There was something almost primitive about this part of the Little Planet.
As Miles's sneakers touched down, they crunched softly against a cluster of fallen ferns. Healthier examples hung limply nearby, overshadowed by great palms stretching skyward. Interspersed among them were enormous, crystal waterfalls spilling into equally clear lakes below. Sure, it was breathtaking. Was it more breathtaking than the falls and fauna of West Side Island? Miles could not quite say.
There was a rustle in one of the living ferns. From the corner of his eye, Miles caught a tiny figure dash from behind its green cover, leap upon the trunk of a nearby palm tree, and race to the leaves above. The two-tailed fox raised his eyebrows. "A Ricky squirrel?"
Several groundlings are nearby. Some of my children are also here. They are no doubt observing you, the strange newcomer.
"Huh. I don't wanna scare them."
And they will discover as much in due time. Do not deny them their hesitancy. The natives here have a mixed history with outsiders, as you are surely well aware.
It was all part of the legend, of course. Supposedly, during those ancient times, a cold-hearted blue hedgehog had imprisoned the creatures of the Little Planet. Calling himself Sonic the Hedgehog, he declared that all living creatures had become slaves of himself and his master, the Eggman. But this hedgehog was the false Sonic. The true Sonic arrived shortly thereafter, released the animals from their prison, and promptly disappeared. The bulk of the Sonic legend was centered on this singular event; the rest was based on future prophecy.
"Guess they're not used to people. I'm probably the first they've seen in years, huh?"
Again, Flicky hesitated before answering.
Miles was listening. In fact, the command was slightly insulting--he felt that he always listened, always observed. It was one of the few abilities that he actually recognized in himself. He listened, but this disembodied voice, he found, rarely gave proper answers. "I've been listeni--"
And then, he heard the girl. Singing, somewhere among the trees ahead. Carefully, quietly, Miles treaded through the foliage. Yes, she must have been up ahead, in the clearing. She was belting that tune with all of her lungs, yet somehow it still came out sweetly. And now, as he stepped closer, he could recognize the melody.
It shot forth in quick, decisive rhythmic beats that he had not heard in a while, a tune rarely sung unless a jumprope was involved. Preferably with a playground crowd, clapping on each beat.
"Flicky bird, Flicky bird, where are you flying?
To save my poor Chirps, I can hear them crying,
Flicky bird, Flicky bird, why do they cry?
'Cause Tiger and Iggy are hungry, that's why,
Flicky bird, Flicky bird, what happens then?
I take 'em to my nest and count them again:
ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN
Seven little Chirps are safe in the nest,
Better go back and find all the rest,
Flicky bird, Flicky bird, where are you flying?
To save my poor Chirps, I can hear them crying . . ."
She had not gotten very far in the song. And now, coming to the beginnings of a clearing, he could see her. She was a hedgehog.
Though he could only see her back from this vantage, Miles could not mistake the pink, hedgehog quills. The girl's focus was on some sort of table in front of her, gloved hands manipulating a set of small objects as her blue-and-white sneakers bounced the rest of her body in rhythm to the song. Like most females, she wore extra clothing for the sake of style--Miles spotted a red headband that curved the girl's quills down and back, while her body was adorned in a green shirt and light-red miniskirt. It was a fashion that had been popular during the last decade.
". . . FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT
Eight little Chirps are safe in the nest,
Better go back and . . ."
Suddenly, the singing stopped. She turned, and Miles saw dark black eyes, wide with uncertainty and caution. Almost immediately, they rounded off with relief. "Oh!" the hedgehog shouted. She waved toward Miles, then proceeded to gesture toward herself, in a welcoming motion. "Hi! Come 'ere, come 'ere! Come in front!"
In front, it seems, was referring to a square card table the girl had been standing behind. As Miles came into the clearing and walked around so that he was facing her, he could see that the small objects she had been manipulating were some sort of playing cards.
"Hi," Miles said flatly, awkwardly. It came out awkwardly because, well, he had not really expected to encounter anybody in this world. "Um... I'm Miles. Prower."
The pink hedgehog narrowed her eyes, the gloved index finger and thumb stroking her chin. "How'd you get here?" she questioned, suspicion in her voice.
"I, uh... well, I can sort of fly."
"I mean how'd you find this place?"
I thought you weren't supposed to get 'em 'til a thousand years.
"Those tails, it’s like they make you into a big dowsing rod. No wonder you could find the emeralds!"
With a conspiratorial grin, Rosy leaned forward. “And I know you are, Miley.”
Miles coughed a bit. “Umm… could you… I’m sorry, but could you not ever call me that again? It’s a horrible nickname.”
She cringed her nose. “You just wanna grow up too fast.” The cringe shifted into a smile as she presented the sufficiently-shuffled deck before Miles. “It’s called tarot. And it sounds like “taroe”, not “tarott”! The “T” is silent. Okay, pick three cards.”
Warily, Miles took a card into his hand, followed by two more. In a rhythmic sweep, Amy seized the cards from his fingers and lay them on her table, face-down and well spaced from each other. With a flourish, she then proceeded to deal out nine more cards on the table randomly—three above each of the cards Miles had selected himself. “Three-and-one, three-and-one, three-and-one,” she chanted softly to herself.
Rosy inhaled for a beat. “Now. Let’s begin!” She moved to the four cards on Miles’s left, flipping over the top three that she had dealt out.
"Hmm, this one looks scary!" Amy pointed to the middle card. All of the cards had illustrations of hedgehogs above their captions. THE WITCH was simple enough: a black, shadowy silhouette, showing the outline of an old woman hedgehog’s head, complete with a conical "witch" hat.
"It’s part of the past, Miles," Rosy entreated. "Do you remember?" The silhouette did seem familiar to Miles, in a sense. When he stared into it, it seemed as if… as if he could still hear the shrill laughter. And he could still see parts of it, too—he could still see his friends and neighbors, transforming into crystal before his very eyes. The laughter seemed to start fresh again, louder, each time it happened. And though the outline was clearly that of a hedgehog, Miles knew that she was actually of the same species as Dr. Robotnik.
"Witchcart," he mumbled. The memory did not seem nearly so frightening or tragic, once he began to think about how everyone had returned to normal afterward. He never figured out why the crystallization spell hadn’t worked on him.
Amy gestured to the last card. "And this was your best fight so far, wasn’t it?" she asked. THE WAR showed a picture of a ruined battlefield filled with armor-clad hedgehog warriors; some of them were still locked in struggle, while others had fallen. As Miles gazed at the image, those hedgehog warriors somehow reminded him of Battle Kukku soldiers and Flicky defenders. Thinking about it, he could still smell burned rope and gunpowder, a bomb’s fuse working its way down. He could still remember the rhythmic crunch of his hammer, colliding with the lightweight, avian skull beneath it. And the napalm. Thick smoke rising from the burning grass, grass that would not look quite the same when it grew back. His own singed fur, from when it had gone off closer than he meant it to. Burning feathers and flesh, from when it had gone off exactly when he meant it to. The birds' shrieks of pain, slowly dying down to silence. Miles almost threw up, as he had back then. He had long since vowed to never use napalm again, even on his most hated enemies, but nothing he could do would ever get the stench to leave his mind.
But you also remember how the Chaos Emeralds felt at first touch, can you not? You remember how even the common rings felt, once you first learned to absorb them?
The voice in his head—Flicky—was comforting him. He nodded in acknowledgement. Somehow, once the Rings and the Chaos Emeralds were factored in, everything changed in perspective. Things didn’t seem as gritty, as dirty. As dark.
“Mmm-hmm.” She turned a card. “And I know who you are, Tails.”
“No one’s called me that in years. I’m Miles Prower.”
“Miles.” Amy smiled. “Yes. You never give up, Miles, do you? Your entire life, you have raced to defend those who are good, against the forces of darkness. No matter how long you race, how long you fight, you just keep going. And even mile after mile, you remain the fastest being of our time.”
“Well, maybe not the FASTEST.”
Amy laughed into her hand again. “That’s not what I said. I said the fastest in our time.”
“Have you ever heard of the Ring of Acorns? I thought about using my wish to be older. So I can marry Sonic, when he gets back. But I realized… he’s not coming back in this lifetime, is he? He’s racing to the future, and he’s there, waiting for anyone still alive.” She sounded sad. “So instead, I wished that someone else would learn to use the Rings as Sonic does. So that someone else could make sure the future stayed good until Sonic reached it.”
“That’s you, isn’t it?”
“I met Dr. Robotnik two years ago, in the Emerald Hill Zone of West Side Island. I was only eight. Not much older now.”
“Your fate’s bound to him, you know. The two of you are destined to help each other, to be brothers. He’s the right arm, and you’re the left. Together, you will bring peace to our world.”
He remembered the tapestry in the Hidden Palace, during his fight with Knuckles.
“Every day is a brand new challenge for me.”
“Miles. Many friends help you out. In return, you help them.”
“Certain things you can do… and there are things that only YOU can do.”
“It’s just… Amy. I’m just so tired of being alone.”
“NO ONE’S ALONE!”
Flicky, the Little Planet, and timelessness
Past: The Juggler, The Witch, The War
Present: The Machine, The Treasure, The Phoenix
Future: Justice, Atlas, The Hermit
Past: The Legend
Present: The Traveler
Future: The Confrontation
Past: The Hero, The Tower (The Juggler, The Witch, The War)
Present: The Crossroads, The Machine, The Treasure, The Shooting Star
Future: The Adventure, Chaos, The Monster, The Two Kingdoms, The Blacksmith, The Inner Beast, Justice, The Unbreakable Bond