Introduction

Knuckles the Echidna and all other related characters copyrighted by Sega.


BEAUTIFUL BURDEN
--

-Written by Tylec Asroc-

Sarah McLagchlan.
.

I will be the answer at the end of the line.
I will be there for you while you take the time.
In the burning of uncertainty I will be your solid ground.
I will hold the balance if you can't look down.
If it takes my whole life, I won't break, I won't bend.
It'll all be worth it…
--Answer.


From this highest plateau he could gaze down upon the green canyons of the Marble Garden in its entirety. Here, on the slopes of the mighty Icecap, his people had built their greatest city. It bore testament to their strength and resilience, the way the columns and cathedrals stood tall on the steep walls of the mountain, the foundations rooted firmly as a forest. Even after years of abandonment, this legacy of stone could not fall; it could not be shaken, no matter the scourge of the elements or the siege of time.

Knuckles the Echidna took in the strong mountain air and let it fill his body with the strength of the city. He smiled – a rare event indeed, but it could not be avoided. To look down on this enduring civilization was absolutely inspiring! In this city, he saw what was required of him – to stand and to weather all obstacles. He would do it for his people, for their purpose: for the Controller.

The last of the Echidna closed his eyes and meditated on that great strength he was sworn to protect. As fragments, the shards of the Master Emerald had seemed like drops of water in darkness, beacons of light and sound. But here, combined into their majesty they were an overwhelming presence permeating every tree and rock and every living creature on the island. The Controller existed in the air, pulsing out from its source in waves like green fire. Knuckles could open his mind to this presence and let his eyes ride the crests of energy, allowing him to see what was impossible to a limited echidna eye. He saw all on the island.

And he saw someone unwanted.

The presence – the absence, more correctly – in the energies had come this morning with the dawn. Years ago, a plummeting Death Egg had taken him by surprise, but this Guardian, matured and steeled to an unbreakable fortress, could sense any stranger within the web of The Controller. A scattered shriek of The Emerald's song was enough to alert him and to initiate the hunt.

He had his 'guest' pinpointed: The rainforest outside this cradle of civilization. Knuckles leapt from the precipice and spread his body like a canvas, allowing the energies that let fly the Island of Angels to suspend him from the ground. A brief glide cut short and his form dropped through the treeline as a ball of spiny dreadlocks. Fists clenched, he ran down a beaten path through the trees. The stony road led to a small pool poured into the forest basin. His quarry lingered there – he would capture the trespasser and remove it. Only a few paces more and he could attack.

He grew silent now, creeping off the path and into the brush, arming himself with stealth and surprise. The Guardian knew how to hush the whispering grass as he moved, rendering him invisible despite his noble scarlet. Now, with but a pounce of his wiry legs he could dive within striking range of the form bent over the pond. He crouched at the edge of the thickets and peered through the green blades to examine his prey.

Knuckles' heart seized in his chest. His unrestrained gasp was enough to reveal his position, but just to be sure, his body thought it fit to seize up, loose its balance and tumble noisily into the clearing. She darted her head immediately and jumped away with a gasp. Even on his belly, Knuckles had a clear mind – she was going to run!

"No, Stop!" he ordered, stretching out a hand as though to grasp her. She kept backing away, darting her head about; looking for some path to run down. Knuckles had already bolted to his feet and thrown his body to block of the trail she'd come down. They were both panting; Knuckles knew he was trembling, and he spoke with all manner of urgency.

"Please, don't run," he pleaded. Never once in his life had he begged, but now, he needed to humble himself and remove all impression of hostility. He crouched until he fell beneath her height, dropping his large hands and opening them wide so she would see he held no weapons. She had folded up like a flower bud and buried her frightened face in her hands.

"I … I won't hurt you," he promised, almost too stunned to speak. "See?" he said, gesturing to his tangled spines and to the claws on his fists. "I'm just like you …"

She began to settle, and by degree she peaked up from behind her hands and inched her face up to meet his own. Her emerald eyes opened wide, and slowly her guard fell until Knuckles was looking into an exact reflection of his astonishment. But the mirror held more similarity than mere emotion.

"We're the same…" he whispered in exclamation.

"Echidna."