PokéCommunity Supporter Crystal Tier
Also Known As That weird vegan
Discord Nickname CiCi Arts#9771
Ř͕̲̼̇ͥè̙̒͂͋s ͕̘͇͛̔ͭͥ̓i̐ d̯̐̾ͯ̒͛ḛ͍̥̾ǹ ͖̥̙͓̈́͐ͦt ͌̋ͪ ͉͖̺̺̰̑ͬ̐̀p̍͆̉ ̇ɹ̠͙͂̿͊ͨŏ̑̋̏ ̘̦̫̟̜̰l̬̼̖̄̾̚ ̺ǝ͔ͪͣ̐ƃ̥̌͌̓͒p ̲͙̲͚̹̯͉Ǝ̹̫̙́
Rated T for minor language and some violence.
Chapter 1 - Project Shadow
“Vitals on the Project?”
He heard it again. Voices. Sometimes, he couldn’t separate them from his own sparse thoughts and memories. Things mostly replayed in his mind, however. These voices were new.
“Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature all normal.”
“It’s been steady for 50 years, you’d think we wouldn’t need to keep checking on it.”
All those voices — agreeing, naysaying — he’d never heard them before. A sudden awareness of wet fur and quills crept up on his skin. Burning liquid filtered into his lungs, keeping him alive. Yet, he knew he needn’t anything but air.
His eyes squinted slowly open, seeing translucent orange wavering before a reflective glass. Beyond that, he could barely make out a darkened room, humans in white lab coats monitoring panels; uncertainty, obscurity. He tried to remember how he’d gotten here. The fragments of memories he attempted to piece together were nothing more than confusing baubles of an enigmatic puzzle. But there was one thing… The humans… His human… Her blonde hair and blue eyes, her familial smile that had brightened his mind once, long ago.
His eyes shot open, power flooding his bones and streaming through his veins.
“Vitals increasing! Heart rate at 150 beats, blood pressure 160 over 90!”
Maria’s blood poured before him, memories becoming a painfully real cogitation. He’d been contained, trapped, encapsulated by brittle glass. Cracks ran through it as he invoked the power rushing inside of him. Liquid poured, electronic beeping screeched wildly, voices screamed and scrambled for answers.
He would happily clarify.
With a single burst, the glass around him shattered and flew, orange life’s blood creating a wave along the cold floors below, floors he refused to touch as he floated midair, his finally outstretched limbs free from their fetal prison.
His shoes allowed him to hover, keeping him high above the panicked humans. Some had been thrown to the ground by the water, others pressed buttons frantically on panels, calling for backup or trying to find their escape. He wouldn’t allow it. His gloved hands ran along the air, scanning across the monitors below. They burst into fire and electricity, and he did the same with his other hand, destroying the laboratory around him. Humans and their technology; he knew it well, from Gerald and his lab, and…
Another burst of power forced its way out of him, sending a field of translucent yellow in all directions around him. It flung people into walls, decimated everything in its path, and launched debris at those unfortunate enough to be awake when it hit them. A single white coat-wearing human lay across the ground, a transmitter in his grasp.
“Project Shadow has escaped its confines! I repeat, Project Shadow—!”
His voice was stopped as he — Project Shadow… Yes, that’s right. Shadow. As Shadow grasped the air before him, crushing the man’s esophagus and lungs within his enclosed fist. The man dropped the transmitter and reached up for the invisible force that disallowed airflow. Shadow brought the man closer, levitating him off the ground.
“Human,” he said, voice rasped but strong. “Where am I?” Shadow released the man’s windpipe, allowing him to speak.
“Y-You’re in the G.U.N stronghold! On Prison Island!”
Shadow’s parroted words were calm and poignant. “Prison Island?”
“Yes, I-I swear! Pl-Please, let me go — don’t kill me! My family, my daughter—!”
Shadow dropped him immediately, only hearing him thud to the floor, mind wrapped up in explosive thoughts of Maria. He had to focus. Not on the pain of Maria’s blood proverbially upon his pristine white gloves, not on the pulse-pounding fear he’d experienced before his apparent 50-year long stasis, but on his forthcoming escape; to the outside world, to the place where humans seemed to exist in spades.
He sped through the sheet of metal near a keypad the humans had once scrambled towards, busting through the wall and to the other side. It led to a hallway with many cameras that he blitzed past at the speed of sound. Any robots that got in his way — small floating bots with guns attached to the bottom, larger limbed robots with guns for arms — lay destroyed by his spinning air-strike, leaving nothing but a trailing yellow aura and scrapped robot parts in his wake.
“Security breach in Section 5,” a feminized robotic voice called over unseen speakers. “Project Shadow has escaped its confines. All units converge and capture the Project.”
So, they’re going to unleash everything they had on him? It will be their downfall.
He simply bust through every unit they sent at him; all robots; all unable to stand a chance. His spinning attacks were far too powerful, even after recently awakening. He charged through a set of closing metal doors, breaking a jagged hole in the middle.
“Security breach in Section 4,” said the robotic voice.
Closer to the outside; a certainty, much like the clarity he felt when he saw the G.U.N symbol upon one of the large, limbed robots before decimating it. That symbol had been the very same sewn into the black riot gear of the humans who’d invaded his previous home — Space Colony: ARK. It brought on a whole new set of memories once forgotten, now forging the beginnings of raw fury. Not only had it been humans who’d spilt Maria’s blood, it had been the personnel of G.U.N itself. So that’s what had happened to him after Maria’s death, after her attempt to launch him out of the escape pod and away from the chaos. She’d been murdered before she had the chance and Shadow had been subdued. Somehow.
“Security breach in Section 3.”
His thoughts had swallowed him, rendering him blind to his unstoppable rampage until the voice brought him back. Humans, like the ones from his memories, jumped into the mix of opponents. They aimed their guns at him and he swiped his hand across them all, exploding their weaponry in an instant. The bottoms of his shoes sent out a similar energy to the one throughout his body, allowing him to skate across the metal floors with unparalleled speeds. He outran bullets. Nothing could stop him. Nothing could assuage him.
“Security breach in Section 2.”
Almost to the end, leaving unsatisfying destruction behind. He should wreak havoc upon every sector, every last inch of this place. Yet his goal, for the time, was to breach the outside world. Section 2’s security was child’s play. Just a road bump in his path.
“Project Shadow is nearing Section 1. Please ready B-3x Hot Shot.”
Whatever B-3x Hot Shot was, Shadow felt confident that it would lie in a heap of scrap and mangled metal by the time he finished with it. He ran so fast that he heard bullets around him as though muffled. Shadow took out anyone directly in his path with a spinning attack of quills and might. None stood up to him, not that they ever could.
By the time he bombarded the door to Section 1, his surety could not be dissuaded. He rushed down the hall that would lead to a larger room, much like the other Sections before him.
Once he reached that room, he faced an enormous, legged mech; a pilot in its cockpit behind thick glass, and guns on either side of the robot. It towered thrice his height, perhaps more, and with more girth than Shadow could ever hope to possess. But he had more strength and determination.
The mech unloaded on him, bullets whizzing past as he swerved around behind the robot. He curled into a ball and thrust himself quills first, shoving the robot forward and making it stumble upon its two thick legs. Gears churned and air expelled from pipes as it moved, top-half spinning to face him instantly. The following barrage of lead was too fast to dodge and a single bullet pierced the flesh of his left arm. Pain caused him to gasp and he applied pressure with his opposite hand. Hot blood seeped into his glove, dripping, flowing, just like—
Maria flashed through his mind. He would not lose. Never. The pain would only invigorate him, bring him further to life.
He skated along the floor, outspeeding the end of the mech’s magazines. As the pilot inside reloaded, Shadow launched another assault, this time at the glass shield of the cockpit. Even that refused to be damaged so easily; just a scuff left behind from his sharp quills. The pilot, face mostly obscured by a helmet and lenses, smirked at Shadow with an undeserved sense of competence. But the fool was nothing and he’d be sure to teach him that lesson.
The moment he landed on his feet, muzzles of the guns flashed, unleashing a deluge of hot lead that ricocheted off every wall. He tried to explode the guns as he once had, but everything moved far too quickly for him to get the chance. The bullets that bounced off of walls were the most dangerous, flying in unpredictable directions. Warm, seeping blood across his arm reminded him of the pain they caused him, but the mech was unaffected by its own friendly fire. Bullets shattered on impact, leaving the metal nearly untainted.
Shadow had a single, devastating trick up his sleeve, however. A memory of his old life, as interruptive as they had been, struck him. The golden rings around his arms and legs were of import. Professor Gerald’s voice rang through his head as though the man had been standing right beside him.
“These are your Inhibitor Rings. Without them, you’ll unleash great power, but that will weaken you and leave you susceptible. Be careful, Shadow.”
Some sort of instinct overtook him and he held his arms out, allowing the rings to lift from their tightened places around his wrists. They slid off, floating there to await their master’s beck once more.
The emptiness surrounding his wrists instantly grew into a pulsating flow of indescribable energy. Shadow took to the air in a burst of speed, leaving the pilot unable to track him. He flew at the mech so quickly that his own eyes hardly registered the motion until he was on the other side of the robot. A blistering burst of its explosion heated behind him, gale blowing through his fur. He held his arms out again and the rings returned to him, tightening upon his wrists, though he still felt the residual energy within him as he turned to the fallen robot. It was nothing more than what he’d expected it to be: twisted steel and maimed robotics.
A thud crashed in front of him. He looked to see the pilot had ejected himself from the mech and now laid barely conscious.
“Pathetic,” Shadow said calmly, looking down as he floated midair. “You’ve failed, human.”
The pilot’s weak voice spit with vitriol. “You’re gonna get your ass handed to you when G.U.N mobilizes to take you down.”
“I assume that will take a fair bit of planning. My odds are pretty good if I launch an immediate assault. You all killed Maria and I promised her…” Shadow glanced toward the ceiling, building up the power within him as he thought of his final exchange with Maria; fuzzy, broken, and damaged. But he was certain that he’d promised one thing. “I promised her revenge.”
He shot through the air and burst out of the ceiling. Several layers of cold, confining steel couldn’t keep him in. He scrutinized the stronghold below, observing its huge, fortified metal walls and well-equipped robots. Ocean surrounded it on one side, a jungle on the other. A tall tower loomed before him, jutting off of the building. He rushed through its middle, taking the top half down and relishing in the crash it left behind. He would destroy it all.
A sudden jolt of pain ran along his chest as he flew, and his world flashed brightly. He recognized this feeling. Chaos Control. But it was not Chaos Control by his hands — he normally felt the heat of the Chaos Emerald flowing through him before its effects took place. This came from nowhere. It didn’t surprise him to realize that G.U.N had taken Gerald’s Chaos Emerald, nor was it unpredictable of them to use it against him. Wherever they wanted to take him, he refused to go. As long as the Chaos Emerald remained somewhere within range, then he could manipulate its energy and divert the path on which G.U.N attempted to send him. He stored the power within his fists, thrust his hands outward, and redirected himself.
The explosion of his Chaos Control threw tidal waves around below him, briny sea air filling his nose during his continued flight. Bright lights from his teleportation blinded him momentarily, leaving him flying blind. When his vision returned soon after, he saw a forested island before him, nestled among the waters, failing to hide the towering mountain behind it. He was unsure where he’d gone but he couldn’t deliberate. Exhaustion overtook him as the Chaos Emerald’s power disappeared. His altitude dropped as his body made for a crash landing upon the forested island. He couldn’t fear the pain of the fall, could no longer feel the adrenaline coursing through him as his consciousness slipped.
Comments, constructive or otherwise, are very much welcome. I hope all y'all Shadow fangirls have fun with this!
PokéCommunity Supporter Crystal Tier
Also Known As That weird vegan
Discord Nickname CiCi Arts#9771
Ř͕̲̼̇ͥè̙̒͂͋s ͕̘͇͛̔ͭͥ̓i̐ d̯̐̾ͯ̒͛ḛ͍̥̾ǹ ͖̥̙͓̈́͐ͦt ͌̋ͪ ͉͖̺̺̰̑ͬ̐̀p̍͆̉ ̇ɹ̠͙͂̿͊ͨŏ̑̋̏ ̘̦̫̟̜̰l̬̼̖̄̾̚ ̺ǝ͔ͪͣ̐ƃ̥̌͌̓͒p ̲͙̲͚̹̯͉Ǝ̹̫̙́
Rated T for minor language and some violence.
Chapter 2 - Woodland Follies
Softness cocooned him. Warmth spread along his body as he slowly came to. But where did he land? What happened? His eyes squinted open, stricken sightless briefly by sunlight streaming through the window beside him. A mattress pressed against his back, cushy pillow lifting his head. Only his eyes could move. The rest of his body remained immobile as it howled in pain. He held back any vocalizations, catching groans and grunts in his throat and behind clenched teeth. The door near his feet opened and a young grey wolf came in, carrying a tray with a bowl and cup sat atop it.
She smiled at him, her deep green eyes lighting up. “Oh, good, you’re awake. Been a while — I was startin’ to worry.”
Next to him, she clacked the tray against a dresser. After pulling up a chair that had been sitting in the corner of the room, she retrieved the bowl and a wooden spoon from the tray, then held them out to him.
“Here, right on time. Got you some food from In the Neighborhood. That restaurant rocks.”
The dish’s scent fully wafted over him; a savory concoction of vegetables, herbs, and spices. And a distant fruity smell hit his nose, too, probably coming from whatever was in the cup. His stomach rumbled — how long had it been since he’d lost consciousness? Judging by his acidic, empty insides, it must’ve been a good long while. But he couldn’t stay here and accept food like some vagrant charity case. He had more important things to do: figure out how he got here, how to get back, sneak past G.U.N’s defenses, and work around their possession of the Chaos Emeralds so he could obtain them.
He struggled upright, but the moment his head popped off the pillow, extreme dizziness whirled his brain, spinning the room as pinprick blackness crept into the corners of his eyes. Before he knew it, he’d collapsed back into the bed, panting, exhausted, vertiginous.
She asked, “You okay?”, though he barely heard her muffled voice until his mind cleared a bit. “You been out for three days. Doc Ernest said you’re dehydrated, that’s why I got you this soup.”
He observed her as she dipped the spoon into the bowl, scooped the food, and brought the full spoon closer to him. He grimaced at the prospect of her feeding him as though he was a child, incapable of handling himself. With tightened lips, he turned his head away. He heard another small clank then felt her fluffing the pillow under his head, bringing him up slowly. When he returned his gaze to her, he noticed her placing another pillow under him, effectively sitting him somewhat. He wanted to grab her wrist and stop her or smack away her hand, but he couldn’t do much other than lift his shaking arm and have it collapse back to his lap.
“If you don’t want me helping you,” she said, fetching the soup once more, “then you can just take the bowl.”
She placed the bowl in his lap, heat extending across his legs and up his torso. It did look good. Bits of vegetables and tubers floated in the amber liquid, tempting him and his pain-filled, nauseated stomach. Just a little food, then he’d be on his way.
Trembling arms took the spoon and held the bowl, bringing the savory mixture to his mouth. His stomach welcomed the toasty, delicious broth and filling foods. It instantly eased the screaming in his guts and tasted so damn good. He shoveled more into his mouth, chewing only enough to swallow and stuff his cheeks fuller. It didn’t take long for him to finish off all the solid chunks of vegetables and beans, leaving only the delectable broth left. With newfound strength, he lifted the bowl against his lips and gulped the oncoming stock, feeling it slosh down his chin and into his fur. The mess was completely worth the enjoyment on his taste buds and the warmth now emanating from within him.
Once he emptied the bowl and brought it back to his lap, she handed him the cup. In contrast, it chilled his hand, containing a pink mixture that smelled of strawberries and banana and awaited his begging stomach. So he downed it much like he’d downed the soup; pleasant and gentle sweetness the perfect follow-up.
He felt something upon his chest. From the corner of his eye, he noticed she held a napkin and helped clean his fur. He snatched her wrist, keeping her away as he stared sternly into her eyes. For a moment, all remained still, their gazes mingling. With his other hand, he tugged the napkin from her and wiped himself off, releasing her wrist.
“Stubborn one, I see,” she said. “I’m used to it. Mom’s the same way.”
She collected everything and put it back onto the tray, then took his napkin once he finished.
“Don’t talk much, do ya?”
He hadn’t the time to stay and chat. Pieces of his memory called to him, flickering images of G.U.N’s demise beckoned. But now that his opportunity to leave arrived, another problem emerged. From his bladder. As she stood, he said,
“Where’s your bathroom?”
She cocked her head at him, lips pulled back in an obvious bid to avoid smirking. “You sure you want that to be the first thing you said to me? Well, too late for somethin’ cooler. C’mon—” She reached her hand toward him. “—I can take you there.”
He avoided her as he kicked his heavy legs over the side of the bed and stood upon them. Muscles quivered and threatened to give way but he pushed through and stumbled forward to the bedroom door. His knee gave out and he slammed his hand into the mattress to keep steady, nearly tripping over his feet.
How unbecoming to appear so weak — not only in front of himself, but before a stranger. When she grabbed his arm and led it across her shoulders, he growled out his displeasure (though, it embarrassingly came out as more of a gurgled groan). Yet again, he wanted to fight against her but could find no strength to do so, thus hadn’t much choice but to allow her to half-carry him toward the bathroom. Which, to his dismay, was directly across the very short hall — couldn’t have been more than several feet and he’d still needed help getting there.
She opened the door for him and took him inside, letting him hold himself up against the pedestal sink next to the threshold.
“You let me know if you need anything, all right? Name’s Dahlia.”
The door shut, leaving him alone in the small bathroom. In front of him, a mirror offered the chance to observe his features. Heavy eyes stared back as his tired mind tried to figure out exactly what had happened. After he’d used Chaos Control, he’d been teleported somewhere that made it impossible to feel the Emeralds’ energy. From what he could recall, he’d been under the impression from Gerald that he could use the Emeralds most anywhere in the world. He’d attempted to go to Space Colony: ARK to escape G.U.N. Obviously, he’d missed his mark.
So how far had he gone?
After a grueling time finishing his bathroom business (which involved almost falling into the bathtub and nearly choking on mouthwash), he tried to wash his fur in the sink. Food caked him, especially the white patch upon his chest, and it refused to come out. He could take a shower but he had no idea how it worked (and a bra hanging from the shower head made him avoid the scenario further). That said, he could ask for help. Again…
He shuddered, shoulders tense. Like a great many things today, he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He peeked his head out of the door and called a raspy,
Light brightened the hall from which Dahlia entered on his left with a cordial smile. Her overly-cheery self helped him turn the shower on and remove the offending garment. After a brief lesson on how to use the knobs, and an offer to clean his clothes, she laid a fresh towel out and left him with nothing but his Inhibitor Rings and the hot, tranquil water.
As he bathed, he thought of his old life once again. Dahlia’s bright, kind nature reminded him so much of Maria. She’d been his light in a dreary world, before that world stole her away. Although he held only fragmented memories of her, he still felt their connection and bond. She’d been his family, his only family. And he’d failed to protect her…
After he exited the bathroom, still soggy and drying his head on the soft towel, he meandered into the sunny kitchen area from which Dahlia had emerged before his shower. She clearly was not there. Across the way, an open sliding slatted door led into an equally sun-filled den. In the windows, Dahlia finished hanging his clothes, then straightened up the pillows upon her couch. When she turned around and made for the coffee table, she noticed him.
“You should sit down. You’re still lookin’ pretty rough.”
It would’ve been great to tell her to mind her own business but his tired body complied before he could object. Just beside the door, he collapsed onto the cushioned bottom of the wicker sofa. It smelled of perfume — which wasn’t different from the rest of the home, but the flowery scent flowed out when he displaced the cotton insides. A breeze blew another smell inside of the home, one of rich soil, healthy foliage, and herbs, spices, and vegetables. Dahlia took a deep breath of the wind.
She asked, “Don’t that smell great, Whatever-Your-Name-Is? Mom and I are real big on gardening so you’ll be in for a treat for dinner: veggie casserole and mashed potatoes. All homegrown.”
His stomach growled again. He could’ve eaten an entire garden of vegetables and still be hungry.
“Oh, and your clothes should be dry by then. Got ‘em hangin’ up, you probably noticed.”
He watched as she cleared the coffee table, collecting dishes and wiping the dust off the uneven wood. She and her as-of-yet-unseen mother were far too generous. He couldn’t stay and get comfortable here but he couldn’t leave just yet, either. His weakened state wouldn’t survive for long as he could hardly move, and he still hadn’t a clue where he’d wound up. He’d ask her eventually, but for now his heavy eyelids struggled to stay open and his tired mind slowed any semblance of coherent thought. The only thing keeping him awake was listening to her hum as she cleaned. After straightening up the coffee table, she took the dishes from the den and headed toward the kitchen.
“Dinner’ll be ready in a couple hours. I’ll call you.”
She stopped and eyed him with an arched brow. It seemed to take her a moment to comprehend what he meant but she ultimately flashed a gentle smile. “Right. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready, Shadow.”
A couple of hours flew past in the blink of an eye, seeing as he’d fallen asleep on the sofa. He awoke to Dahlia calling his name. His nap and lunch rejuvenated him as he didn’t struggle much to get to his feet. Dahlia took his clothes down from the line and he redressed in his dry gloves and socks, Inhibitor Rings allowing the fabric through before closing tight again. Though she saw, she didn’t mention it — at least she appeared intuitive enough to know not to be privy to private matters.
She instead took him out of the den, to the dinette, and pulled his seat out at the table for him. If she babied him one more time…
Her hitherto unknown mother, another grey wolf, set a baking pan of casserole down and sat across from him. She had a similar amiable smile as her daughter while she spooned the dish onto his plate, though had two straight ears whereas Dahlia’s right ear flopped over on itself.
“Right, introductions,” Dahlia said as she piled mashed potatoes for herself. “This is my mom, Lily. Mom, our — erm — patient is Shadow.”
“Nice to meet you, Shadow.”
“Ah yes, I’ve heard you don’t talk much.”
“I dunno, Mom, seems like a glowin’ conversationalist to me.”
His eyes raised in a lazy roll.
“See what I mean? Glowin’.”
Rather than banter, his interest keyed in on the fantastic aroma of food before him. The breaded vegetables, the creamy sauce; he didn’t want to be overly exuberant about eating, but the dish looked irresistible and made his mouth water. One savory bite turned into another, then another, until he ate so fast that he barely chewed.
“Well,” said Lily proudly, “glad that someone else enjoys my food.”
“Told ya he could really put it away.”
The faster he ate, the more his mouth burned from whatever spice Lily had used to season the food. He put his spoon down to snatch the glass of water, gulping it to douse the heat upon his tongue.
“My spicy food,” Lily clarified.
“Sorry,” said Dahlia. “Shoulda warned ya that we like our food spicy. Just eat the potatoes — always works for me.”
He consumed several large spoonfuls of the buttery potatoes and it did indeed ease the torridity of the casserole.
“And,” Dahlia added, “now that I’m sittin’ this close to ya, I’m also sorry that all we have are those girly soaps. Don’chu smell so pretty?”
He almost choked on a hunk of carrot and had to rub his chest to help it go down. While he’d definitely used their ‘girly’ soaps, he hadn’t noticed the floral scent diffusing off his fur until she pointed it out (and the vigorous rubbing helped disperse the smell, unfortunately).
“Dahlia, please,” said Lily, “you’re making him blush.”
He did his best to ignore Dahlia’s following giggle. The food was too tasty to let her asinine comments stop his ardent feast.
Soon, everyone’s plates had cleared. He gave himself seconds while Dahlia and Lily did their dishes — he probably could’ve gone for thirds, too, but had already eaten half of the food. Once he finished, he took it upon himself to clean his plate and spoon, all the while with Dahlia standing to his side, smiling up at him.
“Glad to see you’ve got an appetite. Maybe I can take you to In the Neighborhood tomorrow morning, then? Their food is amazing.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Annoyingly, she took his rinsed plate and nestled it in the dish rack. There was that babying bullcrap again. He snapped,
“I can handle myself.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re so headstrong. Ya gotta know when to relax — you were passed out cold for three days, ya know.”
He scoffed out a, “Hmph,” and though she backed off, she beamed all the same. She leaned against the counter, holding her head in her hand.
She asked, “Where’d ya come from anyway?”
Given what little he remembered, and the events that had taken place right before he’d arrived at— … Wherever he is, he knew he’d come from a G.U.N stronghold on Earth. Was this place Earth as well? He rinsed his clean spoon, pondering what exactly to say, if anything. It bewildered even him to think he’d traveled to a distant planet, so he couldn’t imagine how Dahlia, a completely outside observer, would react. He settled on,
“Earth? Where’s that?”
In comparison to whatever this place was? No clue. “Depends. Where am I?”
“This is Woodland Follies.”
“But what planet is this?”
She cocked a brow. “Err, Mobius. Wow. You’re really not from here, are you?” When he didn’t respond — because of the obvious answer to her question — she continued. “You’re an interesting one, Shadow. You look Mobian but you’re not from Mobius. I’ve never even heard of Earth before. Do people there look like us, too?”
“No. They’re human.”
“Human?” Her eyes abruptly widened, jaw slack. “Like Eggman? No way…”
“God, you really aren’t from around here. Everyone knows about Eggman. So many people died because of him.” Her somber eyes looked away, now upon the ground.
He felt a growl of contempt rise up in his chest but he pushed it away, instead clenching his fists. Humans. While he didn’t know exactly what this Eggman did to murder the innocent, he had a feeling he’d used arrogant technology to do it. Just like how G.U.N killed—
“I’m gonna help my mom in the garden.” Her subdued tone snapped him back to her. “You can come if you want.”
With eyes still on the ground, she walked toward the hall. He followed so he wouldn’t be left alone with the gruesome visions of Maria’s death. Maybe he could gauge more about these ‘Woodland Follies’, figure out why he couldn’t feel the Chaos Emeralds, and try to find a way back to Earth to complete his mission and take revenge on Maria’s behalf.
“The whole town relies on our garden for most of its food, so it’s kind of a lot. Just lemme know if ya get overwhelmed.”
He huffed out his nose. Overwhelmed from plants? Hardly.
The door down the hall led straight to a luscious, jungle-like garden. The smell of soil and foliage strengthened, emanating not only off the greenery full of vegetables and fruit but off the forest surrounding the home. Light from the setting sun rested across the treetops, making the sylvan plot somewhat dark. Peace enveloped everything around him. The contrast between Woodland Follies and what he knew of Earth, both instances still fresh in his mind, was particularly striking.
Dahlia took a shovel from the tiny wooden shed near the back door and grabbed an extra, holding it out to him.
He’d never labored over plants before, and he recoiled at the idea of starting now. She shrugged and put the shovel on a modest end table near the shed, then went out into the garden and dug about in the soil. He observed her and Lily as they spread seeds, covered holes in the dirt, and cleaned leaves. Hearing Dahlia hum as she worked invoke a flitting memory of Maria, humming and cleaning. The joy that swelled inside of his chest deflated just as fast, knowing he would never again see Maria nor hear her enjoy the most mundane things in life.
His fists clenched again to hold back the rising, bubbling heat inside of his veins and fight against the pit that sank into his stomach. With a final plea to release himself from such inner torment, he wrested the shovel from the end table. He spent the evening burying seeds, pruning overgrown vegetation, and filling in the places where Lily and Dahlia had cultivated their dinner. His gloves dirtied once again as they caked with hale and hearty soil.
When the sun waned, he migrated inside with Dahlia and Lily to wash up. He once again hung his damp gloves in the open window, alongside Dahlia’s brown ones. She sat on the wicker sofa.
“You sleep in the living room?”
“Can’t sleep in my bed, seein’ as you’re in it and all.”
That was her bed? No wonder it smelled like perfume. And he’d been taking it up for three whole days now? Much, much too generous.
“You should sleep in your own bed.”
She dismissed, “You kiddin’? This couch sucks and you only just barely got your strength back.”
“I should take the living room tonight.”
“If ya wanna heal quicker, you need the bed again. Much comfier. Unless you’d rather stand here and argue about it all night.”
Not really. He would’ve tried to talk her out of it but she seemed resolute, and his eyelids pulled heavy on his eyes. She unleashed a great yawn, a contagion that spurred him to yawn as well. There was no fighting it.
PokéCommunity Supporter Crystal Tier
Also Known As That weird vegan
Discord Nickname CiCi Arts#9771
Ř͕̲̼̇ͥè̙̒͂͋s ͕̘͇͛̔ͭͥ̓i̐ d̯̐̾ͯ̒͛ḛ͍̥̾ǹ ͖̥̙͓̈́͐ͦt ͌̋ͪ ͉͖̺̺̰̑ͬ̐̀p̍͆̉ ̇ɹ̠͙͂̿͊ͨŏ̑̋̏ ̘̦̫̟̜̰l̬̼̖̄̾̚ ̺ǝ͔ͪͣ̐ƃ̥̌͌̓͒p ̲͙̲͚̹̯͉Ǝ̹̫̙́
Chapter 3 - Hecklers In the Neighborhood
The next morning, Shadow sat on the bed and endured getting checked over by the town doctor, Ernest. Being poked and prodded and having lights shone in his eyes made him want to punch the muskrat, but he remained calm, letting the doctor work. The sooner it ended, the better. Dahlia leaned against her door frame as she waited.
After far too long, the doctor finally returned his supplies to his bag.
“Looks like you’re doing okay, my good man. I’d imagine you’re in the clear. Just keep eating, getting your exercise, and drinking plenty of fluids and you’ll be back to normal in no time.” He collected his things, stood, and headed out.
Dahlia embraced Ernest as he walked by. “Thanks so much for all your help, Ernest.”
“Of course,” he said, returning the gesture. “You know you and Lily can call whenever you need me.”
Dahlia walked Ernest out of the house and Shadow followed so he could grab a cup of water from the kitchen. As soon as Ernest left and the front door shut, Dahlia converged upon him. She gushed about the breakfast menu of In the Neighborhood with grandiose talk about how delicious the restaurant’s food tasted — “It’s the best restaurant ever, it’ll feel like your mouth went on a damn vacation!”, and other such exclamations. Pure respite came when Lily left the bathroom and he shut himself inside, away from Dahlia’s overly exuberant speech.
Though his morning routine didn’t last long. When he finished brushing his teeth and doing general bathroom activities, he knew he’d need to face Dahlia again. Truth be told, her talk of delectable food enticed him and his hungry stomach. He exited the bathroom, somehow both eager and unwilling. Dahlia awaited him by the front door.
“C’mon, Shadow, we gotta hurry before they switch to lunch!”
She snatched his hand when he drew close enough and tugged him out the door. He almost tripped over his feet as they jogged down the porch steps and onto the cobble walkways of her home. Despite it being mid-morning, the strong rays of sun had difficulty penetrating the thick weald and its strong, earthy smell; forest nestled their community. Between the two parallel pathways, luxuriant gardens had been planted, full of wildflowers, lavender, and kempt shrubbery and bushes.
Despite his flowery surroundings, he still deciphered her perfume in the air. Maybe this was due to their unexpected close proximity, the fact that she clamped her hand around his as she fast-walked him to their destination, or possibly because of her brightly beaming face.
This grin of hers greeted many of the island’s other inhabitants on the way to In the Neighborhood; a great array of distinct characters. They passed a red squirrel in farmer’s overalls, a sheep with vast grey wool, a tan platypus wearing spectator shoes — and those had just been the first three. There were more than he could count when they entered the town square, a large and luxurious area with a mossy fountain in the middle, encircled by cobblestones. Benches placed around it had various people sitting, enjoying the warm morning sun which now beat down upon him as he left the denser forest behind. Whatever season it was, it made the air hot and a bit humid. Perhaps the denizens had gotten used to it and he simply hadn’t.
He also hadn’t gotten used to Dahlia’s hand upon his, fingers now laced as though inaction impelled her to deepen their intimacy. A strong urge to pull away tensed his arm, or maybe the tenseness came from his bizarre desire to do exactly the opposite. Whatever it was, it disconcerted him.
Not that she gave him enough time to think about it, as she jostled his arm and called, “We’re almost there, you can see their sign!”
She pointed ahead as they turned left from the fountain, through buildings that lined the way. It took a moment of scanning for him to see which sign she meant. Between Clothes & Surplus and Dear Dairy, In the Neighborhood found itself set-up. Its sign seemed rather… Bohemian. Etched into the natural wood was a dream-catcher sort of pattern, and deeper than that inscribed the name of the restaurant in flowers and vines, from what he could see at this distance away.
She grinned up at him, positively ecstatic from what he assumed was her sharing in something she adored. Her warm hand — no, her regular-old-nothing-special-hand squeezed his tighter.
If he didn’t know any better, he’d say that she could read his thoughts as any time he tried to think deeper about her or her affection, she would divert him somehow. This time, she kept true to that method and abruptly jogged toward the restaurant, jerking him down the way with her. In that moment behind her, his nose caught her coconut-scented perfume again. Vanilla?
Not that he cared.
She pulled the door open and tugged him inside, shoes tapping along the black and white tiles of the floor.
“Hey, Fred!” Dahlia approached the worker, an orange tabby cat who stood behind the counter.
“Dahlia, great to see ya! Who’s this?” Fred motioned to him with an upturned hand. “That your invalid?”
“Oh, Fred, he’s not an invalid at all — he’s a real trooper! This is Shadow.”
“I’m just playin’, Shadow! Good to meetcha. Name’s Fred, obviously. Welcome to my little restaurant, In the Neighborhood! I’d shake with ya, but I see that you n’ your girlfriend are holdin’ hands.”
As if he didn’t already know that his fingers still laced with Dahlia’s. His brain had preoccupied itself with her not long ago, and all of his attention grappled onto Dahlia’s giggle and following words.
“Hardly. Only known the guy for less than a day.”
She let his hand go, only for it to be then snatched by Fred. Fred grinned at him, fervently shaking his hand in what felt like a vice-grip.
“Well, let’s not wait!” Fred exclaimed, “Our food is the best around, Shadow. You’ll never taste anythin’ like it!”
He led them toward the back wall, past the register and the baked goods display beside it, which shown an assortment of bread loaves, muffins, and strudels. At the back, a blackboard hung on the wall just behind another display case full of desserts like cupcakes, cookies, and brownies. Everything smelled very fresh; appetizing, appealing — he probably could’ve eaten all of it, given the chance. Though, he read some questionable items from the board.
He asked, “The hell’s a veggie sausage?”
“It’s grains and beans and stuff rolled into a sausage shape,” Dahlia replied.
He crinkled his nose.
She giggled. “Sorry, we’re kinda veg-heads here. But the sausages are good! I’ll order some for myself so you can try it.”
“If you’re new to the whole veg-head life,” said Fred, “might I recommend the pancakes? Fluffy, soft, n’ doused in tree blood.”
Dahlia nudged him with her elbow. “It’s maple syrup, Fred’s just bein’ weird.” Then she cupped her hand beside her mouth. “Yo, Junior! You’re back there gettin’ our pancakes ready, ain’cha?!”
From the corner doorway, where Shadow could only see what looked like a commercial dishwashing station, another (somewhat exasperated) voice sounded. “Yes, Dahlia, I’m gettin’ yer flapjacks ready!”
After deciding on the sausages and the pancakes, Dahlia also ordered fried potatoes, cinnamon toast, a large glass of orange juice, and two coffees. Shadow sat with her at one of the red booths near the entrance, wall to one side and aisle to the other. Fred graced the laminated square table with a container of milk and their own pot of coffee.
The coffee had a distinct smell, one that he couldn’t accurately describe. He observed her pour a glass of the stuff, then stir in the milk and sugar from already-set packets in a dispenser. She took a long gulp off her steaming mug. When she finished and her eyes caught him, she scrunched her face into a perplexed but affable smile.
“Ya good, buddy?”
He glanced toward the coffee pot, at the deep brown liquid within, and grasped its handle to pour a mug for himself. The smell hit him quite hard, almost pungent in all of its bitterness. He looked into his mostly filled cup. He couldn’t even describe the smell so had no idea how it would taste.
“Damn,” said Dahlia. “Never seen someone stare so hard at coffee. Do they not have coffee on Earth?”
“Ya don’t, eh? Well, if ya ask me, today’s your lucky day ‘cuz coffee’s awesome.”
After some experimenting with the flavor of his odd drink (that Dahlia once called ‘Joe’, whoever that was), another orange tabby in a partially floured apron came to their table, tray full of food upon his hand. The tabby spread everything out before them — pancakes and toast in front of Shadow, the rest in front of Dahlia, and the orange juice between them with two straws.
“Gave us your best, didn’t ya, Junior?”
Junior put his fists against his hips, glaring playfully at her. “‘Course I did. Didn’t wanna hear ya rattatain’, ya know.” He then mocked her in an opulent voice, “Oh no, my coffee isn’t at a perfect eighty-two Celsius and my sausages aren’t exactly round, how ludicrous.”
“Wow, been practicin’ my speech patterns again, haven’cha? How’s Shadow supposed to know the difference between us? You’re gonna confuse the poor guy!”
Junior looked to him. “So you were Dahlia’s patient, were ya? Nice to see ya, Shadow. Name’s Fred Junior, but everyone just calls me Junior. You can call me Overlord of the Kitchen and Purveyor of Amazing Cuisine if ya’d like.”
Must’ve fancied himself a funny guy.
Dahlia interjected, “You’d be better off straight-talkin’ with this one. No sense a’ humor.”
Junior chuckled, walking away. “Dunno how ya can stand it, Dahlia.”
She shrugged and got to eating, so Shadow, driven by his gurgling stomach, did the same. Dahlia interjected every now and again to ask for a bite off his plate or offer some of what she had. The sausages admittedly were delicious, if not still odd in how she’d described them. Some of the vegetables inside of it had been grown by her and Lily, like the bell pepper and thyme. Seemed he couldn’t control his fierce eating patterns as even today he shoveled bite after bite into his mouth, thankful that he’d doused everything in maple syrup to make things go down easier.
A particularly rough time trying to swallow the potatoes compelled him to take the orange juice and slurp it through his straw. That is, until Dahlia leaned across the table and took the other straw into her mouth. He ceased, watching as she drank like nothing changed, like she wasn’t so close. Her jade eyes gleamed, their noses could’ve touched— He pulled away and let her take the cup from him.
The impossibility of describing what he thought or how he felt drove him crazy, as it seemed his brain couldn’t figure it out. How could he have disliked and liked her actions at the same time? And why was it so irritating yet so endearing that she seemed not to care? Her intimacy, unlike his own coldness and distance, somehow managed to be both wanted and unwanted.
Just then, bringing him back to the present, Dahlia’s motions stopped. She held the glass but didn’t drink. All he could see from her stunned muscles was the twitching of her nose and the widening of her eyes. She set the cup down in an unusually calm manner, given her shocked expression.
“They’re here,” she breathed. “They’re early. It’s only Wednesday, why are they here?” She bolted out of the booth and vaulted over the backside, airborne nearly all the way to the door. “Fred, pack up my food!”
“Dahlia!” Fred screamed. “Don’chu dare! You get back here!”
But she was already out so fast that the door flung into the side of the restaurant and shook the building when it slammed back into place. Fred cursed,
“Dammit! She’s gonna get herself killed!”
Adrenaline surged through Shadow as he tore out of the restaurant. Once outside, he cast his gaze all around before spotting her darting toward the town center. He ran after her, silently cursing his air shoes for their lack of cooperation, hover feature inactive. Whether this was due to his previous fatigue or not being in the vicinity of the Chaos Emeralds, he couldn’t ponder before catching up to her side.
He asked, “What’s going on?”
“The Hecklers are in town.”
“No-good loan sharks. Been bleedin’ us dry a’ money for months now, but I won’t let ‘em anymore.”
Her pace quickened and he followed suit, keeping stride with her as people running the opposite direction ripped past his vision. He and Dahlia went through the town center, past the fountain, and toward shoddier stands on the opposite side. Not too far along the path, he saw a bright blue, tall and lanky chameleon in the distance. He could tell even from afar that the well-dressed chameleon had nothing but malintent for Woodland Follies.
As he drew closer, he noticed four others around the chameleon — two large and two small — besetting upon a meat stand. Dahlia growled as the chameleon swept a piece of merchandise to the ground, then Shadow heard him talking.
“This is really the best you have? You’ll have to do better than that to get out of pay—”
Dahlia’s roar resounded so viciously that it halted the group in their tracks, in tandem with Dahlia’s quick stop. Shadow stood beside her, observing.
She spat, “This has gone on long enough, Heck. Let ‘im go.”
“Dahlia,” the chameleon, Heck, smirked. “You should be happy to see me. After all, I brought Razz, didn’t I?”
“Get out! Leave before I hafta kick all a’ your asses!”
Heck chuckled, then whipped his tail around and destroyed the meat stand. The stand’s owner hit the ground alongside his fallen products to avoid the flying debris.
Heck’s tooth-filled smirk glinted at her. “Try us.”
With a snap of his fingers, the bulkiest of the bunch, a golden lion, snarled and charged forward. His sharp claws at the ready didn’t seem to outwardly phase her. She bit and tugged her gloves off one at a time, second glove falling to the ground just as she clashed with the lion, obstructing his forearms in clenched hands. But he proved much stronger and shoved her, making her stumble aside. His hand came down, sharp nails clipping some fur from her neck and chest as she jerked back.
Behind the lion, an orange mole dug and disappeared inside of the earth, and a green raccoon foolhardily lunged forward as Dahlia ducked under the lion’s next punch. She caught the raccoon’s shoulders, then rolled back and kicked him over her, hurling him behind her before bolting upright.
That move left her vulnerable. She couldn’t dodge the lion’s next attack. From beside, his fist collided with her stomach, forcing air out of her and driving her down into the cobblestones. Seemed it disoriented her as even after his fist left her gut, she could only groan and lay there. His opposite hand reared back another fearsome punch and Dahlia’s wide eyes stared in terror.
Shadow’s observations stopped. His mind dashed to Maria — how helplessly she looked into the face of the G.U.N soldier who murdered her. Her rounded eyes and contorted, fear-laden face haunted him. He’d been unable to stop it. He’d failed her. She was dead because of him, because he couldn’t protect her. Fred’s voice rang through him — “She’s gonna get herself killed!”.
NO. Dahlia would not die today.
Spinning into a ball, he propelled himself at the lion, speed unparalleled. His quills slammed into his foe, catapulting the lion across the marketplace. The lion hit the final goon, a brown wolf, and threw them both to the ground. He landed in front of Dahlia.
Their eyes met — relief that filled her also filled him. He reached out and their hands again met, this time in a resonating touch, one that traveled throughout his entire being. His hand clenched hers tightly as she grunted and staggered to her feet. Words of concern escaped his throat before he could stop them.
“You all right?”
“Y-Yeah, I’m okay,” she replied through a grimace, voice strained as she held her stomach.
He didn’t know exactly why rage tore through him — be it thoughts of Maria or something else entirely — but seeing her in such pain fueled his fury. Hurt and anger pushed him to show the group of thugs no mercy; his only desire: make them suffer.
The raccoon offered himself up first. He wouldn’t stand a chance. To conserve his energy, he waited for the raccoon to reach him, then slammed his fist into his oncoming jaw, knocking his opponent to the ground.
Out cold. Too easy, just as he thought. He turned toward the real battle: the larger lion and wolf, both of whom got to their feet. An enraged roar belted from the rushing lion. Even lacking speed and power from the Chaos Emeralds, he easily side-stepped the slow attack.
The lion’s momentum followed through, and in that moment, Shadow swept at his ankles to send him toppling. It gave him enough time to dodge a punch from the wolf; left, then right, then left before an opening appeared. An uppercut to the wolf’s muzzle sent him stumbling back and Shadow tried to go for another punch, but the lion’s huge hand clutched Shadow’s ankle, distracting him. The lion only managed small tug before Dahlia’s form zipped before Shadow’s eyes, leaving his ankle free again. She’d slid along the ground and kicked the lion away by his side. He huddled into his wound.
Shadow couldn’t watch them for long as the wolf attacked again, so close that he had to backflip away from the furious punch. As his hands hit the ground, the cobblestone beneath him shattered and the orange mole flew out. Claws scraped the white fur upon his chest, but the moment his feet landed, the mole jumped back into the burrow and disappeared again. He could prove to be a problem, the coward.
“Razz!” The lion called out, now on his feet, “Pinch!”
He and the wolf stormed Shadow from each side, Dahlia’s ankles grabbed by the mole when she lunged to intervene, keeping her in place. Razz came from his right, the lion from his left, just far enough in front and behind to make escape in those directions unfeasible. If he turned to fight just one or the other, he’d get hit from behind. He needed to quickly decide: take the hit from the lion, or from Razz.
He lurched forward, spinning on a heel to face Razz with his arms up to block the punch. The powerful hit not only shoved his arms into his jaw, but lifted his feet off the pathway and launched him backward. Cobblestones scraped against his back as he skid, kicking up dirt and rocks. But he quickly stopped against something soft. His scrunched eyes opened to reveal Dahlia, whose hands rested on his shoulders and chest pressed against his head.
He asked, “Where’s the mole?”
“Donezo. Just these two jokers left.”
He got to his feet, he and Dahlia standing side by side. Across from her, Razz — across from him, the lion. His lungs burned from heavy breaths and the hot air dried his throat.
“Razz looks pretty rough,” said Dahlia. “Who knew you’d be such a formidable opponent, Shadow.”
“God, I hope that’s a bad joke.”
She snickered. “You get Leon, I get Razz?”
“I could take them both.”
Before anyone could continue, a whistle screeched through the air. Leon and Razz immediately broke their fighting stances and went off toward their fallen teammates. Shadow’s eyes shot to the source of the whistle: Heck.
“That’s quite enough,” said Heck. “Didn’t realize you’d bring back-up this time, Dahlia. Seems you’re not as stupid as I once thought.”
Dahlia snarled, “Get the hell out of my town.”
“Don’t think this is over. We’ll be back next week and we’ll expect double the payout.”
He whirled around and strut away, followed by Leon with the mole over his shoulder. Razz walked by them, lugging the raccoon. He exchanged glances with Dahlia. Her squinted glare and flattened ears contrasted with Razz’s lowered eyes and tight frown. The brown wolf didn’t stick around.
As the Hecklers left, the crowd that had apparently formed around him and Dahlia began to shout and cheer. Once the Hecklers were out of sight, the excited crowd rallied around him and Dahlia. Voices mingled together; shouts of praise, ovation, exuberant yells of happiness. A few strangers patted Shadow on the back and shoulders or forcibly shook his hand and he felt Dahlia getting jostled around next to him.
She smiled, interlocking her arm with his. “Couldn’t a’ done it without ya, partner.”
Comments are always appreciated! 🖤
PokéCommunity Supporter Crystal Tier
Also Known As That weird vegan
Discord Nickname CiCi Arts#9771
Chapter 4 - Who We Are
Shadow overlooked the blue orb below, how it was dotted with lush green and wisps of white, always spinning, always peaceful. The entire planet enticed him, called to him as a treasure trove of unexplored mystery.
“What do you think they do down there, Shadow?” Maria asked.
“Dunno. It’s sunny, isn’t it? Maybe they lay out in the sun.”
“Maybe they do. I know I’d love to, someday.”
“We will. And we’ll explore, too, won’t we?”
“Yes,” she agreed, smile clear in her voice. “We’ll see all the amazing places and talk to all of the amazing people.”
“There are a lot of humans, but is there anyone that looks like me?”
… No answer. Was she thinking? Were there no others that looked like him and she simply didn’t want to dishearten him? Years of wondering who he was, and why, brought down by a single answer: no. He looked toward her, thinking he’d see her beaming smile and hopeful eyes. His heart dropped.
She’d collapsed beside him, bleeding from a wound in her chest, mouth contorted in a soundless shriek, eyes glossed over and fixed at the ceiling.
She was dead.
She’ll always be dead.
A scream caught in his chest and he shot awake, bolting upright. Breaths rushed out unsteady and his heart pounded in his ears as the scream escaped him, albeit breathy and more of a gasp. Eyes darted around the dark room, noting he was back in Dahlia’s den, sitting on the couch.
Despite knowing it had all been a nightmare, he couldn’t quell his shaking hands and panicked mind. Tremors rocked his body as he tried to steady the breathing that burned his lungs and throat. He fell against his pillow and stared at the pot of ivy hanging overhead. Just calm down. It was only a nightmare.
Had that been a real conversation with Maria? It felt real, but he couldn’t tell reality from fiction anymore. His fragmented memories taunted him with doubt. Sometimes he wondered if Maria was real.
No. Stop that. Of course she was. She had to be…
Something interrupted his thoughts. A small light illuminated the kitchen, briefly, before it he heard the refrigerator door shut and saw the light go out. He waited, listening, then heard gentle sniffles and irregular breathing. Lily? Dahlia? He tossed his blanket off, paw pads tapping the wooden floor as he got to his feet.
Peeking around the corner, he noticed a slumped figure over the sink. The moonlight shimmering in from the window illuminated her silhouette, a flopped right ear giving her away as Dahlia. He heard the uneven breaths coming from her, in tandem with her shuddering back. A cup clasped in her hand, held out, forgotten as she ran her other hand through the longer fur down the back of her head. Was she… Crying?
She jumped and whipped around to face him. Her wide eyes shown tears shimmering in the light of the moon and her balled fist swiped them away as she vigorously rubbed her face.
“Sh-Shadow, you scared me. I-I didn’t know you were awake.”
“I just woke up.”
“Yeah. Me, too. I really should get back to my room.”
She rushed by him so fast that she turned nearly to a blur within the darkness; her still full cup left discarded on the counter. How odd. She’d definitely been crying, but what about? He’d almost wanted to join in — his nightmare still played in his brain like a movie on repeat. Maria’s lifeless face stared into his very being.
He didn’t remember how he managed to fall back asleep that evening, but he awoke early that morning alongside the sun. His groggy mind refused to clear but also refused any further attempt at rest, so he got up. Lily stepped out of her bedroom as he entered the hall, greeting him with her usual peppy,
“Good morning, Shadow!”
Then she went into the bathroom, leaving him to roam the kitchen for something to drink. When he reached for a fresh glass from the cabinet, he nearly knocked over Dahlia’s undrunk cup. It served as a reminder of what had happened the night before, not only with her, but with him and why he’d awoken to find her sobbing in the first place.
As if on cue, Dahlia entered the kitchen, wiped sleep out of her eye. The moment she saw him, she stopped in her tracks. Her one foot hovered above the ground as she stared. Pink suffused her cheeks, then she whirled around on her heel and skittered away from him. He heard her door shut soon after.
Some time today, he’d question her. Not only about last night, but about what he desperately needed to get off this island: the Chaos Emeralds. Without them, he had nothing — no true power, none of his abilities, no way of fighting an enemy as strong as G.U.N., wherever they were out there. They had to be looking for him, but could they ever find him? If he’d gone so far as to fly out of range of the Chaos Emeralds, how could they get to him? More importantly, how could he get back to them and finish the job he started? For Gerald, for Maria, G.U.N and all other humans who opposed him must be eliminated.
His goal carried him through his morning, through an unusually quiet family breakfast where Dahlia did everything she could to avoid meeting his eye, and into the late morning. As he cleaned up his dishes from breakfast — last one to finish eating again, thanks to his voracious appetite and penchant toward second and third helpings — Dahlia slipped out of his fingers yet again. She left out the back door, as he heard when it closed, and kept him without clarity. He hurried to finish his dishes and followed after her.
The fresh air of the garden greeted his nostrils when he stepped outside. He didn’t see her at first, but he walked along the pathways to search — past the bright lettuces and garlic stalks, ducking underneath the grape, blackberry, and pea vines, through the huge greens of tomatoes and carrots, and beside the rich purple eggplants surrounded by fragrant herbs. A startling surge of pride rushed through him when he smelled the strong scent of the basil he helped plant a few days ago.
But seeing Dahlia around the corner helped him to shake it off. She knelt by the chard, moving the mulch around its base and gently touching the leaves of the plant. Though she smiled, her eyes betrayed something deeper inside: a hopelessness and fear through their weak sheen. Her lips moved though he heard not what she said. She seemed to be speaking to the plant itself.
As he approached, she glanced to him, then shot her gaze back to her work, cheeks tinging pink as her ears flattened. Despite obviously being embarrassed by his presence, he was getting answers today, whether or not she felt prepared for the third degree.
His knees came to rest against the damp loam as he knelt beside her.
“Sorry about last night,” she said tentatively. “Wasn’t expecting you to wake up.”
“And I wasn’t expecting to see you crying in the kitchen. Yet here we are.”
She chuckled, though given her lowered ears and furrowed brow, it was probably more so out of nerves. “Good point. Secret’s out, I do in fact cry. ‘Long as Junior don’t find out…”
“I don’t gossip.”
“‘Course not. Ya barely talk so guess I got nothin’ to worry about.”
“Why were you crying?”
“Oh…” There was that hesitation again, that tight-lipped look of utter humiliation. Granted, if she’d walked in on him crying, he’d feel much the same way. Still, she found the fortitude to speak. “Um, I had a nightmare. ‘Bout my dad. That’s why I’m here, even though the chard doesn’t really need tendin’. It was my dad’s favorite plant. Said he liked how bright it gets and all the different colors.”
He kept his hands busy by looking through some of the crisp, hydrated broccoli leaves for pests, waiting for his opportunity to speak, for his words to form. They remained quiet for a short while, reticent. How to broach the sudden subject of Chaos Emeralds, G.U.N, and all of the other topics… She probably knew nothing about then, but she was his only hope at this point.
“I’m not a very religious person,” she then said, “but whenever I come into our garden, especially around his favorite vegetables and fruits, I feel together with my dad again. He’s here, in spirit. I can feel him.”
She placed her hand atop the mulch, closing her eyes and breathing in deep. When she caught his gaze, her jade eyes bore into him. His heart jumped at her next words.
“Have you ever lost someone you love, Shadow?”
“I-I…” Was all he choked out.
No more words came to him. Just a tightening in his chest and throat, an ever-growing pain inside of his guts. Then a jolt hit him when Dahlia put her hand across his. She led him to the rich soil and placed his hand beside hers. His fingers sunk down against the mulch, burying into the aerated dirt. That tightness in his chest snapped like an overstressed rubber band and shocked his core. What was that? That lifted feeling, that invisible glow radiating off his hand, trailing up his arm like vines.
Despite that his mind filled with nothing but Maria’s smile and brand new memories of Gerald’s unique laugh, he wasn’t plagued with that fallen feeling — the darkness that often crept into the corners of his eyes as he lost himself in a void of loneliness. No, rather than his typical, horrid depression, his racing heart felt freer. Freer than he had since his imprisonment, free from sadness and pain. He could stay there, be with his family again.
Is this what Dahlia felt? He examined her closed eyes and soft, upturned lips. Her gentle breathing somehow synchronized with his own steady breaths. She spoke,
“Do you feel them, Shadow?”
“Yes.” He cursed his traitorous voice crack.
“This is why I love to garden. I love being out here, in nature, with Dad again. Spirit. That was his name.”
Why had he been impelled to speak their names aloud? Both names came with a set of unique memories: a younger Maria, helping him after he’d sprained his ankle; Gerald, pulling him into an unexpected hug when he was very, very small.
He had to take his hand away from the garden. Whatever caused these renascent memories, he couldn’t deal with more of it. The moment his hand left the soil and brushed past the luscious greenery, he felt shoved back to the present. Back to his hopeless situation. Back to a reality where G.U.N had massacred his only family.
She held his shoulder. “You okay?”
“The hell was that…?”
“Dad used to say that the garden can bring us close to those we’ve lost.”
Her talk about her father made him wonder if that’s what Gerald was to him. All he remembered was being told he’d been ‘created’. Project Shadow. He assumed Gerald had created him. Maria had been like a sister, so did that make Gerald his father? He wasn’t sure. But he wanted to know more, more about family and fathers, more about… Her.
“What happened to your father?”
“He died in the war.”
“He died because of Eggman?”
She took her hand away and he looked to her, watching her fiddle with her gloved fingers. After taking a short moment to herself, she grabbed his attention by continuing.
“Doctor Eggman, technically. He’s some kind a’ crazy, I dunno, dictator wannabe, I guess. When he appeared — and I gotta use that word ‘cuz that’s exactly what people said he did, just appeared outta nowhere in a burst of light from some alien technology. But when he appeared along with half a dozen robots, he pillaged and burned down cities. He killed and used wildlife to power his machines. He took people from their homes and forced them into slavery. It wasn’t long after that people took up arms.
“Fathers, brothers, grandfathers; they all put themselves on the front lines to fight. But they couldn’t win. They couldn’t figure out his technology, no one knew how to use the scraps from what little robots they destroyed against him. When the soldiers retreated, Ernest came back home without my father. I… Didn’t believe him when he told us my father died. I was only twelve, I didn’t want to believe I’d never see him again. That’s what I had nightmares about. Losin’ him all over again, feelin’ so helpless. I mean, what little girl should grow up without her dad?”
Her voice cracked and she stopped to swallow. He didn’t know what to do, what to say, so he kept quiet and observed her. Never would he have guessed that someone like Dahlia — chipper, eager, and happy — had been through something so traumatic.
She regained herself and continued. “I wasn’t the only one affected by Eggman and the war. So many others were, but the one that stands out to everyone is Sonic. We were both the same age when our fathers died and, unlike me sulkin’ and pretendin’ my dad wasn’t dead, he took up his father’s mantle. He fought Eggman, who laughed and thought Sonic’s challenge was a big joke. But what Eggman didn’t see comin’ was Sonic’s awesome speed. They say he’s faster than the speed a’ sound, that he can see things in slow-motion, and I believe it. He outran bullets, redirected missiles, and plowed through robots in a single dash. Sonic and his best friend, Tails, are the reason Eggman is still kept in check to this day. He toppled the entire Eggman empire-in-progress. He’s amazin’.”
“Who is?” Lily asked as she passed through from the herb garden.
Lily’s face brightened instantaneously. “Oh, he is amazing! He’s grown into such a handsome young man!”
“Right? So handsome.”
And apparently coveted by women.
Lily walked toward the back crops, leaving Dahlia to sigh pleasantly.
She nudged Shadow’s shoulder. “What is it with you hedgehogs and bein’ badass? You takin’ on them Hecklers, Sonic takin’ on that jackass. We could use more people like you guys on Mobius.”
“I don’t belong here.”
“I have unfinished business.”
“Yeah? With who?”
How could he explain it to her without going into some long-winded b.s. narrative? A single word — G.U.N — would only bring about more questions. Trying to describe to Dahlia the promise he made to Maria would take far too much of his time, time he didn’t have to continue prattling on about their pasts, continue getting attached—
No. No, he wasn’t getting attached. What nonsense. He wasn’t and would never get attached to Dahlia; her determination and kindheartedness, her smiles and her generosity, her laughter, her eyes, and—
Focus, dammit, focus.
“Do you know about the Chaos Emeralds?”
She cocked her head at him, single brow raised. “Chaos Emeralds? Never heard of ‘em. But I heard about the Master Emerald.”
Master Emerald? He didn’t know what that was but it sounded important. His eyes must’ve held his curiosity, as she elaborated a bit.
“Dunno exactly where it is. Well, I know that it’s on Angel Island, but I ain’t got a clue where Angel Island is. It’s got a guardian. Some last-of-his-kind echidna. Dunno who, though. Maybe Fred or Ernest knows? They might know more about it than me, since they’re so old and all.” She giggled at her own lampoon. Not at all cute.
Whether the Master Emerald tied into the Chaos Emeralds or not, he would find out. Next time he and Dahlia saw Fred, he’d be sure to ask. Until then, he and Dahlia needed to get rid of the aphid he found within the leaves of her broccoli.
Which was not something he ever thought would be prudent, yet here he was.
PokéCommunity Supporter Crystal Tier
Also Known As That weird vegan
Discord Nickname CiCi Arts#9771
Chapter 5 - The Hyacinth Fields
A day after promising that he could speak with Fred and Ernest, Dahlia and Lily walked with Shadow toward Fred’s home. He helped lug a covered cart filled with vegetables, tubers, and fruit, which Lily explained was for the big city farmers market. The cart clacked across the cobblestones as he hiked down the pathway through the forest and grassy acreage, passing several homes. All the way there, he thought about the question he’d ask and how to get his answers, if they had any for him.
Down the path, around the corner, and through to the other side of the thicket, another bunch of houses lined up. On the porch of the first house, Fred and Ernest chatted together.
“I can’t tend to your chicken,” said Ernest, shaking his head. “I’m a doctor, not a vet.”
“Ya just saw Gale last month — ain’t she a chicken? What’s the difference?”
“There are huge differences between animals and anthropomorphic animals.”
Before their dialogue could go much further, they waved at him, Dahlia, and Lily.
“Mornin’, Lil!” Fred greeted. “Got a big day ahead of us, don’t we?”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Shadow,” Ernest said with a great big grin. “Nice to see that you’re still doing well.”
“And he’s so helpful,” Lily gushed, “giving me a hand with that damned cart.”
Dahlia approached Fred and held out the basket she’d been carrying. “Got those greens for your chickens, Fred! How’s Henrietta?”
“Not so good. Maybe seein’ you will perk ‘er up, though.”
With that, Fred said his goodbyes to Ernest and took Dahlia and Lily inside, but Shadow stayed behind.
“Ernest,” he said before the doctor could leave. “I have to talk to you.”
“Of course, son, what do you need?”
“Have you heard of the Chaos Emeralds?”
The immediate head tilt and pulled back lip told him all he needed to know. Still, the doctor twisted the knife by elaborating. “I’m afraid not. Doesn’t ring a bell, at least. I have heard of the Master Emerald, though.”
Shadow’s gaze dropped to the ground, shoulders deflating along with his hope. “Yeah, so have I…”
Ernest placed a hand upon his back. “I’m sorry, son. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
He turned away from Ernest and headed into Fred’s house. Any hope he may have had dwindled to an unrecognizable iota. He felt no motivation to find Fred within the foreign residence. The cat wasn’t directly in front of him and the thought of searching him out only for the same, depressing answer repulsed him.
From the front door, he saw through the den, around the corner to the kitchen, and the back door which had been propped open. Dahlia’s laugh sounded from that direction. Its pleasing, familiar sound was the only thing he gave enough of a muk about to follow. He plodded through the unkempt house and to the backyard, whereupon chickens ranged across a sunlit, grassy field. Dahlia had been kneeling down to one of the chickens who’d flipped itself onto its back to let its belly be scratched.
“You’re so funny, Camille,” she said, giggling.
Fred tossed the contents of her basket onto the ground and all of the chickens quickly converged upon the weeds. As Dahlia stood, she lifted her arm and tapped his chest with the back of her hand.
“Ain’t that somethin’, Shadow? ‘Least someone likes our weeds. Speakin’ a’ healthy appetites—” Her now serious eyes rested on Fred. “—where’s Henrietta?”
Fred took them to a much smaller, enclosed area across from the big chicken coop. Everyone had to remove their shoes before entering the tiny, shed-like containment. His socked feet crumpled the newspaper floor, which crinkled loudly but wasn’t enough to make the lethargic chicken stir. He saw her from the single beam of light coming from the sunroof. She rested in a cat bed, blanket covering her as she put her face under her wing.
“Henrietta,” Dahlia cooed. “Hey, girl.”
Henrietta twitched but didn’t move otherwise.
“See the problem?” Fred asked rhetorically. “She been like this for a couple days now. Not eatin’, barely drinkin’, an’ when she first started gettin’ sick the other girls bullied’ ‘er. So I was wonderin’ if ya could take ‘er home with ya, Dahlia. I just don’t trust Junior to give ‘er enough care. So could ya look after ‘er an’ see if she gets better while me an’ your mom are gone?”
“Of course, Fred. I’ll take good care of Henrietta.”
Not long after, Lily kissed Dahlia goodbye and left with Fred, both of them hauling huge carts full of vegetables and fruit to the ferry for the city’s farmers market (which Dahlia mentioned was held on an island of the archipelago called Midnightropolis).
Shadow and Dahlia headed back to the house with a blanketed Henrietta under Dahlia’s arm. Most of the walk back home, Dahlia talked softly to the chicken who limply rested in her grasp.
At the house, she placed Henrietta on a pillow and kept her covered in a crocheted blanket. He went out back to the garden with her to collect beneficial plants: lavender, chamomile, mint, ginseng, and marigold. She cut them up and put bowls of them near Henrietta, along with a bowl of ginseng water.
The only thing left to do was wait and see what came the next morning.
Henrietta hadn’t eaten anything. It was almost lunch the next day and all of her bowls remained full. Dahlia knelt beside her and stroked her head which rested upon the pillow, the bird’s eyes closed and breathing shallow.
Shadow stood in the doorway, watching them. Dahlia appeared so distraught over something as simple as a chicken. She’d been quiet all morning. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he missed her smile. Without it, without the true Dahlia, the island felt darker and his dwindling hope hit him that much harder. It was almost like a fog enveloped him. While he didn’t know what to do for her or how to help, he wanted to try.
“Is Henrietta going to be okay?” What a strange question that just came out of his mouth.
Dahlia frowned at him. “I’m not sure. She’s not doing well.”
“Is there anything that can help her?”
“We do have one possibility. See, there’s this medicinal flower called the Hyacinth Bell. It’s really powerful and we’ve used it to help a couple of people before. We’ve never tried it on chickens before, but it helped Gale get over her pneumonia, so I can’t imagine Henrietta wouldn’t benefit.”
“Since I haven’t seen it in the garden, I’m guessing there’s a catch.”
“Yeeaaah, the catch is that it’s deep in the woods on the other side of the island. We tried to grow it here, but it was near impossible to grow since it needs hyacinths and bluebells and really wet soil to grow. After lots of trial and error, and a few drowned cucumber plants, we got a Hyacinth Bell. But then it attracted hordes of aphids and snails that decimated half our crops for the year. We haven’t tried to grow it since.”
Henrietta then unleashed a phlegm-filled, hacking cough. Dahlia gasped into her glove, tail and ears drooping.
“We should get that flower,” he said. “Quickly.”
She tucked the shivering chicken into her blankets and patted her comb. “Don’t worry, girl, we’ll be back soon.”
Dahlia packed two thermoses of water and a small box stuffed with damp paper towels into a black knapsack and slung it over her shoulders. They were out the door very soon after, Dahlia taking one last glance at Henrietta before heading out. He walked beside her, keeping stride as she led him to the hyacinth field.
At the town center where water cascaded from the fountain, they headed right toward the shoddy food stands. Dahlia forced smiles at their fellow inhabitants during the afternoon greetings. Denizens waved and said hello to him, too, but he didn’t reciprocate. After every time she waved back, her hand would then clench the straps around her shoulders. Her tail hung low during their trek.
They passed the meat stand where the owner, who Shadow now noticed was a pale teal porcupine, happily replaced the ice over some of his wares.
“Hey, Dahlia!” He called with a smile and wave. “How’re things?”
“Good, Quill,” she said half-heartedly, with a wave just as insincere. “Real good.”
“Glad to hear. Thanks again for the assist the other day! You n’ your friend really gave those guys what-for!”
Dahlia grinned, teeth showing and brow refusing to unknit itself. “No problem.”
He watched as she tried to go for the strap again. He’d be damned before he let her sulk the entire way to the Hyacinth Bell. Before Dahlia could regain the vise-grip on her knapsack, he caught her hand and held it by his side. Her confused gaze at him soon returned to her far more comforting smile and her cheeks turned rosy. She shifted closer to him while they walked off the cobblestone path and onto the dirt road that led into the woods. Once they left civilization behind, she said,
Her grip on him tightened. “For just… Bein’ there. Bein’ you. Helpin’ me and not lettin’ me be all mopey.”
“I could say the same to you.”
“Ya didn’t need to say it out loud — I could tell since ya always look so happy and cheerful.”
“You and Junior have a penchant for terrible jokes, don’t you?”
“I think we’re bad influences on each other.”
Conversation carried on similarly to this as they traversed the forest. Her reassuring, warm smile graced their venture, goofy jokes and amiable presence a welcoming recompense for his effort.
The dirt path eventually disappeared behind them. Woods grew thicker and twisted, making them carefully watch their footing. Two huge trees had blocked them at one point, with only a strip of pathway for them to bound over. Shadow went first and held onto Dahlia’s hands as he helped lead her over the uneven roots.
It had taken a couple hours of walking to finally break through the dense weald and into a glade, forest floor blanketed in flowers and weeds of all colors. Dahlia showcased her knowledge of plants by pointing out the various species: green leaves with purple tops called Lamium purpureum or purple dead-nettle, bright yellow Senecia jacobaea or ragworts, white and fluffy Trifolium repens or white clovers, and as they got closer to the river they came upon bright red scarlet rosemallow.
“The Hibiscus… Err…” She hesitated. “Hibiscus co— Okay, so that one I don’t remember. But it means we’re getting close to the hyacinths.”
He entertained, “And their scientific name is?”
“Now you’re just making names up.”
She laughed. “I’m not! That’s really what it is.”
Walking with her laughter in the rainbow fields released all tension from his body, relaxing him. Their laced fingers kept her near — her perfume definitely smelled of coconut, which he probably wouldn’t have noticed without being so close, given the growing floral fragrance in the distance.
The colorful field of hyacinth came into view, speckled with reds, purples, yellows, blues, pinks, and whites. Beside them, a farther-off cluster of deep blue flowers on thin stems, which he assumed were the bluebells.
“Somewhere between them should be the Hyacinth Bells,” she said. “They bloom every spring. Just gotta look for pale blue or white flowers — they grow like the hyacinth but droop like the bluebells.”
As they closed in on the flower fields, a creeping feeling wriggled its way into his skin. Things were quiet. He could only hear their footfalls that slowed to the lack of sound. No birds. No bugs.
Her loose grip on him stiffened. “Somethin’ feel weird to you?”
“Yeah. Let’s get the Hyacinth Bells and get out.”
The hyacinth and the bluebell patches nestled the Hyacinth Bells, most of which were varying shades of light blue with the occasional white mixed in. Dahlia grabbed only the blue ones so Shadow did the same, collecting a few flowers and placing them in the box of wet paper towels. Being as they felt dry to the touch, she watered the towels with some of the leftover water in her thermos.
As she cleaned up and he took a few drinks off his own thermos, something near a tree at the edge of the hyacinth field caught his eye. A group of the flowers had been crushed by something quite large — the print had no discernible toes, rather just a rectangular shape of a pseudo-foot.
He took a few steps near to examine it further, his heart pounding. If that’s what he thought… But it couldn’t be. Dahlia had told him that no one on Mobius familiarized themselves with technology. No one, except…
Just as he whipped around to get Dahlia’s attention, branches snapped from above and a shadow zipped across him. The ground rattled and he staggered to keep his footing. Between him and Dahlia, a bulky orange robot loomed. Joints and gears churned as it observed him. Metal strips of brown lined its round face, looking quite like a mustache under its bulbous pink nose. Then it turned to Dahlia.
“Ah,” said a voice from it, “you look familiar. Do I know you?”
She stammered, “E-Eggman.”
“Oh, that’s right! I remember now. You’re the spitting image of your sniveling father. How is he, by the way? Oh, right: Dead. But don’t worry, I’ll let you say hello to him.”
It pointed its hand at her. Before Eggman’s robot could make another move, Shadow found the strength in his legs to launch himself into its back. He spiraled over its shoulder and landed in front of Dahlia, then whipped around as the robot stumbled forward. He reared back his fist and punched the robot’s rotund torso, once again jostling it around. Damn did that hurt his knuckles.
He growled, “Stay the hell away from her.”
The voice from the robot laughed. “Hoo-hohohohoh! You damn hedgehogs are so irritating and ornery! But this will knock you down a peg.”
Gears whirred and the robot’s arm opened wide into a giant sledgehammer. It plunged the hammer down, gale rushing out from underneath and blowing his fur and quills about. If he moved, the hammer could easily be directed onto Dahlia. So he stood tall, thrusting his palms up to catch the weapon, steeling himself for impact.
Comments, constructive or otherwise, are very much welcome. I hope all y'all Shadow fangirls have fun with this!
PokéCommunity Supporter Crystal Tier
Also Known As That weird vegan
Discord Nickname CiCi Arts#9771
Chapter 6 - Harbinger of Eggman's Return
The hammer came down upon his hands, shattering his strength, pulsating through muscle and bone. He grit his teeth as a traitorous grunt of pain escaped his throat. The rushing in his ears barely let through Dahlia crying out his name, which was then drowned out by Eggman’s malicious laugh.
“I can’t believe he actually did it!” Eggman ridiculed. “I can’t tell if you’re stupid or just brazen, hedgehog.”
He would’ve told him to go to Hell, but he couldn’t speak with the tension throughout his body. Then the automaton released the pressure, only to swing its other bulky arm and slam it across his chest. Wind rushed out of his lungs and he catapulted backward. He tried to catch his balance on anything as he toppled over, then his fingers dug into the ground and stopped his momentum. Between coughing and sputtering, he cursed aloud, trying to push against the pain that threatened to overwhelm him. But he had enough wits about him to shoot his gaze up and assess Dahlia’s safety, and the robot’s position near her.
Thank god the robot still faced him. Dahlia remained frozen in fear, eyes wide, legs trembling.
“Dahlia!” He hollered to snap her out of her transfixed state. “Get away! Run!”
“Hey!” Eggman mocked, “You can’t tell her what to do! Well, maybe you can, I guess I don’t really know you guys like that.”
Despite his distance from the machine, he wasn’t safe. The robot wound up a punch, and on the swing, its forearm detached. Chains rattled, heralding an inevitable strike that reached him with ease. How he rolled out of the way fast enough to avoid it, he didn’t know — perhaps his fear for Dahlia caused such insane reflexes. But as the chains coiled and the fist reeled in, his luck ran out.
Its spindly fingers caught him by the waist, snapping the rest of his body back as it ripped him forward. Before he had a chance to fight, the mech propelled him through the air. Wind rushed past, stinging his eyes as they scoured his surroundings. Tree branches engulfed him, stabbing him and forcing him in all directions as his hands grasped for anything they could to slow or stop his fall. Instead, a sturdy trunk caught his back, stopping him but sending him crashing to the ground.
He hit the firm soil, expelling out what little air he had in his lungs once more. Through his foggy mind, Dahlia continued to be his only concern. Struggling, quaking arms tried and failed to lift him. Weary eyes drew up to see her.
“You should just stop fighting,” Eggman jeered, clearly unaware of Dahlia weaving vines between his robot’s legs. “You can’t beat me. Just stay down and let me pulverize you.”
As it stepped forward, Dahlia gripped the end of the vines which reeled together under the pressure. The robot toppled with an earth-shaking rumble.
“What the-!?” Eggman yelled.
The robot’s head turned to her. Shadow begged his body to get up, urged his aching, tender muscles to help him stand, but nothing cooperated.
Eggman spat, “Now you’re trying to protect him? You’re a pest — all you damned Mobians.”
Its leg shot off like its arm. He saw it all in too much detail for how fast everything went. The gargantuan foot struck her chest, her eyes bulged before squeezing shut, and the force flung her back. She disappeared briefly behind the robot, her body visible again as she skid along the dirt, through the flowers, coming to a stop when her shoulder bashed into a tall tree root.
The moment she rolled and clutched her wounded body, an ever-flowing rage inundated Shadow’s veins. He shot to his feet before the robot could stand. And before the ripped vines fell onto the ground, he spiraled at the machine, beating it over and over with his quills. Everywhere he could reach, in pure fury, he pummeled the automaton, searching for any weak spot.
Not even when it batted him did he stop. He simply hit the ground and burst upward to continue his assault. When he attacked its front, he busted the glass around its ‘eye sockets’, and so homed in on them, driving himself into the robot as fast and often as possible. The machine stumbled back, making the pain surging through his body worth the exertion. His own safety didn’t matter, glass shattering over him didn’t matter, when all his mind saw was Dahlia, crumpled on the ground, battered and broken because he’d been too weak to protect her.
Another smack from the robot sent him flying. This time, he snagged a fast approaching tree branch, feet landing against the trunk. The machine launched another projectile punch but he leapt off trunk to get out of the way. When his feet hit the ground, he heard the thundering snap of wood, and whipped around in time to notice the tree had cracked in half. The falling timber collapsed atop the mech. It sparked, gears whirred wildly, and gaskets exploded with electricity, before all went still.
He stared for only a moment to ensure it wouldn’t get back up. When it no longer moved, he rushed to Dahlia’s side in the midst of the devastated field, where she lay unconscious, still grasping her shoulder.
“Dahlia,” he gently called, hands on her opposite shoulder. His voice threatened to tremble and he had to swallow his fear.
She stirred, groaning to life. With an arm underneath her back and the other steadying her uninjured shoulder, he helped her sit. Her features constricted, teeth grit as she audibly strained.
He said, “We need to get you to Ernest, right now.”
She scanned the forest, brow knitting with every inch she took in. “Look at this… Everything’s destroyed.” Tears pooled upon her lashes. “My island. My home.”
The field of flowers had been torn to shreds, stems snapped and withered petals littering the once full meadow. Fallen branches, destroyed luscious soil, the cracked-in-half tree… Had one week of this place really made it feel like home to him, too? The tightening in his chest rose from seeing the island’s flora asunder. Dahlia’s whimpering, pain-filled groan returned him to her.
“The Hyacinth Bells,” she reminded weakly. Her one good arm tried to push the rest of her up, but Shadow kept her down by her shoulder as best and gently as he could.
“Dahlia, you shouldn’t get up. I’ll get it.”
He ran to the knapsack, flung it over his shoulders, and returned to her. Then he wrapped his arms underneath her legs and back and lifted her into his chest.
Despite urgency driving his legs, he had to be careful how fast he went. If he jostled her too much, she would press her teeth together and illy suppress her agony. So he found a middle ground as best as he could.
She’d tried to help him. Because he’d been too weak to help himself, she — in all her magnanimousness, generosity, and hints of naivete — tried to protect him. He's the experiment, the ultimate life, the bastion of strength — yet, he failed her. He failed her, put her in danger, and she paid the price of his inadequacy.
The forest rushed past him in a blur, then so did the horrified faces of the townsfolk, but he couldn’t take any of it in. He only saw on the horizon, as if cradled by sunlight, his goal: Fred’s home. Shadow may not’ve known where Ernest lives, but Junior certainly would.
To avoid shaking Dahlia around, though she’d lost consciousness halfway through the trek, he kicked the door with the tip of his shoe. A very irritated looking Junior opened it, but then his sour face dropped and his pink nose paled when he saw Dahlia.
“What the hell!? What happened!?”
“No time. We need to see Ernest.”
Shadow had perched himself on the edge of Ernest’s couch, forehead in his hands, elbow upon his knee as the other one jumped up and down from his bouncing leg. Junior sat across from him on the chair. Dahlia had been taken to the back where Ernest’s equipment awaited her. She’d been there for far too long in his mind. He needed answers right this second. The waiting drove him insane, the visions in his mind of losing her like he’d lost Maria and Gerald were too much to bear. God, please just be okay.
“What happened?” Junior demanded again.
Shadow didn’t look at him. “Ernest will ask, too. I’ll tell you both.”
Junior grunted gruffly, which compelled him to glance up. When his eyes began to stray down, he had to do a double-take at the perturbing look he’d been given. Junior’s intense glare stared into him. His fiery, amber eyes struck him, but more so did his words.
“I swear to God, if you hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
He demanded, “What?”
“You damn well heard me. If you laid one psyduckin’ finger on ‘er, I’ll kill you.”
“I would never hurt her.” To even have such a thing insinuated made his body tense and his fists clench.
“I don’t believe a word of it. I don’t know ya like that, hell she don’t know ya like that, but she’s so givin’ she didn’t even think of it. I told her not ta take you in n’ she did it anyway, now look at ‘er. She could’ve damn well taken in a psycho or an abuser n’ I ain’t gonna let anyone take advantage a’ her again. Not like Razz did, and certainly not like you mighta done.”
Before Shadow’s retaliation erupted, his attention veered onto Ernest when the doctor stepped into the room with head hung low.
He bolted to his feet. “Is she okay?”
“Well… She’s in pretty rough shape, but she’ll be okay. She needs a lot of rest. There’s a hairline fracture in her left arm near her shoulder, bruises on both of her lungs, and quite a lot of cuts, scrapes, and bruises to her back and side. Looks like she was dragged or shoved across soil and tree roots, and hit in the chest and shoulder with something huge. What happened?”
Shadow looked from Ernest to Junior. Though he wasn’t exactly sure how believable an Eggman attack would be, it felt outlandish. Sonic supposedly protected all of Mobius from Eggman’s clutches. Would they even believe him? Especially Junior — if looks could kill, he would’ve dropped dead thanks to Junior. After a deep inhale, he responded,
Ernest gasped, then crossed himself. “Oh my Lord.”
Junior, though his stare widened and his scowl dropped, still glared at him. A few moments of silence passed before he finally found his voice.
“Bullmuk! Yer a liar!”
“It’s not a lie.”
Junior stormed across the den, cleared the coffee table, and grabbed him by the fur on his chest. The cat then shoved him into the wall, knocking over the end table.
“Shaddup! The hell would Eggman want with Dahlia ‘r our island anyway?!”
“I don’t know.” He grabbed Junior’s wrists, resisting the desire to shove or get violent with him. Junior didn’t need any further reasons to suspect him.
“Yer lucky we’re in Ernest’s house ‘cuz yer gonna need a doctor when I’m through with ya.”
He raised his fist and readied a strike.
“It was Eggman. Let him go, Junior.”
Junior relaxed somewhat, grip loosening, curtailing the sharp pull upon his fur.
Dahlia continued. “You can see the damage yourself.” She stopped to pant, legs trembling. “Near the hyacinth… Fields…”
She dropped to her knees and Ernest caught her by the shoulder and waist.
“Dahlia, you shouldn’t be up right now.”
Shadow shoved Junior out of the way and rushed to her side. He reached to her and took over keeping her steady. Her watery, exhausted gaze punctured his guts. How could he have failed her so miserably? How could he have let her get so hurt?
“I wanna go home,” she mewled. “Please, Shadow… Take me home…”
Then she collapsed into his chest. His eyes darted to Ernest, who nodded. He pulled her into his arms and lifted her up, ensuring his shoulder and neck cradled her head. Ernest assisted him in slinging the knapsack over the other shoulder. As he took her back home, he passed Junior. The cat stared down at the floor and said,
He stopped by Junior’s side. “Don’t be. Dahlia’s lucky to have someone so fiercely protective of her. Maybe you wouldn’t have failed her, as I did.”
Comments, constructive or otherwise, are very much welcome. I hope all y'all Shadow fangirls like this!