~Iron Shadows + Frail Flowers~
The Crazy Kritter Freedom Fighters-or what was left of them-hastily tried to maintain order while the citizens were in a panic. The Dark Presence had certainly caught them off guard despite warnings from New Mobotropolis. Not only there was an air invasion but there were legionnaires on foot conducting a field invasion, charging towards the villages and the castle they surrounded.
In spite of the surprise attack, the Mercian forces put up a valiant and pretty good fight against their aggressors. They managed to hold their own for a good long while, but soon enough, Dark Presence began to overwhelm them. Amy Rose herself, armed with a crossbow fought as hard as she could alongside her fellow Freedom Fighter, Bow Sparrow, even as they were running out of ammunition. A few minutes later, they were quickly surrounded by Dark Presence foot soldiers. Bow Sparrow quickly realized that if they didn't raise the white flag now, his entire troop, including Amy were dead. Rob'O would never forgive him if he allowed her to be harmed in that way.
"Men, stand down." the mobian bird ordered his troop. "Lay down your weapons."
Amy snapped her head towards him in total disbelief. She thought he was out of his mind.
"Are you crazy?!" she cried.
"Miss Rose..." Bow replied in a soft but warning tone.
Amy let out a growl and tossed her weapon to the ground along with everyone else. They all raised their arms in surrender as the Dark Presence closed in. Soon every single Mercian also surrendered once they realized that the fight was hopeless.
Unlike with his previous attacks on Acorn outposts, Shadow to take prisoners instead of simply killing everyone. If he wished to rule this planet the way he wanted to, he was going to need subjects. The outposts would just merely be examples of what should happen if one crosses him. As soon as the whole Mercian Kingdom surrounded and overrun, prison camps were formed around the castle with civilians and Dark Presence legionnaires exchanging death glares.
Both Shadow and Lein-Da entered the castle once it was made secure by their underlings. Lein-Da was a little nervous because the invasion took a little longer than she liked it to and worried that the Mercians might have alerted Queen Sally and the other Freedom Fighters in New Mobotropolis. But Shadow didn't seem the least bit concerned at all.
Meanwhile, Rob'O had Mari-An and their children secured in a safety room while he was alone in the throne room. He was worried about the cousin and was anxious to know if she was alright or hurt knowing she was out there in the field. The pine green hedgehog narrowed his eyes when he saw Shadow and Lein-Da enter.
"Is massacring innocent souls not enough for you, sirrah?" Rob'O defiantly told the crimson-splashed male.
Shadow gave him an equally defiant glare.
"You should be grateful that I'm allowing your flock to live. Even you, as I can just as easily dispose of you and put another in your place. But where would that leave your mate and children?" he hissed.
Rob'O suppressed a growl. That really struck a chord there, but exchanging insults with Shadow would get him nowhere.
"I suppose our surrender is what you want." Rob'O said, swallowing his pride.
"Complete and unconditional." Shadow replied. "And I trust that you didn't alert New Mobotropolis..."
"...No. We never got the chance. Although I don't doubt that they'll find out soon enough."
Shadow studied the king's facial features for any clues as to see if he was lying. But Rob'O didn't really have a reason to and as he pointed out, the Acorn Kingdom would find out about this transgression eventually.
"True enough." Shadow finally replied.
"May I at least continue ruling over my own people?" Rob'O asked.
"But of course. Who better to control the masses than someone they're familiar with? However from this point on, you are only a figure head."
The pine-green hedgehog frowned in dismay. But if he wanted his people to remain unharmed, it was best to heed the ebony hedgehog for now. He could only hope that the Knothole Freedom Fighters would liberate them soon. Just as Shadow and Lein-Da were taking their leave to proceed with the next phase of their plans, two legionnaires escorting Amy Rose and Bow Sparrow entered from the side hall. Rob'O was instantly relieved to see his cousin safe and sound.
"Rose!" he quietly cried. "Are you hurt?"
Amy shook her head and was also relieved to see him alright. Meanwhile, Shadow was silently glancing at her in a rather curious way. Although his features didn't betray any emotions, he was actually surprised to find the sakura hedgehog here among the Mercians. If he recalled correctly, she was originally part of the Knothole Freedom Fighters in New Mobotropolis. An odd sort of feeling came over him when he happened to noticed that in spite of the battles she had been involved with, age had been very kind to her.
"Something wrong, Shadow?" Lein-Da quietly asked.
"No, nothing." Shadow replied as his mind instantly snapped back to the matter at hand.
Later that day, the civilians were all allowed to return to their homes while the soldiers and castle guards were kept in camps as the Dark Presence began demilitarizing Mercia's forces and defenses and imputing their own. The Royal Family was kept under close guard much to Amy's dismay. Shadow and Lein-Da set up shop in the castle's communications chamber, jamming all signals so that no one would be able to contact New Mobotropolis should they be dumb enough to get ahold of or create a makeshift radio. Much to Lein-Da's distaste, there wasn't much in technology around and had half of mind to call Mercia absolutely primitive.
Shadow on the other hand was finding himself very much distracted while trying to focus. Something that really put him off because he'd never been distracted by anything in this way before. His mind was on the cherry-pink female. His first thought was that she could have very valuable information pertaining to New Mobotropolis or even the Knothole Freedom Fighters. But then again, she may not. After all how long has she been here, and if for a while it would be long enough for them to change important things. So whatever information she may or may not have could very well be outdated. The one thing he was really uncomfortable with was the fact he found himself drawn to her. He sort of always was since the ARK incident but not like this. Amy had reminded him more of his beloved Maria than she ever had before. He growled in frustration. He didn't have time for this. That damned female was indirectly interfering with his planning for world conquest.
A few minutes later, Lein-Da came over to him with an electronic tablet.
"Well my lord, I can say this invasion went better than we expected." she said.
"Indeed." Shadow quietly replied.
"I'm actually surprised that they surrendered as quickly as they did."
"They arguably made the better choice. Especially their king. I would've just as easily killed him if he gave me the slightest excuse to."
Lein-Da emitted a cruel chuckle.
"So then, what's our next move?" she asked.
"We cement our hold here. Then you and I shall return to the compound afterward and face another territory head on." the ultimate lifeform replied.
"Will it be Station Square? We never did go after it."
"In due course. We'll have to eventually and quickly lest our enemies take advantage of it."
"Very true, my Lord."
Meanwhile, in a deeper part of the castle, and in intertwined living quarters, Rob'O and the rest of his family were trying to settle in for the night. Amy was having a hard time accepting the fact that they were in a sense hostages and her homeland invaded and conquered by yet another mad man. She was so infuriated by this fact that she was biting at the nail to kick Shadow's ass. However, Rob'O managed to keep everyone close and safe. At least that should count for something.
"So....what are we going to do now, Rob?" Amy asked her cousin.
"We'll just have to accept Shadow's rule for now." Rob'O replied softly. "But don't let your fears get the best of you. I'm quite certain Queen Sally and Sonic will come to our aide."
Amy's face sort of fell after hearing that.
'That is if she even knows about us...'
Despite the young flower's misgivings, Shadow's onslaught on Mercia did not go unnoticed. A few hours after the incident, Sally's good friend, NICOLE noticed something was awry when Mercia failed to respond to a routine check-in on the message board. When the electronic lynx attempted to contact the area herself, she was suddenly met with static and found the connection being jammed. She quickly brought this to the auburn squirrel's attention.
"Sally? May I come in?" NICOLE asked politely as she knocked on her friend's door.
"Of course, NICOLE." Sally replied.
The dark brown furred, female meekly entered Sally's chambers while she was looking over a few papers at her desk.
"Hope I'm not interrupting anything." NICOLE said. "But it's really important."
"Not at all." Sally replied. "I think I'd like to hear it anyway."
"It's really bad news. I've lost all contact with Mercia."
The queen's face fell.
"Are you...are you sure, NICOLE?" she asked.
"Right now I'm positive. I've spent the last 6 hours trying to contact King Rob'O the Hedge but any signals and connections keep getting jammed." the electronic lynx replied.
There was a long pause.
"You don't suppose that Shadow the Hedgehog and the Dark Presence might be involved do you?" NICOLE inquired rather timidly.
"I certainly hope not, but given the recent circumstances, it's a possibility." Sally replied.
"Where should we go from here?"
"Keep trying to contact Rob'O. In the meantime, I'll send our Stealth Fighters to Mercia to see if indeed if we have a serious problem on our hands. And quickly so we don't lose any more innocent people."
"As you wish."
A few hours later, Sally deployed her Stealth Fighters, each selected from members of the Royal Army to investigate the status of Mercia. NICOLE was still having difficulties of just trying to get ahold of anybody there let alone the king.
The forests surrounding Snottingham were still and ominously quiet. There was definitely something off as by now, the forest should be teaming with life. But there seem to be any sign of it anywhere at all. Suddenly, in spite of all their training and skill in not being seen, the Stealth Fighters were fired upon by hidden Dark Presence legionnaires.
"SCATTER!!" the Stealth Commander shouted to his team.
The Fighters each ran for cover and scrambled to get their own weapons out so they could return fire. A long fire fight then ensued between them.
"YOU ARE IN DARK PRESENCE TERRITORY!!" bellowed one of the legionnaires. "SURRENDER OR BE DESTROYED!!!"
That command alone gave all the information that the Stealth Fighters needed and they opted to fall back. With no back up unit, it wasn't like they could do anything effective at this point.
Shadow was quickly alerted about Acorn's forces' presence in Mercia as soon as they made their hasty exit. Lein-Da was not happy to hear this news and started to panic.
"AND YOU LET THEM ESCAPE?!" she shrieked. "YOU FOOLS!!"
"Commissar..." Shadow said in a voice loud enough for her to hear. "This is nothing we need to worry about."
"But my lord, what if that wretched queen bring her whole army here?!"
"It does not matter. At this point, we have a higher advantage. Have you forgotten that we have a whole nation of hostages?"
Lein-Da suppressed a frustrated growl. The ebony hedgehog was right of course. But she couldn't escape the feeling of having months even years of planning for successful conquest just to have it all go down the drain.
"So how shall we proceed at this point, sir?" she asked.
Shadow made a pause to think and reflect on his options.
"Let us wait and see what action Acorn plans to take." the crimson-splashed male said. "I surmise that we will be contacted by her first along with a string of demands."
He got up from his chair and left the communications room. As he passed through the halls of the castle, Shadow noticed Amy again. The young flower along with her first cousin-once removed, Lil' Jon being escorted from the dining hall by two legionnaires. In spite of wanting to use this opportunity to knock out the guards and try to raise an insurgency, Amy continued to dutifully follow her cousin's orders and not raise any unneeded aggression. After all, Rob'O was still the king. Shadow meanwhile, followed her every move. He wasn't certain if he was suspicious of her because of her past affiliation with the Knothole Freedom Fighters or if he just wanted to watch her.
Finally, Amy and Lil' Jon disappeared when they turned the corner around the hall. Shadow held in growl and returned to the task he meant to do before he found himself interrupted. This was the second time he got distracted by that infernal sakura hedgehog. Even worse, the midnight warrior started to be plagued by memories of Maria.
The Stealth Fighters managed to return to New Mobotropolis with no worse for wear. They confirmed Queen Sally's worst fears that Mercia was invaded and taken over by the Dark Presence. Since it was a pretty big territory, it was a huge loss for the Kingdom of Acorn.
"Did you at least manage to find out what became of King Rob'O the Hedge and his family??" Sally persistently questioned.
"Unfortunately, we did not, you're majesty." the commander told her. "We were only able to get as far as 20 feet into the forests."
The situation with the Dark Presence was only getting worse and worse by the day. The auburn squirrel certainly had her work cut out for her and could no longer stand idly by and allow Shadow to do as he pleased. Shortly after the debriefing with the Stealth Fighters, Sally assembled her old team in the throne room.
"So what's up, Sal?" Sonic had asked.
Sally took a moment to collect her thoughts and think of what she had to say.
"I have some really bad news." she said. "And at the end of the day, we may find ourselves at war again."
While shocked expressions came over the Freedom Fighters, Sonic narrowed his emerald eyes.
"Lemme guess. Big bad Shads strikes again?" he asked.
"That's putting it rather mildly, Sonic." the queen replied. "A few days ago, we lost contact with Mercia. And only now I'm able to confirm without a doubt that the Dark Presence has taken it."
"Well that's just great. Tell me again how the fuck this is guy is two steps ahead of us?!"
"Will you calm down?! This is no time to act irrationally."
"How should we respond?" Rotor asked. "Should we counter-invade, Mercia?"
"We zhould." Antoine added. "What they've done ees an act of war!"
"You're right, Antoine. It is an act of war." Sally replied. "That's why I'm going to send a communication directly to Shadow, give him 18 hours to respond. Otherwise, we're going to war with him."
"Why wait?" Sonic ranted. "I'd like to kick his ass right about now."
"Because I would very much like not to meaningless throw away lives if I can help it."
"Well....when you put it that way..."
"We're gonna be able to rescue ev'ry body in Mercia aren't we, Sally gal?" Bunnie asked.
"Of course. By any means necessary."