Edited October 2
Rated for violence in later chapters, this story takes place immediately after the events in Sonic Adventure 2, and with the release of Sonic Heros is AU. All characters belong to Sega.
Chapter 1: Reborn
He has been falling a long way, for a long time. He can look up and still see the bright spot in the distance. Not the light at the end of the tunnel, per se, but the odd luminescence of ARK. He is sure he is not suspended in space, since the colony has gradually been growing smaller and smaller until it is nothing but a speck of light only marginally larger than the stars around it, but even so, he is falling very slowly. And he does not wish for his inevitable death to be prolonged much longer.
Already he can feel the growing heat beneath him. It is a given fact that anything entering the Earth's atmosphere will burn up, or at least most of it. His super form can't handle so much pressure and heat; he can feel his power wavering. He looks up again at ARK. All the people he was beginning to regard as friends, or at least allies, are there, floating calmly above him. And he is here, dying in the abyss, in the heat of what must be the very fires of Hell.
Does he deserve Hell? Maria won't be there. And yet he doesn't wish to live anywhere – Earth, ARK, wherever – because she is in another world, another life. He has hung on for over fifty years; he can't keep going without his dearest friend much longer. But all the destruction…is his one noble act at the end enough to see her again?
He feels his fur begin to singe, and closes his eyes one last time against the heat, shutting out his last view of the ones he had trusted. It hurts…the pain is terrible, but he does his best to focus his mind on one thing: Maria.
It will be all right, because I can see Maria again…
He can sense light around him, see it through his searing eyelids even as he loses consciousness. The darkness only lasts a minute, and then he's surrounded by light. The pain is gone, and when he opens his eyes he can see only mist, but he gets the feeling that beyond it is endless space, an endless world.
This…is the afterlife? Am I in Heaven, Hell, or the space in between?
Maria…it is Heaven. He casts around, searching for the source of her voice.
'Shadow, I'm here…'
The voice is near him. Very suddenly the mist melts away and he's in his old body again, standing in front of Maria under a tree full of blossoms, the petals of which fall and land in the water of the lake near them. He can't help but show this initial interest in his surroundings. But Maria soon has his full attention. She's just as he remembers her – a beautiful teenage girl with peaceful eyes. She kneels down and reaches out for him, and he embraces her.
And for a minute he's back on the ARK fifty years ago, on the very day she died. Before GUN had come, they had been talking. And she had hugged him like this. And a few hours later, he was being sent to Earth unwillingly, trapped in a capsule, and Maria…he is brought back to reality, or whatever this is.
'We thought…it would be easier this way,' she says, gesturing at their surroundings. 'If you saw me like this, as you last remembered me.'
'Shadow, I no longer have my body,' Maria says, smiling a little, 'I am pure spirit, you understand?'
As much as he loves to listen to Maria speak again, he has to admit to himself that this is hardly relevant. What does it matter, if it was Maria's soul that he had loved so dearly, what form she came to him in? He would recognize her anywhere, in any shape. On the ARK, she had been one with Amy for a mere minute, sending her true message just in time.
'So I thought it would be best if we could say our goodbyes this way.'
'You will be leaving soon.'
He stares at her. He just got here, and he's dead. What does she mean?
'I just arrived, Maria. Is this a middle place? Do I go on to the true afterlife from here?'
'No, that's not what I mean. This is not the right time, the right way. You will go back to Earth and find your true purpose. You'll live your life as it was meant to be lived.'
'But – '
'You have to.'
'But my body…'
'You will be given a new body; one that will suit your task, in its own way. You know about reincarnation, Shadow.'
'But I spent the last years of my life wanting to see you."'
'And you will again, soon. The first life is but a fleeting thing. You have to learn to live it to the fullest, in the best way, before you can return.'
'I'll be with you, Shadow, in any way I can. You have done well – you saved Earth from a terrible fate. But you have been tortured for fifty years, and now you will see just how good Earth is before you leave it forever.'
The mist is returning, starting to block Maria from his view. He has the feeling that he's falling; he tries to reach out but finds he cannot move. He feels Maria's hand on his forehead, hears her whisper goodbye, for now, but he cannot speak. He can't see her anymore, and he's falling back into cold darkness.
Wind rustles the leaves in the trees of the Mystic Ruins, ripples the water in the small lake that is already disturbed slightly by the force of the thundering waterfall that pours into it. Beyond the lake and rock walls that border it, the trees in the vast jungle sway in unison around the hidden ruins. In the sky a bright spark catches the light briefly before dying away, continuing to fall into the heart of the jungle. This is seen only by one girl, Amy Rose, who is headed for Tails' workshop.
As much of a fangirl as ever, Amy had sought out Sonic immediately after coming home from the ARK. But he had left before she could catch up with him: completely disappeared when she let her guard down. Disappointed, but not deterred by any means, the adoring pink hedgehog had set out for the next possible place he might be other than lounging in Station Square: the Mystic Ruins. She has a suitcase with her – Tails is always glad to see her, being more tolerant of her attitude towards Sonic than the hero himself is (possibly because Tails, too, looks up to him in his own way) – just in case Sonic is there and she feels like staying for a while.
She doesn't give the spark much of a second thought. She's busy thinking about other things. As she walks, Amy studies her gloves with a sense of self-importance. During the adventure on the ARK, she had turned thirteen, even though all of them had been so distracted by the impending doom of Earth that even she had forgotten at first. But now…she really is no longer a child. And Sonic will have to notice soon, she's sure. She's not going to act like an adoring love-sick puppy anymore. She made this resolution last night, before getting on the train to come to check if he's with Tails. Sonic will never give her a chance if she acts like she has been for the past year or so, but if she shows him how mature she can be…well, who knows?
She does take a minute to gaze at the waterfall, a sight she's always found very romantic in its own way. She knows she can be hopelessly dramatic sometimes, but there's something about waterfalls that she loves. And in an area as pretty as this, it's even more stunning. She steps closer to the edge to get a better look at where it hits the lake below in a cloud of mist…and gasps.
Lying on her back in the grass by the lake, her hands folded on her chest and her light yellow fur dewy from the mist, is a girl hedgehog. Her eyes are closed and she's breathing slowly, peacefully, like she's only asleep. She is also – Amy can't help but notice – unclothed, which is definitely odd. But still, she should help the girl, Amy supposes. She hops down to the water's edge and heads over to the girl, who is still breathing slowly and deeply, very possibly unconscious.
She kneels down and prods the girl's shoulder carefully.
"Um…hello? Are you okay?"
The strange girl doesn't stir. Amy taps her with more force.
"Can you hear me?"
Still the girl does not respond. She doesn't stir when Amy shakes her, or even when the now worried hedgehog splashes her with the cold water from the lake. Finally Amy ceases her attempts to wake the strange girl up, deciding she should get Tails and bring her back to the fox's lab. He'll know how to revive the unconscious hedgehog. But first…Amy unzips her very neatly packed suitcase (she likes to keep her myriad belongings organized) and pulls out a towel. She spreads it out over the girl, covering her up, and stands.
"Don't go anywhere," she says as she zips her suitcase up again, feeling stupid afterwards, and starts to run in the direction of Tails' workshop, suitcase dangling wildly from one hand. Once she reaches her destination she knocks hurriedly on the door. It swings open and Tails looks out, looking pleased, if unsurprised, to see Amy there.
"Hi, Amy! Um, if you were looking for Sonic…"
"I wasn't. I mean, I was, but now there's something different."
She quickly explains how she found the unconscious girl by the lake, and Tails nods thoughtfully, twin tails swishing.
"I'll be right back; wait here," he says, turning around and shutting the door. A few minutes later the whine of engines is heard, and Amy looks up to see the Tornado as Tails' robot landing over head, hover boosters making the grass underneath them wave around in the strong wind. He lands and helps Amy climb up into the available space behind him, and they shoot off towards the waterfall.
Tails hovers a ways above the hedgehog, detaching a claw-like instrument from a compartment underneath them. He eases the claws around the girl, towel and all, and lifts her up, careful not to smash her against the bottom of the Tornado. He guides the Tornado back towards his lab, moving slowly and checking a screen often to make sure he hasn't dropped the girl. Upon landing Amy slides out of the machine and Tails lowers the claw, setting the girl back on the ground and then taking off again, Amy holding the girl's towel in place as the blast of air from the machine makes her squint.
A few minutes later Amy and Tails have successfully carried the girl inside together and she is under the covers of the bed in the spare room Tails often sets aside for Sonic. Amy is rummaging through her suitcase.
"What are you doing?" Tails asks her.
"She's got to have clothes, doesn't she? It's lucky I brought some extra outfits with me. Here – "
She pulls out a bright green dress and studies it critically.
"It isn't really my color after all; it's too light for my eyes," Amy says, and Tails barely conceals a sigh. He'll never understand girls.
A soft groan from the direction of the bed has them both glancing around, and to their surprise the girl is waking up. Her eyelashes tremble slightly before her eyes flick all the way open, and Amy glances at the dress, muttering, 'Perfect!' The girl's eyes, to her excitement, are almost exactly the same color as the lime-green dress. The girl is staring in confusion at the ceiling, and Amy says, "Welcome back. We were worried about you."
The girl turns her head slowly, as if it is a massive effort and murmurs, "Amy? Is that you…?"
"Huh? You know my name?"
But the girl is staring into space in confusion. She mutters something and lifts a hand to her throat, eyes suddenly fearful.
"What's wrong with my voice?"
"It sounds normal to me," Tails says, "Not raspy or anything like that."
The girl has lifted a hand in front of her face and is staring at it in utter confusion. She starts to sit up, and Amy darts to her side, jerking the covers up over her shoulders.
"Careful," she warns, and the girl gives her an odd look before glancing down at the covers, which are curving outward in an area that seems to confuse her.
"W-what's wrong with me?" the girl gasps, and clamps a hand over her mouth once again at the sound of her own voice. "I-I'm a…a…"
"There, there," Amy says reassuringly, though worried and bewildered by the girl's behavior. "Just tell us how you got here and we'll help you out. What's your name?"
"Amy, I'm Shadow!"
The pink hedgehog can only stare.