Chapter 1: Open Your Eyes
Author Note: This is an AU. I always though the Earth setting for the later games was a bit stupid, so I've moved it back to Mobius, with the humans featured in SA, SA2 and Shadow the Hedgehog' coming from a human colony on another continent.
Stars blurred past him at dizzying speed, and the burn of the atmosphere closed in about his body as he felt the last of the Chaos
Emerald-inspired energy drain out of him, his fur slowly dimming back to its usual coal-black hue.
Red eyes flicked open as his body tumbled out of control, the slow burning aurora of re-entry surrounded him like the embrace of a
traitorous lover. Beyond that, he could see Space Colony ARK, back in its usual stable orbit…the Ultimate Lifeform sighed in relief… he had kept his promise to Maria.
A star seemed to move…a streak of yellow-gold light moving towards him like a shooting star, trailing golden fire as it moved.
SuperSonic rushed towards him, hands outstretched, his mouth forming words, crying out against the inevitable. Shadow shook his head,
knowing it was too late. Sonic could never reach him in time, not if he wanted to survive himself.
But then he remembered the look that had flashed between them as they both drew on the ancient power of the Chaos Emeralds, that instant
of connection, of communion and understanding… kinship.
And now he saw open anguish in Sonic's eyes…eyes that were currently as fire-red as his own, saw the pleading in them, the hurt…
Shadow closed his eyes and gathered up his remaining energy, holding out his arms, his last thought was to wonder if the world would be better
had he never been created. Then he spoke.
Everything went Black.
Chapter One – Open Your Eyes
Pain. Burning pain that shot through every nerve in his body
whenever he dared to move so much as an inch, making him long to return to the oblivion of unconsciousness. From somewhere beyond the agony, he could hear
voices engaged in soft conversation, he tried to open his eyes, to sit up and see who was there and weather it was friend or foe… but his body screamed its
protest at his unwise movements.
"Hey!" A melodic female voice said, placing a gentle hand on his chest to restrain him, "Try not to move, you'll only make it worse." Shadow
frowned, but try as he might, he couldn't recognise the voice… and the light hurt his eyes whenever he tried to open them, adding more pain to his already
overloaded system, so a visual inspection was out, too. He tried to gain some impression of where he was…but his senses felt overwhelmed…as if burned out. No
doubt that was due to his fall into the atmosphere. All he could gain was a vague impression that he was outside somewhere, maybe a forest, judging by the
cool, vaguely damp quality of the air.
Again, he heard a murmured conversation…some words about moving him, and someone who would be arriving soon…then a whirring and beeping
sounds from somewhere just above his torso…as if a medical scanner or small computer were being waved over him.
Then, from somewhere in the distance, he heard the distinctive sound of a sonic boom. His…rescuers? Captors? …both seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
"Don't worry," that same female voice now said, "We'll get you back to the village and patched up in no time, now."
Shadow tried to respond, but lacked the strength. He could feel his body urging him back towards sleep so he cold relax and let his
accelerated healing ability do its work.
Another sonic boom echoed, much closer this time. Shadow almost smiled, despite the pain, he knew only one other being besides himself
who habitually made that noise. That thought comforted him immediately, and he quietly fell back into the arms of sleep to let his body heal.
Sleep had already taken him when words of surprise drifted out across the forest in Sonic the Hedgehog's familiar voice:
"Whoa, Sal…who's this guy…and why does he look so much like
Chapter 2: Open Your Eyes
Chapter Two - Shock To The System
Jigsaw puzzle traitors
Set to spill the beans
Constitution screw up
Shattering the dreams
Inside one of the larger huts in the hidden village known as Knothole, an argument was brewing.
"For the last time, Sonic, I don't know who he is." Princess Sally Acorn snapped with more than a trace of irritability, "Rotor and I just found him laying there in the middle of the great forest. He was obviously injured and in a lot of pain, so we called you."
Sonic leaned back and tapped his foot, a habit when he was impatient or annoyed, "I don't buy it, Sal. What was with that big scorch mark around him, huh?"
""Maybe he was attacked by SWATBots," Rotor put in tentatively as he adjusted a few pieces of diagnostic equipment over their 'guest', who was currently passed out on the only cot in the room. Sonic shook his head, blue quills swaying erratically.
"No way. There were no sign of any SWATButts around there. I looked. And man...for all we know, he could be a robot."
"The equipment says not, Sonic," Rotor interrupted quietly, "It says he's just a Mobian like us...but there are a couple of unusual things about him..."
"Usual?" Sally broke in, turning to face the walrus, "What do you mean, 'unusual'?"
Rotor shrugged and glanced over the readings, the green glow of the monitor shining on his platinum fur, "I'm not sure, Sally...but some of the readings are similar to what I get when I try and scan Sonic."
"Hm," Sally said thoughtfully, then she took out Nicole - her small hand-held computer - and instructed it to download the information for later study, "Maybe he's a relative of yours, Sonic." Sally said absently. Sonic's posture stiffened instantly, his arms folded over his chest, and his eyes as hard as stone. Sally sighed,
"Is that all that's bothering you? That he looks so much like you?"
"Pffft." Was the blue hedgehog's only response as he headed towards the door.
Just then, the black hedgehog began to stir. Sonic glanced back in curiosity to see a pair of fire-red eyes open. They glanced around the room briefly before settling unerringly on Sonic. The blue speedster felt a strange sensation deep in his chest, like butterflies in his stomach as their eyes locked for a long moment.
"Sonniku..." The black hedgehog said softly with what could almost have been a smile, before those incredible ruby-red eyes slipped closed again.
Sonic took a deep shuddering breath as that bizarre moment was broken, only vaguely recognising Rotor's voice saying;
"Well, at least now we know he definately knows you, Sonic."
All he knew right then was that he wanted that black hedgehog to wake up again. He wanted answers.
Shadow floated serenely in the near-trance state that was best for letting his accelerated healing powers do their stuff. It was somewhere between sleep and awake, where you remained aware, but unable to act on anything you heard or felt. He supposed some people would find such a condition disturbing, but he had always found it comforting. It was like his own private world no one else could enter, a place where he was safe. He had spent the better part of fifty years in that state, after all, it was almost like coming home to him.
It was obvious from the conversation that his...rescuers, for want of a better term...didn't recognise him - not even Sonic. Which didn't make much sense. He doubted that his fall into the atmosphere had damaged him sufficiently for his appearance to be unrecognisable...and though Sonic could be flighty and unpredictable, he surely could not simply have forgotten him.
A flash of memory, that instant of connection as their eyes locked over the glow of the Chaos Emeralds...
No, Sonic would never have forgotten him.
What, then? Perhaps it wasn't Sonic at all, and just someone who sounded like him. A possibility...and there was only one way to prove it.
Floating up through layers of consciousness, he opened his eyes, looking around the room to find the source of that familiar voice, and, as he had more or less expected, he found the sapphire blue hedgehog stood near the door,
"Sonniku." He whispered, using the nickname he had begun to use just before the whole mess with ARK and the FinalHazard had begun. And for a brief moment, Shadow again felt that strange rush of connection before his strength ran out and his eyes slipped closed again.
But not before he had noticed something. Something very wrong.
Sonic's eyes were not their usual brilliant emerald green, instead they were a deep, fathomless jet black. Feeling slightly shaken, Shadow slipped back into the comfort of his trance state. He began gathering the facts.
Fact One: He had used Chaos Control when his energy was dangerously low, and his concentration scattered
Fact Two: He had arrived in a location unknown to him, populated mostly be creatures he did not recognise - save one.
Fact Three: Sonic didn't recognise him, and Sonic looked different.
Shadow remembered Sonic telling him that his eyes had once been a different colour, but had been stained permanently green by contact with the energies of the Chaos Emeralds. So then, the Sonic he had just seen must never had contact with the Chaos Emeralds for his eyes to still be their natural colour.
A vague memory tickled him. Something he could recall the Doctor - his creator - speaking of, a theory about how a person's choices affected the entire world - the entire universe. He and Maria had made a joke out of it, had giggled and called it 'the Trousers of Time' - one choice took you down one leg, while the other choice took you down the other.
The recollection left him with a deeply disturbing possibility.
What if he was, indeed, in another dimension? A universe where different choices had been made, and the world turned out differently?
He needed more time to think.
Chapter 3: Cold Comfort
Chapter Three - Cold Comfort
Chapter Three - Cold Comfort
Blood flows in the desert
Dark citadels burning too
Watch, Look over your shoulder
This one is strictly for you
Shadow opened his eyes slowly, letting himself accustom gradually to the bright sunlight filtering in through the windows, the unfamiliar softness of the bed beneath him...
And the raw shock as he stared into the onyx eyes of Sonic the Hedgehog.
There was little softness in those eyes. Much less of the easygoing good humour and mischief that Shadow was familiar with. These eyes seemed older, harder, and colder - as though this Sonic had led a much more brutal life that the Sonic he knew. There was deep distrust and suspicion in the eyes, and in the hard set of the mouth.
"Who are you?" Sonic asked abruptly. Shadow blinked at him, then offered the only piece of information he could.
"Shadow." He replied. Sonic drew back slightly, his face caustically disbelieving.
"Shadow? What kind of a name is that?"
Shadow tilted his head slightly, "It's the only one I have. My... past is something of an enigma to me."
Sonic snorted, "I'll bet," Another one of those penetrating looks, which Shadow returned calmly. Eventually, Sonic looked away, "How'd you get here, anyway?" Sonic asked a lot of the challenge gone from his voice.
Shadow carefully considered his response to that. Weighing up the best way to respond to that sharp question, finally he shrugged,
"I think I must have been transported from another world."
Sonic's eyes widened, "You sayin' you're an alien or somethin'?" Despite the harshness of the tone, the sound of Sonic's loose, flowing accent inexplicably warmed something in Shadow. Despite the circumstances, it was good to hear Sonniku's voice again.
"Not exactly." Shadow replied, at length, "There was...an accident. I think I was transported from...another dimension."
"Well, that would certainly explain some of these readings." A female voice came from the doorway. Shadow turned to see a young female ground squirrel stood in the door, accompanied by a tall, nervous-looking walrus wearing a bright red cap. "Glad to see you're awake." The squirrel said. He voice was cool and confident, softly melodic and Shadow recognised it as the same voice that had spoken to him in the forest.
"I heal fast," Shadow replied cautiously, "But thank you for rescuing me."
"You're welcome." She said, moving over to plug her small hand-held computer into one of the larger workstations in the room. The walrus was unobtrusively working on one of the scanners, quietly taking readings.
Sonic chose that moment to step in, "He say's his name's 'Shadow', Sal."
"Shadow?" The squirrel asked with a quirk of an eyebrow, "It suits you," She said after a moment, "I am Princess Sally Acorn of the House of Acorn."
Shadow paused, unsure, "Apologies, but I have no idea how to address a Princess."
The Princess waved that off, "Just 'Sally' will do, and this is hardly a formal situation." She pointed at the platinum-furred walrus, "That's Rotor, and I believe you already know Sonic."
A smile tugged at Shadow's mouth wryly, "In a manner of speaking."
"It looks like he's telling the truth, Sally," The walrus - Rotor - said then in a surprisingly soft voice, looking up from his equipment, "His quantum signature is totally different to anything from this world, but I'd like Chuck to take a look at it when..."
Rotor was interrupted by the sound of a clanging bell coming from outside. Sonic shot outside, leaving everyone else in the hut staggered by his slipstream. Sally and Rotor followed him as rapidly as they could, leaving the somewhat bewildered Shadow stood in the doorway.
The source of the commotion became quickly obvious as Shadow saw two Mobians - a male fox and a female rabbit - carrying two obviously injured people into the clearing in the centre of the circle of huts.
"Sonic, Sally-girl," The rabbit said urgently, "There's a whole bunch 'o SWATBots attacking Westfold Village, they're burnin' the place to the ground!"
Sally immediately stepped in and smoothly took control, "Sonic, Bunnie, get these two into the infirmary. Antoine, you help me gather up the rest of Knothole - tell everyone to get hold of buckets and pans - anything that can hold water..." She continued giving instructions as Sonic and the rabbit came over to the medical hut.
The rabbit set her 'patient' on the cot that Shadow had just vacated, as Sonic struggled to pull down another cot from the wall without dropping his burden. Shadow quickly helped him, and the worked together in silence for a moment, settling the patient - a middle-aged woodchuck from the look of it - on the bed and tending to the most obvious of his wounds.
For both patients, it seemed to be mostly minor burns aggravated by smoke and dirt that were the major problem. Sonic and Shadow cleaned them as best they could, soothing the burning with cold water, then smoothing on a healing salve and wrapping the injury in bandages. Then the work was over, Sonic and Shadow stood staring at each other over the cot.
"Y'know, that was kinda eerie." Bunnie said suddenly. Sonic tore his eyes from Shadow's compelling gaze to look over as his friend.
"Huh?" He asked, puzzled.
"You two moved like y'all were psychic or something. Like you knew exactly where the other would be, exactly what they wanted without needin' to say a word. It was creepy."
The two hedgehogs looked at each other again, unsure, but some of the suspicion and hostility had gone from Sonic's eyes. Bunnie shuffled uncomfortably, edging towards the door and away from the unbearable tension between them.
Then Sally walked in, and Sonic's attention flipped from the dark hedgehog beside him to the admittedly beautiful squirrel at the door.
"Sonic, Bunnie," The Princess addressed them, "We're heading over to Westfold Village, I need you two to hold off the SWATBots until we can evacuate everyone."
"Sure, Sally-girl," Bunnie acknowledged instantly.
Sonic nodded, and moved to put a supportive hand on her shoulder, which she quickly shook off, "We've moving in five minutes - be ready." Sally moved to leave, Bunnie trailing her, Sonic remained, a trace of hurt on his face before he took a breath and assumed a cool, confident expression and moving to follow. Shadow frowned.
"Can I help?" The back and red hedgehog asked. Sally turned around and frowned at him, looking uncertain for the first time he'd seen. Sonic also turned and gave Shadow an indefinable look for a long moment, then looked over at Sally.
"I'll keep an eye on him, Sal." Sonic said.
At last - a chance to find out what circumstances were on this particular version of Mobius...and a chance to get to know Sonic, to fight along side him, all over again.
Chapter 4: Racing the Clouds Home
Chapter Four - Racing the Clouds Home
Chapter Four - Racing the Clouds Home
Justice to the left of you
Justice to the right
Speak when you are spoken to
Don't pretend you're right
Under other circumstances, the village could have been described as picturesque.
None of the streets were paved; they were instead merely paths of packed earth worn smooth by the repeated passage of Mobian feet. The huts were all constructed of wood, bamboo, thatch and other natural materials, making it blend effortlessly into the surrounding woodland.
Perfect natural camouflage for the rebellion, Shadow thought to himself. The Ultimate Lifeform took a deep breath, taking in a lungful of the forest air, heavy with the scents of trees, wildflowers, loamy earth and, faintly, the acrid tang of smoke. Even fainter, but still undeniably present, was the familiar bite of pollutants, rusting metal and hot machine oil - it seemed that some things did not change from Universe to Universe.
"Westfold Village is this way," Sonic was saying, pointing roughly in the direction Shadow has scented the smoke. The blue hedgehog's tone was strangely neutral, his eyes guarded as he held out an arm for Shadow to take so he could pull the other hedgehog along at Sonic's impressive high-speed.
Shadow glanced at the offered hand and smirked,
"I won't be needing that," He said. Sonic withdrew the hand and folded his arms, one foot tapping the ground idly, one eyebrow raised in half-amused contempt.
"Yeah right," Sonic rolled his eyes, "Like you can keep up with the fasting thing alive!"
Shadow's smirk grew bigger, and he casually dropped into a sprinter's starting pose,
"Try me," Shadow shot back with a sidelong glance at the blue hedgehog. Sonic's onyx eyes lit up at the challenge and he too dropped into a runner's crouch right beside Shadow.
"You're on, Stripes," Sonic replied with a grin. Shadow winced - though 'stripes' was an improvement on 'faker'...marginally.
Shadow's muscles tensed and he felt a hot taste in his mouth as adrenaline raced through his blood as everything around him snapped into sharp focus. He could feel Sonic's edgy presence beside him, could smell Sonic's unique scent, a combination of subtle musk, fresh-mown hay, and wind-blown leaves.
/You smell like the wind, Sonic/ Shadow thought, /I wonder if you know that.../
The two hedgehogs leapt forward, trees and land and sky blurring past, stirring up a dusty cyclone behind them as they blew out of Knothole village at speeds lightning couldn't catch.
Once they were out beyond Knothole and well into the Great Forest proper, Sonic risked a glance behind him, expecting to see the distant black dot of his erstwhile opponent.
He was somewhat shocked to discover the smirking black hedgehog still right on his tail, not four feet behind him. Sonic narrowed his eyes,
"Don't get too comfy, Stripes, I'm just cruisin' here," Sonic called, cockily.
"That's all right, Sonic," Shadow replied in a low, amused tone, "So am I."
/Oh, that does it!/ Sonic scowled as he poured it on, welcoming the rush of adrenaline and endorphins bringing him up to that most natural of highs as he slipped easily from subsonic into supersonic speeds, leaving the deafening sound of a sonic boom trailing behind him.
A few moments later, that first sonic boom was followed by a second.
"No way!" Sonic whispered, words snatched away by the wind. Despite himself, Sonic was impressed. No living thing had ever been able to match his speed before. A feral grin climbed up his face, this Shadow might be fast, but he was Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest thing alive, there was no way this stripy wannabe was beat him!
Eyes alight with excitement and competitive spirit, Sonic bent himself into the wind, pulling together his strength with a joyful shout as he pumped his legs harder, feeling the wind catch his quills harder, roaring in his ears as the world shot past.
He would show Shadow just what he was made of.
The differences in their respective techniques were interesting. Sonic's legs were a mere blur, his feet hitting the ground so rapidly that it ceased to be a drumming noise, and became more like a low hum, becoming increasingly like the revving of a well-tuned engine when he stopped 'cruising' and started really running.
The quiet swoosh-swoosh of Shadow's jet shoes seemed almost feeble in comparison, but they still served to keep Shadow right as Sonic's back. Shadow's arms and legs swung back and forth, his posture identical to the Olympic speed-skaters as they shot across the ice.
Despite the assistance provided by the shoes, it still took immense concentration to maintain this kind of speed, a single mis-timed step and he would be sent crashing into the trees. He was at a disadvantage here, since this was uneven ground, and Sonic's home turf besides, but he was still determined to force the blue hedgehog to acknowledge him and his abilities.
He would show Sonic just what the Ultimate Lifeform was capable of.
The foul, acrid smell of smoke was very close, now, and underneath it was a stink of engine oil and the tang of industrial coolant fluid, scents Shadow remembered clearly from his time aboard the ARK.
Sonic glanced back to grin at him cockily, his eyes glittering - those unfamiliar eyes in a familiar face. The blue hedgehog banked in a steep turn, looking up briefly to where a large column of smoke rose from beyond the trees.
From somewhere over the rushing of the wind, Shadow could hear the crackling of flames, the creaking of timbers, and...
"Sonic!" Shadow cried a warning an instant too late, screeching to a halt as four dome-headed, humanoid robots lumbered out of the trees ahead, a laser beam already lancing towards the spot Sonic occupied...
Only he didn't occupy it any more.
A blue blur dropped down from the trees, curled up into a high-speed, spiky ball that resembled nothing so much as a cobalt buzzsaw. Sonic struck the arm of the lead 'bot, reducing its laser-arm to bent armour plating and shorting wires before bouncing over to land neatly next to Shadow, his eyes glittering with something darker than competitiveness, now.
"Ready to trash some SWAT-butts, Shadow?"
Shadow narrowed his eyes, but nodded firmly.
"Then let's rumble!"
Chapter Five - Burn Out (coming soon)
Chapter 5: Burn Out
Author's Notes: A million thank-you's to my friend Greyfore for giving me bags of help with this chapter! You rock, dude!
Author's Notes: A million thank-you's to my friend Greyfore for giving me bags of help with this chapter! You rock, dude!
Chapter Five - Burn Out
This life's not for living
It's for fighting and for war
No matter what the truth is
Hold on to what is yours
The trees parted to a scene of fire and smoke, the once peaceful village a blaze of orange and golds as flames licked up to claw at the sky. SWATBots stood in a line, opening fire on the houses and their inhabitants, the metal bodywork catching the reflected light from the fire.
"You go that way," Sonic said, pointing to the far side of the village, "I'll be over here, and be careful."
"Don't worry, Sonniku, I will," A small grin appearing on Shadows face. Shadow once again dropped into a runner's pose, getting underneath the heavy pall of black smoke pouring from the flaming buildings so he could catch his breath.
At the far end of the village Shadow saw a pair of chipmunks race from one of the burning houses, a pair of SWATBots directly on their tail opening fire on the helpless Mobians indiscriminately; Shadow narrow his eyes, diving from his hidden position and dashing in front of the SWATBots, effectively cutting off their pursuit of the Chipmunks, the SWATBots took aim at the black hedgehog who had just so inconveniently got in their way, but Shadow made an agile jump up into the branches of a nearby tree. He nodded approval as he noted the two Chipmunks high-tailing it into the cover of the Great Forest. The confused patrol of SWATBots were now circling around, trying to find him. Apparently these robots were deadly and efficient, but not very bright. That was helpful.
"Hey, over here," Called Shadow, jumping down from his perch in the tree, hoping to attract their attention. He got more than that as three more appeared from other huts surrounding him
"Sonic the Hedgehog: Priority Target One," the robots recited in unison, gun-arms raising slowly to point at him.
"The name's Shadow," He hissed, "Not that it will matter," he announced as he sped in and out between their legs. The robots fired, but their tracking systems simply couldn't follow Shadow's formidable speed, and all they managed to shoot was each other. Finally, only one remained, and it quickly found itself flung into a collapsing hut, as Shadow took advantage of it's confused and de-stabilised state to hit it full in the chest with a spin-dash.
Looking across the village, Sonic seemed to be having just as much fun, dealing with his own set of SWATBots as they were leading a small line of imprisoned and shackled Mobians from the huts into a large hover transport - presumably to be Robotisiced.
"Yo, SWAT-butts, over here!" yelled Sonic, "catch me if you can!" and with that he sped off into the village, the SWATBots mindlessly chasing after him, but Sonic had apparently spent the few seconds of distraction Shadow's actions had bought him well. Sonic tugged on a rope, setting loose a pile of rocks that came tumbling towards them. The SWATBots were falling like kids on ice, having trouble keeping their balance as the rockfall smashed into them. Sonic took the advantage, bouncing from robot to robot, sawing through the chest of each one.
The sound of small explosions followed Sonic as he reached the Mobians held captive, quickly snapping the chains that help them. Shadow arrived, holding a Mobian under each arm.
"Any trouble?" Asked Sonic with a raised eyebrow as Shadow set down the rescued villagers who stared at him in a mixture of awe and confusion.
"None at all," boasted Shadow, "These 'SWATBots' seem a little slow on the uptake.
"Tell me about it," Sonic snickered, then his ears flicked as a new sound rumbled through the air.
A swarm of SWATBots on small floating platforms emerged from the treetops, guns all aiming on the people below. The remaining villagers screamed and scattered. Sonic looked up and made a sound almost like a growl, startling Shadow who had never heard such an outright aggressive noise from the laid-back blue hedgehog.
/Different dimension, different rules./ Shadow reminded himself as he looked up into the impassive face plates of the 'bots above them.
"Sonic the Hedgehog: Priority Target One," The SWATBots droned, guns pointed at Sonic, then they seemed to briefly hesitate, and turned their attention to Shadow and again said, "Sonic the Hedgehog: Priority Target One."
"They seem to like you a lot," muttered Shadow, unsure whether to be amused or annoyed at the simple-minded robot's mistake.
The SWATBots turned back to Sonic and repeated again, "Sonic the Hedgehog: Priority Target One,"
"Looks like they're confused by us," replied Sonic, a sly grin creeping across his face, "follow my lead," He instructed quietly,
"Always," whispered Shadow.
With an explosion of sound and motion, the two hedgehogs sped towards the front lines, switching places repeatedly so the SWATBots had a hard time tracking them.
"Halt, by Order of Robotnik," Yelled the robots in their grating metallic voices, their gun-arms flailing wildly as they attempted to get off a clear shot.
"Halt this!" cried Sonic as, with almost eerie precision, he and Shadow leapt in to the air and dropkicked a pair of SWATBots into the others causing them to explode violently. The response was hail of laser-fire from the other SWATBots as they tried and failed to catch the swift-moving hedgehogs in a crossfire, but the random blasting did manage t catch a tree, severing straight through the base of it, causing it to fall towards the two hedgehogs. With his vision hampered by the clouds of smoke and dust, Sonic was unable to change direction in time, and he sped straight into the trunk of the tree, knocking him to the ground, Shadow screeched to a halt just in time to see Sonic pick himself up and find himself face to face with a SWATBot laser arm. Shadow didn't even think.
"Chaos Spear!" Shadow cried, hurling bolts of energy at the SWATBot, striking it's laser arm and causing that appendage to explode, followed by its head. Sonic stared at him for a moment,
"Thanks I owe you one," Said Sonic, relieved, but there were questions in his eyes that Shadow knew he would have to answer sooner or later.
"We're not finished yet," Shadow said quickly, pointing at the remaining SWATBots closing in on them both, "Quick, give me your hand!"
Sonic showed no hesitation as he held out his hand, which shadow grabbed and held and began to charge a spin dash, spinning around the centre point of their clasped hands, Sonic had rapidly realised what Shadow's plan was, and even grinned as the whirling circle got faster and faster. When they finally reached top speed, they sprang and the resulting onyx and sapphire ball flew towards the approaching robots and cut through them like a hot knife through butter.
They both landed on the scorched grass, panting from their efforts, but completely exhilarated as they stared at each other, both streaked in dirt and a little scorched and neither appearing to care, not even the infamously vain and fastidious Sonic.
"Wow," Sonic breathed, catching Shadow's stare with his own,
"Impressed yet?" Shadow asked almost teasingly. At that, the blue hedgehog seemed to shake off his awe,
"Ok, you got some moves, but you still can't match me!"
"We'll see about that," Shadow grinned, accepting the offered challenge. Sonic's only reply was a brilliant, unguarded grin of the sort he hadn't seen this Sonic present since he arrived...but one that was familiar to Shadow from the Sonic of his own dimension. The sight of it here was almost enough to make Shadow gasp.
"C'mon, Stripes, time to go help the others."
Shadow merely nodded and again matched pace with Sonic. It was time to get going and help out the others with dousing the flames.
Chapter Six - Persistence of Memory (Coming Soon)
Chapter 6: Persistance of Memory
Chapter Six - Persistence of Memory
Chapter Six - Persistence of Memory
Hold on - Hold on
Wait maybe the answer's
Looking for you
It was the work of mere moments for Sonic and Shadow to reach the far side of the village. There were fires here, too. Many still burning hot, but some huts were now merely smoking embers, what remained of their structure now slowly collapsing to the earth.
Sally had arranged the Westfold survivors and the Knothole freedom fighters into a living chain of bodies that rapidly passed a hodgepodge mix of buckets, bowls and pans from the river to the village and back again, trying to dowse the remaining structures, fighting valiantly against the raging flames threatening to consume the small settlement.
Shadow could see the exhaustion and despair written on their faces, even half-hidden beneath a coating of smoke and dirt, but there was also a steely resolve, a gritty determination to not give up, to not give in, to maintain their way of life despite the staggering odds. He could almost admire it, in a way, except he knew that pride and stubbornness could be a lethal combination in the wrong situation. He had seen that same blindness in his own creator - seen it a little late, perhaps, but had still recognised it for what it was.
"Shadow!" Sonic's accented voice called him from his brief reverie, "C'mon, man, we need to put out the fire!"
Shadow nodded his understanding, following the blue blur down to the riverside. It was fairly obvious what Sonic had in mind, so Shadow easily followed along as they circled each other at just-under supersonic speeds, whipping up the river into a towering waterspout. Then came the tricky bit. Waterspouts were not exactly equipped with brakes or a steering wheel, so controlling its direction without losing the carefully-balanced centrifugal force holding it in its roughly cylindrical shape was very, very difficult.
The two hedgehogs span around and around, instinctively knowing how to factor in wind speed, gravity, weight and various other very important factors to steer the column of water towards the burning village. They couldn't see each other, whirling in impossibly complex patterns as they were, but somehow, they still both knew the right moment to relax their motions. They screeched to a stop just in time to watch the water topple into the burning buildings with a wet 'sploosh', putting out the remaining fires.
Sonic turned to look at Shadow, favouring him with one of his trademark cocky grins as the rest of the Mobians burst into spontaneous applause. Sonic turned and made a couple of flamboyant bows to the crowd.
"Thank you, thank you," He said facetiously, still sporting a broad grin. Shadow offered a tiny smile in response, folding his arms over his chest in his usual 'casually guarded' pose. Apparently this wasn't good enough for Sonic, as the blue speedster threw an arm over Shadow's shoulders and tugged him into an exuberant half-hug.
"C'mon, Shadow!" Sonic crowed, "We were awesome, you're allowed to enjoy it!" As soon as Sonic's arm snaked across his back, Shadow had felt a peculiar sensation race down his spine, making his heart pound. Sonic was radiating warmth and life like a miniature sun, and Shadow found himself found himself strangely powerless to move away.
"Yeah," Shadow agreed, struggling to speak through the sudden dryness in his mouth, "We were awesome, all right,"
A deceptively mild voice then broke into Sonic's self-congratulation, "Awesome or not, Sonic Hedgehog, we've still got a lot of work to do, here," Sally said, her hands on hips and her blue eyes flashing. Shadow was released from Sonic's grip, for which Shadow felt a strange mix of relief and disappointment.
"Sure, Sal," Sonic affirmed, "What's next?"
Strange. This was a totally different attitude to the cold, mistrustful face Sonic had presented to him only a couple of hours ago, and different again to the dangerous, determined creature that had helped him take down those SWATbots. He had always known Sonic was a mercurial being, his thoughts and emotions seemed to flicker as fast as his feet, but this…it was as though a couple of hours of running and action had thawed him.
"We need to get everyone back to Knothole," Sally was saying, frowning thoughtfully at the display of her little hand-held computer, "Westfold isn't going to be habitable for a few weeks until we can get repairs finished, so we're going to have to convert the war room into a hostel, and everyone else is going to have to bunk in together," She looked up, "Antoine, you and Bunnie get everyone organised into groups no larger than six people, try and keep families together if you can. We'll lead them back to Knothole using different routes, each group will leave at least an hour apart. Got it?" There was a tired murmur of assent from the assembled refugees and freedom fighters. Shadow frowned slightly, a shame he didn't have a Chaos Emerald or two handy, otherwise he could have the entire village transported back to Knothole in a couple of trips using Chaos Control.
"What about us, Sal?" Sonic asked, tapping his foot absently,
Sally cast a brief, suspicious glance at Shadow before she responded, "You and Shadow go back to Knothole and tell Rosie the situation and help her get ready for incoming refugees,"
"Gotcha, Sal," Sonic nodded before turning to grin at Shadow, "C'mon Stripes, lets juice," Without another word, Sonic took off, a sonic boom trailing in his wake, followed closely by another as Shadow caught up with him.
Coughing slightly in the dust and soot stirred up by their slipstream, Sally sighed in exasperation and not a bit of envy.
Hold on - Hold on
Sunshine shine on through
It was well past sunset by the time the last of the stragglers made it to Knothole. Every bit of spare floor space was taken up by refugees. Knothole was not a large place, for obvious reasons, and now it was filled to bursting. The normal inhabitants of Knothole had been crammed into half of the huts, with the other half acting as shelters.
Sonic was very glad the situation was temporary. He intensely disliked being this crowded in his own home. Though it had thrown him an unexpected bonus in the shape of his living arrangements. Due to the overcrowding, he was being asked to share his hut with Tails and Shadow. In his opinion, a week sharing a hut with his lil' bro would be like one big sleepover party, which could only ever be a good thing. As for Shadow, well, Sonic had been rather surprised to find himself actually liking the black hedgehog. Sure, he was a little bit too reserved, but he did have a cool, sly sense of humour and Sonic was sure that a week in his and Tails' rarefied company would loosen the other Hedgehog up some. Besides, it was nice to have someone around who was actually a challenge to him who wasn't - or at least didn't seem to be - out-and-out evil.
Shame Sonic couldn't really trust him. Robotnik and his manipulative schemes had burned him too many times for that.
Right now, Sonic was on his way through the Great Forest towards Robotropolis, racing around trees, rocks and fallen branches that were scarcely visible in the pale silver moonlight that filtered down through the canopy of leaves.
This was his turf, his own personal obstacle course that he could use to hone his incredible skills to an even sharper edge. Getting rusty was never an option in his world, losing his edge could mean death or robotisisation for him or the Freedom Fighters, and that simple was not an option to him, hence why he was constantly driving himself to become faster, tougher, more agile. Never satisfied, never staying still.
He was glad he was going to see his Uncle tonight. He knew Uncle Chuck understood and approved of Sonic's driving need to push himself, Unc knew it was more than just vanity or a need to show off. As long as one person understood, it was ok.
Weirdly, it had seemed for a moment back in Westfold that Shadow understood, too.
Shadow was actually part of the reason why sonic was now zooming through the oil-slicked and pitted metal streets of Robotropolis towards the garbage heap where Sir Charles Hedgehog hid his lab and listening post. Rotor wanted Chuck to take a look at some of the readings he'd taken of the mysterious black Hedgehog to see if Shadow's story-cum-theory of being from 'another dimension' actually checked out.
Sonic found his thoughts drifting to the other Hedgehog. He thought about that impromptu race to Westfold, how graceful Shadow had been on those air-skate shoes of his, the fierce determination in his ruby eyes when they had faced those SWATbots, the smell of his fur when Sonic had pulled him into that sudden hug…
Skidding to a stop outside one of the innocently non-descript piles of garbage in the dumping yard, Sonic reached out to tap a specific sequence on a piece of metallic debris, and after only a moment which was far too long for Sonic's taste, the well-concealed door swung open.
"Hey Sonny-boy!" Sir Charles greeted his nephew, rising from his seat to offer a gentle hug that Sonic gratefully accepted. It had taken a long time for Sonic's skin to stop cringing away from the cold metal that now made up his Uncle's body, but now Sonic was glad he'd taken the time to get over that irrational reaction, glad he could feel Chuck's warmth and reassurance despite the interference of the lifeless metal between them.
"Hey Unc," Sonic smiled when he was released,
"So, what brings you here? It's not a scheduled drop today,"
"I know, Unc, but Sal asked me to drop by and tell you what went down in Westfold Village earlier, and Roter wanted me to ask you about some readings he took of this guy who dropped in on us,"
"Dropped in on you?" Chuck asked, leaning against his computer console,
"Yeah," Sonic replied, swinging his backpack from his shoulders and rooting around inside it, "Sal says he just dropped out of the sky. He was pretty beat up," Sonic pulled out the data solid he was looking for and handed it over, "Rote and Sal think he's from 'another dimension' or somethin' like that,"
"Oh really?" Chuck said, looking interested as he took the data solid,
"Yeah. Weird though, he's almost as fast as I am, and he's a hedgehog, too, only he's black instead of cool blue…Unc?" Sonic paused when he realised his Uncle had frozen in place. He wasn't much good at reading Chuck's expressions now he was a robot, but Sonic would bet his electric guitar that had Chuck still been a living Mobian, right now he would be chalk-white beneath his fur.
"What…what's this other hedgehog's name?" Sir Charles rasped, his voice strained,
"Shadow." Sonic replied, confused.
The data solid fell out of Chuck's grasp, and he weakly sank into his chair, putting his head in his hands. Sonic's quills flared in alarm, but he felt utterly clueless as to what to do.
"Uncle Chuck?" Sonic said tentatively.
Sir Charles Hedgehog raised his head, but the bright red coals of his robotic eyes were now dim pinpricks or light.
"Sit down, Sonic," Chuck said heavily, "There's something I have to tell you…"
Chapter Seven - Hidden Histories (coming soon)
Chapter 7: Hidden Histories
Chapter Seven - Hidden Histories
Chapter Seven - Hidden Histories
Strangest of them all
When the feeling calls
How we drown in stylistic audacity
It was late, and the night was beginning to get very cold as the wind brought with it an icy chill. All the work in Knothole was now being conducted by torch and lamplight, Shadow simply continued to work in the near-darkness – there were advantages to having low-light vision.
Sonic has vanished off somewhere a couple of hours ago, on some errand or other from Sally. Shadow had spent most of that time with Tails, preparing Sonic's hut to house three people instead of one. It would have been a quick job had Sonic's hut not been so unbelievably messy. Apparently neatness wasn't a priority for the Sonic of this universe, either.
Tails had startled him somewhat. The Tails that Shadow knew from his own universe was astonishingly self-sufficient, living apparently alone in the Mystic Ruins despite his tender age. He was also possessed of one of the most brilliant minds Shadow had ever encountered, an electronic and engineering genius of a calibre matched only by Gerald Robotnik, Shadow's own creator.
The Tails of this universe, however, relied heavily on his friends and his adopted family. He chatted animatedly to Shadow while they worked, speaking often of 'Aunt Sally', 'Aunt Bunnie' and his 'Brother' Sonic. In a marked contrast to the rest of Knothole, Tails showed none of the instant suspicion and wariness displayed by the other inhabitants and seemed quite happy to accept him at face value, talking away with little to no input from Shadow save from the occasional 'hmm' or 'yes'.
"Shadow, may I have a word with you?" Princess Sally called. Shadow looked across at Tails over the piece of the bed he had been holding while Tails screwed the thing together.
"Go ahead, Shadow. I can finish up here." Tails said cheerily. Shadow nodded, and headed outside, the cold night breeze ruffling his quills as he stepped out of the cosy hut. Sally was waiting for him, and she was alone.
"Follow me." sally said tersely, turning to walk up the poorly-marked path into the trees. Shadow felt a brief tingle of alarm, but followed her anyway, confident he could get out of any trap these Freedom Fighters cared to devise.
Sally led him out of the main village and through a dense thicket that opened out into a clearing with a large pool in the middle. The only illumination came from the moonlight softly reflected from the still waters of the pool. Even with his enhanced vision, Sally appeared to be little more than a charcoal silhouette in all that darkness.
"Sonic told me what happened at Westfold," She began abruptly, her arms folded defensively across her chest, "I have some questions I want to ask you." He tone was faintly challenging.
Shadow coked an eyebrow, knowing she was unlikely to see it, and folded his own arms in a slightly mocking copy of her own pose.
"You can ask. I won't guarantee I'll answer, and you should keep in mind you may not like some of the answers you get."
"Fine." Sally said, "How did you get your super speed?"
"I was created with it."
"Created?" Sally said, surprised, "You make it sound like you weren't born,"
"I wasn't. I was created on a space station by a scientist who was trying to create the Ultimate Lifeform." Shadow shrugged.
"You're an experiment?" She asked.
"Are there any others like you?"
"Not anymore. There was a failed prototype that has since been destroyed."
"Did you destroy it?" There was a sardonic lilt to her voice, now.
Shadow hesitated slightly, "Sonic and I defeated it," He admitted.
"Sonic!" She gasped, "I was right. You do know him!"
"Yes." He replied uneasily, "Or actually, my universe's version of him."
"But you don't recognise any of the rest of us." She stated, "None of the other Freedom Fighters are familiar to you?"
"The only other one who I find familiar is Tails. He's Sonic's sidekick in my universe." He was beginning to grow bored with this pointless round of twenty questions, now, "Is that all?"
"I have one or two more questions."
Shadow sighed, "Go ahead."
"What is a 'chaos spear'?"
He winced, grateful to gloom of the forest hid his expression. This would be difficult to explain.
"Chaos spear is a technique that allows me to gather the ambient chaos energy in the air and in my body and use it as an offensive weapon."
"Chaos energy? I've never heard of it."
Now that was worrying. Shadow could feel the chaos energy in the atmosphere, with the usual peaks and troughs he could expect from his own version of Mobius which suggested that the Emeralds did exist here…but what if they didn't? What if all he could sense was the planet's natural chaos output?
How would he ever get home?
"From what I understand," Shadow began uncomfortably, "Chaos energy is produced naturally by all living things, but the largest concentration of it that I'm aware of is in the Chaos Emeralds."
"Chaos Emeralds, huh?" Sally said thoughtfully. She snatched her hand-held computer off the holster on her boot and flicked it open.
"NICOLE, display any information on 'Chaos Emeralds'." She instructed.
"Working, Sally," A stilted female voice came from the little computer's speakers. A holographic display showing a mural that depicted the seven emeralds appeared, lighting up the clearing in multi-hued light that danced across the shimmering waters of the pool.
"The Chaos emeralds are seven legendary gemstones. According to ancient texts recovered from the extinct Echidna Empire, they were considered to be a source of great power and made anyone who possessed them capable of unmatched feats of speed and strength. It is believed that the Echidnas considered them to be sacred, and therefore jealously guarded them from any potential thieves."
Shadow almost smiled. That definitely sounded a lot like Knuckles.
"Though the Emeralds themselves have never been found, there is enough archaeological evidence for their physical existence to be likely. Several treasure hunters have claimed to have found the Emeralds, but each time these claims were proved to be hoaxes."
"Hmm. Interesting. Thank you, NICOLE." She said, closing up the computer. Sally stood silently for a moment, thinking.
"These Chaos emeralds are common knowledge on your world?" She asked.
"Relatively. I understand Sonic regularly fights Doctor Robotnik for control of them."
She started slightly, "You have a Robotnik as well?"
"Yes," He paused, "Though the one from my universe doesn't seem as…ruthless. Driven, dangerously intelligent and a little mentally unstable, perhaps, but not as deadly as the one I've had described to me here." Of course he was working from second- and third-hand information. It would be sensible to wait and make his own final judgements.
"Hmm." There was another heavy pause, "Can anyone use the power of the Chaos Emeralds?"
Shadow was starting to get a headache. Sally was as relentless as a diamond-bit drill boring into him, trying to get all the information she wanted to come pouring out. It was obvious that she would keep going until she had everything she wanted.
"I know it's possible to hook the emeralds up as a power source for technology, providing you have the right kind of interface. I'm not sure on the details, I'm not an engineer. But to use the power of the Emeralds directly…I only know three people who can do that."
"Assuming that you're one of them," Sally said dryly, "Who are the other two?"
Shadow took a breath, "Yes, I'm one of them. The other two are an Echidna named Knuckles and…Sonic the Hedgehog."
He heard Sally's sharp intake of breath.
"In that case, we really don't have a choice. We need to find those Emeralds - before Robotnik does."
The atmosphere inside the tiny underground lab belonging to Sir Charles Hedgehog was so thick with tension you could have cut it with a dull knife.
Chuck sat stiffly on an old chair, metallic elbows resting on equally metallic knees as he regarded his nephew.
Sonic was stood in the middle of the lab, almost vibrating in place from suppressed anxiety, "Unc?" Sonic began nervously, "What is it you gotta tell me?"
Chuck sighed deeply, his chin falling into his hands, "To tell the full story, I need to start fifty years ago. Back then, over on the other continent, there was an ambitious scientist by the name of Gerald. He was a genius without peer. Wrote world-renown papers on genetics, structural engineering, electronics, evolutionary biology, particle physics…a lot of his theories were still being taught at Universities just before the Coup.
"Anyway, he and a bunch of other scientists were involved in a project to help build a big space station above Mobius, known as the 'Space Colony Ark'. It was supposed to be a research centre as well as a working colony. The colonists up there were hand-picked by the government, the best and the brightest - you get the idea.
"Because it was so far away, Ark was also where a lot of secret projects were developed for the Government and the Army. Gerald, because of his intelligence and reputation, was involved in a lot of them. But the most infamous was code named Project Shadow'."
Sonic blinked, then narrowed his eyes. Realising this was only the beginning of the story, he quickly grabbed a seat and gestured for his Uncle to continue.
"Now, for years there were rumours that the Government had managed to get their hands on one of the relics of the ancient Echidna people. A gemstone with phenomenal power known as a 'Chaos Emerald'.
"The story goes that several scientists and engineers had tried to use the power of the gemstone to no avail. That's when Gerald got involved. He theorised that since the Echidnas had been able to channel the power of these Emeralds, it must need a sentient being who was attuned to those energies to control them. He suggested genetically engineering a creature who could also channel that kind of power.
Of course, since Echidnas had been extinct for centuries, he decided to go for the closest genetic relative to the echidnas."
"Hedgehogs, right?" Sonic interrupted, his voice strangely flat.
"Right, Sonic," His uncle confirmed, "From here on, the story gets a little hazy, but it's generally accepted that Gerald did succeed in creating a hedgehog with some…unusual…abilities. After that, though, some reports say that Gerald went mad with power, threatened to use his creation to rule or destroy the planet. Other people say that the military wanted to use this 'ultimate life' as a weapon - a sort of super soldier, but Gerald refused to co-operate.
"Either way, the ending was the same. The military sent a task force up to the Space Colony; orders were conflicted, the soldiers overzealous…lots of people died, including the project, and Gerald's young niece, Maria.
"Gerald's reputation was ruined by the incident. Propaganda had ensured Gerald got a reputation as a hack, a man with more ambition than ethics playing god. He was dismissed as a lunatic. No academic institution would go near him. He died not long after. His family was so shamed by it that they changed their last names to avoid association."
"Uncle Chuck," Sonic said slowly, "Are you saying that Shadow is that project? From some dimension where he survived all those soldiers?"
"If he's telling the truth, it's a definite possibility."
"Whoa." Sonic breathed in awe.
"There's more, Sonic," Chuck said gravely.
"Go ahead, Unc." Sonic said, leaning back on his chair. This was better than the ghost stories Unc used to tell him back before the coup!
"Many years after the incident aboard the Ark, there was a young pair of mated hedgehogs who were having trouble conceiving a child. They went to Gerald's grandson, Wilfred, who had become a noted doctor. He was particularly skilled in the fields of genetics and fertility. He'd pioneered several revolutionary methods of gene therapy for infants. He was very well respected.
"He was semi-retired at this point, but nonetheless agreed to help the young hedgehog and her husband have the child they had long dreamed of.
No-one knew, though, that Wilfred had always secretly dreamed of proving his Grandfather's theories about chaos energy correct. Now he had access to a young hedgehog couple and he was close enough to the end of his career that - professionally at least - he had nothing to lose.
"He used what remained of Gerald's notes on Project shadow to recreate it with the genetic material from the two young hedgehogs, hoping to create a being with the extraordinary powers described in Gerald's notes. He told no one about what he was doing, and the young couple were convinced enough by his reputation that they did whatever he asked.
"Eventually, though, when the female hedgehog was several months pregnant, one of the nurses at Wilfred's practice stumbled on his notes and the truth came out. Wilfred was put in jail for illegal genetic engineering, but that still left the problem of what to do about the baby.
There was a lot of arguing, discussion and tears, but the hedgehog couple finally decided to keep it. When the child was born, it was subject to a battery of tests, but everything came out normal. We thought that Wilfred must have failed…at first, anyway."
"We?" Sonic spoke up, his eyes wide, "Wait, hold the phone…Unc, are you saying I was that hedgehog?"
Chuck bowed his head, almost doubling over as if in the grip of intolerable pain. When he answered, his voice was barely audible, "Yes…"
"My speed…" Sonic whispered in stunned realisation, "That's how you realised…Wilfred didn't fail."
Chuck could only nod miserably, "It's my fault. I was the one who recommended your mother speak to Doctor Wilfred."
Sonic's thoughts were whirling like a hurricane, his heart pounding in his chest. Then, out of the maelstrom of his confused and conflicted brain, a horrible thought occurred.
"Uncle Chuck…those Doctors, Gerald and Wilfred - what were their last names?"
Charles actually cringed. This was the one question he sincerely did NOT want to answer.
"Wilfred's family had changed their name after Gerald's fall from grace. They were known as 'Kintobor'. But Gerald himself was called-"
Chuck broke off suddenly when the space that had been occupied by his nephew was abruptly vacated, leaving only a slightly dusty disturbance of air behind. Sonic had already figured it out and took off, unable to face that final damning name.
Sir Charles Hedgehog sank his head into his hands, wishing devoutly that his robotic body still allowed him to weep.
Chapter Eight - 'Chain Reactions' (Coming Soon)
Chapter 8: Chain Reactions
Chapter Eight Chain Reactions
Chapter Eight Chain Reactions
Charge the common ground,
Round and round and round,
We living in gravity.
Sonic ran blindly on through the night. He ran over, through and around any obstacles he encountered, but nothing truly registered in his brain. It all seemed totally irrelevant in the face of what he had just been told. His thoughts whirled like a hurricane, twisting and tumbling over one another.
He had always been totally confident in himself, his certainty lying in the purest self-knowledge. He had always known who he was; he was Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest thing alive, and that had always been good enough for him.
Now, though, now he was more like the 'fastest lab experiment alive'. Robotnik had been right; he was a rodent - a lab rat escaped from its cage.
No, enough. He was still a living, breathing Mobian, still a Freedom Fighter, still big brother to Tails. His parents and his uncle had just been trying to do their best, he couldnt blame them for that. He would probably have done the same - what was it with Rob-butt-ik's family, though? Were they all cursed or what? The only one who sounded innocent in the entire mess was that girl - Maria, was it? Sounded like she had just been caught up in the crossfire.
A brief flash of pain penetrated his troubled mind, and he realised after a moment that his right arm was hurt. He glanced at it briefly, realising the fur and a significant chunk of skin had been burned off it. SWATbot fire? When had he run into SWATbots? A few miles back, maybe - it was hard to say, his memories were all blurred, he was pretty sure hed lapped Robotropolis and the Great Forest several times by now. It wasn't much of a wound, though, he would ignore it for now - he was a hero, after all, he could handle it.
He had always considered heroes to be people who pushed themselves beyond ordinary boundaries to reach a higher (and Nobler, as Sal would say) goal, but if he wasnt ordinary, would just busting through ordinary barriers really count? He felt like hed been running a race with a ten second head start - with that much of an advantage was it still an achievement? Could he still call himself a hero?
This wasn't helping.
He skidded to a sudden halt, realising as he did that he had absolutely no idea where hed ended up. Turning, he orientated himself and realised he was somewhere on the edge of the Great Unknown, somewhere North-West of the Great Forest. The area around him was arid scrubland, devoid of life. Out here in daytime, the place was like a furnace, heat waves rising so thick that the entire landscape became a muzzy haze. But despite it being a cold, dark night, his vision was still blurry, and he realised with a burst of anger and shame that he was crying.
He needed somewhere to go and get his head together. Somewhere quiet - like the Power Ring Pool. After he was done cooling down a little, maybe he could go talk to someone, someone cool and steady, someone who would understand... someone... well, it was obvious who he needed to talk to, really.
Then, maybe a game or two of street hockey with Tails, and he was sure he'd feel fine.
Gathering up his energy, he set off back towards Knothole, hoping absently that Shadow was still awake.
Shadow was perched on a large, flat rock above the pool near Knothole, which was still warm from the it had collected during the day. The tip of one foot was trailing into the water, creating ripples in the water that reflected the moonlight in interesting patterns. Sally had disappeared a while ago to start doing research on the Chaos Emeralds, apparently either not knowing or not caring that it was almost midnight. Shadow couldn't bring himself to protest, though, since the sooner the Emeralds were located, the sooner he could get home.
Though to anyone watching he appeared to be lazily dozing on the rock, he wasn't actually as idle as he seemed. He was attempting his own brand of research, attempting to centre himself and use his chaos sense to get a reading on where the Emeralds might be. It wasn't bound to be terribly exact, but even a vague direction would be useful. And it was much easier to get the sort of concentration he would need here in this quiet grove than in overcrowded Knothole.
As he settled himself down in a quiet, relaxed pose, he stretched out his senses, searching for the pulse of Chaos Energy. His ears twitched as he felt something, intense and bright, burning vividly with Chaos power tightly contained, almost too vividly - an Emerald, so close?
No, it was moving, it was coming closer, it was... alive?
Shadows eyes flicked open as Sonic suddenly half-stumbled into the clearing near the pool. Shadows sharp eyes took in the state of the other hedgehog; Sonics quills were in disarray, dirt and soot stained his fur in places, he was covered in nicks, scratches and even one nasty-looking burn on his arm.
"Sonic, what happened?" Shadow asked, stepping forward. Sonic turned a startled glance on him, as though he hadn't noticed the other hedgehog was there.
"Shadow?" Sonic murmured, his voice sounding odd - almost distant, his eyes seemed glazed and strangely blank, "Oh, I think I ran into some SWATbots, maybe some stealthbots, too. Hard to say, things got kinda blurry after the third trip round the city."
"Around the city... you mean Robotropolis?" Shadow felt very confused, this behaviour was out of character even for this strange other-dimensional version of Sonic.
Sonic nodded stiffly, "Oh yeah, took care of em though. I always do. That's what the Hero's for, right? Right." The gaze Sonic turned on him then was far too wide and far too bright to be natural. On a hunch, Shadow stretched out his Chaos sense again, feeling a sudden flare of erratic energy from the blue hedgehog, like a fire fanned by a sudden gust of wind. Shadow thought he recognised the symptoms now, it looked an awful lot like shock.
"Turns out, y'know," Sonic continued in that strangely distant, almost emotionless tone, "That you and me got more common than just the quills, aint that something?" Sonic gave him a sudden, insincere smile and Shadow thought he saw, for a fraction of an instant, a flicker of emerald green deep in Sonics glazed eyes. Shadow felt the Chaos Energy in Sonic's body flare once again, then die down like a guttering candle.
Shadow stretched out his arms just in time to catch Sonic before he hit the ground.
To Be Continued in Ch. 9 The Damage Done
Chapter 9: The Damage Done
Author's Notes: Sorry this has taken so long, guys. My life is completely crazy right now. But thank you for all the reviews and support I've got over this story so far. You guys rock! Also, if any of you also read 'Beyond Propehcy', a new chapter of that should be available in the next couple of days. Anyway, hope you enjoy this next chapter.
Author's Notes: Sorry this has taken so long, guys. My life is completely crazy right now. But thank you for all the reviews and support I've got over this story so far. You guys rock! Also, if any of you also read 'Beyond Propehcy', a new chapter of that should be available in the next couple of days. Anyway, hope you enjoy this next chapter.
Chapter Nine - The Damage Done
You can mend the wires
You can feed the soul apart
It can happen
Shadow stood uncertainly in the middle of the clearing with an unconscious blue hedgehog slumped in his arms, his forehead was dipped against Shadow's shoulder and he could feel Sonic's heartbeat against his chest. He frowned in concern, despite his unconscious state, Sonic's pulse still felt too rapid and erratic for his tastes. The best bet was probably to take him back to the village, though he would have to steel himself for the accusations that would be thrown his way - the suspicious Freedom Fighters were bound to accuse him of being responsible for Sonic's current state.
After a moment's thought, he gently lowered Sonic to the ground, taking a moment to check the cobalt hedgehog for severe injuries such as broken bones or sprained joints that would make it better to refrain from moving him.
Luckily, it seemed Sonic had managed to escape from whatever he'd been involved in with mostly minor injuries, save for the angry burn on his arm. Narrowing his eyes, Shadow held a hand over Sonic's breastbone, feeling for Sonic's chaos presence. It was there, but erratic and weak, as though he had drained himself to the utter limit. How could Sonic have managed that?
With a sigh, Shadow knelt to scoop Sonic up and carry him back to Knothole, but before he could, he felt a sudden surge of Chaos energy coming from right behind him. Spinning around, his eyes widened as he saw the pool light up with a golden radiance that almost blinded him with its vivid brightness.
Squinting to peer through the glare, Shadow saw a small, round object rise up from the rippling surface of the pool and hang in the air. The light faded slightly, and Shadow realised the object was a gold ring. It hung there, still shining slightly, as if waiting for something. Approaching cautiously, Shadow snagged it with a stick he found lying on the floor. He peered at it. In diameter it was about as wide as he could stretch his hand, perfectly round and polished to a mirror finish. It also had the feeling of chaos energy tightly contained within the metal, nowhere near as much as would be held in a Chaos Emerald, but certainly enough to make them very useful.
Carefully, he reached out with one gloved hand to grasp the shining object. He could feel the chaos power roiling just below the metallic surface, but for some reason the energy refused to yield to him. With a shrug, Shadow pulled the ring over his hand to hang on his wrist like a bangle, where it chimed gently as it rattled against his own gold wrist-cuffs. Then he turned his attention back to Sonic, pulling him carefully up into his arms.
With one last glance at the pool, Shadow headed back into the village, Sonic cradled in his arms.
An hour or so later, Shadow stood in a corner of the medical hut, affecting his best pose of nonchalance, arms folded, leaning casually against the wall, maintaining his attitude of indifference despite the chorus of accusation still ringing dully in his ears.
Thankfully, most of the Freedom Fighters had already sought their beds by this late hour. Only Sally, Bunnie and an unfamiliar coyote with a distinctive accent had still been awake.
The coyote was currently posted in the opposite corner of the hut, shooting hostile glares in Shadow's direction and toying with the hilt of the ornate sabre hung from his waist in an obvious and somewhat pathetic threat. Shadow pointedly ignored him.
Bunnie was busily fussing over Sonic, adjusting his pillow, checking on the bindings on his wounds and carefully smoothing his bent quills. Shadow noted curiously that she was careful to only use her organic hand when in contact with Sonic's fur, avoiding getting her metallic limb near him where she could.
Sally, meanwhile, was bent over the screen of one of the computers, apparently examining the readings she had taken from Sonic earlier. Eventually, she stirred and fixed Shadow with a penetrating glance.
"Tell me what happened again." She demanded flatly. Shadow sighed in frustration.
"I told you. He stumbled into the clearing, babbled something about us being more alike than he thought, then he passed out. I managed to catch him before his nose hit the floor. That's all."
"You don't know where he went, or who he was fighting?" She questioned pointedly.
"No." Shadow all but growled back, barely hiding his frustration and impatience. His eyes lingered on Sonic, who looked exhausted and pale beneath his fur. This was more than just physical, he was certain. Sonic had insane stamina and willpower to match. Added together and Shadow was willing to bet that whatever had caused this state was rooted in a trauma more mental and emotional than physical. It was the state of his chaos presence that convinced him, mainly. Sonic usually shone like a blue star to Shadow's chaos sense, and chaos was power fuelled by emotion - power enriched by the heart as the Ancient Echidnas had put it.
Sally shook her head, her stare still confused, unhappy and suspicious. "I've seen Sonic worn out before, but never like this. The computers can't find anything wrong with him, apart from exhaustion, but I can't get him to stir!"
Bunnie wandered over and put her flesh-and-blood hand on Sally's shoulder in comfort, "Maybe the Sugarhog just needs to sleep it off, Sally-girl. You shouldn't start borrowing trouble just yet."
The coyote snorted, "If zat fyoolish hedgehog iz getting himzelf in trouble once more, we are not to being responsible," The coyote fixed that hostile stare on Shadow once more, "But if he has been, how you say, busheled, zen we must be taking action." He drew himself straight, as if waiting for an imminent order to organise a firing squad to shoot Shadow at dawn. Shadow rolled his eyes.
Sally groaned, "First, it's ambushed, Antoine. Second, Sonic's injuries are from metallic debris and SWATBot fire, not from an attack by another Mobian." Her eyes swept across Sonic's unconscious form again, "But his injuries aren't extensive enough to cause that state he's in, so something else must have happened,"
"Like what, Sally-girl?" Bunnie asked curiously.
Sally shook her head, "I don't know, Bunnie," She replied, frustrated.
Shadow walked up to Sonic's inert body and again held a hand over his chest, feeling for his Chaos Presence,
"What are you doing?" Antoine asked him sharply. Shadow ignored him and addressed Sally.
"I think I might have an idea," He said, slipping the strange gold ring off his arm.
"A power ring?" Sally questioned, "What good will that do?"
"If I'm right, you'll see," Shadow replied, filing away the name of the object for future reference and making a mental note to ask her for more information regarding these 'Power Rings'. Gently taking Sonic's limp hand, Shadow pressed the shining gold ring into Sonic's hand.
The effect was as immediate as it was electric. Burning gold light surrounded Sonic's body like a halo for a moment as he absorbed the chaos power contained in the ring. The ring itself shimmered for a moment before vanishing, it's power completely absorbed into Sonic's body.
When the light had faded, Sally glared at Shadow, demanding an explanation without needing to speak. Shadow gestured towards the machinery that had been recording Sonic's slightly erratic life signs. Sure enough, when Sally checked them, there were much stronger. Shadow leaned back with a slightly smug smile, feeling Sonic's chaos presence burning brighter, now.
"Whatwhat was zhat?" Antoine demanded.
Shadow shrugged, "He was drained of chaos energy. That 'power ring' was a source of chaos energy, so it stabilised his energy levels."
"Chaos energy, again?" Sally said with a raised eyebrow. She shook her head as she turned back to the others, "Even assuming he's right, this is beyond my experience. I think we're gonna need Sir Charles."
"One problem with that there, Sally-Girl - he's inside Robotropolis. How're we gonna get him outta there without the ole' Suger-hog and his speed?"
Three pairs of eyes - two speculative and one incredulous - focussed on Shadow.
"You cannot be being serious, my Princess!" Antoine exploded, "We cannot be trusting him!"
"Bunnie's right, Antoine," Sally replied calmly, "We've always needed Sonic's speed to get Chuck out of Robotropolis without blowing his cover, I doubt it's going to be any different now."
Bunnie held her tongue, but the look she shot at Shadow was made of equal parts hope and challenge.
"Fine," Shadow sighed, "But I'll need to study some maps of the area."
Sally nodded, then stepped up to Shadow until she stood almost nose-to-nose with him, "If this were one of our usual hit-and-fade raids, that would be one thing, but the lives of two of my people might be on the line here. So allow me to make one thing perfectly clear; If you turn on us, in any way at all, I will kill you myself." Her blue eyes were fierce, flashing with protective fury, and Shadow absolutely believed every work she said.
At that moment, Sonic began to stir, moving sluggishly like something half-waking from a deep sleep, his eyelids flickered an he linked, eyes vaguely scanning the room until they locked on Shadow stood beside his bed. Sonic smiled slightly, the hand that Shadow had pressed the Power Ring into now idly curled around Shadow's wrist. Sonic blinked drowsily again, before he slipped back into a deep slumber.
Shadow looked down at the hand lazily wrapped around his arm, feeling a surge of some unfamiliar emotion suddenly wash over him in a powerful wave. He inhaled slowly, trying to keep a grip on his emotions.
He looked up at Sally, who was now staring at Sonic with a look of confusion and surprise.
"Then allow me to make another thing clear - I am not doing this for you, or for your Freedom Fighters. I am doing this for him," He gestured at the unconscious blue hedgehog on the cot.
With a gentle tug, he pulled Sonic's hand from his wrist and marched out of the hut before any of his conflicted emotions could be displayed on his face.
He stopped on the edge of the village and stared up at the stars, trying to gather his thoughts. Just before Sonic had lapsed back into unconsciousness, Shadow had again seen that emerald green flicker deep within Sonic's eyes.
And for some reason, that sight had filled him with a terrible sense of foreboding.
To Be Continued in Ch. 10 - True Reflections
Chapter 10: True Reflections
Chapter Ten - True Reflections
Chapter Ten - True Reflections
Fly by night
Created out of fantasy
Our destinations call
The air was cold and frosty, the early morning breeze carrying with it the icy bite of the arctic as it swept down across the vast, empty expanse of the Great Unknown to sweep across the Forest and the tiny village it sheltered.
It was almost dawn, the faint red-orange light spilled across the horizon the paint the village in shades of flame.
Shadow waited outside the hut he was currently sharing with Tails, casually doing a series of warm-ups and stretches as he waited for Sally and Bunnie to join him, looking far calmer and patient that he really felt. He had spent the scant couple of hours of rest he had been allowed before the mission tossing and turning. When he had managed to drift into a shallow sleep, his dreams were haunted by images of his past.
He had, at one point, dreamed of the ARK and the fight against the Biolizard. The memory playing out with crystal clarity; only this time, it had been Sonic who had begun to fall into the deadly embrace of the atmosphere. There had been no Chaos Control to save Sonic, and Shadow had been unable to reach him, only able to watch despairingly, one hand outstretched as the Hero of Mobius began to burn up, his eyes full of both satisfaction and regret, a faint smile on his face as the halo of fire surrounded him in its violent, deadly hold.
Shadow had awoken shaking and sweating from the sickeningly realistic images his subconscious had presented, only just able to stifle the shout of denial that would have woken his current roommate.
He had given up on sleep at that point.
"Well ain't you up with the birds there, sugar?" The mellow, accented voice of Bunnie, the partially robotic rabbit greeted him as he rose from a long leg-stretch.
Shadow shrugged, "I don't need much sleep." He replied. It was true enough. His body required little rest and could go for days without needing food, since he was perfectly capable of living off the ambient Chaos Energy in the air.
The rabbit shrugged, "Okay, sugar. Mornin' Sally-girl." She added as the third member of their impromptu raiding party arrived. She had a rough backpack on, her eyes fierce and determined.
"Morning, Bunnie," The princess greeted her friend, "Shadow," She said curtly, he nodded shortly in reply. Sally took a breath, "You both ready?"
"Yes." Shadow said.
"Sure am, Sally-girl." Bonnie replied.
"Then let's get to it. Shadow, it's your job to get us in to Robotropolis. Then we split up. Bunnie and I will cause as much of a distraction as we can while you find Sir Charles and get him out of the city. After you've got Chuck you can't let yourself be seen by any of Robotnik's surveillance - that's absolutely crucial."
"I understand." Shadow said shortly, back straight, arms folded across his chest in his most guarded pose.
"Bunnie and I will create as much of a distraction as we can while you go grab Chuck. You'll only have fifteen minutes at the maximum. When we're done, we'll bolt of the rendezvous point. We won't be able to wait for you, so try not to get lost of distracted."
Shadow tried to not to flatten his ears and narrow his eyes at this suggestion of incompetence. Trying to remind himself that these people had no idea of his true skills and abilities.
"Right, then lets go." The squirrel and the rabbit took a position either side of him. With a faint sigh, he held out his arms, feeling them both take a firm grip. They were apparently both familiar with travelling along with Sonic, so he wasn't worried about them losing their grip when he started to hit super-sonic speed.
The word, the name. They seemed to haunt him. He shivered, trying to banish the remaining images of Sonic falling into his fiery death from his mind. But when he succeeded, they were instantly replaced with an image of the Sonic from this world, lying still and pale on the bed, his chaos energy slowly draining away like blood from an open wound.
'No' he thought, 'I won't let that happen.' Shadow concentrated, letting the chaos power in his body pool into his feet, feeling his hover shoes ignite and begin to drive him forward. He heard Sally gasp as he shot forward, skating smoothly across the landscape, getting faster and faster, the green-brown shapes of trees blurring past. The added bulk of his two 'passengers' made it harder to manoeuvre, but he adjusted, pouring on more chaos energy to maintain the delicate balancing act.
The trees started to thin out, giving way to low shrubs and hardy grasses as they ran out into the open plain that surrounded the city of Robotropolis. As he crossed some unseen border, the landscape seemed to change; the plants became wilted and brittle - like grey and brown shadows of what they ought to be. The texture of the earth beneath his feet also altered, feeling cold and leaden as he skimmed across it. Then there was the smell - the reek of petrol, crude oil, coolant fluid, ozone and ammonia lay across the open plain like a miasma, becoming almost overpowering as they began to get close to the border of the city itself.
'Poison' Shadow thought, 'This city is pure poison.' He skidded to a halt behind a low outcropping of rock next to the high metal walls surrounding the city. He released his two passengers and looked around at the blighted landscape. It really did look like some giant parasite had come down and sucked all the life out of the entire area.
He peered over the rock to have a proper look at the city. The wall towered above them a good thirty feet high, covered in a dull, ugly metal that was dented and pitted with rust. He couldn't see properly into the city proper, but he could hear the heavy clank of robot footsteps and the grinding and hissing of heavy industry. Apart from those two sounds, the city was practically silent, which was probably the creepiest thing he had encountered so far.
Pushing back from the rock, he found that where his fingers had been resting on it his white gloves were stained with an oily brown substance. He grimaced in revulsion as he tried unsuccessfully to wipe it off.
Sally was crouched down, her little hand-held computer pointed towards the poisoned city of metal, apparently scanning while Bunnie stood to the opposite side, acting as lookout.
Silently, the princess gestured towards one small access port low in the wall.
Slipping over to crouch in the shadow of the wall, the waited for a tense moment while Bunnie took hold of the edge of the hatch with her robotic hand and levered it open with a 'clunk'. The rabbit made an 'after you' gesture and Shadow dropped to his hands and knees to follow Sally through the dark, slightly damp tunnel.
The reek was even worse here, cloyingly thick, almost choking him in its intensity. Neither Sally nor Bunnie seemed to notice the smell, apparently used to it. Shadow struggled not to gag as he crawled along behind Sally, determined not to show any weakness. The tunnel opened up into a wide area with two tunnels branching horizontally and one vertically. The bottom of the shaft was lined with a couple of inches of stagnant water. Shadow concluded that this was a cistern of some sort, perhaps once connected to the municipal water supply back when this had been a real city and not some ghoulish factory disguised as a city.
Against, Sally silently gestured, this time pointing at the rusty metal rungs embedded in the side of the shaft leading up. Shadow nodded and jumped up, climbing smoothly and gingerly pushing up the cover at the top of the shaft, careful to make as little noise as possible. They emerged into an alleyway just off what appeared to be a fairly major thoroughfare. Heavy robots equipped with tank-treads supporting industrial equipment ponderously rolled past accompanied by smaller, cylindrical units that hovered like monstrous metallic bumblebees and large, bulbous robots that resembled headless, crouching frogs rumbled by on a hiss of gravity repulsors.
"This is where we split up," Sally said in a low voice, "You remember where you're going?" Shadow nodded, "Then good luck." Sally said. Then she and Bunnie dived around the corner and vanished into the twisting maze of the city.
Recalling the map, Shadow ghosted to the back of the alley and vaulted easily over the wall, landing in a side-street. Crimson eyes narrowed as he checked for cameras and other surveillance but found nothing. Carefully gathering his energy once again, he set off, skating down the uneven metal-paved streets towards his goal.
The Robotnik of this world had to be truly twisted to have done all this. The Doctor of his world had certainly had an obsession with technology, covering every inch of any area he occupied in smooth metal, constantly tinkering with his machines, ill at ease unless he was pushing buttons or staring at a computer screen. But all of his bases had been clean, bright, gleaming and the technology he invented smooth and shiny. The industrial smell had been there, of course, but never so overwhelming, so virulent and sickening.
This city had been a living place, once, a place where ordinary Mobians had lived and worked and played and that meant that the changes to the city had not just happened, but were deliberately invoked by its demented new ruler. The tyrant of metal and oil determined to mould it into a cold reflection of his own psyche.
Shadow shivered, despite the warmth of the city around him.
From the other side of the city, Shadow heard the sound of a detonation, followed by another. He smirked as the sound rumbled through the ground. Alarms were blaring and he could faintly hear the muffled buzz of laser fire.
Confident that Sally and he associate could look after themselves, Shadow rounded one last corner and found himself in what looked like a junkyard. Piles of scrap metal and discarded electronics components lay discretely rusting in the out-of-the-way lot far from the main part of the city.
Creeping cautiously through the junk-piles, he reached one specific place and tapped a rhythmic sequence on an old pipe.
After a moment, Shadow watched curiously as a hidden panel under one of the junk-piles hummed open.
Slipping inside, he winced as he stepped into sudden fluorescent brightness that reflected off a small metallic form that stood stiffly in the middle of the cramped little hidey-hole.
Shadow tensed when he saw the robot stood before him, but relaxed a fraction of an instant later when he realised the robot wasn't preparing to attack and this particular robot wore the form of a hedgehog.
"You must be Sir Charles Hedgehog," Shadow said as politely as he could manage, "Princess Sally sent me to find you."
Red pinpricks of light regarded him, for a moment, looking strangely alive for prismatic LEDs. Shadow could almost read the curiosity in them.
"Project Shadow. I never thought I'd actually meet you." The robotic hedgehog said, it's voice oddly rusty-sounding in a strange combination of age and the usual robotic buzz.
"What exactly is that supposed to mean?" Shadow challenged, eyes narrowing.
"Sonic told me that you say you're from another dimension." Chuck cotinued. The tone was almost conversation, except for the slight edge in his vaguely metallic voice.
"That's right." Shadow replied cautiously.
Chuck grunted, "Well, in this one, you died aboard the ARK fifty years ago. Everyone did, except Gerald Robotnik. Even his poor niece."
Shadow gritted his teeth, trying to clamp down on the sudden surge of rage and pain that washed through him, "She was his Granddaughter, not his niece." He growled.
The red lights of Chuck's eyes flared brighter, "Then the rumours were true - he developed you as a cure..."
"How and why I was created is none of your business." Shadow snarled defensively. He had only just begun to get a grip on his feelings about that incident fifty years ago. Why was this hedgehog persisting in stirring up sensitive memories?
The robot hedgehog leaned back and folded his arms thoughtfully, "You're here about Sonic, aren't you?"
Thrown by this sudden alteration in the direction of the conversation, Shadow paused, "Yes..." he replied flatly.
Chuck nodded, "In that case, I'm afraid it is my business. I might need that information to help him."
Shadow's eyes narrowed again, "You aren't making any sense. What has my history got to do with Sonic's current condition?"
Chucked sighed heavily and looked away. When he spoke again, his metallic-edged voice was filled with regret, "Well, you see... Sonic's almost as much of an experiment as you are."
Chuck looked at him again, his expression almost unreadable through the metal mask that was his face, "It would take awhile to explain and I'd like to check on Sonic as soon as possible, so mind if I explain on the way? It's quite a distance to Knothole."
Once again, Shadow gritted his teeth in irritation, "Fine. But your explanation better be pretty good." Shadow looked around the tiny listening post, "Is this room energy shielded?"
Chuck looked as baffled as a robot can look, "Yes. Why?"
Shadow nodded, "Good." He took Chuck's arm, gathered his power and spoke:
To Be Continued in Chapter 11 - Duality
Chapter 11: Duality
Chapter Eleven - Duality
Chapter Eleven - Duality
You can fool yourself
You can cheat until you're blind
You can cut your heart
It can happen
With a flare of golden light, Shadow and Sir Charles appeared on the outskirts of Robotropolis, quite close to the old cistern that Shadow, Sally and Bunnie had used to gain entrance to the city.
When the light faded, Shadow staggered, catching himself against one metal wall and breathing hard. His muscles felt suddenly sore, burning with fatigue. There was a void inside him that felt strangely like hunger where his chaos power ought to be. 'I shouldn't have attempted that without an emerald,' he thought, 'It was too far a distance. Line-of-sight jumps only from now on.'
"Are you all right?" Charles asked, to his credit, there was genuine concern in his rusty-sounding voice.
"Yes," Shadow replied, breathing deeply, "I just pushed myself a little too hard. I will be fine."
Scarlet LEDs met garnet-red eyes for a moment, and though Shadow still had difficulty judging the expressions of a robot, he thought he saw a strange speculative expression in those prismatic eyes.
"I never thought I'd actually see that power in person." Charles confessed in an oddly subdued tone.
Shadow gave him a sharp look, and realisation dawned in his mind, "You mean you hoped you wouldn't." He said, eyes narrowing slightly, "Sonic-"
"Not here!" Chuck hissed urgently, cutting him off, "In this city, the walls have ears. I promise that I'll explain when we get to Knothole, but we need to leave, now."
Shadow flattened his ears, "Fine." Leaning over, he pulled open the heavy cistern cover and gestured, "After you." He said mockingly and they both descended the ladder into the darkness of the tunnels.
When they got outside the city, the temperature seemed to plummet without the heat from the factories and forges, but at least the air was breathable again.
"Are you ready?" Shadow asked after he had taken a couple of lungfuls of marginally cleaner air.
Charles nodded, so Shadow took a grip on the metal hedgehog and set off.
"Never thought I'd see anyone as fast as Sonic." Charles muttered in his ear.
"You still haven't," Shadow smirked, "I'm faster."
Charles laughed, "Don't let Sonic hear you say that!"
"He already knows," Shadow smiled, "We'll settle the matter eventually." He was rather looking forward to it, actually. No one had ever challenged him on level terms the way Sonic had.
The grey turned gradually into green as they entered the forest, the cool earthy scents of the forest washing away the stink of the blighted city. Shadow had never considered himself much of a nature-lover, lived most of his life on a space station, but here the forest was infinitely preferable to the alternative.
The two of them entered Knothole, sliding down the secret entranceway to land in an undignified heap in a pile of straw at the bottom.
Shadow got to his feet, stifling an annoyed growl as he saw Sir Charles merrily chuckling as he picked straw out of his metal quills. Since it was well past dawn by now, most of Knothole was up and about, and with the refugees from Westfold, there were plenty of people gathered to give Shadow the same stares he had been receiving since he arrived here. The looks ranged from mistrustful to speculative to awed - the latter mostly coming from the Westfold children he had rescued. Still he found he disliked the attention and wished Sonic were there to take the unwanted spotlight away from him - Sonic handled it much better than he did.
"Sonic's in the Infirmary." Shadow said shortly. Charles nodded and headed off that way. Shadow followed a moment later, hoping to escape all those stares.
Charles entered the hut, Shadow slipped in behind him and took up a position in a darkened corner where he hoped to escape notice for a while.
Tails was sat on a rough wooden chair at Sonic's bedside, reading to the unconscious hedgehog from a paperback book with a faded picture of a medieval knight on the cover. The book was old and worn, showing signs of age in its cracked spine and dog-eared pages.
"Hello, Tails," Charles greeted the kit as he stepped into the room, "Whatcha got there?"
"Oh, hey Uncle Chuck," Tails smiled, looking up. "Oh this? It's just a copy of 'The Knight of the Wind' that Sonic gave to me – he used it to teach me how to read."
Shadow had to raise an eyebrow at that – the idea of Sonic having enough patience to teach the young kit how to read was a big surprise, but then, Sonic did have a fierce devotion to Tails.
Charles smiled, "I'm glad he found a good home for it. I used it to teach him how to read, too."
Tails' smile was like the sun coming up as he recognised that he was following in the footsteps of his big brother and hero.
As Charles wandered over to the bank of instruments to check on his nephews' condition, Sally also walked in.
"Hello Uncle Chuck," She smiled warmly at the metal hedgehog. Her eyes flickered over the rest of the room and unerringly settled on Shadow, "You got him back. Well done." There seemed to be a fraction less hostility towards him in her voice and manner, now. Shadow didn't react externally, but carefully suppressed any trace of a smile. It seemed he had passed some sort of test.
"So," Sally asked, turning her full attention back to Charles, "How is he?"
"Right now, I'm not too sure, Sally." He said as he took some tools and made a few adjustments to the instruments before repeating the tests, "I'll know in a minute, though." He peered at the readouts for a moment, then sighed, "I was afraid of that."
"Of what?" Sally asked, worry tightening her voice.
"His reserve of chaos energy is badly depleted."
"Chaos energy?" Sally said sharply, casting an indecipherable glance in Shadow's direction.
"He's learned how to use Chaos Control, hasn't he?" Shadow asked softly.
Charles sighed and hung his head, "Yes…"
"What's Chaos Control?" Sally asked, baffled.
"An ability to manipulate the fabric of space-time. It can enable instant teleportation or slow down time, depending on how it's used." Shadow explained calmly.
Sally stared at them both, her eyes wide. Then her eyes narrowed in thought, "That could be an extremely effective weapon against Robotnik, if used properly." She said clinically.
Charles shook his head, "It's too dangerous. Chaos energy is wild – unpredictable."
"I can use it." Shadow shrugged.
Charles gave him a pointed look, "You were literally designed for it by the only man to have ever successfully researched Chaos Power. Sonic's ability to wield it is almost accidental. He's drawing on raw power with no limits – it could easily drain him to death if he pushed too far."
"Almost accidental?" Sally interrupted again, her crystal blue eyes fixed on Sir Charles' face, "How almost is it? I didn't think you knew where Sonic got his abilities from, but now it seems you've been keeping secrets."
Charles sighed, a strange metal-edged sound like two gears grinding against one another, "Sonic was only six years old when the coup happened, Sally," He said in an oddly pleading tone, "I would have explained when he was older, but I never got the chance."
"And after you were freed from Robotnik's control?" Sally asked sternly. Shadow watched with interest, feeling a little like a spectator at a tennis match.
Charles looked down at the floor, "I had hoped it would never become an issue. I couldn't bear to face Sonic and tell him that I had lied to him all that time."
Sally stared at him, her eyes unreadable, her posture rigid, "What is he, Charles?" She asked, her voice almost a whisper.
"He was… created, Sally," Chuck replied just as quietly, "His DNA enhanced. I don't know how much he can really do. I don't think anyone alive does."
Sally's eyes went over to Shadow again, "But you know, don't you?"
Shadow emerged from his dark corner to stand beside Sally at Sonic's bedside, "Some, yes." He admitted, "He has some of the same abilities I was created with."
"Then you can teach him." It definitely wasn't a request. Shadow frowned, his eyes shifting down to look over Sonic's still form. It seemed wrong somehow, to see him so still and silent. Sonic was all about motion and energy, no wonder he burned so brightly to Shadow's Chaos Sense. Shadow found that his hand had drifted, almost of its own volition, to gently touch the cobalt fur that surrounded his quills.
"Yes," The word came out before he could stop it, "I'll help him however I can." His voice sounded odd even to his own ears, strangely soft and tender.
"Thank you." Sally said, her eyes gentle. Her gaze shifted back to glance at Charles, then back to Sonic, "Is Chaos Energy really all that dangerous?"
Shadow thought back to his first near-disastrous experiment with Chaos Control and repressed a shudder. Then there were the even more dangerous abilities like Chaos Blast and Chaos Spear, "It can be." He replied a little stiffly.
"Then how do you cope with it?"
Shadow looked down at his hands to look at the shining gold rings clamped around his wrists and realised that his fingers were now tenderly stroking Sonic's fur and quickly pulled his hand away as though he had been burned. Sally caught the movement and gave him an odd look, but refrained from comment.
"My creator gave me these restraining cuffs," He replied, tapping the rings, "They control the flow of Chaos Energy in my body to ensure I never use too much of it at once."
"Can I examine those at some point?" Charles asked in a subdued voice, "Sonic might need something similar."
"Perhaps." Shadow said cautiously.
Then Tails re-entered carrying a backpack containing several jangling gold rings, "I could only find four, Uncle Chuck," Tails apologised, "Will that be enough?"
"We'll see, Tails. It should be." Charles replied, holding out his hands for the bag. He pulled out the rings and pressed them, one by one, into Sonic's hand.
Bright golden light bathed the interior of the Infirmary for a few moments and as it faded, Shadow saw Sonic's eyelids flicker open, and Shadow's own eyes widened as he saw a brief emerald radiance flare in Sonic's eyes for a moment that was too brief for Sally or Charles to see.
"Hey Stripes," Sonic said with a watery smile.
"Hey." Shadow replied, managing to just barely catch himself before he smiled back at the azure hedgehog.
Sonic's gaze travelled over to where his Uncle was standing, "Hey Unc, how long was I out?"
"About eight hours." Charles replied quietly.
Sonic's eyes went wide, "Man, that's a long time." Quick as a flash, he sat up and swung his legs over so he could stand up. Sally and Charles looked like they were going to restrain him, but by the time they moved, Sonic was already on his feet, doing a series of basic stretches. Sonic grinned at him and this time, Shadow simply couldn't resist returning that bright smile.
"Are you okay now, Sonic?" Tails asked, wide blue eyes peering up at him.
"Sure am, little bro," Sonic grinned at the kit.
"Cool, we were all worried about you!" Tails said seriously.
Sonic pulled the fox into a brief hug, "Then why don't you go tell the guy that I'm all better, now, huh?"
"Okay Sonic!" Tails acknowledged, dashing out back into Knothole. Sonic's gaze swept the room again.
"Hey, Shadow?" Sonic asked after a moment.
"How come you look so… weird?"
Shadow blinked, "Weird?"
"Kind of… brighter."
Shadow almost laughed, "That would be how I seem to your Chaos Sense?"
"We need to talk, Sonny-boy." Charles interrupted seriously. The sparklingly bright expression on Sonic's face faded and he nodded after a moment.
"Okay, Uncle Chuck." He murmured.
"If you could excuse us, Sally, Shadow?" Charles asked politely.
"Of course, Sir Charles," Sally replied formally, nodding politely before heading out the door.
Shadow exchanged one last look with Sonic before he followed her out the door.
In the middle of the gloomy capital known as Robotropolis sat the brooding tower that contained the main centre of operations for the machine city.
It was here in this vaguely ovoid structure that Robotnik himself kept his control centre and personal residence. Like the other buildings in the city, it was made of dark, pitted metal. It was also entirely windowless. Even though daylight rarely managed to penetrate the thick cloud of smog surrounding the dead city, Robotnik preferred to avoid any trace of natural light, preferring the uniform glow of artificial lights inside his citadel.
Right now in the control centre at the very top of the egg-shaped building, Robotnik and his diminutive assistant, Snively, were reviewing the reports and footage of the earlier raid by the Knothole Freedom Fighters.
Across the entirety of one wall was spread six rows of flat-screen monitors, all replaying footage of the incursion, all displaying different views of the incident from the multitude of cameras spread about the city.
Robotnik watched with not a small amount of irritation as the incident played itself out for the third time. There was nothing unusual in the footage he had seen so far, it was all fairly standard hit-and-fade Freedom Fighter tactics, but something felt… off. There had been nothing or critical importance in the area they had hit, and nothing had been taken that they could discern. Also, most damingly, while there had been plenty of footage of the Princess and her half-roboticised rabbit friend, there had been no trace of that accursed rodent.
Which led to only one conclusion.
"A diversion." Robotnik murmured to himself.
"Sir?" Snively asked, his nasal voice making even that single word sound like the whine of a hungry mosquito.
"Switch the camera view to sectors 6 through 12, same time frame."
"Yes sir." Snively responded, glancing at Robotnik curiously.
The footage played across the screens, replaying the same area of time, but showing the opposite half of the city.
"There!" Robotnik said triumphantly, hitting a control on the arm of his control chair and freezing an image on one of the screens.
"Snively, what is that?" Robotnik asked in his coldest, quietest voice.
Snively squinted at the screen, seeing nothing but irregular shadows. "Um…"
Robotnik tapped some more controls, tracing the area he was interested in, sharpening the edges and de-saturating the background of the image so it came into better focus.
Snively blinked, "Um… the hedgehog, sir?" He ventured, ever wary of his uncle's violent temper.
Robotnik's eyes narrowed, "Not unless that blasted rodent has developed an inordinate fondness for black hair dye." He growled.
"Er… the sewers are very dirty, sir." He said, quavering.
"Then what is this?" He said, highlighting a small streak of vivid red.
"Not… the hedgehog, sir?" Snively suggested tentatively.
"No." The Machine Lord sat back on his chair, contemplating that image while Snively stood quaking, fearing the explosion that he was certain was to come, "Transfer the image to my personal workstation." Robotnik ordered, rising from his chair.
"Yes sir!" Snively said, performing the task quickly, then sagging with relief as the rotund dictator left the control centre.
Entering his personal suite, Robotnik sat down in front of his elaborate workstation, calling up the image of that black hedgehog-shaped intruder, he recovered and sharpened the image as best he could, then ordered the system to do an archive search for any being matching the given parameters to within a 60% error margin.
This system was networked into every computer system in the entire country, and also contained information that he had personally purloined out of databanks all over Mobius. In short, it was the largest repository of data on the entire planet – and it was all his.
The screen flickered as it did its work, the cold, sadistic smile Robotnik was sporting reflecting in the polished surface of the monitor. Then, the flickering stop.
The screen display read. Eyes widening, he typed 'Display Data'. The screen flickered again and in large letters the words 'PROJECT: SHADOW' were displayed along with 'Restricted Access Level Alpha Two. Password Required'.
Glancing briefly as the meta data of the document, he realised with not a small amount of surprise that the document had been created by his Grandfather, Gerald Robotnik. To his even greater surprise it also contained some supplemental data inputted by his old fool of a father – Wilfred.
Well, that solved the problem of what password he needed as his meaty fingers typed in the name 'Maria'.
The screen filled with technical and biological data that he skimmed over with mild interest until he came to a picture. It was a fairly poor-quality photo, apparently taken with a old-fashioned still film camera or a lab area containing a biological containment tube – and inside the tube was a being that bore more than a passing resemblance to the accursed blue hedgehog. Apparently this was the titular 'Project Shadow'. From somewhere deep in his mind, a memory stirred and his metal fist clenched convulsively around the arm of his metal chair, crushing it like a tin can. No, a weapon like that could not be allowed to exist outside of his control. That was unacceptable.
He quickly saved the relevant data to a secure area for later perusal before moving on, he glanced over the section marked 'Related Projects'. Then something caught his eye.
"Eclipse canon?" He muttered, feeling a strange swell of pleasure within the black depths of his metallic heart. He opened the document and almost fainted in pure bliss.
"Ooooooh, shiny." He purred obscenely.
Up in the control room, Snively heard his uncle's hideous laughter and shivered.
To Be Continued in Chapter 12 – After Images
Chapter 12: After Images
Chapter Twelve – After Images
Chapter Twelve – After Images
Author's Notes: Thanks again to Greyfore for help with dialogue in this chapter. Thanks also to Taranea for suggesting A Certain Scene. Hope you enjoy it!
A constant fight,
You're pushing the needle to the red
Black or white,
Who knows who's right
No substitute, you're born you're dead.
Staccato sounds plucked from an electric guitar drifted through the air. Sonic perched on a rickety old wooden bridge that ran over the Acorn river. Guitar in hand, he absently strummed a random melody, letting his fingers move of their own accord as his mind drifted over recent events.
Sonic was not customarily given to introspection. He preferred action to any kind of deep thought, as he generally took a dim view of 'navel-gazing' when there was work to be done. And in Knothole, there was always work to be done.
Unfortunately, right now he was under strict orders from both his Uncle and Sally to stay in Knothole and avoid doing anything too strenuous until Shadow had a chance to teach him how to properly control his new abilities.
He ignored the brief little surge of excitement at the thought of spending time with the darker hedgehog. Ever since he had woken up from his extended 'nap', there had been something in Shadow's eyes; something like sympathy and understanding. Sonic couldn't imagine what had caused that look in Shadow's eyes, but it was better than the pity or disgust he had half expected to see in all his friends' eyes.
Pulling his mind away from that train of thought, he turned his attention back to his guitar. His fingers danced across the strings as he focussed on pouring his troubled emotions into the music, raising a wailing cacophony from the instrument that accurately reflected his mood.
His feet itched to run. He could feel the need for speed burning through his veins, aching to tear across the landscape at sound-shattering speed. It felt almost like pins and needles, like an annoying itch right between your shoulder blades that just couldn't be ignored no matter how hard you tried. But he had promised Uncle Chuck he would stay put.
Idly, he wondered if Shadow felt that same need, the black hedgehog's feet were almost as fast as his own, so maybe he understood Sonic's desperate need to just run…
What was it with Shadow, anyway? Lately it seemed like half his thoughts seemed to end up meandering back to the topic of the mysterious black hedgehog who had so suddenly crash-landed into his life. On the other hand, Shadow's history did seem to be rather tightly tied to his own – even if it was a slightly different version of Shadow to the one he currently knew.
The music he had been playing faltered as his fingers lost the rhythm. He frowned down at them – no focus. If he lost focus out in the world beyond Knothole he would be dead – or worse. It was the only thing that kept him alive sometimes, and his kind of focus required that he knew himself absolutely, all his capabilities totally under his own control. Right now, they weren't, and that made him a liability. The last thing he wanted was for one of his friends getting hurt because he couldn't control his powers.
Damn. He hoped Shadow was done talking to Sally and Chuck soon. He was chafing at this delay, wanting to get on with it, to understand himself again… and to have someone else around who also understood.
There was someone behind him. He knew even before he turned around who it was.
"Hey, Shadow," He smiled as he glanced over his shoulder.
Shadow was stood there on the river bank, his black fur looking oddly incongruous in the bright spring sunshine.
"Sonic." He greeted the other hedgehog with a faint nod of the head.
"You survive the inquisition, then?" Sonic asked, managing to dredge up a smile.
Shadow rolled his eyes, "Princess Sally is finally convinced that I am who I claim to be."
"Hunh, so that 'other dimension' stuff really is true?"
"Yes." Shadow replied simply, "Your Uncle confirmed it with his readings."
There was more to it than that, Sonic was sure. Just taking some readings wouldn't have taken over three hours, but Sonic couldn't think of a non-obvious way of asking. His eyes locked with Shadow's for a moment, until Sonic saw something there – something achingly familiar to any resident of Knothole. It was the look of suppressed grief and loss.
Sonic looked away.
"So… uh…" Sonic began awkwardly.
"Would you like your first lesson, now?" Shadow asked abruptly.
"Sure!" Sonic agreed, glad to have something else to focus on. . He set his guitar down carefully and turned his gaze back to Shadow, who was stood with his arms folded, an indecipherable look on his face. "So, where do we start?"
Shadow blinked, almost coming out of a trance as his eyes re-focussed on Sonic, his mouth curling up into a hint of a smile. Sonic jumped down off the bridge to stand next to him.
"First, I'll need to teach you how to use your Chaos Sense."
"Chaos sense?" Sonic asked, puzzled.
"Yes." Shadow nodded, "Every living thing has chaos energy flowing through it to a greater or lesser extent. If you train your Chaos Sense, you can feel that energy and so be able to track people and objects that are particularly imbued with that power. It can also be useful for navigation – which is vitally important when we move on to using Chaos Control."
"Uh, ok. So what do I need to do?"
"Close your eyes."
With a shrug, Sonic did so.
"Now, wait five seconds, then use your chaos sense to find me."
Shadow ghosted silently ten feet over to the left and waited, standing stock still, keeping his breathing light so that wouldn't give him away.
Sonic stood for a moment, frowning as he tried to concentrate, to feel Shadow through this strange 'chaos sense'. He knew that since he woke up he had felt something different about Shadow, something strangely compelling that at times made him feel like a moth drawn towards a bright light.
Ah, now, light. That's what it felt like. He tried to imagine Shadow as a light and instantly could feel something that burned like a tightly-controlled red flame about ten feet over to his right.
Keeping his eyes closed, he extended one hand out in front of him and began walking towards the source of that warm light. As he got closer, he could feel the radiant warmth it produced seep through his gloves and into his hands. Like walking into a room with a cheery fire on a cold winter's day, he hadn't realised how cold he was until he encountered that heat.
His hand connected with something and he opened his eyes to see that he was touching Shadow's chest, his fingers buried in the white patch of fur. Part of him screamed at him to move his hand, but the larger part seemed unable to do so. He raised his gaze higher to lock with Shadow's garnet eyes.
The darker hedgehog lifted a hand to lay over Sonic's as he stood almost paralysed.
"Very good." Shadow said very softly. Sonic felt a peculiar shiver go down his spine as the strange undertone in that smooth voice.
Finally, Sonic found the power to move, gently slipping his hand out from under Shadow's and away from that patch of fur.
"Uh… so, what next?" He asked slightly nervously.
Shadow smiled, "Your first lesson in using Chaos Control."
Sonic shifted uneasily, "I thought Uncle Chuck said it was dangerous?"
"That's why you aren't going to go that far, and I'll be along to keep checking your levels of chaos energy."
"Okay. Sounds cool. How does it work?"
"You may not remember, but you have done it before." Shadow said, "You don't have a Chaos Emerald, so you have to be careful. You don't have another one of those 'Power Rings' around, do you?"
"No, sorry. They only show up every 24 hours. It's gonna be another five hours or so before I can grab another one."
"Hmm." Shadow murmured speculatively, looking Sonic up and down until Sonic felt almost like blushing. Shadow reached up to touch the gold cuffs at his wrist, with a peculiar twisting motion, one of them came loose in his hand. He walked over to Sonic and took Sonic's hand again, snapping the bracelet over Sonic's wrist. Immediately, Sonic felt a peculiar sensation race up his arm, like he had just stuck his hand in a bucket of ice water.
"That restriction cuff should keep you from using too much power while you practice."
"Great." Sonic said, rubbing a hand across the shiny metal, "But I don't think it suits me. And what do I do when you need it back?"
"Your Uncle conducted a lot of tests on those cuffs. I believe he's trying to make you some of your own."
Sonic grinned, just biting back a remark about gaudy jewellery. Not a good idea to taunt your teacher, no matter how tempting it was. Especially when that teacher was trying to prevent you getting yourself killed. Even though Shadow could stand to loosen up a bit.
Shadow eyed him for a moment. "Now, Chaos Control allows you to teleport…"
"Teleport? For real?" Sonic exclaimed. Shadow nodded, "Way past cool!" Sonic crowed, "Bet old Buttnik won't be expecting that!"
"BUT," Shadow continued with a faint growl, "You need to be able to track where you are going. So you will need to know the place you are going to well, or have a target to lock on to."
"That's where the whole 'chaos sense' thing comes in, right?"
"Right," Shadow acknowledged. "Chaos is power flowing through you, when you use Chaos Control, you gather it up into a cord, then focus on the place you want to go, throw the cord around your target and pull yourself towards it."
"Okay, got it. So what am I using as a target?"
"Me, again. I'll go over into those trees." He paused, looking over at the copse of tall trees which were still well within line-of-sight. "I'll give you a demonstration before you try."
Sonic watched as Shadow drew a deep breath, his arms and legs tensing as he gathered up his power. Sonic inhaled sharply as he felt the flame of Shadow's presence suddenly flare up like an inferno.
"Chaos control!" The black hedgehog cried. With a flare of golden light and a faint pop of displaced air, Shadow was suddenly elsewhere.
"Awesome." Sonic breathed. Shadow made a quick beckoning gesture. He closed his eyes, feeling for the sense of Shadow's presence, looping the 'cord' of the chaos energy in his body around that bright red flame, feeling a inexplicable shiver go through him as the two streams of chaos energy seemed to connect.
He could feel the energy building up within him, like flood waters pressing against a dam. He gathered up that power and cried out, '"Chaos control!"
The world flared with multicoloured light as he felt himself rushing through it. It lasted only an instant before he crashed into something that sent him tumbling to the floor. Sonic blinked, trying to regain his equilibrium as the dizzying rush of chaos energy faded.
Then he realised he was laying on top of Shadow.
Once again, some distant part of Sonic's psyche told him that he ought to get up right now. Perhaps scramble to his feet with an embarrassed grin. He decided not to listen to it.
Apparently it had been Shadow he had crashed into, sending them both tumbling to the earth. Shadow was flat on his back underneath Sonic with Sonic's hands braced on either side of Shadow's head, their chests touching, gazed locked onyx to garnet.
They stayed frozen in that position as the seconds ticked past, neither seeming to want to move. Sonic, for his part, felt like he had been paralysed by the look in those deep red eyes, scarcely daring to breathe. Slowly, Shadow smiled at him.
"Chaos power is fuelled by emotion, Sonic." Shadow said very quietly, gently breaking the spell. Sonic found himself able to breathe again and he slowly pulled himself up, feeling himself blushing like a ripe tomato as he did so.
"Um… oops?" Sonic said sheepishly as he got to his feet. Shadow simply favoured him with a wicked grin.
Sonic tried to regain some of his cool, nonchalant composure as he dusted himself off, "So, if it's powered by emotion, does that mean that the stronger the emotion the more powerful the effect?"
Shadow tilted his head, "Partially. Though it is still limited by the amount of chaos energy you can store and channel. Few people can use it like you and I."
Sonic nodded, "Cool, so what emotion do you use?"
A look flicked across Shadow's face, faster than anyone except Sonic would be able to perceive, the warm expression gone from his face, dark reflections of memories surfacing in his blood-red eyes.
"I thought so," Sonic said softly, "An' I'm sorry, man. I hoped I was wrong."
Shadow's eyes clouded, his expression hardening, disguising that flash of deep emotion, "What are you talking about?" He asked harshly.
"I've seen that look before. Everybody in Knothole had it after the coup." Sonic stepped over to Shadow's side and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Everybody lost so much, we were all angry, confused, scared. I didn't talk about it for so long, it hurt too much but, y'know, the more you talk about it, the easier it gets," He could feel the barely detectable tremble in Shadow's tightly clenched muscles, "Who did you lose, Shadow?"
"Maria." The name came out as almost a sob, "She was… killed trying to save me."
"Oh, man," Sonic breathed, his eyes holding complete sympathy at the horror Shadow had witnessed, "I'm so sorry."
Shadow clenched his eyes shut, feeling the pain of that incident fifty years ago just as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. To him, it might as well have been - the passage of years had meant nothing to him while had had been confined in that stasis pod on Prison Island.
"I was taken, tested. They put me through endless tests of my abilities, hoping to use me as a weapon." His voice was harsh, thick with emotion, "When they realised they could never truly control me, I was imprisoned in suspended animation and left to rot in a prison for fifty years."
Sonic's hand gently squeezed his shoulder, "How did you get out?" he asked softly.
Shadow suddenly laughed, but there was no humour in it. Sonic almost recoiled at the bitter, grating sound. Shadow opened his eyes again and turned his deep red gaze on Sonic.
"You might say I was 'rescued'." He said with heavy irony. Sonic frowned, but had no time to ask his next question as another voice interrupted their conversation.
"Sonic! Son-ic!" Tails' voice called from the trees.
With a last glance at Shadow, Sonic released the black hedgehog's shoulder and turned to answer to his adopted brother.
"Over here, lil' bro!" He called. The two-tailed fox came running out of the trees, his namesakes twirling behind him like a propeller.
"There you are, Sonic!" Tails exclaimed, as he skidded to a halt, "Aunt Sally and Uncle Chuck want to see you and Shadow right away."
"Why what did I do this time?" Sonic asked, affecting a goofy, semi-martyred expression for the entertainment of his brother.
Tails chuckled, "It's nothin' like that, Sonic," Tails re-assured him jokingly, "Aunt Sally thinks she knows a way to find those 'Chaos Emeralds' that Shadow's been wantin'."
Sonic reached over and ruffled Tails' head fur, "Way past cool, 'lil bro." He smiled, "Go and tell Sal and Uncle Chuck we'll be right there," He turned to Shadow, who now stood impassively, his face having resumed its usual neutral expression, no trace of the earlier deep emotion visible. "You comin', Stripes?" Sonic asked carefully.
"Lead the way." Shadow replied calmly. Sonic frowned slightly, then turned and followed Tails back towards Knothole.
Shadow paused for a moment, his fists clenching tightly before he forced them to relax.
Could he ever truly tell Sonic about the truth of his history? His previous alliance with Robotnik - regardless of dimension - was bound to mark him a traitor. Would Sonic ever trust him after that? For some reason, the idea of gaining and keeping Sonic's trust had become very important to him. The memory of that… incident just a few minutes ago seemed burned into his brain. It wasn't only that, though. Sonic's sympathy and soft understanding had completely disarmed him, and the words – the memories – had come pouring out of him before he could stop him. Rouge had told him once that he could be totally inscrutable at times, but in front of Sonic's easy, understanding stare, Shadow felt as transparent as glass.
He glanced down at his wrist, at the empty place where his wrist-cuff would usually sit. With a soul-deep sigh, Shadow powered up his skates and headed back to Knothole.
To be continued in Chapter Thirteen - All This and Nothing
Chapter 13: All This and Nothing
Chapter Thirteen - All This and Nothing
Chapter Thirteen - All This and Nothing
Even under his gloves, Shadow's hands felt inexplicably cold.
He raced along with Sonic as they ran back towards the centre of Knothole. He barely listened and Sonic commented that such meetings as this would usually be held in the 'War Room' but since that was still full of refugees from Westfold, they were going to Sally's personal hut instead. Shadow barely managed to murmur an acknowledgement of Sonic's words, still unable to focus.
The day was bright; the sun warm even under the filtered canopy of trees, but Shadow still felt like ice was seeping through his veins as the cold seemed to move from his hands through the rest of his body. Absently, Shadow rubbed at the empty place where one of his gold cuffs would usually sit, suppressing a shudder as he did so.
He looked up as Sonic knocked briefly on the door before stepping inside, motioning Shadow to follow. Shadow crossed the threshold, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside.
The first thing he noticed was the crude wooden table in the middle of the room, piled high with dusty old books and weather-beaten maps along with various battered-looking computer data solids - presumably of the type used in Sally's little palm-top computer.
"Oh, there you all are," Sally commented, looking up from her intense perusal of one of the maps, "did the lesson go well?"
"Yeah, Sal, it went great!" Sonic enthused. Shadow was sure Sonic would have elaborated, but Sally cut him off.
"Good. I'm glad you're making progress." She replied, turning back to her pile of documents, "Now, I've been doing some research on these 'Chaos Emeralds' and I think I've found a possible place to start our search."
Shadow couldn't help but notice that Sonic almost recoiled at the almost naked dismissal in Sally's voice, his blue spines drooping ever-so-slightly, though when he spoke again, his voice showed no sign of it as he spoke in his usual upbeat tone.
"Cool, Sal. Where are we headin' to?"
Strange. Sonic's façade was almost flawless, save for the tell-tale signs displayed in his quills… but perhaps that was a subtlety only obvious to other hedgehogs.
"There's an island mentioned in several texts," Sally continued in her business-like voice, "It's taken me several hours to translate them, but they all fairly consistently say that the Echidna empire kept one last stronghold inviolate to protect their 'Greatest Treasure' - from what I can make out, that treasure seems to either be a Chaos Emeralds or connected to them in some way."
Shadow sighed and leaned against the wall, letting her plod on towards the conclusion that he already knew - Angel Island. Home of the Master Emerald and the last Echidna, the Guardian Knuckles. It should have occurred to him before, really, as it would be a good place to search for information about the Emeralds of this dimension. But he had no proof that the island even existed in this world and no means of getting to it even if it did. The Master Emerald was shielded from his Chaos Sense, and since the island constantly changed position, that would make it near impossible to Chaos Control to its location. Even if he did mange to make it up there, he'd still have to deal with Knuckles.
"Do you have a way for us to get up there? It's called 'The Floating Island' for a reason." Shadow asked quietly.
Sally gave him a slightly suspicious glance, "Have you been there before?"
Shadow shook his head, "No, but I am aware of its existence."
The suspicion in her eyes remained, as if she knew he wasn't telling her everything, but when she spoke again, her tone was once again businesslike, "Rotor and Tails have been working on something that will be able to get us there."
Tails eagerly pricked his ears forward at the mention of his name, "Oh yeah!" Tails chirruped, "We've been workin' on rebuilding the Freedom Stormer!"
Sonic rolled his eyes, "Oh man, not that bucket of bolts!"
Tails shook his head, "Nuh uh! We rebuilt it from the ground up and it's awesome!" Tails seized his brother's hand and began insistently dragging him from the hut, "Come and see, Sonic!"
Shadow followed along primarily out of idle curiosity, that and the fact that he was certain he was about to be dragged along on this field trip, so he was somewhat curious as to what form their transport would take.
Tails dragged them out to a clearing out beyond the main village. A large blue tarp covered a large piece of equipment. Tails released Sonic's hand to take hold of one corner of the tarp.
"Me an' Rotor added a jet engine so it isn't a glider anymore. We strengthened the wings and rebuilt the controls and even repainted it!" Tails chattered happily.
Sonic tapped his foot, "C'mon, Tails! Show us the thing already!"
Tails grinned, the tips of his sharp canine teeth showing as he pulled back the tarpaulin with a flourish.
Beneath the tarp was an old-fashioned bi-plane with a modern jet engine attached to the bottom. It was painted a bright cherry red with white stripes across the wings and fuselage. A symbol like a gold ring surmounted with wings was adorned the tail-fin. Shadow frowned. If it wasn't for the paintwork, that plane would look awfully familiar.
Sonic was staring at the thing in astonishment. He blinked, then turned to Tails, who was peering up at his big brother with open hunger for approval in his eyes. Sonic grinned and gave him a thumbs-up, "It looks awesome, Big Guy! You are Rote did a really cool job at fixin' it up."
Tails beamed, "Thanks Sonic!" his namesakes swished, "but it really needs a new name, now, don't you think so, Aunt Sally?" He asked earnestly, his big blue eyes shifting over to her.
Sally laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled benevolently down at him, "You helped build it, honey and Roter tells me you did most of the work, so you should get to name it." Sonic nodded in agreement.
Tails' face scrunched up in thought as he regarded the plane, "But…how? I don't know what to choose…"
Sonic shrugged, "Think about what it can do, what it means, what it represents."
Tails frowned, his bushy tails stirring up dust as they lashed back and forth. Shadow regarded the fox and the hedgehog and thought on Sonic's words. He vaguely remembered a book he had read when he had been with Maria, it had been about traditional Mobian culture and it had said that Mobian names were meant to be representations of one's attributes - your name was meant to say something about you, to explain who you were and what you represented.
Sonic - the wind rushing by, the bright burst of noise. Freedom and speed and soaring through the air as people watched in awestruck amazement.
Shadow - Silence and darkness, cold and quiet. Forever slipping away into the night, never seen or noticed.
Shadow sighed. They were so different, even in their names. Light against dark - two totally different sides of the coin. Shadow shifted slightly, the thought suddenly bothering him now as it never had before… could he ever really live as a part of Sonic's world?
He forced himself out of his introspective trance and focussed again on Tails' words. The little kit was speaking slowly, almost tasting the words.
"Well…" He began, "It's manoeuvrable, it can fly in almost any weather and…"
"Aaaannd?" Sonic prompted.
"It's fast!" Tails blurted, "I mean really fast! I couldn't make it as fast as you, Sonic, but I sure wanted to. It's as fast as… as… as a tornado!" His eyes lit up, "That's it! We'll call it the Tornado!"
Sonic laughed, "Good name, little bro!"
Tails beamed again, "Thanks, Sonic!"
Sonic looked around, "So, we ready to get movin'?"
Sally shook her head, "We'll need to gather up some supplies - and Sir Charles said he wanted to see you, Sonic. Apparently he has something for you."
"Cool!" Sonic smiled, "Be back in a flash!" with a gust of wind, Sonic was gone, presumably to see his Uncle.
Silently, Shadow assisted Sally and Tails as they gathered some suitable supplies for the trip and packed them into the narrow confines of the plane. When they were done, Shadow glanced at Sally and asked, "Who is actually going on this trip?"
"Me, Sonic, Tails is piloting the plane-"
"The Tornado!" Tails interrupted insistently. Sally rolled her eyes.
"All right, all right - to pilot the Tornado." At Tails' grin, she smiled, "Tails, do you think you could go grab that pile of data solids from my hut?"
"Sure, Aunt Sally!" He chirped, jumping down from the cockpit and heading off.
"I also think you ought to come along." Sally continued as she resumed loading.
Shadow raised a quizzical eyebrow, "Me? Why?"
Sally looked away, "Sonic hasn't had much practice at those new powers of his and you're the only one who knows anything about controlling them. I want you to keep an eye on him."
Shadow considered that, "Hmm. So, you really do care about him."
Sally stiffened, "Of course! I care about all my friends."
Shadow tightened the strap on the bag he was loading, "You mean 'your people', right? You are a princess after all - their ruler."
Sally rounded on him, dropping the water bottle she had been loading, "Out here that means nothing! And it won't mean anything until we retake the planet from Robotnik! Just because I'm a princess doesn't mean I can't care about hi- them!"
Shadow caught her slip and smirked, "And yet you keep your status clearly in front of everyone. Consciously or not, you're using it as an excuse to keep people at a distance - especially Sonic."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously, "And you don't?"
"What are you talking about?" He demanded harshly.
"You keep up this façade of coldness, darkness. You act like you're so separate from everyone, so different. But when he's near you, you practically light up - is it because he's the same as you, despite being so different… or is it something else?"
Shadow struggled not to flinch, "You have no idea what you're talking about." He half snarled, looking away from her.
"Oh, I think I know exactly what I'm talking about, you just don't want to admit it."
Then Tails came flying back in, a small case containing all Sally's data solids held tightly in his hands and they both fell silent, agreeing without words that Tails shouldn't get involved in this argument. Shadow glared down at the supplies he was loading, his hands clenching and unclenching as he struggled to control his boiling emotions.
"Hey guys, we all set?" The sound of Sonic's relaxed, cheerful voice instantly made him look up, his arms draining of their tension. He ignored the sidelong glance Sally was giving him as he fixed his gaze on the new adornment on Sonic's left wrist – it was a cuff, much like his own gold restriction cuffs, only this one was far less polished, though the finish was uneven, Shadow could see that they weren't pure gold like his own, they were instead a peculiar silvery-gold colour and odd circuit-like designs had been etched into the metal.
"Hey, Stripes," Sonic smiled when he spotted the black hedgehog, "Uh, how do I get these things off?" He asked, holding up his right arm to display the gold cuff still clamped around his wrist. Shadow reached over and clicked off the cuff, but when Shadow brushed against Sonic's hand as he was removing the cuff, he felt a sudden surge of energy race down his fingers and up his arm, the jolt left him breathless and tingling, as though he had just grabbed hold of a live electrical cable.
Sonic jerked away, "What the… what was that?"
Shadow drew a calming breath, "I don't know." He murmured. With trembling hands, he replaced the gold cuff on his own wrist, feeling the strange shivering sensation decrease as he did so. Sonic snapped on his own new cuff and they exchanged a brief, troubled glance.
Sonic turned his attention back to the plane, "Uh, hate to break it to ya, lil bro, but there's only two seats in this thing – where are me and Stripes meant to sit?"
Tails gave him an impish smile and climbed up onto the wing, "I installed some straps to hold your feet so you can ride on the wings" he grinned, indicating the white straps fasted securely to the top of the wing.
Sonic stared, wide-eyed for a moment, then a slow smile spread across his face, "Way past cool!"
Shadow sighed in quiet despair.
Not too long after, they all found themselves sailing through the air far above the sea. The jet engines of the Tornado were humming as they soared towards the place where the fabled island was meant to be.
Sonic looked down to watch the waves below them, the sun sparkling merrily across the deep blue water, reflecting the white puffball clouds that dotted the soaring blue sky. Sonic smiled to himself as the sun warmed his quills – this was the nicest day he had experienced in quite some time, since Robotnik's pollution meant that beautiful sun-drenched days like this were a rarity, now.
Best of all, though, was that he got to share it with friends. Tails, Sally… even Stripes.
Sonic glanced over to ask Shadow what he thought of the experience of wing-walking at 8,000 feet, but the words suddenly died in his throat when he clapped eyes on the other hedgehog.
Shadow was in a half-crouch, only his right foot caught by the secure straps, his left knee almost touching the wing. One hand was gripping the leading edge of the wing while his other hand was held up, fingers spread to feel the sensation of wind rushing through his fingers. His head was tilted back, the sun gleaming on his black quills and fur as his garnet eyes stared at the sky, an expression of absolute calm on his usually grim face.
The plane banked slightly and Shadow was suddenly silhouetted by the bright orange glow of the afternoon sun as it highlighted the fiery red streaks on Shadow's arms and head quills. Sonic stared, feeling like he couldn't even breathe for the butterflies who had apparently taken up residence somewhere in his stomach.
"Wow." Sonic breathed.
"Yes, it is impressive." Shadow replied calmly, his gaze still fixed in front.
"Huh?" Sonic blinked. Confused, he turned his head and saw the looming shape of a huge island floating effortlessly in the sky. "Whoa!"
"See if you can find us a place to land, Tails." Sally instructed from the passenger seat.
"Will do, Aunt Sally!"
"Sonic, Shadow, keep a close eye out, we don't know what kind of traps or defences the Ancient Echidnas left behind."
"I do." Sonic heard Shadow mutter under his breath. Sonic gave him a curious glance, but there was no time for conversation as the plane swooped down for a landing.
The wheels of the place dug deeply into the soft, golden sands of the beach as they skidded to a slightly uneven stop. Sonic quickly unstrapped himself and jumped down. He looked around. The place was beautiful, the golden sands of the beach eventually gave way to a thick canopy of greenery, tall trees covered with thick vines shaded the profusion of exotic wildflowers which spilled their rich scents into the warm afternoon air.
Shaking himself out of the bemused admiration for the stunning beauty around him, Sonic turned back to his brother, "Hey, Tails, you sure you can get this thing back off the beach?"
Tails nodded confidently, "Sure can, Sonic!"
"Then you better do so, right now!" A deep, rough voice boomed from the tree line at the edge of the beach, "You aren't welcome here!"
Sonic span around, dropping into a defensive crouch as his eyes sought out the person who had called to them. He finally spotted a weird-looking creature perched on a branch. It had deep red fur, which seemed to be overgrown and matted atop its head to form weird spiky bangs that hung down to its shoulders. It had its hands raised in a belligerent posture, two oversized knuckles protruding from its huge fists.
"An' who're you, pal?" Sonic asked cheekily, dropping out of his defensive stance and affecting an almost bored pose.
Violet eyes burned with fury as the red creature glared at him, "I am Knuckles the Echidna, Guardian of Angel Island, and you are not welcome here! I will make you leave if I have to!"
Sonic smirked. He could feel the fire-bright flare of Shadow's presence behind him and he felt completely certain that between them – and with Tails' and Sally's back-up – they could do anything.
"Go ahead and try it, Knucklehead." Sonic taunted, dropping once again into a fighting stance, feeling Shadow do the same behind him.
Today was definitely an awesome day.
To be continued in Chapter 14 – High Hopes
Chapter 14: High Hopes
Chapter 14 – High Hopes
Chapter 14 – High Hopes
It was safe to say that Sonic wasn't often involved in combat against other organic Mobians. He had refined his battle skills against robots, big lumbering hunks of metal who moved deliberately, but powerfully. No expressions, no emotions, just computer chips humming away inside those big, dome-shaped heads of theirs.
Thankfully, he had spent a lot of time practicing hand-to-hand combat against Sally and Bunnie, assisting them in honing their skills, so he did at least know to look for those minute changes in expression and posture that warned of the forthcoming attack.
Even so, it was only his lightning reflexes that saved him from ending up with those spiked fists lodged somewhere in his abdomen. Sonic felt the rush of air whip through his quills as Knuckles shot past him, close enough that he felt those dangerous fists brush against his fur.
Smoothly sidestepping, he quickly revved up and set off after the echidna, Shadow close on his heels. They moved further into the jungle, Knuckles apparently knowing exactly where to go to push his way though the dense vegetation, where the two hedgehogs were forced to rely on spin-dashes in order to follow, meaning the echidna could build up a decent lead on them.
The jungle opened out into a small clearing ringed with impossibly tall trees. Knuckles stood in the middle of it, a smug look on his face, his feet planted firmly and his arms folded in a deceptively casual pose.
Sonic wasn't quite stupid enough to fall into that obvious trap, instead jumping sideways, seeing that the echidna's violet eyes were firmly locked on him, ignoring the black hedgehog quietly skating into a flanking position. Sonic feinted right, aiming a right-hand jab squarely at the echidna's ribs. As Sonic had more or less expected, Knuckles blocked, those oversized fists as impenetrable as any wall.
Quicker than the eye could see, Sonic dropped down, ducked under the blocking fist and brought his foot up into a powerful back-kick that struck with a very satisfying impact against the echidna's head. Almost immediately, Sonic felt a shock of pain go up his leg as his foot hit something almost as hard and unyielding as stone. The shock was such that he almost didn't see Knuckles turn and begin his counter until too late.
Reacting on pure instinct, Sonic leapt backwards, a flash of pain shooting up his leg as his apparently bruised foot met the floor. His eyes flickered over to seek out Shadow, noting that the black hedgehog was sporting a look of concern, but whether it was for him personally or their situation, he wasn't sure. He nodded to Shadow to indicate that he was still all right, but then saw Knuckles smirk as he too spotted Shadow's careful advance. The echidna whipped around, and dived forward, his spiked dreadlocks flaring out to catch the air, seeming to lift him into the air.
To anyone else, the move would have been sudden, swift and almost out of nowhere, but to people like Sonic and Shadow, it might as well have been in slow-motion.
Shadow pivoted on one foot and spun around delivering a perfect roundhouse kick to Knuckles' face as it came sailing towards him, sending the echidna flying on a different trajectory – right towards Sonic.
Just as a hedgehog would, Knuckles curled up into a ball, forcing Sonic to take a step back and allowing the echidna to land. As soon as the metal-soled shoes touched the earth, Knuckles attacked again, launching a rapid series of punches towards Sonic. Sonic dodged and weaved, neatly avoiding every jab and launching his own swift attacks when possible. Shadow skated in, seeing that Sonic had the echidna's full attention, Shadow wound up to deliver a punch of his own – one that would hopefully knock some sense into the overprotective guardian.
Shadow launched his attack, aiming for the small spot just behind the ear that he knew was likely to knock the echidna cold. But, whether it was by Knuckles' fighting skill or just plain dumb luck, just at the instant Shadow's punch should have connected, Knuckles chose to duck out of the way – sending Shadow's attack straight towards Sonic's unprotected face. Shadow only just barely managed to pull his blow enough not to break Sonic's nose, but he still felt the judder of impact go up his arm, and his heart constricted as he prayed he hadn't done any serious damage.
Shadow felt a vice-like grip suddenly grab his arm, pulling him off balance and sending him stumbling right into Sonic, sending them both crashing to the ground.
"You two are both pathetic!" The echidna said mockingly, "A baby flicky bird would be more of a challenge."
Shadow could almost feel Sonic's anger flaring up as they both untangled themselves and got to their feet, their limbs tangled together in a way that would have been almost sensual under other circumstances. His own temper was struggling to break free, but he took a deep breath and kept it under wraps – a lot of his ire was directed at himself for underestimating this Guardian, and in so doing, allowing Sonic to get hurt.
In less than an instant, both hedgehogs were back on their feet, turning just in time to see the red echidna gab hold of a tree branch, swing up into it and vanish into the dense vegetation. Shadow growled, again struggling to get him rage under control and skated over to get into a more open area, but Sonic revved his legs and shot up the tree after the echidna.
"Sonic!" Shadow called in alarm, "Don't!" He swore under his breath when the blue hedgehog refused to listen. This was Knuckles' home turf, he knew every inch of it – and Shadow remembered the Doctor telling him that the entire island was littered with traps – and only the Guardian knew where they all were. He looked up, frantically trying to locate that flash of blue amidst the foliage, his chaos sense useless this close to the blinding power of the Master Emerald. He felt the loss of Sonic's presence keenly as the cold echoes of the Master blotted out the familiar bright blue flame.
His fears were confirmed when Sonic was batted out of a tree to his right, coming to land in a graceless heap in the knee-high undergrowth. Thankfully, Sonic didn't seem to be badly hurt and quickly got to his feet again, Shadow felt a strange lurch in his chest, realising that he had been holding his breath for those moments as he saw Sonic flying through the air.
His heart still pounding, Shadow moved, circling around the clearing they found themselves in, looking up into the canopy of trees to try and see where the next attack was coming from. He had to end this quickly – Sonic was already a mass of bruises, the blue hedgehog couldn't take much more punishment like this. The best thing was to attract the echidna's attention and take the beating himself – he was better built to take a serious pounding than Sonic, after all.
"Where are you?" He muttered. Then he heard mocking laughter from behind him, he spun around in time to see Knuckles leap off the branch he was standing on. At first, Shadow readied himself to block or dodge the incoming blow, before realising that the echidna wasn't aiming for him or for Sonic.
Knuckles hit the ground fist-first, digging efficiently into the earth at incredible speed. At this stage, Shadow's curses were not muttered as he blistered the air around them with words that could make strong men turn pale. Damn this echidna anyway – a fight was not what he wanted!
He moved in a rapid zig-zag pattern, hoping the echidna would have trouble pinpointing him, seeing Sonic pick up on what he was doing and try the same, their eyes scanning the ground.
The ground in front of Shadow's feet suddenly exploded into a blur of red and white as a very large fist caught him under the chin, knocking him back at least three feet and sending his entire world reeling, white light flickering behind his eyes. The Echidna hit like a freight train! Even in his training battles against the Doctor's robots he had never been hit that hard!
Through blurred eyes and the ringing in his ears he saw Knuckles laugh again as Sonic called his name and ran towards Knuckles, fury in his emerald eyes.
Wait… weren't Sonic's eyes meant to be black here?
Knuckles raised one foot and stamped down hard on a stone that was partially inset into the ground. The ground underneath Sonic's charging feet vanished, and with a startled, angry cry, Sonic vanished into the dark pit that had just appeared beneath him.
Rage suddenly rushed through Shadow's veins, and he pulled himself insistently to his feet, ignoring the screaming pain in his head and jaw, his eyes narrowing as he glared at the smirking form of Knuckles the Echidna. He clenched his fists, trying to draw on the power of Chaos floating in the air, only to find that it seemed strangely reluctant to follow his commands. A strange, sick feeling settled in Shadow's stomach as the cold feeling he had felt earlier again seemed to race through his veins. Knuckles turned, violet eyes settling on him, a feral light gleaming in them. Shadow settled into a fighting stance and braced himself.
Something was very wrong, here.
Sonic, meanwhile, was clawing at the sides of the deep, smooth-sided pit he was stuck in. It was about ten feet deep, lined with a smooth, damp stone. The stones were joined closely together, leaving no hand holds, so he couldn't climb out and there wasn't enough room down here to build up momentum, so he couldn't run out either. He could feel every bruise developing on his slightly battered body and knew for a fact that he was sure gonna feel them tomorrow – if he survived that long.
It had gotten strangely quiet up top; there were no further sounds of fighting. Horrid visions of what could have happened to Shadow flashed rapidly through his mind; though he knew how strong Shadow was, he had felt how hard the echidna hit, and had seen the strength of the blow Shadow had taken.
"No," He whispered, pounding on the walls of the pit. He reached out with the cord of his chaos-sense, locking onto the flickering red glow of Shadow's presence. Energy built up in him and he tensed, pulling on the cord he had looped around his friend, "Chaos Control!" He cried. And vanished.
Knuckles was closing in to deliver a crushing blow, Shadow could see it through his blurry vision, and was trying to persuade his sluggish muscles to let him move, to block or dodge when all of a sudden it became unnecessary.
The air in front of Shadow suddenly glowed with blue-gold light and Sonic was there, feet set and arms raised, his gaze intent, determined as he stood in an unmistakable protective stance in front of Shadow.
Upon seeing this, the echidna's eyes had suddenly gone wide. He skidded to a halt, just about managing to pull himself out of his attack before he struck, and his fists mere inches from Sonic.
The echidna took a few steps back, dropping completely out of any kind of offensive pose and shaking his head in apparent disbelief.
"You have got to be kidding me." Knuckles growled, "A damn surface-crawling hedgehog, of all things…" he spat.
Sonic narrowed his eyes, "Dude, what are you talking about?"
Knuckles glared at him, "You've been blessed by Chaos."
Sonic blinked, "huh?"
Shadow, who was slowly regaining his equilibrium, felt like he had just taken another blow to the head. He shook his head rapidly to clear it, feeling the violent dizziness subside into a dull, thudding pain in his jaw and temples. "If you mean that we have some access to Chaos powers, then yes, we both do." Shadow said slowly, "But why have you stopped attacking us?"
The echidna's laser-like glare bored into him, "I don't expect a surface-crawler like you to understand," He said contemptuously, causing Shadow to narrow his eyes dangerously, "But I am the Guardian of the Master Emerald and the secrets of Chaos. If you have access to the powers of Chaos, that means the gods and the Emeralds have blessed you, which puts a certain obligation on me."
Drifting through the trees there came a peculiar, whirling, humming sound like the noise a very small helicopter would make. The noise was joined moments later by the sight of Tails weaving through the trees; Sally gripped tightly in his hands.
"Hey lil bro, Sal – took you guys long enough to catch up." Sonic said with a casual wave.
"Not everyone is as fast as you are, Sonic." Sally said acidly as Tails set her down. Shadow blinked, realising that the entire battle had taken less than three minutes but they had still moved pretty deeply into the jungle.
Knuckles gave only the briefest of glances to Sally and Tails, his attention focussed on Shadow and Sonic. "Well?" he demanded, "You came to my island for a reason – out with it."
"What's this?" Sally asked curiously.
"Far as I can tell, Sal - 'cos me an' Stripes have got chaos powers, he's gotta do as we say." Sonic replied, absently rubbing at his bruised muzzle.
The echidna scowled blackly, "Not exactly, hedgehog. I'm bound by the Guardian's code to grant you one request if it's in my power. After that, I'm under no further obligation to you."
They all considered that, but it was Shadow who spoke, "Can you tell us where the Chaos Emeralds are?"
Knuckles raised an eye-ridge, "That's all you want?"
The three Freedom Fighters and Shadow exchanged a slow look, mischief was clear in Sonic's gaze, but Sally just nodded slowly.
"Yes." Shadow confirmed.
"Very well. Follow me." Knuckles said, turning and walking off into the jungle.
"Oh man, you could have at least told him to stand on his head or something!" Sonic protested. Sally's response was a stern glare at the blue speedster, but Shadow was glad he was walking in front, since he couldn't quite suppress the tiny grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Miles away, under the dark gloom of a permanent pollution cloud, a heavily-guarded area of Robotropolis was a hive of activity. The city never really slept since robots needed no rest, just energy and the occasional maintenance. Even so, it was rare that the many factories and forges were running full-tilt as they were now.
The lord of the Machine City sat in his private suite of rooms, a spread of monitors in front of him as he reclined in a very large chair. An expensive bottle of wine sat half-forgotten by his side alongside the remains of his lunch as he poured over his late Grandfather's notes, his eyes intent on the screen.
To his right was a monitor with a series of figures detailing the oil extraction and refining in progress at the Oil Ocean Refinery. He scowled at the screen. Even though the refinery was working at full capacity, projections for Rocket Fuel production were below what he had hoped for. At the current rate, it would take almost three months to produce enough fuel to get his new rocket shuttle up to his Grandfather's space station and back down again. His fist clenched. Not good enough.
He glanced to his left, where another monitor showed the rate of progress of the rocket ship construction, complete with wire-frame diagram displaying what area was currently being assembled – at least that particular project was proceeding satisfactorily.
His moustache bristled in irritation. It was the power source that was the problem. It was taking far too long to produce enough fuel, and nothing else he was aware of could generate enough energy to propel a rocket out of the planet's gravity well.
With a growl, he turned his attention back to the notes on the main screen, and his eyes settled upon an entry he hadn't spotted before, a fairly large file labelled 'Alternative Power'.
Opening the file, he discovered it contained reams of notes on some invention his Grandfather had dubbed 'Chaos Drives' – small tube-like objects containing a significant amount of power. The file contained the specs needed to produce the devices. He read them eagerly; absorbing the information like parched earth soaks up water. He was mildly disappointed to learn that the devices produced completely clean energy with very little residue, waste products or pollution produced during either their manufacture of operation.
Still, nothing was perfect, and if the information here was correct, they were relatively easy to manufacture and a big enough network of them would make a perfect power source for his rocket.
Smirking, he silently thanked his Grandfather for his providence, providing him with the very thing that would set him on the road to a true and complete rule of this miserable little planet. It was almost enough to make him wonder if the ancient Echidnas with their ancestor worship had been correct in some way – almost.
He was just about to turn back to the monitor detailing the work on the rocket ship when something else caught his eye. Buried amid the various long, dreary notes about Chaos Energy theory was a mention of something called 'Chaos Emeralds'. The words sparked a long-dormant memory in him and he quickly scrolled through the notes, looking for another mention. Apparently Gerald Robotnik had been attempting to duplicate the properties of the mysterious gem stones when he created the Chaos Drives – he had even managed to locate an Emerald to study. The very end of the document contained a very detailed description of all his recordings of the properties of this Chaos Emerald.
Almost absently, Robotnik's fingers drifted over his keyboard, inputting the details into his computer database and sending them out to all scout robots and his outlying facilities, instructing his robots that if anything matching the Emerald's description should be found, it should be brought to the nearest secure facility straight away for observation and experimentation. The last thing he wanted was for that filthy blue rodent or his friends to get hold of an object of that sort of power – those damned power rings were enough.
Turning his attention back to the rocket, he began making modifications to the engine and power distribution systems to accept the Chaos Drives even as he sent instructions for manufacture of the devices to begin immediately.
Not too long later, a small chime sounded on the other console and he glanced at it, irritated at the interruption, but his irritation was swept away when he realised it was a message from his observation post out in the Great Unknown. His robots were reporting having found a gemstone matching the properties of the Chaos Emerald, and had obediently taken it to the secure laboratory to await his attention.
He smiled thinly; fate was clearly on his side. A shame he would be too busy with supervising the word on his rocket and construction of the Chaos Drives to inspect the stone straight away, but there would be time enough later, after he had visited Space Colony ARK and put into motion his new plan for total domination.
His smile slowly turned into a dark chuckle.
Those vermin in the forest would never know what hit them.
To be Continued in
Chapter 15 – This Corrosion
Author's Notes - Thanks again to Taranea and Greyfore for assistance this chapter.
Also, as a shameless plug, Taranea and I have a new Sonic fanfic that we have co-written together. It's called 'Advent of Equinox' and you can find it on her profile. Or there is a Sonadow version available on another site - as nicely and I'll tell ya where. ;)
Chapter 15: This Corrosion
Chapter 15 - This Corrosion
The noise was beginning to become deafening.
Even though it wasn't the kind of noise you heard with your ears, the overwhelming song of the Master Emerald seemed to blot out everything else, echoing in his head and rinsing away all thoughts except the most basic of impressions and feelings.
Shadow resisted the urge to clutch at his head as Knuckles led them over the rickety wooden rope bridge and up the stone steps to the Emerald Shrine. The bright sunlight gleamed off the flawless facets of the enormous green gemstone, adding to his growing migraine.
A hand settled on his shoulder, its warmth seeming to flow into his body and relieve at least some of the physical tension, "You ok, Shads?" Sonic's voice said into his ear.
Shadow grunted in pain, "Too much Chaos Energy, it's like staring at the sun too long." That was only a fraction of how difficult and painful this was, but that was all he was willing to reveal right now. He despised feeling vulnerable. Oddly, Sonic didn't seem affected, but then Sonic's sensitivity was lower than his own.
Sonic's hand gently squeezed his shoulder, "Hold on, Stripes. This shouldn't take too long."
Strangely, Sonic didn't remove his hand after that gesture, simply left it loosely clasping Shadow's shoulder as his attention turned to what was happening at the altar.
Knuckles was stood with his hands raised over the Master Emeralds, chanting quietly in a language none of them understood. The Emerald glowed, pulsing in time to the steady rhythm of the chanting. Sally and Tails watched in rapt attention, Sally holding out her small computer to record the event.
Sonic stood nonchalant, only half paying attention, as if ancient powers summoned up by sacred rituals were an everyday occurrence for him. In actuality he was trying to surreptitiously watch over Shadow, since the other hedgehog did not look well at all. Sonic actually felt great, bright and energised - almost too energised, like he was on a sugar high. Everything felt vivid, sharp, in perfect focus. Shadow's wiry shoulder felt weirdly good under his hand, as did the tickling brush of Shadow's chaos aura which seemed to dance across his fingers like tiny jolts of electricity.
Shadow, oblivious to all this, shielded his eyes as the pulsing light from the Emerald suddenly felt like twin knives stabbing right into his brain. Everything else felt blurry, off kilter, the only thing that felt steady was the feeling of Sonic's hand on his shoulder and the gentle, soothing warmth of the Chaos Energy in Sonic's body as it radiated steadily into Shadow, somehow blocking out the worst of the Chaos overload that was slowly burning out Shadow's senses.
Professor Gerald had taught him about something called Harmonic Damping, perhaps this was similar, but beyond that, the pounding in his head obliterated all thought. All he knew was the gentle fire pouring into him from Sonic's hand, offering a lifeline. He clung to it desperately, swimming up through the white-streaked haze of pain.
Distantly, he could hear the murmuring of Sally and Knuckles and they discussed… whatever it was the echidna was showing them, he couldn't see clearly enough to check what it was, and his hearing was blotted out by the shattering crystalline song of the Master. Finally, mercifully, the light faded and the song became softer, dying down enough to let him think again.
'This shouldn't be happening…' His thoughts were sluggish from the pain, but that one fact was clear. He was a being of Chaos, this power should not hurt him so.
Shadow realised that Sonic had released his shoulder and was heading down the steps after Sally and Tails, glancing back with a concerned look in his eyes, asking with a gesture and a look if Shadow was ok and was coming with them. Shadow nodded, gathering the energy to lift his leaden legs. Sonic offered him a tiny smile before resuming his descent down the stairs.
"The Master Emerald told me to tell you something."
The voice was harsh, abrupt, business-like. Wearily, Shadow turned to see Knuckles stood in front of the Master Emerald, his arms folded, eyes narrowed. If the pain hadn't been so severe, Shadow might have laughed.
"The rock told you to give me a message?"
Knuckles scowled, "That 'rock' is the most powerful thing on this planet. It has been around since before even Echidna civilisation, and will be here long after we are all gone. Its wisdom is beyond your comprehension."
Too tired to argue, Shadow just rolled his eyes, carefully keeping them averted from looking directly at the Master Emerald. "Fine. What does your wise and powerful rock have to tell me?"
"The mirror should not have been broken and your fire will only burn cold, here."
Shadow stared at him, "What the Hell is that supposed to mean?" Shadow demanded. Lack of understanding clawed at him, dread coiled up in his gut. He didn't understand, but the pounding in his head and the ice water in his veins told him that soon, he might.
Knuckles just shrugged, uncaring, "I don't know. I serve the Master Emerald, I'm not its interpreter. As it tells me, so I tell you." the echidna's scowl deepened, "Now, I've done my job. So get the hell of my island!"
Shadow managed to stumble down to the bottom of the stairs, his stomach churning and head throbbing. His fur stood on end as he shivered enough through the warm sunlight that bathed the Floating Isle. He could barely see, but he could feel the blue/gold flame of Sonic's presence and he headed for it, the sound of his breathing harsh in his own ears.
He heard an oddly muffled cry, his name… then there was only the soft blue/gold fire. The warmth wrapped around him, cradling him as though he were floating in a warm bath. The pain faded at last and Shadow sank gratefully into the oblivion of unconsciousness.
The fire around him eclipsed the stars above, the embrace of the flame no longer comforting, but burning. Like a falling phoenix, the shadow fell. His fur shone silver, the streaks on his fur and quills shining brilliant red like the flames licking at his body.
A hand gripped his. A surge of pure chaos shot through his veins like an injection of molten lava. Shadow opened his eyes and bright green eyes held his gaze.
'Hold on…' a voice said. He heard the whispered words even over the screech of atmospheric re-entry. Golden light, even brighter than the fire blinded him as the golden form wrapped his arms around him, holding him close as they both fell into fiery destruction.
Shadow panicked. He couldn't let this one follow him into oblivion. That one was needed. He had promised. No more broken promises. No more deaths. He offered up his own life freely in exchange for theirs - for his.
The gold turned slowly into blue, the power draining like water poured from a cup. Blue like the ocean, like the planet below, like Maria's tear-filled eyes. Blue and cold - like death.
In desperation, Shadow reached for his Chaos-born power. But it turned to ice in his grasp and shattered into a million fragments…
Shadow opened his eyes.
A cool breeze from an open window gently brushed his quills. No fire, no burning, just the remnants of a dream that had felt so utterly real. His body felt delicate, like if he made a wrong move it might break. His limbs felt stiff and his head was throbbing slightly, but the pain was nowhere near the brain-searing agony he had felt earlier. He relaxed, and then realised that he was no longer on Angel Island, it was now night-time and he was back in Knothole in the hut he shared with Tails and Sonic.
And Sonic was sat on the bed right next to him.
With a startled intake of breath, Shadow sat up, realising as his fingers brushed across the rough, home-spun sheets that both his shoes and gloves had been removed - though thankfully his cuffs were still in place.
Sonic blinked owlishly at him, "Hey, Stripes. Feelin' better?" he grinned.
Shadow frowned, "How did I get here? Last I remember I was on the island…" Gaps in his memory worried him. He was still a little uncertain of the veracity of his own memory, ever since he had found out what his creator had done to him after Maria's death. Not being able to fully rely on your own recollections was disconcerting and Shadow had no wish to go through that again, questioning everything he knew.
Sonic nodded, "Yeah, you were. Passed out when you got the bottom of those steps. I had to carry ya back to the Tornado. Boy, I tell ya, Sally really didn't like the whole wing-walking thing. At least you were cool with it, cos, lets face it, it is way past cool, right?"
Sonic was talking a little too fast, even for him, sliding from subject to subject with hardly a pause. Shadow looked at him closely, seeing that Sonic's eyes were wide, almost luminous in the gloom of the hut… and ringed around the outside of the iris was a thin sliver of bright emerald green.
"Sonic…" Shadow began uncertainly.
"So, you ok now, right? Me and Tails were worried about ya. You weren't lookin' too good out there on the island." Sonic gave a fond glance over at Tails, who was lying on his own bed, fast asleep.
"I am feeling better, yes." Shadow also glanced at Tails, "are you sure we won't wake him?"
"Who, Tails? Nah. Would take a Cat 5 hurricane to wake my lil' bro now." Sonic smiled and placed a gentle hand on his arm, "So, just you and me right now, huh?"
Shadow froze. He could feel Sonic's Chaos aura, warm and soothing, the peach colour of his hand a sharp contrast against his black fur. Shadow noticed distantly that Sonic's gloves (and shoes) were also absent. Freed from the gloves, Sonic had surprisingly slender, elegant fingers; they were the hands of a musician or artist, not a warrior.
"So, what happened out there? You said somethin' about a Chaos overload, then you dropped like a sack of bricks." Sonic has absently begun to run his hand up and down Shadow's arm as he spoke, and Shadow felt his heartbeat quicken in response.
"I…" He took a breath, trying to speak with a suddenly dry mouth, "The Master Emerald is the controller of all Chaos on Mobius; it's essentially the heart of all chaos. Being so close to it was like walking into an unshielded nuclear reactor."
Sonic tilted his head, his fingers now tracing random patterns across Shadow's hand, Shadow wondered why he felt unable to pull away, "So, why didn't it hurt me?"
Shadow looked at him askance, "It didn't? Not at all?"
Sonic shrugged, "Nah. Felt pretty good actually." He grinned. Shadow blinked.
"Well," Shadow swallowed, trying very hard to ignore the fingers tracing the outline of the red streaks on his arm, "Your chaos powers aren't as developed as mine. You weren't designed to live almost solely on chaos energy, so you aren't as sensitive to it as I am."
Sonic smirked at him, and there was a smouldering, challenging edge in that smile that made Shadow's stomach tie itself into extremely intricate knots. "I dunno, Shadow, I think I'm a pretty sensitive kinda guy."
Shadow licked his lips, hardly believing what was happening. He lowered his eyes to where Sonic's hand was still lightly petting the fur on his arm, "Why are you doing that?" he asked softly, almost afraid to draw attention to it.
Sonic looked down at his hand, as if just noticing where it was. Shadow noticed that even without the worrying green outline, his eyes seemed slightly… unfocussed. Sonic smiled, too broadly, too easily, "You feel good." Was all the blue speedster said, his tone almost matter-of-fact.
Shadow tried to remember how to breathe, paralysed by the confused bubble of fear/hope that rose up inside him. "So do you, Sonniku." he whispered softly.
A puzzled look crossed Sonic's face, "Hey, been meaning to ask, why do you call me that, anyway?"
A flash of memory constricted his lungs as he remembered the flames, the battle, Maria's eyes, full of tears, begging him… he shook it off, trying not to let it add to the confused whorl of emotions swirling around inside his head.
"In… the other universe. The place where I came from, you and I didn't start out as friends."
"Yeah?" Sonic asked, the casual, friendly tone at odds with what the rest of him was doing, as they now sat, shoulders and hips brushing together, Sonic playing gently with Shadow's fingers.
"We were enemies at first; until a friend of yours convinced me I was wrong."
Sonic looked at him, an almost languid surprise on his face, "Enemies? For real? Why?"
Shadow sighed, "I felt angry, betrayed. I wanted… revenge for Maria, for the other people of the station. I'd forgotten that revenge wasn't something Maria would ever have wanted." Shadow looked down to see that Sonic had threaded their fingers together. He swallowed, "You had appointed yourself the protector of the planet, so you opposed me."
Sonic nodded slowly, "After what you told me about your friend and people wanting to make you into a weapon, I can understand you being pretty pissed. Heh, I woulda been, too. But yeah, I couldn't let you hurt anybody if I could help it."
Shadow shivered, 'They're so alike… despite the differences, they're the same at the core…' he thought, his fingers reflexively tightening around Sonic's slender hand.
"So, what happened?" Sonic prompted, his eyes wide with curiosity as well as the green shimmer of chaos-intoxication.
Shadow closed his yes and remembered…
Amy had been stood there, pink quills almost white under the glare of the lights aboard the ARK. Her fists planted defiantly on her hips as she delivered a speech that resided somewhere between a plea for mercy and a dressing-down.
He remembered the vision in the glass, the ghost-memory of Maria, her eyes wet with tears as she begged him, pleaded with him to give the people on the planet a chance. She had been so tender, so gentle; there had never been a hateful bone in her body. How could he have ever believed that she would have wanted this? All this violence would have appalled her.
Then, as now, tears had filled his eyes as the thought of her hurt and disappointment filled his mind.
"All right," he breathed, "I'll stop it. I'll help you."
Amy had smiled her body relaxing out of its rigid posture.
That was when Sonic walked in.
Of course, upon seeing his dark rival, Sonic had immediately dropped into a fighting stance, Shadow, reacting reflexively to that implicit violence, had done the same. Until Amy had run in between them.
"No, no, Sonniku! He's on our side, now!" she had cried, tugging insistently on Sonic's arm like a small child begging for a much-wanted treat.
The full weight of Sonic's gaze settled on Shadow. He raised an eye ridge, "Is that true?" he asked.
The tension in the air was thick enough to cut with a knife. Sonic was suspicious, Amy desperate and Shadow was just starting to feel the tidal wave of guilt and remorse trickle into him. A vague thought of throwing himself to his knees and begging for forgiveness crossed his mind and was quickly dismissed. High drama like that was not in his nature.
Instead, he offered simply a tight nod and said, "That's right… Sonniku."
Sonic relaxed instantly, and a mischievous smile of the 'I'll-get-you-for-that' variety crossed his face, "Ok." he said easily, "Then let's do this!"
Sonic - this universe's Sonic - had slumped sideways during Shadow's story, and was now peering at him sleepily, "So, I just let it go, just like that?"
"Yes." Shadow said very softly, "I never understood why. But you - that other you - always seemed to… understand, somehow. You always accepted me, even when I didn't really want you to."
Sonic was no longer sitting upright, he was instead semi-sprawled across Shadow's bed, eyes half-lidded and quills in disarray. He blinked owlishly at the darker hedgehog, "Well sure, Stripes. Me an' you, two of a kind."
Shadow frowned, "What do you mean?" there was no reply, "Sonic?"
His only answer was a soft snore as the blue hedgehog buried himself in Shadow's sheets.
Shadow sat silently for a moment, before reaching out tentatively to stroke Sonic's ears, his touch feather-light. "Sleep well, Sonic."
He padded over to Sonic's bed, curling up on it and breathing in the scent that lingered on the sheets. 'Chaos, what the hell am I doing?' he thought. His thoughts were a torrent, tumbling over each other like pebbles in a fast-moving stream.
Shadow thought of the acceptance the other Sonic had given him. This new Sonic had suffered so much, lost so much - would he ever be able to forgive so freely, to understand so easily? The touches he had been offered so freely this night - would Sonic regret his actions, fuelled as they had been by the chaos buzz he had obviously been feeling.
Then there was the added worry of his reaction to being in the presence of the Master Emerald, and the cryptic warning the Guardian had offered him.
Sleep didn't come easily to the Ultimate Lifeform that night.
Author's notes: Wow, damn. Over one hundred and fifteen reviews. I am so grateful to everyone still reading this story. You guys all rock. I owe you all a hug, or a pint. Or both.
But yeah, I went to 'Summer of Sonic' in London and it was brilliant! I met Taranea and Forgotten Muse and my new friend Angelgotchi and I saw Crush 40 play live (they were AWESOME!). If anyone saw someone dressed as Blaze hanging out with Shadow the Hedgehog… yeah, that was me.
Next year's SoS is already announced, maybe I'll see some of you there?
Chapter 16: Distant Early Warning
Chapter 16 - Distant Early Warning
Sonic's first mistake, he decided later, was waking up.
It wasn't the first time he had woken up feeling dozens of aches across his body. It wasn't even the first time he had woken up with a hazy memory of the night before, since triumph and adrenaline could make a mixture more potent than alcohol at the Freedom Fighter's post-raid parties.
It was, however, the first time he had awoken with a strange, leaden sensation in his limbs, and a sullen, hollow ache inside, as though he had just lost something incredibly important.
He tried to roll out of bed, but the burning pain that blossomed around his ribs told him that sudden movements were not a good idea right now. Grimacing, he flopped back down and began to catalogue his injuries. He ran a hand down his side, noticing with a wince as his fingers probed the bruised area, that he could feel two cracked ribs. Not broken, thankfully. That would make things tricky for a while, but not unbearable, if he was careful, "Fat chance." He muttered to himself under his breath, then coughing slightly when he realised just how dry his throat was.
His hand moved up to touch his face, gingerly feeling around the bridge of his nose, which was throbbing in time to his heartbeat in a deeply unpleasant way, "Yeah, thanks for that, Shadow." he sighed. He didn't really blame the darker hedgehog, but he liked the face just the way it was, and didn't appreciate coming within millimetres of a broken nose. The thought of the black hedgehog stirred something slightly uneasy deep in his foggy memory, but he ignored it in favour of taking further stock of his injuries. There was stinging ache across the back of his head, accompanied by a nice big goose egg. Well, that explains the headache...
He wriggled his toes, stifling a pained yelp as his body pointed out that that the bottom of his right foot was still bruised. Damn that hard-headed Echidna anyway.
Moving more carefully this time, Sonic pulled himself into a sitting position, congratulating himself on managing the task without collapsing into a tiny ball of pain. He looked around, and experienced a weird feeling of disorientation as he realised that this wasn't his own bed. The uneasy feeling he had dismissed earlier crawled up his veins and quickened his pulse... something had happened last night... something...
Sonic almost fell off the bed at the sound of that smooth voice from the doorway. He stifled a pained gasp as he straightened up, lips compressing into a thin line as he struggled to school his face into his usual cheerful expression. He looked up to catch Shadow's gaze, who was staring at him with an indecipherable expression, garnet eyes seeming to bore into him.
"What's up, Stripes?" he managed to ask eventually, pleased that he had managed some semblance of his typical casual tone.
"Lunch is ready. Sally told everyone to meet in the mess hall."
"Uh, sure." He tore his gaze away from Shadow's compelling stare, trying to look elsewhere only to note that the ground next to Shadow's feet was damp. Distracted by all his aches and pains, he hadn't heard the soft patter-patter of rain as it fell on the wooden roof, but now he could hear it, and the swish of the wind as it blew the rain across the trees and the sound of his breathing, which for some reason suddenly seemed very loud. There was an almost artful dishevelment about Shadow right now, his spines heavy with moisture, small droplets of water slowly dripping off those long, dark quills, the light glinting off the raindrops serving to highlight the red streaks in his quills and on his arms. It made Sonic completely forget about the pain in his body for a moment as he just stared, transfixed.
"I'll wait for you there, then." Shadow said abruptly, turning to leave.
"Guh.. I mean, y-yeah, sure!" Sonic replied. Shadow nodded briefly as he left.
Sonic watched the retreating black back until it was out of sight, then with a long exhalation of breath, slowly toppled back into his - or rather, Shadow's - bed.
"I am in so much trouble."
It had been a long, long time since Shadow had last shared a communal meal.
This was hardly comparable to the ARK dining halls, though. No plastic-coated metal tables or rows of identical chairs here. Instead there was one long wooden trestle table, to which everyone dragged a mismatched variety of chairs, stools and benches, all of which appeared to be hand-carved. He felt a light tug on his arm and looked down to see that Tails was holding out a simple wooden stool for him. He took it with a murmured thanks, then selected an unobtrusive place at the table and sat down, looking around, feeling strangely tense.
Perhaps this is comparable to the ARK after all, he reflected silently as he caught Antoine glaring daggers at him from directly across the table. There was the same air of wariness at his presence, the same hotspots of thinly-veiled hostility.
Then Sonic walked in, and the stares Shadow had felt boring into him were suddenly gone, all their attention suddenly neatly diverted. Shadow watched as Sonic cheerfully waved hello and greeted everyone individually, his face fixed in a warm, relaxed expression that didn't at all match the pained grimaces Shadow had seen on him only minutes before. The blue speedster showed no sign of his injury now, it seemed as he shared a joke with Rotor... wait. As Sonic laughed, there was a twitch of his hand as though he was suppressing the urge to cradle his ribs, and there, when his chuckle ended, he caught his breath, like it was hard for him to exhale normally. Shadow frowned.
Sonic made his way across the room, apparently aiming for a seat near Shadow as the blue hedgehog grabbed one of the lighter wicker chairs still left, lifting it a touch gingerly. Shadow wasn't entirely expecting Sonic to plonk himself and his chair down next to him, though.
The bruised hero gave him a slightly odd smile, something uncertain hovering behind his eyes... eyes that still held that dark green edge that made Shadow inexplicably nervous. Shadow frowned, trying to hold Sonic's gaze, but the speedster turned away too quickly for Shadow to define the strange look on Sonic's face.
Taking a sip of water, he focussed on the glass, trying without much success to avoid eavesdropping on Sonic's conversation, but since the dining hall was crowded, the blue hedgehog had to raise his voice to be heard, meaning that Shadow, sitting right next to him, couldn't help but overhear.
It was the tone of those conversations that finally attracted Shadow's full attention - the worry in the voices that addressed Sonic, audible even over the bustling dinner time noise in the hut, the slightly exaggerated bravado in Sonic's replies... they were all asking after Sonic's health in worried, even fearful tones and Sonic was trying to laugh it off, hiding any trace of the serious injuries he had received. Shadow's frown deepened. Why would he hide such things from his friends?
His deep thoughts were interrupted when something else intruded on his consciousness. A smell that seemed to clog the air like the densest of smoke as a plate of... something was set down in front of Sonic. The hedgehog abruptly broke off his conversation, turning his full, undivided attention to the plate with ill-concealed glee. Shadow couldn't quite see the source of the fascination, since the... stuff... on his plate resembled the end result of some ill-advised experiment. It was a sort of reddish brown glop covering two slender cylindrical shapes - its appearance was bad enough, but it was the smell that really got him, searing Shadow's nose, almost strong enough to peel the varnish from the wooden table.
"What... is that stuff?" Shadow demanded, trying to hold his breath.
Sonic grinned over at him, the half-hidden pain completely gone for the moment, "Don't tell me you've never seen a chilli dog before, Stripes?" Sonic replied, "Man, you sure are missin' out, its the most awesome food in the world!" he demonstrated by grabbing one of the cylindrical... things and stuffing half of it into his mouth, covering his gloves and his muzzle with the gooey reddish-brown sauce. He paused briefly in his eating to give Shadow a huge - though thankfully closed-mouthed - smile.
There was a snort of disgust from across the table; Shadow glanced over to see Antoine giving Sonic a look of utter disdain, though the Ultimate Lifeform couldn't quite tell if the expression was directed at Sonic's choice of cuisine, his table manners - or both.
"Pleez forgive ze brute masticating next to you, I zink 'e 'as forgotten zat living in ze forest we might be, living like les beasts ferales we do not."
Sonic glared across the food even as he swallowed another huge bite of his dinner. "Ah, can it, Ant. Just 'cause I've got a taste for the cooler things in life."
Antoine sniffed in disdain and turned his attention mostly back to his plate, "You vould not know taste if it bit you, 'ow do zey say it, in ze be'ind."
Sonic snorted. "This from a guy who's eating slugs," he shot back. Startled by this comment, Shadow looked at Antoine's plate in horror to see several greyish-black slimy lumps sitting there, soaked in so much garlic butter that it almost drowned out the smell of Sonic's chilli dogs.
"Ze vord is Snails, you uneducated 'edge'og. Escargot, to be precisement, it is a delicacy and vun you obviously do not possess ze pedigree ou ze education culinaire to appreciate properly."
Sonic rolled his eyes and Shadow recoiled, looking down at his own simple bowl of chicken noodles almost in desperation, as if to prove to himself that he wasn't really trapped in some sort of culinary nightmare.
He was, therefore, profoundly relieved when Princess Sally stood and cleared her throat, grateful that there was something else he could fasten his attention on.
"Well, we're all here again," Sally began, "You've all been doing excellent work over the past few days. Westfold Village's new location is looking good, and thanks to your hard work, it will only take a few more days before the major buildings are habitable and our current guests can go to their new homes. On their behalf and my own, thank you." There was a brief smattering of polite applause, which quickly died as Sally took a breath to continue, "However, we are all Freedom Fighters and we all know that the fight goes on." She paused to look around the room, her gaze settling briefly on those who were most frequently on her raiding teams, and Shadow only just kept his composure when her gaze settled on him, too, "As such, we've been getting reports from our sources inside Robotropolis which show some worrying trends." A quiet babble of concerned voices murmured at that statements, "Almost all the forges and factories within the city have been working at full capacity for the past several days," the alarmed murmur grew slightly louder and Sally had to raise her voice to be heard over it, "Robotnik is working on something big, and that means we need to find out what it is so that we can stop it. With that in mind, I'll be assembling raiding teams within the new few hours. Some will be working on recon, the others will be doing diversionary raids. I'll brief those of you involved more fully later, but for now you should rest and prepare," her eyes scanned the table to seek out one individual in particular, "Sonic, will you be ready?" she asked, getting the question everyone had been muttering out into the open, but her blue eyes spoke of how much she knew this to be more performance than fact.
Sonic, of course, played his part flawlessly, leaning back in his chair and offering the princess a big smile and a thumbs up, "Sure I will, Sal. Ro-butt-nik won't know what hit him."
Sally nodded and smiled back in acknowledgement, "Good. In that case, tomorrow will be a long day for all of us, we better prepare the best we can. Thank you." She sat back down, but only briefly to drain the last of the water in her glass before leaving the dining hall, Bunnie and Antoine not far behind her.
Sonic finished his last bite of his dinner before heading out himself. Shadow abandoned his half-finished bowl of noodles to follow the blue speedster back to the hut they both shared. As soon as the door clicked shut behind them, he asked the question that had been bothering him. Sonic turned, offered Shadow a slightly strained smile as he opened his mouth to deliver a greeting that was cut off by Shadow's sharp question;
"Why were you lying to them?" Shadow demanded, peering intently into Sonic's eyes.
"Huh?" Sonic asked, his face screwing up in confusion.
"You told them all that you were fine. I know you aren't. I saw the hits you took, I know that no one recovers from blows like that so quickly... and I know how hard you've been trying to hide it from everyone. What I want to know is why."
Sonic's green-tinted eyes clouded and he looked away, "Because they need me to be." his voice was... odd. Leached of its vivacity and expression, the voice of someone who understood his burdens, "I ain't really a person, y'know," Sonic continued in the same strangely flat tone, "I'm a symbol. As long as I'm fine, so are they." He looked back to Shadow and smiled slightly, but it didn't reach his eyes, "If I can act like I'm invincible, then they think they are too." He shrugged, resigned, "You've seen what we're up against, right? If they didn't think they could do anythin', then all of the Freedom Fighters would just..." he spread his fingers and let his hands flop towards the floor, the gesture of something collapsing.
Shadow couldn't do much more than stare, appalled. "And what happens if you aren't around anymore?" Shadow asked very softly, stepping closer, "You live a dangerous life."
Sonic's shoulders slumped, "Yeah, I know. I guess I haven't figured that part out yet. So I gotta be what they expect."
Shadow frowned, "So you play the hero, no matter what is costs you?"
Sonic matched his frown, "Everybody in the Freedom Fighters takes risks, Shadow. That's just how it is, if we're gonna beat Robotnik."
Shadow narrowed his eyes, "None of the others takes on the type of burden you do, though."
"Nobody else can do what I do!" Sonic shot back, irritation making him raise his voice, "Most of the time, its just my speed and Sally's plans that get us anywhere!"
"So," Shadow replied, thoughtfully, "She knows the risks you take, and yet she lets you take them anyway." he was still speaking in that low, soft tone - a sharp contrast with the anger colouring Sonic's voice.
"What the hell are you trying to say? That she doesn't care? Well, news for ya, pal, she cares about all of us, but she knows what the stakes are and she knows what I mean to all the others." Sonic glared fiercely at Shadow, anger and defensiveness flaring up in his green-tinged eyes, "Why the hell do you care, anyway?" Sonic challenged, "You only met me...what? A week ago? Why should it bother you if I'm hurt or not, huh?"
For the first time since he walked into the hut, an expression flickered across Shadow's impassive face, it was so brief that even Sonic could barely detect it properly, but it looked distinctly like...hurt.
"I see." Shadow said, "I thought perhaps after last night, you would know me better than that. I see now I was wrong."
The dark hedgehog turned to leave, hiding the dagger-cut of hurt he felt inside him, composing his face into the blank, impassive mask he had perfected so long ago under GUN's brutal tutelage.
He steeled himself as his feet took him out of the hut, trying to prepare his mind and heart to reject the half-formed friendships. He had made a grave error, he could never find the companionship he craved here, not so far from his own world. To think otherwise had been the sort of foolish, juvenile thinking he had thought he had expunged after Maria's death.
His mind tangled in the mire of his dark thoughts and even darker memories, he didn't hear Sonic's shoes move across the floor. He gasped aloud when Sonic's hand unexpectedly grabbed his arm, the wash of chaos power brushing up against his own aura, making his skin tingle.
Caught off guard, he didn't quite realise what was going on until Sonic pulled him down into a deep, searing kiss.
To Be Continued...
Author's note: I am so sorry this has taken so long. My life basically fell apart. I lost my job and had to move house, so its taken me this long to get everything sorted out again. Thanks for being so patient with me. I'll try harder, I promise.
On a brighter note, its almost Summer of Sonic time again! I'll be there again and dressed as S&tBK Sir Percival, so feel free to say hi if you see me!
And I have fanart! Its by AmeMusashi and is a beautiful illustration of Ch. 13. Link on my profile.
Chapter 17: On The Precipice
Chapter 17 - On The Precipice
Shadow's brain entirely shut down as lips captured his mouth. He drowned in sensation of the lips, hot against his own and tasting strongly of chilli. Sonic's hands were on him, now, he could feel the buzz of Sonic's bright Chaos Aura against his skin as his hands curved around his shoulder and hip, pulling him in closer, deepening the kiss.
Butterflies swirled in his stomach, his heart pounding so fiercely he felt like it was about to burst through his ribcage. He had no idea what to do, his muscles frozen even as his blood sang with joy. Sonic was moving against him, his lips softly caressing, urging Shadow to respond. Awkwardly, Shadow matched Sonic's motions of lips and tongue, his knees and spine suddenly feeling like they were melting as they found a rhythm, hot and wet and just so... perfect.
When Sonic finally let him up for air, Shadow gasped, trembling under the onslaught of hormones that had suddenly and forcefully reminded him that whatever his chronological age, physically he was still a teenage hedgehog.
Sonic, of course, was grinning like a maniac, "Wow." the blue speedster breathed.
"What..." Shadow tried to control his body, which was still trembling despite all the mental commands he could throw at it, "Why..." he cleared his throat, trying to gather his thoughts despite the sound of his blood still pounding in his ears.
Sonic looked at him oddly, still smiling, "C'mon, Shadow, you wanted that, right?"
Shadow froze again, any possible reply catching in his throat. All the secret thoughts he had carefully hidden even from himself surging suddenly to the forefront of his mind. How had Sonic known? Was he really that transparent?
Sonic was starting to look worried at Shadow's total lack of reaction, the self-satisfied grin sliding slowly off his face, "You did... right? Cos if you didn't I..."
"I wanted it." Shadow interrupted, surprising even himself, "But I didn't... we hardly know each other." Shadow finished, his grasp of language still shaky after that single kiss had managed to just about shut down most of his higher functions.
The smile had crept back onto Sonic's face by now and he gently took Shadow's hand and led him over to the bed so they could both sit down. "Listen, Stripes, I know you haven't been here long, but one thing we learned around here is that sometimes... you just gotta go for it. If you hold back, you might not get another chance." Old pain clouded Sonic's eyes for a moment and Shadow knew he was remembering loss, "You and me... hell, dude, I ain't blind, I can see how you act around me." his grin turned into a brilliant smile, "An' besides, you're hot."
That almost shocked a laugh out of Shadow, which he carefully restrained, "So, basically what you're saying is 'Carpe Diem'?"
Sonic blinked, "Uh... maybe, if I knew what the hell that meant."
Shadow shook his head in exasperation, "It means 'Seize the Day'. It's Latin."
"Oh. Well, sure. If it works out, that's awesome, if it doesn't that's too bad, but we've got nothing to lose by trying," Sonic gave Shadow a sly look, "And you sure seemed to be enjoying that kiss - and let me tell ya, that was just a warm up. "
Shadow felt his cheeks heat up slightly and he once against cursed his lack of control over autonomic functions.
Sonic chuckled, "C'mere, Stripes, and I'll give ya the main performance..."
Shadow found himself completely unable to resist as Sonic drew him in for another kiss. This time, Shadow's brain felt less clouded as he leaned into the kiss, his own hands coming up to caress Sonic's chest and sides carefully avoiding the razor-sharp quills on his back. Their hands lanced together for a few moments and Shadow felt Sonic's Chaos aura pulse in time to the heartbeat that thundered in Shadow's head. He felt, dizzy, intoxicated at the feelings coursing through him as Sonic's tongue tangled with his own, his hands possessive, pulling him closer as waves of heat and desire surged through Shadow.
The door opened and the two hedgehogs suddenly pulled apart, startled.
Tails stood in the doorway, his namesakes swishing, "Hi Sonic, hi Shadow." He greeted them both. The little fox looked between them for a moment, "Were you making kissy-faces just now?" He asked matter-of-factly, "Cos if you are, I'll go hang out with Rotor for a while, cos eww - kissing is so gross." the kit made a face at that last pronouncement.
The two hedgehogs stared, dumbfounded for a moment. Sonic recovered first, "Uh, no little bro, I think we're done for now."
"Cool." Tails replied, "Want to come play dirt hockey with me, Sonic?" the fox said cheerfully, "Shadow can come too, if he wants."
The fox kit looked up at his big brother with such totally open, innocent eyes, trusting, accepting completely and without question. Shadow could only stare in astonishment, a distant part of him praying that other people found this... development quite as easy to accept, though Shadow's cynical side doubted they really would.
"Not right now, Tails," Sonic smiled, ruffling his little brother's head fur affectionately. "We've got some mission planning to do. We'll hang out later, ok?"
"Kay," Tails replied placidly, grabbing a hockey stick and a puck from one corner of the room before ambling back outside, where the rain had finally cleared to leave pale blue skies in its wake.
"So, business before pleasure, then?" Shadow asked slyly. Sonic looked up at him and two spots of colour suddenly bloomed on the blue hero's cheeks as he processed what shadow had just said and, more importantly, the low, sultry way Shadow had said it.
Sonic was never one to take that kind of challenge laying down, however, so he grinned back, "Oh sure, Stripes. We got loads of business to take care of, so I guess we'll have to match that with the pleasure later, huh?" Sonic's eyes sparkled mischievously even as he turned to search the cabinet at the foot of his bed for something.
Shadow regarded him for a moment, at last able to allow himself to admire the lines and contours of Sonic's form. Thoughts set free by Sonic's actions bubbling away inside Shadow's head. He actually felt better than he had in quite some time - relaxed, comfortable, energised. He was, also, frankly, astonished by his own daring - Sonic seemed to have a way of bringing out the worst in him (or the best, depending on your viewpoint), regardless of universe.
Shadow's sultry smile vanished, however, when he saw Sonic twitch in pain as he moved unwisely, stretching the bruised areas on his side.
"Careful." Shadow warned quietly, gently taking hold of Sonic's arm, "Don't make it any worse than it already is."
"Eh, I'll be fine," Sonic replied, waving Shadow off as he rose, clutching a stack of papers.
Shadow raised a sceptical eye ridge at him, "Are you sure you're capable of going on this mission?"
Sonic rolled his eyes, "C'mon, Stripes. We've been through this. I need to be there. Besides," he added with a cheeky grin, "I've got you as back-up, don't I?"
"Always." Shadow said very softly, his garnet eyes intense.
"So chill out, huh?" Sonic said with a tone of finality. He carried the papers over to the bed, unfolding them on the only flat surface on the room. Shadow realised quickly that it was a hand-drawn map of Robotroplis. Not everywhere was displayed, and some areas were more detailed than others, but it was still a very good depiction of the Machine City.
"Is this yours?" Shadow asked with some curiosity.
"Yeah," Sonic replied casually, "I copied the base plans from Sally's master copy, then I fill in the details every time I go in there and find something new."
Shadow blinked, surprised. He never would have figured Sonic for a draftsman, but then, knowing his environment did seem to be important to this version of Sonic, at least...
"These are the places we're going for," Sonic began, pointing out a couple of locations on the map. Shadow drew in closer, his shoulder brushing up against Sonic's, feeling the warm, pleasant buzz of Sonic's chaos aura as he did so. Shadow listened carefully and attentively as Sonic explained their route in, feeling comfortable and relaxed for the first time since the Robotnik of his universe had awoken him from the pod.
Author's Note: Short chapter just to reassure you all that this fic is NOT abandoned. I will finish it even if it kills me. Which it might. I have been insanely busy between changing jobs three goddamn times and planning my wedding. But this fic WILL be finished. I promise you!