Chapter 1

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Plumes of smoke rose from the damp streets of Chinatown, the night illuminated by an eclectic multitude of lights, by street lamps and headlights and neon signs and the occasional softer glow of a decorative lantern. The pavement shimmered from recent warm rains, heralding the return to warmer weather and greener days. Many people bustled among the maze of streets that night, attending to their usual evening business, but the lights cast strange shadows upon the stern features of one man in particular.

Shadow the Hedgehog walked alone, his long overcoat billowing and hover skates clacking on the ground as he strode purposefully toward his destination. Turning off the main thoroughfare onto a side road, he spotted the address. Ahead of him lay a small and unobtrusive storefront, with a simple hanging wooden sign that only read "Count D's." He was just in time to witness a customer leaving, a man with a satisfied expression who carried a clear plastic bag full of exquisite, tiny tropical fish, the likes of which Shadow had never seen before. They danced within the bag, glowing like radiant, precious gems.

So they do sell exotics, he thought. Promising...

The store's proprietor greeted Shadow as soon as he stepped inside. "Ah, welcome, sir! I am Count D, manager of this store while my grandfather is abroad on business. You are just in time; I was beginning to shut down for the night. How may I be of service?"

Shadow eyed him coldly. The man was a tall, fair, and slender Siamese cat, the area around his eyes and muzzle were dark brown against his mocha colored fur as well as his effeminate and delicate dark brown hands. A curtain of chin-length silky black hair framed his face and shaded his blue eyes, and he wore an embroidered and brocaded traditional Chinese cheongsam. Everything about him spoke of high breeding and expensive tastes, as reflected by the elaborate waiting room they stood in. Shadow determined that the only way a pet shop owner could maintain such luxuries was the trafficking of black market, illegal animals.


"Yes, well," the crimson streaked hedgehog began. "I don't really know what the hell I'm doing here. Lately I've had the crazy notion of buying an animal."

"Wonderful sir, then you are in the right place. We supply creatures from all over the world– the rarest of the rare is obtainable, for the right customer." The count appraised Shadow in turn. He had heard much about this hedgehog, as a merciless CEO and as a highly arrogant and unfeeling personage among the echelons of the wealthy. His family had such power and influence that they could almost be considered royalty.

"You are Shadow the Hedgehog, are you not? Businessman and heir to the Doom family fortune... and recently estranged from your lovely wife Rouge?"

Shadow's eyes widened in shock at the shopkeeper's audacity, his infamous temper flaring. "Wha- -  and how the hell is that any of your business!?"

The manager gave a small bow but did not back down. He chuckled inwardly at how this was obviously a sore spot to the male. "Forgive me sir, I meant no offense. But many of my clients are from elite circles, and they are quite familiar with you and your social life. You are perhaps looking for a pet to occupy your thoughts, to distract you from your wife's absence?"

Shadow's quills bristled and he fumed, enraged by the strange cat's uncanny perception. "Grrr... you're too forward for your own good. But I'll admit, you're partly right. And I don't want a damn 'pet,' I want an animal to keep. Something unusual."

"And what other qualities do you wish in this creature?"

Shadow stared at the walls thoughtfully and began to pace the floor. "Something... wild...and beautiful. Something dangerous and powerful and predatory like a panther… or a tiger, something forceful and masculine, an animal to complement a male like myself. But it should still be very well-trained...will listen to me, you know?"

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