“Cosmo, get back inside, now!” Shouted Tails over the deafening roar of the Egg Carrier's massive engines. No sooner had Vanilla and Amy reached the end of Tails' walkway than they came sprinting back, seeking refuge with the kitsune and his Seedrian companion.
“The heck!?” Cried Amy above the airship's loud report, "Where did Eggman come from!?”
“I think that's a question for another time, Amy!” Vanilla raised her voice, urging the three adolescents into the apparent safety of Tails' house. Once inside, Tails bolted the door firmly, pacing quickly toward the kitchen while urging the others to follow.
“Cosmo!” He spoke to his fiancé urgently, “Use the emergency entrance in the kitchen and get Amy and Miss Vanilla into my lab!”
“But—where are you going!?” She demanded worriedly.
“To hold him off, if I can,” the fox answered, trying to pull away, “at least until Sonic and the others can get here!”
“No!” Cried Cosmo, lunging after Tails, taking hold of his arm, “You don't need to go! Just come to the lab with us!”
“That ship has enough firepower to level half of Mobotropolis! People are going to get hurt! I have to at least try!”
Before Cosmo could argue further, a knock fell upon Tails’ front door. Everything was suddenly silenced. Even the engines of the mighty Egg Carrier reduced themselves to a dull thrumming. Slowly, the four turned to glance curiously at the wooden portal. Another heavy knock pounded against the frame, almost cordial, requesting entrance into the fox's abode. Curious, Tails inched forward, reaching out for the doorknob…
“Tails, are you nuts!?” Hisses the pink hedgehog in a whisper, “You know who's probably behind that door!”
“I don't think so…” murmured the fox, twisting the knob carefully as he prepared to face whomever was at his door.
“It could be a trap!” Protested Cosmo, “Tails, please don’t!”
“Eggman isn't exactly the type to knock politely,” he pointed out, looking over his shoulder as he gave the door a tug, “I think it's worth a…” The fox gazed before him in shock. A hulking red metal form stood in the portal, staring down at the fox with its emotionless, digital eyes.
“Greeting: Hello, Miles Prower!” Spoke the droid in its typical play-by-play literation, "I hope I am not intruding…”
“Omega!?” Queried Tails, taking a few cautious steps back, “What're you doing here?”
“Answer: I have come seeking your aid,” replied the automaton, “a situation has arisen which requires your attention.”
“Hold up!” Piped the pink hedgehog as she marched out from behind the wall to face the mech, “Last time we met you, you blew up a quarter of the city! What makes you think we'd bother?”
“Objection: I was a construct of Eggman at the time that incident took place. I am now free.”
“He's right,” agreed Tails, “he did choose to go against Eggman in the end. I think he's okay…”
“Tails…” whispered Cosmo as she too came out from hiding, approaching from behind him and whispering in his right ear, “I don't like this. Are you sure we can trust him?”
“No… but I don't think he wants to hurt us. If he did he would have done that already,” replied the two-tailed kitsune in a hushed voice, “he could have just blown up the house from the Egg Carrier.”
“How did he get the Egg Carrier, though, if he isn't working for Doctor Eggman?” Cosmo questioned suspiciously.
“Good point…” Agreed the fox.
“Interjection: I confiscated the Egg Carrier as its medical facilities were the only ones adequate enough to transport my cargo,” the battle droid answered.
"Wait, medical facilities?" Cosmo asked, her curiosity now piqued, “Is someone hurt?”
“Answer: Eggman,” Omega responded simply.
The trio looked between each other, exchanging perplexed expressions as they attempted to decipher meaning from the robot's curious implications. It was then that Vanilla stepped forward, lending her unique insight to the situation. “Wait, do you mean to say that Doctor Eggman is hurt?”
“Affirmative,” responded the droid again, offering no additional explanation.
"What's wrong with him?" Asked Tails, now dubious at the mention of Omega's former master, “Is he sick? Broken bones? What?"
“Answer: Unknown. He suffers from an as yet undetermined impairment…”
“That's not much to go on…” commented Cosmo suspiciously.
“Why should we care?" Amy replied insensitively, “Eggman's been up our noses from the beginning! Forget him!”
“Statement: Doctor Eggman's state was induced by the appearance of the entity known as Xemus," explained the battle mech.
Now the room was silent, as that peculiar sense of dread onset by that name crept into the minds of the organic occupants of the room. An irrational fear, to be sure, but like a child's fear of the dark they indeed felt it looming over them.
“X—Xemus?” Stuttered Tails, “What—I thought he and Eggman were like, partners?”
“Negative! Xemus turned against Doctor Eggman after his failure to eliminate the Freedom Fighters. Exact details of encounter are unknown, as I did not experience them firsthand.”
Again there was silence as the occupants of the room faced each other, asking the same unspoken question with their eyes. Their concern for Eggman was negligible compared to the dread, and admittedly, curiosity of the reason for Xemus’ attack on the aging scientist. Having not encountered a victim of the dark shade directly, they realized that by witnessing Engman, they might be better prepared to face the man in person. With a silent nod Amy, Tails and Cosmo faced Omega. “Take us to him,” Tails said simply…
Mounting one of Tails' older craft the trio took to the skies. In little time they reached the Egg Carrier, cruising into the main hangar and gently touching down on the landing strip. Emerging from the plane, youth Freedom Fighters made their way down the long metallic corridors, Omega taking point. As they approached the airship's hospital facilities, a horrid sense of unease befell the friends, who glanced at each other through the low lighting of the halls. Nearing the mouth of the portal, a ghastly smell became apparent. It took all her willpower for Amy not to dispel the content of her stomach, and Cosmo held shut her mouth to prevent from having to endure the rancid stench. His eyes watering, Tails proceeded to follow Omega through the door, and the others shortly after him. Entering the room, the three were stunned, seeing a pathetic form laying upon the cot across the medical bay. Laying with his eyes to the ceiling, a thin, boney form rest with his hands across his chest—his face shrunken, and his lips crowned with a massive, scraggly grey bush. While almost unrecognizable, it was the dirty red jumpsuit that gave him away.
“Is that… Doctor Eggman?” Asked Cosmo, her voice weak and trembling.
“Affirmative,” answered Omega, approaching the limp form of his former creator.
“Oh my god, I think I'm going to be sick!” Amy shuddered, clutching her stomach.
"TAILS!! COSMO!! AMY!!” Two shrill voices cried in unison. A tall, golden droid and a much smaller tin-colored drone rushed to greet the three. Cosmo found herself whisked off her feet and embraced tightly by the much taller Decoe, while Bocoe held Tails' hand in a vice grip, shaking him until Tails thought he might come apart.
“G—ga—gah! Hey!” Tails yelled, “What gives!?”
“Ah, he—hello?” Cosmo greeted, trying as she might to pull away from the servant droid, “Can you put me down, please?”
“SORRY!!” Apologized the metal men, setting the two young ones onto their feet again. A brief awkward silence pervaded the room, lasting but a moment before Amy spoke up.
“What are you creeps doing here?” Growled the pink hedgehog. “We don't need any trouble from you!”
“Objection: Units Decoe and Bocoe were present during Xemus' assault on Eggman,” the bulky drone informed, “They transmitted the distress signal which led me to them and have tended to Eggman's ailment until this time."
“What's wrong with him?” Asked Amy, looking over the living corpse that was now Doctor Eggman with almost fearful regard.
“We don’t know!” Bocoe exclaimed, “It all happened so fast!”
“First, the lights in the tower went out, and then all the other bots powered off!” The golden mech recounted, “Then we heard someone coming down the hall. We got scared, so we hid in the broom closet!”
“Of course…” murmured Amy.
“We peeked our heads around the door and saw this black thing. It looked like a shadow, but standing upright! We heard the Boss say the name ‘Xemus’, then he just started screaming!”
“He had his hand on his face, like this!” Bocoe further elaborated by reaching up and grasping Decoe's faceplate where a mouth might be were he human, “Then, after the Boss fell down, he left. He hasn't moved since! Like, at all!”
“At all??” Amy inquired again, “What about eating? And the bathroom!?"
"Explanation: Doctor Eggman's diet has been replaced with an intravenous nutritional solution," Omega elaborated, “as for the disposal of bodily wastes…”
“You really, REALLY don't want to know,” Bocoe’s metal frame trembled with disgust.
“So that's what that smell is…” Murmured Tails, covering his own muzzle.
“EWW!! THAT’S SO GROSS!!” Screeched Amy, reeling back from the medical cot.
Timidly, Cosmo paced forward, standing on her toes to look upon the bed where the once great Doctor Eggman lay, now rendered a husk. It was saddening, to see one so full on life torn down and made a mockery of their former self. “Even Eggman doesn't deserve this…” She thought.
Sensing her despair, her fiancé moved in behind her, wrapping his arms across her chest and coiling his namesakes around her protectively. A low moan escaped the scientists dry lips, startling the occupants of the room. “Is that normal?” Asked Tails inquisitively.
“Yeah, he does that once in a while," confirmed Decoe.
“We should call the others…” Tails said, typing something into his wrist computer, “Jaran knows more about what Xemus can do than any of us…”
“I hope we never have to meet him…” Cosmo murmured, an uncharacteristic amount of anger in her eyes, “I don't like fighting, but… no one deserves this. Eggman deserves justice!”
“I agree one-hundred and ten percent!” Amy said grimacing, “I never thought I'd say this, but I actually feel sorry him…”
“The others are on their way…” Tails said, “Omega, do you think you could set the Egg Carrier down in my hangar? There should be plenty of room next to the Blue Typhoon…”
“Affirmative,” responded Omega, turning to exit the room.
“Hey, Omega?” Tails spoke, prompting the robot to rotate his torso to face the fox-boy, “Why'd you do it? You said you wanted revenge on Eggman last time we saw you. You could have destroyed him. Why'd you help him?”
The droid was quiet, his emotionless eyes staring at the fox. After five seconds of thought exactly, an eternity to the sophisticated machine, answered, “my… conscience… wouldn't permit me to destroy a defenseless organic meat-bag…”
The droid about faced and exited the room, leaving the three to stare after him with puzzlement written on their faces. “There may be hope for him after all…” Tails murmured with a wry smirk.
The rest of the Freedom Fighters arrived swiftly. Crowding around the medical bed the others looked grimly upon the broken scientist, who's lifeless eyes continued to stare up at the ceiling.
“Is he dead?” Knuckles asked, inching forward.
“No,” Jaran replied, shaking his head, “he's fully conscious. He can hear, he can think, but he can't react or make sense out of it. It's a form of catatonia.”
“Why didn't you call me, old man? I would have come,” whispered Sonic, sounding almost regretful.
“Sonic…” Amy spoke gently, placing a hand on his shoulder, “It's not your fault.”
“No…” he sighed, turning away grimly, “Maybe it should be…”
“I think he got what he was due,” stated Shadow coldly.
“What?” Replied Jaran, appearing shocked as he rotated to face the hedgehog.
“He played with fire allying himself with Xemus,” continued the black hedgehog resentfully, “he got burned. He deserves the consequences.”
An awkward silence befell the room as the occupants glared at the onyx hedgehog. A rage began building in the black-robed consular, his temper getting the better of him once again. “What’s wrong with you!?” Snapped Jaran, his shoulders tensing as his voice elevated, “I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy! No one deserves this fate!”
“Even you said if Xemus came for him you wouldn't save him!” Rebutted Shadow, “What changed?”
“I wasn't serious!” Yelled the guardian, “I was angry at the time!”
“What exactly IS wrong with him?” Inquired Sonic curiously, breaking the tension.
“It’s…” Jaran stuttered, twisting his face in frustration, “I told you Xemus' greatest weapon was his power over the mind. He reaches into your mind, probes your thoughts, pulls out your greatest fears and forces you to live them, over and over and over again…”
“But… if it's all in his head, then how could it do this much harm?” Cosmo asked alarmed, “If it's not real?"
“What is real?” Spoke Kai cryptically, “If real is based on what you can see, smell, touch and taste then real is just a series of electrical impulses created by your brain. That's easy to duplicate. No, Xemus can implant memories just as vivid as us standing here right now. He can make you live a lifetime of horrors in under a second, and then keep it going until the mind just… shatters… like Eggman here.”
“That’s… that’s awful,” Cosmo shuddered.
“Can he be helped?” Asked Tails, “Is there anything we can do?”
“I can try to repair his mind, I suppose,” Jaran answered, a vague amount of uncertainty in his voice, “but there's no real guarantee it will work. Think of the mind like a smooth, flat landmass. Easy to navigate, and takes little effort to traverse. Eggman's has been broken into a series of small islands with deep oceans in between, and I have no boat…”
“Query: What would you need to proceed?” Asked Omega, who had returned from the bridge to rejoin the group.
“A quiet workplace, and no distractions," he answered, glaring at Bocoe and Decoe implicatively, “I have to figure out what his worst fear is, and find a way to counteract that memory. Worst case scenario, I might have to purge his short term memory, which is difficult and possibly dangerous… to both of us.”
“Affirmative. I will see to it that you have no distractions,” Omega offered, looking at the tin and golden droids as well.
“Jaran… be honest,” Tails asked, looking up at the tall man, “do you think you'll be able to do it?”
“I…” hesitated the Sentinel, seeming to think on this question, “yes…”
With heads lowered the group sighed,\silent as the tragedy of the situation sank in. The time had finally arrived. The Dark Lord Xemus was on the move, his evidence left by this poor, broken man. Not even having met the entity, his power was already evident. Each member of the group could not help but wonder the same thing, “how can we win?”
Breaking the silence, Jaran spoke lowly. “I suggest you all get some rest. Go home,” as the group began to file out he spoke out sharply to one in particular, “not you, Shadow…” The black hedgehog froze, turning on heel to face Kai. After the rest had exited the room, the sage finally spoke up. “What the hell is the matter with you!?” He admonished harshly, catching the onyx hedgehog by surprise.
“What are you talking about?” He responded crossly.
“How could you possibly say something like that about Eggman? How could you wish this on anyone!?” He shouted, pointing his finger at the incapacitated scientist.
“Eggman has never done anything beneficial for us,” he growled, “he assaults us at every opportunity. Why are you so eager to defend him?”
“I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy!” the human repeated, “It's too cruel! Death would be a blessing to him right now!”
“Then end it for him,” Shadow spoke coldly, “his suffering ends, and he'll never trouble us again.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Snapped Kai, “Eggman's a fool, but I honestly don't think he's evil. Despite all his schemes, he's always come to your aid when the situation demanded it! Why, I have no clue, but that's not the mark of someone who wants to genuinely hurt others!”
“Perhaps…” Murmured the hedgehog, “I guess we'll see…”
“Besides, whatever's locked in his head could be useful. He probably knows the most about what's going on, given that he touched Xemus' mind.”
“I see…” Shadow raised an eyebrow, “It's not about saving him. You just want what he has.”
Jaran glared over his shoulder resentfully, turning to adjust Eggman's IV drip as he lashed back at the hedgehog. “Sure, fine, if it makes you feel better. I'm using him. I'm a horrible, manipulative bastard!”
There was a tense silence between the two, Shadow glaring at the back of Jaran's head with his arms crossed, while Kai kept his focus on his task. Shadow dropped his arms to his sides, letting out a low sigh. “I’m… sorry,” he murmured.
“Don't be,” Jaran muttered, “you're right.”
“You're doing it to keep the team safe…”
“No, I'm doing it because I hate not knowing,” the sentinel corrected, “I can’t stand him either, but I try not to let that get in the way…”
“If you're doing the right thing for the wrong reason, shouldn’t that still make it the right thing to do?” Asked Shadow rhetorically.
“No…” Spoke Kai flatly. Shaking his head Shadow moved toward the door, his head lowered as he took his leave. Before he reached the door Jaran turned to call after him, “Shadow?”
“Yes?” He asked, refusing to face him.
“Look after them, please?” The sage begged of him, lowering his head.
The darkly hedgehog nodded, finally stealing a glance over his shoulder. “I will…”
With that he made his exit, leaving Jaran alone, only the catatonic scientist for company. Pacing to his bedside he glanced down at Eggman. Reaching out he levitated his hand just above his forehead, murmuring in monotone incantations. “In darkness you descend… You have lost your way, Julian Ivo Robotnik… Now, hear my voice, and follow it home…”
A short time later found Tails and Cosmo returning to their home, entering the living room and shutting the door behind them. Without pause Cosmo immediately made for the stairs, saying nothing. Tails could sense the tenseness of her thoughts, tailing her worriedly. “Cosmo, are you alright?” He asked, “What's the matter?”
“Leave me alone, Miles…” She snapped unusually harshly, “Don't follow me…”
Tails was stunned, staring after her as she climbed the stairs to their bedroom, hearing the door shut behind her. After a moment he found his curiosity getting the better of him, and against her wishes, he made his way to the bedroom as well. Turning the knob the door clicked, gently swinging open for the two-tailed kitsune. Finding Cosmo laying face down on the bed he approached her, sitting on the edge and placing a hand on her back. “Honey, what's the matter? You know you can tell me…” He whispered gently.
Whipping her head around the Seedrian glared at the fox, eyes full of tears. “What part of ‘don’t follow me’ wasn’t clear!?” She snapped, “Leave me alone!”
The fox was stunned, stepping back from her. Silently they stared, Cosmo's angry eyes slowly crushing his heart. Curving his ears back he turned, dragging himself slowly out of the bedroom. “I’ll be in the workshop…” He murmured, “If you need me…”
Several hours saw Tails sulking in his workshop, trying vainly to draft the engine schematics of his newest plane. Wads of graphing paper began to pile up in his trash as he'd make a few strokes with his pencil before becoming frustrated. Laying his head on his desk he let out a depressed sigh, feeling the weight of the day's events pressing down on him—and then there was Cosmo. Never had he seen her lose her temper as she did, and with him, no less. No doubt the days events had worn on her as well. Combined with the overwhelming idea of marriage, maybe it was more than she could bear. For a moment the idea of calling off their engagement crossed his mind…
As he contemplated a light series of footsteps tread the floor behind him. His ears twitched as he turned to face the sound, finding Cosmo staring back at him with puffy eyes and quivering lips. “I’m sorry…” She whimpered, sniffling heavily, “I’m so sorry, Tails…”
“It's fine… I get it…” The kitsune shrank into himself, “I shouldn't have…”
“You didn't do anything wrong!” She said, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks in torrents. Rushing forward she fell into Tails' arms, wrapping hers around his neck as she buried her head in his soft, furry chest tuff, “I was scared… and frustrated… and I wasn't sure what to do! I took it out on you! I'm so sorry, honey! Please forgive me!”
Again Tails was stunned, reflexively wrapping his arms around her as he cradled her close, whispering sweet nothings as he tried to quell her hysteria. “Shh, it's okay, baby…” He hushed her, “I understand. I'm not mad… We're okay!”
“I feel so selfish, Tails!” She whimpered, “I can't believe I'm saying this, but when I saw Eggman, how he looked—I feel bad for him, but… I couldn't help but think about how unfair this all is!”
“Unfair?” Tails asked curiously, pulling her into his lap, “What do you mean?”
“It's like… we can't get any peace!” Explained Cosmo, sitting up and gazing at him, “Yesterday we were getting engaged—it was the happiest day of my entire life… Now this happens! Is it wrong of me to think like that at a time like this? All I want is a normal life with you! No more robots, no Metarex and no Xemus!”
“I…” Stuttered the fox, taking a moment to contemplate this subject. Admittedly, he had wondered the same things as they observed Eggman's decay. Was he, and by extension Cosmo as well, selfish for worrying about their future together while a sick man lay dying? No, he decided. Many others in the world suffered along with Eggman—and while it was sad, life moved on. Here and now, they still had each other to think of. “No, I don't think it's selfish,” he assured her, “I feel sorry for Eggman, but… we still have to take care of each other first. You and me forever, right?”
“Tails…” Whispered Cosmo, gazing at him lovingly as she palmed his cheek with her right hand, “You’re more than I could have ever asked for in a husband… I love you… so much.”
The two held each other in silence, with Tails' arms wrapped tightly around her while Cosmo buried her face in the crook of his neck. For many minutes they remained this way, shielding each other from the perils of the outside world with the strength of their love. The fear in Cosmo's mind began to subside, strengthened through their bond by Tails' own resolve. The fox had always believed himself weak to the trials he and his team had faced, constantly afraid and having to call out to Sonic for help. With Cosmo, though, all his doubt vanished. He felt as though he could move mountains for her, and would if it meant her wellbeing. While not as strong as Knuckles, as fast as Sonic, or as powerful as Shadow, he had a determination exceeding them all a thousand-fold. Knowing this was what made Cosmo feel safe, more so than with any of the others. She knew that Tails would always be there, whether she needed him or not. “This is love,” the Seedrian thought to herself, and nothing would make her give that up.
Pushing her back, Tails gazed into her magnificent blue eyes, pulling him forward hypnotically until their lips brushed. Chills shot up and down Tails' spine as Cosmo met him half way, her eyes falling shut as they caressed each other gently. In a move of uncharacteristic boldness, Tails felt Cosmo's tongue press against his lips, begging entry into his mouth. As he began to part his lips, a low coughing was heard by the two coming from the door behind them. With a yelp the young lovers were ripped from their private reality, pivoting on to face none other than Shadow. The two blushed heavily, as Tails rubbed the back of his neck, while Cosmo folded her hands humbly. “Uh… hey, Shadow,” the fox stuttered embarrassed, “What's up?”
“Am I interrupting something?” The onyx hedgehog inquired, cocking an eyebrow as a dry smirk touched the corners of his lips.
“N—no,” Cosmo fumbled, beginning to make her way to the door, “I’ll go make dinner…”
“No, please stay,” the hedgehog objected, approaching them slowly, “I came to speak to the two of you.”
“About what?” Asked Tails, tilting his head to the side.
“How are you holding up?” Shadow expressed his concern.
“We—ah—we're…” The fox hesitated, breathing a frustrated sigh, "We're scared."
“Why?” Inquired Shadow flatly, crossing his arms.
“It just…” Continued the fox, straining to find the words he sought, “It seems like the whole world is just… falling apart.”
“It's like we can't rest,” Cosmo interrupted, finishing her fiancé's thought, “Yesterday we were so… happy, but it feels like there is always something to take that away from us…”
“So?” Grunted Shadow, shrugging his shoulders, “Too much rest would become dull. That doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. What happened to Eggman is… unfortunate, but does that ruin what happened yesterday?”
“Wh…” The Seedrian stood struck, “No…”
The black hedgehog shut his eyes, letting a forlorn sigh slip from his lips. Fixing his gaze upon the two he spoke in low monotone. “There are people all over the world hurting, all the time. It's sad, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to be joyful for what you've been handed. The world keeps spinning. Don't let what's happening around you ruin the good thing you have…”
The young couple glanced at each other, an unheard discussion proceeding between them. Only a short moment later they faced Shadow, nodding their heads in unison. With a low grunt Shadow paced the floor of he hanger, making his way over to a large, stationary metal framework sitting upon a tarp. Glancing it over he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“What will you call this one?” He asked, addressing the young inventor in the room, “Haven't you run out of wind storms yet?”
“I dunno…” Tails spoke rubbing his chin, walking to stand beside Shadow, “I started this one after the X-Tornado blew up during our battle with Omega. Since it was my main plane, I needed to replace it. Got some cool tech from Jaran. Figured this would be a good test ship.”
“How fast will it be?” Shadow inquired.
“Well, theoretically, it’ll be faster than Jaran's ship.”
“A little competition?” Quipped the negro-quilled speed demon, cocking an eyebrow.
“No! Well, a little, maybe…” The fox boy answered with a sheepish grin, “Cosmo helped me with some of it…”
“Cosmo? Working on one of your planes?” Shadow chuckled, “Are you serious?”
“Tails has taught me a few things,” said the plant-girl, walking to Tails' side and taking his hand in hers, “I added a few things I thought would make it look better.”
“She basically helped me design the body. It's going to look awesome when it's done!”
“I’m sure…” Responded the hedgehog with a smile, before his expression transitioned into one more serious, “I should tell you, I'm going to be around more frequently. After everything that's gone on, Jaran wants me to keep an eye on the two of you.”
“Huh? I thought Jaran said it was better to keep going like normal," Tails asked confused, “that acting cautious would only attract him.”
“You're already on his radar,” stated Shadow, “there's noting you can do about that now. We have to take precautions. Don't worry… I won't intrude. The two of you continue working on your wedding plans…”
“Shadow…” Cosmo spoke gently, smiling at him with genuine gratitude, “thank you.” The hedgehog acknowledged with a silent nod, smirking back at the two. A brief silence prevailed between the three before Cosmo detached from Tails' side, pacing toward the door. “I should really go make dinner…” she insisted.
“Cosmo, I told you that isn't necessary,” Shadow objected again.
“Shadow, Tails is hungry, and I am too,” Cosmo giggled, “but you're more than welcome to join us.”
“Aren't you concerned your fiancé won't want me here?” Shadow retorted, crossing his arms.
“We're in each other's heads, remember?” Tails pointed out, “She wouldn't have asked you if I wasn't okay with it.”
“Yes… that's just strange,” he quipped back, “I suppose I could stay a while longer…”
Smiling, both Tails and Cosmo headed to the lift leading to Tails' shack, with Shadow following closely behind. The three exited the shed and made their way into the couple's humble home. The night passed, and the three laughed and talked carelessly over dinner, shielded from the dark outside by the light of their friendship…
Meanwhile, in the cottage of Madam Vanilla Rabbit, the doe had just tucked her daughter into bed, ensuring she was snug as she shut her light off and exited the room. With a sigh of fatigue she made her way to her own suite, donning her nighty and making her way into the kitchen to brew some chamomile tea. Pursuing her evening ritual she took her mug into the living room, turning on the table lamp and sitting comfortably in her recliner, picking up a book she had been enjoying and began to read…
As she sat she became aware of a slight drop in temperature in the room, pulling blanket from the adjacent sofa and placing it across her lap. However, as the temperature continued to drop, she shut the book and walked over to the thermostat. Reading the electronic display to be what should have been a comfortable 72 degrees fahrenheit, she gave a silent shrug, deciding to call a repair person in the morning. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a slight flickering of her table lamp, and, for an unknown reason, a sense of dread began to creep over her. Deciding to check on her daughter, she made her way down the hall to her door, opening it slightly and peering into the dark…
Just as she had left her, she found Cream sleeping soundly in her bed, hugging onto Cheese tightly as she dreamt. Satisfied that she was safe, Vanilla shut the door and made her way back into the living room. As she entered, the lamp on her end table was suddenly extinguished. The mother rabbit jumped, her anxiety peaking. Outside the wind began to swell, rapping on the door as though begging to be invited in. She made her way over to the front door, experiencing fear and hesitation. Nevertheless, she presses forward, turning the knob and opening it…
Outside the trees bent in the wind. Her front yard was dark, and the woods beyond seemed like a gaping maw, waiting to consume any who strayed into it. As she stared out over her property, the shadows of the woods seemed to draw closer, darkness creeping toward her front door. She shook, inching back from the door. Though she couldn't quite understand it, she was certain that she felt an undefined presence closing around her home.
She stopped, staring into the encroaching darkness, motionless. Despite the atmosphere, her eyes changed from fearful, to determined, as she stepped back into the doorframe and called out into the night with a commanding voice. “This is my home! I don't care who or what you are, or what you do to me, but you will not get past this door! You are not welcome here! I demand you leave!”
With a heavy swing the mother rabbit slammed the door shut, locking it firmly. Suddenly, a series of heavy knocks struck the door, causing Vanilla to stagger back in fright. The rapping on her door grew louder, and she could swear to hearing horrid moans coming from the other side. She stood stalwart, glaring at the rumbling door defiantly. “Did I not make myself clear?” She said through gritted teeth, “LEAVE MY HOME!”
And then… it stopped. The wind ceased its whipping, and the sensation of dread suddenly lifted itself from her spirit. The lamp flickered back to life, and the temperature of the room returned to a moderate level. Quickly Vanilla rushed to her door, slowly opening it and peering outside. The night was calm. Beautiful even. Looking down, however, she became aware of several large indentations in her door. Claw marks. Crude, sharp, and deep, like that of an animal. Closing the door she quickly dashed into the kitchen, picking up the phone on her wall and dialed the first number that came to her mind…
“Jaran, it's Vanilla! I need you at my house right now! I know how late it is! Get here now!!”