Chapter 4: Hunters

It was another cold night in the desert. It was strange how the temperature could change as quickly and easily as flipping a coin, but it had become nothing more than a natural phenomenon for its current inhabitants. The sky had remained clear for the last few days since the storm had passed, making navigation much easier. It was still as dangerous as ever with the shifting sands and unstable structures that were the only safe areas, but for certain individuals that danger was always at an all-time high.

A lone figure stood outside the parameter of a small military base that had recently formed. He watched the activity from the base silently; constantly checking his surroundings to make sure his presence remained unknown. The dunes provided good cover from the eyes of the base, but he was still vulnerable from above and behind. He needed to stay alert and keep his senses heightened. His ears twitched at the sound of an incoming chopper from behind him and he immediately dove to the ground, turning his head to see its lights soar quickly over his head and slow down until it reached the base. It descended and landed on the inside of one of the gates of the high wired fence, releasing a handful of soldiers before its engines died down and remained on the helipad.

Shadow the Hedgehog rose to his feet, blinking his heavy red eyes and brushing the sand off of the white fur on his chest. His eyes drifted back and forth, scanning the area for any stray guards. He looked beyond the high wired fences at the large camp that had formed around a crumbling pyramid, one that had a familiar symbol etched into its surface; Dr. Robotnik's symbol. He was surprised at how quickly G.U.N. had arrived on the scene, deciding that they were most certainly more competent than he remembered them being. He knew about this base from various news reports, though none of them revealed the exact location of it. With little effort Shadow was able to find the base, as G.U.N wasn't the most subtle of organizations. He still found it puzzling that they had decided to invade Robotnik's domain now as that battle had ended long ago. And since he had not been seen or heard of in over a year, an attack on one of his bases was nothing less than stupidity on their part.

However, if all the reports had any truth to them…

Shadow scoffed at the thought. He refused to believe that the Black Arms had been responsible for all the recent attacks across the world. He had seen to it personally that they would remain nothing more than a memory to everyone, and to think that all of that effort had gone to waste went beyond infuriation. He knew better than to believe the news upon first glance, but the reports persisted and his pride and heart could no longer allow him to stand idly by. While staying out of the public eye, he visited one of the destroyed areas to see for himself, but found nothing to link the carnage to the aliens. There were no weapons, no energy signals, not even a scent of the blood that they shared. It relieved him, but he still felt a sense of uneasiness. His own investigation left few conclusions; either he was not getting there in time to catch the Black Arms, or it is just another one of the media's lies. His own personal experiences had him leaning toward the latter.

Unless…it was something else entirely that was responsible…

Shadow growled angrily, clenching his fists and sending a shot of pain throughout his right arm. He lifted his left hand and placed it over his right arm, where large amounts of crimson trailed down from open wounds on his shoulder and forearm and soaked his gloves. He gripped the wounds tightly, causing more dark blood to ooze out of it as it started to throb. His face twisted, but more out of rage than pain. He still could not decide whether it was the fact that he allowed himself to be injured so easily, or if it was the cause of the wound that angered him more. Nevertheless, he had gotten used to the feeling and he would not allow a mere flesh wound to hinder him, not when there was so much at stake.

He pushed the pain out of his mind and body and returned his focus on the pyramid. It worked in his favor for once that the majority of G.U.N's forces were focused on the pyramid as it would make it easier to navigate through the desert. He sniffed, mentally laughing at the bustling hive of their forces as past battles surged through his memory. He then straightened his face and resolve, having decided that he had spent enough time surveying the base. If he was going to accomplish his goals, he needed to press onward with his hunt quickly as he could feel the claws of time constricting around him with every passing hour.

But with his first step, his ears perked up to the sound of someone shouting a great distance away to his right. His eyes immediately darted in the direction of the sound and he felt his heart jolt and his body tense up. Although it was dark, Shadow's keen vision could just make out the silhouette of someone with green glowing eyes. The eyes shifted back to the base and within milliseconds his vision was blinded by white light. Shadow shielded his face from the searchlight and heard more distant shouts. He cursed and quickly took off to the left, gliding across the sand swiftly as the searchlight attempted to follow him in vain. He swerved in and out of stone structures and pillars, his mind racing as fast as his movements. He leaped onto the top of a collapsed wall and stole a glance back at the base, discovering that a swarm of seeking robots had been deployed and were sailing toward him at a rapid pace. He cursed again, having not taken G.U.N.'s persistence into account until now. He leaped down from the wall and dashed off toward the larger structures still standing in the desert.

Shadow glanced behind him to see that the swarms of G.U.N. robots were quickly catching up to him. He huffed in annoyance, for he knew that if they were in any other location he could easily outrun them. But with the various pools of quicksand and fiery traps that were still functional, navigation was still somewhat difficult. With every jump and crumbling rock he could hear the hum of the robots closing in. He looked forward and could see his destination leagues away, but he would need to draw his unwanted attention away in order to avoid suspicion. With reluctance he deviated from his path and skated down a bridge alit with torches. He ran along walls, knocked down others, made abrupt direction changes and zoomed through narrow spaces, but he only managed to shake off a few of his pursers. Shadow scoffed at the inevitable as he felt the robots' presence become too close for comfort. He steered toward an incline of stone and increased his speed as the golden glow from his shoes intensified. He leaped high into the air off of the incline, spun through the air and landed cleanly on top of a G.U.N. Hawk. He threw a punch through its armor, damaging its circuitry and kicked off of the robot as it crashed into the ground. He landed on the ground and continued skating as several more Hawks and a bomb-equipped Hornet surrounded him.

The Hornet fired a bomb that homed in on him, but Shadow quickly dodged the explosion as one of the Hawks fired its lasers. Shadow jumped and twisted his body as the continuous laser shots streaked past him, missing by mere inches. He ricocheted off a column, curled into a tight ball and with a burst of energy, struck three Hawks one after another with crushing blows that sent each exploding into mangled scraps of metal. He landed and skated down another stone walkway with the Hornet and four Hawks soaring in his wake. The Hawks opened fire and Shadow weaved back and forth to avoid their lasers. The Hawks moved into different positions in the hope to land a shot, but the black hedgehog was too agile as the lasers only hit rocks and sand. The Hornet launched another bomb that zeroed in on Shadow, but with a fluid motion he spun around and delivered a swift energy-powered kick to the bomb, sending it flying toward a Hawk and destroying it in an explosion. Shadow landed on the ground and immediately leaped back into the air and onto one of the remaining Hawks, gripping it tightly. He flipped over to its side and threw a powerful kick, sending the Hawk flying toward another and they both blew to pieces. The Hornet and surviving Hawk then launched a barrage of attacks, sailing left and right firing bombs and lasers simultaneously. Shadow swiftly dodged them all by rolling and jumping around the path. The instant there was a lull in their attacks for them to reload their weapons, Shadow spun around and while skating backward, he raised his left open hand and coursed raw energy until his hand began to glow. He then swung his hand, flinging arrows of light at the robots. In a blink of an eye they connected and the robots were sailing through the air in a tumbling, fiery crash. Shadow smirked and spun back around, only to come to a skidding and abrupt halt.

A small squadron of Hunter walker robots and a larger Big Foot walker fell down and landed on the open ground ahead. A few seconds later more shield wielding Hunters appeared behind Shadow, completely surrounding him. He growled loudly at this second setback, knowing that he had already wasted more than enough time and energy and would now have to spend more of both precious commodities. He gazed around at the robots and then at the Big Foot in front him, noticing that instead of a pilot in the cockpit there were complex machines and circuitry instead. Luckily, the walker and the robots did not appear to have any cameras, but that seemed to be the only good thing in the current situation. The Hunters then each raised their arm mounted canons and opened fire as one, engulfing the black hedgehog in a cloud of dirt and debris. For nearly a minute they continuously fired and the cloud of debris grew, shattering the normally peaceful landscape with their gunfire. Then they suddenly ceased and lowered their arms, watching the cloud intently and unmoving. As the scattered rocks settled and the dust began to clear, a deep red glow appeared in the center of the cloud. Shadow stood defiant and unharmed, his entire body bathed in a bright red aura. He curled his arms and bent his knees, channeling his strength throughout his body as his aura intensified. The Hunters and Big Foot raised their weapons, but did not manage to fire another shot. With a blood-curdling roar, Shadow released his harnessed energy, sending out a wave of destructive force in a wide radius. The G.U.N. robots were all tossed aside like trash, along with slabs of stone and sand. The energy then quickly dissipated and Shadow fell to one knee as exhaustion took over him.

He groaned and gripped his injured arm, relieved that the wounds were not severe enough to leave a trail. Walls and columns crumbled and collapsed nearby and he glanced around, disappointed at how damaging his attack was. Something then moved ahead and he saw that the Big Foot was still functioning, trying its hardest to aim its missile launchers at him despite its heavily damaged frame. Shadow clicked his tongue, quickly studied what was left of the environment and spotted a column nearby on the verge of toppling over. He then threw a bolt of energy at the bottom of the column, blasting off a large chunk of its base. It slowly began to lean over toward the Big Foot as rocks cracked and fell off of its surface. The Big Foot then ceased its struggle as the column fell onto it with a thunderous crash.

Shadow took a deep breath, trying his best to ignore the pain in his right arm that was now constantly flaring up like a campfire. He strained his senses and could not feel the presence of any other robots, but his body felt as tense as ever. It bothered him that they could track his movements so quickly and efficiently, and even more so that they were not hesitant to attack him. Normally they would scan and observe their targets to ensure that they were actually threats, but such was not the case with these ones. Did G.U.N. modify their programming to attack anything that moved out in the desert? Or perhaps they were programmed to attack specific targets? The latter bothered him more, and once again his mind fell back onto the rumors about the Black Arms. If what his instincts told him were true, he was in more danger than ever as his connection to the alien race had now placed a crosshair on his back. Keeping a low profile seemed nearly impossible, but all the more necessary if he was going to find what he was looking for.

He stared into the distance and quickly found his destination; the tall silhouette of a group of pyramids that loomed over all other structures in the desert. He grunted as he felt his already sensitive temperament shifting again upon realizing how far off track the G.U.N. robots had pushed him. Not only that, but the energy he used for his Chaos Blast had likely set off a few alarms back at the base as he knew that they had technology that could detect energy signals. He then thought about using his natural ability of Chaos Control, but that would likely set off signals as well, and he hardly had enough energy to use it effectively, let alone enough to cover the large distance to his destination.

He cursed loudly at himself. If only he still possessed that chaos emerald…

Left with only one choice, Shadow took off running, leaping over obstacles and avoiding quicksand, trying to limit his movements so that he traveled in a straight line and kept the use of his right arm and energy to a minimum. The darkness of the desert did not help, so he made use of the alit torches and stone paths when he could to make navigation easier. All the while he still could not shake the feeling that he was being followed, but decided to ignore it to prevent himself from slowing down and focused on his mission. After what seemed like well over an hour or so, he arrived at the long bridge that led to the largest pyramid in the desert, surrounded by broken and abandoned machinery and towers, all bearing the familiar "Eggman" symbol. He quickly noticed how some of it emitted a slight glow while other parts of machinery were slowly moving, meaning that the good Doctor's old base of operations still had power, though not a lot. Luckily, none of his robotic minions appeared to be present and the base's automatic defense systems were offline as he really did not want to engage in another battle in his weakened state. He dashed down the long bridge, jumping over debris and rocks that had fallen onto the bridge over the last year. He slowed down to a light glide, then a jog, and then to a walk as he approached the large metallic door. He took a quick glance around him, and when his senses detected no disturbances, he walked over to the glowing control panel with a dial pad and screen.

He then scratched his chin in thought, trying to remember the door's complex password. After a few moments the memory came back and he raised a hand up to the panel. But as he did, his ear twitched as it picked up a cracking rock behind him to the left. He immediately spun around and threw a bolt of energy at the nearby wall where the sound came from, blasting chunks of stone off of the top. He waited for a few seconds, baring his sharp fangs and keeping his fists raised, ready for a fight even though his body refused to endure one. His eyes scanned quickly back and forth, hoping that his instincts were not fooling him once again. For several minutes nothing moved and Shadow let his guard down. He breathed a heavy sigh, but he felt the farthest from relaxed. He turned back around and quickly punched in the required password. The screen flashed green and the heavy door rose up quickly. Shadow grunted, satisfied that the Doctor had not changed the password since it was last used. He moved forward and as soon as he was clear of the doorway he hit a red button on the side, slamming the door shut behind him with a loud thud.

Like the desert it was dimly lit inside with the only light emanating from the emergency lights and the floor panels. Prodding his memory again, he made his way down the numerous rooms and hallways toward the desired one while keeping an eye on the stationary robots left behind to ensure none of them suddenly regained their life. After more navigation and many long minutes, Shadow had finally arrived at his destination: the large computer room where Dr. Robotnik had conducted his schemes involving the space colony ARK over a year ago. Out of all the rooms in the base this one still had most of its power and all of the computers and devices were still intact and functioning. He looked to the left to see the large teleportation pad that was linked to the ARK, though it appeared to be off. He walked over to the center computer and quickly went to work, stroking a few keys to bring up yet another password screen on the large holographic monitor. He entered a different and much shorter password and the computer accepted it, bringing him to the desktop. Shadow frowned, immediately noticing that something was wrong as there were hardly any icons displayed. He pressed multiple keys, fumbling through menus and screens as he dove deeper into the computer's hard drive. He began to sweat and his heart pounded in his chest as he turned up empty-handed with each folder he searched. Frustrated, he stopped his search momentarily and scrolled through the computer logs and active history.

He felt himself freeze and his glazed eyes widen at his findings.

Everything, from word documents to program files, had been wiped completely from the system, including all backup files. He rapidly tapped the keys and scrolled around using the touchpad hoping that he simply missed a folder or overlooked something, but what his mind denied was clearly displayed on the monitor; everything, including the utmost important thing that he needed, was gone.

Shadow slowly stood up and stepped back. After all of the time and effort he had spent in the last several long weeks, he had come all this way for nothing. He growled and slammed his fists into the keyboard, destroying several buttons and sending a few sparks flying. He then sunk to his knees and held his arm, gripping it tightly as flecks of pain shot through it. He felt dizzy and sick and he tried to steady his ragged breathing with little success. He held his head, refusing to admit this apparent failure. No…there still had to be somewhere else he could look, something he had missed that he just could not see. There had to be! Everything depended on that vital information, and he could not, would not rest until he found it. Maria would not want him to give up, for if he did, he would be throwing away everything he had fought for up to this point. If anything, he would keep that promise…no matter what.

He leaned back and turned to his left, his eyes settling on the silent teleportation pad. For several minutes he simply stared at it without blinking when suddenly a thought crossed his mind and his eyes widened. He stood up and went to the left computer console closest to the pad. He rapidly typed the keys and within minutes the teleportation pad began to hum and glow, showing all signs of activation. Shadow then typed in the only option on the list of destinations and pressed enter to confirm. The pad hummed louder and Shadow walked over to the panel connected to the pad. He pressed the green button and stepped onto the pad as the glowing intensified. He lifted his head up toward the high ceiling as electric rings rose up from the edges of the pad, their ascent quickening and numbers increasing by the second. Shadow's face hardened with fierce determination. There was no turning back now. He will get that information, and he will get to the bottom of this entire mess…no matter what the cost.

"I'll find you…" He hissed softly.

Shadow was then engulfed by stunning light as he was taken aboard the space colony ARK. The teleportation pad then died down, leaving no trace of his presence behind.

Outside of the entrance to the pyramid base, a lone figure was leaning against the recently blasted wall. She held her bare left shoulder, where there was now an intense burn that stung horribly but left no mark. Having once again narrowly escaped detection, she marveled at her incredible luck thus far, but now she felt as if she were pushing it too far and that the next mistake could be her last.

Rouge the Bat tilted her head back against the wall, clutching her chest and felt her heart fluttering. She was panting heavily, and although the air was cool and felt lovely, she was still sticky with sweat and her dark bodysuit clung to her curvy body uncomfortably. But whether this reaction was from her chase or her brush with death she could not decide. She turned her head to the right and scoffed. The nerve! How dare he try to attack her! It was bad enough that he made her follow him across the desert, and then that happens! After everything they've been through, he nearly killed her without as much as a thought, lashing out like a caged creature. What in the world could be wrong with that hedgehog? She paced back and forth, huffing and blurting out incoherent rants about men and idiots. She had not been this aggravated in a long time and she almost wanted to leave and forget this whole ordeal all together.


But something kept her from simply walking away. She was out here in the middle of the desert by the entrance to the Doctor's base instead of in her cozy apartment or her lively club for a reason. She had sacrificed her precious leisure time to follow Shadow to this once important place, but for what? She took a few deep breaths and peeked out from around the wall. The door was shut tight, but if Shadow was able to get in so easily, she knew without a doubt that she could too. She stared at the door for a long time. What could be within this old base that was important enough to return to after so long? Whatever it was, it was important enough for him to risk his health (yet again) and that not even G.U.N. could dissuade him from his objective. But then again, the organization could never achieve such a feat in regards to him. She knew that it must have been a personal goal as he had not been seen by the public eye for over a year or made any contact with anyone…specifically her. That bothered her more than she would ever admit. But Shadow was always a lone wolf, even when they worked together. It would be best if she did not interfere in any way.

And yet…she was so familiar with the hedgehog and his methods; his strength, his brashness, his stubbornness…and his determination. It seemed like there was always something going on with him. Their past relationship burned in her mind and she could not help but feel a rising curiosity like a long lost passion. Wherever Shadow went, there was always action and mystery, two things she lived her life by. Her conscious wrestled with itself on the decision as she moved out from the cover of the stone wall.

"Shadow…" she whispered. "What are you up to…?"