Chapter 7 - Nickel Remembers
“This gets complicated,” called Knuckles, “I came down here a few hours ago for the first time in years and I deciphered some of it, but it’s as vague as it is faded. The first wall and its illustration talk of, of course,” he let sarcasm drench his voice, “of a coming cataclysm that happened thousands of years ago, presumably at the dawn of the Echidnas or maybe even before.” He waved at the illustrations flickering in the light upon the giant wall, “It was a time of peace, shown by the greenery and fruits – that’s an Echidna cultural symbol. Interestingly enough though, somewhere this does say that this cataclysm did not happen to the Echidnas, but some other race.”
“Like…?” prompted Tails.
“You’ll find out,” there was excitement in Knuckles’ voice, “Anyway, somebody in this race of people found something, something powerful, and it’s foreshadowed on this wall that whatever he found, ‘was destined for demise’.”
“Cheery.” Sonic said.
Knuckles finished reading the first template, and moved onto the second slab of wall. There were seven in total to tell the faded tale.
“This one talks about a ‘battle of thought’, probably some clash of ideals in thousands-of-years-Before-Calendar Echidna vocab. And it introduces these key players in this coming cataclysm – the Six, the head of which is directly referred to as a king. This ‘King’ put in place a plan to use whatever he had found to summon some great power which here is talked about as something inherently evil… like I said, vague.”
“I don’t get how this has anything to do with me,” said Nickel uncomfortably, “What if we’re way off base?”
They moved to the third template. The pictures were greatly faded, and the runes Knuckles read were gibberish to anybody else. Primitively etched on the wall, however, was very clearly the Master Emerald, surrounded by dozens of humanoid figures.
“Humans?” asked Sonic, genuinely surprised, “wait…”
“We never paid too much attention to this wall, but it is very very old. In the time this was made, humans were meant to be nomad tribes in what is now the U.F belt, Mazuri and in Chun Nan. But this picture pretty clearly shows them as something more organised. This… could even be a civilisation – but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
“Yeah, before you rewrite history,” smirked Sonic, and Knuckles looked slightly abashed. The concept that humans had a civilisation before the Echidnas was groundbreaking.
“This wall talks about a resistance against the Six. You can see the humans painted in different colours, and here one or two integrated into the mass of opposite colour. They’ve infiltrated them. Here, this bit: ‘seven hearts spurred, before the King. Hearts made glorious, do the powers sing.’ Something big was about to happen, but from the next wall it all went wrong.”
“Hearts? What?” asked Amy, blankly.
“I know, I was lost, too,” said Knuckles, excitement creeping into his voice, “but then I thought about it, and it’s just the vocab back then, it probably refers to something else. Echidna symbols see the heart of a sentient creature as something precious and powerful – and I think I know what this refers to! Just let me finish.”
Knuckles read the template of the fourth wall while the others gazed in awe at the faded paintings. “Basically the world holds it breath as everything is set to be devastated. The Six gain some sort of monumental power, and I mean like massive. This text here calls them ‘Deities’, and that’s pretty heavy considering that to the Echidnas gods and deity’s were all the same thing. But, surprise surprise, at the last moment this head of the resistance, this hero, steps up and saves the day:‘but in the moment of truth, a resisting hero rose to knowing part, and laid his trust upon the seven hearts’.”
The picture on the wall was of that last line; a hand with seven grey objects at the fingertips.
Sonic said flatly, “I don’t get it.”
“Well wait a moment for me to finish and you might! All the text is gibberish to me from here on in, I didn’t have enough time to decipher any more. All we have are the pictures.”
Sonic hid is exasperation, and surveyed the last two walls. He shared Nickel’s discomfort, this did not appear to have anything to do with them.
The fifth wall was rent in half by a giant crack in the earth. But the sixth was more helpful. Six large silhouettes were in poses that suggested great pain. A blue, humanoid figure in the centre had its arms raised, holding eight differently painted orbs below a vicious tear of light and colour in the shape of what was undoubtedly the Master Emerald. One orb was painted many different colours, all perfectly measured and separated, though the fade made them seem smudged.
“I don’t think it matters that we don’t have the entire story...” gasped Tails, knocking his fist on the wall in excitement. His eyes were fixed on the sixth wall.
“Why? What does it mean?” pressed Amy; confused.
“If this is what I think it is,” said Tails, sounding as if he was controlling the urge to whoop with excitement, “then this is the creation of the Chaos Emeralds.”
“Bit of a stretch, don’t you think?” asked Sonic, sceptically, “the number seven pops up all the time, I’m sure Echidna mythology has some other ‘seven heart’ analogy, right Knux?”
“Well, uh, maybe, I don’t really… I’m not sure...”
Sonic chanced a sideways glance at Knuckles, and hastily let the matter drop.
“Then, how am I involved?” murmured Nickel, “I’ve never heard of this at all, and why would there be eight...” he trailed off, suddenly looking paler than usual. “The Rainbow Emerald...”
Suddenly he gasped, and staggering back slightly. Nobody noticed, they were all too intent on the discovery.
Tails continued, “Sonic, I’m sure this is it! I dunno where the Rainbow Emerald comes into it; it only says the Resistance created seven, in the picture there’s eight.” Tails thought aloud, “But I’m sure this Nyx character must be one of the Deities! Nyx and five others get together and try to... do something... are you sure you can’t do more with the translation, Knuckles?”
Knuckles shot him a dirty look, and said snappily, “Well why don’t you translate old Echidna when you only know half of the present language to begin with?”
“Okay, okay, I-I understand...”
Tails was looking affronted, so Sonic took over, “Somehow this Six try to do something, not everyone agrees, a Resistance is made and they infiltrate the Six, everything goes wrong when they summon this ‘ultimate threat’, and somehow the Chaos emeralds are involved. Wow, bestselling stuff that.”
“Yeah, Sonic, it’s vague we get it. But here the seven emeralds are all grey,” said Knuckles, gesturing to the fourth wall, “colour was hugely symbolic to the ancient Echidnas, so that’s not to be overlooked. What did the ‘resisting hero’ do to stop the Six? And how did the emeralds become how they are today? Not to mention how on Mobius is the Master Emerald involved. I can’t find mention of it, only that wonky picture.”
“The fifth and sixth templates might have explained that,” replied Sonic gesturing to the faded walls where the runes should have been.
“Or it could all just be a huge coincidence,” muttered Amy, looking over at Cream and Nickel for support, but was startled to see one of them in a terrible way: “Hey, Nickel, are you alright?”
Sonic had not noticed Nickel collapse to the floor, his breathing shallow and quick. His topaz eyes were wide and seemed to stare off into nowhere. Sonic cocked his head as he studied Nickel’s expression.
“We’ll get to the surface,” said Knuckles, “oxygen here isn’t exactly brilliant.”
Amy bent down and hauled him to his feet.
“I’ll help, too!” suggested Cream, helpful as ever as she saw Amy struggling to walk with Nickel towards the giant doors. Even Cheese chipped in.
“I think things will speed up a bit if I do the walking,” Sonic sneered, though with no insult intended. In a blaze of blue, he had rammed into Nickel’s back and was half-carrying him to the surface, blasting out of the gap between the giant doors, and though the huge slabs of stone must have weighed some incredible amount, they still were dragged forward slightly in the slipstream.
“Sonic, let go!” cried Nickel, eyes watering from the intense speed and the dust.
It did not matter; they were already in the last cavern. Bright white light flooded in from the outside, partially blinding them. Sonic became slightly apprehensive when they stopped and Nickel automatically put twelve feet distance between them, collapsing to his knees at the end.
“It’s all my fault... all mine... she...why...?” he seemed barely in control.
“Nickel, you’ve remembered something?” questioned Sonic from the other side of the cavern.
Nickel did not answer. Sonic saw his shoulders begin to shake as his whole body trembled with tears.
“Whoa, ah, Nickel – I know it’s all been a bit hectic but you’re with me and my team, nothin’s gonna go wrong now” –
But Sonic jumped as Nickel shouted with uncharacteristic venom, “You know nothing!” He pushed himself to his feet, and then looked at him strangely. In an instant, his looked softened. “I need to get home and figure out a way to stop Nyx. And my… brother. I need to find my brother before...” Without glancing once at Sonic, he started towards the caverns exit.
“Whoa, who said anything about stopping anyone?!” said Sonic, alarmed. “Who’s Nyx?”
Quick as a flash he had caught up to Nickel. “And if we do then you don’t need to do it by yourself...” He placed a hand on Nickel’s shoulder, pulling him back slightly to stop him.
“JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Nickel swiped out at Sonic, who dodged the fist but not the psychokinetic blow. The energy slammed into him like a truck, throwing him twenty feet backwards, straight into Knuckles who, with the others right behind him, had just entered the cavern from the confusing network of tunnels.
Both of them fell sprawled to the ground; stunned. Immediately Tails and Amy helped them to their feet.
“Get your quills outa my face, you stupid hedgehog!”
“Echidna’s aren’t exactly a velvet cushion, Knux!”
“Nickel why would you do such a thing?!” cried Cream angrily. It was always quite surprising how such a small voice seemed to impact you so very much when she wanted it too – Nickel was no exception. Arms still raised, Nickel felt frozen. He simply looked at the small gang, unsure what to say.
Then he turned and fled into the blinding white light of the outside.
“Wait, Nickel!” yelled Sonic, jumping to his feet and sprinting after him. He could only think that the kid must have remembered something, and whatever it was it had terrified him.
“Sonic, wait up!” said Knuckles, all five of them now in full pelt after the hedgehog.
Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, Amy and Cream burst out into the light, just below the Master Emeralds’ courtyard. Nickel was half running, half flying down the steep white stairs of the temple.
“Where does he think he’s going?” queried Knuckles. Amy gasped.
“Couldn’t he just jump straight off the island? He’d land fine with his PK.”
“Nickel!” yelled Sonic, cupping his hands around his mouth so his voice would carry further. But Nickel was quickly disappearing into the rainforest.
“I’ll catch him,” said Sonic to his friends. Before anybody could say anything Sonic was halfway down the temple.
Nickel was now
out of sight, concealed by the dense rainforest that was Angel Island. Sonic,
too, disappeared into the momentous flora, ripping a path of upturned soil an
undergrowth behind him.
He was so focused on the flickers of white ahead of him, he did not notice something dark incoming from his periphery.
A ball of extremely hot Chaos energy forced him to diverted his course. The golden lance did not come close to hit him, however, but it did land its mark on one naturally flammable element of the rainforest.
The tree’s base burst into flames, sending black smoke billowing into the air.
“Him?” Sonic asked aloud. Why on Mobius was Shadow here? He was going too fast to look behind him, so he sped up.
Gold spears would not kill him like the more deadly red ones, but they would sting more than a stun gun, worth avoiding as if they were bullets. Sonic did not stop. He screamed through the rainforest, a blur of blue and red, reacting at speeds unfathomable to anybody else on the planet.
Except perhaps Shadow.
Out of his peripherals, Sonic could see a rampage following not half a second behind, and tried to keep in as straight a line as possible – not that he did not think he could take Shadow. He just did not want to get held up and risk losing Nickel.
At least, that was what his swelled over-confidence told him.
They were heading to Angel Island’s north (it rotated slowly, so it had a fixed north different to the rest of the planet’s to make directions easier), which meant soon entering the heaviest mountain terrain upon the island, about two minutes of running away.
But they were still in the rainforest – Sonic knew he had a chance to catch Nickel on the less obstructive mountains, but if he didn’t keep up while in the dense foliage Nickel would still find away to get out sight and out of the game. Sonic could see him just ahead, keeping his distance.
Something hot approached from behind, and Sonic ducked just in time before a small but searing Chaos spear flew overhead, smashing into another tree, The shockwave buffeted Sonic, but the thought of what sort of injury he would sustain if he crashed at these sorts of speeds was good incentive to rev his feet harder and find solid earth.
He thought he heard a familiar, gravelly voice yell something, but the wind whipped it from his ears.
They were now sloping downhill, steeper and steeper – Nickel, probably half-flying as he fled, would barely notice, but Sonic would have to kick things up a notch if he wanted to keep up.
A huge tree, probably over two metres across had partially fallen into the leafy arms of its surrounding comrades, forming a sort of crude plank that jutted out over the rapidly descending slope to a drop of nearly thirty feet. It gave Sonic an idea.
“Chaos Spear, this!” called Sonic over his shoulder, not altogether sure Shadow could hear. It made him feel better anyway.
Sonic charged up the fallen tree, gathering power in his legs, and when he reached the very tip, jumped. Now in the air, he could take a second to look behind.
Shadow, right on his heels and thus unable to make the snap decision, was not so game. He held back by just before he would have charged right over the edge, nearly hissing in distaste. It gave Sonic a note of triumph as he flew through the open air – if things had been serious Shadow would have no doubt taken the risk. Behind him flames and billowing smoke traced their path through the rainforest.
Sonic whooped with the exhilaration as his momentum carried him for one, two, three seconds in freefall, then he hit the thinning canopy.
In a perfect example of recklessness that should never be awarded with style, much less survival, Sonic grappled with a supple, bendy branch to swing down to the forest floor, and then broke his fall within the soft and damp soil below with a powerful Sonic Spin, fluidly rolling into a spindash to absorb further impacts. He barely recognised how lucky his daredevil act had been. He didn’t care.
“Follow that, faker!” Sonic yelled, charging after Nickel.
Rouge had just touched down on the grey tarmac of Central City’s busy, loud yet coordinated GUN aircraft. She was met by a dark-skinned man she knew by reputation alone; Major Redfreid. Apparently he was a war hero from the Robotnik war when he had been a paratrooper. He now commanded a small-team task force distinguished by cybernetic enhancements to the core members. She would have to do some homework on whether any had a background in the Black Fleet.
Like all GUN field agents he wore a black, armoured uniform and cap, with a golden insignia on his right shoulder to signify his rank. His anti-flash sunglasses completely obscured his eyes.
“Nice to meet you, Rouge,” he said, shaking her hand with a grin full of large white teeth on his face. Because of his immense size (he must have weighed in at three hundred pounds) he had to bend down slightly to reach her. Even though his eyes were hidden underneath those large glasses, Rouge still felt the smile was genuine. The sleaziness and arrogance that built itself in senior officers was not present here. “Commander had a lot of praise for you.”
“Nice to meet you too, sugar” she said, “mind tellin’ me what I’m doin here now?”
She looked at Redfreid carefully, searching for these famed robotic implants. But he appeared completely normal.
“As far as I can tell the Commander wants somebody he knows can keep a straight head – I had to move a talented soldier off my team for you, so you better be worth it.”
“Are you about to give me a reason to lose my head?”
“If all goes
right, we’re going to intercept one of the anthrohumans that attacked in Hill
Top this morning.”
“He’s an anthrohuman now?” said Rouge.
Redfreid shrugged, “Well he ain’t human.”
Rouge had to hold back an irritated expression.
“He stowed away in a flight heading to downtown Empire City, it’s two hours to drive so we’re taking a chopper there.”
“And you can’t just ground the flight? Hijacked?”
“No, the pilots are aware he’s there but have made clear they have no intention on letting him know that.” Redfreid took a bulky tablet from under his arm and handed it to her. “This will explain it better.”
Rouge glared to warn him she did not appreciate her time being wasted, then turned on the device. A video prompted her to play it.
She was met with a wonky, fuzzy picture. A helmet-cam. At crouching level, the human crept forward past barbed wire half-buried in snow.
Her eyes flicked to Redfreid. “This is from Hill Top?”
Redfreid’s huge boots made heavy footfalls on the concrete, and his strides were four times the size of Rouge’s. She had to fly to keep up. Warehouses and large trucks passed by them, some of them full of armed soldiers, but Rouge barely noticed them. She kept her eyes fixed on the screen.
The soldier crept forward, two female soldiers in front of him. They held their weapons poised, their faces completely concealed by specialised snow goggles.
Rouge flinched back from the screen as from somewhere off screen a heavy object smashed into the leader, flinging her away into the snow. The remaining two swung left and opened fire. Rouge flicked pause as soon as the soldier’s cam glimpsed the perpetrator. His skin or fur was white, so he camouflaged inconveniently well. Blue, luminescent gas emanated off his faint silhouette.
“That would most definitely upset me if I was flying first class San Peinot to Empire City. Which one is this?”
“’Scuse me, ma’am?”
“The Commander informed me himself there were two at Hill Top, one was a white hedgehog. There was no description of the second. Is this him?”
that’s where my security clearance ended.”
Rouge looked at the image again. Sure, the fur or skin colour appeared to be white, but as far as she knew even the most interesting hedgehogs she had met did not sweat blue light.
“The Commander wouldn’t let U.F military handle this?” asked Rouge, “He sent Major Redfreid and his troupe or deranged cyborgs?”
He didn’t hide his amusement. “You don’t like cyborgs, huh?”
“I just thought that GUN thought they belonged in the third world.”
like that, we don’t glue old Robotnik machines to ourselves.”
They had met their destination. Redfrield called loudly, “Alright!”
They had reached the chopper, basically a large, blocky chopper with two massive MagnoThermal rings where propellers should have been. The inside was lined with harnesses and seats on either side, the cockpit seated three. Around the aircraft were GUN soldiers, only one anthrohuman, a tall, heavy-set leopard. Redfreid’s white-skinned clone, or so he appeared, seemed to be comparing armour with a sturdy woman with fiery-red hair. A smaller man, the smallest of the lot, inspected the craft. His gait was timid, but their was a meticulousness in the way he gazed at the helicopter. The final man seemed too young to Rouge, not a day over eighteen, but that was ridiculous, Redfreid’s squad was meant to renowned for their experience. His sandy hair stuck up at odd angles.
She was stumped to realise she could not see evidence of cybernetics in any of them.
“Time to move out! We’re leaving in five and I want it in three.”
The leopard watched with longing as his teammates stomped on board.
“I know him,” said Rouge suddenly, “Nuka?”
“Hope you’re worth it, lady,” he said gruffly, storming past them. His thick grey fur was damp with sweat from the unnecessary uniform.
“Your boss seemed to think so,” replied Rouge with a suddenly delicious smile, “I’ll let him know we bumped into one another.”
The leopard’s eyes narrowed, but he was unsure. He marched off without another word.
seriously gonna complain to the CO about that?” asked Redfreid, “‘Cause I don’t
need the paperwork.”
“Nuka knows what I meant,” Rouge sassed. She scanned the team again with meticulous eyes, searching for any information to use to her advantage. Quite comfortable with the situation, she purred, “By the way, who is the CO?”
Redfreid nodded to a woman with the straightest back Rouge had ever seen. She stood about thirty feet away, speaking fast to some faceless man beside her. A glittering array of medals covered her breast like a metal plate.
“Ah, Gekidoku,” commented Rouge, she gave an inch of a smile.
“Yeah. Between you and me, I know she’s got a stick up her backside but she a right side better than Gungrave.”
“You used to work under him?”
“He used to
have control of my entire squad. After what happened in Hill Top, he personally
wants control of the investigation.”
“The other half of the investigation, obviously?”
“Yeah. If I’m lucky, he’ll stumble on that Egg Carrier.”
Rouge chuckled. “If it makes you feel any better, your problems with bosses can’t be half as bad as mine.”
“Nickel, just wait!” yelled Sonic. He had slightly underestimated the hedgehog; he was far more agile than he had originally thought. Nickel, using his psychokinesis, flitted through the trees quickly and fluidly, managing to keep a constant distance from Sonic.
Sonic didn’t know where Shadow had gone – he had lost him, but he knew better than to think that the hedgehog would just give up the chase. Neither did he know where Tails and the others were, but they could take care of themselves. His only worry was that they might run into Shadow – he probably wouldn’t hurt them, especially not Cream or Tails, but he didn’t want Knuckles to try something stupid. Shadow would not have any qualms about knocking back someone his own size. And Amy had proven herself fair game before.
He suddenly reprimanded himself, ‘Hark at me, I’m worrying over the Knucklehead and her – better focus.’
He turned every ounce of his attention to the white and blue blur ahead, not twenty feet away. Like a blue flame, the psychokinetic energy burned strong behind Nickel, except instead of the searing heat one might expect, Sonic could feel the residue like freezing gas as he kept in Nickel’s slipstream.
They reached the base of a cliff about thirty feet high. The rocky cliffs here rimmed about a third of Angel Island. The trees were thinner here, only the odd one amongst the tough shrubs, and now Sonic had the advantage.
He revved his feet, surging forwards with the burning energy.
Nickel knew this, and didn’t even have time to check Sonic’s progress before the spiky blue blur was upon him. Sonic hooked his arms under Nickels, trapping them. He threw both feet out in a braking manoeuvre, but Nickel managed to wiggle and use his psychokinesis to displace Sonic, and send them both crashing to the ground.
If quills are good for one thing it’s for skidding. Sonic caught the sandy earth on his back, and, not letting go of Nickel, directed their insane crash as smoothly as he could.
They skidded to a halt not a foot from a thickset rock formation. The dust around them, disturbed, swirled above their heads, turning the world orange.
“Nickel, enough!” Sonic yelled, holding the white hedgehog to the ground as he struggled to get free. Sonic guessed as long as Nickel couldn’t get his palms to face him then Sonic could not be affected by his psychokinesis.
“What are you going to do?” cried Nickel, still trying to get his arms free, “stop me from leaving?”
Sonic let Nickel go, taking a few steps back, but he didn’t apologise.
“Right, this is ridiculous, what’s so bad that you’re trying to throw yourself off the island!” said Sonic.
Nickel rose to his feet, jaw and fists clenched, “You don’t have the right to tell me what to do! If it wasn’t for you, I’d still have my emerald!”
“If you want to leave go right ahead, but you don’t need to go it alone. You’ll have a much better chance of doing whatever it is you need to do if you come with us.”
“And you, Sonic, will have no chance at all if you do not come with me.”
Walking out off the scrub in front of them; was Shadow; one Chaos spear pointed directly at them.
Sonic sighed exasperatedly, and spread his arms wide in a mock bow at the approaching hedgehog. His unnatural red streaks were as vibrant as his fur was black.
Raising a gloved fist, the blue orb on the back of his palm glowing angrily, Nickel yelled: “Who the heck are you?”
Sonic winced; good question, wrong way to state it; especially to Shadow.
Shadow turned the aim of his spear on Nickel instead, growling: “I could ask you the same...” but he trailed off.
“White hedgehog...” he murmured. Something seemed to flicker in Shadow’s face.
Sonic had a bad feeling.
Shadow’s red eyes flicked from Nickel, to Sonic, and back to Nickel again, before amping the power in his spear, angrily. It burst from a simmering orange to gold-white light, now roaring dully.
“How did you get here from Hill Top so fast?” he said angrily to Nickel.
“What are you?” –
Shadow barked, “You’re under arrest, put your arms on the ground!”
Nickel’s resolve had wavered, the anger emanating of Shadow tapping all the right nerves to turn a person into a shaky mess, “What are you talking about?” His eyes flicked to Sonic. “Arrest!?”
“Whoa, let’s all just calm down,” cried Sonic, jumping between them. He pushed Nickel roughly behind him, facing off against the angry, dark coloured hedgehog in front of him.
“Get out of my way,” growled Shadow, leaning forward as he began to skate towards them.