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Roland the Traveler

Roland the Traveler is a tale written by my son.  It is typical of the early works of aspiring young writers.
Inspired by sword and sorcery genre and SF, as well as role-playing and video games, it is a good first attempt.  Elric is currently a freshman at Iowa Valley Community College in Marshalltown, Iowa majoring in English

Roland the Traveler                                                
By Elric Colvill

        There lies in Knothole a small shrine, dedicated to an unlikely hero.  He was of our world, brought  to Mobius by an unknown force.  His name was Roland, a warrior of the old ways, who practiced the arts of his ancestors, Viking warriors and Scottish partisans.  But he was a man of our time, a 21st century man, born late in the 20th.  Events beyond his control forced him into a role he never would have thought possible.  At this shrine rests his urn, and his great axe, Stormreaver, which measured over three and a half feet long, and weighed a monstrous thirty five pounds, more than many denizens of the little Freedom Fighter holdout.  When ever someone feels down or depressed by the endless conflict, they enter the shrine, and leave with a new resolve to carry on the good fight.  Who was Roland?  What did he do?  So let his story be told.  The Traveler, the Warrior of the Old Times, Roland...

        Deep in the Great Forest, scouts of the Knothole Freedom Fighters were investigating an unusual light, that was seen from high above, when Tails was flitting about carefree in the air.  After he told Sally of the light burst, she asked for volunteers to investigate.  A small group scouted out.  What they found was Robotnik, and a force of his SWATbots, and another human, lying on the ground, dressed in black, with a VERY large axe.
    oh no, it's Buttnik!  Exclaimed the squad's leader, a young fox.  They hadn't seen him in the shadows of the surrounding trees, until he and his force emerged, SWATbots with blaster arms raised and aimed.  The five scouts froze.
    Well, what do we have here? I see I wasn't the only one to notice the light.  I was hoping for Sonic, but I suppose you peons will have to do.  SWATbots...  Robotnik sneered at the motley group.  As he was giving the order, the human on the ground arose.  Robotnik turned to face him.  The other man, who was very large, six feet and some, pale skinned with a muscular build and a tough, bearded face, and a shallow scar over his right eye, stared back, gripping the great axe, looking very bewildered.  He blinked rapidly.
    oh, you have GOT to be kidding  He KNEW Robotnik, but not as a real being.  Freedom Fighters, SWATbots, lord, this was a world of fantasy!  It couldn't be real.  A SWATbot fired a shot at him on Robotnik's order.  He dodged, but it grazed his ear.  It burned!  That was all too real.
    You did not just do that!  Okay, real or not, I'm hacking something up  With that he charged, quicker than the SWATbots could fire.  The axe swung with ferocious speed, cleaving into the joints and necks of the bots.  He knew where to hurt them, without having to test their armor.  A dozen in all cut down, four more destroying each other through crossfire.  The Freedom Fighters stood in shock.  Robotnik was as well.  This unknown man, calming his berserker rage, slowly looked towards Robotnik.  And smiled.
    Seems real enough.  But let us see if you BLEED!  Robotnik felt the force of that word, as the traveler put STRONG emphasis on it.  He backed away, but he was too slow and off guard.  The man buried his axe head down in the ground and was upon  Robotnik in one swift move.  He gripped Robotnik by the collar and effortlessly hoisted him of the ground, to his eye level.
    You stink real enough.  I feel your foul breath.  I sense your fear...  Strong as your odor.  How did I come here...  Julian. With this Robotnik froze.  He KNEW who he was, but Robotnik had never seen this man in his entire life!  He was strong.  If he could robotiscize him... well, that was a thought for later.  He needed to escape first.  There were four other SWATbots with him.  Where were they?  He got his answer as a blaster shot burned into the travelerÆs back.  The pain forced him to lose his grip.  Robotnik knocked him down with his robotic left arm and fled behind his remaining SWATbots.
    Don't even think this is over yet, strange one.  I'll have you in my grasp soon enough!  And he fled into the wood.  The stranger slowly got up with a grimace.  He stared at the still frozen Freedom Fighters.
    What an #@! hole!  Well, you gonna tell me what's going on or what?  They stared at him, slowly mumbling.
    I know you understand me.  DonÆt know why, but you do.  Well, you gonna speak up, or are we gonna play frickin' charades?
    Uh... we don't know how you got here... but, thanks for the help.  We..  The fox slowly began.  The traveler interrupted him agitatedly.
    Psht, psht, whatever.  Just take me to Rotor or something.  He might know something.  He stretched, spine creaking.  Again, the Freedom Fighters were stunned.
    How do you know... I mean, how, uh...ö
    Oh god save us.  Forget about it.  I save your furry butts, you help me.  Deal?
    Uh, yeah... sure.  But we...
    Have to take precautions, I know, I know.  I'll wait safely away from Knothole until I'm cleared.
    Now confusion really set in.
    Now how...
    Forget it!  Blimey, just get on with it, I'll explain later to Sally and the rest.  Anymore of this  
                                                              bull shit, and I'm gonna get severely tonked off!
    Bewildered, the group set off through the forest.  The traveler looked over his shoulder, up into the sky and saw the fleeing form of one of Robotnik's patrol ships.  He scoffed at him, thinking quietly to himself.  'What the #$@! happened to me? He was determined to find out.  He expected some resistance, and a lot of questions.
    The squad told him to hold up in a small grove by a creek while they went to fetch the princess and Sonic.  Sonic, holy Moses, this was Mobius!  Now he felt really confused.  He pinched himself, and smacked himself in the head.  Yup, he was here all right.  Might as well ride this out.  He sat upon a tree stump, axe planted head down before him.  He waited patiently, for around half an hour.  Eventually a swirl of leaves and dirt approached from the west.  Here he comes.
    Skidding to a halt before him was the blue hedgehog himself, with the princess in his arms.  Sonic set Sally down, and they both couldn't help but notice the axe before them, tall as they were, and it looked a might heavier.  Their gazes drifted upward to the grim human, with a curious smile on his face.

    "HoLee #%@*!  This is getting weirder with every passing moment.  Nice to see you Sonic, and of course Sally.  In the Great Forest titles are meaningless, right?"
    Sonic and Sally wore the same expressions as their scouts.
    "What?  Something I said?  Hehehehe...."
    "Whoa, they weren't kidding!" Sonic exclaimed.
    "Well, uh... I have a few questions, if you don't mind."Sally said, warily eyeing the axe.
    ôMe first please.ö  Said the traveler.
    ôAll right.  Go ahead.ö
    ôHow the flying @#%! did I get here?ö
    ôHey!  There is a lady present!ö  Sonic said irritably.  Sally calmed him down.
    ôWell, we don't really know...  umö
    ôOh sorry, the name's Roland.ö
    ôRight, Roland.  Well, right now we have no clue.  All we know is that you appeared, so it would seem, from that great burst of light we saw.  What do you remember before coming here?ö
    ôWell, I was strolling along on my land, a great bright flash engulfed me, and I smacked into the ground, like I had fallen, but not from my feet.  Next thing I know I stand up and IÆm looking at a Co...  uh, at Buttnik.ö  He was going to say he was looking at a comic book character, but he wasnÆt sure whether now was a good time to go into that.  This was confusing as is.  This world looked like the cartoon, and he... HE looked a part of it!  Okay, he thought to himself, sanity has left the building!
    ôOkay, fill me in?ö  Sonic looked to Sally with a common look of confusion.  She sighed slightly, wishing he could keep up.
    ôSounds like a dimensional transference.  How it happened though...ö  Sally said, crossing her arms, bringing a finger up to tap her lips thoughtfully.  Roland stared at her narroweyed, waiting for some kind of sensible answer.  He feared he wouldnÆt get one.
    ôI donÆt know.ö
    ôOh goody.  Well, this is marvelous.ö
    ôDonÆt worry Roland.  I might know someone who does though.ö
    ôUncle Chuck?ö  Roland enquired.
    ôAll right!  How do you know all this!  Are you one of ButtnikÆs spies!ö
    ôCool your spines boy, IÆm no enemy.  Less you want one...ö
    The situation began to get tense, but Sally reacted quickly to stop it from getting any worse.
    ôHold on!  Sonic, I donÆt think heÆs the enemy!ö
    ôAll right!ö
    ôAnd Rolandö, Sally turned to the human warrior, ôIÆd appreciate cooperation on your part.ö

           ôYou have my wordö
    ôAs what?ö  Sonic sneered.  Roland eschewed a low growl.
    ôAS A WARRIOR!ö   Roland tore the axe from the ground and menacingly let it drift in SonicÆs direction.  Again, Sally had to cool hotheads.
    ôSonic!  Roland!ö  They backed away and lowered their tense guards.
    Thank you!  We will return to Knothole and discuss this with everyone else.ö
    ôOh SalÆ, could I speak with you over there?ö  Sonic indicated to a copse of trees with a jerk of his thumb.  
    ôUgh, all right.  One moment Roland.ö
    ôGo ahead, talk amongst yourselves!  @#*! like monkeys, see if I care!ö  That earned him a glare from the pair of them.  He smiled and walked over to a distant tree and leaned patiently against it.
    ôYeesh, what a pain! Rude too!ö  Sally quietly said to Sonic.
    ôI donÆt like him Sal.  Besides being a jerk, he just doesnÆt seem right.ö
    ôWell, he did save our scouts from Robotnik, thatÆs worth something at least.ö
    ôYeah, I guess.  I still donÆt like it!ö
    ôItÆs been noted.ö
    ôYou sure we should take him to Knothole?ö
    ôHe has no where else to go.  We canÆt just turn him out.  Anyway, thereÆs safety in numbers.  With you, Bunnie, Dulcy, and everyone else there, we should be able to keep him under control.ö
    ôIÆm still not convinced!  I mean he junked sixteen SWATbots in a few seconds!ö
    ôWhat?  DonÆt think you can take him?ö  Sally jokingly prodded at his ego.
    ôCourse I can!  IÆm just worried about everyone else.  He could never even touch me!  He wouldnÆt even see me coming!ö
    ôOf course not.ö  Sally smiled. rolling her eyes.
    They walked back over to Roland, who was eyeing the stump he was sitting on.
    ôMan, twelve hundred years old.  That was an old tree.ö
    ôBored?ö  Sally said.
    ôOh, kinda.  So, what are ya gonna do with me?  Cast me away?ö
    ôNo, youÆll come with us back to Knothole.ö
    ôWe must be going.  Night will fall soon.  Sonic, head back and set things up and let everyone know whatÆs going on.  We can make room in storage for him.ö
    ôJust go, IÆll be fine.ö
    Sonic gave Roland a final wary look, then he sped off.  Roland and Sally walked side by side through the forest, axe slung over RolandÆs shoulder.
    ôYou take a great risk.  At least Sonic thinks so.ö
    ôI felt confident you were no threat to us.  Sonic just...ö
    ôDidnÆt take to me.ö

    ôI guess so.ö
    ôWeÆre both pretty hotblooded.  Conflict of personality.ö
    Sally chuckled lightly at this, as did Roland in his low rolling tone, like thunder.
    ôYou have us at a disadvantage.  You know us, but we donÆt know you.ö
    ôThat is a long story.  You wouldnÆt believe me if I told you.ö
    ôYou wonÆt explain?ö
    ôItÆs not worth it.  More complications.  æNuff as is, donÆt you think?ö
    ôI suppose youÆre right.ö
    The two walked in silence for a time.  Sally began to tire and held up in a small grove of thick trees.  She yawned loudly.
    ôWe wonÆt make it before itÆs too dark to see.  WeÆll have to rest here.ö
    ôWha?ö  Sally said in surprise as RolandÆs enormous hand wrapped around her waist and picked her up like a feather.  He placed her on his left shoulder.  She gripped the collar of his tunic, and held on to his massive shoulder muscles with her other hand.  His shoulder was so broad, and his muscle was like stone.  Stark contrast to the diminutive Snively, and the blubbery Robotnik.  She never had seen a human like this man before.  
    ôHold on, it might get bumpy.ö  Roland smiled as he briskly walked on.
    ôYouÆre not tired?ö
    ôTired?  IÆm a Marine!ö
    ôAh, a soldier.ö
    ôA MARINE!ö
    ôOf course.  What was youÆre rank?ö
    ôSergeant Major.  I left the corps around four years ago.ö
    ôHow old are you now?ö
    ôHmmm.  What was your world like?ö
    ôEh, a pit.  We were fairly advanced, not as far as your old kingdom though.  We didnÆt have grav sleds, or blasters.  We were a computer using culture with nuclear power.  WorldÆs a mess though.  I hate it.ö
    ôWe got you beat though.ö
    ôYeah, an insane megalomaniacal, world dominating scientist turning people into robots has to take the cake.ö
    ôHahaha... huh, it would be funny if it wasnÆt true.ö
    ôWell, dontcha worry none girl.  IÆll bash in there and bring you RobotnikÆs severed head.  Make ya feel better?ö
    ôEeeww.  You can be awfully violent, canÆt you?ö
    ôHey, IÆve been in far bloodier conflicts than you could ever imagine.  IÆm the descendant of Viking warriors and tough Scottish Freedom Fighters, and a marine to boot.  IÆm born for war, for good or ill.ö
    ôFreedom Fighters?ö

    ôSo, you would be willing to help us?ö
    ôIÆll fight for you.  It may be fun.ö
    Sally gave Roland an offcolored look.  He just smiled.
    ôYouÆre odd, you know that right.
    ôOh yeah.ö
    ôBut IÆm serious.  We are fighting for our world, and this is no game.ö
    ôI understand Princess.  But I have nothing else here, so until someone finds out a way to send me home, IÆll earn my keep.ö  
    ôWell, we can always use the help.  But we fight guerilla style.  Ambush tactics, and such.ö
    ôIÆm perfectly aware of your tactics.ö
    ôYes, I know you know.  That still bothers me.ö
    ôDonÆt worry girl, just think of me as omnipotent.ö  Roland smirked, earning a laugh from Sally.
    ôDonÆt you wish.  What I meant is that you strike me as a æFrontLine FighterÆ.ö
    ôWell, that isnÆt incorrect, but as a marine we have learned all sorts of tactical styles, including ambush tactics.ö
    ôItÆs always good to have a professional soldier around.  Good with strategy?ö
    ôFavorite topic.ö
    ôGood, good.ö
    It was getting late, but Roland pressed on, and Sally began to get heavy eyed.  She had had a long day, organizing resources for an upcoming raid on Robotropolis, and arguing tactics with Antoine, who believed they would all be smashed by sudden reinforcements coming from all over.  If you wanted to right down everything Antoine knew about strategy, you could fill out the palm of your hand in big letters.  Talking with Antoine always tires one out.  Eventually, she closed her eyes and slumped against RolandÆs head.  He laughed quietly to himself, supporting her with his other hand.
    ôGood night, little one.ö

    Meanwhile in Knothole, Sonic had been pacing for acouple hours, worrying about Sally, alone with that human, Roland.
    ôSugarhog, just sit on down!  Ah know youÆre worried, but you trust Sally, donÆt you?ö  Bunnie said, trying to calm down SonicÆs tense nerves.  He paused, rubbing his forehead and tapping his left foot, keeping those nervous movements going.
    ôCourse I do, but... Well, youÆll see what I mean, assuming he gets here.  And he better, or IÆll take off right now!ö
    ôNow Sally asked you to wait for her.  She has a reason, and you know it.  SheÆs a smart girl, she can handle herself surely as you can.ö
    ôI know Bunnie, but... Aargh!  ItÆs just frustrating!ö  Sonic thumped down in a chair next to Bunnie, holding his chin in his hands, still carrying the same worried look he put on ever since he got back.  Bunnie wrapped her mechanical arm around his shoulder, offering what comfort she could.
    ôJust cool your heels sug, sheÆll be back soon.ö

    Suddenly, there was commotion in the village.  Roland appeared silently from the forest, baring Sally on his shoulder.  Sonic was there in less than a second, standing before the human.
    ôAs promised.  Take her to bed, sheÆs pooped.ö
    Murmuring spread through Knothole like wildfire, mostly the talk was of that huge axe of his.  Dulcy appeared from the opposite side of camp, sighting Roland from afar.  She was ordered to ice him if things got out of hand.  While she was a dragon, she was also very young.  She felt a pang of fear nearing the hardened warrior.  Roland turned his head and saw her.  He let the princess down into BunnieÆs arms.
    ôThank you Bunnie.ö
    ôSure, no problem...ö  They had told her that this Roland seemed to know everyone here, but he came across as if he had known them for years.  Freaky.
    So, Dulcy.  I suppose youÆve been ordered to oversee my conduct, and ice me if things get hairy, right.  You been working on your landings?  Key part to successful flight, ya know.ö
    ôUh...ö  Dulcy was building up some confidence to face the human, but that shot it all.  Totally off guard.  Her landing?  He knew about that?  Now he really scared her.  All the while, Roland was kind of beginning to enjoy this.  He loved freaking them out.  But he realized he would need to gain their confidence in order to exist here.  Okay, game over.  Time to get serious.
    ôGreetings, I am Roland.  For the time being I will live amongst you.  You may not trust me now, especially if Sonic has anything to do with it.  But know this!  I am a comrade in arms, and in exchange for your hospitality, I will fight and bleed for you and yours against Robotnik.  After all, I have some unfinished business that will involve my severing his various extremities.  So, nighty night and whereÆs my bed?ö  Forefingers shot out in unison to a large building at the other side of the village.  Roland smiled and bowed, slung the axe over one shoulder and strolled away, humming a bawdy sailorÆs dirge.  Some very confused animals watched him walk away.  Once he had entered, they looked to each other for conformation that what they just saw was real.  Sonic continued to stare at the storage building, where they made some kind of bed for him, still not certain that this man was an ally.  He slowly made his way to his hut, but not before Tails intercepted him.
    ôWow!  Did you see that axe!  ItÆs so cool!... Sonic, whatÆs wrong?ö
    ôI donÆt know little bro.  He just... rubs me the wrong way.ö
    ôHe seems okay, and Aunt Sally trusts him.ö
    ôYeah, youÆre probably right.  Thanks little bro.  I gotta get some shuteye.  Big day tomorrow.  See ya later!ö  Sonic rubbed his head and continued off to bed, feeling a little better.  Tails had a good feeling for people.  Maybe, Sonic thought, he was just overreacting.

    Dawn the next day.  Knothole came to life as the sun showed spartanly through the thick trees overhead.  All of the heads of the Knothole Freedom Fighters, and Antoine, attended the morning meeting, discussing the raid to come.  Sally arrived first,

organizing the thoughts in her head.  Antoine appeared next, not to long after Sally, followed by Bunnie, Rotor, and eventually Sonic.
    ôAlright, I got the schematics of this new building of ButtnikÆs and...ö  Just as Sally was going to continue, attention drifted behind them as Roland approached, axe in hand.
    ôSorry IÆm late.ö  Roland smiled broadly.
    ôNo problem, we were just starting.ö  Sally replied.  Antoine glanced up at Roland, and oh so tactfully stated:
    ôWhat is he doing here?ö  Roland sneered at him.  God, he hated the French, and despite Mobius not having any Frenchies, he still sounds like one of those frogsucking fools.  What a little smear!
    ôRoland happens to be a professional soldier with experience in guerilla tactics.  I thought his input could be useful.ö  Sally replied, creating a barrier before any fur could fly.  Literally.  She knew Roland was fairly easy to offend, but she wasnÆt sure how far he would go.  And she wasnÆt in the market to find out.  After all, AntoineÆs all talk.  Roland should know that.  Bunnie gave Antoine a sharp nudge with her real arm.  Antoine recoiled back into his seat and haughtily crossed his arms.
    ôSo, what do you need of me?ö  Roland inquired.
    ôHave a seat.  Rotor threw a chair together for you.ö Sally indicated to a large, high backed chair made from spare parts and bits of wood.
    ôItÆs not much, but it will support you.  YouÆre around 250 pounds, right?ö  Rotor said.  He made the chair, guessing his mass from around 240 to 275 pounds.
    ôLittle over 300 actually, but it should hold up.ö
    ôDang, youÆre a big boy!ö  Bunnie said with some surprise.  They figured Dulcy was heavy being a dragon and all, but they hadnÆt known enough humans to gauge properly.
    ôWell, I get around.ö  Roland smirked and pulled his chair forward and seated himself.  So far he didnÆt collapse the chair.
    ôAll right.  Now our focus is this building hereö Sally indicated with her index finger to a rectangular building on the architectural diagram laid out on the table.  Roland studied it carefully, and the marked buildings around it.  Some of them seemed suspicious, but he couldnÆt put his finger on it.
    ôUncle Chuck has fed us as much info as he could gather about the area.  Not all that much is known, but itÆs as if Robotnik has been building a whole new section of city.  I donÆt know what these buildings are.ö  Sally waved her hand over the surrounding buildings Roland had been studying.  They looked like minor storage.
    ôI am telling you that there is being an ambush from there!  SWATbots will be like flies as soon as we are nearing it!ö  Antoine repeated his same paranoid fear to the group as he had been all week.  The others ignored him.
    ôAntoine, youÆre such a dopeö,  Sonic chided. ôThose buildings could hold maybe six SWATs at a time!  Waste of space.ö
    ôI think AntoineÆs right.ö  Roland said quietly, but clearly enough that everyone heard.

    ôWHAT!ö  Said the freedom fighters in unison, including Antoine.
    ôThey are subsurface relay stations IÆll bet.  Only six emerge at a time, but theyÆll keep coming.  ItÆs discreet defense, concealed to fool the eye.  ItÆs a trap for sure.ö
    ôI was right?  I WAS RIGHT! Ha ha!ö  Antoine leaped up in his chair and blew a raspberry at Sonic.  Everyone was still in shock that Antoine had been right, and they were wrong.
    ôWell, I donÆt doubt you Roland, but...ö
    ôPositive, princess.ö
    ôYou know you can call me Sally.ö
    ôJust wanted to hear it from you.ö
    ôAntoine was RIGHT?  That isnÆt right!ö  Sonic couldnÆt let go, and Antoine was savoring every moment, wagging his tongue at the Hedgehog.  Eventually Sonic knocked his feet out from under him, crashing Antoine to the ground.
    ôOwww!  You putrid little toad!  You are just jealous that I was right and you were wrong!ö
    ôANTOINE.ö  Sally said through clenched teeth.  Antoine melted away.
    ôI am sorry, my princess.ö
    ôAll right, so Roland, whatÆs your advise?ö
    ôHard to say.  You donÆt have frontal assault capability, and IÆm sure surveillance is tight as a virginÆs c... uh, IÆm sure itÆs real tight.ö  Roland got a glare from Sally as he went on.  Roland made a zipping motion across his lips and grinned.
    ôTight as a virginÆs what?ö
    ôNever mind Bunnie.ö  Roland was smiling like a mad hatter, trying to contain the brewing laughter.  Sally only shook her head.
    ôWell what is it!  Tight as a vir...ö  Reality dawned on Bunnie.
    ôOh, you are sick!ö  Bunnie pushed on Roland.  He just sat there grinning his head off.
    ôCan we get back to the business at hand?ö  Sally asked, looking at everyone, but especially Roland.
    ôOf course.  Well, if someone can disable remote surveillance for awhile, say Rotor accompanied by Bunnie, when they get the eyes offline, you and Sonic can zip in under cover of shadow, and obviously this should be done at night, and get into that building with a pack of explosives, find your target, and blow it to hell.  Be nice to know whatÆs in there, but thatÆs a whole other can of worms.ö
    ôWe have reason to believe the building is some kind of hangar.  Possibly a missile.ö  Rotor piped in, offering a suggestion.
Roland thought otherwise.
    ôNo... perhaps itÆs a satellite.  I know were I him and needed to find Knothole, thatÆs what IÆd do.ö
    ôA satellite, of course!  That explains all the cameras that Uncle Chuck saw going in there!  A spy satellite!ö
    ôPerhaps one capable of seeing through your protective overgrowth.  IÆm sure heÆs had, and has, other satellites, but this one heÆs safeguarding well.ö

    ôOkay big shot, how are we even going to get there?  SWATbots will be triple patroling all around there.  IÆm fast, and weÆre great with not being seen, but even then someone will see us.ö
    ôDonÆt worry Sonic, thatÆs where I come in.  IÆll offer a distraction while you all bug in and bug out.ö
    ôNow Roland, we appreciate your help, but youÆll get yourself killed!ö  Sally stood, rather amazed that Roland would really do that.  But he walked the walk, she was sure of it.
    ôNo worries girl, IÆll make it out.ö
    ôGot a better idea?ö
    ô... Not really.  All right, just be careful!  We donÆt want to lose anyone, and I promised we would find a way to get you home.ö
    ôAll right then.  ThatÆs our plan A...ö
    ôIÆll let you all figure out the rest of the Alphabet, IÆm gonna go and sharpen Stormreaver.  Mind if I borrow your shop Rotor?ö
    ôNot at all, just duck.ö
    ôHa ha, thanks Rote.ö
    Roland strolled away, humming to himself.  He hadnÆt let on to them about how he was feeling.  He was dying, the Plague was taking him.  That disease which killed most of the humans on Mobius, forcing those who couldnÆt resist it offworld.  Normally the Plague would not onset so quickly, but Roland was truly alien to Mobius, and the symptoms appeared last night.  Often times symptoms could last for awhile before the final stages set in, but he was progressing rapidly down that path.  He had a week at most, maybe three days of quality, functioning time.  After that he would weaken and die in bed.  He read about this mystery plague in one of the stories a friend had convinced him to read.  It stuck in his mind now.  He liked it here, but it was killing him, and he couldnÆt go back.  Who knows what would happen to earth?  He intended to die in the coming battle, like a warrior.  He didnÆt fear death as such, he had faced his mortality often.  But now there was no way to let his family know what had happened to him.  It was tearing him up inside.  There was nothing to do, but to go to his quarters, and compose his will, the fifth of his life.  Along the way one of his legs gave out and he fell, catching himself with his axe,
    Tails had happened by, and came over to see what was wrong.
    ôHey Roland, whatÆs wrong?ö
    ôOh, just tripped.  Nothing at all.ö
    ôYour nose is bleeding.ö
    Roland grabbed a handkerchief from his pants pocket and covered his nose.  He hauled himself up, his leg held.  Good.
    ôOh, thatÆs happened before.  Maybe I dug too far, eh?ö
    ôRun along now, IÆve got work to do.ö

    ôMaybe you should see...ö
    ôTails, IÆm a marine.  IÆll be okay.  Run along.ö
    ôOkay.ö  Tails turned to leave.  Something was wrong.  He needed to find Sally, and quick.
    Damn, Tails knows, Roland thought to himself.  Now they were gonna come looking for him.  Tails was hazy about it, but Sally could put two and two together about his illness.  He was going, no matter what they said. He wasnÆt going to just pass away in bed.  He had to work quick.

    Tails rushed into the meeting area, flying over the huts along the way.  He got there in a couple of minutes and found Sally there planning with the rest of the group.
    ôWhat is it Tails?ö  Sally said motheringly.  She noticed Tails was very upset.  Sonic leaned over towards Tails.
    ôWhatÆs up big guy?ö
    ôItÆs Roland.  Something is wrong with him.ö
    ôI hear that.ö  Sonic said jokingly, but he saw that Tails was being serious.
    ôNo, I mean he looks sick.  I saw him fall awhile ago, and then his nose started bleeding.  He told me he was all right, but I donÆt think he meant it.ö
    ôOh no...ö  Sally was starting to get the picture.  It must be the plague.  But Roland hasnÆt even been here a day! How could it onset so quickly?  It took a long time to whittle away MobiusÆ human population. She didnÆt know much of the disease, but it shouldnÆt happen that quickly.  She had to see him.  
    ôWhatÆs going on Sally girl?ö  Bunnie was worried.  She didnÆt know what was going on, but Sally looked shaken.
    ôI have to go.  IÆll be back, just stay put.ö  And Sally dashed off.
    ôWhatÆs the big deal?  Roland tripped and got a little nosebleed, thatÆs all.  Just hang tight, little bro.ö  Sonic tried to comfort Tails.  Tails always cared about people in pain, friend or stranger.
    ôOkay.ö  Tails agreed, but didnÆt feel convinced.

    Roland had barely sat down to write his will when Sally flew in the hut.  Roland set down the pen and pushed the paper away and sighed heavily.
    ôYouÆre writing your will, arenÆt you.ö  Sally stated evenly.  Roland lowered his head and wiped some blood from his nose with his handkerchief.  It was very stained.
    ôI figured youÆd find out from Tails.  HeÆs a sharp one.ö
    ôBut how!  Why so quickly!?ö  Sally moved around to face Roland.  He looked weary, and he had been crying.
    ôI donÆt have all the answers Sally, but all I know is whether or not this is the Plague, or something else entirely different, I caught it, and quick.  Could have been from Buttnik, heÆs obviously immune to the humantargeting illnesses of Mobius, otherwise heÆd be dead.  I am an alien, a human on a world inhospitable to humans.  The only ones left are immune.  My immune system failed... badly.ö

    ôBut itÆs not fair!  We get to keep Robotnik, and lose you...  you havenÆt been here more than half a day.ö
    ôToo late, too soon, itÆs irrelevant.  ItÆs happened, itÆs done.  ThatÆs all there is.ö
    ôBut we barely even know you... and then youÆll be gone...ö  Sally began too cry.  Roland lifted her onto his lap.
    ôNow those tears canÆt be for me.  You barely know me.ö
    ôI still donÆt want you to die like this.ö
    ôI wonÆt.ö
    And suddenly it was all clear.  Sally wiped away her tears and looked into RolandÆs shining Sapphire eyes.  He had a gaze that could pierce into your soul, or a gentle look that could put you at ease.  Those shocking blues seemed so peaceful now.
    ôYou intended to die on the mission, didnÆt you?ö
    ôI intend to die on the mission.  My plan hasnÆt changed.  IÆll go, with or without you.ö
    ôHow long?ö
    ôTwo days, tops.  Otherwise IÆll be bed ridden.ö
    ôMaybe we can find a cure, or...ö  Roland put a finger to SallyÆs lips.  She fell silent.
    ôI donÆt have time, and you would need to isolate the cause, which is very time consuming.  If so many humans died or fled Mobius, I doubt that they had a vaccine, and MobiusÆ animal population had no need of developing or researching a cure for a human disease. I am going to die.  Hey, IÆm not pleased with it either.  IÆll never see my mother or my father again.  IÆll never have a wife and children.  But I will have one thing.ö
    ôMy honor.  I will die a warrior if nothing else.ö
    They were both quiet for a time.  Sally glanced at the will:
        This is the last will and testament of Roland Bernard McCormick...

    ôWhat do you want for your funeral?ö  Sally seemed to be coming to terms with this.  If Roland had, so should she.  Why did she care so much?  She didnÆt know, but she had a rapport with him.  While he could be crude, he could also listen.  She wish she could have known him longer, but that wasnÆt going to happen.
    ôMy family cremates their dead.  Something about being buried just... seems wrong.  And then we celebrate with a wake.ö
    ôAye.  Death is not to be feared.  I will go onto a better place, so itÆs a time to celebrate the transition.  Good food, good beer, and family and friends.  They reminisce of the dead, about all the good times, and what they remember of them.  Of course, thereÆs not much to remember of me here.ö
    ôWeÆll make do.ö  Sally touched her hand to his.  Hers was so small by comparison.  Roland wiped a tear from his eye and smiled.
    ôNow youÆve got me doing it.ö

    ôHa ha, well, itÆs okay to feel sadness about your imminent demise.  No one can hold that against you.  Not even a marine.ö
    Roland stared at the will, as did Sally.  He wrote:

        To my hosts in Knothole, the only ones who know of my passing, I leave my prized axe Stormreaver, that they may preserve it, for it is the last of my material value.  It is also the symbol of my very soul.

    Sally smiled and looked to a solemn Roland, who completed the short document with:

    If ever a way can be found to let my family know of my passing, I hope that it will be done.  There is no guarantee of that happening.  If my hosts canÆt find Amanda and Will McCormick on my distant home world of Earth, I pray that God will find a way.
    May my cremated remains be kept from the elements in an urn, and may my hosts say a few words in memory of me.  May there be good food and drink at my wake.  And lastly, may my deeds not be forgotten.  All I can ask for is remembrance.  Now all that can be said is.  WhatÆs done is done.

    ôNever written a proper, legal will, though I have written four previously before heading into serious battle.  I hope itÆs good enough.ö
    ôI think you said all that you could.  I hope there is a way to tell your parents, and weÆll try, but I can promise nothing.ö
    ôI would never expect it.  This situation has been... unique.ö
    ôNo kidding.ö
    Sally and Roland sat quietly for awhile, thinking about what was to come.
    ôThere is little time left, and I know you didnÆt want to say anything about...ö
    ôHow I know all of you?ö
    ôHm, yeah.ö
    ô(sigh), All right, seeing as how there is so little time left, IÆll explain as best I can, but be forewarned, itÆs a weird tale.ö
    And he told Sally all that he knew, about the comic, and his theory of Æsubconscious dimensional leakÆ and how while it seemed a creation of some writer it was actually a subconscious look into a whole other dimension.  They talked through the night, and Sally asked if he knew anything of the story.  He said the story has not yet been wholly written, and there are many different versions of the same story.  Which is right, he did not know.  He spoke of how when he disappeared he was on his way to his house to get his kilt and armor for the renaissance faire they were holding.  They talked about his world and his adventures for two solid hours.
    ôA manÆs skirt?ö

    ôA KILT!  ItÆs traditional Scottish attire.ö
    ôHuh, that must be interesting on a windy day.ö
    ôAye, especially since a real Scotsman wears under his kilt only what God graced him with since his birth.ö
    ô... You mean...ö
    ôYou know what I mean.ö
    ôWhoa...ö, Sally said, slightly shocked.
    The animals never had to worry about such things, but Sally knew human anatomy was different, ôthey fought in kilts?ö
    ôAye.  Talk having some balls, eh?ö
    ôOh, donÆt be so squeamish... say, think someone here could make a kilt if I showed emÆ how?ö
    ôI think so.ö
    ôGood.  ThereÆs how IÆll go out.ö
    ôGo out as what?ö
    Roland smiled and looked into her big brown eyes.
    ôA Scotsman to the last.ö

    ôWhere has she been all night?ö  Sonic questioned aloud.  Bunnie, Rotor, Antoine, and Tails were still sitting at the meeting table, waiting for Sally to return.  Sonic wanted to go with, but it seemed as if Sally wanted to go alone.  So he waited, but now he was ready to just haul off and zoom down there.
    ôSheÆs been seeing to Roland, ahÆm sure.ö  Bunnie replied.  She didnÆt seem nearly as worried as anyone else.  And that was a conscious effort on her part.  She believed if she thought it wasnÆt all that bad, then it wasnÆt.  Remedy for the unknown and frightening.  Not always the best plan, but sometimes necessary to keep a cool head.
    Rotor was confused more than anything.  He was somewhat out of this loop.  He met him briefly, but heard most of everything about him second hand.  His concern was mostly with SallyÆs distress.
    Tails, ever the emotionally aware, was highly concerned.  He stayed near Sonic most of the evening.  It had been two hours since Sally had dashed off, and most of everyone had turned in for the night.
    The door creaked open, and Sally entered.  Everyone stood as she entered, waiting for news.
    Sally looked bleak.  Tails could feel her despair right away, and the others followed in suit.
    ôHeÆs dying.ö  Sally said plainly.
    ôWhat?  Dying!ö  Sonic was very surprised.  That was the last thing he had been expecting, and the others shared his shock.
    ôWe can only guess that it is a form of the Plague that killed so many of MobiusÆ human populace.  His immune system reacted poorly to it, so...ö
    ôMaybe I can help manufacture some sort of vaccine, with a little time and...ö  

Rotor hurriedly thought of some way he could help Roland, but he was unsure anyways.
    ôHe has two days of quality function.  Otherwise heÆll be dying in bed.  Perhaps a week, but he doesnÆt intend to die in bed.ö
    Rotor realized two days was no where near enough time.  There was nothing even he could do.
    ôWhatÆs gonna happen?ö  Bunnie asked worriedly.  Her sense of protection had been incinerated when she heard he was dying.
    ôHeÆs intended from the formulation of the plan to be our diversion.ö
    ôHeÆs sacrificing himself so that we can knock out the satellite...ö  Sonic was amazed.  
    ôHe will go berserk and take out as many SWATbots as possible before he goes down.  He wants to die in battle.ö  Sally explained.
    ôWow, thatÆs heavy.ö  Bunnie sat down hard, the force of the thought throwing her down.  This man they knew for no more than a day was going to sacrifice himself for their cause.
    ôI am not believing this...ö  Antoine was stunned.  Never before had he expected anyone to show that much honor.
    ôHe gave me this.ö  She slid the will onto the table.  Everyone read it.  Tails looked dazed.  
    ôCome on honey, This is something we have to understand through his eyes.  We all have had to experience death before.ö  Sally embraced tails, who was weeping softly.
    ô(sniff), I know... but he barely even got here.  He was really cool too.ö
    Sonic, whose reaction was almost the exact opposite of SallyÆs at first, began to understand the negative feeling he had with Roland.  He knew Roland was going to die, and somehow it would forever affect their lives.  Sonic always had considered himself a pretty tough customer, and he was in many ways, but he could never get used to the cold reality of death.  Especially first hand.
    ôTails, heÆs doing a brave thing.  We should remember that.  Anyhow, we still have a day or so.  WeÆll just have to make the most of it, while heÆs still relatively well.ö
    ôOkay.ö  Tails still felt the sadness, but he realized that feeling sorry for him wasnÆt going to help.  Just make the most of it.
    Sally squeezed him tightly and kissed him on the forehead, and he hugged back.  Sonic could plainly feel his pain, as could everyone else.  They embraced as a group.  Even Antoine, who had been mostly silent during it all, joined in.  Antoine respected him.  He had finally proven him right on something before everyone.  Roland was so strong, and so brave... he wished he could be more like him.  Oddly now he felt none of the fear that he was so accustomed too, the fear that made him look like a spineless coward.  He understood what everyone thought about him.  He wanted to be Roland.  Roland had come to terms with his fate, as dark as it was, and he embraced it.  That was honor.  As night moved on, the moon hanging high in the sky, they finally parted to sleep and to wait for the next day, that they may know their guest a little better before he entered the fray, and into the darkness of death...

    Morning dawned, and Knothole awoke from its slumber.  Sally was up early with Bunnie, arranging what looked like a little faire.  Sonic and Tails were setting up a dunk tank, Dulcy was giving rides to the young children, Rotor was diligently working on some attractions, like a static sphere, which was very popular.  And Antoine had organized a food stand... which was barren of all life, save Antoine.
    ôWhat am I doing wrong?ö  He said to himself, and tried one of his own escargot.  Nothing wrong, he thought.  No one seemed to agree.
    Many other Freedom Fighters had organized booths, like card games, ring toss, and an old veteran had a bow/knife/axe throwing range.  Roland awoke late and emerged into the sun light, grim determination on his face.  He hadnÆt expected to wake up to a faire.
    ôWhat the?ö
    ôRoland!  Good morning.ö
    ôOh, good morning Sally.ö
    Sally approached him, bearing a beaded bracelet.
    ôThis is for you.ö
    Sally handed him the beaded string.
    ôWhat is this?ö
    ôItÆs a friendship bracelet.  Men wear them too, itÆs okay.  It is our symbol of friendship too you.  The Freedom Fighters of Knothole thank you for what you are doing.ö  Sally smiled and led him into the simple, makeshift faire.
    ôWhatÆs all this for?  A holiday?ö
    ôItÆs for you.  Kind of a ælast great gasp.Æö
    ôHuh, almost literally.ö
    ôOh... sorry.  I should have said...ö
    ôItÆs okay lass, we all know what is going on.  Confronting it will hurt no one.ö
    ôJust try to have some fun though.ö
    Cheers went up as Roland strolled into the faire, Roland waved in recognition.  Old Gus, the local veteran, a burly old bear, took him by the arm over to his stand.
    ôI had to figure youÆd understand my booth.  Give her a try?ö
    Roland eyed the Longbows (short bows for him), throwing daggers, and hurling axes.  He smiled and picked up a bow and notched an arrow.  A crowd had gathered to watch.  Tails, Sonic, Rotor, Sally, Bunnie, and Antoine stood in the front, and Old Gus watched on from the side.  Roland turned to face them.
    ôYeah, this is kinda up my alley.ö  And without even aiming, he spun with the bow, fired, and as soon as it had left the bow, it was replaced by a second, and a third following it.  THUD, THUD, THUD.  Three snapshots, all bullseyes.  There was oohing from the crowd.
    ôGood gracious...ö  Bunnie stared at the target, the arrows tightly clustered in the center.  The rest of the group shared a similar reaction.
    ôCOOL!ö  Sonic and Tails agreed in unison.  Even Old Gus had to give credit where credit was due.
    ôI have never seen shooting like that before.ö  He murmured to himself.

    At the next target he was equally impressive.  He tucked six daggers into his belt, and drew one with each hand, throwing right, left, right, left, and then spinning three hundred and sixty degrees and snapping the next two from his belt and hurled them simultaneously.  The four previous ones formed a near perfect square around the bullseye, and the last two angled in between them.  He finished with a single hatchet, which he hurled at the same target, burying it dead center between the daggers.  The force he put behind it made a vertical crack in the center, and the target collapsed along the seam.  There was cheering and utterly stunned looks all around.  Dulcy had been nervous of him before, and that really unnerved her.
    ôWhatÆs wrong Dulcy?ö  Tails perched on her shoulder.
    ôOh... he just freaks me out.ö
    ôDonÆt be afraid, heÆs on our side!ö
    ôYeah, youÆre right.ö
    ôAnd boy am ah grateful.  AhÆd hate to see him mad at lilÆ olÆ me.ö  Bunnie reflected, staring at the crumpled target.  Old Gus just shook his head.  
    ôGood lord boy, you are a oneman army, swear.ö
    ôThanks Gus.  ItÆs been awhile, I guess IÆm a little rusty.ö
    ôAh, shuddup.ö  Gus pushed on him playfully.
    ôThat was awesome man, way past cool!ö  Sonic congratulated him.
    ôHa!  So you deign to speak to me now, eh?ö  Roland grinned down at the hedgehog.  Sonic looked a little sheepish.
    ôYeah, well about that... I just got a bad ævibeÆ from you.  I was wrong.ö
    ôSONIC!  You admitted fault?  On your own!  WhatÆs becoming of Mobius?ö
Sally joked at Sonic.  She put her arm around his shoulder and smiled.
    ôIs this finally a sign of maturity?ö
    ôSal, come on...ö
    ôHey everyone!ö  Sally called out.
    ôCome on Sal!ö  Sonic pleaded.
    ôThis should be good.ö  Roland chuckled to himself.
    The gathered Freedom Fighters all turned to Sally.  Sonic was trying to cover her mouth.  Sally batted his hands away and went on.
    ôSonic just admitted fault.  By his own volition!ö
    A sarcastic gasp went up from the crowd, closely followed by laughter.  Sonic looked up at Roland with a withering stare.  Roland just grinned at him.
    ôWhat?  I didnÆt say anything.ö
    ôThis is your fault.ö
    ôMy fault?  HowÆs that?ö
    ôOh Sonic, I thought you were maturing.  DonÆt spoil itö  Sally jabbed at him playfully, ôI kind of like it.ö
    ôUhhhö  Sonic began to blush.
    ôNyuk, nyuk, nyuk.ö  Roland chittered.  Sonic stared at him.  Roland turned and whistled, walking away toward RotorÆs display.
    ôOh, I love these spheres.ö  Roland put his hands to the glass globe.  The static

moved up his arm and set his hair on end.
    ôThatÆs just good stuff.ö  Roland laughed.  Rotor joined in.  Sally wandered over, where she saw Roland standing there, hair sticking straight up all over the place.  He turned to her.
    ôHey, I think itÆs a new look for me, donÆt you?ö
    ôOh gosh...ö  Sally chuckled.  It looked so funny.
    ôHey, thanks Rote.ö
    ôNo problem Roland.ö  And a couple of kids followed him up and put their hands to the globe.  The first little fox was just an indiscriminate puffball.
    ôHee hee hee!ö
    ôSo, whereÆd Sonic bugger off to?ö  Roland smoothed his hair down.
    ôOh, he replaced Tails at the dunk tank.ö
    ôDUNK TANK?  With Sonic in it?ö
    ôOh no...ö
    ôMwa ha ha!ö  Roland melodramatically laughed, like a corny villain, rubbing his hands together.
    ôOh, this will be worth seeing.ö  Sally mused to herself.
    WhereÆsit, whereÆsit?ö  Roland looked about for the tank.  Sally pointed to her left.
    ôJust hold on, IÆm gonna round up everyone.ö  And Sally darted off.  Soon she rounded up the whole gang, and they walked toward the tank together.  There was already a crowd there.  Sonic was teasing the hurlers, like all dunk tank guys should.  No one had splashed him yet.  YET.
    ôCome on, whoÆs next?  Anyone able to hit the broadside of a barn?ö
    ôSÆpose IÆll give her a twirl.ö  Roland stepped forward, holding three balls in one hand.  He was smiling like a mad man.
    ôOh great...ö  Sonic knew what was coming.
    ôAny bets?ö  Roland addressed the gathered.  They snickered.
    ôNot after your knife throwing demonstration!ö  Old Gus bellowed.
    ôOh poo, well, guess IÆll just make the most of it...ö
    ôYa know, I thought the Dunk Tank was a bad ideAAAHHHH!ö  Sonic blurted out before dropping into the tank.  A ball zoomed out faster than Sonic could even see.  SPLOOSH!  He came up and coughed up a mouth full of water.  His eyes peered out at Roland, half above the water line.  Roland waved the next two balls at him, wearing the same stupid grin.  Sonic blew bubbles and sighed.  
    Roland visited all the booths, played all the games, and was even roped into eating one of AntoineÆs escargot.  Rarely in his life had he ever experienced fear that intense.
    ôIt is good, no?ö  Antoine looked up at the human hopefully.  Roland couldnÆt avoid looking at it before he knew he had to put it in his mouth.  This is a man who was forced to subsist on insects for a week... but there was not one African tribesman out there in the Congo, or one starving beggar in the streets of Bangkok that would have willing eaten that repulsive little snail... and that was just escargot in general.  This was made by Antoine.  He knew AntoineÆs cooking... but he couldnÆt hurt anyoneÆs feelings,

especially not after they had thrown an entire faire together for him.  So he summoned all his courage and put it in his mouth.  It took all his monumental willpower to not choke on his own tongue right then.  He made chewing motions, but never let his teeth actually squeeze the nasty little thing.
    ôNot bad.ö  He lied, hiding the snail at the back of his mouth.  Satisfied, Antoine went about making more... Roland and Sally made haste and got out of his range of vision as soon as was discreetly possible.  Once around a hut, Roland fired the little snail out of his mouth and dead on into a trash barrel thirty feet away.
    ôBLECH!ö  Roland said with revulsion, sticking his tongue out, vainly wiping at it with both hands to get the filthy taste out of his mouth.
    ôIÆll get you some fruit juice.ö
    ôFank u.ö  Roland said, with his tongue still hanging out his mouth.  It wasnÆt going back in until he could neutralize the taste.  Soon Sally was back with a small bottle.  Roland inhaled it, swished it around and swallowed.
    ôOh... eeew eeew eeew!  God, the things I do to be nice!ö
    ôThat was the kindest thing you could have ever have done for him.ö
    ôYeah, well itÆs a fate I wish on no one else.  But look at it like this.  My death shouldnÆt be half as painful.ö
    ôHa ha ha... come on.  YouÆve got a story to tell.ö
    ôI do?ö
    ôYeah.  We were hoping you would tell us stories of your world, and the adventures youÆve had.  You know...ö
    ôBefore itÆs too late.ö
    ô.... All right.  I think I can do that.ö
    And so all of Knothole gathered under a sheltered meeting ground, a previously open area of ground where they erected the shelter just in case it rained during the faire.  Roland sat on a raised platform before the crowd, sitting crosslegged.
    ôBet yer glad IÆm not wearing my kilt right now, eh Sally?ö  He smiled down at her.  She squeezed her eyes together and laughed until she teared up.  Bunnie didnÆt get it, nor did anyone else.  At least not until he started talking to them about kilts, and what is worn under them.  Or rather, what isnÆt.
    ôYeah, by the way...ö  Roland just thought about the kilt.  Before he could finish his sentence an elderly squirrel walked up onto the stage, kilt folded and borne across her arms.
    ôAH!  Thar she blows!  Thank you maÆam.ö  Roland took the kilt from her, and she bowed to him and walked off the stage.  He unfolded it and studied it.
    ôThatÆs my Tartan, sure enough.  Great work, thank you all.ö
    ôHey, you ate one of AntoineÆs little snails!  ThatÆs bravery!ö  Sonic laughed.
    ôItÆs escargot!  And what are you meaning by æbraveryÆ!  Are you saying my cooking is no good!ö  Antoine shouted defiantly.  Sonic stood up and faced him.
    ôIÆve always said that!  Why would now be any different!ö
    ôAh!  How dare you, you cultureless ideeot!ö

    ôGuys?ö  Roland tried to divert their attention.  No luck.  Sally got up to pull them apart, until she saw glistening metal being drawn from behind Roland.  She sat back down, and the dagger flew out from his hand and planted itself right between Antoine and SonicÆs feet.  They both felt the whish and thunk of the knife.  They backed away from it and looked at Roland.  He waved a hand, gripping three more daggers inbetween his fingers.
    ôCould we halt the bickering?ö
    ôSorry.ö  Both Sonic and Antoine said in unison, and promptly seated themselves.
    ôSo, you all want to know of my past... well, itÆs a long one.ö
    ôWeÆve got the time if you do.ö  Sally smiled.  Roland chuckled.  As he was about to begin, his nose began to bleed.  Concerned looks arose from the crowd.  Sally began to stand, but Roland waved her off.  He removed a handkerchief, a clean one since the other one was saturated, and he plugged up his nose.  In a few minutes he drew it away.  There was so much blood, but he seemed all right.
    ôNow, where should I start....ö  Roland went on to tell his tale.  Of his days as a marine, the Balkan Ops, his stand off against the Hizbollah in Syria in 2002, his first major trial in battle, where he distracted the rebels while his battered squad got away.
    ôSo you see, IÆm used to playing decoy.ö  He could laugh about that now.  But he wasnÆt going to survive this next battle.  He also told of his training in weapons, about his Viking and Scottish ancestry, and eventually about kilts and bagpipes.  They all thought that it was awfully funny.  Shame there are no pipes here, thatÆs what heÆll miss about his funeral.  Not that heÆll be there to see it anyway, but it would have been nice.
    Later they feasted.  Old Gus had brewed some beer at RolandÆs request.  No one drank save for Gus and Roland.  It wouldnÆt have been a good idea to inebriate the Freedom Fighters going into a dangerous situation.  Roland drank just enough to get a buzz, which was a lot considering he was a 300 pound marine.  Before the night ended, Sally asked Roland to follow her to the center of Knothole.  There was a sword on a pedestal, Mobian sized, which she removed and held before her, blade flatwise and vertical to her face.  Everyone gathered around.
    ôPlease kneel, Roland.ö  Sally asked.  The warrior knelt down, still a bit taller than Sally.  She stepped forward and lowered the flat of the sword to the left of his shoulders, then to the right.
    ôBy the Royal House of Acorn, and by the people of Mobius, I Knight thee.  Rise and be recognized, Sir Roland.ö  Cheering rose up from the crowd.  Roland couldnÆt help but smile.  He almost felt embarrassed.
    ôWow... thank you, your grace.ö
    ôDonÆt æyour graceÆ me.  That just sounds wrong.  Anyway, it really is the least I could do.  You deserve the title of knight.ö
    All of Knothole approved in unison.  Roland felt pride in what he was about to do.  It was for him the highest expression of honor.  He had always admired altruistic sacrifice.  He was proud he could do for these poor guerillas what his Sergeant had once done for him.  He hadnÆt noticed a grenade land by his feet in one battle.  He was a private, green as grass, and was just trying to provide cover fire for his squad.  The

Sergeant, Arnold Peryakovic, threw him away from the grenade and leapt on it, just in time.  He of course died.  Roland was frozen.  He felt like the dumbest mother $@*%er in the corps.  Roland, in that first battle, went baersark, tearing off his shirt and charging the field.  In hindsight it was the dumbest thing he had ever done, because if he had died, Sergeant Peryakovic would have died for nothing.  Miraculously he lived.  He wasnÆt even wounded.  From there on he was known as the Berserker.  But he always tried to think before raging into battle.  He never wanted to feel as responsible as he did for Sergeant Peryakovic, ever again.  And he vowed one day, when the time came, that he would sacrifice himself for the greater good.  Now, when all was said and done, he decided to throw caution to the wind, and charge into battle as a berserking kilted maniac.  He would see Arnold soon, and apologize for his ignorance and impulsiveness back then.  This was not only an alternative to dying in bed, but a chance to keep his promise from so long ago.
    ôSorry we have no armor for you.ö  Sally apologized.
    ôDonÆt worry.  I would not have worn it anyway.ö
    ôBut why?ö
    ôBecause Sally, I intend to go berserk.  Berserkers donÆt wear armor.  It is only by the grace of the PowersThatBe that a berserker survives a battle.  ItÆs my way.ö
    ôSo be it.ö
    Roland turned and looked to his new friends.  They smiled at him, with the uncomfortable look that says æFarewellÆ.  His smile fell away.
    ôFriends.  Tomorrow we strike out at Robotnik and his secret project.  It will be dangerous, but assuming all goes as planned, only I will fall, as I have wished it.  I want you all to know that in my brief time here, I had the most fun of my life.  IÆve left many things undone, but in the end I regret nothing.  I have lived my life as I have seen fit.  What more can you ask for?ö  All of Knothole listened intently.  While this made them feel more at ease, the fact was that they knew Roland intended to die.  They were all praying for a miracle.  So was Roland.
    ôBut before I go, I want you all to know that my thanks go out to you, and some day I hope you slag that fat bugger.ö  Laughter rose up.  Roland felt the sound of laughter calming.  It made it all seem easier.
    ôSo unto you all, I bid you good night.ö
    Roland slowly made his way back to his hut, while Knothole stood still. watching him go.  Never once did he turn around.  He knew they watched him.
    As he entered and closed the door, his legs gave out, and pain shot up his spine.  It took great willpower to not cry out.  He didnÆt want anyone else doding over him this final night.  As the pain subsided, and the numbness of his legs left, he climbed into bed and fell to sleep.  That night, he dreamed of home...

    Morning dawned once more.  The sun rose to greet Roland on his final day.  It almost seemed mournful.  He hadnÆt slept well, but that couldnÆt stop him now.  He discarded all his old clothes and climbed into his kilt, slinging the sash over his left shoulder.  He latched the friendship bracelet to his right wrist, and grabbed Stormreaver,

and walked out the door.  The mood in Knothole was grim.  Sally and Sonic greeted him as he stepped out.  He nodded to them, and they nodded back.  There were no smiles now.  They approached Rotor, outside of camp, where he had been fixing up a couple of RobotnikÆs scout craft.  They would fly to the outskirts of Robotropolis and march from there.  Dulcy would fly herself, catching up hopefully in time to give cover for their retreat.  Tails and Antoine were piloting one, while Rotor and Bunnie managed the other.  Sonic would run there and scout, reporting the situation, and Sally and Roland rode together with Tails and Antoine.  Before they split up and began to move, Knothole said its last goodbyes to Roland.  He smiled at them and turned to his squad.
    ôWell guys, this is it.  Pray that we all do what we need to do, and I will hold the line as long as I can.ö
    ôOh darn, ah hate goodbyes!ö  Bunnie began to tear up.  Roland knelt down on level to his diminutive friends.
    ôHey, thereÆs no sense in worrying about it now.  This is the way it must be, now...ö  Roland stuck out his hand, palm down.  The rest of the group put a hand on top of another in the center.  Dulcy leaned over and topped off the pile of hands.  Sally gave the familiar battle cry.
    ôLetÆs do it to it!ö  They all followed up behind her.  The huddle broke and they went to their positions.
    ôDulcy, I have a bad feeling youÆll need to pitch into battle.  It might get hairy near the end.  Once IÆm gone, youÆre the last of the heavy hitters.  Be swift.ö
    ôYou can count on me Roland!ö
    ôGreat.  WeÆll need all the luck we can get.ö
    They mounted up.  Before Sonic left, he looked up into the cockpit of the Scouter, where Roland looked out.  They locked gazes.  Roland saluted him, and Sonic returned the gesture.  He boomed off through the forest, and the Scouters hovered above the ground and lifted them into the air.  Dulcy followed, a few minutes behind.  Roland sat back and crossed his legs, Stormreaver leaning on the wall beside him.  Sally held his hand on the way there.
    ôThis sucks...ö  Sally said with disgust.  Roland couldnÆt really disagree.
    ôNo lie there.  But itÆs all we have.ö
    ôIt is not being fair.  There must be another way.ö  Antoine chimed in.  Tails silently agreed, but it took all his mental toughness to hold it together right then.
    They flew in silence the rest of the way.  Word came from Sonic before they landed.
    ôTheyÆre all over the place!  We canÆt get in unseen.  Hold tight, IÆm gonna mix it up a bit.ö
    ôSonic!  We donÆt need you dying too!ö
    ôDonÆt worry Sal, IÆve done this a million times!ö
    ôHey, leave some for me, will ya?ö
    ôDonÆt worry Roland, youÆll have your hands full for sure.  I need to clear a path for Rote and Bunnie anyways, otherwise Buttnik might get them.ö
    ôOkay, just be careful.ö
             ôHave fun storming the castle!ö  Roland piped in.  God, he had been waiting to say that for so long.
    ôSonic out.ö
    The Scouters landed, and Rotor, Bunnie, Sally, and Roland deployed.  Tails and Antoine remained with the Scouters.
    ôOkay guys, we need you to protect the Scouters until we get back.  WeÆll update both of you on our progress.  Dulcy will be by soon, so youÆll be reinforced.  Bunnie, Rotor, weÆll wait for SonicÆs go ahead.  You know where to go.  And Roland...ö
    Roland knelt down and embraced the princess.  She was crying freely.
    ôGoodbye!ö  She said, choked up.
    ôBefore I go, if youÆll all join me in a brief prayer.ö  Roland brought his axe before him, and remained on one knee.  He closed his eyes, and they all gathered on either side of him and bowed their heads.
    ôLord, guide us now into this moment of danger.  Protect my friends and keep them from harm.  May my blood be shed for them, so that they need not feel that pain.
May our mission succeed, and may you accept me into your kingdom.  There, I see my ancestors before me.  Those who have fought and died before me.  Those who have kept me always.  I come to you now.  Oh Lord, judge me mercifully.  I pray my good deeds out weigh my sins.  I pray that I have been a good man.  Amen.ö  And so he rose.  Determination written across his brow.  He stared out at that dark, bleak city.  He sighed deeply.
    ôI go.ö
    Sally wanted to say goodbye one last time, but she knew that there was nothing more to say.  All has been said, and all has been done.  As he disappeared from view, Sonic rocketed into the waiting group.  They had all been weeping.  Sonic saw no sign of Roland.  The wheels were in motion, and they had to take action.
    ôCome on guys!  Do you want him to die for nothing!  WeÆve gotta juice!ö
    ô(sniff), Your right Sonic.  Come on guys, letÆs move!ö
    And so Rotor and Bunnie took off towards Robotropolis, on a hoverbike Rotor had been working on.  Antoine rehatched the cargo door of their Scouter back into place.  Sonic grabbed Sally, and they made their way closer to the city.  Antoine and Tails waved farewell, and waited for Dulcy to arrive.

    ôINTRUDER ALERSHPRACK!ö  The SWATbot hadnÆt even finished itÆs warning before Stormreaver cleaved into itÆs chest.  Their armor wasnÆt so thick after all.
    ôBring it on you glorified toasters!ö  Schwack! Crash! Thud!  SWATbots scattered before Roland as he wheeled into a frenzy.  Shots blasted out, deflecting away off of the glistening axe, and many more landed squarely on Roland.  He shrugged of the blasts and continued his berserker rage.  The kilted maniac swung the great axe, cleaving down bot after bot, singing bawdy drinking songs along the way.  Bunnie and Rotor encountered little opposition on their way to the center of RobotnikÆs security core.
    ôOkay guys, weÆre in!  Moving to security relays now!ö  Rotor reported over the communicator.  Sally spoke back into hers.

    ôGood work, tell us when you got them down.ö
    ôNo problem.  HowÆs Roland faring?ö
    Sonic was observing from a far hill with a pair of binoculars, observing the battle.
    ôHeÆs surrounded.  HeÆs getting shot a lot, but he keeps going.  HeÆs taken out like three dozen of emÆ!
    ôWe will work as fast as possible.  Rotor out.ö

    Robotnik stared into his main view screen, watching as the berserker cleaved down his SWATbots left and right, and they continually shot him, but it didnÆt even seem to affect him.  His anger brewed.
    ôBlast!  Why wonÆt he go down!ö
    ôI donÆt know sir, but more SWATbots are being sent to that location.ö  Snively informed him.
    ôBut what is the point!  Have there been any signs of Freedom Fighter activity?ö
    ôNone sir.  None at all.ö
    ôNo matter.  Soon heÆll be overwhelmed, and then he will become my robotic slave.  Fine addition too.ö
    ôYes sir, heÆs very powerful.ö

    Suddenly all the cameras went out.  The eyes were blind.
    ôOkay Sally girl, nowÆs your chance!ö  Bunnie hurriedly said into the comm.
    ôThanks Bunnie!  Okay Sonic, letÆs roll.ö
    ôWeÆre gone!ö  Sonic lifted Sally into his arms and beat feet down to the hangar area.  They saw dozens of SWATbots pouring out of the buildings they had originally discounted as a threat.  Soon they stopped coming, and they moved in.  Rotor had also disabled the security systems, so there were no alarms.  Bunnie lifted Rotor back into the vent they had come through and then telescoped her legs up until she was in.  She retracted them and closed the grid just as repair bots came in to see what the foul up was.

    ôWhatÆs going on!ö  Robotnik demanded to know.
    ôCircuit failure in Security Core.  ItÆs being tended to.ö
    ôI doubt it was a simple circuit failure... have the SWATbots set their blasters to kill.  We will have to finish off our berserker friend.  What a shame, he would have been a fine addition...ö
    ôThen what sir?ö
    ôDivert them to X sector.  I have a bad feeling about this.ö

    And suddenly the SWATbots pulled away and stopped.  Roland knew what was happening.  They were setting to kill.  He charged and met their blaster fire.  Shots riddled his body, but he continued to fight.  But the barrage was too much, and then he fell.  He had done all he could.  The rest was up to them.
    ôSetting microcharge.ö  Sally stuck a small explosive to one of the hangarÆs side

doors.  They stepped away and it blew the door open.  Quickly they darted inside.  Internal security was still off line.  Good.  And then they saw it.  A great looming craft, covered in cameras, a great glistening black egg like ship.  
    ôBlow it to bits!ö  Sonic exclaimed.  They removed the packs from their backs and set the charges on the craft.  They set the timer for five seconds and bugged out.  As they did SWATbots had arrived and opened fire on them, but Sonic moved too quickly to hit, and soon they were away.  Security was back on line.  RobotnikÆs main viewer lit up and he saw his precious hanger just in time to see it explode.
    ôNOOOO!  Blast it!  How did they get in unnoticed!ö
    ôIÆll find out sir!ö  And Snively evacuated the area before the Doctor blew into a seething rage.

    The two groups met where Roland was simultaneously.  There they saw what they had feared.  Burnt and blackened, Roland struggled to retain consciousness.  He saw them and smiled.
    ôD... did it w... work?ö
    They knelt beside him.  Sally smiled.
    ôLike a charm.ö
    ôHuh... good.  Well, i... itÆs been fun...ö
    The Scouters arrived, with Dulcy along with them.  They landed and tore out of the Scouters.  Tails, Antoine, and Dulcy stood over the battered berserker.
    ôHey guys... what took ya?ö
    ôOh my...ö  Dulcy felt ill.  She looked past them and into the city.  SWATbots were swarming forward.
    ôWeÆve got company!ö  She soared into the air and let forth a blast of icy air, freezing the first couple lines of SWATbots, and congesting the way for the rest.
    ôGet him into the Scouter!  Dulcy, weÆll need a hand!ö  Sally said hurriedly.  All she wanted was to get him back to Knothole for his last moments.  ItÆs all she asked.
    They lifted him in, trying to talk him into remaining conscious.
    ôCome on Roland, we can get back and you can have a frosty beer.  Sounds good right?ö  Sally was shaking.  She could feel him slipping away.
    ôYeah... I could use a beer...ö  Roland gasped out weakly.
    ôThose SWATbots are breaking through!ö  Dulcy bellowed, heaving for another breath.
    They slid him in.  Sonic piled in with Tails, and Bunnie, Rotor, and Antoine got into the other.  Sally talked to Roland as they got him in.
    ôJust get back to Knothole, and itÆll be fine, okay Roland?ö
    No response
    No response.
    Sonic checked his pulse.  His look said it all.
    ôNo... No no no no!  ROLAND!ö  Sally said in disbelief.  Just to get him to Knothole, thatÆs all she had asked for.

    ôDamn you Robotnik!ö  Sally screamed at the onrushing SWATbots.  She vainly fired at them with her little blaster, but Sonic pulled her in as shots zinged by her.  Dulcy blasted them for a third time, but had to retreat.  She was out.  She waved the Scouters off and followed close behind.  In the Scouter with Roland, Sally struggled against Sonic.
    ôLet me go!ö
    ôSally, donÆt go crazy!ö
    ôAll I asked for was to get him to Knothole!  Damn Robotnik!ö
    ôSALLY!  You are not a berserker!ö
    Sally slowly calmed down, fatigue setting in.  No, she was no berserker.  She couldnÆt charge a horde of SWATbots with a peashooter and hope to live.
    ôI know.....ö  Sonic held Sally tight.  Tails set the ship to autopilot and joined in.
The other scouter called in to see what was going on.
    ôSally!  WhatÆs happening?ö  Bunnie asked, Rotor and Antoine looking in from behind her.  They turned to look at Bunnie and the rest.  The tears spoke volumes.  The body of Roland lay behind them, lifeless.
    ôOh no...ö  Bunnie gasped.  Rotor sighed and Antoine hung his head low.  They returned to Knothole in silence.  In victory.  And in mourning...

    They walked through Knothole in procession, bearing Roland toward the pyre on a wooden plank.  The mood was understandably bleak.  Sally led the procession, followed by Sonic, Antoine, And to the sides Bunnie, Rotor, Tails, and Old Gus.  The strongest backs in Knothole acted as Pall Bearers, with Dulcy carrying the rear of the plank.  They approached the pyre, stairs to each side where the Pall Bearers would walk the plank onto the pyre and step off the other side.  They set him down, and joined the gathering before the wooden hill.  Roland peacefully lay upon the pyre, hands crossed on his chest.  Sally looked on in silent pain, knowing she must speak before them first.  She summoned her strength and stepped before the assemblage.
    ôWe were victorious this day, but the price was heavy.  We lost a good friend...ö  Choking back her tears, she went on.
    ôHe died as he had wished.  Not weak in bed, but strong in battle.  He sacrificed himself so that we may succeed.  I donÆt think we could have done it without him.  Does anyone wish to say anything?ö
    Antoine stepped forward without hesitation.  Sally gave attention to Antoine as he took her place.  He cleared his throat and took a deep breath.
    ôRoland was a hero of the highest power, valiant too the end.  He was also the only person I remember who agreed with me on anything of importance.ö  There was a grudging agreement from all.  Even Sonic.
    ôHe represents an ideal for us all.  He truly was a Knight.ö  Antoine finished and stepped down.ö
    Bunnie stepped forward.
    ôWell, ah didnÆt get to know him half as well as ah would have liked to, but there is no doubt in mah mind that he was vital to our success.  But, I just wish it didnÆt have to be this way...ö

    Bunnie stepped down, replaced by Rotor.
    ôI... I suppose I knew him least of all.  I donÆt know why, but I found it hard to talk with him.  IÆm sorry I missed my chance... thatÆs all I can say.ö
    Rotor quietly left the stage.  Last to speak was Sonic.
    ô(sigh)... I had a bad feeling from him from the start.  Only recently did I figure what the feeling was.  I knew he would die... and somehow it would affect us all.  IÆve never handled death all that well.  Huh... itÆs all over now.  One more victory against Buttnik, but it cost dearly.  He was brave though.  I just hope I can meet my end with that kind of determination...ö  Sonic stifled his own tears and returned to Sally and Tails.  They stood in line, Sally in the middle, and the Torch Bearer beside the pyre awaited the order.
    ôLight it.ö  She ordered.  The torch touched the dry kindling at the pyreÆs base, and quickly the flames rose and consumed the wood.  They watched as the flames licked Roland, and he burned.  Most of Knothole could not watch, but the gang stayed.  Sally, Sonic, Bunnie, Rotor, Tails, Antoine, Dulcy, and even Old Gus, who leaned against Stormreaver, while itÆs master was consumed by the flames.  It was a solemn moment.
When the fire died, several hours later, they collected the ash that was Roland from the fireproofed plank that he had laid on and collected them into a simple steel urn, made from a SWATbot.  Somewhat fitting.  Sally grasped the friendship bracelet that she took from Roland before he was cremated.  She now wore it as a necklace.  Her heart sank as the urn was presented too her.  She took it in hand and studied it carefully.
    Silently she led them to the simple shrine that they had constructed for him on the outer edge of Knothole.  She entered first and set RolandÆs remains upon the pedestal, and said a silent prayer for him.  Old Gus followed with Stormreaver and set it into the horizontal rack he had made for it, which rested on the wall behind the urn.  They all stood before the shrine that bore his name and his symbol, Stormreaver.
    ôWell. we must honor his will.  To the wake.ö  Sally collected herself and led them into the feast that they had made in his honor.  They talked of his great deed, and prayed for his success in the hereafter.  Sally stood to toast.
    ôBefore he marched on Robotropolis, we prayed with him one last time.  He prayed to his god that he be accepted into paradise, and that he may be judged a good man.  Roland, you were not just a good man.  You were the best of men.ö
    ôHear hear!ö  The gathered cheered in unison.
    ôAnd I swear upon my life that we will keep on fighting.  I will die before I let Mobius be consumed.  Despite the hardships we must all face, we can not quit.  We must go on.  For Mobius!ö
    ôFor Mobius!ö
    Sally sat back down, and quietly said to herself:
    Thank you Roland
    In the midst of the wake, Sonic and Antoine slipped off.  They both had the same idea.  They acknowledged each other as they stood before the shrine.  They stared at it, and gazed on RolandÆs gleaming black urn, and the masterless axe, Stormreaver, behind it.  Silently they saluted Roland, and returned to the wake together.  

    Copyright 2000 by Elric Colvill