Chapter 18 - Wolverines and Weasels
Gravel grinded beneath the truck’s wheels as it stopped. Silver’s heart seemed to double in pace. Obviously it was noticeable, because Ki said under her breath, “Stay calm.”
The truck rocked as the driver and his companions disembarked. When the rear door to the truck opened orange light flooded the cabin. Pupils stinging, Silver closed his eyes and looked away.
Eyes shut the entire time, Silver offered no resistance as he was unlocked from the welded ring, and pulled bodily from the truck.
So far from home, Silver suddenly felt horribly out of his depth. His only solace was that at least Nickel was, presumably at least, safe with Tails. A cold pit writhing in his stomach, he looked nervously at his captors.
The giant wolverine could be seen standing
head and shoulder over another truck in front of them. His thick black and
yellow jacket added to his bulk. Everybody else were desert cats, clad in dark
cloaks, hoods or turbans to protect from the searing sun. The exception was the
weasel, her fur a distinctive reddish-pink colour under a heavy trenchcoat. She
had a long, pointed face and small, mean eyes. Silver was careful not to make
eye-contact with any of them.
His eye was caught, however, by the sheer grandeur of the Pyramid Kingdom.
The structures were massive, and clearly ancient. The monstrous domed building that towered overhead obscured most of his view. Twelve pillars thirty feet tall held an intricately carved courtyard roof aloft that stretched away from the main building and over their heads. The cream-brown stone, perhaps it was clay, ended at the floor, which was composed of marble-like tiles. Vines that flowered orange bulbs snaked gently up the pillars, additionally concealing most of the roof.
At the very end of this courtyard, Silver could still see left and right. Towering minarets speared into the sky above more domed structures, golden spires atop their onion-like bulbs shining in the evening sun. Large courtyards filled empty space, often featuring majestic fountains and palm trees, though the former ran dry at present. The courtyards held features littered on the ground of a day left in a hurry – a handbag or parasol here, a pile of paper there.
The Pyramid Kingdom sat within Shamar City, and beyond the river-moat and its four simple bridges the skyline bounded across hundreds of years into clean skyscrapers organised in blocks around their bitumen roads.
Sonic whistled with awe as he exited the truck, and was shoved roughly for it by the nearest captor. However, Sonic just looked at the captor with some amusement until, to Silver’s great surprise, the cat looked away. He thought he heard Sonic murmur, “Good choice,” but could not be certain. The cat did not retaliate. Instead, the weasel took her place, and firmly steered Sonic forwards.
The evening was giving way to night
quickly. Already, a few stars could be seen in the sky.
The hulking wolverine, Ringo, lead the way up the short stairs to the paved area within the pillars. Head high, Ki was prompted to lead the three of them. Silver could finally see her properly, and suddenly felt like shooting Sonic yet another dirty look as it dawned on him he might not have been in awe of the Pyramid Kingdom earlier.
She said she was royalty, and she fit the part. She wore an ankle-long, fitted red cloak finished with golden lace, though crumpled and dusty from the journey, around her slender frame. The grandeur stopped there. Her dark boots, an empty utility belt slung across her waist (Silver had no idea what a princess needed with that, but remembered her mentioning something about being trained in Gyasi, which may have explained it) simple loose trousers and dirty singlet did not belie wealth and status. Though a captive, she walked with her head high, as if all that surrounded her was her own property – Silver supposed it was.
Incredibly, Sonic had managed to lure the weasel into banter.
“Now now, handsome, don’t go giving my boys trouble now.” said the weasel. Some of the rebel cats looked away from Sonic, who disappointingly dropped his attempts to taunt them.
“Jackie,” acknowledged Sonic with a sarcastic smile, “how’s our favourite insane middle-child-syndrome sufferer?”
“Clearly better than my favourite homeless junkie.”
“‘Adrenaline’-junkie, let’s put that in context a little bit.” He paused, before saying, “Been fantasizing what kind of cell you’d like when we get to Spagonia? A six by eight with a toilet in the far or near corner and a teeny window near the bacl, or maybe a slightly bigger one, but with a hole in the floor and no windows ” – he was cut off as he held back a yelp, wincing painfully – Jackie had jabbed him sharply in the kidneys.
They were lead inside. Silver did the best he could to keep one boot in front of the other. He remembered Sonic’s confidence in his psychokinesis back in the truck, but Silver was not so sure. He had meant what he had said in Central City – he had never used psychokinesis in combat. Unlike Nickel, who he knew had often snuck off from under their father’s watchful gaze to throw sticks at passing birds and build his strength crushing trees, he had no adventurous spirit. He had poor reflexes, and, as he was discovering, scared easily. Throwing people off their feet appeared easy enough, but what if he shook too hard to hold the field steady? What if, in his fright, he was unable to concentrate in order to command the consistency of a psychokinetic field and it crumpled before his eyes? And his shame in doing so in front of Sonic was too insufferable to consider.
They marched in silence through the great dome’s archway and into a most grand interior. Dozens of pillars supported elegantly shaped buttresses beneath the soaring dome. Windows decorated its sloping walls, letting a great amount of light in to illuminate beautiful patters both above and below. The buttressing arches formed a square around the dome’s perimeter. And still the building continued. Taking a right into an adjoining room, the wolverine had to squeeze through past the smaller archways. He was like a human in an anthrohuman dwelling, except the Pyramid Kingdom was once the centre of trade between all lands, human and anthrohuman, and was built to accommodate both races. Ringo was a freak.
Through to the next room, they were met with the sight, sound and smell of upwards of three hundred people.
All of them looked like aristocrats or businessmen and women. Half wore suits, the other half highly decorative floor-length robes. Nobody appeared injured or in any great distress.
They could see outside clearly from this room through three roof-high windows in the shape of solid arches: a pristine courtyard dotted with palm trees, clay benches and shallow pools glittering like crystal. An elegant colonnade ran the length of the opposite building, another clay structure built like a church with sloping features.
Inside, a clay staircase hugged the wall on the far side, leading to a large lattice door beyond which they could not see.
One of their captors suddenly grabbed Ki roughly by the shoulder, dragging her towards the staircase.
“Hey!” cried Silver, taking one step after them, more out of surprise rather than bravery. He stopped in his tracks when Ringo suddenly side-stepped between them, leaning down so as to be no more than a foot away from Silver’s face.
“STAY.” The wolverine said. His tail thumped and his exhaled breath smacked Silver in the face as hard as his command. His head was as big as Silver’s entire body.
Eyes narrowed with rage, Ringo slid his gaze from the terrified Silver to Sonic behind him. “I WILL DEAL WITH YOU SOON.”
The guards behind them saluted, and the wolverine turned to follow Ki without another word. Jackie shoved her face near Silver’s as she passed, startling him, before sauntering after Ringo.
“You ok?” asked Sonic. Silver turned around, face ashen.
“Y-yeah… I-I don’t like her very much.”
“Me neither, buddy.” said Sonic, earnestly. His kidneys stung in agreement.
“And I don’t understand how he’s so big.”
“He mentioned ‘the pool’, I can only guess he meant the Shamar Ring Pool. But,” Sonic looked down as he thought aloud, “But nobody’s given him a Magic Ring, so I think I know what it is.” His head suddenly snapped up, “Anyway, PYLON!”
Sonic strode confidently into the crowd, who parted with proximity, expressing alarm at this loud intrusion. The only exit to the room was behind the guards at the door they had entered from and the one upstairs. Both guards at the first portal appeared confortable knowing that, dehydrated and hands bound, Sonic could not pass them. Both presumptions were wrong, and Sonic was saddened that he might not be able to prove this to them. Silver hurriedly followed before he lost sight of the blue hedgehog amongst the crowd. Still Sonic called, “Pylon! I’ve come halfway across a continent so you really better be here!”
Silver stuck close as Sonic waded through the less than hospitable crowd. Most appeared more frightened of Sonic’s presence, or perhaps just his loudness. Yet Sonic’s aplomb was comforting to Silver, a deterrent to the panic he thought might have submerged him by now. Sonic made being a hostage look like a field trip.
A gruff, formidable voice proclaimed:
“And you took your time about it, too, boy.”
Closing the gap they left behind them stepped a tall, dark lynx. His eyes were made intense by the black markings around them. The black fur tufts extending past his ears gave him an aura of alertness. An adult, his eyes looked older than his body, which itself was greyed in patches around his muzzle and spine. After a second under his daunting glare, Sonic smiled, green eyes bright with recognition. Instantly, Pylon’s demeanor shifted, and the two embraced as old friends. Silver remembered Sonic mentioning something about a scar when he had awoken in the truck, and indeed, under the leather jacket worn by the big cat Silver could discern mutilated fur.
Stepping back, Sonic said, “Is Pickle with you?”
“He is,” said Pylon, nodding behind him, a warmth now twinkling in his intense eyes. There hunched the only human in the room, an elderly man in a brown suit. He did not see them, and stared morosely at the ground. Pylon confirmed, “He’s a professor you know, apparently?”
“Yeah.” Sonic craned his neck with concern
in order to see Pickle better – the elderly Professor did not appear to be
taking his current situation well.
“Good, glad you’re going back to school, he’s a very knowledgeable man. Did your mother choose him as a tutor?”
Sonic reddened. “Actually he helped me fix the world up all those months ago. I learnt a lot about world geography… I guess.”
Silver was about to clarify what ‘fix the world up’ meant, but stopped himself when he remembered Nickel’s answer when he asked what Shadow was. Maybe he didn’t want to know just yet.
Pylon’s gaze appeared to harden. “Hmm.”
“C’mon, Pylon, you taught me all I need to
know. I remember you convincing Mum
to let me out of school so I could, you know, kick robot-butt, catch Magic
Rings, save the world.”
Sounding almost like a parent, Pylon responded evenly, “That was a different time. Exactly what excuse do you have now for gallivanting across the world doing whatever pleases you?”
Sonic leaned back, grinned, and announced, “That I’m one of the most powerful people in the world and nobody can stop me.”
Pylon’s eyes narrowed, but before he could reprimand Sonic for his arrogance Silver cut in.
-“Excuse me?” Pylon and Sonic turned to him, only just realising and remembering he was there respectively. Silver waved with his bound hands. “Hi. I’m Silver. You called us here. We’re here – now can we go?”
“Which brings me to our next issue!” Sonic cried, “I know I just said about power and nobody who can stop me and all but, uh, some people can make it difficult. They’re more likely to make it difficult if I remind them I exist by butting my quills into situations like this that I have nothing to do with.”
Pylon raised an eyebrow, “You think you have nothing to do with this?”
“Well…” Sonic looked around, “This seems pretty far from anything Robotnik.”
Pylon barked a laugh, his smile a grin of revenge. “Then I’m about to make your day.”
The lynx crossed to the nearest businesswoman. Before the woman could protest, Pylon had gently taken her suitcase from her, and quickly hurled it through the window.
Silver wasn’t sure what shattered louder – the glass or his composure, or that of the exhausted crowd. Shards rained down, forcing the crowd nearby to rapidly backpedal amidst shouts of alarm and fear.
“You’re mad!” he cried, eyes shooting from the stunned guards to Sonic, who actually looked mildly surprised. “What have you done?”
Ringo held similar sentiments.
A deafening roar from above signaled his presence. Claws on the railing, his green eyes searched madly for the culprit. He inevitably found Sonic.
“Nice arm, Pylon,” said Sonic a little weakly to the satisfied lynx, “but what exactly…”
The crowd yelped again and three silver figures smashed the remaining windows on their entry, crumpling the clay beneath their three-toed feet as they landed.
Sonic stared blankly at their domed heads and unsymmetrical vision sensors, then pivoted on one heel and began striding towards Ringo’s balcony. He dropped his hands, no longer pretending the cuffs still held.
“You’re such an idiot, Ringo,” is all he said, a cruel smile spreading across his face.
Rouge leapt high and disappeared into the dark with several strong bursts of her purple wings, but Shadow stood still, reading every detail he could of the descending creature he possible could. Despite himself, he could not help but mutter, “What are you?”
Nyx landed heavily – more so than it appeared his light frame should have. His wings, bat like in appearance, their membrane between the bones nearly translucent but for a tint of green, folded neatly behind his back and between his quills. Shadow didn’t know what Nyx was, but was certain this creature was about as natural as he himself was. His eyes were fixed on Shadows with a strange emotion Shadow could not place. Hunger? He radiated some kind of menacing superiority – or something more than that. His yellow eyes were hard, and appeared to getting more venomous by the second. They pierced into Shadow as if, inexplicably, they hated everything he was and had been.
“Shadow, get the emerald now.” Rouge’s voice rang with urgency.
Shadow had taken one step towards the cyan stone when Nyx, with the quickness of a bird, mirrored his step, one fingerless-gloved hand outstretched not with aggression, but with amity. His unnatural yellow eyes emanated hostility. The emerald in his forehead was impossible, yet it was there. A sliver of the green emerald protruded like a scar from his scales.
“Ah. Please, don’t do that.”
Staring with animosity at the strange creature, Shadow waited. His nerves remained taut, his weight forward. Nyx was not anthrohuman, not human, not Echidna. That only left one terrifying conclusion.
“You’re Black Arms!” snarled Shadow, “They’re back!”
Nyx only appeared cruelly amused now.
“Shadow, keep it together!” Rouge reprimanded from above. Shadow’s eyes flicked up, but he could not see her.
“They’re still out there!” protested Shadow aloud, trying to drown out the noise of his sinking heart. Yet Nyx’s amiable expression irritated him. He could feel it getting under his skin. Why was he looking at him like that?
Nyx reclaimed his outstretched hand. “Perhaps…”
Again, Shadow could not hide his shock as the cyan emerald, seemingly of its own doing, floated towards Nyx, spinning fractured cyan light like a strobe.
Eyes wide, Shadow tried to make sense of this. He had only ever seen the emeralds commanded by Black Doom. They responded to Shadow’s touch, but nothing more until he had all seven. Was it psychokinesis, as displayed by the young white hedgehog in Sonic’s company? Was he involved in the Black Arms?
Reason tickled Shadow’s racing brain. Nyx bore no resemblance to the echidna-variant Black Arms race, and the boy, Nickel, was clearly a hedgehog. Nyx was something else.
“You are to surrender yourself to GUN!”
Nyx spoke as if he hadn’t heard Shadow. With viciousness tinged with regret, he hissed, “One day, our encounter will be far more satisfying than this. I swear to you that.”
“Stop him, we need that emerald!” cried Rouge as Nyx’s wings unfurled.
Nyx appeared on the brink of escape, but pulled his weight back at the last minute, his attention focused now into the distance somewhere behind Shadow, past the cliff.
A flash of light, and a low, menacing rumble filled the air. Shadow kept his eyes on Nyx, and so asked Rouge, “What was that?”
“I think that was Redfried. Keep watching the winged freak, by all means, but this is some fireworks show.”
Shadow didn’t need to look; he had seen MagnoThermals go before. Their volatility proved for devastating accidents. He did not flinch when the shockwave tremored over them, a wave of dust and hot air. Nyx’s arrogance was astounding; he wasted time in Shadow’s presence to observe the disaster. Did the light of the explosion light up the ships around it?
Shadow was satisfied when, with a loud crunch, his fist collided with an unsuspecting Nyx’s throat. It would have killed a human, but if Shadow was sure of anything it was that Nyx wasn’t human. As his momentum carried them both back into the running river, Shadow deftly snatched the now airborne emerald, and spindashed to the shore.
“SHADOW, HE’S NOT DO”-
Shadow had only just landed when something painful struck him in the back, though his quills absorbed most of the blow.In a flurry of mud and water, he spindashed away, still clutching the emerald tightly.
He was brought to a stop as his back collided with the base of the great wooden treehouse, which up-close appeared to be rotting, if not close to collapsing.
Stabilising himself, he collected his senses. Sharp red eyes glaring fiercely where recoil had left them, he strained his ears for incoming danger.
Thrusting his elbow upwards, it brutally connected with Nyx’s jaw like a piston.
But again, a blow that would have probably knocked even Sonic or Knuckles unconscious (if not put them straight in a coma) only dazed Nyx.
They broke apart. It unnerved Shadow how quick and strong this creature was. Shadow leapt nearer to the cliff-side (getting a view of the remainder of the explosion, a dull-red wreck still falling into the ocean), putting a good thirty feet between himself and Nyx, who flew a storey high to latch a foot and handhold on the treehouse. A degree of achievement warmed Shadow at the sight of his foe staggered by his blow. He felt even better when Nyx curled his hand into a fist and, wings spread menacingly wide, snarled, “Enough!”
Smiling, Shadow stood straight. He held the emerald out in front of him, as if offering it, letting Nyx observe how the stone bathed his fur in its cyan light.
“Come and get it,” he taunted.
“Get moving!” roared Vector, teeth flashing dangerously as he snapped the laptop shut. The hut Metal Sonic had disappeared into was no more than debris and a cloud of dust. Throwing the device into his backpack, Vector grabbed tiny Charmy-bee and made for the exit. Bursting into the narrow, winding street, half a dozen people (mostly jaguars or crocodiles like himself) were staring into the sky. They all took a sudden half-step back in shock, their eyeline now low.
“Buggerbuggerbugger,” Vector cursed, side-stepping into a narrow, dirty alley. Something big and fast stirred the air behind him – Vector heard screams.
Stomping over rubbish and puddles, he sprinted as hard as he could through Chillidore’s humid atmosphere.
Charmy-bee chanted, “Espio’s gonna get you, Espio’s gonna get you!” high into the sky.
“Shut up! Or I’m leaving you home next time!”
“Hey, Knuckles did say that” –
“I know what he said!” Vector skidded around a corner and threw himself into an even narrower alley. The rooftops completely concealed him from the sky – perhaps he’d lost him.
Vector watched the alley’s exits with apprehension, tension curled tight around his body. At least they had found an old Robotnik hideout.
It didn’t seem like much consolation when a ball of red-hot metal crushed through the ceiling of corrugated iron.
“GO – Charmy!” roared Vector, all but throwing his little friend into the air, away from the monster. Dread and adrenaline pumping through his body, he turned to face the fight he’d know he’d never win.
Metal Sonic stood, debris falling from his frame. Vector recognised it as the second generation clone he had had helped hand over to GUN three years ago. This seemed a coincidence – he had gotten word that a new Metal Sonic, as recently as two days ago, had appeared in Green Hill Zone. So what was going on?
He doubted he would ever find out.
Yet, the lanky, silver-and-blue frame took one step forward, and then exploded in a burst of dust and debris.
Or at least that what it seemed. In actuality, a bulky blur of red had charged it from above, and with one brutal blow crushed it into the ground. Concrete shattered beneath them.
“Knux!?” exclaimed Vector, bewildered. “How…?” Vector fell quiet as Knuckles’ battle-snarl faded into a frown of curiosity. Metal Sonic did not get up.
“Did I get him?” asked Knuckles into thin air, lifting his fist in surprise.
In hindsight, he didn’t know why he had bothered to entertain the idea.
The alley wall to his left crumpled as he was tossed through it. Landing on a bed of concrete and mud, he grabbed a piece of heavy debris to his left and clubbed the incoming Metal Sonic as hard as he could away from him. It landed beside him, but was not stunned.
“Primary directive dictates I must destroy Sonic the Hedgehog.”
It wasn’t the voice Knuckles had heard Metal Sonic use before – Metal’s greatest weapon was his sentiency. As it turned out, it had also been his creator’s greatest threat. But this voice was robotic, emotionless.
Knuckled didn’t have much time to think about what that meant. Recovering, Metal suddenly brandished two blades running the length of his forearms.
Knuckles turned, dove for a nearby rusty pipe. He swung around in time to parry Metal so they were nose to nose, horrible red eyes glaring into his with hate.
“Good to see you, too,” Knuckled huffed,
straining to hold the robot back. Up close, Knuckles could see Metal was far
from full strength. Three years being studied by GUN, and presumably putting
himself back together again in a short amount of time, had literally stripped
him of most of his body. Most of the armour on his body was missing, wire hung
from irregular areas, and he was missing his hands.
It was grotesque, and if his life wasn’t in danger Knuckles might have felt a grain of sympathy for what Metal appeared to have endured. But it was not nearly enough to overcome his impulse to put Metal out of his misery.
Probably due to the stripping of his body, Metal’s strength gave out to Knuckles’.
With a roar, Knuckles pushed the robot back, and whipped the pole straight up to rake across its body.
Metal flew back, splinters of blue metal torn from its torso.
Victory surged through Knuckles’ veins. He could kill it.
But Metal had sensed his own defeat. The two turbines on his bike whined to life, and Metal rushed backwards, and then into the air.
“Agh! Should’ve seen that coming.” cursed Knuckles, climbing onto a nearby roof. Without Tails or Sonic, there was no way to reach it. Bitterly, he watched the robot shrink into the distance.
But not without jeopardy.
A gunshot made Knuckles instinctively fall flat to roof. He looked wildly for the source, but then out of the corner of his eye saw Metal jerk randomly down.
Another shot, and Metal flopped in the air.
The shooter kept firing, but Metal had too much distance. He escaped.
Unable to see any sign of the shooter,
Knuckles’ climbed down.
“Vector,” he greeted the crocodile, stopping through the hole in the alley wall Metal had made. Vector had been sheltering from the fight and then the shooter.
“Who was that?” Vector asked, his usually coarse voice mingled with uncertainty and curiosity.
“Why weren’t you at my island!” Knuckles’
demanded. Though a third of Vector’s height, Knuckles had no problem harassing
the crocodile, and brandished his knuckles threateningly. Vector rolled his
eyes and swung his shoulder’s back in exasperation, further incensing the
echidna. “You could have just told GUN where he was!”
“They’re the ones that let him get out!” protested Vector, loudly. “Sonic wasn’t around – you weren’t around, Amy didn’t pick up, I didn’t know how to get in contact with Team Dark – I just picked an option!”
“By leaving my island!?”
“Knuckles, GUN doesn’t care about your stupid island!”
Knuckles was inches from hitting him. He would sooner throw himself from the island than believe GUN for a second when they said they had no interest in the Master Emerald.
“That’s the last time I ever ask you to look after it!”
“Fine – not like I was getting paid anyway.”
Enraged enough to burst, Knuckles had to do with punching the wall to expel some of the frustration whirling through him. Already devastated, the remainder of the wall buckled, then collapsed. Vector just thumped his tail to express his dissatisfaction with Knuckles’ behaviour.
Both of them stared daggers at each other until Charmy returned moments later.
“Knuckles!” he cheered.
“Is Sonic and Tails here!”
“Are Sonic and Tails here,” muttered Vector chidingly.
“Ah, no, they’re somewhere else right now.”
“Oh… Just that I think he’d have been happy to see his double again!”
“Yeah?” laughed Knuckles in spite of himself
(the funny thing was, knowing Sonic’s sense of adventure, he probably would),
“‘Cause imitation is the greatest form of flattery!”
“Right.” He shook his head as if Charmy’s ridiculous attitude was water to fling from his ears in order to think clearly. “If you two are here, where’s Espio?”
“Ah…” Vector’s eyes glazed for second, “Good point.” He put the headphones slung around his neck to his invisible ears, then fiddled with something that resembled a music player hooked to his belt.
“Did Tails make that for you?” asked Knuckles derisively.
“Espio, come in – you okay?”
After a pause, Kncukles’ keen ears heard Espio’s voice crackle over.
“I’m here. You better come see this.”
Espio wouldn’t say anymore, but gave them instructions to move downhill to scrap dealership. Knuckles assumed they weren’t going there to purchase third-grade transport.
In yet another dingy alley sweltering in the city's dirty sauna, they met with Espio amongst ruined car skeletons. Espio’s race, chameleon, did hail from South Mazuri – which still led to some bewilderment due to his Azumakai accent and fighting style. A skilled martial artist and an obvious camouflage and stealth expert, Espio was the only part of Team Chaotix that Knuckles felt had any place standing up to Robotnik or other nefarious associations.
Espio stood straight and taut as a bowstring, seemingly ready to explode at every moment. His every movement, or lack thereof, was calculated and decided. His words were likewise in their usage.
He was a little too intense, Knuckles thought, but a magnificent combat veteran – which said a lot given he was only Knuckles’ age of seventeen.
“Whatcha got, Espio?” asked Vector gruffly as they approached through the forest of decaying vehicles and appliances. Vector raised a surprised eyebrow as something caught his eye, “Don’t think that belongs here.”
Puzzled, Knuckles followed his eyeline. On the rotten hood of a car lay a long rifle. It was dirty and dull – but not from lack of attention. It was camouflauge.
Espio had their shooter. And Knuckles now had an inkling, an impossible inkling, of who it might be.
He strode forwards with urgency. Rounding the hood of the vehicle he saw a weasel in an overcoat and wide-brimmed hat slouched against it, hands casually raised to shoulder height.
It was Fang the Sniper. Back from the dead.