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ARC I — ORBIT


I carry strength from souls now gone
They won't let me give in
I will never surrender
We'll free the Earth and sky
Crush my heart into embers
And I will reignite
— "Reignite" by Malukah 


Prelude: Carcer (latin: beginning, jailbird, prison)


Like a crystal falling to the abyss, he's indefinitely suspended from the flow of time, a sublime creature completely immobile and blanketed in ignorance, and eventually… he's going to break. There will be no ground to land on once time resumes, no secure placement where he can run off… only jiggered edges jamming into limbs, spilling blood as red as rubies. Blood… something that has become as cold as ice in the coolest of January, travelling through his veins at such an idle pace that the circulation of his system has come to a near standstill—preserving his body to survive the variable that is still unknown. The frigidness… encompassing and suffocating him, lulling him into a hibernating state… deferred and still, utterly fragile, utterly beautiful.

He is numb to the strange liquid that seeps into his pores, unaware that the substance has enveloped him in a watery cocoon, surrounding him completely. He does not panic, afraid he might be drowning. Yet he is unable to process fear, to recognise that there is anything to be afraid of. Neither does he take notice of the strange devices attached to him, giving him nutrition, giving him life… and extracting information about his very being. Not yet… but still…

He's not unaware of the world beyond the bleak darkness obscuring his vision.

There's a filter over his eyes, his ears… blocking out the voices he so plainly detects; that much is true. It's… static… sounds reverberating through a glass wall, muffled; the knowledge that something is happening beyond his confinement, but unable to identify what it is. Unable to process at all the circumstance of events.

Can't hear a thing… can't seem to open my eyes either…

His head is aching, his muscles slack, tired, almost as if they're made of jelly. He's… adrift, his entire body caught in a limbo, curling inwards in a feeble attempt to make himself small and insignificant. And dimly he realises that he can't feel the wind on his face or the sun baking his quills.

Still, he struggles to stir his conscious past the currents pulling him under, keeping him docile, disconnected from the world.

And finally, finally he manages to twitch in his slumber, an ear flickering around and his facial muscles contorting into an expression displaying discomfort, confusion… as he tries to sort through the muddled masses of uncoordinated thoughts.

Somewhere, somewhen, the activity spike ignites a domino effect. And anxiety unfolds around him, double, thrice, a tenfold to what it was before. Colloquies escalate from his awakening, their previous discourse suddenly rupturing in volume, and the lithe sapient can but groan at their antiques, as if in pain—

"Initialising zeta-logs… complete, pro-- to isolate the neuro--"

"… 12% and holding…"

"… waking up."

—wanting nothing more than quietness.

So many questions well up at once, his thoughts ricocheting against the inside of his cranium like tinnitus, begging for release… to be heard. Although one thought sticks out from the rest of them, and oddly enough, he thinks, damn straight, I'm waking up.

There is no revelation to this sensation coursing through his system, no surprise as he takes his time recovering—and so, his consternation is minimal, bordering on curious to downright vexation. However, such feelings are obtuse and premature, predetermined as they may be. Instead, all he is able to focus on is his restriction of movement and the heaviness of his every limb. But, more alarming is the fogginess that clouds his mind, a state rendering him discombobulated beyond compare.

Perhaps his labours are premature, perhaps his impatience has reduced his will to an ashen clandestine… but this pinpointed restraint on his body pressures the primal urge for flight, kickstarting his senses. His breath comes shortly, hands spasming and clutched closely to his body before he starts shifting away from his cocoon of faux comfort. Those sluggish movements of his stop abruptly before they can commence and cool glass grazes his forehead instead. Frowning in his lethargy, Sonic the Hedgehog steers himself towards wakefulness in a painful, painful lackadaisical tempo. Behind his closed eyelids is a whirlwind of turmoil, lashes fluttering as they struggle to remove their own weight.

Like a cadence without a tune, they open to a world of distortion, blurry and much too bright for his sensitive eyes. He shuts them tight with a hiss, moaning at the sudden agony coursing through his veins. Cold and soothing, yet he feels his teeth clattering. His hands come up, blindly searching… bracing against an invisible wall, and Sonic's only instinct is to back into a corner. Fingers curl and uncurl, numb over the disorientation clouding his conscious, and the hedgehog's back hits another unseeing wall.

He's stuck; trapped. He doesn't panic—not quite. However, his grasp of concentration is slipping, his lungs starting to burn from a respiratory failure, his muscles, bones, aching by every little movement, the voices growing louder, shielding him from the truth, and curse it all, he has to focus!

But… Chaos, there is so much noise!

He can't… he can't—

"Warning: error in respirational support system! Warning--"

"Subject is- exponential increase! We need--!"

"Collapse of cognisance matrix; initiating failsafe through transfor--"

"Warning: uniformed error in code E033--"

"Inserting incentive- stabilisi--!"

It hurts… he is hurting, and he doesn't know why. A static explosion of pain lights the insides of his eyes and it's as if his face, his very brain, is pickled by a thousand needles, prodding and peeling at his nerve system, setting his entire body ablaze. He trashes and screams, silent screams stuck in his throat, everything a maze of agony, green irises glaring out, unseeing. And then it all stops… his facial muscles relax, and he can think. He breathes in, breathes out, muzzles tingling by the action, fluttering his eyelashes rapidly to vaporise the fogginess.

He needs to stay awake, alert… he needs to clear the scope, his vision…

The world is still blurry, foggy, full of discord and upheaval when he blinks his eyes into a squint; his shoes are as red as they have always been, and the gloves around his hand as comfy and milky-white as ever.

Little else comes into focus. The world seems to be made of a collage of colours, distorted dimensions, shimmering shapes. There is nothing he can recognise. Everything is alien and the unmistakable sensation of loss gnaws at his heart. He doesn't belong here, doesn't even know what here is. However improbable the chances, the world seems to be moving too fast… and his eyes can't keep up.

Everything is heavy, slow. Like a puppet, he is controlled and left suspended, abandoned and discarded for observations, with appendages that don't respond to his will. Even the twitch of his fingers is a struggle, filling him with the urge to pant, to moan, his head hanging heavy by his chest while he waits for the patchwork to move into something more familiar.

Dim awareness begins to burn at his consciousness… though with awareness comes the fire, burning through his flesh, deep into his bones. He can see out, but something is between him and the rest of the world.

There is the motion, the blurring frenzy of others rushing past. Their endless moment… and his leaden limbs. Again, he tries to move a muscle… and again, the very act is tied to invisible strings, keeping him reserved, disciplined. Perhaps it is glue, whatever is holding him here. Like the mosquito in the amber, he is to remain eternally frozen. Preserved. A sublime creature blanketed in blissful ignorance and kept under a glass lens.

Glass… why am I locked behind glass…

Suddenly, the object of his fascination vibrates. He flinches, startled. His whole body seems to shake with the motion. The reverberation travels through him, feels like it will tear him apart. A sound he can barely recognise as his own voice tears from his throat in a moot whine, panting through the agony… and undeniable pain coursing through his entire being.

And this pain, this momentary motion, refuels the fire. His head burns, sears. It feels as if he is splitting apart by the seams, like the flesh is peeling from his bones. Like he's being drawn apart, quill by quill, and left to burn under a desert sun. And what's underneath is boiling, roasting… and it feels as if he's being skinned alive.

He tries to open his eyes again, though they feel like needles are driving through his skull. He fights the sting, the spots dancing in his vision… and when at last he manages to let a crack of light into his world he spots the outline of two figures: two sapient beings standing on the other side of his cage—one human, another a pronghorn, one male, the other a woman.

Another rap against the glass and the unbidden sound of a whine resonates throughout the complex. "Stop…"

"Sorry, but you have to stay awake," a voice says, echoing and warped, unclear… but definitely male. "Nothing personal, mate, just… doing my job."

And the very words spark a curiosity within him. Through the hazy façade, he squints, pressing his hands against the wall… ignoring the pain, pushing past the numbness… and takes a breath through the mouth, looking closely, beyond the diluted visage.

The human's features are contorted into an expression of vague discomfort, a grimace signifying regret, disapproval… pitiful, even. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

His attention spans across those oddly coloured digits, unbiddenly narrowing his focus in on the image. It is an irrevocable action, one he is more infatuated with than the question at hand. He blinks, sluggishly counting them under his breath, then again because, like a mirage, the amount changes.

There is no mistaken the four digits the man holds up front, though, and yet Sonic is tongue-tied, voice caught and unable to speak, hearing nothing and everything beyond his confinement. He hears the question being repeated, and yet he doesn't… and the realisation alone is petrifying.

He is weak, drained, lulled into a faux embrace, and it only serves as a reminder that something is terribly, terribly wrong. Teeth, as pearly white as snow, bite into the flesh of his lip, hard enough to draw blood if his circulation worked as it should. And yet, he feels no pain from such an act of self-inflicted harm.

He breathes out, unable to think over the pounding of his head and instead, Sonic looks past the young adult… until his eyes scan his surroundings, registering the turmoil with no ability to properly process it… with thoughts spiralling in every which direction, connecting vertices to form an image without success.

And then the blood red eyes that stare, impassively, from the other side of his glass cage… they come into focus, within his line of sight and captivating Sonic's attention. Those eyes… those familiar, familiar eyes… as bright as rubies and as empty as a pit… locking all of their attention onto this singular being trapped in a thinly veiled prison. Shielded in the shadows that perfectly matches the tone of their fur…

An otherwise quelled flame ignites itself like fireworks beneath his chest, burning his blood, and cooking his flesh as dampened rage takes its toll; he knows this person…