Maria... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
There is nothing.
Surrounding him are a million stars. He had always dreamed of flying among those lights, drifting through the depths of space. But now, he doesn't dream of anything. Once a beacon of hope, they only represent what he's lost. A little girl died among those same stars.
Her light is fading. He wanders alone in the dark.
It should have been her on this vessel. She wouldn't have lived long, he knows that now. But he would have died so she could have had just a few moments of happiness on Earth. So she could fall into the snow and look up at the perfect blue sky and die there.
A snow angel. She would have wanted that.
But she faded away in the cold, dead reaches of space.
Anger seeps through the numb shock. That was all that she had ever wanted. But that kind, selfless girl had given up everything for him. She sacrificed her best friend, her pacifism, and her life... all for a worthless person like him.
He had held onto her as hard as he could, but still she slipped away. And the emptiness of a future without Maria leaves him numb.
How could she have asked him to protect humanity? Humans had done this to her. Throughout his whole life, they had done nothing but ruin. Scientists had treated him like he wasn't alive. Gerald had forced him to break Maria. G.U.N. finally ended her.
After all that, how could he think that these cruel creatures deserved to live? How could he believe that humans could be good? Maria... Maria was the only one.
And now she's gone.
But he promised.
If Maria truly believed that humans should live their lives, even after having her own dreams ripped away from her, then there was nothing he could do to fix this. Her death would, forever, be unavenged. But it didn't matter what she had asked of him. He could never bring hope to humanity if he had no hope left for himself.
Sinking through the atmosphere. The sky around him changed, and all of a sudden, it was moving away from him.
Shadow didn't feel it as the escape pod crashed, embedding itself into the earth. Earth... Blinking, not understanding, he stared at the sky as he lay on the glass. Pale blue, streaked with... clouds? A bright spot of light, the sun, cast its dawn glow upon the world.
He was in a place of trees, called... a forest, he remembered. The branches towered above him, waving in the wind, seeming as if they would reach down to grab him. On the ARK, nothing moved. But here, nothing stopped moving. His world, once comprised of dead space and cold metal walls, was overflowing with life.
Maria would have loved this, he thought.
He knew they were coming. But he didn't care anymore.
He lay there and watch the clouds drift across the sky for what seemed like hours, but maybe it was only minutes. Shadow was dimly aware of shouting, of people peering into the pod. He heard the doors slide open, felt them dragging him out into the snow.
He watched the sky.
And then a prick in his arm, the pain that faded in mere moments. Sweet, sweet sleep.
The sky began to go dark. Maria's snowy night. He saw it clearly now; the place she had seen in her delusions was real.
His body fought the tranquilizers, but his soul embraced them. Soon, the darkness claimed him and carried him away. Shadow didn't care what happened anymore. He wanted Maria. He wouldn't settle for a world that didn't have her.
Inexplicably, though he knew he must be half-asleep from the drugs, he saw her standing over him. He lay in darkness and behind her was light, light, light. She crouched down, putting a hand on his chest, fingers knotted in the white fur.
I'm still breathing, he thought. You don't have to worry.
She stood then, and as she turned the light pulled her away. He wanted to reach out, to get up and run into that light, but he was paralyzed on the ground. He fought the darkness now, trying to get away, to catch her.
But then he couldn't resist anymore. Struggling, he was dragged away from her, back into the dark again. Finally, he slipped into blissful, numb sleep.
It's Earth. Isn't it beautiful? I'm going to go there someday.
I'm not afraid of you, I'm just... afraid.
I promise that I'll never leave you again!
Shadow... I'm out of time.
I'm alive, she thought.
Or rather, she pretended.
When Maria first woke up in the middle of the raging blizzard, she had screamed for Shadow, for Grandfather, for Rei. Their souls resounded, some closer than others. But nobody answered. Nobody came.
White snow was the only thing around her, obscuring the horizon with frantic whirling snowflakes. No silhouettes, no shadows, no trail to follow. Just light. At first, that was how Eternity was. Empty, and aimless.
And when no one responded to her call, Maria had picked herself up off the ground and gazed into a snowy wasteland that seemed to be staring back into her. With no other options, she had just started walking. On and on she staggered, feeling like her soul had split into pieces.
She didn't feel exhaustion. She didn't feel pain. Just cold. And when she couldn't walk anymore, she had lain down in the snow and woken up here.
She was still there, sleeping. And there was another part of her missing too. But, for now, she was here as well.
Maria held her hand out in front of her and wiggled her fingers, stared at the lock of her hair falling into her face that twisted as she tossed her head. She looked, presumably, like a normal little girl. But one glance at the mirror mounted on the wall dispelled that thought.
There was nothing there.
Plus, it was hard to pretend when she couldn't feel her own body, or the ground she was standing on, or even the warmth of her own skin. It wasn't a cold feeling, like it had been in the dreamworld. It was nothing, nothing, nothing.
She ran her hands along the painted walls. She slammed her fist into the mirror. But there was no indication that she had touched them at all.
A man sat behind a counter with a glass wall, and Maria walked up to him. "Excuse me," she said. But, as she knew would happen, the man stared through her.
She tried to pick up the pencil on the desk and throw it at him. But though she could put her fingers around it, it refused to move, like it was bolted to the counter. Gravity, walls, all of that still affected her. But otherwise, it was like she wasn't there at all.
A paper doll, she thought. She had made those, long ago. Little cut-out dolls that played on pieces of paper with rooms drawn on them. Never quite a part of the world, but almost. Almost.
The door behind Maria opened, and as the girl turned, she felt like maybe she had died again. "Grandfather?" she whimpered as a resigned Gerald walked past her, escorted by a guard on either side.
His head was down, broken, but she could see a strange glint in his eyes. So different from the warmth that once filled them. And he looked so, so much older. But Maria realized that she had no idea how long she had been out. It could have been a few short months, or decades. The time she spent in that strange limbo, if it could be called "time" at all, had blurred together.
"Robotnik?" the man behind the glass wall asked. Gerald turned to look at him, and Maria shuddered at her grandfather's dead eyes.
The man glanced through his paperwork for a moment, as a formality, but everyone knew that today was his day. He nodded and looked the Professor in the eye. His glasses were gone. "Good luck, sir."
Gerald said nothing. His head drooped again as the guards led him outside. Maria ran alongside them, ducking through the door before it closed. "Grandfather!" she cried, grabbing at his sleeve, but it slipped through her fingers. "Look at me, Grandfather!" But despite her screams, his eyes were fixed on the ground.
Maria stopped when she realized where they had walked to. She turned about, surveying the area. They stood inside a small semi-circle coliseum, flanked on four sides by guard towers. On one end sat a hundred people who couldn't see her. On the other, it was just a red-stained white wall.
The crowd cheered.
That was where they forced Gerald to his knees in the dust, before that wall streaked with the gore of past war criminals. "Get that away from me," he spat as a guard approached him with a blindfold, and the soldier retreated.
Maria didn't realize what was happening until five men, each with long black rifles propped against their shoulders, lined up in front of him. She remembered how G.U.N. had executed the scientists and guards on the ARK. But she never thought... She never thought that Grandfather...
Tears welled up and she had to cover her eyes to block out the horrific sight before her, of her kind grandfather who hated weapons facing death. That's odd too, she thought. Even the dead can cry.
"Gerald Robotnik," announced the middle soldier, "you have been convicted of conspiring and committing treason against the United Federation. On this day, August 17, 1967 – " I've been gone for five years, Maria thought, " – you have been sentenced to death by firing squad. You will be shot in the heart until you are dead."
The man cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Do you have any last words?"
The only answer the soldier received was a cold stare from equally icy-coloured eyes.
The man nodded. "Commence the countdown. Thirty... Twenty-nine..."
No one saw the little girl walking across the stadium. No one, that is, except for Gerald. His eyes raised and met hers, and it was only a moment before he broke down into sobs. Maria wrapped her arms around her poor grandfather, and though neither of them could feel it, she squeezed him as tightly as she could.
"Maria..." he sobbed. "I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."
"You didn't do anything," she said, and she gulped, remembering the pain that had ripped through her body in those last moments. She couldn't feel it anymore. "It wasn't your fault."
"No," he gasped, and he sat up straight, his eyes widening. "You don't understand... I did something... I did something to the ARK..."
"What?" Maria pulled away, staring at him with wide eyes.
"Ten... nine... eight..."
To the soldiers, the rambling, sobbing old man was simply hysteric. One of the men rubbed his eyes, blinking rapidly. His vision wavered and he was seeing things he shouldn't be.
"Keep it together, greenie," a man beside him muttered.
The soldier shook his head, returning to firing position. But he blinked again, and for just a moment, he saw it clearly. A little girl. He jolted, but in the next second, she was gone.
He remembered the stories then. It could have been a lie; nothing was more than speculation when it came to that operation. But the men had been telling tales of a little girl who had died in the great purge of the ARK, where G.U.N. had taken out a horde of treasonous, violent offenders who refused to come quietly.
Didn't the once famous and esteemed professor, Gerald Robotnik, have a granddaughter? Had she somehow gotten caught in the crossfire?
"Five... four... three..." The five men tensed.
"The ARK... The ARK... There's no stopping it. Only my voice..." Gerald moaned, insanity fogging his mind. "Maria... I'm so sorry..."
Four shots rang out that day.
And that was the end of Gerald Robotnik.
Shadow? Can you hear me?
Wait for me, Shadow. I'm not gone. It feels like a part of me is sleeping, waiting for something to happen – but I'm still here. I'm dead, but I'm still here.
I know you're alive – I can feel you out there somewhere. And I know you can hear me. Shadow, wherever you are... I swear, I will find you.
Don't be afraid. No matter what, you have to promise me that you won't be afraid. When you wake up, you'll be in a different world. But I'll always be with you. Even if you can't see me, even if you don't know I'm there, I'll never leave you again.
I'm sorry. It's too late. You can't save me anymore.
But if there's anything I can do, I swear I'll save you.
This isn't the end, Shadow. No, this is an interlude. Our story has only just begun.
Thank you to everyone who's read, favourited, and reviewed. ^^ Even if it hasn't gotten as much attention as some of my other stories, this one means a lot to me and I appreciate it.
The Memory is the next in the series, so look for that if you want to see what comes next. I also post art of this series occasionally on my DeviantArt, and talk about it/answer questions on Tumblr, if you're interested in such things. Links on my profile.
Thank you for reading. See you guys next time.