Chapter 22 - Resurrection?

A moment of utter stillness, of pregnant silence manifested within the dust filled, expansive room, weighing heavily on them all like the creeping, almost material darkness. Time seemed to be measured not in seconds but in dull, slow pulses of their beating hearts as nobody dared moved a muscle, every pair of eyes fixed upon the hooded figure.

Each finger, one after the other slowly released the phantom's wrist from its vice-like grip, traveling gracefully backwards to quickly remove both mask and robe in a single motion that stood in stark contrast to Mephiles' more dramatic revelation. Staring at them with a look of hauteur and indifference were the once piercing crimson eyes gone dead with emotionless stoicism.

Sonic's breath was an undulating rhythm that sputtered forth in tight, awkward gasps. Blinking slowly, almost as if to ensure his eyes had not deceived him, he realized that his throat felt as parched as the sandy dunes of the Painite desert. He more than any of them was left speechless, unable to react in any definitive way, unsure if he was feeling disbelief, hope, joy, anger, or betrayal, or perhaps what it was that he felt was some as of yet unnamed emotion which no words that exist can describe.

Shadow blinked, at the same time disappearing in a flash of light, before the next moment coming into existence directly behind the motionless, statuesque Sonic, gripping his sword handle tightly.

Taking advantage of their shocked state, he unsheathed the gleaming silvery blade, its wickedly sharp edge screaming in bloodlust as it tore through the air, parting flesh with ease as it poked out the other end of Sonic's soft underbelly, its point dribbling a thick ruby liquid.

Withdrawing it with a single elegant motion, he sighed slightly as he glanced down at Sonic's hunched form, rivulets of hot, scarlet liquid running down from the gaping wound on his back to pool on the hard stone beneath him.

The others finally snapped free from their initial shock, seeing that they would not get any answers and he was intent on attacking them. They shook themselves as best as they could out of their various states of disbelief and charged towards him. Tikal came first, her fist cradling a resplendent silvery orb of light that shot off sparks in every direction, and her normally placid eyes narrowed in suspicion and anger.

Sidestepping her sudden lunge with peerless grace, the obsidian warrior grabbed onto her forearm with his vice-like grip, swinging her in front of him and out of balance. Pulling his body up and into the air, seemingly floating parallel to the floor in a way that looked effortless, he landed a dual kick directly into Tikal's stomach, sending her hurdling unceremoniously across the room like a rag doll.

Screaming in rage, Knuckles swung his fist towards the obsidian warrior with the force of a freight train, narrowly missing as he dodged deftly to his right and slamming into the stone wall behind him, sending spiderweb cracks arcing through the thick rock. Undeterred, the guardian did not let up for a moment, sending punch after punch soaring for the hedgehog, each time narrowly missing making contact, sending gusts of air whistling past his arms from the sheer force of the blows.

Shadow avoided his opponent's ferocious attacks without significant exertion or emotional reaction, watching him coldly and methodically, analyzing his movements. Finally, he seized a moment when a powerful attack left him over-extended, reaching out sharply with his katana, leaving a thin but painful slice in the echidna's well-muscled shoulder.

Algos barreled towards the fray, a cyclone of sand trailing to the ground from his suspended body. With a violent twist of his wrist he willed the stone to grind against itself, transforming the floor beneath Shadow's feet into sand and causing it to crawl up around his ankles.

"As slippery as ever. Well let's see how well you dodge when you can't move your legs!" Knuckles bellowed, a scowl of rage twisting his features.

Again the crimson guardian unleashed a titanic punch towards his enemy, but Shadow somehow managed to twist his entire torso out of the way of the attack, latching onto Knuckles' arms and ripping him to the ground.

Firing the jets on his air shoes in a powerful pulse to shatter the sandy obstruction, he lit a gleaming pulse of energy in his hand and threw it at Algos without a second of hesitation. At the same time he stamped Knuckles into the ground with his foot, a slight smirk of satisfaction pulling at the corners of his lips.

Algos quickly created a wall of sand to absorb the attack, throwing a cloud of scattered and charred dust into the air.

Knuckles had grabbed ahold of the ultimate lifeform's leg, straining against him with all his might. Knowing he would not win in a contest of outright physical strength with the echidna, Shadow wasted no time in plunging his katana through the guardian's chest, earning a tortured scream and a splatter of gushing blood.

Algos and Rouge came at him simultaneously now, each of them hurling attacks at him in quick succession. The sand demon ended his punches and kicks with a swirling whip of prehensile sand, leaving trailing particles falling to the floor in his wake as the floor beneath them twisted and contorted to the sand-wielders will.

Shadow somehow evaded their attacks, sidestepping even the most furious of lunges with relative ease, and for the most part did not seem interested in doing anything other than calmly and dispassionately observing their attempts. He remained so consistent with this strategy that it almost shocked them when he suddenly stepped forward aggressively, punching through Algos' sand whip with a small burst of energy, and reaching up to grasp around the tan colored hedgehog's neck.

Swinging him in front of him as a shield, Shadow forced Algos to absorb the shock of Rouge's force as she bounced off of him from the momentum of her attack. Algos grasped at his attacker's grip desperately, gasping and choking as the world seemed to spin around him.

Suddenly transforming his body into sand, he managed to slip through Shadow's fingers, pooling messily in a pile on the floor.

Reaching into the pocket of his cloak, the ebony avenger retrieved a small metallic device and calmly pressed a red rubber button on its front before tossing it into the puddle of sand.

"A gift, from all of us at Hisaki," he deadpanned, as the device beeped and emitted a faint shockwave of vibrational energy, throwing up a few stray grains of sand.

Algos willed his sand with all his might to form a column, to slam into Shadow with full force and grind his bones to dust, and yet he found that while his consciousness inhabited the sand that lay scattered over the floor, he was no more able to manipulate it than his opponent.

"A vibration at a precise frequency can temporarily disperse the energy you use to manipulate sand particles, and this device continues to emit vibrations at that same frequency. If you recall, Echo used the technique against you," he explained, kicking the sand in front of him irreverently as he stalked towards Rouge, the only remaining opponent facing him.

She had only just gotten up from being bounced off of Algos' back and into a wall, and now had just heard him explain as much as her as to Algos that the sand-wielder was out of the fight. Her head was still spinning slightly from the impact, but overall, she had managed to sustain her attacks so far on pure rage.

Now, as she looked into his eyes, she saw a hollowness, a void of dead emptiness. She thought to herself numbly that she would've been able to tolerate Shadow hating her, scorning her affections, but that what was more agonizing than anything else possibly could was his look of pure, cold indifference.

She stepped towards him, her eyes pleading as she glanced at her fallen companions, some gasping and barely conscious, one knocked unconscious, and one paralyzed within his sand.

Her mouth opened slightly as she tried to find the words to tell him how he had made her feel; she couldn't help but think that even if he did kill her, in a way it would be comforting to think that at least he could never claim to have been ignorant, never claim to have not known what he was doing. In a way, it seemed like if he knew, her feelings, everything she had been through, if she could get through to him, somehow they would mean something.

But dying here, with nothing but a gasp as her final words wasn't her idea of making an indelible mark on her killer.

"We all thought you were dead," she began in the only way she could think of, her voice shaking slightly as she struggled to maintain her wrathful and defiant front, "But now I'm beginning to wish you had been. All this time I held out hope that you might still be alive, that you would survive like you always had... I'm beginning to wonder if anything can kill you. And yet, I can't help but think that even though you survived, you're dead inside. All those years ago, it hurt when you left to get revenge on your brother, it hurt worse than anything I'd ever felt before. But... the pain that I felt when you betrayed us, when you left behind all of your friends... That couldn't even compare to what I felt when I thought that you were dead, when I thought that I would never see you again. But life... has a funny way of taking our worst nightmares and laughing in our faces, of outdoing them. I never could've imagined in my darkest dreams that you had lived, and not only choose to allow us to believe that you had died, but that you had become a part of that which you once hated, which you fought against."

Shadow seemed to be moving in slow motion, pacing silently towards her with his sword raised in preparation, his eyes never once flickering with an emotion of either malice or sentimentality.

"Don't you see? You spent all that time seeking vengeance on your murderous, stoic brother, and now you've become just like him!"

Shadow paused for a moment, almost as if taken aback by her words. He stared blankly at her tearstained aquamarine eyes, losing himself momentarily in their sea-like depths.

Finally he had reached her, standing directly in front of her, his burning crimson eyes piercing into her own with the flaming intensity of the sun. He leaned forward until she could feel his hot breath enveloping her, sending goosebumps raging across her flesh.

"...Forget about me," he whispered directly in her ear, so quietly and with such a soulful, pain-filled voice that she wondered if she had not imagined it.

Stepping backwards, he looked into her eyes with an expression that would seem to contradict the sensitive and almost sad tone his voice had just held and thrust his sword cleanly through her shoulder. Trembling, she fell forward, clutching onto him with her last vestige of strength as she slipped down into a black, icy sea of unconsciousness.

Clapping slowly in a mocking fashion, Mephiles stepped forward from the position he had not moved from since they had arrived.

"Bravo Shadow, quite the show," he drawled slowly, almost as if he were savoring the taste of each word as it rolled off his tongue, "Impressive, but unconvincing. A well-trained eye can tell the difference between a fatal stab wound and one which conveniently manages to miss at vital organs - a feat in and of itself, even if deliberate."

"What's your point?" the warrior growled in reply, his sword tip still dripping with a steady rhythm of dark crimson.

"They are all alive, merely incapacitated. So you have done nothing to counter my original question regarding your loyalty."

The two black cloaked wraiths stared at each other in challenge, neither one backing down. At last in response, Shadow grabbed the still barely conscious Knuckles, his teeth gritted in a blood blackened growl.

"This proof enough for you?" he replied coldly, his forearm suddenly glowing with a writhing crimson energy, "Chaos Blast!"

The pulsating ruby energy arced wildly into the echidna's back, searing away flesh and leaving thinly rising tendrils of smoke spiraling upwards from a blasted scorch mark.

Hissing in response, Mephiles' eyes darted towards the entrance to the chamber.

"You've revealed our presence with that blast of energy, I can sense several life energy signatures approaching our position," he scolded, disappearing in an instant with the Chaos Emeralds through a Black Gateway.

After the phantom was gone, Shadow sheathed his sword and approached the fallen Sonic, his hunched form propped up weakly on his hands and knees. Bending down onto one knee, Shadow looked his former friend in the eye.

"Once again, you got lucky, and survived."

And with that, he vanished in a pulsing flash of green energy, leaving the fallen hero staring at an empty space where he had just been. Looking first at his friends scattered through the room and then down at his bloody wound, Sonic's head was swimming as blackness began to creep in on the edges of his blurred vision.

The last thing he was conscious of before drifting off into oblivion was the sound of boots pounding on the ground and GUN soldiers shouting incoherently.