"…initially placed as a means of remote detection and absorption of the hyperspatial interstices generated by ring manifestation, the negentropic collimators, or 'lamp-posts', have developed a profound and important secondary application, which has become more and more evident as the design has been augmented in latter deployments. Though, in retrospect, det-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-…"

Ivo's voice broke up, descending into incomprehensible static. This was as far as the old recording ever got, these days. In truth, the Guardian was amazed it had lasted this long at all. The Island had no true seasons, but a nomadic course through the Mobian skies inevitably brought its fair share of hot spells and cold spells, dry days and wet – none of which, he suspected, would do the hunk of machinery much good. And it was many years since he had torn the device from the wreckage of Launch Base Zone, back when the surface had been as much myth to him as the Floating Island was to everyone else.

"Even then, I knew I should throw this thing away," Knuckles commented. His voice echoed softly in the gloom, bouncing off the few walls that remained standing.
"But I was sure it contained answers; that somewhere, in his words, there was a deeper revelation, about… well… something. Who he was, and why he did what he did to you and me. But it's just a recording. It never did help."

His confessor didn't reply.

"The fifth and seventh aqueducts are causing problems again," the Guardian went on, putting the device down, and shifting topic to more temporal problems. He spoke quietly, for words often felt like sacrilege, in this ancient place. "We had heavy rain yesterday, and the Hydrocity pipes silted up, like they did last year. You remember? I'm tempted to dam up their main inlets, and divert the surplus through the eighth."

No response. As usual. His companion had never been much of a conversationalist.

"We're going to have to alter course, in about a week or so. Otherwise we'll pass straight over the humans' territory, and the last thing we need is a GUN unit spotting the Island."

The target of his monologue seemed to show some interest, at last, with the mention of course correction. A strobing light twinkled at the jewel's heart, throwing long, green shadows about the central vault of the Hidden Palace. Ancient mosaics glittered in the gemlight; scenes of prophecy and history and fantasy. The glittering became gleaming…

And the gleaming became rumbling. Knuckles picked himself up from his cross-legged position before the jewel's altar, as particles of grit danced along the chamber's floor.

This wasn't normal.

The Master Emerald's glow built rapidly to a burning radiance, as its stunned Guardian cried out in alarm. The light was dazzling, even through the echidna's screwed-up eyelids.

And then…
...just as swiftly as it began, it was over, leaving nothing but purple afterimages flashing in Knuckles' eyes.

The Guardian shook his head, blinking away the phantom spots that danced in his vision.
OK...
First things first.
Cautiously, he scanned around the Emerald Chamber, looking for signs of damage. The vibrations hadn't felled much, he was relieved to see; though there was a new and rather ominous-looking crack running along the jade façade of a nearby atelier. And a rank of quartz tiles clung very tenuously to the roof of the south transport column.

Satisfied that nothing was going to collapse on him, the Defender of Angel Island turned his eyes back to the Emerald. It was just sitting there, like it always did, glowing softly amidst the minor crystals of its gilded plinth. Like it was pretending the previous fifteen seconds had never happened.

"What was all that about?!" Knuckles yelled.

Behind him, the tiles smashed to the floor, a crooked jingle of semiprecious stone.


This was a road not often travelled.

You didn't have to be from around here to see that. The sun-bleached grey of disused tarmac, the rusted brown of forgotten railings. You could even smell it, smell the absence of traffic; the gritty, earthy scent of air unsullied. Mountains rose to the left and right, dwarfing those figures that walked beside the empty road.

Somewhere above, a hawk cried.

Cream fanned herself with her ears, a peculiar, flapping motion that looked in danger of lifting her slight form right off the ground if conducted any more vigorously. But despite the midday heat, the little rabbit had lost none of her zest. She danced ahead on the road even now, shoes tapping a childish rhythm on the bleak tarmac. Cream appeared utterly oblivious to the barrenness of the environment, ensconced in her own little bubble of carefree happiness.

It was vaguely annoying.

Blaze trudged behind, eyes lowered; not out of weariness (well, maybe a little out of weariness), but mostly because Cheese was asleep on top of her head. The little blue… thing… had snuggled himself up inside the cat's tripod of ponytails, and Blaze had learned from experience that dislodging the creature was more trouble than it was worth. Even unconscious, the Chao's formless hands somehow gripped onto her fur. Probably glued there, Blaze thought glumly, considering the amount of viscous electrolyte she seemed to have stuck in her coat.

The cat did not look her best. Dirt and sand from Mirage Road still clung to her lilac pelt, in spite of the distance they'd walked since leaving that arid Zone. Her uniform was frayed, the once-imperious purple waistcoat hanging torn and discoloured around her disheveled frame. Dubious blue oil stained the pearlsilk fabric of her trousers; she could feel the liquid against her calves, sticky and chilling. The heels had fallen off both of her shoes – although that was actually a blessing, if you thought about it. Ruby stilettos were not really the best footwear for endurance hiking. Then again, the paws of her feet were worn raw anyway. Ruining a priceless Guardian's uniform hadn't really done any good at all, she thought glumly.

The rabbit, by contrast, was totally unblemished. From the black tip of her nose to the flawless cotton white of her tail, Blaze's erstwhile guide and self-proclaimed "best friend" didn't have a mark on her. The cat was just a little bit jealous, although rather more amazed, that Cream's red dress remained as spotless as it had when Vanilla kissed her daughter goodbye.

Urgh. That was another piece of insanity from this world, this so-called 'Mobius'. The Guardian had been forced to stifle a gasp of shock upon hearing that the rabbit actually lived with a… a relative. And then to actually see it…
Back home, it was a taboo. A deep one. There was just something wrong about sharing the company of blood. Not that she'd been in any condition to turn down a meal and a bed at the time, regardless of her instinctive repulsion. The cat would have accepted Nega's hospitality, the state she'd been in.
Well, maybe not.
Still, living with your mother at six years old?
Blaze closed her eyes, trying to clamp down on the shiver of distaste before it started. Different world, different rules, she reminded herself.
Although, from Vanilla's words, it had seemed that their living arrangements weren't exactly typical…

"...Blaze?"
The Guardian snapped her head up, realizing in retrospect that the beige bunny had been talking at her while she was lost in reverie. Cheese blinked itself awake in her hair, and yawned widely.

"Where would you like to go?" Cream repeated, her voice quiet but earnest. "The flower garden is really beautiful; shall we go there?"

Blaze groaned inwardly. Not only was the rabbit impervious to dirt, she also seemed impervious to comprehending the severity of their situation. Interdimensional overlay; time-space destabilization; she didn't exactly begrudge the six-year-old for failing to take on board the concepts. And the Guardian didn't have the heart to phrase it in terms more comprehensible to her companion: to grab Cream by her little shoulders and shout "Everyone you know and love will die very soon unless we find the other Sol Emeralds so stop acting like a baby and think where that stupidly-coloured excuse for a fat scientist might have taken them!"

She wouldn't do that yet, anyway.

"… No thanks. I don't have time to go sightseeing," the Guardian finally replied, gritting her teeth. Still, she couldn't really get angry with this kid. Cream was a better guide than no guide at all, and what the rabbit lacked in a sense of direction, she made up for with inexhaustible enthusiasm. You'd need to be some sort of introverted hermit not to be warmed by –

"Oh! It's Knuckles!" Cream squealed, face lighting up, ears fully extended.

"Wh- What is it?" the cat blurted, alarmed. She followed the rabbit's gaze, over the ochre flanks of the adjacent mountainside. No movement amongst the broken rubble at ground level… but higher up, there was something…

A tiny red speck detached itself from the rocky bluffs, and – took off? The indistinct object sailed through the air in a wide arc, before passing in front of the yellow sun; Blaze lost track of the dot, squinting vainly against the glare. Her eyes still weren't used to this Mobian star, and its off-palette glow.

Cream seemed to have lost the airborne fleck as well. She scanned around, holding her nose upwards, trying to catch the dot's scent amongst that of the dust and tarmac. Cheese, fully awakened now, extricated itself from Blaze's ponytails, and bobbed over to Cream's side. The Guardian risked a wary glance away from the sun to regard the retreating blue blob. It was cute, there was no denying that… but there was something very unsettling about the way Cheese hovered at the rabbit's side, casually flouting gravity.

"Over here, Knuckles!" cried her diminutive guide, waving in random directions towards the resolutely unhelpful sky. "I'll introduce you to him. He's a tough guy, but he isn't very bright." The rabbit made a happy wink in Blaze's direction, which the cat assumed was supposed to be conspiratorial.

There was a gusting noise behind them. Blaze took it for a wayward zephyr. Until:

"What."

It wasn't even a question. Both girls knew it, from the way the word hung in the air. The speaker had heard exactly what had been said, and he wanted to make sure they knew it too.

Immediately, Blaze took a dislike to this creature. He'd circled behind them, hiding in the glare of the sun. It was a cheap trick, and… well, it was easier to blame him for doing it than herself for not spotting it.
Cream, meanwhile, let out a gasp that was partway between startled and mortified, as they both turned to face the eavesdropper.

At least names still meant something in this messed-up dimension, Blaze considered as she ran an appraising eye over this 'Knuckles'. His hands were massive, the gloved fists capped with fearsome spikes, still scuffed with rock dust from what had presumably been an arduous climb. The figure's fur was deep scarlet, save for a platinum-white crescent across the top of his chest.

Ee-kid-na.

The feline had never seen one in the flesh. In fact, she'd suspected they were mythological, like the Precioustone. But… apparently not. Perhaps they were plentiful, here on Mobius?

A handful of frescoes in the Secret Palace featured the odd creatures, in various shades of red, those vestigial spines arrayed around their heads like dreadlocks. The decorative eekidnas had looked silly, and charming, rendered in little squares of coloured ceramic.

Knuckles looked neither of those things. He appeared to be hewn out of solid muscle. The way he stood, the way the creature regarded her with piercing, violet eyes; it spoke of violence, barely constrained under a paper-thin veneer of sufferance. The eekidna smelled of rocks.

"Hey Cream. It's been a while," Knuckles stated, in a voice as gravelly as his scent. Though addressing the rabbit, his intense gaze only switched to Cream for the briefest of instants. After that, the violet eyes did not waver from the Sol Guardian. Not for even a moment.
"So. Aren't you going to introduce me?"

Cream's ears were crimson with embarrassment. She'd done just what mum had told her not to: talking about someone behind their back. And, just like she'd said, that person had heard.
Knuckles didn't look upset, though. Not at her, anyway. He was looking at Blaze weirdly, as if he thought she might be a bad-guy.
See? He wasn't very bright. Because Blaze was nice, and definitely not a baddie. As usual, then, it was up to Cream to sort the grown-ups out.

"This is my friend, Blaze!" the rabbit chimed, with no shortage of pride. She had found the cat all by herself, after all. She would have launched into the whole story for Knuckles, about how she'd met an injured Blaze outside Night Carnival, and then how they'd fought all the way through the forest and the desert… but her tale was interrupted before it started, by the echidna's derisive snort.

Blaze shifted her between her and Knuckles, defensive. The cat's yellow eyes narrowed at the echidna. Cream stammered uncertainly; Knuckles would never hurt her… but she guessed Blaze didn't know that.
The red Guardian could seem mean, but he just didn't know how to make new friends, that was all.
Miss Amy had told her, once, about why Knuckles was like this. It was something that happened a long time ago, when someone had pretended to be his friend for a long time, but hadn't really meant it. The story had made Cream very sad, and she had hugged Cheese tightly while it went on. Knuckles was still sad about it now, Miss Amy had said, and that was why he acted unfriendly.
Miss Rouge had been there, when Miss Amy told the story. She'd looked really sad too.

Cream tugged on Blaze's coattails timidly, to try to explain some of this; that Knuckles wasn't nasty at all. But the cat prodded her – gently but firmly – away with a swish of her tail.

Blaze's hands were behind her back, hidden from the echidna. Cream watched with a growing sense of alarm as her friend made a complicated flourishing motion with her fingers. One moment, Blaze's hand was empty; the next, a green shiny thing rested inside her gloved grip. Her friend squeezed it tight, while Cheese chirped agitatedly at the appearance of the Sol Emerald. The chao didn't seem to like those rectangular gems.

"Why do you look so suspicious?" Knuckles queried the cat, his voice thick with challenge. It would have been a more valid observation, Blaze thought, if the eekidna didn't himself look like the poster child for 'guarded mistrust'. The Sol Guardian ran her fingers over the Emerald behind her back, tracing out strange, geometric patterns. She didn't understand the crystals which she'd spent her lifetime defending; no-one did, whatever Nega claimed.

But the Guardians had figured out some things.

The eekidna widened his eyes, as her hurried sigils drew power from the concealed gem. "What do you have in your hands?" he demanded.

Blaze almost dropped the Emerald as her tail shot bolt upright in alarm – fortunately, out of sight of the scarlet inquisitor. He could tell what she was doing?! No… no, that was impossible. Sensing the Emeralds required a lifetime of acclimation and dedication.
A lucky guess, that was all he'd done.
What did she think this guy was; a Guardian?
He wasn't even from the right dimension!

With another complex wave of her fingers, she vanished the gem, feeling it fold subtly into the space between atoms. It was the same as the gold rings did; just… somehow moreso.
The move completed, Blaze swept her hands out slowly, palms upwards, to show that there was nothing there. She grinned at the eekidna, a smile that was supposed to be innocent.
But the cat wasn't too good at innocent.

Concluding (accurately) that Blaze had very little intention of co-operating with him, Knuckles flexed his wrists in preparation for what he very much suspected was soon coming. Where the rabbit had found this dubious moggy, he didn't know; but the Guardian had no intention of allowing them to leave without supplying some answers. That… thing he'd just felt the cat do: it had the flavour of Chaos Control about it; the same unusual signature that had, days ago, so disturbed the Master Emerald. It was what had brought him down from the Island in the first place.

"I sense a familiar power," he announced, as patiently as he could manage with Blaze standing right there, smirking at him. "Do you have Chaos Emeralds?"

Again, it was not really a question.

Cream opened her mouth to reply anyway, but Blaze shot her a look that said very clearly to keep quiet. The rabbit folded her ears down, dejected. Why wouldn't anyone let her explain things?

Knuckles didn't bat an eyelid, but Cream could tell he was getting angry. She could hear him grinding his teeth together. The echidna was moving, now; slowly circling around the pair of them.

"How'd you get them, anyhow?" he asked, addressing Cream directly this time. The rabbit stammered, glancing desperately between her two friends. She didn't want to get in trouble with either of them, but it didn't look like she had a choice. Cheese perched weightlessly upon her ear, singing cheerfully, totally unaware of the tension in the air. The chao had sprouted little red dreadlocks from his head, happily imitating Knuckles.

Snarling in frustration at Cream's indecision, the echidna leveled a spiked glove towards the smug-looking Blaze. "Regardless, here's some friendly advice." Knuckles growled, in a tone that made clear his words were neither friendly, nor advice.
"Give them to Sonic. For safekeeping."

That was the procedure. For now. That was what the hedgehog and the fox had argued: if they materialized, the Chaos Emeralds had to be kept apart. There was wisdom in it; the Guardian had seen that. Even through the jewels belonged in the Hidden Palace, gathering them together, and in a place the Doctor knew of… it would be asking for the Eggman's armada to lay waste to his home. Again.
Knuckles was determined to see the seven stones returned to the Emerald Chamber, one day. Just… not before the fat man was brought down.

"I don't have any Chaos Emeralds," Blaze retorted, as she followed Knuckles' prowling circuit around her and Cream. With the kind of dismissive hauteur only palace life could teach, she added: "Go look for them elsewhere."

Knuckles mentally corrected himself. The fat man, and ignorant upstarts, like this cat. Fools, meddling with Chaos Control like it was some sort of cheap party trick. Shadow was bad enough to contend with.

"Do not lie to me." the crimson animal spat. His limited supply of patience was very nearly exhausted. And the cat could see it. "You must have Chaos Emeralds. I can sense their power here!"

Well then, Blaze thought. It has come to this.
So be it. She had wasted enough time here already.

Cream watched with wide eyes as Knuckles sprang forwards. The cat closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, before…

The echidna was blown backwards into the air as Blaze's body exploded with iridescent flame. Cream, standing further away, was buffeted by a hail of smoking gravel; Cheese tumbled away from her, copied dreadlocks melting back into its cerulean form as the chao bounced like a rubber ball on the broken tarmac.

Knuckles sailed over her head, trailing lines of white smoke from his blackened shoes. The Guardian curled up as he span through the air, a defensive posture that minimized his size as a target. Instants before he would have slammed into the mountainside, the echidna unfurled, swinging out a fist to latch expertly onto the sleek basalt surface. Cream heard the stone crunch like paper beneath his gloves.

The tips of Knuckles' dreadlocks were smoking, like some sort of upside-down candelabra. Hanging to the mountainside one-handed, the Guardian glared at Cream. Accusing. The rabbit, blinking through hot dust and tears, turned pleading eyes on Blaze. Completing the triangle, the blazing cat remained fixated on Knuckles. Or rather, the cluster of boulders perched above the echidna. The four recovered Sol Emeralds circled around her, warping their Guardian's inferno to unnatural hues.

A muffled boom echoed across the pass, as purple fire burst through the gaps in the rockface. Knuckles snapped his head upwards, just in time to see the torrent of stone hurtling towards him…

And then he was gone. The flaming avalanche thundered to the foot of the mountain, gigantic stones punching into the weary tarmac with such force they knocked Cheese over again, as the little chao struggled to pick itself up.

Knuckles…!

Cheese…
Blaze…

As the rain of boulders rumbled to a halt, the feline's fire abruptly winked out. Blaze slumped, and shuddered, before gathering herself.
Turning slowly, the Sol Guardian began to walk away from her counterpart's impromptu cairn. The cat looked terrible. Her eyes were lidded, as she shuffled forwards, jerky motions carrying her towards the fallen chao.

Knuckles had been fast. Faster than she had expected. That explosion had been a panicked move - and it had taken a lot out of her. She was ravenously hungry, for a meal and for rings.
Pitiful blue flames still danced at the tips of her fingers; wearily, Blaze shook them out, and scooped up the sniffing Cheese with a single hand. The chao looked at her nervously, and over to Cream. He was clearly wondering where the dreadlocked one had gone.

"Let's go," Blaze ordered. Without even waiting for the rabbit to respond, she trudged past, eyes locked on the road ahead, heel-less shoes stomping the pavement with just slightly more force than was credible.

Cheese waved at her over the cat's shoulder. A whisper of red fire flickered at the tip of it's teardrop-shaped head; the chao was copying what he'd seen Blaze do, just as he had copied Knuckles before.

It was only then that Cream realized she'd been shaking. Powerless, she watched as the cat and her chao marched away from the blocked pass. Should she… should she go and check that Knuckles was all right? Should she follow Blaze? The cat would be totally lost without her… but… Knuckles…

"What is this!"
It didn't sound like a question.

??

?

Oh.

Cream had very good hearing. It was him; she could hear him, under the rubble. She could hear him punching at the rocks; and the rocks weren't winning.
He didn't sound injured. But he did sound mad. Cream's face coloured as she bent her ears closer to the ground. The echidna was using words that Vanilla had said a well-behaved animal should never use. The rabbit had to give a scandalized giggle, to hear even serious old Knuckles talk like that. He'd moved on, now, to some other words, ones that she had never heard before. But they sounded just as naughty. Cream filed them away for later reference.

Knuckles was OK. But she didn't think it would be a good idea to be around when he got out.

"Oh! Please wait for me, Blaze!" the rabbit cried, as she hurried to catch up with the lilac figure. And Cheese, of course.


Beneath the ground, the Custodian of the Hidden Palace continued to curse a blue streak of unpleasant (not to mention biologically impossible) allegations against Blaze's parentage. There was grit in his mouth, and blood; but they did nothing to stem the tide of furious invective that rolled across the Guardian's tongue.
The Chaos Control; he should have seen it coming. Hadn't he fought Shadow before? And won?
He should have seen it.
Damn
that cat!

Knuckles didn't care who was around when he dug his way back to the surface. He was going to make them wish they'd been elsewhere.

Then he'd track down that 'Blaze'. And they'd have words.


Author's Note:

This was just a little fic-let I wanted to write after I got Sonic Rush about a week ago. I don't care if she's ostensibly dead, now; I'm hoping for more Blaze / Knuckles interaction in future Sonic games. They are dimensional counterparts, after all.

On a dialogue note: If you think the conversation is not even up to my usual crappy standards, that's because I used the game text from the encounter verbatim. Just to prove myself that if you screw with the context as much as you can, it is actually possible to make the character interactions moderately less stupid. Or more stupid, depending on how much you hate the above.

And on a continuity note: Not that I think anyone else cares, but unfortunately, I do, 'cos I wrote it. My sequence of tangled Blaze continuity goes:
Sonic Rush - Sonic Rush Adventure - ? - Teams up with Silver in Crisis City - Sonic '06 - ? - My Wing Fortress Zone fic