Once everyone had settled down in their seats, Smash stood up at the end of the long meeting table and looked over the room. The entire gang was assembled before him; a rare occurrence even for his meetings. It was important to get the message out to everyone, yet, he felt hesitant. With a deep breath and a solemn sigh, he opened his mouth to speak, before someone else spoke up before him. "Is this important?" Lucy asked with a raised hand, as if she were a student in a classroom.
Smash could feel the veins popping out on the side of his head. "Yes." He grunted. 'It's hard to stay emotional when people interrupt you with stupid questions'
He thought irritatedly.
With another huff, he finally began by announcing, "I have a confession to make." This grabbed everyone's attention on an even more personal level. He paused for a minute to gather the courage he needed. He was finally going to tell them the whole story.
"This isn't the easiest thing in the world for me to tell you, but I'm in no position to hide anything from you all any longer..." He said. "For the past two and a half years, I've been investigating a potentially threatening organization...Skull Cross. Pearl and Thunder helped me along the way, the latter being incredibly vital to my investigation." Thunder and Pearl both looked down in guilt, despite Smash's praise. "However, I wasn't the one who started this. This case originally belonged to our old friends...yes, I joined Jenny and Tami to help them pursue Skull Cross."
"Skull Cross, as far as they were originally concerned, was a smuggling ring. However, when they sent two assassins after her; artificial mobians by the names of Icicle and Inferno, we knew there was more to them than that. Our efforts were fruitless for a while, all our leads led us to dead ends. But then, not long after I'd joined them, something terrible happened." Smash's gaze fell on Marina, who looked somewhat startled by the sudden attention. "Marina was kidnapped. It took a while to confirm anything, but we traced the facts back to Skull Cross. They are the mysterious kidnappers."
Everyone else in the room gasped and murmured in surprise. Kyle nearly stood up, bearing a scarily serious expression, but was held back by his sister.
"A while after we saved Marina, Jenny went back to the base in Mt. Frostbite to investigate further, alongside Tami and one other person. There they picked up a vital clue to their true intentions after coming across...a space ship, complete with a crew of people from Skull Cross. The team hijacked the spaceship and took off into space, where their main headquarters is situated."
"Whoa wait hold on a second!" Speedy interrupted. "These guys are in space!?"
Smash nodded. "Yes. Yes they are. Do you remember the monsters we fought in their base? Well, Jenny's team launched an attack on the fortress, and were met with an entire army of them." He paused as everyone looked on in surprise. Smash swallowed hard, knowing what was coming next in the story. "They..they fought with everything they had, but they were no match for Skull Cross. They were forced to run away, but...Jenny didn't make it."
The room fell silent. Nobody really knew what to say, but most of them lowered their heads for Jenny. "Wait, so you knew about all of this for two and a half years
and you never told
us?" Shade brought up, disturbed by the contradiction between the story and Smash's tendency to keep everyone up to date with everything important. Smash's fists tightened as he forced himself to answer.
"While we were working on the case together, I promised Jenny that I wouldn't get you guys involved in this. You guys were still young, you had your whole lives ahead of you. You still are, but you just weren't ready for this. These people are dangerous; if something had happened to you...if you guys were taken away like Marina was, there's no guarantee we could have saved you in time. So that's why...that's why I kept it secret. Even after Jenny was murdered, I kept up the investigation on my own. I know it was wrong of me to hide Jenny's death from you guys. I couldn't risk endangering you all, I couldn't take the thought of losing anyone else. I was...I was afraid...that I wouldn't be strong enough to protect you, like I couldn't protect Jenny." He closed his eyes, lowering his head till his hair covered his eyes. "...I'm sorry."
Another wave of silence fell over the gang, before someone spoke up. "You...you knew this whole time..?" Violet asked, head lowered and voice cracking. "You knew she was dead...from the very beginning...?" Streams of tears ran down her cheeks as she looked up. "You too, Pearl?"
"I wanted to say something, but..." Pearl's voice trailed off, as did her gaze. She couldn't look her friend in the eye.
"That's not all..." Smash started again, pulling everyone's attention back to him. "The reason I called you guys here wasn't just to get that off my chest." He reopened his eyes, flashing everyone a serious glance. "Something terrible has happened yet again. Skull Cross struck again, just this afternoon. Their target? ...Cymbeline."
It was at that moment when everyone began talking at once. Gasps and exclamations buzzed around the room. "What happened to Miss Cymbeline?" Kyle demanded, fearing another kidnapping like Marina's.
"Was she taken away? Is she alright??" Gizmo followed up.
"Was she kidnapped!?" Speedy exclaimed in worry.
"Hey, Hey! Cool it, would ya?" Smash shouted, trying to maintain order. "It's difficult enough to explain the situation as it is."
"What happened?" Pearl asked, much calmer but still clearly concerned.
Smash took a deep breath. "Earlier today, roughly an hour ago, Cymbeline was assaulted in Fox Forest by an agent of Skull Cross. I got there as fast as I could when Amber came and told me what was up. I helped Cy fight off the enemy, but I ended up taking a rather nasty blow to the leg that kept me down for longer than I'd have liked. Because even though Cy defeated the agent, she got hit pretty bad, too. Except, the person hit her evenstar, and that triggered something. Before I knew what was happening, there was a bright light and suddenly there were two Cymbelines standing there."
"HUH?" "What!?" Everyone reacted collectively.
"It turned out that blow broke a seal keeping one of the two locked up inside the other." Smash said uncertainly, for he was still struggling to understand the science behind it. "One of them was real, but the other is a clone created by Skull Cross. The two began fighting, and the real one won. She sealed the clone away in the Angel Kingdom. The problem here is that...the real Cymbeline is the one who was locked away all this time. The clone was the one who was here all this time. That clone was our friend."
While everyone stared in stunned silence yet again, Smash continued without waiting for a reaction. "As it so happens, Skull Cross got to Cymbeline long before we even met her. They captured her and used her for a plot they called the 'Angel's Project'. Whatever purpose it had, it resulted in her being sealed away inside a clone of herself. The real Cymbeline is here now, however, she has little to no memories of the time her clone spent with us. I don't believe she even truly knows who we are."