“Nobody’s around?” Ran Mitake gave a few cursory glances around the Haneoka school rooftop to confirm that she was alone. It was her and the rest of Afterglow’s usual haunt, so one of the other punk rock lesbians may have snuck up there before her, but no, today it was empty.
“Good,” As she leaned on the protective fence, she popped in her earbuds and pressed the play button on her phone, a familiar tune from her childhood filling her ears…
“ALL HAIL SHADOW! HEROES RISE AGAIN!
OBLITERATING EVERYTHING THAT’S NOT YOUR FRIEND!”
Yes, this was the reason Ran had to be alone - she was far too embarrassed to admit that she was on a Sonic the Hedgehog kick again. She thought she’d passed that phase years ago, but there was simply no escaping those classic butt-rock tunes, no matter how cheesy they were, and All Hail Shadow was just one of many certified all-time bangers from Sega’s funny blue hedgehog franchise.
“SUFFER LONG AND IT WILL SET YOU FREE!
ONLY THROUGH TRIAL DO WE FIND THE STRENGTH WE NEED-”
“Raaaaaan! There you are!” Just as Ran was getting into it, Himari’s unmistakable voice startled her. She dropped her phone and it managed to slide across the floor to where the rest of the band was now standing.
“Oho, what’s this~?” Of course Moca, with her trademark smirk, was the one to pick it up, and she couldn’t resist a look at the screen. “Hoho, Ran’s still a Shadow stan? I see, I see~”
“G-give that back!” The vocalist snatched the device from her friend, red in the face. “I-I never liked him… N-not at all.” She lied.
“Huh?” Tomoe looked confused. “I thought he was the reason you had that red streak in your hair though?”
She was right, of course - from a young age, Ran had always thought the blue blur’s angsty rival was the coolest character in videogame history, and later modelled her rebellious hairstyle after him. Now she regretted telling anyone that.
“D-don’t worry, Ran-chan! I still think Tails is cool!” Tsugumi… tried to make her feel better, but the shame had pretty much killed her already. The others joined in though.
“Yeah, yeah~” Moca grinned. “You know I still love Sonic. Gotta go faaaaaast...” The way she said it was more akin to Big the Cat than the famous speedster.
“Oh yeah! I’ve always thought Knuckles was the coolest!” Came the confident shout of their group himbo.
“Yeah! And I still think Rouge is hot!”
Everyone stared at Himari.
“Uhhhhhhh I mean, I still think Amy is super cool!” The disaster lesbian and furry-in-denial quickly changed her statement.
“Urghhhhhhhh…” Ran groaned, still cringing in awkward embarrassment. “You guys… really still like Sonic too…?”
“Of course!” Tomoe enthusiastically slapped her on the back. “We all cried when Shadow died to save the world, and you don’t forget stuff like that!” Next to her, Himari started crying at the mere memory of it.
“I actually played a bit of Sonic 2 with Sayo-san just the other day…” Tsugumi added in a soft, almost dreamy tone, unable to avoid mentioning her crush.
“Everyone loves Sonic, Ran~” Moca managed to say through a mouthful of bread (where did she pull that out from?) “Cringe culture is dead, it’s cool again~”
“F-fine, I guess you’re right, Sonic is cool…” Ran admitted. “I just, uh, thought it was embarrassing to listen to the music casually…”
“Not embarrassing at all,” The bread-goblin shook her head wisely. “In fact, why don’t we prove it~?” Oh god she was scheming.
“Hii-chan, does Rinko-san still have those costumes~?”
“Oooh, yeah, I’ll ask for them!”
“What the fuck…?”
A few days later, Ran entered CiRCLE. The night of the roof incident, she had agreed to put on a live performance of just one iconic Sonic series song, but she didn’t expect the sight that greeted her when she arrived on the day - the guitarist, who usually wore a hoodie, was clad in a surprisingly high-quality Sonic the Hedgehog kigurumi. Still a hoodie in a way, but no less bizarre.
And if she’d been the only one, that would have been fine, but the rest of Afterglow were playing along with it too. Tomoe was dressed as Knuckles the Echidna, Tsugumi was Tails the Fox, and Himari was… Amy Rose (Ran later found out that she had wanted to be Rouge the Bat, but Tomoe told her no). Apparently they were going to perform in these, Ran included.
“What’s wrong, Ran? Put on your Shadow kigu, we’re on in five minutes~” Moca’s shit-eating grin just bugged Ran more. Coming out as a Sonic fan in the current year was bad enough, but if she expected her to dress up as a cartoon hedgehog she had another thing coming.
“No, no way, not in a million years-” She tried to protest, but apparently everyone else was on Moca’s side.
“Come onnnnn, it was super nice of Rinko-san to let us borrow these!” Himari was pouting. “She made them herself, you know!”
“Wait, why did Shirokane-san-”
“Yeah, come on Ran, just loosen up and fly your pride flag high!” Clearly there would be no reasoning with the drummer… But surely Tsugumi would be-?!
“I just think it’ll be fun?” The keyboardist seemed like she was just going along with the group’s energy, which was still more than could be said for the closeted Shadow kinnie.
“I-I’m still not doing it…”
“Aww, come on, you’ve always been the Shadow to my Sonic~” Moca was apparently trying flirting now, waving the Shadow outfit in front of her face. “Open your heart~”
“No means no,” Ran huffed, crossing her arms defiantly.
“Roselia would do it...” Finally, the gremlin said the exact words that she knew would flip Ran’s switch. The effect was instant.
“Rrrrrgh…!!” The vocalist scratched her hair furiously. “F-fine! If it’s to prove we’re as good as Roselia, then let’s do it!” She yanked the kigurumi out of Moca’s hand and stormed off to get changed, face bright red.
“Fufufu, Moca-chan knows how to charm them~”
And so, a couple minutes later, the town’s favourite punk band Afterglow were on stage, transformed into a bunch of furries that Moca had affectionately dubbed The Chaos Emeralds (despite there only being five of them). Ran was obviously embarrassed, Tsugumi was a bit awkward, and the other three had no shame whatsoever.
The crowd they’d managed to gather, despite giving barely any notice, was actually rather large. Most were big fans who’d never miss an Afterglow concert, but there were some unfamiliar faces, including little kids. Someone must have spread the word that they would be cosplaying before Ran even knew about it, probably Moca. There were even some other Sonic cosplayers out there, including a pair dressed as Blaze the Cat and Silver the Hedgehog who seemed oddly familiar...
Whatever. Let’s just get this over with…
“Alright! Usually we’re Afterglow, but tonight we are The Chaos Emeralds!” Ran could barely announce the band to the crowd without cringing internally. “H-here’s our cover of Crush 40’s Live and Learn!”
The crowd cheered as the band unleashed the absolutely raw opening riff of their own arrangement designed to fit in two guitars and a keyboard. Of course, they were only doing one song, so it just had to be the legendary main theme of Sonic Adventure 2.
Ran took a deep breath and began belting out Johnny Gioeli’s lyrics, with her four childhood friends providing backing:
“CAN YOU FEEL LIFE, MOVIN’ THROUGH YOUR MIND?
OHH, LOOKS LIKE IT CAME BACK FOR MORE!
CAN YOU FEEL TIME, SLIPPIN’ DOWN YOUR SPINE?
OH, YOU TRY AND TRY TO IGNORE!
Damn, I’m really getting into this.
Having an opportunity to unleash her fiery Sonic fan spirit was liberating, to where Ran felt all the cringe melt way pretty much immediately.
“CAN YOU FEEL LIFE, TANGLE YOU UP INSIDE?
YEAH, NOW YOU’RE FACE DOWN ON THE FLOOR!
This was just as fun as performing their usual music; she didn’t know why she was worried. Good music is good music, who cares where it comes from?
“THERE’S A FACE SEARCHING FAR, SO FAR AND WIDE
THERE’S A PLACE WHERE YOU DREAM, YOU’D NEVER FIND
HOLD ON TO ‘WHAT IF’
HOLD ON TO ‘WHAT IF’!”
And parts like that, where her bandmates came in to shout the lyrics out loud alongside her, made her remember just why they were her friends. There was nothing better than singing your favourite songs with people who support you.
“LIVE AND LEARN!
HANGING ON THE EDGE OF TOMORROW!
LIVE AND LEARN!
FROM THE WORKS OF YESTERDAAAAAY!
LIVE AND LEARN!
IF YOU BEG OR IF YOU BORROOOOOOW!
LIVE AND LEARN!
YOU MAY NEEEVER FIND YOUR WAAAAAAAY!”
One more part left, everyone sings this together! This was awesome actually, why hadn’t they done this song sooner?
“LIVE AND LEARN!
LIVE AND LEARN!
And the song finished with the end of the guitar riff, and the sound of the crowd going wild over their incredible performance. Ran may have been hesitant to do it initially, but that was genuinely one of her most passionate performances. Sonic Adventure 2… What a game that was. She flashed a confident smile to her friends, who knew all along that she’d have fun.
That was… Not bad.
After about three encores, when the mini-live had ended and Ran was actually feeling pretty good about it, there was a knock on the dressing room door and… the cosplayers she noticed before entered. Only now that she could get a good look at them, she realised..
“M-Minato-san!? A-and Sayo-san?!”
“Yes,” Roselia’s vocalist was dressed as Blaze, while their guitarist, who accidentally locked eyes with Tsugumi across the room and caused both to blush, was dressed as Silver.
“Wh-what are you doing dressed like that? W-wait, what are you doing here !?” Ran began to get flustered. “D-did you see me do… all that?”
“Yes, of course I did.” Yukina pulled down the hood just to flip her hair. “We could not afford to miss such an event, and of course we had to dress the part as well. Am I wrong, Sayo?”
“N-not at all, M-Minato-san…” Sayo was probably about as embarrassed as Ran had been, and was now trying not to look Tsugumi in the eye.
“Anyway, that was a splendid performance, Mitake-san,” The singer continued. “I must admit, the image change surprised me, but I am all for it.”
“W-wait, that’s not it, this was just a one-off!” Ran protested.
“Is that so? I think it suits you much better. Perhaps it would be a good idea for Roselia to do the same.” Oh god she was genuinely considering it.
“Wh-what the-” She didn’t know what to say to that.
“Come on, Sayo, let us request more costumes from Rinko.” Yukina left as quickly as she arrived, the ashamed Hikawa twin in tow.
Ran just gawked at the empty doorway.
“What the… hell was that?!”
Later that evening, in the Raise A Suilen recording studio, a peculiar sound could be heard by anyone who happened to be there…
“I’M THE TALLEST OF MOUNTAINS, I AM THE ROUGHEST OF WAVES
I’M THE TOUGHEST OF TERRORS, I AM THE DARKEST OF DAYS
I’M THE LAST ONE THAT’S STANDING, DON’T TRY TO-”
“Chu2-sama? What are you doing?” A pastel-coloured girl entered the room and the singing stopped.
“P-PAREO! I-it’s nothing, g-get ou- UWAH!” A small redhead fell out of her chair in surprise and crashed into a pile of musical equipment.