It had been nearly half an hour since the two mobians had entered the forest north of Metal Sonic's speedway, the moonlight shining down from above, illuminating the areas where the underbrush was short enough to walk through without danger of stepping on some foreign object. As they came into a clearing, Angel took a quick glance around before giving her head a slight nod.
"This'll be a good place to stop for the night, I think," she said as she walked over next to a tall, thick tree where she helped Sonic sit with his back to it to support him.
"Thanks," he said.
"Sure," she said, getting back upright. "I'll go see if I can find those herbs. You just rest. But if you see anything unusual, give a shout." Turning her back to Sonic, she then start to head off into the woods.
"Angel..." called Sonic's voice, stopping her in her tracks. She turned her head back towards him. "Are you going to be okay?" She saw his face looking at her, filled with worry for her. Worry. Other than Comet, no one had ever truly worried about her since she was only eight years old. Comet, she thought, I pray you're all right, wherever you are. The though of Comet almost sent her over the edge again, but she held it down, then looked forward again.
"I'll be back with those herbs in a little bit," she said, Sonic taking note that her voice contained a trace of grief in it, before she walked into the thicker parts of the woods and disappeared from sight. Half an hour past before she returned, carrying several different roots and leaves as well as a couple of smooth, flat rocks and several large, palm tree-like leaves. For the next ten minutes, the two of them sat in total silence as Angel ground the leaves and roots between the two rocks, the mixture taking on a paste-like quality.
"This might sting quite a bit for a little while," Angel said as she scooped some of the paste up on her fingers. Sonic merely nodded his head before hissing in pain as she applied a small amount to each of the claw marks on his arm. She then took half of the palm tree leaves she'd brought back and wrapped them around his arm tight, using some of the pasty mixture as an adhesive to hold the leaves in place. She then proceeded to do the same to his leg, taking care not to cause any more pain than what was necessary to apply the makeshift bandage. "There," she said as she secured the last leaf. "Now just don't move too much and both your arm and leg should be better by morning."
"Seriously?" asked Sonic, looking at her in disbelief. She nodded.
"Seriously. This herbal remedy was past down to me by my mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on. The mixture of leaves and roots I used makes a very powerful healing paste that stings like crazy, but speeds up recovery over a hundred fold for flesh wounds. The only real problem is that the herbs are not real common and only someone that knows where to look for them has any real chance of finding them," she said as she sat down, taking her sword off her back and leaning it and herself up against a tree across from Sonic, who noticed that she was fiddling with her far left dreadlock, her face full of nervousness as well as a sense of regret.
"You okay?" he asked, not wanting to pry, but at the same time certain that unless he did, she'd continue to keep whatever was bothering her bottled up inside. Angel looked up at him, then gave a very long sigh before tossing her dreadlock back over her shoulder.
"Not really," she said, hesitation clearly in her voice. "I...want to..." she started, looking down towards the ground to her left. "I want to say...I'm sorry," she whispered.
"For what?" asked Sonic, genuinely confused. She looked back up at him, her face contorted into a look that Sonic couldn't really place emotion wise, but seemed somewhere between anger and loss.
"For everything," she said, her eyes slamming shut. "For the way I've treated you since we met." Sonic could see tears starting to form in her eyes again, which really started to worry him. In the time he'd known Angel, he had never once seen her so emotionally unstable. She had always held her emotions in check, buried beneath her rough and gruff attitude. But now, seeing her like this, he knew that something had snapped inside her, and the pain and anguish of something was seeping through the cracks.
"You don't have to apologize. You were just being yourself," said Sonic, trying to calm her down. Angel shook her head back and forth almost violently.
"No! I have to!" she yelled back at him. She then gasped as she realized she had yelled at him. She tilted her head down again, but her eyes looked back up at the blue hedgehog. "You look so much like him. So very much. I wanted to believe you were him so much that I lashed out at you without even realizing it, even if I knew deep down you weren't him." Sonic raised an eyebrow at this.
"Who do I look like? What are you talking about?" he asked.
"That...thing that you were racing back there," she said. She curled her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. "When I saw him...When I got my first real good look at his face, I knew it was him. Those eyes…I will never forget those eyes..." she said, her mind trailing off.
"Whoa whoa. Time out," said Sonic, making a "T" with his hands, wincing slightly from the sting that shot through his left arm from the effort. "Back up here a second. What do you mean you knew that it was him?" Angel hesitated for a few seconds before she looked up towards the sky, still mostly lost in her own world at the moment.
"They're up there still, watching out for me even now. I just wish they were still down here with me, where I could touch them, see them, even just listen to their voices," she said, gazing up at the night sky.
"Who?" asked Sonic. Angel only smiled slightly.
"My parents," she said. She then looked back down at Sonic, the smile now completely gone, replaced by a look of grief that Sonic had not seen since the day Robotnik had attacked Mobotropolis all those years ago, but it was one he himself had experienced on that day.
"I'm sorry..." said Sonic, looking away from Angel's gaze. "I had no idea..."
"Don't be. It was not your fault, no matter how much I wanted to believe it was," she said, returning to reality.
"My fault?" asked Sonic, now suddenly afraid of where the conversation was going. Angel only nodded slightly.
"When I first saw your face, I was certain you were the one I had been waiting to find after all these years, but when I got my first good look at your eyes, I realized I had made a mistake," she said.
"My eyes?" asked Sonic.
"Yes. Your eyes are as green as an emerald. But the one who I saw that night had eyes as red as a raging flame," she said. Her face then twisted into one of anger. "Today, I saw those same eyes once again on the same face I can never forget."
"You mean Mecha..." started Sonic, trying to finish the question, but not able to.
"Yes..." hissed Angel. She sighed and regained her composure somewhat. "I suppose it's pointless to leave out the details now."
"You don't have to tell me this, you know," said Sonic, trying to make sure she was comfortable with what she was about to tell him.
"Don't worry. Like I said, I would tell you when I knew I could do so without loosing myself like last time," she said, though Sonic could still see the beginning of tears in her eyes. He hoped that she was right in her own evaluation of how stable she was right now. "I used to live in a small village of about three hundred echidnas off on the far west coast of the southern continent of Mobius, hidden from modern civilization by a thick jungle that spread out in over a hundred mile radius. My father was one of the best hunters of the village, rallying the others every day to the hunt, eager to bring back a generous bounty each night for dinner. He was also a master swordsman. In fact, it was him that first taught me to wield a sword."
"My mother was one of the village chief's advisors and her advice was always insightful to the future of the entire village. When I turned seven, I was given a chao egg to raise, just like everyone else in the village. Comet came from that egg and we were inseparable. Everything was perfect. But then, only three weeks after I turned eight, everything about my life that I knew started to crumble right before my eyes..."
"How?" asked Sonic, noticing that she was trembling slightly, still trying to hold back the tears that were obviously ready to burst forth from her eyes.
"The village was attacked by that...thing. That robot that you were racing just a little bit ago," she said. "He came out of nowhere, killing everyone he could get his hands on," she said wearily, having lost control of herself once again to the pain the memories brought back. She wanted to stop, to bottle it all back up before they consumed her once again like they had back at the track, but she knew she couldn't anymore. The pain and anguish she had pushed to the very back of her mind so many years ago had been breaking through one barrier after another since the incident on the track to the point she could no longer contain it.
"I was only eight years old. A scared, little girl that knew nothing of violence outside of the hunting that went on around outside of the village. Comet...she tried to comfort me...To tell me...tell me everything was going to be fine..." she said as she could hold back her tears no longer, breaking down completely as she buried her face in her hands and openly cried. Sonic slowly got to his feet, fighting back the pain that shot through his leg as he walked over to her and sat beside her, taking her into his arms. She cried quietly for a couple of minutes before she pushed out of his embrace. She sniffed a few times, trying to ready herself for the last part of the memory.
"But as my mother and I were just about out of the village, he walked right around the corner of the hut we were running past. Without even the slightest bit of emotion, he reached out and grabbed my mother by her robe and lifted her above his head. I could only watch on in horror as her threw her against the side of the hut, raising his other hand back, claws outstretched. I wanted to scream...I tried to scream, but I couldn't. All I could do was watch as he killed her right in front of me," she whispered.
"By the heavens of Mobius..." was all Sonic could say. He had known that Metal Sonic was as cold as ice and was even prone to trying to hurt his friends on occasion, but never once had he seen him actually try to kill someone other than himself before. The very thought sent a chill down his spine.
"He then turned towards me, but before he could even take a step forward, my father came out of nowhere, screaming at the top of his lungs as he charged that thing, sword ready to slice him in two. But he moved like lightning, and easily dodged my father's attack, then slammed his claws into the back of my father's head, killing him instantly." Sonic was about to say something when he noticed that her emotions had almost done a complete one eighty, her depression and sadness now coming close to uncontrollable rage. Her face was twisted into one of anger he hadn't seen since the very first time they had met.
"I didn't care what happened anymore after I saw him kill my father. He turned away from me, either forgetting I was there or deeming me not worth the time to kill I suppose. Comet begged me to run away, to hopefully leave without him noticing us, but I couldn't. I ran at him, scooping up my father's sword, the very sword I carry with me today, into my hands as I ran. That monster turned towards me as he heard my cry of anger, pain, and loss as I charged him. At that moment, I was completely consumed by hatred. All I could think about was killing the thing that had murdered my parents," she said, her teeth gritted together, her hands balled into fists.
"As I brought my father's sword forward, he grabbed it with his left hand, stopping it in its tracks. I tried to pull it away from his grasp, but I hadn't even started to pull with my full strength before he swung his right fist into the side of my head, knocking me out."
"All he did was knock you out? Why not kill you as well?" asked Sonic, now completely confused.
"Even to this day I have no clue as to why he spared my life," she said, lowering her head, shaking off the rage she had built up. "He killed everyone else, burned every last building in the village to the ground. When I woke up, Comet and I were the last things remaining that gave proof that a village had even existed there at all. As I looked around at the smoldering remains of my home, I realized that we were on our own. We began traveling across the continent, coming across other villages that had been completely wiped out by the same robot. The few villages we did find, we didn't stay for long. I was too consumed with finding the one that had destroyed everything I had held dear."
"Nearly a year had passed when we were traveling in a rather dense forest with the nearest settlement being over a two days walk away. We had just started to turn in for the night when a pack of wolves attacked us. I tried to fend them off as best I could, but there were too many of them. I lost count of how many I had managed to hold off when out of nowhere the largest of them managed to reach me, pinning me to the ground as Comet could only watch from her hiding spot up in a tree."
"I was sure I was as good as dead, but before the wolf could take a bite out of me, something knocked it off me. I quickly jumped to my feet and when I noticed that the wolves' attention were now on something else, I scrambled up the same tree Comet was in, looking down at the scene that was unfolding below me. A rather large creature of some kind was staring down the pack of wolves. I never got a good look at the thing due to the darkness, but I was able to make out pretty much what was going on down below."
"As I watched on in amazement as the wolf pack surrounded the creature, but instead of backing down, it stood tall with confidence. As the wolves started to attack, it skillfully dodged each of their lunges while inflicting wounds with its claws and tail, eventually running the pack off without so much as getting a cut. It then looked up at me, motioning to me with its head to follow. I was hesitant at first, but seeing as how it had just saved my life, I reasoned that it was friendly. But still being cautious, I decided to keep a good ten yard distance from the beast as it led me into a nearby cave where I first met...him."
"Who is 'him'?" asked Sonic. Angel shook her head.
"I can't tell you. One of the things he made me swear was that I would never tell anyone anything about him other than he was the one that trained me to fight like I do now. Not that I could tell you much about him anyway. I didn't even know his name," she said.
"I don't get it. What do you mean trained you?" asked Sonic.
"He made me an offer. He would take me in as his student and teach me what I would need to know to be able to kill the thing that had destroyed my village and killed my family. The only thing he asked in return was that someday, he would seek me out, and that when he did he would ask me a favor. Whatever it was, I would have to do it without question," she said. "Being filled with the desire to destroy the one responsible for ruining my life, I gladly accepted. After that, I spent the next four years training under him, greatly improving all aspects of my physical stature. Strength, speed, endurance, agility, my skill with my sword. My instincts and mental prowess were also pushed to new heights during that time to the point where I became a master tracker and hunter. I was even taught how to operate certain vehicles so that if I ever had the need to use one for whatever reason I could do so." She then looked back up at the sky. "To this day, I have yet to run into him again, so I still owe him the favor. I gave him my word that I would uphold my end of the deal and I never go back on a promise I make."
"Okay. That explains a lot about why you resented me so much. Part of me still finds it hard to believe that Mecha would go as far as to kill an entire village of people, but then again, I never really could understand what was going on in that mind of his," said Sonic. Angel turned her gaze down at Sonic.
"You knew him?" she asked, a curious look etched into her face.
"As much as I wish I didn't, yes. He was the second in the mecha bot line of robots Robotnik created to kill me. Both were designed to be my robotic equal. The first one was called Silver Sonic and was the only one of the two designed to mimic my ability to spindash, but it had way too many defects in its AI matrix to think competently for itself. The second was the one that you just saw on the track. Metal Sonic, or Mecha as a lot of us call him by, is the closest thing to me Robotnik has ever built. He's almost on par with my own speed and he is obsessed with killing me. He's been like that ever since the first time we fought," said Sonic. Angel nodded, giving a sigh as she leaned her head back against the trunk of the tree.
"It's a relief to know exactly what that monster really was after all these years. I'm just glad he's finally been destroyed," she said, closing her eyes as she looked down at the ground. "It's finally over. The people of my village as well as my family can now rest in peace." Sonic's face turned solemn, his gaze looking over at her.
"I'm afraid it's not," he said softly, causing Angel to open her eyes and glace over at him. "There is still the matter of the person who sent him to attack your village. The very person who created him is the one truly responsible for what happened." She frowned as she heard this, standing up while picking up her sword and strapping it back onto her back.
"You're right. It isn't over till this Robotnik person is dead. Only then will I truly have avenged my family and the others of my village. Well, I promise you that I won't leave your side till this whole matter has been settled, whatever the outcome is," she said. She then started to walk off into the woods, turning her head back towards Sonic. "You get some rest. I'll keep watch for the night. We'll need you in top form tomorrow if we're going to save Comet and your friends." Sonic nodded before making himself comfortable, drifting off almost instantly to sleep. Angel couldn't help but smile slightly, having felt a great pressure lifted off of her chest after telling Sonic what she had. She faced forward and started off into the forest to find a good spot to do a few exercises to get her mind off of the day's events. She had gone maybe a hundred yards away from the campsite when she heard rustling coming from one of the trees above her.
"Come out," she said, unsheathing her sword as she looked up at the tree tops. "I know you're up there." Her eyes glanced back and forth, trying to pinpoint something out of the ordinary, but unable to due to both the darkness of the night as well as the thickness of the entangled tree limbs above.
"Greetings, young one," said a soft and deep male voice from behind her. She whipped around, sword at the ready to attack if the other person should do so himself. But the person didn't make a move, but rather stood still as a statue on one of the lower hanging branches of one of the trees. Angel couldn't make out anything of detail about the person who stood on the limb since he wore a grey robe with a hood over his head, though she could see his yellow eyes looking back at her through the hood.
"Who are you?" asked Angel, still keeping her sword at the ready. There was something about this person that seemed familiar to her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. The person said nothing, and after a couple of seconds dropped down out of the trees. The air caught his robe and lifted it up slightly, giving Angel a quick glance at the lower half of the person beneath it. Grey fur covered his legs and he wore a pair of shoes of a kind that she had never seen before. The person landed softly on the ground, then stood back up to his full height.
"Me? Just a traveler of sorts," he said. "You, on the other hand, don't look a thing like the innocent little Angel I met all those years ago." Angel's eyes narrowed slightly as she tensed herself to attack.
"How the heck do you know who I am?" she asked with more of a demanding tone rather than a questioning one.
"I don't. At least, not right now," he answered. "The Angel I remember was kind and gentle. She would never resort to fighting without being forced to." He pointed at her with a black gloved hand. "You, on the other hand, are aggressive and forceful. You'd rather fight than talk." He lowered his finger, his head following suit. "You have lost the peace your heart once had. You have lost sight of your true self." Angel lowered her sword.
"Just who the heck are you?" she asked, walking right up to the person and jabbing her finger into his chest, catching a glimpse of the person's grey furred face through the hood, though aside from the fur color she couldn't make out any other details of the mobian's face. "And how dare you talk to me like that? I know myself better than anyone!" The figure merely smiled, taking Angel's finger into his hand and removing it from his chest.
"You think you do. I wish I could tell you how I know you are wrong, but I cannot. It is something you must discover for yourself," he said, letting go of her finger. "Unfortunately, I have other things that need attending to. But before I go, I have three things I want to give you. The first is a piece of advice that I've had to learn the hard way. What you perceive as truth and what really is the truth are two separate things. Don't let yourself be blinded by the lies that cover up the truth, even if the truth is one that will harm you, because not believing the truth once you discover it can lead to far worse fates than the truth itself." The figure then turned and looked up into the same tree he had been perched in.
"The second and third I'll give to you at once," he said. He then cupped his hands over his mouth. "You may come down now!" he hollered up at the tree. A bright, blue glow suddenly came out from one of the thick patches of leaves above, descending towards the two of them. "I believe this little one is yours," he said, gesturing up at the glow of the aqua Timestone which was held in the arms of none other than a purple chao with red tipped, golden wings.
"Comet..." whispered Angel to herself as she opened her arms wide, Comet flying into her embrace. "Oh Comet! You're safe," she cried, tightly hugging her chao to her.
"Yes mistress. This nice mobian rescued me from the awful place they were keeping me," said Comet, trying to return the hug as well as keep a grip on the Timestone. Angel slackened her grip on Comet, but still held her against her chest. She looked over at the cloaked figure, who merely stood by as the two friends were reunited.
"Thank you...Thank you so much," she said, close to tears for the third time in one night. "I don't know what I would have done if anything had happened to her." The figure turned away from the two of them.
"You are welcome, my young friend. I must now take my leave," he said as he began to walk away. "I just hope that you take my advice to heart, and should you, I hope I will see you again at some point in time. Till then, goodbye," he said, and then vanished into the darkness of the woods. Angel stared at where the figure had vanished, wondering if what he had said was true. She decided she would think about it later. The important thing was that Comet was safe, and that would do for the night. Her mouth cracked into a small smile as she started back towards the campsite, Comet also breaking into a smile when she saw Angel's.
I don't know what has happened to you since earlier today, mistress, but you seem so much happier now than any other time since that night, thought Comet to herself. She then flew up and landed on Angel's shoulder, who's only response was to glance over at her, still smiling.
The cloaked figure watched from his vantage point in one of the nearby trees as the two friends turned and headed back the way they had come from, a small smile forming on his tan muzzle. He was glad that he had been able to bring the two of them back together.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to not let me go with them tomorrow?" asked a childish voice off to the figure's side. The cloaked mobian shook his head softly.
"No, my young friend. They are our best hope to finally put an end to all of this madness," he said softly before turning his yellow eyes' gaze over towards the other person with him. "But if they fail, you and I must finish what they start."
Angel gazed at the rising sun off in the distance as the last remains of the nighttime sky vanished in the sunlight. Comet sat on her shoulder, having not said a word the whole night, leaving her mistress to her thoughts as she sat with her back against the trunk of a tree on a fairly high up limb near where Sonic was still sleeping.
"Well," said Angel, glancing over at her chao friend. "I guess its time to wake the hedgehog." She then looked down to where Sonic was lying curled up in a ball, softly snoring. "You want to do the honors Comet?"
"Sure," said Comet, flying off Angel's shoulder and landing next to Sonic's head. She then tapped him softly on his right ear, which twitched slightly from the touch. Sonic grumbled something unintelligible before rolling over onto his back. Comet looked back up at Angel, who just gave a slight nod. Comet flew up onto Sonic's chest, then tapped him on the nose a little harder than his ear. Sonic sniffed once, then twice before sneezing, Comet quickly taking to the air to avoid it. Sonic sat up, looking back and forth before Comet flew down right in front of his face.
"Sleep well, master Sonic?" she asked with a smile. This brought forth a surprised cry from Sonic, who jumped backwards, only to slam his back into the tree trunk. Angel couldn't help but chuckle slightly at this, catching Sonic's attention. He looked up at her, his face still somewhat having a look of shock on it. He then frowned and looked back at Comet, who was trying to hold back a laugh of her own.
"Where the heck did you come from?" he asked. Comet didn't answer, but instead looked over at Angel as she dropped down out of the tree.
"She escaped from Metal Sonic's trap and was hiding out here in this forest. I ran into her last night. She was also the reason one of the Timestones was moving towards us," said Angel, holding up the aqua gemstone. She had opted not to tell Sonic the truth because she didn't want him asking her tons of questions she couldn't answer right now.
"That's good. At least that's one of our friends and another Timestone accounted for," said Sonic as he stood up, rubbing the back of his head where he had hit it against the tree. It took him a few seconds of standing before he realized that he was on his feet with no pain whatsoever.
"Wow! I guess that remedy really does work," said Sonic as he bent down and removed the leaves from his arm and leg. Nothing remained of the claws marks other than a slightly brighter colored patch of new skin over where the marks had been. He then took off into the forest, racing through the trees near the campsite for a good twenty seconds or so before coming to a stop back in his starting place.
"Told you it would work," said Angel as she got to her own feet. "So what now?"
"Nothing left to do but find our friends and confront Robotnik. There's only three more Timestones left to get. Since they're together, that means we'll find Robotnik there with them because if I know him like I think I do, he'll be the one protecting them," he said as he pulled Nicole out of his pack. He flipped the screen open, punched in his code, said his password, and asked the machine where the last Timestones were located. Nicole beeped a few times before her holo display brought up a map of the surrounding area
"Timestones located. Approximately ten miles west northwest and are currently stationary," said Nicole, a little dot blinking on the holo map. Sonic looked over the map for a few seconds, then closed Nicole's screen.
"No way we'll get close to wherever the Timestones or our friends are without them noticing us," said Sonic.
"I agree. So where does that leave us?" asked Angel.
"Nothing except for one option, even though I had hoped to avoid it," he said.
What time was it? Was it day or night? She didn't have a clue anymore. Not that she really cared all that much right now. As far as she knew, a whole century could've past by and she wouldn't know. All she knew was that she was in a cell all alone, separated from everyone else. She would watch the occasional velocibot walk past, its glowing eyes shifting to look at her as it passed by the cell, giving a couple of small sniffs of the air to get her scent before moving on to wherever it had been assigned to go.
Lily sighed to herself, lying on her back on the cell's cot, staring up at the ceiling. The first thing Metal Sonic had done when he'd brought them back to wherever it was they were was split them apart from each other. She hadn't even seen where he had taken the others, as she had still been out cold when he had brought her in this very cell. Now, all she wanted was to be with just one of them, if only to have someone to talk to, or even just listen to them talking to her.
A series of rhythmic metal clacking noises started to make themselves known from somewhere down the hall. Lily couldn't help but glace towards the cell door, expecting to see more velocibot guards walk past. As the first one came into view, she started to look back towards the ceiling, but her gaze stopped short and quickly looked back out into the hallway as the second figure came into view. Her eyes grew wide with recognition as she gazed at the person staring back at her.
"You..." she whispered.