Everything felt numb inside out and he could feel a sticky liquid substance being drained until it was left at about waist height. Giving a low moan, he raised a hand to his head as his golden-amber eyes fluttered open; his vision fuzzy at first before he came to realize his surroundings as the pod hatch was opened.

Espio Chameleon stumbled forward into the arms of someone who felt incredibly familiar for some reason. The breathing device was removed from his mouth and a flask of water was pressed to his lips, which he drank greedily.

His throat felt raw from not having been used for quite a while and the cold water was like a gift from Heaven. His bare feet were cold on the metallic floor as wires were disconnected from his body and, as he was held away, looked into the eyes of his saviour.

"Sonic?" his raspy voice exclaimed and the heroic blue hedgehog gave a small, sad smile before Espio felt himself being lifted into his arms as an alarm sounded, the noise harsh against his waterlogged ears and he let out a soft cry of pain.

"Hang on. I'll get you out of here." And they were off in a blue streak, too fast for the Eggman robots around them to detect before they exploded. Espio hung on for dear life, wondering where he was and what had happened to the rest of his friends.

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Wings of a Butterfly
Chapter I
Written by Takato Metallium
Plot: AU with Sonic Unleashed elements. Espio wakes from a five-year coma to find out Team Chaotix have been murdered and Station Square is ruled under Eggman's iron fist. It soon becomes a much more sinister plot, however, when the reasons for their murders are brought to light.
Disclaimer: I disclaim all rights to Espio the Chameleon, Sonic the Hedgehog/Werehog and other such characters. They are property of SEGA, Sonic TEAM, Yuji Naka, Archie Comics Publications Inc. and other companies that I've probably missed out and not necessarily in that order. I only own the fanfic, the idea, Shadow and Tails plushies and not much else.
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Station Square lain in ruins. Espio gazed out from Sonic's arms, huddling further into the warm jacket the hedgehog had given him once they had escaped Eggman's base. He followed the line of the once proud city with golden eyes, looking at the crumbled buildings and broken roads. "What happened…?" he asked, his voice rough with emotion.

"Eggman." It was the only thing that Sonic said, as though it was enough to tell him what had happened. "He suddenly attacked the city five years ago, with large mechas that decimated the town. We weren't strong enough to save everyone."

"What about…what about Charmy and Vector?" He tilted his head, looking up at the other. "Are they…?"

"Feel up to walking?" He nodded and Sonic set him down on the ground. He was a little wobbly at first, his feet tender but he soon found his stance, Sonic taking hold of his hand as he lead him down through the city.

Espio was quiet as he was lead, taking in all the destruction and feeling a deep rage boiling over inside of him. This had all gone on while he had been asleep in cold storage, this war. Sonic lead the way, walking instead of running, and he got his first good look at the hedgehog.

Sonic had changed, that much was certain to the chameleon. There was a darkness about him that reminded him of Shadow, taller than he remembered and with hardened emerald eyes. He wore a coat made of white leather, sleeveless and a slither of royal blue ribbon wrapped around the hedgehog's upper arm. A tattoo of an acorn was etched into the skin of the shoulder between the coat and the ribbon, symbolizing something Espio could only guess at.

When they arrived at their destination, Espio felt his breath caught in his throat. A mass graveyard stood before him, located where Central Park once was. His knees nearly buckled under pressure, but he nodded when he felt Sonic squeeze his hand. He wanted to see the graves of those who had sacrificed themselves, and of those who had died innocently.

A makeshift headstone marked where they lay and Espio finally knelt, pressing his hand against the concrete that was carved with their names. "I was too late to save them." Sonic offered him an explanation without his asking, though it wasn't something he had wanted to hear. "Eggman doesn't bother roboticizing or taking prisoners anymore. He sent their remains back after he was done dissecting them."

"Dissecting?" Something boiled in Espio at that word, threatening to overflow and spill like molten lava. He clenched his fists, lowering his head. If only he hadn't been weak…

"I don't know what he did with their bodies," the hedgehog said, hands in the pockets of his white coat. He walked around the grave, heading to a different one several rows down. "But he sends the remains back of those he tortures and dissects, as though he's tormenting us."

Espio stood from the grave and followed, standing a little way away from him as he zipped up the jacket when a chilled wind blew past. He caught sight of a name on the grave Sonic stood in front of, and then when he looked at the graves surrounding it, realized it was a row of tombstones dedicated to the Freedom Fighters. "Are you…?"

"I'm the last one left, just like you." Sonic moved a stray quill away from his eyes, his gaze distant. "Eggman ran tests on me. We don't know what he did to you just yet, but if you're willing, there are tests that can be done."

"Please." Espio looked at the grave that marked Miles 'Tails' Prower as dead, his features saddened for the little fox. "I don't want to be a burden to anyone because I don't know what happened."

"Does that mean you're going to join the fight?" Sonic looked at him, emerald eyes hard and suddenly seeming older than he was.

"Yes." Looking around the thousands of graves, Espio knew he was going to join the battle. He'd known once the blue hedgehog had told him about what had happened to his teammates. "I owe Eggman some payback." Fists clenched at his sides, he offered Sonic a small smile.

Sonic didn't smile in return. Instead he brushed a hand against the flowers lining Sally's grave and stood, placing his hands in his coat pockets once again. "Then let's get you back to the lab to run those tests. There's a couple of people who will be happy to see you again."

"Oh? Who?"

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Espio had never seen so many people gathered under one roof before, the loud noise hurting his ears and he brought his hands up to cover them, feeling one of them being taken again by the hedgehog. Sonic stoically lead the way through the crowd, ignoring whistles and catcalls as he weaved their way around people and through small groups.

"What was that room?" the chameleon asked, a little breathless as he lowered his hands, coughing a bit. The atmosphere in there had been smoky and warm, and the hallways beyond were nicely cool.

"The rec room." Sonic looked at Espio out the corner of his eyes, hands retreating back to the pockets of his jacket. "It looked like Ash's team was celebrating a victory."

Espio wondered for a split second whether or not that victory was his retrieval, but shook it off, following Sonic as he lead them down a series of winding corridors and stairways, leading deep underground. He looked around in wonder, golden eyes wide in curiosity as he began to smell chemicals, licking his lips a little. "Are we…?"

"Heading to the science lab," Sonic offered, not turning his head to look at his objective. The sound of his boots echoing against the concrete floor sent shivers up Espio's spine. "We'll get those tests done before we take you through basic training. Get your knowledge back up to speed."

The sudden sound of the door in front of them swishing open made Espio jump, a little used to hearing those noises through glass and water to not be scared. In several spots across the room, there were Mobians laying on tables, while others in lab coats did scans and all sorts of tests, even a treadmill and other self-training equipment in one of the corners of the room.

The hedgehog lead him along, Espio not noticing that their fingers linked subconsciously and stared around him, taking it all in just as he had done everything else. Sonic finally stopped walking and Espio had to jump back a little so not to bump into him. One of the scientists looked up from his work, a broad smile on his lips as he pulled the goggles off from his face, revealing someone the chameleon wasn't expecting.

"Valdez??" The blue chameleon walked forward, his arms wide open and enveloping Espio in a hug that he was surprised to receive. Valdez pulled back and snapped the goggles off from around his head, setting them down on a nearby workbench.

"It's so good to see you again." Valdez grinned and nodded his thanks to Sonic, who tilted his head a little callously and with a 'see you later' to Espio, the hedgehog was gone. The other chameleon sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose. "I'm so sorry we couldn't find you. Eggman had all the data on your whereabouts encrypted with firewalls denying entry to anyone but himself. Just last week one of our people on the inside finally managed to hack into the database and got the co-ordinates to your location, so I sent Sonic along."

"You've…changed," was all Espio said. Usually their kind didn't work with anyone but their own kin, but Valdez had – as he said – changed over the past five years since his coma. Valdez gave him a wary smile and gestured for his friend to follow him, which Espio did. The blue chameleon lead him into a separate room that looked like it was used for meetings, Valdez taking off the white lab coat he wore and placing it over the chair he sat in.

"I'm assuming that Sonic has told you the rundown of what's been happening since you've been held prisoner?" Espio nodded and Valdez continued, flicking open the watch on his wrist and pressing a couple of buttons. No sooner had he done so that a meal appeared in front of them both and Espio's eyes widened at the sight of food, his stomach growling – Eggman had kept him alive by pumping a food substitute into his system through a needle.

"It's okay. It's edible –" As though to prove his point, Valdez popped a piece of meat into his mouth, chewing and swallowing, "– see? And it's okay to not use manners or anything. Dig in."

Thanking him for the food, Espio began eating, and Valdez continued to explain what was going on, using his fingers to eat as well. "Basically, five years ago, Eggman used the Chaos Emeralds to split the world apart and awaken a beast known as Dark Gaia that was growing in the planet's core."

Valdez paused to lick his fingers and the other chameleon nodded, telling him to continue. "We're currently trying to find the location of the shrines dedicated to the Chaos Emeralds via the Gaia Manuscripts. At this point in time we have a team exploring Downunda, as we managed to decipher one of the clues…but we still have a long way to go. Sonic was supposed to go with the team, but I asked him to retrieve you instead, so St. John's leading the expedition in his stead."

After scarfing down a large chunk of the roast in front of him, Espio swallowed and turned his gaze to his friend. "So who out of the old freedom fighting groups is still alive? Sonic showed me the graveyard…"

"Currently standing, Sonic is the only one of the original Freedom Fighters left. Yourself and Knuckles are the last of the Chaotix – he's with the Downunda group at the present time." Valdez counted off on his fingers, taking a sip of his drink. "Barely a third of the Mercian Freedom Fighters remain, and the Secret Service lost a good chunk of its members in our last raid on Eggman's base five months ago. Our people on the inside are Scourge and his Suppression Squad, and there's Freedom Fighters scattered all over the globe in different countries."

Espio sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at his empty plate but left feeling unsatisfied. He played with the bone, twirling it around between his fingers. "But those graves…"

"Mostly innocent civilians who were simply there at the wrong place at the wrong time." Valdez leant back in his black leather recliner, closing his eyes. "We tried to find as many bodies as we could to bury them but most are empty graves."

Another moment's silence, and then Espio spoke again, picking up his drink as his friend pressed a button on the watch he wore to make the plates disappear. "What kind of tests do I have to go through?" he asked, a deep frown furrowed on his face.

"It's mostly blood tests, but we will get you to use the sports equipment we have down here to test if anything physical has changed," Valdez replied, swirling the last of his drink around in the bottom of his glass before swallowing it and setting the cup down on the table. "Results should be within two to three days."

"When do we begin?"

– end of chapter one –

Notes: Here I am with another Sonic fic! Yes, I know I have to get on with The Daemon's Lament, but this has been in the works for absolute AGES and I decided to give it a face lift. I originally got the idea a couple of years ago after finishing Even Angels Fall, but playing Sonic Unleashed inspired me to continue with it and give it a different sort of twist than what I had in mind originally. Now I have a couple of questions for readers and reviewers:

1.) What should Espio's power be? I was thinking something along the lines of telekinesis or even electrical abilities. I'd love to hear the opinions of the readers and the most interesting idea will most likely be chosen. Any other ideas I like will be diverged to different characters.

2.) I'm going to be using Sonic's Werehog form from the game, but I haven't been able to decide on something: should he be able to speak in Werehog form like he does in Sonic Unleashed or not? I personally think not being able to speak might be better, but as I said above I want the opinions of my readers and reviewers.

Thank you for reading! Please leave a review on your way out~