Okay, I hope everyone's having a good day, and that this update has found you in good health. Been doing some brainstorming, and I think I've got most of this stuff ironed out.
As always, my thanks to you people who have taken the time out of your busy lives to read this story. I hope you will find this tale to be as entertaining as the last one, and that the new characters don't boggle your mind. (For the record, anyone who has not read 'Ghosts of the Past' is going to be really, really confused.)
Lawyers: ARRRRGH! I grow weary of having to spell out this bloody disclaimer. Where is Naga Sadow when I need him? As usual, I own nothing except for those characters who have been thought up in my own mind.
That said, let's get this show on the road.
Shadows of Fate, Angels of War
Prologue: Freedom, Fireworks, and a Broken Hero.
The wind whipped through the courtyard, picking up a few fallen leaves and scattering them about. It was a breeze that howled almost like a whirlwind, but if one listened carefully, one might hear the sound of a youthful laugh from within it, or pick out the slightly off color brown blur that was responsible for the creation of said whirlwind.
Princess Saria Acorn loved to run, and she had indeed inherited her father's ability to dash about at speeds that seemed to baffle the mind. However, she lamented the fact that she was unable to do it anywhere but out here (her first attempt at running through the castle some years back had resulted in enough damage to dash her hopes of ever being able to do so again). She also wished that she wasn't alone when she did this.
Her father, she often thought of him when she was running, wondered what he had been like. She didn't ask her mother very much, as it usually resulted in her breaking down. Uncle Elias and both of her grandfathers would adopt a somber expression, and tell her that he'd been a great hero, a man who'd almost single-handedly saved their world on numerous occasions. Her third grade history books spoke much the same of him, and even gave her a picture of him. But that wasn't what she'd wanted to know.
Still, she thought to herself as she completed another lap, she supposed she'd have to make do with what she could. One day, though, she vowed that she'd find out what she desperately needed to know.
"Saria!" she heard a voice calling, and turning, she saw her mother approaching.
The young girl skidded to a halt, kicking up a dust cloud and letting a smile come to her face. She'd been running full speed for twenty minutes she figured, a new personal best.
"What is it, mom?" she inquired, crossing her arms and tapping her booted foot.
Sally had long since grown used to seeing that gesture, one that was painstakingly akin to the man she'd loved. "It's time to get ready, the celebration's starting soon."
Saria scolded herself. How could she have forgotten? Tonight was the celebration of their Independence Day. It would be the ninth anniversary of the day in which Robotnik had been toppled. It might have been an event that had happened months before she was born, but she knew its importance. It had been the day that victory had been assured.
Her history books painted it in glowing detail, though the manner of the tyrant's death had not been spoken of in the text. She'd asked around, her mother, Aunt Bunnie, General Antoine, but they didn't know what had taken him down either. Apparently, no one knew how he'd died, and rumors from abounded, from experiments gone wrong to the ghosts of the angry dead rising up to take vengeance.
Silently, she nodded, and followed her mother back to the palace.
"Goddess help me, I hate having to get into this thing!" Sally grumbled, as Bunnie helped her with the many laces and straps of the gown that she was going to be wearing.
"Got to show off for the public, Sally-girl," her friend said, smiling and shaking her head. "Look on the bright side, at least you ain't your brother."
The princess said nothing, but she did feel a swell of pity for her twin sibling. A couple of years ago, her father had retired from the throne, and that placed Elias up on it. It wasn't something that he was adjusting to with any degree of enthusiasm. Still, she figured that he was doing okay so far.
After a few more moments, Bunnie backed away, a satisfied smile upon her face. Sally looked to the mirror in the room, gazing into its depths with a frown. The outfit was the same blue color as her vests and boots, and it complemented her longer hairstyle rather well. However it was also quite restrictive and she hated having to wear it.
There was a knock at the door all of sudden.
"Come in," she said, turning about slightly.
The door slowly opened, and in walked Antoine. The coyote was dressed in his splendid general's outfit. It was a rather dashing black, with highlights of gold upon the shoulders and the middle of the boots. A golden chain also crossed the front of the chest and the waist, the lower having a tabard coming off of it, which hung down to knee level, and had the eternal serpent emblazoned upon it. Several medals also dangled off of his chest, catching the light and glittering.
The outfit's appearance was deceptively ceremonial. It also served a practical purpose, at Antoine's own insistence. The cloth was actually a mesh armor weave, while ferrosteel plates were hidden within it.
"Good evening ladies," he said with a bow and nary a trace of his formerly famous accent.
"Was wondering when you were going to arrive, sugar," Bunnie said, moving over and planting a kiss upon him. "How's Guy?"
"Having to put up with the other princess," the officer responded as he ran a hand through his neatly combed hair, which was tied back into a ponytail style that had been popular some three or four hundred years ago. It was a tad difficult to see, though, because his uniform had a rising collar that covered most of the sides and back of his head.
"Saria is behaving herself isn't she?" Sally inquired, a stern look coming over her face.
"For the most part, yes, but you know how she is about having to dress up so formally," Antoine replied with a shrug.
"She's got her father's free spirit, Twain, you know that," his wife said with a careless wave of her hand. "Now I think we've dallied around enough. Let's get this show on the road."
The little girl was always amazed by these displays. Fireworks turned night into day, blossoming into a myriad of patterns and colors, shinning down upon a restored Mobotropolis. Everywhere, people were cheering, celebrating the joy of freedom. It was all so mind boggling to her in a way. She supposed that, having never lived under the harsh reign of Robotnik, she couldn't fully appreciate moments like these, but her mother had always told her never to take it for granted.
The tales that she'd heard of those dark times sent an involuntary shiver down her spine, in particular, those that pertained to the last few days before the overlord was finally toppled, of the instrument of death that he had unleashed upon the resistance: Norrack.
That name had become almost synonymous with evil and darkness in this time. Her history books spoke of the horror he had been, a cold, ruthless butcher of Mobians. Hundreds had died by his hands, slaughtered in ways that would have made even the staunchest stomach turn. She knew more about him than most did, though, mostly because her mother and her mother's friends were among the only group of people to have ever faced the cyborg killing machine and have come out of it alive. They had not escaped unscathed, though, and they all bore scars of the encounter.
They spoke of him with loathing in their voices whenever he was mentioned. All but two people however. To the young girl's surprise, her mother used a tone that was more one of pity, as did Uncle Chuck. Her mother had been the one to defeat Norrack, to remove his threat forever. Yet, despite the fact that it had cost her an arm, and in spite of all that he had done, she never referred to him as a monster. He'd been a slave, she said, a poor soul who'd been captured and twisted into the demon that had attacked them.
That had always confused her, and she wondered which version of him was the real one. She supposed that she'd never know, and perhaps that was for the best.
"Well look who we have here," she heard a voice say from behind.
Turning, she found herself looking up at a fox. He was in his late teens, and there was a slight sparkle in his eyes. He wore a long, black coat that hung down to his knees, and gloves of the same color were upon his hands. She felt a pulse of joy, and rushed forward, leaping into his arms.
"Tails!" she shouted, giggling madly.
"How's my favorite cousin?" he asked, having to resist the urge to ruffle her hair like he normally did.
"Doing great!" she exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air.
"Good to hear, where's your mom?" he inquired, a smile coming to his face.
Saria simply pointed over to the float that they would have to be getting on soon. Her cousin nodded, before putting her down and walking over. She followed him, deciding that it was time for her to go back to the others anyway. Uncle Elias was supposed to come out soon, and after that, they would be ready to start. And the sooner they started this little procession, the sooner it would be over and she could get out of this stupid dress.
"Hi guys," Tails said, waving at them as he approached.
There was a chorus of hellos and hugs, everyone exchanging greetings with one another.
"How are your folks, kiddo?" Bunnie asked, a crooked smile upon her visage.
"Mom and Dad are doing fine," he said, returning the grin. "We'll be about halfway down the route, just look for the blinding flash of light reflecting off of military medals, and that'll be my old man."
"Did…" Sally began, to which her former foster son shook his head.
"No, the chemo's got him down." the young man replied, his smile suddenly gone. "Yesterday we went over to check on him. Aunt Sally, he looks like a ghost. I'm not sure if it's the cancer, his old war injuries, or what, but he's not doing good."
"I see…" she said.
"Well, do you know where Amy is?" the fox inquired, trying to steer the subject away from such a morbid topic. "I promised her that she could hang out with us during the parade."
"She should be down shortly," the princess replied.
Amy and Tails had become fast friends over the years, a bond that had been forged in the attack that still scarred them. She knew why her 'son' wore that coat: his burns. The wounds had been worse than they'd thought initially. The fur had never grown back, leaving his bare flesh exposed, his scars exposed. He hid them underneath that thing, as if he was ashamed by them.
The good news was, though, that about two and a half years after they'd started deroboticizing people, a wondrous thing had occurred. They'd found his parents. Amadeus and Rosemary had been sent to a strip mine up in the northern reaches of the planet. It had been a bittersweet reunion to watch. On the one hand, she was thrilled that the little boy had finally been reunited with his true parents. On the other hand, it had meant that he had drifted a little further away. He still visited regularly, bringing his mother and father along, but he was no longer her son, not in the way he had been.
She thought back to those times, and to how different things were now. The old gang was still pretty much intact, though Dulcy, Lupe, and Reynard had left to be with their people. She looked around, her gaze going to her friends. Antoine and Bunnie were next to each other, their seven year old son, Guy, fidgeting slightly in his small uniform. He was almost a mirror image of his father, though he seemed to have inherited a bit of his mother's hair, as that brown mop on top of his head absolutely refused to be tamed.
Rotor and Uncle Chuck were there, as well, discussing the project that the old man was working on, doubtlessly trying to figure out how to get the latest bug out of it. Despite all their attempts, and all these years, they had still never managed to get the secret of manipulating the time and age of flash cloned limbs. Being more of tech specialist than anything else, Rotor was of limited help, but he could still offer some advice.
Some minutes passed before the others emerged and joined them.
Her father walked more slowly these days, the age and the stress of his time in the Void clearly showing upon him. His hair was gray, and a few wrinkles showed themselves around his face. He was cheerful most of the time, especially since he had retired. But there were still times when Sally had caught him crying softly out in the gardens or some place like that. It was clear that he was still haunted by his decisions at the Battle of Knothole, as it had been termed.
Elias looked relaxed as well, a pleasant change for him. He was under a lot of stress due to his new role in the affairs of the planet. She hoped he would adjust in time, and was just grateful that their world was at peace and his greatest woes were keeping the economy afloat and things of that nature.
Then there was Amy. The pink hedgehog looked rather beautiful this night, despite the fact that she was confined to a wheelchair. It was one of the older models that had wheels as opposed to repulsors, something she'd insisted upon herself. She lived her with the rest of them, often trying to help Uncle Chuck out. She'd graduated from school and was now assisting the old man with his medical research, no doubt hoping that one day she'd be able to walk again.
She made a beeline for Tails, and the two of them were soon talking about what they'd been doing. The former talked about how they were getting closer to finding a breakthrough, while the latter lamented the fact that it would be another two years before he could grab his engineering doctorate. Sally couldn't help but laugh softly at that last bit. The kid was a genius, there was no denying that. He would do great things for this world, of that she had no doubt.
Her eyes fell upon the final person who was emerging, and that smile disappeared. It was Geoffrey St. John.
"Evening, luv," he said, his voice smooth and charming, attempting to make up for the hideous scars upon his face. She simply glared at him, silently telling him to leave her alone while having to resist the urge to punch him with her cybernetic arm.
He still hounded after her, thinking to claim her. That was, when he wasn't busy giving advice to Elias and focusing his efforts on political maneuvering. She'd always wondered how he could be dense enough not to get the message. Even if she hadn't had a child to rear, her heart belonged to one person, and one person only.
Sonic, the thought of him brought pain to her. He should have been here, should have been able to watch the fruits of their labors, the victory that they had all worked so hard for. Cruel fate indeed that he had been unable to, that he'd been snatched away by Death mere weeks before their victory. How she wished she could see him again, embrace him, watch him run with his daughter.
Why had he had to die? She wondered to herself.
Unknown to the princess, or to any of them, was that the man they longed to meet once more was still very much alive, though it could not be said if he was the same person that he had been all those years ago.
The elevator door opened with a ding, and he tensed, wondering what the corridor would bring. He dropped to one knee, and closed his eyes behind his 'visor.' A slight smile tugged at the edge of his mouth a second later. He stood up and grabbed something off of his back with his left hand before blasting out of the lift.
He hit the wall feet first, then angled off, moving towards the two security droids with such speed that they never had time to raise their weapons. There was the sound of humming, followed by clanking as the pieces of the machines fell to the ground.
He didn't even stop to look back, as he knew he'd just put them out of the fight. He had to move, fast. Security was getting more intense by the second. Two minutes had passed since he'd tripped an alarm, and that meant that it wouldn't be long before those machines were replaced with real soldiers, warriors of flesh and blood. He didn't feel like facing any of those guys down tonight, especially since he had left them a nice surprise back in the heart of the base.
He pounded along the walkway, his active camouflage making him look like nothing more than a passing blur, a phantom or a spirit. However, he'd discovered over the past few months that the soldiers that his brother had created were not easily fooled by this device, and if so much as one spotted him, he'd have a whole blasted squadron firing away at him.
And those guys were pretty deadly with their aim.
He felt the prickling sensation, saw the flash in his mind, and dove forward, rolling along the ground as a purple tinted beam smashed into the ferrosteel wall above his head, tearing a large hole in it and spraying shrapnel everywhere. His shield gauge flashed a bit, but didn't drop by a noticeable amount. Still, he figured that the jig was up, and it was time to come out of hiding. He could use the extra power to reinforce his defenses anyway, and set his shields to overcharge.
He came up out of the roll as the light bending camouflage faded away, revealing him to the world. Anyone looking upon him would have noticed that he was different now. His armor, while it still possessed an appearance that made him resemble a walking tank, was sleeker, more organic in appearance, and the whole thing looked as if it were made from one giant piece of metal. Gone were the unarmored joints and the large gap in the armor around the sides of his torso. It was also a great deal more impressive than his old suit was in other ways, sporting better shields, more versatile weapons, and a much studier and more complex array of computer systems. All of these served to turn him into an even more destructive killing machine then he had been in times past.
One of these days he was going to have to send Snivley a thank you note for coming up with this design.
He rounded a corner, coming face to face with a trio of enemy soldiers. In a flash, their blaster rifles were up, sending bolts flying at him. His twin blades were ready to meet them as they sailed in, sending the shots into the walls and floors. Within seconds, the hallway was choked with smoke and the acrid stench of vaporized metal. It didn't appear to bother the eyesight of either party involved, since the guards kept firing, slowly retreating as they did so, while the shots kept speeding back at them.
One took a deflected round dead in the chest. He gave a grunt and staggered, but did not go down. He shook off the hit, and began to quickly return fire once again.
Sonic snarled to himself as he knocked away another volley. He didn't have time for this. Blocking another shot, he reached out to where they were, and gave a quick flick of his left arm. The three soldiers were suddenly knocked off of their feet and thrown into the wall with such violence that he thought he heard a neck snap. Still, he wasn't about to take chances, and he dashed forward, whipping both of his weapons about. A second later, he scored three hits on the downed soldiers, three more kills.
He heard others coming from behind, and with a thought, his shoulder cannon was up and pointed at the wall. It too was different. It was larger, and now possessed two barrels, one on top of the other. A whine was heard, and then the weapon's upper barrel emitted a stream of purple energy. It slammed into the wall, some forty feet distant, and exploded. He didn't stop to check and see how much damage he had done, there was no time to waste.
Another thirty seconds of running put him outside of the building, and he leaped out off of the balcony. He landed with his feet and right hand spread out, before sheathing his twin weapons and making a dash for the swoop bike that he'd hidden in an alley.
He hopped on the hover cycle, and brought it to life. Then, with a roar, he shot out of the alley, quickly brining the machine up to full speed.
Less than ten seconds passed before he heard a shot ring out, and he grimaced behind his helmet, before looking back over his shoulder. Security droids. Well, he thought to himself, it could have been worse, they could be organics. Another bolt zipped by, and he began to weave back and forth, trying to give the robots the most difficult target possible for them to hit. He didn't dare slow down, though. Every second that passed was one less second left for him to escape, and he didn't want to be anywhere near this place when his gift went off.
He looked back again as another shot went by, sailing over his head by a mere six inches. He was just in time to watch two more bikes pull out, these ones driven by soldiers. They opened fire as soon as they were lined up, their blaster rifles spitting energy bolts at him with a disturbing level accuracy, considering they were both on bikes and weaving around at nearly four hundred kilometers per hour.
He cursed as a bolt hit him, impacting upon his shields and draining them a bit. They were getting closer, apparently, something that didn't surprise him. Their bikes were newer, better designed, and had better propulsion plant and slightly more aerodynamic shape to them than this Great War relic he was on. The fact that they were shooting at him with their rifles rather than the large anti-infantry cannon or the missiles slung underneath their cycles indicated something else as well: they still wanted him alive.
"To the Nine Hells with that!" he spat aloud, his voice just above a whisper.
He'd been captured once, and the result had been a slaughter. He would not be turned into some puppet to be loosed upon his former friends and loved ones again.
He was almost away from the base, and he at last saw a chance to loose his pursuers. A supply truck was moving in, crossing the road. He smirked as he saw the gap between the repulsor lifts. Closing his eyes, he reached out, sensed the length of the space, where exactly it was, where he would have to be in order to pull this off.
He heard his pursuers slowing down, as they realized that this route was closed, or so they thought. With a grunt, he yanked his swoop bike over, twisting it on its side.
He could feel the dura-crete scrapping against his shields, draining them rapidly, but the only needed to hold for just another second. He felt himself going under, and he mentally prayed that he'd lined up properly, especially considering that the vehicle in question was moving. If it turned out that he was off by so much as an inch, he'd find himself underneath a repulsor, and that would not be good for his health.
The next second seemed to pass in an eternity, time slowing to a crawl as he went underneath the massive transport. He held his breath, scarcely daring to breath.
Then it was over, he was through.
He yanked the swoop bike back up into its proper position, and sped off, leaving his pursuers in the dust.
"I want patrols to scour every inch of the base that he was in," the wolf barked into his helmet comm. system, his voice calm despite everything that was going on.
"Yes sir, searches are being conducted as we speak," the trooper on the other end of the line, a commander designated as RIN-3578 and termed A'den by his brothers and sisters, responded.
"Be sure to patch the feed through to us when they find whatever it was that he left," he continued.
"As you command, Mandalore," the soldier said, before going quite.
Jaster Merell fought the urge to sigh, and instead looked over to the rest of his family. They were all standing around the command room, waiting for their 'employer' to show up. Kex, a black panther, was overseeing a status check from personnel, seeing who was accounted for and who was dead. The twin snow leopards, Xarga and Daveriel were operating together as always, checking out security tapes that Sonic had been caught on, trying to see if there was a weakness or a pattern that they might be able to exploit, as well as keeping an eye out for any presents he might have left them. Xarga's wife, a husky named Kailenna, was assisting Brianna. Both were busy directing various damage control parties and getting troops to various evacuation transports just in case something should blow before they found it. Finally, Braska, the resident wolverine, was on the line with their superior, informing him of the situation and giving him up to the minute data on what was going on.
Jaster wondered how their boss would take this news. He was always something of an enigma to the Mandalorian, always thinking, always plotting, always managing to turn a setback to their advantage.
"Mandalore!" he heard Xarga call and he pivoted about, turning to face the snow leopard.
"Found something?" he asked, walking over.
"Yes sir," his comrade said, before gesturing to a video screen. "Watch this."
He hit the play button, and looking closely, squinting behind his helmet, Jaster could see a faint distortion in the file. It was Sonic alright. The chameleon like distortion paused, before apparently going down to one knee. He couldn't see much of what happened after that, due to the nature of the active camouflage, but after a minute or two, the blur stood, and then began to hightail it out of there.
"Look here, Mandalore," the Death Watchman said, gesturing to a region of the floor that was partially obscured by shadows of the overhead equipment.
Jaster studied it for a minute, and then saw the faint outline of something that hadn't been there before. It was black, and at first glance, looked to be about half the size of a soccer ball. It was a bomb of some kind, though, and that much he knew.
"Isolate that sector immediately and get an EOD squad there, double time!" he said to Xarga, before reopening a comm. link with A'den. "Commander, Evacuate building Sigma-27 immediately, you have an IED in it."
"Understood sir," the commander returned, before sending the order down the chain of command. "Orders are out on the device as well, there's a bomb squad in route, ETA three minutes."
"Good job, ner vod," Jaster told him, pride in his voice as he thought of how well these troopers carried out their orders.
He only hoped they were able to diffuse that thing before it went off and destroyed all the equipment in the building. The last time Sonic had left them a present like this, it had taken weeks to get everything fixed, and that was at a larger base with more resources to spare for repairs.
The next three minutes ticked by far too slowly for Jaster's liking, and he found himself having to resist the urge to tap his foot against the floor. Finally, the EOD squad arrived.
It was a four man group, and one of them got down on his knees to get a better look at the device, while the other three began taking out various pieces of equipment that they would need for the job.
"MU-2344 here, sir," the one standing next to the device said. "There's a timer on this thing, looks like we've got about five minutes left before it goes boom. We're scanning it now, but it'll take a minute or so to know what we're dealing with. What's got me confused though is that this doesn't look like an IED."
"What do you mean, trooper?" the Mandalore inquired, his eyes narrowing. He did not like the sound of that.
"It's too sophisticated to be something that was just thrown together and improvised," the soldier replied. "This thing has the looks of a factory made bomb."
"Then you'd better find out what it is, and be quick about it!" the wolf said, very much unnerved by this turn of events.
He heard a door open, and without even turning knew who had just walked through.
"What's the situation?" their boss inquired, his cowl low over his face as he strode through.
"Explosive of some kind," Jaster responded. "Bomb squad's checking it out, and we should know what it is any moment now."
"My brother is busy as usual," Shadow said, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes.
They didn't have to wait much longer, as a couple of seconds later the soldier on the screen stiffened, and even with his helmet on, Jaster could tell that a spike of shock had just gone through him.
"Sir," he came over the comm. a moment later, "scan complete."
"What kind of explosives are we dealing with?" Shadow inquired, walking up the viewing screen.
"Scans show that it's a baridium based explosive," the EOD operative said, his voice calm.
There was a moment of pause within the command center, as everyone turned and looked at the screen, wondering if they had heard correctly. Jaster felt his eyes widen the point where they might have popped out of their sockets as he realized the implications of such a device.
"Can you disarm it, trooper?" the Mandalore asked, a slight quaver in his voice.
"Not inside of four minutes, sir," he replied, shaking his head, before bending back down over the device.
Jaster wasted no more time, opening up a comm. channel with A'den. "Commander," he yelled, "get everyone out of that base now! Explosive is a baridium tactical weapon, repeat, the IED has thermonuclear capacity!"
A'den, to his credit, didn't ask what he was talking about, but immediately began to scramble transport crews. Jaster, knowing there was nothing more he could do, turned his attention back to MU-2344 and his three comrades.
"I think this is a Star Burst, sir," the soldier said abruptly, "if it is, then we're dealing with about a hundred or so megatons here."
"Then why the hell are you still standing around it, trooper?" he growled. "Get to your sheb to your evac station, now!"
"Sir," the EOD operative responded, cool and calm considering there was a nuke with a ticking clock not a foot away from him, "there's no way we can get on a ship and get out of the blast range and shockwave before this thing goes off. We can't disarm it, but we might be able to mess it up enough to tone down the blast."
They all remained silent, until at last, Jaster bowed his head. "Good luck, ade."
"We'll do our best, Mandalore," the trooper said, and then he and his fellows threw themselves into their work.
He knew they would. It was what they were trained to do… what they were born to do.
He watched the seconds tick by, slowly counting down, ticking out the moments remaining in the lives of the four men and women huddled over it. They were resigned, fearless in the face of what they were doing, knowing they were going to die. They didn't care though, they were concerned about saving their ner vode. Jaster found himself almost moved to tears as he watched them work. They were better people than he could ever hope to be.
All the while Shadow stood in the center of the room, staring at the screen, his face hidden within the depths of his hood. He was like a statue, cold and unreadable.
Ten seconds were left, and still they worked. The final seconds ticked away, and still, they did their best to screw up that little black monster.
From the control room, they watched the timer hit zero. In an instant, the camera became static and white noise, along with every other one as well.
Jaster closed his eyes. He knew that it hadn't been possible for them to succeed, but he'd still hoped…
"That blast will likely have taken out a couple of their satellites," Shadow mused abruptly, his voice calm, devoid of any emotion whatsoever. "They'll no doubt scramble a few into position to try and figure out what happened." He reached down, and activated a wrist mounted comlink. "Jonathan," he addressed, waiting until he heard the nasal sounding reply, "the security of base Gamma's location may have been compromised. Get some cleanup crews down there ASAP, along with another cloaking device. If the Acorns figure out what's going on, we might be hard pressed to get everything to go as planned."
"Right away, sir," the man on the other end replied.
As Shadow killed the signal, he heard steps, and looked over his shoulder to see Jaster approaching.
"With your permission, sir, we'd like to go to the remains," the armored warrior said.
Shadow cocked an eyebrow behind his hood, and brought his thumb and forefinger to his chin. "Fine, Mandalore, you may go. But do try not to get yourself poisoned, I would hate to lose such a valuable asset."
The Mandalorian remained silent as he and the others filed out of the room, heading for a hangar bay.
For several minutes after they had left, Shadow remained where he was. Slowly, he began to chuckle as he thought of the devastation that his sibling had wrought. The other ARC was more vicious than he gave himself credit for. Detonating a baridium warhead, probably killing thousands, he was starting to get the picture, on how to bury his emotions and let himself become Death personified. His chuckle grew louder, becoming a chilling cackle.
"Well done, little brother," he said between his bouts. "What a shame it was that I could never convince you to stop being the Acorn's lapdog. How I wish I could have made you see that we are destined to rule this world, not them!"
He heard the sound of the shuttles streaking overhead, felt the shockwaves of the sound barrier desperately trying to catch up to them. The clock on his HUD display was about to approach zero, and he suddenly braked, sliding his swoop bike sideways and looking back in the direction of the base. He could still see craft scattering in all directions, looking as if they were emerging from out of the side of a jungle mountain.
The flashing blue numbers in the corner of his vision all became zeroes, and then the view in front of him lit up. He didn't even bat an eye, for he didn't truly see the explosion, just a computer's interpretation of it. He felt it though, despite the fact that he was easily thirty kilometers away from ground zero. The fireball rushed outward, consuming the 'mountain' and he saw hundreds of transport craft suddenly thrown into out of control tailspins, victims of the ferrosteel shattering shockwave that the Star Burst had created.
He felt some pain as well. Not physically, but within his mind, he felt a throbbing sensation as so much life was suddenly and decisively snuffed out.
"Goddess forgive me," he muttered aloud, closing his eyes, and bowing his head.
He hated having to do this, having to kill people like the ones he just had. They were no different from him, in the end. He knew what they were like, what level of choice that they had. His sorrow turned once again to rage, rage that was directed at one person.
"Damn you, brother!" he snarled as the fireball rose higher.
He meant it. Shadow knew what they were, what they had been meant to be, and he'd had the audacity, the audacity, to use that technology to craft his army.
Still, there would come a time, one of these days, when he'd finally get lucky, when his brother's arrogance would enable him to slip in and get the final blow. He had to believe that, he had to. Then this madness would end. Until then, though, he would continue to fight, continue to defend those he loved from the shadows. Better that he soil his hands than them.
After all, he was probably already damned for what he had done nine years ago.
Snarling, he kicked his hover cycle back into gear, before speeding off back through the jungle.
Off in the distance, the sun began to rise, as if it had been woken from its sleep by the destruction that had just been wrought.
It was three hours later when they arrived at the scene. The area was once again cloaked, hiding them from the prying eyes of anyone who might have been trying to figure out what the hell had happened here earlier. The shuttle landed, and they stepped off.
Jaster was reminded of Armageddon as he stared around.
Gutted remnants of buildings were everywhere, the ferrosteel coverings turned into slag or outright vaporized, laid to waste by the awesome power of the weapon that Sonic had unleashed. The blast hadn't really been that large, though, despite the power. Star Bursts were very concentrated devices, and usually left craters no larger than a kilometer or two.
Baridium based weapons also left a brief irradiating signature. It only lasted a couple of days, as opposed to months or sometimes years of earlier, far more primitive implosion devices. The tradeoff was again, that the radiation was very intense. It was designed to kill anyone who had managed to somehow survive the blast within a matter of hours.
The Mandalore and his fellows were grateful for the protective qualities of their sealed armor. However, even the mighty defensive properties of their equipment would have been insignificant if they had been here. Such was the terrible truth that their soldiers were discovering now.
The blast had compromised the armor of those who had been closest to it and they now bore evidence of horrific radiation burns. The ones who could be saved had already been put through an emergency decontamination and then zipped off the nearest base for urgent medical treatment. Those that remained were going to die.
He walked over to where they were being kept, stretched out upon the ground. They didn't cry out, didn't release the agony that was doubtlessly coursing through them. Now and then, a med-tech would come by and see how they were coming along, before heading off to attend to other duties. Aside from that, they were utterly alone.
Jaster walked up and knelt down next to one of the troopers, a black panther. The man groaned, and opened his eyes part of the way. The pupils were swollen with pain, and no doubt his whole body was literally falling apart on a molecular level, but he still managed to somehow summon up the strength to salute. The wolf caught his hand as it came back down, gently squeezing it in a comradely manner. He looked over to the man's shoulder pauldron. It was blackened and scorched, but he was still able to make out the man's number: RIN-3578.
It was A'den.
"What are the causalities, sir?" the man asked, his voice cracked like a Mobian who was dying of thirst.
"Sixty five percent unaccounted for," the silver armored warrior said, his tone sober.
"Fierfek!" the commander swore, before closing his eyes. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Don't be," Jaster chided in a gentle tone, "you did good, ade, you did good. A lot more people got away than they would have if you'd hesitated."
He then reached down to his belt, and drew one of his heavy pistols. A'den cracked an eyelid at the sound, and he saw the weapon. He nodded, muttering a 'thank you.' His Mandalore then pressed the barrel of the weapon to the panther's skull, and pulled the trigger.
Slowly, reverently, he crossed the commander's arms over his chest, before standing and saluting the body. Without saying a word, he looked over to his fellows, his family, and he nodded his head. They obeyed, grateful that he was allowing them to do this.
Shots rang out in the night as the Death Watchmen went about their mercy killings. It was over a couple of minutes later, and scores of Mandalorians had been put out of their misery and anguish.
They had scarcely finished when they heard someone approaching.
"Waste of ammunition," the person said, his features hidden behind his radiation suit. "Why do you bother?"
They didn't need to see his face to recognize who he was, though. Any one of them would have known him simply by that distinctive voice of his.
"Because, Snivley," Brianna growled, laying her rifle up against her shoulder, "these people represent the hope and future of our race, and we will not watch them suffer needlessly."
"Ah yes, how could I forget?" the diminutive Overlander said. "And the name is Jonathan, or General Kintobor to you." He paused, shaking his head. "I don't see why you go to the trouble you do for these… soldiers. They're going to die, one way or another."
"As are we all, Snivley," Brianna snarled, her finger caressing the trigger of her rifle. "Some sooner than others if they do not pause to consider the wisdom of their actions."
Jonathan's body language translated into that of righteous indignation over the continued insulting, but he stormed off rather than continue with the verbal confrontation. Jaster was glad to see him go. He could tolerate working with a sociopath like Shadow, because he was providing them with the means to save their people. Jonathan was doing the same thing, but none of them could forget who that man had been, what he had done. If any of them could have gotten away with it, they would have gunned him down a long time ago.
The group had more important things to do right now than worry about right now, though, and they let the argument die.
Jaster sighed behind his helmet, his thought suddenly drifting to the man who had been responsible for all of this. Despite the fact that Sonic had just nuked one of their bases, and killed tens of thousands of their soldiers, he felt no hatred towards him. Indeed, he felt respect, and dare he admit it, honored to be matching his wits and skills against one of the greatest soldiers to ever grace Mobius with his presence.
He'd fought a one man war against them for more than five years, trying, valiantly, to hold back the tide that would soon spill forth upon this land. He had courage, cunning, and when sufficiently motivated, was instant death on legs. The Mandalore wondered if all of the famed 'Knothole Freedom Fighters' had such steel in them, or if nearly a decade of peace had made them soft.
He supposed they would find out soon enough.
Right now, though, he had to see to this mess, and pray that Sonic could not hit them like this again. His father and ancestors as his witnesses, he was not going to let his people die as they almost had…
Okay, prologue taken care of. Hope you guys enjoyed it, and that I'm not trying to hit you with too much at once.
As always, advice, constructive criticism, flames, ideas, and all other forms of feedback are more than welcome.
Oh yeah, special thanks to animewhitewolf of deviant art for allowing me to use a drawing of his as the design for Antoine's outfit.
I leave you with that, and hope that the rest of the day treats you well.