Advent of Equinox by Skyblaze, Taranea
FeatureSummary: Post-Unleashed. An unexpected eclipse once more triggers Sonic's change into the werehog. Only this time he is joined by Shadow, who faces his own transformation. The balance between Light and Dark is broken once more as the Gaia spirits choose their avatars.
Categories: Sonadow Characters: Sonic x Shadow
Genres: Adventure
Warnings: Blood
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 12 Completed: No Word count: 64756 Read: 209032 Published: May 02, 2010 Updated: August 19, 2016
Chapter 9: Snowbound by Skyblaze
Author's Notes:
No, we aren't dead. Tara spent a year in Japan and I spent a year trying not to go (literally) crazy.

Expect to be seeing more from us very soon, though,

Chapter 8: Snowbound

 

The night flew by like a curtain of stars, chilly and silent and endless. The footprints of the pair of travellers were the only ones visible, huge, paired and four-padded imprints where the wolf had run, and a trail that looked like some kind of skiing madman had come through behind Shadow, snow blasted aside by skating shoes. Nevertheless, the lights ahead were drawing closer, and soon they were able to see structures of the dwellings, low wooden huts, small stone houses and round things that Shadow wondered might be igloos, even if he had only ever seen those things in picture books when younger. They slowed down when they approached what qualified as perhaps the first outpost of this 'town', something that in summer perhaps could have been a hut with a fence around a garden.

There were somewhat strange-looking marks in the snow around a smaller tool shed with some canisters stacked in front of it, indicating that there was probably someone living in there, too. A lamp burning at the doorway bathed the place at least in semi-darkness, even if it mostly made the shadows at the edge of the circle of light dance; Shadow began to feel as if there was something in the darkness, just waiting to pounce on them, when their back was turned. Sonic seemed to feel the same, apparently – the wolf's fur on his back had started to rise, and there was a low growl rising from his throat. They paused in their approach to the houses.

"Something is not right here," Shadow said quietly. "We should-"

And that was all he could say, because next he was already cut off by that most distinctive of sounds which was a gun clicking in the dark.

"Stay right there, you misshapen creature! We all knew you would be back!"

 

There was a brief moment of silence after that statement. Shadow stood stock still for a second as the words hung in the frigid air, a growl barely building in his throat before there was a flurry of motion. Within fractions of a second, snow had splattered into the air and the man holding the weapon yelped briefly as the gun was pulled from his hands. 
When the ice crystals had settled again, Shadow stood staring at the former gunman, his eyes glittering in the cold moonlight.

 

"Threaten us again," he stated calmly, "and a ruined face will be the least of your problems." The Ultimate Lifeform was aiming the barrel at the figure who had held it before, but his gaze also roving over the shadowy group behind him, now nervously trying to shuffle backwards. Shadow's stiff posture radiated fury, it was a rage disproportionate to the situation, but it boiled in him all the same. They did not deserve this! For every step they took, something seemed to push them back and he was royally sick of it - couldn't these idiots see that they were threatening Sonic, who had probably saved their lives, directly or indirectly - more times than they could count on both hands, and to add an insult to the threat was more than the Ultimate Lifeform could bear.
Then he blinked as that thought rushed through his psyche – wait a moment, why was he so concerned about an insult to Sonic of all people?

"Shadow..." Sonic sighed, "You really gotta stop pointing a gun at everyone we meet."

"Wait. That voice. Sonic..?" one of the figures in the darkness said tentatively, stepping forward into the sullen light from the village. The figure was swathed in a thick coat and hood, his face was so covered in white fuzz that neither Sonic nor Shadow could tell if it was a polar bear Mobian or just a particularly hairy human. "Is that really you?"

Sonic smiled, trying his best not to show too many overly sharp teeth and vaguely waving one large, paw-like hand, "Uhm...yeah. The one and only. Hey there." 

A sigh seemed to ripple through the group, and a lot of the tension went out of the air. 
"Boy, are we glad to see you." 

"That wasn't what it looked like earlier," Shadow growled, trying to make the line sound more threatening than actually petulant at this point. Was it really a surprise that blue hedgehog had friends everywhere? 

"Shadow, take it easy!" Sonic said insistently, putting a hand on top of the shotgun and slowly pushing it down. Their eyes locked for a moment as Shadow briefly resisted, then gave in.

 

"Fine," Shadow grunted, dropping the weapon. Sonic gingerly retrieved it and handed it back to its owner.

 

"So, why're you guys so jumpy, anyway?" Sonic asked casually, "I don't remember anyone besides Eggman's robots pointing guns at me last time."

 

The small crowd of Holoskan villagers exchanged glances.

"Why don't we head back to the village?" The hairy guy suggested finally, "We can fill you in."

 

Sonic moved to follow them as the headed off, but Shadow folded his arms and scowled. "I don't recall agreeing to any side-quests, Faker."

 

Sonic rolled his eyes, "Chill out, Shadow. They might have some clues about the Emerald - or maybe even that clone of yours."

 

The black hedgehog made a noise that sounded mostly like 'hmph', but he moved to follow anyway, even if still keeping his stiff posture, his arms tucked in close to his chest. Sonic eyed him for a moment, noting as the darker hedgehog passed him that he was trembling slightly... no, wait, not trembling - he was shivering.

 

Sonic considered sidling closer, maybe putting an arm around the other's shoulder, letting the warmth of his thick fur help the obviously chilled midnight hedgehog, but Shadow's body language of barely suppressed frustration and the way his eyes kept darting about, tense and wary, suggested the Ultimate Lifeform would not appreciate the gesture. Instead, Sonic just positioned himself so that he blocked the worst of the cutting arctic gale from hitting Shadow, acting like a big furry windbreak.

 

The rest of the village slowly rose into view. It took Sonic a while to even realise it was there, since the white, dome-shaped buildings blended perfectly with the rest of the snow-covered landscape. 

 

The leader of the group of villages gestured to one of the larger igloos, somehow finding a door underneath the layers of packed snow before opening it and ushering the two hedgehogs inside, along with a couple of the other villagers.

 

Shadow relaxed visibly once they were inside, though he still remained tense and alert. Sonic wondered if the black hedgehog had ever been relaxed in the presence of strangers, but then he reflected on what he knew of Shadow's history and instead rephrased that question as to whether his striped doppelganger had ever been relaxed, period.

 

Probably not.

They took seats around an open fire, the villagers removing some of their cumbersome outer garments to reveal a motley collection of Mobians and humans. The Mobians were mostly cold-weather species, polar bears, seals, walruses, there was even a lone arctic fox who was ladling a hot, spicy beverage into mugs and handing it around. Sonic accepted a cup and took a cautious sip, allowing himself a smile when the spicy warmth of the drink seemed to spread from his stomach all the way down to his chilled toes. He glanced over at Shadow, who was sat beside him, clutching a mug of the hot drink - not drinking it, but clinging to it like a lifeline, both hands wrapped tightly around the ceramic cup as he stared blankly into the fire, the red-orange light reflecting in his eyes and staining his white gloves red.
A shiver ran down Sonic's spine, a memory suddenly arising as he remembered another time he had seen Shadow wreathed in firelight, helpless to prevent the other hedgehog slipping out of his grip and falling into immolation in the atmosphere. He snapped his eyes away, looking around for something else of interest to distract him from that dark memory.


The hut wasn't an igloo like he had thought when he had seen it from outside - there had certainly been enough snow packed around it. Instead, it was constructed of a loose lattice of twigs and straw, with something that looked like tar plugging up the gaps. The snow was packed all around the outside - 'for camouflage or insulation,' a thought with Tails' voice said in Sonic's head. The room was mostly round, a firepit in the middle with various metal things hanging over it for cooking, a small hole above acting as a chimney. Shelves containing books and tools lined the walls and a small cot piled with furs was tucked discretely under one of the shelves. It was cosy, if a little cramped and smoky... and to Sonic's currently highly sensitive wolf nose, it was also kind of smelly.

"So, you were going to tell us why you greeted strangers by pointing a barrel at them?" Shadow's voice broke into the quiet. His eyes no longer stared blankly, now they were sharp, his piercing red gaze fixed on the head villager who had just removed his heavy coat and scarf to reveal a swarthy, heavy-set human with a vast white beard and a thick mane of silvery hair, somehow suggesting he should be more concerned with managing elves and perhaps manufacturing little stuffed polar bears rather than trying to gun down innocent hedgehogs... At the Ultimate Lifeform's question, Sonic sighed. Shadow was never one for small-talk, was he.

"I apologise for that," the head villager said in his deep, rough voice, "But the village has been having some problems lately with unwelcome visitors."

"Visitors?" Sonic broke into the conversation, "What kind of 'visitors'?" he asked, worried that he was about the hear a description of some of Dark Gaia's creatures – the transformed hero of Mobius had no particular desire to relive those battles, and if Dark Gaia's monsters were running free... what did that mean for Chip? Icy prickles of worry for his friend danced across Sonic's spine, even though common sense said a demi-god like Light Gaia could probably look after himself.

"No one's been able to get a good look at them," the Head Villager admitted, "But after the thefts, we thought we better set up a patrol to look for them."

"Thefts? What got stolen?" Sonic asked, baffled. There was little if anything of value out here to steal, as far as he could tell.

"It was small things at first," one of the other villagers, an elderly walrus, said in a slow, rusty voice, "A few spare screws and bolts. Then a quart of oil went missing from the snowmobile shed. Bits of sheet metal, engine parts, tools..." the walrus shrugged. “Strange thefts, but theft is theft.”

The head villager nodded, "I know it probably doesn't seem like much to you, but this is a small village. We don't have much, so everything we do have is precious."

Sonic nodded, "Ok, I get that."

"I still somehow fail to see what any of this should have to do with us," Shadow interrupted, once again displaying about as much courtesy and social tact as a small tank in a porcelain store. 

"Well, that depends. What're you boys out here for?" The head villager replied laconically, apparently used to the black hedgehog's social graces by now and choosing to deal with them in a practical way.  

Shadow bristled, irritated at being lumped with Sonic into the category of 'boys', but before he could open his mouth to issue a sharp retort, Sonic replied, "Looking for a Chaos Emerald that's supposed to be around here someplace."

"Fine, faker," Shadow growled, "Just tell them everything."

"Ah chill, Shads. I don't think these guys have much use for a Chaos Emerald."

"You'd be right about that," the Head Villager said, leaning back in his chair and settling in a bit more. "How about a deal?” he asked then. “You help look for those unwelcome visitors of ours, and we'll loan you some equipment to make your search easier."

Shadow raised an eyebrow for the first time indicating an actual interest in the conversation, "What kind of equipment...?"

The white-bearded human shrugged, "Snow shovels, flares, lanterns, warming packs, trail rations and clean water, hammer, pitons and rope if you need to climb something."

Sonic and Shadow exchanged a long look and finally Shadow sighed in resignation. "Ok," Sonic said, "It's a deal."

"Great." The head villager stood, "Its a couple of hours until it gets as close to light outside as it ever does this time of year. Why don't you two rest while I go scare up some supplies?"

Shadow sighed as the villagers filed out of the hut.

"Since when," the black hedgehog asked then pointedly, "Are we the local pest control department?"

"Since it's the right thing to do, and it'll be pretty helpful." Sonic paused, then grinned. "For example, I'll let you have all those warming packs."

Shadow gave the other hedgehog a look that could have melted through steel and went to bury himself in the furs on the bed.

 

---

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away (and a couple of hundred miles up) Angel Island floated quietly high in the air. Rouge the Bat currently fluttering over to it, exceptionally grateful that one of the GUN carrier jets had agreed to give her a lift up this high - getting all the way up here under her own power would have been

near impossible. Of course, the military aircraft had had to keep a distance of some hundred metres, since only a few aircraft like Tails' Tornado had cleared landing permission and really no-one wanted the island's defence systems to activate (or simply a very angry Knuckles to come out). So, Rouge had wisely opted to bid the pilot goodbye a couple of minutes ago and launch herself out of the plane, black wings spread wide high up in air almost too thin to hold her.

 

Despite that, though, she landed lightly on the soft grass, reminding herself to rest for a moment and breathe deeply. The island was rarely this high and with good reason - even that hard-headed echidna needed oxygen.

 

Rouge tutted with mild exasperation as she made her way up to the Emerald shrine, white unstained boots crunching in the dirt, for once making no attempt to conceal her approach.

 

"Knuckles! Where are you, spinehead?" she called as she neared the partially-ruined stone structure that surrounded the Master Emerald, ruins that told of a time long ago before their civilisation had been destroyed by the wrath of a god. The bat drew another breath. "You can relax, I'm not here to steal your precious Emerald this time!" Wide white ears strained, but still, she couldn't hear an answer. Where was that echidna?

 

Figures. The first time I'm for once *not* after his beloved Emerald, the guy is a no-show. Rouge, girl, you really do have the worst of luck...

 

The albino bat let out a little sigh, a hand running through her headfur in annoyance. Well, no choice but to continue looking elsewhere. She was almost about to turn around and take off to look for the elusive Guardian at some other place on the island, but then something caught her eye.

 

Sticking out behind a bit of pillar and just visible, there was a hand lying on the ground in the dirt.

 

A hand in a very familiar white boxing glove.

 

"Knuckles?" Rouge asked, but now there was already a feeling in her chest that something here was very, very wrong. She hurried over and stepped around the stone fragment, her eyes coming to rest on what a part of her had already suspected – the Guardian of Angel Island, lying in the dirt. He wasn't moving anymore.

 

"Knuckles!"

 

Without another thought, she was at his side, her GUN First Aid training kicking in as she checked him over for injuries, finding none save for a small bump on the back of his head - probably due to his impact on the ground, if he had fallen off the pedestal where the Master Emerald sat. There didn't appear to be anything else wrong, which calmed her, but Rouge rolled him carefully into the recovery position just in case. What could have caused this? She fretted to herself. Knuckles was tough, a powerful fighter, it would take a hell of a blow to just knock him flat that way and the

thought that whatever it was might be still on the island now chilled her... but there was no sign of bruising or broken bones. Something magical perhaps? But then, why? The Master Emerald was still there, glittering peacefully on its plinth, so theft clearly wasn't a motive...

 

Knuckles stirred, groaning faintly as he started blink and then tried to sit up, probably woken up by her moving him after all. Violet eyes widened as he beheld Rouge next to him, but at least he made no immediate attempt to brush her off as she carefully supported him in his attempts to upright himself. "Easy there," she soothed, "You'll probably feel groggy for a while."

 

"Rouge?" He said blearily, rubbing as the back of his head, wincing when he encountered the knot of his skull, "What are you doing here? Ow!" He hissed as something in his neck seemed to crack a little, eyes squeezing shut for a moment. "What happened?" he asked again, obviously trying to still get his bearings. "How long was I out? Is the Master Emerald okay?"

 

"Your big gem stone is fine and as for the rest, I've no idea," the bat replied, only rolling her eyes at the first of the questions. "I only just got here. I was hoping you could tell me."

 

Knuckles grunted, looking around and trying to stretch the ache from his muscles - laying on cold stone wasn't exactly comfortable, "Hmph. At least you didn't try and steal it this time." his violet eyes suddenly went wide and he tried to scramble suddenly to his feet, almost collapsing again when a wave of dizziness assaulted him.

 

"Easy!" Rouge said sharply, catching his shoulder to steady him, "You've got a big bump on your head, you shouldn't be running around just yet."

 

"You don't understand!" the echidna snapped, pulling out of her grip, "The Master Emerald gave me a warning. I'm the Guardian of the Emeralds, I have a duty!" his voice rose at the last part, something almost like desperation riding on his words.

 

Rouge blinked. She had never seen Knuckles like this before. She sighed. "All right, all right. Calm down, I'm here to help you. So what do you need to do?"

 

"I need to find Sonic - right away."

 

That was out of character, too. Usually Knuckles stayed away from the blue speedster where possible, and usually went out of his way to describe Sonic as 'aggravating' at best and 'a chaos-spawned nightmare' at worst. Rouge thought about making that observation, but the wild look in Knuckles' eyes told her that this might not have been the best plan, "He and Shadow are in the Arctic," she replied instead, trying to sound as calm as possible, "they're looking for a Chaos Emerald."

 

Knuckles muttered a curse, teeth grinding. "Rely on the hedgehog to be in the most inconvenient location imaginable. If I flew the Island to Holoska it would take me days," he added under his breath.

 

"No need to use that kind of language when a lady is present," Rouge scolded, conveniently ignoring she used much worse linguistics daily if on a particularly difficult mission from GUN. "Besides, if you need to talk to the blue boy so badly, there are much easier ways," she continued smugly, "The fox kid has a communicator that he can use to get in touch with Sonic if he needs to."

 

The Guardian's spirits seemed to brighten up immediately. "Right. Then we need to get to him right away. Lets go!" he said, and, before the bat could even get a word in edgewise, the red-furred echidna was already gone, charging toward the edge of the island and the sky beyond.

 

"Well, I suppose someone has to keep you from falling unconscious mid-glide and subsequently drowning," Rouge sighed as she took off after him, only pausing briefly to cast a last longing look at the Master Emerald that she was forced to leave behind as she ran.

 

"But I swear, I better be getting paid overtime for this..."

 

---

In Holoska, the two hedgehogs had finally headed out into the tundra, Sonic carrying the backpack filled with supplies, as well as the small hand-held chaos detecting device he had pulled from his quills. Thankfully, the device was simple enough that Sonic could operate it with his oversized transformed paws. In fact, as the head villager had explained, once it was active, one only needed to look at the small, square screen where a stylized gem stone shard was displayed. Once any emerald came into range, it would start beeping and blinking green, changing colour to yellow and then red as the Chaos reading came closer. Shadow had noted that for accuracy this was ridiculous and he had been expecting a bit more than a hot-and-cold detector that could only go ding when there was stuff, but Sonic had simply dragged him out the door at that point, knowing that this was most likely all Tails had been able to cobble together in such a short time.

 

"I'm going to head off that way." Shadow said abruptly, pointing in a different direction to the one Sonic was going in.

 

"Huh?" Sonic asked, "Why?"

 

Shadow rolled his eyes, "Right now the Chaos Emeralds are mostly drained, but still emitting small amounts of power. I can probably sense them, if you aren't there blotting out the signal."

 

Sonic blinked, "Wha..? No way! If I'm blotting out the signal, how come this thing can pick it up okay?"

 

Shadow snorted, "Tails knows your Chaos signature, he can screen it out of the readings that device takes," he replied shortly, "I don't have that advantage. You're practically a beacon of Chaos Energy, Faker. Its fairly obvious you never learned how to control it properly."

 

"Hey, its not like I had anyone to teach me how!" Sonic shot back, a touch defensively, then a flash of mischievous humour glinted in his eyes, "Besides, if I could do fancy Chaos tricks, what would be left for you to do? You'd have to take up a new hobby – any good at macramé?"

 

Shadow narrowed his eyes, but refused to rise to the bait. "Hmph," he grunted before then turning away, "If I find anything I'll come find you."

 

Sonic reached a stretching hand into the backpack and pulled out the warming packs the villagers had given him, "Here ya go, Shads. You might as well stay warm."

 

The look on Shadow's face was unidentifiable as he reached to take them.

 "...thank you," he finally said, his voice quieter that usual.

 

"No prob," Sonic replied with a shrug, "Well, see ya later, Shadow," he concluded as they both headed off across the snow-covered landscape.

 

Sonic held the chaos detector out in front of him, frowning at the small display on the device. He swept it back and forth as he trudged through the loosely-packed snow, hearing it crunch under his transformed shoes, grateful at the moment for the strange spikes in them that held him in place on the treacherous snow-and-ice covered landscape.

Then suddenly the scanner beeped, the display starting to turn slightly amber. Sonic smiled in satisfaction and moved in that direction, following the beeping and the slowly changing colours as they led him closer to his target.

 

It had started snowing again. Small drifting flakes spilled down from the sky, blown by the frigid wind making Sonic as grateful for his shaggy wolf pelt as he was for his spiked shoes. He hoped Shadow was okay - he knew the dark hedgehog didn't like this sort of weather at all...

That thought was cut off as Sonic abruptly reached the end of the landscape - the shelf of packed ice ended suddenly, and beyond was a large expanse of icy arctic water. Reluctantly, he waved the scanner out over the edge of the ice. The display promptly flashed red and the beeping now sounded positively ecstatic.

 

Sonic stared at the turquoise water, appalled, then back at the happily beeping device. "You gotta be kidding me!"

 

The wind picked up at this, howling and hissing in his ears, seeming to grow steadily louder as Sonic frowned at the water, small waves now beginning to form in the arctic gale while the hero of Mobius was feverishly trying to devise some way of getting to the Emerald without being forced to get wet. He considered attempting to use his elasticated arms to reach for it, but dismissed that idea quickly - there wasn't anything to stop him from over-reaching and losing his balance and ending up in the drink,   which was, quite literally, the last thing he wanted.

 

Again, the wind hissed louder, almost breaking Sonic's concentration. Funny, it almost sounded like...

 

"Look out!" A strange  unknown voice suddenly cried out from behind him, Sonic turning just in time to see a dark shape leap towards him from out of the swirling snow, red eyes filled with killer purpose fixed on him, hands outstretched hungrily, wanting to grab and tear.

 

Trained reflexes moved unfamiliar, slower muscles at the last minute and his decreased speed almost cost Sonic his life. The transformed hedgehog dodged, throwing his massive head back as he could feel something cut the air just where his throat had been a second ago, and shifted his weight to one side automatically, still feeling far too slow and ponderous for Sonic's taste, but at least the movement was enough to send his attacker sailing past him. Instinctively, because the werehog had some fighting advantages, too, one huge paw shot out, whip-like, to encourage the forward momentum of his assailant with a hit in its back and, satisfactorily, send   whatever it was ploughing face-first into the snow.

When the attacker rolled to its feet in a lightning-quick movement, Sonic's suspicion was confirmed.

 

It was a Shadow-clone. Any remaining flicker of doubt about the identity of the occasionally-winged version he was travelling with was instantly squashed when Sonic's gaze met the crimson stare of this doppleganger. None of the emotion of the real Shadow, none of the echoes of pain and loss, or the bright brilliant purpose and determination that shone in the real Shadow's eyes. This version was mindless savagery given form.

 

The clone stared at him, eyes scanning - searching for weaknesses on its prey.

You won't find any.  Sonic flashed it a wolfy grin, all his sharp teeth showing and dropped into a fighting crouch.

 

"You wanna play? All right then, bring it on, Faker,” he scathed that last word loaded with all the meaning and sincerity he would never use on the real Shadow. Between him and the real Shadow, that word, that title, almost was just a game, a joke perpetuated between sometime-rivals and almost-friends. But here, it was serious. And Sonic intended to prove it.

 

And then he was gone in a deadly pounce,  paws outstretched and sharp claws arcing towards the clone's unprotected face, a wolf-like howl tearing from his throat and rushing away in the storm.

 

 

Quite some distance away, Shadow was having no luck finding the Emerald, and even less luck staying at least a little bit warm or comfortable. He stopped for a moment with a muttered curse and rubbed his hands together, letting the heating pack he had clutched in his hands relieve some of the chill in his fingers. 

This is ridiculous.

He had skated over and around miles upon miles of featureless icy wasteland without his Chaos sense picking up anything at all except the distant spark of Sonic's presence far behind him. But, just at that moment, a flicker in that blue-star Chaos aura caused Shadow to frown, a whisper of something very much like concern flashed across his thoughts.

Then, the howl of a wolf echoed across the frozen landscape. Shadow didn't give it a second thought, he turned and shot back towards the burning star of Sonic's chaos presence, his jet shoes leaving melted trails of slush in his wake.

 

There was blood on the snow, and Sonic already couldn't tell anymore whose it was. His jaw snapped shut and something tore between his teeth. The clone's glove? Its wrist? There was a metallic, salty taste on Sonic's tongue, something dripping down his muzzle. Wrist maybe.

 

I have just bitten off a hand.

 

It was a faint voice that said those words in the transformed hero's head,  but it was almost inaudible. There were noises drowning it out, the howling of the storm around them, the shrieking and snarling of the thing that looked like Shadow upon him, but loudest of all was the roar of the wolf in Sonic's head. The faint voice was nearly gone, only enough to distract him for a split-second...and that was enough for next it was his own voice, screaming aloud into the arctic night and into the whirling snow almost blinding him, a cry of pain torn from his throat as the clone had somehow rallied and lashed out, driving something sharp into the biceps of Sonic's left arm.

He hadn't been fast enough to evade it. Lost his focus because what he'd done on instinct had been disgusting.

 

The transformed hedgehog snarled like a wolf that was rabid and spat something out into the snow that he didn't want to look at ever again. His unhurt arm lashing out but missing the attacker's form by inches, the hurt creature still backflipping with a speed that should have been Shadow's, a speed much faster than any of the wounded hero's attacks. A red haze was threatening to descend in front of Sonic's eyes again, pain coupled with rage at his own failure to evade the attack trying to consume any last rational thoughts and he had to consciously hold on to what he knew.

 

No. I need to fight this thing properly.

He wasn't Sonic the Hedgehog any more. He was the wolf now, and he needed to remember to fight with its instincts, not against it. It was time to stop being squeamish about a limb or to. This thing wasn't even sapient. Remember that. 

 

They were circling each other now, a brief, deadly dance before the next clash would follow, perhaps the last. Copied rocket skates were flaring, melting the snow while huge, steamy breaths of the transformed hero of Mobius let snow flakes dissolve in mid-air. The ground at both their feet was starting to bloom red.

 

I need to remember to fight like the wolf...

 

It had been hard, when he had first transformed. His usual attacks hadn't worked. In turn, the ferocious and brutal style his new form required had been alien to the speedster. But he had learned, now he just needed to remember...let the muscles bunch in his shoulders. Let the jaws open wide, ready to tear through whatever they could catch. Red eyes blazed at him, filled with an emotion that he thought had probably last been on the real Shadow's face the day he watched Maria die. Bloodlust.

They charged and this time Sonic was ready, his massive body sliding smoothly under the searing kick of his opponent because this time he had remembered to stay on all fours before twisting himself around on the ground with claws and spikes tearing into the snow and frozen earth beneath, leaping into the air before the clone had time to get its bearing or balance, and then feeling the surge of pure, wild triumph as his paws connected with the slender chest of the other hedgehog, the muffled thud as its back hit the ground underneath Sonic's bulk, and for one second, seeing the wide-eyed look of disbelief on its face just before his teeth closed over its throat.

 

And then, right at the moment when the hero of Mobius would have snapped the neck of the black hedgehog dangling limply in his jaws, green eyes suddenly fell on a lone, small midnight figure in the snowstorm that was looking at him a crimson gaze so much more familiar than the dying clone's, and an expression that was unreadable. Sonic froze.

 

Shadow.     

 

Shadow, the real Shadow, had been looking at him. Watching him. Was now observing him with something that was a perfect replica of him hanging bleeding between Sonic's teeth. Suddenly, the hero of Mobius wanted to vomit so much more than to bite down. He spat the thing in his mouth to the ground and shook his head wildly, trying to get rid of every last memory of Shadow – not Shadow, never Shadow, it was the clone, but still – of a black hedgehog dying at his hands, at his claws and between his teeth. Sonic stared in mute horror, the feral light in his eyes fading as he realised what had just happened.

 

Awkwardly, he shuffled away a few steps, as if trying to escape his own memories of the fight moments ago. Again, an anguished howl would have torn itself from his throat, but Sonic cut it short, now wanting to behave like the wolf less than ever; it had worked well, too well, and what would Shadow think of him now, tearing into his clone like a feral gone mad?

 

To Sonic, it seemed like the longest moment since their adventure had started, but when Shadow finally moved, it felt like a wave of relief when the black hedgehog took only a step toward him, not away, and his voice was far from dripping with disgust or anger, when he instead just softly asked,

“Sonic...are you alright?”

 

xxx

 

Shadow had been making his way through the snow, skating steadily at first, but accelerating ever faster, his movements becoming wilder and more frantic the more he could feel Sonic's chaos aura flickering and flaring erratically in the distance. Something wasn't right. He managed to slow down just enough as he actually came within hearing range, Sonic's howling and some other, feral snarling riding on the wind hitting his half-frozen ears. Skates blazed brightly as the Ultimate Lifeform came to a stop on top of a snow drift, eyes narrowed and immediately taking in the scene below.

 

A black body, trapped in dark blue jaws.

He was watching himself, being killed by Sonic. It felt...a bit peculiar, to be honest, but again, a part of Shadow was again admiring the wolf, its ferocious strength, the dark green eyes with that nearly feral fire burning within them, it was hard for Shadow to tear his gaze away, somehow feeling just a tad warmer now despite the freezing storm around them...and then, just before Sonic could deliver the killing bite, their gazes locked. And Sonic was suddenly staring at him with a horror strong enough in his eyes that let Shadow feel as if he'd downed all the icy sea water surrounding them in one gulp.

 

What...?

 

Before Shadow had even time to wonder why the despair in the other's gaze had for some reason had such an effect on him this suddenly, he was already aware that he needed to do something, now. The wolf had already spat the clone barely clinging to live onto the snow, now shaking his massive head wildly, looking even more desperate now than before. Shadow tried to clear his head and took a step forward.

“Sonic...are you alright?” 

 

Sonic's head snapped around to look at Shadow, his green eyes still haunted but now with at least a new flicker of...something in them. He looked down at the clone's broken body, shivering despite his fluffy pelt.

 

Shadow took another few cautious steps forward. "Sonic..?" When the blue hero still didn't say anything but only regarded him kind of helplessly now, as if afraid if he'd move he'd hurt Shadow as well like he had the clone, Shadow finally closed the gap between them and, carefully, reached up to lay a hand on the transformed hero's arm.

 

What could you say in a situation like this...?

 

"...it's all right," the black hedgehog finally managed softly, as reassuringly as he knew how.

 

Sonic just looked at him, "How...how can you say that?" He gestured helplessly at the body lying like a broken toy in the snow, still twitching, then wrenched his head to the side, not able to look at the display any longer. “I almost...I almost....” Sonic tried, sharp wolf teeth bared at Shadow as he obviously struggled with the next words, but Shadow thought he might have heard the killed you in there still.

 

The black hedgehog took a deep breath. Sonic had never taken the life of anything even resembling a sapient creature before...

 

Shadow briefly closed his eyes, then held the hero's gaze calmly. "Because sometimes, it really is kill or be killed. Morals and principles mean little when you are that close to death. Sometimes it just comes down to survival. And then, you do what you must. You aren't any good to anyone dead," he spoke with the weight of absolute conviction, though his gaze was darkened - the gaze of someone who had seen far too much horror and pain, the gaze of someone who even as he spoke knew he was stirring memories he would rather not have recalled.

 

Again, masking even this emotion, the black hedgehog lowered himself onto one knee next to the dying clone in the snow, and pulled out a familiar semi-automatic from his quills, black steel contrasting sharply against the red-stained snow.

 

“And when it comes down to it,” Shadow continued, “Sometimes all you can do is give them a clean death.”

 

He looked up again at Sonic, and the blue hedgehog was surprised to find something in that gaze now almost resembling...protectiveness?

And then a single shot rang out across the dark, and the clone on the ground finally stopped moving.

 

Sonic drew in a deep breath, trying to control his trembling. They were safe. Shadow was safe. He hadn't murdered anyone...

 

“Thank...you. I think.”

 

“No problem,” Shadow answered calmly, storing the gun again in his head headquills,  but there was a bit of a warmer edge to his voice, as if the black hedgehog had really appreciated the thanks Sonic had just given. The blue hedgehog who hadn't been able to harm even someone who looked like him as soon as their eyes had met...

 

Shadow tried to shake his head to clear it. Time to sort out this weird situation later. At the moment, both of them had trouble even thinking straight because of their transformations. Better to concentrate on matters at hand...

 

As it turned out, Sonic could help with that.

 

“By the way, Shads, I found the Emerald.”

 

“Oh?” Shadow replied, noticing the slightly forced light tone the blue hedgehog was using, but didn't comment on it, guessing that Sonic just wanted things to be back to a more normal state as well. Shadow could get on board with that. “Good.”

 

"Not really," Sonic replied, his movements slowly more natural as he took out his scanner and waved it over the water, the thing again almost seeming obscenely happy that it could tell the whole world that the Emerald was hiding in the most awkward spot possible. 

 

"Damn," Shadow muttered as he realised just how damned difficult it was going to be to retrieve. Then he paused, his ears flicking as he heard something. He looked at Sonic, who nodded, putting a clawed finger to his lips, indicating he had heard it too.

 

They moved slowly and quietly towards the source of the noise - rounding a large snowbank as the sound got clearer, resolving itself into several odd, metallic-edged voices.

 

"-who else could it be? Large, blue and spiky." one voice said.

 

"I dunno. I don't remember him being that... furry," another, squeakier voice replied.

 

"Either way, should we really be here? If it is him, he's not exactly got a reputation for being friendly to us," a third voice chimed in.

 

Sonic and Shadow finally emerged at the back of the snowbank and stopped dead as they saw a small cluster of badniks. They all seemed to be old designs, and most showed signs of age and damage, some of which had been haphazardly repaired. The two hedgehogs and the badniks stared at each other for a few moments, eyes locked with various types of visual sensors.

 

Finally, one of the badniks spoke up. "Busted," it said.

 

To be continued...

 

 

 

This story archived at http://www.sonadow.com/fanfiction/viewstory.php?sid=909