When a Stranger Comes
“So what is it you want me to do, Mr. Hare?”
Downtown Ebony Hare looked up from the inventory sheets on his desk, clasped his hands in front of him, and smiled under his grey fedora. He liked dealing with hit-men. No long talks, just to the point and “where’s my money.” He glanced over to his muscle-dog, Blackjack, an overbearing grey bulldog that wore a matching grey suite. He nodded at him before he continued. “I need you to retrieve a certain individual for me. You see, this girl has been a hamper to some friends of mine, and I want you to bring her back in one piece.” He paused for a brief second and gathered his ruthless thoughts. “Well, at least still talking. I’ll pay you a thousand credits now and the rest upon delivery,” Ebony rubbed his hands in eagerly fashion and squirmed in his chair before closing the offer:
“We have a deal?”
The stranger nodded, his black fedora shadowing a good portion of his face, no thanks to the back lighting from behind him. Ebony Hare could just make out part of the hit‑man's broad, tan snout and black nose outside the shadow.. The long black coat concealed the strangers body; probably for theatrics, Downtown thought. He made a mental note to change the lighting and soon. To his puzzlement however, his eyes traced what looked to be dreadlocks dangling around the neck of the Mobian with a few resting on top of his shoulders. He wasn’t quick sure if they were hair or flesh and blood tissue. But he was sure of something. He couldn’t be more than 3 foot 8 inches, Hare thought to himself, even guessing somewhat correctly just by sitting down while his next business associate stood. The last features he observed were the black pants with two cargo pockets on either side of his legs; his right thigh sporting a drop-leg pistol holster while his left held a similar rig configuration that carried what appeared to be his spare cells. The stranger stood on a pair of big black boots that were anchored down with two metal fasteners on either boot. His chest was covered with a vest of body armor, and under it a green shirt that traced up to his neck.
“So who’s this skirt you want?” the dark figured asked, his voice never fluctuating to any degree of malice nor charm.
Hare couldn’t help but bring more of a smile to the conversation and dealings. “Her name is Rogue. She’s a white little bat but with a figure that is...all so nice. She can be dangerous in soo many ways, so watch your back and that heart of yours–if you have one to throw around.”
What does he want with a spy? the dark figure asked in surprise to himself. His information about her wasn’t sketchy but wasn’t clear either. He knew enough to be somewhat alarmed at Ebony’s mentioning of her. In the times that courage beckoned him to come out from his hole–one he was desperately trying to dig himself out of–he did his emotional best to stay on the up-and-up of the new war, only paying attention to the things that could effect him.
“Last known whereabouts?” he asked, only sighing to himself.
Ebony leaned back in his chair, putting his shoeless feet on his desk, and clasped his hands behind his head. “Knothole Village I heard last. She seems to be hanging out with that Freedom Fighter crowd. They don’t like her very much so it should be easy to snatch her up.”
Knothole!? The dark figured breathed to himself crisply. Do you really want to go that far and get this vermin’s job done for him? The stranger glanced over at Blackjack, who just gave him an encouraging nod under a carefree smile. Better play along bub. You’ve got bigger fish to fry with this contact. Besides, he won’t be there...he’s home. The stranger sulked, nodding in affirmation.
“Very well! To make your job easier me and my pal, Blackjack here, will be passing through there. We’ll pick her up for you and give you the rest of your payment. If all goes well, we can definitely do more business. If not, and we have to grab her ourselves, payback won’t be cheap. Get my drift?”
“I still owe for my debts, so I shouldn’t disappoint.” Except for my true colors, you doper! Maybe I should kill him and his friend now? the Mobian pondered to himself, feeling his black pistol in the concealed shoulder harness becoming heavier with vengeance rather than weight. His decision helped snap him back to the subtle reality. Nope, need him alive to get to a certain individual. But what are you going to do about Rogue? He took a little longer to let the thought roll around in his head, coming up with nothing for a conclusion. You’ll think of something.
Ebony Hare stood up, still sporting a smirk that irritated the black stranger. “Great!” he said, pulling out a stack of bills and tossing it onto the desk. Next, he picked up a stray pen and scribbled the grid position where the meet-and-swap would take place on a pad before handing it to the supposed hit-man. “We’ll find you here,” he grinned, “and we’ll talk more business from there.”
Never caring to count, the dark figure quickly pocketed the cash, tipping his hat as a symbol of goodwill, though he never had it with the likes he just took as bait, and shifted his way around to leave the square, particle board office. As this stranger turned to his left in order to exit, Ebony could finally confirm there were indeed dreadlocks around his neck. One of them had been crudely severed in half.. He was alarmed at first, but questions soon formed in his mind that killed his anxiety. Strange, an Echidna doing this work...and that mug sure does look familiar though, he stated to himself.
The stranger closed the door behind him and headed towards the door that lead out to the streets of Station Square from the one-story lobby. The site that Ebony had chosen for his new underground operations–like most people in the rabbit’s line of work–was buried in a part of town that no one ventured around without a gun...and still made one wish they filled out their wills.. Sunlight didn’t shine through the windowed doors, for the decaying, abandoned buildings across the street harbored shade as if it were a precious commodity. The rabbit’s shop, a day labor business that was used to launder money in from his “lemon juice” sales–and was illegal as all get out, even in the time of war–was a nesting ground for those who looked to be villains, and others just looking to be rich by means that weren’t clean. But the rabbit’s accumulated friends were what interested the Echidna and his skills that took life without remorse above all. Those friends happened to be a considerable influence the war, and the Echidna was finally reverting back to his old-self to make competition in the game of life-and-greed. He was now depending on his long absence from this type of work, along with his new face that he grimaced at every time he saw himself, to easily take him inside these rotten underground operations......and possibly to keep up with a promise he held for many years, but felt slip away in his heart.
A promise... Facing his thoughts in a glooming manner, he sighed and pressed on to the windowed doors.
There, he noticed a amber-furred female fox waiting on the sofa to his right, sitting with her legs tightly crossed. She was dressed casually; a high-riding skirt and a tight sleeveless blouse that exposed the broad line of her cleavage from the wide crescent cut over her chest. If he felt normal and past his cold, betraying feelings, he would have thought nothing of it to gawk further down her figure. Maybe even try to peer under her skirt. But he only nodded to her as he went outside, watching the girl just stare at the him as he strode out, his body rigid and expressionless of feelings. Her face was mixed with what seemed like sympathy and awe as she couldn’t get over the long scar that slashed across his snout, driving down from the center of his broad muzzle and across his cheek. She also couldn’t help but noticed two smaller streaks behind his right eye. Her mind marveled at the quarter inch that separated the lines which grew bold in contour, resting just mere inches from his eye and lightening as they traced back towards his first lock. She remained speechless as her trailing eyes lost the dark figure from around the wall.
“Yo Foxy, get in here!”
He shot up from his pillow in a heartbeat, finding himself sweating profusely in the cool room. He panted as he adjusted his eyes to his darkened surroundings, feeling his heart pounding against his chest wall. His dreads pranced around his back as he fought to slow his breathing, spurting whimpers and light grunts from every exhale. The blue glow from the early traces of sunlight fought through the drawn shades, only able to draw silhouettes of the furniture upon the walls. He rubbed his hand gently over his head, whipping his face from the sweat of his dream.
His name still echoed in his mind. The voice, he realized with another deep breath, was feminine. He knew it sounded familiar, but for the life of him he couldn’t place the image of the girl in his drowsy head. Regret seeped into his racing heart from the vacant search, tightening a haunting, longing feeling he had. He wished it would go away.
He toured his heavy eyes around the still blurry room, stopping when the digital clock on the dresser to his right pierced through lifting darkness. It read five-twenty. With another pressing rub of his head that followed down his long, deep scar, he realized grudgingly that he needed to get ready for his day. So far it was off to a better start than others he had experienced. And already today somehow felt different in the early hours of the morning. Something called to him that made his yearning spirit profess the feeling he felt.
The echidna wanted nothing more but for that feeling to ring true...he’d been wanting for so long.
Sighing, he leaned over and reached out with his left hand at the other object that laid beside him in the bed. “Hey babe, need to get up for–”
His hand fell on
the cold pillow that laid beside him.
Somehow, in the night, he must of placed it there as he tossed and
turned through his slumber. Through his
haunting dream. He snapped his head
over, looking at his hand and the pillow as his lips, eyes, and soon his body
started to tremble with grief. The warm
body he thought he was going to arouse wasn’t there. Instead, nothingness that was covered with
the white sheets. He trembled at first
at the sight of emptiness in the bed that he now sat in, but with his
tightening chest and his burdening heart, he soon placed his hands over his face...and
wept a mournful cry that only the walls would hear.
Julie-Su wasn’t in one of her happier moods and she was on the prowl for the reason why. When she rounded the corner of a hut, her tempered disposition honed in to source of her anger. Rogue. The bat had pulled Julie’s tail for the last time. The pink echidna stopped just paces away from the hut and noticed right off that the thief, with a good set of curves, was getting a little too friendly with a certain blue hedgehog. “First my Knuckles, and now Sonic. Maybe Sally might come to her senses now and just get rid of her; send her back to Station Square.”
Julie-Su was about to let her presence be known, but before she could let loose her rage, someone else far off from the right of her called out to the same trouble maker first.
“Miss Rogue, we need to talk,” came the low but cool voice. Julie-Su’s heart skipped a beat when she turned and quickly sized up the dark figure standing in the open field. Something about him made her instincts come alive.
Sonic glanced over Rogue’s shoulder and winked at the dark figure before turning his attention back to her. “Looks like our little chat is done for now. See ya’ around babe.” With a fast smirk across his face, Sonic left the small field the way he normally does...in a blur
Rogue turned around to see the new arrival to Knothole City. Her gaze caught the flapping over coat of the dark figure, who had his hands resting at his sides, and wearing a straight face that met all business. The look made her tense for a brief moment, but she calmed herself down, trying ever so hard not show any hints of fear. “So what does a boy like you want with me?” she said, placing her hands over her hips.
“Not me, my employer,” replied the dark stranger, his voice never flinching from the dead monotone he took.
“And who is your employer, Stranger?” asked Julie-Su, “Not that I don’t mind you taking Batty here, but a reason would be nice.” At that span of time of waiting for the dark figures’ reply, she desperately wished Sonic had stayed instead of jetting. She could see the figure, even under all the black, was an Echidna. The waving dreads and the tan muzzle gave that away, but she had a different idea of what was under the furred skin.
Sally Acorn slowly made her entrance into the stand off behind Julie from around a hut, causing the stranger to fidget for some oddly reason that had now put Sally on high alert. The squirrel made her way to the field after Sonic had told her that Rogue was in some sort of trouble with some “dude” in black. With the warning came her request that he’d stay close and keep an eye on things before she went to see the new arrival. Most Mobians around Knothole wouldn’t mind seeing Rogue getting her come-uppings, but serving the right justice was in her best interest.
With Sally’s arrival, the Echidna entertained just briefly the notion that he shouldn’t have come, unknowingly his expression changed to fit the beckoning thought. “Mr. Hare wants Rogue and I’m here on his behalf. How I get her is up to you all’s corporation,” he replied evenly, hoping they would cooperate.
“That wouldn’t be a Mr. Downtown Ebony Hare would it?” Julie-Su asked deliberately slow, remembering the last time she had the pleasure–or miss-pleasure of dealing with him.
The echidna turned his head slightly toward Julia-Su. “The rabbit in the cheap suite?” he coldly quipped. Julie-Su nodded in her reply. “Afraid so, ma’am,” he conceded, his voice turning eerily serious.
Never breaking her stare from the Echidna in black, Julie-Su leaned back to Sally and whispered a request that she hoped the Princess would fulfill in a heartbeat. “Go get my boyfriend and do it fast.”
“You got it,” came the squirrel’s whisper reply.
As Sally left, watching her back in the process, Julie-Su continued to barter for time with the other Echidna. “Look, again, as much as I don’t like Rogue here,” she began, smirking at the white bat, “I am afraid that she is with us and she can’t go along with you kicking and screaming, much to my displeasure.”
Great, she has been promoted to comrade status. Well... The Echidna pulled his long handled blaster from his drop-leg holster and pointed it squarely at Rogue. His thumb navigated the selector switch from safe to stun on the left side of the weapon all the while taking a steady bead on the female bat as he placed his finger over the trigger.
Julie-Su’s muscle memory never lapsed with the stranger’s draw instigating the retrieval of her double barreled blaster from her boot. Clenching both hands solidly around the grip and a digit over the trigger-guard for extra control, she took a trained, steady aim on the dark Echidna. “Okay, drop it whoever-you-are, and do it now!”
The dark figure twitched his head further over towards Julie-Su, his heart pounding a little faster when she produced her weapon. “Look,” he began somewhat annoyed, “I need her, and I’m taking her anyway I can right now. Besides, I’ll have her back by nightfall in one piece.”
“I don’t care!” Julie fired back, “New guy in town or not, you don’t go pulling weapons on people here. We have a justice code here, unlike a certain fat Overlander, and you might be seeing it real soon. Now drop your weapon and any others you’re carrying!”
Rogue was shaking in her boots by now but was trying hard not to show it. There were two gun pointing maniacs not more than ten feet from her, and both didn’t seem to like her very much.
This was a bad idea, bub! You should have... the Echidna was about to tell himself that he should have stayed home that week, when a voice came from behind him:
“I would insist that you comply with her request fellow, Echidna,” said Knuckles, approaching cautiously from the rear of the dark clothed Echidna.
The Echidna squeezed his eyes shut in annoyance, the twin scars behind his right eye almost conjoined into one as he did so. The odds were stacking up against him as more people came into play; and it wasn’t sitting well with him. This was a very bad idea! he hammered at himself. Forcing his eyes opened he began to turn around. Who he saw behind him next changed his whole paid purpose in Knothole in an instant. No! It can’t be! What’s he doing here? he questioned himself in disbelief, his voice echoing at whom he was seeing with his widened eyes. He wouldn’t have asked the question if the echidna his eyes were locked with hadn’t bore the white mark of a Guardian...and a particular young one at that.
The crest burned deep within his brain, provoking his next thought that he couldn’t hold back with the best of his inner strength.
“What are YOU doing here!?” the stranger asked harshly, shifting his stance towards Knuckles as he lowered his blaster to the ground.
“Looks like I’m bring peace to--”
“NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE! You are supposed to back home defending it!” the Echidna shouted, pointing hard at Knuckles with his free hand as he almost bolted towards him, stopping himself before he did.
Knuckles was now locked in a staring contest with one of his own kind who seemed to very interested with his purpose in life. This echidna was now challenging Knuckles’ sacred duties back on Angel Island and it wasn’t sitting well with him. At that tense instant he wondered if his father, Locke, had sent this dark figure to bring him back. He couldn’t put it past him.
“Did Locke send you for me?” Knuckles asked, his voice deepening with his ever present rage.
“No,” said the stranger, his voice raising a disable, “but I am sure he’d be glad I snatched you up anyways,” He held a quick pause before dropping his voice back to one of resolve. “Maybe I should bag you instead of the Bat,” he said as he motioned to Rogue behind him with a wavering thumb. Julie-Su was now lowering her weapon with the same shock that Knuckles was feeling.
As the dark figure narrowed his eyes, debating of what he was going to do next, he noticed the surrounding trees began to Knuckles’ back start to wave against the wind. His instincts overpowered reason and he found himself maneuvering his blaster towards the tree-line, his finger already depressing the trigger. His move was fruitless. With one hard pull from his hand the blaster was gone. All he saw was a blue blur that violently kicked up the wind so hard that it flapped his coat in the harsh turbulent air, blowing his fedora off his head in the process, exposing his stubbed dread lock on his left side that fluttered around with its brethren.
Julie-Su just froze in awe upon seeing the scars on his face.
Leaving nothing to chance Knuckles pounced on him with an assaulting leap, landing his right fist across the Echidna’s jaw as he clamped onto the black coat with the other. The crushing feeling and sound of flesh-on-flesh and bone-on-bone was unmistakable to Knuckles, and quite possibly to the gathering audience. Pure fighting energy bolted through Knuckles’ body as his assailing blow sent the stranger going over onto his left side. Somewhere in this combating ballet, he felt guilty that it actually had to come to this. But the thought collapsed along with his trumped battle plan. To his surprise the stranger wasn’t without his tricks. Using his falling momentum as a boost, he slammed his right open hand into Knuckles’ chest, propelling him high in the air to get him clear off his chest. Letting his dreads work their magic, Knuckles’ moment of flight was short lived as he glided back towards the ground and planted both feet firmly into a low, striding defensive stance. Fists out, low, close-in. Ready.
Changing tactics to the offensive with a split second of judgement, he was about to close the gap between them until the Echidna offered his next move as rethinking point to Knuckles’ upcoming assault. Throwing his coat off in one fast, fluid motion, the stranger’s hands seized two blasters from their holsters inside the sleeves of the coat, and unveiled them to all of Knothole. To Knuckles’ adding anxiety, wrapped around the Echidna’s chest was an additional pistol, clutched in a tight fitting shoulder holster, exposing the polymer handle only as a reference of what it was.
Great! Three more. How on Mobius am I going to disarm this guy? He grumbled in the air. His prayers were answered by a certain, speeding blue hedgehog.
The dark Echidna felt the wind begin to kick up again. He tried to prepare himself for what was to come, but he knew he was too late to react for a second time. Shame on me... he scolded at himself for making the same mistake twice. With the same hard tug as the last, his two back-up blasters disappeared in a sea of blue. Letting one threat go and concentrating on the other, he turned his head back around to keep track of Knuckles. He was only quick enough to see the Guardian drop down from the air, slamming him to the ground that expelled a grunt from his lungs.
Wow, he’s fast! His inner-self struggled to conclude after his head impacted the soft, grassy floor.
Knuckles didn’t skip a beat while his opponent was stunned. Taking a firm grasp at the handle, he pulled the last gun out the shoulder harness and threw it behind him and out of the fray. Sally skirted back when the long barreled pistol bounced on the ground and landed nearly at her feet. Knuckles then grabbed hold of the Echidna’s body armor with his left hand. The black armor had four horizontal ribs that were meant to absorb plasma fire by displacing the heat and energy impact. But now it was a nice thing to hold on to. With his free right fist, he swung at the Echidna’s head, but his effort was cut short by a block from his opponent’s left arm, side swiping Knuckles’ strike away and at the same span of time, upper-cutting Knuckles with his right open palm dead center at his chest.
This sent Knuckles flying through the air and falling just short at the stranger’s feet. In a blink of an eye, the other echidna got up and moved into Knuckles, his hands opened and hovering down in front of him, anticipating anything at this point When the he moved in close enough though to somehow manage a hold on Knuckles, he was met by a driving strain that soon became intense with pain just above his knee. The stranger grunted to the sharp pain as he fell to the ground, catching a glance of Knuckles’ right foot implanting against his right knee. Not a moment was spared when Knuckles shot up to his feet and posed himself to pounce on his opponent yet again. But the echidna was just as fast. With his right leg going under his left knee, the echidna shot up quickly, putting his naked red hands in a close defensive position as he gained his balance, spreading his feet wide. Letting his opponent decide his next stance, Knuckles brought his mittens up to his face and narrowed his eyes to the scarred echidna, taunting what he had perceived as the ego-maniac that thrived inside him.
They closed the gap between them at a feverish rate. Knuckles struck out his right fist, but the other echidna pivoted his torso to the side, causing Knuckles to overshoot his swing, leaving him exposed. Before his opponent could deliver a sweeping blow from his right hand, Knuckles--with his right arm still following through his first punch, back-handed the stranger with his left hand. With the other echidna stunned from it, Knuckles then cocked his right fist and pushed it hard into the echidna’s face. The force of the punch created two, light puncture marks as his knuckled spikes implanted into the stranger’s cheek. This sent the echidna back to the ground once more, and without giving him another chance, Knuckles sprawled on top of him and took a stronger grasp on the echidna’s shirt collar. There, he cocked his right fist, ready to hopefully give the final blow. However the other Echidna was too quick. He blocked it again and opened palmed Knuckles in the chest. His hopes of loosening Knuckles’s grip the second time was partially a success, but the outcome this time was not what he wanted...and never wanted. Knuckles did fly back and away like before, but instead, his grip on the stranger’s collar caused the shirt to rip down the center, stopping only when the fabric met the resistance of the body armor.
Just when Knuckles was becoming one with the Mobian gravity, his emotions of victory fell to utter shock. During those few seconds of suspended animation, his eyes gazed on the newly exposed chest of the Echidna. For a brief moment, he thought he saw white over the red fur of the Echidna. It was then that Knuckles’ eyes slowly widen as gravity came back as factor in the fight. Disbelief had muscled its way past his fighting sprit, commanding his mouth to gap open in the shock he perceived was coming after the fight, hoping the his opponent hadn’t witnessed the change in his face.
But the pinned Echidna saw Knuckles’ changed expression. A sudden feeling of fear sent shivers throughout his body, his eyes widening in terror at what he realized Knuckles’ had seen. At what was about to be discovered of him that he tried so long to hid when others told him not to. But something sparked inside him. Something that felt of yearning to seize the moment to surrender filter into his psyche. And before Knuckles’ slammed his fist across his face, he unknowingly smiled before the blow was dealt.
Then came blackness.
Knuckles let the urge to breath the sigh of victory die as the Echidna went limp under his legs. His disbelief trumped his next action. Pulling back the flap of fabric he expose what he feared he witnessed on the Echidna’s upper chest during that moment stillness. A white crest.
This can’t be...a Guardian!? he shouted and stuttered out to himself in horror.
By now, Sally, Antoine, Sonic, and Tails had gathered around as they watched some hit-man get his tail handed to him. “Antoine, restrain him before he wakes--” Sally began to order, only to be cut off by a very frustrated Knuckles.
“...Who are you!” he shouted while pulling back on the echidna’s torn shirt, lifting the limp body off the ground.
“Ah, hey Rad Red, he can’t hear since--”
This time, before Sonic could state the obvious, Knuckles repeated his last phrase to the point of crying. “WHO ARE YOU!?”
Julie-Su stepped forward before anyone else could reach him, knowing something was dreadfully wrong from the sound of her beloved Knuckles’ voice. “Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked with a very sincere voice, hoping to calm her lover down. When she got closer, she could see why he was almost to the point of tears.
“He’s a Guardian Julie-Su!” he said, choking back his emotions. He took a long breath and repeated his findings to himself in disbelief. “He’s a Guardian...”