"We need to move!" Barked Jaran loudly, running toward the bridge exit, "Tails, grab Cosmo and let's go!"
The fox boy reacted immediately, scooping her limp form into his arms and breaking into a sprint. Another loud roar shook the bridge, causing loose tiles of metal to drop from the ceiling, clattering to the floor violently. Rouge made her way over to Omega's heaped body, scrambling to open his chassis as she ripped out his memory module.
"MOVE!!" Commanded the Guardian again, coming to a halt just outside the door to ensure that everyone made it out before proceeding himself.
"What the hell was that!?" Rouge hollered loudly, following behind the other members of Team Sonic as they sprinted down the hallway, Jaran taking up the rear.
"No time!" He exclaimed, "Keep moving!"
As the group made their way back down the hallway from which they had come, the thunderous roars behind them grew louder, drawing closer the more they attempted to flee. Tails glanced periodically over his shoulder, attempting to locate the source of the terrible raging pursuing them.
"HEADS UP!" Sonic warned suddenly, as the fox glanced ahead. Tails yelped loudly, coming to a screeching halt, narrowly avoiding tumbling off of the platform overhanging the abyss which they had ascended earlier. Glancing around the chamber, the group attempted to locate the safest method for descent.
Suddenly, everything fell silent. The beastly roars behind them inexplicably ceased as the team glanced at each other nervously. "Jaran?" Tails spoke slowly, hoping for direction from the sage.
"We're not out of the fryer yet…" He murmured, glancing down into the vast drop, "We should head back down--"
A malicious cry of unholy rage erupted suddenly from the pit beneath them, rocking the platform on which they stood. Below, the darkness of the pit seemed to churn and billow, like a cauldron of dark fire about to erupt. Out of the depths, a shapeless, black mass burst fourth—a swirling vortex of darkness writhing angrily in the air above them, dwarfing the team several times over. The group stared in terror as the black mass formed into a vague sapient shape. From within the darkness, two red eyes burned, staring down at the creatures before it with disdain. Team Sonic shrank back, stepping away from the ledge of the platform.
"JESUS CHRIST!" Screeched Amy, "WHAT IS IT!? WHAT IS THAT THING!?"
Glaring up at the phantasm, Jaran stepped forward, his gaze steeled as he thrust out an open hand. From his palm, a brilliant golden light erupted, blinding the group as it illuminated every corner of the dark chasm. The beast shrank back, growing smaller and more coherent upon exposure to the light, taking on the general shape of the dark sorcerer whom they thought they had defeated. Jaran looked over his shoulder, panic in his eyes as he shouted over the din of the raging beast.
"RUN, YOU IDIOTS!!"
With brief hesitation, Tails turned and darted back down the hallway, deviating from their previous path and making a sharp left at the junction. The others quickly followed, with Shadow glancing over his shoulder to see Kai struggling against this monstrous incarnation of the Dark Lord, Xemus.
"The Force fights with me!" Kai shouted defiantly up at the dark aberration, "Go back to the void from whence you came!"
The dark phantasm grew larger as it seemed to build an immunity to Kai's wall of light. Jaran withdrew his arm, stepping back as he looked up at the towering manifestation of darkness.
Continuing to flee, Team Sonic and Team Dark heard a shout of panic. Tails flinched, unable to imagine the horror Kai would be subject to. Despite this, the only thing on his mind was seeing Cosmo to safety.
"He'll be okay," the young kitsune attempted to reassure himself, though hardly convinced of his own words, "He'll make it…"
As they ran, Tails reached down with his left hand, keying in a sequence of commands on his wrist communicator, made more difficult due to holding Cosmo. "Where are we going?" Asked Sonic in a panic, "The Tornado is the other way!"
"Just keep going!" Tails responded, "We'll make it yet!"
Happening to glance over her shoulder, Amy's eyes went wide as the rolling black mass of dark energy rushed down the corridor behind them, charging in their direction. "HES COMING!" Amy screamed, "HES COMING, TAILS! MOVE FASTER!!"
Pushing himself, the fox took another sharp left, weaving through a series of narrow halls until the corridor came to an abrupt end, leading into a destroyed section of the ship exposed to the vacuum of space. Turning, Tails watched as the rolling black cloud advanced on them. Sonic glanced at Tails, uncertain of the foxs intentions.
"If you've got a plan, bro, now would be a good time!!" The hedgehog urged, taking a few paces back.
With a quick motion, Tails produced a dummy ring bomb and lobbed it upward. Just as the smoke-like daemon neared them, the device detonated, causing the fragile ceiling to collapse in front of them. The corridor caved in, heavy debris blocking the path in between themselves and the aberration, while also trapping them on the other side, their only escape being outer space. Given a moment of reprieve, Tails keyed in one final command on his wrist communicator, which began to blink red.
"Nice job, pixel-brain!" Knuckles barked, "How are we supposed to get out before that thing digs through to us!?"
As soon as the echidna spoke, the sound of engines filled their ears, as the X Tornado, Mark Two flew into the breach, hovering just outside the reach of the corridor. Shadow grinned, glancing at Tails as he muttered to the fox.
"Nice job, pixel-brain," the Ultimate Life Form complimented. Taking a few steps back, the onyx hedgehog made a sprint toward the craft, leaping the short gap and landing atop the plane. Others followed likewise, hopping across the drop and entering the X Tornado one at a time through the canopy. Finally, with Cosmo tightly in his arms, Tails spun his namesakes and hovered onto the plane, entering the cockpit and shutting the canopy quickly. The fox made his way into the spacious rear cabin, laying Cosmo down gently on the cot along the aft wall. Looking over her worriedly, Amy approached the fox, placing a hand on his shoulder as she spoke gently.
"I'll watch over her," she said knowingly, "now, get us out of here!"
The fox hesitated, taking one last look at his beloved before turning about, seating himself in the cockpit and taking control of the fighter. Setting the engines in reverse, the fox expertly backed out of the breach in the Darkships hull. Once in open space, the fox punched the throttle to full, speeding as fast as his ship would take them away from Xemus' terrible dreadnaught.
The Darkship, however, seemed to have other ideas. Having made it only a few meters outside the hull, the X Tornado came to a sudden stop. Even with the engines at full, the craft remained motionless. "Tractor beam!" Tails shouted, weaving and bobbing the craft to try and pull away, "Cant break free! The engine are overheating!"
"Can't you do something!?" Sonic shouted, dashing into the cockpit, hovering over Tails shoulder, "Like, put more power into the engines or something!?"
"Its a kinetic force beam, Sonic!" Tails shouted, glancing at the hedgehog, "Even in your super form, if you got out and pushed, you'd only tear the Tornado apart!"
"Theres got to be a way!" Rouge interrupted, entering the cockpit behind Sonic, "We are not--AH!"
The bat was suddenly thrown forward as the X Tornado rocked violently. Looking out of the canopy, Tails eyes went wide as a ball of fire erupted from the side of the Darkship, taking most of the port engine with it. The tractor beam disengaged, the shock of the explosion hurling the smaller craft a great distance from the Darkship.
"What the hell was that!?" Sonic asked, his eyes drifting to the massive explosion in the distance, "What did you do, Tails?"
"I didn't--" Tails began, but fell silent as a familiar sight caught his attention. Flying directly out of the breach left by the explosion was the sleek, obsidian hull of Jarans fighter, Andra.
"Sorry for the surprise!" The familiar voice of Jaran came over the X Tornado's communication channel, "Looked like you needed a hand!"
Tails beamed, breathing a sigh of relief at this most welcome voice. Cutting agilely through the starry space-scape, Andra pulled alongside the X Tornado, allowing the group a clear view into the cockpit of the small attack fighter. Manning the controls was a bruised, but very much alive, Jaran Kai.
"Jaran!" Tails exclaimed, letting out another relieved sigh, "I didn't--I'm sorry. I didn't mean to leave you--"
"Tails," interrupted the sage, "you were protecting your own. I respect that. Theres no need to apologize. Besides, I told you to do it!"
"Right…" Tails said with a nod. Hearing footsteps approaching him from behind, Tails turned his head to see Amy enter the cockpit. "Has she come around?" He asked her, "Amy, please tell me shes okay…"
"I wish I could," Amy answered, shaking her head slowly, "she's staring up at the ceiling. I can't tell if she's awake or not. She won't stop shaking. I dont know whats going on--"
"Catatonia," Jaran spoke over the speakers, "Whatever he did is causing her senses to shut down, as a means of self-defense. We need to get her back home…"
"I'll set us down in the hangar," Tails replied, starting their descent into Mobius' atmosphere, "Jaran, is she going to be okay?"
The comm was silent. The fox quickly began to grow anxious. He knew that Jaran could hear him, so why was he not answering? What was happening to his fiance? What had that monster done to her that would cause her to lose all control of her facilities? Secretly, the fox wished the sage would lie to him—to tell him that she would be okay even though there was every possibility that she would not. He knew that would never happen, though. Jaran was many things—rude, inconsiderate, deceptive, to name only a few, but not an outright liar. Right now, that was exactly what Tails needed though, and because of that, he almost found himself hating the sage…
"Just give me a place to land," Jaran spoke flatly, "Ill see whats going on when we land…"
"Jaran, please!!" The fox began to beg, "Tell me shes going to be okay!! I need to know everythings going to be okay!!"
He received no response, however. Jaran had already terminated the channel. Tears began to trickle down the fox's cheeks, his hands shaking uncontrollably. Gritting his teeth, the fox let out a cry, slamming his fists against the dash. Amy flinched, struggling to hold back tears of her own as she whispered softly.
"I'll keep an eye on her, Tails. Just take us home. I'm sure everything will be alright…"
Tails nodded, easing the craft down into Mobius lower atmosphere. Turning, Amy returned to the cabin. Staring blankly forward, Tails sighed heavily, whispering quietly to himself.
"Thank you, Amy. I needed that…"
It was well into the night when the group finally landed. None had anticipated just how much time they had spent on the Darkship. Given the events that had occurred while there, none had given much thought to time. In spite of their immense fatigue, the group quickly filed from their respective craft, Tails toting Cosmo in his arms back inside their house to their bedroom, laying her down on the bed. Even now, she made no movements of her own, continuing to stare blankly at the ceiling, not reacting to the members of Team Sonic and Team Dark huddled over her bedside. Vanilla, who had remained at Tails house in anticipation of their return, looked down upon Cosmo, tears in her eyes on seeing her near-daughter broken as she was.
"Wh-what's happened to her?" Asked the elder doe, hands cupped over her mouth, "What has he done, Jaran?"
"She's been this way since we found her," Shadow remarked, standing near the corner of the room, the sight causing even him some discomfort, "Whatever that bastard showed her, it's left her completely catatonic."
Tails was quiet, completely oblivious to the conversation going on around him as he sat on the edge of the bed, gently holding Cosmo's hand as he struggled to retain his composure. Their link, which had been a source of both comfort and intimacy for the two, had seemingly vanished. No matter how hard he strained, he could not touch Cosmo's mind. It was almost as if she no longer existed.
With a heavy sigh, Jaran cleared his throat, his voice hoarse as he spoke. "I need everyone to leave," He said, his words sounding more an order than a request, "I need to find out what he did to her mind. It's the only hope we have of saving her…"
Hesitating, the group finally conceded, exiting one by one. All except for Tails, who continued to stroke Cosmos hand. Slowly, Kai placed a hand on the fox's shoulder, causing him to jump in a start. The fox looked up, not letting go of Cosmos hand for a moment.
"That includes you," the sage murmured.
"What?" Asked Tails, tilting his head, "What includes me?"
"I need you to leave," repeated Jaran, sternly.
The fox stared back at the sage, his words seeming momentarily unclear. Slowly, Tails' eyebrows began to arch into a sharp "V", the idea of leaving Cosmo's side not sitting well with him. "No… I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving her like this…"
"I can't find out what's wrong unless you give me the space I need to meditate," Jaran said, his voice direct, but not hostile, "if you want to help her, youll do what I'm telling you!"
"Doing what you told us was what got her kidnapped!" Tails blamed, standing as he approached the sage, "What makes you think anything you do will help her!?"
"Yo, is everything okay here?" Asked Sonic, peering in from the hallway, having overheard the fox's shouts, "Tails, buddy, whats the matter?"
"Sonic…" Jaran spoke slowly, frowning as he looked upon the fox. His gaze then drifted to the cobalt hedgehog, staring at him knowingly, "Get him out of here—now…"
"What?" Asked Sonic, looking at the sage.
"Dont you dare…" Tails snarled, taking a few steps back.
"Sonic, Tails is emotional right now," the sentinel spoke, "nothing is going to get done like this. Get him out of here!”
"Tails…" Sonic hesitated, letting out a heavy sigh, "I think you should come on. It'll only be a little bit…"
"NO!" The fox shouted defiantly, reeling back, "Im not leaving her alone again! You cant make me!"
Slowly, Jaran turned to face Sonic, gazing at the hedgehog again a mute expression. Giving a slight nod, Sonic turned his to face Tails, approaching him slowly. "Tails, its time to go…"
"No…" The fox hesitated, stepping back as Sonic moved in closer to him. Tails' eyes began to grow watery, shaking his head back and fourth almost violently, "Dont! DON'T TOUCH ME! SONIC, PLEASE!!"
Wordlessly, Sonic grabbed the foxs arm, lifting him up and slinging him over his shoulder. The kitsune screamed, kicking and flailing as he attempted to wriggle away from his friend. Jaran turned his head, avoiding the fox's pleading gaze as Sonic dragged him from the room.
"NO!! SONIC, LET GO!!" The fox cried, his tears matting the fur under his eyes as he reached out to Cosmo, "PLEASE, DONT MAKE ME! SONIC!!!"
Jaran flinched as the door shut behind them, listening as the fox screamed all the way down the stairs. After a few minutes, everything went quiet. Slowly making his way over to the bed, Jaran sat himself on the edge, gently brushing the girls bangs from her eyes. Using the end of his robe, he took a moment to wipe away the green blood oozing down her cheek. Finally, the sage reached down, holding a palm over her head as he shut his eyes.
"You cling on by a spider's thread. Your mind is slowly slipping away…" He chanted, "Now, Cosmo, let me in, so I can show you the way home--oh God… No! Please, God, no!!"
The Freedom Fighters sat quietly in Tails' living room, tired, sore and emotionally strained. Having finally calmed down, Tails sat quietly on his sofa, staring into empty space. After several minutes, Sonic finally looked to him, speaking softly.
"Bro…" He whispered, his voice tender, "Im sorry. I know youre upset, but I had to get you out. We need to find out what's wrong so we can help her. I know you want that…"
"Yeah…" Tails murmured, lowering his head into his hands as he spoke hoarsely, "I know. Im sorry for losing it. I'm just… really scared, Sonic. I want to help, but this time, I don't know how…"
"Dont beat yourself up," Knuckles murmured, "this is monsters, and magic, and demons and nothing we've dealt with before…"
"This is so out of our pay grade…" Rouge whispered. Despite her initial jealousy toward Cosmo, even she could not help but feel sorry for the little plant girl.
Just before Tails could lose his temper again, Knuckles beat the despairing fox to it, standing as he looked down at the winged harlot. "Is that all this is to you? A job!? Cosmos more than a friend to some of us, and all you can think about is your damn mission!? You selfish bitch--"
"Back off," snarled Shadow, placing himself between the echidna and the bat, "If you had half of a brain you would understand what she meant…"
"Don't talk to me about having brains, you insensitive bastard!" Knuckles barked, "At least one of us is thinking about the victims here!"
"ENOUGH!" Vanilla raised her voice, enough to startle even Shadow as the doe pointed to their respective chairs, "SIT YOUR ASSES DOWN, NOW!!"
The hedgehog and the echidna stared at the woman briefly, complying as they retreated to their seats. Remaining silent for a moment, Vanilla let out a deep breath, her voice returning to its typical pitch.
"I realize tensions are high, but it doesn't do any good to point fingers at each other! If you want to be angry, be angry at Xemus! He's the one at fault—no one else!"
Before any more comments could be made, the group heard the bedroom door open. Turning, they watched as Kai slowly descended the staircase. The room seemed to become eerily quiet, however, upon seeing the sages face. Unlike before, his normally pink skin was flushed unnaturally white. His hands quivered violently, and his cheeks were wet with tears. Tails stood suddenly, approaching Jaran slowly, now more nervous than ever.
"J-Jaran?" The fox spoke, his voice quivering, "Wh-what's happened?"
"I need—you to come with me, Tails," the sage whispered softly, "you need to be the one to hear this first…"
Staring blankly for a moment, Tails turned to look over his shoulder, the others returning his glance with ones of fearful anticipation. After a moment, the fox nodded, following Jaran as the two returned to Tails and Cosmo's bedroom, shutting the door behind them.
For many minutes, all was quiet. Nothing could be heard from the room above as Team Sonic and Team Dark listened for any indication of Cosmo's status, some more patiently than others. Amy briefly glanced at Sonic, scooting closer to him on the sofa and taking his hand. In spite of his normally reserved behavior, Sonic took her hand into his tightly, giving it a firm, almost painful squeeze. For a moment, Amy was unsure whether he was comforting her, or it was he who needed comforting…
A scream, unlike anything they had ever heard, caused each of them to shoot their heads up. Wails of despair from Tails echoed down the hallway, reaching the living room and beyond. Vanilla immediately shot out of her chair, running to the base of the staircase and looking up to the bedroom. Amidst the cries, Tails could be heard shouting, with the only word being "no", repeated over and over again. This went on for nearly fifteen uninterrupted minutes, until finally, the door opened, with the fox slowly descending the staircase behind Kai, looking as ravaged as the sage. Even more so.
Vanilla quickly rushed to the kitsune's side, dropping to her knees as she got on eye level with him. Tears came in torrents down the boys face, dampening his furry cheeks. His ears were tightly folded back against his skull, his namesakes nestled tightly between his legs. Vanilla gently brushed his face, though the panic in her eyes was hardly reassuring.
"Talk to me, sweetheart!" Vanilla begged the fox, her own hands beginning to shake, "Tell me what's wrong!"
Tails was silent, choking on his own words each time he attempted to speak. The fox gasped for breath, as if drowning in his own tears. Vanilla quickly grabbed his shoulders, her typical cool head failing her. "MILES, PULL IT TOGETHER!" She spoke, giving him a light shake, "Tell me what's wrong!"
The fox cleared his throat, his words broken by sobs of despair as she finally got her answer…
"SH-sh--Co—she--" Suddenly, the fox lowering his head into the mother rabbit's shoulder, his shouts muffled by the sleeve of her dress. "SHE WAS VIOLATED!!!"
A deathly silence again filled the room…