Lost Memories, Reborn Evil
(Peers around the edge of the screen) Uh… Is anyone still there?
So! Told you guys I wasn't going to abandon this story! And you guys didn't believe me… just 'cause it took me years to update…
In all seriousness, I realize it's been taking me a long time to post chapters for this fic. The reasons can all be catalogued under that giant, overbearing umbrella called 'Real Life'. I was studying overseas for some time, graduated with my degree, got accepted into Law School and, most recently, have been slaving away at my job… Basically, my job and school both involve excessive amounts of writing and reading and by the time I get done with that I'm totally wrung dry… Dry of inspiration and of the incentive to write.
But, like I've said before: I intend to keep working at this story. Writing Fanfiction is a hobby for me: which means I enjoy it, but I will not be able to give it the same attention and commitment as I would my job or schoolwork… That will, unfortunately, mean infrequent updates. I know you would all prefer consistent updates (believe me, I would too) but I simply can't promise that. I will keep writing, though, and I will do my best to finish this fic.
TO EVERYONE WHO HAS REVIEWED AND/OR FAVOURITED THIS FIC: Thank you. I can't say that enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Really. Sincerely. I can't say how awesome it is to know people are still reading this story :D
This Chapter is dedicated to Riptide Writer. I told you I'd update months ago… sorry I didn't quite make that deadline (sheepish grin). But I hope you enjoy the chapter! And thank you for all your not-so-gentle prodding ;P
Summary of story thus far: It's a race to the chaos emeralds! Metal Sonic is in the lead, using the white chaos emerald and Robotnik's instructions to get to the hidden location. Knuckles and Tails were diverted when they snuck into Robotropolis to rescue Sonic—only to find Sonia, Manic and Rouge. Meanwhile, Sonic and Bartleby are on a quest to save the village of a baby mole and Shadow has found himself unwittingly press ganged into an underground rebellion…
Chapter 14: "Prison Break"
Deep within what had once been the Grand Palace of Mobotropolis—now the monstrous fortress of Robotropolis—two hedgehogs, a bat, a kitsune and an echidna stood silently staring each other down. They made a very strange group: two were exiled royalty, two were living representatives from supposedly extinct species and one was a professional jewel snatcher, all standing in a pristine white bathroom. Nonetheless, the oddity of their situation was lost as a more pressing question was addressed.
"Where is Sonic?" Knuckles repeated himself. His voice was low and steady but nonetheless held a vaguely threatening tone. Sonia, who prided herself on her unflappability, met the red echinda's gaze evenly. But though her gaze was steady, her heart beat loudly in her ears as old emotions were stirred up. She forced herself to keep focus.
"What's with the look?" She demanded, putting her hands on her hips. "It's like you're accusing us of something." Knuckles' expression, if anything, darkened and Sonia could feel Manic's hackles begin to rise at her side.
"Knuckles…" Tails, sidling over to stand at Knuckles' left, put a restraining hand on the echidna's shoulder. "She's right. Calm down." In response to these words Knuckles huffed and shrugged off Tails' hand. He did take a deep breath however, and wiped the scowl from his face with the back of his wrist—metal gauntlets flashing wickedly under the fluorescent lighting—and broke eye contact with Sonia. The pink hedgehog continued watching him though, even as Tails continued speaking.
"We're all just worried about So—the Prince. Please, tell us if you know anything about him." The sincerity in the young kitsune's concern defeated Sonia's stubbornness and her eyes switched from Knuckles to Tails.
"We… We all entered Robotropolis together but we got separated when Manic and I got captured. I don't know where Sonic is." Sonia sighed.
"I don't think he's here," was Rouge's input. "Eggman told us he was keeping those two," here she wiggled a finger between Manic and Sonia. "Alive as bait for Sonic."
"I can search the mainframe, just to make sure." Tails piped up. "I just need to hook up to a computer."
Rouge nodded in approval. "Good idea. And while you're at it, see if you can locate the white chaos emerald."
Knuckles sent her a sharp look, "So he really does have it, after all."
She nodded in affirmation and Tails looked upset.
"The sneak! He stole it and replaced it with the fake!" The small kitsune shook his head roughly. "I can't believe I didn't spot it. I should have noticed—it was my creation!"
"Nevermind that now," Rouge cut in, stopping Tails' self-berating. "I remember seeing a couple of security terminals in the hall. Can you use those to get into the system?"
Much to Sonia's chagrin, as Knuckles, Rouge and Tails spoke, they seemed to drift toward each other, forming a little circle that clearly excluded the two hedgehogs.
"They're completely ignoring us," Manic said in an undertone as he leaned toward his sister. "Should we—?"
"No," Sonia answered her brother's unasked question. "I don't like it, but—"
Manic gave a curt nod, understanding without even needing to be told. "Sonic first, arguments and suspicion later."
"The cameras will be a problem." Knuckles pointed out, oblivious to the murmured conversation between the two hedgehogs.
"Leave that to me." Rouge's fangs glistened mischievously as she strode past the sinks and crossed the washroom. Resting a gloved hand on the door, she paused. "I just have one question though, dear." Her heavily painted eyes flicked toward Knuckles.
"What?" He asked gruffly, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Of all the places to hide out and have your private little discussion, why did you choose a girls' washroom?" She drawled. Then, before Knuckles could so much as splutter in indignation, she had slipped out the door with a light tittering.
Knuckles snarled, bringing up a fist. "Why that no-good, emerald-stealing, fox-tongued—!"
"Easy, Knuckles." Tails said, grabbing his friend's arm and pulling it down. The kitsune jerked his head in the direction of the twin hedgehogs. "We're in the presence of royalty, remember?" He grinned at Manic and Sonia, who could only stare at the duo in bafflement and trepidation.
"Hmph." Knuckles scoffed, but lowered his hand. He turned back to the two hedgehogs and then a long silence fell over the group. Perhaps noticing the way Sonia and Manic held themselves with stiff apprehension, Knuckles coughed and made a halting attempt at small talk. "Well…you two haven't changed much since we last met." He ventured as he leaned up against a tiled wall.
Sonia sized the echidna up, from his lean build to the swagger in his stance—his arms crossed as he cocked an eyebrow at her and her brother—to the fearsome metal claws attached to his fists, he looked nothing like the pudgy, suspicious but kind mobian they'd met on Angel Island all those months ago.
"Compared to you?!" Manic hooted, "Man, I haven't changed that much in as little time since I stopped trying to put shiny things in my mouth."
"Manic, you still do that." Sonia smirked as Manic's squawked indignantly.
All four mobians shared a quiet laugh. Sonia was the first to quieten as he eyes snagged once more on Knuckles' form.
"You've changed." Her words was a mere mumble, but Knuckles still caught them. His gaze came up and met hers.
Staring into his eyes—a shocking violet that she didn't remember him having—Sonia couldn't help the rising heat in her cheeks. Knuckles' eyes narrowed, and he abruptly looked away. Sonia sucked on her tongue, feeling a little hurt. The last time they'd parted she'd kissed him on the cheek. He'd smiled. Hadn't that meant something?
Tails watched the exchange but didn't really understand its significance. Eventually deciding that it didn't really concern him, the kitsune switched his attention to the other mobian in the room. "Hey, so… Prince Manic, right?" He began somewhat lamely.
The green hedgehog had been fiddling with something in the pouch strapped to his waist, but glanced up at the mention of his name—giving Tails his first good look at the gravity-defying spikes atop his head. Manic grinned toothily, and it was so strikingly reminiscent of Sonic that Tails nearly goggled.
"Yep." Manic shrugged. "Though don't bother with the titles. Me and my sibs like to stay real, y'know?" He twirled a drumstick skilfully between his fingers as he spoke and Tails blinked, having missed when and from where Manic had pulled it out.
"I see… so Sonia is older than you… and… Sonic is the oldest? Your mother is Queen Aleena… and she was married to King Acorn, who went missing?" These were all facts that every mobian knew, passed down through word of mouth because teaching such things in school was against Robotnik's law. But though Tails had known these things since he could walk, they never held the significance that they did now. Now, Tails could barely believe the words as he said them, but Manic was nodded assuredly, confirming each point.
At the mention of King Acorn, Knuckles' eyes had widened. Catching Tails' eye he mouthed the single word:
Tails' only answer was a helpless shrug.
"King Acorn is our step-father, though. We were babies when Mom married him and became Queen. When he disappeared there was no other immediate family to supersede him so Mom became Queen." Sonia stated. And there was a fierce, defensive gleam in her eye. What was left unsaid was the rumour of Queen Aleena's possible hand in her husband's disappearance. Of course, after Robotnik usurped the throne rumours had become meaningless gossip. Hurtful, yes, but meaningless nonetheless.
"Oh…" Tails blinked. He hadn't known about that. Maybe Sally still existed then. Possibly through a previous marriage of King Acorn…?
Still… If she did exist, that would make her and Sonic step-siblings…
Stifling a grimace, Tails shied away from that topic and hazarded another. "So… What's Sonic like? Does he act very Princely?"
Knuckles snorted loudly, Sonia hid a smile and Manic outright guffawed.
"Princely! Prince of Fools, maybe." Sonia quipped.
"Well," Manic grinned mischievously. "He's definitely got the ordering people around part down. But unless Princes are supposed to be reckless—"
"—and lazy," Sonia inserted.
"—Bottomless pits..." Manic finished, trailing off thoughtfully. "But, maybe we're being a bit hard on him," he continued, ignoring Sonia's 'Not!' "But half the time we're trying to stop Sonic from charging in without thinking, and the other half we're trying to clean up his messes. It's true that he does sometimes get something right, but usually it's not at all on purpose—"
"Picture a very complicated rope knot and you were told to undo that knot. Sonic's the guy who would rush in and slice the rope to shreds. Then he'd grin, run off and leave you to deal with the consequences." Sonia said with a roll of her eyes.
Manic agreed. "Yeah, he likes to charge in without thinking. Just getting him to stand still for a few minutes strung together is a chore."
"We tried that once, remember?" Sonia put a finger to her lips in reflection. "Tied him to a tree and wouldn't feed him his chilidogs unless he could recite our infiltration plan back to us."
"Oh yeah… good times." Manic's lips curled in a lop-sided grin. "Until he sawed through the ropes and ate all the food we had stored for the next week."
Tails looked between the two siblings, not knowing whether to be amused or dismayed. "You're kidding." Then he looked at Knuckles. "They're kidding."
" 'Fraid not, kiddo." Knuckles smirked. "Watching him eat was like watching feeding time at a chopper-infested pool."
Tails cringed at that memory of Robotnik's infamous piranha-like badniks.
"A what-infested pool?" Manic cocked his head in confusion.
Tails shook his head and was about to reply when the door to the bathroom squeaked open.
Everyone tensed. Manic and Sonia each raised a hand to the crystal medallions around their necks while Knuckles and Tails fell into fighting stances. But everyone relaxed when Rouge's large ears peaked around the door.
"Sst! The coast is clear. I shut off the cameras so we got about five minutes before Eggman's 'bots come snooping around—less, if they've already tracked the origin of the alarm we set off." She whispered, gesturing urgently for the group to follow her. Knuckles and Tails exchanged an odd glance at Rouge's words, but followed after Manic and Sonia who were already leaving.
They filed out of the room, but as they jogged quickly down the corridor, Tails kept looking around warily.
"How is this possible?" He muttered. "There are no guards, no robots, nothing. I thought we set off the alarm?" The hall was spacious and long, with both walls and ceiling plated in reflective metal. But though the corridor extended a long way into the distance there was no sign of life: robotic or otherwise.
"You set off the alarm?" Rouge asked as they skidded to a stop before a large monitor set into the wall. "I thought we set off the alarm." Knuckles frowned at the bat.
"And we thought we'd set it off."
Tails had stopped listening to the conversation the moment he'd seen the monitor. Pushing to the front of the group, he barely even hesitated before pulling his handheld computer, the iCAN, from the pocket of his red bomber jacket. He placed his fingertips against the wall, siding them across the smooth surface until he found what he was looking for. A quick jerk produced a keyboard which folded out of the wall.
"Cool!" Manic effused as he peered over Tail's shoulder, staring at the iCAN. "That tech is jammin'! Specs that high haven't even hit the black market yet; and I should know! How'd you get your hands on a piece of hardware like that? You steal it from a Rank or something?" In his excitement, Manic's language had slipped back into the old accent that he'd gained from the streets—earning him a nostalgic look from Rouge, which Knuckles noticed with a raised eyebrow.
Tails' eyes were focused on the screen in front of him as his lips curled into a humourless smile, nose and whiskers trembling. "I didn't steal it. It was given to me. Before all this, I lived in the city of Acantha."
"Acantha?" Sonia's ears perked up at that. "The City of Aristocrats? One of the only free cities still holding a treaty with Robotnik?"
"The same." Tails said distractedly. "Although, that's probably not going to last long. Not after the discovery that the most prominent doctor in the region was harbouring a dangerous and savage kitsune." He spat bitterly, earning a rueful look from Knuckles.
"I'm sorry," the echidna intoned regretfully. "If I had been more careful—"
"It's not your fault." Tails dismissed. "It would've happened eventually. All Eggman would've needed is to have heard that an orange 'fox' named Miles was living with the Sapienti family and it would have all gone pear-shaped from there. I don't blame you, Knuckles."
Sonia and Manic were largely confused by this conversation, but noticed that Knuckles and Rouge were both shaking their heads sympathetically. Before the two hedgehogs could voice any questions though, Tails gave a gasp of discovery.
"Of course! This is why the alarms turned off AND why there aren't any robots around here! We didn't set of the alarm. Not us," the kitsune glanced at Knuckles, "and not you." He flicked his eyes at Rouge. "Someone escaped from the lower levels of the prison: burned through several doors and broke out another prisoner, tore up a bunch of robots and fled through the sewer system, all before Eggman could mobilize a force to stop him. Says here the prisoner was an unidentified species of mobian named 'Rex'. The destroyed robots were sheared straight through, like with a diamond saw."
"Burned, you said?" Knuckles asked pointedly.
"Sheared?" Manic and Sonia exchanged knowing expressions.
"Yep. S'gotta be Sonic. He probably used his fire ring." Tails mused.
"His what?" Sonia asked sharply. Tails acted like he'd never met Sonic; how would he know what Sonic did and didn't have in his possession? And why was he so quick to address Sonic in such an informal way—when just two minutes ago he'd been calling them 'Prince' and 'Princess'?
Tails jerked, eyes widening as he stared blankly at the siblings. "Uhh…" Sonia figured that the younger mobian had either forgotten they were there or hadn't intended for his comment to be heard. "I was talking about… his… speed?"
Sonia crossed her arms and stared down at the young kitsune dubiously. She opened her mouth, about to contest what was so obviously a lie when Knuckles abruptly stepped in front of her, blocking Tails from her view.
"Stop. Now. We don't have time for this. Tails, Sonic is safe. That's obvious. Find us a way outta here." He shot back over his shoulder.
"And don't forget about the emerald!" Rouge, hopping on her toes, piped up from the back of the group.
Knuckles then turned his simmering purple eyes on Sonia. "Listen. You have to trust us. We know what we're doing."
Surprisingly, it wasn't Sonia, but Manic whose temper broke first. "Hey, just wait a minute!" Stepping forward, Manic braved Knuckles' disapproving stare and brazenly stabbed a finger into the echidna's chest. "Now you listen here! We've done this before too! Buttnik's been chasing us practically since we were born. We've broken into his factories, defeated his thugs and survived pretty well intact, I think! If you think you've got one up over us here then—" Manic's triad was abruptly cut off when Rouge clapped a hand over his mouth.
"Sonic's brother through and through." Knuckles murmured, turning away.
"Manic, you're a dear but that mouth of yours is going to get us all killed." Her soothing voice was almost a hum. "Now hush, I think I hear something."
Everyone stiffened at that. Tails' ears twitched.
Sure enough, there came the low sound of murmuring voices echoing around the corner of the corridor.
"Tails…" Knuckles hissed warningly.
"I'm trying! This place is like a fort. The only weakness I can see is the west wall. If we break through that we'll be outside the city."
"Break?! The walls must be three feet thick!" Knuckles only barely controlled his voice.
But Manic looked thoughtful. "Tails, get us to the wall, I'll do the rest." He said confidently. At his side, Sonia nodded.
Tails eyed the hedgehog sceptically. "Well…"
"Hurry!" Rouge cried.
But they were too late. Rounding the corner on the opposite side of the hallway came a large wolf and an orange dog.
"Mobians!" Tails said, starting to relax, as did Rouge and Knuckles.
"No, Sleet and Dingo!" The panic in the twins' eyes was enough to make the three tense up again.
Then, the wolf looked up. His face registered acute shock for a moment before melting into a sinister grin. "Well, well, what do we have here?" He drawled, his accent making all his 'w's come out as 'v's. "Some escaped prisoners, perhaps?"
"Sonia!" Dingo cried, catching sight of the pink hedgehog, who cringed away from his adoring gaze.
Sleet thoroughly ignored his comrade, who was nearly drooling onto the floor. With an elaborate swishing of his cape, Sleet pulled out a hefty remote from behind his back. "Maybe you're looking for the roboticization room? I can help you there!"
"RUN!" Sonia and Manic shouted. The group needed no further encouragement, bolting headlong down the hall away from the wolf and dog.
"Dingo! Let's get them!" Punching an input into the remote, Dingo was suddenly enveloped in a bright yellow light.
"Aw, Sleet, not again." The dog whined.
"Shut up, Dingo." The wolf ordered.
And Dingo's limbs began to lengthen, his mouth enlarged and he fell on all fours with a grunt. His back broadened until it was large enough for Sleet to sit on and somehow his arms and legs formed into giant wheels. Soon Dingo no longer resembled a dog. Now he was closer to a bulldozer, except that where the blade usually sat there now rested Dingo's massive maw, which opened cavernously, ready to swallow any smaller creature.
Sleet leapt onto Dingo's back, his long cape fluttering in the air after him.
"After them!" He yelled. With a loud screeching of tires, Dingo happily complied.
They had been running for what felt like ages. Sprinting through corridors, swinging around corners. They entered rooms and closed heavy doors after them. But Sleet had a gun which could shear metal as easily as butter. And what he couldn't blast through he simply ran over with Dingo.
"What is he?!" Rouge gasped incredulously as she glance over and saw Dingo bulldoze through another tight corner. It seemed that Sleet and Dingo were not at all concerned that they were ruining Robotnik's factory: they hooted and hollered as they ploughed through corners and exploded walls.
Sonia shook her head, "We don't know. I think he was experimented on by Robotnik or something but—Aie!" Her words were cut off as Dingo began to accelerate toward them. They rounded a corner, and only just managed to throw themselves out of the way. Dingo slammed into the opposite wall hard enough to jar their very bones.
"By the High Ones, he's not mobian." Knuckles gasped as Dingo didn't even look phased after having slammed into the wall with a force that would have killed a large bear.
The dog-turned-bulldozer backed up from the wall—now sporting a large dent in its once spotless metal surface—and slowly turned to follow them.
Sonia was still feeling the ringing from the last impact in her teeth and eardrums, and she lay against the wall, stunned. Someone grabbed her arm, hauled her to her feet, and then they were running again.
Tails led the group, guiding them through the honeycomb of halls and corridors. His feet barely grazed the ground as his twin tails propelled him forward. It was still awkward and unusual to be using his tails, after having bound them together for so many years in this timeline; but he was slowly getting accustomed to the welcome change. His memory helped the process along. It was only his body that needed to catch up.
They needed to get to the stairs. If they could reach the stairs then they could possibly loose Sleet and Dingo as they descended to the ground floor. Then they could find an exit—
Tails rounded another corner, then abruptly slammed on the brakes. He skidded to a halt so quickly that Knuckles and Manic behind him could not stop before ploughing into his back.
"What the—Tails! What are you—" Knuckles groused irritably as he disentangled himself from his friends tails, then abruptly cut himself off when he saw what Tails was gapping at. "Aw, damn…"
Robots filled the corridor. Identical in shape and form, alone they would not have posed a threat, but there were at least thirty, lined up in ranks of five, making the hallway impassable. Knuckles saw that even more robots were filing in, blocking the group from what looked to be the staircase. Those in the first row were already raising their guns, aiming to kill.
If it had just been him, Tails and Rouge, Knuckles might have chanced spearing through the army of robots. But, looking over his shoulder, he saw Manic next to him and Sonia bringing up the rear.
Sonic's brother and sister.
His memory of meeting them on his Floating Isle was a little fuzzy—dimmed by the new set of memories he'd recently acquired—but one thing he knew for sure was that neither sibling had been raised to fight. They had not spent years opposing Robotnik, participating in a rebel group of outlaw freedom fighters. The two siblings weren't exactly innocents to Robotnik's atrocity, but it was close.
They couldn't risk a confrontation.
Yelling at the others to follow him, Knuckles dove to the side, throwing open a random door and frantically gesturing everyone inside.
Slamming the door closed behind Rouge, the echidna turned the lock and pressed an ear against the door, listening.
The room was barren except for a long oval table and a set of chairs. Everything was a bland shade of grey, there wasn't even a carpet or window in the room, leaving it looking depressingly dead and barren.
"This isn't going to work." Manic said urgently behind Knuckles. "Sleet'll just break the door down. We need to come up with another plan!"
Tails had paced around the edge of the room, and he laid a hand on the far wall. "This is the west wall! Knuckles! If we can break this down we'll be free!"
Knuckles immediately tore his head away from the door and jogged to Tail's side. He rapped on the wall with one spiked fist. Then, drawing back, he punched the wall as hard as he could. The loud bang made both Sonia and Manic jump.
When Knuckles withdrew his fist, there was a fist-shaped dent in the tiled sheets of metal. Nothing more.
"Sorry Tails," The echidna shook his head. "I can't break through this."
Just then, Manic's eyes lit up, as though a light bulb had just turned on over his head. He caught Sonia's eye and the twins seemed to share some silent conversation before Sonia's expression lit with understanding and she nodded.
"What is it?" Tails asked the siblings, raising an eyebrow at their behaviour.
"We know what to do! Just trust us." Sonia said with a dry look in Knuckles' direction as she threw his own words back at him.
A sizzling sound came from the door and everyone saw a spot on the door turn a simmering red. The area melted like wax and the red spot travelled upward in a crude outline of the door as Sleet systematically burned his way through the door. Smoke curled upward, bringing with it the heavy sent of acrid, charred metal that had Tails and Rouge wrinkling their noses in disgust.
The mobians backed away warily from the door, but when Sonia made to stand in front of Rouge, the bat reached out and grabbed her arm.
"Hey!" Cried Sonia, trying to jerk her arm back, but Rouge stubbornly held on.
"What do you think you're doing?" The bat hissed, narrowing her eyes. "Stay back!"
"There's no time! Let me go!" Sonia struggled, putting her free hand to the medallion around her neck.
Knuckles saw the hedgehog's gesture and his eyes widened with realization. He had completely forgotten about the triplets' magic medallions. Raising his arm, he placed a hand on Rouge's shoulder. Nephrite eyes looked up questioningly at him and he jerked his head at Sonia.
"Let her go." He intoned. Rouge looked ready to argue, but something in his tone must have persuaded her because her grip on Sonia's upper arm loosened.
Sonia wrenched her arm away, rubbing at the spot where Rouge had inadvertently dug her nails in. "Thank you," she huffed insincerely, squinting in irritation as she realized her arm was probably going to bruise.
The door exploded inward, as though kicked with extreme force. Tails had to jump aside to avoid loosing his life as the rectangular piece of metal flew right by him, slamming deafeningly into the wall.
Sleet's nasally sniggering came from the threshold, which was obscured by plumes of smoke rising from the still red hot metal. "Come out, come out wherever you are, little mice!" He called.
Then, a large, imposing shadow appeared behind the smoke as Dingo, still in the form of a bulldozer, rumbled into the room.
"Oh, there you are!" Sleet, peering around Dingo's monstrous head, mocked the mobians even as Dingo's mouth lips pulled back to reveal canines that were as long as Sonia's head and gleaming with drool. "Well, be good little prisoners and give up before someone gets hurt—namely, you!"
"Never!" Sonia cried and, exchanging a look with Manic, the two hedgehogs reached up and touched the medallions on their neck.
Blinding flashes of light filled the room. Tails and Rouge, caught unaware, yelled out in surprise as they shielded their eyes. One the spots their vision had cleared, they looked in surprise and bewilderment at the two hedgehogs. Sonia was grinning widely, her hands now wrapped around a keyboard hanging around her neck. Manic, on the other hand, was twirling a pair of sticks as he perched over a set of drums.
"What the—?" Tails exclaimed in utter bafflement.
"THIS is their big plan?" Rouge gestured emphatically at Sonia while sending Knuckles a severely disappointed look.
The corner of Knuckles' lips quirked into a smirk. "Just wait," he said, in his infuriating 'I-know-something-you-don't' voice.
Rouge was about to make a not-so-nice comeback when Dingo abruptly let out a loud rumble and barrelled into the room straight at them.
Rouge let out a cry of alarm, but it was drowned out by Sonia's fierce battle cry as the hedgehog leapt forward, brandishing the keyboard as though it were some sort of weapon. Rouge was about to scream at the princess—who had apparently lost her mind if she was trying to brain the enemy with a musical instrument—when Sonia suddenly hit a chord on the keyboard and a beam of glowing pink energy exploded out of one end, slamming into Dingo's eye with perfect accuracy.
Dingo squealed as he was forced to form shift back into his regular body, Sleet tumbling from his shoulder to land in an ungainly heap on the ground.
Rouge realized her mouth was still open and closed it, licking her lips with ill-concealed astonishment as she looked at Robotnik's two henchmen sprawled across the floor. "Well… That's new…" She muttered. Looking to her side, she saw Knuckles was looking at her. And she could see the laughter in his eyes. She shot him an exasperated stare. "Oh be quiet."
Predictably, he raised his hands defensively. "Hey, I didn't say anything!"
Behind them, Manic struck a brief tempo on his drum set and then the ground under their feet began to rumble. Rouge wobbled, trying to find her balance as she stared at Manic in amazement. The kid had always had an obsession with drums, ever since they'd first met he'd had that annoying habit of pulling out his drumsticks and tapping out random tempos on whatever surface was available. It was only after she found him beating on her precious gems and swore dangerous repercussions if he ever used those blasted sticks in her presence again that he stopped. Still there was nothing in the world that could have stilled his incessant head bobbing and toe-tapping.
Still, she had never known he could do this.
A crack formed in the ground, seemingly created by the air itself, as Manic played. The rift travelled, hitting the wall then branching out in all directions like a chaotic spiderweb. Tails, closest to the wall, backed away as a feeling of trepidation hit him. And he moved away just soon enough; the crack hit the ceiling and it was like a mini bomb was exploded at the base of the wall. Everyone ducked as the metal groaned and broke with a resounding clang. The thick slab of concrete that made up the foundation of the wall crumbled into shards and coughed out a cloud of chalk that covered the group of mobians.
Peaking through his hands, Tails saw that Manic had somehow blasted a hole straight through the wall. Daylight streamed in and the kitsune could make out the olive-brown hue of dehydrated trees and plantation on the ground.
"Whoa…" he breathed. "Now that's impressive." He looked appreciatively at Manic.
"Naw, that was nothing." The hedgehog flushed under the praise and made his drums recede back into the shape of a medallion with another brief green light show.
"Nothing my eye," Tails mumbled with wide eyes. He had to figure out how those medallions worked. Then a thought struck him. "Hey, Does Sonic—"
The group was once again diving for cover as Sleet and Dingo had apparently recovered and brought in reinforcements. Sonia fired back with her keyboard, but it was not enough as robots swarmed into the room, opening fire on the mobians without mercy. Lasers flew in every direction, a few chairs were blown to pieces, Sonia was clipped and she screamed, letting the keyboard in her hands drop.
"SONIA!" Manic cried running to his sister.
"GET THEM!" Sleet cried to Dingo, pointing at the twins. Obediently, Dingo rushed forward, only to be caught in the fire by his own robot army. He went flying, crashing into the wall with a painful smacking of flesh against metal. For a moment Sleet looked like he was considering rushing in himself; then a beam of red sliced by his temple, searing a few hairs and Sleet yelled, jumping backward like a startled cat.
"What are you doing?!" Screaming at the robots, Sleet gestured emphatically at the mobians behind him. "Don't hit me, hit them!" But when the robots continued indiscriminately blasting, the wolf decided to cut his losses and make a run for it: escaping through a gap between the robots without looking back.
"We have to get out of here!" Knuckles had overturned the table and was using it as a barrier. Tails and Rouge were crouched at his sides, while Manic fussed over the burn on his sister's arm.
"I'm fine!" Sonia insisted, but the tender way she cradled her elbow spoke another story.
"Tails," Knuckles whispered. "How far are we from the ground?"
"About four stories up."
"Can you carry one of them?" Knuckles jerked his chin at the twins.
Tails hesitated, worrying his lip. "I want to say yes but…" The kitsune cursed his weak tails, but Knuckles merely shook his head.
"Don't worry, just get yourself down. I'll take the Princess, Rouge, you can get the other one, right?"
Rouge raised an eyebrow. "Manic? Sure, no problem."
A laser zinged by right over the top of the barrier, singeing the tuft of hair on top of Tails head. The robots were firing blindly as they gradually advanced into the room but there movements were slow, their aim sloppy.
"GO!" Knuckles yelled and in one swift exertion of strength, he heaved the table up over his head and tossed it at the robots. He caught a row of them in face and sparks flew as they were tossed backwards. One exploded, adding to the confusion. Rouge wasted no time in getting up and running. As she went, she snagged Manic's wrist and he stumbled as he was pulled unwittingly along to the hole in the wall.
"What the—Wai—you wanna?! No wait! WWAAAIIIIAaahhhh!" But Rouge did not heed Manic's panicked cried as she jumped out the window, dragging the green hedgehog through right behind herself.
Knuckles jogged to the wall, where Sonia was already standing, looking out the hole to make sure her brother hadn't just fallen to his death.
"Looks like Eggman hasn't had time to upgrade yet." Tails, watching the robots struggle to right themselves couldn't help a quick quip at their stupidity.
"Tails." Knuckles warned in exasperation and the kitsune, rebuked, hurried over to join his friend and Sonia.
Knuckles guided Sonia to his back, gently asking her if she was able to clasp her hands around his neck and showing considerably more care than Rouge had with Manic as he stood with her, their toes hanging off the edge of the wall.
"A-are you sure you know what you're doing?" Sonia said warily, it was a sheer drop to the ground, not a single foothold or handhold. Rouge was a bat, so she had been able to fly Manic to his safety. Knuckles, as far as Sonia could tell, had no wings. Her burnt arm throbbed as she slung it over the echidna's shoulders but she paid the pain no heed, instead she tightened her grip as Knuckles moved closer to the edge.
A blast hit the wall near their heads and they cringed.
"We'll be fine." Knuckles assured, and without giving her time to prepare, leapt into the air.
Sonia screamed as a fist of ice closed around her chest and she felt her body seize with fear. She closed her eyes and buried her head in Knuckles' dreadlocks, preparing for the heart-stopping fall to the earth. But when she felt nothing but the air flowing through her hair, she cracked open one eye.
Knuckles was floating—no gliding—through the air. Like a hang glider, he soared over the ground, except he needed no sail to cut through the air, somehow managing to stay airborne by what seemed to be force of will alone.
'Incredible.' Was the sum of Sonia's thoughts as she watched the dirt far beneath her feet give way to grass, then shrubs and trees. As they glided, they descended and soon Knuckles was weaving them through the foliage with an ease that belied years of practise. They landed softly on the earth and Sonia staggered away from Knuckles, gaping at him.
"Tha-that…" she was speechless as she looked up at his calm face. "Wow… I didn't know you could do that."
"Yes, well…" He smiled and Sonia fancied that he even blushed a little. "It's a new skill."
Before Sonia could ask him anything more, Tails dropped to the ground next to them. His landing was a little rough, and he had to take a few steps to steady himself.
"You okay?" Knuckles asked mildly.
"Yeah," Tails grinned sheepishly, running a hand through the tuft of fur on the top of his head. He'd had an awkward flight: after jumping through the hole in Robotnik's palace wall, he'd free fallen several feet before his wildly flailing tails had finally decided to catch his weight.
Tails was a little miffed that Knuckles had regained his skill with gliding so easily, but had consoled himself by telling himself that flying was harder than gliding anyway.
Rouge and Manic were a few feet ahead and they moved to join them.
After assuring herself that Manic was unharmed, Sonia looked up into the faces of the mobians around her.
"So, now what?"
"They WHAT?!" Robotnik slammed a fist down on his table, and the plate of cookies resting on the surface jumped. Sleet, being the unfortunate deliverer of the bad news, since Dingo was still out cold, cringed into the folds of his cape. Robotnik wasn't going to shoot the messenger, Sleet told himself as he did his best not to cower before the man.
"They escaped, Doctor." The wolf repeated. "It wasn't our fault, they had help: an Echidna and a fox with two tails—" Sleet faltered as his words only seemed to drive Robotnik into an even darker rage. Sleet felt himself shaking and knew he was definitely cowering now.
"Get out. Get OUT!" He yelled and Sleet hastened to comply, leaving the doctor alone to his thoughts.
Robotnik swivelled in his chair, turning to face the numerous computer monitors set up in his laboratory. Placing his elbows on the Plexiglas table before him, he rested his large nose on his interlaced fingers and stared intently at nothing.
First, there was that mysterious break out from the lower levels of his dungeon. The escape had been executed with such speed and efficiency that there was absolutely no doubt in Robotnik's mind as to the identity of the culprit. Then those two blasted sidekicks somehow infiltrated the base and rescued no only the flying rat, but the Prince and Princess of Mobotropolis as well.
Robotnik was furious. Not only had his incompetent robots failed to realize that they had captured THE Sonic the Hedgehog, but there was now a large gaping hole in his west wall that he'd have to replace. Not to mention the destruction Sleet and Dingo, the useless incompetents, had wrought on his once magnificent halls.
But all was not lost. No. They didn't have the chaos emeralds. They didn't even know where they were. Oh, they thought they knew, but they really didn't.
The truth was, when the ARK had been swallowed up by the black hole, Tails had come up with some cockamamie story that they were being sent back in time, and had put all the chaos emeralds in a space shuttle to send back to the Earth for safe keeping.
What none of them knew was that that space shuttle had never left the ARK. Robotnik had intercepted the signal long before the shuttle was to be deployed, sending a decoy in its place.
And it was quite possibly because of that simple act alone that they were all still alive.
It also meant that the only way to find the rest of the emeralds was to trace them with another emerald.
Back to the matter at hand though…
"Computer, show me the last 30 seconds of recording from guardbot 1001." He snapped. And the computer nearest to his face whirred to life.
"PROCESSING." It spoke in a digital monotone. Then, with a flicker, the image on the screen shifted to show the glowing green lake in the Robotropolis sewers.
The camera showed what the robot saw, and it wasn't much. There was a brief glimpse of a yellow mink huddling like a gutless worm on the ground, a figure Robotnik idly recognized as the once proud aristocrat Bartleby MontClair. Then the robot seemed to pick something up on its scanners because it turned abruptly to the left.
What happened next was anyone's guess: a flash of blue came out of nowhere, there was the ear piercing shriek of shearing metal and sparks and then the robot's camera was crackling and fuzzing as it looked up from the ground.
The face that appeared next on the screen was not one Robotnik would ever forget and his teeth subconsciously gnashed together. Sonic, in all his insufferable glory, put a foot on the robot's chest and smirked mockingly down into the camera, as though he knew Robotnik was watching. Then the recording cut out, filling with white noise and static.
"Rewind. 5 seconds. Pause." The recording halted on a close-up of Sonic's sneering face and Robotnik studied the hated face of his long time foe before turning to another monitor.
"Computer, search 'Miles Prowler'."
Almost immediately, there was a hit: Miles Prowler Sapienti, son of the renowned Dr. Sapienti. Of course, Robotnik had already heard of the event in Acantha, and had had nearly half the population arrested on suspicion of treason, including the kitsune's foster parents. It was always handy to have some back up leverage.
On yet another screen, he pulled up pictures of Knuckles and Rouge, not bothering to speak their names and instead inputting the commands manually. Out of all of them, Knuckles and Rouge had probably changed the least: the former was still cooped up on his island, guarding that ridiculously gaudy emerald of his, and the latter was still making a living off stealing everything with a reflective surface.
Then, in a smaller window, he pulled up a picture of Amy Rose. She was irrelevant. Robotnik pretty much had the oblivious female hedgehog under his thumb.
But there was one more… The most elusive of them all.
"Computer, bring up records of the Northern Oil Factory." A list of video recordings, catalogued by date, time and place scrolled up over the screen.
Two years ago, a mysterious band of rebels had stormed Robotnik's oil factory, doing irreparable damage and breaking out at least two dozen dangerous mobians set to be roboticized. The leader of the rebels was well known. He'd participated in many raids and missions and was hailed by many mobians as a saviour, but he was like a shadow: always unseen, always unheard and fleeting. At the time, Robotnik had not been able to find out the identity of the leader, having only a break and blurry shot to go by. But now he had a suspicion about the elusive mobian's identity.
Finding the recording that he wanted, Robotnik prodded the screen with one spidery finger and a video started playing.
"Pause." He said, almost immediately.
There, barely visible against the dark backdrop of the factory, was a figure swathed in black. But what was most telling about the figure was the piercing eyes of bloody red. A colour Robotnik had only ever seen on one creature that was alive and not a robot.
"More of a Shadow than even I thought." Robotnik laughed, blowing up the image until it filled the screen. "Amazing. Truly amazing." He stared at the creature in awe, and not a little greed as he remembered his Grandfather's most prized creation. Robotnik didn't have any doubt that it was because of the green chaos emerald alone that Shadow had survived the fall from the ARK and ended up in this bizarre time and place.
"So, now all the pieces are on the chessboard." The Doctor mused, looking at all the familiar faces. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Rouge, Shadow and himself. The events on the Space Colony ARK felt like they'd happened just a few days ago. The humiliation and anger at his defeat—once again—at the hands of Sonic was still raw.
But Robotnik had a greater plan now. One that no one would be able to stop.
But first, he had to get the chaos emeralds.
Metal Sonic had one, and was currently tracking down four more. Another was as good as in Robotnik's hands. All that was left was the seventh.
Robotnik eyed the hazy picture of Shadow. He'd already sent out search teams. It was only a matter of time.
"But I wonder…" His eyes invariably shifted back to Sonic and he seemed to fix gazes with the unmoving emerald green orbs of the hedgehog. "Once you find out what my true plan is… Will you fight it; or will you condone it?"
Robotnik laughed then, and it was a distinctly unnerving sound.
Aaand… SCENE! :D
Wow! It feels so GOOD to have this chapter done! I struggled with this chapter for goodness knows how long… But I think I'm finally happy with how it turned out… I admit I really wanted to have a Sonic section in there. Or, at the very least a Shadow scene… But that's just not the way it came out (next, chapter, next chapter). Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the read :)
TO EVERYONE WHO REVIEWED THE LAST CHAPTER: Thank you! I'm very sorry I didn't reply to each of you personally, but I read all your reviews and they are literally what motivate me to keep writing.
Aaaand…I will do my very best to respond to all reviews for this chapter. :)
Here's hoping the next chapter is up soon!