The torch-lit hall seemed to enclose her with her own grief. Her footfalls echoed throughout the long chamber, and she came to despise the sensory proof that she was leaving the Gyasect forever. Ki had not cried since the hard, long days when she first joined the Gyasi. This in mind, she fiercely forced her eyesight to remain clear as she walked away from the one place she had truly found sanctuary. Only hours ago, she had been certain her Gyasi would praise her role in the downfall of the short but dangerous uprising. Any thought she would be instead ostracized for the danger she had nearly brought upon them had never crossed her mind.
She wanted to shout her frustration. What else was there for her? She was now trapped in the role she had been born into. For eight years she had bathed in the certainty she had found peace in exile. The complicated power struggles between her father and the military that inevitably came crashing down on her or her sisters could not touch her in these walls. When she exited this tunnel and surfaced in the Pyramid Kingdom she would be Princess Ki’assa I’tidal Emuishèr Ra again. It sounded lofty, but she knew better. It meant power struggles, politics, alliances, a web of lies and promises that would take generations yet to unwind. And Zia…
Ki closed her eyes, trying not to see her Grandmother’s face in her mind’s eye. Failing, she cringed. There was a great deal of work to do.
With baited breath Sonic waited for a response. Tails and Amy, listening in absolute silence from beneath the Tornado MKII, were white as paper. They sat in front of a laptop connected to the Tornado MKII’s cockpit by messy ropes of colourful wires. For their benefit Sonic veiled his emotions with fortitude, staring at the cockpit's jumble of controls without really seeing them while concentrating on holding his nerve. His heart hammered in his chest.
When Shadow replied, Sonic knew the smile he had worn while tormenting him not thirty seconds ago was nothing more than a ghost on his face.
“Say that again.”
Keeping his voice steady, Sonic said, “I don’t like this, Shadow. You’ve done us good and we’ve done you good… but Fang’s one of the bad-guys. You’re the only one who can make this happen.”
Sonic wanted to think Shadow’s pause was a stunned silence. Only a select few in GUN knew Shadow was half Black Arms, and had at one point actively worked against the fate of Mobius. Of this select few, perhaps even less knew the extent of Shadow’s abilities and his exact origin. If the world knew how much power Shadow harboured, his freedom would certainly be compromised. At the very least GUN could no longer be both his shield and his weapon.
Sonic expected a tone soaked in deadly venom, but Shadow’s voice was controlled, “I see. I will post a warrant for him immediately. War crimes sound agreeable?”
Tails and Amy exchanged confused, alarmed looks.
Sonic searched quickly for the right words to use. “Thank you” –
But the line cut. Shadow had hung up. The unbroken tension was a noose that had not yet been pulled.
“Brilliant,” muttered Amy, removing and folding up her headset with a snap, “this was a terrible idea.”
“At least you pulled it off, Sonic,” said Tails as the hedgehog jumped down from the cockpit, “and I get to hack their number again, I suppose.”
“I’m kind of more on Amy’s side of the fence,” admitted Sonic, “on the bright side, we might be able to talk Knucklehead back onto the team. Give him a week or so…”
“The bright side isn’t that Fang’s going to prison?” asked Amy, folding her arms.
“It would be, but I’m not too sure it’s going to happen.” Sonic thought carefully for several seconds. His eyes quickly shot to Tails with alarm. Pointing, he said, “Quick, call the Chaotix!”
“Oh, ok, um, why?”
“Just do it! Ugh, this was a stupid idea!”
“Oh, um, ok…”
Tails began tapping at the laptop’s keyboard. After several seconds he stopped to listen into his headset.
“It’s ringing…” Tails shrugged to Sonic, “they’re not picking up.”
“This really was a stupid idea,” huffed Sonic, “Why on Mobius did I listen to Knuckles! Keep listening, we need to make sure they’re ok.”
“I’m just going to open their channel myself,” said Tails, bending down to continue working on his laptop.
“You can do that?” asked Amy.
“I built all your equipment!”
“Ok… it just sounds like a breach of privacy, is all.”
To Tails this probably sounded ungrateful, so the two began bickering. Sonic slumped in the Tornado MKII’s uncomfortable cockpit, reeling at what he might have just done. Shadow was nasty. He was no hero; he was cruel. And he did not like sharing. And as he could not have what he wanted, he would make sure nobody did.
It was taking longer than anyone was comfortable accepting to contact the Chaotix. “You think that weasel might have done something?” asked Amy, “Even to Espio?”
“I’m through. Chaotix, come in? Vector – can you hear me? It’s Tails.”
He continued like this for some time. Sonic was already processing just who they might know near Chillidor to go check on them when Vector’s voice came through the headset.
“Tail’s… that you?” Bumps and squeaks of static burst through their headsets, and Vector’s voice came through again, though he sounded exhausted, “Great snapping turtles, that was terrifying.”
“We know about Fang. What happened? Are you guys ok?”
“You know? Well that was fast. We kind of, um, lost him.”
Amy appeared to reel. “How!? We only spoke to Shadow less than five minutes ago!”
Sonic scoffed, “It took us thirty seconds to contact three people in the middle of a jungle an ocean away. Great.”
“He received a text message, next second he went for the handbrake, crafty bugger. OW! Charmy! Sorry, guys, I’ve got pieces of windshield between my scales.”
“Uh…unconscious? I hope.”
“Great,” said Tails, deadpan, “And Fang?”
“No, it’s ok! We’re gonna catch him! I promise, he won’t get away from the Chaotix! Don’t worry about us guys, we’ve got it under control - OW! Charmy!”
They hung up. Sonic snorted with laughter, causing Amy to shoot him a frosty glare.
“What?” He leapt to the ground and made for the hangar door. “C’mon, I’m sick of thinking about that weasel anyway. Tell the SSS if you want but it’s gonna mean a lot of explaining.”
“For you!” exclaimed Amy, furious, “Don’t you think you’re not taking this seriously enough?”
“He isn’t a threat to anyone anymore.”
“He just threw the Chaotix through a windshield!”
“Buckle up next time, safety first.”
He swung around, clearly wishing this topic would just go away, “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t you all about this sooner. It was stupid, but I didn’t like thinking about it. This is what we wanted, he’s gone now. He’ll go curl up in some hole at the bottom of the world now and we’ll never see him again. We have better things to be doing. Tails, I had the idea of talking to Ki again.”
“The princess – never mind. Ringo singled her out back in the Pyramid Kingdom, she might be able to tell us something about why we were even here. Once we’ve got that sorted we can make Silver’s day and get the heck out of Shamar.”
“Ok, any idea where she might be?”
“Not a clue. Guess we speak to Pylon first. Is the Tornado good here?”
Probably on Pylon’s good books, they were in a small hangar near to the airport. It was dark, dingy and smelt of petrol, and Sonic wanted to leave as soon as possible.
“Um, yeah, I guess so, Pylon said we had it for as long as we wanted.”
“Good, let’s go.”
They both jogged for the exit. Not stopping, Sonic turned back around.
Amy answered stiffly, “No, somebody has to let Algie know about Fang.”
Sonic and Tails disappeared out the hangar, probably to race back into the city in search of Pylon. With a huff Amy sat down at the laptop. Silver and Nickel stepped forwards from the sides of the hangar. Amy had pretty much forgotten they had even tagged along to the hanger, being so absorbed in their thoughts surrounding Fang, and the consequences of threatening Shadow.
Nickel jumped and latched onto the plane, hovering a second before rising to sit atop it as Sonic had done.
“Sorry, guys. Sonic and Tails will just sort out… whatever they’re doing, and then we’re back on the trail of the emeralds and Nyx. Hopefully somewhere along the line we work out how to get you two back where you belong.”
“Can we just take the plane and leave them here?” asked Silver.
“He did save your life from Ringo,” pointed out Amy.
Silver spluttered in protest, “My life? I saved his life! Ringo was about to turn him into a meat patty!”
Amy frowned at Ringo’s name. “First him, then Fang. Huh. Come to think of it Metal Sonic seems to turn up every other year. Robotnik’s still not gone. Maybe we’re not very good at the ‘take out the bad guys’ bit.”
“Let’s just focus on this guy, Fang, for now,” said Silver. He sat himself down on a nearby crate.
Amy grimaced. She agreed with at least something Sonic had said, she was sick of thinking about that weasel.
“I guess… he betrayed us. But the consequences were… real. I guess.”
“Why did Sonic cover for him, then?” asked Nickel from atop the plane.
“I have no idea,” muttered Amy, “But he’s never been clear on what exactly happened after he blew up Robotropolis. I know he wasn’t in a good state of mind – by Mauro, he let us all believe he was dead for the better part of a year…”
Silver said, “That doesn’t seem to be what Knuckles was getting at…”
Amy huffed. "This stuff is difficult. I don't like talking about it. "
"Why?" pressed Silver. Amy shot him a searing glare, but it was half-hearted. She sighed again, "Fang and his sister chased us all over the world. Then, he claims he switched sides. He asks to join the Freedom Fighters. Every single one of us says no… except Sonic." She tightened her folded arms, bunching them up her body as if in recoil of a stomach pain. "By the end of the war we had lost a lot of our friends, and Spagonia had been hammered. Fang had been leaking intelligence the entire time, and... roboticised me when I found out."
Silver cocked his head. Sonic or Tails had mentioned something about ‘robotisation’ somewhere in the last few days.
“But something’s never added up with Sonic… and Fang. He won’t talk about it and we never asked because we thought at least one of them was dead for the past four years!”
“Who is Algie?” asked Nickel.
“Algernon. He’s, uh, well he’s who we go to in Spagonia if we need something done. Don’t worry about it. I’m emailing him now.”
Silver and Nickel exchanged glances. The latter just shrugged.
Silver said, “You people are easily the most interesting we have ever met. Well, what do we do now?”
Amy slapped the laptop shut. “Tails was very rude to me earlier.” She twisted around to look at the red plan towering above her. “I do like his plane, though.”
Sonic and Tails made it to the outer edge of the Pyramid Kingdom within a few minutes, sprinting with blistering speed up the empty mainstreet. Sonic was aiming straight for the middle of the outer wall.
“No, Sonic, wait!”
Tails hit the brakes, and after a hundred-meters irritated deliberation Sonic screeched to a halt.
“What?” he demanded.
“We can’t just jump over the wall!”
Sonic stared dumbfounded first at Tails, then at the towering red structure he had been aiming for.
“Well why not?”
“It’s a historical site! The west entrance is like thirty seconds that way!”
“You’ve gotta be kidding, I’d spindash straight through it if it wasn’t solid concrete! Now I’ve gotta reset my run-up, it’s at least fifty meters high…”
“Just come to the actual entrance, Sonic.”
“I reckon you just don’t think you can make the jump,” taunted Sonic.
Headlights suddenly blazed from in front of Tails, drowning the fox into a thin silhouette and blinding Sonic. There was suddenly a lot of shouting, but one voice boomed over the others.
“NO! Hold your fire! I know them!”
The lights lowered in intensity, revealing a jeep behind them. Sonic and Tails had been bickering too loudly to hear its approach. It rolled to a stop in front of them, and a rather unimpressed lynx jumped out.
“Keep up the patrol,” Pylon barked to the driver, waving him on.
“That’s handy,” said Sonic, “we were just coming to see you.”
Pylon wore a bullet-proof vest amongst other armour. He removed his helmet, and said sharply to Tails, “I thought I made it clear we’re in a lockdown. I even got you a hangar!”
Tails waved his hands in surrender, pointing, without much need, to Sonic.
“And you. This city owes you thanks, but I thought you were in hospital?”
Sonic said without even bothering to hide his ego, “Looks like I’ve got enough ring residue to soak up a half-dozen broken ribs in twenty-four hours, easy.”
Pylon crossed his arms the best he could with the bulky vest on. “I see. Looks like you’re well ahead of where Manik was then.”
Sonic smile only flickered for a second. “Yeah… cool! I’ll need to go grab another couple of hundred rings to top up what Ringo crushed out of me in case we run into any trouble in the next day or so…”
“Oh?” asked Pylon, “what did I interrupt this time?”
Tails explained humbly, “We’re not entirely sure. But basically another emerald hunt.”
“We’ve got one,” chirped Sonic, tossing the blue emerald, its entrance into the physical world accompanied by a flash of light, into the air, over his head to his other hand. He quickly re-absorbed the emerald. “We’ll get the rest. Always do. But even though we came out of our way to come get you, I’ve got a funny feeling about Robotnik being involved here. You don’t have any idea why his robots were here?”
Pylon paused for a moment to think. Lynxes were naturally rather intimidating, tall, dark, and a natural fur pattern that intensified their facial features. Unlike most anthrohumans, but in common with wolverines, some of their teeth were pointed. He eventually said, “I had time to think about it. I considered that, even though it’s unusual, he was contracting. A sign we’re looking more and more on the same playing field.”
Sonic shrugged. It was looking like the more likely explanation. Still, he supposed Ki was still worth the investigation. If not just to thank her for stopping Ringo.
“I thought that, too, but I just had one thing to clear up before we could put it to bed. We wanted to speak to that princess, Ki?”
“You wanted to speak to her,” murmured Tails, “everyone else wants out of here.”
Pylon smirked, “And why would you want to speak to her?”
Unphased, Sonic replied, “Ringo made a big deal out of getting information from her. I think. It’s just a loose end to tie up.”
“Uh-huh. She went to the Gyasect, the headquarters of the Gyasi.”
“What’s that?” frowned Tails, looking to Sonic for explanation.
Pylon said, “They’re… well, a little odd. The Gyasi were once the cultural elite of Shamar. That era is over and they function more as a university now, but they still produce some of the most brilliant mathematicians, politicians, artisans, and so on. It’s not unusual to hear them referred to as something akin to a cult. There are different branches… Princess Ki’assa’s station is…” Pylon lowered his voice to a whisper, “a little political.”
“Well we’ll skip that part then,” said Sonic, quickly, very much uninterested in getting bogged down in any more Shamarite politics. “We can find her there?”
“It would be a good start. It’s the building to the north of the east entrance.”
“Ok,” said Sonic, waving for Tails to follow him, “Thanks, Pylon! Say ‘hi’ to Clara and the kids for us!”
Knowing the difficulties of getting Sonic to sit in one place for too long, Pylon did not protest Sonic and Tails’ sudden departure. He was quickly left behind.
Tails commented as they ran, “Don’t you think we should have stayed? I feel like we had more catching up to do… I would have liked to see Zephyr and Arianna again!”
Sonic looked over his shoulder at his little brother as if he were mad, but said nothing. Tails just continued, “And he said now you had more rings than Manik ever did! I thought you’d be really happy about that…”
Sonic just shrugged in response. “It’s a little weird. Last time I saw Dad I could barely hit ninety in less than ten seconds and he could hit three hundred in two. Guess I passed that level a while back… it’s still weird.”
“Right. Sorry, Sonic.”
“Nah, don’t be.” But he said no more.
Passing through the Pyramid Kingdom made Sonic very glad Silver, Nickel or Amy were not with them. Even Knuckles would have struggled. The city was crawling with police and army officials. Tails and Sonic stuck to the rooftops and the dwindling shadows to evade them, moving too quick for anybody who did see them to catch with a double-take.
When they made it to the east side after a tense but very entertaining fifteen minutes, Sonic joked, “Man that was like the old days.”
“What do you mean old days? We still do that to Robotnik on a monthly basis.”
“There’s generally more explosions nowadays,” joked Sonic, even though both of them cringed at the dangers they exposed themselves to so regularly.
The Gyasect was possibly grander than the building Ringo had stomped them through as hostages, or perhaps just older. Three storeys tall its clay walls swept forwards from the centre into the shape of a crescent moon, with pale marble tiles between its two arcs and a single ivory tree, from which no leaves grew, in its centre.
“Wow,” breathed Tails, “This place is huge, how will we find her?”
Their keen ears detected footsteps approached from their right.
“She’ll find us, apparently,” said Sonic, watching a slim, dark silhouette stride along the perimeter of the courtyard, heading for the exit.
“Hey! Er, Princess!”
The figure stopped abruptly, possibly surveying the duo for a few seconds. Suddenly, with the quickness of a bird, the figure approached.
Ki bloomed out of the shadows and into the moonlight with lengthy, purposeful strides. Her crimson cloak had been cleaned, or perhaps replaced. Now the colour of fresh blood it seemed to glow with power. She had dispensed with her dirty singlet and rough trousers for a clean and sturdy black vest and combat pants. Her boots looked too heavy for her slender frame. She held a staff, longer than she was tall, in her hand. It was rectangular but for its many handholds, and carved elegantly. She pointed it at Sonic with the same enmity now recognisable in her face.
Before Sonic could say anything, Ki said tersely, “You. I was just looking for you.”
All Sonic could hear was Tails’ sniggering. “Ah, well, that’s great I was looking for you, too – whoa!”
Sonic backpedalled as Ki thrust her spear inches from his face.
“Wow – we’ve obviously both had bad nights, then.”
“I need to travel with you.”
Sonic’s expression went blank. “Um… what?”
“On your adventures! Everyone knows all you do is fly around the world after Robotnik. Well, now I’m coming too.”
“Ah…” Sonic’s eyes darted to Tails who, smirking, just shrugged. He was on his own. “Don’t you have, I dunno, a country to run?”
Ki smiled, “Not yet, that’s the point. I saved your life, you owe me.”
“That’s kinda not how we do things here. I don’t know what’s up with the sudden interest but we can’t take you. I’m sorry.”
Ki glared for several seconds, Sonic holding her gaze with some confusion. She eventually withdrew her spear, bitterness descending on her face.
“I apologise,” she said through clenched teeth, “I am distressed.”
“Yes, I could see that pretty close up. What’s the matter, I thought we just cleaned up the city?”
“The Gyasi have expelled me. They offered no reason, only insisted that I clear the premise immediately.” She shut her eyes tight as if holding back a scream, flattening her ears and biting her lip. “It makes no sense.”
“It… doesn’t,” said Sonic, slowly. He glanced to Tails, who just shrugged.
“I guess I’m sorry to ask this, then, you’ve had a tough night, but we were wondering why Ringo singled you out before? What did he want?”
Ki nodded weakly. “I lied. The Gyasi did give me a reason. The Brute wanted me to take him to the Hall of Eternity, it lays deep beneath this building. The headmasters claim my high profile endangered the Gyasi, and so I was expelled.”
Frowning, Sonic said, “Sounds like there could be something else to that… Look, I think there might be something worth digging. Can you get us in?”
Ki’s eyes were now empty. In response, she just shrugged. “No. Not even when I Gyasi, I don’t know the way. Ask anyone and they will tell you they have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sonic wasn’t sure what she meant by, ‘the way’, but continued, “Surely you could do something? It could be important. I think it might have been important to Robotnik somehow.”
“I assure you it is well guarded. If what you say is true the Mad Doctor is no closer to the Hall than before Ringo’s assault. I’m sorry, but it’s time for me to leave.”
Sonic gestured at Ki’s receding back, “Right. Just, great.”
Tails commented, “I can’t believe you didn’t just say ‘yeah’.”
Tails stared at him as if he were an imbecile. “To letting her on the team.”
“Why would I do that? We haven’t got enough seats on the Tornado.”
“Why – be-she,” Tails spluttered, gesturing madly, “Sonic!”
Sonic just shook his head, frowning, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah. Fine. What do you want to do about the Hall? Hall of Eternity…” Tails rolled the weight of the words around his mouth, “Sounds old.”
“Uh… guess we could always force our way in?” Sonic debated internally for a moment, “Nah, forget it. It’s a long shot anyway.”
The two turned for the east exist, this time intending to simply walk out.
Tails commented, “Knowing our luck, it will be important later.”
“If Robotnik doesn’t have it, that’s good enough for me. We’ll ask Pylon to organise someone to go have a look for us.”
“Good idea. I guess we get to get back on track now, huh?”
“You guys do. I need to go sort some stuff out.”
Tails stopped in his tracks, though Sonic continued. “What do you mean?”
“You know, stuff.”
“What stuff,” Tails jogged to catch up, then, eyebrows strained, “Why can’t I come?”
Sonic brushed off Tails’ concerns without a second thought, “I’ll be back in like a week. You guys just keep looking for the emeralds, there’s only three left now, right?”
“Uh… You’ve got one, the blue Nyx has got the red and green, and the fourth is with either GUN or Nyx, we don’t know whom yet. Well, I’ll know soon.” Tails’ web of underground contacts had served him well again. “I don’t see why you have to go, though.”
“You don’t have to, and I just want to.”
They faced the massive open archway that lead to Shamar city. Without another word, Sonic gave Tails a casual two-finger salute, and sprinted away in a blast of wind.
But in three seconds, he was back.
The blast of wind that accompanied his return nearly blew Tails off his feet. Searing across the bricks, Sonic shouted, “But I promised Mum I’d still be here, so just tell her I’m sorry, ok? I’ll visit her as soon as I’m done! Ask Amy to come with you, she’ll look after the lot of you!”
Barely even coming to a stop, he reversed his direction with a spindash, and, once again, rocketed out of the Pyramid Kingdom.
In seconds he was gone, leaving Tails a little shellshocked. But he wasn’t surprised. He supposed he should be happy – it was business as normal, apparently.
Shamar was so quiet because of the curfew. Which is why Tails lifted his head to the skyward drones of a plane. He might have recognised the unique whine, except he had never heard it from this position before.
“AMY!” he yelled into the sky as he recognised the red star-shaped plane, “GIVE IT BACK!”
Thousands of feet above, Amy paid no attention to Tails, but instead watched from the enclosed cockpit’s high definition television screens a dust cloud, travelling at an intense three hundred kilometres an hour, burst out of the city and into the desert.
Through the plane’s communication headsets, Silver said from the passenger seat, “Whoa, is that Sonic? He’s bookin’.”
“Yeah, I wonder where he’s going…”
From the gunners seat, Nickel said with a pinch of concern, “He’s not going off on his own, is he?”
Sonic had left the city far behind, travelling in the general direction of Spagonia. It would be little more than a few days run away at Sonic speed.
Amy shrugged, “He does that, so maybe. It doesn’t matter.”
“He’ll be ok?” asked Nickel.
“He’s Sonic the Hedgehog! He’ll be fine. And if he’s not that’s hardly our fault! Tails and I will get you guys home. We have emeralds to hunt!”
With Tails still doing his pieces from the ground, Amy joyfully sent the plane into a spin, and hurtled it into the sky.