A/N: YES! It's FINALLY here! I'm sooo sorry this took so long to get out! School and IB exams and inspiration drought and SADX… all got in the way. @.@ But, I am DONE with high school, DONE with IB, I got enough inspiration to finish this, and… well SADX is still a distraction. But in a way it motivated me to finish this too. XP And this chapter is much longer than the last, so maybe that makes up for its lateness? ^_^; Oh, and thank you to everyone who reviewed! It's your reviews that really get me motivated to write. ^_^; But enough of my babble. Read!
Chapter 3: You Live an Endless Life
He looked around the black void.
A coldness settled inside him as he realized that he was alone in this empty place. No one to cry out to, no one to help him…
Wait, no… something else is here…
He could sense it. Another presence, one he was familiar with. One that sent chills down his spine. A snake-like hiss reached his ears.
He whirled toward the direction it came from, fur and quills bristling. An odd glowing shape loomed before him. It was a yellow-orange crescent, resembling an eerie grin that widened and narrowed in a steady rhythm.
The rhythm of its breathing.
He could hear its breaths now and stepped back apprehensively. I know you…
The faceless grin hissed again, seeming to mock his fear. Gradually, the grin's face and body became visible. Brown, scaly skin… metallic pipes… a reptilian form…
His eyes widened. "No… we killed you!"
The grin persisted, emitting a low growl. It slowly advanced on its small prey.
His heart pounded as he backed away from the creature. Fighting off panic, he decided to fight rather than run. "I suppose I'll just have to kill you again!" He lunged at the creature, aiming for the metal pipe trailing from its mouth.
But it was much faster than he had remembered. It snapped at the hedgehog, catching him in midair with its powerful jaws.
Shadow cried out in pain, struggling against the Biolizard's grip, but to no avail. He felt weaker, as though the monster was draining him of his life. His attempts to free himself diminished, and the lizard let out another satisfied hiss. Shadow felt his body go limp as he cried out into the darkness. The darkness responded only by closing in around him, plunging his mind into its depths. Is this my fate?
A wordless song suddenly filled the darkness, causing it to recoil from the helpless form. He opened his eyes and gazed at a white figure in the distance. That voice…
The pain receded and the Biolizard's grasp seemed to weaken as the song continued.
I know that voice…
The figure became clearer, and he could see that it was a young girl. The Biolizard faded away, and Shadow floated to the ground gently.
The song continued, but now there were indiscernible words. Details of the girl's appearance cleared-- a light blue dress, golden hair…
Shadow's heart caught in his throat as he stared at the girl. "Maria…" he whispered.
The girl paused in her song and opened her blue eyes to gaze at the dark hedgehog. She smiled warmly and continued her song, the light surrounding her expanding to chase away the surrounding darkness.
Tears filled his eyes as he stared at his beloved Maria. No, this can't be Hell. Not as long as she's here.
The words of her song were quite clear to him now.
"And with my dear friend's light to lead me true,
These crushing bonds of dark I can break through."
The light grew to a blinding intensity with those last words, Maria's image fading away into the rest of the white. But the melody continued to echo through Shadow's mind, the voice shifting and changing. Maria…don't leave me!
I'll never leave you, Shadow.
"Maria…" The whisper escaped his lips as his mind began to return to consciousness. The song still rang through his ears as he opened his eyes. The music…its not my imagination-- its real…
He tried to sit up to locate its source, but quickly regretted it. Pain and dizziness washed over him, causing him to moan and lay back down.
His movement caused the song to stop abruptly, replaced by the sound of churning water and then a soft whistle. He turned his head toward the sound and blinked in surprise at the odd sight before him.
A smooth, gray face with a seemingly permanent smile gazed back at him. Shadow propped himself up to stare at the creature, ignoring his head's painful protests. The rising sun reflected off its long, sleek body. He recalled seeing pictures of similar creatures in one of Maria's many books. What was it called…?
"A… dolphin?" the hedgehog murmured, still watching the animal in awe. It let out a chirp, as if responding to his query. He took that to mean 'yes'. Yet, there was something unique about this dolphin-- it dawned on him when his gaze fell upon its eyes. They were a brilliant blue. Despite knowing little about 'dolphins,' he sensed that blue eyes were not typical of the species.
The dolphin abruptly turned, breaking his gaze into its eyes, and dove into the water. "Wait!" Shadow called, extending his arm toward it. But it had already vanished into the blue depths. He put his arm down and sighed. Alone again…
He looked around at his surroundings and realized he was in the middle of a large city-- or what was left of it. All the buildings were in ruins, half-submerged by water. "What is this place?" Shadow whispered, gazing around at the destruction. He looked down at the concrete he sat on and realized it was a piece of highway jutting out of the water. "And how did I get here?"
He remembered falling, burning, drowning-- now he could no longer ignore the throbbing in his head. He lay back down, closing his eyes. And then there was the song… He opened his eyes and furrowed his brow. I heard it in the water, in my dreams, and when I awoke…He turned his head to look at the nearby water. Did the dolphin save me?
Shadow was startled when the dolphin's head again popped out of the water before him. He sat up slowly again, wincing at the pain. The dolphin squealed and waved something green it held in its mouth. Shadow blinked, puzzled by its return. It opened its mouth and bobbed its head again, seeming to offer the object to him. He slowly reached out and took the item. It was some sort of seaweed. He shot a quizzical look at the dolphin, which responded by clapping its jaws together.
Shadow arched an eyebrow. "You want me to eat this?" The dolphin chirped in reply. However unappealing it may have seemed, his stomach reminded him of his hunger. He took a careful bite-- not particularly appealing, but not terrible either. He continued eating, watching the dolphin. It stared back at him with its friendly grin, watching his every move. Its expression was the image of oblivious naivete, but its eyes showed much more. Such a strange creature…
Finishing the last of his meal, the dark hedgehog tentatively extended a hand toward the aquatic form. Slowly, uncertainly, almost afraid that it might vanish like a dream at his touch. The dolphin, however, showed no hesitance in pushing its head against his hand. He slowly stroked the rubbery skin, a small smile crossing his face. "So," he began, "are you the one who saved me?"
The dolphin regarded him with its fixed smile and whistled cheerfully. Shadow chuckled quietly. "I suppose I should thank you." His expression sobered. "But… I almost wish you had let me drown." He gazed at his reflection in the water, noting a few scratches and bruises on his dark face. "I don't know why I'm still alive. I fulfilled Maria's wish-- there's nothing left for me now, no purpose to my life."
The wet snout nudged his hand, accompanied by a soft squeal. Shadow smiled sadly at the gray face. "I suppose you wouldn't understand. I've already died once. I died fifty years ago." He laughed bitterly. "The trouble seems to be staying dead."
The dolphin whimpered anxiously. There was pain in its blue eyes. Just like the pain in Maria's eyes when she begged him to protect the Earth. Was this creature begging him as well? He couldn't bear to cause any more pain to another gentle, innocent creature.
"Don't worry," he softly reassured. "I won't throw away your gift. Life is far too precious to be wasted." He gazed at the ruined city. "I understand that now."
Much to his annoyance, the throbbing in his head returned. Both the pain and his lingering exhaustion forced him to lie down. He sighed, closing his eyes. The dolphin began to sing again. How do you know that song? His mind was lulled by the music. Who are you?
Shadow snapped out of his half-sleep. There was silence. The song had stopped. Alarmed, he sat up and looked to his side. To his relief, his aquatic companion was still there. But something was wrong. The dolphin faced motionlessly toward the east, making agitated clicks. Shadow directed his attention to the east as well. He noticed a faint, high-pitched sound in the distance.
"What is that?"
Whatever it was, it was coming closer. He listened carefully to identify it. It sounded like the roar of an engine-- then the recognition hit him. It was the sound of a jet engine.
Shadow furrowed his brow. "Looks like they've found me." By now the dolphin was making anxious circles in the water. "Well I won't make it easy for them." He attempted to stand, as if emphasizing his defiance. But agonizing pain shot through his body and his legs crumpled under his own weight. He hissed at the pain, mentally cursing his own weakness.
The sound was getting louder. Shadow clenched his fist. If he was going down, he wanted to go down fighting. Being caught stranded like a fish out of water was NOT his idea of a fitting defeat. His attention was caught by the dolphin's sudden whistle. It was staring at him intently. He could almost see its thoughts in its eyes. A fish out of water…
He grinned. "An excellent idea."
"Negative. Scanners aren't picking up anything, sir. If this is where he landed, he's not here anymore."
The three helicopters and three jets criss-crossed the open water, scanning and re-scanning the area for any sign of the missing 'lifeform'. Commander Merrick sat alongside one of the helicopter pilots, overseeing the search. He ran a hand through his short, jet-black hair, pondering their next move. Their best bet would be Station Square, the nearest point of land to the impact site. Flipping on the radio again, he began to issue orders to the troops.
"Alright, we're not finding anything here. Proceed to Station Square and continue the search there." A stream of acknowledgements crackled over the radio. He nodded to the pilot, who steered the helicopter toward shore. The three Blue Eagles zoomed ahead for initial reconnaissance of the city, to be followed by a more intensive search by the chopper crews. Soldiers and robots waited aboard the helicopters, ready to be deployed at a moment's notice.
As the helicopters neared the ruined city, Merrick couldn't help but feel a pang of grief at the haunting sight. It was unbelievable that Eggman could have possessed such a powerful weapon. That's why the government had been a bit more liberal in its dealings with G.U.N. in recent months. They had hoped that a stronger military would prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.
But the ARK incident had proven otherwise. G.U.N. was all but useless in preventing Eggman from activating the Eclipse Cannon. And then there was Project Shadow. The military organization was incapable of halting his escape as he took out squadron after squadron single-handedly. If nothing else, Merrick knew how dangerous this hedgehog was. That's why the success of their mission was so important-- Station Square would not, could not be repeated.
A Blue Eagle pilot radioed in. "Sir, I think we may have found something."
The commander quickly flipped on the transmitter. "Report."
"Infrared scans are picking up a heat source near the old hotel."
"Roger that. We're on our way. Maintain aerial surveillance and report anything else you find."
Within a few minutes, the choppers arrived at the hotel, landing on nearby rooftops. Their doors swung open, pouring out robots and soldiers. The Beetles spread out in every direction to search the area, while the hunters remained in smaller, slow-moving clusters. The soldiers formed a perimeter around the helicopters, a few remaining within to monitor the Beetles' transmissions. They were the eyes and ears of this operation, equipped with various sensors to locate the fugitive.
Merrick was among those watching from within the helicopters, blue eyes flitting from screen to screen. Scenes ranging from the wrecked buildings to the remnants of Speed Highway flashed across the monitors. Before long his attention was called to an alert from one of the drones. A sergeant tapped a few buttons and an infrared image appeared on one of the monitors.
"Commander, this drone's located the heat source."
Merrick leaned over the sergeant's shoulder to examine the transmission. An adjacent monitor showed one of the alleys near the hotel. The infrared video showed the same scene, but there was a noticeable splotch of red in the water. It was slowly getting bigger and moving toward the camera.
"Which Hunter unit is closest to that area?" the commander questioned over his shoulder.
A sergeant at another computer responded. "Gamma Unit, sir."
"Dispatch them to the area immediately, but tell them not to shoot 'til I give the order." He turned back to the infrared screen. "Last thing we need is to jump the gun," he mumbled.
It was apparent that whatever was in the water was slowly rising to the surface, so Merrick shifted his attention to the normal video. Within a few moments, the Gamma Unit hovered onto the screen, training their weapons on a spot in the water. Merrick watched that same spot intently, eventually making out a dark shape. It continued to grow closer to the Beetle, the camera and gun nozzles following its movement.
Finally it broke the surface, spouting a cone of mist from its gray head. The dolphin let out a surprised squeal at the sight of the robots. Merrick sighed. "Tell them to stand down." The Hunters lowered their weapons and backed off. The Beetle moved on to search other areas.
Once the machines had vacated, the dolphin quickly continued on toward a building. It passed through a large hole in the wall, and once inside, flipped over on its back. Shadow gasped for air, clinging to the dolphin's flippers. He remained panting on its underside for a few moments, regaining his breath. The dolphin swam up to a platform along the wall, allowing Shadow to climb off. He sat there breathing heavily, but he couldn't help smirking. "Fools."
The dolphin chirped in a way he could have sworn was laughter. Shadow looked around the partially collapsed room. It seemed safe enough. "I suppose we'll just wait here until they leave." He sighed. "Though I doubt they'll give up easily." The idea of just sitting there for who-knows-how-long held little appeal for him. But they didn't have much of a choice. Trying to escape in his weakened condition with robots swarming the area was too dangerous. He especially did not want to put his newfound companion in unnecessary risk. Besides, the robots had already left that area thinking he was not there. They were safe for the time being.
He thought so, anyway.
Two hours passed and still they found nothing. For all Merrick knew, the hedgehog could have been long gone by now. He was frustrated, and a call from General Hudson-- for whom he had little fondness-- did nothing to improve his mood.
"Have you located Project Shadow yet?" The general wasted no time getting to the point.
"Negative, sir. We're in the process of scanning the city--"
The general interrupted, irking him even more. "You have three Blue Eagles there, don't you?"
Merrick blinked, wondering what he was getting at. "Yes, sir."
"Then make use of them and bomb the buildings. Flush the hedgehog out!"
The commander's eyes widened. Has he gone mad? "With all due respect, sir, I don't think demolishing what's left of the city would be appropriate."
"Our priority here is to recapture Shadow, commander," the general replied harshly. "Would you compromise national security for the sake of a few buildings?"
Merrick clenched his teeth. This is more than just a few buildings, you fool! Still, he held his tongue. "No, sir."
"Then I suggest you follow orders before you find yourself court marshalled."
It took great restraint to keep his contempt for Hudson in check. "Yes, sir."
The radio went static and Merrick changed the frequency angrily. How could he show such disrespect for the thousands who died here? Nevertheless, he issued the orders to the pilots, noting with disgust that they accepted them without question. The three helicopters lifted off after the soldiers were secured inside. Watching the three jets descend upon the city, Merrick couldn't help but think that 'Black Vultures' would be a more fitting name.
A low rumble shook the walls around them. Shadow snapped to attention, glancing around. Dust and pebbles fell from parts of the collapsed ceiling, and the dolphin seemed anxious again. "What now?" He listened carefully as the sound subsided, followed by another rumble, closer this time. He could make out the sound of the fighter jets, and the rumbles grew progressively closer. His eyes widened. Those weren't just rumbles-- they were explosions. The jets were bombing the area.
And they were getting closer.
He growled, watching more and more debris fall with each explosion. This place definitely will not survive a bombing. So much for hiding. He looked to the dolphin. "We have to get out of here."
The dolphin quickly swam over to him, positioning itself alongside the platform. Shadow slid onto its back, clasping its dorsal fin. No sooner had he done so that the dolphin took off. He barely had time to fill his lungs before they dove through the opening in the wall. They would have to remain underwater as much as possible to avoid being spotted.
The explosions were definitely louder now, though Shadow could not tell whether they were actually closer or if it was only the water magnifying the sound. Shutting his eyes against the water rushing past them, he was blind to everything around them. He had to rely totally on an animal he had only just met. Yet somehow this didn't bother him.
Not that he had much of a choice, anyway.
Shadow's lungs were beginning to burn for want of air, but he had no way of signaling the dolphin to rise. If he released even one hand from its fin, he would surely be ripped away by their sheer speed. He could only hope that they would surface soon. Lightheaded and blind as he was, he could barely notice their sudden shift in direction. But the sensation of cold air on his face brought great relief to his starved lungs. He inhaled deeply, grateful that the dolphin stayed at the surface long enough for him to take a few breaths.
He took this opportunity to look over his shoulder at the scene behind them. Buildings were falling apart, huge chunks of concrete and metal tumbling into the water. He frowned, wondering if this was how the city was destroyed in the first place. Facing forward, he took another deep breath before they dove yet again. An instant before his head met the water he thought he heard the jets overhead.
He hoped it was just his imagination.
"Commander! We've spotted him!"
Merrick rushed to the radio. "Where?"
"Heading south on 7th Street," the pilot replied. "He appears to be…swimming, sir." The young man sounded perplexed. "Very quickly."
Merrick raised an eyebrow. Swimming? Hedgehogs can't swim… He shook his head and turned to one of the sergeants. "Have all the robot units converge on that area!" He turned back to the radio and contacted the helicopter pilots. "Take us to 7th Street South."
He switched his attention back to the monitors. Already the Beetles were on the move. He just hoped that they would catch up to the hedgehog in time. Swimming…The idea still puzzled him. He shuddered at the thought that they might have underestimated him. What if he caught them off guard with some other unknown ability?
Another alert from one of the Beetles shook him from that unwanted thought. It had located a heat signature in the water and was pursuing the rapidly moving object. Merrick watched the scenery speed across the monitor. He couldn't possibly be moving that fast, could he? But the Beetle showed no signs of slowing down.
Then a pair of figures emerged from the water ahead of the Beetle. It didn't take long for Merrick to recognize the black-quilled creature. And he was on the back of--
"A dolphin!" the commander exclaimed, dumbfounded. It must have been hiding him the entire time! He scowled at how easily they had been duped.
Shadow took another much-needed breath of air, then glanced backwards again to gauge where the jets might be. His eyes met with a group of Beetle drones tailing them. Alarmed, he instinctively grasped the dolphin's fin more tightly. "They've found us!"
The dolphin squealed in reply and dove once again. To Shadow, it seemed to swim even faster than before, but that did little to ease his apprehension. No doubt there were Hunters nearby as well, putting them both in imminent danger. A sudden yelp from the dolphin accentuated his fear, and he abruptly felt himself being jerked from side to side. Carefully opening his eyes against the rushing water, he saw beams of light raining down around them. Lasers! he thought, his heart racing ever faster. The dolphin was nimbly dodging each one, though some came unnervingly close to hitting their mark.
Shadow's body began to ache again from the violent yanks of the dolphin's movement. Yet that was the least of his concerns as he inwardly cursed himself for putting this innocent creature in such a predicament. But there was nothing he could do now-- letting go would only cause it to stop to retrieve him, making them both sitting ducks for the robots above. Why do you have to care so much? You're going to get yourself killed protecting me!
If he had hoped his unspoken words would deter the dolphin's actions, the effect was exactly the opposite. Suddenly they were moving straight up, racing toward the surface. Shadow half wondered if the dolphin had taken leave of its senses, for the closer they got to the surface, the easier a target they made. They shot out of the water at top speed, rising above the cluster of robots hovering over the water.
Shadow was stunned as the dolphin made a graceful arc in the air-- even more so when he realized that it was going to land right on one of the robots. The Hunters seemed almost stunned as well, remaining motionless with their visual censors locked on the two. Shadow lowered his head as they plunged down and through a robot. It exploded as they re-entered the water, but the dolphin was unfazed. Shadow stared in disbelief-- not so much as a scratch on its gray body.
His fear shifted to a tinge of excitement as the dolphin shot upwards again for another round. This time they came up under a robot, tearing through it before making another arc downward. As they descended toward another Hunter, Shadow took the opportunity to glance at one of the Beetles and smirk arrogantly.
Merrick slammed his fists down on one of the consoles. "That cocky devil!" He scowled as he watched another Hunter explode. "How the hell can our robots be losing to a dolphin?!" He glared over his shoulder at the other officers in the helicopter. All were silent, glancing at each other uneasily. He scowled again and shifted his glare to the monitors in front of him, watching the robots explode one by one.
By now the drones were firing at the two again, but their speed made them difficult targets for the slow Hunters. As they soared into the air again, a nearby robot and his own pride caused Shadow to temporarily forget his injuries. He grinned darkly before releasing his hold on the dolphin and curling into a ball. Its surprised cry fell on deaf ears as he plummeted toward the machine. His quills tore through the metal easily, but at the same time searing pain tore through his body. He instinctively uncurled and attempted to cry out, only to get a mouthful of water as he plunged into the sea again.
Mere seconds after he hit the water he felt something bump him and drag him away. It brought him to the surface, where he immediately began to cough up seawater. Still swimming rapidly away from the remaining robots, the dolphin was chirping and clicking loudly in what Shadow assumed to be scolding. He laughed weakly. "Sorry, I suppose I shouldn't have done that." He patted its back with one hand, the other arm flung over the dorsal fin. He smirked. "Not that it wasn't fun."
The commander watched the pair swim away, fury building with him. No one made a fool of his squadron and got away with it. And he would make sure of that. Flipping on the radio he yelled orders to the fighter pilots. Shadow would be recaptured, one way or another.
By now the dolphin had dove back under the water, Shadow still clinging to its back. He kept his eyes closed this time, for his head was still spinning from his painful stunt. His body still ached all over, and he half wondered how serious his injuries really were. But now wasn't the time to be thinking about that. Their most pressing concern was safe escape. Safe… will that word ever have any real meaning for me?
Shadow had no time to ponder that thought before hearing an explosion dangerously close to them. The shockwave sent them both tumbling through the water. The dolphin let out a piercing shriek that caused Shadow to unconsciously shudder. The hedgehog clutched desperately to the creature's back as it attempted to continue swimming, writhing erratically. Fearfully watching it struggle to reach the surface, he realized that it had been severely disoriented by the explosion. It was suffering. Because of him.
As they reached the surface, Shadow found himself both angry and sincerely afraid. The dolphin still flailed clumsily, whimpering piteously. "You stupid animal!" he yelled, angry more at himself than anything else. "Why won't you leave me alone and get out of here?!"
It paused in its movements and cocked its head to the side, regarding him with one azure eye. It whined softly, voice and eyes clearly saying 'I can't.' Inwardly, he knew there was no way the dolphin would leave him, even as he saw the Blue Eagles turn for another round of bombing. They would both die. His friend would die.
And there was nothing he could do about it.
A closer explosion tore Shadow from the dolphin's back, the resulting waves sending him crashing onto a large slab of highway. He moaned as he rolled painfully to a stop on the concrete. Motionless and breathing heavily, the world still seemed to be spinning to him. But even through the dizzying pain throughout his body, he was able to notice one thing.
No clicks, no whistles, no whines.
It was that alone that gave Shadow the strength to lift himself to his knees, despite the pain. Forcing himself to focus, he frantically scanned the water.
But there was nothing.
"No…" He clenched his fists, the thought of another friend dying because of him becoming unbearable. "No!"
The clank of metal against concrete drew his attention to a group of Hunters landing nearby. His anguish quickly turned to rage as he glared darkly at the robots. They were the cause of this… they are the cause of all my pain. And they will pay!
Forcing himself to his feet, he grinned maliciously at the drones. "It would seem I'm fated to die today," he addressed the machines as they cocked their weapons at him. His grin turned into a snarl as he clenched his fists. "But the hell if I'll let you kill another because of me!"
His fury overriding his sense of self-preservation, he charged at the Hunters. They fired at him but he nimbly dodged each shot. Curling into a ball, he launched himself into and straight through one robot, barely landing before he ripped through another. Each impact sent waves of pain through his body, but he ignored it. His anger fueled his speed and strength, and within seconds there was nothing but smoking scrap metal left on the cold pavement.
He stood in the middle of the rubble, panting heavily. He heard the sound of a helicopter, but when he looked up to locate it the world seemed to spin again. He clutched his throbbing head, feeling his legs weaken beneath him. "No, not now…" He felt the wind and roar of the engine beat down on him from above, seeming to be the final strain on his exhausted body.
He felt himself falling.
And then there was darkness.
"There's Station Square up ahead, Sonic. Do you want to go there or look for the Chaos Emerald first?"
Sonic gazed at the flooded city in the distance. He felt somewhat uneasy staring at the remnants of the once vibrant and beautiful city. But his resolution was firm. "No, let's go to the city first."
Tails nodded, steering the Tornado 2 toward the city. He looked down at the console screen in front of him monitoring a series of green blips. "Sonic," he yelled over his shoulder, "It looks like there's a bunch of G.U.N. aircraft near City Hall."
Sonic looked down at Tails, a gleam in his eyes. "Then that's where we'll go."
Tails smiled back at him, then faced toward the city again. He had his doubts, but he still maintained a slight hope that they might find Shadow alive. Sonic was right-- they did make a powerful team fighting the Biolizard, and Shadow was so very much like him. Perhaps that was why Sonic wasn't the only one affected by his presumed death. Tails was saddened too, both by the loss of a hero and a potential friend. The odds were stacked against them in this quest, however, and he worried how Sonic might react if-- he shook his head slightly. Just gotta think positive…
"Something wrong, Tails?"
He started at the sound of Sonic's voice. "No, I was just thinking, that's all."
Sonic cocked an eyebrow for a moment, but shrugged it off. "Okay."
Before long, they were flying at a low altitude over the city, making a beeline for City Hall. As they approached their destination, they noticed three fighter jets circling the area. If they detected the small plane, however, they made no attempt to intercept them. Finally spotting the government building, Tails began a slow downward spiral. The two looked down at the hovering helicopter and the military personnel clustered on some of the remnants of Speed Highway.
Sonic narrowed his eyes. They were gathered around something, but he couldn't tell what at that height. "Tails! Let me off down there!" He pointed to another slab of concrete near the group of soldiers. Tails nodded, banking the Tornado 2 again to descend toward that spot.
After a few more circles, they had reached a fairly low altitude. The plane leveling out, Sonic jumped out and landed on the crooked slab. Tails continued on to land somewhere more level. A few of the soldiers' heads had turned in Sonic's general direction, but made no attempt to stop him as he hopped from rock to rock toward them. A few even gave him a respectful salute, to which Sonic responded with a brief smile. They weren't the focus of his attention at the moment.
Instead he was focused on whatever the soldiers had their weapons trained on in the center of their ragged circle. As he landed next to them, he was able to make out a stretcher being moved toward the nearby helicopter. But he couldn't quite see past the soldiers to make out who it was…
He felt a hand lightly press his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hedgehog, but you're going to have to stand back."
Sonic looked up at the soldier standing over him, clearly annoyed. We'll see about that. He backed away a few steps, then leapt into the air over the heads of the soldiers. He landed neatly inside the circle, eyes immediately going to the stretcher. His breath caught in his throat for a moment. Lying motionless on the stretcher was a battered black hedgehog.
"Shadow!" Sonic exclaimed, filled first with excitement at finding the dark hedgehog, but then with panic at seeing his condition. Is he…dead…? Before he could get closer to find out, several pairs of hands latched onto his arms, pulling him back. "Hey! Lemme go!" The blue hedgehog struggled to escape the soldiers' grasp, but froze when he saw Shadow's eyes flutter slightly.
Sonic's eyes lit up at the sign of life from the hedgehog. "He's alive!" Sonic couldn't resist giving a triumphant whoop, causing Shadow to slowly turn his head toward the sound. He gazed weakly at the blurred blue form. "Sonic…?" He stared for a moment, unable to focus on much of anything. His eyes drifted closed again as the stretcher was being lifted into the helicopter.
Sonic again struggled to get loose as he watched his friend disappear into the helicopter. "Let me go! Where are you taking him?"
"I'm afraid we can't disclose that information, Sonic." The hedgehog paused again to see a dark-haired officer stride toward him. "Its all right, men. You can release him."
They did so, just as Tails flew over and landed next to the hedgehog. "Sonic, are you alright?" he questioned, glancing at the soldiers.
Sonic brushed himself off, still looking a bit annoyed. "Yeah, I'm fine."
The officer spoke to his men again. "Get back in the chopper. We'll be leaving soon." The soldiers nodded and jogged off toward the helicopter. He turned back to the pair, extending his hand toward Sonic. "It's an honor to finally meet you, Sonic. I'm Commander James Merrick."
Sonic stared at him suspiciously for a moment before grasping the Commander's hand in a firm handshake. Merrick then turned to the smaller fox and extended his hand to him as well. "And you must be Miles Prower, the boy who saved Station Square from Dr. Eggman."
Tails beamed, eagerly shaking the man's hand. Someone actually recognized me! "Just 'Tails' is fine, sir."
Sonic stood with his arms folded, glaring at Merrick. "Where are you taking Shadow?"
Merrick straightened, regarding Sonic calmly. "I told you, I can't divulge that information."
Sonic scowled. "He's hurt! He needs to get to a hospital!"
"I assure you, he will receive medical attention," Merrick replied.
"Why are you after him, anyway?" Sonic questioned, his voice tinted with anger.
Merrick's face darkened. "That's confidential. Now if you'll excuse me," and he turned on his heel, "we have a mission to complete."
The Commander strode back toward the helicopter, leaving Sonic fuming behind him. "Come back here and give me a straight answer!" he yelled, starting after him. Tails lightly grabbed his arm, however, stopping him. Sonic turned to regard his friend, who shook his head. "Let him go." Sonic raised an eyebrow, then glared back at the rising helicopter.
As the helicopter disappeared around a building, Tails grinned. "Come on, Sonic!" He grabbed the hedgehog's wrists and rose into the air with him, his tails whirling furiously.
Sonic blinked, his anger defused for the time being. "What's up, Tails?"
Tails giggled smugly, flying to where he left the Cyclone. "We don't need him to tell us where they're taking Shadow-- we can just eavesdrop!"
Sonic's face brightened, remembering the transmission they had listened in on earlier. "Ha! I'd forgotten about that! Good thinking, Tails!"
Tails beamed again, setting him down next to the mech. He dropped into the cockpit and flipped on the radio, again adjusting a few knobs and buttons. Sonic leaned over the side of the cockpit as a transmission began.
"We've secured the hedgehog, General, but he's injured." Sonic recognized this voice as the Commander he had just been speaking to. "We will proceed to the military hospital at the base."
"Negative. Take him to the Capital Memorial Hospital."
"But sir, there's no way of keeping this quiet if we take him to a public hospital!"
"He'll receive better medical treatment there. And that's an order, Commander."
There was a pause on the other end. "Yes, sir."
The transmission ended, and Tails clicked off the radio. "That was strange…"
"Yeah, really," Sonic agreed. "Sounds like there's some dissension in the ranks."
"At any rate," Tails said, grinning again, "we got the info we were looking for."
Sonic grinned back. "Yeah, good work, Tails! So, what're we waiting for? Let's go!"
Something in the sky caught Tails' attention. "Wait, isn't that Knuckles?"
Sonic turned to look and saw a red figure flying toward them. He waved one arm in the air. "Yo, Knuckles!"
The red echidna landed next to them a few moments later. "Hey, guys."
"Hi, Knuckles," Tails greeted. "Angel Island floating again?"
Knuckles nodded. "Went up without a hitch. Did you guys, uh… find what you were looking for?" He glanced cautiously at Sonic.
Sonic merely grinned back. "Sure did! Shadow's alive, Knuckles!"
The echidna's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Is he, now?" His eyes lifted skyward. "You hedgehogs never cease to amaze me."
Sonic winked, waving a finger cockily. "Well we're an amazing breed of hedgehog, Knux."
Knuckles smirked back at him, and spoke somewhat thoughtfully. "That you are."
"Oh, Sonic, I almost forgot!" Tails spoke suddenly. "There's still a Chaos Emerald somewhere nearby."
"That's right," Sonic replied, snapping his fingers. "Feel up to some jewel-hunting, Knux?"
"Actually," and Knuckles gazed at the waterways, "it seems the Emerald is coming to us."
Sonic cocked an eyebrow. "Eh?" He stepped to the edge of the platform and followed Knuckles' gaze.
Knuckles pointed at a spot in the water, his hand following the movements of the Emerald. "Right…" He slowly brought his hand down to a point in front of them. A gray head popped out of the water in that same spot. "…there," Knuckles finished, blinking.
"Hey, cool! A dolphin!" Sonic exclaimed, kneeling at the edge of the water. He looked at the green jewel in its mouth. "And it looks like he has what we're looking for." The dolphin swam over to him, letting him take the Chaos Emerald from its mouth. "Thanks, boy!"
"Actually, Sonic," Knuckles began, "I think its female. You can tell by the shape of its dorsal fin."
Sonic looked up at Knuckles while rubbing the dolphin's head. "Since when are you the expert on dolphins?"
The echidna shrugged. "There's lots of writings about them from my ancestors. They were thought to be magical creatures that brought good luck."
Sonic smiled, turning back to the dolphin, who was thoroughly enjoying the attention. "Well this one certainly brought us some luck!"
Tails studied the dolphin for a moment, then turned to Knuckles. "Hey, Knuckles, are dolphins' eyes normally blue?"
Knuckles gave Tails a quizzical look, then turned back to the dolphin. He blinked, noticing its blue eyes. "No, they aren't."
Sonic seemed to be enjoying himself as much as the dolphin was. "Well, maybe you are magical then, huh?" The dolphin chirped in response. Sonic laughed. "I think she agrees."
"So, Sonic," Knuckles began, folding his arms, "if Shadow's alive, where is he now?"
Sonic's face darkened. "G.U.N. has him. They're taking him to a hospital in Capital City."
At that, the dolphin began chirping anxiously. Sonic looked back at it. It seemed… worried? "What's wrong? Do you know Shadow or something?" It gave whistle in reply. "So I guess he made a new friend," Sonic said, smirking. "Well don't worry, we'll find him and make sure he's alright." He gave her one final pat before standing. "And thanks again for this," he said, holding up the Emerald. He strode over to Tails in the Cyclone. "Ready to go, Tails?"
Tails nodded. "Just let me get it up in the air and I'll switch to flight mode, then fly back around and pick you up."
Sonic looked down at the Emerald in his hand. "No…" He grinned. "I think I have a better idea. Switch to flight mode now."
Tails blinked, looking ahead, then back at Sonic. "But, Sonic… there's nowhere near enough room for me to take off here."
Sonic winked. "Just trust me on this, Tails."
"Okay…" Tails replied hesitantly, switching modes.
Sonic grinned, hopping on one wing. "Wanna tag along, Knux?"
Knuckles glanced back at the dolphin, gazing in its blue eyes for a moment. Then he turned back to Sonic and shrugged. "Sure, why not?" He hopped onto the opposite wing.
Sonic kneeled down, holding onto the front edge of the wing. "Alright, Tails! Full throttle!"
Tails started the propeller up, moving the plane forward. "Sonic, are you sure about this?"
"Don't worry, just keep going."
The plane gradually gained speed, Tails eyeing the edge nervously. "Sonic…"
"Keep going," Sonic urged, glancing at Knuckles. He stared straight ahead, not seeming the least bit nervous.
They were coming dangerously close to the edge, and Tails knew they didn't have enough speed. We'll never make it! "Sonic!"
Even Knuckles was staring at Sonic expectantly. Sonic grinned, gripping the Chaos Emerald in his hand. "Chaos… Control!"
A green light enveloped the plane just as it reached the edge of the platform. A second later, they were gliding high above the city. Tails scrambled with the controls to make sure they stayed airborne.
Knuckles shook his head, looking forward again. "Showoff."
Even through the wind, Sonic could tell that Tails' fur was on end. "Sonic… don't… do that… again!"
Sonic couldn't help but laugh. "Sorry, Tails. Just wanted to have a little fun!"
Tails mumbled, his fur settling. "Let's just get to the Capital…"
A/N: Whoo! Some semblance of plot! Okay, maybe I should explain a few things now… some of you might be thinking "A dolphin? What the fwa?" Well you see, last summer I did my Extended Essay (3000 words @.@) on dolphins. And while I was writing it, I was like, "…I'm gonna incorporate this into my fic! I dunno how, but I will!" And it just so happened that I was trying to figure out a way for Shadow to survive, so it worked! XP So if it seems a bit lame, sorry. I like dolphins. =P And I named the Hunter Unit after Gamma because I can. Gamma's cool. XP
Another little note… I made another pic illustrating a scene from chapter 1. The link to my art archive is in my profile (ff.net won't let me post the link in here) so you can find the pic there.
Extra little note… I make no guarantees as to when chapter 4 will be out. SADX and a dream I had have inspired me to start another fic that's a very altered version of the past scenes from Sonic Adventure. It seeks to answer the questions, "what if it wasn't Chaos that destroyed Knuckles' people?" and "why does Knuckles have no memory of his origin?" If I do actually get around to writing it, is should be a spiffy fic. A friend of mine's even gonna make a music video based on the idea. ^.^
Okay, I think that's enough rambling. o.o; Please be so kind as to review? Please? (whips out Cream (no pun intended XP))
Cream: (gives you the sad eyes) Pweeeeeaaaaase?