“NO! I won’t let you do this to her!”
“We have to! For the safety of the clan, Borealis!”
“Lucien, please! Don’t do this! It’ll destroy her! You don‘t understand! You‘ve never been Keeper…!”
“Borealis … if we don’t, our kind will be lost forever…”
Mighty walked through the forest, whistling a cheerful tune. He’d been traveling away from the Chaotix for a while now, but his heart always loved the forests. He’d spotted a bush of berries and had stopped to pick some when he heard a soft rustling noise. Something, he realized was hiding on the other side.
His brow furrowed as he began moving the branches aside, trying to find the source of what he could identify as soft murmurs and whimpers.
He pulled back a thick branch to find a gray, furry ear sticking out of the foliage. He walked around to the other side to see two legs and a ringed tail. He gently pulled the creature out of the bush and looked it over.
It was a female… He pulled out the rest of her to find out he’d stumbled upon a young white and gray raccoon. She continued to murmur and whimper. Mighty noticed she looked a bit flushed. He put a gloved hand to her head and let out a low whistle. She had a fever alright. A bad one, too.
He looked around for anyone who might know who she was. There wasn’t anyone else in this part of the forest… He turned back to her.
“Looks like you’re going to have to come with me…” Mighty murmured, scooping her up. “Hope Ray doesn’t mind the company…”
It didn’t take long for Mighty to reach the little cabin that he and his friend had been staying in while they were in the area. Lifting the girl over his shoulder, he pushed the door open.
“Hey, Ray! I’m back!”
A little yellow flying squirrel looked up from a pot over an open fire. “I think it’s almost done… Who’s that?” He pointed to the girl Mighty was laying on the bottom bunk of a rickety bunk bed that the previous owner had left behind.
“I don’t know… But she was passed out in the forest and she has a fever. There aren’t any towns or villages near here… not close enough for her to have simply wandered off… and there wasn’t anyone around.”
Ray nodded understandingly. “I think we still have some fever medicine… Let me check.”
While Ray was looking for the medicine, Mighty examined the little raccoon girl’s face. She was probably dreaming, and from the way her face was pinched up, it probably wasn’t a sweet dream. She had a cut over her right eye. Something had hit her… He examined the rest of her… Scratches and bruises… like she’s fallen… her feet had a few thorns in them, like she’d run through a thorn bush and had been too scared to stop to pull them out.
He began tugging at one of them, only for her to jerk her foot away.
“Momma!” She curled up in the bed, locked away in her feverish dreaming state.
Mighty smiled sadly at the girl, then glared determinedly at the thorns. They’d have to come out. One already looked like it might be infected. He took her ankle, gently yet securely in one hand, and grabbed the possibly infected thorn with the other.
“AHH! Momma! A multi-tails’ got me! Momma!” She tried to curl away again, only for Mighty to continue holding her ankle. She covered her head with her hands and whimpered.
Trying to be quick, Mighty pulled the thorn from her foot. “Ow!” She reflexively pulled her knee to her chest, guarding it from further attack. She sniffled for a while.
Mighty examined the thorn. It had been pretty deep. She’d probably been running on it and pushed it in deeper than it had been.
Ray appeared next to him. “I found the medicine, but I don’t think she can swallow it like this.” He held up the pill.
Mighty looked over at the pot on the fire. “You think that’s done yet?”
Ray turned to the pot. “Yeah, or it should be.” He filled a bowl with the soup and handed it to Mighty, who crushed the fever pill in it.
Mighty stirred the concoction while Ray got a chance to get a good look at their new visitor.
“How old do you think she is?” Ray asked, keeping his eyes glued to her face, which had relaxed a little since the thorn removal.
“Probably about 8... But she might be small for her age…”
“She’s probably from one of the more secluded tribes of Mobians…”
“What makes you say that?” Mighty stopped from his current chore to look up at his furry yellow companion.
“Her clothes. Who dresses in robes anymore?” He gently tugged at the ripped hem of her turquoise cloak. Mighty had been thinking the same thing in the far corners of his mind, but now wasn’t the time…
“Who knows? Maybe she’s in costume. Here, hold the bowl. I just hope she’ll swallow willingly…” He supported her head with one hand and held the spoon to her lips with the other, to see if she was “in it” enough to realize she was being fed. The warm liquid caused her to open her mouth. Mighty hoped that was a good sign. He began gently pouring the spoonful of soup down her throat. The muscles in her throat did the rest as she swallowed.
So went the rest of the bowl until it was empty and it was certain she’d had a good dose of the medicine. After the meal, her nightmare seemed to end itself and she slept peacefully.
A fuchsia raccoon with three tails stood in a forest clearing between two leaf shaped vehicles. One looked like a land rover with a rounded bottom. The older one was obviously an aircraft, and was pointed nose down into the ground. The door was open and the inside had been emptied of all it’s contents. Scavengers, the raccoon thought disgustedly.
Unfortunately, that didn’t give her anymore of an idea on what to do than simply finding the shell of a space pod…
One of her ears twitched. Someone had already picked up on the energy signal from the craft… darn it all! She looked to the west, where the raw energy of the catalyst she was looking for was coming from.
“… She must’ve gotten sick or hurt… the Heart’s trying to heal her… and giving off a heck of an energy signal…”
She pulled a leaf out from behind her ear and tossed it into the air. With a loud POP and a puff of purple smoke, the leaf became a hover board. The fuchsia raccoon put one paw on it and looked back at her own craft; a duck type craft for both land and water. She grunted and snapped her fingers and the duck became invisible. She nodded in satisfaction before taking off into the forest.
Shadow came out of the Chaos Control warp right at the edge of the clearing where the space pod was.
“…So the rumors where true… there was another space colony…” He walked up the nose of the craft and into the cockpit. The controls were strange.
“No human made this ship…” He spotted a screen that was still lit up with the minimum of snow. It flashed a paw print with two intersecting rings around it. The red and black hedgehog pushed a blue button next to the screen. “If this is like the ARK… it should have a log in here somewhere…” A main menu popped up. After some browsing, Shadow found what he was looking for.
“Log day 2405192 in the Tanuki Anarchy Colony. It’s been peaceful in the civilian quarters on the colony, which can only mean the upper class multi-tails in the headquarters are feeling more than their share of chaos. It seems a Civil War is churning beneath the calm waters of our planetoid colony. And to think that was the entire reason we went into space… to be free of the Robotniks, Mobia and it’s wars and conflicts that constantly rage.
“The worst part of the whole thing is Borealis and her mate seem to be in the center of the conflict. Our Heart Keeper, of all creatures is fighting for the Catalyst Ceremony to be stopped.. Not that I can blame her. I’ve seen the effect our life force and it’s catalyst has had on the lady Keeper, and I wouldn’t wish it on my own little Tyranny, let alone Borealis’ tiny, only daughter, Masq.”
Shadow hit the blue button again. “A catalyst? For energy? Sounds like the Emeralds…” A few warbled sounds later, he stopped in the middle of another log.
“…She’s totally upset the balance! Borealis refused to let her daughter continue the Keeper lineage and it’s too late now! The entire colony is falling apart! The Heart is what held this colony together, and now it has no Keeper! Darn it, keep up, Tyranny! We have to get to the pods quickly! We’ve only got minutes left before this entire place is nothing but space dust!
“Borealis was put into temporary custody by her mate, Lucien, so that Masq could be set through the ceremony without interruption. But Borealis escaped somehow and at the most crucial moment pushed Masq aside and made her way back into the core of the Heart, where Masq would’ve had to go to prove she was ready. Into the Heart of Eris, mother of Chaos. Borealis did something and the reaction was less than favorable. I don’t know where little Masq is now, but I pray for her safety.
“To think… all this could’ve been avoided if Borealis had just minded her place…”
The screen went blank.
Shadow stared at the blank screen, lost in thought for a moment. It would seem that this Heart of Eris was very powerful… and in the wrong hands… Memories of his last moments on the ARK flashed before Shadow’s mind’s eye.
“…I’ll find it first… Chaos Control.”
Little did Shadow know, there were not one or even two craft in the clearing… there where three. And the occupant of the third one was moments away from beating him to the punch.
Yellow eyes glared at the cabin in frustration. There owner knew well she was no match for what was inside, so the snatch and grab technique wouldn’t work in this instance… And the little brat didn’t think the multi-tails wanted to capture her, she knew it!
She pondered again at the unforeseen conditions that had led her to this point. In the panic on TAC, the idiot guards had released all the prisoners. The yellow eyed stalker let out a chuckle. She’d ducked into one of the life pods with no trouble at all. With the Heart in turbulence, all the chaos that had given the Tanuki’s their powers in olden times had come flooding back and they had no way to control it, so they didn’t care if one or two unknowns snuck amongst there midst, so long as it got them off of the collapsing colony… She wondered, briefly, if any other of her comrades had gotten free in time before the TAC hit Mobia full force…
That’s when the door to the cabin opened. Out strode a male with a red shell on his back.
The Tanuki tilted her head, her five tails swishing curiously. What was this?
Mighty stretched and took a deep breath. Today was going to be beautiful.
The Tanuki jumped down into the shadow of the tree she’d hidden in. Slowly, so’s not to alarm the male, she strode out into the clearing that housed the cabin, a plan formulating in her mind.
Mighty heard a twig snap and whirled toward the sound. He noticed a little turquoise before his eyes zeroed in on the yellow orbs staring him down. “Who’s there?”
The Tanuki female stepped the rest of the way into the light. “The name’s Arid.”
“What do you want?”
“Um… to find a little girl about neigh tall would be nice, but I’d settle for directions.” Mighty looked her over. She wasn’t dressed like the raccoon girl, but she seemed to know her… Then he noticed her tails… all five of them. He remembered the little girl being so frightened.
“AHH! Momma! A multi-tails’ got me! Momma!”
“A little girl? What would a little girl be doing all the way out here?”
“She probably got frightened when our… colony was destroyed. There’s nothing left. I’m one of the few Tanuki left.”
“So there was a colony around here?”
“Not exactly, but she’s come quiet a long ways if she’s here. According to tracks, she should be close, though….”
Mighty’s neck hair stood on end. Something most definitely wasn’t right here. Mighty and Ray had been traveling around this area for weeks and hadn’t spotted any signs of a colony close enough for the girl to have lived there.
“Well, the forest ends about 10 miles that way, 400 kilos that way into the mountains and you came from that way.” He pointed his thumb. “Thanks for the heads up. We’ll send her your way if we see her.”
“Well, then! Can you at least get me started? I mean, I’ve come a long way and been out all night… how’s that for gratitude?! I mean… Oof!”
Mighty’s fists went up in a defensive position as a fuchsia blur shot out from the forest foliage.
“HA! I knew it! Of all the scummy lowlife… Arid!” The dust settled and Mighty looked on at the skirmish as the fuschia, three tailed, green eyed Tanuki pinned her turquoise, golden eyed prey to the ground.
“Nice to see you too, Tundra!” The bottom raccoon ground out between clinched teeth.
“You were locked up!”
“Well, I got out.”
“Just in time, it seems.”
“Too bad for you and the brat…”
“You’ve seen her? Where is she?!”
Mighty grabbed each of the girls by the scruff of their neck and pulled them apart.
“Look here! I’ve got nearly no idea what all this is about, but I do know that your pointless noise is turning a beautiful day sour.”
Arid raised an eyebrow and Tundra shook her head nervously. “S-sorry.”
“Alright then. It looks like both of you are looking for the same little girl with different reasons. Why?”
“… That’s classified information. Strictly on a need to know basis.” Tundra replied.
“Can it, Tundra. He’s got the kid. I tracked her all the way into that little house right over there. His angle is if we don’t clam up and do as he says, he’ll keep her for himself.”
“Forget that! If she’s in that little place, I can get her right now!” Tundra pulled a leaf out from behind her ear. With a POP and a burst of pink smoke, she was holding a revolver. “So get out of the way, whatever you are.”
Mighty put his hands up, trying to keep her calm. “Look, I don’t have the kid. I’m not holding a kid hostage and I’m not going to harm you. Just put that away.”
“I’d rather not, but if you insist, I will.” With a snap of his wrist, Mighty had knocked the revolver out of her hand. As it hit the ground, another pop was heard and it reverted back to the leaf.
Mighty smirked at the leaf and turned to the fuchsia raccoon who was sweating and looking very frightened. Suddenly, she looked angry and pointed behind Mighty.
Mighty whirled around to see the turquoise raccoon opening the door to the cabin.
“Get away from there!”
Mighty and Tundra began a race to the front door to stop Arid. Before they could get to her, she turned and looked at Mighty with an evil glare.
“What sort of trickery is this?” Mighty paused, but Tundra didn’t. She looked inside and looked back out.
“There’s no one here…”
“What?” Mighty ran to the door and looked in. The Tanukis where telling the truth. Ray, the girl, and Ray’s pack were all gone.
“Ray! Where are you!?”
“Looks like they gave us the slip. I bet I find them first.” Arid smirked before pulling an acorn out of her pocket.
“You’re on!” Tundra pulled yet another leaf from her ear and slammed it down, rematerializing her hover board.
Mighty turned in time to see them boarding out into the forest before he went back inside.
“Why were they after the little girl?”
That’s when he noticed the dusty handprints on the window in the back of the cabin. He studied them carefully. One set of squirrel’s and one set of raccoon’s prints. “Looks like she’s awake…”
The little raccoon girl had woken up to the sounds of arguing. She looked around at the unfamiliar environment and panicked. She saw Ray and relaxed a bit.
‘He’s only got one tail.’
“Are you okay?” Ray asked.
“I’ve been better, but all in all I’m okay.”
“Mighty found you passed out in the woods.”
“I was passed out? Ah!” She gasped and began feeling around her shirt. “Oh, no! Oh, no, oh no, oh no!”
“Did I have a crystal? Around my neck? Did I still have it when you found me?”
“A crystal? Oh, you mean this?” Ray held up a really small heart shaped crystal on a leather cord. “You were tossing and turning last night and dropped it on the floor.”
“Yes! Thank you! Oh, I thought they’d gotten it.” She looked up at Ray with gratitude in her crimson eyes. “My mom told me to protect it from the others. She said it would hurt people.”
They heard a loud pop from outside.
“No! They found me already!”
“Please, I’ll explain later! We have to get out of here!!!”
Ray nodded. “Alright. This way.” He grabbed his pack and led her out the back window.
They ran until they reached a small meadow and the little raccoon girl collapsed from exhaustion.
“You said…you would… explain…” Ray gasped.
“Yes. My name is Masq. I used to live in TAC.”
“The Tanuki Anarchy Colony. It was a big planet like colony that the Tanuki built a long time ago with the help of the catalyst. We called it the Heart.
“When the Tanuki lived on Mobia, we were hunted for our powers. Momma said that evil people wanted the Tanuki power of chaos for themselves and tried to turn us into slaves. That’s when a lot of really powerful Tanuki got together and created The Heart of Eris. It’s what kept us alive in space. It used the powers of all the Tanuki people to hold the place together and keep it running, but it absorbed so much power it caused a few problems.
“First, no one could use their powers while the catalyst was using them, so it caused a lot of grief for the first residents of the colony, who where used to using their powers on a daily basis, but we adapted and it got better. Then, after the Tanuki had adapted, there was another problem.
Every generation, there would be a surge of extra power from the crystal because we prospered and thrived and there were so many of us, it created a lot of energy. And since the energy was so powerful and we’d lost our powers, we had no way to control it. It would’ve eventually destroyed us.
“So, the elders of the clan sought out a child to go into the core of the heart and become the Keeper of the Heart. My mother was the last Keeper, as her mother was before her and so on. But, when it came to be my turn, mother didn’t want me to become the Keeper. She said there was nothing in it but pain. She said the Heart tore out any tranquility in you and used it to obtain balance, but once it tore it out, you could never have it back.”
Ray took a deep breath. “So, you still have your… Tranquility?” She nodded.
“Mother said when she lost her tranquility, it took a piece of her soul with it. She said she always felt like she was only half alive. She told dad ‘Never. I‘ll never let them do it to my little Masq.’”
“You’re name is Masq?”
“Huh? Oh! Yes. Sorry.” She blushed, realizing she’d totally forgotten her manners.
“I’m Ray. Nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too… but I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“Why don’t you look like any other Tanuki? Is there something wrong?”
“Ahaha. No. I’m not a Tanuki. I’m a flying squirrel.”
“… Never heard of it.”
“Well, I doubt they had any in your colony, so that’s okay.” Suddenly another voice resounded from the top of a tree.
“…So I finally found you.” Masq gasped and looked up. There was a black and red thing with spikes coming out it’s head staring at her with red eyes.
“Ahh!” She ducked behind Ray. “Where are all these weird things coming from?”
Shadow raised an eyebrow, looking from Ray to the girl.
Ray glared. “Leave her alone, Shadow!”
Shadow glared down at the little yellow squirrel.
“Sorry, but I can’t let Eggman get her first.”
“Eggman is after her too?”
“Not yet, but the instant he finds out she’s here, he will.”
“Well, too bad! Mighty and I can protect her just fine!”
“Oh, you can?”
End Chapter One