Advent of Equinox by Skyblaze, Taranea

Advent of Equinox - Chapter 10

Advent of Equinox - Chapter 10


His lungs burned. He couldn't see a thing anymore, blackness closing in on him, his thick pelt weighed down by icy water as he was slowly dragged down to the depths. Sonic tried to summon up some last reserve of energy, some strength to escape the shining teeth of the robot coming to finish him off, but there was nothing left in him.


A spasm of pain tore through his body as something sharp dug into one of his arms, then into the other and he could feel himself being abruptly pulled.


This was it.


Death rushed toward him with the force of a tidal wave, the coldness of the water wrapping itself around his consciousness like a lover who wouldn't let go, and Sonic could wonder only briefly whether there wasn't something funny in this – the unstoppable hero of Mobius, finally taken out by nothing more than an ancient badnik...


Then his head broke the surface.


Sonic gasped on reflex, and it probably saved his life. While his brain still had no idea what had happened, his body took over instead, greedily inhaling desperate gulps of air into aching lungs, his vision slowly clearing as oxygen hit his bloodstream again. It took one, two moments for Sonic to get his head back into semi-working order, black spots still dancing in his vision, but eventually, he even managed to look down to see what had lifted him to the surface and saved him from the robot.


He almost did a double-take when he realised what it was.


As it turned out, the pinching sensation on his arms was still the pair of Chopper badniks, but they were holding him in their teeth with a surprisingly...gentle grip. Sonic  blinked at them for a moment – mostly because the words 'gentle' and 'Chopper badnik' together in a sentence seemed to make as much sense as 'Knuckles' and 'Dance Dance Revolution' – but then another thought crashed into his consciousness and any levity of the situation was immediately replaced by his blood having all but turned into ice.




Sonic immediately started to flail as the memory hit, trying to escape from the grip of the Choppers to dive down again, fetch and save the hedgehog who had been floating underneath the ice like he were dead already, had almost managed to tear himself (and a good deal of fur) away from the red, mechanical maws of the robot fish, both of whom gave two rusty, muffled, but still definitely surprised sqawks at the hero's attempts at escape – just before Sonic abruptly froze.


Shadow was already at the surface.


“Wha...?” Sonic croaked, for a moment absolutely nonplussed. Hadn't the black hedgehog been literally out-cold moments ago? But then something moved in the water next to the other, and the hero's lips formed a silent 'o' as he realized that a pair of the same badniks that had pulled him from the dark was also at Shadow's shoulders, pushing both of them toward the icy shore. Sonic's heart beat slowed down a little as Shadow's head lolled and he thought he could see a small muscle spasm in his face – indicating that the self-proclaimed Ultimate Lifeform appeared to be unconscious, but alive.

It took another minute, but eventually, the red, fish-like badniks had succeeded in towing them towards the shore, supporting Sonic until he could crawl out of the freezing water and lift Shadow out to lay beside him. The hero of Mobius could scarcely resist from kissing the freezing ground – the instincts of the wolf seemed to have kept his aquaphobia in check enough for him to avoid a panic attack, but that didn't mean he was going to go all ocean-hugger any time soon.


Chaos.” Sonic collapsed into the snow. He knew he needed to start getting both of them warm and dry as soon as he could, but surely a moment of respite was allowed...?


From behind a snow drift, there was a noise that somehow managed to sound like a hesitant tank, and when Sonic lifted his head, Burrobot came trundling over to join him. "I, uhm, called for some help," the badnik said diffidently, "Hope that's okay. Sorry.” It poked its drills together nervously. “Uh, if you do disassemble me, c'n you take care not to break the nose...?"


"Ahoy kid, if that landlubber tries to take ye apart, we're going to pull him back in. What were you even doing in there? Land-based organics aren't designed for such cold environments," one of the Choppers cut in (and Sonic wondered whether robots were even supposed to be able to have a don't-you-know-anything – voice setting, or whether that was just Robotnik's faible), "They start malfunctioning."


"Yeah," Said another Chopper, "Never send a furball to do a robot's job!"

That comment elicited a round of something that sounded unnervingly like laughter from the water-based bots. Sonic also wondered whether the two mechanical fish had actually just high-fived (finned?) each other, or if he was imagining things by now.


“’eah, ‘ou gign’k e’en gek whak ‘ou came hor!” Another chopper (who had been towing Shadow, and then dived abruptly down again) proclaimed proudly, if rather indistinctly. The fact that its entire mouth was filled with a Chaos Emerald near the same size as its body might have contributed to that. As it surfaced, it spat the stone onto the snowy shore, its worrisome teeth then forming a rather smug smirk. “Looking for this, spikeball?”


"Uh... thanks. And yeah, 'm not gonna hurt the little guy, so you can keep your...uh, gills on. Or whatever. But thanks a lot for the Emerald, I’ll take it in a mo’" the blue hero managed, most of his attention on Shadow by now anyway. He had already turned the black hedgehog over onto his front and now pushed on his back, being careful of the quills (is that what you do with drowing victims? I have no idea ^^°). As soon as he did, a great torrent of water gushed out of Shadow's mouth, quickly followed by the Ultimate Lifeform coughing and choking as he hacked up more arctic water.


"Uh. You okay, Shads?" Sonic asked tentatively.


"Why, peachy," Shadow growled in between bouts of coughing, now at least on all fours. “I always...wanted to swallow a freaking aquarium...”

Sonic grimaced as the next round of coughing started, and decided to give the other at least a semblance of privacy by walking a short distance away and occupying himself by shaking off most of the water there. Surprisingly, it only seemed to be the outer layer that was still wet, the plush inner layer actually mostly still dry, keeping him relatively warm.


He rejoined Shadow, who by now appeared to have gotten most of the water out of his lungs, but was still alternately coughing and shivering. A decision snapped into place in Sonic's mind and he approached the darker hedgehog, stepping up close to his side and wrapping his bulky arms around him.


Shadow... stopped moving. As though every muscle in his body simultaneously froze. "What," he asked in a strained voice, "Are you doing, faker?"


"Warming you up," Sonic replied, trying to keep his tone perfectly matter-of-fact, "Or didja prefer freezing?"


"No, I was assuming you had taken leave of your senses and believed I was that pink girlfriend of yours."


“Nice try, Shads. But you're missing a giant mallet and an unholy fascination with a certain blue hedgehog for that.”


The banter was comforting. It made Shadow feel like he still had control over the situation - even was he was being hugged by the blue (literal) lunatic. (Nice one, took me a second! XD) He tried to turn his head a little to catch a gaze at Sonic's expression.


“...are you also planning to release me again at some point?”


"Not until you've stopped shivering like you're about to shake all your quills loose, no." Sonic grinned. “What'sa matter, scared of a hug?”


“I'm not scared of anything,” Shadow replied automatically, but, even if he had tried to infuse the snapped retort with some annoyance, it somehow hadn't come out as sharp as he had wanted it to. If Sonic had registered the lack of antagonism, he didn't show it. Instead, the blue hero only shrugged.

“Well, then,” he said, as if that had cleared everything up, and then settled back against the snow, pulling Shadow down to sit and lean against him, large, spike head resting on his shoulder.


Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Shadow began to relax as the warmth from Sonic's body began to leech into him, calming the almost frantic shivering, easing his cramped and aching muscles. It was a fight against his own body to not simply melt again the welcoming, warm fur behind him, and the black hedgehog had to resist his impulse to go to sleep.


“Hmm...not so bad, is it?” Sonic's voice was silent, almost hesitant, and it let Shadow's eyes snap open, and, just for a moment, catch Sonic's gaze just over his shoulder, looking curiously...tense? But before he could even think of a reply, the seeming sounds of a Blechsammer interrupted them, and Sonic abruptly released Shadow as the rest of the Badniks came clanking, whirring, flying and trundling into view.


"Er... you both still functioning?" Bat Brain asked.


"Yeah, we're both alive." Sonic replied, "Pretty close call, though."


"Ya never were all that good at water," Crabmeat put in, somehow looking amused despite its limited range of facial expressions.


"Thank you so much for the concern," Shadow muttered, having finally recovered his breath and got to his feet, at the same time picking up the light blue Emerald from the snow.


"C'mon, Shadow. They did just save our lives. And got the Emerald for us, by the way."


Shadow just grunted and Sonic rolled his eyes, "That's his way of saying 'Thank you'," Sonic told the badniks, ignoring the scorching glare Shadow was directing at him. Sonic turned his attention back to the black hedgehog. "What were those black killer whale things anyhow?"


Shadow shook his head. "I don't know. They took me by surprise, too, I couldn't get a good look at them. They were fairly well-camouflaged in the water."


"Yeah, it sure was dark down there," Sonic agreed with a shudder of fear, "Hm. Maybe they were Dark Gaia creatures? I ran across those last time, but I don't remember anything that looked like them."


The dark hedgehog shrugged as he grabbed a blanket from the pack and draped it over himself, rubbing it across his limbs vigorously to try and warm himself back up, "Different situation this time, it may have changed things. It's hard to say without more data."


"We've never seen anything like 'em either," one of the Choppers added.


"Uh, guys?" Crabmeat put in suddenly.


"Yeah?" Sonic asked.


"Are they some more of your friends?" the bot asked in an almost worried tone, pointing with one claw.


Sonic looked to where the bot was pointing and saw...a horde of penguins? – he wondered briefly, but only for a moment, when the truth became apparent a second later, his heart briefly clenched in his chest.


In the arctic night, the army of Shadow clones was closing in rapidly.


"No, they aren't!" Sonic yelled abruptly, rearing backwards, "Shadow, we got incoming!"


"I noticed, Faker," Shadow growled, but he also looked fairly tense, as if a fight was looking less than appealing now that he was drenched and cold.


Bat Brain swooped down in front of them both. "We can hold them off!" it exclaimed (ignoring Crabmeat’s muttered ‘the hell?’ in the background). “If you promise to put in a really good word with the villagers, we can lead them in the opposite direction!”


"Thanks for the offer, but no. These things are fast, you'd get yourself scrapped," Sonic replied tensely (can we have a synonym for tensely? Already used that one above), then glanced at Shadow, "Any ideas, Shads?"


Shadow's eyes narrowed, "We need to lead them away from the village. The last thing I need is one of them escaping and again wreaking havoc in my name.” Red eyes briefly scanned the terrain. “Ideally, we need somewhere defensible - a choke point to thin them to manageable numbers."


The thought of fighting more of those things - things that looked so much like the hedgehog he had come to see as a friend - turned Sonic's stomach after what had happened last time, but he nodded grimly.


"We know a place like that," the buzz-bomber said. “It’s a fairly steep climb, but-“


"Sounds fine," Sonic cut him off, "Then let's go!"


Next, as a group, they ran out across the tundra, the buzz-bomber leading the way. Sonic was forced to run on all fours in order to keep up, which thankfully Shadow declined to comment on. Snow had begun to fall again, covering their tracks as soon as they made them in the arctic night. The pack of Shadow clones closed in slowly behind them, skates blazing in the darkness like a demonic horde in pursuit. Sonic nearly barrelled into Shadow when they came to a halt; it was a natural cul-de-sac, an area surrounded by steep cliffs made of solid ice, perfect for an ambush – if you were atop the walls. The badniks began to scale the cliff in front of them straight away, the ground-based models aided by those who could fly.


“Hurry! We need to get up before they get here!”


Shadow watched as Sonic followed them up, his claws and spiked boots making efficient climbing spikes. The black hedgehog's method of ascent was much more laborious, especially since he was still clutching the Emerald in one hand. For once, he wished the sun would come up and allow a swifter climb. He glanced back down over his shoulder and tensed when he saw that the clones were gaining rapidly, red eyes lit with an unsettling determination.

Shadow dug his fingers into the ice wall, trying to climb as quickly as he could as the first ones reached the bottom of the cliff, immediately starting to crawl upwards like a swarm of black spiders.


Dammit! Of all the times to be missing the ability to Chaos Control-AH!


Shadow almost cried out aloud when a sudden tug on his foot almost made him lose purchase. With a mixture between a yelp and a snarl, the Ultimate Lifeform instinctively kicked down, lashing into the clone that had grabbed him. The jets on the soles of his shoes blazed hot as the Chaos inside him flared up at the threat to its master, scorching the clone’s face badly enough for it to lose its grip and tumble down the cliff with a wordless shriek of pain and fury. Immediately, Shadow tried to resume his climb, but the clones were swarming him now from all sides. With a furious snarl he kicked off another, but a third was already grabbing at his arms, trying to reach the Emerald.


"Shadow!" Sonic called, now at the summit of the cliff, "Hold on, I'll come help!"


"Just grab the Emerald, Faker! I can handle this if I have both hands!" Shadow shouted back, grunting at he tore yet another clone off the cliff face with a savage backhand blow.


"No way! There's too many of 'em, even for you!" Sonic's voice sounded closer, but Shadow didn't dare look up, there were too many clones, and his grip on the ice was too precarious by far.  One of the clones came up on his right like a snake, moving unnaturally against the frozen wall to grab at his arm, reaching for the Emerald, cold, artificial fingers digging into the flesh of his biceps. Shadow’s grip slipped with a cry as the clone tugged him off balance. Another copy took advantage of his slip-up immediately, also wrapping its gloved fingers around the Ultimate Lifeform’s leg and pulled, leaving all of Shadow's weight to be held by one arm and one foot wedged precariously into the slippery ice while from all sides grasping hands were clutching at him like a zombie horde, blunt nails digging into his fur in mindless determination. The clone at his side, clinging to the frozen surface like a vampire bared its teeth in an artless expression of malice and victory, drawing closer with panting breath. Below, more of them were also closing in, Shadow their prey at the centre, struggling against the grabbing hands trying to immobilize him and pull him down, pull him apart, like an insect in a nest full of black and red-striped cannibalistic spiders. Falling into their seething mass below would mean death.


No!”  Panic now for the first time rising, Shadow gasped and kicked against his captors, trying with all his considerable strength to tear loose, but more clones were swarming up the cliff, seeming to sense his weakness like bacteria closing in on an open wound. He couldn’t win this. They were going to overwhelm him with sheer numbers. Already, another twitching, grasping hand was starting to lay itself across his face, fingers digging into his eyes, his open mouth-


N-No! Get awa-!


Something white and blue entered his peripheral vision like a marine lightning bolt. Shadow’s head flew up to see one of Sonic's impossibly elastic arms reaching towards him, the wolf’s claws extended.

“Shadow! Gimme the stone!”


Wrenching his arm free from another blindly groping hand grabbing at it, Shadow threw his hand holding the Emerald desperately upward, trying to stretch without falling. If he could only get the gemstone somewhere safe and free his hands for climbing and fighting...


Sonic’s claws closed around the Emerald.


The next second, the arctic tundra was suddenly lit with a brightness so sheer it burned.




 Shadow’s red eyes were for a moment as wide as Sonic’s as the endless night of the polar circle turned into blinding day for a single moment.


Next to him, the screams started. The clones gave choked cries as the light exploded over them, some falling from the cliff as they instinctively tried to cover their eyes and avert their faces. Shadow himself would have nearly lost what remained of his footing - but not because of the lightning.


What had nearly knocked him off the wall had instead been the sudden fierce burn of Chaos energy rushing through his veins like a spring tide of pure fire.


The Emerald was active again.


The black hedgehog’s head snapped up to look up into Sonic's equally wide, bright green eyes, ignoring for the moment the comical sight of Sonic in his wolf form apparently dangling upside down and held by a chain of badniks suspended from the top of the cliff like a character chain straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon.


"Just a moment," Shadow said, his voice hoarse, but steady. "I'll be right back."


With that, the black hedgehog pushed suddenly back away from the cliff and backflipped, skates activating mid-air to slow his descent and let him land at the foot of the cliff as gracefully as the acrobat he was. Around him, the clones, both the ones that had fallen off the cliff side and recovered, as well as the ones that had just arrived, immediately rushed at him, red eyes intent like a pack of hunting dogs smelling blood. Hands looking exactly like Shadow’s were already reaching out mindlessly, grabbing and clawlike in their eagerness towards the Emerald now lit with its proper pale blue glow.


Shadow looked at them and smiled like a shark.




The arctic night was lit up for a second time in as many minutes, but this time, the false sunrise burned red.


When it was over, Shadow looked at the melted crater about him and the strewn bodies of the mindless creatures that wore his face and form, now lying still in the arctic snow forever. He nodded in satisfaction.


 Hah. Don't mess with the original.


Silently, he then turned back to the cliff face, raising his head toward the others. Sonic was still dangling from the chain of robots suspended from the cliff. The blue hero only looked faintly relieved now – the badniks, on the other hand, were now staring at the black hedgehog with eyes the size of power rings. Given the fact that their faces technically shouldn’t even be able to show any expression at all, Shadow supposed he had to give them credit for that.


“ that the future?” the bot resembling a bee buzzing next to the line of his hanging brethren asked, and sounded aghast.


“Uh. That’s Chaos Blast. Yeah,” Sonic ventured.




“It did just save my hide,” Shadow pointed out calmly, as, Emerald safely in his hand again, he started to climb towards the others a second time. Sonic reached out and Shadow allowed himself to be pulled up to the top. When they were all standing on safe ground once more, the striped hedgehog noticed the blue hero staring at him oddly.


"What?" Shadow asked, warily.


For a moment, it looked like Sonic was going to say something, but then he just shrugged his enormous shoulders and said instead, "Well, I guess now we know how to re-activate the Emeralds, huh?"


Before Shadow could choose a suitable reply, the communicator in Sonic's ear crackled to life.


"Sonic! Sonic! Can you hear me now?" Tails' voice came over the tinny little speaker.


"Yeah, little bro, I can hear you. What up?" Sonic replied, and Shadow supposed he should only be mildly surprised the thing still worked. Tails was well aware of his lunatic big brother’s lifestyle, and therefore probably tended to make his devices to last.


"Oh, thank goodness! We... well... Knuckles is here and-"


"Great!" Sonic interrupted, "Glad you found the big lunkhead. Where was he, out on a fishing trip?"


"Not exactly, Sonic..." then, distantly in the background behind Tails, Shadow fancied he could hear the sound of Knuckles yelling, "Well... Knuckles... he says he has some information, but he wants to talk to you."


"Uh... ok, sure." Sonic said, confused. Rare was the occasion when Knuckles wanted to just have a chat.


Yeah. Rare as something like the sudden evaporation of every ocean on Mobius, or possibly Robotnik announcing his intention to stop his schemes for world domination in favour of joining a Zumba club.


And then, sure enough,


"What have you DONE, you blue maniac!?"


...Knuckles was definitely yelling down the line with enough volume to make Sonic's ears flatten themselves to his head.


"So nice to hear from you too, Knucklehead," Sonic replied flatly, “Remind me to send you a postcard never.”


"Don't get smart, Sonic," Knuckles growled, "What I want to know is how in the name of all the Emeralds you managed to end up as the avatar of a GOD?!?"


"Well, I..." Sonic blinked, "Wait... WHAT?!"


To be continued...


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