Chapter 23 - Fight
"Is that all you can say?" Mary asked, trying conceal the growing smile. Knuckles and Tails had more than been impressed, but at least they had been able to quell any undignified shows of awe. Rouge however, seemed quite taken with their surroundings
It was obvious the bat was a city oriented person, and had seen quite a bit. Retro hot springs resorts however, were not at the top of that list.
"Wow. Really just...wow..."
The young woman grinned and motioned for the group to follow her; she walked to the huge Japanese stile gate and opened it with a key she had obtained years ago from the late owner of the complex.
"It's old and dusty, but it's still good looking, am I right?" She asked to her new friends.
"Good looking's an understatement..." Rouge mumbled, gazing at the feudal era stylized building, featuring a three story building modeled after a temple, given a green curtain by hanging ivy strands, with even a crumbling jade dragon perched on the roof to give it a ancient flair. "It gorgeous..."
Mary smiled, "And you should see the hot springs! They are huge!" She exclaimed excitedly.
"Later Mary." Knuckles said warningly, his tone reminding them how serious the situation was. "We're here to hide, not enjoy ourselves, remember."
"The planes have cleared the area for now..." Tails murmured softly, eyes trained on the skies above them. "No telling when they'll come back though..."
"Oh, shut up, echidna. You sure are blind." Rouge commented as she walked after the human, entering into the ancient looking building.
The Guardian glared at the retreating back of the girl, ignoring Tails darting around him as he seethed. Something about that female was utterly infuriating. Worse than Sonic. Well...almost. Close, but not quite; they were toeing the line though.
"Come on, you dim-witted anteater!" Rouge called back to him.
If it wasn't for the fact that they needed her, he would have bolted after the bat and choked her to death; instead, he limited himself on relaxing and walking after the trio.
Rouge smiled, and returned her attention to following Mary's lead, knowing full well she was seriously rubbing Knuckles the wrong way. If she had to be dragged off on this trip without so much as a shopping mall nearby, and for no real reason, at least she could enjoy herself.
"We're here." Mary announced, turning back to face them.
Tails looked around in awe; they where into the reception of the hot springs' hotel, and it looked... beautiful even if the place was unused by years, "Wow." He commented as he stared up at the ceiling, which was painted with a Chinese dragon soaring into a sky, white puffs of clouds all around it.
"Yeah, it's still exactly the same." Mary grinned, proud of herself. "Okay, if everything's really as I remember, the hot springs are over that way," She swept her arm to the left, "...and the guest rooms are straight up those stairs on the upper levels. Then the kitchen and stuffs to the right.."
"Is there a TV or a radio around here?" The small fox asked looking around, "I'd like to hear the news of the day."
"There's one behind the reception desk, but this place has been deserted at least five or six years. I can't tell you for sure whether it works or not." She was already swiping a pair of keys from the wall, before looking to the bat and Guardian.
"So you two lovebirds getting a room together or what?"
Knuckles stared at her, then started to literally fume, "Are... you... KIDDING?!" He asked with venomous voice.
Rouge on the other hand was far past yelling, resigning herself to simply stomping her foot once, grabbing the key from the human girl's grasp then turning on her heel to march away toward the stairs, with a flushed face, muttering.
Tails stared, then turned and walked towards the TV behind the counter, examining it and trying hard to not burst out laughing. Mary, on the other hand, was snickering visibly.
Finally the young fox gave the on off switch for the screen a test flip, and to both his and Mary's surprise, the TV flickered to life.
"...a series of mysterious robberies, each involving a large priceless gem, first from our close neighbor country, and then in our own Station Square. Dr. Robotnik was seen fleeing the abandoned ruins of a warehouse on the docks only last night, but avoided capture-"
Mary quickly walked in front of the TV, "So... his plans are into motion, now..." She said, knowing too well what was behind the robbery of the 'precious gems'.
"He's making them collect the Chaos Emeralds, and in a night they already have two of them..." Knuckles commented as he forget all about Rouge and stood beside the young woman, "If they keep it up, they will have them all in a matter of a few days. Hopefully Eggman will keep them at bay for a little while."
"Doesn't sound like he has. Robotnik usually only runs when he's lost for sure, after all." Tails pointed out, eyes locked on the screen. "Chances are they got the Emerald from him, and he tried to get out of there before either of them decided to finish him off."
"But what I'm confused about is that 'ancient demon thing' that is at his service... Remember how Shadow was terrified by it and how it reduced Sonic?" The small fox asked to the Guardian.
"I don't know either." Knuckles shook his head. "Then again, we've never known Robotnik to think his clearest when faced with Sonic. And with him acting the way he is right now? I'm sure he's as unnerved as we were. It's just not...right."
"You're right... GUN was never right..." Mary said looking down, "What I heard from my grandpa... made me shudder... how could they treat a small innocent hedgehog and drive him into the brink of madness and leaving him unstable like that?"
"I wouldn't really know..." Tails shook his head. "Wait...Mary, do you have any idea how old your commander is? I mean...exactly?"
Mary shrugged, "I don't know. That is an information classified top-secret. But there's the voice that he's been around for a long time. More than he's supposed to..."
"He doesn't LOOK too old.." Knuckles pointed out. Doesn't sound it either...what are you coming to, Tails?"
"I'm trying to clue in pieces of a puzzle.." The kit answered, pacing. "Like how the commander knew about the whole ARK incident, which could be credited to the GUN files, I suppose...how he got information about the machine he used to convert Sonic and Shadow..."
"Hold on, hold on..." Rouge said, returning from her room, having heard the conversation thanks to her good hearing and the quiet place, "You're IMPLYING that he's around since the ARK Incident? Oh... come on. He can't be that old! Nobody's immortal..."
"I never said he was..." Tails corrected the bat, ceasing his walk to and fro for a short time, ears twitching in slight agitation, like they always did when he was puzzling over something. "But if he is that old, there are lots of ways to keep him from looking and sounding it. Simply things like surgery and such.. but I don't think that's what's going on..."
Knuckles instantly straightened up, remembering something Shadow had said to him while they were on the island, "There is another way, Tails. One far more efficient than every existent surgery..."
"Like what?" Rouge interjected, her hands perching themselves on her hips in a defiant, disbelieving stance. "He can't just stop himself from aging."
"There is a way. Shadow was created to be ageless, he told me so, and that human scum may have found a way to achieve it once GUN put its hands over Shadow fifty years ago." He said, hate and despise in his voice.
"But just because he was created to be ageless doesn't mean he IS." Rouge said pointedly, leaning against the counter Tails was once again pacing behind. "How would he know he's ageless? Hell, how would WE know for sure?"
"Chaos is ageless too, and he's a creature that is exclusively based on Chaos Energy. If Shadow is relying exclusively on this energy to live, then he's ageless." The Guardian explained, "And when Sonic linked with him, he may have acquired this peculiarity too."
Tails paused, then tugged at one ear, looking somewhat annoyed. "You mean he'll NEVER grow up!?" The sense of irony was too much to bear: while Tails was younger than Sonic, he was infinitely more mature. Sonic never growing any older would probably make him even less adult-like, especially if he had all the time in the world.
"Yes." Was the dry answer of the echidna, "Both Sonic and Shadow will remain like we seem them today. They simply won't age."
"Ugh, stuck with a reckless teenager the rest of my life..." The kit groaned, earning a small laugh from Mary. She didn't know Sonic personally, as well as they other two did, but she was already forming a bit of a guess on what the hedgehog was like.
"At least Shadow will counter his reckless fairy well. They are the opposite of each other in personality... Albeit one of the two Shadow is a mad bloodlust killer..."
Mary shook her head slowly. "I'm more worried about the Sonic and Shadow we've got on our hands right now. The Chaos Emeralds are a source of great power, right? I mean, I remember that one televised battle Sonic had, just last year, wasn't it? Against that giant water...dinosaur?"
"Chaos," Knuckles corrected her, "But you're right. If that scum that call himself human get his hands over the seven Chaos Emeralds... we're all dead..."
He turned to face Rouge, "That is why we need your help now."
Rouge faltered. "Well, if you need me to find the Emeralds, that's easy. I tracked them down a little while back; that's how I know who you are, by the way.." She twirled a gloved finger in her shoulder-length, white fur. "It sounds like they've already gotten a couple, but the report didn't say they'd hit the Park, or the casino yet. We might be in time to get those two, at least..."
"Very well, then. While Rouge and I are out in search of the emeralds, you two" He turned to face the fox and human, "...will try to get into GUN's computers and get some info about that machine the scum used to enslave Sonic and Shadow." He paused a little, "Are you up to it?"
Rouge rolled her eyes, flipping the short fur back behind her neck before answering. "Does the mall have regular seasonal sales?" The echidna's demanding attitude was starting to grate her nerves.
"Shut up, bat-girl! We don't have time to fool around. Sonic and Shadow will go after the other emeralds as soon as the night will fall."
"Don't take that tone with me, jerk!" Rouge hissed, her wings unfolding. "If you really need my help, you better sit with the fact that I'm not going to follow you and fawn over you like some lost puppy of a girl! You watch it, cause I don't have any real reason to be here, besides that I figure if I don't help you, you'll get some kids knocked off with you."
She jerked her head to indicate Tails and Mary, and crossed her arms. "Deal with it."
"And you better know that if you don't follow what I say you might end up being stabbed with an Chaos Energy weapon of either Shadow or Sonic's. They are dangerous. I had problems keeping Shadow at bay once, and now that he's as emotionless as a rock, and with Sonic's help, he might be able to kill both of us. Deal with this, now." He said growling.
"You know, as long as you two keep trading sweet nothings..." Tails called softly, propping his elbows on the counter, "...we're losing our chances of getting any of the Emeralds before Sonic and Shadow do."
The Guardian sighed, "You're right, Tails. Good luck on getting the info." He said as he walked out of the reception, "Will you move, bat-girl?"
"Watch your tone, or you'll get this boot shoved where the sun doesn't shine..." The female treasure hunter seethed, falling into step behind the other furry.
"Try it and I'll tear away those pretty wings you have on your..."
The two treasure's hunters' voices faded away as both exited the building, leaving a small fox that was shaking his head and a young human that was smirking knowingly.
"Well, we better get started." Tails said as he grabbed the backpack he had placed on the counter and took out the same laptop he had used before to get into the government's database.
Sonic grasped the yellow jewel in his hand tightly, cold eyes peering back at him as he glared into the glass like gem, his fur appearing a sickly lime as the wind whipped them about so they would be reflected in the Emeralds sheen. Ten stories beneath him, humans and anthros alike shifted and swirled together like a colorful, ant-filled sea.
Sirens flashed, indicating the police, and lights winked up at him, camera flashes mostly. For a moment he simply watched the mass of people gathered below, then he switched his gaze to the black hedgehog next to him. Their job was going to be harder, even if they did already have four Emeralds.
Shadow was looking at the building on the other side of the street; the casino was heavily guarded now, but nobody would stop him from getting the emerald stored in its vault. He looked at his blue companion then at the casino's roof; it was easily reachable with a jump.
What he didn't see, however, were two creatures, one red and the other white land on the said roof and quickly disappearing inside an air duct.
Sonic backed up slightly, then took a running leap, vaulting himself over the gap between the buildings to land on the opposite roof in a stooped pose. His eyes flicked back to the other hedgehog, seeming to wait for him to follow.
When the blue hedgehog turned, Shadow was already mid way through the leap; less than a second later, he landed on the roof with barely a thud.
He stood up quickly and went to spy on the people down on the street; good, nobody had saw them while they jumped from roof to roof. Without a word, he turned around and walked to the air duct's opening. The fact that the grate was off from its his hinges made him suspicious.
Sonic had seen the open grate only seconds after Shadow did, immediately switching over to Chaos vision, to see two figures disappearing around a corner into the building. His eyes narrowed, and he looked to his partner. Someone had gotten here first, and was trying to beat them inside to the gem.
Shadow snarled viciously, angry that someone had beat them to the building; looking around, he left the air duct alone, he opted for the quicker way. The staircase that took to the roof from inside the building. That would make them more visible, but nothing that a Chaos based attack would resolve; he would make sure to not leave witnesses.
Sonic followed immediately, his eyes trailing the other intruders to the casino, noting that one had a familiar aura, but the other was new to him. Both would more than likely die tonight, unless they really weren't after the jewel. Then again, that was unlikely.
The dark hedgehog kicked the door open, the small and weak lock literally flying away from its place; since the staircase's environment was dark, he quickly passed to the Chaos-based vision and proceeding into the darkness easily.
His sapphire fellow lingered after him, keeping his eyes trailed on the intruders' progress, finding it more and more probable that the other two were there to steal the gem. Luckily, it seemed they didn't want to be caught; they were readily dispatching any cameras or guards in their way. Less work for the two hedgehogs.
Shadow noticed too, and slowed his pace, letting the other two intruders free the path for them; however, as soon as they reached the vault, they would just Chaos Control there and quickly dispatch them.
A soft clicking sound caught Sonic's attention as they reached the last of the steps, and he turned, following the noise. For a moment he saw nothing but the blurred shadows of the non-living hallways they were passing. Then a small flash made his eyes snap up, and Sonic found himself staring into a lens of a suspended camera, the operative clicking photos of them wildly, until he realized what the hedgehog was looking at.
Shadow immediately charged his right hand of Chaos Energy and looked at his blue companion, motioning for him to go ahead; yes, he would be done in a few seconds, but why waste Sonic into looking at his work?
He turned around and formed a Chaos Sword, folding his ears and snarling viciously at the man behind the camera, preparing for an attack.
The human fell back, scrambling to escape the dark creature's rage, while Sonic started to leave. Started, because he only made it two steps before a high-heeled boot swung around to connect with the back of his head.
At the same time Sonic was attacked, a scarlet form dropped from the ceiling between Shadow and the man with the camera, grasping to device from the photographer and crushing it, since it had been automatically taking pictures even then.
The black and red hedgehog immediately recognized his enemy, and growling deeply, he formed another Chaos Sword in his left hand; he slightly crouched, folding his ears and raising his quills, and stood motionless, biding his time for an attack.
"Back off Shadow." Knuckles warned the hedgehog, eyes narrowed and the human behind him fled. He took a fighting stance and dug in his feet. "I don't want to hurt you."
The only thing that he got from the dark hedgehog was more growing; the commander had ordered to kill him if he saw him, and now that the echidna was in front of him, he was going to make sure that the order was executed.
Sonic and Rouge's battle was not so formal: the blue hedgehog was slashing at the girl, not recognizing her as much more than an enemy, and a significant threat to their mission. That, and he could sense a powerful bout of Chaos Energy around her, in her possession most likely. The answer was obvious: she had an Emerald with her.
However, to Sonic's dismay, the bat was fairing quite well against him; she was agile and almost easily avoided his blows. The only problem was that she couldn't land any blow on him.
The advantage suddenly became clear to the azure hedgehog, and a ghost of a smirk found its way onto his muzzle. The bat was hovering off the ground, an airborne creature, capable of more agile movement than he, because she did not need worry about friction against her feet to slow her down; the air made her faster.
Charging a generous bout of power into his hands, Sonic renewed his attacks, this time aiming for his opponent's outstretched wings. Rouge widened her eyes as she saw a azure bolt of Chaos Energy directed towards her wings, and to avoid it, she had to literally drop to the ground, landing on her feet and quickly distancing the blue hedgehog.
On the other side of the corridor, Shadow was attacking the Guardian without mercy, leaving him no room to counterattack. Meaning that Knuckles was crouched under a series of lighting-fast blows, blocking as making as he could, and dodging the rest, though a small number still landed. Retreat was starting to sound better and better as the fight wore on.
The dark hedgehog growled heatedly and increased the speed of his attacks, driving the echidna backwards, towards the end of the corridor; he wasn't going to let the echidna escape him. Not this time.
Knuckles felt himself losing ground, and pivoted his feet, brushing in contact with the wall behind him, then suddenly feeling cold glass against his back. With a sudden grin of inspiration, he pushed forward, weaving his arms around Shadow's, and taking a few blows as a result, grasped the wrists of his opponent and sent the dark hedgehog crashing through the window behind him.
The dark hedgehog, surprised and confused, could do nothing but fly out of the window without reaction and slam into one of the police cars parked in front of the casino, creating into the front of the machine a rather huge hole.
Rising out of the said hole, Shadow paid no mind to the people around him and growled angrily, charging up a powerful Chaos Spear and launching it towards the same window he was thrown out, then disappearing into a Chaos Control, leaving everyone stunned and confused.
Amid a frightened screams of the people below, Knuckles hurried to aid Rouge, who had just let her guard down for a mere moment before the Chaos Spear Sonic had been wielding found it's way through her left wing.
The Guardian barreled into the blue hedgehog, knocking him off and avoiding to have a sliced up bat, "We better get out of here before Shadow returns." He said taking her by the arm and dragging her away. As soon as they rounded the corner, the black hedgehog merged out of his Chaos Control and looked down at his companion that was getting up from the ground.
A soft growl, almost a hiss, tumbled from Sonic's bowed head as the hedgehog straightened, looking beyond pissed at the fact that he'd been sent rolling with one hit. As soon as he had his feet under him and was in no foreseen danger of falling, he summoned up a Spear and glared at the two treasure hunters between him and his partner.
"What was that about getting out before Shadow got back?" Rouge muttered, not liking the odds they faced.
Shadow growled too and formed two Chaos Swords into his hands; finally he was going to kill them like the master had ordered him to do.
However, before he could attack, a nearby door was flung open and a policeman fired straight away at the dark hedgehog; Shadow was so focused on the two treasure hunters that he was easily struck by the bullet, producing a wound on his side, distracting him. Knuckles, seeing the opening, took the bat, hauled her on his shoulder and lunged for the window, jumping outside and gliding away.
Shadow was beyond pissed, and he let loose a outraged scream that echoed around the building, and outside, then he looked at the door, but saw that the man that had shot him had already ran away.
Sonic was at the window, glaring after the escaped two, letting his Spear dissipate slowly, since it could never hit them at this distance. He looked back at the other hedgehog, grimacing, his message passed without words
The scarlet being, and his followers, had one of the Emeralds now.
The dark furry looked back at him, then took out the green Chaos Emerald in his possession; there was no need to worry, they had four emeralds, and they would meet the two soon. With that, he walked up to Sonic and Chaos Controlled away, towards a pharmacy where he would get the necessary to cure his bullet wound and get the small metal object out of his side.
Tails rubbed his eyes, yawning. Two cups of green tea weren't doing their jobs properly, and he had no source of coffee to keep himself awake with. It was mostly the fact that it was urgent they rescue Sonic and Shadow that kept him awake. However, the fact that Mary had dozed off long before him wasn't helping any.
"Put me down, you slimy idiot!"
"I just saved your life! Is that any way to show your gratitude!?"
The kit looked up just in time to see the treasure hunters trot in. Or rather, Knuckles was trotting; Rouge was draped over his shoulder in a most undignified fashion, similar to a scarf, and looking more or less livid about it.
Mary chose that moment to wake up, "What's happening?" She asked rubbing her eyes and yawning, "Sorry, Tails. I dozed off..." She muttered at the small fox who was still in front of the portable, heavy bags under his eyes.
The young fox waved her off, "Don't worry." He said stifling a yawn.
"Fine. You want down, I'll put you down."
Both were startled almost completely awake by a sudden screech, followed by a sharp 'thud' as Rouge came in contact with the floor. The bat flapped her wings angrily, forgetting the pain from her injured one, and hissed up at the echidna.
"You only asked for it, bat-girl!" Knuckles growled back.
Tails sighed and looked at the young woman, "Ahhh... the lovebirds..." He said with a small smile. Mary giggled at that, but tried to not show it to the bickering couple.
"You two shut up; I can hear you!" Rouge shrieked up at them, sounding for all the world like a banshee, her ears twitching wildly as she bent back her face to glare up at the foxling and human girl. "It's no small wonder, with those things you have on your head." Knuckles growled, earning her venom-filled gaze again.
"That's enough, you two!" Tails exclaimed tiredly, "If you want to listen to me, good. If not, go bicker elsewhere. I'm busy finding a way to get Shadow and Sonic back to normal."
The two fighting anthros immediately halted in their fighting, Rouge looking off to the side with a face of twisted grimness, and Knuckles' expression seeming ashamed. Mary smiled at the little fox, and leaned over his shoulder
"So Tails, what have you got so far?"
"I've got good and bad news. What you want to hear first?" He asked as he leaned on the chair, relaxing now that the two treasure hunters had stopped bickering.
"Bad news. You can't really make our day any worse." Rouge grumbled, brushing off her arms and trying to look over her shoulder at her wing. Knuckles grunted his assent to the comment.
The fox sighed deeply, "Well, the bad news is that the only other way to make them return to their usual self, is... I think impossible to do."
"Well?" Mary said. "We might as well hear it, right? You never know, we could find a way to do it..."
"Well, we need a huge amount of Chaos Energy to do that. Something that only the seven Chaos Emeralds can do, plus someone that is extremely good at manipulating it..."
"Oh..." The red head murmured, her chin sink into her folded arms, and her eyes flicking over to Knuckles, who shook his head.
"I can't control Chaos Energy, Mary. I only guard the Emeralds. I can't use them the way Sonic and Shadow do."
"And that is why we're stuck. The only other way around would be to use that machine again, but the files I read reports that it's still heavily bugged in that aspect..."
"Which is obvious enough. GUN never seems to think these things through." The Guardian sighed, crossing his arms. Rouge leaned in over the foxling's laptop, peering down at the boy. "So what's the good news?"
"That there's a small hope. Shadow's other personality."
Knuckles smirked, as Rouge looked a little confused. "You mean there's possibility that Shadow's not completely under GUN's control? What about it?"
Tails looked up at the white bat, "Exactly. You see, a week or so ago, Shadow's personality split in two, this made him far more unstable than before, but now there's the chance to have the other Shadow to wake up and be able to control the killer personality." He explained.
"Are you sure he'll be strong enough? How will he even know what to do?" Mary asked, gesturing toward the two treasure hunters. "I mean, look at what he did to them. If we even get close enough to get him to understand what to do to change them back, how will we get there without being mauled?"
"She's right." Rouge agreed. "If Shadow doesn't clobber us, Sonic will. And by the look of things, he's the one we'll have to worry about."
Tails shrugged, "Sincerely... I have no clue..." He said as he slumped into the seat, "But still... there's a small flicker of hope..."
"Well, we've got another flicker for you two." Rouge smiled, though still looking grim, as she produced the Chaos Emerald they'd managed to get. "We got one before they did. It was rough, but we got it."
Tails smiled and stood up, "You're great, guys." He said, "However, now that we have one emerald they are going to look for us, this means that we have less time to plan something." The fox stretched, "I'm going to get a nap..." He said taking a key from the wall and walking away.
Mary shook her head and sighed. "You two should go lay down too. I've got a little more sleep in me than all of you. I can keep up the search while you all rest up."
"What if something happe-?" Knuckles started, but was cut off by Mary's hand waving him away.
"There a fire alarm right under the counter, and it's loud enough to wake the dead. Believe, I'll let you know if something happens."
The Guardian sighed and took another key from the wall, "Guess you're right." He muttered as he followed his younger friend.
The woman looked at Rouge, "How bad are they?" She asked quietly.
The bat shook her head slowly, rubbing her own shoulder. "I couldn't really tell you, I didn't know what they acted like before. They're like machines now though, that's the only way I can describe it...it's like they've got something in mind, and when they saw Knuckles, well, it was like they already knew he had to go..."
Mary sighed, "If they are like machines... an order will be valid till it's revoked by who gave it to them, in this case the commander himself..."
"You think he'll take any of it back any time soon?" Rouge asked, leaning over her shoulder to look down at the screen Mary had brought up on the portable computer.
"If he's obsessed as much as they say... no." She answered.
"Figures...they never make it easy for anyone..." Rouge grumbled, taking the keys to her own room out and looking at the computer with a wince. "You're gonna need a little sleep after a while too...Wake me when you think you're too sleepy, okay? I'm nocturnal, I can take a long night.."
"Fair deal." Mary said smiling up at her, "As soon as I feel like it, I'll call you."
"Good. We don't need you collapsing in the morning..." Rouge stretched, flinching as her wing reminded her of the injury she'd been dealt. "Speaking of collapsing, I think I'll go do that..."
The young woman nodded, "Ok, I'll keep an eye on Sonic and Shadow's movements. If there's something really important I'll call you."
"Call the echidna too. If I have to get out of bed, we might as well have him suffer with me." She strutted off to the stairwell, waving at the human girl. "Good night, Mary. I'll see you in the morning."