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He left her by the lakeshore, to enjoy what time remained on the still banks and quiet waters. When he deposited her in the meadow, she did not rise – not to chase the beauties of nature or even to dare follow. She sat in a daze, no more than a broken clay doll.

How fitting that he should now travel to the lava reef, where fire seeped in rivers like the rage in his heart, only to chill itself on the magma rocks and petrify into cold, beautiful crystals.

How dark seemed the marble tower of the Hidden Palace, the stronghold of the Guardians, buried deep inside the heart of these volcanic caverns where the crystals grew like jagged ferns among the molten rock. The tall cavern of black void that burrowed into the mountains could not inspire him, nor the empty monolith of marble that rose in a last attempt to safeguard the Controller. The Master was in mourning; a lonesome ocarina humming tears through the wind, reflecting the grieving ripples of his existence.

But he was the last guardian of Angel Island. His oaths, his ancestry would be forever paramount. Since the time he had become aware of his world and the life-giving heartbeat of green fire at its core, chains had clamped shut over his consciousness and shackles had coiled tight around his existence, binding him forever.

Alone, he took the walkways and suspended roads spiraling up the Hidden Palace. It would be the fox-child, he decided. He knew so few. The inventor was but a little kit, no older perhaps than his child, but the boy would do well to care for her.

There came confusion and indecision. Would she be safer in the world outside the heavens? By the Controller, he understood her well enough to know the answer! A world where Robotnik and Metal Sonic flaunted their powers? Where filth such as the Thief gathered in vile broods? A world crowded with iron and electricity? Down below none could keep her safe and pure. Not even the kit with his loyalty and care for others, or the Rose in her ignorant and confused happiness; not even that hedgehog.

By The Controller, absolutely not that idle, careless hedgehog! By no means could the rodent keep her safe; love her, as did he.

But really, it was all a matter of choosing how to suffer. Why not release her, and weep and hold the bitter taste of her memories? Let her stay, and she would taste the full dangers of the wild he knew like a harsh love. If not the wild that was the island, or the untamed danger of the outside, then the wild that was he. One day, she would try his patience, and he would strike her. He was Echidna, and he was tainted. She would shatter, as had the Controller.

He took the final stairs to the emerald chamber, to pray to the island's life-source, to guide a course to the mainland and the Mystic Ruins.

The emerald chimes echoed, ever present around the seat of power; so there was no foresight of the tampering.

Knuckles stiffened. He sucked in his breath to behold the great violation, to stare at the raised dais, into the empty nest of volcanic crystal where the Controller should have rested.

For a moment, he was claimed by chaos: to hear and sense the Master all around him, yet to behold the emerald removed from its place of power! And yet

He allowed his senses time to calm … and yet he supposed this should not have been altogether unexpected. No. He closed his eyes and set his scowl, and let his mind settle on the presence at his back.

"It was you all along." He turned and opened his vision and regarded the beautiful child, standing with head bowed and spirits low.

He could feel her heartbeat – hear the rhythm of power pulsing from her frail body. She shivered, from cold and from fear, and glass chimes sprinkled gloom though the air every time her tail of dreadlocks shook. Here in the hidden darkness, the guardian could see the holy aura shimmering from her thin body, as though she were no more than a projection of light on a screen.

Knuckles made a careful step – he feared so deeply that this luminous being might disappear. "Why?" he asked. The Controller shuffled between her feet and kneaded her paws, unable to match his gaze, like a child caught in a lie.

He continued, with dark urgency. "Why did you do this?" Still, she flinched and stared to her feet.

"Answer me!"

Her face averted.

Truth came plainly – Parasite! Again, deceived. Again, toyed and manipulated. Always pulled and dragged along like a puppet on strings!

Hunger and darkness. Nights of thunder. Bitter rain; numbing cold. Hunger and darkness – only companions to his mind. Crawling through the hard land for the uncaring stone that offered no answers.

Why wouldn't she answer? By Chaos – his anger grew so great, he wanted to grab the child and shake the answers from that whimpering face!

"ANSWER ME!" he bellowed, so caught within anger that he did not realize the fists shaking her arms, or the scream blasting in her face, until he heard the snap of her fragile bones and the press of soft, unsupported flesh between his paws.

Her arms dropped limply once he let go and stepped back, so steeped in horror that his amethyst strength mirrored the tears found in her eyes – tears that made him stop and drop to his knees.

He fell at her feet, dreadlocks cloaking his anguish.

Chaos, what have I done?

She barely perceived him – so great was her shock; so surprised were the eyes that turned without understanding to question arms that could not lift; ribs that could not expand; could not breathe…

Sweat beaded around her forehead, convulsions trembled up and down her body. Her eyes lolled into her skull and she collapsed to the cold floor.

He realized all too late what had happened; all too slowly he cried at the crash of shattering chimes, the mighty organ falling to pieces, the crystals splitting open like falling stars. All too late he crawled to her side, and touched her face with tender delicacy.

"I'm sorry!" he panicked and fumbled, while his eyes roved for some saving grace, for a steady rise and fall of chest, not this sickly, spasmic jerking of a crushed body. "Don't … don't leave!" He seized her paw in his haste, and though he crushed her all the more to squeeze it tight and press her cold palm to his face, he had to hold on. He had to hold on.

Please, I… I don't want to be alone. If you never speak, you'll still be more to me than I've ever had.

Even now it was too late. Even now, her luminous body grew glassy and transparent like a spirit or a sculpted crystal, and the fingers within his grasp began to fade and slip through his hold like mist. "No … " he pleaded. "No…"

Her eyelids fluttered weakly. Her precious soul-windows of emerald turned to him, the sobbing wreck of bloody fur grabbing at her hand and whimpering apologies. And from behind her dying pain, she smiled with a smile that knew no hate, no malice, not a single wicked or spiteful notion. She smiled with the last of her dissolving light, a smile of pure love.

Knuckles held back his shaking, and contained the tears from his eyes. Fighting the unbearable loss, the hollow collapse, he struggled to lift his own mouth, managing a trembling, weak smile touched with tears.

Slowly, the fading light of her body shrank away, like a golden sunset passing beneath the waters, and a glow of green moonlight spread around her darkened figure.

She faded. Where once she rested in his arms, beads of pearly light wafted through his grip, a mist of emerald that sprinkled and floated and disappeared like dust beneath the moon's glow.

But the moonlight remained, and shone upon his solitary back in a cold spotlight. The dark glow had risen steadily with every dying heartbeat of the sweet child of pink fur; now it stood in full strength. The guardian turned to address the source of this projection.

Crumbled into crystal fragments, its melody broken into drops of water in the darkness, the shards of the Master Emerald lay in a heap on its bed, each piece flickering on and off with a wounded light.

And Knuckles, fighting the hollow collapse of his existence, rose against the pains of his world, and trudged over to heal his ward, his daughter; his purpose.

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Why the Controller had chosen this form, he would never know. He doubted he would ever understand this being beyond all power and above all reasoning, which soothed him with a comfort that scarred his heart and drained the light of his face.

His days ached with loss, but he remembered his oaths. He was protector of the Angel Island and guardian of the Controller – still young and newborn and uncomprehending of its dangerous power.

To weather all obstacles. To stand against all. To endure. Such was the life of a guardian, and thus would he continue his damned duty of penitent love.

"I will always protect you," he would whisper to her close form, lighting the darkness of the palace. "I will keep you safe. I will be your strength."

He felt afraid, now he recognized this power that he guarded and had guarded all his life. It seemed more precious to him than ever before, more fragile than the sculpture of glass could ever be. To Ivo, to Chaos, to the Thief and to his own flawed outrage. How routinely he had failed her; tasted her loss like oil on his tongue. How deep would that pain reach if he failed her once again?

It was suddenly he who was unfit to stay, the protector, he the one unworthy and unprepared for the wilds of the outside.

And in those darkest moments, warm winds would lift him up, and the gleam of chimes would remind that he too had a source of strength to fall upon.

He was never alone. The Master Emerald continued to lift up his homeland, and it's song carried on and over the world. When all stood calm, it was a celestial harp plucking strings of peace beneath the moonlit night. When there hung great sorrow, it was a violin humming tears through the wind.

The Controller still filled the air and his lungs, and so he counted off the days neither victory nor defeat, but a continued endurance.

Some days he could see her still, if he shut his senses and opened his mind to the auras of energy. He could see her spirit dancing through the wild flowers as a summer breeze, or chasing the falling leaves in an incredible delight of life, always smiling, always knowing joy. And then he would return her smile, return the gestures of warmth and hope she delivered. At times her smiles were so real, so present, that he imagined her innocent gaze staring him down, wet nose ready to bonk his own, ready to blow all his anger away in a puff of air. And at those times he would throw open his eyes to meet her face.

But all that remained was the heart of green glass, and the innocent song of wind chimes and the precious memories of his beautiful burden.
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F I N
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July 11, 2004---Tylec Asroc.