Chapter 22 - Unleashed

"Are you awake now?"

Dull green eyes opened slowly, but did not blink, nor show any sign of tiredness. The hedgehog pushed himself up to sit straight, and looked at the scientist who had spoken, answering with a half-silent nod.

The goggled man, sporting a comb-over and dingy lab-coat, scribbled something onto the clipboard he carried. Then asked the hero if his Energy levels had been replenished. Another affirmation resulted in more scribbling.

Shadow was still resting on a bed next to Sonic's and wasn't moving at all; it was like looking at a machine.

Not that Sonic really was looking. The hedgehog's eyes didn't wander from the scientist's face, like he couldn't move unless the human willed him to do so. The man's assistant was already starting to take notes on Shadow, asking him if he would wake up as well.

The dark creature instantly woke and sat up, looking at the human in front of him with a blank stare, slightly nodding or shaking his head in response to the question the human was asking him.

When they were done, another scientist came in front of them, "Follow me, we have a test to run on you two and your levels of Chaos Energy."

Sonic slid off the table with ease, waiting for Shadow to move before him, though why was unknown to the calculating mind.

Shadow quickly slid off from where he had been sitting and followed the human without a word.

They were lead to the same lab Sonic and his friends had been confined to before, but if the hero recognized any of it, there was no sign. The commander was waiting for them in the lab, however. The sapphire immediately went to his side.

The black hedgehog did the same, only he went on the other side, then, he waited for an order. The human petted them on the head, "Good, you two. Now, I want you two to form a sphere of Chaos Energy of medium power at my signal." He looked up from the two hedgehogs and went behind a glass.

"Is the equipment for reading Chaos Energy emissions ready to go?" He asked at one of the scientists

The assistant nodded, handing her superior a pair of protective goggles, to shield his eyes against the powerful light that was to come. "Everything is prepared to give a perfectly accurate read-out of their power level. The adjustment the fox attempted to sabotage our equipment with have been replaced with the original programming."

"Good." The commander nodded, then he looked at the two hedgehogs on the main room of the lab, "You may start." He said through a microphone.

On command, both hedgehog lifted their arms, and focused. Within seconds, both were crackling with what looked like electricity, flashing about their arms and hands before shifting into the center of the room, and forming into a large ball of swirling energy.

"Impressive..." The human commented to himself.

"Commander, and the readings are far more impressive." The female scientists said to him, "I never saw such high readings!"

"Increase power." He told the hedgehogs, eyes flashing eagerly. "Then we will test both of your powers separately."

Both Sonic and Shadow increased their output as much as they could, producing a sphere of multicolored swirling energy so huge that almost reached the ceiling of the room; yet, as much as they channeled Chaos Energy, none of the two hedgehogs seemed to flinch from fatigue.

"Perfect." The commander purred more smoothly than a cat, leaning forward, ignoring the instruments behind him, which were straining to give a correct readout. "Now, Sonic, withdraw your power. We'll measure Project: Shadow's potential first." The sapphire hedgehog's arms dropped the moment the human finished speaking.

The dark hedgehog kept up his task fairly well, and the sphere shrunk by half.

On the smaller room, a machine beeped, "We have all the results pertaining Project Shadow." The head scientist said to the commander.

"Very well. Sonic rejoin the power output, and once he is readjusted, Shadow, you will withdraw." The commander was grinning triumphantly. The hedgehog's were almost evenly matched in abilities. He would have a fighting force no one could defeat.

Once Shadow noticed that the sphere had reached its max level, he withdraw and let the other hedgehog continue the test on his own.

Sonic's power wavered for a moment, than grew to the exact same amount Shadow's had been before, as he pressed himself and his power to the limit.

Another beep from the machine told the staff that the readings were completed, "Sir, we have all the results now." One of the men in white coat said.

"That will be enough for now, you two."

Sonic let the energy fade instantly, and walked to the entrance of the antechamber the commander was in, just as the human exited.

The darker hedgehog, being nearer to the door, was there before his blue counterpart, and as soon as the commander came out of the smaller room, he looked up at him waiting a new order.

The officer smirked down at the two, and if he wasn't so insanely proud of his accomplishments, he might have laughed at the way the two furries tagged after him like ducklings. Of course, that's what the programming was for.

The commander motioned for the two to follow him, and he started walking towards a briefing room, earning some amazed stares from the other inhabitants of the base as the most dangerous hedgehog known as Project Shadow was following him around wordlessly.

Sonic trailed after, followed by a few of the soldiers, and though he didn't gain as many stares as Shadow, he earned enough for the people to keep their distance. The little train paused as the commander sat down at the head of the table, and clicked his way through a number of slides, before halting on one of a map, outlining the border of an foreign country.

The dark hedgehog looked at the slide, focusing all of his attention on examining it and on hearing what his Master said.

All the other officials sat down at the table and looked at the picture, and several gasp as they recognized the foreign country, "Commander, we can't invade an independent state! We'll surely end up having a war! We can't afford that!"

"We're not going to invade it. There is simply the matter that a rather remarkable gem resides in that country. It will increase our secret weapons powers, and when we have all seven, we will have nothing to worry about." The man motioned to the two hedgehogs. "Project: Shadow and Sonic will retrieve it for us."

"But they will recognize Sonic, and they will start an investigation, ending up to us."

"By the time they get the investigation started, it will be too late." The command gestured to Shadow and pointed to the opposite seat on the table, unoccupied. "Bring me that pen, if you would, Project."

The black hedgehog, understanding that his Master asked for a demonstration, instead of walking, he Chaos Controlled there, then back just a fraction of second later, handing the requested pen to his Master.

The others present gasped, and the officer grinned. "And Sonic can do the same. There is no need to worry about them being captured, or seen even. When they are not Chaos Controlling, they are both incredibly fast. We need not worry."

"So," One of the lower officers, "We're just sending them there without back up?"

"First, do you think that these two, or even one of them, would need any soldiers tagging along?" The commander mused. "They are perfectly able to fend for themselves. And sending troops after them would only key in our hand in the matter. No, this will be nothing big. Simply in a out, and quietly killing anyone in the way."

That made everyone in the base shut up quickly and stare at both hedgehogs, almost in disbelief; the silence was broken by one of the lower ranking humans, "Are we really sure that they are 100% under your control? Are we really sure that the manipulator did a good job? Last time it was so bugged that the Project almost touched insanity..."

The commander eyes narrowed. "Project: Shadow. Sonic. If you would...dispatch the non-believer."

Taking from the tone that he did not want the lackey dead, only punished, Sonic moved without so much as a blink, and in seconds, had twisted the speaking human's arms behind his back.

The dark hedgehog raised his right hand and channeled a non lethal dose of Chaos Energy there; then, he slowly started to make his way towards the target.

The blast wouldn't kill the human, but it would be painful.

Of course, the human didn't know that. He began to struggle wildly, as one would if they're life had been at stake, begging for mercy. Seconds before the Chaos Energy would have touched the captive's face, the human official called the two hedgehog's back to his side with a snap.

Shadow let the Chaos Energy in his hand dissipate and quietly walked back to the left side of the commander, waiting for an order and ignoring the various stares all the presents were giving him

Sonic let the man drop to the floor beside his chair carelessly, and teleported himself to the commander's right side, arriving just as Shadow did. The commander smiled at the men before him.

"Any other questions?"

All his lackeys shook their heads, minus one female captain, "When will the operation start?" She asked eyeing the darker hedgehog. The sight of the demonic looking creature unnerved her, but as long as he was under her commander's control, she cared little about the feeling.

"It is already underway." The commander stood, pushing back his chair, and leaving the room as briskly and smugly as he'd entered it. Now sooner had he left, the room erupted into careful whispers, but he paid them no mind. The hedgehogs were already following, totally under his command. His plans were going perfectly.

The commander briefly glanced down at his two minions as he walked down the corridor, then he handed Shadow a map, "That is the complex that is holding the Chaos Emerald. Memorize it. It will help you get in and back out." He said.

Sonic peered over his partner's shoulder at the map, skimming over it once, then going over it again, simply to be sure he had the schematics memorized.

The human took back the map and handed the dark hedgehog a photo of what resembled a walker, "They are not as powerful as ours, but they can be a problem if you're not careful. To defeat them easily and quickly, kill the pilot inside the cockpit located in the middle of the torso. One of your special attacks will be fairly effective against the thick armor."

Finally, he brought out a another photo, and showed it to both hedgehogs in turn, watching as Sonic's eyes carried a strange flicker of recollection, but ignored it. "And this," He said slowly, to make sure they soaked in every word. "Is the Chaos Emerald you will be retrieving."

The black hedgehog looked at the green gem carefully, then he nodded as he memorized it into his head without so much effort.

His blue fellow mimicked the affirmation, and the commander took the photo away.

"You are to get in and out as silently as possible. Do not leave the gem behind." The man stood fully, straightening so that he looked fairly intimidating. "And if you come across the intruders from before.."

"..your previous orders still stand."

Shadow nodded, then followed his Master again as the human led them to the hangar for the transportation towards the confine, "I want this operation to be successful. Is that clear? I WILL NOT tolerate a failure." He said as he walked out of the base and spotted the military helicopter,

"You will jump from the helicopter as soon as you reach land, then you will reach the compound on foot. Night will be a good time to move."

Both hedgehogs watched the human leave them on the rooftop, and the moment he was completely out of sight, and they were sure nothing else was to be said, they crossed to the copter, which had already revved up its engine, and climbed aboard.

Shadow turned around and climbed into the flying machine, sitting onto one of the two 'benches' inside; ignoring the stares the crew gave him.

Sonic was less ignorant, focused directly on the curious humans with an eerie glare, until they looked away. Then he too was seated.

The travel was a couple hours long, and from time to time the two pilots silently commented over the engine noise about their passengers thanks to their com link; it was unnerving to have those two emotionless creatures ready to kill someone at a simple command of their superior, especially the black one. They had heard all the stories pertaining the Project, and it was hard to believe that the commander had managed to subdue him.

Perhaps they were less uncomfortable with Sonic simply because he was a well-known hero. Virtually nothing was known about the ultimate life form, except that he had amazing power and was quite insane. Seeing the blue hedgehog on the news countless times from saving the Earth didn't give him much of a terrifying reputation.

Yes, seeing that same hero with a blank expression and dull eyes was still... unnerving...

"Ah! We're approaching land." One of the two pilots said, thankful that the two hedgehogs were going to leave soon.

Sonic got on his feet carefully, grasping the sliding door and pulling it open partway to look down from the helicopter. Below, the land was a mix of greens and brown, a few shocks of blue outlining what was probably small lakes, ponds, and maybe even large pools.

The black hedgehog stood beside him, then, without a word, he jumped from the helicopter without a parachute as his special shoes could slow down the descent once he was near the ground enough.

His sapphire partner went out seconds later, but instead of relying on hover shoes, like his partner, Sonic dipped into a free fall, waiting until the very last minute before impact, then going into a spin, so that he hit the ground like a saw. A cloud of dust later, the hero emerged, slightly scuffed, but in good condition. Then he turned his head to the sky, to watch the descent of his fellow.

Shadow touched the ground a few seconds later, then he looked at the surrounding; if the map of the zone was correct, the base holding the Chaos Emerald was beyond a forest located to the east; with a crack of his neck to get rid of the kinks there, he set off towards the said direction into a 'jogging' pace, looking out for eventual enemies.

Sonic pulled even with the other hedgehog in moments, but did not go any further. They had both been instructed to retrieve the Emerald, but Shadow seemed to be favored by their Master. As such, Sonic was naturally following the hedgehog's lead.

Finally, after an hour of 'slow' run, the two reached the forest, and Shadow immediately switched to the Chaos-based vision to see if there were enemies in it. There were no human or machine scout, but that was replaced by a tight surveillance from cameras and sensors; this would be tricky, but not hard. They expected intruders to walk on the ground, not on the tree tops.

Almost as if Sonic was reading the other hedgehogs mind, the sapphire bounded into the branches above, reaching the canopy in a matter of moments. The old Sonic would have never accomplished this feat, but this newer version had less than no trouble with balancing on the flimsy upper tree limbs.

Shadow quickly followed him, and both started to silently make their way towards the base; the dark hedgehog's calculating mind guessed that they would be at the perimeter near nightfall.

The other hedgehog, moving as quickly as possible, took in the security system beneath them. It was well done, for all the work the engineers had obviously put into it, but it wasn't anything that couldn't easily be outdone.

Finally, after some more minutes of tree hopping, the two creatures reached the base perimeter; it was well guarded, but nothing a Chaos Control couldn't out do.

Shadow looked up at the sky; it was almost nightfall; this made things for them even easier. humans couldn't see in darkness, and even if equipped with night-vision goggles, they couldn't see much. This would apply to them too, but the fact that they were hedgehogs, and not humans, and the fact that they could see into the spectrum of Chaos Energy solved the problem.

Sonic was already scanning the building's defense with the Chaos-based vision, noting that there were at least four of the mechs the commander had warned them about, plus quite a few guards on foot. They could easily Chaos Control past them, and into the facility.

Shadow stood erected on the branch, then looked over at Sonic for a silent confirm about the unspoken plan that ran into his head.

With an almost unseen nod to the other hedgehog, Sonic focused his mind on the base before them and whispered the command under his breath. Within seconds, the flash had appeared, and the azure furry had vanished into the building.

If he had been his old self, Shadow would have been proud of him; however, now he just Chaos Controlled inside, following the faint trail left during Sonic's own move during teleporting so he would appear right next to him.

Sonic waited only long enough for the other hedgehog to arrive, then began to make his way toward the Emerald, following the Energy signature, and keeping an eye out for guards.

They were too fast to be seen by security cameras, and with the occasional Chaos Control to avoid patrols, the two furries reached the outside of the chamber holding the Chaos Emerald.

It was an heavy door that blocked the passage, but another Chaos Control later, the two were into the room, with the green Chaos Emerald inside a bulletproof glass in the middle of the room and surrounded by machinery right in front of them.

Sonic immediately charged a Chaos Spear and thrust it into the heart of the case. The glass may have been built to withstand puny lead pellets, but Chaos Energy shattered the cover of the Emerald in seconds, expelling a shower of large shards of glass toward the two hedgehogs.

As soon as the case shattered, alarms went off and the door of the entrance was covered by another security door; Shadow barely acknowledge it before going to the pedestal and retrieved the gem.

When his hand connected with the Chaos Emerald, unknown to him, something in his mind slightly stirred.

The footsteps of the approaching foot soldiers were pounding in Sonic's sensitive ears and the sapphire hedgehog was instantly at his partner's side, already passing a message that they could use the power of the Emerald to combine their Chaos Controls and move twice as far. They would be on the other side of the forest in seconds, and the enemy would be none the wiser.

The dark hedgehog held up the emerald for the other to touch; his right ear pivoted towards the door as he heard a voice on the other side, screaming to someone to open the door instantly.

His partner grasped the gem lightly, and tapped into the surge of power surrounding it, his senses magnified tenfold within seconds.

Unlike his old self, who would have lingered, observing the multiple heartbeats of the humans outside, and the feeling of everything around him, this Sonic shut all distractions out and began to gather Chaos Energy, this time not only around himself, but his fellow as well.

Shadow helped him in the task, and a few seconds later, the two hedgehog vanished into a bright display of white light.

When the humans on the other side of the door managed to open the two doors, what they saw was nothing more than a broken pedestal and a missing emerald.

Back along the country's borders, a secondary helicopter hovered above ground, the commander himself peering out into the darkness. He wanted to witness the mission's success firsthand. The hedgehogs would either make or break his plans in the next moment.

A large flash of green light caught the human's attention immediately, and he ordered the pilot to dip downward for a closer view, his mind already gleefully cheering his minions on.

The pilots looked down at the ground, but where able to see only a faint shape of royal blue amongst the darkness of the night; but as soon as they were low enough, they also acknowledged the red streaks of the Project: Shadow. The dark hedgehog paid their fearful stares no mind and he just jumped into the helicopter, showing the commander the precious gem.

Sonic was up after his look-alike, and the copter was in the air again, seconds later, the door already being closed and the pilot charting their course for the base. In the passenger compartment, the commander grinned down at the two hedgehogs, "I see you succeeded."

Shadow merely nodded as he stood in front of the commander, not even sitting if the human didn't say so.

His sapphire partner made no move at all; the black and crimson hedgehog's affirmation had been enough to prove the outcome of the mission. The commander gestured for the two furries to sit down quickly, partially having forgotten that they wouldn't unless he told them to. "Good, good. This puts us right on schedule." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

Shadow nodded again at his master and went to sit on the opposite bench from where the commander was sitting, then he looked at him, knowing for sure that he was not here to compliment them; he could have done that when they had returned to the base.

Indeed, the commander proved their theory correct, lacing his fingers together to look intently at the two hedgehogs before him. "You have retrieved the first of the seven jewels; I'm sure I don't have to tell you that you're expected to also obtain the other six. We have knowledge of the second one, resident in one of Station Square's smaller museums, but beyond that one, our sources fail us. We are not completely certain of the other five's whereabouts."

The dark hedgehog looked down at the green emerald, then back at the commander, silently asking for permission to talk.

"Speak, Project: Shadow," The commander waved his hand, and though his hands and face showed nothing but careless apathy to the hedgehog's wish, his hooded eyes warned the life form that whatever he said next had better be important, and to the point.

"Chaos Emeralds attract each others." He said in an emotionless voice, sure that this knowledge would please his Master.

And it did, for the human official smiled. "Which tells me that you will both be more than able to track the other five Emeralds down on your own. However, I do not want you to spilt up to search. It may take less time, but it increases the chances of us being caught."

Shadow faintly nodded again, understanding, then he stood immobile, waiting for the helicopter to take them to their next destination.

"We're here," The commander said, before the pilot could open his mouth, and the copter dipped, hovering close to the roof off the well-known building. Sonic was on his feet in a moment, and the commander allowed him to dislodge, speaking to both as the hedgehogs got down from the copter.

"You are to report to the base after all the Emeralds have been located and are in your custody. From this point on, GUN will not take any part in freeing you if you are captured, because if you are, it will be by your own faults." The man stood tall and looked down at the silent furries. "All previous orders stand still, you will allow no one to get in your way."

The dark hedgehog nodded, remembering extremely well the previous orders the commander had given them, then he silently stared at him, waiting to be ordered to start the mission.

The final order was not given through the commander's words. Rather it was by the lifting of the helicopter into the night, abandoning both hedgehog on the rooftops to deal out their mission how they chose, though the only real choice was that they would do so without delay and without failure.

Shadow briefly watched as the helicopter with his master silently disappeared into the night, then he turned around and walked to the edge of the roof, looking down at the street; nobody was around, and it was extremely quiet. Turning around, he looked if he could find another way in as busting through the main doors would only leave too much evident traces; something that could lead to them too soon, and Chaos Control could result in a disaster.

Without saying a word, he walked past his blue companion and stopped in front of an air duct's opening; at first, it was horizontal, then after a few feet it dipped vertically into a building. It was too small for a human, but for a hedgehog it was perfect. He easily took the grate away from the opening and entered into it, and when he was to the vertical drop, he started hovering into place, waiting for Sonic so he could silently hover down the way with him.

The cerulean hedgehog had been watching his fellow the entire time, and seemed almost hesitant to go near the air duct. Perhaps some part of the original personality in the hero's mind still lingered, Sonic always had been uneasy in tight spaces, but if that was so, the newer inhabitant won out, and the azure furry moved forward to the duct's entrance.

Shadow hovered to a corner and let the other hedgehog enter the small place, letting him stand on his air sneaker and grabbing him by the waist so he wouldn't fall during the descent; then, very slowly, he started to diminish the energy output from his shoes and hovered down the duct.

Some deeper instinct within Sonic made him react almost immediately to the darkness of the duct, digging his fingers into his partner's arm for a moment, and in that same instant, there was a slight flicker of apprehension. Then the furry relaxed, and went blank again, not so much out of trust as that getting inside the building was key to the success of the plan.

Soon, the dark hedgehog touched the end of the air duct and deactivated his hover shoes, then he crouched and looked around; there where three ways, and he chose the one at his right as it led towards the direction where his Chaos-based vision had located the second Chaos Emerald.

Sonic moved after the dark hedgehog, guarding the rear carefully, sweeping over the compound with his Chaos vision. Both could easily spot the infra-red beams on that level of inner sight, making it fairly simple dodging and careful weaving of the laser web. As for guards, it appeared that the only ones were on the outside of the building. And robots? There was none to speak of.

Finally, after several minutes of careful navigation, the two arrived to the room holding the yellow Chaos Emerald; quickly getting off of the Chaos-based vision, and slightly blinking at the sudden darkness, Shadow silently pried a grate from its place, then jumped down and landed with a silent 'thud'.

Sonic waited until the other had moved far enough away from the opening of the duct, and then also proceeded to vault to the ground, landing a little harder than Shadow had, but nothing that would set off the alarms.

His eyes flicked to the three nearby security cameras, the kind that rotated to capture the whole room one film, and sent a few sparks of Chaos Energy at them, melting the lenses and causing each to short-circuit in turn. With a shadow of a smirk crossing his face, he stood from his bowed position, and looked to the other hedgehog for the next step.

Shadow merely turned around and charged up a Chaos Spear in his right hand, then with the left one he pointed the emerald to Sonic, indicating that after he had launched the attack, they would have to bolt for it and then teleport away and out of the building.

Sonic, if it had been in his corrected nature, might have applauded the plan. It was something overall simple, easy. He could understand it. Bracing his feet, he focused on making a small Chaos Control, creating a curve in the path so that he would automatically return to Shadow's side, and they could use the same long-range teleporting trick they had recently learned.

It took the black hedgehog just a few more seconds to reach a good amount of charge, then he unleashed it towards the bulletproof chase; the glass exploded into thousands pieces as the Chaos Spear slammed into it with unthinkable violence.

With a flash of speed, one arm swiping out to grasp the Emerald, and transporting himself back to the other's side, grasping his partner and tapping into the Emeralds they possessed in order to draw out another Chaos Control.

As soon as he felt the familiar tingle of the beginning of a Chaos Control, Shadow took over the lead and instantly teleported both of them outside the museum, atop the roof of the building standing on the other side of the street.

Once they were out, he looked at the yellow gem that Sonic was holding in his left hand; with that, they had two out of seven, and he was going to make sure that the other five where in his master's hands as soon as possible.

Sonic was also examining the yellow gem, thoughtfully almost, if there was really room for thought in the new frame of enslaved mind the hedgehog possessed. His brow suddenly furrowed, as though he was struggling to remember something distant and blurred about it. The ungloved fingers gripped the yellow gem for a moment, then he looked at his fellow from the corner of his eyes.

"The human called Ivo Robotnik...he possesses one of these..."

The black and red hedgehog merely nodded, then let his companion lead the way since he knew where this human was located, and thus leaving the zone to the policemen that were now arriving; too bad for them that by the time they got there, they would be far away.