Daily log, July 7th, 0 A.E. Rouge the Bat reporting.

This one's for you, Knuckles. I figured it was only fair with how much I've been talking to Shadow. Hope I didn't make you too jealous. No offense, but it's easy to forget that you exist sometimes. You're always just sort of…there. …Man, I must really be going out of my mind if I need to pretend to talk to you for company.

I know that I liked to tease you. But you always made it so easy. And that Master Emerald of yours was just too tempting to ignore. I guess I never gave back my piece of that. I'll consider it a keepsake. Heh. I can't help but imagine you yelling at me about that now. As tough and angry as you always act…I could never forget how you stepped up when the world needed you most. How you were willing to take on all the world's faith. And how you were willing to pass a little bit of that on to me, trusted me when I could've betrayed you so easily.

I was worried that Shadow might lose his faith. But you? I'm worried that you might still keep yours. Once you get an idea in your head, you never let it go. If you got the idea that I'm still…that I'm not… If you got that idea, it could cause you a lot of trouble. So what do you think of me now? I've been wondering more and more about that.

Oh, hey, I think you'll both get a kick out of what happened to me today. Sly took me up to the top floor of the building. Apparently, this is the exact same building we used to hang out in. I guess that dusty old attic was his idea of a romantic spot. He showed me the view from the window, how little it'd changed. Then he tried to make his move. So I gave him a bloody lip. That guy seriously needs to chill out. I wouldn't be interested, even if he'd turned into the nicest guy on the planet. And obviously, he isn't. This is going to be a long war if I have to keep dealing with him. Still…at least he doesn't want to kill me. I swear, that Infinite thinks up ten different ways he could do me in every time I step into the room.

Considering that I'm not a fugitive anymore…I was sure expecting to feel safer.

—–—

Three years ago

The events of Sonic Forces – One week after Sonic's defeat

Rouge has to shield her face from the intense rainstorm that rages through the night-darkened Splash Hill, though she is already soaking wet. A few broken robot parts scattered around the ground indicate a recent battle. She looks up towards the facility that lies before her. Lines of barbed wire fence haphazardly stretched between decaying palm trees and faded totem poles lie between her and the fortress-like walls and turrets of the facility. Atop each turret, a bright searchlight circles slowly around, scanning the grassy, checkered floor. Rouge carefully stays out of range of the closest one. In the distance behind the facility, a massive spider's web can be seen stretched across a loop of terrain. A bright bolt of lightning strikes off on the horizon, casting eerie shadows over the hills.

"Here we go." Keeping low to the ground, Rouge moves swiftly along the side of a barbed wire fence. As a searchlight sweeps near, she leaps up, grabbing the top of a palm tree trunk, where she is covered by its brown leaves. The light passes over without notice. Once it's passed, she drops back down, now on the other side of the fence. She quickly moves her way to the base of the fortress wall, and immediately starts to climb. She hangs down on the lip of the wall for a moment as the rotating searchlight sweeps above her head once again. Then she pulls herself up onto the platform. She sneaks around the turret in time with the searchlight's rotation so that it never shines on her. Once on the other side, she dives down into the facility.


Sonic the Hedgehog: The Chaos Project

Season 1, Episode 10

*Tales of the Resistance*

Fate of the Dark Part 2

Written by ChaosProjectAuthor


Rouge strolls through a long corridor, carrying a brown sack over her shoulder. She swings it around and peeks inside. It contains three Phantom Ruby prototypes, each of a different shape. "Well, that should be all of them. Time to get out of this creepy place."

"You! What're you doing here!?"

Rouge freezes up, realizing that Knuckles stands at the end of the corridor behind her. He starts to stomp towards her. She begins to stutter, "Knuckles, I– Uh– It's not–"

He grabs her by the shoulders and turns her around to look her in the eye. "You…" A big, goofy grin covers his face. "I can't believe it's really you! Tails said you went after that thing that got Sonic, and you've been missing ever since, I thought that–"

"Wait…you aren't mad?"

"Mad? Why would I be mad to see a friendly face at a time like this?" He starts to pull her by the arm. "Come on, I'll take you to our new command room, the others will be glad to see you." Without giving her a chance to object, he starts to lead her back the way he came from. Soon, they reach a wide, mostly-empty circular room. "Hey guys! Look who I found sneaking around!"

Tails looks up from some work he seems to be doing by the wall. "Rouge!" The floor around him is covered with various mechanical parts, but he holds what looks to be a nearly-complete prototype of Wispon.

Knuckles continues, "And you've already met Silver, right? He's back from the future."

Silver waves, "Hi."

Rouge looks around at the three of them. They seem to be the only ones. "So…you three are the 'anarchists' that took this facility?"

Knuckles nods. "Yeah. That's why you came here, isn't it?"

"Sort of…"

Silver hesitantly asks, "So…I think we all have the same question, right? You saw what happened to Sonic, didn't you? Do you know…if…he…?"

Rouge shakes her head. "I didn't see any more than Tails did. And…Eggman…hasn't said a word about it."

Knuckles puts on a scowl. "What do you mean by that?"

Rouge looks over at Tails. He looks away, staring instead at the invention in his hands. Fresh tears well up in his eyes at the mere mention of Sonic. She bites her lip for another moment. "…I'm working for him. I'm working for Eggman."

The room goes silent, save for the sound of the stormy weather outside. Finally, Knuckles responds, "That's…great! You can be our spy, feed us information directly from the source! Let's get started right now, tell us anything you've learned so far!"

"I can't, I don't have time, don't you get it!? This is a test! He knew! That…that thing that beat Sonic, that beat Shadow, that beat every defense this world has, he knew that I'd find you here! And every second that I waste, he can use as proof that I'm not loyal to him! I…I need to destroy this place, I need to blow it to the ground, that's the only chance I have now."

"Whoa, whoa, slow down! You can't just blow up our base!"

Silver adds, "Do you have any idea how hard it was to get in here in the first place?"

Rouge shakes her head. "You'll just have to find a new base. If he has even the slightest reason to doubt me, he will not hesitate to kill me."

"Then don't go back! Stay here with us! We've already contacted Amy and the Chaotix, we're building a Resistance!"

"I can't do that. I have to see this through."

Tails suddenly voices, "It's for Shadow, isn't it?"

Rouge hesitates for a moment. "I didn't join Eggman's side to protect the world from him. I did it to save Shadow. Even now, I don't really know what's happened to him. And that terrifies me. But I have to help him, no matter what the cost is. You wouldn't understand."

"But I do understand."

Rouge stands shocked for a moment. Until Knuckles slowly steps up to her, and gently takes her hand in his own.

She rips her hand away. "Hey, keep your hands to your–" She stops as she realizes that he'd placed something in her hand.

"That's a communicator. You can use it to relay intel back to us. We can do this your way, but I expect you to work for it." He looks over to Tails. "Pack it up. We're ditching this creepy old place."

—–—

The four of them watch in the storm outside as the facility goes up in a spectacular fiery explosion, the walls all crumbling in on themselves, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble. The intense rain quickly quells the flames. Silver comments, "There goes our first victory."

Knuckles objects, "Nonsense. We just won something a lot better."

Rouge questions, "Where will you go now?"

"Somewhere closer to the action, I think. There's not a lot we could've gotten done out here anyway."

Tails looks up to Rouge. "You will find Sonic…won't you?"

"I…I'll do what I can."

Knuckles nods. "That's all any of us can do."

"Well…good luck…Commander Knuckles."

"I think we're all going to need a lot more than luck this time, Agent Rouge. But good luck's a good place to start. We're counting on you."

—–—

Six months later

Infinite crushes the Ruby prototype in his hand. "Adequate work as usual."

Rouge rolls her eyes. "Gee, what a compliment. How many more of these things are there, anyway? We've been at this for months."

"I wouldn't be so eager to finish, if I were you. You will be far less useful once the job is done."

"What, I haven't proven myself enough already?"

"The only thing you've proven is that you can't work quickly enough to prevent Rubies from falling into the hands of thieves and rogues. You should count yourself lucky that those prototypes are rendered useless to others due to their bond with me."

"That's what you brought me on for, isn't it? To track down the ones you can't find yourself?"

"Only three Rubies remain. One is in the Mystic Jungle, where I will be destroying it tonight. The other two are unaccounted for. If that's really all you're good for, then I suggest you prove it by finding them."

Eggman comes strolling down the corridor. "Is there a problem here?"

Rouge answers, "Not at all. Infinite and I were just discussing where to find the next missing prototypes. I understand that some recently went missing from our new Death Egg?"

Eggman growls back, "That would be my Death Egg. There was only ever one Ruby held there. And I don't need it anymore. You can look somewhere else for the rest."

"Still, don't you think I should look into what happened to it? Might help me find the rest."

Eggman considers that for a moment. "Mmm… Very well. There's a shuttle departing from the Space Port shortly. Be on it."

—–—

Multiple locks and tumblers can be heard sliding and clanking around behind the reinforced vault-like door of the highest-security room on the Death Egg. Eggman steps aside and gestures with a hand as the door opens. "Have a look. There's nothing there."

Rouge takes a step into the dark room. "Sure seems like you put a lot more effort than usual into keeping this thing safe."

"I already told you, I don't need it anymore."

"Sure. Keep telling me that until you believe it." Rouge looks around in the room. There's nothing but an empty pedestal in the center, and a small computer setup off to the side. Rouge moves right for the computer. "Mind if I take a look at the security footage?"

"Whatever you want, just be quick about it." Eggman starts to step away. "I have some other business to attend to."

Rouge mutters as he leaves, "Why do they always say that?" She sits down at the computer, stretching her fingers before getting to work on the keyboard. "Alright, Doctor. Now that I'm alone, let's see what secrets you've been hiding on this space station of yours." Various windows and streams of text quickly pop up on the screen as she types. "What's this? A top-security substation? Interesting… Now what would you keep in a place like that? Maybe…special prisoners?" She continues working for a short while. Until finally, she leans back, double-checking what she sees on screen.

A big smile covers her face as she flicks on a familiar communicator. "This is Rouge. Do you read?"

After a few moments, the voice of Knuckles responds, "Loud and clear. What's your report?"

"You might want to sit down for this one, boss. I found him. I found Sonic."

"…You aren't messing with me, are you?"

"I'm looking at the records right now. Sonic was transferred to a solitary confinement cell in the orbiting prison after it launched a few months ago, and he's been tortured there ever since."

"But…he's alive?"

"I'll have to check on him myself. But he's definitely alive."

"That's incredible news! I'll pass it on to the Resistance right away. We're going to come up with a rescue plan, no doubt."

"Just be careful."

"You know that might not be an option. Any risk is worth getting Sonic back."

"Yeah. I guess so. …How's it going on the ground?"

"It's been better. Eggman broke through our defenses at Green Hill, and rampaged all the way through the downtown area…with a little help from Shadow. That place is nothing but a ghost town, now."

Rouge grimaces at the sound of Shadow's name. "You shouldn't blame him. He might be…" She doesn't seem to know how to finish.

"I don't really know what to think anymore. Just have to take it how it is. On the bright side, we got a new recruit today. A survivor from the city. He's a bit green, but he looks pretty capable with that Wispon we gave him. Might come in handy if we're gonna save Sonic."

"I suppose you'll need all the help you can get."

"Hey, what's that supposed to mean!?"

"It means, I'm wishing you luck."

"You've already pulled off one miracle today, Rouge. We'll see what we can do about making the next."

—–—

Daily log, July 8th, 0 A.E. Rouge the Bat reporting.

I think what I did to Sly last night actually earned me some respect around here. Fang…isn't looking quite so far down his nose at me. He actually let me in on the plan today. It…it doesn't look good. When you two fought while I was escaping…he claims he orchestrated that. And he claims it's only the beginning. He's going to keep putting on the pressure…and he wants my help to do it.

And Infinite…he actually talked to me too. It was mostly a death threat, of course, but it…almost sounded like he was asking for my help. He seemed to think I might know what to do about his Ruby problem…which, now that I think about it, I actually might.

Anyways, Sly's pretending to be mad at me, but I'm sure he'll be back to his old self by tomorrow. Though I have to admit…without him talking all day, it was pretty quiet. Maybe even…a little lonely.

If there's one thing that never changes…no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing…I always want what I don't have. Whether it's jewels, or safety, or friends, or a chance to be a hero. Nothing's ever enough. I guess that's the typical story of a villain, isn't it? Maybe I'm right where I belong…

—–—

Three years ago

Rouge steps up slowly to the solitary confinement cell. A thick transparent wall stands between her and the prisoner inside. Sonic. His wrists are bound together by glowing blue energy cuffs, apparently of the same design seen on Shadow. He sits in a slouched position in the corner of the cell, apparently asleep. Rouge presses a key on the panel on the wall, letting sound pass through the barrier. "Hey, Big Blue. Long time no see."

Sonic opens his eyes with a start. "Rouge?" He quickly jumps to his feet, and glares out at her. "This is some kind of trick, isn't it?"

"No trick. I'm the real deal, hon. And you have no idea how long it took me to work my way here."

"Well, if I had to guess, I'd say, oh…about six months. What are you even doing here?"

Rouge glances back over her shoulder. Then she whispers, "We're going to break you out of here. The Resistance is already on their way to get you. Just sit tight, and they'll be here soon."

Sonic puts on a scowl as he stares past her, apparently seeing something behind her. "Wait a minute… You're working with them, aren't you!? I should've known a friendly face wouldn't–"

Sonic's voice cuts off as Rouge takes her hand off the key in reaction to a voice behind her declaring, "Well who do we have here?" Zavok slowly steps up towards her. "I don't recall granting the prisoner any visitation rights. In fact, I don't think you have clearance to be here."

Rouge slowly turns with a smile, already wearing a disguise of confidence. "Well, I was up here investigating the disappearance of…some sort of Ruby that belonged to the Doctor, when I accidentally came across a very interesting prisoner file. I just had to come see for myself. Have you really been torturing him all this time? He looks perfectly fine." She looks into the cell, where Sonic is still shouting furiously, but his voice no longer carries through the soundproof barrier.

"Perhaps he looks fine now. But you should see how he screams for mercy when I get to work."

"Him? Mercy? I don't believe it."

"Well, I suppose it doesn't matter, since you won't get the chance to see."

"What do you mean by that?"

"The prisoner is being transferred, ahead of his execution later today."

"Execution!? Why keep him here all this time, just to get rid of him now?"

"The Doctor wished to show Sonic his completed Empire before banishing him into space. To show him his ultimate failure…the most deeply psychological form of torture. But apparently, there's been some sort of incident at the Space Port that has forced us to accelerate our plans. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

"No, I guess I don't really have he clearance to be told about a thing like that."

"I guess you don't."

"Hey…just a thought here, maybe I could escort the prisoner to wherever–"

"No."

"Well, I'd love to know where–"

"You don't have the clearance to know. Now, are you going to leave, or will I be forced to remove you?"

Rouge takes a step back. "That…uh…won't be necessary." She glances over at Sonic. He pants heavily, apparently completely exhausted by his long bout of unheard shouting. He continues to glare at her.

Zavok threatens, "If we meet like this again…you and I will have a problem. And I don't think either of us wants that. Now get off of this station. I have business to attend to."

—–—

Rouge runs almost frantically through the halls of the space station. Once finally far enough away, she presses herself into a shadowy corner, and immediately flicks on her communicator. "Knuckles, bad news! Sonic's being moved, I don't know where to. Knuckles! Can you hear me!?"

After a brief moment of static, Knuckles' voice finally responds, "Rouge! It's about time! How's Sonic doing?"

A bit irritated, she snaps back, "He's been better. They're getting ready to banish him into space!"

Silver can be heard shouting, "What!? You can't be serious!"

"Eggman's been keeping Sonic alive all this time. He's been waiting to show him his completed Empire before banishing him."

Knuckles growls, "And torturing Sonic just to pass the time. That's low, even for Eggman."

"Eggman got wind of our rescue plan, and he's moving forward with his plan ahead of schedule. The clock is ticking, boss."

Amy's voice questions, "But we don't even know where he's being held captive."

"Yes, we do! Eggman's keeping Sonic somewhere on his rebuilt Death Egg. We just need find him."

Vector can be heard complaining, "The Death Egg… Oh, man, that's not good…"

Knuckles responds somberly, "None of this is good, Vector. That's why it's called 'war'." He continues with renewed confidence, "You all know what to do. Let's go get Sonic."

After a moment, Rouge questions, "What can I do to help?"

"I wouldn't want you to jeopardize your position up there. But…a well-timed power outage might give us the kind surprise we need, if you can manage it."

Rouge nods. "I'll make it happen." She suddenly scrambles to flick off the device as a sound can be heard approaching.

She looks out into the corridor to see the Egg Mobile quickly coming by. She steps out all the way, and calls out, "Hey, Doc! I was wondering…"

Eggman snaps as he passes by, "Later! I don't have time for you right now!" He continues past without another word.

Rouge puts on a smile. "That's exactly what I was wondering about."

—–—

?

Two panting breaths and their frantic footsteps across the metal floor drown out all other sound as the windows looking down on the Earth fly by. A voice in the distance shouts, "Find them, before they escape!" But Shadow just keeps running. He glances back behind him. The girl he leads gives him a look of equal hope and fear.

Everything flashes forwards. The girl nearly collapses onto the control panel in the ARK Research Lab, pressing the key that traps Shadow inside the escape pod. Shadow immediately presses his hands against the glass, as if to push himself out. "What!?"

The girl looks to him with sorrow. She opens her mouth as if to speak.

The sealed door to the Research Lab explodes outwards, knocked away by the assailants on the other side. When the smoke clears, Infinite steps through the opening, charging a crimson energy in his hand, backed by four separate Replicas of Shadow. "Now die." Infinite throws out his attack.

Shadow beats and struggles against the glass with all of his might. But there's nothing he can do. He cries with anguish, "MARIA!" Through the reflection in his teary eye, she can be seen collapsing to the ground.

Infinite starts to step towards Shadow.

"You…it can't be you…this isn't right…"

Infinite leans right up to the glass. "Yet here I am, Shadow. I am responsible for all of your pain. Past, p-p-present-t, an-n-nd fut-t-ture." Infinite's entire body seems to glitch and distort as he finishes his statement. For an awkward moment, he seems completely frozen. Then he finally resumes, "We've been through this before. How does it feel, being too weak to stop it, no matter how many times you try? Living that moment of failure over and over again…it must hurt. I wouldn't know. I don't feel pain any longer. Don't you wish you had the same?"

Shadow takes on a look of confusion. "You…you never said that before… What's going on?"

Suddenly, the world dissolves into blackness around him. A soft yet distorted voice echoes from nowhere, "I've been watching you, Shadow…"

"Who's there? Who are you?"

Far in the distance, a faint violet glow slowly fades into view. "Any other might have given in to insanity… But you… You have the strength of will to fight the reality created for you, no matter how many times it repeats."

Shadow starts to run towards the light. "What are you saying!?"

In front of the glow, a hazy outline begins to form. Though the shape is reminiscent of Infinite's mask, it seems to have its own mouth, which moves as it speaks. "You may be the one I've been searching for…the one who can destroy he who calls himself 'Infinite'." No matter how far Shadow runs, the distant image never seems to draw any closer. "Just say the word… And I shall set you free. Free to carry out your revenge. Isn't that what you desire?"

Shadow slowly comes to a stop.

"Your chance to do so will soon slip away… You must answer…"

"…Do it. Let me out."

"Good… Very good… Now wake up!"

Shadow takes a sharp breath in as his eyes dart open, the command still echoing in his head. The first thing he sees is the Chaos Emerald, still floating in the air a short distance in front of him. He tries to move his hand to reach for it. But his arms are firmly bound to the wall. He appears to be in the same room he was held in six months ago. He closes his eyes. "Of course. On the impossible chance that I might wake up, Infinite wanted to taunt me by leaving my only means of escape just out of my reach. Big mistake."

The room starts to rumble slightly. Shadow looks curiously up to the ceiling. A few moments later, another, more powerful tremor causes everything to go dark. "The power…?" The energy cuffs that bind him quickly fade away, dropping him to the ground, as visibility in the room is restored by strobing red warning lights. "Hmph." Shadow leaps up, and snatches the Emerald out of the air.

Moments later, the door to the room is blasted outwards. Shadow rolls his head around his shoulders, stretching the muscles in his neck. But he stops as he notices something on the ground in front of the door. Another gem, this one with a radiant violet glow. The same voice from before echoes in Shadow's head, "Take this stone…a Phantom Ruby replica…I've brought it here just for you. With the strength of your will, it shall overcome his powers…"

Shadow stares down at the Ruby for a short time. "I…will make sure that Infinite is defeated…" Suddenly, he stomps down on the gem, shattering it into a thousand pieces. "…my way!" He sprints off, searching for his own way out of the Death Prison.

A faint voice, emanating as if from the dust of the Ruby itself, fades through an almost static-like sound, "I will…find another…"

—–—

Shadow stares out through a wide window, out of the Death Egg, looking down to the Earth below. He grimaces as his mind is assaulted by the memory of a similar view from the ARK. The thought is quickly replaced with the image of Infinite, preparing to deliver the killing blow. Shadow clenches his eyes shut, and clutches at his head. He reminds himself, "It wasn't real…"

A completely flat, monotone voice states simply, "You aren't supposed to be here."

Shadow turns slowly to look into the lifeless eyes of the Replica of himself. He spits back, "You aren't supposed to exist."

"You will be imprisoned until Infinite returns."

"You'll be destroyed long before then." Shadow charges at his copy. The Replica takes off just as fast. They collide in a roll in the middle, each bouncing back where they came from. Shadow rebounds off the wall and goes right back in for a direct strike, but the Replica does the same, and they once again collide in the middle. Shadow lands back on the ground. "Chaos Spear!"

The Replica ducks underneath Shadow's attack, and wordlessly throws one of its own. Shadow dives out of the way, and the spear of light keeps going, hitting a window and cracking the glass. The Replica taunts, "There's no way you can save yourself. I am your equal in every way."

"You may have my form…you may have my power…" Shadow glances over at the cracked window. "…but you don't have my heart. Chaos…" The Replica prepares to defend itself. "…Spear!" Instead of attacking, Shadow throws the spear sideways, straight into the window. The glass shatters on impact. The force of the vacuum outside rips the replica off of its feet, sending it hurtling out into open space. It flails its limbs around as it tries to regain some semblance of control in the zero-g environment. Its efforts are rendered useless as Shadow comes flying at it moments later with a full-forced attack. The two connect and lose even more control.

The hole in the space station behind them is quickly covered by a nearly-invisible forcefield, locking the air in, and them out. The two Shadows tumble ever further away from the Death Egg as they struggle against one another. A red shuttle craft launched from the station blasts past them at high speed. Their tumbling quickly turns into falling as they move closer to the planet.

As the atmosphere thickens around them, they suddenly push off of each other. Shadow grimaces as he is struck by the memory of falling from a similar space station. But he shakes it off, and angles his fall back in to attack. He grabs the Replica by the throat, and starts to punch across its face repeatedly as they both plummet head-first ever downwards. It kicks him hard in the stomach, separating them once again.

Though his voice can hardly be heard as they tear through the atmosphere, Shadow still states slowly, "There's something else I have that you don't." He pulls out his Chaos Emerald. "This! Chaos Control!" In an instant, he appears behind the Replica, grabs it by the shoulder, and warps them both away again.

They reappear just above a familiar city, still flying down at terminal velocity. When they crash into the war-torn street, a massive cloud of dust and rubble is thrown into the air.

One Shadow rises to his feet in the impressively large crater they've created, above the crumpled form of the other. Though he is bruised and cut, the real Shadow, tall on his feet, opens his eyes to look down on the fake. "No heart. No soul. No chance at stopping me."

The Replica manages to open its eyes and look up. "You think you have won. You are incorrect. There are more. There can be an unlimited number." Shadow watches as the Replica fades away to a familiar sound.

"Then I'll destroy every single one."

—–—

Daily log, July 9th, 0 A.E. Rouge the Bat reporting.

I guess I shouldn't complain about finally getting to work today, but…the weirdest thing happened. It was a personal request from Eggman. He wanted…a Chao. I can't imagine why. Maybe the poor old Doctor was just feeling a bit lonely. I heard he built an entire Chao Garden into his first Egg Carrier just for his own personal use, so…I guess there's no big surprise here.

I managed to buy an egg off the Black Market. Figured that would better than hunting down a real Chao Garden and taking one from its home. Maybe a bit easier, too. But of course, that meant I had to hatch the egg myself before I could hand over the Chao. And then Sly just had to come in right in time to see it. He wouldn't shut up about how the adorable the little guy was. I think he might've thought it was a gift for him, though. He looked pretty disappointed when I said it was for Eggman.

I decided it would be better not to name it. Let Eggman do what he wants. I'll admit, it…didn't feel very good, handing it over. I can't help but imagine all the worst things Eggman could have in mind. After all the years I've spent taking from Eggman…it feels kind of weird giving to him now.

And I guess I just don't stop giving. I told Infinite my idea about his Ruby. I told him I would fix it. It almost sounded like he was thankful. It doesn't get much weirder than that. But you know…maybe I'm not so alone here.

—–—

Three years ago – Two days later

"You! It was you, wasn't it!?" Infinite casts out a hand, knocking Rouge off her feet with a blast of Ruby energy. "First my prisoner escapes, and now this! I always suspected you were a traitor."

Rouge stands back up defiantly. "If you're worried about why Sonic got out, you should take it up with Zavok. He was the one who 'forgot' to close Sonic's cell when the power went out. As for 'this,' I don't even know what you're talking about."

"I wasn't talking about Sonic. And as for this, I think you know perfectly well. I just fought against a child, wielding a Phantom Ruby prototype. Now how did you manage to fool me into believing they were all destroyed, I wonder? How did you get it to him?"

"You got beat by a kid? I have a hard time seeing how that's my fault."

"SILENCE!" Infinite casts out his energy once again, this time locking Rouge in place. "You've made a fool of me for the last time."

As she struggles and fails to move, Rouge still remarks, "Wasn't it you who told me that any prototype would be useless outside of your hands? Obviously, you were wrong about that. Ever consider the fact that, maybe, you just miscounted?"

"You will hold your tongue. I told you it would be on your head if any went unaccounted for. Now, it will be your head." Infinite prepares to strike.

Eggman's voice growls, "That's enough, Infinite." As he steps into the room, he moves right past them, to the computer console in the back. "The girl is right. This folly is no one's fault but your own." He pulls up what appears to be security footage, taken from outside a facility in the Mystic Jungle. The back of Silver the Hedgehog can be seen, floating in the air by the power of the psychic aura that surrounds him. Infinite floats across from him, suspended by an aura of his own. Infinite suddenly darts at Silver, but Silver manages to dash just out of the way as Infinite flies past him. He quickly turns and flies after him. The two appear as little more than streaks of light as they zip through the air. After a moment the two collide in the middle, and a small violet object goes flying off towards the ground. Eggman freezes the footage, and points to the object. "There it is. The Ruby that was found by the Resistance the following night. You were so busy not killing Sonic that you didn't even bother to pick it back up before you left."

Infinite looks from the still image to Rouge. After a moment, he unclenches his hand, letting her fall back to the ground.

Eggman continues, "If I can't trust you with one of those useless prototypes, how can I be expected to trust you with the one you're wearing?" Infinite wordlessly looks down to the Ruby on his chest. "Consider yourself lucky that you took out so many of their forces in the battle today. Otherwise, I wouldn't be so forgiving. You're on thin ice, Infinite. Don't fail me again."

Rouge stretches her shoulders as if they had grown stiff in the short time she was held in place. "Well, I think I should probably start up my investigation again. Just in case there are any more 'surprises' waiting for us."

Eggman waves her off. "Fine, whatever, go."

Rouge takes one last glance back at Infinite before she exits. She walks past several windows looking down at the Earth, apparently still on the Death Egg. She quickly retreats into another darkened room, and flicks on her communicator. "I need a report on the battle at Metropolis. What happened, is everyone okay?"

After a moment, the voice of Knuckles responds, "I…don't really want to talk about it. But…there's someone here who does want to talk with you."

Rouge puts on a confused look as she waits. Finally, Shadow's voice states, "Rouge…"

Rouge gasps. "Sh-…Shadow? You're okay? It's…it's really you?"

"I'm fine."

"Well what in the world happened to you!?"

"It's a long story."

Knuckles adds, "Start thinking about how you're going to get out. We can all catch up once you're back down here."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you only joined Eggman to help Sonic and Shadow, didn't you? They're both here now. Your job is done, you can head back home."

"Knuckles…what happened during the battle?"

Knuckles can be heard sighing. "It was a disaster. More than eighty percent of our forces were wiped out." Rouge gasps. "It was that Phantom Ruby. Normal weapons aren't any match for it. Everything fell into chaos the moment it was activated. And it was downhill from there."

"…Then I'm not going anywhere. I'm in a better position than anyone to figure out how to solve this Ruby problem, and I'm not leaving until we do. …With all due respect, boss."

"…Alright. In that case, figure out everything you can tonight. We're going to take the night to rest and recover down here. First thing tomorrow morning, that Ruby becomes our number one priority."

Shadow adds, "There's something else. Some intel I want you to find for me. What do you know…about the original Phantom Ruby?"

"Original?"

"All of these Rubies, Infinite's included, are artificial constructs created by Eggman. It's clear that there's something he's trying to replicate. Otherwise, he would have no measure by which to say that some are defective while one is not. There has to be an original. And there's a chance that it's more dangerous than anything Eggman could ever create."

"There might be something I can look into. I'll see what I can find out."

—–—

Two days later

Rouges stands in waiting as the loading bay of the shuttle in front of her opens. Knuckles, Vector, Tails, and Classic Sonic step out. "Welcome back to the Death Egg, boys. Looks like my clearance codes got you in alright?"

Knuckles nods. "I know you're risking a lot with this. But once this place is destroyed, the Phantom Ruby will be finished."

"Once this place is destroyed, I'll be leaving on that shuttle with you guys, and the risk won't matter anymore. So let's get this finished and go home."

Vector asks, "So what do we need to know?" Classic Sonic starts to tap his foot impatiently.

"Our target is the main reactor core. If we destroy it, the whole Death Egg goes offline, and the Phantom Ruby will be without a power source. The core's blocked off by all sorts of security systems, but we'll be free to go once Sonic shuts it down from the surface. Which should be any second now."

"What about guards?'

"Eggman and Infinite went down to Green Hill to handle the Rookie's distraction, just as planned. There might be a few robots, but nothing we can't handle." In that moment, red warning lights begin to flash through the room. "There it is! The Death Egg's weapon systems are down! Now's your chance! Move!"

Tails nods to the other three members of his party. "Hurry! Just destroy the Death Egg and cut off the power supply!"

Vector growls, "You're making sound like a walk in the park. This is a Death Egg!"

"Don't sweat it." He points to the spot where Classic Sonic had been standing a few moments ago. "The other Sonic has this under control."

Knuckles starts running after him, shouting, "Hey, wait for us!" Vector quickly follows.

Tails calls after them, "I'll stay back here and coordinate from the shuttle! I'll be ready to take off as soon as you get back!" He runs back up the ramp he came from.

Rouge puts a hand over her chin. "Somehow this all seems too easy…"

As if in answer, Knuckles' voice comes in over the communicator. "Hey, the defense system's still up! I thought we shut it down!"

Tails answers, "They probably switched over to auxiliary power. Not to worry. Sonic is on the job. He'll find a way through!"

Rouge thinks a while longer. "Auxiliary power means an auxiliary power source. If I can take that out, they can still make it to the core."

—–—

Rouge enters a spherical room that is quite massive in size, with many whirring mechanical parts and lights in the walls. But the elevated platform she stands on leads to the very center of the room, where a glittering green Chaos Emerald floats inside a glass chamber, power clearly running through it. "Have we really gotten to the point where a Chaos Emerald barely even makes it in as a backup plan, Doctor?" She walks up to the glass. "Well, if it's really that unimportant to you, I'm sure you won't mind if I take it for myself."

"Looking for something?"

Rouge turns with a gasp. "Infinite!? But you're supposed to be down on the planet!"

Infinite descends slowly to the floor. "Yes, I am. But why should I limit myself to being in just a single place at once…"

Two more voices echo, "…when I can be in three?" Two more Infinites descend down on either side of the first.

The one on the left continues, "Or four?"

The one on the right finishes, "Or…infinite?"

Rouge breathes, "Replicas."

The Infinite in the center answers, "Ah, I never accused you of being ignorant. But the trash you choose to side with…well they certainly aren't the brightest."

"I don't suppose you'd believe that I came in here looking for a way to stop them?"

The middle Infinite shakes his head. "You've been a useful tool, Rouge the Bat."

The one on the left continues, "But your usefulness…"

The one on the right finishes, "…has reached its end."

The center one charges an orb of energy in his hand, and throws it. Rouge dives back out of the way, latching on to the side of the Emerald chamber. Another orb quickly follows. Rouge dives off of her perch, and the orb hits the chamber, cracking the glass. Rouge flies over one of the Infinites, and attempts to drill kick right down onto it. It easily darts out of the way. The moment she lands on the ground, she's struck in the back by a laser bolt. An Infinite catches her in front with a kick before she even hits the ground again, knocking her high into the air. An Infinite is already waiting there in the air, and strikes down with a heel, sending her straight back into the hard ground.

The closest Infinite to Rouge leans down to whisper into her ear, "This is where you die. The Death Egg will stand. Your friends will perish, if not now, then in a few short hours, when the plan is complete. After all your hard work…all of the terrible things you had to do just to convince me of your deception…it all amounts to nothing. You've lost."

"Chaos…Control!" The entire world appears to freeze around Shadow as he dashes into the room, landing a hard kick on the Infinite that speaks to her. When time resumes, the Infinite goes flying from the force of the attack, slamming into the back wall, where he glitches and fades away. Shadow lands between Rouge and the other two. "The only one who's lost here is you, Infinite."

Rouge climbs back to her feet. "Shadow? How did you get here?"

"How do you think?"

"Oh, right."

"Just grab the Emerald. We'll hold them off."

"We?"

Knuckles leaps at one of the remaining Infinites from behind, but it dodges out of the way, and he only punches solid ground. Still, he stands confidently. "Don't worry. We've got your back."

As Shadow and Knuckles each engage one of the remaining Replicas, Rouge moves back to the Emerald chamber. She leans back and kicks hard against the glass. It cracks a little bit more. As she works away, Knuckles can be heard questioning as he fights, "How can there be two of him?"

Shadow answers, "They're Replicas."

"He can make Replicas of himself?"

"Obviously, yes. And they seem to have at least most of the powers of the original."

"But the original's power comes from the Phantom Ruby. Does that mean a Ruby can make more Rubies?"

"It's possible that's all the Ruby prototypes ever were."

"Virtual Reality projections that can project Virtual Virtual Reality projections? You're making my head hurt here."

"Then shut up and fight."

Rouge delivers one last hard kick at the chamber, shattering the glass completely. Immediately, she swipes the Emerald from inside. As soon as she does, all of the lights in the room go dim, save for the strobing red warning lights. Then the room stats to rumble.

Knuckles comments, "Sounds like Sonic's getting it done out there." He continues into his communicator, "Alright, the Death Egg's starting to crumble! Get out of there before it blows! Whoa!" He leaps out of the way of an oncoming laser bolt, then jumps back in for an attack of his own.

Shadow chases his Infinite across a circular platform that stretches all the way around the edge of the room in a loop. As the room rumbles again, more violently than the last time, Infinite taunts, "Curious, that no matter how many times you reclaim your freedom, you always throw it all away by coming right back to me. I don't know how you escaped this time, but I intend to make sure it doesn't happen again. Hah!" Infinite outstretched his arms, and a wall of cubes rises out of the ground in front of Shadow. Shadow leaps over, and continues into a direct hit with a Spin Attack.

Infinite roars at being hit, releasing a wave of negative energy. Shadow merely smirks. Infinite growls, "What do you find so amusing?"

Shadow skids to a halt, and points above Infinite's head. "That."

Infinite looks up, a moment too late to notice the massive piece of mechanical rubble that falls from the ceiling, before it impacts him, crushing the Replica to the floor. The room seems to be falling apart around them.

Knuckles doesn't seem to be having quite so much luck. His Infinite strikes him in the stomach, knocking him down off his feet. Rouge leaps in over him for a kick of her own which hits Infinite just as hard, knocking him back through the air. Knuckles keeps up from her attack, delivering a series of rapid-fire punches, followed by one more powerful hit, knocking the Replica back into the wall. Unlike the others, it still manages to stand back up, and start to limp towards them. It looks only to Rouge. "You truly wish to fight with this rabble? Fine. Then you will burn with them as well. You will all burn come tonight. And then I will–"

Rouge drill kicks straight down onto the Replica, this time destroying it for good. "I've wanted to shut him up like that for a very long time."

"Look out!" Knuckles leaps over Rouge's head, knocking a piece of rubble out of the way.

Before she has a chance to thank him, the room shakes even harder. Alarm sirens begin to wail even louder. Their communicators buzz. Vector's voice cries, "I think we might be out of time! I'm completely lost in here! You guys'll have to leave without me!"

Tails responds, "I'm not taking off until everyone's back inside! No one gets left behind!"

Rouge rolls her eyes. "Stop being so dramatic, boys." She looks over to Shadow. "You can grab everyone, right?"

Shadow groans. "Fine." He closes his eyes. "Chaos…Control!" As the three of them disappear, explosions start to chain through the walls, beginning the room's complete destruction.

—–—

Shadow, Rouge, Knuckles, Vector, Tails, and Classic Sonic all reappear on the calm floor of the Resistance HQ. Amy gasps in surprise at seeing the group appear. "You're all here!"

Silver questions, "Does that mean…?"

Knuckles steps up to the front of the table, pointing to the base's main viewscreen, which appears to show live footage from the outside of the Death Egg. Tails and Rouge move up to the front with him, watching eagerly. Shadow remains in the back corner of the room where he can't easily be seen. Classic Sonic seems happy to wait there with him.

On the screen, the Death Egg becomes covered in explosions coming out of every side, until it finally goes up in one massive fireball that sends out a rippling shockwave. Everyone in the room lets out a raucous cheer. Except Shadow. And Classic Sonic.

Amy happily cheers, "They did it! The Phantom Ruby's power should be down to almost nothing!" The room assents, and cheers some more.

Knuckles puts a hand on Rouge's shoulder. "Welcome home, Rouge. You did good."

Shadow approaches her as well. "Still nothing on that intel I asked for?"

Rouge shakes her head. "Whatever it is, Eggman had it. And he lost it. And he doesn't seem to care. That's all I could ever figure out for certain."

"So it could still be anywhere…"

Rouge looks down to the ground. "Yeah…"

Knuckles encourages, "Hey, don't beat yourself up. Thanks to you, we can finally end this war. We can finally say goodbye to Infinite and his Phantom Ruby."

—–—

Present day

Rouge looks very carefully through a strange and intricate looking device, at Infinite's Phantom Ruby placed on the bottom. Through the lens of the device, the view of the small cracks and fissures that run across its surface is greatly zoomed, far more clear to see. She precisely adjusts several knobs and dials on the side of the device. Finally, she presses down on a large red button near the bottom. An extremely thin yet blindingly bright beam of cyan light shoots down onto the Ruby. Rouge starts to carefully move the tray that the Ruby is held in, allowing the entire line of each crack to pass beneath the beam, seeming to repair every last deformity as it goes.

After a short while, she turns off the device, and removes the Ruby from its tray. "Here you are, Infinite." She turns around to face him where he waits silently behind her. "One fully-functional Phantom Ruby."

Infinite takes the Ruby, and holds it up to his eye, examining it very closely.

"It only cracked like that because you overclocked it. Why don't you just get it a bigger power source?"

The Ruby seems to pass Infinite's inspection, as he moves it down to place it on his chest. "…I refuse to chain myself to the Doctor's power. To be at his mercy. I will never allow it to happen again. When I burn this world, it will be by my own hand, and no one else's. You wouldn't understand."

"Wanting to act for yourself, without letting anyone else decide your path for you? I think just about anyone could understand that much."

After a moment, Infinite voices, "What is this?"

Rouge points back at the machine. "Oh, that thing? The technology's a bit complicated, but it's fairly standard in most jewelry stores these days. I've had to fix a few scratched gems in my day, and I figured something like this had to be lying around somewhere."

"That wasn't what I meant. What is this that you're trying to accomplish? Why would you do this for me?"

"The full truth? I got tired of thinking that you wanted to kill me, so I thought doing you a big favor might help with that."

"Is that all? Is it really?"

"Well…"

"I have a different theory. I think that you saw someone who was suffering…and you couldn't help but assist him. You hero types are all the same."

"Do you really think so little of me?"

Infinite actually laughs briefly at the joke. "And what if I do?"

"You know what? I have a theory of my own. I think you're looking for some excuse to find an ulterior motive when there isn't any. Now why would that be?"

Infinite looks downwards. After a delay, he responds, "I don't like to be in another's debt."

Rouges raises an eyebrow in surprise for a moment. "Well…you can pay me back by trusting me a bit more around here."

Infinite takes a long pause. "Why should I believe that this will turn out any differently than the last time? Why should I believe that you've changed your traitorous ways?"

"Because I haven't changed a thing. It's just like I said last time. I play for the winning side. However close you came…that still wasn't you back then."

Infinite lets out another soft laugh. "I almost want to believe that story. But answer me this. If you hadn't interfered at all…do you really think that your side still would have won?"

"Well…I guess…probably not."

"So whichever side you chose would have won. That's a lot of power for one person to have. But how did you wield it? Are you claiming that you chose at random!? Or…were you playing both sides all along?"

Rouge doesn't seem sure how to respond.

"That's right. I see through your little ruse. It's a good plan in theory, playing both sides. You end in a position of power no matter who the victor turns out to be. Unless…you get caught. And then you end with nothing no matter who the victor turns out to be." He starts to move for the door. "You want me to put more trust in you? Here's some advice I trust you'll listen to." He stops in the open doorway. "Cut all ties to your old life. That's the only way you'll last around here." He leaves without another word, and the door closes behind him.

Rouge gives a long sigh. After a moment, she takes out a small recording device. With another breath, she begins, "Daily log, July…" She trails off. She stares at the closed door for quite some time. Then she turns off the device.

To be continued…