chuck-nor did he suspect what they thought-but they knew there had to be a vibrant nightlife to this city, even if Uncle Chuck wasn't going to point it out to them. It was just a matter of when they could set foot outside the walls and set out into the city on their own.
The Ministry Compound, as it was, was an immaculate series of monumental living homes, condos, and apartments connected to the Palace itself via a series of connected walkways and bridges from the backside of the Palace. Chuck drove them to an expansive condo unit just outside the main palace and off to the side from the main Palace traffic. He pulled up and brought the moving hover van to a halt. "Here we are, kids."
"Where's our place?" Silver asked.
"This is our place." Chuck said, "Our rooms are up top. I have my own lab on the bottom level, but the top levels are ours."
"No way." Sonic said, "This has gotta be for a few more people, at least. No way all this is all just for us!"
Uncle Chuck chucked at Sonic's declaration. "You kids haven't experienced the perks of a royal position. Come on, let's go in." The family of five took a small ramp up to the front entrance of the residence and Charles paused at the door. "Uh-oh. I don't have the card key."
He turned a solution or two around in his head when there came a meek shout from behind. The hedgehogs turned to see a young teenage vulpine dressed in a royal uniform-a royal blue with red trim on the seams and sleeves. He looked to be only a few years junior to Sonic and the other teens and when he finally came up to them, they saw that he was at least a head shorter than everyone save for Amy.
They also noticed that he had two twin tails. Strange.
The young vulpine heaved for breath and struggled to catch himself, gasping, "Minister…Charles…I…So sorry…"
"Calm down, young man." Chuck said, "Catch your breath."
"What, we get our own servants, too?" Shadow said with a snicker.
"No, this young man is a page." Uncle Chuck explained, "They run errands for ministry personnel. Alright, then, young man, how can I help you?"
The young man straightened up and saluted, "Sorry sir, I was only notified of your arrival a few minutes ago. I'm here with your residence keys." He handed out a set of small metal cards to Uncle Chuck, who distributed them amongst the teenagers. "Do not lose these." Uncle Chuck said with a stern tone.
Young Miles immediately dashed in front of them standing in front of the door. "Oh, I have to formally welcome you back to the Palace, Minister. I'm Royal Page Miles Prower and I'm assigned to be your attendant for the day."
"Prower?" Chuck said with a slowly spreading grin, "You're Amadeus' and Rosemary's boy?"
Miles looked unsure of the warm question that was being asked of him and he nodded, "Y-yes sir."
"I knew your parents when I worked here some fifteen years ago." Uncle Chuck grinned, patting Miles on the shoulder, "You look much like your father. We grew up in the Palace together. Is he still a well-to-do Royal Guard?"
"Sir, he's Captain of the Guard."
"Oh!" Chuck smiled wide, "I knew he would be, one day. But, what about Captain D'Colette? He was Captain when I left."
"Sir, General D'Colette is Minister of War now."
"General?!" Uncle Chuck gaped, "I have been gone a long time. Sorry, m'boy, I'll catch up on the Palace updates later. Right now, we need to get settled in. Oh, before I forget, these are my kids: Sonic, Silver, Shadow, and Amy Rose. They should be joining you in the Royal Academy before too long."
"Oh. It's an honor." Miles said, bowing to them.
"Okay, that's enough of that." Sonic said, lowering his hands, "No need to bow to us, Tails, we're not royalty."
"Not cool." Shadow stated, "I never did anything to justify getting bowed to. Bow to Amy, she'll like it."
Amy immediately blushed fiercely as Miles aimed his gaze at her, "Shut up, both of you. But they're right, Miles, you don't have to bow to us. In fact, I insist you not bow."
Miles nodded, "As you wish. I'll arrange for movers to have your things relocated into your residence for today, but I suggest you see the tailor immediately for tonight's Royal Gala. Since you arrived on such short notice, the Chamberlin is going to schedule your announcement and arrival ceremony in with the annual Gala, so you must find proper attire."
"No prob, Tails." Sonic said, "I got a nice collared shirt I can wear."
"Uh…I don't…" Miles stammered.
"Sonic, don't call him that, he probably hates being called names." Amy said, nudging Sonic with her elbow, a casual shove that would have toppled Sonic head over heels if she had shoved any harder.
"No problem, my lady." Miles said, "I actually…truth be told…don't care for my name all that much. You can call me Tails. Er, that is, if you want to."
"Only if you don't call her pinky pie." Silver laughed, then immediately stopped when Amy threatened him with her fist.
"Kids, we have to get fitted for suits. The Royal Gala is a special occasion. All the ministers and dignitaries will be there. You say he's going to commence with my appointment at the Gala?" He asked, to which Tails nodded. "Yes, we need some suits. This is a black tie event, kids. Sonic, a collared-shirt isn't going to cut it. Mil-er, Tails, would you escort us to the closest tailor as soon as you arrange the movers?"
Tails nodded and dipped in a bow and immediately ran off, leaving the hedgehogs at their doorstep. Sonic chuckled to himself, "Is that all he does all day?"
"A Royal Page is an honorary position." Uncle Chuck said, "They work hard to become Royal Guards or other positions of note throughout the Palace. It's almost expected of children of the royalty and the aristocracy, so don't treat them poorly because odds are one day you'll be working with them…or for them."
"Black suits and ties." Shadow sneered, "I hate this already."
"Yeah, Uncle Chuck." Silver complained, "Why do we have to get all trussed up for these royal types? Can't we just be ourselves?"
"This is a different world, Silver." Uncle Chuck said, "Your going to have to get used to a new standard of normal. I suggest you kids try and enjoy yourselves, take in the new culture, get used to how things work, because we live here now and we'll be seeing these folks every day now. If you can keep your mind open and adapt well, you'll find there can be a place of honor and dignity for you in the Palace proper. I don't know what you kids intend for your lives or what careers you want, but at the Palace, there's no limit to what you can accomplish. Now, let's go pick out rooms, shall we?"
Outside, a small figure was darting in-between bushes, following a young woman-a rabbit in a homely dress-as she approached the Hedgehog household
Once inside, the hedgehog teens were overwhelmed. The expansive living room was elaborately furnished with a beige and off-white color scheme that made their living area look very modern and upscale. It matched the city itself and the Palace very well. Though Chuck thought the look could be changed, there wasn't an interior decorating bone in any of his kids' body.
"Look at the size of this tv!" Silver gawked, "92 inches! High def triple-laz 3046 ip! This thing is more high definition than real life!"
"I'm totally digging this couch!" Sonic said, throwing himself over the back edge and landing sprawled across the surface of the couch. "I could fit at least ten honies on this thing! I might even have one to spare for you, Silver."
"I notice you didn't include me on your "honey sharing list." Shadow said as he approached the expansive open window that looked out into the Royal Garden that was, apparently, their new backyard. Outside, it was a menagerie of hedges, flower bushes, and immaculately kept shapes and figures carved into hedges. Dotted throughout the gardens were benches, fountains, and bird baths. It was serene and beautiful, a far cry from the Barren Wastes they grew up in.
"I didn't include you because you'll just scare them off with your grumpiness."
"All these sugary sweet colors are going to rot my teeth and give me diabetes." Shadow growled to himself, looking at the garden.
Amy marched up a set of stairs off to the corner and found a bedroom with a corner window facing the Palace and Garden. She gasped in awe, looking at the view with adoration. She had a room to herself, thanks to the generosity of her brothers, and it was the only room in the house with a window. This room felt so much like her old room with its small stoop right before the window. She could sit and stare out the window just like back home. The sloping ceiling felt spacious and unique and she loved the feel of it. It was also set apart from any other room, so she basically had a wing to herself next to a spare room that seemed more suited to a study than living in it.
"This is my room." She whispered to herself.
"Man, we gonna have to get a lot more furniture." Sonic whined. "We barely got anything to go in these rooms."
"Well, that should be fine." Said Uncle Chuck, "We'll have a lot more disposable income now."
There came a buzzing sound and the hedgehogs looked around. Uncle Chuck answered their unspoken question, "It's the doorbell."
Sonic was up and about to blast off for the door when Shadow teleported in front of him with a hand held up, "Not supposed to use powers, remember?"
"What about you?" Sonic protested.
"I have discretion; you don't." Shadow said, calmly, slowly, walking to the door,. He opened it to find a young woman, a cream-colored rabbit in a homely uniform dress, standing before him. Her eyes widened in surprise for a moment and then she immediately replaced her shock with a warm smile.
"Is the master of the house in?" She asked.
"Er…" Shadow just cast a glance back, "Yeah, I suppose. Can I help you?"
Uncle Chuck rolled up next to Shadow and waved the young woman in. As she passed Shadow, his head snapped around at the brief, barely visible movement in the bushes just out of the corner of his eye. He closed the door, but made a note of it and began to slink away into a hallway where he wouldn't be seen.
Uncle Chuck approached the young woman and asked, "Yes, young lady? Can I help you?"
She bowed slightly, hands kept folded in front of her, "Sir, my name is Vanilla and I am the housekeeper assigned to your residence. As you are of a Ministry position, Sir Charles, your residence is assigned a live-in housekeeper. I have a decade of housekeeping experience and have served two Ministers in their household."
Uncle Chuck swallowed. On the one hand, he was thrilled that someone could keep up the house for a change instead of him always cooking and cleaning. But then again, he didn't need someone being witness to any of his kids use of powers. Now they would be unable to use their abilities at home. It would drive them mad. He saw Sonic and Silver exchanging looks of uncertainty. Amy came down the stairs from her room, listening as the new visitor explained herself."
"Ahem, well, Miss Vanilla, that's very generous of his majesty, however, my kids and I are rather…personal folks. We value our privacy, you see. Plus, I'm a bit more of a humble man than most Palace personnel. I believe in self-reliance and I would feel extraordinarily guilty having a paid housekeepr cleaning up after myself and my rambunctious bunch of teenagers."
"Oh come on, Unc." Sonic protested, "She ain't gonna see nothing she's not supposed to or anything like that." He winked and Uncle Chuck, his way to telling Charles that he understood the fear of having someone who wasn't familiar with them hanging around. "I mean, how are you gonna be Minister and keep up the house?"
"You kids know darn well how to fix your own meals and clean up!" Charles sniped.
"But Unc," Said Silver, "You said we would be busy with the Academy and the Palace lifestyle and all that jazz. You're not married and its not like you have a wife to do all these things for you. We're all gonna be busy. Besides, it'd be a shame to waste that perfectly nice housekeeper quarters below. It's got two bedrooms and a bath."
Vanilla grinned, "I assure you, Sir Charles, I will make an excellent servant."
"Don't use that word." Charles said, "I'm not a slaveowner. And…why did you call me 'Sir'. I'm not a knight."
Vanilla's eyes popped open in surprise, "Oh, I beg your mercy, sir. I did not mean to place a title on you, only that I was unsure of your bearing in the time before your ceremony. It's quite the conversation about the Palace. Those in the know have been excitedly expecting your arrival."
Chuck grumbled under his breath. Great, now he had a Palace gossip queen living in his residence. All he needed was for his business and the business of his kids to be part of the Palace Gossip Machine. Still, no matter how hard he fought it, it was likely to happen anyway. Charles recognized the surprised look in her eyes, the way she stared at them.
Sonic caught her staring at him and he fired back with a curt, "What? What're you staring at? Stop that!"
"Apologies, young sir." She said, quickly bowing her head and averting her eyes.
"Sonic, be nice." Uncle Chuck said, "These folks…I doubt they've ever seen a hedgehog before. Am I right, miss Vanilla?"
She nodded, looking up, "Not in all my life have I seen one. You are the first, sir."
"Oh." Sonic blushed, embarrassed, "Sorry, miss Vannie."
"I didn't think we were so rare." Silver noted.
"Hedgehog blood traces back to the heart of the Karpathian Empire, which is the heart of the Iron Empire now." Uncle Chuck explained, "We have always been rare, unique furs in this world, kids. Best get used to a few stares."
There was a commotion outside the front door and Shadow came in with a flailing bundle of arms and legs in his grasp. He stomped up to the rest of them and said, "I found her snooping around the bushes outside our front door."
He set a young rabbit, nearly identical to Vanilla, on her feet and the young rabbit sheepishly lowered her head.
Vanilla sighed in exasperation and tucked her hands on her hips, "Cream, you are supposed to be at school!"
"I wanted to see where we'll be living." she said meekly.
Vanilla sighed again, "Goodsir Charles, I apologize. This is my only child, Cream. She was not supposed to be with me today."
"Will she be living here, too?" Amy asked, stepping forward. Cream lifted her head, meeting Amy's eyes and showing a measure that she was not as intimidated as she had been when Shadow had jumped out of nowhere to grab her.
"Y-yes, young mistress." Vanilla said, "She is the reason I was chosen to live in this household, because the servant's…er, the housekeeping quarters have two bedrooms for a single mothers or small families in the housekeeping staff. I was going to inform you before she came. Cream is my only child and I am not married, so it would be just us in the quarters."
"I just don't know." Uncle Chuck said, unsure of what to think or how to proceed, but Amy stepped forward and shook Cream's hand.
"I'm Amy Rose. And you're name is Cream?"
Cream nodded, "And this is cheese." She said, holding up a small doll. "I'm seven."
Amy absolutely beamed. She turned to Uncle Chuck, "They are both welcome in our home, Uncle Chuck. Don't send them away, that's just inhospitable. Besides, you need to take a break from cooking and cleaning for a while, you've got enough to do being the new Minister."
"But…" Uncle Chuck looked between his kids, all of whom were giving him a silent approval in the form of a nod or smile. Defeated, he sighed and nodded, "I suppose you're right."
Sonic tossed Vanilla a thumbs-up. "Welcome to the Hedgehog Household, Vannie."
"Come on, Cream." Amy said, her grin splitting her face, "You gotta see my room. I'm gonna need some help decorating it." She took Cream by the hand and together they ran up the stairs to her room, laughing.
"Well," Chuck thought, "At least she has a friend."
Author's Note: Sorry it took so long to continue this. I know it's a bit of a filler chapter, but I felt like doing some world building here, fleshing out what life at the Palace is going to be like. Next chapter we'll meet some more royal types and hopefully get some intrigue started. Later all! J