While this story assumes you've read Sonic Switch, it's not a necessity. I've tried to write it so you won't need to, but it does help.
Now, read on, and see what you think.
Monday 13th Oct 13:15 hours
The desert sands were still. The winds had stopped. Not a single sound was heard, not a single creature could be seen.
Yet deep beneath the sand, a secret it had held for centuries was rising.
They rose, headed for the surface. Among them, one powerful mind commanded them.
Rise up, my children. Rise toward the light, toward the surface. Our time is now. Onward, to conquest and dominion.
The lesser minds around sent their reply, We hear and obey, lordship.
The powerful mind thought back.
Too long have we been held back by the power of the accursed Master Emerald. But now, I have broken through the last of the barriers it held in our way, and I have broken the Master Emerald. Now, we rise once more, to the surface world denied to us. Onward! Now is our time!
* * *
Desert Area – Eggman's Pyramid base
Robotnic could not believe his eyes. Energy readings had appeared all around his base, and had appeared from nowhere. The readings were off every scale he tried to measure them on, and they were like nothing he had ever seen before.
Within moments, he realised what was happening – they were converging on his base. He raised the alarm.
"All systems, full alert! Get ready to defend this base!"
* * *
Desert Area – Southern Cliffs
"Come on guys, up here!" Tails called down.
Sonic and Shadow dashed up the cliffs after the fox, while Knuckles just climbed the wall.
Silver sighed, leaned over so he was lounging in mid air, and simply floated past them.
They looked from the cliff down into the main desert area.
"So what're we meant to see, Tails?" Sonic, like the rest of them, couldn't see anything but sand.
"This is where the energy readings were coming from, I'm sure of it."
"I don't see anything."
"There's something there," Silver told them. "I can feel it."
They watched in silence.
"There!" Shadow pointed. "In front of that red rock."
A rocky brown hand had shot out of the sand, and grasped the ground. Another followed it. Some distance away, another pair of hands came out. And another. And another. They pulled up, and vaguely human shape of the same rocky brown climbed out. Soon there were uncountable numbers of these strange creatures, some made from rock, others made from metals, and other materials. One even seemed to be made from junk.
"What are they?" Knuckles voice was awed.
"I don't know," Silver told him. "But I know someone who could. He's over there."
They followed where he pointed. On one of the northern cliffs, a lone human figure stood surveying the scene. It was Liam.
* * *
Desert Area – Northern Cliffs
Liam watched them crawling out of the sand, one after the other. There was a grimness about him, stood with his arms crossed, and a feeling of terrible power emanating from him. He didn't like this. He knew exactly what they were. He knew exactly what was happening. He'd dreaded their coming for centuries.
He uttered one single word. "Golems."
He watched for a few more moments. "And their leader. They're back."
* * *
Lordship, we detect a person of magic.
Lordship, we detect but a single boy.
Lordship, he knows the Forbidden Magics.
It listened to the lesser minds that brought him these and similar reports. It felt ahead, through them, to identify this lone boy.
Ah. I see him. Ignore him for now. He is of no moment. If he attacks, kill him.
So, we have a magic user?
This will be interesting.
Continue onward, my children. Reclaim this world for me.
* * *
Mystic Ruins, near Tails' Workshop
Shadow had decided to make the time to visit Liam in the cavern he pretty much lived in. Somehow, a few weeks ago, he'd managed to get an armchair in. No one had figured out how, as no one had seen him, and it was clearly bigger than the entrance of the tunnel that led there.
The tunnel was known to be as magic as Liam was, however, as it was known to have seemingly randomly moved around of it's own accord. Usually when Liam had decided he'd had enough people asking him to predict things they really shouldn't bother him with.
On the other hand, it had given his cavern a name – the True Self Cavern.
Shadow wandered down the tunnel, listening to the water in the cavern play against the sides as he went.
Liam was sat in his armchair off to one side of the jutting crag of red rock that reached out over the lake far below. To someone who didn't know him, he looked like he was sleeping. Shadow knew better – he'd inhabited that body himself for a short time, and recognised the signs of an extended vision.
Shadow toyed with the idea of looking in the lake while Liam was distracted. Liam continually warned people away, because there was no way to tell what you'd see in there until you looked in. Many people didn't like what they saw in there. He didn't see any harm in looking. He was only a hedgehog that happened to be the ultimate life form. What could trouble him?
He walked out to the edge of the crag, and hesitated, like many before him. Curiosity got the better of him, and he looked over.
For a moment, his reflection was just himself, but that faded, and he had the strange feeling the lake really was looking back into him. It faded in again briefly, oddly showing Tails, then faded out.
Well, Tails had ended up in his body for a short time not too long ago. But that didn't explain this.
Then the reflection faded in again. It showed him, the five of the seven chaos emeralds around him, the other two in each hand, and the Master Emerald behind him. The reflection of him seemed to radiate power on a disturbing level.
Shadow looked away, with the feeling he probably shouldn't have looked.
He felt like that even more, when he saw Liam had come back from his vision while he'd been looking, and was also watching him shrewdly. He said nothing.
"Curiosity got the better of me. And you were busy."
Liam very carefully continued saying nothing.
"Come on Lee, it's not like it was anything bad."
"Lee?" he asked incredulously. "Lee? Where did you come up with that?"
"You mean no one's ever called you that before?"
"No, actually, not once."
"I think it suits you better. Anyway, I've got a question. A decent one, I promise," he added, seeing Liam's look.
"Alright, go ahead. I'll hold you to that promise though."
"You know when you look into that lake, your reflection fades for the one it shows? Is it meant to do that twice?"
"Twice? That's impossible."
"It just proved you wrong then."
"Are you sure you weren't imagining things?"
"Not a chance. I faded out, a reflection of Tails faded in, that faded out and then... something else appeared." Liam nodded knowingly at the last part. Few people liked to talk about what they saw.
"Tails, you say?" Shadow nodded. "Most unusual. I don't have any explanation for it. At least not yet. I've got a lot to think about."
"We saw you on the cliffs in the desert area."
"And now you've pinpointed what I've got to think about."
"What were those things?"
"Golems. Very old, very dangerous magic. One that stopped being taught two centuries before I ever existed, because of the Golem Wars."
"Yeah, but what exactly are they?"
"Essentially? They're a collection of raw material, animated by magic, and that's literally it."
"If it wasn't being taught, how are they here, now?"
"The Golem Wars didn't destroy all the Golems. The very last person who made Golems, turned himself into a Golem – the Golem Commander. He's the cause, what started the wars. He and a huge number of Golems were banished, using immense amounts of magic, but not destroyed. The Master Emerald was involved in some way."
"The Master Emerald? It was around then?"
"Of course. The Echidna race is older than I am. I know it shattered because the Golem Commander caused it to. It was the last thing stopping him bringing them back."
"And now they are?"
"Now they are, we're in trouble. Powerful as I am... there's only one way I can match the levels of magic needed to banish him again. And they are the Forbidden Magics. And I won't use them."
"What about the Chaos Emeralds? Can't you tap their power?" Shadow tried not to think about what he'd seen in the lake, but the mention of the Emeralds brought it back again.
"It's incompatible with my magic."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. There isn't much I can do. The Golem Commander knows I'm here. He'll block any direct attack I make on him, and if I go after any single Golem, he'll send them all directly after me. I can't stand against that. Oh, I can disintegrate the ones made from rock, stone and similar, rust the metal ones, and so on, but he has sheer numbers on his side."
"They're no match for the Golems. They may be hard to destroy, but they don't have much that's useful against them either."
Shadow stood in silence, awed that the power of this lone boy, the only one left who could command magic, was like nothing in the face of the Golems.
They heard a 'thlap' sound, and something shuffling. They exchanged a look, and then turned to look at the tunnel. Neither had a view down it. Neither moved to find out what it was.
After several more 'thlap' sounds, a zombie shambled in, and headed toward Liam. It was almost a skeleton really, there was very little flesh still on it. It's face was barely recognisable.
It stopped in front of Liam, and swayed a little. There was a faint gurgling hiss. Liam sighed.
"Don't try and speak normally, Chief. You've decayed too far for that. You know how to talk clearly."
To Shadow's surprise, a voice came from nowhere.
Master, we feel the Golems rising. We are afraid. We cannot fight them. We want your commands, Master.
"I don't have any."
Master, some of us retain our magic still. Let those who do, stand beside you and cast them down at your side.
"No. Not even if all of you could do that, would it make a difference. We will not fight them on those terms."
There was silence for a few moments. Then finally, the zombie spoke again.
Then Master, we bring word of their progress.
They have assaulted an installation under the control of the living one known as Robotnic. They have claimed it as their own. The mechanical Golems that belong to Robotnic were destroyed but for one. The one known as Robotnic escaped. Even now, he has been spotted making his way here.
Indeed, Master. He seeks your aid. Master, he is in poor condition from the assault. We do not believe he will make it to here. Do you wish us to come to his aid?
Liam thought for a moment. "Yes," he said finally. "Bring him here. Do whatever you have to. But make sure he gets here."
We understand, Master.
The zombie sank into the ground, leaving no trace it had ever been there at all.
"I didn't know the zombies did stuff on their own," Shadow said finally.
"They've been known to, when needed. One helped Silver, remember."
"I'd almost forgotten. What are you going to do with Eggman?"
"Heal him. Healing magic has always been one of my worse ones, but if Chief's report is accurate, then he'll need it."
"In life, he was the Chief of my village. He's one of the few that still retains a part of his magic in death."
"Wait. I thought you couldn't order them to do anything, because it was one of those dangerous bits of magic?"
"It is. They know that, and they know I don't really want to though, so normally, instead of asking for commands, they ask if I want something done. It's a loophole. There's a loophole in everything, everywhere, if you look hard enough."
"Do you think I could pick up a little magic still? I learned some of it from when I got stuck in your body, but what about here?"
"No chance. You've used a Chaos Emerald."
"The incompatibility again?"
"It works both ways. Use one, forever locked out of the other."
"So how come I could use magic when I was in your body?"
"Because both actively affect the body, not the mind. For example, if I had been in your body, instead of in Tails', then I'd have been able to Chaos Control instead."
"So there's absolutely no loophole that might work around it?"
"No. Wait. Actually..." He trailed off, and his lips moved silently for a while. "There is some. Not active magic, it's known as passive magic – magic that acts of it's own accord. You might get the odd vision like I do, or something. It's very difficult to tell."
* * *
Knuckles dropped down, avoiding the bolt of force Silver had thrown at him, and then sent one back at him. Silver reflected it, and it caught Knuckles' shield full on, hurling him back. He barely had time enough to push back behind him to stop from hitting the ground hard.
He stood up, and leaned against a column, panting.
"I think," he managed finally, "That's enough."
Silver landed calmly nearby. "You're improving though. You've got a lot of power behind you mentally now. I'd say it almost matches your physical power."
"I just need to be able to keep it up longer."
"With time and practice."
"Yeah, I know."
Silver had taken to testing Knuckles in psychic fights ever since he'd started trying to learn it for himself. He had the power now, but he lacked focus and coordination of it. Silver still towered over him overall, but their fights were slowly shrinking that gap.
They sat down on a rock, Knuckles still panting slightly. He hadn't got used to putting out so much effort still.
"Have you heard anything new about those things in the desert?"
"Yeah, they took out Eggman's Pyramid base there. Taken it for themselves. Eggman fled, but his craft was damaged in the attack. It crashed just over there," he pointed over toward the cavern leading to the Mystic Ruins. A charred wreck of metal and machine was embedded in the ground.
"They beat Eggman that badly? I don't like the sounds of that."
"Neither do I. Eggman himself didn't look to good. He went off on his own though. Don't know where."
"Liam would know."
"Liam's been distracted a lot since we saw him on that cliff though. Something's bothering him."
"Maybe I'll drop in and see what the fuss is about."
"I was planning on visiting him anyway."
Silver grinned, and looked a lot like Sonic when he did. "Heh. Wanna come along with me?" He even managed to sound like Sonic.
* * *
Tails had been working hard. He'd been working on something to disintegrate anything. Dangerous, but after he'd seen what those... things had done to Eggman's base, and how they made light work of his robots, Tails wasn't going to take any chances. He wanted to get a closer look, but he'd seen Eggman escaping from the Tornado above. The things had damaged it badly, and he didn't want to have to rebuild the Tornado. Again.
There was a thumping outside. He picked up his experimental prototype, and cautiously looked out.
Outside the door, there was nothing. Just a distance away, down the steps leading up to his workshop, there was one of the things. It was made of stone. It looked like someone had just used a wall, and made it walk.
It was also heading right for him.
He aimed the prototype disintegrater at it, and hoped it would work.
He was hurled backwards into the wall of his workshop by the force it put out, but the thing stopped. It seemed to be curious. It looked down at itself, and then... disintegrated. It turned to dust, and then into a pile of dust on the ground, some of it flowing down the steps.
Tails nervously locked the disintegrater away, and decided he'd have to talk to Liam about this.
* * *
"Let me go! Don't you know who I am, you reeking piles of rotting flesh!" Robotnic's indignant cries were lost on the zombies carrying him. They put him down in front of Liam, bowed – some of them losing some flesh as they did so – and then sank into the ground. Robotnic's clothing was burnt and charred in places, and he bore numerous small cuts over what skin was visible. Some parts were even clearly burnt slightly.
"You!" he snarled at Liam. "I want to know what those things were! I know you were watching."
Liam smiled faintly. "And there I was thinking you might want your injuries tended to. What's wrong with you?"
"I got burnt some." He paused. "And broke my arm," he muttered. Shadow hid a grin.
Robotnic recoiled back from Liam as he reached out.
"Oh, stop that. I'm not going to hurt you."
He took hold of the hand from the broken arm. A white light travelled up it, and showed up in other places too, then it faded. The cuts seemed to vanish with it, and the burns too.
"Not my best work," Liam commented. "But you're whole again."
"Now, tell me what those things were! They took over my base! I want it back!"
"And what are Golems?"
"What's a robot, then?"
"What? It's just a collection of metal and machinery, programmed to do what it's told."
"A Golem is the same, except it's a collection of just about any material at all, and it's animated and 'programmed' using magic instead."
"So you attacked me with them!"
"No. I don't even know the slightest thing about Golem magic. They're under the command of the Golem Commander. The last Golem creator, incarnate as a Golem himself."
"So get rid of them!" Liam turned away. "What? What'd I say?"
"He can't do it," Shadow murmured. "It's too dangerous."
Liam looked over his shoulder at them. "To match the Golem Controller, and banish him – let alone destroy him – there's only one source of magic I can call on, and if I use that... you'd have to face a greater threat afterwards. I've seen if often enough. I should know just how much greater it is."
"And what's that?"
"At full power. Including the Forbidden dark magics, using them without limit, without reason. I've always stopped myself before. But if I go ahead with this, that's what you'll face. And you can't beat that."
Even Robotnic was cowed by that statement.
Sonic dashed in. "Hey guys. What's going on?"
"We're debating how we're going to deal with the Golems we saw," Shadow told him.
"I've got a way," Tails' voice announced. It echoed around the cavern.
When he entered, he had a serious look about him, one that he was rarely seen with.
Liam nodded. "I knew it. You've taken a great risk creating it, you know."
"It'll help. Nothing else seems to work against them."
"Be very careful with it, Tails. If it should be used incorrectly..." his eyes lingered on Robotnic for a moment.
"What? What did I do this time?"
"Nothing, yet," Tails told him. "But your reputation means we don't trust you."
"And just what is that meant to mean?"
"Say I made something that could disintegrate anything. Be honest. You'd want it, right?"
Robotnic squirmed a little under their gazes. "Oh alright! So I would. What of it?"
"Well, I have. But it really does work on everything. I don't trust you not to try and take advantage of it. I meant it to help against these Golems."
"Well, has it been tested?" For all of Robotnic's evil plans of world domination, he was an incredibly good engineer, even Tails respected him in that regard. He was, of course, interested.
Tails nodded. Liam groaned when he did.
"What? What did I do?" Tails looked worried.
"The Golem Commander will know you've done it. He's directly in touch with every Golem. He'll know exactly what that Golem saw, and what you did. You'll be a marked enemy of his now. Which makes two of us," he added.
"Why are you an enemy?"
"Because I can stand against him. I'm limited in what I can do – he's trying to block my magic – but he dares not attack me directly, no more than I dare attack him or his Golems directly. I could, theoretically, take out a huge portion of his Golems. But his numbers can easily make up for that within moments."
Knuckles and Silver floated in, lounging on thin air.
"Hey, since when could you do that?" Sonic said on seeing this.
"Since Silver started helping me pick it up for myself," he replied.
Silver looked directly at Liam, then his face turned serious.
"So that's what they are," was all he said.
Knuckles glanced over, and tried to do the same. Liam laughed. "Don't try it yourself yet, Knuckles. Silver can handle the sheer depth of my mind, you're not fully prepared for it yet."
Knuckles looked embarrassed, but Silver made up for it by passing on what he'd learned in the same way.
"Oh," he managed weakly.
"'Oh' hardly covers it," Silver told him.
"Sorry. I couldn't think of anything else to say."
* * *
They'd discussed ideas, and plans, theories and plots. Even Robotnic had put aside his usual rivalries and come up with some ingenious ideas. But Liam's relentless picking pulled even them apart, as he explained, from his vast knowledge, why they wouldn't work, or what was wrong with them.
Shadow sat through it all, listening, taking it in. He now sat on the edge of the crag, looking into the water at his reflection. It still bothered him, but at least he accepted that it could happen.
Periodically, it still flicked back to Tails. He thought back to what Liam had said earlier, and went over everything after it.
Then he remembered the 'loophole' Liam had found. He waited for it to flick back to Tails, then concentrated on it, trying to force a vision.
It failed, but seemingly as compensation, he had a sudden premonition, and a matching realisation.
He got up, and tapped Liam on the shoulder.
"I've got an idea."
"Well let's hear it. It can't be any worse than what's already been suggested."
"I just want to confirm something first. The Golem Commander's blocking your magic, right?"
"How is he doing it?"
"He's focusing on my mind, and attempting to suppress any use of magic."
"So it has no bearing on body? Just the mind?" Shadow's own mind was already beginning to race with ideas, if he was right.
"Yes, I think that's right. What are you thinking of, Shadow? Come right out with it."
"We repeat what happened to us when the Master Emerald shattered. If he's focusing on your mind, he won't know the difference. Then I – or whoever else got your body – would be free to use the magic as necessary."
Liam's eyes widened. "Why didn't I think of that?" He paced around his chair for a few moments, then stopped in front of Shadow again. "There's risks involved. I can't shatter the Master Emerald, and if I attempt to reproduce it by magic, there's a chance that it won't work as expected because of his block. I also won't be able to say who'll end up where." He thought some more. "Whoever did get my body, and the magic with it, would have to be extremely careful about using the magic – use too much, and he'll catch on, but don't use it, and it may be no help at all."
"If we can find all of the Chaos Emeralds, I think I can subdue him."
Liam's look turned even more serious. "I know what you're thinking. Use all seven of them together." Shadow nodded. "It's too dangerous. The energy in the Chaos Emeralds is too unstable. You could destroy yourself."
"Would it be enough though?"
"I think so. If the Master Emerald supplied power too, it might even be enough to destroy the Golem Commander, and if we could achieve that, then all of the remaining Golems would de-animate, and become heaps of material again. How did you come up with these ideas?"
Shadow looked down at the lake. It was all the answer Liam needed, but he explained anyway. "I saw Tails in there. You told me seeing two reflections come back was impossible, but I think it was trying to tell me something. Tails had my body when the Master Emerald shattered – that gave me the idea for moving you out of your own body to free up the magic you've got. Then there's my own reflection. It has... something to do with the Chaos Emeralds, and that triggered the other idea."
Robotnic looked puzzled. "Am I missing something here?"
"When you look into the lake, it shows you you truly are in a different reflection," Liam explained. "What I see in there isn't pleasant. It's what you'll face if I have to use my full magic. Cruel, evil, whatever you want to call it. I don't want to be like that. It's not who I want to be."
"So what did you see Shadow?"
Shadow turned away. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Wha... why not?"
"I don't need a reason."
Liam sprawled into his chair, rubbing his head. "Go home," he told them. "Get some rest. All of you. I'll work on this overnight."
"Perhaps you've forgotten, but those Golems have gone and taken my command bases! I don't have a place to go to!" Robotnic raged at him in a sudden outburst.
Tails laid a hand on his shoulder. "I've got a spare room. If you promise to behave." Robotnic looked as if to make a snide comment, but apparently thought better.
"Alright. So long as you let me help you out."