Heart of a Chao
by K. M. Hollar
It takes the heart of a hero
To stand for what's right
It takes the heart of a hero
To lay down your life
-Heart of a Hero, by Petra
This story is copyrighted 1999-2002 by K. M. Hollar. Reproduction of any part of this story in any medium is prohibited. This story may be freely distributed online as long as it remains unchanged. Sonic and related characters copyrighted by Sega or Archie comics. Chao (chow) are copyrighted by Sonic Team. Slasher, Serena, Zephyer, the chao-forms in this story, and other fan-made characters copyrighted by K. M. Hollar. O'Heathe is based on Myron of Times of Chaos. Used with permission. For more information on Leviathan, see Job chapter 41.
The screech of laserblasts tore the warm afternoon air, echoing off the rocky hillside. Slasher beat her way toward the sounds and murmured through clenched teeth, "I hope I'm not too late!"
The Freedom Fighter village of Knothole had received a transmission the previous day from Sapphire City, the city the water monster Chaos had all but leveled the year before. The message said that a 'secret weapon' was being delivered to Knothole for safekeeping.
The courier had been scheduled to arrive the evening before. When he did not, Slasher was dispatched to look for him. Word of a 'secret weapon' was too serious to risk the messenger getting lost.
The winged velociraptor had scouted the southward paths all morning without success. Then it occurred to her that if a scout were trying to sneak into Knothole, they might try the east trail, which wound its way through a wide canyon at the foot of the mountains. She took to the sky at once to investigate her hunch.
The sound of laserblasts and hoarse shouting affirmed the big raptor's fears; the courier had been spotted by bandits. Once these bandits had been a mountain Freedom Fighter band, but they had found highway robbery more profitable than fighting Robotnik. Hence the reason few ventured to use the east trail anymore.
She soared silently over the canyon, a prehistoric silhouette against the afternoon sun, keen eyes sweeping the ground. Four figures were crouched on the canyon's rim, and three more were sliding down the sloping wall toward a lone crumpled figure in the road below. She was too late.
Enraged at herself for being so slow, and fearful lest the bandits loot their victim, she folded her wings and dropped with a hideous shriek upon the thieves on the cliff. They fell on their faces in terror, trying to point their weapons toward their attacker. The big raptor kickslashed the weapons from their hands and pounced on one of them, snarling.
The other bandits on the cliff fled in opposite directions. The three who had reached the canyon floor saw Slasher and made a break for it, as well. One dashed toward the fallen courier, probably intending to carry off what booty he could. Slasher saw him, leaped off the cliff and glided at him, wings flared, jaws open and claws extended. The raccoon yelped and fled down the ravine, deciding instead to save his skin. The big raptor pursued him on foot. Their footsteps faded into the distance, and quiet returned to the canyon.
A few minutes later Slasher returned, panting, jaws and claws stained crimson. She was sorry she had not killed all the bandits, the thieving scoundrels. She walked to the courier. He was a badger, lying on his face. She rolled him over for a look at him. To her surprise his eyes opened and his gasped, "Are you Slasher?"
"Yes," she replied. "Lie still. You're bleeding." He had been shot in the thigh and the side of his chest. His backpack was lying nearby, so the raptor grabbed it, opened it and pulled out a belt. This she cinched tightly around his leg as a tourniquet. The chest wound, however, was more serious; he was likely bleeding internally. The badger struggled for a breath and gasped, "Did they get the weapon?"
"What did it look like?" Slasher asked, looking around for a gun of some sort.
"The basket!" said the badger.
A wicker basket the size of an ice chest lay among the rocks a short distance away. Slasher loped away, picked it up and carried it back. It was neither light nor heavy. Curiously she undid the catch and opened the lid a crack. The tips of seven large eggs protruded from tightly packed straw.
The raptor locked the catch and set the basket next to the wounded badger. "This has eggs in it," she told him. "Where's the weapon?"
The badger stroked the side of the basket and did not answer for a moment. "That's it," he muttered at last, and sank to the ground in a faint.
"Eggs?" Sonic said in disbelief.
Slasher had appeared fifteen minutes earlier, carrying the wounded courier in her arms and a large basket in her teeth. She landed in the village and rushed into Sally's hut. A moment later she emerged, still carrying the badger, but lacking the basket. She took to the air again and vanished into the southwestern sky.
Sonic and Tails watched this from a distance, and all curiosity, ran to Sally's hut.
They found the squirrel on her knees beside the basket, reading from a stack of stapled papers. She looked up with a smile as the blue hedgehog barged in, his sidekick behind him. "I figured you guys would show up soon."
"What's that?" Sonic asked, pretending to ignore her and kneeling beside the mysterious basket.
"Is it the secret weapon?" Tails chimed in, plopping on Sally's bed and bouncing up and down.
"Tails, don't do that!" Sally scolded in mock anger. "Yes, this is the weapon, although it isn't at all what I expected. Sonic, take a look."
Sonic obediently flipped open the basket, and the three gazed at the seven eggs packed in the yellow straw. "Eggs?" Sonic said in disbelief. "That's it? Where's the bomb?"
"Maybe that's it!" Tails exclaimed, trotting up and touching the shells. "Maybe they're-you know, dragon eggs or something."
"Close, Tails," Sally said, paging through the stack. "Either of you know what a chow is?"
"A chao?" Sonic said, looking up suddenly. "Hey yeah! Tails, remember the ones that calmed Chaos?"
Tails's eyes brightened. "Yeah! And these are chao eggs? Cool! Can I have one?"
"Hey pipsqueak, _I_ get first pick!"
"No use getting greedy," said Sally peaceably. "The instructions say that we're supposed to raise them together. Nobody gets their own." She looked down at the papers. "It says that the way you hatch them effects how they turn out. And these will hatch in a day or two." Sally paused a moment, eyes scanning the page. "But we're supposed to put the eggs in different environments as soon as he get them."
"Cool," said Sonic. He and Tails were already unpacking the eggs. Each was the size of a football. The shells were speckled with blue at one end and yellow at the other, the exception being the seventh egg, which was a dirty grey.
"Is this a chao, too?" Tails asked, holding it up.
"The documentation says so," Sally replied. She took it from him and turned it over in her hands. "It's the same as the others but for color, anyway," she said, setting it down among the others. "Sonic, run get a pan from the kitchen and fill it with water. Two eggs have to soak." Sonic departed at an eager run.
"Tails, take two eggs and put them in your windowsill, where it's really wide. Two have to sit in the sun until they bake, it says."
Tails took an egg in either hand and looked at the remaining three, the two normal ones and the grey one. "What about those?"
"Those," said Sally with a sigh, "stay in a cool dry place until they hatch."
For two days the eggs sat in their various locations in the village; two in Tails' window, two in a bowl of water in a corner of the community hut, and three on the bottom shelf of the pantry in the kitchen hut. During these two days the eggs received more attention than the seven chaos emeralds. Everyone had heard the story of the chao from Station Square who had checked the mighty perfect Chaos in the midst of his destruction, and everyone wanted to see one. Over and over Sally assured everyone that no one person would be allowed to keep a chao, and that they were for everyone to enjoy.
There was plenty of speculation as to why they were considered a weapon. Only Sonic had any idea, and he pointed out to Sally that the instructions said not to let the chao near the chaos emeralds until they were fully grown.
At last the eggs began to hatch.
Tails opened his eyes. His hut was dimly twilight, for it was barely dawn. He yawned, turned over and closed his eyes again; it was too early to get up. Then he heard a rustle from his window. His eyes flew open. One of the eggs was rocking ever so slightly, and there was a crack at one end.
Stealthily, as if stalking a rare bird, Tails slithered out from under his blankets and tiptoed on silent bare feet to the window. Watching it, ears pricked, he crouched to bring his eyes to the egg's level.
Now that he was closer, the fox could hear a sound; almost a purr, coming from the egg's occupant. The crack on the shell grew, as if thrust from the inside, and a few flakes fell to the sill.
The sounds ceased, and the egg stopped moving. Tails watched it for a full minute, then worried. What if it had died? He gingerly touched the shell. The egg jumped, and so did Tails. "You're alive," he breathed. There came an answering chirp from the egg, and it began to rock again. As the cracks widened, Tails glimpsed something like fur under the shell. A moment later the top half of the shell fell off, and a pair of dark blue eyes blinked at the young fox.
"Hi," said Tails softly.
The chao rocked the egg over sideways and began to struggle out of the shell. It was a light blue with an onion-shaped head, the point on top. Its hands and feet were soft, shapeless blobs, and on its back were a pair of tiny crumpled wings. Tails gently held the shell in place as the chao wriggled out. He had seen chao before- shell-shocked, half-drowned ones in Station Square-but this was a wonderful, innocent newborn.
It sat up and looked at him soberly. "Hi," he said again, smiling. "I'm Tails." It didn't reply, but it didn't seem afraid, either. It gave a small shiver, and Tails realized that the eggs had been kept warm by the sun, and that it was chilly in his hut. He carefully picked up the chao-it made no protest-and carried it to his bed. He set it in his lap and wrapped a blanket around them. "There," he said, stroking its soft head, "nice and warm. I wonder what we're gonna call you?"
The big eyes gazed up at him soundlessly, peacefully.
"I wonder if you're a boy or a girl?" Tails added. He had better find out before he started thinking up names. It would be dreadful to name a chao Molly and have it turn out to be a boy. He blinked as he remembered something. He had better not get attached to this chao at all, because Sally had said nobody was to have a chao.
He crawled out of the blankets, carrying the chao. "I forgot," he said. "Sally was supposed to be told if anybody hatched. C'mon." He crept out of his hut and looked around the village as he eased the door shut. Blue dawn was just breaking, and everyone was still asleep. He had better keep quiet. He spun his double tails, rose into the air and helicoptered across the village toward Sally's hut.
The chao in his arms gazed at the village below, felt the sensation of flight, and it was forever lodged in its mind that it liked to fly.
Tails landed at Sally's doorstep and knocked lightly. It was a moment before Sally appeared at the door in a bathrobe and slippers. She saw the chao at once and smiled. She led Tails inside and took the chao from him. For the first time it made a sound-a terrified cry-and it thrashed and struggled. Sally handed it back to Tails hurriedly, and it quieted at once. "Tails," Sally said accusingly, "did you play with it before you brought it here?"
Tails looked down at the frightened blue eyes fixed on his. "Yes, a little," he admitted.
"Tails," Sally said, "they imprint. Do you know what that means?" She was not angry, only serious.
Tails looked up. "No."
"It means that the first few minutes after they hatch, the things that happen and the people they meet have a profound effect on them. Were you the first thing it saw?"
Tails stroked the chao's soft head and nodded.
Sally sighed and ran a hand through her auburn hair. "I guess there's not much we can do. Looks like you have yourself a chao."
"Really?" Tails' ears pricked up. "I get to keep him?"
"We'll see," said Sally with a half smile. "What are you going to call him?"
Tails looked down at the chao, and at the little wings. "Pilot," he said. "I'm gonna teach him how to fly!"
That day the other six eggs hatched, and everyone who was anyone in Knothole was called together to meet the chao.
Knuckles arrived via teleporter from the Floating Island, and with him came a small brown and white anteater known as Talon, who kept close to Knuckles as they walked. "There's too many people," said Talon in bewilderment. "And what's a chao, sir?"
"Don't call me 'sir'," said Knuckles. "A chao is-well-you'll see. Looks like they're over here." The echidna had spotted a makeshift playpen set up on the grass under a tree with a crowd of people around it. They walked up and looked in.
Seven baby chao scampered about on the grass, some smiling up at the onlookers, others playing about. All but two were identical shades of light blue; a slate gray one, and one who was a lavender color. The purple one was sitting in the corner, completely disinterested in the other chao, eyes focused on the Freedom Fighters gathered about the pen.
"Serena!" Knuckles called over the general hubbub, "what's wrong with that one?"
The violet hedgehog walked over and leaned her elbows on the edge of the pen. "Oh, that's Pilot. She imprinted on Tails when she hatched, and she won't have anything to do with anyone else."
"But nobody was supposed to have one!" said Knuckles with a frown.
Serena nodded. "I know that, but Pilot doesn't."
Talon shyly tapped Serena on the shoulder. "Can we hold them?"
She smiled at him, and he ducked his head. "Sure, go ahead. The more people they meet the better. Say, you're Talon, right?"
He nodded and leaned down into the playpen, avoiding her eyes. Serena looked at Knuckles, who mouthed, "Shy."
Talon picked up a chao and held it. It obviously liked the attention and purred in his arms. He gave a lopsided smile and stroked its head.
Knuckles noticed one of the chao watching him out of the corner of its eye. "Heya shorty," he said. "Come here." The chao's mouth widened into a sharp-toothed smile, and it sidled toward him. Knuckles picked it up and stroked it. It continued to smile, eyes narrowing to evil slits. "We have a conniver here," the echidna said to Serena. She giggled and seemed about to say something, but someone called her name and she walked away. "See her?" Knuckles said to his chao, just loud enough for Talon to hear. "That's Serena, Sonic's little sister. She's a sassy one." He side-eyed Talon and saw the anteater watching him with a timid smile.
"OW!" Knuckles dropped the chao and clutched his arm. Everyone, including the chao, jumped and looked at him. "Little creep bit me!" the echidna snarled. The chao had landed on all fours, but instead of running away, it sat down and laughed like a squeak toy.
Knuckles examined his arm and found a perfect circle of toothmarks. The chao was not strong enough to draw blood. "I'm okay," he muttered, and picked up the chao again. Again it gave him that naughty smile. He looked at Talon to see the anteater had turned his back, shoulders shaking. "Laugh it up, fuzzball," Knuckles growled. He looked at his chao as it bared its teeth again and leaned toward his arm. Without hesitation Knuckles slapped it. The chao recoiled and looked up at him in shock, no longer smiling. "Don't bite," Knuckles said, shaking a finger in its face. "Bad chao. No no."
He set it back in the pen, where it continued to stare at him for the next five minutes. And although that chao would bite people for the rest of its life, it would never bite Knuckles again.
Tails appeared and glanced into the pen. Pilot, the purple chao, gave a squeak, ran to his side of the pen and held up its arms. Tails picked it up, and the chao snuggled its soft head into his neck.
"You're so lucky," Talon breathed, watching.
Tails heard him with his foxy ears and walked around the pen to him. "I know. It was an accident, really. What's your name?"
"Pleased to meet you! I'm Tails." Tails offered a hand, and Talon shook it. The two stared awkwardly at each other for a moment, stroking their respective chao. Talon broke the silence. "How do you know if they're boys or girls?"
"Their topknot," Tails said promptly. "See the points on their heads? Boys have real long ones, and girls have stubby ones. Pilot's a girl."
"Oh." Talon and Knuckles both looked into the pen and counted silently. All but one other chao had long topknots.
"Two females and five males?" Knuckles asked.
Tails turned to him. "Yep! Just my luck Pilot would be a girl. No offense, Pilot."
"You mean they understand?" Talon asked, his astonishment magnified by the white stripes that encircled his eyes.
Tails nodded. "You bet. Something to do with their genes-I don't understand that part-but every second as they grow, they're learning and programming themselves. That way-"
The fox was interrupted by someone calling, "Make way, make way! Feeding time!" Pilot and Talon's chao struggled eagerly, and the two put them into the pen. All the chao crowded against the side nearest the voice.
Serena and Zephyer appeared, each bearing a tray covered with chopped fruit. The onlookers moved back as Zephyer called, "Okay everybody, playtime's over! Time to eat!" The echidna and hedgehog walked up, stepped into the pen and carefully set down the platters. The chao immediately gathered around and began eating like wolves, pushing and shoving, snapping and baring teeth.
Serena trotted off, but Zephyer remained nearby, arms folded, watching the chao. From the neck down she was robotized, metal gleaming in the sun. Knuckles didn't like her much-her personality was too thorny-but he had heard she had mellowed over the winter. He walked up to her. "Making sure they don't hurt themselves, huh?"
She glanced at him, then back at the chao. "Sort of. They don't let the grey one eat, see?" As she spoke, two chao sprang at the gray one, chased it across the pen, then returned to their places beside the dish. The grey one whimpered a moment, then pushed his way back to the food, only to be chased away a moment later. With a sigh Zephyer stepped into the pen, pushed aside a chao and helped the grey one find a place. Then she stood over him, daring the others to hurt him while she was there. None of them did.