The half-dozen robots were no real challenge. Sonic felt a little bad for the courtyard though.
He zipped around it in a spindash as much as on his feet, using the environment for cover while irregularly picking off the robots from angles that allowed him to avoid Ringo and quickly duck behind a wall, fountain or tree. The hot balls of translucent energy the robots fired were slower than bullets, but blew large holes in the clay and set fire to the palm-trees. Sonic had already attempted to get the robots to shoot at Ringo, but the wolverine was quicker than expected, and positioned himself deftly throughout the cat-and-mouse shootout.
With two robots to go after two minutes, Sonic felt a little bored. He found himself playing with robots until he realised the damage he was causing to the courtyard was probably unwarranted. Him versus half a dozen robots? There were at least thirty back at Angel Island. At least Silver would be happy; this would be wrapped up soon.
The two robots stood at opposite ends of the courtyard, firing regularly. Ringo stood closer to the centre, yellow eyes watching Sonic’s every move. Sonic saw an opportunity.
Timing his movements with the regular shots of the robots, he sprinted up the side of the courtyard’s bordering corridors, leaping into the air with a powerful lunge.
While airborne, he noticed the silhouettes of two figures dashing together in a violent quickstep atop a roof to his left. Silver objects appeared to whirl around them, only visible from the moonlight they erratically reflected.
Good – if this went as planned he’d have at least one of the sniper siblings facing up to GUN before the night was out.
Sailing through the air in a precise arc, he landed nimbly at Ringo’s feet in a crouch.
The wolverine already had both fists raised for the pummeling blow.
Using the energy stored from the landing, Sonic sprung off again, rolling back to the relative safety of the corridors. He had barely vacated the patch of space in front of Ringo before two balls of hot energy whizzed past each other, skinning Ringo's shins. A satisfying whump followed by shrieks of sheared metal signalled Sonic’s success.
"Stupid hunks of scrap!" Sonic cheered, congratulating himself.
Kneeling from the pain of his burnt legs, Ringo roared in fury.
"Don't complain to me, man," quipped Sonic, not flinching, "I did tell you this was stupid."
Punching the ground so hard Sonic could feel it quake beneath his sneakers, Ringo rose, the bulk of his dark fur blotting out the moon as it crept higher above the horizon.
Sonic tossed his head in taunt, then began encircling the wolverine, walking carefully but confidently, trying to elicit an aggressive response. It was almost too easy; it was the same technique he used commonly against a number of opponents; Knuckles, Metal Sonic, even Shadow. Enrage the opponent until they're cooked, until they can barely think straight. That's when they mistakes, that's when the leave themselves vulnerable.
"C'mon Ringo!" yelled Sonic from amongst the rubble of the courtyard left from the robots, "Show me some of that rage! Remind me why Master Shukun chose to train ME over YOU!"
Ringo launched a full frontal attack. A rampaging train, his speed and power meant Sonic barely had to charge himself.
Deftly, at the last second he quickstepped the remains of the central fountain still standing vertical, and in a fierce spindash raked across the front of Ringo's face.
He felt a moderate pang of regret at Ringo's howl of pain, clutching his eyes in the throes of agony as he thudded to his knees. But he had little time to stop.
Briefly quitting his spindash, he saw Ki stumble and fall on the roof above. No momentum lost, he leapt the ten feet to the roof.
The weasel was bearing down on Ki, knives poised, but made the mistake of looking behind her instead of above.
Impossibly kicking off the air itself, Sonic spindashed straight down. Jackie was instantly stunned by the impact, Sonic’s velocity driving them both to the ground in an ungainly crash. Recovering quickly, Sonic knelt on Jackie’s back, but she didn’t look like she was getting up again any time soon.
“One down, one to go,” said Sonic happily. His eyes flicked up to the Princess, who, shaking, was propping herself up on her elbows. “You’re welcome. But, thanks for that, by the way.” He nodded at the mounted sniper, “Didn’t see that there.”
“Where… where did you come from?”
Sonic didn’t bother answering. He patted down Jackie until he found what he was looking for. He exclaimed, “Aha!” when he revealed a set of fisticuffs from the weasel’s belt. Bounty hunters sure could be useful. As he cuffed Jackie he said to Ki, “Should you be escaping, or something?”
Ki appeared to collect herself before answering, making a concerted effort to keep everything from her hands to her tail from shaking, “No. I saw the guards overwhelmed and have heard no gunfire. Pylon is free, he will assemble his police force, I must count on him. If the coup is already over then I had no chance of escaping the Pyramid Kingdom anyway. But the military have not yet appeared to crush this… resistance.”
“So… you think something’s up?”
“Possibly… There are three stages to a coup, gathering intelligence and allies, removing the current heads of states and those in power and then justification. Whoever launched this one only went as far as stage two.”
“… Right.” Sonic stood and surveyed the scene below. From what little he knew of Shamar combined with everything he knew of Ringo, he had another theory, but it didn't matter one way or the other right now. The courtyard was reduced to rubble. The humongous and ornamental glass window was completely shattered, but all infrastructure outside of the immediate zone had been barely touched.
“Well I’ve seen worse,” shrugged Sonic. His gaze eventually fell on Ringo. The hulking figure crouched in pain, leaning on what remained of the fountain for support.
Ki looked at Ringo. “You know him?”
“Once. We spent time at the same school… not a normal one, mind.”
“What was the value of this abnormal education?”
“Well… it was different for each of us. Amy learnt Piko art, Knuckle-head studied with the last of his kind, Tails did… engineering, or something.”
“And Ringo?” Ki looked at him darkly, “I don’t even want to know what chemical cocktail he was on to get like that.”
Sonic waved in dismissal, “Actually, that’s what I was getting to. It’s no cocktail. He was there before we were. Remember what I was going on about back in the truck, about the Alpha State?”
“No, Alpha State?”
“It’s a technique the monks up there were proficient at. Mind over matter stuff, controlling their brain to slow down their heart long enough to remain underwater for six hours, attain super-human reflexes, that kind of thing.”
Ki’s eyes widened, tail flicking in shock, “You think that wolverine got like that just by thinking about it?”
“Well it’s not just ‘thinking about’ it. And yeah. Absolutely. Nobody gave him Magic Rings, there’s no cocktail in the world that could get him like that, unless maybe he’s had a run in with some shady GUN branch or something. But this was what he studied at Bu Xi Tai, and he was good, too. He’s increased… muscle mass, bone structure, everything, to get like that. Don’t ask me why though. I didn’t think he survived the Robotnik war until today.”
Sonic expected the usual, ‘what on Mobius is a Magic Ring!’, but Ki had other issues to concern herself with.
“That’s another thing,” murmured Ki, “the Robotnik robots. Is the Mad Doctor here?”
Sonic shrugged, “When Tails finally shows up I’m sure he’ll tell us.”
“My little brother. Sheesh, that reminds me – I better go check on Silver.”
As he turned, Sonic suddenly saw the danger reflected in Ki’s wide blue eyes.
“Sonic, look –"
Sonic had no idea what had hit him until he was lying on the ground outside the courtyard. Something had thrown him straight off the roof. He had landed hard on the uneven brick hard, skidding several feet, but nothing appeared to be broken. Several metres away a large chunk of clay rubble, weighing easily over fifty kilograms, was lodged in the next building.
Groaning, Sonic forced himself up. His side stung through the numbness. He could smell Magic Ring residue in the air. Straight ahead, Ringo was marching straight through the bordering corridor. With powerful waves of his tree-trunk arms he smashed through the supporting columns in a single motion.
“YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT RAGE IS.”
He lumbered closer. Sonic could see not see any remains of his left eye, but his right was fixed on him with searing hatred.
Sonic dredged up some attitude from the surprise attack. As robustly as he could he rose to his feet. “Give it up, Ringo! Whatever scheme you and Robotnik had goin’ on here is over!”
Sonic had the feeling he was wasting his breath. He stood, and quickly calculated his chances. If he was caught in close quarters he was done for – but he had got two hits previously without consequence. Ringo was too slow. Still, tiring him out would only work to his advantage.
“Fine, Ringo, you want it that way!” challenged Sonic. The wolverine was upon him, the whites of his eyes visible as he raised one enormous, hairy arm.
Sonic rolled straight back as Ringo’s arm came crashing down, denting the bricks where Sonic had been. Sonic’s momentum carried him straight back to the building behind him. He planted both feet on the vertical wall, absorbing all remaining energy in his knees, then lunged forwards once more. He kept his movement sharp and erratic, throwing Ringo off projecting his point of impact.
He blazed past Ringo, quills grazing across the humongous bare feet.
Emboldened by his success for far, Sonic widened the distance between them to twenty feet before shooting back like a rubber band. Zigzagging in, Sonic aimed for Ringo’s chest now, hoping to ground him with the full force of a spindash.
But this time Ringo was ready.
Sonic had the chance to abort - that much he had to admit. But he gambled that his full acceleration would pack more power than Ringo's freak strength.
Ringo braced like a fielder. As Sonic leapt and like a bullet hurdled for his chest. Ringo absorbed the speed by launching himself backwards.
Sonic did not hear Ringo's roar of triumph as he was slapped forcefully into the ground.
He barely had time register the severity of his error, but somewhere in the back of his mind the irony of his mistake rang like a bell. He had caught Ringo out on blind rage, and Ringo had undone him on blind ego.
Brushing off the crash, Sonic scrambled away, but did not make it to a spindash before Ringo's hand smashed down on his legs.
Sonic yelled in pain as dread and disbelief filled his heart.
"No!" yelled Ki, stamping a fist on the parapet as the scene unfolded.
She could do nothing, had no weapon. She snarled in incredulity. The whole point of her risking her skin against Jackie for this boy was so he could deal with Ringo at least until help arrived - if there was any help to come. Pylon was free - why hadn't his police force yet arrived?
She watched helplessly as the brutish wolverine fixed Sonic in his fist, lifting him from the ground.
Even if her only reason to help this boy was to stop Ringo turning on her and marching her to the hall of Eternity and whatever he wanted there, Ki knew she had to act. But her urge to turn and run was becoming unbearable.
"Fine, find something in two seconds... or flee."
She promised herself this course of action, and then swung around, searching for a weapon, definitely hoping she would not find one and be allowed by her own conscience to leave.
She snorted angrily at what she saw.
Ringo’s fist stank somewhere between off porridge and rotting meat. Between that and the immense heat radiating from his leathery skin Sonic felt sure he would pass out in seconds. Or, he almost hoped he would. He was almost entirely enclosed in the brutish hand pushing him into the cement. He struggled, sharp quills cutting into Ringo’s palm, but it seemed the wolverine barely noticed.
Now entirely enclosed and trapped, Ringo lifted him. The pressure began to build. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move. He would be crushed.
“No no no!”
A sickening crack. Sonic screamed as the world flashed red. Then he was flying through the air once more, broken and unable to mitigate his landing.
The fall was painful beyond measure. He had been tossed like he weighed nothing, which, to Ringo he supposed he did, back into the courtyard. He smashed through one pillar supporting the corridor and crashed ungainly into the debris-ridden courtyard. He barrel-rolled for at least ten metres before coming to a stop.
He coughed, and gasped for breath. The cool night air was freezing now in contrast to Ringo’s body heat. He struggled to breathe. Spots of intense pain burned in his chest. Every piece of downward pressure he exerted to lift himself resulted in all of them flaring angrily. He had been crumpled like an aluminium can. He tried pushing and dragging himself to cover with his legs and arms, but there was nowhere to go.
He could at least flip himself to his back to observe his oncoming end. He was unable to hear anything else as Ringo thundered towards him. He had survived and been in the thick of the Robotnik War, the Black Arms invasion and Dark Gaia’s Uprising, and yet here was about to be finished by none other than an old school rival.
Ringo was nearly upon him, a murderous look in his eyes that told Sonic he was not talking his way out of this one.
Ringo roared and raised both fists, then brought them down with abandon.
This time Sonic did flinch and looked away, waiting for the end.
He suddenly felt freezing, but no blow came. Ringo roared again, but this time in something close to shock. He opened his eyes.
“Silver!” he choked.
A cyan dome protected them, its energy flowing from Silver’s outstretched palms. It lit up the courtyard with white-blue light. Silver stood directly in front of Sonic, buckled at the knees from Ringo’s blow. Blood flowed from his nose and ears, but his eyes shone with determination, face locked in a twisted battle-snarl.
Unable to comprehend what must have appeared supernatural phenomenon, Ringo took several steps back, eyes wide with disbelief.
“Silver!” Sonic gasped, “That was really good timing.”
Silver glanced back, but otherwise paid little attention. Teeth bared, he fixed his attention back on Ringo.
He swept his arms back. Several chunks of rubble lit up, encased in light. Ringo’s eyes darted to all of them.
“I have had enough!” shouted Silver, thrusting both hands forwards and with them a cloud of dust and the chunks of rubble he had selectively uplifted.
Ringo did not even react until the rocks smashed into him. Sonic’s spirits lifted marginally with each impact
“I don’t even know where I am!” exclaimed Silver, as if it were Ringo’s fault. “I have been beaten, shot at, I had to hijack a jet, been in a place crash, on the run from the military, then kidnapped by you! I! Just! Want! To! Go! HOME!”
He punctuated each word with enough chunk of rubble aimed right at Ringo’s head, who staggered back with each strike.
Sonic’s ears flicked as a familiar drone reached them. He looked skywards.
“Well it’s about time!” Sonic wheezed.
The red star-shaped plane spiraled down faster, closer. It dipped below the humungous dome of the building the hostages had been held in. Sonic would have flinched with worry for any other pilot, any other plane. If Tails had reached the centre of the city whilst airborne, that meant a good chance that Ringo’s coup was over.
“Silver!” he called. The exertion made the searing pangs in his chest seethe pain. It felt like barbed wire snagged on each one. “We’re home-free, get us out of here and let Tails deal with him!”
Silver snarled, “I am not home.”
He seemed to gather a wave of psychokinetic energy around him. Irregularly, tiny bolts of electricity coursed throughout. Meanwhile a cyan star, a small figure cloaked in light, descended from above. Tails had dove low to allow Nickel to disembark, intent on helping his brother. Sonic felt a surge of pride crest in his chest for the kid – he had come a long way.
Ringo lunged forwards just as Silver and his little brother from above launched two large waves of pure energy together at their foe. They sailed like canvasses of translucent light, electricity rushing within their thin, blanket-like composition.
A thunderclap, and suddenly Sonic was caught in a hurricane. He was flung back through blinding dust by some invisible force, boulders and carnage flying past him sometimes just inches from his face. Like the shockwave of an explosion everything rushed outwards from the epicentre.
The force disappeared as quickly as it had came. When Sonic realised that he in fact not been crushed by any of the rubble he opened his eyes.
He was half-buried in bricks and rock. He could see virtually nothing of the courtyard due to the thick dust the botched attack, or whatever it had been, of Silver’s had lifted into the hair.
Again he tried lifting himself, and again his chest would not support any weight at all. He was grounded. He choked out a lungful of the dust, and searched for an ally.
He found the opposite.
“Oh, c’mon!” he exclaimed. Barely five metres away a huge unmistakable figure was throwing large boulders of collapsed clay off his body. Through the dirt Sonic could very clearly see Ringo’s eyes, or remaining eye, staring straight at him. Raw skin still smoked on his shins where the robots had shot him.
A loud burst of sound and Ringo flinched as if bitten. Clawing at something on his back, his eye rolled into the back of his head. He took two ungainly steps towards Sonic before collapsing in a heap, a green dart sticking out from between his shoulder blades.
“O…K where did that come from?” Sonic asked aloud. He tensed and waited for a second dart to find him, but none came.
He heard Silver choking nearby.
“Silver! You okay, buddy!” Sonic called, propping himself up to lean against a collapsed pillar. The blast appeared to have toppled the boundary corridors.
“A rebound! Where’s Nickel? NICKEL!”
Silver staggered towards him. He was covered with cuts and scrapes from the shockwave. His white fur was nearly grey from the debris. Blood, Sonic presumed from overuse of his psychokinesis, covered his mouth and neck, as well as on his wrist where he had attempted to wipe it. He clutched his head with one hand and clenched one eye shut. He took one look at Sonic and said, “What on Mobius happened to you?”
Sonic rocked his head left and right, squinting. He wheezed, “Ah, four, maybe more, busted ribs. Probably a pierced lung as well seeing as I can’t breathe. So, you know… ok.”
Silver barely reacted. Seemingly considering that it really wasn’t his problem, he resumed calling, “Nickel!”
A loud mechanic drone grew in volume from above. Through the descending cloud came the Tornado MKII, stirring the dust and swirling it outwards. Tails switched all lights on to illuminate what he could of the destroyed courtyard. With the plane hovering above their heads, he opened the cockpit hatch and stretched out to look down at the scene.
“What happened to Ringo?” Tails cried.
“Thanks, buddy, I’m ok too,” choked Sonic.
“The police are coming, Sonic! Pylon got them moving and he contacted me once he was free… but it looks like you took out all the robots and Ringo. Glad to see you made it!”
“Actually, a shooter took out Ringo,” said Sonic, but he could no longer call loud enough for Tails to hear over the plane’s whine. Sensing the danger had past, Tails lowered the plane for landing. Meanwhile, Nickel appeared from within the remainder of the dust cloud.
“Silver! What was that? Are you ok?” He, too, seemed to squint past what Sonic guessed was a crippling headache. His fingers massaged both his temples.
“What do you mean what was that?” exclaimed Silver, somewhat angrily, “That was a rebound! Didn’t you see me?”
“Ah… no. Um, sorry, bro.”
“Just as well nobody got crushed.”
Sonic said in little more than a rasp, “What’s a rebound?”
“It’s what happens when two different kinetic fields collide. It’s, well…” Silver took another exasperated look at the courtyard, “explosive.” He looked again at Sonic. “But, seriously, what happened to you?”
Sonic gasped, “Weren’t… you… watching?”
“No! I… I helped the hostages and Pylon… I,” a look of empowerment blazed on his face, “I fended off that wolverines cronies! I-I stopped bullets!”
“Woo…” said Sonic weakly, feebly pumping his fists in a cheering motion, “He’s the hero! Everybody…” he stopped to cough, “Silver’s the hero!”
“Sonic!” called Tails, now sounding distant, “The military denounced the coup! The Ra is free! It’s over!”
Sonic vaguely wished there had been a Chaos emerald somewhere in the mess that was Shamar. He also acknowledged that his earlier theory had been right.
“So it was,” another coughing fit, “a proxy. Guys I should probably get to a hospital I can’t breathe.”
“What’s a proxy?” asked Nickel, looking to Silver, who just shrugged in response.
“Garden variety politics with a conspiracy twist,” rasped Sonic, “Really has nothing to do with us. Military probably funded this coup, made the Ra look bad, then will start hammering whoever runs this place sayin’ that they can’t govern.”
It was convoluted but it also answered the paralysis of Pylon’s police force. The military worked it like theatre: pay Ringo to terrorise the Pyramid Kingdom, subdue him in an apparent victory for the military, then blame the Ra for whatever they liked. People would believe anything if their personal security was at risk. It left one loose end though: where had they gotten Robotnik robots? Sonic had never heard of Robotnik sponsoring this kind of activity if it wasn’t directly helping him: and Sonic doubted the military and Robotnik were going to share Shamar. So what here was so important Robotnik allowed his involvement?
Maybe there was something else in Shamar worth his interest. At least, if Robotnik wanted it, so did he.
Tails disembarked the Tornado MKII. A green tongue of fire remained burning from the plane’s engine and all four nodes at the tips of the wings continued to burn.
“Oh, kinda like what we did to Aleena in East Spag,” contemplated Tails.
“No! We didn’t ask Robotnik to invade Fresk the day after she chucked us in jail!” said Sonic, sounding a little defensive.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Silver dismissively. He indicated Ringo, “What happened to him?”
Sonic would have pointed out irritably that he had already told them and reprimanded everyone with his remaining breath for not keeping up, but the dust cloud was getting thicker. Within seconds he couldn’t see the Tornado MKII, then Nickel, then Silver.
With a mental sigh he let go of reality, letting his body shut down and allowing the Magic Rings to begin their healing.