Ki the Cat
“Back to that useless machine then,” muttered Knuckles contemptuously. The sunrise had just passed over his face when his patience ran thin enough to burn. Straightening from where he had tried to sleep, wholly ignoring the vibrant view beneath him, he passed the Master emerald and trod over crumbling white stone and the reclaiming jungle undergrowth. The sweet smell of radiating Chaos energy faded as he approached the courtyard entrance, then made the descent through the lonely, musty passageways inside the Grand Temple. The only light filtered through windows specifically designed to catch and distribute light for as long a duration as possible. The labyrinthine passageways were still poorly lit without candles, and so Knuckles navigated by memory.
He always attributed his hardened endurance to years trudging up and down these temples. The stairs, now roughly hewn and uneven, required concentration and stamina to surpass; at least if you wanted to get anywhere quickly. Though he’d never admit it, Knuckles could never help but be envious at Sonic’s ability to simply roll down these stairs.
Eventually he reached a crumbling balcony where he had allowed Tails to install the computer. Almost six months ago, Tails and Sonic had helped Knuckles buttress the balcony to stop it falling right off the face of the temple, but that hadn’t stopped Knuckles protesting endlessly about the computer’s placement.
Sonic might have tried to appease him by calling in some help to carve a desk out of the same white stone from a quarry below, shaping it to a traditional style. It still proved too much for Knuckles. He had left the desk in Chinoquie’s old room, she might have liked it, and instead asked the computer to be left on the floor.
“Still looks stupid,” muttered Knuckles, sitting awkwardly in front of it.
He booted it up, and opened to program Tails had created in order for them all to contact each other from a distance.
After some difficulty, he prompted the call.
It took nearly a minute for the Chaotix to answer.
A tiny voice on the other end said, “’Yellow?”
“Charmy,” muttered Knuckles with distinct irritation, “Put Vector on.”
“What!? Charmy, where are you three!?”
Bees were probably the weirdest anthrohumans ever devised. Knuckles still had no clue what benefit Charmy offered the Chaotix (he had no clue whatever any of them but Espio offered the three-man detective agency), but he appeared a permanent member anyway.
“Stalking Metal Sonic.”
Knuckles sat stunned in silence for a second.
“I have to go now…”
“No, Charmy!” Knuckles tone shifted quickly to one of patience, “Charmy, Charmy stay on the line for me, okay?”
“We have to be quiet –HEY!”
“Hush, for a minute, kid…”
“Vector!” Knuckles cried with relief, “Where are you?”
Vector was a large and intimidating crocodile originally from the Great Southern Land. Espio, an exiled-ninja from Azumukai made the three of them a more unlikely trio than Knuckles, Tails and Sonic.
“Sorry ‘bout the island, bud. We got distracted on our way down. It’s Metal Sonic.”
“Yeah, I know, I think it’s the same one we put away a couple years back, I saw him break out of GUN. Well, Sonic did. You’ve got him?”
“No, we’re followin’ him. He looked wounded pretty bad. Dressed in a cloak as a begger, tryin’ to blend in.”
Frustrated, Knuckles said, “You’re following him? Why? Take him down, then get back to my island like I asked you to!”
“No can do, mate. Espio thinks there’s a good chance he’s going to a Robotnik hideout to recharge and resupply. He’ll lead us straight to it, then we can call the cavalry!”
Knuckles thought about that for a moment.
“We’ve known you guys for a while now, and you’ve come up with some interesting things. But that’s easily the WORST plan you have ever come up with!” Knuckles shouted down the line. “You saw him last time!”
“Take it easy, Knuckles, last time he had, like, seven Chaos emeralds and half of Robotnik’s weaponry to control!”
“That’s not the point!”
“He’s weak, he won’t recharge instantly.”
“GUN can… I dunno, ‘scan’ to find the base, or something – what city are you in!?”
“Chillidor, Sector West – look, Knux, we gotta go. We’ll get to your island ASAP, I promise.”
“No, Vector, listen to me – the last two times we’ve seen Metal, Sonic’s had to go Super in order to take him down, you’ve gotta hit him – hey! Hello? Hello!? C’mon!”
Knuckles kicked the computer and one gloved hand flew to his hip, where it met nothing but fur.
Knuckles cursed as he realised he’d left the pouch of the five remaining Warp Rings back at the top of the temple.
He charged out of the room, and tore up the stairs, his mind made up already. There may only be five Warp Rings left in existence, but Metal Sonic was one of the deadliest things on the planet – a remnant from the time when Robotnik had not simply been a militaristic dictator but a maniac hell-bent on genocide, all his hatred of the resistant movement designed into one thing fit to kill them all. The one Sonic had encountered in Green Hill Zone may have been a copy, but it did not have what the original Metal or Shadow’s teammate Omega had – sentiency. But even the memories of Metal Sonic Tails hypothesised Robotnik had implanted in his new copy based on Sonic’s story of their encounter had been enough to drive the robot to near-madness. Knuckles did not know if Robotnik was behind Metal’s freedom, or an error from within GUN had prompted the machine’s escape, but a single Warp Ring to destroy him once and for all would be worth the loss.
Legs burning, he flew up the stairs three at a time.
Minutes later, almost ready to collapse but fully aware of the probability of the worst case scenario, he tore across the courtyard to where he had woken less than half an hour before.
Diving upon his sleeping bag, he fumbled for the leather pouch. Grabbing a single Warp Ring, he flipped it once as he might a coin and squinted as a portal full of rainbow light burst into existence in front of him. Aching from the ascent, he tumbled through.
Nestled amongst mountains, almost buried against the coast, the Western sector of Chillidor city featured none of the clean high-rises and tourist attractions and was composed of terraced slums built nearly on top of one another as they clung to their mountain. Chillidor was a neighbouring zone to the Mystic Ruins and shared a climate. So it was not the temperature Knuckles had to adjust to but the noise. A city the size of Chillidor existed in a bubble of incessant and blurred noise anyway, but as Knuckles came through the portal a sudden explosion of sound and ensuing screams erupted all around him, a single dark figure speckled with red light tearing into the sun, a boom like that of a fighter jet cracking across the sky.
“Why does no one ever listen to me,” Knuckles lamented.
The rumbling of the floor and walls eventually jolted him awake.
Sore, aching, the right side of his body in considerable pain, Sonic cracked one eye open. He could barely see anything, but as feeling flooded back into his body (something he had mixed feelings about. He’d have preferred some bruises remain numb) he realised his position.
“Yay… fisticuffs. Wouldn’t want something awkward.”
He tested their strength. Standard. Easy enough.
Uncomfortably tight, the plastic cuffs were hooked into roughly welded rings in the floor between his legs. Though this meant he had the luxury of resting on the rumbling floor, it also meant he was uncomfortably hunched over – a fact not missed by his spine.
Pushing aside remaining drowsiness, he inspected his surroundings.
He assumed they were in the back of the one of trucks they had seen earlier. It was cramped and hot and dark. Crates and numerous other storage items filled all other available floor space. The heat was about as unbearable as being hunched over, it had to be over forty degrees and there was no water in sight. A little bit of light trickled in from a musty window between the driver’s cabin and theirs, which allowed Sonic to orient himself. A warmth to his left made him groggily turn his head. The muggy ray of light just illuminated him. Silver lay slumped beside him. A trickle of blood had made his way from his shoulder to his stomach, drying brown against his white fur. Sonic wondered what had happened.
“Silver,” Sonic whispered, nudging him. When Silver provided no response, Sonic dug his shoulder in a little harder. “Wake-up, princess… or don’t.”
Sonic frowned. He was okay, right? Ringo wouldn’t tie up a corpse. But it was so hot in here…
Sonic concentrated on Silver’s chest, waiting for it to rise and fall.
“Your friend is fine. I recovered from that drug in a little less than an hour.”
Surprised, Sonic leant forward to see across Silver.
The truck held another prisoner, latched to its floor like Sonic and Silver. However the darkness obscured most of him.
“You’re Sonic the Hedgehog, aren’t you?”
Ignoring his discomfort, Sonic forced some energy into his voice, “The one and only!”
“I honestly thought you of all people would last more than a minute against these thugs…”
Taken aback, Sonic stuttered, “Ah… w-well… this is, um,” he thought quickly, “ - what are you talking about? Don’t you get it, I’m getting a free ticket straight to where I want to be!”
The stranger went quiet for a moment.
“You mean you… planned for this to happen?”
“Well, on the run - ”
- “Good! So how are you getting me out?”
Squinting through the dark, he failed to register any defining features of the vague silhouette beside Silver. From the pitch of the voice, Sonic was fairly sure she was a woman.
“Sorry – who exactly are you?”
“It doesn’t matter right now. This isn’t how I planned to get into the city either, but with you, maybe we can make the impossible, possible.”
Gradually mounting was the feeling that the conversation was slowly getting out of control. “That’s generally what I do, but, uh, what exactly is the impossible bit for you?”
“The same for you, I assumed. We need to take back the Pyramid Kingdom!”
A pang of dismay struck him in the gut.
“We are not defeated – this has just been a cowardly but dramatic act from a minority. The High Council has been removed and put under house arrest. The Ra has fled, for he surely would have been quietly done away with. Meanwhile the Captain, an ally of the Ra, of the palace security force has been taken into custody, assumedly so have his lieutenants” –
“Captain? He’s a lynx right?”
“Pylon the Lynx? Tall guy, big ugly scar across the chest?”
The stranger’s voice appeared surprise. “You know of him?”
…“W-where are we…”
“Silver!” whispered Sonic, happily. The white hedgehog blinked groggily, shaking his head as if water was in his ears.
“Looms…. so hot. What happened…” He tugged twice on the binds on his hands. “Where’s Nickel?”
“That’s a good point,” said Sonic, suddenly guilty. He had assumed Tails had escaped with Nickel. Taking anther look at his wrist, he noticed his wrist-comm had been removed. Idiotically, Ringo had not thought to remove his shoes. “I think they’re safe.”
“You think?” asked Silver loudly.
The stranger, clearly dissatisfied by Silver’s behaviour, hissed, “Tell your friend to be quiet before he earns us gags!”
Struggling against the bonds, Silver seethed, “I knew this would happen! We should never have come here.”
“No, Silver, seriously, I can get us out you just gotta be patient.”
“I’ve got to be patient – it was you rushing these people back at that factory that put me in this mess! Who the hell was that girl? Was she your girlfriend?”
“Silver, I do not have a girlfriend!”
“Did you even think before you tore up that building?” asked Silver, still angry but now with a touch of a curiosity, “I didn’t even know you could do that. And then like ten guys – even with my PK I couldn’t do that - I could never move fast enough. So then who’s Fang?”
Ears suddenly flat, Sonic said, “Just drop it…”
“I will not!” burst out Silver (or as well as somebody could burst while whispering) “Everywhere we go it’s a rollercoaster with you, and you keep me in the dark the whole way! I deserve to know – who’s Fang!?”
This was probably the worst position he could be in one this subject. Unable to escape, he was forced either to confront the question or remain silent.
“Wait,” Sonic realised that, not knowing enough of Silver’s unique ability, Ringo and his thugs had not removed Silver’s gloves or boots, “your gloves! You could do your PK magic!”
Exasperated, Silver slumped his whole body in irritation. Glaring at Sonic for a moment, he eventually dropped his gaze, not so much in acceptance of Sonic’s secrets but weariness in being unable to unveil them. Putting as much a his usual venomous sarcasm into his voice he spat, “With my hands palm to palm? Unless you want us all to explode I wouldn’t recommend it. Besides, what am I going to do, melt the floor? There’s nothing I could move that would break these.” Silver tugged again frustratedly at his binds.
Though wondering what Silver meant by ‘explode’, Sonic decided to move on.
The stranger said curtly, “Now that you two are finished, may I ask what the disruption in? I thought you said you planned for this?”
“I thought I said it was on the run!” exclaimed Sonic, as quiet as he could. “Look, just, both of you, we’re getting into the city, and then we’re busting out of this truck. Until then, just be quiet for a little while so I can concentrate. I haven’t done this in awhile.”
Sonic breathed deep, and shut his eyes. “Ironically, a technique Ringo helped me learn.
“He just never thought I’d actually be able to use it.”
Now in the centre of the island, Shadow and Rouge were closing in on the emerald. Coordinates from intelligence would guide them to the rough location, then Shadow’s instinctive draw to its energy would lead them the remaining distance. Deep as he was in the jungle, the thick canopy above nearly blocked out all moonlight entirely. His relied on his limited night-vision (much more effective in close-quarters, indoor situations) to ensure he did not accidentally slip into the hundreds of steep slopes, or into a bog.
From somewhere near the treetops, Rouge radioed in, “I thought it was stressed this area of the island was mostly uninhabited?”
Shadow sighed, “What have you found?”
Shadow did so. The jungle was dense, humid and random. No pattern existed in the way the messy underbrush coalesced around thin, elastic trees. In the mountainous terrain that made travelling by foot so difficult, many trees were giants, forcing the forest canopy to about sixty feet high. Eyes narrowed, he focused on this canopy, but it was too dark.
“I don’t see anything –what is it?”
“Then look closely at some of larger trees around you.”
Holding back a growl of irritation at her love for intrigue, Shadow haughtily did as she asked. After a few seconds study of the some of the larger trees, patterns began to appear.
Suddenly feeling exposed, he ducked into the damp and muddy underbrush. “How many?”
“It’s difficult to tell, they’re extraordinarily well hidden from a distance. It never breaches the canopy, I can see solar panels disguised as foliage up here, and bridges and lifts.”
The network of tree-houses was now impossible not to see. The wood was painted in green camouflauge, and cut without sharp edges and long lines. Lifts and bridges mimicked vines and were mostly concealed by real canopy. This he now saw wherever he looked.
“We’re in a hornets nest…”
“Maybe not. This could be a way to hide civilians…”
“Pirates don’t have civilians.”
“That’s a handy way for a military organisation to think.”
Shadow shook his head, and focused all energy on pinpointing the emerald. They were almost on top of the coordinates.
“You’ve done missions here before, Rouge, you never argued with it then.”
“That was before we found this. I’m going to continue scouting.”
Shadow took a series of deep breaths to slow his heart back down. He’d been struck by more dangerous surprises, after all. It’s not like he hadn’t been hiding from enemies from above given the Black Fleet’s core weapons were airborne ships. And not only was the jungle thick but pitch black. The Pirates above were likely all asleep.
He still moved slower than before. Sliding into a sharp, wet ditch, he kept slow and moved close to the ground. After nearly twenty minutes jumping, rolling, climbing and running through the jungle his entire bottom half was nearly caked in mud.
“We’re nearly on top of it.”
“I know… I can feel it.”
A sudden rumble vibrated through the ground. Shadow stopped still.
“The distance is too for me to make out accurately, but I can see at least half a dozen ships just took off from the water. At least four corvettes.”
“Do you think Redfreid’s finished with Torrent?” said Shadow, resuming his pace. The network of treehouses seemed never-ending – in fact their concentration appeared to be increasing.
“I have it.”
Leaping one last muddy, slippery ditch with more vigor than he had dared show before, Shadow allowed the energy of the emerald to overwhelm his specially tuned senses. He felt he could taste, hear and smell the emerald simultaneously.
“There’s a large tree-house to the north of you. It’s… actually quite amazing. It’s built over a steep waterfall, can you hear it?
“Just,” said Shadow, focusing entirely on the emerald’s scent.
He had almost been lying, he was too fixated on his search, but as he slipped silently over damp leaves and flexible branches, Rouge’s treehouse appeared.
Now that he focused on it, he had to accept her wonder. It must have been the central point of the jungle network, and here, deepest in the jungle, the most obvious. Though it did not breach the canopy, it created a subtle yet bold wall of wood built almost like a temple. It was built alongside the river before it transformed into a waterfall. Extending from near the canopy were a network of bridges. Vines and trees laced and obscured its dark walls, from this ferns grew, giving it the appearance it had been overrun.
It had been overrun.
The thought had just appeared in Shadow’s head when Rouge made the connection.
“And here I got my hopes up somebody had actually come up with something special here. This place isn’t camouflaged, it’s abandoned.”
Far from upset, Shadow was grateful.
“Come down, there’s no need to hide, there really is nobody here.”
A glint of light blue light, unnatural, from his left, near the foot of the giant treehouse, close to the edge of waterfall.
He spun, and grinned wickedly as he saw it, red eyes piercing the dark. Half-hidden between leaves and vines and underbrush.
Two wings rushed through the canopy and into the sky.
Irritated, Shadow said, “Rouge, I said come down.”
“I’m right here.”
Looking at him as if slightly offended, she had landed silently behind him, on a rock protruding from the rapidly moving river.
Which meant –
Shadow spoke darkly. “He’s here.”
They had been driving for perhaps half an hour, and Sonic was beginning to feel under pressure – not at all what he needed right now. Silver’s huffs and nervous twitches were not helping. Even with his eyes closed, the three of them were shoved so close to together Silver could not so much as breathe without disturbing Sonic. The sway of the truck and bumps on the road and the heat and his thirst were all tugging at his attention, making it difficult, if not impossible, to concentrate.
The last time he had done this, however, Sonic reminded himself, he had been under enormous pressure. In fact he had been certain he’d been about to die, which, due to circumstances and experiences he’d rather not remember, had allowed him to relax enough in order to enter what his teacher at the Bu Xi Tai academy and Ringo had called ‘The Alpha State’. It referred to the types of brain waves they were capable of producing, and controlling them to alter pain, strength, reflex, hunger or thirst. Mind over matter, except Sonic was pretty sure the last time had been a fluke and after years of barely thinking about it he was unlikely to ever enter the Alpha State again.
“Just concentrate…” he murmured to himself, slowing his heart back down.
“Sonic,” muttered Silver through gritted teeth, “Are you ever actually going to do anything?”
Sonic ignored him, head bowed.
“Sonic…” snarled Silver.
“Leave him, be,” snapped the stranger, “I’m tired of your bickering.”
Silver turned his irritation from Sonic to her.
“Who are you, anyway?” Silver squinted in the dark. He thought she might be a cat. “You’re not one of them?”
“Obviously,” she replied, dryly, shaking her fisticuffs. “No, I ran for help. They didn’t like that.”
“But they can’t contain a whole a city,” said Silver, puzzled.
“They do not need the whole city, just those who run it. Hm.” She made a happy, curious kind of noise, as if entertained, “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“Uh… I don’t know most people, um, here,” saying ‘on the planet’ sounded a bit dramatic.
“Ha. Well maybe for the better, then.” she said. Silver saw the tips of ear flick with satisfaction. She seemed snooty, and Silver could not help but assume her to some kind of aristocrat. It would match with Shamar’s current situation and explain Ringo’s interest in keeping her contained.
“Can they really just… take over your country?” asked Silver. He remembered Tails’ explanation of Shamar’s complicated relationship between its ruling council and the military.
“Over my dead body.” said the girl through clenched teeth, wholly serious.
“That’s very drastic…” said Silver, alarmed. He shot a glare at Sonic as if it was his fault.
“The people are frightened… frightened of Robotnik. But the military cannot run a country.”
“R-right.” Silver knew nothing and cared little for politics, especially here on this foreign world. Sonic had got them mixed up in this mess. Silver cursed himself for not taking Nickel and striking out on their own. Sonic was a loose cannon, and all three of them, Tails and Knuckles, were wrapped up in affairs Silver could barely comprehend.
“What’s your name?” she asked, “I know his.” She nodded to the mute Sonic.
“Silver,” he sighed. He wanted to moan, scream even. He didn’t want to be here, he didn’t need to be here. But it seemed it would accomplish nothing. When Sonic was free, when he was free, he’d let his feelings loose.
“Yours?” he asked, deadpan, not really caring. He wondered what would happen when the van halted.
“Ki’assa I’tidal Emuishèr Ra… I guess there’s little point hiding it at this point.” She pronounced her first name to rhyme with ‘tie’.
When Silver did not react, she asked of him with some urgency, “That means nothing to you?”
He shrugged. He vaguely remembered Tails mentioning a ‘Ra’ in the context of leadership.
“I am seventh in line to the Sun!” she cried indignantly. “Seventh imperial sovereign heir apparent! Emiress of Mahal and life-delegate to the Royal foreign affairs commission!”
“The… what?” asked Silver, leaning away at her outburst. He’d never heard of an ‘Emiress’ or Mahal, and how could you be in line to the sun?
“By the Ra, where are you from, another planet? The title of Ra has existed for thousands of years! You insult me in your ignorance!”
“Alright alright… wow.”
Sonic suddenly yelped and jerked to the right.
“Ow ow ow ow!” he snarled, holding his hands tight to his chest.
“Sonic… you’re free!”
Silver could just see the broken fisticuffs lying in their metal hook on the floor. In breaking them, it seemed, Sonic had not prepared for the whiplash.
“Mauro, that stings,” he hissed, standing as best he could in the swaying truck, shaking his wrists as if trying to shake the pain out. “Well I wouldn’t exactly call that the Alpha State, but it worked!” Sonic was completely unsure whether his meditation had worked or if it had just been the enhanced strength millions of Magic Rings allowed.
Silver tugged at his own fisticuffs, hoping to replicate Sonic’s success.
“How do I get free?” Silver demanded.
“Working on it. You – you’re the Ra’s daughter?” Sonic felt that explained a lot. Shamar was a tricky place. With Ki’s influence, she might have just reinstated herself as leader in her father’s place elsewhere in Shamar, eradicating the military’s legitimacy through their coup. “Excellent...”
To Silver’s shock, Sonic retook his position beside him, holding the broken fisticuffs to his wrist.
“What are you doing, get us out of here!”
“What do you want me to do, topple the truck? Then what? We need to get to Pylon, remember? And if we’ve got her,” he indicated Ki, “and they’ve already rounded up all the politicians and whatever then they might be taking us to join them.”
Ki spoke, “I imagine they’ll want to ransom you to Robotnik, however, not leave you captive with me.”
“Tell me, for a royal you’re pretty calm about all this. I thought some powdered princess might be more than a little upset about a coup?”
Ki swelled. “I am a trained Gyasi…” she deflated a little, an explained in a lower tone, “I am the youngest of seven girls. My chances of ruling are slim. So, as well as my studies, I train in the Gyasi art.”
“Never heard of it.”
“We guard the most sacred of sites!”
“What are you doing, anyway? Stop our captors! I order you to!”
Sonic chuckled. “Not a chance. I’m here to get Pylon. I wouldn’t have minded some in-flight entertainment other than you two but those thugs are probably taking me straight to him.”
“I will scream, and tell them you’re free!”
“Then I’ll leave you here, all chained up.” Sonic doubted he could do that, but he’d rather her not do what she threatened.
“You will anyway!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sonic said, stalling, “Don’t worry, after all if I get Pylon out then there’s your chief of police free to fight for Shamar!” He said the last three words with gusto. “C’mon, Ki. There’s like a thousand people who’d throw a fit if I started getting mixed up in a foreign powers politics. Let me do what I can.”
He hated these kinds of situations. Words meant little – if he saw Ringo and his pals actually hurting innocent people, then politics would mean even less.
“And how are you going to get your friend Pylon out?” asked Silver, “No – who even is Pylon?”
“Old friend” –
“So? Look where I am!” he shook his binds viciously, “tell me what I’m here for!”
“I, too, would like to know what you’d want with my father’s chief of police,” said Ki, quietly.
“He…” Sonic faltered while trying to squirm out of the question – where to begin? The entire world did not know, but the success of the Robotnik war on the side of the free was down to Pylon. Pylon believing in Knuckles when he said Echidna technology could give them an edge, Pylon letting them through the gates when they were just children and into Robotnik-occupied Spagonia in order to steal and deprive the despot of Magic Rings, Pylon with his unique contacts persuading the U.F and GUN to involve themselves in the war, Pylon who had kept Sonic together in his darkest hour. The war had ended to the rest of the world with the destruction of Robotropolis, the freeing of all the roboticised. But to Pylon, as long as Robotnik still lived his personal crusade continued.
“Guys, I honestly wouldn’t know where to start,” said Sonic. “Without him, I doubt any of us would be here. So I’m going to get him out, and if I can I’m going to stop Ringo, too.”