• Published 27th Mar 2013
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Hope - TwilightSnarkle



Memories of the past can destroy even the strongest soul, but what happens when the past can visit in person?

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The kitchen was too quiet, she decided. Mommy wasn’t telling a story about the town, and Daddy wasn’t even at the table. He was busy working in the other room again and he really should stop and come have his breakfast.

Snowdrop put her fork down and slid out of her chair, then headed for the door. After two steps, she paused to look at her mother. Mommy hadn’t moved. Mommy hadn’t even said a word about leaving the table without clearing her plate.

That wouldn’t do at all! Mommies were supposed to be bossy. She looked forward to being a mommy too, one day, and practiced being bossy on her Daddy.

“Mommy!” she pleaded.

Mommy did not answer.

“Mommy.” This time she commanded, using a tone that would normally get her a time-out.

Still nothing.

Snowdrop walked back to the table and nudged her with her nose. “Mommy?

Her mommy shook her head and blinked, as if waking from a nap. “Hmm?” She glanced up at the empty chair then turned to look at her. “Snowdrop?” Her eyes looked tired, too. “What’s wrong, hon?”

“Mommy, are you okay? You look sick.” Mommies that were sick needed special care! Like breakfast in bed, and not staring at cold pancakes.

Her mommy smiled, then, and everything was suddenly better. “I’m a little tired, sweetheart, but I’m just fine.” She bent down and kissed her on the forehead, in that special way only she could. “I promise. Now, why don’t you run along and go play? Maybe Daddy needs some help. I’ll clean up in here.”

That was even better! Not only was Mommy okay, but she didn’t have to do dishes. Humming a nonsense song to herself, Snowdrop cantered out of the kitchen and set off to find out what wonderful things were going on elsewhere.


Worker paced briefly along the windows that looked out onto the deck, lips slightly pursed as he considered his options. The table had been moved by the fireplace, and Holly poured tea for three. Bulwark waited patiently, focused more on her teacup than the room about her.

“No, I don’t think so,” he decided. “We’ll need to set up something here where I can get my work done and keep an eye on the family.” He lifted a thick pad of sketches and spun it about so that Bulwark and Holly could see. “The problem will be the minimum space requirements, and the time we can spend without impacting everyone else’s schedules.”

He looked over Holly’s shoulder and smiled. Holly glanced up and saw Snowdrop enter, while Bulwark studied the brown liquid in her cup.

“There you are, sweetie! Did you have a good breakfast?”

“Mm-hmm, and Mommy’s fine too.”

Worker’s brow furrowed momentarily, but he scooped up his filly and brought her to hover before the sketchbook. The corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement as he turned her this way and that, keeping the sketchbook just out of reach.

“Now, Snowdrop, I’m glad you’re here. I have an important question for you.”

Snowdrop giggled, now upside down, as she tried to focus her attention long enough to move the sketchbook closer. “What is it, Daddy?”

The sketchbook suddenly zoomed towards the little filly, and a few pages tore themselves out to dance about her. “My dearest darling daughter!” Worker began in the voice he used when he sold his toys. “Your father would like to know if he should make a workshop here. I would be able to spend more time at home, and have my lunches here every day, but...”

Snowdrop tried to look attentive, but her eyes were drawn to the fascinating sketches of tools and machines she could only guess the names of. Suddenly, the papers were gone, and she found herself looking at her father.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I don’t mean to distract you. Listen: I need to move my shop here, but to do so means I’d need to move into your playroom. We just don’t have enough space right now. In the meantime, I can set up a play area out here in the greatroom. Would that be okay?”

“I dunno, Daddy,” she replied, one hoof tapping her lips in serious consideration. “Could you build me another playroom?”

Her father chuckled, and set her gently to the floor. “Hm. Negotiating, are we?” His eyes twinkled, and he bent down to nuzzle the precocious filly. “How’s this? If I don’t move out of your playroom in a month, I will build you a new one, and I’ll let you help me design it.”

Snowdrops eyes went wide. “I can have a skylight?”

He nodded, picking back up his sketchbook. “You can have a skylight.”

“And a little deck?” she squealed, sitting back on her haunches.

“And a little deck,” he replied, grinning at her over the pages.

“And a pool with a waterfall?” Her voice was very much like a whispered prayer.

Worker shook his head, chuckling. “No.”

“But you might change your mind, right?” Her smile was forged of pure avarice.

He couldn’t help but laugh. “Not on the waterfall, I think, darling. But we’ll talk. Do we have a deal, Miss Snowdrop?” He stuck out a hoof.

Snowdrop nodded, and shook his outstretched hoof with two of her own. “Yes, Mr. Daddy, sir. We have a deal.” She leaned in, hugged him tight, and pecked him on the cheek.

He squeezed her in a hug, and tousled her mane. “Okay, then. Run along and play in your room for a few minutes. Tea Blossom will be here soon, and I need to discuss things with my friends now.”

“‘kay, Daddy. Love you!” With that, she dashed down the hall towards her room.

He watched her go, then turned back to his papers. “Now, where were we?”

Bulwark spoke first, still studying her tea. “We were politely ignoring your descent into obsession.”

“My... what?”

Holly sat down across from Bulwark, and gestured to the tea at the third seat. “Sit,” she commanded, her voice gentle, yet implacable, like a moss-covered boulder. “We need to talk.”

Worker glanced at his sketchbook, then back at his friends. Sighing, he set it down, joined the mares, and steeled himself for a debate.


He’d never been one for planning. He had never needed it.

Robotnik would build a big evil thing, paint it red, and make no attempt to hide it. He, in turn, would rush in, and other than a few clever traps or foes, would find little impediment until he reached his opponent.

They’d square off, fight, and Sonic would prove that good and fast could defeat evil and brainy time and time again. Something never sat quite right about that...

Now, however, he needed a plan. More importantly, he needed information. Most of all, he needed someone to talk to.

“As annoying as she was,” he said to himself, “Amy always had the time to listen.”

She’d had more than time, lately. They all had. Despite all their differences, the old team of friends had been getting closer over the last few years. Maybe it was just the comfort of familiarity, but he knew that a good friend was only a few small steps from a confidante, and perhaps even a lover.

Not that Knuckles would sit idly. He’d fancied Amy for far too long, even though she was blind to it. She was too focused on the only other available hedgehog. In that light, he had to admit, their last argument made a lot more sense.

“I still don’t see why you have to go at all, Sonic,” she’d groused, pacing the floor of the lab. “It’s been decades since we saw glove or goggle of the old man.”

Amy’s hammer was close at hand, and the frequent glances she threw at it made Sonic glad he could still outrun her.

“We’re not sure he’s dead,” Sonic replied. He looked over to Knuckles for support, but the red grouch was studiously ignoring the argument by focusing on his coffee. “We never found a body, after all. I have to be sure.”

You have to. You, singular.” Amy had, somehow, laid hands on her hammer, and was now resting her chin on its handle. She peered over it at him. “It’s not enough that we’ve managed to live happier lives now that he’s gone.”

“I can’t afford to have a happy life if he’s still out there.” He shrugged at her as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“You won’t have a happy one if you insist on going,” she snapped.

Sonic sighed and sat down on the floor next to a pylon, staring at his hands. He ran them through his quills, and then let them fall to his side.

“Knuckles. Help me out here. You know how relentless he was, trying to get the Master Emerald from Angel Island. “

Knuckles said nothing for a moment, but Sonic waited patiently. After a few minutes’ silence, the echidna set down his mug and grumbled to himself. “I think,” he began, then nudged the mug away from the edge of the table. “I think that’s how we know he’s finally gone.”

Sonic was incredulous. “You’re not taking her side,” he gestured towards their pink companion with both hands, then threw them up in frustration. “Or are—”

Knuckles forestalled him with a raised hand. “I’m taking no-one’s side. I simply think that as smart and resourceful as he was, he’d have come back if he intended to.” He picked up his mug once more and sipped it, grimacing. “That’s all.”

Sonic stood and kicked the dust off his shoes. “Fine. I see. Fine. So, because we’re not in danger, we can sit around and retire comfortably. Meanwhile, he might be out there razing some other world. A world with more foxes to kill... or more bats, Knuckles.”

Knuckles got to his feet, the mug’s contents splashing to the ground as it was crushed into dust. The old warrior had a fire in his eyes, and glared at Sonic menacingly.

Sonic barked a laugh. “Save it. I’m going. I’m going tonight, as a matter of fact. I’ll go alone, since my friends don’t see it fit to support me on this.”

Amy shook her hammer at him menacingly. “Sonic, that’s not—”

“Forget it, Amy. Just forget it.” He stalked down the gangplank towards the private quarters.

“Two hours!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Have it ready!”

Knuckles shrugged at Amy, and walked towards the machine to check on some repairs.

Amy fumed behind her terminal, but soon she too was back at work.

***

The time had passed quickly, but he’d not been idle. Letters were written and left in his friends’ chambers. Arrangements were made and contingencies set into motion. There was too much to say, and too little time to say it. If he started, he might not go at all.

He had a swig of something bracing, checked his laces, and made a beeline for the teleporter’s catwalk. He took care to climb quietly so he could watch his companions for a time. He knew he had to go, and he was fairly certain they knew it too. There would be no rest until they had their answers, despite Knuckles’ optimism.

The pair were still at their stations. It looked as if neither had left their post, save to refill or replace their mugs. Sonic felt a little guilty about losing his temper, but despite the argument, Amy and Knuckles were running a last few diagnostics. He wanted to apologize, but... The letters would have to do.

Amy looked up from her terminal, and called over to Knuckles. “Give me a status on the Emerald?”

“I think we’re ready,” came the reply. Knuckles walked into view, stifling a yawn. “Let’s start ‘er up.”

Amy didn’t even look up before shouting, “Sonic! We’re firing it up. Get to the launch platform!”

Sonic shook his head, and called back from the catwalk. “On my way. Go ahead and start the sequencing.” He broke into a run and headed for the platform. By the time he got there, Amy was shouting more instructions.

“Starting the sequence now, Sonic!”

“Roger that.” He looked at his friends toiling below him, and felt a chill. “And Amy? Knuckles?” Thank you.”

Knuckles looked up at him and squinted. “You make it sound like a funeral, hedgehog.”

“C’mon!” Sonic replied, blustering like old times. “This is me we’re talking about. I’ll come back just fine.”

Knuckles shrugged and returned to his crystal-gazing.

Amy called up a moment later. “I hope so! Return to the same spot in two weeks, and we’ll re-open the portal. Don’t forget. The Emerald’s taken a few hits, and I don’t know if we’ll have another chance.”

“Two weeks,” he replied. Then, he reached for the button, and...

***

Sonic winced. That had hurt, in ways he could not even find words for. Still, he was here, and so was Robotnik. That left him to decide what to do.

He paced back and forth in a tiny clearing just north of the village. The smell of smoke was still heavy in the air. I guess the town would be more concerned with checking for damage than forming a search party. Besides, I could always outrun one of these ponies if they came looking.

He paused and looked back towards the thin tendril of smoke over the trees. “That... could have gone better,” he admitted aloud. “Knocking the place over seemed simple. How was I to know it’d go up?”

It’s too late now. Maybe you’ll have time to explain it before you head home.

“Home. Heh.” He shook his head. “Shoulda thought of that when you had him in your hands, Sonic. You could be outta here.” It was true. He had told himself repeatedly, since last night, it was better to be sure of his victory. Anyone, or anything, could have been coming around that corner, and then where would he be?

What was the word he was looking for? Prag-something? It didn’t matter.

He could remember a time when his goal was simply “stop Robotnik”. Capture him, put him away, and go on with life. Problem was, life was getting scarce, in more ways than one.

Pragmatism, that was the word.

Sally... he had been barred from attending the funeral, as he was the primary suspect at the time.

Tails hadn’t survived the assault. One too many booby-traps. Well, at least it’d been quick.

Rouge had been next to go. She’d never been exactly stable, and one day Knuckles found her in her room, staring at the walls, mumbling about “trust” in a half-dozen different languages. Then there was...

No. He wasn’t going to list them all.

All the old arguments had begun welling up. Seemed that without a villain to band together against, the old agendas resurfaced, and everyone was back to fighting each other. In the end, there remained only three loyal members of the Freedom Fighters: Amy, Knuckles, and himself—and he was feeling his age. A few decades would do that to a hedgehog.

So many years, and for what? A pony.

He laughed aloud, then. “All I need now is a pretty dress and a tiara.”

The laughter didn’t last. Soon, Sonic fell silent as he turned everything he knew over in his mind. He paced an hour more, wandering deeper into the forest. His stomach was growling, and he hadn’t had a comfortable night’s sleep since he had arrived.

“Too tired for this, Sonic.” He chuckled at himself. “Next thing you know, you’ll be talking to yourself in the woods.”

He sighed and watched the clouds drift by. The sky grew progressively darker as time passed. Around him, the forest prepared for nightfall. Squirrels darted from tree to tree, birds returned to their nests, and all around him, unseen things rustled beneath the leaves.

Sonic’s brow furrowed. He glanced from branch to branch, from cloud to cloud, and still found nothing of inspiration. He spotted a nearby stump, sat, and began counting on his fingers.

“Alright. One. Robotnik is here, with a kid, and living as a pony.” He still couldn’t get his head around that, but it didn’t matter.

“Two. There are other ponies here, living in a village. From the shops, homes, and the alarm that went out when the fire started, it’s got some kinda government.” The smell of the smoke might have faded, but he still felt a little guilty.

“Three. Robotnik is a member of this place, and well-liked enough to be allowed to work here.” He paused, then, considering the implications. Shaking his head, he moved on.

“Four. This means that either the ponies are ignorant of his past, know of his past and do not care, or are actively supporting him with knowledge of his past deeds. That means...” He moved to his thumb.

“Five. I have no idea what that means, other than Robotnik still needs to be taken down!” Groaning with frustration, he craned his head back and returned to watching clouds.

A squirrel bounded into his field of view, stopped, and regarded him with curiosity. Muttering, the hedgehog sat up and dusted off his quills. The squirrel remained above, chittering inquisitively.

Sonic glanced up to the vexsome creature. “I don’t suppose you can be of any help?”

The squirrel squeaked and bounded into the upper canopy. From somewhere in the high branches, the angry rodent chattered at him for the fright.

“Figures.” He stared at his hands for a moment, turning them over this way and that. His thoughts followed suit.

“Robotnik needs to be brought to justice. That much is known. The ponies here either have been misled by him, or enlisted into his work. So, they’ll be no help, or will actively protect him.” He stood, cracked his back, and paced in a wide circle around the stump.

“This means I need to get Robotnik away from them, somehow. Problem is, he’s not left his house since my first visit. He didn’t even leave when I destroyed his factory, and in the past that was a sure-fire way to get him to show his mug.” He was sure that would have worked. So sure, in fact, he had waited too long in the street for him to arrive. He knew he’d been spotted by some of the townsfolk. Careless.

“So, what does he value more than his factory? What can I use to get him to react? I haven’t seen any hint of his roboticizer, despite the machine I wrecked earlier. It’s like he’s gone soft.” For a moment, Sonic considered the possibility, then spat in disgust.

“Soft or not, he still needs to answer for what he’s done. I can’t afford to take it easy, to give him a way to weasel out. His hands are covered in blood.” His own hands tightened into fists, and he studied his knuckles.

“I really should have taken him out, back there. Or at least dragged him off. Lesson learned. Next time, I’ll try harder, no matter what friends he may have.” Friends. He suddenly felt very alone. I wish Amy were here.

Sighing, he peered up the incline that eventually led towards Robotnik’s house. “I should have tried harder.” His mood turned bleak as he trudged deeper into the woods.

In the moonlight, he found an ideal spot near a rise in the land. A number of fallen logs were scattered nearby, and soon enough he was able to collect enough beetles and grubs for a meal. They’re not chilidogs, but they’ll do. After eating his fill, he burrowed out a small recess at the side of the rise and settled in, covering himself with leaves.

Sonic felt wearier than he could recall. Within minutes, he was fast asleep.


Her royal duties done, Celestia relaxed on a low settee and flipped through her most recent acquisition. Weeks had passed since her last new book, and Twilight’s latest treatise on Diamond Dogs kept her attention. It was well-written, exhibiting a practiced balance of accurate, useful information and just enough personal anecdote to keep the subject lively. She had clearly been practicing her craft.

Celestia would have been able to focus more on the work, but there was someone at the doors to her chambers.

There was someone at the doors to her chambers, and that someone was rapping a hoof repeatedly against them. Who in Equestria would Ah, yes. Her sister. She slipped a scrap of parchment between the pages and closed the book.

“Come in, Luna,” she replied, as if she had expected her all the while.

The door opened partially and a familiar blue muzzle peeked in. “Oh. Good. You’re awake.”

“Mm-hm.” She gestured to the closed book with the flit of a wing. “I’ve just been reading. What’s on your mind, Luna?”

“Well...” she began, then stepped into the room. She channeled the doors closed behind her with practiced nonchalance and strolled casually to her sister. Celestia watched her performance with a growing concern.

As if discussing plans for lunch, Luna murmured, “Tia. We have a problem.” While her face was serenity itself, her eyes swam in panic.

Wordlessly, Celestia shifted on her seat and lifted a wing, making enough room for her sister. Luna slid in close, and Celestia wrapped her up, holding her tight.

“You’re trembling, little sister,” she soothed. “Don’t fret. I’m sure we can sort it out.” She nuzzled Luna’s mane affectionately. “Now, what could possibly be so frightening to the Princess of the Night?”

“I am not a child, Tia,” Luna sulked. Still, she did not move from the embrace. “I am genuinely concerned. We have another visitor.”

“Another visitor? What d—” Celestia blinked, then began again, cautiously. “I think I see. Any relation to our first?” She watched her sister with a wary eye.

Luna was too intent on her thoughts to notice. She stared out the window into the starry night. “To be perfectly honest, I’m not yet sure. His will is strong, like the first, but the stories he tells himself...”

She shuddered, and looked back at her sister. “His dreams are filled with anger, and pain, and loss, and... hate. Where his counterpart arrived not knowing what he wanted, this one wants something very strongly. He’s on a mission.”

Celestia studied Luna’s features, weighing her words. “I understand. Where is this visitor?”

The younger of the pair looked out the window once more. Celestia realized she gazed towards Pasofino. “Close to the first. Almost atop him.”

Celestia lit the lamps throughout the room. Then she stood, favoring her sister with a light nuzzle. She walked to the carafe atop her bedside table and poured each of them a drink. She wasn’t thirsty, but it gave her some time to collect her thoughts. “That is troubling. Could he be following?”

“After fifteen years?” Luna shook her head in dismissal, but then paused, considering. “I suppose it’s possible, but I simply don’t know.”

A sip, and then, “What do you propose we do, sister?”

Luna cocked her head, and furrowed her brow. “What do I propose?”

“Indeed. You have found this creature, as you did the first. Your instincts served you well with that discovery, despite what I thought at the time. What shall we do with this one?”

Luna shrugged, studying the ripples in her glass. Finally, she replied, “For now, we watch, and we wait.”

The Sun Princess nodded. “I agree. I’ll send a few of my scouts to keep an eye, if you’ll do the same?”

“Done. And Tia?”

“Yes, Luna?”

“Please get some sleep? The book can wait, but I have a feeling we may need our rest in the future.”

“Excellent counsel, little sister.” Smiling warmly, she turned down the coverlet and began straightening the room. “Be safe tonight. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight.”

Luna stepped towards the door, then paused, but did not turn back. She studied the doors’ paneling for a moment, then asked, “Sister?”

Celestia paused in her organizing. “Mm?”

“Should we let Worker know?”

Celestia had been examining that idea herself. She found herself tapping her lips in thought, and forced her hoof to the floor. “It has been some time since we’ve spoken with him, in an unofficial capacity. With the seasons changing, though, asking him to travel might not be best.”

Luna stared at the floor. “And journeying ourselves might bring unwanted attention.”

“Yes.”

“So we watch...”

“...and we wait.” Celestia set the book on a nearby shelf and emptied the carafe into a nearby plant. “We must know the truth of things to act.”

Luna resigned herself to a sigh and opened the doors. “Love you, sis.”

“I love you too.”