City of the Sands
“Excuse me, but did you say you were from Shadakor?” the pink hedgehog asked. Miles smiled brightly back at her.
“Yep, born and raised there.”
“But that’s impossible,” Sonic pointed out. “Nobody’s seen or heard from Shadakor since Buttnik took over.”
“Uh, mind filling me in on what this Shadakor is?” Manic asked, scratching his head in confusion.
“Didn’t you pay attention to your history lessons?” Sonia asked incredulously, causing the green furred hedgehog to look sour for the briefest of moments.
“Oddly enough, history wasn’t too high on my priorities to learn when I was growing up,” Manic retorted.
“Well from what I know, Shadakor was one of the few independent cities in the world. It wasn’t a part of the Kingdom of Mobius, though it was an ally. It was a city founded and dedicated almost completely to magic and its study. People came from all over to learn the arcane arts, and to acquire some of the magic artifacts that were made there. Supposedly it was controlled by a powerful sorcerer known as the Archmage. Some say the Archmage was even more powerful than the Oracle of Delphius as far as magic goes.”
“Was?” Manic asked. It was at this point that Sonic took over the narration.
“When Ro-bum-nik took over, the whole city just disappeared like it was never there.”
“In other words, he destroyed it,” Manic concluded, turning back a skeptical glance at the fox. If all this was just to avoid being punished by his parents…
“We weren’t destroyed, at least that’s not what my uncle tells me,” Miles explained. “When Robotnik took over, the Archmage used his magic and the power of our greatest treasure to hide the city from the world. That way Robotnik wouldn’t be able to attack us and destroy the city.”
“Some allies,” Manic quipped. “But at least that means they’re still a free city and out of Robotnik’s mitts.”
“So that’s why Sleet wanted to keep you,” Sonic realized. “‘Buttnik must think you can lead him to Shadakor so he can loot it.”
“Probably; not that it would do him much good,” Miles responded. “I mean, even if he did get led to the city, it’s protected by a barrier only a member of the Archmage’s bloodline can open. As long as that barrier’s up, nobody can get in or out of the city walls.” Sonic’s eyebrow rose at that.
“Then how’d you get out?”
“Well the Archmage is my grandfather, so naturally I can open the barrier.” Suddenly all three hedgehogs slapped their foreheads as they realized the implications of what they’d just been told, though the young fox didn’t seem to yet understand. “What?”
“Kid, don’t you see? If any Shadakoran can’t be caught by ‘Buttnik, it’s you. You’re not just a map, you’re a key to the city itself.” As this information penetrated the kit’s brain, his eyes widened.
“Oh… That… That would explain why my uncle doesn’t like me leaving the city.”
“Then it seems to me we need to get you home in hurry,” Sonia said. “It’s not safe for you to be around here.”
“And maybe if we get to Shadakor, we can convince this Archmage to start taking a more active role in resisting Robotnik,” Sonic mused. “I mean, anyone who can hide a whole city has gotta be packin’ some major mojo.”
“And maybe we’ll even get a reward too,” Manic piped in, a bead of sweat forming on the back of his head as he saw the looks his two siblings were giving him. “What? These guys are all supposed to be magicians right? Maybe they have something that can jazz up our instruments or something."
“Wait, so you guys are gonna help me get back to Shadakor?” Miles asked, somewhat surprised. Surely such important Freedom Fighters had more to do than mess with some little kit who was far from home.
“Well we can’t exactly let you go all by yourself, can we?” Sonia explained.
“It worked before.”
“Nuh-uh, it only worked ‘cause no one knew you were here,” Manic pointed out. “Sleet’s probably gonna have every SWAT in the city lookin’ for you now little dude. You’re safer with us.”
“So just sit back, kick up your feet, and enjoy your ride on the Sonic Underground Express,” Sonic said as he stopped and pressed a remote. From a dark alley, two bright lights came on as an engine came to life. The trio turned quartet now found themselves staring at the battle armored tour bus of the Sonic Underground.
“COOL!!” Miles exclaimed.
Sleet was not looking forward to making his report to Dr. Robotnik, but, truth be told, he was the only one who could be trusted to put the proper “spin” on it. He was even considering telling his partner Dingo to leave his side for the duration for the orange mobian’s own safety. Though Dingo was always expendable as far as Sleet was concerned, it was a massive waste to throw him to the proverbial wolves if he didn’t have to. This was especially true when there was such a good scapegoat as that chicken-hearted mayor to pin the blame on. Suddenly the face of Mobius’s current ruler and dictator for life appeared on the computer screen.
“Sleet, Dingo, report,” the ovoid human said in his gruff, angry voice. Silently Sleet wondered if the Doctor even could make his voice sound less so. “Well, tell me how the raid went you simpering fools!”
“We… we ran into some problems sir,” Sleet replied.
“Were their names Sonic, Sonia, and Manic?” Robotnik growled through grated teeth, his patience with his two lackeys wearing thin. So far this was not going very well, but there was still a chance for Sleet to turn it around, or at least deflect enough of the blame from himself to keep from needing to be oiled for the rest of his life.
“We were under-equipped to deal with the situation. It seems the Mayor has been more interested in using the collected tax money to feed his own vices than in fortifying and defending your glorious empire,” Sleet semi-lied. Robotnik tended to see much of himself in everything else around him, so it wasn’t such a big stretch for him to believe someone else held the same disregard for others as he did. It was a small step, but it did help. Narrowing his eyes, Robotnik continued.
“How many prisoners did you manage to take?”
“Sadly, only about four or five,” Sleet answered, again lying. The low number wouldn’t earn him any brownie points, and would probably cost him something in the way of punishment, but if he told his boss he hadn’t managed to capture a single mobian, that would guarantee he and Dingo would be inspecting an active roboticizer from the inside out. And four or five mundane prisoners suddenly disappearing before they could be dealt with would be fairly difficult for the ever busy dictator to notice.
“That blasted fool! How dare he allow Silk City to become such a mockery of my justice!” Robotnik started to rant, much to Sleet’s relief. If the rotund ruler was yelling at someone else, he wasn’t yelling at the wolf. “And I suppose the hedgehogs just waltzed out without so much as a ‘by your leave!’”
“Yeah and they took that weird rock-movin’ fox with ‘em,” Dingo said. Hearing this, a questioning look came over Robotnik’s face as all the color drained from Sleet’s.
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh nothing sir. You know Dingo; every stupid thought that comes into his head has got to travel right out his mouth,” Sleet explained in an attempt to cover for his dimwitted partner’s verbal diarrhea. Unfortunately, Dingo was less than quick on the uptake.
“Nah Sleet, you remember; that little two tailed fox that blew up the SWATbots with those rocks… What’d he say?” The orange dog scratched his head as he struggled to remember. “Gigani… something or other.”
“You saw one of the foxes of Shadakor!? And you let him get away?!” Robotnik practically screeched. Suddenly a trip to the roboticizer seemed to be the least of Sleet’s worries.
“It… it wasn’t exactly like that sir,” Sleet pleaded.
“Yeah, it was the Sonic Underground. Sleet had him and then Sonic took him back,” Dingo said, trying to help.
“THE SONIC UNDERGROUND HAS THE FOX!!! NOW THEY’LL BE THE ONES TO FIGURE OUT WHERE SHADAKOR IS!!” bellowed the tyrant. “If the Archmage joins his powers with the Resistance… You two will be the last creatures I roboticize!”
“Why can’t we just conquer the city when we find the kid?” Dingo asked.
“And HOW do you propose we find him?” Robotnik fumed at the moronic mutt.
“We could use the tracer.” At Dingo’s comment, both Sleet and Robotnik looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and impatience.
“What are you blabbering about, mullet-head?” Sleet asked.
“The tracer I put on him when you had him. Since the Sonic Underground always rescue our prisoners, when they showed up I put it on him so we could find him again. You said he was worth a lotta money.” For once in their lives, both Sleet and Robotnik were speechless. Suddenly, the wolf grabbed his partner’s head, twisting it to look into his ear. “Whatcha doin’ Sleet?”
“I want to meet this miraculous brain cell of yours that finally fought its way past the stupid to give you a good idea.”
“I think its dead now,” Dingo admitted.
“IF I’m not interrupting,” Robotnik broke in, turning to Dingo. “You’re sure the tracer’s on him?”
“Yeah, it didn’t come out of his tail fur anyway.” Robotnik grinned evilly as Sleet stood before him.
“Don’t worry sir, we’ll lay an ambush for the Sonic Underground and retrieve the pup for you.”
“No, that won’t be necessary.”
“Wh… What?” Sleet asked. “I thought you wanted a Shadakoran?”
“What I want is Shadakor. If you bring me the child, I’ll have to devise a way to force him to reveal its location to me. But no doubt those meddlesome hedgehogs have decided to take him home under their protection, just to ensure such a scenario doesn’t play out… Follow them and they’ll show us the city, all without ever realizing what they’ve done.”
“As you command sir.”
“If, however, you find yourselves with an opportunity to wipe out those miserable hedgehogs that is too good to pass up, you may consider the fox expendable. Shadakor may be a good prize, but I still have my priorities.”
“Of course sir. Sleet and Dingo out,” Sleet said.
“So, when do we head out to follow them?” Dingo asked.
“We’ll give the hedgehogs a few hours head start. The range on that tracer is fairly good; we should be able to pick it up without much trouble. And this will keep those spiky do-gooders from noticing us,” Sleet explained, feeling in a somewhat generous mood towards his suddenly helpful partner.
“All right then. I’m gonna go see if they have any of those shirts with Sonia’s picture left at that stadium,” Dingo said as he began to walk off. Just like that, Sleet’s generous mood vanished and he transformed his partner into a head of lettuce.
“Maybe a little sunlight will encourage a few more of those brain cells to actually fight back against the stupid.
“COOL!! This is so totally awesome,” Miles continued to say. The kid had been bouncing off the walls of the large van almost from the moment he’d entered, much to Sonic’s and Manic’s great amusement. Sonia was less excited about the bouncing ball of energy and curiosity sticking his nose into everything that was theirs. The young fox was taking the role of super-fan very seriously.
The group had been traveling west out of Silk City for a few hours now, heading in the direction the young Prower had indicated. They would have been further along had they not stopped to check in with Cyrus and find out what damage had been done during the raid.
“We had six injured, two of which got captured by SWATbots and put in the Mayor’s jail. We’ve already busted them out, so all in all it wasn’t a bad night,” the young lion had said. That was when he noticed the double tailed fox. “Who’s the kid?”
“Him?” Sonic asked, pointing to Miles. “Oh, he’s a friend. I promised we’d take him home.”
“Oh I can do that if you want. I know you guys must be eager to get to the next town,” Cyrus said, helpful as always and most likely thinking, as the Sonic Underground had, that Miles was a resident of Silk City. Sonic looked to his siblings for help. It had been decided not to inform anyone where their little fox friend came from, just in case they were unable to convince his grandfather the Archmage to help their cause. It wouldn’t do to give the Resistance hope they couldn’t deliver on.
“It’s not that simple Cyrus,” Sonia said. “He’s… uh.”
“I’m a nomad,” Miles piped in. “My tribe moves around a lot. Mother said I could stay for the concert and told me where to meet up with everyone, but Sonic’s offered give me a lift since it’s on the way to Serion."
Fortunately Cyrus had not asked why a nomad had consented to leave her obviously underage son all alone in a strange town, a fact that thankfully held until they had been able to leave. Unfortunately, as they’d been preparing to leave, another problem had arisen.
“So how do we get to Shadakor?” Sonia had asked as Miles had entered the armored transport of the royal hedgehogs. She’d been quite surprised when the two tailed fox had actually sat down in the bus’s driver’s seat.
"Don’t worry, I’ll take you there,” he said as he snapped his goggles down over his eyes. Doubts as to that statement’s veracity immediately entered the hedgehog Princess’s mind as she watched the kit attempt to start up the vehicle by pushing on the steering wheel. “What’s wrong with this thing, I’m pushing the accelerator, why won’t it go?”
“Uh maybe you should leave the driving to someone who’s into double digits,” Sonia said as she lifted the little kitsune out of the seat.
“But I’m ten, that’s a double digit isn’t it?” Miles protested, his eyes looking somewhat owlish behind his goggles. “Besides, I’ve never seen a real live mechanical car. We don’t have them in Shadakor.”
“Well, if you’re real good, I’ll let you sit up here with me and watch,” Sonia consoled as Miles put his goggles back on his head.
“But that’s boring. This might be my only chance to try it myself.”
“Hey kid, how about you come back here and hang with us,” Sonic suggested. “You went to all the trouble to come see us; wouldn’t you like a chance to hang with the band?” Once more Miles’s eyes went wide as he looked back at the blue hedgehog.
“You… You mean it?” he asked dumbfounded.
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it,” Sonic replied.
“You can trust my bro on that T2,” Manic added in. In one leap Miles was back with the boys.
“Um, guys, I still don’t know how to get to Shadakor,” Sonia pointed out before her brother’s could completely steal the kit’s attention.
“Oh right,” Miles said as he came back to the front, his goggles once more, looking out the front window as he did so. After a few seconds, he pointed off to the right. “The City of Shadakor lies in that direction. Just head that way and we’ll come right across it by evening’s start,” he stated with great certainty.
“Not that I’m a doubter by nature, but what makes you say that?”
“My goggles are able to see Shadakor. If ever I’m lost out here, I just have to look through them to find the city,” Miles explained. Thus had their journey to find the mystic city begun.
“So this is where you sleep?” Miles asked as he bounced on the triple-layered bunk bed that had been set up in the impossibly roomy van.
“Uh actually, that’s Sonia’s bed,” Manic pointed out. “Sonic’s is the middle one and I have the top.”
“Oh,” Miles said before continuing his search of the trio’s living quarters. “So, is it true you know how to cook Sonic?”
“Well…” Sonic began, only to be interrupted by Sonia who was driving.
“Only chili-dogs, which gets kind of boring after a while.” Sonic looked taken aback at his sister’s “sacrilegious” comment.
“Chili-dogs? Boring? You have got to be joking.”
“What’s a chili-dog?” Miles innocently asked, causing the blue hedgehog’s attention to shift back to him.
“I… know those words but… in that order… they make no sense,” Sonic said, suddenly clamping his arm around the kit’s shoulders. “Kid, it is my solemn duty to bring you out of your dark culinary cave and show you that which is the embodiment of all that is good; the chili-dog, Sonic style.” Quickly Sonic went over to the small kitchenette of the tour bus, pulling forth hotdogs, chili, and buns as he began his work. With his brother thereby distracted, Manic decided to take this opportunity to find out a little more about their young passenger.
“So T2, if this Shadakor place is supposed to be a city for wizards, does that mean you know some magic?” the green hedgehog asked, drawing the fox’s attention away from the cooking Sonic.
“Yeah… well, a little. I’m actually just an apprentice right now. Most of my spells have to be spoken and I can’t always get ‘em right. That’s why I had to run away from those two dogs that were chasing me.”
“Sleet and Dingo,” Manic supplied.
“Yeah, Sleet and Dingo. I used a rock attack spell to blow up the robots they were with, but when I tried to use it on them, it kinda… fizzled.” From the boy’s body language, Manic could tell this was a somewhat embarrassing thing to happen. Manic could relate. How many times had his cheeks turned red when he’d still been trying to figure out how to pick locks and failed.
“Wait a minute, you mean there are ways to do magic without speaking?” Manic asked, hoping that if he gave the kit the chance to display some of his knowledge it might help bolster his ego a bit.
“Yeah. Uncle Merlin can make things happen just by wiggling his fingers, and I’ve heard the Archmage could change reality with just his mind back when he was young.”
“Change reality, huh?” Sonic said as he mixed the cooking chili. “Any idea why he hasn’t tried changing reality to get rid of ol’ ‘Buttnik?” The question was said as kindly as possible. Sonic really didn’t blame the kit for any decisions his grandfather would have made, none of the trio did. Still it seemed as though Miles could understand the inherent anger that had fueled that question. Ashamedly, the kit looked down at his ankles.
“Not really. I think it has something to do with the refu… I mean, no I don’t.” Sonic started as he noticed the rather nasty glances his siblings gave him, even as he understood their reaction to his less than tactful question. Usually it was Manic that ended up sticking his foot in his mouth, but Sonic couldn’t help but notice the young kit had been about to say something. Quickly the blue hedgehog went back to his cooking.
“So, can you show me a bit of magic?” Manic asked, again trying to uplift the kit’s spirits.
“Ah you don’t wanna see my magic, I’m not very good at it,” Miles responded, fiddling with one of his tails.
“Hey, you took out three SWATbots by yourself. I’d say that’s pretty good,” Sonic put in.
“Well… Okay, maybe just one.” So saying the kit hopped off of the bed he’d been sitting on, placing both his hands before him as though he held a ball between them. “Ferani race.” A sudden explosion sent the hapless magician flying backwards against the bed, banging his head in the process.
“You okay kid?” Manic and Sonic asked in unison as they ran up to inspect their guest.
“What happened?” a worried Sonia asked from the driver’s seat. On the bed, Miles rubbed his head as tears welled in his eyes.
“Come on let me see,” Sonic commanded as he looked at the sore spot that had slammed into the metal wall. “Well you’re gonna have a bump, but there doesn’t seem to be anything really wrong.”
“Yes there is, I failed the spell,” Miles said miserably, upset less from the pain of getting slammed into the wall than with his failure. “It was a simple spell. I’ve done it before, I know I have.”
“Woah there T2,” Manic consoled. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything.”
“I… I musta put too much energy into it. It was supposed to create a ball of fire in my hand, like a candle. I guess when I got the fire going too quickly, it exploded in my fingers.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like you’re missing any,” Sonic said as he inspected the appendages. In fact the gloves weren’t even singed.
“They’re fireproof,” Miles pointed out. “With luck like mine, I try to cut down the risks I run when I try to cast spells.” Suddenly, the kit’s eyes brightened as he sniffed the air and declared, “Mmm, that smells good.”
“My chili-dogs,” Sonic cried, remembering the cooking food on the still active stove. Fortunately, in all the explosive excitement, the neglected chili had not been burned and the dogs were only marginally overdone. Quickly assembling one of his favored foods, and garnishing it onions and cheese, the blue hedgehog walked solemnly over to the furry fox, kneeling on one foot as he presented the treat as though it were made of the finest gold. “For your dining pleasure, may I present you with your first chili-dog.”
Somewhat skeptical of this somewhat bizarre looking food, Miles nevertheless took and bit into it.
“Now be careful,” Manic warned. “Sonic makes ‘em kinda hot, and a first-timer can get burn…” The green hedgehog ceased his warning as he watched the fox suddenly stuff the whole chili-dog into his mouth, a look of pure euphoria coming over his face as he did so.
“This is… SOOOO good,” Miles announced, spitting bits and chunks of chili and bun as he did so.
“Oh great,” Sonia moaned, “another one.”
“Knew you’d like ‘em big guy. Want another?” Sonic asked as he held up second doggie.
“Yeah yeah yeah,” the fox quickly said, his tails lifting him over to Sonic’s position.
“Careful bro, you may have some competition for the title of King Chili-Dog Eater if you’re not careful.”
“Uh, I hate to break up this little meeting of the Manners Society,” Sonia quipped, noting Miles’s chili-dog covered face, “but we have a little problem.” The pink hedgehog had stopped the bus right before what appeared to be a massive wall of wind and sand.
“I’m home!” Miles exclaimed, looking out the front of the tour bus. “I can’t wait for you guys to see Shadakor. Everyone’s gonna be so jealous that I got to meet the Sonic Underground.” Miles’s quickly twirled around. “Maybe you guys could put on a show or something. I know there are people inside who would love to hear you perform, and you won’t get interrupted like last time.”
“Please please please! Shadakor has barely had anything good come to it since it was isolated, you guys would be the first major visitors in sixteen years. Besides that other hedgehog with the crown.”
“Wait a minute,” Manic said as his siblings turned towards the fox, “What other hedgehog? Was it female, did she have purple fur?”
“Well, I don’t really know. I wasn’t born yet, but I’ve heard the scholars at the Archmage’s Tower talk about a purple hedgehog wearing a crown visiting Grandfather just as the war was starting. Then the barrier came up and we all hid inside the city.”
Manic looked at his siblings. Was it possible that this was where their mother was hiding to keep safe from Robotnik? The Archmage’s barrier would certainly be able to keep the Queen safe while she waited for her children to come. All it would take would be allowing someone to leave to find them when the time was right. Granted, Miles leaving to try to sneak into a concert was probably not their first choice, but results were difficult to argue with. It was entirely possible that Aleena was secretly living in Shadakor, which would explain the Archmage’s policy of non-involvement with the war so far.
“Okay, so how do we get in?” Sonia asked before Manic could as they all exited the bus and stood before the massive swirling sandstorm that seemed to go on for miles in either direction.
“I have to open the barrier up for us, that way we can get at one of the gates.”
“You mean the sandstorm’s an illusion blocking the wall?”
“No, it’s very real, so don’t touch it,” the apprentice mage commanded. “It can tear steel to pieces.” Looking around, Miles put two fingers to his lips and whistled.
“What’s that for?” Sonic asked. Suddenly, responding to the shrill noise, a puff of sand erupted from the ground not more than a few feet away from the group.
“Cool, more magic,” Manic said.
“Not magic, Clockwerk,” Miles explained as he walked over to the source of the puffing sand. Quickly he pulled out what looked to be a small piglet… or at least it had the head and body of a pig. Underneath it was a set of treads like a tank, and its jaw was clearly held on by screws. Even its eyes appeared glassy, an obvious sign that the “piglet” was a robot.
“What in the world?”
“This is Clockwerk 2.3, my robot,” Miles said proudly. “Say hello to my friends Clockwerk.” The small robot opened its mouth.
“I built him myself and leave him here to mark the entrance to the city, but sometimes he gets buried in the sand.” Setting the machine down, Miles walked over to the sandstorm, followed closely by the little robot that quickly reminded the hedgehogs of a wind-up toy. Carefully placing his hands up before the sandstorm, the fox began to recite, “Mystic city hidden by sand and wind; open the gate and let me in.” Remembering he was with company, the boy quickly amended. “Uh, I mean let US in.”
To the amazement of Sonic, Sonia, and Manic, a small section, big enough for their bus to pass, quite literally opened in the wall of the sandstorm. All around it sand continued to swirl as though there were no break in it, but closer inspection revealed the sand was actually moving around the break rather then through it. Behind the open portion of the storm two fairly big wooden doors could be seen, iron rings hanging from either one. Quickly Miles opened the doors, revealing that they were not but a few yards away from a towering structure; the Tower of the Archmage. Smiling, Miles entered the city, beckoning for his friends to follow.
“Welcome to Shada… Yelp!” Miles was cut off as he suddenly felt himself grabbed by he scruff of the neck and hefted rather forcefully into the air by a taller figure wearing a blue robe. Rushing in to see what was attacking their charge, the trio found Miles looking with sheepish fright at an adult fox with graying fur, a long white beard that went all the way down to his waist and a look of fury on his face.
“H-hi Uncle Merlin.”