The Mystery Emerges
The Mystic Ruins were a fairly peaceful place – apart from the odd giant wasp and fifteen foot eel. It was mostly swamp marshland teeming with mangroves, mud, and muck. Sparsely scattered throughout the thick marshland was a constellation of dreary and abandoned ruins. These were vestiges of a once-thriving civilization: the Echidnas, lead by The Great Pachacamac – a namesake passed down to the Echidna leader with each generation. The capital of the great Empire resided on Angel Island. Unfortunately the clan, upon realising their crushing defeat from the gizoids created by their rival clan some 4000 years ago, had pushed the entity Perfect Chaos, the Lake Guardian of the Master Emerald, into slavery. His rage instead backfired against his captors. Pachacamac had traded one genocide for another, as at nearly the same time their rival clan, the Nocturnus, simply disappeared off the face of Mobius.
Knuckles was the only known survivor of his clan. He now lived a life of solitude upon Angel Island, guarding the Master Emerald with only the chao for company. A genetic disorder had chipped away at the Echidna population ever since Perfect Chaos had attacked, and the Robotnik War took what was left. Due to this the Ring Pools across the world, once-upon-a-time sanctuaries for the Chaos emeralds, now lay unprotected (mostly), and the lone Echidna Guardian was committed to spending his life protecting the Master Emerald amidst the ruins of his lost tribe.
Nickel had not relaxed for the entire journey; there was too much to see, and so much to look forward to. He was so curious he felt like he was going to explode.
While Sonic had slept off the adventurous events of the morning, Tails had taken to the time to inform Nickel on some much needed exposition. He had explained the Master Emerald, the Chaos Emeralds, Magic Rings that come from Ring Pools where the seven emeralds belonged, Guardian Lakes created by the Echidnas, something called Perfect Chaos, the difference between ‘Echidna’ and ‘echidna’, and that there only remained just one echidna in the world.
Nickel found it all dizzying. If he had not seen a Chaos emerald himself he probably would have dismissed everything. But it had been no magic trick when both he and Sonic could ‘absorb’ the Rainbow emerald and the blue emerald respectively. However, Nickel could not absorb the Chaos emerald, reinforcing their suspicions that the Rainbow emerald was indeed something else.
That he no longer possessed his emerald was agonising. Something about it had seemed almost intelligent, like it had outstretched an emotional connection for Nickel to accept. It was his one and only clue to his past, and quite likely his key to returning home. And Sonic had lost it.
“There it is, Nickel!” cried Tails, breaking him out of his thoughts. “Angel Island!”
Half standing in his seat, Nickel tried to peer around the girth of the plane.
“I can’t see it!”
In response, Tails tossed the plane into a barrel roll – and began to circle steeply downwards.
Nickel thought he heard something go ‘thud’ behind him over the roaring wind pressure and bellowing engine, but he ignored it, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sight before him. He could see it now, yet he could barely believe it.
The island really was floating; pieces of it had even broken off and were still hovering in midair. He estimated it some twenty miles wide, though the semi-mountainous nature and sheer size and altitude meant he couldn’t quite see the entire circumference. Numerous temples could be seen poking out of the canopy of the thriving and wild rainforest coating much of the island like a lush carpet.
“That’s... that’s...” was all Nickel could manage, lost for words. He turned in his seat to face Sonic, beyond excited at this incredible sight, “Hey, Sonic... Sonic?”
Sonic’s seat was empty.
“Um, Tails, we may have a problem,” said Nickel, not looking away from the seat.
Swivelling in his seat, Tails’ eyes widened to the size of saucers as he realised the crisis.
“Oh no! He must have fallen out when we barrel-rolled!”
“Over there!” shouted Nickel, pointing somewhere below and behind the plane.
Sonic was falling spread-eagled down to Mobius, yelling at the top of his lungs the whole way.
Through some quick and skilled piloting and the help of Nickel’s psychokinesis, Sonic was soon back in his seat – looking extremely disgruntled and shocked.
“Sorry, Sonic!” yelled Tails through his mic.
Giving a dizzy and shaky thumbs-up Sonic managed to get out a, “No problem.”
He shook his head a few times to try and clear it, and then stretched awkwardly in the crammed seat.
“Between you guys and Amy, who needs Robotnik trying to kill me every week?”
Tails knew he was joking, but Nickel needed an encouraging wink from the blue hedgehog to get him to laugh along.
“Okay, we’re coming in for landing!” yelled Tails, “The Golden Rose won’t be far behind us, but they’ve never landed here before. I’ll set off a flare to let them know where the airstrip is.”
By hitting a few buttons on a keypad, Tails deployed the flare and expertly dipped the plane towards Angel Island for landing.
The airstrip wasn’t actually an airstrip, it was just the only place on the island straight enough and long enough to land an aircraft – it wouldn’t be of much use for anything bigger than the Tornado.
“Okay guys, hold on! This airstrip can get a bit bumpy!”
Nickels eyes widened as the strip of land came in to greater detail: pot-holes, tree roots, rocks and uneven ground plagued the small strip of land.
Tails could have just transformed the plane into its battle-mode, gaining the ability to hover and land with ease. But he liked the challenge. And the chance to see if his engineering had been good enough.
Nickel yelled and closed his eyes as the Tornado came within seconds of landing, bracing himself for impact.
Shadow and Rouge had quickly realised they were never going to keep up with the Tornado, the custom-built dog-fighter they were sure Miles Prower would be using again, without an aircraft of their own – which is why they had decided to take one.
Shadow was crouched to one knee and carefully surveying the GUN testing strip spread out across the canyon below them. A few fighter-jets were taxiing out of hangers and into whatever position they had been ordered to, dozens of people ran around like ants, and in the distance small clouds of billowing dust could be seen; evidence of recent explosions. A GUN testing strip out here was not so out of the ordinary, the uninhabitable Rail Canyon was certainly suitable terrain for such practices.
They were in the southernmost section of Rail Canyon, a hot, barren, rocky plateau with giant canyons running through it like gouged scars. Once upon a time Dr Robotnik had used the place as a giant base, riddling it with thousands of rails and tunnels. After the base was abandoned, these remained. GUN had since hijacked remaining infrastructure.
“I’m sure we can get an aircraft from here,” muttered Shadow to Rouge, who crouched just behind him and scanning the strip as well, but instead through a pair of specially designed contact lenses that worked as binoculars when activated. Shadow’s eyes were keen enough that from this distance that he did not require technological support.
“You can’t see a plane you’re qualified to fly, can you?” asked Rouge, snarkily.
“No, none of them come in black.” Shadow stood.
“We should move; we haven’t got too much time. We’ll find the commanding officer here, he should be happy to see us...”
Shadow stood to make his way towards the busy airstrip, but as he did his wrist-communicator began to vibrate.
Shadow pressed the one and only button on the watch, and instantly a hologram was projected from the watch’s tiny screen.
It was the Commander.
“Sir,” they echoed, saluting appropriately.
“Shadow, Rouge, I know this is going to be a detriment, but I need you two to split up.”
“Why?” asked Rouge quickly, before continuing in a slightly flustered tone, “What’s happened?”
“Stranger and ever more stranger reports coming from Hill Top Zone. There were two unidentified persons at ground zero at the time of the pulse, and one or both were involved in the attacks on our personnel.”
“Human or anthrohuman?”
“One has been described as a white hedgehog, the other… if you would believe the reports from shell-shocked soldiers then the second was of neither species. It could be a Robotnik invention of some kind.”
“A description, sir?”
“There is no accepted description as of yet,” said the Commander firmly, “What is confirmed is that one has gone off the radar, and one is headed south. People are beginning to lose their heads over this, and the brass I trust are already spread thin. I want one of you back at GUN HQ to await further orders, only one of you is needed to attend to Sonic.”
The image faded.
Rouge commented, “Well I know somebody who’s ‘losing their head’.”
Shadow said, “What he says makes sense, only one of us is needed to go fetch Sonic anyway.”
“You want to do it?”
“Aw, but you two must be missing each other by now,” Rouge pouted.
“I’ll head back to GUN,” said Shadow. “That boy has a habit of doing the opposite of anything I say, anyway.”
But before Rouge could agree or disagree a siren from the airbase pierced the air. It did not smother the rumbling tremor, the sound of searing speed, from above.
It was a Robotnik vessel. It was far too small to be the Egg Carrier. It was built for speed while maximising size, as it was perhaps the size of a passenger jet. Unlike a commercial craft it ripped through the air, powered by enormous engines attached to its red hull. Evenly proportioned in a wedge shape, its entire bottom half was one efficient but old-fashioned engine – it hosted no MagnoThermal Sockets. The relatively thin upper deck could fit dozens of crew, or in this case more likely robots. Shadow had seen them before – they were extremely agile, capable of stopping to a hover even, but hopelessly sensitive to any damage to its hull or engine.
The jet planes at the base scrambled, but they were ignored, or perhaps taunted, as in seconds the craft had become nothing but a small dot on the rippling horizon.
“You think that was him?” asked Rouge.
“He can’t follow Sonic in an Egg Carrier, it’s too slow, so he’s downshifted,” replied Shadow. He faced Rouge, “I guess we just got assigned our directions.”
“You can say that again. Have fun with Robotnik, I’ll go deliver the good news to GUN.”
Flaring her large purple wings, she leapt into flight. She would return to the vehicle that had gotten them this far.
Kicking his air-shoes into action, he skated down the canyon; a blur of orange and black and a torpedo of dust.
They had made the landing with only minimal damage to the Tornado and only moderate damage to Sonic, whose eyes had regained their wonky spirals.
“Sorry, Sonic,” said Tails.
“Well... as long as we’re back on the ground...” he started, snapping out of the stupor and jumping to the earth below. “Alright! Now that’s more like it!” he tapped the ground with his sneakers, “see you in a bit!”
And he was off; in a flash of blue light he was just... gone. Nickel stared at the airborne dust in his wake with awe.
“You’ll get used to it,” said Tails to the dumbstruck hedgehog.
Both Tails and Nickel laughed, just as the whine of another aircraft filled there ears.
“TAILS MOVE YOUR BUTT OUTTA THE WAY BEFORE I MOVE IT FOR YA!” bellowed Amy through the radio, who could be seen in the cockpit of an oncoming Golden Rose, swinging her Piko Piko hammer threateningly.
What Sonic had said to Tails and Nickel before had been true: it did feel much better to be back on the ground, even better to be exploring. Angel Island had so many wonderful places to sprint over, around, under, and in some scenarios straight through, and he hadn’t been here in too long. The ground varied from damp to hard, uneven to dead straight punctured only by gnarled trees that, being geographically isolated from the rest of the world, were unique in hundreds of ways. The colours were bright and vibrant, from the bright green leaves of the rainforest to the purples, reds, blues and yellows of the fruit and man-sized mushrooms, to the crystal clear water (though he did his best to stay away from that). Statues of echidnas and grand temples were dotted around the island, though most had fallen and all were crumbling with immense age.
Five temples stood out from the rest. In fact they stood out from the entire island because of their enormous height. Green vines covered their bottom quarters and much of each temple had crumbled away, but their majesty had not quite faded yet. Sonic scampered up the marble steps, staring with wonderment at the colossal super-structures above him. He knew that at the top of the centre pyramid would be the Master Emerald, as well as a beautiful courtyard where the seven Chaos Emeralds would have been held when the Echidnas gathered them all, according to historical records once every one-hundred years. He slowed to a jog as a speck of red came into sight at the top of the temple.
“Was wondering when you would show up!” yelled a familiar voice, “you took your sweet time about it!”
“Nice to see you, too.” replied Sonic, giving the sturdy echidna a casual two-fingered salute as he came into view.
Sonic was still conquering the last few steps when Knuckles said, “Sheesh, you look even worse up close!”
“Same goes for you, Chuckles.”
Knuckles gave Sonic a rare smile, saying “I see Metal Sonic failed to beat down your warped sense of humour. But what happened - why Metal Sonic?”
“Why not Metal Sonic?” asked Sonic, throwing his hands in the air, “Robotnik was involved, he had an Egg Carrier planted near Green Mountain – and I’m not kidding when I say planted. It must have been there for years…”
Kuckles’ eyes widened, “An Egg Carrier?”
“And that’s not the weirdest part, I haven’t told you how we met Nickel yet… um, thanks?”
Knuckles had tossed him a wooden flask.
“It’s water from the Master Ring Pool.”
“Oh, cool!” said Sonic, moving forwards, “I totally forgot, Chaos is back there now, right? I should go say hello!”
Knuckles blocked his way, and said as if speaking to a delinquent, “You can’t just go ‘say hello’ to a God, Sonic!”
“Why, do I need to book an appointment? And he’s not a God he’s a,” Sonic made finger quotes with his hands, “‘concentration of Chaos Energy into a physical-fluid form harnessed yet since evolved from Echidna chemical engineering.” He dropped the finger quotes, and whined, “C’mon, Knux” –
“No! It’s going to take decades for him to recover anyway. Just drink the water.”
Sonic sighed heavily. “I guess he’d probably just drench me like the other Lake Guardians do, anyway.”
Popping open the flask he took a generous gulp. Having plenty of experience in Ring Pools, Chaos Shrines and Magic Rings, Sonic knew the water had healing properties.
“Angel Islands’ Ring Pool has the most delicious water in the world,” boasted Knuckles proudly, chuckling with confidence.
“Tastes like water to me.” said Sonic offhandedly, “Mineral water, actually. Ick.”
“You’re a real” –
“Thanks, Knuckles,” cut in Sonic, taking another sip, “It’s appreciated.”
“No problem...” he grumbled.
“Sooonniiic!” echoed a voice from below.
It was Sonic’s turn to grumble.
Tails, Nickel, Amy and Cream were making there way up the steps. But while the others took the steep slope slowly, Amy charged up the steps, determined to reach Sonic as quickly as possible.
But in the end it was her who made it up last: Nickel, Tails and Cream could all fly, reducing the required effort immensely. Amy finally made it to the top, huffing, puffing, panting and looking rather flustered. She had to lean on her giant hammer to keep herself upright.
“Nickel, right?” said Knuckles, looking the white hedgehog up and down.
“Knuckles. This is my Island. Tails, you can tell me exactly how this,” Knuckles waved to them all, “happened as we go. We’re heading into the temple.”
“You’re going to show us the clue?” asked Cream with an excited air as Cheese zoomed around her head to emphasize their suspense.
Amy had to suppress a groan, but trailed behind the others all the same, not bothering to appreciate even the spectacular views and architecture around her due to her exhaustion.
Already knowing their tale, Nickel let his attention go while Tails reported to Knuckles. Every fallen brick and pillar was fascinating, the architecture like nothing he had ever seen. Even the smell of the place was alien.
Knuckles led them deep under the temple so that they were directly underneath the Master Emerald’s courtyard. He lit a long piece of wood, its tip covered in cloth and oil (giant-grub oil, as a matter of fact – how Knuckles got the stuff Sonic never wanted to find out) to make a torch. Inside the walls were no longer white and crumbly stone, but dark and crumbly earth. Tree roots protruded here and there, and the place was largely unkempt, but a trail could still be seen, and brackets on the walls where torches had once been, too. A few statues and broken pillars littered the area, and the gentle but eerie ‘drip...drip’ of water that leaked through the earthy walls echoed throughout the caverns and tunnels Knuckles slowly led them into.
Seeing the youngest of their little tribe, Cream, was looking a little hesitant, Amy gave her a comforting one-armed hug.
As they walked, Tails finished the tale. Knuckles said, “So he appeared out of nothing?”
“According to Sonic, yes.”
“He did!” exclaimed Sonic, irritated at the ‘according’.
“And I have only a little memory of how I got there.” said Nickel.
“Sound like the typical thing to happen around you,” said Knuckles with an accusatory tone to Sonic.
“Hey, Robotnik was more involved than me! You should be happy I was there – no,” he turned to Nickel, “you should be happy I was there!”
“I never said I wasn’t,” said Nickel, defensively.
“Well that, ‘Rainbow emerald’, as ridiculous as it sounds, definitely reminds me of what I’m about to show you.” said Knuckles. Then firmly, “But it’s not an eighth emerald. That’s impossible.”
“I’d be sceptical too, if I hadn’t seen it myself.” said Tails.
“Well it’s not. Also, Metal Sonic – you’re definitely sure he’s destroyed?”
Sonic said, “SuperSonic got him, yeah.”
Knuckles threw him a weird look familiar to Sonic, one that he responded to with a shrug. Knuckles shook his head, saying, “You’re the same person.”
“It just doesn’t feel right to say so. Maybe you need to have gone Super – properly Super, to get it.” Sonic elbowed Nickel, “Even the Guardian of the Master Emerald can’t go Super! Just, me!”
Knuckles grunted, “There are some mysteries in this Universe, Sonic, I never want to understand.”
Nickel piped up, “So not just anybody can do that? That gold and flying thing… SuperSonic?”
Sonic explained, “This other guy we know can, but he’s direct lineage to another guy we used to know that was basically the Godfather of all Chaos, so that’s probably why.”
“What Sonic means,” interrupted Knuckles contemptuously, “Is that the Magic Rings he has absorbed over the years allows the emeralds to use him as a conduit for infinite positive Chaos energies” –
“Ah, no it doesn’t!” proclaimed Sonic imprudently, with just a hint of superiority, “You’re chock full of Magic Rings and you can’t do it.”
Knuckles fumed, but fell silent.
Nickel remembered what Tails had said about Magic Rings. Carefully, not wanting to upset the formidable echidna, Nickel continued speaking to Sonic, “So, why can you go Super then?”
Knuckles, Tails and Amy snorted with laughter (though Knuckles’ probably bordered on derision), leaving Sonic looking at them strangely, as if he didn’t know what he had said wrong.
Finally, they made it to a tunnel that steeply spiralled downwards, eventually leading to two ancient and giant doors. Sonic guessed they were at, or close to, the bottom of Angel Island. Faint pictures could be seen etched onto the doors, but the dim light and the extent of their damage made them near impossible to make out. Runes covered the outer rim of each door, but none of them but Knuckles could translate them. One of the two doors was ajar.
“Your clue’s in there,” said Knuckles gruffly, gesturing with the torch.
Striding forward, Sonic led the way in, fluidly pinching Knuckles’ torch out of his hand. He nimbly slid past the gap between the doors – pushing them further open would either be impossible without more pairs of hands or simply cause them to topple over. But he was surprised to walk in and see... nothing. In fact the first sense to be amazed by the room was not his eyesight but his sense of smell: the room stunk with the musty smell of ‘old’. The ground was an inch thick with loose dirt. The light provided by the torch in his hand failed to illuminate anything in front of him except the ground he walked on. But, turning around, walls extended from the doors, and as he walked closer, he noticed they had pictures painted on to them.
Knuckles came next, saying: “This is the largest display of art on Angel Island, about two- hundred feet in diameter I think.”
“This room is empty,” exclaimed Amy as she entered.
“No, it’s not,” smiled Sonic, “Look!”
He raised the torch as high as he could, illuminating as much has he could of the wall in front of him.
The room was circular, and in a sense Amy was right, it was empty. But on the walls were their clue. It was gigantic: one huge picture enclosing the room’s two-hundred- foot circumference. Each picture was separated from another by pillars made of a fibre-like material that ran from the floor to a towering ceiling so high they couldn’t even see it. It was impossible to see from one end of the room to the other, such was its vast size.
“We’re gonna need some light,” said Knuckles, snatching his torch back and marching to the centre of the room. It seemed he was walking nowhere, as there was nothing to judge the size of the room, and nothing to see him pass or tread over.
Then for a moment the orange blob of light in the distance that was Knuckles, disappeared.
Everything was silent, Sonic and the others waited in the silent darkness with baited breath for the red echidna to reappear, and all of them couldn’t help but grow uneasy when he didn’t.
Sonic had taken a single step forward in the darkness when suddenly the pillars that separated one wall from another shined with an orange-white light from inside. The ceiling was not covered in stone stalactites, but in yet another giant picture rimmed with a gold border.
“Wow,” cried Tails. He and Nickel jumped into the air to get closer to the incredible ceiling and the lofty walls. It’s grandeur was only surpassed by its age.
“This is amazing!” shouted Nickel from the ceiling. “Who made this?”
“My ancestors!” called Knuckles, emerging from a small burrow in the centre of the room, “The Clan Pachacamac!”
“I guess those are what you wanted us to see, right?” asked Sonic, walking towards one of the walls. Many were too faded to even make out, but the distinctive aesthetic used by the Echidnas was clear in each. “Knux, are their many rooms like this on this island?”
“Knuckles,” breathed Tails, “You really need to let people restore this place…”
Knuckles ignored that. “Nickel! This is it, ready to find out the truth?”